"Fishing?" Commander Shepard asked of Gunnery Chief Williams, arching an eyebrow. Williams found herself envious of people who could arch one eyebrow at a time and make it look so effortless as well. Every time Williams tried it, both her eyebrows would shoot up, leaving her with a startled 'deer in the headlights look' not the coolly questioning look the Skipper now wore.
"Fishing," Williams said with a nod as she sat down opposite her CO at the mess table. "You need to relax and unwind some, Skipper."
Eyebrow returning to its usual post above one blue eye, Shepard replied, "Williams, I'm plenty relaxed."
"I beg to differ, Ma'am," Williams said as she placed a hand on the Skipper's shoulder and squeezed. "Ma'am, if your muscles were any more tense, they'd been made from steel cabling."
"I'm not tense, Williams, I'm maintaining an aura of cat-like readiness, ready to spring into action at a moment's notice..." Shepard trailed off at the disbelieving look in the Chief's face.
"Permission to speak frankly, Ma'am?" the Chief replied, arms folded before her on the table.
Shepard's other eyebrow arched itself and a small smile played across her lips. "This oughta be good. OK, Ash, dazzle me," she said, hands opening in invitation.
"OK. I've been speaking to Dr Chakwas and she agrees that you need to take some time out."
Frowning, Shepard replied with an edge to her voice. "Don't know if you've noticed, Williams but we're at war with the geth and Saren here. I'll take 'time out' once the current situation has been handled, not before."
"Skipper, with respect, what good are you to the galaxy if you run yourself into the ground," Williams toed the deck, "Figuratively speaking and burn out before we even find Saren? We have a week's leave coming up next month. Let me take you out to this lake I know of on Earth. It's a beautiful place."
"Earth?" Shepard snorted. "Sorry, Chief, I already have plans for next leave."
"Oh? Like last time? All you did was lock yourself in your cabin and play old pop songs for a week, non-stop."
"Pop songs? It's alt-rock and metal, you ignorant Philistine!" Shepard shot at a startled Williams. "Pop music..."
"Pardon my ignorance, Ma'am," Williams snapped back.
"Oh how were you to know? All you ever listen to is the top 40 crap on Citadel FM. God..." Shepard trailed off and rubbed a hand along the bridge of her nose, as though the thought of the top 40 countdown caused actual physical pain.
"Some of those tunes are actually pretty neat, if you take the time to listen to them," Williams said defensively. "How'd we start arguing over music? We were talking about fishing."
"You were talking about fishing," Shepard muttered and cracked her knuckles. Williams winced and, smiling wickedly, Shepard cracked the knuckles of her other hand.
"You're gonna give yourself arthritis, if you keep that up," Williams warned her.
"Old wives' tale, Ash. Besides, I really don't see myself living long enough to develop arthritis, the crap the brass hands us."
"Don't be like that, Skipper. We'll get through this, you'll see."
Booted footsteps from the bridge forestalled any response from Shepard. Lieutenant Alenko nodded to Shepard and Williams in turn before approaching the food dispensers and making a selection. Not that it mattered what he chose, it all tasted like boiled cabbage, he thought sourly.
"What do you think, LT?" Williams asked as Alenko sat beside Shepard, putting a respectful distance between them two of them. He looked up from his forkful of ersatz meatloaf.
"Think about what?"
"The Skipper and I are going fishing," Williams replied as though the fishing trip was a fait accompli on her part. Shepard rolled her eyes and muttered "Fracking cow."
Turning to the Commander, Alenko looked at her for a moment before nodding, "It's a good idea, Ma'am. You could use the time to unwind."
Shepard threw her hands in the air, "What is this? Drive Shepard up the wall day?" Feeling the pulse beating her ears, Shepard sighed. "Fine. We'll go fishing. And then I'm going to toss you overboard and watch you swim back to shore, Ash."
Smiling in satisfaction, Williams nodded, "Looking forward to it, Skipper."
With the Normandy in drydock undergoing minor repairs and maintenance, Shepard and Williams took a civilian shuttle half-way across the globe And all so I can sit in a boat for a few hours. Yay!
