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Dragon's Teeth: Mass Effect 1

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Milky Way/Arcturus Stream/Arcturus Station -- Earth year: 2183

Kaidan was on a shuttle at 0500 Monday morning, en-route to the Alliance Space Station near Earth where the SSV Tokyo was docked.

He, Captain Anderson and Chief Engineer Adams were passengers on the Tokyo, having each been reassigned to serve on the SSV Normandy SR-1 (Systems Alliance Space Vehicle Normandy Stealth Reconnaissance - 1). They were on their way to Arcturus Station where the Normandy would be launched for her shake down cruise.

Kaidan wandered the crew deck, saying his goodbyes to the friends he'd made during his years aboard the Tokyo. In someways, leaving the Tokyo felt like leaving home. But he couldn't deny the excitement of transferring to a smaller class ship - the Normandy was a frigate built for stealth while the Tokyo was a cruiser.

He wondered what kind of missions he and the Normandy's crew would be assigned. Given that the Normandy's primary function was stealth operations, it made her an optimal ship for stealth and planet-side missions. As much as he would miss his time aboard the Tokyo, he was very much looking forward to serving on the Normandy.

Within a few hours, the Tokyo had reached Arcturus Station and he, Captain Anderson and Chief Engineer Adams had boarded the Normandy and stowed their gear. They had arrived ahead of schedule so Kaidan took the time to introduce himself to the crew,as it was now his new role as the ship's Staff Lieutenant.

He started with Adams and although they'd been on the Tokyo together, they hadn't had much contact.

"Have you seen this Lieutenant?" Adams asked as he approached, sounding excited.

"Not till now." Kaidan said, amused by Adams' enthusiasm. "It looks impressive."

"Impressive?" Adams replied in disbelief. He couldn't believe Kaidan's lack of awe. "This drive core is a marvel of engineering! No other ship in the entire Alliance fleet can hold a candle to the Normandy's drive core."

Moving closer, Kaidan leaned up against the bank of monitors that overlooked the massive core. "Why don't you tell me about it?"

"I'd love to Lieutenant." Adams replied, launching into his list of all the prototype components that made the Normandy better than any ship in the fleet.

When he left Adams to meet with Dr. Chakwas, he knew enough about the drive core to understand that she could maintain stealth drive longer than any other ship in the galaxy. She could also maintain FTL (faster-than-light), speeds for longer distances before needing to discharge the core. He was happy to know that Adams not only appreciated, but was in awe of Normandy's specs. Adams was more than qualified to serve as Normandy's Chief Engineer and Kaidan knew they were in good hands.

His meeting with Dr. Chakwas was brief but informative. She was engaging and easy to talk to and he came away from their brief visit knowing she was most at ease serving on a military vessel and preferred space to colony life. The best kind to have aboard, Kaidan thought before heading to the CIC (Combat Information Centre) on the bridge.

He met with Navigator Charles Pressly then, who was speaking with Corporal Jenkins. He could tell that Pressly was losing patience with Jenkins who was bursting with barely contained excitement.

"But aren't you excited Pressly?" Jenkins was saying.

"Of course Corporal." Pressly replied. "But I'm also a professional. I've served on new ships before.

"But this is a prototype!" Jenkins pressed. "Top secret military design!"

"It's a ship Corporal." Pressly said, exhausted by the young soldier's enthusiasm.

"Something I should know about?" Kaidan asked as he approached. Pressly turned grateful eyes to him, silently pleading for rescue.

"Staff Lieutenant Alenko!" Jenkins said, saluting. "I was just talking to Pressly... err, sorry, Navigator Pressly about how special the Normandy is."

"She's a fine ship." Kaidan agreed.

"Yeah but she's a prototype! The only one of her kind!"

"I think we're all aware of the Normandy's specifics Corporal." Pressly drawled.

"Of course sir, I didn't mean..." Jenkins paused. "Sorry Lieutenant, Navigator. Guess I just got carried away."

Kaidan smiled. "It's okay Jenkins. We all feel the same. But maybe you can save that enthusiasm for after we leave dry dock?"

"Of course sir." Jenkins said subdued. "Sorry for..."

"No problem Jenkins."Kaidan said.

"Okay." Jenkins sighed. "I think I'll go check out the other decks while we wait. Oh, uh do you know when we're scheduled to leave? It seems like we've been waiting forever for clearance."

"Sorry Jenkins." Kaidan said, "Captain Anderson only said that we were waiting on the arrival of a specialist."

"Really? What kind of specialist? And why would we need one for a shakedown cruise?"

"I don't know Jenkins but it's probably a Turian. The Normandy was co-designed with the Turian Hierarchy after all."

"Right. That makes sense." Jenkins said as he walked away, likely off to fill someone else's ear with his excitement.

Kaidan and Pressly breathed a sigh of relief as they watched Jenkins head to the lower decks.

"Thank you Lieutenant." Pressly said. "As much as I appreciate enthusiasm in our crew, there are times when I find it exhausting."

"You're welcome Pressly." Kaidan said. "Besides, it's part of my job."

"Well better you than me Lieutenant. I just don't have patience for it like I used to. Maybe I've just been with the Alliance too long."

"How long have you served?" Kaidan asked.

"Oh it's been a while now." Pressly replied, relaxing. "I enlisted right after graduation. Served on the Agincourt back in 2176 and was part of the reinforcements sent to Elysium during the Skyllian Blitz."

"That's quite a record."

"Thank you Lieutenant. What about you? How long have you served with the Alliance?"

"It will be ten years this month actually. I enlisted several years after graduation."

"So a late bloomer then." Pressly said approvingly. "Wanted to be sure it was the right choice huh?"

"Something like that."

"Well good for you." Pressly said. "In my long line of service I can't count how many recruits I watched give up before giving the Alliance a chance. Too many of them have unrealistic romantic ideas about serving - they don't give much thought to the actual work involved."

"Thanks Pressly. I can't say I've ever thought of it like that before."

"Welcome Lieutenant. I suppose I should get back to it. You really think a turian will be joining us?" Pressly asked, his tone more serious.

"I don't know, but like I said, it makes sense."

"Right. Well no point guessing, we'll know soon enough."

--------xxx-------

Kaidan took a seat in the co-pilot's chair on the bridge, delayed from greeting Jeff "Joker"Moreau, the Normandy's pilot as he was currently engaged in scrolling through screens on his monitor.

"So Staff Lieutenant, what's the word?" Joker asked as he turned to face him.

"The word?" Kaidan repeated. He hadn't thought Joker would be ready to talk so soon.

"Yeah. You know. The word. Why are we still in dry dock? I wanna get this sweet baby airborne." He said, caressing the arm rest as he spoke.

"Didn't you already get this ship airborne?" Kaidan teased, aware of how Joker had been assigned as the Normandy's pilot.

"Shit. You know about that?" Joker looked embarrassed.

"Of course I know Joker. Staff Lieutenant? Part of my job to know the crew."

"Right, yeah. Okay, fine. But hey! That means you know you've got the best pilot in the entire Alliance fleet flying this ship! That's good right?" Joker said, perking up.

"There's that." Kaidan agreed. "But you're also damn lucky you're not locked up in a brig somewhere."

"Me? In a brig? Puh-lease. That would never happened." Joker scoffed, "The Alliance needs me. They can't afford to lock me up. And luck's got nothing to do with it. It's all skill and talent." Joker preened.

"Just so long as you remember who's in charge of the ship Joker."

"Relax Lieutenant. I know my job."

"Still. If anyone else had locked up a pilot and stolen an Alliance ship to prove he was the better choice, you'd be awaiting trial right now."

"Yeah well. After what that turian General said about my disability I HAD to prove him wrong didn't I?"

"Not sure I would have stolen a ship for that, but I guess I'd feel the same if someone implied my biotics prevented me from being considered for a job."

"See? You get it."Joker said, pleased with himself.

"Yes but you're still lucky that General Invicutus changed his mind about you."

"Of course he changed his mind." Joker said, returning his attention to his console. "He knows superior talent when he sees it."

Kaidan shook his head and turned his attention back to his own console. Whatever he'd thought of Joker before meeting him, it was improved now. He respected anyone who beat the odds of success while living with a visible disability. Brittle bone disease might be a painful condition but it was obvious that Joker had never let it get in the way of his goals.

-----xxx-----

"Staff Lieutenant Alenko?" Captain Anderson's voice came over the comm.

"Sir?"

"Meet me in the comm room Lieutenant."

Joker raised his eyebrow but said nothing as Kaidan left the bridge.

"A turian Spectre will be joining us for our shakedown cruise, We're headed to Eden Prime. I want you to personally inform each member of the crew before he arrives."

"Understood Captain."

"Good. As soon as Spectre Nihlus and Commander Shepard board, we'll be underway."

Kaidan started on the crew deck with Adams, who for all intents and purposes he may as well have told him the sky was blue for all the reaction he got. Dr. Chakwas also took it in stride although she did go over her medical supplies to ensure they were fully stocked for the turian's amino-dexterous based DNA.

Jenkins nearly blew a gasket at the news but managed to keep it under control even as his eyes sparked with excitement and began bouncing in place. Pressly was subdued. Kaidan suspected it had something to do with the First Contact War, but it wasn't his place to ask so he returned to the bridge.

"A turian Spectre?"Joker was shocked. "You're shitting me..."

"I am not "shitting you" Joker." Kaidan replied dryly.

"Well that's just... I don't even..." For once Joker had nothing to say, which turned out to be a good thing since moments later they were given the all-clear to begin flight preparations.

"Uh not to question authority or anything," Joker began. "But where's Commander Shepard? Shouldn't she be here by now?"

"I'm sure she's here Joker. She probably just hasn't made it to the bridge yet."

"Right. Sure. Yeah, just checking..." Joker drawled. "Not unusual at all."

-xxx-

Commander Shepard entered the cockpit just as the Normandy locked in their approach to the Arcturus Prime relay. Kaidan and Joker shared a look as Joker relayed their status to Spectre Nihlus who was standing behind Joker,watching with interest.

"1500k is good." Nihlus commented, turning to leave the bridge. "Your captain will be pleased."

"I hate that guy." Joker said after Nihlus was gone.

"Nihlus gave you acompliment. So... you hate him?" Kaidan asked, curious.

"Spectres are trouble. Call me paranoid. I don't like having him on board."

"You're paranoid." Kaidan confirmed. "Nihlus works for the Council, they helped fund this project. They have a right to keep an eye on their investment."

"That's the official story," Joker agreed. "but only an idiot believes the official story."

"Joker..." Shepard began.

"Joker." Captain Anderson's voice came over the comm. "Tell Commander Shepard to meet me in the comm room."

"Aye, aye Captain. Better brace yourself sir. I think Nihlus is on his way."

"He's already here."Anderson replied dryly.

"I think you made him mad Joker." Shepard said.

"Anderson always sounds angry." Joker said defensively.

"Only when he's talking to you Joker." Kaidan said.

"Pfft." Joker said as Shepard left the bridge.

Chapter Text

Arcturus Stream/Normandy

Commander Callie Shepard was tired. Last minute assignment to the Normandy and she'd been shadowed by that turian Spectre since arriving on Arcturus Station. Everywhere she went, she'd bumped into him every time she turned around.

She'd been so rushed to board the Normandy that she was still wearing her armour and hadn't had time to stash her weapons. Now, she had to meet with Anderson. She didn't know much about her Commanding Officer other than that he'd specifically requested as Executive Officer on the Normandy.

She shook her head, letting the thought die. Whatever his reason, she was grateful for the opportunity. As she approached the Galaxy Map, she overheard Pressly and Adams discussing the Spectre's presence.

"Navigator Pressly." She said as Pressly turned to greet her, ending his conversation with Adams.

"Commander."

"I overheard you talking. Do you have a problem with aliens?"

"No ma'am. Well..." he trailed off before explaining his grandfather's role in the First Contact War and then what he knew about Captain Anderson. By the end of their talk, Shepard knew that whatever Pressly might think of aliens, he wouldn't let it interfere with his job and he greatly respected the Captain.

She met Dr. Chakwas and Corporal Jenkins then who were standing outside the comm room doors, heatedly discussing the irregularities of the mission.

"Jenkins." Callie said as she joined them. "You've got a long career ahead of you – you don't want to jeopardize that by making a rookie mistake."

"Sorry Commander." Jenkins sounded chastised. "I'm just so anxious waiting for the real mission to start. It's got to be something big, especially if we've got a Council Spectre on board."

"I understand Corporal, but relax. You'll do fine."

"Thanks Commander. That means a lot coming from you."

"Anytime. But I should go, the Captain's waiting for me."

"Of course Commander." Chakwas and Jenkins said in unison.

-xxx-

She met Nihlus in the comm room, Anderson had yet to arrive. They spoke briefly about Eden Prime, the colony they were headed to - one of the most successful human colonies in Alliance space. They were interrupted by Anderson who told Shepard the true purpose behind Nihlus's presence on the Normandy.

"You're being considered for Spectre status Shepard. Nihlus is here to assess your skills in the field." Anderson said.

"Guess that's why I bump into him every time I turn around." She replied.

"That's not the only reason." Anderson continued.

"Your Eden Prime colonists have unearthed a working Prothean beacon." Nihlus said. "We're headed there to retrieve it. I'm here to ensure it arrives safely back on the Citadel."

"Is there some reason we didn't keep the beacon for ourselves? Humanity, I mean." She asked.

"You humans don't have the best reputation Shepard." Nihlus explained. "Many species still see your race as aggressive."

"Also, we don't know much about the Protheans. We need the Council's help with this Shepard. It's also a good wsy to show the galaxy that humanity is willing to work with the Council species."

"So this is political sir?"

"Only peripherally." Anderson clarified. "Our top priority is to secure the beacon. Prothean technology, especially working Prothean technology is priceless."

"Understood sir." Callie said. "But what do we know about them? Didn't they disappear over 50,000 years ago?"

"For all intents and purposes Commander." Nihlus said. "They vanished, became extinct. But they left behind their technology. Without it, most of the galaxy's scientific advancements wouldn't be possible. Space travel would be out of the question. Finding a working Prothean beacon is rare – most ruins contain nothing but dust and broken buildings and not much else."

They were interrupted then when Joker's voice came over the comm. He forwarded a surveillance vid that lit up the back wall. An emergency broadcast from Eden Prime came through showing the colony under attack by an unknown enemy. The vid ended in static but not before the screen filled with the image of a massive ship that very much resembled a giant black squid.

"A small strike team can move quickly without drawing attention." Nihlus said as the vid ended. "It's our best chance to secure the beacon."

"Grab your gear and meet us in the cargo hold then." Anderson told him.

"Shepard. Tell Jenkins and Alenko to suit up. You're going in."

Milky Way/Exodus Cluster/Utopia/Planet: Eden Prime

Ground side, Anderson having given her control of the mission, Taryne was clear on her priorities. Secure the Prothean beacon at all costs. Helping survivors was secondary.

Kaidan saw what looked like giant floating jellyfish as they proceeded, the sound of distant gunfire leading them forward. "What the hell are those?" He exclaimed.

"Gasbags." Jenkins answered having grown up on Eden Prime. "They're harmless."

They readied weapons and pushed forward, coming across several burnt bodies.

"Oh god." Jenkins whispered. "What happened here?"

Callie paused at an incline, searching the area for any sign of movement. Seeing none, she ordered Jenkins to take point. He hadn't gone far when two recon drones powered up and fired, overwhelming Jenkins' barrier, killing him instantly.

She and Kaidan took out the drones before approaching Jenkins' body. "Ripped right through his shields." Kaidan reported. "Never even had a chance."

"We'll see that he receives a proper service." She assured him, noting the Lieutenant's tone. "But I need you to stay focused on the mission."

"Aye, aye ma'am."

They encountered more bodies as they continued on. Nihlus' voice came over the comm, "Seeing a lot of bodies here Shepard. I'm moving on."

As she and Kaidan crested a hill they saw a lone soldier, who was running from what looked like armed synthetics. They hurried to provide her with backup.

"Who are you?" Shepard asked after they'd taken down the pursuers.

"Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams of the 212. Are you the one in charge ma'am?"

"Are you wounded Williams?"

"A few scrapes andburns. Nothing serious."

After a quick debrief, Shepard and Kaidan learned that the geth, a race of sentient AI's, created by the Quarian race had attacked Eden Prime. Not seen outside the Perseus Veil in over 200 years, this was alarming. Ashley said she hadn't seen Nihlus or any turian and that her squad had been wiped out. She offered to lead them to the beacon and they continued on.

As they crested another rise in the path they were on, a horrific sight greeted them. Gray and formerly human creatures, impaled on giant spikes, began running towards them as the spikes retracted into their bases. Growling incoherently, they ran towards them making it obvious they were not friendly.

Kaidan, Shepard and Ashley took them out, careful to keep their distance after one of them gave off energy spikes that disrupted their shields and made targeting difficult. "What did the geth do to them?" Ashley cried in disgust.

They checked out some nearby habitats, hoping to find out more about the geth and discovered two scientists hiding inside one.

"Oh thank god." Cried the woman. "We thought you might be one of those things that attacked the colony. We hid here when we saw the ship in the sky. We thought we'd be safe here."

"They're geth." Ashley corrected her. "You're Dr. Warren aren't you?"

"Yes that's right." Dr. Warren replied as her male companion interrupted.

"No one is safe!" Cried the male scientist. "We're doomed! All doomed! I've seen the end! Our destruction! The end of all life in the galaxy! There's no hope! No escape!"

"What's wrong with your colleague?" Shepard asked.

"There's a fine line between genius and madness. I gave Manuel some meds to calm him down but they haven't taken effect yet." She said.

"I can shut him up. Say goodnight Manuel." Callie said. She stepped closer to Manuel and knocked him out with a swift right hook.

"What the hell are you doing?" The woman cried. "You can't go around whacking people in the head!"

"That might have been a little extreme Commander." Kaidan said from behind her.

"I did you a favour." She told the woman, her tone calm. "It was just a matter of time before he did something stupid. Or crazy."

"I suppose you're right." The woman conceded. "By the time he wakes up the meds will have kicked in."

"We need to keep moving." She said. "Lead the way Williams."

"Aye, aye Commander."

-xxx-

After finding more survivors, taking out more geth and what Ashley began calling"husks," they made their way to the tram station where the beacon had been moved. From the colonists they'd spoken to, they uncovered a smuggling ring. The smuggler and the other survivors all complained about a horrible noise the ship they'd seen earlier had been emitting. Taryne thought it might be a jamming signal, but she'd never heard of one doing what the colonists had described.

They found Nihlus' body near the tram station, shot from behind. The smuggler, Cole, told them that a second turian named Saren had shot him in the back after Nihlus relaxed his guard.

This was bad, Callie thought as she and her squad took the tram to where the beacon had been moved.

Gunfire erupted all around them as they arrived. She cursed under her breath. Her first mission as XO of the Normandy and it had already gone to hell. She'd lost a crew member, hadn't been able to prevent Nihlus' death and now, from the warning coming from her omni-tool, she had bombs to diffuse while geth shot at them from all directions.

She ducked when a bullet whizzed past her head as she bent to disable the first bomb they found. Kaidan and Ashley provided cover fire as she moved on to the next one, disarming them as she went. There were four in all and as she worked, she noted how well Kaidan and Ashley worked together. She found it refreshing that she wasn't constantly having to bark orders while she disabled the bombs. So often she ended up with a squad that couldn't think on their feet, or take the initiative and do what needed to be done without constant commands from her.

She disabled the last bomb as Ashley and Kaidan put down the remaining geth. Spotting the beacon near the edge of the tram station, she radioed Joker for a pick-up.

"Actual working Prothean technology." Kaidan said, taking a step toward it.

Without warning, he was gripped by an invisible force that pulled him closer to the beacon. He struggled, but could do nothing to stop his forward movement as the force field took hold of him.

He felt arms around his waist as Shepard suddenly gripped him tight and pulled hard as she threw him to safety behind her.

Callie felt her heart jump to her throat when Kaidan began to struggle against an invisible force that seemed to be drawing him closer to the glowing beacon. Not again! She cried silently as she shoved past Ashley. She'd already lost one crew member on this mission, she'd be damned if she lost another.

As she threw him to safety she felt herself caught in the beacon's energy field as her feet left the ground. Vibrant images of death, destruction and an unrecognizable synthetic race filled her mind. The pressure in her mind grew until she thought her head would explode. A loud noise split the air and her world faded to black.

Chapter Text

Milky Way/Normandy

Callie woke up in the Normandy's med bay, her head pounding. She felt disoriented and sat up, running a hand through her auburn hair as she did. Dr. Chakwas and Lieutenant Alenko were there, watching her with concerned interest. Through them she learned that the beacon had been destroyed. Must have been the noise she'd heard before losing consciousness.

Anderson entered and told her they were headed to the Citadel to give their report to the Council regarding Nihlus' death and Saren's betrayal. When he learned of her vision, he was insistent they include it in their report.

"What? You want me to tell them I had a bad dream?" Callie scoffed.

"They need to know Commander." Anderson reasoned. "Saren attacked a human colony and these visions might be connected somehow."

"What happened to Chief Williams? Did we leave her on Eden Prime?" She asked.

"No. I brought her aboard the Normandy."

"Good. Ashley's a fine soldier."

"Lieutenant Alenko agrees with you." He said. "Meet Joker on the bridge when you're ready. We'll be coming in to the Citadel soon."

----xxx----

Kaidan had been beside himself with worry after Shepard had saved him from the beacon. He and Ashley had carried her unconscious body back to the Normandy'. Dr. Chakwas had assured him that physically, Shepard was fine.

But he felt awful. If he hadn't gotten too close to the beacon, this might never have happened. He was certain her injury was his fault.

The past fifteen hours had felt like an eternity while he and the crew waited for her to wake up. Relief, like a cool breeze had washed through him when Shepard woke, her only complaint a slight throbbing from the vision she'd had.

After waiting so long to meet her, he couldn't believe their first conversation had happened under such bad conditions. He hoped he'd get the opportunity to rectify any negative impressions he might have made and found himself wanting to impress her, or at least earn her respect.

Her leadership on Eden Prime in the face of changing conditions and her ease with which she adapted to those changes had impressed him. He already respected her authority and could see how she'd made it though her N7 training. How she'd handled the scientist Manuel had been unexpected. He smiled at the memory. Although extreme by his standards, she had diffused a potential threat without even batting an eye. She already struck him as a more than capable soldier and he was looking forward to working with her.

----xxx----

Callie left the med bay and spoke with Ashley, Kaidan and Dr. Chakwas before heading to the bridge. She reassured Ashley that she had done the best she could given the circumstances on Eden Prime and welcomed her to the crew.

From Dr. Chakwas she learned that Lieutenant Alenko was an L2 biotic - many of whom experienced severe side-effects from the L2 implant. Mental disabilities, crippling physical pain and insanity, were just some of the effects Chakwas mentioned. According to the doctor, Kaidan was one of the luckier ones, his only side-effect being occasional severe migraines.

She had heard little about the L2 biotic amps, as she'd been fitted with the improved L3 configuration before the L2 side-effects were fully understood.

She found herself feeling admiration for him. He'd shown nothing but skill and professionalism during their mission on Eden Prime. If he'd been suffering any biotic side-effects she had seen no evidence of it.

She spoke with him briefly before heading to the bridge. He asked about her family after sharing that his father had served. It had made his father proud when he'd enlisted - eventually, but didn't elaborate on why he'd waited.

"If my parents had wanted to get in touch with me," She began, having long since having dealt with their abandonment. "They could have done so back in '76."

"Right." Kaidan nodded. "The Blitz."

"Anyway," she continued, not wanting to discuss her parents. "We're headed to the Citadel to speak with the Council."

"That's understandable." Kaidan said, "I'm sure the Council would like to know that Saren, one of their Spectre's, has gone rogue."

Milky Way/SerpentNebula/Widow System - Citadel

The meeting with the Citadel Council and Ambassador Udina, humanity's Council representative, did not go well.

She and her squad learned that Captain Anderson had history with Saren that Udina implied had negatively influenced the Council. After a brief discussion, she took Anderson's advice to find leads on the Citadel that might help them gather evidence to prove Saren's guilt.

Taryne was not impressed. Damned politics! Sure, she understood the need for diplomacy but this was ridiculous. A turian Spectre with a synthetic army of geth at his command attacks a human colony and the Council won't act? She wanted to chase him down, make him answer for his crimes. Yet here she was, stuck on the Citadel chasing leads to gain Council approval just so she could do her job.

They met with Barla Von on the Presidium, a financial advisor and information trader for someone called the Shadow Broker. Von told them that the Broker was a dealer in information trading who bought and sold information from everywhere in the galaxy.

Saren had betrayed the Shadow Broker, so Barla Von gave what information he had about Saren to Shepard for free. After their meeting, they headed to Chora's Den, shady bar in the lower wards.

Udina had suggested they speak with a former C-Sec officer him about a turian coworker who'd been investigating Saren. Anderson had disagreed, saying that Harkin was unreliable. He'd just been fired from C-Sec over a long list of infractions and illegal activities, but Callie wanted to talk to him anyway.

"Hey princess," Harkin slurred when he saw her. "Don't you look sweet. Why don't you sit that pretty ass of yours down and we'll see where this goes?"

"I'd rather drink a cup of acid while chewing on a razor blade." She retorted. She was not in the mood for this crap.

"Don't try to hurt my feelings." He replied, not batting an eye. "I haven't got any."

"Whatever. I was told you knew where I can find Garrus, a turian C-Sec officer."

"Garrus? He was sniffing around Dr. Michels office on the Wards."

They found him in Dr. Michels' office who told them a quarian had shown up looking for the Shadow Broker. She wanted to trade evidence she had on Saren that linked him to the geth. Dr. Michel had put her in touch with one of the Broker's agents, a man by the name of Fist. Garrus then told them about Wrex, a krogan bounty hunter who was also going after Fist, so they headed to C-Sec to speak with him.

"I know you." Wrex grumbled when they found him at C-Sec headquarters. "You're Shepard."

"I'm going after Fist." Callie told him. "Thought you might want to come along."

"I'll give you fair warning. I'm going to kill Fist." He said.

"Fist knows you're coming." Garrus said. "We stand a better chance of catching him if we work together."

Fist was hiding out in Chora's Den - back where they'd met Harkin, the loser who had insulted her

Fist was hiding out in Chora's Den - back where they'd met Harkin, the loser who had insulted her. Now that Wrex and Garrus had joined her, Callie sent Kaidan and Ashley to the markets for supplies, while she took Wrex and Garrus with her to confront Fist.

Finally! Callie thought, something solid she could get her hands on to take to the Council. When they arrived at Chora's Den there were armed guards blocking their path who fired on them as soon as they entered. With Wrex and Garrus there to assist her, the three of them took down the armed welcoming committee without much trouble.

"Where's the quarian?" Callie demanded, confronting Fist.

"She wanted to meet with the Shadow Broker. She had evidence on Saren that she wanted to trade for protection." Fist whimpered. "So I told her I'd set up a meeting."

"Impossible." Wrex grumbled in his deep voice. "Even I was hired through a contact. No one meets the Shadow broker face to face."

"Yeah, but she didn't know that." Fist sneered.

"Tell me where the quarian is before I blow your lying head off!" Shepard snapped, drawing her pistol. She was not going to lose this evidence, no matter what.

"It's taking place in an alley in the lower wards. But she won't be leaving the meeting alive, the Shadow Broker doesn't make deals like that."

A shotgun blast split the air as Fist crumpled to the ground, dead.

"What the hell are you doing?!" Garrus cried.

"My job." Wrex replied calmly. "I was paid to kill him."

"We don't shoot unarmed prisoners." Callie told him.

"And how many people did he kill?" Wrex challenged. "Besides, we've got bigger problems."

"We have to hurry!" Garrus reminded her. "We have to save the quarian."

----xxx----

They reached the quarian just as the people she was meeting with turned on her and attacked. After they helped take them down, she introduced herself as Tali'Zorah nar Rayya. She had audio evidence linking Saren to the attack on Eden Prime. They headed to Ambassador Udina's office to let him know what they'd found before taking it to the Council.

Tali played the message for them all to hear, adding that she was on her Pilgrimage - a coming of age ritual for her people. Callie agreed that Tali would be an asset to the team if she wanted to join them before heading to the Citadel Tower to talk to the Council.

Callie agreed that Tali would be an asset to the team if she wanted to join them before heading to the Citadel Tower to talk to the Council

"The mission on Eden Prime was a success. The beacon gave us what we need to find the Conduit." Saren's voice said from Tali's recording.

"And one step closer to finding the Reapers." Came a female voice that the asari Councillor, Tevos identified as Matriarch Benezia T'Soni, an asari.

The Council accepted their evidence and said that Saren would be stripped of his Spectre status and all efforts would be made to bring him in. They then did something completely unexpected and made Shepard the first human Spectre agent.

She was now a member of an elite force of operatives, dedicated to upholding galactic peace and a part of the Council's secret task force, going where the Council publicly could not . They tasked her with tracking down Saren to bring him to justice. She now worked for the Council and as such, various elite resources would now be made available to her.

She was floored. Everything about this mission since stepping aboard the Normandy had happened so fast her head was spinning. She was overwhelmed by the responsibility she'd suddenly been handed and didn't know what to react to first. After a brief discussion with Anderson and Udina she sent Tali, Wrex and Garrus back to the ship while she went in search of Williams and Alenko.

Chapter Text

Citadel -- Wards

Callie searched the lower markets for Kaidan and Ashley but they weren't there, so she took the stairs through the upper markets and on towards Dr. Michels' office. Lost in thought,wondering where they could have got to, she almost didn't hear the blonde man calling her name.

"Commander Shepard! Wow it's really you!" He said as she reached the top of the stairs. "The Hero of Eden Prime! I'm so honoured to meet you."

"Nice to meet you." She said, shaking his hand. "And you are?"

"My name is Conrad. Conrad Verner. They say you killed more than a hundred geth on Eden Prime."

"I spent most of my time trying to stay alive and help the colonists." She clarified, she despised exaggeration and rumours. Especially when they were about her.

"Hey, I know you're probably busy." He went on,oblivious to what she'd just said. "But do you have time for a quick autograph?"

"Anything for a fan." She said. "Here."

"Thanks. I really appreciate it." He said,walking away."My wife is going to be so impressed."

She watched him leave, a smile on her face. Well that wasn't so bad. So often as a soldier her accomplishments went unnoticed, yet she wasn't so sure that notoriety in her line of work was positive either. Kaidan and Ashley were nowhere to be seen in the upper markets, so she headed towards Dr. Michels office. She spotted them looking out over the vast expanse of the Citadel, just outside Flux,a more respectable drinking establishment than Chora's Den.

"Big place." She heard Kaidan say as she joined them at the railing.

"Is that your professional opinion sir?" Ashley commented, her tone sarcastic.

"He's right Chief." She agreed, casting a glance at them. "This isn't a station, it's a city."

"There must be millions here." Kaidan said in awe. "It can't be possible to keep track of everyone coming and going.

"This makes Jump Zero look like a porta-john."Ashley agreed. "And it's the largest deep space station the Alliance has."

"Jump Zero was big, but this is a whole 'nother scale."Kaidan continued. "Look at the Ward arms. How do they keep allthat mass from flying apart?"

"The Council represents more races than I thought." Callie said quietly. "No wonder they're careful with newcomers."

"They probably just want to keep everything running." Kaidan said. "It must be hard keeping all these cultures working together."

"Or maybe they just don't like humans." Ashley said, her family's negative history with aliens foremost in her mind.

"Why not?" Callie asked her. "We've got oceans,beautiful women, this emotion called love. According to the old vids we have everything they want."

"When you put it that way, there's no reason they wouldn't like you." Kaidan blurted. "I mean us. Humans. Ma'am."

"You don't take much shore leave do you L.T.?" Ashley teased.

"Alright. Laugh it up Chief." Callie said, trying not to break into a grin. Did Kaidan just confess that he liked her? Shit.And why did her heart just skip a beat and her cheeks flush? "I appreciate the thought Alenko, but we're on duty here."

"Uh, aye, aye ma'am." Kaidan said avoiding her eyes.

He couldn't believe what had just come out of his mouth. His embarrassment was only tempered by the fact that Shepard let it slide. He'd never done that before. Breaching protocol was not something he was in the habit of doing. Yet for whatever reason, Shepard seemed to have that effect on him. He was so comfortable around her that he constantly forgot she was his superior officer. He sighed as fell in behind them. Hoping that once their mission started his feelings of familiarity would subside and everything would return to normal.

Moments later, all thoughts of normalcy evaporated when Shepard told them she'd been made a Spectre and that the krogan, turian and quarian had joined the crew. Aliens? On a prototype war ship? Under the command of the first human Spectre? Crap, he thought miserably. This was as far from normal he'd ever been, any any hope he'd had of things returning to normal just went up in smoke.

They took the lift back to the Normandy and found Captain Anderson and Councilor Udina waiting for them in the docking bay.

"Congratulations Shepard." Anderson said as they approached. "I'm giving you command of the Normandy and stepping down as Captain. As a Council Spectre you need a ship and a crew and this is the best solution we have on short notice."

"I don't like this Captain." Callie protested. "This is your mission and your ship. You shouldn't be cut out like this."

"I mentioned before that I have history with Saren?"Anderson asked her.

"Tell me what happened." Callie said.

"I was being considered for the Spectre program and I was sent on a mission with Saren so he could evaluate my performance."Anderson paused looking miserable. "Long story short, a lot of innocent lives were lost on that mission because Saren sacrificed them to get the job done. When I protested, Saren implied that because of my actions he'd been forced to improvise and blow up the facility where our target was hiding."

"Didn't you tell the Council what really happened?" Callie asked. She couldn't understand how Anderson could have been blamed for the events he described.

"Of course I did." He snapped, clearly still bitter."But who do you think the Council was going to believe? An unknown human soldier? Or their best turian Spectre? It doesn't matter now anyways, what's done is done. I had my chance and blew it."

"I intend to bring Saren down Captain. I still don't agree that you should be cut out of the mission and the command of the Normandy though."

"It's not how I saw my career coming to an end."Anderson admitted. "But I'm too old to go traipsing across the galaxy tracking down rogue Spectres. The ship and the mission is yours now. I know you'll do the Alliance proud."

"Thank you Captain." She said, humbled by his confidence in her. "I won't let you down. Do we have any leads? Anywhere I should start looking for Saren?"

"We know he's looking for the Conduit. But don't even bother trying to find him. He's gone, but we have other leads for you to follow up on."

"Yes." Udina said, interjecting. "We've had reports that geth might be on our colony on Feros. There's also some indication that an asari Matriarch was seen on Noveria. As well, Benezia's daughter, a Dr. Liara T'Soni, is somewhere in the Artemis Tau Cluster. Perhaps she can be of some help."

"I'll start there then." She said, anxious to get moving.

"The missions yours now Shepard." Anderson corrected her. "You don't report to us anymore, as a Spectre you report tothe Council."

