A/N: This fic is not off hiatus: it's just that I found this chapter nine-tenths of the way done and figured I might as well finish and post it.

Rated T for Jack. It's really difficult to be both someone who doesn't like to swear either in real life or in writing, and someone who likes to write Jack.


V.

Joker stifled a yawn as he slid into the helmsman's chair. The phantom sensation of a warm blanket thrown across his legs kept reminding him that it was so early in the morning it could more properly be called the tail end of the night. He'd done more walking than usual yesterday. Anybody would be tired after that Council meeting.

Being back in the Normandy distracted him from worrying about that, though. He pulled up status reports that showed the ship's VI and life support systems to be running perfectly normally, the engines sleeping.

"EDI, give me camera feeds from the last twelve hours."

No response. He glanced up at the red crawling up the AI's stem. "EDI."

No response. Joker cursed—whether at the AI, the hour, or the whole situation he didn't care—and continued looking through what files he could access on his own.

The rest of the ship was eerily silent. Shepard, Udina, and the C-Sec agents emerged from the elevator with weapons ready, but there was no one waiting to ambush them around the curve of the crew deck's hallway. The door to the medical bay was shut, the mess next door looking empty without Gardner behind the counter or anyone stopping by the table for a chat.

Shepard waved Turik and the injured turian he was carrying to the side when she keyed the medbay door open. Udina and the wounded human lurked behind her, the C-Sec man clutching his arm and glaring as if his eyes would serve as well as his discarded gun. Shepard kept her free hand steady near her stomach with her gun ready.

The door swished open. Shepard found herself face-to-face with Kelly Chambers, a fierce expression turning her full lips down. The pistol in her hands was angled down toward the floor, showing the lights tracking the top of the barrel.

When the yeoman saw who she was threatening, her demeanor instantly changed. "Commander!" She leapt up and threw her arms around Shepard's neck. Shepard smiled and tucked her head against Kelly's shoulder, partially because she was glad to see her, and partially to avoid being smacked in the back of the head with the pistol.

"Hey, Kelly."

The young yeoman drew away and looked around Shepard's armored shoulders at the C-Sec men. Her eyes narrowed. "Who are they?"

"Captain Turik, C-Sec." Turik couldn't salute with his squadmate in his arms, but he nodded.

"They're all with me," Shepard said, trying to sound reassuring. "We took out the men in the bridge, and Joker's trying to get us out of here. What's been going on?"

"Come in." Kelly stood aside to let the group pass, gasping with concern when she saw the second wounded man. She lead him carefully to a bed.

"Were you going to shoot the invaders in the foot, miss?" Udina growled.

"Only after I shot them in the head." Gabby Daniels stepped out from the corner on the left side of the doorway, an assault rifle in hand. "Oh. Ambassador!"

Udina grumbled. Sheppard took her focus off Gabby's look of surprise as what appeared to be the survivors of the attack formed a circle around her.

Doctor Chakwas stood up from her chair. Her forehead was decorated with a round splotch of blood, but no wound; either she had gotten to it quickly with medigel, or the blood was someone else's. "Thank goodness you're here, commander."

"Doctor. Are you all right?"

"Just must've brushed my face when I was treating Kenneth."

"There must have been two gangs of 'em." Engineer Donnelly was sitting on one of the cots, next to Gabby. "Someone came up behind me when I called upstairs to figure out why there were gunshots in the CIC. Nearly pushed me into the drive core, but got a good brawl out of it."

"Hey, while you were having a "good brawl" I was trying to fight past three of them to get to the stash Thane left in Life Support." Gabby hefted the gun in her left hand, looking down at him and hesitating with her right hand inches from his. "But I'm glad you're knuckleheaded enough to survive."

Most of the left side of Donnelly's shirt had been cut away, revealing a vivid red burn that stretched from his upper arm across his shoulder to the side of his neck and cheek. His smile was pained but sincere.

Shepard activated her omni-tool and checked to see the extent of his wounds. "Good work protecting the ship. I've got medi-gel if you need more."

"It's taken care of, commander," Chakwas said. "The deep injury has been cooled off; it'll just look ugly for a while."

"Hey, Gabby," Donnely said. "I hear tell that some women like scars."

"I guess the Normandy's one of them," she replied primly.

"Thanks for defending her," Shepard said, first to Donnelly, then looking around at all of them.

"Oh, no problem, commander," Donnely said. "Well, maybe a minor one, but I'll just stay here for a few days and lie around, gettin' patched up." Despite his flippant words, he winced as he spoke, and Shepard felt herself cringe in return. She wouldn't have wished burns on anyone, especially not the talkative engineer.

"We're all going to stay here if we don't find out what locked you in your own ship," Udina said.

"The officer here has wounded men," Shepard told Chakwas. Turik had gotten the other turian into the third bed. Shepard wanted Udina's question answered too, but this was mission triage. "And there are bodies in the bridge."

