“It’s good to have you here,” the woman said. From behind her, a man glared at Kaidan with an expression that said he did not agree.
“I’m Lilith, this is Mark. You’ll be staying with us. I’m afraid that the spare bedroom is a little small, but…”
“Damn it, woman,” Mark interrupted. “He’s a damn Marine. They could sleep in a damn shoe box and find it big enough after stayin’ on those damn ships of theirs.”
That’s four ‘damns’ in one sentence , Kaidan thought, absently. Interesting .
“Oh,” Lilith frowned. “Don’t mind Mark. He just…”
“I just don’t like the Alliance,” Mark spoke up for himself. “I don’t like this defense plan, I don’t like biotics, and I don’t like damn hot-shot Marines.”
“Mark!” Lilith hissed.
“It’s alright, ma’am,” Kaidan said, feeling weary. He had only just landed and this was his welcoming party. Well, that was typical. Hadn’t he just done this about ten times before? All these colonies were starting to look alike. He probably wouldn’t be able to remember this one once he was done here. Horizon would be lost to his jumble of memories about the last two years of special assignments.
”’ Ma’am ,’ huh?” Mark snorted. “Damn snob.”
“Mark!” Lilith said, a little more loudly.
“Eh, come on then, Marine,” Mark said. “I don’t like this arrangement, but the lady of the house got this liaison job and it pays the bills when the crops don’t.”
“I’m sorry, Commander Alenko,” Lilith said when Mark turned away. “He’s just…”
“It’s alright,” Kaidan told her. “I get that a lot. He’s not attacking me on sight, so that’s a start.”
“Have people done that?” Lilith asked, horrified.
“One did,” Kaidan shrugged his duffel bag onto his shoulder.
“You’d think people would be a little more grateful for a free defense system plus installation and militia training,” Lilith said.
“You’d be wrong,” Kaidan replied. “I know that people come out to the Terminus Systems to do things their way and they don’t like the Alliance checking up on them. I understand the sentiment. But innocent lives still matter to the Alliance, even if those people don’t want to live in Council space.”
“True enough,” Lilith said. “Well, even though they would never admit it, the people of Horizon do need your help. On behalf of the colony, I suppose I should thank you.”
“I suppose I should thank you, Shepard,” Aria said, not looking at all pleased. She looked up from the data pad with a frown. “This info may have just saved my life.”
“Suppose?” Garrus glared at her from behind Shepard’s shoulder. “Guess?”
Shepard shook her head at him. The turian had insisted on coming with her on her second foray onto Omega station. He wanted to be there to help her pick up Professor Mordin Solus. Shepard had waited a day to make sure Garrus was okay, but she had also been itching to get going so that she could pick the salarian up and leave. There were a host of other chores to do around Omega, not the least of which had been delivering this information to Aria here. Shepard had picked up intel thatthe gangs of Omega wanted to take Aria out, and though she really didn’t dabble in merc band politics as a rule, she figured that Aria was a more stable form of whatever passed as government here than full out gang war.
Aria’s eyes narrowed as she gazed at Shepard. “Here, take these coordinates,” she said at last, handing a datapad to Shepard. “It’s a little…something for you. A cache of credits. That is, if you want to go pick it up.”
“Do you think we’re stupid?” Garrus asked at her. “It’s obvious that this is a trap.”
“I didn’t do this for a reward,” Shepard said, placing herself between the turian and asari. “Keep your money.”
“Well, look at you – so noble,” Aria said, looking annoyed. “But I don’t like being in people’s debt.”
“Not my problem,” Shepard said. “I’ll be going now.”
“You should find a nice young man to keep you warm in the meantime,” Aria shot back at her. “You look like you need to loosen up.”
Shepard glared at the asari, belatedly realizing that the gesture would just add truth to the words.
If she only knew.
“I’m leaving,” Shepard said. Not even checking to make sure Garrus and Kasumi were following her, she wandered down the stairs and continued down to the basement of the club.
