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Zeppo Effect: Fight for the Lost

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This story is No. 2 in the series "Zeppo Effect". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: The Galaxy's Greatest Hero is back from the dead with a small army of the deadliest operatives in the galaxy to take on all comers. They say it's a suicide mission, that it’s certain death. THEY keep forgetting that Shepard has a Zeppo in her corner.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Games > Sci-Fi > Mass Effect Trilogy(Recent Donor)BHRamsayFR1864310,83930384133,11316 Jan 1226 Sep 13No

Dossier: Justicar(3)

AN--Thanks to Drakependragon + Reikson


Dossier: The Justicar (3)

8
9
8


The trip back to the Normandy was tense.


Samara had quickly provided Anaya with evidence of the Eclipse Sisters’ criminal activities and even proof that Dakni Kur had been murdered for supplying the gang with Minagen X3 mixed with dirty red sand, and his business partner Pitne For had been in on the scheme.


With that done, they’d rushed Jack back to the ship where Chakwas was waiting.


Karin tended to the biotic’s physical injuries while Willow, her eyes shimmering white with power stood on the other side of medbed her hands glowing as they ran over Jack’s comatose form.


“What is the girl doing?” Samara asked. “I’ve never seen a biotic technique like that before.”


“That’s because it’s not biotics, now shut it!” Xander snapped.


“Harris!” Joan snarled.


“Sorry, Justicar, I just…” he sighed, running a hand through his hair nervously. “Jack’s a big part of my- I mean, a big part of our team. I’m worried about her.”


For the first time since she’d met him, Samara allowed herself to take a very good look at this human whose very presence seemed to catch her attention as naturally as a window caught a sun’s glare.


Four hundred years of combat training had included the ability to read body language. The galaxy’s newest species had certain subtle cues in body language that they tended to use in emotional matters, and she’d studied up on each of them.


“The boy and the girl…” she asked Shepard quietly. “Are they bondmates?”


Shepard sucked a deep breath in through her teeth. Finally, she said, “That’s complicated.”


Sensing that she’d stumbled onto a very sensitive subject, Samara decided to focus on another matter. “Where is Morinth?”


“Since she isn’t here, I suspect that she’s with Chambers or in her quarters.” Shepard mused, looking around the medbay. “I’ll thank you to hold off on visiting her until I can escort you. Not that I don’t trust you, it’s just… well, okay, it’s totally about a lack of trust.”


“You would impugn the honor of a member of the Justicar Order?”


“Morinth once told me about how you wiped out an entire village while you were pursuing her. Tell me she’s lying.”


“She is not.” Samara shot back, icy as usual. “But I doubt she mentioned the fact that she had enthralled every last one of that village’s inhabitants, including the children. When I arrived, she ordered them to attack me while she made her escape.”


Her pale-blue eyes seemed to freeze into icy chips in her carefully restrained anger. “I was forced to kill all of the adults who attacked, but I managed to spare the children from death, even though I was forced to let Morinth escape me.”


“She…” Joan paused. “No… she never mentioned that. Though, in hindsight, that does seem like Morinth. She mentioned the fact that you left the kids alive, though. I like that part of the story, though; it adds weight.”


Shepard sighed before making the latest in the long line of decisions that made people think she was a complete monster.


Morinth was a valuable part of her team. She’d saved the lives of everyone on the team at one point or another. As much as she hated to admit it, Shepard felt as though she owed the Ardat-Yakshi to do what she could to find a way to help her, by any means necessary.


“I respect that you and Morrie have issues,” she said finally. “But I think that I’m well within my rights to ask you to wait until your meeting with Morinth can be supervised.”


“Whatever’s going on out there, can you idiots try to remember I have a very sick girl to deal with?” Chakwas growled.


“How is she, Doc?” Joan asked through the intercom, grateful for an excuse to look away from the Justicar’s burning gaze.


“The drugs are out of her system,” Karin reported. “That Reave might have just saved her life. But using new biotics in combat conditions, especially when you’ve never trained for them, is extremely reckless.”


The veteran Doctor and part-time Watcher shook her head. “Given the power spikes from what’s left of her bio-amp, I’m assuming that she wasn’t trying to Reave some mercenary thug.”


Xander grimaced and looked away.


Willow sucked her teeth in frustration. “Xander, primal energies are dangerous. They’re not some toy for you to use to impress every biotically-gifted chick you run into.”


“Look who’s talking, little miss teetotaler,” he snarled back, making her scowl at him.


“You were trying to save Morinth too, and look how that turned out,” the redhead argued.


“Given that I tolerate Morinth, she’s lucky that she’s still sane,” he snapped.


The way Xander emphasized the word ‘tolerate’ made Samara wonder if this strange human had misgivings about her rogue daughter that could come in handy.


“…and what if Jack had run into you-know-who?”


Xander just pursed his lips in mute frustration as Shepard rolled her eyes. Her objections regarding Xander and Willow’s kneejerk insecurity on supernatural matters were well known.


