“Remind me why are we here?” Vakarian shouted over the comms as his sniper rifle boomed overhead.
“Slavers,” Shepard replied as she Charged, barrelling into the bunched up group of batarians like she was a bowling ball.
“There are more coming!” T’Soni piped up.
“Great, more for me,” she said.
“Not if I can help it,” Vakarian retorted.
Shepard grinned. This was where she felt the most alive. In the heat of battle, where one wrong move meant things would go terribly wrong. Her job? To make sure things never went that badly, and if it did, she would snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by all means necessary. Her rifle bucking in her hands, each bullet found its home in batarian flesh.
“Fucking slavers,” she growled under her breath.
“Kill them!” A guttural voice came through the speakers. “Don’t let them get through!”
She popped out of cover, signalling to T’Soni to take the other flank. The asari gave her a quick nod and disappeared around the bend. The young archeologist had come a long way since Shepard picked her up on Therum. T’Soni had a rude awakening. Being thrusted into a galaxy spanning chase for the rouge Spectre, Saren Arterius, with little to no warning, she had fared well. Naturally a biotic and trained by commandos, all she needed was field experience and practice to bring her up to speed.
“Got one!” Vakarian hooted. The young C-Sec investigator was one of the best snipers Shepard had seen. He had an eye like an eagle and a mouth that just wouldn’t stop during battle.
“Sloppy work, Vakarian,” she said, “that wasn’t a head shot.”
“Beats yours, Shepard,” he pointed out. “You leave them with no heads.”
She shrugged. Touché. She had no patience for sniper work, preferring to be up close and personal. Holstering her rifle in favour for her shotgun, she tossed a stasis over the cover. Shouts of confusion as a batarian was caught in the field, floating helplessly in the air. Her shotgun boomed twice and the batarian was dead.
T’Soni took advantage of her flashier colleagues and unleashed her pistol on the distracted batarians. They screamed and fired back. Shepard grinned. Things were going well.
They were enroute to the Citadel for a resupply, Pressly came to her with a distress signal that was pinging on and off their sensors. Shepard recognised it. Slaves were known to gain access to the distress signals on ships. But keeping it active would rouse their captors’ suspicious. Hence the on and off pattern. After the Blitz and graduating from N-School, she took down many slaver ships. The Alliance thought it’s appropriate to send the Hero of the Blitz to bring the fury of the Alliance down on the slavers. And she did her duty with joy.
It took Shepard no time to decide to reroute the Normandy to intercept. It was a simple matter to turn on their cloaking and sneaking two teams on board. Shepard’s team was the distraction. After all, having the Hero of the Blitz on board your ship would probably make any slaver pee their pants. The other team was the true dagger to the heart. Their goal was to rescue as many slaves as they could before Shepard scuttled the ship. Nobody was going to end up a slave if she could help it.
“Grako, this is the end, and you know it. Might as well give up now,” she shouted, firing her rifle at the batarians cowering behind cover.
“Never!” Grako’s voice came over the comms again. “Shepard, we will finish this once and for all. You will end today.”
“We’ll see about that,” she vaulted over cover and landing in the middle of the batarians.
Some were trained enough to turn their rifles on her. Others screamed and scrambled away out into the open. Those, Vakarian and T’Soni picked off easily. She pulled up a shield. Bullets meant for her bounced off, they found a new homes in their fellow comrades. With a thrust of her arm, her omni-blade flared to life. She whirled and jammed it into the space between armour plates. In and out, in and out. Each time finding flesh, coating her armour red.
“Grako, do you have any more tricks up your sleeve?”
There was no answer. And the batarians were all dead. Shepard itched to check in with Alenko’s team, but they had agreed on radio silence. She didn’t know if Grako had anyone on board good enough to break Alliance comms codes. With Williams and Tali, she trusted him to get the job done. But still she worried. They were her people after all.
“Grenade!” Vakarian shouted.
Shepard spun towards him. The turian had set himself up on the upper level so that he had a clear view on the battle. But batarians were flooding in behind him. He had been watching her back, who was watching his?
Vakarian launched himself off the railing as the grenade exploded. He pulled his hands over his head and landed hard on the ground.
“T’Soni!” she shouted, watching long enough to see the asari dragging a groaning Vakarian behind cover.
“Some Hero of the Blitz you are,” Grako laughed. “You can’t even protect a single turian. You’re nothing!”
Shepard gritted her teeth. The time for banter was over. She hopped up some crates of supplies and Pushed. A burst of biotic blue threw up her up towards the second level, a fresh squad of batarian rushed in above. They were getting getting ready to fire down upon T’Soni and Vakarian, Shepard scanned the battle field. It took her mere seconds to see the truth of the situation.
A squad of four batarians, all wielding rifles and shotguns, they had the higher ground. T’Soni and Vakarian would just be sitting ducks. Even if the asari was particularly skilled in shields, she had her limits too. There was only one course of action. Shepard had to take them down quickly.
