Location: Normandy SR-2, En Route to Krogan DMZ Cluster, Aralakh System, Tuchanka
Jacob remained painfully subdued after returning from Aeia. Miranda and, surprisingly, Kasumi, were seen entering and leaving at the Armory periodically in an attempt to get him out of his despondent thoughts. Unfortunately, time seemed to be the ultimate factor since both women always left with nothing to show for her efforts.
Still nice of them to try, Shepard mused.
Kasumi's presence, while unexpected, nevertheless matched her exuberant personality to cheer up the people around her. Miranda proved to be a bit more puzzling. Months ago, Shepard would've thought she would have let Jacob try to sort it all out himself and keep everyone at arm's reach. It appeared that she valued her friends more than he thought, leading him to wonder how much he didn't know about the enigmatic operative. Despite his desire to talk to her, until Jacob broke out his mood, Miranda seemed like the best person to help him.
Though I'm sure Kasumi will put up a good effort.
Still, with 76 hours to get to Tuchanka from virtually the other end of the galaxy, there would be time. Instead, Shepard chose to occupy his time with something completely different.
The mission reports submitted by Mordin and the rest of the team reflected the difficulty Shepard and his team had in subduing the civilians without casualties. What caught his interest were the Professor's anecdotes about Samara's display of biotic skill. Thankfully, he was descriptive and detailed, perhaps too much so. But it intrigued Shepard enough to seek the justicar out.
Samara was meditating, as usual, in the Starboard Observation Room. Without looking she already knew it was him. "Shepard."
"I was wondering if I could ask for a favor."
He moved to sit down in front of her. "I want to learn how to fight like a biotic."
The orb of dark energy faded from her hands. Her eerie shining eyes returned to normal as she turned her to gaze to regard the human. "Truly?"
He nodded. "I remember seeing Jack take care of four YMIR mechs back on Purgatory, the prison ship, by herself. One of the security vids we downloaded from their mainframe showed her using her biotics in a way I've only seen asari commandos do. She just leapt in the air and blew two mercs away like they were nothing. She was practically flying. I was struggling with a rusted, beat up, heavy mech back on Aeia. Jacob could've been killed. It's one thing to learn techniques, but I want to learn how to use my biotics like a biotic."
She continued to judge his worth with her penetrating stare. He met her eyes confidently. "It will be difficult. Most asari huntresses train for decades to fight as such," she finally said.
"I'm told I'm a quick learner."
She graced him with a small smile. "There is something about you… I am learning more and more that I shouldn't underestimate you. And why you were chosen to lead this mission." Studying him for a few minutes with an intense scrutiny, she nodded as an instructor would and stood up. "Very well, I will teach you all I can if you are willing to learn."
Shepard stood up as well. "Thank you."
"Would you like to start now?"
"No time like the present."
The hangar only had a few crewmen inside, mostly working out at the gym or servicing the Kodiak. There was ample room for whatever Samara had in mind.
Unless she wants me to sit and meditate here.
Having no idea how either Jack or Samara fought with their unique talents, Shepard tried to keep his mind open to whatever training the justicar was prepared to offer. He was reasonably sure it wouldn't be meditation since he could have done that back at her room or even his cabin.
"Are sure you wish to proceed with this?" Samara asked. "The training can be quick for some, but long and arduous for others. It depends on how well a trainee can adapt and how capable they are."
"I can handle it."
"And you do understand that what I will teach you will not be easy? Or gentle?"
"If it were easy, there'd be more commandos," Shepard glibly said in attempt to lighten the mood.
Samara's face remained unchanged despite his levity.
They reached an empty section of the hangar free of personnel or equipment. Turning around, she regarded the Spectre with one more warning look. "Are you certain?"
Shepard nodded resolutely. "Let's do this."
Samara had ghost a smile on her face before she suddenly glowed with dark energy and lashed out with a viscous kick to his chest.
Shouting in surprise, Shepard was knocked flat on his back from the sudden attack and barely had the presence of mind to roll out of harm's way when she followed up her unexpected attack with a leap and her right arm cocked back and glowing.
She struck the ground with her biotic punch, causing a small wave of energy to explode from the epicenter that narrowly missed him, both the physical and the biotic blow.
He got back up and raised one his arms in a defensive position while rubbing his chest with the other to sooth the fire of pain welling up. "What the hell!"
She still had a shadow of a smile on her face, though her eyes were intent and lit with purpose. "Defend yourself," she finally warned before launching into another attack.
Backpedaling quickly, he blocked as many of her strikes as he was able while simultaneously trying to find a gap in her defenses and figuring out what she was doing and why she was doing it. However, within a few seconds, her rapid assault snaked past his defenses and allowed her to execute a wicked left cross on his cheek. Stars exploded in his vision as he turned with the blow to minimize the force, which unfortunately caused him to lose sight of the nimble justicar.
His tactical mind went into overdrive in the few precious milliseconds he had to realize that the best attack now would probably come from behind and at his legs since most people would defend the head after taking an initial hit there. Dropping to the ground and rolling, he could feel the tip of Samara's boot just past his back when she tried to sweep him.
Completing the roll and changing momentum, he turned back around while Samara was just rising back to her feet from the missed opportunity. Recognizing this as his chance at a counterattack, he threw himself at her with the direct approach. His first punch connected with her abdomen, his second into her chin.
Somersaulting backward and still glowing with dark energy, Samara regrouped and renewed her attack. Shepard met her head-on, but it was a foolish mistake. His training in hand-to-hand, while considerable, was lacking against her speed and experience. He found himself giving ground again, unable to even focus his own biotics to defend himself with. Another kick to his chest followed by an elbow strike to the temple had him reeling, before Samara flared with dark energy and thrust both arms at the ground between them.
