damalur: (machinist)
no, use my SPACE name! ([personal profile] damalur) wrote2017-04-10 09:36 pm

swords and plowshares (mass effect, shepard/vakarian)

Title: Swords and Plowshares
Characters: Shepard/Garrus, Original Female Character
Wordcount: 10k
Rating: Teen
Additional Tags: Mindoir, Post-War, Western, POV Outsider
Notes: This isn't an AU so much as an exaggeration of canon. A western not-AU, if you will, and I did, although you shouldn't.
Summary: How Janie Deveroux met Missus Jane and the Archangel, and what happened after.


She was almost nine when the Archangel came to town, just beginning to get her woman's growth, blooming broad through the shoulders like her momma. Her name was Jane Deveroux, and she was born off-world but didn't remember any place but Mindoir, which was near to a frontier as any place left this side of the Attican Traverse. They still saw raiders on Mindoir, and pirates, and nobody ever talked about it, but some folks still remembered when batarian slavers had fallen out of the sky like demons from the great black to round up people for stock.

Jane Deveroux was called Janie, on account of there being another Jane in town. Everyone called the other one Missus Jane; she was a stranger and peculiar about it, even if she sometimes sounded like she was Mindoir-bred. Missus Jane had a long scar down her face like a lash and she had a big gun she kept in her closet and brought out when pirates came and she had a quick sharp smile made of promise instead of laughter. Janie liked her, even if most other people were wary. Missus Jane didn't have a last name but she lived out in a shack on the old Shepard place, which was never planted for so long that it was more like wild than true farmland, and some of the people put all those names together and figured Missus Jane was best left to her own devices. Janie's parents didn't care so much. Momma was a turian and said she and Daddy owed Missus Jane, and Daddy was a human and he said she'd better listen to Momma. There weren't turians in sizable numbers on Mindoir.

Sometimes on days Janie didn't have school and nobody wanted her on the farm, she absconded off to Missus Jane's place. Missus Jane didn't mind questions overmuch, or if she did she told Janie straight about it ("Not today, kid, I've got a headache"). She didn't always remember too good, but Janie wasn't bothered by that none. Momma's memory wasn't so great either, although Momma said that was because she had too much to remember and not because she'd been knocked on the head like they all figured Missus Jane had been.

Missus Jane had red hair, and it was straight, and she was tall with white skin that never quite went tan ("All that time in armor") and freckles. Janie was short and her hair was curly, as curly as hair could get, and her skin was dark, but she had freckles, too. She didn't have a big gun, but she was learning how to shoot, just errabbits and other pests that ate the corn. Missus Jane took care of the bigger beasts, the wicket cats that sometimes went all feral and tried to steal into town and such; that was near-on the only time other folks went out to Missus Jane's, when they'd knock on her door and ask her to come take care of a problem, and Missus Jane went all steely-eyed and went out into the night and came back with a big old wicket cat slung over her shoulders.

One time one of the cats had crept right into the middle of town, and Janie, who had been visiting her Auntie Singh for help with some homework, saw Missus Jane take care of it through Auntie Singh's window. Missus Jane had walked right down the middle of the street with her big gun, and the cat came prowling from the other end; it wasn't right in the head, you could tell by the way it was twitching, and Missus Jane didn't even stop walking, just put the butt of the big rifle up to her shoulder and fired, BANG, and the cat fell down dead. Missus Jane looked a little sad about it, but she told Janie later that sometimes that was the way of things, and you had to take care of people even if it made you sad.

Janie didn't wait until she had a problem to visit Missus Jane, not like all the rest of em. She went whenever she wanted if her time was free and her own, and Missus Jane showed her how to do all kinds of things, like how to shoot for real — she was better at shooting than Daddy — and how to track, which Missus Jane was real good at, and how to name spaceships, and how to do a pull-up, which impressed Janie more than just about everything. Sometimes when she went to visit Missus Jane wasn't there, though; Missus Jane went off in the woods by her own self a lot, which Daddy said was because she needed the solitude and Momma said was because she was missing someone.

That was one of the first questions Janie had asked — why they called her "Missus," when everyone else was "Miz" or "Mister" or "Misk," whichever one they liked. "Back on Earth, they used to call people that when they were married," is what Missus Jane said.

"So you're married?" said Janie.

A real thoughtful look came over Missus Jane, and she went over to her sink for a time and busied herself with some dishes. After a while she shut off the water and said to Janie, "I think of myself as married."

"Where are they at, then?" said Janie, meaning Missus Jane's husband or wife or whomever.

This time the look that came over Missus Jane was troubled. "It didn't work out," she said, and then she shooed Janie home and went out into the woods by herself for some days, and Janie focused on her schoolwork, which was mostly history, because everything else came easy to her but history was real boring. Janie wondered if it didn't work out with Missus Jane and her whomever because Missus Jane had been knocked on the head, but when she asked Daddy he said that probably wasn't it, although Momma said that Daddy was a romantic and it might be because Missus Jane was all scrambled and sad now that she'd left her husband.

Janie asked Missus Jane about that, too, upon one evening. It was summer, and the fire crawlers were lighting up all over in the grass. Missus Jane paused from where she was hauling bottles of some stuff up onto her roof, and she said, "Your parents know how often you're out here?"

"Yes," said Janie. "Momma doesn't care as long as I let her know when I leave and take the drone with me" — the drone was a big silent watchful kind of ball that made noise and threw a shield when something dangerous happened, like that one time a wicket cat got too close — "and Daddy says you ain't gonna let anything happen to me anyway."

Missus Jane snorted. "Is that so," she said.

"Yes ma'am, that's so," said Janie. "Why're you putting all those bottles up on your roof? And what's that blanket for?"

