Disclaimer: I do not own Mass Effect or any of the characters, neither do I earn any money writing these stories.
Author Note: This is my first attempt to publish some FanFiction. Having my previous works read by someone who clearly did not belong to the addressed group, didn't turn out too well. Finally I found the guts to give it another try... well here it is. Be gentle with your judgment - but also honest. Thanks for reading.
Also many thanks to the reviews and hints for improvement - they have been appreciated. (Revised and updated: 04/20/10)
Warning: Rated M - While some of the chapters will not contain any material that is unsuitable for children under the age of 16 – other chapters will contains sexually explicit material as well as the description of violence and battle. Please take this into consideration.
Explanation: The story takes place after the events of Mass Effect 2 and thus will contain possible spoilers.
Shortly after succeeding and surviving the suicide mission, Shepard had returned to the Citadel for a quick stop before she headed off to the Omega-Station to grant her crew some shore leave. While most of them are looking forward to the free time, Shepard is still fighting the demons of her past, especially those that remind her of the current emotional mess between herself and her former LT. Kaidan Alenko.
Chapter 1 - Welcome back
Shepard felt sick.
Rocking back and forth and taking deep slow breaths - she was trying to get it under control. Silently she cursed her current condition. It wasn't the first time. Actually ever since she had awoken from her death, she had felt the nausea creeping up on her every now and then. Usually she could keep it bay and only on a few days had she found herself sprinting to the bathroom. She just filed it under 'side-effects of a resurrection'. After all, large parts of her body had been utterly destroyed.
When she had made her way through the Cerberus base that had hosted the Lazarus Project – she had seen so many pictures in the different labs and offices. They were x-ray pictures of destroyed skeletal structures, each adjacent one showed different body parts or an advanced step of the reconstruction. Pictures of gray inner organs horribly mutilated by immense pressure and freezing cold – the next pictures showed them again: this time in vivid colors and alive. She had been fascinated by those images, had looked at them with great interest... but then she had finally noticed something. Her name – her own name had been written in the lower right corner of every x-ray and every other picture. She had not been able to grasp the meaning of it at that point... only hours later when she had been informed of her previous death and the reconstruction. Ever since that moment she had wondered if this project had been able to really reconstruct her. There were days when she had so many doubts about it – if she really was herself or if some things had just been lost.
To not drown in those questions she kept telling herself that it was not uncommon to use genetic material and grow additional skin or even organs for medical uses. Maybe it was the simple fact that it had been Cerberus... she pondered. Would she still feel so odd about it if it had been the Alliance or a random Asari or Salarian Clinic? She knew that nobody would have invested the credits in the project but that wasn't the point. She liked to think that she would feel different if it had been anyone else than Cerberus. Having this organization rebuild her... even if she couldn't remember it, it felt invasive and even disgusting. The idea that Wilson had run his hand over her newly grown skin... a shudder ran down her back. The image of Miranda shooting him in the throat seemed much more appealing all of a sudden.
Another wave of queasiness sneaked up on her and Shepard returned to the rocking motion to fight it. It was only about 2 or 3 months ago since the attack on the Cerberus-Base – since she had been thrown into this mess. Maybe it was still too early. Maybe her body just needed more time – maybe half a year or even a year but she wouldn't give up on the hope that the day would come where she felt – alright. It would be that very day that she knew she was herself again.
When the wave had passed, she leaned back again. Maybe she was reading too much into it. It was probably just the stress that had gotten a hold on her as soon as she had opened her eyes. Welcome back. You died and have been semi-dead for two years. We'll start your new life with a lethal situation to ease you in. After that you have to investigate missing colonies, try to thwart new attacks, find a way to destroy the Reapers and stop an eternal cycle from repetition. No stress, right? No pressure. A weary smile formed on her lips. How she and her team had made it through some of those missions... she still couldn't quite understand.
But yes, the stress had to be it. She remembered her condition after the battle on the Citadel. Besides her sore muscles and bruises, the remaining stress had needed days to finally fall away from her. She had been so accustomed to being on edge – to be ready to engage a battle at any minute, that her body had difficulties to shift back into relaxation.
"Commander – everything is ready."
She raised her head, the memories still clinging heavily to it and it took her a moment to understand where she was. She was on her Normandy and it was her pilot that spoke.
