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Where Hope Is Left So Incomplete

Chapter Text

Staring out over Earth filled Nina Shepard with a mix of emotions. On one hand, she loved the planet. She loved everything it represented — the home of humanity, a species that fought tooth and nail to be where they are. People who have been through so much and yet still endured.

But on the other hand… it brought back all the memories of her childhood. A period of time she would rather forget. She had pushed all those emotions and memories into a tiny little box in the back of her mind, and she planned to keep them there…

Of course, seeing Earth just seemed to cause them to bang at the confines of the box, determined to break free. To stop herself from spiralling, she turned, stepping away from the window as they moved past Jupiter, moving closer and closer to the Charon Relay.

'The Arcturus Prime Relay is in range. Initiating transmission sequence,' the pilot's voice, Joker, came over the comms as Shepard moved. She stepped aside, letting people brush past her. The odd one greeting her with a "commander" which still made her heart race a little faster.

If Abuela could see her now.

She travelled down the long pathway, looking on either side of her at the people working away on consoles. She wasn't one-hundred-percent sure what they were doing — navigating she assumed. Or some research stuff.

'All stations secure for transit,' Joker said as she finally arrived in the cockpit. She found the turian standing, hovering just over Joker's shoulder, with his arms crossed over his chest. She pulled up beside him, watching Joker as he continued to work.

As the relay grew closer, Shepard felt a smile tug at her lips. Just a small one, so no-one really knew that Commander Shepard still felt the thrill every single time she went through a mass relay.

'Hitting the relay in 3... 2... 1...'

The whoosh never failed to fill Shepard with awe. How often had she watched ships depart, wondering what they felt whenever they flew off to the stars. She had always dreamed of being in this position; sometimes, it still didn't feel real.

As Joker listed off all the checks and stats, Shepard turned her head, allowing herself to examine the turian that had been shadowing her. Every time she turned, he seemed to be there. He had dark brown plating with white clan marks that stood out vividly. Yet, what always caught her attention were those eyes of his — a brilliant green that were unlike anything she had ever seen before.

'1500 is good. Your captain will be pleased,' Nihlus says in that strange voice of his. Though Shepard always seemed to enjoy it when he talked — not that he did much of that. He mostly just watched her.

He turned on his heel and strode away.

'I hate that guy,' Joker muttered, hands working on his controls.

'Nihlus gave you a compliment... so you hate him?' Kaidan Alenko chimed in from his seat beside Joker. His eyes briefly flickered over to Shepard, and he seemed to sit just a little straighter.

Shepard pretended not to have noticed.

'You remember to suit up your jumpsuit on the way out of the bathroom? That's good. I just jumped us halfway across the galaxy and hit a target the size of a pinhead. So, that's incredible!' Joker shook his head. 'Beside, Spectres are trouble. I don't like having him on board. Call me paranoid.'

'You're paranoid,' Alenko chimed in, a grin on his lips. 'The council helped fund this project. They have a right to send someone to keep an eye on their investment.'

'Yeah, that's the official story. Only an idiot believes the official story.'

Shepard couldn't help but agree. 'They don't send Spectres on shakedown runs.'

'So there's more going on here than the captain's letting on—'

The click of the comms cut Joker off and Anderson's voice filled the cockpit. 'Joker! Status report!'

Joker quickly filled Captain Anderson in as Shepard stood behind him, thinking over what he had said earlier. She had felt it in her gut when she got the call that there had been something more. That feeling had only increased when she had been introduced to Nihlus.

'Better brace yourself, I think Nihlus is heading your way.'

'He's already here, Lieutenant,' Anderson replied, voice sharp. Shepard gave a snort in humour as Joker shook his head and Alenko just stared at him with a smug expression on his face. 'Tell Commander Shepard to meet me in the comm room for a debriefing.'

The connection clicked off.

'You get that commander?'

'He sounds angry,' she admitted. She hadn't heard Anderson like that in so long. Something really must be going on here if he was on edge about this. And a debriefing? Maybe she was finally going to be brought into the fold. 'Something must have gone wrong with the mission.'

'Captain always sounds like that when he's talking to me,' Joker said as Shepard turned, ready to head down the comm room.

'Can't possibly imagine why,' Alenko retorted, earning another snort from Shepard and a wry grin on her lips. She started her way down the pathway, towards the galaxy map and then moving behind it where she knew the room lay.

A few soldiers stopped and saluted her, and she smiled and nodded her head in reply.

She had planned to just go straight to the comm room, but then she heard the arguing. It didn't seem like much but the last thing a ship needed was discord amongst its crew. No matter how small. Swallowing, Shepard stopped in front of Navigator Pressley, smiling in response when he saluted her.

'Congratulations, Commander, looks like we had a smooth run. You heading down to see the captain?'

'Sounds like you don't trust our turian guest.'

'Sorry, Commander, just having a chat with Adams down in engineering. Didn't mean to cause any trouble. But you have to admit something is odd about this mission. The whole crew feels it.'

It almost made her laugh. Yet another one who knew that there was just something off about this entire ordeal. She almost shook her head, but managed to hold herself back.

'I know what you mean, Pressley,' she replied. 'I'll see if I can get some answers when I see him.'

After excusing herself from Pressley, Shepard focused her attention back to getting down to the comm room and meeting Anderson. If she wanted answers, she needed to get on his good side — and that meant not being late. 

When she finally made it to the room, she was surprised to find Nihlus standing there without Anderson. She continued on, her head held high as she stepped up behind him.

'Commander Shepard, I was hoping you'd get here first. It would give us a chance to talk,' Nihlus said, his green eyes bearing into her dark grey ones.

'What about?'

'I'm interested in this world we're going to. Eden Prime.' Nihlus started pacing, back and forth. 'I've heard it's quite beautiful.'

His dual-toned voice was still rather deep, which didn't seem to help with the odd feelings that grew in Shepard's stomach. She knew that flutter. It was the one she got whenever she wanted to sleep with someone. To feel it whilst looking at a turian... that was just weird.

She had never experienced that before.

Then again, with being an Alliance soldier, she hadn't spent much time with aliens — not outside staring at them down the barrel of her gun, anyway.

'They say it's a paradise,' Shepard replied, realising that he had expected her to comment. 

'Yes. A paradise. It's become something of a symbol for your people, hasn't it? Proof that humanity can not only establish colonies across the galaxy but also protect them.' He turned away from her, giving a few of his crest. 'But how safe is it really?'

Shepard frowned, stepping forward. 'What's going on? If you've got something to say, just say it.'

'Your people are still newcomers, Shepard,' Nihlus replied, turning back to face her. His colony marks were abundant, taking up most of his face. 'The galaxy can be a very dangerous place. Is this Alliance truly ready for this?'

Before she had a chance to reply, the doors opened and Anderson came down the ramp, interrupting them. She was thankful. She hated it when anyone questioned the Alliance and their abilities, let alone aliens who still viewed them as weak.

'I think it's about time we told the Commander what's really going on,' Anderson said to Nihlus as he drew to a halt.

Shepard frowned, turning her attention back to Nihlus. 'This missions is more than a simple shakedown run.'

She gave a snort. 'Half of the crew have already figured that out. The Spectre onboard gave the game away.'

'We're making a covert pick up on Eden Prime. That's why we needed the stealth systems operational.'

Shepard shook her head. 'I don't like being kept in the dark, Captain. If I'm to be a part of a mission, I need all the information.'

As Anderson told her about the "need to know" basis the information was on, Shepard had to fight hard to keep her eye-roll at bay. She was still a soldier and Anderson was still her superior, regardless of what they've been through together.

She folded her arms behind her back as he informed her all about the Prothean beacon that the scientists had found on Eden Prime. That was why they were here. The last time a discovery like this had been made... well... it lead to humanity finally discovering they weren't alone in the galaxy. And this beacon could advance them once more, so they had to get it away from the colony and back to the Citadel for study.

'This goes beyond mere human interest, Commander, this discovery could affect every species in Council space,' Nihlus chimed in and Shepard had to agree. She wondered if it would make a difference. Their last Prothean discovery brought them on par with the rest of the Citadel species... this could advance them even further. And it was humanity that discovered it.

It may grant them the respect they deserved.

'It never hurts to have a few extra hands on board.'

'The beacon's not the only reason I'm here, Shepard.' Nihlus unfolded his arms and took several steps closer to her. He towered over her. Turians were always six feet or more. And Nina Shepard stood at only five foot and four inches.

She used that to her benefit. People always underestimated her, and she always proved them wrong.

'Nihlus wants to see you in action, Commander. He's here to evaluate you.'

Shepard offered the turian a crooked grin. 'That explains why he's always there every time I turn around.' She turned her attention to Anderson. 'What's going on, Captain?'

He explained what she already knew. That the Alliance have been pushing to have more power, more say, on the Council. But when he mentioned the Spectres, her heart raced. She knew what Spectres were — they were the best of the best. They didn't have rules or restrictions. If the Council needed a job done, they sent a Spectre, who could use any means necessary.

To hear that they were considering her as their first human addition to the illustrious group? She had no words. Even as they brought up Elysium and the actions that led to her Star of Terra.

One thing did catch her attention and she frowned, turning to Nihlus. 'You put my name forward? Why would a turian want a human in the Spectres?'

'Not all turians resent humanity. Some of us see the potential of your species. We see what you have to offer to the rest of the galaxy. And to the Spectres. We're a unique group. It's rare to find an individual with the skills we seek. I don't care that you're human, Shepard, I only care that you can do the job.'

Shepard nodded slowly, turning her attention back to Anderson, trying to ignore the flutter in her stomach. Turians were famed for their military. To have one praise her work, well, it certainly made her preen.

'I take it this is good for the Alliance?'

'Earth needs this Shepard. We're counting on you.'

Ah, pressure, just what I love. She held back her smile as Nihlus informed her that this will be the first of several missions together, to see how she is in action. Anderson filled her in on her duties — secure the beacon and get it onto the ship. That was easy enough — it was something she could do.

She licked her lips. 'Whenever you're ready, Captain.'

'We should be getting close to—'

Before he could finish, Joker's voice came. 'Captain! We've got a problem! Transmission from Eden Prime, sir, you better see this.'

'Bring it up on screen.'

Anderson was the first to step forward, then Nihlus. Shepard, realising she wouldn't see if she stayed where she was, moved to Anderson's side. The video started playing and her eyes narrowed immediately.

Gunfire. Explosions. It was nothing Shepard wasn't used to but seeing it on Eden Prime, a colony that's supposed to be quiet farming just made her blood boil. She wouldn't be surprised if it were pirates who had already heard of the beacon's appearance.

She would deal with them the exact same way she dealt with those bastards on Elysium.

A solider started asking for help but was cut off as he was shot. The video turned towards the strangest looking thing Shepard had ever seen in her life. It looked... god, it looked like a huge cockroach or something. It almost made Shepard shiver. 

Then the video went quiet, nothing but static. Joker informed them that there was no comm traffic afterwards. Everything had just gone dead.

'Reverse. Hold at 38.5.'

It was that damn cockroach ship again. Shepard gritted her teeth. There was just something about that thing that made her feel uneasy.

'Take us in, Joker, fast and quiet. This mission just got a whole lot more complicated.' Anderson's gaze cut to Nihlus, whose mandibles were tight against the side of his face.

'A small strike team can move quickly, without drawing attention. It's our best chance to secure the beacon.'

