AN: It has been a while since I updated this story. I lost a lot of steam for it. Maybe I'll keep updating now, or maybe its time to mark it complete already. Some of the stories I come up with for it seem like they could easily stand up on their own. It's something I'll have to think about.
"Why isn't Mom coming with us tonight?"
It's an excuse. About a month ago Liara had let Shepard stay home while she attended a fundraiser. In exchange, Shepard agreed to one day take Liara's place in turn for just such an event. That da is today. Liara has called in the favor to catch the season finale of her favorite TV show. Unwilling to suffer alone, Shepard pestered her daughter to come as well, and Benny, also unwilling to suffer alone, pestered Sarah to do the same.
The three of them piled into Shepard's skycar, dressed to the nines. Sarah was relaxed, having long grown used to going to these things. Benny is used to them too, but she doesn't enjoy them nearly as much. Shepard, as always, is loath to rub shoulders with the Galaxy's elite, but is beholden to her promise.
"You aren't going to be rude are you?" Asks Benny, looking out the window, pointedlynot looking at her father.
"What are you talking about? I'm not rude"
"No, but you will be if she's there"
This piques Sarah's interest. "Who are you talking about? She is met with silence. The mood in the car takes a dour turn as Shepard stares moodily ahead, gripping the controls a bit too rigidly. Aware that she is walking a minefield, Sarah leans closer to Benny, whispering "What were you talking about?"
"It's complicated. My dad has certain grudges that make parties like this…uncomfortable"
"Just tell me"
"It's not my place to say"
Shepard can't help a sardonic smile. "I can hear you, you know"
"Then can you tell me what the big deal is?" Asks Sarah, "I'm really curious now"
"It's no big deal"
"It is a big deal," Argues Benny, "you always ruin the night whenever she comes around"
"Who are you guys talking about already!?"
Shepard's face is all unwillingness to answer, a rigid smile and an expression betraying her inability to come up with a good lie. "We're here"
So they are. They pull up to the front of an austere-looking building where a line of expensive cars are already arrayed at the front like a procession of ants. From out these cars step the galaxy's rich and famous; celebrities and philanthropists both, with pretty people in glitzy clothes at their arms.
Sarah is the first one out of the car, wearing a billowy tunic/dress hybrid that was in a fashion magazine not two days ago. She was the one who modeled it. She tosses the valet the car's access fob, circling around the car to open the door for Benny. She had convinced the Asari to wear a dress tonight, and is making the most of it, helping her out of the door like a storybook prince, completely unable to hide how giddy she is to show off her bondmate in such a public venue. She does not often get the chance.
Shepard steps out as well, eliciting the usual flurry of photo-flashes. Liara isn't with her, so she isn't bothering to dress too well. A simple suit will suffice for tonight. But even in mundane clothes she attracts attention.
Ignoring the slew of floating cameras, Shepard ushers her family into the benefit hall where all the pretty people are mingling in a tastefully-designed interior, complete with indoor waterfalls and snack-bearing wait staff circulating the crowd. Shepard and Sarah immediately pounce when a waiter passes by holding up a tray of mysterious cheeses. Benny pretends not to know them as they scarf the whole it all down.
Despite Shepard's misgivings it is a fun evening. She bonds with her daughter-in-law by gallivanting from waiter to waiter, eating what they can find. Every now and then Benny makes them stop to talk to such and such a person, and to her surprise she enjoys their company. There is a Krogan from one of the less-fortunate wards who runs an animal shelter for the Citadel's strays. There is a young Asari maiden whose recent inheritance has made her the fourth richest person in the building, and she is looking for a worthy cause to throw money at. There is a Turian designer that Sarah knows who positively gushes over Shepard, eager to make her some outfits so that she can advertise his line ("Oh the human market is bursting right now! Bursting! I could double my sales if you wore just one of my shirts in public!"). She surprises herself by telling him she'll think about it.
"Shepard, how do you do?"
