Sam Traynor was done with space.
Just, completely. Done. Finished. Treasured her time on the Normandy, life-changing experience, grateful for the friendships she’d forged, bonds that would last a lifetime, etcetera, etcetera, all very nice, she was done with space. Give her her lab back, thank you very much.
As a nice bonus, there was a lot of lab work to be done.
After about a year of exhaustive checking, double-checking, and quintuple-checking, everyone was reasonably sure that all Reaper carcasses were actually dead. Like, dead-dead. Actual for real dead. Not ‘whispering into your head while you sleep’ dead or, like, ‘Commander Shepard’ dead.
(Too soon? It was probably too soon. Damn.)
High Earth orbit was absolutely littered with the incredibly advanced inert detritus of the most massive space battle in recorded galactic history. And…probably a lot of unrecorded galactic history, actually. And that was like something out of Kessler’s worst nightmare, sure, but the cleanup crews had done a lot of work to make sure that Earth was still accessible, which meant they had a bunch of evil space crap to take apart and figure out what made it tick.
So that was how, two years after the end of the war, Samantha Traynor found herself assigned to a joint Council think tank on the newly-mostly-reconstructed Citadel, still parked in Earth orbit for the moment because everyone was scared of it falling apart again if they tried to move it. By some miracle most of the population had actually survived, since the Reapers had only held control of the station for a few hours and weren’t in a rush to finish off a trapped population. Even the wards had detached… mostly intact. But without the Keepers, who’d died with their masters, no one was completely sure how the station that controlled all galactic government actually… worked. It was a bad time to take unnecessary risks.
If there was a crapload of data that needed analyzing, preferably from a nice safe lab that was neither exploding nor stranded in interstellar space, Samantha Traynor was so on it.
Possibly a little too on it. Since her shift had ended most of an hour ago and everyone else had gone home. But like, what else was she going to do? Sit down in her flat with a bowl of instant noodles and a vid she’s seen a thousand times? Data analysis was about as fun as that. Though now that she thought about it she was hungry, should probably take care of that at some point…
“All right, I have to ask,” said an unfamiliar voice. “Who put together these signal resonance numbers on the transport beam? It’s very clever.”
“What!” Sam yelped, jumping ever so slightly out of her skin. She could have sworn she was in an empty lab, and if this was another EDI situation she would—
She cast a suspicious look at the nearest quadruple-shielded Reaper datacore.
Before she could decide whether or not to play it safe and have the datacore shot into the sun, an empty section of air flickered and sparked; the infiltration cloak dissolved, revealing a cowled figure leaning casually against the window, holding a datapad.
The figure glanced up, smiling sweetly and wiggling her fingers in casual greeting. “Traynor,” she said as an offhand greeting. Then, “Working late again.”
“What…who…?” Sam shook herself. “The transport beam isn’t our priority, we’re mostly collating data on…where did you find that? That’s…that is so classified. I can’t even begin to describe how classified that is.”
Her visitor gave a light laugh. “Relax,” she said with another tiny smile, tossing the datapad onto a nearby work surface. “I have Crucible clearance. And I need your help with a job. Come on.”
Sam blinked at her. “Uh. What? Who are you?”
The woman scoffed and put a hand over her chest. “You don’t remember me? I’m crushed. Oh well, I suppose you were pretty wasted the one time we met.” She bounded lightly over, took Sam’s hand by the fingers, and pulled it up to meet her lips halfway into a bow. “Kasumi Goto. Infiltration specialist, tech expert, master thief. Pleasure to make your acquaintance again, Miss Traynor.” When Sam absolutely didn’t manage to say anything coherent for several long seconds, she clarified, “I’m a friend of Shepard’s.”
“You—oh!” Finally, some neural activity. “Right! Yes! I knew that!”
Kasumi’s lips twitched. “Of course you did. Now. I really do need your help with something. You’re in, right?”
“Right,” said Sam, fumbling for her brain while it rolled across the floor somewhere. “Of course. Sure. Wait, what? No! No, no no no! Why would you even ask me that—no!”
Kasumi rolled her eyes, smile never faltering. “Oh, please,” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “You worked with a Spectre! Operating above the law can’t be that new.”
“There’s a difference between—that was Shepard! I can’t just—why me?”
“Can’t show my face,” said Kasumi simply. She pulled up an omnitool with a casually graceful wave of her hand, tapping idly through the kind of complicated-looking graphs that made Sam drool a little. “And all my usual contacts are likely to throw up security alerts.” She blanked her omnitool screen and deactivated it, giving a deceptively innocent shrug and another welcoming little smile. “I need someone with tech expertise and a clean criminal record.”