Shepard was only half listening, however. Her attention was too focused on that strange thing still frozen on screen. She had never seen anything like it, and judging from Anderson and Nihlus' reactions, neither had they.

'Grab your gear and meet us in the cargo hold,' Anderson ordered, turning his attention to Shepard as Nihlus walked away. 'Tell Alenko and Jenkins to suit up, Commander. You're going in.'

She nodded absentmindedly, her gaze still focused on the screen. She drew a deep breath and turned, ready to go and get things sorted, and hoping the feeling of unease in her stomach was misguided.

Chapter Text

'Your team is the muscle of this mission, Commander,' Anderson informed after Shepard had suited up. They were waiting in the cargo bay, everyone else putting the final touches to their armour and weapons. 'Go in heavy and head straight for the dig site.'

Shepard nodded. She had expected as much. The beacon was far too valuable to fall into the wrong hands. And the wrong hands were much closer than they were. This was pretty much confirmed when Alenko asked about survivors and Anderson informed them that survivors were secondary — getting to the beacon was their mission and the mission always came first.

'Approaching drop point one,' Joker announced over the comms, which finally brought a frown to Shepard's face. She had expected the team to go in together. If there was a drop point one, that meant that there was a drop point two.

'Nihlus, aren't you coming with us?'

'I move faster on my own,' the turian replied, checking his gun. As the Normandy slowed, Shepard watched as he hopped off the ship and disappeared, growing smaller as they pulled up and moved away to the second drop point — where Shepard, Alenko and Jenkins would be getting off.

'Nihlus is scouting on ahead. He'll feed you status reports throughout the mission. Otherwise, I want radio silence.'

Shepard stood just a little straighter. This was her chance to prove herself. The turian wasn't going to see her in action, but he was going to see that she could hold her own. 'We've got his back, Captain!'

'The mission is yours now, Shepard.' There was just a trace of smile on Anderson's face. It was one that filled her with pride. This man who had seen her grow from the skinny homeless eighteen-year-old to the hero of the Skyllian Blitz. 'Good luck.'

'Approaching drop point two.'

She was the first off the ship, ensuring the path was clear for Alenko and Jenkins, who followed the second she gave the signal.

'Guns at the ready. We have no idea what's around the corner,' Shepard announced as she drew her pistol from her hip. She preferred it to her shotgun. She hated how close she had to be to make that thing work. She always wanted to be a sniper but hadn't gotten the training. It was something she always said she'd do... and something just kept coming up.

Her biotics helped counter her annoyance at her lack of skill in the sniper rifle department.

'What the hell are those things,' Jenkins asked with a disgusted twist of his lips as they started walking, following the trail that Anderson had given them. She honestly had no idea what they were, but they didn't start attacking so she didn't give a damn.

'Gas bags, completely harmless,' Alenko filled in, answering the question. Shepard nodded, keeping moving. She had heard Eden Prime was beautiful; had even told Nihlus it was considered a paradise... it looked nothing like it now.

As she approached a boulder, which led to an open stretch of road, she held up her hand, drawing her people to a halt. She frowned, surveying the area. It was the perfect place for an ambush. A lot of places to hide further on and an open path... still, she couldn't see anything, no matter how long she looked.

She signalled them out. Alenko moved first, getting himself into cover. Just as Jenkins moved, she heard it. The whizzing noise. Before she could scream at him to get down or dive behind something, the drones had opened fire on him.

Gritting her teeth, Shepard aimed and shot, firing in quick succession until the stupid drones broke into pieces. She drew a deep breath in as she walked over to Jenkins' body, which was lying still on the ground.

Alenko got there first. He checked his vitals but when he stood, he just confirmed what Shepard already knew. 'Ripped right through his shields. He didn't have a chance.'

Shepard closed her eyes for a second. She'd have time to grieve later. She didn't even know the lieutenant that well but still. He was under her charge and she had failed him.

'We'll make sure he receives a proper service once the mission is complete.' She reopened her eyes and fixed her gaze on Alenko. 'But I need you to stay focused.'

He had turned back to Jenkins' body, but turned back at her words. He nodded his head. 'Aye, aye, ma'am.'

So, she turned and continued following the path, her pistol raised, finger on the trigger, just ready to shoot. She wasn't going to let something else like that happen again. Not if she had anything to do with it.

They trailed on for what felt like ages, though it only had to be a minute or so. She was too tight and wound up from everything that had already happened to truly track how much time had passed.

All she knew was that one minute, they were walking, slowly following the path, and then the next, the familiar sound of gunshots were sounding. Shepard broke into a run, following the noise. She found a solider crouched behind a rock, firing at more of those drones that had killed Jenkins.

With a sneer, Shepard jumped into the action, surprised to see... no... that couldn't be. She shook her head and fired all the same, no matter what she thought.

When it was all over and the last synthetic had fallen, she made her way over to the other solider.

'Gunnery Chief Ashely Williams of the 212.' She took a deep breath. 'You the one in charge here, ma'am?'

Shepard wanted to make sure the woman was all right, but she had to put the mission first. 'Give me a status report, Williams.'

'Oh man,' Williams whispered, more to herself than anyone else. She moved to the side and pointed. 'We were patrolling  the perimeter when the  attack hit.' She paused. 'We tried to get off a distress call, but they cut off our communications. I've been fighting for my life ever since!'

'Where's the rest of your squad?'

'We tried to double back to the beacon but we walked into an ambush. I don't think any of the others... I think I'm the only one left.' 

'This isn't your fault, Williams. You couldn't have done anything to save them.'

It seemed to be the right thing to say. 'Yes, ma'am. We held our position for as long as we could... until the geth overwhelmed us.'

'The geth haven't been seen out the veil in nearly two-hundred-years. Why are they here now?' Alenko chimed in. Shepard had to agree. That was why she had been so sure she had been wrong in her assumptions. To hear someone else say that they also thought those weird robots were the geth... well... it certainly confirmed her suspicions.

After asking a few questions, most importantly on whether Williams had seen Nihlus in her journey — she hadn't — Shepard licked her lips. 'We could use you, Williams. Come on. We need to get to this beacon. Move out.'

They fell into position on either side of her.

They moved on, Shepard's heart in her throat as they passed those strange poles with corpses impaled on them. She had no idea what that was all about — her history on the Geth was the same as Williams… but weird impalement devices didn't ring a bell.

She was saved from her thoughts when they rounded the corner and found a group of Geth waiting for them. She ordered Williams to one side and Alenko to the other, quickly working their way through them.

Yet when the last one dropped and she stepped up to the dig site, she noticed that one thing was very obviously missing — the beacon they were here for.

She turned to Ashley with a raised eyebrow.

'The beacon was just here! Maybe it's been moved?'

' By our side or the Geth?'

'Hard to say. Maybe we'll know more if we check out the research camp.'

That was all Shepard needed to hear. She nodded, asking Ashley where the research camp was and then promptly taking off up the hill when finding out it was just up there.

'Change of plans, Shepard,' Nihlus' voice came over the comms. 'There's a small spaceport up ahead. I want to check it out. I'll meet you there.'

She nodded, even though she knew Nihlus wouldn't see. Anderson had said radio silence — she wasn't going to waste time by mindlessly confirming that. Nihlus would wait and they would get there when they got there.

They moved up the ramp, heading to the camp. The sight of fire and smoke did nothing to set Shepard's mind at ease. Especially when Alenko voiced exactly what she was thinking: it's a good place for an ambush, keep your guard up.

She kept her weapon raised as she stepped forward.

Then a strange sound filled the air.

If she were the type of person to yelp, she would have yelped as those weird spikes collapsed and the husks came rushing at them. They moved fast for the look of them, and when they died, it was with a burst of disgusting green goo.

They managed to take the three of them down. They stood in silence, glancing around at each other with frowns on their faces. Geth she could deal with. Turrets that ripped through her shields with a few shots, she could manage. But weird human-zombie like things?

She grit her teeth together.

She took a step to move when Williams brought her attention to the trailers. The first one was wide open but the second one had been locked. Pursing her lips, Shepard made her way over to it and quickly over-rid the lock with her omni-tool, surprised when she found two scientists inside.

After questioning them about what had happened and where the beacon had been taken, she told them they were safe to leave. The assistant seemed less than stable but the doctor assured her he'd be fine.

There was still a mission to complete. She couldn't get so distracted by mad scientists rambling about the end of days.

Pressing on, Shepard knew she needed to get to Nihlus and see what was happening. Yet as she reached the top of the ridge overlooking the space port, she saw that strange cockroach ship taking off in the distance. Staring at it, she was filled with the exact same dread the very first time she saw it on the distress call.

But she shook it off, pushing on and bumping into even more Geth and husks.

When she found another locked shed, she quickly unlocks it, knowing that there may be people inside this one.

'Everyone stay calm out there. We're coming out and we're not armed.'

Shepard frowned but lowered her gun, waiting until the three people — two men and a woman — stepped out. The woman asked if the Geth were gone and Shepard smiled, reassuring her that they were gone and she wasn't in anymore danger.

She listened to them, asking them questions about the ship and the attack and the beacon, not really gathering any new information. The only thing of interest was the noise the strange ship seemed to emit — even stranger was the fact they said it seemed to be coming from inside their heads. She didn't want to experience that and was glad the thing had took off.

She was just about to leave when one mentioned something about equipment. Doing a little bit more digging discovered that they were running a smuggling ring. She got the name of the guy out of it — Powell — as well as some weapons that would help her protect that colony.

After that she turned and took off, heading down to the spaceport… her heart sinking when she found the familiar body lying sprawled out on the ground. Blue blood seeped from his skull and it was clear he had been shot in the back of the head, execution style. It made Shepard's stomach churn, knowing that Nihlus' murderer didn't even have the balls to do it face to face.

She leaned down, going to close his eyes, when a sound came from behind the crates. She darted upwards, raising her pistol and waiting for the figure to step out.

'Wait—no! Don't shoot! I'm one of you! I'm human.'

Shepard raised an eyebrow. So were some of the slavers at Elysium. That means nothing. Instead she chastised him. 'Sneaking up on us like that nearly got you killed!'

'I'm sorry! I was hiding from those creatures.' Shepard lowered her gun and he continued. 'My name's Powell. And I saw what happened to that turian… the other one shot him!'

Shepard licked her lips, looking over her shoulder to Ashley and Kaidan, knowing their mind were going the exact same place hers was. The leader of the smuggling ring. She kept her face neutral, knowing that if she had to reveal that she knew that first, he wouldn't talk — and she needed to find out what happened to Nihlus.

'I need to know how Nihlus died.'

'The other one got here first. He was waiting when your friend showed up. He called him Saren… I think they knew each other. Your friend seemed to relax. He let his guard down… and Saren killed him. Just shot him in the back. I'm just lucky that he didn't see me behind the crates.'

She asked about the beacon, finding out that it was on the other platform and that this Saren is probably already heading there… probably already there. She questioned him about the attack, thinking less and less about this man when he admitted that the only reason he was still alive was because he hid behind the crates to have a nap.

When she was certain she would get no more from him, Shepard tilted her head. 'Powell, was it?' He nodded. 'Cole mentioned you. You're part of his smuggling ring.'

