Set after the end of Mass Effect 3, and sometime in the middle of the second season of Torchwood because I liked the show best when it wasn't shooting for high drama. I'm a sucker for happy endings.

Well.

That had happened.

And she seemed to be... Well, if she was dead there was still enough of her left to know she was dead.

That was nice.

Maybe she should have picked a religion.

Maybe she should have left a will.

Maybe...

Oh, hell.

All that pain and loss and blood and tears and now the fucking relays were blowing up? That was like stabbing the heart out of the galaxy, killing all the shipping and cutting people off from their homes, from their food supplies!

Had...

Had she chosen wrong?

Better to be dead then. Except, again, there was enough left of her to knowshe was dead, to know she had chosen poorly, and if she DID find a bar up there she was avoiding it because she was not going to be able to face anyone if she'd gotten it wrong.

Death was supposed to be the easy way out.

Maybe if she... let go... she'd cease to be the rest of the way.

"Oy! Don't give up on me yet! You're missing the best part!"

The face in front of her was human. Humanish. Strange. The eyes were old but they were dancing, the hair defied gravity and sense.

She found her voice, and it was broken and raw. "What are you wearing?"

"What? The glasses? They're called horn rims."

"The jacket. It's... not a synthetic."

"Ah yes bit of a luxury that, I know," he smiled, and popped his collar at her.

"Took out the relays," she said, trying to...

Was she sitting? She couldn't feel her body, but she could feel pain. No proprioception. That wasn't good.

"Yes, nasty work there. Good way to cripple a universe, set up a travel system everyone's dependent on, then take it out. Nasty bit of work there, leaves whole governances and cultures bleeding, hurting," and they were old dancing eyes, but they were also on fire now.

Shepard knew eyes like that. She couldn't move or she would have reached for a gun.

"Those things you just got rid of... That you think you just got rid of? Brilliant bit of mess that, like a disease, weren't they? You know what this universe needs?"

"A drink? Wait, what do you mean, 'that I think I got'... Did I choose wrong?"

"A doctor. Also all the buttons were the same thing, wired up the same, the only important part was that you willingly pushed the buttons, and you're probably too naturally suspicious to push a button that says 'this will turn them into candy', you know."

"I... What?"

"Oh, not your fault, not your fault, now is it? You're only human, you don't know how to deal with grouchy dead gods that don't know how to quit."

"I'm dead?"

"Oh, what? No, no, I mean, you should be, but then I swooped in, popped you out of there. Seemed like a waste-"

"My squad-"

"Who? Oh, well, look. Busy now, you just... lay there. Try not to bleed too much more internally and just... here," he went- almost bounced, in a fluster, fidgeting way- over to an area of wall that didn't look much different than anything else, certainly nothing like any airlock she'd ever seen, and...

Doors opened.

Space, outside.

Fire from the relays, spreading out and...

"It's all burning," and she felt her voice break, was ashamed she'd gotten this far without weeping and now... "It's all burning earth will burn and-"

"And we can't have that, can we? Keep watching!" There were clicks and whirs, and mechanical clunking.

"You want me to watch it burn?" And of course she would, it was herdamn world and she'd failed it and...

"The nice thing about caged singularities is all the extra, well, honestly if you didn't understand how the relays worked in the first place I'd be wasting air telling you, but the short version is when you blow something that BIG, that tied into the very fabric of the universe, you get a LOT of loose threads, and I am a FANTASTIC knitter."

Shepard gave up. It was a full-on last breath hallucination and she was going to spend it with wet eyes watching the world burn.

Except it didn't. It failed to burn. The expanding nightmare of fire and energy went still, stayed still.

And... Fluttered.

She didn't understand what she was looking at.

This wasn't unfamiliar, she'd seen high brow art movies, before, that made no sense and this felt the same.

There were more colors than she had names for, and they happened... All at once.

They took years. Blue flowed into red, but had always been green, since the start. Stars melted.

"Is what I'm seeing real?"

"Yes, and... No? Look, this isn't anything like knitting, I just said that and I need to know what's happening out there, right as it's about to have happened and it's... Just shut up. Enjoy the pretty lights. Your species likes those."

It wasn't...

What was left wasn't a mass effect relay.

What had always BEEN there, except... No... Was not a mass effect relay.

It was a shimmering knot in the void. Woven solar flares.

It was beautiful.

And there was... Music. Song? It echoed.

She saw it but... No, wait, not, she'd seen it, it had happened days ago. Weeks ago. It had always been a past event and...

And her head hurt but she watched the Normandy vanish into nothing but...

"Is it safe? Are they safe?"

"Who? Yes, yes, I'm sure of it."

"But my people on the ground?"

"Probably alright? It tried to grab you too, but that ship's not got a good enough med-lab for you and your popping little organs. Better off here. Let me dump this extra time, alright?"

Shepard gave up. Blacked out.

It was.

Garrus had no idea how he'd gotten onto the ship.

Except he did. It had landed, and he had walked on.

And...

And she'd done it, the relays were different, reapers gone.

She'd done it, and she'd died, and honestly... Garrus hadn't expected to survive. No one had.

So the looming question was...

What next?

He mentally marked out... Three months for self pity, loathing, and grief. An extra month for the hangover. Then afterwards he'd think of something.

Yes.

That was a plan. Lovely plan. Good plan.

"M'c'mannder Sheeeepard and this is m'favorite box in the 'verse,"

"Wow. What did you give her?"

"I gave her what I had!" The Doctor said. "I thought I got it right but she'd got... metal and bits in her and I got her weight a bit wrong."

"And you've got the good stuff."

"The best..."

"You never share with me?"

"Oh, come off it, Jack."

"Faaavorite box," she slurred.

"She is really, really fucked up," Jack said, smile splitting his face. "She single?"

"Umm... No. No. you missed the part where... Look. That's not important, the important bit is she's a lynch pin in a different universe and I just needed to keep her around until she was patched up. Took a bit longer than I, Hey there-"

"Hi there," Jack said, leaning down.

"Jack," the Doctor said, warning.

"I'm Captain Jack Harkness, tell me about your favorite box?"

"M'Commander, I outrank you! An this m'favorite box. All. Roomy. Outrank."

He had to step back to avoid the failing arm in the complex silver cast.

"Do you now?"

"Oh, stop it! Lay off it!" The doctor said. "Stop that."

"I've got a weakness for strong women," Jack said.

"You've got a lot of weaknesses," the Doctor said. "And stop it."

"Fine. I'll wait till she's upright. When can we get her home?"

"Oh. That. Well. That'll be messy. See I had to reweave a massive rift, not your everyday bit of work and frankly the whole universe is a bit too choppy for the old girl," his palm his the wall of the Tardis, banging hollowly. "So got to wait for the waters to calm."

"I like how you failed to actually answer my question. I missed that. Why am I here?"

"See that pile by the door?"

"The guns?"

"She's a soldier. Don't like soldiers m'self, but that universe needs one, and she'll start, shooting things if I keep her with me. So. You keep her."

"What, you're just dumping her on me?"

"That woman talked five different races into fighting shoulder to shoulder, and they weren't on speaking terms till she got involved. Well, some of them. You should be thrilled to have her."

"You want me to just, use her in Torchwood?"

"Yes, exactly. Take the guns with you, all of them, I don't want them here and as soon as I work out what point I can take her home with..."

"How long will that be for her?"

"Oh, not that long," he leaned back, fingers hooked on a rail, back arching. "Maybe... Oh... It's a bit... Three years tops."

"Does she know that?"

"I plucked her from the heart of a supernova that her universe thought had always been there so... no, we haven't had time to talk. Teach her German or something, keep her busy. Keep her away from world leaders."

"I can... Probably do that," Jack said, tilting his head. It wasn't that she wasn't pretty, she was just, more striking than beautiful. Pretty the way a sports car was, instead of a flower... But that might be the armor and the soot still on her face. "As a personal favor to you."

"Good," The Doctor paused, looked up. "Thank you, Jack."

"How long until her feet touch the ground?"

"Mm, well, let's see, got the pain killers and cellular growth enhancers off a cat in a wimple so... Maybe a day?"

"And the thing on her arm?"

"Omni device."

"She can keep that and I had to give up my vortex manipulator? Playing favorites again?"

"It can't travel in time," the Doctor said. "But, you know. Keep her away from any leaders of industry, too, alright? Don't let her... Change the timeline too much. Good luck with that. Spitfire, that one. You know she's died once?"

"We should get her a jacket," Jack said. "You me and her. The Laughing at Death Club, you know. Or a pin."

"Oh, we've got the stories, those are enough," the Doctor said.

Whmm, whmm, whhhmmm, went the Tardis.

"We're here?"

"Right in the center of Torchwood's headquarters. Don't let her shoot the dinosaur."

"See you in three years."

"Right. Take everything by the door, and let her sleep for a week."

"Got it."

Garrus didn't go to the official hero's funeral.

She didn't deserve a funeral. She deserved a rest, though.

At least, he thought, he wasn't alone in his thinking.

On the bar stool next to him, Tali was starting to list to starboard.

Joker had started on the floor and wasn't going to be getting off it anytime soon. Even if EDI managed to get a shovel, or perhaps a handcart.

It had been three months. Taken three months to get everything arranged for a state funeral that big.

There was a row of empty seats in the front, the guests of honor, Commander Shepard's Crew, who hadn't shown up.

Probably a big, huge, political faux pas.

Fuck em. "Where will you go next?"

He turned slowly. Oh, someone had asked him, it wasn't. He wasn't talking to himself.

He made himself focus on Thane. For a man who needed dry air to live, he was drinking like a fish today. Fish drank, right? Those stupid fish. She could watch a whole crew, but still kept buying new fish.

"I don't know. Maybe back to... back out to the... Edges. Easy to find people there. Easy to find people that deserve to get shot, too. I really want to go. Shoot people that need to get shot," Garrus said, finally. "Can't sit still."

"I will help," Thane said.

Garrus thought about arguing but... Well.

From end-of-the-universe death sentence to... Time.

Why the hell not.

"Sounds good to me," he said. Then... "She'd want you to visit your kid."

Thane was quiet, then said "He would rather I didn't do that too often."

Garrus nodded in an imitation of understanding and folded forward onto the bar into comfortable oblivion.

Shepard wasn't pleased with waiting, but...

She didn't understand the Tardis, or how it worked. Hell she didn't fully understand the physics of heat sinks or mass effect fields.

She was good at using things without quite understanding them.

So three years? Fine. Whatever. Least she got to spend those three years alive. Aware.

Learning.

She wasn't sure what she'd do with all of the information she was learning, though. Stick shifts, motorcycles and Welsh were all useful here but if...

When. When she got home. There was no if, the Doctor had promised, and if he broke that promise she would steal that box and learn to fly it, and she would take herself home.

But aside from the potential further uselessness of the skills she... she rather liked it. The enemies were strange and treacherous, and she tended to laugh at them.

