Almost Unreal

The room felt strangely empty.

Abby stood beside the bed, looking first at the empty book case and then at the empty wall where Kasumi's portrait had hung. She sighed softly and caressed the bed covers, thinking that she was still going to sleep on the couch regardless of the bed's availability. It hardly felt right to take it over.

"She's not gone yet you know."

She turned around and found that Shepard had entered the room behind her, her features soft as she stared at Abby. She was wearing a tight pair of black pants, probably leather, and an emerald green halter top. To hide the scars on her shoulder Jane wore a light black jacket which didn't reach past her hips. Abby smiled hesitantly and motioned to her.

"Commander," she said. "You look nice."

"Jane," Shepard corrected her. "As do you, where did Kasumi get that?"

Abby chuckled embarrassed and looked down at her dress. The thief had brought her a deep purples skirt that went down to her ankles and flared whenever she walked. Along with that, she had given her a black shirt that had very wide cuffs and a leather vest with embroidery on.

"I look like a fortune teller," she said. "Madam Zizi or something of the sort. All I need is a hat."

Jane laughed and shrugged. "I'm sure we can sort something out," she said. "It suits you." She trailed off and continued to look at Abby. The vet hesitated, not sure what she should say. She and Shepard had not really spoken since they returned from Omega and she had told her that she had gone to Aria for help. Jane had been furious and had told her that there were many other ways that she could've used to get where she wanted to be.

"Joker would've leapt in and took you in a heartbeat!" she had said. "You didn't have to go to Aria for help! The price will be bigger than you can conceive!"

"And if I had to go against you and Samara?" Abby had replied calmly, knowing that her option had been the only one she'd have been happy to follow. "Or Lenelle's back up arrived and shot your shuttle out of the air? So many people had gotten hurt because of this, because of me."

Jane had shaken her head vigorously. "I can't protect you from Aria!" she had snapped. "She is more powerful than I am Abby! I had thought that you would have more sense!"

Her reply had driven the Commander to silence and she had left the room shortly afterwards. "I don't need you to protect me Jane," she had said sadly. "It's time I fight my own battles, make my own decisions. I got myself into this mess and besides, you have bigger things to worry about than one lost vet."

"Look at me Abby," Jane said, interrupting her thoughts. "Please."

Abby blinked out of her thoughts, realizing that she had been staring at the bed again. She turned her attention to Jane to see that the commander had walked closer to her. Her face was a strange mixture of stern concern as she motioned to the room.

"This is not a prison sentence; I hope you can understand that."

She had lost her completely. Abby blinked and frowned, running her hand through her hair thinking that she would either have to get it cut again or figure out some way to keep it out of her neck and face. "I'm sorry Jane," she said carefully. "But I'm not following."

"Staying here," Jane continued. "When Asura's gone. I'm not doing it to punish you. The Normandy's not your prison."

Abby blinked at her and then laughed out of surprise. "Of course not Commander," she said quickly. "I know that, don't worry!" She grinned embarrassed and shook her head. "Please don't think that. I... I don't see the Normandy as a prison." She sighed and looked around the room. "It's... become home in a way." She thought of the time that she had played the game to escape her life. She had started playing it after she and her partner had broken up and she had realized how daunting her life had become. She had fled to a friend of hers and discovered it on her son's console. Who'd have thought that her life could change so much?

Jane smiled relieved and carefully sat down on the bed, massaging her shoulder. "Then you can stay here Abby," she said. "You don't have to go with Asura." Abby noticed that she still looked tired but it had to do with more than just her injury.

She smiled slightly and shook her head, sitting down on the bed so that she could wipe her palms on her knees. "I know that," she said softly. "And I know you'll keep me but that's hardly fair Jane. I'm of no use to you. I can't shoot, I can't kill anything. I'm not a medic, I'm not an alien doctor. I'm not versed in astrophysics or even omni-tool programming." She smiled at Jane. "I'll be a liability when shit hits the fan. There's no other way of putting it. Even Kasumi's leaving because she feels she's of no use here now. Doesn't mean that she's going to be away forever." She smiled at Jane, hoping to convey the message that she would still like to see them when she finally left with Asura.

The Commander sighed and smiled at her, reaching out to pat her leg. "You are very stubborn," she pointed out. "Abby, I don't want you to feel that you have to leave the Normandy. I don't want anybody to feel that. I feel as if I am loosing everybody." The last was said in a softer tone, more personal. Abby carefully turned to Shepard to notice the subtle differences in her body language, telling her that she was sitting in front of her, not as the Commander of the ship but as the woman with whom she had shared a drink. Her heart warmed as she realized that Jane might be angry at her, but she had not yet written off her friendship completely.