"No," Udina interrupted. "You don't, but you still represent humanity Commander. Your actions will be reflected on all of us."

"I'll keep that in mind Councillor." She said, allowing Ashley and Kaidan to walk ahead of her as they boarded the Normandy.

She watched Kaidan thoughtfully as the decontamination chamber ran over them before they boarded the ship. Since being assigned to the Normandy and all the events that had pushed her forward since then,she'd hadn't had time to get to know her crew. That Alenko had already admitted to liking her was baffling. She knew that her past success as the hero of Elysium had been well reported over the years, but it had been so long ago that she rarely thought of it.

She didn't consider herself a hero over what had happened on Elysium. She'd been on shore leave with a few squad mates, enjoying a much needed break from the rigours of training when the colony came under attack. It was only dumb luck that she'd been the highest ranking officer present and that everyone with her had expected her to lead them. Left with no other options, she'd ordered what weapons they'd been able to find distributed to anyone who could hold a gun. Some were squad mates and some were civilians, people who'd never held a gun in their lives. Many of them had died and those deaths weighed on her. She'd had no one to look to for guidance or direction but herself and had done the only thing she was good at - survival, no matter what. Growing up on the streets of earth had taught her that.

When the Alliance had finally arrived with backup to drive the terrorists out of the system and off the planet, over a dozen civilians and more than half her squad were dead. She didn't see it as a victory and she didn't see herself as a hero. Yes she had lived, and yes she had saved most of the colony, but there were so many dead that all she saw was the needless loss of life.

Whatever the Lieutenant might think he liked about her, she reasoned, it was probably based on exaggerated news reports.They'd turned her into a hero, saying she'd held off enemy forces single-handed. But the truth, well... the truth was that she had lived while so many others hadn't.

The images of that day still haunted her. Like the pretty blonde waitress who had served them drinks that day, or the eager young ensign who'd been flirting with her all weekend. Their sightless eyes stared at her accusingly, as though pleading with her to save them, do better, make different decisions that would keep them alive. But she hadn't been able to save them and had the Alliance not shown up when they had, she would be dead too.

She shook her head as the decontamination cycle ended and the Normandy doors whooshed open. Enough morbidity, she told herself firmly. Whatever the Lieutenant had meant by his comment it didn't matter. She had no intention of breaking Alliance regs by getting involved with a subordinate.

Chapter Text

Serpent Nebula/Widow System/Normandy

After addressing the crew over the intercom, Cassie ordered Joker to the Artemis Tau Cluster to begin the search for Dr. T'Soni. She felt certain that if anyone could help explain Benezia's involvement with Saren, her daughter would be the best one to ask.

While they jumped through several relays to reach the Artemis Tau Cluster, Callie headed to the lower decks to check in with the members of her crew.

Her crew, she thought in disbelief. This mission had somehow taken on a life of it's own. From the moment she'd boarded the Normandy,events had unfolded in a whirlwind of activity and rapidly changing objectives. She was having trouble sorting it all out.

She met with Ashley in the cargo hold who regretted the loss of her squad. After accepting Shepard's reassurance that she'd done her best, she relaxed enough to share that she maintained a close relationship with her family.

She was the eldest of four sisters, her mother an army wife, while her father had passed away several years ago. She confessed to enjoying poetry and that her general distrust of aliens stemmed from her grandfather. He had been the only Alliance officer to surrender to the turians during the First Contact War and her family had been black-balled from the Alliance ever since.

Cassie told her she respected Ashley for not letting her family's history interfere with her desire to serve in the Alliance. Ashley was a good soldier and a credit to her uniform and she was glad to have her as part of her crew, but she believed that humans needed to cooperate with other species and not treat them with distrust and suspicion.

Ashley thought Shepard she was being too idealistic, and said so, but assured her that it wouldn't be a problem. She's never worked with aliens before but she promised she wouldn't let her feelings interfere with her job. Cassie accepted that. Ashley didn't seem like someone who said one thing while doing another.

She moved on to speak with Engineer Adams, Wrex, Garrus and Tali. Wrex struck her as a crafty, intelligent krogan who hid his thoughts well. Although aggressive like the rest of his race, she felt confident that at the very least, he would follow her orders.

Garrus seemed like a wild card. On one hand he was eager to help stop Saren, but she sensed that if given the opportunity, he wouldn't hesitate to sacrifice innocent people to get the job done. Althoughhe struck her as being capable, she made a note to keep an eye on him.

Tali was enthralled by the Normandy's drive-core when Callie found her in the engine room. She told her that on the Flotilla, (where her people had lived for the past 300 years since their war with the geth), she had never before worked with such advanced technology.

She hen told her how her people had created the geth. They'd been designed to do work that the quarians couldn't, but the geth had then evolved into self-aware A.I.'s. The quarians had panicked and tried to destroy what they'd created before anyone could find out. The geth had fought back, defending themselves and driving the quarian race from the only home they'd ever known.

Callie had a hard time feeling any sympathy for the quarians. When their plan to eliminate what they'd created backfired, they'd lost their home and their way of life. As far as she could tell, the quarians had made no efforts to attempt peace with the geth. Instead they'd created a life in the stars, living on ships that destroyed their immune systems - condemning them to living their lives out in environmental suits. Without which, they would die.

Tali didn't agree with her, so Callie let the matter drop. Tali had lived with her people's history of their war with the geth her entire life, while Callie was an outsider. Not that she felt it changed anything. Regardless how the quarians told their story, the results were the same. After trying and failing to destroy their creation, the geth had won and the quarians had spent the past 300 years living as exiles. The rest of the galaxy saw the quarians as little more than scavengers and and did whatever was necessary to keep the quarian flotilla out of their colonized star systems. What sympathy Callie had for the quarians was tempered by the knowledge that they only had themselves to blame. Seriously... what race wouldn't defend themselves from being wiped out?

She was thoughtful as she returned to the crew deck to speak with Lieutenant Alenko. Subconsciously she knew she'd left him till last,not wanting to have anywhere else to go while she talked to him. He intrigued her with his dark looks and honey-brown eyes. He'd been so calm during the Eden Prime mission, she found it a refreshing change from other soldiers she'd worked with. She felt drawn to him like a moth to a flame, and the comment he'd made on the Citadel had nothing to do with her interest, she told herself firmly.

"Commander? Do you have a minute?" Kaidan asked as she drew near.

"I always make time for my officers."

"Off the record, I think there's something wrong here. This Saren is searching for records of some kind of galactic extinction event, but we cant' get back-up from the Council? Sorry Commander,there's writing on the wall here but someone isn't reading it."

"The Council doesn't believe anything's wrong." She said, hoping to alleviate his concerns. "I'd call it human nature, but..."

"I hear you." Kaidan said, feeling she'd heard him. "It just seems that a group that's been around as long as the Council should see this coming. It's funny, we finally get out here and the final frontier had already been settled and the residents don't even seem impressed by the view. Or the dangers."

Callie smiled. Interesting, she thought absently. "Well, well. You're a romantic. Did you sign on for the dream Alenko? Secure man's future in space?"

Kaidan laughed uncomfortably. "I read a lot of those books when I was a kid, where the hero goes to space to prove himself worthy of the woman he loves or... you know, for justice." He trailed off, embarrassed by the slip. "Maybe I was romantic in the beginning, but that changed after brain camp. Err, sorry, Biotics Acclimation and Training (BAat). I'm not looking for the dream. I just want to do some good. See what's out here."

"I understand." Shepard said, hoping to ease his tension. "I feel the same way."

"Sorry if I got too informal. Protocol wasn't a big focus back on BAat."

Callie was intrigued. She'd never received special training for her biotics but had heard stories about the facility. Most of it was vague though, since whenever she'd pushed for more information, no one had wanted to talk about it.

Kaidan became more animated and casual as he spoke which piqued her interest, fascinated by the change in his demeanor. He only faltered slightly when he mentioned someone named Rahna. He'd butted in during an altercation she'd had with their teacher, Vyrnnus.During his struggle with the turian, Vyrnnus had pulled a knife and Kaidan had lost it, letting loose with a full biotic kick – as powerful as he could manage now, and snapped Vyrnnus' neck, killing him.

He went on to tell her that after what happened with Vyrnnus, Rahna was afraid of him. Whoever this Rahna was, Callie didn't think much of her. A friend comes to her defense and she rejects him? What a bitch. But she kept it to herself, sensing that despite Rahna's rejection, he still had feelings for her.

How anyone could reject someone like Kaidan was beyond her. He was a quiet, romantic hero who by his own admission, was passionate about helping and protecting those who couldn't do it themselves. Something in her chest twinged as he told spoke and she blinked it away, setting her jaw. She couldn't become involved with him, he was a subordinate - she better walk away now before she said something she couldn't take back.

"Anyway," he said, as she tuned back into what he was saying. "This was supposed to be a casual debrief, not a bull session about stuff that happened years ago."

"I wanted to get to know you a little better." She said, relieved that he'd given her a way out. "That's all. Thanks for the talk Kaidan."

"Well, you're welcome ma'am." Kaidan replied, still hesitant. "You uh... you make a habit of getting this personal with everyone?"

"To some extent." She admitted, but couldn't stop herself adding, "But no, no I don't. We'll talk later."

"I'll uh, need some time to process that ma'am." He said, unsure how to respond. "But yeah, I'd like that."

Callie headed for the bridge, her pace quick. What the hell was that? What was she thinking? Hadn't she just told herself that getting involved with subordinates was wrong? Unprofessional? She'd never crossed that line in all the years she'd been with the Alliance. Not with a superior and definitely not with a subordinate. She shook her head as she reached the bridge. Whatever this was she'd deal with it later. Right now, she had a scientist to find.

----xxx----

Kaidan watched Shepard leave, noting how fast she walked. He was still reeling by what she'd just said and that he'd just told her anything about BAat. He never talked about his time at Jump Zero, so why had he told Shepard? What the hell was wrong with him? He barely knew her, yet he'd spilled his guts to her without even thinking twice about what was coming out of his mouth.

He returned to his work, busying himself as he tried to think of other things, but he couldn't. Shepard was beautiful, charming, easy to talk to. She made him feel so at ease when she spoke to him that he almost instantly forgot she was his superior. The way she treated others, how she talked to people, crew and stranger alike, seemed to instantly put everyone at ease. Even the non-human crew were treating her like a friend. Perhaps not a close friend, he amended, but a friend they respected and here he was doing the same thing.

It worried him that he could be jeopardizing the mission or her career with his unprofessional behavior. He didn't want that. He might want her friendship, but not if it cost them the mission or negatively impacted Shepard's career. As much as he found himself attracted to her, he would not allow his personal feelings to get in the way of their mission. He hoped he'd be able to do that,even as his heart skipped a beat at the thought of talking to her again.

Chapter Text

Milky Way/Artemis Tau Cluster/Knossos System/Planet--Therum

After searching the planets and systems within the Artemis Tau Cluster, Joker reported that their sensors had finally found Dr. T'Soni on the planet Therum.

A hot, rocky, inhospitable planet with active volcanoes, it was currently under Alliance jurisdiction. According to the records they had, the planet was also the site of hard to reach Prothean ruins, but so far, only the most dedicated asari researchers had ever attempted to study them.

Kaidan was in the cargo hold when he heard what planet they were heading to. He hadn't thought of Therum in ten years. He couldn't believe the ruins hadn't been destroyed by the ever increasing volcanic activity the planet was subject to.

This Dr. T'Soni must be very tenacious, he thought as they landed in the Mako. (An armored tank, the M-35 Mako was, at present, a standard military vehicle for planet exploration.) Either that, or she was crazy, he amended. Yet he couldn't deny the irony that once again, he was going to Therum to save an asari.

Once inside the mine, they came to the elevator Kaidan remembered from the last time he'd been there. He was surprised when the elevator took them to a raised walkway leading to a second elevator, rather than the bottom of the shaft. He wondered if the researchers had excavated it or if a flow of lave had somehow carved out the space. Where he and Aryana had fought the batarians ten years ago, nothing remained.

The lift ground to a halt, the frame damaged - they weren't getting back out that way. Beside the shaft was a wall that contained strange, hollowed out spaces that reminded him again of bathroom tiles. He couldn't believe they were still there, only this time the one closest to them contained an asari. She was behind a blue kinetic barrier, helplessly suspended in mid air, trapped inside a bubble of blue light.

"Can you here me out there?" She cried. "I'm trapped!"

"Keep your voice down!" Callie admonished her. "There are geth down here, they'll hear you."

"I know, I'm sorry." Dr. T'Soni replied, "I panicked when they arrived and I activated the barrier to keep them out. But I must have touched something I wasn't supposed to and became trapped."

Shepard scolded her for messing with things she didn't understand and although the asari agreed, she also said she mostly did understand - which Kaidan thought was silly. If what she said was true, she wouldn't have gotten herself trapped. After getting the Dr.'s assurance that she wasn't in league with her mother Benezia, Shepard told her they'd find a way to get her out.

Callie clenched her teeth. Damn scientists, always messing with things they didn't understand and then needing people like her to rescue them. Whatever, she thought with a sigh, let's get on with this.

They moved off the platform and after taking out a handful of geth, found a working mining laser. Kaidan played around with the controls and after firing up the laser, blasted a giant hole beneath the area Dr. T'Soni was trapped in. It led to a large platform that took them up to T'Soni's location. Shepard released her and as they spoke, they heard a loud explosion and the ground shook. Dr. T'Soni Liara reasoned was likely a seismic event triggered by their use of the mining laser - they had to get out, now.

After another battle with a pocket of remaining geth, led by a krogan battlemaster, they ran for the exit as the tunnel and supportive structure began falling down down around them.

Callie gasped for breath as they escaped the mine, smiling in relief at the welcome site of the Normandy that appeared above them to pick them up.

Milky Way/Artemis Tau Cluster/Normandy

Once everyone was on board safely, the crew assembled in the comm room for a mission debrief.

"Commander," Joker's voice came over the comm. "Next time, let's try not to park the Normandy in molten sulphur. It tends to fry our sensors and melt our hull. Just for future reference."

"We almost died down there and your pilot is making jokes?" Liara asked, shocked.

"It helps ease the tension." Callie shrugged. "Just try to ignore him."

"I see. It must be a human thing. I admit I don't have a lot of experience dealing with your species."

"Don't worry about it. I assume you don't know anything about Saren's plan? Or anything about this Conduit he's looking for?"

"No. I'm sorry." Liara said. "I haven't seen or spoken to my mother in years. I have no idea what the Conduit might be."

"So we're back to chasing leads." Callie said, her shoulders drooping. "In that case, welcome aboard doctor. The rest of you, dismissed."

After informing the Council of their success in recovering Liara, she headed for the cargo bay. She wanted to maintain and encourage open communication with her crew, especially with the presence of the alien members of her team. But mostly, she wanted to check in with her Alliance squad mates, Ashley and Kaidan.

----xxx----

"I don't know if I believe Dr. T'Soni's story about not keeping in touch with her mother." Ashley said, her tone suspicious.

"Not everyone has a close relationship with their families Ash." Callie reminded her.

"I suppose." Ash replied, her tone softening. "Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to be close with my sisters. It's too bad those ruins got destroyed though. I mean, they lasted for thousands of years right?"

Callie agreed but didn't want to get into it. She had a hard time relating to anyone who had a family, so most of the time she avoided. She returned to the crew deck to check on Dr. T'Soni. She hadn't looked good at the end of the debrief and she wanted to make sure she was okay. It was only a coincidence that Kaidan happened to be on the same deck, she told herself as she rode the elevator.

She'd checked in with Wrex and Garrus, Tali had been deep in conversation with Adams so she hadn't bothered her. Wrex mentioned something about family armour and she'd agreed that if they had time, she'd help him get it back.

Garrus had told her an awful story she couldn't get out of her head. He'd been working a case on organ harvesting and tracked it to a Dr. Saleon. This "doctor" had been growing organs in living people and then harvesting them for money. If the organs weren't viable, he didn't bother removing them from his patients - he just left them in, which ultimately resulted in their deaths.

She shuddered in revulsion. Garrus told her that Dr. Saleon had escaped. He'd gotten a lead on the doctor's location and that Dr. Saleon was now Dr. Heart, but had been unable to follow up on it. She took the coordinates from him and promised she'd track the doctor down herself.

"Shepard." Liara greeted her. "Are you coming to check up on me?"

"I was worried Doctor. But you look much better now."

"I was surprised by Dr. Chakwas' knowledge of asari physiology. She was very helpful."

"Dr. Chakwas is one of the best."

"Thank you Commander, but please, call me Liara. I wanted to speak to you about your Prothean visions. It is fascinating to me that you were able to retain as much information as you did. A lesser mind wouldn't have been able to handle that kind of mental strain."

"I suppose it is fascinating." Callie agreed, but it wasn't how she'd describe it. "But knowing that the Protheans were destroyed 50,000 years ago by a race of sentient AI's called Reapers doesn't really help us find Saren."

"I suppose not. But you are still a remarkably strong-willed woman Shepard. What you learned about the Protheans is amazing."

"Nightmarish visions of synthetics slaughtering all organic life isn't exactly what I'd call amazing." She scoffed. "And neither are the headaches."

"Oh, by the goddess! I'm so sorry!" Liara exclaimed. "I didn't mean to make light of what happened to you. It's why I'm an archaeologist, I always manage to say the wrong things to people. I prefer working with ruins and artifacts."

"It must get lonely working by yourself all the time."

"Not really. I've always been fascinated by the Protheans, even when I was a small child. It's why you intrigue me Shepard, you are unlike anyone I've ever met before."

"Uh thank you, I think." She said, feeling uneasy. That sounded an awful lot like a come-on.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to embarrass you, but I feel we share a connection. I admit I'm interested you because of the visions, but I believe it goes much deeper than that. However, I wasn't sure it was appropriate that I should act on my feelings. I sense you may already be involved with Lieutenant Alenko."

Callie was speechless. What? Where the hell had that come from? What was she saying? And how the hell had she sensed anything about Kaidan? Err, Lieutenant Alenko, she corrected herself.

"I don't understand Liara." Callie said, trying to clarify what Liara was getting at. "You're a woman..."

"I may look like a woman and we typically fulfill what is considered a matronly role, but that is not how we chose our partners. The asari believe that by mixing our DNA with that of other races strengthens our species. But that isn't relevant if you already have a relationship with Lieutenant Alenko."

"Kaidan is special to me." Callie admitted, seeing no other way to avoid it.

"I understand Commander." Liara said, unaffected by her words. "But I still feel that we share a special connection. A bond."

Shit, shit, shit. Callie swore to herself. Her first real conversation with an asari and she just had to go and make it awkward. No wonder Liara preferred ruins to people.

"I'm sorry Liara, but I'm not interested in you in that way."

"Oh." Liara looked crushed. "I'm sorry, I... Perhaps we could talk about something else."

"Maybe another time." She said, feeling terrible. "I need to send my report to the Alliance."

Chapter Text

Callie took several steadying breaths as she left Liara's room inside the med bay. Well that had been unpleasant. How the hell had Liara sensed anything about Kaidan? Was she psychic? Did anyone else know? It wasn't as though she'd kissed him, they'd only talked. Dammit. Callie didn't know what to do. She hadn't done anything but talk to him. Shit.

She remained where she was a moment longer before making up her mind. It wasn't as though she was planning a relationship with the Lieutenant. She just wanted to get to know him better. Avoiding him was out of the question - the mission was too important and as such,she had to maintain a good relationship with everyone. It wasn't as though she were singling him out or anything.

Right. So it's just part of my job then. If I happen to enjoy talking with the Lieutenant, it's not a breach of protocol, it's just a perk. Callie smiled to herself, yeah that's it, a perk, a pleasant side effect of just doing her job. That issue resolved, she headed over to where the Lieutenant was working at his console.

"Do you have some time to talk Commander?" Kaidan asked as she approached.

That sounded serious. "Let's hear it Lieutenant. I always make time for my officers."

"We've played it pretty close to the book so far, but we've got some tough calls to make. I'm just saying, try to leave yourself a way out. I've seen what cutting corners can do and I'd hate to have that happen to you Shepard. Uh, Commander."

"Is this a personal observation Kaidan?" Callie was already unbalanced by what she'd talked about with Liara... now this? What was he on about?

"I uh... I don't want to step on any toes. Especially if you're uh... if I've misread your interests." He stammered.

"My interests?" Interests? A way out? "Okay Lieutenant, off the record. Cross my heart and hope to die. What the hell are you talking about? Does this have something to do with Dr. T'Soni?"

"There's a lower-deck rumour that she's uh, interested in you as more than just a source of Prothean technology. She's a very interesting lady. Not to my, uh, tastes but I never claimed to be big on alien culture."

How the hell did he know that? She'd only just learned of Liara's interest a few minutes ago. And... wait, what? Is Kaidan jealous of Liara? "You seem awfully concerned about my personal affairs."

"It's just that we don't have much down-time these days and I like being around you. But I don't want to take up your personal time if your interests lie elsewhere."

Her interests? Why was everyone so concerned about her interest? She let out an exasperated sigh. "Look, you didn't want to talk about Liara. What's your real issue here?"

"You're right." Kaidan admitted. "Liara's not my main concern. It's just that in my experience, when you start cutting corners, it isn't always obvious who might get hurt in the process."

"Talk to me Kaidan." She said, her head was starting tospin with trying to figure out what he was getting at. "You've got a little black rain cloud above your head."

"I'll try to keep the deck dry ma'am." He said, trying again. "Do you remember what I told you about Vyrnnus?"

She nodded.

"Well after he died, Conatix was shut down. All the kids were sent home and the whole mess was swept under the carpet. Nothing was ever done about the kids who got hurt by Vyrnnus' teaching style and no retribution was ever made for the ones that died. The Alliance made mistakes and the students were the one's who paid the price for those mistakes."

"Okay. I think I understand now." Callie said, a sigh escaping her. "You're concerned about choices I might have to make on this mission."

"It's just that if someone is special to you, you try to help them. Try to keep them from making a mistake."

"Special huh?" Callie couldn't stop the rush of warm that spread through her at his words. This was dangerous territory, why was she encouraging him?

"If I'm out of line, just say the word." He said,holding his breath as he waited for her response, resisting the impulse to cross his fingers.

"You're not out of line Kaidan." She said, ignoring her inner voice. "But there are regs." The words were out of her mouth before she could stop it. Regs my ass, she thought keeping her face neutral. Now that she was a Spectre, she wasn't sure Alliance regs applied to her.

"I understand Commander." Kaidan said, relieved. "I don't make a habit of complicating the chain of command. Just, think about what I said."

"I will." She said before excusing herself and heading to the bridge.

Holy crap, she thought as she ascended the stairs. What was she doing? Not only had she told Liara that Kaidan was special to her, without even knowing it herself, but now she was encouraging him?

No matter how many times she told herself she was not doing this, every time she talked to him her mouth opened and all the wrong things spilled out. She was relieved she'd been able to reassert the wall she kept encouraging Kaidan to break down. Reminding him of Alliance regs had been a low blow, especially after telling him he wasn't imagining her interest.

Interest, she scoffed. Her "interests" are what had got her mixed up with that asshole Darius ten years ago. A cold, manipulative, arrogant, self-centred jerk who'd played so many games with her emotions that half the time she didn't know if she were coming or going. He'd been so nice at first, lulling her into believing he loved her and only wanting to help and protect her –something she'd never had before. But it didn't last. It took her a long time to realize she was becoming a shell of herself and a puppet to his needs. When she finally ended it, she'd become an expert at reading people's motives and spotting bullshit a mile away, and she never took crap from anyone anymore.

But was that what this was with Kaidan? Lieutenant Alenko, she corrected herself angrily. Well, he wasn't manipulating her, she knew that much at least. And his compliments seemed pretty sincere and he was open with her about his past... Shit. Was she justifying making another horrible mistake? Or making excuses? Damn Darius to hell. She should have just shot him on site when they'd met.

Shaking her head as she climbed the stairs to the CIC, she pushed Darius from her mind. Whatever this was with Kaidan.. and dammit, why did her heart flutter just thinking of him? Whatever it was she'd work it out later. Besides, it was probably just an intense crush that would burn itself out sooner rather than later, it always did. Entering the CIC, she ordered Joker to plot a course for Feros.

----xxx----

Kaidan watched Shepard head to the CIC. Had he just confessed his attraction to her? Had she just encouraged him? Dammit. This was getting out of hand. Not only that but it was going to be hard keeping it separate from the job. He'd already found himself overly concerned for her well-being, but that was before she'd told him she was interested in him as well.

He clenched his jaw. No, this was not going to affect the mission.Shepard was a professional and a war hero. He would not allow his feelings for her to jeopardize the mission or her career. He was determined to keep it separate and professional for both their sake.

Milky Way/AtticanBeta/Theseus/Planet Feros

Taryne, Garrus and Kaidan landed on Feros and were met by a colonist who told them to meet with Fai Dan, the colony leader, just before he was shot in the back by a geth.

They dove for cover as more geth poured out onto the docking bay,armed to the teeth. The attack was shocking in it's suddenness, but they'd fought so many geth already that it didn't take long for them to take them down.

Upon reaching the colony, Callie was surprised to find so many colonists still alive. She saw less than a handful of armed guards,most of whom didn't even seem qualified to carry a weapon, much less shoot one. They met with Fai Dan who told them the colony needed their help restoring power, water and a securing a food source.

Callie sighed. Nothing was ever simple. Outwardly, she kept cool while inside she seethed in frustration. Every delay cost her time.Time she should be using to locate Saren. It was obvious the geth were working for him, but according to Fai Dan he was no longer on Feros. So why the hell were the geth still here? Still threatening Zhu's Hope and it's colonists? It didn't make sense. As much as she wanted answers, she needed to help the colony first since dead colonists couldn't talk.

Kaidan watched Shepard as they took to the tunnels under the colony. They were on their way to clear the area of geth and see what they could do to help restore power and water. He could sense her frustration by her stiff posture and the clipped way she began barking orders. He wanted to tell her he understood and that he was there for her. But he didn't. He sensed anything he might say now would only remind her how limited her current options were. Instead, he kept quiet and did his best to follow orders as efficiently as possible.

Callie felt Kaidan's eyes on her as they took out a pack of varren that were preventing the colonists from replenishing their food stores. She clenched her jaw harder. If he sensed her frustration,she was grateful he was keeping it to himself. As the last varren died, she allowed herself to relax slightly.

"Good job." She told Garrus and Kaidan, her voice still stiff. "Both of you."

"Thanks Commander." They replied in unison.

The colonists problems resolved, they returned to the colony and Fai Dan. She wanted more information on the geth and what they were doing there. She also wanted to know why the colonists were unwilling or unable to answer her questions about Zhu's Hope. Every person she'd spoken to had said the same thing - speak to Fai Dan.

It was disturbing how they were all so unnaturally focused on their tasks and Fai Dan's explanation was less than satisfactory. She wasn't reassured by what he said at all, but since the colony was no longer in danger, she had geth to hunt. She would ask Fai Dan about it later, after she dealt with the geth.

She, Garrus and Kaidan took the Mako across the skyway, a raised bridge that connected the colony to the headquarters of ExoGeni where the geth were concentrated

She, Garrus and Kaidan took the Mako across the skyway, a raised bridge that connected the colony to the headquarters of ExoGeni where the geth were concentrated. ExoGeni was the company responsible for funding the colony and conducting research on the Prothean ruins.They encountered some geth resistance, but the Mako's firepower made short work of them all. As they reached the other side of the bridge,the comm picked up chatter and they stopped to investigate.

An ExoGeni employee who was obviously more concerned about protecting company secrets than lives was arguing with one of the scientists. Taryne despised him immediately, even before he started talking. After assuring him she didn't care about his stupid secrets,her concern was for the the geth, she moved on to talk with Julia Baynham. She asked her to look for her daughter, Lizbeth who was still at ExoGeni headquarters.

Before leaving the small group of survivors, a researcher named Gavin Hossle asked her to retrieve his research data from ExoGeni headquarters. Kaidan summed up perfectly what she was thinking when he said, "Certain death for some, but find for us. Great."

She hid her smile as they headed back to the Mako. Often, the soldiers she had under her command were serious and uptight, never cracking a smile, never doing anything but follow orders or think for themselves. To have a soldier like Kaidan who obviously hadn't gone to the same school of protocol was refreshing. Anyone who volunteered sarcastic comments like that was endearing to her. As the commanding officer, she might think the same way, but she also had to set an example so she often kept thoughts like that to herself. If he kept it up, she'd be bringing him on every mission just so he could relieve tension for her.

After fighting through more geth they reached a barrier they couldn't breach and looked for another way in. Several geth and a few krogan warriors later, they came to an area where one of the geth's dreadnought claws were anchored to the side of the building. She found a message that indicated that if she overloaded the controls to the door it was lodged in, it would slam down and crush the claw. She hoped it would be enough to dislodge the geth ship.

Garrus and Kaidan watched her back as she worked and when the claw broke and the ship dropped, they all breathed a sigh of relief.

"Uh Commander?" Joker's panicked voice came over her comm. "We've got a problem. The colonists have started going nuts. They're outside the ship, yelling and banging on the Normandy's hull."

"They can't do any real damage Joker." She reminded him."Just sit tight, we're on our way back."

"Yeah. Okay, right." He said sounding less than reassured.

 

Lizbeth Baynham who had earlier given them her employee pass was waiting for them when they reached the Mako. As they crossed the skybridge, her mother's voice came over the comm and she insisted they stop.

Jeong, the ExoGeni representative had a gun and was threatening the scientists. His employers had ordered him to purge the colony.They were hoping to avoid possible repercussions for what had been done to the Zhu's Hope colonists.

"You mean the Thorian." Callie said, having already learned ExoGeni's secret.

"What's a Thorian?" Juliana asked.

"It's a sentient plant living underneath Zhu's Hope. It can control people. ExoGeni was studying it." Lizbeth said sounding guilty.

"That explains why the colonists were acting so strange." Kaidan said.

Callie talked Jeong down by convincing him that since she'd cleared the colony of geth, it was now a selling point for investors. If it could survive a geth attack, it would be the only colony of its' kind to do so. She then returned Gavin Hossle's research and he thanked her with a substantial sum of credits.

Knowing the colonists were being controlled, Julia gave her modified grenades that would put them to sleep so she and her team wouldn't have to kill them to reach the Thorian. After Kaidan made the necessary adjustments, she restocked her grenade stash and they headed back to Zhu's Hope.

After Kaidan made the necessary adjustments, she restocked her grenade stash and they headed back to Zhu's Hope

Thorian creatures were everywhere when they returned to the colony. They were the creepiest thing Taryne had ever seen. Humanoid but sexless, they were mindless as they ran toward them in waves.They fought their way back through the colony, while Taryne tossed the modified grenades at the colonists who shot at them.

They reached Zhu's Hope without incident and Taryne was thrilled they'd been able to do their job without civilian casualties. She used the crane to lift the barricade the colonists had used to hide a flight of stairs leading below the colony. As she stepped away from the console, Fai Dan appeared with a gun in his hand.

"It wants me to stop you. It wants me to kill you! But I won't. I won't!" He screamed, shooting himself dead.

Chapter Text

Feros/Zhu's Hope Colony/Thorian Lair

Callie shared a look with Kaidan and Garrus. She had no idea what they would find below the colony - but a plant that could control people? Sounded made up to her, but she couldn't deny the colonist's strange behaviour or the awful smell that got stronger as they descended the stairs.

"Okay we just have to find... to find..." Kaidan trailed off as they saw what could only be the Thorian.

A plant-like creature, unlike any plant they'd ever seen was suspended in an air shaft by large, round tendrils that Taryne assumed must be vines or roots. Green and copper in colour it was easily as wide as ancient redwood trees, the only difference was that from where she stood, it seemed to be breathing.

"That doesn't look like any plant I've ever seen." She said as she stepped closer. "This may be... problematic."

Without warning, the plant creature began lurching and a green asari fell out at their feet. She was covered in a clear liquid that evaporated quickly as she rose and stood before them.

"Invaders. Your every step is a transgression. A thousand feelers appraise you as meat. Good only to dig or decompose. I speak for the Old Growth as I did for Saren. You are within and before the Thorian, it commands you to be in awe."

"You gave something to Saren." Callie said, understanding that somehow she was talking to the Thorian. "Something I need."

"Saren sought knowledge of those who are gone. The Old Growth listened to flesh for the first time in the long cycle. Trades were made, then cold ones began killing the flesh that would tend the next cycle - flesh fairly given. The Old Growth sees the air you push as lies. It will listen no more."

"I won't let you keep your thralls. Release them. Now."

"No more will the Thorian listen to those that scurry. Your lives are short but have gone on too long." She said before tossing a warp field at her.

Callie countered the asari's attack with a biotic throw, sending her to her death as she fell down the shaft the Thorian was suspended in.

Snarls and growls came from behind them and they rounded on the new threat, weapons ready. Creatures like those they'd encountered surrounding the the colony began flooding the room. As they shot them, they exploded in a sea of green spores, spewing toxic clouds into the air. Garrus had gotten too close to one as it died, damaging his shields and dazing him. Kaidan stepped in, lifting more of the creatures into the air to protect Garrus from further injury while he recovered.

The room cleared, they followed the path where the things had come from, coming upon a node that seemed to be supporting the Thorian.

"I think if we take these out, we might be able to kill it." Garrus said as he studied it.

Callie wasted no time and unloaded on it with her pistol. More creatures poured into the room as she did, intent on stopping them. Another asari joined them, identical to the one she'd already killed.Must be a clone she thought as Kaidan used Neural Shock to drop her, while Garrus took aim with his sniper rifle. They continued following the path, destroying what Callie had decided to call Thorian Creepers because, well... they were creepy. As they destroyed the final node, the Thorian fell to it's death and another asari fell out at their feet. This one was blue though, so Callie waited to see what would happen.

Rising to her feet, the asari thanked them for freeing her from the Thorian's control and introduced herself as Shiala

Rising to her feet, the asari thanked them for freeing her from the Thorian's control and introduced herself as Shiala. She had been a follower of Benezia, believing in the Matriarch's desire to guide Saren on a better path, but his will had been too strong. She had fallen under his influence and Saren had traded her to the Thorian in exchange for information about the Conduit.

She offered to share a cipher with Shepard, the same thing she'd given Saren. By joining her consciousness with hers, she could transfer her knowledge to her, helping Shepard to more clearly understand the vision she'd received on Eden Prime.

Kaidan held his breath as Shiala spoke. Join consciousness? He wanted to warn the Commander there was a danger involved with that, but before he could speak, she'd already agreed to Shiala's offer.

"Relax Commander. All life in the Universe is connected. We all share the same goals and desires. Close your eyes and embrace eternity." Shiala's eyes faded to black as Shepard bowed her head.

Visions of death at the hands of a synthetic race assaulted her.Horrific images of synthetics being integrated into living organic tissue flared in her mind's eye. She recoiled in horror. It was a repetition of what she'd seen in the vision from Eden Prime, only more vivid, more vibrant. The vision ended as abruptly as before and she stood there blinking rapidly, trying to clear the images from her mind.