Captain Jack laughed with her, at her, and if the first time she'd seen him die her heart had dropped and if she'd shown very little mercy to the bone thieves, well...

She'd put two in his heart when he'd popped back up, and he'd agreed it was his own fault for telling her the zombie movies were historical.

Then, because it was hard to say no to a man you'd killed who still smiled, they'd gone out for drinks.

One thing leading to another had led to not a bed but a bench, drinking from his flask and talking about friends long past.

His friends were very long past but she talked anyway, about Wrex, about Joker, about that weird burp that had to have been the Doctor's fault when she'd had a ship filled with babies.

He'd talked about the Tardis, about his modeling days, about losing two years of his memory, about Rose and Martha. Saving the universe.

"We should have jackets," she said.

"I'm Commander Shepard and this is my favorite exclusive club?"

"You laugh," she said. "But that sentence knocked ten percent off across the board at the citadel."

"As catchphrases go, I've heard worse."

"Like what?"

"Like 'allons-y!', for example," he said.

"That's his, isn't it?"

"Yeah," he said. "Likes to shout it when that damn ship goes off course."

"So did you fall in love in the first heartbeat or did he have to talk first?"

She realized she'd hit a nerve by the sudden change in the texture of the silence.

One more swallow, then she handed the flask back. "Love's a sneaky bastard," she said, nodding sagely. Or rather, she thought it was sagely. She was quite drunk, she might, she thought, look 'a bit of a tit'.

"You've no idea," Jack said. "And for the record... It started when he replaced my gun with a banana, and was sealed when he saved my life."

She changed subjects. "See now I can't decide if, when I get home, and hunt him down, I want him to have moved on, cause three years is a long time to pine-"

"And you want him to be happy, but if you get there and he has some tart on his arm-"

"Tart?"

"Trust me tart'll be one of the nicer names you'll call her, especially if they look like they're making him happy," Jack said. "But I know what you mean. It's called being human."

"It's more universal than you think. Ever seen a love struck Krogan? And I knew a Salarian who would say it was called poor evolutionary planning," Shepard said, grinning. "Fuck, I don't know. Three years? I know him, I... Three years and he'll be over me but he'll be looking for new and interesting ways to self destruct. Last time I went and died on the man we weren't even a thing, but he still went and pissed off every mercenary in the... In the ever-loving great wide sky."

"Pissed off?"

"Off, over, around. Ever hear... Oh, how does it go? Judge a man by the company he keeps?"

"He's got a high class of enemies?"

"The highest," she felt her smile spread like melting wax. "Second highest."

"Gonna start bragging again?"

"It's factually. Actuact..." Her tongue tangled up, and she blew a raspberry before starting again with, "It's true," while tilting her face up, looking up at the stars. "I got a face that makes people do things," she said. "Sometimes they panic."

Traveling through the wormholes was like taking a bath. There was a calming feel to it, once you were in one it just...

Pulled you along, and there would be MOMENTS, when your sensors would beep that they recognized the stars, the radio patterns generated by nearby planets, and the hull would vibrate with the song, and applying some thrust, you'd be out of the heavy gold mist and where you'd wanted to go.

Joker actually sort of liked it. Even if your clocks all reset themselves in confusion when you got out.

You seemed to get where you were going in fourty five minutes, no matter how long you spent floating. He tested it once, looking at all the exits twice, flipping an hourglass seven times, and coming out back where he'd started...

Fourty five minutes later. It was sort of fascinating.

Buuut he wasn't going to be the one that figured out how they worked.

He was, quite by accident, the one that saw the first Being during that experimental cruise.

He was also the one that coined the term 'space whale' to describe them.

To be fair he had known the term would stick he might have tried a little harder to think of something more majestic. Or at least looked up the French for 'Space Whale' in the hopes that sounded classier.

Unfortunately, he'd been recording the long cruise just to show later, and it had the first footage of the huge, undulating creature. It also had him yelling,

"Holy shit it's a space whale!"

So... the name stuck.

Except for the small group of high end pilots that took to calling them Jokers.

It was a sort of inside joke, shared by the people who had been there.

What Would Shepard Do?

It was supposed to be an inside joke.

But it spread. Politicians tried to use it, but it didn't work for the crooked ones.

What would Shepard do? Wouldn't put up with this shit. Would stop complaining, start acting.

"Shepard probably wouldn't have been pinned down by sniper fire," Thane said, dryly.

"Oh, thank you so much for that," Garrus said. "That was helpful. Are you on your way or are you not?"

"I'm near. Behind a political poster, what's left of one. Was thinking of that last Rally."

"Shepard wouldn't have poisoned the entire family of her political rivals."

"No, not the entire family," Thane agreed. "And she would not have had her rally in a place with such poor defensive qualities."

She would have liked the shot though. It's been perfect. Barely any splatter on the man next to the target.

Thoughts like that hurt less now.

"Sniper nulled," crackled Thane's voice on the radio.

Garrus smiled. That left two heavies who now had to get across thirty paces of clear ground.

It was a pretty nice day, all things considered. And Liara'd be pleased that they'd worked the mess out with minimal bloodshed.

Thane caught up with him halfway back to their ride, hand up, fingers up. The idea of a fist-bump wasn't something someone trained as a solitary assassin quite understood, but... 'Give you a target to hit' seemed to work better between them anyway.

Two months there and Jack decided that what they really needed was a proper, welcome to Torchwood dinner for her, since she probably wasn't going to die off with reflexes like that.

"You act like you've never had steak before," Gwen said.

Shepard didn't answer. She was otherwise occupied.

"Has she never had it before?"

Jack watched Shepard a moment then arched an eyebrow at Gwen. "What gave it away, the smile or the moaning?"

"Everything I've eaten for the last... Mm," she had a sip of beer, sighed. "Ever have army rations? Nutrient paste? Or the next step up, nutria-cubes? Good for man and dog a like?" she made herself try the mashed potatoes. And whimpered because was that real butter? And what were the crunchy little reddish brown bits?

"I feel like we should be hiding her from any children in the area," Ianto said. "Might raise some questions for their parents."

"What, when a woman loves a steak very much?" Gwen said.

Owen was getting up from the table already, heading to the bar. "Back in a tick!"

"Where's he off too?" Tosh asked.

They got their answer when he came back with a tray of drinks and desserts.

"Owen," Jack said, faint warning in his tone.

"Jack?" Owen said. "I'm being generous to the new girl. Poor thing. Obviously been deprived of decent grub for years."

Jack opened his mouth, and shut it. Shepard wasn't a woman you fucked with. He KNEW this, and Owen. Well. Owen could learn the hard way.

Owen waited for Shepard to suck down the first chocolate-tini rimmed with cinnamon before asking about the name.

Shepard put the glass down, dragging her finger thought the last clinging film of cream and licking it off. "Do you mean, is it a title?"

"Yeah."

"It might as well be," she said.

"You got a first name?"

"Not for you," she said, smiling broadly.

And she didn't talk again, because Owen, bless his still, cold, lifeless heart, had brought over crème Brule in shot form.

Liara hummed to herself, tunelessly.

Funny, if she thought about it she'd swear that she should be somewhere else.

That she was somewhere else.

But she was always right here.

Garrus was sprawled half backwards over the console, flipping a coin. At least, it was probably a coin. Sometimes he came back with small trophies.

She'd be worried if it was a regular thing, but it wasn't, so she didn't care. Much.

"That's rather annoying."

He caught it, tucked it away. "Sorry. You were saying?"

She crossed her arms. "How long ago did you stop paying attention?"

"It's an out with the old boss, in with the new boss situation, isn't it?" Garrus said. "I'll just nudge Thane for the playback later."

"Having a drell for a partner is not an excuse to ignore a briefing."

Somewhere in the shadows, Feron chuckled.

Liara huffed out a breath and pretended not to hear it, lifted her chin. "You'll just be replacing one gun runner with another."

"Yeah, but you like the new one. The one that's gonna be new."

"He's easier to work with and I want him to expand a little. He'll take this as a personal favor, I'll lose a thorn in my side, and if I leave him he'll expand too far and start shit with my other allies."

Thane nodded. "You have not lied to us yet, Liara."

"I wasn't going to start today."

"That is fortunate for us all."

"Are you insane?"

"Usually when people ask me that, they're screaming," she said, looking up over the leather patched seat.

"Well, it's the sort of thing that I was screaming when you were sliding that damn bike sideways into the side of a bloody hydra, but I didn't think you heard me," Gwen said.

"Eh. Shields held."

"What shields?"

Shepard patted the N7 on the side of the bike. It was a damn shame she'd only taken the gear she'd had on her, all those spare parts she'd collected might have been helpful. At least she'd had the best gear on her. "What, you thought I was sliding into hell with just a riding jacket for protection?"

"What is it?"

"Used to be part of a space suit. Not a lot of space here so I used part of it elsewhere."

The med-gel injector had gone into a sleek vest. Better than bulletproof.

She was going to miss this bike when she went back. Oh well. She had better things to ride back home.

Metaphor get away from you there?Asked a memory.

"A space suit. You're a traveler?"

"No ma'am, I'm a soldier," Shepard said.

"Where'd you learn to fix bikes then?"

"Internet," Shepard said, pointing at the open laptop. "Figuring out how to make the engine and the wheels power the shields was trickier, but Jack helped. And making unlike parts work together is sort of what I do." She was finding that she had a bit of fondness for being covered in grease, in next to no danger of being shot, listening to the radio.

You got immediate results, which depended on your hands. It was nice. And they were fun. You could probably haul ass on Tuchanka on one of these.

Well. Maybe not Tuchanka. But there were other planets with a whole lot of sand and rock to eat up with two wheels. Could make it a recreational zone.

"Can I help?"

"You can hand me that soldering iron and put on those sunglasses."

"Can I ask a question?"

"You can."

"Why does Jack call you Commander?"

She gave a shrug. "Why do you call him Captain? Old titles stick."

"But I liked being called Archangel."

"Make up a new title."

"I didn't make up the last one," Garrus complained. "I'm just saying, I don't get why 'Pacino' is a call sign for me."

"Something to do with old earth cinema," Thane said.

"Anything you've ever seen?"

Thane didn't answer, but Garrus felt it was more of a diplomatic sort of non-answer.

"Is Pacino the monster?"

"You could look this up."

"I'm flying. And I have you."

Thane sighed.

Garrus smiled.

"Scarface."

"What?"

"There was a movie called Scarface," Thane said. "The actor's name was Al Pacino."

Garrus snorted. "No, then. Hell no. Pacino's out."

"I didn't pick it."

"We'll stick with Scarface," Garrus said. "I like it. Is it on record?"

"Cue up your own entertainment, you lazy Turian."

"Give me time; we'll get you a cool name too."

She didn't wear leather pants.

She wore denim with Kevlar woven into them, heavy and tough boots.

Someone called her a bull-dyke in a club once, and she'd had to call Jack to decide if she was offended or not.

"Wait, what happened?"