“Miss Rosenberg, the Justicar just saw Jack go and Reave enough power out of Xander to run all of Nos Astra for a month.” Shepard pointed out dryly. “I think that it’s safe to say that the whole not-being-normal thing is kinda out of the bag.”


“I must say, I am finding all of this a little hard to follow.” Samara said calmly.


“Okay, Reader’s Digest version,” Joan said quickly. “I was a regular old garden-variety soldier until I gained the strength, speed, and skills of a prehistoric warrior sect that have been guarding humanity ever since fire was considered cutting-edge technology. Are you still confused?”


Samara blinked once before shrugging. “Surprisingly, much less so than I would’ve thought that I would be,” she mused before turning to Garrus.


The former vigilante just shrugged. “I’ve been told that I’m supernaturally cute. But other than that, I’m normal. For a Turian, anyway.”


“It’s the scars, G-man,” Xander kidded. “I’m tellin’ you, chicks dig scars.”


“However did Morinth manage to fall in with such an eccentric group?”


“She was in the wrong place at the wrong time during a Collector attack on the slums of Omega.” Shepard shrugged. “The Collectors were using a band of Vorcha as proxy soldiers, and she helped us stop them. She’s been helping us ever since.”


“You will have to forgive my incredulity. The idea of Morinth helping anyone without an ulterior motive seems almost unbelievable.”


Xander snorted. “Well, the source of her interest might be located a tad south of her heart,” he quipped. “Where is the azure, exactly?”


Samara found herself taken aback. First by his words, and then by the embarrassed flush that darkened Joan’s cheeks.


“Xander,” Shepard hissed. “I don’t think that the Justicar cares about Morinth’s schoolgirl crush or what she does in her off-duty hours.”


“What, don’t want to admit that she’s hot for Spectre?” he chuckled.


“Yeah, yeah, it’s totally hilarious,” Willow butted in impatiently. “But it’s not a big deal. I mean, it’s not like you two have actually done anything.”


Joan flushed even deeper and Xander grimaced. Willow somehow missed it, but Samara felt an all-too familiar surge of emotion from the infamous Spectre.


So Morinth had found another lonely soul to exploit. Clearly, she’d found her errant charge in time, thankfully before the renegade y’qai could push her latest infatuation to its inevitable conclusion.


“Karin, where is Morinth anyway?” Joan asked unaware she’d betrayed her emotional turmoil to the ever-observant Justicar.


“Mordin and Miss Chambers are with her now.” Chakwas answered, busy examining certain readings on her omnitool.


“…and Jack?” Xander added belatedly.


“I’ve done as much as I can for her, here in the medbay. She needs bedrest and food; lots and lots of food.”


“I think we can leave that in Xander’s capable hands.” Shepard delegated.


The man in question looked back at Jack and Samara saw him shudder visibly.


“She’ll be okay, Xander,” Joan said, placing a comforting hand on his forearm. “I think that you made the right move.”


“If she dies because of what happened-”


“She’s not gonna die, don’t be so melodramatic,” she scolded, rolling her eyes. “If she was… then I would personally hunt down the drug-dealing scumbag responsible and send him to Hell. This isn’t your fault. It’s all on that drug-peddling weasel Pitne For.”


“I am… confused.” Samara interjected quietly. When they turned to look at her, she explained, “The boy is emotionally compromised, but surely the Butcher of Torfan should view a single fighter as expendable.”


“I see my reputation continues to precede me,” Joan shot back dryly. “It’s true that I’ll do whatever it takes to win, Justicar. But losing soldiers before the final battle gets in the way of the mission, so… no, Jack isn’t expendable. By that token, neither is Morinth.”


“Morinth is a criminal and I have sworn an oath to find her and stop her from killing anyone else,” the Justicar responded, the barest hint of warning heard in that regal voice of hers.


“…and I have a mission of my own, Justicar.” Shepard said quietly. “Millions… no, billions of lives hang in the balance, and Morinth has thus far been an aid to that mission. Once again, Morinth is not expendable.”


When Samara tensed ever-so-slightly, Shepard sighed. “So we’re at an impasse.”


“No, what you have is an opportunity.” Xander said, a little too loudly. “Assuming that Doc Solus can actually deliver the goods.”


Shepard brightened, remembering something, and nodded. “Xander, take Jack down to her hidey-hole. She’s confined to quarters until we reach Pragia. I assume you know how to get what’s needed for her out of Gardner?”


“I’ll handle it,” he nodded, already picking up Jack’s limp form.


“Then… Justicar, you’re with me. Miss Rosenberg, if you could accompany me in case that I need to engage in some aggressive diplomacy?”


Willow snorted reflexively, as though Shepard had stumbled onto some private joke of hers, but she still nodded and joined Samara in accompanying their erstwhile employer.


On their way to Morinth’s nest in the Observation Lounge, the three of them ran into Thane as the Drell was making one of his rare appearances in the mess hall.


