A Very Mass Effect Valentine's Day
Author's Note: There's about a metric ton of Shenko and Shepard/Liara work on the site and I decided it was time to address the dire shortage of Male Shepard/Ashley tales. This is intended as a one-off work, similar to the Christmas fic I did last year but if people want to see more, I'll see what I can do. Also, credit goes to Zing-Baby for putting the idea of Sovereign as a giant squid into my head.
I still don't know what I was waiting for
A big love to fall down from the sky
She took my hand and picked me up off the floor
She put an apple in my eye
I said I'm tired
Come get me off the merry-go-round
Come feed me and then bring-a-me down
Oasis, Waiting for The Rapture
Commander Augustus Shepard, Gunnery Chief Williams and Garrus Vakarian stood in the Council Chambers of the embattled Citadel, having finally put down the rogue Spectre Saren, and it had taken only, what, about seventeen hundred rounds?
Back lit by the Serpent Nebula, the warships of the Citadel and Fifth Fleets unleashed volleys of mass accelerator fire at the Reaper, Sovereign. Unfortunately for pretty much the entire galaxy, Sovereign appeared to be winning. In the airless void, cruisers exploded soundlessly, signalling the end of hundreds of lives. The Citadel Fleet's much-vaunted dreadnought, Destiny Ascension was taking a horrific pounding from the geth cruisers and couldn't seem to land a single telling shot from its own mass accelerator. Shepard briefly wondered what good a ship with a such a large main gun was if it couldn't hit anything.
Shepard shook his head; he and his crew had done their best, it was all up to the combined might of the fleets now.
Turning his attention back to his squad mates, Shepard ordered, "Make sure he's dead." Garrus and Wiliams nodded and left, the latter flashing her Skipper a brief smile that had nothing to do with them having just kicked Saren's turian ass from one end of the Council Chambers to the other.
Picking their way carefully through the wreckage left during the assault on the Presidium, the marine and former C-Sec agent arrived beside Saren's corpse. He'd ended up impaled on a particularly wicked-looking piece of glass, blue blood spreading around him.
"He doesn't look so tough now," Williams commented as she drew her sidearm. She pumped more rounds into Saren's head than was strictly necessary. "This is for Eden Prime," she said quietly. Blam. "This is for the Two Twelve." Blam. "This is for the LT, you bastard," she said, wiping tears from her eyes. Blam blam blam.
"Um, Gunnery Chief, I think he's quite dead now," Garrus said uneasily. He and the other non-humans aboard the SSV Normandy had grown quite close to Williams during their long months spent chasing down Saren but there were times, like now, that caused Garrus to check to see where the nearest exit was.
Standing, watching the space battle rage far overhead, Shepard cocked his head to one side at the sound of the gunfire. "Everything all right down there?" he called to Garrus and Ash.
By now, Saren's head had been blasted into a frightful mess. Williams replaced her sidearm and looked back up at Skipper, struck once again by just how damn hot he was. Oh Captain, My Captain...she thought as she and Garrus turned their backs on Saren's bullet-riddled body. In retrospect, that was a mistake.
"Well, that's just bloody brilliant!" Shepard exclaimed mere moments later as the cybernetically-enhanced Saren-husk came back to life, skull back in one piece. More or less. "I am Sovereign and this station is mine!" it said.
"Y'know, we didn't chase you from one end of the galaxy to the other, and be mass relayed straight into the Citadel inside a Mako just for you to win now!" Shepard yelled, feeling truly outraged by how things were turning out. Honestly, he thought, how much harder did things have to be? They had been forced to kill practically every geth in creation and had to handle more krogan than Shepard had thought still existed and they still weren't done yet! "And speaking of the Mako," he went on, oblivious to what was going on around him, "You're going to be paying to replace it, even if I have to gouge the credits out of your-" but he was cut off as Saren/Sovereign, apparently unimpressed by his ravings, blew him off his feet with a rocket. The blast hurled Shepard the length of the chamber and he came to rest against a wall heavily scarred by the earlier fighting. The impact left the Spectre dazed; black spots swarmed in his field of vision and the flow of blood through his veins was like a roaring in his ears.
