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Black Hole

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An unmarked shuttle awaits him at the docks. He has been drinking and fighting in Omega for the last fortnight, until Councilor Anderson, well, former Councilor, now Admiral Anderson, found him at Afterlife. At first, he even acknowledged him, so lost in his own grieve to let his brain work properly. Earlier this day he has been in a brawl with a group of batarians, who started to scream and swear over Shepard’s name when her name appeared on the news. He has been too drunk, and his passion ran so wild under his skin, that he has picked up one of the big round tables and crashed it into the group. They were five, but he handled them without hurting himself enough to call it the end of the night. He was nursing his wounds, which moved from a sore hand to a knife cut on an arm, in one of the private areas of the club. It seemed that Aria didn’t like how the batarians talked about Shepard, but she can't do anything because it will show a side of her she didn’t want the rest to see. She offered him a room to stay for as long as he wants, with the promise to take care of himself out there, having done a few enemies in the short time he has been in Omega.

Anderson found him there, with a hand soaking inside an ice bucket and a bag of ice on his shoulder. He opted for ignoring the person in front of him, thinking it will be some bartender or even one of Aria’s tugs. When the deep voice of Anderson called him to attention, he almost jumped from the couch, splashing water everywhere.

“Lieutenant Vega. Glad to find you in one piece. Aria said you have been teaching the batarians out there to have some respect.”

Vega saluted him, his tired muscles screaming when he stood on parade. “Yes. Sorry, sir. Didn’t wait for any formal visit.”

Anderson chuckles and sits down in an almost clean side of the couch. “I can imagine. At ease, Lieutenant. You are on shore leave. You can do with it whatever you want. I’m not here for that.”

When Anderson signalled the couch, Vega seated with him, recovering the bag of ice and applying again to his shoulder. “Sir, can I ask what is the Human Councillor doing in this den?”

Anderson shrugged then, a mischievous grin showing on his face. “Oh, is not Councilor anymore. And I can’t put in words how happy I am about it. I’m Admiral now. Got an important mission back on Earth, one that only I can do.”

Vega’s face changed to a serious frown. “Are the Alliance finally going to do something about the Reapers, Sir?”

Crossing a leg over the other, Anderson leaned against the couch. “Yes and no. In fact, that's the reason I came looking for you.” When Vega just stared at him with a surprised frown, he just shrugged slightly before continuing. “I will assume that you know what Shepard had done?”

“She made a lot of things, Sir. Can you specify a bit?”

Anderson laughed, shaking his head. “I know there is a reason I have chosen you for this. She destroyed the Collector’s base, travelling through the Omega relay and coming back. That’s the part you already knew.” Images of Fehl Prime crossed Vega’s mind, and the pain showed clearly on his face. “Yes. She did it. What you didn’t know is that she turned her back to Cerberus during the mission, destroying a proto-reaper the Collectors were creating and blowing the fucking station up while showing her middle finger to the Illusive Man.”

The booze on his blood made him giggle softly. “That sounds just like her.”

With an approving nod, Anderson continued. “And maybe you have heard the news about the Alpha Relay?” When Vega nodded, he crossed his arms. “Well, I will not say she didn’t do it, because we all know that it was her who decided to destroy the relay, destroying the Bahak system in the process. What you didn’t know, and this is a high-level information, is that we ordered her to go, not knowing what she will find there.” The fog on his eyes lifted then, his brain totally awake after the revelations. “Yeah. We fucked up, and she is paying the price, as always. After the mission, where we insisted that she goes solo, leaving the Normandy here for repairs, she contacted me, and she agreed to turn herself into our custody to be judged.”

James got enough of that shit, and got up, walking around the room, fist clenched on his side. “With all my respects, Sir. But this is bullshit. We can judge her for doing the right thing. I was there. I saw with my own eyes what the Collectors are doing to our people, what the Reapers have in mind to do to us. She is a hero, and the only one we have.”

“We agree on that, Lieutenant. That’s the reason I left the Council. I want to be there, with her, kicking some asses to get what we need. But it will be a long way. Besides, she is already in custody.”

Vega stopped his movement to watch at him. “What do you mean?”

Anderson stand and walked to his side. “I have her on my ship. We will be heading to Earth as soon as you decide what I’m about to ask. The Batarian Hegemony wants her dead. The pirates and the mercs out there wants her dead. Cerberus wants her dead. Even some crazy humans who had decided that she didn’t do enough, or quick enough, to stop the Collectors. Her life is at risk, and being under arrest, she can’t even have a weapon with her. I need someone to take care of her. Someone with a similar point of view of the problem at hand. Resourceful and dependable. Someone like you, Lieutenant. Will you accept the job?”

Vega raised a hand to rub his eyes, “Sir, I don’t know if I’m the correct person for this job. She is too important, and my survival ratio is not what I call a success.”

“Nonsense, Lieutenant. I would not be here if I didn’t think you are the perfect person to take care of her. Besides, she needs a friend, not a jailer. She will live secluded, only leaving her quarters with a guard and having forbidden to talk or see any of her companions.”

Vega’s face turned to look at the floor. “How can we do this to her, Sir? With everything she has done, everything she has survived...”

Anderson took a deep breath, “We are on the same mind here, Lieutenant. Admiral Hackett and I hate the entire situation, but we can’t go against the Admiralty. We will make everything on our hands to finish it as quickly as possible and will try to make the confinement as comfortable as we can. Will you help us, Vega?”

Looking at the other man, Vega saw the pain on his face. The situation is a big load on his plate, and he still had to learn how to deal with it. “I’ll do, Sir.”

A soft smile appeared on Anderson’s face. “Good. I was hoping you will accept. We will be on Omega for another day, can you join us then?”

