“Oh, hell no,” Shepard said, frowning at the storefront. Two life-sized mannequins in the shape of asari stood outside the doors, each wearing nothing but a few slips of silk.
“You said you needed new underwear,” Miranda told her.
“Yeah, and I should have known better than to let you choose the store,” Shepard replied. “You were the one who stocked my room in the first place.”
“I think this place looks nice,” Kasumi said, her eyes glittering beneath her hood. “This is expensive stuff. That hand-painted set there is as worth as much as the museum piece I lifted.”
“Don’t lift anything from here,” Miranda warned her. Kasumi just grinned.
“That is ridiculous,” Shepard said. “Why would you put something that expensive over your…”
“You would see it that way,” Miranda said, cutting her off.
“This is not remotely practical,” Shepard told them both, even as they ushered her through the door and into the outer showroom. Displays filled every wall, the actual items next to flickering holographs of asari and the occasional human woman modeling the merchandise. “You just need something to cover you that doesn’t chafe. Why spend this much money on it?”
“Cause it’s pretty?” Kasumi suggested.
“This pistol is pretty,” Shepard said, lightly patting her upgraded hand cannon. “This new amp is pretty,” she said waving her hand at the back of her head, where her hair now finally covered up the output jack. This stuff is…” Shepard frowned, looking desperately from one barely-dressed mannequin to the other. “Frilly.” she concluded with a sneer.
“This is the best shop on Illium,” Miranda told her. They have high performance gear as well as this stuff.”
“They do?” Shepard brightened.
“Oh,” Kasumi frowned. “You mean aren’t buying me anything?”
“Who said I was buying anything for anybody?” Shepard frowned.
“She did,” Kasumi said, pointing at Miranda.
“We’re buying for Shepard, not the rest of us,” Miranda said. “Certainly not the team.”
“Yeah,” Kasumi nodded. “I can’t really see Grunt in any of this.”
“Or Mordin,” Shepard added, her lips twitching. Miranda just rolled her eyes.
“Oooh!” Kasumi said, grinning now. “I knew you had a sense of humor hiding under all that hard armor, Shepard. “What about Joker?”
“I think he already has a virtual collection of everything in here,” Shepard said, eying the holos.
“Good lord,” Miranda muttered.
“Remember though,” Kasumi said, “You need to get at least one set that can go under the dress I bought for you for our heist.”
“Don’t remind me,” Shepard grumbled.
“Come on,” Miranda said. “What I bought for you really isn’t that uncomfortable, is it? You’ve been using it so far.”
Shepard frowned. She had to admit that the underwear she’d found in her quarters wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be. But it was still made of synthetic lace and looked appallingly girly. Several of the bras actually had bows right in the center of them.
“May I help you?” An asari clerk appeared as if out of nowhere, smiling in a polite, professional way. She looked the three human women over from head to toe. Miranda was wearing a new black leather catsuit, Kasumi hidden her face under a hood, Shepard was wearing full body armor, and between the three of them, they were carrying seven guns and an experimental heavy weapon that could have punched a hole right through the wall – or several walls. Yet, the clerk clearly could size up how much their gear had cost them, for Shepard would have sworn that she saw credit signs dancing in the alien’s eyes.
“We need to stock the closet of our friend here,” Miranda said, gesturing to Shepard.
“She likes lace,” Kasumi offered helpfully. Shepard elbowed her – hard.
“Let me get a measurement,” the asari said, pulling a holo-measurer from her pocket.
“Does this mean I have to strip?” Shepard frowned.
Miranda rolled her eyes, then told the asari Shepard’s exact measurements. Shepard gaped at her, stunned. She didn’t even know that was what her bra size was. After all, Alliance sport tanks came in small, medium, and large. Most of the time, that was what she wore. And the only time she’d ever bought a fancy bra for herself, she’d just snuck into the store, tried on her best guess, and bought what appeared to fit.
“I think we can find something to work for you,” the asari said, smiling.
“I’m going to kill you both,” Shepard told them. “Miranda, I just helped you…”
“I know, Shepard,” Miranda said. “This is my way of helping you back.”
