Somebody come slap me through the computer.

If you look up the definitions of epic fail, procrastination, laziness, and disappointment, I'm probably pictured under all of them. Still, here's the long-overdue chapter.

Garrus took up post by Shepard's bedside the moment she was wheeled out of the operating room. She seemed comatose under the waning hold of the anesthesia and it unnerved Garrus enough that he had to nudge her. She twitched slightly and snored a little, which was enough to satisfy her mate, but he still took a grip on her wrist, lining his fingerpad up with the thrumming vessels to manually monitor her pulse.

After a short time, his parents joined him. Tacita entered the room while Aetius hovered outside, seemingly standing guard. Tacita found a seat and said, "How is she?"

"They said she'd be awake within the hour," Garrus said, still palpating her pulse, taking comfort in the beat against his fingers. "The incision from the surgery will be healed by her new cybernetics, but they said the scars from the explosion and those she received directly after won't be affected."

"That's wonderful," Tacita said softly. With a slight laugh, she added, "Not the damage from the explosion, of course."

"I know," Garrus assured. He glanced to the hallway, where his father stood, and called, "You don't have to stand outside, you know."

Aetius didn't turn. "Venari is coming. I'll wait until he arrives."

"Is that right?" Garrus muttered. "That won't be awkward at all."

Garrus hadn't spoken to Pallin since his mating to Shepard had been discovered by the whole family. Garrus only hoped that Pallin would react to the news more like an "understanding godfather" and less like a "disgruntled former superior." He didn't really feel like being scolded again for his choice in mate.

When Pallin arrived, he brushed shoulders with Aetius in a very subtle greeting and the two of them entered the room. Pallin remained standing, sizing Garrus up with a curious glance. His reaction to the younger turian "holding hands" with a human was almost disappointingly neutral, though, and it made Garrus nervous.

"Pallin," Garrus greeted, "it's been a while."

"It certainly has," the older turian responded. "Or, at least, a lot has happened since I last saw you. Bonding with a human, boy? Really?"

"Yes, really," Garrus snapped. "Though, I really would've preferred to tell you myself."

He shot an accusatory look towards his father, but Aetius merely scoffed, "I haven't said anything about it."

Garrus' stare quickly moved towards Tacita, but she returned an angry glare. "Don't you give me that look, Garrus Vakarian. I haven't said anything either."

"Wait," Aetius barked, "if you didn't-"

"What," Pallin quipped, "you didn't know?"

"Know what?" Garrus hissed.

"Oh, boy," Pallin grunted, using actual humans words for the phrase. "You may want to turn on a vid screen. The Westerlund News is running a really fascinating story right now."

Rodriguez hadn't even touched her meal when the headline on the vid screen caught her attention. She let her fork clank onto her plate and her mouth fell agape in disbelief. An image of Shepard flashed briefly on the screen, juxtaposed to an obviously-turian silhouette. The words [Xenophilic Agenda] scrolled under the image before the camera panned to a Westerlund anchor at her news desk. Prangley stuffed a bite into his mouth, unaware of the scandalous message ticking across the screen behind him.

"Jason," Rodriguez gasped, "look at that." She pointed past his head and he turned slowly, nearly spitting in shock.

The anchor, a smartly dressed woman with deep chocolate skin, reported, [Anti-human agenda or a simple sex scandal within the Alliance? It's the question on everyone's mind right now. I'm Nora Bast and this is the Westerlund News, afternoon report.] The woman swiveled in her seat toward another camera. [Continuing from our earlier story, Alliance hero Commander Reyna Shepard has returned to the Citadel after suffering substantial injuries from a yet undisclosed mission. Westerlund's own Khalisah Bint Sinan al-Jilani was there, only hours ago, to get the full story. Instead, she uncovered some shocking insight into the Commander's private life. Khalisah, over to you.]

The feed switched to the dark-haired reporter, clad in her bold, sleek dress. A tall, wispy woman in a crisp lab coat stood beside her, her arms crossed and a scowl plastered on her face. Khalisah smirked at the camera then gestured at the other woman. [Thank you, Nora. I am here with Dr. Maralynn Jade. Doctor, as I understand, you were the surgeon assigned to Commander Shepard. Is that correct?]