"I climb up here to watch the stars at night," said Missus Jane. "Sometimes I have a drink while I'm at it."

"Can I stay and watch with you?" asked Janie.

Missus Jane snorted again. She did that a lot, when she wasn't being pensive all over. "Yeah, kid, if it's okay with your parents. Use the comm inside to call them." So Janie used the comm to call her daddy, who said it was okay provided Missus Jane didn't mind her staying the night, and Missus Jane said that was fine, and Janie called Daddy again to tell him that Missus Jane was amenable to the agreement. They ate meals out of a box ("I've always been shit at cooking," said Missus Jane. "Excuse the language.") and when it got dark outside, Missus Jane hauled herself up to the top of the shack and hauled Janie up behind.

Missus Jane lived in the middle of a big clearing; it might once have been farmland, but now the grasses grew up tall and such, and the woods off to the north had started encroaching. Past the shack and down the hill a ways there was a big old rambling farmhouse, but it was all ruined now. The roof drooped and the windows were all broke and nobody had lived there for an age and a half, which was how Momma always put it. "Nobody's lived at the old Shepard place for an age and a half," she liked to tell newcomers, "so don't you dare go out there and gawk." Daddy said Momma was being protective of Missus Jane in her own way.

So Janie and Missus Jane climbed up on the roof, and right there on the blanket they laid down and looked up. Missus Jane knew the names of all the stars — the human names for sure, because Daddy said Missus Jane had lived before on a great starship — but she knew some of the other names, too, like what asari called Polaris and such. She knew some asari names and some salarian names and even more quarian names, but she could only reckon by what the humans called the stars or by what the turians called them.

Janie knew some turian names her own self, because she was what Momma called "half-turian in a cultural sense" and what Daddy called "enlightened." She could point out Nyx and Andros and Urania and some measure of others. Missus Jane was right impressed. She was not her own self half-turian in a cultural sense, but she informed Janie that she had once known a turian pretty well, and he had taught her some of his language and of how in the olden days before computers the turians had navigated using star-reckoning.

Even when the sun had sunk out of sight beneath the horizon, it was warm out, warm enough that Janie could lie upon the blanket and not feel cold. Even the breeze was warm. Missus Jane breathed slow and heavy beside her, a lot slower than Janie breathed. "I've got a couple of implants," Missus Jane said. "The kind that improve my physiology."

"Is that cause you were a soldier?"

Missus Jane said, "Yeah. I guess so." She didn't always talk too much, did Missus Jane, but she talked enough for Janie, who particularly liked it when Missus Jane called her "kid" and asked her about herself. It was a fine reciprocal relationship between them.

"Was your married person a soldier, too?"

"He was," said Missus Jane.

Janie had never given thought to soldiers marrying, but she supposed they had to, or else how would you get any more soldiers. At least that was how it worked for farmers mostly — two of em got married, and then sometimes they had a child and that child grew up to be a farmer on her momma and daddy's land, although Janie's momma and daddy had taken pains to tell her she didn't have to be a farmer if it weren't to her interest.

"Everyone here's a farmer," said Janie. "I guess I'll be a farmer too, unless I decide it ain't to my interest."

Missus Jane was quiet for a long while, and then she said, "My parents were farmers."

"But you're a soldier!" said Janie. "Was farming not to your interest?"

"I don't know," said Missus Jane. "My mom was a soldier before she met my father. Then she because a farmer, too. This is their land."

"What was her name?" said Janie. "Besides momma."

"Her name was Hannah," said Missus Jane.

"Hannah," repeated Janie. "I guess she was a Shepard, since everyone calls this place the old Shepard place. I guess that makes you a Shepard too."

"Guess so," said Missus Jane, who now sounded less sad and more amused than she had been previously.

"I'm a Deveroux," said Janie. "That ain't Daddy's name or Momma's name when they were born, but they got married and decided to have a new name together, and that's the name they gave me. Other than Jane, only I'm called Janie on account of you."

"Is that right?" said Missus Jane.

"It is right," said Janie. "I like it up here. I'd sleep like this under the big old sky every night if I could, except folks might think I'm uncivilized." It was important to be civilized, which mostly meant sleeping in a bed and not in the stable even if you were all excited about a new horse and also meant eating mannerly with your silverware even if you were real hungry.

"I sleep up here almost every night, unless it's too cold," said Missus Jane.

"You must be pretty uncivilized then," said Janie, not unkindly. "But that's fine, I won't tell."

"Thank you. For your discretion," said Missus Jane, and Janie thought that was a fine thing to say.

"You're welcome," Janie said. "Missus Jane, can I ask you a question?"

"You've already asked me a couple of questions," said Missus Jane. "One more isn't going to break the bank." She was a little sharp about it, but that was just Missus Jane's way, Janie figured on account of her living alone and being peculiar and perhaps having been a soldier. She did not mean anything by it.

"If being a farmer ain't to my interest, I'm gonna be a starship captain," said Janie. "So what was that like?"

"Well," said Missus Jane. "I wasn't a captain in the technical sense — "

"You mean you lived on somebody else's starship?"

"No, she was mine," said Missus Jane. Humans always thought of ships as ladies, which Momma said was odd but Daddy said was poetical. "As much mine as anyone's."

"So what was that like?" Janie said again. "Did you live with a great many other people?"

"Not that many. It wasn't a big ship. The crew complement was three dozen or so."

"The crew? So not like family or folks you knew?"

"They got to be like family," said Missus Jane. "That happens when you fight together long enough."