“Yes, Sir. I need to sober a bit and pick up my things from the hotel room. I can be ready tomorrow morning.”

Anderson is already moving to the door. “Perfect. A shuttle will be waiting for you.” His hand is raised to push the door’s controls. He even looked at him while talking, shoulders falling. “I have to warn you, Vega. She is not in her best moment. A lot of things had happened to her since she awakens from the dead. I hope you can help her to regain the will to live.”

He left before Vega can say a word about it, leaving him alone and with a lot of things to think about. After some hours, he stepped from the room, the headache beginning to recede but his mind in turmoil because of the news. The people on the club gave him the room he needed to walk to the door. A group of batarians looked in his direction, but it seemed that his display from hours ago had cooled their attitude.

The short stroll to his hotel on the Slums was a calm one. He didn’t cross path with a single soul. Once in his room, he showered, used some medigel on his wounds and took a couple of painkillers for his throbbing head. His belongings are scattered around the room. He hasn't been in the mood to undo the luggage with any kind of order. With a sigh, he began to pick up the items and folding them before putting them inside the backpack. He was ready to go in less than ten minutes after the shower.

And here he is, waiting for a marine dressed in civies to open the shuttle for him. How in the void has he ended in this situation? His mind is already thinking about how much he hated Shepard for the last weeks, thinking about Fehl Prime every time her name showed on the news but knowing that he can't hate her for being HER. And now, he has to watch her back, keep her company and be her friend? Shit, he has to learn not to take decisions under the booze’s influence.

The shuttle leaves the docks without incident. James is on his feet behind the pilot chair, looking through the window. They were moving to Bindur instead of the relay, and when the shuttle arrives at the orbit, he sees the reason. An Alliance Cruiser is there, together with the Normandy, and a good number of frigates and fighters deployed around them. The pilot marks the password to signal his return, and the fighters open a space for him to move closer. Landing in a shuttle bay near the back of the ship, the pilot gives Vega the green light to step outside.

Anderson and a woman in her middle age are waiting for him there. “Good morning, Lieutenant. Let me introduce you to doctor Chawkas. She will be visiting Shepard while you two stay here, and had a special permit from the Admiralty to keep an eye on her on Earth.”

The woman smiles at him, extending a hand. “Pleased to meet you, Lieutenant. I can take a look at those wounds if you want.”

He grabs the hand, shaking it while smiling at her. “No need, Doc. I’m fine. I put some medigel on them an hour ago. I will be like new at the end of the day.”

She nods, giving a quick look to the wounded knuckles. “Let me know if you change your mind. Now, if you want, I will show you to your room. You will be sleeping in her area. The Captain has let us borrow a full floor of the ship, and we are using one of the medical bays to make her comfortable.”

Fixing the bag better on his shoulder, he nods, and the group begins to walk to the lift. Anderson pushes the controls and turns to face him. “Lieutenant, we will make a little detour to the armoury. I want you armed and ready, just in case.” The doctor huffs at his words, but crosses her arms instead of saying a single word.

The door opened to another dock, where the requisitions officer has his office. Anderson talks with him while Vega looks inside the crates, searching for his preferred weapons. He picks an M-96 Mattock and an M-23 Katana, together with a big knife and a weapon mod for his omnitool. Anderson signed for him on the records, patting his back while moving back to the elevator. The floor where they are headed is closed, only accessible via a unique code that Anderson sends to his omnitool. When the doors finally open, James sees a little mess, with an observation deck on one side and the med bay at the end of it. Walking to it, Anderson knocks at the door before opening it.

Chapter Text

The first time James sees Shepard, she is seating on one of the gurneys, legs bent and arms around her knees. She turns her face to look at them, and the sadness he saw on her almost destroys James. How the mighty Isabella Shepard ended like that is beyond his comprehension. Anderson walks to her, leaning on the desk in front of the gurney while Chawkas sits on the chair. James moves inside but keeps his distance, putting his weapons and bag on the closest gurney. Shepard waves to Anderson, but remain in silence.

 

The admiral sighs sadly and beckons James to join them. When Vega is close enough, Anderson begins with the presentations. “Shepard, let me introduce you to Lieutenant James Vega. He will be your roommate until--”

 

She raises a hand to stop his words. “Yeah, yeah. Until they decide that I need to be out there to fight back instead of withering in a cell.” Anderson is about to reply, but she didn’t let him. “Call it what you want, Anderson, but this is a cell. I’m a prisoner, I lost my ship, lost my crew, lost my omni. Shit, they even took off my amp!” Stopping her rambling, she takes a deep breath. “Sorry, Anderson.” Unfolding her legs, she jumps to the floor, and James takes on every detail. She looks older than in the vids, thinner too, and her hair is longer, falling over her shoulders. And she is shorter than he thought she would be. How this tiny girl has achieved so many things in her short life is just unbelievable. She moves in front of him, extending her hand. “Nice to meet you, Vega. Now that I don’t have my krogan bodyguard is nice to have the human version of it.”

 

He salutes her, ignoring the hand. “Commander.”

 

With a sigh, she jumps slightly to grab his hand and move it down, grasping it with force. “I’m not Commander anymore, Vega. They stripped me of my rank together with the rest. I’m a civilian now. Call me Shepard, or Isabella, or Isi, or whatever you want, but not Commander.”

 

He returns the handshake, feeling less nervous. “It will be difficult, Shepard, but I’ll try.”

 

“I can’t ask for more. Please, take a bunk for yourself. I am supposed to sleep inside, but I like this area better. I can look at the stars while sitting here. I don’t know if I will see the space again once we reach Earth.”

