Anderson never knew quite what to make of her, from the day they pulled her broken body from the wreckage on Mindoir. It looked like the building had taken a direct artillery hit. Only her arm was visible under the rubble. His troops had assumed she was just another corpse and acted accordingly. Until she opened her mouth and started cursing them.
Go fuck yourselves, you goat fucking cockwipes, where the hell were you when we needed you? Where the hell were you? Let me go, you motherfucking asshole, I’ll rip your balls off and shove them up your ass, you useless piece of shit. You call yourself a soldier? You’re a fucking garbageman is what you are.
Mindoir was a blasted wasteland that stank of burning flesh and rubber and shit, littered with shattered limbs and wailing women, and his men were struggling with a sixteen year old girl with more bones broken than intact. Her left femur, splintered, poked through the skin. Her face was bruised and stained red with blood and burns. Skin blistered from the heat. She couldn’t even stand up but she spat blood in Cho’s face and tried to take a swing at him. Fell in a heap on the ground and swore again.
“Easy, kid,” Anderson said. He wasn’t amused--there was nothing to laugh at on Mindoir, not anymore. But there was something almost comical about her defiance. Something admirable. Something that tugged at his heart in a way it really shouldn’t. “Save it for the batarians.”
She stopped fighting, then, long enough for the troops to maneuver her onto a stretcher. They weren’t gentle but she didn’t wince. “Who are you?” she demanded. Demanded.
“I’m First Lieutenant Anderson.”
“Fuck. Where the fuck were you guys a few hours ago?”
He’d never seen anything quite like it. The whites of her eyes were red with burst blood vessels, and she stared at him like he was the only thing anchoring her to sanity. “We were… here. But we couldn’t reach you.”
He didn’t know why he answered her. “We were pinned down. We would have sacrificed too many men trying to get to the col--to you.”
Her eyes were a very dark brown, so dark they were almost black. And she stared at him without expression. “You would have sacrificed too many men.”
She didn’t say anything.
“Lieutenant Anderson, we have to get her to the medic,” one of the marines said urgently.
“My name is Shepard,” the kid said. “My parents are dead.”
She didn’t say thanks to you, but he could hear it in the words anyway. He probably deserved that. “We’ll make sure you’re taken care of.”
She laughed. Coughed. “Right. Thanks a lot, First Lieutenant.”
He kept an eye on her after that, from a distance. He got the sense Zahava Shepard was not the kind of girl who wanted an overbearing hand. But if he made sure she got her L3 implants paid for, and if he maybe reached out to her recruiting officer when she enlisted, well, she’d never know and she didn’t need to know. It wasn’t much but he thought about her--and about Mindoir--not infrequently. About the way her face had gone blank, dead, when he said we would have sacrificed too many men.
In retrospect he shouldn’t have been surprised when, seven years after Mindoir, Shepard stood before a court martial. It was almost immediately after they took her in from Torfan, the blood still on her face and hands. The reports that had come back from the moon were horrifying. Major Kyle had ordered a retreat and she’d ignored him. Pursued the batarians. She’d slaughtered the slavers who’d tried to surrender as they knelt on the ground with their hands in the air. When they’d gone in to recover the bodies of Shepard’s men, they saw them there, neat holes in their foreheads. She’d returned with only five marines from her unit. Kyle had collapsed on the deck, hard, after getting that news. And he hadn’t gotten up.
She waited to go before the tribunal. Her face was impassive as always. Back ramrod straight as she sat on the hard bunk in her cell.
“Shepard,” he said.
She looked at him askance. “It’s Captain Anderson now, isn’t it?”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“You want to know why I did it, don’t you? They all do.”
“You disobeyed your commanding officer’s direct orders. You got a lot of good men and women killed.”
“You don’t really need to ask why, though, sir.” Shepard smiled at him. Normally he would find a smile comforting, but hers had entirely the opposite effect. “You already know.”
“I don’t think I do.” He did know, or thought he did, but he wanted to hear her say it.
“Major Kyle was too frightened to sacrifice his men. I couldn’t do it, sir. I couldn’t. Not me.”
“You might be dishonorably discharged. Or worse. It’s a general court martial, Shepard.”
Shepard smiled again and cracked her knuckles. The sound was loud and sharp in the quiet cell. “I think they’ll see it my way when I explain it to them. When they see what the batarians do next. Have some faith, Captain.”
In retrospect, he shouldn’t have been surprised at all.