Welcome back!

I just wanted to say thanks to my AMAZING beta, Meggo929, She is amazing and deserves lots of love for her work on this chapter, it wouldn't be the same without her :) and she is soooo good at motivating me and giving me ideas!

Please enjoy the story and leave a review.

Shepard's throat felt dry and raspy as she struggled to get her head around her latest mind blowing discovery. Garrus stared at her expectantly, but all she felt was confused. She gave herself a mental kick. "Now is not the time to gape like a goldfish". Strangely, she felt a little betrayed by his secrecy. She internally laughed at herself. Somehow, she had accidentally let herself think of Archangel as a decent turian. The only decent turian she'd ever met. Of course not; "Stupid Shepard" she thought bitterly. We're enemies. We're meant to hate each other, not be kind, considerate and help the enemy when they're worried about their crew. He pities you." Shepard's expression hardened. She wouldn't let herself make the same mistake twice.

Garrus watched as Sheppard's expression went from shocked to cold in a millisecond. He panicked. "This wasn't meant to happen," he thought. Truth be told, he hadn't really thought it through. He didn't know how to tell her when she'd come out of the flame tower. He tried to put it off as long as he could, but he'd put it off too long, and he could tell she was furious. It suddenly occurred to him that he didn't know her. All he knew was what battlefield interactions and records on her told him. He knew her height, weight and battle strategies like the back of his hand, but if anyone asked him her favourite colour, or her favourite sound, he wouldn't have a clue. Garrus wasn't very good at emotions, especially human emotions, and he had no idea what conclusion Shepard had come to. At a loss for what to do, he decided to let her cool off. "I'll give you a tour of the house, Dad really knows how to make the place seem welcoming". He thanked the guard and servant, and strolled into the gaping mouth of the building.

As soon as they entered, Shepard noticed the temperature difference. The air felt cooler and fresher than the humid heat outside, and she barely felt any radiation discomfort at all. They had stepped into a large room sparsely furnished with expensive looking turian chairs and the odd table. The silver trend carried through the room, down to the last stool. The edges of the room and ceiling were sharp and spiky, following the architecture of outside. It all looked very modern and expensive. Shepard was shocked. She'd known the Vakarian's were rich, but this was totally unprecedented. This room alone would've most likely cost more than her yearly salary before the war began. Captain Vakarian made his way towards a door that led deeper into the monstrous building. Shepard absent-mindedly rearranged her semi-dry rag. It kept slipping down due to Palaven's arid heat, and was beginning to get on her nerves. It was definitely coming off soon, luckily the unbearable shooting pain had diminished to a dull, burning throb which was much easier to deal with.

Garrus opened the door and held it open for Shepard. Still vaguely annoyed at him for no good reason, she stalked through with her head held high. He nodded to her as she passed through, "Commander", he said, with what she assumed, was respect. She smiled inwardly; at least he hadn't started to treat her like a slave yet.

The mansion was even larger than expected and Shepard was growing tired. Between having her crew and civilians threatened, the mockery of a trial, and being branded, all with little food or sleep, Shepard was utterly exhausted. They were finally back in the entrance hall, and Captain Vakarian had gone to get them both drinks. Shepard had spent most of the tour preparing herself to remove the rag from her neck. Now that she could, a cold sense of foreboding washed over her. Telling herself to stop being such a pussy, she whipped the now dry cloth away.

Shepard's eyes trailed numbly over the design, taking in the detailed swirling pattern of the flowers and swirls, coupled with the dots and dashes. It was a complex and large brand, spreading deftly over the top of her right shoulder and up her neck. A cold, hard fury spread up her body. "How dare they?" She stared at her burn, feeling her anger accelerate steadily with every second, "How dare he?" Her breathing became harsh. She didn't even want to look at him. Her thought process was irrational, exhaustion gone, replaced with all-encompassing anger. All she knew was she needed to kill something.

