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A Memorable Vacation

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“I would very much like to see a desert.”

Those words felt as if they were from a lifetime ago. They were words said in the heat of the moment, promises made during a time of uncertainty.

At the time, talking about the future after the so-called suicide mission always felt like wishful thinking at best.

Yet here they were.

They had made it out the other side. All of them. Not only did they kick Collector ass —and did so in style, as Garrus so eloquently put it— but they lived to tell the tale about it as well.

And now, it was time for some serious R&R. They all deserved it, and Shepard was more than happy to give it to them.

After sending a huge middle finger to the Illusive Man by destroying that base, Shepard could finally breathe easier, now out of reach from Cerberus’s grasp.

For the first time in a long time, Shepard was free.

Her job wasn’t done just yet, but she was free nonetheless. Free to move about as she saw fit. Free to approach the Reaper threat as only she could. Free to maneuver throughout the galaxy without always looking over her shoulder, wondering what kind of trap the Illusive Man had waiting for her on her next mission.

Cerberus was still a threat, no doubt about it, but Shepard’s whole career since becoming a Spectre had led up to this point, one of few victories worth taking the time to properly celebrate. The only thing that could possibly top this was to defeat the Reapers, but one step at a time.

Shepard took her victories where she could. She crippled Cerberus’s entire operation. Thresher maws, Thorian creepers, husks, rachni… Who knows what else? Even while working for them, she still found ways to undermine them. Sending David Archer away to Grissom Academy and out of their reach. Transferring that data from their missing operative to Alliance Command.

All of those little efforts added up, and it eventually paid off in the end.

As much funding and troops as the Illusive Man had, both he and Shepard knew that the Collector base’s destruction, along with the loss of both the Normandy SR-2 and its crew, was the final nail in the coffin.

Oh, he’d tried to rebuild, and he’d undoubtedly try to cling to what slivers of control he had left to oppose her in some way. There was no question about it.

A last desperate act by an even more desperate man.

But Shepard had all the time in the galaxy to worry about him and the Reapers. Saving the galaxy could wait for a few more days, at the least.

They didn’t deserve to occupy her mind, especially not in her downtime.

The entire crew was still buzzing with activity by the time Shepard made it down to Deck 3, duffle bag tossed casually over her shoulder. Spirits were still running high after taking down the Collectors, which is part of the reason why Shepard insisted on a ship-wide shore leave. Everyone needed time to process what had happened. They needed to have time to relax and crash somewhere when the adrenaline finally settled and reality set in.

Those who were abducted were definitely going to need it.

Tossing her bag onto one of the tables in the mess, she settled down in the seat next to Thane, Garrus on his other side.

She leaned her head against his shoulder, listening to the idle chatter going on at the table.

Thane wrapped his arm around her, and she instantly melted.

A shiver ran down her spine when she felt his lips at her ear.

“You look exhausted,” he whispered, unable to hide the concern leaking into his voice.

She smiled up at him, pecking him on the lips.

“That’s because I am,” she sighed, “but I’ll be fine once we arrive. Need some time to clear my head.”

“You never did tell us where we’re going,” Thane noted, tossing Garrus a sideways glance. “From what I hear, it’s only going to be the three of us.”

“Yep,” Jane said, popping the ‘p.’ “If that’s okay with you, Joker’s gonna drop us off, then the others are going to go to some fancy commercial port in a neighboring system.”

Thane gave an awkward, one-shouldered shrug, careful not to dislodge her.

“That’s fine by me,” he answered.

“We did agree to let her have her fun,” Garrus chuckled. He fiddled with Thane’s fingers, occasionally tracing a talon along the webbing between the fused ones, their free hands clasped together on the table. “Maybe we should’ve promised that after we got more information.”

“Maybe,” Shepard agreed, smirking at them both. “Come on, you two. There has to be some element of surprise when we get there.”

“If you say so,” Garrus grumbled, focusing on his task at hand once more.

Tali and Gabby had both been talking shop on the other side of the table. Of course, the second she overheard their conversation, Tali just had to chime in with her two cents.