Joan quickly conscripted him into accompany them, but the sight that she walked in on was one that she’d carry for the rest of her days.


Morinth was clad in a loose-fitting robe that did nothing to hide her naked form.


Chambers was dressed in a skintight… thing, its red color totally matching her hair and setting off her beautiful eyes…


…and Shepard suddenly realized that she was channeling Buffy’s fashionista tendencies.


Damn Slayer memories.


Chambers was writhing and grinding against the wall, dancing to a driving beat coming from the room’s sound system as Morinth stood before an easel dabbing oil-based paint on its mounted canvas.


Standing next to her, seemingly oblivious to the semi-nudity of both women, was Mordin prodding his omnitool and mumbling to himself.


“Am I interrupting something?” Joan called out lightly, annoyed at the flash of jealousy that shot through her at the sight of the two women together. “Chambers, I thought that you were helping her with therapy.”


“This is therapy,” the unofficial ship’s counselor said brightly. “You ever hear of a Salarian artist named Solnayus? Well, he and Morinth had… an encounter a long time ago.” She gestured at where the Ardat-Yakshi at the easel. “I’m encouraging her to embrace the memories and skills of her previous encounters.”


Thane nodded. “I’ve seen his work. He was an excellent artist,” the assassin observed, his voice a bass croak. “His ability to capture movement and energy was incredible. He was favored amongst Asari, both for his portraiture and his empathy for his subjects.”


“Solnayus found that subjects of his reproductions were more comfortable when he shared their feelings of exposure.” Morinth explained as she turned to face Shepard.


But the Ardat-Yakshi’s eyes widened as she caught sight of Samara behind her mark.


“You!” she scrambled back, reaching out to try to summon powers that were not responding.


“Relax, Morinth, she’s not here to hurt you!” Joan yelled.


“I attended the Salarian artist’s funeral.” Samara said coldly, her voice a subzero chill as her biotics shimmered into existence. “His family displayed many of his works, save for his final piece; a half-finished portrait of an Asari that he’d become obsessed with during the last months of his life.”


“Mother.” Morinth growled darkly. “How thrilling to see you again.”


Electric-blue fire flared as the Justicar threw out her hand, a heavy and powerful blast of gravitic force slamming into Morinth and pinned her to the plasteel surface of the window.


“Do not call me that.” Samara snapped, her hand slowly clenching as if to squeeze the life out of her target with raw force of will.


“I can’t choose to stop being your daughter… mother.” Morinth hissed, struggling under the force of the biotics threatening to crush the life out of her body.


“Stop this, stop it right now!” Shepard yelled, trying to break the standoff peacefully.


But Samara was relentless. “You made your choice long ago.”


“What choice?!?” Morinth screamed. “My only crime was being born with the gifts that you gave me!”


Suddenly, there it was; the power that she so desperately needed.


A quick explosion of force later, and Morinth blasted her mother away with her biotics.


Enough, Morinth!” Samara roared, actually losing her temper. A violent biotic Push sent the renegade Ardat-Yakshi flying, bowling her over one of the couches in the room.


But Morinth was quick to get to her feet, and mother and daughter hurled powerful mass effect fields at each other at the same time. Power began to build in a dangerous morass of conflicting gravitic fields that tore all of the e-books in the room off the shelves, the data-tablets actually orbiting the two clashing Asari.


“Ardat-Yakshi are the dark secret at the heart of the Asari empire.” Morinth snarled, old resentments surging to the fore. “But the Matriarchs are not ready to reveal this, so we must die… I must die.”


“You are a disease to be purged, nothing more!” Samara snapped, steadily maintaining her biotic force with the long-practiced ease of an Asari Matriarch’s lifetime of experience.


“Samara, I said stand down!” Shepard yelled from the sidelines.


“So this is how you keep your word, Shepard.” Morinth sneered bitterly. “I fail in battle once and you hand me to the Justicars.”


“Your new paramour will not save you, Morinth.” Samara declared icily, her voice and bearing the very quintessence of armor. “You have corrupted your last soul.”


Growling, Shepard reached out and pulled Samara’s arm away with her Slayer strength, breaking her concentration.


“Willow, Thane, I want their undivided attention, if you please.” Joan snarled.


“One time-out coming up,” the witch chirped, and suddenly everyone in the room could feel the air shift, warming as she drew what little moisture out of the air that was available before forming it and shaping it into a physical expression of her powerful will.


Morinth, seeing an opening, rushed toward her mother with her biotics primed.


Willow sent a whip-like watery construct lashing out, snaring Morinth’s legs and feet and encasing them in ice. Mordin only vaguely noted that the witch’s feat was very different to the typical cryo-blast technique, too focused on trying to figure out just how the human had managed to do such a thing in the first place.


“An impressive feat, child.” Samara observed, her body still glowing with power. “But I give you fair warning: attack me and I will respond with deadly force.”


