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a hamster in his natural habitat - a starship

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“FUCK!” Shepard kicked a nearby crate hard with her foot. It slammed against the engineering cargo wall. The pain spread up her leg and she hoped somewhere in the universe that Jack had felt that. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” She scowled trying to regain her balance.

The Reapers had taken Earth. They had walked in with a welcome mat and the Alliance with their pants around their ankles. She was back on the Normandy SR-2 after house arrest and there was one major thing on her mind. “Where the FUCK is my Space Hamster?” She shouted as if the universe was actually listening to her. Joker had told her that the hamster had been moved to the engineering cargo hold. She was beginning to think that Joker was a filthy liar.

“Shepard,” EDI spoke bemused, “I am happy to see you have returned to the Normandy. The last known locations of the Critinae-“

“Ham.” Shepard cut her off.

“Ham, the one that Operative Lawson would kindly refer to-“ Edi continued.

“As a plague carrying vermin who should be thrown into decon or out the airlock. Yes. That one. Where is he?” Shepard edged the crate nearest to her

“The cricetinae that you reclassified as “Ham Sandwich” is currently located in the engineering cargo bay which you are now standing.” EDI replied amused. “He was placed down here during the retrofit. Engineer Adams began to leave him carrots and things to eat once he escaped confinement.”

“Takes after his mother.” Shepard grinned.

“Humans are not capable of giving birth to hamsters. “ Edi replied evenly.

“Nope, thanks EDI. How much longer until Mars?” She asked the AI.

“We should be arriving shortly under the hour.”

Shepard nodded, “Has Major Alenko settled in? I want him part of the ground team.”

“Affirmative. Commander Shepard, Major Alenko has been looking for you.” Shepard didn’t want to admit that her heart lurched. “Should I send him your location?”

“If he wants me he can find me himself.” Between the Reapers taking Earth and the monumental task at hand her complicated feelings for a certain Major would have to wait.

“Of course, Commander.”

“Thank you, EDI. It is good to hear you again.” She turned and looked around the multitude of crates before her.

She dropped to her knees and began looking around the ground. “Here you stupid fucking hamster.” She thought she heard the sharp, tiny shuffle of feet towards the back of the room. Gazing on the floor through the cracks between the crates she felt like an idiot.

“Here you tiny fuck nugget,” she said affectionately. “If you didn’t escape and start your own barbaric hamster colony I am going to be extremely disappointed in you.”

There it was, the noise she had been waiting for. It was the skittering towards the right of her. She saw him shuffle on his tiny little legs underneath some of the piping. “Oh, no you don’t!” Shepard jumped up to her feet and made a dash to the right before tripping over a crate and falling on top of another.

“Shepard?” A familiar voice washed over her. Because of course this was the moment that the universe decided she didn’t need to be alone. Someone had to witness her indignanty and it just had to be him. His voice used to be one of her favorite things in the universe that warm husky sound that reminded her of whiskey and summer days. It was a sweeter time on a model ship years ago instead of mortified and searching for a hamster.

Looking over her shoulder she saw him. He stood stock still with his face a blank canvas, except for the red-rimmed eyes under the light. She cursed herself for not seeking him out sooner. Vancouver had been his home. Instead she was out searching for a damn hamster.

“Major.” She as she tried to dislodge herself from where she had fallen. Her head came into collision with the cold feel of steel. “Pretend you didn’t see that.” Shepard groaned, the pain throbbing in her head. She moved to stand up but then she saw him, Ham Sandwich, watching her with its beady little eyes. “Kaidan! Grab something to catch him!”

Without missing a beat she made a lunge towards the small hamster that started running. She pushed another crate in attempt to create a small wall preventing him from running away. “Catch what?” Kaidan’s voice was distant and annoyed.

Shepard squirmed and rose on her knees scrabbling after the small creature as it squeaked and tried to run away. Ham Sandwich corned himself and Shepard managed to snag the scruff of his neck. “I’ve got you.” She whispered to the tiny vermin she held trembling in her hands.

Looking up finally she saw Kaidan with his blank expression and empty hands. He hadn’t tried to help her. His eyes swept over her and into her hands to where the hamster watched him with its black beady eyes. “I didn’t-“ Kaidan stammered and her heart lurched. There was an expression that flickered over his face and faded before she could say anything. It reminded her of the SR-1 and a life that was over.

“This,” she pointedly looked down at the hamster. “Is Ham Sandwich the Space Hamster.”

