ME3 spoilers ahoy! Man the life boats! Abandon all hope ye who intend to play the game through legit! Rated M for marines with marine mouths, marines with guns, and Big Damn Hero swagger. Also, proofing is for chumps (as is sleep... oh god, I'm tired).


Limbo – chapter 1

All Lost Things

3/26/12


"Not exactly what I thought death would be like. There is no bar, for starters." Commander Jane Shepard said bluntly.

If this was what death was like – it was actually remarkably similar to being stuffed in a car trunk while listening to drill sergeant barking orders outside the door. It was dark, crowded and stuffy while somehow also feeling vast and there was a sense of motion. It wasn't really 'motion' like Commander Shepard knew it though with bumps and jarring impacts. It was more like looking down at a speedometer and going 'oh shit, I really shouldn't be going this fast'kind of motion. That kind of speed-check had always been followed in the past by either driving the Mako off a mountainside to the shrieks of terror from her teammates or slamming on the breaks just before the Hammerhead slammed into a few rocks, buildings, and geth.

And let it be known, running into geth really doesn't slow down the Hammerhead, it just causes the vehicle to catch fire, mostly. It was a thing to be avoided. Doubly so now that geth were effectively on her side. Running down allies was a bad thing.

Sensation of movement and poor driving skills aside, there was also the sense that someone was trying to talk to Shepard. Or more accurate like many someones, all of them talking through tin cans or from behind a door and none of them could be heard over any of the others. The only thing Shepard could really make out was that all the voices had a heavy flux of digitized vocal patterns.

Three questions hit Jane Shepard in a barrage quite suddenly. 'Where am I?' 'Aren't I dead?' 'Where is everyone?'There was no real order of priority, as all three questions just kind of appeared in her mind at the same possible time. The answers to those questions didn't immediately come to mind, though. The marine's mind was an angry swarm of muttering sounds and she could barely think or even remember what had happened.

"Hey! Shut up! I can't hear myself reminisce here!" Jane shouted, feeling a throb of pain lancing her at the constant noise.

To her surprise the noises stopped. The sudden lack of any sound struck a chord of wrongness with Shepard though. It was then she realized it had alwaysbeen silent in this place, her ears were still ringing with the high pitched whine left by a vacuum of noise. Even worse was the fact that even her frustrated shouting hadn't pierced the veil of silence.

"I didn't actually make any noise at all, did I?" Jane spoke aloud, but found she really hadn't made any sound. Yet she 'heard' herself speak (if that is the right term for it).

Her words were also heard by something else though... "We hear you." A thousands voices, speaking in perfect unison, meshed together to form a blunt and toneless sort of harmony.

The voice (or was it voices?) caused the veil to lift and she suddenly had her answer of where she was. She remembered: she was in the Reapers. All of them. Controlling them. Which sort of answered the next question – 'Aren't I dead?'

… The answer to that should have been 'yep, dead again', but... dead people don't tell Reapers to shut up so they can think. Shepard had assumed her mind would have ceased to exist in place of giving the Reapers a set of general guidelines to follow. Instead, it felt like her mind had been put into a box and shoved into the closet with all the Christmas lights and boxes of clothes that don't fit. Shepard was filled with a rather dull general offense, but brushed it off to continue her line of thought.

'Where is everyone?' This question – for some reason – her mind couldn't answer. 'Everyone' was too vague a parameter and – "Oh Kee'lah,... I'm starting to sound like the geth." Shepard breathed, not quite alarmed but more frustrated. "Lets try a basic question then. Where is my team... the Normandy?" She asked (herself?).

It wasn't her own memories that answered this question though, but the visual sensors of thousands of Reapers and hundreds of thousands of Reaper shock-troops. Through their eyes, or eye analogues, Shepard saw what happened.


