Fight for the Lost

Interlude XII

Location: Krogan DMZ Cluster, Aralakh System, Normandy SR-2, in Orbit Above Tuchanka

Because of Samara's injuries, the drive back was a little slower, but they managed to arrive in late in the evening. Regretfully, Shepard had to return the Tomkah to the Urdnot Clan, much to the relief of the others. He decided to seek out Wrex while Jacob and Garrus carried Samara to the shuttle.

Despite his desire to talk to Wrex, his efforts were rebuffed. The krogan were much more talkative now, or at the very least, less wary and more hospitable. Killing the thresher maw obviously got him some respect. According to the various krogan he spoke to, Wrex was involved in a 'diplomatic' situation. The moment the name 'Weyrloc' was mentioned, Shepard chose to go back to the Normandy quietly with the rest of the squad and try again tomorrow morning.

Upon his return, he saw to it that Samara was given immediate treatment. As much as Chakwas wanted to conduct his physical, without Mordin to offer another set of hands, he wanted to wait until Samara was fine and let the good doctor work.

Retreating to his cabin, he took off his armor and had just put on his uniform when the door beeped. "Who is it?"

"It's me," Miranda called.

"Come in."

She entered hesitantly, but overcame whatever reservations she had when Shepard waved her in encouragingly. "I wanted to talk."

"Yeah, sure," he readily said. He sat down on the couch and gestured for her to sit down as well.

After making herself comfortable, she turned and faced him with a worried look. "Before we went groundside, Dr. Chakwas wanted to talk to you."

He nodded. "She wanted to know about my biotics."

Miranda's brow furrowed. "What about?"

"She thinks there might be problem with the level of power I have."

She blinked as she processed what that statement meant before cursing under her breath. "Of course. I've only been looking at how quickly you've been learning new techniques that I overlooked the power you've been displaying…"

"Chakwas also thinks that this might be a side-effect of the Lazarus Project."

Her head shot up at that. "Really?"

He shrugged. "That's what she told me. I don't know anything more. She didn't want to worry me until she ran her tests."

Shepard could see the gears turning in Miranda's head. She abruptly stood up and started pacing. Occasionally, she'd voice a few of her thoughts aloud, but it was too low for him to make out or too complicated for him to understand. Eventually, she stopped pacing, but her worried look returned as she gazed at him again.

"What?" he asked.

"I… I need to talk to Dr. Chakwas. If it's about the Lazarus Project, I might be able offer more input," Miranda quickly said.

Before she could take more than two steps toward the door, Shepard shot up and grasped her hand. "Wait. What are you thinking? What's Dr. Chakwas thinking?"

Miranda paused and turned to face him. Her grip tightened in his hand. "I… I have a few ideas, but until I know for sure, it's all speculation."

He didn't let go. "So speculate."

"I'd really rather not."

"So that means all the scenarios you're thinking of aren't anything good, then."

He raised an eyebrow when she didn't say anything more. Instead, she shifted her hand so that her fingers interlaced with his own and squeezed reassuringly. With her other hand, she reached up cupped his cheek gently before pulling him into a warm kiss. Shepard reciprocated the action without resistance.

Later, he'd admit that it was certainly an effective and insidious way to silence and distract him.

Before anything more could be done, she broke off only take a breath, kissed him tenderly one last time and swiftly walked back to the elevator. "I'll let you know about everything we learn," she promised. As the elevators doors closed, she sent him a genuine smile that eased some of his reservations.

Shepard rubbed the back of his neck. "EDI, give Miranda full access to my cabin from now on."

"Granting Executive Lawson full access to your quarters, Captain," EDI replied.

Shaking his head in exasperation, he called Kelly to have his dinner brought to his cabin while he went over the day's logs and reports. Women…

~o~O~o~

Location: Krogan DMZ Cluster, Aralakh System, STG vessel Veshok-16

"I'm surprised at your recommendation, Professor. He's a security risk."

"Feels guilt over what we done."

"He is guilty. What he did could be considered treason."

"Project difficult. Ethically ambiguous."

"Are you defending him, or yourself?"

"You still have cranium up cloaca, then."

Kirrahe narrowed his eyes. "This project was necessary."

Mordin nodded. "Agreed."

"Then what's the problem?" Kirrahe asked irritably. "We were told to do a job. We did the job. Now we have someone, a traitor, that wants to undo all work and sacrifices we made. I lost two operatives for this and I will not let their losses be in vain."

Mordin shrugged. "My student, my problem. Will take responsibility."

Kirrahe shook his head. "And you're still a stubborn cloaca. Fine. Since you're the one responsible for the success of the project, I suppose that will give your word some weight. Since you and Shepard saw fit to spare him, I'll recommend that Maelon will be imprisoned, rather than executed."

"Thank you. Appreciate it," said Mordin. "Arrange shuttle transport to Normandy, then?"

Kirrahe held up his hand. "Before you leave, there's something STG R&D developed. I thought you might give it a proper field test, since you're helping Shepard. Knowing the missions he's assigned, you'll probably need it."

Mordin's curiosity was piqued. He obligingly followed the STG commander through the decks toward the lab.

"By the way, we've been monitoring the krogan response to your attack. Seems like Weyrloc wasn't liked by the other clans. As it stands, Urdnot Wrex has strengthened his own clan because of this. With the bulk of their warriors killed, the Weyrloc's have lost their military might on Tuchanka and are surrendering. The Urdnot's are taking in all of Weyrloc's resources and the surviving population, mostly women and children," briefed Kirrahe.

"Ah, intelligent. Surprising from krogan. Glad to hear," Mordin said.

"I thought so too, but it seems that Wrex has increasingly progressive ideas. Apparently, his time with Shepard was well spent."

Mordin couldn't help but agree, having felt his burden lighter than it ever was thanks to the human.

They finally reached the lab. Inside were a few science officers, but no one he recognized.

Kirrahe stopped at a terminal and started typing in his passwords, entering his biometrics into various scanners, and voice authorizations. The holo-monitor finally relinquished its data and transferred it directly to him. He turned around and accessed his omni-tool.

Mordin activated his own omni-tool and received whatever Kirrahe was offering. He looked over the data and felt suitably impressed. "Interesting. Non-lethal attack. Disrupt neural pathways. Can cause confusion, paralysis, or even render target unconscious."

"R&D is calling it 'Neural Shock'. It's done well in lab testing and limited field tests, but it's not battle tested yet. Figure you might be able to do something if there's anything lacking."

"Not an engineer. Biologist. Chemist. Dabble a little in physics. Weapons development not my forte," said Mordin.

Kirrahe gestured to him to follow as they made their way to the docking bay and secure a shuttle to get Mordin back to the Normandy. "Whatever you can do then. Besides, this tech is supposed to attack living targets anyway and living things are your specialty, right?" Kirrahe said.

"Inaccurate generalization," argued Mordin.

Kirrahe shrugged in response. "You know, some would argue that as a doctor, combat isn't really a specialty of yours either, but a dead krogan with a pitchfork stuck in his face would say differently."

~o~O~o~

Location: Krogan DMZ Cluster, Aralakh System, Tuchanka, Urdnot Clan Camp

"Shepard."

"Wrex."

Wrex gestured for him to come in. The Shaman and Grunt were present. "What can I do for you, my friend?"

"You look like you're having a good morning. So how's everything? I hope I didn't cause you any trouble."

