Shepard looks up at me sharply. "What?"
I shrug helplessly. "You were supposed to die there. I didn't see it coming, didn't see the Collectors hunting us down like that. That's why four of your crew aren't coming home, because I fucked up."
"How...how do you know all this? How is this even possible?"
"It's hard to explain..." I reach into my pocket, idly playing with a copy of the datachip I gave to Miranda. Just in case. But no, Shepard shouldn't be listening to a recording of my explanation. "But let me try, anyway."
"I'm...not from around here." I chuckle lightly. "I guess you figured that out already. But...do you subscribe to theories about a multiverse? Multiple, infinite parallel universes co-existing in the same space-time continuum?"
"I've read the theories, but there hasn't been conclusive proof."
"Yeah, well...it's the best explanation I can come up with as for how I know what I do, because technically, it hasn't happened yet, unless you believe in psychics or premonitions, or something."
Shepard looks at me as if I'm insane. "You're joking."
"Wish I was."
"Okay, but that still doesn't explain how you know what's going to happen. You're telling me you saw this happen in some kind of parallel universe?" A skeptical eyebrow arches up elegantly.
Somehow, your life is just a video game in the parallel dimension I come from sounds just a little hollow. These are people's lives, and I can't just marginalize it like that. But maybe a bit of truth wouldn't hurt, especially if it's too crazy to be made up. "I woke up one day, and this extradimensional guy stood there in a stupid costume in my living room and told me that I had a galaxy to save. Why, how, or why he doesn't do it himself since he kind of controls time, space, and entropy, I don't know, and the little bugger wouldn't tell me. All he did was dump me off on the Citadel without so much as a warning or a hint, or a penny to my name, but with the foreknowledge of all the shit that's going to happen crammed in my brain."
Shepard's head tilts progressively more during my little explanation until I think she's almost horizontal. It's pretty comical, actually, especially the disbelieving look in her eyes. "You're crazy," she mutters finally.
"Yeah, I've been told that."
"Paranoid schizophrenic, even. How that passed medical I don't know, but-"
"I'm not a schizophrenic, Jane. Paranoid, probably, but definitely not hearing voices." I'm so tempted to make a joke here about that being what the voices in my head tell me, but I still my tongue in time. Because that'd be way inappropriate here. "Look," I tell her quietly, "I know it sounds unbelievable, I know it's crazy and impossible, but it's the truth. I can't explain it, because I don't understand it. And he won't tell me his reasons, either, just that humanity has something to prove, or some bullshit like that."
"The intergalactic, omnipotent pain in the dick who brought me here."
Shepard looks at me funnily. "You sure he's not a product of your imagination?"
"Trust me, I wish he was, because then I can blame his annoying existence solely on myself and do something about it. As it is, I'm stuck with him." I shrug my shoulders a little helplessly. "The problem is, I know what is going to happen...just not necessarily the when. I know how the order of events would've played out in your original timeline, but I have, for the most part, very little reference, or only very vague references as to how far apart the events are that I know of."
"You're serious about this."
"Dead serious, yeah."
"So you say you've had a vision of what's going to happen in one of our parallel universes, and are trying to prevent it from happening to this one?" She's still sounding incredulous, not that I fault her. Hell, how do you best explain Q to someone who doesn't know Star Trek and the multiverse?
"No, I'm saying he showed me what's going to happen, to this particular universe, and then dumped me on the Citadel without anything except the vague urge to do something about it. Which isn't his fault, to be fair. In fact, he's even told me as much that it'd be perfectly fine if I sat it out in its entirety and do nothing if I wanted to." I'm bending the truth a little here, because Q didn't actually show me, but that's technicalities, right? And besides, I don't think the whole, your life is a video game schtick would go over too well.
I give her a weak smile. "I was tempted. I'm not a fighter, Jane. Hell, I'm a goddamn engineer almost fresh out of grad school. And I'm supposed to do something about an alien invasion threatening all sentient life in the galaxy?"
"So why didn't you?" she looks at me strangely, her head tilted and her eyes clear and sharp, almost as if she's searching for something...or evaluating me. "If what you've told me is true, then you had no reason to get involved. Aside from your own personal survival, that is."
"I'd...probably have been fine," I reply slowly, really only thinking about this for the first time since I ended up in this messed up universe. What would I have done had I decided to just sit it out? Where would I have gone? The answer is surprisingly simple, because with everything I know, I could've stayed ahead of the Reapers' movements and just avoided them entirely. It wouldn't have been easy, but certainly more manageable than trying to change history.
