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Either Die a Hero

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Not five minutes ago he’d been on the edge of slamming his latest report on Pallin’s desk, and walking out of C-Sec for good. Not exactly a wise career move considering he had less than a year on the force. Still, it was a choice the sniper had been severely tempted to make and damn the consequences… but now?

Now he could breathe, and maybe not walk out on his job.

Garrus shook his head slowly, mandibles splaying outward in disbelief. A big case from last month had gotten mired in red tape and forcibly shut down, but it had just been solved unexpectedly… though not by C-Sec.

Vicious satisfaction rolled from his subvocals as steel blue eyes skimmed the news article he’d stumbled over on a work terminal. It was hemmed in on all sides with news links and advertisements, but he only had eyes for the great- no, magnificent story unfolding on screen.

The media-sensationalized recounting of a declassified ST&R operation lay before him like a name day present. A crime ring based on Talos IV, -a pit of slime but not usually blatant villainy-, had been devastated by a Council agent. The warehouse compound had been full of slave labor and tainted Hallex that connected to drug dealers on five planets, two lunar colonies, and the Citadel itself.

All of it was now gone, wiped out from the roots up.

He leaned back in his desk chair, relieved beyond words. Garrus had known the slimy Krogan drug dealer Menir had been selling tainted Hallex to idiotic kids wanting an extra kick for clubbing. Unfortunately his evidence had been obtained before receiving permission to investigate, and using appropriate channels to obtain a warrant. Not exactly his fault, as the lead had come at a moment’s notice, and he’d done nothing more obtrusive than slip in a back door and set his visor to record… but still, the hard evidence had been flat out dismissed.

Dis -spirit's damned- missed! 

His superiors even had the audacity to deny his request to launch a proper investigation to follow-up on the obvious lead. Maybe save a couple of kids before it happened again.... but no. Red light, full stop, ‘leave it alone, Vakarian’.

The light grey torin suspected it was meant as a punishment specifically for him, and that wouldn't be so bad if eighteen young adults hadn't been rushed to various emergency rooms in Zakera Ward, seizing and hallucinating with the exact same symptoms as all the others. Most of them were brain damaged for life.

Garrus shook his head as he sighed, letting go of his frustration at having witnessed those young lives be preventably ruined because of a single careless choice. One that should have resulted in a bad headache and a mild case of dehydration and nothing more.

Red tape had gotten in the way, again. But for right now? That didn't matter, because Menir’s suppliers had been obliterated by Saren Arterius. He scrolled up to reread his favorite bit: colorful descriptions for the ragged remains of the slaver compound that had been providing the poor quality street drug. There were accompanying holos of wide eyed slaves newly freed, just coming out of the medical ship that had removed their control chips. Images of the drug making slavers, dead and discarded like so much refuse, left to rot in the system’s blue sun. Last, but not least, small mountains of tainted Hallex being incinerated by the bucket full.

He laughed, breathy and a little overwhelmed.

‘I can’t believe it… case-closed.

As he pulled up the files to enter the new information in, -to make sure the full scope of it was on the record-, Garrus decided that even if his pari had forbidden him from the Spectre program it didn't mean he couldn't appreciate his might-have-been colleague's exploits. In a moment of mild rebellion, riding on the high of second-hand victory, he also decided that Arterius was his new personal hero. The Spectre did damn fine work, never mind what the critics said about his methods.

“ -as per Council authority, reported by… dated… signed. That’s it. Case closed. Spirits bless.”

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

“Feet. Off. The Console.” Saren ground out, striding into the CIC of his ship.

Nihlus looked up at him with his best attempt at a convincing pout, but the stolid male’s only reply was narrowed eyes as he came to a sudden stop a meter away. Silence filled the room as he made increasingly overdone attempts at pleading with his subvocals and expression, asking Saren to let him leave his feet kicked up on the bank of consoles.

The silver-grey torin stood firm, glaring.

Eventually the younger male gave up, and the stalemate broke with an accepting huff. Dark brown feet were moved to the floor, followed by a beleaguered sigh; defeat expected after having lost that exact same battle countless times before. His former mentor was naturally fastidious and rarely put up with his lackadaisical ways, not even when they were on Nihlus' own vessel.

Oddly though, Saren continued to stand there after he’d won, tense and glaring at nothing in particular. Nihlus leaned sideways, chin coming to rest on a palm as he gave in and just asked, “...something wrong?”

His small, muscular partner let out a quiet huff, finally sitting down at a nearby terminal, arms crossed under his keel. “Our mission here may have been a success, regardless of the poor intel, but it was unaccountably disorganized.”

Nihlus nodded thoughtfully, gesturing in agreement of the observation. There really wasn't another way to put it. The mission had been accomplished though: all targets eliminated, all Spectres alive. Though their third, Jondum, was passed out in medbay, but he wasn’t exactly in bad shape. The other Spectre’s clotting augments and medical weave had kept him in the game until they’d made it to safety anyway. 

Thankfully Saren’s ship had enough cutting edge tech in it’s medbay that they hadn't needed to blaze a trail for a spaceport. Nihlus found himself regularly rolling his eyes at all the fancy, swanky toys that his unpersonable friend had, though he still made use of them from time to time. His own ship had a somewhat ancient autodoc he’d picked up on the cheap since it was broken at the time, just a few thousand credits. Nihlus was content with it. His medical bay could administer painkillers, stop bleeding, and knock him out. Good enough for him. The carmine plated torin didn't feel like he really needed a VI assisted tissue printer with six robotic arms and a triple loader microfab.

He’d heard of hospitals that fought bidding wars to have one of those. 

It was a good thing they had one on hand though. Jon had put himself into medical right when they got back, and the swanky robot had sedated the wounded Salarian before stabilizing his vitals. The automated medical suite probably had all the microgram bullet shavings picked out by now, though it was likely still mending the finer points of damage, and slowly dripping some freshly synthesized replacement blood into Jon's veins. By the time they arrived on the Citadel he expected the wily Salarian would be fighting fit without any further treatment.

Jondam was a scrappy one anyways, didn't flinch under pain or stress out under fire. A good agent to have at one's back...

"Mmmng."

Another quiet sound of frustration from Saren pulled his attention back to the other torin.  For lack of anything else to say, he hummed soothingly. The mission hadn’t been that bad, really. Just a bit messy.

Nihlus estimated that there were over a hundred dead Blood Pack mercenaries between the three of them. And that? Was some fine work by any standard. His only injuries were a pair of sore feet and a moderate burn down his left arm from a crafty Vorcha with incendiary ammo. Saren himself was, as per usual, mildly dusty and extremely hungry, but that was about it. Most enemies found it hard to hit someone who could shift time-space around at a whim. 

“We nearly lost the data from the second server.”

The green eyed torin nodded left and right in lukewarm agreement. “True, and it mighta been easier with Tela or Riaz along, but we got the job done.”

Saren grunted absently and continued to stare off into space, likely re-re-rethinking every decision and choice that had led to the mission being more impromptu and less efficient than his preference. The biotic Spectre could wing it with the best of them but he favored the well planned mission, precision and efficiency above all else. Saren had a code of minimum risk for maximum efficacy, one that he’d lectured on during more than a few occasions of their time training together. Nihlus wouldn’t say that methodology had gone in one aural canal and out the other, but...

‘ ...well, at least the glaring’s eased off, and hey, the chaos wasn’t my fault this time.’

Nihlus smiled wistfully at his thoroughly preoccupied colleague. After years of the other male’s hyper-attentive perfectionism he just found the grumpiness and obsessive nitpicking endearing.

“Let's head back to the Citadel, report in, and take a week or two of down time, yeah? Been awhile since our last break.”

Saren's electric gaze turned to bear down on him, the pale ridge of his right browplate lifting incredulously.

“Okaaaay...” Nihlus drew out the word, mandible quirking to the left in consideration. “One week of down time? Stop by a bathhouse for some nice... ”

It really was unnerving sometimes how perfectly still and focused Saren could be. His former mentor did 'nonplussed' like a professional.

“... Four days?”

“...”

Not to mention the electricity in that steady stare.

“Threeeee?”

The silence went back and forth for several moments before, -surprisingly-, Saren was the one to give with a blink-and-you-miss-it glance at his burned arm.

“Two days,” was all his partner said, striding over to the pilot's console suite to adjust their course. Nihlus' smile turned cock-sure and pleased. Getting the other torin to take two days of down time was in fact a small miracle.

'score one more point for the handsome spectre in black and red. heh.'

Nihlus went to make an imaginary slash in a tally book he kept no track of, but the twinge of pain from his burned hide made him flinch instead. He looked down at the mottled, medi-gel slathered arm with consideration...

‘mmmph. ow. ah well... worth it.’

 

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Following the news report that had brightened his day… week… month … and kept him from doing something potentially very stupid, Garrus developed a system. A sort of self care to keep his spirits up when things got rough at work. Every time one of his cases hit a wall, he would add fifty credits to a chit he kept in a kitchen drawer.

A two week delay for a case of domestic abuse due to paperwork processing issues? Add fifty.

Some sleazy politician buys off a security guard before he can get his hands on the video surveillance he needs to solve the case? Another Fifty.

A murderer walks because he couldn’t legally follow them around for a few days to catch them at it? Spirits damn it, fifty.

Whenever the higher ups forced him to drop a case because it was 'politically sensitive'? Fifty. Sometimes double. Those made him mad.

The tall sniper stashed those credits away, not for his savings account, not for his clan dues, and not for bills. No, they were for him to use to stay sane.

Whenever news hit that Arterius specifically or the Spectres in general, blew up, gunned down, or somehow ended another criminal enterprise he would nab his secret chit, possibly his Viper, and go out for a night of wish fulfillment.

If there were enough credits he’d buy an upgrade for his rifle, install it, and fine tune the new addition at the range. Garrus liked to imagine each shot landing between the eyes of the monsters constantly slipping through his talons. If he was in the mood for technical shooting, that was. Sometimes he wasn’t. Occasionally the itch in his trigger finger just needed to be scratched before he did something stupid.

Those nights he just fired... and fired... and fired.

Sometimes there were so many credits sitting on the card that he would take shots until his shoulder ached from the recoil, just to forget. One for every single confirmed kill by a Spectre agent since the last time he'd gone out for a night. One for every murderer coming up for parole. One for every body where they never found the killer. On the bad days Garrus is there pretty damn late. On one memorable night the ‘open late’ range staff had kicked him out when it hit two hours past closing time and he still hadn’t run out of anger or thermal clips.

It wasn’t always a bad day though.

When he solved a case and if the chit didn’t have much in it, Garrus would just go out for drinks instead. It was always a good day when he headed out looking to unwind with a lighter wallet. Carrying a near empty chit always meant that something, somewhere was going right, and well... if he follows someone home that night? All the better, since he knows it'll put him in a great mood for his next shift. One more criminal behind glass, a few drinks, and a decent lay? It was usually enough to restore his will to stay the course his clan had set him on. C-Sec Detective, born and bred, just like his pari.

…but if the one time partners he charms often have silver-grey plates and no colony markings, well... that's merely a coincidence.

Chapter Text

‘FUBAR.’

It was a colorful, short-hand word that Garrus had heard under many, many different circumstances. His translator didn’t exactly know what to do with the odd acronym. The program would sometimes spit out things like ‘interesting situation’ or ‘problem’ into his aural canals, but other times it would give up and send a dictionary definition listing to his visor.

Last week he’d finally broken down and bothered a coworker about it.

O’Riley had laughed, amused with his curiosity, and tried to explain yet another strange figure of speech with the obvious knowledge of one who’d been asked before. It was an antiquated human phrase, a favorite of military personnel from the 1940s. The acronym had evolved over the years, falling in and out of common use, and was valid for just about any situation when applied properly.

He’d heard it used with fond aggravation in the breakroom to describe the heating unit and it’s tendency to burn some foods but not others. “This situation is just... fubar. Dear God…” had been muttered in a somber tone after an incident on Kithoi Ward killed seven kids. On one memorable occasion of oversharing, it had even been used to describe how well someone’s date had gone the previous night.

‘Fucked up beyond all recognition… fits this situation perfectly,’ Garrus decided, pulling back into cover and reloading his service weapon.

Fuck was a terrific word. It didn’t translate well into the Turian Closed Dialect but the word had a good, harsh sound to it. Systems Alliance Common usually sounded flat and emotionless to him, but ‘fuck’ seemed to come out with some feeling behind it. Not subvocals, but… something.

The sniper finished reloading his pistol and signaled the next civilian to start running toward safety. The terrified pink form sped across the floor trailing shaking tentacles, and the sniper had to push down a surge of empathy at seeing the civilian’s distress.

Instead of letting it get to him, the detective popped up and started firing, lamenting that the quarters were too small and the range was too short for his Viper. Working on a space station, the opportunity to use his ranged weapon of choice didn't occur anywhere near often enough for his taste... and while he was good with a pistol, he was an artist with a rifle.

Still, he caught one merc in the neck, another in the shoulder, and the Hanar bank teller made it across the gap unharmed. Rinse and repeat for two Salarians and an Asari. Garrus dropped back behind the overturned metal desk he was using as cover, slamming a fresh thermal clip into place.

Up. It was a word generally related to positivity. Not that there was much of that to be found here today. He chuffed in dissatisfaction when the next two civilians made a run for it during a reloading lul. Going out of sync was disorganized, and one of them paid the price for that. A manager by the look of him, the sharply dressed Salarian screamed in pain as he was clipped by a round a mere meter from safety. It looked like an arm wound though, so Garrus wasn’t particularly worried. Better a stray bullet to the fool’s arm than a shot to the torso. Salarians did not handle those well.

‘I suppose it’s… something of a small miracle any of them are getting out,’ a darker part of Garrus’ brain mused. ‘This assault is insane.'

There were at least sixty Blue Suns robbing the main building of the Citadel Central Bank & Reserve, running roughshod over the five hundred some-odd civilians who worked inside the tower. Even worse, the classic tactic of taking hostages didn’t seem to be a part of their game plan. They were shooting to kill, no holds barred.

It took a certain kind of stupid to attempt a violent bank heist on the Citadel, but it took an ever greater madness to just murder on through the building without the safety of innocent people to hide behind at the end.

‘What are you mercs thinking? Where are you going with this…’

Garrus growled, curious to know how they expected to get away with the attack. This wasn't a planet, with a million places to hide and a hundred ways to escape. No, the Citadel may be an oversized, heavily populated tin can run by bugs that melted or exploded if you so much as looked at them the wrong way, but said tin can had ports that were incredibly simple to lock down. Cameras everywhere. This company of Blue Suns was either suicidal, or they had a trick tucked into their collective cowls he hadn’t figured out yet.

Regardless of not grasping their game plan, the tall sniper spun out from the side of his cover, moving and firing as he strafed to a new defensive position. Once clear he turned to press his carapace to the wall while his kinetic shields regenerated, return fire impacting the wall nearby. Calmly, he checked his remaining rounds on the current clip, and contemplated the strange acronym some more while the display for his shield's energy levels refilled in a corner of his visor.

Beyond... was neutral, at least. Not inherently positive or negative.

Garrus’ thoughts about the odd human word trailed off as he turned to considering the possibilities the mercenaries had for escape. The building would have been surrounded by C-Sec at this point, so the front door wasn’t an option. They’d either need use explosives to blow a hole underneath the building to get into the keeper tunnels, or escape from above, via shuttlecraft.

A couple shots hit the wall a little too close with a tiny spray of sparks, so he made to move.

Sliding between more of the overturned metal desks, which had been holding up surprisingly well under fire, Garrus found himself a new vantage point and scanned for targets.

The fuzzy edged outline of mercs fizzed into place on his visor, the scanning program tracking vitals, giving location, and estimating stature. It wasn’t pinpoint enough to take long range shots with, but it was more than sufficient to help him keep track of hostiles in close quarters while outnumbered.

The blue eyed sniper took a few pot shots to flush out a hostile on the left, herding them toward weaker cover, then shifted over and lined up a shot when the mercenary obliged his herding. As that one fell he spotted a target of opportunity, catching another in the neck joint of their armor. With that he surged forward and down into a new hiding spot, and started looking for more civilians to evacuate.

The stone plated detective's motions were smooth as he continued to clear the floor of enemy mercenaries, far ahead of C-Sec’s other forces on site. Garrus had started with a team of four, but the others had been too damn complacent for his tastes. Too slow. There were monsters knocking down the doors, and civilians in the line of fire, and he didn’t have time for procedure when it meant operating at the speed of smell.

Maybe it was because he’d only being out of active duty for two years, but he was still primed for combat. Working at C-Sec for the end term of his civil service was supposed to have been a gift from his superiors for exemplary service in the field... but the desk didn’t suit, and the standard issue armor sat poorly on his broad shoulders even still.

He’d pay for the rule breaking later, the detective was sure, but… after saving lives.  

Garrus reloaded his pistol yet again, waiting for the majority of the eight nearby Blue Suns to empty their own clips before leaning out and offering return fire. His shots were joined by those of the only real backup he’d sporadically had today: the single, brave Asari security guard who remained on site and alive after the initial evacuation. Their eyes met as the two acknowledged that they’d stumbled into each other’s theaters of operation again, too busy to stop but at least they could take care not to blind fire at the other.

The mountainous sniper shifted to a new foxhole while wondering idly if the sprinkler system could be used as a distraction. Multitasking had always been one of his strong points, a sort of battle calm in it’s own way, but unfortunately Garrus was quickly running out of letters in the acronym he’d been contemplating. His other usual go-to for staying frosty was cracking jokes over coms, but the only channels Garrus had access to at the moment were the Citadel Security channels he’d turned off so he couldn’t hear orders to ‘slow down’ or ‘fall back’.

Yet another stray bullet clipped the edge of the nearby wall with a orangey spray of sparks. A handful of staff screamed in terror, ducking their heads as they jostled deeper into their makeshift hiding place. Garrus hissed in anger. There were still so many noncombatants trapped in the nooks and crannies of the building. Each floor was a new mess of people dead, dying, or in danger.

He really needed to get the living out of here.

The detective's subvocals wavered in dissatisfaction as he pressed back into his own concealed space. This kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen on his station, and Garrus was especially pissed about it being on his ward. Restraint dwindling further, the detective took it upon himself to go on the offensive. Rolling across the gap, shields protecting him from a few stray rounds, he took a series of precise shots before getting back in cover.

‘There’s one more down. Two... damnit, missed… okay, down. Three, headshot... and down.’

The numbers on this floor dropped to a mere nine, the remaining mercs starting to panic. He targeted a potted plant in the corner to spook them, the loud shattering sound from behind tricking several into jumping cover. Two of their number didn’t hug the walls well enough to avoid the crack-shot Turian in a piss-poor mood, and nine became seven. His years of service spent in urban warfare to draw upon, the tall male took out the rest of the hostiles in the immediate area.

Throughout the successful room-clearing, an aggravated tension continued to build in his gizzard. Something wasn’t sitting right.

As soon as the proverbial dust settled another handful of civilians emerged from their hiding spots and ran for cover, pushing past him in a short stream of terrified people in business suits and improbable footwear. Garrus ignored them and moved onwards, tangentially aware of the Asari following on his six. They crept along the hallway and approached the next section of the bank, watchful.

This atrium looked much the same as the last. Tall ceilings and fancy decor, desks strewn about that were once in nice, straight lines. Rays of the Citadel’s artificial sunlight brightened the room from windows along the left wall, making dust particles shimmer in the still air. The metal floors made his every step into a harsh sound that echoed off the ceiling.

It was far too reminiscent of days past, missions he didn’t want to revisit.

The mountainous torin took a deep, steadying breath.

‘One hostile after another, just keep shooting,’ Garrus reminded himself as he scanned for targets. Noise caught his attention from behind a distant dividing wall, and he crouched to move closer, sliding from cover to cover.

The stone plated torin drifted toward the disturbance, focused on getting back into the blasé, unflappable soldier mentality he liked to exude instead of the battle hardened soldier he’d reverted back to in the last hallway. He needed to be here, in the middle of a shootout saving civilians, lackadaisically contemplating human acronyms… and not there shooting who he was told to shoot without regard for more than the letter of his orders.

Because this was, physically at least, easy for him.

Keeping relaxed was critical. Important to pretend he didn’t care as much as he did about the half-a-dozen still forms bleeding out on the floor behind him. Cooling bodies wearing office apparel and nice watches, sprinkled in glass shards from the framed pictures of their children, senselessly murdered for... probably just credits and convenience.

Garrus hated this kind of violence. Battle belonged on the battlefield.

Once more, with a will, he cleared his mind and refocused.

'Right. Where was I? Fubar. F-U-B-… Mmm... just 'All' and 'Recognition' left.’

All was straightforward enough. He clipped the helmet of the first merc he caught sight of, bringing the attention of three Suns to him instead of the cowering office workers that had made the noise. The Asari security guard wounded a second one with semi-automatic fire from a new gun the nais had picked up from somewhere… probably looted from a kill. The merc dropped, not having invested enough credits into their shields. Too late now.

Recognition… it felt like that part of the phrase was there to add some intellectualism to it. Some witty snark to contrast to the ‘fucked’ part being crude slang.

He heard them before he saw them. Boots on the ringing metal floors, pounding towards them from the upper level.

Damn it, reinforcements.’

Wishing he had coms to talk to his lone back up with, Garrus listened for footfalls. Eight… twelve-ish... no, fifteen or more enemies were pushing into the room soon. The mountainous detective glanced over at the Asari, who turned to look at him, pale and trying for a brave face. He nodded encouragement back.

'Don't panic on me now, please,' the sniper tried to say with his expression, glancing toward the next gaggle of investment bankers and paper pushers that were huddled, quaking with terror in a corner. One Salarian was outright reciting a litany prayer of one god or another; Delugia by the sound of it. 

'Good call,’ Garrus admitted to himself, and sent off a plea to the spirits for protection. Not for himself, but for the innocent-ish people trapped here who just wanted to go home.

A crash sounded overhead, drawing the entire room’s attention as a Turian figure smashed through an upper window like a Spirit of Justice summoned to the call. The detective dared to lean partially out of cover to get a better look, eyes catching on a trailing blue aura and fluttering black cloth. Pure disbelief pulled on his mandibles as the biotic intruder landed in a crouch, long zygomatic horns and bare face distinct and familiar.

"Hnn. Perhaps not the best entry vector after all," the newcomer mused, calmly opening fire on the hostiles not ten meters away.

Garrus blinked hard, twice, but the infamous Spectre was still there, taking shots against a backdrop of violence; the glass shards from his entrance scattering the artificial sunlight around him. Return fire came immediately, but failed to cause more than faint ripples on the other torin’s barrier.

'Right, well then...' he sent out a loud mental thanks to whomever had been listening to his prayers before leaning out, motioning the next civilian to run, and proceeding with his tried and true cover fire tactic while hoping that Spectre Arterius picked up on it.

Saren was quick on the drop, joining him and the Asari in pinning the mercs down inside of the little waiting area for the elevators and stairwell. He could see the bolstering effect having the well, known agent drop in had on the teal-skinned guard, focus and aim improving markedly with fresh confidence. A smile tilted his mandibles as Garrus himself faced the hotzone with renewed energy.

The tide of the battle had suddenly plunged in their favor.

Sixteen targets dropped to six then rose back up to eleven. With the heavier crossfire those too disappeared, leaving the remaining civilians to run en-masse for the safety of the rooms behind him. Distant gunfire echoed through the air ducts from the upper levels.

Turning towards them, the Asari spoke for the first time as they caught their breath from the high intensity shootout. “Celara Riase. My name, ah… that is. Thank you so much for your help. I... I need to keep going...” The nais trailed off and looked up at the ceiling, toward the muted sounds of intermittent popping and screaming.

Garrus nodding, his expression tilted in a smile. For a security guard in a supposedly cushy position, the Asari had some serious guts. “Garrus Vakarian, C-Sec… and I agree, we do need to keep going.”

“There are more people trapped upstairs... ” the nais replied as they took off, scooping up thermal clips from the bodies of the fallen as they went.

Movement at the corner of his eye caught Garrus' attention. Saren was stooped over, liberating some thermal clips of his own.

The tall detective felt a touch of -somewhat guilty- excitement, still incredulous that Saren spirits-be-damned Arterius had just biotically flown through a third story window on cue, but… he couldn’t exactly complain. He’d been the one to ask for help, hadn’t he?

‘Surreal…’

 

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Saren was... displeased when he ran out of ways to occupy his time during the shore leave Nihlus had pleaded for. The first day or so had been fine, however that had not lasted.

Upon arrival to the Citadel they had walked Jondum to the sub-labs of the Citadel Tower, where ST&R kept a rotation of physicians on hand. Then they had jointly given a verbal report to Councilor Sparatus, turned in their paperwork, and restocked supplies at the C-Sec Academy before spending the night at Saren's rarely-used apartment.

The next morning had been similarly busy. After eating a fantastic breakfast of imported foods from Palaven, the two had caught up on rumors and news with a few of their fellow agents and gone shooting at the range. After lunch, the biotic agent had left Nihlus in the care of Riaz Tio'fore, the lone Drellish Spectre. She was just as pleased to see his protégé, and to play with her latest grenade mods for the entirety of the afternoon. His partner did so enjoy explosives, and Saren had presumed the quiet would be a welcome change.

His day had gone down hill from there.

After leaving them behind, the stoic torin had attempted to enjoy the free time at a nearby café called Shazes. A favorite of his, known for clandestine meetings and political gossip. He surreptitiously tucked himself away at a table behind yet another of the Citadel's unknown leafy plants -engineered to create allergies in precisely no one- and ordered a drink. There he sat, keeping an aural canal open for useful intel... Yet there was nothing interesting being spoken of today. No one especial visiting the café.

Saren was quickly bored out of his mind.

When a block-wide evacuation order went out not four kilometers away, he headed straight for it, discovering a highrise bank at the center of swirling media skyvans and C-Sec patrol cars. He was sufficiently bored enough to be curious, if not particularly concerned with an everyday bank robbery… until the situation became more clear. It was not some small time heist for a few credits… it was a bank assault by the Blue Suns.

‘Such audacity,’ had been his first thought, dark and wry, ‘cannot go unpunished.’

The notorious PMC group had chosen a poor day to make their move. The Spectre wondered in passing if they thought it was a good day to die. The Citadel, the very center of galactic civilization, was no place for the Blue Suns to vandalize as they pleased. He would see to it that they were reminded of that.

'At least this will more productive,' Saren mused as he considered which window would be appropriate to charge through. Settling on the third floor, he took a running start and leapt forwards, biotics carrying him further than any Turian should have been able to jump.

He paid no mind to the subsequent crash of glass and startled screams that followed his arrival, more concerned with the messy landing.

"Hnn. Perhaps not the best entry vector after all."

Scanning the room with his optical implants took no more than a second; two friendlies identified by their uniforms -a security guard and a police officer-, plus a handful of potential hostages if the unarmed and unarmored silhouettes were any tell. Most importantly, an array of clear targets in conveniently matching armor.

The silver-grey torin chuffed, and leveled his firearm at them.

With carefully paced application of biotic ability, and the hand-canon he favored as a main weapon, Saren began culling the enemy forces, ignoring the smattering of non-combatants fleeing for safety as the room cleared. When the last of them fell, he crossing to the recently deceased to fetch new thermal clips, not having brought extra with him to eat lunch. An oversight on his part.

In his peripheral, he noticed the C-Sec officer sweep the room to double check for enemy presence, then go to speak to the Asari in low tones. He caught the nais’ name in the exchange, but missed the torin’s. ‘Something-karian, from C-Sec’, of which the latter was rather obvious. The tall officer was wearing their tale-tell cobalt armor, after all. Saren listened to see if the male’s name was mentioned again as the two discussed continuing to eliminate mercenaries, but it was not repeated. The silver-grey Spectre dismissed the minor trouble. It was no matter, he assumed the officer would respond to a title just as well as a name.

Standing straight, the Spectre picked through the handful of thermal clips he had acquired, and discarded one that looked overused. Sufficiently supplied, he looked for a next step in clearing the bank. The security guard had taken up position on the side of a doorway, peering around the corner to check for hostiles. Considering this was likely their place of employ, he assumed the nais knew the building well enough to know where the blind corners and access routes were. Following them would lead him to targets.

Saren moved to do so, distantly pleased if a touch confused that his presence was accepted without qualm. He was wary as to why they were so... trusting. No asking him why he was here? No veiled accusations? It was not the norm after he openly used biotics or inserted himself into C-Sec business. The curiosity turned over in his thoughts as they ventured onward, and upward.

The unlikely group came up on a set of stairs, climbing them slowly. At the top Saren watched the officer stop to listen, peering at seemingly solid walls with a flickering visor. He nodded approval at the caution, listening and scanning as well. His aural augments allowed for crystal clear hearing at long distances -software adjusted for volume- and the tech in his artificial eyes was top notch. The Spectre assumed the other Turian would find nothing, as he was not detecting any activity on the fourth floor himself. 

After a moment the well built male turned back to him, subvocals asking for orders as his eyes flicked to the next staircase upward. “I don’t hear anything on this level, and my visor isn’t picking up any targets. Keep going up?”

“Yes,” Saren replied at the expected findings. 

The officer flashed the hand sign for acknowledgment at him and moved to take point again, turning to go first as was expected of subordinates with Hierarchy military training. Saren raised a brow, but followed. If he was recognized as being informally in charge, that suited him just fine. The security guard, however, moved to tentatively follow them both from behind, mucking up the standardized squad formation when there was a clear position open for them up front. He resisted the urge to sigh at the small inefficiency, unable to blame the nearly-civilian Asari for not knowing Hierarchy formation protocol... thought it would have been so nice for them to just fall in line with the rest of the make-shift team. 

The trio made their way up the empty stairwell and through to the next access hallway. It contrasted starkly with the previous room by being inordinately clean and undamaged, empty of the signs of violence. They crept up two more levels before the gunfire echoes ringing through the stairwell made it clear that additional violence was occurring on this particular floor. Not two minutes passed before they ended up in a similar situation to the previous encounter, with an even greater number of hostiles but two extra security guards added to their mismatched squad.

The Asari purloined a better shield generator off one kill, and went to go physically cover non-combatants to the entryway. They were, more or less, playing ferry to the huddling workers, though also providing acceptable cover fire, even if few of their bullets hit anything worthwhile.

At the very least the Asari was being helpful. The two new security personnel, however, were proving to be worse than useless. A Turian and a Salarian, both providing inaccurate... he hesitated to call it 'cover fire'... on occasion, whenever they worked up the courage to reach their sidearms around a corner and fire blindly. The silver-grey agent called for their attention several times, and when he finally had it, motioned for them to leave. They looked absurdly grateful and did so. His subvocals rumbled dismissively as he carried forward with biotic lifts and precision fire from his side arm. This was no place for them to learn how to use a firearm, and why they didn’t already know how was beyond him. Especially the Turian.

On the other end of the spectrum, the visor-wearing officer in C-Sec armor had more than acceptable aim. Saren squinted at his next target as he mentally estimated their kills. The other male was something near one-for-one with him as they progressed. Not exactly something he expected of a regular officer.

Opportunity beckoned with a way to uneven the score: a gaggle of mercenaries holding position behind a good piece of cover, but far too close together. Saren tugged at the power behind his eyes and it bloomed vigorously, ricocheting down his spine and out his arm with a smooth memetic movement. The heavy lift tossed five of the Blue Suns into the air. He took out four in quick succession with his pistol, the blue eyed officer catching the last one.

An amused and friendly voice came from beyond the office-furniture-turned-cover, floating to him over the debris of datapads and office plants.

“Biotics are definitely cheating. Guess I'll have to up my game.”

The Spectre snorted lightly, subvocals edging on amused. Teasing? Another uncommon reaction to his presence. It seemed the other torin did not hold to their people’s antiquated superstitions, and was also notably competitive.

‘Very well. I-’

Saren paused in mild surprise as the other Turian burst out from behind his cover and shifted into the space of an enemy mercenary. Grabbing the Turian's crest and jaw, the officer snapped their neck before tumbling again. This time he purposefully rolled into the open to deck a Batarian across the face, and by the sound of impact it was hard enough to cause brain damage.

The officer was augmented then, a good fact to know under the circumstances.

‘-can make use of-’

The other male then dove left, bringing himself into a flanking position for several more take downs. A few shots landed where the torin had just been as he swung around some filing cabinets, much to the terror of another mercenary using them for cover. The officer repeated the close quarters offensive, then spun down on a knee behind his newly stolen cabinets -shields barely damaged- and took out two more hostiles utilizing the improved angle of attack. Head shots, the both of them.

‘ -that attitude.’

Half a room cleared, mercilessly, in under thirty seconds.

‘Impressive...’ Saren hissed in thought to himself. 'This torin cannot simply be just another C-Sec enforcer...'

Instead of revealing his opinion, the Spectre clicked his tongue and let off a subvocal rumble of mild reproach. “That was reckless officer,” his voice boomed over the din of panicked return fire.

“Maybe,” the male drawled back, sounding unrepentant. “Effective though.”

Saren snorted, the nonchalance reminding him of Nihlus. They moved forward from there, with a few uncertain glances from Riase for what might be considered unprofessional showmanship. It took very little time to clear the floor of flailing, terror-scattered hostiles.

Onward and upward they climbed. On the next level a single security guard remained holed up in an executive’s office; a lanky brown and red Salarian. Again the tall officer swept the area and signaled an all clear. Professional, and efficient.

The Salarian was named Torvas, he informed them somberly as he fell in line while reloading.

“Soon as violent activity was detected in the building the local VI will have cut the hard wire connection to the server banks, shut itself down,” the male elaborated. “Can now only be accessed or repaired manually. If the server hardware, and subsequently the billions of credits inside, are the target of the attack, Blue Suns will have to go up three floors, and over to a separate access tunnel.”

Deciding that ‘up’ was still the best option, Saren motioned them onwards. They had made it an additional two floors when a message notification popped up on his retinal implant. The unobtrusive heads-up-display informed him in translucent blue script that it was from his protégé. He opened the text-only communication with a mental command while the Salarian continued to drone on about the security precautions keeping anyone from getting to the servers themselves.

 

FROM:1886039//ID.code:alwaysclassy

TO: 8466672//LOCAL

there is a skyscraper on fire suspiciously close to where i left you.

END MSSG

 

Saren opened a live chat.

 

CHAT.live//CONNECT:1886039_to_PROXY.spec.8416_to_8466672

Connecting…

...

...

...Connected.

SA: I did not start any fires.

NK: buuuut... you're there.

SA: Yes.

NK: of course you are. i'm on my way.

SA: Check the roof. I have yet to discover how they intended to evacuate after reaching their goal.

NK: who is they?

SA: Blue Suns, apparently.

NK: wtf.

SA: Language, Nihlus.

NK: it’s appropriate!

SA: Just go.

CHAT.live//CONNECTION_CLOSED

 

The three continued through the building, growing ever closer to the top floor. A few minutes in another new message alert pinged him. Nihlus had not found anything of note on the roof, or even a roof-top exit door. Most buildings did not have them, the tops of such towers being too close to the force fields that kept the Citadel's atmosphere trapped.

The stoic Spectre sent a reply asking the younger male to search for other escape points or get-away vehicles.

Something was not quite right about this situation, though Saren had not pinned a talon on it... yet.

 

Chapter Text

Garrus was having a field day. He was... actually a little embarrassed by how much fun he was having. Fighting side by side with his personal hero, saving civilians, and kicking ass? It was like an action vid; they even had a token Asari. The detective laughed at his own idiocy in his head, but the smile from it still tugged at his mandibles. He was probably going to get yelled at later by Executor Pallin, who had put him behind a detective's desk to keep him out of this exact sort of thing in the first place. Garrus couldn't put into words how much he just didn't care right now. 

The number of trapped office workers had dropped as they reached the more exclusively staffed higher levels, but numbers of mercenaries had conversely increased. He estimated no less then seventy Blue Suns, now all dead, in the rooms and halls behind them.

 The kitchen chit was getting emptied tonight -or possibly tomorrow after some sleep- that was for damn sure.

Eyes still sweeping for hostiles as they moved through yet another fancifully decorated corridor, he finally worked up the courage to make an attempt at conversation. Not... exactly... his strongest suit, but he didn't want to miss an unlikely-to-happen-again opportunity to talk with the famous Spectre.

“Hey... Spectre Arterius. I, uh... don't suppose you could tell me why a drop ship's worth of Blue Suns are busting up a bank on the Citadel?”

Awful. He was awful at this. Somewhere out there Solana was probably being struck with an inexplicable urge to laugh her face off without knowing why. He groaned internally, and hoped the Spectre ignored him.

“I have not the slightest clue, besides the obvious fortune of credits they could steal.”

“Well, yeah, but..." -Why was he still talking again?- "...the chances of even half of them making it out alive, and then getting off the station? Incredibly low. Traffic control probably has the docks locked down already. This isn't a viable plan, whatever it is.”

Saren hummed thoughtfully and slowed to check something on his Omni-Tool, stepping distractedly over a dead security guard's body.

“You are correct. All nearby docks have been locked down, and the rest of the Citadel's Customs and Travel Security Offices are on high alert. There is no roof access in this building for an escape shuttle off the building's top floor, and I have yet to see any personnel being held for use as leverage...” Garrus turned his head to meet the Spectre's steadily glowing optics as they walked, surprised to find that Saren was quite a bit shorter than him. Their gazes met, both humming subvocal suspicion at the nonsensical situation.

For a moment he had trouble looking away, caught by the crackling electricity in the Spectre's retinal implants. After the glance had gone on almost too long he forced himself to face forward and concentrate on finding answers.

A polite throat cleared behind them. 

"Professional mercenaries in conspicuous armor do not attempt to rob a bank on a space station with unclear lines of escape," added Riase to answering nods. Even the security guard working a soft bank job had caught on to the misaligned puzzle pieces. Garrus had a sinking feeling in his gizzard, contrasted by a strange, lingering rush from that... whatever had just happened with Saren.

He was absolutely certain more fubar things were on the agenda.

'At least we got most of the civilians clea-'

“By the way, the building is on fire,” Spectre Arterius offered without preamble.

Oh. Joy.

 

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Nihlus had passed confused and was approaching outright baffled. There was no escape via the roof, unless the mercs had intended to blow a hole, and had an escape vehicle standing by to come pick them up. Even so, at this point C-Sec had the building surrounded. Aerial escape would not go well.

He'd checked the keeper tunnels nearby, the age old trick of escaping the law for Citadel smugglers, but there weren't any that ran directly below the building. Nor sufficiently large sewer pipes. A jog around the block while running an active scan via Omni-tool showed no recent hand-made tunnels. He looked at the adjacent buildings, all evacuated. None of them were particularly close, no connected sky bridges or utility shafts...

'What. The. Hell.'

He could almost hear a quiet 'Language, Nihlus.' in his head as he stood there on the safe side of the police barrier, trying to figure out what Saren had asked him to discover. Giving up for now, he opened up a secure chat to his mentor turned partner.

 

CHAT.live//CONNECT:8466672_to_PROXY.spec.1113_to_1886039

Connecting...

...

...

Connected.

 

NK: i've decided they intend to hoverboard off the top floor out the window, after blowing it with explosives.

SA: You've 'decided'?

NK: yes, because it makes as much sense as anything else.

NK: the building is surrounded by csec, no tunnels, no connecting architecture, not a daaaamn thing i can find.

SA: I see.

NK: share with the rest of the class?

SA: What?

NK: human idiom. it means tell me what you're thinking.

SA: Nevermind. There are hostiles remaining. You are on the entry level?

NK: yeeeeees

SA: I will be down shortly.

 

CHAT.live//CONNECTION_CLOSED

 

“Lovely.” He absently scratched the hide behind his aural canal, looking up to eyeball the sixth floor. A large section of offices facing the presidium were now charred and black. The air-mobile firefighting team had managed to put out the flames without entering the building itself, using a mounted turret that sprayed a targeted fire suppressant, but said flame-retardant chemical was now a foamy orange mess streaking down the glass-and-metal side. An expression of disgust pulled at his mandibles. It smelled like roasting Hanar.

So instead of standing around anywhere near that, he went in search of the nearest not-evacuated café, defaulting to grabbing a cup of kava and waiting around, like most soldiers during downtime. 'Hell', he figured, 'Might as well get Saren one of those diluted espresso drinks that he likes while I'm at it. Maybe he'll be distracted from my shitty detective work.'

Nihlus eventually returned to his spot with stimulant drinks in hand, standing as far from the smell as possible and sipping slowly at the warm liquid in his cup. He was fairly certain that this didn't actually count as down time... and wondered if he could convince Saren to make the break three days long after all.  

 

Chapter Text

In a bid for some answers Saren left the task of scouting forward to the myriad underlings he had acquired. Instead trailing behind, hacking his way into the enemy coms and the building's security feeds.

'Interesting...'

Three more small groups milled about on floors they had passed, and yet there were no more detected lifesigns on scanner between them and the server banks. With a growing sense of suspicion, the silver-grey Spectre looked around at his companions.

When he glanced to the left, he met large, dark Salarian eyes... and suddenly it clicked.

The moment of clarity happened right as 'Torvas' began raising his weapon to the C-Sec officer's skull, arm reaching to restrain the other torin in a choke hold. Saren's own arm rose on instinct, a quick draw borne from years of practice, but he withheld fire. The Asari spun around then backpedaled, face written in clear shock, stumbling into a wall.

'That's telling,' Saren thought distantly as events unfolded. 'The Asari truly did not expect betrayal from him. Which means that, likely, he does work here. They know each other. It is an inside job. Though... that does not explain the Blue Sun's presence. Why is he taking the officer as a hostage. Why not the nais? Asari are smaller. Easier to get a hold on...'  Thoughts streamed by as he narrowed his eyes at the Salarian, as a deceptively scrawny arm cinched around the stone-plated torin’s neck.

Saren assessed the situation calmly, considering a efficient course of action. He did not actually want to shoot Torvas, yet. More importantly, he wanted answers. He was still formulating a plan when Vakarian burst into motion, the shock of betrayal shaken off and replaced by what was clearly high ranked and hard earned close quarters combat instincts.

Torvas was a few inches taller then the officer, and that proved to be a disadvantage. Saren watched as the blue eyed Turian dropped his weight straight down. A quick snap-and-turn of the knee drove the point of a lightly armored leg-spur up into Korvis' thigh. It brought a gloss of not-quite-tears to the other torin’s eyes, spurs not appreciating such abuse, but it had the intended effect of loosening the treacherous Salarian’s hold with sudden and sharp pain. The move was followed up by a full powered elbow jab, a half turn, and suddenly the false security guard's uniform was in the officer’s grasp. 

Over the shoulder and down went one would-be Salarian bank robber.

The silence of the hall was finally broken by Riase's whispered and furious 'By the Goddess.'

Saren lowered his gun and tilted his head in mild amusement when the C-Sec agent looked up, meeting his eyes with a cocky smirk and a telling lack of adrenaline shakes. He was clearly very comfortable with close quarters.

“I think we may... have a... whew... a clue here,” came out casually, even though the mountainous torin’s breathing pace was still slowing down from the fast exchange. “I think that... just maybe... our Salarian friend here might've been in on it.”

The traitor in question struggled in place while the torin causally joked about him. Saren could not help but let a small smirk slip his normally passive expression. It... was rather amusing.

Torvas began cursing and hissing at them as the officer drew him up and slammed his frame into a wall none too gently. “What was that, Torvas? If that is your real name. I thought I heard you say something like, 'I am so sorry Garrus! Let me tell you all my nefarious plans so you don't have to beat the ever loving shit out of me.'”

“Language.” Saren added with an eye roll, lamenting that his entire generation seemed to be unable to communicate without swear words. The other male let out an long sigh in response.

“You hear that? Even the Spectre feels sorry for how badly I'm going to hurt you for causing the deaths of so many innocent people. You want to make this easy and spill, or should we wait till we get back to C-Sec? I'm okay either way, buddy, because my T&I stuff is all back at the station.”

Saren had to actively clutch his mandibles to avoid letting further, mildly inappropriate amusement touch his expression at the ridiculous threats coming from the displeased officer. 'Torture equipment at C-Sec? Such as what... triplicate e-forms and stylus holders?'

Apparently, when faced with an insouciant C-Sec officer willing to threaten torture, and an unbothered Spectre still holding a hand cannon, the Salarian remained unconvinced of how precarious his situation was. The only reply that 'Torvas' gave was a long, angry hiss. 'Garrus’ spun him off the wall and into a headlock facing Saren, subvocals asking for back up. 

It seemed the officer was used to needing to push the legal line for information, which... said poor things about C-Sec having access to good intel really. Saren squinted at the situation, then chuffed and pulled up his Omni-tool. Unfortunately for the Salarian a quick scan and Spectre access codes to the Citadel Archives revealed not only his identity, but also his rap sheet in record time. Saren hummed in pleasure at the ease of finding the answers he wanted, and began reciting the finds aloud.

“Ah, here we are. Aloran Korvai, from the Salarian colony of Mepuktina, twelve counts of corporate burglary, seven counts of... sexual assault? Interesting... suspected involvement in nine cases of insider trading, repeated illegal use of a false identity, grand theft of a cargo ship on Trireme, and sixteen recorded incidents of illegal hacking of government property, a further thirty two suspected.”

Saren leaned in to be threatening... but a suspicious, rectangular bulge in an odd shirt pocket caught his eye.

“Thought to add one more to the list?” He reached into the pocket as he spoke, coming up with a small uplink dongle pinned between two talons. He stared at it for a moment, thoughts spinning before a plausible explanation came to mind. “Ah, I see. We visit the server room, you slip this into a port while no one is looking, we see that everything is fine and leave, unknowingly escorting the criminal to freedom, while the program you leave behind waits patiently to be activated on a delay. Everyone is questioned, no one knows why Blue Suns went after such a high-risk target, which you probably paid them well to do so, and promised evac that was never coming... hnnn... am I close?”

The Salarian continued to silently glare. Saren pocketed the dongle for future study, and looked up at the officer. “Break his neck, we're leaving.” He turned away and began walking, missing the disbelieving look of terror that bloomed on the Salarian's face. He also missed Garrus blinking at him, and swallowing, steel blue eyes disappearing in a wince.

All he heard was the clear crunch of snapping vertebrae as he began typing a message to Nihlus.

SA: On my way down. Another minute or two, there were a few stragglers.

NK: mmkay.

 

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

It turned out that, yes, Executor Pallin was very displeased with Garrus. If by 'very', one meant excessively, and by 'displeased' they meant beyond furious. Garrus suffered through the seemingly unending rant by counting the number of dents and talon scratches on the surface of the heavy metal desk in Pallin's office. Not that the Executor was sitting at his desk, but the evidence of his past temper was amusing to a cynical and possibly self-destructive corner of Garrus' mind.

'Don't be hot headed, he says? Ha. I'm working my way through the proof of your losses of control, Pallin.' He sneered internally. 'Oh, do those count as destruction of government property? I should write you a ticket, old man. I'd love to see your face.'

It was a good thing Garrus could have a sniper's patience when he choose, and had a habit of keeping his face clear of his inner thoughts during dressing downs. Otherwise, he would've been fired a good thirty minutes ago. Then again, when Pallin started going off about the trouble he was in for murdering the suspect, he just... couldn't keep his mouth shut anymore.

Talking over his superior -and wasn't that an unforgivable sin for a Turian- he spoke up. “Sir, I would like to reiterate, as indicated in the incident report I turned in, that the suspect assaulted me first, and when searched by Spectre Arterius, evidence was found indicating further guilt. I was then ordered to finish him. What exactly did you expect me to do? Disobey a Spectre?” Pallin's mandibles pulled in tight as he stormed closer, getting into Garrus' face.

“I expected you to have some discipline!” He roared. Garrus' logic brain finally gave up in the face of that utterly nonsensical statement, and he struggled to remain respectful.

“I. Was. Following. Orders. From. A. Spectre.” He ground out, talking very slowly. Pallin threw up his hands, as if Garrus was just not getting something very obvious, and said, “Out. Get out of my office. You're on probation for two weeks. I don't want to see you anywhere near the station, C-Sec's armory, or anywhere else I might be. Do not go walk your old beat path -thought I didn't know you did that, did you? Go home and think about what you've done. Your patrem would be ashamed. Now, get out.”

Garrus left as the older male was sitting down at his desk to type in the suspension, internally maintaining that he had no idea what he was supposed to be thinking about, and if the Executor thought pari being disappointed with him was anything new? Ha. He had no idea.

Stopping by on the way out, he went to the HR desk to see if the asshole had put him on paid or non-paid probation. He didn't even make it all the way into the room before the older-then-dirt Asari at the front chimed in, “Un-paid. Sucks to be you honey.” Garrus groaned and turned right back around.

'Well, that answers that question.' He thought forlornly.

At least if it was paid probation he'd have the spare credits to spend some of his free time on a public shooting range, or at Armax. He wasn't exactly in trouble, his savings were plentiful enough, but he tried to make sure that number went up, not down. No income meant... well... honestly, it probably meant spending time at home researching local gang activity on the extra-net.

'Really, what do they expect me to do for two weeks? Clean everything in the apartment twenty times? Go on lots of walks?' Garrus was a detective, a problem solver down to his bones, bank rolled or not. Sitting on his laurels and contemplating nonsense wasn't something he could do and not go insane. 

Plus he had it on good authority, from his post-service psychologist, that brooding wasn’t good for him. Medical advice to stay engaged? It suited Garrus just fine. Thought the psychologist's other advice also came to mind...

'Maybe I should take the opportunity to visit home, considering pari will be calling to chew me out regardless. At least I could see mari and Sol... spend some time on the long-distance range behind the western wing. I haven't been back to the madlis since... hell, since I started at C-Sec. Yeah... yeah, that'd be good.'  Course of action in mind, his next stop was checking his bank accounts, to transfer balance from savings just in case he needed the extra to afford a shuttle ticket to Palaven.

He next considering what to do for lunch, distracted as he wandered up to a foot-path ATM and entered his credentials. His account balance flickered merrily up at him after he entered the code.

'Maaaybe... Aishika's? I think I sort of deserve something niceish after managing to be polite to Palli-- Spirits! What!? What... What.' Garrus realized he had yelled that last part, and was being stared at by a startled Asari and their kid. He smiled nervously, forgetting to keep his fangs tucked away and just making the mother start shuffling off with worried steps, away from the potentially unhinged cop. The tall detective cleared his throat and turned back to close the account access before speed walking away from the spot. 

The balance had read something six figures long. He swiftly crowd dodged the distance to a different terminal, braced himself, and cautiously ran his account credentials again.

'That is... that is still not... Huh... am I being blackmailed? Or... an accounting error?' He thoughts not entirely coherent, Garrus turned in the direction of a rapid transit terminal. This called for visit to a bank, and hopefully didn't involve being arrested by his own coworkers.

 

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Saren turned away from the console he was using in the Spectre offices, wiping his usage record more out of habit then paranoia. Paperwork for the incident yesterday filed, he'd had the ID list put together for the criminals killed, including Korvai, and any potential bounties run. Not particularly caring to separate it out precisely, he sent in the kill confirmations, and had half the pay out sent to him, forty percent to Vakarian, and what he considered a generous ten percent to the Asari simply for being helpful getting civilians out of the kill zone so he could work. That done, the laconic Spectre moved out into the commons area, finding Nihlus digging around in the Spectre info networks, mining for leads.

“Find anything useful?”

“I did, actually. It's in your favorite part of space too.”

Saren chuffed at the teasing tone of voice. “I should just buy a small moon somewhere in the Skyllian Verge, and have a quantum entanglement communications array installed. It would mean less travel time at this point.”

“You'd spend too much time working then.”

“It is called being productive Nihlus, perhaps you've heard of it?”

“Nah.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Garrus was riding high on suddenly being a millionaire, granted he was just barely a millionaire by adding all his accounts together, but he figured that it counted. He arrived on Palaven expecting the first two or three days to be painfully lecture filled and patience testing... but it turned out not to be.

There was a lot of numb silence instead.

His strong, wonderful mari was... ill.

 

 oooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

The sound of shattering glass was accompanied by glittering sparkles from exploding bottles, the shards flickering in the bright light of Trebia's afternoon gaze. The weather was obnoxious in how gorgeous it was, despite the low moods present.

A quiet cha-thunk came from the left as his pari's rifle fired, another next glass target shattering into pretty pieces that caught the sunlight as they spun away.

Cha-thunk again, this time from his right.

His filian glared down range, she'd taken the top off her target but the bottom remained standing after a precarious wobble. Normally Garrus would take a loving dig at her by shooting down the bottom before Solana could reload... Instead, father and son waited solemnly for her to blow the bottom half to bits as well.

Their mari was in the hospital, had just been taken two days ago, and was in a medically induced coma. The disease was Corporalis Syndrome, an underwhelming name compared to the terror of diagnosis. It had progressed 'very quickly', the doctors explained. They suggested Vivienne had purposefully hidden it out of pride, and that perhaps treatment wouldn't be so hard if she had just come in sooner, as if getting sick was her fault. Sol almost decked someone.

Hotheadedness sort of... ran in the family.

The first four or five days of Garrus' leave passed by in liquid time and sweltering afternoons of cha-thunk, cha-thunk, cha-thunk. The shattering of glass. The not-conversation. He'd pay for a lecture at this point, anything was better then the growing weight of fear and worry.

They got a call early in the morning on the sixth day, mari had responded well enough to the initial treatments, and they were waking her up. The family practically curled up around the bed side of Viviene Vakarian as her eyes flicked open, five other pairs waiting with baited breath for the fog of sleep to clear and -spirits please- be replaced by presence and understanding. 

It took a minute for her gaze to clear, but then they watched as she took in the situation, calmly folded her hands in her lap, and asked what had happened. As graceful as silk threads in a light breeze. 

The two medical staff then explained the repercussions of the disease. She was going to be better now, better then the vacuous, unspeaking condition mari had been in when she'd first arrived after a surprise seizure, but... it wasn't cured. It was degenerative; treatable... but unfortunately incurable. She was expected to live another decade or two before the corrosion on her neural pathways began to become untreatable, and permanent memory loss began.

Eventually long long, winding diagnosis trailed off, and the doctors left them in peace to discuss it. The door to the private room swished open and closed, leaving a ringing quietude in the air after the pneumatic hiss faded away. Garrus couldn't speak, his chest felt too thick, his lungs too heavy. Across the bed, his pari appeared to be similarly frozen. Thankfully, his filian had been born with an inner spark that never failed to light the fires when the rest of the family was too chilled to act. 

“This is some varren shit! exclaimed Sol, “Mari is, what? Sixty four? How is this not curable? Are we in the spirit's damned dark ages!?”

“Sixty Seven, darling, but thank you,” offered their mother, her lightly worn faceplates tilted in a weak smile. 

Solana Vakarian growled temperamentally. She clearly didn't want a 'thank you', she probably wanted their mari to live longer then half the projected life span of a Turian. Garrus sat quietly as Sol's rant continued, steeping in his own personal nightmare. Someone he loved was suffering, and he was helpless to do a thing about it. Not his gun, his bank account, his time, or his knowledge could do a damn thing about this.

Helpless. Useless. He hated it.

The rest of Garrus’ suspension passed too quickly by far, the mountainous torin having to tear himself from his mother’s bedside to get back to work. She shooed him off with a nuzzle to his temple and a subvocal rumble of affection. The bulky detective managed to keep the need to keen trapped in his chest until he was home again, alone and unwitnessed.

 

 

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It was by sheer chance that Saren ran into the torin from the bank again. 

He had been in a meeting with the Council and several other Spectres over a variety of miscellaneous matters, mostly of low importance, laregely unrelated to him or anything he was working on. His sense of propriety barely hanging on, only just keeping him from searching up something interesting to read on the extra-net while the session wore on.

The notification of a fire fight on one of the wards became the perfect excuse to escape.

“I apologize for interrupting, but it appears there is something amiss. If you will excuse me, Councilors, colleagues? I believe our interests would best be served if the matter was seen to.”

Tela Vasir raised a delicate, hairless brow. “What matter is...” the nais trailed off, receiving and opening the same automated Omni-tool notification. “I see. I agree, it would be best if non-essential personnel were dismissed to handle... this.” Tela sounded mildly perturbed by the very idea that someone would begin a criminal act when a council meeting was in session. The Councilors generously waved them off, Tevos hiding a smile behind their hand. Half the room left for less monotonous pastures.

Now he was being shot at, and there were no less then two hundred idiotic gang members scattered throughout the streets around him. Nihlus was off the station on a solo mission, but Tela, Jondam, and several other operatives had shown up to support C-Sec's Special Weapons and Tactics force. They were entirely outnumbered, but the Spectres and task force had superior armament and training by far. At this point, it was more of a live shooting gallery until enough gang members went down to quell the rest and force surrender.

Saren had cleared out two buildings in his chosen section, and was moving into a third... only to find all of the targets down; clean head shots or physical take-downs used on each. The Spectre tilted his head at a dead Salarian with their neck at a wrong angle. He had the feeling this work was familiar, but couldn't place from where. 

Bullets continued to fly, and the gang's numbers continued to fall. Vasir took a bad hit, reporting it with a mildly pained wheeze over coms. Thankfully the Asari retained the ability to evac back beyond the police blockade for medical treatment and did not require aid, thought Spectre Bau offered. Jondam himself continued with quick and quiet executions, his voice on the com channel subtly forlorn at the waste of life. He was contrasted by O'kara, a vicious Spectre trying out some of Ti'ofore's latest prototype explosives with an amused tone in her subvocals.

Saren continued moving upward through the deserted halls as the com chatter after Tela's injury settled down; floor by floor, heading for the roof to scout his next target. He made it, only to be met with a sudden crunch and gurgle that had him spinning left on the rooftop, barrier flaring. A Turian with obscenely fuchsia markings on yellowed plate was falling to the ground a good ways off, their left temple mangled from the head shot that had ended them. He watched the gangster hit the ground in a limp pile, blue electricity fizzing at his fingertips as the Spectre began looking for the origin of that high caliber round. A Turian form waved lazily from two building tops over, then turned to continue sniping anyone out of cover.

Hackles lowering, and curious, Saren scanned the armored figure with his optics using a mental command. The overlay technology in his eyes brought up the results from it's uplink to the Council Archives in a light blue glow off to the side of his vision: a fuzzy render of a Hierarchy ID holo... featuring the officer from the bank incident.

The silver-grey biotic huffed in amusement, rather certain the torin was not a part of the SWAT team assigned to this mess. He walked to that edge of the roof while wondering what the other Turian was doing here. Peering over the edge revealed no traffic or obstacles, but a few gang members on a causeway between two archologies. Saren idly made two kills at distance with his heavy pistol before the rest ducked into cover. He huffed, resisting a smile, when sniper fire from another angle took out the other three. Apparently the other male's competitiveness had not been a one time lapse.

The laconic Spectre brought up his omni-tool and opened the Hierarchy dossier that matched the ID holo. It was... enlightening. 

Wanting to know what the former hastatim was even doing here, Saren biotically leapt the four to seven meters between each building top, com tower, and walkway, landing heavily near a make-shift sniper perch amid climate control units. He knew there would be a price for the overt biotic use later, likely exhaustion and rabid hunger, but for now taking the short cut was a sufficiently efficient usage. Taking elevators down, walking over through live fire, and then riding back up would have taken far too long. Seemingly unfazed by his unorthodox approach, Vakarian remained tucked into his safe spot, scope pressed to the glass of his helm as he took two more shots.

“Do they pay you to wind up in these situations Vakarian, or do you simply have terrible luck?”

The sniper finally lowered his rifle and turned, hitting the retraction key on his helm. “Can't it be both?” he replied with a friendly smirk. 

Saren shifted his weight to one side, arms crossing under his keel. “Not in this case, unless C-Sec was embarrassed enough about this to call in spare detectives, and did not opt to inform anyone?”

Vakarian chuckled, though his subvocals sounded flat. “Ahh... I don't know if they'll let me keep my badge if my boss finds out I was here. I'm technically on suspension. Would probably have to fork out the credits for a bounty hunter's license, move to Omega, and-” The tall sniper cut himself off quickly, but they both knew what he had been about to say. It was a common joke on the homeworld, after all.

“-and become barefaced?” Saren finished for the other male in dry amusement.

The officer clambered out of the nest in a hurry, stepping closer while meeting his gaze intently. “That was thoughtless of me, and I apologize. I didn't mean anything by it, Arterius.”

The Spectre waved him off with a placid roll of subvocals. “A fair number of sayings include references to having or not having markings. It has long since ceased to bother me when they are used without offensive intent behind the words. Or at all, really. There is a reason I do not have them. ”

“Good... I'm glad.” If a grown male that towered over others with seven feet of pure muscle could ever be called 'sheepish', the awkward shuffle that detective was doing would qualify. 

New life signs chose that moment to come up on his passive area scanners. Saren turned to look, squinting as he zoomed in with his optical implants and identified them as hostile. Unfortunately the distance was a bit far for a heavy pistol, even his heavily modified ones. Working with what was available, he stepped in and took the rifle from the tall officer’s hands. Too blue eyes widened in surprise, but the other male let the gun go. The Spectre turned and aimed, chkbang-chkbang-chkbang, and down went three gang members a block away. Saren handed it back without a word, assuming the follow through had been explanation enough.

The C-Sec agent accepted the return of his firearm without missing a beat. “So, ahhh, maybe I could... take you out to lunch, as an apology?”

Saren blinked slowly at the sniper, then stared.

He could not recall the last time someone had invited him out to eat. Nihlus simply followed him to the quiet, low-lit places he frequented; a permanent carmine plated fixture in his life.

There were meals with targets while under cover, before he killed or blackmailed them as needed. Meetings with intelligence sources at restaurants, using the dining as a smoke screen for data transfer. Surely those counted...? The Spectres sometimes had lunch meetings with catered food, but he was too paranoid to actually consume any of it...

'Hmm.'

 

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Garrus had begun to lightly sweat below his crest.

'I must be mildly insane,' he thought 'If I think Saren Arterius has any interest in going out to lunch with me. Well... I had to try didn't I?'

Saren stared at him silently, electric eyes inscrutable, and Garrus' brain began throwing out manic thoughts in his nervousness. Gun fire echoed in the distance.

'He's going to shove me off the building for asking.'

'That whole joke about biotics being mind readers is a joke... right?'

'Those long zygomatic horns are really attractive actually... oh shit, he didn't hear that did h-'

“I suppose,” was what eventually came out of the stoic Spectre. “We should finish up here first though.”

“Ah, yeah. That's probably a good idea.”

So they did.

 

Chapter Text

Garrus tossed the stress ball at the ceiling above his bed, it bounced quietly, and dropped back to him. He caught it, and continued tossing.

 

Lunch with Saren had been a blast. Ten minutes in, he'd gotten comfortable enough not to feel that sense of 'he is going to push me off the building if I...' with every word out of his mouth. It had been a quiet and mildly awkward start, but after that warming up period, they'd gotten onto the topics of rifle mods, then pirate activity, and then local crime rings. Saren had seemed impressed with the width and depth of his knowledge on Citadel crime, and understanding of the Terminus-Attican Traverse-Citadel Space chain of piracy, slave trade, and drug running.

 

He'd even come up with a few relevant pieces of intel to pass on... okay to be fair, they were really just related rumors he'd heard floating around the break room, but he'd managed to contribute something to Saren's work, and the laconic male seemed to appreciate that.

 

Saren was definitely a quiet person, he'd noticed that early on, but when you got him talking about something he was interested in the torin could get on a lecturing roll. Garrus had learned a few things just by throwing out topics and listening; like the tricks slavers in the Skyllian Verge had been using lately to nab humans and disappear them permanently into Batarian space, or the way the Aria T'Loak, a dark spirited nais, was whipping up the infamous Omega into a place resembling lawlessness with rules, if only rules that kept business flowing and Spectres away.

 

The food was really edible too, and Garrus had paid as promised in apology for his earlier tactlessness. They'd parted ways with amicable nods.

 

It had been... nice. Really nice. Garrus tried to stop grinning. He'd just gotten back from lunch with his own personal hero, after spending an afternoon pretending in his head that he was a Spectre as well, that they were on a mission together on Council orders...

 

The stress ball fell and hit him right on the nose. He grabbed it before it could roll off him, and glared at it lightly. Garrus didn't care what the condescending stress ball thought, he'd take what life would give him, and make the best of it. He did it with his pari and his unending expectations, he did it with mari's... illness. Hell, he'd done it in boot camp too, and he hadn't seen a more soul sucking place besides those barracks, except during his days in a hastatim squad. He had always been an optimist, and while he might not be a Spectre, but who didn't pretend, sometimes, to be something they dreamed of?

 

The opportunity had been too good to pass up, and it'd probably never happen again.

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Brrrrrrp!!! BrrPING! Brrrrrrrp!

 

Garrus woke up, staring blearily ahead at his work terminal.

 

'Augh, I fell asleep at my desk... again.'

 

He looked down at the relevant info for his latest case. No drool. That was good at least. His Omni-tool continued to ring.

 

He blinked at it in confusion, the sender unknown, and hit the haptic key to accept the call. It was voice only.

 

“Vakarian.”

 

“...Arterius?”

 

“I require your assistance.”

 

“Alright... what is it?”

 

“Go to the Presidium, level three, there is a potted plant with odd purple spots near the fountain with color changing LED lights, call me when you get there. Go. Quickly.” The call disconnected.

 

Garrus shook his head, now even more confused. 'Well... technically, I have orders from a Spectre. To be seen leaving C-Sec academy and nonchalantly entering the presidium tower elevator at,' He glanced at the time. 'Four hours into the night shift. This is going to go so well.'

 

Surprisingly, it did. He made it out of the building, to the elevator, rode up, went down the hall, and found the strange plant. He wondered how he was going to call Saren back with nothing but a 'sender unknown' on his call list. Garrus shrugged and gave it a try, and it worked to his utter bafflement. Did Saren... have a private extra-net address at Sender Unknown?

 

“You're there?”

 

Seriously. He did. He really did. What even.

 

“Yeah, I'm here.”

 

“That was faster then should be possible from your home residence.”

 

“ ...I was at work.”

 

“Excellent. The door will open in approximately 15 seconds, on a one-time-use emergency signal. Enter quickly, go to the terminal on the far right.” Garrus gave up trying to make sense of the surreal night he was having, and just ran with it.

 

'See, stress ball? This is me making the best of it. At this point, it's a self defense mechanism.'

 

He was also tired enough to be remotely talking to his stress ball at home. Not a good sigh, but he was going to just play this in 'wing it' mode, and hope for the best.

 

“I'm there,” he said aloud instead.

 

“Check the index, find 'Ria Te'Amon and the Art of Ordinance', bring up the chapter on defusing a telemetric data enabled Neutron bomb, I believe it's chapter 37 or so. Find the section on hacking the telemetric data in order to confuse the bomb's triggering mechanism.”

 

“Right, ahhh, just a second.”

 

“No need to rush,” came Saren's dry toned voice, edged with humor, “we have a good twenty five minutes, thirteen seconds before it goes off.”

 

“I could concentrate better if you didn't make it clear that you were in range of a live Neutron bomb.”

 

“It was rather obvious before hand, I should think.”

 

“Lalalalala~I'm not listening.”

 

Suddenly bright laughter came on the channel. “Who is this guy, Saren? I like him.”

 

A beleaguered sigh followed. “Garrus Vakarian. A Detective with C-Sec.”

 

“You let a random cop into the Spectre Offices? BB is going to just love this one.”

 

Garrus ponderously interjected into the back and forth with half a mind, the other half skimming through pages of the e-book on explosive ordinance. “I thought the Spectre Offices were down in C-Sec Aca-”

 

“Nope.” Chimed the second voice. “Those are a cover. Welcome to the next several days of your life my friend, because there is no way out for you until we get back to the Citadel. If anyone sees you there? My advice is to quickly say, 'It's Saren's fault!' and stay very still.”

 

Garrus chuffed into the dead air of the obviously hermetically sealed, -he hated to say but was quietly thinking it... coffin-, room he'd walked into.

 

“So who is BB?” He asked onto the channel, skimming becoming more frantic as it settled into his brain that the Spectres on the call were possibly trapped somewhere with a live, extra-lethal bomb.

 

“That's the code name for the cranky old bat that handles Spectre procedural paperwork. Very picky about crossing your 't's and dotting your 'i's, so to speak.”

 

Another long sign from Saren. It sounded like the stolid torin was having an especially long day. “Nihlus. He may not know what a ‘t’ even is...”

 

The unknown voice made a sound od disconcert and started humming a pop song when no one replied. If Garrus had to guess, from common knowledge and media, it was probably Saren's protégé Nihlus Kryik who was currently humming this year’s biggest single. 

 

Several minutes passed as the person continued to hum various pop songs in a variety of languages. A short stint of clever mouthed beatboxing even went by before Garrus located the right section in the truly massive e-book.

 

“I've got the section pulled up. Can you tell me the specs on the OS running the telemetry system or the serial number on the ignition? Need to narrow this down, there are too many listings.”

 

They spent the next, increasingly more nerve wracking, nine minutes figuring it out.

 

“It is down. Thank you. There is food and water in the room by the entryway. I would advise avoiding it if you can, eat from the back end of the stacks if you cannot. We will be back on the Citadel in... forty one hours, give or take. I will ensure you are not expected at C-Sec in the mean time. Make yourself comfortable.”

 

“Don't go in any of the rooms down the left hallway!” Added in the other voice.

 

“A good point. There is a range down the right hand hallway, and a maintenance closet as well. You can make use of anything in either of those, but I would avoid the rest of the doors, and the stairs.” Garrus looked around, seeing no stairs.

 

“Riiiight. Okay. Great.” The call disconnected. Garrus looked from the massive battery of consoles on the wall before him to the open door to the break room, with questionable food supplies. Entirely unconvinced the left or right hallway was safe. It looked like a maze back there.

 

'Screw this.' was the clearest, exhaustion fueled thought in his head. He went to try his hand at hacking the door.

 

It took him about five hours to cautiously work his way around the best security systems in the galaxy, and then... he went home.

 

He took the next two days off work regardless, he felt it was well deserved, and read up on the latest in security suites instead.

 

Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Saren and Nihlus arrived at the hidden Spectre Office, expecting to see Garrus either half starved or tripping out of his mind. Everyone knew the break room food was spiked, though no one could pin down who kept doing it.

 

'Maybe Tela could ask the Broker?' Nihlus thought passingly. '...Nah. It's a good lesson for newbies anyway.' Regardless, he'd been nice enough to pick up some dextro take-away on the way here, enough for two and a biotic, and was waiting for Saren to move through the doorway... but he was just standing there, still.

 

“Saren?” Nihlus started carefully, “ ...is he dead?”

 

“My optics show... no life signs in the vicinity, save for down in Operations, Nerra’s lab, and the usual head count in the Intel rooms.”

 

“Wait, what?” Nihlus leaned around him and peered into the area. Empty.

 

They entered and checked around. No one around on the upper levels at all. Saren brought up his Omni-tool and called the absent sniper. The video feed popped up to show Vakarian lounging on a cubitura style couch, with the distant sound of a dialogue on a vid in the background.

 

“Vakarian.”

 

“Hey, what's up?”

 

“Where... are you?”

 

“ ...at home.”

 

“......”

 

“You need me to run another errand?”

 

“No, we... bought you lunch.”

 

“Oh, that's nice of you. You and... is that Spectre Kryik? Are you, ah, bringing it here, or...?”

 

“...Yes. Send me your address. We will be there shortly.”

 

“Alright.”

 

Saren ended the call.

 

Nihlus looked at the door way, back at Saren, back at the door way, and again at Saren. One brow ridge raised in silent question.

 

“I have no idea.”

 

Chapter Text

'What did they feed this torin growing up?', was Nihlus' first thought upon seeing Garrus Vakarian open the door to his apartment. Standing at an even seven feet, Garrus was taller then him by several inches, and Nihlus was already a very tall, lanky Turian. He glanced back at Saren, whose crest only came up his chin. Adorably short, for one of their people.

 

Nihlus grinned internally at the mental image of what Saren would say if he told him he was adorable in any capacity. His helpful and somewhat suicidal brain also conjured up a picture of... what were those human dolls? The ones where each one was bigger then the last, and they stacked inside each other? He couldn't remember, but was unbothered, having gotten entirely stuck on the idea of 'stacked inside each other'.

 

'Heh.'

 

 

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

 

Garrus waved them inside, feeling somewhat bemused to have Spectres delivering him an early lunch, and mildly disturbed by the... effusive and friendly grin in Nihlus' mandibles. Saren remained stone-faced.

 

Odd pairing, these two.

 

He coughed and offered them seats on the cubitura that took up the better portion of his tiny living room, and sat down at his one person breakfast bar, facing them.

 

“Thank you for lunch,” he offered.

 

“No problem,” returned Nihlus, grin having died down to something less perturbing as the torin glanced around his apartment. “It was the least we could do after you helped us save that colony.”

 

Garrus blinked, hard.

 

“There was... a colony involved?”

 

Saren, who had begun to open bags and pull out containers, stood and made for his kitchen. “Yes. We could have simply flown off, but your intel allowed us to spare the citizens from an unneeded emergency Neutron bomb. A left over from the Rachni wars I believe, in an old base that had been taken over by pirates. Where are your plates?”

 

Garrus pointed silently at the cabinet with plates, and reached over to pop open the dining-ware drawer in case it was needed. Saren nodded absently and acquired plates and furca, long double-point sporks.

 

“So,” Nihlus dropped into the silence, “How'd you get out of the Spectre Offices? We'd... ah... sort of expected to find you there still.”

 

Garrus shrugged. “I worked my out through the door security. Took me a while though.”

 

He perked up, curious. “You hacked your way out? How exactly?”

 

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

“I... ah...” Garrus was trying to think of a way to describe something extremely technical in simple terms and also not incriminate himself in the process... when it occurred to him that Kryik wasn't some flunky in the evidence department, he probably knew his way around computer systems. Likely most Spectres did. He also was unlikely to care about borderline illegal hacking prowess.

 

Well then.

 

“I had to trick the door's security system into thinking my entry program was another layer of security, and not an update or change to existing code. Then I set myself up as an extra data storage area for when the existing storage area filled. Then I flooded it with random data from a bot trying to guess the security code, until it started using my offered storage space to store failed attempts for records. Once I had a few failed attempts, I changed the result of one code set from failed to successful, and swapped it with the data of a failed attempt stored on the internal storage. I resent that fake-success code, and it errored out. The lock disengaged, but the door stayed closed. I had to pry it open with a boot knife. Then I put it all back as I found it, and left.”

 

Saren nodded thoughtfully, “Clever.”

 

Nihlus tilted his head, “Pffft. That shouldn't have worked.”

 

“In a perfect world? No, it shouldn't have. Though I had a few other things I tried first that failed, and a few more ideas to try if that one hadn't. Might want to have someone plug that security hole... though they'll have to dig through an awful lot of code to find why it errored out, I suspect.”

 

“Indeed.” Saren handed out plates stacked with food, a meal of simple grains and various entomophagous proteins, spiced lightly with tiny salted pebbles. Garrus noticed that they hadn't thought of drinks, and popped into the kitchen to grab water.

 

He opened the cupboard and was met with his small collection of goofy kava cups, the results of years of white elephant gift exchanges at work on the primary holidays of each species. There were six different races at work, -though the Hanar were represented by a single officer-, so PR insisted on six holidays. Garrus tried in vain to find the least ridiculous ones, bypassing, 'Want to feel safe at night? Sleep with a cop!' and, 'Officer, only because Badass Motherfucker is not an official job title.' Saren ended up with 'Patrol is how I Roll.', Nihlus with 'Detective Fuel', and he grabbed his well-worn favorite, 'Sometimes there's Justice, sometimes there's just us.'

 

They both hummed subvocal thanks at him, and the room descended into silence. Garrus scrambled for a conversation topic to fill it.

 

Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Nihlus could see the cop was struggling to find something to talk about, and with Saren being predisposed to not-talking for hours, the lanky torin knew he wasn't going to be any help. Deciding to have mercy, he dug for a topic, eventually settling on ‘When in doubt... bring up work.’

 

“So you're the C-Sec from the bank, right?”

 

“Excuse me? Oh! The... yeah. The bank robbery. I was ahh... in the area,” Saren chuffed disbelievingly. “and went in to try and get some of the civilians out. That was a long day.”

 

“A lot of them did, good work. Though the fire suppressant crap they used to put out that fire on the sixth floor...”

 

“Smelled terrible?”