Wrex laughed heartily. "I'm about to think that you're good luck for me or something, Shepard. After your attack on Clan Weyrloc, they got desperate. Since they're facing a sudden shortage on combat ready troops, they're looking for protection."

"Your clan?" Shepard guessed.

"On the condition that any that want to join my clan must abandon the Weyrloc name and adopt Urdnot. Most of the women and children readily accepted." Wrex triumphantly grinned. "They bring gifts, mostly food and weapons, but I'm not one to refuse. My power and respect practically grew overnight from this."

"Glad to see that everything is going your way," Shepard said before turning to Grunt. "You doing alright?"

Grunt sketched a respectful bow. "Battlemaster, I have kin and clan. So long as I earn my strength against your enemies, I'm ready to follow you anywhere."

"Spoken like a true Urdnot warrior," the Shaman commented approvingly. There was something about his demeanor that seemed different to Shepard's eyes. It looked like he was both respectful and disapproving towards the Spectre.

"Your visit is paying off more than I can imagine," Wrex commented. "So what brings you back here? After taking out a thresher and a krogan clan, can't imagine there's anything left for you to do."

"As much as I'd like to stay, I'm here to see if Grunt was ready to leave. We have a few places I need to go to."

Grunt nodded and eagerly stepped to Shepard's flank.

"Can you spare a few minutes?" Wrex asked. "There's a few things I'd like to talk about."

"I can do that. We've really hadn't had a chance to talk since I got here," said Shepard.

"Why don't you wait at the shuttle, boy? We'll be back soon."

Grunt bowed his head to Wrex and marched to the docking bay. The Shaman nodded respectfully to Shepard and Wrex before taking his leave.

Shepard walked with Wrex toward a part of the Urdnot camp he hadn't been to. Where they were going, Wrex didn't say. "So… it sounds like you're making big changes for the krogan."

"We are making a neutral ground where all clans are welcome. Fertile females can be shared among clans. We will strengthen the race as a whole." Wrex turned his head to better look him in the eye. "It's what you showed me on Virmire, Shepard. We're not just saving krogan. We're saving who we are."

"And what do the women of Clan Urdnot think about this plan?"

Wrex gave out a rumbling laugh. "It was our female clan leader's idea. The neutral ground is safe and it encourages more female clans to ally with us."

"Like Weyrloc."

"Exactly. Since they're vulnerable, they sought our protection. Attacks on Urdnot now endanger the females of all clans. Even clans that want to see me dead will defend Clan Urdnot."

Shepard smirked. "So you're holding all the cards then."

"You know me, Shepard; Always looking for the advantage."

"You said, 'female clan leader'. Does that mean your women have their own clan structure?" Shepard asked.

"Nothing is more valuable than a fertile female," Wrex explained. "We know it. They know it. They isolate themselves for their own protection. We work together to set up breeding alliances." He chuckled to himself. "I can hardly do anything without Clan Leader Uta's approval."

"Behind every great krogan, there's a fertile female telling him what to do," Shepard said in a sagely voice.

Wrex chuckled again.

They passed by a group of krogan wearing another clan's markings.

"How do you maintain order and security with so many different clans in one place?" Shepard asked.

"Any clan willing to send in hostages can come in. No fighting inside the camp. Each clan punishes its own criminals."

"Hostages?"

"You might call them ambassadors, someone to represent a clan and be responsible for any of their clan's actions. More often than not, they're the best warrior a clan can send. If something happens, that hostage might live long enough for help to arrive. That's the idea anyway."

"And if something happens?"

Wrex shrugged. "We stop conflicts before anyone dies. Then we present a simple choice: Pay a fine and deal with your problems or your clan is no longer welcome."

Shepard raised an eyebrow at that. "That sounds like something most other species would do. No offense, but by krogan standards, it's sounds pretty tame."

"Allies from other clans like what I'm doing. They help deal with the skeptics. Many are eager for an outlet." Wrex smiled viciously. "Every time I've declared a clan unwelcome, my allies have destroyed them. Word gets around."

There we go. That's what I was expecting.

"Take Weyrloc for instance. I knew their time was coming. Hell, I knew you'd tear your way through them without any real problems. Every clan is different. Different customs, Rites of Passages, battle songs, all unique. That diversity makes us great, but no clan, not even mine, was meant to survive on its own. That was Weyrloc's mistake. No allies to help them when you cut a swath through their ranks."

"A day in the life on Tuchanka."

Wrex smirked. "Tuchanka isn't safe and homey, like Feros and Ilos."

"They were just a walk in park for you then?"

His smirk grew bigger.

"I gotta to say, this is definitely one of the most massive undertakings I've heard about," Shepard commented approvingly.

"It needs to be done. We keep going how we are, the clans will end up as craters under nuclear haze. Even Urdnot. We need to rethink. Restart."

"Ambitious," said Shepard. He looked around the empty hallway they were walking down to make sure there were no prying ears. "How's it gone so far?"

"Better than I'd feared, worse than I'd hoped," Wrex admitted. "I've got a few clans, but too many are turning their backs on us entirely."

"I've met a few."

"And they paid the price," Wrex said. "Traditionalists like Uvenk are chained varren. Always fighting, guarding their pathetic stick in the ground."

"Like Jarrod?" Shepard pointedly asked, recalling Wrex's father and tale of betrayal.

Wrex glanced at him from the corner of his eye. "I quit before. I was young, naïve, and stupid. Not this time, not after what I've learned from you. When the smoke clears, I can plant the flag on their corpses and rally the rest around a new krogan hub."

"It sounds like you're counting on a lot more bloodshed, even after you unite."

"Even after you stomped through Uvenk and Guld, they're always someone else willing to fight. It will be slow, but I won't change what we are."

"Warriors," Shepard knowingly said.

"Krogan are judged by the strength of our enemies. Our worst insult is to say someone's 'not worth killing'."

The words clicked something in Shepard's memory. "Okeer said that about the genophage. Instead of a krogan horde, he wanted one perfect soldier."

"Further proof of Okeer's madness. There is no such thing as a perfect warrior. Grunt is strong. Under your guidance, I'm sure he'll be one of our best, but he can die like anyone else."

"True enough."

Wrex finally stopped at a metal door. Pushing hard, the door screeched open and he stepped inside.

Shepard followed closely. "So where are we?"

"My quarters."

Shepard looked around. In truth, the room hardly looked any different from any other part of the repurposed military base he had seen thus far. If Wrex hadn't told him that this was his quarters, Shepard would've thought it was just another broken, dusty room. Something that resembled a chair, table, bed was situated in the corner, though it was hard to tell since everything was made up of rock and stone. He knew better than to voice his thoughts out loud though. "Nice place."

"It works," Wrex simply said.

"So why am I here?"

He ambled over to a nondescript wall. "Got a present for you." He touched a section of the wall. Seams suddenly appeared and a large section moved forward slightly. He gripped the edge and pulled, creating a grinding sound that told Shepard how heavy the slab was.

The hidden door fully opened to reveal a modern looking armory.

"Wow," Shepard said. And he meant it. Powerful looking weapons were carefully placed on racks within the recess. In the middle, seated in a place of honor, was Wrex's family armor that he helped his old friend retrieve two years ago.

"My personal collection," Wrex proudly said. He reached out and grabbed a large, blocky, yellow-colored, heavy weapon. What was worrying Shepard the most wasn't the size or the reverence of how Wrex was handling the weapon…

It was the radioactive trefoil sign stamped on the side.