"I turn a free drink down-"

"Fooooolish," he half sang. "But go on?"

"And he calls me a bull dyke. I don't know that term, exactly?"

"Wait, where are you?"

"I'm in a club, I was told this is what people do."

"Which club?"

"In fact, I think you told me this. I'm SURE you did!"

"WHICH CLUB?"

"Are any of them prone to rift shit happening?"

"No! I... Yes! Just tell me where you are?"

"The Dromedary."

"The Hump Club!"

"It's Wednesday," Shepard said. "It's ladies night. I am drinking pink things, I am considering dancing, and if someone else calls me a Bull Dyke I want to know what the right reaction is."

"The right reaction is to order two of those pink drinks and save me a seat. I'll be there in five minutes."

"What? No that's not why I... Jack? Dammit Jack!" She hung up, glared at the strange phone. "Dammit."

It took him four minutes to get there.

"You've got your vest on," Jack said. "And jeans like that, the short hair. Okay, I can see why they might think you were batting for the other team. Never saw you as a pink drink girl though."

"They're cheap," she said. "Cheaper than the beer I like. I'm going to miss beer when I get home. If I get home." She scowled. "Oh, shit, I overshot happy and landed in melancholy."

"You'll get home," Jack said, patting her back. "He'll probably screw something up horribly but it'll all be for the better. Did I ever tell you about the year that didn't happen?"

"This a story where the year was happy and now it never happened or-"

"It was actually a really shitty year. I was pretty good with it not having happened," Jack said.

"Ah, does this have a good ending?"

"It all got set right."

"Except, set right in my home... World? Universe? I don't know what that'll do, won't setting it right just, redo what I did?"

"Well, since what you did probably killed millions...":

"Biiiiiiiiiiiiillions."

"Trillions," Jack said. "He probably won't do that. Unless. Hey, are those Krogans you were talking about, do they look like metal trashcans with plungers sticking out?"

"Nooope. More like horny toads."

"Do you mean, proper lizard horny toads, or toads with erections?"

"The spiky things with the wide mouths. I have... I don't know what either a toad's or a krogan's hard-on looks like and I'm really okay with that void in my knowledge."

"Okay, nothing like that in your universe? That you know of?"

"I got... mile long big fuck worms, how's that?"

"Eh, we got those somewhere."

"Some time."

"And Turians don't look like metal men, right? Or potatoes in high collared armor?"

"Nooope," Shepard said.

Jack seemed to be thinking. "Creepy stone angels?"

"Mm, probably in old earth cemeteries?"

"But not hordes of them?"

"Statues horde?"

"Anyway, probably won't erase anything from the fabric of your universe. Universe traversing is a tricky mess even in the Tardis," Jack paused to throw that drink back, nudge her until she passed him hers, and ordered two more. "I mean more like, maybe more time will have passed there, than here."

"How many years?"

"Oh, not a rip van winkle, but. You know. Six? Ten?"

"Gonna need more of these. Bartender!"

Jack laughed.

*************
Thane didn't look up.

"Not going to comment on how late I am?"

"I assume you were out having sex."

Garrus wondered, not for the first time, if Thane stalked him when they had down time.

"And you... assumed that why?"

"You contacted me from the Blaze, extremely inebriated, telling me not to stay up."

"Ah."

"We can skip the part where we talk about it."

"Yes, let's."

"Wait, wait, tell me honestly," Jack said, smile splitting his face. "Were you dancing when they called you a bull dyke?"

"Oh, shut up."

"You were, weren't you?" Jack waved a hand and shucked his jacket off; putting it onto the table they'd migrated to with a pitcher of beer.

"It was in time with the beat."

"Maybe to the club next door. Here, here, come here," he held out his arms. "Come on. I'll teach you how to stop hurting the people around you. Does that lover of yours like your dancing? Have they said that? Because they've got a good heart for lying to you."

"He thinks it's stupid," she admitted, face in her hands. "Why can't I be good at this, too?"

"Oh, come here. Look, just... move. And tell me about him?"

It had been...

It had been sex.

It hadn't been, awkward, not exactly.

There hadn't been a discussion of lotions ahead of time; there hadn't been a comparison of erogenous zones.

It'd been... Like...

"Did I not say we could skip talking about this?" Thane said. "It was a mechanical act and you got bored. I heard you the first time."

"It's a long, dull ride back," Garrus said. "I wasn't even trying to compare Larein to her, but-"

"The fact that the only person you refer to as 'her' is Shepard," Thane said. "Is a sign."

"Of what?"

"Joker had a phrase he used once... I think it applies. 'Hit it and quit it'."

Garrus laughed.

"You didn't expect to find someone you trusted the first night out, did you?"

"When did you get to be the expert on loss?"

"When my wife died."

Garrus did NOT spend the rest of the trip slumped down and feeling stupid. He did not.

Thane put on headphones and watched the 'The Little Mermaid' for the rest of the trip.

"Shouldn't you be jealous?" Tosh asked, watching Jack half-dragging Shepard, who was singing a song that would have been considered rude if anyone else had known what a Quarian trapdoor was, or why it might have a knob on the end.

Ianto looked at Tosh, eyebrow raised. "Why would I be jealous of that?"

"Well, you and Jack," she said, gesturing. "But he's fond of her?"

"I don't know if you've noticed, but Jack's native tongue is 'Flirt'," Ianto said. "It's just how he is."

"You know when she first got here I thought she fancy the ladies," Tosh said, as if she was confiding something.

"She doesn't care."

"About ladies?"

"About anything. I asked."

"Why did you ask?"

"For reference," Ianto said. "And you know she actually looked like the question was confusing."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean she asked why it mattered if she wasn't trying to get pregnant."

"Huh."

***********
"Holy shit, didn't think that Scarface was actually you," crackled the radio. "Need a lift?"

"Your call sign is Joker. Yes, we would like a lift," Garrus said, from his place under the console."Preferably before I bleed anymore."

"What is it with you, and me, and scraping you up off the floor?"

"Nice to see you."

"Who's in there with you?"

"Thane. He's fine."

"No fucking way, really? Scarlet and Scarface are you two morons?"

"You're really enjoying the part where we're at your mercy, aren't you?"

"I'm already moving the ship into position, relax," Joker said. "We've got you in the best of hands, promise."

"Try not to lose our cargo either," Garrus said. Reached up, over the edge to shut off the transmitter.

"Shopping with you," Thane said, slowly. "Is an adventure."

"Oh, hell, she was ripping us off," Garrus said.

"Also the bomb."

"Also the bomb," Garrus agreed. "But we got our ammo. And the upgrades." And a shitton of contraband liquor that was probably illegal for a reason, which they'd wanted a crate of just to give out as gifts. He was going to send a few bottles out to Jack and Tali.

"Joy," Thane said.

Garrus reached back up. "Hey, Joker, want to buy a slightly used Drell, cheap?"

"Not really. Want to hire a pilot?"

"Do we get the untethered AI as a bonus?"

"It's kind of a package deal."

"But I'll still have to deal with Thane, who has learned sarcasm and, oh, apparently a rude hand gesture."

"Buck up, Scarface, you can do it."

The entire ship rattled and thumped. "Annnd, got you."

Garrus let the transmission die again.

"Slightly used?"

"You're not going to try to tell me you're mint, are you?"

The thing about this time, and this place was that the whole world seemed to be trying to slot the rest of the world into nice little categories.

Shepard thought it was annoying. Particularly the tendency of the rest of Torchwood to try to label an alien as good or bad.

Now, dangerous or not dangerous she understood. Sentient or not sentient. Self aware.

But, good or bad? That was a bit species centric.

"But the whole point of Torchwood is to protect earth," Owen said.

"One, earth would probably be fine minus all the people," Shepard said, holding up a finger. "Two, it'd be a better idea to sit down and try to get the people on this planet to accept that human is human and there's a shitload of not-human out there, upthere, and they're not worth any less than we are."

"You know I was actually told to keep her away from politics," Jack said, glancing up. "She's a well armed realist with ideals. They tend to have ripple effects on the universe when they're in the right place at the right time."

"So?" Owen said. "And you think letting her loiter around the rift, which is a never ending series of the right times, is a good idea then?"

"Well, we don't get a lot of politicians," Jack reasoned.

"Not human ones," Shepard said. "And most of the aliens we meet are not trying very hard to represent their species." She had her boots on the table.

Not because she was kicking back, but because she was repairing them. The omnitool was letting her tighten up the variable ankle support, and then she was going to give them a polish.

It had been a busy week, alright?

"So you don't value human life, then?" Owen asked.

"I don't think being human makes you worth more than being some other sentient creature," Shepard said, after a minute. "If that's what you mean. That, species superiority mindset? Never met anyone that had it that didn't leave things worse than when they started. There's pride in your people, then there's pissing on others."

"You turned that blowfish into a smear," Owen said. "You didn't even blink."

"He'd killed three people, and didn't surrender when I asked him too," she said. The alien in question had been about to kill Owen. Probably, she mused, its most redeeming feature. Certainly proof the thing had some taste. "Sometimes equal treatments means an equal opportunity to get shot in the face for being bloody stupid."

"That was fun."

"We agree to disagree," Thane said.

"I mean, no one even tried to kill us," Garrus said.

Thane crossed his arms, jaw set.

"Just in and out. Smooth as... Silk."

Silence.

"Nice of Kasumi to loan us the lock picking software."

"Hmmph."

"And the dress."

Thane was glaring now.

"Too bad we lost the custom heels though," 'Garrus said. "Who knew the man had such a fetish for ruffles?"

"I know," Thane said darkly. "I will always know."

"Well, next time think of something more pleasant," Garrus said.

"Like having a boil lanced with hot iron," Thane agreed, folding his arms.

(Moving this to here so I can put the eating stuff thing higher)

"You've got to be the only girl I know that gets happy when there's a ton of weevils running all over town."

Shepard considered this. Yes, she was smiling. Weevils were not particularly smart, had no culture, couldn't be reasoned with, and unlike the vorcha, didn't heal or talk. What was NOT to like about them?

Much better than having to kill the last of some rare species off because it didn't have a home to get back to and had figured out how to eat people's thoughts to survive.

"So?" She said, calmly disregarding the way Owen said 'girl'. Owen was an ass, but he was a useful ass, and he was a dead man already. Not a lot you could do to a dead man.

"So? What do you mean so? You're happy to just go blowing the heads off sentient races-"

"Oh, well, if it makes you feel better, I'll botch my shots like you do and let them bleed out," she said. "Thanks for that advice."

"Where'd Jack find you again?"

"Does it matter?"

"I'm getting a little tired of having to work with every pretty face he takes a fancy to, that's all, and if he's bringing back violent nutters like you-" The last few words died on his tongue.

She sort of liked knives. You got used to omniblades and not needing real steel but sometimes... Well.