The pulse she generated with her biotics rocked him off his feet and back on the ground again. As he lied on his back, he could see her float above him, at least three meters above the ground before elegantly backflipping once and landing in a crouch. One leg was on the ground next to him, supporting most of her weight and distributing the full force of the blow away from her other knee, which was firmly planted on his chest and signifying her decisive victory and his crushing defeat. Grunting in pain, he looked up to see her genuinely smile at him before getting off.
Samara offered a hand to help him back to his feet. Warily, he accepted. His caution was unwarranted though, since she didn't attack or throw him unexpectedly this time. "That's the training?" he asked, trying to keep his voice steady to hide the desire to wheeze out every breath.
"The martial arts and biotics are taught in tandem during training. Young recruits are often paired with experienced huntresses to learn the way. The more you experience, the more you will learn," Samara explained. "Fighting physically with the use of biotics requires an intimate knowledge of your own body. During sparring, further techniques and tactics are also imparted, should the recruit be strong and skilled enough to identify them."
"As well as a healthy dose of humility," Shepard dryly commented.
"Indeed." She looked at him from head to toe and back again. "I will ask again-"
"I can do this," he interrupted, unwilling to back down. "Nothing worthwhile is ever easy."
She graced him with another smile, this time with a hint of admiration and pride, before lashing out with a kick again.
To Shepard's credit, he was on guard for another attack and managed to block it. The subsequent punch, he wasn't nearly so quick to defend against. Within seconds, he was on the ground again, but determinately got back on his feet to continue.
I hope I know what I'm doing. This might take a while…
Shepard sighed as he let the hot shower wash away the minor, but many injures of his newest training regimen. Samara had insisted on sparring for three straight hours, giving new meaning to 'teach by example'. He put up a fight as he could, when he could and even managed to get a few solid hits in with some biotic powered blows. But at best, his attempt could be considered scrappy. It was clear that she was the victor in their series of matches. Certainly far better than he could hope to be in both hand-to-hand and biotics though he was dead set on continuing to learn. At the very least, to earn one good win against her. He consoled himself with the fact that she was doing this long before he born and he probably won't truly best her… ever, probably.
His thoughts returned to the details of their fights, analyzing her technique. It was evident she knew how to integrate biotics with physical combat easily, almost making it look natural. There was little doubt he would learn a lot from her at his expense of bumps and bruises. She had explained that biotics did not enhance her physical strength, but rather allowed her to manipulate the world around herself, lending power to her movements and attacks. Jumping higher and running faster were the results of mass lowering fields, much like using Pull on yourself, while attacks were aided by either mass raising or unstable fields.
"Time and dedication will allow you to call upon biotics instinctively and allow you to use your talents in a fast-paced battle," she had lectured before starting another fight and ending it with another biotic attack.
Turning off the shower, he stretched, letting his muscles burn with soreness, but it was the kind that came from a long workout now, rather than being a punching bag. Looking down at his thigh, the bruise that was the size of his fist before his shower was almost imperceptible now. Another testament to his implants.
After drying off and getting a fresh change of clothes, Shepard made his way to the Med Bay to drop in on Garrus.
The turian was awake and appeared pleased to see him. "Hey."
"Hey, yourself," Shepard greeted before plopping down on the nearby chair. "Feeling better? When is Dr. Chakwas releasing you?"
"I'm alright. She's releasing me tomorrow. But I'm still off-duty for a couple more days after that," Garrus groused.
The woman in question entered the Med Bay with a tray of food for her patient and herself. Upon seeing the captain, her lips pursed disapprovingly. "Here for your exam?"
Shepard tilted his head in confusion. "Exam?"
"From what the crewmen tell me, Samara gave you quite the thrashing. I assume you're here to be checked out?" Chakwas said as she placed the tray on the table next to Garrus.
Shepard sighed before glaring at his turian friend when he started snickering. "I'm fine," Shepard said to her before rounding on Garrus with a challenging look. "Why don't you fight her? See how you stack up?"
"I'm not stupid," Garrus retorted.
"Just scared," Shepard countered.
"Enough," Chakwas sternly said to both men before they continued to squabble. "Shepard, don't antagonize him. I don't want you filling his head with those ideas that he has to prove himself by getting beat up. Much like you."
"Beat up?" Garrus repeated indignantly.
"And you, Garrus. Don't listen. I'd rather not have you as a guest in here again because of some fool notion that you have to accept such childish challenges of masculinity," she snapped.
Now Shepard looked indignant when his character was called into question. "Hey!"
Taking no notice of their sputtering, outraged denials and excuses, she turned back to her terminal and started working, occasionally stopping to eat her lunch.
Thane chose that moment to walk in and see the cross looks on Shepard and Garrus' faces while Dr. Chakwas was steadfastly ignoring both of them. Clearing his throat to get her attention and unintentionally receiving the attention of the other occupants in the Med Bay, he gestured to the cast on his leg. "My appointment, Doctor?"
"Of course, Mr. Krios," Chakwas said. She pointed at the nearby bed. "Sit down and I'll get ready."
"Thank you," Thane courteously replied before following her instructions.
"How are you feeling?" Shepard asked.
"Better. Thank you for asking," Thane said. "Doctor Chakwas informed me that she will conduct a few tests to ensure no further complications. Once she's satisfied, I will be cleared to return to combat should you need me."
"I foresee no complications if you followed my instructions and rested your leg. I trust that you remained active in other areas, though?" She ran her omni-tool over Thane's leg for several minutes before nodding satisfaction. "The cast can be removed. Just one moment."
