1472: When You’re Strange – Chapters Twenty-Four and Twenty-FivePosted: July 14, 2016
Title: When You’re Strange
Media: Video Games
Topic: Mass Effect
URL: When You’re Strange: Chapter 24
URL: When You’re Strange: Chapter 25
Critiqued by Herr Wozzeck
Hello ladies and gents, and welcome to what will likely be the last installment of When You’re Strange! I’m your host Herr Wozzeck, and we’ve finally made it through to the end.
And… well, you’ll see what happens then. For now, let’s get started, shall we? We’ve got a shitty fanfic to finish!
Our next chapter opens with another author’s note:
Cookies if you can find the new turian headcanon and name it in your review! :D
I suppose you’ll be taking those cookies away if we rip apart the headcanon, right? Because what we’ve seen of your “headcanon” so far is stupid as hell.
Shepard sighed as she looked at her reflection in the mirror. She felt ridiculous. The sling for her injured arm wasn’t helping. She had a new mission now, a personal one, and she wasn’t about to give up on it; but she still felt ridiculous about the whole thing. She wasn’t much for practicing speeches in the mirror. It had always felt silly and self-serving to her, but for the first time in a long time, she felt like she actually needed the practice. She was about to come face to face with the most complex problem she’d ever dealt with, all centered around a single person: Garrus. She needed her game face on. The problem was that she wasn’t exactly sure that would help in this case.
Lady, nothing short of ejecting yourself from this fic entirely can help you now. Seriously, you do realize that you’re fucked with this fic, right?
Anyway, she stands in front of her mirror and bitches about “shit, how am I gonna make up to Garrus”. Eventually, she just says “fuck it” to herself, decides to ad lib it, and then goes down to the Normandy’s cargo bay, where…
She breathed a quiet sigh of relief for that small mercy, at least. Steeling herself as best she could, she walked over to the Mako, still unsure of what she could even say to smooth things over. She flexed her throat to deactivate her implant, thinking perhaps a subvocal queue would be appropriate. Nothing came out. She realized that both of her voice boxes were just as sealed up by the tightening in her throat from her nerves. She took another breath, this one to calm herself into relaxing enough to speak.
He cut her off with a sharp click of his mandibles.
“Sorry Commander, can we talk later? I’m in the middle of calibrating the Mako’s main gun.”
Wow, this is the first calibration interruption the whole fic? Huh. I thought I’d have gotten to that sooner considering, you know, Garrusmance and all that…
Not a hint of subvocals, not a single ounce of leniency, he didn’t even pause whatever he was doing with the Mako’s console. She felt her stomach drop into the abyss around the same time her heart went into overdrive. She had to maintain control of herself. She shook her head slowly, her eyes squeezing shut for a moment, then straightened into parade rest and looked at the back of his cowl resolutely. Two could play the game he was playing, if it had to be that way.
“What I have to say won’t take up much time.”
“I want to apologize for my behavior earlier; that was… a horrible reaction. I wasn’t thinking clearly and I fucked up. My pride got in the way when it shouldn’t have, and I was an ass. You didn’t deserve that; you never have. You deserve a lot better than that and I failed you by not giving it to you. I’m so sorry, Garrus.”
She waited, wondering if he would say something.
She took a deep breath in through her nose, then let it back out again before she tried one more time to apologize, “Look, Garrus, what I did…” she paused and sighed “…what I said to you, it wasn’t right. I know that. I was angry, at myself, – and a little at you – and at this whole fucked up situation, but I shouldn’t have snapped like that.”
She let her subharmonics back up everything she was saying, freeing all of the emotions and anxiety that were running through her in that moment – regret, sorrow, sincerity… pain. When he continued to stare at the console and refused to acknowledge that she’d even spoken, anger joined her pain.
“You don’t have to accept the apology right now. You have every right to be angry with me, but this cold shoulder act of yours isn’t going to help us when we get to Palaven. I’d appreciate if you let me know – before we arrive – if we should turn this boat around and forget everything.”
The movement of his hands paused for only a few seconds, before continuing on their path.
“Will that be all, Commander?”
The tightness of her throat roughened her response, though it did not waver.
“Yes. For now.”
“Then I’ll see you planet-side in three hours, Commander.”
She nodded at his back. This time, she couldn’t stop the waver in her voice, “Carry on.”
Aw man, this apology and the refusal of it would’ve been compelling. Man, if only it hadn’t been there for a super-contrived reason…
Anyway, she walks over by where Wrex is, and Wrex offers to beat him up, and she’s like “nah, he’s got every right to be angry at me”. They do talk a bit how that would impact the Palaven visit, though, but then Shepard is like “I don’t know what’s going on”. Wrex offers to ferret that out, but Shepard vetoes that. She then hopes that he’ll think about it in the few hours they settle into Palaven pre clan meeting. And then, we cut to…
“Y’know, normally I wouldn’t say anything, but you’re being an ass.”
Garrus’ digits paused over the console, a quiet growl escaping him in his frustration.
“Please, continue not saying anything. It is in your best interests not to get involved.”
There were a few moments of silence, during which Garrus assumed Ash had decided to heed his advice. He continued re-calibrating the Mako’s main canon. For the fourth time… in the past two hours.
Then she spoke up again, “It’s in my best interest to keep my friend and commander happy. I’m not scared of you. And even if I was, I have all the weapons.”
Well, Ashley is now the relationship counsellor between Taren!Sue and Garrus. I… actually am pretty relieved by that, considering this fic baited us with the “racist Ashley” shit pretty much every other Mass Effect author pulls.
That actually makes me pretty happy.
He sent an annoyed glare her way, then continued his work. “And how can you possibly imagine you’re keeping your commander happy by pestering me?”