“Come on, guys,” she droned, intentionally drawing out her words, as if she was explaining spaceflight to a child. “Shepard went through all this trouble to plan your honeymoon. The least you could do is— Ah!”

Before she could so much as utter another word, Shepard sent a weak biotic push directed at her, more like a sharp pulse of energy that caught Tali off-guard enough to knock her off her chair and onto her ass. She gave a surprised grunt, but was ultimately unharmed.

“Worth it!” she piped up from the floor, Gabby not even trying to hide her snorting laughter nearby.

Shepard rolled her eyes, but simply listened in as the conversations continued. Garrus even joined in at one point with his own input, Thane silently listening in as well while he combed his fingers through Shepard’s red strands.

She leaned into his touch without thinking, her eyes fluttering closed as the conversation turned into a low rumble in the back of her mind.

The next time she opened her eyes, time had passed, and Thane was gently shaking her shoulder in an attempt to wake her.

Shepard hadn’t even realized that she had fallen asleep, apparently more tired than even she herself realized. Blinking up at him, bleary-eyed and grumpy, she huffed.

“Wha—”

Thane interrupted, watching fondly as she wiped the sleep from her eyes.

“Joker just announced that we’re arriving.” He got to his feet, grabbing both his bag and hers. He jerked his chin in the direction of the elevators. “Come on, let’s go.”

As she got to her feet, Garrus approached her and tossed his arm over her shoulder, his duffle in hand.

On their way to the cargo bay, they stopped and said their farewells along the way, Shepard unexpectedly receiving more than her fair share of hugs. Not that it was an issue, but she was simply shocked by the sudden affection.

Then again, it’s been a long time since she had a group of people who she could call family.

She was surprised by how much she missed it, that level of trust and love and camaraderie.

But it was only going to be for a few days, she reminded herself. There was no need to get all emotional. Before long, they would be joining the rest of the crew at the port, dancing and drinking the night away.

For now, she simply needed to take some time alone with the two men that she —well, that she loved.

There was no denying it. There was no need to, especially not now. Not after everything that they’ve been through.

Loving the two of them was as easy and simple as breathing. There was no groundbreaking revelation. There was no fear or fanfare. All the planets in the universe didn’t magically align. A lightbulb didn’t go off over her head. There was no final “aha!” sort of moment.

It was something subtler than that, more natural. A deep, passionate intimacy that was sparked to life over a small flame, built upon the foundations of friendship and understanding. It was left to its own devices, and eventually that small flame grew into a fiery star, able to sustain and nurture those lucky enough to be caught in its orbit.

Their love simply was, and that was that.

Once the elevator touched base on Deck 5, they all boarded the shuttle, Shepard taking the pilot’s seat to punch in the coordinates for their destination.

Garrus grumbled behind her.

“We definitely should’ve gotten more information,” he taunted. “If I know anything from working with Shepard this long, it’s two things.” He even counted them off on his fingers for emphasis. “One, she can’t dance. And two, she drives even worse than she dances.”

Thane smiled when Jane huffed.

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up, you two.” She sniffed, wrinkling her nose in disdain. “That’s what autopilot is for, jackass.”

“Such language,” Thane commented.

“Sorry, not sorry,” she said. Once they got the signal, the shuttle lifted off. “No way can I stay sane with the both of you around and be expected not to swear.”

“Excuses, excuses,” Garrus chimed, his dual tones trilling slightly in amusement. “I’m starting to think you hang around Jack too much.”

“Bite me.”

“According to Jack,” Thane said, “you would like that too much coming from one of us.”

Jane’s face burned with the beginnings of a blush.

“Since—Since when did you get so snarky?” she retorted, her composure quickly crumbling. Even she was unable to keep her laughter at bay, burying her face into her hands as her shoulders shook through the force of it. Eventually, through some lighthearted tears, she was able to croak out. “Assholes.”

“You wouldn’t have us any other way,” Garrus said, to which Shepard shrugged, guilty as charged.

“No arguments there.”