As he admitted to it all — to taking pieces away from the Alliance soldiers who were here to protect — Shepard couldn't exactly blame Ashley for exploding. If they weren't on the clock, she was pretty certain she would have set the gunnery chief on the coward. But they were, so she quickly reeled Williams in, managing to get some gear and some decent grenades from Powell before taking off towards the train.

It was no surprise to find Geth there when they finally made their way to the platform. She had no idea how long they had been hiding for so long on the train platform but she didn't care. She just kept firing and firing, using her biotics and the new equipment she picked up from the smugglers to deal with them.

It rather reminded her of the Skyllian Blitz… though, that had been much more busy. And she didn't have the same kind of back up she had now. It was just the relentless gunfire always brought her back to that day. She often wondered how things would have changed had she never taken her day off there to visit some friends.

When the final Geth dropped, they finally made their way to the train and activated the controls. She had no idea how long it would take but she could only hope it was a few minutes away.

'We get this beacon, no matter what, understood?' she said as she turned, acing Alenko and Williams with determination in her gaze. 'I'm not going to let Nihlus die in vain.'

'Aye, aye, commander,' Alenko murmured but Williams remained silent. Shepard stared for a moment but before she could prompt the frostiness in the gunnery chief's eyes, the train drew to a halt.

Drawing her weapon, Shepard stepped off the train only to be greeted by the sight of a demolition charge. She hissed, immediately dropping to her knees in front of it, bringing up her omni-tool and working to disarm it. She ordered Kaidan and Ashley to watch her back, somehow knowing that there'd be more than one.

They moved quickly and efficiently, a solid team even though they had only been together for a matter of minutes. Her two subordinates fired at the Geth as they crowded around Shepard, who worked as fast as she could to disarm every detonation charge — especially when they had been set to go off in five minutes.

When she was finally finished with the last charge, she took her pistol and helped the others eliminate the Geth.

As the final one fell, Shepard moved to the platform, finding the Prothean beacon standing before her. She gave a sigh of relief, surprised it was still there and not as well as defended as she had thought it would have been. There were only three husks that came at them, and those were easy enough dealt with.

She wondered, as she holstered her pistol, why they had planned on destroying the thing. That was clearly their plan. They wouldn't have set the demolition charges so close to the beacon if they didn't want it to be destroyed… but it just made no sense.

Unless, whatever information was in the beacon had already been received by this Saren.

Licking her lips, she glanced at it and then radioed the Normandy, ignoring Kaidan as he talked about how amazing it was to be in front of real working Prothean tech. She kind of agreed but just wanted to get the beacon on the Normandy and then get off the planet. She'd had enough of the Geth.

Ashley appeared in front of her as Joker confirmed that he had got the message. Shepard offered the chief a smile, going to thank her for the assistance, when she noticed movement over the other woman's shoulders. She tilted her head, her eyes widening in shock as she saw the beacon glow and Alenko struggling against it, as if it were pulling him in.

She quickly pushed Williams out of the way, running over the tackle Alenko around the waist. The pull of the beacon is so strong that they don't even fall. She gritted her teeth and with a grunt, hauled him around and threw him to the side. He went rolling over to Ashley, who quickly ran over to assist him.

But Shepard couldn't focus on that. Not as the beacon seemed to have her in its grasps now. She tried to fight it, gritting her teeth and trying to remember her strength. She could outfight a bloody beacon — she could, she could, she—

The ground disappeared from beneath her feet. Her eyes widened as images flashed through her mind. They were unlike anything she had ever witnessed. Strange pictures came at her too fast to decipher; to understand. All she could concentrate on was the strange overwhelming sense of fear and panic that shuddered through her body.

It grew and grew until it reached its culmination and she was thrown backwards, vaguely aware of the beacon exploding before she landed on the ground and the world went dark.


She groaned.

Her head turned, her fingers twitched and all she wanted to do was lose herself in unconsciousness again. There was just a throbbing in her head, as if it had been beaten over the head with a bat.

Despite wanting to just sleep some more, Nina Shepard knew that was impossible. So, she opened her eyes, blinking and blinking until she realised that she was in the MedBay.

So, I made it back to the Normandy it seems, she thought as she pushed herself up into a sitting position, turning so her legs dangled off the table she was laying on. Her head continued to pound, and she raised her hand, pressing her fingers against her temples in an attempt to soothe it.

She heard footsteps and so lifted her head, finding the warm, familiar face of Dr Chakwas coming towards her. There was a smile on the doctor's lips that brought one onto Shepard's face out of reflex.

'You had us worried there, Shepard,' the Doc said as she finally stopped in front of Shepard. It was at the moment that she realised that Kaidan Alenko was there as well, standing just to the side of her bed. 'How are you feeling?'

How was she feeling? She felt absolutely horrible if she were honest. She just wanted to curl up and sleep. It reminded her of the nights when she were younger and had to sleep on the streets. It was always cold and uncomfortable and she just always felt like she wanted to die.

But she wasn't going to admit that aloud. Nor was she going to lie to the doctor by claiming she was fine. So, she changed the subject, still massaging her temples. 'How did I get here? How long have I been out?'

'About fifteen hours,' Chakwas answered. 'Something happened down there with the beacon, I think.'

Kaidan finally spoke up, 'It's my fault. I must have triggered some sort of security field when I approached it. You had to push me out of the way.

Shepard shook her head, turning towards him briefly. 'You had no way to know that would happen, so don't blame yourself.'

He offered a smile. It was a nice smile, but there was something hidden in those depths that spoke of something more that made Shepard clear her throat and turn her attention back to the doctor.

'Actually, we don't know if that is what triggered it. And unfortunately, we never will.'

Shepard frowned, listening as Kaidan explained that the beacon exploded after it caught her in its field. Something she can vaguely remember. She was surprised to hear that both Alenko and Williams carried her back to the ship for treatment. She wondered, briefly, whether they brought Williams with them but decided that they obviously would have. There was no-one left on Eden Prime. It seemed only reasonable to take the last soldier with them — especially after losing Jenkins.

'Thanks,' she muttered as she finally lowered her hand from her head and straightened her back.

'Physically, you're fine, but I noticed some unusual brain activity; abnormal beta waves. I also noticed an increase in your rapid eye movement, signs typically associated with intense dreaming.'

Suddenly, it all came flashing back to her. All those images shooting through her head in a non-stop cycle, even as she was passed out. They just kept cycling through her head, over and over again and with it came the panic. The fear. The non-stop worry.

'I saw… I'm not sure what I saw. Death. Destruction. Nothing's really clear. It all happened so fast.'

The doctor hummed. 'I better add this to my report. It might—oh, Captain Anderson!'

Shepard pushed herself off the bed, still leaning against it because her legs were a little weak. She couldn't remember the last time she had gotten fifteen hours of sleep — regardless of it being peaceful or not.

'How's our XO holding up, Doctor?' Anderson asks, glancing at Shepard and offering her a warm smile.

'All the readings are fine. I'd say the commander is going to be fine.'

Shepard could have told anyone that — she had been through worse that merely get dropped a few feet in the air — but it was still good to hear it come from a professionals mouth.

'Glad to hear it.' He turned away from the doctor, focusing his attention on Shepard once more. 'Shepard, I need to speak with you — in private.'

Everyone moved immediately. Kaidan and Dr Chakwas quickly passed by them, leaving the MedBay empty except the two soldiers.

Shepard straightened her spine just a little, the way she always seemed to when she was around Captain Anderson. Then it immediately relaxed, like always as well. She would always be filled with respect for this man, then it would morph into the familiarity they had developed over the years.

'Sounds like that beacon hit you pretty hard,' he started, trailing off and allowing the silence to stretch out between them.

Shepard swallowed, trying to think of something to ask. Her mind played over Jenkin's death, wondering what happened. She had assumed they would have brought Williams with them, but maybe she should ask to make sure? And she was also pissed off about the geth but even that didn't feel right.

She crossed her arms over her chest. 'You said you needed to speak to me in private, Captain?'

Listening to him relay everything that had gone wrong just made her even more annoyed. The thing that pissed her off the most was Nihlus, as strange as it seemed. The turian was supposed to shadow her for several missions, see if she were good enough to join the Spectres. There was supposed to be a partnership growing between them -- and now that was never going to happen.

As they discussed Saren and the beacon and what it could possibly mean, Shepard felt herself grow more tired. She could feel her eyes growing heavy but she kept her focus on Anderson, refusing to appear weak in front of him.

Regardless, he seemed to notice and finally dismissed her with the order to tell Joker to head for the Citadel, and then get some rest. She wanted to tell him that she had fifteen hours of rest behind her, but knew it would just lead to an argument.

With a nod of her head, she took off for the cockpit to give the instructions to the pilot.

Chapter Text

The rest of the journey passed in a blur and it wasn't until Joker radioed to tell them that they were approaching the Citadel that Shepard came back to herself. She rushed up to the front, trying to keep the giddiness out of her stance as she stopped beside his seat, arms folded behind her back.

How often had she looked up at the sky when she was a little kid, dreaming of pulling into the Citadel? It had plagued her mind until it was all that drove her until she turned eighteen. She had always wanted to explore the stars and knowing that there were others out there, turians and asari and hanar and salarians and so many others... it just inspired her until she knew that all she wanted to do was join the Alliance.

Of course, she had other reasons for joining. It provided her with an out. She could leave earth and her past behind. It gave her a roof and clothes and food and training. As well as the possibilities of exploration. It was one of the reasons she had thrown herself so wholeheartedly into her training -- she wasn't going to lose her chance for any reason.

Now, here she was, staring at the Citadel finally. Her eyes couldn't seem to find one single thing to focus on. It would go to each of the arms of the Citadel, then to the many ships that were littered around the space -- especially the huge ass Destiny Ascension, the flagship for the council. It was so obviously asari in design and gorgeous... though, nothing like the Normandy, something she told Joker which earned her a smile.

After that, at Anderson's urging, she headed to the armoury and got kitted out with Ashely and Kaidan, refusing to be somewhere so unfamiliar without armour and at least a pistol at her hip.

'Do you know much about this Ambassador Udina?' Ashley asked as they followed Anderson through the crowds towards the embassy.

Shepard shrugged with one shoulder. 'Not at all. The last time I met any politicians was after the Blitz. Something I've been very thankful for.' She wasn't exactly lying. She hated politicians. Mostly because she knew a lot of them just didn't fucking care about anyone else. And a lot of them forgot about Earth.

She could vouch for how shitty things were back at the home of humanity. Ever since discovering the mass relays and the aliens and the Citadel, the higher-ups had been focused on one thing -- expanding in space. It was always about colonies and getting a position on the council and any other shit.

And whilst she understood, she also resented it because people back home were still starving and homeless and she fucking resented that these assholes weren't doing a single thing about them anymore.

After mentioning the Blitz, all she could think about was the ceremony that had been thrown in her honour as she had been presented with her Star of Terra. Politicians had smiled at her and thanked her and pretended they knew everything about her -- and she always wiped those fake friendly smiles off their faces by reminding them that she grew up on the streets back on Earth because people like them had failed her.

When they walked into the human embassy it was to the three holos of the council and the ambassador screaming at them. Shepard rolled her eyes and moved over the ledge of the room, leaning on the wall as it overlooked the Presidium. It was glorious. Water and greenery and all the buildings and statues. It was unlike anything she had ever seen before -- such incredible technology and architecture.