Shepard jerked her hands outwards and Pulled on a batarian. Using his weight as a counterweight to her own, she pulled herself towards the gangway where the others were. As they switched places mid-air, she fired her shotgun against his chest for good measure. When she released her hold on the batarian, he plummeted onto the ground dead.
One down, three to go.
Shotgun leading the way, she fired without aiming. Instead of engaging, they sought cover. She sighed. Of course, they were a smart bunch. She wasn’t about to give them time to regroup. She Pushed, biotics flaring around her like flames. The batarians were tossed cover and all against the far wall. She stepped towards them like an inexorable tide.
One of them got to their feet immediately, lifting their rifle to fire. She pulled up her shield, absorbing the impact of the hail of bullets. Then, dropping it to reach across the space to slam her omni-blade into their visor. The batarian fell to their knees, bleeding red from the new hole.
Two down, two more.
Before she could take another step, a blow slammed her to the ground. Hands grabbed hers to lock her arms in place. “Shoot her!”
Shepard snorted. It’d take more than that to get her. She twisted, flipping the batarian around onto their back quickly. Hands and legs grappling to gain an advantage. She cursed her smaller frame.
A shotgun rang out and her head snapped to the side. Her vision went white for a second as cracks spiderwebbed across her visor. The reinforced material held. Ears ringing, she growled and threw her hands out. The one who shot her was tossed over the railing.
“Sending one your way, T’Soni!”
Shepard hoisted the last one up to their feet, ripping off their helmet. “Where is Grako?”
The batarian was slightly smaller than the others. Their colouring lighter and their head wasn’t as elongated as the rest. This was a woman. Shepard shook the batarian again. “Where is Grako?”
“The bridge, he’s at the bridge!” she cried, fear lacing through her voice. “Please spare me!”
Shepard stiffened. Her grip on her shotgun tightened. “I’ll show you as much mercy as you’ve shown your slaves,” she growled. Fire in her eyes, she pressed the muzzle of her shotgun against the batarian’s forehead, right between her two pairs of eyes.
“Please, not my eyes!”
Grey brain matter, red blood and white bone fragments splattered against the walls and her armour. Shepard forced her fingers to let go and the body slumped onto the ground.
“If this is your chosen profession, you do not deserve to go to your afterlife.”
Shepard was never more thankful for her sealed armour. The stench would have made her eyes watered.
“Goddess,” T’Soni gasped.
There were cages and cages lined the room from floor to ceiling. Slaves of all species cramped into space too small to stretch out, all of them collared and starved. Many unmoving, too still to be alive any longer. The sight brought back memories.
Shepard approached the first one cage. Biotics flaring and she ripped the door open. But the display only made the captive cowered to the back of their tiny cage. She clenched her fist as she exhaled, long, angry and frustrated.
T’Soni tugged on her shoulder and shook her head. Her jaw tightened and sighed. Vakarian worked quickly with his omni-tool, hacking the doors instead, despite his injuries. The captives, no victims, stumbled out, all of them weeping openly. Hands grabbing onto T’Soni and Vakarian as they knelt at their feet, kissing their boots.
All of them gave her a wide berth. Shepard had scared them. She grimaced and offered each of them as much medi-gel and water as she could. The others did the same. Pretty soon, the few who weren’t dead were able to stand and walk under their own power. It seemed they were mostly weak from malnourishment and they weren’t badly injured.
In any case, Chakwas will sort them out.
“Any way to get these collars off them?” she asked.
Vakarian shook his head. “I’m seen them on the Citadel. If we tried removing them forcefully, it will fry their brains. It’s ugly.”
Shepard winced, watching as T’Soni coaxed one of the too thin human male to drink from her canteen. “All right, then we’ll get them off this fucking ship and sort it out on the Normandy.”
The man flinched and whimpered at her harsh tone. She took a deep breath and tried to rein in her temper. It’s Grako and all the fucking batarians. Hold it together, you don’t want to scare them.
“Vakarian,” she said, careful to keep her voice even and calm. “I’ll need you to escort them back to the Normandy. I don’t want them running into trouble.”
“Why don’t you get Doc here to escort them back?”
Shepard looked at Vakarian, levelling a flat stare at the turian. He was bleeding from crack in his cuisses.
“Garrus, you’re hurt, you should head back to the ship,” T’Soni said.
She nodded. “I need someone to escort them while I head to the bridge.”
Vakarian sighed, wincing as he shifted his weight. “All right. I’m not stupid, I just have a stupid amount of ego and pride.”
Shepard turned to the victims. “We have a ship, C-Sec officer Vakarian here will take you to it. I need you to follow him and do as he says. If he tells you to hide, you do it without question, without hesitation. We will get you home, all right?”
One by one, she held their gaze. Most of them rather look at their feet, but they nodded at her words. That’s the best she could get out of them. She turned to Vakarian who was flapping his mandibles in a silent laugh.
