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The Pirate and her Queen

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“Shepard, please. Just wait for a minute.”

After so long of having the commander in the strange limbo between alive and dead on a surgical table it was strange having to try and reason with her. When she had her mind set on doing something she did it, and right now she had her mind set on going down to Omega by herself to find out where the salarian scientist, Mordin Solus, was supposed to be. If Shepard had her way the whole crew would be dismissed and replaced with Omegan vagabonds. But luckily she couldn’t have her way, not if she wanted to continue getting the Cerberus funding she needed to save the galaxy from the collectors. It was a dirty threat but the Illusive Man had insisted she stay on their side and take out the Collectors, then the Reapers. It was nice to know someone believed in the commander all the same – even if they were a terrorist group.

“Come on, Lawson. It’s Omega; what’s the worst that can happen?” Miranda Lawson was just about to go into a long list of what could happen when the air lock doors of the Normandy SR-2 closed in her face and she nearly walked into them.

Hammering a fist against the doors once she cursed softly under her breath. To hell with Shepard. If she wanted to die let her. Miranda turned away from the doors and walked through the CIC to the elevator and then to the crew deck. Her time could be better spent working on her reports to the Illusive Man, most of them being about how difficult the commander was making her job. Not like her boss would care. So long as Shepard did her job Miranda’s mental health at the end wasn’t a concern.

On Omega though, Shepard finally felt a little bit free. She was alone, without any Cerberus fanatics like Miranda or Jacob breathing down her neck and spouting Cerberus propaganda at every opportunity. Just because they were helping her deal with the Reapers and Collectors didn’t mean she wanted anything to do with them.

As she turned into the large hallway that lead to the club, Afterlife, she was stopped by a batarian who had an assault rifle trained on her chest. She wasn’t wearing armour or armed with anything more than a Predator so she threw her hands up to try and show that she wouldn’t cause trouble. Was she being arrested for docking here? She had permission to after all.

“Don’t make a fool of yourself human, you think people get taken in here. If you’d done something wrong you’d be dead."

She lowered her hands.

"The boss sent me to tell you to head to Afterlife. She didn’t put it quite so nicely though – thank me later.” Shepard grinned in amusement and the Batarian raised his rifle again – just an M-8 Avenger by the look of it – and spat, “Find something funny human?” Shepard was quick to shake her head and explained, “I think you’re the first batarian who hasn’t tried to shoot me on sight.” The batarian just laughed. “Any reason I should?”

“Torfan?”

“They had it coming. Name’s Anto by the way. Hope Aria gives you long enough to use it.” With that he turned away as Shepard called after him, “Later,” and she was left to try and find this Aria. Human opera was no doubt out of the question, which was good since it gave her headaches if she listened for too long.

She went straight to the club, sure someone in there could point her in the right direction. She was prepared for an atmosphere like Chora’s Den which had apparently been destroyed in the attack on the Citadel by Sovereign and had until then passed for a club. The dancers were there on a stage above the bar, but it seemed the similarities ended there.

The dancers on the stage were dressed in black, very revealing, possibly leather outfits, twisting and gyrating on the poles their fingers never left. The bartenders were dressed smartly, which was a refreshing change, and of several different races. The floor was filled with dancers, predominantly humans and asari but again different races all mingled together in the ebb and flow of the music around them. And above it all someone watched the people go about their lives as though they were the ruling monarch of it all. Confident, proud – they seemed from this distance everything a leader should be. A hand clamped on her shoulder and she turned to face it. It was a turian, possibly one of the dancers she’d just been watching on the floor, and he flicked his mandibles in a smile.

“Looking for Aria, human. That’s her up there. Don’t go up if she hasn’t invited you though – her thugs’ll kill you in a heartbeat.” With a nod she thanked the turian and walked on through the crowd towards the stairs she’d been told Aria was up. From the looks of things this was shaping up to be a much better talk than the ones she usually had with crime bosses. They normally lasted five seconds and ended with a fire-fight… which maybe lasted three seconds if she was outnumbered.

“Hold still.” Shepard had been so intent on getting up the stairs to Aria she hadn’t noticed the batarian by the asari’s side until he moved to block her way. Several other people around them pulled out pistols and the asari dancers either side of the couch suddenly had assault rifles – god knew where they pulled them from. The batarian stood in front of her with his Omni tool glowing around his wrist. She frowned, confused. “Why should I?”

“You want to see Aria, you get scanned.” There was a small image of her on the batarian’s Omni tool that span as he moved his hand up and down her torso. Except the image of her was a strangely blue, rather naked version. Instead of being a good girl and standing there while a naked image of her floated in front of her face she grabbed the front of the batarian’s armour and hissed, “Try it and you’ll be scanning the inside of your colon.”

A laugh came from behind the batarian, deep and cold. Shepard looked around the batarian to see the asari as she chuckled, “I’d almost pay to see that.” Then her voice resumed all seriousness and she added, “But it’s not an option. You want to talk, you get scanned.” With a roll of her eyes Shepard settled back and let go of the batarian’s armour, letting herself be scanned.

“You could’ve just asked,” she huffed but the asari didn’t agree. “I don’t ask.”

After that all Shepard could do was shrug and wait. She needed to find Mordin Solus and talk to Aria. If she wanted to talk to Aria she needed to get scanned. A horrible and rather vulnerable series of events really but there didn’t seem to be much else she could do about it. Complaining hadn’t worked, threats had made Aria laugh… maybe she’d lost her touch in her two years if being dead.

Suddenly the batarian lowered his arm and stepped away, letting Shepard go forwards to Aria, stating that she was clean. As she moved Aria turned around, a smirk curving her lips and a glint in her cruel eyes. “I assume you run Omega?” Shepard’s question wasn’t met with the obvious answer she had expected. Instead Aria chuckled again and turned to the rest of the club underneath her.

“I am Omega.”

She turned back to Shepard’s raised eyebrow and muttered, “But you need more. Everyone needs more something and they all come to me.”

Shepard watched her as she paced and continued, “I’m the boss, CEO, Queen if you’re… feeling dramatic. It doesn’t matter. Omega has no titled ruler and only one rule.” She took a seat on the couch and reclined gently backwards, hands resting across her stomach. Then she stared Shepard right in the eye, effectively pinning her to the spot. “Don’t. Fuck. With Aria.”

With a small quirk to her lips and a nod Shepard replied, “I like it. Easy to remember.”

“If you don’t someone will remind you.” Aria’s batarian bodyguard picked up where the asari left off and added, “Then I throw your sorry ass out the nearest airlock.”

Shepard shuddered at the thought of being out in space again – her cabin in the Normandy was bad enough with the skylight – and then turned back to Aria who offered her a seat on the couch. “What do you want, Commander.”

“Mordin Solus. You know him?” Aria nodded and smiled slightly again, her fingers lacing together across her corset. For a while she just thought as though she was deciding what she could tell the commander without giving away anything important or valuable. With a nonchalant air she told her, “He’s in the plague zones. Set up some kind of clinic down there if I’m not mistaken. I always liked Mordin; he’s as likely to shoot you as he is to heal you.”

That triggered a few warning bells for Shepard who sat forwards, interested in what she had to say. “Anything else I should know?”

“Don’t get him talking; he never shuts up. Other than that, not really. No guarantees they’ll let you into the quarantine zone though.” Shepard nodded and rose to her feet. “Thanks, Aria.”

The asari huffed and her smile faded. “Just don’t bring the plague back with you.” And with that Shepard was dismissed. Aria grabbed a data pad from next to her on the couch and started reading whatever report was on the screen. As she left Shepard could hear angry voices.

Maybe the information on that data pad hadn’t been quite what Aria had been wanting to see.

On the way to the apartments she sent a message to Miranda and Jacob to meet her there. If she was lucky there wouldn’t be any resistance. Of course she was hardly ever that lucky – except with a few things, like Kaidan Alenko for example – and therefore she was expecting heavy resistance. It was nothing she wouldn’t be able to handle, especially with the two Cerberus operatives at her side, but still it might be nice if things could just be plain and simple once in a while.

She arrived at the apartments before either of the other two and ended up caught in the middle of a heated argument between a human woman who lived in the quarantined zone and a turian who Aria had tasked with keeping the area locked down.

“You can’t keep me locked out. All my things are in there – I need to get it before the mercs do.” But the turian waved her complaints away and countered, “This area is under lockdown. No one’s allowed in. Just wait until the plague is done, then you can go in.”

“I need to get in to find Mordin Solus.”

Shepard decided she may as well say it even if she would be turned away. If she was lucky Aria would vouch for her. If not… she might be able to force her way in. The turian groaned and then repeated himself, “This area is under lockdown.” Shepard sighed as the other two found her and stood by her side. “So no one’s allowed in?”

“Finally, a human who can hear. The gangs and plague are killing everyone in there. We were told to wait until either one of them kills everyone in there, then move in to clean up the mess.” Shepard thought for a minute and heard an out of breath Miranda huff angrily behind her. She hadn't heard the two finally arriving, but was glad they'd got here now. But Shelard didnt turn to greet them, instead she worked out a plsn; if there were mercs in there though that meant they could need some help, and if they could use the help they could be convinced to let her provide it.

“Look. You can either stand here all day or you can let me in. You have a problem that needs fixing and that’s what I do – fix problems.” After looking her and her two companions up and down the turian nodded, “I’ll radio ahead so they know you’re coming.”

“You’re gonna let them in and not me?” the human woman exclaimed, scowling at the turian and the group of humans who waited patiently by the doors to be let through, “You son of a bitch!”

The turian seemed to have had enough of her. As he finished relaying the message over the radio he drawled, “You don’t have a grenade launcher lady. Push off.” After flipping her finger up at him the woman stalked away angrily, muttering to herself about the ‘racism on this rock’ and the turian turned back to the trio apologetically. “You can go in. Just watch yourselves or Aria’s gonna kill me.” Shepard nodded and then walked in with her team, saying that at least they were all human; the plague only seemed to effect aliens. Except the vorcha.

As they walked through the hallways they came to the post where a few of Omega’s limited task force was stationed. The first turian jumped up and pointed a pistol at them while his batarian friend grabbed his arm.

“Don’t shoot, they’re cleared to come through.”

The trio was glad they’d been saved, by a batarian no less, and they continued gratefully on their way. It didn’t take them long though to run into their first spot of trouble. Just two Blue Suns mercs that Shepard instructed Miranda and Jacob to take down with a warp and a biotic pull to either one while she filled them with metal from the comfortable distance.

“Looks like we’re going to have to fight some more of them, Shepard.” Miranda was still getting used to calling her Shepard instead of commander. She still tripped over the word a little.

Shepard paid it no mind. It wasn’t her first name but, well, no one used that any more. She wasn’t even sure if people knew it anymore. No one on her old ship had used it, or the new Normandy. Aria hadn’t, neither had any of the other people she’d spoken to. She was just Commander Shepard now. Not a person, a symbol of either heroism or military disgrace.

But she nodded and gestured for them to stay to cover.

The next group of Blue Suns was easy to finish as well, just a few shots with a few biotic and tech assaults for good measure. Shepard was just starting to get cocky, charging into battle to fight off a stray merc when she realised with a dent to her shields why he was alone.

The rest of the mercs were lying around them – Blue Sun turians and humans – while a handful of vorcha and a krogan rushed towards her. Blood Pack no doubt. She knew what the gangs were, just not really what they were good for. She was beginning to find out.

And then from her other side more Blue Suns came flooding from the doorways. It looked as though she’d been caught in a battle ground between the two gangs, both vying for control over this little bit of territory.

Shepard ducked into cover as Miranda sent an overload in her general direction as she and Jacob ran into the scene after their commander. Miranda wasn’t aiming for her of course; there was a Blue Suns merc behind her, but getting caught in the hit from that would hurt and stop the majority of her tech from working for a good few minutes. Unfortunately cover didn’t usually protect well against a burst of electrical energy, especially a thin metal wall.

The Commander winced as her pistol overheated in her hands with a few sharp beeps of warning, the SMG at her side doing the same and her omnitool flickered as it tried to reboot. Not willing to test her theory that if she used it the orange tool would blow up in her face she resorted to a slightly more barbaric means of attack. Namely, whacking her enemies with the butt of an SMG.

Soon she was being helped to her feet by an apologetic Miranda. “Sorry Shepard, but his shields were up. I couldn’t get a shot on him.” With a shrug Shepard dusted herself off and clapped Miranda on the shoulder. “Don’t worry ‘bout it Lawson. Made it more interesting.”

“I don’t think bashing our enemies to death qualifies as interesting, but if you say so… Mordin’s clinic should be just around here. Come on, I think-”

Miranda’s yelled as Shepard pinned her to the ground and struggled against the hands on her upper arms. But she stopped when she realised they were behind cover as rockets rushed over their heads. “You’re welcome, Lawson.” Shepard pulled herself into a crouch and helped Miranda into the same position with a cocky smile.

The two of them and Jacob returned fire to the new wave of Blue Suns.

“You reckon Aria T’loak tipped them off?” Miranda called as she hurled a warp into the chest of a Blue Sun heavy. Shepard shook her head next to her in cover and replied, shouting over the sound of explosions, “No. she didn’t seem interested enough to try and kill me. She figures I’m a resource I think.”

Miranda laughed at that. Jacob yelled over to them, not part of their conversation from his separate cover, “Watch your six, we’ve got vorcha.” He was right.

As Shepard span around, covering him and Miranda from behind, Miranda and Jacob dealt with the krogan that swarmed in their path.

Once they were done the ground was littered with bodies – human and turian Blue Suns, vorcha and krogan Blood Pack. All they needed now was the Eclipse Sisters to show up and they’d have all the major merc bands in the Terminus on them. Of course Shepard knew Aria hadn’t set them on her – she didn’t think Aria had a reason, and women like Aria didn’t do things without a reason – but she could have been fooled. It certainly looked like a set up.

“Come on. Mordin awaits.”

She led the way towards the clinic with Miranda and Jacob behind her, weapons at the ready. At the scowl they received as they entered they lowered their weapons and holstered them, not wanting to cause any problems. After all, Mordin was apparently 'as likely to shoot them as heal them'.

They found him busy working on his cure for the plague but didn’t interrupt. His work was likely just as important to him as getting revenge on the Collectors was for Shepard.

“Mordin Solus?” Shepard asked as he looked up from his work and he turned to them with wide, skittish eyes. For a moment he looked at them and then he burst out, “Yes, yes, Mordin Solus. You are? No, wait, not scientists – too well armed, not enough research equipment, not mercenary – military armour, but not Alliance. Hmm… who sent you?” Shepard gawped for a moment.

He really didn’t shut up.

“I’m Commander Shepard. Cerberus sent me to get you. I need your help on an important mission.”

Instead of just waving them away or dropping everything to come and help them Mordin asked, “Mission? What mission? Why does Cerberus want me?” With a sigh Shepard explained all about her mission, that the collectors were going around human colonies and abducting the inhabitants and Cerberus wanted to stop them. They were also working for the Reapers, a race of sentient machines from beyond Dark Space, and they needed his scientific expertise to get past the seeker swarms.

For a while after she explained he pondered the request and then turned back to his work. “Too busy. Need to release cure. Need to-”

There was a loud grinding sound as the fans above them stopped working. They had either been switched off or the power had failed, and Mordin suspected the former.

He pressed a vial into Shepard’s hands and ordered her to go and fix the environmental systems and release the cure. Then he’d be able to come with them. After nodding Shepard and her followers left.

 

At the environmental systems they found another group of Blood Pack vorcha. They’d fought a few on the way here and Shepard was honestly hoping for a break. But of course, being her, there was no break. Even in death there was no break. Cerberus brought her back from the dead to fight the Reapers again.

The leader of these vorcha stopped long enough to snarl at them. “Collectors want plague. You work for doctor. You die now!”

And then it had a hole in its chest from Miranda’s pistol.

Shepard and Jacob followed suit, shooting blindly into the huddle of vorcha until they reached cover and could actually focus and aim.

Shepard hit the tank on a pyro’s back while Jacob and Miranda worked to take down a krogan that had joined the fray. With small biotic tug Miranda pulled the pyro into the middle of the vorcha where the tank on its back caught fire and exploded, scattering pieces of multiple vorcha everywhere. The two Cerberus operatives took out the krogan and then the three made their way to the main control room.

But turning on the power was only the start of their job. They had to restore power manually to the two fans in either side of the room, and their way was of course blocked by more vorcha and a few krogan. First they took the left hand fan, then the right, both times dodging and ducking out of the way of shots and rockets and fire as they were attacked from all sides.

On high ledges a few vorcha rocket troopers had found a vantage point and it was down to Jacob with the pull of his biotics to get rid of them while Shepard and Miranda worked on clearing the floor.

Two krogan, a few dozen vorcha and a small trek through the slums of Omega and they were back with Mordin in his clinic. He congratulated them on their success and then they were all heading back to the Normandy as though curing a plague was no small feat. All in a days work.

Half way down the corridor to the Normandy Shepard grabbed the attention of Anto. “Hey. Tell Aria the plagues cleared up will you?” But the batarian waved away her request, simply stating that Aria would already know. With a nod Shepard said goodbye and jogged to catch up with Miranda and the others.

Chapter Text

On the ship she had a small debriefing with Mordin and Jacob, both of whom seemed pretty quick to praise Cerberus for their work against the collectors.

“Don’t be fooled doctor. Cerberus is just the same, they’re just in trouble and need alien help.” Shepard knew turning her allies against each other wasn’t the best plan but the words were from her mouth before she could stop them. Mordin nodded in her direction, apparently pleased with her honesty, and Jacob scowled slightly. He couldn’t blame her surely, just like she couldn’t blame him for joining them after he left the Alliance.

Too much red tape – it had been the same for her before she’d become a spectre.

She told Mordin about what they knew so far involving the collectors – that they were technologically advanced and were working with the Reapers. They had a sample of the seeker swarms for him to test on and there were others somewhere – wherever Miranda had put them – that he could use as well. EDI directed him to a fully functional lab space Shepard didn’t even know was on her ship and Jacob escorted him there. Which left Shepard all on her own again. It always seemed to end up like this though, she should be used to it. She wasn’t. With a heavy sigh she dawdled out of the briefing room and to the galaxy map.

“Commander, ready to go get someone else for our kamikaze squad?”

Shepard shook her head at Joker’s use of the word to describe them but it was probably true. This was, after all, a suicide mission. No one had ever doubted that. Maybe that was why she’d been so eager to take part. Suicide didn’t seem like a bad option any more, not after everything she’d been through already and what she was destined to go through to deal with this new menace. Humanity was counting on her and if she died along the way… well, what did she have to lose really? Her life? That was already gone wasn’t it, thanks to the collectors?

“Shepard, when you have a minute a new dossier just came through from the Illusive Man. I’ll have it ready in my office when you have the time.” Shepard sighed at the second voice coming over the intercom – her self-appointed XO.

No rest for the wicked… or the recently dead by the sound of things.

With her new destination set she walked into the lift, making sure she ignored Kelly Chambers on the way up as she called her over. It was too easy to pretend she just hadn’t heard. Just because she didn’t trust the psychologist or Cerberus didn’t mean she should make enemies of them.

Miranda’s office was on the crew deck and a few of her crew waved over to her. They might have wanted a word or wanted her to join them but she had somewhere to be. And then she could sleep and the next morning go collect their new team member for their ‘kamikaze squad’. Joker had worded it so delicately.

Without bothering to knock on the door she walked into the office and stood in front of the desk. “So, this dossier?”

Miranda looked up from her files and reports that were probably all about how annoying Shepard was and picked a data pad from the small stack next to her laptop. “Here.” It was short and not so sweet. Miranda didn’t like her, Shepard knew that already. From the moment she’d woke up the Cerberus operative had told her where to go and what to do. She didn’t seem to like that Shepard wouldn’t listen to her half the time.

“What that hell? Why couldn’t he have sent this along with the last one? We just left the Omega docks half an hour ago.”

After reading the dossier for some mercenary called Archangel who was somewhere on Omega she threw it back on the desk in front of the operative and scowled at her. “Don’t ask me commander. I just pass these things along.”

With a frustrated groan Shepard stormed out of the room and Miranda turned back to her files. It wasn’t her fault if Shepard was irritated. And it certainly wasn’t her fault that a small chuckle escaped her as the doors closed behind her commander. Shepard being the one annoyed for once – there was a change in dynamics she would be happy to have again.

Back in the CIC Shepard called down the bridge to Joker, “Back to Omega Joker.” She didn’t hear his sarcastic reply over Kelly trying to get her attention. “Commander, are you alright?” Slowly Shepard turned around to face her bothersome yeoman. “I’m fine Miss Chambers.”

“Please, call me Kelly.”

“Kelly then. Doesn’t change my answer though.” Shepard glared at her from her slightly higher position on the galaxy map platform and Kelly drew away quickly, busying herself with whatever work she suddenly remembered she had to finish.

The small beam of light as the Normandy was turned around and taken back to dock at Omega.

