Shepard leaned over the toilet and heaved once again. It felt like her stomach was going to come up through her throat and out into the bowl before her. She gasped for air when she had done, leaned back against the wall. It was filthy and she knew it, but the cold tile felt so good against her forehead. If only the lights in here weren’t so bright and the bass didn’t pound so much.
Shepard clutched a hand to her forehead, pressing at her temples with her thumb and forefinger. Her other hand pressed against her still-roiling stomach. Biotics trembled down her arms and she fought to bring them under control. It took her several deep breaths to manage it.
The door opened then, bringing with it a louder thumping of bass before it slammed shut. Shepard stiffened. This was the men’s restroom, wasn’t it? She couldn’t remember which door the corporal had dragged her through. That part was still hazy, as was the reason that he’d run from her. Biotics had played a part, she was sure. She just couldn’t remember how far they’d gotten before things had gone to hell.
Shepard winced. If she was able to remember anything at all, then that must mean she was sobering up. That was unfortuate. This was a hell of a place to be sober in.
“Where’d Ecker go?” one male voice asked another. Shepard cringed. She must be in the men’s restroom after all. Damn.
“Left,” another male voice replied. “He looked like he’d burned his lips. Must have tried that krogan import.”
“No.” It was a female voice that spoke now. There was a clicking sound before she went on. “It was that biotic. He went off with her.”
“Shit man,” one of the other male voices spoke again, underscored by more clicking. “I warned him about her.”
Shepard swallowed, unable to speak. They were talking about her, weren’t they? She couldn’t decide if she wanted to sink into the floor in embarrassment or burst out of the stall and throw them all into the urinals. Before she could make up her mind, she felt her stomach pitch. She swallowed back bile, managing not to vomit or make a sound.
Yet another click sounded through the room. “So what’s so wrong with her?” the second male voice asked. “I thought she was kind of hot.”
“She’ll do anyone,” the female voice said, her voice snide. “But she tears them up with biotics as soon as she’s done with them. She’s like a fucking witch.”
Shepard nearly choked at that. She would not do anyone , she thought, frowning. She turned down a sergeant just last week, much to his annoyance. She’d gone off with the corporal because he’d been nice - well, sort of. He’d shown his true colors in here just a few minutes ago. Like most guys she’d met recently, he turned out to be more interested in taking than giving and his nice-guy demeanor was just an act.
“Well, his own damn fault then,” the first male voice said.
The room filled with a smell that Shepard recognized at once. Every kid who’d gone to a public high school must know that smell, she thought. Funny how that particular earth plant grew so well on so many worlds.
“I kind of feel sorry for her, actually,” the second male voice said. “She always looks so sad.”
“I’d be sad too if I was a biotic,” the first male voice said.
“Pfft,” the female voice snorted, the exhaled heavily. “She’s a snob, always sticking her nose up at everyone, brown-nosing the officers. But the minute she hits the clubs, she’ll do the first guy who asks. She’s a total slut.”
The last word shook the remaining haze out of Shepard’s brain.
*What the hell are you doing in here, Shepard? * a voice went through her mind. It sounded suspiciously like her own voice – the voice she’d used whenever her younger siblings did something stupid. With a lurch, she pushed herself off of the toilet and to a standing position. She wavered for one moment, then stuck her chin in the air and slammed the stall door open.
The trio she’d been listening to jumped back, nearly dropping their joint to the floor. Shepard suddenly found herself thinking of them as Fates, passing around a single eye between them. The thought made her smile, her lips quirking to the side. Shepard fixed them all with a thoughtful expression. They just stared at her, wide eyed, wondering what she was going to do.
“Thanks,” she said after a moment.
“You’re welcome?” one of the guys said, his expression sarcastic. The other two sputtered with laughter.
“Damn,” the girl said, looking Shepard over. Shepard glanced at the mirror, catching sight of her own reflection. Her hair was matted, dark circles hung under her eyes, and her shirt was half-unbuttoned, her bra unclasped in the back. With as much dignity as she could muster, she adjusted her clothes and smoothed her hair, deliberately ignoring the snort and laugh that the girl directed at her. The two guys were a little more quiet, and Shepard got the distinct impression they were wondering if they might risk what Ecker had.
“Freak,” the girl said, holding the joint back up to her lips. Shepard looked up, then snapped her fingers. The joint went sailing out of the girl’s fingers and landed in the sink.
“Hey!” the girl cried, taking a step forward, then she stopped short, as if she’d slammed into something solid. Shepard just raised an eyebrow, her arm outstretched.
“You don’t know me,” Shepard told her. She stopped at that, realizing the truth of her own words. “And you never will.” She let her hand drop.