“C-Sec officer Vakarian?” he asked.
“Are you not a C-Sec officer?”
“I am, but it sounds like I’m taking a class of children out for a stroll on the Presidium.”
Shepard chuckled, but the mirth faded quickly. “Go, I’ll see you back on the ship.”
Vakarian nodded, turning to go. “Stay safe,” T’Soni called after him.
Shepard checked her ammo and looked at the asari. “Ready?”
T’Soni looked at her with earnest blue eyes and nodded.
Hallway after hallway, room after room, Grako threw everything he had at them. But they were a pair of blue angels laying waste to his forces.
“Shepard! Let’s cut a deal.”
As a rule Shepard didn’t bargain or negotiate with slavers, but Grako seemed to think he was the exception.
“Don’t push your luck, I’m warning you! You’re forcing me to take drastic measures!”
Her only reply, another shotgun round right in the chest of the batarian barring her way. T’Soni inhaled sharply and sent a pair into the air, locked in a helpless stasis. Shepard grinned and waded between them with her omni-blade deployed.
“Shepard!” Desperation and frustration fuelling Grako’s whining.
Her patience frayed and her temper snapped. “Grako, are you all hot air? What’s with all the threats? Come down here and face me. We’ll settle this once and for all.”
His laugh echoed through the ship. “I’m not stupid, Shepard. I was merely playing for time, you ugly human. I’ve rigged all the collars blow. If I can’t have them, nobody will.”
Shepard gnashed her teeth. With a wordless growl, she smashed her way through the remaining batarians. All of them fell easily. T’Soni followed. Her movements fluid and graceful where Shepard’s was raw and forceful. Hers was a fury buzzing under the surface and Shepard’s was boiling over.
Their eyes met and T’Soni nodded. “I’m with you all the way, Shepard.”
“Good,” she bit out as she slammed her palm against the holo-lock. “Let’s go”
It was the last section separating her from Grako. Now with the additional threat of the collars blowing, she needed to hurry. She didn’t the know the range on those things, Normandy might be in danger if the collars blow while they’re on board.
And Alenko’s team, shit.
“Alenko, come in,” she stabbed at her omni-tool.
“What’s happening, Shepard?” Alenko’s voice came through, strained and breathless. Gunfire rang out, punctuated with the whoosh of biotics slinging through the air.
“Have you located the slave pens?”
“Affirmative, Tali is hacking through the door now.”
“Be advised, Grako has armed the collars,” she said. “I’m going to deactivate them.”
Alenko’s grunts of exertion was all she heard for the moment. He was a good officer, he’d be able to handle it.
“Got it, Shepard.”
“Do not, I repeat, do not remove the collars. It’ll fry their brains,” she said guessing his plan.
“Fuck,” he growled, a rare curse from the soft-spoken biotic. “You got to get the fucker.”
Shepard grinned, teeth bared, though he couldn’t see it. “I will. I fucking will.”
The hallway beyond was clear, doors lined it but all of them closed and locked. Shepard glanced at T’Soni, she nodded. Blue crackled up her arms, casting a cold light against the filthy and grimey floor. Shepard tightened her grip on her shotgun, slamming a fresh clip into it. The ratchet of the pump echoed down the hallway.
The skin across the back of her neck crawled. Something was waiting for them here. But what exactly, she couldn’t say. Grako was always one with tricks. Her many run-ins with him through the years had proven what a slippery bastard he was.
The entire ship was so quiet, Shepard could almost believe they were alone. Then, a clink. It was soft, quiet and almost negligible. Metal hitting against metal, something small.
Shepard’s eyes caught movement. A hand releasing a small black object. It was round and rolling towards them. “Grenade!” she shouted, twisting to throw herself to the ground as she threw a shield up.
A bright flash, a harsh whine and her amp sent jolts into her brain. She cried out as she fell. Pain turning her hands to claws as she shuddered. It wasn’t a standard grenade, it was an arc grenade. Designed to hit those with biotic amps the hardest, sending feedback through the amp into the user’s brain overloading it.
Shepard gasped for air, hands trying to push herself up but failing. T’Soni was whimpering in pain just next to her. Medi-gel was meaningless in this case as she fought to stand. Shadows were approaching. She lifted her shotgun and fired. Anyone else would be an enemy.
“T’Soni, get up!” she shouted.
There was no response from the asari beyond moans of agony.
Electricity spiked inside her head. Liara wanted very much to pull her helmet off, to claw at her head. Though she didn’t have an amp the human biotics did, arc grenades effected flesh and bone just as effectively. Her vision dimmed as she forced herself to breathe normally. Sounds of a fight rang out around her.
“T’Soni!” Shepard’s voice lanced through her consciousness.
She blinked, demanding her limbs to work. The sight before her took her breath away all over again.
