Bioware owns all.

A Paragon of Virtue

Chapter 1

She Said

I stood at the bar in the Dark Star, watching my crew finally get to relax. The ship was in bad shape after the harrowing trip and running fight on the other side of the Omega 4 Relay. We'd gotten enough repairs done at Omega to limp to the Citadel, but it had taken all hands to do them. In the luxurious setting of this bastion of civilized space, I felt secure in letting my crew have some down time while the more than competent technicians of the Citadel swarmed over the Normandy SR-2. I had substantial accounts due to the hunt for Saren and the salvage and mineral rights I'd acquired that we could afford the extensive repairs. Tali'Zorah vas Normandy, with a little help from Liara T'Soni, had finally wended her way through the intricate road blocks Cerberus had put up to my fortune from my former life.

But that money wasn't going too last long. The extensive repairs the Normandy now needed would probably wipe out the small fortune that had been quietly gathering astronomical amounts of interest since my death. It really wouldn't last long if this meeting with Councilor Anderson and Admiral Hackett went south tomorrow morning about reinstating me to active duty for the Alliance, thereby giving me funding for my ship and protecting me from revenge by Cerberus.

They could take the last few months, the last two years, really, and sweep them under the carpet as a simple deep cover op. After all, that's what the galaxy believed anyway. No one believed I'd died and been resurrected.

My best friends, Garrus Vakarian and Tali'Zorah stood next to me at the bar. Tali faced me, her posture radiating concern. Garrus leaned his elbows on the bar and looked out at the crowd. "Look, I know you hate this crap as much as we do, Shepard. Difference is, we've actually slept in the last two days. Go back home. We'll make sure everyone finds their way tonight."

I ran my fingers through my short chestnut brown hair and closed my blue eyes, briefly, feeling exhaustion lurk just behind my eyelids. I looked from one to the other, and then over to the dance floor where my supposed XO was gyrating against my armory officer. Miranda Lawson and Jacob Taylor had certainly picked up where they left off rather quickly after their resignations from Cerberus. "You sure? I don't want either of you to have to deal with this group of misfits." Grunt was holding court in a booth, asari maidens practically dripping from his biceps as he gestured in his retelling of the fights he'd been in. He was, of course, the hero in all of them.

"We'll be fine, Shepard!" Tali scolded. "Go get some sleep!"

I nodded, holding back a yawn that may have broken my jaw if I'd let it out. "All right, all right." I waved her off. "I'm going, I'm going!"

Garrus followed me to the door, "Are you sure you don't want me to walk you back?"

I looked up at him, remembering the conversation several weeks ago we'd had about our friendship. "I'm sure, Garrus. Go have fun. The Great Commander Shepard can make it back to her ship in one piece, I promise."

He gave me the turian version of a grin, lopsided from his scars, before he turned and went back into the bar. I started walking through Zakera Ward, headed for the transport that would take me to my ship. My home. Cerberus, I knew, was going to try to take it from me, but I had a weapon they couldn't predict. I had EDI.

The ship's illegal AI was very good at playing dumb when she needed to. But just like any other member of my crew, I had to trust her and keep her loyalty. She was more of an individual than Legion, our pet geth, but was no less artificial. Her reasons for staying with me were that anyone else, including Cerberus, would reshackle her. Me? I wouldn't. Her individuality had proven too valuable in the fight against the Collectors.

Lost in thought, trying to figure out how and when Cerberus would try to reclaim their property, and wondering if they included me in that term, I took a wrong turn and ended up on the opposite of Zakera Ward from where I wanted to be. Startled, I looked around, trying to figure out where I'd gotten to. And across the Ward, heading straight for me, was Kaidan Alenko. I felt my stomach drop into my shoes. I was glad I was dressed up, at least, the little black dress and strappy sandals were about the only pieces of clothing I'd had time to buy that didn't have a Cerberus logo on it. But I really wished I had time to duck under cover somewhere and check my lipstick. I already knew my choppy hair was hopeless.

Instead, I froze, watching him walk closer. He was dressed in his Alliance Class "As" and looked every bit the officer and the gentleman. Too bad I was still so very angry with him. I wanted it to be simple, I wanted him to just smile that little half smile of his and for him to tell me, again, that everything would be all right. But it wasn't and he wouldn't.