Sarah Shepard almost toppled over as she caught her daughter in her arms, in what could best be described as a combination of a hug and a krogan charge. It nearly knocked the wind out of her.
"Easy sweetie, easy! Damn, I knew I shouldn't have let you play with Grunt when you were little." She said with a laugh.
As they embraced, she could feel her daughter tense up and tremble ever so slightly, realizing that she was sobbing softly into her shoulder. Sarah just smiled, stroking Shias crest soothingly.
"I missed you, dad." she said after calming down a bit.
"I know, sweetie. I missed you too." Sarah chuckled, kissing her forehead "Now come, let's sit down."
Shia smiled and nodded, wiping a few visible tears from her eyes.
Taking up a seat opposite Shia, Sarah looked on her daughter with pride, a smirk across her face.
"Sorry, I was just so shocked to see you... I didn't think I'd get the chance for another six months or so." Shia said after a taking a swig from her coffee.
"No need to apologize, sweetie" Sarah replied "Going off on your own for the first time is always hard. I never told you this, but when I went to basic I was so homesick that I thought I'd cry my eyes out, I nearly got kicked out for hacking the comms and calling your grandmother my first night there."
"Yeah, grandma told me that story" Shia chuckled.
Sarah just shook her head and sighed "Of course she did." she scoffed. "Where are you staying?"
"A motel down in Tayseri."
"You could have called, I would have sent you the code for the apartment." Sarah offered with concern.
"I know, but it was 4 am your time... and I wanted to be all independent I guess."
"You can always call home, you know that." Sarah reassured her.
Shia smiled "I know."
Sarah ordered a coffee for herself and headed back to the table.
"It really does look good on you, the uniform. It suits you."
"Thanks... it still feels a bit weird, you know? Not to mention being called by rank all the time."
"That last one will take some getting used to. Just wait 'til after the promotions start coming in, then it's the same thing all over again."
"I bet." Shia responded, absentmindedly stirring her coffee with a spoon.
Sarah studied her daughter for a moment.
"Are you ok, sweetie? You seem a little down?"
"No, I'm ok. Just a little tired. I had a... late night."
"Ah. And this 'late night' came in a bottle I take it?" Sarah teased.
"Well, I might have gotten a little bit intoxicated."
"By which I assume you mean 'shit-faced'?"
"I can say 'shit' around you now?" Shia teased, fully aware that her fathers attitude towards foul language was far more relaxed than her mothers.
"Only when in uniform. Just don't tell your mother."
"So is mom here too?" She asked hopefully at the mention of her.
"Yeah, she had some things to take care of and a few meetings at the embassy. She'll join us later."
"That's nice. Maybe I can keep from crying this time." Shia chuckled
"So, what prompted this bout with the bottle anyway? I thought you were done with alcohol after that party in Memorial Park three years ago." Sarah said with a smirk.
"You're never going to let me forget that, are you?"
"Nope. You're lucky I managed to talk your mother out of moving us all to Thessia after that, something about human youths lacking moral fiber." Sarah said laughingly "So, what happened?"
"Well, the waitress seemed really nice, and I was feeling a bit lonely so I asked her to join me. We had a great time, and I guess I just lost track of the time... and the number of drinks I'd had."
Shia spent a few minutes reiterating her encounter with Jani the night before.
"So I find out she's assigned to the same ship as me. I mean, what are the odds of that?" she exclaimed excitedly.
"Probably very low." Sarah smirked "Well, she'll come in handy. Never had a ship run as smoothly as when I had a quarian engineer running things down in the bowels."
"I don't know if she can measure up to aunt Tali, but she seems competent." Shia continued "I'm just glad I met someone nice on the ship. I was actually hoping she'd call."
"You gave her your number?" Sarah inquired
"Yeah... why?" Shia replied suspiciously.
"Heh, that's my girl" Sarah smirked.
"What? You think I can't tell. I may not be able to read minds like you and your mother, but I'm not completely clueless. I can tell you like her is all." she continued happily.
"I'm not having this discussion. And we don't 'read minds' dad." Shia protested, rubbing her temples in feigned annoyance.
"Alright" Sarah said laughingly "I'm not going to push it. I'm just happy to see you taking an interest."
"Well... thank you."
"Considering that hangover, I'm betting you haven't eaten anything?"
"No, just coffee" Shia confessed.
"Well then, how about some breakfast?"
- - -
The two Shepards leaned back in their chairs, bellies full. Shias hangover had left her during the meal and she felt a lot better. Seeing her dad put her at ease as well, she always had that effect on her. It was comforting to know that home wasn't far away, even out here. And the comms would no longer be restricted, so she would be able to call home from now on.