"How's it all turn out?" Shepard blinks, and suddenly, I'm left wondering if I imagined that look in her eyes. "I mean, orignally."
"A lot of people die. Entire planets burn, governments fall, civilization is brought to the brink of extinction. But, I think, there's a good chance that we would've made it. We'd probably have beaten the Reapers." I shake my head, though. "But at what cost?"
"Seems to me you picked the hard way, then."
"Story of my life. Always the stupid moron trying to go headfirst through the brick wall."
"It also makes you a good person." I look up at her comment, blinking in confusion at the non-sequitur. Seeing my expression, she elaborates. "That's probably why my gut tells me to trust you, no matter how crazy the bullcrap you're trying to serve me sounds, because there's some truth to it and you chose to fight, instead of just sit back. Why? All that talk about wanting to do something with your life and making a difference, why?"
"Because when it comes down to it, if I ignore the threat and stick my head in the mud and ride it out? I'm no better than the people who betray everything people like you have fought for. Because a naive, idealistic idiot in me decided that I had to do something, that I had to at least try and make things better, because doing nothing would've landed all those deaths on my conscience just as much as much as pulling the trigger would have. It doesn't matter that I can't fight, it doesn't matter that I'm here alone, there's always something you can do, and I just had to find it." I chuckle humorlessly. "Turns out it was a lot harder than I thought it would be."
"Nothing worth doing is ever easy."
"Funny, that's what I told Q, too, when he asked me the same thing."
"The giant omnipotent-"
"-pain in the dick," Shepard finishes with a smile. "I get it. Not very imaginative is he? Naming himself after a letter of the alphabet?"
"It gets worse," I tell her in a conspirational tone. "There's more of them. I don't know how many, but judging from what he's said? Probably an entire civilization of them."
"Oh god, a civilization of gods. Look at the Greeks, and see how that turned out," Shepard mock-moans.
"And they're all named Q."
She stares at me for a second, before bursting out in laughter, much to my surprise, but it quickly becomes infectious, and I'm chuckling, too. "Seriously?" she asks between laughs, "how does anyone find anyone there?"
"I have no idea."
It takes a while for both of us to calm down, but the laughter, while there really isn't anything overly funny, is cleansing. Carthartic. Purifying. It wipes the mind of sorrows, and worries, and just leaves you breathing in the air and struggling to do that. Finally, Shepard looks back over at me.
"You know," she says, "you keep putting yourself down. You said there wasn't anything you could've done? That's bullshit. For someone who has never been in combat before, you're doing pretty damn well. And don't think that I don't know about your little side operation with Admiral Kahoku. That was good work, by the way, rooting out those Cerberus cells. They can't have been too happy with you for that."
"What're they gonna do, put a hit out on me twice?" I shrug and sit up straight against the wall. "Besides, I figure after what happened on Thessia, they had it coming."
"Yeah, well..." Shepard hums in thought. "There's other things, too. Little things. I'm starting to understand why you're doing some of the things you're doing. That being said, you're right, you're a complete and utter idiot, because only an utter imbecile would walk into this situation essentially untrained and unarmed, and you, Patrick, walked yourself right into the middle of a goddamn war zone."
"Has it worked? Have you changed things for the better?" she asks after a brief silence, her tone genuinely curious, and for once I get the impression she isn't fishing for tactical data, or information, or anything.
"A little." I grin wryly. "I've borked some things up, I've made some things better, but overall? Only time will tell. The fact that I'm changing things has kind of made a mess of the timeline, and things are a little..."
"So not only did you deliberately walk yourself into a gunfight unarmed, you also effectively destroyed your only weapon?"
"Pretty much, yeah." I chuckle a little. "Thinking about it that way, it probably wasn't that good an idea, huh?"
"Given the alternative of doing nothing at all..."
"Which wasn't really an alternative, period."
"Right. I can't say I wouldn't have done the same thing." And coming from Shepard, that's high praise, indeed. "Besides," she adds, "have you ever thought that perhaps that is exactly what he wants you to do?"
"You said the guy who brought you here had a point to prove. You ever thought about what that point is?"
"I can't figure it out. He tells me that humans are capable of doing great things when it comes down to it, and that it's got something to do with showing the rest of them that despite everything they can learn...something from us."
You can practically see the lightbulb go off in Shepard's head as she shakes her head briefly, sending her hair rolling around her shoulders like a curtain in a silent chuckle. "You're so unaware," she mutters, then grins. "He's trying to show you that you have a choice, and that, more often than not, given the choice...we'll choose to fight, rather than do nothing, even at the threat to our own lives, that we're willing to risk everything on hope alone, hope to make things better. Ever think about that?"