"What. Is. That?" Shepard asked warily.

"Something the salarians created long ago for the krogan to help combat the rachni. They only made a hundred of these before they destroyed the plans and all knowledge of how to make more. Most of them were destroyed following the Krogan Rebellions, though a few were smuggled and kept safe," Wrex explained quietly. "Last I heard, there were five left that were still working. I have two."

Shepard eyed the weapon cautiously. "Okay…"

"Gotta be careful who I show this to," Wrex said. "Can't afford to lose it to the wrong hands, even if I wanted to send it somewhere to get it reverse-engineered and make more. Too dangerous. Either it'll be used against me, or it gets taken away and destroyed."

"Good point."

"The official name is complicated. Since the salarians named it, I'm not surprised. M-920 something or other. The krogan shortened the name to 'Cain'."

Shepard wondered if the salarians or the krogan had any idea how much that name meant to human religions. He felt his eyes get drawn toward the trefoil again.

Wrex noticed where Shepard was staring. "Heh. Don't worry. It's just a design the krogan asked for when they saw what this beauty did."

"Does it mean what I think it means?"

"Yes and no. The other name the Cain had been given is the 'Nuke Launcher'," Wrex explained. "Not that it shoots nukes or anything, but the visuals are something to appreciate."

"Visuals?"

"It's a high-explosive round," he said before grinning. "Really high-explosive. Boom so big, it makes a mushroom cloud at impact." He patted the weapon affectionally. "The explosion and mass destruction of a miniature nuke without the fuss of radiation."

Shepard whistled, clearly impressed. "Whoa."

Wrex heaved a sigh before holding it out toward him.

Shepard took it carefully and studied the weapon in detail. "You're giving this to me?"

"Lending, Shepard," Wrex corrected quickly. "I want it back."

I knew it. "Are you sure about this? It obviously means a lot to you and you said that there aren't many left."

"Grunt regaled us with stories about your mission. Horizon, that ship that almost killed you…" Wrex revealed before grinning. "Sounds like fun."

"That's… one way to describe it."

Wrex crossed his arms. "So. Why haven't you asked me?"

Shepard tilted his head in confusion before understanding dawned on him. "Because I know what your answer will be, but I'll ask anyway. Can you come with me? Blow some stuff up? It'll be like old times."

Wrex chortled appreciatively. "I want to, Shepard. I really do. But you showed me what I needed to do." He snorted derisively. "And I have to keep these short-sighted fools in line."

"I kinda figured that. Without you, I think the clans fall back to what they were."

"Pretty much."

Shepard held the weapon respectfully. "I promise to take good care of it and bring it back once my mission is done." He attached the Cain to his weapon's harness on his back. Thankfully, he had decided that since this was a social call, only his assault rifle and shotgun were needed. Jacob was the only one at the shuttle as backup, plus Hawthorne and Goldstein.

"Good." Wrex reached up and pulled down the other Cain and handed it to Shepard as well. "This is for Grunt."

Again, Shepard took the weapon carefully and cradled it in his arms. "Thank you," he said earnestly.

Wrex nodded and clapped a hand on Shepard shoulder. "They have about five shots at minimum power. Two shots at full power. Don't ever use them in close quarters. You'd definitely die. There's a 10 second charge before it shoots, so watch out for incoming enemy fire when you're trying to use it."

Shepard nodded. In combat, 10 seconds was everything. It made all the difference in the world in a fast paced firefight. "I'll keep that in mind."

"The blast radius is about 10 meters on low power, 30 on high. Watch yourself."

Looking down at the Cain, Shepard nodded.

"Well, come on, then. We all got work to do." Wrex closed his armory and led the way out, presumable back to the main room. "I gotta tell you, Shepard, I'm really tempted to go with you. This mission of yours sounds… interesting." He sighed regretfully.

"I wish you could come too, but what you're doing is important."

"I know." He turned his head to look Shepard in the eye. "About that salarian you rescued…"

"Yeah?"

"That wouldn't be the salarian that was trying to cure the genophage?"

Shepard nodded without hesitation.

Wrex nodded. "Huh. Thought you might lie to me about it."

"To you? Never."

"Was there really something about a cure? An actual one?" Wrex asked intently.

"Yes, but according to my science officer, any real results are years away and that's only if he chooses to put all his focus on it. That salarian we were looking for, Maelon, he doesn't have what it takes to really do it," Shepard confessed honestly. "Few do really."

"That salarian approached me. Mentioned something about a cure. He wanted to do experiments though. It was tempting, but after seeing what happened on Virmire, I turned him down. Thought it might be one way to honor your memory."

Once again, Shepard found himself extremely flattered that another member of his old squad would hold him in such high regard. "Thank you. The experiments that Guld performed…"

"I knew there was a reason you took out him, his clan and his warriors."

Both men talked about trivial matters after that on the walk back. The differences between the krogan clans, the Collectors, the old days, whatever came to mind, really. In no time at all, they were in the main room.

Wrex moved past his dais and continued to personally escort Shepard toward the shuttle bay. Shepard silently acknowledged the gesture as testament to their friendship.

At the Kodiak, Jacob was leaning against the hull. Grunt was standing nearby, straight and tall.

The way Grunt was standing surprised Shepard a little. He would've thought that his krogan squad mate would be impatiently waiting to get going, pacing or something. Instead, he held himself much like how Wrex did back on the first Normandy two years ago: disciplined, proud, and imposing.

Approaching the young krogan, Shepard handed him the Cain and quickly told him everything Wrex explained earlier. Under Wrex's eyes, Grunt took the heavy weapon with the same care and respect Shepard did.

"Hmph. I think you'll do alright without me," Wrex said as he watched Grunt carefully holster his newest armament and boarded the shuttle. "Still, you might've noticed the Shaman acting a bit different toward you. Grunt might be the key to help unite the clans and now we hear he's part of a suicide mission."

"Does this mean…?"

Wrex waved him off. "You're his battlemaster. You'll teach him everything he needs to know. We're not doing him any favors by coddling him. If he survives your mission, he'll be stronger for it."

Shepard held out his hand. "Good luck with everything, Wrex. I'm behind you every step of the way."

Wrex smiled and shook his hand. "Hunt well, Shepard. You better live through this mission of yours too. I wanna hear all about it."

~o~O~o~

Location: Normandy SR-2, En Route to Serpent Nebula, Widow System, Citadel

"Professor Solus is aboard the Normandy, Captain," informed EDI once Shepard stepped off the shuttle.

"That's everyone then. Tell Miranda to set course for the Citadel."

"Of course, Captain. Logging you out."

Grunt walked with both humans to the armory, insisting that he would take his Cain there personally. The Cerberus Operative gave his sincerest assurances that he would exercise the utmost care, and caution, when handling their newest weapons.

Satisfied that everything was underway, Shepard trekked to his cabin and put his armor away. Just as he was about to get lunch and meet with Dr. Chakwas, EDI chimed in again.

"Captain, I am informing you that Chief Zorah has completed all her tasks regarding the main cannon. All weapon systems are now online. Gunnery Chief Vakarian has also been informed of this development and is currently in the process of calibrating our new armament. Chief Zorah wishes to speak with you down in Engineering."

"Thanks, EDI. Tell her I'm on my way now."