Soon enough, they were approaching the landing zone, the Normandy long gone by the time Shepard pulled up the external feeds. Garrus and Thane glanced out over the landscape in curiosity.

Garrus’s eyes lit up in recognition.

“Is this—?”

“It is,” Shepard said, answering his unspoken question. As the shuttle slowly touched down, she glanced over her shoulder at them with a small smile. “Intai’sei.”

Once the shuttle landed, she disabled all systems and opened up the side hatch, grabbing her things as she stepped down. The others followed after her.

And Thane stopped short the second he stepped foot onto the landing pad.

Garrus and Shepard waited for him, watching him closely as he stared out into the horizon.

He took a deep breath in, and his eyes fluttered closed.

The arid air settled deep into his lungs with ease.

He couldn’t remember the last time, if ever, that breathing felt like this. There was no struggle. There was no coughing, no wheezing. For once, Thane didn’t feel as if each consecutive breath left him suffocating. Gasping for more, but never truly getting the oxygen that his body needed.

He released his next breath, and a lone tear slid down his cheek, soon followed by others.

As Jane settled into his side, Garrus at their back, he wiped the tears away.

“What is this place?” he asked, unable to look away from the sun slowly setting.

Jane glanced up at him with a soft, understanding gaze.

“It’s my home,” she answered. “Won it in a bet, believe it or not.”

Garrus chuckled as the heat pressed down on them from all sides, yet it wasn’t as overwhelming as he last recalled it to be. Interesting.

“That was a hell of a fight,” he said. Wrapping his arms around them both, he pressed his mouth plates to Thane’s temple, then rested his chin atop his head. “Ended up having to recover for a few days. I didn’t even know you still had this place, Shepard.”

She nodded.

“Anderson and Liara made sure that nothing happened to it while I was gone. They even kept up the expansion plans for the house like I wanted.”

Back then, she had a lot more credits to move through her personal accounts. While Exogeni’s prefab model had all the bare necessities that one could ask for on a colony world, Shepard had wanted more, plain and simple. After all, if she was going to possibly live there one day, she wanted the place to feel a bit more personal.

It wasn’t anything fancy like a mansion or a manor, but it was certainly more than she started off with.  The entire first floor had received several additions and was remodeled to fit her tastes. Along with a basic pool and a greenhouse, a second floor had been added as well.

Some wind turbines were set up not too far away, as were some solar panels.

Overall, the structure was meant to be self-sufficient enough to operate on its own, able to live apart without depending upon the larger settlements scattered upon the planet’s surface.

Not that Shepard would ever just abandon her neighbors. She was a colonist at heart, first and foremost, and her main priority in moving there was to see Intai’sei thrive.

After her skirmish with the geth on Canalus, she dedicated resources towards studying and unlocking the secrets of their terraforming technology. The device they used there was able to change Canalus’ climate, albeit in strange and unusual ways, but maybe it could be repurposed and utilized in colonization efforts elsewhere.

Intai’sei had been a prime candidate for study, and with a little pressure, colonial investors agreed to send personnel and to help fund the operation.

So far, it looked like Shepard’s efforts were paying off.

She nudged Thane softly in the side, meeting his gaze with a meaningful look.

“This place,” Jane said, “it’s yours too if you want it.” She glanced back at Garrus as well, extending the offer. “Both of you. Should you ever need a place to stay, should you ever want one, the door is always open.”

While Thane remained silent, appearing deep in thought, Garrus spoke up in turn.

“Asking us to move in with you, Shepard?” he asked, although even he couldn’t deny how his voice wavered with emotion.

She smiled, took a leap of faith, and said, “As if I could imagine sharing this with anyone else.”

“Any other roommates really would pale in comparison,” Garrus agreed, feigning a solemn tone. Too bad his efforts fell a little flat, sounding more breathless than serious like he was aiming for.

Eventually, Thane found his words.

“You want us to build a life with you?” he asked, incredulous but his expression no less intense than usual. If anything, even more so. “Here?”