"They'll come back Jane," she said softly. "You're not loosing people. They're doing what they think is best for you, to put as little strain on you as possible. When things get rough, they'll join your side and your fight."

Jane turned to her, her eyes darker than usual. "You know about the Reapers?"

A cold hand clenched her heart as she nodded. "I've heard the people talk," she said. "I know you've gone through the Omega-4-Relay." I know Mass Effect 2 had a sequel coming out... "I know it's not over." She chuckled softly, hoping to lighten the mood. "That's why I feel it's almost safer for me to try my chances with a vengeful Ardat Yakshi than to stay here." She smiled at Jane even though her heart ached a little. Asura had left two hours ago, saying that she was going to go back to her apartment to get a few things and then leave Omega completely. She had promised that she'd come back before she did to say good bye to her but even so, it was hard letting her go.

Jane laughed at her previous statement, but Abby could tell that it was forced. The Commander stood up and held out her good hand to Abby. "I know you don't need it," she said when Abby looked at her. "But for old time's sake. We have to get going, we can't keep Kasumi waiting."

Abby took the woman's hand with a smile, careful not to put too much weight on it. When she slipped her arm into the Commander's she couldn't help but give her a sideways glance.

"We're good aren't we Commander?" she queried. "I mean... You'd still have a drink with me if you had the opportunity."

Jane laughed warmly and squeezed her arm. "Of course Abby," she said. "No friendship is without it's pitfalls. But, No friendship is worth abandoning over a misunderstanding either."

Kasumi had decided to throw a going away party for herself which she and Kelly organised in a heartbeat. It had come at a bit of a surprise to everybody when she announced it the previous evening, saying that it was to be her second last night on the Normandy. Abby had known that she was waiting for the situation with Asura to resolve itself but even she had been a bit shocked at how soon the thief planned to leave. She didn't quite know how to say it but she was going to miss the woman who had become as much a security to her as Jane had.

The party was held in the mess hall, where the tables had been shifted to open the floor up for dancing. Gardner had gone out of his way to prepare snacks, treats and meals to accommodate everybody on board. There was music and lights and even a punchbowl that read 'humanoid digestive systems only'. Kasumi had gone all out and the effort seemed to have paid off because everybody was having a great time. At first, Abby had stood apart from the rest, watching how the group revolved around the floor. She loved how everybody had gone through the trouble to dress up and to be on their best behaviour. Garrus had asked the Commander to dance with an elegant bow and Miranda, though she remained sitting down for most of it, wore a shimmering silver dress that showed as much flesh as Abby had ever seen. Tali was also there, dancing and laughing with the engineers. She had wrapped elegantly decorated sashes around her suit in what Dr. Chakwas had told Abby was traditional quarian festive garb. It flowed as she danced, reminding the vet liquid freedom. Her dance was so alive that it made Abby sad, realizing what a restricted life her species lived. When the quarian passed her she motioned to Abby to come with her and, although a part of her shied at the thought – terrified that she might fall, Abby found herself reaching out and taking the quarian's hand, allowing her to guide her into the fast stepped dance that she practiced. She didn't pick the dance up immediately, but soon followed Tali's lead with a variation of her own. It was exhilarating and she soon found herself partnered with Ken from engineering who was wearing a kilt of all things.

"My grandfather would've given me a hiding dancing with the likes of you," he said with a good natured laugh. "But given the crowd, I think stealing a dance from a welsh gypsy is the least of my problems."

Abby laughed, her gaze sweeping across the dance floor where she spotted Shepard and Garrus moving away from the bustle so that Jane could sit down a little. It was when Garrus moved away from her that she saw Samara for the first time. The Justicar was dressed in the same garb that she had worn on that night to the theatre but the difference this time was that she wasn't wearing her ruins. She could've passed for any normal asari as she rested her hand on Jane's shoulder. Shepard turned around surprised then looked up when she saw who it was. Her eyes were wide in wonder and, to Abby's delight, Samara smiled at her as she held out her hand, clearly inviting Jane to join her.

Realizing that she still had a partner waiting, Abby turned back to Ken who grinned at her.

"You're right," she said. "You can do much worse. Though, I should warn you – I think the music's about to change if Joker has any eyes in his head..."

