Summary: Shepard was a total noob during the first play through. She made terrible choices, skipped quests, and she didn't buy any DLCs. Hopefully she would do a better job saving the galaxy at new game plus.
Book I - Chapter 1: Patience
The apparition of the dead boy scowled at the wounded Spectre in irritation. "You don't have a choice. You don't have hope. The peace won't last. Soon, your children will create synthetics, and the chaos will come back. Besides, this crude device you called the Crucible will most likely devastate all organic life along with all synthetic life, seeing how ill-prepared you are."
Commander Jane Shepard took in a ragged breath, staring the self-proclaimed Catalyst wearily. The angry AI's previous explanations on the true purpose of the cycle left her reeling. Or maybe it was witnessing her loved ones dying in front of her so recently that still had her in shock. "I do have a choice. I can choose not to activate the Crucible… No. that means the Reapers would have won. Damned if I do, and damned if I don't. This is impossible."
The AI pressed again. "You must choose."
Shepard hung her head in despair. So it finally came down to one impossible choice, and it fell on the shoulders of one individual to make the call for the entire galaxy. Someone like her who had made numerous wrong decisions, who had to live with so many regrets. Shepard saw the faces of her fallen comrades flashing in front of her eyes. She did not try hard enough. She was not good enough. She was not worthy. It was Mindoir all over again. The Catalyst was right about how ill-prepared she was throughout the whole ordeal. Most of the time she was stumbling around like a fool with no concept of cause and effect. "If only I could do this all over again, I would. I would give anything to do it right. No matter the cost." The words tumbled out of her split lips in a hushed whisper.
"Re-play. Is that your final decision? Fascinating. Humanity surprises me again. Or maybe it's just you, Shepard." The Catalyst spoke with wonder.
Shepard snapped her head up. "What?!"
The ancient AI explained, "I can add your energy to the Crucible's. Everything you are will be absorbed and then sent out to a specific Prothean Beacon, ready to be downloaded when you first interacted with the device. It would take an enormous amount of energy to punch a hole in the space-time continuum, but it is well within my capability to do so."
"Yes! I choose to re-play. I'll do better, I swear. I will make it right this time!" Shepard felt hot, relieved tears rolled down her cheeks as an elating sense of hope vibrated through her body.
The ghostly figure of a boy grew taller, and morphed into the shape of her beloved Liara. "As you wish, Shepard." The AI whispered, and planted a kiss on her forehead before it disappeared.
Shepard grinned even as pain wracked her body when she sped up and took a running leap at the brilliant blue column of light.
Importing save file…
Commander Jane Shepard woke with a groan. Blinking slowly at the bleary figure hovering over her field of vision, she felt like the morning after shore leave. It would be a pain to wash out the purple puddles of ryncol induced vomit stains on her carpet.
"Easy there, Commander. How are you feeling?" Dr. Chakwas' familiar voice brought a rush of memory back to the forefront of her mind.
The Catalyst, the Crucible, Reapers…
Shepard bolted up to a sitting position, and instantly regretting it. "Aww." She palmed her eyes as a wave of dizziness knocked her off her back again.
"Bloody marines. Why do I even bother." Dr. Chakwas muttered. "The Prothean Beacon knocked you out cold. You've been unconscious for over a day. Do refrain from injuring yourself further in my med bay."
"Over a day?!" It was only 15 hours last time.
"Whatever the Beacon did, it put a lot of stress on your brain. There are some unusual beta wave change, but physically, you should be fine." Dr. Chakwas paused, glanced around the room to make sure they were alone, and lowered her voice. "Shepard, I am your doctor, you can trust me to keep your secrets. The things you put yourself through… I thought Elysium was bad enough."
Shepard sat up cautiously and gave the doctor a bewildered look. "I don't know what you are talking about, Doc."
Dr. Chakwas pursed her lips at Shepard's reply. "No need to play coy with me, Commander. I understand how black op works. My lips are sealed. I did a scan when you were brought in. Your medical file in Alliance service record is a hilarious fiction. As your attending physician, it is impossible to hide this from me. The least they could have done is to keep an honest list of all your cybernetic implants. This information is crucial for calculating the right drug dosage. It would have been a complete disaster if you were brought in for surgery and I gave you the wrong anesthetic, not knowing your cybernetic kidneys would metabolize it in minutes!"
Everything you are will be absorbed and then sent out to a Prothean Beacon, ready to be downloaded when you first interact with the device.
"Sorry, Doc. Classified info and all. You know how the game is played. Let the brass maintain this fiction. Just between us, I will give you the accurate update if you ask. Off the record, of course. You will have to destroy my record every time you take a scan." Shepard said with a poker face.
"Of course, you can trust my discretion. In fact, it's already done."
Shepard gave the woman a grateful smile.
"There is one other thing. I noticed an increase in your rapid eye movement, signs typically associated with intense dreaming."
