Thena'd never had any idea turians could run so damned fast.
It was early enough the track was more or less deserted and would be for a while yet—the magic hour, after the hardcore early birds had come and gone, but still before anyone accustomed to rising at a sane, sensible hour would make it down to the exercise facility.
Thena didn't care what time it was, as long as it meant nobody was going to see her sucking wind while she struggled to keep up with a turian at least three decades her senior. She gritted out a curse under her breath and through her teeth and urged her burning legs to give her just a little more distance, just a little more something. It was cold comfort that Tyrrana never got quite more than a leg-length—granted, a turian leg-length—or two ahead of her. Gritting her teeth, Thena lengthened her stride, pushing, pushing, pushing just a little harder. She couldn't make her legs move any faster than they were, but she could try to get the most out of every step, placing just a little more pressure each time she pushed off.
It was the legs, she decided.
The fact that turians could look that awkward and gangly and be just that fast wasn't just one of the galaxy's greatest secrets—it was also one of the galaxy's greatest injustices.
"You're lagging, Shepard," Tyrrana called back to her, sounding entirely too amused as she did.
Thena swallowed back two or three or eleven less than flattering comebacks and pushed off harder with each step. She wasn't a stranger to running—but this… this wasn't running. This was ten kilometers of balls-to-the-wall keeping up with the alien who, all appearances to the contrary, had evidently been built for speed.
Almost every morning for nearly sixteen weeks, Thena followed Tyrrana's lead. The first few weeks had been five kilometers, then Tyrrana'd upped it to ten, followed by hand-to-hand training, followed by whatever else struck Tyrrana's fancy. Cardio. Battle simulations. Hours at the gun range.
It's not going to be easy. You're probably going to hate me when it's over.
Tyrrana's words to her. Her words to Thena before sixteen weeks of PT, of therapy appointments, of brain scans.
Thena didn't hate her. Yet. Another 10k, though, and that was going to get iffy.
Sixteen weeks of what had to be tasteless dextro rations, of waking to Tyrrana shaking her out of a nightmare's grip (she never asked how Tyrrana knew, or how she got into Thena's room; she was only grateful the other woman was there at all), of difficult questions with even more difficult answers. And over sixteen weeks, Thena's scans had shown improvement in the frontal and temporal lobes. The improvement just wasn't happening fast enough.
Sixteen weeks of Thena stonewalling Tyrrana and Doctor Reyes on the matter of the "therapeutic" thresher maw simulator. Another set of scans were coming up. Impending brain scans meant she could expect Tyrrana to broach the simulation question again. That was one conversation she and Tyrrana embroiled themselves in, week after week, after week. Thena had no intention of budging.
Thena's thoughts slid sideways as she realized Tyrrana was pulling further ahead of her. She gritted out a curse and pushed out a burst of speed. Couldn't be more than a kilometer to go. Maybe more.
God, she hoped it wasn't more.
Finally—finally Tyrrana slowed to a lope and Thena did her best not to look relieved as they cooled down. Sweat poured from her scalp, dripping profusely from the ends of her short hair; she'd worn her hair long her entire life, and this… well, it wasn't quite as short as it had been when Tyrrana first showed up, but it was a far cry from the length of jet black that had hung down to the middle of her back for so long. She ran a hand through it then gave her head a shake, sending droplets flying as she took the towel Tyrrana offered her. As they walked from the track to the gym's sparring ring, Tyrrana shot her a sidelong glance.
"Never better," Thena replied, rubbing the towel over her head and trying not to sound as out of breath as she felt.
It was… well, close to true, anyway. Even if she didn't have the scans backing her up, she was feeling better. "Better" had come by inches, and was often a relative term; some days she felt better than others, some nights she slept soundly while others were not so peaceful, some days she felt every inch the steady and grounded young woman she'd been before setting foot on Akuze, while some days she was erratic and short-tempered. "Better" meant the good days were gradually outnumbering the bad ones. Today… today was a good day so far, all things considered. The run had been rough, particularly at such a pace, but at no point had Thena's temper spiked and snapped for no reason (something that had happened fairly frequently sixteen weeks ago). Today her words and actions had a point. Today she wanted to be down here with Tyrrana, despite the likelihood that Tyrrana was going to kick her ass in hand to hand again.