That's...holy crap. I blink in surprise as a few things finally click together. Q's slightly less-than-cryptic responses lately, the way he's always given me the option of just backing out, the way he actually had me explain why I chose to do what I did. Not to him, but to myself. It's not his entire agenda, I'm sure of that much, but...holy crap. And the first thing he ever said to me finally is starting to make sense.
Your race is warlike, power-mongering, obstinate...and, when it really comes down to it, capable of achieving truly great things.
"Maybe," I say slowly, still trying to wrap my head around the fact that Q actually was trying to teach me something instead of just screwing with my life. "Maybe," I repeat quietly.
"And let me add to that. Lesson number one from me: the only ultimate failure is to admit defeat without having tried. There's no shame or guilt in failure for having done your best."
I merely tilt my head back and close my eyes, suddenly really tired. "Yeah, well...still makes me wish there was a better way."
"Sometimes, there isn't. Life is a zero-sum game, you can't win them all."
"I had a good math teacher."
A grin slips onto my face at her light tone and humor. At least we're good. I think. "So," I start, not really daring to look at her. "Where does that leave us?"
There's a shuffling noise before a weight settles onto my outstretched legs. I open my eyes to see her straddling me, head propped up on her arms as she looks at me from point-blank range with that calculating gaze of hers. Then, suddenly, she hauls back and slaps me.
It's not as painful as I would've expected, but it still snaps my head around. I try and raise my hand to work my jaw around, but it's pinned down under her leg. Looking back at her, I see something in her eyes that gives me pause.
"That," she starts, "is for keeping secrets on my ship, infiltrating it, and generally being a pain in the ass behind my back."
"Okay-" I open my mouth to retort and defend myself, only to find her lips sealed over mine.
"And that," she adds after a few long, breathtaking moments, "is for telling me."
The first thing that wakes me is the rustling movement next to me. I'm a relatively light sleeper - unless I've just pulled an all-nighter or three, in which case World War Three in my back yard couldn't wake me. The fact that Shepard is crawling into my bed utterly overrides the fact that she effectively had to break into my apartment after she left a couple of hours ago to go home, presumably. Although, I guess, for the first time in weeks, months even, home for her isn't the Normandy, but some barracks on the Citadel now that her ship has been towed to Arcturus. She settles in next to me, and I can feel her head lolling over to look at me.
Finally, she seems satisfied and snuggles into the blanket that I hold open for her and uses my arm as a pillow. It's weird, having a woman in your bed for the first time in a long time, especially if that woman is Jane Shepard. It's even stranger when she's using your arm as a pillow and sleeping peacefully when you know full well she's capable of breaking you over her knee like a twig. But I'm really too tired to care, and part of me is enjoying it way too much to question it. It's a little strange, but not entirely unpleasant to have the usually always active, always in motion Shepard laying completely still next to me and looking so peaceful, and so I fall back asleep soon enough.
The second thing that wakes me is the knee jabbing up and into my groin.
Let me tell you something to all the women out there: no matter what you may think about it being funny to hit us in the balls when you were little girls? It really sodding hurts, danger to our continued procreation notwithstanding.
It especially hurts when you get kneed by someone who's practically a living hand-to-hand combat weapon.
Did I mention it was really, really, hard? The hit, not...the other thing you may be thinking of.
Yeah. Getting way off track there.
Anyway, it hurts.
So it really shouldn't surprise you when I unconsciously curl up and roll away from the source of my pain. Unfortunately for me, I'm not sleeping in the center of my bed, but on one half of it because I'm sharing it with someone.
And I roll right off the edge.
And hit the floor face-first.
"Ouch," I mutter in a deadpan as I try and pick myself off the ground, hurting too much to even express it. This is worse than when I got shot by Ash, or when I had it out with Saren. Those were bruises and flesh wounds. This? This is excruciating.
A mumble indicates that Shepard is stirring, and I involuntarily let out a groan as I knock my head against the side of the bed while picking myself off the floor. So I'm a bit of a klutz when I'm half asleep - sue me. On second thought, don't, I've got no money. I manage to get my head above bed-level, only to look right into Shepard's bleary, feverish looking looking eyes.
But she doesn't really see me, even in the dim light coming from the corridor outside, and the unseeing gaze in those eyes sends warning bells going off in my head. The moment she lets out a tortured moan, my discomfort is forgotten, and I shoot up off the ground, trying to wrap my arms around her to still her violent thrashing around. Which, I might add, isn't as easy as it sounds, because, well…you try and calm down a woman who's an accomplished unarmed fighter and can break bricks with her bare hands while she's swinging wildly.
