Last update: 04/04/2021

Single chapter

Sighing, dropped the rucksack to his feet and looked around the Docking Bay, taking notice of the familiar faces around, waiting for transport just like he is. It wasn’t surprising that he didn’t know most of them, though. Arcturus Station was big and, more than that, people would come and go very often. The turnover was rather high, considering there were always more exciting posts to be had elsewhere in the galaxy. Even those who were permanently tasked to the station did leave from time to time, more often than not, in their respective ships – if only for a little while before coming back.
As an analyst, though, much preferred staying put in the station, serving the Systems Alliance the best he could away from the excitement of serving in a ship. Simply put, he wasn’t made for it. It wasn’t that he couldn’t – he did, after all, pass all of his classes and assessments – but the simple fact that he would rather not. There were always plenty of opportunities raining down the First Lieutenant, exciting ones that would spell a much faster rise to his already brilliant career until now. He, however, would leave that to others, those who craved live combat and danger. As long as could serve away from the fray, he would. There was a good career path waiting for him and he did not mind the lack of combat accolades.
And then the war came.
The conflict between the Batarian Hegemony and the Citadel Council were far from new, of course. Considering their fundamental cultural differences, it was ’s private opinion that they’d never be true allies or be really at peace. But, for a very long time, the governments from both sides did their very best to minimise the situation, soothing the tempers whenever something happened and citing this or that reason why no actions could be taken, despite how bloody and violent the conflicts were getting.
It was only with the ascension of a Human Councillor to the Citadel Council that things started to change.
As a very new race to the galactic scenario, humans and their colonies were frequent targets to Batarian slavers and suffered the brunt of their ravaging. Countless requests for help and official sanctions against the Hegemony were put forth to the Council by human representatives, but humanity’s status as a mere associate limited what they could and couldn’t ask of the Council. After all, they were only one more race in the vast Milky Way and there were others with problems just as serious that had been waiting for much longer for a solution. Some races even had conflicts with the Batarians themselves,
Despite escalating raids and the noted hatred for humans, there was nothing to be done with any immediacy in the throes of Citadel bureaucracy.
It was the unexpected alliance between the Turian Hierarchy and the Unified European Empire that changed things up. Primarch Adrien Victus married Princess Beatrix Rosenstrale and the last gap between humans and Turians after the First Contact War – or Relay 314 Incident – was closed. It was not to say that all as mended and that no resentment still lingered, but officially it was all in the past and a new pathway of political cooperation between the two species opened up – even if that hadn’t been the aim of the marriage at all.
With the support of the powerful militaristic race, humanity’s influence the galatic scope skyrocketed, making it nigh impossible to keep them out of the highest echelons of Milky Way politics. Cutting the line in front of all the other races aiming for a chair in the Council, Humanity made history with the ascension of Councillor Juan Álvarez.
The change obviously didn’t come without its detractors, but the vast majority was easily pacified by promises of better participation of associate races and a bigger voting power on key issues that had been demanded for a long time. It made sense, really. After all, one could hardly expect the Krogan to shape the future of the galaxy when they were barely dealing with Tuchanka. It was through no fault of their own, of course, at least not entirely, but politics were ruthless and gave very little leeway.
For a long while after this shift in the galactic players, it seemed like things were finally going to calm down. The naysayers who were protesting were fewer and fewer every day, Humans were settling into the role with a grace that semeed to surprise everyone – even the humans themselves – and life moved on. It wasn’t until a Batarian raid in a human colony that it truly blew up, making it inevitable that war would be officially declared. The colony in question was not some backwater farming hole in the Terminus Systems, but a well-established, thriving hub. More than that- it had been Princess Beatrix’s personal project and she had been caught in the crossfire, ending up gravely injured.
The loud outcry from both the Hierarchy and the Systems Alliance, as well as the mounting pressure from other races to do something about the increasingly bold Batarian pirates, led to the decision to officially declare war against the Hegemony. Despite tentative platitudes that the actions had not been officially sanctioned, the Hegemony’s failure in curbing them and the evidence that they had been encouraging the outlaws was too overwhelming to allow for de-escalating of the situation.
Despite the lack of surprise from all the parts involved, an official conflict like that always generated a certain instability – and this was particularly true in ’s life.
His entire career and life plan had been carefully crafted in times of peace. Yes, he was military, but the conflicts had not been serious after the First Contact War and none had been expected to crop up within his lifetime. Someone with his abilities, in those times, could expect to follow a brilliant and yet safe military path. The Navy was full of young, idealistic types, eager to go to the front lines of protecting Humanity’s interests and eliminating threats. There had been no need for to even contemplate anything different.
Wartime, though, had no such certainties.
They’d need their best and brightest on the field, at ready to be deployed wherever was necessary and more efficient to the war effort. And whilst had managed to make a case for himself for the beginning of the conflict, convincing his superiors that he was more of use in Arcturus Station, he’d known it wouldn’t be forever. An asset like himself couldn’t be hidden away or underused in moments like that.
