A/N: There's a fairly-known Brazilian movie called Elite Squad that is about the training and work of the elite squad of the military police force of Rio. Their training is considered to be the toughest military training in the world, and I think someone at Bioware must've watched it and that's why they decided N-School was at the Vila Militar in Rio.
Some of the scenes you'll see here until Shepard gets her first N designation are heavily inspired by the above-mentioned movie. I hope you enjoy!
Tilia, a sentinel's specialization can be either medic or bastion. Since Kaidan is a medic in ME1, I thought it would be interesting to come up with a reason for him to have made this choice. Hence, his involvement in the events of the last two chapters.
Thank you to everyone who reviewed and to my awesome friend and beta, Suilven.
Chapter 31 – Interplanetary Combatives Training
May 20th, 2176
Heat. That was what everyone had told her to expect from Brazil. Instead, it was the middle of the night and it was raining heavily when the Alliance cruiser she was coming in on with the other N-recruits docked at the HQ in Rio de Janeiro. From there, a bus took them to the Vila Militar, where they would be staying and training.
Shepard couldn't help but notice she was the only woman among the twenty-five new recruits. They were all looking at her as if they recognized her from somewhere, and they probably did; everyone had seen Emily's vid about the Blitz. The adept wondered what they were thinking about her; if they thought her a fraud or a hero.
When they got to The Villa, Major Nascimento came over while they were still retrieving their duffel bags from the luggage compartment and they all stopped what they were doing and snapped to attention.
There were four other soldiers in formation behind the major, all wearing the famous black uniform with a red stripe on the right shoulder and the N7 insignia embroidered on the chest.
"Welcome to the Interplanetary Combatives Academy," Nascimento spoke. "I can already tell that you're the worst group of recruits to ever set foot here."
"You will fail," the other four N7s yelled in unison at the top of their lungs.
For the recruits, it definitely felt like they had failed already; all disheveled and dripping wet, trying to find their duffel bags in the dark while the N7s were sheltered from the rain, standing in formation, with impeccable posture and neat uniforms.
"Staff Lieutenant Matthews will take you to the barracks and show you your assigned bunks. If I find any of you looking like this in the morning, you'll be thrown out of here so fast you won't even have time to say N7," the major warned them.
"Your rank means nothing here. Here, you're all recruits and hold no authority over each other unless I say otherwise. Understood?"
The N-recruits hadn't even had breakfast yet and Major Nascimento and the other N7s were already yelling at them.
"No names either. Lieutenant Commander Borges will give each of you a number and he'll only say it once. You better not forget what yours is because, when we call it, we expect you to answer right away."
"Morello, one. Shepard, two. Jackson, three. Patel, four," the commander started reading the list with each recruit's assigned number.
"What do the numbers mean, sir?" Morello asked once Borges was done, a smug look on his face for being One.
"It's the order in which you'll give up and run back to your mommies. You're One, recruit, because even the farm girl," Nascimento pointed at Shepard, "will last longer here than you. We can read between the lines of a service record, and yours has got 'coward' written all over it."
"You will fail," the N7s yelled, staring at Morello.
"Our academy is no place for cowards, One," Commander Borges said. "We only want the best soldiers here, and you're not it."
"Infiltrators usually work alone, but not you, isn't that right, One?" the major asked.
Without giving Morello a chance to reply, Borges continued. "Why would an infiltrator of your caliber need to send a unit ahead of him as a distraction on every single assignment, even on the most simple ones?"
"You've lost more men to hostile action than everyone here combined, sending rookies fresh out of Basic to do an infiltrator's work. Your work," Nascimento said, shoving an accusatory finger in the man's chest.
"Major, how about we take a moment of silence for all the good soldiers that died for this coward?" the lieutenant suggested.
"Excellent idea, Matthews. Let's do it."
Morello blanched and did not argue. None of the recruits spoke another word about the numbers, even long after the moment of silence had been over.
May 21st, 2176
The first thing Shepard noticed when she woke up was that Morello was gone. Day one at the Vila Militar hadn't been easy for anyone. They had gotten only a couple of hours of sleep at night and, as if to test their resolve, the DIs had had them doing chin-ups and pull-ups, plus running, swimming, and climbing all day long.
