Warning: Game spoilers. Rated for Language. Shepard likes to swear.
For those of you returning to this fiction: I have not added any more chapters. The fiction has been broken into a series of smaller chapters to make it easier to read. It has also undergone moderate re-writing, especially in the final chapters.
Last Edit: 26/02/11
A Mass Effect 2 fanfiction
Pre Reaper IFF
Post everything else
'Mirror, Mirror on the Wall'
Sand. Sand between her toes. Sand in the wind.
Wind. Wind on her bare skin. She was naked.
She was shouting something into the wind. Shouting something. What… was she shouting? She didn't know. The wind whipped the words from her mouth before her ears could register them, her lips forming a… a name? A name she didn't recall. A name she didn't remember. She couldn't read her own lips. But she knew it was a name.
Open area. Brown all around. The horizon lost to the shapes of mountains and the sand in the air.
Sand. Sand between her toes. She stepped forward. Sank. Like a beach. A beach that went on and on forever. But didn't beaches have…
The sand was wet, suddenly. Felt like wet sand, soaked through. Yes. Beaches had seas.
She looked down. Looked down at the brown that was darker under her feet. But not with water. No.
There was blood on the sand. Blood that lead from an arm. Just an arm. A severed human arm without a body. Too far away. Too much blood when the arm was so far away.
Suddenly a scream reverberated in her head. High. Feminine. Hers? Echoed and trapped. Nowhere to go but to bounce around in her skull for an eternity.
The hand twitched.
She jerked back, stumbled, fell. Fell and sat naked on the sand, her legs draped over a body. Just a torso. No legs. Just a torso. Face pressed into the sand. Bloody sand that was all over her now.
Gasping, she surged to her feet. Her armour clanked and rattled. Alliance armour. N7 armour. Standard issue. She was a soldier. Just a soldier.
Who am I?
No one special.
Her gun clamps were empty. Weapons discarded. They were useless. She had tossed them aside because they slowed her down. Slowed her down. Boots in the sand slowed her down. Sand slowed you down. But the blood. The blood made the sand stick. The blood made running easier.
Oh God! God please!
Her voice. That was her voice. The scream. Hers. Others. So many people screaming.
She had no helmet. Blood poured down her face. Her wound stung. Wound. Wounds. She was covered in them. Covered… Not just on her face. She could see her skin through the armour on her side.
It was steaming.
She ran. She ran from her death. From the deaths of the others. Coward. Coward. The words rang in her ear, whispered by voices. By men. Men she knew. Their names. What were their names?
Faces. Faces that were not faces. Leering at her. Hands grabbing at her. Dragging her back. Back to die with them. Why should she escape? Die. She should die. Die with them.
Lie and die with them.
No! I don't want to! I don't want to die!
She stumbled. Fell. Fell on her hands and knees. She was naked again. Naked in the desert with blood in the sand.
Her squad. Her squad. It was the blood of her squad. Their deaths flashed in front of her, too fast for her to make anything out. Little more than an indecipherable, silent stream of chaotic colour.
The thresher maw screamed behind her. She turned.
It wasn't the thresher maw.
Corporal Toombs wrapped his hands around her throat, choking her. Her hand grabbed his wrists. She tried to pry him lose. Tried to push his hands away.
'How could you? HOW COULD YOU?' He strangled the life out of her, his eyes wide. 'After everything they did?'
Behind him, the thresher maw rose, its namesake spread wide wide, bearing down on them. So big… So big. Toombs held her just as her fear had, keeping her from fleeing.
Toombs! Let me go!
'How could you? Back-stabbing bitch!"
I don't want to die!
'You don't deserve to live!'
A massive fang punched through Toombs' face, turning it into a mass of blood and muscle, and impaled her through the che-
Natalya eyes opened and her room was filled with the sound of a sharp inhalation.
The sterile white of her bed greeted her, bathed in a mix of blue from the empty aquarium and orange from the armour locker behind her.
It took a conscious effort to uncurl her fingers from the pistol resting under her pillow. Absurd, really, because she would be well aware that someone was coming to her room long before they got there, but it was a soldier's security blanket.
Shepard rolled over and sat up slowly, breathing out shakily. Her sheets were damp. Soaked through with the sweat that slicked her body. Her shirt stuck to her flesh. Stifling. Constricting. She pulled it off in a fit of fury and flung it against the opposite wall, her shorts following a moment later. Collapsing back into bed naked, she stared at her roof as the sweat cooled on her skin, raising goosebumps.
Slowly her hand came up, smoothing over the skin of her side, touching the unblemished curve of her waist. Foreign. Unfamiliar. Cerberus had brought her back, personality wise, morals, experiences. But there were some things that were different.