"Are you all right Commander?" Kaidan asked, his concern obvious. "You look pale. We should get you back to the ship and Dr. Chakwas."

"I'm fine." She said, a slight quaver in her voice. "I saw... I saw, something."

"I'm sorry if you have suffered." Shiala said, "but it was the only way to give you the Cipher. It will take time to make sense of the vision, but eventually all will be made clear to you. "

"What should I do with you?" Callie asked her.

"If you will allow it, I would like to remain here and help the colonists. They have suffered and I am partly to blame for that. I wish to make amends and help in any way I can for my role in this affair. "

Callie was pleased with Shiala's remorse and agreed to let her stay before leading her team back to the Normandy.

Feros Orbit/Normandy

"Are you alright Commander?" Liara asked as the crew met in the comm room.

"I'm a little dazed." Callie admitted. "The images are confusing and still don't make much sense."

"Perhaps I can help." Liara said. "If I join my mind with yours I might be able to help you make sense of the vision."

"Do it." If it would help organize the disjointed images in her mind, she'd agree to anything.

Dammit. Kaidan swore. He hadn't seen that coming, but of course Liara would offer to help, she was still interested in Shepard.

"I'm sorry." Liara said after they parted. "There isn't much to work with. The vision you received on Eden Prime must have been very badly damaged. There seems to be a piece missing."

"Well that's just great." Shepard grumbled."We're done here. Dismissed."

Joker patched her in to the Council to give them her report.

"ExoGeni should have told us about the Thorian." The asari Councillor, Tevos said. "It would have made your job a lot easier."

"You might have been able to capture if for study instead of destroying it." Valern, the salarian Councillor commented.

"The only reason to study a creature like that is to find out how to kill it." She argued.

"Yes kill it." Sparatus, the turian Councillor drawled. "That's how humans usually deal with things they don't understand."

"The Thorian wasn't complicated." She replied angrily, "It enslaved and killed innocent civilians."

"Perhaps it's for the best then." Tevos said. "At least the colony was saved."

"Of course it was saved." Sparatus sneered. "Shepard would go to any lengths to save a human colony."

"Being human had nothing to do with it." Taryne said,struggling to keep her temper. "They were in trouble."

"Admirable." Valern said, his voice cool. "But sometimes Spectres have to make sacrifices. I hope you're willing todo that when the time comes."

"Goodbye Commander." Tevos said, "We will be waiting for your next report."

----xxx----

As the screen went dark, Callie released the breath she'd been holding. How she hated dealing with the Council, let me count the ways, she grumbled before heading to the cargo bay.

"I like how you handled that Jeong guy." Ashley said. "I didn't know you knew anything about politics."

"I just pretend I have my head up my ass and don't care about anything but money."

"Sounds painful." Ashley said with a grin. "I'll leave that to you. Anyway, I heard about the Thorian. Kinda glad I wasn't ground side, I heard about the smell."

"It definitely wasn't pleasant." She agreed before excusing herself.

On the crew deck, she stopped to check in with Kaidan.

"How you handled Jeong was impressive Commander." He told her. "If I ever get a traffic ticket I want you to be my advocate."

"I can't see you ever getting a traffic ticket Lieutenant."She said with a smile.

"Uh, thanks Commander." He stammered. "I'm glad we could help the colonists though and that we eliminated the geth before they could destroy the colony."

"You and me both." She agreed.

"Commander?" Kaidan couldn't keep it to himself any longer, he needed to know if she knew anything about asari joinings.

"What is it Lieutenant?" It was clear he had something on his mind.

"I know that Shiala and Liara were only trying to help,but..." He hesitated, "How much do you know about asari and their ability to join their mind with your consciousness?"

Callie frowned. What did that have to do with anything? "Only that after they've joined with me, the vision I received on Eden Prime made a little more sense and they weren't as intense as before."

"Well I uh, have some experience with it myself." He admitted. "I spent some time with an asari Spectre several years ago."

"Really?" She was stunned. Kaidan had been with an asari? "How did you meet her?"

"I was working for an asari Matriarch, an Ambassador to the human Alliance on Earth. Spectre T'Pelo was part of her entourage at the time."

"What was the job?" She was pretty shocked. Kaidan never failed to surprise her with his revelations. Working for an asari Matriarch was definitely not something she would have ever guessed about him, he was so reserved and unassuming.

"I was her bodyguard at the time." He began, then went on to explain how they had ended up on Therum taking down a batarian terrorist group.

"So what about this Spectre? You said you know something about how they join their consciousness with others."

"I do." He then went on to tell her about how Aryana T'Pelo had saved his life after his collapse. A long pause followed before he told her how she had influenced his decision to enlist.They had come together and then parted as friends, the same day he had told Anderson he was ready to join the Alliance.

It was a lot to take in. She wasn't sure what to make of it, but it put him a new light. He was much deeper than she'd first thought,she wondered what else he had buried in his past. Every time he spoke, he revealed something unexpected, but this, well, she would have never guessed this about him. When he told her about the typical nature of what asari "joinings" entailed, she was not pleased.

"Thank you for telling me Lieutenant." She said keeping her voice neutral. "I had no idea joinings were considered intimate."

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner."

"Why? You didn't know what would happen. I should have asked and that's my fault. I should know better. I'm more concerned Liara didn't mention it. You said that this Aryana explained it to you after she saved you from going into a coma?"

He nodded.

"I see." Callie bit her bottom lip, her brow creasing. "In that case, I think I need to have a chat with our young Prothean scientist."

"I'm not sure young is the right word Shepard." Kaidan said, trying to to lighten her mood. If he didn't know better he'd swear there were storm clouds in her eyes. Eyes that seemed to change from hazel to an intense green colour as she processed what he'd just told her. "I think she's older than the two of us combined."

Chapter Text

Milky Way/Feros Orbit/Normandy

After telling Kaidan they'd talk later, Callie headed for the med bay where Liara had claimed a room at the back. First, she needed to talk to Dr. Chakwas.

"Commander?" Dr. Chakwas asked as Callie entered the med bay. "Are you feeling all right?"

"Not really." She said, dropping the mask she'd had in place while talking with Kaidan. "I was hoping you could give me something for my headache."

"Of course Commander. Let me just take a scan first." Chakwas said, passing her omni-tool over Shepard's head. "Hmm.That's quite the headache. Have you had these before?" She asked, moving to a nearby med dispenser.

"No not really. They seem different. More intense than regular headaches. They started after I received the vision on Eden Prime."

"Hmm." Chakwas mused, handing her a bottle. "Here, take these. They should help with the pain. But I want your word that you'll let me know if they get any worse."

"I will Doctor. And thank you."

"Of course Commander. It is my job after all."

Nodding, Callie headed to the room Liara was in. Her head was still pounding something fierce, but she had to do this now. If she delayed this conversation, she'd never be able to relax enough to deal with her headache.

"Shepard." Liara greeted her. "How are you feeling? You look pale."

"I'll be fine." She lied. "I wanted to talk to you about something."

"Of course. If I can help you in any way you only need ask."

"I want to know the truth Liara. About asari joinings."

Liara blushed. "I.. I'm not sure what you mean Commander."

"I think you do." Callie retorted, her voice hard. "They're more to them than just sharing information isn't there?"

"Where did you hear this? Who told you that?" Liara was defensive. How could Shepard know this? She didn't think anyone outside asari bond mates knew anything about joinings.

"That's not important Liara. Why didn't you tell me?"Taryne's head was pounding and her patience with the young doctor was beginning to wear thin. She wanted answers before she lost hertemper.

"I... I'm sorry Shepard. You're right. I should have told you, but I only wanted to help. You seemed to be in so much pain."

"Help? I learn that someone I barely know has just read my most intimate thoughts without my knowledge? If I'd known I would have prepared myself first. Is this how you knew about Lieutenant Alenko?"

"No. I..." Liara hesitated. She didn't want Shepard to distrust her, she had to tell her the truth. "I read it in your,well I guess you could say your aura. There's an energy between you.I didn't realize it wasn't common knowledge before we spoke."

"I see." Callie was still seething. "What about now? You've been in my head. I want to know what you saw."

"Nothing Shepard." Liara lied. "As I said before,you are a very strong-willed woman. It was very difficult for me to join with you. I assure you I didn't learn anything more than what you received from Shiala."

"Really? You didn't see anything but the cipher?" Callie wasn't entirely convinced. She didn't know Liara well, but...

"Yes, that's all. I'm very sorry Commander. I should have explained how it worked beforehand." Liara looked ashamed.

Callie expelled the breath she'd been holding. "Okay. Fine. I guess I'll have to take your word for it. I hope it's the truth Doctor."

"It is Commander." Liara told her, relieved Shepard believed her. "Again, I am sorry."

"Apology accepted. I have to go. Reports to file."

Callie left the med bay and went straight to her cabin. She didn't know what to think about Liara's confession. Shiala may have joined her consciousness too, but she hadn't made a pass at her. It was also obvious that Liara was still interested in her and she was making no effort to hide it. Callie had hoped that admitting she had feelings for Kaidan would put a stop to it, but apparently not. Ugh... this line of thought was making her head hurt more.

She moved to her bed and pushed all thought of Liara aside before swallowing the pills Dr. Chakwas had given her. Irrational as it was, she didn't want the crew knowing how badly the Prothean visions were affecting her. Images of synthetics and organics locked in violent destruction assaulted her mind every time she closed her eyes. Her brow wrinkled in pain as she willed away.

Squeezing her eyes shut, she took several slow deep breaths as she waited for the nausea to subside. Her vision swam when she tried opening them again. Dammit. Why was this so hard? She'd lived through grueling months of intense N7 training, hard years of growing up on the streets of Earth and survived the attack on Elysium. She should be shrugging this off. It frustrated her that after everything she'd been through, a damn vision was causing her so much pain.

She checked with Joker ensuring that it would be several hours before they reached their next destination before crawling into bed. The meds kicked in and her thoughts cleared. Grateful for the respite, she closed her eyes and fell into a dreamless sleep.

----xxx----

Kaidan watched Shepard enter the med bay before reappearing shortly after to make a beeline for her cabin, avoiding his eyes. She hadn't said anything when they'd talked, but he could see the tension in her and the stiff way she carried herself.

She must be suffering the affects of the vision he guessed, feeling helpless. He wasn't happy Liara's intervention hadn't seemed to help her at all. He hoped Shepard wasn't angry with him for telling her what he knew about asari joinings. She hadn't said much at the time, but they'd been on enough missions together now that he knew it was just her way. Keeping her thoughts hidden and her emotions locked up was something he'd learned she was damn good at. It was impossible to guess what she truly valued or who the woman behind the Commander really was.

Did she want a lifetime career in the military? A family? Did she have close friends outside the Alliance? Had she ever been in a serious relationship? Did she want one? Did she like the outdoors or large cities? Had she ever been on a vacation? If she had, where did she go? There were so many things he didn't known, yet he felt closer to her than anyone else he'd met before.

He shook his head. Maybe he should speak to Liara. He wanted to know if she could tell him anything about Shepard's visions - if they were bad enough she should be taking more breaks, or if there was anything he could do to help.

Screw it. Thinking about it wasn't accomplishing anything. He'd talk to Liara. If nothing else, maybe she could put his mind at ease.

"Dr. T'Soni?" He said as he entered the room she'd chosen for herself.

"Lieutenant Alenko." Liara said, surprised to see him."Did you need something?"

"I was wondering if you could tell me anything about Shepard's visions? Is there anything we can do to help her? Is she okay? Do you know if they're hurting her? Or maybe you could share her vision with me?" He knew he was talking too fast but couldn't help it. His concern for Shepard was the only thing on his mind.

"I'm not sure what question to answer first." She said, watching him closely. Kaidan? Had he been the one to tell Shepard about the asari? It didn't seem likely, but who else could have told her? Later, she'd think about it later. "The Commander is fine Lieutenant. Aside from the headaches, which I'm sure you knew about."

She couldn't help it, the fact that Shepard had chosen him over her still stung. Plus, since joining her mind with Shepards', she'd learned that the Commander still wasn't fully committed to him. Something about human military regulations involving duty and career and trusting the wrong people. It didn't make much sense to her, but she figured if she played her cards right she might be able to sway Shepard back to her side.

"The visions aren't a danger to her Lieutenant, if they were she wouldn't have survived the one she received on Eden Prime."

"Okay, well that's good. Is there anything I can do to help her? With her headaches I mean?"

"I don't think so Lieutenant. Also I cannot share the vision with you. Without the cipher she received from Shiala it wouldn't do you much good. "

"I see. Well, thanks anyways Liara. I'm glad you were able to help her make some sense of it at least."

"I did what I could, though it doesn't seem like enough."

"I'm sure she appreciates it. Anyway, I should get back to my duties. I'll talk to you later."

Kaidan returned to his post. It was obvious Liara was still interested in the Commander. He was farily certain Shepard didn't share that interest, but for the moment he didn't care. He was relieved to know that Shepard wasn't in any danger. Despite what Liara said, he was determined to do whatever he could to help if she let him. In the meantime, he hoped that Dr. Chakwas had been able to give her something to help with her headaches.

----xxx----

Callie woke several hours later. She was grateful that for the moment, the pain in her temple was gone and the visions had subsided. Just as she was about to head to the bridge, her comm link chimed indicating she'd received a message.

Curious, she turned back and opened the link. It was from Admiral Hackett. That was odd, what was this about? Normally he contacted her in the CIC.

Commander Shepard,

I understand you're now a Council Spectre and that you're on a mission to track down Saren Arterius, a rogue Spectre.

Congratulations Commander, but I want to remind you that you are also still a valued member of the Alliance Military. In your search for Saren, you will be spending a lot of time in the Attican Traverse. We have several missions in those areas that only you and the Normandy can undertake.

The Alliance needs you Commander. I expect you will have no trouble completing these missions as they become available.

Thank you for your continued assistance and dedication to the Alliance. I'm sure you understand the importance of how your current public status reflects on humanity and that of the Alliance military.

Admiral Steven Hackett, Fifth Fleet, Systems Alliance Military

Was he serious? Callie couldn't believe what she'd just read. Was he insinuating that as a Spectre she wouldn't now do her job as an Alliance officer? The authoritative tone of the message threw her enough that she took several deep breaths to get her mind to focus.

How dare he! Of all the low-down, presumptuous, egotistical, condescending... she ran out of expletives as the reality of Hackett's message sunk in. She had two choices. Ignore it and continue pursuing Saren, likely at the cost of her military career, or do as he asked.

She paced her cabin, her thoughts in turmoil. The truth was she had no choice. Without Alliance support, she would have no ship and no crew. Saren might be the bigger threat, but she'd since run out of leads to chase. Noveria was the last place to look, but the intel she had said that Saren wasn't even there - it was just an asari Matriarch who'd been seen.

The terminal chimed again, stopping her mid-pace. This time it was from Captain Anderson.

Commander,

We've had our research teams running scans and tests on the spikes you found on Eden Prime. As far as we can tell they're designed to replace human tissue with some kind of advanced nano-technology. Essentially a human body is placed on the spike anda synthetic code begins replacing organic tissue with synthetic parts. When the transfer is complete, the spike retracts and the"husks" that remain are programmed to attack any organic that comes within range of them.

Alliance HQ has given these things a code word: Dragon's Teeth.HQ is concerned that calling them "geth spikes" will start a panic so if you happen to find more, please use the code word in your reports.

One more thing, as far as our research can tell these spikes become inactive once they've converted a human body to create a husk. However, advise you and your crew to keep your distance. We don't know enough about this technology to have any certainty that they're no longer a danger.

Good luck Commander. Watch yourself out there.

Captain Anderson, Human Embassy, Citadel

Callie exhaled the breath she'd been holding. Well it wasn't what she'd been expecting but... eww. Why would anyone want to turn humans into these things? What purpose could it serve? And what were the geth doing with it? For that matter, how did they even have access to that kind of technology?

She sent off a quick note acknowledging Anderson's message before leaving her cabin and heading to the CIC.

Kaidan watched as Shepard stormed from her cabin, practically stomping her feet as she took the stairs to the CIC. His brow furrowed with concern. Something must have happened. He'd seen her annoyed and he'd seen her calm, but he'd never seen her angry. It was clear she was in a bad mood. Frustrated that he could do nothing to help, he returned to his work, hoping that whatever it was resolved itself.

Chapter Text

Milky Way/Attican Traverse

Although the missions Hackett passed her way were relatively short and simple to complete, they were time consuming.

Callie was exhausted. No matter how many she thought to take care of before following her only lead to Saren, two more missions inevitably appeared to replace them.

After disabling a stolen nuclear device, taking down a couple of crime lords and eliminating a geth invasion that spanned five star systems, all she wanted was sleep. She was about to grab some shut-eye when a message came through her comm. Tali, her young quarian crew member wanted to speak with her. Groaning, she changed direction and headed to the engine room.

"I got your message Tali. Is something wrong?"

"Shepard. Thank you for coming. I... I wanted to ask you about the geth data we recovered on our last mission."

"You want to take it back to your people." Callie guessed. "So you can complete your pilgrimage."

"Yes. It would be a very important gift to my people. It will help us to understand how the geth have evolved since we left Rannoch, our home planet."

"But then your quest will be over. You'll leave us." Callie said, hesitating.

"No Shepard." Tali said firmly. "This mission with Saren is too important. I won't leave you or abandon the mission without seeing it through to the end. You have my word on that."

"Alright. Go ahead and make a copy Tali."

"Thank you Shepard. You don't know what this means to me and my people."

"You're welcome Tali. Glad I could help."

Serpent Nebula/Widow System/Citadel--Docking Bay

With the intel she'd recovered from across the Traverse, Taryne ordered them back to the Citadel. She had bad news to deliver to an Admiral Kahoku and a man named Garoth whose brother had gone missing. She also had an asari diplomat named Nassana Dantius who needed confronting. Taryne had taken out Nassana's sister who'd been blackmailing her. Taryne wanted to know why.

As she, Liara and Kaidan left the Normandy and stepped out onto the docking bay, they were met by an Alliance officer. Kaidan snapped to attention and fired off a salute as they approached.

"Rear Admiral Mikhailovich, Fifth Fleet." He said, returning the salute.

"Commander Shepard, SSV Normandy."

"You don't know who I am do you Shepard?" He sneered. "I command the 63rd Scout Flotilla. You and the Normandy were slated for my unit after shake down. Then the Council got their paws, claws,tentacles, whatever. They got them on this ship. And you."

"I still serve the Alliance Admiral." Callie retorted. This again? Was everyone going to question her loyalty? " As a Spectre, I can advance our interest to the Council."

"Hmph. You still know what colour your blood is Shepard? I don't begrudge the politicians decision to throw you to the Council.I do begrudge this over-designed piece of tin though."

"The Normandy is a fine ship sir. She's served us well so far." What the hell was this guy's problem?

"It's a gimmick Commander." He said, dismissing her words. "Useless in a stand-up fight. This "experiment"diverted billions from our appropriations bills. For the same price we could've had a heavy cruiser. But no, we had to make nice to the turians. Throw money at a co-developed boondoggle. I'm here to inspect the Normandy. She's an Alliance ship and I intend to see she's up to snuff."

"I'm sure you'll find everything in order sir."

"I'll just bet. Wait here." A short while later, Mikhailovich returned looking unimpressed.

"Commander. I'm not happy."

"Sounds like a fairly common situation." Callie drawled, unable to restrain herself.

"Commander, I suggest you secure your mouth. It's going to get you in trouble." He began. "Who designed that CIC? Putting command at the aft of everyone else is inefficient. What if he needs to discuss with the operators toward the bow?"

"Modified turian style. They prefer their commanders looking over their subordinates, rather than in the middle of them. We wanted to see how effectively they can command with that setup."

"Reasonable goal." He conceded. "But they should've studied that in a lab rather than on a front-line warship. I had to shake my head at that drive core. 120 million credits of element zero to make that thing able to move without giving itself away. You realize we could make drive cores for 12,000 fighters with that money? What good is it to hide anyway? Useless."

"Men of limited vision said the same thing about the first tanks and fighter jets." She reminded him, unable to avoid the dig.

"There's two ways I could take that Commander, but I suppose the early U-boats weren't much better. But we need to talk about your crew. Krogan? Asari? Turians? What are you thinking Commander? You can't allow alien nationals free access to Alliance equipment!"

"Between Saren and the geth we have enough enemies out here.Treating other species with suspicion and distrust won't win hearts and minds." She retorted. Did this guy ever quit?

"That assumes the hearts and minds are worth winning. That hasn't been proven yet. You have anything else to say Commander? Any other justifications for the state of this vessel?"

"I think the Normandy is a good ship sir. Even if you disagree, you have to see that her joint construction and multiracial crew make the Alliance look better."

"Your job is to look good Commander. The Alliance Navy's is to win wars. I'm not convinced the Normandy isn't a waste of taxpayer money. But I am convinced you believe otherwise and that you'll use it to the best of your ability. I'll be submitting a report to the Joint Military Council. It will not be as negative as I had planned.Good hunting Commander Shepard. Make us proud."

Ass. Callie muttered as Mikhailovich walked away. That had been the most irritating conversation she'd ever had with an Alliance superior. It had taken all her will not to punch him in the face as he'd stood there, insulting her, the crew and her ship.

Great start to the day, she mused as they entered the lift to C-Sec. As the doors were about to close, Garrus appeared and joined them in the elevator. She nodded to him as he entered, acknowledging his arrival. Whatever he was up to it was none of her business. It wasn't as though she had any official jurisdiction over him.

Liara spoke as they descended. "Lieutenant? In the last few fights, your biotics seemed to pack more punch. Is it practice or are you getting stronger?"

"I've always held back a little when I used my powers against living targets." Kaidan admitted. "Fear of hurting someone I guess. After what I saw on Eden Prime, I'm not holding back anymore. Not against the geth not against anyone."

"Your biotics are impressive Lieutenant." Garrus agreed. "I'm surprised humans stopped using the L2 configuration with results like yours."

"My headaches can be pretty bad Garrus. And I'm one of the lucky L2's. The L3's are safer."

"Humanity will be judged by the sacrifices its people are willing to make." Garrus told him. "My people would have kept the L2 implants."

Callie kept silent as she listened to their exchange. She was pleased everyone seemed to be getting along. Perhaps not friends just yet, but there were no open hostilities... well none that she was aware of anyway.

She led them to the Citadel Tower where they met with Admiral Kahoku. She told him she'd found his missing crew, all dead. Killed by a trap someone had placed on top of a Thresher Maw nest. Kahoku thanked her before taking his leave, muttering about getting to the bottom of things, one way or another.

Garoth, the man whose brother had gone missing, was relieved she had found him, but sad the news wasn't good. He thanked her before excusing himself to make funeral arrangements.

From there, they headed to the Embassies to track down the asari diplomat, Nassana Dantius.

"Commander Shepard." She said as Shepard approached. "What a pleasure."

"Cut the act Nassana. I know your sister was blackmailing you."

"And here I was all prepared to reason with you. I'm glad that's no longer necessary and that it's been taken care of."

"Wait." Kaidan interrupted. "Are you saying you wanted your sister dead?"

"My sister was involved in highly illegal activities. If my connection to her had been discovered I would have lost my job hereon the Citadel."

"That's cold." Callie said.

"Call it what you like. Here Commander, I've made some rare prototype equipment available to you." She said, tapping her omni-tool.

"That's not necessary." Callie told her. She didn't want anything from this woman.

"Too late. Already done. Now if you'll excuse me, I have business to attend to."

No one spoke as Nassana left the room. Shaking her head at what had just happened, Callie told Liara, Kaidan and Garrus that since they were on the Citadel anyway, they should head to the markets.

Garrus and Liara paired up and took off on their own. Garrus wanted some new mod he'd heard about for his sniper rifle, while Liara wanted to upgrade her biotic amp.

Callie couldn't find what she wanted in the lower wards, so they headed to the Financial District when they overheard a couple on the Presidium arguing. After listening a moment, she interrupted them.

She told the man, Michael, who was the woman's brother in law that if he cared about his brother's memory, he would support the mother of his baby. To be there for her when she had to make hard decisions.They ran out of steam as she spoke to them and thanked her for her help before walking off.

Callie was glad she'd been able to diffuse the situation. But she was frustrated that in the 22nd century people still didn't understand how to support their loved ones. They were all too busy worrying about themselves and their own interests.

Kaidan watched quietly as Shepard interacted with the civilians they encountered on the Presidium. She never failed to surprise him with her skill. Whether staring down a superior officer, breaking upa domestic dispute or asserting her authority with criminals, she never lost her cool. She always seemed to know just what to say to people.

He knew he could hold his own with fellow Alliance officers, but walking up to complete strangers and butting in? He was pretty sure he'd just make the situation worse somehow. Whether their battlefield flirting led to something more or not, he was grateful for the opportunity to learn from her.

They were headed back to the Normandy when Shepard decided to stop in at Flux, a more upscale bar than Chora's Den - just to check it out.

As she approached the bar Callie overheard a waitress talking to the bartender. She seemed upset so she asked what was wrong. The waitress, Rita, said that her sister Jenna, was working undercover for C-Sec at Chora's Den. She was very concerned for her sister's safety, but when she'd approached C-Sec about it, they'd brushed her off. Callie said she'd look into it and she and Kaidan headed to Chora's Den.

Jenna shut them down when they approached.. She didn't think there was a problem and insisted she could handle it, so they left. On the way out, a turian bumped into Shepard, making a loud insulting comment. As he did, he whispered that if they wanted to know about Jenna, they should speak with him at C-Sec HQ.

"What was that about?" Kaidan asked her.

"No idea. Let's head to C-Sec and find out."

At C-Sec they met the turian who had bumped into Shepard, who identified himself as Detective Chellick

At C-Sec they met the turian who had bumped into Shepard, who identified himself as Detective Chellick. Callie chastised him for using a civilian in such a dangerous situation, so he promised to get Jenna out if Shepard agreed to help him.

"Fine. You have a deal." She said. "What do you need me to do?"

"I just need you to make an exchange. Once I have the mods they're selling, I can track their source."

"Okay. I'll handle it."

They met up with Ashley on their way back to the markets. She joined them, wanting to pick something up she'd had put aside on their last visit to the Citadel.

"That's close enough army." Grumbled their krogan contact as they approached. "You have the credits?"

"Of course. Here you go." Callie said as Kaidan handed over what Chellick had given them. "You have the mods?"

"Yeah. Here you go. We're done here." He said, lumbering off.

"Wow. Impressive." Ashley said after the krogan was out of earshot. "Nobody died."

"I could shoot someone if it would make you feel better." Kaidan said.

"Nah. I'm good."

Covering a smile, Callie led them back to Chellick's office. He thanked them and gave her credits and a weapon upgrade as payment. After securing a promise from him that he'd get Jenna out of Chora's Den, they returned to the Normandy.

Chapter Text

Milky Way/Attican Traverse

There were no messages from Admiral Hackett when Callie returned to her cabin. With only Noveria on her list of leads to Saren, she figured now would be a good time to track down Dr.Heart and locate Wrex's armour.

Tali had been so pleased after Callie had agreed to let her copy the geth data they'd found that she figured it couldn't hurt to do the same for her other crew members. Liara hadn't asked for help with anything, but Taryne figured letting her come to Noveria would be favour enough if the Matriarch turned out to be her mother.

She'd had cooled off a lot since she'd last spoken with Liara and her headaches had diminished greatly with the medicine Dr. Chakwas had given her. With the pressure in her temple eased, she'd had time to think about the talk they'd had. She could see now that much of her anger had largely been due to the pain the visions were causing her.

With that in mind, she headed to Liara's room to check in with her and maybe clear the air. Despite her doubts about Liara's motives, she didn't believe her actions had been deliberately malicious. Given her admitted lack of experience with humans, it probably hadn't occurred to her to explain the complex and somewhat intimate nature of asari joinings.

"Shepard." Liara said as she rose to greet her. "I'm glad you stopped by. I wanted to apologize for what I said last time we spoke. I looked into your history and I've watched how you interact with the crew. I realize now that you were just being kind to me, and I took it to mean something more than that. I'm sorry."

"Thank you Liara. I wanted to apologize as well. I admit that I was very upset when we spoke last,but it had more to do with my headache than anything else."

"There's no need to apologize Commander. I should have seen how much strain you were under. Instead I took advantage and thought only of myself. You have nothing to be sorry for."

"Well I'm glad we can clear the air Liara. I don't want any tension between us or anyone on my crew." Callie said. "With that in mind, I wanted to ask about your mother. Do you have any idea why she might be helping Saren?"

Liara face clouded. "No. I'm sorry Shepard. I haven't spoken to my mother in years. I don't know why she's following him. She was always looking for a better way, a peaceful way to resolve problems.None of this makes sense to me."

"I'm sorry Liara. This must be hard for you. We'll be heading to Noveria soon, maybe we can get some answers from her if she's there."

"I hope so Shepard." Liara hesitated. "I would understand if you didn't want me there, but I would really like to see her again. Maybe I can reason with her."

"If that's what you want Liara, I have no problem with it. I do have one concern though."

"What is it?"

"If your mother is there and she isn't interested in cooperating, will you be okay with what I might have to do? What "we"might have to do?"

"I... I hadn't thought of that. But yes." Liara said, her voice hard. "If she won't listen to reason I will support you and do whatever is necessary. She won't be my mother if I can't get through to her."

"Alright. So long as you understand how this might go."

"I do. And thank you for coming to talk to me. I'm glad we could clear the air."

"So am I Liara. We'll talk again later."

Callie left the med bay feeling a weight lift from her shoulders.Well at least that was settled – for now. Feeling buoyed by her chat, she headed to the CIC and ordered Joker to the coordinates Garrus had given her for Dr. Heart.

 

Milky Way/Kepler Verge/Hershel System/Drifting Freighter--MSV Fedele

She, Garrus and Wrex boarded the MSV Fedele they'd found drifting in the Hershel System. Scans had indicated strange life signs aboard the ship, but it wasn't broadcasting a distress signal.

Weapons in hand, the three of them entered the main storage area.It was eerily silent considering how many abnormal life signs they'd picked up on their scan. They proceeded forward cautiously, the cargo bay filled with giant crates that seemed to be arranged like a of maze. As Callie came around a crate in their path, she jumped back in fright when her eyes landed on five Husks that were just standing there, not moving. They caught sight of her immediately and turned to her, arms outstretched, guttural growls coming from their deformed features.

They caught sight of her immediately and turned to her, arms outstretched, guttural growls coming from their deformed features

Crap! God how she hated these things. Using her biotics, adrenaline coursing through her, she threw the lot of them away from her, smiling as they crashed into the side of a large crate. Garrus and Wrex were behind her, which was good since twelve more of the creepy buggers converged on them, flanking their position.

Callie backed away as much as she could in the cramped quarters, gripped by an unfamiliar sense of terror and fear. She'd been afraid before, but this was different. She wanted to get as far from them as possible, but there was nowhere to go, so she used one biotic skill after another to keep them from reaching her.

Her heart pounded in her chest as they moved through the ship. They needed to find Dr. Saleon or his records or notes on what had happened here. She jumped as three more Husks came at her from a cramped alcove, bumping into Wrex as she stepped back, nearly taking them both to the floor. Get a grip! She told herself. Just shoot them!

As the last of the creatures died, Taryne couldn't stop herself from running to the closed door ahead, unable to calm the fear that coursed through her. If Garrrus or Wrex noticed a change in her behaviour since boarding the ship, neither one mentioned it.

Sighing heavily, Callie moved to a side door near the bow where the last life sign emanated from. A salarian stood there, looking pleased. "Thank you for saving me." He said. "I've been trapped in here for days with those things running around out there."

"Commander." Garrus said. "That's him. That's Dr. Saleon."

"What? My name is Dr. Heart." The salarian protested.

"Are you sure Garrus?"

"I'm sure. I don't forget a face." Garrus said firmly."You're done here Doctor." Garrus said, addressing the salarian and raising his assault rifle. "I'd harvest your organs first, but we don't have the time."

"Wait Garrus. You don't have to shoot him." Callie said.

"But we have him!"

"He can't hide anymore. We'll take him in to the Alliance and he'll answer for his crimes."

"But...I... alright. You are a very lucky salarian." Garrus said addressing Dr. Saleon. "You owe the Commander your life."

"Oh thank you very much." Dr. Saleon sneered, drawing his pistol.

Without hesitation, Callie shot him and he fell to the ground, dead.

"So he dies anyway?" Garrus was confused. "What was the point of that?"

"You can't always predict what people will do Garrus, but you can control your own actions. Sometimes that's all you have."

"I see. I don't think I've ever met anyone like you before Shepard."

"Are we done here?" Wrex grumbled from behind them. "If there's nothing left for me to shoot, let's go. I'm hungry."

After checking the ship and finding no signs of any remaining Creepers aboard the MSV Fedele they returned to the Normandy. Callie had noticed more spikes that Anderson had called Dragon's Teeth - same as the ones on Eden Prime. She made note of it in the report she passed on to the Alliance, but didn't know what to make of it. The ones on Eden Prime had been used by the geth, what were they doing on Dr. Saleon's ship?

Whatever it meant, she didn't much care as long as they were the last husks she had to deal with. The terror she felt when they ran into creepers or husks was starting to wear on her nerves. She felt irrational, out of control and she hated the feeling. She didn't know how to fix it, but she couldn't afford to react like that every time she encountered them - especially since the mission was far from over.

Exhausted, she went to bed. It would be several hours before they reached the coordinates Wrex had provided for the location of his armour and she needed sleep. She hoped that after a good rest the irrational fear she was experiencing would dissipate.

Chapter Text

Kaidan was working at his console when he received a message from Garrus.

"Lieutenant? Garrus here. I need to discuss something with you. Can you come see me in the cargo bay?"

"Sure Garrus. Be right there."

"Lieutenant." Garrus said as Kaidan joined him near the Mako. "I don't know how to say this. I'm not part of your Alliance crew and I don't know how this works exactly."

"What's on your mind Garrus?"

"I don't know how Alliance military handles these things, but have you noticed anything different about the Commander while on missions? Specifically if they involve husks or creepers?"

"Different? How?" Kaidan asked, unsure what Garrus was getting at. "Did something happen on the last mission?"

"Kind of. Nothing serious mind you, but Shepard seemed unnaturally afraid of the things. She jumped several times when they rushed us – even backed into Wrex more than once. I found it more than a bit odd considering what she's already gone through. I just wondered if it might be cause for concern. Thought I'd ask you since you're Staff Lieutenant on this ship."

"I can't say I noticed Garrus, but now that you mention it..." Kaidan trailed off as he ran through the missions he'd been on where husks and creepers had been present. "Something has been a bit off on some of our missions together. If it would make you feel better, I could talk to her about it."

"Only if you think it's necessary Lieutenant. Just so we're clear, I'm not questioning her command. I'm just concerned something might be wrong."