At the small spaceport, Williams rented a blue SUV to take them to the fishing spot she said was "A couple of hours drive from here. The terrain can be rough, though."
"Oh, so I have to endure two hours of your driving even before we get to the fishing spot?" Shepard griped, remembering the last time Williams had driven the M35 Mako. Hurtling from the top of a rocky crag on Edolus, the Mako had hit ground with enough force to wrench the transaxle out of alignment. Williams, Shepard and Garrus had spent the next three hours pulling left when they wanted to go straight ahead.
"At least we don't have geth shooting at us this time," Shepard reflected as she sat in the front passenger seat and pulled the seat belt across her shoulder. She placed her sidearm in the glove compartment.
"You're bringing your gun, Skipper?" Williams had asked.
"I never go anywhere unarmed," Shepard had replied and that was the end of the matter, as far as she was concerned. If she was going out into the great uncharted wilderness, she wanted a way to defend herself in case they came across a group of drunk hillbilly deer hunters or something.
Williams climbed into the driver's seat and keyed the engine, reaching out to turn on the radio.
"Allow me," Shepard said, placing a hand on Williams arm. In her other hand was an OSD labelled Shepard's Mix Tape Volume XXI
"Oh dear God no," Williams said in a small voice.
Smiling sweetly, Shepard replied, "Oh dear God yes," as she inserted the disc into the input slot in the vehicle's dashboard. Within seconds Shepard was singing and slapping her hands on the dash in time to the beat. Williams rolled her eyes; it was going to be a long drive.
A little over two hours later, Williams pulled the vehicle into a small gravel parking area surrounded on all sides by thick forest. Once the engine was off, the only sounds were bird calls and the occasional rustle of leaves as something moved unseen through the trees.
"Well, we're here," Williams said as he opened her door.
Standing beside the cab of the truck, Shepard craned her neck around to look up at the tree canopy. It was cool and somewhat dim down here, with little sunlight filtering down from the trees.
"God," she marvelled. "It's so...green."
Williams inhaled deeply through her nose, "Smell that?"
"Nature. Trees, moss, things growing and living all around us." Eyes closed, Williams tilted her head back to feel the warmth of the sun on her face. "It's so peaceful here."
Opening her eyes, Williams met Shepard at the rear of the vehicle and retrieved the fishing poles and tackle box. Shepard tucked her sidearm into the waistband of her jeans, making sure her shirt covered it.
"Are you ready, Skipper?" Williams asked and handed her a rod.
Shepard smiled. "Let's go catch us some dinner."
Williams nodded and led the way to the lakeside.
A short time later the two sat in the small powered boat in the centre of the lake. All was silent except for the gentle lapping of water against the hull of the boat, the sigh of the wind through the trees and the bird calls.
Shepard was bored out of her mind. "Are we having fun yet?" she scowled. She always thought fishing was a mind-numbing activity and now she was experiencing the tedium in all its glory. She sat at the bow of the boat, holding the fishing rod loosely in her hands. Williams had shown her how to bait the hook and cast the line.
The reel of fishing line made a rapid bzzzzt sound as it spun out over the water followed by a gentle plop as the bait hit the water. Small concentric rings circled out from the point of impact before the deep blue surface of the lake stilled once more.
Seated at the rear of the boat, by the outboard motor, Williams replied, "Give it time, Commander."
"Alison," Shepard answered.
Williams turned half-way around to look at her. Shepard sat unmoving, wide-brimmed hat over her hair, staring into the water. "Pardon?" Williams asked.
Turning to face the Gunnery Chief, Shepard explained, "If we're going to properly relax and unwind, we might as well do away with rank and titles. Call me Alison."
Williams nodded once and turned back to her previous position. "That's a nice name," she said.
Shepard shrugged, "I never thought about it much one way or the other. The folks at the orphanage said my name was Alison Shepard and that's all there was to it." Shepard paused and when she spoke again, there was a kind of faraway look in her eyes, as though she was looking into the past rather than the water around her. "I ran away when I was nine."
Williams paused a beat before replying, "That must have been tough for you...Alison."
