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Clean Up the Dead You Leave Behind

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Shepard looked out over the horizon at Eden Prime. Jenkins was right, she thought, her eyes drifting towards the mountain range near where she’d encountered the beacon. It is beautiful here.

Unfortunately, she didn’t have time to really admire the view. Cortez was on his way in the shuttle, hopefully arriving before any more Cerberus forces did. They needed to get out of here as soon as possible.

She glanced over at the prothean they’d awakened. He stood apart from her team, his strange red armor glinting in the setting sun. He was also staring out at the planet from up the hill, his four eyes unblinking. He hadn’t spoken to them since considering the possibility of working together.

“You’d think after all the crazy stuff we’ve been through, I’d be over being surprised,” Garrus commented from beside her. “Just like you to prove me wrong.”

Shepard gave a half smile, her eyes drifting back to the view. It was odd being back where this whole thing had started. She’d had no idea what was in store when the first Normandy dropped them off to save the beacon. It felt like a weird combination of half a lifetime ago and yesterday at the same time.

It also felt strange being the only one who’d come back at all. Ash was recovering back on the Citadel, Jenkins and Nihlus had never left the planet, and she’d left Kaidan behind on Virmire. Coming back here, home to so much death and change, unsettled her.

Her comm beeped. “Ground team, I’m less than a minute out,” Cortez said. “Cerberus isn’t too far behind.”

“Got it.” Tearing her eyes away, she walked up the hill towards the prothean. “Come on. Our ride’s almost here.”

He didn’t say anything, just lowered his head slightly in acknowledgement. She looked away and started moving towards the LZ. The prothean’s memories still echoed through her head, adding to her general unease. She’d just seen what would happen if they failed against the Reapers.

Cortez was setting the shuttle down as she crested the hill. She waited for Garrus, Liara, and the prothean to board, taking one last glance at Eden Prime. It was beautiful and yet she couldn’t help but see all that had been lost here, both for her and the protheans. It felt less like a garden world and more like a graveyard to her. Exhaling, she turned around and climbed into the shuttle, ready to leave this planet and the memories it carried behind.

~*~*~

“Is there any particular reason for the candles?”   

“Hmm?” Shepard looked up from her datapad and blinked at Garrus. She’d heard him come in, but hadn’t moved from where she lay reading on the couch. She just needed to get through this last report before calling it a night and she was so close to being done.  

“The candles,” Garrus repeated, gesturing at them as he came down the stairs. “Any reason you have them out? Did you want a certain mood or...”  

“Not really,” Shepard replied with a glance over at the table. In the center, near her empty coffee mug from that afternoon were the two electric candles she’d grabbed on the Citadel a few weeks ago on a whim. They weren’t the same as the ones Mami used--simple and utilitarian whereas Mami’s had been large and colorful, with pictures of saints on the side--but they were the closest she was going to get living on a spaceship with no open flames allowed. “It’s just something one of my moms used to do.”  

“Oh?”   

Shepard moved over and let him slip next to her, wrapping an arm around his waist and leaning against him, datapad forgotten as she looked at fake flickering light. “One of my moms was raised Catholic. Lighting candles was something they do in church.”   

“So is it a religious thing?” Garrus asked, grabbing the datapad from her hand and placing it on the table.   

“Kind of, I guess? Mami wasn’t… she wasn’t really religious but she always had candles around that she’d light if she was thinking about someone or thought we might need a little divine help.” Shepard shrugged, before continuing, “I wasn’t much for church but I liked this bit.”  

God, a decade and a half removed and she could still smell the incense the priest used on special occasions if she thought about it. She could almost hear Lily Ana and Jaime giggling in the pew behind her at some joke they’d fill her in on later and her Tía Socorro hushing them. Her memories of her family had faded in the years since Mindoir, but sometimes, just like now, something she’d forgotten would reemerge and just hit her.  

They sat silently for a few minutes, Garrus running his hand up and down her arm. “Are the candles a plea for help or are they for someone in particular?” he asked quietly.  

“Both I guess? I’m not sure I believe in a higher power, not like Ashley, but I figure it couldn’t hurt. And just...” Shepard’s voice trailed off and she looked up at Garrus. “The whole thing with Victus just reminded me of Virmire and Kaidan. Between that and going back to Eden Prime, I miss him.”  

