Disclaimer (applies to all chapters): I own nothing. It all belongs to Bioware / EA.
She'd been a hero, once.
This is the thought she hangs onto in the grimmest hours. She can recall with perfect clarity her career as a Spectre—indeed, when the lights go out to signify it's time to sleep, she often lays with her back to the corner, eyes glued warily to the door and it is then that she goes through those memories, liking the way they make her feel. Needing the way they make her feel, too. Not long ago
—but it felt like eons—
she'd been a soldier, a warrior, armored and armed and all too capable of defending herself—capable too of taking on anyone who'd meant to do her harm.
She's nothing like that now. She hasn't been like that for quite some time.
Commander Shepard. The title runs through her mind like a cherished, intimate phrase from a lover. She can recall being that person—in fact, she still dreams of being able to become the Commander again, wishing for the metamorphic change that would free her from the dark and terrible world she'd awoken into, free her from this purgatory—
She laughs out loud at this last thought, though the sound contains no mirth. It's a sad sound, she thinks, as it echoes around the small confines of her cell. Every sound she makes these days is one of sorrow, or one of rage, or one of pain or shame or helpless frustration. Thinking back, she realizes that she has not even smiled since Before ...
Before she'd died. Before she'd been remade. Before the Cerberus vessel transporting her newly minted body had been ambushed by the Blue Suns. Before Warden Kuril, realizing the potential goldmine a reborn Shepard represented, had moved heaven and hell to ensure she wound up on-board his prison ship with the full intent of selling her to the highest bidder.
Before he'd changed his mind.
She is never certain when they will come for her. Their arrivals have always been staggered—day cycle, night cycle, never announced. Never welcome. They have learned the hard way that there is enough of the old Shepard in this remade form to cause some serious harm; when they come for her now, it is always in threes. There is one to stand guard in hypervigilance, an assault rifle centered squarely over her heart. There is one who warily steps around her to fasten her wrists together behind her back. The last waits until she is thus bound before approaching to snap a thick metal collar attached to a long, cylindrical pole around her neck. This device is called the Lead. There is a trigger at the end of the pole; should the handler pull it, an electric current races up the length to course through the prisoner. It is no gentle shock, either. It packs enough of a punch to render a person senseless for long minutes.
She knows this from experience.
So she does not resist when, in the middle of the night cycle, the door to her cell hisses open. She gets slowly to her feet, blinking—she'd fallen asleep despite her resolve not to—and does what they order her to do. Once her arms are securely fastened, once the cold and unyielding ring of the Lead is snapped shut around her neck, the guard behind her jabs his pistol into her ribs and orders her to move. She is obedient, and complies without a word.
She was not so meek, once upon a time. She had fought and thrashed and screamed her rage and had killed one or two during the process. But her struggles had made no difference in the end, other than to make her weary and earn her the physical retribution of the guards. Since she has come to be here—and it feels like she's been here for years—she has had her wrist, arm and some ribs broken. Thanks to Cerberus and whatever they had done during her reconstruction, she is able to heal fast. That fact, however, is something she can never be fully grateful for. The sooner she heals, the sooner it all begins again.
Like a mad, rabid dog she is led from the solitary block. The Warden did not want her associating with any of the other inmates. She has not spoken to another prisoner in the entire time she has been here. The path she and her escort take is all too familiar by now; she could walk it with her eyes closed. Past Out-Processing they go, through the group block and then they pass through three separate sets of security gates in order to enter the crew quarters. It is the first entry on the right they enter, then, and when the last of the guards has crossed the threshold the door crashes down with booming, forbidding finality.
The inside of Warden Kuril's personal quarters are a stark and clinical white. What belongings he has chosen to fill his dwelling with are no matter of concern to her. All that matters is the turian that stands near the observation window, watching silently as the guards remove first the cuffs from about her wrists and then the collar. They are still wary of her, moving slowly, a weapon trained on her at all times. They needn't be worried. Where they are concerned, all the fight has left her long ago.
Where Kuril is concerned, however ...
"Shepard." The Warden says after waving the guards away. They say nothing, filing one after the other back out the door. Again it slams shut, and then there is nothing but Kuril and Shepard and the harsh white walls of the room.