[Yes,] Jade replied.

[I see,] Khalisah said. [Now, I spoke with a nurse on your floor earlier about the nature of the Commander's injuries. She has since been recalled into the building and my crew has been denied clearance to enter. Can you shed some light on this situation, Doctor?]

[First I would like to clarify that you haven't been banned from the hospital,] Jade spat, [You, like anyone else, may enter. What you may not do is go perusing the building. We have sick and injured patients who would not appreciate your intrusion, Miss Al-Jilani. Secondly, the girl you spoke with was an intern, not a nurse, and the information you coerced from her is a breach of confidentiality. The Commander was injured, she is now stable, and that is all you need to know until she decides to make a statement herself.]

[So, you are not denying the information given to me by your… intern?]

[I am neither denying nor confirming it.]

[And what of the allegations made that the Commander presented with an injury that looked very much like a ritual turian mating mark?]

[That's hardly relevant to the state of her health,] Jade said dryly.

[That wasn't a 'no,'] Khalisah quipped.

[Nor a yes. I'm a surgeon, Miss Al-Jilani. I deal in medicine, not tabloid exposés, and I daresay that you should be more concerned with the Commander's well being than her bedmates.]

[As a human, Doctor, I am worried that the woman the Alliance has put so much faith in has her priorities in the wrong place. As we all know, both the human and turian homeworlds are under attack, and I, for one, would rather the hero of the human race keep her focus on humanity-]

"Ignore it, Maria."

Rodriguez snapped her attention toward Prangley. "Jason, don't you hear what they're saying about the Commander?"

"Westerlund is full of crap and everyone knows it," Prangley barked.

Tarquin, who was seated at the end of the table the Grissom students occupied, spoke up, "Well, they aren't wrong about this. Whatever that intern told them was the truth."

Prangley barely refrained from banging his fist on the table. "And what of it? Al-Jilani's in bed with the asari, but no one seems to be angry about that."

"I don't know who this reporter is, but she obviously doesn't have any influence on the outcome of the war," Tarquin said. "Shepard does. And she's mated to a turian. And she's allied with Palaven's primarch. And, in fairness, she is currently trying to recruit aid for Palaven-"

"So that the turians will help Earth," Prangley argued.

"You and I know Shepard's true intentions, but you have to admit that it looks pretty dodgy. She's really going to have to watch herself after this."

"That's crazy!" Prangley hissed.

"Maybe not," Rodriguez rebutted. "Remember how mad people were when aliens were allowed on the Normandy in the first place? That was all over the news, and not just on Westerlund."

"It's going to be much worse than that," Tarquin added. He leaned in slightly. "And speaking of things getting worse, do you think we should get to the hospital now before the place is crawling with camera crews? That is, if it isn't already."

The Grissom students grew quiet, nodded, and abandoned their plates.

Garrus gawked at the vid screen, squeezing Shepard's hand tightly between his talons. He looked over to Pallin, who offered no words, and said, "How the hell did this happen?"

"The way things always happen," Pallin answered. "Someone lost control of their mouth. The intern went live and reported rumors of a bite scar. She has no solid evidence of it because she didn't see herself, but…" Too late.

"The damage has already been done," Garrus snapped. "What can we do now?"

"Honestly, there's no point in hiding it," Pallin said. In response to Garrus's worried expression, he added, "Keep your cool, Garrus. I'm handling this. It's not the first time I've bailed you out, you know."

"It's going to take more than a tweaked report to fix this."

"You think I don't know that?" Pallin grumbled. He leaned against a cabinet at the side of the room, tapping his gloved claws against the countertop. "The way I see it, the only way to turn this around is to make it look like a planned alliance between the races." Arranged mating.

"No one's going to buy that," Garrus argued. "If that were the case, there would've been an official announcement ages ago."

"They will buy it because the general public doesn't know how long you two have been together." He hummed for a moment then added, "For that matter, how long has this been going on?"

"Venari," Aetius interrupted, "get to the point. What's the plan?"

Spoilsport, he trilled. "Simple. By just coming out with it, the media loses the element of scandal. Then, by claiming it to be a political move, you'll salvage reputation. That's really the best we can hope for at this point."