"I'll talk to her Garrus." Kaidan said, grateful Garrus had brought it to his attention. "I'll let you know if there's anything you can do. Thank you for telling me."

"Anytime Lieutenant."

Kaidan returned to the crew deck and debated waking Shepard. It had only been a few hours since she'd entered her quarters, so he thought it best to let her sleep. He figured the best choice would be to send her a message so they could arrange a time to talk. As he wrote, he added a postscript that indicated it was work related so she wouldn't get the wrong impression.

"Kaidan." Shepard's voice came over the comm moments later. Shit. Guess she wasn't sleeping after all. "I'm free now if you'd like to come in."

"Yes Commander. Be right there."

"I thought you were sleeping Commander." Kaidan said,entering her cabin. "I didn't know you were up. This can wait if you want to get some shut eye."

"I'm fine." Callie lied, barely suppressing a yawn. "What's this about?"

"It's about the mission you were on with Wrex and Garrus. Garrus had some concerns."

"Garrus? Why, what did he say?" Callie held her breath. Crap, they had noticed dammit.

"Just that you didn't seem like yourself." Kaidan could see her thinking how to respond, so he waited, saying nothing.

"I was hoping no one noticed." She muttered half to herself. "But Garrus is right, I'm not feeling like myself. I'm.. I don't know what it is. Those "things" scare the crap out of me and I don't know why."

"If it's any consolation, they scare the crap out of me too." Kaidan said, hoping to put her mind at ease.

"Thanks, but that doesn't make this easier." She said, turning her gaze to the floor. "I don't understand why they scare me so much. It's not like me and... why the hell am I telling you this? I'm your superior."

"Because it's my job as Staff Lieutenant?" Kaidan ventured.

"Right, sure." She said, sounding less than pleased. "I don't make a habit of needing help with things like this. Especially not with someone I barely know." Oh crap, she saw his face fall as the words left her mouth and hurried to explain. "But there's something different about you Lieutenant, I..." Okay that's enough of that, she told herself firmly.

"I understand Commander." He said, unwilling to increase her obvious discomfort. "Can you tell me when you first noticed this though? It might help."

"I suppose I noticed it after we encountered the Thorian on Feros and then Shiala gave me the cipher."

"So not after Eden Prime? Or any of the Alliance missions where we saw more of those spike things?" Kaidan asked.

"No." Callie was firm as she ran the missions through her mind. "It started after Feros, and... it seems to be getting worse." She added, unable to keep the tremor from her voice.

Kaidan could see how much just thinking about husks and creepers unnerved her. As she talked, her voice had lost some of it's conviction and he detected a slight tremor in her hands the more she spoke about it.

"I'm just guessing here," he said, moving to the chair opposite the bed she was sitting on. "But do you think it might have something to do with the Prothean beacons?"

Kaidan watched carefully, noting that she seemed to relax as she considered the possibility.

"You're right Lieutenant. With each vision, my fears seemed to get worse. Maybe it's more about what happened to the Protheans and less about me."

"It sounds logical. Does it help at all? Knowing that the beacons might be responsible?"

Callie smiled. "Yes it does actually. Thank you for talking to me about this Lieutenant, I feel better now. Tell Garrus not to worry, I'll be fine."

"I will Commander." Kaidan said, rising to leave. He could hear the professional tone she dropped into place as she reasserted her self-control. Damn but she must really hate showing weakness. He wondered if she would ever trust him enough to let him in.

Callie released the breath she'd been holding as Kaidan left her cabin. Dammit. She hadn't meant to drop her guard like. Especially not in front of Kaidan. She closed her eyes, taking a moment before settling into her bed. She'd fully intended to deny any worries he had when she'd first read his message, instead, she'd told him everything. That it had helped was irrelevant. She'd survived this long without anyone's help, she'd be damned if she needed it now. She went to sleep, pushing all thoughts of the handsome Lieutenant from her mind.

Milky Way/Argus Rho Cluster/Phoenix System/Planet--Tuntau

Callie took Wrex and Tali to Tuntau to retrieve the big krogan's family armour. She wanted Tali's hacking skills for this one. They'd encountered a lot of shielded enemies on several of their previous missions and Tali's skill at sabotage was unequaled by anyone else in the squad.

They reached the base where the turian, Tonn Actus had Wrex's armour locked in a safe. As the mercenaries inside began firing, Callie was glad she'd brought Tali. The young quarian had most of their enemies weapons disabled in seconds, as one after another she targeted them with sabotage and overload, reducing the amount of bullets flying at their heads.

As Actus breathed his last, Wrex ran ahead of them to a back room where the safe was likely to be. He grumbled loudly when he failed to unlock it, pacing back and forth as Tali stepped in and took over.

"This is the armour of my ancestors?" He said once Tali had the safe opened. "It's a worthless piece of crap. But thanks. At least I have it back."

"Anytime Wrex. Glad I could help."

"I might just be starting to like you Shepard." He grumbled, leaving the room. "Let's get off this rock."

Taryne returned to her cabin to find a message waiting for her.

Commander Shepard,

I hear I have you to thank for taking down my despicable business associates. I would like to thank you in person. If you could meet me at the following coordinates I will be more than happy to compensate you for your efforts.

Helena Blake

Those two scumbag crime lords had a business partner? Callie was confused. Didn't this woman know she was a Spectre? Probably a trap, she thought absently. Whatever, let's go deal with her now, at least that way there would be one less crime lord in the star system.

Milky Way/Horse Head Nebula/Fortuna System/Planet--Amaranthine

"Commander Shepard. You've done me a great favour by ridding me of my business partners."

"I'm not done yet Ms. Blake. You're a criminal. I intend to take you in." Callie told her.

"Surely you don't think that's necessary. I haven't done anything wrong and I have no interest in dealing in red sand or slavery."

"Your partners have already tarnished your business. There's no way for you to rebuild with that in your history."

"I suppose you're right. Fine, you've made your point Spectre. But I didn't come this far to be arrested. I would certainly resist being taken into custody and I would most certainly kill before being thrown in jail."

"Fine. You're free to go Ms. Blake. Don't make me regret this."

"I have no intention of going back on my word to a Spectre." Helena said. "I wouldn't dream of crossing you."

"Good." Callie said, hoping Helena was telling the truth. She had no desire to kill anyone else today. "Goodbye Ms.Blake. Glad we could come to an agreement on this."

"Goodbye Spectre and thank you."

Chapter Text

Milky Way/Horse Head Nebula/Pax System/Planet--Noveria

Callie made sure there were no messages from Admiral Hackett before ordering Joker to plot a course for Noveria. Intel said Matriarch Benezia had been seen there and as far as anyone knew, was still there. Captain Anderson advised her to proceed with caution. Many of the companies on the planet conducted questionable and often illegal research in their labs. They would not be happy she was there.

"Normandy. Your arrival was not scheduled. We have your shipped flagged as Alliance and our missiles are tracking you. State your business." A curt voice addressed Joker over the comm.

"Citadel business." Joker said. "We have a Council Spectre on board."

"Very well Normandy, you may proceed to the docking bay. Be advised that we will be confirming your information. If confirmation cannot be established, your ship will be impounded." The comm cut off.

"What a fun bunch." Joker muttered, his voice dripping sarcasm. "Think I'll spend my next shore leave here."

Callie smiled as she left the bridge, ordering Liara and Kaidan to meet her in the airlock.

As they approached the entrance to Port Hanshan they were greeted by armed guards.

"Identify yourself." Barked a stern, dark-haired woman with close-cropped hair.

" Barked a stern, dark-haired woman with close-cropped hair

"You first." Callie retorted. God but she was getting tired of political bullshit.

"Maeko Matsuo, ERCS (Elanus Risk Control Security), Head of Security."

"Commander Shepard, Spectre. I'm here looking for an asari Matriarch. She's supposed to have passed through here recently."

"Load of horse-crap ma'am." A blonde ECRS guard muttered.

"Also," Maeko continued, "Weapons are not allowed on Noveria. Sergeant Stirling, secure their weapons."

"I'm not giving you my gun." Callie said, her voice cold.

"Charge and lock!" Matsuo barked. "You have to the count of three to surrender. 1, 2..."

"Captain Matsuo stand down!" Yelled a voice over the intercom. "Their credentials have been confirmed. Also, Spectres are authorized to carry weapons here."

Matsuo hung her head looking ashamed as Shepard, Kaidan and Liara pushed passed her. They entered the building and approached the only desk visible when alarms went off, detecting their weapons.

A polite, attractive young woman disabled the alarm before introducing herself as Gianna Parasini, secretary to the administrator of the facility. She confirmed that an asari Matriarch had passed through a few days ago and that she'd left for Peak 15, one of the private facilities outside the main building.

Gianna informed them they would need a garage pass from Administrator Anoleis if they wanted to reach Peak 15

Gianna informed them they would need a garage pass from Administrator Anoleis if they wanted to reach Peak 15. With the intense winter storm outside, Gianna was doubtful that Anoleis would issue them one.

Following her directions they found the Administrator's office and Taryne explained to the curt salarian what she was doing on Noveria. He was insulting, condescending and flatly refused to give her a garage pass. Taryne knew the weather had nothing to do with it, but it was obvious she would get not help from him.

As they passed Gianna's desk on their way out, she whispered that the Administrator wasn't the only one with access to the garage.

"I'm listening." Callie said, stepping closer.

"Speak with Lorik Qui'in. He's the owner of Synthetic Insights, currently locked out of his office. You'll find him in the bar."

Frustrated but out of other options, they headed to the bar. If this guy could help her get to Peak 15 she wanted to talk to him.

Loik Qui'in turned out to be a turian who said the Administrator was currently conducting an illegal search of his office. Anoleis had learned that Qui'in had evidence Anoleis was stealing from theExecutive Board and Anoleis was bent on finding and destroying it. If Shepard agreed to retrieve the files from his office, he'd give her his garage pass.

Armed ECRS guards were waiting for them when they reached Qui'in's office. Taryne told them to stop their illegal search, but of course they didn't. After eliminated the guards, she found Qui'in's data and headed back to the bar. Gianna was waiting for them as they left Qui'in's office and told Shepard to speak with her before talking to Qui'in.

Unbelievable, Callie thought as they retraced their steps. "I don't know about you two, but all this back door political bullshit is really starting to get on my nerves."

"I have to admit, you do seem to encounter more than your share of people with questionable motives Shepard." Liara commented. "I don't spend much time around people, but this seems disproportionately high – even for you."

"Politics aren't high on my list of favourite topics." Kaidan agreed. "Sometimes it makes me want to shoot politicians on sight."

"You read my mind." Callie told him. "Unfortunately it's not likely to solve anything. Probably best not to shoot them, no matter how much they might piss me off. Okay, rant over. Let's get this done."

They met with Gianna who told them she was Internal Affairs –investigating Anoleis. She wanted Shepard to convince Qui'in to testify before giving him back his files. If she did, Gianna promised her a garage pass.

Good grief, Callie thought as Gianna spoke. Given how often strangers needed her help to do their jobs, it was a wonder anything ever got done without her around to hold their hands.

"It seems we'd be helping a lot more people if we just did as she asked Commander." Kaidan said, bringing her out of her reverie.

"Alright. I'll see what I can do."

"Good." Gianna said. "Meet me in my office when you're done."

Of course it took a bit of convincing before Qui'in agreed to testify, but she got it done and less than an hour later, they were on their way to Peak 15. The storm outside raged, gusting winds and blowing snow obscuring the path ahead and making them all shiver inside the insulated tank. Geth blocked the route they followed, so it was slow going what with snowdrifts and weapons being fired at them.

As they drove, Callie reviewed what they'd learned about Peak 15. The main building had lost contact with the facility several days ago, indicating a possible accident and all communication had been cut off. Benezia had arrived a few days before, along with an assortment of crates and a team of asari commandos.

Noveria/Peak 15 Garage

A few krogan and geth primes were waiting inside the garage when they arrived. Kaidan disabled their weapons with sabotage and overload, while Liara lifted the krogan into the air giving Callie time to blast them with her shotgun before they could regenerate shields. Past the entrance there were more geth and some swift moving bugs rushed them, blowing up on contact with their suits. Nasty, Callie thought, but at least they weren't big. Oh shit. Three larger bugs appeared, spitting toxic green liquid at them as they attacked.

Liara lifted and warped two, while she and Kaidan used Neural Shock and their weapons on them. Damn but they were hard to kill, Callie thought as the last one died. None of them had ever seen bugs like this before. Liara reasoned they must have come from the labs, at least that was how it appeared – the place seemed overrun with the damn things.

"This place is a mess

"This place is a mess." Kaidan said, stepping over one of the giant dead creatures.

"The sooner we get out of here the better." Liara agreed. "I don't like this place Shepard, there are too many secrets here."

"I see we're all enjoying the scenery." Callie remarked. "Focus on the mission. We find Benezia and get her to tell us what Saren was doing here."

"Sure like to know what those bug things are." Kaidan said as they entered the elevator to Peak 15's transit station.

"So would I." Liara said. "I've never encountered such an aggressive species before."

"Whatever they are." Callie said as the doors slid open. "We need to be careful. They're dangerous, and from the state of this place there's a lot more where they came from."

Chapter Text

Noveria/Peak 15 Facility

Access to the research labs of Peak 15 were completely locked down, so they had to restore power to all systems before they could continue.

"It appears you are trying to access this facility. My name is Mira. How may I help you?" Said a female VI hologram.

"Crap. A pop-up." Callie muttered.

"Have you seen an asari pass through here recently?" Callie asked.

"There is an unidentified asari standing behind you." Mira said.

"Goddess." Liara muttered. "How you tolerate literal-minded VI's is beyond me."

Callie rolled her eyes before asking how to reach the lab.

Having learned from Mira they'd need to restore power to the trams and other systems before they could leave, they headed out. The only question Mira refused to answer was the nature of the accident or what the"contaminants" were that she said were loose in the facility.

They killed geth while they were restoring power in the basement, then took out a massive wave of "contaminants" on the roof. With power restored, they took the tram to Peak 15 where they were met by armed guards. Most didn't say much, not wanting to divulge company secrets, but they did say that as far as they knew, Benezia was still in the hot labs.

Benezia was not in the hot labs when they arrived. The only person there was a researcher who said he hadn't seen any asari, which meant the guards were working for Benezia. Dammit. Calli had suspected as much when every survivor had known exactly who she meant and all had assured her Benezia was in the labs.

The researcher told them the contaminants were Rachni, an ancient race of intelligent bugs that had been driven to extinction over a thousand years ago. None of them could believe what the researcher said and told him so.

He hung his head as he explained they'd found an egg on a derelict ship and brought it to the lab where it hatched. Unfortunately they raised the queens' offspring away from her, which caused her "children" to develop wrong – making them hostile and uncontrollable. There was nothing left to do but destroy them using a neutron purge. He was about to give them the security code to activate it when a Rachni came up through the floor and stabbed him in the back.

He was about to give them the security code to activate it when a Rachni came up through the floor and stabbed him in the back

Kaidan lifted the Rachni with his biotics as the Rachni turned its attention to them, while Liara followed with a Warp field. The threat dealt with, they retrieved the security code from the now dead researcher and proceeded to the back room.

"Please be careful Shepard." Liara cautioned her."Read the controls before touching anything."

"It's always a good idea to RTFM ma'am." Kaidan remarked.

"To... what?" Liara sounded confused.

Callie smiled at their banter as Mira appeared before her. Mira said the "contaminants" were too numerous to count and they had 120 seconds to reach a minimum safe distance. This just gets better and better, she muttered to herself.

"Be ready to run!" She told Liara and Kaidan giving Mira the authorization code to begin the purge.

The room they'd entered through that had been empty when they arrived, began filling her mini-map with countless dots of red - each dot representing a rachni. They activated their biotic barriers and as they sprinted back to the elevator, they hit the Rachni with a barrage of Lift, Throw and Neural Shock to clear a path.

As the elevator door slid shut, they all gasped for breath from the exertion. Seconds later an explosion rocked the car as the neutron purge detonated below them.

Callie felt it had taken forever to reach Benezia and was not surprised to find the Matriarch prepared for their arrival. She was cold, angry and taunting as she spoke from a platform above them. She derided Callie for bringing her daughter, saying she should have been more strict with her when she was a child.

"What did you tell them Liara?" Benezia sneered, her voice grating. "What lies have you spread about me?"

"What could I tell them mother?" Liara cried. "That you're insane? How to kill you? What could I say!?"

Benezia didn't reply as she began glowing with blue light, charging her natural biotic power

Benezia didn't reply as she began glowing with blue light, charging her natural biotic power. Geth and asari commandos began pouring into the room then, seemingly under Benezia's control.

As she, Liara and Kaidan fought off the waves of enemies Benezia sent at them, the Matriarch began to weaken. When the last commando died, Benezia fell to her knees, completely spent.

Fighting for control of herself, Benezia spoke to them, her voice losing its' former coldness. She told them she'd forced the Rachni Queen to tell her the location of the Mu Relay - it was the only way to reach the system where Saren would find the Conduit.

"What is the Conduit?" Callie asked.

"I don't know. Saren didn't trust me enough to tell me, I relayed the location to him before you arrived here. I am not myself." Benezia continued. "I fell under Saren's control, but I closed off a part of my mind so that I could help you. But his influence is too strong, I cannot fight him for long."

"What are you talking about?" Callie asked. "Are you saying you could attack us again?"

"Yes." Benezia then explained it wasn't Saren's control she was fighting, it was Sovereign's - Saren's ship. It had some kind of energy field emanating from it that exerted control over anyone near it. Subverting their will as it bent organic minds to it's own purpose. This power had overcome her and made her follow Saren willingly and without question.

"You must hurry. You must stop me. I can't keep him out of my mind much longer. I can feel him scratching at the edges of my thoughts." Benezia said, her voice weakening.

"Mother no! Stay! Fight him! Don't go!" Liara cried.

"He's too strong." Benezia said sadly. "You've always made me proud Liara. Now, die!" She rounded on them and tried once more to kill them, but was too weakened by their earlier battle and crumpled to the ground, her life ebbing away.

"Good night, Little Wing." She said, breathing her last. "We will meet again with the dawn."

Callie and Kaidan looked at Liara in sympathy as she crouched by her mother.

"Liara?" Callie asked.

"I'm all right Shepard. Just... give me a moment."

Callie glanced at Kaidan who returned her look of sadness, when she noticed the Rachni locked in a glass cage behind Benezia's inert form. Curious, she moved closer to get a better look and didn't notice when the asari behind her rose and followed her.

She spoke and Callie jumped in shock, drawing her pistol. But it was only the Rachni, somehow speaking through the near-dead asari.

The Rachni Queen told them that she believed her people had been manipulated during the Rachni wars 1000 years before. That a "sour yellow note" had poisoned the minds of the rachni and subverted their will to its' own purposes.

Her people communicated through song and without the songs of their mother to guide them, the "children"were lost. She pleaded with Callie to show mercy on her people, promising to retreat through the relays and never bother other species again. As she finished, Liara and Kaidan voiced their opinions.

As she finished, Liara and Kaidan voiced their opinions

"Shepard, those tanks are loaded with acid. You can kill her from the controls here." Kaidan said, reluctant to interfere with events that humanity hadn't witnessed for themselves.

"Our ancestors were wrong Shepard." Liara said, still feeling the loss of her mother. "We have an opportunity to give the Rachni a second chance. They don't deserve extinction."

Callie bowed her head, deep in thought. On one hand, the Rachni had caused a lot of death across the galaxy. The salarians had then exploited the aggressive nature of the krogan to help them defeat the rachni. When the krogan expanded their territory after the war,demanding more worlds for themselves, the Council had refused and the Krogan Rebellions had begun. This led the turians to develop the genophage, sterilizing the krogan and reducing their birthrates enough that their entire race was nearly sterile.

And yet... If what the Queen suspected was true, her people were not responsible. If an entity like Sovereign could control a Matriarch, and a plant could control an entire colony, it wasn't hard to believe that the same thing had happened to the Rachni. And what right did anyone have for condemning an entire species to extinction?

She raised her head and met the eyes of the Queen, still waiting on her decision.

"Your companions hear the truth. Will you condemn us to the darkness of time? Or will you grant us salvation and a second chance?" The Queen asked.

"I won't condemn your race." She told the queen. "You'll go free."

"Hope you know what you're doing Commander." Kaidan said as they left Peak 15.

"So do I Lieutenant." Callie said. Having learned all they could from Benezia regarding the Mu Relay, they headed back to the Normandy. All of them eager to be off the frozen planet and away from Peak 15.

Chapter Text

Milky Way/Horse Head Nebula/Pax System--Normandy

"What's next Commander?" Ashley asked as they gathered in the com room. "Head for the Mu Relay?"

"The Mu Relay links to dozens of systems." Callie said. "Without knowing what planet Saren is looking for, we'd just be wasting our time."

"The Commander is right." Liara agreed. "We cannot run off blind, we still need to learn more about Saren."

"Who died and put you in charge?" Ashley demanded. "Did the Commander resign when I wasn't looking?"

"We're all on the same team here Williams." Callie said, annoyed. "She's just trying to help."

"Sorry Commander."

"This is a tough mission." She said, addressing the crew. "We're all on edge. Everyone go get some rest. Dismissed."

As the room cleared, Joker patched her in to the Council.

As the room cleared, Joker patched her in to the Council

"Is this report accurate Commander?" Tevos asked. "You found rachni on Noveria?"

"And then released the queen." Sparatus sneered. "Do you have any idea what you've done? How many generations before they overrun the galaxy?"

"I dunno. Should I guess?" Callie retorted, tired of his attitude. "Three? No, wait.. four."

"This is no laughing matter Commander." Tevos said.

"I understand Councillor, but his queen is different. She understands what happened last time and wishes only to be given a second chance and left alone."

"In any event," Valern interjected. "We've received your report and look forward to your continued success."

Callie disconnected the comm and paused to take stock of everything that had happened.

She'd hoped Benezia could have given her more to go on and had not expected she'd be forced to kill her. She didn't like what Benezia had said about Sovereign either. The visions she'd received from the Prothean beacons matched what Benezia told them. That giant self-aware AI's had wiped out the Protheans 50,000 years ago and were intent on doing so again. How was she supposed to stop that from happening?

She shook her head, she'd worry about it later. Right now she needed to check on Liara, see how she was doing. She didn't know Liara well enough to understand what she might be going though. She'd never had a mother and had a hard time relating to those who did.

Growing up in the streets, poor and alone, she'd often dreamed what it might be like to have a mother who loved and protected her. But those dreams were dead, long before she'd ever considered enlisting with the Alliance at 18. She didn't know what comfort she could offer, but she knew she had to try.

She headed to the cargo bay to speak with Ashley. A small voice told her she was putting off her talk with Liara, but Callie told it to shut up. She might not know much about the loss of a parent, but she did know that everyone needed time alone after going through something like that.

She might not know much about the loss of a parent, but she did know that everyone needed time alone after going through something like that

"Too bad about Benezia." Ashley said, her voice sombre. "I feel really bad for Liara – poor kid. She must be devastated about her mom. You should probably go talk to her."

"I will Ash, I'm just giving her some time."

"Not sure it was the right call saving the Rachni." Ash said, changing the subject. "If it was up to me I would haveleft it to the Council. But it wasn't my call, it was yours."

"I understand Ash. But this queen is different. She promised to stay away from the rest of the galaxy."

"I hope that works out." Ash said. "In any event, I wanted to say that your way of getting things done is impressive. I've never worked with a better crew or Commanding Officer."

"Thanks Ash." Callie said, slightly taken aback. "Can I ask what prompted you to say that? Not that I don't appreciate it..."

Ashley cast her gaze to the floor. "I guess I just wanted to say I was wrong. I shouldn't have mistrusted Garrus and Wrex so quickly, and Tali, well, she's become like a sister to me. They've all turned out to be valuable assets to the team. Without them..."

"I'm surprised to hear you say that." Callie said, pleased. "But also glad."

"I'm not completely unreasonable Commander." Ash said, her tone professional once more. "Anyway, I should get back to my duties. Rifles don't clean themselves. At least not yet anyway."

"Dismissed Chief." Callie said with a nod.

Wrex wasn't as calm about the rachni. "I can't believe you released the queen Shepard. Your people weren't around last time when they tried to destroy the galaxy. When that decision comes back to bite you in the ass, don't come running to me or my people. We saved the galaxy from those things before and got neutered for out thanks."

"It wasn't like that Wrex. Her people were being controlled." Callie explained. "I had the opportunity to give them a second chance. I couldn't commit genocide."

"I suppose if we're talking about genocide, the krogan deserve a second chance too. Like a cure for the genophage."

"There's that Wrex, but I think your people might need to become a more diplomatic before that happens."

Wrex laughed. "Diplomatic? Shepard, you haven't spent much time among krogan have you? If that's what needs to happen, my people will be waiting for a cure for a long time."

"Or you could do it Wrex. You might surprise yourself."

"Ha. Don't make me laugh Shepard."

"See you Wrex."

"Shepard."

"Siding with giant spiders Commander? Are you sure you're prepared to live with the consequences? Letting the queen go is a huge risk." Garrus said as she approached him.

"As I told Wrex, this queen is different Garrus. I'm certain she won't be a problem."

"I hope you're right Commander."

Tali was, as usual, working with Adams. Taryne doubted she'd have much of an opinion about the Rachni anyway. Tali had her own problems with the geth and likely hadn't had much reason to worry about the rachni in her lifetime.

She headed upstairs to check in with Kaidan and Liara, still unsure what she was going to say to Liara when she saw her.

She felt relieved following her talk with Wrex and Garrus. They might not have agreed with her decision, but they didn't condemn her for it either. She knew she'd taken a risk but wasn't prepared to be responsible for the genocide of an entire species.

Maybe the rachni were dangerous, but she hadn't sensed that when she'd spoken with the queen. In fact, she'd found that knowing they communicated through song was intriguing. That her children hadn't developed properly after being taken from their mother was something she could relate to. She knew what that was like, and although she was long past "what ifs" she'd always wondered how different her life might have been had she known a mother's love.

"Poor Liara," Kaidan said

"Poor Liara," Kaidan said. "She must be hurting after losing her mother like that. You should probably go talk to her Commander."

"I will, I'm giving her some time."

"Understandable." Kaidan paused.

"What's on your mind Lieutenant?" She asked, it was clear he had something to say.

"We uh, haven't had a lot of time together since our last chat. A lot was said... when we talked."

"You seemed decisive then Lieutenant. Why so hesitant now?" She held her breath, her heart beating faster as she waited.

"I don't wanna distract you too much. The deeper we get into this mess, the bigger it seems. I'm just looking for an ear, the de-briefing wasn't the place to say how ridiculous this is. Seems like every race in the galaxy is wrapped up in their own problems,they don't wanna see what's coming."

"I hear you. I'd call it human nature, but..."

"Yeah I guess some things carry across species well enough. Do you remember what I told you about Vyrnnus?"

"I do. It was a bad situation to be in." It wasn't what she'd thought he wanted to talk about. Although initially relieved it wasn't about her, Taryne felt her heart deflate as he went on about aliens.

"It was. Before I met Vyrnuss what I knew about aliens was the same as any civilian. Aliens were weird. Superior and tried to tell us what to do. But it was Vyrnnus who made me see how human aliens are. They're not different, they're jerks and saints just like us. And when Vyrnnus came at me with a knife and I killed him in self-defence using biotics, well... you know the rest. My point is that aliens are individuals. Just because one's an ass doesn't mean they all are. So yeah, I hated that turian, but he wasn't a turian to me. He was Vyrnnus."

"Thanks for sharing that Kaidan." Her feelings for him growing as he spoke. "It explains a lot about you, why you're so self-controlled. You agonize over doing the right thing, you never let yourself lose control after Rahna spurned you when Vyrnnus died."

"That's... alright. Maybe you have a point, but it's embarrassing you had to point that out."

"Kaidan. You haven't had the easiest life, but I like the man it's made of you." Dammit, that was not what she'd meant to say. But her heart warmed as her words caused a flush to spread across his face.

"You're right. I might need to loosen up a little. I'll try... " He said, keeping control of his voice. "Shepard, you are hard to step away from. I'm looking forward to shore leave. I, uh... hope you feel the same way."

"Careful, that sounds nice. You'll distract me from saving the galaxy." She teased, a smile curving her lips, cursing her show of weakness even as she enjoyed his flirty tone.

"It'll take care of itself one of these days... or nights." He said, the look he now gave her suggestive in nature.

His unspoken meaning made her skin flush and she stammered out a goodbye before he could notice. "We'll talk later Kaidan. I should probably go see Liara now."

"Of course Commander. I hope she's okay."

Caution be damned, she thought, entering the med bay. Her heart was no longer listening to her. It didn't want to keep Kaidan out and it didn't want to play it safe. It wanted him. No matter how hard she tried not to, she couldn't stop herself from encouraging his interest. I hope you know what you're doing, she whispered to her traitorous heart before opening the door to Liara's room.

Chapter Text

Milky Way/Horse Head Nebula/Pax System--Normandy

"Shepard. Are you coming to check up on me? I'm guessing you're worried about how I'm doing after what happened with Benezia. You needn't have come. I'm fine."

"Come on Liara." Callie said. "You just lost your mother. That can't be easy."

"You're right." She said, her mask falling away. "I hadn't seen Benezia in a very long time but it's hard knowing she's gone. But I would prefer to remember her as she was, before she met Saren. In this way I can honour the memory of her and not what she became in the end."

"Did it help for you to be there at the end?"

"Not at first, no." Liara admitted. "I was very torn Commander. I wanted to help her but I needed to defend us from her attacks... It was... very confusing. But when she fought Saren's control and broke free to help us, I got to see her as she used to be one last time. It made me feel proud to be her daughter."

"I'm glad to hear that Liara, and I'm sorry it ended the way it did."

"Thank you Shepard, but it was not your fault. It was Saren and the ship my mother told us about."

"You mean Sovereign?"

"Yes, that's the name. She told you it was influencing people and that it subverted Benezia to Saren's will."

"If it weren't for the Prothean visions, I'd have a hard time believing a ship could be capable of anything like that." Callie admitted.

"That's understandable. I would have trouble myself if not for the research I've done for the past 50 years regarding the disappearance of the Protheans."

"Well whatever the truth of it is, I hope we'll can stop Saren in time."

"I have faith in you Shepard, as do the rest of the crew. From what I've seen of you so far, if there's a way to stop Saren, you will find it."

"Thank you Liara. I appreciate hearing that. But if you're really okay, I should go. I need to send a report to the Alliance."

"Of course Commander."

Callie returned to her cabin to go over some of the data she and her team had recovered from some of the missions they'd been on for the Alliance. There was a lot to sift through. Much of it centred on some kind of pro-human group called Cerberus. One lead indicated that the ExoGeni group from Noveria was involved or otherwise connected to Cerberus and some very questionable research projects.

She supposed she'd have to check out their bases soon. If this group was conducting illegal experiments, it was her job as a human Spectre to get to the bottom of it. She was about to head back up to the CIC when an urgent call came through from Joker. It was a pre-recorded message from Admiral Kahoku, the officer whose team she'd found dead near a Thresher Maw nest.

"Shepard. This is Admiral Kahoku. I found out who set that trap for my men, the one's killed by the thresher maw. Damn,I hope you get this message. It was a group called Cerberus, an Alliance black-ops organization, top secret, high level security clearance. They vanished a few months ago - dropped right off the grid. Nobody knew where they went or what they were up to. They've gone completely rogue Shepard! They're conducting illegal genetic experiments trying to create some kind of super soldier. I don't have any proof, but I've found the coordinates for one of their research worlds. I'm uploading the with this message. Somebody needs to stop them. I've done my part, now it's up to you. This is probably the last you'll hear from me. Cerberus is after me now. I need to disappear before they find me."

Well that's great. She'd just been about to contact the Admiral and now she couldn't. The data she had on Kahoku's men had indicated Cerberus might be behind the illegal research she'd uncovered, and now Kahoku had confirmed it - even providing coordinates to a base he believed to be their main base. She hoped the Admiral was safe, but she'd heard the fear in his voice - the odds weren't good she'd see him again.

She stretched her arms above her head, releasing the tension in her neck. She knew much of it was due to what they'd been through on Noveria, but the rest? That was Kaidan. What was she playing at? Did she even know? She was so unsure of herself around him that she had begun using his title more often, trying vainly to remind herself that he was her subordinate.

Not that it was helping, she thought dryly. She felt like a moth, attracted to a flame that was going to burn her up if she let him get too close. The thought terrified her, allowing anyone to get close to her was not something she was much good at. Being Commander Shepard, giving orders, leading others, that was her forte. Relationships? Not so much. Yet she knew she couldn't walk away from this. Kaidan was special. He made her feel safe, protected, cared for. Like she was home. Wait... what?

Uncomfortable by what her brain had just coughed up, she pushed all thoughts of Kaidan from her mind. Turning her attention back to the job at hand, she cross-checked the data she had on Cerberus with the coordinates Kahoku had provided and headed for the bridge.

Once she checked out this base, they were heading to the Citadel. They were all in need of a much-deserved break.

----xxx----

Kaidan returned to his work after his conversation with Shepard. He still couldn't believe they'd crossed the line - admitting that whatever might be between them they both wanted more. He was beside himself with worry, yet excited at the prospect of spending time with her. It would do no good to think about what might happen if the Alliance got wind of it before they found Saren.

But his main concern wasn't the Alliance. It was the Reapers that Shepard and everyone else connected to Saren continued to mention. What if what happened to the Protheans happened to them? If a race as numerous and advanced as the Protheans could be erased from history, what hope did humanity or anyone have in preventing the Reaper's return?

Yet even that wasn't enough to keep his thoughts from returning to Shepard. She was the most attractive, compelling woman he'd ever met. His attempts to keep things professional between them had failed miserably. Whenever he opened his mouth around her intending to discuss a mission, his heart betrayed him and he'd compliment her instead.

When she'd said she liked the man his life had made of him, it was all he could do to not blush. No one had ever said anything like that to him before. She made him feel like an equal and that what he had to say was important to her. He wasn't accustomed to having a superior officer seek his opinion on purpose. Except Anderson, but Anderson was different. Anderson knew Kaidan's history and somehow felt responsible for how the Alliance had treated him, and he'd wanted to help make up for it in any way he could.

But Shepard's motives weren't as clear. She didn't know him like Anderson did and although she treated him well and seemed interested, he still wasn't certain what she wanted from him. Her interest awakened feelings he didn't know he had. She made him feel normal, like he had felt before being sent to BAat.

Yet she was continually throwing him off balance. Calling him by his first name, then addressing him by his title. He didn't know what it meant, if anything, but it was starting to make him nervous. Was she being honest about her interest in him? Was she just trying to be nice?

He knew she'd grown up an orphan and lived a rough life on Earth prior to enlisting with the Alliance. What he didn't know was whether or not she'd had any close relationships, or if she had ever let anyone get close to her. After Rahna, he'd had a difficult time himself letting anyone get close to him and for all intents and purposes, still did.

