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Sam's head whirls.

Her heart's pounding, and her limbs are filled with a twitching desperate kind of energy, but she can't give it any outlet. She wants to scream, shout, cry, hit or kick, but something has hold of her, something that keeps her locked on course like a lumbering Kepesh-Yakshi dreadnought. All she can do is grip the toothbrush, her stupid, stupid toothbrush, with her fingers digging in until the knuckles bleed white. She thinks they must be white at any rate, but she can't even look down to check, salt-stinging eyes locked forward on this inevitable trip off the Normandy. Off what had gradually become a place to live, and then a home, and then (she'd thought) a place to love.

And still her mind jumps about like a spring jackrabbit, concentration completely and utterly beyond her reach, just one thought after another barrelling through her head - here one second, and gone the next in an endless rush. And not a one of them is pleasant.

Could it ever have worked? What happened with the away team? Who does she report to? Does she even have a job or a place to stay now? Was she just mad, thinking she could have this, with her? Who were the new marines who'd come aboard? Where did Joker run off to?

Did she do something?

Was it her?

And, always, those swirling thoughts circle back around to Shepard. The completely casual way she gave Sam a quick up-and-down, said, "Soft and pretty. Of course. You're not mine, Specialist. Real soldiers don't fuck in the chain of command. Get out. Piss off. Now." The cruelty in the disdainful curl of her lips, lips that had kissed Sam, so sweetly and so tenderly, which threw away all the love they'd shared.

And, God, it was even more than that. Sam's had bad break-ups before, break-ups where someone set out to hurt her emotionally, even if had never come out of the blue just like this. But the way Shepard stood there had said something else. There had been a violence in her, totally unconcealed and totally brazen. Sam hadn't been in any doubt that Shepherd was quite ready to punch her if she didn't do exactly what she was told and get of  the Normandy right then. It had been screamed at her, from the hard-set jaw, the furrowed brow, the tense shoulders. Shepard even wore armour onto the bridge, like she was expecting to have to fight right there and then, on her very own ship.

Sam isn't even sure if that's the part that scares her the most. She's not a combat veteran, not by the longest bloody shot. She should have been terrified of one of the galaxy's most decorated commandos being ready to fight her.

But it was Shepard. And that makes it so much worse than Urdnot Wrex, millennium-old warlord of the krogan; worse than Javik, Avatar of Vengeance for a slaughtered empire; worse than all the other dozens of super-biotics and special forces soldiers and assassins whom Sam's reluctantly been introduced to during her Normany stay, even though any one of them could break her in two just as easily as her (ex-)lover could.

Because Sam knew that this must be in her. Of course. Everyone in the Alliance, maybe everyone in galaxy by now, knows about Shepard, even if they didn't surreptitiously take a minorly illegal stroll through Alliance databases after her unclassified file. She won her bloody victories amidst the wreckage of Elysium and the devastation of Torfan. She fought mercenaries and bandits and terrorists and rogue commandos, krogan and batarians, thresher maws and yahg, geth and rachni and Collectors. She's a warrior of the highest calibre, with a body count that extends to a frightening number of digits. Shepard's spirit is sharpened steel, through and through.

And those weren't the only deaths, not in the least. Which is worse for Shepard, Sam still can't pretend to know. The mountains of enemy corpses she's piled up on her warpath, or the scattering of her own who fell along the way? Family and friends lost to the massacre or the slave ships on Mindoir. The comrades torn apart by monsters on Akuze. The second-in-command, sacrificing himself to try just to stall Saren's march. The men and women stolen by the Collectors while she watched, and the allies who threw themselves into a suicide mission to stop the horror, lives given willingly to the Commander's cause. The new dead of the Reaper War, from Khar'shan to Earth, in all their trillions.

Or was the worst death of all her own, suffocating to death in the void, barely having seen an enemy, before being revived only to be handed a gun and thrown into battle once more?

But, but, but.

Even if she should have seen it coming. Even if it should have been obvious from the start that she was lusting after (and then falling in love with) someone closer to the galaxy's physical embodiment of War than to a human women - for all that ...

She was so kind. She took time to calm Sam down when she was rambling, praised her when her work led somewhere. She smiled at Sam's lacklustre jokes, and even took her slightly awkward teasing with an adorable seriousness that Sam had gone an age thinking was an act. She kissed her gently, and touched her softly. It wasn't like the Shepard Sam saw on helmetcam battle footage - always certain, always in command, always victorious - totally disappeared when they had time together, but Sam got to see far less of that side of her, and far more a private side meant just for her girlfriend.

Sam had loved that. Loved seeing something else in Shepard that the fanatics who ran through all the propaganda videos didn't. Loved the subtlety it gave her, the fact that one person could hold in themselves that sort of difference and complexity. She is vast, she contains multitudes.

But she hadn't reckoned on ever being confronted with the full force of Shepard's ruthlessness, ever having that turned on her in person. Shepard had taken ten seconds and turned her into ... this. A dazed, stumbling, shivering mess.

As the airlock silently (EDI? Nothing? Really?) opens for her, she's surprised to hear herself muttering, a semi-conscious stream of thought. She doesn't know how long she's been going, or what exactly she's been saying, whether it was a perfect reflection of her internal monologue, or something else. God, she hopes it wasn't embarrassing. It's kind of trivial, but she's had far, far too much of that already today.

"And I don't even - wait. What?"

Shepard rounds the corner. From outside the Normandy. Her combat helmet's on, but the visor's up and Sam can see a little curl of hair that's escaped her tight bun, stuck to her face by sweat. Her face is hard, just like it was five minutes before, and Sam doesn't know what's happening, doesn't know what sort of trick she's having played on her now, what's new pain she's going to have to take. She can't think. She just speaks.

She launches into a torrent of words, demanding why Shepard's there and why nothing they did meant anything to her and how dare she stand in front of her right now.

And Shepard just pulls off her helmet, steps forward, and kisses Sam.

It's gentle. It's sweet. It's tender.

It's the Shepard she knows, her Shepard, even in the armour, and with a cut across her cheekbone dripping blood, and sweat trickling down her face to flavour her lips with salt. This is Shepard at war, but Shepard not consumed by it, and Sam doesn't think she quite understood what that meant or how it could be until now.

She's shifted, clasped closer, pressed up against the hardsuit while Shepard's lips become more insistent, her tongue swiping forward. Sam makes a little groan, shock and bafflement and hope all at once, and returns her Captain's attention eagerly.

It's a wonderful moment, and Sam's practically ready to cry when Shepard pulls away. Shepard just smiles, small but kind, and brings her hand up to Sam's mouth so she can stop the questions she obviously knows will be tumbling out.

"Not me. Evil clone."

What?