All characters and locations belong to Bioware. No money is being made. This fic is dedicated to Lurking Grue, who thought of it first.
Only her index finger moved. Tapping out a beat only she could hear as Zorya grew ever larger and more luminous out the windows of the shuttle. He'd heard her tell Garrus she missed the Mako sometimes, and Zaeed could have sworn the turian had flinched slightly. If Garrus hadn't been so tight-lipped about everything to everyone except her he'd have asked for the story behind it.
She'd left her old comrade behind this time, following some arcane formula for team selection that had made it impossible for Zaeed to predict whether he'd spend the day following her into firefights or lurking in the cargo hold and smoking. Miranda was coming with them this time, perched on a seat near the door watching the scanners, her perfect legs crossed, one boot swinging. Zaeed would have appreciated the view more if he didn't keep glancing between the planet below them and that single moving finger.
This felt bad to him.
He had twenty goddamn years riding on this. He could trust the Cerebus girl to do what she was asked to – her demeanour was one of relaxed boredom, it was another day on the job to her. She'd be smart enough to stay out of his way.
Molly Shepard was something else. She had a goddamn code, and the universe would end before she broke it. If Vido had grown soft in the head and actually surrendered, Zaeed knew he'd have to be beyond quick to get that shot in before Shepard could stop him.
He'd told Shepard about this when they'd first met, about this last job he had to finish before their suicide mission. He'd waited on Omega for her for the best part of a week, and had captured his prisoner once he'd heard she was arriving. He wanted to see what kind of reaction he'd get from the once-hero of the Alliance.
He hadn't paid a lot of attention when the battle for the Citadel was all over the news. He'd been on a job, protecting some snivelling salarian who had stolen industrial secrets from the wrong people. Zaeed hadn't been babysitting him so much as using him as bait, moving him around the Traverse and picking off the assassins that slunk in their wake. It meant that when he'd been briefed the name Shepard had been little more than a vague memory.
She'd looked prettier in the news vids; they must have tweaked something to make her nose look shorter. On Omega she looked like hell, her face criss-crossed with fault lines, pale and tired and stressed as she scrambled to catch up with a galaxy that had moved on without her. She hadn't reacted to his treatment of the prisoner, only pursing her lips slightly when Zaeed had put a bullet through the batarian's knee. At that point, Zaeed had thought they were going to get on just fine. She'd tell him where to shoot, and beyond that would stay out of his business.
No such stinking luck. He wasn't just a hired gun, oh no, he was expected to be part of some multi-species team. Zaeed didn't like it. She could argue all night with Mordin, or sing the baby krogan to sleep if she wanted, but he'd forestalled any attempts at bonding with an endless stream of war stories. It hadn't stopped her coming to see him though, and she merely looked slightly amused when he launched another trip down memory lane. If he didn't know better, he'd have thought she liked it.
It was hard to tell what she was thinking. The first thing she'd done on Omega was visit the markets for a pair of shades with a built-in targeting system. The rumour on board the Normandy now was that she slept in them. Zaeed's personal theory was that she didn't want to be recognized, and given the number of people they ran in to that she'd either helped or hindered before her death he could see why.
Her finger stopped tapping. She'd turned off her music. The shuttle began to vibrate slightly as they dropped through the atmosphere, and Shepard checked her weapons.
"You ready?" she asked him, he could barely hear her over the noise, and he half lip-read her question.
"I've been ready since you were in pigtails," he replied. Daft question.
Zorya was a sauna. It smelled damp and fungous, and their boots skidded slightly on a layer of lichen and slime. Zaeed could feel sweat start to collect on his forehead almost immediately. Miss Genetically Perfect probably had built-in air conditioning, and she didn't look bothered by the conditions. Shepard looked stoic, like she usually did. She held herself loosely, stance relaxed, impressions unformed, waiting for information; signs of distress or danger.
She got them once Zaeed managed to plug them into the Blue Suns communication channels. Zaeed felt his stomach clench in cold, hard anger when he heard the familiar chatter. He'd had a good thing going here, he had a friend. Two humans making their way among a galaxy full of aliens, only three years since humanity had poked its nose into galactic affairs and nearly got it shot off by the turians. Vido had joked that they'd been pioneers.
"This is my mission," he ground out.
This was too important to entrust to anyone else. She could have the rest of the galaxy, hell, that was her mission, but this hellhole of sweat and flies and allergens was his. His until Vido got what had been a long time coming.
To his surprise, she didn't argue. She looked at him for a few moments, and electronics gleamed redly in her glasses, telling her how many meters away he was, and probably putting a set of crosshairs right between his eyes. Without a movement of acknowledgement or denial, she turned and led the way into the forest, towards the refinery.
Zaeed was not reassured. After all these years, Vido was so close he could smell him and it was putting him on edge. He wouldn't relax until he'd seen the bastard burn. You better not screw this up for me, Shepard.
They had them on the run, as Zaeed expected they would. If nothing else Shepard had impressed him with the ease she organized fast, brutal strike teams into fortified territory. Half the time her eye was glued to the scope of her sniper rifle, but she never seemed to lose track of the bigger picture. The radio told them they were walking into an ambush, but neither Shepard nor Miranda turned an eyelash at the idea.
Tough bitches, both of them.
He had no reason to think anything Vido had up his sleeve could do more than slow them down, but his instincts were still telling him he had to be on his guard. He trusted his instincts.
Shepard was extending the bridge to the refinery when he held up his hand. He heard the voice he'd silenced a million times in his head bristle with static in his ear. She had to know exactly what she was walking in to. If she'd guessed this wasn't just another job for him, she hadn't pressed the issue. More of that damn touchy-feely knowing what people wanted crap. Not that he'd have told her if she'd asked.
