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Damage Control

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From: Captain Bailey

Subject: Next Time

 

Shepard,

Next time you decide to trash the Citadel, could you give me a heads up? Or at least send a bottle of brandy my way.

Your friend Grunt was reprimanded this morning for his creative use of the shuttles. You'll be glad to hear I got him out, even though he assaulted one of my officers. You would owe me, but if you stop the reapers, we'll call it even.

-Bailey

P.S. Don't be surprised if you're charged a little extra next time you're in Purgatory. Your crew sure likes to drink.

P.P.S. I hope the hangover isn't giving you too much trouble.

 

– – –

 

Shepard clicked off her email and lowered her face to her hands. The room spun around her, threatening to topple her from her chair. Her stomach flipped and fizzed and twisted. She groaned. The smell of alcohol stained her skin and hair. She felt gross and sick. Usually, her biotics would save her from a hangover, but not this time. This time, her body was intent on punishing her. Maybe she deserved it, according to Bailey's email.

In the too-bright glow of her terminal, Shepard rubbed her face. When she tried to remember last night, her mind went blank. She could remember arriving at Purgatory and meeting Grunt and the Aralakh Company. She had wished him a happy birthday by buying him the biggest glass of beer she could find. She could remember Tali getting in a round of shots, and Vega flirting with anything that was vaguely female.

When Shepard tried to remember any more than that, her head began to ache. She had no idea what had happened after Liara had climbed onto the table. This morning she'd woken up on top of her bed, fully dressed, with an empty champagne glass in her hand. All she knew for sure, was that the Citadel needed cleaning, and Grunt had had one hell of a birthday.

Shepard stood up and immediately regretted it. Her cabin spun sickeningly, forcing another groan out of her. She just wanted to go back to bed, and maybe sleep for a hundred years or so. Unfortunately, she had a crew to check up on, and if they were half as hungover as her, they wouldn't be leaving the Citadel for a while.

Shepard shuffled to the lift. Her muscles felt like lead, her body dead weight. When the lift descended, she gripped the handrail, willing her stomach to stay put. If she threw up in the lift, her crew would never let her live it down.

The lift doors breezed open and Shepard stepped out, wondering when the lights in the CIC had become this bright. She squinted at the N7 mug Traynor was holding out to her. It took her a stupidly long time to realise that Traynor had made her coffee, and she accepted it gratefully.

“How are you feeling?” Shepard asked, wrapping her fingers around her mug.

“Oh, like an entire Krogan company wanted to get me drunk,” Traynor said.

She looked exhausted. Deep purple bags lined her eyes, and her skin was paler than usual. She'd brushed her hair back, and a few strands hung around her face. Shepard narrowed her eyes as a memory pushed into her mind. She remembered Traynor being followed by an overly friendly Krogan all night.

“FARAX!” Shepard shouted suddenly, making Traynor cover her ears. Shepard laughed when Traynor glared, “Farax. He had a thing for you, didn't he?”

Traynor grimaced and lowered her hands, “I really I wish I could forget that.”

"You sure?” Shepard grinned, “You're not even a little tempted?”

“There's not enough alcohol in the galaxy, Commander.”

Shepard laughed and blew on her coffee. She took a tentative sip, picturing the smaller-than-usual Krogan that had been intent on getting Traynor drunk. Shepard could remember Traynor hiding under the table at one point, while Garrus laughed loudly.

“Speaking of trying things out...” Traynor wiggled her eyebrows at Shepard.

“What are you doing?” Shepard asked, arching an eyebrow at Traynor's teasing.

“You know...” Traynor continued to wiggle her eyebrows. When Shepard shook her head, Traynor stopped. Her eyes widened, “Oh! You don't remember.”

“Remember what, exactly?” Shepard asked, with a sinking feeling. How embarrassing had she been last night? What had she done?

“Uh...” Traynor turned back to her terminal and tapped the screen. For one terrifying moment, Shepard thought she was going to bring up some video footage from last night. She didn't, thankfully, she just shrugged her shoulders, “You should talk to Joker.”

“Joker?” Shepard asked, trying to catch Traynor's eye as she expertly dodged her gaze.

“He saw it first hand.”

“Saw... what?” Shepard asked, suddenly feeling much sicker.

“I'm... gonna go over here now,” Traynor said, all but running from Shepard.

