|Parallels and Divergences
Author: Hermia S PM
Shepard and James Vega are soldiers. They're survivors, having lived to see the other side of the worst a tour of duty could offer them. When neither is willing to take a chance, one of them is forced to be the catalyst of change or the opportunity will slip past them both.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance - Shepard (F) & James V. - Chapters: 18 - Words: 61,980 - Reviews: 83 - Favs: 78 - Follows: 108 - Updated: 04-30-12 - Published: 03-13-12 - id: 7921376
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Each step forward was met with enough force to push Payton back farther than before. With Primarch Victus on the Normandy, it seemed as if the summit was within arm's reach.
As soon as she stepped onto the ship, Specialist Traynor swept Payton away with word that the asari councilor wanted to speak to her. The conversation was civil on Tevos' side of things, though there was a tension spreading through the commander that lent a tightness to her voice and caused her to speak with her only briefly.
They wouldn't be joining the summit. There were more pressing concerns than the safety of the galaxy, in her opinion, one of which was the safety of the asari.
Nothing Payton could say would change her mind, so instead of arguing, she left the war room without a word to the primarch. The matter of Palaven had been discussed during the shuttle ride. Victus wanted the krogan involved. He needed the krogan involved in order to salvage what was left of the turian homeworld. In one fell swoop, the general turned politician changed everything, and he had every right and power to do so.
Councilor Tevos mentioned the state of the dalatrass in passing. The potential introduction of the krogan into the summit left her incensed, and the asari had only barely been able to calm her enough to convince her to maintain her plans to meet with them.
Each politician had far too much power in this situation. If any one of them removed their bid to help her construct the Crucible and take back Earth, she wouldn't have the resources to go through with it. And if she didn't have the resources, they would never be victorious. They wouldn't even have a chance.
When Payton passed near Samantha's station a second time, she turned towards her, opening her mouth to say something only to shut it again at the sight of the commander.
"Commander, is..." Samantha's brow furrowed. "Everything is alright, isn't it?"
"I wouldn't say that," Payton replied, "but I'm fine, if that's what you're wondering about. You looked surprised to see me."
Samantha shifted on her feet, wringing her hands even as the wrinkle in her brow smoothed away. "I figured it was you leaving the war room. But it looks like something's gone wrong. Bad news, I take it?"
"About the same as we expected, I guess. The dalatrass isn't happy with the turnout, and the asari are playing the lone wolf instead of helping us and everyone else along." Payton's shoulders drifted upwards and fell in a shrug. "I never imagined this would be easy."
"Not easy, but perhaps less problematic right out of the gate," Samantha said, a tiny humorless smile curling at the corner of her mouth. When she finally let her hands fall to her sides, she nodded to herself. "Right. I have a list here of things that need your approval. If you don't want to look at them now, I can bring them up to your cabin later on. Also, Adams wants to speak to you on the engineering deck."
Payton only hesitated a moment before telling her to bring the datapad up later, turning and disappearing into the elevator.
The three days spent between the Sol system, the Citadel, and Palaven hadn't offered Payton enough time to do her work and visit with the entire crew. She'd meant to go down and see how Adams was faring with the new ship after leaving the Citadel, but she hadn't been able to spare time enough to do so. She rarely had enough hours to split between sleep and the work she was out there to do. Her extra time was spent eating and talking to Liara, sometimes visiting Joker in the cockpit.
Nothing had changed in Engineering besides a lack of familiar faces. Grunt's old room was locked. The hidey hole where Jack slept was empty now save for boxes. And Zaeed's quarters were inhabited by a reporter. The only familiar thing on the Engineering deck was Adams, who looked up from the console he was working at with a grin once it'd registered that he had a visitor.
"Commander!" His warm greeting managed to put a smile on her face even before she rounded the corner to stand in front of him. "It's good to see you made it off of that moon in one piece."
Payton chuckled. "I didn't have any other choice."
"Damned if I don't know how that is," he said with a similar, low-pitched laugh. "I could've said the same thing about rejoining your crew."
"I'm glad you agreed." Payton folded her arms under her chest, leaning carefully against the edge of the console. "It's good to have someone I know down here. Speaking of, what do you think of the new ship? Are you two getting along well?"
Adams pursed his lips and nodded, glancing around at his surroundings. "It's impressive. Say what you will about Cerberus, but they know ships. Even though the Alliance retrofit leaves something to be desired. Still, she wasn't ready when the Reapers showed up, was she? So it makes sense."