In the center of the ring, they gripped forearms then stepped back and began circling each other slowly. Thena's next round of scans were in two weeks, and after that she would either return to active duty or face potential discharge—an honorable discharge, but a discharge nonetheless. Much as she was loath to admit it, things were coming down to the wire, and it was because of that she didn't begrudge Tyrrana her concern—hell, it was nice to have someone concerned for her.
But she still wasn't plugging herself into that simulation. Hell was welcome to freeze over first. She could do this on her own, thanks very much; she didn't need any stupid simulation to fix what was wrong with her.
Tyrrana threw a left cross that Thena blocked, followed by two jabs in lightning-quick succession that connected in sharp, tapping blows along her midsection. Taking a step back to regain her balance—to say nothing of gritting her teeth and swallowing her swear—Thena then bobbed and wove forward, but as her right arm shot out, Tyrrana hopped back, making a clucking sound at her.
"You're telegraphing your moves," she said, mandibles flaring as she shook her head at Thena. "Don't do that. Remember, I've played Skyllian Five with you—you're better at keeping things close to your chest than that."
"Y'know," Thena said, darting back and weaving to the right; Tyrrana's right hook connected with nothing but thin air, but it came close enough that Thena felt the air move as Tyrrana's fist flashed past, "it occurs to me you know a hell of a lot more about me than I do about you."
"Maybe," she said, throwing another punch that Thena narrowly blocked. "But it's not like I haven't got reasons for playing my cards close to my chest. Don't I always?"
"Reasons, sure," Thena replied, moving forward and throwing a jab that connected lightly with Tyrrana's shoulder. "But good reasons?"
Tyrrana wove away with a snort. "My reasons are always good reasons. Damned good ones." She turned, twisting her body with a grace that belied the sharp thump of her right hook, catching Thena solidly enough that she stumbled with a swear she didn't bother biting back. Thena couldn't interpret turian subvocals for shit, but she didn't need to—the satisfied smugness underneath Tyrrana's chuckle came through, loud and clear.
"So I'm just supposed to take your word for that, am I?"
"Hell of a time for you to start getting suspicious on me, kid."
"I'm not suspicious," protested Thena, her fist pushing forward in a sharp jab that glanced Tyrrana's midsection. "But I've known you for years now, and it's… hitting me just how much I don't know you."
Tyrrana's pale amber eyes narrowed as she appeared to give Thena's words some consideration. One of her browplates moved up a fraction of an inch and her expression turned somewhat… speculative.
"All right," she said finally, the words coming out in a long drawl, and Tyrrana wasn't the only one who could read another's poker tells—that browplate and that tone were worrying enough, but the twitching of her mandibles, which always looked so very much like a human trying to smother a grin, told Thena everything she needed to know about whatever was about to come out of Tyrrana's mouth.
Basically: tuck tail and run.
Problem was, Thena wasn't terribly keen on running. Unfortunately, Tyrrana knew that too. Damn her.
"I'll make you a deal," she said, subvocals curling and twisting almost lovingly around the syllables, like a ribbon of smoke off a doused candle. "You get three hits in—three consecutive hits—and I'll tell you anything you want to know about me."
"And if I don't?"
Cocking her head like a cat, Tyrrana answered, "You plug your ass into that simulation program."
The words hit Thena like a blast of arctic air and her stomach gave a hard lurch; she took an immediate step back, locking her arms across her chest. She hadn't even meant to—hell, she was practically halfway across the ring before she realized she'd even moved. "Oh, to hell with that."
Tyrrana didn't move, though, not an inch. Her browplate stayed cocked, her head remained tilted to the side. The hell with birds, turians—or at least this one in particular—was reminding Thena more and more strongly of a particularly manipulative house cat.
