AN: So yeah. This happened. If I found out my dad was a God amongst men (he is pretty rad, I'll give him that), I'd probably freak out a little too. Also, takes place a few years before the last. Mwa.
2195 CE - Athena Nebula/Parnitha System/Thessia/Armali
Dilinaga School for Primary Education
"And he said 'You don't even know the meaning of the word Krantt.'" Shepard gave an indignant tut, waiting for her companion to respond. The Asari toddler looked up at her father questioningly.
"I know, right?" Shepard replied, taking on of little Izzy's hands in her own and cradling the child to her chest with the other, bouncing lightly as she waited. "I tell you, if I had a cred for every up and coming young Whelp's quad I've had to kick, I'd have... seven credits."
Izzy babbled in response, her attention caught by a glinting button on her father's shirt. Shepard watched the child quietly for a few moments, a soft smile growing across the Commander's face. The sound of a ringing bell shook her from her short reverie, however, and Shepard's head shot up to the gate and courtyard beyond.
Doors opened and a sea of blue flooded from the school entrance, accompanied by an excited cacophony of children's chatter. Shepard frowned slightly as the crowds began to thin with no sign of her particular brand of blue menace. Several seconds of growing silence passed as the last child bolted from the entrance, barely giving Shepard a customary glance as she ran to catch up with her friends. The Commander began an assured stride towards the school before stopping, appeased as her eldest emerged, her face clouded in deep thought, brow furrowing and her lip clenched softly between her teeth.
Idly, Vari made her way towards the gate, her worried eyes never leaving the asphalt. The relieved grin Shepard had been sporting waned and vanished as the child came closer. She'd seen this look on the child's mother before and never had it followed anything particularly pleasant.
"Hey. Yo. Earth to Blue." Shepard hunched over slightly, attempting to catch her daughter's eye. "Penny for your thoughts, kid?"
Vari's gaze shot up, alarmed as if she hadn't realised her father was standing several feet from her. She glanced at Shepard curiously.
"What!? I- yeah. Yeah. I'm... fine." She stammered out, in a tone that the Commander decided was incredibly not fine.
"You okay, V? Want to talk?"
"Huh? Wh- No. I-" She gave a flustered sigh. "No. Can we just go home? I've got a lot of research to do."
Before Shepard could respond, Vari had already secured herself inside the vehicle. Shoulders slumping, The Commander looked down at her youngest, who only matched her father's confused expression. Shepard gave a small sigh, running a finger gently down the child's nose.
"You and me both, kid. You and me both."
The drive home was unsettlingly quiet for Shepard. Vari had inherited much from her mother, including her propensity for excited rambling when it came to discussing topics of any interest to her. So, when the question of how her day went was met with a soft mumble, Shepard began to seriously worry. Once at home, Vari had disappeared into her room without another word, leaving Shepard to sort out dinner and an obliviously babbling Izzy.
"Are you sure? I'm not, like, missing some fundamental Asari thing here?"
"No, Shepard," Liara replied, her exasperated sigh in good humour. The Commander looked at her Bondmate's hologram ruefully. Things were always so much easier when Liara was here.
"She'll be fine. Give her time to sulk. Vari will open up eventually.
The human's shoulders slumped. "How are you so smart and know all these things? I miss you."
"I know because I have experience with someone quite similar." At this the Commander pouted slightly. She didn't sulk. "And I miss you too, Shepard. All three of my girls. I'll be back in two days. I have faith you can handle another forty eight hours. I love you, my Commander."
"I love you too, sweetie. Hurry home." Shepard finished with a sad smile as her Bondmate's hologram flickered out of existence. She remained silent for a minute, listening for any tell tale signs of Izzy fussing in her crib in the next room.
"Papa?" a tentative voice called from the doorway. Turning around, Shepard saw Vari peeking her head around the doorframe, still looking at her father strangely, brow furrowed far too seriously for someone who was the Asari equivalent of a six year old. "Can I talk to you?"
"Sure thing, kiddo." The Commander replied softly, sitting atop her bed and motioning for the little one to join her. Bracing herself, Vari tightened, her grip around the datapad in her hand and edged into the room, perching herself lightly beside her father, eyes darting about nervously. Silence reigned.
"V, sweetie, if you want to talk, you kinda have to, y'know, say something."
"Yeah. Yeah." Vari frowned, collecting herself, her father's attempt at humour failing to register.
"Well, today is the start of the new school year-" She glanced up towards Shepard, her face serious as if explaining a complex concept. The Commander tried her best to mask the grin on her face. Vari had spent the past moth studiously preparing for the new term, giving anyone who would listen a highly detailed rundown of her itinerary and plans for the school year. She had even cajoled her father into attempting morning test runs so that they were prepared. That was definitely one trait that was not mapped from the human's genome.
