Author's Notes: Hell no, we're not done yet! Haha. I know I've been gone a long time and this chapter is a bit rough, but the good news is I have the next few fairly plotted out and a new day is dawning and bringing the action with it! Shanxi and Ayuda's cases are going to start unfolding to their conclusions, and some of the things to look forward to include: Ayuda's heart-to-heart with a certain down-in-the-dumps turian general, a twist in what really happened to Shanxi's former partner, and Jacoby biting off more than he can chew.
Hope you enjoy! Sorry for the long delay, and welcome to all the folks who may be reading this for the first time!
One Eye Open - Chapter 22
"You going to be alright?" Ayuda asked as he exited into the hall outside Shanxi's barrack. He turned to face her for a reply and watched her shoulders slump in a shuddering sigh. She nodded silently and rubbed her arm before looking up at him with a pained smile.
"Yeah," she said weakly, "I just - I don't understand…"
The turian inclined his head sympathetically and waited patiently for her to continue.
"Why didn't Devaki show me this earlier? Why now?"
"Maybe she thought it would scare you," Ayuda offered thoughtfully, "Seeing your mother like that. You spent half your childhood fighting the same condition that took her life. Maybe Devaki wanted you to picture her differently, or maybe she thought that the more you knew about your mother the harder it would be for you to let her go."
Shanxi's hands dropped to her sides and she stared at him blankly. He could sense the struggle going on inside her, could feel her confusion, and he found that it hurt him, too.
"Did you know anything about her?" he continued gently, unnerved by her silence, "Other than what you've already told me?"
"No," she whispered finally as her eyes glazed over in recollection, "I mean, I knew her name and how she came here. I knew how she died. But I'd never even seen her face before…"
Ayuda could see fresh tears forming in his partner's eyes as she bowed her head again.
"That video must be all that's left of her now," she said in a cracked voice.
He put his hands on her shoulders as she covered her face with her hands and began to sob.
"You're left, Shanxi," he said, "And you've already fulfilled her greatest hope: you lived."
He gestured around them as he continued.
"You've become an officer at C-Sec. People respect you, rely on you - they trust you. You help people, like your mother wanted to help people by working towards a cure for ezzo exposure. She lives in you. You are her legacy, Shanxi. You are. Can't you see that?"
The woman parted her hands and searched his face for sincerity.
"Everyone else does," he finished softly.
She stood so still and quiet that Ayuda was afraid his attempt at comfort was backfiring, but then her posture relaxed and she let out a sigh. It was rife with the release of all the ill-emotions that he'd seen battling behind her eyes. He stepped near to shield her from scrutiny as a fellow officer made his way down the hall.
"Thanks," she said as she tried to wipe the wetness from her reddened face. Her mouth formed a small, self-conscious smile as she pushed her loose hair behind her ears. "Last thing I need is more attention."
"You and me both," he said lightly, pleased by the gradual return of her usual demeanor, "I really acted stupidly at the restaurant earlier. I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable, and I'm sorry the hanar had to deal with the mess, but I'm not sorry I hit that guy."
"Harkin has that effect on people," Shanxi agreed, "But I still had a good time tonight, and I'm glad you were here. For the video, I mean."
"Really?" Ayuda asked as his eye ridges rose curiously, "Cause I feel like I never know what to say in these kind of situations. When I was young and my sister would get upset, I'd just make a face and she'd be all better again."
"Make a face?"
"Yeah, like this."
Ayuda flared his mandibles and Shanxi let out a laugh. He chuckled, too.
"Our women can't do that you know," he said matter-of-factly.
"Yeah? Interesting. Is it part of a mating ritual or something?"
Ayuda deadpanned for a few surprised seconds before bursting into raucous laughter. The woman's grin spread ear-to-ear at the sound as it chased away the last of her evening's melancholy.
"What?!" she exclaimed, throwing her arms wide in innocence, "I'm just curious!"
The turian tried to recover himself and pointed an accusing finger at her.
"Wait, wait," he protested, "I know what this is - it's payback for the elevator!"
"I didn't mean it like that and you know it!"
"Do I now?" he goaded.