Shepard, the human Commander, was dancing. Not the one she attempted at her comrades’ behest at Dark Star on the Citadel but the one done with shotgun and biotics. Blood, red and wet, flung out in wide arcs as her omni-blade found flesh again and again. Her red hair, bright and shiny even in the dim light, swinging in a circle around her as she spun, shotgun seeking new targets. Her helmet was gone, visor shattered, it lay on the ground forgotten.
“T’Soni!” she shouted again.
That brought Liara to the present. She couldn’t help the way her chest clenched at the sight of the human warrior. She shook her head, chasing away thoughts best examined outside the battlefield. Hands lifted, she merged her biotics with Shepard’s and joined the dance.
It was only when it was over, batarians lying dead at their feet she noted the strange haze in the air. Shepard was bent over doubled as if trying to catch her breath. Blood was trickled down her face from a gash over her eyebrow.
“Shepard, are you all right?” she hurried over, worried the Commander had taken a more serious injury.
Shepard waved her towards the locked door at the end of the hallway as she coughed. Their destination was just beyond. Liara did as she was bade. Omni-tool deployed and her hacking software launched, she couldn’t help but noticed Shepard was coughing harder and harder.
Grako’s laughter echoed through the speakers. “You’re dead, Shepard.”
Liara stiffened, tightening her grip on her pistol as she glanced at the Commander. She was rising shakily to her feet, one hand braced against the wall for support.
“You think you’ll escape this ship? If I am not making out of here alive, you’re not either. That gas, that’s what we use to put down the useless slaves that’s not even fit to be sold.”
“Shepard! You need medi-gel!” she cried, pulling the last pack she had left.
“Protect your little blue young thing, ha! Sentiment will get you killed,” Grako went on.
Shepard brushed away her offered medi-gel. She spat and a glob of red spit landed at their feet. Liara couldn’t help but stare at it.
“Won’t work, this is a poison. But it’s not fast acting. Batarians like to torture their victims even if they’re just looking to dispose of waste. We have time.” She wiped the blood trickling down the corner of her mouth. “Get the door open, I have a batarian to gut.”
Liara moved back towards the door. Every minute Shepard stood in the hallway without a safe supply of air, she’s taking in more poison by the minute. It’s best she concentrated on the door and then, after they killed Grako and deactivated the collars, Shepard could get medical attention.
If she’s not worried, I’m not. I’m not.
She squeezed hands into fists angrily. Guilt weighed heavily against her chest as she fought to stay focused. A weight landed on her shoulder. It’s Shepard’s hand. The Commander leaned a little heavily against her, putting her mouth next to her helmet. “Not your fault,” she rasped before straightening again.
Just three words and it stiffened her spine and steeled her resolve. The holo-lock flickered green. She glanced at Shepard. The Commander bared her teeth, it was all feral and bloody. A stiff nod and she smacked her palm against the lock. Shepard was through the door before it fully opened, her shotgun leading the way, a wild cry on her lips. Liara followed quickly, her pistol firing, covering Shepard’s back.
“The collars!” Shepard barked, her voice raw and ragged.
She turned quickly to the console, keeping half her attention on Shepard’s battle with Grako, half on what she was doing. Why didn’t Shepard bring Garrus with her? Her fingers fumbled across the keys, staring at the display with panic hovering at the edge of her stuttering heart rate.
Why did she choose me? I’m rubbish at this. I don’t know what I’m doing.
“Liara,” Shepard’s voice pierced the fog in her mind.
She flinched. Taking her eyes off the console, to find the Commander locked in battle with Grako. Her green eyes almost glowed as she glared at the batarian but her words were for Liara.
“You’re got this. I’ve faith in you,” she roared as she slammed Grako against the far wall, biotics washing the space in blue.
Liara took a deep breath, willing all distractions away. Garrus and Tali had showed her what they could do with their omni-tools. She was no hacker but she was at least competent. “I can do this,” she whispered.
The collars powered down as Grako gurgled his last breath. The batarian was beaten within the inch of his life. Shepard wasn’t tall even by human standards, but here she towered over him like the angel of death. Blood dripping from off the tip of her omni-blade. She flicked her arm once, scattering the blood across the floor before powering it down. In the space between breaths, she fell to her knees, coughing. Every heave brought more blood from her lips.
She gasped, mouth opening and closing like a fish, but no air would come.
She scratched at her throat, it was swelling shut. She could feel it.
Blood was drowning her. Her vision fading.
Her weight was listing to one side. Her legs refused to bear her weight. A pair of hands clung onto her side, holding her up but it wasn’t enough to keep her upright.
“Shepard!” A male voice called. “What happened?”
“…poison …coughing up blood …fought Grako.”
Words echoed inside her head as she felt a pair of strong arms took her other arm. She hung off two people as she struggled to walk. Her boots went from the clanking of the batarian ship to the solid thump of the Normandy. Lights were so bright they seared her retinas, she groaned and turned away.
