It was a somber moment when Joker spoke over the speakers.
ARRIVING AT CITADEL DOCKING.
The mess hall was packed, though it wasn't for Gardner's meal, a party, or casual banter. It was an emotional gathering as most said their goodbyes; both the ground team and the ship's crew. One person, someone who had served since the SR-1, was present on deck, but made no attempt to pack or leave. She watched over her children while she remained seated in her med-bay.
"Staying with the ship," asked Davis.
"I follow Shepard until the 'Normandy' is grounded," replied Doctor Chakwas, "Jeff still needs me and I have no intention of leaving until I have to."
"Then I wish you the best of luck when you reach the Alliance."
"I am just grateful it isn't an ambush driving us apart this time. Though, is it unfortunate to believe it'll be another attack that brings us back together?"
"The way things are going…"
He didn't finish. They both knew the answer. As always, however, she took it with a pleasant stride.
"Then I look forward to seeing you in the future, Davis. Hopefully none of us are near the powderkeg when it ignites."
"I wish the same to you."
After he exited the med-bay, the mood grew a bit dimmer as more staff left their stations for the final time.
"It'll be hard seeing the old girl go," said Kenneth, reluctantly swinging a duffle bag over his shoulder.
"Come on," said Gabby, "we'll hit the bar and get drunk. Plenty of 'fine arse' there, right?"
"Eh…it's not the same Gab."
The two engineers entered the elevator followed by the two former Cerberus agents.
"Hey. You two keep your heads down," Brandon called over.
"Will do," yelled Jacob.
"Don't cause too much trouble out there," said Miranda.
They pressed the button for the CIC and were out of sight. Brandon expelled a heavy sigh as the first of his colleagues left. Never would he have thought he'd have a soft spot for anyone with a Cerberus badge on their uniform.
"Davis-Detective, we wish to advise you of safe travels on your journey from the 'Normandy' collective."
When Brandon turned to wish the geth on its way he had to blink again.
"Legion…what is that?"
"Despite observation and non-confrontational occurrences on the Citadel, our faction as geth may warrant termination by organics. A disguise would be efficient in longterm platform survivability until reaching the Persius Veil."
The disguise would have made a happily drunk Shepard squeal with cuteness. Or just Kelly. Legion's torso was clothed in a black hoodie with a small N7 logo on the front. Its flashlight head poked out from under the hood, but stayed snugly underneath as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
"I'm sure you'll blend right in," said Brandon, desperately biting back his urge to laugh.
"We appreciate your opinion, Davis-Detective. You have been more favorable compared to Jack's response."
Speaking of the devil herself, the psychotic biotic and the rest of the wrecking crew arrived on deck.
"So are you all carpooling till you get out of Alliance space?"
Subject Zero's only possession, an M-3 Predator, was strapped on her hip in Condition Zero: full thermal clip and the safety off. Grunt stomped behind her with his large Claymore and Zaeed walked with his duffle bag of memories and his beloved rifle Jessie.
"The old man here wants to pretend we're collecting the bounty on Jack and the geth," said Grunt. "I get to be the partner."
"That's only assuming some dipshit demands a cover story," replied Zaeed.
They all laughed and shared their quite vulgar farewells before heading to the elevator. Thane entered from his quarters in life support. As would any assassin, he packed light with only one a long case containing rifles and weapons.
"Going to spend time with your son," asked Brandon.
"My condition will only worsen. Time is short. All I have is my family."
"You're a good man, Krios. And thanks again for the advice...all of it."
Thane was grateful to leave the galaxy a better place than how he found it. Destroying the Collectors may have benefited largely, but uniting two lovers was worth much more to him.
"It was a pleasure. I will pray for the gods to watch over you always."
As the drell walked away Brandon could feel the biotic aura approaching behind him.
"So Samara, after you're released from Shepard's oath should we be keeping an eye over our shoulder?"
He faced the asari to note his semi-humor was of little effect. She was as serene and collected as always, but it couldn't be helped under that exterior was a cold killing machine.
At least her eyes weren't glowing white.
"While I assure no harm will come from me under Shepard's command, I am obliged to follow my code after it is relinquished."
She chose her words accurately. The fact she said it so nicely made it slightly irritating. He couldn't help but chuckle at the display of "camaraderie" from the Justicar.
"You are quite the angel of death. Lovely and tranquil before sending her wrath upon the people. The embodiment of renegade," he said sarcastically.
"You have done no wrongs in my eyes. You're a noble man, Davis. I know you and Kasumi have grown quite close, however. You'd risk your life even though she lives a life of deceit and pilfering?"
Everything she said was true and he didn't deny them. It didn't stop the stern crease of his brow under his sharpening eyes.
"Thane, Zaeed, Jack...they have colorful reputations, but they covered your back and it wasn't because they were paid to," he replied calmly, "It's just disconcerting that as soon as your oath to Shepard is fulfilled you might kill half of the people from this boat with no sense of betrayal or remorse. I mean you've even killed your own..."