She wondered if Aria would be surprised to see her alive. Had she even sent her in there to die? Either way the asari might be getting a shock soon enough.

With an exasperated air she set off for her cabin where she could relax and just forget about everything riding on her shoulders. The Illusive Man and Miranda might not like how she was doing things but if they wanted to argue with her results ‘fuck ‘em’. That was what she’d wanted to say to Jacob when he’d told her about Cerberus wanting to talk to her after they got of Lazarus Station. But now she was working for them and they were messing her about as though they hadn’t spent four billion credits bringing her back to life.

As soon as she was in her room she went to the small enclosed shower space. Part of her demanded a shower, to wash the Cerberus stench from her body. But she could scrub until her nails drew blood and she wouldn’t feel any cleaner.

Instead she opted to splash handfuls of water over her face. She watched it drip down her cheeks in the mirror, catching at the glowing red cracks in her skin. It stung as it passed over the scars, cold like ice even though it was room temperature.

Her eyes narrowed as she inspected herself.

Her face was marred with a spider’s web of shining orange lines, like her skull was alight with the same glow as her omnitool. Her eyes held the same radiance, and it was the first time she’d thought the word and tasted bile at the back of her throat. Her stomach churned as she carried on looking into her own eyes, scrutinising the pale bags under them and the way if she caught the light just right she could ignore the orange and see the green. The green of decaying leaves and fungus. Her eyes, behind the artificial sparkle, looked dead.

The tightness in her stomach suddenly intensified and she found herself on all fours, vomit between her hands and on her chin.

Her body lurched every few seconds as though she would be sick again, but nothing happened. Her ribs hurt from the effort of breathing, her head spun as she got to her feet and slammed her hand into the activate button for the shower. Her eyes stayed with the contents of her stomach until it had been washed away.

Then she shut the shower off and threw more water against her face.

Slowly she dried herself, not caring that the water had landed on her uniform as well as skin. With a resigned sigh she looked up, and immediately wished she hadn’t. Her stomach tightened again and a vice came over her heart.

Her breaths came in short sharp bursts, ragged and shallow. Once more she found herself on the ground, this time leaning her back on the bed as she stared wide eyed out the skylight into the depths of space.

She couldn’t breathe, her vision swam and her body shook uncontrollably.

“Get a grip soldier,” she commanded herself through her constricted breaths.

Her fist clenched and unclenched, finally coming into contact with the bedpost. She heard something crack but paid it no mind as the pain coursed through her and filled her with something other than fear. It was a relief of sorts that she could even still feel the pain.

So much feeling had been taken away, she wasn’t sure how much of her was even human anymore.

At least 30% of her was cybernetics now, she’d seen the reconstruction files. It made her feel nauseous again just thinking about all that tech inside her.

How close was she to becoming something she had fought against only two years ago? How much further did she have to go before she was no better than a geth drone?

Rising unsteadily to her feet she made her way to the side of the bed, using the mattress to support herself as she went. She flopped forwards onto her bed and closed her eyes. Despite it all she had made a good start today with getting Mordin. It was the start of their suicide squad and she was almost looking forward to finding out who Archangel was.

Mordin had turned out to be quite the character with his ties to STG and his work in a free clinic on Omega of all places. Maybe Archangel would turn out as just as much an interesting person to get to know. Hopefully though he didn’t talk as much as Mordin. If he did there may be black tape involved to help her keep her sanity.

Again her thoughts drifted to that word. Suicide.

Chapter Text

Shepard stepped back into the club and almost enjoyed the feeling of the heavy bass vibrating through her feet and up her body. It was something that kept her grounded and in a place like Afterlife she needed that.

Back at Omega wasn’t really where she wanted to be right now, especially with all the messing around she’d been doing just to get the Illusive Man to send the rest of her dossiers now so she didn’t have to keep waiting. She had another two after this – someone just called Subject Zero on a prison ship called Purgatory and a krogan warlord called Okeer on Korlus. She wasn’t looking forward to either of those and getting Archangel to join her team seemed like an easier job than convincing a prisoner or a krogan warlord to help.

Then again it was probably as easy as getting Aria to help her and she’d somehow managed that.

“Aria’s expecting you human,” the batarian at the foot of the stairs said. It wasn’t Anto this time though, maybe he was busy somewhere else doing whatever it was the Pirate Queen of Omega forced her lackeys to do.

With a shrug Shepard went up the stairs to the small balcony that seemed to be Aria’s throne in her kingdom. Aria was waiting for her, legs crossed and reclining casually on her couch. With a hand she gestured to the seat opposite one of her apparently favoured turian subjects and Shepard took it. “What is it this time Shepard?” She didn’t seem annoyed with the commanders second visit being so soon, just vaguely amused.

“Apparently you have another of my recruits on your station. Mercenary called Archangel?” To Shepard’s surprise Aria let out a bark of laughter and then let her dancing eyes settle over her visitor. “You aren’t joking are you? You’re going to make some enemies teaming up with Archangel.”

“Well I’m looking for him.”

“You and half of Omega. You want him for your crew though instead of dead. I guess that makes you a wild card Shepard.” The commander looked at her curiously, “Half of Omega? What did he do?”

Aria sat up slightly and lent towards Shepard as though she was sharing some sort of secret. “He thinks he’s fighting for the good side of Omega – there is no good side to Omega. Everything he does pisses someone off; it’s catching up to him.”

Shepard chuckled. “He sounds perfect then.” With an amused murmur Aria muttered, “Well aren’t you interesting.” Then when Shepard didn’t reply with any smart comment, rather disappointingly, she continued. “Head down there,” she pointed to a small doorway to the right of her throne platform, “those mercs will point you in the right direction. If you don’t mind being freelance cannon fodder for them that is.”

Shepard nodded and stood up. “Thanks for the help again.”

“Don’t make a habit of it. And don’t blame me if you die out there.” With a backwards glance and a smile to the asari, whose head was cocked in amusement, Shepard walked away, calling down to the Normandy for Miranda and Mordin to meet her at the doors to Afterlife. Then she made her way to the recruitment room. Before she could walk in she was stopped by the batarian outside. They seemed to be everywhere on the station unlike most other places where they were just there in a few numbers that seemed to dwindle and vanish behind bars every so often. “You want something human?”

Shepard sighed. Being called Shepard was bad enough but being called ‘human’ by all these batarians was irritating. She’d killed a load of them on Torfan and they still couldn’t remember her name. At least they weren’t trying to kill her for it here. “I heard you were signing people up to go after Archangel.” The batarian grunted but let her pass, if reluctantly. Inside she was in time to hear the man in front of her advised that if he died he wouldn’t get paid and he wasn’t part of any of the gangs.

Then it was her turn.

“Hey honey. Think you’re in the wrong place. Strippers quarters are up that way.” The batarian in the Blue Suns armour gestured back out the way she’d come and she glared at him, pulling the pistol from its half hidden holster at her hip. “Show me yours. I bet mine’s bigger.”

With a chuckled the batarian drawled, “Wow. Not even a smile. Guess you mean business. You here to sign up?”

“If by ‘sign up’ you go mean ‘go after Archangel’, yeah.” While he was writing a few things on his Omni toll the batarian muttered, “You want him dead too?” But Shepard had already began to reply before he’d finished.

“Am I signing up to shoot or banter?”

With a shrug he carried on writing details down. Shepard told him two others were coming with her and he just grunted, scrapping what he’d written and rewriting it as she turned to leave.

Shepard grunted as a man bumped into her shoulder on her way out. She turned to catch him before he fell and was met with a small smile of thanks from a very boyish face. He probably wasn’t even a man. Nothing more than a boy thinking he could play hero just because he had a gun in his hands and lived on Omega. She stopped and tapped his shoulder before he reached the recruiter. “You know, going after Archangel’s gonna be rough,”

“I know. But I know how to use a gun, I grew up on Omega.”

“You don’t think Archangel knows how to use a gun too?” The kid scowled and looked for the right words to argue her back with. When he couldn’t think of anything he justified signing up by saying, “I just spent fifty credits on this pistol and I wanna use it.”

To that Shepard shrugged and turned to leave. If the kid wanted to die out there he could and she wouldn’t bat an eyelid. She’d seen little children killed before, why would his death make her flinch. As she walked away from the stubborn kid she messaged Miranda to tell her and Mordin to meet her. It was time to see how the Cerberus Operative handled freelancing for the mercs of Omega.

She met them at the doors of Afterlife just like she’d arranged and told them everything she’d found out about Archangel and what the plan for getting him was.

To her disappointment Miranda didn’t self-destruct on the spot. Instead she just frowned and nodded. Maybe she was starting to realise Shepard was in charge and not her. The Illusive Man had put Shepard in charge instead of her; Shepard knew that hit close to the mark but it didn’t really explain why Miranda had been so bitchy about it for the last week since they’d met. Well more like since Freedom’s Progress – she’d seemed nice enough on Lazarus Station.

After all questions were asked and answered Shepard led her team to the shuttles that would take them over to the building Archangel was holed up in. The batarian there muttered about someone who could look like they could fight but Shepard didn’t know if he thought they looked like they could fight or if he wanted someone like that. Regardless they had somewhere to be and arguing with their pilot wouldn’t get them there any faster.

Shepard looked across the seat next to her to see that kid from the recruitment room and frowned, choosing to ignore him rather than try for a last time to argue him out of fighting with the mercenaries. Miranda glared at the back of the kids head for all the good it did and Shepard was actually grateful she seemed to care about someone’s life for once. So far all she’d seemed was cold and indifferent to the deaths she’d caused. “You know, you’re going to die out there in those clothes.” The kid looked around to Miranda, looked her attire up and down and showed her his middle finger. With an indignant scoff she turned away from him and the shuttle fell into silence with the kid looking pleased with himself even though the others in the shuttle knew Miranda had been right.

When they arrived they were greeted by yet another batarian. They seemed to be everywhere on this station just like vorcha in the slums. It was probably just because Aria didn’t mind them so long as they did her dirty work. And who was stupid enough to say no to her? Shepard waited for her companions to get out behind her and then stated to walk away from the shuttle but a hand stopped her.

“Hey, is he with you?” The batarian who greeted them when their trio stepped out of the mercenary transport looked between the three well-armed and armoured freelancers and then the kid who’s walked into Shepard at the recruiting station.

At once Shepard shook her head and the kid exclaimed, “No, I’m by myself. I don’t need any help.” He turned back to Shepard and scowled at her for a short while before heading in the direction the batarian told him Sargent Cathka would be waiting for the freelancers.

Then he turned back to the three who actually looked like they could do something to Archangel.

“So, they tell you what you’re up against?” Shepard shook her head slowly. “Other than ‘Archangel’ they were pretty vague.” The batarian just laughed, “Well, you look like you can do some damage. Thanks to Archangel you freelancers have been dropping like bugs – that’s your human expression right? You’re gonna go out along the bridge and distract him.”

Shepard smiled and looked back at her two companions quickly, “Sounds like a suicide mission.” Miranda allowed herself a small smile and the batarian grunted, “Yeah, pretty much. Head on over to Cathka whenever you’re ready.”

Shepard was ready now so she left the batarian and took her followers to the other merc bands. Each one had a leader and each one seemed like they wanted to kill her. First there was the krogan leader of the Blood Pack who looked as though he wanted to tear her head from her shoulders and mount it on a spike. Then there was the batarian leader of the Blue Suns who just waved her away like a bad smell and told his lieutenant to deal with them. Lastly there was the leader of the Eclipse, a jumpy little salarian whose brother had been killed by Archangel. Served them all right, the trouble they’d been through for this one vigilante, if they decided to work as mercs on Omega. Sure, Aria meant good work but it was just so common.

While they walked around Miranda convinced her to try and rewrite the hardware on the programming for a group of Eclipse mechs. She was successful and hopefully the targeting systems would be faulty and they’d hit friends and foes.

In one of the rooms they found an interesting data pad with a plan between all the mercs to take out Aria and take over. Shepard decided to hold onto it – she guessed she might have to deal with Aria again later and it would be good to have leverage against her.

“I reckon we’ve done all we can here. Why don’t we go find Cathka?”

“You know Miranda, I think freelancing suits you.” Miranda scowled at Shepard’s words but it was quite true. Before she’d officially joined up with Cerberus she was freelancing with them. It was just something she’d grown accustomed to and then she’d been accepted as an operative in the organisation.

Shepard didn’t know that though.

In fact Shepard hardly knew anything about her. Not like her – she knew all she could find out about Commander Shepard – Mindoir, Torfan, the Citadel and all the little things in between. And for once Shepard listened to her XO and took them to find whoever this Sergeant Cathka was so they could just get this over with.

They found him in a small room off to the side of the bridge fixing a gunship for the Blue Suns. It didn’t seem like the most glamorous job but it was a job and Shepard was sure it would be helpful for going against a single vigilante with. Cathka, like the other batarians, didn’t seem bothered that the Butcher of Torfan was here and seemed all too happy to give her orders and send her on her way. But before he could finish a transmission came through on his terminal.

He answered quickly then he sent all the freelancers down the bridge and then turned back to the gunship. “That means no waiting around for me then.”

It was cruel and she knew it, but Shepard had to try and keep her team and Archangel alive. This seemed to be just another way she could do that. Cathka’s body jerked as the electricity from the tool Shepard had just stabbed into his back jolted through him. It had to be a powerful current to get that reaction, and through the yelling and thrashing smoke started to appear from the joints in his armour.

When he fell to the floor he was blackened slightly and smoking. “Sorry,” Shepard muttered, “I can’t lose this guy.” Miranda put a hand on her shoulder as if to offer comfort but Shepard shook it off. She didn’t need comfort. What was one more batarian on her conscious?

Chapter Text

Shepard grimaced.

“Doesn’t look like Archangel has much time.” Miranda fitted a thermal clip into her pistol as she replied, “Let’s not wait around then.”

And then they went, taking out mercs as they ran along the bridge and towards Archangel’s building.

A shot hit Shepard’s chest and took her shields clean off but did nothing more than that. She shrugged off the staggering impact of a rather close range sniper shot with surprising ease, continuing on her way, incinerating a group of mercs trying to set up a bomb in a doorway.

Miranda took out the bomb as if to make certain they were all well and truly dead. Then up the stairs they regrouped with Mordin who’d just finished taking out a few mercs trying to hack their way through a door and presumably to where Archangel had set up.

“Good work Mordin. Miranda.” She didn’t think she’d need to tell Miranda she’d done good work. The Cerberus operative probably assumed that from the second she’d pulled a trigger. Mordin nodded and then finished the hack on the door in seconds. “Open. Easy really. Not technically minded.”

He nudged one of the mercs with his foot and Shepard chuckled. She’d somewhat come to like the way Mordin spoke now; it was simple and straight to the point, not hidden behind long words like Miranda or the Illusive Man. It was refreshing. But that was for another time.

She still had to find Archangel.

She found the turian sniper crouched behind a small wall and started towards him, stopping when he held up a finger and took aim once more. The trio watched as he lined up a shot for a perfect head shot as soon as the merc he’d been watching came far enough out of cover. “Nice shot. Archangel I presume.”

The turian stood up and walked with a swagger Shepard could have recognised anywhere to the crates and sat down on the edge of one. With one foot up on a different crate and his sniper rifle supporting one hand he removed his helmet and the commander’s suspicion was confirmed.

“Garrus!” She was glad to see him, a friendly face in the middle of all this chaos, and she held her arms out for a warm embrace.

Which was not returned...

She quickly lowered her hands, trying to make it look natural, and waited for Garrus to reply. “It’s been a long time, Shepard.” She nodded and walked over to her old friend, and hand falling on his shoulder in camaraderie fashion. “How come you’re out here shooting up the place?”

“I’m just keeping my skills sharp. Taking on all three of omega’s major players makes for some good target practice.” Shepard nodded in agreement while Mordin looked on in slight wonder as though he wanted to analyse Garrus and find out what gave him such hardy constitution – or rugged good turian looks – and Miranda glared on in stony silence. Consorting with aliens probably wasn’t on her resume for Cerberus after all.

“How’d you end up with these on your back anyway? And in this position, Garrus?” She’d always thought Garrus of all people would be good at getting a very defensible spot, not one with good defence on one side and a gaping hole behind him where the mercs could blast through.

Instead of answering he took another shot at the temporary merc base and then muttered, “Tell you what Shepard. You get me out of here and I’ll tell you the whole damn story.”

Those were terms the commander could agree with.

For a while they took out waves of mechs and mercs, after Garrus had warned them there were more on the way up. It looked like the Eclipse were employing the use of their synthetic forces in force. With a grin Shepard had fired the sniper the turian had let her look through, a perfect headshot surprisingly.

Jaroth, the leader of the Eclipse here on Omega, had sent down a heavy mech. The same one the trio had hacked before they’d come through onto the bridge. While they took cover and Garrus continued to snipe from the high point on the next floor up, the mech fired on the mercs, taking out all the enemies and just leaving Jaroth to take out. Which Mordin did with a little grunt of satisfaction and then they stood by his charred body for a few moments as they replaced thermal clips.

“Shepard. Get back here and we can plan out our next move.”

By the time they’d sorted themselves out and gotten back to Garrus their next move had been decided. The mercs had blasted through the doors in the lower floor and someone – namely Shepard – had to go close the shutters and keep them out. It was probably the Blood Pack down there as well. All Garrus had to say on the matter was, “Well, they had to use their brains at some point.”

Instead of leaving Garrus alone though Shepard insisted someone stay with him, and so she left with Miranda to close the shutters in the basement while Garrus and Mordin stayed up top to stem the flow of mercs crossing the bridge.

The first shutter was easy to close.

While Miranda provided covering fire Shepard sped forwards and slammed her hand on the controls. All they had to do was keep the mercs from obstructing the doors for a few seconds and then they were safe. The occasional pound from the other side dwindled away as the krogan and vorcha on the other side realised there was no use trying to get through.

Shepard went to the left shutter next as Garrus called over their Omni tools for her to hurry and get them closed.

The first thing she was met with was a barricade, and a vorcha behind it who slashed at her face. It caught her cheek with a long claw and Shepard felt the blood trickle down her skin and under the collar of her armour. As it took another swing at her the vorcha fell back, a round between its eyes. Shepard turned in time to see Miranda raise her pistol once more and take out the second vorcha who’d been waiting for them to jump the barricade.

Round the next corner they encountered their next challenge. A little of Miranda’s hair was singed as the vorcha pyro sent flames in her direction.

While she fumed about the loss of about a centimetre of hair from one tiny area in front of her shoulder Shepard tried to formulate a plan. When one came Miranda sighed and nodded at the outcome of her commander’s wild thinking.

She jumped out of cover and slammed against the barricade while the flames licked at her barriers. Shepard in turn put a well-placed round through the fuel tank on its back. As she dragged Miranda back behind the cover of the wall, the pyro exploded in a fiery mass of guts and twisted metal and both woman looked at their handy-work approvingly. “Nice shot Shepard.” All that was left to do was hit the switch and the shutter closed as they walked away.

The last shutter was by far their hardest challenge.

Miranda joked as they walked into the room filled with vorcha, varren and a charging krogan that Shepard had a strange idea of teambuilding exercises. The commander laughed but the sound was cut short as she cried out in pain.

Miranda charged around a corner to see a varren hanging off Shepard’s leg, determined to take a chunk of her armour with it as it writhed to get away.

Before it could, a shot rang out and it flumped to the floor. “Thanks,” Shepard muttered, a little out of breath, as she took out the vorcha that had been lining up a shot with Miranda’s back. “You too,” Miranda replied, nodding towards the vorcha as it bled out behind her.

With the last shutter closed and the body of two krogan, three varren and about twenty vorcha littering the room the women headed back to the upper levels to help out the aliens they’d left behind to keep an eye on things there, Shepard holding her weapon over her shoulder with a cocky grin. Same as always, the heat of battle made her feel truly alive.

Mordin’s voice came across their Omni tools asking them to hurry. They didn’t need to reply or ask what the issue was. As soon as they came through the doors they were met with an angry krogan charging them as it made its way to the stairs. According to Garrus as he called down to them this was Garm, the leader of the Omegan Blood Pack. Shepard shrugged though. He should die like any other.

He did, after the two humans tailed him from a safe distance up the stairs, flinging tech attacks and firing haphazard shots over their shoulders to take out the mercs trying to get them out the way, and Garrus and Mordin used everything they had to take down his armour and barriers. The rest after that were easy to deal with, demoralised idiots who thought taking on Shepard and Archangel was a good idea. True enough, if they’d beat them Aria T’loak herself might have congratulated them – before she killed them in case they became a threat. But all the same… it was a risk like no other trying to take on these heroes and hoping to live.

Garrus started to say there might be a way for them to get out of here alive after all, and he and Shepard began to plan out their escape while the other two stood guard. Mordin and Miranda both shouted at the same time as the gun ship hovered into sight and stopped at the window. All four of them dived into cover as the gun fired through the room, tearing up the couches and beds that made for very convenient cover in the situation. Then someone yelled out, “There coming down the side walls, and from underneath!” Shepard wasn’t sure who’d said it over the gunfire, but she took aim at the few mercs she could see on the floor below, the ones trying to get up the stairs, while Miranda and Mordin helped Garrus take out the ones coming down the walls. The Blue Suns were the only ones left, and Shepard wasn’t sure if the human woman or the batarian was their leader here on Omega. But she supposed it didn’t matter. They were dead.