The smile on Shepard's face turned rueful. "Not dreaming. I was remembering, reliving. Death. Destruction. The usual. Things I had to do, mistakes I've made, loved ones I couldn't save. It comes with the job, Doc. I try not to let it bother me. It's in the past, anyway." She said quietly with her eyes fixed on the floor, not wanting to see the look of sympathy on Dr. Chakwas' face.
The door to med bay slid open with soft hiss. Anderson and Kaidan filed in, both looking quite worried.
Shepard grinned at the two no longer dead comrades.
Before Anderson could speak, Kaidan began to apologize profusely. "I'm so sorry, Commander. It's all my fault! If I were more careful with the Beacon, you wouldn't have gotten hurt! It should have been me!"
Shepard raised a hand to stop him. "Don't blame yourself. I blame Saren. I bet he booby-trapped the thing to blow with proximity bomb to get rid of any evidence."
Kaidan agreed, "It makes sense."
Seeing the happy and hopeful look in his eyes, Shepard mentally slap herself; she had forgotten about his unfortunate crush on her. Now that's something she should nip in the bud before he embarrass himself every time they speak.
"Alenko and Williams both gave their reports already. I am aware what we are dealing with. We are on our way to the Citadel. How are you doing, Shepard? You've been out for a whole day. Should I be worried?" Anderson asked.
"No, sir. The explosion shook my brain, is all. I've had concussions like this before. I can attest from personal experience that a straight up flaming ryncol shot hurts more. It's comparable to headbutting a krogan." Shepard replied.
Anderson laughed. "You are fine if you can joke, good. Take some rack time for the rest of the trip. You will need it when we report our bad news to the Council."
Shepard saluted. "Aye aye."
By the time they reached the Citadel, Shepard had chatted with every crew member once and walked around her Normandy SR-1 twice. How she had missed her baby! But if she had to make things right…
Shepard frowned in dismay, but she quickly shook herself off to focus on more important issues.
Things were looking up already. Due to her "Alliance black op medical file", Dr. Chakwas did not mention to Anderson about how the Beacon had scrambled her brain. Therefore, the Council could not discredit her for spouting nonsense about visions and nightmares of doom. The Council could deny the existence of Collectors and Reapers all they want, but they would recognize the need to deal with Saren and his army of geth.
Oh yes, Shepard knew how to deal with Saren. One scared rogue Spectre was nothing comparing to the horrors that followed in his wake. Sovereign was only one Reaper vanguard. She knew better now to cool her head and make the call to save the bloody Council this time around. The power vacuum after the demise of the Council was the perfect opening for vermines like Cerberus to seize power. In hindsight, the mistrust all the races held for humanity afterward was the true cause of the failure to repel Reaper invasion. Humanity could not afford to stand alone. On top of that, Destiny Ascension and the ten thousand crew members on board would have been a formidable asset to retake Earth. Think how many lives would had been saved!
Shepard vowed to do better. This time, it would be different. She would be ready. It's time to go beyond her N7 training - how to be an effective marine, but a dull stone nonetheless - it's time to be a leader, to be a Spectre.
We would be legends, but the records are sealed. Glory in battle is not our way.
We will hold the line.
She had some serious scheming to do.
It was mostly the same as she remembered. Standing in front of the Council with her back ramrod straight, Shepard pretended not to be bothered by the condescending tone the Councillors had when they addressed Ambassador Udina and Captain Anderson.
"Humanity is not ready for a human Spectre, or a seat on the Citadel Council." Said the holographic projection of Spectre Saren.
Shepard tilted her head as she addressed the Council with a faint smile on her lips. "Perhaps. Humanity is young. As a result, we are commonly considered to be foolish, impatient, and overly emotional by other races. However, with youth, came adaptability. It would be ill advised to underestimate us."
The turian Councillor Sparatus' mandibles flared in irritation at Shepard's mild rebulk. "Is that a threat, Commander?"
"Hardly. It's an advice, Councillor. As I said." Shepard said innocently, ignoring the sharp look from Anderson.
"Damn, skipper. You sure got that skullface's feathers all ruffled. Nicely done." Ashley snarked after they got in the long elevator ride down from the Council tower.
Kaidan shook his head at the Gunnery Chief. "I don't know. I honestly can't say I blame them. If I were in their shoes, I would also take the words of my top agent at its face value."
"The Council's attitude with us doesn't matter. Think about it this way. When we bring them irrefutable evidence about Saren and his betrayal, they would look incredibly foolish after having said something about how humanity is not ready. I did advise them about underestimating us." Shepard said with a grin.
And boy, was she right. After a few firefights in the Ward, they got the irrefutable evidence they needed. Whey they presented it in front of the Council, Sparatus looked positively ill, Tevos paled before turning an interesting shade of lilac, and Valern's left eye twitched three times when the audio re-played again in the echoing Council chamber.
