Chapter 1: Prologue: London
This fic is based on my Paragon Infiltrator, Commander Mira Shepard (Colonist/Sole Survivor background). Most other details you can guess through the tags or events in the story, so I'll leave it there.
Gasping, Shepard opened her eyes. It was dark, she couldn’t move, and everything hurt to the point that she was sure she was dying again. Somehow, she’d survived the explosion and what she could only assume was a fall to Earth after activating the Crucible.
‘Don’t think about it too much,’ she told herself, wincing. Even thinking hurt. She tried to flex her fingers and activate her omniblade but only one would move. She willed the finger to reach for the comm button but it was too far. The pain was too much.
She could feel the cold chain holding her N7 dog tags sliding along her neck. The metal brushed the exposed skin where her armor had been destroyed. How long had she been here? Did the Crucible even work? Did the Normandy get away?
"Over my dead body!" Garrus's shout as she pushed him back onto the Normandy echoed through her mind. The pain began to overwhelm Shepard and she felt herself slipping back into unconsciousness. She focused the one eye that felt like it was working on the small crack of sunlight above her. A flash of red appeared momentarily and she closed her eyes. If heaven had a bar, the first thing she was ordering was turian whiskey.
“I found someone!” Shepard could hear someone say, faintly. A kevlar-gloved hand brushed the exposed skin on her neck, grabbing at the chain. She coughed as it briefly choked her.
“N7 tags…it’s her! We found Shepard!”
There is a time jump approximately mid-chapter, indicated by two tildes as a section break. By my handwritten plot timeline, it's in the neighborhood of 3-4 weeks. (Guys, I have a plan! I thought about this!)
Everything was white. But Shepard didn’t hurt anymore. ‘Well that’s an improvement,’ she thought. She stretched her fingers; all ten moved this time, barely. They brushed against a starched cotton sheet.
“Shepard,” a familiar voice broke through the silence. Hackett. “Welcome to Paris, or what’s left of it.”
Shepard tried to turn her head, but it wouldn’t move. She tracked her eyes to the source of the voice. Everything was blurry, but she could see a navy-blue blob. “Admiral. Good to see you.”
“Glad you’re back with us.” The blob moved closer and she felt his hand close over hers. “It was touch and go there for a few weeks.”
“Weeks? I must be getting better at this.” Shepard joked. She tried to laugh but it turned into a cough. “Last time I was dead for two years.”
She could hear Admiral Hackett chuckle, though it sounded far away. “Your friend Mr. Taylor was more than willing to hand over data from the Lazarus project as soon as he heard of your survival. Fortunately, he had hard disk copies that survived the Crucible.”
Shepard started, which sent currents of pain throughout her back and arms. “What?”
Hackett sighed. “The Crucible’s attack knocked out all our technology in addition to killing the Reapers. Fortunately, here on Earth, we still have most of our pre-First Contact technology, even if it took some time to get it back online. But it’s been touch and go getting in contact with off-world ships and other worlds. The mass relays are still knocked out and it may be months before we can bring all of the technology back online. So, for now,” the blob that was Hackett moved away, “we have a lot of stranded aliens on Earth.”
Shepard tried to lift herself but found she couldn’t move without blinding flashes of pain. “What about the Normandy?” ‘What about Garrus?’ she thought. He’d bled all over her as she carried him back to the ship and his words sounded labored as he said goodbye. She played over their last moments in her head, hearing him whisper he loved her just before the Normandy flew off. And, of course, his threat that over his dead body would she would go on without him.
She could hear Hackett take a breath. He didn’t answer her.
"Hackett?" Shepard pressed, closing her eyes. She wasn't able to see clearly, but she couldn't look at him anyway. "What happened to the Normandy?" She hooked a finger into the sheet, twisting it into a tendril to brace her for the words she knew were coming. That they'd found it crashed, that a Reaper had shot it down, that no one survived. She'd promised Garrus that she'd come back alive; why didn't she order him to do the same?
When she opened her eyes again, the blob was gone. Shepard blinked, bringing the world into slightly sharper focus. She could feel the edge of a crust in her eye. Had she fallen asleep waiting for Hackett's response?
Shepard kept blinking, trying to continue clearing the world.
"Are you able to see, Commander?"
This time, Shepard found she was able to move her head. There was no one on either side. She tried to push herself up to her elbows. While she felt no pain, she quickly fell back to the bed. Two gloved, three-fingered hands were suddenly lifting her, shifting pillows behind her back. "Sorry about that, Commander," a salarian nurse said, adjusting Shepard so she was nearly sitting up. "Didn't think you would try to move so quickly."
"I'm full of surprises," Shepard said grimly. "What's a salarian doing working in an Alliance hospital?"
The salarian stepped back and blinked a few times. "Medic for STG. Stranded on Earth until mass relays fixed. Want to be useful." The salarian looked over his shoulder. "Admiral Hackett thought you would respond well to salarian presence. Said you were good friend to Mordin Solus."
Shepard's eyes welled at the mention of Mordin. 'Well, those appear to be back online,' she thought bitterly, raising an arm to wipe her eyes. Like her neck, it was stiff, but moved without pain.
"Hackett authorized a change of pain medication, one that won't conflict with experimental medi-gel," the salarian went on. "Hope to accelerate organ and bone regrowth. Will still need therapy to build muscle, can only do so much without moving you."
Shepard continued blinking. The room around her was coming into focus, but the edges were still oily, blurred. It was like looking through a smudged scope. But she could see her surroundings now -- a stark, white, standard Alliance hospital room. The salarian stepped back, allowing Shepard to see through the window. Everything beyond it was undefined. 'Probably because the Reapers reduced it to rubble,' she reminded herself.
"If you are able to sit up, we will begin your physical therapy tomorrow," the salarian continued, typing into his omnitool's interface. "Admiral Hackett will be pleased."
Shepard stared down the long hallway. In the last forty-five minutes, she’d managed to walk about a third of its length while supported by her physical therapist. “This was easier last time.”
The asari physical therapist sighed. “Last time, Cerberus chose to just replace all of your broken parts with cybernetics. You’re still growing new organs and new muscles, and you’ve spent the better part of the last three months in bed. And, if I understand correctly, last time you had the imperative of evacuating a burning space station to motivate you.”
Shepard reached up to scratch the shaved patch at the base of her skull. Her hair was still growing back and it itched like crazy. She was relieved that they’d only shaved a small part. She wasn’t sure she could pull off looking like Jack. “I thought my shrink sessions were separate from PT,” she muttered. The asari guided her as she turned around and made slightly faster progress back to her room.
“Can I get you anything?” The physical therapist asked once Shepard was settled back in her hospital bed.
Shepard shrugged. She’d read through most of the hospital’s library, which included a sizeable collection of pre-First Contact books, and found she’d had little interest in Earth news or its other vidscreen options. “News of the Normandy would be nice,” she asked, finally. Hackett dodged her questions every time he visited, and the rest of her medical team acted like she never said anything at all.
“I’ll see what I can do,” the asari said, in a tone that suggested she was not planning on doing anything of the sort.
Shepard lay back on her pillows and glanced out the window. ‘Liar’ she thought, watching the asari leave out of the corner of her eye.
“I can help with that,” a disembodied voice said from the corner of the window. The air pixelated briefly and then was filled by a woman in a black catsuit as she disabled her cloaking device. Mischievous brown eyes peeked out from under the suit’s hood.
Shepard felt her first genuine smile since waking up in Paris. “Kasumi. How long have you been waiting there?”
"Long enough." The thief sat on the end of the bed and drew her knees to her chest. “I’ve been casing the place for a while now. You’re under lock and key, Commander. This ward has the highest security in the hospital, and your only authorized visitor is Admiral Hackett.”
“So naturally, you accepted the challenge.”
Kasumi smiled and began playing with her omnitool. “I still have my Alliance intranet credentials from construction of the Crucible. It seems as though the good Admiral has placed instructions for no one to mention the Normandy to you.”
Shepard sighed. “Of course he has.” She turned back to the window. Outside, she could see the remains of the Eiffel Tower. The pre-First Contact vids all made it seem like a perfect romantic destination. These were not the circumstances under which she had hoped to see it.
“Fortunately,” Kasumi went on, “I am not actually a member of the Alliance Navy and the Admiral doesn’t scare me. I collected the last few transmissions from the Normandy’s cockpit and what tracking data was collected before the pulse from the Crucible wiped out all tech temporarily.” She looked up at Shepard, who was still staring fixedly out the window. “I don’t suppose you’ll want to hear it, but Joker and Kaidan argued over making a fly-by to rescue you. The Normandy bounced through a few mass relays but tracking was lost in the Silean Nebula.”
Shepard sighed. The Silean Nebula was in asari space. Even with FTL transport, it could take a lifetime to reach the nebula, much less attempt to find the Normandy, or what was left of it. “So, with the mass relays knocked out,” she started. Tears began clouding her vision.
Kasumi stood and cloaked herself. “I’m sorry, Shepard.”
Shepard stared down the hallway, facing the door that separated her private ward from the rest of the hospital. She fingered the hem of her Alliance-issued shirt. Her psychiatrist thought that wearing a military uniform, instead of a hospital gown, would motivate her. But all Shepard could think of were the people she failed in the uniform. The people she lost. The last time she wore Alliance fatigues, Garrus was holding her. Now, she would never feel his hands on her again. Garrus was gone.
“I don’t know how she found out.” She could hear the physical therapist whispering to the psychiatrist. “One day she was making slow progress, then suddenly, she just gave up.”
“Someone broke protocol.” The psychiatrist hissed. “Her team keeps telling me how she’s failing, how I need to find something to keep her spirits up. But she won’t talk to me.”
Shepard gripped the rail on the wall. It was the only thing keeping her up. All she wanted was to crawl back in bed and sleep for the rest of her life. Hopefully it wouldn’t be long, and she could meet Garrus at the bar.
“Commander, please,” the physical therapist said quietly. “The Alliance needs you.”
Using all the strength she could muster, Shepard turned to stare down her whispering audience. “The Alliance needs me? I’ve given the Alliance everything I have. I died for them once already, and I nearly died again four months ago! I spent twelve years climbing through the ranks, surviving Akuze, becoming an N7, becoming the first goddamn human Spectre, trying to warn all of Council space about the Reapers, building the greatest army this galaxy has ever known, only to watch the people I tried to protect die around me and lose everyone I ever loved. What more can I give to the Alliance? What more do they need from me?”
At the end of her outburst, Shepard felt her body collapsing and she let go of the rail. Just before her knees hit the floor, two large, gloved three-fingered hands wrapped around her waist. The arms expertly shifted to support her back and knees as they lifted her into a carry. “I don’t know about the Alliance,” Garrus said, pressing his face against her skull. Shepard could feel the vibrations of his subvocals against her forehead. “But I gave you an order to come back alive.”
“Sir, I don’t know how you got into this ward, but you are not authorized to be here.” The salarian nurse stood at the foot of Shepard’s bed. Garrus was running his fingers through the partially-hidden patch of short, black hair at the base of her skull. Her outburst drained her to the point that she was asleep before he reached her room. She was awake again, but kept her eyes closed; she didn't want any of her medical team to bother her right now. They would just make Garrus leave.
The door to the patient room opened and Shepard opened her eyes in narrow slits. “Actually, I believe you’ll find he does.” Dr. Chakwas said as she strode in. She handed a datapad to the nurse, whose eyes grew wider the further he scrolled.
“Chakwas, what are you doing?” Admiral Hackett stormed in. “Why is the Alliance’s chief medical officer telling me a rogue turian broke into the ward and that you relieved her of duty?”
Dr. Chakwas took her datapad back from the nurse and handed it to Hackett. “The orders pertaining to Commander Shepard’s care and approved visitors have been updated in the Alliance database. And please be quiet, my patient is sleeping.” Hackett looked from Dr, Chakwas to Garrus. “Not that it isn’t a pleasure to see you both, as well as the remainder of the Normandy crew gathered outside the ward, but I want to know who granted you this authority when, as of this morning, we didn’t even know you were alive, let alone in this star system.”
Dr. Chakwas swiped to the top of the orders and pointed at the first line of text. “Anderson?” Hackett’s face grew red with barely concealed irritation. “He’s been dead for months.”
Shepard closed her eyes again as she felt Garrus remove his hand. “Then maybe the Alliance should figure out who stole his identity and is using it to hack secure medical records instead of raising a ruckus in this room,” the turian said, his voice carrying a dangerous edge. Shepard could hear Hackett muttering as he left the room.
A faint, staticky sound came from behind Shepard, the sound of a dispelling cloak. “That should keep him busy for a while.” Kasumi said.
“Aren’t you worried he’ll figure out it was you?” Dr. Chakwas asked.
“It should take at least a few days. I’m thorough.” The static noise happened again. Kasumi was recloaking. Shepard thought she heard the door open and close.
The doctor sighed. “It doesn’t look good. They’ve removed all the cybernetics Cerberus gave her – probably fried in the Crucible blast – and have been regrowing her bones and tissues organically with stem cells and an experimental form of medi-gel. Most of her organs are at 50% functionality or lower, which is discouraging seeing as they implanted the stem cells the day after they found her.”
Chakwas kept reading off symptoms and physical remarks that upset her: severely underweight, malnutrition, signs of advanced depression, apparent loss of will to live. Shepard tightened her eyelids, trying to block out the list. She'd been hearing doctors rattle it off for weeks.
Garrus's gloved hand returned to Shepard's forehead, brushing aside a few wisps that had fallen across her face. “Remember when I kicked your ass on the Presidium?” he whispered. “We need a rematch, but you can't beat me if you don't get out of this hospital.”
A smile crept across Shepard’s face and she rolled her body towards him, though she never opened her eyes. “You’re on, Vakarian.”
“Commander, I would like to ‘spring you’ as much as anyone else,” Dr. Chakwas glanced sidelong at Garrus. “But, I can’t in good conscience let you leave until your organs meet the functionality goals set by my predecessors and you meet at least a basic standard of fitness.”
Garrus stretched, trying to shift his backplates. He’d spent the night in a chair, sleeping with his head on the side of Shepard’s bed, using his crossed arms as a pillow. After four months apart, he wasn’t about to leave her side. He was paying for it now.
“Define ‘basic standard of fitness’” Shepard said, shifting her coffee mug from one hand to the other. She had eaten more at breakfast this morning than she had in months. The salarian nurse rewarded her appetite with her first cup of coffee in Paris, and she was relishing the bitter, black liquid.
Dr. Chakwas shook her head. “My predecessor was vague on that point, but I’ll know it when I see it. Their priority was your physical and mental health. Getting back into fighting shape can come later.”
Shepard looked away, letting the short black strands of hair fall in her face. “I don’t want to talk to their psychiatrist.”
Garrus reached out to stroke her shoulder. Shepard winced. She hated him seeing how frail she'd become; after Kasumi told her the Normandy was lost in asari space, she'd stopped eating more than a bite or two at each meal. She probably made up for it this morning alone.
“I’m giving you a week off from psychiatry appointments,” Chakwas said, finishing her own coffee and rising from the chair. “But you will attempt to walk the hallway each day. It doesn’t have to be with the physical therapist,” she added, cutting off Shepard’s protest before it could leave her mouth, “but it will have to be with at least one Normandy crew member, with the exception of Mr. Moreau.” She left the room.
Shepard leaned back, idly nibbling a piece of buttered toast as she stared out the window. The rubble had slowly cleared, and scaffolds were rising in her view. Paris was rebuilding.
“How long are we going to sit in silence, or does one of us have to make a bad joke about dying?” Garrus asked finally.
Shepard put her toast down. “I just don’t know what to say. I thought you were dead, and I wanted to die because of it. But now you’re here, we’re in Paris, and all I want is to get out of this damned hospital.”
Garrus chuckled. “Yes, the human vids suggested that this is one of the most romantic places on Earth.”
“It was,” Shepard said. “I always wanted to come here, but now, with the damage from the Reapers…”
“They’re rebuilding, and they’ve cleaned up quite a bit.” Garrus stretched again, propping his feet up on the end of the bed. “Tell you what, you walk the length of that hallway, unaided, and I’ll see about getting you out there for a good old fashioned date.”
Shepard pushed her tray to the side. “I think I’d like to take that walk now.”
An orderly came to help Shepard get out of the bed and instructed Garrus on how to hold her as they walked. Finally, they made it to the door. “So what are you going to do while I’m cooped up in here?” Shepard asked as she began taking cautious, measured steps.
“I plan on walking you every day until you don’t need me anymore.”
“I’ll always need you,” she said, tightening her grip on Garrus's arm. Before, she had done it in the throes of passion. Now she was just trying to stay upright. “Besides, that’s an hour or two at most. I have physicals, tests, and I sleep most of the time. Not to mention psychiatry appointments.”
“I’ll figure something out,” Garrus said, steadying her back. “Besides, I need to decide what to do now anyway. I doubt Primarch Victus has much need for a Reaper expert anymore and bounty hunting seems passé after taking on the Reapers.”
“What did you have in mind?” They had made it almost a third of the way down the hall. A long stretch of windows showed an almost unobstructed view of the Paris skyline. Shepard was starting to lose her balance, and Garrus guided her to a bench in front of the windows.
“Well,” he said as he sat beside her. He wrapped his arm around her back and pulled her right up against him. “I was hoping that I could coast along on my girlfriend’s reputation for at least a little while. I figure being Commander Shepard’s boyfriend and personal representative while she recovers has to be good for something.”
Shepard’s laugh came out in short bursts. “I’m not sure what that will get you anymore.”
“I’m sure it will still take me pretty far. Besides, you won’t be in here forever.” Garrus looked down at the top of her head. “After that, I was hoping to simply be a kept man…or maybe you’ll make an honest turian out of me.”
Shepard turned to look at him. “What did you say?”
“I know this isn’t the human way, with a ring and bending on one knee,” Garrus cleared his throat. “But I’m serious. I want to marry you. I watched a lot of human vids to make sure I could do this right.”
Shepard could only stare.
“What, you never thought about it?” Garrus asked. “I thought I made it pretty clear in London.”
"Garrus,” Shepard started. She braced herself and pulled away slightly. What could she even tell him? That she never thought about it because she didn’t want to? That she didn’t see a way out of the war that left them both alive. That she was afraid to even hope for a future?
“We can talk about this another time,” Garrus said finally. “You promised Dr. Chakwas a walk and we should get back to that.”
Absurdly huge ME3 spoilers in this chapter. But if you've read this far, I'm assuming you know what happens with the "Destroy" ending.
