The following story was written for a school assignment, and as such it might feel a little rushed since it was written under a time limit. I have taken the opportunity to upload it to various sites, however, and I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I'm not a professional writer, but rather a high-school student, so just don't expect it to be too good. Avali race created by RyuujinZERO, Geth race is copyright of BioWare; all characters depicted in this story are owned by me. A black-and-pink-feathered avali hoisted the last of a rather large pile of weapons into its proper place in the armory while letting out a quiet grunt, instinctively wiping her forehead. She turned back to who must have been the owner of at least half the pile, showing a sly smile. "A little much for just a 'pack-strengthening exercise'?" "Hey, I just brang everything I had!" The black-and-purple-feathered kit protested awkwardly, throwing up a shrug and fidgeting with his toe claws. "Don't discriminate w-within your armory, I say." Being around his friend's packmates was quite obviously making him nervous. "I second that." A third avali by the name of Katuni chimed in, moving up to the anxious juvenile and patting his back - a movement which clearly surprised the latter. "Can never have too many boomsticks, am I right?" He put up a confident stance and showed a toothy grin. "Granted that the majority of equipment there is for utility purposes and not offensive armament, Kati." Rezo retorted. Katuni couldn't help but giggle. "Th-that's what I was going t-" the young avali from before quietly interjected. "I'm sure you would have called that out in an instant, Jiroku." Rezo gave the guest a wink. "You seem like quite an attentive kit; sharp, too, from what Nayoli has told me..." He glanced at the pink-trimmed female and flashed a split-second smile before diverting his attention to the tall young lieutenant, whom he patted on the head reassuringly. "Recognition's always nice-" Jiro admitted with a slight blush. His ears fluttered in appreciation before perking up along with those of everyone else, indicating a universal feeling of curiosity about further conduct. As de-facto leader of pack Ralai, Nayoli read everyone's minds and took the initiative. "Right then. Hyperdrive will go active in approximately 2 minutes; until then, ship tests will be performed to make sure everything is in working order. If nothing screws up, our transit will span about an hour and 40 mins. I had a specific planet picked out with the higher ups, Titan's Summit 3 to be exact; it's located in the Perseus Veil galactic quadrant, which I'm sure at least one of us is familiar with." Her large, dark, marble-like eyes darted to Jiroku as he squirmed from the attention. "Y-you think maybe we'll come across the Geth at all?" His shyness failed to mask the entirety of his enthusiasm. "Doubt it; Oracle records show they're spread pretty thin around here at least. But you never know what you might see out here, boys." "You never know if the Oracle records are actually relevant." Barakka snickered, as she was swiftly met by a light slap from Nayoli. "Fine then, I'll go man the ship if that's the way you feel about it!" She left mock-angrily, garnering a few chuckles. Any avali that wasn't deaf could hear her laughing as she left line of sight. Turning back to the rest of the group, Nayo adjusted her crest feathers slightly as her smile disappeared. "Usual stations, everybody. As for you, Jiro, stand by for any orders; if you want to visit captain's quarters at any time, be my guest." She gave him a slight smile that the two males of the Ralai pack must have found quite amusing, judging by their simultaneous Ooooohhh's. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Hyperdrive engaged-" Barakka stated calmly through the ship microphone. "Try not to get your tails in a tizzy over the light show." After taking a split second to be vaguely amused, Jiroku gathered the strength to visit his mission superior as was permitted. He took a hard swallow and sighed, knocking lightly. "Lieutenant Tanalya, requesting permission to captain's quarters." He heard the floor thud as footsteps drew near to the door; an eternity seemed to pass before it slid open, his anxiety amplifying its signature hiss. A pair of fuzz-covered ears popped out a split second before the rest of the occupant's bright face. "Oh please, don't be so formal!" She briefly patted Jiro on the shoulder, flashing a smile as warm as it was wide. "What's up, sport?" The 16-year-old gazed shyly at Nayoli's chest fluff, his ears drooping across the back of his head and his eyelids narrowed lazily. Slowly he looked up at her eyes, giving a nervous grin so slight that she apparently had not noticed. "What's the matter?" Her smile turned into a face of concern. "N-nothing much." He looked back down. "Something, obviously: your ears are droopy." "I.. I wanted to talk to you about something..." Looking back