Hello! Im sorry for not uploading until now, and I bring even more bad news :(.
Branded is going on hiatus until September.
I'M SO SORRY! I wish I could keep uploading chapters every week, but with the holidays comes my summer job, and my family basically moves to our summer house, WHERE THERE IS NOT INTERNET. whyyyyy. This also means my allotted writing period has dissipated :'(.
The good news is that is does give me some time to catch up with chapters, because I'm halfway through the next chapter, which is wayyy too close to this one for comfort! I like to be a good few chapters ahead to be comfortable! I promise to keep writing. I will finish this fic!
Motivating comments are appreciated, and me and my beta worked really hard on this chapter to make it a good one :L If i get the chance, I'll upload the next chapter during the summer.
I love you guys, and hope you keep faith in me!
Shepard hated turian shuttles. They were too hard, and the seats had been made with rough turian behinds in mind, not soft, cushy human ones, "Hell, they wouldn't be so bad with a cushion. What I would give for a cushion right now," she thought wryly. Shepard shifted around in her seat uncomfortably. The fact that she hadn't slept properly since she'd arrived on this sun-baked planet didn't help at all, and her patience was running thin.
Earlier that morning, Garrus had received a message summoning them to a meeting with the hierarchy, called by Primarch Arterius himself. It had been a week since Shepard had arrived on Palaven, and she wasn't surprised that they wanted a report on their favorite human in existence. She highly doubted they had been informed of the 'alterations' Garrus had made on her brand, and could barely wait to see the looks on their faces when they realized how badly their plans had backfired. It was hilarious really. The almost totally scarred-over wound was obviously caused by a Turian. The width and distance between the gashes would be as recognizable to a Turian as a hand print would be to a human.
The past week had been enlightening for Shepard, to say the least. The tentative truce formed after their sparring led to grudging respect and had slowly developed into the beginning of a friendship. Even though neither had said it aloud, the two battle-hardened soldiers' alliance was obvious.
Shepard smiled to herself at irony of considering a turian a friend. "Could be worse," she mused. "Vakarian's not terrible to live with. Could've wound up with the one in the green armour. Or Saren. Who knows what they would've expected, especially with this brand." Shuddering in disgust, Shepard turned her attention to Garrus. He had been distracted all morning, staring out into space for minutes on end. It was totally unlike him. The Archangel she was used to was alert and sharp, not lost in musings. It was rather disconcerting to see him like this. The only conclusion that she could come to was that he was pondering on the impending meeting.
Shepard was aware that this meeting wasn't going to be fun. The hierarchy wasn't going to be happy about her brand and she hoped they didn't ask to see it. The thin strapped vest top had been designed to display a slave's tattoo. She had purposely left her long hair down, effectively hiding the marks unless she decided to display them. Until then, no one would suspect a thing. The brand itself no longer caused so much hatred inside her. Garrus had dissipated most of it with a mere sweep of his talons. Shepard wasn't saying she had enjoyed it; the deep cuts had stung like a bitch when they had been inflicted, but she was grateful that it's meaning, at least in her eyes, had changed completely. She almost felt like rubbing it in the Turian bastard's faces, not covering it up! The brand itself had almost fully healed. The medigel applied to help her gashes turned out to help her burn too. It had deflated from being a swollen, red-raw wound, now the blistering was almost non-existent. Shepard swept her hair over her shoulder to get a better look at it. The brand gleamed a shiny white, trailing leisurely across her shoulder and up her neck. In human eyes, it was very beautiful, but the meaning was enough to make any rational person feel sick. She truly despised the turian who had decided this would be an appropriate brand; it was probably some sort of sick joke.
Shepard re-positioned her hair and settled down in her seat. They were fast approaching the inner circle of Cipritine. The natural plant growth was steadily getting more suppressed, and the sharp, angular buildings that defined Palaven's capital were becoming more and more common. Shepard braced herself for the hideous trial meeting that was no doubt heading her way.