They didn't speak but moved in each other's arms as the music slowly changed rhythm, moving from a fast paced jig to softer, slower variation. Jane stared at Samara, thinking that she had never seen the asari without her ruins. She didn't think that it would be possible but it made the Justicar even more beautiful as it allowed a gentleness to enter her gaze that she had not seen before.

She lost time of how long they danced, her only awareness that of Samara's arms around her body, of her perfume and the familiar and wonderful contours of her body. She found her hands travelling down her back until Samara reached out and gently put a hand on her wrist, stopping her from venturing further. The asari smiled at her as she pulled her hands back up to her hips and slowly bend to give her a light kiss.

It was surreal.

"Should we go?" The Justicar whispered, to which Jane nodded immediately, not even bothering to look back as Samara led her from the dance floor. She didn't care what the crew thought or who had seen it. All she cared about was that Samara was with her again after avoiding her ever since their disagreement in the infirmary. It gave her hope that all would be well again. They went to the elevator, their arms still linked and it was only when the door closed behind them that they pulled away from each other.

Jane opened her mouth to speak but Samara put her hand over her lips and shook her head, a measure of sadness in her eyes. "Let's not speak of it, not now." She said and leaned forward to kiss her. "Let's just enjoy this." It started off soft and hesitant but soon intensified as Jane allowed her hand to venture back to Samara's back. They kissed for several minutes before Jane realized that neither of them had asked the elevator to go up. Her hands were occupied so she just broke away from Samara long enough to say in a hoarse voice.

"EDI, my room. Please."

"Of course you're going to get married and have fifty children," Abby said. "It says so here in the lines..."

Dr. Chakwas's had the grace to raise an eyebrow, her mouth twisted in a small smile. "Fifty you say?" she said and pulled her hand away from Abby's. "Really Madam Zaza, are you sure it isn't just old age creeping up on my hands? Everything tends to go you know."

Abby laughed and sat back, unable to keep herself from yawning. "Yes well," she said. "I said that I can read palms, I never said that I was any good at it." She turned her attention back to the room to where the crew was still happily dancing. The music was slower now, more intimate and it was easy to pick the couples out. She smiled and turned her attention back to Dr. Chakwas, though a part of her ached when she thought of Asura again.

I wish she was here...

"But, I can tell you've had a fulfilling life Dr. Chakwas."

The doctor chuckled but her gaze was sad as she sipped something from a glass. "I have had an interesting life," she said. "But so have most of the people on board this ship. We have all learned to be content with where we are." She turned back to Abby and smiled. "By Jane's side."

When the vet only smiled at her she stood up and patted Abby's shoulder. She disappeared into the crowd but Abby wasn't alone for long. Another figure appeared out of nowhere and sat down right in front of her. Kasumi grinned as she came into focus.

"Care to read one more?" She said and took her glove off of her hand. "You didn't tell me you have these magical hidden talents. I'd have put up a stall and taken the dress more seriously."

Abby chuckled and took Kasumi's hand, not bothering to look at the lines. "It's a party trick no more," she said and traced her thumb across the thief's palm. "Good for a laugh but not really anything else." She looked up and smiled at Kasumi. "I've been thinking about why you decided to hold the party tonight."

Kasumi smirked and sat closer, not removing her hand from Abby's as she wiggled her fingers. "Oh?" she said. "What is it that you sense with your mystical powers?"

Abby refrained from sticking her tongue out at the woman and folded her hand into a fist. "We needed it," she said. "The crew, Shepard, everybody – they needed a party. They needed a reason to dress up and pretend that everything was alright. That we are not who we are." She motioned to Kelly who was slow dancing with Garrus, though they looked more like a father and daughter team than a couple. "To forget about everything that's outside this ship and everything that they've gone through. People needed an excuse to forget who they were and you gave them an opportunity to pretend to be something that they are not."

The small smile under Kasumi's hood told Abby that she was right though the thief wasn't about to admit it.

"Oh?" she said, sounding surprised. "Like who?"

Abby smiled slightly and motioned to herself. "The mystic gypsy," she said and motioned to Joker. "The DJ, the couple," she pointed at Miranda and Jacob who were sitting together. "And everybody else here. We pretended that we're different people. I even think that you managed to give Shepard and Samara a moment's peace. One brief second in which they could forget who they are and just enjoy each other's company." Her gaze turned to the elevator. "I'm not sure what they're going to do with it or whether..." She trailed off and sighed, looking back to Kasumi who was smiling at her.

"Let's hope they don't waste it," she said and pulled her hand from Abby's only to take one of hers. "Here, let me have a try."