up, he started to fidget with his index claws. "I can tell. Come on over to my bed and spill the beans, alright kit?" Jiroku nodded in response as they moved towards the other end of the room, Nayo offering him a portion of the bed to lay on. "So?" He hesitated for a few seconds, seeming to have lost his words; he was apparently quite embarrassed by this, evidenced by a wave of violet blush forming below his innocent eyes. "I..." He sighed again. "...Don't know if you were aware of... how I ceased work with Leviathan Security a few weeks ago... Y'know the guy who was in the room with us when you visited me as I was still bedridden? Th-the guy I-" "The guy you hugged as soon as you had gotten better?" She let out a chuckle, the kit's blush intensifying as he looked away again, nodding when his embarrassment had sufficiently passed. "Rein - that was his name - he was.. a sort of person I am not used to. Once he saw who I really was, I think, he took an instant liking to me. We went on m-missions together, talked and played together in our free time... we spent so much time together in those months.That's something I'd only previously known from you and my guardian Kemura, it was... new. That care, that... understanding, it was beautiful and odd." He hesitated many times throughout his monologue, yet the captain showed patience. "And it wasn't just him, the others too! They were all so k-kind. They.. invited me over to their places to, y'know, chill out... they offered to go places with me, they took the initiative when I didn't expect anything. I don't know what I did that made them like me so much." She stayed silent, nodding in acknowledgement, ushering for him to continue whenever he stopped out of servile courtesy. "Th-they turned my world upside down, y'know? They considered me, I was a priority for them! I was important to them.. It's such a rare feeling for me, that." She especially nodded here, tilting her head and giving a reassuring grin. "They saved my life, Nayoli!" Jiroku looked straight at her as he broke the silence, his conflicting emotions now showing. "The ADF sent me on that mission alone! Had I not gotten help I would have died in that ancestor-forsaken station. I, accepted their assistance against orders." He stared down at the bed in shame, desperately hoping his long-time friend would understand. "I love them as if they were the pack I never had... a-almost." He stopped again, struggling to say more. "R-Rein, Willows, Mehli, Drue, Rex, all of them... they became my everything! I got so caught up..." He looked away again as he attempted to hide his face, visibly upset. Finally, the older avali spoke up. "Jiro... Jiro, are you alright?" She tried to turn his head towards her own, only to see tears welling up in his eyes. "They're gone, Nayo! I don't know if I'll ever see them again-" He started to cry lightly into his own palms, only for her to take him into a hug as she laid his head on her shoulder. "They're gone now..." She did her best to comfort him, softly stroking his ears and crest feathers. "Shhhhh... it's alright, kit... you're fine." She almost wished she knew what exactly he was feeling, that she might be better able to improve his mood. "N-no, I'm not fine!" He sniffled and hiccuped, his words returning to him a couple seconds later. "I-I became so dependent... The universe feels so much darker without them..." He broke into heavier sobbing, tears streaming down his friend's shoulder. "I-I'm sorry N-Nayoli, so -hic- sorry for troubling you!" "No Jiro, it's perfectly alright, sweetie. Now you just quiet down and let it all out-" Nayo patted him on the back reassuringly as his ears fluttered from relief and appreciation for her. "Awww, poor thing," she uttered while lightly nuzzling him, her own emotions starting to rise. She gave him a few seconds before going any further. "Life goes on, Jiro! You can't just give up – we all have to deal with loss." The kit nodded as he slowly wiped his eyes and sniffled. "I know it's hard, I know how you feel." The 18-year-old felt as if she was lying somewhat; she had no real experience with this sort of thing, after all. "I know you do, Nayo." Jiro turned to her and gave a sad smile, attempting to reassure her in turn, but he soon returned to a feeling of regret. "I-I've just, heard it all before, y'know? Feels like nobody can directly solve my problem... I've tried everything, Nayo! I can't forget about them, I won't forget... there'll always be that longing, that acknowledgement of the loss of possibilities. We were just getting started..." His cheeks turned from moist to wet as he again laid his head on her shoulder. "Jiro..." She stuttered, unsure of what to say next. "We... we're allowed to have fond memories of things which are gone, alright? Nobody's taking that away from you. But when we b-" Suddenly the room was darkened, which Nayoli quickly identified as a lack of electric power. "What the- urgghh, now?!" She turned back to Jiroku, who