"Shepard!" Williams screamed and raced to his side. Garrus backpedalled away from Saren, firing his assault rifle in bursts as the husk leaped around like a deranged grasshopper. A deranged grasshopper on red sand, even.
"Whoa! That was close," Shepard remarked as Williams pulled him to his feet. "Williams?"
"Skipper?" she replied, relief evident in her voice.
"Lock and load," Shepard replied, unleashing his biotics and trapping Saren in a singularity.
Temporarily pulled into the gravitational vortex that had suddenly opened up in mid air, Saren was helpless as Williams, Garrus and Shepard unleashed tungsten, sledgehammer and inferno flavoured hell.
This time, Shepard was sure, it was definitely over. Saren's body disintegrated into ashes with an inhuman scream. The Commander almost expected to hear a voice wailing, "I'm melting! Meltiiiing!"
"Sovereign's shields are down!" Joker called out over the comm. "We're going in hard."
Shepard stood looking up at the battle through the windows of the Council Chambers and smiled to himself. "Who's the vanguard of whose destruction, now?" he asked smugly.
He could afford to be a bit smug, he decided. Hadn't they all just basically saved the galaxy? So Shepard was thinking when the roof fell on him.
"How's the leg?" Williams asked the Skipper after the brouhaha and hoo ha had died down. Ashley had spent the last several days by her Skipper's bedside, unwilling to leave while he was unconscious. She had to know that he would be OK before she could allow herself the luxury of relaxing even slightly. The Skipper's injuries were not as severe as they could have been, she told herself. Having an ungodly huge piece of shot-to-hell sentient machine fall on him with only a badly broken leg and internal injuries to show for it was proof in Williams' mind that there were forces at work in the universe far more powerful than any number of Reapers.
"Ask me again in six to eight weeks," Shepard grimaced.
Six to Eight Weeks Later
"So how's the leg?" Williams asked the Skipper. He was sitting up in bed fiddling with his omni-tool.
"Pardon?" Shepard replied, looking up. And looking guilty.
"What are you doing with that thing? Are you looking at asari porn on the extranet again?" Williams demanded.
"...no," Shepard replied.
Williams crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him. From the speaker built into the omni-tool she could faintly hear manufactured moans of ecstasy. "I don't know, Skipper," she said, fighting the smirk on her lips. "Here you have a perfectly good-looking real woman right by your side and you seem to prefer alien smut. I'd feel offended if I didn't know it was just a guy thing."
Shutting off the amber-glowing omni-tool, Shepard turned to face...his girlfriend, he supposed she was.
"I know things have been a bit crazy lately but I just want you to know how important you are to me," he began. She silenced him by leaning over him and planting her lips onto his.
"Oh, I know," she said and smirked again.
Finally released from the hospital, Shepard hobbled along with the aid of a cane. His leg was out of the cast but he still felt a little shaky on his feet. Shepard was beginning to feel like the protagonist in that old medical drama he'd found on the extranet a while back. What was it called again? Cabin? No. Mansion? No, that wasn't right either. House. That was it. Absently, Shepard removed a small plastic pill vial from a pocket, popped it open and dry-swallowed a couple of pain killers. Then he frowned at his behaviour. His leg was basically fine, why was he still on the meds? Walking gimpy-legged to the nearest waste bin, Shepard dropped the pills into it. "That's quite enough of that," he told himself.
Shepard and Williams had agreed that they both needed some time apart from each other to process what they'd been through and to decide where they wanted their relationship to go next. The entire crew of the Normandy had been granted extended shore leave and many had left the Citadel to spend time with their own families and loved ones. Shepard thought that at some point he would have to introduce Ash to his own parents. His mother was the XO of the SSV Kilimanjaro but his father was currently stationed on a ship on the other end of the galaxy. At least he and Williams got to be on the same ship. Though for how much longer that would last was open to debate. The brass in High Command weren't yet aware of his and Williams little 'make love tonight for tomorrow we may die' moment above Ilos and he would try very hard to keep it that way.