“Yeah. It’s been a long time.”  

Shepard stayed quiet and looked back at the candles, unable to bring herself to respond. Maybe for Garrus it’d been a long time, but it was barely over a year for her. Most days she could deal with the fact she’d been dead for two years and accept the time she’d missed. But for things like this, where the rest of the world had seemingly moved on and she was still processing her grief and guilt over the choices she made, it was harder.   

It wasn’t that she regretted saving Ash. Even when things were tense between them after Horizon, Shepard didn’t regret saving the other woman. There were days, however, when she couldn’t help but think there had to have been a way to save them both and she’d been too blind to see it.

“I don’t think he would blame you,” Garrus said softly, giving her shoulder a squeeze. “He wanted you to save Ash, remember?”  

Shepard swallowed before answering, “I know, but some days it’s hard to convince myself of that.” They sat silently for a moment before she said, “I don’t know if I believe in heaven, but maybe… maybe he’s out there somewhere and he can put in a good word for us. We could use the help.”  

“I don’t know, Shepard, you seem to have things well in hand.”  

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” she answered wryly. With a sigh, she got to her feet and held her hand out for her boyfriend. “Come on, we should get some sleep tonight. We’re looking into the rachni relay tomorrow, remember?”  

“Ah, yes, how could I forget?” Garrus said but let her pull him up. He gave her hand a quick squeeze and went over to the closet to take off his armor. Shepard gathered up all the datapads scattered on the table into a haphazard pile before turning to the candles.

She didn’t remember any of the prayers from her childhood, but she felt like she needed something before turning the candles off. Keep us safe , she thought, picturing her family and Kaidan in her head. Give us the strength we need to see this through. Amen. Exhaling, she turned off the candles and started getting ready for bed.

~*~*~

“Any sign of the Councilor? Shepard asked Garrus, peeking over the wall and eyeing the Cerberus goon with his back towards her in the cafeteria. So far, he hadn’t noticed her squad sneaking in. It was just Shepard’s luck that a standard resupply run on the Citadel would land her in the middle of a Cerberus coup.

“All lifesigns so far are human, Garrus replied. “Or as close as they can be with what Cerberus does to them.” Next to him, Liara’s face was grim, a bruise blossoming along her cheek where she’d fallen on their way to Bailey.

“All right then. We take care of this group and keep moving.” Rising up slightly, she took a breath and lined up a headshot with her sniper rifle. As soon as she squeezed the trigger, she activated her tactical cloak to find a new spot to snipe from.

“You’re still behind,” Garrus said, taking his own shot. Shepard smiled at Liara’s exasperated sigh before focusing on the task at hand.

Between the three of them, clearing the room was quick work. “How far to the Executor’s office?” Liara asked Garrus, the remains of her barrier flickering across her skin.

“Just up those stairs.”

“Come on,” Shepard ordered, switching to her pistol and taking point. Their footsteps echoed in the empty stairwell as they quickly made their way to the office. She and Garrus flanked the doorway, moving in once Liara opened it. A quick scan showed only dead bodies, none of which appeared to belong to the salarian councilor.

Biting back a curse, she called up Bailey. “Bailey, this is Shepard,” she said, looking around. “We’re in the Executor’s office, but all we have is his body, along with two salarian bodyguards.”

“Damn,” Bailey answered. “Well, don’t count Valern out just yet. Keep looking and let me know if you find something.” She hung up and turned back towards the room, eyes glancing around to see if there was anything she might have missed in that first examination.

"Shepard, over here," Garrus called to her softly from the window. She left Liara scanning the bodies and moved over to him. "I think I see him."  

"Where?"  

He pointed to a space near a table. "There," he said, just as a chair moved slightly and the councilor uncloaked. Aside from what looked like blood on the hem of his robe, he looked unharmed. Small blessings, she'd take them.  

Shepard let out a small sigh of relief and tapped her comm, "Thane, Bailey, I have eyes on Valern. He's alive."  

"I'm almost there," Thane replied, gasping slightly. "Wait, Shepard, there's someone in the rafters moving towards your position. I won't get to you in time."  