While she busied herself with her preparations, Shepard chatted idly with Garrus before noticing that Thane was sitting up with his eyes closed. "Do you often meditate or pray?" he asked out of curiosity.
"Both. It would often depend on the situation," Thane replied.
"I'm thinking that most species tend to lose faith in their religions during a large scale tragedy, like what happened to your planet and the other drell. So what or who exactly do you pray to?" Garrus asked.
"I am one of the few that continue to practice the original beliefs. As to whom, that would also depend on the circumstance," he said. "To find my targets, I speak with Amonkira, Lord of Hunters. When I act to defend another: Arashu, Goddess of Motherhood and Protection. And when I have taken my target, I speak with Kalahira, Goddess of Oceans and the Afterlife."
"Polytheistic? I didn't know the drell had many gods," Shepard admitted.
"It is one of our older beliefs. Mr. Vak- I mean, Garrus, is right. The old ways are dying. Many embrace the hanar Enkindlers now or the asari philosophies." He smiled wryly. "There are so many ways to interpret one's place in the universe. Who needs the wisdom of our ancestors?"
Dr. Chakwas came back with a laser cutter. "Stand still, now. I'll be finished quickly," she cautioned before working on remove the cast.
"The younger generations don't believe they can help us fathom genetic engineering, orbital strikes, or alien races," Thane continued to say as he observed Chakwas' progress.
Joker wandered in Med Bay while he was speaking and sat down on the nearest bed with a pained grimace. "Yeah, young kids think they know everything. 'Aero-gel displays and optical solid-state... Man, it's all so primitive. I can hardly wait for the future'. Feh, what do they know?"
"You okay?" Garrus asked.
"Just peachy. I'm here for a checkup," Joker replied and sighed in relief as he relaxed on the bed.
Garrus turned to Shepard with a mixed expression of concern and confusion on his face.
"Joker tends to sit for long periods of time. In humans, inactivity like that can lead to a few medical complications," Shepard explained shortly without divulging more details about the helmsman's personal life.
Joker appeared unconcerned about it though. "Blood clots, embolisms, and spinal cysts are just some of the hazards of the job. Lucky me, eh?"
"All finished, Mr. Krios. Let me run a few more scans to confirm everything is in working order before I clear you," Chakwas said. She moved to the nearby terminal and began checking Thane's leg for any further problems. Occasionally, she'd ask him to move his limb or ask how it was feeling.
Shepard turned back to the assassin. "Oceans and afterlife don't seem to have much in common," he commented, returning to their earlier conversation.
Thane looked away from Chakwas to focus on him. "Consider. The ocean is full of life. Yet it is not life as you or I know it. To survive there, we must release our hold on land. Accept a new way to live. So it is with death. The soul must accept its departure from the body. If it can't, it will be lost."
"Considering that Kadje is filled with oceans, I imagine that particular goddess does rather well," Garrus joked.
Thane smiled. "Indeed."
"Better than the 'Enkindlers'," Shepard added.
Joker shook his head. "That was a hell of a shock. Do you always have to have life changing news happen at the drop of hat?"
"Only around you, Joker," Shepard said.
"Two years and everything hits the crapper. That'll teach you to die on me," Joker retorted.
"All finished, Mr. Krios. You're cleared for duty," Chakwas said, masterfully working around the banter around her.
"My thanks," Thane said as he stood up and stretched his now functioning limb. He bowed to everyone in the Med Bay before leaving.
"How's Jacob?" Garrus asked. "I haven't seen him down here."
"I don't know," Shepard confessed. "I didn't want to bother him yet. Miranda and Kasumi have been talking to him. I don't want to add to the crowd."
Joker looked uncomfortable. "Yeah. That, uh, that stuff with Jacob's dad. It's bullshit, right? Because it looked like bullshit to me."
"What events transpired down there is none of our concern. It was a rescue mission and now it's done. It's best to leave Mr. Taylor alone unless he wants to talk about it," Chakwas said as she stood next to Joker to begin her examination. "It won't do you any good to gossip about it."
"Sorry," Joker muttered to her. He perked up immediately and turned to Shepard with a wicked grin. "So, Captain, who should I be betting on? Y'know, the next time you and Samara go at each other?"
Shepard sighed and idly rubbed his left arm that still remained slightly sore. "At this point, I'm willing to bet on her to kick my ass."
After eating lunch in the Med Bay with Garrus, Joker, and Chakwas, Shepard returned to his cabin to review the reports, check the status of the ship and crew, and keep up-to-date with anything that does or will eventually need his attention.
The backlog of work took most of his time, all the way until well past dinner. Fortunately, Kelly was thoughtful enough to bring some food up to his room.
Waking on the second day of travel, he rolled out of bed with a groan and prepared himself to meet Samara down in the hangar. She had requested that they meet early in the morning as so they could 'spar' for another three hours. The schedule would remain so long as he wanted to learn and could endure.
'Spar'. More like getting a beat down, Shepard thought as he trudged to the lift and started making his way to Deck 4. The elevator stopped at Deck 3 and opened to reveal Miranda. She was dressed in track pants and a tank top and was carrying a bag with her. She looked a little startled at his sudden appearance, but was quick enough to hop on and travel downward with him.
"How's Jacob?" Shepard asked.
"He's still sorting his through some personal issues, but appears more or less back to normal. He and Kasumi are having breakfast together in the Common Area right now," she replied.
The elevator reached their destination, allowing them to make for the hangar. "What are you up to, right now?" he asked, making a mental note to speak to Jacob when the opportunity presented itself.
"Practicing my biotics. Maybe brush up on some hand-to-hand," Miranda said. Before they entered the hangar, she stopped and faced him fully. "I'm ready to talk if you are."