The shuttle stopped outside the tallest building in Cipritine. "Typical," Shepard snorted. "At least there was something both pathetic turian and human men had in common; the need to make up for what they lacked in their lower quarters."
The tall building looked nothing like the skyscrapers that were characteristic to earth. It was a tall, sharp, silver building clearly designed by the same Turian who did most of Cipritine. The razor-sharp edges and needle-like triangles layered on top of each other repeatedly made the tower seem like some sort of exotic, metal plant. It looked both dangerous and organised at the same time.
The shuttle doors opened, and Garrus was snapped out of his inner musings. He watched Shepard stand, before he rose to his feet and stretched; resigned to the tiring day that the spirits clearly had in store for him. Shepard glared hatefully up at the towering mass of metal spikes and hidden glass windows. The battle-weary instincts that came as a result of her military career grumbled cautiously. Nothing good could come from being summoned here. She reluctantly followed him through the maze of a building, ignoring the blatant stares from the turians and surreptitious glances from the humans forced to work there.
The room was situated right at the top of the building, and the ceiling sloped sharply upwards until it reached a vicious peak. Government officials and the newly instated primarch were sat round a raised concave table overlooking the room, flanked by guards, sneering down at the room's only other occupants.
Garrus crossed his arms and sunk into a hip, purposely ignoring his father's gaze. Politics were nothing more than battles with words and he always assessed the battlefield. Shepard, on the other hand, outright glared hatefully at a very specific turian. She couldn't care less about the peons crowded adoringly around the Primarch. His casual, relaxed position irritated her to no end. This was Saren. He stood silent among the constant babble of those around him. His mandibles flared into an alien version of a smirk. Everything was his fault; all the slavery; all the hunters; all the deaths. This one monster was responsible for it all.
Pure hatred filled her. There was no anger; she didn't care about him enough to be angry, but she was able to hate him. A cold, empty calm filled her body. No hatred, no anger, just a slow, steadily increasing pressure, similar to a coil being wound up, tighter and tighter in her stomach.
Saren smiled, completely at ease with the situation, and sat up slightly in his throne. Still staring at the red-headed female, he leisurely lifted a hand. The officials fell silent immediately, peering anxiously at their leader. Shepard rolled her eyes, they were behaving like puppies, eager to please and utterly adoring of their new primarch. Saren rested his head on a hand, still smirking that irritating smile that sent shivers if disgust down Jane's spine. She bristled and tossed her long, flaming hair over a shoulder. The surreptitious hair flick had revealed her ruined brand, and she saw Saren's eyes narrow in displeasure. She stepped closer to Garrus subconsciously, wanting to be near someone she considered an ally.
Garrus wasn't about to doubt Shepard. Their tentative friendship was built on trust, but the training that had been beaten into him screamed in protest at this blatant act of insubordination. He saw Saren's eyes flicker to him for the first time since they'd been there. The good Turian his father wanted would've stepped away from Shepard, sneered at her, and come up with an excellent and believable excuse for the two shiny scars running diagonally towards the centre of her chest. Garrus was not a good turian, but he wasn't foolish. He stood his ground quietly.
Saren's displeasure was written clearly across his face, and General Vakarian was paying more attention to Garrus than he had for the last three years. Shepard stepped forward, her brand still causing whispered outrage among the generals, and raised an eyebrow. Saren's annoyance grew with the obviously mocking gestures their criminal was displaying. He glanced at the hierarchy members seated around the table. Shepard's lack of fear and submission was disappointing to him, but he could work it into his favor.
One of the government officials rose to his feet and addressed the odd pair,
"Captain Vakarian, we have called this meeting to discuss an important matter of global peace". He glanced at the Primarch nervously, clearly trying to say things he approved of. Saren, however, just continued to survey Garrus and Shepard with calm, cold eyes.
Garrus nodded towards the speaker, unease prickling under his plates. Living with Shepard the past week made him question many long held conceptions, but he wasn't ready to pick a side just yet. Nor, did he understand why exactly they had been called here.