"Shit," she swore, covering her eyes and aiming her gun at the window. Firing two quick shots, she barely waited for the glass to shatter before vaulting to the cafeteria floor. "Councilor, get back," she snapped, shooting a blast of fire at the figure dropping down across from her. They rolled out of the way and sprung to their feet, one fist wreathed in dark energy. Not waiting to give them a chance to use it, Shepard fired off another burst of flame. The masked assassin dodged behind a pillar, their biotic barrier glowing slightly as the edges of the blast splashed against it. She heard footsteps behind her and saw Liara running down the stairs out of the corner of her eye.   

"Shepard, he's going to kill us all," Valern hissed, moving towards her.   

"That remains to be seen," she answered through gritted teeth. Fuck, she hated fighting in close quarters like this. Grabbing the Councilor's arm, she shoved him towards Liara and kept her pistol trained on the area where the assassin was hiding.   

"Not him, Udina. He betrayed us to Cerberus. He's taking the rest of the Council to them right now!"  

"Shepard, I can't get a good angle on him from up here, not with that pillar in the way," Garrus said over the comm. "What's the plan? Any sign of Thane?"  

"Not yet," she answered, gesturing at Liara and Valern to move back towards the door. It was defensible, and if they could get to the office, they could easily hold out until more help arrived.   

The sudden flare of bright blue was all the warning she got. "Watch out," she shouted, dropping to the floor and rolling away. A sphere of biotic energy sprung into place around Liara and Valern, barely in time to absorb the assassin's blast. A series of gunshots rang out from across the cafeteria, followed by Garrus muttering, "Thane just showed up."  

"Liara, get the Councilor out of here!" Shepard barked before activating her cloak. She ran behind a barrier just before a second shot of dark energy hit her last location. Wrinkling her nose at the stench of ozone, she crouched down and peeked over the top. She spied Thane in the mess, firing at the assassin. She still didn't have a good angle, so she quickly started moving to flank while she was still invisible.  

"They made it up to the office," Garrus said over the comm. "We should be safe here unless this guy brings backup."  

"Good. Moving to engage."

Places like these were both a blessing and a curse. While she had all the cover she needed, so did everybody else and it made it harder to get a quick, clean shot. Hearing a break in gunfire, she stood up and began firing. She didn’t want the assassin to take advantage of any lull to make his way towards the office upstairs. Several of her bullets hit, but between his shields and biotic barrier, they didn't make much of an impact.

"It's four on one," she called out. "Whoever you are, it's over!"

He shot back, and she barely dodged an overload blast sent her way. A flash of green out of the corner of her eye was all the warning she had as Thane launched himself at the assassin, his fist covered in biotic energy. Taking advantage of the assassin's split attention, Thane managed to send him stumbling back with a blow to the chest.   

Shepard fired her pistol again, but the assassin managed to roll away and spring to his feet, energy forming around his clenched fists. Bringing his hands together, he threw the combined energy not at her, but at Thane, sending him flying towards the far wall.

"No!" Shepard shouted, Thane's body hitting with a sickening thud. She heard Garrus' rifle shoot from behind her, but the assassin was already moving, vaulting over the barrier and to the ramp below. She sprinted after him, firing off an incineration blast to try and stop him. He kept going, leaping off the end of the platform and onto a waiting skycar. Shepard ran forward and kept shooting, but it was too late.   

"Goddamnit!" she swore, looking around. There was a C-Sec car parked nearby. "Garrus, Liara, is Thane ok?" she asked over the comm, trying the door handle and thankfully finding it unlocked.

"I'm... I'm fine for now," Thane replied, giving a wet cough. She frowned and turned back towards the room.   

"You don't sound fine," Liara said, her voice sharp.  

"I can hold on. Leave the Councilor with me, you need to catch that assassin."  

Shepard closed her eyes and pinched her nose. "He's right," she said. "You heard Valern, the rest of the Council is in danger." Tapping her omnitool, she called up Bailey.  

“Bailey, we have the salarian councilor, but we need to get to the rest of the Council,” she said once the connection went through. “Udina’s apparently working for Cerberus and I think the assassin we just tangled with is going after them. We also need urgent medical attention for Thane.” Garrus and Liara appeared on the ramp and ran towards her.

“Damn, when it rains it pours.” She heard him typing something in before answering, “Ok, they’re heading for a shuttle pad on the Presidium. Get going and I’ll try and reach them on the comms.”