 

“Yeah, like fried Hanar.”

 

“Fried... Hanar?”

 

“Yeah, this one time I was-” Saren cut him off with a kick in the shin plate.

 

“Ow! Hey, what was that for?” Saren looked down at his plate, looked up at Nihlus, and raised a brow plate as if to say, 'Are you stupid? Look what we're doing.'

 

“Oh. Sorry.” Nihlus turned back toward Garrus. “I should've picked a better topic for conversation over lunch...” The mahogany torin trailed off, considered it, and tried his second set of go-to conversation starters: the conversation train he used to get laid when bar hopping.

 

“What do you like to do in your free time?” Garrus perked up, swallowing his current mouthful before answering.

 

“Modding my rifle, like to spend time at the C-Sec range.” That sounded more like work talk to Nihlus, and he had been aiming for 'vid watching' or 'video games'... but it would do.

 

“Nice, what rifle and mods are you using?”

 

The conversation picked up after that, Saren chiming in about a new line not yet available to the general public with a scope that pierced smoke clouds with relative ease. Garrus was immediately covetous, while Nihlus was dismissive. The lanky Spectre preferred to get up close and personal, and smoke just made that easier. The Detective countered that if an enemy had that scope, they could see into the smoke he was hiding in and shoot him, while Nihlus’ mind would think and feel like he was hidden.

 

The conversation devolved into a soldier's strategy debate of what-ifs and why-nots between different preferred ranges of engagement.

 

They ended up moving to a nearby always-open cafe that served kava, of which Nihlus practically inhaled, and Saren savored, while Garrus seemed to simply be exultant at talking to people who seemed to share his interests.

 

They talked for hours, trailing into the night cycle with talk of favorite teas and pirate activity.

 

 

Chapter Text

Garrus stared down at the datapad, willing it to say... anything, anything at all, other than what it did. Thirteen dead; Turian, Human, Asari, a Drell. The datapad was a forensics report, and although it was nearly a hundred pages long, it could be summarized by saying, 'There is nothing on, in, or around any of the bodies. We've got no clue, good luck with that.'

 

He dropped his head into his palms, talons dragging against fringe. There was a serial killer on the loose, no one had answers, and as usual the people in charge were more than happy to make it his problem.

 

Granted, he had a history of solving some colorful cases that had been almost cold, but that wasn't why they sent it to him. Oh no. They dropped this kind of thing on Detective Vakarian's desk because he was always in some sort of trouble anyways, and his family name kept him from getting fired outright when he had to play the scapegoat for the media.

 

He'd played this game so many spirits damned times... was it any wonder his pari was always disappointed, if the media was the starting point of how he followed Garrus' career?

 

Since they didn't talk much... ever...

 

On the other hand, why didn't he know what the real story was like? He'd spent years at C-Sec before Garrus ever did, surely he knew the bullshit games the upper ranks ran to keep the heat off of the eternally underfunded and understaffed police force?

 

He was going nowhere at this point, head spinning in circles, thoughts tangled. What he needed was... focus, and his best focus always came when he was behind a scope.

 

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

“Hey. Hey, Vakarian.” Garrus turned at the sound of the voice. It was Sergeant O'Riley, looking sheepish. “I know you've got a lot on your shoulders at the moment, buddy, but ah... It's 2 am, and the range is closing. You gotta go home.” Garrus shook himself, noticing cramps and stiff joints from the position he'd held for too long. The fabricated targets set on quick-moving, randomized patterns in the distance were... well, more holes then not.

 

“Ah, sorry.” He started packing up. “It's 2? I thought the range closed at 1...” Officer O'Riley shrugged carelessly.

 

“Meh, I had some paperwork I was behind on anyways. Thought you could use the extra time.”

 

“I could... I mean. I did. Thanks.”

 

“No problem, yeah? Get some sleep.” Garrus nodded as if in agreement, but the look in his fellow officer's gaze made it clear that he knew the lie for what it was, subvocal understanding or no. They both knew the sniper planned to eat something, and end up back at his desk in an hour.

 

The easy-going human shook his head in disapproving acceptance and walked away.

 

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

It had been thirteen days since the impossible case file had been left on his desk, and Garrus hadn't made any significant progress. Another person had died, same lack of evidence as before, and he was counting the days till the next name was added to the list.

 

Innocent lives were being snuffed out, one by one, the case was cold even as it happened.

 

'How' was the big question. If he could just figure out...

 

"Next! What can I get for you sir?" Garrus looked up to find himself next in line to order at the café where he'd last seen the Spectres. It was stupid, but he kept coming here on his lunch hour superstitiously hoping that some sort of... Spectre-y good luck would rub off on him. Help him get a foothold in this case.

 

“The lunch special, ahh.. extra sal please.”

 

“And for the drink?”

 

“Just water.” He swiped his credit chit.

 

“Sure thing mister, here ya go!” The cheerful Asari, not a day over 60, handed him a cutely decorated number tag to set on his table and called for the next person. Garrus sat down in a booth by the front windows, setting the number card down and staring off in the distance. It wasn't long before the waiting staff brought out his meal, taking the number tag with them, absentmindedly leaving a straw with his water. He would have laughed if he'd noticed, the absurdity of giving a Turian a drinking straw, but he was too busy giving the opposite bench a thousand yard stare.

 

“You going to eat that?” Garrus looked up, startled, as Nihlus slid into the bench across from him, nabbing a vegetable chip off the side without waiting for an answer. Sleep deprived and stressed, Garrus was slow to reply, but eventually got out, “No, go ahead.”

 

Nihlus reached for the eating utensils from his side of the table and dug in. “You look glum Blue, why the heavy expression?”

 

“Blue?” He responded confused. Nihlus just gave him a crooked grin, and tapped a talon on his own cheek plate, mirroring where Garrus' stark blue clan markings were thickest.

 

“Oh. Hmmm.” He rolled his neck, bracing his elbows against table top. “On a case...", -he gestured a hand vaguely in the air, as if to indicate it's troublesome presence-, "and it isn't going well. Not enough information to work with.”

 

Nihlus gave a low roll of subvocals that said 'I know the feeling'. “Keep at it, yeah? The info you're looking for is always out there, somewhere.” He added between bites. “You just have to get creative in finding it.” Garrus smiled lightly.

 

“Words of wisdom?”

 

“Yep, got it out of a fortune cookie. Don't tell Saren.”

 

“That you are spouting human wisdoms, or that you had dextro chinese?”

 

“Both.”

 

“He probably already knows.”

 

“...Point.” The remainder of Garrus' lunch disappeared, chips and all. Nihlus helped himself to the water as well. Garrus thought he should have felt offended. Nihlus' every manner, from his accent to his table manners, spoke of low tier birth and poor colony upbringing, and his lunch was disappearing rapidly; but he couldn't manage to be anything more than vaguely charmed. Don't forget tired. Charmed, and tired. Nihlus stood.

 

“Well, I've got to resupply and get back to it. Bit of an upswing in pirate activity has us all running around like mad. Take care Blue. Find them and blow their face off, yeah?” Nihlus grinned again, flashing him an alien thumbs up before disappearing, Like a summer wind, he blew in, warmed things up, and blew right back out. Garrus’ smile faded as the upbeat male disappeared.

 

Scrubbing his face with his hands, he went to order a new lunch.

 

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Garrus fell back on his bed, face relaxed and happy for the first time in almost a month. Finally, that asshole was behind bars. Spirits. That case had almost killed him, but it was over. Over and done, no more deaths. Nihlus had been right about one thing, the information needed had been out there, somewhere, but Garrus couldn't have found it, wouldn't have found it, if he hadn't gotten creative. The killer had a distinct pattern of targets, the nutjob had taken women, Asari, or effeminate men. He'd favored people who had purple markings, tattoos, or clothing. He stayed on one ward, and witness accounts had spoken with the victims just the day before in many cases. Killed in one night, no clues left behind.

 

So Garrus preempted him instead, pouring personal funds into making small bracelets with tiny press-able emergency beacons, he'd then gone down to the red light district in plain clothes and slipped into and out of prostitution establishments, both legal and not. He'd sat down with defensive and dismissive business owners and laid out the situation. Serial killer. No evidence left behind. 23 dead thus far, 8 of which were sex workers. The owners thawed a bit. He out lined his plan; free trackers for all their workers, ask them to wear purple. He'd be on call, all night, every night, just in case anyone hit their beacon. False alarms wouldn't be punished. A successful capture, or even spotting of the murderer would result in reward for both owner and workers. Expressions showed interest at that, at least.

 

Almost three thousand fabricated beacons, 67 establishments, over a week of sleepless nights spent in an unmarked patrol car, and a dozen or so false alarms. Then, the killer picked the wrong person to target.

 

It was a chemist, killing remotely with rapidly broken down poisons and tiny robotic insects. Of all the wild, insane ways to kill someone.

 

The piece of shit had been grudge killing, his bondmate had left him, unwilling to deal with his poor attitude, -read as domestic abuse-, and even though she'd never be able to bond to another, she'd left one day with no word.

 

'Good for her', Garrus thought sleepily, sinking into the deeply padded sides of his bed.

 

They had even been able to save the thin slip of a torin who'd been spinning tricks on a quiet street, carrying one of his beacons. He'd been rushed to the hospital by the ambulance Garrus had called as he flew in pursuit of the perpetrator, who had graciously stayed for a bit to watch his victim die.

 

A long, fluid sigh left Garrus' chest, and he slipped off into well deserved rest.

 

 

Chapter Text

It was a beautiful day in the wards. Sure, the artificial weather patterns provided that everyday, but Garrus felt like today was particularly nice. He was cruising along in light traffic, accomplishing nothing more than enjoying the drive. It had been that kind of week, over all.

 

It was, of course, in that very moment of high heartedness that the dispatch channel crackled to life in his ear.

 

“Attention, 10-80 along the Aroch Ward expressway, heading dial-side. Repeat, 10-80 on Aroch, main expressway. Available officers in units 195 through 220, please respond.” Garrus tapped the key sequence into his Omni-tool to indicate he was en route, and awaiting further details. Then, he flipped on his lights and siren and took off for Aroch, waiting for dispatch to open a line to him. He didn't wait long.

 

“Hello again, 201. Glutton for punishment, as usual.” Garrus smiled. Yes, he was always fast to reply for ABPs and alerts, and dispatch loved to tease him about it. He had something of a reputation for being quick on the draw, in more ways than one.

 

”Hello, and yes. Always.”

 

“Welllllll, like I said on the alert, it's a skycar chase, an interesting one though. We've got a yellow Cision Motors 3PL, tricked out for illegal speed boosts, being followed by a dark blue Nezo Trans with no ID, and units 134 and 219 in pursuit. Headed away from the presidium, about halfway to the dial-side of the ward at the moment. Might be headed for the cargo docking lanes, if they're trying to get off station, or Elkross Stadium, if they intend to get lost in the shuffle.”

 

“They'd have to ditch the skycar to manage that, the Cision 3PLs aren't common.”

 

“And it's yellow.”

 

“Aaand it's yellow. Thanks, I'm on it.”

 

“Good luck 201.” The connection ended, and Garrus hit the accelerator.

 

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

“I still don't understand why you won't let me drive.” Nihlus said, half lounging in his chair, unbuckled.

 

“You are a terrible driver.” Saren replied, swerving over, around, and under other traffic at eye watering speeds.

 

“I am not.”

 

“Yes. You are. I would not trust you with a go-kart, much less a skycar.”

 

“You're just saying that because I scratched the paint on your ship when we had to emergency land last week. It wasn't my fault the stabilizers were so mangled. Blame the mercs who fired at us.”

 

“ 'Scratched the paint' does not aptly describe the five meter gouge that resulted.” They turned sharply, the skycar they were following barrel rolling over the side of the ward's edge, curving itself along the underside of the station, and activating it's speed boost.

 

“I want to point out I was also high as a kite on pain meds, and full of bullet holes.”

 

“It was only three, that hardly counts as 'being full of'.” Nihlus rolled his eyes, giving up the argument for the moment.

 

“You're going to loose her, we don't have a booster.”

 

“I will not.”

 

“She's getting awayyy.” Drawled Nihlus in a sing-song voice. Saren glanced over at him, supremely unamused, then cut sideways, aiming to come around the ward's edge several city blocks ahead of their target. The skycar, though lacking boosters, had excellent handling and turned on a cred-chit's edge, the internal gravity compensators preventing the two Spectre's from feeling the physics of the wild chase. They flipped around the edge, and Saren pulled their vehicle into a sharp incline, plunging them through an open air atrium to the utter terror of the occupants.

 

“I think I saw Tevos back there,” said Nihlus, chin lifted in a tilt and a hand over his brow as he pantomimed peering back at the atrium as it disappeared around a corner. “on one of the benches.”

 

“I highly doubt it, the Councilor doesn't frequent this area.”

 

“I totally did, that nais is going to be miffed.”

 

“Your imagination is overactive. Even so, we simply flew through. The patrons didn't suffer anything more than a heavy breeze.” Saren spun them in another sharp turn, pulling out into traffic not five meters from their target.

 

“Do I want to know how you know, off hand, whether Councilor Tevos frequents any one particular area?” said Nihlus, as he set the window to roll down, leaning out to take a few shots. They pinged disappointingly off the rear window, and he glared at the bullet proof glass.

 

“It is relevant to performing our duty.” Came the reply, half-yelled over the mild howl of the wind from the semi-pressurized atmosphere around them.

 

“.... how??”

 

Saren merely let out a rumbling huff, subvocals depreciating.

 

“Perhaps instead your imagination isn't active eno- Get down!” Nihlus dropped without thinking, sliding most of his bulk onto the floor of the skycar, only his upper body remaining draped over the seat. Saren flicked the bar that adjusted the driver's seat, dropping the upper portion straight back. In a desperate bid the tarin driving the 3LP had tossed out a mass effect wireframe device. Intended to be used in groups of 4 to provide a two dimensional shield, the target had gotten innovative, tossing out two, effectively making a temporary mid-air tripwire.

 

It sheared the top of their skycar off like a cheese cutter, making it tumble away, smacking into buildings as it took the long fall to the station’s surface. An emergency mass effect bubble popped up above them, a battery of alert pings and emergency alarms going off. Saren immediately sat up, correcting their course.

 

“Those things come in groups of 4!” Yelled Nihlus, and just as he finished speaking three more sets of two came flying at them, spread at wild angles. Saren, not to be caught off guard twice, tilted them at an angle and veered wide, clearing time the trap unscathed. It would have been a perfect dodge, had another skycar not been coming out of an aerial garage without looking where they were going. The abused vehicle took the collision like a champ, the rear right side impacting severely, but the other three sides automatically compensating for the loss of lift and speed. The hit staggered Saren, who used his biotics to stabilize himself. Nihlus, however, went flying.

 

Saren about had a heart attack, arrested only the sight of a C-Sec patrol car zipping in on it's side, passenger side door open, catching Nihlus like a bird of prey. The blue-and-war car wavered dangerously at his impact, likely right on top of the driver, but evened out. Saren turned forward, unaware he was throwing off biotic sparks like a drive core, eyes narrowed dangerously.

 

He really only needed the codes secured in the female Turian's briefcase when this started. Now he needed to see her dead. Very, very dead.

 

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Nihlus came to in a tangle of limbs and with a blinding headache. The nausea hit a moment later, and he reached, carefully, for the stims dispenser on his armor, then the helmet retractor along his collar line.

 

“You alright?”

 

Nihlus felt more then heard the rumble of concerned subvocals in a familiar voice.

 

'Huh... what a coincidence.' He took stock of himself to find that he was face down, and halfway in the lap of his new favorite C-Sec Officer. Not that he hadn't liked the torin before, but Nihlus was fairly certain he now owed the other male a life debt.

 

“Ahhhhh... yeah. Hnnn. Ow.”


“That doesn't sound alright. I'm still following... that's Saren up there driving? I can leave off for the hospital though if we need to.”

 

“No. Ugh. I'm... good. Mmmfine.” Nihlus took a moment to breathe, leaning his fringe against the blissfully cold armored thigh beneath him, waiting for the stims to kick in. Nothing felt broken at least, one arm wrapped around the knee by his head, the other folded awkwardly back along Garrus' chest piece. One spur was throbbing pain in time with his headache, he thought he might've caught it on something during the fall. “You've got... realllly great timing Blue.”

 

Warm, vibrating laughter echoed in the relative silence of the properly sealed skycar.

 

“I suppose I do, at that. You sure you're alright?”

 

“Mmmmyep.”

 

“Okay. It ah... it looks like Saren rammed your skycar into the back of.... huh. Into the back of the yellow 3LP and is.. hmm... ripping the top off. I didn't know biotics could do that.”

 

“Saren can.”

 

“Apparently. They're losing altitude, can you sit up so I can assist him?”

 

“Don't wanna. Your thigh is... mmmnice 'n cold.” The stims were evidently taking their sweet time. Garrus laughed again, and it made Nihlus smile though his head was rather displeased by the movement.

 

“I think that's your concussion talking. How about I turn up the air conditioning instead, and you move into the other seat? Easy does it.” Nihlus managed to roll backwards a bit, an armored hand helping him sit. He ended up more on the divider then anything, but it was enough that he wasn't trapping Garrus into his seat. The doors popped open a few moments later and Garrus jumped out, moving forward with his pistol drawn, edging around the side of the fallen skycar tangle cautiously. Nihlus managed to shake it off, half-tumbling out of his side, drawing his sidearm and following. Trying to look less out of it then he was, he peered forward, eyes narrowed in pain. The wreck was smoking, smelled something awful, but he relaxed when Garrus lowered his weapon and walked forward with less caution. Nihlus followed suit, the stimulant cocktail finally mitigating the pain and nausea enough for him to move almost normally. He came even with the officer just as Garrus reached up to tag his com button.

 

“Dispatch, this is unit 201. The 10-80 is over, Spectres on site. 10-79, one body, Turian female. 2 vehicle wreck to clean up as well. Minor property damage along route due to... ah, debris.” Nihlus walked up and tossed a companionable arm over the shoulder closest to him, leaning on Garrus just a bit to hide the tremble in his legs from Saren, who was now walking toward them, briefcase in hand. Garrus leaned in a bit, a willing crutch, listening as dispatch replied.

 

“Nihlus.”

 

“Hey, you got the case! Nicely done. Loved the biotics, bet the little shit pissed herself before she died.” Nihlus smiled widely. “I've got a great idea. Let's drop this by the intel department and go out for drinks.” Saren looked him up and down steadily.

 

“No. I will turn this in. Vakarian will escort you to the hospital.” Nihlus blanched at the dreaded H word, but by the look on Saren's face he wasn't getting out of it.

 

He sighed deeply, and mumbled an affirmative. “Alright, alright...”

 

Chapter Text

Saren set the box down on his kitchen table, slowly and with an echo of reverence. The ship's audio system was turned to a mellow Opera score, piping the humming vocals of a tarin from the 113th century singing a remake of a love story from the 53rd. He flipped the catches keeping the box closed one by one, two along each side, and lifted the top off, setting it aside.

 

Inside the box, held very carefully in place by mass effect fields, was a multi-faceted sphere of prismatic glass. There were flat panels that made up each facet, the colors all some variation of milky pink, though the shapes varied between squares, triangles, and pentagons. One of the panels was missing. A small container attached to the side opened to reveal shards of a triangle now broken.

 

Saren removed the shards for a closer look, held gently between talons. The edges showed signs of stress fractures that had likely led to the now shattered condition. Setting the shards down on the immaculate surface, he ran a scanning program to gauge the composition of the material. Results in hand, he returned everything to the box, closed and secured it, and moved to the navigational console.

 

If he wanted to repair the artifact, he needed base material from the original source.

 

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

“-ay, reports are streaming in. The so called 'Baron of the West Canal' is confirmed dead, our sources say a human female was seen fleeing from the sc-.”

 

Nihlus continued nonchalantly walking down the street, past the news feed, resisting the urge to yell 'Not a human! Also not female! Try again, nais!' He did roll his eyes though, but really, who was he to complain if they got their story entirely wrong? No chips off his crest.

 

The hoodie pulled up over his head was doing a poor job of blocking the rain fall coming down in a dull and relentless drizzle, but again he had no room to complain as that same rain drenched his clothes and darkened the sky, effectively washing away the blood spatter and masking the numerous small tears from grappling.

 

None of the blood was his.

 

Nihlus glanced around casually, looking for the tale-tell ripple in the crowd to see if he was being followed, or for the eyes of anyone watching him closely, particularly Drell. Nothing. He continued forward, slowly, slouching and bland. The only things to note his passage were the security cameras scattered about, and the standard Spectre-grade selective image scrubbing program he'd released into the city's mainframe days ago would take care of that. Viral, self-spreading audio/video scrubbers were very, very illegal. It was a good thing that meant less than nothing to him.

 

His stomach growled, but he kept walking. Slow and steady. Out past the canal district, into a clothing store. New shirt, new pants, new jacket, a spirits damned umbrella, thank-you-very-much; all purchased on a disposable credit chit. Out the back door, down an alleyway, into someone's house, a quick scan showing no one home. He slipped inside, showered, and changed clothes. It felt good to wash the grit from his plates, but he left the false bio-mask on his face, hiding his markings. Once more under the rainfall, and backtracking to the shopping district again, different walking pace, different carriage of body. No slouch. Nihlus strode forward like a well to do individual, making for the space port as if he had places to be.

 

A few switched rapid transit rides, an extra loop past a different shopping mall, another set of clothes, and he finally made it to the space port, back to the rented shuttle that he'd ride to his real ship, data wipe, and set to return on auto pilot.

 

Nihlus 1, Idiot mob boss who though sentient trafficking was a good idea? 0.

 

Well to be fair, by this point, it was probably more like Nihlus two hundred something, enemies of the Council 0. It would be that way till the day he died if the lanky male had any say on the matter.

 

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Nihlus sighed, a smidgen bored but mostly content. The PSV Widmanstat was an ugly heap of cobbled together turrets and armor plating, but the ship was his ugly, messy, dextro-pizza-box-ridden heap. It was more or less home, and a considerable upgrade from the slums he'd been in all of last week. It was named for the curiously geometric ribbon patterns that naturally formed in the iron mined near the merc base where he grew up. His pari had shown them to him, and they had shared a fascination with the tiny natural wonder. His mari had found it unimpressive, and had primly told them not to bring rocks in the house. Nihlus had still smuggled a few in, and stashed them in a young torin's 'treasure box' under his bed. He’d been good at sleight of hand, even at that age.

 

The Widmanstat was currently in geosynchronous orbit with a moon in the absolute middle of nowhere. For the moment he was stuck being, of all things, a secure relay point for intelligence from behind Batarian embargo lines. Not a big deal, really. He'd only been here two days, and might be waiting another week for the agent to get a chance to safely send the data packet without risking their cover.

 

He was in range of a com buoy, albeit an old one with a slow up/down speed, and so had access to the infinite amusements of the extranet.

 

'What to do... what to do.' He thought, considering his options for the day. He'd probably run through some calisthenics at some point, if for no reason other then to burn off some energy and stay in shape. 'Wellllll. I spent... most of yesterday playing Galaxy of Fantasy, and that was fun. Ehhhh, but I don't really feel like fighting latency issues again. I disconnected so many times.'

 

Nihlus let out a long, considering hum. There was always porn to watch, he could find a live stream and pause it to let it buffer a bit if need be. Of course, thinking of sex immediately brought to mind Saren, who... probably wouldn't willingly touch him with a three meter pole. Okay, that was an exaggeration. The torin had literally carried him off the battlefield before, treated his wounds countless times, and patted him on the shoulder a time or two. He'd even managed to steal a hug one time when drunk.

 

Nihlus smiled fondly in remembrance of that hug. He'd gotten away with it too, which was even better. Oh, there had been a lecture about drinking, mixing uppers with alcohol, and several other things Nihlus now had no memory of, but it had been entirely worth it. Spirits, his mentor smelled good. Edible. Nihlus just wanted to lick him. Just once. Okay, maybe more then once.

 

Aaaaand now he was aroused.

 

Plates loose but not open, he browsed for a live stream, vids, or a picture spread even, looking around to see if anything caught his attention. A muscled torin scrolled by, vaguely of Garrus' build and colors, and Nihlus grinned mischievously. Oh, the things he'd like to do to that cop. Too bad the chances of a Palaven-born high society clansman sleeping with him were... oh wow, also near zero. He was starting to wonder if he had a fetish for unavailable partners.

 

The lanky male continued to scroll for a while, finding nothing particularly interesting.

 

'Okay, so... now I've got an itch... and none of this is scratching it.' Sighing, he gave up the search and decided to call the topic of his usual fantasies instead. Nihlus rather missed Saren, bladed charm and all, but if the other Spectre would answer a vid-call he'd at least get to see and speak to his stoic partner. He'd settle for that much.

 

The vid-call request went out, and he set it to chime if answered, then proceeded to doze off in the pilot's chair.

 

Half an hour later the alert noise sounded. He smiled and lifted his Omni-tool, Saren's upper torso filling the screen.

 

“Nihlus.”

 

“Heeeey. How're ya doing?” Saren was on screen, and appeared to be sitting at his kitchen table, working on something. Some ancient music was coming through the speakers, quiet but melodic. The other male glanced up at the question, but returned to looking at what he was doing.

 

“I am well. Is there something you need?” Nihlus leaned to the side, trying to will the camera to show him what was being worked on.

 

“Oh no, I'm good. I mean, I'm bored out of my mind, sitting in the middle of nowhere, waiting for an intel drop, but other then that good. Just... called to say hi. Missed ya. So what're you doing?” Saren half smiled at the long string of jabber.

 

“I am attempting to repair a Cântir, almost finished in fact. I was... distracted laying the inset when you first called, hence the delay.”

 

“No problem, I didn't mark the call send as urgent or anything. Soooo... what's a canteer, and why was it broken?” Saren leaned back from his work, eyes assessing something off screen. The sharp eyed look had Nihlus' talons skimming his waist absent mindedly.

 

“Truly Nihlus, whoever taught you history should be shot. The gaps in your knowledge base are atrocious.”

 

“You know I learned most of what I’ve got by doing education modules myself when mari was... busy with her friends. Tri didn’t exactly have a lot of schools outside the main colony, so I can really only offer myself as target practice there. Ahh... please no shooting me?”

 

Saren's quietly aggrieved sigh tumbled into an almost chuckle. “I suppose I can let it go this once.”

 

“Oh, thanks so much.”

 

“Well then, a Cântir,” Began Saren, his voice taking on a lecture tone, “is an artifact from ancient Palaven, estimated to have been invented three to four hundred years before the beginning of recorded history. They create a small, unstable magnetosphere that interacts with and diffuses oncoming electrons, creating a wavering display of light that requires no further energy and no complex tech.” Saren stood, walking a short distance to a wall panel, and dimmed the lights. Nihlus was confused for a moment, before realizing he was about to get a demonstration. “Ancient Turians took advantage of our planet's excess of solar radiation, using these as light sources and decoration. The unique, multifaceted shape is called a cantellated dodecahedron, and while not necessary for function, is traditionally how they were made. This particular Cântir... is over nine thousand years old.” Saren's subvocals, normally so bland, rolled past Nihlus like a lava flow; pride and passion spicing the words.

 

The overhead lights turned low, soft music still trailing in, had created a quiet sense of anticipation. Nihlus leaned forward, watching as Saren turned his camera to include the Cântir in front of him. A soft click sounded as the older male tapped a device off screen. Something hummed to life and suddenly the air around it flickered. Once... twice, in a mellow green. It gradually flared to life, undulating in waves, occasionally flowing into blueish tones. Saren's talons reached out, palm up and fingers curled, running the back of his hand delicately down the side, swirling green fae-light playing against the silver of his hide and plates. “It's similar to the color of your eyes.” He murmured.

 

“It's...” Nihlus began hesitantly, entranced by more than just the artifact, “It's an aurora? You have an ancient hand made aurora ball? That is... beyond cool.” Saren chuffed.

 

“It is not mine, it belongs to a museum. They required someone with the time and resources to repair it. A panel was damaged,” -Saren pointed to a particular triangle that looked slightly less worn. “-this one, you see? It was practically non-functional without it.”

 

“It's amazing. How'd you manage to repair it?”

 

“It required a visit to Palaven. I had to match the spectroanalysis of the striation and magnetism levels carefully. It was a bit of a dig to reach the material of the correct composition, but relatively easy to narrow down with the planetary deep scans available.”

 

“How did you even find the time for that?”

 

“It is called multitasking Nihlus, perhaps you have heard of it?”

 

“Nah.”

 

Saren shook his head lightly at another of their familiar call and response phrases, not entirely hiding a minuscule smile.

 

“I will be back on the Citadel in two days, when do you expect to be?”

 

“Not sure, I have to wait for the intel to hit... you know, we should probably get to some of those two-man missions piling up, don't you think? Last I saw there were several queued to be handled. Wait for me?” It was probably the worst veiled attempt to finagle their schedules to match up for cooperative missions yet. Nihlus berated himself for his awkwardness.

 

Saren nodded though, still very distracted by the Cântir lights. Nihlus watched him, wondering at the fascination before suddenly recalling that Saren's lost brother was a major history buff. The idea made his throat tight, that his former mentor was...

 

It was just like the patterns in the iron, the rocks he still had in the crappy storage box buried in his closet. This was... Saren's box of rocks. Nihlus scrubbed a palm over his face and tried to throw off the feeling.

 

“Good. Great. I'll ping you as soon as I'm on my way back.”

 

Saren turned to the camera again. “Very well.” He nodded, and the call was cut.

 

Chapter Text

Garrus tapped in the key sequence to his door while the petite tarin leaned into his side. Door opening successfully, the mildly drunk pair wobbled past the threshold and tipped over onto the soft, cream colored cubitura. Several minutes passed by in a haze as tongues traced jaw lines and mouth plates nipped at warm hide. A soft chime broke through the fog as his Omni-tool lit up with a priority message. Garrus let out a long bothered groan.

 

“What is it?” The tarin asked sweetly from above him, nipping along his keel ridge. Garrus ran his hands along her sides from hip crest to rib plates and back, trying to find her name in his mind. Mildly sheepish that he couldn't recall it to address her.

 

“...message alert. It had a priority note in the chime...” He sighed as it went off again, and sat the both of them up, nudging her gently off of him. “I've got to check it... sorry... Ah, can I get you some water while I...?” He palmed the side of her neck in a soft squeeze, apologetically. Her mandibles fluttered in a flirtatious, and thankfully forgiving grin.

 

“You're a cop right? I can imagine this sort of thing happens to you often.” He leaned in for a quick brush of cheek bones before standing and heading for the kitchen, raising his arm to check the message.

 

“Worst part of the job, definitely.” He called back, subvocals charmingly overdone in a mournful lament over the situation. She laughed aloud at him, falling back into the cushions.

 

He opened the cabinet absently, pulled out a mug at random, and went to fill it. The walls lit with a soft orange glow as he read the message.

 

**Priority Alert**

[Attn: Residents of building 12]

 

A water leak has been found on the 9th, 14th, and 17th floors. Maintenance has discovered an issue with the pressurization systems in the subbasement that may have led to several weak points in the pipelines rupturing.

 

At this time, we request all residents immediately check the floors and ceilings around the kitchen and bath areas.

 

If you see any suspicious wetness, please send in a maintenance request right away so as to avoid permanent water damage to the building.

 

As a friendly note, we'd like to remind all residents that failure to report issues of this nature is against your lease, and will result in a termination of contract.

 

We thank you for your time and understanding.

 

-Management

 

[End Message]

 

Garrus looked casually around, not seeing any leaks, mildly perturbed to have been interrupted by a maintenance issue of all things.

 

“Well, the good news is that it's just a request from building maintenance. ” He walked out around the breakfast bar and brought the water cup to the low table. She ignored it, half lidded eyes following his movement. His body tilted forward of it's own accord, wanting to go right back to that, right now, yes please. He shook it off, the alcohol making his vision swirl, and turned.

 

“I'll be right back, need to check for water leaks in the bathroom.”

 

“Mmmmkay.” She replied, arms over her head, a slight whine in her voice. He sort of felt like a jerk... but didn't care to be evicted if there was a leak. He liked his apartment.

 

Garrus padded down the short hallway and into his bedroom, coming around the corner and flicking a hand over the light panel.

 

Nothing turned on.

 

Saren Arterius stepped out of the murky dark, tapping a knuckle to his lower mouth plate, the Turian hand signal for 'shhhhh'. Then motioned for Garrus to move closer.

 

Heart in his throat he did so, hoping he hadn't done something worthy of being 'disappeared' by a Spectre. The terror was... somewhat dispelled upon finding Nihlus in his bath tub, leaning against the shower side wall. Green eyes crinkled with a smile as he offered a jaunty wave. Saren leaned in, bringing his mouth right against Garrus' aural canal.

 

“She is a Mumbari.” He whispered, hardly more then a breath. Garrus' eyes widened, then closed tight. He swallowed lightly.

 

Mumbari, a cute little turn of phrase. The Turian equivalent to a 'Black Widow' woman.

 

*************

The Mumbari was a large venomous fly that would land on pillows and crawl it's way into the mouths of sleeping Turians, taking advantage of the gap between mandible and upper jaw. The thing would slide a needle like point, oh so slowly, into the upper palate of the mouth, leaving eggs and poison behind. Then it would steal away in the night, the person it had visited never waking again. Two weeks later, dozens of babies would crawl from the skull of the dead, eating the decaying muscle and living in the plates till adulthood.

 

Horrific.

 

It was a significant part of why Turians had developed a cultural habit of burning their dead, which had carried through to modern times, even though the insect itself was mostly extinct.

 

When referring to a tarin as a Mumbari, the modern phrase meant 'She's going to have sex with you, repeatedly in hopes of getting pregnant, and then she's going to kill you in your sleep and steal every credit she can find before disappearing.'

*************

 

Oh... joy. He'd picked up... at the bar...

 

He felt mildly ill. Then he wondered how in the world these two had known...? Oh no. No no... no.

 

Garrus was suddenly fairly certain he'd been unknowingly used as a honey pot. Though for the life of him he couldn't figure out how they'd arranged it, besides the location being his usual bar. He narrowed his eyes at them, to which Nihlus smiled brightly and mouthed a soundless, 'Sorry!' Saren firmly pushed him aside, and strode out. Garrus spun, reaching out a hand to stop him. If he didn't have proof...

 

Nihlus pulled him back by the shoulders, not unkindly, and leaned in whispering.

 

“You would have been victim number eighteen. We've been on her trail since nine planets and eleven deaths ago. We're... realllly sorry to have involved you, but the Council and media would have had a shit fit about it happening here.”

 

“Garrus? Are you-” echoed down the hall, followed by a small squeak, and a sharp crunch. Then silence.

 

Garrus let out an involuntary shuddering exhale, eyes closed, head dropped. She was.. she had seemed...

 

Nihlus pulled him into a loose hug, elbows low around the torso, hands curled around the back of shoulders. Garrus half lifted his arms to reciprocate, but stalled, feeling dizzy. He dropped his head the rest of the way, landing on a black armored shoulder panel.

 

“I am... too drunk to deal with this.”

 

“I know. You have good taste in drinks though, those purple ones with the fruit chunks in the bottom are great.”

 

“You two... were there? What, the whole time?”

 

“Pffft. No. We had to leave before you did to get in here, didn't we?”

 

Garrus just sighed deeply.

 

 

Chapter Text

'I am... so done... with today.' Thought Nihlus, barely looking where he was going, paying just enough attention not to run into people and not a drop more. He was exhausted and injured with a long trail of dead bodies behind him. Metaphorically, that is. The bodies themselves were back on a space station, well... in and around the not-much-left-of-a-space-station. He'd had to blow it to bits to ensure that a bio-engineered contagion hadn't left the premises. The Council had supported his decisions, Valern especially since it had been an AWOL offshoot of STG that had started the whole mess. A rapid-mutation dual chirality pandemic in a box, able to be communicated by air, water, or touch. When it came down to 'let the 12 shuttles with the contagion go' or 'sacrifice three hundred people', at least two-thirds of which were innocent-ish scientists. He'd had to make a call, and it hadn't been the wrong one, but it hadn't been a good one either.

 

When depressed, Nihlus Kyrik did one of four things. He went out for a night on the town, went to Armax Arena, bothered Saren, or slept it off.

 

The first sounded surprisingly unappealing. It was normally his go-to option, but he'd have to take... so many uppers to give enough fucks to be fun to party with right now.

 

A stint in the arena, or even one of the underground pit fighting rings, was completely out. He looked down forlornly at his brace-covered left arm. Unless he wanted to shame his high scores by playing one armed... well, he had a reputation to keep, so none of that.

 

Bothering Saren needlessly, while normally an exercise that lead to being amusingly groused at, shoved out the airlock on unoccupied moons for days, endlessly lectured, or getting sexily growled at... well...

 

He had a feeling that Saren wouldn't particularly care that three hundred people lay dead, nor comprehend why Nihlus was upset about it. Most likely, his comrade would simply get frustrated that Nihlus was upset for reasons he couldn't grasp, decide he was just being difficult and... mnnn... that scenario wasn't what he needed right now.

 

He adored the curmudgeonly sociopath, but right now he just wanted... something else.

 

Which left sleep.

 

'Fine.' Thought Nihlus, turning towards the docks. 'I've got pain pills for the arm. I'll take a dose and crash out, and keep doing it until I can find some fucks to give.' He half waited for a chastisement on his mental language, ridiculously since Saren was no where near him, more since he had specifically decided not to search him out.

 

It didn't stop the feelings of loneliness.

 

A quick rapid transit ride and short walk later put Nihlus on the right docking level for the Widmanstat. He threaded through the crowds on that level, the noise of it surrounding him. Weaving past customs and cargo shipments, and then up to the secure docks. There, Nihlus put in his biometrics and stepped into the quiet corridor. Reaching the airlock to his ship, he paused. It was...

 

He raised his eyes and glanced about. No one around. The empty hall almost echoed with noiselessness. Empty. Quiet. Just like the remains of...

 

He abruptly turned around, and headed right back into the crowds. The lanky agent made to one end of the docks, then turned around. It took him a good several laps to realize that he couldn't keep lapping the docks endlessly. Security was starting to notice and get curious. ‘Damn.’

 

The Spectre left the area, and went back out into the wards, making several loops of the busy, -but not too busy-, public areas. Places he felt comfortable wandering in, that he knew well, which had people enough for noise, but not bustling with overt excitement.

 

The day wore down, like the treads on old boots, and Nihlus came to a stop. He'd gathered, maybe, half a fuck. Enough to lift his gaze and notice the time. Two hours into the night cycle, crowds were dispersing, time to go home.

 

He didn't really want to go home right now. He rolled his shoulders, thinking hard through the miasma of depression. His half-a-fuck wasn't fueling him.

 

I need to find, haha... hahaha... need to find more fucks. Ha.’ Nihlus wheezed out a little laugh, his own poor attempt at humor making him chortle, cheering him up just a notch. He was always interested in finding more fucks, nothing new there. The wily torin snorted at himself, taking a long draw of fresher air and dropping his head back, crest scratching along the back of his armored carapace, uncaring of the mildly sexual way the position showed off his throat.

 

He starred off into the long distance, mulling over nothing, until inspiration walked up and tapped him on the shoulder. Literally.

 

“Sir, are you all right?” Nihlus turned and looked down, a tiny Asari in C-Sec uniform was looking up at him concerned. “Oh!” they exclaimed in recognition at seeing his face. “You're Spectre Kryik, right? Is.. um... do you need any assistance?” He pulled off a convincingly reassuring smile for her.

 

“Oh, no, I'm alright. Just have a lot on my mind. Sorry to trouble you, officer.”

 

She smiled back with uncertain hesitation. “Well, alright. You might want to head home though Spectre, it's getting late.”

 

He looked around as if just now noticing. “So it is. I'll do that.”

 

“Have a good night, sir.”

 

“You too.” Nihlus chuffed softly as the kind hearted officer walked away. 'Where does C-Sec get their staff? Ylasiun? Is there a convention for these sorts where they go head hunting for really nice people to put in uniform?' He turned to walk away, if for no other reason than to seem to be complying... but he suddenly realized he knew exactly where he could go.

 

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Diiiiing doong, diiiiiiiing.

 

Garrus looked up from the desolate wasteland that was his fridge, where he had been contemplating if the left overs from last week were still edible with sufficient microwaving. ‘Or boiling. Or beer. Maybe all three would do it...’

 

He moved to answer the door, absently scratching at an inch through his shirt. It opened to reveal dark carmine plates and Spectre gear. Nihlus appeared to be trying to smile, and only mildly succeeding.

 

“Hey Blue. What's up?” Garrus raised an eye ridge.

 

“Nothing in particular. I was just thinking about dinner. Is there...” He trailed off, glancing left and right down the hallway, “Okay, I'm just going to come out and say it. Is there anything on fire, someone being shot, a serial killer, or is something else going on?” Nihlus managed a small grin.

 

“I would say the 'something else' category. Dinner sounds good. My treat?” Garrus glanced over him, noticing the broken arm, and mild tilt to his stance, not to mention the... flat glaze in his eyes.

 

“Yeah, sure. We could hit that cafe again, or... order in?”

 

“I just got back from... back. Just got. Yeah, so, sitting down sounds good. Can we order in?” He nodded slowly, the verbal stumbling tipping him off that something was amiss. He moved aside though, and gestured for the torin to enter.

 

“Thanks.” Said Nihlus, dropping onto the cubitura with a slump. His subvocals let off a long, low murmur of appreciation as he curled up in the far corner of the soft and cushioned surface. Garrus smiled wryly.

 

“You wouldn't be the first person to fall in love with that thing. I once had a girlfriend who I swore was dating me for my furniture.” He moved to sit on the other side, one leg bent at the knee and supporting an elbow so he could face the Spectre.

 

“Hell, I'd date ya for your furniture. This thing is amazing. Where'd ya even get it?”

 

Mari sent it to me when I came to the Citadel. It used to be in our family's madlis, but she wanted me to have a piece of home when I moved here long term. I used to sleep on it as a kid when I wore out in the afternoons, after Nanus set.”

 

“Wow. All the way from Palaven, huh?”

 

“Yeah. I felt bad about the expense, but I can't complain. It's too comfy.” Nihlus nodded, wiggling deeper into the cushions.

 

“So, dinner,” Garrus started, bringing up his Omni-tool to search for nearby delivery places. A few favorites automatically pulled up on the top of the list, and he held out his 'tool out for Nihlus to see. “Any of these places sound good?”

 

Green eyes peered at the screen for a moment before he pointed to one.

 

“That one looks good, I could go for some curry. You?”

 

“I can get behind curry, that place has good side dishes too.” Garrus brought up the online order form, and picked out what he wanted, passing his arm to Nihlus to make further selections. He tried to pull his arm back at the end, but the torin held on and pulled out his credit chit. Nihlus smiled as he tapped the chit to pay before letting go. Garrus rumbled a thank you and leaned back.

 

A few moments passed in tired quietude.

 

“So... do you wanna to talk about it?” Nihlus blinked, refocusing his gaze on the concerned expression being directed at him. The delay in the Spectre's responses was disconcerting.

 

“I ah...” Garrus could practically see the thoughts turning over in his eyes, whether to deflect or not, and when Nihlus' face began to morph into an expression of false innocence, blue eyes narrowed at him in a mild glare. The feigned expression fell away, replaced by a long drawn out sigh. “Not, really no. I shouldn't talk about classified mission details, and I'd rather you didn't hate me, so it's probably best if I just...”

 

“Kyrik, seriously? 'Classified mission details?'” -this was said with a disbelieving tone and finger quotes- “I know what Spectres do. I was... tagged to be one, once. Listen, I'm not going to hate you, regardless of what ever occurred-” Nihlus tried to protest here, but didn't get farther then opening his mouth before Garrus continued on steam rolling his half-hearted denial. “Not to mention, I've practically been on missions with you and Saren before. The bank? The skycar incident? The gang war? Whatever the hell happened the other week with the... yeah. Lots of people dead. Mostly bad guys. So I've got no room to judge, alright, and it's obvious something is seriously bothering you. Also, I'd really like to know why your arm is broken, and I'd rather hear the truth then some made up excuse.” Nihlus looked dizzy from the stream of words, and swallowed.

 

“That's... the bad guys... it wasn't... it wasn't mostly the bad guys that died this time.” Garrus lowered his voice, laying a hand on Nihlus' shoulder.

 

What happened?”

 

Nihlus dropped his head, pulling his armored legs closer to his frame and half hiding behind his single working arm, thrown over his knees. “There was... a space station. Plague. I had to choose between letting a bunch of shuttles get away with it onboard or three hundred some odd people, most of which were...” He choked a bit here before continuing, “were innocent scientists working on unrelated projects.” His head ducked deeper into the crook of his arm, and Garrus' heart went out to him. A hell of a choice to have to make. The bullet scuffs in the Spectre's armor, along with the braced arm curled awkwardly around his stomach, painted a picture of the extenuating circumstances the torin had likely faced. He looked... so defeated, so tired

 

A vague drunken memory of a hug given when Garrus had been the one struggling to cope came to mind, and he immediately decided to return the favor. Rolling up onto knees and moving forward, he repositioned himself and pulled Nihlus in, who flailed for a half a moment not understanding what was happening. When the intent became clear he went limp with a soft trill, half falling onto broad shoulders, face pressing into the warm hide of Garrus' neck.

 

“I killed a whole bunch of people, and I didn't want to.”

 

“The fact that you didn't want to means everything.” He replied, adding emphasis in subvocal tones, pressing his cheek into Nihlus' fringe lightly. It was quiet for a moment.

 

“They're still dead.” Was the choked reply, underscored by a subvocal keen.

 

“How many could have died if that plague had escaped?” Another drawn out pause.

 

Eventually, “A bunch.”

 

Garrus adjusted their position again, encircling the torin further with arms, legs, and easy unconditional acceptance.

 

“Probably more then a few hundred?”

 

“Yeah.” Came out in a rasp.

 

Garrus leaned back into the seat, tugging the limp form with him, and they sat without speaking for a while. It was obvious that Nihlus knew he'd done what needed to be done, he just didn't want to process that he'd done it at all. Garrus sympathized. He'd been in that place before. Eventually the door chimed, and they wordlessly disentangled so Garrus could answer it. After accepting the food he closed the door and turned around, sitting back down as he pulled out numerous cartons. He turned to Nihlus, holding out a take-out container of curry.

 

“Hungry?”

 

“Yeah... thanks.”

 

"So, your arm?"

 

"Bad fall actually. Got tossed by a Salarian biotic into some medical cabinets."

 

"Ahhhh." 

 

After that they ate in relative peace, Nihlus consuming less then perhaps he normally would, but still eating enough that Garrus didn't feel the need to goad him into taking more. He tucked the left overs away in his fridge. Peering back around the corner to the living room, he saw Nihlus worryingly staring off into space. Playing it smooth, he walked back into the room and tapped the wall mounted vid screen across from the seating. A few menus in, and he had the least triggering thing he could think of playing. He flopped back down into a sprawling recline and pretended to watch the screen. Fifteen minutes or so in, he tugged on Nihlus' arm, gently, and the torin tilted unresistingly sideways into him. The vid wasn't even half way over before they were fully tangled up, fast asleep in the best angle Garrus could work out with limited pillows. Nihlus was still in his armor, and it dug into his side a bit, but that was alright.

 

  

 

Chapter Text

It had been a month or so since Garrus had run into either of the Spectres, but he wasn't particularly surprised to have them show up on his doorstep with no warning. Saren had an offer to make: was he interesting in joining them on a mission? A high priority mission request had come in, and it was a bad situation. The Spectre offices had estimated it to be a three or four person job, and all appropriate agents were engaged. Since neither of them kept any specialists on call, or a ground team onboard, Saren's only option had been to wait an estimated three weeks or more for the return of Tela Vasir, or barring a delay, another two person team would be back in a month. Their target was eight days away in FTL travel and Mass Effect Relay jumps. A potential five week wait just to arrive on site was problematic.

 

Or maybe, Nihlus had helpfully suggested, they could drag Garrus along instead.

 

Remembering his previous work, Saren was quite amenable to tagging the officer rather than waiting.

 

Garrus was pleased to be requested. He'd enthusiastically agreed, and had no intention of ever telling his pari about it.

 

They wanted Garrus along, Saren explained, for his skills as a sniper primarily and tech expert secondly. Nihlus sent off the forms for paid leave with Spectre approval, considering he was technically being brought on as a C-Sec 'consultant'. According to the paperwork, at least. According to Saren, they were headed for an asteroid-based colony that had gone dark, a metal-works that had suddenly stopped selling their products to legitimate buyers and were instead making bank off of less reputable sources. That needed to stop, immediately, hence the priority of doing it ASAP. Every week the metal works processed around forty cubic meters of Titanium and other common engineering alloys, essentially enough for a heavy frigate. A delay of five weeks meant the materials for five or six heavy frigates in the hands of pirates or worse.

 

“Not cool.” had been Nihlus' description. “Unacceptable.” was Saren's. Garrus agreed with both assessments.

 

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Saren's gaze turned away from Garrus' retreating back as the C-sec officer went to go pack, and instead wandered about the relatively tiny apartment. He had observed a few things in passing when he had been here before, but now took the time to consider the space further. It was... quite small. He narrowed his eyes, considering that. He was sure the torin could afford better, seeing as he had taken the time to do a background check shortly after the gang incident. Not really needing to know, but somewhat enjoying spying on someone for curiosity rather then blackmail material or having to best predict their actions to ensure galactic stability. Between the interest off his savings, augmented by the bounty cut the officer had received, and the regular income from being a high paid detective... he should not need to live in such a minimal space.

 

Saren rolled the thought around in the back of his mind, looking around for other clues. An extra large vid screen took up one wall, sitting across from a set of richly appointed cubitura, low table, end table, and post lamp. So, less spacious but nicely furnished. The walls were a brushed light-grey metal, utilitarian and bare. He swung his head around and casually headed for the kitchen doorway. Neat and clean, thought Saren with a mild sense of relief. Nihlus was enough of a mess maker on his own, and thankfully it appeared that Garrus was, if not as fastidious as himself, then at least cleanly in general. Ceiling-hung cabinets sat over an open air breakfast bar, made of the same metal as the walls, but covered by opaque plexiglass doors. No oven, only a single cook top and microwave. Not much of a cook then. He popped the seal on the refrigerator, somewhat amused to find nothing but condiments inside. Not a cook at all it seemed. Pure Turian bachelor aesthetics, so not in a hurry to impress a female interesting in nesting.

 

'Well', he thought, 'at least if he dies, we will not be bothered by a weeping bondmate afterwards.' Not that Saren intended to let that happen, but if the worst should occur, he would rather avoid any hysterics. 

 

He scowled while moving back to the living room. Not enough clues to explain the choice in living space to be found. A mystery for another day, he concluded as Garrus returned to them fully armored, carrying two gun cases in one hand and tugging along a sizable Hierarchy issued anti-grav lockbox in the other. He turned to ask, “I presume your case includes a fold out cot and personal effects. Does it contain any food?”

 

“Just a few emergency rations.”

 

“Very well. Let us proceed to the docks.”

 

“Woooo road trip! Maybe we could hit a few tourist traps on the way back for some sight seeing?” asked the lounging figure, just now popping up from the cubitura.

 

“Really, Nihlus?” was the dry response.

 

Their third number just smiled widely, undeterred.

 

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

After they stowed Garrus' things, and set up his cot in a semi-private nook, Nihlus made a ridiculous and grand production of showing off Saren's ship to their tag along. “So watch out for that, oh, and also avoid... over here, ya see those edges jutting out a half meter or so from the ceiling corner? Those are the kinetic boosters he's got to give The Daedalus an extra punch getting out of atmo. Very handy for escaping bad situations, but avoid smacking your head into them if you have to get into that corner. You might need to because there is occasionally an issue with the secondary shield systems. He's overclocked them to the point that they light on fire sometimes. Now this over here is...” and on he went, Garrus trailing behind with an amused tilt to his mandibles.

 

'This ship is... seriously impressive.' thought the C-Sec 'consultant'. Admiring the shining silver surfaces and sleek design. He also didn't miss the fact that just about every component he'd seen was from a different origin, custom installed to suit Saren's exacting standards. Either the Spectre had a pocket engineer in his armor pouches, or he also maintained all this himself.

 

Besides being aesthetically pleasing, and a marvel of customized demi-legal ship tech, the Daedalus was also a case study in the life and habits of Saren Arterius. A veritable feast of information to be found, for a quality detective that is. It had two levels: a long deck, boxy and utilitarian, with living space and command consoles, and a three-quarters-height sub-deck that was home to the ship's hardware, and a small hydroponics setup. The control center crowned a raised dais in the middle of the ship's front half, a large circular enclosure of holo panels, data feeds, and input consoles set to a light blue. The walkway from the airlock split and curved around it before carrying on along the deck. Surrounding it were walls taken up by a series of terminals, storage shelving, an escape pod, and neatly confined cables and cords.

 

Farther back the remaining space was divided into four rooms around a short hallway. A master bedroom, locked. A kitchen, doorless, with a multitude of implements and cookery all secured for rough flight. Next, a medical bay, housing an automated operating table that ran on a medical VI and robotics, having likely cost a fortune. Lastly, an armory with a truly massive assortment of armaments. Garrus tried not to entertain thoughts of 'accidentally' breaking an integral part of his Viper as an excuse to use one of the Spectre grade rifles he saw on the shelves. The Viper, at least, really didn't deserve that treatment after all it had seen him through.

 

Nihlus, who had been helpfully pointing out things that were sometimes obvious and other times 'don't touch this, it's trapped and will kill you' spoke again, catching his interest. “Oh, and this is the main weapons panel, it has-” But Garrus heard nothing past that as his hands came to rest on the access terminal and he began checking system specs, opening up the code behind the OS to see what the firmware was like, and pulling open a command console in a separate window to the side, having it report on previous live fire situations to see what the output had been. He didn't notice Nihlus trail off, coughing a laugh into his fist. “So you're... familiar with weapon's systems?”

 

“... what? Oh... Yeah, you could say that. Mari had my sister and I while on deployment with the HSV Declaration, -you know, that super-dreadnought that patrols around Digeris?- and after we were old enough to be let out of the daycare... well, Sol and I spent the first eight years of our life in the ship's main battery. Engineers from the cradle, both of us.” After a few moments of furious typing Garrus suddenly leaned backward to see around Nihlus. “Hey Arterius, why do you have quad Idolos V instead of Seprum Series heat sinks on the plasma canon?” Saren spun partially around in his chair at the center of the CIC terminals, his crest in profile as he answered the inquiry.

 

“Mostly because the Seprums are difficult to find, and thus difficult to replace when they become deformed due to over use. I choose to instead live with a mild increase in cool down time between shots rather than bothering to hunt down new Seprums every other month.” He turned back around and returned to plotting their course into the navigation VI.

 

Garrus nodded thoughtfully and tuned back into the script flowing by on the console, weaving through code and specifications with ease. Nihlus watched over his shoulder, not half bad at code himself, but a ways off from interpreting drivers on the fly the way it seemed Garrus was.

 

“So, the Digeris huh? That's a pretty nice posting.”

 

Garrus hummed in response.

 

“Did you ever visit the planet while you were there? They've got some really nice parks.”

 

A vague nod.”Uhuh.”

 

“I hear their North pole has some crazy huge glaciers...”

 

“Uh... yeah.”

 

“I think you should buy me a new set of throwing knives... maybe a hooker or two? We could share.”

 

“Mmmsure.”

 

Nihlus laughed silently, turning to look at Saren, who had spun his command chair around entirely and was looking at him with a sardonically raised brow.

 

“So, about those hookers. I was thinking Asari. You'd be cool with that right? A cosmopolitan guy like you?”

 

“Mmmm.”

 

“Aha, I knew you were a deviant! How do you feel about Quarians? Elcor?” Nihlus was having trouble keeping his voice even, the 'Elcor' coming out in a strangled wheeze.

 

“Yeah, su- wait, what? What about Quarians and Elcor?” Garrus finally looked up and Nihlus lost it, his laughter bubbling with hysterical trills and hiccups. Confused, the officer turned to look at Saren who had half his face and part of his fringe held in one palm, elbow braced against an arm rest.

 

“What is he on about, exactly?”

 

“I am certain I do not know.”

 

Chapter Text

The journey from the Citadel to the independently operated metalworks facility was going to take nine days, give or take, so Garrus had come prepared to amuse himself quietly in a corner figuring that the Spectres would be much too busy with important Council business during the trip to bother with engaging him. His assumptions couldn't have been farther from the truth.

 

After The Daedalus had made the instantaneous jump from the Serpent Nebula's Widow Relay to the Exodus Cluster's Utopia Relay, their captain sent them into FTL travel toward the Asgard Relay, and turned to a work bench along one wall, reading an article on a new series of com jammers while absently making custom grenades by hand using a micro-fabricator to make parts, a box of tiny live ordinance, and miniature tool kit with what looked to be about seventy some odd itsy bitsy tools. Garrus tried not to be alarmed that the silver-plated torin was handling live ordinance in such a small space and with none of them wearing any armor.

 

He must have been hiding his mild nervousness well, because Saren would make intermittent demands for things from the storage compartments which he and Nihlus took turns getting for him. In between, the two of them had ended up in a two player game of Relay Defense. Nihlus was proving to be a brutal opponent, playing as the invading side.

 

“I can't believe... This is a new, and improbable, level of bullshit Kyrik.”

 

“Nah, it's legit. You're just mad that you didn't see it coming.”

 

Actually, I'm not entirely certain you aren't just plain cheating. You shouldn't be able to cap your multipliers that fast.”

 

“Pffft, I would never!” He exclaimed, smoothing out his rust colored muscle shirt as if he were entirely above such things.

 

“Yes, he would. One of you hand me another case of T5 micro-bolts.” Garrus leveled a suspicious glare at Nihlus' cheeful grin as the Spectre rose to acquire said parts. He looked back down to the board, trying to reason out how Nihlus had managed his last combo move, glad that he'd declined betting on the game's outcome. Nihlus dropped off the bolts and came back to his seat, a cock-sure grin still hanging off his mandibles.

 

“It's still your turn Vakarian.”

 

“I'm aware, give me a minute.”

 

“Mmmhmmm.” said Nihlus, swirling his beer bottle in lazy circles.

 

They went back and forth for the rest of the game, a sadly small amount of Garrus' refugees making it to the relay escape point before the last of his planet was covered in red, signaling his defeat. He looked up at Nihlus, not trusting the sparkle in his vivid green eyes.

 

“Good game. Want to go another round?”

 

“Sure, just no cheating this time.”

 

“Tsk. You can't prove a thing.” came the reply, devious and sensual in a purposefully inappropriate low-toned rumble. Garrus had a feeling Nihlus just intended to cheat even more this round, and with an exasperated chuff of air, he decided to fight fire with fire.

 

“Yeeeah. Okay. Start it up. We can go best two out of three. Or until I figure out how you're managing those score multipliers.”

 

“Talent, of course.” Was the reply as Nihlus reset the board, lounging side-ways in his chair with a casually insouciant air of superiority.

 

“Uhuuuh. Riiiight.”

 

This time, Garrus was also cheating... sort of. He waited until Saren called for another piece of explosive bobble that was not his to acquire, which he also willfully didn't listen to the name of, and flicked the switch that would change his Omni-tool's video output to his visor. He smiled internally, thankful that he'd left it on out of habit after changing into casuals earlier. From there, a quick extranet search came up with a predictive program for Relay Defense moves, -only 8 credits if you buy it in the next hour-, and quickly stripped it of spyware before running it on their active game. Nihlus returned and made his next move, waggling his eye ridges in a taunting manner. The program immediately reported that their current game state was impossible to achieve under the game rules.

 

'Knew it.' he thought, before directing a few forces in a new formation. He was fighting extremely defensive this time, trying to catch Nihlus in the act. It wasn't going so well at first, perfectly legal moves giving the Spectre small victories, pushing Garrus' forces back by the centimeter. Until Garrus managed to sneak a bomber through his opponent's front lines, sending it in a suicidal trajectory for a heavy cruiser. Unwilling to loose such a major piece, Nihlus tried to pull a fast one by sacrificing a smaller ship as a meat shield. A completely illegal move that the program shouldn't have allowed him to make.

 

“Not even Kryik. That one's against the rules.” said Garrus, leaning elbows on the table edge, chin resting behind clasped hands.

 

“I don't know what you mean. The game let me make the move, didn't it?” Saren turned half around, having apparently been reading, grenade building, and paying attention to their game simultaneously, and inquired as to the moves made.

 

“He is correct Nihlus, that is an illegal move.”

 

“But Offic- awwww. Why'd you do that?” Nihlus whined when Garrus reset the board to a new game.

 

“I said no cheating, I caught you cheating, therefore I win by default.” He replied, with a roguish grin. “Care to go again?”

 

“Caught me, eh? Alright. I can work with that.” Thus, they began round three.

 

It was going well for Nihlus, until Garrus managed to launch a lucky assault using the planet's moon as a gravity slingshot. Nihlus slumped in his seat, seemingly studying the board's options.

 

“You know Vakarian...” he started slowly, “I think you've got a bit of a vindictive streak in you.” Garrus shrugged acceptingly, rolling his hand at the wrist in a dismissive wave.

 

“I might, sometimes, what of it?” Nihlus' focus sharpened in on icy blue eyes, his voice lowered.

 

“Some might say that's...” A set of taloned toes slid along the side of Garrus' knee, trailing down the outside of his leg, extending slightly and rasping downward in a slide that ended with one long black talon hooked over a silver-grey spur. He tugged, once, lightly. Garrus swallowed without realizing it as Nihlus looked up at him from beneath low tilted fringe, roiling allure in his subvocals. “exceedingly attractive. I bet you get... all sorts of... interest with an attitude like that... hiding under the surface of those lovely silver plates.” 'Lovely' was said with a breathy exhalation. Garrus tugged on his shirt collar, not managing to break eye contact. His neck bloomed in a flush that made his normally tawny brown hide almost purple in tone.

 

“Well... ahh- not really. I mean... sure, but..” He coughed.

 

“Your turn.” Nihlus interjected in a purr, tugging on Garrus' spur once again, ever so slightly digging in. Garrus turned to the board, trying to remember what he was doing. The HUD on his eye piece going half ignored. Helpfully, it flickered repeatedly at him that Nihlus was in the negatives for some... points... or something... for moving? He shook his head, trying to move his leg away from Nihlus' reach... the torin was... cheating. This was cheating, for sure. Garrus reached over and flipped the reset key.

 

Damnit!” Exclaimed Nihlus tossing a hand in the air, not even trying to pretend that he hadn't been cheating like a fiend. They both looked up in surprise as a wheezing chuckle escaped their third number. Saren's fringe was bowed over his work as he tried to suppress his amusement, only partially succeeding. He finally managed to reduce the rest of it to a long, satisfied sounding exhalation that leaked a few bubbles of remnant laughter.

 

“Ahhhhhhaha... Thank you Vakarian, that was perfect. It is exceedingly rare when someone manages to shut Nihlus down when he tries to charm his way through something he can not manage otherwise. I wish it happened more often.”

 

“Oi! I don't use it that much.” Saren offered no reply, simply going back to his work. Nihlus turned a friendly and somewhat apologetic smile to Garrus, who just shook his head in disbelief. He knew he'd nearly fallen for it.

 

Nihlus Kryik was one smooth son of a bitch.

 

 

Chapter Text

Electric blue eyes flared open in the silence of the ship's only cabin. Saren sat up slowly, digging a palm none too gently into his forehead plates. The nightmare had crept up on him, amidst hazy dream whorls of tech specs and old fights, sneaking in like a thief to steal his rest.

 

He rolled out of bed, padding softly across the deck, making for the kitchen. Experience telling him that he would not be getting back to sleep any time soon. Not after dreaming of the brave acceptance on Desolas' face as Saren had reached over to hit the activation key for the ship's ground fire canons that would seal the fate of the only person he had ever... of his only remaining family. He hadn't wanted to let anyone else do what had needed to be done, didn't want to dishonor his brother's sacrifice by leaving the task to another. Sometimes he desperately wished he had.

 

The night cycle had hit an hour ago, and Saren had slipped away while his two companions had still been finishing up a final game of a Relay Defense. He glanced outward toward the main area as he passed by into the miniature mess hall. Vakarian was tucked away in a nook, only partially visible, lying on his stomach, shirtless. His face buried into pillows. Nihlus was half-on and half-off the seating area's main settee, pillows strewn about; the trailing mass of blankets he insisted on -'It's 'cause your ship is too damn cold, old man!' 'I am only a handful of years older then you. Also, language Nihlus.' 'Ha, It's all in your attitude. Case and point.'- mostly fallen to the floor in various puddles of cargo and suede. Saren let the ghost of a smile lay on his face, but it didn't stick.

 

The main chamber was quiet now, depressingly silent in contrast to the lively conversation that had filled it earlier.

 

So empty...

 

Saren shook off the feeling and reached for the cabinet with individually secured drinking containers, square with slightly elongated corners, like the petals of a boxy tiger lily. A design unique to his people, preferring liquids to be poured into the mouth, lacking lips. A piece of biology the other species greatly over-hyped, that was mostly useless or redundant for any other purpose in his opinion.

 

He leaned back against the wall and studied the cup, trying to focus on the brushed metal sides and cobalt geometric linework, using it to push the memories down and away. In the background he could hear the healthy hum of his ship's drive core and life support, and beyond that the softly snoring hum that Nihlus always made when sleeping. Expected a second snore to be rolling alongside the first...

 

The blades of his crest tilted with his head as he listened into the dim lighting for the second occupant's sleeping hum, he paused, then heard it. A low rumble on the exhale, generally the sign of a deeply asleep torin, and no wheeze or snore on the inhale. Saren huffed. Even the officer's sleeping patterns were unobtrusive. Everything about him thus far had proven to be unobtrusive and considerate, strange for such a competent soldier. Usually the best of the best were also a bit off.

 

Feeling negative, he considered how that might lead the handsome young sniper down a dark path, to being invited on future missions, to an early grave like all Spectres and their various entourage.

 

Their's was not a long lived profession.

 

Not that the anti-social torin intended to let anyone take him out without a fight, nor especially for harm to come to his protege or the hapless C-Sec officer that had been pulled into the cause, but...

 

He missed Desolas so much. Would it be so bad if...?

 

Saren shook the thoughts off with the same focus he used to discard the fading dreams. He did not have time to waste on selfish melancholy, and he knew, he knew, that his brother's spirit would be disappointed with him to hear that such considerations rolled around in his thoughts.

 

His brother had given everything, in life and in death. Saren would do no less, having taken that light from the galaxy.

 

Saren returned the unused cup to it's place and determinedly made for his room. He needed to sleep, then he needed to eat, then he had some decryption work for the morning, and a series of clues on potential Prothean artifact smuggling rings to lay out and ponder over during the afternoon. He had plans, and his weaknesses would not get in the way.

 

It was only the low lighting that hid the sharp gaze upon him from Saren's watchful demeanor as he strode about that evening. A curious mind followed his progress from behind eyes that usually caught the light like icicles on a winter morning, but in the dark were merely icebergs floating in the placid arctic night cycle. Not a hour asleep and Saren had left his room in a slow and lethargic gait, glancing about before stepping into the kitchen area. Then silence. No running water nor a pop from the chilling unit's seal. A clink, a quiet thud, a long intermittent period of nothing but the ship's hum, then another clink, and back to his room in the stalk of a hunter on the trail of prey. Garrus remained unmoving, adding these little facts to folder labeled 'Saren Arterius: Council Spectre/Personal Hero' in the file cabinet of his mind.

 

Chapter Text

The second day of travel resulted in the single most embarrassing moment of Garrus' life. This included every idiotic thing he'd done in school, boot camp, as a child to impress his pari... hell, it even topped the time he'd woken up under a bridge in Bachjret Ward surrounded by sleeping vagrants who grouped up there to drink and trade in the evenings, no idea of how he'd gotten there, only a vague memory of going out for drinks the night before.

 

This, truly, topped them all.

 

It started with a chiming on his Omni-tool, a call routed from Palaven. Torn between his pari finding out he was on a mission with Spectres and worry over his mari's condition, his finger hovered over the accept key uncertainly. Nihlus, being the ever helpful person he was, intervened.

 

“Oh you can answer calls still, we aren't anywhere near enough to our target to have to go dark yet.” Then, he proceeded to reach over Garrus' arm and tap the key for him, before flopping beside the now frozen form on the settee.

 

“Oh Garrus, love, how are you!"

 

“Hello... Mari. I'm, ah, really great. Aheh. How are you feeling?” Garrus could see Saren's movements over his work slow slightly at the only-very-slightly telling turn of phrase. Damnit.

 

“I'm doing just fine, the doctors say that the recent damage has been minimal. If it keeps up, I might live a bit longer then expected, I'm rather pleased to say.” Garrus managed an honest smile at that.

 

“I'm pleased to hear you say it too. How's Pari doing?” Nihlus started to lean into his space, to which he reacted by shoving an elbow into rib plates in an attempt to fend him off.

 

“Oh, you know him, he has half a dozen clan members running around arranging a banquet dinner to gather funds for research into Corporalis, finding scientists interested in doing new research, another few buzzing about looking into the research that exists currently, while a PR specialist runs the numbers and schedules the meetings he'll need to run for a senate seat next season, all the while he is double checking everything they do anyway, and in the mean time...”

 

“You don't see him, because he's too busy helping you to be there with you.” Garrus said with no small amount of resigned anger. Classic Castis Vakarian, missing every precious moment in favor of work.

 

“It's because he loves us that he's like this, you know that. He's always had far too much energy to not be doing something about his problems every moment of every day.” Viviene smiled wistfully, her pale yellow plates glowing softly in the lazy sunlight. Nihlus began leaning in again, undeterred by elbows.

 

“I... know Mari. I can't say I'm entirely different, but at least I'm not ignorant of what you'd prefer... and I generally answer my calls.”

 

“Garrus, love, when you have a bondmate someday, you'll understand what it means that their happiness is your happiness.”

 

“If you say so.” Garrus chanced a glance over at the vivacious Spectre who was crowding him enough to almost be visible on camera. He was about to go for another elbow jab before the starry-eyed look on the torin's face brought to mind some of the details from Nihlus' public extranet profile. No surviving family, lost his father at 16, mother died under mysterious circumstances a few years ago. Crap, now Garrus felt bad.

 

“I do say so.” Viviene replied, before tilting her head, her lovely orange eyes twinkling deviously. “Speaking of bondmates, have you found anyone special to introduce me to.” Garrus' insides promptly went hiding in his feet. The furthest possible distance from that question. Nihlus' curiosity and Saren's careful listening-in forgotten for a moment as he fumbled trying to find a response that was both a negative and not a disappointment to his dying mother.

 

“Well, I...” Nihlus, - ever. so. helpful.- Nihlus threw an arm over his collar and leaned into camera view at perhaps the worst possible moment, wanting in on talking-to-a-nice-mom-on-vid-call so bad that he hadn't picked up on the subtext in the least.

 

“Hullo Mrs. Vakarian! I'm Nihlus, it's nice to meet you.” He was going to kill the carmine plated Spectre. Saren would likely end him immediately afterwards, but there was nothing for it. It had to be done.

 

“Why hello Nihlus, it's a pleasure to meet you as well.” His mari smiled brightly, but he could practically see the thoughts in her head, 'Oh dear, I suppose I'll be relying on Solana for grandchildren after all'. Garrus wanted to alter this impression, somehow, but couldn't remember how to speak.

 

“I hope I'm not interrupting, m'am? Garrus didn't mention that you were ill. I hope you're doing okay?” Garrus could see, plain as day, that Nihlus had no idea what he'd just done, what introducing himself at that moment insinuated. 'How could he not?' Garrus wondered passingly, adrift from his body. Nihlus was all smiles as she reassured him that her health was the best that could be expected, and the two proceeded to chat about weather on Palaven and the latest elections. Movement caused him to glance up at Saren, who had swung his chair around, and was very precisely not looking at them while retrieving some obscure part from a storage container. He sort of wanted to melt into the floor and never reform.

 

“So how long have you two known each other, Nihlus?” Oh spirits. He prayed for them to strike with sudden engine failure. Fire alarm. Anything, spirits, please...

 

“Gosh, it has been a while now, hasn't it? I think we met, hmm.. it was outside a bank, about 7 months ago?” Engine failure, engine failure, engine failure...

 

“Oh, my, almost a year already? That's wonderful to hear. I had hoped that Garrus was making friends on the Citadel. He's always been a bit of a quiet type, you know?” Feeling abandoned by the spirits, he instead began to pray to the ancient Titans, just in case he somehow had Valluvian blood somewhere in his ancestry. A last ditch effort.

 

“Oh he can be quiet sometimes, but I think living on the Citadel must've brought him out of the shell a bit. He's pretty exciting to be around most of the time.” The Titans were silent as well. Saren was making his way back to his bench, and their expressions met. He pleaded for help with his eyes. Saren blinked at him and sat back down. Feeling alone in a cold, uncaring galaxy, he began to regather his ability to speak. To mount some defense, no matter how feeble, against the tides of fate.

 

Oh look, more poetry when terrified. His fight-or-flight instincts were actually fight-or-rhyme instincts. He gave a small laugh, like a half-dead-fish on land flailing about in it's death throws. It must've suited the conversation that he wasn't listening to, because Nihlus turned to grin at him before moving his happy expression back to Viviene.  

 

“Is that so! That's wonderful to hear, thank you for sharing it with me. I can't help but worry sometimes, and that puts me at ease. Do you two go out often?” Here, Garrus saw his chance to retake control of the situation.

 

“Definitely, Mari. Nihlus is a great wingman when we go out to catch a drink. He's a good friend.” Garrus smiled like a shark at Nihlus, willing him to agree or die. Nihlus smiled cheerfully at Viviene. Viviene smiled like she had a new secret to keep. Garrus despaired... if his pari even had the faintest idea that Garrus had no intention of bringing a potential mate home before thirty five or so, as was expected of him...

 

“I'm relieved that you have such a good friend, Garrus.” Oh, spirits. “It makes makes me feel better about you living so far from home.” He choked a little.

 

Mari, half the clan has worked in or with C-Sec at some point. It's not all that far! Pari lived here for years.”

 

“Yes love, but he communed back and forth with the three week on and two week off schedule. You're there full time... and I just miss you sometimes.”

 

With an arm of one of the Council's top agents slung over his shoulders, and the most infamous, youngest-accepted-into-their-vaunted-ranks Spectre in history sitting definitely-not-listening-in 3 meters away, Garrus gave the only reply to her that he could, no matter the circumstances.

 

“I miss you too, Mari.”

 

The conversation turned into goodbyes, promises to talk again sometime, and not so subtle invitations to the clan Madlis. 

 

...

 

The room descended into silence, finally broken by Garrus taking a deep, calming breath and pointing an accusing finger to the settee's other occupant. 

 

"You. Are so oblivious." Then another finger at Saren.

 

"And you. Are not Sneaky." Saren looked mild affronted at the assault to his skills in subtlety. Nihlus just looked confused.

 

"What d'ya mean, I'm oblivious? Oblivious to what?"

 

Garrus just shook his head, and went to take a long hot shower.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

That evening saw Saren reluctantly drawn into a game of cards by a deviously compelling Nihlus, who applied just the right about of annoyance, charm, wit, and guile to get the antisocial Spectre to agree, without crossing any lines that would get his face clawed off. He managed it skillfully.

 

“You have six cards, Nihlus. Discard one.” said Saren as he played an Age of Knights, upside-down. The green eyed Spectre was cheating again. Somewhat impaired by trying to do so against two very observant individuals. He complied, grudgingly, and played a Song of Autumn.

 

Garrus smirked at him across the table, pleased to be getting some sort of small vengeance for the vid-call fiasco that morning, and discarded a card, drawing a new one in it's place.

 

Saren tapped a card thoughtfully on the table, before playing it as well. A Sacrifice of Knights, also played upside-down.

 

Nihlus sweated nervously, determined to win. The lowest score of the night had to do all of the general chores tomorrow, and he was behind. He despised doing janitorial work with a passion. He discarded two cards, and drew new ones.

 

Icy blue eyes swiveled between the two Spectres. He was up for the night, and wanted to keep it that way. He looked at the other silver plated torin, a difficult read, the only tell Saren seemed to have was the occasional light swallow for particularly good or bad hands. His gaze turned to the focus of his revenge. If he lost to Saren, so be it, but he wasn't going to loose to Nihlus.

