Author's Note: DAYUM SON THIS WAS ALONG FANFICTION
I DID NOT THINK IT WOULD BE THIS LONG
SHEEEYIT well I had fun! Okay, time to get a wee bit sentimental over a silly fanfic. First and foremost, I want to thank Anonymous-I know who you are and you know who you are-for prompting this pairing, which put IDEAS into my head, which spawned this fanfic. I couldn't have done it without you!
And I also want to say thank you so much aggressors to everyone who reviewed. 51 reviews! You guys! You guys! I am flabbergasted and honored. Everyone has been so positive an encouraging and just plain awesome. I am genuinely proud that you all liked this fic so much. I tried. And you guys make me feel like I succeeded.
As to further writings, I do have an idea for another Mass Effect fan fiction, which will be loosely tied to this one, but will not concern all of these characters. Just some of them. It'll be a while before I start on it, though, because I need to do some final revisions of ST and also take a break from all this writin'. Anyway, here is the epilogue. I hope y'all enjoy it, even if I never changed that goofy summary. Thanks for reading!
Not too long ago-even though it seemed like ages now-she could remember when she had stood in the cold night air, staring at a stand of arrow-straight conifers and facing away from a group of angry quarians. She had chided them for not taking the opportunity to shoot her in the back. It seemed as if the quarians were the only ones who hadn't taken her advice. Things had gone downhill since the fall of Shasta Trinity.
One moment she had been falling into a merciful black pit of unconsciousness with a vague sense of victory. Her sight went first, but she could smell burning flesh, and visceral satisfaction gripped her. The damn krogan was dead. She was taken gratefully away from the world for a bit, and when she woke, the conditions were much more sterile, but just as chaotic.
She had been lying in a medical bed. She remembered snorting at the sharp smell of antiseptic and blinking under the glare of the lights. She stood, ripping out the tubes they'd attached to her-there hadn't been many-and stumbled across the floor. She felt faintly numb (probably the lingering effect of some kind of anesthetic) and around her the frenzied din seemed somehow distant, as if the noise and confusion were reaching her from far away.
She walked a few steps, and tried to speak, but her mouth was too slow and clumsy to properly wrap around any words. The last thing she remembered before losing consciousness again was the panicked face of a salarian. He was saying something. "Shepard," he'd said. "Normandy." They didn't mean anything to her then.
They meant something now. Her face was impassive as she stared out of the shuttle's window. Around her nebulous clouds of radiant purple swirled, specked here and there with the distant points of cold, far-off stars. The Serpent Nebula stretched around the shuttle, and at the heart of it, her destination waited in patient silence. The other passengers were chatting or watching their passage with the same quiet air that she did.
She had recovered just quickly enough to see everything she'd worked for finish falling apart. Shasta Trinity had been conquered, and roughly one-third of her entire workforce had been killed, scattered, or had simply vanished aboard that mysterious vessel that had arrived out of nowhere. The Normandy. They had their victory snatched out from underneath them before they'd been given a chance to savor it, but that wasn't the worst part.
In the days following, she learned just how complete her defeat was. She had built her entire career surrounding herself with people who were cold, impersonal, and loyal to the almighty credit. They had built an efficient business together, all of them. The Normandy's attack on Shasta Trinity-signaled by the very quarian she'd personally sought out-had undermined her authority and destroyed her credibility. Surrounding herself with people more loyal to profit than to her had proved to be her undoing.
She was lucky that they hadn't killed her. Some upstart had seized command of what remained of her workforce. She didn't even know the details of the coup because she had been unconscious for most of the process. Apparently there had been many impassioned speeches given over hastily-organized boardroom meetings, a lot of speculation as to her fate, and an electronic frenzy of activity as the chain of command rattled into a new configuration.
She didn't know who had spared her life and motioned for the decision to dump her on Omega. They had drained her private accounts. She was alone, wounded, and penniless on the second most ruthless and dangerous locale in the galaxy. Still, they could have dropped her off on Tuchanka, but they hadn't, so she had something to be grateful for. The abandonment wasn't the worst part of this whole affair, either.
The worst part was how her entire philosophy had been destroyed before her eyes. She had endeavored to succeed by creating an organization that was just that-organized. Above all else, she stressed cleanliness, efficiency, and a disdain for the petty infighting that lesser crime rings suffered from. She had failed, and she was certain that it was not through her practices. She had carefully chosen her officers, carefully designed their policies and their plans. There was no logical reason for them to have turned on her except to assume that, underneath their efficient, businesslike exterior, there lurked a secretly omnipresent ravenous opportunism.