 

Anderson grunts and throws her a pen from the desk, hitting her in the chest. “Stop that train of thoughts, Isabella. I’m serious.”

 

She gives a pat to Vega’s arms before returning to the gurney. “Just like me, then. Let’s see if you can do something to spare my life, at least.” Turning her head after sitting, she looks to Vega. “What do you say, LT? If they didn't send me to the Hegemony in a silver plate, I’m thinking about going to Thessia or returning to Mindoir once they decided that I don’t have the right to serve. Maybe I can go home. My life hasn’t improved much since I left the planet, I will feel in my element there. And it will give the batarians less work to hunt me down.”

 

With a grunt, Anderson stands and walks to the door. Once it is opened, he looks to James over his shoulder. “Take care of her, Lieutenant. You can go wherever you want on this floor, but if you want to leave the area, call me, and we will see how we can do it.”

 

The shoosh of the door closing behind him masks the sound of the doctor’s chair moving, using the wheels to roll it to the gurney. Stopping in front of it, she smacks the back of Shepard’s head, making her cry aloud. “That for being an asshole with the person who is fighting for you, Commander.”

 

“I know, but I'm not in the mood to be emphatic today. Besides, you are not supposed to call me that, Karin.”

 

The doctor rolls away again, returning the chair to the desk before standing up. “You will always be my Commander, whatever the blue collars say.”

 

With a soft smile, Shepard let her legs hang from the gurney. “And your stubbornness is one of the things that I love about you. Thanks, Karin. You are my favourite doc, except when you pick up your needle collection.”

 

Shaking her head in amusement, the doc begins to walk to the door, “Marines! You can face death before breakfast with a smile but can’t bear getting vaccinated.” Reaching the door, she stops there, sending her contact to James. “Let me know if you are in the mood to share your lunch with me. Lieutenant Vega can contact me. Have fun, and Commander, don’t bicker with him. Is not his fault and he is here to help you. Be a nice girl.”

 

The doctor leaves the room in a hurry, her laugh filling the room when the doors closed behind her. Shepard has let her body fall to the gurney, covering her face with the pillow and screaming on it. James is still standing near her, and seeing her distress, he tries to think in a way to distract her. “Hey, Shepard.” She takes a deep breath before moving the pillow away from her face. “I’m starving. Care to join me at the mess? I want to check what we have here. I can cook something for you.”

 

Shepard sits back, jumping from the gurney without saying a single word. James just sighs and follows her outside of the med bay. The empty mess, together with the knowledge of being confined on this floor, gives James the creeps. How many hours has she passed her, alone, thinking about all the things that had happened to her, in what has to come? They reach the kitchen area, and Shepard sits on the counter, bending a leg under the other. “Suit yourself, Vega. Maybe you can do something with what they have left. I didn’t even try. Cooking without knives is hard, you know.”

 

Shaking his head, James moves to the fridge, opening the door. “Locos, definitivamente se han vuelto locos.” Inside, he finds a six pack, which brings a soft smile to his face, some synthetic meat and the egg substitute the Alliance love to feed to their soldiers. “I think I can do something with that. Do you want a beer?”

 

Shepard bends the hanging leg, leaning the heel on the counter and resting her chin on the knee. “I’m under arrest, Vega. I don’t think they will like to have me drinking.”

 

Picking a couple of bottles, James moves beside her, opening one and giving it to her. “You are supposed to be dead too.”

 

She gives him the first real smile he has seen on her face, even if it didn’t reach her eyes. “Good point.” She takes the bottle, raising it for a toast. “I like how you think, Vega. Glad to have you here. It has been a little lonely since the raid to the Omega Relay.”

 

James makes his bottle click with hers, “Glad to be here. Let’s hope you only need me for sparring, cooking and having some fun.”

 

Taking a long sip, she closes her eyes while leaning against the wall on her back. “Me too, Vega, me too.” After a minute, she shakes her head, taking another gulp from the bottle before looking at him. “Do you mind if we stay alone today? I’m not in the mood to try to cheer them out, faking that I’m feeling fine.”

 

“No problem for me, Shepard. We can have a healthy dinner.” His smile is broad, and he can’t keep the humour from his voice. “And play some poker, if you want. I have a deck on my bag.”

 

Putting the bottle beside her, she smiles softly, jumping to the floor and moving near him. “Sounds like a plan. Can I help you?”

 

James puts his bottle on the counter too, returning to the fridge and picking up the meat, the ‘eggs’, another beer and a tomato sauce package.

 

Bringing all the items to the counter, he searches on the cabinets for a cutting board and some spices. With everything ready, he takes the short knife from his boot and offers it to Shepard. “You will need to wash it well, but beggars can be choosers.”

 

Her eyes are open so big that he thought he had made the wrong move, but she finally picks up the knife and puts it over her chest, another of her real smiles showing on her face. “Yeah.” She moves to the sink, washing the knife with the disinfectant soap before repeating the action with the dish soap. Moving to the counter, she opens a drawer to pick up a kitchen rag, drying the knife before setting it beside the cutting table. James is crouching in front of the cupboard, searching for the pans or pots he needs for cooking. “Vega, thanks for that.” He shrugs and gives her a wink before continuing with the research. She smiles to herself while opening the package of the meat. ‘Maybe I will have someone who will help me until this madness ends, either for good or for bad.’ A small thud followed a grunt makes her turn to face him, only to find him sitting on his butt while caressing the back of his head. With a barely contained laugh, she closes the distance to him, leaning on the counter beside the opened doors. “Need help down there, Mister Vega?”

 

With a swift movement, he picks up her hand and bends her legs, forcing her to fall on her knees beside him, while his other hand stops her falling with a hand on her hips, to avoid damaging her legs. “Sure. Thanks for the offer.”