"Of course, Captain. Logging you out."

Going down to Deck 4, Shepard spotted Tali at her station. She appeared completely absorbed with the holo-monitor in front of her that she didn't even turn at his presence.

Gabby spotted him however and greeted him. "Hey, Captain. We finally finished with the upgrades. Our new main gun is up and running!"

Tali jerked at her station and turned around. "Oh! Shepard! I wanted to tell you that the Thanix Cannon is now online. I asked Garrus to begin calibrations already."

"That's great news, Tali. I knew we could count on you and your team," Shepard praised.

Tali beamed. "Thanks, but the reason I asked you down here was to schedule live fire tests for the main gun to make sure everything is working properly."

"Might not be for a while. We're heading for the Citadel. Should be there in a few hours, so there's not a lot of places where we can fire this beast."

She cocked her head at the news. "Why are we going to the Citadel?"

Shepard forced his face to become impassive. He detested the need to lie to her, but he held his friendship with Garrus in equal esteem. "We're going to handle a bit of business."

"What kind?"

"It's personal."

"For you?" she asked worriedly.

"No, not me; not exactly…"

She crossed her arms and waited impatiently for more answers when he trailed off.

Sighing, he habitually rubbed the back of his neck. "It's for Garrus."

"What's wrong with him?"

He shook his head. "I can't say."

"Can't or won't?"

"Both."

She made a sound of frustration. "He's my friend too! I should know if something is bothering him!"

"Then you need to talk to him if you want the details. It's personal and I don't want to talk about his affairs like it was gossip or something."

She glared a little bit longer before resigning to his logic and relaxed a bit. "There's nothing you can tell me?"

"I'm not saying anything more."

She sighed and nodded. "I'll talk to him. Better this way probably. I need to coordinate our efforts to make sure the Thanix Cannon is ready. I'll ask after that. Just tell me: How personal is it?"

"Extremely."

Now her body language suggested worry again. "How come he didn't tell me?"

He shook his head. "He barely told me. I had to force it out of him."

"Maybe I shouldn't try to bring it up in casual conversation then…"

"Good idea."

She laughed lightly, though it sounded a trifle bit forced. "I thought we might've been going to the Citadel because of the results of your examination."

"I haven't met with Dr. Chakwas yet. I'm heading to the Med Bay soon," Shepard said. "Look, I'm flattered you're worried about me, Tali, but I'm fine. It's just a check-up, that's all."

She nodded quickly. "Right. Well… let's get to Deck 3, then. We have some business to attend to."

As they rode the elevator up, she turned to him and beneath her faceplate, her eyes crinkled, signifying that she was smiling. "I'm sorry about prying like that. Loyalty matters. To me, to Garrus… I didn't mean to put you in that position."

The doors opened and Shepard held out an arm, gesturing to let her leave first. "I didn't want to lie to you. Maybe you might be able to help him more than me."

"I'll try my best."

They parted ways at the Common Area; Tali to the Main Battery where Garrus was calibrating the new gun and Shepard to the Med Bay on the Starboard side.

When he reached the doors though, they were firmly locked. He pressed the holographic interface to announce his presence, but after a minute, Dr. Chakwas still didn't answer. He moved to the side to see what was going on, but the windows were opaque, preventing any indication as to what was going on.

"EDI, what's Chakwas doing in there?"

"She is discussing several important matters with Executive Lawson."

He had the sneaking suspicion that the subject was about him. "What 'important matters'?"

"Executive Lawson has requested that their meeting be kept private and that you return later. Do you wish to countermand that order?"

It was tempting, it really was, but he trusted her. Trusted both women inside, actually. He could wait a bit before looking for answers. However, he could feel his trepidation growing. "Okay… just let them know that I'll be with Mordin if they ask, okay?"

"Understood, Captain. Logging you out."

~o~O~o~

Garrus continued to punch commands and numbers into the console. The Thanix Cannon was proving difficult to manage, making his efforts all the more harder.

No wonder it doesn't work. What the hell is wrong with this system?

He was so preoccupied that he didn't know he was being watched. He was muttering to himself and occasionally cursing at the station in front of him. "Where the hell are the instructions? Why the hell didn't I ask her for the damn instructions…?"

Tali cleared her throat. "Um… Garrus?"

The turian stopped venting at his terminal and turned around. "Oh. Sorry about that Tali. These calibrations… It's like I have to spend every waking moment making sure they're accurate or we'll never hit our target. I'll have to consider living in this room just to make this work."

She giggled. "I'll see what I can do to make it better for you," she assured.

"Appreciate it."

Taking a deep breath, she appeared to steel herself for something before speaking again. "Do you know why we're going to the Citadel?"

He decided to feign ignorance. "No. Do you?"

She looked unconvinced at his answer. "I spoke to Shepard."

Garrus felt a rise of anger at his human friend at that moment. "What did he tell you?"

She crossed her arms and positioned herself in the middle of the doorway, as if to use her own body to prevent him from leaving. "To talk to you. Something's bothering you. Especially if you want to lie to my face after everything we've been though. I took a bullet for you. Several times if you recall."

He turned away from her. "Personal business."

"What kind?"

"My own."

"Not good enough."

Garrus growled and started typing on his console again, punching the interface with more force than what was necessary. "It's all you're going to get."

"What happened to you? What's going on?" Tali asked. She marched up and grabbed his arm and forced him to face her. "Talk to me."

He inwardly cursed her tenaciousness. He knew she'd never drop the issue with that stubborn streak in her. Resigning to the fact that with her intelligence, she'd figure it out eventually. He leaned against the console and crossed his arms.

He started at the beginning with his desire to do more than be a C-Sec detective again, especially with the Council disavowing all information about the Reapers, the sudden rise in crime following the attack, the extra red tape preventing him to stop the perpetrators, and his disgust with the lack of freedom he experienced working with Shepard.

He moved on to how he quit C-Sec and his fight with his father about his decision; how it almost came to blows. His choice to go to Omega to try to root out criminals there, no longer chained by rules, regulations, and restrictions. He talked about his squad that followed him, 10 brave men and women that wanted to help make a difference. About Sidonis, his betrayal and the death of his team. Finally, he ended his tale with his fight for survival against three of the biggest mercenary groups operating in the Terminus and how they trapped him only to be saved at the last possible moment by Shepard.

Through it all, Tali asked only a few questions. His decision to leave C-Sec, why go to Omega, general inquiries about his squad, what he did to 'clean up' Omega, etc.

When he finally finished, she shook her head in amazement. "You've been busy."

"So have you," he pointed out. He shifted on the crate he was sitting on. Tali appeared confortable on her own crate. They'd sat down about halfway when his story had extended far more than what he expected. He did feel better after talking about everything and he knew they were only a few hours away from the mass relay and the jump to the Citadel. And from there…

"Point taken. So this Sidonis… he's hiding on the Citadel?" she asked.

"Liara gave me the information. I'll ask around and try to find this Fade. From there, I make sure he doesn't tip Sidonis off."

She nodded, but then started wringing her hands nervously. "And what happens when you do find him?"

Garrus stood up and marched back to his terminal and slammed his hands down on it. "He's a traitor. There's only one kind of punishment that's reserved for his kind," he growled out.

"You're going to kill him?" she asked, horrified by the thought.

"It's no less than what he deserves."

She stood up as well and moved until she was in arm's reach. He stubbornly kept his back to her, unwilling to meet her eyes.