"Give me a moment."
"Just say the word."
She shook her head slightly as if that could get rid of those tormenting thoughts. But now wasn't the time to dwell on it. Instead she had to address her crew and she had long thought about how she would do that.
"I am ready."
"Aye aye, Commander."
After a moment of silence she stood up.
"Everyone, we have arrived on Omega-Station. At the risk of repeating myself, I want to thank you all once more for the incredible work you have done. This would not have been possible without you and so there is nothing left for me but to wish you a wonderful week. Stay out of trouble but have a drink for me. I will see you in 7 days at 1200. You are dismissed so go and have fun. Shepard out."
She frowned for a moment but it quickly changed into a smile when she joyful cheers and yells reached her even in this part of the ship. She could get used to this. The tone was no longer the strict military one... after all, there was no need. She was no longer part of the Alliance... she was no longer part of Cerberus... she was – free. How odd that sounded.
Five days ago she had called in a meeting with the experts of her team. Everyone knew that things had changed ever since they had blown up the Collector's base. It was pretty much like telling the Illusive Man to go and screw himself. Additionally, Shepard had no intention of turning herself in for recycling, let alone returning the Normandy. So Cerberus was part of the past – there was no way they would go back and work with them again. It didn't sadden Shepard – not at all.
But there were not many alternatives either. Returning to the Alliance was out of question. Too many former soldiers were on board and all of them, Shepard included, had been branded as Cerberus. That at least some of them had never truly been part of it didn't matter. The rumors were out and it would take a long way to tackle and correct them.
They could try and work with the Council... yeah... they had dropped that topic before it even started. The Council had made very clear that, while Shepard's Spectre status had been restored, they didn't want her around.
So, all in all, it had come to the decision that they would no longer fly under anyone's banner – they had become freelancers. When that word had been said aloud – it seemed to echo in the comm-room. Most of them had never been in this situation before and slowly it began to sink into their minds.
"There are favors I can call in" Thane had offered.
"And I have some connections" Garrus had added.
Most of them had connections from the past or someone that owed them a favor – they were not completely without resources and so the shock had soon been pushed aside and they had returned to business. Things had to be prepared.
Two days later, the crew had been informed and had been offered a chance to leave. She would have understood it, especially after what they had experienced during the time they had been captured by the Collectors. To her surprise it had only been three people that left. She remembered one of them – though not his name. He had been sitting in the crew's quarters talking to a comrade about his newly born child. There was no way she could hold his decision against him – especially since she knew that it could be the last days, weeks or months for him to see his child.
All it took would take was one mistake, a miscalculation or a rash decision and the Reapers could be standing on the Citadel's doormat next week. Secretly, she sometimes wished that she could just leave and just get away from it all. On those days – when dark thoughts added their power to her doubts, she was asking herself if she had not done enough good in her lifetime to have earned the rest she sometimes sought. Never would she admit it but she wondered at those moments if it had been right to reclaim her from death. When she felt her fingernails cut into her palm, she did her best to pushed those thoughts away. Maybe she was just growing soft - the constant pressure of this mission had begun to wear her down.
She slumped back down into the seat and like so often, her view drifted to the picture on her desk. Her already unsettled stomach rose another wave. Even now, many days after she had seen him, the battle of her emotions had not ended. Whenever either love or anger was about to win something poured oil into the fire and it started all over again.
Her mind had switched off when she had seen him on Horizon."I was in shock. At least that's the only way I can explain those ridiculous things I said." she told herself. Bah, who are you trying to convince? Her mind responded. Him... she was trying to convince him and though she had failed miserably – he should have given her another chance, some more minutes... Like you would have listened if you had been in his shoes! the voice in the back of her head said without mercy.
"Maybe... but I listened to Toombs, didn't I? I listened to Helena Blake and gave her another chance." Her fingers had clenched into a fist again. She had done so many things to try to convince them that she never trusted Cerberus, that she only worked with them as much as absolutely necessary. Biting her bottom lip she smashed her fist on the desk.
"See what you do to me?" She groaned and rubbed her hands over her face. Maybe things would be different now that the battlefield was a new one. It was neutral ground. "We'll have to see about that." One last deep breath before she got up and used the small boost of energy to get going. The former Alliance Commander Sayen Shepard left her private quarters. There were still so many things to do.