There is a heavy pause. Sarah looks at Shepard confusedly, and then at the Asari that has addressed them. Shepard's entire demeanor transforms into something alien and frosty.
Who is this woman? Shepard does not respond to her, does not look at her, and does not even remotely acknowledge her. She just walks past, snubbing her. Sarah and Benny follow lamely. Sarah casts a backwards glance, the Asari is looking at them ruefully.
"You wanted to know who my dad had a grudge against?" Says Benny, "That's her"
The Asari is beautiful. Stunning really. She has these beautiful white face markings that enhance her beauty in all the right ways; there's something primal in the way the speckle her face, made all the more alluring by her overt sophistication. Sarah wonders if it's a full-body thing. She would make a fantastic model.
"Yeah, Councilor Tevos"
Indeed, the woman that Shepard has pointedly ignored, the woman who is now holding back despondence behind a rigid smile, is the one of the most powerful Asari in the Galaxy.
It doesn't take a lot to get on Shepard's shit-list, but it requires tremendous effort to get on her "you're dead to me" list. All three Councilors (some of them former councilors now) are close to the top. Tevos, Sparatus and Valern; Shepard carries on her life quite amicably with the rest of the galaxy, but with those three she is hostility incarnate.
Perhaps it is juvenile of her, this anger. After all, who would believe one person warning of doom and destruction at the hands of sentient death-machines? Who would mobilize the galaxy's military on the word of a single woman? The council was acting on logic and common sense, and no-one can truly fault them for that.
But that decision nearly cost them everything. For that, they are dead to her. Especially Sparatus; he has the cracked mandible to prove it. "Ah yes, Reapers." No forgiveness for those particular air quotes. Her grudge isn't limited to the council either. There is also Admiral Han Gerrel, Gavin Archer, the former Salarian Dalatrass, and the person responsible for creating "Perry the Pyjak" (Benny had liked it so much that, overall, Shepard and Liara had spent much of her infancy watching it).
Just the sight of these people sends Shepard into a quiet rage. It can be quite stressful on both parties, and is part of the reason why Shepard is taking a leave of absence from her political duties; going so far as to consider permanent resignation.
Tevos is the only one that doesn't seem to be getting the message.
She's a persistent woman, always greeting Shepard with a pleasant smile which is always ignored. At social functions Shepard pretends she isn't even there. She has a nasty and embarrassing habit of leaving conversations when Tevos joins them, and Liara usually has to smooth over the ensuing awkwardness. This rejection was made abundantly clear when, during a corporate function thrown in celebration of Shepard's birthday (which, had she known about it, she would have done everything in her power to prevent)Tevos had brought her a present. There was no present-opening during the function itself, but when Shepard saw the councilor's name on the pile she didn't think twice about throwing that specific package in the trash, unopened. Though this was only witnessed by a few, the fact that it happened at all circulated the party like wildfire, ultimately making for an extremely uncomfortable evening for just about everyone. Tevos, ever the diplomat, smiled and pretended that nothing had happened. Shepard just left.
Needless to say, this was startlingly petulant behavior for an otherwise mature woman.
After the function Shepard drives Benny and Sarah home. She hugs them and kisses Benny's temple. Don't stay out too late, Benny says. Shepard smiles at that, her daughter knows her too well. After leaving she drives to a bar in the Presidium. She's too famous to go someplace ordinary, and this particular bar is always respectful of her privacy.
She goes to her usual spot; the stool at the far side of the counter. No-one else is there, leding the place an ethereal quality beside the art-deco theme of virtually everything inside. The bartender nods, sliding her a small glass of something purple that Shepard doesn't know the name of. It always puts her in a thoughtful mood.
It's childish of her to bear a grudge, she knows that, especially against people that are, for all intents and purposes, quite decent. Hell, she's hardly perfect. She's made mistakes herself, lots of them. But old anger doesn't dissipate easily. When Sparatus mocked her warnings, she wanted to crack his skull against the floor. When Gavin Archer offered her his lame apologies she wanted to shoot him in the kneecaps. When Tevos told her that there was a secret on Thesia that could have won them the war, a secret that they had held on to for centuries, Shepard wanted to slap her in the face.