Squinting upwards to the artificial sky, the lieutenant sighed again and shielded his eyes with a hand, watching as ship after ship zipped by. Soon, he’d be in one of them and all could think about was whether or not Yifan would actually water his plants like he promised.
Probably not.
The hum of an engine pulled out of his own thoughts, the shuttle parking gracefully in its designated spot. The number on the side was the same in ’s deployment orders- his ride was here. He knew the name of the ship he’d serve in, knew most of the information about the posting, but it didn’t leave him any more at ease than before.
Change was, after all, always scary.
The doors opened and a dark-skinned man stepped out, his close-cropped hair regulation-approved and his uniform pressed to perfection.
— Officers and servicemen slotted to deployment to SSV Leipzig, please be prepared to depart. The shuttle will not wait for stragglers. Thirty minutes, everyone — his voice was powerful and almost as stern as his face.
With a datapad in hand, the man walked away towards a terminal in the end of the Docking Bay, likely dealing with the last details for departure or maybe checking on requisition orders. knew that there were a lot of things, a lot of logistics, involved in making sure a ship was running smoothly.
Not wishing to give the man any more trouble to worry about, the lieutenant picked up his bag from the ground and made his way to the shuttle, noticing how few of the other people present were doing the same. Uh. They were either waiting for a last-minute boarding full of emotion and a potential scolding...or they weren’t destined to the Leipzig. That was...interesting. As a frigate, the Leipzig didn’t really have the sheer bulk of people stationed as dreadnoughts and freighters, but had thought that his posting meant the ship would be going through a change in stationed personnel. Apparently not.
He signed into the panel by the door, ignoring the soft VI voice welcoming him to the Typhoon and taking a seat in one of the benches by the walls. As a transport shuttle, there wasn’t much to write home about inside the Typhoon. A couple of control panels, a door that led to the pilot’s chair and benches with hand grips attached to the ceiling, for when the shuttle was full and people needed to be transported standing.
Pretty standard, as far as was concerned, but he couldn’t really relax fully. The Leipzig was part of the First Fleet and they were likely going to patrol the area around the Charon Relay, considering the rumours he heard about new, cutting-edge Turian-designed cannon being installed in the frigate. Charon was the key to the Sol System, which meant that it would likely see a lot of activity during this war.
The fact hadn’t been deployed to the offensive forces was a relief, but only a small one. As far as he was concerned, home defence was a game with much, much higher stakes and he didn’t know yet if he was ready to be betting on it.
His eyes snapped to the door when it opened with a soft hiss, admitting a short, serious-looking woman in Alliance uniform. Her long hair was plaited down her back and her stunning face set in a very intimidating expression. ’s spine immediately straightened.
The woman turned her dark eyes on him, analysing, before nodding curtly. — Lieutenant . Navigation.
Tentatively, smiled at her. — Lieutenant , Combat Information.
Lieutenant took a seat, a faint smile on her lips that lasted barely a second, but something told that it was more than most people ever got. — First off-base deployment?
Surprised, he blinked. — That obvious? I was, ah, stationed in Arcturus for most of my career.
— A little. There’s a nervous energy about you, but you’re not a freshie. You station folks always give yourselves away when first serving in a ship — flicked a strand of her hair away from her face. — Not always a bad thing. Space is dangerous, only fools don’t fear it.
— I thought you’d tell me it’s ridiculous that someone who serves the Alliance might fear serving in a ship — it was, after all, something heard often from the more hot-headed marines he’s met.
— That’s common sense — the female Lieutenant said, bluntly, her beautiful voice in contrast with the severity of her tone. — One bloody hole in the hull and we’re all dead, nowhere to run. It’s ridiculous to wear bravado like a shield when it won’t save you in case of an explosion. Now, as long as you don’t let the fear control you or make you inefficient, it’s rather healthy.
Nodding slowly, leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, still looking at Lieutenant . She looked very much unbothered by the conversation, impeccable and put together. wondered if she, too, was afraid.
— It’s war. All of us need to do things we aren’t exactly comfortable with because it’s what we signed up for, no? — and, if given the chance to walk away from everything, knew he wouldn’t take it.
Surprisingly, that made the woman laugh. It’s a silvery thing, like the chiming of a bell. — Die for the Cause, uh?
blinked, confused. — The Turian anthem? — what did that have to do with anything at all?
— This mentality of duty above all is very Turian. Though my mate uses much stronger words, the sentiment is the same as yours — there was a glint in Lieutenant ’s eyes, just daring him to say something about the whole Turian mate thing.
couldn’t really care less. Was it a little odd? Yes, very. The woman in front of him was stunning by human standards and she could’ve had anyone she wanted. Hell, even Asari would’ve bent over backwards to be with her. But if she chose a Turian to love, then good for her.
— I’ve only had extended contact with one Turian in my life and he was Cabal. I’ll believe you in that, since I’m sure the one I met isn’t exactly...standard.
grimaced slightly, nodding. — Good call. They go above and beyond duty, which is admirable, but it’s a very exaggerated version of the society as a whole — she seemed to shrug the whole thing off quickly, as if deciding she was better off not thinking too much on it. — You can call me .
The ice around the Lieutenant- - seemed to thaw a little, making her a bit more approachable. Maybe made his first friend in this new venture, to help soothe the loss of the ones he’d to leave behind.
— Then call me .