A presence suddenly made itself known behind her, and Samara only had time to widen her eyes before the scaled hands of a Drell directed several discreet strikes upon certain parts of her body. For the first time in centuries, Samara was vulnerable, and could see her biotics fading involuntarily as her arms suddenly went numb.


Willow saw her opening, and quipped, “I’ll take my chances,” before gesturing. Another whip-like water construct lashed out, the full force of its attack hitting Samara and sending her flying back to hit the wall where she was also encased in ice from the neck down.


“Never mess with a witch who’s binge-watched as much Airbender as I have, baby,” the witch shrugged. “Nickelodeon still rules.”


“Interesting.” Mordin mumbled. “Hydrokinesis using moisture present in air to form solid water and then further resolving water construct to create ice. Fascinating.”


If Shepard heard him, she gave no sign. “Morinth, listen to me, and you’d better listen good because I’m only gonna say this one more time. I want you on this mission; you have smarts and skills that I need, but I need you at a hundred percent.”


The Ardat-Yakshi seemed to flag in defeat at her words. “I was trying to find a way to help you, and I thought that a Justicar might be a good person to ask. Presumably, they know more about Ardat-Yakshi than anyone else.”


“But my mother-” Morinth began, but Shepard cut her off.


“You seem to have left out the fact that Samara was your mother in our many little discussions,” the Spectre snapped coldly. “If I wasn’t the suspicious type, I’d wonder if that wasn’t deliberate on your part.”


“She lied to you as she always has.” Samara said sagely. “She used her biotics during our battle. I knew that I could get her to betray her true self to you.”


“Mordin?”


“Confusion understandable; thankfully, was running scans during impromptu battle,” the old scientist rambled. “Gathered readings…” he paused to take in a breath. “…very useful.”


Flaring his omnitool, the old Salarian displayed the reading so Samara could see them for herself. “As you can see; biotic control in restive state negligible, almost nonexistent.”


“Almost?” the Justicar had caught the key word.


“When Justicar first appeared, readings still at subpar levels,” he gestured at a point on the display, pairing its timing against a vidclip of her biotic clash. “But once battle with Justicar is joined, Morinth perceives herself to be in life-or-death situation; kill or be killed. Control pathways become active…” and here, the old scientist pointed to several points on the display. “End result; temporary control of biotics.”


Samara stared at the readings intently. She tried to deny what she was seeing, but there it was. Plus, she could actually see that Morinth’s ability to use biotics were already fading.


“…and, now, to make sure that there’s no doubt whatsoever…” Joan walked over to a pitcher of water, pouring the contents into a glass that she set on a countertop. “Morinth, I believe your mother wants a glass of water.”


“If she wants a glass of water, that ke-” but Shepard silenced Morinth’s protests with a glare, and Samara found that she marveled at the Spectre’s sudden ability to compel her daughter.


This was not mind manipulation or simple seduction.


Shepard’s presence alone influenced Morinth’s actions.


Morinth stretched forth her hand and the cup was picked up in a cloud of dark energy, wobbling hesitantly as it was pulled across the room. At about halfway, the glass began to shake quite visibly and Shepard snatched it out of the air, carrying it the rest of the way.


“I understand that she did rather well at this exercise back when she was a child.” Joan observed. “Knowing her as you seem to, do you still think she’s faking her injuries to trick you?”


“This is… extraordinary.” Samara whispered.


Quickly changing the subject, Joan turned to Thane. “That thing you did to the Justicar… I don’t recall you mentioning anything like that during our training sessions.”


“Such techniques require years of study and practice,” the Drell assassin croaked, being as taciturn as usual. “They also require a…” he hedged delicately, “…certain subtlety that would… restrict your… natural penchant for direct combat.”


Joan blinked but chuckled. “All right, Thane, I’ll give you that,” she conceded. “They didn’t exactly train us to be subtle, back in basic.”


“My understanding of human military service is that your people feel sixteen is the right age to begin training you in combat,” he observed. “I started training in the skills that I have now when I was maybe half that age. By sixteen, I had already made my first few kills.”


“Drell attacking precise nerve clusters to inhibit flow of blood assisting Asari neural clusters controlling dark energy.” Mordin explained helpfully. “If done correctly, can disable biotics without harming. Done incorrectly, can kill; that is, assuming that intention in use of technique is not to kill.”


“Asari are familiar with the technique,” Samara noted, nodding regally. “But that girl… how did she accomplish that feat? I have never seen a technique such as hers, and I had always assumed that humans had inherently-less biotic talent then other, more-experienced species.”


“Willow, if you please?” Shepard grinned, gesturing grandly to her.


“Ooh, I get to do The Talk again!” the redhead squealed cheerfully.


As Samara took a seat on a nearby couch, Willow began. “Well, into every generation a girl is born…”


8
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8


Dossier: Justicar


The Goddess, it seems, is not without a certain sense of humor.


Demons and monsters, warriors with mysterious power sent out on missions to right wrongs and save the innocent… it all seems so unbelievable.