Abby smirked as Kasumi hummed dramatically, tracing her fingers over the lines. "I see..." Kasumi said dramatically. "I see a tall, dark stranger... Yes, definitively... A tall dark stranger, waiting for you by the airlock."

Abby blinked at her. "What?" she queried, even more surprised when Kasumi laughed and pulled her up.

"Asura," the thief clarified. "She's at the airlock, waiting for you. She didn't want to come in."

She wanted to stop it, but Abby couldn't contain the grin that erupted on her face. Kasumi returned it in kind, turning her around and pushing her in the direction of the elevator. "Go," she said. "And don't do anything that I'd do, I would hate to come and bail you out of jail later..."

Asura wasn't outside the airlock but had wandered up into the hall so that she could have a look at the Normandy through one of the windows. Abby had to take several steadying breaths to keep herself from grinning like an idiot and calmly walked to the asari. She could sense her as she approached, like a warm pulse of light that only she was privileged to. She realized that she had to read a little bit more about asari melding but it hardly seemed important to know the details as Asura turned to her.

The asari smiled shyly when she approached, her eyes giving Abby a once over before she looked at her face.

"I hope I'm not interrupting anything," she said. "I know that you have a party tonight."

Abby shrugged and carefully joined Asura so that she could look at the Normandy. "The hostess gave me leave to go," she said. "Besides it's... past its peak. Most of the main attractions have... moved upstairs." She wasn't surprised by the puzzled look that Asura gave her, knowing that there was no way the asari could know what she referred to. "So... Have you sorted everything out that you needed to?"

Asura's face became more reserved as she nodded, slipping her hands into her dark coat pocket. "I have," she said. "I've collected what I needed and..." She paused. "Collected what I could from Lenelle's apartment."

The goofy anticipation that she had felt seconds ago evaporated into a cold sense of dread. "You shouldn't have gone on your own," Abby said immediately. "Asura, it could've been dangerous."

The Ardat Yakshi glanced at her but didn't seem too concerned at her tone. Instead, she shrugged and motioned to Abby to follow her. She didn't do so immediately but grimaced and stared at the asari's back. She found herself hoping with all her soul that she had done right in all of this, that she had truly made the right judgement about Asura.

I'll keep an eye on her, she thought as Asura turned back to look at her, puzzled that she didn't follow. It's my responsibility now.

"I'm coming," she said automatically and trotted the few steps to the asari's side. "Where are we going?"

Asura's features lost its mask as she smiled embarrassed and shrugged. "I don't know," she confessed. "I guess you've eaten and you've danced and you're actually tired..."

Abby made a dismissive gesture. "We can walk," she said. "Have you run into any trouble Asura? I mean, there were still mercenaries after you. I can't imagine that they'd just stop now that Lenelle's dead."

The asari's face hardened as she shrugged and looked around them. "I'm ready for them as I have been the past year," she said coldly, her voice sounding more like the angry killer's. "They can come." Abby didn't know what to say but found herself looking down at her feet as it dawned on her that if she went with Asura the mercenary's pursuit would become her reality too.

"Well," she said. "We shouldn't tempt fate. Where are you going from here? Do you have a destination in mind yet?"

Asura's features didn't soften as she nodded though the way she took a moment to reply made Abby realize that she was gathering her courage. "I'm going home," she said. "I...need to sort things out."

She blinked at her and mouthed the word home, images of the estate on Tetra immediately coming to mind. She shivered when she remembered how they had been attacked and reached out to take Asura's hand.

"Please," she said. "Don't go alone – Asura, that's like... Being a sitting duck." When the asari frowned at the phrase she backtracked. "You'll be an easy target. That's... Just... wait."

Asura's gaze was painful as she shook her head. "Maon, the turian you met on Banrio, is going with me along with some members of his squad who knows how to keep their mouth shut," she said. "I have resources Abby – I'm not stupid. But, I want to get that cleared up, to bury my family properly before I attempt to restart my life. You have no idea how hard this year has been. I have not settled, I have not given myself time to..." She trailed off and closed her eyes. "I need to do this. I know you think it's stupid but I don't care. I'll be fine."

Pressing her chest to try and sooth the ache in it, Abby grimaced and shook her head. "I don't think you should go Asura," she said. "But I realize it's important for you."