 

Once the surprise feeling banished, she slaps his arm, laughing with him. “Playful. I like it.”

 

“What can I say? Lo llevo en la sangre.”

 

She pushes him aside, taking his place in front of the cabinet. “You know that I don’t understand Spanish, right?”

 

James sits back against the counter, a leg bent and his arm resting on it. “That’s a shame. Maybe I can teach you? I’m sure it will sound sexy in your voice.”

 

Shepard's posture changes, shoulders tensing and head falling to her chest. “I don’t know about sexy, but it seems like a good idea. Maybe when we are on Earth. I suppose we will have a lot of free time. What do you need for cooking?”

 

The moment has passed. James has to learn how to control his flirting tongue because it seems to put her on guard. Weird thing, for sure, because she is sexy as hell, but who knows? “A big pan and a pot where we can cook the meat.”

 

She almost enters inside the cabinet, her little body bent at the waist and leaning on one hand. From her right side, a pan appears, and James moves to pick it up before she returns her attention inside the cabinet. After a moment, she emerges with a middle size pot on her hand, grinning triumphantly. James helps her to stand, picking up the items and moving to the sink. He learned years ago, the bad way, that not everyone cleans the kitchenware before storing it. While he washes them, Shepard moves beside him and stops in front of the cutting table. “How do you need the meat? Can I cut it for you.”

 

“Very tiny pieces. You can cut the block in strips and then in little squares.”

 

Shepard takes the block of meat on her hands and cut a slice from one of the sides, following his instructions. “Like this?”

 

Picking up the cloth she used before to dry the knife, he begins to work with the pan. “Yes. That’s perfect.” With the precision of a butcher, she cuts all the block in strips, stacking up 3 of them before cutting the meat in a perfect grid pattern. He grins when she ends with it and cleans the knife with a piece of paper. “You are good cutting things, Shepard.”

 

She shrugs, moving to wash the knife in the sink before drying it and giving it back to him. “I can work with knives, not only with shotguns. Besides, I wasn’t born inside an Alliance armour, even if some people like to think that way. I’m a farm girl. On a colony like Mindoir, you need to learn a thing or two about cooking.”

 

Moving to the stove, he puts the pot on the stove and beckons to her. “Bring the meat here, please.” When she puts the cutting table beside the stove, she just nods and moves to recover her beer from the counter, bringing the one James had left there to him. He turns on the stove, waiting until the pot is hot enough, and throwing the cuts inside. The synthetic meat didn’t need any grease to cook, and he just tosses it around the pot with a rubber spatula. “And I like the idea of taking shifts to cook. You can get bored of my Latino food in no time.” When the little bits of meat are brown, he adds some pepper and salt. Opening another beer, he pours half of it inside. “Now we have to wait until it boils down.” Ending his beer, he picks the one he used for cooking and steps aside of the stove. “I need to be here to check it out from time to time. Do you want to play that game of poker while we wait?”

 

With a nod, she sits on one of the stools on the counter near the stove. James leaves the mess, entering the med bay and using the time away from her to let the doctor know that she wants to be alone today. He searches inside his bag until he finds the deck of cards, returning to the mess. She lays on the table, head resting on her stretched arms. She looks terribly bored, and sad, and nervous, as the little twitch of her fingers gives away. He puts the deck just in front of her face, winking when she sits backs with a gasp. “You can shuffle while I stir the meat.”

 

Shepard picks the cards, opening the little box and taking the cards on hands. She checks that every one of them is in the correct position before beginning to shuffle them. James gives a good shake to the pot before sitting in front of her, using the moment to study her face. He saw then a little tattoo on it, just below the eye. Is it something like a constellation? He is so absorbed looking at the tiny lines, dots and stars that he didn’t see her drawing the cards and catching him staring. When she coughs, he returns his full attention to her and blushes a bit when she raises a brow, waiting for an explanation. “Sorry. I didn’t know you have a tattoo at all, least of all on your face. I like tattoos, as you can imagine.” He signals the tribal lines that showed on his neck and arm. “But I don’t remember that you have one before-- well, you know, before.” He coughs, trying to hide his discomfort.

 

With an amused look, she just shakes her head and picks up her cards from the counter. “I got more than one, but if you don’t mind, I’m not in the mood to talk about them right now.” He sees her closing higher the zip of her hoodie and hiding her right hand inside the slave while she picks the cards on her left hand.

 

James recovers his cards from the counter, taking a look at them, coughing a bit before talking again. “Sure thing. I’m sorry. I’m just surprised. But I like it, is very subtle, in fact, I didn’t saw it until now.” He looks again at his cards, selecting two low numbers and keeping a pair of queens and a jack. “As you have drawn, is my turn, right?” She nods, and he put the two cards on the table, grinning on the inside when the two that she gives to him is a jack and an ace. She discards three and picks the same number, face betraying nothing. They made another stage, and James sees that they don't have anything to bet. “Oops. We can’t play poker without throwing something in the middle in the third round. Let me see what I can find. Don’t worry, I’m not thinking in credits, and our friendship is too new to begin betting our clothes.” He gives her a wink before putting down his cards and moves to the cabinet, searching inside. At last, he returns with a package of peanuts and two bowls. Before sitting again, he gives another stir to the food. He opens the bag, counting and giving her twenty of them and separating twenty more for him. The rest of the package forms a pile near the stove, and he pushes one of the bowls to her while picking up one and cracking it, eating the peanuts with a contented hum. She reordered her cards before putting them down and mimics him. They eat in silence for a couple of minutes, until James throws a peanut at her, smiling broadly when she jumps startled. “Time to move, Shepard. Last stage. Do you want to draw cards?”