For the first time since the meeting had started Saren spoke, " Captain Vakarian, this morning we received confirmation that an attack against the human ship "The Taurus" was successful". His sub-harmonics radiated smug superiority, "and we have confirmed the death of the war criminal Captain Anderson."
A cold shiver of fear trailed down Jane's spine. The entirety of his speech, despite addressing Garrus, Saren had his eyes fixed on Shepard. Even without being able to read most turian expressions, Shepard noted with disgust the wide turian grin spread maliciously across his mandibles. "He had to be lying" she thought desperately. Shepard had lost contact with the Taurus almost a month previous. Idiotically, she'd hoped that the ship was just hiding planet-side and would eventually resurface. Jane had no sentimental attachment to the ship itself, but Anderson was a friend, someone she enjoyed spending time with and respected considerably. Anderson had been a teacher, a friend, and a goal for Shepard to strive towards. When Shepard had received the devastating news that both her parents had been killed fighting the turians, Anderson had been a father. An unfamiliar numbness prevented Saren's harsh words from breaking her. Her carefully constructed walls had begun to fall, but she wasn't about to break yet. "You might have made me a slave, but I'm not mindless enough to believe the words of a turian without proof", Shepard's lip curled in contempt as she stared down the turian leader.
Garrus watched Shepard out of the corner of his eye. He'd never seen her act like this before. She was always fast to react, so alive and so vibrant that this sudden cold radiating off of her made the room feel like it had dropped a dozen degrees. He noticed it, and so did the Primarch. Saren. Garrus watched his superior relax again, Shepard was quick witted, yes, but Saren knew this, and understood that emotionally, she was a steel wall. Shepard was known to be a strong, independent, dangerous woman, and the humans looked up to her as one. To get that wall to crack would be so empowering for their race. It was playing dirty, and Garrus hated it.
Saren paused, pondering on his prisoner's demand. Whilst Shepard really wasn't in any position to make demands, a broken and mournful example was much more convincing than a strong and fiery one. A few decisive taps into his omni-tool and a glowing orange screen appeared behind Garrus and Shepard.
A grainy recording of The Taurus flickered to life on the screen, whilst the crackle of missiles and guns punctuated space. There was no doubt in Shepard's mind that the ship on-screen was Anderson's pride. Alliance insignias' flashed on the wings and hull of the ship, and the tell-tale blue stripes of human resistance blazed defiantly in the semi-darkness of space. The ship was mid-battle, weapons continuously bombarding the approaching turian ships. The lone ship was hopelessly outnumbered and a large, gaping hole in the ship's hull sealed its fate. A rusty red planet behind them formed an angry background, framing the piece playing out in front of them with hopeless certainty. Shepard winced, and she felt a twinge of gratefulness for the direction that the screen faced; there was no way any of the rabid pyjacks behind her could see her expression.
Through the numb resignation in her brain, a sluggish recognition for the ship's background sparked. It was Mars. The last location Anderson had given her was in the Sol system, near Jupiter. The military tactician portion of her brain processed strings of possibilities and grudgingly admitted his final position could have wound up being near Mars. The crystal clear answer, cruel as it may be, rose to the surface of her mind like a resurrected shipwreck, its timbers ugly and bare in its harsh reality. Jane forced her disgust and overwhelming sorrow into an even tighter coil as the screech of tearing metal filtered through the room. The ship gave one last bellow, like a dying beast, as it plummeted into the planet's atmosphere.
Garrus had been watching his charge quietly. The fiery red-head's face was devoid of any emotion. She was completely blank, yet being so close to her, he could see the strong muscles in her arms and shoulders were rigid.