Traynor ran across the CIC and down towards the War Room. Shepard abandoned her coffee at her own terminal and headed straight for the flight deck. She had never been one to shy away from fear, but this felt different. It felt like she was walking into the worst news she could possibly hear. Just how badly had she acted last night? Had she accidentally started a new war? Had she told the Salarian Councillor where to go? Had she stripped off and gone shuttle surfing?

“Oh god,” Shepard groaned at the thought.

When she reached the flight deck, she stopped in her tracks. All thoughts of her behaviour left her mind, replaced by confusion and horror. She watched the view in front of her like it was a museum exhibit.

“What... am I looking at?” Shepard asked.

Joker's chair was reclined all the way back, and he was lay on his stomach. EDI was stood over him, running her metallic hands roughly over his shoulders and back. Joker lifted his head up to look at Shepard, his face tensed in pain.

“I am giving Jeff a traditional asari hangover massage,” EDI said, as though it was obvious. She dug her elbow into Joker's back so hard, Shepard flinched.

“Right...” Shepard said, “Why?”

“As long as she stays away from the salarian injections, I'm fine,” Joker's voice was muffled when he pressed his face into his chair again.

“They are a very effective cure, Jeff. The needle would not hurt that much,” EDI said, continuing her massage.

“The salarians have a hangover cure? Damn, Mordin kept that quiet,” Shepard muttered.

She watched EDI massage Joker for a further few seconds, wondering where on earth EDI had gotten this idea from. Joker let out a hiss of pain, and Shepard decided enough was enough. If she let this continue any longer, she may not have a pilot left. She stepped forward, putting herself between EDI and Joker.

She placed her hands on EDI's shoulders, “EDI, EDI. Joker is human, he needs a human cure.”

“The extranet did not have any results for human hangover cures,” EDI said, frowning.

“Come on, I'll show you,” Shepard said, leading EDI out of the flight deck. She shot a glance back at Joker, who smiled gratefully at her, rubbing a hand over his shoulder.

 

– – –

 

Shepard pulled the last pack of bacon out of the fridge. She placed it next to the bread, the sausages, and the beans. After giving EDI some simple instructions on how to cook, Shepard made herself a coffee and settled into a stool by the island counter.

“Commander, I have a question about organic behaviour,” EDI said, as the bacon began to sizzle.

“Shoot,” Shepard said, ignoring the way her stomach flipped at the smell of food.

“Is it common for organics to avoid one another after being intimate?” EDI asked, prodding the bacon with interest.

“I don't understand the question,” Shepard said, sipping her coffee.

“You and Garrus began to avoid each other after your kiss. I was wondering if...”

Shepard didn't hear the rest of EDI's sentence. She stared blankly at the back of EDI's head, her cup of coffee halfway up to her lips. She and Garrus kissed? She didn't remember this. She strained to remember, so hard a stab of pain shot into her temple, but nothing came back to her. She would remember kissing Garrus, definitely. After pathetically crushing on him since their night before the collector base, she would remember kissing him.

Still, there was a huge chunk of the night she couldn't remember...

“EDI, I-”

“Hey, Lola! Are you here for a galaxy-renowned James Vega breakfast?” Vega shouted from across the crew deck. At the sound of his voice, Shepard, Tali, and Cortez all flinched. Cortez looked like he wanted to hit Vega as they walked towards Shepard and EDI.

Compared to everyone else, Vega looked great. He seemed wide-awake and ready to fry some eggs. Cortez looked pale, and vaguely sick. Shepard wondered whether the shuttle bay needed cleaning. Tali was hidden by her suit, but judging by her stumbling walk, she was feeling those shots. Shepard had lost count at around the ninth shot of sparkly pink alcohol.

“What are you feeling? Omelettes? Beans on toast?” Vega asked, joining EDI by the stove. He leaned over her shoulder and looked at the frying bacon. He nodded approvingly and EDI looked pleased.

“Don't talk to me about food,” Shepard said with a grimace.

“Just don't talk at all,” Cortez mumbled.

“Ignore Esteban, he gets grumpy when he throws up,” Vega said, waving a hand dismissively.

“You promised me food, Mr. Vega. Get on with it,” Cortez leaned his elbows on the counter next to Shepard. He lowered his face to the counter top, and Shepard patted his head gently.

Tali took the stool next to Shepard and rested her head on Shepard's shoulder, while letting out a long whine. Vega left EDI by the stove and began rooting through the fridge. He began to whistle as he pulled out ingredients. He only stopped when Tali, Shepard, and Cortez groaned.

“How are you not dead? If I recall, you were on tequila all night,” Shepard said, staring incredulously at Vega. She was Commander freaking Shepard and even she had a hangover.