Garrus knew something was wrong as soon as he walked in to an empty room. The only remainder of the commander was a white rag discarded carelessly on the floor. A quick glance confirmed it as the one she'd been holding to her brand. Garrus' mandibles flickered, and he didn't even break stride as he headed towards the only place she'd be, praying he wouldn't just make things worse.

The training room sparked with biotic energy. The air was filled with the sound of harsh panting punctuated with grunting and the sound of a punch-bag being hit repeatedly. Shepard's every punch was fuelled by her burning anger. The vigorous exercise had her muscles crying out in protest at their lack of oxygen and her skin shone with a light sheen of sweat. Her top, socks and shoes lay haphazardly discarded halfway between the door and the punch bag, and she had stripped down to only her sports bra and the shorts she wore underneath her armour.

Garrus stood in the doorway for a few moments, taking in her angry green eyes and messy hair. He noticed a faint shine in her eyes that he hadn't seen before, and the way her fiery hair swished back and forth with each hit. He was certain she hadn't noticed him yet. There was no way she'd let her expression show so much pain and anger if she knew he was watching her; she was close to sobbing, and he was bewildered at what had upset her so much. He wanted to say something, but couldn't think of anything to say that would help.

He'd only ever seen her like this when he'd shot someone she'd been trying to protect, and she hadn't calmed down until after sating her anger and desire for revenge. Garrus observed her with calm, resigned eyes. Shepard only needed one thing, to get all this out of her system, and a punching bag wasn't going to be good enough. He could help her; she needed to fight someone.

He stepped into the room, trying to catch her attention. As soon as she'd spotted him she stopped her attack on the punching bag and whirled around to face him. Garrus was shocked at the sheer force of her fury. "No", he thought, "I've never seen her like this". This fury was all encompassing; it was a desperate, selfish fury which didn't suit her in the slightest. She was no longer a delicate, soft human. She was a dangerous, angry predator with her sights locked on him.

"Come to gloat?" she spat, her fists sparking dangerously.

"Gloat? What on Palaven was she talking about?" His confusion only seemed to anger her further. Still glaring at him, she yanked down the right strap of her sports bra, baring the whole of her red, swollen brand to him. As his eyes trailed over the marks, an unwelcome realisation dawned upon him. She had been branded as something so degrading, he hadn't even considered it. Garrus felt a snarl resonate from his throat, which echoed around the room to form a dull throbbing. Anger washed over him in waves. His leaders had crossed another unspoken line. They'd dared to mark her as a concubine.*

Garrus had never truly despised his leaders. Spirits, there had always been a tactical angle they'd exploited which he could understand and vaguely appreciate, but never before had they just done something for the sake of degrading someone. Never before today, anyway. As hard as he tried to pin this act with a tactical, understandable reason, there were none he could come to. His government had done this to her purely for the vindictive pleasure that came from her suffering, to make an example of her to her people, to use her. It was disgusting.

Garrus flexed his talons, and let his body fall into the natural predatory stance that came to him as instinct. He stalked up to within two meters her, dropped his haunches and bared his teeth. Shepard didn't need to be asked twice. She sprinted across the gap between them, her fists glowing unearthly blue with biotic energy. She swung a punch, and he dodged; swiping at her open legs with his talons. She sprung back, and his talons missed her skin by inches. His instincts were no longer even registering her as a human. All Garrus saw was predator, and it was steadily becoming increasingly difficult for him to stop himself from treating her like a turian. He knew she was too delicate without armour, but when she lunged for his unprotected neck with her palm, he barely controlled his reactions. He snarled fearsomely and swiped at her chest.