looked shyly back at her with a confused and upset face. "Looks like power's out; I'm gonna go check with the resta' the crew on what's up. Sorry to leave, really, but y'know..." He just nodded in response, seeming to calm down as she got up and made towards the door. "You can stay on the bed, even get in if you want, take a little nap – it's all fine by me. Anything that makes you feel better, buddy." "Wh-when will you be back?" He asked rather shyly. She slid the door open. "Dunno, kit; I'll be back when I can. Just hang in there, alright Jiro?" She shot him a quick smile and nodded before stepping out and closing the door behind her, leaving him alone in the dark. "Well," Jiro said slowly and painfully, "not much to do other than sleep." He proceeded to try and improve the condition of his face before climbing into bed and laying his head to rest. Try as he might, the young avali simply could not fall asleep; so much was racing through his mind, thoughts popping up so prominently as if they had been said aloud. A-am I just getting in the way of others' duties whenever I act like this? He inquired. Am I just a burden? Am I holding people back with my troubles? As his mind started to answer all these questions with yes, tears began to streak down his cheeks once more. Why am I so worthless??!! When these questions proved too difficult for Jiroku's exhausted body and exhausted mind to handle, he finally shut his eyes and drifted off to the realm of the unconscious. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The juvenile avali was awoken by his friend's approach and entry into the room; he squirmed and slowly opened his eyes, struggling to get up. "Oh I'm sorry, did I wake you, sweetie?" She glanced at him and smiled while tilting her head slightly. He yawned quietly and let out a chirp afterwards, slowly lifting his torso to sit up in bed. "No, you're fine; I was just about done anyways," he reassured her. "Did your rest help?" "Yeah, I think so." He nodded and grinned, looking around as both pairs of ears swiveled about. "How long was I out?" "A little over an hour, I think. Don't worry, we still got time." She nodded in return. "D'you get it fixed?" The kit was pretty sure he knew the answer, considering the lights in the bedroom were currently operational. Nayoli exhaled. "It took about an hour..." She shrugged and chuckled as the amusement spread to the younger avali. "Well.. anything particular you still want to talk about?" Jiroku hesitated. "Yeah, sorta, b-but if you don't want to it's fine. I don't want to keep you from anything." The older avali tilted her head and grinned again before walking up to her newly-awoken comrade. "Listen to me, Jiroku Tanalya." His ears perked up, and his face was one of undivided attention. "Don't ever think you're keeping people down or pulling their tails by letting them comfort you in times of need, alright? I don't want you to be thinking lowly of yourself for nothing! You're so important to me, Jiro, much more than any duty so trivial as that." She looked straight into his eyes, and he looked straight into hers. After seconds of silence they both started smiling, then giggling, then hugging. The younger avali started to tear up yet again, though now for reasons entirely different. "I'll always be here for you when you need me, Jiro - don't you forget that." "I.. I love you, Nayoli." Shortly afterwards his cheeks turned sour with embarrassment, which his partner evidently noticed. "Aww, don't be embarrassed, Jiro... I love you too, as a friend!" She gave him a kiss on the cheek, which certainly did not help its sour state. His eyes opened wide with surprise as he swung his forewings out, claws curled inward from shyness and speechlessness. "Uuuuu~," he cooed, letting out a high-pitched chirp a moment later. "Alright you cutie, seriously now. Anything else?" "Well, uh..." He was still mentally reeling from the kiss. "I-I guess..." He looked down again as his ears fell flat. "I don't know what my motivation will be anymore, if not them. The best I have is Kemura and you guys now, and that's good! But... it's as if I've become spoiled. When I saw what Rein and the others did with me, did for me, I wanted more. I still want more..." By now his gaze had returned to her. "Hmmm..." The captain thought for some time as Jiroku waited patiently. "I mean, I wouldn't put them out of the equation entirely just yet. You still have a shot of reuniting, don't forget! Just hold onto that hope and keep your chin up, I say." She lightly pressed against the bottom of his chin with the side of her finger. The young avali nodded in response to her rather simple advice. "Well, the whole reason I left was because my guardian thought I should focus more on..." He sighed. "...personal responsibility, which I really was falling behind in now that I look back on it. I also think that being injured in the field that badly had a lot to do with it. I just feel awful about both those