“I thought I took that damned gun ship out for good last time…” Garrus mused as the attack dwindled into nothingness. Shepard grunted slightly as she limped over to him, blood trickling down her unarmoured right shin from the varren bite a while ago, “Yeah, they repaired it. Not fully though – I made sure of that.” She thought back to the welding rod she’d jammed into Cathka’s back with a slight wince. She didn’t like to think of the deaths she’d caused, even though they didn’t bother her. Of course, they didn’t bother her.

Another spray of supressing fire.

The gunship was back, this time without reinforcements to keep it held back in case friendly deaths were caused. Shepard threw herself down over Miranda as the operative looked franticly for a proper place to hide, saving her from a blast that probably would have cut her in half although it didn’t save them from embarrassment as they untangled themselves.

Mordin tried to incinerate parts of the ship until its armour was damaged and smouldering, then found his own cover. Garrus moved in to take a shot as the voice of a batarian rang out, shouting that this was the last time Archangel screwed things up for them.

As Garrus made a dash into better cover a blast echoed through the building, stilling everyone aside from the commander who dashed out of cover, sending an incinerate at the gun ship which damaged one of the already breaking engines. As the ship dropped from the sky Shepard dropped next to Garrus, determined to find some sigh of life.

“Shepard, we need to get him to the med bay. Now,” Miranda ordered her.

It didn’t matter who was commander of the Normandy then, Shepard needed someone to tell her what to do. She was panicking. Garrus let out a ragged breath, then groaned as he was picked up between Miranda and Shepard with Mordin sending a message through to the doctor. Chakwas would be waiting for them, they had to hurry.

She could feel Garrus slipping away with every step she took.

Chapter Text

Aria had watched the group staggering past the doors to Afterlife from the bar. Their appearance had attracted hardly any attention, and she supposed the people of Omega, like her, were more than used to this kind of happening.

But this wasn’t just any old mercenary group, this was Commander Shepard’s group, carrying between them the rag doll form of a well armoured turian. Between the three of them they made carrying him look almost easy – even from this distance she could tell the turian was male, by the long crest that jutted from the back of his scalp.

She assumed, as her men did, that this was Archangel.

She had heard all the rumours, the ones her thugs whispered behind her back when they thought she wouldn’t overhear. More than a few had been disposed of as a result of their whisperings. In a way Archangel had helped her clean a few traitors from her organisation, but there would always be more. And she wouldn’t thank him yet. She’d heard of his intentions, to take out the gangs then take out her. In public she had scoffed at the notion of being taken down by a single turian vigilante when she commanded the mercenary armies. But her heart had squeezed with fear each time she’d overheard the rumours. If he wanted to come after her she doubted she could stop him. Her biotics may be stronger but a shot from a sniper rifle was faster. The sight of it strapped to the back of his armour made her shiver.

With the wave of her hand she stilled the heavies beside her as they aimed their weapons towards the doorway. How much panic would a firefight in Afterlife cause? There would be collateral damage, not that she cared, but it wasn’t worth the effort. The lives of these men belonged to her, one way or another, and she was not about to waste them so pointlessly by sending them to fight with Shepard.

Besides, she had something of a mutual respect for the human. It would be a shame to ruin what could be a beneficial alliance between the two of them.

What had caught her attention most of all was the limp in the Commanders step. Every time she put weight on her left leg her body shuddered downwards slightly and she quickly went to her right leg. With some satisfaction Aria realised her men had done some damage to Shepard and smirked. The woman had taken down a Reaper and here she was, injured by a bunch of halfwit mercs. She imagined her face under her helmet, the wince that flickered through her eyes with every second step. But her mind was racing with the possibility that someone in her ranks had been able to hurt her, the Butcher of Torfan and Saviour of the Citadel. Someone she had overlooked.

And the thought troubled her.

Suddenly annoyed she called over one of the batarian bartenders, who had been hovering just close enough to make his indecision obvious, and demanded a drink. The batarian returned, fear in his four eyes and placed a tumbled on the counter before backing away to a suitable distance. Aria took a small sip, nodded her approval, and then left with her bodyguards flanking her. As she walked she created her own personal bubble of space, the dancers on the floor shifting to let her pass without stopping their dancing. No one wanted to be too obvious in their fear, but she could smell it on them all the same.

Back at her platform she relaxed, letting her back rest against the red leather and crossing one leg over the other. Even laid back she was almost as intimidating as while doing business, with her shoulders set, and she knew it. From here she could hear everything that was happening down below, even if she had her back turned to it. Another way to flaunt her superiority over them, exposing herself to every danger but knowing none of them would be brave enough to take a shot at her. She could have everyone in this room executed without a moment’s notice if she wanted, it had happened before. Her subjects knew this, and so they behaved.

Her hands traced idle patterns in the condensation of her glass as she watched two of her men bickering among themselves. She didn’t even blink as a shot rang out through the club, silencing everything but the heavy bass that thrummed through the room, and one of them slumped to the floor.

With the flick of her wrist the pulled the gun from the other’s hand and threw it aside in a haze of blue energy. He looked at her, waiting for her to do something to him. Instead she nodded and continued enjoying her drink. The conversations resumed below her and she sighed. Everything was as it should be. Or it would have been if she hadn’t received a worrying report that the Normandy was still docked three hours later. Her hands gripped the glass until it cracked beneath her fingers, and in her frustration she launched it at the far wall where it shattered upon impact. The asari sighed deeply and ran her hand over her crest, the markings above her eyes coming together as a frown creased her brow.

“Fetch me the Commander, Anto,” she ordered, her voice no more than a hushed whisper.

Anto made his way efficiently through the crowd. The same aura that surrounded Aria and kept the rabble at a distance also protected her henchmen as they went about their business. Only inside the club though. Outside this room it was anyone’s guess what could happen to them. The disappearances went unmourned and often unnoticed, by the citizens and their ruling monarch.

While she waited the Pirate Queen’s mind tried to piece together the puzzle of why the ship hadn’t left already. When it had been Mordin Shepard wanted they had left within the hour of returning to the Cerberus vessel. But now they had Archangel they were waiting around. Maybe waiting for a moment to strike, for the turian to act upon those rumours that had been circulating her ranks since his first attacks on the gangs and her shipments. She had felt justified in handing weapons to the gangs as they tried to take him down, but now she was unsure if involving herself had been the right idea. Her uncertainty mush have shown on her face.

“Everything alright Aria?” She turned to face whoever had the gall to use her name without being invited to it, but her frown faded as she looked at Grizz. The young turian had served her well since he’d began his work for her, getting out of whatever life he had before and into a successful one as perhaps the most trusted of her people. He didn’t speak much of himself, but she knew enough, and had something of a soft spot for him. Although she could never admit it. There was something about Grizz that made him trustworthy, and that was both as dangerous as it was appealing.

Rising from her couch the asari nodded, then stopped herself. No, it wasn’t okay. She was sitting here, blind and helpless waiting for word to get back to her or a bullet in her brain and there was nothing she could do about either.

Grizz watched her curiously as she paced, her eyes scanning the crowds. He adjusted his grip on the assault rifle he carried as though it should be reassuring to his Queen that he was ready for battle should the need arise. He knew that look in her eye by now and if she was anxious so was he. It had been the same look she’d worn when that asari had visited two years ago looking for the Commander after her disappearing act. Of course Aria tried her best to cover it up with bravado and intimidation, and it worked on most people, but not much got past Grizz.

Anto jogged back up the stairs to Aria’s throne and stopped beside Grizz.

“Shepard said she’ll be by when she can. Got a crew member who’s pretty banged up, he needs medical care.” Aria considered and nodded. Anto retreated to a dark corner, standing watch from there as he knew the asari preferred. Other than Grizz and himself there weren’t many she would trust to stand this close to her with weapons loaded. Looking from the batarian to the turian Aria began muttering under her breath, speaking low enough that only Grizz could hear. He nodded once and left her side quickly to perform his task. Anto stiffened as Aria approached him, but she only made to head down to the bar, most likely to get herself yet another drink, her bodyguards falling into place behind her. As always Anto watched then carefully, even as Aria prepared to throw up her barriers at a second’s notice.

- x -

Shepard sighed and brushed her fingers under her eyes. How long had she been sitting here?

Her bloodshot eyes wandered to the holographic clock on her desk and she frowned. She’d been back on the Normandy for five hours, and most of that time had been spent either worrying in the Med Bay or crying alone in her room. Shakily she tried to get to her feet, and ended up sitting in the chair at her desk. An improvement from the hard floor, but not what she had wanted.

After a few more tears had fallen she tried again to get to her feet and stay there. She swayed for a second, then took a staggered first step, focusing on holding herself up just until she could reach the door. As her hands hit the hard metal of the door she grinned, laughing at her own weakness and stupidity. It was a hollow sound that made her want to shiver despite the warmth in her cabin. When the door slid open without her command she almost fell through it into Miranda’s arms.

The operative looked at her, appraising the creases in her clothes, the redness in her eyes, the way her hair was brushed back from anxious fingers running through it too many times. Miranda had never thought to find her commanding officer in this state. The reports of Shepard had shown her a woman who had faced a rogue Spectre without second though, who had lead an assault on a Reaper from the Citadel Tower and saved the alien council in the process. Someone who had left a comrade to die without questioning her decision. And here that woman was, with tear stains on her cheeks and barely holding herself upright.

“Commander, I…”

She didn’t know what to say. Shepard had been easier to deal with when she had been in pieces on a medical table. Miranda had known how to make her feel better then, when the only comfort she needed was in the cold prick of a needle stitching her skin together over a meaty frame of muscle and tissue. Instead of words she placed a hand on her shoulder and hoped her eyes conveyed the message she could not manage. The commander smiled weakly and shook her head. “I’m an idiot.”

Miranda took a step towards her and put her other hand on Shepard’s other shoulder. “You’re not an idiot. Look at all the things you’ve done, Shepard. Who else took down a Reaper and Saren and still lived to tell the tale?”

“I had a team backing me. You make it sound like I did it alone.” Shepard pushed away from her XO and headed towards her bed, stumbling gracelessly down the two stairs to the living area of her cabin. She leant against the fish tank to keep herself up, thankful she had refrained from going to any of the stores on Omega in search of a fish to put in it. She more fell than sat on the edge of her bed and sighed, resting her elbows on her knees and staring blankly between her feet.

Miranda followed her, sitting on the couch instead of beside her. Shepard supposed their recent tension made sudden friendship impossible, but right now she wouldn’t even turn away the Illusive Man.

They sat in silence for a long while, Shepard not speaking as she tried to keep more tears from falling and Miranda too unsure to dare saying the wrong thing. In the end the Cerberus Operative cleared her throat and her commander looked up slightly. “You don’t… have to hide if you’re upset Shepard. I know I’m better at paperwork than I am with people but if you ever need someone you know where to find me.” Shepard stared at her until Miranda began to feel uncomfortable.

Shepard was surprised. She had expected that from Kelly maybe, if she had let the yeoman get this close to her, or maybe from Jacob if he could tear himself away from the weapons bench for long enough. But Miranda had been the last person she expected sentimentality and comfort from. The operative seemed to almost visibly squirm under her gaze and Shepard snapped out of her thoughts, smiling softly and nodding. “Thank you. And you know where to find me, unless I’m out being shot at.”

They both laughed.

It felt good, sitting here with Miranda and talking about nothing in particular. Every now and then Miranda would check her omni-tool, but it was more out of habit then boredom. At some point though the operative would have to go and reply to the dozen messages she had been ignoring while sitting here. Shepard partly wished she had invested in a bottle of wine and some glasses, maybe some Noverian rum, while they had been on Omega. No one there would question someone leaving with a bottle of alcohol. But she didn’t have any, so she made do with offering Miranda her choice of energy drinks and bars.

She was pleased when Miranda screwed up her nose at the bars, but accepted one of the fruit flavoured drinks. It turned out she wasn’t the only one who disliked the energy bars. She remembered the Alliance giving them to her for the first time during a particularly gruelling training session. She’d thought she would throw up as soon as it touched her tongue, and tried to find an ingredient that was some chemical she’d never heard of but probably would have done if she’d paid more attention in school. Miranda laughed when Shepard told her this story, but there was a sadness in her eyes as Shepard carried on telling her about her home life on Mindoir. The commander seemed at peace with what had happened to the colony and her family, so why did these stories make her feel uneasy.

“I’m sorry, I’m rambling aren’t I?” Shepard grinned apologetically and looked down at her omnitool as it flashed for her attention. Miranda muttered about it being okay as Shepard read her messages. She’d been pretending they weren’t there while she’d enjoyed Miranda’s company. One from Chakwas, a report on Garrus’ state no doubt that she couldn’t bring herself to read, and one from an unknown sender on Omega who would be waiting by the docking bay for her. It was timestamped almost half an hour ago. With a sigh she closed it down and looked to her XO. “I should probably deal with this…”

“Of course, I didn’t mean to keep you Commander.”

Shepard shook her head at how quickly the mask of operative came over Miranda and put a hand on her arm as she made to leave. “I’m glad you came Miranda.” Miranda smiled and nodded, “And I’m glad you finally called me Miranda.”

Again they both laughed and as the elevator doors closed on Miranda, Shepard headed back to her room to wash her face and change her clothes.

 

Grizz was surprised at how the great Commander Shepard looked when she came through the doors of the docking bay. She wasn’t wearing armour, like he had seen in every picture of her Aria had sent him to help identify her. There was no red stripe down her arm and no visor over her eyes. He was almost convinced her should wait for someone else she he couldn’t see any firearms on her person. But as she came closer he decided it was her. No one else on this station could walk with that confidence being seemingly unarmed and unarmoured. She wore her red hair down. He was unsure if it was dyed or natural, but he didn’t have enough of an interest to ask. Her eyes glittered, even if they were slightly red. He decided he didn’t have enough interest in the reason to ask about that either.

“Shepard. Aria wants to see you.” The commander regarded him coolly, seeing if she could make him uncomfortable like she had Miranda. He didn’t show any sign of unease, but then she wasn’t good at reading the emotions on turian faces.

Garrus had been a different matter, she had seen him every day for months and come to learn the specifics of how his plates shifted over his features. A few things were obvious, a certain flick of the mandibles for a smile for example, but she was unaware how turians communicated with their own kind and generally unwilling to try learning.

With her hands in the pockets of her jeans Shepard followed him through the slowly building crowds outside Afterlife. The queue to get in was longer than the last time she had been here and she still found herself smirking as she bypassed them all and walked past the batarian bouncers with a nod to Anto. He was always on the door when she came through, and she wondered if that had been planned. Grizz didn’t stop for her as they made their way through the dancers and drinkers on the floor and up towards Aria’s throne.

The Pirate Queen watched her as she walked between her subjects, scrutinising the way she walked with confidence and without a weapon.

It was unlike the commander to be stupid, but from what she knew of her it was in her nature to be reckless. In a sleeveless tank top and tight denim jeans, with a black shoulder bag bouncing against the backs of her thigh with every step, it was almost easy to forget how much of a threat this one human could pose. She looked just like any of the others swaying on the floor or swigging drinks from various shaped glasses. Aria sighed and returned to her couch, picking up her own tumbler from the floor by her feet and downing the contents in three swallows. It burned as it slid down her throat, might have made her eyes water if she wasn’t so used to it. She smiled at the feeling. It was familiar and painful and she loved it.

Shepard was standing in front of her as she put the glass back down. With the wave of a hand Aria sent the batarian away before he tried to scan the commander. She didn’t have any obvious weapons on her, so chances were the foolish soldier had decided she’d be safe enough on Omega without any kind of defence since she would be with Aria. It almost made her laugh – for all the bodyguards hovering around her throne at all times it was possibly the most dangerous spot in Omega. She was there after all.

“Commander,” she greeted offhandedly,” Take a seat.” Shepard nodded and took the seat across from Aria. While they may be on good terms with each other, or on terms she would deem as good even if they were a little rough around the edges, she didn’t want to invade the asari’s space. She remembered only too well the stories she had been told about the Pirate Queen of Omega.

And she still had to find out why she had been called here in the first place. Reclining against the backrest of the couch she crossed one leg over the other and looked expectantly at the asari. Aria rolled her eyes. Shepard looked like a small puppy begging for scraps. But she would have to work for her treats.

“I hear you dealt with Archangel.” Shepard looked at her curiously. Was this really all she had been asked here for, to discuss the finer details of her slowly building team and her old friend Aria had thought about having killed? The asari was smiling at her. It was unnerving to say the least. Aria looked down to her glass and frowned at its empty state. Waving a hand she summoned one of her dancers and nudged the glass towards her with the toe of her boot. Flicking her gaze to Shepard once more she asked, rather pleasantly, “What are you drinking?” Taken aback by the offer as well as her tone the commander didn’t have time to answer before Aria had decided for her. She sat for a few minutes in silence with the Matriarch while they waited for two glasses on Noverian rum and the rest of the bottle. Shepard shrugged and got comfortable.

She had been wishing she had something to drink after all.

Their drinks came quickly – of course they did for Aria T’loak – and Shepard eyed the contents suspiciously. Was rum supposed to be this colour, tinted slightly the same colour as those blue raspberry ice drinks she had loved as a kid. Aria downed her glass at once and sighed contentedly as she once more relished it burning down her throat. Her eyes fell on the commander, who was busy giving the contents of her glass mistrusting looks as though it would reveal the secrets of the galaxy if she intimidated it enough.

She had never really looked at Shepard before, and now she did… there was something about her that captured her attention. A certain strength and promise of more power than she let on and something of herself reflected in those green eyes. With a smirk she thought about how easily she could snap the commander like a twig, and then banished the thought as she realised how untrue it was. It troubled her to think of it, but if it came down to a one on one fight between the two of them she wasn’t sure how confident she would be. She wouldn’t bet on it. But any fight with the human wouldn’t be one on one, that much at least she was certain of.

“Archangel is back on my ship. He’s actually an old friend.” The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. The markings over Aria’s eyes raised quickly before the asari schooled her features beck into a neutral mask. Taking a deep swig of her rum the commander tried to ignore the eyes burning into her. It felt like a long while before Aria broke their silence. “I’m glad he’s off my station. He looked rough when you carried him back.” She watched as Shepard straightened awkwardly in her seat and slowly lowered her glass from her lips.

Part of her took satisfaction in making this uncomfortable for the soldier, but mostly she was just bored and looking for some form of amusement. Riling up the commander would have to do for now even if it hadn’t been the best idea for many of her enemies before now.

With some effort Shepard managed to reply, “He is. If you can spare any medical supplies I’d be grateful.” The request was simple and normally the Pirate Queen would have just agreed to have it done with, but today was apparently different. She lent forwards and grinned. “Make it worth my time.” Shepard looked confused and edged away from the asari, trying to make it look as though she was just getting into a more comfortable position. Aria managed not to laugh at her guest’s attempt at discretion. She was sitting up here with the Pirate Queen of Omega – there was no such thing as comfortable, not if she could help it.

Digging through her shoulder bag Shepard produced a data pad, the one she had taken from the mercenaries in the assault on Archangel’s hideout. A plot from within her ranks had to be enough to get Aria talking, and if it wasn’t the human was all out of ideas. She watched as the Omegan read carefully, eyes seeming to narrow with each new line, until she snapped her head up and gestured to Anto. He stepped forwards, only to have the data pad hit him in the face and stagger backwards a step in shock. His hands gripped the assault rifle he carried, but there was no threat of him using it. Shepard recognised it as just a reflex to being surprised and relaxed again.

“How the hell did this slip the net?” the asari questioned angrily, her eyes fixed on her thug.

He stood tall before her, which only seemed to make her madder, and she rose to her feet. She was shorter than him, even if she was probably taller than most asari Shepard had dealt with. The commander wouldn’t be surprised if she was shorter than Aria, but it didn’t bother her. She had faced down a Reaper, what did size matter anymore.

Anto was nervous, she could tell by the twitching of his hand over the butt of his rifle and the way his eyes often darted away from Aria’s for just a moment. And if Shepard could tell his boss could too. Aria grabbed the front of his armour and pulled him close, snarling, “Go deal with this, now.” Anto nodded, mumbled confirmation and walked quickly away, no doubt glad to be leaving and getting away from the angered Queen. With what seemed to be a calming breath Aria reclaimed her seat on the couch and crossed her legs.

“Apparently I have some cleaning to do in my organisation. I owe you Shepard, so expect those supplies very soon.” As she spoke Aria tapped away at her omni-tool, sending messages to her trusted people to deal with the mess the conspiracy against her had caused and to deliver medical supplies to the Normandy ASAP. If anything happened to the turian bastard Aria knew she would share the blame, and that wasn’t something she wanted meddling with her unspoken alliance with the commander.

