“I think we’re good, commander.”
Shepard looked up sharply, startled by the lieutenant’s husky voice. She couldn’t quite read his expression behind his breather mask, so she wasn’t quite sure what his soft tone indicated. Maybe he was completely freaked out by her biotic display just now. That would make the most sense. But then, it almost sounded like he was trying to comfort her.
She had no idea what to think about that .
“One less pirate to worry about,” Garrus said gamely, kicking the body of Elanos Haliat with his two-toed boot.
“Several less to worry about,” Kaidan corrected, nodding to the corpses all around them.
As if suddenly seeing them for the first time, Shepard realized that blood was splattered all over the rocky landscape. She looked down at her glowing hands and found they were shaking. She hadn’t even drawn her pistol.
“Come on,” she said, hoping that she was the only one who heard the tremor in her voice. “Let’s go.”
She turned and walked briskly to the Mako, shoulders back, head high.
*Don’t worry about what they think, * she told herself. * They can go ahead and be afraid of you. They don’t need to like you. They don’t need to know how frightened you are every time you’re confronted with the past.*
Shepard bit her lip behind her breather mask. She knew she should be grateful Haliat hadn’t gone blabbing about her performance at Elysium to her crew. She knew she should be grateful that her anger had fueled her attack on those pirates. But right about now, she mostly just wanted to kill those slavers again and again and again. Haliat had lured her to this planet with a stupid trap involving a stolen Alliance nuke. While they had disarmed it, their success had been a close call. And though she told herself she shouldn’t, a million alternative possibilities sprang to Shepard’s mind. If Hackett hadn’t called her in to deal with this, if she’d sent a team instead of coming personally…
Shepard squelched those thoughts as best she could. She knew such thinking could quickly drive a soldier insane. There were always what-ifs. You couldn’t help that, she reminded herself. All you could do was deal with the circumstance you were handed.
Shepard hunkered down in the Mako and waited for the turian and the lieutenant to join her. She couldn’t tell what bothered her more: that Haliat been the one behind the horror that was the Blitz, or that he had taken it upon himself to come after Elysium’s war hero. She’d never been the target of a personal vendetta before, and she found she didn’t like it one bit. Sure, she’d led teams into dangerous situations, but those situations had entirely been the result of chance. But today, an entire ground team had been put at risk because of her past.
No, she reminded herself, it was because Haliat was a pirate and scum of the worst order. Still, as much as Shepard knew her team had accepted the risks, it suddenly felt overwhelming to know that her team might get hurt because someone wanted to get to her.
Over my dead body , Shepard thought grimly.
As soon as the turian and the lieutenant climbed in and sealed the port hole, Shepard yanked off her helmet and shook out her hair. She shivered, not just from the sweat that was cooling on the back of her neck, but from the realization that she had almost sent Tali and Kaidan and Garrus on this mission alone. She had missed her last sleep shift and was far overdue for a rest. Presley had assured her that her three best tech experts could disarm the bomb on their own. But she’d had a gut feeling about this mission. Something about the way the nuke had gone missing just didn’t add up. She’d decided to go along anyhow, no matter how tired she was.
Sleep deprivation, fury, and biotics sure made a hell of a combination in battle, she thought wryly. Shepard looked over at her companions. The turian had taken the wheel, and the lieutenant had pulled off his helmet and was sitting in the passenger seat. In the low lights of the Mako, the outline of his jaw was glowing a faint orange and the rest of his face was cast in shadow. His eyes, however, were bright and clear - and they were staring at her intently.
God, he has beautiful eyes, Shepard thought.
She frowned and quickly turned her head away. That highly inappropriate thought was no doubt due to the fact that she was completely shell-shocked. She wasn’t admiring his eyes, she told herself. She wasn’t. She was just admiring the fact that he had remarkably calm nerves under pressure. It was impressive the way he’d helped her disarm that bomb so quickly. She was grateful to him. That was all.
“Are you okay, commander?”
Shepard looked up and met the lieutenant’s eyes. Okay, she admitted to herself, he really did have beautiful eyes. However, she was admiring them completely objectively. And objectively, she searched his face, wondering what, exactly, he was thinking right now. Given how ruthlessly she’d torn those pirates into small pieces, it was a wonder he and the turian had spoken to her at all. She expected to see horror and revulsion in the lieutenant’s face, but that wasn’t what she saw there. He looked concerned, but not nervous – as if he was worried for her rather than because of her.
She told herself that she shouldn’t read anything into his concern, but his reaction warmed her all the same.
“Commander?” he repeated. “Are you okay?”
In spite of the blood all over her armor and her aching limbs, Shepard smiled.
“Not really,” Shepard surprised herself by answering honestly. “But it’s nothing a shower and some sleep won’t fix.”
description = “Present Day, Starboard Observation Lounge, Crew Deck, Normandy SR2”
Shepard knew she should sleep. She also knew that she needed a shower. But instead she stared at her omnitool – at the fifth message she’d tried to write since she’d started drinking:
Dearest Kaidan -
Maybe there’s been some misunderstanding. Or maybe you’re a bastard. I’m leaning towards the bastard one. I get it. You thought I was dead. But I cannot believe you would go out with some slut after Horizon. I’d break your picture for good this time, only EDI might mention it to Miranda and I don’t want the cheerleader in my room.