"You know..." Sarah began "It's Saturday."
"Yeah?" Shia replied with anticipation.
"So, you have any plans tonight?"
"Not that I know of."
"Good, then you should come to the apartment tonight." Sarah said with a mischievous smile.
Shias eyes grew larger as she almost squealed "Vids and takeout?"
"Vids and takeout." Sarah confirmed, catching her daughter as she leaped in for a hug.
"Awesome" she chirped "I love you dad."
"Love you too sweetie." Sarah replied, realizing how much she'd missed having her daughter around.
- - -
The Shepards apartment was located in a tall building in Zakera Ward. Liara liked it for the view, and Sarah liked the fact that it lay above the atmospheric shield, and as such reminded her a lot of the quarters on a ship. It wasn't exactly big place, but more than enough room for two people. And as they rarely stayed more than a few days at the time while visiting the station on official business, they never really felt the need for anything larger.
The room was dark, save for the large holoscreen that sent light flickering over the room and the two figures curled up on the large sofa. Shia had been quick to change out of her uniform, especially keen to put on one of her hoodies that her parents had been kind enough to bring with them, a long with some personal items. She was grateful, while she could only bring one footlocker aboard her new ship, it was still more than the contents of her duffel bag.
"Oh c'mon!" Shia shouted in between bites of her lo mein "How would that even work? Even if you could create a stable artificial singularity, how would you keep it in place, let alone use it as an engine? 'Gravity drive', please!" she scoffed at the screen.
"Give them a break" Sarah interjected "humans hadn't even developed fusion power when this was made. Besides, I say they get points for creativity."
A beep from the front door made them turn around, seeing Liara enter the room as the door hissed open.
"Mom!" Shia exclaimed as she ran up to greet her.
"Hello, little wing." Liara replied as they embraced "It's good to see you again. We missed you."
"I missed you too."
Liara glanced over at the holoscreen "Goddess! Did that human just vomit his entrails?" she asked gasping.
"He did what? Dad, wind it back." Shia quipped, returning to the sofa.
Liara shook her head at the sight of her husband and daughter fully entranced by the vid "I still don't understand this fascination you two have with these kinds of vids. Vaenia I get, even Blasto at times... but this?"
"It's... uncomplicated. A good way to relax." Shia replied, munching down the last of her food.
Joining them in front of the screen, but not in the least interested in the vid, Liara put her arm around her daughter.
"So, why didn't you call?" she asked in a feigned accusatory tone.
"No comms allowed during basic, you know that. And I only arrived on the Citadel yesterday, and I had some stuff to do, so I didn't have the time right away."
"Yes, stuff like courting quarian engineers with turian brandy" Sarah joined in teasingly.
"Dad! Not this again" Shia protested.
"Care to let me in on what 'this' is?" Liara asked with a smile.
"I met one of my new crew mates, we had a drink. Dad seems to think I was trying to pick her up. Which. I. Was. Not." she replied, emphasizing the last part.
"A bit defensive, isn't she love?" Liara teased, nudging Sarah on the shoulder.
"I give up." Shia said with a sigh, returning her focus to the vid.
They spent the evening talking and laughing, Shia telling them everything that happened while she way away and asking about her friends back on Earth. They continued late into the night, and for a while Shia felt like she'd never left home. It was a warm feeling, safe and familiar, and she slowly drifted off to sleep.
- - -
Shia woke up to a clattering of pans from the small kitchen. She was still on the sofa in the living room, covered in a blanket and her head resting on a pillow that hadn't been there the night before. She smiled at the gesture, albeit a bit embarrassed. Looking over the backrest, she could see Sarah in the kitchen, struggling with the coffee pot.
"Morning." She said, stifling a yawn in the process.
"Oh, morning. Sorry if I woke you up." Sarah replied, cupping the brown powder into the pan.
"No, it's fine. Probably time to get up anyway... You make some for me too?"
"Taken care of." Sarah quipped, causing Shia to smile.
She walked into the kitchen, grabbing the cup Sarah offered her and sat down on one of the bar stools by the small table.
"So where's mom?" She asked, taking a sip of the hot liquid.
"She had an early meeting. Life of a diplomat, I guess." Sarah replied, blowing into her cup. "We're leaving this afternoon. I have to be back in Vancouver. I wish we could stay longer bur..."
"It's ok dad. I'm glad you came, even if it's only for a short while" she interrupted with a smile.
"You can stay here for the rest of your leave, of course. I sent the code to your omni-tool."
