"You always this chock full of nervous energy, commander?"
Hermia pulled herself out of her own thoughts with a quiet, "Hm?" All the stars and systems that made up the galaxy map were intriguing. It was a step up - a big step up - from the galaxy map on the SR-1. Then again, everything on the new Normandy was larger. She wasn't surprised that the Illusive Man's idea of better directly coincided with it being bigger. This was a man whose office overlooked a dying star, after all.
Beside her, Yeoman Chambers gave a little laugh. "You've been tapping your foot for the past five minutes. And that data pad's gonna break if you keep hitting it on the bar."
Shepard's gray eyes widened at the idea, quickly moving the data pad away from the rail with a laugh. "I, uh, didn't realize I was doing that." She tilted a brow upwards, a smile curling at her mouth. "Was I distracting you, Kelly?"
"Oh, no, commander. I was just watching -" The redhead coughed into a balled fist, her cheeks darkening a little at her own unwarranted admission. "Waiting for you to pick a destination."
Hermia leaned over the railing to place the data pad on her terminal. After receiving three new dossiers from the Illusive Man, she'd been given the task of figuring out where they'd be heading next. It was good to see a familiar name on them. Tali'Zorah vas Neema was one of the three. At any other turn, the decision of who to pursue next would have been easy. But on Illium, in the city of Nos Astra, there were two potential recruits - a powerful biotic and an assassin. Given the conditions, being able to recruit the two of them as soon as possible looked to be the best option.
"EDI," she called out, turning to the galaxy map, "Plot a course to Illium."
"Very well, Shepard. ETA two hours."
The AI blinked out of sight, leaving Shepard standing with her arms crossed in front of the map. Everyone else went about their business. Except Kelly. The yeoman focused all of her attention on the commander, hands clasped behind her back. "So, who are we headed to, commander?"
"The assassin," Hermia murmured, mostly to herself as she began to look around for the data pad. She was always all hands when she misplaced something - patting down her outfit, running her hands through her dark hair, biting on her thumb nail. Turning to Kelly, she beamed a confused expression at the young woman, who only laughed and pointed towards her private terminal. "Ah! Thank you." Snatching it up, her eyes began to quickly run over the details, devouring every morsel of intel she'd already poured over more than once before.
"Thane Krios," she said quietly, "Drell. I've… never seen a drell before." Her finger trailed along the photo of her next recruit, and she watched as it rotated accordingly. Interesting facial structure. Vaguely humanesque despite the many differences. Handsome. Biting down on the inside of her bottom lip, she turned her attention to Kelly. "Have you?"
Kelly grinned. "Once or twice. They're an intriguing race. Most of their history isn't readily available in books or on the extranet, but they are all very willing to share."
There was something about young Miss Chambers that got just about anyone talking. She knew a lot about Shepard - even more than the rest of the galaxy, which was a feat in itself considering all the information available on her life - but the commander was still eager to share certain tidbits of information that she couldn't possibly know. Her favorite color was always blue. Her favorite meal was corn and tomato soup, her mother's old recipe, especially if the vegetables were home grown. If she got enough liquor in her system, she might even confess that men still made her nervous, despite being thirty-one.
Kelly knew that after Mindoir, Hermia dove into her education and, later, her work with the Alliance. She didn't give herself the time to agonize over every decision she made during the attack. Instead, she focused on what was in front of her - including a very apt mind and a gift with technology. To her, hacking and programming was much more fulfilling than sparring with the other marines or going out for drinks. For the longest time, her reputation suffered because of it. Of course, everyone shut their mouths once a sniper rifle was placed in her arms and she showed them that she wasn't just some mousy, forgetful tech nerd.
Shepard was never able to prove herself enough. When she made a breakthrough, she immediately started working on the next one. Each time she hit a target, she focused on the next. A virus destroyed, another virus located. A target acquired and destroyed, the next one would come along in no time. Most of her fellow marines didn't realize exactly what sort of person lay behind the sights of her sniper rifle. There were a few who realized Shepard's potential, and they egged her on more than encouraged her. Always responding better under pressure, she reached for the next highest rung on the ladder and just kept going.
Elysium was common knowledge for anyone in the Systems Alliance. Even aliens in the far reaches of Citadel space knew what she'd accomplished that day. Overwhelming odds. Single-handedly. Brave. A hero. Words like those echoed in her ears for years after, but she didn't let herself go soft. It didn't take a genius to figure out what happened after being awarded the Star of Terra. She kept going. She reached higher.
"- you can imagine my surprise. The hanar don't seem like the kind of… Commander?"
Shepard tore herself away from her own thoughts again, rubbing at her forehead. "Oh, Kelly, I'm so sorry. I'm just distracted." She hadn't been sleeping well. That paired with the stress of the mission and her frantically grabbing at every opportunity to keep her new squad members happy wasn't conducive to the most alert woman in the galaxy.