…and, yet, once upon a time, so long ago…


…before I had my duty…


…I had a life. A love, and a family.


Before that?


The life I glimpse only through the selective filter of memory.


I grew up adoring the ancient tales, as did Morinth’s father…


The love who would become my bondmate?


We met at a performance of the Dark Huntress cycle.


We had arrived at the same time for the performance, each believing the other to be in the wrong seat.


But by the time the curtain rose, we had agreed to a compromise.


By the first intermission, we no longer cared about who was in the right seat.


We raised Morinth on such tales, of great heroes and noble deeds.


Small wonder, then, that her appetites as a serial killer tended towards creative types such as storytellers. Artists like Solnayus, whose most famous figural study was an actress famous for her rendition of the Dark-Huntress legend.


The warrior cursed by fate, to battle the darkness alone, or see all she loved destroyed.


Now, such tales would normally be folklore, yes.


And yet… here I am.


Oathsworn to a human who displays that very same power and being accompanied by a team very much like the characters from the old tales.


I recognize Shepard’s specialists, of course.


Each appears in various places in the old tales and legends; even Morinth and I appear.


The old warrior and her cursed child, joining forces with the Dark-Huntress against the greater evil. In joining her, they meet a fated end.


I retreat to the solitude of the Observation Lounge, deciding to share space with Morinth.


Penance, perhaps, for letting her run wild for centuries as I did.


She is not there; meeting with the ship’s counselor, no doubt.


Miss Chambers seems genuine enough, but she seems… disappointed in our meeting.


No doubt she finds me cold and indifferent, where Morinth is passionate.


Of course, my daughter is friendly and approachable.


One does not survive four hundred years as a hedonistic killer by being unapproachable.


Instead, I find the Drell assassin staring out the window.


Interesting.

“Justicar,” he notes my presence, turning to face me. “I had hoped to take advantage of your view of the void. But if you would prefer solitude…”


“You need not leave on my account, Mister Krios.” I wave away his concerns. “In truth, I was curious about something. You are theThane Krios, the master assassin.”


He shakes his head. “Anyone who calls themselves a master of anything does a disservice to the craft they practice.”


An intriguing perspective. “How so?” I ask him.


“It implies that one has learned all there is to know of their craft,” the Drell observes, his fingers absently loosening their joints somewhat. “I do not presume to say that I know all there is to know of life and death, only that I have become very good at ending life… bringing death.”


“You train Shepard. Why? Why teach her your secrets? Do you not fear she will misuse what you gave her?”


“I teach her what she needs and only what she needs.” There is a faint note of reproach in his voice, as if he wonders at the wisdom of my question. “What she needs are tools to become that which she desires to be; a better version of herself. As do we all.”


“But she is dangerous.” I observe.


“We are all dangerous, in our own way. Even you, Justicar.” He points out, and I readily concede to his logic. The centuries that I had spent in solitude on my quest across the galaxy had led me to consider myself more dangerous than the people around me. Now, to be amongst people who could challenge me… perhaps that is why I have found myself drawn to Shepard and her team of specialists.


“Shepard has chosen a pathway that has but one end.” Thane observes dispassionately. “If teaching her what I do insures she reaches that end and saves all of us in the bargain… well, then Arashu’s will has prevailed.”


“Morinth seems enamored of her, and I suspect that Shepard is not completely immune to her charms. I fear what may come of it.” I share my misgivings.


He chuckles. At my sharp gaze, he raises both of his hands somewhat in a half-hearted surrender. “Forgive me, Justicar, I mean no disrespect,” he rumbled. “But rather… I have realized that the Gods are cunning, and perhaps a little cruel in their gifts. You sound less like a fearsome enforcer of Justice then you do a mother. Even in the least of actions, you put my efforts to shame.”


“Of what do you speak?”


“I had a wife and a family,” he explains, turning his gaze back to the stars. “It was Arashu’s will that she be taken from me. But perhaps… perhaps I should have stayed. To take care of my son, but I left.”


At my unspoken question, he adds, “I sought out my wife’s killers. I hurt them, for a long time, before I granted them the freedom of death.” There was a deep note of regret in his voice, but not because he had killed them. “Afterwards, I told myself that I had to support my son with the only skills that I had of value. So I stayed away. I told myself that I did so to protect him.”


“The galaxy can be cruel.” I note bitterly, remembering that fateful day with that doctor.


“But look at you, Justicar.” His words catch my attention. “Your daughter is an Ardat-Yakshi; her only choice is either a life of imprisonment or death. Instead of accepting that fate, she runs. Instead of sitting idly, awaiting a return that might never come, you forswear all material possessions to become the one thing that guarantees that you can never be fully and completely separated.”


“I became as I am to restore balance.” I insist, even though his plain words tug at a heart that I had thought long frozen over by my will. “She made her choice, and thus I made mine; to give back to the galaxy all that I knew she would remove from it.”


“There is poetry to your words, Justicar, and perhaps some truth as well,” he nods, conceding the argument. “I only speak as I do because my thoughts turn to Kolyat lately.”