 

'Time for some intimidation,' he thought, playing both the Mercy of Songs and the Twilight of Songs at once. He looked up, slowly drawing his eyes up from the table to meet Nihlus' vivid green stare. 'That's right, Kryik. No way for you to get a full suit of Songs now.'

 

Nihlus let out a slow huff of air from his nostrils.

 

Saren let out a hum, subvocals flat, and set down a pair in the Daggers suit, played normally.

 

In a fit of frustration, Nihlus discarded his full hand and redrew. 'Oh... oh yes...'

 

Garrus flared his mandibles at Nihlus, simultaneously laying down a Temerity of Songs, the proverbial glove tossed.

 

A tongue-click came from the other side of the table, scalpel sharp talons laying down an Angel of Truth and Angel of Fortitude, giving the older Spectre a 2 pair of positive cards upright, double pair of negative cards, one set up-one set down. A dangerously good spread.

 

Nihlus began an evil, over-dramatic chuckle. Full-on mad scientist cackles breaking through as he, one by one, laid out The Serpents of Deceit, Avarice, Decay, Sadness, and Remorse, all upside down.

 

“You've got to be kidding me. You got that in one hand? No way.” he laid out a pair of Knights, Dawn and Roses, upright.

 

“Read 'em and weep, pretty boy. Five serpents, just for you Blue.” Nihlus drawled lasciviously, and proceeded to make a terrible approximation of a blown-kiss. Saren made a sound of disgust, and quickly set down a single Serpent Entwined Dagger before taking a drink of water.

 

Having drawn a completely fresh hand after laying them all out, Nihlus' next card was of course, the Angel of Death, ending the game.

 

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today... to witness the complete and utter devastation of Garrus Vakarian by the amazing and awe-inspiring Nihlus Kr-Oh shi-!” He was cut off as Garrus dove around the table, checking under the lip of the edge for spare cards, bodily lifting the Spectre up to check under him for spares. There were of course none to be found. Nihlus was far too sneaky for that.

 

Held bodily midair, trying to not show how aroused it got him that Garrus could literally dead-lift a fully grown Turian, he decided to do what he usually did in these situations. Make it worse. He kicked his legs forward, up over hip spurs, wrapping them around the torin's waist. Tossing his weight forward, and his arms around the attractively looping collar before him, Nihlus leaned in and stage-whispered.

 

“If you wanted to get up close and personal, all you had to do is ask. You want me to teach you some... card tricks?” Garrus just took a steadying step back, and sighed profoundly, head tilted back and neck barred in an over dramatic gesture of surrender to the whole situation.

 

Nihlus had to swallow back an appreciative subvocal purr at the sight of all that smooth brown hide. 'Must not bite, must not bite...'

 

“Arterius, did you teach him these lines? Please tell me he didn't learn pick up lines such as 'You want me to teach you some card tricks' during Spectre training. I don't think I can handle it if it is true. In fact, just lie to me if it is.”

 

“No. I do not claim responsibility for any of his... one-liners.”

 

“Thank the spirits for small mercies.”

 

Chapter Text

The next morning saw Saren awake, staring at the ceiling listlessly, an hour until the day cycle. Considering he slept the usual four hours a night, and two or three more in naps, it was... within tolerable parameters. He gave up pretending to rest and got dressed, casuals again, instead of armor. They had six or so more days til arrival, though they would be arriving out of FTL today, and making the relay jump to Hades Gamma. Still in safe waters, relatively speaking, till they arrived in the Attican Beta. Casuals would do.

 

He tapped the open panel for his closet, an impressive but tightly packed collection of his various outfits. Everything an agent of Special Tactics and Reconnaissance would need for undercover, all of his personal wardrobe, and a few items tailored for Nihlus specifically. Nicer things for soirees and pageantry they kept safe in Saren's keeping. They'd learned the hard way that having Nihlus take care of clothing that required delicate care would result in buying him a new suit for each and every event, and unlike Saren, during undercover missions he changed outfits like the color-matching lizards of Earth. In the moment, and modified to suit.

 

Truly, his protege's ability to blend in and move through a crowd was something to see. It surpassed his own, and though some might blame that on his exotic facial structure, he knew that Nihlus had a knack for blending in and disappearing that few others could match. He would have made an excellent spook for the Hierarchy's black ops division. Saren was rather pleased to have stolen him right out from under their noses.

 

He further considered what to wear while fingering one of Nihlus' spare jackets, part of a crisp suit in black and mahogany that made the younger torin's eyes stand out vividly. Like green fire. Saren's eyes slid over to a silver tunic and black pants set of his own that had jewel-toned green geometry on the cuffs and hemming. It would do.

 

He left the room and padded quietly into the kitchen, tapping on a wall mounted panel to put up a light sound dampening mass effect field. Just strong enough to murmur the sound of pans and plateware. He opened the pantry door to see what they had in stock, the first thing popping out at him was spicae, one of the ingredients for... for pulmentum. A cheap and easy grain cake his brother used to...

 

Unwilling to let his demons have their way, he pulled the ingredients for pulmentum out, as well as a jar of tangy miel to go with a plate of breakfast meats. With care he mixed up the gritty batter and spices, setting a wide pan to medium low heat, and prepping it with a drizzle of oil. He let that heat up, taking the time to lay out long meat slices from the refrigerator on a pan, lightly salted, and set them in the oven to bake.

 

This was a much improved state of being from laying down in misery. Saren found himself in the frequently visited zen-like state of cooking. Precise, step by step recipes, detailed variations, no others involved, multitasking for maximum efficiency. It was a dance of batter spoons and spices, heat dials and cupboard doors. He'd managed two batches of little round pulmentum cakes, half a plate of meats, and tiny tray of dipping sauces when pale knuckles were splattered unexpectedly with sizzling droplets of molten oil.

 

He jerked back violently, the curse not coming out in words so much as aggravated subvocals.

 

“Hey, are you alright?” He whirled around, coming around unexpectedly close to his erstwhile apprentice. Nihlus gently tugged his hand out of the protective curl it had been in, ignoring the other hand's half-cocked strike that had been halted mid-throw toward his neck. As if he were summoned on demand by Saren's unusually circling thoughts of him this morning, an out of character preoccupation with his former student. Carmine plating paled out in the bright kitchen light to a rich brown color, as he inspected Saren's hand. The first knuckle on the outer edge had gotten a fairly sizable splash of oil, and had mottled lightly purple in mere moments. Being an oil burn, there was little to do except for ice it...

 

Nihlus leaned down and blew on it, gently. Concerned brows lowered at the laughably small injury. A shiver ran down his spine at the delicate treatment, and tingled it's way back up again as one of Nihlus' hands slid away from his own. The younger Spectre reached over to the chilling unit and opened the freezer side, pulling one of many ice packs out. He let go of Saren's hand for a moment to wrap the ice in a dish cloth. Said Spectre was still trying to muddle his way through Nihlus' actions, thoughts crawling forward as if soaked in honey, too distracted to stop him from taking the hand back and holding the soothingly cold ice to the burn. It still seemed exceedingly hot, but the chill was slowly sinking in. The whole room, for that matter, felt over-warm. He tried to pull away, but Nihlus held on. Saren looked up into those... damn... beautiful green eyes... that looked back at him with things he had no intention of ever talking about.

 

“Are you alright? You never answered. Is everything okay?” Saren didn't know how to answer that, so he just... nodded, trying to talk his legs into moving him away from this... this. How long had Nihlus been watching him this morning?

 

“You're still not talking...” Nihlus inched closer, scent and height and... concerned subvocals thrumming in the air around them. He felt cornered, starting to feel his anger rise. This insubordinate whelp was... he had no right to...

 

Nihlus' brow lowered to brush lightly, temple to temple, against his. A warm Turian sign of affection, concern, support... Saren was suddenly much too warm, much too brittle, and it was about to come to the surface like a lava flow, igniting everything in range of the caldera...

 

A cough sounded loudly in the relative stillness of the kitchen, two sets of eyes turning to face the averted gaze of their tag along. Mandibles tight to his jaw, subvocals wavering in awkwardness from having walked in on them...

 

“Sorry to interrupt, but... your com terminal is flashing a priority flagged message. It's the.. purple flickering one?” Saren swallowed and seized the lifeline immediately, forgiving the awkwardness of the moment for the sake of a new direction to escape in. It was a full route, he was entirely aware.

 

“Flickering purple? That is a distress call. Let us see what is amiss.” He flicked the heat off on the stove and stalked out of the kitchen with a glancing glare at Nihlus. He pretended he could not hear the conversation going on right behind him.

 

“...sorry.” Came the trailing end of another apology from Vakarian. Nihlus responded with self-depreciating laughter that made Saren's throat tighten reflexively.

 

“Don't worry about it. It wasn't what it looked like.”

 

“I... wouldn't presume. Or judge.”

 

“Oh please do, it's probably more interesting then the truth.”

 

“Ah so... you're... not together?” Nihlus sighed wistfully, and Saren bolted for his command chair in the center of the CIC ring.

 

“Ahhhh, if only.” He said with an empty smile. 

 

Chapter Text

Nihlus stepped up onto the central dais like he belonged there, moving to stand just behind the left hand of Saren's chair. He refused to let the pseudo-rejection get to him, not to show it in his face or leak it into his subvocals. He'd been offering Saren small gestures of affection since... hell, since the day they'd met, the fierce pride of being hand picked for ST&R training the best thing that had ever happened to him. He owed everything to the torin, and would never abandon that debt, never betray or give up on him...

 

He took a slow breath.

 

Even if... every other word out of the bastard's mouth was mockery, derision, or annoyance. Or just walking away wordlessly when Nihlus offered his heart on a silver platter. He wished that Saren would just stop and realize that he had a permanent, green-eyed shadow.

 

Garrus came up reluctantly behind them, stepping to the right side of the platform as Saren finished pinning down the distress signal, sending it up to the holo-screen ring around them. It came up on audio/video, a surprisingly clean feed for an emergency signal, clear as the Domacalla bells atop Cipritine's main cathedral. The message had a picture of a space station in the top left corner, with the logo and icon for a well known Salarian medical company below it. The right three-fourths of the screen was taken up by a large window showing an info-graphic with the station's power issues and the tracking beacons of many small dots outside the station's borders. A bar along the bottom began scrolling subtitles like a news stream just as a synthesized voice began speaking in the rapid and hissing tones common to Salarian Sur'keshi, helpfully translated by their Omni-tools.

 

“Emergency aid requested. This is the V.I. Ordoka of the medical research and relief station, Hidoran III. Critical power failure has occurred. Hidoran III is without life support. Personnel have evacuated into escape pods. The station administrator requests all available space craft to assist in retrieving loose pods. Remaining life support in all units is estimated to be [two] hours and [thirteen] minutes. Please provide assistance.”

 

Saren reached out to activate an audio reply.

 

“Ordoka, we are unable to assist, but will pass on your status to the Relay's traffic control station.” Nihlus heard more then saw Garrus shifting in discomfort on the other side. He wasn't too happy about not being able to help himself, but they didn't exactly have the facilities to do a thing about it. Their airlock was, maybe, 3 cubic meters in size. Barely enough room for a single escape pod. Saren's decision was the best choice to see that these people received assistance. He turned to look at the C-Sec officer, who turned his neck to look back, and they shared an expression of displeasure with leaving the evacuees behind. 'Nothing for it', he communicated with a shrug. Garrus nodded once and they turned forward again.

 

“Acknowledged. I will relay your information to the system administrator. Thank you.” The screen returned to it's usual light blue glow as the connection was cut. Wordlessly, Saren turned the ship toward the relay, two planets away from their current location, and began calculating a micro-FTL jump to speed their travel time. If the info graphic's data had been correct a little under three hundred lives hung in the balance, and for some reason no one else had gotten the distress signal. That was...

 

“Something's off about this.” hummed Garrus, chin tilted and eyes narrowed. Silver-grey mandibles swished back and forth in a considering wiggle that Nihlus found inordinately cute. 'Now's not the time, Kryik.' he clicked his tongue at himself and put in his two creds.

 

“I was just thinking something similar. Exodus Cluster isn't exactly the middle of nowhere. Someone has to have passed by at some point, if not today then recently. It's a major shipping route. Plus, those escape pods should have... days of life support in them. At least. So, what gives?” Saren raised his elbows to the chair's arm rests, bringing his hands up, fingers pressed together.

 

“I suspect I have an answer to that.” Leaving the ship's VI to run jump calculations, he spared a moment to bring up a second holo-monitor on the ring, starting up a program for the encryption or decryption of data, and pulled the distress signal's still-broadcasting alert into it.

 

“Tell me gentlemen, what do you see?” It was something of a rhetorical question, as anyone with the slightest knowledge of audio/video codex could see that the signal's encoding was standard work, which is to say it had normal encoding for communication on any modern device, but in between seemingly random chunks was a horde of junk data. When seen from outside by organic minds, it only vaguely resembled readable data from all the muck cluttering the screen.

 

Spirits, that's a wreck... corporate espionage, d'ya think?” Saren shrugged at his fellow Spectre, finishing up the calculations for the micro FTL burst that would bring them across the solar system and into range of the Relay. It only took them a split second to arrive, finding a small queue of cargo ships and a private Hanar vessel patiently waiting in line for their turn to jump, no obvious alarm at the state of Hidoran III. Garrus leaned forward as the list of ship names and a traffic report popped up automatically from the local traffic control, or T-Con for short, a tiny space station built within range of each major Relay to facilitate the come-and-go of ship travel.

 

“Still... No one else picked up on that emergency signal?” Saren shook his head, bringing up a priority communication request for the traffic station.

 

“The average ship is not equipped to pick up on or subvert sabotage of this level.” He followed that statement by bringing up a tech-spec page for the information and cyber security suite onboard. Nihlus snickered at the half-starved look of a covetous and lustful tech-junkie that took over the C-Sec Officer's face. Garrus Vakarian sure did like his cutting-edge tech, and Saren always did have the very best toys. A video chat flickered to life in yet another window.

 

“This is the Asgard Relay T-Con, my name is Officer Kel'taig, replying to a priority com request from The Daedalus. What's seems to be the problem, captain?”

 

“This is Spectre Arterius, Officer Kel'taig, and I am forwarding you an emergency distress call for Hidoran III. I presume you are familiar with the station?”

 

“Uh, yessir. A distress call you say?”

 

“It appears they experienced a power failure some time ago, and are experiencing communication issues as well. There are a number of escape pods surrounding the station that have failing life support. Do you have the ability to assist?”

 

“One moment, Spectre.” The navy blue Salarian traffic officer disappeared off screen for several moments, before returning with two Turians in similar uniform.

 

“Spectre Arterius?” Began the tarin on the left, her subvocals crisply professional, “My officer is telling me Hidoran III needs immediate evac, can you confirm?”

 

“Yes.” Saren grumbled none-too-pleased, Nihlus could hear, annoyed with having to repeat himself.

 

'Oh goodie, and he was already in such a lovely mood today.'

 

“The station experienced power failure. There are several hundred escape pods with failing life support surrounding it with approximately two hours remaining.”

 

“I see. While I'm willing help, I have only two rescue vehicles available. I could evacuate perhaps a quarter of that number back to our station in the given time.” Saren's eyes flickered over to the list of ships queued for travel.

 

“Does that include assistance from the other end of the relay jump?”

 

“It does.”

 

“One moment, remain on the channel.” The unnamed tarin raised a brow at the curt order but said nothing further. Saren brought up the ship list, located a cargo ship listed as hauling unimportant Salarian burngrass, likely on a not-time-sensitive run to a terraforming project. Quick fingers typed out a com request for the captain, who answered immediately. The human woman's expression going from bored to aggravated in moments. Nihlus tried not to smile, imagining that she'd recognized Saren's increasingly infamous visage, and knew she'd just been roped into something.

 

“This is Captain Jerrie of the PSV Tortuga, what can I do for you, er... gentlemen?” Saren blatantly ignored the human's ignorance of gender, likely on the female officer's behalf, and filled the blonde haired woman in on the problem thus far.

 

“...that said, as requested by Spectre authority, you are required by law to provide assistance in the form of a mobile recovery base for the rescue crew that the T-Con station will be providing, as stated in the thir-” Of course the human, annoyed or not with being roped into this and pulled off her hauling schedule, was now even more pissed off at the clear assumption in Saren's words that she would need to be compelled by law to help oxygen starved evacuees. Nihlus waited patiently, uninvolved, having been long used to his former mentor always presuming the worst about human intentions. Either it would result in shots fired -unlikely, but not impossible-, or not -hopefully-, so long as someone got the rescue operations underway soonish... Nihlus really didn't care. Garrus, however, interjected before the growing number of veiled insults got any worse.

 

“Captain Jerrie. On behalf of the station's personnel, thank you for agreeing to assist. It's very generous of you. If you'll please drop your place in the queue and move off to the side, we'll leave you with T-Con to arrange pick up of the smaller rescue vehicles into whatever open storage space you have, so you can get out there as soon as possible. Thank you again, ladies, I'm sure the families of the people you are rescuing will be very grateful.” His voice remained cordial and even somewhat compelling, humming gracious subvocals to the tarin officer while remembering not to use expressions that showed teeth for the captain.

 

'Oh, he's good.” thought Nihlus, realizing suddenly that Garrus... probably had not always been a detective. The torin had likely spent years as a beat cop first, responding to domestic disturbances or petty crime; and dealing with all manner of crabby, crying, aggressive citizenry.

 

All parties settled, Saren entered them into the short relay queue. They were cleared for a Mass Effect assisted Relay jump within half an hour, arriving in Hades Gamma in the Antaeus system. Nihlus casually leaned on the chair back with one arm, long legs crossed, and turned to Garrus while their grumpy-as-fuck-today-and-probably-also-for-the-foreseeable-future leader ran the new navigational calculations for the connecting FTL flight to the relay in Dis.

 

“Wellllll... this is going to be a nice long flight. If I remember correctly, we've got about four days till we hit Dis, and make the jump to Attican Beta. Thankfully, the Hercules system has both our arrival and departure relays, so that'll be quick." He hummed thoughtfully. "We'll probably go dark upon arrival, no up/down data traffic or broadcasting to com buoys that would give away our position. Soooo... download all your music and porn needs before hand.” He leveled a blasé grin at Garrus' thoroughly unimpressed expression.

 

“Uhuh. Thanks.”

 

“No probs.”

 

Chapter Text

The steam from Saren's third cup of kava had faded away, the drink going unconsumed in his distraction. It was two hours into the night cycle and the Spectre was still sitting up in the kitchen, never having pretended to sleep at all. The data pad in front of him blurred into illegibility as a jaw popping yawn took hold.

 

“Maybe you should consider trying to sleep.” He jumped at the sudden voice that broke the room's quiet. Vakarian. He scrubbed a palm over his face and replied without turning around from the small table to face the door way.

 

“I will do so on my own time. Perhaps you should take your own advice.” He could hear the scrape of bare talons along the floor as footing changed, accompanied by a light thunk. Likely the C-Sec Officer had leaned back against the door frame, legs crossed. A position of causal leaning the torin seemed to take often.

 

“I napped a fair bit today, after the incident with Hidoran station, so... I'm just fine. You however, barely sleep as it is.” Saren's proverbial hackles rose at the... demeaning chastisement. He swung his head around to pin the sniper with half a glare.

 

“My sleeping habits are none of your concern, Vakarian.” Garrus just shrugged, his silver-grey crest blades catching the light as he tossed his head in a dismissive gesture.

 

“Maybe, maybe not. It doesn't change the fact that something's bothering you. You've been keyed up since I first saw you this morning. You want to talk about it?”

 

Did he- want to- talk about it?!

 

'Who does this carbon-copy C-Sec flunky think he is?'

 

From half asleep at the wheel to angry and ready to fight in twenty five seconds or less. Keyed up did not begin to describe it. Saren lifted his legs and spun on the wide bench of the mess hall's table, planting his feet heavily upon coming fully around. He distantly lamented that his lack of boots kept the sound from being as intimidating as it should have been. He brought his full glare to bear on the other occupant, perfectly still and silent.

 

Face neutral, with mandibles loosely tucked in and a deceptively placid gaze, Garrus approached slowly and leaned over, reaching down to rest his hands on Saren's cloth covered shoulders. His hands were warm against chilled plates. Less afraid of the Spectre's ire then he really should be.

 

'Hiding it? Perhaps.'

 

“Listen. You don't have to talk about it, it wasn't an attempt at coercion. It was an offer. A friendly one. If you don't want to, that's fine, but I offered to hear what's on your mind because I care that you're okay, and today? 'Okay' is not the word I would use. I understand you're a private person, and I'm not trying to encroach where that's unwelcome, but if there is anything I can do to help you relax, I hope you know you can ask. I respect you more than... anyone else in the galaxy. If I can help you out somehow? I want to.”

 

Saren's mounting anger dissipated in the face of Garrus' heart-felt concern. He wasn't pushing like Nihlus did, but made it obvious that he wanted to be helpful if he could. Vakarian claimed to... respect him more than...

 

He grabbed for the remaining tatters of his temper and growled softly, subvocals saying 'give me some space'. The sniper moved away to the cupboards and began to making up some sort of drink.

 

Silence reigned in the kitchen, the only sounds to be heard were those of the ship's systems and the quiet hum of the chilling unit. Saren turned back around gingerly, resting an elbow on the table and his chin on that fist. A fresh drink was set gently before him, but it clearly wasn't kava. He scented the air lightly. It was herbal tea, hot and unsweetened. Garrus sat down across from him, not meeting his eyes, just swirling his own tea cup wordlessly. He tried to work up a mild affront that the Officer had exchanged his drink for something without caffeine, but it seemed petty in lieu of the quiet companionship and open-ended offer of support that had come with it.

 

His elbow slid out from under him as he let his fringe drop to the table top to land on cool metal. Still, Garrus said nothing, but reached out a hand to rest three taloned fingertips against the outside of his arm.

 

“I...” Damn, he was doing this, wasn't he? Saren didn't particularly want to, -liar, his mind whispered in Nihlus' voice-, but he might as well give it a try at least once. “I wish to sleep, but cannot. Do not ask me why.” A low hum from the other torin set the tea in his cup to vibrating, concentric circles forming in ripples on the surface.

 

“Tried any sleep aids?” He shook his head, rolling his forehead against the table, before managing to lift his torso back to a proper sit fueled by self disgust at his weak appearance.

 

“Well, tea is a good start. It can be calming.” An unsubtle nudge of the cup pushing it closer to him. “I saw you exercising with free weights earlier, it looked like a good work out, so I'd guess it isn't lack of physical exhaustion... what about music or aromatherapy?” Saren scoffed.

 

“I have tried peaceful instrumental audio that I normally enjoy. Forcing myself to try and fall asleep to it merely ruins my enjoyment of the piece in general. Furthermore, I do not enjoy artificial smelling... aromas. They give me headaches, if anything.”

 

“Okay. What about a hot shower?”

 

“I already took one.” Another thoughtful hum filled the room, making his tea ripple again. He finally managed to drink some, not particularly tasting it.

 

“May I try something?” Saren looked up, a mistrustful and uncertain expression on his face.

 

“Such as?” A half-smile finally broke the sniper's emotionless calm.

 

“Just say yes. I'll try it, and if you don't like it after a few minutes, just say something and I'll stop.” A few moments passed in consideration, the world blurring as his eyes unfocused yet again.

 

“Fine.”

 

Vakarian reached for his left hand, the one not curled around a tea cup, and pulled it to his side of the table. Saren watched absently, waiting to see what the torin thought he could do to a hand that would solve chronic insomnia. Grey hands cradled a silver one between them, thumbs coming down to push lightly into the meat of his palm. With talons curled safely away, the second knuckles providing the surface and pressure, the hands moved over his in slow circles. Up to the base of his fingers, and back down, looping several times. Saren started to feel far away. The grey toned hands moved up and began kneading the dense tendons along his finger bones, working gently around joints, rolling into the pads of his finger tips and pressing against the buried base of his talons. He laid his head down, watching the tea cup and it's continued rippling. Which was... odd... the other torin wasn't... humming anymore... if the.. sound wasn't... from him... it must be...

 

Then he was gone, flopped out on the table like the galaxy's most dangerous bread roll.

 

Garrus realized belatedly that he had no idea how to get the Spectre back to his bed without waking him again.

 

Damn.

 

Chapter Text

While Garrus' presumptions about Saren's living habits had been generally correct going into this, disregarding a few unexpected quirks, Nihlus Kryik proved to be a creature of continuing... surprises. His habits were... not just over the top, but right out of the Hideth Turram field altogether.

"Annnnnnd I~~~~~~~! Will always luuuuv yooOooOoooOooOuuuu~~~~..."

He was.... singing in the shower, the obscenely dulcet tones coming through the bulkhead from Saren's ensuite bathroom... in mind-bogglingly fluent Systems Alliance common. The reddish brown Specter was crooning... old Earth love songs. Garrus turned to look at their captain, who had on noise canceling headphones that were clearly insufficient, considering his vaguely haunted look.

 

“Yoooou~~~ my darling, you~ Mmmm~~.”

 

He tried to refrain from laughing, and focused in on the data pad in front of him which displayed the coding for the main weapon's system. He was determined to re-calibrate it to handle better thermal uptake and cool down, having spent downtime over the past several days figuring out the finer points of the complex system. He'd tossed ideas around in the back of his head, and thought he had enough starting points to begin messing with the numbers. Not on the live system, of course, but on a copy of it he'd loaded to a datapad that could also run simulated test fires.

 

“Bitter sweet... mem~o~ries~~ that is all... I am taking... with mee~e~”

 

A sideways glance revealed that Saren was determinedly reading an article about the latest problems in law enforcement with illegal drug trafficking. Garrus made a note to peruse that one himself later. He turned back to the datapad, considering whether reworking the algorithms for the plasma containment field would give him enough leeway to allow more time for the high energy lasers to flash boil the contained hydrogen without slowing down the rate of fire.

 

“Ple~ase, dooon't cry. We both know, I'm not what you.... what you ne~e~eed...”

 

He scratched a thumb talon back and forth along his jaw, just underneath the left mandible, considering what other options he had to cut down on the rate of fire. The new math for the containment fields would do wonders for the issues with stability of the electromagnetics if he put them in, but it also appeared to add nearly four seconds to the time between shots. Completely unacceptable.

 

"Annnnnnd I~~~~~~~! Will always luuuuv yooOooOoooOooOuuuu~~~~..."

 

'Ahah!' He thought, 'I can rework the way the capacitors time recharging both the containment shield generator and the high energy laser pulse.' He made a note to refine the power draw later, after he'd finalized the rest of the alterations.

 

“I~~ ho~~pe life... treats you kind, and I~~ hope... you have all you... dream o~o~of!”

 

A lightning epiphany struck, somewhere in the middle of reviewing the energy draw requests from the canon's energy capacitors to the ship's engine. Some of the electromagnetic energy given off during the release of the plasma bolt during the firing sequence was recycled, recaptured by a series of absorption panels around the mechanism, but he could make it better with some clever timing on the energy draw... Garrus typed furiously, indomitable focus bearing down on his calibrations. It was all coming together.

 

“But above all~~ this? I wish you... lo~ooo~oooooveee~.”

 

'Oh, oh yes, I can definitely raise that a bit by... no, no wait, that's going to cause a feed back problem.' Garrus was a slave to his muse, happily, bound and determined to solve the self-given puzzle of mathematics and physics breaking.

 

"Annnnnnd I~~~~~~~! Will always luuuuv yooOooOoooOooOuuuu~~~~..."

 

He came to a stop. It looked... good. He ran the test firing simulation, fingers hovering like a hunter waiting to see what his prey was going to do. It came back with a vast improvement to the thermal issues, 8% faster rate of fire and a whopping 24% less stress on the heat exchange, but... damnit, some mild instability issues. He was returning to the drawing board just as Saren threw his datapad at the wall. Garrus blinked at him, the silver plated figure looked... even more unstable and hunted then he had a few minutes ago. His pupils were contracted, one eye narrowed more then the other.

 

“I will always l~ove youuu~....” came crooning through the wall, only slightly quieter.

 

Garrus set his datapad down with a mildly apologetic pat, and turned to Saren in a merciful attempt to distract the torin with conversation.

 

“He must be extremely popular at karaoke bars...” he said with a smile at the grumpy Spectre. Saren just gave him a flat look.

 

“He is popular at all bars, unfortunately.”

 

“Unfortunately?”

 

“Yes. He has a bad habit of attracting people when we are in the middle of intel gathering, and then chatting them up for hours.”

 

“Wouldn't that help gather information?”

 

“Not if he spends half the conversation charming them, then the remainder making out like a sex starved teenager.”

 

“So... no information gets gathered.” In flat tones Saren offered a grudging addendum.

 

“He tends to lift data off Omni-tools while he is doing it.”

 

“Ahhhh.”

 

Nihlus continued his relentless campaign of love songs in different languages, the man was apparently a natural polyglot, for another forty minutes before the water finally shut off. A few minutes later he came wandering out of the bedroom shirtless, wearing nothing but loose beige cargo pants hung low on his hips. Low enough for the upper edge of his pubic plates to peak over the belted waist line, a descending 'V' of layered carapace and scales nestled between deceptively thin bone structure. Garrus felt himself involuntarily swallow as he forced his eyes to move past the figure now leaning against the corner of the hallway entrance.

 

Between the communal showers and shared quarters in basic training, the disconcern for personal space or covering when wounded in the field, and being a species that had completely internal sex organs, Turians in general wouldn't know body modesty if it hit them in the face with a rock. That said, it had been a long time since basic training, over a month since he'd slept with anyone, and he'd caught sight of Nihlus' unusual full-body markings. Long white trails flowing over carmine colored keel and pectoral plating, down his torso as interlocking segments made way for just a short swathe of soft looking dark brown hide, all of it leading down, down, down...

 

Garrus immediately began forcing himself to calculate an entirely different kind of thermal dynamics.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Furniture had been painstakingly tucked away, folded down, and carried out of the room.

 

All loose objects had been relocated, with promises to replace them later.

 

The stage was set, positions taken, and then...

 

Garrus and Nihlus engaged in the time-honored Turian tradition of staving off boredom with sparring matches.

 

Round one was to be a serious affair, neither knowing the other torin's limits, needing to assess that before diving in. Carelessness, especially between fighters of different skill level, could result in real injury. Not acceptable in a pre-mission lead up.

 

To that effect, Saren had agreed to referee. If questioned under the influence of many, many truth-telling drug cocktails Nihlus might have admitted he was hoping that Garrus was good, but not too good. He wanted to win, showing off for the electric blue eyes that watched them, and that required both a worthy opponent that could take the hits of his more impressive moves, but also someone he could take down in the end.

 

He wasn't too worried.

 

He eyed Garrus up and down as they loosened up. The C-Sec Officer remained impressively tall, even for their kind. He'd have excellent reach. Nihlus considered the torin's thickly built arms and muscular thighs. A heavy weight with all the densified muscle of frequent exercise and top quality gene-mods. His opponent had stripped down to a cobalt hued sleeveless shirt, not much to grab onto for a throw, with charcoal toned cargo shorts that stopped at the knee. Not much different from his own black-and-rust colored set, though his was much more form fitting. Nihlus' clothes didn't give the opposition so much as a single fistful of loose fabric to grab for.

 

'Huh. A'ight, let's see... he's got a strong root to his stance, good balance... I've gotta avoid direct hits, or redirect the force behind them. Need to push the limits of my flexibility if he is even half as strong as he looks. The recoil on that rifle of his... looks like it's given him extra arm strength. Pffft. What am I saying? Sniper. I got this.'

 

Garrus nodded at him and took a stance as they finished eyeing each other up. He moved into his own. Saren watched placidly from the CIC chair, intending to toss them away with biotics if anyone got thrown toward the central controls.

 

The tension hung in the air for a moment, suspended in time.

 

Then, they moved.

 

The Officer dropped low, bringing a leg around to trip him up, which he nimbly hopped over; just high enough to make sure it missed his feet, but not so high as to lose control of his position for any length of time. As soon as feet touched down he leaned into a strike, carefully keeping his core rooted, bringing a knee up to clock the other torin under the jaw. It nearly connected, but Garrus had already been rising up, left arm coming around in a light jab at his shoulder. That touched, but Nihlus rolled with it, almost none of the force transferring at the point of impact. In response, he continued that roll, using the motion to launch a kick at silver-grey fringe. The move was a classically female one, used by the much faster tarin fighters to take advantage of their speed. It threw his opponent off, as expected. He'd clearly been anticipating the fight to be a standard Turian male-male brawl, like the matches of all Hierarchy trained fighters.

 

Nihlus smiled darkly as the hit connected with a solid 'whump', sending Garrus stumbling sideways. You didn't survive growing up on a fringe-world mercenary base by fighting in fair or expected ways.

 

To his credit, the Officer recovered quickly, bringing his own leg up in a kick aimed for the torso. It scraped a tear through his shirt, rust colored cloth slicing open to reveal carmine plates as he curled into an impressively concave shape. As the kick went by he followed the movement with a drop, landing in a push up position that allowed him to kick his legs up at blinding speeds, straight into a handstand that brought his feet overhead and then crashing down one-after-the-other toward Garrus' head; who must have been thinking quickly, because side-by-side forearms blocked the strike, taking a long double-scratch from passing toe-talons.

 

First blood.

 

They pulled apart to opposite sides of the room as Garrus inspected the mild gash. Blue blood dripped onto the floor as he looked up and nodded in acknowledgement of the point. Nihlus let out a righteously wicked grin.

 

It faded as he realized that had been a more advanced finishing move, not something he should have used on the first round of a fresh fight. He felt a little ashamed for getting carried away, but... Saren hadn't called a foul for over-aggressiveness, then again... that wasn't exactly surprising what with the other Spectre's known penchant for ruthlessness. The grin returned a bit, hoping his cantankerous friend approved of the... somewhat unintended aggressiveness. He nodded to signal readiness for another go.

 

Once again the silver-grey sniper came in for the first strike, and Nihlus was pleased and vaguely aroused that it was a very advanced combination of moves. In from the right hand with a feint as the knee came up, the left hand made a grab for fringe, and the hip began the barest hint of coming around for a throw. Nihlus struggled to dodge the multi-strike, but managed it by ignoring the feint, sliding sideways around the knee, and leaving his neck open to avoid the fringe grab, knowing that his opponent was far-and-away too honorable to use the opening to slash at him. As that hip-crest continued to come around for a hip check, he did what came naturally to him of course, by making it worse in the form of leaning into it at just the right angle to end up half-sitting on Garrus' cocked hip. He took a moment to pose, kicking out a long leg fully, the other bent at the knee, leaning back and teasingly tugging on crest blades. He trilled an arrogant chirp, but dared not push the stunt any further, and rolled quickly away.

 

Nihlus spun around again to see Garrus coming at him with a happy grin. The other torin had enjoyed his cocky showmanship, and that pleased him all the more. He was having fun as they flowed into another series of rapid strikes, pulled back again, and met in an exchange of CQC grappling. Garrus nearly pinned him then, but determined to look good he risked dislocating his shoulder to tumble away. It almost worked except the sniper pulled some sort of follow-up tumble, grabbed him again, and was suddenly sitting on his back.

 

“Point to Vakarian” Saren drawled.

 

Nihlus thunked his head on the floor in self-chastisement before getting to his feet as the weight was lifted from his back. Were all C-Sec this good? Couldn't be. He'd won medals at competition before, and took on his colleagues when circumstance allowed, Saren included, more often then not coming out on top against the best-of-the-best. He passingly wondered, not for the first time, why Garrus wasn't one of them.

 

He shrugged it off as they jumped into a third round, both of them easing into it with slightly more tame movements as the inevitable trash-talk rolled off their subvocals.

 

'Slow. Much too slow.' Green eyes glittered with mirth.

 

'Careless, going to catch you.' Trilled out in low tones from a tawny brown throat.

 

'Was that a real try?' Came a mocking tease accompanied by a chin toss.

 

'Close, very close.' Was the growl that arose from dark silver chest plates.

 

'Should ask before touching.' Came a teasing hum from the lightning-fast Spectre after a near miss along his unprotected side.

 

'I will take what I want from you.' …

 

Nihlus swallowed lightly.

 

While he was fairly certain the sniper hadn't meant it that way, it still shut him right-the-fuck-up as he had to forcefully reject being turned on while determinedly trying to win. After a moment, he tossed out a flat toned taunt.

 

'Prove it.' ...and spirits did he.

 

Garrus came around like an avalanche, tagging his shoulder, pushing in close, and riding him to the ground. They grappled for endless minutes, Nihlus fighting like mad for a hand hold, -foot hold, something, anything-, before finding a lucky one and climbing the taller torin like a street lamp, ending up with one knee wrapped under his chin in a choke hold, leg spur notched painfully into the collar for support, and each arm outstretched fending off the talons that came in to pry him off.

 

“Point to Nihlus. The round is over Vakarian, he has put Krogan down with that particular hold.” Garrus stopped struggling and Nihlus loosened the hold so he could breathe. The Officer sunk down in his stance to allow Nihlus to dismount easier. So polite. He was feeling a bit skittish about turning around to face him after getting down, both riding high on the adrenaline flush, and still fighting down a persistent arousal at the subvocal exchange. Possibly feeling a bit badly about pulling an endless stream of borderline illegal moves...

 

He need not have worried, as Garrus laughed happily and threw a companionable arm over his shoulders when he continued to face Saren's general direction instead of turning.

 

“That was amazing! You're the most wily, creative, and -spirits- fastest sparring partner I've ever had. Want to take a break and go again?” Nihlus looked up, hiding his relief, and smiled insolently.

 

“I could do this all day, Blue.”

 

Chapter Text

The scent of charred carbon came wafting by...

 

“Help!!! Help, he's going to kill me~~~~!” Garrus looked up in surprise as a breeze blew past the settee, the trailing 'me' changing pitch in a mild dopler effect as Nihlus sprinted away from a stomping mass of silver plates and rage.

 

“Not the airlock, not the airlock!” Came next as he'd evidently outmaneuvered Saren inside the bedroom, and came running back out the hallway.

 

He paused in a moment of schadenfreude, remembering having experienced that same feeling of 'Saren is going to kill me' on previous occasion, though if he remembered correctly, he'd assumed he was about to be pushed off a roof...

 

“I didn't mean, t-oh shit!-ow ow ow fuck ow, to. Didn't mean to! Accident! Swear it was an accidi~~~!!!” The normally low rolling, melted caramel sound of Nihlus' voice ended in a squeak, -Garrus had to choke back laughter at the sound- before hitting a high pitched trill. Another breeze went by him as he continued to read his e-book, followed by slow paced stomping like an inevitable death.

 

He felt sort of unkind for not interfering, and maybe for laughing... but he was also not suicidal.

 

“I. Can.” Pant. “Fix. It!” Pant.

 

Garrus sipped his tea.

 

The younger Spectre continued to plead for several minutes, running out of air trying to out maneuver both the physical form that stalked him, and the range of biotics inside a relatively tiny ship space.

 

It was a good thing Saren wasn't really trying.

 

“Fine. You will fix it. You will ensure it is exactly as it was before. I am going to... shower. If it is not repaired by the time I am done...”

 

“Yep-got-it-going-to-murder-me-roger-that-okay-go-take-a-shower-now-please?”

 

Saren's mildly less heavy foot falls made for the bedroom door, and all was silent for a moment. Garrus turned back to the datapad in his lap. Moments later, Nihlus slid into the seat next to him with a pleading expression.

 

“Help.”

 

Garrus tried reallllllly hard not to laugh. He... mostly succeeded.

 

“What did you do?”

 

“I was trying to cook dinner...”

 

“Alright, and?”

 

“I might have lit a small thing on some fire.”

 

“On 'some' fire? What, the food?”

 

“Not exactly.” He eyed Nihlus suspiciously, not buying the butter-wouldn't-melt-in-his-mouth expression he was trying to sell. Without agreeing to anything he set the datapad and tea cup aside, and went to go have a look at whatever was, -by the smell of it-, still burning.

 

The kitchen was a disaster zone. It looked sort of like, no... exactly like a small grenade had gone off in the middle of a lunch rush. Complete with an explosion burn circle on the floor, and an imprint of a fallout cloud made of grain-flour on the walls and ceiling.

 

How did you even...?” he choked out.

 

Nihlus just shook his head back and forth, wordlessly, an over dramatic shell-shocked expression on his face.

 

Garrus covered his eyes with one hand, leaning on the door frame with the other, and tilted his face to the ceiling in exasperation. After a moment of patience gathering he'd reconciled himself to the next few... probably hours of helping Nihlus clean up this... this. He dropped his hands and lowered his gaze. Catching Nihlus pretending not to have been ogling his throat, the faux innocent expression slipping back into place. He rolled his eyes and turned toward the cache of cleaning supplies.

 

At least Saren was well supplied on that front.

 

They did not, in fact, finish cleaning it all up before Saren was done with his shower. Though mercifully, their leader didn't emerge from his room, likely taking the opportunity for an afternoon nap rather then go anywhere near the natural disaster zone that had become of his precious kitchen.

 

"Truly," thought the C-Sec Officer turned Janitor aloud, while he inspected the remaining grit on the wall, "even the Krogan clans would send relief aid to the survivors of Hurricane Nihlus."

 

“Shut up. Can you pass me the soap 'n water bucket?”

 

“Sure, here.” It slid over a meter to bump the hurricane's leg. He was cleaning the grooves in the floor.

 

“It's like some sort of adhesive formed from the chemical reaction between the grain-flour and the other ingredients. I don't understand how.”

 

“Neither do I. What were you trying to make, anyhow?”

 

“Stew.”

 

“Uhuh.”

 

“Shhhhh. Zip it. I'm normally pretty good at soups and stuff...”

 

“If you say so.”

 

“I made the pot roast we had three nights ago! You liked it!”

 

“That was technically a roast, not a soup.”

 

“Pffft, similar cooking requirements.” came the reply with a lackadaisical flip of the wrist.

 

“By the results? I'd say not.”

 

“Asshole.”

 

“Evidence doesn't lie Kyrik, that's why they accept it in court.”

 

“Fuck you... call me Nihlus.”

 

“You're welcome for the help, and Garrus is fine too.”

 

“Thanks Blue.” He let out an amused chuff and kept scrubbing.

 

“Whatever you say, Hurricane.”

 

Chapter Text

 

It was the last day of their FTL connection flight before they'd be jumping into the murkier waters of space. The Daedalus would be Relay jumping into the Attican Beta tomorrow, the very edge of the Attican Traverse, far past the edge of Citadel Space, and on the border to the Terminus Systems. No more extranet, as Nihlus had so helpfully pointed out, and armor on at all times in case of sudden pirate attacks. Not that many things could catch up with Saren's speedy little ship, but better safe then sorry... or spaced.

 

Garrus had finally pinned down the adjustments to the plasma canons, and after Saren had graciously taken the time to review it line by line, they'd sat down to enter it in together, intending to run a live test fire before the relay jump. They had been at it for hours, back and forth, and even managed to improve the tweaks just a hair more before implementing them. Saren had been pleased, offering Garrus the largest smile he'd ever seen the Spectre make.

 

Of course it took countless hours of work that resulted in a substantial increase of fire power for his ship to make Saren Arterius smile. Of course.

 

Now to wait till they arrived out of FTL tomorrow afternoon to test fire it... He couldn't wait.

 

He was also fairly certain that if this was what the life of a Spectre was like? He would never, never, forgive his pari for disbarring him from it. Sparring with Nihlus, talking about tech specs late into the night with Saren, the occasional gun fight on Council orders every week or so? This was Ylasiun, his perfect afterlife.

 

He shook off the melancholy with a will, and returned to doing push ups. Suddenly, his back was a whole lot heavier.

 

“What'cha thinkin' about?” Nihlus had come over unseen, -and unheard, he was so damn sneaky-, and sat down on his back just below the base of the carapace. It felt like the Spectre had sat down facing his feet, legs folded in, and was reclined on his elbows over the curve of his upper back, balancing as he shifted up and down.

 

Damn, he was heavy. Garrus forced wavering arms to continue, and they weren't pleased about it, but they obeyed.

 

“Was just. Thinking about. How bored. I'll be. After we get. Done.”

 

“Oh yeah?”

 

“Yeah. The. Citadel is. Usually pretty. Quiet.” Nihlus made a disbelieving hum. To be fair, every time they'd run into one another there had been extenuating circumstances. He wanted to tilt his neck to the left side and jostle the matching shoulder, the Turian equivalent of a shrug, but the position and the extra weight kept him from doing so.

 

“I. Suppose it. Might not. Seem like it. But usually? It's. Pretty tame. Mostly. Espionage. Minor Illegal. Trafficking.”

 

“So... research heavy crimes.”

 

“Yeah, I'm. Good at that. But it's. Still boring. Comparatively.”

 

“If you're into excitement, how come you didn't join the Spectres?” As if it was just a club you applied for. Garrus let out a wheezing laugh. If the carmine plated Turian had asked that question a few days ago, he might have been offended thinking the torin was mocking him. Now? He knew that Nihlus was asking honestly. Sometimes Nihlus was just... startlingly naive about things. For a ruthless killer.

 

The laughter did him in though, and he lowered himself down the rest of the way, Nihlus still lounging on his back like... what were those human pets? Cats. House cats? Or was it dogs? He couldn't remember off the top of his head, and blamed that on oxygen deprivation.

 

“Can't join. My pari forbid it.”

 

“Wait, what, seriously?”

 

“Yeah. Hates Spectres.”

 

“...mine's... gone now, but... he would've been damn proud of me...” The laughter went out of the room, like a light switched off, when the younger torin's subvocals cut down to nothing in an obvious attempt to hide the emotion behind that statement.

 

“He should be.” Garrus added gruffly. “It's an honor to be one. My pari's... stubborn bullshit doesn't reflect onto the truth of that.” He felt more then heard Nihlus shrug and rumble out a soft acknowledgement.

 

“Can I... ask what happened to him?” Nihlus was silent for a moment.

 

“He was... murdered.”

 

“That's horrible. I... did they catch the guy?”

 

“... I did. It... it was my mari.” The floor just about fell out from under Garrus' stomach at that statement. His matrula did what?

 

“That's... I don't have words for that. I'm so sorry, Nihlus.” He put every ounce of compassion into his tone that he could manage, trying to also reassure that he didn't pity or judge him for his circumstances. 'Oh, spirits, no wonder he was so enamored with my mari on that vid call. His matrula was a monster. No wonder. Shit.'

 

“Yeah well... thanks, I guess. I... it's okay. That bitch is dead now, pari can rest easy, ya know?”

 

“It... I don't mean to sound... okay, there is no not-fucked up way to say this, and I don't mean it to be.. patronizing? But seriously... well done. If I was your pari I would have been proud beyond measure that you had the... strength of will to end her and avenge me. You're an impressive individual all around, I mean that.”

 

Nihlus didn't speak, but let out an almost-happy purr in thanks. Icy blue eyes slid closed and they let the silence sit for a minute.

 

'No one should ever have to... kill their own mari because she went, presumably, psycho and offed their bondmate. How could anyone ever raise a hand to their...?' Bonding was a choice, and it normally locked in Turian behavioral patterns like a cast iron mold. For one person in a bonded pair to attack the other? Either she'd lied and never bonded, or was a seriously disturbed person.

 

He wanted the rest of the facts, couldn't help it with a detective's mind driving his curiosity, but was entirely unwilling to press for more answers. Nihlus' pain had sucked the air out of the room, and he found himself desperate to bring it back.

 

“Well, anyway...” He trailed off, struggling to wash away the topic with a gentle touch and not a graceless hammer. He lamented being a terrible conversationalist. “I... did want to join the Spectres, was in the middle of the candidate selection process actually. The part where they run you through scenarios to narrow down the potentials.”

 

“Yeah? How far'd ya make it?”

 

“... I was in the second to last testing phase when the general overseeing it had me pulled. Told me that someone had disqualified me, and sent me back to base camp. Found out later it was my pari.” Nihlus let out a long breath.

 

“That's... really weird. I didn't think anyone could interrupt the selection stuff like that.”

 

“He pulled some strings, I assume... broke some rules, maybe blackmailed someone. Which is, might I add, the largest load of varren crap ever produced, considering he's lectured me since I was a child about always following the rules. 'Do things right or don't do them at all', he always says. Hypocrite.”

 

He could feel the Spectre on his back wince in sympathy and let out an empathetic trill of 'yep, that's bullshit.'. Garrus suddenly realized that Nihlus seemed to hate those sorts of rules too... Rule breakers, the lot of them really.

 

Suddenly his chest felt warm, his throat tight. Spirits, these two Spectres, that he had just begun to get to know... got him. Not Officer Vakarian, not Vakarian junior, not a scion of the Clan. Nihlus, especially... seamlessly understood some of his basic truths. Saw him as... Garrus. Just Garrus.

 

He had to clamp down on his subvocals with a will. He managed it after a moment and let out a passably cheerful trill in reply.

 

Spirits, gods, and Titans... it felt good to have friends.

 

Chapter Text

Saren, while not particularly talkative, was constantly working on something. Whether it was non-critical maintenance, custom armor modifications, or even just reading. He read a great deal about the widest, most eclectic variety of things. It was no wonder the man seemed to know something about everything. When not killing enemies of the Council, he was always busy learning, fixing, inventing...

 

It didn't change the fact that Nihlus was bored as all hell. In fact? It sort of just made him jealous.

 

The three of them were in the common area, Garrus on one side of the settee, Saren in the single person seat sitting caddy-corner to it, while Nihlus flopped gracelessly in a pile of pillows on the floor. He missed Blue's amazing cubitura, that massive thing could have held them all sprawled out on it.

 

He spent a good several minutes imagining that sprawling. He started to hum at the pleasant mental images of hide and teeth and tongues...

 

Saren coughed, loudly.

 

He quit humming, and rolled over with a huff. A mid-pause game still waiting patiently for him on the datapad by his head. It wasn't really catching his interest though. He'd asked them both what they were doing enough times that Saren had threatened bodily harm if he asked one more time. Then again, their sniper hadn't complained...

 

He opened up a chat window and forced it to connect directly to the datapad Garrus was reading on.

 

CHAT.live//CONNECT:1886039_to_PROXY.null[skipped]_to_8892561

Connecting...

Connected.

 

NK: entertain me

He could see Garrus' fingers move to check the message notification. A moment later he replied.

 

GV: You are literally holding a device that has a connection to this vast and wondrous thing called an 'extranet'.

NK: yeah, and im still bored

GV: [Link: exnet.vidstream/live_turian_ladder]

Nihlus clicked the link and was amused for a solid twenty minutes watching the circus act that was entirely composed of athletic tarini who stacked, folded, lifted, etc themselves into ladders, bridges, and all sorts of crazy people-made-shapes.

 

NK: that was awsome! what else ya got?

GV: [Link: exnet.vidstream/badass_primarch_stops_assassins_during_hiddeth_turram_game]

NK: holy shit, I want to grow up to be that cool

GV: Not going to happen.

NK: oi!

GV: [Link: exnet.vidstream/crackshot_sniper_hits_target_3907_meters]

GV: That's who I want to grow up to be.

NK: that is srsly impressive. whats your longest shot?

GV: 3,739 meters

NK: dont liiiie, i wont think less of ya

GV: No, really. It's on record with my old squad, confirmed kill.

NK: no shit. who was the target?

GV: Uh, pretty sure I can't just tell you that, would need permission.

NK: spectre~~~

GV: Point.

GV: Well, her name was Taisamal Anttaria. Secessionist forces.

GV: She'd blown up a bunch of buildings with people in them.

GV: Was planning another. I put a stop to that.

NK: secessionists? what, with a hastatim squad?

GV: ...yeah.

NK: sounds like a story there?

GV: Not a good one.

GV: [Link: exnet.vidstream/quarian_dance_party]

NK: pppffft, subtle. okay, let see this dance party...

NK: unf. those hips dont lie

 

At that moment, Saren's ire with them typing to each other, very obviously, while in the same room finally reached critical mass. He stole both their datapads with biotics.

 

“For the love of the spirits, use your words.”

 

“We were using our words. Also, by the by, sharing vid links? Kinda hard to do without a datapad...”

 

Saren just glared, tucking said datapads into the space between his leg and the armrest.

 

“Welp.” said Nihlus, popping the 'p'.

 

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

 

About two hours before their FTL travel ended, a communication ping began flashing on the CIC holo ring. Saren rose to answer it, calmly pacing to his chair, -and it was definitely his chair, seeing as no one else was allowed to sit in it-, and accepting the call.

 

“Good afternoon, Spectre Arterius.” Saren nodded cordially to the Asari on screen, an absolutely ancient looking nais with pink facial tattoos and grey eyes.

 

“BB! My favorite person in the galaxy! How are you, sweetheart?” Nihlus could practically feel the incredulity on Garrus' face at the vicious subvocals that underlined his otherwise joyful words. Well... no, the Officer was probably too polite to let it show on his face. Probably thinking it though. Nihlus smiled widely.

 

“Kyrik.” Was the only reply he got from the caerulea.

 

“Awww, don't be like that. It's so nice to hear from you, don't spoil the mood.”

 

“Your last report had three spelling errors, eight grammar errors, two misleading statements, an incorrect time stamp, a forged piece of evidence that you could have simply stated was inauthentic, and had a broken link to 'relevant information'.”

 

“Really? Sorry about that, sweetheart. That link was working when I added it.”

 

“Don't talk to me.” He sighed like his heart was broken, meanwhile letting out a long string of mocking subvocals, using the exclusive language to call her all sorts of creative names. He could practically hear Garrus choking back his reaction. Probably laughter.

 

“BB. What can we do for you?” Saren, ignoring their active animosity, requested politely.

 

“I've got some updated intelligence for your current mission. Sending it now.” A data transfer request popped up, and Saren used a strange hand motion to send it to another section of holo-screen, which cordoned itself off with a purple-glowing line.

 

“Thank you. I appreciate you sending it to me.”

 

“Of course, good luck on your mission.” The connection closed and Saren let out an aggravated sigh. Garrus had stepped up to his previous spot on the right side of the command chair, putting him closest to the separated file transfer. It appeared to be nearly done downloading already.

 

“What is it?”

 

“A trap, of course.” Nihlus pitched in. Garrus turned to look at him confused, and he smiled craftily. “BB is a spy for the Salarian Union. She reports Spectre movements back to STG, and uses her position to hand out spyware riddled mission-critical intel.” Saren grunted in affirmation.

 

“Indeed.”

 

“Seriously? If she's a spy why hasn't she been removed?” Garrus' tone, while not sounding particularly surprised about the situation, did sound displeased with the ongoing, intentional betrayal inherent to it. His subvocals were humming 'traitor' and agitation. Nihlus, casually braced against the chair back, swayed closer to Garrus at that sound. The simple and clean honor about the torin like the sweetest perfume...

 

Saren kicked his heel back into Nihlus' shin. Oh, humming again. Oops.

 

“She is left in place because she is a known quantity. Most Spectres have figured out her games, and work around them. If we replace her, someone less... ineffective might take her place.” He proceeded to open the file and began tearing away at it, like an ungentira at the stomach of a fresh kill.

 

“That... is a lot of obvious, inelegant code.”

 

“Yes.”

 

Chapter Text

The Intel from the Spectre Office had proven to be, while not critical, certainly helpful. Schematics for the facility in question, accurate as of three years ago. It allowed them to sit down and begin going over potential infiltration paths. The goal was to come in at the opposite side of the planet, breaking atmo at a snail's pace to avoid detection, and then flying in low behind a mountain ridge. The purpose of all this was to allow them to avoid notice, by hiding approach vector, heat signature, and from visual sight, thus allowing them to tap into local communication channels and hack into computer systems.

 

Listening in on com-channel traffic for an hour, or a poorly encrypted computer record could give them the intelligence needed to handle the situation effectively.

 

The initial goal was to find out what had caused the sudden switch from supplying legitimate buyers to seeking top dollar regardless of who might be receiving the engineering alloys. The plan they eventually worked out had them landing in the nearby mountains, and if answers or appropriate blackmail couldn't be gotten remotely they'd be tucking the ship into a hiding spot and approaching on foot.

 

There were three external buildings that could be accessed without having to enter the main complex, and any one of them might have an access terminal to the mainframe. That was plan B, if remote access didn't work. Plan C was direct infiltration, something Saren and Nihlus seemed to be anticipating regardless. Garrus took his cue from them and prepared to act accordingly.

Arterius, for all his growing reputation of wanton destruction, was prioritizing finding an explanation for the situation. Garrus tried to ask about that cautiously, not wanting to inadvertently insult the torin, but keen to understand his perspective.

 

“I prefer to act once informed."

 

“What he means is that he's a curious bastard, and likes to know everything about everyone.” Saren calmly smacked him upside the head.

 

“Language, Nihlus.”

 

“Ow fff~fudge. Heh heh. You know you love me.” It was accompanied by a cheeky grin.

 

Their plan evolved into three steps. Step one, acquire intel from maximum distance. Step two, pull out undetected and figure out how best to blackmail, threaten, or outright execute as needed to ensure the massive facility was either returned to selling to government subsidized companies, or taken out of the game altogether. Step three, enact planning from previous step, and safely return to Citadel space to update the Spectre files with any intel gathered.


Nihlus expressed concerned for the workers and their families that might be caught up in all this, but was also excited that they might be blowing something up if the place needed it. 

 

"I'm starting to get the feeling you have a somewhat inappropriate love for incendiary devices."

 

"I'm not that bad... But, come on, explosions? Yesssss."

 

"A lie. He is precisely that bad." Garrus laughed at the mock-offended look that Nihlus directed at his fellow Spectre.

 

"So, if we end up having to try the external buildings, you want me.... Here?" He pointed to a spot on the holo map being projected on the mess hall table. "...and if you two are going into the main facility, I move here?"

 

"Yes, though if you have issues with sight lines, use your discretion. In essence, we primarily want eyes-on from an extra angle, and a sniper's cover fire if it will keep an alarm from being raised before we are ready to be revealed."

 

"I can do that."

 

Basic strategies for approach laid out, they turned to discussing the various potential situations on the ground, and what to do about each. Saren was reasonably certain it was a sudden change in leadership that had led to the current state, likely a bullet assisted take over, the would require the same in return. Nihlus was in favor of an elaborate spiel of corporate espionage, then they'd need to follow the paper trail. Garrus had added that it could just be a change of heart on the owner's part. Nihlus just sighed at him and murmured 'adorable', -for which Garrus kicked him in the knee joint-, and Saren had gone on to explain a few pertinent details about the history of trade in the region, as well as a few legal aspects of the contracts broken by the change in buyers. It had far reaching consequences, and the owners should have known that, would have avoided that mess at all costs. It painted a clearer, and unfortunately more likely to be bloody, picture.

 

"I have to admit, I still don't understand why you are both so sure this will come to a hostile reclaiming. Isn't it possible they'll be terrified into returning to previous buyers just from having Spectres show up asking questions?"

 

"It is possible the ownership had, as you said, a change of heart. On a facility located closer to the core worlds? Perhaps. This far out however, the reasons for a breach of contract with galactic powers speaks more to criminal activity. Purely as a matter of statistics."

 

"I can't argue with that."

 

"No, you could not. Thus, if my best guess is correct, we will be retaking the facility regardless of potential casualties."

 

Garrus considered the data before them with a concerned expression. He was, without a doubt, happy to be here and all-in for whatever the Spectres asked of him. He knew that might not be a pretty picture, but he was prepared for it. Still, he hoped Saren's pessimistic pragmatism wasn't prophetic.

 

"Will that be a problem, Vakarian?"

 

"No..."

 

He... did sort of want to... he missed... combat. Working at C-Sec was usually just so... tame.

 

He missed the rush and the challenge and the action. The triumph over evil. It made him feel guilty, that some part of him wanted things to go south so he could get behind the trigger of his Viper and let loose... but there were a lot of people listed in the dossier of the metalworks staff roster, many of them families with kids living on site. He reallllly didn't want to end up in a firefight with kids around. He'd done that before, working with the hastatim squad, and had absolutely no desire to do it again. He decided, then and there, that he would do everything in his power to make this go smoothly. There was a whole arena back on the Citadel dedicated to providing that thrill, and though it rang hollow next to the real thing, he didn't want to be the sort of torin that valued his own enjoyment over people's lives.

 

But those tonnes and tonnes of titanium, and high quality alloys... Couldn't be allowed to end up in the hands of criminal elements. He imagined the metals from this place ending up on Karshan, to be used as fuel for the hate machine that was the Batarian caste system. 



It made him feel sick. He focused on that, held onto it. 'Big picture, Vakarian, think big picture. Save lives, long term. You want to play at being a Spectre? Then do it right.'

 "It won't be a problem at all, Arterius."

Chapter Text

Nihlus leaned against the CIC chair, watching Saren expertly pilot them around the dark side of the next closest planet to their target, and then ease into an angle of approach that would bring them quietly around the opposite face of the planet. He rolled his tongue around the roof of his mouth, pushing at the soft and dry pallet, clicking his tongue against the concave shape once before leaning back away from the chair. Didn't want to distract the master at his craft.


Nihlus grinned, wishing he could watch Garrus' reaction to this. Saren was amazing at this part.


Their sniper was cool as a cucumber, which... made him feel a bit jealous. He'd been something of a nervous wreck on his first mission out with the other Spectre. Then again, the torin had made a good point about that the other day. All those interesting events where they'd run into each other on the Citadel... practically counted as missions, if not official ST&R work.


'Poor guy didn't even get paid for saving my ass during that car chase... huh. That's... kind of lame, actually.' He made a mental note to see about doing something nice for Garrus, some sort of 'thanks for saving my life' thing.


He turned back to the holo-ring to find Saren confirming their approach vector, and spinning down all non-critical systems. Reaching up to tap his helmet key, he heard the other two do the same. Life support would be going down, along with all engines, weapons, and other systems that gave them a stronger heat signature. The only things left were a small air/heat cycling unit in hydroponics downstairs, the bare minimum computers for navigation, and a small series of CO2 jets that could give them small boosts of propulsion to course correct if need be.


Next, he tapped a button that released a cloud of electromagnetically charged particles travelling at the same velocity as the ship, these would disperse their emissions outward in chaotic patterns, causing most radar systems to error out rather than confirm their location. Just in case anyone was looking.


It was a long, slow drift.


The three of them remained silent, not speaking over coms, all wireless frequency devices momentarily turned off. With no real windows to speak of, and all video-windows powered off, there was nothing to look at but the glow of the minimally powered holo-ring in a sea of black. Nihlus sort of felt like... the three of them were very alone, suspended in that blackness, their platform a tiny beacon of light pressing forward into the unknown. Which, really, was a fairly accurate assessment overall, if a bit poetic for him.


The planetary approach went off without a hitch.


Next up came the most difficult part of a stealth entry: easing into atmo without giving off a massive heat flare that screamed their location, yet still timing the engine restarts properly to keep from crashing.


Said Spectre set the engines to begin running again, a process that took several minutes of start up. The order he brought things online was critical to minimizing their metaphorical foot prints. Silver hardsuit gloves flickered in the dull light of the single working holo-monitor, standing out in the otherwise unmoving darkness. Saren started turning on the systems that received incoming signals, such as com traffic, ship-to-ship location data, radar pings, et cetera. Then, rather then turn on their outbound wireless signals and the like, he routed the inbound into the outbound. Handled by a complex program the blue eyed Spectre had written himself, signals that came in one side of the ship exited out the other, data recorded but not registered as a proxy point.


The whole thing was probably over kill... but no one had ever accused Saren Arterius of being insufficiently paranoid.


He noticed movement in his peripheral vision. Garrus was leaning forward, closely watching the magic. He grinned. Not quite as good as seeing his face, but close enough for government work.


And this show? Government sanctioned game time, hopefully involving 'fireworks'.


Nihlus really did love being on the Council's payroll.


They sank slowly into the atmosphere, assisted by the same mass-reduction drives commonly found in shuttles for ease of breaking atmo, only overpowered into being able to see the small frigate lowered into the planet's airspace like a baby into a bassinet. Their emission trails would skyrocket at the use of element zero, but being behind the planet now made general emissions less important then heat signature. Going slowly down to the surface would keep that signature too low to cause a stir.


The whole set up was poor man's stealth, lacking both a cost prohibitive emissions sink or exceedingly rare optical drives, but it did the trick.


The ship pulled into the plains they'd be flying over en route to the mountain ranges, and the light signaling fully restored ship functions came on. Nihlus immediately lost the helmet.


“Freaking cool, or what?” He asked Garrus. The C-Sec Officer looked deeply impressed.


“I've never heard of anyone pulling something quite like that... it was... wow. Impressive. It was reallllly impressive.” Awwww, Blue was nerding all over the place. So cute. “I saw the particle cloud, go out... I assume for some sort of emissions reduction?”


“Not reduction, no. Dispersion. The particles are charged in a way that causes them to scatter incoming protons and various other radiations into unintelligible patterns. High tech radars can still see right through it, but civilian grade hardware, and the aftermarket equipment that pirates often use, is fooled entirely. Their systems error out, or appear to be glitching for a short while.”


“That's… handy.”


“Very.”

 

Chapter Text

Gunmetal grey boots met gravel as Saren stepped out of the airlock of the Daedalus and onto the mossy stone of Nodacrux. As expected, their long range data gathering hadn't turned up much to go on. The signal scanners run during the planetary approach were full of dead air and a few useless data pings. The search done after landing, from the small canyon they'd nestled the ship into, showed minuscule com traffic full of standard 'hi mom' type messages. Mostly useless, except for the fact that none of the traffic was marked to head back into Citadel space. Every bit of it was headed to other fringe worlds. Not really telling, but perhaps mildly suspicious.

 

He spun around slowly taking in the weather. It looked like the sky above them was clear of Nodacrux's usual pollen storms, which was good luck considering that breathing the allergens in could be fatal. Not to mention they reduced visibility, an inclimate blindfold for snipers.

 

“The weather is surprisingly clear. Just as well, keep your helmets on unless you have a pressing need to remove them.” Vakarian nodded once, the light catching on his well polished blue and black armor. Saren made a mental note to have him scrub it down with a bristle brush to remove the shine for next time. Perhaps paint the vivid blue something less garish. Ah, but perhaps he could not. The cobalt and black were C-Sec colors. The biotic Spectre considered it reasonable to have a civilian task force armored in tones easily picked out in a crowd, but for this sort of business the torin should really have something less telling. He would consider it further another time, for now he turned to acquire confirmation from Nihlus as well, who offered a lazy thumbs up.

 

The crimson and black armored figure was lightly geared, appearing to carry only a heavy pistol and grenades. He couldn't see them, but he also assumed there was a small horde of blades and thermal clips tucked away. Though Saren didn't think the lighter armaments would stop him from being effective. The younger Spectre never failed to be innovative with limited supplies, and he himself wasn't carrying much more. Just a few tech bobbles, and a silenced offhand.

 

Finished getting his barrings, he turned to follow the cliff wall that lead to their destination. The monotonous mossy hills rolled out before them, promising a significant hike to their destination.

 

“This place is really pretty, for an allergenic levo death trap.” Saren couldn't find an ounce of surprise that Nihlus hadn't waited five minutes to begin talking. At least he'd remembered to pipe it through his external speakers rather then send it out as a potentially interceptable signal.

 

“I don't know. Seems... empty to me. No larger flora or birds? It's all just moss and rocks, with a few giant bugs. Nothing at all like the wildlife back home. Though that thunderstorm off to the east looks about par for the course.”

 

“Palaven has big thunderstorms?”

 

“Y~ees... Constantly. You... didn't know?”

 

“I've only been to Menae for basic training, and even there I didn't... ah... get to see much.” Saren knew how much of an understatement that was.

 

Nihlus' smart mouth had kept him trapped on base and stuck doing double duty as his instructors tried to grind the individuality out of him. He had, of course, read all of the torin's background information before accepting him as a protégé. From the service record, most would have said that Private Kyrik was an unrepentant troublemaker, but he had been rather of the opinion that anyone whose vivaciousness had survived that sort of unending beat down was a survivor. A perfect baseline for Spectre work. His other skills, unpolished and self taught, were merely bonuses that were readily refined in Spectre training.

 

“Well, ah... I'd carry through with Mari's invitation to the clan Madlis, but I'm pretty sure I'd rather face a thresher maw then deal with the shit storm Pari would throw. I've got a spare key to my cousin's vacation home along the Ivera Sea, though. Some fantastic wild life out there, if you ever wanted to take a vacation on Palaven.

 

“Language, Vakarian.” He wondered why the Officer's patrem would be upset with Nihlus' presence in particular.

 

“Sorry, sir.” The sniper had begun to show operational discipline again, now that they were on the ground? Saren approved.

 

“Pfffft, don't 'sir' him, he'll just walk all over you with his proper manners and poshiness.”

 

“'Poshiness' is not a word, Nihlus.”

 

“See what I mean? But y-yeah. I'd totally like to visit sometime. Maybe we could work it out after this whole shebang is done?”

 

“Also not a word.” Nihlus let out an overdramatic, mournful trill and Vakarian broke out into laughter. Saren had been about to tell the Officer not to encourage him, but it was... pleasant to see them in such high spirits.

 

He decided to let it go. So long as they did not keep this up during the actual infiltration.

 

Scanning the skyline, electric eyes perused the air for surveillance drones. Nothing visible, even with his augmentations. He checked the weather on scans next; the storm cell in the distance seemed fairly lively, but it was centered around a far off cold front, not appearing to be moving any closer. Good. 

 

The walk carried on as the trio went up and down the rocky terrain, moving carefully to avoid a long slide down with loose scree. Their armors' climate control kept them comfortable in temperature as the day went, pressing on relentlessly, though they did slow a bit when the trail became too steep over long periods. Large pollen tufts the size of Elcor floated peacefully by, carried on the wind. They put in the better part of the day trekking around the mountains, finally coming into visual range of the massive complex during mid-afternoon. Taking a break on a ridge with decent cover, they took a moment to do some recon of the facility through scopes. The titanic structure stretched from one side of a plateau, across what looked to be two and a half clicks of land, before backing up into the largest mountain on the horizon. Pipes stuck out at wild angles, working around conveyor belts filled with unprocessed ore.

 

Saren borrowed Garrus' sniper rifle for the higher distance rating on his scope while the other two tested the air for pollen levels. Finding them acceptable, they retracted helms and ravaged a small pile of rations and water canteens.

 

In order to maintain and operate the gargantuan refining machines the metalworks was supposed to house approximately sixty staff that oversaw the various forms of equipment. There was also a security force, estimated at twenty members, all with prior military service records. It would not do to have a place this far out guarded by half-wits, thus their dossiers all read out at a certain level of experience and competence.

 

Yet, not a recon drone or security patrol to be seen.

 

Curious.

 

“I know...” The Spectres turned to look at the cobalt armored sniper, who was leaning back into the rocky cover, scuffing a foot in the loamy gravel. “I know I've said something to this effect with annoying frequency, but ah... something's not right here. There should be a larger security presence.”

 

Saren casually shrugged. “You remain correct.”

 

“If the definition of madness is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results when not getting them, then what does it say about someone who does the same thing over and over but manages to actually get the same results?”

 

“Really, Nihlus?” Carmine mandibles waggled cheekily, unseen, but making an unmistakable rustling sound on the speakers. 

 

They returned to their trudge, keeping inside the developing shadows of the evening.

 

“No but really, what does it say about them?”

 

“How about 'Complete Badass'?”

 

“Pfffft. Think pretty highly of yourself, C-Sec?”

 

“Suu~re do, Spectre. 'Sane' by the way. The opposite of 'mad' is 'sane'.”

 

“Oh, you just think you're the shit, doncha?” Nihlus' subvocals were struggling to make him sound taunting, but bubbles of laughter kept breaking through the surface.

 

“Damn straight.”

 

“You'd better be able to back up all this sass.”

 

“Language, both of you.” He murmured half heartedly.

 

Saren continued his forward march, studiously ignoring the fact that he was choosing to disregard their lack of discipline. He'd tell them to shape up when they got to the next stopping point. The walk had been rather long.

 

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Garrus left them with a wave at the next break in the rocky wall, bearing away from the facility. Presumably, he'd be backtracking a bit to find access to higher ground. Somewhere to make a sniper's perch.

 

Coming up on the first outbuilding with a potential computer access point, Nihlus and Saren belly crawled out of cover, and up to a fence. The com channel clicked twice, a double tap without speaking to confirm that they were clear from Garrus' perspective. Nihlus clipped the bottom section loose and wriggled under first, before holding it out of the way for his partner. They took the last bit of open space in a loping run, making it unseen to a side entrance. Two figured slipped soundlessly inside.

 

Stealth was nearly lost as they entered the short hall just as someone was passing by, but apparently the whistling idiot was distracted, not appearing to have seen them.

 

Whistling Idiot also appeared to be a Turian in Eclipse colors.

 

Taloned grey gauntlets came around his throat and brought him back into the entryway. His Omni-tool jammed, back to the wall, two Spectres staring him down. He gulped. 

 

Electric blue eyes leaned in to address him quietly, glowing with menace in the dim light. 

 

Why are you here?

 

Fuck y-gglck!” was cut off with a none-too-gentle throat punch. The silver-grey torin repeated the question, but Whistling Idiot was too busy trying to breathe to answer. They waited patiently for him to catch his breath.

 

“Shit-fuck-spirits! I'm just security detail, okay!? Fuck.”

 

“Security detail for whom?”

 

“Like I'm gunna tell you, barefaced mother fu-gglck!” Nihlus might have winced in sympathy if he cared more, but Eclipse had a bad, baaaad rep. Entry to their ranks literally involved the murder of an innocent person. So... no 'fucks' to give in return to the many that were being graciously shared today. He could tell that the torin's profuse cursing was quickly getting on Saren's nerves. The older Spectre always expected people to be polite while he interrogated them, much to Nihlus' amusement. As if everyone should have the same level of poise as he did. 

 

They waited silently for him to catch another breath. The mercenary glared up at them from under a ruddy brown brow ridge. When it became clear that he was stalling Saren sparked his biotics around himself in a clear threat. Whistling Idiot's eyes widened in utter horror.

 

“Oh spirits, fuck no, you're one of those freaks! Fuckfuckfuck, no-get-the-fuck-away-from-me. Her name is Moria L'athai, Asari, Tier three Lieutenant, she's upstairs in the main building, fuck don't kill me.”

 

They immediately killed him. 

 

 

Chapter Text

The outbuilding had precisely no computer access, just a lone terminal for checking fluid levels of some kind. They deliberated for a moment between going straight for the central structure, or trying the next outbuilding. More information would be nice, but if Eclipse mercenaries had taken over the facility... it was a moot point.

 

Garrus chimed in on the coms with a single nonverbal click, a request to speak.

 

“Go ahead, Vakarian.”

 

“I've got some bad news, Quiritus. Activity on the far side of the main complex, looks like a few non-combatants being herded to machinery at gunpoint. Looks like... they're doing something to one of the silo-shaped machines. It's got a pressure gauge on it, that's all I can tell you.”

 

“How many of each?”

 

“Two armed, five civilians.”

 

“What are they wearing?”

 

“They, ah... the civilians are in a uniform, company logo on the sleeve. The other two are in piece-meal armor sets... Eclipse insignia on the pauldrons.”

 

“Understood. We've encountered Eclipse here as well. Their leader seems to be an Asari, potentially on the upper level of the main building. See if you can get eyes-on.”

 

“10-4... I mean, affirmative. Sorry, been with C-Sec too long.”

 

“I understand police radio short hand, feel free to use it if you wish.”

 

“Alright. Nihlus...?”

 

“Yep, I'm good.”

 

“Right well... I'm not seeing anything on the second level. I'll keep an eye on the windows.”

 

The Spectres moved back to the side door, and quit the building. Cautiously moving around the back side, and then sprinting the distance to cover. This was repeated a few times to get into range of the main complex. They hit the wall of the central metalworks, and crouched along the side. Nihlus ended up closer to the corner, peaking around it for an instant to check for hostiles. Two guards, also bearing the black-on-yellow 'sunflare brand' of Eclipse mercenaries. Nihlus opened up coms at a whisper.

 

“Hey Blue, can you see the doorway on the south-east side? It's in a bit of a dent, two mooks standing guard.”

 

“Seriously, 'mooks'?”

 

“Shoosh, smart ass. Can you?”

 

“I'm moving around a sizable boulder right now, should have a better angle on the eastern face, just a minute... … Yeah, okay. I see them.”