"Are you sure that's what you want to do? Maybe you should—"

"I know what you're going to say. I've heard it all from Shepard." Whirling around to face her, he closed the distance between them until he was close enough to see his reflection in her faceplate and glared into her eyes. "Yes, I'm sure this is what I want to do. Yes, I'm willing to live with it. No, I'm not changing my mind."

To her credit, she didn't flinch or back away during his tirade. "Maybe you should honor the memory of your team with something that doesn't involve killing someone else."

His patience had finally reached its limit. "I lost my entire squad! What the hell do you know about it? !"

Just as fast as the words had left his mouth, he regretted it instantly. Tali's concerned demeanor changed into something sub-zero. Ice had nothing on the aura of frostiness she was radiating.

Some small part of him knew what was coming, but even then, nothing could prepare him for what happened next.

Tali raised her right hand and slapped him soundly across his face. Had he been a lesser man, the blow would have knocked him off his feet. As it stood, his head snapped to the side and he staggered a step back.

"Don't you dare tell me that I don't know anything about loss," she snarled. It was a tone of voice he had never heard from the normally cheerful young woman. "Did you forget about Haestrom? When I had a squad of marines sacrifice themselves just for me? Do you think I don't know their names? Their actions? Their courage? Don't you dare dishonor their memories by telling me that I don't know about loss. I remember them every day."

Despite the fact that he stood a good foot over the smaller woman, at this moment, it felt like she was towering over him. "Tali…" Garrus tried to apologize, tried to say something, anything, to make amends.

She wouldn't hear any of it, even if he could find the words. Spinning on her heel, she stomped out of the main battery. She stopped just at the threshold of the doorway and turned her head at him. Despite the dark tint of her helmet, he could see the arctic glare she leveled at him. "You know, I think you never did survive your stint on Omega. I think Sidonis did kill you. Because the Garrus I knew would never be a murderer. Right now, all I see is a criminal, no different from any other 'criminal' you've hunted. Go ahead and tell yourself whatever the hell you want to justify your actions. Maybe you might actually learn to believe your lies someday."

With those biting words, she left without a second glance.

~o~O~o~

"Of course, Doctor. Hopefully, it's not as bad as we think, but I do share your concerns. As much as it pains me to admit, your fears do have an element of truth behind them."

"Thank you for explaining the details of the Lazarus Project to me. I know all about 'classified' and 'top secret'. Believe me, I won't tell a soul," Chakwas replied with a tired smile.

"Should we call for him?" Miranda asked.

Chakwas shook her head. "Not just yet. I know someone on the Citadel I wish to get in touch with first. From there, I think we might be able to get ahold of some equipment that will give us an accurate reading. We'll know if our concerns are unfounded or not. I'd also like to invite Dr. Solus for a consult."

"Very well. I'll speak to the both of you later, then?"

"Yes. Thank you again."

"Thank you, too, Doctor." Miranda nodded once more to her and left the Med Bay. On the way to her office, she was nearly bowled over by an irate quarian.

"Damn it! Get out the way, you bosh'tet!" Tali screamed before continuing to the elevator.

Confused at the hostile behavior, Miranda watched as the Chief Engineer stomped out of sight, before walking back to her own room. On the way through the Common Area, she looked down the hallway, past the sleeper pods, and at the Main Battery room. Garrus was standing there. He noticed her stare, as well as stares from the various crewmen that were loitering nearby. He abruptly closed and locked the doors.

Now completely perplexed at the strange actions from the two people who are, for all intents and purposes, friends, Miranda entered her office and sat down behind her table. She rubbed her head and tried to wrap her head around yet another mystery. She was no stranger to the field of psychology, though it wasn't really a subject that held her interest for too long. It came in handy when trying to understand the mindset of the people around her and right now, it was obvious that something serious had occurred between them.

Considering Garrus' darker personality that he hid using jokes and quips and comparing it to Tali's cheerful demeanor that helped her cope with the pressures of finding ways to help the Migrant Fleet, it was plausible that Garrus was probably the instigator of their spat. Tali had apparently tried, and failed, to help him, resulting in her own outburst of anger.

Know that this rift could only get worse before it got better, she knew there was only one man that could help. "EDI, where's Shepard?"

"He is in the Lab. Currently, he is conversing with Dr. Solus."

"Thank you, EDI."

"Of course, Executive Lawson. Logging you out."

Opening a channel to the lab, Miranda said, "Shepard? If you have a moment, I'd like to see you in my office. There's something rather pressing that I need to talk to you about."

~o~O~o~

"Hey, Mordin," Shepard greeted.

Mordin looked up from whatever he was doing and smiled. "Shepard. Good to see you."

Looking at the salarian, Shepard couldn't tell how he was doing. It looked like he wasn't bothered at all with what happened yesterday with his former student. "How are you?"

"Doing well. Thank you for asking. Still hard to believe Maelon betrayed me. Betrayed our work. Disgusted by his actions." He sniffed and looked thoughtful. "Proud of his nerve, though. Always thought he lacked backbone. Believed I mentioned that."

"You did," Shepard mumbled. He was slightly put off by the cheerfulness Mordin was exhibiting and had to regain his bearings.

"Sorry to have to imprison him. Brilliant mind, such a waste. Should've had better goal, better purpose. Too late, I suppose." He took a breath and smiled again. "Kirrahe sends his gratitude and regards, by the way."

"Thanks," Shepard replied. "Um… you're really at peace with happened?"

Mordin nodded. "Yes. Of course. Can't change what happened. Still feel guilt, but life continues. Back to mission, back to work. Become like Maelon otherwise," he answered before rooting around his table for something or other. Before Shepard could get another word in, he continued talking in his usual quick manner. "Salarian emotional processing faster than other species. Has to be. Short-lived culture. Can't spend time reminiscing."

"Is this why you're, uh, you're acting like… you?" Shepard asked, halting a bit as he tried to keep up with Mordin's thought processes.

"Yes, correct. Now, at least. Greatly distressed at the time, of course. Stages of grief. Loss, denial, anger, rationalization." He finally looked up from his work. "Dealt with it. Most issues settled on Tuchanka. Some on shuttle to Veshok-16. Finished after speaking with Kirrahe."

"But… what about Maelon? He didn't seem like he processed his emotional response. He was obsessed with the genophange," Shepard pointed out.

"True," Mordin agreed. "Didn't mean to imply that salarians were healthier emotionally. Can still make wrong choices, bad decisions from grief, anger, guilt. Maelon couldn't accept feelings, made decision, executed. Probably before I left for Omega." He paused looked lost in his memories. "Wish I'd seen it. Had objections during mission. Stricken from record." He shook his head and returned to the present. "Salarians still feel, just resolve it quickly. Explains lack of marriage. Can't sustain courtship emotions. Or perhaps based on reproduction. Unsure."

"Okay…" Shepard mumbled. Abandoning his attempts to keep up with Mordin, he looked around the lab. "What about Maelon's data? His attempt at a cure?"

"What about it?" Mordin distractedly replied as he returned to his work. He jerked his thumb to the cluttered table behind him. "Have it over there somewhere. Not dealing with it now. Need to focus on Collectors. Not important now, regardless." He stopped typing at his terminal and looked up before bowing his head to convey his gratitude. "Appreciate you helping me back on Tuchanka. In more way than one." He returned to his terminal again. "Should get back to work. Wasted enough time already. Lots to do. Talk later?"

