Shepard felt Aria flinch, even as the memories came faster, death and fire, and the fraying edges of her mind. But strangely, the asari didn’t remove herself from the meld. She stayed, latching onto Shepard with a firm grasp. Her touch wasn’t gentle and soothing, not like Liara’s.
Control yourself, Commander.
The steel in Aria’s mental voice, the radiating island of her powerful calm amidst the maelstrom of her own mind, was exactly what Shepard needed. She felt something align in her mind, felt a rightness fall into place.
Felt herself fall into place.
With a slow breath, she pushed her nightmares back, removing them behind walls she’d forgotten she had. And in the darkness of her mind, she felt her strength waiting.
Aria slid out of the meld with a chuckle.
Shepard looked up at her and glared. “Really?”
“You really need to learn to relax, Commander. It’ll increase your lifespan.” She pushed off the bed, still licking her fingers, and picked up a thin robe draped on a nearby chair. Shepard continued to glare at her as she threaded her arms through the sleeves, leaving it untied, and sat in the chair it had rested on. “I wanted to know what your little pureblood was all hot about. Now I do. And, as promised, you get my help.”
Shepard sighed, and rolled on her side. “Nice to know I rate as a decent fuck.”
Aria’s mouth twitched in a smirk. “If I were actually the bitch you think I am, I’d lock you up here until I’d had my fill.”
Shepard wasn’t sure what to say to that. “Why?”
“Why would I lock you up? Or why don’t I?”
Shepard raised an eyebrow in answer.
Aria heaved a dramatic sigh. “Because, Shepard. Because the galaxy needs you, and it needs you intact. Not reeling from Cerberus’ invasive resurrection. And I don’t need the meld to know love when I see it.”
Shepard scowled, and flopped on her back. Her body ached from Aria’s ministrations, but she felt really alive, for the first time since waking up. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yes you do. Your little pureblood scientist-turned-broker. I could practically smell it on her, the desperation to have you back. And it’s the same with you. That kind of love doesn’t come around every day.” She stood, and walked back to the bed, grabbing Shepard’s jaw, and forcing her to look. “That kind of love is why this galaxy is worth saving. So don’t you dare fuck it up.”
Shepard blinked. “So why insult her?”
“Because she got you first.”
She didn’t have an answer for that.
Aria let go, and walked away again. “And if you tell anyone I actually said that, I’ll find the most painful way possible to kill you.”
Shepard smiled. “And there’s the Aria we all know and love.”
“Hmph. You wish.” But the asari grinned. “Now. Have you got your head back on straight?”
The commander sat up and nodded. “Yeah. Thanks.”
“Good. Griff has an OSD for you. Everything I have on Cerberus, especially your crew, is on it. Use it. Be as fucking ruthless as you have to be, but get them on your side. You need their loyalty if you’re going to get out of Cerberus’ clutches when this is over.”
Shepard nodded. “I figured the same thing.”
“You’d be stupid not to. Now get dressed and get the fuck out of my apartment.” Aria paused, smirking. “Unless you’d like another round.”
Shepard barked a laugh. “Thanks, but I can already feel the guilt coming on. I should go.”
Aria’s lips twitched. “Yes, you should.”
She threw on her gear—ugh, this is all going in the laundry when I go back. It reeks—and headed for the door, stopping just short of it. “Aria—”
Omega’s Queen sat with her legs crossed, glass in hand, and her robe still open. One brow ridge lifted in question.
Shepard gave her a slow once-over before continuing. “Thank you.”
Aria sipped her drink. “For the fuck?”
This time, it was Shepard whose mouth twitched in a half-smile. “That too. For getting my head right.”
“Out, Commander. But if that pureblood of yours can’t handle the guilt of having gotten her hands dirty, come see me again. I could have a lot of fun with you tied to my bed.”
Shepard snorted, and walked out. I don’t know if Liara will ever forgive me for that, but… She let the thought trail off. Despite the guilt she felt over having let Aria bed her (and having enjoyed it), for the first time since dying and waking, she felt something she hadn't thought she would feel again.
She switched on her omni-tool, ignoring the flashing message light, and called the Normandy. “Joker, get the ship prepped. We’re leaving Omega.”
“Hey, Commander, um, could you please call Miranda, before she rips my arms off one finger at a time? And where exactly are we going?”
Shepard nodded once to the turian bodyguard who discretely slipped an OSD into her hand. “Illium. I have some unfinished business there.”
“This wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with—”
“Yes, ma’am. We’ll be ready.”
“Good.” Shepard smiled, and headed for the docking bay. Unfinished business, indeed.
Sometimes you have to save yourself before you can save the galaxy.