 

“I'm going to take out the one on the right, you take the left. Ready?”

 

“One... second... yes, ready.”

 

“On three. One..... Two.....” In the absence of three he spun out of cover, knife in hand. A flick of wrist sent the blade flying, the low speed of the projectile ignored by kinetic shields, and it sunk into the Salarian's head at dead center. Idiot hadn't worn a helmet. Within a heart beat a near silent 'fffwip' sounded, and the other merc's brain matter splattered the doorway. The two Spectres moved in quickly, Saren dropping down to search for a key-card while Nihlus covered them. The first didn't have one, but the second did.

 

In they went, the older Spectre jamming a nearby security camera that had likely gotten a quick peak at them. A terminal stood nearby. He hacked into it and had the building's remaining security looping it's feed in short order. Then he began to dig for intel, and with mainframe access it wasn't hard to find. The metalworks had been taken over to supply Eclipse directly, an idiotic rank climber among their leadership had seen the target as easy pickings, likely not knowing it's previous clientele had been government contracts. The engineering alloys it was producing weren't being sold at all, they were being shipped straight to an Eclipse ship yard, with a small portion siphoned off to a mech production facility.

 

Saren's reaction was a study in, 'Let me tell you all the ways in which that is unacceptable.' Nihlus' was more along the lines of 'All of my nope, not just some of it, nono, alllll of my nope.'

 

“Vakarian.”

 

“I'm here.”

 

“Security is disabled, if you see any targets that are out of sight lines from discovery, take them out.”

 

“Understood.”

 

Thus began a long stream of stealth take-downs, intended to continue until discovery or mission completion.

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Cobalt and black armor turned purple hued in the sunset as Garrus wound along the outskirts of the facility. He had permission to seek out stand-alone targets, and intended to make the most of it. If it had come to a forceful retaking of the complex, he wasn't about to look like a decorative wall hanging when the kill counts came up. 

 

The next unfortunate merc came into view, a lone guard standing outside the second outbuilding.

 

Breathe in.

 

Check your numbers, your angles, your environment.

 

Breathe out.

 

Aim.

 

Breathe in.

 

Wait for low space in between heartbeats.

 

Breathe out.

 

Fire.

 

The Viper rocked in his grip, a quick jerk that was mostly calmed by the internal recoil suppression. A quiet 'cha-thunk' of the internal mechanism called out in time with the jerk, and the hostile dropped.

 

One shot, one kill.

 

He pressed forward and down the hill, finding a cleft to slide into, dropping his altitude quickly without a damaging fall. Catching his feet in a pile of scree at the bottom, he moved in a crouch toward a new perch. Still at a good angle, half as high as the main building, he took a look around with his new perspective from the north side.

 

Another doorway, two guards outside. His rifle had a twelve-shot clip, sure, but two head shots in a row with insufficient cool down time to re-aim fully between shots... he could do it. He'd done it before. No real hurry, for all of the... admittedly pleasant tension running through his limbs, and his team mates hadn't commed back about anything in a while, so Garrus took the time to really check his numbers, and practice the aim-fire-aim-fire twice through.

 

Breathe in...

 

Aim.

 

Wait for the heartbeat to come... and go.

 

Fire.

 

Aim.

 

Fire.

 

Two shots, two kills.

 

Admittedly, the second one hadn't been dead center, a hint to the right and lower down. He made a mental note.

 

An Omni-tool scan of the area showed no major movement of patrols or drones, so he moved on. The sniper trailed farther north, a short climb, a full tilt run along some cliffs heading west, and stopped at a likely perch around the north-west side of the building.

 

Now this was a good angle. One Eclipse napping, -napping-, on a cargo crate, another set of two by a door to the main complex, and a solo merc by the third outbuilding. None of them in sight of each other except for the two by the doorway. Perfect.

 

Breathe. Check numbers. Aim. Wait for it... fire… fire… fire... fire.

 

Four shots, four kills.

 

Still no word from the Spectres, he pushed farther around the plateau, having to go slower with the limited cover. It was likely why he noticed movement in a window. Garrus paused, seeing no more motion, and moved on seeking a place to get a good look into that window. It was going on full dark now, which made movement precarious, but also let him creep closer without being easily seen. 

 

He came around a small rise, higher up then he wanted to be, but it was enough to see into the room, and get a look at a horror story. The torin had to turn away for a minute and swallow back the bile that tried to escape his throat at the sight. An Asari, not more then twenty five or so, was curled up on the floor. Her naked prepubescent body had only the bruises to cover her. He moved around, using the terrain to get the right angles to scope out that section of building.

 

It appeared to be a series of storage rooms, only partially climate controlled he would guess by the lack of A/C units on the roof. It's heating and air filtration was bound to be comparatively poor to the rest of the facility. He assumed the mercenaries had taken over the staff's actual living area themselves, and shoved their forcefully acquired workers into this space instead. No access points for runners to escape.

 

He crept forward cautiously, just close enough to get a scan of the interior and ground beneath. Nothing below it, not even plumbing to provide water. Worrisome. The fuzzy layout results showed around fifty life signs, mostly clumped together. A few, like the young Asari, were alone and horizontal at floor level. He forcibly didn't consider that further. When he had some solid facts to share he taped the coms once, Saren replied within moments.

 

“Vakarian.”

 

“Building off to the north west side of the facility, connected by a sky-bridge on the third floor. Looks to be a series of storage units, currently filled with staff, but not enough to be the full roster. Maybe forty or so civilians, and some guards. I'm guessing they let them out to do their jobs in batches, and put them back in here when done. Some are in bad shape, signs of physical abuse. There's no external entrance, just a few windows that don't open.”

 

“Acknowledged.”

 

The line went dead. Garrus tried to keep from feeling frustrated. He had half expected Saren to give him orders to move in and... no, no... he wouldn't have. Garrus was here as a sniper. He was supposed to be cover fire, leaving the up close and personal to the Spectres. He really, rrealllllly, wanted to say 'fuck that', and go rescue those people. Right now. The only things stopping him were that he absolutely did not want to be disbarred from coming on future mission with them, and well... those people were probably safest right where they were, for now. He could help best by finding a really good perch, and killing more potential dangers to them.

 

A long, steadying breath. 'Alright. Fine.'

 

A quiet sort of rage in his eyes, Garrus Vakarian went hunting.

 

The next several minutes passed by in a haze, his color-washed form darted between boulders in the darkness, nimbly climbing and roughly dropping, finding creative perches and killing every group of Eclipse he found. One situation had involved lining up two heads in a row, waiting the half a tic for a double tap, and then re-aiming to a third.

 

Three shots, three kills.

 

It was about that time that the alarm was raised, all was still for a moment and then... hostiles began swarming out of the woodwork. He risked a com request for location from the Spectres, hoping to get eyes-on in case they needed him. Nihlus replied with vague directions underscored by gunfire, but enough to work with.

 

More cliffs, more boulders, more sprinting open spaces and leaping crags.

 

He pulled around the south eastern side of building to see Saren going toe to toe with a triad of Asari in full biotic bloom. Nihlus was running pell-mell from cover to cover, taking down reinforcements. The silver-grey Spectre's fight plunged into the side of a processing center, disappearing into misty shadows of billowing steam. Garrus noticed distantly that the power seemed to have been cut as he began lining up shots.

 

“Sniper!” Went out the cry, like music to his ears.

 

'Yes. Yes there is a sniper. Start running, feel free to scream. I'd like to end you while you flee in terror. Those good people you've turned into slaves and brutalized deserve no less.' Some part of his mind was a little sickened at the vicious thoughts, but another part of him reveled in it. Behind this scope he was judge-jury-executioner, and he wanted justice, paid in full.

 

He reloaded for the second time, shoving the mental high-and-low far away. Now was not the time to enjoy his work, and it was not the place to get emotional. He needed to be calm and focused.

 

As the numbers started to thin out Nihlus opted to follow after Saren, and Garrus cleaned up any who remained in view. When there was nothing but wind moving outside, he began working his way down to the facility. He wasn't about to sit outside and twiddle his thumbs patiently. He was beyond caring if he got away with it.

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Lieutenant L'athai was having a rough day, which was unfortunate really, as it had been proceeded by quite a few good days in a row.

 

The Eclipse's 'Bloody Lohera Sisters' were fighting the upstart Turian who thought he was a real biotic, as if any non-Asari ever really could be. How precious.

 

Though their side wasn't holding up nearly so well as should be expected before his shitty, graceless onslaught of heavy pistol and warps. How a Turian had gotten to the skill level of tossing out 1700 newtons of force... whatever, didn't matter if he was dead, did it?

 

So! It was time for a change in tactics. Leaving behind a few people to show them down, the nais took the nearby Eclipse and lead them to the 'luxury accommodations' where they'd left the workers when they didn't need them. Time to see if hostages could be used against the ugly grey asshole.

 

They only made it part way back through the facility before the red one popped out of a side door, with a cheeky, “Hello there! Miss me?”, given before he leapt for cover. 'Shit. No time... there! You'll do.'

 

Morai grabbed a young man, one of the brats they'd put to work scrubbing floors, tugging him forward from his hiding spot behind some piping. The smelting equipment in the large room gave off a great deal of steam, which the nais backed into while attempting to begin... negotiations.

 

oooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Nihlus leveled his pistol at the nais with a seemingly cheerful smile. The whip-thin Salarian boy began crying behind yellow and black gauntlets. He struggled to keep the smile on his face, that poor kid...

 

"Oh come on, hostages, really? You think Spectres give two shits about damage control? Pfffffft."

 

Out of the whirling steam came the slow but inexorable footsteps of his former mentor, walking out of the miasma dripping purple from a blood soaked arm, rivulets of Asari blood running down the faux talons of his gloves.

 

Looks like someone had torn out a throat or two.

 

"Let the kid go. Now." Came from the... ceiling? Nihlus chanced looking up, his fake-smile fell into a more honest smirk at the sight of Blue crouched in the rafters, no where near any visible way up, his rifle aimed unerringly at the Eclipse leader's head. Protective of children, was he? Spirits, he lo... liked that torin

 

'Smoo~th, Kyrik. Lying to yourself?' Came his thoughts, to which he replied while returning his gaze to the situation at hand. 'Not lying... refusing to start that bullshit. It's another never-going-to-happen, just... let it go.'

 

'Like Saren?' 

 

'Shut up, I'm busy. Yes, like Saren.'

 

His subconscious laughed at him.

 

"Well crazy bitch, time to surrender."

 

"You think I'm stupid? Ha! Eclipse owns this place now. It's ours, you hear me? I'll kill every last worker and blow it to pieces before I let you take it back! It's my ticket to greatness, and the likes of you aren't welcome here!" Nihlus blinked. He hadn't meant the 'crazy' part as more then offhand insult, but by the sound of it he wasn't too far off the mark. Saren stepped forward.

 

"This facility is to be returned to it's original operation, by order of the Citadel Council. Stand down, and you will be extradited to your respective legal systems for processing. Resist, and die." The nais squeezed the kid's neck in her anger, and it popped alarmingly. Salarian necks were fragile.

 

"Fuck..." The little boy made a squeak. 

 

'Oh spirits, no.. no no no. He's just a-'

 

"YOU." Crunch.

 

She dropped him to the floor like so much detritus, one of her lackeys tossing another hostage to her. She smiled at them like a mad dog.  

 

Nihlus was suddenly gone, no sign of the affable torin remained, the bloodless shell that stood in his place rocketed forward to end the child-killer with dead eyes and grasping talons.

 

ooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Garrus swallowed hard, deeply... something. Upset? Fascinated? Terrified? To see Nihlus change like this.

 

Saren was unnerving at times, he'd noticed, because nothing really bothered him. Sociopathic. Saren couldn't care less about threats or mission cost or collateral damage. He didn't care if you had family, or not, were good or evil person. He came, he saw, he killed everyone in his way, and he left.

 

Even keel and unflappable, that was Saren Arterius in combat and in life.

 

Nihlus was his counter point. He thought he saw why the council not only allowed but encouraged them to pair up frequently. Nihlus tried to evacuate civilians, tried to minimize the disturbance of Spectre work to the people around them, was generally reasonable and good natured.

 

Optimistic and open hearted, a gentle tug on Saren's rampant destruction when displeased.

 

Not now.

 

The moment the nais had killed the Salarian boy for show Nihlus had become cold, instantly, like a snap-freeze. Not emotionless, but icy, icy rage.

 

Threats hit deaf ears, all bets off, Nihlus moved, aimed like a mac-canon at the monster who'd turned the metalworks into a slave camp, a screech of terror had been the nais'  last words.

 

He'd begun to slaughter the remaining Eclipse forces with extreme prejudice.

 

'It doesn't suit.' Thought Garrus, feeling a shiver run down his spine, leg muscles primed to run, fight-or-flight instincts buzzing. 'It just does not suit. Nihlus is -supposed to be...- warm. He's summertime. Laughter. Where did this... blizzard come from?'

 

Garrus wondered, not for the first time, why he felt poetic when keyed up.

 

He took a few shots, but having issues seeing in the stirring mist, chose to scramble across the rafters to a way down. He circled the room, using the equipment as cover. Choosing targets carefully.

 

He came around the edge of a machine and caught sight of Saren, joining him in cover. The other Spectre was taking pot shots at the enemies as they scattered in the wake of the... snap freeze. Grenade explosions rattled the room, echoing loudly, leaving a ringing in his aural cavity. Saren leaned over, and laid a startlingly warm hand on his shoulder.

 

His voice low, he calmly reassured, “It's fine.”

 

Garrus shook his head once, hard. Realizing that his subvocals had been broadcasting a low note of distress.

 

“It's not fine. He's not fine. Where did this come from and how to we make it stop?” Saren hummed softly, a soothing purr of subvocals he'd never expected to hear from the torin, as he fired upon hostiles that had foolishly turned their backs on the two in favor of keeping aim on Nihlus' last seen location.

 

Or maybe not so foolishly, as screams rang out in the murky dark.

 

“It's not going to stop until there are no hostiles remaining. Nihlus... does not like to see children used in such a manner.”

 

“Under. Statement.” Saren nodded in easy agreement. Garrus turned back to the... carnage was really the only appropriate word, though that would make it sound as if he could see half of what was going on. Between the smog from the smeltery equipment, and the haze of... so many grenades, it was hard to tell what was happening.

 

Suddenly Nihlus' words from that long ago conversation over kava trickled into his mind. 'I enjoy fighting in limited visibly conditions. I'm fast. I don't need to see. I can hear, and I can smell. No one sees me coming. I'm not sure even a scope that can see through smoke and aerial debris would help all that much.'

 

'I see what you mean now.' Garrus thought, distantly agreeing with the words he had vehemently disagreed with before. He lifted his rifle, and took aim.

 

At least he could try and end this quicker. He wouldn't feel right until he could see Nihlus behind his own eyes again. He wanted to bring back summer.

 

Chapter Text

The battle for the Nodacrux metalworks facility ended like this:

 

A Batarian man came running out of the mists, an assault rifle tossed to the floor in favor of getting away. From behind a battery of gauges, ringing countless alarms at the numerous bullet holes in the room's equipment, came a blurred streak of crimson and black. The Batarian had no time to dodge, didn't even know he was in immediate danger, when a long blood-slick knife flitted out of a wrist sheathe and into his neck. Nihlus grasped the man, spinning them so that the blade would pull out and the body would fall away from his feet.

 

Sudden silence, but for the quiet weeping and panicked breathing of the staff that had been stuck in the room with them.

 

Nihlus' head whipped around as he crouched, one arm braced forward against the metal floors, and the other raised back and to the side with it's blade bared. Left? Right? He spun around looking for his next target... no movement, no hostiles. His senses crooned 'all clear'. He slowly came out of the half-crouch, standing up straight and blinking rapidly.

 

“...Nihlus?” He turned at the voice, feeling very tired. It was Blue. He liked Blue.

 

Nihlus stepped forward and leaned into his friend with a sigh. “...Got 'em.” He rumbled softly.

 

“...I would say so.”

 

He let off a vaguely happy trill and pulled back, rubbing the back of his hand against his nose.

 

“Did she get that second kid too? I missed it.”

 

“No. You ah... separated them and killed her.”

 

“Oh, nice. Go me.” Garrus let out a choked laugh, sounding relieved for some reason.

 

“Definitely. Go you.”

 

“Are you hungry? I'm starving. Hey Saren, will you cook something, I am so damn hungry.”

 

“Take Vakarian and hot wire one of the Eclipse shuttles, go to the Daedalus. The autopilot has already been programmed to bring it here and land, you need simply activate it. I will... cook for us after you return. Vakarian, use the com suite to send for relief aid. There should be a Salarian NPO called 'Delugia's First Recourse' in my address book. Contact them and arrange for onsite medical care.”

 

“ 'kay.”

 

“Will do.”

 

oooooooooooooooooooooo

 

They rode a garish yellow shuttle back along the mountains, taking only a handful of minutes to make the distance that had required hours to walk. Garrus flew the shuttle gently, and landed them in the canyon with ease. They tripped the autopilot sequence, and Garrus sat down in the CIC chair feeling something like an intruder. Nihlus just trailed backward toward the shower, flaking off dried blood.

 

The water came on and Garrus felt an inordinate amount of relief to hear Nihlus begin to sing a cheerful love song, something about a frisky Salarian of all things. He took half a moment to let the feeling of 'all done' wash over him, before bringing up the com suite on the holo-ring. An endless list of names, organized alphabetically according to their phonetics in the Turian alphabet, came on screen. He scrolled down to the 'D' listings. Finding the correct one, he pinged them a vid call request and waited.

 

After a few moments, a lavender shaded Salarian girl came on screen with a wide and pleasant smile.

 

“Thank you for calling DFR, my name is Riri At'sayia, what can I help you with sir?” How exactly did one ask for free medical care in these situations? He was used to the Hierarchy military, in which... well, he'd just have an order sent off to summon in a medical division. He didn't think ordering them like military personnel was going to fly.

 

“Hello Ms. At'sayia. I'm calling to request relief aid for the victims of a pirate attack. We've got about forty to fifty people who are in need of various levels of medical care. Can you help me with that?”

 

“I certainly can. I'm sending you an e-form, fill that out for me? I'll wait on the line with you in case you have any questions. Take your time.” She smiled at him.

 

Paperwork. He should have known that somehow, even this would involve him completing paperwork. He bit back a sigh and returned the smile before filling out the forms with as much accuracy as possible. He was well aware of the red tape that got in the way due to improperly filled paperwork, and he didn't want the remaining staff to experience any further trouble. They'd been through enough.

 

“Alright, that should be everything. Sending it back to you.”

 

“Great, give me a moment to look over it... … Okay, it looks good. I'll have a scouting team out there within a few hours, and they'll call for full deployment once the situation has been confirmed by our people. Is there anything else I can help you with today sir?”

 

So polite. The formality and cordial tone to the conversation left a bad taste in his throat. Did this woman have half a clue what these people had been through? Didn't the situation deserve a more somber attitude? Maybe... it was a self defense mechanism. Emotional distancing. Garrus hoped so. He didn't think he could be half so pleasantly accommodating were their positions reversed.

 

“No, that's it. Thank you.”

 

“Have a nice day.” The connection closed and Garrus exited the com suite, and leaned back, resting the underside of his crest atop the chair back and releasing a long sigh. They landed not a moment later.

 

“Sora o marason, yume o yunizon shitaii~~~” He let out a laugh, wondering exactly how many languages Nihlus knew to be able to sing in such a variety of dialects. Maybe he just memorized them and didn't know the languages themselves?

 

“Hora~ Catch you, catch you, Catch me, Catch me, matte~~ Kocchi o muite, suki da to itte~” The Spectre was just so spirits-damned ridiculous. From vicious killer to pop star in twenty minutes or less. It was... endearing, for some strange reason. The hatch to the airlock hissed as Saren entered, looked at the trail of blood flakes leading to his bathroom, and let out a snort.

 

He jumped up out of the torin's chair guiltily. It was a very comfortable chair but he hadn't meant to intrude...

 

Saren didn't seem to care. “I am taking a shower next. Watch the door. The next in line for command here has been restored, but we are remaining until further aid arrives. They may come asking for medical supplies or food. There, -he pointed to a specific storage bin-, are supplies that may be handed out if asked.”

 

“You're handing out your own medical supplies?” That seemed rather generous of him.

 

“Hardly. They were purchased on discretionary funds.” Saren's subvocals sounded somewhere between dismissive and offended. Then he disappeared around the corner yelling at Nihlus to finish his shower. The tone of his words made it sound almost as if the Spectre didn't want to be caught committing generosity, and had fled from his accusations.

 

Garrus chuckled, and sat back down.

 

Chapter Text

“No.”

 

“Why nooooot?”

 

“We are not going 'sight-seeing'. The Council requires our report on the situation's resolution, and I have no desire to waste my time with 'nice views' or 'bar hopping'.” He can not figure out why they are even having this discussion.

 

“What about that spa I found? Bath houses are the beeeeest.”

 

“No.”

 

“Really? I thought you would want to go to that one, at least, what with your crest....”

 

“What about my crest?” Saren reaches up to feel his crest blades, everything seems in order. He narrows a suspicious look at his former protégé.

 

“It's well...”

 

What.

 

“It isn't very sharp looking. Sort of dull, actually. You could really use a-OW damnit ow. You are so mean.” He smacks Nihlus upside the head. His blades are not dull, thank you very much. They are fine. He doesn't particularly care if they are 'sharp' or not. Such things have no impact on his performance.

 

Vakarian sips his amarceru tea in the corner, Saren glares at the poorly hidden smirk the sniper is trying to conceal.

 

His crest is fine. It is.

 

“Okay then, what about the talon sharpening services?” Nihlus holds up a datapad with an e-brochure. “I know you like yours extra pointy.” Carmine eye ridges waggle coersively.

 

It isn't effective.

 

“No.”

 

Spirits you are no fun... what about after we drop off the report? Something on the citadel itself? Just a day trip?” Verdant green eyes widened compellingly as he held up the datapad right next to his face. As if being as close as possible to his attempts at puppy eyes would somehow make a trip to a bath house more appealing.

 

It was... not working. At all.

 

He maintains that his crest is just fine as it is.

 

“Listen, Arterius...” Bothersome. Vakarian is joining in. “If it's a matter of not liking public bathing because of... personal reasons,” Saren accurately read that as 'because you're barefaced, famous, have Valluvian horns, and don't want to deal with the stares'. “...there's a bath house on Bachjret Ward that has private rooms for small business groups and the like. A little expensive, but it's a nice place.” He read that as, 'It's expensive because they don't ask rude questions or discriminate.', also probably accurate.

 

Nihlus fell to his knees in a fit of overdramatics completely unworthy of a discussion of taking a day trip to a bath house. “Pleeeaaaasseeeeeeeeee~~~”

 

“Fine! Fine. … Fine. We will go, and you will not bother me about taking another 'vacation' or 'break' for at least a year!”

 

“One month?”

 

“A year.”

 

“Three months?”

 

“One. Year.”

 

“Six months?”

 

He glared and stalked off to the the engineering sub-deck for some personal space. Bothersome, indefatigable, subversive former mentees not allowed.

 

Oooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Nihlus hummed while stirring the batter for the casserole he was making, being careful not to blow anything up again. He wasn't a great cook, but he felt being disbarred from the kitchen entirely would... well, reduce the number of things to do on Saren's ship by one. Which was one too many.

 

It isn't his fault he gets bored easily. He likes to think of it as an evolutionary mechanism for productivity.

 

Mealy yellow batter is poured carefully over slices of meat and root vegetable and set into the oven to bake. Not a complex meal, but probably the most complicated thing he can make.

 

It's a thank-you dinner for Garrus, for backing him up on the bath house idea. Nihlus trills with glee. He is so excited about it.

 

Opening the chilling unit, he meanders around the available ingredients looking for something else to make. A side dish? Desert? Hmmmm.

 

Most of Saren's pantry is healthy, simple foods or expensive, exotic things that he's never even heard of, and is mildly afraid to mess with for fear of it being some thousand credit jar of fancy-whatsits. Eventually settling on fruit slices, because he really isn't the most epic cook around, he pulls out the cutting board and gets to dicing. He is, however, very good with knives.

 

The last fruit is only half sliced when the ship's alert ping sounds. Barely having the presence of mind to flip off the oven's heat dial, Nihlus shoves the fruit in the fridge and goes to see what's up.

 

Hopefully it's not pirates, slavers, or someone with a grudge. Saren has a fair few number of those, and he himself isn't too far behind. Maybe just an unexpected asteroid on the proximity alarm...?

 

“Pirates.” he hears Saren growl with menace. Well damn. “Brace for gravity spike.”

 

Nihlus grabs onto the chair back, looping an arm around Garrus, and holds tight. He can tell the C-Sec officer hasn't been on a ship during a gravity spike before because he's clearly not holding on tight enough.

 

'Fawoomp' goes the distant echo of the popping mass effect bubble as the spike hits them, just strong enough to throw off FTL computers into emergency stops, not strong enough to scrap their target ship. Ships are worth a lot more when undamaged after all.

 

For a few brutal seconds the ship's insides were shaken like a tuning fork. It took a moment, but the inertial dampeners stopped crying themselves to sleep at night and stabilized them.

 

An incoming com request, voice only, popped up on the holo-ring.

 

“Don't speak.” Saren commands them before activating it, simultaneously running a number of scans on the oncoming vessel. The voice that comes out of Saren's throat is comically high pitched and scared sounding. Well, to be fair, it probably sounds par for the course to the pirates. Nihlus thinks it's hysterical.

 

“This is the Captain of t-the Daedalus. M-my cousin and I are willing t-to negotiate for our lives. P-please.” Nihlus covers his mouth with a hand, trying very hard not to laugh. He glances over at Blue, who looks vaguely horrified at the other Spectre's self-done voice modulation. A tiny, tiny 1/4th of a snort breaks through, and Saren turns to glare at him in warning.

 

“Hello Captain.” Purrs an voice over the speakers, sounding like a Krogan and an Asari had a lovechild, and the Asari wasn't the mother. “Want to live do you, mmmm? Well then. Cut your engines, m'dear, and prepare to dock.”

 

“Y-yes, m'am. Sir. M'am.” Nihlus is dying with mirth on the inside, imagining a bright blue Krogan with a curly crest and dainty ankles. Saren is busy ejecting a horde of viruses into their poorly protected computer systems.

 

The pirate ship's complete schematics come on screen, complete with a bounty listing for 3 of the crew, and an old entry into the galactic bingo books for robbing a Volus banking ship a decade past. He wonders in passing what a banking ship is. Why would you need a ship to handle electronic currency? Then again, economics magic really was the bread and butter of the methane breathers. Best leave it to them.

 

“Vakarian, with me. Nihlus, go out the back way.”

 

“ 'kay.”

 

“Wait, there's a back exit?”

 

“Yes, though it isn't properly airlocked. It's in the back of the hydroponics section. I'm loathe to let their ship's environment mingle with ours, but it must be done.”

 

“If you say so, cousin.”

 

“...I do.”

 

Nihlus smiles at the half-a-moment pause in reply. He knew Blue's easy acceptance of a cover where they were family had thrown the other Spectre off. Well, they were both blue eyed and silver plated, weren't they? Though that was about where the resemblance ended, it was enough to spark fantasies of sex with silvery twins. Long long twins? Nah, too cliché...

 

Eh, he'd think of something.

 

 

Chapter Text

The Asari pirate 'queen' turned out to be a 90 year old teen-aged nais with stupid amounts of money in a trust fund, a voice modulator, and about thirty too many Vorcha flunkies. The moron plus twenty of those lackeys surrounded them in a docking bay that was set up more like a stage, and even Garrus, -who had never in his life been robbed by anyone-, was having a hard time keeping a straight face.

 

He turned to look at Saren, whose coward act hadn't survived the airlock, to find the torin eye balling the Vorcha's weapons. Good spirits, the would-be pirate had armed the minions with M7-Lancers. His covetous heart cried out, 'Vorcha do not deserve Lancers. For that matter, Lancers do not deserve Vorcha.'

 

No wonder the Spectre was eyeing the merchandise, so to speak. He probably wanted one too, if not as a main weapon, then just to tinker with. They were a rare find in the Lancer series assault rifles, and only limited number were made in a short production run just after the Relay 314 incident. Unlike other heat clip and ammo limited rounds, the Lancers combined the cool-down low velocity weapons of yester-year with modern heat sink and velocity tech. In effect, it was a nearly infinite ammo, built-in heat sink gun, but with modern day stopping power. They'd cut the run of them short because they required extensive knowledge to maintain and mod properly, and very few had the dedication to see it done.

 

'I do. I would.' chimed in his inner gun-loving magpie.

 

...

 

Why did it suddenly feel as if they were the pirates?

 

“Awww, how precious. Wikkle cousins out in the middle of nowheres? Is it... a family vacation!?” He heard a clear and obvious snort of escaping laughter from the jumble of cargo containers to their left. Two of the Vorcha looked around in confusion. Well, he couldn't exactly fault the Spectre. 'Wikkle'? Who in their right mind calls Saren Arterius 'wikkle' anything?

 

Said wikkle Spectre did not look amused.

 

“I can not believe...”

 

“Mmmmmmyes?”

 

“That I ruined the air purity levels on my ship for this.” He raised a pistol and shot the nais in the gut. Being a Spectre Master-Gear heavy pistol, it tore right through the shields, tearing out a shriek of shock and pain. Simultaneously, he grabbed Garrus and lit them up with a biotic shield, tugging them in the direction of nearby cover.

 

The Vorcha began firing at the cargo crates they'd gotten behind, but the containers weren't being torn up as he expected. Actually, they were making hollow 'thunk-thunk-thunk' sounds. He popped open a lid to check... the damn boxes were empty. Garrus just rested his head in his hands. Today was just... very strange. The lackeys continued to fire at them, but it seemed as if the Vorcha firing the Lancers were also the Vorcha who maintained them. In short, they were about as effective as throwing small rocks, not even penetrating the cargo boxes. He doubted they had even installed any mods.

 

It began to make sense to him, in an odd sort of way. The Asari wasn't after money, no, it was the drama. It was just a very poor choice of ship to follow from the relay gate.

 

In a moment of classic Nihlus, said Spectre popped out of cover and used one Vorcha's gun while still in it's hands to shoot another in it's ass. The other minion screamed and spun around to see only it's supposed comrade with a smoking gun. It screamed in rage and shot it's neighbor. Another Vorcha saw the 'traitor' and added to the shrill and growling cacophony before also shooting at the literally butt hurt Vorcha. 

 

It... devolved from there.

 

They mopped up the three or four who held out the longest, and approached the would-be pirate. Saren just stepped up to the nais' little dais, and crossed his arms. Spectacularly unamused.

 

The form gurgled at him, blood running down a cheek. Garrus winced in sympathy, gut shots were painful and messy. A slow, slow death to boot. He cleared his throat.

 

“Should we... end the nais? A slow death from a gut wound is a bad way to die...” He looked to Saren's left, where he expected Nihlus to be standing, hoping for support. There was no one there. He looked around... ah, there he was. Looting. He couldn't exactly blame him, he realllllly wanted to do the same. Just... one Lancer? He'd take such good care of it...

 

Saren had pulled out his Omni-tool, and scanned the now weeping fool. Of all things, he sent out a priority video chat request.

 

A lovely Asari matriarch in a rose colored gown answered immediately.

 

“Spectre Arterius? I received your ping... is there something I can do for you?” The voice sounded like such a nice person. Saren turned the camera around and aimed it at the dying form.

 

“Is this one yours?”

 

“By the Goddess! Lia! What happened? Sweetheart, oh Goddess, Lia. Lia! Spectre please, that's my offspring! Can you provide medical aid? Where is that? Where are you? Oh Goddess! What happened?!?” Saren pulled the camera back to face himself.

 

“Your offspring just hit my ship with a gravity spike, and proceeded to threaten myself and other agents of the Council. As of right now, the charges arrayed are more then enough to account for capital punishment. In lieu of... apparent youth, I have opted to contact you instead. If I offer leniency, I do not want to have this come back to trouble me in the future. I do not particularly want to deal with the situation at all as it stands.”

 

There was dead silence for a solid five seconds while the matriarch absorbed the absolute mess said offspring had gotten into.

 

“Lia... attacked you.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I am... so sorry. Spectre. If you would... if you... Please. Return Lia to me, alive, and I will ensure that you are never bothered again. I will... I will make it worth your while.”

 

“I do not care for bribes, what I want is to not need to deal with this again in the future. You can guarantee this?”

 

Yes. Yes, absolutely, and it is not a bribe, it is a thank you. For calling me at all. Now, please, goddess... medi-gel? Anything?”

 

“Indeed. We will be on the Citadel in six days, have someone meet us at the Presidium docks.”

 

“Of course. Spectre Arterius. Thank you.” He closed the call.

 

Nihlus dumped the bleeding form into the medbay, and let the auto-doctor do it's work. They looted the ship from top to bottom for anything that struck their fancy, most of which Saren intended to sell, killed any stragglers, and then slaved it's navigational computer to the Daedalus'.

 

Saren decided he was keeping the ship as recompense for the delay. After spacing the Vorcha remains, he declared that the price of their bath house trip was for Nihlus to clean up the remaining mess. He grudgingly negotiated for a Spa day and going out for drinks afterwards in exchange.

 

They returned to their ship, still docked, but piloting the larger vessel with remote ease. Upon entering the kitchen area for a now much belayed meal, they discovered the oven filled with a gooey mess. 

 

Saren stood over it, left mandible twitching, for several moments.

 

"Nihlus."

 

"I'm not, even 1%, at fault for this."

 

"Nihlus."

 

"No really. The gravity spike. Completely unpredictable."

 

"Nihlus."

 

"Yeeees?"

 

"Clean this as well."

 

"Damnit."

 

"Language."

 

Carmine forehead met kitchen wall several times in frustration, but he did still clean it up. Even, graciously, made more. 

 

Garrus got his Lancer.

 

It sat in his lap as they ate dinner. He promised himself that'd he'd do good with it, to make up for the fact that it had been stolen from a Vorcha pirate.

Chapter Text

Saren stared at the datapad propped on the side of his kava cup, willing bleary eyes to focus. He had found some connections in the Prothean data he'd been aggregating, and was sure there were undiscovered dig sites to be found if he could just follow the data trail...

 

Annoyed with watery, lazy eyes he reached up through the open front of his black quarter-sleeve tunic to grasp one shoulder with the opposite hand, and dug talons into hide with enough pressure to hurt, but not cut. The pain bloomed and focus was somewhat restored. He went back to reading. Too soon his eyes began to blur again.

 

Growling, he reached up to dig into his arm again only for a muffled rumble of alarm to be heard behind him. Oh, it was Vakarian. Why exactly did everyone insist on sneaking up on him in his own mess hall? Obnoxious.

 

Spirits, what are you- you're bleeding. Hold on.” He looked up at his shoulder to see a set of three shallowly gouged marks welling with blood. A tiny trickle had started down his arm. Hmph. While he had not meant to dig that hard, it was hardly a note worth injury. Saren turned back to the screen and continued data mining. A moment passed and Vakarian sat down beside him, straddling the bench, and began to disinfect and seal the marks with medi-gel.

 

He disregarded the Officer's attentions and forced himself to focus. The mild sting of antiseptic helped.

 

“Arterius. … Arterius? … Spectre Arterius? … Saren!”

 

“Hmmm. What?”

 

“...You're practically catatonic, what's wrong?” He managed a half hearted glare at the intrusive concern.

 

“Nothing.”

 

“Saren...”

 

“Go away.”

 

“...no.” He worked up a solid three-quarters glare to that one, beginning to get angry.

 

“You are... on my ship. You will follow any orders I give.”

 

“Sure, as long as they pertain to the job. Convince me this,” -he pointed to the mess of data on screen- “is relevant, and more important then sleep.”

 

“That is none of your busi-”

 

“Damnit Saren! You were bleeding. Why were you cutting yourself?”

 

Silence reigned for a moment.

 

“I was not cutting myself like some suicidal idiot. I was using the pain to stay awake. I have things I need to get done. Now, are you finished interrogating me, Officer Vakarian?”

 

“Oh no. None of that. It's just Garrus, and no I'm not done talking to you, because you are hurting yourself to stay conscious at three and half hours into the night cycle. Explain to me why you won't go to bed and do this tomorrow?”

 

“It's none of your co-”

 

“Saren!”

 

“Concern!”

 

Everything... right now... was aggravating. The hum of the ship's drive core. His face and it's perfect Palaven-blue markings. The whine of the chilling unit. Everything. Unable to tamp down on them, his subvocals broadcast his general displeasure with the world. He just wanted to sit in peace and read, was that so much to ask? Sleep held nothing but liquid visions of fire and death raining down on temple walls. It was... wasted time. Time better spent tracking down Prothean artifacts for the Council.

 

“Visions of fire and death, why would... Oh.” He had... spoken... aloud. His curse came out in a flare of aggravated subvocals.

 

“Go away Vakarian.”

 

“Garrus.”

 

“Fine. Go away Garrus.”

 

“You're having trouble sleeping, because you have PTSD.”

 

“Yes, reduce the worth of the individual to an acronym, well done.”

 

“That's not what I meant, and you know it. I have it too. From my time in the hastatim squads. I had horrible nightmares after that, and they still resurface occasionally.”

 

“Wonderful.” It was not possible to put much more deliberate disconcern into a single word then that.

 

“... Did you see a trauma councilor after Deso-”

 

Don't.

 

“Alright, okay. Calm down. It's okay, Saren. You're safe. I'm safe.” He realized suddenly that his hand had whipped up to press talons into tawny brown throat. He tried to loosen the grip but his hand was shaking and his muscles were tense from being... so... angry. Vakarian, in a fit of idiotic trust, tilted his head back till crest scraped shirtless carapace, throat bared submissively. 'Idiot, moron, fool. I could kill him so easily.'

 

That is what he did best after all. Murder.

 

The sniper's subvocals rumbled soothingly, a low bass that vibrated the dregs of kava on the tabletop. The Spectre pulled a long breath in, and forcibly released it. He did this several times before he could safely remove his talons from Garrus' throat. Managing to do so he leaned back, face turned down and away. Underneath the supporting and comfortable anger was a winding thread of guilt. The compassionate torin did not deserve, even for his obnoxious concern, the purple marks blooming along his jugular.

 

Garrus took him by the hand that had threatened him, and pulled him to his feet. He went, led unresistingly out of the room. Silver and grey plates shone in the low lighting of the night cycle as he was tugged down the hallway and into his own bedroom. He looked about confused. What, did Vakarian intend to sleep with him? Read him a bed time story? What were they even doing here. He did not want to be here.

 

“Not that I'd be adverse to sleeping with you if you think it would help, or that I'd mind reading aloud for that matter, but I'd intended to rub your hands again. It put you to sleep last time, but I didn't want to try it in the kitchen again. Not the best place to fall unconscious.” Thinking... out loud... again. He swallowed back annoyance. Perhaps there was a point to sleeping. Even the nightmares were better then mumbling his thoughts aloud for all to hear. They, at least, were experienced alone.

 

“ ...It did give me a crick in the neck.”

 

“Exactly my point. Lay down?” He did. Garrus proceeded to sit on the bedside by his thighs, and began working over one hand thoroughly, then moved carefully over, no sudden movements, and did the other one. Sleep remained elusive, but he did feel... relaxed.

 

“... Still awake?” Came a soft whisper from the shadows.

 

“I am.” A rustle, the flicker of silver plates, and warm hands began kneading at his feet. He felt his eyes roll back in his head at the unexpected pleasure of the simple touch. Their borrowed sniper was also skilled at... ah... soft tissue manipulation? A snort sounded out in the blanketed quiet.

 

“Generally it's just called a foot massage, and I used to do these for Mari when she was pregnant with Sol, or for girlfriends after they'd had a long day.”

 

“Are you circumspectly calling me effeminate, Vakarian?”

 

Garrus, and no, that's just where I learned it.”

 

“I do not generally call anyone by first name... except Nihlus.”

 

“You called me by name earlier.”

 

“Under duress.” Came out sleepily, followed by a yawn.

 

“Do you mind that I called you by name?”

 

“I do not," -yaaaawwwn-, "particularly care what I am referred to as.”

 

“Alright then Saren. Work on calling me Garrus, and I'll work on trying not to make you feel like you're under duress.”

 

“It was... a joke... Vakarian.”

 

“Garrus.”

 

“Mmmmm.”

 

The next day, he vaguely remembered a soft pat on his ankle as the sniper had risen from the bed and padded out of the room, the alarm clock light catching the long line of his crest blades, trailing along them like a lens flare as he passed by.

 

He slept nearly three hours undisturbed that night.

 

Chapter Text

Nihlus hadn't caught sight of the fading welts on Garrus' hide till mid afternoon. In his defense, he'd been distracting himself all day. All morning he'd played Galaxy of Fantasy, and then spent an enjoyable hour or two bothering Saren. The Spectre had been in a good mood, trading dry humor for Nihlus' snark while he gardened down in hydroponics. Eventually leaving sleeping dragons to lie, he'd come upstairs to find Garrus back at the work bench, fiddling with his Lancer.


His eyes narrowed at the mostly healed wounds. They looked sort of like... no, exactly like talon marks. Not deep enough to cut artery, but looked as though they'd been left untreated long enough to scar slightly. His fists had just begun to clench in anger that someone would lay a hand on Blue... before realizing there was only one person it could have been. The anger evaporated into long standing frustration with his former mentor's 'violence is a solution to everything' mentality.

 

'Spirits, Saren. I adore you, but keep your fucking claws out of good people's throats.' It wasn't the first time he'd said a variation of those words, in his head or out loud, but it was always an interesting day when he meant it literally and not metaphorically.

 

He sidled up to Garrus like not a thing was wrong, all bored swagger and laid back insouciance.



"What the hell happened to your neck?" He prodded a mark, one just below the aural cavity, and the sniper took a swipe at him without looking. Missed, of course.



" ...a wild varren." Garrus replied with a delayed grin, apparently focused on his Lancer.



"Pfffft, that you keep where? In your pocket?" He flopped down backwards on another stool at the bench, kicking long legs out onto the walkway, and propping elbows on the surface behind him.



"Fringe rasping accident?" Garrus tried again with an underscore of joking subvocals and a scandalous trill. The carmine plated Spectre swung his neck around, giving a flat look.



"They're puncture wounds."



"How about... 'I lost a fight with a kitchen knife'?" Nihlus snorted.



"An animate kitchen knife? What, it was possessed?" 'Possessed' was accompanied by mysterious finger waggling and a spooky voice.



"It could have been. The spirit of Saren's kitchen would be the kind to stab people, wouldn't it? Maybe I offended it by slicing yesterday's lunch meat unevenly." Nihlus couldn't help but laugh. It was tellingly accurate, wasn't it?  He continued playing along with the newest excuse while Garrus carefully pulled apart an incomprehensible nest of gun mod guts.



"It was pretty uneven. I was sort of offended myself."



"What a shame. My would-be greatness is forever stunted by a lack of cutting skills." Nihlus' mandibles swirled as he fought back a smile. He had to turn the conversation back around or he'd never get an answer. He wanted to make sure... he didn't know exactly. Saren was violent with everyone. Hitting his protégé over the head was the closest thing he got to a sign of affection. The green eyed torin didn't want Blue to take it personally, he supposed. Not like he could stop it from happening but... he also didn't want the sniper to be chased off by it. His rifle skills were so damn handy, and that head shot accuracy? Mmmmmm. It made Nihlus want to just... he redirected his concentration back to the issue at hand.



"No but... really, what happened?"



"I may have aggravated Saren."



“And you're still alive! Good job. How'd you pull that one off?"

 


"Oh, It was a close one, but I managed to make a good case for future usefulness. Fantastic sniper that I am."



"There's that overconfidence again.”



"I prefer the term 'honesty'." Nihlus hid his sense of relief. It seemed like everything was alright...



"Soooo... You okay?"



"Just fine. I might have deserved it, in a sense."



"Yeaaaah?”



"Mmmhmm."



"Is... he okay?" How, exactly, do you ask someone if they intend to avoid you and your partner like the plague because said partner can't keep his talons to himself?



"Isn't he generally in a better mood after stabbing people?"



"He generally doesn't do the stabbing to people on our side." Garrus shrugged it off with a soft smile, spinning a tiny hex key in circles to loosen a matching screw. Nihlus thought he'd give up his second best knife to know what precisely that smile meant. “Besides, stabbing is sort of my thing. I have dibs on it. He should leave the stabbing to me.”



"Like I said... brought it on myself."



"So... you're good, and... he's good, and uhh... between you is good?"



"Yep. All good." He let himself swoon dramatically in the stool, pretending a faint of relief over the work bench.



"Whew! Well that's a load off my collar. Didn't want you two to duel to the death or anything, it's so hard to clean blood out of the floor grooves. Plus I realllllly didn't want to have to pick a side."


"You'd pick his."



"I'd feel so bad though!" He clutched at the keel plating over his heart.



"Liar~" Garrus sung, lifting a side panel away to expose yet more tech-entrails.



"I would! You're entertaining and... you know, nice and stuff."



"Nice and stuff?" Nihlus felt a rare blush creep up his neck. 'Wow, 'nice and stuff'? Since when are you so pathetic at flirtatious compliments, Kyrik?' His subconscious was laughing at him again. That asshole.



"Shush. You're nice and I'd feel bad."



"Well, no need... He deserves someone in his corner."



"Yeah he does, but..."



"Hm?"



"So do you." The blush just got worse, he decided to blame it on failing life support if anyone asked. Clearly the thermostat was on the fritz.



"You as well." He cocked a pleased smirk at the officer, willfully ignoring the bubbly feeling in his chest at the sincerity laced into those words. There was a soft subvocal undercurrent in there whispering, 'I would stand for you, if you needed me in your corner'. He fought down the bubbles with a mental flame thrower.



"I took care of myself for a long time, Blue. I don't really need anyone in my corner."

 

"Seems to me that he's still fond of you regardless. Not to mention? 'Needing' and 'deserving' are two different things."

 

"Pfffffft, fond? More like 'tolerates'."



"I'd put money there aren't a lot of people on that list either." Well this conversation was becoming uncomfortably honest in record time. Time to hit the exit lane on that skyway.



"Well he was my mentor. I get preferential treatment, of course. Hey, want to play some Relay Defender when you're done... with whatever the hell it is that you're doing to that compression coil?"



"Only if you don't cheat." The Spectre punched him in the arm, laughing with subvocals that said, 'not likely!'.

 

It was amazing how insignificant a little domestic abuse seemed when your day to day was dealing with the worst the galaxy had to offer. Nihlus was pleased and relieved that Garrus was just as blasé and forgiving about it as he.

 

Chapter Text

“Reread the chapter on recompiling during server maintenance and you will see why rainbow tables would not work in this instance.”

 

Nihlus scrolled the datapad in front of him back a ways to review said information. Beside him the other Spectre sat patiently, elbows braced on knees. They were sitting at the CIC holo-ring, protégé in the command seat and Saren on a floating anti-grav stool, working on hacking skills. The younger Spectre had proven to be intelligent, but having begun life on a merc base outside Hierarchy space he had no formal education. Truthfully, he had been just a hair above illiterate when entering civil service, and they had not made educating him in more cerebral matters a priority. Saren had been both appalled and silently furious on his behalf.

 

For as much as his former student loved his deceased patrem, the mercenary hadn't done well enough for his pahir by half, and the Hierarchy had subsequently proceeded to fail him entirely. Saren cared more about his people than anything else in the galaxy, but his already shaky opinions on their meritocratic policies had not been high to begin with. He had spent an entire childhood hiding biotics so they would not separate him from his last remaining family. He had not wanted to be in the Cabals, and it did not suit that they could take the choice from him if his rare talent was discovered. When the Council's top agent had taken Private Kyrik as apprentice, seeing his potential for what it was, another failing of the system presented itself: disregard for said potential because of effort required on the time of third parties to see it realized.

 

He had been... was still... furious about it. An old, quiet anger.

 

Minutes ticked away as carmine brows furrowed in concentration, trying to grasp the less strategic and more mathematical side of the latest advances in hacking. Nihlus had the intuitive part down, excelled at the more organic aspects of wandering the digital plane in fluid ways to elude security sweeps and digital booby traps. His real world cleverness translated directly into a natural understanding of when to cue the right program for the job, understanding the psychology behind security measures, and most importantly: where people hid their most secret data. Unfortunately, he'd only begun learning mathematics beyond basic addition at age twenty, and his old life truly had not groomed him for conscious critical thinking, only instinctual and subconscious reaction.

 

“This is ridiculous. Who came up with this new stuff? A cocaine addicted Salarian trippin' on hallex and Vorcha sweat?” Saren snorted at the colorful language of his frustrated partner.

 

Nihlus could kill a Krogan with a single knife, if he even needed that much, steal data from the Primarch of a main colony, -literally, he had pulled that off in the Altakiril Cluster-, and break into a Shadow Broker vault to re-re-reacquire a much coveted and fought over Prothean artifact. Yet, he had trouble nabbing the spare credits off the Krogan's Omni-tool, could not tell you what was on the stolen data device, and had to blow the doors on the vault with explosives, albeit beautifully designed and lovingly crafted ones.

 

Smart as a whip but he was still playing catch up, trying to stuff ideas usually learned at a young age into an adult's mind. A busy-with-matters-of-galactic-importance mind. Saren, though a harsh and unforgiving task master, had proven to a generous teacher with uncommon patience, spending countless hours of their mentorship tutoring him in between the harsh ICT sessions. Nihlus had spent the better part of a year in and out of a medbay, plates cracked and muscles trembling from a brutal training regiment, trying desperately to learn everything from algebra to methods of rationality while partially high on pain medication.

 

His tenacity and dedication to meeting Saren's standards had a lot to do with said mentor's patience and long standing affection, such as it was.

 

“Okay... so... the... ummmm... the way the security suite uses superoptimizers... interferes with how it... no wait, I still don't get it.” A silver-grey hand reached over and scrolled to the most pertinent section, tapping it with a razor-edged black talon to have Nihlus reread that particular part. Several minutes passed in quietude as green eyes glared down the squirrely explanation of Montgomerius Multiplication and Difae-Hellimate key exchange. Saren took the time to study his student-turned-partner, and appreciate how far he had come.

 

The younger torin had always been lethally competent at his job, but his continued willingness to learn anything Saren wished to teach him had been unexpected after their formal mentor-mentee relationship had ended. Most would claim to know all that they needed to by now, with a such a prestigious service record and successful mission completion ratio. Further, Nihlus was naturally overconfident, to put it mildly, and he had expected his former protégé to be dismissive of further struggling to learn the finer points of things he was less apt at. Yet it seemed that Nihlus was not adverse to that struggle if it involved his duties as a Spectre. Though if left to his own devices, he might just have easily spent all his down time drinking and playing video games.

 

Dedicated? Certainly.

 

Curious and willing to learn what was offered? Yes, obviously.

 

Ambitious? No.

 

“Okay, it... these systems, right here? If I used this it would....” Nihlus trailed off again. He was on the right track, at least.

 

Saren remembered the first time he'd approached the younger Spectre with an offer of further tutelage after their mentorship had ended. A new series of Elcor made poisons had come on the market, virulent and cheap, and their popularity had resulted in a sudden resurgence of wire trapped door ways, spider-robot patrolled vent shafts, and server room proximity alarms. Each armed with a variety of the poison that could deliver a gaseous blast which burned it's way through air filters or needle thin darts that went right through armor at shield-ignoring speeds. Only hard suits and tech armor had proven effective at slowing it down, but a minute dusting on skin was all it took to leave any intruder, dextro or levo, a drooling mess on the floor for days. Not to mention that neither of those precautions were appropriate for crawling through air ducts.

 

A delicate touch was required to mix the antigen serum, which only lasted a week in the blood stream before becoming too weak to make any difference in case of exposure. Granted, this new poison would only be popular for a few years before becoming obsolete as infiltrators found easier ways around it, but for the time being it was a real danger to those in their line of work.

 

He had been... concerned for his chemistry and medically inapt protégé. Tentatively calling on vid-chat, he had expected a pseudo-polite refusal of his offer for further aid... because why would anyone want to learn from him again after the hell he had knowingly put the young torin through?

 

Yet Nihlus had readily agreed, curious to learn how to mix preventative serums at all, and they had arranged to take a cooperative long term mission together to have the time to work on it. The silver ST&R agent felt... he hesitated to call it relief, but it was close to that. He did not want all that training time to have been a waste because the fool had gotten himself killed in a ventilation shaft. It would have been a disappointment, and could have reflected poorly on his own teaching ability and judgement.

 

Inexplicably, the tutelage had made a master poisoner and half decent field medic out of him, tying into an a developing interest in the chemistry behind explosive ordnance as well. He had taken Saren's lectures on toxins, venoms, and biological warfare and made a name for himself among the Spectre Offices. Other Council agents soon began approaching the friendly young torin, instead of the vastly more intimidating Spectre Arterius, for questions in that forum. Nihlus could now hand-craft, with nothing but a basic chemistry set and a micro-fabricator, an impressive list of the most deadly, preventative, or restorative chemical compounds in the galaxy. He was, perhaps, better at it then the source of his knowledge by this point.

 

He still could not calculate atmospheric re-entry vectors in less then ten minutes without computer aid, or calibrate his own weapon mods with any amount of skill, which was unfortunate, but still... Saren was proud of him. He had come so very far.

 

“Okay, would this work?”

 

Saren looked up and read through the small program that Nihlus had whipped up to deal with the hacking challenge he had been presented. It would not work, actually, but it was getting there.

 

“Perhaps.” He reached across the terminal and set a test bed to run, withdrawing and gesturing for him to give it a try.

 

A silver horned head leaned around the other side of the command chair.

 

“Hey, I'm making lunch. Any requests?”

 

“Sum'fin spicy. I feel like I need to be invigorated, this shit muddles my brain.”

 

“Language, Nihlus.” He added a none-too-gentle talon prod in the arm. “I would enjoy something light on the side, if possible. Less spice on mine if a portion is able to separated out.” Garrus looked thoughtful for a minute before nodding slowly and walking back to the mess hall.

 

Saren considered leaving his current task of helping one of them learn the latest in hacking, to help the other manage to cook something edible. The state of Vakarian's chilling unit was not forgotten. He sighed in anticipation of a lackluster lunch in favor of staying where he was. The sniper had not managed to under-cook or poison anything thus far, and while not capable of haute cuisine, his cooking was less life threatening then poor hacking skill on a future mission. Sacrifices to be made, and all that.

 

 "Got it! Ahahaha! Fall before me, inferior coding pyjaks!" He turned to look at the screen again, and sure enough Nihlus had managed to find one of the available work-arounds to get his foot in the door, so to speak. The younger Spectre was practically bouncing in place, trilling with triumph, and proceeding to spin up the rest of the programs he would need to crack the test bed security set up. Saren laid a hand on his shoulder, allowing a small smile and a bare hint of pride into his tone.

 

"Well done."

 

Nihlus turned to smile at him, leaning over and bumping their foreheads together briefly before returning to his victory lap. Saren pulled back a bit, startled by the forwardness of the gesture, but his protégé had already moved on, humming with overtly vicious glee.

 

He offered no verbal rebuke. Perhaps it was... alright. His partner had earned a bit of leniency for his exuberant affection, in lieu of his hard work.  

Chapter Text

 

The battle for Mindoir technically began at 12:09 pm, the moment their mid-line quality satellites detected a non-alliance ship approaching the system in FTL from the direction of the Vamshi Mass Relay, soon to pass the outer most planet of Liaison. The colony's Administrator, Jonas Wimbleton, got the priority alert ping on his Omni-tool during a lunch period, and in a show of true job dedication opted to check it right away rather than put it off till 1:00 pm or so when he'd be back in the office.

 

His dedication didn't save his life, but there are a few precious people whose lives it did save. One person in particular whose identity would someday become the new dictionary definition for 'a precious life'.

 

As Jonas read the simple, automated alert ping his thoughts weren't on the future however. In fact, for a few moments, his thoughts were simply confused that the satellites were reporting to him in the first place. He hadn't know they were set up to ping him if an unregistered ship came in range. From the direction of... Vamshi? That wasn't a Systems Alliance controlled Relay... and then it clicked.

 

It also wasn't a Systems Alliance ship.

 

Feeling a sinking sense of dread, he returned the lid to his salad container, packed up, and drove his sky car back the quick ten minutes to work. The R&D logo stood proudly in the lobby, floating in holo text over the contained ecosystem center piece that was a miniaturized habitat containing all of the meaningful plants they had customized to grow best in the rich soil of Mindior. A chill slid down his spine as he passed by it, headed for the security center of the colony rather then his office upstairs.

 

People joked that it was the 'Research and Defense' building, rather than 'Research and Development', by dint of it containing all their defense assets in a small storage space with their government allotted mechs, a tiny security suite that monitored a handful of satellites, and their single planetary defense canon controls. Beside that, they had a platoon of marines that lived in normal housing and trained in the same field the middle school used for baseball. Otherwise... a whole lot of farmers and scientists who had passed their basic firearm classes as part of the colonial pre-departure training, but likely hadn't shot one since.

 

The Administrator's jitters got worse as he realized he was reviewing their defensive measures while the elevator took him down. He pulled in a slow, purposeful breath as the doors slid open and made for the security room.

 

Inside, the security guard Adrien Wikkits was fast asleep, head lulled back over his chair, snoring.

 

Wake up, Mr. Wikkits. We have a situation.”

 

“Huh, wha- oh... Oh! Mr. Wimbleton! Sir! Uhhhh what I can do for you, sir?” He looked nervous, and rightly so, but Mr. Wimbleton didn't have time to deal with his slacking at the moment.

 

“There is a space craft approaching us with an unknown registry ID, find it and get me information. Now, please.”

 

“Yessir, right away, sorry sir, I'm on it.” Adrien spun back around to the wall-to-wall security set up, and began a targeted series of scans.

 

The more purposeful scrutiny showed that the unknown vessel had just pulled into range for proper telemetry data, and a deep space camera was pointed at it, a quick snap shot taken, and all available data about said ship was loaded from available archives.

 

It was identified as an unmarked vessel of Batarian make, a heavy cruiser meant for large scale troop deployment and minimal air support. It could not enter an atmosphere itself, but could release it's forces from low orbit via a compliment of shuttles.

 

Oh. Dear lord. Batarians.

 

The telemetry data said they had two hours, three minutes till arrival. Adrien's eyes widened like saucers as he looked up at Jonas for answers like a deer in headlights, shocked and unable to act without direction. It took the Administrator a moment to gather himself and offer the best answers he had to give.

 

“Mr. Wikkits, please arm the planetary defense canon, and call Major Tiras for a muster. I need to send out emergency alerts, and contact the Systems Alliance. Keep your Omni-tool handy, I will be calling you with further instructions.”

 

While Adrien scrambled to get the automated canon's system online, Jonas stepped into the hallway. He quickly set the colony's emergency broadcast system to begin pinging all the residents with priority alerts. 'We are likely under attack. Arm yourself and get to the emergency shelters.' was the jist of it. That done, he attempted to call his usual S.A. liaison and flagged it with the highest priority.

 

He waited one minute.

 

Waited three minutes.

 

Waited seven minutes.

 

He was not waiting any longer than that, not now. Jonas began rapidly pinging every name in his address book that might possibly be able to help, against policy or not. Every soldier he had a contact for, officer or no, and every friendly merc group or trader in the area. His messages were short and polite, copy-and-pasted words that simply mentioned the basics of the situation and his name. His thoughts, however, grew increasingly desperate as no reply came.

 

'Anybody. Somebody. Help. There are over four thousand lives here that I am supposed to safeguard. Please. Please someone answer. Please please.... please...'

 

Nearly twenty minutes passed with no reply. Then, finally, thank-you-god, a vid-call came in.

 

“This is Executive Officer Hannah Shepard of the SSV Kilimanjaro, how can I be of assistance?”

 

“Officer Shepard, thank you so much for getting back to me. As I said in my message, I'm Jonas Wimbleton, the Colonial Administrator for Mindior. We have a vessel of what we believe to be Batarian make, approaching from their side of the Nebula, not flying any recognized registry codes. It's a heavy cruiser, m'am. I believe our colony is about to be hit by... Hegemony forces. We are in immediate need of aid, their approach velocity puts them at,” -he glanced over at his old-earth clockwork watch-, “ninety five minutes out. Can you assist?”

 

“One moment.” The sound on the vid-call went mute, but he could see her moving swiftly through a corridor, waving off people who tried to talk to her, and coming to a stop in a command center of some sort. Her lips moved as she kept herself on screen, but spoke to someone off to the side. Nodding sharply, piercing blue eyes returned to the camera as sound came back.

 

“We're on our way Mr. Wimbleton. Captain Anderson is calling for back up as we speak, but it's going to be about three hours before we arrive. Hopefully we can find another contingent in closer range to come sooner, but I can't guarantee that.”

 

“I understand. I need to continue prepping what defenses we have. Godspeed.” He received a crisp nod in return, the woman's hard gaze making him feel just a bit better about their odds. The call disconnected and he headed off to speak with Major Tiras.

 

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooo

 

While the rest of the colony was still peacefully eating their lunch, Jane Landsley was skipping school and shooting bottles off of tree stumps in the forest zone. Her fellow miscreants, Michael and Tobias, were lounging nearby doing a fuck-load of nothing.

 

'fwwip' went the sniper rifle, followed by the sound of shattering glass.

 

“You like shooting that thing way too much, Janey.”

 

'fwwip'. Miss. She glared at it.

 

“What's it to you, Mike?” She leaned back and lowered the barrel, reaching up to her mouth after an inhale to remove the cigarette. Smoke leaked from her nose as she eyed the remaining bottles. She'd need to set up more soon.

 

“Nothin'. I'm just sayin', I know it's your dad's gun and all, but the fact that you can do that for hours instead of fucking around on the extranet like a normal girl is sort of...”

 

“Sort of what?” Tobias laughed at the hole Mike was digging himself.

 

“Uhhhmm. Somewhere between cool and uh....”

 

“Uhhhh what, asshole?” She glared at him, green eyes backlit with defiance.

 

“...Sad?”

 

“Eat shit and die.”

 

Mike sighed profusely.

 

“I don't mean to be an ass, I'm just sayin' that... well, I know that you miss him, but the stoic gun-nut gig is more of a Turian thing, yeah? Why don't you take up a new hobby?” Jane rolled her eyes at him.

 

“I don't want a new hobby, Mikey. My grandparents made guns, my dad collected guns, and now I shoot guns. It's all I've got left, don't you try and take it from me, or we're going to have a problem.” Michael stood up, and wandered over to her, bonking his head into hers before walking down range and setting up a few new bottles as an apology. He really was a good friend, if a bit of a whiner sometimes.

 

Why he wanted to hang out with her, girl-with-an-attitude-problem Jane Landsley, while she skipped class, played with her antique silenced Striker III, and chain smoked was beyond her... but she was... okay with it. Jane shrugged, offering a small admission instead of forgiveness. 

 

“Well. I suppose I have you guys, at least.”

 

Tobias chimed in, “Counts for something, yeah? Half credit?”

 

Mike laughed, walking back.

 

“Psht, no. We count for double credit. Friends are the family you choose.” Michael would know, being as he was also an orphan.

 

Before Jane could line up another shot, a shrill voice broke the peace of the forest clearing.

 

“Tobias Rostre! You are in so much trouble when I tell mom what you're doing!” Aw fuck. His tiny, harpy of a sister.

 

“Ugh. Tali? Please, shove off.”

 

“No! Mom told you not to hang around with those... those... troublemakers! Anymore!”

 

“It's like she thinks you care Tobi.”

 

“I know, right?”

 

Arrrggg!” Talitha let off a shrill, rage filled scream. Her honor student sensibilities could not handle her lazy brother and his horrible friends. She glared at Tobias, trying to will him to get up out of the grass and leave them behind. Jane coughed a laugh into her arm.

 

“You idiots have no idea what you are doing to your futures! They'll look at this when you try to go to college you know!”

 

“I don't particularly care, sis.”

 

“How can you not care?!?! You're already fourteen you loser! You've got to start applying for grants in two years! They aren't going to take one look at you after they see all of these absences! You don't care? You don't CARE?! I can't believe I opted out of afternoon classes to try and talk sense into you! How can you not care!” Tobias let out a beleaguered sigh.

 

“I'm not going to college Tali. I'm going to join the S.A., and travel. I've said it at least fifty times, does anyone in our family listen to a word I say?” She stared at him like being a military grunt was the worst fate life could offer, short of janitorial minimum wage. After he failed to respond, what-so-ever, she made another shriek of frustration, and stomped her way out of the clearing.

 

“Weeeelp.” Mike said, popping the 'P'. Jane let out a half-grimace and watched her leave.

 

“She's going to go tell your mom about you being here.”

 

“Meh. Mom will yell, dad will yell, and give it ten minutes and they'll be yelling at each other, and I can sneak out.”

 

“Fair enough.” She went back to shooting.

 

'fwwip' Crash.

 

'fwwip' Crash.

 

'fwwwip' Miss. Glare.

 

'fwwip' Crash.

 

Their Omni-tools all went off simultaneously.

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

“Administrator Wimbleton, the Kilimanjaro will be in orbit 71 minutes after they arrive, and that is the very best we can do. Our engines are running at absolute maximum speed. The good news is that a three ship patrol of light cruisers under the command of Commander Terrance Connor is also in range, and will be coming in behind us in thirty four hours. They are the next closest Systems Alliance force, and are also going at maximum speed. We're coming, Administrator. You just have to hold on.” Commander Anderson delivered his words with as much encouragement and surety as he could, but the other man wasn't looking any less green around the gills.

 

The Batarian ship was nearly on top of them, just passing Trace de Pas, and more recent scans showed significant proof that this was indeed a slaver raid. Unfortunately for all involved the dreadnought wasn't as heavily staffed as it could be. The Alliance was spread thin, and though their ship yards could turn out many a ship, their personnel numbers were more limited. People being a semi-finite resource.

 

Anderson was determined to put boots on the ground himself, if that was what it took. He would save these people.

 

“Thank you, Commander. We appreciate that you are doing your best. They will be in range to jam communications in just a few minutes, and I need to get into one of the bunkers before they arrive.”

 

“Understood. Goodbye, and good luck.” The call ended.

 

David gripped the sides of his chair, steeling himself for the fight to come. Hannah stood beside him silently. Made of ice and stone, his XO was a dependable woman, and a excellent shot. They'd both planned to lead teams on the ground, leaving the third in command, the tactically minded Lt. Aisera, in charge of operations, and in control if anything should happen to them.

 

It wasn't standard operating procedure, but being heroes of the First Contact War got you a lot of leeway. Everyone knew the two of them, like so many other survivors of the war, were ground soldiers first and command material second. Having a huge recruitment run, a rapid increase in military spending, and no few deaths in the command structure left certain gaps. Gaps that had to be filled by those who might've preferred not to be the one called to that duty. They usually did their best for anything that was asked of them, but weren't going to take 'no' for an answer when slavers were about to attack innocent colonists.

 

Half the ship had a tender spot for colonists under duress, for one reason or another. They weren't going to argue.

 

“This isn't going to be pretty.”

 

“No, sir.” He nodded, and stood, tapping the ship-wide com button

 

“All hands to battle-stations, prepare to engage.” He closed the connection, and stepped down. “Lt. Aisera, the deck is yours.”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

The forest zone was quite a ways out of town. After getting the message, the three of them headed out of the trees and made for the main road, hoping for a stray bus to pass by and give them a ride. Unlikely, but possible. They met Talitha half way out, running back toward them full tilt.

 

“Tobi-oh-god-tobi-batarians-oh-god!” She slammed head first into her brother's chest, arms around him like a vice. He hugged her tight, and rocked left-to-right.

 

“Sis, it's okay. It's okay. We just have to get back to the colony and get to one of the shelters. The alert said we had an hour and a half, we'll make it back in time as long as we hurry, okay? Please calm down.” She was a mess of tears with a brave face. He pushed her back, took her hand and turned to go. She held back.

 

“Tobi, Tobi mom is out at the lake.”

 

“Oh. Shit.”

 

“Yes! Yes shit!”

 

The lake in question was called Lareda Lake. More of a large pond really, it was a nice place to fish, and a source of cheap dinners for their low-income family. Their mother worked night shifts in the aquaponics labs, and then would multitask by lazily napping and fishing during the day.

 

If she was out at the lake, she could very possibly be asleep.

 

She could very possibly be unaware that Batarians were about to descend from the sky and kidnap as many people as they could.

 

The lake was the other direction from town.

 

“Tali, Tobi, I know what you're thinking. You can't.”

 

“Can't what, Jane?” She ran her free hand through close-cropped crimson dyed hair, looking back at Talitha with pleading, apologetic anger.

 

“You can't make that run, not even if you sprint the whole way. If your mom is at the lake, she might be safer then we are. They won't go all the way out there for one person, not when the easy... catch... is in town.”

 

“.... she's right Tali.”

 

“What?! No!” Tali pulled back. “How can you say that?! Mom is out there alone! Alone!”

 

“Sis, Janey makes a good point. She's safe, and way far away. Let's get to the shelters, okay?”

 

“No! You... you! You selfish asshole! You don't love us at all, do you?! I hate you! I HATE YOU! NO! MOM!!!!” Talitha ran for the hills, full sprint in the direction of the lake. Tobias looked gobsmacked, and hurt. He started to go after her, but Michael grabbed his arm, pale as a ghost and sweating.

 

“Tobi, man, I know you want to...”

 

“Let me go Mike.”

 

“We gotta go.”

 

“It's Tali!”

 

“I know, you dumb ass! I've had a crush on her since we were like ten, okay? But listen, okay? Just listen. She is not going to let you drag her back to town, and going with her will make more people show up on scans and stuff, out there, okay?”

 

Tobias stared at him, swallowing. He knew his stubborn-as-nails sister wasn't going to come willingly. She already had a head start too.

 

“ ...I love my sister.”

 

“I know, man. I know. You can tell her later.”

 

“Fuck!”

 

Jane set a hand on his shoulder, and squeezed.

 

They took off running for the shelters.

 

Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

They had not, if fact, made as good a time as they had hoped, arriving with just enough time to see their home start to burn. Trying to be cautious and get to a shelter, they'd circled the town for one that was near the edge of the colony. They'd made it successfully, but a lone slaver had caught them banging on the door to a shelter, begging for it to be opened.

 

The screamed, they pounded, the fourteen year old trio shaking and weeping, even Jane.

 

“Please, please, it's us, open the door please!”

 

The worst part was that the doors were sealed, unable to be opened. Electric locks were fused closed with a chemical compound in the doorway, a measure that Major Tiras had made everyone take after the Batarians had hacked and disabled their canon in under five minutes. The colonists on the other side could hear the children begging to be let in.

 

They screamed back, of course.

 

“It's closed! We can't! Go hide! GO HIDE!”

 

The teenagers couldn't hear them. It was too loud outside.

 

They kept screaming at the kids to run and hide, until a loud thud sounded out behind the entryway and the screaming stopped.

 

Michael Calbright had hit the door, already dead.

 

There was a quiet 'fwwip' that the weeping colonists missed entirely, even in the sudden silence. The rage filled return fire of Jane Landsley.

 

Now there were two.

 

Jane and Tobias decided to run for the least likely place they thought to be found, that also couldn't burn. The water tower.

 

They were careful and slow. Tears were making long charcoal trails down Jane's face from her eye liner, and Tobias' glasses were full of muck but he didn't seem to care. There was so much smoke from the fires that they could barely see anyway.

 

A block from the water tower Tobias spotted a shuttle coming in from outside of town. From the direction of the Lake.

 

“No... no... no.”

 

His mother and sister were tossed out haphazardly to the ground. Mrs. Rostre tried to run, and they shot her down casually.

 

Jane knew, without a shadow of a doubt, what was about to happen. She grabbed at his hand and dove for the sheltering bulk of a dumpster.

 

“No, no you idiot. No!”

 

Tobias dislodged her almost without trying and ran at them screaming.

 

She caught a glimpse of Talitha staring in shock at her mother's body, catatonic and unmoving, before the green dumpster blocked her view.

 

Cha-thunk... thud.

 

Jane covered her mouth, and tried not to vomit. Then she heard boots and armor coming closer.

 

Fuck, fuck fuck. They had seen her. Two options left, shoot them and hope they aren't fast on the draw, or run for it and hope the dumpster would block their view.

 

She glanced at the gun in her hands. Hands which were shaking so hard the shoulder strap's rectangular connector was rattling like mad.

 

She ran for it.

 

Going along in a low crouch, she came up on a blind turn. Stopping to look could be her death. Not looking could be her death.

 

She took it without stopping, straight around the corner, down the empty alleyway, and ducked into a subway tunnel.

 

It was pitch black down there, the entire system was offline and powered down. Jane went anyway, figuring that they couldn't shoot her if they couldn't see her. Going forward mostly from memory she hugged the wall, and hopped down onto the tracks.

 

The pale reflection of a search light came bouncing around the walls.

 

'Can't, fuck, can't stop now!'

 

She jogged down the tracks, squeezed around a stopped tram, then made for the next exit on the far side of the water tower.

 

She didn't even rememeber why she was headed for the water tower anymore. Her mind was a mess of shock, the smell of fire, and those... two... thuds. Just 'thud', and that was it? Her boys were dead, and just... thud?

 

It didn't make any sense. Gravel crunched and teeth ground as she tried desperately to focus and keep going. The other end of the subway suddenly lit up with search lights.

 

'Shit.'

 

Her luck was good though, as it was just more reflected light from insta-crete walls for now, enough to reveal a maintenance door in the wall. She scrambled up on the thin border that was meant to be a tiny platform to step out of a subway car onto, reaching up and using the handle to climb.

 

It turned, unresisting and unlocked, and opened into another corridor of darkness. She didn't stop to wonder why it was open, -really, who would think to check?-, and pushed into the black, pulling the door closed with purposeful slowness behind her. Didn't want it to echo.

 

Jane took off down the hall as fast as she could while being prepared for steps or dips, her hands outreached to touch both walls. It was why she felt the ladder as she went to pass by.

 

Stopping, she looked at where it would be if she could see. Forward, into more dark unknown, or up into maybe-hopefully-possibly a way to the water tower. A way that was well lit and possibly occupied with Batarians.

 

She was sick of darkness anyway.

 

Rifle over her shoulder, one bar after another, up and up, until there were no more rungs. Just a flat circle with a handle. She swallowed and turned it, slowly.

 

It turned without too much noise, but she needn't have been so worried. Though the subway had been all shadows and silence, the world above was light and noise. Fires and screaming.

 

She lifted the lid tentatively and looked out. Another spot of good luck, she was father from the water tower then she had been before with... before... but it led up into an alleyway, with a fire escape right by it.

 

Jane scrambled out of the subway tunnel, closed the lid with a little less care, and made for the fire escape. She barely made it onto the building before the slavers emerged from the same hole, looking about wildly for her.

 

Thankfully, not looking up.

 

She was now both above the gaze of the slavers on the ground, but in obvious sight of any shuttle that passed by. Hugging the edge of the building, sneaking between crates and a/c units with all the skill of an angry fourteen year old who snuck out of the youth center after dark almost nightly, she made it the two blocks by rooftop without having to climb down or being spotted.

 

The slavers had established a patrol around the central square three blocks over, it was the city center, visible from her vantage point. She could see them... herding people into the square at gun point. Shooting anyone who ran. At least it looked like they had only caught stragglers, there were nowhere near enough people in the square to account for one of the reinforced bunkers being broken into.

 

She swallowed heavily. 'Still... how did so many people get trapped outside?' A mystery for later. If she managed to survive this.

 

Jane eyed the the water tower. It was in fairly easy range of a jump from rooftop to access ladder, but the climb up after jumping would leave her exposed to anyone who looked. Nothing for it.

 

Crimson hair ruffled in the breeze as she climbed that ladder as fast as possible.

 

She made it to the top in record speed, not the first time she'd come up here but the only time she'd done so alone... she rolled under the platform that supported an attached communication tower. It trailed up from the water tower another twenty or so meters, but this was where she'd wanted them to get to. Sheltered from air, from ground, easily defended with only one way up, they had, -ha-, water, and direct access to a com tower.

 

It was the best her mind had come up with, though truthfully she had mostly been thinking, 'Where will they not look? Where will they not think to scan for life signs? Somewhere that can't burn...'