Shepard shook her head, zoning out until she heard Anderson mention the "ground team on Eden Prime" and she knew that she needed to pay attention again.

She let Anderson do the talking until Udina mentioned Saren and the council's reluctance to do anything.

'He's a threat to every human colony out there. If they don't stop him, then I will,' she declared, determination clear in her voice. She wasn't going to let him attack another colony -- kill more people. She had protected Elysium hadn't she? She could damn well do it again.

'Settle down, Commander,' Udina hissed and Shepard could only tighten her jaw and clench her fist to stop herself from saying anything snarky in reply. Sometimes, she had trouble remembering that she couldn't be so headstrong all the time -- but eighteen years fighting to survive would do that to a girl. 'You've already done more than enough to jeopardise your candidacy for the Spectres. The mission on Eden Prime was a chance to prove you could get the job done. Instead, Nihlus ended up dead and the beacon was destroyed.'

Before she could snap, Anderson dove in explaining that neither of those things were her fault.  She just stood there, shoulders back and head high as Udina and Anderson took off with the order for her to meet them at Citadel Towers later.

'And that's why I hate politicians,' Ashley stated as she stepped up beside Shepard.

'Fucking asshole,' she cursed, as she let out a breath and shook her head. She rolled her shoulders, rather enjoying the way both Ash's and Kaidan's lips quirked at her words. 'Come on, let's get up there before he uses that as another reason to complain.'

As they approached the upper level where they council held their meetings, Shepard couldn't help but notice the two turians in her path. She was tempted to just step around them, knowing that she had to get there on time otherwise Udina would chew her ass out again and she may end up punching him in the face... but what stopped her was the mentioning of Saren's name.

She held her hand out to the side, slowing to a stroll so she could overhear what was being said.

'Saren is hiding something. Give me more time! Stall them!'  The one on the left said -- the one that caught Shepard's attention first. He wore blue armour, and something from her training told her that meant he was C-Sec. It was then Udina's words came back to her. There was a investigation about Saren being run by C-Sec... only by the sounds of things, it wasn't going good.

'Stall the council?' the other turian said, this one dressed in civillian clothes and with dark plating and light blue markings. It was a sharp contrast to the like grey, almost silvery tones of the other turians skin... as well as the darker blue that marked out his colony. 'Don't be ridiculous. Your investigation is over, Garrus.'

Without another word, the other turian turned and strode away. The lighter-toned turian -- Garrus, Shepard had heard him be called -- turned and finally noticed the small audience. He strode up to them, towering over Shepard... not that it was hard. Most people tended to do that, never mind a turian standing at six-foot-something.

'Commander Shepard?' Shepard nodded, a little confused as to how this turian knew who she was but realised that it wouldn't have taken long to work it out. He could have searched for her on the net after reading her name in the file and found the broadcast of her receiving her award of the Skyllian Blitz. 'Garrus Vakarian, I was in charge of the C-Sec investigation into Saren.'

'Sounds like you really wanna bring him down,' she said. 'I'm glad there's someone else out there that sees him for the threat he is.'

He noded. 'I don't trust him. Something about him rubs me the wrong way... but he's a Spectre. Everything he touches is classified. I can't find any hard evidence.'

'Beauracratic bullshit, huh?' she laughed, offering him a smile as her brown eyes bore into his blue ones. It was strange to see such an icy blue but it complimented the rest of his features perfectly. There were flecks of grey and silver that just seemed to accentuate the varying tones of his facial platings.

Before he had a chance of replying, Kaidan took a small step forward and reminded her that the council was probably ready and waiting for them. She sighed and bowed her head to the turian.

'Good luck, Shepard, maybe the council will listen to you,' Garrus declared as he stepped aside to let them by.

Shepard offered him a smile. 'Doubt it but don't worry, Vakarian, I'm not going to let him get away.'

She passed by him and strolled up to where Anderson was waiting for her.

'The hearing has already started, c'mon,' he said and she cursed inwards, following him up the stairs and clenching her jaw when she noticed the huge holo of who she presumed was Saren. There was something... off about him. She couldn't help but agree with Vakarian's statement about something just rubbing her the wrong way.

She stood there, seething, until Saren brought the attention to her. She couldn't stop the snark from coming out, trying to make the council see or catch him out but the arrogant bastard had answers for everything.

'You can't hide behind the council forever,' she snarled, taking a step forward as if he were right there and not miles away. And why wasn't he here? They had waited until she came back from her mission... why the hell couldn't they wait until Saren made it back? Why weren't they questioning that?

When Anderson brought up her visions and Saren discounted them as "dreams" she just wanted to break something. She could feel her biotics flow through her body, looking for an outlet and she had to take a deep breath to stop herself from exploding in front of the council -- that would just make them side with Saren even more.

The turian councillor agreed with Saren, unsurprisingly, and when they asked her if she had anything else to add, Shepard shook her head. 'I won't waste my breath when you've already made a decision.'

Shepard tuned the asari councillor out as she droned on about how they were wrong and there was no evidence. The second they were dismissed, Shepard turned and strode from the area, back down the stairs and only drew to a halt when Anderson told her to do so.

After listening to them argue about the meeting, she knew then that they needed to find the proof themselves. The council wouldn't help until there was proof -- well she would fucking find the proof and bring it back to parade under their self-centred noses.

'What about Officer Vakarian?' Alenko volunteered as they tried to figure out some sort of way to nail Saren.

It was then that she realised just how obvious that was and it almost embarrassed her that she hadn't thought of it. He was determined to bring Saren down, no matter what. He wanted to see him punished just as much as she did.

She nodded. 'Good idea, Alenko. Any idea where we could find him, sir?' she asked, turning back to Anderson.

It was Udina that answered. 'I have a contact in C-Sec who could help you track him down. His name is Harkin.'

'Forget it, they suspended Harkin last month for drinking on the job.'

That almost made Shepard scoff. Of course Udina's contact would be a dishonourable drunk. There was something perfetly poetic about that which made her distrust the ambassador even more.

Especially when he pretty much forced Anderson off the case and gave the entire thing to Shepard without giving the captain so much as a say. She made sure he was okay with that after Udina walked away, thankful for the hint that Harkin would probably be in the sleazy bar called Chora's Den.

'Come on, lets get to Chora's Den before this Harkin ends up too drunk to say a single word.'

The walk to the wards was quick and quiet, and it wasn't long before they arrived at the bar. Just as they made their way up the ramp that would lead them to the front door, Shepard felt something tingle at the back of her neck.

It was the same feeling when the first wave had attacked on Elysium all those years ago. The feeling that something was just wrong. She had just drawn her pistol when two turians appeared from the bar, firing at her.

She dropped to her knees behind the wall and boosted her shields with a biotic barrier, before she popped back up over the side of the wall and started to fire in quick succession. She never went anywhere without making sure her guns were loaded with inciderary ammo, and so the sight of the two turians starting to dance around as their armour caught fire brought a smile to her lips.

It didn't take long before they both dropped. She kept her pistol out, by her side, just in case as she walked over to them. She glanced down at the first one, finding his body completely still, but the second was still breathing, still groaning in pain.

Shepard stepped towards him. 'Only going to ask this once,' she murmured as she pressed her pistol against the side of his head. 'Was it Saren who sent you to kill me?'

The turian jerked his head once, no doubt seeing the fire in her eyes. Shepard pursed her lips and nodded, slowly standing and holstering her position. 'Alenko, tell C-Sec there's two bodies down here. I'm going to find Harkin.'

'Right you are, ma'am.'

'Ash, with me,' she ordered as she stepped into the bar, making her way over to where Harkin was, somehow knowing it was him by the sleazy aura about him. As well as Anderson's description of him.

Just as she was about to step up to him, two krogan appeared from the back room.

'Back off, Wrex! Fist told us to take you down if you showed up.'

The other krogan, much bigger and in heavy armour merely grinned. It accented the three deep scars that took up most of his face. 'What are you waiting for? I'm standing right here. This is Fist's only chance. If he's smart, he'll take it.'

The guard shifted. 'He's not coming out, Wrex. End of story.'

Wrex took a step forward and Shepard noticed how the other krogan backed up almost on instinct. 'This story is only beginning.' He then turned, seeming to finally notice Shepard and the others. 'Out of my way, humans, I have no quarrel with you.'

He pushed by them and left the bar, and Shepard turned to watch him go, unable to stop herself. That was pretty damn impressive.

'Let's not get caught in the middle of that, Commander, whatever it was,' Ashley advised and Shepard could only grin. She turned away and back to Harkin, stepping up to his table.

'Hey sweetheart, looking for some fun? Cause I gotta say that soldier get-up looks real good on that bod of yours.' Shepard wanted to gag. 'Why don't you sit your sweet little ass down beside old Harkin. Have a drink, see where this goes.'

'I'd sooner fuck a hanar, just tell me where Garrus Vakarian is,' she snapped, hand hovering above her pistol. It was strange, he reminded her so much of all the sleazebags she used to know where she lived on the streets. They were the reason she learned to fight... and now she had a gun. If he called her sweetheart again, she was damn well going to use it.

'Suit yourself.' He shrugged. 'I know where Garrus is, sure, but you got to tell me something first. Has the captain let you in on his dirty little secret?'

Her hand tightened on the pistol and took all her self restraint not to draw the damn thing. 'Just tell me where he is before this gets ugly.'

'But it's all connected, don't you see? The captain used to be a Spectre,' Harkin declared, a smug smile on his face. She had to listen to him drone on and on about Anderson's disgrace until she couldn't take it anymore.

She leaned her hands heavily on the table, glaring down at the moron. 'I don't give a flying fuck about any of this. Just tell me where Garrus is.'

Harkin narrowed his gaze at her before he waved his hand. 'Last time I heard he was sniffing around Dr. Michel's office -- she runs the med clinic on the other side of  the wards.'

Glad to finally have a lead and a reason to leave this asshole, Shepard pushed away from the table. 'I'm out of here,' she declared, turning and walking away before Harkin had a chance to say another word.


 

Judging by the sight that greeted her as they stepped into the med clinic, Shepard could only assume that they got there in time. She saw Garrus Vakarian stalking behind the wall, hidden from the brutes threatening the doctor.

She somehow knew his plan and so, when the doors opened, merely waved at the thugs. The three of them cursed, utterly bemused by her arrival, and it gave Garrus the perfect chance to round the corner and shoot one of them — the main one who had Dr. Michel in his arms with a gun pointed towards her.

After that, Shepard pulled her pistol free and joined the fight, managing to stop the other two before they even managed to make it around the dividing wall.

She holstered her gun and turned to the turian, giving him an appreciative once over. After seeing him in action, she'd be more than willing to beg to get him on her team, somehow knowing that he was too good to just let walk away back to C-Sec.

'Perfect timing, Shepard, you gave me a clear shot at that bastard.'

Shepard grinned, crossing her arms over her chest. 'You took him down clean.

His neck twitched. 'Sometimes you get lucky.' Before Shepard could open her mouth to contradict him or just pay him another compliment, he turned to the doctor. 'Doctor Michel, are you hurt?'

The woman took a minute to catch her breath then shook her head. 'No, no, I'm all right. Thanks to you — all of you.'

'Why were they threatening you? Who do they work for?' Shepard asked, knowing that there was more to this that what it appeared. Even she had to admit that threatening a doctor was a little extreme — she had to know something vital otherwise it just made no sense. There were just some people and professions that were off limits, even to criminals.