“You’re her turian. I just want to wake your face up to the fact that your ass is smearing itself all over it, so you’ll go wash your face, then go back to her and work things out already. Ignoring her isn’t going to make the problem go away. You’re about to land on your home planet to try and convince your clan to accept her and you into it. Exactly how do you plan on doing than if you guys are still on the rocks? Or was that your plan at all? Seems like you need to stop faking being terrible at calibrating canons and go do some thinking or talking or fighting or fucking or something already. But that’s just my advice. Not like I haven’t lived longer than you or anything.” She shrugged and turned back to her station, obviously done with talking for the time being.
What I’m less happy about is the age thing. Really? Ashley is older than Garrus?
He sighed. “You’re only three years older than me, and it doesn’t really count, seeing as we go into the military much younger than humans do. I’m not pretending to be terrible. I’m just occupying my mind.”
Ash began stripping down a pistol as she spoke, “Still doesn’t answer what your plan is once you get planet-side.”
“I don’t know, alright?” he huffed in agitation. “Now stop pestering me already. I’ve got a lot on my mind right now, I don’t need the extra hassle.”
Silence was Ash’s reply. Apparently she’d finally given up on her inquisition. He couldn’t deny that her concerns were valid, though. He’d been asking himself the same question ever since Shepard had left with Wrex on her tail. He knew if he left things as they were, the visit with his clan would be an epic failure. He simply couldn’t bring himself to admit that Shepard wasn’t the only one who’d allowed pride to get in the way. Not yet. He would have to do it before he presented her to his clan, though.
He wasn’t looking forward to any of it.
And neither are we. At least this could kind of explain why the hell he didn’t just let her arm go.
Anyway, we cut back to Shepard who gets a message from Ash about it. Blah, blah, she walks up to the cockpit, Joker talks a bit, Taren!Sue talks a bit about the planet’s color, it segues into talk about the hotel (which is apparently owned by a distant relative of Garrus), they talk about how much Taren!Sue is not looking forward to it, Joker wishes them luck, and–
Sad as it may be, I feel more optimistic about saving Saren than I do about this damned trip.”
I see you still think your priorities are in a good place, Taren!Sue, you dumbass. Good to see your priorities are still in check!
“Damn, Taren; that’s pretty bad,” Joker gave a low whistle of disbelief. “Shit, even I’d give it better odds than that when it comes right down to it.
No kidding. And to be honest, I want Shepard to fail here. Because for realsies: it would be great to see this bitch finally crumble under the weight of her unjustified hubris. That doesn’t happen often enough these days, I find…
Anyway, Joker makes the announcement that they’re approaching Palaven, and then we get this…
What fate awaited her and Garrus down on that planet, she could not begin to imagine. Would they resolve their differences and present a united front, facing his family together and gaining them as allies, or would their differences tear them apart and brand them – especially her – as exiles?
A part of her wanted to tell Joker to cancel the landing sequence; to turn around and leave the way they came. It was a part of her that she knew better than to give into, a part of her that feared losing everything. But no- it had been her selfish pride that had created the gaping chasm between her and her Vima; she wasn’t about to make it worse by being a coward on top of it. She took a deep breath as she reconciled her fears with the reality that she could lose everything down there. It would happen, or it wouldn’t. What other options did she have at this point? None. None that didn’t require radical changes in her beliefs; in who she was.
And, for now, she refused to make those changes.
Oh, so you want to be a screaming harpy who claws out her subordinate’s jugular and continues to be an exoticizing tryhard? You’d make good friends with a certain lion I know, let me tell you that…
Her view of Palaven became ever clearer as they neared it. She began to pick out the specifics of some of the landscape; mountains, oceans, vast expanses of land, lights from cities dotted all over the planet. She spotted the largest concentration of lights and recognized it as their destination: Cipritine, Palaven’s capital city. It was nighttime in Cipritine currently, about 2100 hours, if she was judging the position of the shadow cast by Trebia’s light correctly. A good hour to land and go through customs with plenty of time to find herself at her favorite little hole in the wall, Tiny’s. She’d discovered it during her last visit here, when she came to recover from the nightmare that was Akuze.
Oh, so you have been to Palaven before, and you have a familiar haunt. Good to know: I was starting to think this was your first visit to Palaven and you’d know nothing about how things went there.
It would still be open, she knew; it was a local favorite that she’d only stumbled upon by knowing the right people. It served good food and excellent ale that was brewed at a microbrewery down the street.
Food and ale you can’t actually partake in because of food allergies that you conveniently forgot existed, right? Because I’d think you would remember that shit. Oh wait, what am I saying: this fic probably forgot most of what it did in the previous chapters. Yay to continuity errors up the wazoo!
The staff and patrons were friendly, but discreet; they didn’t care who you were, or what species you were, as long as you treated them with respect. She made up her mind right then: as soon as she was checked into the hotel, she’d be hauling ass to Tiny’s for a stiff drink.
She wondered if Tiny would still be alive. It hadn’t been that long since she’d been there last; a few years at most, but things changed. She hoped he was still around; he was the only turian besides Garrus that she’d ever met who didn’t seem to give a damn about her heritage, or that she could both hear and produce subharmonics. He’d actually defended her once to a couple of drunk patrons that she only saw in there once in a while – but always pestered her when they were there – telling them that if they didn’t want to accept her as she was, they could leave and stay gone. They left her alone after that.
She’d been sad to leave Palaven – mostly on Tiny’s account – but she’d stayed in touch periodically; though she hadn’t pinged him in the past six months or so. She grinned and flicked her omni-tool to life, scrolling through her contacts until she found his name, selecting it and typing a short message.
TS: Hey Tiny. Coming into town for a while. I’ll be at your place tonight. Got time to catch up?
Blah blah blah, more stuff. I just hope Tiny is a better character.