To know that it was present in beings she had trusted for years was the worst part. She simply didn't understand people as well as she thought she did. If it weren't for one small detail, one small aberration of this trend, she might have stayed on Omega. Maybe she just would have given up a life of crime. Maybe she would have been content just to limit her reign of terror to a neighborhood on that station. She wasn't doing either of those things, though, because of one small, wholly baffling loose end.
The Citadel swung into view. She had been here once before, when she was very young. It was an impressive and heartening sight for travelers used to the rugged frontier of the Terminus systems. Behold the Citadel, gleaming diadem of the Serpent Nebula and heart of civilization! She knew better. It glittered with so many lights, but they only showed because of the shadows.
The one detail that brought her here was a man named Smith.
Every other last one of her men had turned on her and cast her off. Her second-in-command, the man who had the most to gain by turning her in-perhaps even freedom and power-had not. This confused her profoundly. The question had haunted her while she stalked the streets of Omega, slowly recovering from what was left of her wounds and fighting with vorcha for a comfortable corner to sleep. It had kept her awake when she should have been resting and recovering her strength.
It distracted her while she hopped from place to place, looking for work. What was his game? Was he holding out for something bigger? Did he know he had nothing to gain? The more she thought about it, the more suspicious she became, and when she had established herself as a bouncer at a low-end Omega club, she made a decision and saved up her spare money. Informants weren't hard to find on Omega.
She found out everything she could about the Normandy and Commander Shepard. The Commander had quite a reputation for being freelance a do-gooder, but the Normandy was tagged as a Cerberus vessel. She'd heard of the organization, but had steered clear of it. She was mildly surprised when she unable to secure any information leaks as to what had happened on the Normandy. Cerberus was apparently more tight-knit than she thought. She did manage to discover, though, that they had taken Smith to the Citadel.
C-Sec was a lot easier to crack. She'd discovered everything concerning his incarceration over the period of a month or so through her hired informant. Every week or so a few more details trickled in. He had come in showing signs of hastily-treated trauma: broken bones and lacerated skin. He had not said a word to any of the officers since he'd arrived, though. Not a single word.
The phrase had repeated over and over in her head as she stared into the wildly dancing crowd, those nights on Omega. Neon lights flashed across her vision, and all she could think of was, Not a single word. The bold bass boom of the music roared through the air like a living thing, but she didn't hear it. Not a single word. Why was he doing this? It was maddening. She had to know.
For whatever reason of his own, Smith had given up everything to keep his silence, and she figured that finding out why would be worth the same from her. She saved up her salary for the next few weeks until she could hire a shuttle to the Citadel.
And here she was. The air was clean here, fresh-smelling and quite a departure from what she was used to. The Citadel had changed a lot since she'd been a young whelp here with her father, but that was to be expected after the geth attack. Her blank, cold features were displaying an amusing amount of stunned wonder at her brightly-lit surroundings as she waited in the customs line. Since when was this place so damned bright?
Getting through C-Sec security was easy. Most of her fare had been applied to a specific customs officer. Really, it was pathetic how easy it was to infiltrate this place. A little money shifted to the right places did wonders, even when one didn't have a terribly large amount to go around. When this was all over, maybe these cops would be more selective about who they took bribes from.
She hopped a public transport to the Wards, and when she stepped out onto the grimy pavement and took a deep breath of the musty air, her pale eyes narrowed in a smile. Her quest for an answer started here on the ground. She would have to work her way up from the very bottom until she was able to do what she came here to do. It might take months. It might take years, but she had nothing better to occupy herself in the interim.
This was a good place to rise again, though. For all its grace and splendor, the Citadel was a city, and every city had its fair share of stray cats. Feed a stray cat, and it would follow you anywhere. All she had was a few credits, a lot of determination, and a goal. For now, that would be enough.
She began walking. There was work to be done.
Kal'Reegar held both ends of the sturdy hose, one in either hand as he compared the ports at the end, eyes narrowed in intense concentration. "Okay, I think I got it," he eventually announced, "This one… attaches to the back of the helmet. Turn around."
Veetor did so obligingly. He felt the pressure of Kal's movement on the back of his helmet. Safeties were tripped and one of the thick cables was removed. Kal then tried to attach the end of the hose to the now-vacant port, paused, and said, "Dammit. I guess not."
