Author's notes: I know this pairing isn't to some people's tastes; actually, I don't think anybody has written a fic about it yet, so wahey, I'm the first! So, tell me your thoughts. It's rather hard to keep Ashley in character without her seeming racist. In the game, she wasn't so bad with female Shepard, but with male Shepard she could be downright malicious about aliens, until you convert her, that is. I love that. She's not that bad in the end, but in any case, I've written this based on the female Shepard gameplay: where Ashley's a little suspicious of aliens but not nasty about them. I can't stand people who like attributing to the many the behaviour of the few, and it's pretty hard trying to see things from the point of view of those said people. So, I find it hard to empathise with Ashley for this reason, but that make's the story more of a challenge to write, so I'll grasp it with both hands! Enough waffling: Enjoy, please review, and if you want to give any suggestions, or find any mistakes – let me know!
The Other Side of the Pond
The Mako bounced over a steep hill of snow and ice, crashing down the other side with a cloud of ice whirling up from the heavy back wheels.
Ashley gritted her teeth as she was jolted about in her uncomfortable seat. As much as she enjoyed being invited to be in the shore party, she would rather reduce the amount of time they had to spend cooped up in the Mako. Though the rover looked huge from the outside, once within and surrounded by every conceivable bit of technology which was strapped to the walls, there was little room for three. Well, there was, but it would involve one of them riding as a passenger and none of the crew was willing to do that. Instead, Shepard was driving, as she always did (though her skill in this capacity was often questioned by her queasy passengers), Ashley was on the main gun, and Garrus was... well, she wasn't exactly sure what he was doing; she was no tech expert, after all. As far as she could see, he was just tampering with switches and screens, and what she assumed was the navigation system. There was the grenade launcher, but they had encountered no hostiles so far, so he hadn't needed to use it. Such lack of confrontation was also making Ashley's job rather tedious at present.
The Mako lurched downhill, and Ashley was thrown backwards slightly, into the turian, who was already squashed too close to her for comfort. She scowled and pushed herself back into her seat, avoiding her ally's stare.
She had noticed that Shepard (who had slightly more room than them at the front of the Mako), hadn't placed the three Alliance soldiers (Shepard, Ashley and Kaiden), together in a ground mission since Eden Prime, even on the assignments that had nothing to do with finding Saren. Ashley was repeatedly being taken on missions with Wrex and Garrus. Musing over it, she wondered if the Commander –after reflecting on their conversation about Ashley not trusting the pair –had decided it would be easier for the Gunnery-Chief to bond with them, or trust them, or whatever, if she was forced to help them and be helped by them in battle. Or perhaps Shepard just had a bad sense of humour. Ashley had noticed her little hints though, trying to encourage her to make small talk with the aliens in the mess. So far, Tali was the only one she preferred, which was ironic, considering how the majority of people mistrusted quarians the most.
As the Mako swung sideways abruptly, Ashley's face connected with the gun in front of her. She whipped her head back in pain, clutching her nose, just as Garrus was thrown back from his seat. Their heads smashed together, and Shepard stopped the Mako and turned to look at them as coupled groans and expletives filled the claustrophobic vehicle.
"You two okay?" she asked, unable to keep a small grin from her lips.
Ashley pulled a face, trying to rub the back of her head and her nose simultaneously and looking odd for it.
"You're a sadist, skipper," she grumbled with a rueful smile.
"It's not my fault," Shepard grinned. "Besides, I think it's a good way for the crew to get to know each other."
"All right then, why don't you come up here and 'get to know' Garrus, while I drive?"
Shepard opened her mouth to reply, but the turian interrupted. His strange little eyes were focused on something through the glass of the Mako's small windows. He pointed.
"What is that? Over there."
Ashley squinted. A few metres ahead, through the moderate snowfall, she spotted a partially covered platform, surrounded by a strange ring of pillars. There was no way the Mako could make it over there, even that wasn't sturdy enough to roll over the jagged rocks in between them and the odd structure.