Sam spluttered for what felt like several minutes.
“Wh—I—you can’t just—well I won’t have a clean criminal record if I help you— rob a bank, or— whatever it is you do!”
“Tch.” Kasumi rolled her eyes, arms crossing. Her friendly smile shifted slightly, morphing into a smirk that oozed complete self-confidence and was incredibly distracting. “Please. You’re with me. You’ll be fine.”
Sam shook her head rapidly with her eyes closed and wiped her hand through the air between them. “I—that’s—even if that were the case, I can’t just disappear into the void, some of us have regular schedules, I have work tomorrow—
“Oh, yeah,” Kasumi casually pulled up her omni-tool and waved a few fingers at the nearest console. “Forgot about that, thanks…and congrats on the week off that all official records say was approved months ago.”
Sam pinched the ridge of her brow.
“Come on,” Kasumi said in a teasing tone. “It’ll be fun! I took Shep on one of these once, and she had a blast!”
There was absolutely no good reason to listen to her and every reason to throw her out of the lab. Naturally, Sam gave a long sigh and said, “What do you even want me to do?”
“...and what’s maddening is that in all of this, it never even occurred to her to contact her comm specialist! As if Commander Shepard’s communications and personnel files could actually be hacked and I wouldn’t instantly know about it.”
Kasumi, head resting in one hand as she leaned on the hotel bar, didn’t even bother trying to hide her smile. “I suppose learning you have an evil clone makes a lot of things seem like a good idea at the time. Side note, I think we’re all much less surprised than we should be to learn Shepard had an evil clone.”
“I know!” Sam exclaimed. “It’s like it was inevitable!”
Kasumi caught the bartender’s eye and signalled for another round, sliding Sam something brightly-colored with a…space fruit in it. She should probably know the name of the fruit. This place was so high above her usual mixology pay grade.
She groaned. “I can’t believe you talked me into doing this again.”
Kasumi gave a half-smile. “You say that like you took a lot of convincing,” she teased.
Sam heaved a long sigh. “At least this time I’m not working out of an aircar.”
“I try to provide a pleasant working environment,” Kasumi said with a warm smile and absolutely no hint of irony.
Sam snorted, taking a sip of her cocktail. “What,” she said. “Are you worried about staff retention?”
“Well,” said Kasumi reasonably. “I’ve found one hell of a comm specialist. Don’t want to lose her to a competitor.”
“Oh, of course not. Then you might have to hire actual criminals! And they probably charge a lot more.” Sam went to take another drink; then her eyes widened, and she reflexively lowered her glass again. “Wait. Oh god. I am an actual criminal.”
“No you’re not,” Kasumi reassured her. “Your record is as spotless as mine. And you shouldn’t say things like that in a crowded hotel bar, anyway.”
Seeing as Kasumi had introduced herself as a master thief in every context where Sam had ever heard of her, the admonition didn’t exactly carry a lot of weight.
“Well no one reacted to me yelling about an evil clone,” Sam pointed out. “Which is way more weird than a posh hotel being full of criminals, I think.”
“Fair.” Kasumi knocked back her own drink, then elbowed Sam affectionately in the ribs. “I knew you’d be good at this.”
“Thanks. I think. How? Did you know that…?”
“Well.” Kasumi tilted her head. “I did hear about the clone incident. That Brooks character managed to pull off a casino heist, sort of. I realize she was a double agent and all, but the point is, it would have worked. The plan was solid! If she could do it, I figured you would have no trouble. I mean, from what I gather, wasn’t she just…you, but worse?”
“Oh god.” Sam slumped forward and buried her face in her arms against the bartop. “Don’t remind me, I’m still furious about it. This absolute Cerberus bitch just walks up pretending to be my clone to make Shepard trust her. And it worked! And she was better at it than me!”
“There, there.” Kasumi patted her hand, amused. Then, “All right, partner. Showtime. The mark just arr—well don’t look at him! Mark just arrived. Turian businessman in the far corner. Remember, we don’t need to control his comms, we just need to tap into them. Nondetection is more important than depth of information.”
“I listened to the combat logs,” Sam muttered as she pulled out her omnitool. “She was so mocking me. I wouldn’t be that much of a wimp in a combat scenario! I’m in the…solid 42nd percentile at marksmanship drills! There! See? I’ve already got us a completely invisible wiretap.”
Kasumi patted her between the shoulderblades and stood, feigning disinterest in the new arrivals as she prepared to get to work. “Go get ‘em, tiger.”