Shepard barely had enough time to dodge his onslaught. Every hit she landed to his plates hardly fazed him, but she had to be extremely careful to miss every attack he threw. He was unimaginably powerful, and his reach was almost impossible to manage. Yet, she had the advantage of speed and flexibility. Without her armour, she was incredibly fast. Shepard had had spent countless hours honing both skills so she could match, and overcome, that of the fastest turian. Without her armour's restrictive metal plates and hinges, she could use her flexibility to its full extent. She dodged and twisted in way he had never seen to avoid his lunges. Not to mention the damage her deadly biotics could do if he'd just stay still for half a second! Shepard assessed her adversary's power.

Garrus was rather well equipped. His razor sharp talons and hard plates gave Shepard little space to inflict damage, and he wasn't exactly slow either. They spun around each other in a deadly dance of claws and biotics. One would almost hurt the other, but just miss due to a burst of biotic energy or precise swipe of talons. They were too evenly matched, and both were beginning to tire. Shepard knew she wouldn't be able to keep up this level of speed and precision for as long as Garrus could. She needed to finish this before her exhaustion and lack of sleep overcame the influence of her anger and adrenaline.

Garrus could barely control himself anymore. The sensible, rational part of his brain screamed at him to stop the fight before he hurt her but His anger at his leaders, his instincts and his need to fight combined to make a disastrously irresistible mixture that spread tingles from the pads of his feet to the tips of his fringe. Garrus' instincts crowed in delight as Shepard landed awkwardly on one leg after a particularly close swipe.

In her stumbling, Shepard didn't notice a particularly accurate cut of Garrus' talons at her unprotected legs until the last second, and he managed to inflict shallow scratches across her thighs. Shepard cursed and her stupidity, and her second of hesitation was all Garrus needed. His instincts acted before he had the chance to stop them. All he could see was the brand; what it represented and the blemish it made on Shepard's delicate skin. All he recognised was the shame and humiliation it inflicted upon her. A mingling sense of despair joined his anger.

"How could they?"

"How dare they?"

Shepard was his. His to protect. His to help. His to heal. And he'd failed her without knowing it. Through the red haze of hatred that clouded his gaze, he swiped at the hated brand. His claws cut through her skin so cleanly that it almost seemed as if it had parted by itself. Startling, Vivid crimson streamed across her skin, stemming from the twin gashes, the vibrant colour shocking against the paleness of her skin. Shepard swayed and collapsed. Garrus felt cold, real fear wash over him.

He dropped to his knees, cursing himself and pleading to the spirits and human gods alike that she would be alright. She was out cold. Please, he begged silently, please. He was terrified that he'd cut her so deeply that he'd severed her jugular. He ripped off his uniform shirt and pressed it to the wound, applying enough pressure to stop the bleeding. Shepard exhaled a soft groan, and she squeezed her eyes together before slowly opening and blinking her dilated eyes rapidly. Garrus watched her face anxiously, scared that he had finally seriously injured her and she wouldn't recover.

Shepard propped herself up on an elbow, and half-consciously raised a hand to grasp the shirt to her wound. Leaning back on his heels, Garrus peered at her nervously. Shepard's eyebrows crumpled into a frown, and opened her mouth. Garrus prepared for the worst.

"You could've fetched me a medigel at least", she grumbled.

He blanched at his stupidity before scrambling to his feet sprinting over to the first aid station at the other side of the room, before loping back. He ripped open the medigel packet as he returned and carefully pulled back the arm she was using to press his shirt to the burn. Ignoring her protests Garrus carefully spread the cooling gel over her wounded shoulder. He hated the way that her blood mixed with the liquid, and was secretly glad when she pressed his shirt back onto her cuts.

Shepard hated the way Garrus looked at her. It was as if he thought of her as a china doll, something so weak and pathetic that they were incapable of looking after themselves. She adored the attention, but loathed how they got in this situation. She watched Garrus finish smearing the healing fluid across her skin, before he let his head drop into his hands. Her anger had evaporated with the battle, and all that was left was a rapidly growing sense of irritation at his fussing and a tingling curiosity for both his clearly torn feelings and newly exposed chest. Her anger evaporated with the battle, leaving a rapidly growing sense of exhaustion and irritatingly enough, respect for the turian beside her.