“Yes.” Shepard nodded, laughing lightly at how speechless he was. “Earth is nice, I guess. Yay, humanity’s home and all that.” She gave a fake, little cheer with a roll of her eyes. “But, I’m gonna be honest, I was never planning on staying there. Ever.” Garrus snorted at that, all while Thane’s lips twitched up into a ghost of a smile. “Too crowded. Too much noise. Of course, the people of Mindoir and several other colony worlds that I visited throughout my career were nice enough to extend me offers, but I turned them down because I wasn’t really looking for somewhere to stay at the time. I was the first human Spectre, highlight of my career, all that jazz… I wasn’t settling down any time soon.”

“Then along came this place,” Thane noted, to which Shepard nodded.

“Yeah,” she agreed, basking in the dry heat, “then along came this place. A complete surprise at the time, but when we talked about what to do after our mission was over—”

“I said I would like to visit a desert,” he whispered, understanding dawning on him now.

“Yep,” she said, taking his hand in hers. “That, you did, and I don’t know. Maybe some part of me thought it was something silly like fate, or I—”

Before she could get another word out, Thane’s lips crashed against hers in a heated kiss. His bag hit the landing pad with a solid thump, long forgotten as he took her face between his hands. Their eyes slowly slid closed, and his fingertips gently caressed her skin, tracing along her jawline and then following the length of her neck until they rested over her racing pulse.

Endorphins flooded her veins, and she couldn’t help it, smiling into the kiss.

It warmed her heart when she felt Thane’s lips quirk up as well, eventually parting with small, lingering peck.

Resting his forehead against hers, she stared deep into those large, dark eyes.

He brought her hand up to his lips and brushed a kiss along each knuckle.

“Thank you, siha,” he breathed, his tone filled with nothing less than complete and utter devotion. He then turned to Garrus, shocking him by pulling him down into a kiss that was equal parts desire and passion. “And you as well, roshun.”

Shepard smirked in amusement at Garrus’s befuddled expression, his brow plates pinching together in confusion.

Grabbing Thane’s bag, Shepard waved them ahead, leading them into the house after registering their biometrics to be able to access the home as a key.

As they followed her, Thane wrapped his arm around Garrus’s waist. With a firm squeeze, he burrowed into his side. Garrus wrapped his arm openly around his shoulders.

“Not that I don’t appreciate the attention,” Garrus drawled, “but what exactly did I do to warrant a ‘thank you’ in this situation? Jane did all the work.”

“Oh, that’s easy enough,” Thane answered. “You were the —what do the humans call it— the ‘eye candy’ in this situation, yes?”

Shepard let out an ugly snort at that, all while Garrus gave a cry of opposition.

After they put their things away, Shepard had to practically drag the bickering duo throughout the house in order to give them a proper tour. Not that she would have it any other way, but she eventually kicked them out to meet her at the pool.

Stripping down, she got dressed in a bathing suit for the first time in years, her skin freckled and scarred as she stared at herself in the mirror. She turned this way and that, admiring her figure yet unable to shake off the slivers of self-consciousness that still lingered.

Even though old scars were gone, a cosmetic change that the Lazarus Project didn’t have the time to prioritize when bringing her back, there were plenty of new ones to take their place.

If anything, it only reminded her of just how much had changed since she died.

Before she could get too caught up in that line of thought, she left the bathroom, her steps heavy as she made her way back outside.

What she found waiting for her took her breath away.

She lingered at the door, watching both Garrus and Thane as they lazed about near the pool, their silhouettes framed by the sinking sun.

A light breeze washed over the land while they sat side-by-side, their hands resting one upon the other between them.

They were sitting on the edge of the pool near the shallow end, their feet soaking lightly on one of the steps leading into it, but they turned to face her the instant Jane cleared her throat.

Strolling over to them, she bent over at the waist to wrap her arms around Garrus’s shoulders from behind, giving him a kiss on his cheek.

“Want to be an amazing boyfriend and—”

“No, I’m not going swimming, Jane,” he said, causing her to pout.

“What if we got you a huge floaty?”