"I do understand that," said Janie. "Sometimes you choose who your family will be instead of waiting for blood to tell you, like how my momma and daddy chose each other and then me. Although I guess there was some blood, if you were fighting together," she added, because it was only intelligent to suppose that.

"True enough," said Missus Jane.

"Was your soldier on the ship?"

"My soldier?" said Missus Jane.

"Well, I don't have his name," Janie said.

"My soldier," Missus Jane said again. "Yeah, he was."

"What color was it?"

"My soldier?" said Missus Jane. "Or the ship?"

"Now you're just being obstinate," said Janie, which was a thing Daddy said to Momma with fair regularity.

Missus Jane laughed a small soft laugh. "Sorry. The ship was black and gray and yellow. I didn't like that, but later she was repainted black and gray and blue. Liked that better."

"Blue is a fine color," said Janie. "I may call it my favorite color, except I also like red."

"You have good taste, kid," said Missus Jane, and then they laid up there a while more, and Missus Jane asked Janie about her history assignments and inquired after how rotten they were, and Janie talked a little about the new horse that they got for riding fencepost because the old flitter didn't handle too good on some of the rockier terrain, and then they made up star names for a fair bit until Janie fell asleep. She reckoned Missus Jane fell asleep, too, because they both woke up together on the roof when dawn broke open the next day. In more normal conditions Janie might have been displeased to have slept outside where there were wicket cats and bugs and such, but she did not feel unsafe in Missus Jane's company.

However sometimes Janie did have to listen to folks say unkind things about Missus Jane, although her momma and daddy did not hold with such talk even if their opinions were not popular. There were several such people who held forth that Missus Jane was a killer, or that she was not right in the head, or that she had odd ideas about aliens or the like. The superstitious among this crowd even thought that Missus Jane had bad luck and that she had brought her bad luck with her to Mindoir. Momma said this opinion was particularly uncivilized and not in a way that had to do with silverware. The gentleman that ran the general store said that Missus Jane was a butcher and that it didn't matter none that she had started with killing bugeyes because she'd kill all the rest of em some day too, mark his words, but Momma said "bugeyes" was a slur and that Janie was not to use that word or so help her.

There were other folk who said that the war had damaged Missus Jane but Janie did not think Missus Jane was damaged; hurt or heartbroke maybe, but she was not rotten in a way that meant her neighbors should speak so ill of her. Many of them did not. The largest portion of families who lived in that locality were content to leave Missus Jane be, which Daddy said was the wisest choice on account of Missus Jane's capabilities. Momma said that was the most sense she'd heard out of Daddy since he'd agreed to marry her. She often teased Daddy in such a manner, which was a privilege of being married as far as Janie could determine.

But even Momma and Daddy didn't visit Missus Jane socially, and Janie was obliged to believe that despite her penchant for solitude, Missus Jane was more lonely than her words indicated. She did like to drink, although not often to excess and never around Janie, because as Missus Jane said she was a marine and that meant she could drink while Janie herself could not. Janie was not certain about the consequence of being a marine except that it meant Missus Jane could drink as much as she liked and swear very well and shoot better than anyone Janie had ever or probably would ever meet. Missus Jane replied that that was as good a definition as any, although she had once known someone who could outshoot her, but only, as Missus Jane said, when he was having a good day.

Missus Jane did also have spells that related to having been knocked on the head, and these were most usually headaches but occasionally meant she was short-of-temper or developed a fine tremor in her hands or that she could not recall things with the clarity she displayed in other circumstances. She did not care to speak of her condition although she did inform Janie that her spells were the result of a big old fight that she did not much like to reflect on. Janie said that was fine and that she did not much like to reflect on her own fights, which were several and mainly involved a particular schoolmate who said untrue things about Janie's own momma and daddy.

Many days passed in that fashion, with Janie going to school and taking care of her chores around the farm and paying Missus Jane visits when she had the time. She would in some small number of days be having her ninth birthday, and she felt this was an important occasion and had invited Missus Jane to come to her party and partake of lemon cake, which was Janie's particular favorite. Missus Jane had politely declined but had asked Janie to bring her a slice in the evening if there were any left. The party was scheduled for the weekend before Janie's day of birth because this year her birthday fell at the start of the working week, which allowed for less time to be allotted to special occasions on account of school. So Janie was almost nine when the Archangel came, but she was not quite nine yet.

It was for these reasons that Janie had no notion that trouble was approaching. In the late afternoon when her party had finished she took the old drone and walked down the long dirt road to Missus Jane's place. Missus Jane was waiting for her and together they ate the slice of lemon cake Janie had brought and then Missus Jane gave her a model ship that was black and gray and blue, although it didn't have no markings that gave its name or anything. Missus Jane said that Janie could name it as she liked, and Janie said Thank You and that it was kind of her to give Janie a gift like that, of her own favorite ship. Missus Jane said You're Welcome and then asked if Janie would like to walk into town for a short while, so that they might follow up their lemon cake with a scoop of ice cream, and Janie thought that a fine idea.

Under usual conditions it took near on two hours to walk from the old Shepard place to town, but in the right season as it was now there was a way of cutting through the woods that lessened the walk considerably. The shortcut required wading through a creek that was oft too high or too muddy to manage, but Missus Jane said at this time of year they'd be just fine and there was no chance of being swept away downstream as could happen in the spring if a body wasn't careful. They left the drone but Missus Jane took a pistol; she never went much of anywhere unless she was armed. "Is that on account of you having been a soldier?" Janie asked.

"A marine," Missus Jane corrected. She was waiting at the bottom of a slope for Janie, who had stopped to examine a small kind of flower that grew in the woods.

"Begging your pardon, but I don't know the difference," said Janie.