Shepard would be in a very great deal of trouble over what the brass would see as 'fraternisation among the ranks.' But wasn't it more than just 'fraternisation'? There was more than just a physical thing between them, fun as the physical was, he thought with a grin. No, Shepard was fairly sure that he was...in love with Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams. And she with him. Which was a bit of a problem. Love made people do stupid things for stupid reasons. Love was illogical. Love was blind. But Shepard could no more stop loving Williams than he could stop breathing. The brass, Hackett, all of them would just have to accept that. And God help anybody who tried to reassign either of them.
"If I have to, I'll resign my commission and go my own way as a free agent," he thought aloud. His status as a Spectre more or less gave him the authority to operate as he saw fit. It'd be a real shame to have to say goodbye to the crew though, if it came to that.
So far, too much of Shepard's leave had been taken up by seemingly endless debriefings - debriefings with the Council - who suddenly had all the time in the world to hear about the Reapers, debriefings with Admiral Hackett and Captain Anderson and even a debriefing of sorts with Emily Wong. Except that had been more of a paid interview regarding his being the first human Spectre. Basically, the last several days had been debriefings out the yin yang and Shepard was thoroughly sick of it. Finally, though, the higher ups seemed to have satisfied themselves that they'd learned all they could from Shepard without actually scooping his brain out of his head and eating it.
As Shepard walked slowly through the Presidium, marvelling at how quickly the reconstruction effort was going, something began to nag at him. It was something about the date. A date with special significance. Armistice Day? No, they'd already marked that on the Normandy. It was something else. A religious thing? Christmas? No, that was later in the year. Easter? Hmmm, something to do with chocolate, he was sure of it.
"Come on Shepard, think," he muttered to himself as he passed by a damaged Avina terminal, the holographic asari flicking in and out of existence. "You placed second at the Academy and the only reason you didn't get first was because that scrag O'Riordan was banging the instructor...Think!" The date, the date was the key. Stopping abruptly, Shepard activated his omni-tool, his left arm seemingly encased by the holographic device. Cane resting against a nearby bench, the fingers of Shepard's right hand danced nimbly as he brought up a calendar. The date was February twelve.
The omni-tool helpfully highlighted the fourteenth day of February, known in some circles as Valentine's Day. Shepard realised with mounting horror that he'd completely forgotten to buy anything for his girlfriend. "Oh crap."
In his defense, Shepard had just spent the last several weeks in hospital, having his insides and leg put back together and he was sure that a rational, intelligent woman like Ash would understand him not being able to provide a gift but, Shepard decided, it would be incredibly poor form to not at least try to get her something.
But there was a small problem. He and Williams had served together ever since Eden Prime when Captain Anderson had added Williams to the Normandy's marine detachment. But, Shepard realised with a shock, he knew very little about Ashley Williams the woman as opposed to Ashley Williams the marine. In combat the marine in Williams was like a one-woman wrecking machine - switching tactics and weapons on the fly as the situation demanded. Frankly, the one-woman wrecking machine scared the utter crap out of him, sometimes. There were times during combat when a strange light seemed to appear in her dark eyes; a light that usually preceded her blowing something up with HE rounds. The upshot was that Shepard had next to no idea as to what sort of gift he should buy for her.
All he knew about the woman was that her grandfather had been accused of cowardice during the First Contact War and that she had a thing for poetry. Oh and that she was very close with her sisters...her sisters.
"Of course!" Shepard said, unaware he was speaking aloud, "Who knows Ash better than her sisters? They'll know what I should get for her!"
"You talkin' to me?" * a passing turian demanded.
"Pardon?" Shepard replied in surprise.
"I said: are you talkin' to me?" the turian repeated, voice harsh.
"I don't see anybody else here so I guess you must be talkin' to me," the turian went on.