"Did she make it? Comm chatter is loco, it can't be right!" Vega was giving Garrus space to work with a continuous suppressive fire with his assault rifle. Liara had Vega's flanks protected, a singularity at one side and knocking around the husks with a biotic barrage at the other side. Tali was hunkered down beside some rubble, encouraging her small combat drone to 'go mess up some faces' and the she popped over the ruined building to nearly point-blank shotgun a cannibal in the head. For every Reaper force that was killed, the aspect of Shepard's new memory narrowed a little more.

Zoomed in with his scope, Garrus tightened his grip on the rifle as he watched the bright pillar of light flicker and go out as Harbinger destroyed the towering device as it missed it's intended target – the woman who refused to die. "She made it. … barely. Now it's our turn to get up there. Cortez, do you read?" Lowering the gun to flick his omni-tool on, the turian sparked an overload on the shields of a nearby marauder.

"- m here!" Cortez's voice was stuttered with warping distortion. "In the air too! Hamm-eam wiped out, picking up- – survivors now and-," The static was becoming worse. All comm traffic could be detected by Reapers – this one was judged 'low priority' by the synthetic army.

"Change of plans. Shepard made it in. We need to get to the Normandy. Those arms are going to be opening, and we shouldn't keep the Commander waiting." A feral grin lifted the edges of Garrus' jaws.

More static. There was a muffled 'hot damn!' and the shuttle pilot responded quickly while the signal was stronger. "Already got Javik, EDI and Alenko. Coming in to your position." A small blue speck above the buildings was dodging gunfire and swerving widely around harvesters. "EDI's already got Joker breaking away from the battle to pick us up."

With a practiced action honed by repeated fighting retreats, Cortez swerved the Kodiak into a hard turn at the last minute, popping the doors. Inside, Javik extended an arm and Liara threw herself inside, catching the prothean by the wrist and stumbling through the door as she cast a singularity in the path of the advancing shock-trooper forces to slow them. With the 'back door locked' as Shepard liked to call it, everyone else bolted into the shuttle and it jerked straight upwards even as the doors closed behind them. Total exit time was seven seconds, a record by their standards.

There was more swearing than normal in the cramped shuttle as Cortez slammed the shuttle through a hairpin turn and shot off to rendezvous with the Normandy. The Reapers lost the shuttle's signal almost immediately as the tiny Kodiac wove into the combat and essentially vanished amid the chaos. Even the Normandy flickered in and out of their sensors as it moved through the battlefield, turning on the heat sinks timed with sharp turns in order to vanish from the any combat grids. When the ship stopped moving, it was deemed 'moderate threat' at it's current position and the Reapers ignored it for the time being. The Reapers had greater things to concern themselves with at that moment anyway...


That had been the point where all Reapers suddenly fell under Shepard's control in a wave of blue energy that pulsed from the Citadel. The data the Reapers had pooled and collaborated on the matter ended, leaving Shepard once again in the dark empty space.

"You issued instructions to leave – leave Earth, leave Palaven, leave Thessia... leave all organic planets, and return to Dark space. We have listened." The drone of thousands of Reaper voices rumbled, muffled from where ever they were coming from. "The status of the Normandy is not known after that, and is irrelevant. All combat battle routines were ended we left all occupied territories."

Jane Shepard looked down... a little surprised to find she had a body. Yet... it wasn't really her body. Her mind helpfully supplied a similar circumstance, it was like being in the Geth consensus server again. Her physical body of flesh and blood and cybernetics had been destroyed on the Citadel. "Yes, brilliant idea, put your hands between two differential arching electric currents. Human circuit breakers have never been very effective." Grimacing, she balled her fists and curled her fingers, repeating the movement several times, finding the action comforting.

Trying yet again to organize her chaotic thoughts, Jane asked, "So... I'm in a Reaper, but I'm controlling all of you still?"

The droning answer was rather foreboding. "You are in all Reapers. We are also in you."

"Didn't even buy me dinner first." Jane snorted. "Legion... if this is how you felt joining with all the Geth, you are the patron saint of migraines." Her head throbbed. It made little sense that pain should exist if she didn't have a body to feel it.