 

She discards two cards, which makes James grin internally. He discarded the jack and got another ace. She begins to count peanuts on her personal pile, picking up eight of them and putting them between her and James.

 

James nods approvingly, and sees her bet, increasing it in two more. She gives him a shrug and a soft smile, “Be my guest, Vega. Show me what you got first.”

 

With a cocky grin on his face, James put the cards on the table. “Now I’m regretting not having bet our clothes on it.” He has a full house, with three queens and two aces.

 

The grin on her face matches him, and the mischievous look in her eyes makes something twist inside James. “Oh, I’m sure as hell that I’m regretting it, LT.” She puts down her cards, with four six and a king. “I will have enjoyed the show.”

 

Shaking his head, James stands from the stool, grinning to her. “Let me check the food, and we will see if has been luck or do you really had the skills to beat me on my own game.”

 

Recovering the cards, she begins to shuffle them. “I can beat you in a lot of things, Mister Vega.”

 

James stops in front of the stove, stirring the food and humming softly when the scent of the reduction reaches his nose. “We will have all the time in the world to check this assumption, Shepard.” Turning off the stove, he puts aside the pot, turning to face her. “Are you hungry? This part is ready, but we can store it in the fridge if you prefer to eat later.”

 

Putting the cards back on its package, she turns to face him. “I can eat. It will be cool to eat something good for a change.”

 

Recovering the pan, James shrugs before cracking the bones of his neck. “Don’t put your hopes high today, Shepard. I don’t have the correct ingredients, but I’m sure you will enjoy it. Wait until we are on Earth and I can make you my Tacos al Pastor!”

 

She is cleaning up the counter, storing the peanuts again in the package and throwing away the shells. “Let’s hope my cell has a kitchen for you to work on it because I doubt they let you bring me food.”

 

Hands stop mid air when he listens to her. “Hey. Don’t say that. Anderson will never let them throw you to jail. And I will not be there if he didn’t have a plan.”

 

Shepard returns to the stool, sitting on it and leaning her arms and head on the counter, voice sounding muffled. “I know. But I don’t know how much he and Hackett can do. I killed three hundred thousand batarians, Vega. I destroyed a mass relay, something that was supposed impossible, and to add salt to the wound, I was linked to Cerberus then. It didn’t look good for me.”

 

The pan is over the stove and the heat turned on, while James pours the tomato sauce in a bowl and adds some grounded pepper. “If someone can do it, is Anderson and Hackett. They had your back.”

 

With a shrug, she leans her chin on her hands and closes her eyes, lost in thoughts.

 

James hate seeing her like this. Even when he has spent the last few weeks hating her, he can do it anymore. The weight over her shoulder is almost visible on how she moves, how she walks, shit even in the way she laughs. She is a human being tested to her limits and surpassed by them in so many ways that it seems impossible that she is still alive and kicking.

 

With a sigh, James keeps working on their meal. Opening the bottle with the eggs substitute, he pours a good quantity on the heated pan, stirring it until they set up a bit, letting them form an omelette before adding a good share of meat in the middle. Once the eggs are cooked on one side, he closes the omelette around the pile of meat, turning it with a shift of his wrist. While it browns a bit, he moves to pick up a pair of plates from the cabinet behind him. When it is ready, he put the stuffed omelette on a plate and set it aside, beginning to work in the next one immediately, repeating the process until he has the two plates served.

 

Moving to Shepard’s side, he puts down the plate in front of her. “Buen provecho, Shepard.” She raises her head, and for a second, he can see the pain behind her eyes, but she masked it quickly enough to stop him from asking anything. He puts the other plate on the other side of the table before moving to pick up the tomato sauce he prepared, together with cutlery and a bottle of water for each of them. Turning around the counter, he sits on the stool in front of her, putting down the bottles and offering Shepard a set of cutlery. “The flavour of the synthetic eggs always remembers me of a wheat tortilla. So, I call this my ‘Alliance tacos’. You can add some tomato over it if you want.”

 

Her hand moves to pick up the offered fork and knife, eyeing the food on her plate with curiosity. “Thanks, Vega.” Shepard awaits until he covers his omelette with tomato sauce, and mimics him. Cutting a piece of it, she fills her mouth with it. The flavour is strange, clearly not natural, but the combination tastes good anyway. In fact, is the better she has eaten in weeks and hums pleased at the taste. “Well, if you can do that with the shitty ingredients we have here, can’t wait to eat what you can cook on Earth with fresh products.”

 

“I’m sure you will love it. My abuela taught me a thing or two about cooking.”

 

They eat the rest of the meal in silence, the hum of the ship and the sound of the cutlery against the plate, the only ones that break it. James ends first, and sits back, stretching his back and shoulders while she finishes her meal. When she pushes the plate aside, she gives him a little smile before standing up and bringing the dishes to the sink. “Bring your plate and the pans here. You cook, I’ll clean.”

 

Standing too, James stacks the plate and glasses and brings them to her. “As you wish, Shepard.” Moving to the stove, he picks up the items he used to cook, bringing them to her and leaning against the counter while she works.

 

The silence spread over the minutes, and he can feel the sadness creeping from her with every ticking second. She works diligently, not a single movement out of place, gaze fixed on her hands. When she finishes washing, James helps her to dry and store the items again. The last thing is his knife, and she gives it to him with a sad smile, knowing that he has risked enough letting her use it. Once everything is settled, James turns to face her. “Do you want to play another game?”

 

Shepard shakes her head before stepping away from him. “No. If you don’t mind, I want to be alone for a while.” She signals to the couch that faces the starboard window.

