15: A Brief Window

A/N: Uhh, so what follows is graphic/offensive/disturbing, methinks…feel free to skip over it if you're uncomfortable with pseudo-rape scenes. (That's a terrible way to put it... =_=)

Day twenty-one.

Emily lay awake in bed, her hands balled into fists in the covers. Tears streamed down her face and she bit back sobs as she heard the whimpering coming from the next room. The grunting, the pleading. She squeezed her eyes shut. She didn't want to think about it. She clamped a pillow over her ears. She didn't want to hear it. She wished that it wasn't there, and maybe if she pretended hard enough it would go away.

Usually he left when he was done, zipping up his pants and returning to the master bedroom. Her mother would welcome him back into bed like nothing had happened, and then they'd hear snoring. But the whimpering, the crying would continue into the early hours of the morning. She'd had enough. If her mother wouldn't intervene, she would.

Angrily tossing the sheets off of herself, Emily rolled out of bed. She didn't even bother putting shoes on, she just balled her fists again and stormed into her brother's room. Almost immediately, she wished she hadn't.

For the life of her she couldn't look away, but she couldn't bear to watch, either. The sight of her brother, sprawled on all fours on the bed…his little face screwed up in pain, crying, tears staining his bedsheets, and him, kneeling behind him. It was sick. When it'd first started, the boy would scream and the man would push his face into the pillow. Now, the boy knew better. He valued his ability to breathe more than his ability to cry for help.

Emily bit her lip and she almost ran back into her room, like she'd done so many times before but she'd had enough. Before she knew it the words were out of her mouth.

"Stop it," she shouted, but her voice sounded weak. Strangled. Halfway to a sob. "Just stop it!"

The man stopped for a moment, and the man twisted to face her. The first thing she saw were her green eyes, copied exactly into the older face. And then the thin lips, almost exactly like hers. And then the one thing they didn't share—the sick, carnal hunger burning in his eyes that she would never forget, stamped behind her eyelids forever. She resisted the urge to look away.

"Go back to bed, honey," he said in a neutral voice, as if he'd merely been spotted sneaking the last cookie out of the fridge. But it wasn't that at all. Rage boiled in her veins.

"No," she said, her voice a little stronger. "Not until you stop hurting him."

"I'm not hurting him," he responded innocently. "I'm not hurting you, am I, Arthur?"

The boy didn't respond.

"I can always stop if I'm hurting you," he said in a reassuring voice. The boy didn't respond.

"How could you do this to your own son?" cried Emily.

"It's how I show him I love him!" reasoned her father. But the way he said it…it was as if she'd been yelling at her for rescuing a puppy and he was justifying himself. It made her sick.

There was a long, awkward silence.

"Go back to bed, Emily," her father growled. He turned away.

"Stop it!" she insisted. "Stop doing—look me in the eye when you talk to me, you sick motherfucker!"

He stopped then, pulling away from the boy. He collapsed onto the bed, burying his head in the sheets. He straightened up. Approached her. The hunger was gone from his eyes, replaced with murderous anger.

"What did you say to me?" he snarled, his voice low and deadly.

"I called you a sick motherfucker," she repeated, her voice perfectly steady. Gone was the fear, and the hesitation. There was only her, and him.

He started walking towards her. "Apologize," he snapped, his hands balling into fists. He stopped right in front of her, towering over her. "NOW!"

Tears filled her eyes again, but she shook her head. "No."

He lashed out at her then, and she dodged. She scrambled away, challenging him.

"You can't face it, can you?" she shouted, running down the hall. "Don't want to admit that you're a perverted, sodomizing, sick faggot!"

"Come back here, young lady!" roared Allen Shepard, his face red with anger. "I'm going to count to three!"

"What do you think Mom thinks of this?" she hissed, dancing just out of his reach. "What are you gonna do, huh? Am I next?"

"One!" the older Shepard shouted. He kept pursuing her and she kept dancing away, taunting him, until her back hit the wall and her heart leapt to her throat.


He came closer. Emily braced herself for inevitable pain.