And kicking, too, I might add.
"Jane! Calm down, come on," I mutter urgently as she breaks free of my hold and thrashes about. I wince when one of her fists connects with my cheek, but still manage to grab it and pin it down…for now, at least. "Come on, listen to my voice, Shepard," I whisper in her ear. "Listen to me, Jane. Come on, come back."
Her back arches off the bed in a wordless scream, and suddenly I'm left staring into her clear eyes as she blinks awake. With a little sigh of relief I wipe a sweaty strand of hair off her forehead and settle back down. "Welcome back," I mutter semi-cheerfully as she glances around to get her bearings and breathing heavily.
"Nightmare?" I ask.
"Wanna talk about it?"
I know better than to pry into Jane Shepard's thoughts when she doesn't want to talk, even if we're…whatever the hell it is we are now. "Okay." I get off from on top of her and settle back against the headboard quietly, even as the rustle of the sheets indicates that she's getting up. Puttering to the bathroom, the water's running briefly, and the redhead returns a moment later, her face and hair damp after the brief wash. She sits down next to me, slipping under the covers more easily this time than when she first arrived, and looks over at me.
"Did I do that?" she asks suddenly, her palm reaching up to touch the bruise that's forming on my jaw, visible now in the light from the open bathroom door.
There's this weird look in her eyes. Almost as if whatever she dreamt of scared her. Badly. She won't talk about it…yet, but at least something like this, I'm used to dealing with. I've got a lot of friends back home who went through a lot of crap, and the best way to deal with the initial shock? Force them to think about something else. Anything else.
"Believe it or not, that was probably the least painful hit I got tonight," I tell her with as much cheer as I can put on to mask the worry over what she's going through. Nightmares? Hallucinations? Attempted indoctrination? It could be any of these, and being Jane Shepard, there won't be a damn thing I can do about it till she's ready to ask for help.
"Oh?" she smirks slightly. "You're a big boy, you can take it."
"This?" I wave her off. "Nah, not a problem. Hardly even registers. The nutshot was kinda cheap, though," I add with a chuckle at seeing her eyes widen in surprise.
"Don't worry about it," I tell her as I lean my head back and covertly try to sneak an arm around her shoulders. Surprisingly, she actually lets me as she still blinks, trying to process everything. "I'll consider it a badge of honor to have even survived a cheap shot from Jane Shepard. Most other people you pull a sucker punch like that on end up with their heads separated from their torsos."
"I'm sorry," she says, but there's a little grin hidden behind those auburn tresses. "I'll make it up to you, okay?"
"Sure, whatever you say, Jane."
"I will!" she protests cutely, wrinkling her nose at me in indignation.
She leans over, hovering closely, her unruly hair falling around us like a curtain. "Are you questioning my integrity, Mr. Grayson?" she whispers in my ear, the warm tickle of her breath sending an entirely welcome shiver down my spine.
"Not at all, Commander Shepard. Not at all." I lick my dry lips for a second. Our earlier make-out session in the kitchen aside, as adrenalin and emotionally-fuelled as that was, it still hasn't quite prepared me for the reality of the situation. It's funny, right? You get the girl, kiss her, and part of you still can't believe you're actually together. Not that we spent much time even trying to define what exactly it is we're doing.
Guess we're both kind of winging it as we go along. Not like I've ever done anything the normal way, so why should this relationship be any different, right?
Okay, brain, stop right there. Overthinking again. Just lean in and kiss the girl.
I don't have to move far as she presses against me, and we both relax into each other. This isn't so much a heated, sexual kiss. It's kindness, and comfort, and friendship, and respect and a promise all rolled into one.
There. That wasn't so hard, was it?
Shepard's second kiss, though, is definitely a promise of things to come and leaves me utterly breathless and incapable of forming a coherent thought for almost a minute as she leans back with a victorious smirk.
Oh, that woman is evil. Evil, I tell you.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.
She leans against me and settles her head on my shoulder, and my arms come up reflexively to wrap around her. Sitting here, breathing in that strawberry-scented shampoo of hers, one could almost forget that we've got a galaxy to save. In the morning, we'll have to figure out where to go from here, because she's going to be a spectre, and me…I have to figure out what the hell I'm going to do, because they sure as hell won't let me come with her.
But that's for tomorrow. Right now neither of us wants to think about it, and while I don't know about her, I'm just content to take this little break from, well, life, as it were, without Q popping in or life-or-death situations coming up every other minute. That much stress just can't be good for you in the long run.
"You okay, Jane?"
"Not really, no."