Han Gerrel, she did actually hit, but she wanted to do so much more.
But Shepard doesn't do that. She didn't even punch Khalisah Bint Sinan al-Jilani when she had the chance. Instead she holds onto that anger, bottling it up and holding onto it for years until she can release it in very small increments in petulant shows of passive aggression. And she's been angry for a very long time; such a long time that sometimes she wonders if she isn't just being angry for the sake of being angry.
Someone slips into the seat next to her, prompting mild annoyance. Shepard looks at the arrival, eyes widening in momentary surprise, before she shakes her head and grins sardonically.
"I'm surprised to see you in a place like this"
Aria, dressed in her signature white jacket, grimaces. She motions for the bartender. "I'll never understand the appeal of places like these. How do they stay open when barely anyone comes?" She takes the small drink menu and flaps it in Shepard's face. "What's up with this? Only five drinks offered on a given day? I don't get it"
"I appreciate the quiet, the simplicity. You can come here and trust that nothing will get in the way of your thinking"
"And that is why we'll never see eye-to-eye"
Shepard remembers Omega. She remembers Nyrene. She suspects that Aria is similarly speculative.
After a long pause Shepard speaks. "You going to tell me why you followed me here?"
"Maybe I just wanted to catch up. It has been a while"
"If that's true I'll buy you a drink. This purple stuff is pretty good"
"That's Armali spiced brandy, and no, I'm not here to do something so inane"
Shepard orders her the drink anyway. "You just took some of the mystery out of it. That was like half the flavor." She smiles, "It is good to see you again though. What are you doing so far away from Omega?"
"Business. I come here a few times a month to consolidate my interests"
"Ooh, how cryptic"
"You don't really want to know, and I don't care to discuss business with you anyway"
"How unlike you not to make a beeline for the point. Could it be that you're here for personal reasons?"
Aria grimaces again. "Just doing a favor for a friend"
"I wasn't aware you had many friends." Shepard falters. "I'm sorry, that was…"
"I'm a big girl Shepard. Your thoughtlessness doesn't faze me"
Shepard maintains a contrite silence that Aria is only too happy to follow.
"Tevos," Aria finally says
Ah. Tevos. Shepard's demeanor darkens. "What about her?"
"Talk to her"
That's a surprise. A huge surprise. Either Tevos has the pull to make Aria do something like this (unlikely), or there's something deeper there.
"What's it to you?"
No-one can say that Aria is anything but forthright. "I'm not going to spell it out for you, so just settle for this warning: stop being such a colossal bitch to Tevos. It's puerile, and embarrassing, and if you pulled that shit with me I would have happily shot your face off years ago"
Shepard is unfazed, something of a snarl making its way to her face. "Try again"
Aria's eyes burn blue, and before Shepard can react she's being launched clear across the room. She collides with the wall, making a crack in the finish. Her hand flies to a gun that is not at her waist. She curses. She watches as Aria makes a show of walking up to her, lowering to one knee so that they're eye-to-eye. Her fist is engulfed in an angry corona of blue, but her eyes are once again calm.
"You just gave yourself away," says Shepard, smiling. "What is she to you? Not just a friend, surely"
"I don't remember you being this cheeky"
"I don't remember you being this…" Shepard winces, "sensitive"
"Trust me when I say that what you've seen so far has been my utmost restraint"
Shepard laughs. Aria is a person who wears her heart on her sleeve, and yet that blow was probably the most genuine interaction they had ever had. Of course, not counting…
"That so? I wonder how well you kiss when you aren't holding back"
Shepard sighs. "This really matters to you huh?"
Aria keeps glaring.
"Fine. I'll think about it"
Aria nods, passing her a card that reads the name and address of another high-class bar not far from where they are. Shepard half-smirks. How subtle.