"I'll take care of them." Chakwas moved to the turian's side and scanned him with her omnitool, but kept looking at Shepard. "But I can't help much with the ambassador's question. I'm afraid I'm better at healing than fighting. People came here as a refuge."

"I'll take care of the bridge," Turik said, and lumbered toward the door, expression downcast.

"Joker can tell you where they can be sealed in the hold," Shepard said quietly as he passed. She had never wanted to use those coffins. "We'll have them buried or…whatever it is batarians do."

Kelly said, "The story's pretty much like Ken told it. This gang of people busted in and split up soon after. I hid out in the armory a little bit before joining the others here. Somebody almost got in here once. I can't stand the idea of killing them, though…they were very eloquent."

"For batarians," Ken grumbled, rotating his shoulder.

"But how did they get in past EDI?" Shepard asked.

"She won't talk," Gabby said. "Not a word. She must've been hacked from the outside."

"Every pro-organic group will rile if they hear the premiere AI in the fleet has been compromised." Udinda made a sound as if he'd been physically injured by the idea.

"She hasn't gone rogue or anything," Gabby said. "She just hasn't done anything." Behind her, Chakwas was bathing the wounded human's arm with medigel.

"Ah, commander?" Kelly said. "Speaking of rogue, I think you should go see Jack."

"Where is she?" Shepard's fear that high-powered biotics, or Jack's colorful past, had come back to haunt her resurfaced. She wasn't good against biotics—and Joker was even worse. Shepard had been born needing a low-powered implant but very rarely ever used her biotic abilities. In her experience, biotic power was more liable to explode in its user's face than a gun was. Living with Kaiden and Jack hadn't done anything to assuage her fears.

Kelly looked nervous.

"She saved my life," Gabby said. "Came up from engineering so fast those batarians didn't have a chance to scream, chased the survivor away. I didn't see where she went."

"I did," Kelly said. "On my way down. You should go see, commander. Maybe you can do something about it."

Gabby and her gun accompanied Shepard to the starboard viewing deck, albeit reluctantly. The engineer stopped at the closed door. "She's holed up in here; wouldn't let anyone in. I think she got hit with worse than batarians."

Shepard holstered her gun against the small of her back and flicked a strand of blonde hair away from her eyes. "Worse like what? Ghosts, aliens?" The whole situation was beginning to feel like she needed Ellen Ripley's ability to survive claustrophobic, creature-haunted corridors.

"I'd feel better if you kept the gun ready."

"Jack doesn't react well to antagonism." Shepard reached out to open the door. "Stand back if you want to."

Shepard watched Gabby take a few long steps backwards, still clutching her rifle. She remembered fondly hearing Gabby tease Ken about sharing the engineering deck with "a crazy woman wearing nothing but tattoos". The uneasy alliance between Jack and the rest of the crew had mostly been maintained because Jack didn't want to talk to anyone. Shepard wished her own attempts to form a friendship with the woman had worked, but friendly seemed to be the type of person Jack liked least.

Maybe if I screamed at her for a while…

Shepard opened the door.

A blue biotic corona stretched across the opening and around the room. Arcs of energy cackled along it, one nearly singing Shepard's face and leaving the heady scent of eezo in her nostrils. Books had been torn from the shelves and pages from their spines. Jack floated in the middle of it all, her arms raised, white lightnings so thick around her that they obscured the patterns and pictures inscribed on her skin.

Shepard spoke quietly. "Jack?"
The barrio snapped translucent, like the one that had protected the two of them on the Collector base. Jack's eyes were opened but glazed; as Shepard watched they seemed to clear and focus, actually seeing her.

"It's okay, Jack. Everyone who tried to break in is gone."

Jack dropped to the floor. She stalked forward, shoulders switching back and forth like a tiger's. She came close enough her face was blue-tinged by the biotic corona. He tone of her voice gave no indication as to whether she had recognized Shepard since she opened the door, or if she only noticed now. "Shepard."

She doesn't like friendly. Shepard said nothing.

Jack brought the barrier down. It seemed to retract, to flare for a moment behind her eyes. She stalked forward. "What's going on here, Shepard? I thought I was safe here."

Shepard eased her hand toward her gun. "You are. We're trying to figure out what happened?"

"What happened? We got invaded. They had biotics with them, and strong too. A couple asari that managed to escape when.." She looked down.

"When what, Jack?"

Jack looked back up. "You killed 'em all, right? Cause if there's any left.." She pushed past Gabby.

Shepard said, "There aren't any left. We're alone now."

Jack looked over her shoulder. Shepard said, "We're stuck in the ship."

"What? There's gotta be a way out. Bust something down. Let's go."

"The others are gathered in the medical bay—"

Jack whipped around, forcing Gabby to back against the wall. "There's others? Did they get their brains fried too, cause, I've got some revenge to do."

"What did they do to you, Jack?" Shepard kept her face stony.

The biotic shook her head. "They knew things, Shepard. They knew I'd been in Purgatory and they knew exactly why I was with you, and you're telling me you don't know who just attacked us? I'm dealing with this."

She marched toward the elevator.