“Give me five minutes and I can probably set up a noninvasive data clone,” Sam said darkly. “I know basic Alliance radio protocols…”
“Alright,” Sam said. “Left at this junction.”
“Weird how they always make air ducts so roomy, you know? Wouldn’t have to make it that much smaller to keep me out. I don’t think Tali’s hips could get through here.”
“I don’t know if I would call that roomy, Kasumi. How you can have so much fun crawling around in that nightmare is beyond me. Left again.”
A tinny laugh through her omnitool speaker. “Oh, if you think this is a nightmare you should have seen the vents at the Collector base. I’ll take a tight squeeze over nearly getting roasted alive any day.”
“It’s still hard for me to believe that you were there,” said Sam, triple-checking her building schematics against Kasumi’s omnitool scans. “In twenty feet there’s a connecting tunnel coming up from beneath you, be careful.”
“I see it.” There was a muted clunking sound as Kasumi, presumably, rolled in order to have better control. “And are you suggesting that I’m not entirely in my element in a front-line combat scenario surrounded by cockroach aliens a million lightyears from the nearest casino? Because I tried to explain that to Shepard about fourteen times.”
Sam laughed. “You would argue with Commander Shepard. I barely managed it when she fired me that one time.”
“What?” demanded Kasumi. “Wait, hold that thought. Laser sensor.” A short pause. “All right. Shepard fired you?!”
“Well—no, but I thought she had! It’s not my fault! Nobody told me she had an evil clone!”
“Right. Of course.” Kasumi sounded calmer now. “I see. Well, if Shep ever does fire you for real, call me. You’d have a remarkable career in cat burglary.”
“You know, I’m allergic to cats, actually!”
She could actually hear the affectionate roll of Kasumi’s eyes. “It’s just an expression, Traynor,” she said patiently.
“And dust,” she continued. “And this one specific moisturizing agent. And…elephant hair, apparently, that was a fun trip to the zoo…”
A warm chuckle. “Some of us are meant for indoors work. Preferably with air conditioning. Pressure pad, silent alarm. Shouldn’t be a problem.” A slightly longer pause this time. Kasumi continued as if she hadn’t been interrupted. “So, again, the exact opposite of a suicide mission in the heart of a million exploding suns. Still don’t know how she talked me into that. I’m glad I did, obviously, but— gah. You know?”
“You still helped with the Crucible, though,” Sam observed.
“Well,” said Kasumi modestly. “We all have our parts to play. I am something of a resource acquisition specialist, after all. Case in point, I’m at Junction 32-K. Confirm that’s my goal?”
Sam didn’t need to check—she’d had the junction in her mind all day—but she did anyway, for thoroughness’ sake. “Confirmed. It should be a straight shot down that drop. Be careful, that’s— Kasumi! That shaft goes down about two hundred floors with no break points!”
“No ladder cuts, either,” came the cheerful response. “And this isn’t even the main reason I hate Ilium! Relax, Traynor. I’ve done much worse.”
Sam sighed. “That is…not even remotely reassuring.” Kasumi just chuckled, and she rolled her eyes. “So. ‘Resource acquisition specialist,’ is it? Is that what we’re calling it these days?”
“Alliance brass can’t put ‘steals proprietary technology’ on their staff listing,” responded Kasumi. “Besides! It lets me write off my travel expenses.”
“Oh, that’s clever! Wait.” Sam blinked, peering at her comm. “You…pay taxes?”
Kasumi actually opened a vidcomm at that. The image was grainy and poorly-lit, Kasumi visibly wedged in a terrifying vertical drop that somehow also managed to be so tight it was claustrophobic. The look she gave her omnitool pickup, however, was just vaguely offended.
“Obviously,” she said, like it shouldn’t even be a question. “I stole the Mona Lisa, they’re not getting me on tax evasion.”
“All right, I have to ask,” said Sam.
It was a casino, this time. And unlike the upscale-but-accessible Silver Coast, this one was—well, mostly it was the kind of place that would probably put out a hit on you if you got fingerprints on any of the surfaces. There was no way anything she owned herself would have made it past the front door. She’d be afraid to ask what her dress for the night cost if she thought for a minute that Kasumi had actually paid for it.
Tonight’s heist would involve enough concentration that Kasumi wasn’t drinking; but she’d ordered a drink for the look of it anyway, and toasted Sam with a slightly ironic grin.
“Ask away, Specialist,” she said, lifting the glass to her lips and pretending to take a sip.
“Is there a reason I keep ending up in cute outfits for these things?”
“Of course,” Kasumi said without elaborating. “You don’t mind, right?”