The days fell into a routine. Garrus was always there when Shepard woke up, and didn't leave the room until he was certain she was asleep. After several days of arguing with Dr. Chakwas and the rest of the Alliance medical staff, the growing stiffness in his back forced him to concede to sleeping in the room directly across the hall.
He stayed with Shepard throughout the day with the exception of her countless appointments. Tali kicked Garrus out regularly as well, using their time alone to tell Shepard everything that had happened on the Normandy after the Crucible was activated.
"Truly, Shepard," Tali waved her glass in the air one morning, flinging the straw and water across the room. "The way Kaidan and Garrus snarled at each other, you'd think it was still the First Contact War."
Shepard finished tucking in her shirt. The hospital issued her fatigues in the size they had on her record, which was from before the Reapers hit Earth. They were much too loose now; spending several months subsisting only on IVs and as little food as possible until the Normandy returned had taken its toll. Things were starting to fit better, but she still felt like she was playing dress up in another woman's clothes. Maybe she was.
She briefly thought about asking Garrus to pick up some civilian clothes when he went out into the city. He never elaborated on what he was doing when he left her for her medical sessions. Through what little he would tell, she knew she'd managed to reach his father, and he was doing something with both the Alliance and what turian troops were still stranded on Earth, though those numbers had dwindled since the relays re-opened.
Not all the relays were back yet. Many of the Terminus and Attican Traverse relays were still off-line. Tali was tracking their progress, eager to return to Rannoch. But nearly all of Council space and most of the Alliance systems were accessible. Many refugees headed for the Citadel or their homeworlds as soon as they could book passage.
The asari physical therapist coughed politely from the door. "Commander, Flight Lieutenant Moreau is here to see you. I can walk to you him, unless the Admiral would prefer to?" The asari glanced sidelong at Tali, who was still mopping up her spilled water.
"Is this about EDI?" Tali asked, looking up at Shepard. She nodded. "Then no, I'd rather not."
Shepard walked with the asari to where the benches overlooked the Parisian skyline. Shepard set herself down on the bench next to Joker, then waved off the physical therapist. She’d figure out a way back to her room later. Someone would come by.
Besides, she had to have this conversation alone.
“You wanted to see me, Commander?” Joker asked, stretching backwards and draping his arms across the back of the bench.
Shepard pulled her dog tags off her neck. She’d kept them under her clothes since waking up in Paris, so no one would be able to ask about the additional adornment. Breaking the clasp, she slid EDI’s ring off the chain and set it on the bench between them.
Joker looked at it, then back out at the skyline. “I’m flattered, Commander, but I’m pretty sure Garrus would break each of my bones into their smallest possible pieces and then use what’s left for target practice.”
Shepard picked it up and put it in his hand. “It was EDI’s. I was going to return it to her after everything was over.”
Joker looked at it. The faint strips of metals, from each council homeworld, shimmered against the clear-cut stone. “She got you this?”
“Well, technically you did, since she bought it with your credits. Either way, you should keep it.” Shepard took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Joker.”
He shook his head and pocketed the ring. “Don’t be. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have had any time with her. You pushed us both in the right direction.”
Standing, he added, “I’d better leave before your boyfriend actually does decide to use me as target practice.”
As he reached the door, Joker turned and said, “I wanted to go back after you, you know. I didn’t want to be the reason you died again.”
Shepard sat alone on the bench for a long time. She pulled the non-slip hospital socks off her feet and dragged her bare soles across the cold tiled floor. In the weeks since Garrus and the rest of the Normandy had arrived, she’d felt stronger and happier than she’d had in any of the days since she’d woken up. Heck, it felt better than any day since the Normandy left dry dock. But…
“You just going to sit there all day?” Garrus sat down next to her. Shadows were starting to creep across the hallway. How long had it been since Joker left?
“I was just…thinking.” She said finally. “About London.”
Shepard waited for Garrus to make a snappy comment, but instead he just sat. He’d been trying to get her to talk about London for weeks, almost certainly at the behest of her psychiatrist.
“After Joker flew off, I ran straight for the conduit. Harbinger was still there…it hit a skycar and it crashed into our strike team.” She paused. Everything seemed to be happening again behind her eyes. “I don’t know how long I was out. I came to, and could barely walk. There was a service pistol, and I grabbed it, because there were still husks and marauders and God knows what out there.”
Shepard looked down at her hands. “I made it through the conduit, into the Citadel…but it was nowhere I’d ever seen. It was a tunnel, full of dead bodies, and Keepers. Anderson made it through, too, and at the end of the hallway, he was there. At the Crucible controls.
“But…The Illusive Man was there too, talking about controlling the Reapers. He was indoctrinated, just like Saren. He…” Shepard struggled. In the moment, she just pushed it away. But now, after having weeks to think about it and dwell on it, she found one gunshot above all others repeating in her dreams every night. “He controlled me. He controlled me and I killed Anderson.”
Shepard rarely cried, especially in front of anyone in her crew, and when she did, she restrained herself and recovered quickly. But this was uncontrolled. She drew her knees to her chest and shook violently as the tears rolled down her face and she gasped for air.
“He was the closest thing I had to a father,” she said quietly. “He was my Commander for years, recommended me for N7 and the Spectres and I just shot him. Like it was nothing.”
“It wasn’t nothing,” Garrus whispered.
"Too many people have died because of me. If I hadn't chased Saren, Ash would still be here. If I hadn't recruited Thane, he wouldn't have tried to help us on the Citadel, and he'd still be here. Mordin would still be healing people on Omega and not an ash plume over Tuchanka. I destroyed EDI when I destroyed the Reapers. And I shot Anderson. I think…” Shepard was still struggling. “I think I was indoctrinated too. I think the Reapers controlled me, through The Illusive Man. He broke free and killed himself, so they needed another person. They needed me. I controlled the Crucible and they tried to convince me control them, just like The Illusive Man or…they called it synthesis. Merging organic and synthetic DNA. New life.”
Garrus cupped Shepard's chin in his hand and turned her face towards him. "How many of those people would have died anyway if you hadn't been trying to warn the galaxy about the Reapers? If you hadn't tried, would we even still be here having this conversation?"
Shepard allowed her body to collapse towards Garrus and he wrapped his free arm around her, still stroking her cheek with his thumb.
“What if they’re still out there, in dark space? What if we didn’t get them all?” She asked finally, her voice barely above a whisper. “What if I’m still indoctrinated?”
“I don’t think an indoctrinated person questions whether they are.” Garrus said after a moment. “In my experience, they’re pretty convinced that they’re acting of their own accord and that they sympathize with the Reapers. So unless you’re starting to feel sorry for Harbinger…”
Garrus held Shepard close until the shaking became faint shivers and she started to pull away. “I think I’d like to walk back to my room now.”
He stood quickly and reached out to brace her as he’d been doing almost every day. But Shepard waved him off. “I need to do this on my own.”
Chapter 5: Chapter 5 (Fluff Interlude)
If you want to get on with the plot, this chapter is 100% skippable. If you're here for the Shakarian Fluff, read on.
“Remember that time you wanted to pretend we were on a first date?” Garrus asked, escorting Shepard out into the cool early spring air. She’d made it the entire way back to her room the day she finally opened up about London, and walked the entire length of the hallway, out and back, for Dr. Chakwas two days later. And finally, after days of bargaining and maybe some begging, Garrus was taking Shepard out. A promise was a promise.
Shepard shivered. She was still underweight, but no longer looked like she was about to break in half. “You mean when you gave up halfway through and dragged me out on the dance floor?”
“I seem to recall you enjoying it.” Garrus shifted the large duffel bag he was carrying.
“Are you going to tell me what’s in there?” Shepard knew offering to help was an empty gesture.
Garrus shook his head and continued. “Anyway, I was thinking you need more dancing lessons. Anything is better than that display you put on at your apartment.” Shepard started to protest but he smiled and went on. “If I wasn’t madly in love with you and concerned for your survival, I would have suggested you dance for the Reapers. Maybe it would have convinced them that we weren’t advanced enough yet and they would have simply gone home.”
“Until one stopped in Purgatory and saw one of the asari dancers.”
“I dunno, I think Reapers prefer Chora’s Den.”
Shepard had to grasp a bench to support her until she stopped laughing. It felt good to laugh like this again, to be out walking in a city with Garrus. To simply be out of the hospital. It had been two months since the Normandy arrived and most of the crew had moved on. James had returned to San Diego for time with his family before formally beginning N7 training. Cortez was still in the region, carrying on transports. Most of the remaining Alliance crewmembers, including Traynor, had been recalled to temporary assignments while the Normandy was still grounded.
Only Dr. Chakwas and Joker remained. Joker insisted he wouldn’t leave the Normandy, that nothing else the Alliance could ask him to pilot would stand up to her. Chakwas refused to leave until she could discharge Shepard personally.
They continued walking until Garrus stopped outside a relatively unassuming storefront. “This is it.” They were outside a mostly-destroyed building, but with an amazingly still-functional elevator. It let them off at the roof, where they had an unobstructed view of the river and the Eiffel Tower.
“I thought you deserved a second chance to prove that I’m the best shot in the galaxy.” Garrus dropped the duffel bag at their feet and knelt to open it. “And I wanted to reintroduce you to an old friend.” From the duffel, he drew a Spectre-issue Black Widow sniper rifle. It had been refitted with ultralight materials and it still had the extended clip Shepard had added during the war. She briefly mourned the loss of the scope, but figured she wasn’t going to be aiming through smoke bombs much anymore.
“I had to call in a few favors to track this girl down,” Garrus continued, “including to my least favorite human Spectre to get him to confirm the serial number of the gun issued to you. And then I made a few modifications.” He one-handed the gun, turning it to show off his handiwork, then set it on the parapet in front of Shepard.
Shepard picked it up. Her strength had improved, but even with the ultralight refit, it was still heavy. There was no way she could sprint with this strapped to her back now. She hoisted the gun to her shoulder and aimed, tracking a bird across the sky. Lowering the gun, she turned to Garrus. “Give me a target.”
The turian lobbed a clay target into the air. Shepard followed and pulled the trigger. She clipped the side but the target still shattered into brown dust.
They traded shots for a few minutes, Garrus giving her progressively more difficult shots. Finally, he asked her to aim one low. The turian missed the shot. Shepard raised the gun in the air, mimicking Garrus’s pose from when they went shooting on the Citadel. “I’m Mira Shepard and this is officially my favorite place on Earth.” She wobbled, as holding the rifle one-handed threw off her balance.
Reaching to brace herself, she turned to find Garrus kneeling, with a plain platinum ring in his hand. Shepard fell to her knees, letting him catch her and draw her in. What had seemed so impossible, what she hadn’t wanted to speak of, now the only answer she could give was to nod her head and let him embrace her.
“We won’t do anything big or fancy,” he whispered into her hair. “Just marry quietly on the Citadel, have our friends over for another party at the apartment. And then we can do whatever for the rest of our lives. No Reapers, no Cerberus, no rogue AIs, no homicidal clones. Just Shepard and Vakarian.”
Garrus paused for a second. “And maybe a few krogan, to keep things interesting.”
“I’m glad to say you are formally discharged,” Dr. Chakwas said, signing her datapad. She tilted the stylus and submitted the medical report. “But please, continue to take it easy now that you are no longer under my direct care.”
Shepard grimaced. “How much easier can I go? I can barely lift my rifle and I can’t even run a mile.”
Chakwas looked up and raised an eyebrow. “I meant with respect to the activities I’m sure you’ll partake in upon your arrival at the Citadel. Please, no rough sex for at least a month, Shepard.” Garrus chuckled as he finished tucking Shepard’s belongings into the Alliance-issued duffel.
Shepard punched him softly on the shoulder. “Yes, ma’am.”
“And keep the drinking to a minimum as well, for the time being. You have a mostly new liver, don’t go destroying it right away.”
“She may not have much time for that anyway,” Admiral Hackett said, appearing at the door to Shepard’s room. “Commander, may I have a few minutes of your time?”
Garrus hoisted the duffel onto his shoulder and picked up the one carrying his belongings and Shepard’s gun. “We have a shuttle to catch, Admiral.”
Hackett nodded at Garrus. “They’ll wait for you. Your ride to the Citadel is on an Alliance ship. They won’t leave until I say so.” He held his arm out to Shepard, who took it. She felt odd wearing civilian clothes in his presence, but she couldn’t stand the outsized Alliance fatigues anymore. A bag of new clothes had mysteriously appeared in her room the week before. Shepard hadn’t asked any questions; Kasumi had good taste and the clothes suited her still-slim figure.
They walked to a table at the far end of the hall, near the wing’s exit. Hackett placed a datapad on the table. “Shepard, I wanted to know what your plans were regarding the Alliance Navy,” he said, eyeing her carefully.
Of course, Shepard thought. She rested her elbows on the table and put her face in her hands. “Admiral, I’m retired. I retired the second I had to watch the Normandy fly away, leaving me to die in London. I’m done.”
Hackett nodded and tapped the datapad. “I thought you might say that. While I’m sorry to hear you’ve resigned, you haven’t been formally discharged. And I thought you’d might like to see your new commission before I begin the paperwork.”
“My what?” Shepard tried to read what was on the datapad, but Hackett was scrolling too quickly.
“Tell you what,” he said, picking up the datapad and handing it to her. “Read it and tell me what you think. If you still want out, I’ll authorize the honorable discharge and you’ll board that Alliance shuttle as a civilian.”
Shepard looked down at the datapad, then back at the admiral in shock. “Sir, that can’t be correct.”
“It is, and it comes with a substantial promotion. You’d be Rear Admiral Shepard.”
“I like the sound of that,” Garrus said, placing his hand on Shepard’s shoulder. “But what are the strings attached to that fancy title?”
Shepard stared back at the datapad. “They want me to report to Rio de Janiero, to direct the N7 program.”
Hackett made a steeple gesture with his fingers. “Well?”
“Admiral, I need to think about this,” Shepard said finally, handing back the datapad. “I know it’s a non-combat position, but I really would prefer to just be retired.”
Hackett tapped the screen a few times. “I’ve transferred the commission information to your omnitool. Think it over, and let me know in a week.” Hackett took the datapad and set a small box on the table in its place. “Regardless of your decision, this is for you.”
Shepard opened the box. Inside was a short chain bearing a dog tag: Admiral David Anderson. Shepard bit her lip as she ran a finger over the worn impression. She looped her fingers through the chain and closed the tag into her fist. bit her lip as she ran a finger over the worn impression. She looped her fingers through the chain and closed the tag into her fist.
“We were planning to send both to Kahlee Sanders but when she heard you were alive, she insisted you have one. It’s what Anderson would have wanted.” Hackett stood and gestured to the ward’s doors. “There’s an Alliance shuttle waiting to take you to your ship. I had to pull a few strings, but I believe you’ll enjoy your accommodations for your trip to the Citadel.”
Shepard and Garrus rode the elevator to the ground floor and stepped out into the sunlight. True enough, an Alliance Kodiak shuttle was parked in front of the hospital, with a familiar figure leaning against the hull. “Ready for one last ride on the Normandy, Commander?” Cortez asked as he opened the shuttle doors.
Shepard hugged him. “Take me home, Cortez.”
“I can take you directly to the Citadel, or I can bounce through every functional relay in the system,” Joker offered. “For old time’s sake. We can raid a few fuel stations, take out a Cerberus installation, whatever you want.”
Shepard stood on the bridge, resting her hand on EDI’s empty copilot seat. “I just want to go home. I have some things to think about.”
Joker pulled up several screens as he initiated the Normandy’s navigation. “Whatever you say, Commander.”
“Did Hackett really have to pull strings to get the Normandy to take me to the Citadel?”
“Maybe a few,” Joker admitted. “Alliance brass doesn’t want the old girl to become a civilian shuttle. But you’re a special case. Commander Shepard is practically synonymous with the Normandy. They wouldn’t say no to letting you have one last ride.”
Shepard patted Joker on the shoulder and left the bridge. The Normandy crew had changed substantially since she’d last boarded, but the new XO, an eager young man named Nguyen, informed her immediately upon boarding that she’d been granted temporary use of the CO quarters for the journey. Joker’s voice filled the room as soon as she left the elevator outside her old cabin. “By the way, if you’re going to use the bed, make sure you throw the sheets in the laundry before docking. I don’t think the new CO would appreciate it if you leave the place a mess.”
Shepard entered the cabin, where she saw several small boxes with her name on them. Her model ship collection, presumably, and other belongings she’d left on board. The hamster was still in his cage on the shelf. She brushed her fingers against the glass. “Don’t worry, Joker,” she said, “I’ll be good. Who is the new CO anyway?”
A VI chirped, “Lieutenant Colonel Kaidan Alenko of the Alliance Marine Corps is the commanding officer of the Normandy SR-2, effective Standard Date May 1, 2187.” It wasn’t quite EDI, but the voice was close.
Garrus didn’t even look up from the datapad he was reading. “Joker, Kaidan is going to eventually have to accept that he’s sleeping on a bed where we’ve had sex many times. If he’s that desperate to avoid it, he’s going to have to completely reoutfit the ship. Especially the gun battery.”
“I never needed to know that.”
Shepard silenced the comm and joined Garrus on the couch. She sat sideways, stretching her legs over his. “Anything interesting?”
“Just some messages.” He said, placing the datapad on the coffee table. “My father and sister are back on the Citadel and want to see me before they return to Palaven.” He pulled the visor off his face and set it next to the datapad. “So this commission…”
Shepard leaned forward to rest her head on his shoulder. “It would be a non-combat position in Rio, which I think you’d like. Alliance-supplied housing—and the officer housing at the Villa is nice—plus free transport on Alliance shuttles. Stipend for a Rear Admiral would be pretty generous. We could afford to import dextro food.”
“There isn’t really a but,” Shepard said, fingering the ring on her dogtags. “We’ll have to get married beforehand, though, in order for you to come with me.”
“You’ve put on short-notice party before,” Garrus pointed out.
“Everyone was already on the Citadel,” Shepard replied. She studied the band, a simple platinum circle. “We wanted to do something small and quiet anyway.”
Garrus twisted a lock of Shepard’s hair around his gloved finger. “So you’re going to take it, then?”
Shepard nodded. “I think I want to.”
The skycar dropped Shepard and Garrus off almost immediately outside the Tiberius Towers lobby.
“Commander?” The asari at the front desk waved them over before they could reach the elevator. She had set a large shopping bag on the counter. “Dr. T’Soni left this for you. I offered to take it up to your apartment, but she said that was inadvisable.”