Shepard managed not to crack a smile when the humbled Council swore her in as the first human Spectre. The helmet helped.
"Sorry, Captain. It's not fair to take the Normandy from you." Especially with what she planned to do to this fine ship, Shepard couldn't help but feel she had wronged Anderson.
Anderson waved her off. "You will need her to stop Saren. This is for the best."
Shepard nodded, and decided to make another move to further set her plan in motion. "Thank you, sir. If you don't mind, I do have one question for you though. I would appreciate some clarifications."
"I understand that the Normandy and her crews are on loan to the Council. Alliance had no say in how the ship should be run until the mission is over. However, now that I am a Spectre, how would this impact my commision with the Alliance? There is no precedence."
Anderson seemed surprised at her question, but he answered quickly. "I actually have an answer for that curve ball. See, since humanity has been pushing for a Spectre for decades, the Alliance had anticipated this situation and made clear that once selected, a Spectre is considered to be honorably discharged. This is a matter of standard procedure for all council races. I should know. I was once a Spectre candidate myself, until I blew it. Or I should say, until Saren sabotaged me."
"I've heard of that incident before. Saren is a real piece of work."
"Be careful, Shepard. Don't get yourself killed. Saren is ruthless. Knowing his history, he will not hesitate to sacrifice civilian lives to get what he wants." Anderson cautioned.
Shepard frowned thoughtfully. Now this is a good opening. "I wonder what his end game is. He may be ruthless, he is far from stupid. Now that the Council is aware of his betrayal, I would not put it past him to assassinate the Councillors out of spite. With an army of geth at his beck and call, what's stopping him from targeting the Citadel directly? After all, what's civilian lives to him?"
Anderson grimaced as if punched in the gut. "You do paint a grim picture, Commander. Let's hope you are wrong."
"Wouldn't hurt to be more prepared." was her reply.
"You're right, it sure wouldn't hurt." Anderson agreed.
Shepard was glad she had enough foresight to wear a helmet with full faceplate for the Therum mission, even though it was not required. It would alarm Tali and confuse Wrex if they ever saw those big, fat tears flowing freely down her cheeks.
"Can you hear me out there? I am trapped. I need help!"
Shepard blinked away her tears. It took a minute and several deep breaths for her to finally centre herself. To everyone else, she probably appeared to be incredibly menacing just by standing there in her black N7 armor with her face fully concealed, while glaring at the traitor Benezia's daughter in silence. Nobody would guess she was trying her damndest not to sob at the sight of her previously deceased lover.
"Are you alright, Dr. T'Soni? What happened to you?"
Caught in the force field, Liara appeared to be scared out of her mind, just as Shepard remembered. "Thank the Goddess! Listen, this thing I'm in is a Prothean security device. I cannot move, so I'll need you to get me out of it, all right?"
Shepard gave a curt nod, and signaled her squadmates to follow. The mining laser worked just as well as last time, though she was a bit less enthusiastic with the blast. She had no intention to cause another cave in. Joker's gloating could get tiresome.
When she finally turned off the security device, it took everything she had to watch passively as Liara fell to the ground. Judging by her sickly pallor, she had been trapped in there for a while. Already prepared for this, Shepard quickly pulled out a canteen of water and a field ration bar from her suit and shoved them toward Liara. Shepard willed herself to look away as Liara's hands shook from the exertion of peeling open the flimsy plastic package. Showing any more concerns for a supposingly total stranger would invite too many uncomfortable questions.
"Look alive, we've got companies. A softshell and your typical junkers. Slag them." Shepard barked. "Dr. T'Soni, stay clear."
It was just as entertaining as last time when Wrex headbutted the mouthy tank-bred krogan clone so hard, he blasted the poor fool right out of the cave. This short but brutal exchange took all but one minute to wrap up. It helped that her biotic was much much stronger than before. It was almost unfair.
"Damn, Shepard. I didn't know Alliance trained vanguards could throw biotic around like this." Wrex growled with a happy lit to his deep voice. It almost sounded like respect.
Shepard gave the krogan warlord a noncommittal shrug. She was anything but a typical Alliance vanguard, and she saw no need to explain where she got her abilities from. She was content to let him draw his own conclusions, just like how she agreed with Dr. Chakwas' black op theory.
Not that anyone would believe the truth anyway.
On Shepard's order, the standard after mission debrief was delayed for twelve hours to spare Liara from a dramatic fainting. Knowing how weak Liara was, Shepard personally escorted the young asari maiden straight to med bay before she even took off her helmet. Her effort to refrain from doing anything inappropriately intimate was unfortunately perceived by everyone else as being a hard ass.
Sitting on a med bed to be fussed over by Dr. Chakwas, Liara asked in a small, uncertain voice that made Shepard's heart clench painfully. "Am I a prisoner?"