"NO!" cried Emily, for what felt like the umpteenth time that night. Blindly, she lashed out with a blow of her own. There was a dull crack and her father howled, stumbling away from her, but then he struck back and her world went white. She ducked under his fist, kicking upward blindly and feeling grim satisfaction when her foot connected and he dropped to his knees, groaning. Breathless, her head spinning, she scrambled away from him.

Standing over her father then, with him on the ground—his moment of weakness, however fleeting, changed her. Standing over the man who terrorized her once, facing her fear and her scourge—she could not describe the feeling, but she knew that she would never be the same. No more cowering, no more crying. If she could have more moments like this, she would never have to stop.

Her euphoria was quickly crushed, however, when he seized her ankle and dragged her roughly to the floor.

Shepard had put off the retrieval of the Reaper IFF for as long as possible.

It was all too soon for her. The memories of the past few weeks, from the Lazarus Station to the Collector vessel faceoff to the countless memories she'd shared with Garrus to her crewmates and the way she'd seen them change—she couldn't believe that it might all be ending, soon. It wasn't that Shepard valued herself more than the galaxy. She was only one woman, but the galaxy, despite all the evil and depravity it held, was also an untold treasure trove of life, and lives. If giving them a little more time to exist meant her sacrifice, it was a small price to pay.

And yet, Shepard refused to die again. It was too soon. She refused to have her life cut short so soon after being given a second chance. Perhaps it wasn't living itself that kept her shackled to the mentality of survival. She had lived solely to finish the job since day one…but the moment she had found Garrus on Omega, that all changed.

As much as she hated to admit it, her heart beat for him now.

Sometimes, on her good days, she wondered how it'd all happened. How had it happened that a washed-up turian rebel and a washed-up Alliance wunderkind-turned-pariah had managed to find comfort in each other's arms? Were they really that desperate? It was quite laughable, when she thought of it from an outsider's standpoint.

Ashley probably would have said something witty, something utterly hilariously poetic, that would somehow explain everything. Something about how opposites attracted in the most horrific of ways and somehow managed to work. Then she'd quote Walt Whitman. Or someone. And then they'd laugh. Sometimes Shepard wished she'd left Kaidan to die on Virmire instead of Ash, but even if she'd known the repercussions of her choice…at the time, it would've been Kaidan. Every time. Things have changed.

She'd brought Garrus and Tali along with her for this mission. She'd wanted the kick of nostalgia it gave her, just like old times, working with two young aliens with stars in their eyes and an idealism that she could only match in her teenage years. There hadn't been as much on her shoulders then, and she'd liked the feeling of being a mentor. Fighting space zombies. The usual.

Well, the space zombies hadn't exactly been anticipated.

As wave after wave of seemingly endless husks appeared from every nook and cranny of the derelict Reaper ship, Shepard couldn't help but bitterly reflect on the fact that she'd put off the retrieval of the Reaper IFF for as long as possible. So much for preparation, she thought. It struck her that she probably should have expected something like this to happen. If she'd gotten here earlier, maybe it wouldn't have been so bad.

One last set of doors yawned before them. Shepard stopped in front of it, slightly out of breath, and reached out to open it. What followed was rather anticlimactic.

The IFF was lying on a small table folding out from the wall, with the word "REAPER IFF" scrawled on it in black marker. Feeling kind of stupid, Emily reached out and took it.

"That was it?" asked Tali, surprised.

"I guess," she remarked. "Let's get out of here."

The whole Reaper ordeal brought back odd memories, and an even stranger sense of nostalgia.

Shepard remembered the days before her death, when they'd been pursuing Saren. Looking back, those days felt like the idyllic ones of an embattled human Spectre, but she knew better. Nothing had been easy about bringing Saren to justice.

Maybe it'd felt easier because she'd legitimately cared about the cause.

What she felt now was not apathy—Shepard cared greatly for the cause she was fighting for—but perhaps a lack of passion, a lack of conviction. Emily risked her life for humanity because she had to, but the days of following her heart and her head in seeking justice felt...removed. She felt that she no longer cared, and with good reason. Even though it was the Collectors that had killed her, she felt that this was no longer her battle.

She'd found something new to care about. And while it might have seemed petty to the rest of the world, it meant everything to her.