"Listen, friend. I wasn't talking to you. I was just thinking out loud. Sorry to have bothered you," Shepard explained, trying to smooth things over.
"Where I come from, talkin' to yourself is a sign of mental instability," the turian said, dark eyes seeming to bore into Shepard. "You better watch yourself," he said then left as abruptly as he'd arrived.
"OK! Thanks for your concern," Shepard called after him. "Weirdo," he muttered under his breath.
*with apologies to Robert De Niro
Retrieving his cane, Shepard moved purposefully towards a bank of public extranet terminals.
Seating himself at a terminal, Shepard punched in the codes for the Williams residence that Ash had at some point 'accidentally' left in his locker aboard the Normandy. "Real subtle, Ash," he said with a smile. "If you wanted me to meet your family, you could have just asked."
Shepard waited while the establishing connection light blinked on and off. It blinked on and off for quite a while. The Spectre was almost at the point of removing the access panel from the side of the terminal to see if he could diagnose the problem himself when a familiar face from the other end appeared on the screen before him.
Shepard recognised the face as belonging to Ash's younger sister Sarah; Ash having shown him holos of her family. Apparently she'd also sent her family holos of him because the face of the girl onscreen showed instant recognition.
"Commander Shepard!" Sarah said, sounding surprised and delighted. "What a surprise!"
"Hi, Sarah, how are things?"
"Good, great! We heard about the attack on the Citadel on the news over here. Say, is it true that the Citadel was attacked by a giant alien squid?"
"Uh..." Shepard began, wondering how in the hell any details of the attack had made the civilian news services. "I'm not at liberty to say what may or may not have occurred either way."
"Oh," Sarah's face fell then an instant later it brightened up again. Girl's got some nice mood swings going on there.
"So how's my sister been treating you? Not working you too hard I hope?" the young woman asked and laughed. Shepard smiled in reply.
"Ash is doing great. We're doing great," he added.
"Aw, isn't that nice? You better be treating her right, Mister. If you do anything to break her heart, I swear I'll rip yours out," Sarah replied. Scarily, her voice remained as light and carefree as though she was oohing and ahhhing over cute fluffy kittens, even as she threatened to rip his heart out. Shepard swallowed past the sudden dryness in his throat.
"Listen, Sarah. The reason I called you," he began.
"Yeah?" she replied.
"What kind of flowers does Ash like?"
"Say what?" Sarah replied, blinking in confusion.
"Flowers, you now pretty things that grow on plants and usually have a nice smell about them?"
"Right, right," she answered, still looking weirded out by his line of questioning. "What's this about anyway?"
"Valentine's Day," Shepard stated.
"You're kidding me, right?" Sarah smirked.
"No, why would I kid about that?" Shepard asked, feeling more and more lost. He was beginning to believe that the youngest Williams daughter had some kind of undiagnosed mental disorder.
"Ash doesn't do Valentine's Day," Sarah flatly replied.
"What do you mean, she doesn't 'do' Valentine's Day?" he inquired.
Onscreen, Sarah's image rolled its brown eyes. "I mean she doesn't observe the celebration of February fourteen."
"Why the heck not?"
"Ashley believes the entire concept of Valentine's Day is just a scam. A conspiracy cooked up by the greeting card companies, florists and chocolate makers to screw credits out of well meaning saps like you. No offense."
"So...if I showed up on the fourteenth with a bunch of roses and a heart-shaped box of chocolates?"
"Dear God! Could you be any less creative?" Sarah sounded truly offended by the idea. "Alright look. It's obvious to me that you're head over heels in love with Ash so I'll help you out. Forget the roses and chocolates and crap like that. What you want is military-grade firepower," Sarah explained to an increasingly baffled Shepard.
"Guns, man. Buy her a gun!" Sarah massaged the bridge of her nose and shook her head, dismayed.
"I'm sorry. You expect me to believe that a woman, even a Marine like Ash would actually prefer an implement of death over a bunch of roses? You're setting me up, aren't you? Why are you trying to sabotage your sister's happiness like this?" Shepard struggled to keep his voice even.