Because yeah, I’m actually going to be pretty blunt here: I feel like the second half of this fic is totally different from the first one. This might be on virtue of the fact that she wrote her own original fiction in the meantime, and to be honest it does show. As much as I hate to admit it, some things have improved: Taren!Sue isn’t nearly as insufferably bitchy as she used to be, the prose isn’t anywhere near as purple as it was around the time that Kaidan got his jugular slashed, it’s actually spending time on the other characters, it actually does plot stuff…
In general, this fic has gotten a bit better since it started. Oh, it’s still bad: the science fails are still constant, Taren!Sue’s priorities are still fucked, the canon violations are still all over the place (and not coverable by “IT’S AN AU!”), and frankly the romantic plot tumor that was infecting the fic has now taken firm hold and not let go, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be. So that’s something, I guess?
Anyway, she mopes some more about Garrus, and then the Normandy gets into the planet’s atmosphere. They dock, she starts to leave, and…
They exchanged casual salutes as she bent to retrieve her backpack, then headed off to the airlock. She waited as the Normandy’s airlock synced with the docking port’s bridge, watching it slowly extend through the airlock camera. The noise from the bridge extending almost masked the sounds of armored boots coming up behind her. The first subvocal sound she’d heard from him since his whole silent treatment began – a chirruped greeting – issued from the general vicinity of the boots. She nodded and returned the sound, just as formally as he’d issued it. She didn’t turn, didn’t look at him, just kept her eyes on the camera screen.
A whimper from him was strangled almost before it could be heard, making her turn sharply with a raised brow, her expression incredulous. He looked straight ahead, acting as if the sound hadn’t come from him. She growled and whipped her gaze back to the airlock, which was currently sealing itself to the bridge and beginning the air cycling procedures required before the it could be opened. The moment the light turned green, she slammed her open palm to the ‘open airlock’ button, impatiently stepping through as soon as there was enough space between the doors.
Ah, there we are. That’s something in the spirit of what a vindictive bitch would–
Garrus followed at a more rational pace, stepping through once the doors had fully opened.
“Rational” pace? What the hell does that even mean? That… um…
The doors closed behind him, triggering the decontamination cycle. Garrus stood still, while Shepard crossed her arms and tapped her foot in agitation, appearing desperate to escape the confines of the suffocatingly small chamber. Finally the cycle ended, and the outer doors slid open to let in the warm, sticky scent of Palaven in early Fall. Shepard repeated her escape act through these doors, walking quickly enough that she was almost forced to jog as she stormed toward the customs officer. Garrus followed once again at a far more subdued pace, seeming to want to keep his distance from his perturbed mate.
Thank you. That description is much better.
So they go through customs, they get into a taxi, and then…
“Taren, we need to talk.”
“Do we?” she asked coolly, as she stared out of her window at the cityscape whizzing past them.
“Yes, we do.”
“Hmm. I was under the impression you were ignoring me” she said, adding a sharp click of her tongue in place of mandibles. The sound wasn’t the same, but it had a similar effect of conveying that she was upset.
Silence. She almost turned to see if there was any outward indication of what he was thinking. If he was just processing, trying to work out how to say what he wanted to say, or if he was angry- but she waited. She’d offered an olive branch and he’d spat on it. While she understood his right to be angry, she had a right to be angry too. He’d have to do at least a little more than accept her apology to get back into her good graces fully.
Yeah, yeah, more relationship issues. Again, if only they hadn’t been brought about by a plot contrivance.
Anyway, she gets out of the taxi before he can say anything, and then she gets a rental car, and then Tiny messages her back and is like “yeah, girl come over”. And of course…
She turned her ‘tool off just in time to see her car delivered. She snagged the remote key from the hook beside her car on the rack and activated it, letting the purring of the engine rumble through her with a grin. It was good to be home. As she reached for the release on the rack, Garrus spoke up.
“Got a hot date or just prowling for one?”
Her hand froze as she heard the words fall from his tongue like acid from thresher maw, blunt and devouring everything in its path. She looked straight ahead, eyes boring holes in the rack as she spoke to him with venom dripping from her subvocals.
“Are you serious? Do you really think after all the floor I ate apologizing to you earlier that I’m actually looking for someone else to spend my night with? Really, Garrus? You wanna go there? This is the same fucking car I rented the last time I was here. I rented it because I like it. No other reason. You want to criticize me for renting a good car, go ahead, make more of an ass of yourself. While you’re doing that, I’m going to be checking into the hotel, going out to eat and have a drink with an old friend who owns the place I’ll be eating at, whom I also have no intention of sleeping with, nor have I ever. I hope you enjoy your time alone to think about what the fuck you just accused me of.”
I take back what I said about the romance being decently written. Like, what is this?
Anyway, she then goes into the car, and drives away from him, gets off at the hotel, and what do you know, she shows up at the hotel the same time Garrus does. So then they both go into the room, we get a bit about how the suite has two bedrooms, and…
“Taren, please; we really do need to talk.”
She stopped, grinding her teeth to keep her carefully guarded, hard won calm from breaking. Her hands balled into fists and she turned, eyes closed to face him. She took a deep breath before she opened them, letting the breath out and forcing her hands to relax at the same time.
“What is it, exactly, that you want to say, Garrus? You realize we’re never going to convince them like this, right? Are you planning on announcing an annulment? Because I don’t see this ending well, if that’s not what you’re telling them.”
His eyes widened and he took a shocked step closer to her.
“What? No! I don’t want an annulment. What… is that what you want?”
She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose, then shook her head.
“No, Garrus. But we’re fighting too much to make them believe we’re in any way compatible. This won’t work. I’m going to meet my friend. We’ll discuss this once we’ve both had a better chance to calm down.”