"Any sensation you experience while in the Convergence is a shared experience between all Reapers. We request you cease your simulated pain." The Reapers spoke as one, except for the next words, spoken by a single monotonous Reaper, "It makes steering difficult." Their ponderous tones reminded Commander Shepard of the elcor a bit... giant murderous elcor. That thought was so bizarre, she dropped the line of thought before the Reapers could seize it and start incorporating it into their own programming.

The last thing the galaxy needed was a giant fucking elcor Reaper. 'With lingering regret – I must now destroy your civilization.'God, what a terrible idea.

The current situation finally caught up to Shepard. She had refused to destroy the Reapers. Doing so would destroy all synthetics: the Geth and EDI included. After fighting for the Geth, for Legion, and encouraging EDI to grow and evolve – it was not an acceptable loss. The choice to drag the Reapers (kicking and screaming if necessary) off Earth was still a better choice than creating the synthesis that the Catalyst had suggested. There was a slight tingle of fear at the memory now, fear that in order to 'restart the cycle' with the fusion of organic and synthetic beings the current cycle of organics would have to be purged anyway or that the Reapers would decide 'Hey! Why not finish our job?'and continue destroying everything.

The memory was foggy though, and Shepard wasn't sure she was comprehending what the Catalyst was offering. With as much blood loss, concussion, and trauma as she had taken, she could vaguely recall the skeletal form of the human based Reaper that they had once faced off against in the Collector base– part machine, part synthetic. THAT was not a world she wanted to create.

So Shepard had chosen control.

Now Shepard was pretty much just along for the ride. The Reapers would listen to her, as they had once listened to the Catalyst. She was going to be trapped forever in a community of Reapers. There would be no afterlife for her – unless she was just a copy/paste VI of her actual mind and she was already at that great bar in heaven...

The thought began to evolve her headache into the mother of all migraines. Kaidan Alenko might have suffered from chronic migraines from his L2 implant, but he also had the frustrating habit of making Jane suffer from migraines as well. His trigger had been strong scents, bright lights and stress; Shepard's had been stupid questions and pointless rhetoric. Now, the commander held her biotic teammate in the highest esteem for his migraine ability as she unleashed the memory of migraines upon the Reapers.

Javik probably appreciated never being on the receiving end of a memory-migraine, because it was just as painful as the actual thing.

"Rear mass effect fields down." One Reaper's voice reported, and like a flash fire Reapers all across their shared Convergence-fleet began to report errors or reduced functionality.

"This does not benefit the Convergence. Desist your stored data sharing." One of the Reaper's voices wasn't quite as muffled as the others, as if it had opened the trunk she was stuffed in and whispered into her room. With the clearer voice came a heavy presence that had all the intimidating sensation of a skyscraper sized robot peering down at her. It was like the abyss was staring back at her, the darkness gaining unseeable eyes to scrutiny the small human.

The commander's response was the sudden appearance of her middle finger, and the fleeting thought, 'Jack would be so proud. This one is for Joker, too'. This thought caused her other finger to pop up as well, flipping off the very essence of a Reaper.

"Instructions." The Reaper essence intoned. It seemed to be asking for instructions, but it did it in such a forceful way that it was almost commanding her to command them all.

Lowering both fingers and crossing her arms, Shepard gave it a slight thought. She had exchanged her crew of humans, aliens, and AI for giant murderous robots, but that didn't mean she wasn't still a Commander. "I want to know what is going on. Right now. At this moment. Time has no meaning if I can't see anything."

The darkness was gone. Suddenly she saw everything, through hundreds of eyes. The Reapers were leaving the Sol system the long way – with no Mass Relays – they were just venturing out past the system, through the next, and towards Dark space. The sensation of seeing so much information at the same time should have driven any human mad, but the newly created synthetic Shepard managed to process this information and tuck it away just as orderly. Synthetics really were the pinnacle of order, … but it was more fun to live with a healthy wash of chaos.