"Specialist Traynor said you wanted to talk to me?" Pushing away from the console, Payton took a few steps in the direction of the drive core, chin tilted upwards to get a better look at it. It felt like ages since she'd been down here. She hadn't bothered going this far down on the Normandy after they got back from the Omega-4 Relay. Without looking back towards him, she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. "Do you need anything?"
"Two things, actually," he replied, turning away from his work to move over to where she was standing. His hands dug deep into his pockets. "I was hoping you'd know someone who might be able to give me a hand down here. It's a lot of work for one guy."
Payton looked in his direction, face turned just enough to catch a glimpse of his profile. "I know someone," she told him. "I don't know how soon I'll be able to get in touch with him, but I do know someone."
"That's all I'm asking. I was reading through a few files to get a hang of things, and they were all signed with the same two names. Donnelly and Daniels. One of those your guy?"
"Donnelly," she told him. "We lost Daniels behind the Relay."
Adams gave a quiet, "ah," of acknowledgement, though he didn't seem to have anything else to say on the matter. Maybe he hadn't accounted for losses. Maybe he'd forgotten that these things happened to her, same as any other CO. "Right. The second thing..."
"The second thing."
He chuckled in an attempt to ease the sudden spike of awkwardness, reaching up out of his pocket to palm over the back of his neck. "I keep hearing stuff down here, and I was wondering if you could take a look at it? The drive core's even quieter than the one in the old Normandy. You don't miss anything."
"Where's it coming from?" she asked. Even Tali never mentioned hearing things down in the belly of the ship, and she was more attuned to picking these things up than most people. "Do you have any idea what it might be?"
"Not a clue. That's why I asked you if you could see about finding whatever it is. Sounds kinda... squeaky."
Payton's brow arched. "Squeaky."
"Yeah, squeaky. Maybe something's loose. A piece of machinery or something."
Odder things had happened on the Normandy SR-2, so Payton didn't ask anymore questions. She promised Adams that she'd try to get in touch with Kenneth Donnelly and left to see what this squeaky bit of machinery might have been.
She was s halfway to the elevator when she heard the door slide open. Looking up from the grating beneath her feet, she saw James step out of it, eyes already glued to the ground. "Lieutenant?" Her voice made him jerk his head up, and his mouth fell open to give his explanation. She cut him off. "Are you busy?"
"Uh, not really," James said, looking up the hallway one way and then down the other. "I was lookin' around for Adams. The shuttle bay doesn't have anything squeaky going for it. Dunno what he's hearing."
"Squeaky." Payton sighed. "Right. I was looking for it, too."
James laughed at that. "Adams hooked Commander Shepard into looking for a squeaky thing that's keeping him up at night. Damn."
"You'd be surprised by the things I've done for my crew," she said plainly. Pointing an index over her shoulder towards the door leading back into Engineering, Payton shrugged. "Have you looked beneath the deck? It might be down there."
"Didn't think of that." His admission came right as he passed her, long strides putting a distance between them that she quickly made up for. "So how's everything? Is the summit still happening?"
Payton followed him down the stairs, footfalls heavy and her braid bouncing between her shoulder blades. "Yes and no," she told him. "Yes, it's happening. No, it's not happening as soon or exactly as we expecting it would be. The asari ducked out, and the salarian dalatrass isn't happy."
The two of them stepped out onto the deck. Whatever dim lighting remained down there washed the room in a red glow and caused shadows to bloom in every corner and crevice between the stacks of boxes stored there. If there was something wrong, they would have a difficult time trying to find it by sight alone.
James stood in the very center of the room, hands on his hips as he looked around. "She's in a position of power over a species with no sex drive. There isn't anything for her to be happy about."
Rolling her eyes, Payton moved over to a stack of crates and moved them out of the way. As part of her expected, there was nothing behind them. "She's threatening to step out of the summit because Victus wants to include the krogan," she explained. "Not because she isn't getting laid."
"Just saying. I'd be pretty pissed if I wasn't getting any, either." He held up his hands when he saw Payton narrow her eyes at him over her shoulder. "I get it. I get it. It was a joke."
She turned back towards the crates, and his face creased in a smile when he heard her chuckle.
"I know it was a joke," she said. "I do have a sense of humor, you know."
"Actually, I don't. Must've missed it."
He laughed again at the almost petulant huff that left the commander. "I'm glad Victus wants to bring the krogan into this. We need ground troops if we're gonna take back Earth, and the krogan know how to fight. They've got firepower, too, last I heard. Lots of it."