"It looks Prothean," Shepard mused. She paused for a while, before fiddling with some screen in front of her.
"I don't think the Mako can reach it, Commander," Garrus frowned. Well, he didn't actually frown –turians didn't have especially expressive faces –but he sounded doubtful.
"Clearly," Ashley said. "We should just leave it; we've got geth to kill."
"No," Shepard replied simply. "It could be useful, or valuable. I'm gonna check it out, you two stay here."
"No way!" exclaimed Ashley. "I'm going with you. It could be dangerous out there."
Shepard shook her head, sliding her helmet on and connecting it up. Now only her eyes were visible through the narrow slit. She tapped the screen she'd been using seconds before.
"This is a thermal sensor, and it's got enough range to pick up my signal fifteen metres from here. Anyway, you can't come with me Ash, you're the only one of us who doesn't have thermal armour on and I don't want to risk you freezing to death."
"Then take Garrus," Ashley answered, volunteering the turian.
"No, he knows more about the Mako than you, and if something does go wrong, I'd feel much better if he was in here so you guys can help me out."
Ashley scowled, firstly at Shepard's acknowledgement of the turian apparently being more use than her, and secondly at the fact she'd be trapped within the confines of the Mako with him.
"Keep an eye out," Shepard advised. She pressed a lever on the control panels, and the heavy metal door slid open. A brief blast of cold air hit the pair left behind, but Shepard was quickly outside and the door closed behind her.
Ashley hopped out of her seat, and dropped into the one Shepard had just vacated, watching through the wind screen as her comrade forced her way through the blustery atmosphere towards the ruin, directed by a small handheld device which she was attempting to shield from the fierce storm with her hand. The snow storm seemed much worse when they observed someone in it than when just looking through the glass at a white landscape.
She became aware of movement behind her as Garrus abandoned his previous work and came to observe too. He was hunched over, because of the low ceiling, and his attention seemed focused more on the thermal sensor, but it didn't stop Ashley feeling uncomfortable at their close proximity as he leaned over her shoulder.
She glanced back momentarily, jumping as she saw how close his face was to hers. Frozen for a few brief seconds, she stared at him, the alien. Despite having been around these people for quite a while and despite having seen plenty of aliens before, it still amazed her how different they looked from humans, even though some of their emotions and personalities seemed similar. That was one of the reasons why she didn't trust them. Shepard might think they're all friendly and innocent, but Ashley knew full well how underhanded they could be, turians in particular.
She wondered what her father, her whole family would say if they knew what she was currently feeling, the way her innards seemed to be tying themselves in knots, and inexplicable feelings boiled together as she sat there.
Garrus' pale eyes drifted down to hers, though he seemed oblivious to the choking atmosphere that Ashley could feel.
"I don't like this either," he said, perhaps mistaking her intense stare for anger. "But so long as this thermal sensor is picking up Shepard's signal, we shouldn't need to worry. I think she should have allowed one of us to come with her, though."
"Then why didn't you say anything before?" Ashley snapped, falling out of her trance.
"I've already questioned the commander enough lately. She might not officially be my superior, but I consider her to be so while I'm a guest on her ship."
Ashley stared pointedly. It was clearly true what they said, turians are a very military-oriented people, and very keen on observing a hierarchy. She could see his point though. After having almost lost his temper with Shepard when she tried to arrest Dr. Saleon instead of killing him, Garrus probably wanted to remind her that he was still under her orders. She turned back to the colourful collage on the screen.
"I'd prefer it if we were heading directly to Virmire though, instead of stopping off on all these planets on the way," Garrus said from just behind her. "The Alliance knows the commander's mission, so surely they understand the urgency. I'm sure someone else could investigate geth activity."
"Yeah, but we have way more experience fighting them than anyone else. Besides, it's the first ground mission I've been on for ages, so I don't care what the mission is."
Garrus sighed. Ashley felt his warm breath on her skin, and shivered. It's weird, but she'd expected turians to be cold-blooded, seeing as they had quite a reptilian image, but that wasn't the case at all. Not that she made a habit of touching Garrus, or...