The Sol system was fading behind the Reaper fleet, and at the same time Palaven was vanishing behind her, as was Thessia and hundreds of other planets. Soon it would just be Shepard's mind, alone, with thousands of unfeeling Reapers. Everyone would be safe... but she would never see them again. And Garrus...

Several smaller Reapers slowed in their exodus of the galaxy, their mass effect fields flickering as they lost momentum. A shuttle-length Reaper nearly flipped itself upside down trying to recover. "Desist sharing this stored information with the Convergence as well." One of the smaller Reapers requested, even it's 'request' sounding not at all unlike an order. "This is just as unpleasant as the 'migraine' sensation."

Blinking a few times, Shepard realized they were reacting to her emotions as well as her physical sensations. "It's called 'regret'... not so pleasant, is it?" The woman gave a feral smirk or pleasure, watching the smaller Reapers flounder helplessly under the emotion. "Here, try this one." Finding a new emotion, Shepard broadcast across the Reaper fleet the emotion of sorrow and mourning the loss of every organic who died in the invasion.

This time a larger Sovereign-class Reaper swung sideways unsteadily, all thrusters on one side off-line as it slammed into another dreadnought. The smaller Reapers were skating uncontrolled through the emptiness of the outer systems, pinballing off larger Reapers, asteroids, and each other.

"You have shared your senses. That is enough." This voice was terribly familiar. A fraction of a second later it clicked: Harbinger. God, trapped for all eternity in a consensus of Reapers with Harbinger? This was going to be a long eternity.

"I have half a mind to order you to fly right into a star." Shepard growled. "And since all I've got in this dark pit you call a Convergence is half of my mind... Hey Harbringer, go roll around in a black hole for a while."

There was a long pause, and suddenly the view of everythingdimmed to only one view. Shepard was now seeing the world through Harbringer's senses. "There are no anomalous black holes in this sector." The Sovereign-class Reaper was just leaving Sol's outer reaches, navigating around a group of smaller Reapers who had been disabled by Shepard's emotional sharing.

"There is never a black hole around when you need one." Frowning, Shepard watched as her home system began to dwindle behind the Reaper. The fleet was preparing for an FTL jump, leaving the Sol system for darker places. Without the Mass Effect relays, it would take years, maybe even hundreds of years, to get all the Reapers back out to Dark Space. Perhaps just driving the fleet into suns would be a smarter plan.

The galaxy would rebuild. Eventually. All the relays were gone, but there was a chance some salarians or quarians had figured out how to rebuild them. The Citadel currently was located above Earth – refugees could settle on the planet or at least make due there until the relays were rebuilt. But... how does one get started building them? The galaxy was a ruined battlespace – places like Tuchunka didn't have the resources to build a relay on their own and no doubt lacked the research to do it anyway.

Everyone was separated now. Each system was divided. All of those peace treaties, sanctioned alliances, friends and lovers between species... all of them now separated. Earth was now home to thousands of displaced species. Turians, Krogans, Asaris, Salarians, Quarians, and god knows how many other races were currently marooned on the ruined planet. While the Citadel was parked above Earth, galactic government could continue here, but what about the rest of the galaxy? Each planet was isolated from each other, and from their own survivors.

"Wait." Shepard froze, realizing she had just issued this command out loud.

"We had already halted." Harbringer spoke monotonously. "You are exuding uncomfortable sensations of regret and loss. Two dozen Oculi have entered extended hibernation at this shared data." Surrounding the dreadnaught, the tiny specks that were Oculi were drifting haphazardly around without much control.

"Oh well... good." Shepard said, furious. "You bastards deserve it."

Another Oculi went offline at the sensation of vengeance that stabbed through Shepard.

It took a while for the Reapers to recover from this event, twisting themselves back online and lining up in proper formation. The vengeful glee faded back into a passive blandness. Shepard reached up to tug at a strand of her red hair, finding the sensation of fine hair passing through her fingertips calming. "I have no clue what to do now." She said aloud.

A smaller reaper – only a destroyer – intruded slightly into Harbringer's space. "You wish to return to Earth." The Reaper said, gleaning this information directly from Shepard's mind.