Morello had had it even worse. There had been N7s around him all the time, circling him and yelling at him to quit.
And, since they had succeeded, Shepard feared that today she might be the one on the spot. She needed to steel herself and be prepared to take it. Either quitting or failing N-School wasn't an option; Kaidan, Commander Alenko, and her CO believed in her and she wasn't going to disappoint them.
At breakfast, she rushed ahead of the others and asked for permission to take the seat across from Major Nascimento. Despite the completely uninterested look on his face when he glanced at her, he allowed her. Maybe, he would be willing to talk and give her something that would help her stay. She had to at least try.
"If I may ask, sir, why am I Two?"
"You won't even make it to N; we can tell," Borges replied when the major just sighed tiredly over his plate. "Girls never do. Now, don't get me wrong; we've seen plenty of women succeed here. But a farm girl like yourself, barely out of her teens," he snorted, "this is not the place for you, Two. You can just quit now and save everyone the trouble."
"With all due respect, sir, I disagree."
The major stared her down, a look of disdain on his face. "I don't like you, Two. If not for the Blitz, you wouldn't be here. It was just dumb luck; a matter of being at the right place at the right time. Regardless of what was said on the news about you, that was not a single person job. I wonder how many necks you stepped on to get all the glory for yourself…"
Shepard swallowed hard, grimacing. The major noticed her reaction and took it as a confirmation that he had guessed right. Shaking his head, he muttered an aside to Borges in some other language; Portuguese, most likely.
"However," Nascimento cleared his throat, his eyes falling on her again, "Anderson is a smart man and a seasoned soldier. I know him well enough to know he wouldn't fall for that tale. If he recommended you to our academy, there's probably more to you than that. Let's see if you last here long enough to prove your worth."
It sounded like a challenge; one that she immediately took up on.
June 17th, 2176
Halfway into their training and Three, Four, Five, Eight, Ten, Eleven, Thirteen, Eighteen, and Twenty-one had already given up. Not Two, though. Shepard was still hanging in there and determined not to quit. The only way she would leave the academy without her N designation was if they kicked her out. And, by now, she knew that, despite Nascimento's constant threats to throw them out of there, he had never actually done it to anyone. He would rather gather the other N7s and bully and intimidate the recruits who were giving unsatisfactory performances until they gave up and quit the program themselves.
All N-recruits were already good shooters and fighters. They all knew about combat strategies and they were all in great shape. The major didn't care about that. He didn't care about the things they were already good at. If they weren't willing to push themselves to go further, to do more and perform better in each and every drill, then Nascimento didn't want them there. For him, it didn't matter that Shepard was a bastion adept. To be worthy of the Alliance special forces, she would have to be as good with a sniper rifle as an infiltrator and as good in hand-to-hand as a fucking pro-wrestler.
She had caught on to that early on and, even though, in the first week, she had often been a target of their bullying, she knew they hadn't really wanted for her to quit; they had wanted to make sure she was committed to the academy and to becoming the best soldier she could be.
July 12th, 2176
Graduation day was a relief. In the past two months, the former recruits, and now N operatives, hadn't been given a single day of rest. There had been days when they had been woken in the middle of the night for a drill, and more than once they had had a mission simulation last for three or four days straight in which they practically hadn't been able to catch any sleep.
Now, the nine of them that had persevered and seen this training through to the end would have a couple of days of leave until shipping off for their first N-level assignment.
After shower and breakfast, Shepard found in her locker her new black and red N gear, which included a PT uniform, a service uniform, and armor. She felt her chest swell with pride and made a mental note to later send Anderson a thank-you message and a picture of herself in the N uniform.
The graduation ceremony was very brief, shared with several other operatives that were getting different N-designations, from 2 to 7. One of them was being highly praised for having reached N7 faster than any other operative ever, and also for being the youngest soldier in the history of the academy to get to the final designation.