“Do I even want to know what that is?” he asked, playing dumb.

“I think its purpose is implied by its name,” Thane teased.

Garrus sighed. “I know that, but how do I know that Jane won’t flip me off the second she gets the chance to? Or that one of my talons won’t just poke a hole in it?”

“I’m wounded that you think I’d let you drown,” she huffed, pressing a kiss to his mandible this time, only to grin when she caused it to flutter.

After a moment of thought, he relented.

“Tell you what,” he said. “I’ll get in with you, but we stop when I say.”

“Of course.”

She wouldn’t have it any other way.

So even if they stayed in the shallow end for the most part, she didn’t mind in the slightest. She wasn’t looking to push and make him uncomfortable. Shepard simply had fun in getting to spend time with him outside of work, both of them splashing each other, chasing each other around like a game of cat-and-mouse. At one point, Garrus even picked her up, spinning her around as she squealed before tossing her into the deeper end.

For a while, she let her body float underwater, mindless, drifting…

For a moment, she was frozen in time, savoring the joy that flowed through her.

But like all good things, she knew it had to come to an end.

Once she surfaced, the sun had finally set, and the world was consumed by darkness. The gentle breeze turned more chilling than comforting, so they headed inside to warm up.

After grabbing a quick shower, where they stretched the limits of how many people the damn thing could hold, they then dried off and got comfortable on the bed in the master suite. While Garrus flicked through the channels on the holo-screen, Jane climbed into bed behind where Thane was perched on its edge, his gaze unfocused and muscles tensed.

Wrapping her arms around him, Jane pressed a tender kiss to the nape of his neck, lingering.

She was thinking of offering a massage or perhaps making his favorite tea, something to help him relax a little, but he spoke before she could form the words. His tone instantly caught her attention.

“Hey,” he whispered, looking over his shoulder at her.

“Hey,” Jane replied. “What’s up?”

“I need to speak with you.” He threw Garrus a pointed glance, lips pursed. “Both of you.”

At that, Shepard and Garrus exchanged a worried look, but Garrus complied easily enough, crawling across the mattress to sit next to them.

He took Thane’s hand between his, tracing patterns along his palm.

“What's on your mind?” he asked, to which Thane paused, hesitant.

They let the silence build in the air, giving him all the time he needed.

And then the silence shattered.

“Apologies. I’m not trying to alarm either of you, but—” He shook his head. Getting to his feet, he started to wring his hands as he paced back and forth throughout the room. He took a slow, deliberate pace, but there was no hiding how his hands trembled or how his voice quaked. Garrus and Shepard simply waited, patient. “But with the Collector base destroyed and everyone alive, it has me thinking.”

“Thinking?” Garrus questioned. “About what?”

“About my death,” he whispered, voice thick with emotion. “About my future. I—” He clenched his hands into fists at his sides, never having felt so lost and hopeless before, not since Irikah’s death at least. “I have options, I know. For a long time, I knew what path I was set on. I knew the ending to this story.”

Returning, he sat down between them, then buried his head in his hands.

“But things have changed,” he mumbled, both to them and himself. “I never expected to be talking to Kolyat again.” He paused, his voice quieter than before. “I never expected to fall in love again.”

“You never expected to actually have a future to look forward to again,” Shepard whispered in understanding, recalling the conversation they had regarding the Dantius commission.

It was to be his last job, he said. His body had resigned itself to death at that point, and nobody expected to destroy the Collector base without some casualties.

Everyone’s fate had been up for grabs, but they all defied the odds.

They survived.

Thane smiled bitterly.

“No,” he sighed, “I didn’t, which is why I now find myself at a crossroads in my life. If I were to ask your opinion on something, would you two be honest with me?”

“Of course,” Garrus said, Shepard nodding in agreement.

“Okay…” Thane trailed off, bracing himself. “I must say that I feel guilty just admitting to this weakness on my part, but a large part of me wants to take the offer that Jane put on the table. The offer to build a home here together. I have a chance to start over, and not many people get that. Even now, after all that I’ve been through, I know I am justified to feel at peace and accept my body’s death, but that other part is refusing to listen. It wants to be selfish. It wants to stay.