“Your son?”


He nods. “I wonder… did I do right by him? In shielding him from my life, did I expose him to something much worse?”


“Then your course is clear.” As always, the Code of the Justicar can be relied upon for answers. “Seek out you son, and tell him that which you told me. I do not think that you will know peace, before we leap into the unknown, if you leave unfinished business behind.”


He does not speak for a long time, instead choosing to look out the window. “Do you think that Shepard would approve of such a course?”


“Shepard’s pragmatism manifests itself in a fashion that I have never seen before,” I answer him honestly. “What is your impression of her and this mission that she is on?”


“It seems uncouth, perhaps…” his lips curl into a thin smile. “But I often feel as though I am part of the tales of old, the kind that we both used to indulge in as children. The wise counselor who grants wisdom to fate’s chosen champion.”


“An amusing comparison,” I note, returning his smile. “Although… if one were to follow the strict course of such tales, then if the wise counselor is ever struck down, their death becomes the fuel for the next stage of the hero’s quest.”


He nods in agreement, and we stand in companionable silence for some time, content to see the endless void beyond the Normandy’s window.


I know that I should be meditating.


But a still, small voice that I have not heard since that night at the Opera House reminds me that the point of meditation is to achieve serenity and calm.


…and I feel nothing but serenity and calm in the presence of this assassin.


“I have chosen to swear the Third Oath of Subsmation to Shepard.” I am not sure why I tell him this, nor am I certain why I feel pleased at his grave expression. Perhaps because he understands the significance of the act.


“An act of great trust, Justicar,” he rumbles.


“…and yet, it seems appropriate, does it not?” I find myself smiling, a grim and fatalistic acceptance creeping at my thoughts. “Following a fated champion on a dark quest, fighting a great evil at the side of my demon daughter… surely, swearing an oath of loyalty is but my part in this great drama.”


“The fates do seem to have a sense of humor, do they not?” Thane muses bitterly.


“You may, if you wish, call me Samara.” I inform him.


He nods in assent, recognizing the gesture for what it signifies. “Only if you consent to calling me Thane,” he rumbles back, and I smile as we turn back to observe the great void.


…and so we pass the time.


Finding contentment at this odd place that our destinies have brought us.


Once, I loved such tales.


Once, I had a bondmate. A family to support…


I once thought that I had put such childish thoughts behind me.


Real life was adventure, as I once told my bondmate in the last of the many arguments that we had before she left. Some were enough without demanding greater drama from it.


…and yet… here I am, living out the very stories that I once loved.


The tales that Morinth once loved to hear, over and over again.


The stories that let her go to sleep when I did not come home from work early, or when I missed another family gathering because I had an important meeting or had to work late.


Fate, it would seem, is not without a sense of irony.


8
9
8


Jack groaned as she nursed her injuries, cradling a burnt and damaged amp in her hands; the military-grade biotic amp that Chakwas had gotten for her when she’d first come aboard.


The thing was danger-rated to withstand extreme power fluctuations. The fact that she’d burned it out was a silent testament to how much power she had drawn on in her first ever attempt at Reave.


All because of Xander, the immortal nice guy who’d been lusting after her for a while. Her whole life had changed when she’d met him, and she found that she didn’t want to go back to life on the run.


She absently reached up and felt the comforting weight of her old amp, scoffing reflexively.


Nowhere near as powerful as what Xander and Shepard had gotten for her, but she’d went and modded the Hell out of that thing during her years on the run. It’d do until Chakwas gave her the replacement that she’d promised.


“Why the Hell are you trusting some old lady?” that much-hated voice suddenly hissed at her. “A Cerberus doctor, no less?”


She trusted Chakwas because she wasn’t Cerberus.


She was Shepard’s, and Shepard hasn’t fucked with her once; she’d been straight with her.


“…and why’s Shepard so trustworthy all of a sudden?”


The answer was obvious; Xander.


Everything good in her life these days all came back to Xander.


That smug-grinning bastard had wormed his way into her life, into her…


No, she wouldn’t say it.


If she didn’t say it, it wasn’t real.


If it wasn’t real, she could still walk away. Even if she really wanted to run.


Jack had come to in her tiny hole in the subdeck, with Gabby assuring her that she was okay and that Xander would be back shortly.


Until then, Jack was bound by Chakwas’ orders to take it easy.


Settling back onto the cot, she perked up when she heard footsteps descending.


This wasn’t Xander’s usual confident stride, but rather the slow gait of a man that she almost didn’t recognize.


In place of his usual faint smirk was an unfamiliar look that pissed her off, and Jack suddenly realized that he was worried about her.


She huffed to herself. Why the fuck would he be worried about her?


He’s like a zillion years old, he should know the score.


Life meant little, and death even less. And yet… there he was.


“You made him weak,” the voice taunted her. “You made him weak because you were weak.”


But weak people don’t let you kill them to save your life, like what happened back at Nos Astra…


Harris turned out to be loaded down with a large tray with dishes piled high with food.