As powerful as she was, having powerful friends could never hurt.

With a smile Shepard nodded her thanks. Words couldn’t convey how important saving Garrus was to her, so she didn’t use them. Instead she rose to her feet and stood in front of the asari. “I guess I should be getting back then. See if they need any help with-“

“Do you have better medical training than your Alliance doctor, commander?” Aria asked abruptly, interrupting the human as she began to make her excuses. Shepard looked oddly at her once more, feeling as though it was a trick question. The truthful answer was no, she hardly had anything better than what she’d need in the field in terms of medical experience, but she wanted to help and enthusiasm had to count for something. Aria waited for her answer. The commander shook her head. With a smile Aria patted her hand against the couch beside her and tapped the bottle of rum with her foot. “Then help me finish this.” It wasn’t a command so much as an invitation, and Shepard accepted, not as reluctantly as she would like to think.

Chapter Text

Miranda hadn't bothered to approach the Commander with their new dossier from the Illusive Man when she'd returned from Afterlife in what she assumed would be the early hours of the morning for the Omegans. She'd been tipsy to say the least and muttering about how beautiful half the members of the crew were as she staggered through the CIC. Her hair had been out of place, her clothes somewhat creased and the smell of rum had hung on her breath. Those members of the crew who took notice seemed unsure how to react. They kept their faces straight and did the heads down as their leader marched drunkenly from one side of the deck to the other.

Instead of ignoring her Miranda had taken pity on her, grabbed her by her arm and lead her gently away into the lift and up to her quarters. Once there she'd helped remove her boots, stopped Shepard from stripping down while she was still in the room and brought her a glass of water. It was a small gesture but she hoped it counted for something.

As little as it mattered to Shepard, she knew how the Commander felt. She'd lost people before too.

Then she'd returned to her own room, sat behind her desk and looked into the Kasumi Goto the dossier mentioned. It didn't tell her much beside a name and and shady occupation. Kasumi had been hired by Cerberus for her skill in thievery and stealth, both valuable assets she was sure but she also wondered how useful they would be on board a ship. In the middle of space.

Yawning she dropped the data pad down on the desk and sat back in her seat. It was frustrating, overturning every metaphorical rock on the extranet and Cerberus networks and coming up with nothing. This woman was good at what she did and Miranda wasn't sure she appreciated it anymore.

Maybe at this point Shepard had the right idea - copious amounts of alcohol until she forgot her problems. Not a long term solution by any means, and the Commander would surely be in the Med bay in the morning looking for medication to get rid of her hangover. If only such a magical cure really existed.

Taking her annoyance at the universe in general as her cue to give up and go to bed, Miranda left her desk and walked past the hardly noticeable partition towards her bed. She unzipped the front of her jump suit and pulled it to around her waist then shimmied it over her hips. It was skin tight, but she'd grown to like the way it hugged her body. Dropping the suit onto the floor she unclasped her bra - leopard print - before tugging on a too-long navy shirt.

She hid under the covers and closed her eyes, a much better cure for ignoring her problems.

She woke up early the next morning, before the alarm on her omni-tool began ringing and vibrating at her wrist. For a while she lay staring up at the ceiling of her quarters, her mind blissfully empty. And then she remembered Kasumi and the probably hungover Commander who was likely still snoring away in her own bed. How she could sleep with the fish tank making that monotonous gurgling noise was beyond her.

It took some time for her to force herself out of bed. It was by no means the most comfortable place she had slept - she'd grown up in the lap of luxury and never stayed in hotels rated below 4 stars. But she knew that once she was out of it she wouldn't see it again until the day was through. It wasn't a comforting thought, but at least she wasn't hungover.

Showered and dressed, Miranda walked the short distance from her quarters to the main crew deck and took a seat at the round table. Gardener was again serving the usual rationed breakfast: high energy porridge with a mug of steaming coffee. Miranda made her own tea instead.

Mordin, Jacob and a few general hands were sat with her. Mordin had an empty plate in front of him and a half finished coffee in his hands. When he'd first joined the crew Mordin had experimented with the porridge and found it not to his liking. The coffee was, unfortunately, a different matter. He was hyper enough without added caffeine. While Miranda carefully ate through her own bowl of the bland oat mix Jacob polished of his first and went for a second, shovelling it into his mouth as though he was starving. Miranda tried not to watch him.

She jumped when her alarm went off, almost dropping her spoon. Quickly, she switched it off trying to avoid the stares of her crew mates, and then turned with them towards the new arrival on the deck.

“Turn that noise off Lawson,” Shepard grumbled as she came and fell into the seat between the operative and the salarian scientist. Apparently being hungover made her incredibly irritable as well as making her look like every noise offended her. Miranda sighed. She had already turned it off, but she nodded anyway and moved her own mug of tea towards the soldier. Shepard took it without so much as a thank you and drained the drink in a matter of seconds. Sighing again Miranda finished her breakfast and left the table, grabbing a mug do hot water as she went. “Come see me when you're done Commander.”

Back in her office Miranda went to the chair by the window. The mug she placed on as small table that sat beside it. Running a hand through her dark hair she thought about what she needed to do today. Sometimes it felt like things would have been simpler if she’d left Shepard in pieces for the Shadow Broker's collection, but that hadn't been an option. Besides, whether she was trouble or not she was worth more alive than dead.

She was a hero.

She was watching the colours from a herbal teabag diffuse into the hot water on the table when Shepard came in, squinting against the bright lights. Waving a hand, her omni-tool glowing bright orange like a gauntlet, Miranda dimmed them, much to the soldier's approval.

“So, did you have something for me?” Shepard asked, leaning against the desk. Miranda decided not to stand up and began stirring the tea with a spoon as she pointed to the desk with the other hand. “The Illusive Man sent us a new dossier.”

She watched as the Commander picked up the data pad from the desk, pushing aside as few papers as she took it, and read slowly. It took a while, probably time for her eyes to focus and her hurting head to process words, before Shepard looked up from the screen. “Kasumi Goto? I guess it takes all kinds?” Miranda knew she was referring to their being sent after after known thief and she wasn't happy about it either. But all the same, she she was sure they wouldn't be sent after someone who couldn't in some way benefit and compliment their current team. She told Shepard that, before taking a long few sips of the purple tea.

Shepard nodded but she didn't say anything in reply. Probably still hung up on Kasumi’s occupation.

- x -

Considering she was a thief Kasumi wasn't too bad. The three women had been forced to rent a room at one of the hotels in the wards while their ship back to OMega and the Normandy was prepped. It would take all day apparently, so they’d decided to stay the night. At least they'd be well rested.

Miranda was asleep on the couch, while Kasumi had taken up residence at the mini bar - a fancy addition to their room thanks to MIranda’s deep pockets - and Shepard was sitting cross legged on the bed. It wasn't uncomfortable, it wasn't loud, but her mind was too transfixed on the scenarios running through her head. What if they were gone while Garrus’ condition deteriorated? What if Aria tracked them to get them away from the space station but had some alternative plans for the crew of the Normandy? Anything could be happening while she was away, wasting her time here.

“You okay Shep?” Kasumi looked at her with concern written all over her face, or at least the amount of her face that the Commander could see.

Shepard sighed and shrugged, not wanting to share what was going through her mind right now. Garrus Vakarian had been her best friend since they worked together on the Normandy SR-1, and now she had found him again she couldn't bear to lose him. She sighed again and fell back against the pillows. It was easier to pretend she was sleeping than answer the questions of her team mates. It wasn't a healthy attitude, but there was nothing to be done about it.

Her meeting with the Council had not gone well either. They’d accused her of being a traitor to their cause, of working for Cerberus. She wasn't working for them, they were providing her with the means to carry out missions that the Alliance and the rest of the galaxy weren’t making any progress with. Only Anderson had stood by her, and he was overruled by the others. At least they gave her back the Spectre status she’d achieved two years ago, even if it was only a formality and of no real help. Not yet.


She closed her eyes, but didn't sleep all night. Instead she thought of Omega, her friend and it’s queen.

- x -

The next day she pretended to wake with a spring in her step. The others followed her willingly, smiles on their faces, as they headed down for breakfast and then back to the ship that had brought them here. The Captain didn't seem too pleased to have another passenger, but didn't say anything about it as Commander Shepard walked aboard his craft. It was an honour, even if it was terrifying at the same time.

She had killed so many smugglers and criminals, it was hard for an Omegan like himself to feel comfortable around her. But he did his best to keep his cool, even tried to strike up a half hearted conversation after the ship had entered FTL speeds.

It didn't feel like a long ride back to Omega. granted , Shepard had slept through most of it, relying on the two women to keep them safe and wake her if anything went arwy. Trusting a thief and a Cerberus agent was a new one for the Commander, but she didn't care anymore. If she was going to work with these people to save humanity, she’d have to learn to trust them.

And they’d have to have her back whatever the situation.

Back on Omega, she ran straight to the Normandy, sprinting past civilians and Aria’s hired thugs with no apologies for those she ran into. She didn't want to waste another second of her time. She had to get back to Garrus.

What if he was already gone?

What if she had been too slow, if she was too late to save him?

What if -

She burst through the doors to the medbay and collapsed onto her knees., tears in her eyes. She shouldn't have been so stupid, Garrus was too stubborn for his own good.

He was sitting up on the edge of the medical bed, with a bandage and a gauze over one side of his jaw and some nice scarring already creeping out from underneath. His face was going to be a right mess when he could finally take that thing off, but she suspected it wouldn't be for a long time.

“Commander, you shouldn't exert yourself like that over nothing. You’ve been dead for two years, take it easy.”

Doctor Chakwas loved to scold her, always had ever since the first time they’d met. But she was right, she always was, and Shepard couldn't express how grateful she was for her being here right now.

Garrus chuckled, and then groaned, holding a hand against his mandibles. “Shouldn't laugh,” he muttered. His low voice was even more gravelly than usual, and it made Shepard recoil a little just to hear it. He cleared his throat and flicked out his not-bandaged mandible in a half smile. It was the best he could manage right now.

“I thought… Garrus, you’re a fucking idiot, you know that?”

The turian nodded and sighed. The next time he wanted to keep his skills sharp, he promised he’d at least wait for Shepard to be brought back from the dead so she could help him. She laughed at that, and he rose to his feet with a groan. Chakwas looked on with a concerned crease in her brow.

“You take it easy too, Vakarian. If you hate the medbay so much, try to keep out of trouble.”

Shepard assumed Garrus had spent the entirety of his time awake complaining about how much he loathed the idea of receiving medical attention, even when he was bleeding out from taking a rocket to the face. Well, technically to the heavily armoured chest, but his face had taken the brunt of the damage by the looks of things. Should've kept that helmet on.

“Commander, I heard you were back.”

Jacob did not announce himself before he walked in on this moment. He stopped in the doorway, looking between the three already in the room, then nodded and apologised. He went to wait outside. Garrus chuckled again, softly this time. “He was by earlier.”

Shepard moved to sit next to him on the bed, leaning her head against his shoulder - as gently as she could - and sighed. “He can wait, i’m where I need to be.”

Chapter Text

After another half decent night’s sleep, Shepard finally felt ready to actually take on the day. Honestly, she’d lost track of what time it was being on Omega for so long. The Illusive Man had sent messages to Miranda hinting that he wanted them to get a move on, but the Commander found they made her want to stay longer.

With a sigh she sat up, looking around her deserted cabin.

Except, it wasn't deserted. Miranda was sitting at the table by her bed, legs crossed and a dossier in her hands. “Good morning,” she muttered, without looking up from the file.

Shepard mumbled a greeting back, unsure if she actually formed words or if she’d just made incoherent noises at her XO. either way Miranda seemed satisfied, and put down the datapad with a smile.

“You’re looking better. Since you've slept properly I mean.” Shepard was surprised that Miranda had even noticed her state of sleep deprivation and her general lack of energy at all. She always seemed so busy. But the operative had been full of surprises recently, so really she should start to expect the unexpected.

She nodded. “I am, thanks.” It had been a while since she’d felt this well rested, too long. She really did feel a whole lot better than she had before. Miranda smiled.

“Well, I’m sure you won't mind wandering back to Afterlife to say goodbye to Aria T’loak before we set off?”

Shepard stared at her. As the Commander of the ship she’d like to think she should know when they had plans to go elsewhere, she’d like to think she was the one who made these plans to go elsewhere. But apparently Miranda was taking care of all that now and leaving her in the dark.

Shepard was had half a mind to tell her she was out of line, but it was too early for that. She thought it was anyway. She couldn't see the clock from where she was. Instead she groaned and struggled into a sitting position, huddling the covers around her. The bed was still too soft. “Where are we going?” she asked with a frown.

“You remember the Purgatory prison ship? They still have one of our recruits, and they want us there soon or the deal’s off.” Miranda explained it all very clearly, with the air of someone who’d already had their morning coffee, and maybe a shower, before getting to work. Shepard had no such luxury, and she just nodded, rubbing her bleary eyes with the back of her hands.

“Okay, get the crew ready. I’ll go let her know we’re heading out.” She made a mental note to also thank her for the medical supplies, but she supposed that was why she was putting in the effort of going to tell her in person instead of sending a message or letting the docking control deal with their departure.

Miranda beamed at her successful negotiations - which was no big victory when her target was a sleepy Commander Shepard - and left the cabin promptly before she could change her mind.

Left alone, Shepard swung herself out of bed, stripped out of her night clothes and stepped into the shower. She’d have her own morning coffee once she was clean and dressed for the day.

It took her about ten minutes to shower, the same amount of time to find a decent outfit that didn't display the Cerberus logo in five places, and then a few minutes to check everything was where it should be. Miranda had left a glass on the table, which she collected after making her bed to military standards, and then she made her way to the lift.

One day she was going to as EDI to download some relaxing music so she didn't have to ride the lift in silence.

On the crew deck she was faced with half her crew, all getting ready for the journey ahead. Some bustled around with toast slices hanging from their mouths, others grabbed and downed cups of coffee, tossing paper cups into the waste paper bin ready for disposal. She made her way much more calmly than the other crewmembers over to the coffee machine, waited for a few hurried men and women to fill their cups before she filled her own, and then went to find a seat at the nearly empty table.

It was surprising that only Kasumi sat here, despite the amount of bodies moving around. It was a fully manned ship, and yet there wasn't even a skeleton crew worth of people at the table.

“Morning Shep,” the thief greeted as she took a seat beside the Commander instead of sitting cross legged on the tabletop. Shepard took a long drink of her coffee before she returned the greeting with a smile.

Kasumi was always so chipper and full of energy, sometimes Shepard worried about her. But then, it was awfully comforting to know she could always swing by the observation deck Kasumi had claimed as her quarters for a chat with the woman. They had many long and interesting conversations, especially when they helped themselves to some of the various drinks from the small bar in the room.

Maybe Cerberus had intended it to be a small gathering room for the crew, instead of sleeping quarters for Kasumi Goto.

This morning they sat in a comfortable silence while the rest of the ship was noisy around them. Shepard had found it very easy to feel comfortable around the thief, surprisingly. She had expected it to be awkward, a soldier of the Alliance and a master criminal, but that hadn't been the case.

“So where we off to, Shep?” Kasumi asked as the riot in the kitchen and dining area began to die down.

Shepard filled her in on what she knew about Jack - or Subject Zero. They were a powerful biotic, by all accounts, although Shepard would believe it when she saw it. Asari commandos were supposed to have some of the best biotic training available, and yet she’d taken down several when she’d fought her way through to Matriarch Benezia two years ago.

It still only felt like months ago to her, oddly enough.

Other than that there wasn't a lot to tell about their new potential, except they they were wanted in an impressive amount of systems for various crimes that she couldn't remember off the top of her head. Kasumi decided it would be best to go read the files, instead of picking the Commander’s brain when she had to go see the Queen of Omega.

“Best not keep her waiting Commander,” Kasumi warned her. And with that she was gone, cloaked and heading off either to her quarters or to cause some kind of mischief in the engineering decks again.

Shepard nodded to herself. She really shouldn't keep Aria waiting.

- x -

The Queen of Omega watched her come into the club again. She was getting used to waiting for Shepard to arrive. She didn't like getting too familiar with a visitor. It might make her look weak, and if she was anything she wasn't that. She was going out on a limb to trust Shepard, but she might not have to for much longer.

Word had come from down on the docks that there had been a lot of activity around the Normandy since the early hours, and so she’d come to wait for the Commander to visit with thanks or threats. Either one, she would be here to receive them.

Anto scanned her as she came up the stairs, Aria didn't even bother to offer her a seat.

Instead she rose to her feet, locking eyes with her dangerously. “So how is Archangel,” she asked quickly, before Shepard could say anything. The Commander coughed quickly to clear her throat and gave her the full report.

Garrus would be fine in a week or so, ready to be up and about properly. It would be a while longer before he was combat ready, but knowing the turian he’d try to get down in the fighting before he’d received the all clear from the Doctor.

“Your medical supplies were, well, invaluable or so I’m told,” Shepard told her. She really didn't know how to thank her. If it wasn't for Aria and her help she might have been giving her a completely different story about the well-being of the vigilante. The Normandy might be setting off one crew member short.

Shepard didn't know anything about turian funerals, she was glad she didn't need to find out yet.

“Well, then I suppose we’re even. Unless there’s something else you wanted?” Aria asked, amused as Shepard wracked her brain to think if there was anything else.

She shook her head. She had only come to let her know that the Normandy was preparing to set off from Omega. Shepard might even miss these little chats she had with Aria, just a little bit.

Aria nodded and sighed. “Well, I suppose you’ll be one less problem to fix.” Shepard didn't know what that was supposed to mean but she accepted it all the same. Maybe it was just Aria’s way of saying goodbye and good luck, but Shepard doubted it.

The soldier wished there was some way she could repay Aria for her help though. It wasn't every day the Pirate Queen of Omega saved your best friend after all. She had no idea what she could do for her though, so with a final nod and a sigh she turned to leave. “I’m sure I’ll be causing more trouble for you soon, Aria,” she said over her shoulder as she headed down the stairs. Aria scowled after her, but didn't do anything about it. Part of her feared it was some kind of threat, but most of her knew it was just human wit - as dull and predictable as always.

She watched Shepard walk through the doors, just to make sure she really was going. She wasn't about to take any chances with this one.

- x -

Shepard was smiling as she stepped aboard the Normandy with a last quick look at Omega. They’d been here for weeks. It would be good to be back out on her mission, but she didn't relish the idea of being back in the empty void of space. She had it in her mind to cancel their departure and tell the warden of the prison ship that she wanted that prisoner brought to her.

But that wouldn't be practical, and she had to face up to her fear eventually.

Some of her crew greeted her. She had known every member of the SR-! Crew by name, knew small details about their lives. But this crew were as alien to her as they could be, just a blur of faces Cerberus had sent her with the aim to get her mission done as effectively as possible. She nodded back and offered her most encouraging smiles. This would be an interesting journey to say the least.

In the cockpit Joker was busy in the middle of a heated argument with EDI. they bickered like an old married couple, although she could never say it to their faces - Joker would be offended and EDI might start spouting statistics or need the human expression explained.

“Hey Commander. Ready to get the hell outta here?” Joker asked as she approached him. He spun to face her in the leather seat, reclining as he did. He looked way too comfortable, but the best pilot in the Alliance deserved it.

Shepard nodded, “Take us out Joker.”

EDI was silent for once as Joker laughed and fired up the mass effect drives. The Normandy pulled away from the docking bay, and they were away.

Chapter Text

The next weeks were a blur of FTL travel, mass relay jumps and gunfire as the Commander and her squad sped through the galaxy, collecting new additions to their team and making new friends and enemies along the way. They had stopped at the location marked on the galaxy map, determined by Aria’s information as to a reward for bringing the plot against her life to her attention. Shepard had wondered since if it would have been better to let the mercs kill her, but Garrus had convinced her that Aria, while one of the evils in the galaxy, was a necessary one.

The reward had been a trap of some sort, that much she was sure of. As soon as they landed, YMIR mechs powered up and began to destroy the cargo while attacking the intruders. Next time she was on Omega she wanted an explanation.

In the time they’d been travelling, the Normandy’s crew had increased by two - the biotic criminal, Jack and the baby krogan still in a test tube like life pod down in the cargo bay.

Jack had been a surprise. For a start, she was a woman. For some reason Shepard had expected a man, and the dossier had not helped much either. She was aggressive, bad tempered and honestly didn't care much about anything or anyone besides herself. The biotics she controlled were dangerously powerful, Shepard had seen them in action and elt it was in her best interests to remain safely behind the woman. Even her looks made her seem deadly, body covered with various tattoos and hair shaved. Almost as though she wanted to look like a man.

The krogan however, while not being what she’d expected, was definitely easier to handle. He was asleep, not having arguments with her second in command every other day.

She found herself in the cargo bay a lot, staring at the lifeless body in the tank and wondering what to do with it. She had taken him at Okeer’s word, but hadn't known what her plans for it would be. So far she’d been advised to leave him there.