Humans were so strange; their little stick-like limbs, their slender hips, and their oddly flexible skin. Now he thought about it, everything about Shepard's race was flexible; their skin, their bodies, even their hair flowed and changed, adapting to it's surroundings easily. Human expressions were becoming easier and easier for Garrus to read. Their faces were far more expressive than turian ones; turians mostly use their mandibles to visually express feelings, but any other member of the species would be able to pick up on the slight changes in eye width and the positioning of the plates on their forehead. Humans, however, were a completely different matter. Although turian faces were less easy to read than the human equivalent, their sub-vocals painted a far wider painting of feelings. Shepard's race made barely any noise at all to express their feelings; no growling, no purring and definitely no sub-vocals. Occasionally they would laugh or cry out in pain, but the distinct lack of sub-vocals set any normal turian at a disadvantage at searching out human feelings. Still, Garrus found Shepard easier to understand than most of her species, and her puzzling reaction set him in edge.
There was nothing.
No pain, no hurt, no anger, and no vibrancy playing out across her face. He twitched uneasily. "Why exactly is Captain Anderson so important to her?"
"You're all Cowards", Shepard began, so quietly that those farther back almost couldn't hear her, "You've killed most of the alliance, all that's left on these ships are civilians. They pose almost no threat, and still you hunt them down and kill them under the pathetic pretense that they pose a threat to the galaxy? You may have twisted views on humanity, but during this mockery of a war, the Alliance never targeted your children or infirm, even when we had the chance", Shepard looked up at the table of Generals, her eyes so cold that their vibrant green seemed to dullen somehow. "What could a couple of hundred innocents do to a galaxy that already hates and fears them?"
Garrus stared slack-jawed at Shepard. "Is she actually trying to appeal to their better nature? She's fought enough of us to know when our minds are set, almost nothing sways it." He couldn't help, however, feel a small swell of admiration for her attempt.
Shepard had seen enough of war and his race to know that once a turian had made up his mind on something, it was almost impossible to sway their opinion. Still, he felt a swell of admiration for her efforts.
Predictably, Saren glowered at the human in contempt. "Captain Anderson was most definitely not an innocent. Our men had orders to attack his ship on sight.
Garrus attempted to keep his mandibles from flicking in irritation. "That's no excuse. Shepard was classified as our top threat and she was to be taken alive. Anderson was classified lower, but designated a kill on sight? Something doesn't add up."
Shepard's eyes narrowed dangerously "Don't lie to me, turian. My sources say that I was labelled as far higher a threat than my superior, and you capture me but kill him? Don't patronize me".
They should know that underestimating her was a mistake by now; she's not stupid, and assuming she was would get you killed. Saren kept a relaxed stance, only a small quiver of his mandibles and slightly narrowed gaze betrayed his irritation. Shepard sunk into a hip, her hands bracketing her hips in challenge. The position placed her even closer to Garrus, so close, the bend of her elbow nearly brushed his waist. Garrus felt another traitorous swell of pride for the human beside him. "They should know that underestimating her was a mistake by now; she's not stupid, and assuming she was would get you killed."
Saren rose to his feel and approached the two with a self-assured swagger. Garrus huffed slightly, eyeing the guards on either side of him, knowing they were responsible for Saren's inflated sense of superiority. Garrus felt Shepard tense, and allowed his armoured arm to brush hers casually. Any careful observer would miss the gesture, but Shepard knew Archangel was far too good to 'accidentally' brush her arm with his. Reinforced by his unspoken support, Shed stared the approaching Turian in the face, grateful for the numb feeling masking her sorrow in a shroud of blankness.
The Primarch leered at the commander, brimming with false self-assurance and confidence. Garrus stiffened slightly; he wasn't sure that if push came to shove, Shepard would be able to hold her own with an injured shoulder. Despite her obvious disadvantage, Jane stared calmly into his eyes.
"You'd do well to remember exactly who you're addressing. Your owner may tolerate it, but I won't. As for your esteemed leader, he admittedly was not at the top of our most wanted list, but that's not to say he wasn't classified as a high priority. Simply put, the fool was more useful to us dead than alive."