Shepard laughed lightly and was about to say his goodbyes when Miranda's voice chimed in.

"Shepard? If you have a moment, I'd like to see you in my office. There's something rather pressing that I need to talk to you about."

Probably about that physical.

"When you're right, Mordin…" Shepard said before turning toward the doors. "Talk to you later."

Quickly making his way down a deck, he entered Miranda's office and stopped in front of her table. She got up and picked a seat right next to him, gesturing that he sit down as well.

"So what's up? Time for that check-up?" he asked as he sat down.

She shook her head. "Not yet. Soon. Dr. Chakwas wanted to contact someone on the Citadel. We'll do a preliminary physical first. If our fea—concerns have merit, we'll need more specialized equipment. Dr. Chakwas assures me that she has someone we can talk to."

"So why am I here instead of the Med Bay?" he asked curiously. His eyes wandered toward the bed when he remembered the last time they were alone in her office.

She noticed where his eyes were looking at and smiled. "Not exactly why I called you down here, though we really should find the time soon," she suggested before becoming serious again. "Actually, it's about Tali and Garrus."

Shepard groaned. "Ah, hell."

"You know something?"

"I might. What happened?"

"Tali was in the Main Battery with Garrus and she left rather irate. Nearly ran me over on the way to the lift. Garrus sealed himself in the Main Battery." She leaned back in her seat. "What happened?"

"It's personal problem I'm helping Garrus with. Tali wanted to know and probably help him out, but he's being stubborn. I guess her attempt went south," Shepard explained before standing up. "I'll talk to them."

Miranda nodded. "It'll be better from you anyway."

"Thanks for telling me," he said before leaving.

"Good luck," she called out.

Down in Engineering again, it wasn't hard to find Tali. She was muttering angrily at the Tantalus Core terminal. The words "bosh'tet", "stubborn", "idiot", and "Garrus", were used often. Gabby and Ken wisely kept quiet and stayed out of her way.

"Tali?"

She stiffened at his call, but didn't turn around.

"Didn't go so well, I take it?"

It was a poor attempt at a joke, and he knew it. Poor and tasteless, but it did garner a reaction. Tali whirled around and jabbed an accusing finger into his chest.

"You knew! You knew what happened! You knew what he was planned to do! You knew!"

"I told you, I practically had to force it out of him. Pulling teeth would've been easier," Shepard replied.

"I can't believe you wouldn't tell me! No, what I can't believe is that you're going to help him!" Tali screeched. "So what? You're just going to stroll right in, flash your Spectre privileges and let him commit cold-blooded murder? !"

"I am trying to help him. He's never going to let this go, Tali. He won't. He can't."

"And this is your idea of helping him? !"

Shepard heaved a frustrated sigh. "I didn't know a single soul on his squad, Tali. What I do know is that he almost threw all of that away, their deaths, their memories, their work together, just to help me. If I order him to stand down and walk away, to just ignore Sidonis and move on, I know he'll do it. He won't like it, but he'll do it. What I can't stand is the fact that it'll eat away at him. What kind of friend would I be if I didn't try to help him get past this?"

"You really think helping him kill Sidonis is going to help him?" Tali asked disbelievingly.

"Not a lick. That's what I'm trying to show him. What I'm really trying to do for him. Every step we're taking means we're getting closer to Sidonis, but I'm hoping that we won't get that far. This isn't something we can force. This is something that only he can do now. As his friends, we can only help him the best we can, not make his decisions for him," said Shepard.

Tali audibly sighed and leaned against the console. "I don't like what this is doing to him, Shepard."

"None of us do." He put a hand on her shoulder and gave her a gentle squeeze. "But if it happened to you, wouldn't you want to do something?"

She turned her head away and said nothing.

"We'll take this one step at a time, okay? I'll talk to him again and see if you helped him any," Shepard offered.

"I don't think I did anything to help, but I really hope I'm wrong," she whispered.

Giving her one more reassuring squeeze, Shepard nodded. "Me too."

~o~O~o~

Shepard's search for his wayward friend was turning out to be an exercise. The Main Battery was empty. None of the crewmen he had questioned had seen Garrus walking out of the room. He asked EDI where he was, but for once, the AI had no answer and promised that the moment Garrus popped up on her sensors, she'd inform him immediately.

Unable to sit idly by and wait for the report, he trekked to the Armory, thinking that his turian friend might be working on his weapons. Instead, all he saw was Jacob at his station, fixing up Miranda's Pulse Rifle and listening to some upbeat music he didn't recognize.

"Shepard," Jacob greeted when he entered.

"Hey, Jacob. You seen Garrus?"

Jacob lowered the volume. "Naw. It's been quiet. Maybe a little too quiet. That's why I got some music on."

"Bored?"

"No, just…" he started to say before shaking his head. "Forget it."

"What?"

"I saw the door open, but no one came in. Put it off as my imagination or maybe Kasumi pulling a prank on me or something, since she was here a while ago," Jacob admitted.

Before Shepard could comment, EDI's avatar popped up on the pedestal. "Captain, I've located Mr. Vakarian. He is currently in the hangar."

"Thanks, EDI."

"I should also warn you that he is conducting live fire practice as well with his M-97 Viper Sniper Rifle. I've taken the liberty of evacuating all crewmen currently inside the hangar for their safety."

"What?" Jacob asked in shock. He looked at the table where Garrus' armaments were laid out and cursed. "His rifle is gone. Must've used his damn cloak to sneak around."

"Shit," Shepard eloquently said. Without even giving Jacob another glance, much less a goodbye, he turned on his heels and sprinted to the elevator and to the hangar.

He could hear Garrus before the elevator doors opened. The crack of his sniper rifle was easy to hear. Pushing past the doors before they even fully opened, Shepard saw the crewmen that were loitered about near the doorway to the stairs. They were pressed up against the windows and talking amongst themselves and watching Garrus with great interest.

Looking through a window himself, Shepard saw that Garrus did have his rifle and was shooting at something downrange. From his angle though, he couldn't see anything more. "Make a lane!" he ordered to the gawking crew.

At his command, they parted like the Red Sea, allowing him to freely get to the hangar.

Down below, Shepard saw that Garrus was kneeling behind a crate. His rifle was propped up on top and used to steady his aim.

Looking down the length of the hangar, Shepard saw a few cans of food were placed randomly at varying locations, distances, and heights. The contents of the cans were splattered all over the far end of the hangar.

Garrus squeezed the trigger again and a can of soup exploded.

"Garrus!" Shepard barked.

The turian pulled his finger away from the trigger and rested it on the trigger guard.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Shepard asked, keeping his voice even and reigning in his temper.

"Target practice," Garrus answered belligerently.

"That wasn't what I meant and you know it."

Garrus turned his head and met Shepard's eyes. He looked like he almost wanted to give another glib answer, but Shepard's glare made him reconsider. "I… I… Shit, I don't know."

"Give me the rifle."

Sighing, Garrus stood up, collapsed his weapon and handed it over.

Once the sniper rifle was in his possession, Shepard waved at the windows to allow the crew back in. "I heard you talked with Tali."

Garrus glowered. "You didn't 'hear' anything. That implies that you didn't know from the start. You told her to talk to me."

"Excellent deduction, 'Detective'," Shepard said sarcastically.

