A/N: Don't own Mass Effect, etc


It shouldn't have happened. There was just too much at stake. You couldn't risk being distracted in the middle of a firefight, focusing too much on someone's back, instead of on the incoming ordinance, on the numbers of hostiles still waiting behind cover until you dropped your guard. That was when mistakes were made. And when the stakes were so high, risks like that just couldn't be taken.

It shouldn't have happened. Regulations said so. People said so. Cultures said so. Every instinct of a well-oiled crew said that this was wrong.

And yet, somehow, here they were.

One of them blamed the drinks that night back when they'd had a few days of research-inspired peace. The distance between the members of the crew—that they were the only ones who seemed to be on speaking terms lately. It was only natural they would gravitate to one another in inebriation. What happened… happened. It was an accident. They shouldn't continue.

The other doesn't blame a thing. They work well together. They were friends. Though it was true they only ones who actually spoke without deteriorating into bickering like petty children. They were close. Was it really just an accident? Why shouldn't they continue?

"Because… you… And I…"

"Yeah, I know."

"And--"

"And I'm okay with that."

"I… need some time to think about… about everything."

"Don't walk away like that."

"Give me some time. All right?"

"Do we have it?"

"I need to think about this. I don't… I don't understand this. How can you be so… comfortable?"

"I'm just not…. I'm not that bothered by it, I guess. It wasn't that big a deal anyway."

"It was for me."

"Look… I don't want to force you… Just… do think about it, all right?"

They didn't broach the subject again. Neither one brought it up. They maintained a professional distance—one not wanting to push the other. If the crew noticed the sudden lack of communication, they failed to comment. When summoned for missions together, they kept up the unspoken code of professional silence.

But it just couldn't, and didn't last.


Not one of them had a good feeling about this. They couldn't ignore a distress call, but even so, this seemed like a strange place to find one.

"What sort of medical team takes up residence on a volcano-ridden rock?"

From the driver's seat, Shepard chuckled, casting a glance back over his shoulder at the other two. "Good question," he said lightly. "We'll find out, I'm sure."

"It can't possibly be anything good."

They disembarked beside a large depression in the ground, moving cautiously in formation, attention divided between their surroundings, and the heat warnings flashing impatiently in the HUDs of their hardsuits. The temperature was tolerable for now, but stay out longer than your readout indicated, and you were in trouble. Even more so if you had a breach. Overall, it would have been far safer to stay inside the mako, but the nature of the mission made that impossible.

Taking a few steps into the crater, the trio eyed the crashed remains of a probe dubiously. It had been people they were searching for, not technology. Unease prickled the backs of necks, and weapons were cautiously unfolded. Bright orange flared to the right and left of the Spectre, as his team activated their omni-tools. Bringing two of the tech experts suddenly seemed like less of a passing whim, and more of a "good idea." If the oddity of the situation defeated the combined efforts of both Alenko and Vakarian, Shepard was of a mind to simply get the hell out.

"I don't get it. This is the spot…" Alenko mused, glancing up from the holographic interface. "These are the coordinates we were given. Where's the medical team?"

"I'm not seeing any signs of battle," Vakarian chimed in. He'd swapped out his omni-tool for sniper rifle, and now used the scope to sight along the far edges of the crater. "No blast marks, no bodies… There's a shuttle, but not much else. No sign of life anywhere."

The unease turned into full-blown suspicion. Hands tightened around weapons, muscles tensing beneath the ceramic and synthetic weave of the hardsuits. "Back to the mako," Shepard said. He didn't take his eyes off the crater, even as he backed with measured steps towards the parked rover. There was no other cover in sight. Then again, nor were their scanners picking up any hostiles.

And then the air around them all but exploded in a hail of fire and shrapnel. The three men ducked instinctively, weapons snapping to attention, and biotic coronas flaring to life as the sleek synthetic shapes darted in. Orders crackled to life over the radios as the trio continued their retreat to the cover of their rover. Where the rocket-launching drones had come from, no one could tell. Nor did it matter. For the moment, all their minds were focused on was getting out alive.