No point risking having a hostile krogan in the belly of the ship.

But it didn't feel right to leave him there. If he was really just a baby, that meant he could be reasoned with and taught to do the right thing, surely. Okeer had said he’d implanted thoughts and memories into his mind while he was sleeping in the life pod, but who knew how much of that had actually stuck with him.

“EDI, can we get him out of there?” It was the first time she’d voiced these thoughts to the AI, although she was sure EDI knew what she was thinking every time she wandered down here.

“Of course, although I would recommend keeping a safe distance.”

Shepard stood in front of the tank with her hands on her hips. It looked intimidating, but the theatrics were only a ruse - her hand was right above the grip of her pistol. “Do it,” she instructed.

EDI began to object, warning Shepard to back away, but the Commander repeated herself and EDI relented.

The tank hissed as the air escaped it and water leaked from the now open edges. Inside the krogan twitched slightly.

- x -

Miranda sighed as she entered the medbay. Shepard grinned sheepishly from one of the beds, a few bruises over her ribs. “EDI did warn you not to stand so close to the tank.” The operative had no sympathy for the wounded Commander.

“She did,” Shepard agreed, nodding sagely with the smile still on her face. The doctor sighed and patted her on the back, giving her the all clear. Apparently the krogan hadn't taken his sudden introduction to the world well, and had slammed the Commander up against some of the cargo crates - the one they’d salvaged from the drop point Aria had sent them to - and threatened her. Miranda was still surprised the newborn was walking round the ship with that treatment.

But for some reason SHepard had seen fit to spare him, although the Illusive Man had not been happy to hear it. He’d seemed distracted recently, but he was a busy man with a lot on his plate. She tried to pay it no attention.

Once Shepard had pulled a loose shirt on over her tank top the two women left the room, thanking Chakwas on their way for seeing to her unexpected injuries. The krogan probably hadn't meant to do it, but still it gave the crew a reason to watch out for him.

“So does this krogan have a name?”

Shepard nodded. “He’s called himself Grunt.” AT Miranda’s confused face she explained that Grunt, as he was now called, had not been given a name or a purpose by Okeer, even though he may have tried to impart one to him while he’d been in the tank. So Grunt had named himself after something he thought fitted him, and his new purpose was fighting the Collectors with Shepard and her crew. He wanted to find worthy enemies, and neither of them could think of enemies more worthy that the Reapers and their minions.

Miranda wondered how much the baby krogan knew about the Reapers, if Okeer hadn't even given him a name.she supposed that at least he had agreed to help them, rather than forcing the Commander to put him down right away.

She left Shepard at the crew deck, making her way to her office instead of going to get her own food. Shepard looked ravenous, so she left her to it.

Once the door was closed, and she’d made sure it was locked, Miranda sat down at her desk and opened her laptop. The holographic screen flickered on, and The Illusive Man’s face came into focus. “Well Miranda?”

He was sitting, as usual, in the chair that overlooked the star from wherever his main base of operations was. Honestly, Miranda didn’t even know where it was, and she had been there before. That was just one of the risks she took working for him, and she was happy to take it.

“The Krogan should be a valuable asset, I’m not so sure about Subject Zero.” She had said both before.

The Illusive Man sighed and nodded. He agreed, which he had told Miranda before too. But he also needed her to cut out her pessimistic observations and focus on the mission and Shepard. If they failed it would be the end for a lot more than humanity, it would be the start of the Reaper’s attack on the galaxy. He was sure of it. So was Miranda.

When The Illusive Man had finished telling her what was what, something he had done many times since her joining the organisation, Miranda ended the call without even a word and closed the laptop down again.

She was going to have to keep a closer eye on Shepard if she wanted to stay in his good books. And she did. With a deep sigh of her own she pulled a stack of datapads towards her and began to read.

They still had a lot of work to do.

- x -

“So you're back human?”

Anto snarled at her. She assumed it was how batarian’s smiled, but she couldn't tell the difference between that and a look that should be telling her to run or fight. She smiled back and nodded. “Got one last recruit here, then I might be out of your hair for good.”

Anto glowered. Maybe that had been a bad choice of words, considering humans were one of the few galactic races that actually had hair. Other races seemed to find their saying either odd or offensive anyway.

“Well, Aria noticed you docked. You know the drill, don't keep her waiting.”

Shepard nodded. “Know what she wants?”

“No.”

With that he walked away, rifle held lazily under his arm. He was one of the few of Aria’s henchmen that she actually knew by name. Other than him she had met Grizz - after telling him she’d thinned out the vorcha numbers on the station he’d thanked her for doing his job for him - but that was it.

Heading towards the entrance to Afterlife was good for two things now. She could go to pay Aria a visit, and collect the bounty hunter Miranda had told her about. It had been a late dossier. Apparently Cerberus hadn't been sure where he would be or when he’d be available, but Zaeed Massani was at the end of the corridor right now, with a batarian slouching against the wall in front of him.

“Zaeed?” She asked, walking up to him cautiously. She didn't want to be making a mistake and assuming that one of Omega’s civilians was someone she wanted on her team. She had no doubt they were good at what they did, but what they did probably wouldn't be what she needed.

“Yeah, that’s me.” The bounty hunter lashed out at the batarian as he made to stand up. Shepard flinched a little, surprised at the sudden movement, and then relaxed again. Whatever this batarian had done, she was sure he deserved this. She had read the files on Zaeed - he didn't take a contract without doing his research first. If this man seemed dirty, he was. “I assume you’re Shepard then. Got a message saying you’d be here.”

Their introduction was short and sweet, ending with Zaeed telling her he’d be on the ship once he’d finished up with the batarian prisoner. He had an impressive bounty on his head from the sounds of things.

Shepard left him alone, and made her way back to Afterlife. Again she walked straight past the crowds and endured the angry scowls of the people who’d been waiting to get in. even a month on it made her feel a little smug that she had some kind of VIP entry for getting into Afterlife and gaining access to Aria. She wasn't sure how lucky that made her.

It was a familiar and short walk across the dancefloor to the Queen’s throne. One of the bartenders nodded in her direction as she walked back. She smiled back but continued walking without a word.

“So, you’re back again.”

Shepard didn't take a seat. She wouldn't be here for long. Instead she just nodded and asked Aria what she wanted. The asari sighed and grabbed a datapad from the turnat stationed behind her. After checking it briefly she looked up. “You got to the merc stash then?”

“I wasn't sure if it was a trap to be honest.” Aria frowned, a flicker of something  flashed in her eyes before the steely glare was back in place.

“It wasn't, at least not mine. I only knew the location.”

Shepard believed her.

She didn't stay for much longer. They spoke nothing but business. Aria had proven to be rather invaluable in her efforts, collecting the members of her crew. She had helped with Garrus, Mordin, hadn’t objected to her being here at all or shooting up sections of her kingdom. Shepard imagined there had been a fall in numbers of her personal armies after each of their visits.

When she left they said their goodbyes. Shepard expected it should be for the last time, unless some other recruit or emergency brought her here. It had been nice to find an ally in the pirate Queen, even if it was just for her own gain.

On the way from the club Shepard stopped by the bar to get a bottle of rum, and have a chat with the barkeeper.

Chapter Text

Shepard grinned and threw back another shot of whatever Miranda had brought her. The rounds had all gone onto her tab, and so far the three women had done nothing but drink inexpensive shots that served more for intoxication than enjoyment. Kasumi had been working during if she could hack a terminal to reset the tab.

“Hey human,” one of the bartenders walked over, a tall glass in his hand filled with a blue-green liquid. He was a turian, red colony markings painted over his nose and mandibles. When he put the drink down, his mandibles flickered slightly. He seemed irritated. “This one's on the boss.”

Shepard looked at the drink, drunken confusion written on her face. “Aria?” she asked, cooking her head to the side.

The turian grunted and rolled his eyes. “Who else d’you think runs this rock?” He was definitely irritated. Shepard didn't know what she had done to earn this attitude from him. Maybe he just didn't like humans, or maybe he was annoyed that Aria had asked him to run a mundane task for her. Either way, the Commander didn't like it, but she wasn't going to start trouble on Omega. Wasn't drunk enough for that.

Instead she nodded and sipped the drink. “Tell her I said thanks.”

Waving a hand as he walked away the turian muttered over his shoulder, “Go tell her yourself. I'm Aria’s errand runner, not yours.” The group could hardly hear him as he left.

“Fine,” Shepard mumbled, hoping he didn't hear. He didn't seem to, at least he didn't turn around.

With a sigh she turned to the two women with her. “Back in a minute,” she told them as she got up, not bothering to tuck in her seat, “Another round on me.”

Kasumi beamed and nodded, glancing excitedly to Miranda. “Knew there was a reason I joined your crew Shep!” She shouted over the beat of the music.

Shepard made her way from the table, on one side of Afterlife, up to the throne where Aria would be seated. She sat with her back to her people, a cold shoulder, not one to lean on. She was a cruel leader, maybe even a tyrant, but still Shepard didn't resent her. The asari had been nothing but civil to her, helpful, if a little abrasive at times.

She pushed her way past dancers who thought the heavy bass was reasonable music to dance to. The music had always been too loud in here.

Taking the stairs two at a time was fine when she was armed and armoured, but with alcohol in her system it was trickier. She stumbled in front of Anto as she reached the top of the stairs, smiling sheepishly at him as his hand twitched on the shotgun he held in his arm. He was ready for anything, especially a foolish human with too much liquid courage in her.

Without looking at the bodyguard who scanned her, or waiting for the scan to be finished, the Commander walked up to Aria. She stopped right in front of her, arms crossed.

The pirate queen didn't look up from her data pad for a while. Instead she finished scanning what she was reading, brow furrowed. It was only when she'd finished reading that she put the pad down and glanced at Shepard. She cocked her head in question, not speaking a word.

“Thanks,” was all the Commander said. When Aria looked perplexed at this she added, “For the drink.”

Aria scoffed and waved her hand as though it was nothing. “Don't bother, I just needed a word.” It was nothing. She didn't pay, she just demanded and it was done. Her prize for ruling this station. “Although,” she continued, an amused lilt to her voice, “I didn't expect you to be intoxicated so quickly.”

Shepard sighed and shrugged. What could she say, she was a light weight. That's why she hadn't touched the drink Aria had apparently sent her way. She didn't know what the pirate would have had put in her drink, although she assumed there would be some amount of Noverian Rum, maybe rat poison for a killer kick. There was no telling on Omega. “What did you need?” she asked, not bothering to defend herself against the allegation that she was drunk. Although she wasn't drunk, just a bit tipsy at most. Even with the shots she’d been careful not to mix her drinks too much. She was still going to be in command of a warship tomorrow morning, hung-over or not.

Aria stood up, walked towards her and pulled a face. Shepard smelled like piss cheap ethanol, a kind of chemical smell that pricked her senses offensively. It was almost sad, seeing a great hero like the Commander getting drunk on her station. Satisfying, yes, but sad all the same.

She walked circles around the human, like an animal rounding on it’s prey. “You’re interesting Shepard. Foolish and reckless but, interesting. For a human.” Shepard watched her as she walked, turning with each circle Aria drew around her.

“What’s this about Aria?” Beside her the batarian guard stiffened, as though he wasn't used to visitors using his queen’s name. Aria had probably had people thrown through the air lock for lesser things, but it didn't scare the commander. Space did, but Aria didn't. Not at all. She wasn't harmless, but she wasn't a danger to Shepard, even inebriated.

Aria stopped, putting Shepard between herself and her throne, hands on her hips and smirking. “I want to know what’s got the heroic Commander Shepard so low. Come through a hundred fights unscathed, now you save a colony and it’s gloom all around.” Aria was mocking her, not surprising considering who she was, but it stung a little that she was so easy to read. She’d been down there with her team, the ground team from Horizon, laughing and joking and putting on a brave face. A face that did not say the hero of the Citadel had just been rejected, called a traitor and cast aside. By someone she trusted, maybe even loved.

“That’s none of your business,” the commander told her, curtly and with a nod to the batarian as she started to make her way past Aria. The asari chuckled, put an arm out to block Shepard’s path and smiled. It didn't reach her eyes.  

“Thank you for the drink, but let me by.”

Aria shook her head, moved quickly and pushed Shepard back by her shoulders. A faint blue glow flickered around her hands. The Commander stumbled, more drunk than she had realised, and the world span for a second as she felt herself falling backwards. She expected pain as she hit the floor, maybe caught the back of her head on the base of Aria’s couch, but instead she hit the soft red leather. It creaked as she fell against it, the cushions sinking under her weight. Aria smirked.

Shepard closed her eyes as she hoped the world would stop spinning. Instead of the swaying feeling in her skull, she tried to focus on the sound of the bass, the footsteps of the people near her, the laughing and shouting of people down on the ground floor. Grounding herself was hard, but she managed, just before hands fell back to her shoulders.

When she opened her eyes Aria was looking right into them, leaning over her. “Worried?” she asked, grinning dangerously. Shepard shook her head. That was a mistake, everything span violently again.

She felt a little sick.

Aria took one hand from her shoulder and put a finger under her chin, lifting it upwards until their lips met. Shepard pulled back almost immediately, eyes wide. The asari laughed and pressed closer, kissing her again. It took a few seconds, but Shepard returned the favour. The alcohol made her enthusiastic, her recent heartbreak made her hesitant. It was awkward, but Aria made it work - hot and cold, all at the same time. Shepard could tell she was just convenient, just an outlet for some pent up annoyance or boredom. But somehow, for just a few moments, it felt almost real. Aria tasted like rum and energy.

She hadn't realised Aria had settled, straddling her on the couch, or that the guards had turned away as soon as Aria made her move. Not until she looked around. Her cheeks were red, and they’d both say it was just the drinks. It mostly was.

Aria smiled and moved from her lips to her neck. There was never a time that she was gentle, or she asked for permission. The Commander felt teeth on her skin, a hand between her legs over the seam of her jeans.

And that was enough.

She pushed Aria away from her, forcing her to stand up and brushed past her. “Thank you. For the drink.” She could feel the asari’s eyes on the back of her head as she walked back to the table where her team was waiting. She might even call them friends by now, but she wasn't about to risk it.

Miranda and Kasumi looked at her for some explanation, and Shepard hoped they hadn't been able to see up on the podium where she’d been talking to Aria. Just talking, that was all they needed to know. Nothing else. That’s all the told them before she went back to her drink, purposefully ignoring the one that had been sent over to her. She didn't need anything Aria wanted to give her.

She could still taste the rum on her lips, an aftertaste that was good right now but would come with a few bad memories in the morning.

Shepard sighed as she downed her last shot and slammed the glass down. Both Kasumi and Miranda jumped, looking up from their own drinks. “I’m going to head back. Need to be ready for the morning.” She was already quite drunk as it was. When she rose to her feet Miranda got up with her, hands on her shoulders. She jumped back a little, staggering. Didn't want any more hands on her shoulders.

Instead of waiting around and finishing their drinks, Miranda and Kasumi walked back to the Normandy with her. They balanced her when she almost stumbled. It seemed they hadn't had much while she’d been gone, but Shepard felt like she’d downed a whole bottle of vodka alone. Her steps swayed as she stumbled through the station, her eyes couldn't stay open for more than five seconds. She was pretty sure she blacked out for a few seconds at one point, but she couldn't quite tell. No one commented on it. She felt sleepy as well as drunk.

When they finally reached the Normandy Kasumi headed for the cockpit to tell Joker to head away while Miranda stayed with Shepard. “Hey Shepard,” she asked as the elevator doors closed behind them. Only EDI could hear them now, and the AI usually had the decency not to repeat anything sensitive to the rest of the crew. Even if she could be a gossip. “What was all that about? Back there with Aria.”

“What? Nothing, why do you need to ask?” Shepard wasn't aware how slurred her speech was, to her she sounded just fine. But Miranda winced, so she assumed she was shouting at the least.

MIranda seemed taken aback by how defensive she had been, how quickly she had snapped. “I just-”

“Can't you just trust me to make my own judgements Miranda?” Shepard shouted, her voice echoing a little in the close quarters of the lift. They reached the deck that was comprised mostly of just Shepard’s cabin and the commander stepped out, leaving Miranda behind her.

“Commander, I'm sorry I didn't mean to…” She looked as Shepard walked straight to her bed and fell backwards onto it, sighing. “Well, I'm just sorry.”

Chapter Text

“The Normandy is asking permission to dock.”

Aria looked down at her Omni tool as the report came over, intrigued. It had been weeks since the Normandy had been docked at her station, she was starting to wonder if the Commander had run into trouble on her crusade. Not that she would have cared if that had been the case, but it was nice to know there was still someone useful in the galaxy she could call on.

She nodded to herself and replied. “Grant them permission, tell the Commander to come see me in Afterlife.”

With that she sat upright in her chair and sighed, clicking off the omni tool before she had even heard the reply from the docking manager. For once she had decided to have some quiet time for herself in her personal quarters, and of course this was the time Shepard decided to come marching back into her domain. It was just a good job she was prepared to leave at the slightest notice. The armoured corset and white jacket were staples of her wardrobe that she wouldn't be seen without.

Especially not when someone who claimed equal influence came to her.

She put her book down, folding the spine to help keep her page, and swung her legs out from under the covers. It wasn’t like she’d been able to sleep that night, so she didn’t have to do much to get ready. But she did touch up her makeup before she headed out.

Her room today was one of the more luxurious in the station, one of the penthouses that the apartment buildings wouldn’t rent out. Every so often she would change which one of these rooms she used, to keep her enemies guessing.  Only a few of her most trusted guards knew which she was using at the time, and a small group of mercenaries lingered outside the door to each room to escort her to Afterlife, even if she wasn’t using the room at the time. Extreme measure, she knew, but she could never be careful. There were other things she knew, like how many of the people who walked by her daily would see her dead in a heartbeat.

Yes, she knew she had enemies, and she knew her reach extended only far enough to quash those who were least careful.

“Anto, get me a drink ready.” She spoke into her omni tool as she exited the lift and made her way out through the apartment building. She never used the ones in the slums, they were beneath her, but this was one of the more extravagant of her chosen haunts. It was unusual to see any mercs other than her own in here, and only visitors tended to linger in the lobby. They watched her as she left with her escort unit, each alien with his gun ready.

At the door an asari greeted her with a nod of her head before stepping aside and letting the doors open for her. Aria stopped before walking through, eyed the girl up and down with a smirk as the asari refused to meet her eyes. Then she left with a quiet laugh, beckoning her guard unit to follow with a nod of her head.

Walking through the streets of Omega was always a power trip. Aria knew she was the strongest one in the crowd, the one who everyone would beg and grovel to if she wanted them to. She could make anyone here bow and kiss her boots if she thought them worthy. The thought curled her lips in a smile that showed anyone who might try something that she was not to be trifled with.

Afterlife was a different matter.

While the streets never stopped even if she walked through them - traders still plied their wares and urchins still scurried from pocket to pocket - the club came to a standstill as the doors hissed open and her escort moved in like trained soldiers into a battleground, guns held relaxed but ready as they cleared a pathway at the entrance. Once her presence was noticed she didn't need help to make way as she strutted through the stilled dancers and early morning drunks who might have just arrived or been here since last night. Either way it didn't matter. These people were hers, she had her fingers in every figurative pie made on Omega and that was the way she liked it. The way it should be.

Anto had done as requested, had a dancer ready with a glass of rum ready for her when she reached her couch up on the top level of the club. The dancing resumed slowly, first the strippers on the poles took up their places again and worked through their routines, then their energy carried down to the floor.

Sometimes she would even think about what it had been like up there herself, maybe three hundred years ago, when she had been the timid newcomer and it had been a krogan warlord in charge of the place.

Running the show was much more her style.

Aria waited patiently for the Commander to arrive, had a notification pop up on her omni-tool that the Normandy had indeed docked in Omega and that a small team was headed her way. She waited for a while, tapping her way through other messages, the small nuances of running a pirate station like Omega singlehanded. Then heavy footsteps reached her ears, coming closer on the stairs.

Shepard was dressed in her N7 armour, the crimson and white stripes down one arm glaring in the neon strobe lights that flooded the club every few seconds. Beside her was an asari, low cut bodysuit red as blood, with a headpiece across her forehead. Aria recognised her at once, and fought the urge not to scowl in her direction. The justicar was not welcome here, but Shepard was and that had to count for something.

“How can I help you this time Commander?” she asked with a smirk.

Shepard stepped forwards up the stairs while the justicar waited just down them, her eyes shifting from thug to thug as though she was itching to dispense some justice. She had to know, thought Aria with an almost audible hiss, justice wasn’t something one looked for on Omega. She could go as Archangel if she wanted proof, or take one look at his face.

“I’m looking for someone, you might have noticed her around.”

“You’ll have to be more specific than that, Commander, there are a lot of people on my station,” Aria told her, voice mockingly soft.

The soldier looked down to the justicar, exchanging a glance that seemed to come with an unspoken question, for when the asari nodded Shepard went back to Aria and took a seat right beside her. She kept her voice low as she spoke, “We think there might be an ardat-yakshi on your station. If anyone’s heard anything it would be you, Aria.”