"What?" she said lightly. "Don't think you can beat an old timer?" Tyrrana made a clucking sound, flanged on the edges. "I'm disappointed in you, kiddo." Then she straightened, brushed imaginary dust from herself, and ran one hand over her crest. "Maybe we should call it quits early today, then. Hell, if you're not feeling up to a little wager against your so-very-much-older mentor, maybe you should take today off." Her mandibles stretched into a smirk. "Make yourself a cup of tea or something."
"I know what you're doing." And damned if Tyrrana wasn't doing it very well. Every one of Tyrrana's words were hitting their mark, picking at something in Thena like a scab. And despite the fact Thena was perfectly aware of Tyrrana's motivations—and the fact she'd never make a wager she couldn't win—there was still some little masochistic voice in her head that wanted to try.
She thought about just how badly she didn't want to use that simulator and weighed it against how badly she didn't want to back down from a challenge. From this challenge. From Tyrrana herself.
"Well," Tyrrana prompted. "What do you say? Offer like this isn't going to last indefinitely."
Thena ground her teeth until the sound echoed all through her head like claws scratching against a ship's hull. Her mind raced to take in every angle, every factor, every single possible outcome and consequence of taking Tyrrana up on her offer. There were a lot of factors to consider—more than just win or lose in any case—not the least of which was what she'd have to do if she lost, and how the hell she'd manage that.
You'll manage it, came a voice from the depths of, she was certain, her gut, right around where instinct lived. You lose, you'll run the sim. It'll suck, but it won't kill you. You don't wan to run the sim, don't lose.
Just don't lose. If that wasn't a hell of a piece of advice. Hard to tell whether it was helpful or not.
"You're on," Thena said suddenly, the words coming out in a blurt, as if her mouth was determined to commit Thena to something her brain wasn't quite ready for, spending credits her ass couldn't cover. Her mouth and gut, at least, appeared to be on the same team. Her brain wasn't completely averse to the idea—but neither was it entirely on board yet. No opinion yet from her ass.
Thena gave herself a brief, sudden shake. If she was going to win a wager against Tyrrana, anthropomorphizing her own body parts wasn't the way to do it.
Seconds ticked by. There was no way Tyrrana could have known about Thena's internal mutiny, but she cocked her head in concern all the same. "You sure?"
With a swallow, Thena nodded. She took a breath, straightened her spine, and lifted her chin. "I'm sure."
"All right," Tyrrana replied with a sudden, satisfied grin.
Crossing her arms, Thena "This is me getting three hits in—"
Three consecutive hits," Tyrrana corrected her. "If you throw a punch, you've got to connect. I block anything, you start back at one."
"Seems fair," Thena murmured, circling Tyrrana, as if pacing the perimeter of a bunker, looking for a weak point and finding none. Tyrrana carried herself well. Tall. Strong. Proud.
Wondering if she ever managed to radiate even a fraction of that kind of confidence, Thena asked, "How many tries do I get?"
"Kiddo," she drawled, "I could do this all day. How many tries do you want?"
"Come on," countered Thena, planting a fist on her hip and shifting her weight to her back foot. "We've got to have rules." She paused, shooting Tyrrana a goading smirk. "Turians love rules."
Tyrrana breathed a short chuckle as she shook her head. "Rules. I think you've got me mixed up with someone else. Good turians love rules."
The rules, such as they were, were Thena had to land three hits without Tyrrana blocking her. They did not have to be three quick blows in succession, but they all three had to connect. Tyrrana would only block, not hit back. On one hand, this made things simpler—Thena could focus her energies on offense without having to worry about defensive tactics and strategies. On the other hand, the same held true for Tyrrana—she only had to worry about defending herself and blocking Thena's hits.
"All right, kid," Tyrrana said, shifting her stance and bringing her hands up to block. "Say when."
Thena's pulse jumped with a sharp, panicky shudder and she drew in a deep breath, letting it out as slowly as her lungs would allow. She adjusted her stance as well and swallowed, focusing on her breathing, on everything she'd ever learned about Tyrrana's tactics.