Shepard downed another one of the pink shots. She read the message again, then frowned. Her words were making less sense with every drink. She didn’t drink much in general, but after leaving the Citadel for Kasumi’s party and waltzing around a party in heels - and then getting shot at as she tried to escape said party - she felt she had earned one. And booze had seemed like a good idea when Kasumi invited Shepard into the lounge to talk, but then had fired up that horrible graybox thing and left Shepard alone with her memories of Kaidan.
Maybe she should just send the angry message after all, Shepard thought. She was just about to do so when she remembered the block on her email.
“Dammit,” she slurred, saving the file and closing her omnitool. She slid off the barstool, stumbling a step.
“The women’s lavatory is on the port side of the ship,” EDI suggested helpfully.
“Shuddup,” Shepard snapped at the ceiling.
Shepard nearly jumped out of her skin at the sound of Kasumi’s voice. She turned to the thief, shuddering to see the glowing bar beneath the woman’s hood.
“You’re awake?” Shepard asked, frowning. “I thought you’d fallen asleep with that thing on.”
Kasumi smiled and let the graybox holograph fade.
“Not yet,” she said blithely. “Later I will though. It will be nice to fall asleep to Keji’s voice again.”
“He’s not…” Shephard stopped herself just before she said anything more. She wasn’t dealing with her own memories very well; she didn’t feel she had any right to tell Kasumi how to deal with hers.
“I know he’s not here,” Kasumi told her. “But it’s good to have a part of him with me.”
“I guess I can see that,” Shepard replied. “But Keji wouldn’t want you to grieve forever.”
Kasumi just laughed. “Always worrying about your crew,” she said, lightly. “I can see why he likes you.”
“Who likes me?” Shepard asked. “Keji?” Shepard’s frown deepened. If Kasumi started talking to that graybox thing as if it was a real person, then Shepard was going to have to stage an intervention – one that would likely involve the graybox, the ship’s trash compactor, and the garbage jettison.
“No,” Kasumi chuckled. “I’m talking about the guy in the picture on your desk. I assume that’s the person you’re always writing to on your omnitool.”
Shepard felt her mouth drop open.
“He’s cute,” Kasumi continued. “Or at least, his picture is nice. What’s his name?”
Shepard slammed her drink down on the bar with a bang.
“Don’t you ever go in my quarters again, Goto. No one goes in there except me.”
“And him?” Kasumi’s voice sounded amused. “Do he ever get to go up to your quarters?”
“No,” Shepard scowled. Then she caught Kasumi smiling and her temper flared. “Look, I don’t know how you got past EDI…”
“Oh please,” Kasumi laughed. “As if EDI could stop me. I know shouldn’t pry, but I was curious about you.”
“So you cased my room.”
“I cased the whole ship,” Kasumi shrugged. “It’s nothing personal.”
“That’s the only time you go in there,” Shepard told her. “Got it?”
“Yeah, okay,” Kasumi nodded. “So, you gonna tell me about him?”
“Is that a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’?” Kasumi prodded.
“It’s a ‘there’s nothing to tell’,” Shepard replied. “He’s gone.”
“Gone for now or gone forever?” Kasumi wanted to know.
“The former, I hope,” Shepard replied, running a hand through her hair. “Look, I really don’t want to talk about him.”
“Because Cerberus might be listening in?” Kasumi asked. “I’m sure they already know all about him.”
Shepard squeezed her eyes shut. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“Alright,” Kasumi said, not seeming offended. “Well then, I’ll tell you about him.”
Shepard gave her a confused look, not certain she’d heard the woman right. “You? You don’t even know him.”
“I know he liked you because you’re such a nice girl,” Kasumi said.
Shepard’s eyes narrowed.
“I’m not nice,” she said.
“Sure you are,” Kasumi smiled. “Shall I tell you why?” She went on without waiting for Shepard’s reply. “Let’s see – you found your way into that vault today without hurting anyone. You didn’t pocket any of the pricey artwork that I saw you drooling over and then you managed to take down most of the guards without killing them.” She ticked the items off on her fingers.
“That’s not nice,” Shepard replied. “That’s efficient.”
“And you’ve been helping everyone on this ship with their own personal problems without ever talking about your own feelings…”
“Again,” Shepard said. “Not nice. That’s just practical. We need everyone at their best.”
“And you’ve saved more innocent lives than anyone I’ve ever met.”
Shepard frowned. “Goto, we’ve left behind a body count that numbers in the thousands.”
“Sure,” Kasumi agreed readily, “But you didn’t shoot at a single person who didn’t aim a gun at you first. Do you know, I think you’re the most precise shot I’ve ever seen – biotics or pistols. Those head shots of yours – they’re amazing. You could be shooting into a crowd and only hit the target. You’re that controlled.”
“Yeah, well, biotics have to be controlled.” Shepard frowned as she spoke the words.