'They work for Fist. They wanted to shut me up — to stop me from telling Garrus about the quarian.'

Shepard could only listen as the doctor explained about a young quarian who had appeared, injured, after probably finding some information that linked Saren to the Geth — all the evidence they needed — and that she was going to meet Fist, a former agent for the Shadow Broker who now worked for Saren apparently.

'I say it's time we paid Fist a visit,'

'Commander,' Garrus started, taking a step forward. 'I know that this is your show but I want to bring Saren down as much as you do! I'm coming with you!'

Shepard's lips twitched. 'Making demands of me, already, huh?' Her grin only grew as she saw his mandibles flutter a little. Before he could start apologising she raised her hand. 'Good thing I was tracking you down to ask you to join me. Welcome aboard, Garrus.'

There was a certain relief in his eyes as he explained about the krogan who was also hunting Fist. Shepard couldn't deny that it would be pretty damn helpful having a krogan on the team, so asked just where she would be able to find him.

'Last I heard he was at the C-Sec Academy. We brought him in for a little talk after Fist made all kind of accusations against him. If we hurry, we may be able to catch him before he leaves.'

Shepard nodded her head and turned back to Ashley and Kaidan. She didn't want a huge group trailing her — she really only needed two people with her.

'Alenko, feel free to have a little look around the Citadel. I'll be sure to radio you when we're leaving.' She turned back to the turian. 'Garrus, would you mind taking us to C-Sec? First time on the Citadel and I have no clue where I'm going.'

He nodded his head. 'Of course. Let me just make sure Doctor Michel is okay then we'll leave.'

Garrus turned towards the human doctor, quietly checking in with her. Shepard couldn't help but notice the way the doctor's eyes lit up whenever Garrus talked to her. It brought a little smirk to her face as she turned back to face the chief and LT… she frowned. 'You need something, Alenko?'

He cleared his throat. 'Are you… sure about…?' He jerked his head towards the turian. There was a certain worry in his eyes that made Shepard uncomfortable — mostly because she knew exactly what it meant.

Swallowing, Shepard nodded her head. 'Of course. You saw him in action, earlier, lieutenant, and it'll be helpful having the advice of a turian whilst we're tracking one down.' She straightened her back when she saw something flicker in his eyes, as if he were going to press the issue further. 'Go and explore the Citadel, LT — we won't leave without you.'

He snapped to attention and then quickly dismissed himself, his shoulders a little bit slumped as he left the med-clinic. Shepard felt a little awful for treating him that way but she needed to cut this short before it developed into something uncomfortable. She didn't sleep with fellow Alliance soldiers — it just got messy in a way she never wanted to deal with.

She quickly glanced at Ashley, who seemed to understand just what she was thinking, before she turned her attention to the turian, who had finally stopped talking to the doctor.

'Ready to go, Shepard.'

She smiled. 'Then lead the way.'

The journey to the academy didn't take too long. She was accosted by a man named Conrad, who called himself a "fan" which made her skin crawl. She wasn't a celebrity — she shouldn't have fans. She understood that her actions on Elysium earned her a lot of respect, but at the end of the day, she was just doing her job. She'd be a pretty horrible solider if she had just decided that she was on holiday and it wasn't any of her business if slavers attacked the colony.

Still, she listened to him ramble and eventually agreed to give him an autograph, just to shut him up and get away.

'If I hear a peep about this, I'll skin you both,' she hissed as they turned away from the "fan" and continued their journey to C-Sec. She heard Ashley guffaw in reply, which only made her that more determined to never bump into the dude again.

They arrived just in time, it seemed, as the krogan was being lead to the main entrance with a group of four guards surrounding him. Shepard hummed, somehow proud of this huge krogan for earning such a reputation that he needed so many guards to escort him through the home of Citadel Security.

'Witnesses saw you making threats in Fist's bar. Stay away from him,' a human C-Sec officer ordered but the krogan just dismissed him with a wave of his hand.

'I don't take orders from you.'

'This is your only warning, Wrex.' He leaned closer, trying to appear intimidating. Shepard had to give the man kudos for squaring up to a krogan.

The krogan merely shrugged, however, knowing one headbutt would crack the human's skull. 'You should warn Fist. I will kill him,' he declared, so calmly that it brought a snort from Shepard's mouth.

Wrex's red eyes darted over the officer's shoulder and landed on her. She grinned at him.

'Do you want me to arrest you?'

Red eyes landed on the officer once more as his lips quirked into a grin. 'I want you to try.' Wrex then turned and strode way, moving over to stand in front of Shepard who glanced up at him with that smirk still in place. She heard the officer tell him to "get out of here", as if he had a say in what the krogan did or didn't do. 'Do I know you human?' 

'The name is Shepard. I'm going after Fist and thought you might like to come along.'

Wrex tilted his head. 'Shepard? Commander Shepard?' She nodded, even though she was almost positive the krogan didn't need to confirmation. 'I've heard a lot about you. We're both warriors, Shepard. Out of respect, I'm going to give you fair warning — I'm going to kill Fist.' 

To be honest, from what she has heard about him, she doesn't really care. It's not like he said he was going to kill her or Anderson or anyone in her crew.

Before she could say this, however, Garrus declared, 'Fist knows your coming — it'll be easier if we all work together.'

Wrex took a small step back. 'My people have a saying: seek the enemy of your enemy, and you will find a friend.'

Shepard's lips quirked as she gave an appreciative nod. 'I like that a lot.' She held out her hand. 'Welcome aboard, Wrex.'

'Let's go, I'd hate to keep Fist waiting.'

Nodding her head, Shepard turned to Ashley who seemed to know what was coming. She raised her hands. 'Let me guess, go and explore and you'll message me when you need me?'

Shepard gave a laugh. 'Got it in one, Williams.'

'No problem, Commander. See you back on the Normandy.'

With a salute, the gunnery chief turned and strode out of C-Sec academy, leaving Shepard with two strangers who just so happened to be aliens. She turned to them and pursed her lips, giving them the once over.

Despite the fact they were unfamiliar to her, it felt... strangely right, having them on either side of her. She had no idea if it was just because Garrus was just as against Saren as she was and Wrex had given her that glorious saying, but she didn't feel any worry about them shooting her in the back as she fought.

'Okay, gents, lets go and pay this Fist as visit.'

The journey to Chora's Den was quick, with Wrex explaining just why he was after Fist — you don't double-cross the Shadow Broker — and when they finally reached the sleazy bar again, Shepard wasn't exactly surprised to find it crawling with guards and hired mercs.

'I think Fist is shitting himself,' Shepard called out over comms as she ducked behind the door, mod'ing her pistol with incendiary ammo and shooting down any body she could see.

They worked well as a team. Garrus was ducked down at the other side, using his assault rifle and taking down those further away, whilst Wrex charged in, shotgun blazing and let his bloodrage make quick and easy work of those that got in his way. And Shepard used her biotics whenever someone got too close, throwing them back for either her or Garrus to pick off.

When the final guard dropped, Shepard made her way around to the back room, quickly overriding the door and stopping short when two men appeared, brandishing guns.

Yet, she knew that they weren't guards — that this was probably the first time they had held a gun. She held up her hand, stopping both Wrex and Garrus from fighting as she convinced the warehouse workers to put the guns down and just walk away — something they readily did, commenting that they didn't get paid enough to fight trained soldiers.

Good to see some people have brains, Shepard thought as she waited until they were gone before she raised her pistol again.

'It would have been quicker and easier to just kill them,' Wrex commented.

Shepard shrugged. 'Maybe. But I don't kill anyone who doesn't try to kill me. Kind of a morale code with the Alliance.'

She heard Wrex mutter something but she couldn't quite pick it up. Not in the mood to debate right and wrong, she made her way through to the back room where Fist was waiting.

Immediately, he started firing and with a grunt as one of his shots hit her shields, Shepard dropped to her knees. After life on Earth, N7 training, Elysium, Eden Prime, she thought she'd be used to fighting — yet it still got to her sometimes. There were times where, when faced with too much of it at once, she wondered whether she had made the right decision all those years ago.

She fired at Fist, popping out of cover whenever she heard his gunshots stop, his weapon overheating because the idiot apparently didn't know how to use it right, until she heard him hit the floor, pleading for them not to kill him — that he had surrended.

Shepard hesitantly stood, her pistol still raised in case this was all some ploy to catch her off guard — in which case she'd give the criminal more creativity and brains than she had previously thought.

But as she approached, Garrus and Wrex falling into either side of her, she saw him cowering on the floor.

Lowering her pistol just a little — so it was convientely aimed at him without it being too threatening — Shepard asked, 'Where's the quarian?'

'She's not here! I don't know where she is! That's the truth!'

Wrex checked his gun. 'He's not use to you now. Let me kill him.'

Gritting her teeth to stop herself from smiling, Shepard listened to Fist's pleas as he explained that he didn't know where the quarian was exactly, but knew where she was heading.

'She said she'd only meet with the Shadow Broker.'

'Face to face?' There was sceptisim in Wrex's voice. 'Impossible. Even I was hired through an agent.'

Lowering her gun all the way, Shepard twitched her free hand, beckoning Fist to stand and explain.

'No-one meets the Shadow Broker. Ever. Even I don't know his true identity. But she didn't know that. I told her I'd set up a meeting.' 

'And who is she really meeting?' Shepard asked, reading between the lines.

'It'll be Saren's men waiting for her when she shows up,' Fist answered, causing Shepard's blood to boil.

She reached forward and grabbed the collar of Fist's armour with her free hand, her pistol pressing against his stomach. 'Give me that location. Now.'

'Here on the wards. The back of the markets. She's supposed to meet them right now. You can probably catch her if you hurry,' Fist explained, giving a shaky exhale when Shepard finally let him go with a thrust.

Before she can say another word, threaten him with the fact that if anything happened to this quarian, they would be back for him, a gunshot went off.

Shepard watched as Fist crumpled to the ground, rounding on Wrex who had lowered himself to brace for the recoil of his shotgun. He straightened as Garrus barked at him, demanding to know what the hell he was doing — something that Shepard echoed as she stared the huge krogan down.

'The Shadow Broker paid me to kill him. I don't leave jobs half done.'

Gritting her teeth, she glared up at him. 'We don't shoot unarmed prisoners.'

'How many people died because of him? He brought this on himself. Besides, we have more pressing concerns.'

'That quarian is dead if we don't go now.'

Shepard locked her jaw, glancing down to the dead body. 'Just don't do that again? Understand.' She stared until Wrex nodded his head. 'Good. Move out.'

Chapter Text

Shepard and Garrus crept forward, ordering Wrex to stay back until they gave the signal. It was mostly due to Wrex's huge size that made Shepard decide that — she didn't want him being spotted and Saren's men killing the quarian on sight.

Her fingers twitched around her pistol as she peeked around the corner, finding one turian and two salarians with the quarian.

'Where's the Shadow Broker? Where' Fist?' the quarian asked as the turian approached her.

He reached up and caressed her helmet, pushing back the fabric of her headwear as if it were hair. 'Relax. They'll be here. Where's the evidence?'

His hand trailed down over her shoulder and her arm, until the quarian pushed it away. She shook her head. 'No way. The deal's off.'

The turian backed off, turning towards the salarians who drew their weapons and started to approach. The quarian threw a grenade, darting to the side as it went off.