“No! No. Nice to have an excuse to dress up, actually. I just—um. Nevermind. You’re good at picking outfits out for people.”
“It’s a hobby,” Kasumi said. “Besides. Place like this, gotta look the part.”
“Right,” Sam said, then blinked. “Hold on. But you…I mean, you’re…”
“What?” asked Kasumi, who was wearing the exact same cat-burglar skinsuit that Sam had seen her in every other time they were anywhere near each other. Not that she didn’t look good in—never mind.
“...Not important,” she decided.
Kasumi shrugged, took another fake sip of her drink, and returned to peoplewatching, leaning back on her elbows against the bar. Her air of self-assured ease, like she was perfectly at home even at this kind of obscenely exclusive Ilium property, was…contagious, honestly. Sam certainly felt way more comfortable here than she should.
Still completely terrified that she would forget to use a coaster, leave rings on a table, and be taken out by some kind of elite assassin commando unit, obviously. But that was just…justified caution.
Kasumi chuckled. At Sam’s questioning look, she turned so that they were facing each other and tilted her head ever so slightly over her shoulder. Sam, who was getting better at crime, followed the gesture without being too obvious about it.
“The asari near the slot machines?” she guessed. “White facial markings?”
“Well spotted,” Kasumi approved. “I’ve been watching her for the past hour. She thinks she’s being subtle about the fact that she’s trying to get her business associate hammered. Probably planning a merger or something. The business associate’s been emptying her drinks into the plants all evening. And she is subtle. Good career ahead of her, that one.”
Sam shook her head. “And it took you an entire hour to figure that out?” she teased. “You’re getting sloppy.”
Kasumi rolled her eyes. “Not my fault,” she said. “I was distracted by those turians in the corner. They’re trying to frame their valet for a theft they committed, but weren’t prepared for the consequences of. Don’t worry. I’ve already disconnected their override on the security cameras. It’ll fall apart around their ears if they try it, and the poor girl’s reputation will be unimpeachable afterward. They tried to bribe her first, and she refused it. That’s all on video.”
“All right,” said Sam, suitably impressed. “What about…them?”
“That’s easy,” Kasumi replied. “Cheating on his wife; cheating on his wife and his mistress; cheating on his husband; and—ugh. This just got complicated.” She pointed at a salarian who had just walked in the door. “I know that guy. Thinks he’s an old rival. Obviously he’s nowhere near my league, total idiot, but still. Probably after the same thing we’re—”
Sam had just enough time, before Kasumi tackled her to the floor, to catch a glimpse of the armored mercenaries who’d come in behind the salarian.
Assault fire ripped across the room, interspersed with screaming as the rest of the casino caught up to Kasumi’s instincts.
“Go,” Kasumi snapped in her ear; low and intense, all humor gone. “Move, now—”
Windows shattered; the massive crystal chandelier sparked and cracked above them, casting wild shadows. A few of the expensive bottles on display exploded as Sam was half-shoved, half-dragged behind the bar.
“Shit,” Kasumi whispered. She peered briefly around the bar, then ducked back.
“What’s happening?” breathed Sam.
Kasumi closed her eyes for a moment, thinking intensely. When she opened them, they immediately began darting around, resting on various surfaces, looking for a way out.
“I told you he’s an idiot,” she seethed. “There was no need to risk innocent people over this. It’s just a vault, for pity’s sake. Ilium PD is useless, if he starts taking hostages—!” She risked a second look. “All right. Sam, don’t panic. I’m going to get you out of here.”
“Not panicking,” Sam whispered. “Shouldn’t there be a panic button under the bar? Or is that only in vids?”
Kasumi spent a few precious seconds looking directly at her, visibly impressed. “Good thought. This is Ilium, though. If there’s a panic button under the bar in this place, it’s not going to call anyone we can trust to be on our side.”
“Right.” Sam resisted the urge to peek over the bar herself; she did not trust herself to time it properly. “What’s the plan?”
Kasumi thought for a moment, jaw clenched; then, gritting her teeth, she shook her head sharply.
“Too risky,” she muttered. “We’re going to have to let that data drive go. At least he doesn’t have a chance of getting near it tonight either. Unless…no. I’ll deal with that later if I have to.”
“Deal with what?” Sam hissed.
“Not important. Hmm. He has seven mercs with him, can’t rule out a sniper outside so we can’t just punch a hole and run. He took two with him toward the vault, that leaves us five, and they’re searching the main floor. Taking hostages. We get one shot at this, all right? Here. Take this.”
