"Wait, wait, wait. You're… going? You're going." Tyrrana stared at her brother. "You're actually going."
Narius looked up from the stack of datapads on his desk. "I believe I said as much, yes."
"You're. Going to Earth."
"It's hardly a pleasure cruise, Tyrrana." Narius sounded annoyed. He looked annoyed. Tyrrana narrowed her eyes at him, and to his credit he let the silent glare stretch out nearly a full minute before he pushed his chair away from the desk with a frustrated exhale and rummaged around in a drawer. He flicked something flat and smooth across the desk's surface that slid and spun and nearly fell off the edge before Tyrrana plucked it up in her fingers and examined it.
"Pallin wants me there," he said. "A gesture of good faith. He is of the opinion that if C-Sec is going to recruit from the Alliance academy, there ought to be a… representative present."
"So, because Mister High and Mighty Executor," she said, disdain dripping from her mandibles, "doesn't want to go himself, he picked you." She tilted her head. "And what does Kalthea say?"
"What do you think she said?" he replied with a laugh. "She said she thought it was a marvelous opportunity, asked me to take plenty of pictures, and warned me to pack my own meals."
"So she isn't going with you?" she asked. Tyrrana knew precious little about Earth itself. Hell, most of what she did know about it came from Thena's email messages and late-night comm calls. Sometimes she felt as if she were exploring the planet with Thena, who'd spent most of her life on the Mindoir colony. Living planetside, she could tell, had taken some adjustment, particularly after two years on the Citadel. Of course, she'd had no doubt Thena would pull through, because that was the kind of stuff the kid was made of.
"I think she'd like to," he said on a sigh. "But Garrus will be home on leave that week and Solana's exhibiting her newest encryption program—"
She sunk down into the chair, passing the clearance pass back across the desk. "Spirits. When did they get so big?"
The look he gave her was a wry one, but the sadness thrumming through his subvocals told Tyrrana Narius didn't know the answer either. "Time doesn't stop when you're away," he said.
"True, but it shouldn't speed up, either." She exhaled a soft laugh, leaning forward and resting her forearms against Narius' desk. "I still remember when Garrus' fringe came in. He was so clumsy; off balance and knocking into everything—and poor Solana, thank the spirits she grew into her growth spurt. I thought she was going to be be all spurs and carapace there for a while."
Narius' smile was faint, but fond. "I suspect they miss you too."
Tyrrana shifted in her chair doing, she knew, a poor job of hiding her grimace. "Yes, let's all get together next time they're on the station. We'll have lunch. Won't be awkward at all, would it?"
He shot her a look that was all too easy to read, and even if it wasn't, his subvocals made his opinion more than clear. "I doubt either of them would care." You're being foolish, was what he wasn't saying. He didn't have to.
The worst part about it? He was probably right. But Tyrrana wasn't quite prepared for her little brother to be right just yet, and so she shook her head instead. "You know it as well as I do. Good turians don't just… leave service. They don't walk away from a promising career. And they sure as hell don't drop out of Blackwatch and fall off the grid entirely." She leveled a stern glare at her brother. "And they aren't bad influences on their impressionable nieces and nephews."
"Impressionable," he snorted. "The both of them are too stubborn to be impressionable."
"At least they come by it honestly."
Neither one said anything for a while, the silence filled by the sound of Narius' talons tapping gently against the desktop. It had been entirely unfair of him, bringing up Garrus and Solana like that; she hadn't seen either of them in years, and not by accident, either. She'd thought—and rightly so; no one would convince her differently—that her presence in their lives would be nothing short of complicated.
Complicated and complicating.
"I… realize," he finally said, "you had your reasons."
"Funny, I don't remember you saying that at the time."
"I didn't…" Tyrrana wasn't sure what word Narius wasn't saying, though it could easily have been agree or understand. "I didn't… comprehend your reasoning at the time. It was… unlike you."
She wasn't sure whether or not she agreed with that assertion. Had it been like her? She still didn't know. "And now?"