Shepard and Garrus dove from their hiding position just as Wrex rounded the corner. 'I heard a bang and took that as my cue,' he grinned as he rushed past Shepard towards the turian. It made her snort — of course the krogan would go straight for the turian.

Shepard and Garrus made quick work of the salarians, and when the turian finally dropped after receiving a deadly head-butt from Wrex, Shepard holstered her weapon and turned to the quarian, who was hiding behind some boxes.

Before Shepard could get a word out, the quarian was on her feet. 'Fist set me up! I knew I couldn't trust him!'

'Are you all right? Were you hurt in the fight?' Shepard asked, wanting to make sure that the quarian wasn't injured. After all, she knew how easy tiny wounds could turn fatal for quarians. She didn't want a small cut killing the woman she had fought so hard to find and save.

'I know how to handle myself,' the quarian answered, and Shepard grinned. No shit, it's still smoking from your grenade. 'Not that I don't appreciate the help. Who are you?'

'Commander Shepard. I'm looking for evidence to prove that Saren is a traitor.'

Nodding her head, the quarian took a step forward. 'Then I have a chance to repay you for saving my life. But not here. We need to go somewhere safe.'

'We could take her to the human embassy — your ambassador will want to see this anyway.'

'Ugh, don't remind me,' Shepard groaned, just thinking about Udina's smug face.  'But it's a good idea. Is that all right with you...?' It was then that it occurred to Shepard that she hadn't even gotten the quarian's. name.

'Tali'Zorah nar Rayya,' she answered, wringing her fingers a little. 'But you can just call me Tali.'

'It's lovely to meet you, Tali. Come on, we'll head back and get this sorted out.'

Without another word, the four of them took off, making their way from the wards back to the embassy. Shepard walked in silence, her mind working over time as she thought about how much could change in a matter days.

When she got the message from Anderson, asking her aboard the Normandy to help check up on Eden Prime, she had been happy — she was always happy when given a new mission. But then she had spotted Nihlus and she somehow knew that it was more than a simple check-up.

Now, here she was, on the Citadel for the first time with three aliens trailing her in a desperate attempt to prove that a spectre had gone rogue and was working with the geth.

She almost wanted to just go back to Earth and pretend she had a choice in Anderson's request.

As she stepped into Udina's office, she was greeted by his back. The second the doors whooshed shut behind them, he started. 'You're not making my life easy, Shepard. Firefights in the ward? An all-out assault on Chora's Den? Do you know how many—'

She grit her teeth, folding her arms behind her back as she let her gaze flicker to Anderson, who offered her a smile in reassurance.

'Who is this? A quarian? What are you up to, Shepard?'

Shepard let out a snort. 'This quarian, Tali, can help us bring down Saren. I was going to tell you that but then you jumped down my throat.'

Udina actually looked ashamed, making Shepard realise there must have been more bite in her tone than she had realised. 'I... apologise, Commander. This whole thing with Saren has me a bit on edge.' He turned to Tali. 'Maybe we should start at the beginning... Tali,' he said the word as if it was something he wasn't used to. It made Shepard roll her eyes. 'We don't get many quarians here. Why did you leave the flotilla?'

They listened as Tali explained all about her pilgrimage and how she had found a geth unit and managed to salvage some of its memory core before it was completely wiped. She then brought up her omni-tool, pulling up the file.

Saren's voice filled the room. 'Eden Prime was a major victory! The beacon brought us one step closer to finding the Conduit.'

'That's Saren's voice! This proves he was involved in the attack,' Anderson declared, the relief palpable in his voice.

Shepard nodded her head. 'He won't get out of this one.'

'Wait there's more!' Tali said, working on her omni-tool once more. 'Saren wasn't working alone.'

With a frown, Shepard listened as Saren's voice came again, talking about Eden Prime and the beacon and some Conduit. Then just after he finished, a feminine voice spoke. 'And one step closer to the return of the Reapers.'

'I don't recognise that other voice — the one talking about Reapers.'

The second the word was spoken stirred something in Shepard. She couldn't quite explain it... 'I feel like I've heard that before,' she declared, listening as Tali explained what the memory core had on these Reapers — that they were hyper-aware machines who existed 50,000 years ago — but somehow that didn't seem right. That didn't evoke the same dread that came whenever Shepard thought of the word.

'They hunted the Protheans to total extinction and then they vanished!' Tali's voice lowered a little. 'At least, that's what the geth believe.'

And just like that, it all made sense. The reason her stomach dropped with the mention of these machines; the fear and worry and panic that coursed through her veins for no apparent reason.

'Seems a little far fetched,' Udina declared.

Shepard shook her head. 'It's not... the vision on Eden Prime. It makes sense now. I saw the Protheans being wiped out by the Reapers.'

Her mind flashed once more with those damn visions; destruction and death and panic and now that she knew what it was, she allowed herself just a little moment to worry as the others argued about informing the council.

'Whatever they might think about the rest of this, that file proves that Saren is a traitor.'

Shepard nodded, preparing herself to leave when Wrex asked, 'What about her? The quarian?'

'My name is Tali!' she snapped, turning her gaze away from Wrex and back to Shepard. It was a little odd, seeing those milky eyes stare at her — Shepard wondered just what they were like under those suits. 'You saw me in the alley, Commander, you know what I can do! Let me come with you.'

Shepard studied her for a moment. 'Fighting geth with an expert on them? That sounds pretty fantastic to me. Welcome aboard, Tali.'

Despite not being able to see it, Shepard can hear the smile in her voice as Tali steps closer to them. 'Thanks. You won't regret this.'

'Anderson and I will go ahead and get things ready with the Council. Take a moment to collect yourself then join us in the Tower.' He waved his hand and walked out, leaving Anderson to follow him with an exasperated eye-roll for Shepard's benefit.

With a smirk on her face, she turned to this strange little band she'd collected over the space of an hour. 'Normally, I prefer just two people with me but since I don't want you getting into a fight by just strolling aboard the Normandy, you can all just come with me to the tower. Hopefully after that we'll be able to do something about Saren.'

When the three of them nodded in understanding, Shepard left the embassy, making her way downstairs ready to follow Udina and Anderson to the Council... before she could get too far, however, a man caught her attention.

She listened as he explained that his wife was a part of the Eden Prime group — that she had been killed but instead of her body being returned to her, she was being kept by the Alliance, refusing to answer questions the poor man asked.

'Don't worry, I'll get to the bottom of this.' She offered him a smile before she turned back to her little group of aliens. 'Little detour, people, won't be too long,' she declared, moving to find this Clerk Bosker for a little chat.

 

By the time they arrived at the Tower, Anderson was waiting for them. They made their way up to the Council and the very familiar recording of Saren mentioning Eden Prime filled the room.

Shepard stopped just behind Udina, whose eyes were blazing on the Council as if this was a personal attack against himself. 'You wanted proof?' He took a step forward. 'There it is!'

To Shepard's great surprise, the turian councillor admitted that the evidence was irrefutable. A part of her had honestly expected them to deny his treachery even still — especially the turian councillor. It was strange to hear him declare that Saren would be stripped of his Spectre status and that they will be doing everything they could do make sure he answered for his crimes.

Just as the turian finished, the asari councillor spoke up. 'I recognise that other voice. The one speaking with Saren. Matriarch Benezia.'

It was a name that Shepard had never heard of before — not that it was unsurprising. She didn't really know a lot of aliens. The ones she did were usually on the other end of her gun and that didn't usually end well for them. It wasn't something she enjoyed or was proud of — she had often spent her childhood looking up to the stars and dreaming of meeting the aliens that everyone spoke about.

But life in the Alliance didn't give her much chance to meet people outside work.

'Matriarchs are powerful asari who have entered the final stage of their lives. Revered for their wisdom and experience, they serve as guides and mentors to my people. Matriarch Benezia is a powerful biotic and she had many followers. She will make a formidable ally for Saren,' the asari councillor explained and Shepard was overcome with even more desire to track these two down.

She knew firsthand the power of biotics — it was half the reason she managed to make it through the Skyllian Blitz. And she knew that asari could be even more powerful — to have one of those siding with Saren?

'I'm more interested in the Reapers,' the salarian councillor cut in. 'What do you know about them?'

'Only what was extracted from the geth's memory core,' Anderson replied, going on to explain what they knew.

'The geth believe the Reapers are gods and that Saren is the prophet of their return.'

'We believe the Conduit is the key to bringing them back. Saren is searching for it — that's why he attacked Eden Prime.'

'Do we even know what this Conduit is?' the salarian asked.

'Saren thinks it'll bring back the Reapers. If you ask me, that's bad enough,' Shepard declared, patience growing thin. She should have known they wouldn't so understanding — that there would be something about their story that they wouldn't believe.

Something that was only confirmed as the turian councillor voiced his disbelief. She tried once more to convince them that they were real — that the vision she had seen on Eden Prime was real — but once again, they refused to listen.

She gave a small scoff and shook her head, glancing over her shoulder at the three aliens hovering just behind her. She took a deep breath and turned her attention back to Udina and the council, just managing to stop herself from rolling her eyes as he demanded that they send a fleet in. She glanced at Anderson from the side of her eye, noticing him looking just as embarrassed.

It was clear that Udina wasn't a solider — one rogue soldier did not require a fleet. Yes, he had an army of geth but it still would just lead to war. And the geth had already proven that they were good at warfare — they did manage to run their creators from their home planet.

Even more so when it was outside of council space where their presence was unwelcome. That was just extra fuel to the fire. They needed something quieter — something more discreet.

She took a step forward when there was a brief pause. 'Send me in. I will hunt him down.'

The asari councillor seemed to think it was a good idea but the turian immediately shook his head. As he started to ramble about how it was "too soon" for humanity to join the Spectres, all Shepard could think about were those years back on Earth, before joining the Alliance — when people looked at her and just saw a skinny homeless girl who would amount to nothing — those that actually looked at her, anyway, unlike the ones who pretended she didn't exist.

Years of being told she wasn't good enough; years of believing that she would get nowhere in life — that she would die an unknown street rat — came to fruition and she took another step forward, her eyes blazing as she pointed to the turian councillor. 'It was a turian Spectre who betrayed this Council!' she snarled, eyes narrowing. 'And it was humanity who exposed him. I have proven myself with Eden Prime and the Skyllian Blitz — I have earned this.'

The salarian and asari councillors turned to the turian then. Shepard saw the asari jerk her head, pretty much ordering the turian to accept. His mandibles pressed tight to the sides of his face before he relaxed, nodding his head.

The three councillors messed with the consoles in front of them. 'Commander Shepard... step forward.'

Shepard took a deep breath as she turned to Anderson, who gave her a proud smile with a nod of her head. She returned it before she closed her eyes for just a second as she did as bid, moving pass Udina until she was at the very edge of the platform, trying to calm herself from the anger that had risen in her veins.

When she reopened her eyes, she was shocked to see civilians up top, watching her induction and muttering amongst themselves. She swallowed, keeping her back straight and her arms behind her back. She had allowed her emotions to get the best of her earlier — she needed to keep a cool head now.

The three of the councillors took turn to induct her, telling her the history and the duties of the Spectres and she could only stand there, her hands behind her back as she allowed their words to soak into her heart and soul.