"Perfect," Garrus muttered, "and I thought we'd get to relax for a while."

"This will die down soon enough," Tacita comforted. "The smart ones will realize that it's more important to concentrate on the war."

"And the stupid ones will stay stupid," Garrus said. "Some things never change."

"Some things will," Pallin countered. "Interspecies affairs aren't so uncommon anymore, especially not on the Citadel."

"Humans mostly stick to their own and asari, though," Aetius argued. "Could draw a lot of backlash from her side."

"Possibly," Pallin said, "but it could just be that they haven't considered a dextro species as compatible. Which…" He shot a curious glance at Garrus. "…I'm almost surprised you even managed—"

"We aren't talking about this," Garrus cut.

"He takes after me," Tacita quipped.

"That so?" Pallin jeered lightly.

"I said we aren't talking about this," Garrus repeated more forcefully, adding an edge to his tone for good measure. He was prepped and ready to veer the conversation another direction when Shepard's fingers tensed against his. He looked down to her, sighing a breath of relief when her violet eyes slowly opened and focused on him.

She smacked her lips groggily and shuddered with a light cough. "Nnn… Garrus…?"

"Welcome back," he replied gently, bringing her hand up to press against his maw.

She smiled and let her gaze wander the room, falling on Tacita, then Aetius and Pallin. "I've got a crowd, huh?" She turned her eyes away as quickly as the haze of anesthetic would allow, focusing instead on the still-playing vid screen. "Huh."

"What?" Garrus asked, listening intently.

"I'm on the news."

"Oh, that. Yes, well—"

Her eyes widened as the report flashed again. "We're on the news."

"Yeah," Garrus muttered, turning to the screen. "Not confirmed yet, but it's only a matter of time."

Shepard craned her head back into the pillow, groaning, "Son of a—"

"We just need to get upstairs to see our teacher."

The asari receptionist shot a disapproving look at Prangley. "Sir, I'm sorry, but non-relative visitation to the neuro floor has been temporarily cut off."

"I know you're worried about..." Prangley glanced over to a man holding a sleek vid camera. "...the news causing a problem, but we aren't here to start trouble."

"Look," she snapped, her white face markings furrowing into an exhausted scowl, "I can't let you through without an escort unless you're an immediate family member of someone who's admitted."

"But, if we can get someone who's related to escort us...?"

"Well, that would be okay," she said, motioning behind Prangley at Seanne and Reiley, "but you couldn't all go in at once. Only two guests per patient per room. Hospital policy isn't normally so strict, but with the war on, we're much more crowded."

"That's fine," Prangley groaned. "We can rotate who's in the waiting room and who's visiting. It's just... I don't know who we can call. Miss Nought doesn't exactly have immediate family."

Rodriguez offered, "She's sharing a room with the Commander, so..."

Prangley nodded and continued, "Someone on the Commander's approved list can escort us, right? Um, Vakarian. Garrus Vakarian, that is. Could he get us in?"

The asari's expression further scrunched into an angry glare. "Oh, I get what you're playing at now. Those creeps with Westerlund sent you, didn't they?"

"What?" Prangley gasped. "No-"

"I already told your boss," she continued, "We are not authorized to release any info about the Commander's contacts, so stop harassing us."

Rodriguez pulled Prangley back gently, urging him to leave the reception desk. "Jason, come on."

He stepped away reluctantly, moved out of earshot of the desk, then whirled toward Rodriguez. "Maria, what are you doing?"

"You know Garrus will be in the contacts," she said. "Let's just call him."

"That's what I was trying to... Why did she even think we were with Westerlund?"

Tarquin muttered, "Vakarian's the one that's been on the ship longest. They probably suspect him to be the one Shepard's bonded to. Bet they've been asking about him all day."

"That's... oh," Prangley said. "I wasn't even thinking."

"It'll be okay," Rodriguez grumbled. "Just make the call and we'll go upstairs."

"I don't have his comm," Prangley argued.

"Neither do I. You think Shepard's awake?"

"They probably shut her comm off so it wouldn't kick on in the middle of surgery."


"I could contact him," Tarquin said suddenly. Two sets of human eyes fell on him. "I meant... I don't have his comm either, but my father does."

"Works for me," Prangley said. "Whatever will get us there."