Garrus stifled a snort behind Shepard. She glanced back at the turian as she collected the bag. "Care to tell me what that was about?” Shepard asked while they rode the elevator.
The turian watched the Silversun Strip pass outside the glass walls. “I swear, this is the fastest elevator on the Citadel. There is no time to get into the history of human-turian relations.”
Shepard gave him a warning look as the elevator doors slid open. She shifted the weight of the bag and reached for the keypad outside the apartment. The apartment doors had barely slid open when a beeping sound flooded into the hallway.
“Dammit!” Garrus cried. The frequency of beeps increased. “It’s tuned to your voice; say ‘I heart Garrus’ before it blows us both up.”
“What?” Shepard reached for the keypad. “You said I could just key it in.”
“Not at the front door! Just say it.”
“I heart Garrus.” Shepard said, glaring at the turian. The beeping stopped immediately.
“Welcome, Commander Shepard.” Glyph’s voice flooded out into the hallway, and the info drone hovered over the back staircase. “Dr. T’Soni informed me you would be returning today. I advised that she not enter the apartment, as Mr. Vakarian and Mr. Massani’s security measures were armed.”
Shepard looked back at Garrus, who was intently staring out the window. She walked to the kitchen and started unloading the bag Liara had left. Glyph hovered behind her, filling the silence with news from the Citadel and the Alliance. Liara had bought some basic provisions – dextro and levo fixings for sandwiches, coffee, and a selection of fruit. She’d also bought a bottle of wine. Shepard chuckled as she read the label.
“You’re not mad at me, are you?” Garrus asked as he embraced her from behind. Shepard felt the comforting weight of his head rest on her shoulder.
Shepard shook her head and nudged him with the wine bottle. “Isn’t this the—“
Garrus glanced at the label and took it from her. “It’s the cheap shit I bought for our first night together.” Shepard followed Garrus out of the kitchen and to the bar, where he found a bottle opener. “I would say that I thought Liara had better taste than this, but she definitely did this on purpose.”
Shepard took the bottle opener, clearly designed for human hands, and removed the cork. She poured two glasses and pushed one towards Garrus. “To our first night,” she said, raising her own glass.
“And to every night from now on,” Garrus said as he clinked his own glass to Shepard’s.
They moved to the couch, bringing the wine with them, and drank in a comfortable silence. Garrus moved to refill their empty glasses, but Shepard caught his arm, pulling him back towards her. She pulled him into a long kiss and they fell back on to the couch. Garrus shifted so that all his weight didn’t rest on top of her. He felt her hand slowly creep up his back and neck, finally coming to rest on the skin below his crest. A low moan reverberated through his subvocals. “Shepard,” he murmured.
Shepard continued to kiss him, bringing her other hand to meet the first.
Garrus pulled away. “I’m not going to be able to control myself if you keep up with that,” he warned. “And I’m under orders to make you take it easy.”
“I thought you were a bad turian,” Shepard said, using one hand to bring his chin close to her. She kissed him on his mandible, directly on the faded scars he’d earned on Omega. “And didn’t like to follow bad orders.”
“Well then, Commander,” Garrus stood and swept his arms under Shepard’s body, lifting her into a carry. Kissing her forehead, he carried her up the stairs and into the bedroom. Garrus set Shepard on her feet so she could undress. They’d both barely removed their clothes before reaching for each other again.
The Citadel’s artificial sunlight filtered through the screened windows and Shepard rolled over to curl her face against Garrus’s chest plate. She could hear a faint pinging chime echo through the apartment. “I heart Garrus,” she said sleepily. The turian wrapped his arms tighter around her frame.
The pinging didn’t stop. A glow began to fill the room. Shepard pressed her eyes together. She wasn’t ready to wake up, not yet.
“Commander, you have four hundred and seventy three new messages. I have categorized seven of them as important,” Glyph stated as it began to hover over Shepard’s head. She rolled out of Garrus’s arms and groped around for the blanket she’d kicked off in the night. Finding it, she pulled it over her head. “And Mr. Vakarian has one.” Glyph continued, floating to set itself level with her eyes. Shepard pressed her face into the pillow to filter out the drone's blue glow.
Garrus sat up in the bed, blinking away sleep as Glyph bobbed over to him. “Primarch Victus would like Mr. Vakarian to meet him at the Turian Embassy at 0900 hours.”
“What time is it now?” Shepard asked her pillow.
“0745.” Glyph chirped.
“Well, it could be earlier,” Garrus said as he reached for his clothes where they lay forgotten on the floor. “Mind if I use the shower?”
Shepard finally pulled her head away from the pillow to admire the turian’s still naked form. “Only if you don't let me join you.”
“Commander,” Glyph bobbed around Shepard’s head as she toweled her hair. “You still have seven important messages.”
“OK Glyph, read them out.” She hung up the towel and turned to the closet. She’d left some civilian clothes here during shore leave.
“You have messages from Mr. Moreau, Tali’Zorah vas Rannoch, Dr. T’Soni, Admiral Hackett, Councilor Tevos, Mr. Taylor, and Mr. Bau.”
Shepard pulled out the undergarments she’d selected. Both were a bit loose but held their place. Progress, she told herself. She reached for a black tank top. “Read me the message from Joker.”
“Mr. Moreau writes that your belongings from the Normandy will be delivered to the apartment today and that your crazy boyfriend’s traps better be disarmed before the boxes arrive.”
Shepard looked over her shoulder at Garrus, who was already dressed. “I’ll…uh…get right on that.” He stammered and disappeared down the stairs.
“And from Tevos?” Shepard clenched her jaw. The last time she’d spoken to the asari Council member, it had been to inform her of the failure on Thessia.
“The Councilor welcomes you back to the Citadel and would like you to visit her when it is convenient to you.”
Shepard took a pair of close-cut pants from the closet and pulled them on. They gapped slightly at her waist but otherwise hugged her form. Hackett’s message no doubt was reminding her that she still had to give him her decision; she could leave him hanging for a few more days. Today, she was going to be Shepard the civilian. “Please tell the Councilor I’ll be at the Citadel embassies this morning. What’s the message from Bau?” She’d barely spoken to the salarian since uncovering the indoctrinated hanar.
“Mr. Bau requests you come to any Spectre office on the Citadel.”
“There’s one at the Embassies. I’ll go there first.” Shepard checked her reflection and tied up her still-drying hair.
She found Garrus kneeling at the base of the glass wall next to the door. “Almost done. Just trying to remember how I wired this –ouch!” He pulled his hand back; the shock had burned a hole through his glove. “Well, that seems to have done it,” he said, standing and inspecting the exposed, singed flesh. “Though I was hoping to not activate any of the traps myself in the process.”
“I have ordered a skycar to take you both to the Embassies. It should arrive shortly.” Glyph floated through the living room. Shepard dismissed him with a wave.
Garrus pulled off the ruined glove and its mate and threw them both towards the couch. As they left the apartment he asked, “You’re coming too?”
“Spectre business, apparently,” Shepard hesitated. “And Councilor Tevos wants to see me.”
“Did she say why?”
Shepard shook her head as she called the elevator. They rode to the skyway level and on to the embassies in silence. Shepard rubbed her thumb across her dog tags, remembering how the N7 ridges felt when they were new. She’d worn them down over the last year and didn’t realize how much she used them as a worry stone until she reached for them during an appointment with her psychiatrist.
The skycar dropped them off outside the turian embassy. Primarch Victus was waiting in the square, sipping from a steaming mug and watching headlines tick across a nearby Galactic News screen. With him were two turians with clan markings identical to Garrus’s. He sucked in a breath as his eyes landed on his father and sister for the first time since he’d left Palaven over a year ago.
“Are you going to be all right?” Shepard asked, touching his elbow.
“Yeah,” Garrus said. He gave her hand a quick squeeze and headed towards them. Shepard watched him take a seat at the table before turning away and heading for the Spectre office.
Jondum Bau was inside, loading a pistol at the bench next to the firing range. “Thought you might come here,” he said, raising the pistol and examining his handiwork. “Caught word that Castis Vakarian was at the turian embassy, hoping to meet with his son.”
He glanced at her. “Know you are attached to his son. Unfortunate. Castis hates Spectres.”
Shepard arched an eyebrow at the salarian. He ignored her and turned to the gun range. “The Council offers you full reinstatement. Again. If you want it. Hear you retired.”
“Word gets around, doesn’t it?” Shepard sighed.
Bau pulled up his omnitool. “Spectre Kaidan Alenko under observation. Intercepted Alliance communication from Admiral Hackett.”
“The Spectres are investigating Kaidan?” Shepard traced a finger across the ridged edge of a discarded clip.
“Observing. Too close to Udina. Unsure of loyalties.” Bau fired off three shots into a target at the far side of the range. “Still too much recoil.”
Shepard walked back towards the Spectre terminal. “It would be nice to have access to Spectre resources, if I need them.”
Bau simply nodded and turned back to the weapons bench.
After waiting a few moments to determine if the salarian was going to say anything further, Shepard turned and left. It was always a short trip along the Presidium to the asari embassy, but Shepard felt as though she’d walked through a mass relay. She was outside the Councilor’s office in an instant.
The gnawing pit in her stomach, the one that grew whenever her thoughts turned to Thessia, erupted again. Shepard stood motionless outside the door, a million scenarios racing through her head, most of which ended with the Councilor biotically throwing her off a balcony.
None of them involved Liara standing on the other side of the door as Shepard raised her hand to knock.
“What are you doing here?” Shepard asked, her arm frozen in the air. Liara took a sip of her tea.
“Visiting with the Councilor,” she said, turning back into the room. “We were discussing the rebuilding efforts throughout asari space.”
Councilor Tevos was sitting on her couch playing with an infant asari. She stood as Shepard and Liara approached them. Liara took the baby from the Councilor and she turned to Shepard, offering her hand. Shepard shook it carefully. “Commander.”
“Just Shepard,” Shepard said. “I’m a civilian now.”
Liara shot her a glance but continued to play with the crest on the baby in her arms.
“Well, Shepard, it’s been too long,” the Councilor said brightly. The knot in Shepard’s stomach loosened slightly. “I’ve wanted to congratulate you for your efforts with the Crucible personally.”
Shepard swallowed hard. “There’s no need, ma’am.”
Councilor Tevos signaled to an aide. “Would you like some tea? Or maybe some coffee? I believe I still have some from when Anderson was still Councilor. He was very fond of it.”
“Coffee would be wonderful,” Shepard said. “Black, please,” she added to the aide, who nodded and retreated into a side room.
She turned back to Tevos. “You used to meet with Anderson?”
“Frequently,” she said, picking up her own teacup. “He didn’t care much for Sparatus or Valern.”
The aide returned with Shepard’s coffee. She took a deep breath, relishing the long forgotten smell. Apart from the first day after the Normandy returned, Dr. Chakwas refused to let her have it in the hospital. “I can’t imagine he did.”
“He spoke of you frequently,” the Councilor continued. “Nothing but praise, like a parent speaks of a favorite child. Even when he was critical of your actions, he praised your initiative and decisiveness.”
The coffee burned in Shepard’s mouth, but she found swallowing difficult. Tears pricked at the corner of her eyes. She stared into the china cup’s dark depths, blinking forcefully to clear her vision.
“But I didn’t ask you here to cause you pain,” Tevos continued. “I know you regard me antagonistically, but I really am grateful for all you have done these several years. I didn’t want your last memory of me to be my outburst after Thessia.”
For several minutes, they sat in near-silence, only broken by an occasional babble from the infant and sips of tea or coffee.
Finally, the Councilor stood and returned to her desk. “Shepard, if I may ask, I've heard you've been offered the position of directing the Alliance's N7 program. Have you been briefed on what that fully entails yet?”
“I haven't accepted it yet, ma’am,” Shepard said. She sipped the last of her coffee. “I’m weighing my options.”
Tevos nodded and turned to the stack of datapads piled neatly at the corner of her desk. “When you do find out, please don’t hesitate to call on me, especially if you have need of asari assistance, or mine specifically. I believe we all owe you a favor.”
Shepard thanked the Councilor and left the office. Liara followed her out, the infant now in a carrier.
“Liara,” Shepard asked cautiously. She’d inadvertently offended the asari too many times. “Is that your baby?”
“Yes.” She made it sound like it was the most obvious statement in the world.
Shepard looked from the sleeping infant to her former companion. “But when? How? And who?”
Liara glanced at a newscreen, scanning for the time, then gestured to Shepard to walk with her to a bench overlooking the ponds.
“I don’t think I need to explain the how to you, Shepard,” Liara said, an edge of warmth in her voice. Shepard laughed softly.
Liara draped a blanket over the top of the carrier, shading the baby from the Citadel’s artificial sunlight. “As for the when, and who…” she trailed off, hiding her face from Shepard’s gaze.
“You didn’t look pregnant when I saw you on Earth,” Shepard said cautiously.
Liara shook her head. “I was, but not far along. Asari pregnancies typically last about six galactic standard months.”
Shepard raised an eyebrow. That limited the parentage significantly. “Please tell me it wasn’t Kaidan or James.”
“Goddess, no!” Liara shuddered. “And it wasn’t Garrus, either, if that was your next question.”
“Thanks,” Shepard said flatly. A light clicked on in the back of her mind. “Liara…you slept with Javik?”
“In a manner of speaking,” she said quietly. “We were stranded on Nevos, everyone thought you were dead, and I went looking for comfort.”
Liara shook her head. “From the strongest turian and human liquors I could dig up on the Normandy. I got it into my head to pick another fight with Javik, all his grandstanding and superiority, and…well…it didn’t end that way.”
“Does he know?” Shepard asked. Would they even be able to reach him? Tali had said that Javik stayed behind in asari space to oversee the mass relay reconstruction.
“No,” Liara said pointedly. “Nor will he. Most asari raise their children alone eventually anyway. Tevos has been kind enough to share her experience as a matron, since my mother isn’t an option.”
Shepard bit her tongue as the memory of Liara cradling her dying mother in her arms flashed behind her eyes. She briefly considered asking about Feron, but let the topic drop. A chiming sound echoed through the Presidium. Shepard wondered how much longer Garrus’s meeting was going to last.
“I should go,” Shepard said finally. “Thank you for the groceries, and for Glyph.”
Liara smiled as Shepard rose. “It was a pleasure. Just let me know when it’s safe to enter the apartment. I’ve missed you.”
“You mean Glyph isn't giving you hourly updates?”
The asari smiled. “I considered it, but yours is a clone. I omitted that segment of his programming.”
Shepard rested her hand on Liara’s shoulder before walking back to the turian embassy. Garrus and the Primarch were still sitting at the table outside. Primarch Victus waved her over. “Shepard, join us, please.”
She took the empty seat next to Garrus. “Where did your father and sister go?” she asked.
“I asked Castis and Solana to give us some privacy,” the Primarch said. “I had some things I wanted to discuss with Garrus.”
Shepard arched an eyebrow and glanced at Garrus, but his face was passive. He didn’t move and his eyes were trained on a spot far in the distance. Shepard tried to follow his gaze but found nothing.
“Think it over, Garrus,” Victus said, rising from his seat. “You know how to reach me.”
Garrus refused to address the Primarch’s request until they had returned to the apartment. Despite Liara’s promise that Glyph was not reporting directly to the Shadow Broker, Shepard explicitly commanded the drone to not record or respond to either her or Garrus until they directly called for it. She kicked aside a box of ship models on her way to the bar, poured two glasses of whiskey and handed one to Garrus.
“Victus wants me to stay on the Citadel, as an advisor to the ambassador.”
Shepard joined Garrus on the couch. They both stared at the photo on the wall, from the party on the last night of shore leave.
She took a sip. “If you want to stay, you can. We can make this work.”
“I told him no,” he said, setting his own glass on the table. “I don’t want to think it over. I’m not interested in politics, or – how did he put it – liaising with other species. He said my experience was useful.” Garrus snorted. “He meant it as an insult.”
Shepard frowned. Her interactions with the Primarch had been largely positive. “So I’m guessing Victus knows about us.”
“It wasn’t exactly a secret,” Garrus remarked. “But yes, he knew when he was on the Normandy.”
Garrus looked away. “Barracks gossip. At one point I implied that I had been with a human. Victus is an intelligent man – you don’t get as far as he did with that level of recklessness if you aren’t. He put it together fairly quickly once he met you.”
“And he doesn’t approve,” Shepard said. “Of you loving a human.”
Garrus drained the remains of his drink in one and walked over to the bar. He poured another glass. “He doesn't approve of you not being Avita Victus."
He looked up and registered the confusion on Shepard's face. It wasn't a name she'd heard before. "Remember that scout I told you about, the one I, er, sparred with? That was his niece.” He continued pacing behind the bar.
“He disapproves because he blames me for her leaving for Andromeda.” Garrus went on. “Because I decided to run off on a mad mission to chase a rogue Spectre with an Alliance officer and then spend two years hunting every piece of scum on Omega instead of staying in C-Sec and fathering out more good little turian soldiers. Because he believes that would have convinced Avita to stay. Not that I believe that for a second,” he added, draining his second glass. “The last time I saw her was right before I met you. She wouldn’t shut up about Jien Garson and her batshit expedition, wanted me to go with her.”
Shepard arched an eyebrow. “I thought you liked following adventurous women through space.”
“Only if they look like you.” Garrus returned to the couch. “You were chasing Saren. I wanted a reason to bring him down. It wasn’t some probably suicidal mission to a world that may not even be there in six hundred years.”
“And then you followed me on an actual suicide mission,” Shepard pointed out.
Garrus pulled her up against him. “What can I say? You propositioned me with adventure, credits, one of the best ships the galaxy has ever seen, and sex. How could I refuse?”
“I’m pretty sure I didn’t proposition you for sex until much later.”
“Regardless, that is why Victus disapproves. Because for all intents and purposes, his niece, who had infinitely more martial potential than his son, is gone and he blames me for it.”
Shepard’s glass was nearly empty. She eyed the bottle on the counter but didn’t want to leave Garrus’s arms. “If he dislikes you so much, why offer you the job?”
“Because, despite all that, he saw what I managed to do on an Alliance ship. I tried to point out that nearly all of the negotiations with the krogan were your doing, but apparently Wrex says complimentary things about me in front of the Council. And when the de facto leader of the krogan actually respects a turian, people notice.”
He pulled his visor off. “And, I think my relationship with the universally accepted hero of the galaxy isn’t hurting my case either.”
“But you told him no?” Shepard pulled her knees to her chest, curling in closer to Garrus.