Shepard caught herself checking him out several times. She couldn't help it; he was incredibly handsome and exuded confidence. Once the ceremony was over, he walked out of the parade deck as if he owned the academy. The other soldiers immediately flocked to him. Everyone wanted to congratulate and talk to this guy. His achievements sure were impressive and the way he held himself showed he was aware of that.
"Otário," someone murmured by her side.
She turned to the man, an eyebrow shooting up. He was wearing the black uniform with the red stripe on the shoulder, and she recognized him as one of the guys that had just received a new N designation at the ceremony today.
"That's Portuguese for 'asshole'. But, don't worry; it was meant for Leng there." He nodded at the N7.
"We went through N-training together. Since you're not fangirling, I thought this was a safe environment for me to express my honest opinion of him. Hope I'm not mistaken..."
To be fair, Major Nascimento wasn't looking like he approved of all that fuss over Kai Leng either.
"Second Lieutenant Jane Shepard," she introduced herself to him as an answer.
"First Lieutenant Caetano Correa. N4," he stated his designation bitterly.
"Sounds like you're jealous, Lieutenant," Shepard teased him.
"Por favor, call me Caetano."
"Sounds like you're jealous, Caetano."
He scoffed. "Fine, go to him, then."
"Nah, I'm good."
Her reply made him smile and encouraged him to elaborate a little bit more. "Leng is insufferable. He thinks he's better than everyone else."
"Well…" Shepard thought of all the praise Kai Leng had received earlier today, "…from what I heard, it seems like he is."
"Whatever. Enough about this prick. Do you have any plans for tonight?"
"Not really. I wouldn't even know where to go, to be honest." Since she had arrived in Rio, Shepard had never left The Villa.
"Tsk. Tsk. You recruits never have any fun." Caetano shook his head. "Why don't you meet me at the gates at 2200? Tell your friends to come, too, and I'll take you to the hottest club in the city. Most of the Ns go there after these ceremonies. It's kind of a tradition."
"Hm… I'll tell them, but I'm not sure if I'll come." Nightclubs weren't really her thing. Although, a celebration tonight wouldn't exactly be a bad idea.
"Oh, but you should come. You'll thank me later. Now that you're in the special forces, you'll see that free nights are as rare as they come. And, most of the time, you'll be so exhausted, you'll want to do nothing but sleep. And, the other times, you'll probably be too injured to be able to walk, so…"
Shepard laughed at his drama and rolled her eyes playfully. "Okay. Fine. You've convinced me. I'm going"
"See you later then." The N4 winked at her.
The club was crowded, full of beautiful, well-dressed people. Shepard felt out of place in her dark jeans and gray tee; an attire way too similar to that of her male soldier friends. But, it was not like she owned anything sexy and trendy.
She danced just like the guys, too. Worse, even, considering how Caetano and Jérôme were now practically dictating all the moves on the dance floor with the crowd enthusiastically following their lead. At least her friends Becker and Fontaine were as stiff and awkward as she was.
Still, she would probably feel more comfortable having a drink on her own at the bar, so she headed there.
After managing to claim a stool for herself, she ordered a beer. It was a local brand, and, the instant she tasted it, she thought of Kaidan and how he wouldn't like it. Too light and watery. It was not to her tastes either. Maybe she had caught that from him.
They had never gone to a club together, not that she was complaining. The extremely loud noise wouldn't do any good for someone with a migraine problem. Hell, it was annoying even for her, and she wasn't one to have headaches or anything like that.
Earlier today, Kaidan had called her and they had talked, but she was already feeling like talking to him again. If not for the late hour, she would've gone outside and made the call. But, since all Alliance ships and space stations followed the London HQ time, it would be past 0200 in the Agincourt now.
"Jane Shepard, right?" A sultry voice resonated over her shoulder, cutting through her thoughts. "The hero of Elysium?"
She could feel his breath too close to her ear for comfort and she could even smell the alcohol in it. Hopefully, it was just for the sake of being heard over the loud music that this drunk was invading her personal space like that; otherwise, he would be going home with a broken nose.
Taking a long swig of her beer, Shepard turned to him, ready to lie through her teeth and say that he was mistaking her for someone else, when she realized who he was.