"Yes, congratulations, you Reapers are masters of stating the obvious. All hail the glory of synthetics." Sarcasm on full blast, Shepard felt a tingle of irritation. "Of course I want to return, it's – it's... you wouldn't understand, would you?"

There was a unified 'no' as a response from the Reapers.

"Yeah, I didn't think so. But returning to home isn't really an option anymore, is it?"

Again, a unified 'no' rumbled through the consensus. Organics might be willing to share their galaxy with synthetics like the geth and EDI, but the Reapers were just toosynthetic. Too big, too strong, too terrifying. It was depressing that even with the best she could do, the galaxy was still ruined.

A destroyer jerked violently and rolled upside down, mass effect fields off, it's legs kicking frantically like a dying spider. Shepard interrupted her thoughts to gaze at it in confusion. "What's it's problem?"

Error reports simply appeared in her mind's eye. The Reaper was flailing helplessly around in the sea of chaotic emotion that Shepard was releasing. This particular unit was helpless against the sensation of pity, the report stated. There was yet another request to desist sharing this organic based emotion from the Reaper.

Enjoying the macabre mood, Shepard gave a dark chuckle again. "So if I had launched an army of empathetic emo kids to plug into the Reapers – we could have had a no casualties win... well... aside from the emo kids who would probably all be scarred for life or need more hair dye or something."

"No. Organic minds cannot interface with Reaper tech. Only due to the Catalyst are you even compatible with our Convergence at all." Harbinger sounded bored. Or … just monotonous. The woman really hadn't expected the Reaper to give her answers, not after Sovereign pulled that whole 'you won't understand' bit in order to avoid giving any answers. Shepard figured it was due to the Catalyst giving her command of the Reapers that forced them to speak back when spoken to.

Carefully shelving her current thoughts away, Shepard shook her head furiously. "No use standing around here in space. Return to deep space. Now. I don't care if it takes a thousands years to make the trip... I guess I have all the time in the world now..."

Two more destroyers flipped over on their backs, twitching and convulsing from the wave of self-pity that darkened Shepard's mood.

"God, you fucking drama queens... you think that is bad? Wait until I reminisce on the Normandy later..." And in response to this, a dreadnought steered drunkenly around one of it's kin, narrowly missing a collision.


Meanwhile, uncharted planet in Horsehead Nebula

It wasn't the first time the Normandy had crashed before. First time had been the brutal collision with the Collector base, gouging massive panels of ceramic armor away and the kinetic shielding kicked on to seal the holes. However this time had been much worse. Two of the Normandy's thrusters had blown off the ship entirely. EDI pegged each landed a good hundred miles away from their impact site. The crash site could have been worse... though not by much. The elegant ship belly-flopped right onto a outcropping of boulders and several of the heavy stone pieces and pierced through her underside. The Tantalus core had remained intact, but every coolant system had ruptured and all the engineers bolted from their pit before hot, pressurized gas vented into the room.

As the highest ranking Alliance member on-board, Kaidan found himself trying to lead the crew, Liara at his back encouraging everyone along. Dumb luck and highly tuned survival instincts saw every member of the Normandy survive the crash, though not without injuries. Assigned to rescue duty were Javik and James, both hauling injured crewmates to a makeshift medbay set up outside the Normandy. Cortez had broken his leg, Joker had broken several bones, Allers was concussed and as a civilian with no military training was handling it poorly, Donnelly had been burned quiet badly fleeing the engineering room, and every crew member was a knot of bruises and cuts.

But everyone had survived, beating the odds once again.

Once the crew was safe, Alenko set orders for the two man rescue crew to set up a perimeter guard, searching for damaged parts from the Normandy scattered around or any sign of danger. Tali and EDI, both fairly safe with a full enclosed suit and a synthetic body, returned to the engineering levels to dissect the damage. Garrus would have tried to go with them, but Kaidan held him back, not wanting to see the turian cook himself like a silver-plated clam. That, and the fact Garrus seemed to be moving around in a half-aware state had the human concerned. There was disbelief and denial keeping the turian going...and when he ran out of that all he'd have left is the painful truth.