He met her gaze unflinchingly. "With age comes perspective. And I've seen a lot worse things since coming here than whatever you did or didn't do. Leaving Blackwatch seemed so… irresponsible, at a time when I looked up to you—"
"Looked up to me?" she broke in, browplates raising. "I… don't suppose you could say that again so I could record it?"
Narius shot her a cold glare, but kept on as if she hadn't interrupted at all. "I couldn't understand it—why you'd give up so much. Why you'd just walk away from it all when you had so much going for you."
She tilted back in the chair and sighed, running a hand over her head, talons tracing the edge of her fringe as she considered what to tell him. She'd never told him the truth—not the whole of it, anyway—and didn't quite feel like starting now. "I like what I'm doing now, Narius. The shelter. It… means something to me, in a way Blackwatch never did. Never could."
"Doing things like taking in scrawny duct rats and straightening their asses out?"
Tyrrana grinned at him. "Exactly that. And now look at what I get in return—I do all the heavy lifting and you get to go to the commissioning ceremony."
One of his browplates twitched as he said, dryly, "I hardly think she'll be pleased to see me there."
The words flew out of her mouth before Tyrrana could temper them—or stop them completely, which would have been the better idea. "Then let me go with you."
Leaning forward in her chair, Tyrrana braced her hands against Narius' desk. She hadn't meant to say the words, and intellectually she knew it was mad, but, "It could work."
"It could work and you know it. If you'd wanted to take your wife, you could have. It's not as if you're not allowed to bring a guest, right? I'm your sister. And it's not as if anyone on Earth is going to know me. If you didn't want to do that, put me in a C-Sec uniform and call me your… your personal assistant!" She shot him a wild grin. "I'll go, and I'll make sure you don't accidentally give yourself anaphylactic shock. It'll be great."
Narius looked for a moment, and it was a long, somehow painful moment, like he wanted to agree. He looked, truth be told, like he was about to agree, or at least acquiesce. Then he frowned and leaned back in his chair, giving her a look. She hated that look. It was the expression that said I've discovered a flaw in your cunning plan. The worst part about that look was that Narius was usually right.
"You realize that means coming clean with Shepard," he reminded her. "If we turn up together."
Tyrrana had really been hoping this time he'd be wrong. Damn him anyway, she thought with a scowl, drumming her fingers against the desk as she considered a way to avoid that particular wrinkle.
"We could simply tell her the truth," Narius suggested, but Tyrrana made a distasteful face and shook her head.
"No. A kid like that—"
"She's hardly a kid anymore, sister."
"Yeah, and Garrus grew into his fringe and Solana's not getting her spurs caught in doorways anymore. Doesn't make it any easier to accept. Anyway, what I was saying—a kid like Thena isn't going to appreciate learning we've been playing her this whole time."
"May I remind you my contact with Shepard ended when she left this station," Narius said, a stern edge to his voice. "If anyone's been 'playing' her, it's—"
"Yes, yes; I know," Tyrrana retorted, flicking her hand in a shooing motion as she leaned back in the chair and addressed the ceiling. "If anyone's been playing her, it's me and me alone, and spirits could you just share the blame with me this once?"
Silence reigned for several moments before Narius said, more quietly, the edge gone from his voice and replaced with soft weariness. "Do you never tire of lying, Tyrrana?"
That was a hell of a question to blindside her with, but at least he did it while she was sitting down and already avoiding his eyes. "I do, now that you mention it," she answered quietly, still leaning back in the chair, still looking at the ceiling. And that, strangely, was the truth. "And it's ironic, because I came to hate Blackwatch because of the lies."
"If black ops teams dealt in truth and forthrightness," Narius reminded her dryly, "I doubt they would be called black ops."
Tyrrana only snorted. The nerve Narius had touched when he mentioned how it had been she and not they who'd played Thena this long was now exposed and throbbing. At the time she'd been acting on the assumption Thena, like so many humans, would have had an innate distrust of turians. And she'd always figured on coming clean… someday. But there were always too many good excuses not to do that. Of course, they'd seemed more like reasons than excuses before, but now, particularly with Narius' cool blue gaze on her, firm and stern but not quite judgmental (which made it all the worse, not that she'd ever tell him that), she was acutely aware of every less-than-truth, every lie of omission, and every single justification.