Until Shepard had made the comment about how Rahna had hurt him, he hadn't realized how obvious his aloofness was. It was likely one of the reasons his past relationships had ended and also why he hadn't been saddened by their loss. They'd sensed his hesitation and lack of trust and been hurt by it. Shit. If that were true and Shepard was doing the same thing to him... well... he'd have to do something about how he acted around her, especially if he wanted to be more than just her friend.

Chapter Text

Voyager Cluster/Yangtze System/Planet--Binthu

They set a course for Binthu, the coordinates Admiral Kohoku had given her for what he believed to be the centre of operations for Cerberus.

By the end of the mission, she, Ashley and Garrus had taken out three research bases. Each one served up a different genetic horror than the one prior, and with it Callie's Taryne's determination to find those responsible. She shuddered in revulsion when they found husks loose in the first building they searched. If it hadn't been for the talk she'd had with Kaidan, she wasn't sure she'd have been able to keep her cool. After that followed Thorian Creepers and for the second time that day, Callie was glad she'd left him behind. As much as she liked having him on her squad, she knew he would've been alert to any sign of fear she might exhibit in the face of what they found. She didn't need that right now, she was already too self-conscious about it as it was.

She breathed a sigh of relief when the final building only contained more well-armed Cerberus operatives and a handful of rachni. Rachni were cool with her, mindless animals that Cerberus had tried to control and failed. Killing them and the Cereberus agents were easy.

Garrus got clipped a few times with polonium rounds, but he assured her he was fine. Ashley was in her element, she'd finally had an opportunity to try out her new weapon mods on her assault rifle. She was pumped by the time they reached the final base, but sobered up quickly when they discovered Admiral Kahoku's body. There was no trauma, but Garrus found needle marks in his arm - proof that he'd been executed.

Whoever this Cerberus group was, they weren't above killing anyone who got in their way, even humans. It was disturbing that a self-proclaimed pro-human group was willing to kill to protect their privacy and keep their existence secret. She didn't know who they were or what purpose their experiments served, but she was damn certain she was going to shut them down when she found them.

They left the planet and headed to another system in the Styx Theta cluster having come across an abandoned, drifting freighter, overrun with rachni. The data-logs of the ship led them to another planet where Cerberus had sent a shipment of rachni - it would have been untraceable if they hadn't found the ship first.

After eliminating a remote outpost in the Terminus System overrun with rachni clearly sent from Noveria, Callie was pissed.

After all the bases and planets they'd been to, she'd found no information regarding who was running Cerberus. Someone was giving the orders, someone was covering the group's tracks and erasing evidence, but there were no leads left to chase. Whoever ran Cerberus, they did not want to be found.

Serpent Nebula/Widow System/Citadel

Having found all the Cerberus bases she could, Callie ordered them back to the Citadel. Everyone was exhausted. Traipsing about the galaxy, jumping from one system to the next through different relays - they all needed a break.

Garrus and Wrex took off to check out the markets,apparently getting along well enough they were willing to go together. At the last minute Ashley joined them, muttering about mods and scopes. Callie was more than a little surprised. Given Ash's dislike of aliens, it was not something she'd ever expected to see, even after what Ash had said about them. Maybe it was because she shared the cargo bay with them? Taryne shrugged. It didn't really matter, she was just happy they weren't threatening to shoot each other.

Liara took off on her own. She didn't say much, only that she had someone she needed to speak to on the Presidium. Shepard didn't ask.She knew Liara was still feeling the loss of her mother and thought it best if she let Liara deal with it on her own. If she wanted Shepard's help, she would ask.

Tali wasn't comfortable wandering the Citadel alone given what had happened last time she'd been here, so she joined her and Kaidan as they made their way to the Presidium.

"It's find Tali," Callie said, smiling. "I enjoy your company. Plus it's fun to be able to see the Citadel through someone else's eyes."

"Thanks Shepard." Tali said, blushing. Or at least, she thought Tali might've blushed. She couldn't see Tali through her protective helmet. It was hard to imagine having to live your entire life in a protective bio-suit. But with the quarian's weak immune systems it was the only way they could survive.

"Come on. Tali, Kaidan." She said, linking her arms through theirs. "Let's take a walk, we deserve some down-time."

They took the elevator to the Presidium, the more upscale area of the Citadel, considered reserved for only tor the elite and powerful members of the galaxy. She wanted Tali to see the lake there, it was massive, surrounded by trees, plants and fountains. They stopped to admire the Krogan statue on one side of the lake, a massive structure erected by the Council to commemorate the krogan's role in defeating the rachni.

They then made their way though the Financial District where they stopped to look at the small statue that resembled a scaled down version of a mass relay.

"The Protheans obviously understood the aesthetic value of the mass relays." Tali said, admiring the statue. "Something we quarians have learned to appreciate during our wanderings."

"I dunno Tali." Kaidan said, discretely rubbing his forehead. "Anyone else hear that low hum? Sounds like it's coming from that statue. Makes my teeth tingle."

"Well my teeth aren't tingling, but I feel a bit dizzy when I look at it." Callie said, studying it. "And I find it odd the Protheans erected it all. From my visions and what ruins have been uncovered across the galaxy, they don't really strike me as appreciated anything aesthetic. I'm not even sure they had art."

"But why else would it be here Shepard?" Tali asked.

"I don't know Tali." She replied as they continued their walk. "I'm just not sure I'd call it art. I think the Prothean culture was more practical than aesthetic."

"Well, whatever they were, I still think it's peaceful." Tali said, letting it drop.

They had reached the wards access passage when they overheard a turian C-Sec officer arguing with a hanar. Callie led them closer to see what was going on.

"You're creating a public disturbance. It's against Citadel regulations." They heard the C-Sec officer say.

"What's the problem officer?" Callie asked.

"That hanar refuses to listen to reason? Why can't it act in an orderly and lawful manner?"

"Because it's a big stupid jellyfish?" Calllie suggested, a smirk curving her lips.

"How can I convince my superiors that I deserve a promotion if I can't convince this annoying jelly to leave?"

"Why don't you just arrest it?"

"The hanar become... vocal when made to do something they don't want to do. My superiors would like to avoid that. If the hanar purchased an evangelical permit it could preach in designated areas,but the Presidium is not one of those areas."

"If you like, I could talk to the hanar for you." She offered.

"I've argued with the stubborn jelly all afternoon. You, are certainly welcome to try."

"Do you desire to learn of the Enkindlers?" The hanar asked as Shepard approached. "Or has the honourable C-Sec officer enlisted assistance."

"Who are the Enkindlers?"

"They are known to the hanar as the Enkindlers, your people know them as Protheans. They gave the hanar speech and the galaxy the mass relays. We only wish to spread the word of the Enkindlers. They should not be forgotten."

"I see. But the C-Sec officers is just doing his job, and you're breaking the law."

"This one is too humble to suggest that the C-Sec officer is personally biased. This one only wishes to spread the truth to any who will listen. There is no intent to cause trouble."

"I don't care about your intent." She said. "You're making all hanar look like trouble-making zealots."

"This one believes the truth of the Enkindlers must be known,and I submit that I am not preaching. I am merely spreading the truth and should not be made to purchase an evangelical permit."

Callie sighed. The C-Sec officer was right, talking to a hanar was exhausting. "Do you think the Enkindlers would appreciate the fact that you're spreading their truth by breaking the law?"

"This one sees the truth of your words and does not wish to insult the memory of the Enkindlers. This one departs the Presidium now and shall not return."

"I see the hanar has left." The officer said."Thank you."

"Happy to help."

"Here." He said, handing her a credit-chit. "For your assistance. Now, I need to report to my superiors. Excuse me."

"Shepard. That was..." Tali began.

"It was what?"

"It's so fascinating to watch you work. You always seem to know just what to say to people, even other species."

"Thanks Tali." She said as they continued walking. "But honestly, it's not like I have a special power or anything. I've just spent a lot of my life dealing with a variety of cultures and races.It's just a skill I picked up along the way."

"Don't listen to her Tali." Kaidan said. "The Commander is just being modest."

"I know Kaidan," Tali told him. "I just don't think she realizes how impressive her "skill" really is."

"Hey!" She exclaimed. "I'm right here guys. I can hear you."

"We know Shepard." Tali said. "We just worry that you don't know how special you are. You should feel good about that."

"Well I'm not convinced it's nothing more than practice, but thanks Tali."

Chapter Text

They reached the markets where they caught up with Wrex, Garrus and Ashley who were heading back to the Normandy.

"Shepard." Wrex said upon seeing her. "Got a new shotgun. Can't wait to shoot something. In case you don't know, that means get your ass back to the ship. I've got some killing to do."

"Okay Wrex." She said, giving him a smile. "I'm sure we'll find something for you to shoot at in no time."

"Good. Feel like I'm getting rusty hanging out with all these aliens all the time." He headed off in the direction of Normandy's docking bay. "I'm heading back. C-Sec keeps eye-balling me. I'm not in the mood to break in my new gun shooting them when we've got bigger enemies to fight."

"Probably wise Wrex."

"Ha." He said, lumbering off.

"Shepard!" Garrus exclaimed, running up to them. "You really need to check out the new scope mod I found. Prototype design, supposed to be able to see through smoke bombs.... uh, not that anyone has used those on us yet..."

"Sounds interesting Garrus." She said, "Tell you what. If no one starts throwing smoke bombs, we'll take a special trip when this is over and hit the combat simulator on Arcturus station."

"I don't know what to say Commander." Garrus said, looking like she'd just promised him the moon. "But yeah, that would be great."

"Find anything good?" She asked as Ashley joined them.

"Oh yeah." She said, practically gushing. "Only the best damn assault rifle on the Citadel."

"That's great Ash." She said as Garrus followed behind Wrex. "Any uh, problems while I was gone?"

"You mean Garrus and Wrex? We got along fine Commander. I may not fully trust aliens, but Wrex and Garrus are okay. I'm still gonna keep my eye on them though... if it's all the same to you."

"Okay Ash. Just, don't shoot them without talking to me first. I'd rather not have to explain that to the Council. Or the Alliance."

"Funny Commander. As if I would ever do that." Ashley said, her tone serious.

"I know Ash. I'm just teasing."

Ashley gave her a look. "Well I'm heading back to the Normandy. Uh, Tali, would you like to come with?"

"Uh okay. Sure, I can do that." Tali glanced at Shepard. She had no idea what this was about, but she was too curious to say no. "I'll see you back on the Normandy Shepard."

"Guess it's just you and me Lieutenant." Callie said, the words out of her mouth before she could stop them.

"Uh, yeah. I guess it is." He said, hesitating.

Not trusting herself to speak, Callie headed for the stairs to the lower market when she saw Conrad waiting for her.

"Commander Shepard. They say you've been made the first human Spectre, that's incredible!" He gushed.

"Being a Spectre is a big responsibility. I just wanna make humanity proud." She told him, her tone serious.

"The vids are all talking about Commander Shepard. Fighting for all of us back home. They also say you don't take crap from anybody. You're showing them what humans can do." His tone changed then, "Hey, can I get your picture?"

She hesitated. It was one thing to ask for an autograph, but a picture? Well, he seemed harmless enough, if just a bit enthusiastic. "I don't have a problem with it. But, why?"

"Are you kidding? You're a hero Shepard." He told her. "No one will believe I spoke to the beautiful Commander Shepard if I don't get a picture. Just hold up you gun."

"Alright."

"Great. Thats perfect.Thanks again Commander." He gushed as he took her photo. "I'm going to hang this is my living room. My wife will love it!"

"Seems like you have a fan Commander." Kaidan said as Conrad walked away.

"Yeah." She wasn't so sure. Enthusiasm was one thing, but.. well. She hoped Conrad wasn't obsessed. "Come on Lieutenant. Let's check out the markets and head back to the Normandy."

"Aye, aye ma'am."

"Kaidan." She said in a low voice as they descended the stairs, "What was that?"

"Sorry Shepard. Uh, Commander." He ducked his head, avoiding her eyes. "It's just that so far we've been careful about how we talk to each other. I guess I'm just not comfortable breaking protocol on the Citadel."

"I get that." She hesitated. Should she tell him what she thought being a Spectre implied? "But, uh... I'm not sure Alliance regs apply. I mean, it's not like I've asked anyone but I'm a Spectre now. Technically I work for the Council."

"I hadn't thought of that." He admitted. "But still, I don't think anyone who saw us would know that. They'd see Alliance officers fraternizing and breaking regulations. Even though you're a Spectre, it's probably not a good idea to draw any kind of negative attention to yourself. Someone might make an issue of it."

"I knew you were going to say that." She teased.

"Sorry Shepard... it's just..."

"I'm teasing Kaidan. I appreciate you're looking out for me. I know this is hard, but I promise you after this is all over I'm going to have a chat with Captain Anderson."

"Anderson? What? Why?" He stammered. He wasn't thrilled by the thought that Anderson might become involved in this. They may have worked together for a lot of years, but he didn't strike Kaidan as much of a rule-breaker.

"Why?" She was confused by the question. Didn't he want to be with her? "I don't know about you Lieutenant, but I intend to have dinner with you. In public. On the Presidium, in view of anyone who cares to notice."

"Oh! Sorry Shepard, I just... I didn't know you were serious about this. If that's what you want, far be it from me to question you, or get in your way." Kaidan was shocked, especially since she was still flip flopping over his name. He'd hadn't expected her to clarify her intentions so soon or in public. It was... well, it was nice, if she meant it.

"Get in my way?" She teased as she finalized her purchase and they began the trek back to the docking bay. "I intend that you "be in my way" at every possible opportunity."

"Shepard..."

"Kaidan. I have no wish to jeopardize your career or mine." Callie said, her tone serious. "Fact is, I've never agreed with Alliance regulations regarding personal relationships. I just want to try to make a relationship work. With you. If you want to..." She held her breath, stopping to look at him as he turned his gorgeous amber eyes on her, waiting for him to respond

Kaidan stopped walking. He was stunned by her words. So far they'd kept it to battlefield flirting, but this. This was... exactly what he'd been hoping for. He stepped closer to her, glad for the brief privacy of the vacant stairwell as he looked deep into her hazel eyes, eyes he'd noticed changed from green to brown depending on her mood. He still hadn't figured out what emotion triggered the change in her eye colour, but he looked forward to figuring it out.

"I do want to Shepard. As crazy as this is, I want to know what this is between us." He said, cautiously taking her hand in his and giving it a light squeeze. "It's likely to cost us both our careers, but as far as I'm concerned, having dinner with you is worth the risk."

"Kaidan." As he'd spoken, Callie had felt her heart swell so much she thought it might burst, but with it came an icy shiver of dread. Dammit. "I'm glad to hear that, but..."

"But?" Kaidan said, his voice coming out more hollow than he intended. "What is it Shepard?"

"I don't have a lot of experience with relationships, not good ones anyway." She said, averting her eyes. "I can't promise I won't mess up at some point. I just... I just want you to know that if I say or do anything that feels off to you, it's because I... well, I had a bad experience once."

"Shepard." Kaidan said, his tone soft. "You don't have to explain anything to me. I know what it's like, what with Rahna and all. I thought about what you said about my needing to loosen up a little, and I guess I'm still holding back. I didn't realize I was still allowing what happened all those years ago affect my behaviour."

"Guess we make a good pair then huh?" Callie said, returning her gaze to his.

"I think you're the most remarkable woman I've ever met Shepard." Kaidan said, all teasing gone.

"You keep talking like that and I might not wait for the mission to be over." She said, releasing his hand with a wink before turning to head up the stairs, anxious to break contact with him before his words rendered her speechless.

"Seriously though," she said as they fell into step together. "I wish this wasn't so damn complicated, or that we'd met in a coffee shop or something. Unfortunately, it is complicated and we still have a galaxy to save. Come on, let's get back to the Normandy."

Chapter Text

Exodus Cluster/Asgard System/Planet--Terra Nova Orbit/Asteroid X57

Callie stepped up to the Galaxy Map in the CIC and ordered Joker to take them to planet Virmire. They had just passed through the Charon Relay when Joker intercepted a distress call, coming from somewhere in the Exodus Cluster.

As they entered the system, they saw a large asteroid on a collision course with the planet Terra Nova. It was a human colony within Alliance space. The distress call was coming from the asteroid itself as the voice of a panicked female could be heard over the comm.

Callie ordered Kaidan and Wrex to meet her in the cargo bay as she stepped into the lift. Whatever was going on down there, she had to stop that asteroid before it hit the planet.

The Normandy's VI relayed information as Joker brought the ship close enough to the asteroid to deploy the Mako.

"Status: Sensors reveal three fusion torches propelling Asteroid X57. At its current rate of acceleration, the asteroid will collide with Terra Nova in approximately four hours. Analysis: Torches must be disable to cease the acceleration."

After landing in the Mako, their sensors indicated something nearby so they went to check it out. It was a dead human, a researcher by the look of his clothing, lying outside an atmospheric prefab shelter. After restoring power to the local radio tower,the woman whose voice they recognized from the distress call came over the comm.

"I don't know who you are, but we need your help. You need to shut down the torches or we're all going to die. Please, hurry!"

Kaidan stepped on the gas at Shepard's look. If they didn't shut them down in time a lot of people would die. They reached the first station and were met by several armed batarians and their preferred war beasts, the varren. They fought through them as Wrex charged the varren, mowing them down as he roared his battle cry. Once the batarians were taken care of, Callie found the controls and shutdown the first torch.

Once the batarians were taken care of, Callie found the controls and shutdown the first torch

"This is Commander Shepard, Alliance Navy. Who are you?" She asked as the woman's voice came over the comm again.

"My name is Kate Bowman. There are batarians here. I don't know what they want but the leader seems to really hate humans. We thought they were just here to capture slaves, but then something changed and they started killing everyone and turning on the torches."

"Okay Kate. Just hold on. We're on our way."

"Thank you Commander. Please. Hurry."

They hurried back to the building entrance. Callie had just stepped through the doorway to the building entrance, when a gunshot rang out and a projectile bounced off her kinetic barrier.

"Oh my god! I'm so sorry!" Said the man who had just shot her.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" She snapped, more surprised than angry. "You can't go around firing your weapon at anything that moves!"

"I... I thought you were one of them." He stammered.

"Here's a tip. Two eyes, human. Four eyes, batarian."

"I know. I'm sorry."

"Who are you and what are you doing here?" She demanded, she had torches to shut down dammit.

"Simon. Simon Atwell, Chief Engineer of this rock."

He went on to explain how he'd hidden when the batarians had landed and had lost contact with his survey team and that to reach the second torch they'd have to go in on foot.

"Why on foot?" She had a perfectly good Mako. They didn't have time for walking.

"It's surrounded by blasting caps. We were set up to excavate when we arrived at Terra Nova. I rigged them with proximity detectors when the batarians arrived."

"That's great." She swore. "Should I requisition a cow to walk ahead of me?"

"It's not that bad." Simon said. "You can get there on foot, but your tank will set them off."

"Alright." She nodded to Wrex and Kaidan. "Let's get moving. We've got a planet to save."

"Yes Commander." Garrus said as they followed her back to the Mako.

Kaidan hid his smile when Shepard mentioned the cow. He knew she wasn't serious but, still... the image it conjured was pretty damn funny.

The three of them made their way to each torch. Navigating the proximity mines turned out not to be as bad as Callie had first feared. They also searched the area for Simon's missing team. Unfortunately they were all dead.

After shutting down the last torch they were confronted by a batarian named Charn as they were leaving the building.

"That's far enough. This doesn't have to end in bloodshed." One of three armed batarians said as they approached. "Name's Charn, Balak's second in command.

"It's a little late for that." Callie replied. "I don't make deals with terrorists. A lot of people are going to die if we don't stop it."

"Don't you think I know that?" Charn snapped. "Look, this was just supposed to be a slave grab. But Balak saw an opportunity, and what Balak wants, Balak gets.

"Spoken like a true lackey." Callie sneered.

"I don't have a choice. Balak will skin me alive if I don't deal with you."

"You do have a choice. Balak's finished. Want to join him?"

"No." Charn said after a moment, before handing her a key. "Here, this will get you into the last building where Balak's holed up. Come on boys, let's get off this rock. This is Balak's problem now."

"I better not catch you in Alliance space again." Callie warned him.

"You won't." Charn assured her as he and the rest of his group left the building ahead of them.

She, Kaidan and Wrex entered the final building on high alert, yet the batarians attacked as soon as they entered the room. Over twenty of them rushed their position as they made their way through the building. Stairs and walkways lined the sides of the room while an elevator occupied the centre, making for a lot of running and ducking as they tried to avoid being overwhelmed from all sides. Batarians came from every direction, using overload to render their weapons useless as soon as she and her team got too close.

Wrex roared his battle cry as he plowed through batarians not smart enough to keep their distance, while Kaidan sabotaged assault drones and she lifted batarians helplessly into the air. As the final batarian fell, they all stopped to catch their breath before looking for the hostages.

Three batarians with their pet varren then appeared in the room,looking down at them from the top of a flight of stairs.

"You humans." Sneered the batarian Callie assumed must be Balak. "You're almost more trouble than you're worth."

"I'm just getting started

"I'm just getting started." She retorted, fed up with batarian bullshit.

"Predictable. But this is over. I'm leaving this asteroid. If you try to stop me, I'll detonated these charges and you helper and all her friends will die."

"I can't just let you go Balak. Not after what happened here."

"This is nothing!" Balak shouted. "You humans have done far worse to the batarians. We've been forced into exile. Forced to survive on what we can scrounge up. It's been like that for decades."

"Why take it out on these people?" She demanded. "They didn't do anything to you or the batarians."

"Didn't do anything? Aside from colonizing a world that could have been ours? Taking resources that should have been ours? The Council left us to defend ourselves, but the humans were stronger.The Council knew that, but it didn't matter. It was you and your kind who did this to us."

"How does killing innocent people make up for that?"

"We had no other options. Sometimes you need to get someone's attention before they'll listen."

"Is that what Elysium was? A way to get our attention? Well you got it. And when we responded you ran like cowards. Now you want to start it all over again."

"Enough!" Balak yelled. "You couldn't possibly understand. No, you just don't want to. I'm done wasting my breath. If you want your friends to live, I suggest you step aside."

"You can go. But this isn't over. I'll find you eventually." She warned him. She hated being forced to let him escape, but she couldn't let civilians die. It would go against everything she'd fought for on Elysium during the Blitz.

"Maybe." Balak said, his voice calm. "But I made sure you won't follow me today. Those charges are still on a timer."

"Bastard!" She called to Wrex and Kaidan. "We have to disable those bombs!"

"On it Commander!"

Wrex got to work with exuberance, giving his newly acquired weapon a thorough test drive on the assault drones, laughing in glee as they exploded in a shower of sparks and scrap metal. Kaidan ran to the first bomb, activating his omni-tool and setting it to hack as he went, while Wrex followed behind to provide him cover.

Callie didn't know why Wrex followed Kaidan and not her, but she didn't have time to think about it. She threw up a barrier as she ran up the stairs to the second floor where another bomb was hidden in inside a second-floor room.

Gunfire filled the air as more drones powered up in the area Callie had just left. She finished hacking the bomb she was at and ran full out to the last one. Kaidan and Wrex had their hands full when the drones rounded on her as she crossed the room. Her kinetic barrier glowed blue as the drones targeted her, but Wrex and Kaidan kept them from disabling her shield completely. They tracked her progress and rejoined her just as she disabled the last bomb.

They all breathed a sigh of relief before heading back down the stairs to free the hostages who were locked inside a room near the bomb Kaidan had disabled earlier.

Kate Bowman, the woman who had sent out the distress signal was there. Callie commended her on her bravery and courage. Kate was grateful but grief-stricken, Balak had shot her brother when he'd tried to make her talk.

Callie was happy but subdued as they headed back to the Mako. She was glad they'd been able to save the hostages and Terra Nova but pissed that Balak had escaped.

Wrex and Kaidan said nothing as they waited for Joker to bring the Normandy in close to pick them up. Callie was tired. She wondered what Kaidan thought of her decision to let Balak go, then wondered why she was asking herself that. Sighing, she kept her thoughts to herself as they left the cargo bay and headed for the crew deck to change.

Callie headed to her locker, stowing her gear before heading for the showers. All she wanted now was to get clean and sleep for several hours. Virmire could wait.

Chapter Text

Milky Way/Normandy

Shepard addressed the crew via the intercom when they returned to the ship. She told them they were officially off-duty for the next twelve hours. She needed some shut-eye and wasn't yet prepared to send her report to Hackett regarding the mission on Terra Nova. She told Joker to pick a system with low to zero chance of trouble before heading to her cabin.

Kaidan watched Shepard disappear into her quarters. He wished he could do something to help, but felt he knew her well enough by now to understand that the best thing he could do right now was to let her rest. He suspected she still hadn't made peace with her decision to let Balak go.

He finished up his report regarding the Terra Nova mission, then decided he should take advantage of the down-time to check in with the crew. Shutting down his terminal, he headed downstairs.

"Wrex." Kaidan said, approaching the large, intimidating krogan.

"Lieutenant. What brings you down here?"

"Just wanted to check in with you Wrex. Get your opinion on how you think the mission is going."

"Really? Huh. Well in that case. Not bad - for a human vessel." He said, his voice monotone.

When nothing else was forthcoming, Kaidan tried again. "Not bad?Anything else? Thoughts on how we're doing maybe, or..."

"Well, better food might be nice."

"Food?"

"Yeah, food. Sometimes I think humans don't hear so good... but yeah. Food. Krogan's have big appetites. Or hadn't you noticed?"

"I had actually. I'll, uh.. see what I can do. But what about Saren?"

"Oh him. Well we'll either find him and kill him or we won't and we all die. It's not complicated. Don't see why you'd need me to tell you that though. Aren't you close with the Commander or something?I heard a rumour you and she were..."

"Uh yeah Wrex. Okay I'll uh, look into that food thing for you. Nice talking to you."

"Whatever."

Kaidan walked away. Krogans were weird, but if all Wrex wanted was better food he supposed he could talk to Shepard or the Requisitions officer about it. Shepard was a Spectre after all, she should be able to make it happen, especially if it kept Wrex from going into blood rage because he was hungry.

"Ah Lieutenant." Garrus said, looking up from tinkering with the Mako. "What can I do for you?"

"Garrus." Kaidan smiled. He liked Garrus. A little rough around the edges but nothing at all like Vyrnnus had been. "Just checking in actually. Wanted to get your thoughts on the mission."

"Hmm

"Hmm. Well as missions go, this one has been the most crazy, interesting and confusing one I've ever been on. And that's saying something."

"You can say that again." Kaidan agreed.

"But overall, I'd say it's going well. I think we're getting close to catching Saren and putting a stop to his crazy plans."

"What about the Reapers?"

"The Reapers? I don't know Lieutenant. I'm not sure what to think about that, but if we take Saren down, maybe we can put an end to this once and for all."

"I hope you're right Garrus." Kaidan said. "I don't know what our chances might be against an ancient race of sentient AI's."

"Well with Shepard leading us, I feel good about our chances." Garrus paused. "Speaking of which... if you don't mind my asking and you can tell me to butt out, but... are you and the Commander..?"

Kaidan felt his heart stop. Shit. Garrus knew? Suspected? Crap. "Am I and the Commander... what?"

"Are you together? I don't mean to intrude. I just wanted to know if Shepard had someone she could confide in. It just seems that with everything she has to deal with well... it would be nice to know she has someone like that on this mission."

Kaidan was quiet. He'd had no idea Garrus could be so introspective. He came off as a typical turian - concerned about strategy, getting the job done and above all taking down bad guys. This was unexpected but also nice.

"I had no idea you thought about those thing Garrus, but yes. Shepard and I, well... we've gotten close during this mission. I'm not sure she's accustomed to confiding in anyone yet, but if she ever needs me, I plan to be there."

"Glad to hear that Lieutenant." Garrus said, visibly relieved."I was afraid I might have to step in, or maybe ask Liara. I'm not very good at that sort of thing to tell the truth. I never back down from a challenge but that's one challenge I'm not ready to take on just yet."

Kaidan laughed. "Yeah I guess talking to Shepard can be challenging sometimes. Thanks for the chat Garrus. I want you to know I trust you and think you're a valuable member of the team. I'm glad Shepard brought you on board."

"Thanks Lieutenant. Now, if you don't need me for anything elseI should really get back to fine-tuning the Mako's weaponry. I think I can shave off a few more seconds on reload time."

"Sure Garrus. Talk to you later."

"Oh, Lieutenant? One more thing while you're here. Did you get a chance to talk to Shepard about what was going on with those husks and creepers?"

"I did Garrus, I suggested her fear might be connected to the Prothean visions and she agreed it was a strong possibility. I think she's still working it out though."

"Okay, well good. She didn't seem as frightened of them last time we encountered them, so maybe you're right. I'm glad she had you to talk to about. I'll let you know if it comes back."

"Thanks Garrus, I appreciate it."

"Anytime Lieutenant. You know where to find me if you want to chat."

Kaidan crossed the cargo bay to speak with Ashley. He was glad he'd decided to check in with the crew. So far his conversations had gone well. Only Tali and Ashley were left, then he'd head back upstairs for a bit of shut-eye of his own.

"Something on your mind Lieutenant?" Ash asked, lookeding up from cleaning a sniper rifles.

"I just came down to check in with you. I wanted to ask you what you thought about our mission progress."

"You want MY opinion L.T.?" Ash sounded surprised.

"Ash."

"Fine. Kaidan. I dunno. I guess I think it's just taking too damned long. I mean, this Saren guy wants to help some ancient alien synthetic whatevers destroy all life in the galaxy. Yet here we are, taking a break. I get it.. we've been though a lot and well..." She trailed off. She hadn't meant to sound like she doubted the Commander, but as usual she'd let her emotions get the better of her. She bit her lip to see what Kaidan would say.

"Are you saying we shouldn't be on a break Chief? Keep going until we catch Saren?"

"No. No I didn't mean it like that. I guess I'm just freaked out that we might get there too late to stop him. Saren I mean. But yeah, we need a break. Bad things happen when soldiers get burned out."

"So what's really bothering you?"

"Shit. You weren't supposed to catch that but since you asked, I guess what's really bothering me is the idea that Saren might succeed. That no mater what we do, the Reapers will get here. Shepard is one of the best Commanders I've ever served with, but she's only human. What if we're too late?"

"I hear you. But do you really believe we'll be too late?"

"No. Now that I've talked to you, even after everything I just said I think we will find him. I think with Shepard leading us we'll find him and kill him. I think we'll win this." Ashley said her voice firm.

"Are you sure Ash? You seemed pretty worried a minute ago."

"Positive L.T. Now go bother someone else. We might have down-time for now, but cleaning weapons helps me relax, so shoo."

"Okay Ash. Thank for the talk."

"Hey L.T." Ash said, calling him back. "I uh, hear you and the Commander..."

"Me and the Commander what?"

"You know what L.T. And I think it's great, I think you two compliment each other. That is, if either of you ever let your guard down long enough to do something about it."

"Uh.. thanks Ash... I think."

"No problem L.T. Just wanted you to know I've got your back and that I've never agreed with Alliance regs on fraternization myself. Maybe if it works out for you and Shepard we'll all reap the benefits."

"Have someone in mind Ash? Sounds like this is personal."

"Nope, no one in mind." Ashley said, her voice light. "Just, someone I met a long time ago that might have turned out different if not for the regs."

"Sorry to hear that Ashley."

"Thanks L.T. but it was a long time ago. Anyway, I should get back to it."

"Of course Ash and thanks."

"Yeah, yeah." Ash said, turning her back and waving him off.

He smiled as he headed to the engine room. Ashley might be abrasive and rough around the edges, but she had a good heart she tried very hard to keep hidden.

Tali was his last stop. He hoped she wasn't deep in conversation with Adams again, or absorbed in calculating the drive-core efficiency. He hated to interrupt anything she was so obviously passionate about. But he needn't have worried. She was leaning up against her console, back to her monitor when he got there.

"Kaidan!" Tali sounded alarmed. "What are you doing downhere? Sorry, uh, I mean, Lieutenant."

"Relax Tali." He said holding up his hand. "I just wanted to check in with you. See how you're doing. Maybe get your thoughts on the mission."

"Oh." Tali was shocked. "You want my thoughts on the mission?"

"Something wrong?"

"No. I guess I'm just surprised. I didn't think anyone here would want my opinion. I mean, as a quarian... err, on a human ship."

"You're a valued member of the team Tali. Adams has nothing but good things to say about you, especially in regard to your experience and knowledge of ship engines."

"Oh. Well then." Tali sounded embarrassed. It was hard to tell, her enviro-suit mask was difficult to see through. The only thing really visible was a pair of glowing dots he assumed were her eyes. "I suppose the mission is going well. We haven't had any problems down here in the engine room."

"That's good to know Tali. Is there anything else? Something about the mission or Saren maybe?"

"Well, um..." She hesitated, rubbing her hands together. "Are you sure Shepard's okay with me being on board? I mean, we've been fighting a lot of geth, and well..."

"You mean because you're quarian?"

Tali nodded.

"Tali. Your expertise on the geth has been invaluable to the team and the mission. We wouldn't have come as far as we have without you on board."

"Oh. Well okay. That's good to know. In that case I think the mission is going good. I hope we catch up with Saren soon."

"Me too Tali."

"Well if that's all you needed, I should really get back to work." She said, turning back to her console.

"Of course Tali. Thanks for the talk."

"You too Kaidan. Talk to you later."

Chapter Text

Milky Way/Normandy

Callie woke a few hours later. She couldn't believe how long she'd been out, over seven hours by her omni-tool. Having slept in her uniform, she got herself a glass of water before heading to her console to write up her report to Hackett, but stopped when she saw she had a message from him.

Commander Shepard,

I've just received a mission report from Staff Commander Alenko. Sounds like things got pretty dicey down there. I understand your team saved not just the hostages, but the colony of Terra Nova with a population of over 4 million.

I can't put into words how impressed I am by Commander. You are a credit to the uniform Shepard. I wish there were more soldiers like you with your definition of "just doing your job." Your actions above and beyond the call of duty continue to be noted.

You had to make a tough choice down there, but as far as I'm concerned it was the right call. The Alliance Fleet has been alerted to the batarians' presence in the system. We'll find Balak Commander.

Admiral Steven Hackett

Arcturus Station, 5th Fleet, Alliance Military

That... he.. what? She didn't know what to react to first. Kaidan had already filed his report. Well of course he did, Alliance regulations required a mission report be filed at the end of every mission. That he beat her to it was inevitable since she'd chosen to take a nap first.

Still, she couldn't shake the feeling he'd done it on purpose. Not to show her up, but to somehow save her from the anxiety and failure she felt over her decision to let Balak go. She knew he suspected it had bothered her, that she should've killed him, that she felt she should've killed him and let the hostages die.