"Wasn't hard, the front gate wasn't even locked."
"No, I meant growing up on the streets, alone," Williams clarified, feeling grateful for having grown up in such a loving family...even if her sisters drove her mad at times. What must it have been like she wondered, not having anybody to turn to when she needed help.
"I got by," Shepard said and from the tone of her words, Williams knew not to press the issue. Instead she asked, "Getting any bites?"
Shepard slapped a hand to the back of her neck and replied, "Only from the mosquitoes and sandflies. I truly hate nature at times. Damn disease-carrying bloodsuckers."
"Here," Williams said and handed her a small aerosol of bug repellant. Shepard nodded her thanks and sprayed a liberal cloud of the stuff all over herself.
As Shepard handed the can back to Williams, the Gunnery Chief asked, "So, how are things between you and the Lieutenant?"
Shepard tilted her head to one side before answering, "What 'things'?"
"Scuttlebutt says the LT has a bit of a thing for you," Williams said, tone of voice betraying how much she enjoyed this particular piece of gossip.
When Shepard replied, her voice was flat, "Really? I must have missed the memo." Turning to face Williams, the Commander went on, "Alenko and I are colleagues, nothing more."
"You've been spending a fair bit of time talking."
Shepard rolled her eyes, "He's my squad second. We talk tactics and the political situation. Also, he's how I keep tabs on crew morale. If they decide to mutiny, I'd hear about it first."
"Uh huh," Williams replied. A smile tugging at the corners of her lips, Williams went on, "And I hear Dr T'soni is also more than a little curious about you."
"Liara...Dr T'soni and I are just..." Shepard trailed off. What were they, exactly? After the dramatic rescue on Therum, Shepard had checked in on the young asari scientist, to make sure she was all right. The two had began talking, first about the Prothean beacon Shepard had been exposed to on Eden Prime and then about Benezia and asari culture in particular. Before Shepard had even known it was happening the two had been talking about more personal issues. With a start, the Commander realised more than forty-five minutes had passed. "Uh...I didn't mean to take up so much of your time," Shepard had blurted out and left, muttering about reports she needed to write.
Ever since then, her thoughts had been turning back to the young asari during moments when her thoughts should have been elsewhere. Like now. "We're just friends," Shepard finally finished. Real smooth, Shepard.
"Look, it's none of my business who you spend your time with, just watch yourself, OK? I'd hate for you to...get hurt," Williams said softly.
"I can look out for myself, Ash," Shepard said over her shoulder, feeling touched by the other woman's concern for her, "But thanks for looking out for me."
The conversation trailed off and they turned their minds back to their fishing lines.
Shepard sat in the small boat, listening to the water gently slapping the sides of the boat and hummed to herself. The rod jerked in her hands and the reel made that rapid bzzzt sound again.
"I got a bite!" she said excitedly, feeling the boredom fall away from her as her heart sped up.
Gripping the rod more tightly, Shepard began reeling the line in. Whatever she'd caught was fighting for all it was worth; the rod bent almost in half under the weight of it. "Little help here," she grunted, leaning back. Williams joined her and together they landed the fish.
"What'd I catch?" Shepard asked, watching the large fish thrash about at the bottom of the boat, sunlight gleaming from the shiny scales.
"Trout," Williams said as she removed the hook and dumped the fish into a bucket. "Nice catch," she complimented the Skipper.
"Well, my work here is done. I'm getting some shut-eye," Shepard said, pulling the hat down over her eyes and folding her arms over her chest.
A gunshot rang out from the shore and was followed by the startled cries of birds and flapping of wings.
Instantly both Shepard and Williams were at full alertness, fishing rods and tackle stowed in seconds. Shepard's right hand snaked around behind herself, coming up with the sidearm.
"What do you think it is? Hunters?" Shepard asked as a second shot rang out followed by a pained shriek.
Williams bit her lower lip and shook her head. "Hunting season isn't for two more weeks. Besides, that sounded human."
The shriek continued and was abruptly cut off by a third gunshot.