Ashley felt her colour rising. All of a sudden it felt a little too warm in the Mako. She slipped out of her seat, hovering near the closed metal door, hoping to recover her composure before Garrus noticed that she'd lost it.
"Come on, Williams!" she muttered sharply to herself, trying to picture her father's proud face. "He's just a turian. A turian. Ignore it."
She exhaled, feeling a little more relaxed. She noticed that Garrus was now stood in front of the chair, staring at the sensor with a strange fascination.
"Still good?" she asked, moving closer, so that she could see the readings too. She might not be able to tweak the Mako or patch it up as well as he could, but she knew what a thermal sensor was and didn't want to be left out of the fun.
"Yes," he answered tersely. The odd, reverberating voice of his species seemed strangely cold, echoed within the Mako.
"This is Shepard, do you read me? Ash? Garrus?"
"We hear you, Commander," Ashley answered as Shepard's voice filled the small space. They could hear the distorted sounds of the wind in the background, slightly muffling her voice.
"I felt something, when I was only a few metres from the Mako, kind of like the ground was trembling, but it was only brief. It could've been the wind, but I think you should run some scans, just in case. I'm gonna stick around here a little while longer, there's a treasure-trove of Prothean artefacts that I want to look at before I bring any back. Shepard out."
The comm channel fell silent once more, and the pair in the Mako shared a brief nervous glance. As Shepard said, she could have been fooled by the wind shifting the snow beneath her feet, but vibrations in the ground could well mean something more sinister.
"I'll go check it out," Garrus said shortly. He grabbed his helmet and ripped open a narrow container, pulling out a handheld device which was attached to a fairly long pole. Ashley didn't know exactly what it did, but she could guess.
"You can't go out there," she said. "We can't all get separated."
"We won't be getting separated," he replied offhandedly. "If you don't trust me, Chief Williams, then you're more than welcome to go out there yourself, otherwise, let me do my job."
"What?" choked Ashley, dumbfounded. "Has Shepard said something to you?"
"This isn't the time or place. I'll be back in a few minutes."
With that, he disappeared outside, and Ashley was hit with another sharp blast of air. She slid her own helmet on, a distinctly ominous feeling growing within her. Something wasn't right about the fact the team were all splitting up, not to mention the little bombshell Garrus had just dropped on her. Had her opinions about aliens been that obvious to him? It must be that, because she was sure Shepard wouldn't have betrayed her confidence like that. Or maybe he heard somehow? Maybe Joker told him; she always had retained the suspicion that he spied using the comm system. If so, how had Garrus managed to keep this knowledge under wraps for so long? Something must have triggered his sudden change in demeanour.
Ashley shook herself mentally. She was ashamed to be getting so worked up over what he thought of her. She should be more worried about what her family would think. She wondered if her father could see, from the afterlife. Would he be ashamed if he could see the torrent of emotion within her? It might just spill out sooner or later, especially if Garrus was determined on confrontation.
At that moment, there was a deafening rumble, and the whole Mako shook. Ashley leaped onto the control panel, taking control of the vehicle in case she needed to move fast. Shepard's reading on the thermal sensor was quite faint, so she must be quite far away. Much more unsettling was the other reading on the sensor.
A huge mass of heat was detected beneath them; though most of it was so vague it must have been many metres beneath the surface of the planet. There was however, a notably hotter section which must have been much closer to them.
A light was blinking on a grid in front of her, which displayed the various sections of the Mako. Parts of the side where the door was were flashing red, though the shields were still intact.
She slammed her hand onto the lever to open the door, and it grated open with some difficulty, steam rising from the panels outside.
Garrus tumbled into the vehicle, gasping for breath. Ashley immediately shut the door once he was inside.
He made his way over to her, still out of breath. Through his narrow visor, she could see the fear in his eyes as he uttered two words: "thresher maw."
Ashley's eyes widened, but she swung round and dropped into the driver's seat. She was getting their vehicle the hell out of there.