“Sounds good. The Councilor is with Thane now. Just send us the navpoint.” Disconnecting, she climbed into the driver’s seat. “Come on.”

She had the skycar up in the air when Bailey called back. “Navpoint sent your way and I have a team I trust retrieving the Councilor. I’ll keep trying to raise Tevos or Sparatus.”

“Got it, thanks.” She synced her omnitool to the skycar’s navigation system and gunned the engine once she heard it beep in acknowledgement.  

They drove for about five minutes when Garrus shouted, “Shepard, we have bogeys behind us!”

“Shit,” she swore under her breath, banking hard to port to try and shake them. “Does this thing have sensors or guns?”

“Sensors yes, guns no,” Liara answered, tapping the navigation interface. “Looks like two gunships plus…”

A muffled thump came from the roof. “Take control,” Shepard ordered, grabbing her pistol and forcing the door open. She pulled herself half out of the skycar, shooting instinctively at whoever had landed on them.

Her first bullets bounced harmlessly off of the assassin’s shimmering blue barrier. Adjusting her position, she aimed at his head and took the shot. The bullet hit his goggles, cracking them but doing no other damage. The car jerked, nearly dislodging her and throwing her off target.  

The assassin took advantage of her momentary confusion and smashed a fistful of dark energy into the car. Sparks flew and smoke started pouring from the impact. His work apparently done, he jumped into a skycar pulling up above them without a second glance back. She fired uselessly at him before hauling herself back into her plummeting vehicle.

“Brace yourself,” Liara warned, moving herself back to her side. “Whatever he did took out the propulsion system.”

Biting back a curse, Shepard gripped the steering wheel and aimed the car in the general direction they needed to go. She wasn’t about to let Udina and the Illusive Man stop her with something as simple as a car crash.

The skycar rammed into a balcony and threw her forward into the dashboard. Groaning, she hit the door release and stumbled out, coughing from the smoke. She tucked several dislodged curls back into her bun, looking back to make sure Garrus and Liara were fine.

“Shepard, are you ok? I’m reading your car as offline,” Bailey’s voice said in her ear.

“We had another run-in with the assassin. We’re going in on foot,” she answered, switching to her sniper rifle. “Any luck reaching the rest of the Council?”

“Negative, their guards are dead. But we still got vital signs on the Councilors’ transponders. Udina’s with them, though, and if he can get them in range of that assassin, it’s all over.”

“I’m on my way,” she said. “Come on,” she called over her shoulder as she began moving forward. “We have a Council to save.”

“Again,” Garrus added under his breath, taking up the rear while Liara moved to point.

It didn’t take them long before they found Cerberus ground forces, including a new tool the Illusive Man had to throw at them.

“Swords? Seriously?” Garrus asked, ducking behind a parked skycar. “Those snipers were bad enough.”

“I’m getting a weird dark energy signal from them,” Liara commented while trapping one of said sword wielders in a stasis bubble and shooting her point blank. “Almost like it’s unnatural when compared to a biotic.”

“Let’s focus,” Shepard muttered, making a headshot on an assault trooper trying to sneak up on Liara. “We’re almost there.”

Of course, she spoke too soon. Of course there was a fucking Atlas between her and the Council just as she reached the plaza to slow them down.  

“Shepard, I got a ride for you,” Bailey came through once the Atlas exploded. “Grab an elevator!”

Switching back to her pistol, Shepard moved up the stairs and through the door. Rounding the corner, she spied Cerberus troops clustered around the assassin entering an open elevator. Racing forward, she drew up short when the Cerberus soldiers reached for their weapons. Somewhere along the way the assassin had lost the goggles, and something about his eyes, the way he stood in the elevator struck Shepard as eerily familiar. Before she had enough time to place it, however, the doors slammed shut.

“Shepard, over here,” Garrus called out from where he and Liara were prying open the next elevator door over.   

Shoving her thoughts aside, she dropped down onto the waiting elevator. She had a traitor to stop and she couldn’t let anything distract her from that now.

~*~*~

After the dust settled and the assassin vanished, after the standoff with her friend ended with a bullet in the human councilor, Shepard found herself staring at Bailey in his office.

“There’s absolutely no footage of the assassin?” she asked incredulously.  