"Kai Leng," he introduced himself, offering her his hand for a handshake before she could salute him. "No ranks tonight."
There was this cocky quality to his smile that made it very aggravating, despite the elegance of his features.
"How about we have a drink together?" Without even waiting for her answer, he ordered them two 'Sex on the Beach'.
If he was trying to convey any sort of message with that odd choice, he was being very presumptuous and was about to become very disappointed.
She couldn't help rolling her eyes when the ridiculously colorful drinks arrived in tall glasses and he kept missing the straw amidst all the decorations on the rim. There was even a fucking natural flower between the strawberry, slices of lemon, and a yellow umbrella.
"Shepard, we're the two most interesting people in this place. How about we get out here and find somewhere more private where we can… talk and get to know each other better?"
She hadn't said a word yet, and the guy had already invaded her personal space, breathed in her ear, dismissed military protocol, and chosen a stupid sugary drink for her without even asking what she wanted. She would rather drink the watery beer. Alone.
"Is this your idea of a joke?" With so many gorgeous women in that club, was it really her that he wanted to sleep with? That couldn't be right.
"Look at me. I could have a beautiful woman in my arms any time I want. But, it's not every day that I get the chance to be with a hero for humanity, Shepard. They say no other human has ever killed as many aliens as you have."
Ah, the weird things that turn people on. "I'd rather not talk about the Blitz." What horrible statistic was that anyway? She hoped it wasn't true. During the attack on Elysium, she had been completely out of her mind, and she wasn't proud of most things she had done there.
"And I bet it's not every day either that you get the chance to be with an N7."
Shepard almost choked on the beer she had ordered after having slid her practically untouched drink over to Leng. He had already finished his and unceremoniously moved on to hers.
"Yeah, I think I'm going to leave now." As she got up from her stool, he grabbed her arm to stop her retreat. The guy was getting on her nerves and, with her patience at its limit, she spun on her heels to tell him to fuck off.
"I could always command you to come with me, 2nd Lieutenant." He spoke first and wiggled his eyebrows at her, which only made that whole conversation even weirder and more wrong.
She didn't think twice before connecting her fist to his face and messing up the perfect lines of his nose.
July 19th, 2176
Shepard left the brig at The Villa to go straight to the briefing for her first N-level assignment. If she successfully completed it, she would be granted the N2 designation. Right now, she was already behind schedule, since assaulting a superior officer had gotten her stuck in a cell for a week. Her punishment would've been worse if Lieutenant Correa hadn't interfered in her favor. She had become his hero for breaking Kai Leng's nose, and he had stopped by to see her every day until shipping off for his N5 assignment.
The fact that Major Nascimento wasn't a big fan of Leng definitely helped her case, too; even if he didn't like her that much either. To her surprise and joy, the major had even given Leng a dressing down in front of everyone for letting himself be caught drunk and off guard and for not being able to defend himself from a newbie like her.
Having lost her cool, however, and punching the N7 was something she regretted. She should've just walked away. Now, she would have that in her file and, had the circumstances been just a little different, this could've ruined her career.
Definitely ruined were her plans of meeting Kaidan before going on her first assignment. They hadn't even talked this last week, since detainees weren't allowed to keep their omni-tools in the brig. Maybe, once she completed this mission, they could try to set something up again.
And, since she was going to ship out on Monday, Shepard went to talk to the Requisitions Officer of the Vila Militar, Isabella Barone, and get the equipment she would need.
"Lieutenant Jane Shepard? You're the one who punched Leng!"
Who knew, huh? This might make her more famous than the Blitz.
"Asshole kept bugging me to find him a katana. Can you believe it? I'm not some fucking antique dealer. Where would he even use that? He can't be stupid enough to bring a sword to a gun fight now, can he?" Isabella shook her head in disapproval.
"Not the best time to ask you for nunchakus, then?" Shepard replied sarcastically.
The Requisitions Officer narrowed her eyes at the marine. "Please, tell me you're not serious."