Samara appeared unmoved with not a single change of expression, but Brandon felt nothing but guilt after her let that slip too far.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to go there. That wasn't right."
There was a softening of her face. Whether it was of kinder thoughts or respect of the sympathy would be unknown.
"Don't be. I loved Mirala. I loved her as much as any of my daughters. But Morinth...she was a monster. My daughter was dead before I sent her body to the goddess."
Still, he felt like such a fool.
"I never said you didn't love your daughters."
"I never said you did not love Kasumi."
That was when he looked at her. Really looked at her. She was still placid as he listened to the words pouring from the Justicar.
"My feelings have always come after my duty. It considers curiosity a liability. Knowing a murderer is a devoted father and husband complicates my actions. I know every one of you. Your strength of character and what you chose to fight for. By the code, one good deed does not redeem a lifetime of wickedness, yet these actions are not forgotten by the universe."
Brandon crossed his arms waiting to see where this was going.
"And where does that leave us?"
"At the bottom of my list. So far in fact that by the time that turn comes you might have already died from old age…"
He watched in amazement as Samara actually grinned.
"…a hundred years prior."
He tilted his head as to whether she was joking with him. But he knew a Justicar doesn't joke. Period.
"Guess that's a start."
It was enough for Brandon to return half a smile to her.
"You think you can convince the asari about the Reapers better than Shepard can with the Alliance?"
"The voice of a Justicar is considered absolute; however the choice of many to accept the words of one is always difficult."
They parted their separate ways, though Samara did reflect on Brandon's words. She would never say the truth she believed over the truth she had to follow. If that time ever came, her actions would speak for herself.
It grew more and more desolate on the crew deck so he made his way up to the command deck with Gardner.
"Rupert. Thanks a lot for those remedies."
Brandon shook the cook's thankfully clean hand.
"Ha. Was a pleasure to catch what fell through the cracks. The people too."
The doors opened as he shuffled out with his bag and a smile over his shoulder. Instead of watching him leave, Brandon walked over to the laboratory. Mordin was gingerly packing a few odds and ends while humming a familiar showtune.
"Back to the clinic?"
"Hmmm? No. Sur'kesh. New data imperative for Reaper attack. Can convince STG to mobilize. Counteracting agents. Weapons. Every little bit helps."
"Always something up your sleeve, doc. It's been fun."
"Indeed. Another chapter in the unsung history of the universe. Old STG motto."
The resident scientist salarian left, still humming that chipper tune. Next to the galaxy map, Joker was bantering with Garrus and Tali.
"Will the Alliance be prying the controls from your cold dead fingers, Joker," asked Tali.
"No. His bones will break way before that," retorted the turian.
"Ouch Garrus. Picking on someone's handicap."
"If that is the case how do you intend to keep EDI a secret," questioned Davis, "I mean she IS the 'Normandy' now."
As if on que the glowing sphere of EDI popped from the terminal, however, the voice that emitted wasn't hers. No matter how few or many times visiting the Citadel, everybody knew Avina's voice.
I AM NOT PROGRAMMED TO MAKE THAT KIND OF JUDGEMENT. MY CODE IS LIMITED TO INFORMATION AND SIMPLE INTERACTION SIMULATION.
"Smart plan, EDI. But just keep your own voice…and never use that one. Ever again," Joker added quickly.
AS YOU WISH JEFF, replied EDI in her normal tone.
The Normandy's pilot wobbled back towards the cockpit leaving Brandon alone with the two dextros. This was one of the good-byes he was internally dreading. He didn't see two aliens. These were his good friends.
"What are you two planning to do?"
"I'm hoping my voice carries weight with the Admiralty Board," said Tali, "We need at least one fleet mobilized for this war."
He turned to Garrus.
"Palaven. If the councilor won't listen then I'll go to every official I can and convince them about the invasion."
Both had responsibilities, but it hurt that neither said they would be going anywhere together.
"What about you? What's home for you," asked Garrus.
"Back on the old 'Normandy', Tali told me home is a state of mind. I like to believe that."
"Hmmm. I remember."
The turian glanced at her while her cheeks flushed. She was thankful none could see it, but she knew that bosh'tet turian would notice. Especially with that visor of his.
"So," Tali said, trying to act normally, "where does that mean for you?"
"I guess where the road takes us."
It went silent. Tali shuffled her hands. Garrus rubbed the back of his neck. Nothing happened until Brandon made the first steps toward Tali. It was enough for her to follow suite and the two embraced in a tight hug. He could feel the soft twitches on her back letting him know she was trying to hold back her sniffles.
"Stay safe out there, you bosh'tet."
"You too, Tali."
They let go and he turned to Garrus.
"You better stay out of trouble, Archangel."
"Right back at ya."
Their hands clasped with and playful smack to the shoulders. And with that, Tali and Garrus walked away side by side. The last person he had to say good-bye waited patiently watching the little exchange.
"Still with the formalities, eh?"
"Call it habit."
His throat tightened immediately.
