She had faced down the most horrendous things this galaxy had to offer. She had fought legions of geth on dozens of worlds, she had fought a creature millennia old, she had fought walking corpses brought back to life by ancient machines, she had hunted a rogue Spectre across all of Citadel Space and beyond… she had watched the man she loved die. She had done this all with stoicism to do her family proud, yet as she slowly stalked toward the entrance to the office of Councilor Anderson Ashley Williams was more nervous than she could ever remember being.
After returning from Horizon the first thing she had done was confront Anderson about Shepard. She had thought that the man she loved had been dead for two years, and then out of nowhere he comes to save her on some backwater colony in the Traverse. Her anger had been a bit misplaced, in retrospect. After reflecting on it Ash realized that she had truly been angry at herself for how she handled the situation.
"Anderson, why didn't you tell me Shepard was alive? She asked.
Anderson's face had confusion plastered on it, but Ash didn't believe it was genuine. "What makes you think I knew he was alive before this?"
Ash saw through the lie. "I know that the first thing Shepard would do is report to you."
Anderson sighed resignedly "I couldn't risk you letting your past relationship get in the way of what you had to do." he said. "I thought that if you knew you would have abandoned your duties to search for him."
"How long have you known?" she asked through barred teeth. She wasn't sure whether she was angrier about him not telling her, or doubting her resolve.
Councilor Anderson just stared at her with the calm, collectiveness that had made him a great officer; and allowed him to really annoy her. "He came to the embassy a few weeks ago to inform the Council that he lived, and as a symbol of good faith they renewed his Spectre status. He asked about you, and I said that you were on a classified mission."
Ashley blinked in surprise. Shepard had been asking about her? "What else did he ask?"
"After I refused to tell him, he just walked out the door." replied Anderson.
She needed to get back on track; there were more important things than whatever they had had together. "Did you know that he was working for Cerberus?"
The Councilor nodded the affirmative "He openly admitted to working with Cerberus, yet told us that as soon as the business with the Collectors was over he planned to sever all ties to the organization."
She knew there was something else. "What aren't you telling me, Councilor?"
For once in his life David Anderson seemed apprehensive, "He came here yesterday to demand why I hadn't told him you were in the Traverse, and to tell me how the illusive Man had purposely leaked rumors to get you on Horizon; the Illusive man wanted to prove if the Collectors were targeting people close to Shepard."
She couldn't believe this! "So we were doing what Cerberus wanted us to all along!" she yelled, followed by a scream of aggravation.
"He also told me to give you this." Anderson said as he handed her a small amulet.
"This was his father's amulet; it was the one thing of his father's that he kept." Why would he give her this? "Did he say anything else?"
"No" said the Councilor, slowly "He told me to give that to you then wandered off. I haven't heard any more of him.
Unconsciously her hand reached up to touch the gold amulet hanging around her neck. It wasn't the same one that Anderson had handed her- that was crammed in her pocket- but it was one that Shepard had bought her after the battle of the Citadel. It was engraved with the poem Ulysses; he had bought it for her "so she wouldn't forget it".
She had worn it every day for two years to remind herself of Shepard after he had passed on. The only time she had taken it off since the Normandy was destroyed was after Horizon. She had vowed to get rid of it, but had begun wearing ever since speaking with the Councilor.
"Damn it, girl" snapped Udina, being his usual irritable self "I have pressing business with Councilor Anderson and Commander Shepard, if you can't muster the courage to go in let me by!"
"Get a grip, Udina." If there was good choice Shepard had made after the Battle, it was promoting Anderson above Udina "You're not in charge any more, you get to wait in lines like everyone else now."
The irate Ambassador was positively infuriated "What! I still have the authority to have the Alliance strip your rank and-"
"And Anderson can countermand that action" Ashley interjected.
Udina just grumbled something under his breath about a "lovesick bitch" and stood behind her. The worst part was, Ashley thought to herself, Udina was right. She had nearly broken down that door countless times if she felt that something was not right, or if she needed to talk to Anderson; But now that she needed to answer one of the most important questions in her life, she was afraid to find the answer. Did Shepard still love her?
It had been nagging at the back of her mind since Horizon. She wasn't going to pretend she hadn't tried to date again, or that she had thought about him always, but Shepard had held a special place in her heart. She shook her head to clear her thoughts. It was now or never, she told herself as she pushed the buttons on the console to open the door and stepped inside.
Strangely the first thing she noticed was the people Shepard had brought with him. As well as a woman donning a Cerberus uniform -the sight of which made her scowl- she saw Tali, of all people… or at least she thought it was Tali. The suit looked a little different but she was pretty positive that the quarian standing in the embassy was her old friend.
Shepard turned away from the Councilor and stared straight at her, wide-eyed "Ash? What are you doing here?"
Tali waved to her earnestly but something about her body language seemed a little… tense. Nervous, maybe? Tali was never the most forward person, though, so Ash didn't give it a second thought.
The woman in the Cerberus uniform -Ash thought she had been on Horizon- nodded to acknowledge Ashley being there. "Chief Williams, I'm glad you could join us." Ash noticed a slight smirk on the woman's face that just oozed smugness.
Shepard looked at her and said, his voice full of warmth "It's good to see you again, Ash. We were just reporting to Anderson that we made it through the Omega 4 Relay, destroyed the Collector base and that we have officially broken away from Cerberus."
She was stricken by how casually he said that, how apparently commonplace for him to do things that others said were impossible; then again, he did seem to make a habit of it. And of course she was glad to hear he had split from Cerberus, that made what she was about to do a whole lot easier "Nothing special for you, right skipper?"
Shepard gave a goodhearted chuckle before saying "I suppose not. However, back to my original question, what are you doing here?"
This was it. She had made up her mind on the way to the embassy. Here goes nothing. "I came to speak to you."
Shepard seemed a bit perplexed as he spoke, "What about, Ash?"
Ashley took a deep breath before going on "With your consent I would like to request a temporary leave of absence from my duties with the Alliance to serve with the Normandy crew."
Shepard was shocked by the turn of events but Anderson didn't seem surprised. Shepard sounded confused when he said "I'd gladly welcome you back to the team Ash but…well… we didn't necessarily part on the best of terms."
Ashley grimaced a bit at that. She knew she had been vehement on Horizon, but she had apologized in her message. She knew that wasn't good enough, but at least she had tried. "I understand, Shepard. I would still like to join your crew for a time."
Shepard looked over at the Councilor. "Anderson?"
Anderson nodded, "Request approved, Chief Williams."
Ashley looked up. "Shepard, I think we need to talk."
Shepard looked at his squadmates, "Miranda, I want you and Tali to gather up the crew and return to the Normandy, Chief Williams and I will be along shortly.