Waiting—stalling, really—wasn't going to make anything easier, so, jerking her chin in a short, quick nod, Thena said, "Now."
It took next to no time at all for Thena to realize this was going to be a whole lot more difficult than she'd anticipated—and she'd already anticipated it was going to be difficult. Tyrrana was fast, and no matter how deeply Thena thought she understood Tyrrana's tactics and tendencies, when the woman was focused on defense, there was no getting past her. She moved with quick, almost snakelike grace, twisting and turning and catching punch after thwarted punch.
And the worst of it was she made it look easy. Five minutes in, sweat slicked Thena's skin anew, streaming into her eyes and trailing down her back. She noted every unprotected side, but no matter how quickly she moved, Thena could not get even a single jab past Tyrrana's defenses. But before frustration could ignite into anything more, something Tyrrana said to her flashed through her head like a flare.
You're telegraphing your moves. Don't do that. Remember, I've played Skyllian Five with you—you're better at keeping things close to your chest than that.
So maybe it wasn't a matter of knowing Tyrrana's tactics, but changing her own, instead.
She began thinking about her moves, her hand-to-hand preferences in terms of a poker game—or, better, chess. Back at the Academy, she'd excelled in hand-to-hand because she was quicker than her opponents, and she could read them. Now she had an opponent she couldn't read, but who could absolutely and without a doubt read her, and like a book. With illustrations. And so, subtly, Thena changed her approach, her advances, taking opportunities she normally would have overlooked, and bypassing openings she would have otherwise taken.
And then, feinting right and darting left, Thena's left arm shot out; her knuckles knocked lightly against Tyrrana's ribcage. It was a glancing blow, but one that connected nonetheless.
Blinking, Thena looked up at Tyrrana. To her endless surprise, the turian looked, not only amused, but pleased.
"That's one," she said on a chuckle.
And so it went, on and on and on—Thena connected once, then twice, only to have Tyrrana block her third punch. A few times Thena's fist only made contact once, her second blow stopped cold. Her hands ached, shoulders burned, her arms—she was entirely sure—had been infused with lead. But she knew—Thena knew beyond a shadow of doubt that Tyrrana wasn't going to call it. If she wanted to give in, give up, then she would be the one to give up. Tyrrana was waiting to see if she'd give up or… not.
Giving up meant giving in.
She wasn't prepared to do either.
She feinted one way and darted another, catching Tyrrana's unprotected side.
She moved back, circling, her eyes narrowed, focusing intently on not giving away her moves. Three possible unprotected areas—Tyrrana would adjust depending on where she thought Thena would go. Keeping her eyes to the left, she swung her arm out in a right hook, keeping Tyrrana's unprotected side in her peripheral vision.
But she'd been here before. She'd been right here too many times already. Close. Close. She was close right now, walking a knife's edge between reinstatement and discharge.
She was tired of being close.
The next seconds that passed—or fractions of seconds; Thena couldn't be sure—seemed as if to slow down. Tyrrana turned as Thena circled, her midsection unprotected, though she was even then shifting her body to adjust. She had less than seconds—less than a second—to take that opportunity. It was a chance, a risk—missing now would send her back again, and though Thena knew even if she did start over, she would push through, over and over and over, until she couldn't.
She dropped her center of gravity, coming in low, angling herself just-so and—
A soft thump of knuckles against plates, hardly enough to make any sort of noise at all, and for a moment Thena wasn't sure if she truly had felt contact, or if she'd just wished it so hard she thought she felt it. But no, Tyrrana's amber eyes widened, her browplates shooting up, and her mandibles flicking out in—a smile?
"About damned time," she drawled, shifting her stance and crossing her arms. "I was starting to get a little winded." She gave Thena a long look, adding, "Sit down before you fall down, Shepard."
Thena sat, hoping it didn't come across like the relieved, boneless collapse it was.
"The floor, huh?" Tyrrana shrugged then joined her. "All right."