Sam blinked, looking down at her lap, where there was now an M-12 Locust submachine gun sitting awkwardly in her hands. “Um…”
Before she could process that, Kasumi was yanking it back out of her hands. “Wait. Nevermind. Bad idea. Keep your head down!”
“Hey,” said Sam mildly. She was Alliance! She visited the gun range! She’d—never held anything but a standard-issue sidearm in her life! She was…objectively a liability in a combat situation even if she weren’t wearing a cocktail dress and heels…
Kasumi hadn’t waited around to listen to Sam’s silent protests. She checked the heat sink, braced her heels against the mirror-shine tile floor; then stood, twisted, and opened fire in a single smooth motion.
The Locusts blazed—a rapid, high-pitched twitter, as Kasumi swept the area. There was more shattering glass; the ping of shields failing under vicious SMG fire that set Sam’s teeth on edge, more screams from the terrified casino guests, mercs swearing and crying out in pain, and the dull thud of heavy bodies falling to the ground. First one, then two more so close together they were nearly a single impact—a few deep barks from a heavy pistol that drove Kasumi to duck back behind the bar before firing again. The shooter choked and fell, and—
“Ah! No, damn it—”
Kasumi threw herself back behind cover beneath a flurry of return fire, guns sparking in her hands. One of the mercs must have been a tech. The sabotage could be fixed, but it would take a few seconds and the heavy footfalls charging up to their position said there wouldn’t be a chance. Unless Kasumi had been hiding any other rare, restricted weaponry on her person—
Kasumi looked up, eyes darting between Sam and the end of the bar.
“No time,” she breathed, and—vanished.
Sam stared at the spot she’d been, dumbfounded, as ice shot through her veins. What…no, no she wouldn’t, Kasumi wouldn’t just—
“Hey! You, over here!”
Sam whipped around towards the last merc, a turian with black colony markings pointing a gun at her. But at the exact moment she processed that she was about to be a hostage the gun was knocked out of his hand, his gun arm spasmed wildly, and Kasumi decloaked behind him with a knife shoved through the base of his skull.
“I’m here,” Kasumi snarled.
Sam just gaped at her. She knew—it wasn’t exactly news that Kasumi Goto was graceful and quick. She’d known, academically, that Kasumi could hold her own in a fight; she’d heard more than enough of the stories. But the speed and efficiency of that takedown—the hard steel in Kasumi’s voice—the sudden change from her cheerful, languid confidence…
“Who points a gun at a woman in a cocktail dress?” Kasumi asked the corpse, dripping disdain. “She wasn’t even armed.”
Sam’s mouth worked soundlessly for several moments before she remembered how to make words come out. “That…that was…I thought you were leaving me!”
Kasumi had the grace to look apologetic. “Sorry. Didn’t have time to explain. Stealth implant. I think that’s all of them?”
“Right…um…yeah,” Sam said in a daze. “That’s all of them.” She raised her voice. “Hey, uh…everyone! Hostage situation over! We got everyone! It’s safe now!”
Nobody got out of cover.
“We should go,” Kasumi said.
“We should go,” Sam agreed, as she kicked off her heels, scooped them up, and followed Kasumi’s sprint for an exit.
There were perks to being ex- Normandy crew.
The commendations were nice. The sheer number of medals could get a little annoying at formal dinners, actually. And there was the, you know, awestruck gratitude of every living thing in the galaxy.
Mostly, Samantha Traynor was a fan of the accommodations. Her flat on the Citadel had a real, hot-water shower with actual water pressure.
Not even the lack of decent conditioner in the shattered post-apocalyptic galaxy could ruin that.
She had just finished lathering up a body wash with the only lavender-scented oil she wasn’t allergic to when the empty bathroom said, casually, “Hey there!”
There was a lot of splashing. And swearing. And…slipping. Some soap went flying in a direction. She sprayed herself in the eye with hot water, then lost her balance again and caught herself, then realized the thing she’d caught herself on was the cold-water knob. Then…some more swearing, at a much higher pitch.
“I knocked, but you didn’t answer,” said the bathroom in Kasumi’s voice. “I need your help with—stop screaming, it’s me. With a heist. Want the details?”
Sam, who had finally managed to turn off the water, wailed, “I’m in the shower!”
Kasumi chuckled, decloaking with a warm smile and a hand over her eyes. “Don’t worry, I’m not looking.”
“Well, you’re not looking now!”
“Please, Specialist.” Kasumi actually sounded slightly wounded. “I’m a gentlewoman. Besides, the glass is all fogged up.”
“That is so not the—and how do you know the glass is fogged if you’re not looking?!”