Garrus' Omni-tool flashed to life, buzzing with a hail from Victus. He released Shepard's hand-just for a moment-to answer the call. He opened a one-way vid feed, one that would show Victus' end only, just to be safe. When he had visual confirmation, Garrus opened his own vid screen and asked, "What is it?"

[Checking in,] Victus replied.

"She's awake," Garrus replied, reclaiming Shepard's hand. She smiled lightly and returned a squeeze. "Why? Is something wrong?"

[Assuming you've seen the news-]

"I have."

[Then nothing else is wrong. Tarquin wanted me to contact you. He's in the lobby with the students from Grissom, and they need an escort to come upstairs. It probably wouldn't be wise for you to go down there yourself, but I told him I'd make you aware of their arrival.]

"Understood," Garrus said. "We'll find someone to bring them up." He ended the call quickly and hummed in thought. "He's probably right. If I go down there, it's game over."

"True," Shepard said.

"So," Garrus said, "your immediate family..."

"My mother," Shepard said. "She's the only one I ever list. Don't know the rest of my family all that well."


"No idea where she's at."

"Great," Garrus groaned. "So, any other contacts?"

"Just you."

"And Jack?"

"She may have given Sanders authorization," Shepard said, "but I think she just listed you and me."

Garrus deadpanned, "I don't want to go down there."

"By yourself? I can probably walk."

"At all," Garrus snapped. "And you aren't going anywhere."

"I feel like walking," Shepard said.

Pallin interrupted, "You shouldn't hide the truth, but you can't just run out and scream it, either."

"You wanted us to pretend it was some political move, right?" Shepard asked.

"In short, yes," Pallin said. "That will be the least problematic way out of this."

"No, I think not," Shepard said, sitting up groggily and throwing her legs out of bed, despite Garrus' attempt to stop her. "Doing this as a way to form an alliance between the races... it sounds honorable and all... but I didn't really have anything that selfless in mind when this all started." She looked up at Garrus. "Hand me my clothes? I'm not going to wear a paper dress and flash my ass to the whole galaxy."

"You're sure?" Garrus said. He handed Shepard her stack of clothing and she hobbled to Jack's side of the room and pulled the curtain. "We have time to plan."

"Or you at least have time to think of something better than just going out and saying it," Pallin snapped. He glared at Aetius. "Feel free to chime in at any time."

"I've already said all I'm going to about the matter," he replied instantly. He was trying his best not to interfere, though he really didn't like what Shepard was intending.

"Our plans never work anyway," Shepard said. She shuffled behind the veil, dressing as quickly as possible. "Instead of covering this up and worrying about someone digging up the real story later, it's better to just take a breath and dive in."

"What?" Garrus questioned.

"A swimming analogy," Pallin muttered. "Ironic."

"Oh, right," Shepard laughed, yanking the curtain back and stepping out. She tucked her shirt in, trying her best not to look disheveled.

"We're going to drown, then?" Garrus said, smirking. He reached out and adjusted her collar, brushing his knuckles against her left shoulder as he drew away.

"Well, maybe you are," Shepard quipped.

"If I go, you go."

"Better put on your pool floaties, then, because I don't plan on sinking."

Tarquin sat opposite Prangley and Rodriguez, flanked by two other students (named Seanne and Reiley, if he remembered correctly). He fiddled with the hem of his sleeve, waiting for some word from his father or Vakarian. As the minutes ticked by and the students looked more and more agitated, he became more anxious and even debated another call to Victus. He contemplated the call further, but then mentally scolded himself: Stop relying on him. Stop, stop, stop...

His internal fight was silenced, though, as the room erupted in a roar of voices. Tarquin looked up, saw the human news crew rushing to the front desk with poised cameras, and then spotted Vakarian moving through the crowded hall... with Shepard leaning against his arm for support.

Rodriguez and Prangley craned their heads around to see what the fuss was about and instantly came up out of their seats. Tarquin and the other students rose, as well, but made no movement forward. The cameras were closing in, held back only by the shouting asari at the reception desk. Several others in Huerta uniform dashed in and formed a barricade in front of the desk.

"What do we do?" Rodriguez squeaked. "This is our fault..."