So he told her. The extremely abbreviated version. He couldn't help but feel a flare of pride when she raised her eyebrows above the edge of her glasses, and the corner of her mouth quirked in an impressed smirk.
"You founded the Blue Suns? Why didn't anyone tell me?"
"Who's to know?" He shrugged it off; they had other things to concern themselves with. He'd told her, and if she was as hell-bent on securing her blasted team harmony as she'd said, she'd let him finish the job, come what may.
He wasn't prepared to see Vido. He'd thought he was, but the last time they'd been face to face, Zaeed had been struggling for his life, spitting and swearing, sheer hate giving him strength. They'd needed every man there to hold him still. And Zaeed had roared himself hoarse at his old friend, swearing revenge from beyond the grave if necessary. The most well trodden path down memory lane ended at that point, with Vido's cold expression, the flash of light followed by red blooming rage. Not pain. Rage.
Despite the heat and humidity, Zaeed felt himself grow cold, his sweat chill on his skin. Everything was clear; he could count the grey hairs at Vido's temples, sense Shepard turn her head slightly so she could watch him out of the corner of her eye as well as Vido, and he could feel the static charge from Miranda's biotics.
He raised his gun as Miranda and Shepard dived for cover. Burn, you son of a bitch. He exalted as the gas pipe behind the mercenary leader went up, but it hadn't been enough. He ignored the bullets pinging and ricocheting off the metal around him and Shepard's yell, brute forcing the valve with the back of his rifle to let more accelerant into the burning system.
The second set of explosions sent burning blue sun bodies flying, but Vido had escaped further into the refinery.
Shepard was tight-lipped in fury, but Zaeed's rage was bottomless. It didn't matter now, he'd made them a way in, and Shepard could pout about it if she want-
His ear rang as Shepard clobbered him. He hadn't been expecting it and his hand went to his nose, wondering if it had been broken again. He turned on her, bristling to do battle. He had more than enough rage to spare for anyone who got between him and his revenge.
"You want to do this?" he snarled, momentum for the fight building.
"I'd love to, but thanks to you we have a burning refinery to save." She turned with a dismissive wave of her pistol and Zaeed felt the moment slipping away.
"Let them burn! Vido dies."
But she was already waving them forward, darting through the burning gateway with Miranda at her heels. Zaeed followed.
And he followed again when she reprioritized their mission. His mission. There wasn't time to argue, and he knew the futility of even trying as he felt precious seconds tick away. Turn off the gas, get the fire systems working, what the hell? At least she didn't waste any time soaking up the gratitude of the refinery workers. Her face was set in a grim mask of determination as they fought their way forward, Vido always darting out of reach ahead of them.
"Come on," she snapped irritably, bringing down fuel tanks on the enemies ahead of them. One of them came down close enough that Zaeed could feel the blast on the other side of the crate he was hiding behind, and he shot her a sharp glance, uncertain if the near miss was deliberate, but she wasn't watching him, focusing on her next target instead.
And it was all in vain.
Zaeed raged as Vido's gunship rose into the muggy air, and when he was too far out of range, he turned his rage, and his gun, on Shepard.
"You just cost me twenty years of my life!"
Shepard just shook her head, an odd, slightly disbelieving expression on her face. Whatever she was about to say was lost when half the landing pad went up, and Zaeed found himself pinned painfully under a girder. The universe was just hell-bent on piling it on today, wasn't it? And now he was a captive audience.
"What the hell? You put personal revenge ahead of the mission, Zaeed. How can I trust you on my team?" He couldn't see her eyes, but he could sense the glare.
"Personal revenge was the mission, Shepard. I'm a professional; I'll do what I was goddamn paid to do. Nothing more." To hell with this locker-room bonding. This was just a job. He wanted to get off this shitheap of a planet as soon as possible.
His eyes narrowed as she shook her head. "You can't put your own goals ahead of the mission. That's not the way this works." She sounded tired.
"I don't need anyone else to watch my back. I've survived this long because I'm not worrying about anyone else." He didn't need any of this, whatever it was she thought they needed.
He glanced up as she walked over, expecting her to turn on that charm he'd seen used to good effect on all races, one of those hypnotic speeches of hers that was often accompanied by a sincere, charming smile. I'd like to see you try, he thought, as she pushed her glasses up to rest on the top of her head.
Her eyes were greenish-grey, at least they were under open sky, he hadn't noticed on Omega. He found himself looking into them around the barrel of her pistol. He could smell hot metal, as instinctive fear clawed at his throat and he fought it down. Her eyes blazed with determination, her jaw set.
"You're part of a team now, Zaeed. There is no way we can do this unless we're all working together." A flick of her wrist and now he was looking at her over the sights briefly before she reholstered the weapon. She cracked a faint smile as she pulled her glasses back down over her eyes. "Trust me, I've done this before."
"You… you have a point." Some experience you just didn't argue with. "I'm not done with Vido," he added, as she bent to lift the girder off his leg. "Put I'll put it aside for now."
"That's win-win," she said, offering him a hand. "If we fail to stop the Reapers, Vido dies anyway. So cheer up."
He didn't feel like cheering up just yet.
"Let's get the hell out of here."
She didn't argue. Miranda reappeared from wherever she'd tactfully removed herself to and Zaeed limped after them to the shuttle. He sensed Shepard watching him and he pointedly ignored her on the trip back to the Normandy, even when her finger started tapping.