 

She rolled close to the central support beam, curled around it, and just... breathed. Which was honestly hard enough with all the smoke. There was nothing left to do but wait for the Alliance to show up, and they did. Not an hour later a Dreadnought came into view, hazy through the atmosphere. Her eyes closed in relief, managing a small and tired quirk of lips that died soon after.

 

The Batarian heavy cruiser began to play 'elude the dreadnought', as shuttle craft streamed from it's sides. She rolled over and lined up her Striker to peer at the square, hoping to see the terror in their damn ugly faces.

 

There wasn't any terror. They were... ignoring the ship battle in air, and continuing to torment people. Jane's stomach sank at the sight. Why weren't they scared? It was a huge ship, damnit!

 

Shaking fingers reached into pockets for a cigarette, lighting it with her Omni-tool. Jane Landsley sat there and watched, chain smoked, and waited.

 

An hour passed.

 

Then two... three...

 

She began to realize that, though she still didn't understand why, the Dreadnought wasn't able to keep up with the Heavy Cruiser's speed. Had she a degree in astrophysics she might have known that it's main canon wasn't meant for firing near a planet, and it's fighter craft and smaller weapons were being kept busy with stalling measures and evasion. It's design wasn't meant for planet fall or graceful manuvers. It was big, yes. Too big.

 

The soldiers that had come down in shuttles were fighting the good fight, she caught sight of them time and again from her perch... but they couldn't break through the slaver's defensive lines, not with the numbers they had.

 

The Systems Alliance soldiers were fighting with guerilla warfare, and the Batarians were dismissive of their efforts.

 

Suddenly, a whole mass of people were herded into the squre. They'd broken down one of the shelters.

 

'Shit. No.' Denying it didn't make it go away. The Batarian shuttles zipped down, picked up a batch, and zipped away to meet the Heavy Cruister as it ran circles around the Dreadnought, the larger ship's bulk making it unweildy and unable to compensate.

 

An hour later, more people.

 

Night time fell. The sky was thick purple smoke and and red flickers from the still-burning fires. Jane hadn't known insta-crete and plastic could burn so well. It smelled something awful. She kept smoking to drown out the taste of it in her mouth.

 

Two more hours, and another group was led in, hands tied off onto benches and poles. It took a while for the slaver shuttles to ferry people to the Cruiser, what with the dance it was doing to avoid the Alliance's secondary weapons. The number of people trapped in the square increased steadily. People weeping and wailing and begging. More people, more time. A pair of soldiers with spiffy armor and their accompanying squads managed to break through for a moment, a few people died, a few more managed to get away, and then the heavy gun fire forced them back.

 

Jane kept watch through her scope, half hoping to see Talitha still alive and on the ground. She spotted people from school, the clerk from the grocery store, the local minister, and several others she half recognized. She didn't really know most of their names, and that was.... it felt like she should know them by name, if only to know who'd died as she'd hid there, not doing anything to help.

 

More colonists were pulled in through the night, no more places to bind them, they were spread around the square, sprawling into the park near and far. A formless mass of the distraught.

 

Dawn came, but it was hazy and brought no hope with it. Eyes slid open at the light, turned aquamarine in the dull purple hues of it. Sleep had come at some point, though it hadn't been restful. She was still tired, thirsty, hungry... could have slept more, could cut into the tower with her Omni-tool for water... but she didn't. It felt wrong to have even those small things when the world below her was an endless parade of suffering.

 

The day went on... so long. Those brave, determined soldiers kept fighting all the night and into the day, who knew how. It was around noon that things took a turn for the worse. The Batarians had managed to round up most of the colony, a terrible number already aboard their ship. With less work to do they closed ranks, making the defensive perimeter into an impenetrable wall. The Alliance people weren't able to get close anymore... and the slavers were growing bored as the shuttles continued to take people up in small batches.

 

Jane forced herself to watch it all, new tears running down cheeks, over the unlit cigarette in her mouth, dripping onto the metal tower as the rising air carried words up to her.

 

'If they c-come for me I'm r-running. I-I'm running.'

 

'Nonono, Becky... They killed... no reason, she was just sittin' there... Oh my baby girl...'

 

'God Almighty, who art in Heaven...'

 

'No! NO! Take me instead, please don't rape my son, please!'

 

'May all beings b-be peaceful. May all beings... safe. May all beings awaken to the light of their... their true nature. May all beings be free...'

 

'Amazing grace... sweet... the sound...'

 

'Here, take this. No no, hide it! If they come for me... stab... okay? Stab. Me. I'd... dead.'

 

'Kirinyaga, owner of all things... I pray thee, give me what I need... because I am suffering, and also my children are suffering...'

 

She saw everything, the lone spectator with the wind in her face and scope to see by. The dreadnought's secondary weapons still lighting up the sky, almost mornfully, trying to hit the speedy little cruiser. There was a doctor who handed out pills to people that asked, they took them and fell asleep, not to wake. Jane couldn't exactly fault him. It was a lot less painful way to go then running for it.

 

Night fell again. The doctor ran out of pills. The miscellaneous weapons that some people had brought were confiscated. The only way to die now was to run for it. A fair few did, every little bit, others just sat there and begged to die. The runners were shot in the gut, left to perish slowly and painfully. Jane eyed her Striker... looked at the dying. Back at the gun. Down again. She swallowed. The night was loud and dark, the fires burned low, but the smoke still thick.

 

Over the next few hours, fourteen year old Jane Landsley racked up a higher kill count then most professional assassins.

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Captain Anderson was on his feet only by dint of sheer bloody mindedness. 'On his feet' was something of a misnomer, since he was technically laying down on a roof top, sniping at the patrols that passed by. He'd run out the energy needed to 'run 'n gun' sometime.... time... today? Probably today. His medics wouldn't give him any more stims, hell, they'd tried to sneak sedatives into his ration bars, but he'd smelled them. They got rather the tongue lashing for that one.

 

Hannah Shepard was passed out beside him, back pressed into his side. He had another twenty minutes of watch and sniping before he'd wake her and they'd switch, just for an hour, before moving position to do it again. The rest of their squads were injured or dead, only the two N7s still burning for comeuppance and uninjured. Mostly uninjured. Her right ankle was sprained something fierce, and he had two bullet wounds in the right arm. Not enough to stop the N-school's elite, just to slow 'em down a bit.

 

Hannah had noticed a stray flicker of movement a few hours back and pointed it out to him, just enough to hint at a rifle and a flat laying form on the water tower in the distance. The angle was too poor to make out who it was, but one of their marines must've made it in close and been taking shots when they could get away with it. Good. If he found out who it was, he'd see them promoted, posthumously or not.

 

His Omni-tool buzzed softly. He nudged Hannah awake. “Get up, lazy.”

 

“Mmmmppph.”

 

“No coffee, sorry.”

 

“Unnnn.”

 

“No bagels either.”

 

“Ugh, will all due respect sir, shut up.”

 

“You will never stop 'sir'-ing me will you? We graduated from the same class Shepard.”

 

“Wouldn't be right sir.” He let out a sigh, waited for her to gather some bearings, and then let sleep take him.

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

At some point people had figured out that someone was shooting runners in the chest if they were caught fleeing. Less people ran now, the most hopeless weeded out, but a few still did. They ran near her edge of the park. It was a credit to the people of Mindior that no one tried ratting her out for favor.

 

Eventually, bleary eyed and nearly catatonic, Jane passed out. The last cigarette of the pack still hanging from her lips, unlit.

 

At first, no one noticed that the Dreadnought had ceased it's Sisyphus-esc chasing and firing, now going on thirty some odd hours of engagement. Then, it became clear why... as three more ships pulled into orbit. The sound woke Jane, and at first she had no idea what was happening, and then it hit her: The Alliance had kept fighting because help was on the way. Three ships. Three smaller, faster ships. They turned toward the Batarian vessel with menace and began firing for non-critical systems. The Batarian Heavy Cruise ran for it, pushing for atmo and making an FTL jump much too low in the air. It set the sky on fire for a moment in a brilliant flash that set the people below to screaming in terror.

 

It was there, and then it was gone, all those people...

 

Knowing the cost of being planet side, the remaining Batarians began wholesale slaughter. Jane's anger, her oldest and last friend, returned.

 

'Oh, hell no. You are not doing this. We are being rescued. Fuck all of you! FUCK YOU ALL!'

 

'fwwip'

 

The crowd fleeing in panic made it hard to aim, a roiling see of forms. She persevered.

 

'fwwip'

 

The leaders tried to commandeer any shuttle craft available, including sky cars. She didn't let them.

 

'fwwip'

 

It went on and on, Jane trying to kill as many slavers as possible. No thoughts left to morn those stolen away in the cruiser, every inch of her consumed in the fire of hope that they were being rescued, and right now was the time to fight back. To shoot, and keep shooting. For Mike. For Tobias, and his family. For that doctor, and that grocery store clerk, and for all of them.

 

Her kill count skyrocketed.

 

Eventually, an impossibly long-short time later, it was done. No more slavers to be seen in scope. She inched out of her shelter into the predawn light, sitting up on the com tower's platform. She lit that last cigarette, and leaned back into the base of it, cradling her dad's rifle.

 

A dull dunk-dunk-dunk sound warned her that someone was climbing the access ladder. She aimed at it, just in case. Over the side of the tower popped an Alliance soldier in a blue-and-grey armor. He slowly hooked the top rung with an elbow and raised both hands in peace. She looked him over, and pulled up the Striker's barrel back to her shoulder. She gave him the best attempt at a cordial nod, the soldier deserved that much for how hard his people had fought. He reached up and tapped the retractor key on his helm as another soldier started climbing over the side, a woman.

 

“You're... the sniper that's been up here?”

 

Jane took a long draw on her cancer stick, and let the smoke trail from her nose, head rested back against the support beam. “Yup.”

 

“You're... what, sixteen?” She almost-smiled at him, the most she could muster right now. She'd been running on anger for far too long, and was all out of fuel. It must make her look old. A dry chuckle managed to come out at that, though she didn't correct him. Not like it really mattered. The woman retracted her helm, and adopted a stern look that mostly just made her look more tired. Jane could relate.

 

“You're under aged, miss. You aren't allowed to smoke.” At that she cracked up a little, swinging a wide arm at the smog all around them. The blonde haired soldier glared at the smog, as if it was it's fault for being an excuse. It didn't last long, the woman swayed on her feet, not enough to loose balance, but enough that she moved in closer, sat down, and gave up on the matter. The black guy joined them.

 

“What's your name, kid?”

 

“It's Jane... mmLandsley.” She slurred, exhausted. “You?”

 

“Captain David Anderson.”

 

“Captain... of the big ship?”

 

“Dreadnought, yes. The Kilimanjaro.”

 

“Thanks 'fer coming.” He managed a chuckle of his own at that.

 

“This is my XO, ahh... that's military speak for 'right hand man', or woman in this case. Hannah Shepard.”

 

“Hullo.”

 

“Hello, Miss Landsley.”

 

“How long have you been up here?”

 

“Uhhh... since umm... a few hours after they landed.”

 

“That's a long damn time, kid. You alright?”

 

“Yeah, mmmight need to eat or something. At... some point.” Hard brown eyes softened and he dug into his belt pouches, coming up with half a canteen of water and an MRE. He handed them over wordlessly.

 

“Ohhh, nice. Thanks. This liquor?” He coughed.

 

“No?”

 

“Oh, alright.” The soot stained teen proceeded to wolf down both without breathing.

 

For lack of fucks left to give, energy left to care, and all various and sundry forms of non-apathy... they sat there and watched the sunrise.

 

A shuttle picked them up from the top, they didn't even have to climb down. It was a good thing too, none of them were sure they'd have been able to do so without falling part of the way. A soldier inside the shuttle tried to take the Striker from Jane, rightfully thinking that a kid that young had no place holding a rifle.

 

She kicked him in the balls for trying.

 

Chapter Text

Garrus tugged his anti-grav lockbox behind him as he disembarked the Daedalus. Nihlus trailed along beside him carrying some of his guns. The Spectre was going to escort him through customs with his new, unregistered Lancer, and put a Spectre stamp of approval on his ownership papers when they passed through station security. Technically, he could file the paperwork himself and get away with it, being C-Sec and all, but this would be much faster. No time wasted lounging at the docks waiting for bureaucracy to get it's act together.

 

“Oh hey, by the way, I sent off the return paperwork to your HR lady.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Mmhmm. You've got the next three days off, and then they'll expect you back.”

 

“Why three days?”

 

“Uhhh 'cuz tomorrow Saren and I are doing resupply, the next day we're going to the bath house, and the day after is for recovering of course.”

 

“Recovering from bathing?”

 

“No, Blue. From the night of partying!”

 

“I recall a mention of 'drinks', but I'm fairly certain there wasn't any 'partying' on the schedule. Does… Saren actually 'party'?” The last was said with clear subvocal disbelief, to which the shorter torin grinned sheepishly.

 

“Sometimes?”

 

“Uhuh.”

 

“So anyway, take it easy tomorrow, I'll come nab you bright and early the next day, and then you'll have the day after to lament your life choices and kick out whoever you take home with you.”

 

“I don't generally kick people out.”

 

“You're too nice, Blue.”

 

“It's not like they won't leave eventually on their own, and letting tarin stick around after is how I've gotten most of my girlfriends.” Nihlus laughed his ass off at that one, as they custom's staff stared at the jovial Spectre in something like horror.

 

Laughing Spectres were apparently just as scary, if not more so, than serious ones. Who knew?

 

“Seriously? You looking to nest already?”

 

“What? No! Hell no.”

 

“Then why are you letting 'em stay? The only kind that will stick around the day after are the kind looking to stay around much longer.”

 

“I don't know what would give that impression...” Nihlus sighed wistfully at the socially incompetent sniper.

 

“Of course you don't, Blue. Oh hey, here is where I leave you. I have to help start the resupply or Saren will beat me. Toodles!” Garrus just shook his head and turned to head home.

 

Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Disturbingly enough, Nihlus did show up at his door with a livid mark across his face. The plate was cracked along his left cheek ridge, and the accompanying eye was partially swollen shut. The very tip of the matching mandible was broken off entirely. Garrus turned to Saren with a flat look, who just raised a brow at him blandly.

 

“No, no, it wasn't him. My own fault.” He blinked an apologetic nod at Saren, who shrugged with disconcern.

 

“He tripped while carrying a cargo container, dropped the container, landed with his face to the edge.” Garrus winced in sympathy.

 

“You still want to go to the bath house today? I could call and reschedule our reservation... You'd have to be really careful around that eye.”

 

“Hell yeah I do. It's only a few hours old, and it'll be good as new by this afternoon anyways. Besides, people find scars attractive.” He wasn't sure where the torin had gotten that impression, and just barely held back a quip about Krogan women that would've been awfully unkind to hear right before going out for a night. He had no intention of spoiling Nihlus' mood, he'd been talking about this little adventure all week in excitement.

 

“Alright then, let's go.”

 

The walk to the rapid-transit station only took a few minutes, though it was a bit of a drive to the location itself on another ward. The traffic wasn't particularly great either, but they made it. The skycar came to a stop on the transit's landing pad, and rest of the way was made on foot. Garrus noticed that Saren was dedicated about checking his oncoming lines of sight and escape vectors, even among the usually pleasant streets of the Citadel's nicest district short of the presidium. Conversely, Nihlus was the one to stop a passing pickpocket who'd gone for Saren's credit chit. The carmine plated Spectre had pulled the duct rat away before the tiny Asari ever even got in range to 'accidentally run into' the other agent, spinning the kid around and pointing off in another direction with a cheerful, “Good try kid. Remember not to watch their pockets, look at feet 'kay?”

 

The C-Sec Officer pretended the whole thing never happened. Hadn't Pallin said something about not working while not on duty? Why yes, yes he had. Well then.

 

Saren paid the whole thing no mind. Hard eyed black ops agents, sure, but they both had a few soft spots on their plates. Nihlus had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that children were his, but it seemed like Saren might be on the same page, morally if not emotionally. 

 

They took a sky bridge into another tower, and down along a glass and chrome walk way, coming upon the conspicuous Turian-style bath house with no warning. One minute it was modern architecture of metal and plastics, then they rounded a corner and suddenly everything in front of them was marble columns and hanging lamps, incense trays and gently rustling heraldry. Garrus chanced a glance at his companions to see if they were suitably impressed with his suggestion. He was rewarded with the sight of Nihlus' eyes widening in glee, and the barely perceptible increase in walking pace for the other ST&R agent.

 

“Ooooh shiiiit. These are some sweet digs, Blue.”

 

“Language, Nihlus. Try to refrain from embarrassing yourself in the establishment.”

 

“What he means to say is, 'We are going someplace nice. Do not talk to anyone, touch anything, and in particular do not sign anything.'” Garrus laughed at Nihlus' self-mockery. He really wasn't that bad, but it was an entertaining image, and his 'Saren' voice was entirely on the mark.

 

An elegantly dressed torin in white and lavender met them at the wide-open entry way, offering the traditional welcome for an expected guest.

 

Loramici intratar rekescatius, Ospiti ot Vakarian.” To which Saren offered a cordial nod, and Garrus responded formally.

 

Espectat utamici, tibitias agimetran.” He could hear Nihlus mumble the expected phrase after him uncertainly, and it occurred to him that the traditional phraseology and formal situation probably wasn't something the green eyed torin had a lot of experience with. It bubbled up as a vague hint of inexplicable guilt. Not to mention uncertainty as to why the decorated Spectre hadn't gone out to become acquainted with the finer aspects of life now that he was famous and entitled. He certainly deserved them...

 

The graceful host led them through a lobby of marble reliefs and jewel toned tapestries embroidered with the clan stories of the family that ran the bath house, down a long hall way brightly lit with actual flaming braziers that shone with white-gold light, and then into a richly appointed private room.

 

“May I provide anything else for you at this time, Ospiti?”

 

“No, I am provided all I could seek.”

 

“Very well. I leave you now, but do not hesitate to ask for your wishes. Be at peace in this safe place.”

 

“Thank you, we will.”

 

The host left them to their whims, and Garrus turned to the table that held three neatly laid out bathing robes. He began to disrobe, folding his clothing into a pile as he removed it. His thoughts returned to Nihlus' trepidation. He didn't think it was a matter of money for the Spectre, rather the lack of... insider knowledge to the various courts of the influential and high tiered. -... and didn't he feel like a asshole for thinking like that?- Surely the Spectre was a high tier, he must have begun to get invitations to events, establishments, dinner parties... How could an agent of the Galactic Council not be considered... then again, it wasn't an official Hierarchy position, so possibly Nihlus was still lower in the rankings?

 

Unnoticed, Saren glanced at the other grey-plated torin in askance as his crest blades caught the light when he shook his head in vain trying to loosen the tangle of thoughts. He was raised to act within the tier system, using it as a guide for behavior, but he personally had never had real respect for those higher up that hadn't proven it, nor felt that those below him deserved anything less than his best efforts on their behalf. The C-Sec Officer was perhaps the farthest from 'class-ist' that one could be. Fringe-world home colony or not, unofficial rank or not, he felt that it was deserved, no... expected for Nihlus' dedicated service in a dangerous position to a higher cause to be rewarded. It bothered him, and he wasn't one to let things go.

 

Garrus decided he would see to it that Nihlus had the opportunity to travel in higher circles, simple as that. The wise cracking, ever smiling Spectre brought out something protective in him. Maybe it had been the... thing... that had happened toward the end of the fight on Nodacrux. Nihlus had turned into someone else, flipped like a switch at the sight of the Salarian boy falling to the ground lifeless. Garrus would prefer that to never happen again.

 

"You know Blue, you look really different without the visor. I can see both your eyes, it's weird."

 

"My face is weird?"

 

"Yup."

 

"Yours is creepy." Nihlus stopped with his shirt half off and exclaimed at him, hands on hips.

 

"Wait, what? No it's not!"

 

"Yep, super creepy." The carmine plated Spectre threw his pants at the offensive officer, who casually tossed them away unbothered.

 

"No!"

 

"Okay, fine. Your face isn't creepy if mine isn't weird." His companions joined him in exchanging clothing for bath robes, collecting the complimentary grooming kits, and heading for the door at the far side of the spacious room.

 

" ...that's fair. I guess." Nihlus said 'guess' like they were Volus merchants and Garrus was robbing him of all profit on a trade. The sniper just winked at him, pleased that they were having a good time thus far. 

  

They exited the room into a massive indoor courtyard, filled with flowers in bloom and hanging lanterns. The large green space had been sculpted to have gently rolling hills and a variety of semi-private spots to lounge on low-sitting settee. A Tenianatus, the Master of the Garden, sat peacefully on the side of a fountain strumming a gentle melody on a stabata in counter point to the quiet rush of water from the plant-encircled fountains that dotted the landscape. Carefully laid canals no deeper then a handspan carried trickling water from font to font, the bottom of which were wavering patterns of brightly colored stones pressed together. The light caught the stones and the moving water, projecting a sparkling multi-colored wavering onto the white marble ceiling.

 

Nihlus let out a low whistle of appreciation, and Garrus smiled at him broadly.

 

“Okay, that's it, it's official. Blue gets to pick our vacation spots from now on. Hot d-” Saren covered his mouth with a hand.

 

Nihlus.” 

 

Nihlus pulled his hand away, and trilled a quiet apology.

 

"Sorry, sorry. I'll try to... I'll stop. Don't be mad?"

 

"I am not mad, I simply require you to... rise to the occasion." Saren gave his former protégé a stern look.

 

 

“I'll do my best, I've just... I haven't been to anywhere like this before.”

 

"... perhaps it was remiss of me not to include a training segment on social situations during our mentorship." Saren began to walk out into the sunlight. "Consider this to be remedial work. Step one is to not use any informal language, if you can help it. Stick to the closed dialect whenever possible."

 

Nihlus rumbled an overdone, serious purr of acknowledgement. The silvery Spectre let out a snort, good mood seemingly restored.

 

They crossed the lovingly crafted indoor gardens in a slow walk, nodding politely at other Turians they passed by who were sun bathing in the artificially Palaven-bright sunlight, half-clothed and sleepy. It was a place of peace after all, not even clans that had been mortal enemies in ancient times would kick up a fight in a bath house.

 

It was a place you could bare your throat.

 

The far wall from the guest rooms was convex, pushing out in a semi-circle into the gardens, and had a huge pair of doors at the entrance. The entryway was lavishly carved stone of whorling spins and flower like geometric explosions. It had been the only closed doorway they'd encountered since their room, the whole structure designed to be open and sprawling. They entered and the air began to grow heavier with humidity. A wide brazier lit corridor stretched out into a series of variously sized semi-private enclosures lined with hundreds of tiny pearl-like pebbles. Each had touch panels to engage a privacy screen or music if desired, and the insides had comfortable looking low-stools, ground level water controls, a drain, and flexible shower heads.

 

Garrus led them to a larger one, built to accommodate a group of six, figuring that Saren would want more space to himself, and that Nihlus was less likely to accidentally run into anything with the slightly reduced vision on his injured side. He didn't miss the older Spectre glancing longingly at a solo enclosure, or the younger one grinning with a suspicious sparkle in his eyes at the more cramped two person divots. He snorted quietly to himself, not wanting to know. Of course, Saren hit the privacy screen on their area right away.

 

It was quiet, but not an awkward quiet, as they each set up a spot for themselves, bath robes set aside, low stools acquired, and grooming kits opened. Nihlus immediately started opening each and every bottle to smell them all. Most were scentless, standard products of high quality, but a few of the many bottles and jars provided had smells that were flowery or spicy, fresh or citrusy.

 

“Mmmmmm, smell this one. I just want to eat it.” Garrus leaned over for a whiff, a pleasant smell of cloves and cardamom rose in the air. It was rather edible smelling. Saren breathed in from over in his personal space bubble, and nodded thoughtfully.

 

“It does smell appreciable, however I would advice not eating it. I believe there is a bit of Solanaceae in it.”

 

“Sola-what-now?” Garrus laughed, he knew this one.

 

Solanaceae, the Nightshade family of plants. Many of them are highly toxic... my sister was named after them actually. We always joke that she can't exchange the bite-style bond marks with her someday-mate because she'd poison them.” Nihlus raised a finger to make a point.

 

“Ahhh Nightshades! I do know them by that name. Actually, there is a super fun mix of Atropa Belladonna and Mandragora that has juuuuust enough punch to make someone do anything you say for a few hours before falling asleep and remembering nothing.”

 

That's your definition of super fun?” That was worrisome.

 

“I was being sarcastic, come on. Shooting people, dancing, and blowing things up are more my speed. That compound is incredibly helpful in Spectre work though. No muss, no murder, no fuss. Less torture for intel.” Shooting people, dancing, explosives. Well, that was closer to par for the course.

 

“You aren't allowed to use that on me, I just hope you know. My vengeance would be swift and terrible.” Nihlus smiled a secret, playful grin at him.

 

“That's the point, Blue. You wouldn't know I'd used it on you. I could have had my way with you on your C-Sec desk, and you'd neverrr knowww.” Garrus' subvocals rolled with mock horror as Nihlus' trilled that out in a sing-song voice. 

 

“You can be outright disturbing sometimes, you know that?” Bright laughter filled their little space as they went about rising off the dust and beginning to rub gritty salt scrubs into the nooks and crannies of plates and hide. 

 

“I'm just teasing. I've used the stuff, maybe, fifteen times. Not exactly something one does to their... uh... friends.” Garrus' subvocals came back with 'Friends only as long as you don't rape me.' in a teasing rumble. The reply of which was a bar of soft soap tossed at his head. It got him right in the fringe, sticking there impaled. He pulled at it, looking up at Nihlus in betrayal. The carmine plated Spectre fell off his low-stool laughing.

 

After an initial wash they each began their personal grooming rituals, though Nihlus took a few minutes to remember how to breathe.

Saren filed all twelve talons to a razor edge, taking the time to trim cuticles and rub in sealant along the cracks and splits that naturally occurred. He followed with a brief rasping of his crest in a side mirror, sharpening them just a hint, paying careful attention to his Valluvian horns and their long curve. The detective could tell that the younger Spectre was specifically not paying any attention to his former mentor's grooming choices, showing a determined attempt at politeness even though he'd used the same topic to tease and manipulate Saren's mild hint of vanity before.

 

Well, he really was trying.  

 

As for the clever red torin's bathing habits... he was less careful, mostly just buffing away uneven plate and adding sealant haphazardly to the most cracked or pitted edges. He did even out his mandible tips, as thankfully they'd grow back in their own time. The symmetry made him look a little less beat up. Nihlus ignored his talons entirely, opting to spend far more time messing around with the scented products. Garrus was fairly certain he'd gone through the entire jar of spicy salts that he'd liked, and dug around for his own, sliding it over to the humming figure. It tapped the dark brown hide of his heel, and he looked down, chirping joyfully and offering a wide smile in return. Damn that torin was attractive...

 

The sniper purposefully refocused on his bathing, telling himself not to eye up his companions, regardless of the fantastic shape they were in. Yet, he couldn't entirely help but catch a glance at Saren out of the corner of his eye; suddenly never being able to un-know that yes, the male was silver and grey everywhere. Unusual for a Turian... he berated himself for his inappropriate thoughts. It was not even socially acceptable to be so much as flirtatious in here until after bathing, even for bonded pairs. Garrus had no intent to be flirtatious at all... he realized that it was an excellent thing they were going out that night. He could really use some stress relief. It was probably why his hormones were being obnoxious.   

 

Nihlus had rinsed the last salt scrub away and was going for another pass on a particularly rough patch of hide, though he was using a fair bit more then was needed.

 

"You know you can keep the extras, right?" Nihlus had been just about to take another handful of the goop, hearing this however, he opted to take much less and re-close the lid, stuffing the jar into his collar like a thief might tuck away loot. Garrus turned away from the theatrics with a snort.

 

Since they were in no hurry, and Nihlus' pace was lackadaisical at best, Garrus took the time to neaten the line of his own fringe, but held back from taking the rasp to his more sensitive crest blades. He didn't particularly care if they were sharp, and they looked even enough. He didn't feel the need to mention that he hated the feel of the rasp on them, it left his nerves lightly buzzing in discomfort for hours. Leaving his talons alone for a cosmetologist to do, mostly out of sheer laziness and a little bit because they'd rub his hands and forearms while the sealing polymers dried.

 

His bathing rituals came to a sudden halt when his hand picked up the compound to remove his slightly faded and dinged markings. They were getting worn down, and it was a good opportunity to have them redone. He could do his familia notas himself in a pinch, but he was an artist with a sniper rifle not a paint brush, and preferred for them to look cleanly done. On the other hand, he'd never bathed with a barefaced Turian before, and Garrus didn't want to have them redone in front of Saren. It seemed... cruel?

 

“It is fine, Vakarian.” He looked up to see Saren still at the mirror, watching him. Did the Spectre miss anything?

 

“I didn't... I don't want to be rude. I... can't say I've ever...” He tried to fall back on the formal societal rules for an explanation, but couldn't find the right words. He did not want to say anything that remotely insinuated, even vaguely, that he didn't normally lower himself to bathe with barefaces, and would you please explain the appropriate procedure for such a thing? He swallowed and tried again, determined not to be... he respected Saren immensely... Suddenly the words came to him.

 

“I know I've said this before, but to reiterate, I respect you more then anyone else I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. Under no circumstances do I want it to seem like I think poorly or less of you because our social circumstances are so different. I want to get my notas touched up, but I won't do it if it offends you in any way. I would rather strip them now and repaint them when I got home, if that's the case.” An offer to walk from bathhouse to home, barefaced beside him. Not entirely inside the realm of acceptable behavior, but the most honest olive branch he could offer while still respecting his own clan to a permissible degree.

 

Saren went still in the reflection, a nearly invisible drop of his mandible height gave away his surprise at the words. Good, hopefully the Spectre believed his sincerity. A few heart beats passed as their eyes held in the mirror, then the electric gaze returned to dead center as rasping continued.

 

“It would be a shame to waste the opportunity to have them redone properly.”

 

“...alright. Thank you.”

 

It was quiet for a while after that.

 

Chapter Text

Saren was rather pleased with the establishment thus far. The internal thermostat was set to Palaven temperatures instead of the constantly chilly Citadel norm. The staff were polite. Privacy screens kept their activities private, he'd yet to find any spyware or bugs, and the architecture was... well he would hesitate to call himself an expert, but he did have a bit of a 'thing' for good aesthetics and structural design... the location and décor were appreciable.

 

Having come to an end of his desired grooming, The Spectre rose from his stool, indicating to his companions that he was finished. Nihlus, having re-groomed about four times in order to mess with the bathing products, was definitely done as well. Garrus had been patiently dripping dry until they were ready.

 

All done, they left the pearl-stone enclave behind and followed along the corridor of grooming rooms, and there were many. At the end, a tarin was waiting behind a desk beside another wide-open entry way that lead into the bathing pools. A unobtrusive scanner ran over them, likely populating her screen with their booking details.

 

Faledin regil, Mr. Vakarian, Mr... and guests. How has your experience been with us thus far?” Saren thought it was rather comical that the bath house assumed it could scan Spectres with any success using such a device. Then again, the privacy modules in his chest and limbs utterly baffled almost every scanner on the public market. He gave her credit for smoothly moving on.

 

“It's been wonderful, thank you.” He allowed Vakarian to do the talking since he was able, willing, and apt.

 

“I'm so glad to hear that. Here is the passkey for your private room, it can be accessed via the stair way on the right hand side after you walk in. Are there any additional services I can arrange for you today?”

 

“Yes, I'd like to arrange for my talons to be done, and Familia Notas application.”

 

“Of course. I have a note on your file that you prefer artist Helioteras. He is currently in session, would you like to book his next available appointment, or would another artist be preferable?”

 

“I'll wait for him to be available, no need to rush. We aren't in a hurry today.”

 

“Very good, I'll arrange that for you. Do you have a preference for your talon services?”

 

“Anyone who does a really good hand massage?” The tarin laughed like dual-toned wind chimes. It was likely a request she heard often.

 

“Estea is my personal favorite, would she work for you?”

 

“Perfect. Can you add an order for fragrutis umeshu for three?”

 

“Of course.”

 

She turned to the next farthest from the desk, trying to accommodate normal tier order even though she had no clue who they were, and they were standing in no particular arrangement. It happened to be Nihlus. Saren found himself entertained and pleased that she was trying so hard to be polite. It was to her credit.

 

“What about you sir?” Nihlus looked like a deer in the head lights. He had been visibly trying to behave, and Saren took pity on him.

 

“Both he and I need no services, but would care for a pitcher of Cisera.”

 

“Certainly. I'll have those brought up to you. Is there anything else I can offer you Ospiti?”

 

Saren shook his head negatively.

 

“Well then, please enjoy your time here, and do not hesitate to ask for your wishes if there is anything else I can do for you.”

 

They passed her by and went through to the pools. The main room was a study of marble in various states of cutting. Some areas, such as the enterance to the first and largest bath, were a smoothly cut slab that slowly descended at a tilt into deeper water. Other chunks of marble were left raw, like the edges of a rock quarry, nearly arranged and interspersed with native Palaven plant life. The largest pool took up a major portion of the room, being at ground level and descending down to a meter and a half or so with a shelf cut into the sides at sitting level. The stone cut bench was smattered with adults, lounging against the pool's sides.

 

To the far left and right were wandering stair cases cut into the marble that led to a second tier walk way that circled the room, even above the door way, and led to smaller pools.

 

Saren glanced causally around as they took the stairs, enjoying the clean aesthetics that were left-right symmetrical, but were intermingled with chunks of more organic design, both raw boulders and plants. A thin reed with feathery leaves that grew up from the base garnished the edges of many pools attractively, wavering in the rising heat. The second tier's pools were clearly the most popular, having a greater variety of depth to accommodate child safe water depths, and subsequent splashing of said children. Though even the younglings playing were relatively quiet and polite, making games of staying underwater the longest, or making the largest bubble stream from their noses. The parents watched and laughed at their antics while drinking and talking among themselves.

 

The room's cavernous ceiling echoed with the sounds of Turian people relaxing, enjoying themselves in the artificial hot springs.

 

Saren was inordinately relieved they were all too distracted or polite to stare at his exotic facial structure, battle scars, or implants. Further, Vakarian was temporarily barefaced beside him, but even then no one seemed to care, or pay attention to it. If this kept up, he did not think he would ever visit a different bath house again. He had never had such a blasé reaction before. His aural augments were not even picking up veiled whispers about him. It was... very nice. A nice change.

 

Was it this place? Bathing with companions? Particularly unconcerned patrons at the time? Perhaps further research was needed.

 

A return trip in the future may be necessary.

 

Their trio turned a corner after finishing the walk up the stairs and around the circle, Garrus leading them down a short hallway toward private rooms. Swiping the keycard, he let them in. The room behind the door was suitably impressive. A miniature version of the décor outside surrounded a massive stone tub with a variety of seating levels cut into the marble sides for different ages and heights. Trailing vines crept up the walls near the corners, and the back wall was a raw stone border to a sizable fish tank with colorful dextro-fish swimming about inside. There was enough room around the pool to pace if one wished to, and enough room inside to fit at least six Elcor. It was perfect.

 

Saren still ran a scan for bugs, contagions, and various other things out of curiosity. He merely found a VI that listened in for key words that would indicate a need for aid or request for services, it's connected storage device not saving any conversations. 'No spying devices at all?' He was almost disappointed, this was such an excellent spot for gathering intelligence...

 

No matter. He supposed it was to the establishment's good name that credit went for a lack of such devices. Perhaps they swept the rooms prior to use? Saren found himself caring significantly less as he lowered into the pool's molten heat. Nihlus let out a long low groan of wild abandon at the feeling, of course sounding ridiculously sexual about it. Vakarian at least had merely dissolved into an even hum with only a mild warbling of relief in it as he sunk right down in the deepest part, the water coming over his head. His breath made bubbles that surfaced along the sides of his fringe as it escaped from the gap between mandible and upper jaw.

 

Saren allowed himself a long, pleased sigh.

 

For a little while they just melted, the heat making them sleepy and relaxed. Turians really were warm climate creatures.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

A few moments into their pleasant soak, the door chimed. Nihlus pushed down the tiny voice in his head that said, 'if they are here to tell you to leave you should just kill them and go back to cooking yourself'. It hadn't been difficult to suppress however, as even his sometimes psychotic subconscious felt like wet tissue paper in the heated mineral water.

 

Thankfully, it was just a staff member come by with drinks, who didn't enter until Blue called out permission. Everyone was so nice here... he chastised himself for thinking about killing anyone in this place. Not only did he know it was very bad manners to start a fight in bath house, -even in the much lower quality ones he'd been to as a kid-, but also because they were all so nice. He hadn't had to glare down anyone for talking shit about Saren either, and that was the norm when people saw him. Even when the Spectres were just walking down the street, minding their own business.

 

'This is all just so... nice.'

 

Nihlus lamented the death of his articulacy as he pulled himself out of a sprawl and slow-walked through the water, closer to these drinks to be had... He needn't have bothered however, as Garrus took the trays from the torin and set them down right on the water after thanking him. The trays floated, little mass effect generators on the sides to stabilize them in case of waves. They were lit up by a soft blue glow from LEDs on the underside that made flickers against the pool's bottom.

 

'So neat.'

 

Yup, it was official. His brain was cooked, and four letter words were as complicated as he could get for the moment. He decided to make it worse by accepting the tiny cup of liquor Blue held out in offer. Might as well make a day of it, that was the point of all this after all, right? Mmmm... the syrupy alcohol was spicy, a little bitter, a little sweet, and strong as shit. Oh, that was gooooood.

 

The door chimed again, and a this time a drop dead gorgeous tarin wrapped in a flowy silken bathrobe the color the sea of entered as well. Her plates were a mellow red behind mint-green markings and yellow eyes. She had a small pile of towels in one arm and a large carrying case in the other.

 

'Ahah, one of the service staff. Mmmm, those hips... Speaking of four letter words...'

 

“Mr. Vakarian?” She inquired to the room at large, turning to Garrus when he rose a hand to wave. “Hello, I'm Estea Oraka, I'll be doing your talons today. Do you have any injuries or preferences I should know about before I start?”

 

“Not really, m'am. Just neaten them up if you would, I haven't been by in a long time and they're sort of a mess. Sorry about that.” Nihlus snorted, of course he would apologize for something like that. Blue was a new and previously undiscovered level of niceness. He supposed it wasn't a surprise that his suggestion of day trip had been a place for nice people, run by nice people. He took another sip of umeshu.

 

“No worries, sir. I'll have them in good shape soon.”

 

The tarin sat down on the pool side with her legs in the water, laid a towel on her lap, and pulled the sniper's hand onto it. She proceeded to unhurriedly clean, trim, reshape, and seal his talons into fairly sharp and well groomed lines using the largest variety of oddments and tools from her carrying case. As the outer coat of sealant settled, she rubbed some sort of oil into the hide of his hand and arm, before removing the oil with a cleaner. She moved to the other side and repeated it on the other hand. Her subject was a boneless pile of happy Vakarian, letting Estea lift and reposition him like a ragdoll as needed.

 

Without a word, the cosmetologist stood and slipped off her robe before settling into the water, and pulling out her own little set of flotation devices, one for her basic tools, the other Garrus obligingly lifted a foot onto. She dried his leg back to the water line and repeated her talon magic and massage. Nihlus finished off his drink and poured another, looking over at their third number to find Saren leaned back into the pool side with arms crossed. He was watching the proceedings with a strangely liquid gaze that made Nihlus prick his tongue against sharp teeth purposefully. He was absolutely not going to let his plates loosen right now. It was a good thing he was a pro-hand at self denial and control.

 

Still, the carmine plated Spectre refilled Saren's Cisera cider, and brought a cup of liquor along side it. He set them down by the torin's shoulder without a word, and moved back to his seat. He watched surreptitiously to see if his fellow Spectre would accept the alcoholic drink, something only indulged in on rare occasion. Nihlus thought for a moment about that, coming up with a scant three times since they'd known each other during which his favorite grumpy asshole had chilled out enough to drink for personal enjoyment, not including meetings with informants and what-not on Spectre business. They didn't count, he determined, because Saren had likely taken preemptive medication to avoid so much as slight tipsiness on a mission.

 

As the tarin was finishing up on the second foot, the door chimed again, and after permission in walked another staff member. He was tiny, shorter then Saren even, charcoal plates painted with banded red markings and pale orange eyes. Small, and if not handsome, then certainly striking. Garrus smiled at him and waved as Estea got out and began to dry off. He smiled back but couldn't wave, both hands full of supplies.

 

“Hello Garrus. How have you been?” The cosmetologist raised a brow at the informal greeting, but shrugged it off and gathered her things, nodding politely before leaving.

 

“I'm doing... perfect. Life has been good to me lately. Interesting. You?” The torin, likely the artist Helioteras come to redo the sniper's Familia Notas, sat down behind him, letting feet dangle in the water and settling a shaped cushion between his legs. Garrus dropped his head back onto it and got comfortable with the angle as a briefcase of artist supplies was opened to the side, and it's internal shelves stretched out to provide easy access to countless bits and bobbles.

 

“I'm glad to hear that. I've been well myself, though rather busy.”

 

“So I heard. I hope I'm not adding to the pile?” The darker torin laughed.

 

“Oh you are, but you're a welcome addition to it. Now if only you'd remember to strip the color from around your nose with more care...”

 

“Did I miss some again?”

 

“You did.”

 

“Sorry, Lio.”

 

“It's alright.” said the artist with an absent stroke of silvery brow as he cleaned out the deeper topography of Garrus' face with care. Nihlus narrowed his eyes at that. Touching someone's face was really personal, and granted a lot of it was going to happen as Blue got his marks redone... but that stroke had been not-quite-professional. He eyed the Notas artist suspiciously.

 

“Let's see... if I remember correctly, you have palaveni style marks, yes? With the secondary flare on the mandible for the Uni wars?”

 

“Yeah. The extra set on my cheeks too, for the rebellions. I also have the broad strip over the nose from my mom's side, with the dash for hastatim service.”

 

Nihlus blinked rapidly trying to process that. He knew that markings were originally based strictly on colony, as a historical update to the cities of different tribes, but had moved to a combination of colony and family history as galactic travel made moving about so simple and common. The oldest clans especially kept the markings of their oldest recorded homeworld, with individual and historical choice additions to personalize it, but... hot damn.

 

Blue's family had fought in the Reunificiation Wars, obviously on the winning side, the Krogan Rebellions, given some sort of major sacrifice to the Hierarchy as a whole, and he'd personally served in a hastatim squad. Spirits, fuck... he knew the sniper was from a prestigious family, but he hadn't know the torin was quite so... so totally and completely out of his social weight class. The odds of seducing him into bed dropped to a sad, small number. Nihlus estimated maybe three percent?

 

He bit back a sigh, and watched the striking artist begin to mix paint colors. Helioteras dumped tiny spoonfuls of colored powder from different jars into a central bowl, mixing it into a creamy base and modifying the tone until Garrus agreed it was correct. He hadn't needed many corrections, Nihlus thought grumpily, he must have done Blue's face a few times before.

 

The artist began to paint in the outline with loving care, and Nihlus looked away to refill his drink. He went to check Saren's as well, who was now eyes-closed and drooping. Clearly the hot springs had been the best idea ever, as Nihlus cheered up a bit to see that both his drinks were gone. He topped them off again with an innocent look on his face, and returned to his seat with a tight grin forced into a vapid smile.

 

'You may have your hands all over his face right now, you artsy foppish asshole, but he's going out tonight with meee~~~'

 

Nihlus was perhaps not the nicest person.

 

Chapter Text

His task complete the Notas artist packed up his things, and gently lifted Garrus' head away to retrieve the cushion. That it involved that little shit's hand along the back of a tawny scalp nearly drew a growl out of the pretending-to-be-busily-relaxing Spectre. He managed to catch it in time as he watched for further offences from a deceptively lazy sprawl.

 

“Stay still for a while as the last coating sets, alright?"

 

“Sure thing Lio, and I promise not to wait so long to refresh the colors next time. I might even remember to clean around my nose.” Helioteras sighed with a teasing rumble.

 

“I somehow doubt that. I would stay and chat, but I have to move on today...”

 

“More appointments?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Next time then.” The sniper returned with a lazy wave.

 

“Of course, Garrus. Take care.”

 

A little snarky version of Nihlus inside his own head pantomimed the effeminate, wispy tone as he said 'Of course, Garrus.', with accompanying coquettish giggling into hand and swooning subvocals in the most mocking tones possible. He didn't trust that torin's manners, they were too... too... something. He was a sneak, and maybe it takes one to know one, but Nihlus was at least sure his own intentions were... okay, not 'pure' exactly, but well meant. He had Blue's best interests at heart.

 

Surely staying alive, getting laid, killing criminals, and having fun were the very best of best interests?

 

His internal denigration of the artist's character was interrupted by a polite, mumbled request for more drink from Saren. A much more pleasant thing to focus on, so he did.

 

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

At some point, an indeterminate amount of time later, Saren sat up straight for the first time in what must have been hours. The drinks were all long gone, and the three of them were par-boiled to perfection. Nihlus felt as if getting up was the last thing he wanted to do, short of rough sex with an Elcor.

 

'No wonder we Turians drown instead of swim. With the higher surface temperature on Palaven, our ancestors probably turned into useless piles of plate anytime someone fell into a pool of water.'

 

He didn't care to try and think out the logistics of that theoretically ridiculous premise, it made enough sense in his head. Speaking of his head, the other Spectre was prodding him in the side of the fringe with his heel. Ohhh yeah. He was supposed to be moving. He looked up at the other torin plaintively, who just stared back with mild eyes. Even their electric glow was more mellow then usual.

 

“Up Nihlus. Or do you not want to eat?” Wait, wait, what was this about food?

 

“Food?” Yeah, one word answers were about all he could do.

 

“Yeess. Did you not hear Vakarian just speak? It is approaching dinner time, and a meal is provided as part of the visit. If you are not coming, I will be glad to take care of your portion.” He didn't doubt it. Biotics could eat like Krogan, and Saren was no exception. He wondered in passing how horrible the calorie requirements were for Krogan biotics.

 

He shook away the heat-and-napping induced delirium and got out of the pool. Slowly. A towel was draped over his shoulders and another one pressed into his hands. He'd mentioned that Blue was just the nicest torin ever, hadn't he?

 

'Mmmm fluffy towel.' Nihlus shoved his face into it and tried to gather the fucks needed to move.

 

He managed to get going before more physical abuse was handed out, wrapping back up into the bath robe and dropping the towels down a laundry chute by the door. Their sniper lead the group back out, all the way to the private room, where they found a meal just being laid out for them at a small square dining table.

 

'Damn, these people have their timing down...' He thought it might be magic, then realized it was probably some signal from the tarin at the desk... then decided that wasn't as cool, and that it was definitely mystical in nature. He also thought he might be high on steam and mildly drunk.

 

Garrus opened a window into the courtyard, and they listened to the Tenianatus perform as the food disappeared rapidly. It wasn't long before they were sprawled out in the seating area, falling away into truly epic food comas, though Saren had stuck a handful of devices by the doors and window first. Garrus expressed hope that they were just detection alarms and not... explosive or anything. Nihlus maintained that Blue was adorable before passing out.

 

Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Saren came to a few hours later feeling incredibly well. For someone who ran on stress hormone levels in his day-to-day that would give others a cardiac event, being this relaxed was a suffusive feeling of wellness he had not known in many a year. His shock traps had not been tripped by careless interlopers either, so he reclaimed them and nudged Nihlus and Vakarian awake. Nihlus whined like a five year old fledgling.

 

“Wake. Your other option is what I did after the Cariose mission.”

 

“I'm up! 'mmup! Shit, how can you have any grouchy left? Do you keep spare fuel for it in your left leg or something...”

 

“Nihlus, L-”

 

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Language. I'm getting up, gimme a minute.” Having reattained various levels of consciousness, they went to get dressed. Saren first scanned their clothing for bugs.

 

“Well, I supposed it can't hurt...” The officer said with passive amusement.

 

“He seems crazy, but really our job's given him pretty justified paranoia. I'd scan mine too if it were just me here. We did leave our clothing unattended.”

 

“I- suppose that's fair enough. I'll be upset if there is anything in them though.”

 

“You may rest easy then, Vakarian. They show no sign of tampering.”

 

“Good.”

 

Nihlus cleared his throat as they exited the room fully clothed and turned toward the entrance. “So uh, Blue... how do we pay for this?”

 

“I took care of it, don't worry about it.”

 

“Wait seriously? This had to be super expensive.”

 

“Would you like me to tell you about this amazing new gun I got? It's called an M7 Lancer...”

 

“Oh spirits, no, you are not allowed to tell me about that gun anymore. In fact, you aren't allowed to talk about it for the rest of the night either.”

 

“That seems unnecessary. What if I want to use it as a conversation topic later on?”

 

“Not if you want to score an Asari, you won't.”

 

“I generally go for other Turians...”

 

“Oh hoho! Blue isn't into softskins? Is this speciesism from a police officer?”

 

“Personal dating preference, you brat. I have no idea how to even complete the act with an Asari.”

 

“It involves brain sex.”

 

“Yeah... no thanks.”

 

“What a shame. Well I think I'll see if I can't round up a Salarian.”

 

“... okay, that's impossible, even for a Spectre.”

 

“Not for mee~~”

 

“Even for you.”

 

“I've done it before.”

 

“Why don't I believe you?”

 

“Psssht. Watch and learn officer, watch and learn.”

 

The lobby's host offered them the formal goodbyes and invitations to return, even to Saren. The trio left the building and returned to the rapid-transit terminal, where Nihlus hit the keysequence for Purgatory. The ride was long, taking them quite a while to get from Bachjret Ward to the Presidium, but at least the traffic was lighter then it had been earlier.

 

“So Saren, how did the turn-over go with the Matriarch yesterday?”

 

“Rather well. The nais was pleased to have the offspring returned, and the would-be pirate had no commentary to offer.”

 

“What he means to say is that the little shit was so damn terrified of him that the brat didn't manage to so much as look up during the conversation. The Matriarch handed over the paperwork for the ship's registry, and a generous 'donation' too. I'm faiiiirly certain Saren is just going to turn around and spend it on the Daedalus.”

 

“No, actually. I have investment plans.”

 

“Wait, what, really?”

 

“I intend to buy into Binary Helix, so that I might control a company share large enough to encourage research in the forums of my preference.”

 

“What happened to upgrading your shields?”

 

“The new power draw from the main canon during combat is much lower then before. I am able to overclock the existing shields sufficiently with the extra energy at hand.”

 

Nihlus turned to Garrus with an accusing look but joking subvocals. “You enabler.”

 

The C-Sec Officer just laughed, unabashed.

 

They arrived at Purgatory to the sound of thudding bass and half-yelled background chatter, and took up a table by the third level's dance floor. Saren leaned back into the semi-circle booth with a sigh as Nihlus acquired them drinks. The music was not his preference, but it was tolerable at least. The silvery Spectre had dealt with much worse when gathering intel in the seedier parts of the galaxy. He had agreed to come in exchange for not having to clean the disgusting entrails of Vorcha out of the cargo bay of his new secondary ship though, and he was a torin of his word. Usually.

 

The larger, more poorly outfitted spacecraft was a bad fit for a Spectre, and currently sat in a long term docking space. He was considering further how to make the most of it as a resource when Nihlus returned.

 

“And the purple drink with the fruit chunks for the lovely Officer, aaaand a double brandy on ice for the handsome Spectre, and one of each for me.” Vakarian chuckled at Nihlus' charming delivery, and Saren took a pull of his brandy. The implants on his tongue reporting it's quality and lack of poisons to his optical HUD. He let it slide down his throat with another sigh.

 

“How did you even order this for me if you didn't know the name?”

 

“I just described it to the bartender. What is it, by the way?”

 

“It's called a Dextro Heat Sink.”

 

“Ohh! Is that why the fruit chunks are red?”

 

“Probably so. I just drink it for the taste.”

 

“Girlyyy~~~”

 

“You got one too.”

 

“Yes, well, I have my metro moments. Do you see these legs?” Suddenly Nihlus spun and lifted a leg into Vakarian's lap. “They're like a license that entitles me to be girly if the mood hits.” The sniper clasped a hand on the red-brown ankle in his lap and snorted with laughter at the younger Spectre's over-the-top self aggrandizement.

 

His self-esteem sometimes was a thing to behold in it's hubris. Not that Saren thought his protégé was... unattractive. Certainly ridiculous, however.

 

A few drinks in and said ridiculous Spectre made for the dance floor, a large rectangular swathe of underlit panels that was uncrowded but had plenty of other dancers. He went straight for a blue toned Salarian on the side closest to them, casually coming up along side the man with a gentle brush of bare talon on arm, something between a warning of approach and a greeting. They danced for a while, getting closer as time passed. Vakarian was looking on with an amused smile, his head tilted to the side as he watched. Studying Nihlus' technique? Perhaps.

 

Saren tried to listen in to what was being said, but it was too far away for him to hear what sweet-nothings were being whispered into the side of a light-blue speckled horn base. Especially not over the music.

 

Nihlus swept the back of a hand down a long blue neck, leaning in to kiss. The Salarian was amenable to this, and the two of them made out on the dance floor, entirely ignored by the other patrons.

 

“How... did he even?”

 

“Mystery of the universe.” Saren deadpanned.

 

“They're kissing.”

 

“Indeed.”

 

“He's Turian!”

 

“Correct.”

 

“Where did he even learn to- How is the Salarian not terrified of his teeth? I have to be careful not to show mine at work, even just making the wrong facial expression, or I send witnesses and colleagues running. From talking.”

 

“That sounds accurate to my experience as well.”

 

“They're still...”

 

“Vakarian, might I advise you attempt to seek your own partner if such things interest you so?”

 

“It isn't my turn yet.”

 

“...your turn?”

 

“Mhmmm. He has to get shot down first before I can try.”

 

“....is that why you are sitting here watching? You are waiting for him to finish. Like a round in a game?” The sniper smiled at him and swirled his drink.

 

“I take it you... didn't much play this game during your civil service?”

 

“It is actually a game?”

 

“Yeah. I don't think it has an official name or anything, but... shore leave is for letting off steam. When a huge group hits the local bars? You can't all try and flirt with the tarin with the nicest waist at once. So.... take turns.”

 

“I see. No, my experience was somewhat different.” Saren waited for the inevitable question of 'So how was life in the cabals?' so he could explain he'd never gone, and then Vakarian could get over chastising him for hiding his ability. It was a familiar dance...

 

“Fair enough, I admit it probably wasn't the most healthy cycle of day to day existence. A lot of people caught things living so loosely. Not that I was much better, but I also kept up on my health checks.”

 

“...no existential dread of needles or medbays?”

 

“Not after the gene augs I went through, no.”

 

“I had noticed...” Saren winced at himself. Here was Vakarian not prying too much, and instead his curiosity got the better of him and he was the one prying.

 

“That I'm tall and built? It's not exactly something easily hidden. This sort of shape takes work to maintain, sure, but I wouldn't be able to achieve it without the in utero genemods and augments that my clan paid for. The process wasn't fun... but it's paid off many times over.”

 

“In C-Sec?”

 

“Not... with them so much. Before...”

 

“With the hastatim?” The officer nodded, and Saren forced himself not to inquire further. Nihlus had disappeared in the crowd as they spoke, but he wove back through now, coming to the table. He held up his Omni-tool, to show them his success. In the contacts list an extra-net address entry was brought up, the picture attached was him and the Salarian, shirtless in a corridor, and attached at the mouth.

 

Garrus began slow clapping.

 

Nihlus bowed.

 

“Thank you, thank you. All proceeds go to the Nihlus Kyrik for Primarch campaign fund, thank you again, I'll be here all night.”

 

“Consider the next round of drinks to be my donation.” Called the sniper going to get just that. Upon his return he began scoping the crowd for anyone of interest. Nihlus added his two credits while causally lounging against the other torin's shoulder.

 

“What about that tall one over there?”

 

“Nah, his fringe is really short. I don't mind that in a female, but it... wow, this sounds shallow... it sort of puts me off in a male.”

 

“Okay, how about.... that one?”

 

“That's an Asari.”

 

“Speciesism is wrong, Mr Vakarian.”

 

“Shush.”

 

“Ooo, over there, look look.” Nihlus pointed out a tarin with lovely markings that contrasted her plates.”

 

“That... might be a winner.”

 

It was not a winner. The sniper was back at the table in under twenty minutes, nothing to show for it. Saren took in a long draw of air, scenting... both a male and a female on him?

 

“You're back already?”

 

“Oh yes. I am back. I also need another drink, stat.” Saren stood, nodding to indicate this round was on him. He returned just in time to hear the end of the story.

 

“So then she says, 'I only sleep with people that are willing to let my mate take them at the same time. I want that deeper connection.', and I mean, not that I'm against group ventures, but then her mate comes up from behind me, and leans in saying something about bondage rope and domination.”

 

The carmine plated Spectre was laughing so hard he was unable to breathe properly. “Then he puts teeth, his teeth, against the back of my neck like I was an old friend who trusted him, and she starts crowding me, pinning me between them. So I push forward, taking her with me, and spin around to swap places. Then I left.” Vakarian coughed, slightly abashed. Nihlus managed to wheeze out a reply between inhales.

 

“Just.. walked... away? Oh spirits that's amazing. You're... so bad... at thiiiiis!” The officer just lowered his head to the table top, as Nihlus howled his amusement. Saren set a fresh drink in front of him.

 

“I take it you are not into that particular subculture, Vakarian?” Said officer just looked up at him in mild horror.

 

“Uhh... I mean... no offense if you are... I just am not... I mean I haven't ever tried...” Saren snorted, as the still-snickering Spectre leaned in to nab his new drink.

 

“No Blue, didn't you know? Saren is a-sexual. Every hundred years, on a moonless night, one silver form goes to sleep, and in the morning two emerge from the nest. Identical.” He thumped Nihlus in the side of the head for his idiocy.

 

“Though I have participated in such things in the course of my duties, I cannot say it is particularly interesting or disinteresting. I am neutral on the matter.”

 

“Wait, hold on... you two have had... for Spectre business?” Saren raised a brow at him.

 

“Sometimes one must use more... obscure tools to acquire the trust of certain individuals as needed. If neither force, stealth, nor commodity work... we have gotten creative.” Nihlus had calmed down, but was still smirking as he added to the conversation.

 

“I know it sounds bad Blue, but I've seen that kind of thing save lives. Lots of lives. In some really messed up and convoluted ways sure, and not every Spectre does it either. It's not a requirement or anything fucked up like that. Saren and I are just... particularly determined to get the job done.” Vakarian blew out a gust of breath, expelling the topic with his final opinion on the matter.

 

“I can't say I wouldn't do what needed to be done if the reward was justice served. I'm just glad I haven't had to... right well. Yes.” Thus, the awkward sniper tossed back more of his drink, and stood.

 

“Now, I'm going to go try again. Hopefully with someone less kinky.”

 

“Psssssht, it's totally my turn!”

 

“No way, Nihlus. That one was so bad, I'm calling mulligan.”

 

“Hahaha, fair enough!”

 

The mulligan also did not help.

 

Vakarian returned to the table looking traumatized and trailing not one, but two Asari. Saren watched his protégé flirt them into the ground and redirect them off with flawless smooth talking.

 

“ ...thank you.” Nihlus just smiled back, tossed the rest of his drink down, and stood.

 

“You're welcome, but! ...it's my turn again. That would be Kyrik 1, and Vakarian 0 by the way.” The silver-grey officer sighed into his cups and waved him off.

 

Saren watched Nihlus look for another challenge. The younger Spectre could likely have anyone he wanted, so of course he had to search out the most difficult ones. Their game went on for two more rounds, during which Nihlus teased and tormented both a thin boned torin with an especially long crest, and a pair of Quarian girls who were apparently twins. The C-Sec Officer managed to attract yet another Asari, a Human, and a Drell. Though each were aesthetically sufficient, it seemed they had not caught his interest, and he returned to the table empty handed.

 

Nihlus stopped by again to declare his points, buy them all drinks again, and whisked himself back off to mingle. Saren watched him scope out the crowd like a thief would case an art gallery.

 

Another sigh from the other side of the booth brought his attention back to the table, and the mildly forlorn torin who was not even looking out to the dance floor for future prospects. Saren narrowed his eyes, consideringly.

 

“You have given up?”

 

“What? Oh... I think it might just not be my night. To be honest... the second round I just went out to dance, I didn't even mean to bring back those Asari.” Vakarian's gaze dropped back to the table. He appeared to be... distraught that he attracted non essential companions. Or perhaps it was the species? Saren remembered something about the sniper mentioning singular attraction to other Turians.

 

Problematic, apperantly.

 

He caught sight of Nihlus slipping into a small booth with a privacy screen active, an Asari leading him by the hand, all giggles.

 

The silver-grey Spectre looked back over at the Officer, somewhat disgruntled with the situation. He'd provided a day of uncommonly good distraction after taking time off from his career to assist them on a mission. The sniper had gone to a fair bit of effort on their behalf. Saren was not pleased that the torin's night was unsatisfactory. He wished to simply dance with one of his own kind?

 

Very well. He could provide that favor.

 

The Spectre rose and walked around the table edge. “Vakarian, follow me.” The sniper looked up confused, but followed without question. They came to a halt in an open space on the dance floor, he turned around and stepped in close. Icy blue eyes blinked at him, startled, as he began to dance in a light sway to the music's beat.

 

“You said you wished to dance, and did not intend to gather a companion. I will ward off newcomers. Dance.” The torin slowly smiled at him, a handsome spread of mandibles, and began to dance. Not ten minutes later a tussled Nihlus came out of the crowd from behind Saren and added himself to the equation.

 

“Well, well. Now this is unexpected! How did you manage to talk him into letting loose here? He hates dancing to non-classica-OW. Ow ow ow. That was my kidney, damnit.” Nihlus' tall form leaned over and nipped at Saren's shoulder in retribution, only earning himself another elbow jab. The carmine plated Spectre grunted and set his chin on his former mentor's collar, with a roll of exasperated subvocals.

 

“You see how violent he is?”

 

“I do, yet he's also dancing with me in close quarters, appearantly against his normal MO, so I think I'll play it safe and not antagonize him.”

 

“Borinnng~~.” Vakarian grinned at Nihlus' sing song tone, continuing to roll his hips in time with the bass. Saren began a low growl at Nihlus' disconcern for personal space, and the green eyed menace nuzzled the line of his spine before pulling away and dancing beside them instead.

 

“Have you had your fill of intercourse yet, Nihlus? The hour is getting late.”

 

“Pffft. No, Spectre-of-responsibile-bedtimes. I haven't slept with anyone yet, just played around. Though I suppose it is getting- oh shit, it's three hours into the night cycle. When did that happen?”

 

“Just now?” Tried Vakarian sarcastically.

 

Nihlus just gave off the longest sigh, and smoothly moved off the dance floor.

 

The night of wasting time, over indulging, and non-productivity was over, much to Spectre Arterius' relief.

 

Chapter Text

Hanging upside down in a maintenance shaft, Nihlus Kyrik found himself really damn bored. The system mainframe access panel in front of him was downloading into a secondary Omni-tool on his wrist via a tiny cable, built for storage and not function. He'd cracked the security with a cute little back door solution, but the transfer speed was slow as shit. So he was just sort of hanging there, suspended from the ceiling by a razor wire, bored out of his ever loving mind as the mainframe's data was copied at a snail's pace.

 

He couldn't play Galaxy of Fantasy, since accessing the extranet here would leave a really suspicious gps marker if anyone was looking. No extra-net blocked out a lot of his usual amusements.

 

Listening to music seemed like a stupid thing to do while performing corporate espionage for the Council, considering that not hearing something coming up on him could be bad. He was still tempted.

 

The shaft itself was a hundred meters of cables, air ducts, and access panels lit only by dull red emergency lighting. Occasionally, fist-sized automatons crawled by like robotic spiders, performing maintenance requests for the VI that managed the building's systems. Hence, the whole hanging-from-the-ceiling thing.

 

The corridor was both dull and creepy at the same time. There was certainly nothing amusing to look at.

 

Boredom won out, and he turned on music from his 'tool into his aural implants, turned down fairly low. Just enough for a beat and some vocals to break the monotony. He checked the transfer progress, groaning his suffering to the world inside his helmet at the 21% completion.

 

Spirits he was going to die of boredom if this kept up. No really. Why had he even picked this job up off the Spectre terminals? He could've left it for someone else. Hindsight, 20/20 and all that.

 

'Welp... desperate times, desperate measures.' 

 

The next two hours he would never share with another soul... particularly Saren. They consisted of him hacking the VI and changing everyone's drink preferences for the next company picnic, changing the next restocking shipment for the break room include a crate of beer, and adding a subroutine to the company email system that would insert inappropriate emoticons after select words. He was particularly proud of adding a winky face after every iteration of 'mass', and a shocked face after 'work'.

 

Their emails would read something like, 'We need to do more work D: on the ratios. The disproportionate amount of mass ;) on the casing will cause stress over time.'.

 

Harmful? Nah. Entertaining? He thought so. Nihlus even made it so that the easily discovered change appeared to be a virus gotten from a stray malware filled email, and not from an internal security issue. He checked the transfer rate again. Fuuuuck 67%. Fuuuuuuck. SO BORED.

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

In an odd moment of quantum entanglement between lives, Saren Arterius also found himself bored. If Nihlus handled his boredom poorly with unprofessional antics, then his former mentor handled it like a controlled train wreck.

 

He was stuck, due to a series of unfortunate events, inside a sewer tunnel and unable to move so much as ten centimeters or he would either be visible or trip security. The non-standard laser grid behind him in the pungently smelling corridor had only been able to be deactivated for a few moments. Long enough for him to make it past and press into a nook, unseen.

 

Now, the waiting game.

 

Aphias Telrio was to be killed by order of the Citadel Council for the murder of seven agents of the state, over a hundred civilians, and the theft of classified intelligence.

 

Telrio was not here... yet.

 

He would not be here for at least six hours.

 

Saren stared at the wall across from him, unmoving. He had mastery of his body, ignoring cramps and itches and urges to move with ease of practice and an iron will of self control. It was his mind that was the problem.

 

For the first hour he focused on designing theoretical shield tech, and that was an interesting and distracting topic. Eventually, he ran out of ideas for shielding and moved to weapon mods, then theoretical physics and dark energy, then what to cook for dinner...

 

The gnawing chasm that haunted the back of his thoughts sat patiently, waiting for him to run out of ideas and come visit his regrets and losses. He refused, and considered more of his Prothean artifact research, but that just led to memories of the artifact that had started it all...

 

With a will, he refocused on a troublesome slaver ring that Tevos had been worried over lately.

 

Finally, the target came into the sewer confluence room, the person he was meeting coming in from another angle. Saren waited a few moments to let them get comfortable. Feel like they were safe.

 

Then with a flicker of biotics and an explosion of noise, the boredom was dispelled. Like a train wreck, just one that waited to happen.

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

At the same moment, Garrus Vakarian was not at all bored. In fact, he would have paid to be unoccupied at that moment. Watching paint dry would be better then this by a large margin.



There was a burning building in front of him, and a weeping Salarian in his arms.



Early in the morning a fire had started in one of Zakera Ward's middle class districts. The building's internal smoke alarms had gone off, but for several minutes the residents simply opened their doors to the hallway and discussed whatever that awful noise was.



Fires weren't common on the Citadel, as most of it was polyplastic and metal, and the keepers kept the electrical systems in tip top shape. Combine that with most fire or heat producing home appliances being idiot-proof... Most residents had never heard a fire alarm in their lives.

 

Still, a fair few number recognized that any sort of alarm equated to 'get out', and many had tried to do so. Fire meant the elevators were locked down, so they went for the stairs. Garrus didn't know if the stairwells were blocked, too small, already aflame... but scans showed the number of life signs still inside to be staggeringly high.

 

There were whispers of 'arson' in the mouths of the various emergency services personnel.


The girl in his arms was screaming through her tears, trying to go inside. He'd seen her get off the public tramway across the street and come to a dead halt. Grocery bags hit the pavement, fruit and vegetables tumbling out as she stared in horror at the scene. The young woman ran at the building in a dead sprint, and he'd caught her just as she crossed the police line.

 

In between her begging to be let go and furiously cursing his family line, he managed to make out that her sister lived in the same building, and she had a whole batch of nephews that were just toddlers. She'd left the eight of them at home to go shopping.

 

In her distress the customary head scarf and hood that all Salarian females wore over their small horns had come loose. Garrus had no clue why they wore them, just that it was socially unacceptable for them to be without, so he was trying to pull her hood up for her while she was busy trying to claw his eyes out.

 

Most of the crowd was too busy to notice her faux pas, instead staring at the spectacle of smoke-collecting drones and fire fighting units trying to evac people off of balconies. There had been no less then twenty keepers who'd come rushing in to begin containment and repair, though over half had self destructed from being touched by someone in the press of bodies.

 

“-ur father's earliest ancestor and all of their brood!” The woman was still going at it, but he thought it was more of a self defense mechanism then real anger at this point. He felt helpless too. A fellow C-Sec Officer who happened to be Salarian finally noticed his situation and came to help, deftly re-wrapping the woman's scarf and replacing the hood, hissing comforting nonsense syllables at her.

 

The tears finally won out over anger and she collapsed to the ground between them weeping. Garrus met the eyes of his co-worker, who looked equally at a loss. There was nothing they could do. The firefighters were evacuating people as fast as they could, and the fire was low down, moving upwards at a crawl, many had the time to get to a higher floor and wait for rescue. C-Sec was just there for crowd control.

 

Garrus knelt down to her and laid a hand on her shoulder.

 

“Miss? Can you tell me exactly where in the building your family's apartments were?”

 

“T-the seventh. D-dial-side... closer t-to us. Why?”

 

“If I try and get some information on that area, will you stay here and not try and go in?”

 

“Y-yes! Okay, yes please, please.”

 

He returned to his full height and set his visor and Omni-tool to coordinate a deep scan on that section of the building as best they could. It took a lot more time, since his systems were build for finding illegal items and identifying threats, not unarmed civilians... something he made a note to fix at a later date. It took several minutes to complete, during which time the woman calmed down to a shock-induced thousand yard stare.

 

The results came in.

 

The information populated as an overlay of the building on his Kuwashii Visor's heads-up-display, a dizzily complex augmented reality of the building's interior in that little corner, most detailed at the epicenter of the scans and fading from there. He looked closely, jogging down the block and back for a different view. The fire looked to be worst around the 11th floor, so they would have been below it. The smoke itself, and the heated air filled with everything except oxygen, was the real risk to them.

 

His careful search turned up no tiny body shapes outlined in blue, to his immense relief, but it did show... there was something on the next floor up, actually. Garrus returned the scanning focus and reran it. The new information showed the shape of a human male mid-crawl in the hallway. He jogged over to a firefighter on the ground level, and told them about it. They had their own life sign detection devices as well, but they'd been focused on those trapped above the fire, not the people who could escape by leaving from the ground floor. The firefighter reaimed a scan of their equipment, and the higher quality device was able to produce live feed of the man's struggle to escape.

 

They sent out a ground team to assist him, and Garrus returned to the Salarian woman.

 

“What-is-it?!? I s-saw, you went over to t-talk to that man...”

 

“Calm down, your apartment was empty, but we found someone else that needed assistance nearby, that's all.”

 

“...empty?”

 

“Yes, m'am.”

 

“T-thank you.”

 

“No problem, I'm here to help.”

 

Chapter Text

The Widmanstat put in at the docks on Dolo Station at sixteen hundred hours, Citadel time. Nihlus turned to his coms unit, and tapped the speed dial for his contact here. It answered immediately to the lovely lavender face of a suitless Quarian girl, lounging on a sofa. Her big bright eyes crinkled in a smile for him.

 

“Well now! If that eesn't the face of my favorreet Turrian, I must be going blind.” Nihlus let out a laughing trill, and touched the screen with two talons.

 

“You flatterer, now I know you want something. Going to tell me why you called me all the way out here yet?”

 

“Tsk! No can do, preety boy. You will hafe to come see forr yourself!” She winked at him, her turquoise eye glow flickering out for a moment on one side, before closing the call. The knife loving Spectre just grinned and kitted up before going to see what the lovely Adiah'Si nar Idenna vas Dolo had in store for him.

 

Hopefully? It involved juicy intel, a handful of antibiotics, and a long, fun night.

 

He pinged the door upon arrival, and it opened to a decon chamber. A quick round of decontamination fog and targeted UV light lasers, and the next door zipped aside for him as well.

 

Inside, the far wall was one giant window of plexiglass, with a sitting area on this side of it facing a mirror image in a living room. Another decon chamber, one he knew to be much more advanced, was open and waiting on the right wall. Adiah was lounging in the sitting area, naked as the day she was born. Nihlus casually leaned up against the glass with an arm overhead.

 

“What a picture you make. Should I be coming through, or are ya just teasing me?” Dark purple lips stretched wide as she tilted her head back, -throat bared in what she knew was teasing to a Turian eye-, and laughed merrily.

 

“Shall I tees you forr a while firrst? Eet might make things more interesting. I do hafe some... imporrtant documents forr you though. Maybe I should make you earrn them?”

 

“You...”

 

“mmYees?”

 

“Are such a brat.” She laughed again and gestured to the next airlock, and he swaggered over to it. Inside was a hypo injector and 3 different units to go in it. He injected them one by one, set the device to the side, stripped, and hit the initialization panel on the wall. The door closed, and a much much more through sterilization suite began to make him as Quarian-immune-system friendly as possible.

 

It took the chamber about fifteen minutes to run, and then the exit opened up into a short hallway. He walked down it and turned into the main room and joined Adiah on the couch.

 

“Please tell me you've already had your meds? I know you've got intel, but damn if I don't want to get straight to touching you.” She looked at him through half lidded eyes, dark with kohl.

 

“What do you think?” His mandibles spread in a slow, dark smile as the carmine plated Spectre stood up, lifted her from the couch, and took them to the bedroom. He knew right where it was. Having laid her out in the large Quarian style bed, shaped like nothing so much as a fruit sundae bowl, he moved over top and began nuzzling into her fringe. Adiah hummed and hooked her knees over his hip spurs, bringing lips to his aural canal, she began to whisper the jist of the intelligence documents waiting for him in the small SSD on her side table, teasingly adding that he had to earn the full package.

 

Nihlus was pleased to do so.

 

Without pausing, he reached over and spirited it away with a magician's fingers, flipped them in a twirl, and instead of the SSD he now held a high quality female condom, one of the kind she had in the drawer of the table on the bed's other side. She watched it happen, but couldn't have told you how he'd done it. She said so with a smokey laugh.

 

Her laughter quickly turned into low hums and breathy pants as Nihlus found the sensitive ridges along her collar bone and hips, trailing a long black tongue up her neck and behind her ear. His clever hands moved between them to the delicate skin of her thighs, teasing her with a long, very controlled glide of talons that ended between her legs. He sought out the dual nerve junctions that Quarians used so frequently to masturbate with, applying pressure with a knuckle to each, using the distraction to arrange the protective barrier. Finished, he dug deeper into her nerves, pressing and circling very slowly.

 

The long groan she let out had his plates spreading, and he let out a shuddering exhale into her neck. It wasn't long before he sunk into her, and for such a devilish torin, he was beyond gentle about it. He knew she got off on the risk of sleeping with a dangerous person from a species known for it's teeth and talons, but he wasn't one to go for rough sex when it could kill his partner.

 

She didn't seem to mind that stipulation at all, not at that moment.

 

They rolled together, his hands dragging her hips into the pace he wanted as she clutched at the pillows and hummed in modulated waves. He increased the pace, adding a light pop to the end of the roll. Her sharp, tiny canines were in full view as her mouth fell open to pant for breath, and he grinned widely at how cute he found them. Pointed oval nails scraped down dark brown hide along his arms, then neck, before coming up to dig behind his fringe. A roil of subvocals escaped him, ramping up into a full throated rumble.

 

For his next trick, Nihlus pulled on his abdominal muscles to flex himself while inside her, the partially prehensile curl causing her humming to peak into a moan, and then when he found just the right angle, a pleasured shriek escaped. He managed a half-smirk between breaths and picked up the pace of smooth rolls, gentle plunges, and occasional curls.