She turns a little, and snuggles into my side…or is it me snuggling into hers? Doesn't really matter. But there's this still nagging thought in my head that I can't shake that keeps asking now what? Not just in broad, galaxy-altering terms, but on a smaller, more personal level. Where do we go from here? How's all this going to work out?
Because, let's face it, I kind of rushed into this head-first without thinking. Again.
Shepard seems to realize what I'm mulling over, though, and looks over at me. "It'll be fine, you know. You can stay at home and watch the kids while I'm away at work," she offers with a cheeky grin that is absolutely infectious.
I put on a mock-affronted look. "Somehow I get the feeling that between fighting the Reapers and making sure Alenko and Joker stay out of trouble, you got the easier job."
"You may be right there," she chuckles. "The Normandy is going to be towed to Arcturus in the morning," she adds suddenly.
"I heard." Glancing over at her unreadable expression, I nudge her slightly. "Want to go see her off?"
"I don't know." She shrugs, a little uncomfortably. "I already handed her over to the delivering engineering team and the tow vessel. It'd seem too much like saying goodbye when we'll be getting her back."
"Well, don't think of it as goodbye, then. You know, in German we say auf Wiedersehen. Literally it means until I see you again, and I think, given the circumstances, that's much more appropriate than goodbye, don't you think?" A little smile hushes across her face. It's a cheesy line, I know, because every German in every American movie ever made has probably uttered it, but you know what they say about if it's being said often enough, right? Besides, I reckon I'm far enough in the future no one even remembers those cheesy movies. "Look, Jane, you don't have to, but…I think you should go see your ship and crew. Give 'em a right talking to about not seeing other captains behind your back while you're gone, and all that."
She giggles lightly, and elbows me in the ribs. "I think I have them well enough trained to not have to worry about them stepping out on me, Lieutenant. Or are you hinting at something?"
"Not at all, Commander. Not at all."
"Good. I hope so…for your sake."
Her face may be hidden behind tresses of her hair, but I can just tell there's her telltale smirk on her lips. "I know. I just…"
"Let's go." She looks up at me. "It'll be good to see the crew together for the last time in a while. At least before everyone gets transferred and you all forget your poor old commanding officer."
"I doubt that's going to happen. You're a hard woman to forget, Jane Shepard. Hell, I think you even made an impression on Wrex, and I'm not talking about the dent on his armor you caused that one time you challenged him to arm-wrestle. And I don't think Liara is going to get over that crush she has on you anytime soon."
"Liara has a crush on me?"
"So does Tali." It wasn't that hard to spot. While the game-Tali was straight as an arrow, it turns out that quarians, considering their diminished numbers, don't really care much for what gender they procreate with and, in fact, encourage mating and conception, even artificially using the donor genes from both parents, in order to replenish their numbers. Their only condition: that parents take care of and assume responsibility for their offspring, in addition to the communal help they tend to provide. And I guess Tali took a bit of a shine to our dear Commander. Hero worship probably plays into it, too, heh. Not difficult to imagine, that.
"What?" Shepard looks up at me sharply. "You're joking."
"You know, sometimes I really wish you were a sarcastic smartass, just so you'd tell me, yes, dear, I'm joking every once in a while." Shepard lets out an exasperated sigh. "How do you even know what she's thinking under that helmet of hers?"
"Quarian body language isn't that different from human. Especially when it comes to…well…being horny." I chuckle lightly, trying to ignore the red creeping up my ears.
"And you have a lot of experience in reading…horny women?" Shepard needles at me in amusement. Did I mention yet that the woman is evil?
"I see. Been watching a lot of horny women, then, Lieutenant Grayson?" she asks devilishly, putting an extra emphasis on that damned word that should never have left my mouth. It takes my mind a moment to catch up with what she's insinuating.
"No! Well," I correct myself after a moment of questioning whether porn is still a legal pass-time in this day and age, before remembering Joker and his Fornax collection. "not more than anyone else, especially considering my lack of female companionship."
"Ah-ha!" The redhead next to me grins mischievously. "So, after careful study, what do you have deduced are the…signs?"
Okay, time to nip her in the bud and assert myself in here. Jane Shepard or not, I'm not having this conversation with her. "Not going there, Commander. Wouldn't that be considered fraternization with your crew, or something?"
"Last I checked, chatting about the sex life of my subordinates wasn't against regulations, just participating." She grins at me cheekily, a look that continuously makes me want to just kiss it right off her lips. "Besides, you're not exactly my subordinate right now, are you?"