“I don’t want it.” Garrus sighed. “I couldn’t stand politics as a C-Sec agent, so I don't see why Victus and my father believe I would like it any better as an actual politician. And Victus knows I won’t follow orders I disagree with.”
“Maybe that’s why he wants you.” Her drink was empty. “And that’s why your father was there? To convince you to take the job?”
“He thought it would help.” Garrus admitted. “But, to Dad’s credit, he knows when he’s not changing my mind.”
“How were they?” Shepard asked, playing with her empty glass.
Garrus leaned his face to rest his cheek on her head. Shepard could feel the smooth ridges on his scarred mandible through her hair. “They want to meet you. Solana especially. We’re having dinner with them tonight.”
He waited a moment and added. “Solana wanted to go to Ryuusei, but she heard a rumor that someone fell through their floor and without that giant aquarium, the restaurant's lost all of its appeal.”
Shepard groaned at the memory. Falling several stories and running through the Citadel wards in a soaked cocktail dress was not how she wanted to spend the first night of shore leave.
Garrus raised his head and called for Glyph. The info drone hovered over their heads. “Yes, Mr. Vakarian?”
“What do we need to get married on the Citadel?” Garrus asked.
The drone flashed a few times. “For first marriage of an individual, proof of identity issued from a homeworld, officially-recognized colony, or the Citadel, and one witness per party is required. If a personal witness cannot be produced, a representative from that party’s embassy may serve as witness.”
Shepard sighed. “There is no one at the human embassy serving in an official capacity right now.”
Glyph bobbed over Shepard’s face. “Commander, may I recommend a witness for you?”
“I wasn’t planning on asking Liara,” Shepard told the drone. “She’s a good friend, but I’m not that close with her.”
“The quarians have reopened their embassy. The quarian ambassador may be willing to serve as your witness, Commander.” Shepard raised her head to look at Garrus. He shrugged, shaking her off him in the process. “Ambassador Tali’Zorah vas Rannoch would be an acceptable witness for the Citadel government.”
Shepard smiled. “Is that what Tali’s message this morning was? To tell me she was posted on the Citadel now?”
Garrus moved the drone away from Shepard’s face. “Ask Liara to meet us at the Citadel courts tomorrow afternoon. And please invite Tali to visit us as soon as she can.”
Glyph barely had time to flicker before announcing Tali was on her way to the apartment. Garrus was already on the second filtration of a brand new bottle of turian whisky when the vid screen chimed, disrupting the Normandy crew photo with Tali's masked face. "It's open!" Shepard said.
"Are you really drinking now?" Tali asked as she walked into the living room. "It's barely midday."
"We're celebrating," Garrus said as he carefully poured the whiskey through the filter a third time. He decanted two fingers into a glass, fished a straw still in an airtight wrapper out from under the bar and handed it to Tali. "Shepard and I are getting married tomorrow."
Tali shrieked for a moment then held her forehead. "Sorry. That echoed more than I thought it would." She took the glass and opened the straw. "That is a cause for celebration."
Shepard joined Tali and Garrus at the bar and finally refilled her own glass. "We'd be honored if you'd serve as a witness on my behalf," she said, raising her glass, anticipating a toast. The quarian raised hers to meet it and the glasses tapped with a faint ping. "I'd love to," Tali said before inserting the straw into the slot on her mask.
After a few hours, several more drinks, and Shepard finally relenting and telling Tali how Garrus proposed, the quarian asked who else would be at the ceremony.
"Garrus's father and sister, of course. Liara, because she's on the Citadel," Shepard said. "And Joker and Cortez if the Normandy hasn't left yet." She looked at Garrus. "I don't know who else is on the station."
Garrus shook his head and tapped his visor, which was blinking with an incoming comm. The Citadel's artificial sunlight was dimming into a suggestive twilight, casting long shadows across the Silversun Strip. "Dad and Solana want to come up before dinner, if that's all right."
Shepard looked down at her clothes. "I'll need to change." She gestured to Tali to follow her upstairs. As she began rifling through the clothes that remained in the closet, Tali asked, "are you going to stay on the Citadel, or are you going somewhere else?"
Her fingers came to rest on the cocktail dress she'd worn several times during shore leave. She had planned on going to see Garrus after having dinner with Joker; what she hadn't planned on was being soaked to the bone and half frozen from running through the wards when he found her. Regardless, he made multiple comments on the dress. She pulled it from the closet. "Hackett asked me to be the N7 program director. I'm going to formally accept it after the ceremony tomorrow."
"That's on Earth." Tali's voice was unusually flat. "I was hoping you'd be staying here."
"We'll visit," Shepard said, pulling her clothes off. She slipped the dress over her head, frowning slightly. She was never a fan of how closely it clung to her body before, but now she felt like it just accentuated how thin she still was. But it was the only dress she had. She ran her fingers through her hair, combing it out slightly.
Tali tilted her head in a way that Shepard could vaguely make out a frown. "You're not going to wear that tomorrow, are you?"
Shepard grabbed her heels from the closet floor and slipped them on her feet. "I was thinking my dress blues, actually, if I can find them in the boxes from the Normandy."
"No." Tali stood and called up the comm screen on her omnitool. "You're not dressing like an officer for your wedding."
"We're just going to the Citadel courts." Shepard tried to hold back her exasperation. Tali was her best friend and she was already upset.
"We're going shopping tomorrow morning." Tali ran a finger across the screen a few times. "You don't have to pick something fancy, but you should have something new. I'm sure the great Commander Shepard can afford a new dress."
Glyph floated into the room. "Commander, Captain Vakarian and Miss Vakarian have arrived."
Shepard took a deep breath and smoothed the front of her dress. She followed Tali down the stairs. Garrus's father and sister were standing in the foyer, Solana talking animatedly about something. Shepard had never met a turian who was that expressive immediately, and she briefly felt like she was intruding.
Garrus turned as she reached the bottom step. "Shepard," he said as he reached his hand out to her.
"Spirits, Garrus, you're about to marry the woman and you still call her by her last name?" Solana cuffed her brother on the shoulder.
Garrus shook off Solana's hand. "I call her Mira when it's important."
The female turian's eyes flashed mischievously. "Like when you're in bed with her?"
"Solana." Shepard turned to face Garrus's father. The resemblance was striking, though his skin was paler. Castis Vakarian studied Shepard carefully. She realized she'd met him once before, bailing out a fellow soldier after a night of shore leave landed him in the Citadel's drunk tank. A blush crept up her face.
"Commander Shepard." The elder turian extended his hand to hers. "I've heard many great things about you, beyond just what Garrus says."
Tali coughed behind them. "If you'll excuse me, I have to return to the embassy."
"So, how did it go?" Tali sifted through a rack of dresses. She had dragged Shepard to a shop not far from the embassy district. Shepard was trying not to wince when she saw the price tags; some of the dresses cost more than a new suit of armor.
"I think it went well," Shepard admitted. "Garrus's father said I was 'level-headed' for a Spectre and if more of them acted as I did, he might have not been as opposed to them."
Tali pulled a dress and held it up to her friend, then replaced it with a head shake. "All that means is that he didn't hear half of what you did in the Terminus systems."
"Garrus told him everything while I was under court-martial."
"About the Reapers, maybe." Tali continued to pour through the rack. "What color is traditional for humans to wear when they get married? You wear too much black."
Shepard gestured towards the far end of the rack. "It depends, but where my parents were from, white was traditional."
"Were they not always on Mindoir?" Tali asked, joined Shepard in front of a selection of white and ivory dresses. She looked at one and put it back immediately. "That's something Miranda would wear."
Shepard ran her hand across the hangers. "They met on Mindoir, but they both grew up on Earth. My father was from a city called New York, and my mother was from Madrid." Ghosts of their faces swam behind her eyes, but she shook it off. They'd been dead for more of her life than they were alive.
Her hand caught a soft sleeve, and Shepard pulled the dress out for a moment to evaluate it.
"Perfect," Tali said, grabbing her arm and leading her to a dressing room.
“Commander, I assume you’re here to accept your commission,” Admiral Hackett said with a bemused expression on his face. “Since you came in uniform.”
Shepard kept her hands clasped behind her back. Her thumbs were both hooked in the waistband of her dress uniform’s pants, in an effort to keep them from sliding down. “Yes, sir.”
Hackett picked up a datapad from his desk. “Excellent. I also see congratulations are in order.”
Shepard looked up. “Sir?”
“You have some colony paint on your ear.” Hackett tapped his own. Shepard had scrubbed her face to remove the paint Solana had drawn on her face the evening before. She rubbed her ear and tried to keep from smirking when she saw the blue paint on her thumb. “Thank you, sir.”
Hackett returned to his desk and gestured for Shepard to sit as well. “Now that you’ve accepted, I want to update you on what the Alliance has decided regarding the N7 program. You’re familiar with the Valkyrie Program, correct?”
“It’s a program for biotics,” Shepard said, wracking her brain. “Placing them in asari commando units, right?”
Hackett nodded. “Some of the Alliance’s most powerful biotics have gone through the program, though ultimately as a way to reduce liability as opposed to any true inter-species cooperation. You remember the Harper incident?”
Shepard nodded, trying not to cringe at the memory. It happened while she was in the N7 program herself – several of her cohorts in the program want to use the incident as an argument against letting biotics serve in the Alliance. “Cora Harper was a special case,” she said cautiously.
“Agreed,” Hackett said. “And she’s Alec Ryder’s problem now, or will be in 600 years. But Ryder thinks he can handle her, and I wish him the best of luck. Anyway, the Alliance is piloting a similar program with the incoming N7 class, mostly in response to what you were able to achieve on the Normandy. It’s also why we wanted you specifically to run the program.”
Shepard raised an eyebrow. “Sir, the majority of the Normandy’s crew was Alliance military or civilian.”
"Yes, but you had a turian C-Sec officer, a quarian admiral, a retired STG operative, a drell assassin, an asari justicar and multiple krogran all under your command at one point or another, and got them all to work with Alliance soldiers. Hell, you got a quarian to fight alongside a geth.” Hackett flashed a rare smile. “That’s the sort of leadership the Alliance needs. We proved with the Reaper war that the entire galaxy can work together. Now we need to continue that momentum.”
“So, we’ve opened the N7 program to the entire galaxy?” Shepard asked warily.
Hackett shook his head. “Just Council races to start, and three representatives each from the turians, asari, and salarians. With the six Alliance officers already in place, you’ll have a full class.”
Shepard frowned. “Only six?”
“There were more appointments issued,” Hackett said, looking away. “But we lost most of them in the war. Three of your Alliance N1s are coming in with commissions earned in the last year, as are most of the alien participants. And of course you’ll still have what’s left of the other classes. Our N5s and N6s were hit hardest, but the other classes are largely intact.”
Shepard remembered Tevos’s offer. “Sir, is there opposition to this?”
“Shepard, there will always be opposition to inter-species cooperation.” Hackett sighed. “But yes, we have been observing some pushback already, particularly from the salarians. Apparently STG is afraid we’ll expect them to start enrolling humans and give up their secrets. And of course there’s the typical human fussing over letting aliens have anything to do with us.”
“So naturally you appointed an Alliance officer known for letting aliens serve equally on her frigate to lead the program.” Shepard rubbed the underside of the ring on her left hand. “And married to a turian on top of everything else.”
Hackett laughed. “It does stick it to the humanity first crowd. But you were always our choice, Shepard.”
He swiped across the datapad a few more times. “I’ve made arrangements for your and Mr. Vakarian’s passage to Rio. You leave in 10 days. Kahlee Sanders will brief you on the incoming class upon arrival.” Hackett stood and reached his hand out over the desk. Shepard shook it “Good luck, Admiral.”
“Garrus?” Shepard called out. The apartment appeared to be empty except for Glyph, who hovered to meet her.
“Mr. Vakarian and Miss Vakarian have gone to the Armax Arsenal Arena, Admiral. Mr. Vakarian told me to ask you to join them when you return.”
Shepard shook her head and began unbuttoning her uniform shift. “I see you heard the news.”
Glyph bobbed through the air as the info drone followed Shepard to the bedroom. “Dr. T’Soni updated my system five minutes ago.”
“And the Shadow Broker already knows about my promotion?”
“She said to tell you that if she didn’t, she wouldn’t be a very good Shadow Broker.”
Shepard sighed and rolled her eyes. Of course she did. She changed quickly.
“Admiral, a new set of N7 armor has been delivered for your use.” Glyph went on. “Mr. Vakarian took it with him to the arena, with your rifle and your pistol.”
Shepard looked back at Glyph. “And which pistol would that be?” she asked hesitantly. The one she received from Major Kirrahe had been lost on Earth.
“The one you stole from the other Commander Shepard’s soldier.” Glyph fluttered behind Shepard as she finished changing and continued to bob around until she left the apartment. She silently wished the drone wasn’t going to be in Rio as well. Ten more days of its constant hovering was probably more than she could take.
Shepard found Garrus and Solana in the viewing area over the arena, watching a human soldier taking on virtual geth alone. The human had set up multiple turrets and was crouched under cover with what looked like a M-29 Incisor.
“Damn,” Garrus whispered as the soldier popped up and took out two approaching geth.
Solana laughed. “I told you she was good. I’ve been watching her for the last week. I know how you feel about women who can shoot better than you.”
Shepard coughed, drawing their attention.
“I make my point,” Solana said, waving her over. “Shepard, you’ve got to watch this girl.”
They observed the rest of the round and Shepard had to admit, she was good. It took guts to solo run the arena, especially when the soldier frequently left herself exposed as she set up more turrets.
The round ended and a group of asari took the soldier’s place. “We should get ready,” Garrus said. “We’re up in two rounds.”
“Are you sure you’re okay by yourself?” Shepard asked into the comm as she followed Kahlee Sanders through the Villa. The halls felt familiar and it was a strange homecoming.
“I’ll be fine,” Garrus said. Shepard could hear dishes clinking in the background. “I’ve got snacks, there’s a terrible human soap opera on the vidscreen, and more than enough to keep me occupied.”
“I don’t remember seeing any giant guns in the apartment.”
The turian laughed. “That can be arranged. Don’t worry. I’m sure I’ll find something to calibrate.”
Kahlee gestured to a table on one of the Villa’s many balconies, overlooking the private section of beach. Several soldiers were on the sand below, enjoying the sun and surf. “I thought you might like the view while we go over the Alliance officers entering as N1 candidates. Admiral Hackett informed me you’ve already been briefed on our turian, asari, and salarian enrollees by their respective Councilors.”
Shepard pulled her eyes away from the beach and forced herself to focus on the datapad in front of her.
“Second Lieutenant Alexander Levine,” Kahlee started, calling up the first soldier. “Stationed mostly on colonies in the Attican Traverse, earned his commission for leading a mixed Alliance and civilian squad to defend a mine from batarian occupation.”
The next soldier flashed on Shepard’s datapad. “Captain Binod Kulkarni, First Special Operations, Biotics Division.” Kahlee looked up. “Covert infiltration of multiple Cerberus outposts, resulting in critical intel acquisitions. Unfortunately, it was overlooked, leading to the coup on the Citadel.”
“One of Kaidan’s kids?” Shepard asked as she scrolled through the profile. Sure enough, there was a note at the bottom of Captain Kulkarni’s dossier. ‘Take care of him, Shepard.’
“Yes, Lieutenant Colonel Alenko was one of the recommending officers. Captain Kulkarni was the most recent commission, receiving it a little under a month ago.” Kahlee swiped again. “First Lieutenant Lian Yao actually earned his commission in a civilian setting, as a member of the Heavy Urban Search and Crisis Response. The Alliance co-opted the human squads during the Reaper Wars. Lieutenant Yao lead multiple response teams over a ten-year period. He’s also a biotic, though the Alliance lists him as a vanguard class.”
Shepard smiled as the next face flashed on her screen. “Ensign Rodriguez?” she asked, looking up at Kahlee. Kahlee sighed and smiled affectionately. “Apparently she did better than Jack expected. After Ensign Prangley’s death, Anna took over leading the biotic support division to great success. She may not have the biotic ability of the rest of the students from Grissom, but she has a good tactical mind and the ability for leadership.”
“I’m sure Jack is loving this,” Shepard said, scrolling through the long list of commendations. It seemed as though nearly every soldier in the 103rd Marine Division had positive things to say about Rodriguez, who was promoted to First Lieutenant upon receiving her commission.
Kahlee swiped to the fifth soldier. “Second Lieutenant Eliza Wall. Wall was a support engineer at the Alliance’s New York base. When the Reapers arrived on Earth, she stole two Incisor rifles and two cases of grenades from the armory and evacuated almost three square miles of New York before the city was declared lost.” Kahlee looked away, her eyes glistening. Her hand covered the Alliance dog tags hanging around her neck. “David picked her up near Montreal. He told me the only soldier he’d ever met who deserved an N7 more than Wall was you.”
Shepard studied the picture in the dossier. She’d seen her before, but couldn’t register where. Clicking on Wall’s name brought up multiple extranet hits, including the most recent Armax Arsenal Arena leaderboards. “I’ve seen her in action.” Shepard said, realizing who she was. “It was a combat sim, but she’s good.”
Kahlee seemed to have composed herself again. “I would go into detail about Lieutenant Vega’s commission, but I seem to recall him serving with you on the Normandy.”
“Best six months of my life,” a familiar voice said from behind Shepard. She turned to see James Vega standing behind her. “Hey, Commander.”
“It’s Admiral now,” Shepard said, rising from her chair. She was greeted with a tight hug. Kahlee smilled and excused herself. Shepard caught her wiping her eyes again as she walked away. She turned back to James. “What have you been up to?”
James smiled and rubbed his chin. “Oh, you know, had to go home and see my abuela. Get in some real beach time before things got crazy here. Took a few girls dancing.”
“Anyone special?” Shepard asked, leaning against the balcony.
James laughed. “Come on, Lola, you know I only have eyes for you.”
“Lola?” A blonde soldier walked up to them. “Vega, you been holding out on me, keeping all the pretty girls to yourself?” He turned to Shepard. “Alex Levine. Maybe you and I can go out and get to know each other a little better, before things get too crazy here.”
The words were barely out of his mouth when a laser sight focused on his chest. Shepard smirked and shook her head.
“What the fuck is this shit?” Levine exclaimed. He shifted back and forth but the sight remained on him.
Vega smiled. “Ever hear of a merc called Archangel when you were bumming around on Omega?” he asked, barely holding back his laughter as Levine kept trying to avoid the sight.