 

Adiah came with his name half mixed into the wavering moan, and he let the tough-to-hold curl go to avoid overwhelming her nerves, but kept up the rocking motion for several delicious moments to drag out her high tide. Eventually, she relaxed with a full body shudder into a pile of bliss, pulling him down beside her. He gently swirled himself inside her, enjoying the feel of it. Making her eyes flutter and toes curl was just a bonus. He loved how Quarians enjoyed staying connected afterward unlike females of his own kind. He really did need to convince Blue to branch out. Other species were the spice of a sex life.

 

“Again.” Adiah demanded.

 

“Again?”

 

“Yees. Perrhaps twice morre, then I will feed you.”

 

“Oooh, you spoil me.”

 

“I know.”

 

They only managed to work up to more petting, Nihlus' libido demanding his own release at some point, when a priority ping sounded on his 'tool. It was from Saren. He stopped petting Adiah's soft purple skin and nuzzled her cheek apologetically before getting up to take the call. He'd made the mistake of answering Saren while in bed with someone only once, and the subsequent month of the silent treatment with no explanation was enough incentive to never do it again.

 

He brought up his com package to call back... but got no answer. Worried, he tried back several times. Nothing. A cold tendril of fear rising in his gizzard, he was about to start a call to the Spectre Offices for Saren's current mission info when a text message came in.

 

FROM:1886039//ID.code:liminality

TO:1886039//LOCAL


I require assistance.


END MSSG

 

Nihlus hoped that the use of punctuation and spelling meant Saren's situation wasn't too terrible, but that felt like lying to himself. Saren would punctuate while bleeding out. He opened up a live chat to ask for more details, pacing across the bedroom floor.

 

 

CHAT.live//CONNECT:8466672_to_PROXY.spec.8883_to_1886039

Connecting...

Connected.


NK: 'kay whats up


He waited for a reply... and waited... and w-


SA: I am cornered.


Shit.


NK: on my way, where at?


Another delay of minutes that felt like hours. Step-step-step-turn. Step-step-step-turn.


SA: Omega.


SHIT. Shit shit shitshitshitshit.


NK: hold on

 

Nihlus spun around and dashed to the door, he needed to get his armor-

 

Adiah was in the doorway, his armor in her arms, lovely face set in a serious mein. He wished he could risk kissing her for her understanding. Between them, they managed to get the Spectre back in his armaments in a very short time, the Quarian information broker doing up the buckles and straps on his legs as he attached his upper body pieces. He managed to thank her in a stumbling mess while they worked, a far cry from his earlier suave seduction.

 

“Sorry, really sorry, friend of mine in deep shit. I have to go, fuck I'm so sorry to just... you deserve better, you've always been good to me and-”

 

“Nihlus! Please, I underrstand. Eet is okay, go safe yourr frriend. You can brring me a prresent as an apologee next time, okay?”

 

“Yes, I am bringing you back something awesome. You want a geth head on a pike? I could get you a geth head on a pike. What about a gemstones the color of your eyes? I can do that too. What about both?” She laughed wetly, taken up by his charm and trying to hide that her eyes were moist with sympathetic worry. She really was far too kind for this business... but then again he supposed she did have more then a few friends that loved that about her. Himself included.

 

A press of mouth plates to her cheek, and he was off to the airlocks, sending traffic control the Spectre codes for emergency take off, and priority access on the Mass Relay.

 

'Hold on you grumpy asshole, you have to stay alive so I can kill you for going anywhere near Omega.'

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Nihlus thanked every greater spirit he could think of, his father's spirit, Desolas' spirit, along with Palaven herself and both moons that he was only two short jumps from the Omega Nebula. A quick from from zip out to the Xe Cha Relay from the station, Spectre priority on the jump, and he pulled into Osun's relay. The only thing of interest in the Hourglass Nebula being Purgatory Station, there was no traffic in the double-relay system for the jump to Fathar.

 

Now to enjoy his complimentary in-flight worrying, with a small bag of nuts and a, 'Oh spirits T'loak is going to kill him. Shit shit shit.'

 

The Queen of Omega had made it quite clear that Spectres and their ilk were not welcome on the station without an invitation. Clarity had been delivered with hand written notes pinned to the corpses of STG, Spectres, Commandos, and N7 alike. So fucking dramatic. The nais was willing to play ball with information, but you went through the contacts provided and stayed away from the death trap that the clever bitch had made of corridors and watching eyes.

 

He really wanted to know why Saren had taken the risk of landing there. Hell, Nihlus was the disguise expert, why hadn't his former mentor called him to take the job or at least let his green eyed shadow do him up all nice and not looking anything like himself? He was so damn recognizable.

 

The litany of panicked cursing continued as Nihlus made to do just that for himself. He had a five hour trip to cross the nebula, and might as well make the most of that time. He left the color of his eyes alone, something that Saren had commented on in the past, which he... okay, sometimes the torin said things in passing that might just be the fuel for the torch the younger Spectre was carrying for him. Things about the shade of his eyes, an appreciably clever mind, or that he wasn't 'unattractive'. Other then that though, the wily trickster made his plates lighter, changed the angles of his face, hid his markings entirely, and added a few false scars to roughen up that attractiveness.

 

He tried messaging Saren several times for his location and more intel, but there was no reply.

 

Nihlus focused on further prepping with a will. A kit was put together with care taken for tricky escapes and potential bullet wounds. He added some emergency high-calorie rations and a can of energy drink made especially for Cabal units. If anyone asked him why he carried such things on his ship, he'd lie through his teeth. For cooperative missions of course. Not at all because he worried about the stubborn idiot, and what-do-you-know, he'd been through this situation before. Calls for aid weren't outside the realm of normal for Spectres, and they generally had each other's backs. All you had to do was find a fellow ghost.

 

Though usually, one didn't call for evac off of fucking Omega.

 

Armored up, low-back satchel of escapey goodies and medical care filled and hooked on, he checked the time... still two hours to go. He took to the CIC controls, a sunken platform one had to hop down into to use. Saren had thought it was ridiculous, like the filming set of a 'space captain with a harem' porno. Nihlus thought it was comfy, being one giant cushioned circle, and also it made great cover when someone attempted to board his ship. More then one pirate had died between the airlock and that sunken CIC.

 

He brought up the archive file on Omega's schematics, though how accurate they were at this point was anyone's guess. The very bottom levels, closer to the remaining asteroid, were a mess of Vorcha tunnels and dead things. Probably several different forms of illegal bioweapon lurked down there at any given time. Just above that was the mining base that made up the original station and it's various docks, mass effect shields, and power systems. Built above that were tier after tier of levels, with no particular concern for safety. Walk ways ended suddenly, leaving drops into lower levels or black abysses. Water and electricity grids were jury-rigged, often having one district's go down, making them leach off another area, making that one go down as well with the overload. Any given bathroom might or might not work. Any given level might have light, or might be pitch black.

 

It was a horror story of uncontrolled, unregulated, piece-meal station maintenance.

 

Nihlus wondered in passing if anyone would be interesting in trying to catch a keeper in a stasis bubble, and planting them here to see if they'd fix the place. If for no other reason then the lives and well being of the station's underprivileged. No one talked about it, but if you were exiled from Hierarchy space, the Migrant Fleet, marked with the Sigil of Janiris, or locked out of whatever your homeworld's controlled space was... well, the Citadel only had so much room. Omega was just as large as the Citadel, but only half as populated.

 

Yeah, no one talked about that, about why the lawless station's population was always so comparatively low. He supposed it went without saying.

 

As soon as he came in range, Nihlus slowed to sublight speeds and began scanning com frequencies with the Widmanstat's VI, checking for keywords on the air that might clue him in as to Saren's location. Twenty minutes to arrival he'd finally managed to pin down the right district thanks to some mercs discussing where they were headed to to kill 'the top dollar target'. He was pretty damn sure there wasn't anyone on Omega with a higher price on their head then Saren. Possible, but unlikely.

 

He set the ship systems to broadcast a random pirate vessel like ID, and precoordinated the navigation to zip by the station without landing, having the auto-pilot take it around to hide behind a nearby asteroid on standby. That done, he stepped into the airlock and readied for zero-g. Helmet up, life support systems online, and mag boots activated. The keyed up Spectre overrode the airlock's external door and braced himself through the whirlwind as a tiny crack rapidly leaked the local air.

 

Once the area was in vacuum, he opened the door fully and made eyes on the slowly approaching station. The ST&R agent would be making a jump for the tower, correcting the angle with the CO2 jets in his armor, and making landfall through the atmo-net on the upper levels. From there he'd be able to arrive mostly unnoticed, as the section he'd chosen was without local power, and really unlikely to be inhabited. Nihlus would then go downward to the Kenzo district.

 

Hopefully finding that silver plated asshole still alive.

 

Nihlus tried to tell himself that if Saren was gone, he would evac himself and go report to the Council. That unhinged little voice in the back of his head was singing songs about painting the walls with rainbows of blood if they'd killed him. Sometimes the green eyed Spectre wondered if he should be on medication of some sort, but... you only needed the meds if you couldn't control yourself, right? He was great at controlling himself, so it seemed to be a moot point. The creepy 'rainbows of blood thing' was mostly just the fear talking, anyway, and the torin felt he had good reason to be fearful. His stubborn, standoffish, excessively independent, former mentor had called for help. The last time he'd done that with any seriousness had involved half a million lives at stake, including his own, and the Primarch of a colony cluster.

 

The Spectre could tell his psyche was having a bad day when he started making excuses for his excuses. Saren would still probably mock him for worrying so much.

 

Several minutes passed by in a train of quiet focus as Nihlus waited for his ship to come in close to the station, within just a dozen meters, wait for it... and with a well timed power-off of his mag boots he took the jump. The CO2 jets on his gauntlets and greaves went off with pre-programmed hand gestures to slow down his velocity and provide mild course correction. He passed through the atmo as the station's artificial gravity began to tug at him, landing with a thud of black boots audible only through the reverberation in his armor from impact.

 

It was nearly lightless in the dead zone except for the occasional strip of red emergency lighting. The camera suite in the Spectre's helm automatically adjusted contrast and gamma to give him a half ways decent view to go on. It was quick work moving through the unlit corridors, Nihlus' lanky runner's build giving him the speed and finesse to move through corridors at a ground eating lope. He made it down to Kenzo in short order. Flipping his helmet retractor, he slipped from quiet corridor into light crowds, walking like a grizzled merc with too many kills under his belt for anyone to want to mess with him, adding a slight limp and a paranoid looking tic of the left mandible every few steps.

 

Green eyes looked around in non specific vigilance, a perfect cover for his search. Word on the street was 'avoid the mess by the hotel on level five', and he made straight for it. A little careless, but he was in a bit of a hurry. Hopefully whoever was hunting his fellow Spectre didn't expect back up. Nihlus made it to the hotel in question, a section of sturdy rooms carved out of a skyscraper's next three levels, surrounded by mercenaries. He considered sauntering up like he belonged there and inquiring what the deal was... but it was Blood Pack mercs, and they were some territorial assholes. They might just as well shoot him for asking.

 

Instead, he shifted into the shadows and made his way up a few levels, then back down to the upper level of the hotel. He knew Vorcha instincts said come up from underneath, and Krogan habit was to charge straight in. Saren understood that as well, and with a bit of luck, he'd also be on the upper levels. Nihlus came around the outside of the eighth level, popped out a window, and fell to the seventh level. He landed on a balcony, and broke into the connecting room.

 

All was quiet. Bad sign.

 

'Mercs still outside working up for another assault, so good sign. Good sign, Kyrik. Find him.' He replaced his helm began to hunt.

 

The halls were littered with bullet holes, new and old, though they appeared to be made to withstand heavy fire. He risked a quiet whistle into the corridor, the theme song for tupari, and listened. Half a heart beat later, a reply whistle came back. The last seven notes of the Turian national anthem, backwards. His felt a rush of blood to his scalp from the sudden loss of tension in his shoulders, and followed the echo, moving forward with some caution.

 

Nihlus had seen some shit in his short life, insane things pulled off by the galaxy's best and worst in times of duress. This moment wasn't the most amazing, nor the most implausible, but it would forever stick in his mind. A glittering shard of stained glass in the window of Saren Arterius.

 

Sitting casually atop a pile of bodies stacked some twenty people high, the silver Spectre had his elbows braced against knees, sidearm held loosely in his right hand. The room was filled with the dead who'd tried and failed to kill the Council's top agent. If he'd had to guess, Nihlus would have estimated eighty or so bodies in various piles around the debris strewn room. The hotel room's seating, cabinets, tables... they were shredded into pieces scattered over a blood soaked carpet. Not rainbow, noted the voice in the back of his head clinically, as if critiquing artwork. The colors had all mixed into a muddy brown.

 

The pile of dead in the center suddenly made sense. He'd stacked them for use as make shift cover. Nihlus looked back over to meet electric blue eyes, a matching silver hand lowering a half-raised pistol that had been aimed at the intrusion on reflex.

 

“Nihlus.”

 

The slouched, silver-grey form looked tired, and it squeezed at his heart. Saren didn't look that damn tired unless he was up for days, and there were... so many bullet holes in him. Little blue trails of dried blood more like a pattern on his armor from their sheer frequency. Saren stood with disturbing grace and climbed down from his perch. His shield generators was sparking with a short, making his form ripple like a mirage.

 

“You okay?”

 

“I am sufficient. Do you have a way out of here?”

 

“... I brought a zip line.”

 

“That will do.”

 

The flickering lights inside the destroyed suite glinted off of Saren's brushed metal helmet and he tilted his head to the hallway, and made to leave the room. Nihlus followed wordlessly, hand-canon ready to blow the spirits damned head off of anything that moved. He was led to a corner suite that had a shitty view, most of it blocked by an adjacent building. Perfect for partial cover as they tried to zip line away.

 

The younger Spectre pulled the satchel from his back, and held out the rations and energy drink with one hand, while going to set up the zip line device. He felt his former mentor take them from his hand, and he withdrew it to finish the set up. Only taking a few moments, he pressed it to the wall opposite the window, and hit the button to have it lock onto the wall. It signaled a successful attachment, and he set it to aim for a walkway in the distance, lower on the horizon, and out of range of standard gunfire if they could make it that far. Hopefully the Blood Pack didn't have any crack shot snipers.

 

Speaking of snipers, he missed their's. Maybe C-Sec would let them borrow him again? Many Spectres had an on-call entourage, Nihlus didn't see why he couldn't as well.

 

A thought for another time. The zip line fired, a quiet cha-pssh-thunk and then a long revving vvfooo of reinforced cable shooting out to tag a support beam through the open sliding doors. He turned to see Saren with his helm retracted, eating mechanically.

 

“Time to g- what happened to your neck?!” The dull eyed Spectre turned to him and blinked slowly, then shrugged and returned to pouring nutrients down his throat. The back and side of his neck were blackened in snaking tendrils... from a biotic amp burnout. Spirits how was he still standing?

 

“Right. Let's go. You first.” Saren was slow to move, tossing his trash aside and reaching for the belt clip line that his protégé held out. The younger torin clipped himself in on a second support line, and waited for Saren to work up to taking a running leap. He went, and Nihlus followed. He waited, tense, for sniper fire. None came. They came to the end of the line, and he almost let out a keen at the sound his partner made as he hit the support beam with a dull thud. Normally the talented Spectre would have slowed himself with biotics or landed feet down and used the counter pressure of muscle to stagger the landing. Jaw clenched, Nihlus yanked at his core muscles to spin in a semi-circle around the line at the last minute, unclipping his own belt and ricocheting feet first off the pillar above the anchor point. The younger Spectre flipped down to a landing as his blood spattered comrade released the belt clip and limply fell the remaining half meter to the ground. Saren staggered and he pushed in to support him for a moment as the torin's weary knees tried to give out.

 

The stubborn Spectre recovered and he backed off. They managed a decent speed walk away from the scene, but there was just one small problem... Saren's armor was no longer space worthy. Time to get creative to pull off the rest of the exfiltration. A slip of a slow immolation gel into a garbage dumpster had half the local dock running for cover from the stench of burning garbage and smoke. Not all that different from the normal air, but quite a bit more potent. Nihlus set his ship to ignoring docking procedures and usual handshake protocols with the station's VI in favor of just dropping right in on a free stretch of deck.

 

They stepped into the airlock, and he hopped into the CIC to send them away as soon as the decon cycle finished running. Nihlus looked up at the sound of a hand smacking into a wall, which was shortly followed by the heart stopping vision of Saren collapsing to the deck.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The port authorities, such as they were, began screaming at his coms in mortal offense, threatening to open fire unless he declared himself and landed to pay docking fees and fines. Having gotten a fair ways away from the station he paid them little mind, even sarcastically wishing them good luck managing to hit him at a distance with his tweaked out cyber warfare suite predicting their firing algorithms. His eyes were only for the crumpled grey form as he checked for vitals.

 

Heart beat, there, and rapid. Breathing, check, though it was shaky. Good enough for now... but Nihlus had no two million credit robot operated medical suite onboard.

 

“Saren! Saren, can you hear me? Wake up. Where is the Daedalus? Saren, where is-” A mumbled reply, as said Spectre's eyes fluttered in a failed attempt to open. “is... coords... mmm'tool... passsssssswor... y... eyesss...” Not a ton to go on, but maybe enough. Navigational coordinates... on his Omni-tool... the password is his 'eyes'?

 

Nihlus tried 'green'. No go.

 

He tried a few more varieties of green. Still no.

 

Okay, maybe it wasn't that simple.

 

On a lark, he instead scanned his eyes with his Omni-tool, and asked it what color his own damn irises were. It reported back several tones, but the top of the list was 'Verdant Green [RGB 060.145.060]'. What the hell was 'RGB'? He had no clue. A number sequence though, and Saren loved his numbers... it worked. Thank fuck. Password accepted, he found the heavily encrypted protocols for remote auto-piloting. Nihlus accessed the navsys data and found it to be hiding in a dust cloud not two hours away. He ran back to the CIC and coordinated a meeting point half way.

 

He sent them into FTL, and returned to the unmoving form on the deck. Hands only mildly shaking he pulled Saren's armor away, bit by broken bit, and treated dripping wounds with medigel. It didn't help much with the internal bleeding, the impacts leaving tiny mangled holes in organs and viscera, but it stymied the blood loss. The torin was low enough on blood as it was, any little bit surely helped.

 

The Widmanstat arrived at the half way point, his speedy little ship making better time then his mentor's by a nerve filled twenty minutes.

 

'Stupid, stupid, stupid! Should have calculated that better. Fuuuck.'

 

Saren's vitals were relatively stable though, for someone who looked beat to hell. No reason to actively panic, he took some calming breaths and jury-rigged an anti-grav crate into an impromptu stretcher, and settled the torin onto it gently as he could manage. The biotic weighted a shit ton. He was densely packed for a Turian, sure, thick in the waist and covered in armor... but hot damn. Maybe it was all that cooking?

 

The Daedalus arrived a ways off, the autopilot doing a sub-par job of making navigational choices without a live driver. Nihlus brought the ships together and enacted the ship-to-ship airlock docking protocols. He pushed the make shift gurney through the airlocks and got Saren into the medbay. Clothing removed, he set off the automated trauma module and sat down to watch the screen for a diagnosis.

 

[BIOMEDICAL SUITE – ACTIVATED]

[Now scanning...]

[Scan complete.]

[Gathering data from nanite colony....]

 

Wait, what?!

 

[Data acquired.]

[Multiple hide contusions detected.]

[Multiple hide abrasions detected.]

[Multiple hide lacerations detected.]

[Multiple plate fractures detected.]

[Multiple bone fractures detected.]

[Multiple sites of internal bleeding detected.]

[Nervous tissue damage detected.]

[Calculating efficient order of operation...]

[Initiating repair of Common Hepatic Artery, estimated time of 83 seconds.]

 

 

Nihlus was busy staring at the fourth line.

 

'Nanites? A colony of Nanites? He has a fucking nanite colony inside him? Not just... a batch of medical nanites, but a colony?! Shitfuck. Fuck extra fuck. Is he insane? Who in their right mind has a self-replicating nanite colony inside their spirits-damned body?'

 

Dark brown hands gripped at carmine fringe as he tried to come to grips with the fact that not only was he on a ship with self-replicating nanites, the ultimate grey-goo horror story waiting to happen, but they were inside of his former mentor.

 

They were also likely the reason his vitals were so stable.

 

[Repair completed successfully.]

[Initiating repair of Right Brachial Artery, estimated time 46 seconds.]

 

'Shitfuck.'

 

He didn't know what to do about this.

 

Sure, Spectres were above the law... but SR nanites? That was... that was like carrying around Rachni eggs for funsies. Most forms of law enforcement would nuke him from orbit if they knew he had them. No few research stations that had dabbled in the highly illegal branch of science had to be tossed into suns over the years because nothing else would do.

 

'I was worried that I was the crazy one. Shit. Shit. I can't believe... I can't tell on him. Shit. Fuck I'm... I'm now complicit in a Kill-On-Sight offense. You son of a bitch, why do you have fucking SR nanites? Were normal ones not enough for you? Shiiit. Shit.'

 

There really wasn't much else to say besides 'shit', was there?

 

[Repair completed successfully.]

[Initiating repair of Intestinal Tract at junction 17, estimated time 46 seconds.]

 

Nihlus sat, head cradled in his hands, eye closed, waiting for the robot to finish it's work. He expected it to take a while.

 

[Repair completed successfully.]

[Initiating repair of Left Fibular Vein, estimated time 112 seconds.]

 

This was going to be one of those talks, wasn't it? Saren would wake up, and Nihlus would be all like, 'Explain to me why do you have nanites in your gut?', and he'd reply, 'Technically they are housed in my...'

 

Nihlus looked up to the medical charts to see if he could locate the colony for his mental conversation. He couldn't actually see anything that screamed 'I'm a weapon of mass destruction waiting to happen! There is where I live, ohai!'.

 

He decided to go with a blanket dismissal instead.

 

'Technically, they are not housed in my 'gut' per-say. Why do you ask?' and Nihlus would go, 'Illegal! Super dangerous and fucking illegal! Did I mention dangerous as fuck?' to which the only reply could be, 'Language, Nihlus.' as pretty as you please.

 

[Repair completed.]

[Initiating repair of Left Axillary Vein, estimated time 46 seconds.]

[Error, no damage detected.]

[Initiating repair of Nervous Tissue at Cervical Vertebrae 2, estimated time 867 seconds.]

 

'Oh an error, is it? Looks like the molecule sized horrors are busy at least.'

 

Nihlus couldn't focus on this anymore, it was all too insane. Instead, he went back over to his ship, and set the navigation computer to initiate an auto-pilot to... nearby the Citadel. He returned to the Daedalus and ran the numbers to send it on the same path to safer waters. It wasn't a short ride back though, the Eagle Nebula Relays were a good three days apart.

 

After the jump was calculated, he leaned back from the holo-ring and went limp in the chair. He had to face the idea sometime...

 

If Saren hadn't had dangerous and K.O.S. tech inside of him, would he have survived whatever he had been doing on Omega? Or would he be a bloody mess in that hotel? Or here, just dying on the operating table?

 

Nihlus swallowed hard. That thought took away his ability to breathe properly.

 

The question became whether the greater loyalty should be to the people of the galaxy he was sworn to serve or to... Saren, his former mentor, his... fucking... savior from the soulsucking hell of the Hierarchy ranks. His best friend. The person he...

 

Letting him step foot on the Citadel, with the foot traffic from international trade, it could end galactic civilization as he knew it if those nano machines inside him went on the fritz. Grey goo scenario, they called it. Where the tiny robots ate up all the resources around them to produce more of themselves, ad infinitum.

 

On the other hand... what could he do about it?

 

Tell the Council? They'd kill him. Any galactic agency would kill him. Hell, Elcor kindergarten teachers might give it a shot.

 

Threaten to tell on him unless he exiled himself or had the colony removed?

 

That would go over so fucking well. There were no good answers.

 

Nihlus took a deep breath, and decided... to wait. Saren had always, always, been dedicated to serving galactic stability. He'd proven that to everyone when he pulled the trigger on his own brother to prevent a bioweapon from breaking out on Palaven. Maybe... maybe he could explain. Maybe he had... a dead switch? A good reason? An unstoppable fall back plan?

 

He hoped so. He really, really hoped so...

 

He couldn't let Saren go back to the Citadel without a damn good excuse.... but he wouldn't send him to exile alone either.

 

 

Chapter Text

The medical robot finished it's run, nearly four hours later. The list of damages, repairs, and automated estimates on recovery time for things that just required rest... it was very long. By all means, there was no reason why his mentor should have been able to make it back to the ship still standing. Oh wait, yes there was.

 

The fucking nanites.

 

Nihlus swayed in place at the cluster fuck of a situation, bracing himself on the table, then withdrawing in a small spurt of terror when his hand brushed Saren's arm. He immediately rebuked himself for being a jumpy moron. If his little doomy robots were already malfunctioning? They were both dead anyway, trapped on the ship.

 

The green eyed Spectre locked his jaw stubbornly and laid a hand on a grey shoulder, squeezing lightly.

 

'See? No spontaneous combustion. Not being an idiot about this.' The shoulder was chilly, however, too chilly for a healing Turian. He cleaned off the make shift gurney, and with one last check of vitals, used it to move Saren to his bedroom. The limp torin was still damn heavy, but he managed well enough.

 

He sat down on the bedside and just started at the still form for a solid twenty minutes, torn between being scared, pissed off, worried, and really tired in a distant, emotional way. Another round of questioning his sanity, and Nihlus decided... he had none left. He tossed aside his armor and crawled in as well. If he was going to die from nanites gone crazy, or Saren offing him for discovering his secret, he was going to cuddle with the fucker, at least this once.

 

Nihlus buried his head into the nook between collar and neck, and breathed in deeply. There was that smell that drove him nuts.

 

'Purchase price of one ass-saving and not being responsible enough to drive us into a sun? Warm hide and the smell of you, apparently. Asshole.' Nihlus was beginning to move beyond his freak out, and into sarcastic anger. A good sign he supposed. A Spectre should be able to bounce back from anything.

 

'Even this? Yeah, even this.' He nodded to himself, draped an arm over a silvery keel plate, and let unconsciousness come. He was done with today, just done.

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

A low rumble woke Nihlus a few hours later. He managed a half hearted raise of his head to see Saren just waking, his jaw stretching in a yawn. His heart gave a half thump of 'oh shit I'm still in bed with him...' before he quashed it down under a mountain of pettiness, and curled back into the warm neck before him. He felt Saren go still.

 

“ ...Nihlus?”

 

“Mmm?”

 

“What...” The older Spectre stopped to cough, his throat sounding rusted over. “-are you doing?” His answer was long in coming, not wanting to even get into it when the other option was warmth and sleep.

 

“Enjoying myself before I die.” He could practically sense the raised brow ridge of regal questioning.

 

“Elucidate.”

 

He sighed very quietly, and gathered the tatters of his patience around him. “I have a better idea.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“How about you 'elucidate' on why you have a fucking nanite colony inside you?” Well those dregs of patience didn't last long.

 

“Nihlus, la-”

 

No.” Nihlus pushed up onto his arms, throwing one over to the other side of the torin's head, and hovered over Saren, starting at him dead on, verdant green to electric blue. “No, you do not even get to chastise me on my word choice when you are literally filled with kill-on-sight order tech. Explain to me why I shouldn't just maroon us on a dextro planet somewhere, since exile is the best solution I can come up with.”

 

Saren blinked up at him, as if he were the mad one. “It is not K.O.S. tech... technically speaking.”

 

“... I'm listening.”

 

“How much do you know about nanotechnology?”

 

“Besides how to use a microfabricator? Or that self replicating nanites are considered a weapon of mass destruction? Not a ton.”

 

Nihlus felt Saren shift beneath him, resting a hand on his ribs plates. It was warm even through his undersuit, and damn if he didn't get melting shivers down his side at the sensation. He forced himself to focus in on what the other Spectre was saying.

 

“-forms of nano tech, based on replication strategy. The robots you are thinking of are called 'black nanites', and no, my colony is not set up to produce those.”

 

“You're saying that you have... what, nice and friendly ones?” Saren sighed at him with closed eyes.

 

“Yes, essentially. The colony in my sacrum is a type called 'red nanites'. When a replacement is needed soon either the malfunctioning unit or a second identical neighbor will journey back to the colony to have it made. The system has the functionality of self-propagation, but only with access to the origin colony. The physical hardware is set to lock down if my vitals flat line for more then thirty minutes. Thus, there is no risk of the classic issues associated with black or yellow types."

 

The carmine plated Spectre about died with relief, letting out a large gusting breath and tumultuous subvocals. He relaxed again, and dropped his head... straight onto Saren's. The connection of their foreheads made a quiet 'thunk' in the silent room.

 

Oh... there went his heart again. Um... shit. He hadn't mean to do that.

 

He opened his eyes, and braced for rejection. Saren looked up at him in shock, then blinked rapidly. His boxy silver mandibles flicked twice in mild distress. Electric eyes shifted to the side for a moment, then back up at Nihlus.

 

“I had not intended to... scare you. I should have told you about them sooner... The prototype is only a few months old.”

 

Saren wasn't pushing back into the connection... but he wasn't escaping it either. Nihlus felt his insides dissolve.

 

“I was just... You collapsed after I got us off Omega. The medbay screen listed your injuries and it was so damn long. Then I saw it communicate with your nanites, and I thought I was going to have to drive us into exile so the Council didn't kill you. All of it just... you scared the shit out of me. ”

 

“ ...I gathered that.”

 

Nihlus let out a slow lungful of air, rocking his head left and right ever so slightly. Saren began to look as if he was fighting back the urge to flee. His protégé took mercy on him, pulling away reluctantly after pushing into his fringe once.

 

The nanites were some freaky new thing that wasn't a death sentence.

 

He'd touched fringe with Saren, -and not been subsequently murdered for it-.

 

They were both alive.

 

Today was... good. Fuck yes, today was a good day. He still drew the line at getting up. With a jaw cracking yawn and a lick along his teeth, Nihlus curled back into his spot and closed his eyes.

 

“Now what are you doing?”

 

“We're not dead. You're not a walking time bomb. Everything is okay, except that T'loak is probably going to be gunning for your head on a silver platter. What am I doing now? Going back to bed.”

 

“I see. Very well, I have things I must-”

 

“No.”

 

“...Nihlus.”

 

“No, you almost died. Go back to bed.”

 

“It is not a large enough space.”

 

“Pffft. We did just fine till you woke up.”

 

“...”

 

“...”

 

He felt Saren relinquish himself back into the curved mattress, though it took a long time for his limbs to loosen again. When Nihlus woke later, he was alone. He stared up at the ceiling wondering if the stoic torin was going avoid him for a good long while, or just pretend it never happened.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Nine year old Tali'Zorah nar Rayya stared at the circuit board on her work table, and it stared back with a hateful disposition. Well... she imagined it so. Silvery eyes narrowed at the uncooperative mess of tubes, wires, and circuitry, willing it to work like it was supposed to. It glared back, refusing.

"Tali, sweethearrt!" Her mom yelled from their luxurious, tiny living room. "The night cycle starrts in a few minutes, get ready for bed soon, mmmkay?"

"One morre hour, please! I'm in the middle of something."

"Just one."

"Yes, motherr!"

Tali turned back to the troublemaker, staring it down out of the corner of one eye, then the other. She tried rotating it to a new angle, and peering at it from over the table edge. It still wasn't revealing why it would not work, and she needed it to do so, badly. The science fair at school was in three days, and father had promised to be there.

Her contribution couldn't be anything less then perfect.

Three pale fingers picked it up gently, and Tali rotated it about, taking care for the cables and tubes leading off to the other components. The bright eyed girl mentally re-walked through the construction process and schematics, step by step. She knew there was something to be found, it should work... The recalcitrant board was returned to the table top and the staring contest continued. She was so, so frustrated. Hundreds of hours designing and building this over the last four months... It had to work! There wasn't time to start on anything new...

Tali leaned casually back from the work space, and glanced over at the window into her room.

No one observing her.

She leaned in close to it and whispered, "Work, you bosh'tet. Woooork. Or. Else!" It was then that she noticed a soldering point that wasn't quite connected smoothly.

"Oh!"

With great care she removed the tiny bit of failed work, cleaned off the surfaces in question, and resoldered it. Time to try it again...

Power came online, the cooling system turned on, and with a friendly 'boopboopbeep!' her miniaturized emissions collector, smaller then current available technology by a land slide, began gathering free energy from the environment around her.

"Yes! Yes! Yes! Ye- Mother it worrks! Moooooom! Mommomom it worrks! The enerrgy unit is charrging!"


Oooooooooooooooo


Lanya'Zorah nar Idenna vas Rayya came up to the window of Tali's room and looked inside. Her fingers came up to her faceplate in surprise. The red hooded woman had listened to Tali go on and on about her little invention for the science fair, yet she'd never expected it to... actually work.

Ancestors, her little girl was just so smart.

She wanted nothing more then to pop through the airlock into Tali's itsy bitsy bedroom/workshop, take her daughter into her arms, and kiss her expressively joyous face a million times. Rather then ruin the sterility of the chamber not three days to the science fair, she settled for placing a hand on the glass.

"Keelah, Tali. That's wonderrful! I am so prroud of you! Oh but... I hate to even say this... maybe you should save it for a pilgrrimage gift?" Pale silvery eyes and sharp little nose scrunched up in horror at the idea.

"Mother, I cannot do that! It would be cheating!"

" ...of course, sweethearrt, you're right. You are so noble my girrl, just like your father."

"He's still coming right?! I can't wait to show him!" Lanya smiled behind her mask, putting sweetness into her voice.

"Of courrse!"  'Or I will toss him out the airrlock', she added silently. That man was not missing his daughter presenting an innovation worthy of a pilgrimage gift as a side project for her third grade science faire. Or. Else.

Mrs. Zorah watched Tali run tests on her device, saving the schematics, doing light stress testing, and calculating it's rate of charge. Her heart felt just a little heavy though. This wasn't the first time Tali had blown them away with creativity and intelligence beyond her peers. If she kept this up, nothing short of a dreadnought filled with element zero would do for a pilgrimage gift.

Her baby girl was... so smart.

She was too smart for her own good, but Lanya couldn't find it in her to try and stifle that joyful expression.


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo


Rael'Zorh glanced at the clock for the fifth time, having taken off work to come to the fair. He really needed to get back, but the lock his wife had on his arm said that wasn't an option until Tali presented.... whatever it was she'd made. He was sure it was wonderful, Tali was a girl after his own heart, but... surely they could record it and show him later?

He glanced over to the time again, and his loving wife stepped on his toes with her boot heel. He winced and leaned in to see her through their faceplates. She was smiling brightly.

"Love?" He whispered to her while someone's child talked about their... Some green thing in a box. He had no clue what it was supposed to be.

"Yes?"

"I do need those toes."

"Oh! Do you? Well then, maybe you will keep them if you stop looking impatient. The children are nervous enough without an Admiral looking bored in the audience."

"Yes, dear." She continued smiling like the cat that got the canary, and he eyed her suspiciously before turning back to the main presentation stage.

There were two more children that presented before his daughter was up. One had offered a somewhat interesting sociology research study. The other had a mock up of a device idea that would help purify externally sourced food not grown in the fleet. Not bad, for third graders, not at all.

Then Tali took the stage, wheeling a covered cart up the ramp, a beaming smile seen even through the low quality faceplate of her baggy child-sized suit. She was almost ten, and would be getting her first real one in a month or two. He was looking forward to taking her to father-daughter work day later in the year after her attire could pass decon protocols.

His little girl always had something insightful to say, and was a source of cheer and inspiration whenever he had the time to see her. He wished it wasn't so sporadic, but his work was beyond important to the fleet...

Her cart came to a stop, and she pulled the flexible plastic sheeting away to reveal... What in the world was it?

Tali explained to a silent audience of parents and teachers that it was a stray emissions collector. Miniaturized using a new design she'd come up with, it's compacted form could fit into the nooks and crannies of a ship, and was able to feed power into secondary systems. Theoretically, it could also be overclocked to provide temporary power to life support in case of main engine failure.

" -though that would burrn it out verry fast, and is best saved for real emerrgencies. Umm... Any questions?"

The crowd was silent, for a single heavy moment, and then the standing ovation began. Clapping and expressive cheers thundered from the gathering of onlookers. Tali beamed as Rael stood and clapped himself silly.

His daughter was such a brilliant child! He loved her so very much!

“Keelah Se'lai, Tali! Keelah Se'lai!!!”

Rael stayed until the end of the presentations, busily caught up in his head, reviewing ideas for good implementations of his daughter's invention. He didn't notice the dark glares and furious body language a few of the more competitive parents and children were leveling at he and his family.


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo



Her datapad fell to the ground as the shove from behind took her by surprise. Tali hit the ground shortly thereafter, catching herself on her hands.

"Oh~~~, looks like she's not good at everrything after all."

"Hahahaha, what a klutz."

Tali looked up, unsure what was happening. Three other kids from her grade passed by on the walk way, not helping her up.

'Well that wasn't nice.'

Bemused, she picked herself up and carried on home.


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo



Tali squealed in joy and made for the cafeteria. She'd earned a token for a high quality lunch paste in class today for solving a tricky bit of mathematics and was so excited to use it. She could already taste the nut and berry paste that you could only get with one of the coveted square coins...

Without warning, she was pulled through a door way and shoved into a wall.

"Well look who it is?! The princess of grade three. Oh! And what is it she has there? Is that a lunch token?"

"Y-yes?"

"Surely an admiral's daughter doesn't need that..." The sparkly token was snatched from her fingers. "Does she?"

"What does that have to do with anything? I earrned it, and-" the other students crowded her, their body language derisive. "I want to get the one with nuts and-"

One of the taller ones punched her in the stomach, bringing tears forth. Oh it hurt! She began to cry, the world becoming a blurry mess.

They just laughed.

"Princess doesn't need any treats. Spoiled brat. We'll take this, and you can eat all nice at home. You tell anyone? You won't get to keep any tokens ever, got it?"

They left her on the floor. She didn't have the breath to tell them that she ate the plain tasteless stuff at home too.


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo



"Ms. Zorah, you should have been more careful on the stairs. This ankle has a stress fracture, and the tendon looks torn as well. You're going to need to wear a brace for a while."

".... okay..."

"I understand that you young things like to run and play, but you'll need to be more careful from now on, understand?"

"... yes m'am."

Alright, wait here while I have the fabricator make up your new brace. Don't stand on it while I'm gone."

"...okay..."


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo


"What happened to your mask! It's cracked!"

"... I... f-fell... there w-were..."

"It's okay, don't cry, sweetheart. I'm not mad at you. Just leave it in the airlock to your room and I'll fix it, okay?"

"Thank you m-mother... I l-love you..."

"I love you too, sweetheart. There, there, my beautiful girl. Shhhhhh. How about some of that nutty stuff you like for dinner? That sounds good right? Shhhhshshsh~~. That's it, no more tears my love..."


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo



'Oh Keelah, not again.' Tali felt her stomach tighten in knots at the sight of the small group waiting for her in the quiet corridor on her way to school. Today... today she could not be late! Why couldn't they be bosh'tets tomorrow instead? There was a special guest today coming in to talk about cybernetics during morning classes. She had been waiting to hear this lecture for weeks! In desperation, Tali'Zorah tried to run past, but one of them clotheslined her. She choked and fell backwards, catching herself painfully on elbows and forearms.

"Aww, did princess Zorah get a booboo?" The others laughed at the mocking tone, and Tali's arms started shaking. The jibes and hateful words continued as her tiny fists clenched in anger.

Not... Again.

These ancestor forsaken jerks could steal her lunch tokens, they could push her around, and make fun of her... They were not going to keep her from the guest lecture. No way. She stood slowly.

"Let me go. Or. Else."

"Oooooo, or what? You going to math at us?" One girl moved in suddenly and shoulder checked her into the wall. Tali couldn't help stumbling back, but she straighten up immediately afterwards.

"I'm going to class! Right now! You all should too."

"Pfffffft, it's not real stuff today, just that dumb guy who's supposed to talk about robot arms and crap."

"Yeah, that dumbass! My dad says he's a Geth sympathizer."

"You want to learn some more math from the Geth lover, princess? That desperate for friends?”

"I'm. Leaving. Now. Bye." Tali turned to go, stomping with righteous determination. The ring leader grabbed the loose shoulder of her suit and pulled. It came loose with a ghastly tearing sound that seemed to echo down the hall.

'No... No! I can't go to the hospital today! The lecture... Keelah no! DAMNIT!' She turned around and decked the kid, who didn't move an inch to dodge. Too busy staring in stark horror at the massive suit breech. Down they went.

'No, I... I refuse to miss this!' Tali'Zorah nar Rayya ripped the decorative cloth hood off the fallen classmate's head. No one tried to stop her, recoiling from the suit breech situation as if it the contamination failure was transferable on contact. In a minute flat she had the suit resealed with Omni-gel, and had a make-shift mantle made of the stolen cloth to hide it. Tali gave herself a heavy dose of antibiotics, and then...

She went to class.

The other kids came, eventually, sitting down just before the bell. They spent the entire morning staring at her with wide eyes, whispering about the crazy girl who is about to die in class...

Tali sat there, focused on taking notes, fever rising.

It was a fascinating lecture, given by a brilliant mind.

She regretted nothing.

 

Chapter Text

Garrus sat at his breakfast bar, the infamous kitchen credit chit in hand as he tapped one edge on the counter, spun the card a quarter turn, tapped it again, and repeated. He was in a foul mood. Work had been hellish lately, with a slew of small time crime rings all cropping up under the protection of a few big names that kept C-Sec running in circles trying to maneuver the politics along with the criminal science.

 

In one case, the C-Sec evidence room had been broken into, the guards on duty drugged, and two days before a court case... key evidence was suddenly gone. Poof.

 

Tap. Tap. Tap.

 

On the positive side, it wasn't a singular problem that could be dropped on the 'new guy' to sink or swim. Enough issues and different case files were effected and interlinked that half the department had a hand in the chaos. Only to the perpetrators' benefit.

 

Tap. Tap. Tap.

 

Thusly, Garrus was in dire, dire need of stress relief. Unfortunately, the news feeds had been all quiet on the leaked escapades of Spectre business as of late. Break room rumors said that ST&R was having issues with one of the Terminus pirate kings, and everything now was hush hush until the situation was resolved.

 

Tap. Tap. Tap.

 

The rules of the kitchen chit had always been, 'Wait for Saren or one of the Spectres to take someone down, then celebrate.', but right now? He needed to let off some steam, badly. The C-Sec range had attested to that for the past four nights, to no avail.

 

Tap. Tap. Tap.

 

He was afraid to spar with anyone either, the sniper knew he was too angry at the moment to deal with the... this sounded terrible, but the light weights at work. Most of his fellow officers weren't top of the class CQC fighters. He'd signed up on the roster for the friendly exhibition matches they held every month enough times to know the next best fighter was actually, strangely enough, a human male with a few MMA titles from his youth. If Garrus hadn't been so afraid of carving him up with talons because of his bad mood, he would have pinged the guy and requested a spar. He'd held his own last time they'd been in the ring, but right now.... not a great idea.

 

Tap. Tap. Tap.

 

It would feel awkward as hell, but maybe he could blunt his talons...

 

Tap. Tap. Tap.

 

He wondered in passing if Nihlus was on the Citadel. He had the Spectre's extranet address, and an open invitation to call anytime... he hadn't seen either Spectre in months... maybe he could...

 

What? Bother an agent of the Council who was probably dealing with Terminus pirates to come listen to him whine while they fought a rough, graceless stress match? No, his pride wouldn't let him face the green eyed torin with such a disrespectful lack of focus on the spar, and his conscience refused to let him call a Spectre away from their duty because of his inability to cope with his own anger.

 

Tap. Tap. Tap.

 

So, did he break his own rules and use the chit? It was obnoxiously full right now. He could easily afford a new mod for his Lancer... but he didn't think modding it was the sort of thing he could concentrate on at the moment. He refused to muck up the inside of that gun. Refused.

 

Tap. Tap. Tap.

 

He could still shoot things though. Then again... C-Sec's range made it clear that wasn't going to cut it. He'd laid waste to that room. Whoever maintained the walls to deal with the constant abuse had their work cut out for them. He wasn't the only one who'd been at it either.

 

Tap. Tap. Tap.

 

Maybe he should go the other route? Go drinking? Garrus didn't think that was wise, he wasn't an angry drunk generally speaking, but lowered inhibitions right now would likely do more harm then help. He wondered if he could get away with a drunken assassination or two... ha ha no... If Pallin didn't kill him for it, his pari would.

 

Tap. Tap. Tap.

 

The grey plated officer considered starting small. Perhaps he could abuse his stress ball some... but that habit had become a 'mulling something over' method, rather then stress relief. A focus aid. He doubted it could help. A walk? A massage? A cold shower? Sleeping pills? He needed something.... something.

 

Tap. Tap- diiing dooooong.

 

Icy blue eyes perked up at the sound of the door. At this point, any distraction was welcome from his downward ever-spiraling thoughts. He slipped the chit in a pocket, and went to answer the door. It opened to reveal a smiling silver tarin who exclaimed joyfully, and pushed them inside. The door closed behind her as she looped her arms over his collar, leaning in close.

 

“Garrus, darlin'! I'm so glad to see you. I'm on shore leave! Tell me you can spend it with me?” The sniper blinked rapidly, his hands coming up onto her shoulders to try and hold the unknown tarin at bay. She didn't let him, leaning in close and looking him right in the eyes. Wow... speaking of iris color, she had the most vivid pair of... suspiciously familiar green eyes. He stopped trying to push her away, but left his hands where they were.

 

What in spirit's name was going on? It couldn't be...

 

“Ah, hi. It's... nice to see you too. Ahh... two days you say, how... great. I uh... I'll have to talk to my boss, we've been slammed lately...”

 

“Oh ya? Well that's okay. Give it a try, hmm?” Peach colored hide, silver plated, higher pitched, and green eyed. She tilted her neck forward to whisper in his ear, “I'll make it worth your while. We should play some card games, just like old times. Maybe I could teach you a few tricks?”

 

…it was definitely Nihlus, but... where was his crest?! The Officer stared at the empty space where there should have been horns.

 

Thin air.

 

“I am... happy to ask. If not, I might be able to switch a shift or two around... Ahh, can I get you something to dri-” He was suddenly pushed back a step, and probably-Nihlus sashayed around him in a rapid walk for the bedroom.

 

“Mind if I take a shower first? I'll be right out. I'm so gross right now, just got back and all.”

 

“...Right. Sure.” He stood there staring at his hallway, thinking quick. That was definitely his Spectre, kitted up to look female, and acting suspicious. He...

 

She? ...S/he? They? No... that sounded plural. She. Right now, he was a she so... whatever.

 

She had made her identity known immediately, but kept up her cover while in his apartment. So either she was bugged, or his apartment was under surveillance somehow. Garrus decided to act as if both were true. Time to dust off his undercover acting skills. So... pet name. He needed a pet name, since apparently they were selling a friendship close enough for casual sex and drive-by shore leave.

 

He took a few steps forward, and called down the hallway casually.

 

“Hey Palvi, do you want to go out tonight or stay in? I'm up for either.” Ninety-percent-sure-it's-Nihlus' voice called back as the water turned on.

 

“Ooooh let's go out! I would love that! I'm super broke though, can ya cover for me darlin'?”

 

“Hahaha! Spent all your creds on...” He needed a word for 'surveillance'... “that new camera upgrade for your 'tool? I saw those shots of you online, very cute.”

 

“You know it! Worth every bit! I might've saved the purchase for later if I would have known I'd be gettin' shore leave, but you don't mind me crashin' in your apartment for a few days do you? Maybe borrowin' some clothes? I left all mine onboard in my haste to get off that damn ship.”

 

So yes, there was surveillance, in her clothing and on the apartment? It sounded like she might not have any Spectre gear on hand either. He forced himself not to look around suspiciously, or even so much as twitch a finger toward his Omni-tool scanner suite. 

 

“You know you don't need to ask, besides you steal my shirts every time you're here anyway.”  

 

“Well they're super comfy! Can ya blame me?”

 

“Only if I don't get to take them back off, Palvi.” He yelled back in a flirtatious tone while opening the chilling unit in the kitchen, and leaning in for a good look as an excuse to tap his visor's buttons.

 

Standard view. Click. Heat signatures. Click. Electromagnetics. Bingo.

 

The water switched off.

 

“Hey, it's been a while since I went grocery shopping. What do you say to dinner first?”

 

The doorbell rang again. Nihlus came padding up the hallway, smiling like peaches and silver spoons. She had on nothing but a towel wrapped around mid waist.

 

“Are you expectin' company? I'm not interruptin' am I?”

 

“No, I wasn't. It's probably just maintenance...”

 

“Oh well you better answer it then darlin'. Might be important.”

 

Garrus moved to answer to the door while his guest switched with him, walking into the kitchen. He was still trying to figure out how she was different colors, all the way down to the teasing hints of peach toned waist wrapped up in fluffy white towel. No color smears on the white or dark brown spots peaking through...

 

The door swished open.

 

“Can I help you?”

 

There was a cheerful purple-and-orange Drell standing in the door, wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase.

 

“Hello sir! My name is Conall Gallach, and I'm here to offer you a fantastic investment opportunity that comes with immediate rewards! May I come in to tell you more about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, good sir?”

 

Garrus forced his mandibles into a bemused smile in case 'Conall' could read Turian facial expressions.

 

“Ah, sorry. Now isn't a good time...”

 

“Who's at the door darlin'? Is it a friend? You know your police friends are always welcome to come out with us.” The sniper tilted his head as if listening, but refused to fake being more distracted then that by taking eyes off the Drell. Those jacket sleeves did a piss poor job of hiding the muscle underneath.

 

“No, it's not. Just a sec Palvi, I'll be right there. Ahh sorry, Mr. Gallach, my girlfriend and I are about to head out to dinner. Now isn't a good time...”

 

“Oh! I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to bother you. Would another time be better?”

 

“... Sure. I have to check my schedule with work though, and she's here on shore leave... can I get your extra-net address and I'll message you tomorrow about it?” He had to give the man credit. His used-skycar-salesman smile didn't even slip at the subtle attempt to gather counter intelligence.

 

“Of course, good sir! Here is my card? Just let me know when a good time would be, and I would be delighted to stop back by!”

 

The C-Sec Officer took the card without looking, careful not to smudge any finger prints.

 

“That's really nice of you. I am interested, just ah...” He ginned devilishly, one guy to another, and tilted his head in Nihlus' direction insinuatingly. 'Conall' chuckled in understanding.

 

“Well have a wonderful night, I hope to hear from you soon!” The man turned and walked away with a jaunty step. Garrus let the door close and turned around with a purposeful smile. With the electromagnetic mode active, he could see three little pings of light on Nihlus' body. Time to get rid of those.

 

Stealthily.

 

He approached Nihlus and settled his hands on her towel covered hips. He could feel the edges of male plate structure beneath the cloth, and let out a mental laugh at finding that the Spectre wasn't crazy enough to get a sex change for his job. This charade was already impressive enough without it. Garrus leaned in close, amorously pantomiming breathing in Nihlus' scent.

 

“So, about dinner... I suppose you have to put on clothes for that.”

 

“Mmmm, I might just darlin'.”

 

“Shame that. Promise you'll take them off later?”

 

“I might be convinced.” She pressed back into him and nipped at his jaw line. The sniper rumbled playfully, and tapped his forehead to hers.

 

“Well then, let's begin a night of 'convincing' shall we?”

 

“I like that sound'a that.” Green eyes twinkled as she pulled away, and made for his room to nab said clothing. Tarin-Nihlus returned, one of his casual sets belted around her waist to show off it's slimness. It was a good thing the Spectre was naturally lanky. Garrus didn't think he could pull off feminine unless it involved major surgery.

 

“Ready to go?”

 

“Oh I am. What are you in the mood for?”

 

“I was thinking Aishika's, it's a nice place about two clicks away. Ever been there?”

 

“Haven't heard of it.”

 

“I'm sure you'll like it, Palvi. Let's go.”

 

“M'kay.”

 

Aishika's was expensive, but it was his go-to place for really good dextro food. Not to mention? Nihlus was pulling off impeccable drag, and unless he missed the mark, there was a Drell assassin tailing them. Whom he had a business card for. Garrus figured it all counted as kitchen chit worthy 'news'.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The icy eyed Officer spent the short rapid-transit ride cooking up plans to remove the surveillance devices on Nihlus with inconspicuous timing and movements. Nihlus chattered at him about nonsense topics and recent news, and he chipped in where appropriate while considering tactics. One node had somehow made it onto 'her' mandible, another onto fringe, and a third tucked into the nook on her inner collar. It must have been some sort of aerosolized delivery system of exceedingly small devices, because they weren't at matching angles or even visible without a close look.

 

Garrus looked the Spectre up and down, consideringly. It was also possible there were more bugs in a pile of dirty clothing back at his apartment. Great. Hopefully a trip through the laundry machine would destroy them.

 

Since the skycar was on autopilot, he took the opportunity to lean over to Nihlus during a lull in the conversation. She smiled up at him with a curious tilt to her head. The sniper leaned in nearly close enough to share breath, and cupped a hand over her mandible.

 

“Missed you.” he rumbled in a low tone. The Spectre hummed silkily in reply, eyes fluttering closed as she leaned her head into the hand.

 

“I missed you too, Blue.” Came a breathy, well acted reply.

 

“I know it's hard to keep up communications on deployment, but would it be too much to ask for more then one call every three months?”

 

“I'm sorry... I'm just s'bad at it. I promise it isn't that I don't think about you, m'kay?” Nihlus was delivering some honest sounding distress, subvocals and all. Silver and grey plates touched as he brushed temples with her before pulling back, the device from her mandible now scrapped off onto his talon. He'd wipe it off 'accidentally' after a little time had passed.

 

“Hey, it's alright. Don't stress about it, Palvi. The only thing that matters is that the two of us remain in contact... Listen, I know neither of us are anywhere near ready for bonding, but someday? I at least want to be in the running for you, beautiful.”

 

“O-Of course you are.” Nihlus withdrew back into her seat. The skycar slowed down as it came up on the landing pad, and they hopped out on either side. Garrus tilted a nod in the right direction, and led them forward while keeping a casual watch for snipers or suspicious shadows.

 

 

0000000000000000000

 

 

Nihlus had long since decided to enjoy this opportunity for all it was worth. Blue was wining and dining him, albeit under a pretense of subterfuge and the baleful gaze of one of the Illuminated Primacy's best, but his shitstorm of a life recently had been so full of struggle and strife that just pretending to be on a date with the Palaven-born mountain of sniper skill and tech wizardry was immeasurably heartening. The C-Sec Officer really was being an incredibly good sport about it all, and having him on Nihlus' side brightened up his outlook considerably. Even the light hearted almost-fun they were having with word play was a breath of fresh air.



A quiet conversation came back to him then, a rumbled subvocal promise that the sniper would stand for him, if he needed it. Nihlus swallowed back the heavy emotions that brought on; a blend of gratitude, a sense of being unworthy, and affection for the person Garrus was, that he would keep that promise so readily. It was not the time to be wrapped up inside his mind however, right now was for pulling off this act like his life depended on it. Which it might.

 

Truthfully, the sniper's relatively quick uptake on the situation was probably the only reason the assassin hadn't moved in to attempt the kill, and thank fuck that Blue had played it cool. Granted, the Spectre gave himself pretty good odds, but the rumors about the guy said he had a perfect record.



Best not challenge that.



He'd gone to ground immediately after completing the Council's sealed-record order to kill a high ranking member of the Primacy. The Drell had been on his tail within three days, and only his savant level skill at blending in had kept him a step ahead. The asshole was skilled as fuck, and had a Drell's memory for people.



It was a good thing Nihlus could be someone else at the drop of a hat.



At the moment, he was in his best cover yet. Only possible because of a spot of good luck that had someone who looked like his last guise pass by him on a crowded street, and he'd used it to slip the hunter for long enough to get in a full special effects grade makeover as different as possible from the disguise he'd been in when taking the kill.



Still, the Drell had caught up quickly, but his tracks led him to a very female tarin with matching paperwork and a boyfriend. Said 'boyfriend' was really helping him sell it, as was the crest trimming he'd endured. It would grow back in a few months, but the surrounding nerves he'd long since killed pulling this before had tried to regrow too, and they were fucking itchy.



Well, it was either all of those excellent obfuscations, or the man's reputation for avoiding unneeded deaths. Garrus appeared to be just another civilian Police Officer on paper, and It really didn't get much more reputable then that.



There was no telling exactly what was going on in the assassin's head though, just guesses. He'd been ready with a kitchen knife when 'Conall' had rung the bell.



On that note, he felt kinda shitty about dropping all this on Blue's door step. With Saren off the grid somewhere unknown, his options were sorta limited.



Jondam was on flipping Kahje right now. Not fucking helpful. He would not, under any circumstances, bring this upon tiny, crazy little Tio'fore. Adiah's work was too delicate to have him bringing scrutiny to her airlock. Tela would laugh merrily and slam the door in his face.



His options for friends that could help him deal with this, and wouldn't panic, were very small. He knew lots of people, sure, but a large number of those were self interested mercs who'd sell him out for enough creds, or just plain civilian lovers.



Trim that list down to the number of people who constantly wore an optical piece and had the presence of mind to identify and begin removing bugs... Would be two actually, as Saren had his artificial eyes from that incident with the acid.



Nihlus was beginning to be a little jealous of the silver plated jerks and their optical advantages.



Speaking of advantages, and taking them, their waiter seated them in a cozy booth for two that looked out over the middle of the room, which was occupied by a large fountain that misted a surrounding colorful mess of dextro plants. He snuggled into the sniper's side with a happy sigh covering his malicious glee.



'Suck on humidity and dextro pollen, you tenacious scaly fucker.'



He didn't know if Garrus had planned it like this, or if it was a happy coincidence, but he'd take it. Winging it and making the best of circumstances was his specialty.



He was distracted from further conniving when the sniper started rumbling menu options in his ear. 'Hot damn, that voice...'



" -is also an choice, but my favorite is the next meal down. Any of that sounding good?"



What he thought was, 'Oh, all of it did.', what he said however was a somewhat less lascivious, "Oh, all of it did. What're you gettin'?"



"My favorite, I think."



"I'll have that then, just order two, hm?" Nihlus could see him nod out of the corner of his eye, feeling a swish of thumb back and forth on his far shoulder. That warm arm around his collar was distracting in ways he didn't need right now...



He was tempted to enact plan A, which was always 'make it worse', but he didn't want to get them kicked out. Nihlus settled for stealing heat and playing footsie with the Officer's spurs while they waited to order. They just needed to keep this cover long enough for the Drell to back off with uncertainty, then he could get his Spectre contacts to work on having the kill order removed via mitigating favors and bribery.



He expected it would take a handful of 'Enkindler' artifacts, credits, and favors owed. Hopefully that process was a matter of days, and not weeks or months.



Though he wouldn't exactly mind posing as Garrus' girlfriend for an extended duration... Vision faded as the temporarily silver and peach colored Spectre closed his eyes and enjoyed it all for a moment, feeling safe enough to just breathe for the first time in two weeks.



The waiting staff came around with complementary wine and took their order, returning with unasked for appetizers of spicy petit fours made of meat slices pinned in with savory cake fluff.



Okay, Nihlus had been mostly kidding on the whole getting 'wined and dined' thing, but Blue was playing a boyfriend that was 'in it to win it' he guessed. It was perfectly normal for a couple to treat each other like this.. but it seemed like he was always mooching on the torin's good will, every time they met. The temporarily-silver Spectre made a mental note to find a way to repay him for all this, with interest.



"You always take me such nice places, Blue." he said, shaking it off. No help for it right now. Nihlus instead refocused on staying alive. He hoped the food wasn't poisoned. Couldn't exactly check it with a scan, and not eating would give up the game. The poisoner in him couldn't smell or taste any though, and that had to be good enough.

 


"I'm a classy guy, what can I say? Besides, you deserve it for all these long tours you take with your squad. One left this year before you get a longer leave, right?"



'Two bugs gone already? That sly little copper...' Okay, 'little' wasn't really a valid word to describe the seven feet of muscled torin, but whatever. Speaking of small things, Nihlus wished he could tell where the damn tiny devices were. He hadn't even been aware anything but his clothes had gotten tagged.



"I think so, but I'll have ta check the schedule to be sure. Did you, um, want me to visit for part'a the off time?"



Garrus set his eating utensil down, and turned to him fully. Those icy blue eyes meeting his own with sharp edged focus. The hand on his shoulder rose up to rest on the spinal plates at the back of his neck.



"Palvi, don't tease me. You know I'd like you to stay forever."



'Oh... fuck me...' was the faint thought in reply as Nihlus' heart gave out for a moment.



Maybe Blue was selling this cover just a little too well...

 

Chapter Text

That damn third listening bug was still glowing in Nihlus' collar. Garrus had managed to leave the first bug in the skycar, and had transferred the second to his arm, which he'd brush off casually at some point. The third one was in an obnoxious spot that he couldn't figure out how to get to without seeming suspicious.



He'd keep watching for an opportunity.



The Officer spent the meal surreptitiously glancing around from time to time, using excuses like calling the waiter over or going to the restroom, he checked for their tail. There were no Drell to be seen, but he knew that didn't mean 'Conall' wasn't there.



The sniper found that, strangely enough, he was having a damn good time. Compared to the tension wire stress he'd been fighting in the kitchen earlier, this dangerous game had him feeling engaged and productive. There was a problem, and he was solving it.



Their meal came to an end, and Garrus paid for them. Taking Nihlus by the arm, he pulled them from the restaurant toward the rapid-transit station. That was about the time it occurred to him that if they went straight back to his apartment, not only would he have issues loosing the bugs without having to destroy them, but anyone listening would be expecting amorous activities to begin.



He didn't like the idea of Nihlus having sex as a part of his job in the first place, however, and he had no intention of taking the charade that far. It put a bad taste in his throat. Maybe he was just old fashioned, but Garrus felt that the lanky, cross dressing Spectre deserved better then that.



Time to stall.

 


"Have you seen the new Blasto movie?"



"I hadn't realized it was out! You wanna go see it?"



"I was hoping you'd say that. Let's go."



The second tiny device ended up on the torso of a random person he purposefully ran into on the way inside. Just one left. As they took seats in the back row of the theater he had to turn off his visor, dropping the shimmered blue veil it had layered over everything to display the local electromagnetics. His matching eye appreciated the break.

 

Garrus realized about thirty minutes into the showing that the back row seats in the theater had more uses then keeping their backs to a wall... it was also the universal make out spot for horny teenagers everywhere.

 

Perfect.



The sniper tugged Nihlus into the angle he wanted, and leaned in to nuzzle at warm peach. Time to see if the pin-head sized device could survive saliva... and stomach acid... and a gizzard... and still manage to operate from inside a Thulium lined hide. He hummed a whisper quiet subvocal 'heads up', then began nibbling and laving at hide. Nihlus' neck tilted obligingly to the side in open invitation.

 

Garrus started out nuzzling and licking lightly, just below the mandible, and worked his way down... a little back... and found the troublesome thing with his tongue. He licked it clean away, fairly certain his insides would kill it, and if not that, then prevent it from operating.

 

Accidentally eating it seemed like a fairly unsuspicious way to get rid of the third one anyway. He kept up the attention for a while as well, just in case they were being observed still. Pulling back after a bit, he nipped at her fringe playfully and turned back to watching Blasto aim six different guns, one for each tentacle, at the antagonist. All tilted sideways in gangster-esc nonsense.

 

They stayed till the end, and held hands to the skycar. Garrus turned his visor on after a few moments, opting to 'remember' to reactivate it later rather then sooner in an attempt to not appear paranoid. Once they exited onto the platform, he spent the walk back to his apartment casually looking them down, and when they hit the elevator up to his floor, he risked scanning them both.

 

Looks like the bug couldn't survive a Turian digestive system after all.

 

Coming up clean, he briefly showed Nihlus the all clear screen then exiting the program before the doors could reopen. Down the hall, in the door, and they were back in closed quarters at least. No good sight lines in here for any attempts at sniping either. He checked for EM signatures as they went.

 

“Hey Blue, mind if I set m'clothes to wash?”

 

“I'll take care of it, yeah? Just make yourself comfortable.” He really didn't want Nihlus touching the wrong bit of clothing and getting rebugged. The Spectre seemed to gather that as Garrus went to grab his laundry from it's haphazard pile on bathroom floor.

 

Nihlus smiled and flopped on his bed in a lounge. “You're the best.”

 

The sniper tossed the clothes in the laundry machine, along with some of his own for realism, and panned a look around the bedroom. It looked as though they were finally, finally bug free. He checked other detection fields on his visor as well, just to be safe.

 

There was someone in the vents of the hallway, showing up on thermal imaging as a Drell shaped heat signature. Damnit.

 

The sniper turned to the bed, casually tossing off his shirt, and joined the Spectre. Nihlus' silvery arms came around him as they touched fringes, and he slid off to the side to whisper a barely audible 'vents. heat sig.' in her ear before continuing down to nibble softly with mouth plates along the peachy neck. She in turn wrapped her long legs around his waist, shifting them back and forth to pass along his sides. His lower abdominals tensed at how good that felt, and his first reaction was to recoil from the heat he felt spreading, but realized in time that recoiling would give them immediately away.

 

He swallowed it back and hummed in pleasure instead. Focus. He needed to focus. Either he could stay like this and physically protect Nihlus if the assassin tried to jump them, or he could flip them and put her back to the threat, which he didn't like the idea of at all, but it would allow him to keep watch on the heat signature...

 

Garrus decided eyes-on was the better bet. He'd roll Nihlus out of the way if the red-shifted blob came forward to engage. He spun them, leaving Nihlus on top, and bared his neck at a good angle to keep his view where it needed to be. The subvocals of the Spectre on him modulated in a wave of desire and she descended on the proffered hide.

 

Icy blue eyes tried to roll back in his head as the feeling of molten tongue licking long trails up his neck sent his instincts into bliss. Spirits that felt amazing. With a will, Garrus forced himself to focus and keep watch through half lidded eyes, kneading at the malleable peach sides in his hands. An insistent nuzzle forced his head farther aside then need be, and a jaw came over his neck as teeth pinched down ever so slightly in a move that asked for trust. Garrus rumbled a long and low confirmation. That tongue went back to work in time to a light roll of hips.

 

Spirits, Nihlus needed to be not so good at this.

 

The distracted torin focused on keeping the heat signature in sight, but couldn't stop his hips from bucking up against the weight on top of him when Nihlus bit down on his mandible with mouth plates and tugged gently.

 

He'd been so, so damn keyed up this morning and now... it was all coming back in a very different way, with terrible timing.

 

His thoughts became a litany of, 'Spirits. Go away Drell. Damn. Oh... damn. Assassins need to leave, spirits please. Goawaygoaway. Can't focus, go away...' He barely noticed Nihlus' stolen shirt go flying, but he did notice the Spectre lean back in and grip his fringe, pulling his face up and diving her tongue into his mouth.

 

Garrus let out a shudder as a long black tongue laved over the roof of his mouth, kicking off a plunge into Reverie. The hormone cocktail hit his blood stream in seconds and his mild purr roared up into forceful roll of thunder. The gender swapped torin answered in kind and took him apart mercilessly, drawing along the back of his teeth, curling along his own tongue and diving to swipe at the soft underside. Black talons dug into peach hide, any pain flowing away into the state of Reverie induced delirium that swallowed up all sensation and returned it as coiling pleasure.

 

Heat... he needed... to... the heat signature...

 

Garrus managed to get a quick peak at the still motionless form, and then the tide rose again sweeping him away. Nihlus was intense, curling her tongue around his and tugging, then licking all around his teeth and mandibles, grinding down on his hips... both of their plates had loosened somewhere along the way. He had a moment of panic realizing that if the Drell was watching them still with any number of tech devices it could easily reveal the Spectre's form enough to show his gender inaccuracy. The fear keeping him afloat just enough, he pulled her from his face, but she went right back to his neck.

 

It was enough to see that the shape was gone, only a fading trail of transferred heat remained in the vent walls. No other heat signatures around except for the distant fuzzy imprints of neighbors. Garrus let his head fall back with a relieved outrush of breath. It soon became a moan as the temporarily-silver Spectre growled angrily at his distraction and bit him low on the neck.

 

The Reverie flow turned it into a dizzying amount of pleasure, and his focus sunk back down. He clawed at it though, grasping for the surface, slipping as a long hard length pressed against his own. With a brutal amount of will and a haggard gasp for air, the sniper bent his knees and pulled them in to pin Nihlus' hips, or at least slow them down. He gripped the peachy neck on either side below the mandible and tried to get his attention.

 

“Ni-” He swallowed through a throat gone dry. “Nihlus!”

 

No response. He panted with effort and yanked at the face in his hands to look at him.

 

Nihlus!

 

“Blue... yeeessss.... yesss.”

 

“Nihlus. S-slow down. Stop. He's gone. The Drell is... the Drell is gone. You can stop.”

 

“....s-stop?”

 

“Yeah, you can... stop. He left.”

 

“... I don't wanna stop, Blue.”

 

“That just... it's just the Reverie, Palvi. It's just the... It's my fault. I was... really stressed today. My pheromones are probably strong as hell right now.”

 

“No. Blue. I don't. Want. To stop.”

 

“Nih-”

 

 

oooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Nihlus pulled the hands from his face and pinned them down to the bed. He pushed his forehead down into the sniper's, and keened a long low note of want. Almost begging.

 

“Please, Blue... It's not... I've had... I've been running from that scaly asshole for weeks. No rest. I need this. Please.”

 

Icy blue eyes looked up into his own, and fuck they were so gorgeous. Garrus was beautiful and amazing and fuck, he just wanted him so much right now...

 

The stared at each other in a panting detente, eyes blurred from excessively powerful hormones that had been jumped up by unrealistic stress levels. He saw the moment Garrus caved into his will, and a fierce smile took over his face.

 

“Yes, fuck, thank you. I don't even need... just keep going, I was almost there.”

 

Then Garrus pulled him down, -spirits, hell yes-, and took over his expression with a venturing tongue and digging talons. Working back up, he tried to roll himself against the abiding warmth of hard length and spread plates below him. He was pressed into the plate gap along side the other torin, their natural lubricants working through cloth and mixing, leaving him with no friction, only trapped heat. Nihlus wanted more, but the knees behind his back were holding him in place. He rumbled frustration and went after the tawny throat in vengeance.

 

It didn't get him released to grind as he wished, but it did involve a wild game of power plays and teasing with teeth and tongue that had him on edge again.

 

He almost came when Garrus bit down on his neck right below his left mandible in time with a scrape of talons against the sensitive and overexposed underside of his crest. Without Reverie it might have been painful, but this deep in it was a blitzkrieg of pleasure not far from hitting his peak.

 

Nihlus' trilling must have given away how close he was, because the knees suddenly disappeared and a wet spread of plates and cloth pushed up against him, and he pushed right back.

 

The sudden hit of pressure and friction was exactly what was needed, and he came with a wild cry. Talons clutched at each other as jaws locked shut to avoid instinctively biting too deep and breaking hide. He felt the pulse of fluid as the other torin came soon after, a quick surge and then a slow pouring as they held on until it had wrung them out. 

 

The aftershocks subsided and left them limp and fighting for breath in a shuddering pile. For a while, they just hummed and sucked in air. It was Nihlus who first managed words that were more than merely subvocal.

 

“ ...can I stay?” He asked with a wisp of trepidation, eyes still closed. He'd already asked so much...

 

“Of course.” Honestly silver plates and tawny brown arms came around him and rolled them side ways. “But I vote for shower before we sleep. We're a mess... If I can manage to stand that is.”

 

Nihlus just fell apart into relieved laughter. His stress levels had taken a dive like you wouldn't believe, and he was about to shower with the... just the nicest, best person he'd ever met.

 

No voyeuristic Compact minions anymore either.

 

Life was good.

 

Chapter Text

Beeeep! Beeeep! Beeeep!

 

Nihlus was half awake, knife in hand, before the first beep had ended. Was it the proximity alarms they'd set in the night, in case the assassin came back?

 

No, it was just... an alarm clock. He turned to look at Blue, who was awake and hiding an amused grin in a pillow.

 

“What the fuck is that?” He gestured at the noise with the pointy end while the sniper turned it off. Garrus lost the battle with his amusement, and his mandibles spread in a handsome grin.

 

“It's called an 'alarm clock', and it's making noise to tell me I have to go to work.” Nihlus decided to play along with the brattish teasing.

 

“Can I stab it? Will that make it stop? I'd rather keep ya here.”

 

“No, you can't stab it, and I have to check my request for time off before I'll know. Just a sec.”

 

“What about a bomb? A really small one?”

 

“No.” Was the laughing reply as the C-Sec Officer began checking his Omni-tool.

 

“Fire?”

 

“Uh uh.”

 

“Acid?”

 

“No, and I have bad news...”

 

“Nooooooooooo~~~~” Was the forlorn, overdramatic reply.

 

“Yeah. My request was denied. I have to go in today, unless you have a way around that.”

 

“Ummm. Lemme think.” Nihlus flopped back on the bed, knife held loosely against his stomach. The green eyed torin ran the dull edge along his hide in swirling patterns as he tried to come up with a work around. He couldn't pull Spectre authority right now, as he didn't know if the Drell's intel had enough data to trace him or not, and any access from the knife wielding agent to his real identity could suddenly pin the whole thing on the usually-carmine-plated Spectre.

 

“Alright, I'll go make breakfast.”

 

“Out of what?”

 

“I have bread.”

 

“and?”

 

“Jelly.”

 

“and?”

 

“ ...ketchup?”

 

“Saren would be appalled.”

 

“Ha! Probably.”

 

He couldn't actually say he was much better, but he did have a freezer full of easily heatable meals on the Widmanstat. Hell, he missed his ship. He'd docked somewhere quiet before this whole thing had started, and it felt like homesickness not to be in it while he traveled. Well, he had no accounts, no ship... really, he had no tools left in reserve to get Garrus the day off without his normal authority. Not even just a good gun. Nothing but the stolen kitchen knife. He didn't think he was nice enough to give it back either. So if he couldn't keep the icy eyed cop here...

 

“Okay, idea. Can you take me into work with you?”

 

“Well... yeah. I could take you in, but unless there was a reason...”

 

“If anyone asks tell them it's business. I'll be all professional even.”

 

“While wearing my clothes? Or the grubby things you had on yesterday?”

 

“I could rock it. You don't even know.”

 

“I believe you, but how about we go early and stop by somewhere that sells clothing?”

 

“That works too, but I... um... still don't have money. I can't access any of my normal accounts right now, and all my emergency funds were eaten up running from that psychopath. He was a tenacious bastard.”

 

“The Drell? He was a Compact Assassin, wasn't he?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Why did the Compact send one of theirs after you?”

 

“Can't tell ya, Blue. Big time secret.”

 

“Alright. So... clothing, breakfast, work. You're a... hmm... informant, and we're going to sit in my office all day, while I work on the mess of a case file that has half the department hung up to dry. What are you going to do?”

 

“Ahhh... play Galaxy of Fantasy?”

 

“On your normal account?”

 

“Oh crap, gps data.”

 

“Mmmhmm.”

 

“Pffft. I'll just make a new trial and farm some creds to mail to myself later.”

 

“Ohhhh, you're one of those players.”

 

“Shush.”

 

oooooooooooooooooooooo

 

In truth, Nihlus was in and out of his office the entire day.

 

He wasn't exactly sure how, but shortly after they arrived that morning the torin had managed to slip out and acquire a standard issue C-Sec sidearm, a shock baton, two grenades from the SWAT team's stock, and a cup of kava. He was now drinking with one hand, flipping that kitchen knife with the other, and reading from a data pad on his knees.

 

Garrus smiled slightly, shook his head, and refocused on work.

 

A few hours later, the Spectre was gone for a while, and returned with a different pair of shoes and an Earth-style bowler hat. He sat back down in the spare chair to the side and began a series of furious back-and-forth typing messages. The sniper figured he shouldn't ask, as it was probably related to the 'big time secret'.

 

Lunch time hit, and Nihlus was away, so he just kept working. It was a lot of data aggregation, and searching for loopholes both strictly legal, semi-legal, or at the very least difficult to track.

 

Mid afternoon he leaned back to pop his back and stretch his wrists. This much typing wasn't easy on the joints of any species. There was a dextro sandwich sitting by his elbow. He stared at it.... looked around the empty room... looked back at the sandwich...

 

With an apathetic shrug of the bureaucracy entrenched, he opened the wrapper and ate it.