"Still not talking about it, Jane." Hmm…maybe I can get some payback, too. Trying my best not to turn beet-red and channeling my inner Bond, James Bond, I lean over and nuzzle her ear. "Besides," I whisper into it, making sure that my lips are just barely ghosting over her skin, "don't you think it'd be much more fun to show you what I picked up, instead?"
She actually shivers slightly at that, and I lean back with an equally satisfied smirk. Mission accomplished.
At least for a moment, before she swings her leg over my body and straddles me again, leaning close, so very close…
"Don't make promises you don't intend to follow through on, Lieutenant," she whispers seductively, sliding her body all the way up mine.
I should've realized I'd never win against Jane Shepard.
Then again, is losing to her in this particular matter really such a bad thing?
"Aren't you the fast mover," I whisper back with a grin. I just can't help it. And neither could you, if you were entirely honest and had a beautiful woman kneeling over you, muttering in that low, breathy tone of hers and those eyes…oh Divine, those eyes.
"You should know by now, Lieutenant. I get what I want…when I want it." And with that, she mimes a kiss, winks at me, and pulls away.
It takes a full minute and a half to get myself back under control and my breathing back to something resembling an even keel. Not to mention everything else she was doing to me.
"All flirting aside, though," she says out of the blue, "you do realize that I'm probably going to be reassigned by the Council to some top-secret mission or other come tomorrow, right?"
"Well, we don't know if it's going to be that soon, but…" yeah, she has a point. Guess I'm not the only one who's been trying not to think about that, and failing miserably.
"Don't kid yourself, the Council isn't one to waste spectre resources." Shepard shrugs an idly toys with a strand of her hair. "Best case, I get to follow up some leads the STG dug up on the Collectors. Worst case, they'll have me babysitting some politician or another."
"Yeah. Well, if you're going after the Collectors…"
"I'll be careful. I know."
"I was going to say, I may have a lead or two to follow up on. They may or may not pan out, depending on, well, on how things went, but they might be worth checking out."
Shepard grins easily and gives me a playful shove. "That was a given."
"Yeah. You're my personal intel fount. Why else do you think I'm going out with you?" she asks in an airheaded tone of voice that totally doesn't fit her, but makes us both crack up anyway. It's funny how one can be as insecure as me when it comes to things like this, and yet, here I am without any doubt that she's joking about something people might otherwise construe as a pretty callous statement. This is Jane Shepard, after all.
Shepard is quiet for a long moment, looking pensive. "You know," she continues slowly, "I could probably talk them into letting you come with me. Important resource and all that."
"Yeah, and I'd just slow you down." As much as I appreciate the sentiment, she's needed out there, and I get the feeling that that's not where I'm supposed to be. I could, of course. But there's other places where I can help prepare for the Reapers more. Where I can do things that might turn the tide more than being another gun at Shepard's side.
I'm an engineer.
It's time to go back to doing what I know, and using what I know to best effect. The Reapers may be coming, their plan of action may have changed, but what I know about tactics and weapons that work and don't work against them hasn't, and the place I can do the most good right now is Cerberus. It took me a while to realize that.
I've been avoiding them, mostly because I didn't want to deal with Tim, and I was afraid of how Miranda would react after the way we parted, and because I felt like I belonged out there on the Normandy with Shepard, but maybe I've been approaching this entire thing all wrong. I've been thinking about it, and Shepard being here just gave me the nudge I needed, I suppose. She's moving on from the Normandy, going out there and doing things because they're necessary. Would she prefer to stay on her ship? Of course she would.
But given the choice between doing what's right and what's easy? As cliché as it sounds, she's the kind of person who does what's right, no matter the cost.
And given the trust she's put in me, what with not shooting me or turning me in and all…and even giving me a chance, I can do no less.
So yes, I'd much prefer to stay with her, or even do nothing and wait for her to come back, but the right thing would be going back to Cerberus, make sure that the weapons and tech they're developing against the Reapers and using Collector and Reaper tech is put to the best use it can be when the time comes.
Besides, part of me is really itching to get my hands dirty on the workings of the SR-2.
Shepard rolls over to look at me. "You sure?"
"Yeah. I've got a few things I need to do."
"Got to make sure that when the Reapers come, they're on the right side," I tell her with a wry grin.
The redhead chuckles and shakes her head, bemused. "Anyone ever tell you that you're a lunatic? Changing the affiliations of a terrorist organization?"
"Not their affiliations, per so. Just…pointing them in the right direction."
"It's not like they were going the right way to begin with," she snorts dismissively.
