Audio Version: Available. See author profile.

Shepard was a manipulative bitch.

In a formidable arsenal boasting the very latest in weapons innovation, the very best in armor tech, an unparalleled reputation which was pants-shittingly scary in the fact that it was completely and wholly deserved, and honed instincts rigorously cultivated through years of experience unrivaled by any other living member of the Alliance... she knew without a doubt that her single greatest strength was the fact that at the very core of it all, she was a manipulative bitch.

In her grander moments, of which she had had far too few of late, she might be able to accurately strike the 'bitch' from the epithet. It was not, after all, the key component of her success (though there had been more than one case in which it had been rather key to survival) and her reputation to the contrary, she actually had no real desire to be one. She didn't mind it, of course. She just wasn't married to the idea.

She was definitely manipulative though and that she actively sought, actively honed. It was what made her an excellent leader to those fortunate enough to be on her side and what made her an incredible liability to those unfortunate enough to find themselves anywhere else. The same insights that allowed her to notice which of her FNGs needed the most work and where, which squad members should be paired together to promote optimal performance from each, even how to create a successful interspecies squad capable of saving the galaxy (twice)... were the very same insights that allowed her to break straight through a madman's psychopathy and rescue his shell-shocked followers without spilling a drop of blood, walk into certain death with a cool confidence in her step that her squadmates, no matter how junior, couldn't help but emulate, and maybe most importantly, figure out how to kill a bastard before he could figure out how to kill her right back.

She just understood how people worked. It was really that simple. She understood their motivations. She understood their fears. She understood their insecurities. She understood their pain.

The bitch piece just came into play because unlike the vast majority of those people, she knew when to set those fears and insecurities and pains aside and had no real problems doing so.

There was a line in one of her many psych evals about an impressive ability to compartmentalize.

She supposed the psychologist hadn't been talking about her ability to dress an amputation in the field in under thirty seconds. Or maybe he had been. When it came right down to it, what was the actual difference between a useless limb and a niggling feeling of self-doubt when you were under fire? Nothing, really. 'cept maybe the effectiveness of medi-gel.

Not that she always felt the need to compartmentalize, of course. The useful emotions she tended to let fly. A little righteous indignation here and there, coupled with a good punch or two, was good for the soul and, depending on how out-of-his-league the bad guy was, better for the ammo reserves. A little compassion here and there, coupled with a sincere embrace or a quick squeeze of the shoulder, was good for the heart and better for the long-term sustainability of a crew constantly under duress.

That and sometimes, she really liked it. Sue her. One didn't get good at reading people by hating them. She really did like people. They weren't paying her enough to save the damned galaxy if she didn't.

But there were some things that weren't helpful... and those, she could field dress faster and more dexterously than she could a shattered limb with white, deadly sharp bone sticking out of the meat. Five seconds tops. Done. Hemorrhaging stopped before anyone even knew she'd lost a limb.

Make it ten.

Horizon had taken her ten.

Still though. Not bad. Not good... but not bad either. Garrus had seen the deluge of blood that time. Kasumi had smelled it on the air but of course hadn't known enough to see the glistening pools for herself. But Shepard had bandaged it up with expert ease and if a shaking hand had made it take twice as long, well, it had still been bandaged up tightly and perfunctorily set aside.

Compartmentalization. It really was pretty bitchin'. Manipulative and bitchin'.

I'm Commander Shepard and this is my favorite personality flaw on the Citadel.

She stood, silent and sure and still, in the basement of C-Sec Academy, her arms folded coolly over her chest and her eyes, shadowed by the visor of her helmet, surveying the passers-by clinically. She wore full battle gear, her assault arsenal strapped in its entirety to her back, her bladed weapons strapped to her thighs, the visor of her helmet pulled low, protectively, over her eyes. Her selection of her N7 hardsuit over the Cerberus battle suit was her only concession to his feelings and to her own.

Jack was pacing behind her like a caged cat, sleek and wild, her movements somehow simultaneously agitated with pent-up energy and smoothly predatory with dangerous, fluid grace. She had not wanted to come... but of all of them, she perhaps understood why it was so important that she do it anyway.

Taylor was seated to her eight, just out of her line of sight. He was cleaning one of his guns, the motions practiced and smooth. The unmistakable scent of gun oil, familiar and comforting, wafted to her nostrils. He hadn't questioned the order to join her, had merely asked her if he should pack heavy.

Lawson was pacing as well though, unlike Jack, did so with the unhurried, deliberate gait of a woman who had resigned herself to her current circumstance and was fully occupied with her own thoughts, clinical and cool though they might be. Shepard could feel a deliberate, icy blue gaze slide speculatively over her every once in a while. Of the three, she suspected Lawson had the greatest inkling of what might actually go down... and what Shepard had done to make it happen. She couldn't tell if Lawson was impressed or if it was simply another variable for her calculations.

Shepard paid them no mind.

He'd come.

She knew how he worked. She understood his motivations. She understood his fears. She understood his insecurities. She understood his pain.

He'd come.