She wanted to smile at the scene. There was that warm feeling in her belly again; so much different then that OTHER warmth, the one she got when she fought… the warmth that made fighting and killing so very enjoyable for her in the first place.


“Welcome to Château Xander,” he declared grandly, carefully placing the tray down on the ledge next to her cot. “Today’s menu for the discerning biotic is a strict layout of high-protein selections. For your first course, may I call your attention to the lovely hard-boiled eggs next to the soup of the day? The chef has assured me that both are trés magnifique.”


Jack winced as she slowly stood up, staggering to the nearby crate that she generally used as her chair. Sitting down in front of her emergency meal, she wrenched open a waiting bottle of Tupari and quickly gulped down its contents. As its high-calorie contents reached her stomach, she sighed pleasantly before she fairly gulped down the four hard-boiled eggs waiting for her and then started working on the tomato soup waiting for her.


“Your second course is bourbon chicken, chicken lazone, and balsamic chicken thighs,” he added, pointing to three plates plated to heaping with the dishes mentioned.


As she drained the last of the soup and speared a piece of bourbon chicken with her fork, he then pulled out a six-pack of beer. “Since no meal is complete without something to wash it down, today’s choice beverage is Bavarian wheat beer. After all, Germans do beer right.”


“Beer? Where’d you score decent brew on Illium?” she demanded around a mouthful of food as he slid an open can to her.


“I got my ways,” he shrugged. “But… things got hairy out there. How you feelin’?”


“I’m fine.” Jack said too quickly, taking a long pull from the can.


“Look, that trip was because of the MX3; it had some dirty red sand mixed in it. If you saw anything-”


Rolling her eyes, she slammed the can down. “I said I was fine, Harris, I don’t need a babysitter.”


“Cool, cool,” he mumbled hurriedly, and they sat in silence as Jack kept eating.


Once she finished off the bourbon chicken, she quickly tired of the quiet.


Why was he being so quiet?


“So… shit got fucked up out there, huh?” she ventured. “How’s the JustiMILF?”


“Yeah… about that?” he snickered. “Turns out the JustiMILF’s actually a mom; Morrie’s mom, to be exact.”


“You’re shitting me,” she sputtered around a piece of chicken lazone. “Grandma Death’s also Morinth’s mom? Shit.” Then she leaned forward, eager for gossip. “Tell me that I didn’t miss some major fireworks. They kick each other’s ass? Shepard mix it up?”


“Well, the e-books in the starboard lounge starts orbiting this massive biotic storm that the two of them are trying to slam at each other, and then Thane goes and pulls some kind of ninja move that lets block Asari biotics by hitting certain pressure points on their body,” he grinned. “Real kick-ass, but Willow threw down some real heat. She whipped a little hydrokinesis on them both, encased both their bodies in ice.”


“Hydrokinesis?”


“Ah, that’s what Mordin calls it,” he shrugged. “See, Willow can control the environment around herself; screw with it on an elemental level. Water, earth, air, and fire… of course, terrestrial-based magics using fire and earth are harder to do on a ship. But water’s everywhere; even in the vacuum of space.”


“Damn.” Jack whistled in admiration, popping another piece of chicken lazone into her mouth. “Red can really fuck shit up. I’m glad she’s teaching me a few tricks.”


Xander went quiet and Jack sighed, putting down her fork and knife to look at him. Taking a pull from her beer, she decided that a little Dutch courage never hurt to break the ice.


“Okay, Harris, how long are we gonna do this?” she gestured between the both of them. At his mystified look, she rolled her eyes and clarified, “This thing where we pretend that I’m a fuckin’ china doll that’s gonna shatter if you so much as grab my boobs.”


“Chambers asked me if I ever tried to sleep with you while we were on Omega,” he replied, looking at nothing in particular.


“Lemme guess; she thought it’d be a bad idea,” she rolled her eyes.


“Epically bad, to hear her conclusions.”


“What, ’cuz I got too many issues?”


“No. I’ve got too many issues, and she’s got a point.”


“What?”


The genius of the hole is that when you dig one in a conversation, you can never seem to get out of it. “I broke Cordelia’s heart and Anya… Hell, I dumped her at the altar for reasons that seem more and more stupid with every passing year. As for Dawn…”


Jack waved him to silence impatiently. “I get it, Xander. But, see, I could’ve killed you today. You know what Reave is? You’re literally pulling life energy out of a person with that, and that shit can kill if you aren’t careful. Here you go and risk your life anyway, immortal or not. You too stubborn to die? Is that it?”


She leaned back, staring at the ceiling. “I mean, you seriously risked dying just so that I could live. What the Hell am I supposed to do with that, huh? How can I spin a stunt like that into ‘he just wants a piece of ass’ when there’s way easier ways to getting chicks into bed then letting them Reave life energy out of you?”


“Really? Mind making a list?” he asked sarcastically. “There’s a teenage boy back in the late twentieth century who was pretty sure that he’d never get laid.”