"I've actually got a huge amount of self control," she said, watching the way his eye tried to focus on the knife tip. "So maybe, just maybe, you'll keep that in mind. I'm not sure why people put up with you, and Jack must have a reason for keeping you around, but I want it to be clear that I am not your girl, I am not anyone's girl." And this might be a lie but really. There were lines, and telling Owen about Garrus would result in her crossing some big ones. At speed.

"Didn't mean it like that."

"Yes, you did," she said, and her hand wasn't shaking, the blade stayed level and even. "Now... do you have anything useful to say?"

"If you're done checking your ammo, team's ready."

"I'll take a bike."

"Yeah. Thought you might. That's ready, too."

There was discussion of calling her the Normandy III, since she was the same make as the first, with the upgrade of the second, and Liara said they needed a second ship.

Joker was actually the most vocally against it, surprisingly enough.

Terrible things had happened around the first two Normandies it was time for a ship NOT named after a bloodstained beach head.

That was the first Garrus had heard of the story behind the name, and it was interesting.

He sided with Joker, and after that, everyone else agreed that the shiny new ship needed a name.

Company won by virtue of pebbles.

Pebbles in cups with labels, to be precise.

Someone had more pebbles than they should, because the final tally should have been ten, but...

Company.

"In good Company," Joker said, patting the console. "I like it."

"And it won't light up people's paperwork when you dock her. Normandy II, she's a nice ship, but she gets attention," Thane said.

Garrus nodded. People, who she'd done ridiculous things for, simple things like returning found property, would notice the ship and come pay respects. It was getting cult like, and cults made him nervous.

Not nervous. Edgy.

*********
Someone insert this way farther up.

"What.. ARE you reading?" Jack asked, damn near in her EAR.

Shepard didn't jump. "The Stallion of the Plains," she said. "In an unfortunately written love scene."

"That's got to be Tosh's."

"I don't know whose it was, it was in the break room," she said, turning the page. "Not a fan of foreplay, this writer."

A week later and she was handed a flat, gray electronic thing that looked like the long lost ancestor of the data pads she was used to.

'Here, these are better written' said the post it.

She had to admit, they were.

It looked really pretty in the pictures.

A lot of things did, though. Fire, for example.

Even people, she mused, looking at the long narrow creek. It didn't even sound particularly threatening. Just, burbled.

Thane had been quiet, pretty, and deadly as hell but he had at least dressed the part. The Strid, however, had flowers growing around it.

Pretty ones, but not otherworldly pretty.

Shepard instantly disliked it. It had no business looking harmless. "So the fact this thing swallows people whole is not, in fact, entirely due to strange geography?"

"It didn't swallow a person, it swallowed a Kovigathi, and since those are what the mermaid legends are based on, we're curious," Jack said. "Tosh? You brought the cameras?"

"They're ready," she said, double checking the barrel. "There's something keeping our scanners from mapping out the rock formations," she added.

"It doesn't like being looked at," Shepard said.

"What, the river?"

"Whatever's in there looking back at us. Also, if the river turns out to be a living thing, Owen, I will feed you my shell casings."

"Promises promises."

Shepard unhooked the re-breather, checking it again, making certain it was where she could grab it.

"One hundred percent mortality," Jack repeated. "And you know what they say about third times and charms, Shep."

The cameras were bright. Round, hard little balls, painful to look right at. The idea being that a bunch of them swirling around would create more light, would make it easier for all those tiny lenses to capture what was up.

Because coming by in daylight would have been too much effort, apparently.

Shepard didn't know why they insisted on making creepy shit creepier by doing it at night but that wasn't her call.

Anyway, the camera's looked sort of pretty falling into the water.

Swirling and sinking down to pinpricks.

She back up and stood next to Tosh while the woman fussed over the screens, fussed over the recording speed. Fussed in general.

Shepard scanned the woods instead, turned her back to the river with her feet planted on stone.

Things smelled green here, and green in a fresh and real way, not in a mossy, ship mold way that was rarely ever green in the first place. It smelled alive and working, there wasn't dust in the air, on her mouth, no metallic tang on her tongue.

She'd been on green planets before, but there had been the sharp smell of ship exhaust, strange pollens to tickle your nose, or the smell of highly filtered air.

"Thinking that you'll miss it?" Jack asked from her elbow.

He was facing the river.

She smiled, shook her head. "Thinking about how many stories I'll have," she said. "Next time I see him."

"Ah, so it is a him. That barista will be crushed," Jack said, grinning.

"Which one?"

"The little blonde one that eye fucks you every time you walk in there."

"Lily?"

"That's the one."

"Why would she be crushed because of his gender?" Shepard asked. "She didn't have a chance either way. And this is a conversation we can have later."

"Over drinks?"

"Anywhere I don't have to listen to Owen straining to hear."

"Fair enough."

"Jack, we've got bones!" Tosh said.

Shepard turned and walked with him. "Well, there should be, right? One hundred percent mortality rate?"

Tosh rewound, moved it forward.

Paused it.

Shepard looked at it moment, then chuckled. "Well, alright then," she said. "Let's go slay the dragon."

Because there were bones, yes, and tangled rags and chains, yes, skulls.

And a big, scaly head with too many teeth.

Shepard really loved the big, ugly, ravenous animals. It was tragic what they were half mad from isolation, and all that, but there wasn't any of that dubious my-species-is-better-than-yours. More like hunting rabid dogs.

They huddled around the screen, watching the tiny loop of video.

"Do we know what that is?"

"It's been there a while. "

"Does it drag people in?"

Jack shook his head. "It wouldn't have to, with this river, it might be eating carrion."

"Well, the answer's still easy," Shepard said.

"Oh?"

"We go fishing."

What would Shepard do?

"I am fairly certain," Thane said, looking at the wall high letters. "That she would not have done this."

Garrus rubbed a hand over his face. "Okay, fine, we finish this job, send the things to Joker, let him take it to Liara, and we go beat the hell out of every idiot in this cult of the Shepard."

"You think the cult of a champion of species relations would have a more liberal recruitment policy," Kasumi murmured. "Look at their scanners, they've wired then right into the weapons... Ah. Garrus... Don't... Don't stand there."

"It targets Turians?" Garrus said, sidling away from the green circle.

"Lethally, apparently."

"Not a trapdoor to a harem? They really did not know her at all," Thane said, dryly.

Garrus elbowed him. Tried to, thane merely leaned further out of the way.

"Also Krogan, Salarian, but they just get tased. Drells seem to be allowed. It also scans for fertility..."

"Does it cross reference bank accounts?"

Kasumi hummed. "Mm. No, strangely enough, but I've no doubt that the upgrades would be made in due time."

Garrus exhaled. He'd been hoping for a nice nest of space pirates, mercs. Greedy but not insane. True believers tended to be capable of taking round after round to the face and still going because crazy could be stranger than survival instinct.

"Are you insane?"

Shepard grinned and held up her glass. "No, but I am empty."

"You're not supposed to drink like that on the sort of drugs they get you for a shattered ankle," Owen said. "I'm a doctor, you know. That's an actual fact, I'm not just saying that."

"Dragon Slayers get all the liquor they can hold," Jack said, topping her off. "That was very dramatic. I had it, you know."

"Oh, you were gonna let it choke on your head?" Shepard said. "I didn't expect it to be able to fly. That was fun."

"It wasn't flying, it was jumping. YOU were flying when you let go, though," Gwen said. "Like a turkey from an airplane."

"Oh, she wasn't that ungainly till she hit it on the head," Jack said. "Maybe you should change your name from Shepard to Dragon slayer."

"Or George," Gwen added.

"Why George?" Shepard's lack of knowledge in certain area's had ceased to be much of a novelty ages ago.

"You know, Saint George? Killed a dragon? Saved the princess. Hey, Jack, you could be Princess Captain Jack Harkness!" Gwen said. "I'll loan you a book later, Shepard."

"Captain Princess Harkness," Ianto corrected.

"Saint George Shepard," Jack said. "And I like Jack."

"Just Saint," Shepard said. "I could get used to just Saint."

"You think you're that good?"

"I know a few of your Saints," she said. "Good is a subjective variable, and it's better than George."

"To Saint Shepard," Jack said. "Slayer of ravenous Dragons."

"Slayer of creatures that aren't content with just the bones of the foolish," Saint Shepard said, rather enjoying the moniker. "Thing was doing a public service until it started to lure people in. Think it's been there the whole time?"

"I saw a lot of old bones down there without teeth marks," Jack said. "Maybe a year, tops."

"You, Garrus, are officially an enemy of the servants of the way," Joker said.

"What?"

"You've gotten so good at pissing people off you don't even need to be there anymore, or work at it," Joker said. "Just got the translation of the official book of the Shepard, with annotated notes. Some asshole got into her private journal files, except they were corrupted and... It's not even all of them, and they'll all screwed up."

"What?" Garrus said. "And her private journal entries on me have made me a target?"

"Well, they're fragmented," Joker said. "And... um... Well. Look, the files on the system now, go skim it. I don't want to read it to you."

And Garrus went to his quarters and...

Didn't read it.

Private journal. That should mean something. Private meant you didn't think anyone else was going to read it.

He lasted a good ten minutes before he was pulling the file up.

... She never wrote like that.

She never said THINGS like that, and she never said things in that way.

These things were, hateful and wrong. Just reading them made him angry, tension coursing down his back, to his hands.

Nothing that...

She hadn't been a poet, and this wasn't poetry, but it was trying to be poetry and she'd never tried to be a poet, and...

He was going, he decided, to kill them all. And maybe find the man that had written this, and make him eat a data pad while explaining that you did not just lop off someone's military title without earning the right.

'The Shepard'. Honestly. They were lucky she was gone or she'd probably lose her temper.

Garrus had a self indulgent few minutes of picturing that. Granted, if he was there, her losing her temper might just be letting him shoot them all, but that still was a warm, sweet feeling.

He sat back, sighed. No wonder one night stands were all he ever felt up to.

Stupid bastards. Whole chapter in there about rising up and...

This fucking line,

The Twice risen Shepard left no mortal form to reshackle to this plain of misery.

Lack of a body didn't mean she wasn't dead. It meant she was atoms, finally too injured to get dragged back to life.

"Look, I'm just not going to believe it's dead until I see it, alright?" Gwen said. "Altogether too much popping back to life for my tastes happening around her lately, and didn't you say you died once?"

"Twice."

"Jack says you didn't die all the way the second time."

"Heart stopped. It counts," Shepard said. "When it takes a visitor from another dimension and a tear in space and time to start you back up, it counts as dead."

"The point is you were dead at least once, and you seem fine. Jack dies every damn week. Is that why you don't use a first name?"

"What?"

"Saint Shepard?"

"You gave me the nickname," Shepard said, smiling. She'd found a deep purple lipstick, and in the street light it was black lips floating on a yellow face. "I used to have a rank, alright? Commander Shepard. And from what I've been learning here, people can track you with names, they can find you in history by names. And there's forty Sheppard's in the phone book. We tried that alley yet?"