“In here, now,” an older lady barked. It had the sound of command, Shepard jerked to obey but her limbs weren’t cooperating.
She went from vertical to horizontal in a matter of minutes. Gasps and moans came from her as she fought against the blood. Gurgles and grunts as she struggled to breathe.
“Stop, stop,” the older lady shouted, pulling her hands away from her throat. “I know, Shepard. I’m fixing it.”
Chakwas… I’m on the Normandy. She’ll patch me up with medi-gel. She always does.
But she couldn’t breathe, it was a primal need, a feral dread. She jerked and bucked, trying to sit up so the blood wouldn’t drown her. Every half choked cough brought more blood dribbling out her mouth and down her cheeks as she lay on the floor of the Normandy.
“Hold her down, I have to intubate now!”
Hands pressed against her, holding her hands and legs. No, I’ll choke! I’ll die. Let me go, let me go! Shepard couldn’t tell how many were holding her down, there were too many hands to count.
“Suction! I can’t see!”
A tube was forcing into her mouth, knocking against her teeth and tongue. Shepard jerked her head, moaning. Tears clouded her vision. A firm hand took hold of her head and tilted it backwards. Her eyes found Chakwas’ staring back. “It’s going to hurt, it will be uncomfortable but we have to do this,” she said. “I can’t give you a sedative and wait for it to kick in.”
Shepard tried to swallow past the tube, past the blood that wouldn’t stop coming. Chakwas’ gaze steadied her. She squeezed her eyes shut and nodded. Hands clenched, body stiff, she would endured. That’s what she was good at anyway.
A finger nudged her jaw open. A large metal blade slid between her teeth. Shepard coughed, panic rising again.
Blood bubbled as she fought her urge to lash out, eyes gazing at the ceiling sightlessly. A hard plastic tube scrapped past her mouth, down her throat. Filling space she already didn’t have in there, fear surged forth like the tide. And she grunted and struggled anew.
“Sorry, Commander,” Chakwas said as she pushed the tube down and down, deeper and deeper.
Can’t breathe! Can’t breathe!
Then air sweet, sweet air rushed into her lungs. But as much as she was happy to have air, the tube was uncomfortable, the air not quite enough. Her hands jerked as she coughed.
“Hold her!” Chakwas barked. “Get that armour off her, we need to hose her down. Kaidan, thank you for your help, Ashley please take over.”
Shepard’s jerked her head wildly. What are you doing? Her voice wouldn’t come, silenced by the tube in her mouth.
“Commander, we need to strip you down, and hose you off. We must be sure we get all the toxins. Decon might not have gotten it all.”
It was then she realised Chakwas was wearing full armour. Something she hadn’t seen the doctor in ever. She wasn’t in the med-bay but in a covered tent in the Normandy’s cargo bay.
Alenko was barking orders as he left. “Joker, get us to the Citadel now!”
Chakwas turned to the asari doctor holding onto her left arm. “You need to get clean too. Corpsman Nakamura will take care of you.”
Shepard’s eyes met T’Soni’s. She summoned enough willpower to shove the tide of panic back. It was one she couldn’t hold back for long. She gave the asari a quick nod, the gesture only spoiled by hands ripping her armour off. T’Soni seemed to accept it and left.
“Good job, Commander. Now take slow breaths.”
She gargled as blood poured out of her mouth. Eyes screwed shut as a million needles stabbed her throat and into her lungs.
A pair of medical shears flashed over head and her compression suit came apart. And soon her sports bra and underwear went as well. Shepard shivered under the gaze of Chakwas, Williams and Tali.
“I’m going to restraint you. I can’t have you ripping the tube out, all right?”
Shepard nodded and omni-cuffs were tightened over her wrist and ankles, straps over her chest and thighs. The water was a shock. Cold jets splashed over her body. Goosebumps rising in its wake as she shivered. Chakwas never stopped bagging air into her lungs. Towels came quickly and she was roughly dried off. A machine took over for Chakwas as pads were placed over her chest. The heart rate monitor behind her started beeping. A thin sheet was the only thing protecting her modesty as she laid wrung out on the medical table.
The blood wouldn’t stop coming and she was feeling dizzy and sluggish. Her thoughts blurring together.
“We’re synthesising the antidote now but meanwhile I want to start medi-gel treatment. The gas has a caustic quality, burning the inner walls of your lungs and throat. That’s why you’re coughing up blood,” Chakwas explained.
Shepard jerked and coughed. Instinctively she started reaching to her core, to pull at it and wrench herself free. Wisps of blue swirled around her. No, no. Don’t do that. Calm your-fucking-self down. She trembled with the effort.
“Commander, I know it hurts but try and stay calm,” Chakwas said. “Flip her on her side.” This, she aimmed at the others.