She shrugged. It didn't matter now. What's done is done. At least she could write her report without stressing about the choice she'd made or how to word what she felt was a failure on her part. She typed up her report, validating and corroborating everything Kaidan had likely already put in his. She pressed send and headed to the CIC.

Milky Way/SentryOmega/Hoc System/Planet--Virmire

Joker dropped Shepard, Ashley and Kaidan off in the Mako, several kilometres from their destination. Scans of the area had alerted them that defense towers were active - they'd need to shut them down before Joker could land the Normandy.

Following a winding, shallow river path they encountered geth resistance around every bend in the road. The Council had received a transmission from one of their salarian infiltration teams in the Traverse. Unfortunately, the message was little more than static and the Council had asked Shepard to investigate.

They reached a gate that blocked the path of the Mako. It was being guarded by geth of every type: Troopers, Primes and Snipers. They left the Mako and fought through them to the gate controls. Geth Colossus and Geth Armatures blocked their path after they cleared the first gate.

While Kaidan drove, Shepard and Ashley manned the cannon and the machine gun turret. Kaidan got the Mako into an optimal position so when the geth fired at them he could move backward or forward to avoid a direct hit while Shepard sent out bursts from the machine gun and Ashley took down the geth shields with the cannon.

They reached the final gate of three before they found the controls to shut down the turret. Once it was offline they continued on to the salarian camp. Over the comm Joker let them know that for the moment, they were grounded but the salarian Captain could fill them in when they got there.

"Are you in charge here? What's the situation?" Callie asked a lone salarian, as she Ashley and Kaidan walked up the sandy incline.

"I'm Captain Kirrahe, 3rd Infiltration Regiment STG (Salarian Tasks Group)." The salarian said in return.

"Commander Shepard, Spectre, Alliance Navy."

"You and your crew have just landed in the middle of a hot zone

"You and your crew have just landed in the middle of a hot zone. Every AA gun within ten miles has been alerted to your presence."

"Well that's just great. What now?" Callie asked.

"We stay put until the Council sends the reinforcements we requested."

"We are the reinforcements." Kaidan told him.

"What? You're all they sent? I told the Council to send a fleet."

"The message wasn't clear." Callie clarified. "They sent me to investigate."

"That is a repetition of our task. I lost half my men "investigating" this place."

"So what have you found?" Kaidan asked.

"Saren's base of operations. He's set up a research facility here, but it's crawling with geth and very well fortified. He's using the facility to breed an army of krogan."

"How is that possible?" Asked Wrex as he joined them.

"Apparently Saren has discovered a cure for the genophage."

"Well that's just great." Callie muttered.

"The genophage was used as a solution to the krogan problem during the Krogan Rebellions. To reduce their numbers. Without it the krogan will quickly overrun the galaxy and these krogan follow Saren."

"The geth are bad enough." Callie said. "With a krogan army, Saren would be unstoppable."

"Exactly. We must ensure this facility and it's secrets are destroyed." Kirrahe agreed.

"Destroyed? I don't think so." Wrex argued. "My people are dying. If there's a cure for the genophage, it's a cure for my people."

"If that cure leaves this planet. The krogan will become unstoppable. We cannot make the same mistake again. "Kirrahe said. "It would devastate the galaxy."

"My people are not a mistake!" Wrex yelled before storming off down the beach.

"Is he going to be a problem Commander?" Kirrahe asked. "We already have enough angry krogan to deal with."

"He'll be fine. I''ll talk to him."

"I appreciate that Commander. Let me confer with my men. Without the reinforcements we requested, my men and I need to come up with a new plan. Come speak to me when you're ready." Kirrahe said, moving off.

"Wrex seems like he's about to blow a gasket." Ashley said as Kirrahe walked away.

"Wrex seems very upset Commander. You should be careful." Kaidan agreed.

"Don't worry about Wrex. He'll listen to me."

"If you say so Commander." Ashley drawled. "But, if it's all the same to you, I'm still going to keep an eye on him."

----xxx----

"This isn't right Shepard." Wrex said, lowering the shotgun he'd been firing into the air for the past ten minutes. "If there's a cure for the genophage, we can't destroy it."

"I understand you're upset Wrex, but we both know Saren's the enemy here."

"Really? Saren created a cure for my people and you want to destroy it

"Really? Saren created a cure for my people and you want to destroy it. Help me out here Shepard. The lines between friend and foe are getting blurry."

"This isn't a cure Wrex! It's a weapon and if Saren is allowed to use it, you won't be around to reap the benefits. None of us will."

"That's a chance we should be willing to take." Wrex argued, leveling his shotgun at her. "It's the fate of my people you're talking about. I've been loyal to you so far. Hell,you've done more for me than my family ever did. But if I'm going to keep following you, I need to know I'm doing it for the right reasons."

"Wrex, these krogan are not your people.! They're slaves of Saren. Tools. Is that what you want for them?"

"No." Wrex said, lowering his shotgun. "We were tools for the Council once. To thank us for defeating the rachni they neutered us all. I doubt Saren will be as generous." He paused, thoughtful."All right Shepard. You've made your point. I don't like this, but I trust you enough to follow your lead."

"Thanks Wrex." She said. Relieved she'd been able to talk him down, Callie returned to Captain Kirrahe to find out what their next move was.

----xxx----

"We can convert our ship's drive system into a 20 kiloton ordinance. Crude but effective." Kirrahe told her when she returned.

"Nice." Ashley said, smiling in approval. "Drop that bomb from orbit and Saren can kiss his turian ass goodbye."

Kirrahe shook his head. "Unfortunately that won't work. The base is heavily fortified. It has to be detonated from a precise location.Your ship can drop off the bomb and have someone activate it once it's in place. My men will split into teams while your Shadow team goes through the back to disable the AA guns."

"It's a good plan, but your people are going to get slaughtered." Callie said, her brow furrowing.

"It's true. I don't expect many of us will make it out alive."

"You talk like this is a suicide mission."

"We're tougher than we look Commander, but it's true, I don't expect many of us will make it out alive." Kirrahe admitted. "Which makes what I have to ask even harder. I need one of your officers to join me to help coordinate the teams.

"You what?" Callie asked in disbelief. "I'm not accustomed to assigning one of my officer's to someone else's command."

"I understand Commander, but we took heavy losses before your arrival. I don't have enough men left to lead all of my teams."

Callie half-listened as Ashley and Kaidan began trying to one up each other as Kirrahe talked. Both were willing to volunteer to go with the salarian group and both seemed to think they were more qualified than the other.

"Who do you need?" Callie asked Kirrahe as they tuned in to what they were saying.

"Either will do. Both seem willing to make the necessary sacrifice, though I hope that won't be necessary. Excuse me Commander, I need to speak with my men. Come talk to me when you've decided." Kirrahe said as he walked away.

"Ashley you'll go with the salarians." Callie said. While they'd been arguing, Ashley had made a good point. She would need Kaidan to disable the bomb since he was her tech expert outside ofTali, while Ashley was an expert marksman.

She checked with Ash while Kirrahe went to speak with his men who said "we will hold the line" several times as he made his speech, hoping to inspire his men into a mission that they likely wouldn't walk away from.

Although Ash volunteered, she now seemed hesitant.

"Something wrong Ash?" Callie asked.

"No. It's just weird going under someone else's command. I've got used to working with you... all of you."

"Don't worry Chief." Kaidan said. "You'll be fine. We'll see you on the other side."

"I know it's hard Ash. We may not be together, but we're still a team. Remember that and you'll be fine."

"Thanks Commander. I will."

Chapter Text

Kirrahe's teams split up and Shepard, Garrus and Kaidan headed toward the back of Saren's base of operations. Over the comm, Kirrahe told her to look out for any way to sabotage the geth resistance as they made their way to the building.

A handful of geth blocked their way, but they managed to shutdown the geth communications hub, their satellite uplink tower and the geth flyers before reaching the facility's rear entrance. Once inside they encountered armed salarians who Garrus said must be the missing men Kirrahe had mentioned. A few geth primes were present, but were easily put down with Garrus' skill with a sniper rifle and Kaidan's sabotage tech.

In the lower part of the facility, they found what Callie assumed were what was left of Kirrahe's captured squad. Locked inside padded cells with glass viewing doors, they seemed little more than mindless shells. When she tried to get their attention, all they did was moan.

She found one salarian who seemed lucid enough that he responded when Callie questioned him. He said the scientists working for Saren had been conducting experiments. He'd watched as good soldiers were reduced to little more than mindless husks. He wanted her to let him out, but after he told her he could hear whispers that he knew came from the ship, Sovereign, she told him she couldn't risk it.

Kaidan wasn't happy about her decision and said so, and Garrus agreed. But it didn't feel right to her and she wouldn't be swayed. The more she heard about Sovereign, the less she trusted anyone who had come into contact with the alien ship. She needed to know more about what had affected the test subjects before she risked exposing herself or her team to whatever was wrong with them.

They found another lone salarian on the lower level of holding cells. He wasn't as lucid as the last one had been, but he was a lot more anxious. After giving his name as Private Menos Avot, he said he was glad to answer. That it was better than what the scientists had done.

That it was better than what the scientists had done

"Never any questions from these bastards. Just whispers and poking and cutting. I'd have said anything to get out and get some payback."

"What did they do to you soldier?" Callie asked.

"Experiments, but I don't know what for. The effect of incessant whispering on my shortening temper? Who knows? I just need out." Menos said.

"Something isn't right here Commander." Garrus said.

"He's not part of the mission." Callie agreed. "He might get in our way."

"No! No I need to get out. This room is too small and keeps talking and I really wanna get outta here and get some work done. I need to get out. Let me out."

"I'm sorry." Callie said. "I can't take that chance."

"Can't take that chance. No chance. I need to do what it says. I have to. Let me out! Let me out!" He screamed as he launched himself at the door where he crashed his head into the glass, knocking himself out cold.

No one said anything as Menos slid to the floor of his cell, unconscious. None of them knew what to make of it, but it was clear that leaving him there had been the right call given how he'd reacted to Shepard's decision. Finding nothing more of interest in the holding area, they continued on, meeting little resistance as they neared the gun tower.

In the last room that held an elevator that would take them to the AA gun controls, they found an asari scientist cowering under a desk.

"Please don't shoot! My name is Rana Thanoptis. I'm a scientist here."

"Everyone in this place is trying to kill me. Why should I trust you?" Callie asked.

"I can help you." She said, moving to the door behind her and unlocking it.

"What were you doing here?"

"Studying the effects of the signal coming from Saren's ship. It's called indoctrination. The ship, Sovereign – it emits some kind of signal or energy that changes thought patterns. Overtime, days or weeks it weakens your will and you become easier to manipulate until all you want to do is obey. Saren is using it to influence his followers, to control them. It doesn't only affect prisoners – spend too much time near it and you start to feel it too. Direct exposure to the signal turns you into a mindless slave."

"Then why is Saren studying it? Isn't he controlling the signal?"

"Then why is Saren studying it? Isn't he controlling the signal?"

"The signal comes from the ship. It makes us obey Saren but I don't think he controls it. I think he's scared it might be affecting him. Indoctrination is subtle, by the time indoctrination is noticeable it's usually too late."

"You conducted experiments on live test subjects?" Callie couldn't wrap her head around the woman's calm justifications.

"I was just doing my job!" Rana cried. "I didn't know the position would be so... permanent. My first subject was the man I replaced. I was studying the effects of indoctrination. I didn't have a choice. I'm sorry. Can I go now?"

"You conducted brutal experiments on living test subjects." Callie reminded her. "You don't get to live."

"I just did what I was told! I'm sorry!" She cried.

"Sorry doesn't help your victims." Callie said as she shot her.

Kaidan and Garrus said nothing as they stepped past Rana's lifeless body and took the elevator to the AA control console. After shutting it down, they retraced their steps to find the files on Saren's research Rana had said were in there, but there were no files. Instead, they found a Prothean beacon on the lower level, much like the one they'd found on Eden Prime.

Callie approached cautiously. She really did not want to go anywhere near it, but knew it was likely the only thing here that might help her locate the Conduit or tell her what it might be. She braced herself as the beacon took hold of her, lifting her off her feet and repeating the barrage of images she'd received from the beacon on Eden Prime. She fell to the ground, her head spinning as the images cut off, grateful that this time she didn't black out.

Rising to her feet slowly, she took a moment for the room to stop spinning before joining Garrus and Kaidan and heading back the way they had come. She was brought up short when a giant red, holographic image of Sovereign appeared near the door, blocking the way.

She, Garrus and Kaidan retraced their steps back to the door when a red, holographic image of the ship, Sovereign, appeared and blocked their way and spoke to them.

"This is not good." Garrus said.

"You are not Saren." It said in a deep, reverberating tone.

"What is this?" Garrus asked. "Some kind of VI interface?"

"Rudimentary creatures of blood and flesh, you touch my mind, fumbling in ignorance

"Rudimentary creatures of blood and flesh, you touch my mind, fumbling in ignorance. Incapable of understanding." It said in response.

"I don't think this is a VI." Kaidan said.

"There is a realm of existence so far beyond your own you cannot even imagine it. I am beyond your comprehension. I am Sovereign."

"Sovereign isn't just some ship Saren found. It's an actual reaper!" Callie exclaimed.

"Reaper? A label given to us by the Protheans to give voice to their destruction. What they choose to call us is irrelevant. We simply are."

"The Protheans vanished 50,000 years ago. You couldn't have been there. It's impossible." Garrus argued.

"Organic life is nothing but a genetic mutation, an accident. Your lives are measured in years and decades. You wither and die. We are eternal, the pinnacle of evolution and existence. Before us you are nothing. Your extinction is inevitable. We are the end of everything."

"There's an entire galaxy of races united and ready to face you."

"Confidence born of ignorance. The cycle cannot be broken."

"Cycle? What cycle?" Kaidan asked.

"The cycle has repeated itself more times than you can fathom. Organic civilizations rise, evolve, advance. And at the apex of their glory, they are extinguished. The Protheans did not create the Citadel nor forge the Mass Relays. They merely found them, the legacy of my kind."

"Why would you construct them, then leave them for someone else to find?" Callie asked, not understanding.

"Your civilization is based on the technology of the mass relays. Our technology. By using them, you advance along the path we desire. We impose order on the chaos of evolution. You exist because we allow it and you will because we demand it."

"They're harvesting us." Kaidan whispered. "Letting us advance to the level they need, then wiping us out."

"What do you want from us?" Callie asked, her tone angry. "Slaves? Resources?"

"My kind transcends your very understanding. We are each a nation - independent, free of all weakness. You cannot even grasp the nature of our existence."

"Where did you come from? Who built you?" Callie demanded.

"We have no beginning. We have no end. We are infinite. Millions of years after your civilization has been eradicated and forgotten, we will endure."

"Where are the rest of the reapers? Are you the last of your kind?" Callie asked. Please say yes, she whispered silently, so I can end you.

"We are legion." Shit, Callie swore as Sovereign continued its speech. "The time of our return is coming. Our numbers will darken the sky of every world. You cannot escape your doom."

"You're not even alive." Callie argued, trying to quell the fear she felt. "Not really. You're just a machine. And machines can be broken!"

As Sovereign had spoken, the images she'd received from the Prothean beacons began clicking together like pieces of a puzzle. She could now see clearly what the beacons had been trying to convey. It was a warning of the reaper's arrival.

"Whatever your plan is it's going to fail." Callie said angrily. "We'll stop you."

"Your words are as empty as your future. I am the vanguard of your destruction. This exchange is over." Sovereign replied, exploding the windows as it disappeared, severing their connection.

"We need to get that bomb in place." Callie said, ducking to avoid being hit by flying glass.

They made it to the rendezvous point with little trouble and Joker came in with the Normandy to drop off the nuclear device. He took off once it was removed so that the Normandy wouldn't become a target while Kaidan armed the weapon and waited for Ashley to rendezvous with them.

"Bomb is in position." Kaidan radioed to Captain Kirrahe.

"Williams, get out of there and get to the rendezvous point." Callie ordered.

"Negative! It's too hot! We're pinned down by geth! There's too many of them, we'll never make it." Ashley cried.

"It's okay Commander." Kaidan said. "I need time to set up the bomb. Go get Williams and meet me back here."

Chapter Text

Callie agreed to go after Ashley while Kaidan readied the bomb. With Wrex and Garrus joining her, they headed for the AA Tower to get Ashley. Geth and krogan enemies blocked the path.

Callie used her biotic lift to get the three krogan warriors off the ground, preventing them from charging her and her team. Garrus overloaded the geth, sabotaging their weapons before taking them out with a well-placed shot from his sniper rifle. Wrex did what he was good at, roaring his battle cry and charging through the remaining geth. Knocking them down like matchsticks, he whipped out his shot gun and cackled madly as their heads exploded in a mass of sparks and metal debris.

Together, they reached the top of the tower just as a geth drop-ship appeared overhead, hovering over the area where the bomb had been placed. Callie cursed when she saw it. Dammit, they were so close to being done here!

"Watch your back L.T." Ashley said over the comm. "Geth reinforcements are heading to your position."

"They're already here." Kaidan replied.

"Can you hold them off?" Callie asked, activating her comm-link.

"There's too many." Kaidan said, his voice tense. "I don't think we can hold them off till you get here. I'm activating the bomb."

"Alenko, what the hell are you doing?" Callie yelled.

"Just making sure this bomb goes off. No matter what. "

Silence followed. Callie held her breath, her thoughts narrowing to single moment in time.

"It's done Commander." Kaidan said, sounding resigned. "Go get Williams and get the hell out of here!"

"Screw that!" Ash cried. "We can handle ourselves. Go back and get Alenko."

Dammit! Callie swore. How had this mission deteriorated so quickly? How had she lost control of the situation? Everything had been going so well, sabotaging the geth, arguing with Sovereign. Well, okay, that hadn't gone so well, but... shit! How was she going to save them all? She wasn't far from Kaidan's position, she reasoned. Maybe I've still got time. But time was ticking, she had to move, now.

"Alenko. Radio Joker and tell him to meet us at the bomb site."

"I... yes Commander."

"Williams, hang in there. I'm coming to get you too." Callie said.

"I think we both know that's not going to happen Commander."

"Ashley..."

"I don't regret a thing Commander." Ash said, her tone firm. "Go give them hell." A click sounded. Ashley had shut off her comm.

"I'm sorry Ash." She whispered, her heart heavy.

"Come on!" She yelled at Garrus and Wrex. "We have to get back to the bomb site."

"We're right behind you Shepard." Garrus assured her.

The area was swarming with geth primes and snipers when they arrived. She saw Kaidan beside the bomb, lying on his side in the water. The handful of soldiers she'd left with him were dead. She could see blood in the water where Kaidan lay, barely keeping himself upright as he returned fire on the geth.

She could see blood in the water where Kaidan lay, barely keeping himself upright as he returned fire on the geth

She, Wrex and Garrus took up defensive positions before picking their targets. With Garrus Overloading their weapons, she lifted as many as she could so Garrus could take them out with a well-placed sniper shot. Wrex took great pleasure blowing their heads off with blast from his shotgun. It was a tough fight, the geth here were some of the strongest geth models they'd come up against. Callie noted the fuel cannisters in the area and caught Garrus' attention.

Following her line of sight, he nodded his understanding, took out his sniper rifle and blew the remaining geth to hell.

Callie turned her eyes back to Kaidan who was now holding his side where blood continued to seep from. Holstering her weapon, she moved towards him when a massive wave of energy hit the ground, knocking them all off their feet. Saren appeared in the sky, standing atop a mobile platform. Scrambling for cover, Callie readied her pistol as Saren descended and stepped free of the platform a few yards away from her position.

"The geth were utterly convinced the salarians were the real threat." Saren drawled, aiming his comment at her. "Of course it was all for nothing. I can't let you destroy what I've accomplished here. You can't possibly understand what's really at stake."

"Why are you doing this?" She demanded.

"You've seen the visions from the beacon Shepard

"You've seen the visions from the beacon Shepard. You of all people should understand what the reapers are capable of. They cannot be stopped. The Protheans fought and were utterly destroyed. Imagine what might have happened if they'd worked with the reapers."

"I'd rather die than live under the rule of those machines."

"Which is why I never brought this to the Council and why I joined with Sovereign. I was... aware of the dangers. I had hoped this facility would protect me."

"You're afraid Sovereign is influencing you, controlling your thoughts." Callie guessed.

"I've studied the effects of indoctrination. The more control Sovereign exerts, the less capable the subject becomes. That is my saving grace. Sovereign needs me to find the Conduit, my mind is still my own."

"Tell me what the Conduit is. Maybe we can find a way to stop them." Callie said, trying to get through to the stubborn turian.

"The Conduit is the key to your destruction and my salvation. Sovereign needs my help, it's the only reason I have not been indoctrinated."

"I'd rather die fighting than live as a slave! You're doing this to save yourself. You're a coward." Callie cried.

"I'm not doing this for myself!" Saren argued. "Sovereign will succeed. It is inevitable. My way is the only way any of us will survive. I'm working with the reapers, forging alliances, my way will save more lives than you could possibly imagine. But you would undo my work. You would doom our entire civilization to extinction, and for that, you must die." Saren said, bringing up a weapon she didn't recognize and firing it at her.

A wave of blue energy exploded outward from Saren, knocking them all off their feet again. They scrambled for cover as Saren took to the sky on his platform, making himself a moving target. It took all of them firing at once before they got his shields down.

Just as Callie was about to fire a killing shot, he unleashed the blue fire again, knocking them all flat again. He left his platform and storming over to Shepard, got her by the neck and dragged her up until her feet left the ground, intent on strangling her to death.

Callie struggled as Saren sought to squeeze the life out of her, but she was helpless. As her vision swam and lights exploded at the edge of her vision as her oxygen supply dwindled, an alarm began ringing out. Distracted, Saren turned his head to the sound. Callie seized the moment and punched him as hard as she could, desperate for air.

Taken off guard, he lost his grip, dropping her to the ground and running for his platform. On her knees, gasping for breath, she struggled to stand in order to shoot Saren, but instead watched helplessly as he flew to safety aboard his platform, out of range of her pistol. Dammit! She could have had him! Alarms blared from every direction, reminding her of the bomb just as the Normandy appeared in the sky above her.

She rushed to Kaidan's side to help him up, but he was too weak from blood loss and couldn't stand on his own. Bracing herself, she hoisted him to her shoulders and carried him as quickly as she could to the waiting cargo bay doors of the Normandy.

Bracing herself, she hoisted him to her shoulders and carried him as quickly as she could to the waiting cargo bay doors of the Normandy

"Everybody hang on!" Joker cried as he punched the Normandy to FTL drive.

With Garrus' help, she got Kaidan to the med bay, where Dr. Chakwas attended to his wounds. Callie was in shock over what had just happened. Ashley was gone. Before Joker had reached the planet's orbit the bomb had exploded, sending shock waves of energy that rocked the ship. She couldn't believe she hadn't been able to save her.

Well she would have, she amended angrily. If Saren hadn't shown up to stop her. Dr. Chakwas told her Kaidan would be fine, but wouldn't be up and moving for at least an hour, so the debrief was on hold until then. Callie had nodded understanding, not trusting herself to speak. She let the crew know the situation via intercom, and that she'd be in her cabin, not to be disturbed in the interim.

With her back pressed against her cabin door, she hung her head, taking several steadying breaths before taking a seat by her console. Quiet tears ran down her cheeks as she sat immobile in her chair, using the deep breathing technique she'd learned following the events at Elysium.

The galaxy believed she was a hero - brave, valiant, courageous, but what they didn't know was that she'd suffered nightmares and panic attacks that were very nearly classified as PTSD afterward. To cope with the stress, she'd attended weekly counseling sessions, learning meditation and breathing exercises that were designed to help people master their fears. The session went on for several months before she'd been cleared for active duty. Afterward, the Alliance, in recognition of her successful completion of her sessions, had offered her a place in the N7 program. She'd accepted, knowing that the intensive N7 training would show help her know that fear and anxiety would never cripple her again.

But dammit. There were times when she hated her success. Losing an officer under her command was something she had never been able to accept. If she was as great a hero as everyone thought she was, she could save everyone. She knew it wasn't realistic, but the thought persisted.

Often, she would survive the most extreme conditions, while those around her fell. Whether by hostile enemy action or bad luck, they died and she lived. She knew saving everyone was an impossible goal, but if she was the hero everyone believed, why did so many others die?

Ashley had been a damn good soldier, now she was gone. No one would know how brave or courageous her actions had been. No one would ever know the woman behind the uniform.

Callie was so angry she could feel her heart-rate increase as adrenaline coursed through her veins. Fists clenched, she rose to her feet, an uncontrollable urge to hit something overwhelming her. Jaw set, she paced the room instead, willing herself to focus on controlling her breathing. If she gave in to her impulse now, the adrenaline would feed her anxiety and she'd be unable to stop it.

"Commander?" Joker's voice came over the comm, interrupting her thoughts.

"Yes Joker?"

"Dr. Chakwas wanted me to tell you she's released Kaidan from the med bay. Everyone will be in the comm room in thirty minutes."

"Thank you Lieutenant." Callie said, forcing her hands to uncurl.

Had it been an hour already? Shit. She had twenty minutes to get herself under control. Parking her butt on the edge of the bed, she began the centering meditation she'd learned all those years ago. It was the quickest way to help her regain her balance and self-control, so effective that she'd be back to normal long before she met with the crew.

Chapter Text

Milky Way/Sentry Omega/Normandy

Having done what she could to ease her mind over Ashley's death, her thoughts turned to Saren and Sovereign. How was anything the Reaper said possible? What possible purpose could harvesting organic life serve? If iit was telling the truth, then there were hundreds or even thousands more just like it, hiding in dark space. If Saren succeeded in finding the conduit, the Reaper invasion would begin and all organic life in the galaxy would perish.

She shook her head in disbelief. How had tracking down a rogue Spectre turned into a race against time to prevent the annihilation of all organic life in the galaxy? And why was she in charge of it?

If not for the vision she'd received from the Prothean beacon on Eden Prime, and the cipher she'd been given by Shiala, none of this would be her problem. Anderson, she thought, her brow creasing. Anderson had wanted her for this mission. After everything that had happened since boarding the Normandy, she still hadn't had time to ask why.

Her omni-tool chimed. Joker had pinged her - everyone was headed to the comm room.

"I can't believe Ash didn't make it." Kaidan said as the rest of the squad found their seats.

"Ashley was a good soldier. She knew the risks and she gave her life to save us."

"I know she did. But... why me?" He asked, his face troubled. It was clear he hadn't had time to process what had happened.

"You know why Lieutenant. You're the superior officer here. I had to make a choice. It's not your fault. It's not my fault. The only one to blame here is Saren. If he hadn't shown up when he did, we would have had time to save her."

"You're right Commander. It's just... hard. You know?"

"I do Lieutenant. We'll honour her memory and her sacrifice by stopping Saren."

"I'm sorry to interrupt." Liara said. "But I might be able to help. The beacon you found down there might hold a clue. If I join my mind with yours again, I might be able to help you make sense of it."

Callie stood up. She no longer cared what asari joinings could be revealing to Liara. She wanted this mission over. "Do it. We don't have much time."

Once again, violent visions assaulted her mind as Liara joined their consciousness. It was over quickly but Callie still felt it lasted a lifetime. When it was over, she was grateful that this time around, she didn't lose her focus or her balance. Blinking the images away, she waited for Liara to speak.

"The images are so intense." Liara said, sounding winded. "Your mind is very strong. You are very strong-willed Shepard. A lesser mind could not have survived such an onslaught."

"Did you see anything useful? Anything that could help us find Saren?"

"Yes!" Liara exclaimed. "I recognize some of the images from my research. Illos! The conduit is on Ilos. That's why Saren needed the Rachni to find the Mu Relay. It's the only one that leads to that system."

"Finally!" Callie said, pleased. "Everyone, dismissed! I need to report our findings to the Council."

----xxx----

"Commander Shepard

"Commander Shepard." Councillor Tevos said. "I'm pleased to see your mission on Virmire was a success."

"Saren is formidable enough without an army of krogan serving under him." Sparatus agreed.

"The krogan would have served Sovereign, a Reaper. Not Saren."She corrected.

"Yes." Councillor Valern said slowly. "We saw mention of this in your report. Sovereign, a sentient machine. A true artificial intelligence. This news is quite alarming. IF it turns out to betrue."

"Sovereign's real. The Reapers are real. Saren even admitted it." Callie retorted, feeling her anger rise.

"He's playing you Shepard." Sparatus sneered. "Saren still has contacts on the Citadel. He probably saw your earlier reports –the ones talking about your vision and the reapers."

"It's highly possible Saren is using false information to throw you off balance." Valern agreed. "Our own intelligence has never turned up any corroborating information."

"I tried to warn you about Saren." She reminded them through clenched teeth. "You didn't believe me then and look how that turned out."

"I believe you humans have a saying." Sparatus said. "Even a broken clock is right twice a day."

"Here's another saying. Go to hell!" She spat, feeding her anger. Anything was better than the despair she felt at Ashley's loss.

"Maybe we were wrong about you Shepard." Sparatus continued. "Maybe humans are too hot-headed to be Spectres."

"Enough!" Tevos snapped. "Commander Shepard has performed admirably so far. This discussion is only a minor disagreement."

"We seem to have a lot of disagreements." Callie reminded the cool-headed asari. "Sooner or later, you're going to have to take something I say on faith Councillor."

"Try to see this from our perspective Commander." Tevos reasoned, speaking to her as though addressing a child. "Saren is a threat we can recognize. However, as far as we know, the reapers only exist in your visions."

"Our decisions affect trillions of lives." Valern interjected. "We cannot act on the accusations of a single Spectre without solid evidence. But if you truly believe that Sovereign is the real threat, you must take whatever steps are necessary to stop it and Saren."

"Good luck Commander." Tevos said before cutting the transmission. "From all of us."

As the holo of the Council disappeared, Callie remained where she was. Well that went as she'd expected. She was so tired of her talks with the Council. When they weren't questioning her methods and motives for her actions, they were insulting her or ignoring what she told them. What was the point of being a Spectre if the Council never took intel she recovered as accurate?

She shook her head, shrugging off her irritation. The answer to that question was beyond her at the moment. At least she had the Normandy, and the best crew she'd ever worked with. Her Spectre status might not affect how the Council treated her, but at least it gave her access to resources and options she wouldn't normally have otherwise.

She left the comm room, wanting to check in with the crew regarding what had happened on Virmire and to see how they were dealing with Ashley's death.

"Commander." Joker said as she entered the bridge. "I'm sorry about Chief Williams. It must have been a hard choice to have to make."

"It was Joker. But it was Saren's fault."

"I know Commander. I'm not blaming you. I just want you to know that I'm behind you 100% and I want to be there when you take that son-of-a-bitch down and make him pay."

"Thanks Joker."

"Commander." Dr. Chakwas looked up as Callie entered the med bay. "Are you alright? I heard what happened down there. It can't have been easy."

"I'm fine now Doctor. I'm sure you're aware of my medical history?"

"I do. And I'm glad to hear that the meditations you learned back then are just as effective now as they were then. Promise me you'll let me know if that changes."

"I will and thank you Doctor." Callie said as she entered Liara's room.

"Shepard." Liara said, rising to her feet as Callie stepped inside the room. "Are you alright? I know you're usually the one to ask me that, but after what happened on Virmire..."

"I'm okay Liara. Ashley was a soldier, she knew the risks and gave her life to save us. I wish I could have saved her, but Saren stopped me. I'll honour her by taking Saren down."

"You are a very resilient woman Shepard and I'm honoured to be part of your crew."

"Thanks Liara. If you're okay, I need to speak to the rest of the team."

"I'm fine Shepard. Come see me if you want to talk later."

Callie wasn't in the mood to talk to Wrex or Garrus about Ashley, but went to the cargo bay anyway, knowing if they made her angry it would help her process her own feelings.

"Shepard." Wrex said as she approached. "Never a dull moment with you is it? Things got a little heated down there. Glad we didn't have to shoot each other."

For a moment, Callie was lost. She'd forgotten about the confrontation she'd had with Wrex. "So am I Wrex. Saren's base did need to be destroyed."

"After what I saw down there, Saren's lucky I didn't get my hands on him myself." Wrex grumbled. "Sorry about your human friend Ashley. She was a tough. Kinda reminded me of some krogan females I know."

"Thanks Wrex, I appreciate that."

"Shepard."

"Commander." Garrus said, looking up from working on the Mako's guns. "I wanted to tell you how sorry I am that Chief Williams didn't make it. I was really starting to like her. She was an excellent marksman, better than some turians I know. I'm going to honour her memory by ensuring my people know the great sacrifice she made today."

"Thank you Garrus." Callie said, her throat constricting. "That will mean a lot to her family, and to me."

"It's the least I can do Commander." Garrus paused, his mandible clicking. Callie had since learned the gesture meant he was choosing his next words with care. "All that aside though, how are you doing? It was rough mission."

"I'm okay Garrus. I wasn't at first, but I have ways of coping with loss like that. Got some help with managing stress after what happened on Elysium."

"I understand Commander." Garrus said, letting her know what she meant without her needing to spell it out. "I wondered how you seemed to be able to remain so calm in these situations. I'm glad you told me. Makes me want to do better just by following your lead."

"Garrus. You're going to make me blush if you keep talking like that." Callie teased, halfheartedly. "But thank you."

"You're welcome Commander. Anytime."

"Shepard

"Shepard." Tali said, her voice sad.

"Tali? Are you okay?"

"No, not really. Ashley was my friend. I know she didn't trust aliens when we first joined your crew, but she said she liked me. Thought of me as a little sister. I've never had a sister before... it was... nice." Tali's voice broke and Callie was certain the young quarian was crying.

"I'm sorry Tali. I didn't know you two had become so close. Ash was a good solider and a good friend. But she sacrificed herself to save us. You have to remember that."

"I know. I just... I've never lost a friend before." Tali said quietly.

"I understand Tali. I know it's hard now, but it will get easier with time. Just... go easy on yourself."

"Thank you Shepard, that helps. Anyway, I should get back to work... I need to take my mind off things."

"Of course Tali. I'll talk to you later."

"Commander?" Kaidan said, turning to greet her.

"Kaidan. I wanted to see how you were dealing with Ash's death."

"Dealing, ma'am." He said. "Sorry about what I said earlier in the debriefing room. Adrenaline."

"You and me both. I don't like losing people either."

"I've served for years, but never lost a soldier under my command. Not to hostile action anyway. May I ask how you dealt with the loses on Elysium?"

"I vowed to do my best but still I couldn't save everyone. I uh... I also went for counseling afterward." Callie admitted, the words out of her mouth before she could stop them. "But I'll remember Ashley and honour her memory by taking Saren down."

"Counseling huh?" Kaidan looked thoughtful. "I guess honoring her memory is all we can do. Thank you for sharing that with me Commander. And I want you to know, I'm behind you every step of the way. I've got your back."