-


’s first impression of the Leipzig and her crew was that, surprisingly, wasn’t the scariest thing he’d encounter during his deployment in the frigate. He had, perhaps naively, thought that the other Lieutenant took over the whole quota of scarily efficient and just plain scary of the entire ship and that everyone else would be different shades of normal.
That idea lasted about thirty minutes into their orientation through the ship, being shown around by the XO, a handsome bloke called . Lieutenant Commander had been showing , and another of the new additions – a man who’d introduced himself as Gunnery Chief Mark Lee — around the ship, introducing the system and making them aware of any regulations that were special to the Leipzig. was charming and seemed rather easy going, something that seemed to incense and make Lee almost pee himself in relief. As for , it made him think that a posting in the Leipzig wouldn’t be so bad, after all.
Then the battery doors opened and was lost.

-


To say that he’d never heard of Commander before would be a lie. Her impeccable service record preceded the war with the Batarians, after all. A true hero of Humanity, checking all the boxes. From a military family, born in a colony, ascending through the ranks like it was going out of style and gaining the legendary N7 designation after making a name for herself ruthlessly defending and striking in the Skyllian Verge. Her comrades feared and respected her at the same time, the military didn’t quite know what to do with her when they weren’t sending her in mission that couldn’t afford failure. Yeah, had heard of before.
He just hadn’t known she would be so...pretty. For a woman with such reputation, Commander was about as tall as – which was to say, not at all. Her glossy dark hair was pulled back from her face in a high ponytail, a few strands stubbornly framing her attractive face. Full lips, intense eyes and cheekbones that could serve as a murder weapon, looked like an actress cast to play the war hero in a vid.
Their entire group fell silent as she walked towards them, just the sound of her boots on the metal flooring echoing as she approached the Mess Hall. There was a tangible change in the air and not only from the newcomers. Lt Commander straightened from his casual posture, one of the officers that had been milling about eating yoghurt made himself scarce and even had a nervous energy around her.
The Commander’s face was impassive, unreadable as a rock, as she stopped by in parade rest. She wasn’t wearing armour and , for a very hysterical second, wondered if she could look even more intimidating if she was.
— Welcome to the SSV Leipzig. I’m sure Lt. Commander will give you all the information that you need to assume your posts, but feel free to come to me if you need to. I try to keep an open-door policy with my crew — maybe it was just , but he couldn’t imagine himself going to the Commander for anything at all. — We are at war, ladies and gentlemen. Remember that when you wake up, when you go about your duties, when you go to sleep. I will surely not let you forget.
With that, smiled. It was a tight thing, almost a grimace, and with a nod to Lt. Commander , she turned on her heels and marched back into the Main Battery. didn’t waste a single second before herding them away, towards what knew to be the crew quarters.
— Whatever you have heard or read, Commander is one of the Alliance’s finest — said, after a beat of silence. wondered if the man knew his words were making everything worse. — She has always done her duty, always protected the interests of Humanity admirably and she’s a fair CO.
Pressing his lips together, exchanged a heavy look with , who shook her head slightly. Her pretty pink lips mouthed a couple of words around a mirthless smile. Die for the Cause.

-


It didn’t take long for to notice that, First Fleet or not, no ship headed by Commander was going to be kept in reserve. Her reputation alone was usually more than enough to put fear in the heart of the enemies, as well as bolster morale among allied troops – and, of course, she was efficient.
A little too much, at times.
It was the little things, at first, that made notice that it wasn’t all propaganda about the Commander – for better or for worse. never joined them for downtime, for example, even if the poker tournements were organised by himself. There was always an excuse, delivered by the XO, of why couldn’t come. The Commander also never called them by anything than rank or surname, no matter the situation. After the first couple of months in the ship, had realised that the crew was tight knit among themselves. Frigates were the biggest of ships, after all, and they were at war. It called for closeness, for kinship, and he found that the crew subscribed to it too.
Lt. Commander became as soon as his shift was over and was always Baetokki when they weren’t on duty. Really, was on first-name basis with just about everyone on the ship. Except, of course, the Commander. She’d never treat them with anything but stiff formality, even , whom she seemed to be the closest to. She also never talked to them about things that weren’t strictly official, never asked about their families or about how they were feeling.
Simply put, there was a wall between Commander and the crew of the Leipzig that she seemed to make a monumental effort to keep up. It wasn’t to say that she was a bad CO, of course not. In fact, had never served under anyone so efficient and those who had served under her for longer only had praises for her. The thing was...the praises always had a small undercurrent of something that he couldn’t put his finger on.
Not until, of course, Torfan.
The moon was rather unremarkable, despite being too close to Citadel space for anyone’s comfort. It was a no man’s land, basically, taken over by Batarian pirates and slavers whose activities were carefully not seen by the Hegemony. Before the war, there hadn’t been much they could do, not even after the Skyllian Blitz. Commander had been slotted for a retaliation mission in Torfan, if wasn’t mistaken, but the Council managed to calm the tempers of the Alliance before it was launched, leaving the moon and its inhabitants alone for a while.
Now, though, it was not only a chance of payback for the Blitz, but also a strategic strike on the morale of the Batarians as a whole. It wasn’t a surprise that everyone was salivating to get into the mission, even though they were strictly a defence frigate. It also surprised no one when they ended up being picked for it. It wasn’t their success rate, nor their brand-new Thanix cannon. No, they had something the Batarians hated and feared more than anything in the galaxy.
They had .
The Commander herself had very little outward reaction when one of the officers relayed their orders, clenching her jaw tight and nodding, ordering for the course to be set. , who had by now spent a worryingly long time admiring and her expressions – as controlled as they were –, knew she wasn’t as unaffected as she pretended to be. It was clear on how she stayed on parade rest for almost ten minutes, barely moving. On the near imperceptible way she worried her red bottom lip between her perfectly white teeth. By the way her attractive eyes darkened the closer they got to their destination.
Something was up with the Commander. What, couldn’t say exactly. He didn’t know if she was craving payback, if she was worried, if she was irritated. As far as anyone knew, could be suffering from PTSD the entire time since she held back and defended Elysium single-handedly and was terrified of even hearing any mention of it or Batarians in general.
Whatever it was, was sure she wouldn’t let it show willingly.
Their orders mentioned that it was imperative for the foothold in Torfan to be eradicated by whatever means necessary and the Commander quickly decided that orbital bombardment combined with planted explosives would do the job. They’d go in, distract the pirates and let the strike teams do their jobs with the demolition experts. Then, they’d get out and watch the fireworks.
A niggling unease started settling on the base of ’s neck when no protocol regarding surrenders or possible civilians were set. It seemed like everyone expected it to be a scorched earth scenario – something highly unlikely considering that the moon was inhabited mostly by pirates. State-funded ones, yes, privateers basically. But those were individuals moved by greed and he doubted they’d want to fight to the last man.
seemed to share his concerns, though she only admitted it once they had settled for the night in the Observation Deck, watching the stars zip by them as they travelled towards Torfan.
— There’s a reason why the brass sent this mission over to us, you know — the woman rested her chin on her knee, arms around her legs tightly. Wearing an Alliance hoodie and yoga pants, long hair loose around her face, looked younger and softer.
Like one of those predators that pretended to be harmless before they snapped your neck and ate you.
, settled on an armchair in front of the couch had commandeered, licked his lips, pensive. — Commander , yes. What begs the question is: did she ask for it? I know that she was the one supposed to lead the team back in the day, when an attack in Torfan was scheduled to happen.
, who wasn’t an information officer like him, looked up, surprised. — I didn’t know that. But makes sense, I guess. She’s not only qualified but also had a reason to want payback because of the Blitz.
— The thing is...we all know what kind of reputation the Commander has. If she asked for the mission, then it makes sense it was given to us, you know? She is a war hero and one with a grudge to settle. But if it was given to us without her asking... — he trailed off.
— Then it’s because they want her to do what she does best — picked up from where he left off, quick as a whip. — Leave none alive.
A shiver ran through ’s spine at those words.
— That has to be an exaggeration from the stories, right?
There was no answer forthcoming.