 

“Sure. Just let me know if you need anything. I will be in the med bay.” James leaves her there, moving inside the med bay and storing his bag and weapons in a locker below the gurney he chose. He sits on the desk, facing the big windows. He can see Shepard sitting on the couch, legs raised and an arm wrapped around her knees, face turned to the darkness outside the window. He has planned to take a look at the reports Anderson has sent to him regarding her last months, but he can’t tear his gaze apart from her. He almost can see the black cloud floating over her.

 

When she lays on her side on the couch, he decides to do the same, the lack of sleep of the night before is taking its toll at last. From the gurney, he takes a last look to her, just to find her little hand extended to the dark space, closing the fist like wanting to catch the Normandy that is leaving just then. He makes a promise to himself. He will try to help her to recover what she has lost. No one who has suffered so much deserves this...

Chapter Text

Vega wakes up startled, someone is touching his arm, and he didn’t remember falling asleep with company. When the fog of the sleep dissipates slightly, he finds Shepard kneeling beside him. He is about to talk when she silences him, moving closer to him and whispering. “A group of assassins has boarded the ship. I saw the shuttle coming, and no alarm is sounding. They must have someone inside.”

 

James’ brain wakes up immediately. “Are you sure?”

 

“Do you know any reason for a Cerberus shuttle coming to here in the middle of the night shift?”

 

Sitting back on the gurney, he slides from it until he is kneeling beside her. “Fair enough. You aren't supposed to have weapons, but I will not leave you unarmed in a situation like this.” He crawls to the locker where he has stored the weapons. Checking the load, he passes her the shotgun and the knife from his boot. “Keep yourself low. I'll draw their attention to me. As soon as they enter the main room, I will contact Anderson.”

 

With a nod, Shepard vanishes behind the gurneys, giving him a taste of her martial skills. James moves close to the med bay door, opening it and fixing it open. The alert to Anderson is ready on his omnitool, waiting for the moment to send it. Taking a deep breath, he squats near the wall and waits. Minutes pass, and he is beginning to doubt about the situation when the elevator’s door open. A group of eight troopers are there, plus a shadowy figure, hooded and carrying a sword. He sends the message and prays that the admiral can receive it. Shepard's head appears behind a gurney, and he signals the elevator and points to the numbers. With a nod of her head, she rechecks the weapon and disappears again.

 

The group is doing a tour around the mess, checking the closed rooms around the area. Two of them enter the med bay, and James waits for the perfect moment, killing one with the knife and breaking the other’s neck from behind. The sound of the bodies falling to the ground alerts the rest, but they are more even now.

 

Shepard appears at his side, fist glowing with biotic energy. Even without the amp, he can feel the power creeping his skin. “Nice moves, Vega. Let's see if we can finish them before they got a share of my butt.” A trooper appears at the door, and she charges against him, the sound of broken bones loud in the silence of the night. Dodging to one side, she covers herself behind a gurney when the fallen soldier tries to shoot her. A well-aimed shot from James ends with the problem. They got three, six to go.

 

A clinking sound reaches them, and they scream at the same moment, “Grenade!” Shepard uses a biotic charge to jump over James, colliding with his chest and making him fall back. The explosion twists the metal of the gurney where Shepard has been hiding, and its fragments are embedded in the ground where James has been covering. Crawling from the top of him after checking for injuries, she growls, “Man, I hate them.” James is still recovering from the impact of her charge when he sees her rolling to the back of the med bay, and opening the door to the storeroom. She appears some seconds later, with a big recipient on her hands. “They want a boom? I will give them a big one. Damn Cerberus!”

 

James sits back, the sound of the troopers deciding how to deal with the problem reaches him, but he only has eyes for her. She is moving decidedly to the front door, taking cover where she can and jumping from one safe spot to the next. Reaching the last gurney, Shepard throws the bottle she was carrying in her arms with all the force she can, making it land in the midst of the troopers outside. Leaving the cover, she shoots at it with the shotgun while the troopers look around. The bottle explode with more energy than James can believe, making their attackers fly around the mess. A couple of them landed inside the med bay, and she makes quick work of them with the shotgun. The one carrying the sword is the first standing after the blast and jumps in Shepard’s direction in a blur.

 

“Oh, no, you don't, pendeja!” James is on his feet in a blink. His body moves quicker than anyone believe for this mass. Shepard is still turning to face the door when the assassin reaches her, just to be knocked down by James’ charge. A devilish grin shows on his face when he hears the sound of snapping bones. He has hit her face and hand with his shoulders.

 

A gasp behind him makes him look over his shoulder. Shepard has the sword stuck in her arm, but he can see clearly in her eyes that it didn't matter to her. The sound has been more for his intervention than for the pain. Noises of the rest of the team moving in the other room make them take cover. James looms over the fallen assassin and uses her uniform belts to restrain her, tying her wrist to her heels. And just in case, he dislodged her shoulders before doing it. The screams of pain below the mask didn't make him even stir. Did they want Shepard’s head? They will have to fight harder for even get closer again.

 

There are only three troopers left, and Shepard takes a look through the window to find them. Two are crouching near the couch, and the last one is near the elevator. “James, pass me the sword!”

 

He does it. No question, no doubt. James just recovers the sword and let it slide on the ground in her direction. Moving near the door, she pecks outside. There's nothing between her position and the man near the elevator. She mutters to herself, but the silence around let James hear it clearly. “Come on, Bela. You can do it with your eyes closed. Just relax--” Biotic energy begins to pool on her hands. “Breath--” James can see her chest moving in deep breaths. “And give them hell, girl!” Her left-hand raises the sword, while the right-hand casts a Throw that launches the sword directly against the trooper. The force big enough to pierce the layers of his armour and impale him in the wall behind him.