She’d reached the door and opened it before he spoke again, with undertones that said he wanted her to stay.
“What I said earlier about the prowling, I wasn’t serious. I was trying to make a joke, but it didn’t come out right. I didn’t mean it like that.” He took a careful step toward her, perhaps in the hope that he could reach out to her if she’d let him.
Are you for–?
You know what this whole bit feels like? It feels like Actually-Fen-Harel looked at the fic before this point, realized “oh shit, my romance doesn’t have conflict”, and responded by crowbarring as much manufactured conflict into the fic as she could muster. That’s really what this feels like. This whole thing just feels contrived to fuck, and it feels even more contrived to fuck than it did before!
God, I can’t believe I’m complaining about a romance that is moving at the clip this romance is moving in having contrived conflict, but this conflict is incredibly contrived, and it just makes this worse! I just…
Please call him out on that, Taren!Sue.
She shook her head, looking back at him sadly. “Garrus, the very fact that you’re even joking about something like that screams to me that there’s something wrong here. You can’t accept the most heartfelt apology I’ve given in my life. You act like a petulant child and you joke about things that should never be joked about by people in a relationship like we have… I just… I can’t. Not right now. I need a drink and I need to eat. And I need a friend to talk to. Maybe, just maybe, after that, we can sit down and talk about this like the rational adults we are.”
I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but thank you: you’ve finally pointed your bitchiness radar at a target that legitimately deserves it!
His mouth opened as if he wanted to say something, but nothing came out except for a gust of air that he released. It seemed to deflate his entire being somehow, as if he had given up hope in that very moment. His shoulders sagging, head hanging, he nodded slightly.
“Fine. Go, meet your friend. I think I’ll go out too, get a drink with some old friends if they’re still in Cipritine. Let me know when you get in and I’ll head back too.”
She nodded, turning back to the door when she heard a subvocal song emanating from him; one that spoke to his sorrow and regret, his love for her, despair… She paused, considering the sound. She knew it was an old way to reach out, trying to say in song what words failed to express. It wasn’t often used anymore, subvocal queues were much more shorthand now; quick, clipped phrases and feelings, not long, drawn out sonnets of pure emotion.
She’d never heard it before. It was a desperate, haunting, beautiful thing that reached into her spirit and both soothed and tore at it mercilessly. It made her want to run to him, hold his face in her hands and nuzzle him softly; to forgive him and forget everything that had happened. To be happy.
Yet, despite all of that, she couldn’t just let go of it all. As wonderful as a simple fix would be, it simply wasn’t possible. Not yet. She sang her own song to him, of love and regret, letting him know that she hadn’t given up hope, but wasn’t ready to end their conflict that easily. Time needed to pass. Recovery needed a chance. They both needed space to think things through, to show them where they’d gone wrong and give them an example of what never to do again.
He sighed and gave a short, affirmative chirp. He headed for his room to drop off his bag.
Okay, I guess that settles–
She walked out the door, starting for the elevator with determination: she would do what needed to be done. She would see this through. Hurried footsteps sounded behind her as she stepped through the elevator doors. She leaned against the railing in his previous position this time, watching him nearly toss himself into the carriage before the doors closed on him, earning a smirk from her at the spectacle.
“In a hurry?”
“Could ask you the same question,” he chuffed and shrugged. “I know you haven’t forgiven me, but you could at least act a little less in a hurry to get away from me.”
Oh my God, what the fuck is it with this chapter and Garrus and Taren!Sue talking? This is the fifth time they’ve said “we’ll talk about this later” before meeting back up and talking about how they’re going to talk about their relationship problems later!
Actually-Fen-Harel! Learn how to pace your story! This is not getting Taren!Sue closer to a place where we can see them get back together: this is just needless padding, and you could’ve cut at least half of the encounters to get the same effect! Come on! Learn here!
So yeah, they talk more about how they’re going to talk about their relationship problems later, and she finally gets into her car and makes her way to this Tiny as he responds back in message form. And then, the chapter ends there.
… Huh, I didn’t see much in the way of headcanon. Interesting.
Okay, we’re almost through. We’ve just got one more chapter to go, and we’re golden. And speaking of that, let’s get to it, shall we?
“Taren!” Tiny reached for a handshake and clapped her on the shoulder, then held his arm out toward the door of his bar, “So good to see you woman, come on in!”
She returned the handshake with a grin as she drew her gaze the long way up to his startlingly green eyes – which were starkly offset by his pitch black, highly stylized markings – a full foot above her head. His nickname was an ironic one, since he was one of the largest turians in Cipritine. His real name was Tinarius Vallus, which he claimed was too much of a mouthful for most people, so he told everyone to just call him Tiny.
How the hell is “Tinarius” a mouthful for most people? Most people don’t have a problem with Latin names (which Tinarius is a word, for the record), so I hardly see how that’s an issue. But hey, we have to get this guy a nickname somehow, right? Yeah, never mind that the name itself makes no logical sense!
So then Tiny points her at her booth (after some description of the joint in question), he tells her he’ll get her food, she asks for ale, and then she goes over and waits, looking the regulars over when…
One new face in particular caught her eye- an older turian male with a stunning resemblance to Garrus; same clan coloring, though a slightly modified pattern. She raised an eyebrow as she searched her memory for the face, wondering if she’d seen him there before. Her search came up blank. The rest of the denizens – even the new ones – seemed to belong there, but he raised a red flag in her head.
Her considerations were interrupted by Tiny sliding into the booth opposite her, a large plate of Pata – a turian snack food somewhat similar to human nachos – and two mugs of ale in hand.