“Shepard?” the asari’s eyes widened. “Of course! I see it now! Commander Shepard! Oh, forgive me, but I’m…I’m a fan.”
“Oh?” Shepard said, now feeling even more uncomfortable than before.
“Oh, let me call in my boss. Renn!” she called into a comm link on her sleeve, “Commander Shepard is in our store!”
“What?” came the reply. Shepard shifted awkwardly on her feet.
“Okay,” she muttered, “this is the part where I run for the door and you two cover me.”
“Shepard?” another asari came striding across the room. She was clearly more graceful than the clerk, probably a matron, Shepard thought. She smiled at Shepard, holding out an elegant blue hand.
“Shepard,” she said. “This is an honor.”
“Um…thanks,” Shepard said, holding out a hand. “And you are?”
“Rennala,” the woman said. “This is quite an honor, commander. What can we do for you today?”
“Lace,” Kasumi said as Miranda said “Silk,” and as Shepard said, “A sports bra.”
The three women all looked at each other.
“What?” Shepard snapped. “It’s my body we’re putting it on.”
“Yes,” the asari owner said, looking Shepard over calculatingly.
“Hey,” Shepard pointed at the lady. “Eyes on my face here.”
“Hmm?” the asari blinked. “I was just…considering.”
“Consider a little less obviously,” Shepard grumbled. “Is this place really the best in Illium?” she asked Miranda doubtfully.
“Of course we are,” the owner said as the clerk bobbed her head eagerly. “Come now, if it’s performance materials you want, I have something that ought to suit…”
She led the three humans into the shop, past more mannequins and holographs, past slips of silk, leather, feathers, even some things that looked like ropes. Shepard caught a glimpse of another room full of what appeared at a glance to be toys. Her colony-puritan upbringing still ran strong, she realized, because even knowing what most of those things were for, she couldn’t help but blush a little.
Finally, they reached a room where every item on the wall appeared to be made out of twice as much fabric as everything else. There were tank tops, shorts, long under-armor sets and even gloves and stockings. Shepard grinned. “This is more like it.”
Miranda shook her head.
“This is all our new, patented high-performance fabric,” the asari owner told her. “It was developed for our commando units. It’s lightweight enough to slip under almost any gear, strong enough to act as a second set of shields, wicks sweat from porous, mammalian skin types, breaths well for amphibious aliens, such as salarians, and can even stretch over turian scales without ripping. It is, quite simply, the best synthetic fabric we’ve yet come up with yet. It would work perfectly under your armor.”
“Looks good,” Shepard said. She picked up a tank top from a table and felt it slide over her fingers like silk. Of course, she hadn’t known what silk felt like until Miranda had bought her a whole drawer of it.
“Feels good,” she added. “But I bet this stuff isn’t cheap. How much?”
The asari quoted her a ridiculously high price.
“For just one suit?” Shepard frowned, looking at a body-stocking on the wall.
“You mistake me, commander,” the owner said politely. “That’s for the tank you’re holding.”
Shepard blinked down at the simple garment in her hand. “You’re shitting me.”
“Certainly not,” the woman replied. “It’s a blend of several silks, which, as you know, is quite rare given the instability of moth populations these days. We then have to meld it by a careful process with the created materials. Basically, it’s an organic/synthetic fusion that is quite rare.”
“Not unlike me,” Shepard muttered. Miranda gave her a wry smile.
“I don’t think we can afford it then,” Shepard said aloud with a sigh. “Thank you for your time.”
“But Shepard…” Miranda began.
“We can’t afford that,” Shepard told her, waving a hand at it. “We need to upgrade the amps of every biotic on the team. That’s not going to be cheap.”
“Commander,” the asari owner said, getting a cat-in-the-cream look on her face. “Perhaps we could come to an…arrangement.”
Shepard remembered the warning she’d gotten upon arrival in Illium: never sign any contracts. She immediately grew wary, her eyes narrowing.
“What kind of arrangement?”
“Well,” the asari said, “You are a famous woman. If you were to give us an endorsement…”
“You’d give me a suit?”