"I'd like that," Shepard gamely said. "Where and when?"
"My office? Tonight? Maybe after dinner?"
She offered him a bright smile before entering the hangar and moving to one side to begin stretching for her own workout.
Shepard met Samara at their agreed upon area. She was sitting on the floor, facing away from in him in mediation. Without any pleasantries or fanfare, she initiated the first move. One moment, she appeared to have been patiently waiting for him, the next, she was right in front of him, attacking in a flurry of kicks and punches.
Shepard prided himself as one of N7's top hand-to-hand combatants; only second to the former, disgraced, and dishonorably discharged N7 marine lieutenant, Kai Leng. Despite his better efforts, he could only put up a token resistance. He was throwing himself wholeheartedly into his training, but it looked as if Samara only viewed this as a mild distraction. However, whenever he attacked or counterattacked in a way that pushed her back or threw off her rhythm, she seemed to genuinely revel in the moment, as if it was a source of enjoyment for her. It was somewhat surprising to see her display so much emotion during their fights more than any other time he'd seen her exhibit since they'd met.
At least she's enjoying herself, Shepard grumbled to himself as he crawled back to his feet after another consecutive loss.
"Damn. You're a glutton for punishment, aren't you?"
He looked up to see Jack sitting on a crate nearby and smirking in amusement at his predicament. "You of all people should know. What doesn't kill us-"
"Makes us stronger," Miranda finished for him at her designated area of the hangar. She was toweling off and taking a drink from her water bottle.
To Shepard's eyes though, it looked like she was determinedly looking away from Jack. Especially when the younger woman barked out an acerbic laugh at the ancient proverb.
"And what does kill us, makes us stronger still," he added as he stood tall from his most recent loss. He turned to face Samara. "Again."
Kasumi looked up from her datapad and pouted cutely. "Awww. I would've sparred with you if you asked."
"I've seen her in action, so to speak," Miranda said with a knowing glance at the agile thief. "I'd advise against it. It's bad enough that Samara bests you regularly, but I'm not entirely sure if your ego can handle getting beaten yet again." She smirked at Shepard, who was trying his hardest to look impassive and uncaring of the teasing around him. At the very least, hold on to some modicum of his pride.
"Especially by a woman," Garrus thoughtlessly said before blinking and looking at the various females around him. Even Shepard looked up from his lunch to stare. "Wait… that came out wrong."
"From you? I'm almost sure you meant it the way you said it," Shepard said with a vicious smile.
Garrus shook his head rapidly. "No! What I meant was- Ow!" He reached under the table and rubbed his shin.
"What did you mean, exactly?" Kasumi asked innocently. The only reason anyone suspected she was involved with Garrus' new leg pain was that she was sitting directly across from him.
"Nothing," Garrus muttered as he rubbed his wounded limb and glared balefully at the mischievous woman. "I probably deserved that."
She smiled sweetly at him before turning to Shepard again. "So! How are you lessons going? I mean, I heard the gossip, but I'd like to hear the story straight from the source."
"Fine," Shepard muttered, hoping to end the conversation and steer it away from more teasing. He wasn't that lucky.
"Are you learning a lot? Like how much the floor of the hangar needs to be cleaned? Or how to fall and make it look like you did it on purpose?" she asked, amusement glittering in her eyes.
"I'm learning that I have a high tolerance for pain and a low tolerance for jokes," Shepard muttered. "And it's called the 'deck', not a 'floor'."
"Touchy, touchy. Are you always this grouchy when you lose? A lot?"
Miranda swallowed her bite before smirking. "I'm sure it's a trait that will be beaten out of him soon enough."
"Should've had lunch in the safety of my cabin," Shepard grumbled to himself.
"Although I'm sure that your threshold for pain was something you possessed long before the Lazarus Project," Miranda said thoughtfully.
"I can attest to that," Tali quipped as she sat down nearby. "Most of the things we fought would've killed most humans several times over."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Shepard deadpanned. He smiled all the same.
"I wanted to let you know that all the original weapons systems should be working within the week, maybe in a few days. The Thanix cannon should be ready for testing a few days after," Tali reported. She turned to Garrus. "I'm sorry to say, there will be a lot of calibrations to be done to restore accuracy."
"I'm still grounded until Chakwas is satisfied that I'm healthy. At least it'll give me something to do," Garrus replied.
Kasumi gasped and put her head under the table to see which leg she kicked. "I'm sorry! I forgot! Did I hurt you? Are you alright? I mean, really alright?"
Garrus waved off her concerns. "I'm fine."
"You kicked the leg that had a broken ankle," Shepard informed as he casually ate his lunch. Inwardly, he was smirking at her sudden distress. "Nothing to worry about."
"Dr. Chandana," the Illusive Man greeted in a benevolent tone. "I trust everything is going well?"
"Yes, sir. We're making progress, but this technology… It's all so alien…" Chandana said with hint of reverence in his voice. He physically shook himself out his reverie, an action the Illusive Man watched very carefully. "Regarding my other assignment, I believe we've located what you've requested."
Knowing that the conversation was being recorded to review later, the CEO of Cerberus nodded. "And?"
"I have a team removing it as we speak. I, myself, will go back to oversee their progress after my report. Given its importance, we're taking every precaution we can conceive of to bring in the IFF intact. Unfortunately, that will also mean that we must take care to advance slowly and carefully. Once again, sir, we don't know for sure it's the object you're looking for, but I'll personally confirm whether or not we've found it once I've analyzed it thoroughly."
"Very good, Doctor," the Illusive Man praised. "Take as much time as you think you need." Pausing to take a smoke, he tapped his cigarette into his ash tray before speaking again. "I also want this artifact copied if you can manage it."