They sat like that for a few moments, Thena catching her breath and running her fingers through sweat-soaked hair, and Tyrrana looking at her like she was a particularly curious puzzle piece that suddenly fit somewhere she hadn't been expecting.
"You're not gonna die on me, right?" When Thena shook her head, Tyrrana nodded, then drew her legs up, draping her arms loosely around her knees, the picture of easy grace. "Okay, so whenever you're ready—shoot."
So focused had Thena been on avoiding the simulator, she'd come entirely too close to forgetting the actual reason for their little wager.
"Remember," added Tyrrana, "you get three questions. No more, no less."
"Three's plenty," Thena told her, rubbing a hand over her face and flicking away the sweat. "First one—how the hell did you wind up running a turian shelter on Zakera?"
"Spirits," laughed Tyrrana, "you don't start with the easy ones, do you?" But before Thena could reply, Tyrrana's shoulders lifted in a shrug. "It was probably as ass-backwards a route as anyone could probably take," she said. "I started out in the turian military—infiltrator work. Wasn't long before I got tagged for…" she tilted her head. "You know anything about Blackwatch?"
Thena lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "Turian spec ops force. Highest success rate in the Hierarchy. Super classified stuff. I think that's all anyone knows—wait." She blinked once. Twice. Narrowed her eyes. "You? You were—you were with Blackwatch?"
"You really don't need to sound that surprised," came Tyrrana's dry drawl, the subvocals coming across thicker than usual. "In any case, yeah. I was. Not ashamed to say I was on the fast-track, too. The way I was going, I probably could've… hell, you name it. Probably could've made Primarch eventually."
"But you're… here, instead."
Now Tyrrana's mandibles pressed close to her face, her browplates coming down and pulling together. "Here's the thing about being someone else's golden child, Thena. You're still someone else's golden child. You're still a soldier, and you still get your orders from somewhere else. And even fast-track superstars are part of the chain of command; they're expected to follow orders that come down from their superiors that came down from their superiors and so on. There's hell to pay if you don't follow orders. Know that. Know it down to your bones." At Thena's nod, Tyrrana lifted her gaze, deep yellow eyes boring hard into Thena's as she said, her voice low and intense, "But the time's going to come when you're going to get a bad order. A really bad order. And your choice is going to be whether to live with the consequences of insubordination or live with yourself for following a bad order you know in your gut you know you never should've followed."
Thena swallowed hard. "So… what happened?"
"I got a bad order. Several of them." She lifted her chin and said, evenly, "And I followed them."
A beat of silence passed, but Thena didn't dare fill it. Instead, she waited.
"Afterward, I dropped out," she said, flicking her fingers outward as if shooing something away. "Of Blackwatch. The military. Everything. Scared the hell out of my family, but they didn't know the whole story—couldn't know. I had to live with myself and didn't have the first damned idea of how to do that." Tyrrana fell silent again, though the exact quality of that silence was difficult to determine; Thena wondered if Tyrrana had fallen into a private reverie, but before she could do so much as clear her throat, Tyrrana gave herself a little shake and let out an unsteady exhale. "Anyway, I was back on Palaven, trying to avoid… everyone I knew. By that point I was pretty sure I wanted to get the hell off the planet—too many reminders around, too many people I knew were wondering why I'd thrown away such a promising career. I ran into Jevia in a bar—she and I had served on the same dreadnought for a while before she went off to the Engineering Corps—and she'd reached the end of her term of service and was planning to head off to the Citadel. Turned out she'd had enough of Palaven too."
"You left together, then?"
"Nah. I knocked around for another month or two. She'd given me an open invitation and there wasn't any reason not to go, but…" Tyrrana's facial plates shifted into a grimace. "Still felt like I was running away from my problems. I finally went, and one night we got way too drunk in Chora's Den and somehow got this crazy idea we might be able to… not erase but maybe… maybe at least mitigate our past mistakes by doing some good. The idea still seemed like a good one after the hangover went away, so we pooled our resources and here we are."
