one: herding cats

Despite the rooms between them, Kasumi's faintly accented voice murmurs, "Shepard, we're running out of time."

Immediately after, Shepard hears the echoing blue-hot crack of Garrus's Viper. Two shots, fired off in the fastest succession she's ever heard him manage.

The sounds only make the hostages shrink away from her. Somebody cries out, high and thin, and a child sobs.

Garru's voice comes over their hardsuit comm system: :::Scratch two! Problem guards are down

"Kasumi, get in here. We've got to get these people moving. Garrus, cover us."

:::Copy that. After a moment, the comm relay clicks. ::: In position. Kasumi?

::: Going dark in three!

There's silence from the peanut gallery while Shepard tries to convince the hostages to trust her.

"Please," she says, at last, and hears muffled thumps in the hall outside the room. "I can get you all out safely. Just work with me."

More thumps, and then the door Shepard jammed four minutes ago hisses open. Kasumi slides in with bloodied gloves; the hood can't hide her smile.

One of the hostages makes a soft whining sound. Shepard lets her gaze drift over them.

She makes eye-contact with a turian. Her fringe is far shorter than Garrus's, closer to an asari's fronds. But her eyes, though too-bright above mandibles that twitch, seem almost serene.

It's hard to imagine how she could be so calm, with the blue stain spreading along one leg, the way she holds one arm close to her chest in a near-universal gesture.

"Shepard," Kasumi says. Her tone — as close to panicky as she's ever heard the thief — tells Shepard everything she needs to know.

"We've got C-Sec ready to cover us if we get you out now, but if we're not fast, they'll be in just as much trouble as you are now."

And the calm turian woman nods once. "It's our only chance," she tells the other hostages. Murmurs of agreement ripple through the small group.

And Shepard, who has spent nearly ten minutes trying to convince the hostages of the exact same thing, feels all but useless.

"Kasumi, get them organized. Garrus, sitrep." She watches Kasumi weave her way through the crowd. Shepard pops the heatsink on her Eviscerator, counts thermal clips and heads at once.

::: Clear out here. Won't stay that way long.

The calm turian looks over at her. "Shepard, yes? We can lead them out together—"

"But you'll need help walking." Shepard looks over at Kasumi, but the other human woman doesn't have the build to support a turian.

The last thing she thinks, before she switches out the Eviscerator for the Phalanx and settles herself under the turian woman's uninjured shoulder, is that she's never doing a favor like this for Bailey again. It's a lie, of course. She'd do this and more, over and over again.