 

“Ok. Consider me impressed, Shepard. I never saw a biotic using their powers like way.”

 

Bela just shrugs, recovering her shotgun from the ground where she left it. “I'm a box of surprises, fucking impressive, yadda yadda... Can we talk about how great I am when there aren't crazy armed people on my couch?”

 

James has to chuckle, her humour has always been something he admired about her, and is glad to see it back even for a short moment. “Hey, you were sleeping there. The poor couch is lowering its standards of craziness.” When she looks at him, a soft smile is creeping in her face, and she fights to hide it. “Anyway, only two left, wanna go directly for them?”

 

“Sure. Let's see how well they react to a full charge from a biotic and a human krogan.”

 

The little grin stays on place, and he marks it as a triumph. “Hey, I'm prettier than them, and these beauties are the result of hard work, not some genetics.”

 

Shepard laughs this time, “I can vouch for the prettier part, Vega. Now let's give our friends a little welcome party.” With a jump, she rolls behind the kitchen counter, and James takes her place beside the door. Taking a good look outside, he sees the two troopers are hiding just behind the couch. Making a thumbs up to Shepard, he waits until her powers are glowing to charge against them. His mass is big enough to make the couch fly, hitting the troopers and making them fall to the ground. Shepard is there in a blink, a blur of blue light falling over them. She knocked one by landing on his chest and shot to the other point blank in the head. James moves closer, helping her to stand up and turning face down the one alive, doing the same with his arms and legs that he did with the assassin. She returns the weapon to him just before the door of the elevator open, filled with armed soldiers and a sleepyhead Anderson.

 

The admiral takes a look around and then at them, the corner of his mouth twitching slightly. “Having fun, Shepard?”

 

She was facing James, and rolls her eyes, making him laugh. “Sure, Admiral. But the party hasn't ended very well. The booze wasn't good, and don't get me talking about the music.”

 

James shakes his head, moving to the elevator. “We have two alive, Sir. One inside the med bay and the other just over there. And maybe you will want to ask them who has let them enter the ship and gives them access to the secured area, Sir.”

 

Anderson take a look around, seeing the destruction made to the area. “Will do, Lieutenant. Good job. Pick up your belongings and hers. You will need a cleaner place to stay for the rest of the night.”

 

Shepard has moved to the kitchen and is drinking her second bottle of water while listening to Anderson words. She begins to feel the toll of using her powers without an amp, her legs fighting to keep her standing. Lowering the bottle, she leans on the counter. “Not a bad idea, Admiral. Vega, can you help me for a moment?”

 

He looks at her with a raised brow, but put aside the weapons, walking to the kitchen. Seeing the trembling on her hands when he closes the distance, he lowers his voice. “What's the matter?”

 

“Nothing to worry about, Vega. I just used too much biotics without my amp, and my body is taking its revenge. Can you pick up my things for me? I don't have much, is just a backpack on the back room. And then maybe you will have to help me walk for a bit.”

 

He steps beside her, searching inside the cupboards for a package of energy bars he saw before. “Yeah. I got you. But do me a favour and eat one or two of this while I pick up our things.” Letting the box in front of her, he returns to Anderson. “Sir, the Comm-- Shepard has a knife wound on her arm. I can patch her but it will be good for a doc to see it, just in case there is some kind of venom.”

 

Anderson takes a look at her, seeing her bloodied arm resting on the table while she eats something. “I'll wake up Chawkas and send her to my quarters. You will stay there for the night. I will not need them anyway. This pair will keep me awake all night long.”

 

With a nod, James turns over heels and walks to enter the med bay. The floor is filled with blood and debris, and the soldiers are picking up the wounded assassin from the ground, paying no care for her pain or discomfort. James steps over the fallen ones, moving to the locker where he has stored his bag before turning to the inner room to recover Shepard's one. Once inside, he sees why she didn't like being there. It looks like a cell. No window, no terminals, just a cot in a corner and a lot of boxes and crates. With a sigh, he picks the bag that lays over the bed, hanging it from his shoulder before returning outside. Shepard is still on the counter, but he can see that she is feeling slightly better thanks to the boost of energy from the bars. Anderson is coordinating the teams while the two prisoners are secured with mag cuffs and just in case, some improvised cuffs to fix them to the chairs where they are seating.

 

When Shepard sees him leaving the med bay, she waves to him. When he is close enough to hear her lower voice, she steps away from the counter. “I feel a lot better, thanks. But I'm still not sure about my legs. Do you mind walking with me, just in case? I don't want to hurt me after a battle while passing out. No good for my reputation.”

 

With a soft chuckle, he puts a hand on the lower part of her back, guiding her to the elevator. Anderson waits for them there, with a handful of high-rank officers. “One day, Shepard. One day and you had destroyed the area.”

 

The humour on his voice makes the rest of the group put at ease. She shrugs exaggeratedly, “You know me, Admiral. I always end with a boom.”

 

Anderson’s laugh fills the area. Not just for the joke, but for seeing a little bit of the old Isabela in front of him. “Yes. I'm aware of it. I spent the past two years cleaning the Citadel. Besides, you have to tell me what the fuck did you used for this.” He signals the mark on the ground where the bottle has exploded.

 

Crossing her arms, she changes her pose to lean subtlety on James. “Clever, uh? It was a bottle of nitrogen. I opened it before throwing it, and the weapon did the rest. But they first started blowing things, I just--”

 

James pushes her shoulder with a finger. “Overreacted. The wrecking ball on you took control.” He enjoys the soft giggle she makes before returning his focus to Anderson. “Now Sir, if you don’t mind, her arm needs to be checked, and we can use some rest.”