“It takes more than a few shots of tequila to kill me,” Vega said, shooting her a wink. “Unlike you, Lola, I can handle my alcohol without humiliating myself.”

Shepard groaned, “What did I do?”

“The question should be what didn't you-”

A screeching sound cut Vega off. The fire alarm threatened to pop Shepard's ear drums. She rose from her seat while Cortez and Tali covered their ears and complained.

“Oops,” EDI mouthed.

Smoke clouded over the stove, and Shepard noticed it for the first time. She coughed and lead EDI away from the stove, while Vega wafted the smoke away with a tea towel. The ship didn't have windows that opened, but the crew deck was big enough to let the smoke disperse without choking them. The fire alarm had gone off before any real damage occurred.

Shepard keyed her authorisation code into her omnitool and the fire alarm shut off as abruptly as it started. EDI frowned when Vega lifted up the pan of black bacon.

“I hope you like your bacon extra crispy,” He said.

“It appears I am not good at cooking,” EDI mused.

“Don't worry about it,” Tali said, in a fragile voice. “You should have seen Shepard trying to cook pancakes on the SR1.”

“Hey! That oven was faulty!” Shepard said, folding her arms across her chest defensively.

“You don't cook pancakes in the oven...” Cortez said.

“Oh.”

“You can't dance, you can't drive, you can't cook. I'm starting to think the only thing you can do is shoot,” Vega laughed, scraping the burnt bacon into the bin. He dumped the pan in the sink and turned on the tap.

“I can kick your arse,” Shepard said.

“That's yet to be seen,” Vega said. He began cutting his ingredients, preparing some extravagant looking breakfast. If Shepard's stomach didn't feel like it was inside out, she'd want some.

The four of them – EDI, Shepard, Cortez, and Tali – watched Vega cook. Shepard felt awful, but Tali and Cortez looked way worse. She wanted to ask EDI what she'd said about her kissing Garrus. Maybe EDI had it wrong. Maybe she'd interpreted something friendly as romantic – she didn't know much about organic behaviour after all.

Shepard was too scared to ask though. What if it was worse than EDI thought? What if it hadn't stopped with a kiss...

No.

They definitely hadn't done anything more than that. For one thing, Shepard had woken up fully dressed. For another, she would absolutely remember sleeping with Garrus again. It was kind of unforgettable.

“...and then she fell, flat on her face.”

Shepard tuned in to the very end of Vega's story. She had no idea who it was about, but the others were laughing, so she forced a laugh too.

Vega shared the omelette between three plates. He even had a plate of dextro food ready for Tali, not that she looked all that interested in eating. He placed a plate in front of Cortez, who grumbled something incoherent and dug his fork into the food. EDI accepted a plate off him, eager to show Joker what she'd done.

“You sure I can't tempt you?” Vega asked, gesturing to the last plate.

“I don't think I'll ever eat again,” Shepard said.

Vega took the last plate for himself. He and Tali nudged Cortez until he followed them to the dining table. Shepard and EDI bid their farewells, and headed back for the lift. EDI was admiring Vega's food with interest, and Shepard pressed the lift call button.

Just as it arrived, she heard Vega shout, “Morning, Scars! You hungry? I make a mean dextro breakfast, right Sparks?”

Shepard thought about heading back and confronting Garrus head on. But Garrus wasn't a reaper and she wasn't fighting him. If she ran in, guns blazing, shouting, hey did we kiss last night?, he'd run a mile. That was the last thing she wanted. If she had kissed Garrus, she had to act carefully from now on. Their friendship, and the war, came first. Her unrequited love had to be ignored.

EDI and Shepard walked back to the flight deck in silence. EDI had no more questions about organic behaviour, she was far too interested in the food. Shepard didn't mind, she had a lot to think about. She decided to follow Traynor's advice and talk to Joker.

“What happened? The Normandy notified me of a fire,” Joker said, swivelling his chair when they walked in. He grimaced at the dizzying movement. EDI presented the plate of food to Joker, and he furrowed his brow, “You cooked this?”

“No. I set the bacon on fire. James cooked this,” EDI took her usual seat.

“Sweet,” Joker said. He immediately stuffed a forkful of omelette into his mouth, moaning in delight at the taste. He swallowed, “When this war is over, Vega needs to open a restaurant.”

Shepard leaned her hip against the guard rail. She steeled herself, she had to find out for sure what happened last night, so she could plan what to do. “About last night-”

“Yes, you kissed Garrus. Yeah, I saw it all. And yes, I do need to bleach my mind of that sight,” Joker mumbled around the omelette in his mouth.