"No!" Shepard replied in a rush, before she caught herself and spoke more slowly. "You are a guest." She paused for a moment and decided to elaborate. "Rest. Get something to eat. Dr. Chakwas will take good care of you. We can talk once you feel better. I should go." She said, and left the room.
She refused to admit that it felt like running away.
Shepard gave the order to make for the Citadel right away.
For her plans to work, certain things had to happen in proper orders. Behaving like a single-minded bloodhound on a scent trail was one of her biggest mistakes. She refuse to fall into the same trap this time. Saren wasn't the big bad. There are bigger fish to fry.
Patience. Her one word mantra. Patience. She repeated it in her mind.
Twelves hours was a very long time. Shepard took a shower, wrote a report, ate in the mess hall, updated the armory's inventory, maintained the Mako, and took another shower before she made for the med bay. "How is our guest doing?" She asked the doctor conversationally, taking great care not to seem overeager.
Dr. Chakwas gave her a puzzled look before she answered, "Quite well, actually. All she needed was some decent food and rest after being trapped in a stasis field for five days."
Shepard hesitated. On one hand, she would love to talk to Liara right away, on the other hand, she was honestly afraid to spend more alone time in her presence. The last thing she wanted was to scare the shy asari maiden away. She could scheme and plot about her numerous enemies, but she couldn't seem to think straight when it comes to Liara.
"It's ok to show that you care, you know." Dr. Chakwas said with a sly grin on her face.
"Oh, to be so young again. It's quite obvious if you know where to look. Chin up, Commander. Soldiers with piercing eyes and sensitive souls are hard to resist." Dr. Chakwas actually giggled.
Shepard looked away. Damn it! She was sure her face was as red as her hair. "I don't know what you are talking about." She insisted.
"Can't fault your taste though. Dr. T'Soni is quite the looker." Dr. Chakwas chuckled, taking pity on the normally unflappable Commander Shepard. "She is not in the office, if you are wondering. She should be waiting for you in the meeting room for the debrief. Somebody gave her the impression that you would be very displeased if she were late."
"Great. Now she is scared of me."
"I believe Dr. T'Soni was only trying to make a good impression."
Somehow Shepard did not share the older woman's optimism. Unfortunately, her bad mood must have shown on her face. Because when she entered the meeting room, everyone jumped up to their feet and gave her a crisp salute. Wrex included.
Shepard scanned the room, perplexed at the reception. Was she really that intimidating? What had she done that would make people think she was a ruthless renegade? Well… She was quite bitter and full of anger when Cerberus resurrected her that she made a lot of bad calls, but it hadn't happen yet. And she would make damn sure it didn't this time.
"At ease." Shepard leaned back against the railing and gestured the team to take a seat. "Dr. T'Soni, glad to see you are doing better now." She commented, noticing the wide-eyed look on Liara's face.
"Com-Commander Shepard? You are not what I expected. Your helmet... I did not recognize you. I am rambling… Oh Goddess. You must think I'm rude." Liara looked like she was ready to kick herself. "What I meant to say was, thank you. You saved my life back there. Those geth would have killed me, or dragged me off to Saren."
The rest of the debrief went smoothly after the initial hiccup. In hindsight, Liara's theory about the Protheans and the cycle of extinction was spot on.
"I've read your works. They are very impressive. It's unfortunate your words don't carry much weight due to your youth."
Now people in the room was staring at her like she had sprout horns.
Liara looked excited, flattered, and frightened all at the same time. "You've read my research papers?!"
"Yes, I have. My favourite piece is the one on Fehl Prime dig. Your apprentice Treeya Nuwani is currently doing follow up work at the same site, by the way." Shepard said, frowning at the slack jawed expression around the room. "Was I the only person who bothered to gather intel on the primary target before the mission?"
Bothe Kaidan and Garrus looked rightly chastised.
"Wait. You've been studying the Protheans for fifty years, you have an apprentice, and you are considered too young? What?" Ashley exclaimed.
"She is only one hundred and six. Barely an adult by asari standard. The equivalent in human year would be about eighteen. Be nice." Shepard said to the Gunnery Chief.
"Humans have short life. It is a good thing. Sometimes I think krogans live too long." Wrex commented.
"Can we get back on topic? We don't have time to waste. We were talking about Saren and the Conduit." Garrus spoke impatiently.
Wrex growled at the former C-Sec.
Garrus flared his mandibles at the merc.
Shepard gave them a narrow-eyed glare, and both of them stiffened and backed off.
"Dr. T'Soni, please continue." Shepard said.
Liara shook her head. "Unfortunately, I do not have any information that could help you find the Conduit, or Saren."
"I don't know why Saren wanted you dead, either with or without Benezia's approval. He may come after you again, and I can't think of a place safer than here on my ship. Besides, the Council is not giving us much support. We could use the help from a Prothean expert and a biotic."
Liara smiled hopefully at the Commander. "You mean I can stay?"