“We’d need more than your…words. Anyone can record your voice. We’d want to use your image, of course.”
“My what?” Shepard blinked.
“If we could get a holograph of you, we could use it in our advertising.”
“You want a holo of me in my underwear?” Shepard stared at the woman, stunned.
“It would be tasteful.”
“No,” Shepard shook her head. “Absolutely not.”
“You shouldn’t be so modest,” Kasumi told her. “Now that the scars are almost all healed up, you look quite good.”
“I still have some scars…”
“They won’t show,” Miranda said just as the asari said, “That only adds to your appeal. The krogan and turians will buy for their asari friends, the asari will want to be like you. The humans will…well, you know humans better than I.”
“Not a chance,” Shepard said.
“We’d give you whatever you require as a complimentary gift, of course,” the asari said.
Shepard looked at her. “Seriously?”
Shepard frowned, then pointed at the under-armor suiting. “Can you get that made for other sizes?”
“Look,” Shepard said, taking a step forward, “I’m trying to outfit a team and I’m pinching every cred to buy up the best gear that there is. You make me twelve of those suits: two for human men, four for human women, one for an asari, one for a quarian, one for a turian, one for a salarian, one for a drell, and one a…krogan.”
“A krogan?” The asari looked a little pale.
“Do that and I’ll pose for one holo. But no parading around and no heels. I stand still.”
“And no lace.” She thought a moment, then said, “I’ll wear this,” she said, holding up the tank top. “And one of those,” she added, pointing to a pair of leggings.
“That’s not…” the asari began.
“It’s skin tight,” Shepard pointed out,
Shepard shrugged. “You’re right. Forget I said it.”
“No, no,” the asari practically threw herself across Shepard’s path. “The tank top – and panties,” Shepard glared at her. “Okay, fine, the shorts. Would you do that?”
Shepard’s eyes narrowed. “What color?”
“Black lace?” the woman asked hopefully.
“High-performance fabric,” Shepard replied, shaking the tank in her face.
“In red,” the asari said.
Shepard considered a moment.
“Done,” she said, holding out a hand.
Kaidan was walking along the shops in the Presidium when he heard an achingly familiar voice: “I’m Commander Shepard, and this is what I wear under my armor.”
He whirled around, and his jaw dropped.
Shepard, or rather, a holograph of Shepard, stood in the window of a lingerie shop, wearing nothing but what appeared to be a pair of tight red shorts and a tight red tank top. Even in the poor quality of the holo, Kaidan could see that the room she’d recorded that the advertisement in had been freezing cold. The fit left just enough to the imagination to make him imagine - or rather, to remember…
Kaidan’s blood heated instantly, even as he grew furious.
What this hell was this? How had they gotten Shepard’s image for their store?
The Shepard in the holo gave a slight smile, then turned away, giving him – and any passersby – a fleeting view of her luscious backside before the holograph faded into the image of an asari wearing some impossibly complicated pleather get-up.
Kaidan just stood there, stunned. He was completely aroused, and not from the asari in her black bustier, but from that…whatever that was of Shepard. He stood there for a full five minutes, feeling like a complete lecher as he watched his way through five more asari and three humans models. He watched a parade of lace, leather, lace again, a thong, silk, more lace, and, rather impossibly, strategically placed feathers, before the holo of Shepard came up again.
“I’m Commander Shepard, and this is what I wear under my armor.”
The hell she does, Kaidan thought, staring in awe at this second sight of the commander in that unbelievably modest, unbelievably sexy get-up. He had no idea that something so simple could be so erotic, but then, it had been a long time since he’d last seen Shepard.
As soon as the image cycled away, Kaidan strode right into the shop.
“Hello,” an asari shopkeeper said, looking up from the counter and smiling at him. “Can I help you find something?”
“Yes,” Kaidan said, sternly. Then he realized what she meant. “I mean, no…I mean…”
He trailed off, suddenly realizing the complete awkwardness of his situation. Here he was, in full armor, a pistol at his hip, standing in, of all things, a lingerie shop. He had honestly never set foot in one of these places before, and he froze, suddenly realizing that all this silk and lace surrounding him was making him feel like he’d walked right into an ambush.