Before they could interrupt, he continued.

“I’ve mentioned it before that I’m a viable transplant candidate. According to Dr. Chakwas, I still would be, even at my body’s current stage of deterioration. I know the Reapers are still a threat, but my condition isn’t going to get any better. By the time they arrive, I might very well be dead or close to it. I wouldn’t be of any use to anyone.”

“Thane—”

“Please, siha.” Thane’s smile turned sad. “Let me finish.”

She grimaced, but nodded.

Thane cleared his throat.

“I don’t know if my death is destined to be honorable or meaningful in any way, but I have the option,” he explained. “I have the option for some form of treatment and intervention, and I want to know what you both think about it personally.”

They thought it over for a bit.

“And if we say that we think you should do what you want?” Garrus asked.

Thane shook his head with a soft chuckle.

“Well, that’s the ‘right’ thing to say by some standards,” he said, his gaze softening, “but ultimately that’s not really what I asked for, is it? I want your opinion, not mine.”

“Hmm…” Garrus continued to turn the thought over in his mind, examining it from various angles. “I think that, while I’m grateful for every second that I’ve gotten to spend with you and Jane, I’m selfish enough to admit that I’ll probably always favor the option that gives me more time with you both.”

Simple enough, but also effective in conveying the message underlying his words.

Garrus might not be the most forthcoming when it came to expressing himself at times, but it was clear what he meant. There were words left unsaid, but good thing that Shepard and Thane were experienced at reading between the lines.

He cared deeply for both of them. Hell, he might even love them, and the last thing he wanted was to lose them now. Not after everything they’ve been through to get to this point.

“Jane?”

Shepard was snapped out of her thoughts, only to find Thane’s eyes trained on her.

She swallowed thickly, but mustered up the courage to say what she was really feeling.

“I love you,” she confessed, but neither were surprised. She hadn’t ever said the words aloud before, but that didn’t matter. They had always known. If anything, it was simply a confirmation, thrown out into the universe to make it even more absolute. “I love you both, and I could—” She shrugged, scoffing at herself under her breath. “Sorry, not trying to be all depressing and melodramatic, but I could literally die right now and be at peace with that.”

She clenched her jaw, staring blankly at the wall in front of her as she fought back the tears stinging at her eyes.

“Because at the end of the day, that would mean that I died surrounded by the people that I love. It might not be all of the people that I love and care for,” she admitted, shrugging. She forced herself to meet Thane’s eyes. “But it would be two of the most important people in my life, regardless. If you want honesty, I’ll tell you this. I think that finding ‘honor’ in death is meaningless bullshit.” She chuckled bleakly, pushing her hair behind her ear. “Romanticizing the thought of going out in a ‘blaze of glory’ just sort of rings hollow after being dead for two years.”

And damn did it feel good to get that off her chest.

She tried to word it so that he could understand better from a drell’s perspective perhaps.

“When both my soul and my body departed from here, when there was nothing left of me—” Her voice cracked, but she forged on ahead. “I think it’s safe to say that my remains didn’t give a damn about ‘honor.’ My death didn’t have meaning because I opposed the Collectors. My death didn’t have meaning because I spent my last days trying to take down the Reapers. My adversaries do not give my life nor my death meaning. My death had meaning because of Ashley, Liara, Joker, Tali… All of my friends, all of my family, that I saved that day are what gave my death meaning.”

Her vision blurred, and Jane took a shuddering breath when she felt Thane’s hand cup her cheek.

Placing her hand over his, she gave him a watery smile, pressing a kiss to his palm, her eyes on his the entire time.

“You want my opinion? My opinion is that you’ve paid the price for your sins. You’ve atoned and sacrificed more than enough of yourself for one cause or another. You accomplished your goal. The universe is just a little bit brighter now because of you.” Thane pursed his lips, uncertain, but he knew not to argue. After all, he did ask for them to be truthful in how they felt. “Whatever you choose, I’ll be happy with it, so long as you choose what is best for you and whatever it is that gives your life and death meaning to you. I don’t know. You might not believe it, but you deserve the chance at peace and happiness, the same as almost everyone else.”