"No, but they could – and would – cause a whole lot of trouble otherwise. Let's just say there's elements in them that believes in using Reaper tech to augment humans so they can benefit from it, even if the rest of the galaxy goes to hell as a result."
"Sounds like they're lunatics. Nothing new there."
"Yeah, but right now? They're an annoyingly resourceful terrorist organization with a pro-human galactic agenda. If it benefits humanity, they're going to go for it, to hell with everyone else. But imagine people with their resources actively…collaborating with the Reapers, delivering defense network security codes, software viruses, deployment information…" I can feel her shudder against me as the point sinks in.
"We'd be crippled. Entire planets could be taken over without firing a shot."
"And you're going to prevent that?" she looks at me skeptically.
I just shrug. There isn't much I can realistically do against Tim, no matter how much I'd like to delude myself into being able to change his mind. But he didn't really get all megalomaniac bad until he got wind of what the Collectors were trying to do in building a human-form Reaper. When he realized that perhaps, the potential for Reaper tech was within his grasp. I think that's really the point he went off the deep end and gave in to the whole wanting to rule the galaxy crap, because he realized he could, that the tech was within reach to elevate humanity to a higher level. His intentions were good, but then the Reapers got to him and twisted it into something even worse.
I may not be able to prevent it, I may not be able to utterly change the course Cerberus is going to be taking…but I can do my damn best to nudge them away from it and, worst case, sabotage every single piece of tech I can get my hands on.
"Don't know if I can, but I can help. They've got access to intel and resources the Alliance doesn't. I'm not sure I want to know where or how they got some of it, but fact of the matter is they have it, and we may as well use it to our benefit." I shrug and try to hide my frown at the thought of having to rob Cerberus while literally having my head stuck in the lion's jaw.
Shepard notices, anyway. "Maybe I'm not the one who needs to be careful."
"Maybe not, but isn't that the thing the guy usually says to his girl when she's about to go off on some insanely dangerous journey?"
"I think that's the standard thing you say to everyone who is about to go off on an insanely dangerous mission," she corrects me with a little smile. "Still going about trying to change history?"
"As much as one person can, yes." I can't help the grin that comes out at the thought of just what the one person who's in bed next to me is going to change. "Let's just say I had an…inspiring role model to aspire to."
"You know I have to report this," Shepard says after a while, all traces of good humor gone. I kind of figured it'd come to this.
"I know. You'd be proving Tevos right, you know."
"Except…" Shepard hesitates a little. "There's a chance we could just let this all go, since no one else knows about it. And if anyone asks, you're a NavInt double-agent."
I shake my head vigorously. "No, Jane. One, you're not lying for me, and two, I already know this charade can't go on forever." With a wry grin, I add, "like you said, I make a lousy spy, and can't keep my mouth shut, so it'd come out sooner or later, anyway. Better not to have them suspect you're involved."
"You know what that means, though, right? You'll be on the run. Not just from the Alliance, but from everyone. The STG, the specters, the turians."
"You've got to bring me in, I know. I've got a plan."
She arches an eyebrow at that with a ghost of a smirk. "Oh?"
"Yeah. If I learned one thing, it's to always have a backup plan. In this case, exit strategies A-through-F."
A wry smile spreads across my lips. "Well, you know how my plans tend to go."
Shepard remains silent for a while, before turning over and settling her head on my shoulder and looking at me from the corner of her eyes. "This is utterly crazy," she whispers.
"You're only realizing this now?" I ask with an incredulous chuckle. "Look at it from my perspective. I'm thrust into this universe cold turkey, then I'm asked to somehow contribute to saving the galaxy from the Reaper invasion – well, that's my fault, really, but I'm gonna blame it on Q because I can-" and because he won't make a show of defending himself because he can't, "get involved with Cerberus, somehow convince them to get me aboard the Normandy, meet you, survive all the crap that's happened to us, and then, then, I tell you what's going on with me and you not only believe me, but you also haven't had me either thrown in the brig or committed, or charged with treason, and to top it all of, I've kissed and am laying in bed with one of the most incredible women I've ever met."
The redheaded N7 next to me looks on contemplatively. "Hmm…well, yeah, if you put it that way, I can see how you could have issues believing this is all happening." She sighs and buries her head into the crook of my neck for a moment. "But what I meant was that for some ungodly reason, something actually compels me to believe you," she mumbles into my shoulder.
"Yeah, and I'm inordinately grateful for that. Trust me, Jane, you're one scary woman."
"You've got to admit that all this crap about being brought here by an omnipotent guy in drag-"
"Actually, he was wearing a costume uniform," I correct her, although the thought of Q in drag makes me smirk evilly, and I can practically feel the grin on her lips, before realizing that she made that mix-up deliberately. Janeway my ass, I'd give my right arm to see what'd happen if Q and Shepard ever met. She'd probably leave him bleeding with her cutting wit.