Levine stopped for a second. “What, you’re saying that bastard is here?”
“Well Commander?” James stopped a second. “Sorry, Admiral?”
“Same frequency as always,” Shepard said.
James activated his comm. “Easy, Scars. I won’t let anyone hit on your girl.”
“I wasn’t going to shoot him. Just wanted to let him know he’s messing with the wrong turian’s wife is all.” Garrus’s voice rang clear through the comm, barely concealing his amusement.
Levine went pale. “You’re married to Archangel?”
“Even if she wasn’t,” James went on, “this is Commander Shepard. You can’t just mack on her like she’s some broad you’ve picked up in Afterlife. She’s got style. And taste.”
Levine saluted quickly and walked away. Garrus’s laser sight followed him for a few seconds, until Shepard heard the echo of him deactivating it. “Always good to see you, Vega,” he said finally. “Come over some time. Someone needs to teach that girl how to dance properly.”
“Aw come on Scars,” James said playfully. “She did a pretty good job at the casino.”
“You don’t remember that pathetic display at our apartment?”
James laughed. Shepard scowled. “Remember whose job is paying for your dextro food,” she said.
“I’m in those vids almost as much as you are,” Garrus joked. “I think the galaxy knows who really saved it.” Shepard heard the comm click as he signed off.
"So you two finally got hitched, huh?" James asked after closing his own comm link. "When did that happen?"
Shepard leaned on the railing overlooking the beach. A light breeze was blowing in off the ocean. "Two weeks ago. He stayed with me the entire time in Paris."
James joined her, closing his eyes as he felt the breeze on his face. "Sorry about Levine. Guy's a real asshole. I knew him back when I first enlisted."
"He going to be a problem?" Shepard asked.
"Hard to say. He's been trouble in the past, but he's here so he must have done something right." James chewed his lip, deep in thought. "If anything, he's just going to be a pain, hitting on anything that looks even remotely female."
Shepard continued to watch the soldiers on the beach below. "We'll see how much he's doing that after N1. Twenty-hour days of training do that for you."
"So I guess there's no time for dancing, huh, Lola?"
Shepard turned to him, brushing her hair out of her face. "Actually, I wanted to ask you about that," she said. "Just to get a little better. To surprise Garrus. If there's time."
"You're the one in charge," James reminded her. "You make the schedules. Just tell me when, and I'll bring the music."
Shepard reached out to shake James's hand. "Deal."
Shepard missed the ease, and brevity, of the Earth light cycle, compared to the galactic standard 30-hour days. Rio’s proximity to the equator provided a consistent day to night progression that she’d slipped back to easily.
She was also relieved that, as a non-combatant, she was allowed to live by Earth’s 24 hours, as opposed to the soldiers struggling through their first weeks of N1 training. The Villa also operated on 24-hour time, but with 20-hour daily training schedules, it didn’t matter much.
The turians and asari, both used to 30-hour cycles from the Citadel and 28-hour ones on their respective homeworlds, were struggling, and the humans weren’t doing much better. While Earth was the human homeworld, nearly all of them had spent more time off-world in recent years, with the exception of Wall.
Shepard was pleasantly surprised with the adaptation of the salarian STG officers, though all three had come directly from Sur’Kesh, with its 22-hour cycle. But the 20-hour trainings took no prisoners. There were injuries, accidents, and a not-unexpected flagging of morale. There was a reason N7s were so revered – even making it out of N1 was a feat worthy of great praise.
So when the vidscreen started ringing just after sunrise on a Sunday morning, Shepard wasn’t surprised. When she’d left the Villa the night before, the recruits were moving in mixed strike teams through a mine field sim; someone was bound to be injured by the dummy mines.
She let it continue to ring, content to stay wrapped in the sheet, pinned in place by Garrus’s arm, for a few minutes more.
“You going to get that?” he asked sleepily. Shepard pressed her face against his neck as a response. She loved feeling the subtle vibration of his subvocals against her skin.
The recorder picked up and Kahlee Sanders’s voice echoed across the apartment. “Admiral, we’ve had…an incident. Please call me as soon as you get this.”
Shepard scooted closer to Garrus, pressing right up against him. “I’ll call her back later.”
“You could be in the shower,” Garrus agreed, pressing his mandible to her forehead. From the way he was arching his back, Shepard could tell he was beginning to allow his pelvic plates to shift.
Shepard rolled to lie on her back and Garrus climbed over her, leaving a trail of hot kisses down her face and neck. Just as he began to lower onto her, the vid screen began chiming again.
Garrus groaned. “Ignore it,” he called to the apartment’s VI. The chiming stopped.
They’d barely resumed when the comm on Garrus’s visor began chiming. Frustrated, Garrus pulled himself off the bed and grabbed the visor. “What?” he growled as he accepted the call.
“Scars, I love the Big, Angry Turian game as much as you do, but this is serious.” James’s disembodied voice rose from the visor. Shepard sat up, pulling the sheet across her chest. “Captain Sanders has been trying to call for over an hour. We need Shepard here now.”
Shepard pulled up her omnitool’s link with the vid screen. Eight missed calls, all from Kahlee Sanders’s office.
“What happened, James?” She asked, dialing into the comm. She got out of bed and reached for the discarded uniform on the floor. If Vega was attempting a call on Garrus’s comm, there probably wasn’t time to find a clean one.
“I think it’s better if we tell you here. Meet me at the sick bay.” James hesitated for a second before added. “Bring Garrus too. We might need him.”
Shepard looked over at the still-naked turian standing next to the bed. “You heard the man.”
“There had better be coffee in this sick bay,” Garrus said as he headed for the closet. “And easier to find than it was in Paris.”
A personal skycar was waiting outside their apartment, complete with the greenest Alliance shuttle pilot Shepard had ever seen – in more ways than one. Ensign Silva looked like she was about to vomit. But she dropped them off outside the Villa’s med bay without incident, though she sprinted off to the nearest lavatory as soon as she saw them through the doors.
James was waiting at the door, exhaustion written on his face. “She’s here,” he said, tapping his comm. “Captain Sanders wanted to be notified as soon as you arrived.”
“Where is she?” Shepard asked, following him into the ward. She pointed towards a coffee machine as they passed it, and Garrus peeled off.
“In a call with the turian Councilor,” James said, stopping at a suite with drawn curtains. Taks, one of the STG officers, was leaning against the wall, anxiously drumming his fingers on his arms. He saluted when he saw Shepard, but immediately resumed his posture as soon as she nodded.
Shepard raised her omnitool to the door’s lock. It began cycling through. “A turian was injured?”
“Worse,” James said as the door opened. “Someone tried to poison him. And, Admiral? There’s a reason Silva looked so bad.”
Shepard understood why as soon as she entered the suite. Sargent Hilsus was as pale as bleached bones, and the smell of stale vomit hit her immediately. He was still as death, and there was barely any indication he was breathing. The striking red of his colony markings further illustrated how pale he was.
Wall was asleep in a chair next to the bed. Shepard took note of her presence; she’d been the assigned squad leader for that particular strike team.
“What happened?” Shepard demanded. The sound caused Wall to start, falling out of the chair, and James straightened up.
Wall stood and saluted. “Ma’am, when we stopped to eat after completing the last mine drill, Hilsus began convulsing and vomiting. Further inspection of his MRE indicated that, despite being labeled as dextro-amino for our turian comrades, the nutrient paste inside was levo-amino.”
Shepard glanced at James. “Anything to add, Vega?”
“No, Comm—Admiral.” James bit his lip. “We brought him here and notified Captain Sanders immediately. As soon as we told her what happened, she began trying to reach you.”
Shepard looked back at the turian on the bed. “Were all the dextro MREs inspected?”
Kahlee Sanders entered the room, followed by Garrus. He blanched when he saw the scene before him, but handed Shepard a cup of coffee without comment.
“All dextro-labeled meal kits currently in-house have been inspected and no others appear to have been tampered with.” Sanders said, handing Shepard a datapad. She skimmed the preliminary report. “Councilor Sparatus would like to speak with you as soon as you are able, Admiral.”
Shepard dismissed James, Wall, and Taks, who was idling in the doorway, and headed to her office.
“Shepard,” Garrus kept his voice low despite the otherwise deserted hallway. “This sounds deliberate.”
“It was,” Shepard said. The door to her office recognized her omnitool without even a wave. “Hackett warned me that there were factions who were opposed to integrating the program. I didn’t think they would stoop to poisoning a soldier, but—“
Garrus looked back in the direction they came. “I know that kid. His father worked with Dad in C-Sec. He used to play with Solana when we were kids.”
Shepard pulled up the comm link to the Citadel. An Alliance telecoms officer received the ping. “Patch me through to the turian Councilor. Tell him it’s Rear Admiral Shepard and Garrus Vakarian. He’s expecting us.”
“He’s expecting you,” Garrus said pointedly as the comm was transferred. He began pacing between Shepard’s desk and the window overlooking the ocean.
“I was, but having you both here will save us some time,” Councilor Sparatus said, his voice grim. He also wasn’t alone; Primach Victus was sitting in the background, drumming his fingers together. Shepard had spent enough time with the Primarch to recognize the concern etched in his features.
She turned to the Councilor. “I assume Captain Sanders has briefed you on everything we know up to this point.”
The Councilor nodded. “Admiral, I want to see this program succeed. The Primarch had a committee hand-pick the three soldiers we sent to the Interplanetary Combatives Program, the three our generals felt were most likely to succeed.”
“As did all of the Council governments,” Shepard pointed out. “All three of your soldiers have held their own so far.”
“As they should,” the Primarch said. There was pride in his tone, but it was fleeting. “What I find most troubling, Admiral, is that the soldier who was attacked, Quino Hilsus, has a notation in his service record of a severe reaction to levo-amino compounds that put him out of commission for over a month.”
Shepard pulled Hilsus’s Alliance file and scanned it quickly. “It’s not listed here.”
The Councilor coughed. “We didn’t release it to the Alliance. We had already arranged food and medical supply lines for their training, and all three of the soldiers had served in the assault on Earth. They knew the risks and the precautions the Hierarchy put in place. There was no need to alert your team to a soldier’s past…” he glanced at Victus. “Indiscretion.”
“Let me guess,” Garrus drawled, pausing at Shepard’s desk again. “He visited one of the Citadel’s less reputable establishments on shore leave and found himself in Huerta.”
The Primarch chuckled. “It was a human woman he met in the wards, but otherwise, yes. The young lady in question was very upset over the entire situation.”
Shepard closed the file and looked back at the comm screen. “So Hilsus was targeted specifically.”
Primarch Victus nodded, dipping his head into the Citadel’s fake shadows. “Yes, and it’s likely the source came from within the turian Hierarchy.” He raised his head and looked beyond Shepard.
“I said no,” Garrus said shortly. “And if someone inside the Hierarchy is trying to sabotage a Council initiative, why would they trust someone with open ties to that initiative?”
“Regardless,” Shepard said. “We have someone actively trying to sabotage the program, and they have to have someone inside the Villa as well. They had to get the planted paste into that specific MRE.”
“Because in the chance that the turian information was collected by another group, Vakarian may be well-positioned to identify additional conspirators,” Victus said. “He has access to Alliance information but is well enough removed to be of little suspicion.”
“He does not have access.” Shepard was getting irritated. “I don’t share classified Alliance information, especially troop records and unit information, with anyone who doesn’t have the proper clearance. Garrus has no Alliance clearances beyond those that specifically related to his responsibilities on the Normandy, provided those haven’t been revoked yet.”
The Primarch resumed drumming his fingers against each other. “My offer still stands. Sorry Admiral, we have other duties to attend to. This information hasn’t broken yet on the Citadel and we want to be prepared when it does. Khalisah al-Jilani has been storming the embassies again.”
The comm cut off and Shepard immediately pinged the Citadel again. “Get me Councilor Tevos.”
“Admiral? To what do I owe the pleasure?” The asari Councilor was lounging on her couch, biotically stirring her tea.
“You told me to come to you if I had questions,” Shepard said. “I have questions.”
Shepard shifted her weight from one foot to the other and checked the time on her omnitool for what was probably the thousandth time in the last five minutes. If Garrus didn’t hurry up, he was going to miss their ship to the Citadel.
Mexico City was always crowded, and being the largest galactic commuter port in the Americas only caused the population to swell further after the First Contact War was resolved. Every spaceflight species seemed to be pressing against one another in the port, franticly making their way from one ship to another.
And Garrus had to take this moment to pick a fight with a volus.
“Admiral, we’re going to disembark in three minutes,” a wary young Alliance Marine said. Shepard raised an eyebrow at him and he flinched before saluting and walking away.
Shepard scanned the crowd again, but simply looking for a turian didn’t work as well here as it did in Rio. For a moment, she thought she spotted him, but it was simply another turian with similar clan markings. The visor was different, and no scars. “Dammit, Garrus, where did you go?” she muttered.
“Lose something?” a familiar British voice appeared from behind her. Shepard turned to see Samantha Traynor standing on the gangplank of the SSV Rembrandt. “A certain gun-loving turian, perhaps?”
Shepard shifted her duffle and turned to shake Traynor’s hand. “He went to shout at the volus who’s supposed to be our dextro supplier.”
“He’s the only dextro importer in the Americas, and he’s price-gouging. It’s costing us three times what it costs on the Citadel.” Shepard said, scanning the crowd one more time. She heard the Rembrandt’s VI announce that the carrier would depart in one minute.
Traynor leaned on the railing next to Shepard, using her hand to shade her eyes from the sinking sun’s glare. “There he is!”
Sure enough, Garrus was pushing through the crowd towards the carrier’s slip. He knocked aside a group of asari maidens and vaulted on to the plank as it began to pull away from the docking bay. Shepard, Garrus, and Traynor rushed inside the ship.
“Welcome Admiral Shepard and guest,” the VI chirped. “You are booked in cabin C-19. Please enjoy your trip.”
Garrus glanced up at the speakers as they made their way through the carrier. “Is it just me, or does every Alliance VI sound just like EDI now?”
Traynor coughed. “I may have had something to do with that,” she admitted. “I’ve been upgrading VI systems throughout the fleet, and, well…”
“You went with something you liked,” Shepard said, scanning the corridors for their cabin. “Something about rolling around naked with EDI’s voice?”
Traynor went red. “I really wish you wouldn’t bring that up.”
“What did Joker say when you installed it on the Normandy?”
Traynor blushed further. “He kissed me – not on the mouth, mind you, on the cheek. Said it’s not the same as the real thing, but it’s better than nothing.”
She left Shepard and Garrus to their cabin, and they prepared for their overnight voyage. Not for the first time, the thought of EDI probed a sore part of her memory, of when she faced down The Catalyst.
“Something on your mind?” Garrus asked, touching Shepard’s shoulder. She was staring out as Earth sank away below them. The last time she watched Earth drift away, they were outrunning the Reapers.
“I could have saved her,” Shepard said quietly. “If I’d chosen to control the Reapers, or to go with the synthesis.”
Garrus wrapped his arms around her. “Maybe, but I’m a selfish man. If you’d made any other decision, I’d be the one trying to console himself with a VI imitation of his girlfriend. Every war has its sacrifices and we always knew there would be more.” He rested his forehead on the top of Shepard’s head. “You always knew you wouldn’t be able to save everyone. Joker will heal. Focus on those you can protect now.”
Shepard sighed. “That’s why we’re going to the Citadel. Because I still can’t protect the people under my command.”
“Hear what Tevos has to say. She clearly knows something – that’s why she wouldn’t tell you over the comm.” Garrus let Shepard go and turned to a wall-mounted vidscreen. “Now, do you want to eat before or after we defile another Alliance ship?”
Two of Councilor Tevos’s aides were waiting at the Alliance docking bay when Shepard and Garrus disembarked. The more senior one stepped forward. “Admiral, the Councilor would like to treat you and Mr. Vakarian to breakfast out on the Presidium. Minaeve,” she gestured to the second aide, “will ensure your belongings are transported to your apartment.”
Shepard handed off both duffels, providing instructions to leave them with the lobby clerk at the Tiberius Towers. They followed the senior aide towards a skycar hail station. “Councilor Tevos doesn’t want to meet us at her office?”
“She says it is a matter of the utmost importance and cannot wait until her personal office hours.”
“Since when do Citadel Council members have set office hours?” Garrus asked. “They always seemed to have time to criticize Shepard’s actions in the past.”
The aide ignored him.
A skycar slid forward in the line, piloted by a young-looking turian. “Take them to the Gareon Botanical Gardens, Tayseri Ward,” the aide ordered, gesturing for Shepard and Garrus to get into the car.
“Interesting choice,” Garrus murmured as the car pulled into the Presidium traffic lanes.
Shepard glanced over at him, but kept her voice in an equally low tone. “How so?”
“Tayseri Ward is still rebuilding from the geth attack.” Garrus turned his head to watch the Citadel’s airborne traffic zip by. “The café in the gardens is swanky, but the whole ward still suffers from frequent power outages. It’s a place to go if you don’t want to be overheard.”
Their driver made no indication that he’d heard any part of their conversation. They passed the rest of the trip without a word exchanged between them.
The Gareon Café was busy, but not crowded. Asari waitresses moved between tables with well-practiced grace, balancing trays overladen to the point where biotics had to be involved.
Tevos sat alone at a table with two empty chairs. Steaming cups of coffee were at each place setting.
“I went ahead and ordered your drinks when Silene notified me you were in a cab.” Tevos said. Her demeanor made no inclination that the circumstances bringing their party together were in the least bit unusual. “I thought you would enjoy breakfast in the Gardens after your trip. I’m sorry Garrus, but I wasn’t sure how you take your coffee, so I had them bring dextro cream and sweeteners.”
An asari maiden rushed by with a tray bound for a party of six nearby. She stumbled and the dishes pitched forward. A well-timed biotic stasis caused the dishes to hover in the air next to their table until the maiden composed herself.
“New girl,” Tevos commented idly. She picked a leather-bound menu. “They have wonderful human and asari cuisine here, and Sparatus tells me that the new quarian chef has a real gift.”
Garrus glanced up from his own menu. “Their dextro chef is quarian?”
Tevos nodded. ‘Yes, a young man on his pilgrimage. It seems the rite has changed slightly since they reclaimed Rannoch, and Ambassador Tali’Zorah was quite enthusiastic as helping place quarian pilgrims in positions on the Citadel. There has been some unease, but it appears to be working well.”