"So are you two…"
Tyrrana smirked. "This your second question?"
Upon realizing that, yes, she did actually want to know, Thena nodded.
"She's the best friend I've got. The one person in the whole damned galaxy who knows me, knows the crap I've done and doesn't judge me for it. We take care of each other, watch each other's backs, tell each other exactly the shit we don't want to hear. I love her. But we don't sleep together—haven't ever, and probably never will. Between you and me, I think she's carrying a torch for some quarian—"
Thena blinked hard, her brows furrowing. "A… quarian?" She was… at least aware of the species; there'd been whole seminars devoted to speculations on their war with the geth, but she'd never met one. "Don't they… keep to themselves?"
"That's putting it lightly. But yeah, a quarian—and I know, I know, I don't think I could deal with the whole…" she gestured around her face, "mask thing. But who the hell am I to judge, right? In any case, she only ever had a few run-ins with him, and he was a hell of a troublemaker, between you and me, but even indirectly he kept her on her toes. She respected that, even if he was a complete pain in the plates along our borders." She tipped her head back, looking at the ceiling. "The hell was his name?" she murmured to herself, squinting. "Fen'Harel? No. Han-something, I think. I just remember he was a damned nuisance. A clever nuisance, and Jev's got a weakness for the clever ones, but still—"
"Still a nuisance?" Thena murmured, drawing her legs up, mimicking Tyrrana's pose.
"Got it in one. Anyway, Jev's got her thing and I…" Tyranna shrugged. "It's a funny thing, being in spec ops. Everything's classified—everything you do, everything you are; you eat, breathe, and sleep it—so honesty's not the sort of thing that comes easily to us. But we haven't got a damn bit of patience for secrecy when it's coming from anyone else, and trust's… too important. You can't love someone you don't trust. But it's okay. Maybe Jev'll find her pain in the ass quarian and fall in love, and then I can be a spinster aunt to their little suitlings." She flashed Thena a smile. "Can't beat a spinster aunt with skills like mine, right?"
Then, though, Tyrrana's words dropped off into an unexpected lull. Her smile tightened, her mandibles clenched tight to her face, fluttering slightly as if she were trying to force them outward. She swallowed hard and looked away, but before Thena could ask, before she could think to ask, Tyrrana's expression was as bland as it had ever been.
"Right," she said, clearing her throat suddenly. "That's two. One more, and then you hit the showers."
Thena thought carefully—it wasn't as if an opportunity like this would ever present itself again. And considering what she had to get through to reach this point, Thena was almost thankful for it. Almost. There was a muted thunk as the air-recirculation fans cycled on, pulling out the stale smell of sweat and replacing it with clean air—it smelled faintly antiseptic after being pushed through air-scrubbers; one of her least favorite things about Arcturus Station—hell about any ship, for that matter, was the utter lack of fresh air.
As her memory pulled up summer breezes smelling faintly of lemon trees, it occurred to Thena what she really wanted to know was whether Tyrrana had a family, and what had happened to them if she did.
It was what she wanted to know, not what she wanted to ask.
"Oh, this one's going to be good," Tyrrana murmured.
Thena thought around the question, poking it from all sides, examining different angles and facets, turning and twisting the wording until she found something that would ask what she wanted to know without being blindingly rude or disrespectful. She took a breath.
"So being with Blackwatch… interfered with your… your family?"
"Not like you to end on a yes or no question, kiddo."
Thena scowled. "That's… no, that's not what I meant. I— how?"
"A thousand different ways. Some little, some not so little." She lifted one hand and dragged a single finger across one cheek, indicating the thick green stripes. "See these?"
"They're permanent. I mean, it's an option to change them, but it's a pain in the ass. Some people do, though. Mating ceremonies—sometimes one mate will accept the other's markings. Sometimes they won't. Depends, I guess. Anyway, they're a family indicator. Being a part of Blackwatch meant we had to give up wearing our family's color and emblem. But, turian society being what it is, high ranking spec ops soldiers aren't going to be made to run around barefaced. Not the done thing. So we received different markings to help keep us unidentifiable. Had to have my markings removed. Stung like a bitch, too."