Hands reached out and pushed Shepard onto her side. Straps were adjusted and retightened. She groaned, eyelids heavy, fighting against her instincts honed from a childhood on the streets.
“None of that Commander, it’s just poison. Nothing you can’t walk off right?” Her tone was light but her hands never stopped moving.
Shepard wanted to chuckle but the attempt was aborted. It was too painful.
“I’m going to start you on some pain meds, blood transfusion and the like. Sedatives has got to wait. I want to make sure the medi-gel treatment takes.”
The tent’s door flipped open and Alenko entered again. “How’s the Commander?”
She groaned. It was the only response she had left.
Chakwas nodded. “Good you’re here. Hold her head still, I’m administering the biotic inhibitor.”
“Our Commander doesn’t take well to medical intervention of this nature. She has displayed an amazing control so far. I don’t want to take any chance. You get that, don’t you, Shepard?”
She coughed, blood drained from her mouth. A sharp pinch against the back of her head where her amp was and the buzzing under her skin died within minutes. The panic rose again, stronger than before.
“All right, the tube is going in through your nose down to your lungs to deliver the medi-gel. I’m going to numb the area before doing it.”
Fear seized her heart as the heart rate monitor screamed in protest. Kaidan approached. Shepard felt a hand against her back. Warm and steady, rubbing circles into her back. But she flinched and shivered.
Chakwas was quickly assembling the equipment. “Ready?”
Shepard could only squeeze her eyes shut.
Liara tentatively entered the tent. The only sound were the steady beep of Shepard’s heart rate monitor and the hiss of the ventilator. The doctor was nowhere to be found. But there was a mop of black hair just next to Shepard’s bed.
It was the Lieutenant. Liara couldn’t help a small flare of jealousy. She wanted to be the one next to Shepard, offering support and comfort. But as much hints she had dropped the red-haired Commander, Shepard remained oblivious. Maybe I am just doing things wrong? Are my approaches too asari?
Kaidan was likewise magnetised by the Commander and was doing similar things. Where he was restricted by the rules and regulations of the Alliance, she wasn’t. Where he was closer to the Commander by virtue of being a fellow soldier, she was an alien, daughter to the asari matriarch that’s aiding and abetting Saren.
She sighed and approached Shepard’s sleeping form. Tubes were sticking out of her nose and mouth, her space between her brows creased as if she was still in pain. IV lines snaked to her arms, supplying meds and blood. Her face too pale, making her freckles stand out even more than before. Her braid loose and tangled, framed her face like the blood that trickled down her mouth. The gash through her eyebrow stitched up and bandaged.
Liara squeezed her eyes shut. As much as Shepard told her it wasn’t her fault, she felt guilty. If only she hadn’t blacked out, maybe she could have helped Shepard. Maybe, maybe, maybe. They crowded her mind.
Then a hand reached out towards hers. Fingers smaller, stubbier than hers. They felt cold like ice. Her eyes snapped open and found fingers, with pale skin tanned brown by sun she had never seen, curling around hers.
“Shepard,” she whispered. “You should be resting.”
Shepard’s eyes pain glazed just held her gaze, made mute by the tube in her mouth. But Liara understood the touch nonetheless. Shepard lifted her other hand, trapped by Kaidan’s form and ran it through his hair. It took some determined patting of his head to wake the Lieutenant up. He lifted his head, his eyes bleary and exhausted. It was hours since they scuttled Grako’s ship and he had been standing in on Shepard’s behalf seeing to duties normally she’d do. He stood suddenly, blushing as if he was caught doing something he wasn’t supposed to. Well, Technically he wasn’t supposed to be sleeping next to his injured commanding officer, let alone holding her hand.
“Shepard, you’re awake. I’m going to get Chakwas.”
Kaidan hurried out, leaving Liara with her. The asari longed to take her hand and do a gentle meld with her. It’d take her away from her situation and provide the Commander what comfort she could offer. Shepard released her hand and Liara couldn’t help the twitch in her fingers to reclaim the hand again.
But Chakwas swept in. “Ahh, Liara, how are you feeling?”
“I wasn’t hurt at all during the mission,” she replied.
The doctor nodded. “But have you eaten? You’re asari but you’re a biotic too. Make sure you get enough to eat after every mission. I know I have to nag our Commander often enough,” she sighed, turning to the Commander’s vitals. “I see your metabolic rate I have on my charts are off again.”
Chakwas replenished some of the IV packs as Liara watched. Shepard’s eyes held the doctor’s gaze.
“I’ve sent Kaidan to bed,” the doctor replied to the unspoken question.
Shepard nodded, relaxing a little. It took Liara’s breath away. Even now, the Commander’s concern was for her people. Liara could’t fathom how she did it.
Liara’s gaze took in the bruises on Shepard’s arms. She inhaled sharply. She hadn’t realised she had held the Commander down so hard. It took four full grown adults to hold Shepard down earlier.