Missus Jane looked humored. When Janie was a child and Missus Jane had first come to Mindoir, her red hair had been cut all short, but now it was long enough to get tangled in the brush, as Missus Jane did not put it up or take pains with it. "It's probably an outdated tradition," said Missus Jane. "Back on old Earth, the Army had soldiers, but the Navy had the Marine Corps, and you never confused one for the other."

"And folks still care about that?"

"Not many of them," Missus Jane allowed. "Most officers think the distinction is ridiculous, but I enlisted at eighteen as a private. Climbed the ranks from there. There are still plenty of NCOs who will knock you on the head if you call yourself a soldier." She drew out the word “plenty” so that Janie understood she meant a great many more than that.

"Is that why you get your spells, cause an NCO knocked you on the head?"

"No," said Missus Jane.

"All right," said Janie. She had suspicions that Missus Jane had fought in the war that had ended some years past and that this was how she had suffered her blow to the head, but she had determined not to ask Missus Jane about it unless Missus Jane signaled that she would be amenable to such a conversation. She did not ask what an NCO was either. Instead Janie spent most of the rest of their walk telling Missus Jane about her party and about the gifts and sundry she had received, which were more than she had expected in number, except for a short time when they were on the main road and heard a flitter coming, and Missus Jane showed Janie how to drop down flat in the tall grass and then stalk along behind the flitter for a way so quiet that no one knew they were there.

When they got to town some folks looked too long at Missus Jane but she paid them no mind and led the way to the general store, where the gentleman behind the counter had a big glass case full of ice cream. Missus Jane got a scoop of chocolate and Janie had two scoops, one each of vanilla and darberry. She had not been so rude as to ask for two scoops. Missus Jane had offered of her own accord.

Auntie Singh came down the road to talk to Missus Jane, as was her custom on the rare occasion when Missus Jane made an appearance in town. Auntie Singh was more properly Nishi Singh, but as a girl Janie had insisted on using her surname because she had strongly felt that addressing her in a more familiar fashion would be disrespectful; that was why she was Auntie Singh and not Auntie Nishi although she was close with Janie's momma and daddy and claimed to have known Missus Jane when Missus Jane was a girl herself, although it was hard to picture Missus Jane as a child instead of a broad-shouldered woman.

They were eating their ice creams out on the back patio of the general store, which the gentleman who owned the place had built as a courtesy to his customers who might want to enjoy an ice cream out-of-doors, when they heard the roar of a ship's engines. Mostly they didn't get too many ships in town; there was a supply shuttle that ran once a month and more frequently during the harvest, but as a general rule ships landed at the big port city some kilometers southwest of town.

Folks who wanted to go elsewhere took the supply shuttle to the city and flew out from there, or if they had an errand they would take the supply shuttle out and then pay for transport back. In general terms most of the neighbors in that area were too poor to hire their own transport in both directions, although Janie's momma and daddy did well for themselves on account of being one of the only farms on Mindoir to grow both human and turian grains, and some families like the Singhs were rich enough to hire transport whenever they liked. Daddy said the Shepards had once been rich like the Singhs were rich, but he also said that by offworld standards nobody on Mindoir was better than decently middle-class.

Auntie Singh looked confused and Missus Jane's hand dropped to the pistol she wore in the belt slung low on her hips, and this was their reaction because the supply shuttle had come not two days before, which Janie knew because she had gone with her momma to retrieve some parcels. They all went through the store together and out the front door to have a look; there wasn't enough of town to justify more than one main road right down the center like an errabbit's stripe. Plenty of other folks had come out to gawk, too, although some of them were more cautious just in case the ship belonged to pirates or some worse sort of criminal.

The ship was a big pretty kind of ship, not squared at the corners like the shuttle which Janie had always thought looked like a box but pretty and dangerous, like the model Missus Jane had given Janie, except that according to Missus Jane's accounts that ship had been too big to land planetside. The same mark of design was on the ship that landed at the end of the street, though. It was long and curved like the fringe on Janie's granddaddy.

So Janie wasn't surprised when a big turian man came out of the ship. He was probably even taller than Momma, and he wore armor that was silver and blue that put Janie in mind of a knight, and he carried a long gun like Missus Jane had.

People started murmuring right off when he came walking down the street, and Auntie Singh made a soft surprised sound and said, "The Archangel!" and then she looked slantwise at Missus Jane. But Missus Jane didn't look astonished. Her face went hard and blank, and then she took Janie's hand which she did only rarely and said, "We're leaving."

She led Janie back through the store and out the backdoor again and they took off straight across the field and cut across the road and right back into the woods instead of following the road for a ways. Missus Jane was striding fast and purposeful so Janie could barely keep up and finally she broke into a two-legged trot that bounced all the questions inside her until she could hardly keep em in her mouth. She had heard of the Archangel. At school they told each other stories about him in the yard — about how if you were good retribution passed you over, and how if you were bad you were caught by justice, but how if you were really wicked, you belonged to the Archangel. Finally she could not stand it any longer and she looked up at Missus Jane and said, "Missus Jane, was that really the Archangel?"

"Yeah, that was him," Missus Jane said. Her face had taken on a grim cast.

"Did he come to hunt you down?" Janie asked. She was now walking at such a pace that it left her short of breath.

"Looks like it," said Missus Jane.

This was not pleasant news to Janie's mind and she asked, "Is he gonna shoot out your eye?"

"...What?" said Missus Jane.

"Is he gonna shoot out your eye," Janie repeated. "Isn't that what he does? He hunts folks down and shoots out their eyes — one if they're wicked, and both if they're deep-down evil. I don't know what he does to batarians or folks that got more than two eyes," she added.