So I guess that whole “amino neutral” bullshit you had going has effectively been thrown out the window, hm? Also what seems to have been thrown out the window is the whole “I’m in heat” discussion (that could be a function of time passing, though I’d be very interested to know what kind of passage of time was involved given that the fic couldn’t shut the fuck up about the whole ‘turians in heat’ thing before Taren!Sue returned to the Citadel… which was not that long ago, if I recall) and the whole food allergy discussion. I don’t know, I just want this to be over with.
His mandibles flared wide as he set his catch down on the table and pushed her mug over to her.
“Someone got your attention?” he asked, a damningly curious chirp escaping him.
“Ah, ya caught me. Yeah, that guy, he… looks like he doesn’t belong here, but also kinda familiar at the same time.” She nodded in the direction of the lone turian she’d noticed sitting in a booth on the far wall.
Tiny stuck his head out to look at the turian she’d indicated, then turned back to her and settled in with a trill of recognition. “Oh that’s just Cad. He’s recently retired, though he still consults from time to time. Back when you were here, he only came in maybe once every couple of months when he was home from the Citadel. He’s old C-Sec blood.”
“Cad? That can’t be his full name,” she hummed in suspicion.
It’s Garrus’ dad.
“Why the interest, T? He mangle your varren in a previous life or something?” Tiny chuckled and picked up what passed for a dextro chip, scooping up some Pata sauce and tossing it in his mouth.
She paused, not quite sure how to explain her curiosity. “I uhh… well, he has the same clan coloring as my bond mate.”
Anyway, Tiny asks about the bond mate deal, Tiny is like “hah yes, I knew you to be that way”. And of course…
She tipped her mug toward him and smiled. “Thanks, Tiny. So, tell me about that turian over there already, he’s makin’ me itch.”
He clinked his mug to hers before responding. “That’s Cadicus Vakarian. And come to think of it… shit, T, you…” he leaned in and lowered his voice, “you didn’t mate his son or something, did you? Your scent smells an awful lot like him, now I think of it.”
She almost choked on her ale. Swallowing carefully, she leaned in and lowered her voice similarly. “I’m not sure, my mate’s never told me his father’s name; you know his son’s name?”
Tiny looked up, trying to recall the name, “Yeah, Gar-something. Garius, Garinus, Garrus, something like that. Used to come in with Cad sometimes before he went off to boot camp. He worked C-Sec too with Cad for a while, haven’t heard much about him since Cad retired though.”
“Fuck.” She leaned back and closed her eyes tightly, wishing Garrus’ fucking father hadn’t chosen that fucking night to fucking come to this fucking bar to ruin her fucking night.
Oh my God. So apparently, Saren isn’t enough of a priority to stop, but now we’re here on Palaven, and we’re going to go into the awkward meeting between Vakarian senior and his daughter-in-law to be by sheer coincidence. And watch, before I know it, Garrus is going to show up, too!
She didn’t realize she was growling until she heard a curious chirp from Tiny.
“Woah, T, that isn’t actually your mate’s father, is it? Tell me it’s not.” He gaped as his subharmonics trilled violent denial and disbelief.
As if fate had seen fit to royally fuck her in the ass that night, the bar’s front door opened up. Through it walked Garrus, followed by two turians she’d never seen before, all talking amongst each other jovially. Shepard groaned and let her body slump forward, cradling her forehead with her one good arm on the table, subvocals moaning in defeat.
“Your answer just walked through the front door,” she mumbled into the table, “The spirits do not like me tonight.”
AFH, I was kidding! I just…
*headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*
When did this turn into a subpar romcom? I just…
*headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*
You want to talk about a romantic plot tumor, ladies and gentlemen? Here it is! This fic’s romance subplot has literally taken over the entire fucking fic, and now it’s about Shepard sorting out her intended’s marital issues! Dear jizzchrist, what is this?
Wow, even when after it’s gone through improvement this fic still finds a way to suck giant monkey dick.
Tiny then asks Taren!Sue if she needs to be smuggled out. And after analyzing the situation, Taren!Sue says:
“No, no point. If it all blows up too badly, I’ll make sure we take it outside.”
“Appreciate it, T; but you know that’s not why I was offering. You’re a good woman, if a bit too focused sometimes. I don’t want you to have to meet your Clan-Father like this. And you being human will just make it worse, sickening to say as that is.” He looked back at her and warbled sympathy to her.
Oh hey, she’s actually facing her problems for once instead of putting them off for later. Thank goodness for minor miracles.
Anyway, to the whole ‘human thing’, Taren!Sue tells Tiny about the quarter turian business, he asks questions related to that, and then Tiny gets called up and leaves. And then, she analyzes Garrus and Vakarian Sr., and as she does this…
Her eyes had drifted to Cadicus’ feet as she considered the thought, and had begun the trail back up to his face when she noticed something was off. When she reached his eyes, they were no longer centered on the data-pad, but on her. She quickly lowered her eyes to her mug, hoping he’d shrug it off and go back to his datapad, like any normal person would.
But it wasn’t her night to be lucky.
Instead of going back to his datapad, he turned, slid out of his booth and stood; tugging the hem of his shirt down to straighten it. Then he made a beeline across the bar, directly toward her booth. When he stopped at the end of the table, she swallowed and looked up, half expecting him to be towering angrily over her. Instead, he gave an ever so slight bow, trilling a polite greeting as he spoke.
“I am Cadicus Vakarian. Is this seat taken?” he asked, gesturing to the booth bench opposite her with a gentle sweeping motion of his arm.
She raised an eyebrow in surprise, but responded with the same polite greeting he’d graced her with, including a nod in place of a bow.
“Taren Shepard; and Tiny might return, but it could be a while. I can pull up a chair for you in the meantime, if you like.”
Okay, so for all that it represents that this is a massive romantic plot tumor, this could at least be an interesting situation. I hope it is, anyway: it set up the situation, and it looks like it’s actually going to show us shit for once, so I’ll take it.