-


The conversation with kept replaying in ’s mind as he watched the strike team getting ready through the ship’s feed. He had the audio on and whilst other people would help him out, all the comms would go through his station first and priority orders from the Commander herself would only cross his comm.
He couldn’t exactly dismiss the idea that the Alliance had basically sent them in to commit a massacre, even if only by their choice of team for the mission. It wasn’t a pleasant thought for , who believed in everything the Alliance stood for, but he couldn’t deny the possibility. At the same time, he also didn’t want to think so badly of the Commander, that would so easily waltz in and murder everyone in that moon, regardless of status. Maybe it was the ridiculous crush he’d started to develop from watching her when no one else was, hoarding the small amused smiles she’d let out when they were distracted goofing around, or the fond looks she’d throw the oldest members of her team when they weren’t looking. Her astounding beauty had a lot to do with it, of course, but if it had been just that...well, let’s just say that the icy behaviour would’ve cooled the fire down very quickly.
But somehow, against all odds, there was a human side to the hardened, feared war hero. A side that she did her best to smother to death, one that few – if anyone – was ever privy to. One that turned into ’s obsession- to catch the Commander unaware in those slips in her impenetrable armour. The more he saw, the more his heart was lost and the more he longed for more of that side of her.
Moments like this, though, wondered if there really was more to her than brief flashes of humanity.
looked unaffected, checking her armour seals for breaches and her weapons and heat-sinks. Her omni-tool flashed orange every so often, system checks running in the background and giving her updates. A blue glow of her biotics flared into the port cargo, calling everyone’s attention, but it faded away quickly too. A biotic sniper, just about every enemy’s fear.
— Alright, we’re ready to move out. Attack Squad Hannibal, do you copy? — called into her comm, locking her rifle behind her back with its powerful magnets and picking up her helmet.
Lieutentant Ribeiro’s slightly staticky voice sounded in response. — Hannibal here, Infiltration Squad Deathwatch, copy. We are in position and we see the enemy.
breathed in once, a surprising show of...humanity, really, and then turned to the rest of the people with her. They were her usual choice for ground teams, people she trusted to watch her back and obey her without question, even more than usual. Receiving nods from all of them, she closed her eyes.
— Roger, Hannibal. We are on our way. Give them hell — ordered and closed the mic from her comms, but not muting the sounds of orders being given planetside and the start of a muffled sound of gunfire. — We move out, Deathwatch. Quick and efficient. Lieutenant , permission to start orbital strike. I swear that if you fry the Thanix cannon, I’ll make you present the report to the Turians in person.
The faint squeak let out at the threat was amusing, for sure, but tension was too high for more than a bit of scattered laughter. Once that died out, spoke out again.
— May god have mercy on them, because we won’t — with that, she locked her helmet in place and opened the hatch, leading the way into the shuttle where was waiting to fly them to Torfan.
had a bad feeling about it.

-


The mission, from the beginning, occurred as it was meant to. Hannibal Squad went first, big, loud and meant to catch all the attention, allowing for Deathwatch Squad to slip in the cracks and plant the explosives in key points of the underground network of hideaways. A little further off, on another cluster, Lieutenant was having a lot of fun with the Thanix cannon, obliterating strongholds even through the dry rock of Torfan. The Batarians didn’t know where to focus first, attention split between the ground and air threats.
At least at first.
The Commander and her squad were like ghosts. In and out of buildings, going straight to the places marked in their maps and planting the powerful explosives as pld, leaving for the next target and not leaving a single witness behind. All of this followed through the comms, listening as orders were barked and gunfire sounded in the background. The distinct and yet almost subtle sound of ’s biotics flaring to life could also be heard, followed inevitably by sounds of pain and then a brief silence that spoke volumes of the state of the target.
It was a bloody but run-of-the-mill conflict, something to be expected from a war. Hannibal Squad was giving as good as they got, keeping the growing Batarian forces at bay and suitably distracted to allow Deathwatch to do their jobs. Far away, at the ship, was sitting rigidly in front of his console as he diverted the comms as necessary, paying special attention to ’s...because it was his job, of course.
Things seemed ready to die down, with the orbital strikes done and the last of the charges planted. It was all they needed to call a retreat and let the explosives do their jobs, when a string of curses came from Lt. Ribeiro’s comm. immediately connected her to .
— Commander, reinforcements are inbound — the woman called out, voice almost drowned out by screams and gunfire and distant explosions.
— We are almost ready to call a retreat, clearing out of the last target now. Hang in there, Hanniball Squad — it was ’s prompt response, faintly cut off by the bang of her rifle going off.
— They are headed your way, Commander. To the strongholds- I think they’ve guessed what we’re trying to do!
There was silence, after a fashion, for a long moment. In the CIC, everyone seemed to be holding their breaths too. It wasn’t exactly impossible that the Batarians had seen through their smokescreen tactics, of course, but they had hoped that wouldn’t be the case. Whilst it was too late for most of the targets, if they managed to get to even a couple of the charges and disable them...
— Hold the line, Lt. Those charges must go off — the heavy weight of the words meant that Commander knew exactly what she was just ordering and everyone, ground troops and ship crew alike, caught on.
— We can’t win here, Commander. Too many of them and we’d need to divert their attention from the targets.
Silence greeted Lt. Ribeiro for a long moment. — I know. But this line will not break, Lieutenant. Do you hear me? Primary objective is absolute destruction of infrastructure in the moon, no ground for failure. Those charges will go off and the line will hold.
’s knuckles were white with how tight he was holding the edge of his desk, hearing an entire squad essentially be sacrificed in order to turn a few buildings into rubble.
Only more gunfire and heavy breathing met the ’s declaration for a long moment, so long that thought that the Lt. would refuse to acknowledge the orders at all. Then, she spoke.
— Roger that, Commander. We’ll hold the line. It was a pleasure serving under you, ma'am — and, with that, the fate was sealed.
— Same here, Lt. You and your squad were damn fine soldiers and you’ll be remembered. Make it count, Lt — ’s voice didn’t break, it didn’t even waver.
She didn’t sound like a woman who’d just send a couple dozen of her own to their deaths.
The silence that followed was ’s cue to cut off the comms from Hannibal Squad from the rest, leaving only his own. One by one, he shut them off, until only the Commander’s was left connected, other than his. As if she could see what he was about to do, spoke.
— Leave it. I’ll stay with them until the end — that sentence, whether the Commander knew it or not, was for his ears alone.
Then, she connected her comms with the rest of Deathwatch Squad. — Retreat! Give Hannibal cover fire if possible, but I want no heroics, understood? Double time to the shuttle, we’re on the clock here!
The next few moments were a blur, with Deathwatch trekking to the shuttle where awaited them and the dying screams of the ever-dwindling Hannibal Squad sounding in ’s and ’s ears alone. It wasn’t his first time being privy to someone’s last moments but knowing they could’ve been saved...that they didn’t have to die...
He ran to the bathroom the moment his replacement relieved him, throwing up everything he had in his stomach and trying to blink back the tears.