Her eyes fell to her arm when she felt a soft weight settle upon it. "Don't worry about it, commander." When Hermia gave her a small smile in return, the yeoman brightened, withdrawing her hand and lacing it with the other. "Is there anything I can get for you?"
"I should probably try to get some sleep before we get to Illium. Can you take care of any messages for me?" The question was out of her mouth before she could stop it. Of course Kelly would take care of the messages. She always did. With a smile, too. How had the Illusive Man found this teasure? Standing beside Miranda, it was difficult to imagine they worked for the same organization. But after talking to Rupert and Ken and Gabby down in Engineering, she came to realize that Miranda was the odd one out, and even the Illusive Man's favorite operative had a soft side Hermia hadn't quite managed to understand. Yet. There'd be time for that later.
"Of course, commander. Have a good nap!"
As if on cue, Hermia stifled a yawn. Laughing at herself, she took the few steps down from the galaxy map. "Thanks, Kelly."
If there was one thing Shepard learned during her early tours, it's that you can get just about anything by being nice. Her fellow marines were quick to shove their pistols into the faces of civilians, offering threats as opposed to comfort or empathy. Even bribery was popular among the higher-ups. Most of them claimed it was just good business, but she knew otherwise. And as she settled down beside Seryna on their way to the Dantius towers, these opinions were rightfully justified.
Jacob and Garrus sat behind her in the transport, divided and utterly silent as they prepared for the mission ahead. Shepard watched the horizon, dazzled in no small part by the cars that flashed by against the deep reds and golds of the sunset. Everything here was so beautiful. It was a far cry from her first visit to Earth. Illium was not lackluster in the slightest. It was a bustling metropolis filled with beautiful architecture and even more beautiful residents. If she even remembered what shore leave was, she'd already be set in her plans of visiting this place.
Her conversation with Seryna ended just as they settled on the first of two Dantius towers. The asari was curious as to her business with Thane Krios, but she did not ask many questions. Not many people asked Shepard questions - even less now that she wasn't just humanity's first Spectre and the savior of the Citadel, but a ghost, too.
Hermia took a step out of the transport, followed by Garrus and Jacob, and she gave the asari a nod when she wished her luck. Did she need luck? It seemed like she was dealing with mercs more often than she had ever before her death. Part of her just felt like she was going through the motions.
Pulling her rifle off of her back, she looked to Jacob and then to Garrus. They both seemed just as ready as she was. And considering the adrenaline that was already pumping through her veins, that was extremely ready.
Anyone who knew Shepard on the battlefield was always surprised when they met her off of it, and vice versa. Anderson's teasing nickname for her was proof enough that there was a fine schism between Commander Shepard and Hermia Shepard. Jekyll was what he called her. Not because she turned into a madman once she had her first taste of action, but because she transformed into a complete other person once the bullets started flying.
She was a streak of black and blue as she ran across the bridge dividing the two Dantius towers. A well-timed vault launched her over a crate just far enough for her to duck behind another. Her shields were just hanging on by the time she reached it, and she gave them a moment to regenerate before she popped up over the crate, rifle poised in the direction of a rocket turret not seventy-five meters in front of her.
Everything slowed around her. Jacob took care of the asari vanguard standing beneath it, and Garrus picked off two of the mercs by her side. "Get over here!" Jacob shouted, his entire body pulsing with dark energy as he yanked the vanguard from behind the partition separating them. Garrus pressed his back to a column, the barrel of his gun nearly resting against his face as he caught his breath. His shields were gone.
All the while Hermia's steady hands shifted the rifle just enough so the turret lay right in her sights. Beneath her index, the trigger urged her to press it. But the siren's call was one she could easily tear herself away from, and she jerked the rifle to the side, pulling the trigger. The sniper with his sights on Garrus slumped forward, blue blood oozing out of the hole in his chest plate.
Before she could see if Garrus had come away from it unscathed, she pulled herself down into cover again. The crate nearly exploded as a missile hit, her entire body shuddering from the impact. "Jacob, cover me!" she yelled as she jumped to her feet. The man did as she ordered, climbing over one of the many crates on the bridge only to pop another heat sink into his hand cannon and mow down a merc heading straight for them.
Her rifle found its way back to the turret, and she had just enough time to hit it right in the kisser before it launched another. The machine's barrel sunk, broken.
Shepard's rifle slid into itself as she drew her submachine gun instead. "Let's get this over with," she muttered when both Jacob and Garrus found their way back to her side. "Nassana's waiting for us."
By the time they reached the very top of Dantius tower, Shepard found that the assassin had already performed a number on the usually collected asari emissary. She was surrounded by guards, all of them as clumsy with their weapons as the mercs she'd hired to kill whoever entered or tried to leave. They jerked around, paranoid. Almost as paranoid as Nassana herself.
Hermia bit back a smile as she stepped into the sunlight that filtered into the large office. The asari's eyes widened. "Shepard?" Nassana nearly choked on her shock. "But… you're dead!"
"I got better," she replied simply with a slight hitch of her shoulder.