"In case… an enemy wanted to get revenge on you through your family?"
"Among other reasons. But yeah, that's one of the big ones. And because Blackwatch never did things by halves, they made up facial designs for their operatives—clan markings for families that were either defunct or never existed at all. That way, if we piss off somebody…"
"They're not able to find you again."
"Or they'll have a harder time of it—searches like that always leave trails—giving us a better chance of finding them before they find us." She shrugged. "I probably could've had my markings switched back but… well. I didn't know—still don't—how many enemies I really have out there."
"You want to keep your family safe."
"Safe as I can, anyway." She laughed as she read the question sketching itself across Thena's face. "And that, kiddo," she laughed, "was your final question." She clapped a hand on Thena's shoulder. "Go. Hit the showers. That's enough for one day."
Two weeks and the most thorough battery of brain scans this side of Sur'Kesh—all of them spitting back the same positive results, simulator be damned—the kid had been cleared for a return to active duty. Two weeks Tyrrana had spent wondering if she wasn't making a colossal mistake not pushing Thena harder to use that simulator program. Two weeks wondering what would happen, what Thena would do, if the results turned out being anything less than perfectly positive. She'd spent nights crafting any number of contingency plans just in case, hoping for the best but privately expecting and bracing herself for the worst.
When the results had come back, Tyrrana had been so swamped by relief, she actually felt a tiny niggle of guilt that she'd actually been worried to begin with. Clearly there'd been no cause for concern, and only an old fool would have seen any cause for doubt. She probably should've known better, but wanting someone to overcome shitty odds so seldom coincided with shitty odds actually being overcome, and at her age, Tyrrana was more than a little jaded.
But the crisis had been averted, and Thena would be getting her new orders any day now, which meant it was time for them both to resume their normal lives again.
The docking bay was every bit as busy as it had been the day Tyrrana had arrived; transports arrived and departed, soldiers and officers came and went, the rapid patter of their boots against the floor sounding just enough like rain hitting a roof that Tyrrana startled herself when she realized how long it had been been since she'd been somewhere with an actual atmosphere that saw actual weather. Maybe… maybe a trip to Palaven wouldn't be out of the question. Just for a couple of weeks. Revisit a few old haunts. Might be nice. Hell, it'd been nice to get away from the Citadel, even if she hadn't particularly enjoyed Arcturus Station.
Or maybe Thena asking about Tyrrana's past had stirred up old memories she was better off leaving alone.
Pushing thoughts of Palaven aside, Tyrrana clapped a hand on Thena's shoulder. "You ready?"
Thena considered this a moment or two, then gave a slow nod. "You know what? I think I am."
Unsurprised, Tyrrana shot her a grin. "As long as you know that coming back fro this means people are going to start paying attention to you, if they haven't started already."
There'd been a time when Tyrrana couldn't read human expressions worth a damn, but Thena's so malleable, so human features twisted so clearly into dubious skepticism, Tyrrana nearly laugh. "Yeah. Right."
Skepticism was probably good, all things considered. Thena'd never been the type to let herself get a swollen head. "I'm telling you, golden child, you're gonna have an interesting career."
"At least I'll have a career to speak of. That part was a little dicey there for a while," she replied, deftly deflecting the compliment. Modesty was good, too. "And I know who I have to thank for it."
"Ugh," replied Tyrrana, exaggeratedly rolling her eyes. "Don't get mushy on me, kid. It's very un-turian." Thena laughed, like Tyrrana knew she would. Humor. Modesty. Skepticism. Good traits, all. Tyrrana tried not to feel too terribly proud of herself, and mostly failed. "Be careful. Remember what I told you.
Thena snorted. "You did tell me an awful lot."
"Hmm, true enough. Better only remember the good stuff." She lightly rapped her knuckles against Thena's skull, grinning when she swatted Tyrrana's hand away. "Don't want to overtax that little human brain of yours."