'You are the first human Spectre, Commander,' the asari declared causing Shepard to swallow. She knew that. It didn't stop the warm feeling of pride from trickling down her spine. The little homeless orphan... now the first human Spectre? If her younger self could see her now. 'This is a great accomplishment for you and your species.' 

Shepard bowed her head, swallowing. 'I'm honoured, Councillor,' she said because she was. It still didn't feel real — even though she didn't really like the reasons she had gotten here (the talk of these Reapers just didn't sit right with her) it meant a lot for a girl who had once had nothing.

'We're sending you into the Traverse to find Saren. He's a fugitive from justice so you are authorised to use any means necessary to apprehend or eliminate him.'

Shepard raised an eyebrow as she asked, 'Any idea where to find him?'

The turian explained that he would forward all relevant files to Udina, before the asari declared the meeting over. Shepard bowed her head towards the Council one last time, before she turned to face Anderson, who stepped forward, hand extended.

Taking it with a grin on her face, she allowed his words of congratulations to wash over her. She was still so freaking happy that even listening to Udina couldn't dampen her excitement.

Just as Anderson was telling her to go to the Spectre requisition officer, Udina cut him off, his voice sharp, 'Anderson I need your help getting this organised. Come with me. Shepard meet me at the Docking Bay when you're ready.' He then strode off, leaving Anderson to follow him after giving Shepard one final proud smile.

'I thought the ambassador would be more happy. He didn't even thank you,' Tali said as Shepard took another step forward, moving closer to the little group she had amassed already.

She shrugged her shoulders. 'He's a politician,' she said, as if that explained everything — which it did to her. And by the slight nods of their heads, it did for the others.

'Anderson didn't get a chance to tell me where the requisition office is thanks to Udina... Garrus, I'm guessing you'll know?'

He looked a little surprised at her question but ultimately nodded his head. 'Yeah, it's down in C-Sec. You could probably go there before heading to see what Udina wanted.'

Nodding her head, Shepard started to move. 'Good idea. Come on.' She started to lead them away, back down the stairs towards the exit of the Tower when she noticed a salarian fiddling with a... she drew to a halt. 'What the hell is that?'

'It's a keeper, Shepard,' Garrus stated as if this was obvious causing Shepard to frown as she turned back to the... keeper. It was like a huge, weird insect thing. Kind of like a... mantis, she supposed. In some weird way. It was like a weird combination of all the insects that used to keep her company back on Earth.

'Am I supposed to know what that means?' she replied, turning and cocking an eyebrow at the turian. 'What do they do?'

He shrugged. 'No-one really knows. They just... look after the Citadel. It's also against C-Sec regulations to interfere with them... which is why I'm curious about what that salarian is doing.'

Turning back to the keeper, Shepard found a salarian crouching next to it, scanning it with his omni-tool. She had been completely startled by the odd creature that she hadn't even noticed the salarian there. She squared her shoulders and started walking again. 'Well, let's find out, eh?'

She stepped up just behind him and cleared her throat.

He startled. 'What? Oh. No. I wasn't-- never mind.' He strolled away a few paces but Shepard just crossed her arms and shifted her weight, cocking her eyebrow as she stared at the salarian. 'Um. Yes? May I help you?'

'Why are you so interested in the keepers?'

'Keepers? I've got no interest in--'

'I'm not an idiot. My friend here, Officer Vakarian, happened to see you messing with the keepers. What are you doing?'

He started wringing his hands. His dark, almost black, eyes darted over to Garrus. She had no doubt if salarians could, he would be turning red and starting to sweat. 'I... I don't know if I should be talking about this...'

'You either tell us now or I take you in to HQ. You know full well you can't disturb the keepers.'

Still fidgeting the salarian explained, 'I'm... scanning the keepers. Trying to find out information about them. So far, I've had mixed readings... it's hard to get close to them for... reasons you can imagine.' The salarian glanced nervously at Garrus.

'Why are you doing this?' Shepard wondered, glancing at the strange thing and realising it had a sort of... backpack? And a little vest? It was kind of cute in a... creepy kind of way. Shepard had lived outside for a large part of her life -- a little bug wasn't going to scare her. Even skyscraper-sized cockroach-shaped ships.

'Well, we see them working all the time but we don't know anything about them. I'm a scientist! I want to know what makes them tick.' He cocked his head to the side. 'You're... you're that new human Spectre, right?'

'Yes,' she answered, confused about the sudden change.

'Would you... could you take this scanner and scan any keepers you see? I'll pay you for your troubles and I'm sure knowing about the keepers will help in the long run. And with your Spectre status, I don't think you'll get arrested over it like I would.'

Shepard could almost sense Garrus getting worked up so she spoke before he could fully form his reply. 'Yeah. I can't promise anything because I have more important things to do but I'll see what I can manage. I don't want to see you messing with a keeper again, though, or I'll let the good officer here take you in. Understood?'

The salarian hastily transferred the scanning code to her omni-tool before quickly taking off, not bothering to stop until he was gone from their sights.

Shepard snickered and turned back to the group.

'Why'd you let him go? He was breaking the law!'

Shepard craned her head up to the turian. 'Who was he hurting? And I've got to say, I can't blame him.' She turned back to the keeper, tilting her head and she studied the thing as it worked away at a console. 'They've been here the whole time and no-one has bothered to find out more?' She reached out and gently prodded the keeper with a finger. 'They don't seem to be violent, either, so why the ban on bothering them?'

She straightened and turned back to the group.

'I've always wondered if they'd pop if you killed them... like the rachni,' Wrex declared, tilting his head as he studied the keeper. His words brought a scoff of laughter from her lips as she shook her head.

'Not all laws are right, Garrus. Some are meant to be broken.' She reached out and gave his arm a quick pat before she turned. 'Come on, let's get to C-Sec before Udina gets super pissed off at being made to wait.'

With a quick, final glance at the keeper, Shepard and her three new acquaintances made their way to the C-Sec HQ.

Chapter Text

By the time they reached the Normandy's docking bay, Shepard was just more than ready to get off the Citadel. It was so unlike anything she had ever experienced that she wasn't sure how to feel about it. She had spent most of her life on Earth and frigates. Some colonies. This was just so strange and bizarre to her that she couldn't really spend an extended amount of time on it just yet.

'I've got big news for you, Shepard,' Udina declares as she steps out of the elevator, which had been crowded due to the four bodies crammed in there. She and Tali were rather small, but a turian and a krogan added to the mix just led to hardly any space.

She raised her eyebrow at the ambassador, wondering what this big news could possibly be. Her eyes flickered to Anderson, almost as if wanting to see his opinion on the whole thing but there was… a look on his face that made her gut roil.

'Captain Anderson is stepping done as commanding officer of the Normandy,' Udina continued, not noticing how Shepard's jaw clenched at the words. 'The ship is yours now.'

Her gaze flickered back to Anderson, almost as if expecting him to admit to this being a joke — a rare display of amusement and humanity from a politician, but nothing. He just crossed his arms over his chest and fixed Shepard with a stare that told her, no, this was really happening. He nodded his head. 'She's quick and quiet. And you know the crew. Perfect ship for a Spectre — treat her well, Commander.'

Shepard swallowed and took a step forward, moving closer to this man who had taken her under his wing. The closest thing to a father she had. The closest thing to a parent she still had. 'I want the truth, sir, why are you stepping down?'

'You need your own ship. A spectre can't answer to anyone but the Council.' He looked away from her, all the convincing she needed, even as he said, 'And it was time for me to step down.'

She shook her head and took another step closer. 'No. There's more to this. Tell me the truth, Captain, you owe me that much.'

'I was in your shoes twenty years ago, Shepard. They were considering me for the Spectres.'

Shepard vaguely remembered Harkin making some sort of comment about that. She had brushed it off, not giving a damn because if Anderson hadn't told her, it obviously couldn't have been that important.

Now, she wondered if he just hadn't told her because he didn't want to seem like a disappointment in her gaze. It almost made her heart stutter, to think that was the reason. It made her curious, to know just how the captain viewed her. She would never admit to seeing him as a father figure, not to anyone. Maybe he felt something rather similar.

She listened to him explain it in the briefest terms, with the promise to expand later on. But as she heard how he was sent on a mission with Saren, who ensured that the mission failed so that Anderson would not be accepted into the Spectres, she knew she didn't really need to hear more. She already knew just how much Saren hated humans, having heard him protest her own induction, she didn't need to know just exactly how he had screwed up such an amazing opportunity for her commanding officer.

'I had my shot,' Anderson finished. 'It came and went. Now you have a shot to make up for my mistakes.'

Shepard swallowed the emotion rising in her throat. She took a deep breath to steel herself before she offered him a gentle smile. 'I won't let you down, Anderson.'

Udina quickly changed the conversation back to the matter at hand, bringing up the fact geth had been spotted on both Noveria and Feros, so he recommended going there at some point. He then explained that this Matriarch Benezia had a daughter, a Dr. Liara T'Soni who studied Protheans and was rumoured to be exploring a dig in the Artemis Tau cluster. She decided that would be a good place to start, saying as much to Anderson and Udina.

Anderson was quick to remind her that she was a Spectre — she didn't answer to them. She could do whatever she wanted in whichever order she wanted.

Udina wasn't as understanding. 'Your actions still reflect on humanity as a whole. You make a mess and I get stuck cleaning it up,' he snarled, and it took Shepard everything she had not to roll her eyes in front of him, knowing it would just lead to another argument.

In truth, she didn't give a damn about giving Udina more work. All she cared about was stopping Saren from taking his geth and humanity-hating views even further into the universe. And despite what the Council and Udina believed, she didn't want the turian bringing back to the Reapers either.

She kept her mouth shut, not really wanting to say anything to placate the politician, and neither wanting to insult him and get in more trouble. It was almost a relief when he declared that he had a meeting to get to and walked away, leaving her alone with Anderson and the three aliens behind her.

Taking a step forward, Shepard asked, 'How are you holding up?'

For once, the bold, brave face faltered just a little. 'Honestly? This isn't how I expected my career to come to an end. Pushing papers really isn't my thing. But you're the one who can stop Saren. I believe in you, Shepard.' She tried her hardest to keep the beaming smile at bay. 'If that means stepping down, so be it.'

Swallowing, Shepard listened as Anderson recalled what went wrong with Saren — how he had been selected for Spectre training but Saren had went in, ruined the entire opportunity for him. It just made her all the more determined to bring the bastard down, mostly because he seemed to enjoy taking lives without any thought... even before allying himself with the geth.

After she finished asking all her questions, hearing what she needed to hear, she said goodbye to her mentor, watching him disappear down the C-Sec lift before she turned to the three new alien crew members.

'All right, this is the Normandy,' she declared with a wave of her hand, leading them in through the airlock. The ship's VI kept them updated on the progress of pressurisation and decontamination.

It wasn't until they were inside that Shepard continued, 'She's brilliant but simple enough. The galaxy map is there, cockpit down there. Through those doors and down the ramp is the mess hall, med-bay and my quarters. There's a lift down to the cargo bay and engineering. She is more for stealth and exploration, so sleeping arrangements are gonna be tight — especially with your sizes.' She glanced over her shoulder at the turian and krogan, giving them a teasing grin. 'Apart from that, we're golden.'