“God!” the girl cried, stumbling back as Shepard released her from stasis. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
Shepard thought a dozen things she could say to respond to that. But what was the point? she thought. These people would never understand. She was just a biotic freak to them, and damn it if she hadn’t completely earned herself that reputation. Shepard suddenly felt as if the world had frozen, and though it, she saw her own future, like a long road outside of a glass door. She had vomit on her shirt and was living up to every rumor that had been spread about her. It would take a hell of a long time to live all this down.
I’d better get started, she thought.
With her chin held high, Shepard turned on her heel and marched out of the smoke-filled bathroom, ignoring the whispers that echoed behind her all the way through the club.
“Last beer, commander?”
Shepard paused in her walk across the crew deck towards her cabin, and turned to find Ashley holding a bottle out for her.
“Saved it just for you,” Ashley said, waving it by the neck.
Shepard considered saying no. She’d already had one drink and that was her limit nowadays. But she couldn’t very well say no, so she nodded, taking the offered drink and twisting off the cap.
“Cheers,” she said, holding up the bottle. Ashley tapped hers against the commander’s then took a swig. Ashley nodded at the small knot of people at the other end of the table then turned back to Shepard.
“Have to admit I was kind of pissed when you turned our little private party into a ‘make nice with the aliens time’,” Ashley said. “But,” she added when Shepard’s eyebrows raised, “you were right. Vakarian isn’t as much of an ass and I thought he was. Wrex, however, I still don’t trust.”
“That’s because he beat you at arm wrestling,” Shepard told her.
“That’s part of it,” Ashley shrugged. “Dunno. He could turn on us some day, you know.”
“I don’t think so,” Shepard said. She looked up and nodded as several crew members waved their goodbyes to the commander and the chief. The party was dispersing now, leaving just her and Ashley at the table.
“So commander,” Ashley said, looking thoughtful. “I’ve been meaning to tell you something.”
Shepard nodded for her to go on.
“You know, I heard a lot of rumors about you before I got assigned to the Normandy.”
Shepard frowned. “I can imagine,” she said. She wondered which ones the gunnery chief was referring to.
“I don’t believe most rumors,” Ashley said quickly. “Hell, there are enough rumors out there about my family. I know most gossip is crap. I just wanted to say that I’ve just been impressed. I thought you were just a pretty poster-girl. Or, wait. That didn’t sound right.”
“You thought I was a PR stunt,” Shepard said without rancor. “I am. It’s true. Even the Spectre thing is a PR stunt.”
“But you’re not,” Ashley said, frowning.
“I’m not because I choose not to be,” Shepard replied. “I didn’t feel that I deserved that Star of Terra, so I decided to earn it.” She chuckled a little. “If that makes any sense.”
“Yeah,” Ashley nodded. “I can understand working hard to earn respect. ‘Williams, Quisling, and Arnold.’ Or, hell, try, ‘Women aren’t that strong.’ ‘Women don’t do well under fire.’ God, sometimes you’d think it was still the twenty-first century the way some jackasses talk. I’m glad there are people like you showing them different.”
“I’m trying,” Shepard said, taking a swig of her beer. “I don’t know how good a role-model I am, but I’m trying.” She thought back to her early days in Basic and shook her head. “I understand you though, Williams. You work twice as hard because you don’t deserve your bad reputation. I work twice as hard because I don’t feel like I deserve my good one.” She smiled a little and fingered the neck of her beer bottle. “Truly, Williams, I don’t think anyone should be made into a role-model. No one is good enough to be an ideal for other people. It just means that people end up getting angry when the warts get shown.”
“You’re talking about the Elysium rumors?” Ashley said, then suddenly she shut her mouth.
“Sure,” Shepard said, smiling a little. “Yeah. Elysium.”
“You know,” Ashley said, “I don’t think the problem is having heroes. I mean, hell, it was heroes like my dad who inspired me to join the service. It’s the problem that people want everything to be black and white – you know, all one way or the other. When you get to know someone well enough, you realize they make mistakes, but you can also see why they made the mistakes.” She shrugged. “You know what I’m saying?”
Shepard looked at her gunnery chief and smiled. “You’re alright, Williams.”
“You too, commander,” Ashley said, raising her beer. “So here’s to lady marines kicking ass.”
“Here’s to earning respect,” Shepard said, holding up her beer. “And keeping it.”
description = “present day: the day after Armistice Day”
“Reactions to Shepard’s reported return are mixed. While, some are pleased to have her return; other see her false death as a betrayal.”
Shepard frowned at the ceiling, momentarily considering blowing out the speaker with a well-placed biotic warp. She’d heard that report about five times now in her short time on the Citadel. You’d think there would be something else to talk about over Armistice day weekend. It put her in a bad mood every time she heard the report. After all, she could think of any number of people who saw her death as a betrayal – and one in particular was on her mind all the time these days. Yet, in spite of asking Captain Bailey about him, no one seemed to have access to any information about Kaidan’s whereabouts. He could be around the corner - he could be on the other side of the galaxy. Shepard sighed and pursed her lips. This not knowing was driving her crazy.
