A/N: I was challenged by several people to do a few one shots in the Premiseverse that you wouldn't usually see. These will be short (almost always under 5k words if not 2k) and mostly a mix of past and present snippets of a few people.
Rachel Florez, Benezia T'Soni, Aethyta, Aria, Jona Sederis, Zaeed, Kai Leng, the Illusive Man, Ahern, Rael'Zorah, Mordin Solus, and possibly Wrex and Urz will appear here. I lead off with a snippet about Rachel.
"Chin up, Marine."
Sara Shepard glared at the white-garbed woman standing in front of her, taking in the smooth lines of her face, the cruelly aquiline lips twisted into what might be a smile. With a sigh she straightened, muttering something cutting under her breath.
Rachel Florez narrowed her eyes as she adjusted the fall of Shepard's uniform top, critically scanning for flaws. "A Z2 is rarely given the chance to be more than a bullet sponge, Sara. I know you're still upset about Valens. But people fucking die, girl. The fact that he didn't buy it and is still alive is due to you. You need your head in the game before we go before the Board."
Sara's jaw tensed. "He was my squad. I… I fucked up. I always fuck up."
Rachel sighed, walking around her soldier to pull Sara's ratty black hair into a military bun. "I sometimes wonder what the fuck I have to do to you in order to get the whole guilt-trip complex out of your empty skull." She tugged, drawing a yelp from Sara, and her lips lifted more fully into a smile. "Stop whining."
She nearly burst out laughing when she saw Shepard pouting, and mused quietly to herself as she continued to adjust the uniform few Penal Legionaries ever got to wear – the off-blue and white jumper and slacks of a member about to leave the Legion and join the real SA military. In the aftermath of the mess on Vansha, where Shepard and her little crew had fucked up five times their number in enemies, it had been much easier to convince de la Muerte to let her and her buddies go.
Shepard passing her biotics C rating class – something very few 'hak' biotics, those who had black-market implants and no real biotic training – managed to accomplish had also played a role. Part of Rachel was trying to draw comparisons to her old squad.
Dunn, with his mouth, was the closest to Saracino, but Shields, who often reminded her of herself, was the sniper. Jackson and Kyle were similar in size, but the big blue-eyed giant was too flaky and weird – weirder than Kyle, and way more berserk. Rai was almost exactly like Chu had been, down to the Chinese looks and fascination with drones.
Rachel smiled as she finished her adjustments. Shepard as Ahern was a comparison that would have sent poor Tradius through the fucking roof. She could almost hear his ranting in her head.
She exhaled, then walked around in front of Shepard, placing both hands on the girl's shoulders. "Listen up."
Sara looked at her, the dark blue eyes always hard – trying to conceal the fear, the panic of failing, the worry of being tossed back to the trash she came from. The foul-mouthed cursing, the hard posturing, the 'I'm a badass bitch' fronting – it was all driven by fear.
Rachel gentled her voice. "You have gone through a lot of shit, girl. Been in places where most people would just curl up and die after a few days, much less years. You've already seen the very fucking worst, experienced shit as bad as it can get." She squeezed the narrow shoulders, feeling firm young muscle resist the press of her fingers. "You have put the people who did this to you in shallow goddamned graves. And you're going to prove today that everyone calling you a criminal piece of shit was wrong."
She stared hard. "You keep your fucking chin up out there, Sara. No matter what happens, no matter if the Board decides to deny your request, no matter if you get sent to the shit details on the border – I am right behind you every fucking step of the way."
Sara swallowed. "W…what if they—"
She shook her, lightly. "I don't give a shit if they tell you to set yourself on fire. We'll be two bitches burning together."
The cracked, chapped lips split in a whisper. "…Why?"
Rachel closed her eyes for a long moment. "I never knew my father. Kaasan was a whore, obachan was a whore." She used the Japanese words for mother and grandmother. "My life was one of fucking privation. I was a half-breed in a nation that sneered at such, and I was a fucktoy – by choice, because it was all I could do to eat, to live."
She squared her shoulders. "I used to be like you, thinking I didn't matter. That if anyone was showing me any care, it was to set me up to use me. I was a dirty washrag to be emptied upon. But then I met a man who didn't give a shit that I was used, and broken. He was more broken. He didn't care if I didn't know how to love him, that I didn't know how to even say what I felt."
She sighed. "He gave me a boy I couldn't claim as my own because of… political bullshit. And a girl, who got raped and killed by fucking spikes. Because the Alliance was too chickenshit to rock the fucking boat, instead of justice, of vengeance, I got words. Words and a blue star and a polite go fuck yourself."
She squeezed the girl's shoulders again. "You remind me so much of her it hurts to look at you. Except you're stronger than her. Stronger than me. I gave up on the ones around me. I gave up on my squad. I let my friends drive each other away and apart. You don't. You cling even if you don't know – if they don't know – what the fuck happens next."
She pulled back. "Valens didn't even have a trace of fear on his face in that fight, because he knew damn well you'd save his ass. And you did. You ask why? Because you don't let the shit you've gone through fucking ruin you. Because you spit in its fucking face and you scream 'No! No more of this bullshit!' "
She exhaled again, and watched tears form in the eyes of her student before they were angrily wiped away. "I still don't understand!"