“Well,” said Kasumi, as if the explanation were perfectly logical. “I wouldn’t have closed my eyes if I didn’t know I needed to. You can say no, obviously.”
Sam pinched the bridge of her nose. “And…what, exactly, am I saying yes or no to?”
“Breaking and entering,” said Kasumi, an unspoken ‘duh’ in her voice. “This one’s time-sensitive. If it helps, it’s a casino executive defrauding war refugees.”
Sam held up a finger, mouth open for several seconds.
“Get out of my bathroom, thank you,” she said firmly, less out of indignant modesty and more in a desperate attempt to think clearly. “Cloak off, close the door behind you. And then we’ll talk.”
Kasumi, eyes politely closed, removed her hand and tossed off a jaunty salute.
This heist had actually been absurdly easy, especially compared to how the last one went totally tits-up. All that Sam had to do this time was distract the executive in question for a few minutes while Kasumi snuck in his office on the Presidium, downloaded some incriminating files, and sent them off as an anonymous tip. It was the work of four hours, tops.
“I’m not sure that you even needed me this time,” Sam said, peering over at Kasumi from the skycar’s passenger seat. “You absolutely could have staged your own distraction.”
“Oh, I’m sure,” Kasumi said. “But a pretty face like yours? Who could pass that up?”
Sam’s brain sputtered as she tried to think of an intelligent, non-embarrassing response to that, but luckily their arrival at her block saved her. Much more smoothly than the rapid-transit vehicles ever managed, Kasumi swung out of the main transit lanes and set down with barely a tremor.
“There we are,” she said. “Can’t park here for long, but we should be fine for a moment. Here.” Before Sam could protest, Kasumi had vaulted out of the aircar and offered her a hand down to the landing pad.
“Thanks,” she managed.
Kasumi shrugged. “You’re used to rapid transit,” she said innocently. “The Esquiran has a shorter drop than an X3M. Can’t have you losing your balance.”
“I’ll have you know my balance is just fine, actually,” Sam said. She was awkward about plenty of things already, so she deserved to be a little defensive about the things she wasn’t.
“Oh, I know,” Kasumi said, smiling. “I’ve seen you dance before.”
“Ha,” said Sam, only a little embarrassed. “You…have me at a disadvantage.”
“When you put it that way.” Kasumi winked. “If I ever run a job in a decent nightclub, I’ll have to pencil you in.”
Sam laughed outright, crossing her arms. “I only ever see you when you’re working. A girl could get her feelings hurt!”
“Do what you love,” Kasumi retorted without missing a beat, “and you’ll never work a day in your life. Speaking of work, I didn’t have a chance to clear your schedule for tomorrow.”
Sam glanced at the time, and swore under her breath.
“Sorry. I’ll make it up to you sometime.”
Sam groaned, but waved off the apology. “It’s fine, don’t worry,” she sighed. “It’s worth it, I had fun. Probably…shouldn’t have that much fun committing…a lot of crimes, but. And it is nice seeing you. Stay safe out there. Don’t do anything too exciting without me to watch your back? …What?”
There was…something in Kasumi’s shadowy little trademark half-smile that Sam hadn’t seen before. At least, not directed at her, not like this. Kasumi Goto was so averse to being seen that she’d implanted herself with cybernetic cloaking circuitry; this kind of soft, open expression was…new.
“Nothing,” she said. Then, “Well. Best thief in the galaxy, I suppose. Might as well try it.”
Kasumi reached up, took Sam’s jaw lightly between her fingers, and—very softly—stole a kiss.
Sam tried not to be anxious as her comm rang. And rang again. And rang some more. For a moment she thought it was going to go to voicemail, but then—
Sam jumped up from her couch. “Hey! Commander! Sorry to bother you, it’s um, me.”
There was a pause.
“What’s wrong, Samantha?”
“Oh! Nothing’s wrong, it’s just. Personal issue?” Sam bounced on the balls of her feet and then started pacing. “It’s just, um—I’ve been hanging out with Kasumi a lot recently. The, uh…you know, from the Collector mission? I’ve been helping her with, uh…stuff…” She cleared her throat. “I mean, she keeps showing up and grabbing me for—uh—”
“I get it, Specialist. What’s—”
“Right! Yeah! Anyway, it’s, it’s just, is she… always? Like this?”
“...You’re gonna have to be a little more specific.”