A nice young man…
Yeah , Shepard thought. That would be great. The trouble was, she knew exactly which nice young – well, youngish – man she wanted. And sadly, she didn’t think she’d just run into him out here in the Terminus Systems the way she had run into Garrus. But if she did, she certainly planned to keep him warm…
Shepard tried to shake the idea from her head as she stepped into the basement of the club. She simply wasn’t able to. The pulse of the music in this place was incredible. She could feel it all the way to her feet. And with Aria’s words still ringing in her head, she could just imagine…
Her eyes strayed to a dark corner, just beyond the place where an asari danced alone on a table. If Kaidan were here, Shepard thought, if she had him here now…
The music seemed to slip an image into her mind: She would pull Kaidan into one of these dark corners, or maybe he’d shove her up onto one of these tables. He’d be in armor, as would she, but she knew exactly how their suits fit together. She’d detach the waistband, reach inside…
She’d be kissing him; he’d be groaning for her. And as they stood there in the corner, their voices dampened by the pulsing music, their bodies hidden by shadows and armor, she’d take him in hand and stroke him, not stopping until he moaned against her mouth as he found his release. He would sag against her and she would hold him, letting the music fill both of them.
Then it would be her turn.
Shepard blinked and realized she was standing stock still in the middle of the bar, just staring at the corner beyond the asari dancer. She turned around to see Garrus looking at her with an expression that could only be described as confused. Kasumi appeared as though she was about to laugh.
“I didn’t realize you went for asari, Shepard,” Kasumi said, her painted lips quirking in a grin.
“She doesn’t” Garrus said. “Not usually,” he added, suddenly looking embarrassed that he had spoken at all.
“I was looking right through her,” Shepard said, feeling an uncharacteristic blush creep up her cheeks. “Honestly. My mind was wandering.” When the two gave her a doubtful look, she shook her head. “I need a drink.” She motioned to the bartender, then grabbed whatever glass he’d set in front of her.
She swallowed it whole. Then she began to choke. Shepard pitched forward, smacked her head against the counter, and passed out.
“Lemonade?” Lilith asked. Kaidan looked up from the datapads scattered over the table and gave her a weak smile.
“Sure,” he said.
“Hmpf,” Mark snorted. He looked up from where he was trying to fix the irrigation system parameters with his computer and an omnitool. Kaidan had thought to offer some help, but decided against it. The guy clearly didn’t want Kaidan’s help with anything.
“So,” Lilith said, handing Kaidan a glass and sitting down beside him. “What do you think?”
“Well…” he frowned at the datapad before him. “Your colony isn’t really suited for the comm system the Alliance is thinking of. You’re down in this valley here, which makes satellite connections problematic. There’s something about the upper atmosphere – trace elements that block extranet frequencies.”
“So you can’t spy on us like you want to?” Mark broke in. “Too damn bad for you.”
“Mark,” Lilith frowned.
“The atmosphere will block distress calls, too,” Kaidan told him, “That’s not a good situation.”
“We don’t need to call the Alliance for help,” Marks said. “We were doing just fine without you. Damn marines…” He slammed his computer shut and wandered out of the room.
“Mark…” Lilith frowned, looking after her husband, then turned back to Kaidan. She paused, then lowered her voice and leaned forward across the table to say, “He wouldn’t want to tell you this, but Mark lost family to batarian raiders. Years ago, his brother and cousins were killed on Mindoir. The Alliance didn’t get there in time, and he still blames them.”
“I see,” Kaidan murmured.
He immediately thought of another person who had lost family on Mindoir. Shepard had been from that colony, but she had turned out so differently. The horror of that situation had given her drive and compassion, Kaidan thought, not a lingering bitterness. It had led her to join the Alliance, to join her rescuers.
It was funny, Kaidan mused, how the same tragedy could impact two people so differently, could turn them onto completely opposite paths. He supposed that in some ways, the same was true of himself and the attack on the Normandy. His former crewmates had mostly left the Alliance; only he had remained loyal.