Anyway… Shall we just let this scene roll, patrons? I think we should.
Traditional turian etiquette dictated that Tiny’s place at any table demanded respect in his own establishment, excepting if someone like the Primarch were to visit. But a chair should be offered to someone wanting to join the table, rather than requesting that they retrieve their own chair.
If there was one thing she did not want to fuck up with her Clan-Father, it was turian traditional etiquette. Getting it right would at least smooth over some aspects of the process she’d apparently just been tossed into.
He held up a hand and shook his head. “While I appreciate the gesture, I am perfectly capable of retrieving my own seating arrangements. I would not wish to impose turian traditions on a human, after all.”
She barely held back a growl at his insult. She lowered her head, keeping her throat covered.
“It is no imposition, Domine Vakarian,” she retorted, using his proper title, “it would be an honor to continue the traditions instilled in me by my mother.”
A mildly surprised trill managed to escape him, before he strangled it.
“Your mother is turian?”
“Half turian, Domine. She taught me everything I know about turian culture and traditions, including the languages.” With that, she reached up and deactivated her translator.
“Half turian? Exactly how does that qualify her to teach anyone about turian culture, let alone our time-honored traditions and languages?” his undertones implied his disgust at the concept.
It was then that she realized he was using the superior’s dialect, obviously seeing her as a subordinate. She bristled at the implication, but held her ground, gritting her teeth as she mentally prepared herself to speak in the subordinate’s dialect, if for nothing else than to appease his pride.
“With respect, Domine; I have never found any evidence to support that anything my mother taught me about turians was in any way incorrect. Her teachings have been confirmed countless times in my own dealings with turians, both in personal and official capacities. They have never once failed me. Any failure in that aspect was my own, and I owned it.” She sat up straight then, though she still lowered her head. She would not bare her throat to him until he proved himself worthy of the gesture.
“Very well, I shall be the judge of whether your half-breed mother taught you anything worth listening to. Retrieve my chair, if you’re so intent on keeping with the traditions you claim to uphold,” he clicked his mandibles to his jaw twice, a signal to hurry.
She slid from the booth and snagged a chair from a nearby table. Then turning it and setting it behind him, she pushed it until it touched the backs of his legs gently and holding it until he sat down.
“Would you like me to order a drink for you, Domine?”
He shook his head, “No, I already had one. It’s sitting on my table, however, if you would like to retrieve it and have it refreshed.”
He was pushing it, but she nodded, chirping an affirmative before she walked over and grabbed his mug, heading to the bar. An attractive female with white clan markings was tending it, and came up to Shepard quickly as she approached.
Shepard nodded, “Yeah, dump out what’s left if you would please and rinse it out. It was left unattended for a while, don’t want to risk anything. Do you know what he had?”
The bar maid chuckled, “What kind of ale does anyone come to this place for? Tiny’s special, of course. And don’t worry, I’ll just get a new mug. On your tab, or his?”
“Mine, this round only please, and thanks. He’s my Clan-Father, first meeting. Not going well,” she groaned dread and apprehension.
The bar maid crooned sympathy as she filled a new, frosty mug. “Ouch. Sorry to hear it. Hope this helps.”
Shepard took the fresh mug, trilling thanks and headed back to her booth. She’d avoided being noticed by Garrus, thanks to one of his friends completely blocking his view; so at least there was something going for her that night. If only Cadicus would pull the assault rifle out of his ass, things might actually be looking up.
She placed the mug gently in front of Cadicus, then took her seat. She took a sip from her own mug, then turned to face Cadicus, head still lowered. Now that she had the opportunity to study him up close, the similarities between he and Garrus were even more astonishing. Almost any variation she saw could be solely attributed to their age differences. There was a slightly different curve to the back of his mandibles, a sharper line here and there. If not for those barely noticeable alterations, she could’ve sworn she was looking at Garrus’ future face. She had to admit, she liked what she saw; enough that it was bordering on a little creepy, considering it was his father she was looking at.
He was currently tapping his fingers on the surface of the table, looking her over with what seemed to be a mixture of appraisal and distaste. He reached his other hand out for his mug, taking a healthy swig from it before returning it to its previous spot. His drumming fingers paused, his gaze flicking from his mug to her face.
“You’re a careful one. I saw you ask for a fresh mug, and you haven’t bared your throat to me once since I introduced myself. Don’t think I didn’t notice. I find it interesting that you would both protect me and show your distrust of me at the same time.”
She considered her answer carefully, meeting his gaze as she responded, “While tradition demands my respect of you, Domine; you have done nothing to earn my trust. While I will not disrespect your station, I also will not expose myself to you without knowing you are worthy of my trust. Respect and trust are not one in the same.”
“This is true,” he nodded, “perhaps even wise. However, I am no threat to your life. It is a bit insulting that you would think me capable of tearing your throat out, simply for being human. Even a human with a mongrel mother doesn’t deserve death just because of unfortunate parentage.”
She had to flex her throat quickly to activate her implant at his barbs. Her neck flushed mauve with pure rage. She tried to breathe evenly to keep her reaction as minimal as possible. Her commander mask was forced on, blanking out the contortion of anger she knew would otherwise arise. It was a few moments before she felt capable of speaking in a normal volume, though her talons were leaving a small trail of wood shavings in their wake on the table that she clung to.
“My mother was not a mongrel, Domine. To speak so ill of the dead is in excessively poor taste. But frankly, if she was a mongrel, then so am I. If that be the case, then I am proud to be one. Think of me as you will, for you have obviously already formed your opinion, but I will not have you speak ill of my mother. She spent every possible moment she could instilling in me the importance of loyalty to the Hierarchy, of following tradition and obeying the laws set forth by our ancestors. If you would speak ill of her, Domine, then you would be better served not speaking to me of it.”