"I'm not gonna lie. Even if you stay with us, it will still be dangerous. We will be fighting an army of geth, and you will have to confront your mother on the opposite side of the battle field in the future. Are you sure this is what you want?"
"Yes! Thank you, Commander. I am very grateful for everything you have done for me."
Shepard extended a hand toward Liara and said, "Welcome aboard."
The soft touch of Liara's warm hand in her own roused a swarm of butterflies in her belly. The thought of never letting go crossed her mind for a fraction of a second before she grinned, and let those blue fingers slip out of her grasp.
After much internal debate, Shepard decided to bring Liara and Tali along on her second visit of the Citadel. She wanted to see Liara's adorable reactions to all the fascinating "Prothean" architectures. Similarly, she wanted Tali to be able to visit the Citadel without being treated like a second class citizen.
What she forgot to take into consideration was getting an urgent call from Lieutenant Girard regarding a delicate situation as soon as she set foot inside C-Sec Academy.
Cursing herself for letting something this important slip her mind, Shepard led the team back to the elevator for the long ride up to the docking bay. "We have a situation on the docking bay. A traumatized girl with a pistol is about to hurt herself. She was taken by the batarians as a slave for the past thirteen years. They want me to talk her down. Fair warning, this won't be pretty at all. No matter what happens today, I would really appreciate it if you keep it to yourself. I would consider this a personal favour. The rest of the crew don't need to know all the details."
Liara and Tali shared a concerned look, but they easily agreed to her request.
Out on the gangway, two Alliance officers stood nervously in front of the Normandy. Lieutenant Girard saluted the Commander and updated her on the situation. "Got the sedative to calm her down, but the girl won't let us get close to her. Every step we take, we just get her more wound up."
Shepard took the sedative from Girard and slowly made her way toward the former slave who referred to herself in third person. As an animal.
With her best cat coaxing voice, Shepard asked the girl to think back. Eventually the girl started to remember herself. Shepard took a step forward, but the girl pulled up her pistol.
Shepard stopped. "I was from Mindoir too. I lived with my grandma and my dad in a small cottage at the edge of a lake. When the batarians came, they set the house on fire with us in it. My dad was not a fighter, but he was an Alliance engineer before he retired to the colony to raise me. He still had his service pistol, and he gave it to me and told me to run. I was too scared to move, and they caught up to us and shot him in front of my eyes. Grandma screamed at them, and they shot her too. I tried to run, but they were faster. Two of them jumped on top of me to put a collar around my neck. I fought back. I was never this angry, this scared, in my life. So I pushed. I pushed them back with my mind, and they flew away from me. I picked up my dad's pistol and shot them when they were down."
Shepard took another step closer. "There were five more of them nearby, and they all started shouting and firing at me. I took a couple hits, but at the end I killed them all. I was planning to go down fighting, and it surprised me too, when I survived. I knew I was a biotic, but I was never trained. I didn't even have implants back then, but I figured seeing my family slaughtered was enough motivation to try."
The former slave stared transfixed into Shepard's sad green eyes. Shepard took one more step. "I sat in the middle of the carnage, shellshocked. A few more batarians showed up, and I broke their necks with my mind. All except the last one. I was bleeding out, completely exhausted. It felt like my head was splitting open with all that uncontrolled biotic rampage. The last slaver got me. He held me up by my neck, choking me with his bare hands. I pulled up my dad's pistol and unloaded the entire clip until the gun exploded from critical overheat. I lost three fingers in my right hand, and I blew a hole through his spine. I lay on the ground and waited to die."
The pistol slipped from the girl's slack hand, but Shepard pretended not to notice. She took a final step, now within an arm's reach of the girl. "All that waiting must be worth something. The Alliance finally came to save the day. They pushed all the batarian slavers out of the colony. My mother was serving as a Lieutenant on SSV Einstein, and her ship was one of the first to arrive. She led a squad of marines and found me half dead and covered in batarian guts. She held me and cried. She never cried."
Shepard put her arms around the girl's bony shoulders and gave her a hug. The girl began to weep. "They fixed me up, gave me back my missing fingers and threw in a set of L3 implant for good measure. They asked me if I wanted to have the scars on my face removed, and I told them where to shove it. They didn't understand. I didn't want to forget. I had to remember that weak, scared girl who stood by and watched her family die." She spoke softly, fingers tracing the small nick that split her left eyebrow.
She handed the sedative to the sobbing girl, and asked, "do you remember you too?"
The long elevator ride down to C-Sec was beyond awkward.
Finally, Tali could not stand the silence. "The story you told her… Did it really happen?"
"If you don't mind me asking, how old were you?" Tali asked.
"Two months before I turn sixteen."
"Keelah!" The quarian exclaimed.
"It could be worse. I was lucky." Shepard said softly. "That girl and what she went through… It could've been me."
That ended the line of conversation.