The orange glow of an omni-tool blinked up, swiftly followed by the drone nearest Alenko crashing pitifully into the ground, its shields decimated. Even as the two biotics threw back the worst of the encroaching geth. It seemed, for a moment, that the squad was gaining the upper hand. They had to be fast—pick up the pace—as the time was quickly running out for the hardsuit heat tolerance.

"Armature incoming!"

Despite the shout, there was no time to guard against the incoming fire. Kinetic shields went down fast, biotic barriers faring better, but wearing down under the slender white construct's constant barrage. Returning fire at this distance was all but futile, considering the shields on the armature. The mako's cannon was far more suited to taking it down, and the squad sprinted the final few yards to the rover.

It was only then they noticed the problem. As the only member of the squad lacking biotics, Vakarian's shields had tanked faster than the others'. He was on the ground, a smoking, bloodied hole torn through his hardsuit, straight into the flesh of his bony hip. Shepard motioned Alenko forward, scrambling into the mako to lay down cover fire for his men. Without a word, the biotic charged after the turian, who was somehow staggering to his feet. There wasn't any time to think. The first hints of a migraine had begun to slowly work their way into Alenko's skull, and his hardsuit display was already flashing warnings about the heat.

He grabbed his teammate's narrow waist, throwing the turian's arm over his shoulders. An omni-tool flickered, then shorted and died. "Knocked out," he heard the low murmur as Vakarian's longer strides pushed them both forward on his good leg. He didn't answer, just kept moving, throwing one last, fading barrier up in hopes of doing his squadmate's failed shields some good.

The explosive crack of the mako's main cannon was the most blessed sound the two had heard all day. There was no time to stand back and appreciate the show, however. The tank was a sitting duck with an armature pounding away at it—and one man alone couldn't get the thing rolling and shooting. Feeling Vakarian's stride falter, Alenko all but hauled them both inside, giving the all-clear only once the hatch was secured.

"Stabilize him, and get your ass up in the turret!" Shepard barked, dropping down into the driver's seat. He didn't say another word, just wrenched the wheel and kicked the rover into gear, the sudden motion throwing the two unseated men sideways.

Swearing quietly, Alenko went to work, applying pressure and medigel to the ragged hole, until the bleeding slowed to a trickle of blue between his fingers. Taking off the hardsuit required a more stable environment, such as the Normandy's medbay, and hands more experienced than his with alien physiology. Vakarian didn't move throughout the procedure, just tensed whenever the other man's hands came in contact with him. It was odd enough to get his attention. He'd never known the turian to be particularly touchy about physical contact, which led him to believe there was more than just the visible wound.

He straightened a little, having propped Vakarian up against the center console to work, and checked pupil dilation, and vitals. It was when his hand came away from checking the pulse under his squadmate's throat, that, unexpectedly, his hand was captured, and pulled closer. Labored breathing was in his ear, Vakarian's—Garrus'—head resting lightly against the side of his own.

"… Soldiers don't have time," came the odd voice—the low, growling tone overlaid with one he could actually understand. "I've thought enough."

For a moment, everything stopped—the hail of gunfire outside, the rock and jolt of the rover, everything but that voice, and that touch. It was warmer than he remembered, warmer than he'd thought it would be. He swallowed, knowing they didn't have time for this now, but took the moment anyway, pulling enough away to meet the pale eyed stare. The questions he wanted to ask suddenly wouldn't come. As if, asking them would bring the world back down on them.

"And?"

The alien face flicked in what had to be a tired, pained smirk. "You're a smart man, Alenko. You already know the answer."

Briefly, he squeezed the hand that still held his tight. "Yeah, guess I do."

Just as expected, the moment passed, and once again, he was a soldier, hauling himself up into the turret. There would be more words later. There always were.