"-and Matron Tireya said that our first project would be to study the Reaper War."
At this Shepard nodded. She would have guessed that the war would begin to be taught in schools, to help children in understanding perhaps the single largest factor that had shaped their lives. Perhaps the little one had seen something that had shocked or confused her? Shepard certainly knew the feeling when discovering the truth of the Reapers for the first time.
"She said she was going to start off with one of the stories that we've all probably been told. She said there was the ship, 'The Normandy', and I thought 'that was weird because my Papa had a Normandy ship. Like, maybe there were a fleet of them or something. Because Papa said she had two'." Vari gave a small derisive snort at her own comment, as if annoyed she could have been so foolish.
"And then she said someone called Shepard was the Captain. And I thought 'That's weird, because my Papa's called Shepard. But then, a lot of people are." She shrugged. "I have three Shepards in my class and four Krogan cousins with that name."
The Commander gave a huff of laughter. One of the reasons they had chosen Vari's school was the insistence hat family names and history were left at the door, to aid each child's 'growth of self' or something similar that had pleased Liara to no end. Shepard was just glad her kids wouldn't be harassed over her issues. If she had learnt one thing during her career, it was that Commander Shepard was certainly a divisive figure.
"-And then, she showed us a holo of the Normandy crew and I was confused why Matron Tireya had a copy of the holo that is in your study, and why no one else knew the people in the picture and then I saw you and Mama and I understood." She finally took a breath. "You're the Shepard."
While she had not spoken in an accusatory tone, the fearful look in Vari's eyes as she finally met her Father's twisted a guilty knot in Shepard's stomach. While generally open with their children, one subject Shepard and Liara tended to avoid was that of the war. While the reason had partly been because Vari had been too young to properly comprehend the scale and severity of the war - and going by the look she was receiving now, Shepard began t doubt her previous judgement - the largest, and admittedly, most selfish part was due to the raw emotions it still evoked in the Bondmates. Shepard only continued to see her therapist because of Liara's insistent... persuasions, and even then, only opened up enough to please the shrink. She couldn't imagine having the same candid discussions with her daughters.
Still, she wondered why Vari was treating this so scandalously. Perhaps she felt lied to? That certainly wasn't Shepard's intentions.
"She said you died, Papa."
Oh. There was that. Suddenly, the terrified look in Vari's eyes made Shepard's already nervous stomach take a nasty lurch. No wonder she looked as if she'd seen a ghost. While the Commander did not put much, if any, stock in people's opinion of her, there was a certain few individual she did care for, and young Vari was certainly at the top of that list.
The child's ever persistent frown deepened with confusion.
"She said you died and came back to life two years later. But... not even Krogan can do that. Not even Uncle Wrex. Papa, did you really die?"
Shepard swallowed thickly, colour draining from her features at the look of fear and uncertainty in Vari's eyes. She rarely spoke with Liara about this, and when they did, it was nothing short of a struggle. And she spoke to Liara about everything. But, if she couldn't manage it with her Bondmate, how could she with her little girl? Furthermore, she would never lie to her children, but judging by her current reaction, how would Vari respond? Would she hate and despise the Commander? Fear her? Shepard felt ill at the mere thought of it.
"I-I did." The human eventually spoke, her voice more of a croak than intended, eyes falling to the carpet. Mere mention of her death threatening to bring with it memories. Cold, tight, silent panic. She could feel her throat closing involuntarily, muscles coiling in preparation. But she couldn't lose herself now. Not with Vari next to her, already sceptical and fearful of her father. She couldn't lose her. And with that, the thought of losing Vari, driving her away, disgust in her daughter's eyes brought an entirely fresh panic that threatened to surface. Shepard felt her breathing become shallow.
Without a word, Vari edged her way closer to her father, crawling into the human's lap. Inches away, Vari examined Shepard's features, raising a delicate hand, tracing the divots on Shepard's face, down lines and wrinkles deepened with stress and scars that had long healed.
The child's breath hitched slightly. She had never really considered her Papa's features before. She knew the human bore scars. but lots of adults did, across all species. It was hardly unusual. She had dismissed them as a mere quirk of life, like the hue of her skin or markings on her face.
Her eyes flitted upwards to the Commander's hairline, while till illuminatingly red and fiery, showed preliminary signs of age, hints of greying at her temples, which only helped to accentuate the slight wrinkles in Papa's face, invisible from afar, but up close, Vari could only marvel at the contours of the human's face, each line and hollow telling their own story, ones that Shepard had never spoke and Vari had yet to hear.