She let her eyes trail over the symmetrical pattern his plates formed. His hard cowl swooped gracefully over the back of his head, and Shepard was fascinated by the little plates and ridges that lead up his neck and down his slender waist. The memory of her dream swept over her, and she forced herself to think of other things. Now was definitely not the time to fantasize about her captor. She winced as she tried to shuffle into a more comfortable position. Garrus' head snapped up, and he reached forward with the intention of helping her, but it was obvious that he was uncertain on how to help her. Emerald eyes burned as Shepard shoved Garrus' extended hand away, and forced her injured body to its feet.

"Why is it that every time you want something to do with me it's because you feel pity for me?" She gestured towards her neck. "Ever since I was captured you've looked at me like my species was as delicate as a feather! I don't care what you think, but I thought you would respect me enough as a soldier not to pity me!"

Garrus stared at her, frozen with the shock of her accusation. He had never ever, not once, felt pity for Shepard. Not even when she'd been captured unfairly. Not even when she'd had the mark of a Concubine permanently burned into her skin against her will. Especially not because she was human.

"Is that what you think?" he asked softly, "that I don't respect you?" Garrus rose to his feet, towering a good few inches above Shepard, forcing her to look up to hold eye contact. His features were drawn up into a snarl, and for the first time, Shepard felt a twinge of fear for the furious, dangerous predator glaring down at her.

"Your species is as delicate as a feather, Shepard! A single swipe of my talons could get you a one way ticket to non-existence!" Garrus grabbed Shepard's arm. "Look what happened when I tried to help you relax! I ended up hurting you further! This all happened because I thought of you as a turian and you ask me why I try so hard around you? Of course I respect you!" Garrus snarled and turned away, trying to keep his emotions under control. This was not how good turians acted. Taking a deep breath, Garrus turned back to face her, regretting his harsh words already.

Stunned, Shepard stared up at Archangel with wide eyes. "He doesn't pity me?" She pondered silently, "Does that mean that he still thinks of me as an equal?" She could see Garrus still searching her face for a sign of her disbelief or anger at his statement. Shepard sighed and forced her body to relax, then placed a hand on his forearm. She applied gentle pressure, hoping the squeeze would convey what she couldn't yet in words.

A calm silence settled over the room. Garrus was exhausted by both the fight and the emotional turmoil this one little human kept putting him through. He closed his eyes, feeling his body relax only as it could after sparring with the right partner.

"Why did you look so sad when we got here?" Shepard's innocent question pulled him from the calm he had just found. Garrus didn't answer at first. Worried that she'd breached the delicate truce their confessions had forged between them, Shepard prepared to apologise for intruding.

"My father and I don't exactly have the conventional father-son relationship. He was distant when I was growing up, and my mother died when I was very young." Garrus paused, then continued, lost in his own thoughts, "I've always felt like a stranger here, standing in my father's shadow. Even this building is like a physical reminder of the fact that I don't belong here". Twisting his hands uncomfortably, Garrus peered down at her. His piercing blue eyes held an emotion that Shepard couldn't quite place. "He always wanted a perfect son; a good turian. Instead he got me, an idiot who can barely control my instincts when fighting a human!"

Shepard sighed and sat back down. She lay back on the mats, wincing as the brand against her neck pulled. She pillowed her head with her hands and pondered Garrus' words. "It's strange how similar our two species really are", She pondered over Garrus' words.

"I've never met your father", she began, "And at the moment I'm under the impression that every turian apart from you is a total asshole. But it happens on earth too. I won't pretend to understand, we're two completely different species, but usually with humans you have to get to know each other better," Shepard grimaced, "that sounded a lot less cheesy in my head", she muttered.