"Oh, thanks." Then her grin faded into thoughtfulness and she nodded. "…But yeah. I won't forget."
"I mean," Thena went on, "with age comes experience, and you've obviously got so much—"
"Don't you dare finish that sentence, kiddo."
The transport's final boarding call echoed through the area, staticky and distorted. This goodbye was, in some ways less, difficult than others had been. When Thena had left the Citadel for the Academy, Tyrrana had known the kid was going off to build herself a better life. When she'd left for her first deployment, that too had been a very normal, natural good-bye—it'd felt like a very turian send-off.
This, though… this was the first time Thena had needed her presence and her support. Tyrrana'd come to provide whatever was needed, and now… now it was time to go back and let Thena continue on the path she was on.
Hard not to worry, though. She hadn't been kidding Thena; this was the sort of comeback that caught the brass' attention, and if that wasn't a blade that cut two ways, Tyrrana didn't know what was.
It was with these thoughts in mind that Tyrrana bid good-bye to Thena and to Arcturus Station, sincerely hoping there would never be another occasion for her to return, for reasons extending beyond its always-too-cold climate control and more curious (a few curiously hostile) stares than she'd been on the receiving end of in a while. The transport trip was as long and as uncomfortable as it had been getting to Arcturus, and by the time Tyrrana set foot on the Citadel's docking bay and breathed in its familiarly scrubbed and recirculated air, the trip felt like it had lasted a month.
Tempting as it was to head straight home and soak her spurs, there was one other person on the station who'd been waiting a damn long time to hear from her, and wouldn't thank her for not giving him an update. Tyrrana slung her bag on her shoulder and turned her steps to C-Sec headquarters and onward up to Narius' office. Even with her countless encryption programs and privacy subroutines installed on her omni-tool, she hadn't liked the idea of the possibility of getting caught sending messages conveying what was potentially sensitive medical information. Militaries tended to be tetchy about that sort of thing. Narius wouldn't have thanked her for causing that brand of trouble, either.
She turned the corner down the corridor that held her brother's office, her steps slowing as the sound of his raised voice filled the hall. She cocked her head, listening a moment, wincing in sympathy for whomever was getting his ass chewed out this time. But it was the end of a tirade, at least. Good. They were lousy things to be on the receiving end of—she knew this from experience. It wasn't as if Narius had ever held his tongue when he'd been annoyed or displeased with her, either.
But when the door slid open and the object of her brother's ire came out—oh, and he was low, too, no doubt about that; head down, shoulders hunched…
The officer looked every inch like a son who'd just been dressed-down by his father.
Tyrrana stopped, breath stilling in her lungs and swallowing hard. He was taller and broader than she remembered him being—not at all like the little boy he'd been the last time she saw him (too many, too many years ago), or the gangly teenager he'd been in the vids Narius had shared with her. But there was no mistaking her nephew. The Vakarian blue standing out so proudly against the sheen of his plates. He'd inherited his father's fringe and his mother's nose and spirits, it had been too long. Every single reason why she'd ever stayed away—good reasons, she reminded herself—tasted like ashes now.
But Garrus didn't notice her—and Tyrrana didn't know whether she should feel stung or relieved by that—not until he'd nearly run into her, at any rate. He looked up with a start, realizing the hallway wasn't as empty as he'd expected or hoped it to be, blue eyes going almost comically wide. It would've been funny if the rest of his body language wasn't radiating unhappiness.
Spirits, but he looked like Narius at that age. More specifically, he looked like Narius after their father had had words with him.
"Sorry," he blurted, stepping aside. "E-excuse me, ma'am. Didn't… I didn't see you there. Sorry." And as her nephew walked by, not for a moment recognizing her (it had been that long, she reminded herself) her throat ached with a hundred thousand things to say:
Don't let him get you down.
Keep your chin up; he's harder on you because he knows you can take it.
He's an asshole sometimes; you'll get used to it.
She couldn't make herself say a single one of them.
"…No harm done."