Parallels – 31
by Universitas

Something different; instead of focusing on one Shepard, I focus on two! Victor Shepard (Earthborn / War Hero / Paragade / Infiltrator) and Hunter Shepard (Earthborn / Ruthless / Renegade / Vanguard), near-total opposites. This is a response to a challenge on LiveJournal about how Shepard spends his/her birthday, so I decided to do a comparative thing between Victor and Hunter Shepard.

I do not own Mass Effect. BioWare and EA do.

For Victor Shepard, 31 is a chance to make up for lost time.

Victor Shepard had trained to be stealthy, even without his high-tech cloak. So he caught Joker completely by surprise when he slammed the large red bottle on the metal off to his side. The pilot jumped; Victor broke into a muffled chuckle.

Joker turned his seat around. "Did I tell you that I really hate when you do that?"

Victor smirked. "Makes it even more fun."

"For you." Joker's eyes drifted to the bottle. A grin of recognition spread across his face. Victor's smile widened; there was no way in hell that he would let him forget that Armali Flame Whisky was his favorite drink. "Nice," Joker said after a pause. "What's the occa---" His expression fell fat. "Ah, shit. I completely forgot." He mustered a weak smile. "Uh… happy birthday?"

Victor put on his typical "not impressed" look. It's not that he was actually angry at Joker, he just wanted to see how far he'd go to make up for that blunder.

"Uh… sorry. I guess this makes me a pretty bad… well, what's a good term, boyfriend? But uh… I won't—"

"That won't be necessary." Victor cracked a smile and set two shot glasses on the metal.

"Phew. For a second there…"

"Shepard," EDI said, "I strongly recommend against consuming alcoholic beverages on the bridge, so as to prevent any unnecessary equipment damage from spilled liquids or physical action resulting from impaired judgment."

Joker grumbled. "Another reason why I miss the old Normandy. We could get wasted where we wanted, when we wanted."

"If we start getting too rowdy, just send for Grunt."

"Uh, Grunt?" Joker looked at him incredulously. "Hello? Brittle bones here? I'd like to stay in one piece, thanks."

As Victor poured the first shots, he couldn't help but remember the first time they shared Armali Flame on his 29th. That time, Joker barely got his first shot down. Victor made sure that he got used to it—and came to like it. "You know," he said, "since we missed my thirtieth, I was thinking…"

He reached below him and revealed the second bottle he had hidden away.

Joker put on his trademark smirk. "Bring it on."


For Hunter Shepard, 31 is a painful reminder of what he's lost.

Hunter was brooding in his cabin; he didn't know what else he could do. The Normandy was an hour away from the Raheel-Leyya relay, an hour away from solving damn Tali's legal shit. Despite all the people on board he could possibly talk to, Hunter just wanted—no, needed—to be alone.

When he looked at the picture on his desk, he remembered.

"It's your birthday, Shepard. There's no way in hell you're going to 'not care' about it."

Hunter shot her a somewhat confused look. "Well, I don't. What's the big deal about it?"

"Because," she said, "today marks the twenty-ninth year that the greatest hero in the galaxy has been alive. So you're going to go up to the CIC, punch in the Citadel at the galaxy map, and we're taking everyone on board to Flux for a party."

"Since when do you give me orders, Chief?" Hunter asked, smirking.

Ashley Williams returned his smirk with one of her own. "Since the great Commander Shepard said some bullshit about him not caring about his birthday."

A long pause overtook the engineering deck. Hunter finally broke the silence with a sigh and a "Do we have to take Joker along?"

Choice. The denial of it had defined Hunter Shepard's life from the moment Captain Stanislav Lee approached him in the alleys of the Texan Megapolis and recruited him into the Alliance military. Ever since it was a railroad: his biotic implantation; Admiral Gaius Lucas placing him into the N7 training program then dropping him on Torfan; Anderson, Udina, and Nihlus pulling him into the Spectres.

What he had with Ashley was entirely his choice; the only important thing that he had chosen for himself—and for her. And the final piece of the railroad, the Illusive Man dragging him into working with Cerberus, robbed him of it.

"Goodbye, Shepard."

A sudden buzz broke his inner monologue. Hunter gazed at the door as its panels split and slid away. His eyes narrowed.

Miranda stood at the doorway with a ghost of a nervous smile on her face and a champagne bottle and glasses in her hands. "I hope I'm not interrupting your sulking, Commander. Something on your mind?"

After a moment, Hunter beckoned her inside. He forced a tired grin and glanced at Ashley's picture on his desk. "Sometimes I wish you had never brought me back."

Short, yes, but that's what I was going for with this one. Let me know what you think; please read and review!