“Right, of course. It’s just, she’s very…flirty? And I know she’s like that with everyone, which is making this so much harder than it needs to be—normally I know what it means when a girl kisses me! Because she did that? On the mouth? And I wanted to ask if that was just a thing she does, like, a normal sort of classy friend…kiss? When you two had your thing on Beckenstein did she…? Because I keep thinking it over and I don’t think she really needs my help on any of these, not to say I’m not good at—I’m helpful, I mean, but I’m not sure if that’s why she’s really doing it, but if I’m wrong I don’t want to make her uncomfortable and—it’s three in the morning in Vancouver.”
“Yes, Specialist. Yes it is.”
Sam clamped a hand to her forehead. “I am… so sorry, ma’am, I didn’t think to check, normally I would but I was—I’m SO sorry. I’ll let you go.”
“No, no, it’s fine, I’m awake now. Might as well help you with your girl troubles. I’ve woken up for worse things.”
“I’m so sorry,” Sam whispered again.
“S’fine. In answer to your question: no, Samantha, Kasumi never kissed me.”
There was a muffled groan from somewhere on Shepard’s end. “Kasumi…did what…?”
“Nothing, Liara. Don’t do anything to Kasumi. Go back to sleep.”
Sam closed her eyes and tried not to die on the spot, and also tried not to think about the fact that she’d just called a woman at three in the morning whose wife had access to her own paramilitary force.
“So…how many times has she brought you on…’missions’, exactly?”
“Um. Probably about…once a month for the last six months?”
“And she kissed you.”
“When she dropped me off back at my flat after the last one, yes.”
There was a pause.
“She kissed you goodnight.”
There was a longer pause.
“...Yes. She did.”
“Samantha…” Sam could hear the way Shepard was pinching the bridge of her nose. “Do you have any idea how Kasumi met her first partner?”
Sam swallowed awkwardly. “They were both trying to…um. The same thing.”
“You don’t have to censor yourself,” Liara mumbled, audibly with her face against a pillow. “It’s encrypted, I’m th’Shadow Broker…”
“Liara,” Shepard said, “you really need to stop telling everyone that. And Samantha, the fact that she told you about Keiji at all makes me even more confident that no, she did not mean it as a friend kiss. I’m pretty sure this is just how she does dates.”
“Oh.” Sam took a deep breath. “Okay. That’s—okay! Cool. That’s great. I have…no idea what to do about that, but um. Thanks. I should call her? I don’t really have her number but, uh…” Sam stopped dead in her tracks mid-pace. “Oh…”
There was a pause that felt about as long as the whole Reaper War.
“Kasumi’s there, isn’t she.”
Kasumi waved from Sam’s doorway. “Yep! Hi, Shep.”
“Yes—yes ma’am?” Sam’s voice squeaked.
Shepard hung up on her.
Kasumi, leaning casually against the wall with her ankles crossed, smirked and crooked a finger in Sam’s direction. Then, without waiting for an answer, she pushed off the wall and walked out.
She caught up as they exited into the building hallway. “Hey! So uh. How much of that did you hear?”
“Enough!” Kasumi said cheerfully. “I was hoping you’d put it together.”
“Right.” Sam cast around for something to say that would sound slightly less ridiculous than…literally everything that had just happened. “Sooo. What’s…on the docket tonight? Corporate headquarters? Another casino job? Private investor—”
Kasumi turned so quickly that Sam almost ran into her.
“Well, it’s always an option,” she said. Her thumb, and her openly hungry eyes, ran over Sam’s lips. “But just this once I thought we’d skip the foreplay.”
And then she was gone again. Sam actually thought for a moment that she’d cloaked.
“Come on,” she called, smiling, from the exterior door. Sam had joined her before her brain had a chance to come back online. Was this how synthetics felt when their systems were overloaded? This was probably pretty much what that felt like.
“Where—are we going?” she finally managed to ask. Personally she thought it was an impressive effort. All the words existed in an actual language and were in the right order. “Because, I mean—I have a flat. We just left it. Like, just now. If you wanted to—I mean, I have a bed, if—is that too forward?”
Something about Kasumi’s soft chuckle made Sam’s spine tingle.
“Actually, I’m borrowing Shepard’s apartment for this. I think we deserve the best. No offense.”
Sam blinked rapidly. “Shepard gave you a key to her apartment?”
“I have a key to Shepard’s apartment,” said Kasumi, which did not actually answer the question at all.
“I—okay,” Sam stopped in her tracks and Kasumi, obligingly, stopped and looked back at her. “Not that I have like…any problems, at all, with where this is going, but I’d feel kind of bad if we broke into her house to have sex. I did just wake her up at three in the morning.”
“Traynor.” Kasumi tilted her head. “Do you want to know if I have permission, or do you want to make out in Shepard's hot tub?”