As their meals arrived and they worked through the food, Shepard began to wonder if Tevos was ever going to get to the matter at hand. They hadn’t booked last-minute tickets to the Citadel to just discuss quarian pilgrims and receive updates on Council initiatives.
After their plates were cleared away, Tevos invited Shepard and Garrus to walk the gardens with her. They walked into the constructed forest, turning into a wing of the gardens dedicated to Thessian flowers. Tevos stopped to pull a bloom towards her face and inhale deeply. “You’re wondering why I wanted to meet you here as opposed to the asari embassy or my Council chambers.”
Shepard stepped up next to her, studying the flower, but didn’t say anything.
“Tell me what transpired on Earth,” Tevos went on, releasing the branch. She gestured to a group of metal benches nearby. “The incident has been covered on all of the galactic news outlets, but details are sketchy at best. The turian Councilor and ambassador won’t comment and no official statement has been issued from the Hierarchy on Palaven.”
Turning to Shepard, she added, “I also wanted to give you some time before you’re accosted by someone like Ms. Allers or Ms. al-Jilani. There has been equally little said by the Alliance.”
“Keeping Shepard away from journalists isn’t the real reason we’re here,” Garrus remarked. “The power was cut to the ward shortly after we arrived.”
“Tayseri Ward still suffers frequent power outages.” Tevos said, adjusting her sleeve. “The damage to the grid suffered during the geth attack has been nearly impossible to repair.”
“Or has been a convenient reason to thwart surveillance,” Shepard said darkly. People lived in this ward. How often were they going without power at the whim of the Citadel’s most powerful? Despite the thought, she briefed the asari Councilor on the details of the attack on Sargent Hilsus, including the information provided by Primarch Victus.
Tevos ran her hand along the bench’s scrollwork arm. “So the Primarch suspects sabotage from within his own ranks? That runs counter to the intelligence I’ve received.”
Garrus stared her down, “What have you heard?”
“My informants suggest to me that a Special Tasks Group squad has been formed with the express purpose of ensuring the failure of this experiment. Naturally, Valern dismisses the entire notion as spurious rumor.” Tevos looked directly at Shepard. “But perhaps a Spectre, particularly one to whom he owes a great debt, may be able to separate the truth from speculation.”
“I’m not interrogating Councilor Valern based solely on a rumor,” Shepard said pointedly.
Tevos stood and began walking back towards the main section of the garden. “You have access to the same intelligence resources I do, Admiral. I suggest you use them.”
Shepard looked over at Garrus.
“I suppose we’ll have to visit Liara, won’t we?” he asked.
Neither Shepard nor Garrus knew where Liara lived.
“I’m going to regret this,” Shepard said as she cued up her comm. Garrus glanced over from the skycar station in time to see Glyph’s holographic form hover over Shepard’s arm.
“Greetings, Admiral,” the info drone flashed a few different colors before settling on the omnitool’s orange hue. “Your belongings have been delivered to the apartment and I have requested cleaning service.”
“Great. Glyph, can you tell us where Liara is?” The skycar pulled up. Shepard help up a finger, gesturing to Garrus to hold the car.
Glyph flickered a few times. “I am not able to do that, Admiral. I can, however, ask Dr. T’soni to meet with you.” The drone paused. “She asks you to speak with Barla Von.”
Shepard dismissed the comm. “She’s sending us on a wild goose chase.”
Garrus gave her a perplexed look as they got into the skycar. “Is this one of those human things?”
Shepard nodded. “It’s an old phrase. She programmed Glyph to not reveal her location.” She directed the driver to the Presidium’s financial district.
“Ever feel like she’s taking the ‘Shadow’ portion of her title too seriously?” Garrus asked as they approached Barla Von’s brokerage. They could see the volus attending to a pair of asari and hung back. Garrus tapped his visor, scanning the crowd. “Since when can a drell afford a volus financial advisor?”
Shepard pulled her gaze away from the asari and tried to follow his line of sight. “When that drell works for the volus’s employer,” she said, spotting Feron lingering near a window.
The drell nodded his head slightly as Shepard and Garrus approached. “Glyph informed me that you would be here. Liara is waiting for us.”
They followed him out of the brokerage and along the Presidium terraces to a shaded pavilion near the krogan memorial. Liara was rocking her daughter in her arms, next to her ever-present collection of datapads, but smiled as the trio approached her. “Thank you, Feron,” she said, handing off the baby. The child cooed and settled into the drell’s arms.
“I assume you’re here about your poisoned turian,” Liara said, turning back to Shepard and Garrus. “And to find out what I know about who may be behind it.”
Shepard nodded. “Councilor Tevos suggested that STG may be behind the attack—“
“And the Primarch suspects someone within the Hierarchy,” Liara finished. “My understanding is that they are both correct.”
Shepard was about to ask how Liara knew about Victus’s belief in a turian conspirator, but cut herself off. The Hierarchy may not have released that information, but Liara almost certainly had her own information brokers within their ranks. She’d gotten a brief taste of the extent of the Shadow Broker’s network on her ship, but never fully grasped how far-reaching, or how deeply embedded, some of Liara’s agents may have been. The only one she knew personally was Feron.
“So who’s pulling the strings?” Garrus asked. “STG or the turians?”
Liara looked away. “I haven’t been able to identify that yet. My reports also suggest there may be asari influence as well.”
“The asari? They were the first to support this initiative,” Shepard pointed out. “It was originally planned to be an exchange for human participation in Project Valkyrie.”
“Yes, it was,” Liara said. “But several matriarchs opposed Valkyrie’s formation in the first place, based on the disaster with the L2 implants and a general belief that humans are not able to competently harness biotic abilities. And there have been questions about what our commandos can really learn from the N7 program. The Councilor herself questioned whether participation in the initiative was wise.”
Shepard grimaced. “So what ultimately changed her mind?”
“Victus bullied her into it,” Garrus said.
Both Liara and Shepard turned to stare at him; even Feron glanced up. “I…was not aware of that,” Liara said cautiously.
Garrus shook his head. “You’re good Liara, but I know for a fact you didn’t have any agents in the room when that happened, unless Tevos herself is one of your brokers.”
Liara’s skin flushed deeper blue and she proceeded to busy herself flicking through a datapad from the pile. “I don’t even have a record of a private meeting between the Primarch and the asari Councilor. Ever.”
Garrus’s mandibles twitched and Shepard caught a flash of self-satisfaction in his expression. It was almost impossible to scoop Liara, so the turian was clearly relishing the moment. “He wasn’t Primarch at the time, just a general. It was before the war.”
Shepard was floored. “And you were in on this meeting?”
“Sparatus deferred to the Hierarchy after Udina brought the exchange to the Council.” Garrus went on, ignoring Shepard’s question. “Primarch Fedorian brought in several generals to make the case for the turian participation, and Victus ended up breaking both Tevos and Valern.”
Liara glanced at Shepard. “Yes, but this doesn’t explain how you know this.”
Garrus sighed. “I was in the room. Both my father and I ranked high enough in the Hierarchy to be present. I supported the motion,” he added needlessly, glancing at the N7 emblem on Shepard’s jacket.
Shepard had suspected for a long time that Garrus was higher on Palaven’s chain of command than he cared to admit, particularly since the formation of the Reaper task force. But he’d always dodged the question.
Liara’s expression was unreadable, her fingers flying across two separate projecting screens. She hushed Shepard when she tried to ask what the asari was searching for, completely focused on the data flying in front of her. Finally, she stopped, pinpointing an illegible comm transcript. She tapped a few haptic keys and the text translated into what Shepard recognized as the particular turian dialect Garrus used and human English. “Valern commissioned several STG units about one month after the Alpha relay was destroyed. Most of them I’ve been tracking, and some, like the yahg uplift, have already been disbanded.”
Shepard frowned. “And the others?”
“I can’t seem to find any concrete information on two groups, both of which are coded with salarian words that don’t translate,” Liara looked frustrated. “They both had unexplained outside funding, transferred through several shell groups located all over the galaxy.”
“Including in geth space,” Tali’s voiced echoed from behind Shepard. She turned to see the quarian ambassador, arms crossed and drumming her fingers. “You could have told me they were coming,” she said pointedly. Shepard could barely perceive a glare through the tinted polymer on Tali’s mask.
Liara dismissed the screens and looked away. “I only found out they were on the Citadel an hour ago.”
“Do you really expect us to believe you don’t have access to all the Alliance passenger lists?” Tali was irritated and shifting her weight every few seconds. She dropped her voice, barely above a whisper. “You’re the Shadow Broker. Stop acting like you aren’t holding all the cards.”
“I’m not,” Liara insisted. “And I was getting to that. In addition to the shell groups, and I’ve enlisted a few quarians – with Tali’s assistance – to help break through the geth interfaces, one or both units seem to be subverting Alliance information networks. I haven’t been able to receive any Alliance data that isn’t relayed to me first-hand.”
“So, when I asked Glyph to reach out to you…” Shepard glanced down at her omnitool. Earlier, she had hoped that the drone’s presence wouldn’t be permanent. Now she wasn’t certain that keeping him linked to her was a bad idea.
Liara’s gaze remained focused on Tali. “That was my confirmation that you were here. I intercepted some chatter that you were on the Citadel shortly after you disembarked the Rembrandt, but all efforts to reach you went dead. Fortunately, Feron offered to intercept you, in case you were being followed or were otherwise compromised.”
Shepard suddenly felt very uncomfortable. In the months since leaving Paris, she’d gotten used to life without having to look over her shoulder. She’d even started traveling unarmed. Now here she was again, facing an unknown enemy and she felt very exposed.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Garrus asked, his voice on edge.
“I didn’t want to alert you – or the Alliance – until I had more information,” Liara set down the datapads and summoned her omnitool’s comm function. “Until the other day, it didn’t seem like they were involved with anything that demanded observation.”
Tali joined them on the bench. “So why tell Tevos that STG may be the ones behind the attack in Rio if you don’t actually know?”
Liara exhaled forcefully and gestured for Feron to hand back the baby. “A hunch. I trust the Councilor to be discreet and not act on any intelligence until she has to. The Hierarchy isn’t absolved, but I do believe that whoever is compromised is answering to an outside force, whether it is STG or the ones funding them.”
The infant started to cry, which signaled to all assembled that the meeting was over. Liara and Feron hurried off into the Presidium, melting into the crowds almost instantly, leaving Shepard, Garrus, and Tali sitting in the shadow of the krogan statue.
The three moved towards a rapid transit post and Shepard was only mildly surprised when Tali continued on to the Silversun Strip with them.
The quarian began pacing as soon as they entered the apartment. “Shepard, I don’t like this.”
“I’m pretty sure none of us do,” Garrus said blandly. “And I think it’s only going to get worse.”
Shepard watched her husband pull up the vidscreen’s comm function, erasing the Normandy crew photo that normally displayed. She was about to ask who he was trying to reach when the sigil of the turian Hierarchy began rotating on the screen.
“I feel like this is the beginning of a bad human joke,” the Primarch said as his image came into focus. “A turian, a quarian, and a human standing in a bar.”
“I’ll tell you the punchline later,” Garrus said, straightening his posture.
“I’m sure it will be very enlightening,” Victus said, reclining. “What can I do for you, Garrus?”
“You believed someone in the Hierarchy was trying to sabotage the N7 program,” Garrus said cautiously. “We’ve recently come into some intelligence that STG may also be involved, with an unknown benefactor.”
“The salarians?” Victus was thoughtful but waited for Garrus to continue.
“I’m not waiting for more turians to get poisoned or killed,” Garrus said. He sighed. “I’m accepting your offer, but I have a few conditions of my own.”
“Is Garrus just homesick, or are you sending him to Palaven so we can have these moments together?” James asked, pausing a moment to wipe sweat from his forehead. They were two hours into a dancing lesson.
Shepard took a swig of water. She was regretting the decision to keep the apartment windows and doors open. The cool ocean breeze prevailing at the start of the lesson had died, leaving only a still, humid blanket over the city. “Castis called yesterday with a potential lead on the turian conspirator.”
It had been four weeks since Hilsus was poisoned and the recruits were facing a rest block. They were halfway through N1, with only one drop out so far; Yao had come to Shepard with his resignation the day after she returned from the Citadel, stating he preferred the civilian HUS. She accepted it without argument; Yao was fantastic in the crisis scenarios, but he’d bristled under the daily control of the Alliance. Regardless, Shepard was sorry to see him go.
Garrus had gone straight to Palaven from the Citadel as part of his new position, and had spent more time there than with Shepard ever since. She missed him, and was spending more and more time at the Villa as a result. Officially, she was overseeing the recruits and following up on the soldiers advancing through the program as they returned from their off-world assignments. Unofficially, she was trying to identify the agent working inside the Villa and generally avoiding her empty apartment.
“You know, you don’t have to spend every night of your leave with me,” Shepard said as James handed her a beer.
He took a sip of his own. “There wasn’t enough time to go home or to the Citadel. Besides, someone’s gotta make sure that you don’t completely embarrass yourself the next time you decide to dance in public.”
“Not even a date?” Shepard asked. She glanced sideways at him. “I’m sure Wall would have gone dancing with you if you’d asked her.”
“I know.” James blushed slightly. “But she’s part of my squad, and you know I don’t fraternize. Besides, I’m not sure if she’s actually into me or just the idea of me.”
James nodded. “Her old boyfriend was a cruiser pilot, docked at Arcturus when the Reapers hit.”
Arcturus was one of the first human stations lost in the war. “Damn,” Shepard said softly.
They watched the waves lap at the shore. “Seems like you’re the only one who isn’t fraternizing on this leave,” Shepard said. “I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Levine out with nearly every woman at the Villa.”
James shrugged. “The salarians pretty much keep to themselves, but otherwise, yeah. Everyone just wants to blow off steam. It’s been a rough few months.”
Shepard snorted. She remembered well how N1s blew off steam, and knew firsthand how turians did as well. She smirked at the memory of Garrus’s reaction to her initial offer to relieve some of his tension.
“Sorry,” Shepard took another drink from her bottle. “Just…remembering.”
James laughed. “I already told you, I don’t want to know how you and Garrus make that work.” He looked back at the living room. “Should we start again?”
The words were no sooner out of his mouth than Garrus strode in the front door. “Vega, don’t make me regret not shooting you the first opportunity I had.”
He joined them out on the balcony, taking Shepard’s beer from her hand and drinking it himself. Two years ago, such an action would have been unthinkable, but they were each slowly developing an immunity to the other. Still, Shepard didn’t tend to push it the way Garrus did.
“You’re back.” Shepard’s surprise was still registering.
“It was a bust,” Garrus said, finishing Shepard’s beer. “The agent Dad identified was killed before I boarded the shuttle to Palaven. But I did pick up something interesting on the Citadel.” He walked back into the apartment and pulled up his omnitool, pinging the vidscreen behind them.
Shepard and James followed him inside and Garrus closed the doors to the porch behind them. “Sorry, but I thought Liara have a better chance of tracking down this data than we would.”
“I’d be more upset if you hadn’t,” Shepard said as Liara’s face appeared on the screen. “What did you find?”
Liara began summoning data onto the screen. “I’ve been reviewing the docking manifests from Officer Krios and cross-referencing names. A human named Hope Lillium has been on the station four times in the last six months.”
“Hope Lillium?” Shepard raised an eyebrow, casting a sidelong glance at Garrus. He shook his head. “Am I supposed to know who that is?”
Liara kept going. “Normally I wouldn’t find that unusual, but her ship has a salarian registration, and all of her dockings are less than 30 hours. She also has an apartment on the Silversun Strip.”
“Yes, but why are you tracking her?” Shepard asked.
Garrus shuffled. “I ran into Kolyat in Zakera Ward – C-Sec has him working in the docking bays. He mentioned a woman coming through customs who seemed to know an awful lot about Thane, and about the deal you struck with Bailey.”
Shepard looked between Garrus and Liara. “But why did you ask Liara to track her?”
“Kolyat said something felt off about her, like he’d seen her before but can’t place her.”
“Drell have eidetic memories.”
A cough came from Liara’s end of the screen. Feron was standing behind her. “That is correct, Admiral, but it can be tampered with. Psychotropic poisons were common on Rakhana before it fell.”
“Keep following her then,” Shepard said cautiously.
Despite Garrus’s return to the apartment, Shepard found herself awake well before the sunrise on the last day of the N1 leave. The turian couldn’t be roused, so she slipped out of bed and dressed quietly.
The Villa’s hallways were silent and the grey pre-dawn light gave them a mysterious feel. Shepard headed directly for the combat sim, hoping to get a round of practice in before Kahlee Sanders discovered her presence and began bombarding her with reports.
Much to her regret, Shepard found she wouldn’t be alone in the combat sim. Wall was at a weapons bench, hunched over a sniper rifle. A holographic drone hovered beside her.
“Morning, Lieutenant,” Shepard said casually, dropping her Black Widow on the bench next to her. She looked over at what Wall was working on
“Greetings, Admiral,” the drone bobbed.
“Hush,” Wall said, straightening up. “Sorry, Admiral. DETER is programmed to address anyone who enters the room.”
“DETER?” Shepard eyed the drone. It flickered silently.
Wall sighed, pulling up her omnitool and dimissing the drone. “It was an experimental weapons maintenance drone we were testing at New York Station. I grabbed its programming chip when I escaped.”
Shepard nodded. “Nice rifle,” she said idly, hoping the lieutenant would get the hint and leave.
Wall looked down at the bench in front of her. “The repeater jammed. I’ve been here all night trying to fix it, but I’ve been having trouble controlling the recoil.”
Shepard walked over to the bench and examined the rifle. She was about to make a suggestion when an ear-piercing shriek erupted through the Villa. Wall immediately ducked below the bench, drawing the pistol she kept at her hip.
Cursing under her breath, Shepard raised a hand to stay Wall and grabbed her rifle. Leaning up against the doorway to the combat sim’s armory, she scanned the hall for the sign of who – or what – had screamed.
The halls were still deserted, but Shepard gestured for Wall to follow her. They barely entered the hallway when one of the civilian maids came tearing towards them. She skidded to a halt when she saw Shepard. “Admiral, come quick!”
Shepard chased the maid through the Villa towards the students’ quarters. One door was left open, with a small crowd gathering around it. An N5 who had just returned from a stint in the Caleston Rift was trying to corral the gawking soldiers and shot a pleading look at Shepard as she arrived. “Everyone get back!” she ordered, pushing through the throng.
The room looked relatively untouched, except for the soldier lying dead on the bed. Captain Kulkarni was completely nude, his clothes discarded as though they’d been removed in the heat of the moment. Dried trails of blood striped his face and ears.