“Not a damn bit,” he replied bitterly. “Flooded our system with some kind of VI that wiped him from our feeds. Maybe Vakarian got something on that visor of his, but other than that there’s nothing.”

Biting the inside of her cheek, she counted to ten. Slowly. This wasn’t Bailey’s fault, she reminded herself. “I’ll check with Garrus after I see Thane,” she said, forcing herself to speak evenly. There was no reason for her to take her anger out on him. It felt like she had precious few allies here that helped her without question, and she didn’t want to alienate even one of them.

“If there’s anything useful, could you forward it to me? Doubt I’ll be able to get anything off of him with that mask you described, but something could show up in our systems.”

“I will,” she promised. “I need to go, but I’ll get back to you as soon as I know anything.”

She managed to get to the elevator without getting waylaid, which was a blessing. Hitting the button for Huerta, she slumped against the back wall of the elevator and rubbed her forehead. Why did the assassin seem so familiar for that split second in the elevator? She hadn’t known anyone in Cerberus outside of the Normandy crew, not really. She also didn’t think any of them had the capabilities or training to act like he had. And yet…

The doors opened and she took a deep breath. Later. She’d worry about this later.

~*~*~

Rubbing her sore shoulder, Shepard waited for the QEC in the war room to connect. All she wanted was a hot shower and cry about another friend dead, but she still needed to brief Hackett about the latest twist in this Cerberus mess and find out what it might mean for the larger war effort. And needed to check in on her crew and see how Ash was settling in. And read through the latest intel Traynor pulled for her. And then...

The sound of the signal connecting brought her out of her train of thought. To her surprise, two figures appeared in the QEC.

“Shepard, I have Anderson on the line,” Hackett said. “I was just bringing him up to speed.”

“Udina? That SOB was always power hungry but this…” Anderson began before Shepard interrupted him.

“He wasn’t the one calling the shots. Cerberus was just using him to take control of the Citadel and cut out when it became clear it wasn’t going to work.”

“What the hell for?” Anderson asked, his disgust clear.

“No idea. Split our attention, maybe?” she offered with a half shrug. “There’s a hell of a lot of information going through there that the Illusive Man would want to get his hands on.”

“Whatever it was, it could’ve been a lot worse,” Hackett interjected. “Shepard stopped the assassination attempt on Councilor Valern and the rest of the Council. Your description of the assassin in your reports worries me though, Shepard. So far, Alliance Intel has nothing about a biotic assassin working with Cerberus.”

“Biotic assassin?” Anderson asked, looking from Hackett to Shepard. “It wasn’t a guy with a sword?”

“No,” Shepard answered with a shake of her head. “There were Cerberus troops with swords and some strange biotic barrier, but this guy mainly used biotics with some tech powers added in.”

“So something similar to our sentinel program,” Hackett said, tapping his fingers against his leg. “I’ll get back to Intel to see if there might be any sentinels we discharged who could’ve ended up working for Cerberus. It’s a shame he was able to wipe the Citadel cameras.”

“Yeah,” Shepard agreed with a sigh. “He had a mask on the entire time, though, so I don’t know what good that would’ve done.”

“Still, it’s worth looking into. We need to know what exactly we’re dealing with now that Cerberus has shown their hand,” Anderson cut in. “I also don’t like the idea of another assassin out there that we know nothing about.”

Hackett nodded. “Agreed. One unintended consequence of the coup attempt that the asari have finally shown interest in the Crucible Project.”  

Fortunately, Hackett’s briefing on the Crucible went by fairly quickly. Shutting down the QEC, she was walking towards the central display in the war room when EDI’S voice came over the comms.

“Shepard, Garrus was able to extract some footage of the assassin from his visor,” she said. “The quality is low, however, and there is only so much I am able to enhance the images while maintaining quality.”

“Just see what you can do with it. Run what we have against any Cerberus operatives you have files on and as many former sentinels as you can.” She rubbed the back of her neck, thinking before continuing, “If you can, see if Liara has anything in her files that might be related or if there were any assassinations that might could be linked to him.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thanks, EDI.” Sighing, Shepard leaned against the console and closed her eyes. There was nothing more she could do about the assassin right now. It was out of her hands and all she could do was wait.

“I’ll get him for you, Thane,” she muttered, opening her eyes and staring at the numbers on the screen. “I promise.”