His expression darkening even more, Garrus stomped past Shepard and toward the elevator. Not one to quit, the human fell in step next to him.

"So is there a reason you needed to turn my hangar into a shooting range?"

Garrus punched the button for the elevator and entered when the doors opened.

Shepard quickly followed. When he didn't answer his question, the Spectre pushed the emergency stop button and halted their ascension. "Well?"

"You're a stubborn asshole, you know that?" Garrus growled out. He pushed the button to release the elevator and they continued upward.

"EDI, lockdown the elevator," Shepard ordered without turning his eyes away from his friend.

"Initiating lockdown, Captain."

Again, the elevator stopped moving.

Garrus growled again and started punching the button, but this time, the elevator remained unmoving.

"Not nearly as stubborn or as childish as you," Shepard retorted.

An enraged expression crossed Garrus' face just for a split second before he cycled through a multitude of emotions: shame, anger, impatience, all before finally settling on despondence. Still, he didn't say anything. Yet.

Shepard patiently waited. He simply stared him down.

Eventually, Garrus turned his head away, unable to make eye contact. "You're good at his," he muttered.

Shepard raised an eyebrow, but didn't look away.

"I… I said something to Tali. Something stupid," he confessed quietly.

"What?"

"I… I said that she didn't know anything about losing anyone," he said before slamming his fist on the side of the elevator. "So stupid. After everything we'd seen on Haestrom…"

"So why not apologize instead of shooting up my hangar?" Shepard asked.

Garrus snorted. "Because she doesn't want me to kill Sidonis. Anything I say won't mean anything."

Shepard sighed. "I agree with her, but you're the one that has a personal stake in this, so I suppose it's not my place to tell you what you can and can't do. You're a big boy; you can make your own decisions."

"Gee, thanks, 'dad'."

"EDI, relinquish control of the lift," Shepard ordered.

"Unlocking the elevator."

Shepard pushed the button for Deck 4. Once the doors opened, he pointed out to the windows and the mess in the hangar. "You did it, you clean it. The other crewmen will help."

"Sorry about that, Shepard," Garrus said before stepping off. "I just kept seeing Sidonis' face over and over again…"

Shepard nodded and set his destination to Deck 1 so he could drop off the rifle.

Before the door closed, Garrus put his hand between the doors and forced them open. "I really appreciate everything you've done for me too. I know you don't like it and I know you didn't have to do this, so I mean it when I say: I'm sorry. For everything."

"Me too, Garrus. Me too."

~o~O~o~

There were very few times in his life when he felt as if the floor opened up and swallowed him whole. Truly, such events were still in the single digits, but when Thane looked through his bookmarks on the extranet, he felt the blood drain out of his face and another wound open on his soul.

Often, he received messages hidden within innocuous sites, detailing contracts, names, and general information. With his perfect recall, memorizing the encryption key to decipher the messages was child's play.

And what he read now was something he never expected.

"T. K left Kahje. Located at Citadel. Reports claim that he got your 'package'. Possibly looking for contracts of his own. May have found out about your 'business'. He's lost, disconnected. Needs guidance. Needs you. Find him. Goddess be with you both."

Kolyat…

It was his greatest regret, even more so than murdering, torturing really, all of Irikah's killers. He regretted abandoning the one thing he and his late wife produced together. The only living reminder of Irikah.

And now he seeks to be a killer.

His son was often in his prayers, but at the same time, he tried not to remember him. He had very few pleasant memories of their time together and too many memories of despair, a dangerous emotion when he lapsed in his solipsism.

To hear that he became a hit man now… was he following in his father's footsteps? Was he seeking revenge of his own?

Thane felt lost, confused. The only time he felt as such was when news of Irikah's death reached his ears. He had no direction, no purpose… not until her body was given to the deep and anger seized control and forced him into his battle sleep. After that, his rage and pain dictated his actions, and he allowed it.

This would not help Koylat though. For all his strengths, he had no idea what to do.

"All hands, this is the bridge. We're approaching the Citadel," Hawthorne reported. "Captain, you're wanted at the CIC."

Shepard!

The human had long since proven that he was a man of many talents and many skills, both on the battlefield and off. Most importantly, he was a man of sound judgment. If there anyone he would trust the life of his son to, it was Shepard.

Shutting off his terminal, he got up and swiftly made his way to the elevator. On the way out of the Life Support Plant where he made his quarters, he almost collided into Kasumi. Fortunately, both were nimble enough to side-step each other.

"Whoops. Sorry, Thane. I was coming into your room to ask if you wanted to spar a bit before we hit the Citadel," said Kasumi.

"My apologies as well, Miss… I mean, Kasumi," Thane replied, correcting himself when he remembered that the bubbly young woman preferred to be informal. "Something rather important has just occurred and demands my attention."

"S'okay. Sounds like Shep is busy and Samara is injured… Maybe I'll ask Jacob or Miranda if they got some free time," Kasumi mused to herself more than to Thane.

"Perhaps," he said quickly. He gave a short bow before moving on.

Up in the CIC, he stepped off the elevator and waited for Shepard to finish with his business. Currently, the Captain was at the galaxy map speaking with Citadel Control to get clearance to land.

"Understood, Agent Shepard. You wish to dock at Zakera Ward, correct?"

"That's right."

"Clearance granted. Transmitting vectors and a berth. Welcome to the Citadel, Normandy."

"Glad to be back."

When Shepard finally stepped away from the galaxy maps, Thane cleared his throat to announce his presence.

"Hey, Thane. Something up?" Shepard asked.

"I'm afraid so," Thane replied. "Is there someplace we can talk?"

"Sure. This way." Shepard led him to the Armory. Inside, Jacob was nowhere to be found.

"Where is Mr. Taylor?" Thane asked when he noticed the Armory Chief was absent.

"Lunch. We can talk here."

Thane nodded and took a breath. He tried to explain the situation, but nothing came to mind as to where to begin. He scoffed lightly to himself.

"Is there something wrong?" asked Shepard.

"Yes. Now that I'm confronted with the issue—it seems more difficult to talk about."

Shepard leaned against one of the tables and crossed his arms as he waited patiently for him to speak again. "I've got a bit of time. Take it at your own pace."

Time. The one thing I can feel slipping through my fingers.

"Thank you," Thane said gratefully, but firmly. "But I fear I've already done that for too long."

The more I waste, the less time I have to save Kolyat…

Thane turned away and walked to the table the held his weapons. Jacob, as per his norm, stacked them neatly, and in pristine working condition. He traced his fingers over his M-92 Mantis Sniper Rifle. He knew where to begin now. "I had a family, once," he confessed. "I still have a son. His name is Kolyat. I haven't seen him for a very long time."

Shepard walked up and stood next to him. "Did something happen to them?"

"I abandon them," Thane simply said, the admission cutting a deep wound in his heart. He realized that his answer could be misinterpreted and hastily added, "Oh, not all at once. Nothing dramatic. No sneaking out in the middle of the night. No final argument or slammed door. I just… did my job. I hunted and killed across the galaxy. 'Away on business,' my wife would tell people." He scoffed to himself again, this time in regret. "I was always away on 'business'."

"How long has it been since you talked?"

"Ten years," he whispered. He discounted the time when they were truly together; when Irikah was given to the deep. He had fallen into his battle sleep at the moment and did not speak to his son, even when he was crying and begging for him to stop the hanar. No, the time he was recalling was the one true happy moment just before the events leading to Irikah's death. "He showed me some of his schoolwork and asked if we could dance crazy. We did that when he was younger."