While her face was a mask of neutrality, her eyes were narrowed dangerously as she glared at him; daring him to say anything to the contrary of what she’d just declared. Nothing she’d said could be construed as breaking tradition or disrespect. She was itching for a fight, and if he was there to egg her into one, he was succeeding.
A raised eyebrow and a hummed apology preceded his verbal response, “Apologies. I was unaware she had died. I have formed no opinion as yet, though you are giving me plenty of material with which to form one. I am curious, however: exactly how are you a mongrel? You’re human.”
She took a deep breath, letting it out in a soft sigh to help her de-pressurize.
“Obviously you didn’t give my turian citizenship a second look.”
His mandibles wavered, a sign of confusion.
“Why would I? I learned all I needed to know the first time I looked at it.”
She sighed again, flicking her omni-tool open and bringing up her citizenship records, flinging them to his ‘tool before he could object.
“Look again, Domine.”
He raised a browplate and looked down at the screen, scrolling through the record until it came to her race, which now read: 1/4 turian, 3/4 human. “You had this changed? How? You’re clearly not turian, percentages be damned.”
She huffed in a frustration born of exhaustion from telling her story far too many times in the past months. Rather than using words, she simply swung her legs up on the seat and sat sideways on the bench, bending over to slide her boots off one by one with her good hand. Feet revealed and toes wriggling in their freedom, she lifted her bangs for the second time that night and bared her teeth. She flexed her throat and let out a low growl, complete with subvocals that said, ‘the truth reveals all.’.
Cadicus stared at the glut of evidence before him in relative silence, which she was more than happy to break.
“I am my mother’s biological daughter. My father was human. My mother was created in a lab, through a process known only to my ship’s Doctor and very few others, which spliced turian and human DNA in perfect symmetry. The result was a woman that persevered, despite torture and experimentation, with the physical qualities of a Spirit of war, the mental fortitude of a Spirit wisdom, and a heart as beautiful as a Spirit of light and grace,” her voice sang how proud she was of her mother, how sad she was that her light had been snuffed out so early, how much she missed her, and how much she loved her.
“Whatever your opinion may be of my heritage or hers, she was a woman worthy of respect. I would be proud to become even half the woman she was,” she smiled as she slid her boots back on, swinging her feet back off the bench and sitting straight – though still covering her throat – once more.
Cadicus’ mandibles twirled in tandem for a few beats, a polite signal that he was in deep thought, rather than ignoring her. She waited as patiently as she could, finishing the contents of her – now almost room temperature – mug to pass the time. Cadicus took in a deep breath, letting it out in a long sigh as he finally looked her in the eyes. His subharmonics gave no hint as to what his thoughts might be, but his eyes were contemplative.
“You have a great deal of respect for your mother,” he paused, seeming to choose his words carefully, “though I can see why, considering that you have borne the brunt of my insults with nothing but respectful rebukes, which were carefully formed and executed. No doubt that was in great part due to her teachings, though I also have no doubt that you would’ve deviated if you didn’t believe them to be appropriate to the situation.”
He hummed a tone to convey that he wasn’t quite finished, so she stayed silent.
“I believed you to simply be a human, stumbling around in turian territory, ready to slip up and land with your foot in your mouth, as humans say.”
She realized that he’d switched dialects to Turian Common, her eyebrow raising in curiosity as she continued to listen.
“However, I have instead found myself confronted by… what I can only describe as a human with the spirit of a turian; which confounds me greatly. I must ask: are you simply putting on a well-practiced mask of behaving like a turian, or are you always like this?” he ceased the hum, indicating she could respond.
She switched to Turian Common in kind to voice her response.
“I am always like this, Domine. Ask any of my crew. Ask Councilor Sparatus, if you have his ear. He knows as well as anyone what species I am the most loyal to. Or, ask yourself this: would I have bonded myself to a turian and submitted myself for his clan’s approval if I was not loyal to the traditions set forth by our ancestors and enforced by our Hierarchy?”
He hummed in thought for a few seconds, before nodding in assent, “You speak sense, however I believe the most accurate source would be my son. In any case, your heritage concerns me, regardless of your supposed loyalties. Even if your mother’s turian ancestor had a clan, you have obviously both been stripped of any clan. Barefaced. Even if you were completely turian, a barefaced turian is not to be trusted, especially one who was stripped of clan by force. Allowing you into our clan would bring shame to us.”
He shook his head.
“Even if you had just been human, it would have been bad enough; but a barefaced mongrel is even worse. Garrus knew about your ancestry before you were mated to him, correct?”
She nodded, rather than speak through her angrily clenched teeth.
He sighed. “Then he is even more guilty of bringing shame to us than you are, since he knew what you are and still took you as his bondmate. How he could expect us to simply accept the both of you after such serious lapses in judgment, I will never understand. I raised him properly, I don’t understand where he went wrong.”
Okay, Actually-Fen-Harel, I’ll give you this one: that scene actually was not bad. You could see the story beats, you could see where everyone was thinking about stuff, it actually did a pretty decent job of painting Cadicus as someone who is basically searching for any excuse to hate his son’s intended, and I actually found it kinda compelling even despite my earlier bitching about the romantic plot tumor. You laid out a scene, and you took advantage of it, and you actually did interesting shit with it.
Now if only you hadn’t waited until Chapter 25 to do that…
Anyway, after this, Garrus comes up from behind (and not suddenly, thankfully, since remember; he was established as having entered way earlier), and then we cut over to Garrus’ POV, where it’s revealed he saw the whole thing, but didn’t approach Taren to give her some space, and that in fact he was content to leave it well enough alone until his daddy walked in. And then we get more narration on how he feels about his father there, and then…
“Of course you didn’t, father. You never would’ve shown your true colors to my mate on a first meeting if I’d been there to hear it. As for where I went wrong, it had everything to do with you. So don’t go reassigning the blame just because you can’t face up to your failure. Maybe if you’d listened to what I had to say even once in my life, it could’ve been different. Instead, you’re reduced to insulting my mate and calling my judgment into question simply because you can’t face the truth.”