Shepard stepped forward, crowding the sadistic turian, her hands crackling blue with barely contained biotics. Garrus watched her cautiously from the corner of his eyes. "Spirits Shepard. Don't do anything stupid. Pushing a Spectre is one thing, but attacking the Primarch is a death sentence." Jane wasn't stupid. She paused mere inches from Saren and watched as he tensed.
"Talk down to me as much as you want, but if you spin one more filthy lie about Anderson, I will personally castrate you in front of the whole of Palaven," Shepard's cold threat sent a shiver down Garrus' spine. "She really is terrifying." Jane continued, "If you think his death will break me, you're wrong. And that's what this is all about, right? Breaking me and breaking humanity?" She stepped away from him, the biotic hum that encased her dissipating. "If you haven't learned yet, you never will. Humans are a hell of a lot more resilient than you think." Resisting the urge to spit in the repulsive turian's face, she spun on her heel, and walked out.
Shepard's stride faltered slightly when she heard the faint click of the door shutting behind her. She collapsed heavily on a bench just outside the doors as the last few moments caught up with her. "He's dead. The only semblance of a family I had left in this messed-up universe had been murdered by these Turian assholes! And it's my damned fault".
She was so tired. Her body sagged under the combined weight of Anderson's death and responsibility for her remaining people. Shepard bit her lip, hoping the physical pain would distract her from the deep, searing hurt that shot through her insides and broke her heart. There, in the empty corridor, Jane cried for the first time since her parents died.
The click of the door shutting punctuated the now silent room. General Vakarian turned to stare coldly at his son. "This is highly disturbing and, dare I say it, disappointing, Captain Vakarian. When we gave Shepard to you, the Hierarchy was under the impression you could control her. I would suggest you teach her where her rightful place is." His sub vocals twanged in displeasure, but, as usual, no emotion showed across his face.
Garrus clenched his fists, talons digging into his palm; warm, sticky blue blood coated his palms, and anger bubbled through his veins. Garrus wasn't the good turian his father wanted, and he certainly wasn't Saren.
Garrus tilted his head to the side, surveying his father with cold eyes. "The Hierarchy gave her to me. I'll do, and let her do, what I see fit." He allowed his words to hover in the air for a few moments, relishing in the shocked silence. He shifted his gaze towards the Primarch. He knew what was expected of him. He was the son of a high ranking General and was himself a legend among turians, even if it was as the faceless Archangel. But since Saren's rise to power, he had found himself disgusted with his race's behavior. "With respect Primarch, it's been a long day and we have an even longer trip to return home." Without waiting for a reply, Garrus strode from the room.
General Vakarian stood and approached Saren, embarrassment nearly radiating from him. "I must apologize for my son's behavior," he began stiffly. "I will adjourn to the compound and discuss his actions with him immediately."
Saren held up a hand. "No need. This is a very interesting development we may be able to use in the future." His grey eyes settled on the door Garrus had walked out of. "Very interesting indeed."
Shepard rubbed her eyes, but the cold, salty tears refused to stop dripping down her face. "You're Commander Shepard of the Alliance Navy for God's sake! You don't cry! You need to be able to handle anything. Be strong even when the worst case happens! You don't cry!" She refused to allow herself to cry. She refused to admit the tears were hers. Jane was so preoccupied by her inner scolding; she didn't notice the quiet click of the door behind her opening.
Garrus cocked his head slightly. Shepard was sitting on the bench, back to him. Her hands rubbed at her eyes and a vaguely salty smell permeated the air. Jane's breath was uneven as it ripped itself from her body. The harsh sound filled the hall. His brow plates shifted with confusion and puzzlement. "Is she ill? Spirits, I don't know enough about humans." He reached out tentatively. On a normal day she was deadly as any other apex predator. Given her unusual behavior in the meeting room, she was now unpredictable. He had no idea how she'd react to his touch. Garrus carefully rested a hand on her shoulder. Jane sprung from the seat, panic clearly written across her flushed face. "I probably should have made a noise so she knew I was here," he thought in hindsight as he withdrew his hand.