“No hard feelings,” Kaidan told Lilith, pushing those thoughts aside. When she continued to look doubtful, he added, “I worked with someone who lost family to Mindoir.”
“Really?” Lilith blinked.
“Yeah,” Kaidan said. He found it odd to talk about Shepard with anyone, least of all a stranger. But Lilith didn’t know that he was talking about Shepard, so that made it easier to say:
“She had dealt with Mindoir pretty well, but there were times that you could tell it had changed her. She always wanted to save every colony in the galaxy. She made it her personal goal in life, I think, to set herself up as a shield for the innocent.”
“Isn’t that why you took this job?” Lilith asked. “To do the same?”
Kaidan paused at that. He had never thought of it that way. “I guess a little,” he admitted.
“So what’s this girl from Mindoir doing now?” Lilith asked, getting a curious glint in her eye that Kaidan recognized at once. “Is she waiting for you somewhere? Does this mean I won’t be able to set you up with my cousin like I planned to?”
“Ah…” Kaidan ducked his head, “She…passed on.”
“Oh,” Lilith blinked. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Kaidan assured her. “And anyhow, I’m seeing someone. Sort of.”
“It’s sort of okay or you’re sort of seeing someone?” Lilith asked.
Kaidan laughed. Mark might be a bit of an ass, but this Lilith was alright. “Both, I guess,” he said. “So please, no setting me up with anyone. I have a lot of work to do here, and I need to focus.”
“Fair enough,” Lilith said, turning her attention back to the datapads before them. “I promise to leave you alone. But I can’t vouch for everyone else on this colony doing the same.”
“Shepard?” The voice seemed to come from far away. She heard music – pounding music.
“Kaidan?” she murmured.
“Yeah, she’s alright,” The voice solidified, because Garrus’. He sounded irritable.
“Did she just try to say my name?” Kasumi asked.
“No,” Garrus frowning face came into focus above Shepard. His mandibles flared as he spoke. “She said… She’s awake. Probably just a little delirious.”
“What the hell happened?” Shepard asked.
“The bartender poisoned you,” someone said. It was a man who stood nearby, just looking at Shepard with a mixture of amazement and concern. Shepard looked at the stranger in confusion.
“What?” she blinked. “Poisoned?”
“He did it to my buddy a few months back,” the man continued. “He’s been doing to humans all the time.”
“There’s some guy poisoning humans in a bar and no one has done anything?” Shepard gaped at him.
“You must be new to Omega,” the guy replied.
“People keep telling me that,” Shepard murmured. She didn’t think of herself as some innocent child, but hell, for all she’d seen out in the galaxy, she’d never seen any place as rough as Omega.
“Never saw anyone live after,” the guy was saying. “You’re something else, lady.”
“Yeah,” she snorted as she got to her feet. “Well, that bastard just poisoned the wrong girl.”
“Yeah,” the stranger said. “Well look, if you’re okay, I’ll be going now. Don’t want to be around if you start shooting people.” He left in a hurry.
“You okay, Shepard?” Garrus asked nervously.
“I’m fine,” she replied. “Managed not to break the Illusive Man’s new toy.”
Garrus’ brows drew together. “Huh?”
“Me,” she said, brushing a hand over her armor. “This body. Cerberus’s five-billion credit toy.”
“You don’t really think of yourself as that, do you?” the turian asked, softly.
“Of course,” she shrugged. “That’s what I am. But if he tries to mess with me, he’ll find out that toy or no, I’m not his puppet. Alright, let’s deal with that bartender and find that salarian doctor and… I think I’m forgetting something else we were supposed to do here on Omega…”
Garrus looked at her blankly.
“Oh, right,” she snapped her fingers. In her thick gloves, they made no sound. “Power couplings.”
“We’re going shopping?” Kasumi sounded pleased.
“Yeah, but shooting comes first. Everyone got their guns ready?”
“Always, Shepard,” Garrus replied.
“Okay,” Shepard nodded. “Let’s try this again. Afterlife basement, take two.”