That truth was: They might not make it off the planet again.

After the first twelve hours of crashing, things only began to fall apart worse.

It had been two days since the crash now. The reality of their situation had began to sink in and a dark cloud had settled over the Garrus. Instead of leading a boarding party into the open arms of the Citadel as was the 'plan' (and by 'plan', the Normandy crew meant 'flying by the seat of our armored trousers'), EDI had suddenly detected a massive energy wave coming from the space station and effectively kidnapped the crew in a frantic attempt to leave without any sort of destination. There was no logical reason for EDI to force a retreat, but the helmsman later admitted that EDI looked … terrified... driven by something that even she hadn't understood. Joker had tried to stop the AI at first, but the synthetic had jerked out of her robotic shell to push her full energy out of the Normandy – there was little the helmsman could do other than shout. The Normandy hit the relay, retreating to the Horsehead Nebula and then jumping FTL to try to outrun the energy. When the corresponding relay blew up behind them, it only served to shake Joker into action and he tried to help pull them out of the energy wave.

Upon failing to outrun the pulse of energy, the Normandy had been swallowed up, and only with the luck of a crew made of four-leaf clovers and bullets did it manage to crash onto a planet that had a garden world that's greatest disadvantage was they had no clue where it was at. After the crash, EDI had managed to analyzed the pulse wave even as they were going down in flames, and the news hadn't lifted anyone's spirits. The ionized wave, while harmless to organics, contained a message so massive that it had influenced the AI even before it struck the ship – The message was from Shepard, and it was an order to 'leave' coded in such a way that Traynor calculated it was impossible for the Reapers to ignore.

So they had won. Reapers were leaving. Yet no one felt truly victorious.

Once the immediate danger of the crash was settled, that was when tempers began to flare. Half of the crew was furious at EDI for removing them from the battle, let alone from the Sol system.

When Joker and Traynor had pressed the AI for answers, EDI answered only reluctantly. "The Reaper IFF my combat warfare suite is built around channeled that command directly into my processes. By the time I realized what I was doing, I had already hit the relay. After that, my only concern was keeping the Normandy and it's crew in one piece. I fled the battle not because of choice, but because of duty. Because it was what Shepard had instructed."

That answer did not sit well with Garrus.

Joker had shouted (springing being out of the question when you are tethered down in a recovery bed) to EDI's aid that the AI had only done what was right at the time. Against the turian, EDI refused to defend herself, even verbally. Garrus never made a move to fight with the robotic avatar of the ship, but the hostilities peaked to a height that Tali was forced to throw herself in placate him before things really did come to blows. In the end Garrus was still so enraged at the Normandy's turncoat tactics he removed himself from even his basic repair routine in order to avoid AI.

"If Vakarian is angry, it is only part of the natural grieving process. I did what was deemed 'right'... but the right thing to do isn't the easiest." EDI murmured quietly. Doing the 'right thing' had left the Normandy's AI racked with guilt. In turn, if EDI wasn't happy, Joker wasn't happy. And if Joker wasn't happy, he was busy making everyone else miserable.

So for two days, they had been trapped on this world. For two days Liara had helped the communication specialist Traynor, to get the quantum communicator back up. That was two days of the crew left in the dark on what had happened back on Earth. All they knew was the mass effect relays were gone, they had no clue where they were in this star system with so much off the Normandy's navigation systems damaged, and also Shepard wasn't with them.

It was that last bit that had everyone on edge.

"Garrus has not been eating." Liara murmured to Kaidan, fiddling with a small console set at the Normandy's starboard flank. "I'm certain he hasn't slept properly since …" The asari paused, "...before Sanctuary, if I had my guess." Garrus' disjointed behavior was set flags waving in alarm. Without a resident psychologist on board, there was a running speculation on 'who would crack first'. Unfortunately, Garrus was heading the top of that list.