Missus Jane stopped then, and she got down on one knee and looked at Janie real hard. "No," she said. "I don't know why he's here, but he won't shoot me. He'd rather shoot himself."

"Oh," said Janie. "That's good to hear. So I guess you know him then?"

"Yeah kid, I know him." She sighed and sat back a little on her one heel. Janie was taller than her like this with Missus Jane on the ground. It was not an ungratifying state. "But we're going to fight, and there's a lot of people in town."


"Argue," said Missus Jane. "One or both of us is going to yell, and then he'll go away, and I'll be…" She got that look that meant she was somewhere inside of herself so Janie said, "You'll go into the woods by yourself for some time."

"Yeah," Missus Jane said. "Yeah, I probably will."

"And you don't want to argue and holler in front of a whole crowd."

"No," said Missus Jane. "I'm already pushing my luck just by being here. Last thing I need is another riot in my name." Janie didn't know exact what that meant but she was willing to trust that Missus Jane knew best about this particular affair.

"All right," said Janie. "We'd better get back, if he comes asking it won't take someone too long to point him at the old Shepard place. Folks like to talk," she explained.

"I've noticed," said Missus Jane. "Okay, kid, up on my back — we'll double-time it home." So Jane put her arms around Missus Jane's neck and Missus Jane hooked her hands under Janie's knees and they hoofed it back to Missus Jane's shack. Missus Jane didn't even get winded a little although Momma had told Janie years and years ago that she was too big to be carried, and now that she was nine Janie of course agreed, except in cases of particular urgency or when she had been hurt doing chores or some such foolishness.

Still they had not been long back at Missus Jane's shack when the Archangel came out of the woods. The door was open and Missus Jane was helping Janie pack her model ship into a sack for the journey home, so Janie saw him come out of the treeline. He strolled into the field and up the hill to Missus Jane as bold as you please. His hands were empty but he had a pistol at his side and his long gun on his back. His face had scarring not like a lash but like he had been licked by fire. He came right up to the door like it was his own house and then he said, "Shepard, this is stupid," without bothering to greet Missus Jane or introduce himself to Janie.

"Go away," said Missus Jane. Her head had gone up and her back was straight. She always had good posture, which Momma said was on account of her training although Auntie Singh said Missus Jane had had a stick up her ass since the day she was born, but now her spine looked like someone had taken an iron to it. "Get out of here, Garrus."

"No," said the Archangel. "It's been five years." He had a pleasant deep voice but Janie thought that she did not like him so much, not when he walked up here so rude and now was upsetting Missus Jane, who was not often upset and did not like to show it when she was.

"And that didn't seem like a clue to you? I thought you were a detective, Vakarian."

The Archangel ignored her. He rested his long gun up against the doorframe and then looked around without trying to hide how bold he peered right into Missus Jane's house. "Have you been on Mindoir the whole time?" he said, and then in more of a mutter, "I should've looked here first."

"That isn't your business," said Missus Jane. "Here, kid, take your bag — you have everything?" Janie nodded. "Good," said Missus Jane. "Go home." Again she did not mean anything by her sharpness to Janie although Janie felt perhaps Missus Jane did mean something by her sharpness to the Archangel.

"Wrex sends his regards, by the way," the Archangel added, and Missus Jane's eyes shot over and she said, "You've been on Tuchanka?"

"Thought you didn't want to talk, Shepard," said the Archangel. Janie made up her mind that the Archangel was a real pyjak and determined that Missus Jane should not be left alone with him. He was still looking around but now rather than peering into the shack he was facing down off towards the old farmhouse at the foot of the hill. "Don't tell me you're a farmer now."

"I could be," said Missus Jane. She looked mulish, which was a word Daddy used in relation to Momma with fair regularity, along with other words like "headstrong" and "pretty."

The Archangel let out a long sound that was partway a hum and partway a considering sigh, and then he started shucking his armor. "What the hell, Vakarian?" Missus Jane said, sounding agitated but also more animated than Janie could recall seeing her. "Animated" was another word Daddy used in relation to Momma.

"Hard to farm in armor," said the Archangel. He was now undressed to a kind of fatigue he wore beneath his blue and silver armor, which he had made into a pile beside his long gun. When he was finished he tipped his head to one side and added, "Not that I know much about farming. You'll have to teach me."

"Hell," said Missus Jane again, this time very feelingly like she did not like the Archangel, which was a sentiment Janie felt strongly her own self. "You aren't staying here, Garrus. I mean it. Go away and leave me alone."

"No," said the Archangel. "Who's this? Don't tell me you kidnapped her." He sounded pretty certain that Missus Jane had not married and had a child of her own in the years previous although it was true that Missus Jane and Janie did not strongly resemble one another.

"Janie Deveroux, meet Garrus Vakarian. He's on his way back to his ship," said Missus Jane, although the Archangel did not give the appearance of being on his way. Under less fraught circumstances Janie would have a decent list of questions for him but because Missus Jane seemed hostile, Janie did not ask him any of these and instead said as coldly as she could muster, "Hello."

"Janie," greeted the Archangel.

"You're not coming inside," said Missus Jane.

"I've slept outside before," said the Archangel.

Missus Jane did not have an answer to this as she ignored him and said to Janie, "Time to go, kid. We'll talk more next time you come by."

"Thank you kindly for the ice cream and the model ship," said Janie.

"Thanks for the cake," said Missus Jane.

They regarded one another with solemnity and then Janie nodded and Missus Jane nodded back and Janie started on her way. She went down the hill with the trees to her right and the farmhouse off a ways to her left and Missus Jane and the Archangel both behind her. In a manner that was somewhat dishonest she did not make haste and because of this she was able to overhear a small portion of what Missus Jane said to the Archangel next.