“You don’t like hearing about yourself on the news, do you?” Kasumi asked, looking up from her datapad magazine.
“I never liked the press,” Shepard replied automatically.
“Neither do I,” Kasumi said. “It’s why I avoid the limelight.”
“Yeah,” Shepard said, frowning. “Lucky you.” She tapped idly at the datapad in her lap. “God, don’t they have anything other than news to read?”
“I could get you a copy of Fornax,” Kasumi grinned. “Of course, it is the elcor issue this month.”
“Ugh,” Shepard frowned. “No thanks. Even if it was all human men, I’d…” She trailed off for a moment, thinking of Kaidan and what he might look like in such poses. “Pass,” she said, absently.
“You had to think about that, didn’t you?” Kasumi smiled.
“I did,” Shepard said, smiling a little. She looked up at the thief, then nodded at her head. “You look good with the hood off. You should go without it.”
“Nah,” Kasumi said with a shrug. “I just take it off for these little treats, then hide under it again.”
When Kasumi had taken off her hood, Shepard had been shocked to find the woman’s hair was as eccentric as her personality. Naturally black, it had been cut into the most exotic short style Shepard had ever seen, with long pieces here and there dyed blue and green. It would have looked a mess, except that somehow Kasumi pulled it off with a kind of funky grace. She looked like a DJ in a Wards club, and her unique application of make-up only added to the effect. Kasumi now sat opposite Shepard, a holographic drying cap over her newly dyed head. This time, she’d gone for hot pink, bright purple, and a shot or two of orange to liven up the raven black.
“But if you go to all this trouble,” Shepard said, “Why not let your hair…uh…down?”
“It’s for me,” Kasumi said. “Only Keiji ever got to see this – and then only after much persuasion. I like to keep part of me…to me.”
“Hmm…” Shepard nodded. “I can see that. Well, I’m honored I got admitted to this circle, but is it really necessary to make me join in?”
“You needed a cut,” Kasumi said. “Your hair is growing out so quickly, I would have thought you were using a treatment.”
“I’m a biotic,” Shepard shrugged. “My hair grows faster than normal – twice as fast, to be exact. High metabolism, you know. It’s one of those weird side-effects.”
It was also, Shepard thought, the reason that Kaidan had always had that wonderful five o’clock shadow and kept his hair a little longer than most other military men. She had thought his hair a little weird at first, but then she’d grown to like it. She smiled a sadly at that memory.
“Anyway,” Shepard said, changing the subject, “You said you had a wig for me to wear to the party.”
“Yeah,” Kasumi said. “You’re a blond. That attracts notice. We need you to look beautiful, make men stammer, and then have everyone completely forget what your face looked like when you walk away. A blond would stand out too much, so we need a new look for you. I would have dyed it,” she added, “Only I knew you wouldn’t want that…”
“I wouldn’t,” Shepard told her, thinking that she already felt too changed as it was.
“Right,” Kasumi nodded. “So we’ll use a wig. Plus, that way, it will be obvious that you’re trying not to attract notice. Hock will be too distracted by wondering who you really are and what you really look like to pay any attention to your actual features.”
“That is the most bizarre bit of logic I’ve ever heard,” Shepard told her.
Kasumi shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. It will work out fine. Anyway, you should relax. This is a fun girl’s afternoon out. Besides, you want to look good for when you meet with the Councilor again.”
“Like Anderson would care,” Shepard said. “The first time he met me, I was covered in Batarian blood from head to foot.”
“Ooh. I do like your sense of style, Shepard,” Kasumi said with a wink.
Shepard chuckled as Kasumi returned to her magazine. The woman wasn’t so bad, Shepard thought, except for the fact that she was here because she was on Cerberus’s payroll. The thought made Shepard feel extremely lonely all of a sudden.
“I wonder if Ashley would have been as angry with me as Kaidan was,” Shepard murmured to herself.
“Huh?” Kasumi looked up.
“Nothing,” Shepard said, turning back to her datapad. “Just talking to myself.”
From her position by the column, Kalishah Al Jilani fluffed her hair and checked her video drone for the fifth time in as many minutes. It galled her that she hadn’t managed to stop Shepard before the woman had disappeared into the super-exclusive salon. At the time, her hair had been so delightfully messy and she would have sworn that there had been dried blood on the knuckles of her gloves. Shepard had looked like the mad-woman that Al-Jilani had always suspected her of being.
Unfortunately, Shepard would probably come back out of that salon looking cleaned up. Still, the reprieve had allowed the reporter time to hone her questions. She’d gotten the tip from C-Sec an came running as fast as she could. This time, she was determined to beat any other reporter to the scoop. That prissy Ms. Wong would only hero-worship Shepard and any other station would also refuse to press the war hero for the real story. But Al-Jilani had verbally sparred with Shepard before.
And this time, she planned to show Shepard’s true colors to everyone, once and for all.