Tarquin spat, "Why the hell would he bring her down here?"

"Jason, what do we do now?" Rodriguez repeated, grabbing Prangley's arm.

"I... I don't know," he answered.

By then, Garrus and Shepard had reached the desk, and the Commander used it to prop herself up so Garrus could stand straight beside her. From the throng of the paparazzi, Al-Jilani stepped forward, her microphone hovering insistently beside her.

"Commander Shepard, we have a few questions for you," she said hurriedly as one of Huerta's staff tried to push her back. "We deserve answers!"

Shepard held a hand up, signaling to the hospital staff that Al-Jilani was clear. She leaned more heavily on the desk, feeling weaker than she had expected. Garrus thought to reach for her, but the look Shepard gave him was reassuring and he held his position, arms crossed.

Shepard glared at the reporter and snapped, "Who is 'we,' exactly? Your viewers? The Alliance? Humans in general?"

"Any and all of the above," Al-Jilani replied. Her microphone whizzed closer to Shepard and her cameraman zoomed in on the Commander's face.

"Is he recording?" Shepard asked, pointing at the cameraman. "No, I'm sure he is. Let's make this quick." Al-jilani froze and nodded, holding her questions. Shepard barked, "You realize that you are crowding the lobby of the largest hospital on the Citadel in the middle of a war, right? That, because of you, entrance to the building is completely cut off or at the very least hindered?"

"Commander, that isn't-"

Shepard snapped. "Injured people may not have access to this building because of you. This behavior is irresponsible and that you would cause so much harm simply to dig up my personal life is an embarrassment to the human race."

Al-Jilani said nothing for moment, processing Shepard's words. Her cameraman leaned in, quietly assuring, "We'll cut that part, just get the story."

"The story," Shepard scoffed. "You want the story?" She made an animated gesture toward Garrus. "This is Garrus Vakarian. As you all probably know, he's served on the Normandy since the day I was made captain. And we are together. Permanently." She smirked at Garrus. "Anything to add?"

"No," he said, "I think you covered it pretty well."

Al-Jilani's mouth was agape even as she said, "Rumor is that you have allied yourself with Palaven's primarch and are working towards reallocating Alliance forces to Palaven despite the immense need on Earth. Have you turned your back on humanity, Commander?"

"Is this running live?" Shepard muttered.

"No, but I would still choose your words wisely."

"Right, live feed with me probably wouldn't be too smart, seeing as how I've made you eat your words so many times before." Shepard moved out from behind the desk, stepping up to Al-Jilani. "You have a pretty substantial viewership, Miss Al-Jilani, and I can respect the impact you may have on human opinion. However, you are dealing with something bigger than you can possibly imagine and you're packaging it up as a scandal and selling it to people who are desperate for something to blame."

"And you are in bed with the turians, who, by all right, should be offering us aid, not the other way around."

Garrus gave an indignant subharmonic and stepped up next to Shepard. "Why do you think we owe it to you?"

"Earth was the first homeworld hit, the damage is far more-"

"Why don't you tell that to the batarians?" Garrus growled. "This isn't a contest of which homeworld is being hit harder. This is reality, and the reality is that both planets are being massacred. The turian military has the firepower to aid Earth, but only if the Reaper threat is dealt with on Palaven first. This is how alliances work. You want something, you have to give something first."

"Humans are dying while you people waste time," Al-Jilani snapped.

"Everyone is dying," Shepard hissed, "and you could be encouraging your viewers to do something to help with the war effort. Instead you're just sending them on witch hunts. We aren't the ones wasting time." Shepard waved a hand above her head, looking to the back of the crowd. "I get that you're scared and that you're clinging onto the only thing you understand. But, sending out a report like this will only spread your fear to others. There are consequences to our actions, Kalisah. Why don't you think about the full severity of yours before you shove that mic in my face again?"

Prangley caught sight of Shepard's hand and made eye contact. He turned to the others quickly. "She's motioning for us. It's over. We need to move."

When Shepard was sure her waving had caught the Grissom students' attention, she dropped her arm. To the reporter she finally said, "You want an actual report, I'll help you, but until then, we're done here."