"What are you doing here?" said Missus Jane.

"I wasn't aware that required an explanation," said the Archangel. "Come on. Did you honestly believe I would leave you alone forever?"

"I'm not coming back, Garrus."

"I'm not asking you to come back. Jane — "

And then the wind kicked up and Janie could not overhear any more, so she walked back home under the stern eye of the old drone that did not much like when Janie lingered on the road. Janie thought probably this was Daddy's doing, as he worried a fair sight over her safety, although Janie was nine and strong and pretty capable of taking care of herself without help from anyone.

The next day Janie had service in the morning and in the afternoon did her chores and homework so that she might play cards with Momma and Daddy in the evening. Many folks in that area were Catholic although some few were New Reform Siarist. The congregations shared a building. Daddy was Catholic and Momma was not, but Momma sometimes attended service with them because she liked the potlucks and such. So it was another few days before Janie made it out to visit Missus Jane again.

She spent a fair bit of time contemplating Missus Jane and the Archangel and how they might know each other. She judged they knew each other fairly well based on the familiarity with which they had addressed one another, although Missus Jane had not seemed happy to see the Archangel however much he would not be turned away.

When next she had time to call upon Missus Jane she was not enormously surprised to find that the Archangel had flown his starship to the big field downhill from Missus Jane's shack. The Archangel himself was sitting beneath the tree that grew next to Missus Jane's home and before him he had spread a sheet of canvas on which he had laid out his guns. He was cleaning one of them. Janie knew this because Momma and Daddy and Missus Jane had all impressed on her the importance of cleaning a gun after shooting it although Janie had not had much use for shooting so far in her life.

"Janie," said the Archangel. "Good to see you again."

Janie eyed him and did not answer beyond nodding, which was the least that common courtesy demanded. She called for Missus Jane without looking away from the Archangel. She did not much like him but he was interesting, and not many folks on Mindoir were interesting.

"On the roof!" Missus Jane hollered back, so Janie clambered up to meet her. Missus Jane gave her a hand for the last few meters and they worked together to haul Janie up over the edge.

"Has he really been sleeping outside?" Janie asked, soon as she had settled herself.

Missus Jane smirked. "No," she said. "Inside his ship. He's from a city."

"Oh," said Janie, who had not met many city people.

From a ways below them came the Archangel's voice. "I would still be in a city if someone hadn't run away to a farm."

"Ignore him," said Missus Jane. "He's bored, and he likes to complain. He'll catch on eventually."

"Try me," called the Archangel, but Missus Jane took her own advice and did not reply. Instead she poured Janie a plastic cup of lemonade and passed it to her. It was sweetened with darberries, which were something of a local specialty if also devilish hard to grow.

Janie leaned close to Missus Jane and said, "Pardon my language but he seems like a real pyjak."

Missus Jane laughed. "Ah, kid, you don't know the half of it," she said, but Janie also thought it odd that today Missus Jane did not seem unduly bothered by the Archangel's presence. However before she could inquire Missus Jane distracted her by asking after Momma and Daddy. Janie accordingly related that Momma was good if busy but that Daddy was laid up with a sickness which, Janie reported, was down to what Momma teasingly called his "weak human constitution. But she won't let me near him," Janie added, "else I would catch what he's got."

"That's probably the right call on your mother's part," said Missus Jane.

"She threatened to send him to stay at the clinic in town," said Janie. "I don't want to get sick but I don't much like not seeing him for these past days."

"He's running a fever?"

Janie said that he was although that Momma did not judge it dangerous but that this particular illness took children harder than it did their parents, even children as old as nine. If Janie took sick she would be obliged to go to the clinic and stay there until she was well, and she had never been sick enough to go away from home.

"I don't recommend it," said Missus Jane. "Tell your mom you can spend the night here, if it gets to be a problem."

"Provided I don't have to sleep outside," said Janie, and Missus Jane laughed again. She was in the kind of laughing mood today that rarely took her.

"You can bunk with me," Missus Jane promised. "It's not much, but it's a hell of a lot better than a clinic."

"You been sick like that before?" Janie asked.

"In a way." Missus Jane drained her cup of lemonade. "I've had a couple of long hospital stays. Never gets any better."

"Were you sick like Daddy?" Janie inquired.

"More like…" Missus Jane scratched her head and then ran a hand over her hair, which did not much help to flatten it. "You broke your arm last year."

"I did," said Janie.

"Like that," said Missus Jane. "Except more severe."

"Not sick but like an accident."

"I wouldn't call it an accident," said Missus Jane, "but yeah. Close enough."

"Was that after you got knocked on the head?"

"You aren't going to let that go, are you?" said Missus Jane. "Yeah, kid, one of the times was after I got knocked on the head. Took them a while to patch me back together. I haven't been right since then."

"Bullshit," said the Archangel.

"Language," Missus Jane called down. She winked at Janie, which she had never done before but which Janie liked very much. It was like they were in on a secret together, but not the kind of secret that caused hurt.

"Bullcra — uh, nonsense," said the Archangel.

"What happened?" Janie wanted to know. She did reckon that it was rude to ask but Missus Jane was not terribly civilized and Janie could not hold her tongue any longer.

"A space station fell on me," said Missus Jane. "Maybe someday I'll tell you more about it."

"But not today?"

"Not today," Missus Jane confirmed. This was still more than Janie had known and while she was not entirely satisfied, her curiosity was sated for the time being. She did wonder if Missus Jane had been planetside or if she had been on the space station and if so how had it crashed, but Missus Jane was started to develop the pinched look around her mouth that meant she had an oncoming headache. Accordingly Janie laid back and closed her own eyes like she had no questions and wanted only to enjoy the sunshine, and after some few minutes she heard Missus Jane settle back and then still also.