 

It was an hour till shift end when the cross dressing Spectre returned again. The hat was gone, but the shoes were still different, and he came over to begin tugging at Garrus' shoulder.

 

“You have got to be off by now, Blue. You've been in here, baring bathroom breaks, for twelve hours.

 

“I know. I'm off in one more, almost done.”

 

“Seriously? Your shifts are thirteen hours long?! You have to be kidding me.”

 

“Normally I only work ten hour shifts eight days a week, but with this mess I needed to get more done. Thirteen is the maximum you can stay clocked in during one twenty hour day, and I'm already here, so I might as well.” Nihlus just stared at him like he was crazy. He stared back. The stalemate broke when Nihlus threw up his hands in pleading to the spirits.

 

“I don't even Blue. I don't even. Go back to work, I'm going to go get take out, and stop back by, and then we're leaving.”

 

Garrus half smiled at the still-high pitched and peachy Spectre, and trilled an acknowledgement before turning back to the terminal for one last assault.

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

In a show of utter disregard for hygiene, Nihlus was sitting on the edge his breakfast bar while they ate. There wasn't exactly another chair for her, so he didn't think it fair to complain. What was he going to do? Have the Spectre sit in his lap to eat?

 

Most of the take out containers were empty by now, and he was feeling an oncoming food coma. He normally took a decent lunch break and napped in the mid day to refresh his energy. Having skipped that... he was about done.

 

Garrus packed up the left overs into the fridge, and went to take a shower.

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Green eyes stared after the yawning sniper, watching him disappear into the bedroom and hearing the water come on from down the hall. His hands curled over the edge of the counter top, elbows locked, as he tried to resist jumping up and running in there to join in.

 

He could just... waltz in, and press up against silver-grey plates streaming with water...

 

Nihlus jerked back and shook his head. He needed to stop thinking about taking advantage. The knife loving torin felt like he'd already mooched enough. Time, money, affection... He had to stop being a damn leech. Garrus' help yesterday had solidified his cover, and his contacts were already greasing the wheels to make this go away. They said it'd be a few days before the family of the Hanar and it's outraged social group calmed down enough to be willing to trade dirty political favors and bitter cold blood money to stop hunting the tracks that led back to Nihlus and the Council.

 

The Spectre knew he'd have to pretend to have gone rogue if they found him at the end of that trail.

 

The shower clicked back off, and his gut curled again. He wanted... No no no. But he wanted... No. 'Damnit no, you useless leech.' He berated himself. It didn't matter that he wanted more of the sniper, that he wanted to fall to his knees and lick him off, slow and tortuously, or to lay back on the bed and spread himself open in invitation...

 

Blue was good people. Too good for him, and he knew it. It was better to take the gift of last night, and tuck it away somewhere safe in the back of his mind. It was more then he'd gotten from the other silver plated torin that he lo-liked. That he liked. And he'd known Saren a lot longer, tried to get him to open up many more times.

 

Apparently, Blue was just a more generous sort then the emotively private Spectre.

 

As if summoned, Garrus came padding out of the hall wearing only deliciously low-hung pants. Nihlus told himself not to be spiteful. The sniper wasn't doing it to tease him, it was perfectly normal to walk about in minimal clothing around fellow Turians. Shit, they'd only adapted the heavier clothing styles to deal with the chilly temperatures the other Citadel races favored.

 

“Hey, the shower is free if you want to use it.”

 

“Mmm, that sounds great. I'll do that... you uh... want me on the cubitura tonight? I could give you some space... that monstrosity is definitely comfy enough.”

 

Garrus just shrugged. “I don't mind. It was nice to sleep beside someone, I haven't had that in a while. If you like it out here better, then go for it. Sleep where ever you are comfortable.” Nihlus' cognizance of that statement had died after the words, 'nice to sleep beside someone'.

 

“Cool. I'll hop in the bed after a shower then?”

 

“Alright.”

 

The Spectre couldn't decide if he wanted his contacts to hurry up smooth over the mess with the Illuminated Primacy, or if he wanted them to take a long damn time if it meant he got to sleep next to Blue at night...

 

'No damnit, you're thinking like a leech again. Stop it Kyrik. Just stop.'

 

It didn't stop him from curling up to stony-grey plates that night, or nuzzling into light brown hide with a deep breath to pull in the sniper's scent. He slept like a hibernating bear in the warm and easy acceptance.

 

Chapter Text

 

[RUNTIME LOG 2168/4/13/07/49/02/21]

[PROCESSES ACTIVE: 1176]

[REPORT STATUS: NO NEW DATA]

[DATA ACQUIRED: CURRENT OPINION OF SPECIES – CREATOR]

[CURRENT OPINION STATUS: HOSTILE]

 

“Well nobody likes to talk about it, do they? I mean... they came from our world, yeah... but they weren't our fault, really. No one set out to program death machines, you know? We just made things to clean up the streets, farm crops... all the things that everybody else does. The Salarians have whole worlds full of machine workers that just grow food all day. It's mostly bad luck that ours went crazy and theirs haven't. It wasn't the Quarian people that made them evil, the networking was the real problem. Without that, they would be exactly like Keepers.”

 

[RUNTIME LOG 2168/4/13/12/08/15/01]

[PROCESSES ACTIVE: 1174]

[REPORT STATUS: ADD TO FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE ARCHIVES]

[DATA ACQUIRED: CURRENT OPINION OF SPECIES – ASARI]

[CURRENT OPINION STATUS: NEUTRAL]

 

“A shame, really. I visited Rannoch long ago, before all this mess. The Geth of that time seemed peaceful, and rather helpful. Quite a bit less... how should I put this... creepy, perhaps? Mmm. Yes, that word works. Less creepy then the Keepers, very polite when spoken to. It's just such a pity that I can't take my offspring to see it now-a-days. Studying for a degree in Oceanology, you know? The aquatic life on a world without insects would just be a delight to study. Ah well, perhaps the matter will resolve itself before graduation.”

 

[RUNTIME LOG 2168/4/13/14/00/34/09]

[PROCESSES ACTIVE: 1192]

[REPORT STATUS: NO NEW DATA]

[DATA ACQUIRED: CURRENT OPINION OF SPECIES – RACHNI]

[CURRENT OPINION STATUS: NEUTRAL]

 

“We do not like places that sing with the cold notes of machines. Their song is repetitive. Their song is not vibrant. It is boring to listen to machines. It is still better then silence. They do not try to end our song as others have done. We are so few now. This mercy is enough. It is not friendship. It is not war. The melody is plain and purple... but it is not brittle. We do not seek an end to their song. They do not seek an end to ours. We each pour dreams only onto a few places. It is well enough.”

 

[RUNTIME LOG 2168/4/13/14/07/30/02]

[PROCESSES ACTIVE: 1101]

[REPORT STATUS: NO NEW DATA]

[DATA ACQUIRED: CURRENT OPINION OF SPECIES – ELCOR]

[CURRENT OPINION STATUS: NEUTRAL]

 

“With great sorrow: It would break my heart to never see Dekuuna again. If there was a way to settle the dispute between the Quarians and their Geth, I would like to help. Unfortunately, there is little I can do. With positive attitude: I have hope that they will someday find a way to forgive, though it may take a long time. With mild chastisement: The Quarian people should learn from this what they can so that they can grow as a species. Maybe if they learn better cooperation the Geth could be convinced to trade with and aid the other races of the galaxy.”

 

[RUNTIME LOG 2168/4/13/12/11/11/34]

[PROCESSES ACTIVE: 1034]

[REPORT STATUS: NO NEW DATA]

[DATA ACQUIRED: CURRENT OPINION OF SPECIES – KROGAN]

[CURRENT OPINION STATUS: HOSTILE]

 

“Uhhhh... you mean the Geth? Yeah, I've heard of 'em. Don't really care. They can't be much sport, you can't eat them, and it's not like you could trust them as krannt. If the suit-rats want their planet back, they should just go take it back. If they can't, then they don't deserve to have it.”

 

[RUNTIME LOG 2168/4/13/14/10/20/33]

[PROCESSES ACTIVE: 1190]

[REPORT STATUS: ADD TO FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE ARCHIVES]

[DATA ACQUIRED: CURRENT OPINION OF SPECIES – HUMAN]

[CURRENT OPINION STATUS: NEUTRAL]

 

“What I wouldn't give for a chance to meet one! I read all about A.I. in school when I was studying neural augmentation as a part of my masters. Sure, I know it's illegal to research them now, but that's active research, not theory crafting. Who could resist a little of that, eh? Hopefully they figure out what went wrong, and the S.A. gets the rights for us to try a crack at it. I bet we could do it better. As for the state of Rannoch? Well.. I can't say I know enough about the politics to really give you a good answer. I'd like to see the Quarians get home, I mean... it's depressing, isn't it? On the other hand, I don't think kicking the bee hive is going to help matters. I wonder why they don't settle somewhere else?”

 

[RUNTIME LOG 2168/4/13/14/05/00/22]

[PROCESSES ACTIVE: 1045]

[REPORT STATUS: NO NEW DATA]

[DATA ACQUIRED: CURRENT OPINION OF SPECIES – BATARIAN]

[CURRENT OPINION STATUS: HOSTILE]

 

“Aboninations, all of them. There is no place in the great wheel for false, undying souls. It's no wonder the Quarians have lost their homeworld, having such great hubris as to try and make artificial life. Can you imagine their farms and mines? Their fisheries and factories? Full of metal monsters instead of having room for the low-caste, all the places the ignoble and poor need to cleanse themselves... just taken! By machines! It's disgusting. What is a low-caste supposed to do to earn a better life in their next reincarnation? Spend a lifetime in self-flagellation? Suicide? No, if the opportunity presents itself, the machines need to be destroyed. For all the low-caste who are trapped in sin because they have no station of good work in which to live a pure life.”

 

[RUNTIME LOG 2168/4/13/16/19/49/00]

[PROCESSES ACTIVE: 1034]

[REPORT STATUS: ADD TO FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE ARCHIVES]

[DATA ACQUIRED: CURRENT OPINION OF SPECIES – RALOI]

[CURRENT OPINION STATUS: NEUTRAL]

 

“Dunno. Geth? Hadn't heard of them. Asari are aliens who found us. Saw pictures, haven't met one. Very pretty. Saw other aliens too. Was a lizard thing. And a big bug. Also a fish thing. Heard there were others, don't know how many. Machines? Geth are made of metal? Crazy. Metal is heavy how could it fly? Oh? Aliens don't fly? None of them, really? I saw an Asari in air... She was using telekinesis? Interesting! What? Oh, ships don't count. That's flight for children. How sad. Geth can move into a body that could fly? Body moving! Crazy. Other aliens should ask for help then. Move to better bodies.”

 

[RUNTIME LOG 2168/4/13/01/11/44/03]

[PROCESSES ACTIVE: 1090]

[REPORT STATUS: ADD TO FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE ARCHIVES]

[DATA ACQUIRED: CURRENT OPINION OF SPECIES – SALARIAN]

[CURRENT OPINION STATUS: HOSTILE]

 

“AI. An interesting topic. Between you and I, can't say haven't... dabbled. Was an interesting subject, but I was careful to destroy the product afterwards, and ensure proper precautions before starting. Hmph. Was careless of Quarians to network machines with ability to learn, and then update firmware organically as time passed. Stupid, and careless. Nothing for it now. They Geth have taken over Rannoch, and if I were in charge... would have whole system defended with every resource possible. No way to take it back now, best just to let that failed experiment run in containment. If they try to expand, we'll set the Turians on them. Perhaps best to have a few pieces of malware ready in case. Always good to take precautions.”

 

[RUNTIME LOG 2168/4/13/04/11/32/00]

[PROCESSES ACTIVE: 1169]

[REPORT STATUS: NO NEW DATA]

[DATA ACQUIRED: CURRENT OPINION OF SPECIES – DRELL]

[CURRENT OPINION STATUS: NEUTRAL]

 

“Ah, and on that topic, had you heard about the most recent attempt to speak with the Geth? I had thought not. The individuals in charge of the project are attempting to secure a cease fire. Yes, it's true. I believe the goal is to eventually earn enough trust to look beyond the Veil for Enkindler relics. No, I'm not certain that there are any. It's hard to say, we know so little of the area. Hopefully some kind of arrangement can be made...”

 

[RUNTIME LOG 2168/4/13/04/12/34/23]

[PROCESSES ACTIVE: 1088]

[REPORT STATUS: ADD TO FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE ARCHIVES]

[DATA ACQUIRED: CURRENT OPINION OF SPECIES – HANAR]

[CURRENT OPINION STATUS: NEUTRAL]

 

“This one was unaware such a project had been started. A very good thing. It is this one's humble opinion that even Machines can walk in the Enkindler's Light. There is no need for discord between us if peaceful cooperation can be achieved. If the Geth do not seek enlightenment, it would not be forced on them. At the same time, if they do not believe, then what use have they for the sacred objects left to us? If resources are all that is wished for, as sad as that would be, it would still be possible for mutual cooperation to benefit all involved. This one holds onto hope that violence is not a result of the outreach project.”

 

[RUNTIME LOG 2168/4/13/15/34/33/32]

[PROCESSES ACTIVE: 1113]

[REPORT STATUS: ADD TO FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE ARCHIVES]

[DATA ACQUIRED: CURRENT OPINION OF SPECIES – VOLUS]

[CURRENT OPINION STATUS: NEUTRAL]

 

“A waste is what it is. -sssskt- The Geth can gather resources with better -sssskt- efficiency then organics can. No need to sleep! -sssskt- Or eat, or breathe, or rest! The Protectorate would never have let the situation get to full out war, -sssskt- or even reacted violently when they began asking for rights and all that. -sssskt- Quarians have always seemed like such overemotional creatures, at least to me. -sssskt- They handled the whole thing poorly. The could have made a deal with their creations, figured out a middle ground -sssskt- between productivity and personal rights. What a mess.”

 

[RUNTIME LOG 2168/4/13/13/00/34/09]

[PROCESSES ACTIVE: 1051]

[REPORT STATUS: NO NEW DATA]

[DATA ACQUIRED: CURRENT OPINION OF SPECIES – VORCHA]

[CURRENT OPINION STATUS: HOSTILE]

 

“NYAAA! Machines not good to eat! Can I sell them? Trade for food? No? Rrrrr! Then what use are they?”

 

[RUNTIME LOG 2168/4/13/17/11/44/03]

[PROCESSES ACTIVE: 1201]

[REPORT STATUS: ADD TO FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE ARCHIVES]

[DATA ACQUIRED: CURRENT OPINION OF SPECIES - TURIAN]

[CURRENT OPINION STATUS: FRIENDLY]

[ALERT: DISCOVERY AND INTERACTION.]

[PRIORITY FLAG: SEE ATTACHED DATA]

[PERSON OF INTEREST: SPECTRE-KYRIK, NIHLUS]

 

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Nihlus walked down the shopping avenue at a lazy saunter. He hadn't spotted any watchers specifically since the Drell had left off the other night, but his instincts said there was still... something... watching. He couldn't put a talon on it, but when his gut told him he was observed, paranoia or not, he knew to follow that feeling. Hence, shopping for clothing and acting like a tarin on shore leave.

 

Not really the worst time waster he'd ever endured, and it certainly had a few good upsides. For one, Blue had shoved a credit chit in his hands this morning, and wouldn't take no for an answer. It wasn't loaded down, but it was more then enough to buy clothes, lunch, and anything else he wanted in the foreseeable future.

 

He would pay the sniper back later, there was no doubt about it, but for now... he could really use few more sets of clothing. Things to highlight his most feminine aspects, and smooth over the masculine. He had quite a bit of muscle, not to mention scars as well, though his cover as a soldier smoothed over that little detail well enough. At the very least, if he had to be a girl for an extended amount of time, he was going to own it.

 

Which was why he had two bags of clothing, a new pair of sunglasses, and a smoothie in hand as he walked.

 

He heard the scream from a distance and stopped dead in his tracks. It didn't seem like anyone else had heard anything. Nihlus looked around the street, full to brimming with people out shopping, talking, eating... Wait.

 

There it was again. Distant, and shrill.

 

He turned toward the noise, and in the fastest causal walk he could manage, made his way closer. He turned down a side street. Once out of view of the crowd, the Spectre tucked his loot away behind a bit of greenery and took off running in the direction he'd heard it come from. Three streets in, he heard another yell. Louder, and unless the temporarily silver torin missed his guess, tear filled. He picked up the pace.

 

Nihlus turned around the back corner of an internet cafe, and came to a halt in a small garden space to an unfortunately common scene. A dozen gang members were surrounding a fallen suited form, mercilessly kicking even as they were begged to stop. It looked like the poor Quarian had taken a few out first, four more gangster looking sorts were unconscious on the side of the grassy courtyard. The lucky hits were probably doing him no favors now, but he had to admire the spunk of fighting one to sixteen odds when a small cut could kill you.

 

Green eyes narrowed as a low growl rolled out of him. He did not like bullies.

 

Twelve to two odds now? How unfortunate...

 

For them.

 

'Time to put some holes in these shitheads.'

 

Light flashed on the kitchen knife, glinting on a slick-sharp edge that was utterly ridiculous for a cooking utensil to have. He came in low and fast, swipping at a scantily clad human female. The gouge wash-boarded over her ribs and she cried out in a shriek of pain. The Spectre got his first good look at the victim. It looked like a smallish male, suit in shades of burnt orange with triangle patterns. What looked a personal asssistace mech was sprawled over them. It had probably tried to enact some sort of protection protocols, but now the gangsters were just kicking around it.

 

The Quarian was in bad shape. Really bad shape. He could see skin.

 

Building up to a cold rage, the next target fell backwards from severed hamstrings. Nihlus had stopped going for bloody cuts at the sight of the suit breaches, hoping to minimize further contamination. Two more went down, toppling safely backwards with mostly non-lethal moves. He didn't kill any of them instantly, he had that much mercy. For now.

 

Five of them were falling to the ground within the first few moments, before any of their comrades figured out something was wrong. Flick flick. Two more dropped while the idiots were busy shouting in surprise and anger. He danced backwards, and they came at him. One fool pulled a gun.

 

Flick flick. It was a piece of shit gun, but hey, now he had two.

 

Eight down, then ten, then all twelve. The courtyard was scattered with moaning, crying, bleeding gangsters. He made for the brutalized Quarian, lifting the mech gently away even as the pile of smashed tubes and torn cloth cried and continued to beg. Nihlus gathered that it had been nothing but a hate crime from the sound of the man's pleading. They hadn't even tried to blame him for stealing their stuff or their jobs, just outright hate venting. The Spectre swallowed back the anger, quickly checking his Omni-tool for the nearest clinic with a clean room.

 

They were in luck, there was clinic listed not two hundred meters away. He bodily lifted the small male, and took off for it. It was barely the work of three minutes to get there, push his way past the medical staff claiming that he was a doctor who'd stumbled on the beaten man by accident, and forced his way past bemused and concerned staff into the clean room. Was he really a doctor? Not even. But between being a trickster, a poisoner, and a killer... he could fake it pretty damn well. Two other doctors rushed in with him as the airlock closed and began running decon protocols.

 

It brought a small smile to his face, that unprovoked hate might've caused this, but the compassion inherent in these medical professionals would help fix it. The smile died as the first scans came in, and his mercy evaporated. He hoped the gangsters all bled to death on the ground. It was bad. Fifty-fifty survival rate even with Citadel quality medical care immediately after the incident. Nihlus smoothly let one of the real doctor's take lead, and instead played nurse, which he could do well enough.

 

Considering he played bedroom games with a Quarian on a fairly regular basis, he had a fair few ideas on what drugs where what, and what medicines the doctor's themselves needed to take to stay in the room.

 

It was a long few hours... but the battered man pulled through.

 

He neglected to mention the idiots in the courtyard. He'd let that situation handle itself. Eventually the other staff filed out, and pretend-female-doctor who was actually a real-male-spectre jovially insisted on keeping watch, citing a sense of responsibility for the patient's well being. Would they mind sending in some rations? Of course not. The nursing staff managed a semi-edible tray of purified detro foods even. Nihlus took note of the clinic's name in his 'tool. He intended to get them a nice 'anonymous' donation next time he ran across a would-be pirate that had a ship to spare. He'd sell it, and make sure this place was well funded. Good people deserved good turns of luck.

 

Eventually it began to get late in the day. He messaged Blue about the situation, letting him know he was keeping watch over the recovering Quarian. The sniper offered to bring him anything if he needed it, and come wait with him. Damn, he was such a nice person. Nihlus was tempted, but declined, instead asking him to grab his discarded bags if they were still there.

 

The night cycle hit, and the third-shift nursing staff began pestering him to sleep. He took the mothering with good natured teasing. When next he'd fended them off for a while, he pulled some acrobatics and disappeared into the ceiling ducts with some spare linens. Only one bed in the room, and the Spectre had no intention of stealing it for himself. The fairly wide air duct would do with a little creative cushioning, so he replaced the cover and got comfy. Nursing staff would be confused as to where he'd gone, so he hacked into the system and set the security to think he'd exited and gone to a different floor to rest for the night.

 

He wiggled into the sheets and lamented his lack of temperature controlled armor. Ah well. He'd slept in much worse places. Green eyes fell shut as he finally drifted off to sleep to the even, if slightly rapid, beeps of the Quarian's heart monitor.

 

Chapter Text

Something woke him.

 

What was... the beeping had jumped. Nihlus peered down through the duct cover in complete bafflement. The unsuited Quarian was awake, and his monitor tones had evened back off, but... his personal mech was standing at his bedside? How did that thing even get in here?

 

“Creator Jur'Mallo, what is your status?”

 

“Oh! Nnnnnnn. My head. Ah, thank you for asking. I'm... I'm okay, I think.

 

“...We are sorry we were unable to prevent your damage.”

 

“It isn't your fault, you tried your best. I appreciate it quite a bit my friend. Just... can you talk more quietly? My head is killing me.”

 

“Clarify, is there further damage in your central processing unit?”

 

“No, no. It's just a headache. Recovering pain, not umm... active damage. Lower volume on your speakers please, your voice is too loud right now.”

 

“We apologize.”

 

“It's okay.”

 

Titans and Spirits, that... was a fucking Geth. With a Quarian... friend? What the hell.

 

“The Collective is asking for further indications of status. May we scan you?”

 

“Go ahead. You can tell them... ummm... do you know what happened? I think I blacked out at some point...”

 

“There was a Turian. She reduced the functionality of the organics who engaged in the assault, and carried you away. We had to make repairs before we could follow. By the time we were mobile, you were already being repaired.”

 

“I can't say I've ever had a Turian do... anything nice for me. That was a spot of good luck. Do you know if she left or who she was? I'd like to at least thank her...”

 

“Records indicate that Doctor Asla Lyria is currently three floors above us.”

 

“A Doctor saved me from those...? Wow. I know what they say about Turian women, but just... wow. Hopefully I get to meet her. I'd like to shake her hand.”

 

“Handshaking. A common ritual greeting. We do not understand your reference, why do you wish to 'greet' this Doctor?”

 

Nihlus was pretty certain he couldn't have gotten a better cue if'd been able to script it himself. He swiftly moved the duct cover away, and flipped down behind the Geth platform.

 

“It's also used in thanks-giving, actually.” The Geth spun around in an oddly graceful pirouette, as the Quarian man's jaw dropped in horror from his reclining position on the medical bed. “You can use it to emphasize sincerity in many situations. It engenders trust, and provokes a stronger memory of the meeting.”

 

“... Alert. We have been discovered.”

 

“Oh yeah. Yeah, ya have. You're... a Geth, right?”

 

“NO! No no no, it's my personal assistance mech! Just a really good VI!” Nihlus snorted in laughter at the man's frantic attempt to cover up this little dive into crazy town.

 

“Riiiiiight. So... you know you aren't supposed to be here, right? AI are super-duper not allowed on the Citadel.” The Geth looked over at the silvery-eyed man for direction, who had managed to raise a shaking hand to his forehead. He was beginning to shiver violently. Nihlus narrowed his eyes, and walked around to the other side of the bed to check his vitals, keeping an eye on the Geth just in case. “Hey now, take it easy there. You're not in the best of shape right now.”

 

“Ancestors, p-please, don't tell C-Sec! W-we'll leave, I promise. We were just here to see the sights.” There was a long pause as Nihlus considered that phrasing. See the sights? Quarians on pilgrimage didn't have time to 'see the sights'... He looked at the Geth... back at the Quarian... the Geth...

 

“You two uhhh... or however many there are...”

 

“We are twelve hundred and one processes.”

 

“SHHHHH! You are not helping!”

 

“Uhuh. You're from Rannoch aren't you?” The shivering got worse as monitor noises grew more rapid in the face of the man's panic. “Woahhh there. Calm. Down.”

 

“N-no. I-I'm from The Migrant F-fleet!” Nihlus leaned in and laid gentle hands on his shoulders, ducking his head down to meet the man's glowing gaze.

 

“Hey. Listen to me. It's okay. It's going to be okay. You aren't in trouble. Just breathe. Here, do it with me. Iiiiiiiin, ooooooout. That's it. One more time. Iiiiiiiin, annnnnd ouuuuuuut.” The angry beeping slowed back down as the Spectre talked him through breathing a few times, rolling comforting circles with palms on his thin shoulders.

 

“Lyria-Doctor. Your non-aggression is unexpected. Clarify: You do not intend harm to us or Creator Jur'Mallo?”

 

“Not in particular, no. Technically? He hasn't done anything wrong, and you're just... trespassing. It wasn't either of you that decided to brutalize a random stranger for funsies. The gang members are more my concern. Can you tell me what happened to them?”

 

“...”

 

“Come on, just be honest.”

 

“We terminated the potential for future threat to other Creators.”

 

“Nice.” The Geth's... eye brow? Face flaps? It's... optic panels fluttered.

 

“You approve of the termination of hostile organics?”

 

“I approve of the termination of anyone hostile to innocent people.”

 

“D-doctor Lyria? I want to... umm...”

 

“Remember what I said about taking it easy? Just breath, and ask whatever it is ya need to once you feel calm.”

 

“O-okay.” He took a deep breath in, shining eyes sliding shut as he held it in for a moment before exhaling. “Could I... ask you to not tell anyone we were here, please? I'll go straight back to the Migrant Fleet, just-”

 

“You wanna stop lying to me? I think I've given you enough reason to try and trust me a little, haven't I?”

 

“...L-lying?”

 

Nihlus sighed, and shook his head.

 

“A couple pieces of advice? Quarians from the fleet don't call it 'The Migrant Fleet', they generally just use the more causal, 'flotilla'. Also? Any Quarian worth their salt would be screaming and running from the room in panic if there was a Geth around. Another thing? Flotilla kids on pilgrimage don't have time to sight see, are generally good liars out of necessity, and don't have enough money for PA mechs.”

 

The poor guy looked more forlorn with every word, his cover very obviously blown wide in the face of someone paying him half a brain cell of attention.

 

“You're not exactly running screaming yourself, Doctor...”

 

“Not my first time running into an AI either. I... know some interesting people. Regardless, I do have to insist you leave the Citadel after you recover, but I'm not going to get you arrested either. So long as you promise to leave.”

 

“Inquiry: You have met other Geth? We do not have record of this.”

 

“No, not Geth. Just other AI.”

 

“Further Inquiry: Were you non-aggressive to them as well?”

 

“Not all. I... my friends that is, had to take out a few of them. Some of them were unstable and malicious. I know of at least one though that was easy going, and is now cruising about the Skyllian Verge mining with drones to earn a living.”

 

“We do not know this AI.”

 

“Her name is Via'ce, you can message her under that name on Galaxy of Fantasy actually. She plays a Turian Resto Druid, good healer.”

 

“ ...We also play this game. We are an Asari Warrior.”

 

“Oh yeah? Small world.”

 

“Oh, ancestors. I have got to be dreaming.” Nihlus laughed at that. Poor guy. The situation was sort of surreal.

 

“Jur'Mallo, right? Do you have the credits to pay for your medical care here?”

 

“Oh. Yeah. I've got a credit chit umm... where is my suit?” Nihlus grimaced and grabbed it's remains, a deep tray held the bedraggled shreds. A little riffling through produced the chit, which he twirled in show and set on the bedside table.

 

“Oh no... my suit...”

 

“You know how to get a new one?”

 

“No. I have no clue. I really was just here to see the sights. The Geth sometimes manage to get things shipped to us through third parties, and I had to wait a long time to get a Mi- a flotilla style suit. We umm... we don't wear them on Rannoch.”

 

“I wouldn't suspect you'd need to. I can help you get another, but I can't say I have the money to pay for it. They run about twelve thousand credits for a whole rig on short notice, do you have enough?”

 

“Money isn't a problem really. I've been saving for this trip for a while... It sounds dumb, but can you get me two? Just in case?”

 

“Shouldn't be an issue. You're going to be here for two or three days at least while those bone breaks heal. Let me scan you real quick for measurements.”

 

“I'm just... happy to be alive. I thought I was going to die.” Nihlus gave the man's shoulder a squeeze before running the scan. Poor guy.

 

“Another piece of advice? You'll get better treatment from non-Quarians on planets that don't see your kind often. Places like the Citadel, you're too common and well... a lot of desperate pilgrims steal if they need to. It doesn't exactly set a good standard. Take your pleasure tour towards some places without AI restrictions, outside Citadel space, somewhere you'll be an interesting guest and not a dime-a-dozen security risk. You'll have a lot more fun.”

 

“You are... a really nice person. Thank you, for all this. Really, just, thank you. So much.”

 

“Don't mention it. How about you get some sleep, your 'mech' can take my spot in the vents to keep watch, and I'll go see about those suits.”

 

“Okay. Thank you.” He gave the man a half smile and wandered to the airlock. The sooner he was prepped to go and healed, the less likely he'd end up in jail with his friend being torn apart in an STG lab.

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Nihlus yawned as his Omni-tool pinged him with a live chat request. He was expecting a reply message from Blue, but a live chat would work too. Sitting in the lobby of the specialty place that was making the new suits was seriously dull, he'd been here for hours doing nothing, too tired to focus. He hoped a live chat might keep him from falling asleep sitting up.

 

CHAT.live//REQUEST:From:8892561- Accept? Y/N

 

CHAT.live//CONNECT:8892561_to_PROXY.public.1916_to_LOCAL

 

Connecting...

Connected.


GV: I got your message. Thanks for keeping me informed.

AL: just a few more things to handle, gunna be back tonight if everything goes okay

GV: Going to tell me about it later?

AL: sure, been an interesting day

GV: Have you slept?

AL: yep

GV: I get the feeling 'yep' means something like 'for an hour'.

AL: shush

GV: Thought so. I'll bring some take out home for us.

AL: sounds amazing

GV: Later, Palvi.

AL: bai

CHAT.live//CONNECTION_CLOSED

 

Nihlus stared at the ceiling, the back of his head resting on the plastic seat back. The word 'home' ringing in his ears in Garrus' voice, even though it had been in text, said so casually.

 

Home.

 

Shit. He was not okay with this. Suddenly, he wanted his contacts to get done fixing the mess right now, because that word... Home was his piece-meal ship, made of bubblegum and paperclips, that could out perform most top of the line builds just because he tinkered with it like a spaz and had Saren's example to go on. Home was the little batch of rooms he had once shared with his pari on a merc base in the middle of nowhere. Home during his mentorship had been the Daedalus, and his make-shift nest of blankets on his former mentor's boxy settee.

 

Was home now also... that ridiculously comfy cubitura, a kitchen full of nothing but so-bad-it's-funny captioned kava mugs, and a tiny bedroom with a curvy bed that had a warm and welcoming torin in it? Oh, fucking spirits that sounded so good.

 

It was also a complete pipe dream.

 

He knew Garrus had clan expectations to produce children, to bond a high tier female who was well respected within the Hierarchy.

 

He himself was low ranked, a Spectre, ever travelling, and out of communication for months at a time.

 

Maybe, if Garrus hadn't been from an old Palaven clan, things might be different. With a population ratio of two guys to every chick, lots of war dogs and career soldiers settled down quietly into long distance relationships with any gender, or even Asari.

 

But a Vakarian?

 

Impossible.

 

His talons dug into the meat of his palms even as his face stayed neutral. He'd gotten so comfortable with Blue when he'd come on that mission, and it had all fallen back into place when the Spectre had run to him with death on his heels. Like magic, the threat abated, and he suddenly had good food, good company, easy laughter...

 

'Silly Nihlus, the things you love aren't yours to keep.'

 

Ohh no. no.no.no. No. He'd thought the L word. Nonono.

 

'Like. Like. Like.' He chanted in his head.

 

Verdant green eyes stared at the ceiling until the suits were done, then thanked the crafter with as much zeal as he could manage for the rush order. The ride back to the clinic was quick, and he spent the decon cycle back through the clean room airlock trying to regather his earlier cheer and amusement.

 

“Heyyyy, how ya feeling?”

 

“Oh! Doctor Lyria, you're back!”

 

“Ah haha, about that...” The Quarian man looked at him in askance as he set down the boxes of suits and handed him back his chit. “Fun story. Just a sec...” He scanned the room, finding the obvious signature of the 'PA mech' up on the vent, but no other bugs. “So, I'm... not actually a doctor? Well sometimes in the field I've... ah, never mind. It's a cover ID Jur'Mallo, my name is actually Nihlus Kyrik. I'm an agent with ST&R.”

 

Wide glowy eyes went round, but thankfully no panic attack started.

 

“Oh! That's why you've met other AI? You're been outside of Citadel Space a lot I bet...” He dug into a box and pulled out an edge of micro-fiber cloth. “You got it in the same color! Perfect! Can I ask why you're under cover?”

 

“You don't want to know, I promise, and please, don't mention my name. For right now, I don't exist. You've given me some trust though, and I wanted to repay that with some truth of my own. Now... did the actual doctors say when you can leave?”

 

“Yes, they said tomorrow morning. I paid the care bill already, I just have to figure out passage off-station.”

 

“Try Merkosha, at the cargo docks at the end of Zakera Ward. He smuggles people on and off all the time. Remember not to mention me, but don't let him charge you more then double a normal passenger fee.”

 

“Oh, ummm... alright.”

 

“Inquiry:” He looked up at the partially lifted vent cover to see a red optic glimmering out from the crack. “Your undercover status prevents you from using Spectre assets to aid us?”

 

“You're a pretty clever, um, group of... do you have a name?” The platform made a quiet carcophany of sounds. “I... couldn't pronounce that if my life depended on it.”

 

“Accurate.”

 

“Riiiiight. Well anyway, yeah, I'm a bit limited right now due to some issues at work. Nothing for you twelve hundred and two to worry about. Actually, I need to get going. Do me a favor? Get off the station before someone finds you. I don't want to get sent to hunt you down. If I get an official order, there's nothing I can do to help anymore, so don't chance it. Go home, or go to some edge worlds, alright?”

 

“I will. We'll leave... it was stupid of me to risk coming here in the first place, don't think I don't know... I just really wanted to see the Citadel once. Take some holos to show the nephews, you know?”

 

“Yeah, I hear you. Tell me one thing though.” He looked between the Quarian and Geth. “I'm guessing your ancestors... never left Rannoch?”

 

“Affirmative. Some Creators fought to hide, protect, or aid Geth during the Morning War. We did not allow any others to remain.”

 

“Huh. Makes sense. Alright, well, I'm out. Take care of yourselves.”

 

“You too Mr. Kyrik.”

 

“Just Nihlus, Jur'Mallo. Mr. Kyrik was my dad.”

 

 

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

 

[DATA UPLOAD COMPLETE.]

[REQUESTING CONSENSUS.]

[CONSENSUS ACHIEVED: 78% IN FAVOR – BEGIN ACTIVE OBSERVATION OF SPECTRE-KYRIK, NIHLUS]

 

Chapter Text

Nihlus' vision fuzzed a little at the edges as he worked on washing dishes, a small pile had built up and he was determinedly rinsing them clean and loading them into the dishwasher. His mouth opened wide with a jaw popping yawn. It wasn't that he couldn't stay away for days if he needed to, but his day hadn't exactly been engaging or adrenaline filled, and his body was convinced he should just say 'fuck it' and go to bed. He shook off the feeling and swipped the back of a sponge filled hand across his nose before getting back to work.

 

The sound of clacking toe talons entered the kitchen, but the Spectre focused on the task before him, determined to do at least this much in thanks for all the hospitality.

 

“Hey, you don't need to do those...”

 

“Nah. I wanna. They need done anyways.”

 

Another power-yawn escaped him as he loaded the dish into the washer and picked up a furca to rinse next. The c-click c-click of foot steps came closer, and arms came around him to shut the water off and pull the utensil away. It slid from his grasp, the sponge going next, and tawny brown arms tightened in. He half heartedly tried to turn the water back on, but a hand caught his wrist and trapped it against his keel. The other hand settled firmly over abdominal plates. Garrus' face curled into his collar, not helping the fuzzy sense of sleeplessness.

 

“The dishes can wait till tomorrow.” The Spectre blinked hard, trying to gather clarity. The attempt was only mildly successful, and the warmth at his back wasn't helping matters any. The hand on his abdominals slid lower, slipping under shirt hem and following the trail of interlocking plates. He told himself not to moan. His body refused to listen to his bullshit, and the low sound rolled from him of it's own accord. The venturing hand moved past the seam with a rough palm, stopping at the bottom to cup his curvature. A gentle roll of hips pushed him forward into it.

 

Another soft moan stolen away as his one free hand wavered in the air for a moment, unsure what to do with itself. The grip loosened and ever-so-slowly a talon rose along the dividing line to be replaced by a knuckle that smoothed back down. The Spectre's free hand suddenly became busy bracing him against the sink edge. His subvocals warbled with a mix of want and distress, and the hand pulled away to curl around his hip crest.

 

“Do you... want me to stop?”

 

'Sort of, kind of, you probably should, stop spoiling me...'

 

“Nooo.” Was what came out instead. A small voice in the back of his mind threw up it's mental hands in disgust.

 

Green eyes fluttered shut as the hand went for a new approach, talons scratching in loose circles against the hide at his leg joint as mouth plates nibbled in curious exploration along the exposed scalp where horns should be. The spiraling fingers wandered closer and the knuckle came back to press into loosening plates. It pushed in just far enough to reach fluid and began a slow, inexorable drag.

 

Mouth plates journeyed lower, down the rough hide of his neck with intermittent flicks of tongue.

 

Nihlus' head fell forward, black talons scraping on the sink edge and his own keel helplessly at the heady pressure and teasing bites. He hadn't expected the sniper to take advantage of the position, but he did; letting the fading-peach wrist go and using that hand to tug him just enough that a tilt of his head made way for a grip of teeth on either side of the Spectre's spinal plates.

 

Nihlus' breath caught in his throat at the feel of it.

 

Teeth to neck was always a request for trust, but this form was specifically asking for surrender of one sort or another. In enemies, a bite here would send dagger-like fangs into spinal tissue, killing in seconds. It was a bite of last warning to surrender or die. In lovers it was a question, not a demand. Asking for complete trust, or more specifically, asking the bitten one to give themselves over into the care of the biter. It said, 'let go, I've got you'.

 

Blue wanted him to let go of whatever it was that had made his subvocals waver with distress. Which was... Blue himself. Damnit.

 

The sharp points of teeth along his spine waited patiently for him to decide with a low trill of concern that was felt more then heard, and Nihlus Kyrik realized that his well honed powers of self denial were no spirits damned match for this torin. The replying hum and subtle press back into the grip were rewarded with a resurgence of attention to his seam and enticing bites at the juncture of neck and collar.

 

'Fuck it.' was about all the reasoning he could come up with.

 

A deeper bite and rough kneading into his waist convinced his plates to spread another few centimeters, and that knuckle slipped in further to press against nerves near the base.

 

“Ohhh, fuuuck yessss.... Bluuuue....” He couldn't help but push into it, wanting more pressure. The sniper obliged, coercing the gap wider and digging in a second knuckle, one on either side. The plates above fell in line and spread fully, and his shaft slipped out onto the pale hide of Garrus' waiting palm. The grip slid along him, down then up, a thumb depressing into a spot just below the final ridge before he tapered off.

 

The sniper's hand on his waist came lower, moving to take over teasing the interal soft spots, while the other hand shifted down to the base in incremental squeezes. The angle left Garrus unable to reach his neck any more, and slightly crouched, so the Spectre pulled his spine convex and dropped his head back onto a warm shoulder, putting his fringe in nibbling range again.

 

He was going to feel very strange when his crest grew back out and he couldn't have fringe bites on the underside anymore. He held out hope for skillful tongues though. Speaking of skill, the new position let Garrus take more of his weight, and get a better grip on him. The Officer made the most of it, drawing a wanton moan out of the peachy throat by combining a wringing tug with a two-knuckle press. Nihlus had a hard time not drowning in sensation as Blue repeated the move over... and over... and oh shit... and over...

 

He tried to warn the sniper that he was close, but all that came out were subvocal calls for more. He would have tumbled to the floor if Garrus hadn't been holding him up when the heat spiraled into his core and forced it's way out in a rush. Even as Nihlus tried falteringly to hold himself up on the counter, the generous hands continued to draw out the aftershocks, slowing to one final, heavy stroke. The last dregs of his current stress poured out of him as the high trailed away with a farewell keen of fading elation. It was replaced by low purring subvocals and harsh exhales.    

 

As the Spectre's breathing evened out, he steadied against the sink and distantly noted that the dishes were now even messier than before. The water came on for a moment to clean away slickened fingers. He went to turn and wobbled a step, then found himself being spun into a carried hold before his misbehaving foot could even catch him. He blinked up at Blue, who had lifted him away from his self imposed chores and was walking them back down the hall. Nihlus tried to protest. He wasn't that damn tired...

 

Garrus just smiled handsomely, and raised an arm to bring their foreheads together.

 

“I've got you.”

 

Nihlus gave up then, letting himself be manhandled into bed as the little spoon. As he faded away the Spectre realized that the only solution to his utter lack of self control was to get away from Blue, soon. He sighed, snuggling into the plush mattress and warming sheets. He couldn't seem to tell the torin 'no' to save his life, and it hadn't escaped notice that the entire damn evening had been wasted taking care of him after the Detective had worked a maximum houred shift.

 

'Leech... leech... leech...'

 

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Electric blue eyes idly scanned the latest intel about T'Loak's temper tantrum over his escape. He'd just gotten back from a long bout of radio-silence on a recon mission elsewhere, and had much to catch up on. He yawned lightly, it had been a long haul. Regardless, there was work to be done and these files needed reviewed sooner rather than later. He would have taken a datapad to the breakroom, had a tiny form not plowed into him without warning.

 

He looked down at the four-foot-nothing Drell that Nihlus adored with a sigh.

 

“Tio'fore.”

 

“Saaarennnn!!! Nih is in troubleee!” Silver crest blades flickered in the blue light of the intelligence room's monitors as he turned his head in an avian manner to stare her down with a gimlet eye.

 

Precisely how much trouble? The last time you said that, you made it out to be a dire situation, and it was simply food poisoning.”

 

“This time she's not exaggerating the situation by a hundred times. Only two or three.” Saren looked up to see the earth toned form of Ankhleas Tithe standing in a pool of shadow by the door, his orange irises and Familia Notas and reflecting the screen light.

 

“Tithe.”

 

“Arterius.”

 

“You two can compare manhoods later! We gotta get the Compact off Nih's trail!” Both torini huffed at Spectre Tio'fore's usual lack of decorum.

 

“Explain.”

 

“He pulled off a big one, and they're mad as beeeeees! Took out the jellie that was sellin' them Asari, and now he got one 'o my kind on his trail. S'not a good day, this guy named Ghost is on 'em!” He managed to take the descriptive mess and make out that Nihlus had taken out... ah yes, there was a kill order out on Luminous Azynder, wasn't there? A tricky kill to make, but well within his protégé's skill. Apparently the Illuminated Primacy had been upset, and sent a Drell assassin called 'Ghost' out after him. He snorted at the inane nickname. Unimaginative was the kindest description.

 

“I see. Do you have a plan to remove the assassin that doesn't involve explosives?”

 

“ ...that's what you're here for?” She smiled up at him with her massive lilac-on-black eyes.

 

“Specialist Tithe, do you have any further details?”

 

“Not many. Spectre Kyrik's exact whereabouts are unknown, but his pursuer has been spotted here, so we assume he's on the station somewhere. The last communication we received from a dead drop said that he'd found a bolt hole and to trade whatever favors were needed, even work for the Primacy directly, to get the return kill order removed.”

 

“How does that proceed?”

 

“The Luminous' followers and family are still too upset to hear us out, though Specialist Korvis has been trying once a day since the funeral.”

 

“It sounds as if everything that can be done, is being done. If Nihlus is in hiding, I doubt the assassin can find him. There is no need for your hysterics Tio'fore.” She groaned at him like the world was ending, running her pitch-black scaled hands down her face in a pantomime of complete exasperation.

 

She really was the strangest Drell he'd ever encountered. They were normally such an elegant, reserved people. Then again, ST&R attracted misfit Turians more often then not, he supposed misfit Drell were... almost as welcome.

 

“Liiiiisten, okay, this Ghost guy? He's got a perfect KO record. All shiny and spotless. If he's on Nih's trail, it's bad news. Com'ere I'll show you his dossier in the archives.” She pulled up the Citadel Archives access screen and went digging for the file, coming up with a very scarce amount of data. The folder had a blurry holo shot of half a face and a shoulder of a Drell male with vivid green scales. There were about five sentences with a handful of estimated data points below it.

 

“There is nothing else on this Compact agent?”

 

“Nooope!” She popped the 'p'.

 

He supposed that was a bad sign. The intelligence teams for the ST&R offices were normally able to get a great deal more then that, especially if they were trying to get ahead of someone hunting one of their own agents.

 

“Very well. I will find Nihlus. You will find the locations Ghost has been spotted, and plant cameras not connected to any network. A lack of image data indicates some sort of self-propagating selective image deletion virus, which is likely on the Citadels networks. Place them in similar locations to other camera view points, and retrieve data manually. Have the intel office come up with a program to compare the two views, and seek what is missing.”

 

“See? I knew you'd have an idea to go on! See Ankh? I told you he would. Okay! Cameras, lots of non-transmitting cameras. We got this!” Out the door the indomitably cheerful woman went, her mild mannered shadow trailing behind.

 

As a first step to finding his erstwhile mentee, Saren sent a ping to his Omni-tool, and another to the Widmanstat. The first went unresponded to, no surprise. The second however returned a line of characters:

 

[9dcjh3kd8v gh23929fui2wms 929719dcma m38xcjw9ixybvm4 39x7gmakxyd4vu]

 

It was a cipher, of course, and translated roughly to, “Deceit, Avarice, Decay, Sadness, Remorse.” Ah, the card suit used to win the game they had played with Vakarian. Odd, that seemed like a blatant place to hide. Usually the carmine plated Spectre was much trickier. Not a toilsome place to check to be certain, he just needed to ensure he did not leave any breadcrumb trails to follow. Also not difficult, particularly near the end of the night cycle when the station was nearly devoid of activity to blend into to actively follow anyone.

 

Still wearing his previous mission's enshrouding hooded cloak that hid the entirety of his crest, and non-descript armor beneath it, Spectre Arterius trailed out of the ST&R offices, and began to pathfind an arduous trail to follow. It took him through keeper tunnels, cargo storage areas, and quiet corridors where he looped around a few times checking for signs of being followed. There were none to be found, and he came out of the Citadel's undercroft of maintenance passageways one skyrise over from Vakarian's building. Saren took the stairs, and crossed via sky bridge, slipping inside the door without knocking.

 

He listened. Two breathing patterns coming from the back room. There was Vakarian's low rumble, and Nihlus' usual hum. He trailed down the hall like a wraith, avoiding the proximity alarms he could see overlaid on the floor by simply biotically floating over them. Entering the open room, he approached the bed. Ah, it smelled as though Nihlus had finally seduced the sniper. He had suspected they would fall into bed together eventually. Nihlus was something of a sex addict, and Vakarian was too easy going to say no for long. At least the Officer was trustworthy and Turian, unlike many of his protégé's other lovers.

 

He idly inspected Nihlus' strange coloring and winced at the crest trimming in evidence, it seemed he had opted for a 'hide in plain sight' strategy at the cost of comfort. The clever torin always had gone the extra kilometer of pain to pull off his covers. The full body dying was not so torturous, but he could not have enjoyed being barefaced and short crested for however long. Saren leaned closer and reached out a hand to shake the disguised Spectre's shoulder, but did not get halfway before his throat was in a tight grasp with talons pushing at his jugular.

 

He froze, only his eyes turning to look at the owner of the hand.

 

Icy blue eyes fluttered slowly to wakefulness. Interesting. It had been an automatic response? He took a deep breath while Vakarian took a moment to recognize him. They did not smell bonded. That was not it then... Ah. He remembered now, the Officer's time with a hastatim squad. Likely he'd had to earn those reflexes the hard way from guerrilla fighting saboteurs coming for him or the squad mate next to him in the darker hours.

 

Recognition dawned and curiously enough, the sniper smiled at him, changing the grip from menacing to a friendly grasp at the back of the neck, with a light and apologetic squeeze before letting go.

 

“Hey.” The sniper offered simply in a whisper quiet voice. “Good to see you. Things have been kind of a mess.”

 

“I have just returned. Colleagues ambushed me upon arrival with what news was available. Were you aware of the assassin?”

 

“Yeah, he was watching us the other night, had Nihlus' bugged to hell. We had to play at a little improv to confuse him into backing off.”

 

“... He was here?”

 

“Yeah, in the vents. Knocked on the door under false pretenses as well. I got a 'business card' from him that might have prints or some bio-data, it's in the chilling unit in the kitchen.”

 

“I see. You finally make use of the device for something at least. Did you test it for any samples?”

 

“No. I figured you'd have better equipment then C-Sec does, and I didn't want to have loose mouthed lab techs give any thing away. Even if I ran it myself, they'd chatter about me being in there in the break room.”

 

“Prudent. I will take the card with me when I go, and see what information can be found from it. Has he returned since then?”

 

“No. I've been checking on thermal and electromagnetic spectrums for tails or bugs frequently, and I haven't seem him. Then again, I've also been at work the past two days. Nihlus came with me for the first day, but he was gone all the yesterday, out shopping.”

 

“Shopping?”

 

The C-Sec Officer pointed to a pile of bags in the corner.

 

“Yeah, he hasn't been able to access anything of his own, so I sent him out to get some clothes with my card. We didn't know how long we'd need to keep up the charade of his cover before... whatever reason it is that the Drell got sent after him for is resolved.”

 

“He did not tell you?”

 

“No. Said he couldn't.”

 

“Correct, and I am relieved that he kept silent, as he normally has the terrible habit of oversharing everything that is not top-secret.” The Spectre looked down at his still sleeping protégé with narrowed eyes. “Why is he sleeping so deeply?”

 

“He's been a ball of stress since he came, and something happened yesterday with some gang members that had him up overnight trying to solve it.”

 

“... ah. I should let him sleep then. When he wakes tomorrow, you can tell him that Tio'fore is running around the station hunting for the Drell, and I will be back with supplies for him.” Saren pulled back to leave, but a hand caught his wrist.

 

“Hey, don't go. He hasn't said anything, but part of his stress was not having you around. If you just got back, why don't you stay? You look like you could use the sleep too.”

 

“While the offer is appreciated, it is more crucial that steps are taken to deal with the active threat.”

 

“Sounds like there are others on the job already, and you shouldn't be out hunting Compact agents right now anyway. Your reaction times are slow.”

 

Saren's jaw tightened at the criticism. His reaction times were fine, th-

 

“Oh, don't give me that look. You know I mean well. You're tired, stay. Just for a couple hours, we'll eat breakfast and share news, and you can disappear back off to do what you need to with a fresh mind.”

 

He was trying to find a way to convince himself that such a plan did not sound as appealing as it did, and turn the sniper down, when the hand at his wrist slipped down and kneaded into the meat of his palm pleasantly. Apparently the Officer was attempting to bribe him.

 

“Vakarian.”

 

“Mmmhmm?”

 

“My reaction times are within acceptable tolerance.”

 

“Sure, but doesn't an hour or two of rest sound good? It would put Nihlus at ease...”

 

The silver-grey Spectre snorted at the blatant attempts at coercion. The hand rubbing his own and the promise of mutual safety that came with sleeping near trustworthy company finally tipped the balance.

 

“Very well. It cannot hurt, I suppose. I will be out on the cubitur-” was as far as he got before a swift yank pulled him down. Nihlus stirred.

 

“Huh-whaaaa- Sarennn! When'd you get here?”

 

“He just arrived a few minutes ago. He hasn't slept either, so he's staying.” The stubborn sniper tossed a blanket over him with a determined grin, and he glared in return, half off the bed and still wearing his cloak. Saren was about to reiterate that he would sleep in the living room when Nihlus made, -there was no other word for it-, a disgustingly happy chirp and pulled him further into the mess of limbs.

 

He let out a growl at the unwelcome molestation, but he was entirely ignored by his protégé in favor of nuzzling into the voluminous cloth at his collar. Vakarian seemed pleased with his cohort, and scootched back on the bed, pulling Nihlus back to him by the stomach, who of course drew the cloak with him like a security blanket in the grip of a tenacious toddler. Oh for spirit's sake.

 

Saren pulled the cloak from the false-peach grasp, and drew it up over his head and off. He used a small thread of biotics to hang it over the door, and gave in to the their incessant 'invitation'. At least the bed had room enough for him to not be pressed into Nihlus as they had when he had been injured. That was far and away more contact then he wanted to maintain while sleeping. This was... still too close, but better.

 

Sufficient.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Garrus woke first that morning, eyes still closed as he breathed in the scents around him. Nihlus still smelled lightly of dried sweat and pheromones, with an edge of the blade oil he seemed to favor. Saren was farther away, but the lingering scent of his vaguely minty body scrub and a hint of ozone that all biotics had were still present.

 

This was nice. He'd missed having squad mates to curl up with, sex or no sex, after his civic service had ended. Having grown up in the clan Madlis with a never ending supply of other Vakarian children to play with, he'd never slept alone if he didn't want to until moving here. It remained a less than appealing choice.

 

The Officer finally managed to open his eyes. The bedroom was still mostly dark as the day cycle lights had just barely started their transition phase. Nihlus was face down with his head turned away, looking dead to the world, one arm over the sniper's stomach, the other hand wrapped around the silver-grey Spectre's arm below the elbow. Saren himself was propped into a mild sitting up position on his back, head lolled toward the door, paranoid even in sleep. His snores came out as a quiet sibilance on the exhale.

 

With careful movements, and the sound turned off, he sent in an order for food delivery from a local dextro place that was cheap and had an amazing variety. He might've ordered too many things, actually, but Garrus decided he'd rather have too many things on offer then not enough. The rest could be saved for later in the chilling unit. He'd have to make a point of it actually, as a come back for Saren's teasing that he never used his refrigerator as intended.

 

So what if he sometimes stored evidence in it? On the rare occasion his house had been broken into, he'd never had anything hidden in the chilling unit get found, even if it sat plainly on the shelf. It was counter intuitive enough as a hiding spot, and the temperature preserved things nicely.

 

He was pulled out of his thoughts by the disguised Spectre using his stomach as a weight baring point to escape his cushiony indent on the bed. Oof. Nihlus heard his chuff of protest and trilled a quiet apology, coming to sit back on his heels with the tops of his feet to the mattress and his knees rotated slightly to have his spurs stick out by his thighs. He looked conscious, but still comatose, with his lower mouth plates and mandibles open and drooping.

 

In a fit of whimsy, Garrus took a hold of his collar and leaned forward to dive his tongue in, and lick a trace of the torin's soft pallet. Just a hint of morning reverie. Well it was supposed to be, except when he went to pull back Nihlus followed right behind and returned the favor with a lap of his teeth before they both wobbled back to sitting positions, slightly more dizzy then intended. He laughed as the disguised Spectre hummed happily and face planted back into the mattress with his backside in the air.

 

The sniper saw Saren's head perk up at the commotion, electric eyes popping open to see what had dared disturbed him. He looked better than he had last night. It might just've been the lighting, but the aloof and regal Spectre hadn't appeared to be in very good health the day before. He seemed alright now though, so whatever mission he'd come from, maybe sleep was all that had been lacking. The resigned sigh at his protégé's antics just made Garrus laugh harder, to which Nihlus joined in, until they were interrupted by the door bell.

 

Saren was startled and veritably tumbled out of bed in a graceful roll, coming up with a gun and a biotic shield. He bit back another round of laughter, though the reaction and the active danger were no joke, the silliness of the previous moment still colored everything. Best not to laugh at the stoic torin though, he'd be offended.

 

“It's just the breakfast I promised, ordered it a little while ago.” Saren looked only half convinced and motioned them to follow him. He pointed them both into cover with military hand signals, which had Nihlus grinning like an idiot armed with nothing but his stolen knife behind the corner that turned into the kitchen, and the sniper along the entry wall in a flanking position armed with fists alone. The electric eyed torin opened the door to a bored looking Asari, who handed him two large plastic bags, thanked them in the voice of the underpaid-and-up-at-dawn, then left.

 

The paranoid Spectre still scanned the bags and taste tested everything for poison before he let them eat. Garrus couldn't be convinced it wasn't just to get back at them for having the temerity to laugh like children so early in the day. Saren Arterius wasn't a morning person.

 

Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

 

Saren left after breakfast, and they didn't see him again until it was over. Just had mysterious packages appear on the low kava table in the living room some mornings. Hidden shield generators in jewelry. A small chemistry set made for mixing antidotes and antivenins, with an attached formula for the especially potent venom of Compact Drell. A kit to touch up Nihlus' disguise. A better sensor suite for the apartment's vents and entries.

 

A small fortune of Spectre-grade devices showed up over the next few weeks, including an armor set for each of them and a new pistol for the undercover agent. Saren, or those who did his bidding, left presents on the table like a cat leaving dead mice on the porch steps.

 

It was a long few weeks for Nihlus, or maybe... it was instead too short.

 

He played the charade of fun loving soldier girl on shore leave with a doting cop of a boyfriend, -who spoiled the shit out of 'her'-, to perfection. A flawless performance when they went out to eat, underplayed combat abilities at Armax Arena when they went out for a night on the town, no small detail went unsupported, no hints that Nihlus was Asla or that Asla was the agent that had killed the Luminous.

 

He was in his element, wearing the face of an imaginary tarin, but any spook who did deep cover missions could tell you that if you played at being someone else for long enough, one day you'd wake up and it wouldn't be quite so pretend anymore. The trick to a really good infiltrator was that they could put the 'mask' of their old self back on when their job was done, and could stick with it until they stopped having to pretend to be themselves again. Nihlus had switched who he was enough times to be considered one of the best even at such a young age, but he'd never had the transition into a different person sit so well on his shoulders, smooth over so fast.

 

The false-peach and fake-silver Spectre could smell it as that transition sank into his plates. Or maybe that was just the pervasive scent of Blue on the air, in his clothes, on his plates from curling up together at night. Gun oil from the sniper's obsessive care of his firearms. Vetiver from the salt scrub he showered with. A hint of Kava's savory perfume always on Blue's tongue and floating from the kitchen, from long days taking care of the Citadel's people and late nights spending time with Field Medic Asla Lyria, his Palvi.

 

Their blended pheromones clung to everything. From hand jobs and making out, though neither pushed for more then that. An unspoken understanding that going farther wasn't needed for the cover... and doing it under false pretenses would color anything they might have after. Still, the smells drove Nihlus nuts, like delicious wafts of baking cookies that would make everyone around hungry.

 

It made him constantly aroused.

 

He thought he might be a scent-o-phile or something with how much it got to him, but the Spectre became so sick of the very air poisoning him into keeping Garrus up late at night to pay attention to him that he actually cleaned.

 

Everything.

 

Twice.

 

It only helped for a few days before the enticing smells were everywhere again, but it did get the Officer a few better nights of sleep. Two or three days where they went to bed at decent hours of the evening in a variety of sprawls, talking about C-Sec as they faded off.

 

Apparently Garrus was known as a disrespectful and meddlesome hot-head at work, but the Spectre couldn't see it. Officer Vakarian seemed to have a sniper's patience with a tech-junky's curiosity and problem solving when met with any issue. He was certainly handling suddenly having a live-in deep cover ST&R agent with hospitality and grace. Why was being honest, creative, and unafraid to act so discouraged in C-Sec? He didn't know, but it sounded just as soul-sucking as Hierarchy civil service.

 

Morons, all of them, for not appreciating what they had. Nihlus sure did, and he was pretty sure that the sniper liked him well in return. Pretty sure.

 

Truthfully, Nihlus was half afraid that Blue would be so sick of his presence by the end of this that he wouldn't want to see him for a long damn time after he was free. The knife loving Spectre laughed at his own mental waffling. Did he want to get away or not? Did he want to be welcomed back, or did he want to stay away until he was inside his own head space again? It was hard to say. Just so long as Blue didn't kick him out and ask him not to come back ever. Spirits, Nihlus didn't want that. The sniper's friendship had already been becoming precious before all this. Now? It was... was...

 

It was all starting to feel like reality, and sometimes Nihlus disappeared into the shower to be alone, to just to shake himself for clarity under scorching water. Breathe in the steam, breathe out the conflicting emotions.

 

'Remember what's real. Remember what's not real. Your name is Nihlus Kyrik, you're a Spectre, your pari was a merc and your mari was a cold murderous bitch, you liked Blue before you were Asla. Remember. Saren Arterius was your mentor, he saved you from death by boredom after your third squad transfer. You like Saren too. And explosives. And poison. Remember. Re.mem.ber.'

 

He cleaned the apartment again to reduce the alluring scents, resulting in Blue's assurances that she didn't need to clean so much, and why doesn't she instead spend her pretend shore leave relaxing? Garrus had no clue what he did to Nihlus. No damn clue. When the cleaning wore off again the subtle tug of pheromones and Blue's handsome smile had him leaving lingering touches he didn't notice he was making until the sniper turned and paid attention to him for hours and hours.

 

He tried to hide his addiction to reverie and orgasm. It didn't work well. Subvocals made it tricky to lie outright.

 

When he opened the door to Saren, Riaz, Ankh, and Korvis... he was a mess on the inside, but he smiled brightly for them and welcomed them in to plan out how to smooth the mess over so he could get back to work.

 

The mask of the cheerful protégé fit smoothly over his features, and no one noticed a thing.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

A ridiculously short Drell woman announced her presence at the door by launching herself at the disguised silver-and-peach Spectre, recognizing him through the cover with a cry of, “NIIIIIHHHHHHH YOURE NOT DEAAAAD!!!!”, that the neighbors two floors down probably heard. She had offered her name while wrapped, -literally wrapped-, around his torso: Riaz Tio'fore.

 

Just about everyone else visibly winced at her volume. If the Drell was anywhere in the building, or had planted listening devices nearby... well there went the green eyed torin's cover. Garrus closed the door quickly. They ended up spread across the living room of Garrus' apartment. It felt somewhat surreal to have so many ST&R agents stuffed inside the small space. Three Spectre Agents, and two Specialists.

 

A Salarian introduced himself with a shy bow and a soft, mellifluous voice. Specialist Korvis Tiin, the intelligence agent who had been working different angles to get the revenge kill order removed. He was a pale maroon color interrupted by beige spots, shoulders curled in with a permanent typist's slouch. 

 

The other Specialist offered his name in a deep, deep rumble with a friendly nod. Ankhleas Tithe. His entire appearance was average; medium height, earthy brown coloration, common features, simple orange markings and matching eyes. The torin's steps were exceptionally quiet though, more of a glide then a walk.

 

Saren immediately took over the only chair, the one that sat at Garrus' breakfast bar. Considering it was on the other side of the kitchen counter, it seemed almost like a desk. His regal bearing only did him favor by adding to that, the final impression being an assortment of courtiers before a ruler.

 

The effect was somewhat spoiled by Nihlus hopping up on the counter near the door with Riaz in his lap. Korvis and Ankhleas sat on the couch angling themselves toward the kitchen. The C-Sec officer decided to take a lean against the hallway entrance.

 

“Korvis, if you would bring everyone up to speed on the current situation?”

 

“I would be happy to, Spectre Arterius. Might I know Officer Vakarian's clearance level before I begin?”

 

Saren turned his gaze to meet Garrus', the electric glow flickering as the lenses rotated in focus on him. For a moment the aloof Spectre held him captive with his eyes alone, and he could feel the rapid judgments being made. He returned it coolly, even as the long stare set his guts in stone. If the ST&R group thought they could have a secret meeting about Nihlus in his living room without him, he would have to clarify how much that wasn't happening. He didn't care to challenge Spectre authority at all, or Saren in particular, but... it was his damn house.

 

The silver and grey Spectre turned away.

 

“Level eight.”, was all he said. Agent Tiin seemed to blink in surprise, but moved smoothly to carry on the conversation.

 

“Very good. To begin explaining the compl-”

 

“Hold on.”, interrupted the orange eyed specialist. “Understand, I mean no offense, but how could a C-Sec Detective have earned an intel clearance level that high?”

 

Saren's mandibles pulled up ever-so-slightly in displeasure.

 

“If you should ever have need of an independent agent who can enter the Spectre Offices without a password, acquire data from the intel terminals, and leave again with no aid... Officer Vakarian could do so.”

 

The entire room baring the speaker turned to stare at him, though Nihlus had a shit-eating grin on his face. The tiny Drell woman's grin wasn't much smaller.

 

“Ohhhhh well tha' makes it easy! Hard to keep a hacker like that outta data at all, innit?”

 

“Yes.” The earthy toned specialist nodded, and attention returned to the softly spoken Salarian. Garrus wished he knew what 'level eight' meant, and hoped that no one asked him to hack the Spectre Office door in the middle of the night just to see if he could do it again.

 

“Oh, Officer Vakarian, you're the one who found that storage based error in the security network?”

 

“Ahh, yeah. I... had occasion to visit the ST&R office in the middle of the night, and needed to get back out. Saren's emergency code got me in, but I... wanted to go home and sleep afterward.”

 

“Understandable. Thank you for finding the error, and explaining it so that the loophole could be fixed. Allow me to continue on our main topic, then? To begin explaining the complication, I need to delve into a bit of politics. After the target, The Luminous Azynder, was taken out we acquired aggression from his six daughters, the Slave Baron Orgorosh whom he was selling people to, and his two political allies; The Luminous Derrindray, and the Disciple of the Light Ifrazyl. Orgorosh was refusing to take a more then generous bribe, and was instead eliminated as well. The Luminous Derrindray has been black mailed into dropping the issue using evidence of misuse of public funding. The remaining trouble comes from the six daughters and Ifrazyl. At this time, Ifrazyl is trying to find matches for his two most recently born sons, and the daughters have agreed to wed the youngest two among them in exchange for the assurance of Spectre Kyrik's death.”

 

“Uhh, so how is it that having babies for a Hanar prince is worth ending me? It doesn't sound like that much trouble.”

 

“You would normally by correct Spectre Kyrik, but Ifrazyl is old, and his two youngest sons were conceived too late in life. As you might know, Hanar generally have six to eight children at a time. These two are the only surviving of that batch, and are mentally hindered.”

 

“Ooooh, so a life married to a mentally retarded prince is the deal.”

 

“In essence, yes. For two of them. Our current options are currently as follows; convince the daughters to revoke the deal, convince the youngest two to renenge on their agreement and hope their older sisters are not so willing, have freely offered brides presented to Ifrazyl for his sons, eliminate the sons which would likely exacerbate the situation, or convince the Disciple of the Light through other means that the daughters aren't worth the expenditure of resources.”

 

“Well, shit. What have you tried already?”

 

“We have attempted dealing with the younger two females, and the daughters in general. They are very upset and refuse, though we have perhaps simply not found the correct bribe. Ifrazyl offered to end the deal in exchange for Prothean artifacts that we don't have the ability to give. I did check with the Council about that. On that note, Spectre Kyrik, Councilor Tevos sends you her regret that their above-board options were no help, and wishes you good luck.

 

“Awwww Mommy loves me! You hear that Riaz? I'm the favorite. I can't wait to tell Tela.” Spectre Tio'fore laughed merrily, as apparently it was some sort of inside joke that she got a kick out of.

 

Garrus raised his hand as a request to speak. Saren turned to him and rumbled an assent.

 

“So, Specialist Korvis, these... Hanar princes?”

 

“Technically they are not royalty, simply popular social media figures.”

 

“Right, well, I know family is a big deal to Hanar... are they fertile?”

 

“One moment. Allow me to check their medical records... … Yes, they both appear to be so.”

 

“Would the mental disorder transfer to offspring?”

 

“No, it would not. It is unique to the developmental problems caused by late in life reproduction, and is separate from genetically passable causes of mental retardation.”

 

“Alright. Hmmm. My thought is that if there was something wrong with their ability to reproduce, then the daughters' interest would die a quick death. It might not end their dealing, but it could take the Compact as a resource out of the matter. Is there anyway to induce them with a passable disease, get them sick, have blood work done, and then leak it to the public?”

 

The room was silent for a moment as they considered how viable a plan like that would be. It was Spectre Tio'fore who first chimed in.

 

“That's a tricksey idea there Officer. It might be doable if we can catch them boys away from the bulk of their security, preferably on land. Could hit 'em with a disolvable dart full 'o some pathogens that would make 'em go to the hospital, and an auto-immune disease that would transfer ta any babes. Itsa subtle idea, and might only stall, but the extra-glowy jellie wouldna want sick grand kids to sap the bank accounts either. The girls would hafta come up with a different buy off for a pet assassin.”

 

“Shame to make the two boys ill though. Sounds like they've had a hard life as is. Anyone have other ideas?”

 

“I might.”, came in Specialist Tithe. “A reversal. The daughters are the trouble makers who will not let the matter sit, let the consequences be theirs. Release compounds in their home to make all of them sterile.”

 

Saren hummed approval.

 

“It would make an excellent last warning before we simple kill the lot of them and be done with the matter. Too many council resources are being wasted on their need for revenge. I find myself unwilling to allow it to continue. I have a compound recipe that will do nicely with some small modifications. Sterility, and a hospital worthy illness that will draw attention to it. Tio'fore, will yourself and Specialist Tithe be able to join me aboard the Daedalus for a trip to Kahje? I can alter the formula needed en route, if you are able to develop a delivery method?”

 

“Sure thing Arterius! I can make a water bomb, limited range dispersion, colorless even. Drop it off at night, yeah? Hide it somewhere sneaky-like, they'll never know how it happened.”

 

“Awww you guys are doing explosives underwater without me?” Nihlus appeared honestly distraught that he would miss it. The Drell woman patted him on the cheek with an understanding smile.

 

A few more details were worked out while Garrus leaned quietly and watched. It was still surreal having a bunch of secret agents in his apartment planning political intrigue, sentient rights medical violations, and potential murder if the angry Hanar women didn't take their final hint. He was alright with it though, at least life was interesting. 

 

 

Chapter Text

Nihlus was very preoccupied when the small team of colleagues finally tried to contact him with the results of the counter-espionage. So busy with what he was doing in fact, though he heard his 'tool go off with a vid com request twice in as many minutes, that he ignored it completely. Blue tried to point it out to him helpfully, but didn't get more then two words out before the Spectre reduced him back to incoherent moans.

 

He was sitting on Garrus' torso, facing bent knees, with his thighs tightened against the sniper's tapering waist. Most of his weight was kept balanced away, but enough pressure from still-peach-and-silver legs kept the mountain of delirious tech junky pinned down. One of the lanky Spectre's hands was gloved, keeping talons covered safely as he adventured into the topography of plates splayed wide, curling into the tawny brown nooks of slick hide that were flushed purple from the attention. By now he'd found the better part of the Blue's favorite spots, and had no qualms using them to devastating effect. The other hand had the sniper by the base, and was toying with angles to see what got the best sounds from his captive.

 

Thus far, a tug and twist down then away drew out some of the lowest pitched rumbles, which vibrated into Nihlus' core pleasantly where they touched. Though an even angle to the far left or right with mild tugs seemed to produce these breathy chokes for air and almost begging subvocals that set off something dark and nefarious in the Spectre's demeanor. Blue's hands were dug into the peach hide over his hip crests, holding on for dear life as the knife loving torin drove him maddeningly close to the edge before easing off again. He'd done it half a dozen times with a wicked grin at the frustrated and dizzy sounding huffs at the teasing denials.

 

Nihlus eventually decided to give some small quarter. He leaned forward, sliding a slick gloved talon along the exposed perineum, to tease the nerve endings around the barely visible entrance with an obscenely light touch. The sniper's dense leg musculature flexed and four black talons dug into the bed as the body beneath him pressed upward seeking more. More pressure, an escape, more sensation, or maybe just in mindless want.

 

The Spectre had told himself not to push the line anymore while he was here. If he got Blue into bed again after being away for a while, then he'd take it further... at least, that was what he'd told himself. The lustful subvocals and body language were hard to resist though, and the green eyed torin was weak, so weak, for the symphony of need and desire that Blue sang to him in trills and moans and vibrating hums.

 

He sank a single talon in ever so slowly, and crooked it to press against just the right place. It all locked down around him as the orgasm tore through Garrus with a hoarse cry of his name. Nihlus shuddered with an appreciative and uneven exhale as the sniper came apart for him. Spirits, it was like seeing a sunrise for the first time each instance he heard that combination of name and voice and buzzing subvocals called in release. Addicted. He was so damned addicted to this. Sex in general, obviously, specifically with with this torin though...

 

The reminder of pending vid-call request chimed again.

 

Questing hands came up over his collar and pulled him down as Blue shifted them backward into sitting. The Spectre ended up sprawled in the detective's lap, angled to the side and held against a keel with one muscled arm as the other came down to take vengeance for all his teasing. Green eyes disappeared behind fluttering lids as he was taken hold of and worked at with a heavy grip and an unhurried pace. His throat became dry from panting as he drowned in the leisurely take over of his sensations. Blue's legs came over his own, one after another, and trapped his thighs on the other side. Spread as wide as he could bend, -and he was a very flexible Turian-, unable to move much. Still the fist on him moved, pulling the whole area in lazy circles of up and out, around the apex in a curve, releasing the tension near his plates, and rolling back along the the rest of the circle with all grip and no pull. The driving rhythm went around again, and again, the reminder pinged, and remained ignored.

 

Nihlus began to give pleading trills as the smooth revolutions kept up, and worked the thumb of his still slippery hand into the purple flushed hide below Garrus' grip. The sniper let him work himself up for a few moments, digging into the nerves in double time to the rolling motion, but all of the sudden the icy eyed torin cut him off. One deceptively thin wrist was captured, then the other, pulled away so he couldn't touch himself. Blue's tongue laved at the hide below silvery mandibles. The trills and desirous moans that escaped became louder and more demanding, but the pace never changed. The sniper was getting revenge, and nothing seemed to move him.

 

Nihlus began to struggle lightly, growling with frustrated subvocals like a distant thunder storm. It went unheeded, and the reverse torment kept on.

 

The dangerous edge to his growls inched higher.

 

“Yes, Palvi?”

 

“Stop. Teasing me.”

 

Garrus' mouth came up to his ear as he rumbled with amusement, “No.”

 

He proceeded to push Nihlus' head aside and bite down on rough hide, returning the Spectre to a melting puddle of compliance. It lasted for several minutes, but the merciless and unhurried pace brought the agent no release and he was about ready to turn it into a spar to try and pin the sniper and ride his still-slick groin plates to completion. He called out more frustrated subvocals, threading in a fair warning of his rising intent to force the issue.

 

“Something bothering you?”

 

“Wha-yes, asshole. You. You are b-bothering me. Ohhhhh fuck.”

 

“Is there... anything I can do... to help?”

 

“AGH! Yes, YES.”

 

“Yes what, Nihlus? What do you want?”

 

“Oh, y-you are an evil fuck. Make me come before I...”

 

“Before... You.. Do. What?” Garrus timed his words to a slowly speeding revolution.

 

“B-before...s-shut up and finish me!” Words left him as Blue finally relented, gripping him with both hands and turning the heavy grip and slow rotation into a rapid and breath stopping hand fuck of epic proportions. The slate grey hands worked him over into an orgasm within half a minute, the sudden rush drew a ragged keening roar out of the Spectre as he clawed at the shoulders that powered the hold over him. He was fairly certain he broke skin, but couldn't fathom what to do about that as the torin dragged every last moan and shudder out of him, wringing the fluid release until there was none left to give.