The last time Shepard was on the Citadel, she was in a too much of a hurry to explore. She figured rescuing Liara from the stasis bubble was more urgent than scanning the keepers for Chorban. Wanting some distractions after the incident on the docking bay, Shepard took her time to simply walk around the Presidium, just talking with people; mediating disputes, signing autographs for a fan, those sorts of small things.
Shepard had a mental checklist. There were three names on the top of that list - Admiral Kahoku, crime boss Helena Blake, and Consort Sha'ira.
Assignments from Kahoku and Blake would take a while, but Sha'ira's problem could be resolved right here on the Citadel, so Shepard got it out of the way quick enough. But then, another awkward situation came up when the Consort insisted on expressing just how much she appreciated the Commander's good deed of the day.
"Um, we'll wait outside. Take your time." Liara grabbed a clueless Tali and practically dragged her out of the Consort's chamber as if the place were on fire.
"Wait, what?" Shepard was stunned for a moment when Sha'ira pressed up against her and trailed a few light kisses along her jaw.
"Relax, Commander. You are much too tense." Sha'ira purred, put her hands on Shepard's hips, and proceeded to ravage her mouth with a toe-curling kiss.
Between the kiss, the touch, and the sheer amount of pheromones Sha'ira put out (enough to drown an elcor), it took Shepard a whole ten seconds to gather enough strength to finally push the Consort away with a ragged gasp. "Stop, stop!" Shepard stumbled backward until her back was against a wall. "I just wanted to talk!"
Sha'ira stared at Shepard like she had never seen such a strange creature before. "It is obvious that your body intimately understands the joy of an asari's touch. You are clearly aroused, and I am more than willing, so why do you abstain?"
Shepard shook her head like a wet dog, trying very hard to focus. It was nigh impossible in the presence of a sexually charged asari Consort who took her refusal as a personal challenge. "Liara." She gasped.
The overwhelming fog of want lifted in an instance. Shepard sighed with relief. She straightened up and crossed her arms defensively in front of her chest. "That wasn't very nice."
"My sincere apologies, Commander." Sha'ira had the decency to look contrite. "I was unaware you were already taken. I can assure you, this will not happen again without your expressed permission. Now then, what do you want to talk about?"
Shepard took out a sealed envelope from a compartment of her hard suit. "Your discretion and two tasks. You will help me save millions of innocent lives." She handed the envelope to the Consort.
Sha'ira inspected the heavy paper product in her hands, bewildered. "Ink and paper? This is most unusual, Commander. And what do you mean by saving millions? I don't think you are one to exaggerate."
Shepard sighed. "Anything digital can be hacked. Lives are at stake. Secrecy is required."
Sha'ira leaned forward and gave the Commander a sharp look. "Go on."
"As a personal favour, please have this letter delivered to Matriarch Aethyta in Illium. I won't tell you any details because the less you know, the safer you will be. I have powerful enemies, Consort. They have eyes and ears everywhere. My own life depends on your discretion."
"Consider it done. What of the second task?"
Shepard put a hand over her eyes tiredly. "This one is a bit trickier. It's about Saren."
Sha'ira asked with a slight frown, "The rogue Spectre? I've heard. He betrayed the Council and amassed an army of geth. I am afraid I cannot help you much regarding Saren. I have avoided association with him for decades, I don't have any insider information on him."
"No, that's not what I need." Shepard paused for a long moment, thinking hard. At the end she decided to reveal as little as possible. "On the audio file recovered from a geth hard drive, Saren was talking to Lady Benezia about bringing the return of the Reapers and searching for a Prothean weapon called the Conduit. I was made Spectre and given the task of stopping Saren by the Council."
Sha'ira nodded, already awared of this information.
Shepard continued, "I omitted a critical information on my initial report to the Council. The Beacon on Eden Prime contained a telepathic Prothean distress call. When I touched it, it gave me a warning about the Reapers."
"You hid this from the Council?!"
Shepard gave Sha'ira a dry look. "What was I supposed tell them? That I had a bad dream, that the ancient sentient race of machines that had caused the Protean extinction is back to kill us all? You know the Council better than I do, you can probably guess what their response to my claim would be. Any sane person wouldn't believe me. Hell, I wouldn't believe me."
"If even a fraction of what you said was truth…"
"I can show you. The question is, do you really want to see it?"
Sha'ira sat very still.
Shepard let the Consort take her time to consider her offer. After a few minutes of tense silence, Sha'ira gave the Spectre a slow nod.
"The imagery is very gruesome. It will give you nightmares." Shepard warned.
"I will cope."
Shepard walked up to Sha'ira, relaxed, and closed her eyes. "Then see for yourself."
Sha'ira's fingers lightly touched her temples. "Embrace eternity." She breathed, and she saw.