"Whatever. That you're here because someone knows the fate of this galaxy, this universe, even, and brought you here to somehow fix it, or do your best to fix it for some reason or another."
"Oh, I know it sounds unbelievable. Trust me, I've thought about it a lot."
"I know. And that's my dilemma." Shepard turns over, her hair tickling my jaw. "Either you're telling the truth, and did spend the entire time trying to figure out how to go about telling me this crap, which I can understand and believe…or you're making all this up, in which case I still can't prove a damn thing."
"Then why trust me at all?"
"Like I said…you were there. Saved my life and all that. And something's telling me to go with it." She shrugs, the motion a little lost under the blanket and between our physical contact. "Maybe I'm a complete fool for it, but I want to believe you're being sincere. Because if you're not…"
"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorn'd."
"Have a lot of experience with women scorned, Lieutenant?" she teases lightly.
"A few. Most of them pissed at me because I was the closest guy after a dump or rebound. And they even called me. Just to yell at someone, I think." I shrug and idly run my hand through her hair. I don't think I'll get tired of the feel of that, and so far she hasn't chopped off my hand. "But there's a good reason why I went to Cerberus and not the Alliance…or a spectre."
"Let me guess…it's a long story."
"Kind of. Let's just say that as hard as they were to convince, as stupid and moronic as they are…there's two things I saw that they did that ended up saving the galaxy."
Shepard hums noncommittally, and after a few minutes of silence, I'm starting to wonder if she's fallen asleep. I let my own eyes drift closed and tighten my hold on her, when suddenly there's a tired mumbled into my shoulder.
"What happens to me? You said I died, right?"
"You die…were supposed to die," I confirm hesitantly. "Over Alchera. They find your helmet and your dog tags, and not much else." There's a little pause as I fight to swallow the lump in my throat. "It's…it's got to do with why I went to Cerberus."
"Because I was dead?" she asks, her voice catching just a tiny little bit.
"No. Yes. I mean…" hell, I don't know what I mean, but I can't just tell her that the fate of the galaxy rests on her shoulders. That kind of pressure would crush anyone, and even the indomitable Jane Shepard would be affected by it, and I'm not ready to change history in that kind of manner. But maybe…
I roll over and wrap my other arm around her waist, trying to hold her as close as I can. Okay, now, don't get distracted by her. By the way the warmth of her body is coming through both our clothes, by the smell of her hair, by the…okay, stop. Focus. "The galaxy needs Jane Shepard. Only a few people ever have the good fortune to be able to make a difference in the grand scheme of things. To utterly change the course of history. I knew, from the moment I met you, that you were probably one of them. That's why I stuck so close to you, that's why I went for a posting on the Normandy. I just…never expected to end up here, right where we are now."
"So you went with me in the hopes of preventing my death?" she asks, a little confused.
"No." Licking my dry lips a little, I prepare to add yet another impossible thing to the list of items I'm telling her. "The reason, a big part of the reason I went to Cerberus was because of the role they would play later on in the conflict with the Reapers. Their most important, most productive contribution…was bringing you back from the dead."
"That's impossible," she snorts.
"I thought so, too, until you pull a Lazarus. Literally. Project Lazarus, funded and paid for by Cerberus, is an initiative to make sure that you don't die without fulfilling your destiny, or somesuch nonsense. Seems they believe that after Saren and the Citadel, you are the key to humanity surviving the Reapers." I search her eyes for any hint of what she's thinking, but they're unreadable. Seriously, never play poker against her, that woman might as well be a Vulcan sometimes. "But what Cerberus is thinking or why they did it is secondary. I don't know how they achieved it, or how much it cost, but they did it, and I don't care about much else. They brought you back and they give you a ship and crew to fight the Collectors and the Reapers with. That is why I sought out Cerberus." And, I keep to myself, it was kind of convenient with Miranda waltzing right into the C-Sec interrogation room like that.
Shepard is silent after that, and I can't really fault her. Expected it, even, because it's not every day that you're told that you're supposed to be dead. Not to mention all the other crap I dumped on her earlier and my half-assed, half-truth explanation. Just the fact that we're here, together, and that she's still listening is a good sign. Heavens know why she hasn't tossed my sorry ass out yet, but I'm not going to question my good fortune this one time. But maybe, just maybe, this one time, Q was wrong.
It's like this that we both fall asleep, tired, silent, and lost in thought next to each other.