Kaidan invoked Shepard's name like a curse and a prayer. "I'm not the same as Shepard. I don't know what to do here, Liara. I mean... Garrus is a friend, yeah, but he won't talk to me. He wants a commanding officer... not a friend right now. Will he even talk to you?"

"No..." Liara's hands stopped on the keyboard, her head bowed. "But I believe you are correct. Right now, he doesn't want a sympathetic ear. He needs command. Then you have to be a commander." Liara said firmly, only glancing up briefly from her work.

The biotic shook his head. "Normandy has only has one Commander, and it's not me. I'm not sure what to do with him."

Someone didn't take Kaidan's pity well. "Well, I'm sure keeping the stir-crazy turian on house arrest is an excellent idea. Almost as good as trying to court martial the only person in the galaxy who knew what the hell was going on earlier. Mark this down as another victory for the Alliance." Joker was scowling, a new beard coming in to replace the perpetual stubble he had cultivated.

The pilot was fastened – quite physically – to a medpod pulled out of the ship. The pilot wasn't nearly as injured as Dr Chakwas had been expecting, suffering only a few broken ribs along his spine and a small fracture above his elbow. However the doctor was taking no risks and Joker was confined to bedrest until the bone weave healed, and she had resorted to tethering him down. Being confined to the medpod by canvas straps to keep him from 'helping', Joker was furious and bitter too, much like Garrus's own mood.

Only difference being that Joker wasn't carrying a gun that could pierce through armor plated shielding. Small favors.

Owlish brown eyes turned to stare at the pilot, not sure what was about to be unleashed upon him but pretty sure it was like opening a can of worms. Big worms. Like... Thresher maws. My god... a can of thresher maws... Alenko barely managed to jerk his thoughts away from wandering idly.

"You signed onto this crew, even after knowing full well this is basically a flying mental ward where the inmates are given guns instead of padded cells. If Garrus won't listen, you are going to have to go pull a page out of Shepard's book and headbutt him into submission and have a screaming match." Joker said, sounding completely serious.

"I... I can't do that." Kaidan said, tension raising his voice higher than normal.

"Ok fine. Or just pin him with some biotic juju and scold him. Whatever. Potato. Pota-to. Personally, Shepard's way worked best." The pilot muttered, folding his arms and shifting backwards to take the pressure off his injured side. "The fact is, you have an angry turian wandering around with nothing to do because you are treating him like a timebomb instead of a teammate."

Kaidan dropped the gun he had been trying to reassemble back into the table. "What am I supposed to say? 'Sorry you just lost your – uh... Shepard. Sucks all around, doesn't it?' We're all in the same boat, and that boat has crashed god knows where. We've alllost Shepard."

Crew skuttlebutt had gone insane with gossip when Garrus had rejoined the crew of the Normandy after mowing down the Collector base. It wasn't quite public knowledge that Commander Shepard had found herself 'joined' (as Javik called it) with Garrus, but among the recycled crewmates from the Normandy it was patently obvious. The only thing that kept the entire galaxy from knowing that Vakarian had a claim on the most respected and powerful human in the Alliance was the silence of the crew and the tact of the Normandy's pocket-reporter Allers who didn't dare to tread on Shepard's personal privacy.

"We haven't lost her!" Joker's voice was strained.

"Well we certainly didn't just misplace her!" Kaidan shouted back. "This is Shepard we are talking about, not a set of keys! If she didn't come back... she had a reason."

An uncomfortable silence that was broken only by the chirping of the local insects was the only sound. Liara was looking up from her console, eyes puffy and smudged. "Kaidan..." she said softly, all that was needed to cut him off from his tirade. "Garrus right over there." Lifting her chin slightly, Liara nodded towards the aft of the Normandy, where a glint of blue armor could be seen protruding from around the ship. "And he has very good hearing." The asari's voice was barely whisper.

The turian was already leaving before the second human Spectre could gather his thoughts.