~*~*~

A week later and a load of ex-Cerberus scientists rescued, Shepard walked into the Spectre office, coffee mug in hand. She wasn’t sure why Miranda couldn’t call her on the Normandy QEC, but if this was the only way she could talk with her friend, she’d take it. Besides, she had some questions of her own to ask.

Taking a sip, she made a face. Maybe there was a lack of beans on the Citadel, but there was no other excuse for coffee to be that weak.  

Shepard entered the comm information Miranda sent and waited for it to connect. A hologram of Miranda appeared. She looked mostly the same as when Shepard had last seen her, although the projector gave her pale skin a particularly eerie glow.  

“Shepard, I’m glad to see you’re alright,” Miranda said, giving Shepard a once over of her own. “I wanted to see you in person, but given what just happened…”

“Probably a smart call,” Shepard agreed, taking a sip of her brown water masquerading as coffee and doing her best to hide her wince. Bad as it was, she wasn’t about to toss it. “They’ve upped security here after Udina’s coup attempt.”

“I heard about that. I’m sorry about Thane, Shepard.”

“Thanks,” she replied, looking away. “That’s actually related to something I wanted to ask you about. Did you ever work with or hear about a biotic assassin during your time with Cerberus?”

Miranda looked taken aback. “A biotic assassin? Not a…”

“Guy with a sword? No,” Shepard said with a shake of her head. “I’ve read Leng’s file and this guy didn’t fight like him at all. No boasting, nothing about aliens, and no sword. This guy was quiet, focused. He had a full-face mask on, too, like he was trying to hide his identity.” She didn’t mention that passing sense of familiarity seeing the man in the elevator. There was no need to bring that up right now.

“And Leng never did bother with that.” Miranda tapped her fingers against her face. “I can’t say that description rings a bell, Shepard, but I’ll be on my guard. Right now, I’m the biggest loose end the Illusive Man has to tie up and I can see him sending that assassin after me since the others haven't done their job.”

Shepard frowned. She knew Miranda was stirring the pot with Cerberus, but not to the extent that multiple assassins would be after her. “Do you need anything? Did you find anything about your sister?”

“I did. It looks like my father is definitely involved, but it doesn’t stop there.” She sighed and crossed her arms. “I’ve also heard rumors that my father is working with the Illusive Man on something, something big.”

Shepard, who had been in the middle of taking another drink nearly spat out the coffee. “Your father? But why work with Cerberus now?”

“My father is brilliant and has worked with Cerberus before,” Miranda answered. “I think after I left, the Illusive Man decided to kill two birds with one stone and offered him information on Oriana in exchange for his help on some kind of project. He knew that I'd be distracted trying to find her and not interfere with whatever he was planning. I don’t have any proof that’s what happened, though, just a hunch.”

Shepard scratched the back of her neck and grimaced. “That’s not good. Do those rumors point to anything specific? I don’t like the idea of the Illusive Man and your father teaming up.”

Miranda nodded slowly before answering, “Yes, but this is something I need to do by myself, Shepard. I need to stop running from him, and by the sounds of things, you already have your hands full.”

“Are you sure about this?” Shepard asked. “I’m not just asking. You say the word and we’ll be there.”

“I know and I am. I need to see this through, and I won’t be able to think straight until I know Oriana’s safe.” She looked down before glancing up at Shepard. “Thanks for the offer, though, Shepard.”

“Stay safe out there, Miranda. And, if you happen to find out anything about the assassin, could you send it to me?”

“I’ll do my best.”

Shepard disconnected from the call and sighed in frustration. She knew that the Illusive Man liked to keep information compartmentalized, but she'd been hoping that Miranda might have some information, some clue about the assassin that had eluded them so far. Alliance Intel had nothing and EDI's attempts to identify him had been equally unsuccessful. The only thing she knew for sure was that whoever he was or had been, the Illusive Man was determined to keep his identity locked away.  

Hearing the "ding" of the alarm on her omnitool, she glanced down and swore. She'd promised Garrus she'd meet him for lunch and if she didn't hurry she was going to be late. Gulping down the rest of her coffee, she left the Spectre office and the mystery of the assassin behind. At least for the next few hours.