"For use on other ships?"
"Its use is no concern of yours," he rebuked mildly.
Chandana nodded. "Of course, sir."
"I look forward to hearing more good news from you, Chandana."
Location: Hawking Eta Cluster, Thorne System, Derelict Reaper, Cerberus Science Vessel
Chandana sighed in relief when the Illusive Man disconnected the call.
"You didn't tell him?"
"About what?" He asked irritably. He didn't even turn to see who was talking. His teeth were clenching again and his right eye felt like it was throbbing.
"About the headaches some of the crew has been complaining about? And the doctor had to issue more sedatives to calm some of them down. They're still edgy."
"I'm not going to waste his time with something as insignificant as headaches and cowards," Chandana snapped. He tiredly rubbed his eyes and took a breath to alleviate his own headache. "Let's go. We need to retrieve that IFF. Remember, the Illusive Man doesn't tolerate failure."
I hope this is the IFF. With something this alien, who the hell knows?
Location: Normandy SR-2, En Route to Krogan DMZ Cluster, Aralakh System, Tuchanka
"You wanted to talk to me about something?" Shepard asked when he stepped into the Tantalus Core Control Room.
Tali nodded and looked to see Gabby working at her station while Ken was in the maintenance tunnels, double-checking the conduits. "Remember that project I was working on?"
"You told me you were working on something important, but beyond that? Nothing."
"It's about Jack."
Shepard raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms expectantly.
"Nothing bad," Tali quickly said. She pulled up some information on her omni-tool. "Jack told me she scanned one of the Collector weapons back on the cruiser. Most likely belonging to one of the Guardians."
"So that's what she was doing…" he mused to himself as he recalled the events on the Collector ship. "So what did you find?"
"I think I might be able to reverse engineer their ammunition converter and their ability to make their bullets infused with Warp. Eventually, I can adapt it to our own weapons." Tali said excitedly. "Only biotics can make use of it though."
"Warp Ammo? Really?" Shepard asked with thoughtful tone. "They tend to use Barrier often… If we can modify our weaponry to incorporate Warp, that'll give us an advantage."
"That's the hope."
"How long? I mean," He stopped and gestured at the various pipes and consoles around him. "We've got you working pretty hard right now, so if you need time…?"
"I do. For now, I thought I should let you know. I promised Jack that I'd work on it. Also…" She looked around as if she expected someone to walk in on them at that moment. "I really, really, don't want Cerberus to get this."
He nodded. "I understand your concerns. We'll keep this between the three of us."
"Thank you, Shepard."
"Thank you, Tali," he said. Patting her on the shoulder encouragingly, he left her to her work.
Moving through the decks of the Normandy, he stopped at the Armory to finally talk to Jacob, only to see no one there. His next stop was the hangar to see if he was hitting the gym, but his search came up empty. He finally stopped at the Crew Deck to see if Jacob was catching a late lunch or early dinner, but no such luck.
Sighing, he turned to the nearby pedestal. "EDI, do you know where Jacob is?"
"He is currently in the Portside Observation Room with Miss Goto," EDI dutifully informed.
Raising an eyebrow at the information, he walked the short distance to Kasumi's room. The door was unlocked, but he tapped the panel to announce his presence to the occupants inside instead of just walking in.
Just in case.
A muffled, "Come in!" was heard. He opened the door to see Kasumi wave at him in greeting before pointing at her favorite painting and describing its creation to Jacob. He was sitting on the couch and looking attentive at the tour.
"This one was painted by a child prodigy from Elysium," she said before taking on a wistful tone. "She was the cutest thing. She was kidnapped by slavers who hoped to sell her on Omega."
"But you saved her?" Jacob half-asked, half-stated.
Shepard crossed his arms and patiently waited, already familiar with the story.
"Of course I did. I wasn't about to let that happen," Kasumi said. "I set up an ID as a buyer's rep to get a special tour of the slavers' vessel. Once aboard, I freed the girl and smuggled her off the ship."
Jacob grinned. "Nice."
She grinned back at him. "Thanks. She painted this for me on the way home." She turned to study the beautiful artwork. "I'll never forget how it felt to watch her work," she whispered in remembrance.
Jacob was about to say something more when Shepard stepped into the room a bit more and getting his attention. "Hey, Shepard," he greeted.
"Jacob," Shepard parroted. "I'm sure you've been asked this a few dozen times already, but-"
"I'm good, Shepard."
"I can see that," Shepard said with a smirk as he glanced as Kasumi.
Jacob coughed lightly and stood up. "Yeah, well…"
"I was just showing him some of the things here," Kasumi said. "Nothing saucy… yet anyway."
Jacob and Shepard stared wide-eyed at the bubbly woman before the Cerberus operative cleared his throat. "Right. I was just listening to some of her stories. That's it."
"Right," Shepard indulgently said, though his eyes kept darting between the both of them.
"By the way, thanks for diverting to the Gernsback, Shepard," Jacob gratefully said. "I appreciate being able to clean up that mess."
"You sure you're okay?"
"It's over," he replied. "It will not affect how I do my job. I'm with you all the way." He stood up and saluted. "Speaking of which, I probably should get back and finish up my duties before dinner."
Shepard nodded. "Okay."
Jacob turned to Kasumi. "You're definitely the best thief in your business. And not because you can get through tight security and steal things either. Nice to know you're one of the good guys," he said before realizing what he said. "Girls. Women… you know what I mean," he quickly blabbered out before leaving quickly.
Kasumi and Shepard shared a laugh after he left. He turned to face her. "Getting along?"