"Ayuda!" she groaned, face flushed in embarrassment. His laughter died away slowly and he stood straight again to regard her with a warm gaze.
"The answer to your question is no," he said honestly, "It's not part of any turian courtship, but if you would like to learn…"
Shanxi gave him a warning swat on the arm that made him laugh again.
"Alright, alright," he surrendered, "I suppose that's enough for one night. Are we sufficiently cheered up, now?"
"Yes," she said, brown eyes clear and bright once more, "But I think I will visit Devaki tomorrow if I have the time. To help me make sense of things…"
"She thought that would be best," he replied with a nod, "And so do I. Some sleep will help, too, I think. It usually does for me."
"Thanks Ayuda," Shanxi said, her voice wavering slightly, "Chellick is sending you out tomorrow, right? Please be careful."
"I'll do my best," he promised, "I know how important it is to find out where those amps are coming from. The sooner we shut them down the less of a risk that someone will be getting a bad implant. I'll do what I can to the narrow search for you and the Spectre."
The partners said their goodbyes and Ayuda made his way back to his room. He reflected on how his trek across the barracks the night before had been a disaster, and how tonight he hadn't wanted to make the journey. His mind kept drifting back to the instance at the VR arcade, and how it felt when he and Shanxi touched. It was pleasant although foreign, and it excited him. The way she smiled and said his name excited him, too. It was freeing to be around someone as unassuming as his partner; someone so unlike his own rigid people. He felt like he could breathe for the first in his life, and he wanted to take in everything Shanxi showed him. He reached his airlock door hoping that the night's adventure was only the first of many more to come.
Once inside his barrack, Ayuda wasted no time removing his cowl and over-worn hard suit. It was late, he was drained, and sleep had proven to be elusive the night before. He suspected tonight would be different though - that he'd be asleep as soon as his spiked head hit the hard, C-Sec issued pillow.
After stripping off his top half and putting the gear away, he walked into the bathroom to replace the wrap on his injured hand, as well as reapply Devaki's miracle salve. As he rubbed it into his thigh he looked up into the mirror before him. He mimicked the face he'd made at Shanxi earlier and laughed to himself.
Mating ritual, his mind repeated with a measure of mirth.
What an odd idea. If anything, courtship was the one aspect of turian culture that lacked any real formality. Most turians thought of partnership and marriage as a practicality; as a way to continue their families and help turian society prosper. It was just another form of obligation to the Hierarchy, albeit an unspoken one. While his people were free to marry as they chose, a long-understood rule promoted pairing between 'respectable' families of similar status - clans that could mutually benefit from the bond. Some of the more adventurous youth managed to find love - both within their race and without - but most settled with convenience and clan approval. As many were soldiers, they didn't see their wives for more than a few months out of the year anyway.
Ayuda's mandibles flattened against his face as he thought. At least his unhappy sister got some reprieve…
He turned away from the mirror and took a towel from the rack behind him. As he scrubbed his face paint off for the night, he pondered the moves that made up the ritualistic dance of romance he'd seen amongst the galaxy's other races. Before he could finish rinsing out the dirtied towel, a pinging sound from his computer drew his attention. His eyeridges pinched in confusion at the thought of who might be trying to reach him so late. Hoping against hope that it might be someone from back on Palaven, he strode into the bedroom and checked the screen anxiously. An alert box had popped up with an incoming message feed. The name of the sender both calmed and exited him.
Ayuda hastily took his seat and opened the connection. When the Matron's face appeared, she was wearing an expression that made his stomach roil uncomfortably. Something as wrong. Taking a deep breath, he bowed his head in respect and braced himself for what she whatever she had to say.
"Matron," he greeted her.
"Hello, Ayuda," she replied with a return nod. Her brow knit and her lips pursed slightly before she continued. "Is this a bad time?"
"Oh, um," the turian muttered self-consciously as he glanced down at his bare-chest, "No, its fine. I was just getting ready for bed." He paused a weary moment before continuing blandly, "You have some bad news for me don't you?"
Devaki's face fell in sympathy and her lips parted to protest, but she recovered her composure quickly. "I'm sorry, Ayuda," she apologized softly.