The Ardat Yakshi smiled at her but there was no humour in her eyes. She took a steadying breath as they reached the main floor of Omega, her eyes automatically scanning the area for any danger. "I build a life there," she said softly. "Not one that was particularly satisfying, but one I could live for. One I could live. My first... victim had been the first person I ever loved. We were young, exploring. I had no idea..." She sighed and didn't go into details. "After it happened my father retired from her seat in council, returning home to try and make it all go away." Her tone was bitter. "There aren't many options for my kind and no cure. My mother couldn't bare the idea of me going into seclusion so... my father hid me. She erased me. I felt as if I had no identity. Nothing. Everything wasn't mine. Until my sister came..." She gave Abby a bitter smile. "My father didn't want any more children, she didn't want to try for another because she was terrified that they'll have another monster. So my mother went to a turian whom she had met a couple of years before. At that point, I had been her only companion for years, never really leaving the estate save for on the odd trip with my father. I didn't like the idea in the beginning but then Risha was born and... it changed everything." She swallowed but didn't look as if she was about to start crying when she turned back to Abby. "So you see, I want to close off that part of my life. To give it the proper closure. My sister had been my future. I thought that if I could protect her, treat her like... Give her the life that I would've wanted, then I would have some semblance of happiness." She smiled sadly. "And I was right to an extent. Risha was... such a joy." She sighed and dropped her gaze.

Abby grimaced as she reached out to touch her, carefully entwining her fingers with Asura's. "I'm sorry," she said again and meant it. "I know how devastating that was. I really am sorry Asura." She stopped walking, forcing Asura to stop with her. She was about to pull the asari closer when a voice spoke behind them.

"And I'm sorry for breaking up such a touching story." It was a turian who spoke and when Abby turned around, she recognized him. She could tell immediately that Asura was ready to attack him so she quickly tightened her hold on her hand and stepped between them.

"He's one of Aria's," she said quickly, hoping that it was enough to warn off the asari. "Don't attack him." Her mouth was dry suddenly. "I know why he's here."

Asura stiffened and turned to Abby, caution clear in her eyes. "What's this about?" she said. "What business do you have with Aria?"

Abby had to take a deep breath as a shiver passed through her. "A debt to be paid," she said softly and turned to Asura. "I asked her to help me find you. In exchange for information." She turned back to the turian whom she could swear was smirking at her. "You... you better come along. I think you should hear this as well."

It was different this time.

There was a rawness in Samara as their minds melded, a fierceness in the way she caressed Jane's body in the moment in which they became one. It felt as if her whole life was wrapped up in a second and spread across an eternity. Then, it was wrapped up again and made anew as she felt Samara's life, her thousand years of existence, pressed against her own... There was joy, and sorrow and hate and anger and love and pleasure...

When they were done and they lay in each other's arms, Jane stared at her lover and realized that more had happened in this moment that she could comprehend. That all the time she had left to her would not be enough to detangle the emotions that Samara had shared with her. One thing was certain though; there was one golden thread in the ball of messy emotional yarn.

"I love you."

She was surprised when Samara said the words first. "I will always love you Jane Shepard. You are the first thing that I think of in the morning and the last I wish to think about at night. No words or deeds could ever be enough to show you what I feel for you. I did not think that I could feel this again. I don't think I've ever felt it."

What do you say to that? Jane thought as she stared at her and then allowed the Justicar to pull her into her arms. How do you do such a confession justice?

"I don't want to do this without you," Jane whispered. "I don't think I can."

Samara's grip around her tightened as the asari pulled her as close to her body as she could and pressed a kiss against her forehead.

"I know that you are wrong."

Abby imagined a tremor on her hands but when she stared at them they were completely still. She swallowed and looked to Asura, hoping to catch her eye but the asari was staring straight ahead of her, all of her attention focused on Aria T'Loak. If the asari matriarch felt uncomfortable under her stare she didn't show it. Instead, her full attention was on Abby, her finger slowly tapping her lip as she studied her.

"Let me get this straight," she said and stood up abruptly, slowly moving towards her. Asura shifted immediately which made Aria pause and the guards behind them pick up their weapons. There was a moment in which Abby held her breath but when she realized that Aria wasn't going to move any further she relaxed.

"You say that you come from another universe, another parallel dimension?"

Abby grimaced and wished that Asura would look at her. "I don't know if it's parallel," she pointed out. "It's... Well... This dimension isn't real in my world. You are all..."

Aria waved her hand dismissively and sat down again. "Yes yes yes," she said. "Characters in some game called..." She chuckled. "Mass Effect. And you ended up here because you tried to commit suicide. You think you died." She sounded patronizing which immediately made Abby angry.

"You don't believe me," she said. "It's true, I'm not joking Aria."