Rachel nodded. "You will, one day, daughter of my spirit if not my body. You will understand what drives me, and drives you." Her smile turned sad, almost bitter. "And maybe you'll forgive me for what I have done to you."
Shepard looked confused, and, with a cluck, Rachel pulled out her handkerchief – one she usually used to polish her glasses – and wiped the girl's face. "Idiot child. Good thing you don't use makeup."
There was a gentle knock on the door, and Rachel barked. "In!"
It opened, revealing the broad features and form of Lieutenant Commander David Anderson. "Hello, Sara."
Shepard swallowed. "S-Sir."
Rachel rolled her eyes. "David, good to see you. I saw Kae a few weeks back. You two…?"
His face hardened. "No. Not after the shit with Kai." He sighed. "My own fault, I suppose. Doesn't matter much now. Kai and Theo are both dead, you're stuck pushing Penals, Ahern and I are failed Spectres, Tiny is in a lift chair, and Mike is dead. The only ones out of all of us who amounted to shit were Kyle and Chu."
Rachel sighed. "Mike was right, you are a depressing bastard, David. You ready for this circus?"
He nodded, pausing to look over Shepard. "You look sharp. I heard you set some kind of crazy record in qualifying for your C rating."
Rachel almost giggled at the shy nod from Shepard. Really, the girl could almost be cute if she wasn't so gangly – in a few years she'd finish growing into that frame and be something to behold.
She clapped a hand on the bigger man's shoulder. "It's good you are here. As usual, it's an Anglo sausage fest at the Board. Listening to me go on about her achievements and how far she's come… should sway them. But maybe not. They may not want to listen to me, after I raised hell about Adams making a pass at me, the letch."
Anderson's usually placid face contracted in anger, and his rich baritone became clipped. "I'll make sure none of that unpleasantness comes up. Sara doesn't belong anywhere but in the proper Marine Corps." He tilted his head. "Kyle invited you to his knighting and ennobling. You didn't come."
She shrugged, jerking a thumb at Sara. "Had something more important on my plate." Out of the corner of her eye she caught the confused flicker of gratitude, and Anderson nodded as if that made perfect sense.
"I understand. Let's not keep the Board waiting, shall we?" He stepped to Shepard's left, and Rachel took a position by her right, holding her by the elbow.
Years later, two older women sat side by side, staring out over a multitude of greenery under an artificial sky. The Citadel's environs had changed in some ways, but not in others, and Shepard never got tired of looking at the Presidium.
Despite being older than the woman next to her, the years had barely touched her – the hair was still glossy, raven-black, the skin smooth and unblemished. Jack, on the other hand, had aged well, but noticeably. The fall of the ponytail under the black beret was gray streaked with white, and her elegant cheekbones and liquid eyes dominated a face now lined with wrinkles and the occasional fading line of a scar.
They sat on the edges of Shepard's office, watching an elcor placidly watching his elcalves, sipping Scotch. Jack nudged the other woman with a bony elbow.
"Yo, She-bitch. You went all quiet on me."
Shepard smiled faintly. "Thinking about my mom."
Jack arched an eyebrow, then took another drink. "The one who sold you?"
Shepard sniffed, drawing a thumb across the base of her nose a moment later in a dismissive gesture. "Hell no. My mom. Woman who… made me some of what I am today. Rachel Florez."
Jack, who was well-acquainted with the group that had so much of a hand in her early life, frowned. "Wasn't she old school Dog?"
Shepard nodded. "Yeah. Turns out she was grooming me… cutting me off from people, making the Alliance take all the wrong moves, setting me up to both succeed and fail. She planned to make me her successor, to carry on her… work."
Jack shook her head, and stared out again at the vista of Presidium. "What brought this on? Teary-eyed remeni… remem… fuck. You know, that thing."
Shepard's lips quirked. "Reminiscence?"
Jack stuck out her tongue. "I'd know lots of fancy words too if I had grayboxes shoved in my head. Anyway." She waved her drink grandiosely. "We got all this shit out here to look at, you're like god-queen of the galaxy – what the hell you thinking about her for?"
Shepard gestured backwards, towards the office. "The discussion with Vena back there. Reminded me of you. Of me. Of her."
Jack sighed. "Yeah well. Just because we put boots in the bad guys and stuck our ladyboners up Harby's ass don't mean people like me and you don't slip through the cracks. She's tough."
Sara nodded. "I know." She exhaled. "I just… it just hit me how much of what Rachel taught me, what she… drilled into me… I passed along to you. And that you have passed along to Vena."
Jack shrugged. "She's a work in progress. She ain't picked up the most important part of being part of the badass bitch gang is fucking the shit out of asari yet."
Shepard shook her head in mirth. "I'm sure both of our asari would appreciate your vote of confidence. Never change, Jack."
The biotic woman rolled her eyes. "Gotta go with Mordin on this one." Her voice sped up, shifting to a higher pitch. "Never did. Won't start."
Shepard nodded, and turned back to gaze out at the Presidium. She sipped her drink, and gave a small, bitter smile.
I forgive you, mom.