Removing Garrus' now ruined uniform shirt, Shepard peered down at her newest injury. The medigel had stopped the bleeding, and it had started to scab over slightly, but it was only partly through the healing process. She would need to leave it overnight to heal completely. "It is a little peculiar that he swiped for that particular spot, especially since he was the dick who requested the brand in the first place."

Shepard started slightly as Garrus placed his hand over hers to move her hand so he could get a better look at the wound. The rough, abrasive plates felt warm and pleasant against Shepard's skin, and she was suddenly flushed with a large sense of déjà vu. She quickly moved her hand away. Thankfully, Garrus didn't seem to notice. She didn't even want to know what he would think of her if he knew she had dreamed of him. "I'm Commander Shepard for god's sake! I make turians flinch! I am not a hormonal teenager with a crush. Get a hold of yourself," she chastised.

Mandibles flicked tensely, as Garrus assessed her wound, "I'm sorry", he began, his words rushed, "I just can't believe they did this to you. It's disgusting, and I'm ashamed of it", he admitted.

Shepard's mind whirled like a well-oiled machine. "So it wasn't Garrus who requested the brand? Was that why he cut her there when we were fighting? "Why did you aim for the brand? Apart from the obvious weakness it poses for me, it a bit of a coincidence that that the one place you really swipe for", she questioned.

Garrus began to fidget awkwardly in his seat, flickering his mandibles uncomfortably, "Uh, I hate what it represents. You gave yourself up to protect the civilians, and we disgrace you by marking you permanently as the lowest of the low. It disgusts me. I despise my government for it. I don't know why I keep thinking of you as a turian, but I clearly need to stop". Garrus hadn't been able to look at the redheaded female during his confession, but when she failed to give him an answer, he looked up to see her reaction.

Shepard was grinning. The grin that was pure fight; pure her. She wiped the rest of the medigel off her brand, effectively halting the healing process.

Garrus was horrified, "Spirits! What are you doing? It won't heal properly, you'll scar!" Smirking fiercely, Shepard cleaned that last of the medigel out of her wound, "This is something I can work with, This will mark me as a survivor. I'd much rather this brand represented resistance than submission."

Stunned, Garrus stared at the ruined brand. Even when it fully healed, there would be two shiny scars running through the delicate pattern, permanently distorting it. He huffed out a breath, "You never stop, do you Shepard?"

"Why should I?" she demanded. "You're species may have captured me, but that doesn't mean I have to accept it willingly."

He stood and slowly offered a hand to her. "We don't have to hate each other you know. I'll have you know, Archangel did respect Commander Shepard, even if he didn't always agree with her."

This time, Shepard acknowledged the help for what it was, a peace offering. "I believe the Commander felt the same."

The Normandy drifted silently through space. She seemed almost empty without her heart. The civilians were silent and mournful; it was almost as I they had accepted their fate already. Ashley hated it. As soon as they had got further enough away from that cursed fuel depot to make sure the turians couldn't follow them, Ashley had sent out an emergency message to all Shepard's contacts. The response they had received was tremendous. Almost everyone who had contacted for help had replied with a burning determination to rescue the commander. One such contact, had been in the region of space the Normandy had fled to, and had wasted no time at all cancelling plans and business meetings, arranging to get to the Normandy as rapidly as possible.

Ashley saw the darkness to her right stir slightly, and felt a familiar velvet-soft voice drift towards her. The movement sent cold shivers of fear down her spine. No matter how many times she heard him, he still managed to unnerve her. He was a born killer, and he scared the living shit out of her.

"I have located the Commander. I shall travel immediately to where she is being held prisoner, if she hasn't escaped already. I wouldn't put that past my siha".

I will be ashamed of you as Mass Effect fans if you dont know who that was! This chapter was much harder to write than the other Chapters, the interaction between Garrus and Shepard was difficult to balance, but I endured! :)

Please leave a reveiw, it always makes my day, an I love hearing from you all.

*Concubine: A sort of slave wife, originally from the Ancient Greeks, but my beta and I thought this was perfect :)

Love you all