"Nope."

"Let's go look then."

"Commander of what?" Gwen asked, voice a hiss. They moved in shoulder to shoulder, guns up.

"For about a week? Biggest army in the universe," Shepard said. "It..." She stopped, kicked something. "There we go," she said. "That's three quarters of it. Minus the head. Can the head do much on its own?"

"No, thank goodness."

"Because that mess in the catacombs..."

"That's not happening again."

"Not after what you did to the bloody place, shouldn't think so."

"I did not hear a peep of complaint at the time," Shepard said.

"Where did you even FIND fifty gallon drums of binary insulation liquid at four in the morning?" Gwen said, holstering her gun, pulling gloves out of her pocket.

"It's amazing what a nice smile, a credit card, and the willingness to kick down a door will do for your ability to get things in a rush," Shepard said.

"World's your oyster."

"Shit to pearls."

"It's how much?"

Eye twitching is a human thing, to express disbelief.

Garrus did it sometimes out of habit, being around humans.

But for actual shock, the term was 'jaw dropping. Well. Mandible dropping. His jaw sagged, and his mandibles flared out.

"Half a million credits," Liara repeated. "For you. Alive. So, no, I'm not entirely behind the idea of you going to that backwaters little planet and kicking over their temple."

"It's not backwaters enough, they're attacking transit ships,"

"And the Turian Fleet will probably nuke them from orbit after what they did to the medical transport. I understand why it's personal, but you're my best, and I don't feel like losing you to those idiots," Liara said.

"They're starting to spread," Garrus said, pointing at the map. "Those idiots are starting to find other soft brained idiots to be fucking stupid with them, and they're hateful, nasty stupid..." he trailed off, muttering. Hands tightening and relaxing on the railing, looking at the baleful little bastard star in the dead center. "Liara, I don't want them to end up martyrs. I've seen what happens to religions once they start getting martyrs, they get... ugly."

"No, you want to kill them all and make it look like mass suicide."

"That's not what I said; I said at this rate it would surprise no one if they all killed themselves. Have you read the tripe they're passing off as her words?"

"Some of them are her words," Joker said.

"What? No they aren't."

"Well, I mean, here," Joker brought up the file. "This part about the planet egg omelets?"

"You can't be serious," Garrus said.

"No, it was a dream she had once," Joker said. "When she couldn't sleep she'd pace around and talk to me. It wasn't like, recurring or anything and it certainly wasn't a vision. It'd been a long day. I'm just saying, that parts of it sound accurate. Really little parts. Mostly that part. But it's all completely out of context, I mean... Look I can believe that not everything she put in her private journal was flattering, or even made sense, I just know that she didn't refer to me as her loyal hound, or you as the great betrayer."

Take a rumor, Garrus thought. Portray it as fact. Propaganda one zero one. "So they've not just put words in her mouth, they've twisted things she may or may not have actually said."

It wasn't a question, it was a statement. It was also loaded with all the classic trademarks of the calm before a shit storm, and Turians were damn good at shitstorms.

"That is how you run a good smear campaign," Liara said.
It was probably the wrong thing to say.

"Hundred days," Garrus said, finally. "I'll lay low for a hundred damn days, and if they're not radioactive rubble by then... We take care of it."

Jack lay on his back, a panting sweating mess.

"You know," he said. "When you said you wanted to blow off steam and thank me for the dance lessons... I expected the sweat... but not the bruises."

Shepard dried her hair out with a towel, a little, where sweat was sticking it to her neck. "Really?"

"Okay, a few bruises."

"Oh, just admit she taught you a few things," Gwen said, smiling over her coffee. "Saint, you're my hero for shutting him up."

"A headlock's not shutting someone up," Jack said.

"You were nattering on about how good you were at hand to hand, she put you on your ass, you shut up, she's my hero," Gwen summarized.

"I might not be in a few minutes when you get over here and I give you a few lessons," Shepard said, arms folding on her knees.

"I thought I had you for a second," Jack grumbled. "Tease. How do you even bend like that?"

"Good friend taught me the value of it," Shepard said, smiling serenely. "Flexibility trumps reach, in my experience." She laced her fingers together, arms straight out, then up, back arching, and spine crackling.

It always popped loudly around the steel in her back.

One more month, give or take, and her ride should be here. Or at least a note.

"Don't do it," Kasumi said.

Garrus waved a hand. "Have to. Do that thing you do, Kasumi. Cloak. Maybe you can slip on when they take me."

"They'll take us both," Thane said, watching the screens. "This is a very bad idea."

"Look, we're out of fuel, we're adrift, and it's a way out," Garrus said. This is what they got for taking an untested ship further than the nearest fuel depot outside the golden gates.

Damn thing had blown out four different parts while they were skidding past merc territory. At least they could set the engine to trash themselves if they had to.

Stupid experimental tech. He stood up straight, and hit transmit. "This is Garrus Varkarian, hailing the leader of the Blue Sun gunship."

You could watch on the scanners the heat of the gun starting to arm.

"Now now, we've got just enough firepower to keep you from taking us alive, you've got the scanners to know we're not bluffing," Garrus said. "How about you earn that bounty on my head by fixing this ship up. Won't cost you more than ten thousand credits worth of fuel and parts, and if you have to shoot us down to that rock we're orbiting... Well... I don't think that bounty's half as good if I'm dead."

There was silence.

"We agree to these terms of surrender," crackled the comm unit. Rough voice. Probably a Krogan.

"If they do not see Kasumi, they will take this ship as well," Thane said. "It's too valuable to let drift."

"Why are you sure they will take you?"

"Because he's worth a third of what you are, bounty wise," Kasumi said. "I deleted it from Liara's files at his request. I'm worth a pretty pocketful of credits too."

"Dammit Thane can't you shove yourself into an air vent?" Garrus said, powering down the engines slowly, leaving the weapons charged.

"Garrus Varkarian, unarmed, five minutes."

Kasumi shimmered into nothing. "You really should have gotten your girl to write more about sex and flowers, Garrus. I'll be with you."

"When I see her again, I'll tell her that."

"We're with, ah Interpol. Division six," the man was saying while he slid on sunglasses. "And if you can just look at this-" he was starting to pull something out of his jacket.

Shepard put the barrel of her gun to his forehead, and he stopped. "I'm with Torchwood. They train us to shoot people waving non-authorized alien tech, and I, personally, get jumpy when people wear sunglasses at night."

"Sport, how about you tuck that thing away. Haven't you ever heard of Torchwood?"

"No, actually, and I spent the flight over here reading all the things you handed me, and Torchwood wasn't mentioned. Can we get the gun away from my head now?"

"As soon as you lose the sunglasses."

"Now why would you want him to do that, Miss Torchwood?"

"Agent Shepard," she corrected, though agent was still a world that didn't quick-pop off her tongue. "Because he put them on before he reached for his weapon."

"Now, see, she's sharp. Know who to call if I ever have to replace you," the man said. Salt and pepper hair, solemn expression and a faint drawl to his words.

"That's not funny, Kay."

"Agent Shepard, how about you go ahead and stop threatening to ventilate Junior here's head, and tell Harkness we're here. He'll be expecting us."

She holstered the gun. Jack was already in her ear, saying something like, haven't seen him since Paris!.

Kasumi rewired the vents, again. Dry air poured into Thane's cell, and he relaxed a little.
It'd take more than a day to get him sick, Kepral's Syndrome was a condition that took years of exposure, but the circumstances of his recovery had been strange at best.

And she knew it worried him. Knowing you had six months focused your life, knowing you had until someone killed you expanded it...

Not knowing if the steam from soup could choke you, less relaxing.

"Where've they got Garrus?"

"In chains in the middle of a courtyard, too damn many guards. He's only still alive because they can't decide how to kill him."

"What can we do?"
"I don't know yet," Kasumi said. She looked over Thane's bunk, the sink.

Dirty, with rags. She smiled. "Perfect." She tossed him a duffel bag that clanged with weapons. "I rewired the door, you can open it. Or lock it. Get that communicator on, and I'll keep scouting. They seem to be waiting for a nice planetary alignment, which in this system gives Garrus about a month."

"All those pretty lights," Thane said. The bag got tucked under the cot, and he stretched out on top of it. "Will he make it a month?"

"They're feeding him, and trying to get him to confess. So far they're using logic and that damned book, and he's upsetting them a lot. The way he shuts down and ignores them, you'd think he was part Drell. Miles away."

Thane nodded. "I'll wait for your word," he said. "Please describe the layout again."

*************
"The eighties called, they want those sunglasses back," Jack said, pushing coffee into her hands.

"They were a gift," Shepard said, leaning her head back. "Maybe I love them."

"I'm glad you hit it off so well with the good Agent Kay," Jack shook his head as he spoke.

"I mean, I wish it hadn't resulted in his partner running about here for three hours being such a prude but..."

"You come on strong," Shepard said. "Not everyone equates honest statements of intent with safe."

"You're defending him?"

"Nope. I didn't like him either. Especially since he kept trying to offer to teach me things," she snorted. "Anyway, Agent Kay and I had a lovely dinner out. We discussed trans galactic relationships and universal themes that crop up in literature from species to species. The difference between cultures that get an endorphin rush while dating and the ones that don't. It was a long evening, we both drank far too much, and he gave me a present."

"Those fashion nightmares on your face?"

"They go with this," she said, tossing the silvery, cigar like thing up.

"Oh, he must really like you," Jack said, trying to grab it and failing. "I've been trying to talk him into sharing that forever. You've got to let Tosh scan it or-"

"Ahh, no, he says no scanning unless you share that damn tea recipe. Does he mean your amnesia tea?"

"That or the east India punch recipe that he liked so much in Paris," jack said. "We had to reprogram the Eiffel Tower. It was a whole thing." He made a face. "Did he make you give your word?"

"Yuup," she said, tucking it away.

"Why would they even use the tea? They're in America, they drink coffee and soda and they don't usually use tea to fix everything they way they do here. I mean..." He sighed. "I really want one of those."

"Maybe you should try having nicer tits then," Owen suggested from the door.
Shepard gave Jack just enough of a smile that he put his hands over his eyes.

"You've got something really important in the other room, and it'll take you ages to find it," Shepard said.

Owen blinked.

"Okay, no more of that," Jack said, warning finger. "Not until I get a pair of shades like that."

"Oh, that reminds me," she said, producing a case. "He said... Not to forget him."

Jack opened the case and laughed. "Ray bans. Nice."

*************
She'd found out what had happened to Kasumi, Thane and garrus when she'd gotten reports of the ship they'd been bringing back getting sold for parts.

Engine burnt out, unsalvageable but the rest of the ship was identifiable and them she'd heard that the bounty had been filled...

Liara exhaled. "I can hire mercs for a frontal assault but the cult's got three different habitable moons."

"We gotta do something," Joker said. "I mean..."

"Narrow down which planet they're on," Liara said. "Narrow it down and we'll storm the place."

"Two weeks?"