From below came the sounds of the Archangel cleaning his long rifles and his pistols and all manner of weaponry. Eventually Missus Jane's breathing evening out which meant she was sleeping, and Janie slid down from the roof. She was about the turn her drone back on when she noticed the Archangel watching her. She was not precisely scared of him but on that occasion she suddenly found that she was wondering how many of the tales about him were true.

Janie was not certain the particular manner of tree that grew beside Missus Jane's shack but it was a big old tree with leaves that were pale gold until later in the season when they turned crimson for a week. The tree was much taller than the shack although Missus Jane had build her shack in such a way that the branches did not much overshadow the roof, which meant she had a clearer view of the sky than she would have otherwise. There was a fat sunbug flying in lazy figures-of-eight around the Archangel's head. He did not pay it mind.

"I didn't know you were real," Janie told him.

The Archangel tucked his chin to consider her, and then he looked over and up at the roof where Missus Jane slumbered. "I'm not sure she does, either," he said. Janie was not sure what to make of that so she did not carry the conversation further but instead took the drone and left without saying a good-bye, which was also not mannerly but the rudeness did not in this instance trouble her.

That was the only time she conversed with him until a fair few weeks later, after Daddy had recovered from his illness and Missus Jane had showed her how to fix the short-wave radio Janie had unearthed in an old dump bin and the annual recital had been both rehearsed and performed to the crowd of parents that gathered in the school yard on a warm evening. Janie did not like to perform for crowds and had instead given her time to working on the lighting and such so that even the folks in the back could see what was happening on the stage. Momma said this was how she knew Janie was her daughter if not her own blood, and Janie had thanked her for her courtesy and replied it didn't much matter if she had Momma's blood when she had all of her habits.

Missus Jane had not attended the recital but Janie gave notice of her work with the lighting the next day as they were walking through the woods. Janie had been in charge of a small crew not more than three strong that had been composed of her own self, two classmates, and one other student who was older but who did not have Janie's facility with wires and the like. It had been her first taste of leadership and she was not at all sure she had much cared for the experience, but Daddy said that new experience was good for the spirit.

"You'll have to lead someday, whether you want to be a farmer or a spaceship captain," Missus Jane pointed out. "How many hired hands do your parents have?"

"Six," said Janie. "But I reckon by the time I'm old enough to take over, we'll have the money to purchase robots."

"You'll still need someone to calibrate the robots," said the Archangel, who was walking some distance behind them. He said that he was not joining them but had simply decided on his own accord to talk a stroll through the woods, although Janie doubted the veracity of this claim.

"Then I'll be a spaceship captain," Janie declared. "Maybe in the marines, like Missus Jane." But Missus Jane looked troubled and not greatly pleased at this declaration, and she walked for a time in silence until they reached the creek and stood at it watching tally-toads hop around in the mud.

"I won't tell you not to join the service," Missus Jane finally said. "I wouldn't be who I am without it. But you shouldn't make that decision until you're older. You've got time. The galaxy needs farmers, too, not only marines." She looked up the bank a ways to where the Archangel was contemplating a tally-toad that had gotten itself stuck halfway up a log. "Vakarian would agree with me."

"I always agree with you," said the Archangel.

"Hell, Garrus, you never agree with me," said Missus Jane.

"I agree with you when it counts," said the Archangel.

"You don't agree with me living here," said Missus Jane.

"No, Shepard, I didn't agree with you leaving," said the Archangel, and it was at this moment that Janie realized how it was Missus Jane and the Archangel knew one another and why the Archangel had taken up residence in the field outside of Missus Jane's shack.

"You're Missus Jane's husband!" she said.

Missus Jane said, "Shit." Meanwhile the Archangel looked like some important small cog in his head had broken loose; he was staring at Missus Jane like Missus Jane had just lit herself on fire.

"That is to say, her soldier," Janie elucidated, although this did not much improve the naked expression on the Archangel's face. He was still staring fit to bore a hole through Missus Jane. Missus Jane snorted through her nose and stomped off into the brush. Janie followed. The Archangel did not. For all Janie knew he stood there for another ten minutes like a log or a powerfully surprised rock.

"Well?" she demanded once she had caught up to Missus Jane. "Is he?"

Missus Jane did not look as though she much wanted to talk but assented that he was. Janie had to turn that idea over in her mind — Missus Jane, married to the Archangel — but it had a certain kind of sense to it and reminded her of how Momma said she was the only one who could tease Daddy cause they were married, excepting that Momma had never left Daddy and never would.

Janie had a good number of other questions upon consideration. Had Missus Jane and the Archangel fought together in the war? Why had Missus Jane left him when it gave her grief? Why was Missus Jane determined to pretend she had not been aggrieved? Did the Archangel know they were married? Was this why Missus Jane had allowed him to stay on her own property instead of driving him off? Missus Jane said that the latter was on account of her soldier being a charming son of a bitch. She also allowed that they had fought in the war together but did not answer Janie's other questions.

By the time they reached the Shepard place proper Missus Jane was moving at a clip and Janie kept at her heels only with effort. They went inside the shack and Missus Jane shut the door, which she did not often bother with during the day, and although Janie could not think of a way she had wronged Missus Jane she apologized because it was the mannerly thing to do.

"Don't worry about it, kid," said Missus Jane. "It isn't your fault." She was at the table which also served as a workbench going through her toolbox, although Janie opined that Missus Jane was not doing more than throwing her tools around.

"How did the pair of you meet?" Janie asked.