“I’m serious, Xander,” Jack snapped. “If this is about sex, just say it so we can fuck and I can move on already. The alternative’s a shitload scarier.”


He sighed, leaning his head against one of the IES coolant pipes and listening to it hum under his ear. “I saw you in Chakwas’ lab today and all I could think about was that there was all this crap that I wanted to say to you and do with you. If you died, I wasn’t going to able to do it and the thought of that scared me.”


Jack was too stunned to say anything, so he just went on ahead. “I haven’t felt like that in a long time. I was starting to feel it with Ash and I ran for the hills. Now… here I am, feeling it all over again and…”


“You still want to run?”


He sighed wearily. “I want you to be able to trust me, Jack. I started off trying to show that not everyone’s out to kick you around, but I got too invested. Plus, this life I live, the things I do… I mean, what right do I have to come in and think I can fix it all?”


Chuckling bitterly, he ran a hand through his hair. “You just… you deserve better than what you’d been getting out of life thus far.”


“Xander Harris, you may be the only guy in the galaxy that can make a girl feel sexy after telling her that she’s a fucked-up bitch.”


“You know what I mean, Jack,” he snapped, annoyed. “I really like you, but I don’t want to make any mistakes. Too many guys have screwed things up for you, and I don’t want to be one more asshole that screwed your life up.”


She rolled her eyes at his logic. “Xander, the idea that you’re anything like the guys I’ve met before all this is just retarded. Those fuckers don’t hold a candle to you.” Reaching out, she took his hand, making him look up at her. “No more games and bullshit, Harris. You got a thing for me or what?”


He sighed and nodded. “Yeah. I think there might be something going on. That gonna be a problem?”


She just shrugged. “Depends. You still letting demons pretendin’ to be your older self give you relationship advice?”


Xander blinked, and then scowled. “Goddamn it, Willow, I swear to God-”


“Actually, Simone told me; girl does not have fond memories of you.” As he tried to process that bit of information, she brought the subject up again. “So what about it, old man?”


“No… Jack,” he murmured, smiling weakly. “I don’t plan on being that stupid ever again.”


“Well, then, fine,” she nodded. “Let’s see where this goes.”


A beat passed before Xander asked, “So how do we do this?”


She just shrugged. “Same way we do everything else; one day at a time, one crisis at a time.”


He quirked an eyebrow. “Keep the training wheels on for a while?”


“I don’t know,” she groused. “I’m used to taking what I want, when I want. All this touchy-feely soft crap’s kinda new for me.”


She leaned in close and suddenly heard them in the back of her mind again.


All the doubts… the fears that he’d cheat… that she’d fuck it up… they get each other killed…


But suddenly his mouth was pressing against hers as his hands rose up to hold her face, and she found herself moaning desperately into his mouth.


And just like that, all the voices in her head died. Their taunting and whining were drowned out by music, a sweet melody that soared as it grew louder.


It was beautiful. It was more beautiful than anything she could’ve imagined.


The music was poetry, its quintessence, and she was part of it. Even if it took her the rest of her life, she’d never be able to find the words to describe the perfect beauty of the music; this one moment in her life.


How could she not have heard it before this?


How had she lived her whole life, never knowing this?


Xander felt wet tears on her cheek and he pulled away, frowning.


Jack huffed softly. “If you tell anyone I was crying, I’ll kick your ass.”


He smirked in spite of himself. “Your secret’s safe with me.”


“I know.”


She kissed him again before lying down on the cot. “All that food and booze makes me tired. You mind if I sack out on you?” Jack mumbled.


“Fine by me. Even badass biotics need their rest,” he shrugged. “I can take this stuff away if you want.”


“Leave it,” she slurred. “I’ll need a snack when I get up.”


“You wanna eat cold food and flat beer that much?”


“Breakfast of champions…” she mumbled, starting to snore.


Xander chuckled and got up to leave, before she spoke again. “You… you don’t have to go… if you don’t want…” she murmured.


“You sure?”


“Yeah…” she breathed softly.


“Well, seems that I’ve got a duty shift in a while,” he took a quick look at his omnitool’s chronometer. “But I’ll stay until you’re asleep. I’ll try to get back before you wake up, how ’bout that?”


“Fine by… me…” she moaned as he slipped a warm blanket over her.


He sat down before her, stroking her hand until her breathing slowed down into a deep and regular rhythm. Then he tapped a few commands into his omnitool and fired off a quick e-mail to Tali, asking her to take his next duty shift.


Poor Donnelly. The guy would be cleaning engine parts with Tali, who was quite a bit more thorough than the Alliance-trained engineer was used to under anyone else.


Leaning his head against the ledge-table, Xander waited.


He wanted to make sure that she’d see him first once she woke up.

The End?

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You have reached the end of "Zeppo Effect: Fight for the Lost" – so far. This story is incomplete and the last chapter was posted on 26 Sep 13.

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