"Two weeks. Think you can live without me?"

"We'll manage," Jack said. "I mean, you've been here almost three years, you'll be heading home soon, in theory, you might as well have a vacation it's not like what we pay you'll do you much good. Where you going?"

"New York."

"Going to visit Agent Kay while you're there?" Jack asked.

She pushed the sunglasses up her nose. "You bet." He'd actually invited her.

"If they make you buy a suit, Torchwood'll reimburse you," Jack said.

"It's a vacation, I'm not going to just go to work."

"Uh huh. And if you fill out a timecard, I'll have them pay you."

"It's a vacation."

She came back three weeks later with a suitcase full of souvenirs, a burn mark that was almost artistic down the her left side from her ribs to her knee, and a extremely crisp, perfect, black suit.

Jack didn't even consider resisting the 'I told you so', but he did say thank you for the noisy cricket she'd brought back.

Garrus was always under guard.

But they weren't military; they didn't know how to guard properly.

They kept their eyes on the prisoner, for one thing.

Kasumi slipped past them easily.

They were believers; they thought they already had the anti-Shepard in chains.

Today they'd winched the chains tight, so he had to kneel or crouch. Six chains from the neck, radiating outwards, set in heavy stone. Low tech, easy to shoot off but there were six, you'd need six good shots, six perfect shots and he'd still have six big heavy chains around his neck.

Crazy bastards with guns.

Not nearly enough cover.

She put her hand on Garrus's shoulder.

He didn't flinch but his head turned.

And he lowered his head. "I'm getting tired."

And probably hungry, she thought. Turians didn't get much out of human food; it was a damn starvation diet. He was starting to get a slightly glossy look to his hide. "I can try to change the rations, see if there's anything more palatable."

"Not of that. Tired of them. Babbling about her love. Never met her never knew her, never-"

"If the next words out of your mouth are never loved her and you get maudlin, I'm going to come back with a syringe full of a sedatives."

"Of course they never loved her. If they'd ever loved her, they'd stilllove her. She was not a woman that let go," Garrus said. "And I was going to say, never even saw her, see that statue?"

"That one- that's supposed to be her?" Kasumi said. "In... In that dress?"

"I know, right?" He looked up at it, frowned. "Her waist is much wider than that. More supportive."

"It's corset," Kasumi said. "Thought Turians liked narrow waists?"

"Turians have narrow waists, and admire..." He trailed off. "We like that general area. Strong, attractive Turian woman actually have thicker waists. It's like broad shoulders."

"Or wide hips?"

"I suppose so," he said. "Breast are probably right, but she never wore them that high."

"Huh. I think they based it off an old statue. Saw one a bit like it," Kasumi said. "Huh. I wonder how much plastic explosive I can fit in it."

"Why?"

"I'm thinking these people need a miracle. Hang in there."

Shepard was pacing.

Jack watched her. "I know what you're thinking."

"What am I thinking?"

"How can a time traveler be late?"

"Mm. Not actually what I was thinking, but close."

"If he judges wrong and lands in two months, then he can't just go back to now, because it sets a portion of the timeline."

"Useful to know."

"So no hijacking the Tardis and going back and stopping yourself from dying, or anything like that."

"I figured that would backfire," Shepard said. "I'm having... I'm just pacing."

"What's got you spooked then? Worried your boy got married, moved on?"

"Rather find that than find him in a bottle with survivor's guilt. I'm actually... concerned that the universe will be a mess and I'll have to fix it. Again."

"Well, of course it will be," Jack said. "There's always another windmill."

"My windmills are real."

"Oh, you're actually reading your way through that eBook?"

"Yes," she said. "I think I'll take it with me. I'm sure I can find a way to charge it."

Shepard had prepared herself for a lot.

Had prepared herself to find that Kasumi was in jail, that Liara's job as the shadow broker had cost her her life, that Garrus had managed to blaze of glory himself out this time, that Joker'd broken his neck, that EDI had defragmented herself into a zombie...

So many things that time could do, and she'd gotten herself ready for... Almost all of them.

But that little bit of unexpected...

The man she had grabbed by the throat had pissed himself.

It wasn't doing him any good.

Shepard was squeezing tight now, and the only thing keeping her from pulling out a knife and starting to cut cut cut was...

Habit. Need for knowledge. The fact that the more she knew the better the odds of...

She bared her teeth. The man's feet did not touch the floor, it was amazing the strength that rage gave you. It was tunneling her vision down, it felt like sex and dying and she thought for a moment of Jack, with her tattoos and her rage. And she made herself relax.

At least enough the man could talk.

"You're the Shepard, you've come back to see the wicked punished!" he babbled.

"I am CommanderFucking Shepard, and you'd better say it right next time," she snapped. "Look at me. Look at my face. My eyes. Am I the person you've got a big, fuck off painting off on the damn ceiling?"

Because that WAS her, wasn't it? Her armor had not been transparent, her breasts did not look like that, she didn't have a piercing there, it had all been rather traumatic, and then she'd spotted fuckhead in a robe. He'd been laying on his back with his hands full STARING at it.

"Tell me what the hell you mean by punishing the wicked. If you're doing it in my damn name, I want the details," she said. "Why are there little whales floating around my head?"

And he told her. And then, because he mistook incredulous and dumbstruck for calming down, he told her the good news about the great betrayer.

There are, out there, actual species whose moods control the temperatures of the area immediately around them. Humans are not on this list. Nothing in Commander Shepard's universe was.

She gave it a spirited attempt.

Too frozen with ice water in her blood to kill the man outright.

And when she spoke, her voice sounded.. distant. "How many Earth solar years have you been alive?"

"I... what?"

"How. Old. Are. You. If. You. Don't. Mind."

"In... Earth years, I'm... twenty or so?"

She was already putting on her sunglasses.

She could revert him to goddamn infant, she knew she could.

"And when did you become a believer?"

"I was eighteen, and-"

zzzzZZZZZZ-

"Look at the light."

ZOT.

His face relaxed. Herelaxed. She let go of him.

Only took the last few days.

"Look at me. Do you know who I am?"

"You're the..." and there were some things fear pressed in that even a neuralyzer couldn't quite scrub out. "Commander Shepard Fucking."

"Close enough. I'm the one on the ceiling," she smiled. "I'm the goddamn messiah, I'm back and I'm pissed. Go warn your friends the skies are falling, and sell it. You have my lover and right hand chained to a rock. I am NOT PLEASED." She hit his chin, pointed his head up at that stupid fucking mural, and left.

The screaming started behind her. She smiled grimly.

"Kasumi!" Thane pressed his hand to the glass. "What's going on out there?"

"They've been hitting the Kool-aid," Kasumi said, uncloaking. "Four of them so far have started screaming that the end times are here and the followers need to repent and donate everything they have to charity."

"Is Garrus unguarded?"

"Unfortunately, no, the bulk of the religious debates seem to be taking place around him, and he's not helping the matter."

"How so?" Thane strapped the pistols on, feeling better. They'd never been far from his fingers. Still.

"He won't stop laughing."

It was the closest thing to sex she'd had in five damn years.

Well, not really but...

Sliding on that weapon pack and finding out her gun fit in it, loading up fresh heat magazines(?). So much better than trying to get the ten she had with her to vent their heat and not explode. Feeling it tighten up and... settle into place.

She took a moment to make certain that she could still operate one of these. Left the pistols in the thigh holsters. Made certain that the neuralyzer was in place.

Assholes. How'd they get a set of N7 armor anyway? She didn't strap it all on, just enough of it to work with her vest, to give her some gloves.

Wasn't ready for a space walk, but she didn't intend to take one.

Motion down the hall.

Waydown the hall. Rows of boxes of artifacts of the Shepard.

She wished she'd brought grenades. Wished she still had ammo for her big gun, but for now...

She moved to the wall, moved quietly.

Stopped.

She recognized that ripple in the air. Maybe. She took a moment to flip open 'the Book of the Way' and scrolled down the list of the enemies.

She'd passed an empty, open cell with the label '(taaaaak makeup a naame)' freshly carved into the stone above it.

Scrolled down.. The Weapon...

And she smiled. And strode towards the far end of the hallway. "Thane Krios!" she yelled. "Shepard's Weapon, what the hell sort of name is that? Tell me that's Kasumi, I want good news!"

There was dead silence.

She knew the silence. It wasn't quiet, confused silence, it was... staring silence. "We had to follow your son's target for three solid hours," she said. "That's not in this Way, now is it?"

Still silence.

"How long's it been?"

A shift. One of them was moving forward. She let her hand rest light on the hilt of the kbar on her left hip. Just in case.

"Commander Shepard," Thane said.

From her left. She smiled. "Still got it."

"It's been five years. Nearly," Thane said. looking at her closely.

His lips moved slightly, he was reliving something, but she waited. Probably just... comparing her now to her then.

Fair enough. She probably needed a haircut. "And Kasumi?"

"I'm right here," she said. "Is it really you? Of all the things for the cultists to be right about..."

"I don't think they'd be here if they ever expected any rebuttal from on high," Shepard said. "Now, fill me in on everything leading up to Garrus being chained up for a stoning, and do it quickly."

The leader was annoyed. Garrus was grinning, because it looked like they were going to kill a few of themselves off. They'd get to him eventually, sure but... he'd get to watch a few bleed out first.

This was vaguely pleasing and he might have been getting close to delusional.

The heretic was bleeding from the face now, heavy hood knocked back. "But she is HERE, she is COME."

"You better hope not," Garrus said, laughing. "She'd think you guys hid your head up your collective asses. She'd be right."

"She is coming and she is not happy with us!" The heretical one tried to start up again and The Leader, who Kasumi had referred to as 'king sheep', struck him again with his staff.

"Lock him up! Gather the others and lock them up as well, this heresy must be stopped," he said. "Heat the irons! And you, get away from the Great Betrayer!"

Garrus turned his head, fractionally. It hurt, his joints all ached since he hadn't stood up straight for days. But one of those hooded idiots had gotten close enough to lash out and grab and they weren't fighters. They might have guns but they were not fighters.

Which mean it was surprising that he felt a knife pressing into his neck. Just the tip, up under his jaw. The cultist had gone down easily enough, but he'd twisted in Garrus's grip like a fish and now there was a knife pressing into his skin, at a soft spot in the leathery plates.

"Huh. Didn't know you bastard's bothered to study Turian anatomy," he managed, Keeping his head back as far as it could go before his tongue got cut off from the outside.

He had his hand around a throat but... They had the clear advantage. She had, actually. Felt female anyway unless the men wore those corset things under their robes.

"Betrayer I will strike you down, release the follower!" The leader yelled. he had to yell because one of the other bruised-looking ones had worked the gag out of his mouth and was weeping that they were all going to burn. The leader cursed and turned to rain blows on the person he knew wouldn't fight back.

The blade point.. relaxed. Stayed against skin but Garrus could lower his head a little.

Not a lot. Enough to see into the hood.