Shepard cast a glance around and spotted Levine and James near the back of the crowd. James caught her look immediately and the two pushed through to reach her.
“One of you had better know something about this,” she said, her voice carefully dancing on the knife edge of her temper.
James shook his head. Levine cast his gaze to the ground.
The tall, blonde soldier snapped his head up and stared Shepard directly in the eyes. “All I know is he was drinking with one of the asari last night. I don’t know which, I can’t tell any of them blue bitches apart.”
“Watch it, Lieutenant,” Shepard warned.
Levine saluted. “Sorry, Admiral.”
Kahlee Sanders appeared at the front of the crowd, looking distressed. “Shepard, all three asari N1s are missing.” She blanched as she looked behind Shepard at Kulkarni’s body. “What the—“
Shepard closed her eyes and took a breath, harnessing the rage building inside her. “Sanders, put calls out to Alliance command to shut down the intergalactic spaceports in Mexico City, Berlin, Johannesburg, and Singapore, tell the planetary ports to detain any asari trying to move through the Sol system, and get Councillor Tevos on my QEC so I can ask her how the hell an Ardat-Yakshi made it into my N7 program.”
Shepard put her head in her hands as she killed the commlink to the Singapore spaceport, pulling her hair from its ponytail in an attempt to relieve an incipient headache. None of the four intergalactic ports had records of her asari N1s boarding a ship, and none of the planetary ports in the Americas did either. She hadn’t expected them to. But she didn’t have a clue as to where to look. And Councilor Tevos still hadn’t called her back.
“Hey there,” a familiar vibrating voice came from the doorway. Shepard didn’t raise her head. She heard the sound of a plate set down on her desk and felt Garrus’s hands rest on her shoulders. His thumbs started to make small circles in the spaces between her shoulder blades and her spine. “You should eat something. You’ve been here all day.”
“Why is this happening?” she asked, her voice sounding small. “What does anyone gain from this?”
Garrus’s hands left her shoulders. A moment later, she heard the chair across her desk creak. Shepard finally lifted her head and saw her husband watching her, concern etched on his features. He gestured to the food he’d placed in front of her.
She regarded the plate – pork and rice from the Villa’s mess – but couldn’t find the desire to eat. She turned instead to the laptop open at the corner of her desk, displaying Kulkarni’s service record. His family had yet to be notified and she was dreading it. What could she say about him? She hadn’t had the time to get to know all of her N1s.
Shepard closed the laptop’s holoscreen. “I need to call the Normandy.”
Garrus’s gaze followed Shepard as she got up from the chair and walked over to the QEC terminal. “I don’t see how involving a second Spectre is going to get you any more information.”
“It’s not,” Shepard said as she began pinging the Normandy’s QEC signature. “But Kulkarni was one of Kaidan’s squad. He knows him much better than I ever would, and we still need to notify the family.”
“SSV Normandy, Communications Specialist Ramsey. How may I direct your call?”
Shepard swallowed her irritation. Who else would she be calling for? “It’s Rear Admiral Shepard for Colonel Alenko.”
“Yes Admiral.” The line went silent for a moment before Kaidan’s holographic form appeared in front of her. He looked tired.
“Shepard? What’s going on?”
Shepard sighed. “Your comms officer always that dense?”
Kaidan laughed. “Ramsey used to work on the Citadel. She’s still learning that any hail on the QEC is going to be for me only. Though her reaction when Admiral Raan hailed you was one for the books.”
“Raan tried to reach me on the Normandy?” Shepard blinked in surprise. “I thought Tali would have told her I was here.”
“She wanted the Normandy to support a few Patrol Fleet vessels against raiders. Now that the geth are no longer a threat, mercs have been moving into the Perseus Veil.”
“And the Alliance allowed it?”
Kaidan rubbed his head at the site of his implant. “I used Spectre authority and cited a request from the quarian ambassador.”
Shepard smiled grimly. “I’m sure Tali loved that.”
“She called me bosh’tet.” Kaidan shook his head and straightened his posture. “You didn’t call to criticize my comms officer or hear about patrol routes. What’s going on, Shepard?”
Shepard took a deep breath. “Kaidan, Binod Kulkarni was killed last night.”
“In a training exercise? I thought they didn’t get into live-fire scenarios until N2?” Kaidan looked away and Shepard could hear him whispering a string of swears. “Shepard, I just talked to him yesterday. He was excited about a date with an asari. Wanted advice on…er…biotic stuff.”
Shepard managed to keep her face neutral. “Did he happen to mention the asari’s name?”
“Janet something, one of those T-contraction names.”
Shepard gestured to Garrus to bring her a datapad. “Jonet T’doros?”
“Sounds right,” Kaidan shrugged. “The Alliance comms are still messy at some of the colonies.”
Shepard pulled T’doro’s Alliance file. “Thanks Kaidan. If I send you the coordinates to find Samara, can you do a pickup?”
Kaidan started to nod, then paused. “What do you need a justicar for? And won’t you need permission from the asari government?”
“Kaidan, you’re a council Spectre. Just find her. Kulkarni was killed by an Ardat-Yakshi and Samara’s one of the best.”
Kaidan blanched and saluted before cutting the QEC link. As soon as it cut out, the vidscreen began pinging with the Citadel council’s logo.
“About damn time,” Shepard muttered, shooting off a quick message to Samara’s last known address. Hopefully the justicar would reach her soon.
Garrus tapped the desk. “Your food’s getting cold.”
“It can wait,” Shepard said.
“I know you, you’ll forget and then you’re up at 3 in the morning frying eggs instead of sleeping like a reasonable person.” Garrus sighed. “Do you know how hard it is to sleep when the apartment smells like fried eggs?”
“I promise I will eat before 3 AM,” Shepard said as she accepted the transmission.
“Well that’s reassuring,” Councilor Sparatus said.
Shepard straightened her posture. “Sir, I didn’t realize I was going to be addressed by the full council.”
“We decided this was an emergency that required all of us present, Shepard.” Tevos said. “We can’t abide by an Ardat-Yakshi attacking our soldiers.”
Shepard bristled. “Your military were the ones who sent her to me!”
“There is nothing in any of our commandos’ service or personal records that indicate they may have been afflicted. Each of them has over a century of service – if one was Ardat-Yakshi, we would have known long ago.” Tevos sighed. “We have to assume that someone sent one in to frame your trainees, and then pulled them. Have you been able to get transit records?”
“No.” Shepard said, a scowl growing across her face. “There are no records of any asari leaving Earth or moving across the planet in the last 32 hours.”
“What do you intend to do then?” Tevos asked.
Shepard glanced at the datapad. It was blinking with a new message. “I’ve reached out to Justicar Samara for her assistance.”
“I hardly think a justicar is necessary,” Valern said, breaking his silence. “Likely the girl hasn’t left earth.”
Shepard shook her head. “I’m not taking any chances. One of my soldiers was killed by an Ardat-Yakshi last night, and now three asari are missing.”
“You don’t have the authority to do that,” Valern warned. “The Republic government authorizes the use of justicars. Your Spectre status gives you a long leash, Admiral, but it doesn’t overrule homeworld governments.”
Tevos shook her head. “In this case, Shepard did have the authority to contact Samara. They have a working history and Samara has taken an oath to serve Shepard in the past. It’s unorthodox, but the matriarchs won’t go against it.”
Valern dismissed the asari’s comment. “Regardless, Shepard, I think it’s time to end this experiment. The dalatrass has authorized a detachment to remove our STG agents from the program. It was an interesting idea, but this experiment has proven to be too dangerous.”
Valen waved his hand. “It’s done, Admiral.”
Sparatus turned to Shepard. “The Primarch wishes our soldiers to stay. He’s confident that with an agent on Earth looking out for Palaven’s interests, there shouldn’t be any future incidents.”
In the edge of her vision, Shepard caught Garrus’s curt nod. “Is that all?”
“For now, Admiral,” Valern said. He glanced briefly at the other councilors before adding. “Though, I may have some information that could be of assistance to you.”
“There’s a drell named Feron who is a trusted friend,” Shepard said. “He’ll get it to me through secure channels. I’ll send him to you immediately.”
The salarian nodded and the vidscreen went black. Checking the datapad, Shepard saw that Samara had simply sent the coordinates for Illium, and she forwarded it to Kaidan and Joker. Then she returned to her desk.
The pork and rice were cold and starting to congeal, but she took a forkful and ate it. She looked up at Garrus. “Happy now?”
He had a bemused smile on his face. “No, but it’s a start.”
Chapter 16: Chapter 16 (mostly fluff)
Some plot, mostly fluff.
“Shepard, I really don’t like having a justicar on my ship.” Kaidan was pacing back and forth; his frame kept leaving the boundaries of the QEC, leaving only his disembodied voice. “She’s making my crew anxious. I’ve had to shut off the entire starboard lounge to accommodate her. Even Joker doesn’t seem to want her around, and he knows her.”
Shepard closed her eyes. Watching his hologram bounce back and forth was making her dizzy. “Just let me talk to her, please.”
Kaidan vanished briefly again. A minute later, Samara came into view, her expression as impassive as ever. “Admiral, it’s lovely to hear from you again.”
“Did you get the data I sent?” There wasn’t time for pleasantries. It took Kaidan two days to get the Normandy to Illium and track down Samara. Without Liara’s presence on the planet to back him up, the local authorities weren’t as forthcoming as they had been with Shepard.
Samara nodded. “I was able to access records from all of our monasteries; none of these women were ever recorded as Ardat-Yakshi. I am still waiting to hear back from my fellow justicars to see if any names are familiar.”
“What about their parentage?” Shepard pressed. “I thought only pureblooded asari could be Ardat-Yakshi.”
“I will look into it, but that may be a task more suited to your Shadow Broker,” Samara said. “Justicar are only given the identities of those they seek. We do not want further involvement. If they have attracted our attention, they’ve already caused too much harm.”
Kaidan jumped back into the view. “Shepard, I believe we should start our search at the –“
The QEC cut out suddenly. Shepard tried to hail the Normandy again but the signal was lost. “Dammit,” she muttered.
Garrus looked up from the chair in the corner, where he’d been intently reading a datapad. “Take a break,” he said. “You’ve barely slept in days. Liara will still be there in a few hours.”
“I need to get Feron’s report anyway,” Shepard said as she turned to the vid screen.
Garrus got up and killed the screen before the comm completed its link to the Citadel. “You’ve tried the ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ argument with me before. Go to bed now before I drag you there.”
Shepard reached for the comm button again. “Is that a promise?”
Garrus grabbed her and lifted her off her feet. “I know how to make you sleep.” He slung Shepard over his shoulder and carried her into their bedroom.
Loathe as she was to admit it, Shepard did feel much better when she woke a few hours later. She could hear Garrus humming to himself from another room, the same self-satisfied tune he always took to after making her toes curl. It had been a relief to lose herself in him even for a little while, to forget the outside world and be a carefree newlywed.
She found Garrus in the kitchen, pouring a cup of coffee into a mug. Taking it from him, she spied two bags sitting on the floor. “Are you leaving again?”
“You’re coming with me,” he said, pouring the rest of the coffee for himself. “Liara called while you slept. She’s still having blocks on Alliance comms and doesn’t trust any communication going to or coming from Earth. We’re going to the Citadel.”
Shepard groaned, remembering the pile of paperwork she’d left at her desk the night before. “I can’t.”
“You can, and you will.” Garrus said bluntly. “I’ve already talked to Kahlee Sanders and nothing requires your immediate attention. She can handle anything that doesn’t require an admiral’s authorization and Hackett’s authority supersedes yours.”
Shepard nearly spat out her coffee. “You talked to Hackett?”
“No, Victus did.” Garrus frowned slightly. “Whatever this is, he believes it’s going to have you away from Rio for some time. Victus also authorized the use of a turian ship to get us to the Citadel. It’s leaving from Mexico City in about six hours. If you didn’t wake up soon, I was going to come get you.”
“You did all this while I slept?”
Garrus’s mandibles twitched. “This was put in motion after the Council talked to Feron. I needed you to sleep because I’m not sure when you’ll get a chance again.”
An Alliance shuttle got them to Mexico City well ahead of the departure. Their starship was immediately obvious – no other turian ships were docked in the port and it bore the emblem of Palaven’s Primarcy.
“There are a few perks to working for the Primarch,” Garrus said as they boarded. The turian diplomatic ship was a decommissioned frigate and bore all the hallmarks of civilian comfort. Shepard followed Garrus through the ship, obviously familiar to him, and into a cabin. It had clearly been crew bunks in its prior life, but was retrofitted to be a private suite.
“Home sweet home,” Garrus announced, “for the evening, at least.” He tossed his bag on the bed. “We can stay here, or I can show you something I think you’ll really like.”
Shepard arched an eyebrow. “You’ve already done that today.”
“Wasn’t what I had in mind,” he said, taking her hand. “I know you’ve never been on a turian ship.”
Shepard followed Garrus through the decks. He avoided elevators in favor of ladders, guiding her through what felt like a twisting maze of the ship. “You trying to get me lost, Vakarian?”
“Only reminding you that you depend on me to save your ass more often than you want to admit.” He laughed. “Of course, no one will believe that the great Commander Shepard needs rescuing from a failed C-Sec agent.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re much more than that now.”
“Maybe.” Garrus stopped at a sealed door. “Now, I know the Alliance gave you Joker and James so you could feel like a big shot in taking down your own crew in hand-to-hand combat. I thought you’d like to see what a real sparring match looks like.”
The door opened to reveal a wide empty room, with a matted floor and several benches beyond a barricade. The far wall of the sparring room was all windows, showing off the vast expanse of the Sol system as they floated through it. “Even turian diplomats need to blow off steam from time to time,” Garrus said, a hint of pride in his voice.
“You’re on,” Shepard said, pulling the platinum ring from her finger and looping it back onto her dog tags.
Garrus snorted. “Don’t expect me to go easy on you just because I married you. I was the top-ranked hand-to-hand combatant on my ship.”
“So I’ve heard,” Shepard said. She began shaking out her arms. “It’s about time you show me just how good that reach really is.”
Despite how many times she’d leaned into Garrus, had him right up against her, Shepard felt a twinge of intimidating as he pulled off his shirt and flexed his fingers. She knew his claws were blunted underneath his gloves, but for a brief moment she worried about the power that still remained. It was one thing to take a turian to bed; it was another entirely to square off against him hand-to-hand.
Shepard danced just barely outside Garrus’s reach, ducking his swings. She sized him up, counting the seconds between, judging how she could jump in and land a hit without him touching her.
She brought up an arm to block his blow and reflexively tapped the haptic trigger on her omnitool that enabled her stealth field. She bent down slightly and stepped in closer, aiming for her first touch.
Garrus grabbed her wrist. “No cloaking,” he said with a laugh. “Skill against skill alone.”
“If that’s the case, then lose the visor” Shepard challenged, dropping the cloak.
“How else am I supposed to track you when you inevitably cheat?” he asked. He released Shepard’s wrist and took off the visor. “No human alive can beat a turian in a fair fight.”
“Well I guess I’m going to have to prove you wrong,” Shepard said as she landed a hit near the bottom of Garrus’s rib cage. She ducked down and rolled out of the way before he could touch her.
They circled for some time, each landing a few hits on the other. Shepard’s breath was getting labored; despite returning to her training, she was still less than a year out from having been almost completely shattered in London. Garrus took advantage of her sudden pause to take a deep breath and grabbed her with both hands, bringing her in.
“I win,” he said softly,
Shepard looked up at him. “I don’t know. I’m pretty sure we’re going to need a tiebreaker.”
Garrus’s laughter carried through the sparring room and followed them as they made their way back to their cabin.
A drell C-Sec officer was waiting at the Citadel’s turian diplomatic docking bay. A smile broke across Kolyat’s face when he saw Shepard and Garrus disembark. “When Bailey told me I needed to escort a dignitary from Palaven, I didn’t know it was going to be you.”
“Ah yes, babysitting politicians,” Garrus said, rolling his eyes. “You’ve been on the force about six months now?”
Garrus laughed. “Get used to it. It’s this, shaking down hustlers on the Strip, and hauling soldiers on shore leave to the drunk tank for the rest of your first year. Once you prove your worth, they let you do the fun stuff.”
“Kolyat, I appreciate you coming to meet us, but is this really necessary?” Shepard asked as they slid into the back of the drell’s C-Sec skycar.
Kolyat’s face was impassive. “We received a tip from a volus know to associate with the Shadow Broker that suggested the dignitaries arriving on this frigate were being followed by STG. I was told their home was fortified, but that they would need protection on the way.”
Shepard glanced at Garrus, who had begun rapidly typing on his omnitool and avoiding her gaze. He didn’t look up until Kolyat dropped them off outside the apartment.
“I said fine was good for someone else,” Garrus said as they rode the elevator. “First Cerberus, then a clone, now spirits only know who’s got it in their mind to go after Commander Shepard. Probably Cerberus again, since they were behind the clone, technically.”
“Hey, it’s Admiral Shepard now and Cerberus is gone. We saw to that ourselves,” she said, taking his bag. “Whatever you need to activate, do it once we get inside. Whatever you didn’t blow up.”
“Just the tripwire,” Garrus admitted. “The microfilaments on the glass wall are still there, just…disarmed. And I already sent Glyph orders to initiate anything voice activated.”
Shepard sighed and headed for the apartment’s front door. “I still can’t decide if you’re crazy or omniscient. Though I still don’t buy Zaeed’s ‘weaponized wall fixtures’ argument.”
“I needed to know you were safe then, and I still do now.” Garrus’s eye darted behind his visor.
“Do I need to deactivate the door?” Shepard asked cautiously as she held her omnitool over the lock.
“But?” Shepard eyed Garrus suspiciously.
“Greetings, Admiral!” Glyph hovered in front of them, blinking menacingly. Shepard started, realizing it sounded just like Tali’s drone, Chatika.
“Hello, Glyph,” Garrus said clearly. The drone stopped blinking.
“Greetings, Mr. Vakarian,” the drone chirped.
Shepard was stunned. “You weaponized Glyph?”
Garrus strode into the apartment. “Tali helped. She was able to override Liara’s programming, so now he’s an info drone and an attack drone, and he’s tied to both of us for a voice key.”
“How did you program him to respond to my voice if I wasn’t here?”
“I have more than enough recordings of you,” Garrus’s exposed skin on his neck took on a blue tinge. He was actually blushing. “I saved them…just in case.”
Shepard glanced at him as she headed for the stairs. “What exactly did you have recorded?”