By then, the students and Tarquin had reached the desk. They silently joined up with Garrus and Shepard as they exited the lobby, leaving Al-Jilani behind to simmer in her failed report.

The students had split off towards the lobby on the neuro floor, content to wait until Jack was brought out of surgery. When Garrus and Sheaprd arrived back at the room, his family was waiting outside, their faces holding a mix of worry and agitation.

Tacita rushed forward to take Shepard from her son and ushered her quietly into the room. Garrus hung back, assuming his father and Pallin intended to speak with him. Pallin was the first to speak. "They didn't run anything live. At least, Westerlund didn't. There was another human crew there, but they weren't able to get proper audio in time."

"Only a vid of the two of you arriving," Aetius added. "You can be sure the Westerlund will chop and edit whatever you told them and turn it into something nasty."

"They may try, but we told the actual story," Garrus said. "I'm with Shepard on this one. It's better to tell the truth. It gives them less to fire back at us."

The three entered the room, keying the door closed behind them. Tacita had carried Shepard back to her bed and returned to her chair on the opposite wall. She gave her son a turian smile and said, "You'll be pleased to know other groups have stepped up to defend you, or rather your relationship. Some of your supporters just aired an interview. Apparently, you two aren't the only turian-human couple."

"Yeah?" Garrus laughed. "I'm sure we're in the minority, though."

"Or else you're just the first to bring it to anyone's attention," Pallin said. "I honestly expected this to cause a stir years ago."

"What, turians and humans?" Shepard said curiously.

"The obvious DNA-chirality issue aside, our species aren't terribly incompatible," Pallin said simply. "Similar lifespans, similar physique, no real risk of problems unless one party is prone to reaction... It was only a matter of time before someone got curious. It's actually something I'm seeing more and more in C-Sec's younger officers."

"Still, it doesn't seem like it would be common enough to gain any kind of support," Garrus said.

"It's not just others in the same circumstance," Tacita said, motioning absentmindedly toward the vid screen. "There were asari and salarian speakers as well."

"Must've been interesting to see," Garrus said. He took a seat beside Shepard's bed.

"I'm sure it'll replay," Shepard groaned. "Jack won't be out for a while, at least a few more hours."

"I hate waiting," Garrus mumbled.

"You could go find me something to eat," Shepard offered. "My biotics have completely worked the drugs out of me. I'm starving."

Several hours passed and Garrus' family had long since left by the time Jack's operation ended. Prangley and Rodriguez were, as expected, the first of the students in the room, and Tarquin joined them at Rodriguez's insistence ("You came to apologize, remember? Do it first thing!"). When they wheeled the tattooed biotic in, small talk ended just long enough for Jack to be placed on her bed. The two nurses, one human and one asari, moved her cautiously, as though they were transporting a ticking bomb. When the nurses left, conversation resumed.

"Just so you know," Rodriguez said, "I'm betting it'll be less than an hour!"

"For what?" Garrus said.

"For Miss Nought to wake up," she replied. "I bet my first paycheck from the Alliance!"

"It won't be that soon," Prangley argued. "Two hours, minimum. I'll bet my pay against yours."

"I'd bet the Commander's pay, if I could! She's going to be up so fast, you won't even believe it!"

Shepard laughed, and Garrus said, "I'm almost inclined to agree with her, kid. The woman came out of full-body cryo in under a minute. A little anesthesia isn't going to keep her down long."

"I was up in an hour," Shepard added, "and my metabolism isn't nearly as quick as hers. She'll be up and cursing in thirty minutes, tops."

Tarquin listened intently. He was a little surprised that the conversation was so light-hearted. The way the tattooed woman had acted at the mention of implant surgery and recovery time, he expected the room to be more somber after her procedure. He said nothing about it, though, fearing he would upset Shepard or one of the students. Apparently, biotics could jest about biotics, at least in this case.

True to Shepard's prediction, Jack began to stir at just under half an hour.

Shepard swung out of her bed as her friend climbed back to consciousness. The commander raised her hand to the nape of her neck, fiddling under her messy mop of red hair. Before her actions could be questioned, a soft click sounded and she withdrew her hand, holding a small chip between her fingers. She placed the chip on her bedside table. Everyone except Tarquin seemed to instinctively know what the chip was, but the Lieutenant had to study it for a moment to realize that it was her biotic amp.