Sam gasped involuntarily as she was slammed into the wall.
“I—oh, god, I really thought—” She fumbled at her own uniform clasps—she’d been too distracted to change after work—but Kasumi, impatient, brushed her hands away to do it herself. “I really thought we were going to make it to the hot tub—”
“Patience,” murmured Kasumi.
“Oh, that—that is not fair,” Sam complained. “You’ve been— teasing me, this whole time, and I know for a fact there are faster ways to get here from Zakera Ward, you were taunting me—”
“Shh,” Kasumi whispered against her lips, and then did something with her tongue that made shutting up extremely easy.
“...and,” Sam panted a century later when Kasumi finally pulled back to let her breathe. “And you’re wearing so many more clothes than you should be.”
Kasumi raised an eyebrow, glancing down. Her smirk widened.
“Fair enough,” she purred, and tugged Sam forward by a belt loop. In the uniform trousers she was still wearing for some reason. It wasn’t her fault, she kept getting distracted—
Kasumi dragged her over to the bed, pulling her in for a quick, hard kiss before turning cleanly to back her into the mattress.
“Careful,” she teased, braced herself on one knee, and shoved Sam flat on her back. A cool hand pressed against Sam’s stomach, running its way up her chest before two fingers pushed firmly against Sam’s collarbone, pushing her back into the mattress as she tried to rise on her elbows. “Ah. Patience, remember?”
Mouth dry, Sam gave a strangled noise of assent. Kasumi seemed satisfied; she pinned Sam’s hips between her knees and sat back, hand moving to the clasp of her cowl.
A tiny sound of protest escaped before Sam could stop it.
For a moment she expected another lecture on patience; then Kasumi, who’d paused at the noise, gave a slow smile.
“You like the hood,” she realized. Her voice was practically a purr.
“It…brings out your eyes?” Sam offered pathetically.
“Mmm.” Kasumi tapped the side of her head. “The cybernetics?”
“No,” said Sam, failing to convince anyone including herself. “No, definitely not what I…oh…maybe a little.”
Thankfully, Kasumi didn’t seem offended. She chuckled as she unhooked her cowl, leaving it in place as she began loosening the clasps on the rest of her skinsuit.
“I think it’s adorable,” she said reassuringly. “I might even have a few tricks in store for you.”
Sam, who had just barely managed to keep from blurting out an instinctive first quip about a vibration function, said instead, “Let me guess. If I’m patient?”
“Or impatient,” Kasumi purred, shrugging out of the skinsuit. “I can work with either.”
There was a very put-together, extremely suave, phenomenally clever response to that, and Sam was going to think of it any moment now. The deceptively strong hands guiding her thighs apart notwithstanding.
And then Kasumi leaned down and took her by the chin again.
“Now,” she murmured. “Let’s see how patient you really are.”
Some time later they did actually end up in the hot tub.
“Are you sure you didn’t seduce me for my hot tub,” Kasumi asked, idly scratching the back of Sam’s head.
“Not your hot tub,” Sam muttered. There was a joke there about how she had, once, in fact, tried to seduce Commander Shepard with that method, but as that was one of her more mortifying memories—she’d had no idea her and Liara were a thing, and if it got back to Shep that’s what that had been Sam would die —she did not mention it. “And you did the seduction here. I was just helping a friend on her friend heists as a friend.”
“Uh huh,” Kasumi said. She pressed a quick kiss to Sam’s temple. “See, I can be patient too. Took me six months to pull off this heist.”
Sam sighed. “Yes. I get it. I was the heist. You’re so lucky that cliche line is actually hot.”
“Feel free to make the obligatory joke about talented fingers,” Kasumi smiled. “Just as long as we’re clear that I’ll retaliate.”
Sam’s hum turned into a groan. “Not tonight you won’t. I think you broke my pelvis. Gonna just soak here for the next year.”
Kasumi hummed contentedly and snuggled up alongside her. “Mmm. I’m okay with that. This is a nice hot tub. But there’s also this gala at an auction house I’m thinking about planning next month…”
“You know, we can just go on normal dates. Like normal people.”
Kasumi laughed. “Don’t think I’m sure how those work. They can’t be as fun as grand larceny.”
“Maybe not,” Sam allowed. “But the foreplay doesn’t take as long.”
“Mmm.” Kasumi nuzzled against Sam’s neck, gently nudging her head to the side for better access. “Alright, Specialist Traynor. I’ll try it out. Any suggestions?”
Sam thought about it.
“Well,” she said. “There is this great sushi place that you could probably hack us a reservation for.”