Veetor waited until Kal had re-attached the original cable and looked over his shoulder. "Do you have the directions?"
Kal grunted something in reply and began to rummage through the small mess of cables and plastic shrink wrap they'd made on the floor between them. They were currently in Kal's quarters aboard the Yagangar. Since returning to their splinter group, they had gotten busy settling back down to their normal routine. Things were much the way they'd been before, with one small exception.
They were always careful to make time for one another. When they were together, they'd meet each other at some point during the day (often mealtimes), and when they were apart, they would send messages or hold video conferences before retiring for the evening. What started out as a small conscious effort soon became a habit, and then a treasured ritual.
Veetor in particular benefited from the structure they'd imposed on their relationship. Oftentimes Kal would simply sit there while Veetor talked, excitedly relaying the events of the day, yammering until he ran out of steam. Then he would recover and, as always, apologize for talking so much without letting Kal get a word in edgewise (and Kal would always tell him that it was not a problem). Then it would be Kal's turn.
It was more than the pleasure of hearing Veetor's voice every night that reassured Kal'Reegar. He would talk about his friends or coworkers, or some new discovery that had set all of the scientists into an enormous fuss that he couldn't quite grasp, or he would just talk about the new rations they received. The very presence of these stories was encouraging-he was slowly, but surely, creeping out of his self-imposed seclusion. Veetor would probably never be comfortable around crowds, and the damage done by the Collector assault was always there lurking under the surface, but he was happy now. Kal was grateful to be able to give him that, at least, and willing to do whatever it took to see him safely through whatever rough times lay ahead.
For his part, Kal'Reegar was mercifully under-worked. It seemed that the surprise assault by the Normandy and the fear of its return kept the majority of trouble at bay, but the marines were always ready to be deployed in case of a surprise raid or, worse, an attack by the geth. Even factoring in drills and routine security runs, this gave Kal considerably more free time than Veetor for the moment, and he had spent it doing a lot of thinking.
He knew that he had never cared for anyone quite like Veetor. Veetor was… his, and he belonged just as securely to the twitchy quarian. He was undoubtedly and irrevocably in it for the long run, and after this realization, Kal had rather bluntly asked Veetor if he wanted to link suits. It had been during one of their video conferences, and Veetor had jumped so much that he'd hit his desk. His holographic viewscreen had flickered offline momentarily, and the hazy, static-choked figured had blurted out, "Yes! Yes, I would!"
Kal'Reegar couldn't help but feel rather proud of such an enthusiastic response. Thus far in their relationship, Veetor had been the big mover and shaker. He had been the first to admit his attraction and the first to confess his eventual love. Kal had snagged the first kiss, but that didn't quite even the score. No matter. When they were acclimated to one another's bodies, Kal had plans to make up for it in spades.
He had sent for the suit-connection kit himself, and, once they'd racked up enough off-time, they decided to spend a week together aboard the Yagangar, which led them to their current situation.
Veetor turned over one of the smaller cables and began to examine his suit. He'd lived in it almost all of his life. The thought that there would be an aperture than he didn't know about, where apparently this thing was supposed to go, was inconceivable, and yet he still didn't have the faintest idea where to attach it.
"Okay," Kal sat back up, holding an unwrapped sheet of plastic that the directions were printed on. "They… what the-these aren't even in-can you read these?"
Kal'Reegar turned the plastic over and offered it to Veetor. Whatever dialect it was, it wasn't any that he was familiar with. "I don't think so."
Kal'Reegar shook his head. They'd been going at this for the better part of an hour, and so far hadn't had much luck. "Hell, at this rate we won't get finished before you have to go planetside." Kal pulled up his Omni-tool. He was no techie, but he could run a simple visual translation program. A small window popped up, and the text in the display was overlaid with the translation. He blinked widely. "This is-it's a turian dialect!"
Kal'Reegar was seldom ever flustered for any reason, even in the face of certain death, and Veetor found the indignity in his raised voice too much to take. He lowered his helmet and tried to stifle his laughter, but Kal'Reegar had long since learned how to key in on Veetor's tiny gestures of amusement. The soldier glanced to him. "You're laughing."
"No," Veetor denied uselessly, his voice cracking with the strain of holding his mirth in.