Shepard's shoulders slumped. So it was true. EDI hadn't misunderstood anything. Shepard had kissed Garrus – and in front of Joker. Their friendship was stretched thinly now, Garrus probably wanted to avoid Shepard for a long time. One more mistake and they may not be friends any more. It was all because Shepard couldn't handle her feelings like an adult. She got drunk like some hormonal teenage and threw herself at him.

“How did you know I was going to ask?” Shepard asked.

“Call it instinct,” Joker said, “It's been a while since we talked about you and Garrus. I thought I was free of this.”

“There is no me and Garrus. Last night was a mistake,” Shepard said. Joker scoffed, and she arched an eyebrow at him, “Excuse me?”

“Oh sorry, do you want to continue bullshitting me?” Joker gestured for her to continue, “Go ahead, I'll wait.”

“I'm not bullshitting you.” Shepard crossed her arms over her chest.

“EDI, you don't know much about organic behaviour, do you?” Joker ate another mouthful of food.

“You know I do not, Jeff,” EDI said, turning her chair to face them.

“Right, so imagine you didn't know Shepard and Garrus,” Joker said. EDI looked confused and Joker elaborated, “Just pretend you've never met them. They're strangers, okay?”

Shepard frowned at Joker. She wasn't sure what the point of this little charade was, but she was sure she wasn't going to like it. Joker was grinning, and Shepard had long since learnt that was a bad sign. EDI eventually agreed to play Joker's game, and he continued.

“Are they a couple? Are they in love?” Joker asked, beaming at Shepard when she glared at him.

EDI paused for a moment, looking thoughtful, “Their body language would suggest romantic attraction.”

"What!” Shepard exclaimed. She may be hopelessly crushing on Garrus, but she knew her body language wasn't obvious. It's not like she bent over in front of him, or pushed her cleavage up.

“When you are around him, you present the typical body language of a human in love,” EDI said. Joker was grinning so widely, it looked like his cheeks would split open. Shepard ignored him, and EDI continued, “You mirror his actions. You maintain eye contact – longer than usual. You smile at him, more often than at others.”

“All of those could be friendship,” Shepard said, even as heat rushed up her neck.

“Checking your vital signs could present us with more quantifiable data. It would reveal hormone levels, heart rate, breathing pattern. A significant change in any of these could suggest-”

“Enough!” Shepard said, cutting EDI off. She didn't have the mental capacity to deal with this today, “There will no checking my vital signs.”

“Ah, young love,” Joker sighed dreamily. He shot a smile at EDI, “Tell her the best part.”

“Wait,” Shepard said, holding her hand up to halt EDI, “Do you two discuss me and Garrus often?”

Joker suddenly looked uncomfortable. He stared at his empty plate intently and Shepard cleared her throat expectantly. Even EDI looked mildly uncomfortable, as her eyes darted between Joker and Shepard.

“Joker?” Shepard prompted.

“Look, it gets boring sitting up here all the time. There's only so many times you can play I Spy,” Joker said defensively. He leaned back in his chair, “But I'm not the one on trial here, you are. You were happy with Garrus last year, what changed?”

Shepard didn't have an answer. The truth was, Shepard hadn't mentioned anything about their past relationship to Garrus. She was sure his feelings had changed. Shepard had spent six months in an Alliance Cell, and Garrus had been up on Menae, probably spending his time with turian females. All of them militaristic and biologically compatible with him. Shepard had never stood a chance.

“I thought, maybe, when he came back he'd head up to your cabin. But he hasn't even gone near it!” Joker said.

“Have you been spying on us?” Shepard asked incredulously.

“That's not the point,” Joker said, “The point is, EDI and I think you should get together. You don't find happiness like this often, especially in the middle of a war. A great leader once told me that, I think you know her, it was Commander Shepard!”

Shepard rubbed the heels of her hands into her eyes. Stars danced across her eyelids. She was exhausted, gross, and confused. She didn't want this! She just wanted to go back to bed and pretend last night never happened.

“I'm not discussing this any more,” Shepard said with a sigh.

“Fine, no more Garrus talk,” Joker pouted, spinning his chair away from Shepard. EDI glanced between Joker and Shepard but knew better than to get involved. Joker began tapping at the Normandy controls even though they were docked at the Citadel for a few more hours yet.

“Liara wants to meet you in the lounge,” Joker said.

“Thanks,” Shepard said.

“Whatever.”