"Yeah, I remember Garrus mentioning something along those lines the last time we were on Tuchanka," Payton murmured as she slid between two stacks and leaned against the wall, looking up through whatever nooks or crannies she could see. "If we want to win this war, we need everyone. Having the krogan on our side doesn't mean a necessary victory. We need the krogan, the turians, the salarians. Everyone."
"We've got a better chance if we've got the krogan, though." James' brow furrowed. "Drop a few salarians down on Earth, and we don't have shit."
Payton twisted back towards him as she stepped out from between the crates. "I'm guessing you've never seen a salarian in action. I have. They're a lot more dangerous than you'd think. A friend of mine, Mordin, is responsible for the omni-tool upgrade that let me catch that brute on fire back on Menae. He programmed it himself. And used it himself. Quite happily, I might add."
"Damn," James muttered. He sounded impressed, lips pursed and brows arched in surprise.
"Exactly." Pausing, Payton took another look around the room. "So are you going to help me look for whatever it is or just stand around? It has to be down here."
James conceded, and half an hour later, he was on his hands and knees, bent down to look beneath Jack's old bed. Payton crouched near one of the sets of stairs, omni-tool focusing a beam of light beneath them. They hadn't had any luck, though neither of them was surprised. The engineering deck was largely uninhabited. The noise could have come from anywhere.
Every once in a while, one of them heard something, but the sound never came from the same place twice, which lodged a wrench into things. Finding this elusive squeaky noise threw them for a loop. However, they were too invested in figuring out what it was that was taunting them at every turn to just give up.
At least, that was until James encountered the noise in the very corner of the room.
"Hey, Shepard," he called out, knees digging into the grating beneath him, body blocking the dark corner. "I can't see for shit over here. Bring that light over?"
Pulling herself up out of a crouch, Payton went over to him. "Are you sure? You thought you had it a few minutes ago."
But when she lifted her arm and let the omni-tool's light shine into the corner, she saw James was right. He had cornered the location of the noise. They both stared at the origin of the squeaky noise. And the furry little noisemaker stared right back at them, nose twitching.
"It's a hamster."
"No, it's my hamster."
"Wait," James said, twisting his head up to look at her. "You have a hamster? I didn't know you had a hamster."
Payton blinked down at him. "Joker took care of him. I forgot I had one."
James' brows furrowed. "You're telling me you remember to feed your fish every time you go into your cabin, but you forgot you had a hamster?"
"Oh, come on! The fish are right there when you go into the room. The hamster's cage is in the corner." When she saw the offended look on James' face, she quickly amended her previous statement. "He's barely my hamster. He's Joker's hamster."
Shaking his head, James turned his attention back to the furry little creature. He reached forward, scooping it up carefully and holding it in his cupped palms. "Screw that. He's mine now."
Payton watched as James hoisted himself to his feet, still holding onto the hamster, and she folded her arms over her chest as he turned around. "How are you going to explain this to Joker?" she asked, head tilted to the side.
"'Your CO almost killed your hamster out of neglect, so I'm taking care of him instead. If you want joint-custody, it's no skin off my back.'"
At the sight of the hamster nestled right up against the curve of James' fingers, Payton's face softened a little. The change was noticeable enough for him to pinpoint the shift, and he extended his hands for her to reach up to scratch at the top of the hamster's head.
"It's not Joker's hamster, is it?"
"No," Payton said, her voice much quieter. "Everything's just so... disorganized."
James gave a breath of a laugh. "Yeah, I can tell. Look, I'm not letting this little guy go back up with you. I'll keep an eye on him. You've got your fish, and if things calm down and stop being so fucking crazy, you can have the hamster back."
Instead of a struggle, he got a smile in return, just wide enough to press her cheeks up into her eyes and bare a row of teeth.
"Thank you," Payton finally admitted, though it sounded like she had more trouble with the thanks than anything else. He wagered she had issues with that on a daily basis, but that didn't keep him from replying with a simple, "you're welcome."
His words were broken up when even the dismal lighting at the bottom of the engineering deck phased out and back in.
Both Payton and James looked upwards and around the room.
"The hell was that?"
"Joker?" Whatever softer tone her voice had taken on was gone when she opened her mouth again, replaced with the sharp commanding tone he was more familiar with. "Is everything alright up there?"
There was a long moment before the pilot's voice filtered in over the ship's comm system.
"Uh... no, not really. EDI just went offline."
Payton glanced towards James, more out of confusion than an attempt to find an answer to whatever questions cropped up in her head. She knew he didn't have them; he looked just as stunned. "Is that a thing she does?"
"No," she said, stepping backwards twice before turning and hurrying towards the stairs. "She's never done that before."