He says nothing further. He is content instead to pace a slow and measured circle about her, studying her all the while. She can feel his eyes upon her. No longer does the sensation make her skin crawl. She has learned to shutter away reactions like that and to present only an emotionless veneer. She knows he does not like this. Sometimes he makes an effort to break the mask she wears. Sometimes he succeeds.
As he circles, she trains her eyes upon the observation window, on the stars without. She remembers a similar view from the bridge of the Normandy. She remembers also the freedom she'd had to travel freely amongst those stars. With those memories comes another that is inevitable, for it was among those very same stars that had died, and it was that one event that had ultimately led to her being here on a ship aptly named Purgatory.
Kuril has come to a halt beside her. She does not look at him. What he wants hovers in the air between them, a terrible, tangible beast that cannot be ignored. But she tries to pretend it away all the same, because if she doesn't she would be giving ground on a battlefield that is far too vital to her sanity. Kuril is not the first turian to have wanted her, but he is the one that is closest to achieving his goal. His is not an attraction born of respect and affection. His is the need to dominate, the desire to own an individual—potent is the lure in Shepard's case, because of what she is: arguably the most famous human in the galaxy, the only human to become a Spectre, saviour of the Citadel ...
The Warden is too proud, in the manner that many turians are, to resort to actual rape. She knows this, or at least fervently hopes it to be so. His methods are far subtler, insidious and methodical. He wants it to be her own willing submission that brings about her ultimate, physical surrender. He is cruel and creative in his work; he is fond of torturing other inmates in front of her, thinking their suffering will wear away at her resolution. While she has remained outwardly steadfast, within the very core of her being she is always awash in feelings of self-recrimination and guilt for the part she has played in another's pain.
She is prepared now for more of the same. Kuril is nothing if not an advocate of variety. Sometimes it is a female prisoner he chooses. Sometimes it is a male. Sometimes he picks more than one, so that the time she spends in his company is filled with a chorus of screams in horrifying harmony, rather than just one voice raised in a solo of pain. As Kuril moves away from her, towards a comm unit set in the wall, she takes a deep breath and closes her eyes for a moment, steeling herself for the atrocities she will soon be witness to.
But the Warden does not call up his guards over the comm. He instead turns and faces her, his expression unreadable, his eyes cold and piercing. She realizes then that the charged atmosphere of the room is different somehow, and as she stares at him she wonders what exactly it is that has changed.
He does not make her wait long for the answer. "Shepard," he says again; she has grown to hate his flanged voice, to loathe the way he says her name. He is silent for just a heartbeat before continuing. "I have news. Someone is interested in purchasing you."
For a moment, her heart soars. The Alliance has discovered her whereabouts, she thinks, and they've come for her—her old crew has finally hunted her down are going to buy her freedom—
But the euphoria and the relief fade away swiftly. There had been a note in Kuril's voice, an odd inflection that didn't fit with the scenario of a heroic rescue she's envisioned. Swallowing hard, refusing to ask, she waits mutely to hear what else he has to say.
As though knowing the gamut of emotions that has just flooded and left her, his mouth curls up in a thin and mocking smile. "I was approached by a group representing the Reapers. It seems they still have a considerable amount of interest you."
Her blood runs hot for a searing half-second before turning to ice in her veins. His threat is in that instant terrifyingly clear and he knows it, but still he speaks, drawing nearer one slow, predatory step at a time.
"They offer a lot, Shepard. More than any of the others. I could sell you and live like a king."
She remains silent, but finds that she cannot hold his eyes, besieged as she is by the numbing terror his words have incited to life within her. It is her first concession to him, in all the days and nights of this malicious ritual he has devised; his smile, unseen by her, becomes one of twisted triumph.
She already knows what answer she will give. She knew it the moment he mentioned the Reapers. And already she feels a steady withering within her, as though all joy and all peace she has ever known—before her death, before this place—is simply fading from existence. This standoff—this longest and toughest battle of wills—has finally come to an end. Feeling as though there is a steadily growing void in the center of her soul, she once again lifts her eyes to his.
But she can't say the words.