-


was waiting for him outside of the bathroom, looking drawn and tired, already changed into her fatigues. It was a welcome sight, for all that something twisted in ’s stomach at being seen so vulnerable, even by her.
Silent, the woman offered him a bottle of vitamin water and he chugged it down eagerly, washing the bitterness from his mouth.
— We waited in orbit...just in case. Still no survivors. The Commander will order a full retreat from the system — broke the silence, playing with the ends of her braid. It was a nervous gesture not often seen.
— Bit late for that now — the response was biting, a far cry of the usually placid , and it was visible in the way flinched slightly. sighed and ran his hand over his face, roughly. — Sorry, Baetokki. It was not...a pleasant experience.
She understood, of course she did, touching his arm lightly before pulling away. — Yeah. And I didn’t even have to listen to it, like you did. You’ll be okay, though.
There was a certain stoicism to that was sure came from prolonged contact with her Turian mate. It wasn’t as if she was cold, not that. She was just...very practical.
— I’ve lost people before, squadmates, friends. But never like this — never in such a cold, ruthless way. Something that could be avoided.
— Nihlus would’ve said that they died with honour, which is the best anyone can ask for.
Lips touching the mouth of the bottle, looked at ’s tired figure, speculatively. — What about you? What would you say?
— That it’s cold consolation to those he left behind.

-


After their brief interlude, and went separate ways. He knew she’d be somewhere quiet, calling her Spectre of a mate and checking up on him, as well as reassuring him she was doing alright. Really, wouldn’t be surprised to see her wearing her mate’s white colony markings when he saw her next. She had once told him that she always wore them when she and Nihlus were together, because he’d be the one to paint them on her like he did when they were first mated. However, because she was human, couldn’t wear the semi-permanent painting Turians did and hers would wash off after a couple of weeks, needing to be redone. Since they were separated for the moment, she kept herself barefaced. Unless, of course, she was feeling in need of some extra strength. Then she did the markings herself, to feel closer to her mate and borrow his strength.
Thinking about it all made sigh, melancholy, because their relationship was truly something to aspire for. Two beings as different as the sun and the moon, and yet so complimentary. They were made for each other, filling in all the little gaps the other didn’t have.
He couldn’t help but think whether he’d have that with someone one day, as he walked towards the Starboard Observation Deck. It was empty, he’d cheated and checked in the system, and it was all that needed. Some peace and quiet, to process and grief.
The door hissed quietly, admitting his entrance, and didn’t really look anywhere other than the floor as he walked – which proved to be his mistake. Because sitting on the ground, perfectly still with her back straight, was Commander .
For a long moment, contemplated just turning away and leaving. Surely she had heard him enter and it would be rather rude to leave without saying a word, even if in apology for intruding. But the idea of speaking to her, when she had all but ordered the death of his own crewmates...it tasted as sour as his vomit in the back of his throat.
In the end, though, he just stepped forward, walking towards the huge observation windows. They were stationary, for the moment, the gaping maw of empty space the only thing staring back at them, broken here and there by the brightness of distant stars and the shape of the Armstrong Nebula on the edge of his vision.
After a moment of hesitation, took a seat on the ground, not in the least next to the Commander, but not far enough to feel like he was avoiding him. They both sat there, watching the expanse of the universe in silence and he really thought that it would be all. That they’d both brood and digest the day their own ways, together but separately.
Surprisingly, though, it was the Commander who broke the silence.
— You didn’t close your own comms — ’s voice, when not giving orders or modulated by the helmet, was soft. Pleasant to hear, though not musical like ’s. It was, he had to say, better. — I could hear you the whole time, trying not to make a sound.
knew what she was talking about, after all. He hadn’t closed the dying squad’s comms, thinking he owed it to his crewmates – to his friends – not to leave them alone in their twilight hour. And, because of his job as the one managing all communications, he couldn’t very well close his mic. ’s face burnt in shame at the thought of his Commander hearing his grief, as contained as it had been whilst on duty.
— It was the least I could do for them. I couldn’t save them, couldn’t do anything but listen. So I listened — he looked at her from the corner of his eye, taking her in for the first time.
was wearing an N7 hoodie and dark fatigue slacks, the hoodie a bit too big to be hers, almost swallowing her lithe frame. Her long, dark hair was loose in waves down her back, a lot longer than it looked when she arranged it up. She looked pale too, a grey tint under her dark skin and he could see how tense she was, like live wire. Whatever he felt about her decision on the field and the cold way she behaved afterwards, he could not call her unaffected.
— It wasn’t your duty to do that — ’s voice was still soft, in a way that unnerved him. She wasn’t supposed to be this...fragile.
— It’s not about duty- they were my friends! — ’s voice broke for a moment and he looked away, knowing that was still his superior. He couldn’t very well say whatever he wanted to her.
frowned, her pretty face drawing up together and her nose scrunching up. — I- didn't know that.
— No, Commander. You didn’t. How could you? — he laughed a little, hiccupping a sob. — You were never around when Brooke talked about her little sister going to college in Thessia and Rick being annoying about his Asari girlfriend. Or when Giovanna was bragging about her cats doing cute things and shoving vids in everyone’s faces. You never knew any of them. You knew Howard, Naveen and Ribeiro.
He was getting emotional, he knew it. didn’t really like showing weakness to anyone, not even to people he’d known his entire life. And here he was, basically accusing his superior of not carrying at the same time he was this close to start crying.
— I do...care. They were my crew and their well-being was my responsibility. Just because I wasn’t...close to them, it doesn’t mean I didn’t care. That I didn’t feel it — her words were halting, as if she was fighting every single thing that came out of her mouth. — I didn’t- know.
She finished, letting her voice trail off and didn’t know what to say. He was angry, he was grieving but he also couldn’t blame her anymore. Seeing the mighty Commander so small, so uncertain- it would be cruelty to pile up their deaths on her shoulders even more than she already was.
— Neither did they, Commander. They didn’t know you and didn’t know you cared — their crewmates died thinking wouldn’t bat an eyelash before moving on from their deaths.
Never, in a million years, would they think that she’d be sitting here and suffering through the loss alone. Well, not alone. With .
— I can’t let myself get involved, . And I can’t doubt the decisions I make. Someone told me...it’s the ruthless calculus of war. If I look back, I’m lost — shaking her head, stood up and walks towards the door, without another word.
Then, before she left, spoke up again. — Thank you....