As if to prove her wrong, the asari chuckled. "Of course," she said. "This is hardly a joke woman." She glanced at Asura who had still not moved. Not an inch. Abby found herself looking towards the Ardat Yakshi again, wishing that she'd at least look at her. Please. "But it is an interesting story."

Abby's stomach sank. "You don't believe me," she said again. To her surprise though, Aria held up her hand and shook her head.

"I didn't say that dear," she pointed out. "I believe that you believe that. That that is the only reality in your mind." She glanced at Asura. "And I know this because she hasn't looked at you once. She's probably remembered some of your memories. Saw your version of your world. She's now made sense of something she's been debating for a long time." She turned a sweet smile on Asura who glared at her.

"She hasn't lied," she said. "She's telling the truth. I've seen it." She turned to glance at Abby for the first time though didn't look in her direction long enough for them to make eye contact.

Oh thank goodness, Abby thought at first relieved that Asura seemed to have accepted it but then started worrying about what discussion that they might have after this.

"Again," Aria's tone suddenly lost some of its patience. "I never said that I thought she lied." Her gaze returned to Abby's. "You really are lost, aren't you?"

She wasn't quite sure how to respond to that. "I know where I am," Abby said, unable to keep her defensive tone at bay. "And I know where I came from." She glanced at Asura. "And heaven wiling, know where I'm going. I'm not lost."

Aria chuckled and shrugged. "Well said," she pointed out. "But you're wrong. You think you know where you came from but I don't believe that that is the truth. I don't think this universe that you spoke of exists. I'm sorry my dear, but you are suffering from a delusion." Her eyes narrowed slightly. "A strong one."

Abby stared at her, still not sure what to say. It's real, she thought. My world is real. This is the one that isn't. She wanted to leave but didn't know how to excuse herself from the asari's presence.

"How do you think this happened?" She was surprised that Asura spoke. "Have you encountered something like this before?"

Aria raised an eyebrow and shrugged. "I've seen many things," she said. "Though I'll say her story is a first. Honestly my dear? I don't know how it happened and, quite frankly, I don't care." She sat back and smiled at Abby, daring her to say something.

The vet had to swallow and found herself clinging to her old memories for support. "If you don't care," she pointed out. "Can I go? I would hate to waste your time."

Aria shrugged and waved them off. "Sure," she said. "I have work to do. Dr. Gable, thank you for a very interesting story. I'm sorry that you are delusional. That must be very hard. Tell me where will you go now? Back to Shepard?" She glanced at Asura. "Back to her?"

Unbidden, the two of them shared a look. Abby bit her lip and nodded, moving closer to her asari. "I'm going with Asura," she said with confidence. "Though I'm going to be with Shepard for the next week or two." She added the last to tell Asura that if she needed more time to digest all of this then she was welcome to it.

Aria nodded thoughtfully and turned to Asura. "And you?" she said. "Where will you go? Now that you have your prize in hand."

Abby saw the flash of anger that crossed Asura's features so she quickly reached out and took her hand. It gave her a moment to take a breath and school her features to calm. "I have to admit that I haven't thought about it," she said. "That's why she's not going with me immediately."

Aria nodded and stood up again, slowly moving towards them, taking a data pad from her table. "Then I have a proposition for you," she said. "And you can take these two weeks of absence to think about it." She turned to Abby. "One of the things that are desperately short on Omega is vets. Now, if you have enough skill from your delusion to pass as one I can get your paperwork sorted and help you open a practice up here. You seem like a clever girl, I'm sure with the right reading you can easily be brought up to speed with how things work here. And, frankly, there's enough strays here to practice on." She smiled coldly. "I'll even give you a head start and not charge you rent for the first year."

The offer didn't make Abby as happy as it should've had it come from anybody else. "I don't think..."

Aria held up her hand. "Don't be stupid," she snapped. "Think about it. I'm not asking you to accept this minute. There is a lot I can offer you, both of you." She looked at Asura. "Starting now, I can make sure that the mercenaries back away from you. I'll even send a squad with you to your home as a gesture of faith for good future relations."

Abby felt Asura's hand tighten in hers. "I will not be used," she growled at Aria. "I won't work for you and neither will she."