"Um...I, uh...I don't know…what to do..."
She sunk back on her heel and crossed her arms waiting for him to elaborate. It took him a deep breath to get his voice back.
"Tali, Garrus, they can pull some strings to get the higher-ups aware. What do I do? Just wait for the Reapers to show up?"
"It's not easy knowing the entire galaxy faces extinction and everyone thinks you're batshit insane. Take it from someone who knows."
He chuckled at that.
"Funny. After Sovereign…I…I just wanted a normal life."
The seriousness of his words couldn't deter her from smiling.
"Look at us, Davis. Look at what we've done. Name one person who hasn't been on this ship that you could describe this to."
She had a point. Only the people who have served under Shepard could understand the perils they went through. How can it be described to someone who hasn't seen it? Lived through it?
"There's no such thing as a normal life, Davis. There's just life. Grab that cute thief of yours and just live as long as you can. The time will come when we have to blast those bastards back to the hole they crawled out of. Until then…remember why you're still alive."
She raised her hand out. The only time he had ever seen her do that was when she rescued him from his drunken descent all those months ago. Her rank was taken away now, so it would be an appropriate gesture. It was just too degrading. Just because she was no longer recognized by the Alliance did not mean she would be by him. Instead, he saluted crisp and firm to his commanding officer.
"Will do, ma'am."
He watched her smile and her hand went straight to her brow.
"Dismissed, Captain Brandon Davis."
Their arms dropped and Brandon went to the elevator. Unlike every soul on the 'Normandy', he wasn't leaving through the same airlock.
The elevator was at the hangar bay with him quickly moving to his ship.
Kasumi insisted on letting her pack her own things. He agreed and said she could put her stuff wherever she wanted on the 'Razgriz'. Within reason of course. He didn't recall seeing anyone help her move. Then again he hadn't seen her all day and assumed she had moved all her stuff to his ship already. The port observation room had already been cleared and she probably was cloaked as everyone made their farewells.
"Okay what can I do to help..."
Brandon realized he was staring inside an empty ship. None of her things were there. It was exactly as he left it.
"EDI," he quickly called on his omni-tool.
"Is Kasumi still on the 'Normandy'?"
MY SCANNERS DO NOT INDICATE SHE IS ON BOARD. LAST KNOWN TRACES OF HER WHEREABOUTS, AS WELL AS ALL RECORDINGS SINCE HER ARRIVAL ON THE NORMANDY, HAVE BEEN POLITELY ERASED FROM MY DATA-TRACKS.
EDI continued but he had stopped listening and leaned against the wall. He was trying to think of why she had left. Maybe she got scared? That's what she was hoping for. That's the conclusion he was begging for. For the slimmest of a moment he thought the obvious; especially since it also meant she took his Maltese Falcon. She was a thief. Lies. Deceit. She played him. Simple as that. She had her fun. When the time was up she booked and took…a lot more than he ever believed he could lose.
Luckily, those few seconds of thought proved wrong when he saw his falcon on the console in the cockpit. At its feet was a perfect red rose with a folded piece of paper. He unfolded the note to read her handwriting…and a haiku.
Love in the shadows
Only if you can catch me
See you space cowboy
Turning the paper over revealed an address, a date, and another message.
Let's see if you can top our last date.
His lips curved all on it own when he jumped into the captain's chair.
"As a last favor EDI, could you do an extra-net search of the address I'm forwarding?"
OF COURSE. THE ADDRESS IS THE LOCATION OF THE WEST HIGHLAND HALL ON THE ALPINE REGION OF BEKENSTEIN. THE DATE CORRELATES WITH AN EXCLUSIVE ART AND ARTIFACT AUCTION BEING HELD TWO SOLAR WEEKS FROM TODAY.
"Thank you so very much, ma'am," he said with a smirk.
The 'Razgriz' surged upward as the hangar doors opened. With a burst of thrust the gunship fell into the vacuum of space and coasted away from the 'Normandy'. The main thrusters glowed as it prepared to jump to FTL. Brandon sunk back in his command chair and smiled.
"I'll catch ya later, thief."
In a flash, all that was left were the vapor trails of the engines.
And that's the end...for now. Will be going into ME3, but will be taking a break. Won't be too long and I'll be sorting the continuation of the next story.
Thank you all for reading, reviewing, and enjoying this little off-beat Mass Effect journey.
-Mordinette for helping me out with the occasional character hiccups.
-Tempest86 for the first review on the story (and on fanfiction) and learning how awesome it feels when you get one.
-Black-cat-9288 for good conversations and help with the occasional proofread.
-Mivpus, sorry for playing with your emotions constantly, but I hope it was worth it.
-Dracconnis, sorry. Brandon didn't join the dark side, but I'm sure Kasumi will steal some of your cookies.
-Idiot of wanderlust, I'm happy you enjoy my interpretations of the in-between moments in the game and you can always catch those "Firefly" references.
And again thanks to all of you who've left a review, sent a message, or just read and enjoyed the story. Greatly appreciated.