Missus Jane banged a spanner against a box of nails. "We were on a space station," she said. "Investigating the same criminal."

"And then what?" said Janie.

"I can't remember," said Missus Jane, and she threw into the toolbox not only the spanner and the box of nails but also two wrenches, a pair of pliers, and a big long knife that did not look as though it belonged in either a toolbox or a kitchen. After the knife she slammed her hands into the tabletop and stood there bent over, heaving, not crying but breathing so hard it sounded more painful than tears.

Janie's natural instinct was to stay and comfort Missus Jane but long familiarity with Missus Jane's habits informed her that comfort was not what Missus Jane wanted during these spells, so as quiet as possible she went to the door and let herself out. The Archangel was sitting out there on the steps at edge of the half-finished porch. Missus Jane was always saying she would finish it as soon as she had more lumber but then she never would bother herself to place the order and so the porch had been half-finished for as long as Janie could herself recall. The Archangel was leaning forward with his head hanging down but when Janie went to shut the door behind her he put out a hand to keep it open. The porch was not itself large and he had enough length in his limbs that he could manage to reach the door without standing.

"You tracked me down at a medical clinic," he said. At first it did not look as though he was addressing anyone but the air since he neither looked at Janie nor turned to face the open doorway, but Janie had a notion he was speaking to Missus Jane. "A couple of thugs were holding the doctor hostage. You gave me the opportunity I needed to take them down. Said you were glad you could help."

He stopped and listened, but Janie kept still and from inside the shack there was no sound save Missus Jane's breathing. "After that, well. I more or less invited myself aboard your ship. I was sick of the damn bureaucrats blocking my investigation, and you were getting results," the Archangel said. He stopped and listened again. Janie would credit him for his patience although it was not until Missus Jane spoke that she realized what he had been waiting for.

"The Normandy," said Missus Jane.

"The Normandy," said the Archangel. His subvocals sounded to Janie's ear rough but not without a warmth that she could not quite place. "I had a hard time at first. Human crew, turian C-Sec officer… you know the story. And I was young and hotheaded enough that I couldn't tell my ass from a hole in the ground."

"I used to think I hadn't ever met someone with such a strong sense of justice who was more likely to be hauled in for police brutality," came Missus Jane's voice.

The Archangel laughed in such a way that it sounded as though his dry laughter was being scraped out of his throat. "Yeah, well. Not sure if I learned my lesson there or not, but you gave me something to think about."

Missus Jane did not respond to that and the Archangel let the silence stand. He wore a blue device over his head that was still not as blue as his eyes, and he took in a breath so big Janie could see his back rise and fall with the sigh of it. She had not given much thought to why it was Missus Jane had left or how the Archangel had come and found her here on Mindoir, but now it seemed to her overpowering sad that the Archangel could care for Missus Jane so greatly and Missus Jane could return his care enough that she thought herself married to him and still here they were, her inside and him out on the steps. Although previously Janie had thought nine a worldly age she was now seized by the idea that she was ignorant on many important topics. She knew a little of love but nothing at all of bloodshed although she had some small notion that Missus Jane's history was thick with the latter.

As the silence grew outward the Archangel's jaw tightened. He took his hand from the door and after a moment it began to swing shut. It was not a door like Janie had on her house that slid in a track but instead an old-fashioned hinged door that hung crookedly and would not stay open on its own. But then Missus Jane was there and she stopped the door from shutting herself. At the sight of her Janie's heart began to drum in her ribcage although she could not have said why. Missus Jane did not look notably dangerous and she was not carrying her big gun but there was the suggestion of motion in her face and Janie found she did not care to look at it. It was not for her to see.

"Come inside, Garrus," said Missus Jane.

And the Archangel stood up and went inside the house. He paused at the threshold like he thought Missus Jane would deny him although she did not, and then he passed from Janie's sight. The door shut behind him, and Janie went home.

A good time later Missus Jane said that she guessed her soldier wasn't ready to be done with her yet, and after some thought grudgingly allowed that maybe she wasn't quite ready to be done with him either. Janie replied that she had at first misjudged the Archangel but that upon further acquaintance he was less objectionable than she had thought. Missus Jane agreed with this assessment and reiterated her opinion that the Archangel was a charming son of a bitch, which was why he was sharing quarters with her and no longer living out in the field.

The season turned. Missus Jane's spells came and went. Janie's momma and daddy hired a new hand who knew all manner of card games and showed Janie how to gamble and she used her skill to win several hands off of Missus Jane and the Archangel, whom Janie only rarely and on accident called Mister Jane. At school her lessons in basic programming commenced and she found them fine although not as interesting as winning at cards. Three bandits came and tried to extort the settlement but Missus Jane strode up to them bold as daylight and told them to get out of town, and although Janie was not present to witness the spectacle in person she had been reliably informed that when one of the bandits tried to draw his pistol on Missus Jane he was struck down dead by god's own hand. Janie had a strong instinct that this was because of the Archangel but could never bring herself to ask after the truth of it.

The season turned again, and the harvest came in, and Missus Jane and the Archangel made their shack snug for the coming cold. They seemed fit to stay. Folks ceased to stare when they came into town and let them go about their business first without comment and then with a neighborly greeting, and often Janie went for a visit and found them sitting on the roof together watching the sky. It was a fine and peaceful existence. "Maybe they'll even start planting the old Shepard place now," Daddy liked to speculate. But Momma disagreed. "It won't last," she said. "That woman's a sword, and no matter how much she bends herself out of shape, she's never going to be a plowshare."

Post a comment in response:

Identity URL: 
Account name:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
HTML doesn't work in the subject.


Notice: This account is set to log the IP addresses of people who comment anonymously.
Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.