Some things that were missing.
She sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed, resting her feet on the floor. Putting her head in her hands, she exhaled sharply, digging her nails into her scalp. Then she glanced at the time.
A curse filled the room and her eyes closed.
Time on ships was distorted when you travelled from world to world. What could have been three am on the ship could have been seven pm planetside. That's what she was going to think of it as. It was going to be seven pm somewhere.
She felt the static of EDI's blue sphere simulation appear in the corner of her office, the chime too quiet to be heard from her bed.
"Shepard, this is the third consecutive night that you have awoken from a restless sleep. Do you wish me to ask Mordin or doctor Chakwas for medication to assist you in sleeping?"
Shepard sighed and lowered her head, letting it hang limply from her shoulders, "No, EDI."
"Very well. But I must advise you that the level of sleep you have received is insufficient for continued cognitive function. If it progresses, my protocols require that I inform either doctor Chakwas or Yeomen Chambers."
"I'll take care of it, EDI."
"Very well, Shepard." The static disappeared and Shepard opened her eyes.
Pushing herself up and off her bed, she walked to her shower, slamming into it with more force than necessary, making as much noise as she could. As the door hissed closed behind her, making her miss the day and age when people could slam them closed, Shepard crossed to the mirror mounted on the wall.
The face that looked back at her was hers. Same red-brown hair hanging to her shoulders, same violet eyes staring back at her with a hawk-like intensity. Same damnable splash of freckles over her nose that made her seem like a perpetual child. Maybe she looked a bit younger than she was, with less lines than she should have, but there were lines on her face that had nothing to do with age. Nor were they scars.
Positive thinking, yeah. As long as she didn't shoot a few too many people or shove more than a couple out of a God alone knew how high window, the scars would fade.
Or she could just get the surgery…
Normally when people had cosmetic surgery, it was to make their boobs bigger, to make their nose smaller. Not to ensure that the fires of hell didn't poke through the gaps in their face.
Correcting scars was not high on her priority list but if the scarring got worse…
She lifted her finger and touched her eyebrow, where another scar once rested. A scar to a wound that had been so deep, the actual bone beneath had been chipped. A miniscule scar that had added to her attractiveness, they said, rather than detracted from it.
But that was because her body had been hidden.
Stepping back, she put her hand on her collarbone. It had been broken, and the bone had burst through her flesh, leaving a ragged wound. They had said she would never fire a gun again. Six months of physio later and she was leaving daisies on targets.
'You've made a career out of performing the impossible.'
He had no idea… He truly didn't. It was strange that she had learned so much about him, yet he knew almost nothing about her. She knew about his wife. His son. She had punched his son in their first meeting, which she was sure set a great first impression. She had wondered if he would be angry, later, but the fact that she had physically assaulted the driving force of his life had never come up. Anyone else would have likely laid her flat then and there.
Thane had thanked her.
Siha he called her. A warrior angel.
Hardly. She pressed her hand to her forehead. She wasn't anything angelic. She was more a demon if anything. A monster. He had no idea what lurked inside her mind. Inside her heart. To him, she was that warrior angel. Fierce. A tenacious protector.
If only you knew, Thane…
If only he knew what she really was.
He would never call her an angel again.
Her fingers touched the unblemished skin, her eyes following her hand.
Her hand flowed along her breast to her side, where broken ribs should have been knots of re-knitted bone under her skin. Now they were perfect, except for the tiniest bumps where reinforcing metal plates had been screwed in place, plates that meant that whatever bones were broken in the future could heal within minutes of the damage.
She stepped back and looked down at her leg, which had been crushed and broken. The surgery scars were also missing, and the ache and pain in her knee that would bother her if she was on it too long was gone. Long gone.
They had said she would never be able to be in active service again.
Once more, she had proved them wrong.
But the biggest difference…
She smoothed her hand over her stomach, over her bellybutton and along her left hip.
'Do you know what thresher maw acid feels like?'
She flinched, hard, her nails leaving four red lines on her stomach. Painful ones that flushed with blood within seconds.
Her eyes opened – she hadn't even realized she had closed them – and Natalya stared at her stomach once more. Once upon a time it had been twisted and distorted, melted by a glancing brush with the spit of a thresher maw. A splash from the impact that had melted two men into nothing before her eyes. The agony of her flesh and armour being melted away had been nothing compared to watching them dissolve into red goo, staring at their own hands as they disintegrated into a sticky paste.
Screaming until they couldn't scream anymore. Until their eyes melted in their heads and their tongues oozed from their mouths. Until the ribs had been exposed, their lungs working and hearts beating frantically until they, too, had disappeared.