“Is this for you or for someone else?” the woman asked kindly. Kaidan felt like slapping his forehead. Of course she was going to assume he was here to buy something, and he had no idea what to say to that.
“No,” he said quickly. “I just..no.” He sucked in a breath, then glared at her. “Why do you have Commander Shepard advertising for you?” he asked, pointing towards the poster above the counter. There was another image of Shepard there, this one high-res and stationary. It wasn’t helping him think to look at that picture.
“Oh, you like that do you?” she smiled, craning her head to look at it. “That campaign has been very popular with our soldier set. The fabric is a synthetic blend meant to breathe under armor. It’s far more attractive than the standard Alliance wear, much more comfortable than asari commando gear. It’s both breathable and boasts full coverage.”
Full coverage? Kaidan’s mind seemed to go blank at that thought.
“But it comes in many exciting colors,” the asari winked. “Of course, ‘Shepard Red’ is the most popular.”
”‘Shepard Red’?” Kaidan asked weakly. My God, he thought dumbly. The woman now has her own color.
“We carry it in many sizes for women and men as well. I’m sure we can find something you’d like. We can even do matching sets if you’re buying for a partner…”
“No,” Kaidan shook his head. “I don’t have… I mean…” He scowled. “How did you convince Shepard to advertise for you?”
“Oh,” the asari blinked. “Well, I understand our sister store on Illium had the pleasure of serving the commander. She agreed to promote our brand. Though I don’t think she realized that we have more than one store location until after she had made the deal…”
Kaidan made a face. “So Shepard agreed to pose for you – in her underwear – in exchange for merchandise?”
The asari nodded. “We wanted her to promote our new “siha” line – it’s very popular among the drell and we wanted to get an edge on the market. But apparently Shepard drove a very hard bargain. She would only do one holo clip and only in the sport gear.” The asari sight wistfully. “So that is all we have of her.”
Kaidan felt marginally relieved. Still…
“So she did this for money?” he repeated.
“We are the exclusive outfitters of her new mercenary team,” the asari told him. “In exchange for her cooperation, she received a very large order as a gift.” The asari gave Kaidan a ballpark estimate on what Shepard’s take had been. He blinked, then looked at the wall of Shepard-endorsed gear.
“She did tend to have expensive taste,” he murmured, thinking of the last pistol she’d bought for him.
“What was that?”
“Nothing,” he said quickly. “I was just wondering…if that was really Shepard, since no one is sure if she’s…you know…”
“Alive?” the asari asked, her eyes glittering. “That’s the best part - no one knows! The store in Illium said she is, but it’s still conjecture. We’ve gotten so many orders for this gear out of simple speculation, it’s amazing!”
She smiled at Kaidan, then asked slyly, “So, I take it you’re a fan?”
“Of…Shepard?” Kaidan blinked.
The alien nodded. “I am, too,” she grinned. “I think she’s…amazing.”
“I…” Kaidan found he didn’t know how to answer that. “I…admire her, yes,” he said at last.
“I thought so,” the asari said. “She’s just so…you know.” She winked again, knowingly.
“I’m…going to be going now,” Kaidan said, suddenly feeling very stupid.
“You certain I can’t tempt you with anything in the store?” the asari asked, nodding up at the poster of Shepard. Kaidan looked up at the wall behind her, all red tanks and shorts under that full-sized picture of Shepard. In the poster, Shepard was looking over her shoulder, the red tank and shorts bright as lipstick on her pale body. Kaidan’s mouth went dry at the sight, then he frowned.
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m already tempted enough.”
With that, he turned on his heel and walked out of the store.
Well, there you go, he thought to himself. You left her behind on Horizon and now look what she’s doing. She’s clearly moved on…without you.
As he stalked away, Kaidan flinched a little at the words echoing behind him:
“I’m Commander Shepard, and this is what I wear under my armor.”
“I wish you’d kept that between you and me, Shepard,” he muttered.