“Liara since you’re here, could you help me transport Shepard to the med-bay?” Chakwas asked. “I’d rather not have to wake Corpsman Nakamura if I have to. She had a rather long day with all the captives we took off the ship.”
Liara nodded eagerly. “How can I help?”
“Let me disconnect the tubes and equipment. Then using your biotics gently move her onto the stretcher. Can you do that?”
She nodded. Where Shepard was all force and power with her biotics, Liara’s was all finesse and precision. This was her training with asari commandos coming into play.
Chakwas patted Shepard’s arm, letting her know what’s going to happen. The Commander nodded and closed her eyes, the furrow between her brow deepened and her body stiff. When Chakwas nodded, Liara pulled at her core. Blue shimmering light shrouded Shepard in a cocoon. She lifted the Commander, the backboard, equipment and all onto the stretcher. Shepard groaned, hands reaching to tug at the breathing tube.
“Remember what I said, Commander,” Chakwas chided before turning to Liara. “Let’s hurry.”
The Normandy was on Shift C. It was a skeleton crew keeping things running smoothly. The way was clear. Liara spotted Vakarian hobbled around seeing to the slaves they had rescued. Ashley was the NCO in charge for Shift C, Pressly was due to take over once Shift A came on while Kaidan was sleeping to get ready for his shift after that. Everyone pulled together while their Commander was down for the count.
Once inside the med-bay, she repeated the process. This time faster as Shepard was struggling again. The doctor hooked the tubes back up. And the reassuring sound of the heart rate monitor beeped once more.
Chakwas was busy prepping more meds and Shepard seemed to settle down somewhat after the doctor had given her an additional shot straight into her IV port. “Maybe I should go?” Liara said as she made for the door.
But Chakwas waved her over. “If you can, I think Shepard might appreciate having some support for what’s coming.”
Liara watched curiously as the doctor woke Shepard. “The antidote is ready. It will be infused directly into your lungs. It will be similar to the medi-gel treatment.”
At that, the Commander groaned and shook her head. There was a flash of fear in those green-yellow eyes. Chakwas went on. “If you’d like Liara can support you like Kaidan did earlier.”
Shepard squeezed her eyes shut, before glaring at the doctor. “Knocking you out is not an option. I have to know if you feel better immediately. We’re guessing at what Grako used on you. Scuttling the ship before I got a sample wasn’t the best idea you had.”
Shepard’s eyes narrowed, darting over to look at her. She stared at her for a long moment. Liara couldn’t quite read the human Commander’s gaze. There was embarrassment, dread and resignation mingling in her eyes. But was her presence wanted? In the end, Shepard nodded.
Chakwas tapped on her omni-tool and the med-bay’s holo-lock flickered red. Liara stiffened as she watched. The doctor adjusted the bed so that Shepard was sitting up at an angle. The blanket couldn’t stay up and it fell to her lap. Shepard didn’t seem to mind she was basically sitting half naked. Liara couldn’t help but traced the sharp lines of the Commander’s collarbone, soft curves of her breasts, the taut muscles that rippled under her skin. But most intriguing of all were the scars that marked the Commander’s skin. Some long and deep lines, others puckered and faint. All of them formed the terrain of the Commander’s tanned skin. Liara’s fingers twitched as she wondered how it’d feel if she ran her fingers over them.
Chakwas beckoned at her. “Help me.” They started strapping Shepard down to the bed using omni-cuffs. The Commander made no protest and allowed it to happen.
What exactly are we doing?
All was made clear when Chakwas removed the empty bag of medi-gel and replaced it with one that contained a green liquid. “It’s the antidote.”
“It’s not going to be pleasant for her. Just hold her and speak to her. Hopefully it will take her mind off it.”
Liara took a deep breath and grasped Shepard’s hand. She found the Commander’s hand icy cold. Was it from fear? Or was it due to her less than dressed self? Liara couldn’t tell but most importantly, the fingers welcomed hers. Did Kaidan do this for the Commander earlier? Bare-chested?
She shook her and concentrated on Shepard. The Commander needed her now.
“Shepard, you can do this,” she whispered as Chakwas turned on the valve. Green liquid started draining into the tube that’s going into Shepard’s nose.
Shepard squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again. Her vision made blurry by the tears standing in her eyes. She coughed.
Water is coming in.
Her hands jerked to pull away the tube that’s killing her. But the omni-cuff held. Chakwas had the foresight to give her another dose of biotics inhibitor, otherwise she’d surely had blasted herself free by now.
Choking, drowning, dying!
Shepard jerked her head from side to side to dislodge the tube. Then a pair of hands clamped down over her forehead, a face entered her vision. Blue skin, crest instead of hair, eyes so blue she could feel herself sinking into them.
Her lips flapped. She was speaking. Shepard frowned, unable to make out the words. T’Soni’s voice seemed far away as she twisted her neck harder. She had to get free or she’d drown.