She drew to a halt just in front of the galaxy map, turning her full attention to the aliens. 'I also sent a message to the XO and he's organised dextro rations for you both, so you don't need to worry about food.' She clapped her hands together. 'I'll leave the introductions for meal time, when things are less stressed over losing Anderson. If you set up somewhere, let me know so I know where to find you. Apart from that, you have free reign. Don't feel like you need to tiptoe around the human crew — if any of them are unkind... don't go popping their skulls without discussing it with me first.'

She looked pointedly at Wrex then, who gave her a wry smile that she returned. 'Okay, dismissed. I'll see you later. I need to get this armour off.'

Without waiting another moment, she turned and made her way to the cargo bay, not that surprised when she heard all three of them follow her.

It took forever for the elevator to arrive and when it did, she realised for the first time just how tiny it was. Wrex and Garrus took up the most space, leaving her and Tali to arrange themselves in a way that didn't cause too much discomfort.

She also hadn't realised just how damn slow the elevator was until that moment, awkwardly shoved in between Garrus and Wrex, angled towards the turian and pressed up against his side. He was huge. She had heard turians were tall, but even still... she knew she wasn't exactly the tallest of people either, being only five foot five... she had to guess that the damn turian was a whole foot taller than her.

When the ding came, it was just as awkward to get out of the lift as it had been getting in. She had to take a deep breath, trying to calm herself -- she really hated tight spaces.

'We have the Mako, which I can't wait to try out,' she started, looking for something to say. 'Engineering is through there,' she pointed, 'and we've also got lockers if you want to put some personal belongings. I'll assign them after I'm out of this.'

Shepard made her way over to her own locker, carefully stripping out of the light armour.

'I heard congratulations are in order, ma'am,' Ashely's voice filtered in a she finished putting by her gauntlets and shoulder pieces.

She turned, starting to unclip her chest piece. 'Please don't call me "ma'am"... it makes me feel like an old, jumped-up admiral.' She snorted, shaking her head as she hung up the pieces of armour, starting on her legs and boots. 'I feel sorry for Anderson. He didn't deserve that.'

'He seemed like a good man, ma... Shepard.'

'That's better.' Shepard straightened and shoved the locker door shut, left only in her under-armour -- she'd need to go back up in the elevator to her room and get into decent civvies. 'He is a good man. A great man.'

Shepard turned her attention back to the lockers, bringing up her omni-tool and assigning the lockers out. They were rather smart, unlocking only to the person's own omni-tool, and her own, in case she wanted to make adjustments to their equipment... not that she would do that without their input.

'Are... are you still certain about...?' Ashley lowered her voice, and immediately Shepard knew what she was talking about.

When she was finished doing what needed to be done, making sure the three new aliens and Ashley and Kaidan had lockers, she turned back to the gunnery-chief. 'Absolutely. They all have valuable information and skills. Until they give me appropriate cause, they're staying put.' The Commander drew herself up tall, throwing her shoulders back. 'Anything else, Chief?'

Ashley shook her head.

With a nod, Shepard turned and made her way back to the elevator, noticing that Tali had disappeared, no doubt to the engine core -- she knew that quarians were fond of tech. Garrus had wandered over to the Mako, having a look around, and Wrex was just leaning against the wall as if he were already bored from the lack of fighting.

It doesn't take her long to get back to her room and changed into some cargo pants and a t-shirt. They're both Alliance issue, mostly because that's all she had thought to bring, thinking there'd be no occasion for real civvies.

The closest thing she has is her N7 hoodie, a worn and tattered thing that she never leaves without. She tugs that on as well, mostly for the comfort in brings and the reminder that she was strong enough to be in command of this ship; she was able to bring down Saren.

Without much thought, she made her way to the cockpit, finding Joker at the helm. He must have sensed her approaching for, without turning around, he stated, 'Can you believe about Anderson? Survives a hundred battles and then gets taken down by backroom politics?' He shook his head. 'Just watch you back, Commander, things go sideways on this mission? You're next on the chopping block.'

Shepard couldn't stop the snort that broke free. 'Your honesty is refreshing, Joker.' She shook her head before he could reply. 'I hate this. Anderson should be in charge. I feel like we're stealing the ship from him.'

She reached up, scratching the back of her neck, trying to let the pilot's words wash over her.

'The captain was screwed, yeah, but it's not like you could have stopped it. There's no-one blaming you. Everyone on this ship is behind you, Shepard...' He tilted his head a little, glancing up at her. 'The intercom is open. You got anything you wanna say to the crew?'

Shepard rolled her shoulders, wondering just what the hell she could say that would make this seem better. She hated making speeches, even if everyone always told her she was good at them. She would much rather express through actions... but these people deserved something from her before they flew away without Captain Anderson.

Leaning forward, Shepard moved closer to the intercom. 'This is Commander Shepard speaking. We have our orders: find Saren before he finds the Conduit. I won't lie to you -- this mission isn't going to be easy. We all caught a glimpse of that on Eden Prime... this is going to be unlike any mission we've ever been on, but we will stop Saren, whatever the cost.'

She stopped, straightened rather proud of herself. Short and sweet, she thinks, smiling as Joker agreed with her.

'The captain gave up everything so that I could have this chance -- we can't fail.'

She took a breath and turned, stalking back down towards the galaxy map. No matter what, she wasn't going to let Anderson down. The man had shown endless faith in her and she wasn't going to let it go to waste.

Chapter Text

The side-eyes that the crew gave the newcomers didn't really surprise Shepard. She had expected as much, if she were honest. They were Alliance through and through, and if they hadn't fought in the First Contact War, chances were, they knew someone who did.

Their beliefs and opinions on aliens were biased, of course, and it was up to her to prove that they could be trusted.

It was strange, the easy trust that came with Wrex, Garrus and Tali. She had never really met any aliens before. She had grown up on Earth, and her career with the Alliance had meant that the only time she came across any non-humans was when they were on the other side of her gun.

Yet, she just couldn't deny the strange sort of easiness that overcome her whenever she was around them. Of course, she didn't exactly trust them or consider them friends, but did she feel like she could have them behind her and not expect a bullet in the back? Absolutely.

Just none of the others really shared that belief.

Something which was only shown when lunch rolled around. Most of the crew had descended to the mess hall, except from those on duty, and the aliens came along because that was what Shepard had asked them to do, so she could introduce them.

The second they appeared, however, Shepard noticed the way the crew went on edge. They huddled together, their eyes darting in a way she knew all too well — preparing for a fight and looking for all the advantages they could find.

She rolled her eyes and pushed from her seat. 'Right guys, I want you all to meet the newest crew members. This is Urdnot Wrex, a freelance merc; Tali'zorah nar Rayya, she's on her pilgrimage, and Garrus Vakarian, a C-Sec officer who was helping us with Saren before we even realised it.' She narrowed her gaze, turning back to the crew now under her command. 'Treat them well. I don't want to hear any racist shit going on, understood? The Alliance Navy stands for more than that and this is our chance to prove that we can play nice. They didn't have to come and help us, but they wanted to and that deserves to be noted.'

She then turned her attention to the three aliens, giving them a brief introduction of each crew member that was sat in the mess hall. She saved Kaidan and Ashley for last. 'And this is Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko and Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams, they'll occasionally come out with you, so it's best to get to know each other. Play nice.' She tried her hardest not to just focus on Ashley as she said that, but couldn't seem to help herself.

'Anyway, come on, sit down with us. I'm not saying we suddenly have to be buddies, but let's try and make this as less awkward as possible, eh?'

There was something in her tone that didn't really leave room for negotiation, which she rather hated. She did want to give them all a choice, but she somehow knew that they'd all go running and that would get them nowhere.

Still, Shepard was rather surprised when they sat down around her. Kaidan sat in the seat to her right, with Garrus choosing the one to her left. Wrex sat at the other side of the table, taking up the entire side and leaving Ashley and Tali to have an end each.

'It's like those old fashion vids of family dinners,' Shepard declared with a grin, even though she felt the twinge of pain in her heart that always came when she talked of family. 'Just a really weird one.'

'Just don't expect us to start a singalong, Commander,' Ashley retorted with a grin to match. 'I don't sing.'

'Yeah, don't worry, I don't either. I tried it once at a bar back home... it did not end well.'

'You... actually sang in a bar?' Tali asked, her voice just a little bit timid.

Shepard offered the quarian a smile, trying to soothe her nerves. She nodded. 'Yep. I was sixteen and was trying anything to get some money. Some guy I knew was looking for an act for his bar, I was desperate so volunteered.' She took a mouthful of the rehydrated food. 'Let me say, the Skyllian Blitz was easier than getting on that stage.'

That earned a laugh from Wrex and she felt a small amount of pride for getting the huge, mean-looking krogan to actually laugh. 'Now you've got me wanting to see that, Shepard.'

'Trust me, you don't. I made it through one song before I ended up rushing off stage to be sick.'

'That couldn't have been pretty,' Wrex replied.

'It wasn't.' She took another bite. 'It worked out fine in the end. One guy ended up saying something and I got pissed and knocked him out, so I got a job as a bouncer.'

There was a long stretch of silence. Shepard knew exactly what was going through their heads. It was the same when anyone heard any sort of story from her childhood. They could never believe that the hero of Elysium, this woman who had single handedly held of batarian slavers and their little army, had been a bouncer for a bar back on Earth.

'I always forget you grew up on the streets,' Kaidan eventually said, breaking the silence. There was a certain tenderness in his gaze that Shepard didn't want to dwell on too long. 'You would never believe it looking at you now and all you've achieved.'

Shepard shrugged, unsure what to say to that. She agreed, but at the same time, she always hated that it was almost romanticised whenever her achievements came up. She had hated the reports that had came out when she got her Star of Terra. The poor, homeless waif grown into this war hero. She hated that narrative.

'What about your parents?' Garrus asked, uttering the first words since they had sat down. She was rather surprised at how quiet he seemed to be, seeing as every time she had met him he was always so passionate and determined. But then again, this was a new place with a crew who took a step away from him whenever he passed. It couldn't be easy to adjust to.

She swallowed. 'I... I actually don't know. From what I know, they were around until I was two... that's when I ended up in the orphanage. I stayed there until I joined the Alliance... but they didn't really care what you did. Or even what happened to you. Not that I blame them, they just didn't have the resources to look after us, give us the proper care we needed. You were left to fend for yourself as soon as you were able. I've tried tracing them, just to know what happened, but... no luck.'

Again silence descended and Shepard couldn't stand just how thick and tense it was. Especially knowing that she had cast that gloom upon them all by telling her sob story.

'Anyway, enough about me.' She pushed her half eaten plate of food away, knowing she had no chance of finishing her meal now. 'Wrex, I bet you've got plenty of interesting stories from life as a merc.'

There must have been a sort of pleading about her face, for her gave her a weird sort of look before plunging into one of his many tales.

Shepard listened, allowing the story to wash over her, to drown away the feelings that had rose unbidden from the depths. She hadn't thought of her parents in so long.

The second she had joined the Alliance and proven she was good — that she was great — she had tried to pull some string, get some information about them... but it never lead anywhere.

In truth, she couldn't even be certain that her name was her name. It had been something that had haunted her for a long time. Even though all the caretakers at the orphanage had adamantly declared that those were the details given on the birth certificate, they could never locate it to show it to her.

She grit her teeth and forced all those thoughts away, knowing better than to start down that road again. She had given up on ever finding out what had happened — where she had come from.

And she had more important things to deal with now.

Like hunting down Saren before he unleashed these "Reapers" on the galaxy.