He quickly took in the red that rimmed her eyes and the wet trails that ran down her cheeks. "I've seen this before. The child on The Normandy had done this. Water appearing to come from the eyes." They stared at each other in silence. Shepard held her breath and Garrus suddenly became acutely aware of the closeness of their bodies; Jane had to crane her neck up to keep eye contact. Garrus knew he was new at reading human's emotions, but the sadness seemed to radiate off of Shepard in waves. The trails of water continued to drip down her face, settling against the exposed skin of her shoulder.
"What is this?" he murmured finally.
It took a while for Garrus' words to register in her brain. Shepard couldn't bring herself to be embarrassed for crying in front of him. In fact, amidst the overwhelming sense of loss clawing up her insides and shredding her heart, a tiny spark of almost hysterical amusement tickled her. She gave a small laugh at the gap in his knowledge, "I-I'm crying", Jane's voice broke halfway through her sentence, and she couldn't bring herself to look away from his worried, and still curious, gaze. Finally regaining motor function in her arms, she raised a hand in a failing attempt to stem her tears. Trying to infuse humor in her tone, Shepard forced a small, half-hearted smile onto her cheeks, "we primates do it when we have something in our eyes, when we're hurt, or when we're really, really sad".
The smile was so forced; even with his limited knowledge of human expression he knew it was fake. He lifted his hand from her cheek, crossed his arms, and sunk into a hip. "And what kind of advanced evolutionary defense mechanism is that," he joked softly. "All it does is reduced your eyesight."
Jane's lips twitched into a more normal smile, and she raised an eyebrow mockingly, "This coming from a space chicken with three talons instead of fingers? That's rich." She tried to sound snarky and natural, but her voice broke. She couldn't help it; a painful sob broke it's way through her barriers, and the facade broke. Shepard wrapped her arms protectively around her midsection as her head bowed forward.
Garrus needed to do something; his whole body tingled with the need to do something! As her master, he was meant to protect her, but he had no idea how to protect her from the turmoil of emotions bubbling inside of her. Garrus' body seemed to move on it's own, and before he knew it, he was encasing her in his arms, determined to protect her from this invisible pain. He felt her tense beneath him, and immediately regretted his split-second decision to help her. Just as he was about to say something, her whole body relaxed, and he felt long, soft, plate-less arms encircle his waist.
They stayed there fir a little while, until Shepard's sobs became less frequent, and her shaking had stopped all together. She lent back slightly, and Garrus dropped his protective hold on her. Their new position allowed her to pull her arms back and wipe her face, but wasn't far enough away to signify her discomfort. She looked up at him, and smiled a more natural smile. A small pool of confidence grew in his stomach, "So, what is it you use these seemingly pointless extra fingers for?"
A quiet huffing laugh escaped Shepard. Garrus gazed down at her, scrutinizing her mood. At least she looked better. Not entirely healed, not normal, but it was definitely Shepard's smile. Thank the spirits she wasn't crying; He'd had no idea what to do!
"Well, we use them to climb, grasp our weapons, and sometimes talk to each other." She rolled her eyes at his confused expression. "Sometimes humans are born without the ability to hear or speak. We use our hands to communicate with them. The military uses hand signals as well."
Shepard performed some seemingly random hand movements. "see?" She smiled. Garrus peered curiously at her hands, "they're so different from my own hands," he thought. Tiny and delicate and pink. Such a contrast to our plated rough palms. She's so different from me physically. Yet when we spend time together it feels ok. Normal even." He felt a stab of sorrow at the thought. He pulled himself away from those thoughts and twitched a mandible humorously at her. "Can't imagine how you've survived without sub vocals, let alone with no hearing," he grumbled softly.
His hand extended towards her, cupping her elbow with his as he guided her down the hall. As they reached the end of the corridor, Shepard turned to face him. "Before I forget, I should warn you, don't sneak up on me like that again. I can't be blamed if I attack you!" the smirk never left her face, "You almost gave me a heart attack, you stupid space chicken."
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