Especially if these are to be their last days before the Reapers’ return, but Shepard left that part out.

At that point, she had said enough.

While they mulled over all that had been said, Thane’s expression flickered between several emotions, conflicted to say the least.

Eventually, he settled on some form of contentment, nodding resolutely to himself.

“A decision isn’t going to be made today, although I will say that I am considering joining the transplant list,” he told them. “I simply wanted to hear your thoughts, get a sense of where everyone’s minds were at. I have to start thinking in terms of this not only affecting myself, but those who I choose to surround myself with as well. I’ll discuss it more at length with Kolyat when I next speak with him.”

The one opinion that Shepard knew would hold the most weight.

“Come on,” Thane said, shuffling up towards the head of the bed. He settled in under the covers —which Shepard knew from experience would miraculously end up on the floor come morning— and both of them settled in on each side of him. “Enough about that. We’re supposed to be on vacation, after all.”

Right.

They at least gave it a shot at distracting themselves from the conversation.

After binge-watching some convoluted murder mystery series, each of them chiming in here and there, the weight of the conversation slowly but surely took its toll. One by one, they drifted off to sleep throughout the night, clinging to each other as if their very presence was the only thing keeping one another grounded.

Thankfully, the next couple of days passed by without incident. When they weren’t relaxing at the house together, simply enjoying the others’ company, they were taking the shuttle out to some of the more populated regions on the planet. They visited the capital, along with a couple of their newer commercial ports, exploring everything from food to shopping to recreation.

They even managed to find a couple of gifts and souvenirs that some of the crew might like.

And when they weren’t hanging out, Shepard was helping coordinate colonization efforts. She was looking into the possibility of making the planet habitable for more than just humans, seeking to establish a multi-species designated hub.

An ambitious undertaking, but Commander Shepard never thought small.

Of course, she was expecting some backlash and even for a few investors to withdraw their support, but most of those on the planet who she petitioned for assistance sounded willing enough to help.

With the level of terraforming that they were attempting to undergo, it was safe to say that they would need other, more experienced minds to approach the matter from a professional standpoint.

Shepard was up in her office on the second floor, drafting a message to one of their major investors regarding that exact subject, when a ping came through over her private channels.

She leaned in closer to the screen, brow furrowed in question.

Wait a second. What?

Whoever it was, they were attempting to contact her though her emergency channel, one that only a select few knew about. The caller’s ID was encrypted, but Shepard could recognize who it was from lightyears away.

Alliance Command.

Well, unless her channels had been leaked to an outsider, that narrowed it down to two people.

Shepard didn’t know why, but she had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.

Using her omni-tool, she locked the doors to her office, leaning back in her seat as she answered the call.

“Commander Shepard.”

“Admiral Hackett,” she greeted, nodding at him cordially. “Sorry if I’m not acting on formalities today. You kinda caught me off-duty at the moment.”

“So I heard,” he said, not saying how or why he knew, just that he did. “There’s no need to drag this out anyways. I’ll keep it brief. Are you alone?”

“I am.”

He nodded.

“Commander, I wouldn’t have contacted you if it wasn’t important. Safe to say, the fate of the entire galaxy might very well depend on what you uncover if you choose to accept this assignment.”

Of course, it would.

Shepard refrained from scowling, feeling a headache coming on. Tension built behind her eyes.

However, she had a duty to not only herself, but to everyone she ever swore to protect.

If this was truly an emergency, then the least she could do was hear him out. As a friend and close confidante, if nothing else.

Bracing herself, Shepard straightened up, meeting his eyes through the screen.

“What do you need me to do, Admiral?”

“We have a deep-cover operative out in batarian space,” he explained.

Even then, Shepard was filled with a foreboding sense of dread.

“Her name is Doctor Amanda Kenson.”