"Just fine, Shep," she answered. She sat down on the couch, brought her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. "I have to say, that Jacob? Mmm…" She looked thoughtful. "He seems pretty intense. I wonder if he likes Japanese girls with a penchant for kleptomania?"
"You want me to ask?"
She giggled and kicked out at him from her seat. He barely managed to dodge it. "No!" she cried out in amusement and mock ire. "I'll get around to asking. Eventually."
Shepard grinned at her and glanced at the door Jacob just left through. "Seriously, I'm glad he's feeling better about that whole situation. Thanks for helping him out."
"Yeah, well, Jacob deserves better than a father like that," she said angrily. "I probably would have wanted to shoot him, too." She took a breath and calmed down. "At least it's over. What's done is done."
Shepard nodded in agreement and turned to leave. Before opening the door, he turned around and smirked at her. "I trust that if something were to happen in here, you'd lock the door?" he inquired casually before ducking from the tossed pillow and beating a hasty exit.
After dodging Kasumi's 'attack', Shepard walked away quickly from her room. In his haste, he almost bumped into headlong into Thane.
Thankfully, the assassin had no such distractions and nimbly stepped aside to avoid collision.
"Sorry, Thane," Shepard said with a grin. He glanced back to see that Kasumi hadn't followed.
Thane nodded and looked toward whatever Shepard was looking at, but couldn't see what was causing the captain to be in such a rush. "It is no trouble."
Something struck a chord in Shepard's mind as he remembered the last private conversation he had with the drell. "By the way, I was wondering if I might continue our conversation. The one we had before the mission."
"Ah. I imagined you would be curious about it," Thane said before leading the way back to the Life Support Plant. Settling in at his chair he waited until Shepard seated himself across from him.
"As I recall-" Shepard started to say before taking note of the sly smile on Thane's face. "-you started speaking about a past event as if you were watching it."
"Drell of perfect memories," he explained. "We can relive any moment of our lives with perfect clarity."
That explains the smile. 'As I recall'.
"Yesterday, you asked if I spend my time meditating or praying. To expound on that, I should also say that, occasionally, I would indulge in my memories of happier times. It's difficult to control at times. Some of us disappear into what we call 'solipsism'."
"Can you explain that a bit more?" Shepard requested.
"When a memory feels as real as life, it's as valid as life," Thane said. "Thinking about a moment brings back the smell of cut grass, the warmth of another's hand on yours, the taste of another's tongue in your mouth. Wouldn't you rather lose yourself in such a memory than spend the night alone, staring at walls of metal and plastic?"
Shepard nodded in agreement, but was surprised Thane would mention that last point. The assassin seemed like such a private, solitary man. "Isn't that a rather personal memory talk about?"
"Forgive me," Thane apologized. "Lately, after our mission aboard the Collector ship, I have spent a great deal of time reviewing my life. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."
"You didn't. I was worried that you were, though."
"I'm not. It's hard for a dying man to feel as such. Drs. Chakwas and Solus have both recommended that I cease indulging myself however. Or at the very least, limit myself to only a few minutes. I'm sure you know," Thane said.
"Know what?" Shepard asked. His brow furrowed in thought as he tried to remember when either doctor talked to him about Thane.
"You don't know? I had assumed that as captain of this vessel, they would report to you about medical complications."
"Doctor/Patient confidentiality still applies unless the medical complication can affect the entire ship. If it's just you, whatever you talk about will remain between Dr. Chakwas and yourself. I'm not sure if salarians have the same principle though…" Shepard explained. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."
"I see," Thane said in understanding. "It's nothing, however. They educated themselves on the particulars of Kepral's Syndrome and have recommended that I remain active. By allowing myself to slip into my memories, I tend to sit still of long periods of time and well… my condition will continue to deteriorate rapidly because I'm no longer stimulating lung function."
"That's why she asked if you were active despite your leg injury. Anyone else, she'd ask for bed rest," Shepard mused.
"Indeed. It was not an easy recommendation for her. I occupied myself with exercises for my arms and torso."
"I understand," Shepard said. To the naked eye though, he could not see anything physically wrong with him. "About your solipsism, isn't there a risk you could lose yourself in bad memories as well?"
"Of course. Remembering the times I've taken bullets, or most recently, biotic attacks is… unpleasant. But I can look at my knee and see it's not shattered." He frowned and bowed his head slightly. "The memories that are had to escape are those of despair."
"So…" Shepard said, trying to find something to say to shake Thane out of his despondent thoughts. Despair was certainly one of the more forceful memories. "You can remember everything that happened in your life?"
Thane smirked. "Nearly. And I expect if we remembered the birth trauma, we'd never recover from it."
Shepard laughed lightly. "That's one memory I'm sure no one wants to go back to."
"So you can also relive every assassination you've ever made?"
"In perfect detail," Thane replied immediately. It was obvious that this was a question often asked. "Every mistake I made. Every target's last breath."
"You never feel guilty about the people you've killed?" Shepard asked carefully.
"Why should I?" Thane replied with a small shrug. "My employers killed them. My body was only the tool they used. If you kill a man with your gun, do you hold the gun responsible? The bullet fired from the gun?" he rationalized.
"It's more about knowing the difference in the matter of right and wrong. You clearly understand that."
"My soul does, but my body is merely flesh. Flesh whose reflexes were honed to kill," Thane replied. Seeing the look of confusion on Shepard's face, he elaborated. "Drell minds are different from humans'. We see our body as a vessel and accept that it is not always under our control."
"Do you assume any responsibility for the things you or 'your body' does?" Shepard asked, trying to wrap his mind around these concepts.
"Not every action performed by my body is a result of conscious choices. I take responsibility for those that are."