“Nothing naughty,” Garrus coughed. “Just a few times I had the visor recording and you said something I was going to want to hear again. I started doing it after you went after Leviathan. It was the first time I realized I might actually lose you in that war and I didn’t think I could go on for the rest of my life without ever hearing your voice again.”
Shepard shook her head and walked away. She felt a twinge of sadness deep inside, knowing how close they had come to losing everything. Garrus had always managed to arrive just when she needed him.
“We need to go see Liara,” she said quietly.
“Dr. T’soni is waiting for you at the Krogan Memorial on the Presidium,” Glyph said. “Shall I inform her that you are on your way?”
Garrus talked Shepard through arming the drone using her omnitool and they set out. This time, Shepard was armed. She originally disliked the pistol she’d taken from a dead Cat6 merc, but was now grateful for the gun’s silencer and easy concealment. Garrus was armed as well, taking the arc pistol Shepard had received from Tali. She saw him cast a glance at the bag containing their armor and preferred weapons, but nothing would draw more attention than two civilians traveling through the Citadel fully armed.
True to Glyph’s word, Liara was waiting at the Krogan Memorial, this time with Tali. The quarian ambassador stood and ran to Shepard, embracing her. “Shepard, we’ve been so worried. We heard about the Ardat-Yakshi, and the salarians pulling out of the program, and –“
“We should probably start at the beginning,” Liara said, gesturing for Shepard and Garrus to join her. “Tali and her pilgrims have been vital in identifying the two unknown STG units – one was partially funded by the Alliance, and appears to have been the agents participating in the N7 program. The other—“
“Was a shadow group,” Tali said. “With Cerberus funding.”
“What?” Shepard looked between the two of them. Neither Liara nor Tali flinched. “How is that possible? The Illusive Man would never have approved funding for a non-human initiative, especially not after he started looking into indoctrination.”
Liara began pulling data up on her omnitool. “It appears to be a splinter cell that broke away about two years ago, with peaks of activity during your court martial and near the end of the war. I can only find traces of it, and no record of any personnel associated with it.”
“That’s it?” Shepard frowned. Liara looked frustrated at what little information she’d been able to provide.
“I’ve had a few agents looking into it,” Liara’s eyes darkened and she turned her head away. “They all vanished. After the third disappeared, I pulled my remaining field agents and took on the project myself. Whoever is behind it knows the Shadow Broker is after them, and if my suspicions are correct, they know I’m the Shadow Broker. I’m almost positive this group is associated with the other, and one or both is behind my inability to trace any Alliance intelligence or communications.”
“What about that woman I asked you to look into,” Garrus asked. “Hope Lilium?”
Liara swiped through the screen a few more times. “Still nothing, and I’m inclined to believe it’s a false identity. Once we started identifying the Cerberus link, I reached out to Miranda to see if she’d ever heard the name before.”
Tali twisted her fingers together. “We haven’t heard from her yet. We can’t trace her, but we found Oriana on the Citadel, so we’ve reached out through her.”
Shepard’s hand twitched towards her concealed pistol. “So we have two huge unknowns working right now. Please tell me you found something on any of my missing asari.”
A small smile flickered across Liara’s face. “None of your asari are purebloods, but Jonet T’doros has a half-sister who is. She’s young, too, not yet 50 years old.”
“Morinth started showing signs of being Ardat-Yakshi at 40,” Garrus said cautiously.
“Yes, it’s a bit young,” Liara admitted. “Which would also explain why she hasn’t been identified. I haven’t been able to find any photographic evidence of the sister, but I’ve already sent her information to Samara.”
Garrus’s fists were clenched. “So we have a drell with memory loss, a mystery woman who we are actually hoping was associated with Cerberus, two STG factions that probably actually are Cerberus, and an unidentified Ardat-Yakshi running around spirits-know-where in the galaxy.”
“As well as two missing asari and a Council that’s rapidly losing faith in Shepard’s abilities,” Liara added. “What’s more, I don’t believe it’s safe for you to be on the Citadel right now. I’ve requested emergency transport back to Earth for both of you.”
An Alliance Kodiak flew overhead and looped back towards the memorial, settling in a parking port about 500 feet away.
“I thought you didn’t have access to Alliance networks,” Shepard said carefully, watching the Kodiak’s doors open. The solider who got out was fully suited and walked towards them, one hand resting on a sidearm.
“She doesn’t, but she can still reach Spectres,” Kaidan said, pulling off his helmet as he walked towards them. “Shepard, we need to go. Now.”
Shepard’s omnitool comm began to ping. James’s voice broke through, staticky as it reached across the galaxy. “Shepard, Kahlee Sanders didn’t want to bother you with this, but there’s something you should know: Levine is missing.”
Tali stood in the Kodiak’s bay, staring down Kaidan. “I’m not repeating myself again. I am coming with you.”
Kaidan huffed and pulled his helmet back on, muttering something about the Admiralty Board. He joined Cortez at the Kodiak’s front, leaving Shepard, Garrus and Tali in the bay.
Shepard suddenly realized they were speeding towards the docking bays, with nothing but her pistol. “Cortez, is there any way we can swing past my apartment?”
“Already done, Admiral,” Cortez nodded his head towards the Kodiak’s storage locker.
“How—“ Shepard cut herself off as she lifted her N7 breastplate, revealing two sniper rifles and an assault rifle wrapped inside two undersuits. “Liara,” she sighed.
Cortez chuckled. “Sorry, Admiral, but she said it was urgent and overrode your drone.”
Shepard resolved to have a word with Liara about interfering with her home security when this was all over. If the Shadow Broker was compromised, how easy would it be for someone else to get into her apartment?
The clone’s laugh echoed in her mind. Shepard shook it away as she stripped down and pulled on her undersuit. She felt Garrus’s gloved hand on her shoulder, bracing her while she zipped the legs. She looked back to see him with his visor already set in place, concern etched on his face. Shepard remembered a time when she couldn’t tell what turians were thinking, a time when she couldn’t tell if Garrus supported her or was simply using her as a means to the end of catching Saren.
“Commander, the Admiral has a message waiting on vidcom,” the Normandy’s communications officer was waiting in the armory. Despite saluting Shepard, there was a slight look of disdain on her face.
“Thank you, Ramsey,” Kaidan said, nodding at her. “Shepard?”
“Your comms officer doesn’t like me,” Shepard muttered to Kaidan as they made their way through the Normandy’s command center.
Kaidan huffed, avoiding her gaze. “It’s not like that.”
“How long have you been sleeping with her?” Shepard asked idly. Kaidan stumbled. “You never were subtle, Kaidan.”
Vega was visibly distressed. “I don’t know what happened, Lola. He didn’t report at call time this morning, and when we went to his room, it was like he was never even here.”
Shepard closed her eyes and pinched her eyebrows together. She could feel Kaidan hovering behind her; he’d barred Tali and Garrus from the vidcom room. Their whispers from the war room pricked at her ears. “Thank you, Vega. Please tell Sanders to suspend all N7 trainings temporarily and recall all off-world trainees to their nearest Alliance outpost, even if they’re on an active mission. Have her report into me when all classes are accounted for.’
“Admiral,” Vega saluted and signed off.
Shepard shook her head. She hoped Samara had something for her; she wasn’t sure how much more of this she could deal with.
“Commander?” Joker’s voice echoed in the room. “We have clearance to depart.”
“Go, Joker,” Shepard and Kaidan said in unison. Shepard blushed. “Sorry.”
Joker laughed. “Aye aye, Admiral.”
Kaidan cleared his throat. “Take us to Feros. We should have a heading by the time we get there.”
“Wild goose chase. Got it, Commander.”
The Normandy rocked slightly as the Citadel’s supports pulled back from the frigate. Once the ship was underway, Shepard made her way towards the starboard observation deck and wasn’t surprised to find Samara deep in meditation.
“It’s been a long time, Admiral,” the justicar said as Shepard came level with her. “I was disappointed to see the Normandy was no longer under your command, but Commander Alenko has been most accommodating.”
Shepard joined Samara on the floor. “Do you have any leads for me?”
“I do.” Samara continued to sit with her eyes closed. “Amali T’doros had already received justicar attention after a suspicious death on Thessia. I was called to assist with the hunt, but declined as I had not yet fulfilled my oath to you. It was reported that Amali was killed when the justicar chasing her attempted to capture her. Your Jonet was granted a temporary leave during the hunt to assist with tracking down her sister. The matriarchs believed she would be able to influence Amali, as Jonet had already received some renown as a huntress.”
“So where do we look?”
Shepard had rarely ever heard Samara sigh, but the one she released was rich with exhaustion. “I do not believe she is in asari space, and the Terminus systems seem too obvious. I have not been able to catch any rumors since arriving at the Citadel, but I recommended to Commander Alenko that we travel to Feros.”
Shepard left Samara and found Garrus and Tali in the port lounge. She stretched out on the couch and listened to the soft snick of the cards as they played behind her. She scrolled through her comms and found nothing from Miranda. The lounge’s windows slid shut as the Normandy approached the Widow relay, preparing for the jump to the Attican Beta. The ship shuddered as it hit the mass relay but when the windows slid open again, Shepard saw the Normandy high above Feros. “Well done, Joker,” she murmured.
“Admiral?” Joker’s voice popped into the comm. “There’s something you should see.”
Shepard saw what Joker was referring to as soon as she arrived in the cockpit. A salarian frigate was also in orbit above Feros. Joker was watching the ship intently. When he noticed Shepard behind him, he said, “EDI, bring up the ship information.”
“Of course, Jeff,” the ship answered robotically. The voice print was almost identical but…lacked.
“It’s not the real thing,” Joker said quickly. “Just a VI.”
“Traynor told me,” Shepard said. “Can we get that ship information translated to a Systems Alliance language?”
“It’s the ship signature Liara wanted us to track,” Joker said as the salarian text converted to English. “Here’s the thing,” he pulled a window towards the center of the haptic display. “Its ground shuttle was on earth the same day your asari went missing.”
Shepard felt her temper rising. “How did no one catch this?” She resolved to give each of the Earth spaceports a piece of her mind when she returned.
The cockpit display crackled and shut off, replaced by a shadowed face.
“My dear Commander Shepard,” the face said. Shepard frantically attempted to place the voice, but it was distorted. “You of all people should know you don’t need a spaceport to drop a shuttle.”
“Hope Lillium, I presume,” Shepard said, gesturing to Joker to start pulling as much data as he could from the salarian ship. “Also, it’s Admiral now. If you were on Earth, you would have heard.”
A distorted laugh came across the space. “Oh, I’ve heard. But I find that I simply can’t refer to you as anything except ‘Commander’. Old habits die hard, you know.” The picture disconnected and the salarian frigate vanished.
“Did you get enough of the ship’s signature to track it? They can't stay in stealth for too long.” Shepard asked, watching Joker frantically pull through the Normandy displays.
Kaidan stormed into the deck. “What are you two doing?”
“Tracking the bitch who hacked into my baby,” Joker said as the Normandy’s battle screens appeared. The radar pinged faintly near the boundary of its range. “You can run, but you can’t hide.”
Kaidan bristled. “May I remind you that I’m the commanding officer on this ship, Flight Lieutenant?”
“Not when she’s here,” Joker jutted a thumb at Shepard. “Sorry Kaidan, but she outranks you and on the Normandy, I’m listening to her over you.”
Shepard caught Kaidan’s glare in the corner of her eye. “Let it go, Kaidan. Hackett will back me up if you complain.”
“Besides, it’s not my fault she answered a comm when you didn’t,” Joker called as Kaidan left the cockpit with as much barely contained rage as he’d entered. When he was sure Kaidan was out of earshot, he added just under his breath, “not like she never answered them right after she had sex.”
“Joker,” Shepard warned.
“It wasn’t a secret, Commander. We all knew Garrus had to convince you to go to bed somehow. You needed the rest.”
“Just follow the ship, Joker,” Shepard said, leaving the pilot to do what he did best.
The salarian ship may have had top of the line stealth systems, but even the best frigates could only sink the heat for too long before cooking everyone inside. Unfortunately, the ship maintained them just long enough to make it through the mass relay.
Shepard paced the shuttle bay, watching sparks fly from Cortez’s omnitool on each pass. The voice rubbed at the back of her mind, picking at a wound she knew was there, but couldn’t remember how she got. Even with the distortion, it was familiar.
“Admiral? We have a hit on an unknown salarian ship landing at the ruins of Sanctuary.” Joker said finally. “Alliance patrols in the area are keeping an eye on it. Should we head in?”
“Go, Joker,” Shepard said. She turned to Kaidan. “We still have ships around Horizon?”
He shrugged, testing the omniblade attachment on his rifle. It flickered on and off. “Just patrol troops, watching for any signs of Cerberus. Mostly they just pick up looters trying to scavenge the tech.”
Between arguing with Kaidan to get him to stay on the Normandy and feeling that the trip to Sanctuary was taking just a shade too long, Shepard was struggling to keep her frustrations penned and she was ready to take them out on this mystery person. When Cortez dropped them in Sanctuary’s landing bay, she tried not to shudder, remembering the bodies – Reaper and organics - stacked here just over a year ago. Garrus rested his hand on her shoulder, steadying her. Looking over each shoulder at Garrus and Tali, Shepard waved them forward, dropping back into rear point.
They hadn’t even reached the door when a biotic field trapped all of them.
“I feel like we should have seen this coming,” Garrus said dryly, watching his feet hover above the ground. An asari was standing about ten yards away, holding them in place.
“Yes, you probably should have,” a woman said, leaning lazily in the doorway. She looked up, pushing her black hair out of her face. “I told you that you’d regret not killing me, Shepard.”
Shepard nearly let go of her gun. “Brooks.”
Maya Brooks laughed and strode towards them, a large soldier behind her armed and ready. “You know, Shepard, you make it far too easy to get the best of you. You like to believe you’re safe, you put your guard down. And it makes it terribly simple to sneak in right next to you and hit you where it hurts.” She gestured to her companion to remove his helmet.
Levine was already smirking. He pulled his gun over his shoulder and considered the targets hovering in front of him before resting his sights on Garrus. “Don’t get any ideas, birdman. The bounty for Archangel is still active, and they don’t care if you’re alive.”
Shepard hazarded a quick glance at the asari holding them up; sweat was beginning to bead on her face. She momentarily wished she’d brought Kaidan along, just for a biotic to be on her side. She looked back at Brooks. “Why?”
“To be honest,” Brooks said, clasping her hands behind her. “It wasn’t about you this time. There were many in the Alliance who didn’t want this little experiment to work. Lieutenant Levine knew no one would do anything about it, so he called up an old friend.” She turned and ran a finger down Levine’s chin. He didn’t react, sights still trained on Garrus.
“I thought it would be easy enough to take it apart from the inside, get the alien governments to see that this was a terrible idea. Poison a few turians, put a salarian in the wrong place at the wrong time, sneak in an unregistered Ardat-Yakshi who happens to look just like her decorated sister.” Brooks tapped her chin thoughtfully. “I was really quite proud of that one. I happened to be on Omega when they tracked Amali down. Quite the show your huntress put on there. Too bad she wasn’t fast enough.”
Levine’s eyes flicked towards the asari in the corner. “You want to take Shepard now or later?”
Shepard caught her student’s gaze. The asari was visibly shaking. She wouldn’t be able to hold the warp for much longer. “Take me for what?”
“Well, once I found out you were in charge, which dear sweet Alex told me about shortly after your” Brooks sniffed disdainfully, looking directly at Garrus, “husband decided to play mean with his sniper rifle, I thought ‘who better to dismantle the N7 program than Shepard herself’?”
“Please tell me you don’t have another clone,” Tali said suddenly, her tone edging on fear.
Brooks shook her head. “Unfortunately, no. It seems your AI friend managed to knock out all the remaining clones on life support when you attacked Helios station. But, luckily for me, you are remarkably easy to play, Shepard. You always want to play the hero. So, I had Levine ‘kidnap’ himself, knowing you’d come after him. I picked him up on Feros, and here we are.”
“I hate to break it to you,” Shepard said flexing the muscles in her leg slightly. The warp was starting to give. “But I was actually after Amali. And, funny thing about her, incidentally.”
The warp dropped and Shepard landed on the ground with her gun trained on the asari. “She can’t hold a shield worth crap. I have a student barely out of Grisham who outclasses her.”
She fired, hitting the asari in the shoulder. As she fell, Shepard pinged Cortez to swing the shuttle back. Samara had been waiting in the copilot seat the entire time.
Brooks turned and ran, Levine close behind. The door sealed behind them and glowed red as the locks engaged. Tali, who tried to chase them, punched it in frustration. “That clone-stealing Cerberus boshtet. We shouldn’t have let her go.”
“Trust me, I’m not making that mistake again,” Shepard said, dropping to inspect Amali’s shoulder. Her eyes were black and she hissed, pulling away. “I’m not going to hurt you. Just tell me where the others are.”
“Sona and Hol’li are in an office just off the entrance,” Amali twitched like she was about to run when a stasis field caught her. Her eyes reverted to their normal brown and they were pleading. “Please don’t give me to the justicar!”
Samara was standing behind Shepard, shaking her head. “She’s young. She can learn. Fortunately, there is one monastery the Reapers didn’t defile.” She released the field and cuffed Amali. “Thank you, Shepard.”
Shepard nodded. Once Samara and Amali were back on the shuttle, she turned to Tali, who had just finished hacking the door. Garrus was standing over her, gun ready.
“You know,” he said as Shepard approached. “I never did like that Levine guy. Too friendly.”
“Hah!” Tali stood and the door opened.
They found the other two asari N1s bound and gagged just inside the door. “I really thought she would have made it harder to find you,” Shepard said, pulling the cloth bonds from Sona’s mouth.
“We only got here a few minutes before you did,” Hol’li said, rubbing her jaw. “That scumbag Levine saw your shuttle as he finished tying us up. They didn’t have time to move us.”
“Do you feel up to fighting?” Shepard offered the pistol she carried. Both asari waved it off. Hol’li pulled a knife from her boot and Sona’s hands crackled as she flexed her fingers.
Sona waved them in the direction Brooks and Levine had gone. Shepard felt a growing state of unease. She wasn’t used to moving through a building unimpeded. There was no way Brooks didn’t have any agents stashed between Shepard and her escape.
At the end of a hallway, Garrus slammed his omnitool into a door, overriding the lock. The door plates opened to reveal Levine, helmeted once again, with his assault rifle trained on the door.
“End of the line, Admiral.”