His father growled a low warning at him, “I’ll not have you speak to me like I’m some insolent fledgling, Garrus. Either calm or remove yourself before I take matters into my own hands.”
Garrus snarled his own warning as he replied, “I am a grown turian, father. Though you may be my father, I will only treat you as such when you are behaving like one. Until that happens, you are simply a turian in a bar, insulting and harassing both myself and my bondmate. A turian with honor would not abuse another turian’s mate as you have, regardless of station or personal beliefs. What you have done here tonight clearly demonstrates your lack of honor, and I will not stand idly by while you continue this display.”
Cadicus stood abruptly, his chair sliding back and toppling over loudly.
“How dare you say I lack honor?! You, who abandoned your post and found every opportunity before that to thwart the laws and rules that were put into place to protect everyone? You, who consistently rebelled against every authority that ever stood in your way. So much so, that I had to stick my neck out and nearly get my throat ripped out a hundred times simply to get you out of trouble? You have no room to speak to me of honor, boy.”
Garrus roared at him angrily, his fringe flaring almost to full mast and his eyes narrowing into slits as leaned in, staring down his father.
“I did not abandon my post! I sent in my resignation as per procedure before I left the station. If following proper procedure is abandonment, then to the wastes with C-Sec! I did my duty and I served my time. I’ve grown since the last time you supposedly stuck your neck out for me; or hadn’t you noticed? Maybe you were just too damn busy laying down more red tape to realize that your son had outgrown and outstripped you in every way possible.”
“ENOUGH!” Tiny appeared behind Cadicus, the moon door swinging wildly on its hinges behind him. “If you two don’t settle down right now, I will personally escort you both off the premises. You’re causing a scene and bothering my friend. Now simmer down or I’ll simmer you down.”
Garrus backed away from his father slightly, baring his throat to Tiny in respect. “Apologies, sir. I was simply trying to get my father to stop insulting my mate. I’ll leave if you’d prefer.”
Cadicus took a step out of Tiny’s way, baring his throat to him for a moment as well, then lowering his chin and facing his son. “That won’t be necessary. I was just leaving.”
He turned and retrieved his drink, then nodded to Tiny to excuse himself, downing the mug on the way out the door. He waved his omni-tool over the payment strip, then left the empty mug on the bar before he exited. Garrus and Shepard shared a sigh of relief as his father disappeared from their sight.
And then that happens.
It honestly makes me wonder why AFH didn’t just write a romantic comedy of her own. She can’t portray science to save her life, she can’t really do sweeping sci-fi plotting that well, and she couldn’t write a good military character (which I still find strange from a military brat), but she does have a handle on inter-character relationships and what makes romance healthy. So literally, this trend it’s taken is just AFH finally figuring out what her strengths are and saying “look, I can do this”. And it makes me wonder why she never followed through with her strengths and is going into science fiction writing.
Anyway, Tiny offers Garrus the chance to sit with them, but he’s like “I shouldn’t abandon my friends”, and then he goes back to them. Tiny and Taren!Sue then tells Tiny that Cadicus was being a dick, Tiny offers to ban him from the place, but Taren!Sue for once decides not to be a petty bitch and is all “nah, don’t do that”. And then, they just get to other topics like…
Tiny nodded, “So, what the fuck have you been up to since the last time I saw you? Well, besides snagging the hero of the hour over there as a mate, that is.”
Shepard chuckled in relief at the change of subject. “You wouldn’t believe half of it if I told you. I’m a Spectre now.”
Tiny’s eyes widened, “No shit?! Well I’ll be damned. Guess you can’t tell me most of it then, bein’ as you’ve gotta be all hush-hush about your missions now.”
Shepard tilted her head for a second in lieu of a shrug. “Well, I can tell you some things. But, you’re right, the juicy shit’s not for public consumption. Yet.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how When You’re Strange ends. Not on a bang, but on a whimper.
And as for why? Well… turns out we’ve found Actually-Fen-Harel’s Tumblr, and it turns out someone else asked about that. Her reply?
Well, now that the fic’s deleted, it’s unlikely AFH will ever return to it. And to be quite honest? Thank Christ for that. Even if it couldn’t return to the utter batshit insanity of the first half of the fic (and especially the part where Kaidan got his jugular cut out), you could tell that the stupid from that part of the fic would have forced AFH’s hand anyway. It was actually a very similar problem to what I encountered halfway through writing Mass Vexations 3: you had elements that were pretty dumb, they constituted a shark jump, but by the time you wise up to it they’re so entrenched in your fic you might as well just weather the storm.
And more than that, if anyone had read the fic in sequence (the way I did for the snark), most would have just dropped off at the part where Kaidan got his jugular cut open. And if I seem to fixate on that moment… yeah, that’s because it is one of those rare moments of badness that comes to define a fic’s identity even despite the author’s intent. It was one of the most mindbogglingly misguided moves I have ever seen in a fanfic, and the fallout from that moment defined both the author and the fic for the worse. Frankly, no matter how good AFH eventually got, the fic itself would never have been able to recover from that one blunder; her treatment of the sudden negative criticism also didn’t help at all.
Perhaps she has mellowed since then, but given the tone of her Tumblr account, I’m not holding my hopes up. Either way, that was one of the most misguided moves in fanfiction history, in a fic that already was teetering on the edge of being bad.
Let’s hope we never have to find a shark jump that insane again.
Anyway, I’ve been Herr Wozzeck, and I’ll see you guys next week with something else!