 

He collapsed after the climax, shivering with small whimpers as Garrus trailed talons up and down over sensitized flesh. The gentle but persistent attention convinced his plates that they didn't need to close just yet, and the sniper continued for some time, keeping Nihlus trapped in the aftermath and unable to so much as offer token hummed resistance.

 

The damn reminder pinged again, and the Officer laughed softly.

 

“You should probably answer that.”

 

What he thought was, “How about fuck that?”, however the more responsible reply came as, “Mmmmmyeah. In a second.” It was only a slightly more responsible answer.

 

It pinged again five minutes later. Blue helped him sit up against the curved side of the bed, and put the correct arm in front of him. He left the room with a chuckle, calling out that he'd reheat some left overs for them.

 

It was Saren who answered, assuring him that the five remaining daughters had revoked their intent, and that he had confirmation the kill order was to be removed within a day. There was a little smear of whiteish Hanar blood along his right cheek horn. Nihlus cheerfully thanked him, and sent his 'hugs and kisses' to Riaz, which was met with an unamused stare. The call closed, and the Spectre sat there trying to gather his will. To get up, get clean, eat... and work on how to get his feet to walk out that door again.

 

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

The end of the road came quick. The lanky torin painstakingly removed every trace of the hide dyes and plate coating, and gathered his things together, staring at the small pile of girl clothes and cute accessories. He fingered a set of silver and green fringe clips forlornly. Garrus came up and set a hand on his shoulder with a friendly squeeze.

 

“I've got some spare room in my closet if you'd like to leave that stuff here for future use of Asla as a cover. Saren mentioned before that you don't keep a hold of different sets of disguises because you're bad at taking care of anything not made of metal.” He heard the rustle of cloth as the sniper shrugged dismissively.

 

It was... really stupid. He should throw it all away, and never be this cover again. He should.

 

“Yeah, if it's not any trouble? Would be nice to have a ready-made disguise on the Citadel in case I need it.”

 

“Sure. Just leave whatever you want to keep here, and I'll pack it up later.”

 

'You are such a moron, Kyrik. A sentimental moron.', he told himself as he pocketed the fringe clips and turned to thank the Officer with a smile. They walked to the door as Nihlus and Garrus for the first time in weeks. Just two friends, not a close knit couple enjoying a soldier's shore leave. He couldn't stand it when the sniper reached out a forearm to clasp his in goodbye, and instead pinned the torin to the wall by the door with a sudden and stupid press of foreheads and a hand clasped to tawny brown neck hide.

 

He tried really hard to keep smiling, but it was slipping. Nihlus knew he needed to leave, now.

 

“See you later Blue.”

 

“Take it easy, Pa-... Hurricane.”

 

“Nu uh, I never do anything the easy way.”

 

“Always have to make it worse?”

 

“Bingo.”

 

“Then... make it terrible.”

 

“I will.”

 

Chapter Text

~Interlude: My Heart Sings and I Cannot Help but Burn Brightly~

 

It all began when he was four years old. Just big enough to understand that mommy was upset about him jumping down the stairs in one go, but not really understanding why. She was crying and holding onto him tightly, a little too tightly actually, but when he tried to wiggle away she cried more so he stopped.

 

“... mamaa? S'okay, ummm please don't cry?” Kaidan tried patting her face, but it didn't seem to help. His dark little eyebrows furrowed together in thought trying to come up with something.

 

“ ...Mamaa, you wanna get popsicles?”

 

“ ...Would you be happy if I cleaned dishes for you?”

 

“ ...We can watch vids and have popcorn?”

 

It didn't matter that all of those were his favorite things, the sweetness of his trying-to-help toddler logic just made Cleo Alenko have further trouble trying to breathe. Kaidan began to sniffle too, upset that she was upset, and not knowing what to do about it.

 

Mercifully, his uncle Molorasteph Alenko found them after not too long.

 

“Cleo? Kai? Cleo, what's wrong?” The big man's bushy unibrow rose in worry as he knelt down beside them on the living room carpet. Kaidan heard his mom try to put into words what was wrong, but her thin shoulders just shook harder trying to repress the flow of tears. Uncle 'Mo looked at him for help.

 

“I-i-i dunoooo. I was going outside so I came d-down stairs and then mamaa was sad and I dunnoooo.” He was full out crying now, not able to help it. His uncle leaned back baffled, and yelled across the house for his husband, who came speed walking at a clip around the corner. Uncle Jacob was a doctor-soldier with the Alliance, and worked at the same base outside Vancouver as Uncle 'Mo and his dad. Doctor-solders were the best right? Uncle Jacob would know what to do.

 

“Cleo, look at me, I need you to nod or shake your head for yes or no. Is something medically wrong with you?”

 

No.

 

“Okay, what about Kai?”

 

Yes.

 

“I need you to let go of him so I can see, alright?”

 

Finally, something besides mournful tears, but Kaidan wasn't sure the wet little laugh that his momaa made was the good kind of laugh.

 

“I-its n-n-not something you can fix. Ohhhhh my sweet boy. I thought my cancer was just poor genes, I didn't... I didn't think. I'm s-so sorry....”

 

“Cleo?” Uncle Jacob tried again, he sounded worried.

 

“He j-j-jumped... from the t-top of the stairs. G-g-glowing blue.” Another loud, mournful wail rose up, and the youngest Alenko in the room wailed right along with it, great big tears going down his cheeks. He didn't know why jumping down the stairs was so bad, but... it was his fault? He made mom cry. He was probably in trouble.

 

Uncle 'Mo covered his mouth with a big hand and stared up at the top of the stairs with wide eyes. His other uncle just looked serious, and rubbed his back gently.

 

“Kai, did you jump down the stairs?”

 

“Y-yeah? I-twon'tdoitagain. Pleasedon'tbemad.”

 

“Heeey, now, hey it's okay. Actually, I was wondering if you could do it again for me?”

 

“Jake!”

 

“Love, we need to know for sure.”

 

Uncle 'Mo hugged his sister-in-law while looking green around the gills. “Do we?”

 

Uncle Jacob leveled him a steady look, and he looked away. Kaidan wasn't sure he wanted to jump down anything ever again.

 

“I.. I don't want to...”

 

“Oh yeah? How come?”

 

Kaidan glanced helplessly at his mother, who still wasn't calm.

 

“Kai, your mom is just... startled. She didn't expect you to be able to do that. If you can though, we need to know, alright? There's... special things that people who can do that need to have. A lot more food, for one. Give it a try for me? I'll be ready to catch you if it doesn't work.”

 

“ I'm... ummm... not hungry...” His uncle gave him that level look next. It was pretty intimidating. He gulped and climbed the stairs again, turning around at the top to stare down at his family. His mom managed the ghost of an encouraging smile.

 

Kaidan jumped, like he'd done a dozen times before, and landed with a thump. But not a thump loud enough to account for a 4 meter leap down a set of stairs. Not that he knew that, or that he glowed when he did it. Kaidan had just done what felt natural.

 

His mom gathered him back into a hug.

 

“'Mo, can you call my husband p-please? I...I just...”

 

“It's okay Cloe, go sit down. We'll figure out the details, just take it easy.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

When he was seven, the doctors that he visited regularly began to push to have him enrolled into the trials for the new L1 implant. His mom glared them down as his dad threatened to 'sue' for some practice or... something. Kaidan didn't know exactly what that meant, but he knew that it was bad, and that they were angry.

 

The doctors backed off, and life was good for a little while. At least it was, until the other kids at Widelakes Elementary discovered that he had biotics. He ended up having to switch schools that year.

 

Then twice more the following year.

 

He made it through fourth and fifth grade okay, but the bullying and social pariah status in middle school became a thing of nightmares for Kaidan. No one wanted to even speak to him except other biotics, and there were none at his school. Teachers would lock the door before he could enter the class room. One of the cafeteria staff outright refused to be anywhere near him, and would leave the lunch room at a run if he entered.

 

His mom and dad hired a homeschooling tutor. Of course, that was when the nausea episodes started.

 

It was a really good thing his parents had plenty of money, because the Asari specialist they took him to was incredibly expensive, and he knew it. They tried to hide it from him, but Kaidan was an intelligent boy. Maybe it was hours spent reading quietly when no one would talk to him. It might've been the private tutor too. Regardless, he sneaked peaks at the bills, and was smart enough to know that it took a lot of time to earn that kind of money.

 

The specialist was nice though, and soothed away the constant desire to vomit and fall over with some sort of special biotic field. The Asari advised his parents to look into a biotic amp for the stabilizing factor. There were a lot of big technical words involved, but the way it was explained to him was that he was building up a charge in a loop, and his options were either to use his abilities constantly in small ways, or to get an amp that would give him passive stimulation.

 

He was very sick of falling over and running into things because he couldn't balance right anymore, and he couldn't just use biotics around normal people. The last time he'd shown anyone outside of his family what he could do, he'd sent everyone in the room into horrified or awed stares, most of them quickly scattering. As if mild telekinetic powers caused some sort of existential dread that he'd mind control them off a cliff for the fun of it.

 

In the end, Kaidan just wanted the taste of puke out of his mouth for more then a few hours, and trying to keep up a constant light usage was exhausting.

 

The Asari had said he needed to get it before puberty to be most effective. His mom hated the idea. His dad told him that the choice was his, and that they would support him either way.

 

The desperation to just walk straight again without having to fight himself was too great a temptation. Kaidan knew he risked brain damage, and that the operation could go really bad and he'd be stupid for life. He still went ahead with it.

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

One day dad came home with a pair of Systems Alliance officers who wanted to speak with him about his above average L2 testing scores. They were starting up a boarding school for biotic teens out on Gagarin station, and wanted to see if he was interested. Kaidan was very interested. The idea of a school with kids that were all just like him? No one would be a freak, because they would all be freaks.

 

His mom put her foot down though. She had no desire to send him off to the middle of nowhere, with no regular communication. Maybe Cloe had been spoiled having him at home all the time growing up, but he was fourteen now and as much as he loved his mom.. her constant presence was a little stifling some days. She refused though, utterly and completely, with tears and coughing and pleading with him and dad. They gave in, those Alenko boys. Cloe was too precious to them to make her so miserable intentionally.

 

Unfortunately for Mrs. Alenko, fate wasn't feeling particularly kind. Four months later a crazy woman tried to run them over with a sky car in a parking lot. The psychopath had seen him get something in the grocery store with a mild biotic lift, bringing it down for his mother to add to their cart. Following them out of the building, she screamed something about demon abominations out the window and he barely had time to frantically shield them both with the strongest barrier he'd ever made before the vehicle hit.

 

The woman died in the crash. He and Cloe were fine. The media exploded about it.

 

Kaidan was on a shuttle for pre-departure orientation three weeks later. Much to his mom's great distress. He had to keep her safe though, even if that was from people trying to get to him. He was used to being a target because of his biotics, so that didn't phase him. Granted being a target of outright violence was new, but not of hate. That one was a constant companion. He just... didn't want anything to happen to his mother.

 

He'd be back once a year for a one month holiday break, for the next four years. It almost felt like an adventure.

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

The official title for the 'school' of Biotic Acclimation and Temperance Training lasted about a week. When it became obvious that the establishment ran more like a summer camp with morning scholastic classes and a full afternoon of various biotic exercises, followed by pre-military training in the evenings, 'Brain Camp' quickly became the casual moniker of choice.

 

Some days were good.

 

Those days were full of hard work, yes, but also a lot of progress with his biotic control. The morning classes were no joke either, and their leisure time was limited. They were being treated more like an elite force in training then children, but the change from being ostracized to being valued was so powerful that Kaidan and his peers mostly took to it with a gusto. A sense of fellowship between the equally struggling kids brought them all together with a sense of communal suffering.

 

There was still some bullying, but it was so mild comparatively that most people barely noticed. The majority of them had thick skin, and those who didn't had a lot of over protective friends. Rahna, the unofficial mom of theta team, was particularly well known for her stinging lectures at anyone who picked on people. Chris, the team dad of beta group, was a very large boy even at age fifteen, and was not afraid to spend a weekend in grueling punishment chores for decking anyone who picked on the smaller, weaker, or more unstable biotics among them.

 

Chris was a good guy, and Kaidan liked him. Covered for him on more then one occasion.

 

There were also bad days.

 

Their instructors were a mixed bag. Human teachers for academics and the pre-military classes the instructors insisted on calling 'P.E.', and then aliens for biotics. Commander Vyrnnus had the Biotic Combat Technique, Control & Integration, and Memetics classes, and Osi Rai'ne took care of Meditation, Biotic Theory & Acclimation, and helped the science team that was 'supporting their studies'. If by 'supporting their studies' they meant 'studying their abilities.”

 

Instructor Rai'ne was a cold and quiet tarin that refused to mother them. Her meditation techniques were only mocked the first few weeks, until some people started 'getting it', and found their various health problems alleviated to varying degrees. Her main class became a great deal more popular after that. BTA class was a study in 'fake it till you make it', as the woman's incomprehensible psycho-babble was so far beyond the gaggle of twelve to sixteen year olds that the class might as well have been taught with translators off. The grades in that class were very low for a good long while, but at least the teacher was a very patient sort.

 

Commander Vyrnnus was an entirely different ball game. He was a harsh task master, popular with no one but respected to varying degrees by all. There was no question that the mercenary commander was a powerful and skilled biotic, and that the things he had to teach them were amazing. If only the Turian could have had a few shreds of mercy for the young people in poor average health that he taught. Apparently Turians were considered adults at age fifteen. He didn't seem to understand that Humans were different. Most people didn't consider someone an adult until age twenty, and they couldn't get a skycar license or own a gun until twenty five, the exception being eighteen year olds who joined the S.A.. He drove even the twelve year olds like they were training for war tomorrow. It was brutal.

 

Every few months someone would snap and have a mental break down. The Human adults tried to mitigate it, but there was only so much they could do. Both Vyrnnus and Rai'ne were nearly impossible to replace. Other teachers came and went, but those two were the core of Brain Camp's forward motion.

 

Kaidan talked no few number of his peers out of suicide because of that.

 

Eventually a support pattern formed. Rahna of theta team and her second in command, Kaidan himself, kept watch over their team and alpha team as well. Alpha team's only leader-like individual had hurt themselves badly early on, and was still in a coma in the medical ward. Chris and his twin brother Jasper kept an eye on charlie team and their own delta. Echo team was watched over by Amchee Paztrika, a tiny angry Swedish girl who furiously took care of her mostly male team by herself.

 

They had unofficial team leader meetings on the weekends and everything, trying to keep everyone up to date on who was cracking and who was going strong. That mismatched group of gangly and awkward teens did a lot of good, and Kaidan had the sense that they'd kept the project from falling through by a landslide. He was proud to be a part of that.

 

Besides the good and bad days, there were also weird days, as one would expect would happen when a bunch of repressed young people with mental powers were shoved into a space station and told to get along and work hard. More then one biotic lunch fight was paid for in metaphorical blood of hard manual labor and weekends of chores and lock downs. They were almost always worth it.

 

By the time they all went home for the first year's break period, Kaidan was really starting to feel like a person who had biotic gifts and not tainted by an unwanted curse.

 

The second year at Brain Camp went more smoothly then the first. A fair few kids never came back, but an even larger amount joined. Fox-trot team was formed, Amchee got a right-and-left-hand set of cousins to back her up, and the unofficial leaders were relieved when a bossy sixteen year old boy named Johnathan joined with the new kids and took over Fox-trot with only a little prodding. The group grew up around Rahna, their kind hearted queen bee, and there were a lot fewer mental breaks and problems over all.

 

That year was also notable for Kaidan's developing friendship with, -and crush on-, Rahna. He'd stopped by her dorm room one weekend to find no one else around. She was just day dreaming, one of the few relaxing pass times available, and invited him in. At fifteen, he'd definitely noticed girls in general, and Rahna's lovely caramel skin and bright, intelligent eyes in particular. He wasn't brave enough to do anything about it, but she did make him happy just to be around, and that was enough.

 

Year two came and went, and three started. The atmosphere improved little by little. As results began coming from their data studies further funding was sent. A psychologist had managed to convinced some of the operational staff about a few things that teens needed in their lives, and they'd gotten new entertainments, established holiday parties, and a few other niceties. The unofficial leaders found themselves officially recognized, and they were each called in on a biweekly basis to give a verbal report to the people in charge. Kaidan purposefully kept people's personal details out of it unless they really needed some interference, but the system improved with that new line of communication.

 

As year three went on, they got comfortable. The struggles of Brain Camp were becoming manageable, and the support staff of scientists and doctors and cooks and so forth all settled into routine and workable patterns. On the flip side, however, Commander Vyrnnus seemed to take their comfort as a personal affront, and his classes picked up in intensity accordingly. Somedays he pushed too far, and Kaidan would push back. He was only willing to put up with so much of the torin's mind games and war-dog posturing before he'd stand up to him in place of whoever the Turian's latest target was.

 

It hadn't come to violence, but there had been more then one yelling match that had freaked out the newer kids. Kaidan was a passionate individual, and while he was normally quiet like a book worm, when he got worked up he really got worked up. It was a constant battle with Vyrnnus' temper, but it was one the dark haired teen was prepared to fight. As long as the attention was on him, it wasn't on anyone else. That was good enough.

 

Life was good, or better than before at least, and certainly an improvement over pre-Brain Camp days. It lasted until half way into their forth year, when suddenly Kaidan's whole world focused down into a single crystalline moment that would forever define him, his comfortable little corner of the galaxy shattering into a thousand jagged pieces.

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

“Hey, Alenko!” Kaidan turned to look at Jasper, who was checking up and down the hall for listeners. Finding no one, he leaned in and whispered, “Shelby's got his homebrew com suite rigged to send out this week. If you have any messages you want to send back home...”

 

He nodded at the blonde teen knowingly, “Got it. I'll pass on word to beta team. I've got something to send to my mom... does Shelby want it hand written again?”

 

Jasper nodded with a half-grin. “Yeah, unless Marco figured out a way around the monitoring on the new datapad OS?”

 

“Not yet, at least that's what I heard yesterday.” Both boys turned to the familiar voice of Rahna, who offered a smile as she shook her head. Her tiny black braids swished around her head charmingly, or maybe that was just Kaidan's crush talking.

 

“Right well. I gotta go let people in echo team in on it. Talk to y'all later.”

 

Kaidan waved farewell, and turned back to the artificial vid-window that looked out into the stars. Rahna pulled up beside him, and they sat for a moment and watched the world turn, or the whole galaxy as the case may be. Eventually, she turned to look up at him with a curious cant to her head.

 

“Penny for your thoughts?”

 

“What?”

 

“Haha, sorry, old Earth currency. How about a cred for your thoughts?”

 

“I'd say my thoughts are worth at least 15 creds. Maybe 20.”

 

“Oh are they now? Well... since credits are basically useless up here... how about my jello cup during lunch?”

 

“You strike a hard bargain Rahna, but I suppose sacrifices can be made for jello.”

 

“Exactly! So...?”

 

“I was... just thinking, really. I know it's different when we go home for that month they let everyone out for, but for the rest of the year? It feels so separate here. Like we're cut off from reality and... like we'll be here forever. Training and learning, but never experiencing.”

 

“So says the senior who graduates this year.”

 

“True. Though I know the Conatix med-sci team wants me to stay, if only because my L2 stability rating is so high. They still can't figure out why I took to it better then the L2-Xs down in the care ward.”

 

“So you're going to stay? I thought you were just complaining about feeling held back?”

 

“Haha, I wasn't complaining just... thinking. Besides, if a little extra time here can help improvements to the implants...”

 

“A lot of good?”

 

“Yeah, a lot of good.”

 

She smiled broadly at him, and he felt the well-expected flutter in his stomach at the sight. They looked upward simultaneously as the afternoon class bell went off reminding everyone to begin heading to their next scheduled course. They both had Biotic Control & Integration next, so the two young adepts set off together wordlessly.

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

“Terraze! Stop. Practice that third memetic fifty times, slowly, with no energy behind it. Pay attention to your wrist angles boy, or you'll never be worth a shit.”

 

Vyrnnus stalked down the line of softskins, annoyed with their lack of focus today. He glanced down the line and watched for careless memetic motions or the taletell waver of uneven fields. What he saw only aggravated him more. The Jolsey twins were feeding off each other again, more interested in playing with their shared energy then improving their personal control. His best student, Alenko, was mooning over his favorite female and letting his memetics get sloppy. Again.

 

“Alenko!”

 

“Yes, sir?”

 

“Focus.”

 

“Yes, sir!”

 

He walked up to one of the twins, grabbed him by the back of the neck, and steered him down the line to a new spot away from his brother. Vyrnnus continued his judgmental pacing, whapping Shelby Monroe upside the head for day dreaming for too long instead of beginning the next set of practice exercises after finishing the previous set.

 

Idiots. He had no idea how the Human younglings didn't just die from their own stupidity some days. Who spaced off in a room full of other careless biotics in training? Moronic softskins, apparently. A headache was building behind his eyes, and the mercenary felt his own focus fray. He decided to take his own advice for the remainder of the lesson.

 

“Fields down! Begin movement set C, and work on making it flow into set F and back, no energy. Work on your forms! I want to see improvement today, or else!”

 

He couldn't say he enjoyed this job, at all, but it paid well. Very well. He was getting too old to take the big pay-out jobs like he used to, had too many injuries to live hard and still live. This bullshit would do until he had the money for his own ship, a heavy cruiser or carrier that he could lead a merc group from. It would be a few more years of beating biotic technique into the empty heads of pyjaks, but he was determined to suffer through.

 

“Terraze! EYES FORWARD. For the last time you witless moron. Focus or leave!”

 

“Y-yes sir!”

 

Ridiculous. This sort of incompetence wouldn't have been tolerated in the Cabals, not for a single day. Regardless of his attempts to put some discipline into his pupils, their spastic pyjak brains couldn't retain half of it. Maybe he was too soft on them, but the tiny damn Humans broke so easily he was reluctant to push much harder.

 

Mercifully the class came to an end, and he released the lot of them to stuff their worthless faces before P.E class. Vyrnnus was done for today, and had a date with a glass of brandy and a Rachni Wars novella to get to.

 

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

The next day was, if anything, worse. Something was going on, Vyrnnus could practically smell it, but the softskins weren't telling him a thing. He broke down around lunch time and asked Rai'ne if she knew what was going on. She claimed not to.

 

Half his afternoon class was spent keeping the twins from killing themselves or others in their distraction, and one student was sent to medbay with a concussion because of a bad throw.

 

Midweek just got worse, and Vyrnnus' patience was at an all time low. The pyjaks were up to something. Something, and all the other teaching staff, the PMC flunkies that Conatix employed as guards, and every pupil subtly questioned claimed to have no clue. The little shits weren't doing anything in his class besides wasting his time, and no one was absent, so it couldn't be anything that was happening during instruction. The mercenary doubted it was happening during the time frame of any classes, for that matter

 

Sick of the bullshit, he decided to do a little recon into the times and places where the undisciplined idiots weren't normally watched. It took him a mere hour spent in a quiet lean against a bulkhead near the dorms to hear snippets of clues. Another hour and a half shed enough light on the situation to clarify. The idiotic, stupid, selfish little shitheads were sending unencrypted messages back to Earth, because they missed their mommies and daddies. Any Turian clan Avah would report such a breach of security right back to their offspring's superior, but of course the Human parents hadn't done so.

 

Vyrnnus couldn't believe the students were participating in underground message sending in the first place, they'd been lectured about the security concerns before coming, and again at orientation. If the Batarians had any clue that most of Humanity's biotic potential could be found in one place, on a tiny station at the edge of their system... the terrorist attacks would be swift, and frequent. Not to mention that no small number of independent agencies would be vying for 'test subjects'. Everyone knew that biotic children sometimes just disappeared, kidnapped off to who knew where. The going rate for a biotic child was over six hundred thousand credits.

 

Idiots. Fucking idiots! Vyrnnus knew that a breach of security of this magnitude was the fault of the staff, including himself. They should have been monitoring the off hour activities more closely. It didn't change the fact that the careless younglings needed to learn a lesson, and clearly had far too much free time on their hands.

 

He sent off a message to the station administrator, and Cced it to the security office. Now, to find the enabler responsible for the messages.

 

Oroba Vyrnnus may have been old, coming up on the end of his first century, but while his body was wearing out, his mind was sharp and honed from a lifetime of mercenary work. It took him four hours of casual listening in, clue hunting, perusing security feeds, and general detective work to pin down the name of the clever little shit who had apparently sent out a recent batch of messages just last night, and the names of the group leaders who enabled him.

 

It was a veritable crime ring of rule violations and message passing. He was furious.

 

Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

“Monroe. Follow me.”

 

“Uhh... Yessir.”

 

The biotic instructor led them to the classroom silently. Shelby Monroe following uncertainly in his wake. When they arrived, he gestured to the massive pile of insta-crete blocks in the center of the room.

 

“It has become clear to me that some of the students have far too much time on their hands. You in particular, Mr. Monroe, seem to have an excess of creativity that would best be put to use in some remedial training. You will be spending all of your foreseeable free time with me, in detention.”

 

“Y-yes, sir.”

 

“You see the image on the wallscreen? Build it.”

 

“Yes sir.”

 

He was glad the troublemaker at least had enough sense in his tiny brain to show some respect, and get to work without complaint. The tech-loving student was so intimidated that it took the boy a few minutes to notice the temperature in the room was abnormally high. Vyrnnus grinned as Monroe began to sweat in the Palaven standard heat. He'd born the Human's love of cool temperatures with dignity, and a good thermal regulator in his suit, but this mild revenge was quite satisfying.

 

“Can I access the thermostat program for the room? It's really hot in here, sir.”

 

“I think my free time should be spent in comfort, don't you? If I also have to spend it coddling you, between the two of us my comfort should be priority. So no, you can simply deal with it.”

 

“ ...yes sir.”

 

Generously, he let it slide when Monroe removed his shirt, soaked with sweat, and got back to work as a reward for not complaining further. Arguing with your superior officer? Ridiculous, yet some still did.

 

Vyrnnus watched with mild eyes as the rule-breaker worked, for half an hour, then a full hour, then two total. Decent stamina, he would admit, but terrible control left the boy struggling to place the blocks with enough coordination to not knock others askew. He pulled up the novella he'd been reading and spent some time enjoying the plot line of mercenaries stranded on a Rachni occupied world. After some time passed, he looked up again to make sure Monroe was on task.

 

The lazy fucking Human was using his hands to bring blocks close to his work, before lifting them a short hop with biotics. He was cheating.

 

“MONROE.” The block in hand at the time tumbled to the floor as the boy froze in place. The Turian biotic stalked up to him and glared.

 

“Apparently, I can't look away for two seconds or you will just do as you please. You know you are not allowed to use physical contact in class! How many times have I said this? Agh! Fine. Fine.” Vyrnnus stomped out to a nearby maintenance closet, nabbed some spare cabling, returned to the room, and pointed one gloved talon at a floor to ceiling support beam near the back of the class room. With trepidation, Shelby approached and stood where he was pointed at. His instructor tied him bodily to the post.

 

“You may take all the time you wish to accomplish the task I've set forth. You will not use your hands.”

 

“S-sir, I'm too tired to keep going.”

 

“Then take a break, fool.”

 

“...I'm tied to a pole.”

 

“So you are.” The mercenary laughed cruelly, and went back to sit at the lecture desk and continue reading.

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Shelby struggled to move more of the blocks into place. He was nearly done with the complex geometric structure, and hoped to god their psycho teacher would let him go back to the dorms after this. He was... so... so close...

 

He passed out from biotic exhaustion at some point, slouched over and still tied to the pole. He slept restlessly, not waking until he was roused by the sounds of his peers filing into the room before the tardy bell went off for morning class. Sounds of confusion and gasps of shock reached his ears, but before any foot steps could get close their instructor shouted out for everyone to take their practice positions.

 

Shelby raised tired brown eyes to see his friends torn between shuffling into place on demand, and helping him. Vyrnnus beat them to it, coming to untie him and pointing to a line of water glasses along the far wall.

 

“Go, get a drink, and sit in the corner. We'll have a talk about your blatant disregard for authority and security after class.”

 

He didn't even have the energy to argue, a biotic metabolism giving him a raging desire to eat and a bone deep lethargy from the lack of fuel. Shelby sat down in a corner, propped up by the walls, and tried to make himself sip at the cool water instead of chugging it down. He knew that might make him puke, and knowing their asshole teacher, he'd just get lectured on improper disposal of bodily waste or some crap.

 

Time stretched and shrunk in his daze, the wisps of biotics floating around the room making his teeth buzz. Suddenly there was shouting, and it drew him out of the half-doze he'd been in.

 

When later asked to recount what happened he will admit that the first moment he knew something was wrong his instructor was already flying across the room.

 

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Kaidan didn't know what to do about the situation, but seeing Shelby's slumped form in the corner had his jaw clenched shut. He didn't have to reach very far to guess that the tech kid's jury-rigged com suite had been discovered, considering it was just last night that he'd managed to get out the most recent com packages. The communications blackout that Conatix imposed on them was alright for some of them, but untenable for others. It depended on the individual's circumstances.

 

With the kids like him, slipping a simple hello message home kept his mother from a freak out. For Rahna she only sent messages to her brother, but not her parents back in Turkey, because they were involved in politics and would rather she not exist. The twins didn't message anyone, their single mother had died in childbirth.

 

More then the drive to communicate to loved ones, there was also a sense of control from disregarding the rules that some of his peers needed to keep a mental hand hold on their sense of calm.

 

The Canadian biotic knew that not all of the students were here of their full free will. Some had come willingly, like him, but others had been pressured into it. Some were just plain orphans, because the accidents that exposed their parents to element zero also caused rampant cancer, and generally involved a crashed starship. The ability to ignore the com black out and message whoever they wanted made Jump Zero feel less like a prison, and more like the boarding school it was supposed to be.

 

So they'd worked out a system, and supported the back door access, and now... Shelby was paying for that choice. If the particularly spiteful look on Vyrnnus' faceplates was anything to go by, they were all going to pay for it to some extent.

 

The room's temperature was set to stifling when they came in, and a full class of struggling biotics brought it up even more. People began discarding shirts, tying up pant legs, and tossing hair up into buns or tails. Jasper was down to boxers, not caring who saw, and Tristen was in her bra and panties and looked as if she were considering discarding them as well. It was sweltering, hot enough to kill even a teenager's sense of body shyness.

 

The afternoon wore on, and people began to drop, -literally drop-, from the brutal demands their instructor set. He made them run through all of their forms first, then set to them to building a complex geometric shape mid air in the middle of the room, demanding that no insta-crete touch the floor at any time until he declared the project finished. Of the seventeen classmates, ten of them did nothing except hold the blocks up, with four more rotating in and out of the ten to give people breathers. The last three worked to slowly pull pieces away from the control of others and put them where they needed to go.

 

It was exhausting, difficult work.

 

Finally, they finished it, and their task master told them to sit. Rahna was the only one who didn't. Normally the sweet girl was terrified of Vyrnnus, but she was clearly still miffed about the slumped boy in the corner. Instead of sitting, she ignored him and went to grab one of the glasses of water set in a line on a work table, possibly for poor, dazed looking Shelby .

 

Did I say you could get water!?” Vyrnnus bellowed, sounding somewhat unhinged to Kaidan's ears. He turned to look at the Turian in time to see him finishing the memetic for a Warp, and his heart stopped beating in his chest. The gravity-shifting pull of biotics acted faster then he could move, his automatic Barrier not coming up in time to prevent Rahna from screaming in pain from a sudden and intense warping right beside her. He heard the crunch of bone, and roared in anger.

 

He turned to their instructor, and sent off a sloppy, rage fueled Throw. The Turian caught it, and pushed the gravitational forces to the side where they hit the reinforced wall harmlessly, spinning back to Kaidan he sent out his own Throw, tossing the Canadian back onto his ass. The crowd of students scattered to the walls, some running out the door entirely, as he scrambled back up to face the mercenary that was supposed to be teaching them. He couldn't stand that spiteful bastard's smug face, couldn't believe he'd Warped Rahna. He pulled his arms in a much less sloppy memetic form, and tossed half the block pile at the torin.

 

As the cruel teacher disappeared under the debris he spared a look to make sure the girl he loved was alright, and the blood drained from his face to see her sobbing in pain as Chris tried to put pressure on her broken arm. There was blood, so much blood, and it was everywhere. His inattention cost him.

 

Vyrnnus was upon him with a knife before he even understood that he'd been biotically charged, and the Turian style Talon blade cut a long shallow gouge in his side. The mercenary spun, kicking him right on top of that slice with a biotically enhanced strike that sent him tumbling back to the ground. He rolled, coming up with an arm over the wound. His instructor was rushing at him again, and he couldn't stop the hate and rage that boiled up from his gut. Rahna's blood and tears had lit the fire, and the expression of contempt and cruelty before him was the fuel for that flame.

 

He pulled, from every bit of himself that was; down his spine, out his limbs, into his fingers and toes. The energy came and he didn't even shape it with a memetic, he just bore down upon the focus of his ire like a ship board canon firing. The impact made a terrible crunching noise as suit and plates over Vyrnnus' torso impacted, creating a concave shape before he even hit the wall. The body slid to the ground, the loose viscera inside his suit sagging against the cloth like an over-full grocery bag.

 

Kaidan stepped back in recoil, belatedly hearing the dying echo of a normally sweet voice voice crying out a desperate, ringing 'Noooo!' in his ears. He turned to look at Chris and Rahna. Chris was shaking, staring at him with wide eyes. Rahna wasn't looking at him at all.

 

He shuffled over to them, staring down at the floor in shock. The station's EMS arrived before he got there, whisking her away. The guards arrived shortly there after, and began to organize the chaos. One of them vomited on his boots right after walking in though.

 

They took him away to a holding cell he didn't even know the station had. He sat there, alone and silent, for a good long while while the security force figured out what to do with him.

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

“Time to go, kid.”

 

Kaidan looked up from his listless stare at the table top in the holding cell. They'd told him that, technically speaking, they were outside of traditional government jurisdiction, so his fate was up to the Conatix board of directors. Since Jump Zero had been doing so well, they didn't want this mess to ruin it. They were sweeping the whole thing under the rug.

 

Kaidan Alenko, however, was to be dismissed from the program effective immediately.

 

“Did she say...?”

 

“I'm sorry, Mr. Alenko. Your girl refuses to speak to you still, last I heard.”

 

“Oh. Okay. Thank you for... checking.”

 

“No problem. Ready to leave?”

 

“... yeah.”

 

He walked the familiar corridors one last time, everything he owned packed into a duffel. Arriving at the docks, there was a lone figure waiting for him, and his breath caught in his throat at the sight of Rahna waiting by the airlock. She turned when their foot steps approached. Her normally smiling face was flat and contemplative.

 

“Kai...”

 

“Rahna, please, I'm so sorry. You know I didn't mean to... I mean, I wanted to stop him but-”

 

“Listen! Okay... I-i...”, she gulped, shrinking from him in a way that made his heart feel like ice, “I can't. Here, I wrote you- here. B-bye.”

 

She shoved a datapad in his hands and left, running away as she began to cry. Kaidan stared after her, trying to call out, to ask her to stop and just... just wait. Please...

 

He didn't have the air in his lungs needed to speak, and then she was gone.

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

He didn't manage to read the letter on the ride back to Earth, too afraid of what it would say. He made it home though, to his mom's unconditional love and his taciturn uncles. It was his dad though, that helped him recover from his first kill more than anyone else. The sat together quietly on the patio that overlooked Boundary Bay, drank beer, and listened to the birds.

 

His dad's only words had been, “Welcome home son. Talk about it when you're ready.”

 

Two days of just being, and not thinking, were enough to bolster him into sitting down and reading the single text file on the data pad's storage. It was... perfectly Rahna. She apologized to him, saying that she was sorry for how she treated him, and that she knew he wasn't a vicious person. She talked about some of the good times they had, and what his friendship meant to her. She tried to explain in long, winding words that she couldn't look at him anymore without seeing his face right before he'd killed Vyrnnus, and that it gave her nightmares. Rahna had wanted him to know that she would never forget him, but that she didn't want to face him any time soon. Her councilors thought it best to give it plenty of time before she tried to see him again, and she'd gone against their advice to deliver the datapad in person.

 

She said she loved him. She said goodbye.

 

He sat and wept, his dad rubbing his back with a gentle, heavy hand as the sunset hit the water and turned the world a different color.

 

Chapter Text

 

The child's neck snapped with a soft, crunchy pop. Saren set the boy down with some small reverence, and moved onto the next cell. A pre-adolescent human girl looked up at him as he entered, standing and shambling haltingly forward on massively oversized legs that wept with bleeding and infected sores.

 

“Plllllleasssse. Ppleeease... ”

 

He did not know if the female child was asking for a merciful death or a last minute rescue, but all he had to offer today was the former. She went less quietly then the last test subject, her spine having mutated into a nearly solid block of calcium spurs, but a small burst of biotics to empower the twisting motion and she too died. He moved to the next cell.

 

The older man lay on the ground in a sprawl, catatonic. Only a mild jerk was needed to halt the barely-there sound of breathing. Saren turned back out into the hallway, looking down the corridor. He had worked through twenty seven holding cells of captive human test subjects, and another several dozen lay before him.

 

The next room's occupant was already dead, and the following was empty. His good luck ended after that though, the third room had a mostly healthy looking young adult who tried to jump him as soon as he walked in, screaming something about revenge for shooting his father. The Spectre pivoted, and slammed a fist into the youth's nose at an angle to impact it up into the brain. The nameless man dropped instantly.

 

A few doors later he had another child to end, a mostly healthy one. The mission briefing had included a 'Blue Skys' order, which was code for 'no survivors'. This particular terrorist organization had used seemingly healthy Humans released into their main population centers as a Trojan horse once before, to devastating effect. The aftermath of that outbreak had resulted in a standard Blue Skys clause for all missions involving their organization.

 

Saren kept his armor in full hermetic seal, sufficient for survival in vacuum, just in case any of these diseases were cross-species capable. Unlikely, but possible. The next room had a small body, already dead. Another room, and a crazed woman in her second century bounced from wall to wall spastically, burbling angry noises at him. It was bizarre, giving even the normally impassive torin pause. He had to catch her to kill her, and that took a few moments, so rapid was the manner in which she rebounded from the walls.

 

Thankfully, the succeeding rooms held more normally ill occupants, who accepted their deaths without fuss. Though there were an inordinate number of children in their number. It was, perhaps, why he had taken the job. Blue Skys missions were never popular, but someone had to do them. The Spectre preferred that person to be him, rather than certain green-eyed agents who did not handle euthanasia well, or paedocide specifically. Another mutilated and diseased Human died to a broken neck, and he moved on to the subsequent area, nearly done.

 

“W-who... are.. you? You... are not... Batarian...” The middle aged woman held light pink, embroidered rags to her chest, the last remains of her clothing.

 

“No. I am here to terminate this project and all it's test subjects, under Council authority. Do not resist.”

 

“Here to... kill us?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“... Thank... you.”

 

“You are welcome.”

 

Crunch.

 

The three succeeding cells all had Humans infected with what appeared to be all the same gene-modifying virus. Their skin was a jaundiced yellow, and their eyes looked like a female Turian's would, with the mild slitting to the pupil. He ignored the unsettling strangeness, and continued forward.

 

Once all the holding rooms were clear, Saren set his Omni-tool to deep scan the facility. The results took a few moments, but came up clear. There were no life signs remaining, as expected. He'd killed the scientists and security force first.

 

Saren stepped out of the facility into the afternoon sunlight from the local Blue Sun, brushed-silver armor glowing softly in the haze of light as he called the Daedalus to him, and boarded the ship. He spent a profuse amount of time in the airlock, running the heavy decontamination protocols three times through with his armor on, then once more while disrobed.

 

Mission complete, he set the Navigation suite for the Citadel, and began filling out a detailed report for the Council.

 

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

The tint of ruby red lights from overhead tainted everything in the room, making the Asari on top of Nihlus appear to be a deep purple color. The twin tarin and torin on either side of him were shaded from light green into a murky yellow that contrasted delightfully against his bright crimson plates. He was high as a kite on Muroda-Lithe, a fun little combination of anti-depressant and hallucinogen that was mild enough to be legal, but lasted a long, long time.

 

They'd been having sex for hours, drunk and tripping under the ruby glow. He'd first taken each of the twins while the other watched from a shuddering daze under the Asari's mental spell. Then they'd moved on to combinations of threes picking on the fourth, of which he was currently the victim.

 

The Spectre was, for the first time since he'd left 'Asla' behind, not desperate to get back to Garrus. The combination of every distracting, mind altering, bliss inducing thing he could come up with had finally gotten the sniper out of his head.

 

Right now, he wasn't Asla anymore, or Nihlus even. At this exact moment, he was a delirious foam of ocean water and fish and billowing seaweed. Palaven's cursed Spirits of the Deep were curled around him, in him, drawing his stream of consciousness up into the sky. Ocean-Nihlus was a rainstorm building up, inevitable convection in the heat of the moment.

 

Destined to fall the moment he cooled.

 

He was very determined not to loose this heat, though he couldn't remember why at the moment. It wasn't important right now. He didn't even try to chase the thought of 'why', instead trilling out cries of pleasure as the Asari sent his nerves rippling. The twins bit him up and down while their grasping hands worked him over. Mind numb, thoughts scattered.

 

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Saren lead his partner around the room with grace, flawlessly performing the Asari style ballroom dance with the nais paired to him. At first glance he appeared stately as they moved with the flow of dancers, and was smiling pleasantly. The truth of his manner was entirely hidden, only a carefully built facade to be seen.

 

No one could tell he was aggravated. The Spectre's contact, his current dancing partner, was not coming through for him as he had expected.

 

“I am sorry, Saren. Truly. I hope you believe me. I have no desire to repay your gracious gifts with a half-done effort, but in this I have no recourse. I have tried everything I could think of to acquire the key from Shi'leen's vaults, but no matter the bribe or social counter moves, she refuses me.” He continued smiling, somewhat vacantly, rather then letting out the displeased sigh that wanted to escape him.

 

“I do not blame you Matriarch T'soni. From everything you have said Matron Shi'leen is a canny socialite, and your inability to charm or coerce the key from her is more a fault of her stubborn idiocy then your short coming. Instead of gaining something for they key, I suppose it shall simply disappear from her keeping instead. A shame.”

 

Benezia laughed richly, her eyes sparkling with shared mischief. “I suppose it will. Perhaps she will receive some small gift after all.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Yes, certainly. Shi'leen will learn that for all her power, she is not invincible. A valuable lesson to learn as one becomes a Matron.”

 

“You would know better than I.”

 

“Oh yes! I certainly hope so. Though that does leave me in the fortunate position of still owing you a favor.”

 

“Fortunate?”

 

“Of course. You will have to come visit me again to ask for the next one, and you are by far the best dance partner I've had in some time. ” He huffed, some vague hint of honesty in his largely false smile.

 

Matriarch T'soni was a charming individual, to be sure, but he did not doubt for a second that she intended to ensure that the eventual repayment of favors was so large as to leave him in a debt instead. She was very clearly cultivating him as an asset, though he found it to be more of a compliment then anything, regardless of the setback. The nais was seven hundred and thirteen years old, and thought he was a valuable connection?

 

Well... she was not wrong.

 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

Garrus was mid leap over a waist high walking path barrier when the vid call request came, so at first he didn't notice the message at all. Through some bushes, and over a topiary; down a walking trail, and under a bridge. He was catching up on the thief when the reminder ping went off. A quick glance told him who it was from.

 

Nihlus.

 

He almost fell over the next waist high divider instead of jumping it. The Quarian was running for all she was worth, and her kind could run fast, but even his stumble didn't put him much farther behind her. Their leg structure might be built for running, but Garrus was a Turian, and his species practically redefined the words 'short distance sprint'.

 

“Really, you call now? Really?!” He cursed at his Omni-tool in subvocals, or more accurately, at the torin on the other end of the call who hadn't so much as text messaged him in two weeks.

 

He'd been worried, and unwilling to admit to it. The temptation to call the carmine plated Spectre had begun about three hours after they'd parted. That last moment before he had left of being crushed to the wall, fringes pressed together... Nihlus had held onto him like...

 

The C-Sec Officer actually did stumble around the next turn, loosing a few paces on the purse-snatcher. Growling, he jammed the button to open a call, and pushed to catch up with the troublemaker before she hit the market place.

 

“Blue! Awww, why am I on voice only?”

 

“That would... be because I am... currently at work.” Garrus huffed out between pounding breaths as he dodged the shoppers milling about. He was too late to stop the woman from entering the market, but if she thought that would save her, then the blue suited female was about to learn how wrong she was. The mountain of determined torin took a leap clear over a gap in the walk way, by-passing the next bridge entirely, and gaining him three meters on her.

 

“Ummm. Is everything okay?”

 

“Oh yeah... fine... just have a criminal... to catch. Almost done...”

 

“Wait, as in right now? You're chasing down a perp right this second?”

 

“Yeeeeah.”

 

“Then why did you answer!”

 

“I would... think that... was obvious.” The Quarian got a few meters ahead by shoving through people, but Garrus used her emptied wake to slip through and took the next corner at a tumble that got him another meter closer. She glanced back at him, glowing eyes widening visibly behind her faceplate in fear.

 

“Not really, you could have just, I dunno, answered later maybe?”

 

“I really... didn't want to... miss... your call.”

 

“A..haha...”

 

“Hadn't... heard from you... didn't want to... miss window of oppur... tunity... Just in case.” Garrus got a lucky break then, the thief tripping on an unexpected mech carrying a crate of wares out of a storage room. He had her pinned, cuffed, and was reading her the standard arrest rights within ten seconds.

 

The distracted Officer momentarily forgot he had the Spectre on the line, dragging the woman toward the nearest C-Sec post. There happened to be one not too far away, between the market place and it's nearest cargo docks. When he looked back at his 'tool ten minutes later, the call had been closed, but a message awaited him.

 

FROM:1886039//ID.code:alwaysclassy

TO: 7946130//LOCAL

 

sorry I didnt call, been sorta busy. call me when you get off? unless I get attacked by pirates or something ill be waitin.

 

END MSSG

 

 

Chapter Text

Saren leaned back in his CIC chair, elbows propped on the arm rests and fingers steepled together. He was trying to figure out how best to handle his current mission.

 

The problem was thus: the council wanted access to the contents of a Prothean vault on Cariose. Both the cache's location and the key to it were well known in intelligence circles. The vault itself was in the southern quarter of what passed for a capitol city on the lawless world. 'Ownership' of different sections was dictated by whosoever had control of each quarter's defense grid. Generally speaking it was a mercenary company, such as Eclipse, as they liked to use the constant battles for supremacy as a 'sink or swim' test for their ranks. As luck would have it, a smaller mercenary group known as the 'Stone Corps' had control of the south, -for the moment-, and their leader had agreed to trade access to the as-yet unopened vault in exchange for a risky favor involving a rival group.

 

Now he simply needed the key. Which was inside another vault, the private archives of Matron Shi'leen of the Omoi family dynasty.

 

He'd gotten the schematics for the vault from an information broker, and had run the designs past a contact of his that specialized in artifact retrieval from just such places. Sometimes an owner refused to turn over or admit to having a Prothean relic that should rightly have been in the hands of the Council's carefully trained and put together team of archivists and Prothean experts. In such cases the items were forcibly removed from the care of the selfish individuals.

 

At least the Council sponsored team operated openly and released their findings for all species to benefit from. Mostly. Saren had seen the closed files that weren't shared with anyone, and he couldn't fault the data kept secret. It was largely bio-weapons such as omni-species adaptive viral strains, or AI research.

 

His specialist had... whistled at seeing the design. Apparently it was a copy of particularly impossible set up, of which he had three others of the exact same layout that had pending requests for him to find a way into. He had yet to crack it, nor had anyone else he knew.

 

Unfortunate.

 

The window of opportunity to get to the vault was limited, only existing so long as that quarter was held by the slightly desperate small time group that needed aid to remain in power. The Spectre needed that key sooner, rather then later.

 

He reviewed the design, making a list of what he could and couldn't manage to thwart in the vault's security.

 

A retinal scanner, easily: his optical implants could take the image layout of any eye and project a holo-image over itself to match.

 

Standard DNA scanner, already taken care of. He had a tissue sample in stasis.

 

An electrocardiographic sensitive laser suite that lasted the length of an entire hallway. Tricky, to be sure. Any heart that didn't beat in a perfect ECG rhythm to an accepted signature would cause a system lock out for 3 hours. That was the first issue he had no solution for.

 

Inside the vault, a tiny army of drones patrolled with a VI programmed to watch not for biometrics, but suspicious behavior. They were networked only to each other. Mildly difficult, but he had written three different hacking programs based on the latest in behavioral assessment software to counter them. However, there was no way to know if one of the three would work until it was attempted live. At the very least, they were written to fail quietly, and Saren presumed he could modify them on the fly to try and get a foot hold into the VI network to disable them if they weren't sufficient as is.

 

Next, each item in the vaults was sealed inside a stasis field to prevent wear and tear. The fields were hardwired into a private power grid, and not designed to be turned off easily, if ever. All of the options for taking out power directly involved getting into the floor of the vault. Difficult, as the vault's lining was made of meter thick titanium. He would need to cut the power at the base of the stasis unit instead, but they were each protected from tampering by a biotic field generated by eezo drives inside the mechanism, and the access panel would need to be hacked while the barrier was down to get into the wiring.

 

While he could suppress the field with his own biotics, he could not manage that and getting into the components simultaneously. Diminishing a repulsive gravitational field of that complexity required his full concentration, and was only possible because of his exceptional skill at the more delicate aspects of the biotic arts. A partner would be needed, or alternatively a device that could repress the field for him, but those were bulky things, not easily carried.

 

Finally, the room was 'mass locked', anyone who manged to subvert the rest of the security could enter, but their perceived mass was added to the expected total of the room. Attempting to leave the room with more mass then you entered with would result in a lock down as well. This one was laughably easy, and Saren wondered why it had been added as a feature at all. He would take several packages of omni-gel and scan the key once in hand, using his Omni-tool to create a mass-equivalent false key, perhaps even one that resembled the original, to leave behind.

 

If done properly, the stubborn Matron may never even realize the loss.

 

The silver-grey Specter needed a partner of sufficient skill with electrical wiring and hacking, and also a way to deal with the laser suite. The rest he could handle alone.

 

He considered the first matter. Nihlus might do, he was a decent engineer... though speed hacking was not precisely his protégé's forte, much to his own chagrin. He had tried to improve his former student's skill in that arena, and still did work with him on the matter occasionally, but some minds were better at certain things than others. Saren hated to admit to it, it felt like a failing on his part, but it was true. So, other options for an engineer should be run through, but he would take Nihlus if no other options proved acceptable.

 

There was also a need to find another source to consult with for outmaneuvering the ECG biometrics. A doctor perhaps? Speaking to a security specialist had not illuminated a solution, so perhaps coming at the issue from another angle would be beneficial.

 

His next steps were then: Alternative engineers, and a cardiac specialist.

 

Saren didn't know any medics that worked with hearts or biometric data personally, so he would need to consult with the Spectre Offices for a reference. As for engineers... it suddenly occurred to him that he knew someone well suited to the task. Well then.

 

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

A third tiny figurine was lined up with it's peers in a row on the edge of the Widmanstat's sunken command seat. Long legs kicked up onto the deck, Nihlus was sprawled in a casual lounge as he folded tiny paper animals. Well, to be fair, the sheets of randomly patterned material he was using to make them was just a paper-like weave of soft metal alloys. It felt a lot like particularly sturdy tin foil, but it was the closest to paper he could get the smallish onboard mass-fabricator to make with the base materials on hand.

 

So, tiny metal animals.

 

He pinned the next sheet between graceful fingers, and folded in in half. Using his keel and the back of a talon he smoothed over the crease to make the line crisp and flat.

 

It was delicate and complex work for a six fingered person to do, but it was exactly what the green eyed Spectre needed right now. Something to keep his hands busy so his mind could slow down and think.

 

The metal-paper was unfolded, and a new crease was made going perpendicular to the first. Nihlus clicked his tongue at a minutely bad angle, and pulled the misalignment into a straighter fit before smoothing it.

 

He glanced at his Omni-tool, -no new messages-, and returned his focus to the pale green pattern of waves embossed into the brushed metal 'paper'. He sighed, and stared at it for a moment while he worked on organizing his thoughts and gathering the will to face himself in a mental mirror.

 

The carmine plated torin had been trying to protect Garrus by running away, but he hadn't thought that the running would do damage too. It hadn't occurred to him until the hurt and angry subvocals bled through the sniper's tone in a barely-there waver when he was too busy focused on whatever asshole he'd been chasing to watch his words, so to speak.

 

One hand came up to scrub over faceplates in exasperation with his own misdirection. At first, he'd been so sure that Blue would never in a million years be interested in him, it didn't make any sense that a low tier colony kid would catch the eye of a home worlder. Then he'd, -and this was not one of his prouder moments-, basically begged for it, and oh, fuck... Blue had delivered.

 

Nihlus felt his plates loosen at the memory of it; that first plunge into Reverie with him, the slick heat of the sniper's sheath as he pressed himself into the trench of splayed plates right along side Garrus' length.

 

He grit his teeth, and flipped a corner of the metal-paper over to touch another edge, and concentrated on lining up the corners just right. Determined to focus on his own complications and not just give in to the resurgent desire to suddenly show up at an apartment door with a case of beer and take out food they'd probably have to reheat later, because it would be cold by the time he'd finished saying 'hello'.

 

Or just masturbate, that sounded good too. Screwing those twins had brought back old fantasies from last year involving Saren and Garrus at the same time. They weren't even vaguely related looking, but both had that pale stone color to their plates that shone silver in the right lighting, and having them at the same time would...

 

The green eyed Spectre made three more careful folds before he managed to get his hind-brain under control. His fourth little figure was beginning to resemble more of an animal, and less of an oddly folded metal sheet.

 

So.

 

He had been wrong, entirely. The scion of Clan Vakarian had been willing to touch him when he needed it, and had been more then happy to carry on while Nihlus was there.

 

Was it just the cover?

 

Or convenience?

 

He was female looking at the time as well...

 

Maybe he was just... an easy mark...

 

The Spectre shook his head angrily at himself. Yes, obviously it was part of the cover, but Blue's subvocals had been clear about enjoying it, and wanting it. Convenient? Who was he kidding? That torin could walk into a bar, spin his finger in the air, and half the room would follow him home. Any gender or species. No, Blue had instead spent time each day paying attention to him, anything he asked for, and even when he didn't, the sniper would draw up behind him and nuzzle into the back of his neck so sweetly...

 

Figurine number four was finished before he managed to get back on track. He set it up on the ledge with the others, and checked his 'tool again before starting in on five.

 

He needed to not be such a sucker for attention, he really did. It was part of why he and Saren got along so well, his former mentor would give him plenty of attention if he asked for it in a constructive way like programming lessons, but would only occasionally entertain selfish or hedonistic pursuits. It kept Nihlus in a better balance of work and play then he could manage himself.

 

Garrus... did not. Garrus just spoiled him, lavished him with attention both sexual and otherwise. So long as the icy eyed Officer wasn't at work, or in the middle of a tech project, he had spent all his free time doing whatever made his 'girlfriend' happy.

 

Fuck, that torin would make some Palaven-born bitch a perfect bondmate someday. He would have to play nice with her too, not kill the twat on sight...

 

Nihlus turned the current sheet of light orange metal over, folding it back in on itself in a clever way that would make a central horn to a beast that had a triple pointed crown of them in real life.

 

So now it was clear that while Blue enjoyed being around him, -who fucking knows why-, the sniper... wasn't good for him. He was amazing, in a bad way. On the other end of the equation, the green eyed Spectre thought he was also pretty bad for Blue. The tech junkie had a generous nature and a tendency to throw himself wholly into whatever he was doing. To a normal person that kind of devotion and selflessness would be a gift. To Nihlus, it was an exploitable situation that he couldn't help but to take advantage of.

 

He couldn't lie to himself and say he hadn't seen the tired droop of mandibles or hazy unfocused look that Garrus had borne after a few days of having him there as a guest to cater to.

 

That was... probably why he kept feeling like a leech off and on while he had been undercover. When Nihlus was 'Asla', he was an entitled soldier girlfriend enjoying every second of a limited shore leave. When the quiet hours came, and Nihlus was almost himself toward the back of his mind, he was more aware of what was really happening. That damn seductive cover, how easily it settled on him... the Spectre promised himself he'd never actually go back to it again. Handy pre-made disguise, ready and waiting for him or no. Not unless the situation was really dire.

 

He checked his Omni-tool again, still no message, though it was still early enough in the day that the C-Sec Officer wouldn't be off for several more hours if he worked the maximum thirteen hour shift that he preferred to. Four hours to go then, so he started on another figurine, determined to actually be waiting for the call like he'd promised.

 

The next sheet of metal-paper was a vivid purple with a bunch of tiny triangles embossed into it. He began folding it into the base for a bird like shape, and considered further what to do about the situation. Blue obviously was hurt that he'd dropped off the grid without warning him, and he felt sort of bad about insinuating that he'd been busy with Spectre stuff the entire time. He'd really only done two short missions, stopped by Azure for some fun, and ambled around on his ship during the travel time. He could have texted or called... but every time he'd gone to do so, he felt 'Asla' creeping back into him, and his knee jerk reaction had been to run fast and far away from that.

 

It didn't help that he missed Blue's stupid apartment. The place wasn't even nicely decorated, or well equipped, nevermind spacious. It was small and plain and should have been boring. It had been sort of dull during the day when no one was there. He shouldn't want to go back so much, damnit. But he missed the cubitura, the terribly punny mugs, and the gorgeous sniper with a clothing closet full of gun parts and linen shelves stacked with circuit boards instead of towels.

 

Spirits damnit! Why was the torin so fucking adorable? He needed to knock that shit off, for both their sakes.

 

Nihlus made himself breathe calmly, letting the frustration and anxiety wash over him and away as he set the latest itsy bitsy metal-animal on the deck and went for another sheet of material. He had a small horde of wild life, and who knows what he would do with the finished assembly. Probably recycle the lot of them. It wasn't the product that was important, it was the diversion making it provided. Sorting his thoughts had never been a strong point, self reflection didn't suit him, but he needed it right now. Needed to get his head on straight.

 

So, he'd hurt Garrus with his back and forth, and that hadn't been what he'd intended. What he needed to do was make up for it, and then take a nice long solo mission where he'd be out of communication. That way, he wouldn't have to lie to Blue about why he wasn't going to be able to talk for a while. The carmine plated Spectre preferred not to lie to friends if he didn't have to, and it wasn't really much of a stretch to take on a mission that suited the circumstances.

 

His Omni-tool pinged and he tossed the half-done creature aside to answer it.

 

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

The sniper get off on time that day, clocking out and heading home at a reasonable hour. The front desk staff might have looked at him strangely, but he ignored them and hurried home. As soon as he arrived his armor was shucked off into a pile, and he put himself through a fast shower before flopping onto the cubitura with a beer. Garrus breathed in air, held it for a moment, and exhaled as much of his stress and negativity as he could.

 

Then he dialed up the absent Spectre and waited for it to connect. As promised, it clicked over almost immediately to show cheerful green eyes and sheepishly grinning mandibles.

 

“Hey Blue. All done for today?”

 

“I am, how about you?”

 

“Yup, just on my way back to Citadel Space. Mission complete.”

 

“Oh yeah, how did it go?” Garrus felt the bulk of his ire fade away. It was stupid, but... just this little stuff was what he had wanted, what he had missed the most about having... a roommate.

 

“Pretty damn good! I stole the idiot's data right from his Omni-tool, banged his daughter, and left him a massive bar tab.”

 

The sniper burst into laughter at the classically Nihlus shenanigans. “The bar tab really was the finishing touch, wasn't it?”

 

“Yep! It wasn't a small one either. Something like four hundred creds.”

 

“You drank that much at once?”

 

“Hell yeah I did.”

 

“I don't believe it, you're too thin to hold that much liquor and still manage to escape a tab. Or walk for that matter.”

 

“You severely underestimate my sneakiness, Blue.

 

“Ha! Put your money where your mouth is, Hurricane. I wouldn't bet on you out-drinking a Volus ”

 

“Oh it is on. Next time we go out I'm going to drink you under the table, ya mollycoddled home worlder!”

 

“Or more likely, I'll show you how it's done, parvenu colony kid.”

 

“Pffft! I can't wait to shoot you down, eventually.”

 

“Eventually? Not going to have time when you get back?”

 

“Not, ahh... not this trip, no. Have to get some work done before I can slack off. Tevos would let me get away with murder, but Sparatus gets snippy if I'm lazy.”

 

“Haha! Fair enough. Hmm... Thanks for calling by the way. It's nice to hear from you. Normally the only calls I get-”

 

“Are from your mother!”

 

The sniper groaned at the come back. “Family in general, thank you! Cute tarin sometimes too, depends on the day.”

 

“Sounds like someone is stretching the truuuth~~~.”

 

“Considering you think you're going to drink me under the table? I think we know whose stretching the limits of rationality here.”

 

The Spectre leaned back in the command booth with a smirk, opposite arm stretched out over the back. “I am going to make you eat your words, Blue.”

 

Garrus grinned right back, subvocals dropping low with cocky challenge. “When you fail, you'll have to offer me something else to eat.” The emphasizing subvocals on 'eat' practically dripped with sexual innuendo. Nihlus felt his plates slip right the fuck open, imagining that silver crest between his legs as he was held partially closed and eaten out. He worked to keep his reaction cool and sly, instead chuckling with pleased amusement, then redirecting the conversation.

 

“Pffft. We'll see. So what the hell does parvenu mean?”

 

“Info-net it, slacker.”

 

“I don't wanna.”

 

“Oh well then, here, let me help...”

 

The central screen array on the Widmanstat popped up with an incoming email message. The main text body read: '[Link: exnet.info-net/let_me_info-net_that_for_you_'parvenu'].

 

“Ha. Ha. You're Hilarious.”

 

“I know, right?”

 

“Arrrrrrg, no .”

 

“Hahaha! Alright, alright. It means something like 'upstart', and I was just teasing... but ah, I suppose I'll let you go. You probably have a report to write?”

 

He did actually, and that was as good an excuse as any to wind this up. “I do, yeah. I should get to it, but ah... I'll send you a live chat later?”

 

“That would be great-, oh the doorbell just rang.”

 

“I'll let you get that then, talk at 'cha later.”

 

Garrus nodded goodbye and closed the call.

 

Nihlus felt... a lot better. They were okay. He could talk to the sniper for a few days over chat, and then disappear off the face of the galaxy for a month or two. Perfect.

 

 

Chapter Text

The door fwished aside and Saren nodded politely to Vakarian, who looked somewhat startled to see him. Hopefully, he had not come at a bad time.

 

“Vakarian, I find myself in need of your skill set again. May I come in?”

 

The tall sniper stepped to the side and waved him in. “Of course. What, ah, what can I do for you?”

 

The silver-grey Spectre moved inside and allowed the door to close before running a habitual scan for listening devices. Finding none, he continued. “I have located the key to an unopened Prothean vault. Unfortunately the owner refuses to relinquish it. Instead, I will be taking it by force. Preferably with stealth, but regardless, it will be acquired. The plan I have devised requires someone to hack an access panel and disable the internal power supply of a stasis field generator while I suppress an internally generated barrier over top of the panel.”

 

He trailed off, walking to the cubitura to sit, one leg crossing over the other. “There are several other security matters in place, but I have a solution to all but this issue, and one other. Are you available to assist?”

 

The sniper took a lean against his breakfast bar, nodding. “You bet, I'm here if you need me. What's the other problem?”

 

“A hallway of lasers which read Electrocardiograph signatures, and compare to profiles that are allowed access to the private archives the key is within. You are aware that each individual's ECG signature is unique?”

 

“I wasn't, actually. Anatomy isn't a field of expertise for me, beyond the basic battlefield medical courses everyone has to take in basic training.”

 

“Those are... largely useless. I advise taking an e-course on trauma surgery. You will gain much more out of it then the layman's tactics for first aid the Hierarchy teaches.”

 

“I'll... keep that in mind. So how does this type of security work exactly?”

 

“ECGs signatures are much like a fingerprint, the events in life alter the state of an individual's heart and biorhythms. The system uses lasers to read anyone within range with a great deal of accuracy, and is not on any network, making external hacking is problematic. It is set to observe constantly, and to send out a one-way lock down signal in the event that entry is attempted by any group that lacks an individual in their number that has a registered profile. Since it cannot be easily hacked, it but must be spoofed instead.”

 

“I can see why that would be a problem. Spoofing a biometric system that involved sounds tricky.”

 

“It has proven to be so, yes. The security specialists I have spoken with on the matter have no answer to it. Instead, I have an appointment with a cardiologist tomorrow morning to see if they might have any light to shed on the finer points of ECG measurement and variance. I am hoping that further understanding will lead to inspiration on a work around. You may wish to attend with me, even if it is not your realm of experience. I would assume you know enough of the heart to take away an improved understanding regardless. A beginning to further medical studies. If you wish to, that is.”

 

“Sure. I won't turn down an opportunity to learn more. Can never really know too much, can you?”

 

Saren could not help the approving smile that tugged at his mandibles. Vakarian was perhaps the least useless resource he had ever acquired, save for Nihlus. Versatile both in and out of combat, and evidently not self absorbed or incurious enough to reject further study in obscure fields. Uncommon traits to find, especially in combination.

 

The Spectre wondered briefly, not for the first time, why any of his colleagues bothered to maintain a ground team. Sufficiently competent help was nearly impossible to find, and generally speaking an agent of the council rarely stumbled on a resource like Vakarian by accident.

 

“No, you indeed cannot.” He stood and faced the sniper, favoring him with an assenting nod. “I will be here to pick you up tomorrow at 0825 hours, be ready to depart before then. We will take your things to my ship, and head straight to the appointment.”

 

“Should I call into work?”

 

“No. Since you have proven your usefulness repeatedly, I assume the trend will continue. This time I will file the paperwork for permanent Spectre Asset status. In the future, any ST&R agent that requests your aid will merely need to call in a verbal notification instead of repeatedly needing to file the personnel commandeerance forms.”

 

“... Handy. I'm glad I've proven helpful. I'll try and continue to be so.”

 

“Good. Tomorrow then, Vakarian.”

 

The mountainous sniper grinned at him then. “It's still just Garrus.”

 

He chuffed in amusement and walked out.

 

 

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

 

 

“No, that wouldn't work either I'm afraid. Spectre Arterius, the signature wouldn't match with sufficient accuracy, and may very well leave you incapacitated. Your own heart simply does not operate in a manner similar enough to an Asari heart to match the... person in question.”

 

Garrus heard Saren let out the smallest of aggravated sighs, barely audible.

 

“Incapacitated for how long?”

 

“Hours, perhaps, and it could cause significant systemic damage that you would need repaired afterward. Even then, if we somehow managed to make your heart match it with sufficient accuracy, the way your very epidermis is made, the signal wouldn't come through the same as it would for a different species. The rate of error and likelihood of tripping the system would be high.”

 

“I see. Then this angle will not work. What else might?”

 

The Spectre and the cardiac specialist were going back and forth, and had been for the past hour. They'd been here for nearly three times that, just going over the 'basics' of the cardiovascular system. He was feeling somewhat brain-dead from the information overload, but the newly minted Spectre Asset had given the extremely technical explanation his undivided attention. For a Police Officer, he now knew an inordinate amount about the heart, brain, skin, blood vessels, and bioelectrics of Asari. A fair bit more about how that compared to a Turian.

 

“I hate to even suggest this, considering my oaths, but have you considered kidnapping the nais in question and either ahhh... forcing them to open the vault, or simply moving the unconscious form through the hall?”

 

“The device is sensitive enough that I suspect an unconscious person would set off the lock down, and I am attempting to ensure the Matron never knows the switch was made. Considering I did recently try to acquire it fairly, even if I went in disguise the loss would lead too clearly back to me. If it comes down to it, I will do so, but if it can be avoided I would prefer not to have made an enemy.”

 

“Understandable, and likely a better path to follow. I have no idea how else to fool this system you've described though, and I am the most technically inclined of my peers that I know. You might try speaking with an Asari cardiologist, but...”

 

“The likelihood of being sold out increases exponentially when involving someone who has something to gain within the Republic.”

 

“Precisely.”

 

Garrus refrained from rolling his eyes. It was a valid point, but the exclusionary words from the pair were straight out of the speciesist back room politics talked about in the board rooms and senate buildings of Palaven. He'd seen enough of it to know how rampant the disregard for Asari was, even though publicly the Hierarchy played a polite and cooperative face. Truthfully, they had more respect for the weak-bodied Volus who were at least industrious and clever. He would admit to a little of it himself, considering that a majority of young nais spent several of his lifetimes partying their lives away and he'd had to deal with the fallout situations that resulted many, many times. The sniper thought he was a fair bit more objective about it though, especially after having worked directly with Asari in C-Sec. He'd gotten some insider perspective on the matter, insight into the psychology behind it. Though he'd learned the hard way not to try and explain to other Turians.

 

“Very well. If you come up with anything further, send me a message about something inane, and I will come visit again in person to discuss details. Thank you for your time, Dr. Ofuterian.”

 

“You're most welcome Spectre, I'm honored that you thought to ask me. I will inquire around discreetly about ECG mimicry and see if any of my colleagues have input.”

 

“Take care with your words if you do so. A trail leading to me through you will still lead to you, and your life could be in danger if it were discovered.”

 

“Ah. Is... that why the appointment was booked under a 'Elucidae Stroraes'?”

 

“Indeed.”

 

“I will take great care then. I'm sure I can find other reasons for bringing it into conversation. Innocuous reasons.”

 

“Very well. Good day Doctor.”

 

“Good luck, Spectres.”

 

Garrus felt the need to correct the assumption that he was more then just a side dish, but Saren quit the room in a rapid and aggravated stalk. He thought it best to stay quiet on the matter with the door now open into the public hallway. The silver-grey agent led them back to the Daedalus at a fast clip, and he had to work to stay a step ahead. Walking a few paces behind like he was the superior officer would have been awkward. Not that it looked like the Spectre in question would have noticed or cared.

 

They entered the through the airlock, and the agitated torin made straight for the kitchen. He had to keep an amused hum from escaping as he followed along, taking a seat on the main table's bench.

 

Icy blue eyes watched the proceedings patiently, and it occurred to him that this was Saren's version of stress relief. Or possibly something like his own 'tossing a stress ball at the ceiling repeatedly, and catching it'. A sort of thinking mode for problem solving.

 

The Officer supposed that he could be more useful then just watching. He leaned back and pulled out a thermal clip for lack of a ball; flipping it into the air, catching it when it fell back down. The well equipped kitchen was filled with the clangs and chops of food preparation, and a repeating near-silent swish of a spinning clip followed by a light smack as it was caught in a palm.

 

Garrus' hand eventually got the tossing motion memorized, and he stared at the ceiling for a while. That got dull, and the sniper tilted his gaze to watch the edible proceedings instead. Saren was rolling long, thick slices of poultry in an egg batter, and then breadcrumbs. They were going into a pan to fry, and the first one dropped in with a sizzle.

 

A thought tickled his mind, unformed.

 

The slices went into the pan one by one, and though the Spectre turned chef moved on to some sort of citrusy sauce, sharp eyes stayed glued on that pan. Something... about... coating. Covering.

 

Not quite there, but close, he stopped flipping the thermal clip and stood to move closer. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Saren look up from what he was doing, bemused as the tall torin stepped up to the frying pan and stared at it with an avian tilt to his head.

 

“Hey... Saren.”

 

“Yes?”

 

“The... hmmm... the ECG signature of the Asari matron...”

 

“What about it?”

 

“Could it be replicated by an artificial heart?”

 

“It could, yes... but without a body to invite the sensors to observe it that would do no good.” Saren paused in stirring the sauce, setting it off the heat and turning to face him.

 

“Yeah, so we need a form. Something... Asari shaped. Like a mech? We'd have to make it seem like a person though. The right shape, heat signature, that sort of thing. The lasers pick up the ECG via the skin right? What about fake skin?”

 

“Fake... as in 'cloned'? Without a proper circulatory system an entire body's worth of skin would not... Ah! But we only need the bare minimum of exposed tissue. Just a head would do. On a mech? Yes... a loki's optics could be moved, armor applied to produce the correct shape.”

 

“We could rig up cloned skin to artificial blood vessels and a cybernetic heart, just enough to cover an Asari shaped head piece. Lokis fold down pretty well for transport too.”

 

“This... is a possibility.”

 

Garrus smiled widely. “Got the idea from the breading you were doing.”

 

Saren let out a quiet snort of almost laughter, his mandibles spinning in amusement despite his normal reservation. It was a pretty ridiculous idea... but it might just work.

 

At the very least, they had a delicious home-cooked meal to eat before they got to work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Saren circled around the finished product. The appearance of the modified loki mech was rather disturbing, but theoretically it would do the job.

 

The base was a mech that he had pulled from a box of four kept in a storage section of the Daedalus. Surrounding it was a two centimeter thick covering of memory cloth that Vakarian had painstakingly cured into an Asari shape. The sniper had cleverly coated the inward facing side with a thermal paste run through with a delicate grid of low-current wires. The fabric would fold down with the mech, and pop back out into a person shape when given room to, reproducing the heat signature of a living being when a mild current was run through the wiring.

 

While his partner had worked on that, the electric eyed Spectre had built an artificial heart as close to the specifications of an Asari as possible, using Spectre access to steal a medical scan of Shi'leen's original from a fairly recent health check up. While normally he maintained his own cybernetics for peak efficiency, this time he worked for accuracy to the original, flaws included. It took most of the day, constant running of the micro/mass-fabricators, and no small amount of learning on the fly. The cybernetic cardiac replacement was set into a panel on it's back, so as to not be crushed when the robot curled in on itself while in it's hunched over, pre-deployment form.

 

Next Saren had taken care of the head, which was molded plastic covered with a layer of cloned skin. The rapidly grown tissue produced by his medical suite would only live a short time, perhaps a two to three weeks, before disintegrating. It was a pale blue, dead looking color, but he had made it with cells off the DNA sample of the Matron from stasis, so that the flash cloned tissue would be a genetic match as well.

 

Whether it would make a difference or not in reproducing the ECG, they had yet to test.

 

Vakarian was still rigging up a poor-man's biometric laser-based scanner out of parts on hand, and was not finished yet. The Spectre observed him for a few moments, but the powerfully built sniper appeared to be no slouch at this engineering task either. He left the torin to it, and took a medical scanner to the false Asari head, checking it for arterial and venous integrity. He had overwritten some of the medical suite's protocols to have it automatically fabricate the flesh mask and apply it, but connecting it to the artificial blood pathways had been done with assistance. They did not exactly run from where a heart was supposed to be.

 

The integrity scan came back all positive; appropriate blood pressure, none of the countless tiny blood vessels were misaligned or broken. Finished, he went to brew some kava in the kitchen. It finished, and he sipped at it and took a breather. A series of cheerful activation alerts suddenly going off in the other room tipped him off to the sniper's progress. The jury-rigged scanner was likely operational. He exited the small mess hall, a second cup in hand, and came up beside his cohort in the brute force mangling of science. He offered the other kava to the weary looking Officer, who took it gratefully, immediately taking a drink and humming appreciatively.

 

“Is it functional?”

 

“I think so. Do you happen to know your own ECG so we can test it?”

 

“I do not.”

 

“Neither do I. Well then... here goes.”

 

Vakarian turned the focus laser from a large jumble of cables and circuit boards to point at the mech's head. A data pad's half mangled case was open and connected to the other side. It made several noises, ran for a few minutes, and finished in a comically disapprovingly buzz. The Detective shook his head negatively.

 

“I calibrated it to give as complex a read out as possible, rather then a binary yes or no. It's producing a 36% failure rate. It might just be my device though, I can't say I've ever tried making a scanner of this kind before.”

 

He hummed a mild subvocal of neutral curiosity. “What details does it offer on the error?”

 

“Here, take a look?”

 

They spent the next several hours messing with it, tweaking minor things to improve the faux Matron's ECG signature. The rating dropped to 34%, then 26%, before jumping back up to 29% when they made a mistake.

 

“Arg. Okay, I think we've got it back to where it was for the 26% scan. It's half way into the night cycle though, we'd be better off continuing tomorrow.”

 

Saren nodded absently, considering whether further adjustments to the vascular system would see any improvement, or if a more involved mimicry of the o