things, like it's all my fault..." "I see. So you're saying that he just wanted you to take a break?" The kit nodded again. "And do you know how long this will be?" He shook his head. "That's what has me so worried; I'm not really allowed to contact them, so who knows what's going on there without me? I want to know what happens to my friends, or at least when I'll be able to know again." "I know what you mean. Well, the fastest track to setting things right is making sure your priorities are in order. Just make sure you do what you came here for and you'll be fine, alright Jiro? It's the most responsible course of action, after all." She let out a grin matching the one he gave in response to her recent statements, patting his back in complementary fashion. "Anything else bugging you, sport?" "I..." He could not answer for several seconds. "I-I don't know, I just.. have terrible short-term memory, y'know?" "It's fine; if you have anything that comes to mind later, just let me know. You ready to get out of bed now? "I think so, just give me a few minutes. A-and Nayoli?" He started to fidget with his finger and toe claws. "What's that?" "Thank you, for everything. You really helped me feel better about it all; that's all I can ask for in a friend." "It was my pleasure, Jiroku." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Glad to hear you got all that off your chest, Jiro. Nayoli really is good with that sort of thing." Katuni took another bite of his kiri-covered piru bar. "Yeah, definitely; you all know how much of a liking I take to her, hehe," he giggled nervously and nodded for emphasis, digging into his kiri sundae. "Hey kit:" Rezo chimed in, "I just want to make clear that, if you're feeling uncomfortable around the rest of us for any reason, don't be afraid to speak up. We'd be glad to sort things out." "Ditto," Barakka exclaimed, startling everyone with her presence. "If it's a 'fear of unacceptance' sort of deal, then you've got nothing to worry about here, buddy. Nobody here has the intention of shunning you or discriminating against you or making you feel miserable or anything." "Yeah, and about that..." Katuni looked the kit straight in the eyes and exhaled. "I apologize for any trouble I've given you since we met. You were so different to me back then, you confused me;I didn't want any of my packmates getting that close to someone I didn't understand, and... well, you know. Still, the way I handled it was wrong, and I hope there are no more hard feelings between us, Jiro." Despite looking somewhat embarrassed as all 4 of his ears lay flat from shame, he gave the young avali a reassuring grin. "Absolutely not, sir: you don't have to worry about me holding a grudge!" He smiled back, hoping to leave his friend's packmate at ease. "Sir? Heh, I believe I should be addressing you with such a title, Lieutenant!" Katuni, not about to be undone, responded with a laugh. "In short, we treat you as our great friend, Jiro; you're allowed to treat us as yours," Nayoli concluded, as per her usual role. "I mean, you are a great friend after all, to me at least."The rest of the pack nodded and murmured in agreement. "R-really? I..." Jiroku was still not used to such attention; he blushed profusely and squirmed into an almost feminine position. "Thank you all, I-I r-really can't thank you enough!" The kit attempted to cover aforementioned blush with his claws; simply put, it wasn't working in the slightest. "I-if there's anything I can do for any of you, please tell me, a-as an expression of my gratitude." "Grateful, for mutual friendship? Oh please, that isn't something you need to be grateful for: it's just decency." Barakka gave Jiroku a quick, subtle wink, turning to the others as she changed the subject. "Right gang, I think we should get back to stations; we've almost refuelled here. You can sit tight for now, Jiro, and we'll let you know if anything comes up." She motioned for the rest of the Ralai pack to move up to the bridge as Jiroku nodded in response. He put on his headphones and finished his sundae as he prepared to ponder with accompanying music. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Jiroku snapped out of his trance-like train of thought as his name was called from the control room. He immediately got up and took off his headphones, leaving them on the maglev couch as he sprinted off. When he arrived at the bridge, all 8 Ralai eyes were trained on him, which he was somewhat disturbed by. "Did your connection cut back there, Jiro?" Nayoli asked plainly. He shrugged. "I'm listening to music offline, so I wouldn't know. Why, did it cut here?" "We think so," Rezo explained. "Holograms of the immediate area are still up, but long-distance comms has completely disappeared from the display. I'm checking our conne- ah yep, it's definitely cut. That's not a good sign." "W-well is there anything I can do to help?" The young avali surprised himself with his eagerness to assist, considering the