"I want everyone to be still and quiet for a minute," Shepard said. "I don't want anyone to distract her."

"Yes, ma'am," Rodriguez said quietly as Prangley nodded. Garrus and Tarquin motioned in agreement, as well.

As Jack twitched slightly, her body fighting the drugs, Shepard neared her bedside and sat on the edge. Chocolate brown eyes shot open in near confusion. Garrus felt a pang of deja vu, thinking the expression on her face was similar to the one she'd had when she woke from her cryogentic sleep. The Grissom kids seemed to be holding their breath and all joking had momentarily ceased. Jack's eyes shot around as she tried to comprehend where she was.

Gently, Shepard said, "Jack, can you hear me?"

"F... uck," Jack growled.

"Hey, you hear me?" Shepard repeated. "It's over, wake up."

"Hear you," she said, her teeth gritting slightly. "Awake. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck."

Rodriguez and Prangley had adopted sympathetic expressions that Garrus and Tarquin didn't quite understand. Garrus began, "Shep-"

Shepard held up a hand slowly to stop him and continued to speak to Jack. "Can you sit up?"

"No," Jack spat. "Stay back." She groaned and her biceps tensed visibly as she clenched the bedsheets. Actually, Garrus noted, her whole body trembled like she was exerting some great effort.

Shepard held a patient expression and repeated, "I know it's hard, but just listen to me. Try to sit up."

Jack chin dipped toward her collar in the slightest, most painful-looking nod. Shepard stood slowly, allowing Jack room. The tattooed biotic shook violently as she braced her arms at her sides and pushed her body up. Bewildered, Garrus wondered why Shepard didn't just help her up if she was so insistent on her moving.

Once Jack had raised completely, Shepard said, "Can you sit with your legs crossed?"

"Why?" Jack snapped.

"Just trust me," Shepard assured.

Jack said nothing else, only shifted slightly. The vertebra-like tattoos on her shins jutted out from her gown and the ink pattern on her calves flexed tight as she fought to move her legs.

When Jack had assumed a crossed-legged position, Shepard returned to the bed. She mirrored the position directly in front of Jack, folding her legs. She shook her arms out, as though to dispel her own tension, then held her hands over her lap.

"Cross your hands at the wrists," Shepard said. "That always seemed to set up a good flow when I did it."

Jack obeyed, strenuously moving her hands until they overlapped.

Shepard smiled. "That's it. Just hang on."

"S'gonna fuckin' hurt," Jack assured.

Shepard reached forward slightly, her hands hovering over Jack's. "Grab on at the same time if you can and try to focus on controlling the flow."

Shepard quickly wrapped her fingers around Jack's wrists, flinching when the younger biotic returned the gesture. A static pop sounded and suddenly Shepard winced and her arms flexed with some unseen strain.

"What the hell is that?" Garrus blurted, standing.

"Don't go near them," Prangley warned.

"What?" Garrus said, feeling a jolt of panic as a loud humming sound vibrated off Jack and Shepard's arms.

"It's a surge of biotic impulses," Rodriguez said. "What you're hearing, I mean. When someone first wakes up from an implant surgery, the nerves all connect at once and it causes a huge surge of biotic impulses."

"Is that why she removed her amp?" Tarquin asked, the sound of the connection pounding in his head.

"Yes," Prangley said. "You can't keep those in and touch someone who's firing off impulses like that. It'll blow your amp."

"I don't like this," Garrus growled. "This doesn't sound right."

"It's very painful," Rodriguez said quietly. "I don't know how the Commander just grabbed on like that."

"It's... that's hurting them?" Garrus hissed.

"How?" Tarquin said.

"It's kind of like electricity," Prangley said. "If you were to step too close to them, you'd feel it, too."

A curious corner of Tarquin's mind wanted to move closer, and he could tell that Garrus was thinking the same. They looked toward the connected pair, whose arms were beginning to glow. The glow intensified and the humming grew louder.

Prangley muttered, "What is she trying to do?"

As he spoke, Shepard was still speaking to Jack, telling her to just pull the flow back towards you, just reign it in.