"Nope," the N replied with a smile. "What I want is that new Warrior IV; Armax Arsenal has just released it. Do you think you can get me that? I heard the Alliance signed a technology cooperation treaty with the turians, so I hope getting one won't be too much trouble…"
"No trouble at all. Give me a day and you'll have your turian pistol. She's a thing of beauty; you're going to love her. Anything else?"
Shepard ended up spending the budget she'd been given for weapons and equipment to the last credit. Being able to choose whatever guns she wanted to use was very exciting. Her first mission as head of a team hadn't even started yet and she was already enjoying the perks of being in charge.
"Oh, we have a shipment of the new Arashi II rifles coming in today. How about you meet me at the shooting range later and we test it?"
The marine sure could use some target practice to blow off steam, especially after a week in lock-up. "Sounds good."
September 14th, 2176
"Is something wrong, son? I know this isn't how you were planning to spend your leave, but–"
"Ma, it's fine. I like it here." And he really did. His parents were doing a great job with that land. Animals, fruits, flowers… the orchard was looking incredibly alive and colorful. He wished Shepard was there to see it.
They were supposed to meet on Arcturus and come to Vancouver together for the Alenkos' 30th anniversary, but there had been some complication during her N3 assignment and she was still caught up in it. It was all classified, of course, so he didn't even know on which planet she was. The last time she had answered a vid-call from him had been a week ago, and she had had a split lip. It had looked bad, still red and swollen. And, every time she had tried to smile, a pained wince had followed. After that, they had exchanged a few text messages that had consisted mostly of her reassuring him that she was fine. Then, for the past three days, she had gone completely silent. He hated not knowing if that was because she was busy on her mission, or because she was hurt, or worse.
"How did you and Pa do this?" He didn't have to say it; his mother would know what he was talking about. The way she had been fussing around him ever since he had showed up there alone was proof enough that she did know what was upsetting him.
"It can get very lonely some times. And, your father missed a lot while you were growing up. But he was never in the special forces and I was always home waiting for him. So, I guess it was a little bit easier for us."
"The last time we were together was five months ago." And I got upset over her keeping secrets from me and left her to sleep alone. Damn it!
Barbra put a comforting hand on his shoulder and gave him a sympathetic smile. "Maybe… the time is just not right for you two…"
September 18th, 2176
Lisa reread Barbra Alenko's message for the thousandth time.
Sometimes, you meet the right person in the wrong moment and you have to let them go. But, if it's meant to be, they'll find their way back to you.
There was a lot more to it than those two sentences, but those had really hit home. Lisa hadn't been able to attend her foster parents' 30th anniversary, she hadn't answered Barbra's calls in ages, and she hadn't had time for her boyfriend or her friends in the past few months. Having a personal life and being in the special forces just didn't go together. She couldn't even reveal to Kaidan where she was or had been. Everything about her missions was classified and way above his clearance level.
More than ever, the sentinel and the adept had their careers to worry about. Kaidan was trying to make it to officer and Shepard was trying to make it to N7. They were both proud to be marines and to be part of the Alliance. They believed in the work they were doing and in what they were fighting for and they would give this nothing less than full commitment.
Which meant that their relationship had become secondary at best.
Shepard would be able to catch a little break between her N3 and her N4 assignments. But, it would be only for a couple of days, in which she would receive her new designation and get briefed on her next mission. And, since Kaidan was still serving on the SSV Agincourt and traveling around the galaxy to destinations he had no control over, they wouldn't be able to meet. So, she decided to spend those days getting to know Rio better and working on her suntan.
The feeling of the sun on her skin was something she had missed badly; a small pleasure she hadn't enjoyed ever since the attack on Mindoir because she had gotten too self-conscious about her scarred body. Now, she couldn't give two shits about what people would think and had gone bikini shopping with Isabella the first chance she had gotten.
She just wished she would have had a chance to show off her golden skin to her boyfriend, but she knew that keeping up the hope of seeing him any time soon wouldn't do her any good. Creating any expectations about their relationship in this moment of their lives would only bring them both more frustration.
Maybe Barbra was right. This was not the moment for them.