"Listen, Shepard. Can I call you Shepard?"
"Knock yourself out."
"Alright look, Shepard. If I really wanted to screw up your chances with Ash, I wouldn't have told you about her thing with Valentine's Day. I woulda just let you act like a typical man and make a big fool of yourself. Instead I'm telling you exactly what you need to do to get my sister to fall on her knees in front of you and-"
Shepard held up a hand to stop her flow of words. "I don't like you talking about her like that," he said, voice edged with steel.
"Well so-rry! Look at you, Mister Night in Shining Armour!" Sarah sighed and said to herself, "Why can't they all be like him..."
"So. Buy Ashley a gun for Valentine's Day? I can trust you on this?" Shepard said.
"Cross my heart and hope to die," Sarah replied, running her index finger across her blouse in a cruciform gesture. "Oh and before I go, say hi to Ash for me, OK?" and she clicked off.
"That girl is completely insane," Shepard decided.
"Commander Shepard, good to see you again," the C-Sec requisitions officer greeted him.
"Thanks. I'm looking for something for my...partner for Valentine's Day," Shepard began. The turian sat back in his seat, mandibles twitching slightly, in amusement or confusion, Shepard couldn't tell. Perhaps it was a bizarre melding of both - Amusion? Confusement perhaps?
"Commander, while I do not know a great deal about human courtship behaviour, it is my understanding that a more suitable gift for one's mate to mark this occasion would be flowers and chocolates?"
"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" Shepard answered, shaking his head. Part of him was still convinced that Sarah was setting him up. "But a hopefully reliable source has informed me that his particular woman would prefer something along the lines of an assault rifle."
"Very well, Commander," the turian replied, accessing his inventory, "Let's see if we can find something suitable."
The Spectre looked over the available goods, appraising them with the same professionalism he would use if selecting gear for himself. The Armax Arsenal rifle looked very enticing.
"Show me your special-issue gear," Shepard asked of the turian. Armax made some nice high end gear but was it high end enough for his Ash? Not quite, he decided.
"Of course, Commander," the requisitions officer replied, and the list of Spectre-issue items appeared, seeming to float in midair between them.
"Oh yeah, that's the ticket right there," Shepard said to himself, reading the specs of the HMWA assault rifle.
Shepard hefted the impressively heavy rifle, admiring the sheer bad-assedness of the weapon. The HMWA X was composed of a matte black material with discreet status indicator lights that emitted a faint glow, hinting at the absolute carnage the weapon would be capable of in the right hands. Collapsing the rifle, Shepard looked back at the turian. "Can I have this gift-wrapped?"
While Shepard was busy locating the ideal implement of death for his paramour, Williams herself was enjoying some rare downtime at a newly opened restaurant with the bizarre name of Kentucky Fried Varren. The restaurant, owned by the volus proprietor of Flux, Doran, was enjoying remarkably good trade considering the chaos wrought by Sovereign's attack on the Citadel.
Williams sat at a booth near the back of the establishment, opposite Dr T'soni and Tali'Zorah nar Rayya. The three women were enjoying a 'girls' night out.' During the time spent hunting Saren Arterius, Williams' initial mistrust of Shepard's non-human allies had dissipated and she found that she quite enjoyed the company of Liara and Tali.
The young marine eyed her plate of varren meat uneasily and poked it with her fork. "What the hell kind of name is Kentucky Fried Varren anyway?" she asked. She'd been to Kentucky a few times, and there sure as hell weren't any varren there.
Liara shrugged, a very human gesture she'd acquired during her time with the crew of the Normandy. "Perhaps it is a marketing device designed to pique the curiosity of potential customers?"
"Oh, like a gimmick?" Williams replied, finally summoning up the courage to slice off a sliver of meat and raise it to her lips. After a few moments' careful chewing, she announced, "Tastes like chicken."