Aria shrugged and smiled at Abby. "That's up to her," she said. "And, you've made it very clear what happens to people who try to use you, child." It was strange to hear somebody call Asura a child, but then – Abby figured at Aria had at least 600 years on her... "I don't want to use either of you, but I want to keep an eye on you. I'll be frank," she turned back to Asura, "I think that your bond mate here is an experiment set loose. And, at some point her masters are going to come to collect the data that she's been gathering. I want to see who it is. And don't protest Dr. Gable, you can't trust your memories. They can be changed. And, as for you," her gaze turned back to Asura and there was something very dangerous in it. "You know as well as I do that someone has to keep an eye on you. I don't need another of your kind terrorizing Omega."

Abby clenched Asura's hand and glared at the asari. "You didn't do anything about Samara's daughter," she pointed out. "Quote, unquote: She hasn't tried to seduce me..."

Aria's mouth thinned. "No," she said. "But, I'd have done something if it got out of hand. And eventually," she looked to Asura. "It always does."

When they didn't reply, she turned back to her couch and sat down. "I don't expect you to answer me immediately," she said. "Take time to consider my offer. Believe it or not, you need me. Both of you."

They stared at her for a long time until Abby eventually shifted and pulled Asura with her. "Let's go," she said, not even bothering to ask for leave again. "Please Asura."

The Ardat Yakshi took longer to convince to move, her hands clenched in her sides. Feeling a distinct tremor in her hands this time, Abby pulled harder. "Please Asura, let's go." She didn't think that she'd be able to but she finally managed to pull her towards the stairs. When they turned their backs on Aria, it was clear that they could both feel her satisfied stare and, although it was drowned out by the club noises, Abby was pretty sure that Aria laughed when they were out of earshot.

She wasn't surprised that Asura took her directly back to the Normandy, her body stiff as she stared right in front of her. Abby had to swallow against the tight knot of anxiety in her chest. She tried to reach out to touch the asari but found herself hesitating and drew back her hand. Instead, just as they were about to turn towards the Normandy, she stopped and waited. Asura took several steps before she stopped and turned around, giving Abby a confused look.

Abby grimaced and took a steadying breath.

"I'm not an experiment Asura," she said. "I'm real. My memories are real." They are too painful not to be.

The asari looked at her then relaxed and turned back to come to her. She came and gave Abby a hug, enfolding her and pulling her against her.

"I know," she said. "I know that you're who you say you are. I have never doubted that. If Aria is correct and there will be people who come for you, I will kill them all. I'll fight for you for as long as you want me to."

Her words were simple and violent but she meant them. Abby, still pressed against her, closed her eyes and felt whole again for the first time since she realized her partner was willing to leave her and not look back. She didn't say anything but returned Asura's hug, wishing suddenly that they could meld right now so that she could show her what she felt. The thought surprised her immediately as she tried to consider the consequences. What did it mean to meld with an asari? Really and truly without being forced?

"Let's go," Asura said finally and relaxed her grip. "I'll see you in a week or two Abby, I promise. We'll figure things out then. With Aria and everything else."

Gathering herself, allowing Asura to pull her forward, Abby slipped her arm into the asari's.

"Are you considering Aria's offer?" she queried softly, causing Asura to shrug uncomfortably.

"She is powerful," she pointed out. "And, if there's one thing we can be assured of is that she plays her own games. Even Lenelle was cautious of her though, then again, she was cautious of Lenelle as well if she was to be believed. She knew more of this than she led on. I think she knew Lenelle and who she worked for. If we can get close to her, we can find out who it was that started all of this."

She didn't say it, but Abby could sense it, her need for revenge, to get at the heart of who had caused all of this. She sighed and chose not to say anything, knowing that it wasn't something that was going to go away overnight. I can work with this, she thought as the Normandy came into view. When given time, even the worst wounds can heal.

She was surprised to see the Normandy's airlock open before they reached it and froze when she saw who was leaving. Samara stepped into view, having changed out of the dress that she was wearing and donned in her full, black Justicar outfit. She had a satchel slung around her shoulders and had her head down, her face serene as she considered the ground. Asura saw her and stiffened as Abby took her hand and pulled her out of the Justicar's path. Samara looked up while she walked and saw them but didn't react immediately though she slowed down.

"Dr. Gable," Samara said as she stopped completely, inclining her head ever so slightly in Abby's direction. "Asura."

Abby tried to act calmly as she glanced around to see if Shepard might be following the asari. "Samara," she said, trying to keep her voice steady. "Are you leaving?"

The Justicar nodded. "Yes," she said simply. "My duty has to take me elsewhere." She looked at Asura but didn't say anything else. Asura didn't reply, her hand tight in Abby's, leaving it up to the vet to say something.

"I didn't know you were going," she said softly. "I'm sorry."