Legions of machine devils dropped out of the sky, killing, burning, reaping, leaving whole worlds dead. Everything was burning. Fallen loved ones twisted into soulless husks, grisly mockery of who they once were in life. Flesh of the dead perverted and used as slaves. People screaming for help that would never come. The Citadel was the first to fall. Trapped, nowhere to run. Evil pouring out of every mass relay, raining down death and destruction in every world. Trillions mowed down like weeds. Betrayal. Indoctrinated servants of the machine devils. Surrender was not an option. Resistance was futile. Inevitable was the cycle of extinction of all organic life...
Shepard felt the blind terror leaking from Sha'ira's end of the connection and quickly severed the meld. The Consort wept like a child in her arms, inconsolable. Shepard sat her down on the floor, rocked her back and forth in a soothing gesture and waited for the tears to dry. "Hey, hey. Breathe. It's alright. You are not really there. You are safe. I've got you."
Eventually, Sha'ira was aware enough to form words again. "How could you stand this? How could you be so strong? That vision… Goddess. It almost killed me." She whispered. Her body still trembled uncontrollably.
Shepard wasn't sure what to say to that.
When Sha'ira finally regained enough composure to stop shaking, she gently disentangled herself from Shepard's arms, planted a grateful kiss on the human's forehead, and regally sat down on her couch. "Thank you. Now, name your second task for me."
Shepard dusted herself up from the floor, and took a seat opposite to the Consort. "I have a theory that whatever this Conduit is, Saren will use it to launch an ambush here at the Citadel. It's the same tactics the Reapers used against the Protheans. Citadel is the heart of the galaxy. It makes perfect sense to attack here first. There are thirteen million people living here, that's thirteen million lives at stake, Sha'ira. I can't ask the Council to mobilize its fleet based on one human's vision and gut instinct."
"The Destiny Ascension…"
"Is one dreadnought. Saren has one too. It's the Reaper that attacked Eden Prime. Saren also has an army of geth on his side. When he attacks the Citadel, Destiny Ascension will be the first thing he shoots down. You know what a Reaper can do. You've seen it. Destiny Ascension will not stand a chance in an ambush."
Sha'ira let out a groan of dismay. "So there is no hope."
"There is hope." Shepard spoke with conviction. "One Reaper, Sha'ira. Just one. The machine may be sentient, but it is not unbreakable. And we know it's coming here." Shepard moved forward and knelt in front of the Consort, holding her hands in her own. "I need your help. Use your influence. Convince C-Sec to organize an evacuation drill for the whole Citadel to minimize civilian casualties. Sway the Hierarchy, the Matriarchy, the Union, the Alliance, any military power you can influence to arrange for more garrison. We must be ready for Saren's army. Most importantly, make the Council heed my warning about the Reapers when I have more than just my vision to impress them. Servants of the Reapers will seek to discredit me. We must not let them succeed. United, we stand a fighting chance. Divided, we are all doomed."
Sha'ira put her hands on either sides of Shepard's face, studying the woman's ernest expression fondly. "You really do believe that, don't you? Very well, Commander. I see your pain, your strength, your will, and your love. You are an indomitable force that inspires hope in your friends and strikes fear in your foes. You have my unlimited support. You lead, and I shall follow. May Goddess guide you, Shepard."
"Thank you." Shepard inclined her head, feeling a flood of relief that her gamble had paid off. With the Consort on her side, it would make her quest to unite the races that much easier.
"So, this Liara you spoke of. She was the young asari maiden trailing behind you with those doe eyes, am I right? Tell me more about her." Sha'ira asked with a grin, and let out a peal of laughter at the startled deer-in-the-headlight look on Shepard's face.
Scuttlebutt sure travels fast.
As luck would have it, Private Fredricks ran into Liara and Tali outside the Consort's chamber and learned of their Commander's hour long private audience with the Consort. Not only that, Nelyna the acolyte greeter also informed the marine just how much Shepard had impressed the Consort.
"Sha'ira insisted that the Commander Shepard should be placed on our preferred client list." Was the exact words, according to the extremely envious Private, who was currently regaling the tale of their Commander's apparent sexual prowess in the Normandy's mess hall to everyone who cared to listen.
That meant everyone.
"Oh man, it must be an N7 thing. Stamina, I tell you. The Commander is deceptively strong. She was trained as a vanguard. She can toss people around not only with her muscles, but also with her mind. Get it, tossing?" Joker winked suggestively at the rapidly paling Private Fredricks. When he noticed his friend's stiff posture, the lewd grin froze on his face. "She is right behind me, isn't she?"
"Yes, she is." Shepard drawled.
"I am so dead." Joker hung his head.
"No, ma'am. Apologies, ma'am." Joker snapped to attention with a slight tremor in his voice.
"Break's over. Back to your post." Shepard spoke curtly without raising her voice.
"Yes, ma'am. Right away, ma'am." Joker promptly obeyed. His creaky legs carried him away as fast as physically possible.
Shepard gave the quiet room a slow once over. Everyone was suddenly very interested in their own meal. She grabbed a tray of food from the chow line and sat down next to Ashley.