"Someday I'm not going to be around to save your ass, Vakarian," Shepard said. "Now close your eyes tight, I think we've got their attention," and she turned her head into his shoulder and shut her eyes TIGHT, other arm going up as if she was holding a torch.

zzzZZzzz-ZOT

Kasumi didn't know if the glasses really worked for her, style wise.

As far as actual functionality went, they were doing nicely.

"Do you think that she's being kind?" Thane asked.

"It depends on what she's making them believe just happened. That's a terrifying little toy she's got," Kasumi said. "And those glasses look ridiculous on you."

Captain Jack's head simply wasn't shaped the same way as Thane's, but they stayed on.

She'd had to zap them four times, so far.

The first two times hand just been to keep them stunned while she got that heavy collar off Garrus.

The third time was because a few started to come out of it while she used said collar to smash in the leaders face, because Garrus's neck was one big raw infection waiting to happen.

It was a little annoying to have to put your arm up everytime, but not the worse thing ever.

She probably could have worn her shades, not given them to Kasumi but she'd wanted her face clearly visible.

"Explain how that works again?"

"Wipes out the memory. Short or long term. Leaves a gap, and if you give them an idea to fill the gap with, they'll take care of the details," she said. turned to look at him. "Can you walk?"

"If it gets me out of here, I'll learn to fly," he said. "Loan me a weapon."

She reached back, paused. "Do you believe it's me?"

"I want to," he said, after a moment. "So much I think I must be missing something. I saw you die."

She handed over a shotgun. "Yeah. I was there too," she said. "I can wipe their minds all the way to childhood. I could take just today, we could walk out while they're confused. We could shoot them."

She looked around at them. Stupid, narrow-minded people.

"That's a terrifying toy," Garrus said.

"I know," she said. She'd probably have to return it. This universe has had enough people trying to change its mind, and even Garrus was looking at it with slight concern. Then again... Who else could you trust with it?

She held it out. "Here. Hold onto it, if it's got you worried," she said. "Thane and Kasumi've got the protective glasses on, they'll be immune, and it's only set to ten minutes now, so if you zap us both Kasumi can fill us in."

It looked tiny in his hand but that was true of a lot of things.

"You look like hell," she added, since the gesture said 'I still trust you to the end' on her behalf.

"You look good for a dead woman," Garrus said. "But you always did."

She swung her arm, clipped one of the slowly blinking to awareness idiots on the temple with the . "Do you know if the guard are believers or mercs?"

"Mercs. I suppose you're going to tell me that we can just use this thing and tell them they haven't been paid."

"You could," she said. "They'd probably execute their clients before they check their receipts."

He looked at the thing a moment longer, then held it out. "No, you keep it." Or, in other words, I trust you too.

Shepard looked at him and did not feel a slow bloom start in her rib cage. Because it wasn't a good time for that and anyway he looked tired and they had to get out. She looked at the neuralyzer instead, then tucked it away. With a nod.

"The way of the Shepard," intoned one of the swaying cultists. "Purify the body and soul and afhgh-"

He trailed off a little because Garrus shot him in the knee. "What do you already know about the cultists?"

"I know I really hate them," Shepard said. "I know that the only thing keeping me from killing them all is the fact someone I owe a favor asked me not to lose my temper completely."

"Must have been a hell of a favor."

"It was. Though, I didn't say I'd stop you," she said, smiling. Stepping closer for a second, then turning. "Come on."

"I think having their Shepard show up and correct their idiot's guide to getting it all wrong as hell might have be enough," he said.

"Not theirShepard," she said, firmly.

"Oh, just kiss," Kasumi's voice crackled in her ear. "But give Garrus a comm, I think we've got a way out. At least a way farther from the base, where you two can continue this frankly precious little interaction."

Shepard could hear Thane sighing.

Shepard flicked off the unit in her ear a moment. "How long have they been...?" She asked, handing over the communicator. Watching the head's up display click on.

"Hopefully not yet, or I'll lose the pool," Garrus said. "Right now Joker'll get all the money, and then he'll be even more insufferable than ..." He trailed off.

"What's wrong?" She turned her head, trying to see what he was seeing.

Then he made a strange little noise and half pulled her in, half collapsed on her. They were fortunate a wall was nearby, or they would have fallen over.

She took a sharp inhale and that metallic tang of his sweat hit the back of her throat. Her legs didn't buckle because that was a stupid reaction, but they straightened and she had him pressed to the wall in a surge.

Blood on her face, slightly itchy, because the collat had stripped his skin down layer by layer and... She swallowed, felt anger boiling up and over again. Shutting her eyes. "Kasumi's right," she said. "We can do this later, when we've gotten you patched up and... We will do this later. Ready to fly for me?"

"Always," he said, nodding. "You can... You can tell me what took so long." He brushed her hair back, tucked it behind her ear. Forehead to hers.

Everyone in the courtyard was standing around, confused. Except the ones that were bleeding.

Or the ones that were babbling about angry messiahs.

Confused people, some of whom had gotten different levels of neuralyzing, some of whom had heard more of the conversation than others...

Thane paused by the security center, leaning over the now unconscious guard to observe the screens. "That was quick."

"What was?" Garrus asked, shoving himself back into his gear. It fit loosely, but it would do, and after a few dozen square meals he'd be fine.

"They're doing what every religion does when its dogma is questioned," Thane said.

"Have a great big bloody row," Shepard said, glancing at the screen.

"A what?" Kasumi asked. "That's a strange term."

"It's been a strange few years," Shepard said. "It's all tied up with the wormholes. Five years here, three years for me there but some of the colloquialisms stuck."

"Almost five years," Garrus corrected.

Glory, glory on high, there was a little system puddle jumper of a ship. It had a few guards. for a few minutes, and then it was gone.

Somehow a fire had started in the compound that may have started with Shepard taking a few minutes to lob bottles of ice brandy at the soft-core sistine chapel.

And now they were wedging four into a vehicle meant for three. Shepard just pushed Kasumi into Thane's lap to make room, and took the helm. Garrus gave her a look but didn't comment.

Didn't look up to it, really. he'd limped most of the way, not because of a specific injury so much as every muscle screaming from being held in a crouch for so long.

"Kasumi, tell where I want to fly in this thing. I don't recognize the model."

"We can make it to one of the relays in a day," Kasumi said. "the engine on this should last that long. They didn't have any guns in the air, keeping a low profile."

"But the relays are gone. The last thing I remember seeing here was... Was the sky burning," except ...There'd been more and... "You mean the golden things?"

"You've seen them?"

"I saw them be created, but I wasn't in the best condition to observe exactly what was happening," she said. "And I got the impression that even if I had been looking and feeling my best I still would have been lost."

"We're going to have time, you know," Kasumi said. "Even the way you drive, we've got time."

And Shepard sighed, turned on autopilot, and recounted what she could, as best she could. Focused on the first few days, when she'd been feverish, weak, and snarling for answers, and Jack had been trying to help figure a few of them out

Not that the Doctor told them much.

"What is it with you and men with titles for names?" Kasumi said. "Illusive Man. The Doctor."

"The Master Thief?" Shepard asked.

"This is... yes, I suppose."

"Anyway, Captain Jack never went by just Captain, most of the time. The others just had names," Shepard reached over, put her hand to Garrus's neck.

It was tricky to check a Turian's pulse through that thick skin but it was still there. His eyes slitted back open, head tilting against the touch.

"Just checking."

"You try to sleep with chanting half the night," he said.

"But you can tune me out?"

"You're soothing. I'm not passing out, or dying on you, Shepard. I'm just tired."

"Kasumi, how about you fill me in for a while instead?"

By the time the little transport was in the relays'... current, for lack of a better word (Joker would know the term), they'd gotten the hard facts out of the way and were telling stories.

Garrus was asleep. It looked a lot like unconscious except an occasional arm or leg twitch would jerk him back to startled awareness, and he'd look around before settling back down. Bit like a cat.

"And it'll be forty five minutes later when we get out the other side?"

"Things sent through the relays take forty five minutes to arrive, from the point of view of someone waiting for a delivery. There are more than a few ships that drop crops with a forty five minute turn around, but since the crew ages normally, it's not cheap."

"Of course there are," Shepard said, smiling. Some things never changed. Show a group of people a glowing portal to travel the stars, and someone will make a profit off it. It was deeply comforting. "No one's hunting the space whales yet?"

"They're trying, but failing," Thane said. "They have a separate but much... milder cult."

"There is a lot of patchouli and hand holding," Kasumi said. "Occasional boycotts and political rallies to leave the whales in peace. Sometimes they do drum circles."

"And I inspire homicidal cultists," Shepard said with a sigh.

"And at least one now ruined piece of art."

"It would have been nice to find out that there was another charity in my name, instead. How did they get my journal, anyway?"

"As best we can tell, right after you died the Normandy had to be docked for a full tune up," Thane said. "And one of the technicians took several of your things as souvenirs."

"I keep finding them in private collections," Kasumi said. "And there's a big market for memento memorabilia for anyone involved in the... ahem... 'Great Ascension'."

Shepard groaned.

"Amazing how coming back from the dead and then traveling via beam of light can inspire people," Thane said, dryly.

"Yes, amazing. We can't send out a signal from here?"

"No, not inside the current," Kasumi said. Then hummed. "Thane, do you still have those terrible glasses Shepard gave you? Put them on now."

"What are you seeing?"

"It's not a joker."

"A what?"

"That's the other name for them, Jokers," Kasumi said. "Do you see them, Thane?"

"Yes."

Shepard waited patiently for a full half minute before holding her hand out. Kasumi sighed and returned the dark lenses.

Through the dark glass, faintly shimmering lines laced over the walls of the pathway. Like spiderwebs.

"Probably part of what holds it all together," she said, finally. "He did say it was high class knitting."

Joker was glad to have everyone back.

He was more than a little concerned about the new passenger, though. Kasumi had a sort of glee in her tone that he'd never trusted when she'd told him he'd just love it, and the last time she'd said THAT it had involved hot peppers and he may or may not have gotten ill.

He still screamed like a girl when a fucking GHOST pulled the back of the pilot's seat down and smiled in his face.

"Hey, calm down," she said, backing off.

"No, wait, wait, what, I... the cultists were right! You came back!"

Shepard arched an eyebrow.

"Well, they were right about that," he said, staring at her. "I mean, how did you even- where have you BEEN? Everyone saw you get, sucked up and the- you were gone I mean, we looked for your body but-" He stopped when she hugged him.

"Heard you got the relay whales named after you."

"I... I mean, yeah, I did but it wasn't on purpose, " he said, flopping back into his seat.

He looked dazed. She wondered how long he'd had to adapt to the idea of her being alive the first time, before he'd sauntered in pleased and smug. She supposed he'd had almost two years of "we're bringing her back to life" the first time, though.

"Yes, well. found a good doctor," she said. "How are you?"