"Councilor Tokar has denied my request for an investigation into the events at Tersius outpost. He refuses to act without further evidence of your superior's negligence," she explained as she focused her gaze in concentration, "Think, Ayuda. Can you recall any other events where he may have acted unethically or without authority?"
Ayuda sighed and rested his head in his hands upon the desks cold surface. His bright eyes darted rapidly as he sifted through the monotonous memories of his military service. Looking back at it all, he realized just how easy the chain of command would be for someone like his sister's husband to manipulate. Something was wrong when soldiers no longer questioned their orders. He shook his head at last and nearly moaned in despair at the futility of the request. Anything he could come up with would still be his word against another's. He needed service records, postings, the names of squad members. He needed to reach his sister. He needed -
The turian stiffened. "Someone to break the firewall…"
"Ayuda?" Devaki questioned at his unexpected response. She watched him shift in his seat and reach for his omni-tool excitedly.
"My father blocked my access to my sister when he sent me here," Ayuda explained hurriedly, "I haven't been able to get in touch with her or the cruiser captains I served with since. I've been able to talk to a few of the soldiers I served with though, and while I can no longer access the ship logs, they can. I might be able to convince one of them to send us some information, but I'll need Tova's help. She could provide us cover by requesting the intel in her husband's name then forwarding it to me. I just need to convince her and let her know what's happening here. To do that, I need someone to break the firewall."
"How will you do that?" the asari asked, her eyes ablaze with questions.
"I won't. I can't. Believe me, I've tried," Ayuda replied smartly, "I'll need the quarian to do it."
Devaki's face cleared and she nodded in understanding. "Vahe'Kesh," she whispered.
"You know him?" the turian asked in mild surprise.
"I do. He has been a source of friendship and inspiration for Shanxi since his arrival on the Citadel. I worry for him often. And for her. His passing will break her heart."
"Do you think he'd be willing to do this? If anyone here can it's him."
"Possibly," Devaki said as the corners of her mouth turned down, "But I dislike drawing him into this. Vahe has little time left in this world, and I would hate for him to put himself at greater risk."
She thought silently for a moment. "Still, the decision is his, and there may be no other way if we are to help you, Ayuda. I fear my involvement may have only made things worse for you…"
"What do you mean?"
The woman looked away from the screen and fiddled with her hands in her lap.
"It is a long story," she said, "Suffice it to say, I once loved Councilor Tokar. But I loved Shanxi's mother more."
Ayuda's eyeridges lifted in comprehension. The asari's presence in the video of Shanxi's mother and subsequent role as guardian to her only daughter suddenly made sense. A thousand questions began storming around in his head.
"You mean, she-" he struggled for words, "You were lovers?"
"But you're not Shanxi's parent," he reasoned, "Biologically speaking."
A small smile eased onto her face.
"No, I'm afraid it doesn't work that way. Rebecca was already with Shanxi when they arrived here. I have always been honest with her about that."
Ayuda sat dumbfounded, a small inkling of indignation creeping up on him.
"So why haven't you been honest about everything?" he blurted a tad harshly, "Why did you wait until now to give Shanxi that recording?"
"She's seen it?" Devaki's voice wavered.
"We both have. I just got back here from her place where we watched it together."
"How is she?"
"How do you think she is? She's hurt, and confused, and lonely. She doesn't understand why you've kept this from her for so long, and despite trying to convince her otherwise, I'm not sure I do either."
Devaki could hear the unspoken accusation in his voice, and she was prepared for it. At least she thought she was.
"My relationship with Shanxi's mother was frowned upon for reasons that should be obvious," she defended, "My adoption of Shanxi even more so. She had enough difficulties to face without needing to know about the pain and social stigma Rebecca and I suffered during her last days. I did not want our daughter to know that prejudice."
"So you decided to hide it from her?" Ayuda argued, "Like it's something to ashamed of? What does that teach her?"
The asari simply stared at the screen silently, and Ayuda shook his head.
"You might want to think about how you want to answer that, Matron," he said as he recovered his calm, "Because I don't think Shanxi's going to accept your silence. Not anymore."