This was why she didn't visit her brother often. It was why she darted and changed the subject every time Thena mentioned coming to the Citadel when she had school breaks. It was why Thena hadn't come back to the Citadel since she'd left it.
It was a ridiculous scheme anyway, she thought, darkly, to want to attend a human ceremony at a human institution on a human planet, surrounded by—
"Tell her I owed you a favor," Narius said abruptly. Tyrrana shot upright in the chair and stared at him.
"What did you say?"
"I said," he repeated calmly, "tell Shepard I owed you a favor. She knows perfectly well you provide C-Sec with intelligence. She won't doubt you. And in the meantime," he added, gathering together several datapads and stacking them neatly, "I will see about acquiring a pass for you. Provided, of course, you don't consider it to be too much of a demotion to be introduced as my… protege."
"Your protege?" she echoed, incredulously.
He tilted his head, arching a browplate at her. "It's better than being my assistant, isn't it?"
Thena was going to ruin everything.
"What are you talking about?" she all but croaked. "You can't just… skip it."
"Sure I can," she replied, the connection making her voice crackle and waver. "It's just a formality anyway. Not as if it means anything. I'll still get commissioned."
She clapped a hand over her eyes. Clearly the kid didn't realize just how much of a love affair turians had with formalities. Damn it. Trying to think fast and not give away the surprise, Tyrrana took a deep breath that was meant to be both fortifying and steadying, and let it out again. She would be calm. Serene. Collected. She would convince Thena that formalities and ceremonies were the best things ever.
Right, a dry voice popped up from somewhere far, far in the back of her brain, because you were so easy to convince, weren't you? Because you didn't try to wiggle and weasel out of every single awards presentation, ascendancy ceremony, and every other instance of turian protocol for most of your young adult life?
"It's a commissioning ceremony," she explained patiently, while the voice in her head jeered at her hypocrisy. "A milestone. Spirits, Thena, you can't just blow it off—you'll regret it for the rest of your life!" Tyrrana grimaced, trying not to cringe at the blatancy of the lie—the enormous load of… fiction—she just told, and relieved beyond words that Thena couldn't see her.
The younger woman's voice came through the comm sounding too tinny by half, which made her dry chuckle sound far more cynical than it had any right to at her age. Had she been that cynical at twenty-two?
Crap, she thought, mandibles flaring in irritation.
"Tyrrana, come on. Life-long regret? Are you being serious here?"
Running a hand over her fringe, Tyrrana paced from one end of the back room to the other. What could she tell Thena, anyway? That Narius was actually looking forward to it, despite his grumbling protests to the contrary? That she'd be there? That they'd had to pull strings and call in favors to coax another pass out of that son-of-a-bitch Pallin? That she was willingly going to survive on dextro field rations for a week to go to this stupid thing?
That she'd had to agree to wear a C-Sec uniform?
All right, she thought, pacing the length of the room once more before turning around and heading back again. Think. You're reasonably intelligent and you haven't been out of spec ops that long. You can handle outmaneuvering a twenty-two year old kid.
"Why don't you want to go?" she asked.
"Who the hell am I going to invite?" she asked, defensiveness nearly covering the twinge of sadness in her tone. "I've been issued four tickets. I have no one to give them to. I mean, I can't ask you to come all the way down here from the Citadel. It's… it's too much."
"You'd want me there?" she asked lightly.
"Why wouldn't I?" Thena's reply came without hesitation and that made a traitorous sort of warmth wiggle its way under Tyrrana's plates.
"There is the whole turian thing," she said pointedly. She couldn't help but smile when Thena let out a snort.
"Yeah, and I know I wouldn't be here at all if it wasn't for you. You… man," she said, stopping and laughing. "I'm glad I'm not there."