-



They were sent to a rescue mission not even two days after their loss, to a planet in the Skyllian Verge. It was the mostly empty space that separated them from the Batarians, after all, and home to Elysium – their oldest colony in the area. The Batarians had attacked it once before and were thwarted by herself years before and since them tensions in the area remained high.
The woman in question, dressed in fatigues, paced in front of the map that detailed their assignment, her Marine detachment standing rigidly as they waited to be briefed - looking mostly unaffected and like she didn’t remember either the death of her crewmates or the chat they had together. Though he was not part of the ground team, was there as the one responsible for the CIC that day and he provided visual cues to the information the Commander had to relay to others. Sitting on the opposite side with other navigators was , serious in a way she showed herself not to be during downtime.
— The government of Elysium had the absolutely brilliant idea to try and attract investment to Sidon as of late, despite repeated warnings not to — she paused, clearly irritated. — And the Skyllian Blitz. And all the other attacks that happened in the vicinity. And my continued, pointed reproach.
Clearly there was some bitter feelings there, thought, and he had to press his lips together to avoid smiling at the thought of tiny standing in front of Fleet Admirals and government leaders, curtly telling them they were being stupid. It seemed, however, that his attempt to hold back the reaction had been in vain. A prickling sensation on the back of his neck made him look up and ’s eyes met ’s dark ones. She raised an eyebrow, questioning, and he quickly ducked his head again.
A moment later, she continued. — As it happens, with investments come people and some of these people bring families over- — at that, Staff Lieutenant groaned loudly, throwing his head back as if begging the deities that what came next wouldn’t be the epitome of stupidity. He was out of luck. — And now, of course, Batarian pirates have taken over the settlement and everyone is a war hostage. Which means we get to go in and waste precious time correcting some greedy government official’s dumb decisions. Of course, if we can extract information and co-opt war assets, that would be first priority. Questions?
Everyone shook their heads, even if they wanted to ask about whether the hostages took priority overall or not. nodded, satisfied.
— Dismissed. , I want the ground team ready to roll in an hour. , you have the comms during the mission. , you’re piloting the shuttle again, congratulations — the Commander gave the orders briskly, looking at them in turns.
— Aye, Commander — nodded and turned back to his station, pulling up the necessary systems and running checks on the equipment.
It wasn’t exactly his job, they had people to do the checks and the like- but if the Commander was expecting him to run the comms once more, any failure that came from it, even if not within his responsibilities...well, he didn’t want to find out what she would do. Or what kind of damage it would cause during the mission.
After their superior left, turned to , a sharp smile on her lips. — So I get to have your dulcet tones in my ear the whole time I’m flying into a red zone for the second time in two days, ?
He laughed a little, sneaking a glance to the Commander’s retreating back, half out of fear and half because it was a spectacular view.
— You wish. It will probably be radio silence unless necessary - what? inquired sharply at the look was sending him.
He did not like the speculative nature of it at all, or how she seemed to have found out something incredibly interesting but also highly volatile.
— The Commander, ? Really? Have you no sense of self-preservation at all? — she hissed, coming closer to his station so they wouldn’t be overheard. Even so, panic overtook him for a moment as he looked around.
— Shhhh, don’t be silly! Whatever you’re thinking, don’t.
sent him a withering look. — Don’t shhh me! And I’m not thinking anything, I saw it! I’d have slapped you for staring at the Commander’s derriere if I hadn’t seen the ridiculous cow eyes you made afterwards.
spluttered. — There were no cow eyes!
— Whatever you say. Listen, I have to go run checks on the shuttle now- but this isn’t over! We’ll talk when I’m back.
It sounded very much like a threat, but couldn’t even reply because walked away, her braid swaying with every step. Taking a deep breath, he tried to centre himself and focus on the job. He could think of how to escape ’s questioning later.
Right now, he’d just focus on the mission and pray that it wouldn’t end up being like their last one. That they wouldn’t lose anyone like they did in the last one
just hoped that the tips of his ears weren’t as red as they felt.