"Thank you Lieutenant. We'll talk later. We need to get this ship to Ilos." Commander? Callie hoped the stress of the mission had made him address her by her title, and that he wasn't having second thought about her as she headed to the bridge.

Chapter Text

Milky Way/Widow System/Citadel

Callie reached the galaxy map, intent on plotting a course through the Mu Relay to Ilos when Joker's voice came over the comm.

"Commander. Just got word from the Council. They're sending a fleet after Saren. Udina wants us to join them back at the Citadel."

"Plot a course Joker. I want the Normandy at the head of that fleet."

"Aye, aye, Commander."

She, Kaidan and Garrus headed to the Council Chambers as soon as they docked with the Citadel. When they arrived, Ambassador Udina was already there, speaking with the Council.

"Good job Shepard." Udina greeted her. "Thanks to you the Council is taking real action against Saren."

"Udina is correct." Tevos confirmed. "If Saren is foolish enough to attack the Citadel, we'll be ready for him."

"Patrols are stationed at every Mass Relay leading to the Citadel from the Terminus Systems." Sparatus added.

"A blockade won't stop Saren." Callie said, realizing they'd lied to her. "He's on Ilos right now looking for the Conduit. What are you doing about that?"

"Ilos is deep in the Terminus, outside Council space. We cannot send a fleet there without starting a full-scale war." Valern said.

"Now is the time for discretion." Udina cautioned, turning to face her. "Saren's greatest weapon is secrecy – now he's no longer a threat. This is over."

"It's not over!" She argued. "If Saren finds the Conduit we're all screwed. We have to go to Ilos!"

"Ambassador Udina, I get the sense Commander Shepard isn't willing to let this go." Sparatus said.

"Humanity's made great gains because of you Shepard." Udina said. "But now, you're becoming more trouble that you're worth."

"You bastard!" Kaidan cried. "You're selling us out!"

"It's just politics Commander." Udina said, turning his back on her shocked expression. "You've done your job, now let me do mine."

"Nobody stabs me in the back Udina." Callie spat as she left. "Nobody."

Citadel Docking Bay/Normandy Crew Deck

Callie slumped to the floor beside her locker after stowing her weapons, her anger dissolving as the futility of the situation hit her full force. After everything she'd done, everything she'd sacrificed and lost, the Council and Udina had betrayed her. Udina had gone as far to lock down the Normandy's controls, grounding her and her crew. She could do nothing to stop Saren now.

"Are you okay Shepard?" Kaidan asked as he stood over her. "I'm sure you can get an appeal."

"I pushed as hard as I could. They wouldn't listen!"

"So that's it then? We just give up?" Kaidan paused. "I'm sure you can talk to someone."

"I tried. No one wanted to hear what I had to say."

"I'm sure you'll find a way." Kaidan looked thoughtful, noticing the set of her jaw. "Have you got something up your sleeve Shepard? Wait... what am I saying. Of course you do."

"We may have lost the battle, but we haven't lost the war. I'll think of something."

"Of course you will Shepard." Kaidan agreed. "That what I lo... respect, about you."

"Galaxy in the balance and you trip talking to me." She teased.

"I just need practice." Kaidan replied, a smile forming on his lips. "I guess we have some time now to uh, figure things out between us. Here, let me help you up."

Callie took his hand in hers as he reached for her. At at the last moment she gave an extra tug, pulling him off balance, forcing him to catch her by the waist to steady her. His lips were now inches from her own and with a wry smile, she closed her eyes and leaned in to kiss him when Joker's voice blared out over the comm. They jumped apart as though they'd been hit by an electric charge, putting several feet between them as Joker spoke.

"Commander. Sorry to interrupt, but Captain Anderson just sent me a message. He wants you to meet him on the Citadel, in that bar, Flux."

"Understood Joker." She said with a frown, returning Kaidan's frustrated look with one of her own.

----xxx----

Outside the doors of Flux, a young blonde man called to her. He seemed agitated and excited so Callie thought it best not to ignore him.

"Soldier, I've got a major situation and I need help from someone who's got humanity's interests at heart." He said, talking fast.

"It's Commander actually." Callie corrected him. "What do you want?"

"Of course. Right to business. That's why humanity has the best damn fleet in the galaxy. I'm Elias Keeler, I'm an Alliance negotiator and I've got a big session coming up with the salarians. I'm fighting for humanity on this one. Just like you are!"

"Don't try selling me on this

"Don't try selling me on this." Callie interrupted, her patience worn thin. "Just tell me what you want."

"I need you to buy a mental stimulant for me. It's legal, but restricted. I've purchased the monthly limit but I need more from the med bay."

"What kind of stimulant is this?" Callie asked, suspicious.

"Oh I don't know the medical term. It helps me focus and keeps me sharp. Nothing gets by me when I'm on the stimulant."

"Keeler you've got a problem and you need to get treatment."

"It might look like that from the outside, but this is just a one-time slip up. All the top negotiators are on stimulants. It's the way the game is played."

"I don't see other negotiators asking for my help to go over their limit."

"Maybe you're right. I've been trying to keep humanity strong and maybe I've pushed myself too hard. Tell you what, this will be the last time I use the stimulant. After this deal is finished, I'll get help."

"No trade negotiation is worth ruining your life for." Callie reminded him. "Let it go and get help."

"You don't understand! Humanity needs me and I need that stimulant!" Keeler cried. "Without it I... I'll... I don't know anymore. I get so tired when I run out of the stimulant, I just need one more boost."

"That's an addict talking Keeler. What does it take to convince you?"

"You're... you're right." He said, hanging his head. "I'll go talk to my assistant. I shouldn't be working like this. I'll get help... I'm just sorry it came to this."

When no one else appeared to block their way, Callie led Kaidan and Wrex into Flux, searching the room for Anderson. She spotted him at a table near the bar and moved to join him.

"Anderson."

"Shepard. Glad you made it."

"The Normandy's been locked out sir." Callie said.

"I know. I didn't have time to warn you before you docked at the Citadel." Anderson said. "But you and I both know the reapers are the real threat here. You need to get to Ilos."

"There's only one ship that can get me there Captain and she's grounded."

"I know that Commander. That's why I'm going to help you get it back. Udina locked out the Normandy's controls, I'll break into his office and reverse the order."

"That's treason Captain." Kaidan said. "Udina will never let that slide."

"I know Lieutenant, but it's the only way. I don't even want to think what will happen if you can't stop Saren. But Udina has forced my hand, made this personal. Don't worry about me, just make sure you stop Saren from using the Conduit."

"I won't forget this Captain." Callie assured him.

"I know you'll make me proud Commander. Head back to the Normandy, I'll need about twenty minutes to get the locks disengaged. Make sure you're on board when it happens."

"Aye, aye sir."

They left Flux, stopping in the markets for some necessary supplies before heading back to the Normandy.

"Commander!" Conrad Verner shouted as she finalized her purchase. Callie swore. Dammit, I don't have time for this. "I've been waiting for you to get back. I've got an idea and I wanted to run it by you."

"I'm pretty busy Conrad. What's on your mind?"

"With so many human colonies being attacked, I'm not sure that one human Spectre is enough. What if you signed me on as another Spectre?"

"Conrad, I don't think that's a good idea." Was he serious? It was the worst thing she'd ever heard.

"But I'd make a great Spectre! I'd be right there with you, showing the Council what humanity is capable of."

"You know what keeps me going out there?" She said, anxious to go. "Knowing that people at home are keeping humanity strong."

"You!... you're right. I just got so caught up in all of it. I wanted to help. I'll... I'll go home now. Thanks for... setting me straight." He said, his shoulders drooping as he walked away.

"You amaze me Shepard." Kaidan said as they hurried back to the Normandy. "I thought for sure you were going to shove a gun in his face."

"It was tempting." Callie admitted with a smile. "But I thought it might backfire and the last thing we need now is unwanted attention."

"I hear that." Kaidan said.

"Didn't you know Lieutenant? Shepard is the best Commander I've ever known who can think on her feet without losing her cool. She'd put an average turian officer to shame if it were ever turned into a contest." Garrus said, his tone respectful.

"I assume that's a compliment Garrus?" Callie asked as they boarded the Normandy.

"It is Commander. And I'm proud to be part of the crew."

"Thanks Garrus. That means a lot."

Callie joined Joker on the bridge and the two of them held their breath, waiting for the locks to disengage.

"Get us out of here Joker." Callie ordered, the minute the light for the docking controls turned green.

"You got it Commander."

As they cleared the Widow relay and she headed toward the lower decks, Callie overheard Joker talking to himself, sounding disappointed.

"What no pursuit? Dammit. I thought for sure the Council would send the fleet after us. I so wanted to put the Normandy through her paces."

"Don't worry Joker. Maybe we'll get the chance to play hide and seek with Sovereign."

"It doesn't sound like much fun when you say it." Joker retorted, his mood deflating.

Callie checked in with the crew before heading to her cabin. Everyone was excited and thrilled to be part of the crew. She was surprised by their passion and dedication to her and the mission, all of them eager to see Saren taken down. Her heart swelled with gratitude and humility for their trust in her. She'd never served with a more loyal crew than those aboard the Normandy and they were there for her.

It would take several hours for them to reach Ilos, so she retreated to her cabin to review everything they had on the planet, wanting to be prepared for whatever might await them.

Chapter Text

Milky Way/Normandy -- Shepard's Cabin

Callie got to her feet, stretching her arms above her head as she worked the kinks out of her neck and spine. She'd been sitting at her console for several hours now, reviewing everything she had on Ilos. It wasn't much. Over the years, many research groups had planned expeditions to investigate the ancient Prothean planet, but had never made it past the cost of the amount of resources required to get there.

Frustrated, she'd turned her attention to the Reapers. She was reluctant to compile what little she knew to be fact, unable to avoid recording the vision she'd received from the Prothean beacons. The more she wrote down what she knew about the Reapers, the more worried she became.

With every piece of information she collected, the less certain she was that she'd be able to stop them. From what information she had from all her sources that included Sovereign itself, they were for all intents and purposes an unstoppable force of destruction.

They'd existed for millennia, brought into existence so long ago, she had a hard time believing they were real. How was it be possible something so formidable had managed to keep their existence hidden for so long? There must be thousands of ships like Sovereign to be so thorough at removing all evidence of their existence from the galaxy.

The more she thought about Sovereign, the more the icy trickle of fear increased along her spine. She shivered in spite of herself, reminded suddenly of the first time she'd felt that chill since boarding the Normandy. Putting away her datapad, she moved to her bed.

It was after a conversation she'd had with Kaidan, she remembered. She had just made the conscious decision to become involved with him, but had brushed of the tingle, assuming it was fear over consequences she might face for breaking regulations.

Now, she wasn't so sure. If she thought about it too much, it felt more like a forewarning that something really bad was going to happen. But she shook it off. It was probably just nerves, worry that they wouldn't reach Ilos in time to stop Saren.

A knock sounded at her door and she rose to her feet, wondering who it might be.

"Commander." Kaidan said as the door swished closed behind him.

"I'm not sure you should be calling me that." She said, stepping toward him. "In fact, I'm not sure of anything right now. I keep telling myself I'm doing the right thing... I don't believe me yet."

"If I didn't think you weren't doing the right thing, I wouldn't be here Commander." He said, closing the distance between them.

Callie's breath caught in her throat. He was so close, the smell of pine reached her senses, making her think things unbecoming of a commanding officer.

He was so close, the smell of pine reached her senses, making her think things unbecoming of a commanding officer

"Kaidan." She said, her voice sounding breathless to her ears. "You stopped being a subordinate a long time ago. Please don't call me that."

"You're right Shepard. I..." He said, breaking eye contact.

"What is it Kaidan?" Callie asked, not liking how his body tensed. "Is there something wrong?"

"I just... I feel like this is wrong."

"What? What are you talking about?" Callie thought her heart might stop.

"I feel funny calling you Shepard." Kaidan said, meeting her gaze. "I was hoping you might tell me your name? In fact, I was beginning to wonder if you even have one. No one seems to know what it is."

"You want to know my name?" Callie echoed feeling her heart begin it's normal rhythm once more. He wanted to know her name? She didn't know what to say. No one had asked her name in a very, very long time, not since she'd enlisted with the Alliance. Then after everything that had happened on Elysium, she'd been Shepard or Commander Shepard to everyone she met.

She'd become so accustomed to it that she'd stopped caring when no one ever seemed to care what her first name was. Until now. She felt her eyes moisten as she returned Kaidan's gaze with tenderness.

"Commander? Is everything okay?" He asked, his voice trembling. "If I've said something wrong just forget I asked. It's not important. Really. I didn't mean to upset you."

"Kaidan." She said, cradling his cheek in her hand. "No one has cared enough to ask me that in a very long time. It's Callie. Callie Rose Shepard."

"No one?" Kaidan could see the pain that had caused her. "Callie Rose? It's beautiful. Unique. But it would be... for someone as special as you." He said, covering her hand with his.

"And you're right. About everything. I think about losing you and I can't stand it. The galaxy will keep going, but you and me. We, are what's important right now."

"Stay here tonight Kaidan. With me." She said, her voice husky.

"Are you sure Callie?" Her name rolling from his tongue like honey. "I don't want you to have any regrets."

"Kaidan, meeting you and having you on my crew is the best thing that has ever happened to me." She said, taking both his hands in hers. "You make me feel like I could take on the whole galaxy. And right now, I kind of have to."

"Callie, you... you make me feel... human." He whispered, pulling her close.

"Kiss me Kaidan." She breathed as he gathered her into his arms.

His touch was electrifying as his lips met hers with a hunger she returned with passion. It was like nothing she'd ever felt before as her heart pounded, fluttering in her chest like a trapped bird. She kissed him deeper and time slowed and narrowed, focusing all her senses on this single moment in time.

Heat rose within him as Callie's lips met his. She was intoxicating. He couldn't get enough as he pulled her closer, crushing her to his chest, feeling her body melt into his as the passion they shared overwhelmed them both.

They fell to the bed, their senses overloaded with pleasure as their bodies entwined. They couldn't get enough of each other, the passion and intensity of their feelings overwhelming them both. The intensity of their feelings overwhelmed their biotics, making the energy between them sparkle with blue lightning.

The passion they ignited in each other intensified, flooding the room with light as they removed their clothes, desperate for each other's touch. Their skin danced and sparked with blue fire, pulsing with energy as they came together in a wave of passion and need.

Spent, all their energy left them in a rush as they laid beside each other gasping for breath, the sheets tangled between them. With their limbs entwined, Callie pulled Kaidan's arm over her as she turned to her side, forcing him to press himself into her back as they both fell into blissful slumber.

Kaidan woke with a start several hours later to find the bed empty. Startled, he rose to his elbows to find Callie already dressed and watching him from across the room, her gaze intense

"Callie... I've never met a woman who..." He began as Joker's voice came over the comm.

"Commander? We're nearing our approach to Ilos. Thought you might want to join us on the bridge."

"Understood Joker. I'm on my way." Callie said, cutting the comm link. She didn't want Joker overhearing her now.

"You're a sweetheart Kaidan." She said. Her emotions were a mess. She felt something intense and overwhelming for this gorgeous, amazing and wonderful man - and it made her afraid.

"Callie. Shepard, that was amazing. Unlike anything I've experienced before."

Callie felt an ache in her chest as he spoke. She didn't trust herself to speak. This pain, this yearning, this swelling in her heart. She didn't know what to call it or what it was. It unsettled her, made her feel out of control and it scared her. But she couldn't afford to be out of control now, so she kept silent.

With a tender look, she moved to his side and placed a gentle kiss on his lips. "Thank you for staying Kaidan. It means a lot to me." She said softly. "Come on. We've got a galaxy to save."

Kaidan watched her go. He'd sensed her hesitation while he'd spoken but didn't understand what it meant. He remembered what she'd said earlier about being hurt by a past relationship, but he didn't feel like that was what was wrong here.

Sighing, he rose from the bed and gathered up his discarded clothes that were scattered around the room. What he'd just experienced with Shepard, Callie, he corrected himself with a smile. What he'd just experienced with Callie had been beyond anything he could have imagined.

His feelings for her had grown in such a short span of time that it almost scared him with it's intensity. Almost, he corrected himself. This was so much more important and special than what he'd experienced with Rahna. He now looked at his younger self and what had happened with Rahna and knew it had been nothing more than a crush. This... this was so much more than that.

He wanted to spend the rest of his life with Callie if he could. All he had to do was see this mission through to the end and then they could work it out. He hoped she felt the same, the thought that she might not scared him more than the strength of his own feelings did.

Dressed, he shook off his worry and left her cabin. After what he and Callie had just shared, he was certain she felt the same. He was just messing with himself, looking for problems where none existed. It was past time he changed that habit, he thought with a grimace. Callie was more than worth the effort. Heading to the bridge, he was determined to do whatever he had to do to solidify a relationship with her. No matter what happened, he would do anything she asked of him. He would not lose his chance to be with her for the rest of his life.

Chapter Text

Milky Way/Pangaea Expanse/Refuge/Planet -- Ilos

After Joker pulled off a miracle drop in the Mako that didn't kill them, Shepard, Kaidan and Tali got out and stared at the bulkhead door Saren had locked behind him.

"There has to be a way to get past that door." Tali said. "We don't have the time or ordnance to blow them open."

"Saren did. There must be a console nearby we can use." Kaidan said.

"Let's look around then." Callie agreed. "Quickly."

Of course it wasn't that simple. Geth Colossus, geth snipers and geth hunters blocked their way as they searched the area they were trapped in, making Callie grateful she'd brought her tech experts for the mission.

While Tali hacked the geth, Kaidan overloaded the geth weapons. Leaving the tech to her squad, Callie focused on her biotics, using lift and throw to keep them from organizing and firing on her and her team.

With the first wave dealt with, they found a path that led below where Tali discovered a console that opened an access door leading to an elevator.

"Feels like I'm walking on a grave." Kaidan said as the elevator doors closed.

"We don't belong here." Tali agreed. "Not us. Not the geth. And not Saren."

The elevator doors opened onto a hallway that spilled out into a large open room, filled with hostile geth. Callie noted there were four consoles there and she lifted the nearest geth as she ran to the first one. Working quickly she hacked it, bringing a geth armature online that immediately began firing on the geth. Kaidan took the right side of the room, hacking the consoles there, while Tali continued to hack the hostile geth, forcing them to fire on each other.

With the room cleared and the armatures self-destructing, they came upon a building with stairs leading to a second level. Callie found a damaged and badly degraded Prothean VI console that activated as she released the controls to the door that was blocking them from following Saren.

A recording sounded, badly degraded and hard to make sense of.

"It's another VI program." Tali said as the console lit up, emitting a confusing orange light. "Very badly degraded."

"It's a warning." Callie said.

"Amazing." Tali said in awe. "The beacon on Eden Prime must have given you the ability to understand it."

"What's it saying?" Kaidan asked. "Does it give us anything useful?"

"It said something about the conduit, but it's too broken up to make any sense."

"We should keep moving then." Tali said.

Leaving the room, they discovered another elevator that took them back to where the Mako was waiting for them, parked in front of the now open blast doors.

"Who votes we take the Mako into the creepy underground bunker?" Kaidan asked.

"Good idea Lieutenant. It will be helpful if Saren has left any kind of resistance behind." Tali agreed.

As they proceeded in the Mako, they passed through long stretches of tunnel, the walls filled with what Tali guessed were cyrogenic chambers

As they proceeded in the Mako, they passed through long stretches of tunnel, the walls filled with what Tali guessed were cyrogenic chambers. None of them showed signs of power, indicating that all the Protheans inside were long dead. They encountered some geth resistance along the way, but not in the same numbers they'd seen before and passed through them relatively unscathed.

They were forced to stop when an orange energy barrier blocked the path. Leaving the Mako, Callie discovered another elevator and having no choice, they descended hoping to find a way past the barrier.

"What do you think we'll find down here?" Tali asked.

"I don't know Tali. With Saren and the geth we've got enough problems. Whatever it is, I hope it's friendly." Kaidan said.

Another damaged Prothean VI activated as they neared the console at the end of the short path. It had monitored their progress through the complex, enabling them all to understand it when it spoke to them.

"You are not Prothean. But you are not machine either. This eventuality was one of many that was anticipated. It was why we sent our warning through the beacons. I do not sense the taint of indoctrination upon any of you. Unlike the other that passed through. Perhaps there is still hope. I am Vigil. You are safe here for the moment."

"Why did you bring us here?" Callie demanded.

"You must break a cycle that has continued for millions of years. But to stop it you must understand or you will make the same mistakes we did. The Citadel is the heart of your civilization and the seat of government, as it was with us. But it is also a trap. The station is an enormous mass relay, one that links to dark space, the empty void beyond the galaxy's horizon. When activated, the Reapers will pour through and all you know will be destroyed."

"Why has no one ever noticed the Citadel is an inactive mass relay?" Callie asked.

"The Reapers are careful to keep the secret of the Citadel hidden. It's why they created a race of seemingly benign organic caretakers, the Keepers. They maintain the station's most basic function, enabling new species to use the Citadel without fully understanding the technology. It ensure no one understands the Citadel's true nature until the relay is activated and the Reapers pour through, but by then it would be too late to do anything about it."

"The Reapers could wipe out the Council and the entire Citadel fleet in a single surprise attack!" Callie said, the reality of the situation she was in becoming clear.

"That was our fate." Vigil said. "Our leaders were dead long before we even knew we were under attack. The Reapers seized control of the Citadel and through it, the mass relays. Over the decades, the Reapers systematically obliterated our people. World by world, system by system, they methodically wiped us out. Some worlds were destroyed, others were conquered, their populations enslaved. These indoctrinated servants became sleeper agents for the Reapers. Taken in as refugees by other Protheans, they betrayed them to the machines."

"What do the Reapers get out of this?" Callie demanded, the grim reality Vigil was painting was beginning to make her nervous. "Why do they keep repeating this pattern of genocide, over and over?"

"The Reapers are alien, unknowable. Perhaps they need slaves or resources. More likely, they are driven by motives and goals organic beings cannot hope to comprehend. In the end, what does it matter? Your survival depends on stopping them, not understanding them."

"Fine. Then tell me what I need to do."

"The Conduit is the key. Before the Reapers attacked, we were on the cusp of unlocking the mysteries behind mass effect technology. Ilos was a top secret facility. Here, researchers worked on creating a small-scale version of a mass relay. One that linked directly to the Citadel."

"The Conduit isn't a weapon!" Tali exclaimed. "It's a back door onto the Citadel."

"How did you manage to stay hidden?" Callie asked.

"All official records of our project was destroyed following the attack on the Citadel. While the Prothean empire came crashing down, Ilos was spared. We severed all outside communication and our facility went dark. The personnel retreated underground into these archives. To conserve power, everyone was put into cryogenic stasis. I was programmed to monitor the facility and wake the staff when the danger had passed. But the genocide of an entire species is a long slow process. Centuries passed and the Reapers persisted. My energy reserves dwindled. I was forced to disable life support on many non-essential personnel. By the time the Reapers retreated into dark space, only a handful of survivors remained."

"There were hundreds of stasis pods out there! You just shut them down? You killed them?" Kaidan exclaimed in shock.

"You were programmed to protect them! Not kill them!" Callie agreed.

"This outcome was not unforeseen. My actions were the result of contingency programming entered upon my creation. I saved key personnel. When the Reapers retreated, top researchers were still alive. My actions are the only reason any hope remains. When the scientists woke, they vowed to find a way to stop the Reapers and they knew the keepers were the key."

"Then why is Saren trying to find the Conduit?" Callie asked.

"The Conduit gives him access to the Citadel and the keepers. The keepers are controlled by the Citadel. Before each invasion a signal is sent out compelling the Keepers to activate the Citadel relay. But our scientists found a way to keep that from happening. They used the Conduit to alter the signal. When Sovereign sent the signal to the Citadel, the Keepers ignored it and the Reapers were trapped in dark space."

"Then Saren must have some way to undo what you did."

"Correct. He will use the Conduit to bypass the Citadel's defenses. Once inside, he will override the Citadel's systems and transfer control of the Citadel to Sovereign. Sovereign will manually open the relay and the cycle of extinction will begin."

"So how do I stop them?"

"There's a data file in my console. When you reach the Citadel's master control unit, upload it to the station. It will corrupt the Citadel's security protocols and give you temporary control over the station. It might give you a chance against Sovereign."

"Master control unit? Where the hell would that be?" Kaidan asked. "I've never heard of it."

"Through the Conduit." Vigil replied. "Follow Saren, he will lead you to your destination."

"Sovereign's the largest ship in the galaxy. Why all the secrecy? Why not just attack the Citadel?"

"Sovereign is not invincible. Revealing its true nature would have united the forces of every organic species against it. Even a Reaper couldn't survive such odds. But the Reapers are patient. They will not rush into the unknown. Sovereign could have been planning this for centuries, moving deliberately, gathering allies. Slowly it has advanced it's plans in secret, working through agents to stay hidden. Saren is the most visible pawn of the Reapers, but I doubt he was the first."

"What about the beacons? What were they for?"

"At our apex, the beacons spanned the galaxy. We used them as a single network, to transmit data and communications rapidly between worlds. Virtually all beacons were destroyed during the invasion, but once the Reapers were gone, the survivors here on Ilos decided to risk sending out a message. We knew it was unlikely there were survivors, but if there were, we wanted to give them hope."

"You could have exposed yourself to the Reapers!" Callie exclaimed.

"In truth, we didn't expect any of the beacons would still function, but we had to try. If there were survivors, we had to reach them. The message was meant for our own people and was coded so that only organic beings could interpret it. We still didn't understand the power of Reaper indoctrination. We never realized it could lead an agent of the machines, like Saren, to this world. But it has also led you here, so perhaps we did not fail after all."

"So when the Reapers created the Citadel they created the Keepers as well?" Callie asked, wanting to understand more of what the Reapers were capable of.

"A more likely scenario is that the keepers were one of the early harvested civilizations. Perhaps the first organic species to be indoctrinated. But the keepers are no longer directly controlled by Sovereign or the Reapers. They evolved and now only respond to signals emitted from the Citadel itself. They are now harmless."

"That explains the geth. Sovereign must have realized organics were difficult to control." Callie said.

"A likely hypothesis. The Keepers evolved in an unanticipated direction. The geth would be more predictable."

"I've heard enough." Callie told the VI before addressing Kaidan. "Saren's got enough of a head start. Grab that data file and let's go!"

"The one you call Saren has not reached the Conduit. There is still hope, if you hurry." Vigil said.

"Even as formidable as the Protheans were, they still failed to stop the Reapers." Tali said, sounding discouraged as they climbed inside the Mako.

"They didn't fail completely." Kaidan corrected. "They gave us a fighting chance. We just need to reach the Conduit."

Chapter Text

Milky Way/Widow System/Citadel Presidium

Passing through a mass relay while passengers in a Mako was not something any of them ever wanted to experience again. Crashing hard onto the platform surrounding the Presidium lake on the Citadel, they skidded to a stop when the Mako rammed into the the tower wall.

Escaping with only minor scrapes and bruises between them, they pushed on,taking the elevator to the top of the Citadel Tower. They only made it half-way before Saren locked it down. Donning helmets and activating their mag-boots, Callie shot out the glass of the elevator and they headed up the tower.

Geth and krogan followers blocked their path, but Tali made short work of the geth with her tech skills, while Callie and Kaidan made sure the krogan stayed off their feet by using their biotics. After taking out a second team of geth, they activated the tower's defense system which made short work of a geth dropship that had been sent to block their progress.

 

Citadel/Presidium/Council Chambers

Following a second path into the interior of the tower, Callie found an access hatch. They followed it to the end where it brought them to the Council chambers. There were more geth, but having dealt with so many already, Callie and her team made short work of them.

Spotting Saren at a console near the top of the platform, they ran to him, guns drawn. With a smirk, he stepped off the platform seeming to fall into the garden below, but moments later reappeared, tossing a grenade at them.

"I was wondering when you'd get here Shepard." Saren sneered from the floating platform they'd seen before.

"It's hard work killing geth." Callie retorted. "But here I am."

"Admirable. But you're late. You've lost, you know that don't you? Sovereign is already accessing the tower controls. Soon the Reapers will be here and your struggle will have been for nothing."

"I still have a few tricks up my sleeve." Callie argued.

"You survived our encounter on Virmire, but I've changed since then, improved. Sovereign has upgraded me."

"You let Sovereign implant you?" She was shocked. "Are you insane?"

"I suppose I should thank you Shepard. After Virmire I couldn't stop thinking about what you said. About Sovereign manipulating me, about indoctrination. The doubts began to eat away at me, Sovereign sensed my hesitation. I was implanted to strengthen my resolve. Now my doubts are gone and I believe in Sovereign completely. I understand the Reapers need organics. Join me and Sovereign will find a place for you."

"Sovereign's controlling you through your implants! Don't you see that?" Callie retorted.

"The relationship is symbiotic. The strengths of both, the weaknesses of neither. I am a vision of the future Shepard. The evolution of all organic life. This is our destiny. Join Sovereign and experience a true rebirth!"

"Sovereign hasn't won yet. I can stop it from taking control of the station! Step aside and the invasion will never happen!" Callie said.

"We can't stop it! Not forever! You saw the visions, what happened to the Protheans. The Reapers are too powerful."

"Some part of you must still realize this is wrong! You can fight this!"

"Maybe you're right." Saren said, conflicted. "Maybe there's still a chance for... unh. The implants... Sovereign is too strong. I'm sorry, it's too late for me."

"It's not over yet!" Callie cried. "You can still redeem yourself!"

"Goodbye Shepard." Saren said before shooting himself in the temple. "Thank you."

She and her team watched in mute shock as Saren's lifeless body fell from the platform to the garden below.

Callie rushed to the console as Saren fell, opening the Citadel arms and reestablishing a comm link with the ships outside.

"This is the Destiny Ascension!" A female voice cried. "Mayday! Mayday! We are under attack! We need assistance! The Council is on board! I repeat, the Council is on board!"

"Shepard this is Joker. We heard that distress call. I'm here with the rest of the Alliance fleet in the Andura sector. We can save the Ascension or we can hold back and take out Sovereign."

"Are you sure about this Shepard?" Tali asked. "Human casualties will be very high if you send your fleet in now."

"This is bigger than humanity!" Kaidan argued. "Sovereign is a threat to every organic species in the galaxy!"

"True." Tali agreed. "That's why you can't waste reinforcements on saving the Council. Hold them back until the Citadel arms open, then go after Sovereign.

"What do you want us to do Commander?" Joker asked again."Hold back for Sovereign or save the Ascension?"

Callie worked through the options. It was very tempting to hold back the fleet given how vehemently the Council had ignored her warnings. Yet... if they were to unite the galaxy against the coming Reaper threat (she had no doubt this was merely a delay), they would need a stable government in place. Unification of all the races of the galaxy would be so much harder to obtain if the heart of galactic government was in shambles.

"Opening the Citadel arms now Joker." She said, heaving a sigh. "We need to save the Ascension, no matter what the cost."

"I hope the Council appreciates this." Tali said.

"So do I Tali." Callie agreed.

"All fleets move in! Save the Destiny Ascension!" Admiral Hackett said over the comm, reiterating Shepard's command.

It was a sight to behold. What little she, Kaidan and Tali could see through the tower window was breathtaking. Ships of all sizes –turian, asari, human - all of them converged on the Ascension, taking out the geth ships with ease, yet losing several ships in the process. The sight of so many weapons firing at once resembled a strange pantomime of fireworks.

"Destiny Ascension, you are all clear." They heard Joker say. "Repeat, you are all clear."

"All fleets, converge on Sovereign. Take that monster down!" Hackett ordered.

As the geth ships disintegrated, they could see the Normandy lead the charge against Sovereign who was atop the tower, still trying toopen the way for the reapers still trapped in dark space. Callie turned her attention back to Saren's body lying below them.

"Make sure he's dead." She said to Tali and Kaidan as she kept her eyes on his body.

Tali fired a single shot into Saren's skull as she and Kaidan reached his inert form.

"He's dead." Kaidan confirmed.

Without warning, bright red light surged through the tower, vibrating the structure and throwing Callie to the garden below. They watched in horror as the light sparked and danced over Saren's body. It began glowing red, convulsing in a pantomime of life as the light burned away all remnants of organic tissue, exposing a silver, fully evolved sentient robot in Saren's likeness.

It began glowing red, convulsing in a pantomime of life as the light burned away all remnants of organic tissue, exposing a silver, fully evolved sentient robot in Saren's likeness

"I am Sovereign. This station is mine. I am the vanguard of your destruction and the end of your existence." It said before attacking them.

As they took down the shields protecting Saren's mechanical body, Sovereign, the ship outside, began to lose power. After destroying the shields a third time, Saren fell, what little of him remained, burned away, leaving nothing but ash behind. As the shell of Saren died, Sovereign began taking massive damage, coming apart in pieces under the relentless barrage of firepower from the fleet above them. With a final concentrated effort, Sovereign came apart, pieces scattering into the space surrounding the Citadel tower.

Callie watched in horror as one of the pieces from Sovereign broke off, heading straight for the window above her and her team.

"Move!" She cried as glass shattered and a huge shadow darkened the ground at her feet.

She watched Tali and Kaidan scramble up the broken platform she'd fallen from, knowing they'd make it. But she was too far away to follow so she looked around for something to hide under that might save her from being crushed by the massive piece of debris that was headed straight for her.

Chapter Text

Milky Way/Widow System/Citadel/Presidium -- Council Chambers

Kaidan and Tali lost sight of Shepard as they scrambled up the broken ramp that had collapsed under her when Sovereign had taken control of Saren's body. Bits of debris pelted their backs, one of them catching Kaidan a glancing blow to the back of his head, knocking him unconscious.

Swimming up from the darkness, Kaidan remained still, momentarily confused by his surroundings. As memory returned, he became aware that the room they were in was filled with smoke caused by the debris that had landed around them.

He winced in pain, clutching a hand to his side as he struggled to sit up. Tali lay to his right, her movements quick as she made adjustments to her suit. He could see two injuries on her, one to her left arm and one to her right leg. She appeared to be closing off parts of her protective suit as she worked.

Tali could feel the beginning of an infection start as she struggled to close off the parts of her suit that had been damaged in the rain of debris. Her vision swam as she got the seal on her arm sectioned off, applying copious amounts of medi-gel to the area. Struggling to remain upright, she moved to her leg, pressing buttons quickly in an effort to stave off a serious infection at the site. As the clamps sealed around her injured leg, she sighed in relief and turned to Kaidan when he cried out, his voice barely a whisper.

She looked at him and followed his gaze to the place where they'd last seen the Commander, the area now dominated by a large piece of debris from Sovereign. For a moment, she didn't understand Kaidan's distress, until she realized that her friend, Shepard, was nowhere to be seen.

Kaidan couldn't breathe as he struggled to get his feet under him, not knowing if it was fear for Shepard or if he'd inhaled too much smoke. Pushing to his feet, he fell over, clutching his left side again before noticing that the hand he had pressed into his side was covered in blood. He was near to tears of frustration when the sound of someone approaching reached his awareness. He looked up in time to see the face of a young, blonde C-Sec officer duck under a large piece of debris and catch sight of them.