~*~*~

Getting off of the elevator, Garrus paused at the faint sound of music coming from Shepard’s room. It was late enough that most, if not all of the off-duty humans should be asleep, and he’d been half-expecting to find her in bed. The only reason he was still awake was a late call with Victus over troop movements on some turian colonies.

Entering the room, he saw her sitting cross-legged on the couch with a series of datapads spread in front her. She looked up at him and gave him a small smile before turning back to whatever she was reading. The candles were out on the table again, the third time in the week. Their flickering light made the bags under her blue eyes look deeper than they had just that afternoon.

“You’re up late,” he said, walking down the stairs.

“Said the pot to the kettle,” she shot back, taking a sip from the mug on the table. He tilted his head and she gave him an amused look back. “Don’t worry, it’s manzanilla ,” she said, naming the herbal tea she liked, before taking another drink. “I just thought I’d give this another look and see if I could make any sense of this information.”

He glanced down and saw the familiar blurred image of the Cerberus assassin they’d tangled with on the Citadel. “Anything new this time?”

She sighed and shook her head, nighttime braid swinging slightly. “No. Just the same bits and pieces, hints of places where he’s been over the last few years, with nothing showing up from before I died.”

“If there’s nothing new then what were you hoping to find?” he asked, starting to unfasten his armor and trying to keep the worry from his voice. Garrus had seen some of the older detectives at C-Sec get sucked into the one mystery they couldn’t solve and obsess over it, sometimes to the detriment of themselves and those around them. He didn’t want that happening to Shepard, but he didn’t know how to say that to her in a way she’d understand.

Shepard sat silently for a long moment before answering, “There was something familiar about him, Garrus. I don’t… I can’t figure out what, but there was something when I saw him in the elevator that I swear I recognize and I can’t place it.”

He froze, one gauntlet part way off. “You never mentioned anything about that before,” he said, keeping his voice even. That would explain a lot, but why hadn’t she mentioned it before? That added a new dimension this behavior, but not one he liked.

She shrugged, looking into her mug. “I didn’t want to say anything until I knew more, but no matter how much I look, no matter how many questions I ask, there’s nothing . The closest I get is the just the space where he could’ve been and that wasn’t good enough.” She let out a frustrated groan and buried her face in her hands. “It’s like I’m chasing a fucking ghost,” she muttered. “Every time I think I have something, he vanishes and I’m just left with more questions.”

“I’m not sure that translated right. You’re chasing a spirit?”

“A ghost is like a spirit, I guess?” Shepard answered, her voice still muffled by her hands. “But it’s different. You can live with a spirit. It’s like a memory of what was and is around as long as there’s someone to remember it. A ghost has unfinished business of some kind, though. You either find a way to lay it to rest or destroy it to get rid of it. Ghosts aren’t a happy thing, Garrus.”

He finished taking off his gauntlets, thinking over what she said. That sounded similar enough to turian beliefs. He knew Shepard wasn’t religious, but still had a few superstitions carried over from childhood that she didn’t really talk about unless pushed. The candles were a part of that, this must be another.

“I don’t know. Maybe I’m imagining things,” she continued quietly, almost like she was thinking aloud. “I just feel like…” Her voice trailed off and she leaned back, staring up at the stars through the skylight. “Even without this, it feels like something’s haunting me, Garrus.”

“Is this about Kaidan?” he asked, thinking back to the conversation they’d had earlier in the war.

“Kaidan, Thane, Mordin, Legion, the kid I saw back on Earth, all of them,” she answered. “It’s like the dead are following me around.”

Shepard normally put on a brave face to everyone in the crew, not letting them see how much the war was wearing on her. Even with him, the person she was most open with, she would hide just how scared and tired she was. He only knew because of her nightmares. To see her like this, talking about the dead following her, worried him almost as much as her getting lost in trying to solve the assassin’s identity.

He walked over to her and knelt down, taking her hands in his. “You just said that ghosts have unfinished business, Shepard,” he told her. “We’ll keep fighting and see this war through to the end. And once the Reapers are destroyed and Cerberus defeated, we’ll lay them to rest.”

She looked down at their joined hands before looking up to meet his eyes. “Ok,” she said quietly. Leaning forward, she wrapped her arms around him and gave him a kiss on his unscarred mandible.

He returned the hug and muttered into her hair, “We’ll see this through, Shepard. I promise.”