Aria frowned and turned away from the human, looking out to her subjects on the dance floor as they moved in and out of one another like ants that she could crush under her heel. “I should have known,” she muttered, more to herself than to anyone else, “Nothing leaves a body quite so…” she seemed to be searching for the right word as she turned to the Commander, “ empty as an Ardat-Yakshi kill.”

There was a moment of silence while the two waited, Aria thinking and Shepard eager to hear what she had to say. In the end the pirate queen just shrugged and took a seat on her couch. “I’d start looking in the slums, there was an incident a few days ago. Pretty girl, I think her mother’s still there.”

“Thank you.”

Shepard turned to leave but stopped, a hand at her wrist. Aria looked up at her, eyes cold and hard as ever. “Don’t thank me yet. Ardat-Yakshi are bad for business.”

She watched the Commander and her pet justicar walk away, followed them with her eyes as they moved through the dancers and out of Afterlife. She thought for a moment about having someone follow them, maybe sending Grizz to make sure she was kept in the loop, but then she supposed it wouldn't matter.

If that Ardat- Yakshi had brought a justicar after her then Aria could only feel sorry for the girl, but she cared much more about having that monster off her station than she did keeping a check on Shepard or her friend.

 

Aria had expected the Normandy to disembark immediately after the news of a fight and murder in the apartments had reached her - and it reached her quickly. But instead she found the Commander sitting alone at the bar, a good pocket of fresh air around her as the late night partiers gave her a wide berth. Maybe it was the aura of gloom around her that had kept them at bay, or the armour she was still wearing, complete with blue visor that made her look ready for combat, or maybe just the fact she had been seen with Aria herself multiple times recently, but the pirate queen made the most of it and strutted from her throne down to the dancefloor.

“You wouldn’t think you’d just prevented a hundred deaths, looking at you,” she told the Commander as she propped her elbows against the bar, leaning back against it. She looked relaxed and she knew it put some of her people at ease and some on high alert, it depended how well they knew her. No one knew which way this encounter would go, and she delighted in watching the few who didn’t want to stay to find out scurrying away.

Shepard cast her eyes sideways to the asari, shrugged and turned back to her drink.

Rolling her eyes Aria pushed away from the bar, making her way away from the stairs and her throne as quickly as she had come down them. “Bring her to me, discreetly,” she muttered to Anto, who nodded and waited for the right time. He knew where she would be.

She headed back to her rooms, up the elevator and then away from her escort through to her bedroom. The sheets were still crumpled from when she’d been so quickly woken, but it didn’t matter so much as just irritate her. She stopped for a brief moment by the window to admire the view, then left to the kitchen and poured two glasses of her favourite rum. She left one on the side, but the other she sipped as she paced, her impatience growing with each glance she took at the clock on the wall.

Aria didn't care what the batarian did to get Shepard to her, but she was grateful when about thirty minutes later heavy footfalls echoed from the hallway outside her penthouse apartment. The door was unlocked, a risk her security team resented, and hissed open as the Commander knocked.

The soldier came into view a few moments later. She had lost the air of depression, and had that damned cocky smile back on her face, the one that had been firmly in place during their first meeting. Aria appreciated the change in tone and held up a filled glass of rum. Maybe she was getting to like having the Commander around, someone who could hold her own even if Aria chose to have her thugs join the fight. There was something intoxicating about looking death in the eyes, and one foot out of line around this woman could be the last mistake she’d make. She wouldn't deny how that thought made her feel.

Once Shepard had taken the glass they stood in silence for a moment, taking their time to drink their drinks. Aria watched Shepard closely, the soldier looking very odd standing in full combat armour with a tumbler in her gloved hand.

Every now and then she noticed Shepard look her way, would hold her gaze for a couple of seconds before the Commander looked away, and then smirked into her rum.

Shepard finished before her, putting the glass down gently on the counter before leaning against it. “So what am I here for Aria?” She pulled her gloves off as she waited for an answer, not even looking at the asari who was still savouring her drink.

She took a last deep swig of her drink, like she was shotting the rest, and pointed at the Commander, “Come here.” Shepard didn't even give her time to put the glass down, walking forwards and knocking it from her hands as she pushed the pirate back against the wall. The glass clunked as it hit the ground, chipping, and then smashing as Shepard stepped on it in her heavy boots. Aria bit her lip, eyes locked with Shepard’s, as the soldier held her up to the wall with one hand pinning her wrist and the other at her throat.

Shepard’s kiss was bruising against her lips as the human pressed herself against her, the hard angles of the armour pushing against her. The visor was still on over her eyes, blue glow too bright for the asari this close. Aria tugged it free with her free hand, dropping it on the counter quickly before knotting her fingers in the Commander’s hair and tugging hard enough to pull Shepard back from her with a half bitten back groan.

They stood together for a moment, each gauging the other’s stance. It was a long moment, still under the fluorescent lighting that seemed to heighten the saturation of the entire room compared to any kind of natural light.

Aria was the first to make a move, walking away from Shepard towards the bed. She perched on the edge, leaning forwards once she had removed her white jacket and tossed it across to one side of the room. Shepard smirked and took a few steps forwards towards her, until Aria held up a hand. “Take your armour off.”

Stopped in her tracks, Shepard fumbled slightly and slowly found the buckles of her armour one at a time.

Piece by piece her armour fell from her, arms, legs, chest. It was like watching a strip tease for someone who held the phrase ‘I like a woman in uniform’ close to heart.

Aria had always seen the appeal of it, had watched countless strippers as they threw their clothes into an admiring audience in her time, both as the queen of Omega and as one of the workers, but this was something different. It felt practised and methodical, but a little awkward like somewhere deep down Shepard knew she would regret shedding her armour like this. Aria watched closely; she had never really enjoyed someone discarding sections of armour before now.

As the Commander dropped the last pieces of her greaves to the ground Aria unbuckled her boots quickly, taking her eyes from the stripping human. It told Shepard all she needed to know about her position here; she was nothing special, she was just a distraction that seemed good enough for tonight.

And that was okay with her.

Shepard was working the clasps at her side loose too slowly for Aria’s liking, so she beckoned the human over to her with a jerk of her head and pushed Shepard’s hands away, deftly releasing the clasps herself. The black chest piece fell to the floor between them with a clatter, and Shepard nudged it away with her foot.

Now she was standing in her underarmour, the black webbed material leaving very little to Aria’s imagination. It stretched tight across her body, from her neck all the way down to her ankles. A separate piece of similar fabric covered her feet.

Aria raised an eyebrow, as if to ask why she had stopped there.

Shepard swallowed before bringing her hand to the zipper at her throat and dragging it downwards, watching as Aria’s eyes followed and took in every inch of new exposed skin.

Once the zip was all the way down Aria rose to her feet, taking over once again to push the under armour over Shepard’s shoulders and down, easing it away from her body as she trailed her hands over the muscles of her arms, trailing her lips down the human’s body as she went, over her collar bone, between her breasts, over her stomach.

The black suit went as far as her waist before Aria was satisfied. She stood back up slowly,  raking her nails against the black material covering the Commander’s legs as she went, hard enough she was sure to leave red marks.

Shepard’s breath hitched.

“If I’d known this was what you wanted I could have helped you weeks ago,” she whispered in the human’s ear. She felt the soldier shiver at her words beneath her hands. Smirking, she ran her tongue over the sharp bone of Shepard’s jawline and scraped her teeth over her ear with a theatrical sigh. Everything she did made the Commander react, every slight touch, every breath across her skin.

Aria circled her slowly, her bare feet padding softly on the vinyl floor, hand never leaving the Commander’s body. Shepard turned to follow her, watching her until she was between Aria and the double bed.

She fell back with a push from Aria, landing heavily on the mattress as the asari held her down and straddled her, one hand over her chest, the other reaching down, one finger tracing a line down between her abs. Aria’s eyes never leave hers, lips hovering only inches away.

The Commander gasped slightly as Aria’s fingers pushed slowly beneath it.

“Aria I… please.” Shepard reached up, pulling Aria down to her so she could take her lips again.

The asari moaned against her lips as her fingers brushed the ridges on the back of her neck. Shepard tasted her tongue brushing along hers as Aria pressed her fingers against her and held them there. Shepard shuddered, tugging her closer and holding her free hand over Aria’s, urging her to continue.

There was a moment where Aria considered stopping here, leaving the Commander high and dry and letting her deal with the mess she was by herself. But Shepard seemed so helpless, so desperate, there was no doubt she’d be able to use this as leverage later. There would be a time one day when helping the soldier out now would be beneficial to her, she’d lived long enough to see plenty of favours repaid. It was just good business.

She did as requested, enjoying the way Shepard’s hips jerked to meet her fingers. The Commander responded in kind, moving the hand from over Aria’s to between her legs and began rubbing  against the hard seam of her leather pants. Aria sighed, irritated, and sat up over the human to quickly deal with the buckle of her belt.

Shepard pulled the belt from the loops of her pants once it was undone, tossing it to the side where it clattered against a chest of drawers, and then fumbled with the button and zipper. Her task should have been easy, but Aria’s hand moving roughly against her was distracting.

When she was done she slipped her hand inside, pulling Aria down onto her again and forcing their lips together.

The pirate rocked against her, pushing Shepard's hand back against her own until they were moving together in a rhythm that Aria dictated. She pulled away from Shepard briefly, only to return to her rough kisses, moving  to her jawline, and down her neck. With every new sensation Shepard seemed to be biting back a moan. Aria listened to every throaty hum, finally dipping her head and trailing her lips and tongue between the Commander’s breasts. She moved nip along the soft skin of Shepard’s breasts.

Shepard whimpered as Aria bit harder, going from the sensitive skin underneath her breast towards one nipple, pulling it into her mouth and flicking her tongue over it, and then the other, this time rougher. She listened as the Commander became more vocal, either unable or unwilling to bite back her reactions.

She particularly enjoyed the half whispered, half moaned “Fuck” every time she said it, and the rush of heat it left in the pit of her stomach.

It wasn't hard to tell Shepard was getting closer, she was beginning to ignore the rhythm set out by Aria in favour of her own, pressing herself against Aria’s fingers while she kept a hand on the back of Aria’s crest to keep her where she was.

It was a risk, but Aria let her mind reach out, squeezing her eyes closed and gasping at the slightest brush against Shepards, so filled with want and need. It was what she had expected to feel, but not this urgently. There was something weighing on her mind, something she was forcing to the back so Aria couldn't see it, or maybe it had been forced to the back for her. Aria knew what Cerberus had done to her, she had played her own part in it. It was nice now to see how her work paid off.

“Fuck, Aria I…”

Shepard tried to make some kind of coherent sentence, but with both her own and Aria’s pleasure mixing in her mind it was near impossible. She could feel her own hand as if she was touching herself, but she knew it was Aria’s body beneath her fingers. Above her Aria had buried her face between her shoulder and neck, using the Commander to stifle her own moaning. She wanted to mock Shepard for being so desperate, but right now she was lost in her own sensations.

She felt Shepard come undone beneath her, back arching, nails digging into her shoulders. As soon as the Commander had stilled, Aria removed herself from her and propped herself up against the pillows to finish herself off while Shepard watched her. Again, Aria’s eyes never left hers, and Shepard bit her lower lip as Aria pushed her hand down the front of her leather pants.

Shepard positioned herself between her knees, running her nails up and down Aria’s thighs and leaning back in to kiss along her neck and jaw. She bit down just above the collar of her corset, softly at first but then harder when it drew a reaction from Aria. it didn't take long for Aria to come, closing her eyes tight and  fisting the sheets with her free hand.

They took a few slow breaths together before Aria opened her eyes and grabbed Shepard by her shoulders, pulling her into another rough kiss while the Commander fumbled blindly at the clasps of Aria’s corset.

Chapter Text

Shepard yawned, keeping her eyes closed against the bright light of the fish-tank in her room, casting a blue glow over her face as she tried to force herself back to sleep. But she was awake now, so she let her brain slowly wake up while she lay there and stretched. Or tried to. Her arm was weighed down, something heavy enough to pin it on top of her lower arm and hand. She couldn't feel her hand anymore come to think of it.

She opened her eyes quickly, looked beside her and quickly remembered where she was.

The blue light wasn't from her fish tank at all, although it was similar enough that she could understand why it had confused her, it was from the neon lighting that rose up and polluted most of Omega. Looking to her right she could see the entire station sprawled out in front of her, bright lights and ugly metal walls. This high up she couldn't make out any people, but she knew they would be there scampering around like bees in a hive, although all working separately for the same common goal.

And to her left was their queen, naked except for the grey satin sheet she had thrown across her. She had her back to Shepard, and the Commander began formulating a plan of escape. If she could just get her arm free without waking Aria she’d be able to gather her armour up and at least head into the other room so she could get herself dressed in peace before leaving. And this was Aria, she wouldn't have a problem waking up with Shepard gone, it’d probably make her life easier.

The Commander began to work on that, shifting onto her side so she could ease her arm slowly from beneath Aria, hoping the pirate would stay asleep long enough for her to at least get out of bed. She was almost free when Aria stirred, mumbling in her sleep and turning onto her back. Shepard cursed under her breath, her arm now even more trapped than it had been before.

“You’re awake aren’t you?” she whispered, loud enough for the asari to hear but hopefully quiet enough that if she was actually asleep.

Aria smiled, eyes still closed. obviously awake then.

With that in mind Shepard yanked her arm from beneath her and sat up, grabbing the sheet to hold around herself as she stood up. It left Aria completely exposed, but Shepard didn't care and honestly Aria didn't seem to either. The Commander shook her head as beside her Aria stretched and reached for what looked like a freshly poured glass of rum. Seemed Shepard hadn't been the first to wake up after all.

“Bottle’s down there if you want some,” Aria told her, gesturing vaguely to the foot of the bed, “But I suppose you have somewhere to be, someone else to save.”

Shepard wanted to retaliate, to say something just as snide, but all she could think of was how she’d almost failed Samara, how she hadn't been quick enough to save that poor girl Nef, how if it wasn't for Morinth being on Omega of all places she wouldn't have had the bad luck to be here, now, with Aria. The asari smirked from her spot on the bed, smoothing out the sheets they’d done a good job of crumpling in the night, and a little way into the morning, with one hand while she sipped her drink.

Instead though, Shepard just dropped the sheet, earning an appreciative hum from Aria behind her, and started to gather her clothing and armour into a pile. She knew Aria would be staring, maybe at the red mark she’d left across the Commander’s ass or the bruises along the inside of her thighs or the scratches up and down her back that were still stinging as she moved. But she didn't care, right now she just wanted to be out of here and away from Omega.

She pulled on her under-armour while Aria watched her, eyes sparkling with amusement. If she hadn't been so determined to leave as quickly as possible Shepard might have done something to wipe that smile from her face, but instead she stayed silent and did nothing.

“Where’s my…” She glanced around the room until she spotted the second of the black socks sting out from beneath the bed.

Aria stood up, grabbing her own clothes and pulling them on slowly, making a show of it almost. “You’re welcome to stay again babe.” There was nothing of an invitation in that, it was all just a mockery.

“Fuck you,” Shepard spat as she marched across to the other side of the room where her clothes were waiting for her.

Behind her Aria laughed. “That’s not what you were saying last night. Or this morning.”

“Shut up.”

“That’s sounds more like last night.”

Shepard was done with the exchange, done with all of it. She fastened her armour to her as quick as she could, pulled on her boots and buckled her chest-piece up much quicker than she had undone it all last night now she was actually coherent of what was going on, and grabbed her helmet from the kitchen counter. Holding it under her arm she stormed through the kitchen and into the living area, where the exit was. It was locked of course, but there had been someone standing outside it last night when Anto brought her up here.

She thudded her armoured fist against the door hard three times. There was a gruff reply from the other side, words she couldn't quite make out, and then from the bedroom she heard Aria talking to someone over her omni tool.

“Open the door, Grizz, the Commander has somewhere to be.”

The turian on the other side of the door replied, his voice too muffled over the comm for Shepard to hear him, but the door opened a few moments later and she was free to leave.

“Commander.” Before she left it seemed Aria had one more jab to make at her, this time in front of Grizz. Would it be crueller or kinder for his being there, Shepard didn’t know, but when she turned Aria was holding something up in her hand between her thumb and forefinger, a smirk set firmly on her face.

Shepard felt her cheeks burning as she realised Aria was holding up the shorts she’d been wearing under her combat gear before last night. In her hurry to get going she must have forgotten them, she wasn't sure how exactly but it couldn't be helped now.

She looked from the asari to the turian and turned to walk away, shoving roughly past Grizz whose mandibles were flared out and twitching slightly as she went by. Even the damned merc was laughing at her now. Her cheeks were flushed bright red by the time she made it to the elevator of the apartment building and got a glance of herself in its mirrored walls. She looked awful, flushed and slightly pale and sweaty, her hair was a mess from everything she’d got up to last night.

And on top of that her head was throbbing with what felt like the beginnings of a hangover, but she didn't remember having more that one or two glasses of Noverian rum and her mouth didn't taste like alcohol like it had other times she’d ended up drinking more than she should.

By the time she had stepped out of the elevator, helmet now on her head so she could hide as much of her face as possible, she was beginning to tremble, her hands were shaking. Her walk of shame back towards the docks and the safety of the Normandy was awful.

As she got closer to the ship she felt more and more like she was going to throw up, she was starting to panic a little. Had Aria done something, drugged her or poisoned her last night or while she was sleeping? She could feel her chest getting tighter with every step she took, feel her breathing coming more laboured as her panic rose.

She hardly remembered getting to the ship and through the airlock doors to the CIC, or Kelly catching her as she staggered towards the galaxy map and along with two other crewmen taking her down to the med bay. She vaguely remembered Miranda coming to check on her and Chakwas giving her a dose of the anxiety medication she hadn't needed for years before Cerberus brought her back to life. And she remembered Samara visiting briefly, just to ask how she was doing and then leaving, but she didn't remember how she had ended up in her own bed, tucked under the covers and in clean pyjamas.

She woke up to the blue glow of the fish tank, and for a moment she feels bile in the back of her throat, remembering waking up with Aria and leaving and the whole ordeal walking back had been.

But she isn't alone.

Across the room from her, Samara was sitting with her back to the bed, legs crossed and hands on her knees. She was meditating again, and Shepard wondered what she was thinking about when she did that, and how she could sit like that for so long without getting bored or restless. The asari didn't look around as Shepard stirred, sitting up slowly. Instead she just asked, “How are you feeling,” and sat up a little straighter, if it was possible.

“Fine,” Shepard hurried to answer, feeling bad for interrupting her meditation even though they were in her room and what did Samara expect sitting in here, “How long have you been here?”

“Just a few hours, Miranda insisted she take a turn to watch you. You’ve had the crew quite worried,” she turned slightly so Shepard could see the wry smile on her face in the tank light, making her skin a vivid blue in the otherwise dim room. There was no other light on Shepard noticed, just the light from the fish tank.

She sighed and pulled herself up the rest of the way in bed. She did actually feel fine, just fine, like she could drop ground side and take on a krogan battle charge. A small one. It wasn't any effort for her to throw the covers up and stand up. She took a couple of steps, no issues there either. She took a chance and looked around her,  her vision didn't even swim in the slightest. Seemed she was fully cured of whatever had been wrong with her.

“What did the Doc say was wrong?”

Samara looked away and hung her head for a second or two before getting to her feet and moving to sit instead on the seat by the small table, perching only on the edge like she felt uncomfortable being here. “A mix of anxiety and withdrawal.”

She looked at Shepard for a long moment, obviously waiting for her to say something.

But Shepard had nothing to say. Anxiety was nothing new, but she had nothing in her system that she could be dealing with any kind of withdrawal from. She had drank recently, yes, and she’d maybe had a bit too much recently, but not enough to get hooked like other soldiers did when things went wrong. And the only drugs she’d taken since Cerberus had gotten involved had been regulated carefully, or they’d been her anxiety meds.

Samara jumped in with something to say before Shepard had a chance to say something else, “This is all my fault Commander, I just want to say that I understand completely if you ask me to leave your ship.”

“Sorry?” Shepard looked at her, confused, and waited for some elaboration.

“I never should have asked you to help me fight Morinth. As strong as you are, she’s had four hundred years to perfect her craft, she has murder and seduction down to a fine art.” Samara took a breath and stopped talking for a moment. Although she was still speaking slowly and evenly, there was something about her that seemed flustered, she was obviously blaming herself for something that was a way bigger deal than it had to be.

Shepard laughed, “It’s nothing, stop worrying Samara. I don't mind beautiful women throwing themselves at me, really. No harm done.”

“You don't know how she can twist your mind, Shepard, how people with her condition get into your head.” Shepard waved her hand in the air as if to wave the worry away, opened her mouth to speak but Samara beat her to it, “Where were you last night?”