"Which would lead us back to your memories of despair," Shepard pointed out.
Thane nodded. "Yes. Humans often believe in a soul distinct from the body. A spirit responsible for moral reasoning that lives on after the body's death. Our belief is just a bit more literal."
"The last time we talked, you remembered one of your assassinations. Something about 'sunset-colored' eyes?"
A cross between absolute bliss and overwhelming anguish dominated Thane's face at that statement. "Ah. That time," he said evenly before he suddenly sat up straighter in his chair. "/Laser dot trembles on his skull. Spice on the spring wind. Sunset eyes defiant in the scope. /" Forcefully removing himself from the memory he continued talking as if he never slipped into his solipsism. "A bystander noticed my spotting laser and threw herself between me and the target. She couldn't see me, but she stared me down."
Shepard overlooked Thane's brief lapse and continued the conversation as well. "Did you take the shot?"
Thane bowed his head, possibly in guilt, which was surprising considering his beliefs. "Not that day," he confessed quietly.
"You mentioned that memory before. Another vivid drell memory?"
"Not…" Thane said hesitantly as he tried to find the right words. Or was deciding to confide in him. "No. She was a vivid person."
Sensing that was all Thane wished to speak about, Shepard nodded and stood up. "I should get back to my duties. I appreciate that you're taking the time to talk with me."
Before he could leave, Thane spoke up. "Shepard. I also appreciate these chats we have."
"It just seems like you've spent a lot of your life alone," Shepard pointed out.
Thane gave out a small laugh. "Work fulfilled me. Reading. I barely spoke to anyone outside my family." He took on a thoughtful expression. "It seems there will be no one to mourn me when I die. You, Garrus; Both of you seem to be the only friends I've made in ten years."
"We're relying on each other for this mission. We have just as much to lose if we hold each other apart," Shepard said.
"I've found it difficult to sit in the ship's mess for meals," Thane admitted. "I'm used to keeping my back against a wall. Facing the doors." He smiled wryly. "I would eat in the solitude of my room, but Dr. Chakwas has also recommended that I remain active by engaging with other members of your team. Following your example with Samara, I had given some thought about asking Miss Goto if she would be willing to spar with me."
"I'm sure she'd appreciate something to do," Shepard said, making a mental note to come and watch to see if he can't pick up on their fighting styles.
"Perhaps. It would be another way of finding my center. Another way to relax." Thane thought about it some more before standing up and walking out of his room with Shepard at his side. "Thank you."
After parting ways with Thane, Shepard's omni-tool started beeping. Absently, he turned it off, already knowing why it was beeping in the first place. He'd set a reminder for himself to go to Miranda's office later tonight after dinner to talk. A reminder he didn't really need since their chat in the elevator. Instead of having dinner in the Common Area, he requested that Kelly bring his food to his cabin where he decided to retreat. Uncharacteristically, he didn't want to see Miranda yet. He wasn't even sure if he wanted to talk.
He tried to suppress his nerves by distracting his mind. Unfortunately, it was harder than he anticipated. All his work was done last night. The only person he could talk to about… whatever was on his mind, was the person he was supposed to talk to about whatever was on his mind.
For once, dinner tasted bland and unappetizing. He took to pacing around his cabin, staring at his fish or hamster, reading a paper book or a vid-book or just sitting back and listening to music. The distractions were temporary at best and useless at the worst.
When the hour closed in, Shepard shook his head and steeled himself. He knew he was being silly and stupid. They'd talk like rational adults and after, whatever will happen, will happen.
He just wished he knew what would happen.
Miranda found herself uncharacteristically nervous. As much as she wanted to talk about what happened a nearly a week ago on Illium, the idea of merely ducking the subject began having its appeal as well. She tried to rationalize that it was nothing. A mistake. A bout of sexual tension they'd succumbed to in the heat of the moment. As the same time, she knew the only reason it would affect her so much long after the act would mean it truly meant something. And the idea actually frightened her, especially since she didn't know what would happen after.
She asked Rolston to bring dinner to her office with excuse that she was too busy to eat at the Common Area. It was a lie, of course. She just didn't want to see Shepard until their meeting.
If I even want to see him at all.
All her reports were finished as per her normal efficiency. There was literally nothing to do in the confines of her office.
Rolston inadvertently provided some measure of distraction when he brought her dinner. He was happy, ecstatic even, about a message he received early this morning.
"I wanted to thank you again for saving my family, ma'am! I got a message from my wife! I've been listening to my daughter giggle over and over!" he excitedly said as he placed the tray on her table.
"I'm happy for you," Miranda said courteously. She meant every word though.
Rolston grinned and played the message. Listening to the little girl giggle and babble, Miranda couldn't help but smile.
"When this mission is over, I'm going to give her the longest hug she's ever had," Rolston fondly said as he listened to his daughter laugh for what must be the umpteenth time.
"I'm sure you'll have the chance," Miranda said, though she wasn't sure if she was honest about this statement.
"With you and Captain Shepard heading up this mission, I'm sure we'll be alright," Rolston replied. He saluted to her and left.
Miranda poked at her meal, taking a few bites, but couldn't stomach more. She would to see the mission to the end, her desire to succeed rivaling Shepard's convictions. But what would happen after?
When her thoughts turned to him again, she let out a sound of frustration and pushed her tray to the side. She had no idea what to make of their… whatever it was. The more she thought about him, the harder it was to stop. She knew she was attracted to that irresistible sense of purpose and force of will he possessed. She was intrigued by it.
She tried to occupy her mind with whatever she could find. Unfortunately for her, nothing was suitable and everything seemed to have his presence attached. Listening to Nielson's Fifth only brought back memories of Oriana and indirectly, Shepard. The vid-book her sister recommended to her, 'Men are from Omega, Women are from Illium' was even worse.