"Chief Williams, tell me, has the Commander planned anything special for this 'Valentine's Day' I've heard about?" Tali enquired, setting down a tube of protein-rich paste suitable for her dextro-amino acid based composition.
"He damn well better not have," Williams replied, rolling her eyes.
"I do not understand," Liara put in, "If you and the Commander are...romantically involved and this occasion is especially designed to mark such an event..." the asari trailed off as she observed the look of disbelief on the human's face.
"Look, Liara, the way I see it, Valentine's Day is a sham. If you really love somebody, why wait until some arbitrary day on the calendar to make a huge fuss about it? Because society says so? Please."
Tali and Liara exchanged glances. Well and truly fired up by the subject, Williams went on, "And besides, roses? That is so lacking imagination. I mean, if you're going to give a girl flowers, at least make the effort to find out what kind of flowers she actually likes, instead of assuming that every woman in the freaking galaxy loves roses!"
"You don't like roses?" Tali asked. She herself had seen roses growing on a number of human-colonised worlds during her pilgrimage and thought they were quite pretty to look upon.
"Never understood the fuss, myself. Last time a guy gave me roses, I cut myself on the thorns...guy was only interested in getting into my pants, anyway."
Eyebrows raised, Liara enquired, "Why would a man want to get into a woman's pants? I imagine they would be a poor fit?"
Williams couldn't help herself, she laughed until she almost choked on her varren.
On the morning of the fourteenth, Williams awoke at 0500 in her one bedroom apartment on the Citadel. Admittedly, her and Shepard living in separate apartments after what they had shared above Ilos was slightly nonsensical but Williams had been adamant that the two not live in each other's pockets until they'd taken the time to decide if that's what they really wanted.
All this free time left Williams feeling slightly discomfited. She was used to action, not days spent idly doing...whatever it was civilians did. Still, the free time gave her plenty of opportunities to reflect on what the Normandy's crew had been through. "Alright, marine," she asked her reflection in the bathroom mirror, "What do you want out of this?"
"I want...to be accepted," she answered her own question. "Shepard accepts me. I don't have to justify myself when I'm with him. I don't feel as though I'll never stack up because of what happened to Grandfather during the war."
"Do you love him?" she asked her reflection.
"I...think I do. When he talks to me, he actually listens to what I have to say, he's cool with the religion and the poetry..." she trailed off. Just thinking about the Skipper made her heart beat a little faster and lately she found she possessed a spring in her step, even when encased in her hardsuit and laden with weapons.
"You have to ask yourself one question," she told her reflection, combing out her hair. Do I feel lucky? No, not that one. *
"Are you prepared to put up with the same person's crap, long term? Forget love, if Shepard turns out to be the kind of man who leaves his dirty laundry lying around for you to pick up, can you tolerate that?"
"Come on, Williams!" she shot back at herself, "He's a soldier! Even if he were prone to that kind of thing before he enlisted, military discipline would have cured him of it, surely."
Yeah, you'd think so, but how can you tell for sure?
"Well, here's a thought, go talk to the man, ask a few pointed questions. I think we know him well enough by now to know if he's lying, right?" she told her reflection. Reflected Williams nodded.
*With apologies to Clint Eastwood
Exiting the Ward Three apartment, Williams almost fell over a volus flower merchant as he walked past her door. "Greetings, Earthclan," the volus began, breath hissing through his respirator, "Would you like to purchase some flowers for your loved one?"
Williams looked down at the almost comically shaped volus. To the marine, a volus looked a lot like a bowling ball on legs. It was an observation she was careful to keep to herself however. "Uh, no thank you," she answered and stepped around him. Flowers. Williams honestly didn't get the whole February fourteen thing. All over the Citadel, vendors of various species were attempting to cash in on the occasion, and most of them were making a killing. All around her were displays of red roses, helium filled balloons in the shape of love hearts and more boxes of chocolate than she could count.
She needed to find Shepard and get her thoughts and feelings towards him out in the open before the over the top displays of affection she saw all around her drove her insane.