 

The Admiral pats his shoulder with a grin on his face. “I knew you would be perfect for the job. The Major will escort you to my quarters and guard the door until we can find a better place to stay for the rest of the journey. The doctor will be there shortly. Rest well.”

 

Shepard shrugs, but can’t hide the smirk on her voice. “Another ship, another time I stole your bed. Just think about it, Admiral.”

 

Anderson’s laughs accompany them when they move inside the elevator. It is a little bit cramped with all the guards inside with them but gives Shepard the perfect excuse to lean more on James. She is feeling the sickness of overusing her powers, the headache already pulsing behind her eyes, waiting to charge against her as soon as she stops for a second. James seems to feel it too, but he can't do anything more than tightening the grip on her to keep her upright.

 

The lift stops in one of the upper levels of the ship, and the guards surround them as soon as they leave it, walking them to a side door. The Major that has come with them opens the door and moves away from it. “We will have to lock you inside, but we will be here for the rest of the night, just knock the door and we will open it. Rest well.”

 

They step inside the room. It's a big one, with an enormous double bed, a desk and a rest area, with a big window overlooking the prow of the ship. As soon as the door closed, Shepard’s leg failed her at last, and James has to pick up in his arms to avoid her falling to the ground. “Well, Shepard, if you wanted my attention, you didn’t have to go to such extremes. No need to organise an assassination attempt to achieve it.”

 

She hits him on the shoulder, “I’m too tired to hit you as you deserve, but I will try to remember it tomorrow and do it properly. Now, my bodyguard, can you bring me to the bed?” When James is opening his mouth, she laughs, hitting him again. “Don’t go there, Vega, I still can kill you in your sleep.”

 

Walking her to the bed and putting her down on it, he makes a pouting face to her, making her smile again. He likes the feeling of making her laugh. “You are too bossy when tired. But yeah, you are right, I'll behave.”

 

The door opened behind them, and Chawkas walks inside the room, sleep still write on her face. “A day, Commander. A single day without you needing my services.”

 

Shepard is lying on her back and raises to rest on her elbows. “Tell them that, Doc. I will have preferred to keep looking at the space instead of blowing heads.”

 

Moving near the bed, Chawkas pushes James to one side. “I will assume that you are perfectly fine today too, right, Lieutenant?”

 

“Not a single scratch, Doc. My chest will be a little bit sore tomorrow thanks to our crazy Commander, but I’m fine otherwise.”

 

A grunt reaches them, and they turn to see Shepard lying back to the bed. “Don’t worry, Vega. Next time a grenade comes to say ‘Hi’, I will remember it.”

 

The doctor giggles while turning her attention to her and walking to sit on the bed. “Don’t fight, my little marines. Now let me check that arm, Commander. Hoodie out.” Shepard lowers the zip of it, and James lets his eyes roam over her body and more specifically, the big tattoo on her chest. A black hole is eating a planet, surrounded by the darkness of the space. The doctor helps her to take it off, letting her in a tank top. The cut was clean on her left biceps, but it seemed not even hurt her. “Well, Commander. Want to keep the scar as always or do you want to look prettier this time?”

 

“You already know the answer, Karin. Scars remember me that I’m alive. I lost the ones I got before. I will not lose a single one more.” Her right-hand touches her lips, like searching for something, and is then when James is aware that the scar she used to have on her upper lip is no longer there. When she lowers the hand with a sigh, he sees another tattoo on her wrist, some numbers and letters. An Alliance ID maybe? Someday she will want to talk about it. He can wait.

 

The Doc is working on the cut, scanning it and searching for some toxin. When she has the green light from the omnitool, she recovers a set of suture from her bag, and works on it, dressing the wound methodically after finishing it. “And here you go, Commander. Another one for your collection. I’ll pay a visit tomorrow and change the dressing.” Standing from the bed, she touches her shoulder lovingly before moving away and stopping in front of James. “And you, Lieutenant, take those painkillers before you go to bed. Rest well. See you in the morning, and don’t worry, I’ll bring breakfast.” While James is still trying to catch the medicine bottle correctly, she was already at the door, knocking on it and leaving the room when the guards open it.

 

When they are alone again, James moves to the bed, where Shepard is sitting cross-legged, the hoodie beside her while she touches the bandage. “Your Doc is a bit bossy, but I like her. Perfect to deal with stubborn Marines.” When she didn’t answer him, he pushes her head with a finger. “Earth calling Shepard. Are you still with me?”

 

She sticks out her tongue to him, falling back to the bed with a grunt. “You are big enough to have your own gravity, but you are not a planet yet. And yes, I’m still here, just ignoring you.”

 

“Fine, then. Take a nap, Shepard. I will be there on the couch. Let me know if you need anything. Otherwise, you can keep ignoring me for the rest of the night.”

 

He steps away from the bed, walking to the window and letting his body fall on the couch. The painkillers are still in his pocket, and he takes the bottle out and put it on the side table. He will take them later. When he puts his feet on the coffee table, Shepard’s sigh reaches him, and he looks at her over his shoulder. She is still laying on the covers, with her legs bent up against her chest and awake. Standing from the couch, he stretches his back and neck before walking to the bed and using her hoodie to cover her shoulders and arms. “Get some rest, Shepard. You deserve it. I will be there if you need me.”

 

When he moves away, her hand appears from below the hoodie, grabbing his hand. “Thank you, Vega. For saving my ass before.”

 

Squeezing her hand, he returns it to is position, a sweet smile on her face. “De nada, Shepard. Now close those pretty eyes and sleep. I got your back.”

 

Bela returns the smile and lets her eyes close, feeling the tiredness calling her. The last thing she remembers is his steps moving away from the bed.