She almost jumped when her door chimed and had to force herself to calm down. After a few seconds, when she was sure her heart would stop trying to pound its way out of her chest, she called out, "Come in."
As expected, the door opened to reveal the man she wanted to see the most and the least.
Shepard slowly walked in and made a show of looking around her office. What he was looking for, she had no idea. When the door closed behind him, he whirled around before visibly calming down and turning to face her. "Hey."
Shepard sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "What was it?"
She knew exactly what he was referring to. "I don't know. It was… nothing? Something?" She sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. "Stress or blowing off steam? Or…"
"Something real?" Shepard said.
Miranda shook her head. "I have no idea how I feel about that. It's frightening and exhilarating and…" Turning around she walked over to her bed and slumped down on the edge of it. "This is no time for… for… emotional entanglement!" She looked up as he approached her slowly. "You and I know more about the Collectors than anyone! We know the odds, how unlikely it is that we're coming back alive!"
Shepard stopped just within arm's reach and let her vent.
Miranda swallowed the lump in her throat and scoffed to herself. "What idiotic bunch of hormones thought that now was a great time for love?"
"Love?" he repeated softly.
Her eyes shot open at the word and looked up at him. He was being completely serious. "That's not what I… I mean…"
"Is that how you feel?"
She looked away. "I don't know."
"Do you want to find out?"
She was silent for few moments as she gazed into his eyes. Eventually, she came to a decision. "Yeah. I do," she answered quietly before steeling herself. "So don't die! You promise me, damn it!"
"You and I both know it doesn't work that way. I've already died once. I don't have any illusions about my mortality. We could be dead on this next mission, or the one after that."
Shepard got down on his knees in front of her so that his eyes were level with hers.
Miranda was a bit surprised by the action. It almost seemed as if he was offering himself to her.
"If you don't think it's worth it…"
Miranda shook her head emphatically and slid off the bed to kneel with him. She wrapped her arms around him and laid her head on his shoulder. "No…" she whispered into his ear. "For you, it is."
She felt him wrap his arms around her as well. Swallowing her reservations, she pulled back a bit and placed her hands on the sides of his head. She pulled him closer and softly kissed him.
He reciprocated the kiss and pulled her closer. His right hand cupped her face and caressed her gently.
Their first kiss held a kind of smoldering passion. They pushed their boundaries, physically and emotionally, without caring about the consequences. This kiss was much more tender. They were exploring each other, feeling each other out.
Judging from the reluctance Shepard seemed to have in breaking the kiss, he liked what he found. Stopping only to breathe, he pulled her close and met her lips again with own. She didn't offer any resistance. Quite the opposite, she encouraged the action with a passionate moan and deepened the kiss. As the intensity increased, she found herself wanting more. She pressed her body against his, wanting to find relief for the sudden rise in ardor.
He responded move for move. His right hand fell from her face and wrapped around her waist. His left arm dropped to her right leg and gripped her gently before physically lifting her from their position on the floor and back on her bed.
Miranda broke off the kiss with a gasp as she was laid on the bed. She held his head with her right hand and started planting kisses along his jaw line and neck. Her left hand moved down to his waist and started pulling at the bottom of his shirt. She brought her left leg up and wrapped it around his waist, drawing him even closer.
Shepard let out a breath and started roaming her body with his hands, exploring as much as he could. Massaging her sides, cupping her breasts, rubbing her bottom; he stopped at the zipper of her blouse and pulled it down slowly. He was watching her carefully, gauging her reaction, if she was going to stop him.
She placed her hand on his and pulled the zipper with him, giving him tacit permission; her heavy breathing showed her approval, while her eyes spoke volumes of what she wanted.
Parting her uniform, he kissed her lips one more, briefly, before leaving a trail of kisses down the exposed skin of her body, moving past her bra-clad breasts. He paused around her belly button instead and left a few kisses there.
She paused and thought about his actions as much as her scattered thoughts would allow. He was almost being tender. Bastardly, but tender. He was choosing a place that was within reach, almost on a whim. The sweet idea that he wouldn't kiss a more erogenous spot first made everything about him more special.
But then wasn't being sweet anymore as he finally gave into both of their desires.
Oh yes… Oh god, yes…
She eventually stopped analyzing or overanalyzing their… relationship and enjoyed the moment as she stared up at the ceiling with half-lidded, darkening eyes while he pleasured her. Desperately, she helped him doff the rest of her clothes and allowed him to continue with his lazy ministrations, driving her higher and higher with the anticipation of bliss.
He was right. There was a real chance they would die. She also meant what she said.
It was worth it.
500+ reviews! Yay! Thanks to reviewer and fellow ME author pepoluan for taking notice of my work and steadfastly reviewing most of my chapters to bump me up there.
I also want to thank the people that admitted that they don't really review, but did so anyway because they chose to. I'm glad to hear your thoughts.
Credit goes to fongiel24 at the BioWare Mass Effect 2 Forums for the inspiration of Miranda's thoughts on Shepard.
Credit goes to CrazygurlMadness or just CM for the inspiration of the final scene. She's actually a Legend of Zelda writer, specializing in Zelda/Link fics and someone who's definitely more qualified to write. She's worlds better than me. With her permission, I borrowed a great deal of work to use as my own. Thanks. I really appreciate it.
I wrote that last scene as I did because knowing that they could die, why wouldn't anyone seize the moment before the end? Personally, I'm of the belief that BioWare created it as a kind of 'reward' for getting the paramour achievement or something. Put it at the end so you it'll make you feel like you accomplished something.