Eyes roaming across the crows feet by the human's eyes, Papa caught Vari's gaze. Green eyes examined their equally electrifying counterparts and Vari was lost in her Papa's stare. The human's expression was a swirl of emotion, glints of depth shifting in and out of focus, promising as many answers as they had questions.
And hut then it occurred to the young Asari that her father perhaps hid behind a mask. She had heard of the illustrious 'Shepard' before and tales of their conquests, battles and sacrifices. Similarly she knew her father as a kind, calm and embarrassingly goofy human, who could be equal parts infuriating and endearing, often at the same time, and who seemed to know Vari's thoughts before she even had time to think them. To discover that these two people were one and the same was jarring. That The Shepard, who brought life back to the Krogan, who demolished Reapers with a glare and unlocked the secrets of the Geth and Rachni, who blew up an entire system as a middle finger to Harbinger and his forces, was her Papa? Her Papa, who hoovered and cooked and once tried to blame a fart on the goldfish. It didn't make sense. Papa was too... boring.
And then Vari felt overwhelmingly guilty for thinking Papa was boring. For thinking her strange for staying at home with Izzy while Mama went to work and she went to school, when there was an entire galaxy to explore, choosing to do housework and chores when people like Uncle Garrus or Brother Grunt flew around colonies and systems, doing important talky stuff with important talky people. She had actually brought the issue up with her father before, only receiving a simple response to go with a simple smile. "I've never had a proper house before. I want to keep this one neat." Vari swallowed. Maybe it wasn't so simple.
She took in the image of her father's features one more, this time in its entirety. A face she had seen near enough every day of her life, but now, it felt as if she was gazing upon it for the very first time. For Asari, being forty-something years old was nothing, a child's first step into maidenhood. Even for humans, while not young, was nothing particularly remarkable, barely middle-aged, even if that. So Vari had never considered Papa old. But looking at her now, Papa appeared positively ancient.
And fragile. As hard as she tried to hide it, Vari saw fear and worry swimming below the surface of her father's eyes. After all, she knew her father. So the mere fact that this information came as a surprise to Vari made another wave of emotion swell in her chest. Of pride and admiration for her Papa. Because if Vari Was The Shepard, she'd have business cards and brass bands announcing her arrival. Everyone would know exactly who they were dealing with.
But Papa wasn't like that. She was quiet and reserved and just... Papa. Before Vari could take that thought further, one overriding slice of information flitted to the surface. One that evoked a strange feeling in her chest and made the child react without thinking. Papa was scared. Uncertain. And Papa didn't deserve to feel like that. So she would make damn sure Papa didn't. The feeling flared up again and Vari recognised it from their last trip to Tuchanka, when one of Grunt's hatchlings became increasingly rough with Izzy, making Vari stay closer to her sister in case any of those pyjaks threatened to hurt her.
Similarly, the thought that someone would hurt her Papa and make her feel bad made Vari's blood boil. Silently, she vowed to smush anyone's face who would dare to try. But right now, she couldn't do anything about these people.
What she could do was make sure her Papa stopped feeling these feelings and start feeling better ones. So Vari sat up and wrapped her arms around Papa's neck, pressing her body into the human. Feeling Shepard's arms respond likewise, Vari couldn't help but feel secure in her father's embrace and tried her best to return the sentiment, entering, almost unconsciously into a shallow meld.
"I'm sorry, Papa." Vari muttered after a minute, severing the connection, embarrassed at letting her emotions get the better of her. She was a big girl, Goddess be damned. She needed to be big and brave for Mama and Papa and Izzy.
"What for?" Shepard replied, leaning back so that she could meet her daughter's gaze better, the previous uncertainty in her voice replaced with confusion/
In response Vari gave a small shrug, finding an embarrassed fascination in the top button of her father's shirt. "Just, everything. Like, two weeks ago, when I broke the fence with my biotics and you said I couldn't go to Sarah's party. I told you that I hated you." She blushed. "I-I never hated you."
After several seconds of silence where she had expected a harsh reprimand, Vari glanced up, only to find Papa giving her one of those looks that she gave Mama after being proven right. Finally on the receiving end, Vari understood why Mama found the look equal parts endearing and exasperating. In response to Shepard's semi-smug grin, Vari gave a small pout.
"And, Papa, not that I don't appreciate the whole saving the universe thing, but I like it better when you're not laughing in the face of certain death. You're much better alive."
Shepard gave a small snort.
"Me too. Now, I think it's time for someone's bed, don't you?"
"Yeah," Vari grumbled, deflating, before a thought struck her. "Hey, Papa? One more question?"
"Is it true that you flew a Mako across the Galaxy and crashed it into the Council Chambers?"
God. Was she ever going to live that one down? She got the joke. Maybe she wasn't the best of drivers.
Vari nodded, mollified, her lip tweaking into a small grin.