Neither of them is likely to get much more out of the other than that. Aria helps her up and they finish their drinks. The bartender doesn't say anything about the brief upheaval, perhaps because she is used to these things. She offers them another drink and they both refuse. Arias pays for both of them before Shepard can even try. It's a soft thing for Aria to do, and Shepard wonders what has been happening in her life for her to act so unpredictably.
Food for thought.
When she gets to her car she turns the card over and over again in her fingers, pondering it through the haze of slight tipsiness. She sighs, wondering what the hell she thinks she's doing as she punches in the directions to the second bar. The car lifts into the air without her having to control it, and it makes its way to Councilor Tevos.
It feels like Déjà vu when Shepard slides into the booth at the far end of the Blue Mandible bar on the Presidium. Contrary to what the name might imply, it is a bar that caters almost exclusively to Asari. Other species are allowed of course, but everything in the establishment is meant to cater to Asari tastes.
Unlike the bar she just left, this one is livelier. The floor is crowded with patrons bustling for drinks and orders of food Shepard only barely recognizes. She reminds herself to ask Liara about Asari cuisine later. It takes some time to find the right table, mostly because it is in a private room, but Shepard isn't surprised, Tevos never struck her as the type for social drinking.
Tevos is surprised though, very surprised. She stares at Shepard as if she isn't entirely sure she's there. It takes her a moment to remember herself, straightening her back to recover some poise. She hadn't expected company tonight, or if she did then they had already come and left. A politician like Tevos can't afford to be seen drinking in a place like this, but if she has to be then she's going to look her best.
"Don't you ever turn it off?"
Shepard has caught her very much off guard. "What?"
"You tensed up when I came in. Sat up straight, You don't always have to be a politician you know"
"Strange advice coming from a politician"
Shepard notices Tevos's fingers trembling. "I'm not here to hurt you"
"I know that. How did you know I was here?"
"Yeah. I was surprised too"
Tevos lets out an exasperated sigh. "She never listens"
Interesting reaction. "She told me to talk to you"
"And where is she now?"
"How should I know? She didn't tell me her plans for the evening"
"Damn it Aria!" A blue fist collides with the table. Tevos immediately winces in pain, gripping her hand delicately; not a woman built for sudden acts of violence. It's actually pretty funny.
"Whatever, I'm here. I'm listening. If you have something to say then say it"
Tevos takes a moment to ponder her drink. It's the same purple stuff that Shepard was gulping down at the previous bar, and from the looks of it, it isn't Tevos's first drink of the night. She stares into the small glass, expression schooled, but tight, as if she wants to say a thousand things but lacks the wherewithal to say them all. She chuckles. "You ignore me for years and I'm supposed to have something prepared? Sorry, but I don't"
Shepard waits. Tevos takes a breath.
"You know, after the first year of you ignoring me I started wondering what I would say to you if we ever spoke again. I've wondered for so long. And now I just can't think of anything to say"
"How about "sorry Shepard, for ignoring your warnings so many times. If only I had listened to you, we might have prevented trillions of deaths""
Tevos smiles. It's small, faint;. There's more regret in that smile than a hurt expression could ever manage.
"Is that really what you want from me? Will it really mean anything?"
"Maybe not, but it couldn't hurt"
Tevos shrugs. "I'm not sorry for my actions preceding the war. Yes, if I had believed you we might have cobbled together a marginally better defense. But really? Reapers?" Her laughter is short-lived and humorless. "The very notion was too ridiculous to entertain. Any person with common sense would have done the same"
"Yeah, but then it turned out I was right"
"That's true." Tevos smiles again, ghosting a rueful glance at Shepard's eyes before looking forlornly to the side. Shepard wonders if Tevos feels as numb as she does. "You saved us all"
Shepard remembers that conversation in the Normandy's comm-room after the failed mission on Thessia. All she could give Tevos then was mumbled apologies as they both received news of Thessia's slow downfall. There was no anger then, just the brief, split-second certainty that doom was imminent. Shepard had fantasized about railing at Tevos then, maybe throwing the blame at her. But the Asari's grief was palpable, and her anger had mollified.