It had taken a few seconds to happen. Maybe less.
It had seemed like forever.
She had borne the scars from her time on Akuze like personal reminders. Reminders of what she had survived. Reminders of those that had not. Not badges or trophies. Just something to make sure that she didn't forget.
But the scars were gone. They were all gone.
Cerberus… Goddamn Cerberus.
After all they had done to her. After all she had suffered. They had the gall …
But then again, what human in their right mind wouldn't want a second chance at life? Wouldn't want to come back from the dead?
Key words: In their right mind.
Natalya hadn't been there in a long, long while.
Of course, Cerberus had counted on her duty and service to humanity and the greater galaxy. The good soldier, fighting the good fight, protecting the defenceless and killing the bad guys. A more altruistic person would definitely be focusing on such a thing. 'I've got a job to do' and the like.
Natalya wasn't like that…
Cerberus had made a lot of assumptions when they brought Shepard back. All they had thought was that Cerberus – and therefore humanity – needed Shepard. Or was it that humanity needed Shepard and therefore Cerberus? Did it matter? No. No it didn't.
Cerberus didn't ask what they hadn't given Shepard. They hadn't asked what they had taken from her. They hadn't asked how she felt about being brought back.
They hadn't even touched on how she felt about-
A spasm took Shepard's arm and she shouted, a short, sharp sound in the silence of her bathroom. An incoherent cry of inarticulate rage.
When she came back to herself, there was a crater in the middle of her mirror, blood collecting along the cracks and dripping down the shattered reflection that stared back at her. Shattered. She looked whole on the outside. She could heal physical damage.
But the reflection that stared back at her was exactly how she was inside.
Blood dripped onto the ground beside her foot, but she didn't care about the pain in her hand.
It would be gone soon, anyway.
"Are you alright, Commander? You look tired…"
"I am tired, Kelly," came Natalya's voice quietly from the CIC. She wasn't standing. She was sitting, with her back against one of the metal supports as she idly surfed through the planets of an unexplored star system. Unexplored by her, not by others. The thrill of thinking she might get to name some unfound world had frizzled up and died with that knowledge.
In that moment, Joker was coasting between two stars, having mined the planets surrounding the other relatively dry. They needed more palladium… for… for something. God she couldn't remember what she needed the palladium for… She did remember that she needed twenty seven thousand units in total, and to not know what it was for seemed relatively irresponsible…
"Are you not sleeping correctly, Commander?"
"That would generally be the reason people are tired when they haven't left the ship in a week," murmured Natalya. "Grunt must be chewing on his tank by now…"
The silence stretched and Natalya was very aware that Kelly was trying to think of a good way to broach the subject. She didn't feel like helping her. It wasn't that she disliked Kelly. Not at all. The girl did happen to be a bit too… 'Get in touch with our emotions' for her taste, but that was her job. Kelly was a 'people person', and Shepard was a 'shoot people person'. The latter didn't leave a lot of room for intrapersonal skills.
It was like Samara said; if she had to kill a man, did she want to know he was a devoted father? That he was married? Did she want to know about that asari's mother and father? Did she want to know about that krogan's possibility for breeding? Did she want to know about that turian's opinion on humanity?
She kicked her boot against the metal pole directly opposite her, eyes narrowed. Everyone had a story. Everyone had had some shit happen to them that deserved a lick of sympathy when taken out of context. Even the most hard-bitten and violent people in the galaxy had stories.
People she trusted had stories. People she cared about had stories. Thane. Tali. Garrus. Anderson. They had stories that she knew to the most minute detail, stories that curled in her gut and settled there, waiting patiently for the time that they could sprout painful barbs and sink them into her heart for the greatest amount of damage.
Saren had had a story, too. About his brother. A brother he probably loved and looked up to. A brother he had adored. A brother that had died during the First Contact War and nurtured a seed of hatred in Saren's heart, twisting him and perverting who he might have become. Instead, he was manipulated into being the slave of a Reaper, and almost brought about a synthetic apocalypse which would have resulted in the death of all organic life. What had happened to Saren? His last act of defiance had been to shoot himself in the temple. All he could do to help undo what Sovereign had done through him was to die. Even then his body had been twisted and perverted by Sovereign, into a monstrous external representation of what Sovreign had done to his will, something that not even Saren had deserved.
Not even Saren? Her head came down. Saren had been one of the best Spectres that the Council had ever had. One of the most honoured turian warriors. But the moment his treachery was revealed, they couldn't wait to spit on his name and kick dust on his grave.
He was the enemy. He was the 'bad guy'. That's all they cared about. A turian turncoat.
It had been easier to hate Saren, than to understand him… Than to sympathise with him.