"Sorry, ma'am. I should've stopped them before you got here. They were out of line." Ashley began.
Shepard shook her head. "The day marines stop talking about sex is the day the sun implodes."
"I hear you, skipper."
They then moved on to safer topics, such as speculations on Admiral Kahoku's missing marines in the Artemis Tau system, and geth incursions in the Armstrong clusters. Shepard was only paying half of her attention on the discussion. In the corner of her eyes, she noticed Liara was sitting with Tali in a corner table, pushing food around her plate instead of eating it. Tali did not even tried to eat. She just sat there.
Ashley noticed what, or who, Shepard was looking at. "They have been like this since they got back from the Citadel. Did something happen?"
"No idea. I'll talk to them." She said, and got up to put her tray away.
"Shepard, you want to see me?"
"Yes. Close the door." Shepard closed the report she was reading and gestured Tali to take a seat.
Tali sat, twisting her hands together anxiously.
Shepard recognized the nervous habit, but chose not to comment on it. "You seem down. I notice you weren't eating. If you are not feeling well, you should go see Dr. Chakwas. She can prescribe some medication to boost your immune system."
"No, it's not that." Tali wave her hands. "It's… I'm sorry, Shepard. I did something I'm not supposed to. And now I don't know how to fix it."
Shepard frowned. "What did you do?" She asked.
"I think I've upsetted Liara terribly." Tali confessed.
That was not what Shepard expected to hear. "How so?"
Tali started twisted her hands again. "I was curious about the Consort, so I asked Liara to explain to me the role of a Consort and asari culture in general. She told me that a Consort was considered a very powerful and well respected figure in asari society. Sha'ira, especially, was held in great esteem. She was known to be a woman with remarkable compassion and a generous spirit. To be favoured by Sha'ira was considered a great honour."
Shepard waited for the part where Tali offended Liara, but the quarian stopped there. "And?" Shepard prompted.
Tali tilted her head. "And then she looked sad all of a sudden. My curiosity regarding the Consort had upsetted her."
Shepard blinked. "Is that it?"
"No. There is more. And then Private Fredricks saw us sitting on the bench outside the Consort's chamber. He came by to say hi, and he asked us what we were doing sitting there. I told him we were waiting for you to finish your business with Consort Sha'ira. He looked very surprised. He didn't think you would cheat on Lieutenant Alenko."
Shepard palmed her face. "I think I know what the problem is. You didn't do anything wrong, Tali."
"I didn't?" Tali looked unconvinced. "Forgive me, Shepard. This is very new to me. Back on the Flotilla, I didn't have many friends. When I left for the Pilgrimage, people always treated me like a beggar or a thief. Very few people treated me as an equal. You and Liara are among the few who do. I would loath to damage our friendship by doing something stupid."
"Trust me, Tali. You didn't upset Liara. I did."
"Really? I don't get it, but I'll trust your judgement." Tali said, and left the captain's cabin with more questions than she came in with.
Shepard didn't waste time. After Tali left, she went straight to the med bay office to clear up this misunderstanding with Liara.
The resident Prothean expert was staring blankly at the monitor screen when Shepard entered the room. Liara was so distracted, she didn't notice Shepard's presence until the Commander cleared her throat to get her attention. The unexpected noise made her jump a foot high with a startled squeak. "Goddess! Commander Shepard! I didn't hear you come in."
"Just want to see how you are doing."
"I am doing well. Thank you for asking." Liara said quickly.
Shepard studied Liara's familiar features for a long moment. Liara squirmed under her intense gaze.
"Liara." Shepard spoke her name softly.
The maiden flinched. "Y-Yes, Commander?"
Shepard looked straight into Liara's nervous blue eyes and stated simply, "I am not in a relationship with Lieutenant Alenko. I have never dated any men. I did not have sex with Consort Sha'ira."
Liara's eyes widen in disbelief. "You refused the Consort?"
Liara frowned in confusion. "Why would you do that? And why are you telling me all this?"
Shepard didn't answer. She just stood there, waiting patiently with an eyebrow raised.
"Oh." Liara finally caught on after a minute or two. "Oh!" The most amazing shade of lavender spread across her cheeks. Liara looked incredibly flustered.
"You can call me Shepard, or Jane when we are alone, if you want to." Shepard said, her voice barely above a whisper.
Liara's breath hitched. Shepard recognized the sign and had to fight the urge to caress Liara's neck fold with a finger. The sounds she could tease out of her if she just…
"There is no rush. I can wait." Shepard said, smiling indulgently at the way Liara practically glowed with happiness. "Meanwhile, we can get to know each other better. Tell me about yourself."
A/N: I assume readers of this story have played the games before, that's why I've skipped over a lot of details because that's not what I want to write about. I don't want to regurgitate in-game dialogues word for word unless it serves a purpose.