-


To their luck, the entire run was as easy as they came during wars when you served under . was tense the entire time, switching and moving around the comms efficiently at the same time that he kept praying for things to keep going well.
was only part of his worry- for some reason, ’s mind kept going to the Commander and what she’d do. If she was going to be okay...if she going to make another call that would get another dozen of their own killed for the good of the galaxy. It was the strangest sort of feeling, both worrying for her and dreading what she’d do. That was the source of his anxiety both for the good and the bad.
Less than three hours later, though, the entire settlement was cleared, the hostages were secured and the Batarians just smears of red on the grounds of Sidon. All in all, a good outcome and couldn’t help but sigh in relief for a second, covering his mic and listening as the Commander ordered the now-freed hostages to be transported first, just in case. It seemed like it was going to be boring for a while and almost zoned off, until he heard that voice.
It was Commander ’s voice, of course, but not her normal one. It wasn’t the hardened, unaffected tone she used when she was the N7 Commander of the Leipzig. No, that was just . The same broken woman that had sat with in the Starboard Observation Deck and shared a little bit of her human side. The one that looked like she had the weight of the galaxy on her shoulders.
Immediately, straightened and focused on the situation, thinking that something must’ve gone horribly wrong for her to be using that voice. After a second, it became clear what exactly was going on and he couldn’t help but blink, eyes widening.
— Hey, little one. I’ve been looking for you for a while — though couldn’t see the scene, he could easily imagine crouching, helmetless, trying to make herself smaller and less threatened even though she was wearing heavy armour and likely blood-splattered. — It’s time to go, okay? I’m with the Alliance and we’ll take you home.
The was a sniffle, barely audible through ’s comms.
— I can’t find mummy anywhere! I called for her but she told me to hide and then the bad ones came. Now I can’t find her!
wasn’t even there, watching the scene that was probably heart-breaking, but he could feel himself being affected. More than that, he felt his heart constrict imagining what herself was feeling. Considering that their first report over the comms had stated that some of the hostages had been killed...
The odds that the little girl’s mother was still alive and they just hadn’t found her were...slim.
— I know, I know- and I’m sure it’s very scary. You’ve never been around without mummy, have you? But it’s okay- I'll get you settled in this very cool ship that I have and we’ll go from there, okay? — for someone with very, very little interpersonal skills like , she was doing pretty well. — Want me to carry you? I bet you won’t weight a thing, you’re so tiny.
There was a squeak, indignant.
— I’m not tiny! You’re tiny- I thought people had to be strong and tall and scary to be in the Alliance, like Tommy!
Even though was silent, could almost imagine her spluttering and he had to laugh, covering his comms to make sure the woman herself wouldn’t hear it. Judging by the way she cleared her throat pointedly, though, this was the second time he failed to hide his amusement from her.
— I have no idea who you’re calling tiny, squirt. Come here, I’ll show you-
The shuffling noise and some squealing on the other side, as well as a very muffled chuckle told the story rather clearly. Seemed like the Commander had, ah, taken matters with her own hands.
Even an hour afterwards, when everyone was safely entering the ship and the mission had been dealt with, still couldn’t stop himself from smiling. The Commander, who still had a human little girl of around four or so propped on her hip, walked by and then stopped.
Her eyes were brimming with something, jaw tight.
— Not. A. Single. Word. . — it came out like a threat, but the toddler made her very hard to take too seriously.
Pressing his lips together, nodded. — Aye, aye, Commander.
It was getting a lot harder to believe that the Commander was a Geth AI in disguise, no feelings and no human emotions.
had hard proof saying otherwise.

-


Despite how nice it felt to be in the Leipzig, getting used to the crew and the different work, they were still at war. More than that, they were still at war serving in a ship under Commander . She was- couldn’t figure her out.
One time she letting orphaned toddlers braid her hair, bravely pretending the pulls on the strands didn’t hurt. The other she was watching as they did an orbit strike of a mostly civilian area of Batarians, just because they happened to be housing a militia. Blowing hot and cold was an understatement, when it came to and it was driving crazy.
Slowly, he kept falling in love with the little things he’d find out about along the months he spent in the Leipzig. How she was absolutely useless when she woke up and commandeered the coffee machine for an hour after waking up – and the reason why no one knew was because she always woke up at ungodly hours. Or how was so short that she had to stand on her tiptoes to reach the taller shelves in the Mess Hall, the shelves where all the sweets and good rations mysteriously ended up. Once, he’d run into her arguing with one of ’s plants, telling it that if it died and made sad again, she’d hunt down its entire species and make them regret it.
At the same time...at the same time, kept being faced with the ruthless, almost horrifying side of her that nearly made him regret ever stepping inside the Leipzig. Whilst there were no more missions ending up with half their people dead, some of the decisions - no, the Commander made...the ruthless calculus of war indeed. It was taking a toll on all of them, slowly, and she had made no steps towards trying to be closer to the crew.
In fact, the Commander seemed to be...almost afraid of it. Of being close to people, of allowing herself to feel. Well, couldn’t understand why – it would make it hard for her to treat everyone like a piece of chess, if the pieces all had names and a history and memories attached to them.
It didn’t make it any easier to watch her being cold and dismissive, when knew could be so much more.