The ever present pressure behind his eyes in the form of a migraine began throbbing in Kaidan's head. "Great. I'll... do something." Sighing, the man wiped at his eyes and pressed two fingers into the divot between forehead and the bridge of his nose. "Shepard wouldn't just – I'll figure it out." The biotic slumped forward onto the table, his palms pressed into the metal. "How you holding up, Liara?"

The asari only shook her head silently.

"Joker?" Kaidan asked.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Don't mind me. I'll just sit here and let my bones knit while you figure out how to get us off this rock." The pilot snorted.

The wince increased, and Kaidan felt the definite throb of a migraine now. "Remember that time back on the first Normandy... when everything went sideways and Shepard stole the ship?"

Raising an eyebrow, Joker nodded.

"I tried to – cheer her up there. I wasn't very good at it." Kaidan mumbled.

"No, really." Joker rolled his eyes. Alenko glared.

EDI, patched into the Normandy's systems and scattered communications systems, spoke through the computer Liara worked at. "That would be sarcasm, Council Spectre Major Alenko." EDI's voice was a smooth, high monotone. "It is a low-brow form of humor."

Kaidan continued to try to rub away the migraine. "Yes, thanks EDI. But the point is, Shepard needed to be cheered up, and I was terrible at it. She told me all I needed to just tell her everything would be ok, even if it wasn't. Well... I could use some of that blind optimism right now too." The man looked defeated. The Reapers were leaving the galaxy was saved, and he looked like he had just been through the ringer twice with an angry krogan.

A long pause. "Hey. Kaidan. You'll do fine. Just put on your man-pants – or Shepard's man-pants – and do your best. That's all she ever did." Joker spoke hesitantly.

"I have a feeling her 'best' is better than mine." Kaidan shoved the pieces of the gun into a pile, making sure none were lost.

"My god, man. You are impossible to cheer up. You are like a big fucking cloud of emo." Joker huffed. "Well, that was my best shot at it. Your turn, Liara."

The Information Broker nodded, more at Kaidan than Joker, and said, "Just get Garrus back to us. We've all been through too much to start breaking apart now. Shepard was right: If we're going to beat this – whatever we face – we have to face it together." The asari's words were tense, but a small glimmer of hope still burned.

"Well, I guess we can't let the band fall apart now. We have to go make a comeback tour, reap in a fortune from the vids, and then all go buy beachfront property somewhere." Joker shook his head, amused. "I hear Rannoch is a good place. Lots of space, sand, it's got dry heat (whatever that means), and no bugs at all. I'm going to go set up beachfront property there, Tali!" Joker said the last part much louder, hoping the comm system EDI had just spoke from was connected to Tali's suit.

"Too bad. I've claimed it all. I'm starting a kingdom." Tali responded over the radio.

"A kingdom." Blankly, Liara looked down at the comm system in wonder.

"Yes. All those who accept my rule are welcome. Garrus is going to be a duke. We had this discussion earlier. If he killed more reapers than I did, he could lay claim to some of my kingdom as a duke. Or a mobile-primarch. We couldn't really agree on his title." Tali's voice sounded a little breathless. She wasn't really equip for heavy lifting and the repairs of the Tantalus core would have to fall to her and EDI only until they could repair the heat sinks.

"Need any vassals?" Joker asked. "Joining a kingdom of people who look fabulous in environmental suits sounds – wait - is Garrus going to be wearing one of those suits? Because while he might have the hips for it... I think I could go my whole life without seeing that."

Kaidan's migraine dulled slightly. Joker's attempts at cheering him up were pretty terrible... but his diffusion of the subject via sarcasm and humor was vastly appreciated. Tali's attempts at a conversation that was like 'the old days' managed to take the desperate edge off the situation. If this was even a quarter of the stress Shepard had been under the whole time – Kaidan wasn't sure how his commander had managed it. Without the throbbing pain behind his eyes, the biotic left to go round up Garrus and see if there was anything he could say that wouldn't either get him punched by a furious turian or to make the situation worse.

"I guess it could always be worse." Kaidan turned away, but he really didn't believe it.