"Thanks, it's sure beats the motel." she grinned.
They sat silently for a while, drinking their coffee and slowly waking up properly. "Shiala" Sarah said, breaking the silence "There's something we should talk about."
Shia tensed up slightly, it was rare for her father to call her by her full name, there was a seriousness to her voice that was unusual for her father. "O-ok? What?" she asked carefully.
Sarah looked at her daughter intently but warmly before she spoke again. "I hope you know that I'm very proud of you" Sarah continued "But proud as I may be, I'm still worried about you. A part of me hoped that you would choose another path... although considering that your mother managed to get caught in with me despite being a researcher, I guess no path is completely safe" she paused briefly to take another sip from her coffee "I never told you this story before. Maybe you've read some version of it in a book somewhere. But as always, that's not the whole story."
She stopped to compose herself before continuing "When I was much younger, only a bit older than you are now, I had just been promoted to Lieutenant and I was on shore leave on Elysium. I felt like I didn't have a care in the world. I'd never seen any action, but I loved being in the military." she paused, drawing a deep breath "Then, the colony was attacked. We were all taken completely off guard. There was panic, chaos. When I saw the look of fear on those faces, civilians... children, something within me made me take action, I told myself that I would not let them die, not like that. So I took charge, I gathered up all the military personnel I could find, and some volunteers and we started setting up defensive positions."
Shia listened intently, she had heard this story before, from others, but never told like this. There was a sadness to her fathers voice, where she would have expected nothing but pride.
"We were still leading civilians to the shelters when the attack finally came" Sarah continued solemnly "We were holding our ground when I noticed a group of slavers trying to flank our positionn, threatening to cut off the evac-route to the shelter." Shia could see her father nearly tear up before she continued. "I ordered what was left of the squad, three servicemen in total, to secure the flank while I remained to hold off the advance... only one of those men survived." she sighed, setting her empty cup down in the table "I... I didn't expect to make it out of there alive. As I went through my last clip, I threw myself out of cover with my knife only to realize that the slavers were in retreat. Reinforcements arrived moments later... and it was over. Just like that."
Sarah was silent for a while, her eyes rested firmly on the glossy white surface before her "They called me a hero." she continued after a while without raising her gaze "They pinned medals on my chest and recommended me for the ICT program... but all I could think about were all the people I killed... and the people I ordered to their deaths."
"Dad..." Shia began, taking her fathers hand in her own
"What I'm saying is" Sarah continued, holding up her free hand to signal Shia to let her finish "Is that combat... killing... It scars you, Shia. It wounds you. Even when you make it out with just a few bruises, even when there was no other way. Even when they tell you you did the right thing, that you're a hero... even then, it stays with you... always."
Sarah squeezed her daughters hand tightly, looking deep in the eyes that reminded her so much of herself "Just promise me that you'll be careful. And more than anything, promise me that no matter what you have to do... what you have to face, you don't let it change you."
Shia sensed that they were no longer talking about Elysium. She had never seen her father like this before.
"Dad..." she began in a soft, worried tone "After the war... how bad was it? How... how badly were you hurt?" She met Sarahs eyes, and she could see a quick flicker of fear and pain run through them. She left her chair and spun around the table, embracing her father. They held each other for a while, until Sarah broke the silence. Her voice was little more than a whisper. "Promise me, sweetie?"
They looked at each other, Shia could see that familiar fire in her fathers eyes return, finally she said quietly "I promise, dad. I promise."
- - -
They spent the rest of the day talking on a lighter note. Taking a walk on the Presidium, Sarah shared stories about her adventures on the Citadel all those years ago when she was still a Commander. Shia had heard most of them before, but she always liked these stories. They were happy, hanar preachers and fans with boundary issues, the friendly bickering that aunt Tali and uncle Garrus would always get in to. She loved to hear about all of it, and luckily for her, her father loved telling it. After meeting up with Liara and sharing a meal, Shia walked her parents to the docks to see them off.
"Now, remember, call!" Liara said firmly but lovingly "And I mean any time"
"I'll make that an order if I have to, Private." Sarah joined in.
"Yes Admiral" Shia sighed with a smile on her face, moving on the hug her parents goodbye.
Shia stayed on the observation platform watching their transport depart. As she walked back to the apartment, she did so with renewed confidence. She was sad to say goodbye to her parents again so soon, but it wasn't half as bad as last time. And while she would still miss them, a lot, she felt ready to be on her own. Stopping briefly at another observation dock, she gazed out into the nebula that surrounded the station, and at the stars beyond. I'm Alliance... and I'm ready.