"Glad to have you back, and everyone else too, I mean.. Liara's been shaking down people trying to figure out where to send mercs, and.. you just. Does she know you're here yet? Are you going to sneak up on her, too?"

"She doesn't know yet, but I was going to say hello from across the room. She's got quicker reflexes than you do, when it comes to being startled anywhere but the helm." She ruffled his hair, twisting his cap around backwards. "She was going to send mercs?"

"Hey, her heavy hitters got caught by cultists somehow, she wasn't going to let them rot but..." he shrugged. "Who was she going to send?"

Shepard opened her mouth to list a few names, but they were people that owed HER, not Liara... Though certainly there should have been enough camaraderie to talk them into it...

Oh well.

She'd have to go visiting.

Later.

""i'm going to the medical bay. Tell Liara I'm alive and I'll see her later."

"Enjoy the upgrades."

And if in all the activity on the ship as the word spread wildly, Kasumi and Thane were out of sight somewhere, well, it was not commented on till later.

She stepped into the elevator and sighed. hit the down button and leaned on the wall.

"Please hold railing," chimed a voice.

"Why?" Shepard started to ask, but the sudden LURCH answered that.

She was still picking herself off her ass when the doors opened. Right floor and everything.

Upgrades. That was... Okay, that was awesome.

It also meant she had to be all the way ready when she stepped into the elevator. No more last minute hairbrushing. Good to know. Least she hadn't dropped the brandy.

They'd changed the label. She was reading it as she walked into the med bay. "Preferred brand of Commander Shepard," she muttered. "I better get a free case out of that."

Then again, dead woman made no royalties. Hmm.

"Dr. Chakwas," she paused in the door. Garrus was out again, throat wrapped in white, large I.V. in place. The little blinking lights looked stable, though. Like she knew what she was talking about.

"Commander," Chakwas responded, chair smoothly swiveling around to face the door.

"One of these days, you'll pick this up," Shepard said, holding out the bottle with a wry smile and trying to maintain eye contact. The doctor was an old friend, and it wasn't her fault Garrus was hurt. It was just a preoccupying thought. "When did they stick my name on it?"

"Around three months after your death, I believe," she responded, taking the bottle elegantly by the neck. "Most thought it was poor taste, even though official estimates of the likelihood of your survival were... low. It was uncouth not to wait until the search and rescue teams had officially declared you to be missing and presumed lost, most probably vaporized due to proximity."

"How was the funeral?" It was a stupidly grim question but still.. "Did the people who went to the first one get special seating?"

"Most of us didn't go, to be frank. It was too grim. And we'd done it all before."

"Good," Shepard said, pulling up a chair. leaning back. "At this rate I might actually get to the next one." Maybe in the box, maybe out of it.

"Perhaps. Try not to let it be your own, hm? Can't have one person hogging the entire funerary budget." Not to mention the death or glory aspect of their lives to date. Remaining seated, Chakwas leaned over and produced a couple of cloth-wrapped glasses out of her personal desk cabinet.

Shepard's eyes flicked to Garrus before she remembered she wasn't dealing with Owen, who would probably drink while performing surgery if anyone would let him, and certainly wouldn't give a toss about an alien that didn't have a nice pair of tits on the front. She uncorked the bottle instead. "I've never actually set out to die," she said mildly.

"And yet you've managed it twice," Chakwas stated, uncorking the bottle with a practiced hand and pouring for them each a small glass. "Some would say that in itself proves you have a death wish."

"But I come back. Life wish. And my heart only stopped for a little while the second time. If I'd been on your table you probably could have saved me."

"Perhaps, but you weren't. Two chances is more than most get, especially when the conditions of their deaths aren't in ideal conditions."

"But not the most possible," Shepard said. "You know, I met a man who could not die? A walking miracle. Taught me how to dance."

"Everyone can die, Shepard. It's merely a matter of how." Chakwas's look was amused, chiding. She knew that better than most.

"Not anytime soon for this man," Shepard said. "I don't mean, bullets always missed him, I mean.. He'd die. And then be... not dead. Not healing up, just... not dead. Like it didn't stick."

"Oh, Shepard. In my long career, I have seen soldiers walk away from injuries that I would swear they should have died from, only to see others felled by a toothache. There are reasons for legends of warriors that could only be killed in a certain way. Perhaps this man just hasn't found his yet."

Shepard started to open her mouth, and closed it. Jack made no sense, until you met him, and then he made a sort of negative sense where you just gave up and accepted it as a fact. Fire was hot, Ice was cold, Jack was impossible to kill. "Maybe," she said. "but not for lack of trying."

And had anyone yet reduced him to ash? "Those who find themselves somehow invulnerable tend to do that," Chakwas said, sipping. "I imagine it gets boring."

"It turns into a strategy," Shepard said. "A disturbing one."

"Hoping it'll stick?"

"Hoping it won't stick at an inopportune time," Shepard said. Decided not to even discuss Owen's... condition.

"Mmm. I suppose."

"How'd you end up on the Company?" She gestured, indicating the rather new looking walls, the slightly sleeker styling of the glass.

"Oh, largely for the same reasons I ended up on the Normandy the second time. Joker will always need me, and I find myself most comfortable on a ship. And this crew knows me."

"Never going to take that heroes retirement," and it wasn't really a question. Shepard topped off both the glasses. "Aside from cults and space whales, anything else crop up overnight?"

"Not terribly much. All in all, it's been fairly quiet. Though, it seems that may be about to change."

"It seems to be a theme with my life," Shepard agreed. "So, apparently, I don't have a room anymore. Unless you need all the bed, do you mind me using one?" Plus I'm not leaving, period, so you might as well give me something with lumbar support.

"Not at all, while we unearth your quarters from mothballs. Goodness knows I've used them often enough myself."

"To strange reunions," Shepard said, chuckling. "I am glad it wasn't preserved as some sort of. Shrine."
"Shepard, we would never. The cultists would have stolen everything in it, without our useless junk occupying the space."

Shepard woke up in the middle of the night when something tapped her ankle.

The clattering noise when she kicked out told her it had been a tongue depressor.

"Glad to see you're still as alert as ever when sleeping your way to a hangover," Liara said.

Shepard put her face into her pillow and groaned. "That is exactly what I'm doing, yes. Hello. Hi."

"Joker told me half a story, but was trying to get the rest from Katsumi," Liara said. "I want to hear it from you."

"When did we get to your base?"

"A while ago. I did let you sleep a decent amount of time," Liara said. "And the good doctor informed me Garrus would be quite asleep at least another six hours, even factoring how stubborn he is." Liara smiled. "didn't want to interrupt anything."

"I was glad to hear that everyone found a place," Shepard said. "All that running towards the finish line... I'm glad you're doing well."

"Well, I'd have hired everyone you ever called a teammate except some of them had responsibilities to go back too," Liara said. "So the ship consists of everyone who had nowhere better to be."

Shepard tucked her feet back under the blankets, telling herself she was awake. "And you have them running ops?"

"Ops, transactions, money transporters..." Liara shrugged. "Anything I need, various shades of grey."

"Y'hiring?"

"Shepard, if you want to take the Normandy II and everyone who'll go with you, it's yours," Liara said, sitting on the edge of the bed. "The crew works well because of you, because they learned how to with you, and they've been very profitable."

Shepard thought about that. "I don't know what I'm doing next," she said. "When I was waiting to get back, I didn't plan much beyond tracking everyone down again. I didn't want to plan beyond what I knew I could accomplish."

"Since when?"

"When all I'm risking is disappointment, I don't always bet it all," Shepard said with a laugh. "I knew I could find out what happened to everyone if I looked. Even if it was bad news."

"And what if you'd found out that the last someone had been heard of was two years about when their ship went down in the hanar cluster?"

"Then finding out what happened would take longer," Shepard said. "Why? Who's lost?"

"No one that I'm aware of. And they do all keep in touch, and I see all of that," Liara said. "Relax. No one needs rescuing. Anymore." She exhaled. "I was wondering when you'd arrived, really. Did you just start looking everyone up, find out about the cult, and head there?"

"No," Shepard said. "Not at all. My ride back dropped me off on that particular moon without warning me what was happening, in fact."

"The time traveller."

"And universe jumper, when it suits him," she rubbed the back of her neck, let out a long slow breath. "Meddler, but I can't complain. How's Feron?"

"We're fine. I mean, he's fine," Liara said, but she was smiling.

"Heh. Called it."

"Oh, shut up. If you knew how long ago I called this..."

"I won't know if you don't tell me."

"Alright, maybe not exactly you two, but I certainly knew you wouldn't be happy with a follower."

"He follows me."

"Yes, but you also follow him," Liara said.

"Wait, you let her keep what?"

"Oh, well," the Doctor grinned at Jack. "Not my universe. No fixed points in it anymore, not for a very long time, so yeah, let her keep it."

Jack shook his head.

"It was actually supposed to end," the Doctor said. "And restart itself and I broke that endless cycle, and hey presto, what's the worse she could do with a neuralyzer?"

Jack gave up.

Garrus woke up with cool feet pressed to his thigh.

That was normal, except that it hadn't been for a while, and thatwoke him the rest of the way up.

Medbay...

Ah. The Medbay on the Company.

Shepard must have taken off her socks. He blinked and, focused.

Her hair was longer, because she was dead. No, wait.

Memories clicked into place.

Being captured hadn't been a nightmare, and her showing up and saving his ass (again) hadn't been a dream.

This was.. that. That was good.

That was insanely good.

He was actually glad to have such a literal pain in his neck there as a reminder he probably wasn't dreaming.

He curled his fingers around an ankle and tugged. She looked like she'd fallen asleep in the chair while reading.

"Hey, you're awake," she smiled, unguarded and almost drowsy. "Right on time."

"Well I try not to keep you waiting."

"Mm," she wriggled those strange little toes of hers when he ran a fingertip over them. "No, you're usually waiting on me. I'm sorry."

"Yeah, well. I didn't realize I was waiting this time," he said.

She paused and started to pulled her legs back, but he didn't let go of her ankle. "Look, if you've moved on," she started, stomach dropping.

"I'm not saying I didn't try to," he said, gripped tightening. "And it'd mostly stopped hurting, but... no. Did you?"

"I knew I was coming back," she said, relaxing. Nearly going limp with giddy relief and trying not to look to pleased about it. "And I knew that as far as you knew, I was dead. I've actually been dreading having to look happy for you if you'd settled down."

"Would you have been mad?"

"Just heartbroken," Shepard said.

"Can't have that," he thumbed her ankle bone a moment. "You look cold."

"I was just thinking you looked warm," she agreed, standing up. Setting the reader down and taking up the space he made for her. Curling up next to him like a lizard on a rock and being careful to mind the I.V. Eying the white bandages. "I don't have an actual thing for scars, you know, you can stop getting hurt anytime."

"Noted. What next?" He asked, hand slipping to her hip. Thumb hooking into a loop on her belt.

"That's tomorrow's problem. It can stay there for a while."

~Fin~
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