There was a pause, Shepard physically stopping in her tracks and turning slowly to face the justicar. She remembered that perfectly, still had the bruises and healing scratches to prove it. That must have been a shock for Chakwas when she got her out of her armour and examined her. “I stayed in the apartments,” she replied, hoping that would be enough.

“With someone?” Samara hend a finger up to her own neck, and Shepard walked to the front of her cabin and checked herself in the mirror. There was a mark on her neck, right near where Samara was pointing, and Shepard sighed and nodded. Yes, she had definitely been with someone.

When she turned back to Samara, the asari was looking at her sympathetically, “Morinth got into your head Shepard, and when you couldn’t have her… The easiest way to explain it is that Ardat Yakshi affect the brain like powerful drugs, and the only way to keep the high is to surrender to them.”

Shepard frowned at her, remembering all too well how she’d almost given in to Morinth. The damned woman had been sat on her lap kissing her when Samara had come in and saved her, she’d been so close to letting Morinth have her. If Samara had been a few moments longer she didn't know what would have happened. The whole time there had been a voice in the back of her mind telling her to run and get out, Morinth was dangerous as hell as no one should have been alone with her, but there’d been a smog filling the rest of her mind that had urged her to stay, to kiss her and love her and let Morinth have her completely.

She’d almost been murdered, and here she was feeling right as rain. She was luckier than so many others.

“If they don't meld with you then eventually you come down from the high they give you, hard. I’m surprised you recovered so quickly.”

“Must be the implants Cerberus gave me,” Shepard said with a shrug, still reeling from realising just how close she had come to death. It wasn't every day she was almost killed by wanting a girl really bad.

It didn't seem like Samara was convinced, but for now she was letting it drop for Shepard’s sake. Part of her hated that pitying, not telling her straight thing the justicar was doing right now, but mostly she was just glad she hadn't had to divulge what had happened last night and they’d just talked about the girl she couldn't have helped falling for. Right now though the last thing Shepard wanted was to be left alone with her thoughts, so she followed Samara from her room and into the elevator, meaning to stop by Chakwas and make sure the Doc knew everything was fine.

“So how long is this Ardat Yakshi love spell meant to last?” she asked as she pressed the buttons for both the crew deck.

Samara smiled and nodded her thanks for pressing both buttons, “You’re up and walking around, I’d say her hold on you wasn’t as strong as she’d have liked. Your mind is yours, Shepard, as it should be.”

“Right.”

The Commander watched her get out of the elevator. She was about to follow, but instead she jabbed the button for the CIC, then sighed and leaned back against the far wall while the doors hissed closed in front of her. Samara was probably off to sit in her room and stargaze while she meditated some more.

It was good to know that her thoughts were her own now, although she still wanted to be as far away from Omega as possible right now.

She stepped out of the elevator, said a quick hello to Thane as he walked past her, and made her way towards the galaxy map. She looked through the stars and systems, letting their glow pierce her eyes for a moment before she adjusted to it. By the time she’d found a system where one of their dossiers wanted her to go to she had realised the stars spread before her like this reminded her of the view from Aria’s room.

“Joker, heading for Haestrom,” she said into the comm beside her.

The ships engines hummed as Joker detached the ship from the Omega docks, and called back over the intercom, “Aye Aye Commander. Tali better have a party waiting for us, I feel like a party!”

Chapter Text

“Shepard!” Miranda shouted after the Commander as the doors closed behind her. She sighed, opened the door to her office and followed the woman out onto the crew deck. At the table two of the crew were starting up a card game, talking about the Collector attacks as they shuffled the cards and dealt between them until they had five cards each in their hands. She knew that game, but there were more pressing things to be doing now that playing games, and she half wanted to scold the crewmen for wasting time.

“Commander, please, I know you hate that place but this could be important.”

“Nothing that asari bitch has to say is important Miranda, okay. She’s used us enough for her dirty work.” It had been weeks since they’d last been to Omega, but the memory of her last visit still stuck with her more than she’d like. “Tell her we’re not going to help.”

Miranda let the woman walk to the elevator, but didn't stop walking with her. She wasn't ready to give this up just because Shepard didn't like the Pirate Queen. They had to go and do what she wanted, it wasn't a matter of whether they liked her or now, but a matter of being free and clear to travel through her territory when they needed to get to the Omega 4 relay. It was called that for a reason, if Aria wanted she could do her best to deny them access and with her station so close she’d be in a much more advantageous position than they would.

She explained all this as they rode the elevator down to the CIC, Miranda hoping she could convince the Commander that this wasn't an optional request, she knew it and Aria knew it, so their leader had to see it too.

“Commander, you have unread messages at your private terminal,” Kelly announced as soon as she spotted the two of them exiting the elevator, “And Aria T’loak has been trying to reach you on a secure channel, should I patch her through?”

Miranda fixed Shepard with an expectant look, and the Commander sighed, nodding and waiting for the click that would tell her they were connected with the communications on Omega.

“Aria, what do you want?”

“Not Aria, it’s Grizz. You think Aria makes her own calls?” He laughed to himself while Shepard stood and waited, leaning on the railing that surrounded the stand for the galaxy map. She was impatient, but not enough to be rude to Grizz, he was just a lackey after all, not the one she was annoyed with.she was embarrassed to be talking to him though, since he had been the one there when she began her walk of shame.

He took a while to stop chuckling and then sighed, “Deal is, she wants you to come clear up a small mess that she can't deal with herself, pirate politics, she said you’d get it.”

Shepard sighed deeply. She knew plenty about pirate politics, and mercenary politics. They weren't very political, mostly just a lot of people shooting each other and whoever killed the other guys first won. She dragged her fingers over the galaxy map to guide the stars around, not really looking for anywhere, but ending up with her hand hovering over Omega anyway. “Okay, what’s this job she has for us?”

“She has an old friend, name’s the Patriarch, and well he’s in a dangerous situation. See she keeps him ‘round as a show of power, keeps him loyal to her. But now some of those mercs you found who wanted her dead? They decided he’s the next best target, make her look weak, but if she steps in it shows she has a weakness anyway.”

“So she can’t win and she needs me to jump in and save the day. Huh.” It was nice seeing Aria in the tricky situation for once, the asari had seemed to play everything way too cool for Shepard’s liking. She couldn't trust someone who didn't take things personally every once in a while, but then again she knew she couldn't trust someone like Aria anyways “What’s in it for me?”

Grizz laughed again and she was sure she could hear the smile in his voice as he replied, “She thought you’d ask that, and she told me to say you get the pleasure of helping her out of a tight spot. She’ll probably throw some credits your way too if you say please.” Shepard felt her cheeks reddening, remembering the marks she’d had covering her body the last time she’d received any kind of pleasure from Aria. She looked down and realised she was gripping the railing so hard her knuckles were going white.

She relaxed quickly and hung her head back, lacing her fingers behind her neck. “Fine, tell her I'm in.”

The communication ended from Grizz’s end with a sharp click.

“So should I tell Joker to change out heading to Omega?” Miranda asked from behind her, while Shepard pushed the galaxy map around a little more and finally zoomed in close to Omega, spinning a 3D model of the station around and around like a spinning top. The Commander nodded wordlessly and continued to stare blankly at the holographic rock.in front of her.

Joker came over the intercom briefly to announce to the crew that they’d be at Omega in just under half a day, so they had plenty of time to deal with their own issues while they flew, get food, get sleep whatever they wanted.

Shepard had never been strict with her crew. So long as they did their jobs and followed their orders they were free to go about their days as they wanted. She wasn't with the Alliance now, so she didn't hold her crew to the same standard she held herself, even though she had broken those rules before now. She knew a few of her crew were closer than just friends, although the only couple on the ship she really knew of being open about it were just blowing off steam more than anything before they maybe headed off into their deaths.

She headed up to her cabin, jabbing the button in the lift and waiting as  it made its way up to the top floor.

When she was up there she began pacing as she waited to be reunited with the one person she’d been trying to keep out of her head. After pacing for a few minutes, chewing her nails and combing her fingers through her hair, she decided to try and get some paperwork done. It had sat on her desk for long enough that it was beginning to mount up, she had been avoiding it recently.

She checked her clock constantly, counting down  the time she had before they reached Omega. It was torture, but it was self inflicted so maybe she deserved it.

The paperwork was, as she had expected it to be, boring. Yes, she had recruited Thane and helped him deal with his son. She had also recruited Tali and helped her deal with her issues on the Migrant Fleet, no she didn't think it would help relations between Cerberus and the quarians, just those between Shepard and the quarians. And of course she had recruited the Justicar Samara and gone to Omega to help kill her target with her. That last one still haunted her.

She sighed and dropped her pen. Miranda filled out her forms on her data pad, that was just how she did it, but Shepard enjoyed actually holding the pen in her hand when she was writing. It felt better somehow even if it was more hassle to send over.

With nothing to do she hung her head back and rubbed her eyes, holding the palms of her hands over her face for a long few moments, just thinking. The mission coming up could be a problem depending what kind of issues Patriarch had got himself into, depending what Aria needed her and her team to deal with.

She needed to stop thinking about Aria.

Instead she looked to the picture of Kaidan that Cerberus had given her as a reminder of things she had to live for and fight for but now it was a reminder of what she’d lost. She grabbed it and folded it down on the desk.

She let her hands wander across her own body, not sure whose lips she was remembering, only remembering the feel of them on her skin, burning hot tracks down over each of her ribs, over her hips and thighs. She remembered fingers pressing against her, felt her own in their place over the seam of her pants and hung her head back once more, wondering briefly if she should move from the desk chair.

One hand gripped the edge of the chair, the other was slipping beneath her waistband. She closed her eyes, leaning as far back as the chair would allow.

The memories of feeling someone else on the borders of her mind, she remembered who that memory belonged to. It came with an aftertaste of someone else’s pleasure, mixed with an aftertaste of her own, all layers and layers of sex and heat wrapped together so tight she couldn't tell where it was her or Aria and fuck that was hot.

No wonder the entire galaxy find asari attractive.

“Fuck.”

She’d cursed so many times that night, more than she could remember cursing for a very long time. Especially when Aria had… she rocked against her own hand, fingers slick, as she thought of it, hot breath and rough lips and she could feel herself hanging onto the edge. This wasn't supposed to be slow and drawn out, she was just trying to force her out of her head.

She was close, her muscles tensing like she was coiling herself up before striking. She held her breath for a moment, trying to remember just what it had felt like to feel the ghost of her own orgasm echoed through Aria in the meld.

She knew she was so close.

“Commander?”

She opened her eyes quickly, pulled her hand from between her legs and looked to the door where the voice had come from. It was Garrus, knocking a second time as he asked for her again.

“Just a second!” she shouted through, hurrying into the bathroom to wash her hands and check she didn't look too caught out. Her cheeks were red, but she was sure Garrus wouldn't really notice still being a little unfamiliar with humans as he was.

Once she was sure she’d made herself seem as innocent as possible she called for him to come in. the door eased open almost silently, and the turian walked in, still dressed in his full combat armour as always. She was sure he never took the stuff off, and made a mental note that she’d have to buy him some civvies when she was on the Citadel, unless Omega had anything more his style.

“Are you alright, Commander, you seem a little flushed?” he asked, leaning against the wall beside the fish-tank, like he was the bad boy in school that all the other kids had better steer clear of. Shepard was sure her blush deepened, but she laughed and shrugged, making an excuse about how she’d been working out. Garrus looked at her perplexed. “Why up here and now with Jacob like usual?”

“I wanted some time to think. Have you ever heard of yoga?”

He shook his head.

“Great, well one day I’ll show you. It’s like a workout but just stretching and it’s slow and relaxing I guess.” She wasn't sure, she’d never really tried it before. But now she might have to learn in case Garrus took her up on the offer. And she knew secretly he was just  little bit fascinated with humans and their weird ways, so he’d probably go and research it and oh god what had she gotten herself into this time?

She stopped worrying and took a deep breath. “So what can I do for you Garrus?”

Suddenly he looked very awkward, wringing his gloved hands for a moment and then rubbing the back of his neck. Shepard still didn't feel comfortable with him wearing his gloves all the time, she was the Commander of this ship and if she didn't care about his talons then no one should, he was on their side. Cerberus had to learn that not all aliens were waiting for the first chance to stab them in the back.

“Well, it’s just that ah… well I may have been talking to Tali earlier and she… ah this is awkward, is it always this awkward? What I mean is she… was flirting with me I think?”

“You think?” Shepard asked. She was grinning and it was all made funnier by the fact that Garrus didn't seem to know what to do or what was happening. Was it so unusual that women found turians attractive? Especially quarian women who didn't have many options on a galactic scale that wouldn't make them potentially sick. And besides, Shepard thought it was kind of sweet that Tali was interested in him, and she wasn't all that surprised. She could have seen it coming really if she hadn't been so focused on the mission.

Garrus went back to rubbing his neck and sighed, walking through into the living area without invitation and sitting on the couch. Shepard joined him, patting his shoulder mock sympathetically even though she was sure he wouldn't feel it through the armour and the plating that covered most of his body that she’d ever seen.

“Well I think she was flirting, that’s the thing: I don't know.”

“Well what did she say?”

He cleared his throat a little and hummed as he thought about what to say. Shepard was worried for a moment that it might be something she didn't need to hear, and honestly if that had come from Tali she was shocked because she remembered a naive kid who she’d taken under her wing back on the SR-1.

“Remember that couple we saw on Illium, she was moaning about them for a good week after we left?”

Shepard nodded.

“Well she was talking about them and she was saying it it were us she wouldn't have needed me to hint so much, she’d have been hinting at me long before.”

Shepard laughed and clapped her hands together as she tried to compose herself. Garrus was half smiling, his mandibles quivering by his chin like he wasn't sure what to do with himself. “Sorry,” she muttered, sitting up and looking back to him still with a wide grin on her face, “Yeah that definitely sounds like she’s hitting on you my man!”

“You think so?”

“Yeah definitely! So what do you think, you wanna flirt back?”

He laughed and rubbed the back of his neck again, grabbing a data pad from the desk and jabbing the buttons of a, 8 bit game Shepard had downloaded onto it. He wasn't very good at it, but he also wasn't really concentrating on it. “I don't know. I just told her I had more calibrating to do and cut off the comms.”

“Garrus! That’s not how you get a girl to like you! In any species!”

They sat there for a good half an hour, discussing Garrus’ strategy for flirting back with the quarian who seemed to be into him. Shepard laughed as he tried to draw out what looked like a battle map on her data pad, and in the end they together came up with a forced scenario where Shepard would send Tali to the forward gun battery and Garrus could ask her out for a drink or coffee or whatever dextro aliens drank when they went out on dates, while Shepard listened in on it all through a private comm channel and maybe gave him a few pointers..

Garrus nodded, sure the plan would work and totally convinced it wouldn't backfire at all. They’d have to wait a while before they could do it, probably next time they were on the ship would be the best time since it would give Tali time to get over being hung up on so abruptly.

Garrus didn't understand women, never had and probably never would, but if Shepard was helping him he supposed he may as well give it a try.

After he left Shepard collapsed back onto her bed and curled up into a ball. She wasn't sure why she was miserable suddenly, but the wave of depression came over her suddenly enough that she found herself crying before she even knew what was happening.

“Should I contact Doctor Chakwas, Commander,” EDI asked over the comm in her room, “Your vitals show a drop in Serotonin levels.”

Shepard sniffed and shook her head, hoping EDI would be able to see the small movement in the camera that sat above her bed in the corner of the room. EDI didn't ask anymore questions, so she assumed it had worked. With no one to talk to she felt alone, on a ship full of people, crew mates who were becoming friends, but her head was still lost somewhere in the past, torn between the two people she couldn't get off her mind.

Both of them had hurt her, she’d asked one of them to.

She felt pathetic, clinging to the small remnants of hope that had burrowed into her mind and her heart, that told her Kaidan hadn't meant what he’d said on Horizon. He had been stressed, he’d been angry, she might have said the same things if it was her in that position. He was right, it was her fault that he’d snapped at her. She should have contacted him when she woke up. The excuses she’d fed herself up until now seemed hollow all of a sudden. If Kaidan was mad at her he had every right to be.

She grabbed a pillow and hugged it tight to her while she hid her face beneath it. She just wanted it all to go away, wanted to close her eyes and wake up on the Normandy beside the man she’d thought she could spend her life with. She’d honestly thought she and Kaidan were meant to last, that they could face whatever the Galaxy threw at them.

They’d recovered after Ashley together, after Saren. He’d helped her deal with the death of her father, while he was on Earth and she was out with her crew fighting the Geth bastards that’d torn the pretence of safety the Citadel Council held asunder.

She just wished he’d been there at the end, maybe then he would have seen what was truly at stake like Liara had. He should have stayed on the Normandy, she should have asked him to stay.

He couldn't be blamed. It was all her fault.

Her fault.

Chapter Text

Omega was just as grimy and grungy as it had been the last time she had been here. Granted, this time she was on the ground level instead of blearily walking back towards the Normandy from the apartments, but it was still the same. The same grubby drunks, the same dark streets, the same constant hum of talking and generators

“Are you okay?” Miranda asked as they walked. She had noticed the Commander standing still with a blank expression while she and Jacob had finished making a purchase for some weapon parts needed in the armoury.

Shepard shook her head and then realised what the question had been and nodded quickly. She was fine, she just didn't really want to be here. And no one could blame her, she was standing on the criminal hub for the Terminus Systems, a Spectre and Alliance Commander. She should be busting up this place, not heading off to help the woman who ran it all. They should have just ignored Aria’s plea, if they hadn't needed her support and her station in their upcoming mission they would have done.

But here they were standing on Omega and ready to rush to the aid of her Queen.

“I’ll go talk to Aria, you and Jacob stay on the floor and I’ll come get you when I need you. Keep an eye out for anyone suspicious.”

That was the plan and they stuck to it. Miranda went to find a booth to sit in, possibly the same one they’d used when they’d come to Omega for celebrations after saving the colony at Horizon, while Jacob moved to the bar and brought a drink for them both. Shepard wondered slightly if there would be any trouble, or if this was all just some attempt to get her back on the station to patronise her some more. Honestly Shepard wouldn't have been at all surprised if that was the case.

On the way towards the steps she wasn't bothered, no one came up to her. She was out of her usual N7 armour - something the Council and the Alliance would probably be happy to hear since they apparently hated her parading around in armour she was unfit to wear. Instead she’d dressed herself in something much more casual; a pair of dark jeans and a hoodie over whatever t-shirt she had grabbed from her drawer today. She hadn't even looked at what she was putting on really, so long as it was clean it would do.

Before she could even get up all the stairs a hand came out in front of her, two fingers curling around her arm to stop her. “Commander, Aria figured you’d come for more information. She asked me to deal with you.”

“Deal with me?”

The turian laughed and shook his head, letting his gun hang freely at his side. “Bad wording maybe, come on let’s talk over here.”

Grizz led the human Spectre over to a more secluded corner of the club, back down the steps and slightly around to the side. He whispered for her to act natural, so she leaned against the table and grabbed an old glass that had been left partially full on beside her.he looked at her funnily for a moment, then followed suit, pulling a face as he sniffed the contents of the glass.

“Well, Aria want this on the down low. Patriarch has managed to get the assassins after him, we don't know if he knows about it or not, but you can find him down in the lower Afterlife just through there.” He pointed down to a set of doors at the foot of another short flight of stairs. “He’ll probably be down there entertaining a crowd as usual, probably why these mercs find him such a good target. Just do whatever you have to, keep him alive.”

Shepard looked from the door to him and nodded. She understood what she had to do.

“Thanks for the drinks, I’ll leave you to clear up.” Grizz muttered as she turned her back on him and left, looking over to her team and nodding to them. Jacob got up first, leaving his drink and making out like he was going to head back to the bar for something, while Miranda stayed and finished her cocktail. Drinking on duty wouldn't have been allowed if they were in the Alliance, but being with Cerberus Shepard supposed anything went. And maybe it was a mocktail anyway.

Miranda sauntered over after them when she was done, Shepard would probably never know whether finishing her drink had been done to look natural or just because she didn't want to waste it.

Either way they had somewhere to go, and Shepard wasn't about to leave this mission standing. Grizz had mentioned assassins, and that meant this could be very serious if it was left too long. And then there was the matter of who had hired the hit, maybe it was just thugs trying to make a play in the game that seemed to be Omega’s ruthless political system.

“So what do we have?” Miranda asked, checking her sidearm as they walked. Jacob and her had both equipped themselves with pistols, as well as the Commander, but only Miranda really felt comfortable with such a small weapon. Both Jacob and Shepard were used to having more firepower on them. At least Jacob had his biotics.

Shepard led the way, hoping she would lead them right to there Patriarch was hiding out, or entertaining guests or whatever it was he did. “Assassins, got a krogan they’re after. Aria wants us to work as protection, just keep him alive. Doesn't matter what happens to the mercs.”

Both her squad mates could deal with that, they’d put a shot between the eyes of enough mercenaries on this rock, what was a few more.