Samara merely nodded and for a moment Abby thought that she was going to leave but then she turned to Asura. "I have given my word that I won't touch you now," she said. "And I will honour this because I honour the person to whom I swore that oath. But know this, if I find out that you have continued on the path that your kind is destined to walk, I will find a way around it." She looked at Abby. "Humans live for a very short time. A blink of an eye." She turned back Asura. "When they leave us, they take their word and their oaths with them."

Asura didn't blink as she looked at Samara. "When that day comes and you find me on that road Justicar," she said and, to Abby's surprise, bowed deeply. "I will await your company. And welcome it."

Samara nodded and left without another word, her back straight as she walked away from the Normandy.

Jane, Abby thought as her heart ached not only for the Justicar but for Asura. She turned back to the asari with her and gave her a weak smile though her heart wasn't in it.

"Don't worry," she said softly. "I'll live to be a hundred."

Asura didn't blink but smiled at her as she pulled her close to her again.

"I pray to the Goddess that you will. And," she smiled. "That you'll choose to come with me when I come back."

Abby grinned at her and took her hand, slowly walking back to the Normandy.

"We'll have to wait and see," she said with a smile. "But I don't see why not."

She must've dosed off, because when she woke up – Samara was gone. Jane lay in her bed, her hand trailing to the space where the asari had been; trying to figure out what woke her. She thought that Samara might be in the bathroom but when she closed her eyes, she heard nothing. Opening her eyes again, she pushed herself up slowly, ignoring the ache in her shoulder and looked around her room. Her heart started beating loudly when she realized that Samara's clothes weren't there.

"EDI," she said immediately, her mouth dry as she stood up and wrapped her bed sheet around her. "Where's Samara?"

The AI took a long time to reply. "EDI," Jane said again, unable to keep the panic from her voice. "EDI, where's Samara? Is she still on the Normandy?"

When the AI finally answered her voice surprisingly soft and filled with regret. "No Commander," she said. "She's not."

"No," Jane breathed and rushed to her discarded clothes. "When did she leave? Can you see where she went on Omega?"

She threw off her sheet and started getting dressed as quickly as she could.

"She's gone Jane," EDI said. "She left an hour ago. She headed straight off of Omega."

Her hands started shaking as she continued to pull on her clothes, an ache unlike anything she had ever felt before – including her death – stabbing through her chest. "Try and stop her," she said. "Contact all the ships that left, tell them that by the order of a council Spectre they are... They have to come back; they have to bring her back."

The AI paused for a long time, giving her chance to reach her shoes and start to pull them on. "I can't do that Jane," she said finally, softly. "I'm sorry."

"Damn it!" Jane cursed as she hurled the one shoe across the room. "Damn it EDI! Why did you let her go? Why?" The pain in her chest spread to her throat and when she squeezed her eyes shut she felt hot tears trailing down her cheeks. Damn you Miranda, why can I still cry? "Why didn't you stop her?"

"I couldn't Jane," she said. "I'm sorry. She said to tell you that she's sorry."

"No," Jane breathed as she sank to her knees, unable to accept that she knew it was useless to try and pursue the Justicar. She was too smart and she knew Shepard too well. "No EDI, I... No." She bent over, clutching her chest, the pain in it unbearable. She could still feel the after effects of their melding, the unfolding ball of emotions that was Samara's. When she closed her eyes, she pressed her palms against them, unable to stop the tight breath that escaped her lips. She could feel Samara's pain and she knew suddenly that the asari had known that she would leave the moment Jane told her not to go after Asura. It had been inevitable.

Jane did what she had to do to stay true to herself and Samara had to leave in order to stay true to her code.

Opening her mouth in a silent scream, Jane held her chest and then bit her tongue to try and stop herself from crying. It was impossible and, unable to help herself; she started rocking on her knees - her body shaking.

"I'm sorry Jane," she heard EDI say, her voice filled with true regret. "I truly am sorry."

The End of A Degeneration in Mass.

AN: And, that's it. This chapter is longer than the others, for I wanted to keep it in a unity. There wasn't any logical place for me to break it – so I decided to continue it as is. If it had to have an 'End Credits' song, it would be to Within Temptation's The Last Dance from their album 'The Unforgiving.' You can find the link in my profile.

Thank you for reading, thank you for your reviews. I did not think that this would become what it is. I hadn't thought that I would finish it and I wouldn't have had it not been for you. So, thank you. And to AlyssC01, without whom this would not have been.

There will be a sequel, I promise.