Kaidan had once said a similar thing. I’m no more controlled than any other biotic. That was bullshit, Shepard thought. He was the most controlled biotic she had ever seen. He was more controlled than she was, even.
Controlled enough to go off and sleep with some doctor without a thought for me, Shepard thought, irritably. She found she was grinding her teeth together.
“You’ve impressed me, Shepard,” Kasumi said. “And I’m not easily impressed.”
“Well,” Shepard shrugged. “That’s something at least.” She shook her head. “I should go. I need to get out of this armor.”
“Come by later,” Kasumi told her. “I’m sure I’ll have more to talk about.”
Shepard chuckled at that. The thief was silent when in stealth mode, but she made up for it on the ship by being one of the most chatty persons aboard. Only Tali beat her out for the conversationalist award.
“Maybe later, then.”
Shepard walked a little more slowly and deliberately than usual to the elevator. She nodded to a passing serviceman, hoping that no one would notice how tipsy she was. The second the elevator doors closed on her, however, she sighed and pounded her head twice against the wall.
“Over soon,” she mumbled to herself. “It will be over soon.”
By the time she reached her quarters, Shepard was practically falling asleep on her feet. She stumbled into the doorway, then winced at the sudden buzzing sensation that shot through her skull.
Your own fault for drinking , she thought, half-tripping down the stairs. Shepard reached the foot of her bed, sat down, and pulled off one boot.
Then, overcome with alcohol and fatigue, she lay down and fell instantly asleep, still fully dressed in her armor.
In his dream, Kaidan entered a dark laboratory. Monsters scratched at a biotic wall, then broke free from stasis as the barriers dropped. Screams and the blasts of gunfire filled the air. Kaidan fought for his life, firing shot after shot at the monstrous insects and at ghostly figures dressed in stark white and black lab coats. He grabbed one man by the head and snapped his neck; he tossed an insect creature into the wall with his biotics.
Then, as suddenly as the fight had begun, it stopped. In the still, quiet room, a body lay on the floor, dressed in an admiral’s uniform.
“Kohoku,” Kaidan whispered. He crouched down, rolled the body over…
He found himself staring down into Shepard’s face, her face smashed and covered in blood, her bright, blue eyes staring lifelessly to the ceiling.
Kaidan woke from the nightmare in a cold sweat.
Shepard woke when the ship lurched violently. For a split second, she remembered waking in the Lazarus facility, that horrible feeling of disorientation before cold reality washed over her. Seeing her cabin, however, she remembered where she was. She scrambled out of bed as the ship lurched again.
“What’s going on, Joker?” she snapped, firing up her comm link.
There was no answer. Shepard grabbed her boot from where it lay on the floor, and ran to the elevator. She was still in her armor, which was disgusting, but convenient. She shivered; her back was cold from her own in dried sweat.
As the elevator descended one floor, Shepard laced up her boot and tried the comm link again. Nothing. As soon as the doors open, she dashed out, ignoring the surprised look that the yeoman gave to her. Shepard raced to the helm, stumbling a little as the ship pitched once more.
“What’s with all the chop, Joker?” she asked the helmsman, grabbing hold of his chair from behind. “And why the hell weren’t you answering my call?”
“What?” Joker snapped, not looking back at her. “You didn’t call me.”
“Yes I…” Shepard blinked. “What the hell is that?”
Looming before them was a shape that haunted her dreams: squid-like, but jointed; insect-like, but fluid. The outline of the Reapers was just organic enough to suggest intelligent life, but far to alien to suggest anything comforting. Shepard swallowed, hoping her unease would not show.
“And that would be our brown dwarf,” Joker replied, gritting his teeth. “I’ll talk in a minute. I’m trying to keep us from getting torn apart by solar winds.”
Shepard nodded grimly. To her left, EDI’s blue holographic sphere pulsed slightly.
“Commander,” the AI said politely, “your comm link is still switched off.”
“I…what?” Shepard frowned.
“You shut it off after I reminded you not to enter the men’s restroom. I believe you got confused as to where my voice was coming from.”
“Oh,” Shepard said. She remembered that now – and how she’d grumbled at EDI to mind her own business. While EDI couldn’t make a judgment about Shepard’s drinking, Shepard felt a little sheepish all the same.
Well, hell, she thought, turning her comm link back on. No better way to begin a dangerous mission on a derelict reaper than to do it hung over.
The ship suddenly stopped shaking.
“I guess we entered the Reaper’s artificial gravity well,” Joker told her. Shepard frowned.
“If that thing still has systems active, who knows what it’s capable of,” she said darkly.
“It’s dead though, right?”
Shepard raised an eyebrow at her helmsman. “Yeah. And the Collector Ship was disabled, remember?”
“Do you think this is another trap?” Joker asked, his frown mirroring hers.
“Might be,” she said. “Keep an eye out and be ready to pick us up at a moment’s notice.”
“So, standard procedure,” Joker replied.
In spite of her headache and the growing knot in her stomach, Shepard gave him a wry smile. “Yeah,” she said. “Same as always.”
“Alright,” Joker said, nodding. “Eye of the hurricane, here we come.”