It took them a little longer than they’d wanted to find Patriarch. He was, like Grizz had said he would be, telling wild stories to a group of starry eyed listeners. They hung onto his every word while he told them of people he had murdered back in his glory days. It was hard to understand the context of what he was talking about but they were definitely interested in how it was better to kill a man's family before killing him.

“Go after the family,” he told them, “And then he’ll get mad and come at you stupid. If you kill him first the family just want revenge.”

Shepard supposed he was right, if morality didn't matter then that was the most logical way to do it. Although maybe murdering anyone wasn't the right thing to be doing. Logic wasn’t always right.

The three of them waited for a while until he had finished telling his story. The men and woman who’d been listening gasped and applauded at the climatic ending until the old krogan hushed them and turned to the newcomers. He seemed glad to see them. “Come to hear a story?” he asked in his gruff voice.

Shepard shook her head, not interested in hearing a story or pretending to be. “Aria sent us.”

The krogan glanced to his company and quickly ushered them out of the room. Apparently the fact Aria sent them was enough for him to want privacy. He glanced briefly to the two humans standing behind the Commander as if deciding whether to trust them or not, but eventually just ignored them and moved to sit down. “So what does the Queen want with me?” He sounded mocking of her title, but also a little irritated by it.

“What could you have done to piss off the mercenaries? They’re sending people to kill you.”

He didn't seem surprised, in fact if anything he seemed to brighten up like this was good news. Slapping his armoured knee he laughed, “So now they think I’m worth something. They cant get to her so they’ll take me instead.” he took a moment to enjoy the moment, the feeling of power and usefulness. This threat on his life seemed to have been the best thing that had happened to him for a long time. “So tell me human, what do you think we do about it.”

Shepard thought for a moment. Aria had said to keep him alive, but she was starting to put some of the pieces together and wasn't so sure what she should do. It seemed like she had two options, either ensure his survival or don't. There was no guarantee that the mercs would even manage to take down a krogan. There weren't many who could take on an angry krogan charge, even with a lot of firepower behind them.

But it still came down to her choice. Wanting more information on the man she was supposed to be protecting Shepard began asking questions, and regretted it as soon as Patriarch started to reply with the epic story of his life on Omega.

She found out all she needed to know though: he had been the one sitting up where Aria sat now, she had come to Omega as a matron and started working for him. Soon she was one of his best, and that proved to be his undoing. Aria challenged him to single combat, won, and now she kept him around as a trophy to show how good she was. In the end he just started laughing though, suddenly realising not only the situation he was in but the situation she was in.

“If she protects me she looks weak, sentimental even. If she lets me die she loses her trophy, loses some of her credibility. And that’s why she sent you, Commander?”

Shepard nodded and sighed. “What if I fight these mercenaries for you? Me and my team. We could act as your…” She searched for the word the krogan had used while they were trying to get help for Grunt, “Krant.”

Patriarch practically jumped for joy as she said that, on his feet in a flash. Shepard almost cracked a smile at his display of childish enthusiasm. “You would fight for me?” he asked as he walked forwards to them, “Fight as my krant?”

The trio nodded.

The krogan beamed, showing off all his teeth.

 

Shepard was limping as she walked up to the Queen of Omega in her throne room, the result of a close call with an angry krogan charge. The dancers glanced from her to Aria, while Miranda and Jacob made the smart move of staying down on the dance floor again and waiting. They had defied Aria’s orders quite spectacularly, making a scene and yelling about their krant member, the Patriarch of Omega, as they took out heavily armed assassins in a busy street just a little away from the sanctuary of Afterlife.

With a wave Aria dismissed the dancers, scowling down at a datapad. Shepard could hear her own voice playing from the small speaker in the device as Aria watched and rewound it. “That isn't what I asked you to do, Commander.” The datapad narrowly missed her head, catching on her shoulder as it flew past her ear. Shepard winced as the corner bounced off the bruise she’d received during the fight, she made a mental note to apply medi gel and see the Doctor when she was back on the Normandy.

She sighed and took a few dangerous steps closer, Aria rose and she did and watched her angrily. “You didn’t ask me to do anything,” the Commander accused, “You had Grizz do it.”

“Don’t fuck with me!” Aria was in her face now, fists gripping tight to the front of Shepard’s shirt just under her chin. Aria was taller than her, if she’d been much taller Shepard might have been standing on her toes in this position. It was the first time Aria had seen fear in the Commander’s eyes, just a glimmer as her eyes widened slightly and her breath caught.

Shepard recovered quickly, much to her credit, but Aria didn't drop her hands at once, not until after Shepard had retorted, “A little late for that, Aria.” The fear had left her face, now her eyes were filled with a steely resolve and the asari wasn’t sure which she liked more.

“Oh,” she released her captive but didn't move away, still standing close enough that the Commander could smell the alcohol on her breath, probably her usual poison, “So now you’re owning it? Not going to run out on me again are you, Commander.”

Her tone had switched quickly from anger to mockery, taking the opportunity to belittle the woman in front of her, smirking as Shepard scowled and turned on her heel.

“We’re done here.”

Shepard began to descend the first flight of steps down, her mind set. She was going to walk out of here, she was going to find Miranda and Jacob, she was going to walk back to the Normandy with them and then she would sleep off her aches and pains from the fighting. Every step she took hurt more than the last, she definitely needed some kind of medical attention, just to make sure nothing was broken. And Miranda would probably fuss about doing some scans of her cybernetics in case any implants had be knocked and...

“Shepard.” Aria was following her down the steps, she reached her in a few strides and pulled her close with a burst of blue energy. Caught by surprise, the Commander staggered forwards into her, and found Aria’s fingers hooked swiftly through her belt loops to keep her in place. If she’d wanted to she could have pulled away, Aria didn't have a good hold on her.

But only if she’d wanted to.

“You look tense after that fight,” Aria told her. It could have been a tender moment between lovers to someone from the outside, as Aria tugged Shepard’s hips against hers and smirked, if not for Aria’s tone. “Stick around, maybe I’ll help you loosen up.”

She pulled Shepard against her again, harder. Shepard eyes flickered closed for a moment, her breath hitching again, but it was definitely not fear Aria saw in her when she looked back to her, pupils dilated, tongue darting out to wet her lips.

“Where?” she answered like she was bewitched, under Aria’s spell.

“Same place.”

“Seven?”

“Deal.”

And just like the interaction was over. Aria let her go, swaying her hips as she sauntered back to her red leather couch and took a seat while Shepard watched. She knew she was watching, she put on the show especially for her audience of one. When the Commander turned to leave again, Aria made a point of waiting to the last moment before calling out to her, “And Commander,” Shepard stopped but didn't turn to look at her, to do that would be to admit some kind of defeat, “Don’t make me wait.”

Aria didn't bother to watch as Shepard left, instead she went back to her drink and waved the dancers back. They’d keep her entertained until the evening at least.

Chapter Text

It had been tough lying to Miranda about why she was returning to Omega. Of course she couldn't just say she had a meeting with Aria, the nosy XO would want to know what about so she could report it back to the Illusive Man, and there was really nothing for her to talk to the asari about besides the mission, and why wouldn't she just do that over a vid-com. But then there weren't many reasons for her to be going to Omega, especially not when she was demanding she be allowed to go alone and the rest of her team not follow her. Even Garrus and Tali, the ones she trusted most, hadn't been brought in on the secret.

Shepard had managed to find her way to the apartment building with time to spare, but arguing with the receptionist had taken more time than she’d have liked and now it was just a matter of how many times the elevator stopped on the way to the penthouse.

Too many.

The Commander watched her omni tool as the elevator climbed floors, watching the seconds tick by while she was sure Aria grew more and more impatient, hell she might have left as soon as she was late. She might not have been here at all come to think of it, it wouldn't be unlike Aria to play her like this, at least from what she knew of her.

The lift doors opened, and she was the only one inside this high so there was no scramble to let people out or awkwardly be the first to leave. Instead she just took the few short steps over to the door, held out her arms for a scan from the batarian guard, and then let herself in.

The first thing she noticed as the door hissed shut behind her was the heavy smell of incense, the smell completely alien to her, the fumes stinging her nose a little as she went from the dusty air that seemed to be forbidden from following her into Aria’s rooms. Aria herself was nowhere to be seen, but her signature jacket was hanging over the back of a large sofa in the living room so she was obviously here. The Commander noticed a slight lump beneath the jacket that she could only assume to be a hidden sidearm. If she hadn't been trained to notice those things she probably wouldn't have given it any thought, a smart move on Aria’s part, credit where it was due.

She pulled her hoodie off and dumped it beside the jacket.

Shepard wandered through this room and towards the kitchen. A very impatient looking asari was waiting, tapping her foot lightly against the side of a unit while she finished a glass of rum. It was always rum.

“I almost thought you weren’t going to come.”

She put the glass down with a heavy thud on the counter and turned quickly to her guest. Shepard stood awkwardly in the doorway, trying to keep eye contact but having to look away every now and then. Even away from the glaring lights of Afterlife, Aria was intimidating, there was never a time Shepard hadn't thought so, anything that suggested otherwise had been bravado and nothing more. She could have looked almost domestic leaning against the counter beside a fridge Shepard was sure would be full of alcohol and little else, if it wasn’t for the way she eyed the Commander like prey.

“So did I,” she admitted, not feeling guilty, but annoyed that she would so readily admit to second guessing herself. Aria just scoffed at the news, like it was old and she was bored with it. Maybe it was a reaction she had often.

Now she was in here with a clear head, Shepard wondered how many other men and women the asari had brought here, under the exact same conditions.

“Take those off.”

Aria’s order took her by surprise, breaking her out of her thoughts and bringing her back to the moment. It really didn't matter anyway how many other people Aria had used and discarded, if she was just the latest on a long list of names that was just fine with her.

Following Aria’s eyeline Shepard moved to unbutton her jeans, kicking her shoes off as she did, and then pushed them down her legs and stepped out of them. Aria nodded, another silent command, and Shepard hooked her thumbs under her shorts and tugged them gown too, leaving them with her trousers. Then she looked up to Aria’s appreciative smirk.

“Back against the wall,” Aria demanded, bringing one hand to her mouth and pulling her glove loose with her teeth, obviously a practiced move, while Shepard watched her and backed up against the wall. She stood beside the door to the living room and watched Aria tug the second glove free, biting her lower lip as she tried not to think about how just watching her do that was making her feel.

“Hands over your head,” Aria added as she walked over, dropping the gloves on the floor as she went and pushing aside the Commander’s clothes with a careless kick.

“There’s a good girl.”

Shepard felt herself blushing at the praise and lowered her gaze, hoping it wouldn't be noticed.

When she was in front of her, Aria lifted her hands to Shepard’s wrists, pushing her back, pressing her bruised body against the wall. The Commander gritted her teeth, trying to focus instead on the pirate Queen’s nails as she dragged them slowly down her arms. She tried to keep her eyes locked on Aria’s, she was smirking as she watched every twitch in the human’s muscles, every time she resisted bringing her arms down. She was obedient, probably after all the time taking orders in the Alliance, but it wasn't as fun as it could be.

So Aria carried on going, nails raking down over Shepard’s ribs, and the Commander broke. With a squirm, she brought her arms down to her sides, apparently ticklish even through her shirt. Aria seized her wrists, brought them back above her head and pinned them there with one hand, while the other ran down her side again, nails digging in.

They were still and silent for a moment, until Aria released her wrists and instead nudged her feet apart slightly. Shepard complied easily and felt her chest tighten for a moment as the asari kissed her way over her shirt, down her from her collar bone, to her breasts, over her stomach and then down further still.

It felt too familiar, repeating an old mistake.

But then Aria’s lips were on her again all too quickly, her hands on her thighs. And Shepard could convince herself it didn't feel like a mistake anymore, at least for now. She focused herself on keeping her arms up, no matter how much she wanted to grip the back of Aria’s crest and hold her against her.

It became harder and harder with each deliberately slow stroke of the asari’s tongue.

Her fingers curled into fists, pressed painfully against the wall above her. She kept her eyes shut tight as she tried to keep her breathing even.

Her resistance only seemed to make Aria determined to double her efforts; she moaned against her, loud enough that it had to be for Shepard’s benefit. Shepard looked down and watched the asari’s head bobbing slightly between her legs before pushing herself back against the wall and closing her eyes.

Shepard felt her tongue swirling around her clit before dipping into her as Aria took her time figuring out what brought the most reaction from her. A broad stroke made the human’s knees buckle slightly, kissing and sucking over her clit made her whimper.

Aria brought her hand under her chin, keeping her lips against Shepard, and slowly pressed inside her. She could almost feel the Commander’s chest heaving with each overly controlled breath as she tried not to make a noise, but even the disciplined soldier couldn't stop herself from letting out soft gasps or her hips from bucking and finding rhythm with Aria’s thrusts.

It was fascinating, listening and watching as her resolve crumbled.

Shepard stopped forcing herself to remain silent, muttering curses and encouragements under her breath, her hands fell to her sides, still against the wall for a moment, but soon Aria felt fingers on the back of her crest, against the sensitive ridges of her neck. She moaned in earnest this time, arching into the touch despite herself with a shiver running down her spine.

She could feel how close the Commander was by how tightly she held onto the back of her head, could hear it in her strained voice in between her panting.

Shepard was so close, she told her as she begged breathlessly and rocked herself against her.

And Aria was tempted to give her what she wanted, even as she pulled slightly back from her and her hand stopped moving. Shepard’s next sigh turned into a frustrated whimper as she moved to finish herself off, but found her hands pinned back above her head while Aria smirked, face only a few inches away from hers.

“I told you, hands above your head.” She clicked her tongue disapprovingly but her smile never left her face.

Shepard could smell herself on Aria’s breath, mingled with the rum, she could see her lips glistening in the light. It made her breath hitch, but also reminded her what had just been cut short.

Aria rose to her feet, ran her tongue across her two fingers with her eyes locked to Shepard’s, and then made her slow way back towards her bed. The Commander watched, sure she wouldn't notice if she moved her hands down now while her back was turned. She had been so close to the edge it surely wouldn't take her long to get the satisfaction she wanted.

But she didn't dare move.

Instead she stayed with her arms aching above her head and her legs shaking beneath her until Aria beckoned her closer. She’d gone to stand, instead of by the bed, by the window of the apartment. It was the same one Shepard had been so taken with the last time she’d been here, a floor to ceiling view of the expanse of lights that was Omega. Pretty as it was from up here, Shepard couldn't stop remembering what it was like down on the streets.

Aria’s hands were on her before she even had time to react - not that she minded - pushing her slowly towards the window roughly while her lips sought out the Commanders. Shepard moaned into the kiss and her own taste as Aria pulled her lower lip between her teeth. Shepard was sure it was just so she had no choice but to taste herself, to leave a lasting memory on the tip of her tongue of what Aria had denied her.

She was still so tense, every slight brush of Aria’s leg against hers sent tingles through her nerves. As they kissed, Aria ran her hands over the Commander’s body, first down over her shirt, then up underneath it, pulling the fabric higher as she went. For a moment her hands rested over her breasts before she lifted the garment away and dropped of beside them. The soldier glanced at it briefly while Aria unclasped her bra and removed it with ease.

She gasped sharply as her naked body pressed against the cold glass, pain shooting through her bruised shoulder, but Aria didn’t stop. Instead she took hold of Shepard’s hand and trailed it against her skin, down her stomach.

The Commander looked to her for instruction, but Aria wasn’t asking, she was demanding, and Shepard didn’t need to be told twice.

She unfastened the buckle of the pirate’s leather pants and slid her hand inside them slowly. Aria seemed to be holding her breath; maybe watching the human’s losing fight for control had affected her just as it had Shepard. When Shepard first touched her she felt Aria’s arousal, damp against her fingertips, as the asari gripped her shoulders tight and pressed their bodies together.

It was the Commander’s turn to watch as Aria slowly gave into her, letting her other hand wander wherever she pleased. For a moment Shepard considered the possibility of returning the same favour Aria had so kindly given to her, of waiting until the last possible moment and then pull away and leave. But she banished the idea at the teasing touches of Aria’s fingers between her legs while her other hand groped at her ass and pulled her against her again.

Shepard forced herself to concentrate on Aria, on the asari in front of her, and pushed her hands away, moving them one at a time to her shoulders bu wincing as Aria dug her nails right into the bruises.

It didn't feel entirely bad though.

When she remembered the response it had given her before, Shepard ran one of her hands from the back of Aria’s crest down to around her collar bone, fingers training over the ridges of her neck once more. Beneath her hand Aria shivered, moving into her touch with a sigh. Shepard grinned, leaning in to kiss along her neck. Every touch made Aria gasp even while she tried to keep herself in control.

It had felt good to surrender to Aria before, Shepard thought maybe it would feel good to be surrendered to as well.

The surprise at the feeling of Aria’s mind reaching out to hers made her falter, made Aria remember herself and throw up her barriers again. The sudden lack of mental connection made Shepard feel empty for a moment. She pushed through it, getting Aria back for her slip up with teeth against her neck, even though she wondered why she had held back when last time she had been open to their melding.

It seemed to take a surprising amount of restraint for the asari to keep her mind and hands to herself even though she busied herself with tugging on Shepard’s hair and grinding against her hand.

“You know what I want, Commander,” she muttered as Shepard continued to take her time. Maybe that was how the human had intended to take things, but they were playing Aria’s game and she set the rules. No matter how in charge she allowed the Commander to feel, they both knew who held the reins.

It was that knowledge that made Shepard double her efforts, and that had Aria so turned on before she had even set eyes on the woman this evening.

Aria slowly let herself go, fighting a losing battle with herself as she held Shepard against her. Her nails were surely leaving little crescent marks in the Commander’s shoulder, her other hand knotted tight in her hair.

She came with a shudder, biting her lip to keep quiet until Shepard dragged her nails roughly over her crest and she found herself muttering a string of curses. Not all of the words were translated by the device implanted just behind Shepard’s ear, but she enjoyed hearing them all the same.

The muttering stopped as Aria regained herself, grabbing Shepard's arm and tugging her hand from inside her pants and bringing it back up against the window.

“Turn around.”

Her voice was quieter than before, hardly more than a whisper, but no less commanding. Shepard compiled as Aria grabbed her other hand and held both wrists above her head in one hand while the other reached round to her stomach. Shepard whimpered as her fingers edged lower painfully slow.

“You can see the whole station from here,” Aria whispered against her hair, laughing as she moved to kiss up her neck and along her jaw, “I wonder if they can see you.”

A flash of fear passed through Shepard as she imagined anyone seeing her like this, or worse any of her crew. Aria continued to taunt her, finally touching her as she asked her what they would think of the hero of the Citadel if they saw her like this.

The thought seemed to have the desired effect, Aria chuckled softly behind her. Against her ear the sound sent a chill down Shepard’s spine

“I bet they’re watching me fuck you.”

Shepard moaned. She had known that she would not last long the second Aria had pushed her up against the glass, but the taunting wasn’t helping as she tried to hold back from the inevitable. She tried to push herself away from the window as she grew closer, futile as it was. Maybe Aria would take pity on her and let her move away from where she was now sure the entirety of Omega was enjoying the show.

“No,” Aria muttered between rough kisses on her neck, “I want them to see you come for me.”

Aria pushed her over the edge, it didn't take much after the earlier denial. Shepard gasped as she rocked herself over Aria’s hand, stilling after a moment and leaning against the window while she caught her breath and forced her legs to keep her upright. Behind her Aria pulled away and took a few steps towards the bed they hadn't yet used. She heard the sounds of a zipper and belt fastening as she pushed herself shakily away from the glass. By the time she was turning around Aria already looked as composed as she had when Shepard walked in.

The asari moved to a chair in the living room, grabbing her jacket and throwing it around her shoulders. She took the sidearm, a carnifex, and stowed it away beneath one of the throw cushions. It seemed to have a holster built into the arm of the sofa where it was kept.

Shepard slowly returned to her clothes, grabbing them piece by piece and putting them back on as she went. She could take a hint, their meeting was over and it was time for her to leave before she outstayed her welcome.

“This is becoming a habit Commander,” Aria commented as the human wandered around her apartment in just her underwear until she retrieved her jeans and hopped to put them on. She just grunted in reply as she pulled her shirt back on and grabbed her hoodie, slinging it over her arm and preparing to head out.

Aria grabbed her wrist before she could get to the door, pushing her back against the wall. She was smirking again, the same look that was both mocking and fucking hot at the same time and somehow made Shepard question why she had come back and why she hadn't returned sooner. “I’m glad our arrangement is working for you.”

“Arrangement?”

“Isn’t that what this is, an easy fuck between missions?” Aria left a hand over Shepard’s breast, stroking her thumb over her stiff nipple beneath her shirt, “You can’t pretend you don’t like our meetings.”

Shepard pushed her away, shoving her arms through her hoodie and zipping it all the way up before throwing the hood over her head. She wanted to be away from here, this was why she hadn’t come back sooner. Being with Aria made her feel good enough to forget about the shit show that was her current mission, but afterwards she only felt dirty.

All the same before she went she had agreed with Aria; it was a good arrangement, one that seemed like it could work out well for the both of them.