"What sort of dance was that?" Shepard asked, appearing completely intrigued with Thane's past.

"It's— / I check my extranet contacts. I expect an update on my next target. The console plays music. Old. Unfashionable. Kolyat jumps into the room. 'Hi, father!' Runs around in circles. I scoop him up. Toss him into the air. He shrieks, laughs. 'Spin me!' The console beeps. I put him down. Click the message. 'Father,' he pleads. Tugs my sleeve. 'I need to read this,' I say. I don't look at him. I don't look at him. / "

Shepard accepted his solipsism as an adequate explanation. "You never mentioned this before. Something happen?"

"When my wife departed from her body, I… attended to that issue," Thane said. He saw the look in Shepard face and knew the human had suspicions as to what he did. Maybe even guessed his story. He pushed on. "I left Kolyat in the care of his aunts and uncles. I have not seem him or talked to him since."

Shepard looked surprised. "That's not the choice I expected. Why didn't you raise him yourself?"

"My body is blessed with the skills to take life. The hanar honed them in me. I have few others." He decided to leave out the part where he knew he was recruited to Shepard's mission because of that steadfast dedication to his craft. He looked down at his assortment of weapons again. "I didn't want that life for Kolyat. I hoped he would find his own way. If he hated me, so be it. He would not have shared the path of sin."

"I thought you said that you were a weapon that your employer uses," Shepard reminded. "What the body and soul does are two different things."

"True, but as you can see, mine is still a lonely and difficult life. To fall into battle sleep means to miss on the world around you. In my case, the loss of my family. This is not the life I want for Kolyat."

"So something happened to your son?"

"Not long after our mission on the Collector vessel, I used my contacts and inquired about Kolyat. I finally got back with an answer. He has become… disconnected. He does what his body wills."

Shepard cocked his head to the side. "You'll have to explain that one to me."

"Disconnected. The body is not our true self. The soul is. Body and soul work as one in a Whole Person. When the soul weakened by despair or fear – when the body is ill or injured, the individual is disconnected. No longer Whole," Thane explained patiently.

"Okay… so what's wrong with your son? Does this mean he's hurt or what?"

"Something happened that should not have. He knows where I've been, what I've done," Thane said. A sense of shame welled up in his chest. "I don't know his reasons, but he has gone to the Citadel. He may have taken a job as a hit man." He looked Shepard in the eyes. "I would like your help to stop him. He is – This is not a path he should walk."

"Why the Citadel? It's crawling with C-Sec."

"Years ago, I prepared a package for him. A relic of my ill-spent life. I had volus bankers store it and arranged for delivery when I died. He acquired it early. I don't really know how. I did wet work on the Citadel around the time his mother died."

Again, Shepard appeared to have thoughts on the matter when he mentioned Irikah's death, but stayed silent.

"That may be why he went there," Thane finished.

"You don't hire a raw rookie for a contract killing," Shepard pointed out.

Thane had already considered the possibility. "I'm afraid someone may have seen we share a name and assumed we share skills." He shook his head in frustration. "I don't why he would accept the task."

"To be closer to you, maybe?" Shepard suggested.

"That thought haunts me more than any other," Thane said.

"Okay. I see the problem now, but I don't have your contacts or your tracking skills. Why do you need my help for this?"

"I don't need your help, I want it," Thane corrected. "The last time I saw my son— /They wrapped her body in sea-vines. Weighted it with stones. He tries to pull from me. Calls for her. The hanar lift her off the platform. They sing like bells. 'The Fire has gone, to be kindled anew.' He begs them not to take her away. They let her body slide into the water. He hits me. 'Don't let them! Stop them! Why weren't you-?' It rains. It always rains on Kahje. Warm water pours down his face. / " He could vividly remember that moment, like any other, but it was the emotions that struck him the hardest. He took a moment to compose himself.

"I'm didn't mean to make you relive that," Shepard apologized.

"Perfect memory. It is sometimes a burden."

"We'll be at the Citadel shortly. I'll do everything I can to help you," Shepard promised.

Thane bowed his head in gratitude. "Thank you, Shepard. You have no idea what this means to me."

"If you care about your son, Thane, it means everything."

~o~O~o~

Location: Unknown

"I'm sorry, sir. Doctor Chandana is not responding."

The Illusive Man's face remained neutral, almost unnaturally so. His glowing eyes seemed to be the only sign of his displeasure.

The aid visibly swallowed. "We'll keep trying to reestablish contact. I'll inform you immediately once we have something."

"Do so."

"Yes, sir!"

The moment he ended the transmission was when he allowed a frown to cross his features. He took one last puff from his cigarette before snuffing it out a little harder than necessary. Taking a drink from the tumbler in his other hand, he took a breath and reined in his irritation. A man in his position could not afford to lose control. He prided himself on maintaining his discipline and cool, aloof façade regardless of the situation. Even the momentary loss of control with something as small as how he put out his cigarette was beneath him.

Every problem is an opportunity in disguise. The trick is finding out how to unmask it.

Finishing his drink, he typed in several commands and leaned back in his chair, his control firmly back in place.

Another screen appeared, once secure communications was established. A beautiful, but stern visage was seen. "Sir," Captain Dawn acknowledged with a sharp salute.

The Illusive Man nodded in return. "Captain Dawn. I want you and the Gravitas to investigate a cell for me."

"One of ours?"

"A science team was dispatched to study an ancient technological find. The cell leader was under strict orders to relay daily reports to me, but he has since missed two such meetings. I want you to find out why."

"Parameters?"

"Extreme long-range reconnaissance. The site is considered dangerous and valuable. I want you to find out everything you possibly can. Depending on your reports, I'll decide what the next course of action is from there."

"Understood, sir."

"I'm transmitting the location to you now."

Dawn looked away from the monitor to review the information she received. "Sir, according to our latest reports, there is an Alliance patrol is due in our sector soon. I'm afraid that in order to remain undetected, we'll need to circumnavigate them. This will delay our estimated arrival."

"I understand, Captain. Just get there as soon as possible," the Illusive Man said calmly.

"Yes, sir."

"Remember, Captain. Daily reports. And exercise extreme caution, for you, your ship, and your crew. I don't whatever happened to that team to happen to the Gravitas as well."

"Yes, sir. I'll get back to you in three days with my report. Gravitas, out." She snapped off a salute and the transmission ended.

Finishing his drink, the Illusive Man opened Chandana's earlier reports and reviewed each frame, word, and motion with a critical eye.

~o~O~o~

Author's Notes:

Well, this is another very original chapter. I'm actually a bit proud how this came out.

Hope everyone liked how I introduced the Cain. If Cerberus scientists made the Cain, then it should have been on the Normandy already. And while Mordin is a genius, the Cain seems more like an Engineering feat than a biological one.

Besides, I wanted to expand on the friendship Wrex had with Shepard.

Reviewer Swordsman of Shadow suggested something that I've been bouncing around for a while. In the end, I've decided to put it to vote. I've tried to avoid using Shepard's origin/psychological background so I don't alienate some readers. To that end, I've also avoided using Shepard's default name "John" (My Shepard is called Aramas, so I know what it might mean to make things different). I put up a new poll to hear your thoughts. Should I begin using Shepard's given name (John) or not?

Please review!

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