"Sounds like a hunting rifle," Shepard noted. "Not anything military." Nodding towards the shoreline, Shepard said, "Take us back to shore. Time to find out what's going on here."
As the boat neared the shore, Williams cut the engine, allowing the boat to drift the rest of the way to the shore. Shepard and Williams jumped down from the boat, landing knee-deep in water and quietly beached the vessel. Moving low and fast, they headed into the treeline, angling for where they thought the shots had come from.
After about five minutes, they found the dead body of a man aged around thirty in a small clearing. The man's red and black checked flannel shirt was soaked with blood from a bullet wound to the stomach. The kill-shot had been to the head, drilling him in the back of the skull and exiting out his right eye. Slung across the man's back was a hunting rifle.
Undaunted by the blood or the flies beginning to land on the man, Shepard unslung the rifle and handed it to Williams. The Gunnery Chief nodded and flipped off the safety switch.
Heavy footsteps tramping through the undergrowth headed towards them. Shit Shepard thought before collecting her thoughts and signalling for Williams to fall in.
No armour, no comms and an unknown number of armed hostiles. So much for relaxing! Shepard told herself as she and Williams edged deeper into the woods. The footsteps passed them by, moving left to right as the unseen shooter headed past. Gesturing for Williams to hold, Shepard moved out from cover and fell in behind a tall broad shouldered man carrying a rifle. Like the dead man, he too was wearing a red and black checked shirt and jeans.
Gripping the sidearm in both hands, Shepard said clearly, "Put down the weapon and get down on the ground!"
Startled, the man spun around and shouldered his rifle. For an instant his eyes met Shepard's before a rifle shot cracked out. A surprised look on his face, the man looked down, placed a hand to the hole that had suddenly appeared in his chest before holding the hand out towards Shepard. Blood dripped from his fingertips. Wordlessly, the man fell to the ground with a dull thump.
"Nice shooting, Williams," Shepard said without looking around and took the man's rifle.
Turning to the younger woman, Shepard said, "It's time we found out what's happening here."
"Right behind you, Skipper."
Following the trail left by the second dead man wasn't hard; he wasn't an experienced woodsman and had left a broad path of trampled saplings and crushed leaves in his wake. Eventually, Shepard and Williams came upon a small log cabin with an old utility vehicle parked out front. A faded wooden sign proclaimed this to be the park ranger's residence.
A cautious sweep through the surrounds revealed no further hostiles. However they did find....
"Whoa...I've never seen this many marijuana plants in the one place before," Shepard said as they walked between the neatly ordered rows of tall, ready to harvest plants. The area at the rear of the ranger's residence had been cleared and hundreds of drug plants had been sowed.
"OK, here's what I think went down," Shepard began, crushing a marijuana leaf and inhaling the scent.
"I thought you wanted me relaxed?" Shepard smirked and tossed the leaf aside. "OK. Our two boys were growing this crop, one of them decided to kill the other so he could claim all the profits for himself."
Williams nodded, "We should call the cops."
Shepard nodded. "Yes, Hello 911? I'm a Spectre out on a relaxing fishing trip. We just killed a man who killed another man because he wanted all the ganja profits for himself. Yeah, that totally won't get us questioned by the authorities for hours. We'll leave an anonymous tip, after we get out of here."
First, however, they returned to the boat, reclaimed their fishing gear before heading back to the SUV. Shepard removed the firing pins from the rifles and tossed them into the forest, flinging the rifles into the woods as well.
During the drive back to relative civilisation, Williams asked, "Did you enjoy your first fishing trip?"
Eyes closed, Shepard replied, "Everything up until the shooting was just peachy." Cracking an eye open, Shepard asked, "Wake me up when we get to the spaceport." and fell asleep.
A/N: I wanted to see what would happen if Shepard spent some time in the great outdoors. The wacky tobacky crop in the forest draws inspiration from any number of cases where drug crops are planted out in the middle of nowhere and somebody ends up murdered to maximise the profits.
Remember kids, drugs are bad, mmmkay?
PS, this is a revised edition. I decided on a whim to toss in the conversation about Shepard's not-relationships with Alenko and Liara.