"Captain Anderson we found them!" He cried.

"It's all right now." Anderson said, moving to Kaidan's side and placing a hand to his back. "It's good to see you're okay Lieutenant." When Kaidan didn't respond, Anderson's brow furrowed. "It's over, you're safe now. Where's the Commander? Where's Shepard?"

Kaidan, too overwhelmed to speak shook his head, not meeting Anderson's eyes. Anderson said nothing as he and several C-sec officers appeared to assist in getting Kaidan and Tali out of the debris-littered room. As he stood, Kaidan's attention was drawn to Anderson who seemed to watching something behind him. Following Anderson's gaze, he felt his breath catch in his throat when he caught movement on the other side of the room. Had he imagined it? Was it Shepard? Was she okay?

Callie appeared at the top of a rise of rubble, cradling her left arm as she descended, allowing a smile to spread across her face as she moved to join them. She'd done it! They'd stopped Saren and Sovereign! Best of all, Tali and Kaidan were okay. She allowed herself to feel a moment of elation as Anderson greeted her with a smile, congratulating her on their success.

Kaidan was so relieved to see her that he almost forgot to breathe. Tali smiled even as she felt the first wave of nausea wash over her, but she didn't care. Shepard, her friend, was alive. She leaned into her as Callie offered the support of her arm as they picked their way through the wreckage of the tower.

Together, they headed to Huerta Memorial Hospital to have their injuries treated.

A week later, Callie was summoned to a meeting with the Council. Councilor Udina and Captain Anderson were in attendance.

"Ambassador. Captain. Commander Shepard." Tevos began as they assembled. "We have gathered here to recognize the enormous contributions of Alliance forces in the war against Sovereign and the geth.

"Many humans lost their lives in the battle to save the Citadel," Valern continued. "Brave and courageous soldiers who willingly gave their lives so that we, the Council, might live."

"There is no greater sacrifice," Sparatus agreed. "And we share your grief over the loss of so many noble men and women."

"The Council also owes you a great personal debt, Commander. One that we can never repay." Tevos told Callie. "You saved not just our lives, but the lives of billions from Sovereign and the Reapers."

"Commander Shepard," Valern began. "Your heroic and selfless actions serve as a symbol of everything humanity and the Alliance stand for."

"And though we cannot bring back those valiant soldiers who gave their lives to save ours," Sparatus continued. "We can honour their memories through our actions."

"Humanity has shown it is ready to stand as a defender and protector of the galaxy. You have proved you are worthy to join our ranks and serve beside us on the Citadel Council." Tevos clarified.

"Councilor, on behalf of humanity and the Alliance, we thank you for this prestigious honour and humbly accept." Udina said.

"We will need a list of potential candidates to fill humanity's seat on the Council." Valern said.

"Given all that has happened," Tevos added. "I am sure your recommendation will carry weight, Commander. Do you support any particular candidate?"

Seriously? Now they wanted her opinion? Callie couldn't believe her ears, but knew she was going to enjoy this. "We need someone with the courage to stand up for what he believes in. Someone like Captain Anderson."

"Him?" Udina sputtered. "You must be joking. Anderson prefers to let his fists do the talking."

"Only with you Councilor." Anderson retorted. "Only with you."

"Are you sure about this Commander? Anderson's a soldier not a politician." Udina reminded her.

"We've already got too many politicians on the Citadel. The captain would be perfect for this job." Callie replied.

"I think it's an inspired choice." Tevos said, sounding pleased. "The Council would welcome him with open arms, should he accept."

"I'm honoured Councilor." Anderson replied. "As humanity's representative, I'll do everything in my power to help the Council rebuild."

"Sovereign's defeat marks the beginning of a new era for both humanity and the Council." Sparatus said.

This again? Callie couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Sovereign was only a vanguard. The Reaper fleet is still coming. Hundreds of ships, maybe thousands. And I'm going to find some way to stop them!" She said. Turning she left the room, listening as Anderson spoke behind her.

"Shepard's right." Anderson agreed. "Humanity is ready to do its part. United with the rest of the Council, we have the strength to overcome any challenge.

Callie made her way back to the Normandy. Despite the fact that she and her crew had saved the Citadel, the Destiny Ascension and the galaxy, the Alliance couldn't let the fact that she'd stolen a warship slide. As such, the Council was sending her back to the Terminus System to take out geth outposts still active in the area.

She understood their reasoning, but had argued the point anyway. Save the galaxy and for thanks they were sending her back into the Traverse without a break. After much debate, she'd agreed to the Alliance's terms after they'd agreed that she and her crew would be granted extended shore-leave when they completed their mission.

Citadel/Normandy Docking Bay

Callie stepped out onto the docking bay where the Normandy was docked, joining the rest of the crew who had gathered to say goodbye to Wrex. He'd told her his plans the previous day, saying that as much as he enjoyed killing geth, the destruction of Sovereign and Saren was it for him.

He'd given a lot of thought to what she'd said about helping his people and with Sovereign dead, he thought he could use the victory to his advantage. By using the defeat of Saren as proof of his courage and determination, and by combining it with the threat of the Reapers, he was confident he could rally his people to his side. He hoped they would see him as a hero, which would help to solidify his role as a leader and inspire them to change. He didn't want to waste the opportunity.

Callie was sad to see him go, but understood his reason and they parted as friends, promising to keep in touch. As for the rest of her alien allies, Tali wanted to stick around to help with removing the geth outposts. Garrus was in no hurry to run back to C-Sec, and was happy sticking around to help with the geth. And Liara hoped that wherever they found geth, they might also find more beacons or Prothean ruins she could explore.

She was about to join the rest of the crew, when the elevator doors opened and Anderson appeared, moving to join those gathered. Surprised, Callie moved to join him.

"Anderson?" She said as she approached him. "I didn't expect to see you here. I though you'd be busy with the Council."

"The Council can wait Commander." Anderson said, a smile tugging at his lips. "I couldn't let the opportunity to shake the hand of the krogan who helped you on your mission slip by me. I have to admit, I was concerned when you allowed so many alien species join your crew. But I was wrong. About them and you. They stood by your side and helped you do the impossible Commander. I'm proud of you."

"Thank you sir." Callie said, words escaping her.

"Also," he added, dropping his voice to just above a whisper. "I'm aware of your involvement with Lieutenant Alenko."

"Sir?" Callie had no idea what to say. In all the confusion of the past week, it had completely slipped her mind to speak to Anderson about it.

"Relax Commander." Anderson said, seeing her frown. "I approve. I had a feeling about the two of you the moment you returned from the mission on Eden Prime. Both you and Lieutenant Alenko are the most dedicated and loyal soldiers I've ever worked with. I know you'll both do right by yourselves and the Alliance."

"I don't know what to say sir. Thank you."

"No need to thank me Commander. You don't answer to me or the Alliance. You're a Spectre, Alliance regulations no longer apply. Also, Admiral Hackett sends his regards, and his approval."

"Hackett knows?" Callie blurted, forgetting protocol.

Anderson laughed. "Only because I told him. He knows what kind of soldiers the two of you are and understands that everyone needs something or someone to hold on to. Something that keeps them anchored to what's important. We're both proud of you Shepard, and I'm happy for you both. I hope you find a way to make it work."

"Thank you sir. I won't let you down." Callie said, buoyed by his praise.

"I know you won't." Anderson said, his confidence in her staggering. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to introduce myself to a krogan."

Callie watched as Anderson pushed his way through the throng of people crowded around Wrex, catching Kaidan's look as she scanned the crowd. He frowned back at her, confused by her wry look, but she just smiled and shrugged her shoulders in response.

All in all, this had been a great day she thought, watching as Anderson talked to Wrex who loomed over him making the Captain seem small and insignificant by comparison.

She'd gotten back at Udina for his betrayal, secured an extended shore-leave for her crew and cleared the air regarding her involvement with a subordinate. Yep, a near perfect day she thought, moving to shake Wrex's hand goodbye.

Chapter Text

Milky Way/Omega Nebula/Amada System

They'd been up and down the system they were currently in for four days and had found no sign of geth activity anywhere. A month into their mission and Callie was frustrated. They'd uncovered one geth outpost and nothing else since leaving Citadel space. Where the hell were the geth the Council assured her were out here?

Sighing her frustration, she left Pressly in charge of the ship before retreating to the crew deck. She was studying star charts at her console when Kaidan joined her in her cabin.

Smiling, she rose to greet him and planted a kiss on his lips, drawing him to her. She reveled in his warmth and his reassuring solidity as she slid her arms around his back pulling him closer. He felt like an anchor to her, her reason for being alive and her reward for having lived her life alone for so long.

Yet even now, after everything they'd been through together, she still couldn't tell him how she truly felt about him.She was still so unsure of her own judgement when it came to relationships that she didn't trust herself to speak aloud what she felt in her heart. After being abandoned by her parents and manipulated by Darius, she found it hard to trust anyone. Most of all though, she doubted herself. Her feelings for Kaidan overwhelmed her, making her feel insecure and afraid. She could save innocent, nameless civilians, defeat an ancient alien AI, but when it came to relationships she was paralyzed with doubt.

"A shame we couldn't get shore leave." Kaidan whispered, his voice husky.

"Mmm." She replied as he deepened the kiss. Reluctant, she pulled back to stare into his beautiful honey-brown eyes.

"They promised us extended shore-leave after we finish the mission."

"Did they now?" He said, backing her into the cabin, closer to the bed. "How extended?"

"Forgot to ask." She said, her eyes locked on his lips, willing him to kiss her again.

"Shepard." Kaidan began, his body tensing.

"Kaidan?" She felt the change under her palms and looked at him, puzzled. "What's wrong?"

"I know this is probably the worst time to ask this, but when this is over, do you want to spend shore leave with me?"

She could feel the unasked question behind the words he spoke. How she wanted to answer that question - but she couldn't force the words past her lips. Couldn't voice what consumed her heart. Instead, she took the easy way out he'd offered and answered what had been asked of her.

"Kaidan. I can't imagine any better way to spend shore leave than to spend it with you."

His gaze deepened as she spoke, his voice catching in his throat as she said the words he so desperately wanted to hear. Overwhelmed by his feelings for the amazing woman in his arms, he crushed his lips to hers, hungry for her touch. When she met his lips with hunger of her own, it took all his willpower to move them to the bed.

Naked, they explored each other with hands and lips, kissing each part as a precious piece of the whole that made them who they were.

Kaidan's heart swelled as Callie rained kisses across his brow and down his cheek. A feathery brush of lips on his skin that reminded him of the wings of a butterfly. She moved down his torso, moving lower, making gooseflesh rise on his skin even as his body trembled and his heart began to pound in anticipation.

Never had anyone explored him so thoroughly or shown such passion and desire for his touch. She made him feel normal, didn't make him feel like damaged goods for being an L2. Just accepted him for who he was and never judged him. He couldn't remember what life had been like before her - it was as though she was his whole reason for being and he never wanted to let her go.

Callie trembled and sighed with pleasure as he caressed her back, buttocks and thighs. As his need for her grew, he pulled her up to him, claiming her lips with his. Fierce in his desire, tasting her even as she tasted him, he rolled her onto her back, covering her length with his own. Her eyes were unfocused as he bent his head to her breast, sucking gently at each peak as she threw her head back, gasping her pleasure at his touch.

As he entered her, she held her breath. She was so wet for him, so tight that as they came together she wrapped her legs around him, forcing him deeper. She wanted him inside her, wanted him to become a part of her and never wanted to let him go.

As they found their rhythm, she rode the wave of pleasure that rose between them, her breath coming in gasps with each thrust, echoing the small grunts of exertion that escaped Kaidan's lips. They rode the wave together as it built, losing control of their biotic powers at the same time, causing their skin to glow with blue electric fire.

The energy danced along their skin, rising between them as their passion crested, electrifying the air as it burst between them in a sensuous release of pleasure. They cried the other's name in unison as the wave of passion cascaded over them, the blue fire of their biotics brightening the room like a flash of lightning before winking out, returning the room to darkness.

Spent, they lay tangled in the sheets together, sweat beading and cooling on their naked skin as they learned how to breath again. Callie rolled onto her side, trapping Kaidan's arm under hers as she pulled him with her, forcing him to press against her back. Deeply satisfied and pleasantly exhausted, they slept safe in the protective comfort of each other's arms.

Callie woke several hours later, roused from sleep by the reassuring presence of Kaidan asleep beside her. He'd rolled over while they'd slept and she turned to face him, her heart swelling with the motion at the sight of his peaceful form.

The creases of his brow that tended to always be there while he worked, smoothed out while he slept, removing all trace of whatever caused the lines to return on waking. He was so beautiful, she thought as she watched the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest. So calm, so reassuring to her - she didn't know how she'd lived so long without someone like Kaidan in her life. She could no longer imagine a life of her own without him in it and she blocked the very thought from her mind.

Reaching out, she caressed a stray hair that had fallen across his brow marveling at the soft texture beneath her fingers. She understood why his hair was so smooth on his head - a side-effect of the static build-up of energy generated by his L2 implant. That any hair had come loose was a marvel in itself and she felt an odd rush of joy upon being witness to it.

He stirred at her touch, his eyes fluttering open seeking her in the darkness.

"Callie?" He asked. "What is it?"

"Nothing." She said softly. "I was just admiring the view. I didn't mean to wake you."

"No need to apologize." He said, taking his hand in hers and pressing it to his chest. "Any time spent with you is a gift to me."

Callie couldn't speak. Only smiled in pleasure as he brought her hand to his lips, placing a gentle kiss to the back.

"Me too." Callie finally whispered, unwilling to let his words go unanswered.

""I can't believe Anderson." Kaidan said, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze. "I never expected he'd give his approval or his blessing."

"I admit I was shocked." Callie said, squeezing back. "I almost thought I was dreaming the whole thing."

"I'm just glad he told you first." Kaidan admitted. "I'm not sure I could've handled a conversation like that. At least not with the entire crew within earshot."

Callie laughed, her smiled crinkling the corners of her eyes. "I would've enjoyed seeing that. I love it when you try not to blush. It's so... you."

"You're terrible." Kaidan said with a smile, gathering her close. "Callie... I.. I wanted to thank you."

"Thank me? For what?"

"For trusting me, for giving me the chance to know you better, for... well, for everything."

"Kaidan, you're welcome, but it isn't necessary. From the moment I saw you in action on Eden Prime, I knew you were something special, and that I had to get to know you better. I never dreamed we'd be together, but I never could have accomplished what I did without you at my side. I should be the one thanking you."

"I don't know what to say Callie. No one has ever said anything like that to me before." Kaidan said, his voice gruff.

"You don't need to say anything Kaidan." Callie said, moving closer and planting a soft kiss on his lips.

"Careful Commander." Kaidan teased. "You keep that up and we might never leave your cabin. I think the crew might object."

"Spoilsport." Callie pouted, pulling back to gaze into his honey-brown eyes. She could get lost in the warmth of those eyes, she thought. "But you're right. What time is it? It's probably time I relieved Pressly, and you need to give Joker a break.

"You know getting Joker off the bridge in near impossible right?" Kaidan said, even as he checked the time on his omni-tool. "0500 hours."

"Already? Damn. We've got less than an hour, and yeah I know all about Joker. Just tell him if he doesn't leave the bridge I'll put him on k-p duty for a week."

Kaidan laughed. "That should get him moving. Do you... do you mind if I hold you a while longer?"

"I can't think of anything I'd rather do right now." Callie said, snuggling into him. "How did I ever find someone like you?" She whispered, her voice troubled.

"I don't know Callie, but I'm damn grateful you did."

"Me too."

Chapter Text

Milky Way/Omega Nebula/Amada System/ Planet--Eingana

Although not geth related, after three days of scanning the Amada System, Liara had asked Callie if they could take the Mako planet-side to check out Eingana. An inhospitable planet with aggressive and energetic ecology, it was also the site of a planet-wide battle between two long-extinct alien species, the Thoi'han and the Inusannon. Ship debris covered the surface of the planet and Liara was desperate to see it first-hand.

Bored to tears for the past week with nothing to do, Callie had agreed. After checking with Joker on the logistics of an available drop-site and brushing up on the known ecology and atmospheric conditions, she'd told Kaidan to meet them in the cargo bay. Everyone on board was restless and this might give them a much needed distraction, especially if they discovered something interesting they could share with the crew.

With precision, Joker pulled off another impressive drop, landing them a few clicks from the largest piece of debris their scanners had shown to be the most accessible. Dense wasn't the word Callie would have used to describe the plant-life surrounding the Mako. It was more like a forest than any bushes she'd ever seen. Restless, she let Kaidan take over the driving - giggling uncontrollably every time he got them stuck - which was every ten minutes.

"Lieutenant, are you sure you're qualified to drive this thing?" She teased, a smile hovering on her lips.

"Commander." Kaidan replied dryly, moving the Mako back and forth, trying to bypass a massive grouping of plants. "I'm sure you could do a better job of this, but something tells me you had an ulterior motive when you handed me the controls."

"Who me?" Callie said, protesting. "I don't know what you're talking about Lieutenant."

""Shepard." Liara said, her brow creased with worry. She didn't like being trapped inside the metal beast of the Mako. When they were moving she was fine, but as soon as they slowed, she felt as though the walls were pressing in on her - a leftover phobia from a dig she'd been on years ago for the University, where she'd been trapped for several days with her fellow students. "Perhaps this was a mistake. I didn't realize the ecology of this planet would be so... formidable."

"Don't be silly Liara." Callie said, forcing the smile from her face. "It's not the ecology, it's the driver."

"Commander..." Kaidan began, as the Mako began sliding backwards down the hill he was attempting to crest. "As much as I enjoy these adventures and being teased by my superior officer, the plant life here is awful. I don't see how we're going to get anywhere in this mess."

"Oh, come on Lieutenant." Callie huffed, rolling her eyes. "It's not that bad. Besides, that's what thrusters are for." She said sliding in beside him, her hand hovering over the controls.

"Thrusters?"Liara sqeaked. "I'm beginning to have second thoughts about this Shepard. I appreciate you bringing me here, but I'm not sure it's worth all this trouble."

"You two have no sense of adventure." Callie said as she activated the thrusters, sending the Mako fifteen feet skyward and easily clearing the mass of plants that Kaidan had attempted to bypass unsuccessfully. "See?" She said, gleefully. "Easy."

By the look on their faces, Callie could see they didn't share her enthusiasm, but she was enjoying herself too much to care. Relinquishing control to Kaidan, she sat back and enjoyed the rest of the short trip as he cleared another incline before coming to a stop at the apex of a hill. A massive structure loomed in the distance, seeming to be growing out from the centre of a vast swath of greenery. They clearly see the plants here were so dense there was no way they were getting within twenty feet of the wreckage.

"Well, that's... disappointing." Liara said, peering over Kaidan's shoulder.

"I'll try to get us closer Liara." Kaidan said, gently tapping the accelerator. "Maybe you could get some readings or images with your omni-tool."

"I hadn't thought of that." Liara said, perking up instantly. "Thank you Lieutenant, that would be excellent. Just let me get organized."

Liara moved to the rear of the Mako, checking the readings on her omni-tool and donning her helmet. "I should be able to get something useful if we can get close enough." She said, excitedly.

Kaidan parked the Mako ten feet from the edge of the greenery, not wanting to push their luck by getting too close to the aggressive plants. "This is as far as we go." He said, sharing a look with Callie.

"Everyone suit up." Callie said. "Let's all get a closer look."

"Can't be out here too long." Kaidan reminded them. Ever the medic, he activated his biometric scanner as they disembarked from the Mako.

"Of course Lieutenant." Liara said absently, already two feet from the mass of overgrowth before them. Her omni-tool blinked rapidly as it collected what data could be recovered from the structure that loomed above them.

"This was a great idea." Callie murmured as she stared in awe at the scene before her. It was impossible to tell what kind or part of the ship the debris had broken off from. Nevertheless, the sight of it was impressive.

"I agree." Kaidan whispered. "We might not be on shore leave, but this works just fine."

Callie smiled at him, sharing the moment as Liara gave out small shouts of glee as her omni-tool blinked rapidly. Whatever she was collecting, it was clear she was pleased. An alarm began to chime on Kaidan's omni-tool and he sighed. That was quick, he thought.

"Sorry Liara, but time's up. We have to get back to the Mako before the plants here start growing over it. Besides, we're pushing our luck in this heat."

"Already?" She said, distracted by something on her display.

"Afraid so."

"Okay. Just give me one more minute." She said, her hand flying rapidly over her holographic display.

"Go ahead and get back." Callie said, her eyes on Liara. "I'll get her."

"Aye, aye Callie." Kaidan whispered with a smile, not wanting Liara to overhear him.

Callie blushed before moving to Liara's side, she couldn't get over how much it pleased her when Kaidan used her name. It felt silly and girlish, so unlike her - yet she loved it just the same.

"Come on Liara. We have to go."

"Shepard. Thank you for bringing me here. You can't imagine what this means to me." She said, her face flushed with excitement as they returned to the Mako.

"Oh, I think I can guess." Callie teased.

"Oh by the goddess!" Liara laughed. "I'm gushing like a schoolgirl aren't I?"

"Just a little. But you're enjoying yourself and that's all that matters to me. This mission has been pretty boring so far - we needed a break and I like to see my crew happy."

"Thank you Shepard." Liara said as Kaidan radioed Joker for pick-up. "I don't know how I managed to go so long without friends. I'm happy to say you're one of mine."

"Likewise Liara." Callie replied as Kaidan parked the Mako in the cargo bay. "Despite everything, being assigned as the Commanding Officer of the Normandy has been the best thing that's ever happened to me."

"And I'm glad you found me Shepard." Liara added as they left the Mako.

"And I'm glad to have been a part of the crew as well. I can't imagine working with a better group of people." Kaidan said, joining them on the cargo bay floor.

"What's going on here?" Garrus asked as he and Tali looked up from what appeared to be a private conversation. "Staff meeting or something?"

Callie laughed. "No Garrus. I was just saying that the Normandy has the best crew I've ever worked with and I'm glad you're all here."

"Well I happen to agree with you Shepard." Garrus said, his tone serious.

"And I consider all of you to be my friends." Tali added softly. "I've never met nicer people than the ones who serve on this ship. Even you Garrus."

"Me? What? What did I do?" Garrus asked, clearly uncomfortable at being singled out.

"Oh nothing. Forget it."

"But, what did you mean?"

"Relax Garrus, Tali just wants us to know we're all friends here." Callie said, enjoying Garrus' confusion. She suspected Tali had a crush on the turian but was put off by some of the judgemental comments he'd been heard making about her people.

"Anyways." Callie continued. "Impromptu meeting adjourned. We need to get this armour stowed. And we all need showers, that planet was scorching hot."

"Right. Of course Commander." Garrus said, still wondering what Tali had meant. "I should check the Mako anyways. No telling what might have happened to the old girl why you were traipsing about that planet without me."

"Shepard." Tali said as they walked to the elevator. "I know I've said this, but thank you again for letting me be part of your crew."

"You're welcome Tali and thank you for being here. I know you're anxious to get back to your people."

"I don't know Shepard," Tali said, her voice thoughtful. "The longer I'm out here, the more I like it. I could never abandon my people, but I'm not sure life on the Flotilla will be enough for me now."

"Really?" Callie was surprised.

"Oh don't listen to me Shepard, I'm just thinking out loud. Anyways, I should get back to work. Talk to you later."

"Oh Lieutenant?" Garrus called as they stepped into the lift. "Joker needed to see you right away. I think it's important."

"Thanks Garrus. I'll head there now." Kaidan called as the lift doors closed behind them.

Callie and Liara got out on the crew deck to change out of their armour. Kaidan headed to the bridge, deciding that his armour could wait. He wanted to shower afterwards and didn't want to keep Joker waiting.

Chapter Text

Milky Way/Omega Nebula/Amada System

"Something you need Joker?" Kaidan asked, joining him on the bridge.

"Yeah." Joker said, turning his chair to face him. "What's up with you and the Commander?"

Kaidan blanched. "Garrus said this was urgent." He blurted, saying the first thing that came to mind to avoid answering Joker's question.

"It is important." Joker insisted, a smile on his lips. "Inquiring minds want to know."

"Joker..."

"What? Oh come on Lieutenant. I'm stuck in this chair and on this bridge most of the time we're out here." He said, pouting. "I need some entertainment you know."

"Really Joker?" Kaidan sighed.

"Yes really. Being the pilot of the best damn ship in the fleet is great, but without geth or Mako drops, my boredom metre is off the charts. Come on Lieutenant... please? Give me something."

"Shepard and I are... friends." Kaidan hedged.

"Pfft. Yeah, I think I know that." Joker scoffed. "But are you like friends, friends or what?"

Rolling his eyes, Kaidan sighed heavily. It wasn't as though they were trying to keep their relationship secret, but Shepard had promised Anderson they'd be discreet. But he also knew Joker wasn't going to let him off easy - he was like a dog with a bone when he wanted to know something.

"Okay Joker. But only if you promise to keep it quiet." Even as he said it, Kaidan knew he was wasting his breath.

"Me?" Joker sounded insulted. "I'm the most discreet person you know. Scout's honour. Cross my heart and all that."

"We're more than just friends."

"I knew it!" Joker exclaimed, a smile spreading across his face as he turned back to his console. "I'm going to tell Adams I was right."

"Joker."

"What? The entire crew knows Lieutenant. I just wanted facts."

"Right. Of course." Kaidan said, his irritation dissolving. "Just don't let it leave the ship. Anderson's orders."

"What? Don't you trust me? Wait... on second thought, don't answer that."

Shaking his head, Kaidan headed back to the elevator. He wasn't surprised the crew knew about him and Shepard, but he found it unsettling to hear they were talking about them. He was about to step inside the elevator, looking forward to a hot shower when he caught the look of a crew member whose expression looked frightened. Concerned, he reversed direction and went to ask what was wrong.

"Board is green. Emission sinks activated. We are running silent." Joker announced from his place on the bridge.

"We're wasting our time." Pressly said, irritated as he made notes on his datapad. "Four days searching this sector and we haven't found any signs of geth activity."

"Three ships went missing here in the past month." Joker replied. "Something happened to them."

"My money's on slavers." Pressly asserted. "The Terminus system is crawling with them."

"Picking up something on the long-range scanner." Ensign Rosalie interrupted. "Unidentified vessel. Hmm. Looks like a cruiser."

"Doesn't match any known signatures." Joker said.

"Cruiser is changing course." Rosalie continued. "Now on intercept trajectory."

"Can't be!" Pressly argued. "Stealth systems are engaged. There's no way a geth ship could..."

Kaidan was about to step onto the elevator when Joker's voice boomed from the intercom.

"It's not the geth!" Joker yelled, activating red alert. "Brace for evasive maneuvers!"

Kaidan stumbled into the railing surrounding the galaxy map, gripping the console before him, trying to keep his feet under him as Joker banked the Normandy hard left. An explosion near the cockpit drew his attention to the bow and he made his way back to the bridge.

A direct hit to the bridge deck of the Normandy exploded the console where Pressly was seated, throwing him to the floor, killing him instantly.

"Pressly!" Rosalie cried. She rose to come to Pressly's side as another impact exploded her console, electrocuting her as she stood.

Joker scrambled to maintain control of the ship as the bridge erupted in flames. "Kinetic barriers down! Multiple hull breaches! Somebody get that fire out!"

Kaidan grabbed an extinguisher to his left and went to work putting out fires that had broken out all around Joker's position.

"Joker! Sound the evacuation order! We have to abandon the ship!" Kaidan ordered as the extinguisher he held ran out of fire suppressant.

"No! I won't abandon the Normandy!" Joker cried. "Go get Shepard and get the crew out of here!"

Shaking his head at Joker's stubbornness, Kaidan ran for the stairs as smoke began to fill the CIC. Helmet in hand, he made for the crew deck knowing Callie would be there, activating the ship's distress beacon.

"Shepard!"

"Distress beacon is ready for launch." She said, donning her helmet.

"Will the Alliance get here in time?"

"They won't abandon us. We just need to hold on. Get everyone onto the escape shuttles." She said grabbing an extinguisher to put out a nearby fire. Kaidan did the same as a second fire erupted behind him, billowing smoke as the interior burned.

"Joker's still in the cockpit. He won't abandon ship." He said. "I'm not leaving either."

Callie knew what he was saying and although it warmed her heart, it was her job to get everyone out safe. She couldn't afford to be sentimental now. "I need you to get the crew onto the evac shuttles. I'll take care of Joker."

"Commander!" Kaidan protested as she cleared debris away from the distress beacon so it could be launched.

"Kaidan. Go. Now."

"Aye, aye." He said, turning away from her. His whole body resisted, wanting to stay, make sure she was safe even as he forced himself onward to the evac shuttles. He told himself she'd be fine, it was Shepard - she was always fine.

The corridor was filled with smoke as he helped the last of the crew board the shuttles. He climbed in as the one he was near filled to capacity, turning in time to see another crew member die as another explosion rocked the ship.

One after the other, the shuttles jettisoned from the Normandy, their propulsion systems shooting them into space, far from the fast disintegrating ship. Those aboard Kaidan's shuttle watched in horror from the small porthole as the unknown enemy ship fired on the Normandy again.

Kaidan felt his heart stop. Shepard was still on board, still making her way to Joker. He was overcome with helplessness as another impact from the enemy ship split off the rear section of the Normandy. They were so far away now, that from this distance it was hard to tell what parts of the ship were still intact. He didn't know how many of the crew had made it to the shuttles or how many had already lost their lives, save for Pressly who'd he'd seen lying motionless on the bridge.

Garbled static broke through the comm on Kaidan's shuttle and all aboard turned worried eyes to the speaker. Joker's voice broke through the silence of the enclosed space, the panic in his voice plain to everyone on board.

"Commander!"

"Shepard!"

All eyes turned to the porthole as another blast impacted the Normandy, cutting through what was left of the bridge deck. A small blue fire could be seen racing away from the bright light of the explosion which everyone knew could only be the pilot's evac shuttle. They watched in mute silence as what was left of the Normandy came apart in a final massive explosion, tearing off the bow and severing the stern from the centre of the the ship.

Static echoed in the enclosed space of the shuttle

Static echoed in the enclosed space of the shuttle. No one spoke. Everyone was still in shock over the suddenness of the attack. They didn't even know who had fired on them, although many had heard Joker say they were under attack by an unknown enemy. The loss of the Normandy was a huge blow, but the fear they'd heard in Joker's voice was worse. What had happened to Shepard? Had she made it? Was she safe?

Kaidan felt Dr. Chakwas' eyes on him. She sat across from him and was watching him with a sad, thoughtful expression on her face. He didn't like how she was looking at him or what her look seemed to imply, so he turned his gaze away, not wanting to acknowledge what he suspected she was thinking.

Shepard was okay. She had to be. It was Shepard after all, she always had a plan. It was torture knowing he would have to wait for the Alliance to rescue them before he could see Callie again. Aside from himself, no one on this shuttle were wearing protective gear. Even if they made it to a hospitable planet, he couldn't leave without exposing everyone inside to atmospheric pressure.

He clenched his teeth, squeezing his eyes shut as he offered up a silent prayer to the spirits Garrus was always talking about. He prayed for patience and calm before begging them to please let her be okay.

----xxx----

Callie activated the launch for the distress beacon as she turned toward the crew quarters, heading to the stairs that would take her to the bridge.

The doors to the CIC slid open and massive destruction greeted her. The entire top half of the ship above the galaxy map was gone, as was the entire left side. Activating her mag boots, Callie made slow but steady progress towards the bridge. She could see Joker madly trying to keep the Normandy on a steady course, but all she heard was the rhythmic sound of her own breathing.

Passing through the kinetic barrier that sealed off the bridge from the rest of the ship, she leaned toward Joker as her external sound returned.

"Come on Joker. We have to abandon ship."

"No! I can still save her!" Joker argued, sounding like he was about to cry.

"The Normandy's lost." Callie said softly. "We have to go."

"Alright. Help me up." He said when he caught something on his scanner.

"They're coming around for another attack!"

Callie grabbed Joker by the arm and helped him up, slow walking him to the last evac shuttle on the ship.

"Ow. Watch the arm." He said with gritted teeth as he stepped inside the open doors of the shuttle.

A blast rocked the ship as Callie was about to join him, knocking her off-balance, causing her to lose her grip on the opening. The shockwave pushed her into the now missing cockpit and she struggled to hold on to whatever she could.

"Commander!" Joker cried as she floated out of reach.

"Shepard!" He screamed, watching in horror as she launched his shuttle, cutting off her only hope of survival.

Callie knew there was no way she was getting back to Joker and without thinking, released the lock on the bridge shuttle, launching him to safety moments before another blast cut through the spot where the shuttle had just been. The force of the blast sent her spinning helplessly into space and she watched in horror as the Normandy burned and disintegrated before her eyes.

Awed by the site, it was several moments before she realized just how screwed she was. She was going to die. Her pulse sped up as she spun helplessly away from the ship debris, feeling the pull of the nearby planet's gravity well as it sucked her in. She heard a hissing sound and felt her breath catch in her throat. Oh my god, Callie thought in horror, I'm losing air. All hope of getting picked up before her air ran out dissolved as she struggled in vain to fix the leak, feeling her chest begin to constrict from the loss of pressure.

All hope of getting picked up before her air ran out dissolved as she struggled in vain to fix the leak, feeling her chest begin to constrict from the loss of pressure

Kaidan, she whispered, knowing with heart-wrenching certainty just how devastating her death would be to him. Tears formed in her eyes. In her panic at the loss of air, she continued her struggle to breathe. I'm so sorry Kaidan, she whispered as her heart beat it's last and her world faded to black.

The End

Part 3, Lazarus Project: Mass Effect 2 available now on Wattpad: Julianne_Winters

Chapter Text

M4 Part 2
Written & Performed by Faunts

 

I / have wondered about you / Where will you be / When this is through?

If all / If all goes as planned / Will you redeem my life again?

My life again?

Fallow fields the wheat is sown / Water down your empty soul

Awake the seed of silent hope / Water down your empty soul

Fallow fields the wheat is sown / Water down your empty soul

Awake the seeds of silent hope/ Water down your empty soul

Fight your foes you're not alone / Holy war is on the phone

Asking to please stay on hold / The bleeding loss of blood runs cold

And I need you to recover / Because I can't make it on my own

And I need you to recover / Because I can't make it on my own

I have wondered about you / Where will you be / when this is through?

If all / If all goes as planned

Will you redeem / my life again?

I / have wondered about you / Where will you be / when this is through?

If all / If all goes as planned

Will you redeem / my life again?

My life again?

And I need you to recover / Because I can't make it on my own

And I need you to recover / Because I can't make it on my own

And I need you to recover / Because I can't make it on my own

And I need you to recover / Because I can't make it on my own

On my own

On my own

On my own...