She looks at Tevos now. There is some semblance of that grief now. You don't have to be a soldier to have bad memories of the war.
"You saved us," Tevos repeats. "I will always be grateful for that. So…if I were to tell you anything, I suppose that it would be "Thank you." I don't think I ever thanked you personally. You never really gave me the chance. But…that's fine I suppose. I don't mind if you ignore me, disdain me, or hate me. I would bear it happily for the rest of my life if I had to, if it made up in any way for our treatment of you." She takes a breath, as if vindicated, and she looks much lighter, happier. "I…am glad I got to say that. Though I disapprove of Aria's methods, I am glad she got you to talk to me"
Shepard gets up without warning and shoves her way out of the bar. The air outside is implausibly cold. The Presidium is almost always at room temperature, even outside, but it is cold now. Shepard is chilly and nauseous. She reaches for something to lean against, groping for a wall but encountering nothing. She stumbles, almost tripping to the ground. She has to sit down. A nearby bench provides this service.
You can't really hate someone when your impression of them is based on a few sterile encounters. For a very long time Tevos has been the impassive bitch that made Shepard's job harder than it needed to be. She was no better than that bigot Sparatus, or that asshole Valern.
But she was. Is. She is much better than they ever were. From their first encounter Tevos had been the most reasonable of the original council. She wasn't condescending, and her judgments were never too harsh. In some morbid fashion she had become, to Shepard, a maternal figure; someone from whom Shepard expected at least some modicum of support in the face of the biased council.
She didn't get that support until it was too late. Perhaps this is why her disdain for Tevos has persisted for so long, growing like some sick, psychological fungus. Shepard realizes that perhaps the reason she did not speak or even acknowledge her for so long was because she wanted to hold on to that resentment, that infantile piece of herself that would always want to lord over the fact that she was right, and the council was wrong.
Trillions of lives in exchange for petty vindication. The Reapers do so exist, losers.
Shepard isn't surprised when Tevos follows her. She makes for an odd image; a beautiful Asari in a stylish dress, stumbling drunkenly to Shepard's bench. She sits inelegantly onto it, and then settles into Shepard's silence. She shivers from the cold.
Shepard wordlessly takes off her jacket and gives it to her.
Tevos accepts it. "Thank you. I'm glad you didn't really leave"
Shepard won't apologize to her. Not yet. Maybe never. Sometimes resentment is as hard to remove as gristle at the bottom of a pot. But she has to tell her something. She takes a breath, unsure of what she's about to say, but knowing that any words she has to offer will be valued. Maybe even if they're curses. Maybe Tevos is morbid too.
"So…you and Aria. There's a story there"
If the atmosphere was heavy before it is relieved of that weight now. Tevos laughs. It's not the one she uses at functions for dignitaries that tell bad jokes. This is a real laugh, with a girlish lilt and everything. You can't be mad at someone when they aren't really who you think they are. Even if for a moment, you can't be mad at someone when they laugh like that.
"If the public knew the particulars of that story then my career would be over"
"Something steamy then?"
Tevos smiles, but says nothing.
"You'll have to tell me sometime"
"Maybe I will"
Is that a promise? Shepard had uttedit without thinking. They look at one another. They could have been friends once. Maybe they can be now.
"So…Sparatus and Valern. You keep in touch with them?"
"Goddess no," begins Tevos, teasingly pensive, "I never cared enough for either enough to keep in touch"
They share a laugh. "You're kidding. I thought you were all best friends or something"
Shepard isn't this forgiving, and Tevos isn't this indulgent, but their feelings are just the right balance of resentment and gratitude for things to be…comfortable. Easy even. By the time they stop talking, it is already light out, and Shepard feels lighter. Doubtless Liara already knows where she is and what she's been doing. She wonders if Liara is on speaking terms with Tevos. Are they friends?
Either way she'll be happy to see that grudge gone. Despite herself, Shepard certainly is.