Even as she was thinking about finding the Skipper, her comm unit bleeped. Stepping around a slow-moving elcor, Williams unclipped the comm from her belt and raised it to her lips.
"It's me," Shepard's voice answered. Even hearing the man's voice over a commline was enough to quicken her heart rate.
"Hello, me," she replied, smiling. "I've been doing a lot of thinking...about us," she went on, hesitantly. Keep it together, Marine. You helped defeat the single greatest threat this galaxy has seen since the rachni, you can handle this.
"So have I," Shepard replied, "I think we need to talk," he said quietly. "Meet me in the Embassy Lounge, say in fifteen minutes?"
Williams almost stumbled. She righted herself, feeling as though her heart was being squeezed by an uncaring fist. We need to talk. Everybody knew that particular doozy was code for I want to break up with you. At least he had the decency to want to break her heart in person rather than from the other end of a commline. She could almost respect him for that.
Fighting back sudden tears, Williams managed to grind out an answer, "Fine."
She clicked off, feeling betrayed. What kind of scum breaks up with a woman on Valentine's Day?
Shepard sat at a table in the lounge located near the embassies. Despite the damage wrought by Saren's geth forces, the reconstruction crews had set the immediate area back to rights rather quickly. The politicians needed a place to conduct business after all, and God forbid the public servants lacked a place to drink their overpriced cocktails.
A pretty young woman with pink-dyed hair and a lip piercing arrived at his table to take his order.
"An iced water, please." He needed a clear head right now.
The pretty young woman frowned prettily, "I'm sorry, but there's a six drink minimum," she explained. Shepard raised an eyebrow. Six drinks?
Noticing the unbelieving expression on the Commander's face, the woman explained, "We need some way to recoup the losses in trade from the attack. And besides," she went on, leaning in close to Shepard's face, "Drunk soldiers are hot." As she drew back from him, Shepard caught the scent of her perfume and wondered if Ash might like some, then decided it might be safer to stick with the implements of destruction.
Glancing around at the other patrons, Shepard noticed a group of off-duty Alliance marines near the entrance to the lounge. They were talking loudly and slapping each other on the back as they regaled each other with no doubt exaggerated tales of their exploits during the recent fighting.
Gesturing to the group, Shepard told the young woman, "Send over a round of drinks for them, put it on my tab." The pretty young woman entered the order into her omni-tool.
"Now can I get an iced water?" Shepard asked.
"Certainly!" the young woman replied. As she spoke, Shepard noticed a piercing in her tongue. Ouch. Shepard was no stranger to pain; even now his leg sent out little jolts that reminded him to run faster the next time a huge piece of giant mechanical squid looked like it was going to land on his head, but damn. Her tongue? His curiosity piqued, Shepard said, "Before you go, did it hurt much, having your tongue pierced?"
The girl smiled and said, "Not really, at least not compared to the ink I got done on my hips," the woman placed her hands to her skirt, "Wanna see?"
"No, no, I'm good," Shepard quickly answered before the girl could perform an impromptu striptease. She shrugged and left to get his order.
"So, found somebody to replace me already?" Williams said with quiet fury as she arrived at Shepard's table. That girl didn't look a day over eighteen. Williams wasn't sure what hurt her more, Shepard wanting to talk to her on what was supposed to be the most romantic day of the year or the idea that he preferred pink-haired teenage girls.
"Ash," Shepard stood as she arrived, smiling widely. God, but it was good to see her again, "What's up?" he asked, observing her red, swollen eyes.
"What's up?" Williams ground out. "First you call me up here to tell me you want to break up with me, then I find some girl making eyes at you!"
Stunned, Shepard could only blink. For want of better options, he blinked a bit more. Finally finding his voice, he said, "Whoa, whoa, honey. When I said we needed to talk, I didn't mean like that!"
Williams sat heavily in a chair opposite Shepard. She was at the point of either sit down or fall down. "When you commed me before, the way you said I think we need to talk, I thought...you wanted to end things," she said, unable to meet his eyes.