She could hear Garrus chuckle quietly to her right, and the asari glared at him. He didn't even take a step back. They had superior firepower as well as superior training. These half-assed mercenaries wouldn't stand a chance, neither would a silver spoon fed diplomat.
Nassana's stare went to Shepard. "And now you're here to kill me," she murmured. Her eyes narrowed at the once-dead commander, realization of the situation written all over her features. The guards at her back readied their weapons, bodies taut and ready for whatever Shepard threw at them. At least, that's what they thought. "I'm sure you find this all very ironic."
With a dismissive wave of her hand, she turned her back on Shepard. The setting sun cast a shadow over her frame, yet outlined it with a faint orange glow. It certainly was a beautiful place to meet one's end. The view from this far up was spectacular. "First you take care of my sister, and now you're here for me." She uttered a quiet sigh, turning around to face the woman who she assumed came here to kill her. "Well, you've made it this far. Now what?"
Hermia's brow creased, and she took a step forward. "I'm not an assassin Nassana," she offered, lifting her gun casually as if in an offer of peace. The asari's guards inched forward, poised to strike, but she didn't give them a second glance. "But I am looking for one."
Nassana gave a flippant laugh, moving forward from her shelter of guards. Towards her desk, closer to Shepard, the woman who'd once done her a great favor. Unwittingly, true, but a great favor. Frustration bubbled inside of her. She knew Shepard was a worthy adversary. If what the bitch said was true, who was the assassin? She'd just gone through a hundred mercenaries at least, but why? "You break in here and decimate my security just to find the person who's here to kill me? What are you playing at, Shepard?"
The guard to her left shifted on her feet. Her purple head twisted and turned. "What?" Nassana spat, annoyed by her interruption.
"I heard something," the guard replied.
Nassana's shoulders slumped inwards, her hands pressed against her desk. "Damnit." She seethed visibly. Throwing her hand to the right towards the door on the side of the room, she barked her orders. "Check the other entrances!" There was venom in her voice when she turned to Shepard, a single index pointed towards the soldier. "You… stay put. When I'm finished dealing with this nuisance -"
That was when Shepard saw him. The man moved like nothing she'd ever seen. His feet were silent. His hands, strong. Strong enough to break a man's neck and crush another's windpipe in only a few swift movements. Before the second silent victim crumpled to the floor, he drew the man's gun and shot the asari guard in the chest.
Nassana whirled around, gun in hand and eyes wide, but she couldn't pull the trigger quickly enough. No one could've. He was too quick.
Shepard's heart jumped as the assassin pressed the stolen gun into Nassana's side and pulled the trigger. She'd seen fast before. Hell, she was fast more often than not, but he was like smoke. Existing and not existing at the same exact moment. She watched as he slowly lowered Nassana down onto her desk, hands cradling her now limp body as if he would break her. But she was already broken.
"That was quite the entrance," Jacob remarked, but the man did not show signs of hearing him. Instead, he stood above Nassana's body, hands clasped together in what appeared to be… prayer. The silence that filled the room was unpleasant considering the state of things. Four dead bodies and four live ones, none of them speaking.
Shifting her weight from one foot to the other, Shepard finally spoke up. "I came a long way to talk to you."
"One moment," the assassin said in a near-whisper. His voice hummed in her ears, reminiscent of the rumble of a turian, but something deeper, something more substantial. He did not look up at her. Instead, his large, black eyes gazed upon his newest victim. "Prayers for the wicked should not be forsaken."
Hermia allowed herself one half-smile. "She certainly was wicked."
"Not for her," was his simple reply. His eyes moved from the corpse to Shepard, and she found herself staring into them. Large. Black. Bottomless. "For me." Before she was able to interject and voice her confusion, his lips parted, and his voice filled every inch of the room. "The measure of an individual can be difficult to discern by actions alone."
As he spoke, he moved around the front of the desk. His hand trailed along the metal, almost caressing it. The man held a certain swagger in his walk - graceful, poised, and dangerous. But also inviting. A little too inviting, really, but that could've been why he was dangerous. He was an unknown quantity.
"Take you for instance," he offered, "All this destruction. Chaos." When he finally reached the front of the desk, he paused. She didn't know if this was all an act. He could be playing her for a fool for all she knew. Or perhaps he enjoyed the theatrical. Or maybe this was just how he worked.
"I was curious to see how far you'd go to find me." A hint of something curled in the corner of his lips. Was it a smile? She hardly knew. "Well… here I am."
A/N: Argh, I apologize for the shoddiness of the bit at the end with Nassana and Thane. Taking things directly from game or video gives me trouble, and I'm not nearly as confident with the characterization if it's from something word for word... I do hope that it'll get better from here, though. I noticed was lacking when it came to Thane fics and decided to add one to the fray, since I just finished his romance and I'm bursting with ideas.
Also, I apologize for the apology if you didn't think it was shoddy. I'm just more confident with my own words. XD Thank you for reading!