Only a few minutes had passed before Shepard visibly relaxed and the glowing biotics drained out of her arms. The light crept back to Jack's hands and the black haired biotic let out a victorious cry and she yanked out of Shepard's grip. The glow disappeared completely, leaving both women breathing heavily.

"Don't know... how you knew that would work," Jack gasped.

"Seen it in action before," Shepard said. "Pull enough shock off and the user can bring it back into control."

Jack replied off-handedly. "Never woulda thought of doing something like that. Zapping somebody to take the edge off. Who's the crazy bastard the figured that one out? I might just have to thank 'em personally."

Shepard smiled weakly and glanced down at the cot. She said, "Remember right after they stopped using L2 implants? How the newer tech had more of a kick?"

"Yeah, what about it?" Jack said, shaking her arms lightly to dispel the last of her rampant biotics.

Shepard cleared her throat and explained, "The L2 implants didn't cause biotic-backflow like the newer models did, so people were pretty shocked by it. The kids receiving the implants would wake up screaming for no reason. The guy who did what I just did had a kid, one who had the new tech installed. He was so freaked out by the resulting backflow and his kid's pain that he grabbed her up without thinking. He was just trying to stop the pain. Just so happened that it worked. He redirected the energy just enough that his daughter could bring it back under control."

Jack narrowed her eyes. "And this person was...?"

"My dad," Shepard said, causing a collective jolt of shock around the room. "And he was a crazy bastard."

"Your ol' man did that?" Jack spat. "No wonder you're the way you are. Crazy's in your blood."

"That's right," Shepard said with a smile. She turned back to Garrus, who wordlessly returned a sad smile. Shepard didn't speak of her father often, so the admission had come as a surprise to Garrus, as well.

With the recovery crisis dealt with, the students began speaking to Jack. Rodriguez was first, eagerly asking, "How do the new implants feel?"

"Feels like I'm doped up on morphine," Jack said flatly. "Come back when they don't have my whole upper-half numbed."

"Did you get the newest models installed?" Prangley questioned.

"Not the newest, but one model older," Jack said, stretching her arms up over her head. "Wha'did I tell you about sticking the fanciest new shit in your head? You'd be stupid to trust an implant unless it's been tested and had all the kinks worked out."

Rodriguez lined up another question. "When will-"

Jack interrupted, "I've got one for you since we're playing twenty-one questions here." She gestured towards Tarquin. "The hell is he doing here?"

The young turian flinched and stumbled with a reply. Rodriguez answered for him. "He wanted to apologize, so he tagged along."

"That right?" Jack muttered, sending him a glare.

"It is," Tarquin offered weakly.

"Why don't you come closer," Jack snapped. "I can't hear you whispering over there."

Tarquin looked between Garrus and Shepard, neither of whom offered him any hints. Then, he stole a glance towards Rodriguez, who gently nodded toward her teacher. Tarquin cautiously crossed the ten-foot gap between himself and Jack, until he was standing uncomfortably close to her cot. He couldn't think of what to say, so an awkward silence followed.

Finally, Jack hissed, "Stop martyring yourself. It's pathetic." She hand out a hand to him. "Just call this a truce and get over it."

Tarquin stared at her open palm for a moment, his mandibles whirling anxiously.

Jack cocked an eyebrow at him when he didn't make a move for her hand. "You're supposed to shake it."

"Right," he muttered, lifting his three-fingered hand towards hers. Swallowing hard, he dipped down to take her hand. When their palms met an electric crackle sounded, and he immediately yelped and stumbled backwards. His offended hand trembled and he grabbed his wrist to still his quivering talons. He shot Jack a slack-jawed look of betrayal.

"Oh, my bad," she said coyly. "Still had a little static left. It doesn't hurt, does it?"

Tarquin's expression hardened into a frown. Jack was smirking, as though she'd found some sort of victory in her actions. Realizing that the shock had been her intention all along, Tarquin hummed in agitation. Determined not show how much the biotic burn on his palm stung, he tucked his hand behind his back. "Little sting, no harm done."

But, having no doubt seen through the bluff, the look of triumph didn't fade from Jack's expression.

Next time: We gotta go save baby Grunt. And after that, to answer the question many of you have had, the crew will be going to Eden Prime to dig up Javik and a lot of drama.