Reclaiming his own chair, Shepard took Ashley's right hand in both of his and squeezed gently. "Oh, Ash, I honestly didn't mean that at all. Babe, I asked you to meet me here because I wanted to give you-"
At that point Little Miss Pink-Dyed Hair with the piercings and ink arrived with a tall glass of iced water. Beads of condensation ran down the sides of the glass as she placed it before the Commander.
"Thanks," Shepard without looking up. Williams' dark brown eyes looked into his and the sheen of tears in her eyes was almost more than he could bear.
"You're welcome, sir," Pink-Dyed Hair replied and neither Williams nor Shepard missed the come hither undertone in her voice, "Any time you want to see my tats...well you know where I work," she said and strolled off, hips swaying from side to side in a fashion that couldn't possibly be natural.
"See her tats," Williams gasped, yanking her hand from Shepard's. "God, Shepard! You men can't help yourself, can you? I'm out of sight not five minutes and some girl is inviting you to...God!"
Shepard blinked some more. This wasn't the way he had planned things out, not at all. How hard did things have to be? Call up the woman he loves, there he admitted it, ask her join him then present her with the assault rifle he'd bought her for Valentine's Day. How hard could it be? Very bloody hard, apparently. The universe seemed to be conspiring against him. If it wasn't giant alien ships that looked like squid trying to squish him, it was pink-haired nymphets coming onto him, in front of his girlfriend! What kind of brazen little minx does that? Such self-confidence was, in a perverse way, quite alluring. Shepard shook his head, hoping to clear it. He took a deep breath and tried to explain.
"Look, about that girl. I ordered an iced water because I wanted to have a clear head when you arrived," he began, taking a sip of water. "And she says there's a six drink minimum and I'm thinking, six drinks, is she nuts?"
"Is there a point to this, Commander?" Williams interrupted, voice flat.
Shepard winced. When soldiers serving together who also slept together called each other by rank, it wasn't a good thing, as Shepard was finding out.
Reaching under the table, Shepard grasped the hefty, metre-long box and pulled it into view.
Standing up once more, he presented the rifle case, wrapped in pink paper and bound by a red ribbon to Williams.
Williams' eyes widened in surprise, "What the hell is that?" she blurted.
"I called up your sister, Sarah says hi, by the way, and asked her what I should get you for Valentine's Day. She suggested military-grade firepower. So," Shepard held out the gift wrapped rifle case to his sweetheart. "Happy Valentine's Day."
Williams sat back in her seat, lost for words. She had been all set to demand an explanation from Shepard - by force if necessary, when all the while, he had been planning this. She placed a hand over her eyes, feeling more tears threatening. Williams sniffed. "God, I'm such a fool. You must think I'm some kind of high maintenance chick..." she trailed off, waiting for a response. Her only response was silence.
"This is the part where you say, no, sweetie, you're not high maintenance, at all!" she snapped, removing her hand from her eyes. Shepard still stood before her, holding out the rifle case.
"Um Ash, are you going to take this off my hands, because it's really heavy?"
Ashley stood, accepting the gift-wrapped rifle case and placed it carefully on the floor beside her.
"Thanks," Shepard said, massaging his forearms. He resumed his seat and smiled at Williams. "You going to open that?" he asked.
Wordlessly, Ash removed the ribbon and tore off the paper, letting it fall to the floor. Placing the case on the table before her, she snapped open the clasps and raised the lid.
The matte black HMWA nestled inside the foam cutouts was the second most beautiful thing she'd seen in her life.
The first most beautiful was the man seated before her.
"I love you Ashley Williams," he told her.
And really, there was nothing else to add.
Good, bad, indifferent? The idea of an assault rifle as a Valentine's gift struck me as appropriate for Ash. Like her, I also believe the entire Valentine's Day concept is over-rated. If you love somebody, tell them you love them. Do it every day of the year, even.
I realise I'm not that great at writing lovey-dovey stuff but what the heck. As always, I appreciate reviews.