activity he had abandoned several seconds ago. "Well, we're still trying to figure out the root of the problem. One of us will venture outside in an EVA suit to see if anything was damaged externally, and a wire expert can trace any internal issues." "2 internal damage searchers, 2 external damage searchers. Katuni and Barakka, you two are in EVA's; Rezo and I will go in the back. Jiro, you stay here and monitor connection. You familiar with this UI?" "Sure am." He nodded to emphasize and occupied the navigational seat. "Y-you guys trust me with this?" he couldn't help but ask. "Depends on how you perform, kit." Katuni let out a subtle chuckle. Jiroku grinned sheepishly and quickly turned to his display as the Ralai's picked up personal comms, prompting him to do the same. "We'll notify you as to when connection reset attempts are required, so stay on standby," Nayoli explained.Within a few seconds the rest had all exited the bridge, leaving Jiro wishing he had his headphones with him. After several minutes of waiting for the others to get set up, the trial and error phase began. "Try this" and"Try it now, Jiro" seemed to be the language spanning what may well have been a mental eternity;these were usually met with "Nope; damnit" or "Nah – sorry, guys." Said mental eternity was ended as something apparently clicked in the system. Jiro's flattened ears perked and his bored, narrowing eyes suddenly shot open as he took in the sweet sound of the audio cues and equally-sweet sight of the long-distance displays working as intended. He was about to instinctively call out "Connection's back!" when he laid eyes on the 'recent contacts' HUD popup. Leviathan Security's SC Titan was listed, which he instantly recognized as Rein Corvus's capital ship; instantly, Jiro's face lit up with the possibility of contact. "How's the connection now, Jiro?" Nayoli had managed to keep her patience mostly intact, though he could tell there was a bit of irritation in her voice over the problem's persistence up to now. The kit's smile turned into a grimace. He could just send a text message: it would be quick! But the others were waiting on him, so did he really have the time? But the thought of talking to his comrade after weeks of separation was so sweet! So sweet, apparently, that he played with his pointed, violet tongue in a savoring manner. "Jiro, are you there?" The young lieutenant lifted his mic out of the way and sighed. He made a split-second decision and bit the bullet; he closed the popup menu and readjusted his mic. "Connection's finally back, Nayo; sorry, my receiver malfunctioned." He tried his best to sound pleased, but in truth he felt dejected. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Whew!" Katuni instinctively wiped his head as he took Jiro's place in navigation. "That whole ordeal has me pretty worried about the reliability of ADF electronics now." He shuddered slightly, almost unnoticeably. "Those are dangerous thoughts to be thinking, Kati," Barakka warned. The male responded with a "heh", but it could be inferred that they were both somewhat wary. "In any event, we should be down to the target area in no time, if nothing else happens that is," she continued. "Initiating orbital glide." "Good to hear," Nayoli stated plainly, exercising her position as mission lead. "Nice work with that fix, everyone. "Damn straight! The receiver went from pretty shot to good as new, am I right?" The rest of the crew nodded their heads in agreement with Katuni. "Jiro didn't sound too amused when connection returned, hehe," Rezo mused. "Just tired, I'm guessing?" "Aren't we all!" Barakka interjected. The bridge was practically shaken with laughter. The young avali spoke up rather shyly. "About that... well, when comms first returned, I noticed we had previous contact with Leviathan's SC Titan, which I'm sure at least Nayoli will recognize; it's the capital ship of... someone who's really important to me. I, I was really tempted to take a second to contact them but.. didn't see it happening. S-sorry for lying about the delayed answer." His head lowered briefly, letting out another sigh. "Geez, that kinda sucks." Rezo admitted. "In any event, your course of action is respected, Jiroku." He gave a nod and followed with a lazy salute, turning to Nayo and nudging her. "If that's not an indicator of his usefulness in expeditions, I don't know what is." "Oh believe me, I didn't have any doubts." Nayoli gave Jiroku a confident smile, followed by a real salute; the rest of her pack followed suit. Jiroku returned the gesture as his gaze switched between the other four; he failed to keep his wide smile and violet-tinted cheeks hidden. "Aaand what timing!" Barakka exclaimed. "Here we are, people: Titan's Summit 3, Perseus Veil. Who wants to go on a wild catalina chase for Geth?" The crew's bodies recoiled, though whether this was caused by the somewhat hard touchdown of the Falcon-class dropship or by Barakka's remark may never be known.