-


— Alright, alright. I’ll say the words all of you want to hear. Shore leave. There, I said it — the Commander stalked into the room, really, looking like she was about to murder someone and not grant them some well-earned time off.
choked on his orange juice, looking up as the others around the Mess Hall looked at the Commander, wide eyed. scowled.
— I can’t take more of you people moping anymore, I swear. Sure, you want to pay Asari strippers in some shady club whilst there’s a war going on? Fine, I can’t stop you — she made a beeline to the coffee machine and everyone scrambled out of her way.
It was like watching a train wreck happening.
— But it doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it or that I won’t make sure all of you know how much of a bad idea that is. I even got a new game console to the Rec Room. But do I get a thank you? Noooo — the coffee machine beeped sadly and glared at it too. — I get a ‘why don’t we go to Omega or Elysium or the bloody Citadel for some downtime, Commander?’. All. The. Bloody. Time. So fine, you all win- we're heading off to Elysium.
Without letting anyone get a word in edgewise, picked up her cup of coffee and stalked off again, leaving mildly shell-shocked people behind, including .
— For a moment, I was fourteen again and my mother was calling me ungrateful for wanting to go to Disneyland — blinked, cereal getting soggy in his bowl, before he went back to eating.
could definitely relate.

-


After wrestling with himself for hours, the choice of going to shore leave or not was ultimately taken out of ’s hand by one . Literally. He’d been about to reply to the massage asking whether or not they’d be going down to R&R when the tiny whirlwind swept the datapad from his hand and replied for him.
— You’re going — she said, her tone final as she set the datapad away and put her hands on her waist, staring at him.
frowned, feeling a little lost. — Hey, I was still thinking. There’s some reading I wanna catch up on and I’ve been to Elysium before, nothing new to me there.
— I know that you want to stay here to stare dreamily after the Commander and then torture yourself like the hero of some Victorian novel with the fact she’s a cold-hearted special ops type that would throw you in the line of fire if she had to, not even thinking twice.
Wincing, turned away. After they had a little talk, was laying on thick about his crush on and the fact that her behaviour really bothered him. She meant well, of course, but every day he could see more and more how, exactly, she ended up with a Turian.
— That’s not why I wanted to stay. Seriously, . I’m not in the mood to party or anything like that — and that was the truth, too. Partially.
— Riiiight. And I was born yesterday. Seriously, . You need to relax, flirt with some pretty girls that don’t wear more armour than a Krogan, forget about the Leipzig a little bit — she stood up and took his arm, dragging him out of the Crew Quarters. — Nihlus will meet us there, you get to make fun of me and see my colony markings done properly.
Smiling, she touched the fading white paint on her face, slightly crooked as she had done it herself.
— Fine, you won. But if I’m not good company, you don’t get to blame me. And no setting me up with anyone, I mean it.
— I promise, . We’ll have fun!
As let himself be dragged off by that small force of nature, he tried to get rid of the feeling it was a very, very bad idea.

-


really, really needed to learn how to say no to .

-


’s eyes were watering already, but she didn’t look away from the map being projected in the CIC. In it, all the information about inbound and outbound ships from Elysium was displayed – whether the ships were registered or not. Thank god for stealth radars.
There were a lot of ships, far too many of them, and she cursed lowly that the place was ridiculously busy these days. Any of those could’ve been the one the Batarian bastards had used in their escape. Any of those ships could be the one carrying her crew.
— It’s one hell of a blow — one of her officers, also a , spoke up. He had been transferred to the Leipzig after the loses in Torfan and liked him well enough. He was efficient and slotted seamlessly into the crew.
, she thought to herself. would’ve thought of him by his name, even if there hadn’t been more than one around the ship. always thought about people as...well, people. There were never names or ranks. They were comrades, people with their own history and their own presence.
would’ve smiled that ridiculously self-satisfied smile at her, if he knew what she was thinking.
Right now, was at the mercy of Batarians who hated humans – and hated her in particular.
— Second time bloody Batarians hit us in the heart of the Skyllian Verge — agreed, surprised that her voice was actually coming out steady. She felt like she could scream – and if she started, she’d never stop.
That last communication from kept playing in her head, non-stop. ‘We can’t hold them back, Commander- they want us! To take us! I’ve deleted all data-’. As if she cared about data, when he- when her people were being taken.
But did care about the data more than anything, didn’t she? If the Batarians got their grubby little hands into the info her crew had, they’d have the upper hand for a while. The worst part of them having her people was the leverage, the blow to morale and the security breach. Her feelings about the people she’d started seeing as people had nothing to do with it. Nothing.
The ruthless cost of war, Saren had whispered in her ear as just before he’d broke one of her hips and spat at her to get up and go again, try again.
— The Alliance is pissed — drummed her fingers on the console before she realised it and stopped herself firmly. — I’m pissed. Once this is done, I’ll tear into every single person responsible for the security protocols of Elysium myself.
settled against the console by her side, keeping a respectful distance. — First, this needs to be done. What are our orders, Commander? Other than find which ship they used, there is.
That, knew, was the tricky part. Our orders meant hers and his, by default. The thing is...that had a set of orders from the Council themselves...but she wasn’t yet sure if she’d translate that back to her people.
Damn you, .
— They want to use this as an excuse to go a lot more offensive. If they are taking the crew to a Batarian planet...they want to make an example out of it — said, her voice steady, eyes not straying from the map.
There was silence, as took in the words and someone else- , , walked in. He had been in charge of making sure nothing would blow up with them operating with just 25% manpower.
— That means leaving our people for dead — he voiced what hadn’t dared to, for the first time in her life.
— That means not making our people the priority — corrected and then sighed. — Yes. That’s what it means, .
Silence hung about the room again, as the words lay between them. would give anything to have one of - 's untimely jokes breaking the solemn atmosphere, even if she’d have to scold him for it.
— But what are our orders, Commander? — asked, pointedly.
What indeed, thought, closing her eyes and seeing ’s kind eyes and calming smile in her mind. What indeed.


The End.



Author's note: hellooooooo, thanks for sticking with me for the ride. The literal ride. Because this was a trip. Hahaha I do think I’m funny, what tipped you off?
Recognise anything in this story? Not mine, Mass Effect was borrowed for world building because time was tight. All the credits to BioWare and their amazing game.
If you think this is missing something, you’d be right. What that is? We’ll see, won’t we?
Laters, my dears <3 drop a comment, will you?

Kv, Lumiya.

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