Than to mourn him.
Shepard had been mourned, she knew. She knew people had grieved over her death. And that her return was seen as a betrayal. Like she was now undeserving of such grief because she had deceived everyone in some malicious act to avoid taxes. Because all that mattered was their opinion of her. All that matters was how the public saw the hero. Not the hero themselves.
"What?" she glanced over her shoulder sharply.
Kelly seemed taken aback, but she soldiered on regardless, "I called your name three times now and you didn't answer."
"I was just thinking," Shepard sighed and spun herself around, bracing her boots on the step leading to the CIC. "Nothing for you to ask about, before you do."
Kelly got that 'I understand' look that chafed Shepard the wrong way. She didn't want Kelly to understand. She wanted her to mind her own business. She didn't need Cerberus crawling inside her head.
Immediately Shepard regretted the harsh thought. Kelly was Cerberus, yes, but she was a person that cared. She didn't join Cerberus because she wanted to promote humans over aliens. She joined because she wanted to help.
To make a difference.
Natalya had been like that, once…
"Listen, Kelly. I… I know you're here to make sure we're all okay, headspace wise, as we go forth into the unknown with a high chance of never turning around, but right now, I need you to be a yeoman. Not a councillor. Not a guidance… person. Not someone to look into my head and my heart and be all understanding. Because… because it's your job to care. And I don't really need that right now, okay? I just… don't."
Kelly eyed Shepard warily, before nodding, "Alright. But if you want to talk…"
"If I want to talk, Kelly, it won't be with you." The words were sharper than Shepard intended, but she didn't amend them. Pushing herself up, she stepped off the CIC platform and rubbed her neck. "Joker, let me know when we hit the next star system."
+Will do, Commander.+
She vanished into the elevator, leaving a concerned Kelly behind.
+You going to put that in your report, Chambers?+ Joker's voice was slightly challenging, but she let it slide. Tali'Zorah, Garrus and Joker were unrepentantly loyal to Shepard and undisguisedly suspicious of Cerberus. Even though Kelly tried to be a friend more than a Cerberus operative, the three of them had a deep distrust for everything that the organization put forward.
Knowing Shepard's history as Kelly did, it wasn't surprising that a Cerberus operative was the last person she wanted to talk to, but still, Kelly wanted to help. Not as a professional, but as a woman that saw someone damaged and hurting and potentially embarking on a one-way journey to self-destruction.
But Kelly could recognize that she was not the help needed to come from. She would never be as close to Shepard as others were. She was not a woman given to frivolous female friendships. She was a woman that you had to get to know through tragedy, patience and a shared life of violence.
There was only so much you could understand without sharing experiences.
"No, Joker, there is nothing to report. By the way, where is Garrus? And Thane?"
There was a long silence, before Joker's voice rang quietly again, +If you're going to busybody…+
"Please, Joker. Not only am I a professional, I'm a decent person. Give me some credit."
+… Thane and Garrus are where they usually are.+
"Thank you." Kelly stepped back from her station and called the elevator from where it had last stopped, at Shepard's quarters.
Sweat trickled between her breasts. It tickled. It tickled her and she wanted to wipe it away. But she knew if she took her hands off, it would be over. She'd never muster the courage again.
It'd be over.
It'd be over if she could just…
Sweat. Between her breasts. Down her back. On her temple.
Do it do it do it do it.
Cowardice to do it? Cowardice to stop?
Her leg bounced crazily as she tried to focus on what she was doing. Tried to focus on the moment. Don't hide from it. It was quiet and she was alone. Apartment. Barracks? Didn't know. Didn't care. Didn't matter.
Just do it.
Fucking do it!
JUST FUCKING DO IT!
Shepard's eyes snapped open again and she rolled onto her back. Shit. When had she fallen asleep? She had come to her cabin. Laid down and… was gone. Shit, why couldn't it be that easy when she was supposed to get sleep?
She sighed, "What?"
+You wanted to be informed when we reached the next star system? … We… uh. Have.+
"I'll be right down," she said, throwing her arm over her face.
+No rush. You know. Take your time. Uh. Bye.+
Shit, now even Joker knew there was something wrong with her.
Pushing herself up, Shepard went to slide off the bed before she realized that, once again, her hand was on her pistol. She uncoiled her fingers carefully and withdrew them from under her pillow, working an ache out of her little finger. Her hand then moved to scratch behind her ear. She stilled with her nails against her flesh. Staring at nothing. Rolling her head on her neck, she moved her hand down and lifted a finger, pressing it to the side of her jaw, in the soft flesh, digging her nail deep.
Do it do it do it do-
"Bang," she whispered.