"Because you'd swat me for this and tell me not to be such a sap." Thena sighed and the rush of air crossed the speakers as static. "Fact is, I don't know where I'd be if you hadn't… taken an interest. I could've gotten myself killed, or got sucked in by the Shadow Broker—I might've wound up on a prison ship somewhere. I know that. And you kept my ass straight. I know that too. And it couldn't have been easy. Believe me, I know that most of all."
"Don't be such a sap," Tyrrana murmured. Thena chuckled. "Listen," she said. "Do it. Just… do it, so I can at least see you graduate on the vids, okay?"
There was a long, incredulous pause. "You… want to see it?"
"Kid, you're severely underestimating just how much we turians love our pomp and circumstance. Of course I want to see it." She chuckled. "Second best thing to being there."
"Second best thing to being here?"
Tyrrana grinned down at her former charge as graduates, dignitaries, and well-wishers jostled them in the post-ceremony rush; some things never changed, didn't vary, no matter the species. "Can you blame me? I didn't want to spoil the surprise."
Crossing her arms over her chest, Thena arched a disbelieving eyebrow at Tyrrana and looked her up and down. "Yeah, well, seeing you in C-Sec blues definitely counts as a surprise."
"Oh, the less said about that the better. Blue was never my color."
Thena laughed and shook her head. "Don't tell me you joined up just for the privilege of attending this seminal event," she drawled. Oh, Tyrrana could see—she was trying to play it cool, trying to pass it off as if this were the most normal thing in the world, but her smile was just a little too wide, her words punctuated with just a little too much laughter. "How did you even get here? How— just how?"
"For starters, I absolutely did not join up with C-Sec." Tyrrana glanced around; Narius was entrenched in conversation with an Alliance man he was acquainted with on the Citadel. Anderson something. Something Anderson. She wasn't surprised; for all he was stiff and reserved, Narius was better at the formal mingling than she was. Always had been. "I helped Vakarian out with a few cases," she said. "Got him some really sweet intel. I figured this was good a way as any to cash in a favor."
"Sneaky," Thena replied, looking impressed. "So you're posing as his…?"
"Protege," Tyrrana answered smoothly before giving a well-practiced snort. "Like I'd agree to stand in as his assistant. Please."
Thena glanced over to where Narius was standing, then back at Tyrrana. "And he agreed to that?" she asked, lowering her voice.
Though Tyrrana smiled, a faint pang twinged sharply in her chest. It was his idea, kid. "Well, you know, it took some convincing." The reply came easily, though the ache worsened. It was entirely inconvenient that she should be remembering her brother's admonishments in regards to her… flexible relationship with the truth. And yet.
For years now, Thena had credited Tyrrana with getting her off the station; she always had. She believed it had been Tyrrana who'd pushed her into the Academy, who'd helped her reach this point—a newly commissioned officer with a whole future ahead of her. But the reality of it was that Tyrrana had did remarkably little; for all that she teased her brother, he'd done more than his fair share of the "heavy lifting" in this little pet project of hers. Hell, it had been his acquaintance with Anderson that got Thena into the Academy. It had been his hard lessons, and the fact that he'd never shied away from being a hard-plated bastard when the need arose, that had helped shape her into the mature young woman standing tall before Tyrrana in her dress blues right now. She'd done, in the grand scheme of things, remarkably little.
And yet here she was, taking all the credit for the poised young woman standing before her. Nothing remained of the scrawny girl who whose nightmares had woken her screaming so many nights. Thena's calm self-assurance bore no resemblance whatsoever to the undersized whelp who'd tried to assault not one, but two Eclipse members outside Chora's Den. In fact, there was now a flinty edge in her eyes, some unspoken something in the tilt of her chin, that made Tyrrana think it'd be Eclipse mercs who'd be in trouble if a similar scenario ever unfolded itself.
She saw Narius in the calm self-assurance; she saw herself in that flinty edge.
"I'm surprised it didn't take outright bribery," Thena chuckled, her words yanking Tyrrana's train of thought away from that particular course.
"Nah, not a C-Sec man like Vakarian," she replied, glancing again at her brother, wondering if he thought they'd done as good a job as she did. "Don't think you'd find one more straight and narrow than him."