T’Soni turned to Chawkwas, they spoke. Their words escaped Shepard. The hands let go of her head and took one of her hands instead. The contact was electrifying. Oh biotics. It drew her attention to away for a split second. But she coughed, pain shot through her nose and throat. She struggled against the rush of liquid into her lungs.
“Shepard,” this time the voice echoed in her head.
“T’Soni?” she replied through her mind, her voice taken away by tubes.
“Yes, calm yourself.”
Shepard tried to straighten, tried to project her Commander’s mask. But the fear of choking, the dread of drowning was too great. “Hurts,” she gritted out before twisting her neck.
“Do you consent to a meld?”
“I can take you away from this. I can give your body a chance to heal while your mind rests.”
Shepard considered it. She had never melded with an asari before. Not for sex, not for kicks, not for anything. T’Soni had offered to meld with her so that they could make sense of the information that the Prothean beacon had slammed into her head. She hadn’t agree yet. It felt too invasive, too foreign to have a stranger, rifling through the contents of her mind. She had secrets she wanted to keep.
The pressure inside her lungs mounted. Air despite being delivered by machine didn’t seem enough. She fought the tube, she fought the antidote, she just fought. Shepard’s answer to life’s struggles was an incessant need to move, to fix, to do something. But in this, it worked against her. But in the end, she nodded.
“Please,” the word uttered with desperation.
One moment she was chained to the bed, half drowning, the next she was somewhere else. It was familiar. Shepard blinked, she couldn’t quite believe her eyes. The streets were looked exactly how she remembered it but empty. There were no teenager gang members lurking in corners and alleyways. There were no kids poking at rubbish heaps at street corners. Even Old Miller wasn’t where he usually was injecting Red Sand into his veins and offering it to her. But what called to her was the scent of freshly made popcorn coming from the cinema. Yellow posters hung outside, yellowing but still locked behind cases. Advertising some of her favourite movies, Moulin Rouge, Love Actually and Notting Hill stared back at her.
What the hell…
She shrugged and stepped into the cinema. Clean but worn carpet, dim lights lit the way. Though the scent of popcorn lingered in the air, she couldn’t find any. The entire place was empty. Meg wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Burger was nowhere in sight. Her heart clenched with the memories racing through her mind. Legs found familiar paths, they mounted the creaky stairs up to the projector room. She turned the old styled knob and the door opened.
There she found T’Soni. The asari looked out of place. She didn’t belonged in this memory. But she took in the space with fresh eyes, gazing at everything with a wonder on her face.
“Where is this?” she asked, her voice hushed and reverent.
“My happy place,” Shepard replied, only realising it then it was true. She found the chair she had sat on for so many years ago, gazing out into the cinema watching movies from this very spot. “I never expected to see this place ever again.”
T’Soni smiled as she took the other chair, the one that used to held friends long gone. They sat in silence watching the movie played out before them. “Is this your favourite vid?”
Shepard nodded. “One of my favourites.”
“I can see why you took me here.”
“Yes, I merely freed your mind to wander and you allowed me to see this sanctuary you held dear to your heart.”
She sighed, leaning back against the chair. “Thank you.”
T’Soni offered her a smile. She shifted her chair closer. Their shoulders touched as they sat in, muffled voices came from the cinema below. Shepard shifted, she was never one for casual touches even from friends. Maybe it was a childhood spent on the street where touch meant violence and undesired intent had taught her this aversion.
But this was nice. The shared camaraderie, the shared space and time with T’Soni. She saved her from living through the entire ordeal again. And she brought her here to visit a place she thought she’d never see with her own eyes ever again.
Shepard shifted closer to T’Soni, bumping her shoulder. The asari smiled.
As Liara released the meld, she found Chakwas looking at her. The doctor jerked her head over to the Commander. Her red hair, loosed from her usual braid, framed her face, eyes closed and her breathing even and smooth.
“I’ve never seen her relax so quickly before. Even with sedation, she’d fight against the drugs.”
Liara nodded, releasing her hold on Shepard’s arms reluctantly. Gone were the restraints, gone were the tubes. There was just a mask pressed against her face, supplying much needed oxygen to her. If it wasn’t for how pale she looked, Shepard could have been asleep for all she knew.
Chakwas lay her hand over Liara’s. “Thank you for your help. It would have been infinitely harder without you.”
She smiled. “I’m happy to help you any time. All of you have been so kind to me since I’ve came on board.”
“Especially the Commander?”
Heat rose up to her cheeks as she ducked her head, glancing at Shepard. “Especially the Commander.”
Chakwas just chuckled and didn’t say more on the subject. Liara sat down again, reaching out to take Shepard’s hand in her own. She stiffened as she felt something against her hands. Shepard’s fingers were curling around hers. A quick peek at the Commander confirmed she was still out of it.
Liara didn’t question the gesture and just smiled, tightening her fingers on Shepard’s hand.