Kal shook his head, but he was grinning under his helmet. Veetor could tell from his eyes. The memory of that uneven, somewhat cocky expression-likely a throwback from Kal's youth, which Veetor was beginning to learn more and more about from their nightly talks-filled Veetor with warmth. Maybe soon he'd see it again. Kal once again tried to make sense of the directions, but soon they found themselves in the same mess.
"Hell, this is incomprehensible," Kal muttered. "'Conjunction of right shot, applying pressure for power supply…'"
"It has a power supply?" Veetor asked doubtfully.
"I have no idea. It looks like these were translated into turian from something else. I don't… I don't even…" He shook his head.
Veetor leaned over and viewed the translated text through the small translation window. He scooted a little closer to read better, and Kal obligingly leaned to the side to give him a better view. Veetor grabbed Kal's wrist and gently guided it down so that he could scroll the window over the rest of the test, reading silently and rapidly. Finally, he said, "Okay, let me try."
Five minutes later they had all of the apparati connected. Veetor ran his hands over all the points of contact one last time, and finally he nodded "Well, damn," was all that Kal'Reegar could think to say. Veetor nodded towards the bed, and, grinning again, Kal walked with him over to it.
Veetor sat down opposite of him, smiling in quiet satisfaction under his helmet. Despite his accomplishments, Veetor was never smug. His humility left Kal feeling conflicted. He wanted Veetor to recognize his own worth, but at the same time, the marine treasured that side of him. There was a faint hiss as the suits bypassed the last locks between them. The air supply was synchronized, and their suits' onboard computers linked together to jointly monitor vitals.
Veetor breathed deep, closing his eyes. They sat for a moment, relaxing and basking in their victory. After a moment, Kal quietly asked Veetor what he was thinking. When he saw Veetor begin to fidget and squirm, he persisted. Kal'Reegar had noticed that Veetor always got embarrassed when he was thinking of something particularly romantic. "I just… I just thought it was nice. To breathe your air. And for you to, um, to breathe mine. We're sharing what makes us… what makes us alive, and it's nice. It's nice. "
A pause ensued. They knew that they were going to be spending most of their allotted off-days sick, but neither minded. They would adapt. That seemed to be most of what they'd done since they met one another. They had changed one another. Sometimes it was in tiny, innumerable ways, and sometimes the impact was drastic and noticeable. They knew they weren't done adapting, either, but both were ready to rise to the challenge. After what they'd been through to be with one another, they felt like any obstacle could be surmounted. A few days of sneezing and coughing was beyond worth it.
Kal leaned forward and gently touched the curve of his helmet against Veetor's. The marine closed his eyes first, followed by Veetor, and they sat close to one another, listening to the sound of their faintly amplified breaths. Then, softly, Kal finally replied, "Yeah." His own response was distinctly less elegant, but he was sincere if not eloquent.
Veetor knew that. Sometimes Veetor thought he understood Kal better than he understood himself. He chuckled at the irony of the thought, and before he could wonder if it was the same for Kal, he heard the other gruffly ask, "Laughin' at me again?"
Veetor did laugh, then. "No, I just…" He opened his eyes and sought Kal's hands. Considering the amount of tubing connecting them, there was considerable fumbling before he had both of them. He meshed their fingers together. "I'm just-I'm happy, Kal."
Kal had watched his efforts, and now raised his helmet again. It bumped gently against Veetor's. "Good. So'm I."
The comfortable silence stretched on for a while until Veetor finally broke it. "Well, something interesting happened on my way up here," he began hesitantly.
"Yeah?" Kal asked, and Veetor began to talk, slowly at first, and then more excitedly. It was a story about the mother they'd met on the shuttle before it crashed to Shasta Trinity. Veetor had seen her on his ride to the Yagangar. Apparently she was doing much better after being reunited with her son. Veetor was clearly heartened by the fact, and Kal was happy to listen to him share the story.
The two men stayed up late that night, speaking to one another and occasionally falling into companionable silence. They were adrift in space, cosmic outcasts from the land of their ancestors-a place they had never even seen-faced daily against nigh-insurmountable odds, overcome with challenges in every aspect of their lives, but they were with one another for the night, and that meant that Kal'Reegar and Veetor'Nara were home.
Just before bed, they disconnected. They had been sitting still for so long that both of Veetor's legs had fallen asleep, and Kal'Reegar was stomping the floor to rid himself of a toe-cramp. The marine chuckled roughly and said something about a backache.
When Veetor asked him what he meant, Kal just laughed again, fully, heartily, and said, "I'll explain later."