Shepard turned her head to look back at Kaidan. He was looking at her like she was batshit insane and that the invasion had taken the last vestige of sanity left in her. A beat, and an amused smirk brushed his lips. “Oh,” and it sounded like he wanted to call her crazy. “I wanted to talk to you before we touched down on Mars.” Kaidan gathered himself, any note of familiarity that was there a moment ago vanished.

“Of course, Major.” She was careful to keep her tone professional. “I’m just going to put Ham down somewhere safe.”

“This can wait-“ Kaidan began to leave.

“No.” She spoke faster than she had intended and it seemed to cement him in place, back turned to her. She sighed and stood her ground. “Kaidan.” His name sounded so alien and familiar on her tongue. “Can we have one minute?”

“One minute?” he sounded skeptical.

“Yes, one minute where all the bullshit that has gone on doesn’t matter?” She cradled Ham in her hands and reached them out to him. “Hold him for just one minute while I clear out one of these crates for him. It shouldn’t take more than that. I just want him to be safe until I can get back here.”

Kaidan eyed the hamster before reaching out to remove him from her hands. “Ham Sandwich, huh?” His lips twitched, threatening to turn into a smile.

“I thought it was funny,” she shrugged and turned to the nearest crate. She opened the box. “You can talk while I do this. I can multitask.”

“I wanted to make sure you were alright with me- being here.” Kaidan began, the silence stretched like six months under house arrest without a word. “I had meant to-“

“We have always meant to do a lot of things,” she shook her head as she removed the last piece of engineering from the box. “Hamster,” she reached her hand out. Kaidan placed the small creature in her palm. It squeaked at him and then ran up her arm to where her neck met her hairline. “Okay, Ham.” She said plucking it off her shoulder and putting it down in the box. “Someone will be along soon enough, don’t bite them, or if you do make sure they get some type of weird disease. You failed on this whole barbarian hamster tribe thing.”

“Reapers are currently invading earth, we have orders from Hackett to go to Mars to retrieve a Prothean device, and here you are taking care of a goddamn hamster.” Kaidan’s voice cut through her. “Does ANYTHING get to you?”

“I’m not looking for a fight, Major.” Shepard warned him, refusing to meet his gaze. She watched as Ham ran around making himself comfortable in the crate.

“Neither am I,” He began. He was fighting control and he was losing.

“Yeah, sure, fine with you being here. You throw the blue stuff at them, follow my orders, and I’ll shoot the husks or whatever comes after us in the head.”

“Even Cerberus?” He whispered.

Shepard looked at him in the eyes unflinching, “Even Cerberus.”

Kaidan cleaned his throat, his eyes drinking her in as if he finally allowed himself to have a moment to see her. The her he refused to acknowledge on Horizon. They were still standing feet apart but she felt the heat radiating from him. “But,” he looked away from her, “I don’t know… are you okay?”

Shepard remained silent, staring at him. He had that look in his eyes, the sweet one when he used to steal glances pretending that the regs were the line that shouldn't be crossed. “I just want-“

“What? What do you want Kaidan? To talk about our feelings like this is some dumb fucking academy thing? I don’t talk about feelings. I have a job to do. I have to kick Saren’s ass. Done. I have to team up with a bunch of assholes who just so happened to bring me back to life and ruin for whole bunch of things for the people I love? Great. Done. Sit in house arrest so that the Alliance will take me back and listen to what the fuck I’ve been screaming about for years? Peachy, with a side of fucking keen.” She took steps forward with each word until she was standing in front of him. “And if I want to take five goddamn minutes to save MY hamster that escaped his goddamn cage? All because some lunatic thought it was A GREAT IDEA TO PUT A LIVING BREATHING ANIMAL TO THE ENGINEERING CARGO HOLD!”

“It’s a hamster, Shepard.” Kaidan sounded so small.

“No, it’s a metaphor, or at least it feels like we’re going with a metaphor here.” Shepard gestured at the crate before realizing how ridiculous she was being. She took a deep breath, and a step back holding his gaze for a moment longer. “Look, Ham is tiny, defenseless, and alone down here. I couldn’t let him not be safe. Sure he doesn’t mean much to anyone else, but he does to me. Okay? No. Not okay. Not even remotely.”

“We’ll be at Mars soon enough, suit up and meet you at the drop ship. Dismissed, Major.” She hated how used she was to the sound of him walking away.

“Shepard,” He stopped by the stairs and turned back to look at her one more time, “It’s going to be alright.”

She smiled at him. “Now was that so hard?”