A few weeks ago I ran a thank-you-for-following-me gift fic giveaway on my tumblr. Janiejanine won, and asked for drunken Normandy shenanigans. This is what happened. I apologize for treating her poor Kate Shepard so abominably, and blame all out-of-characterness on Mordin.
After the first hour of mining planets for resources, a strange sort of zen settled in. Scan. Probe. Scan. Probe. Once, after finding a particularly large deposit of eezo, she'd even whooped. Quietly, of course. It'd been the middle of the night-shift, after all.
Shepard didn't sleep much, these days. And at least when she was standing in the CIC scanning and probing, she wasn't tossing and turning upstairs in her too-large cabin. And, hell, they could always use more eezo. And platinum. All those upgrades weren't going to build themselves. Scan. Probe.
She was at the end of a long and less-than-fruitful shift at the galaxy map when several things happened at once: she hit the button to release the last of their probes, a godawful crash rattled the ship, and every light in the CIC went out. Faint tracks of luminescence outlined the doors and the path to the exits.
"EDI?" Shepard asked into the dark. "Want to tell me what just happened?"
The AI, however, remained silent.
Louder, throwing her voice all the way down to the cockpit, she shouted, "Joker? The hell?"
"Working on it, Commander," came his strained reply. "Uh, we seem to have lost primary power? Not sure why. Definitely not Collectors, though. There'd be more burning. Also, I looked outside. Just to be sure. Who says windows on starships are unnecessary?"
She didn't smell smoke, but a faint whiff of something sweet and most definitely out of the ordinary made her nose twitch. She couldn't place what is was, or where it was coming from. A sneeze caught her off-guard. A moment later, the glowing EDI interface behind her flickered to dim life. The CIC lights came back on, reluctantly and not nearly as bright as usual. For a second, she was reminded of the darker interior of the SR-1, and the remembrance of loss made her gasp. Too sudden. Too strange. Too wrong. The cloying scent lingered and she rubbed absently at her nose as if rubbing might banish it.
"Shepard," said the AI. Rationally, Shepard knew EDI couldn't sound weary, but the faint crackle and static in the synthesized voice certainly gave the impression of it. "Backup systems and generators are functional. The Normandy is running on reserve power, diverted primarily into life support. I am unable to determine the source of the failure, but we are not under attack."
"Did we do something the Illusive Man didn't like? Is this some kind of Cerberus kill switch?" Shepard asked. "And don't tell me you have a block that prevents you from answering that question."
"I do not," EDI replied. "There is a 99.998% probability this outage is not of Cerberus origin."
Shepard's nose twitched again, and this time the itch was followed by a sneeze. Then, for some inexplicable reason, she had the sudden and overwhelming urge to giggle.
She didn't giggle. She wasn't a giggler. She had no idea why she might giggle now, when something was clearly wrong with her ship. Swallowing the completely inappropriate compulsion, she turned away from the galaxy map just in time to hear the hiss and swish of the doors to the lab opening manually.
"Shepard," said Mordin. Shepard peered at him. She didn't think she was imagining a certain uncharacteristic lethargy in his movements. He had one hand against the bulkhead and was leaning against it heavily.
"You okay?" she asked. "You look—"
"Was running experiment. Complication probable."
"Let me guess," Shepard said, once again fighting the desire to giggle, "you broke the Normandy."
Mordin blinked at her. Even the blink was slow. "Unanticipated outcome. Was working on neutralizing agent to use against Collectors. Drew too heavily on ship's resources—"
"I'll say," Shepard interjected. "Look what you did to EDI."
The glowing orb of EDI's interface guttered like a candle flame caught in a strong breeze.
Shepard sneezed again. The smell still tickled her nose, somehow reminding her of flowers and perfume and old ladies all mixed together. With an undercurrent of something like Serrice Ice Brandy and Ryncol. She wondered if the scent was responsible for the headache building behind her eyes.
"Permanent damage—" Mordin inhaled, "—unlikely. Hypothesize neutralizing agent acts as depressant. Impaired balance, ataxia probable. May lower inhibitions. Agent appears to have effect on all organic species."
Half a titter escaped before Shepard stopped it with the back of her hand.
"Ahh, yes," Mordin added. "Euphoria also symptom."
"I'm sorry," Shepard said, not sounding particularly sorry. She really did want to sound stern—an experiment-crippled ship seemed exactly the kind of thing to be stern about—but she couldn't quite manage it. "Am I hearing this right? Are you implying you've released some kind of… thing into the air that's going to, what? Make us all act—"
"Intoxicated," Mordin said, slumping against the wall. He blinked and his large eyes remained closed several moments too long. "Yes. Crippling fatigue often indication of intoxication in salarians. Unfortunate."
"And the entire ship is affected?"
Mordin yawned. Shepard didn't think she'd ever seen him yawn before. She was fascinated by how wide his mouth was. And he had so many even little square teeth. She blinked when she realized she was staring, but Mordin only said, "Airborne agent, yes. Not fatal." One of Mordin's sharp inhales turned into yet another yawn, and he shook his head. "Ah. Likely most will react without questioning how intoxication occurred. Should clear naturally in one hour. Perhaps two."
She didn't want to consider what kind of trouble her crew could get into in two hours of unanticipated and unquestioned drunkenness. It was enough to finally banish the giggles.
Of course, she was perfectly aware how she reacted to several drinks. She probably should have anticipated the blurry vision and the lack of coordination. Instead, she missed the first step completely and fell down the others. Only her reflexes kept her from smashing nose-first onto the floor. The stinging pain in her palms as they caught her weight was enough to startle her into momentary sobriety. Mordin had slid down the wall, and was snoring lightly, head lolling against his shoulder.
"Mordin?" Shepard asked. "Mordin?"
"Professor Solus is asleep," EDI said unnecessarily.
"Is he going to be all right?"
"Affirmative, Shepard. His vital signs are stable."
"And Joker? He's not… flying drunk, is he? We're not about to crash into some wayward moon?"
"I have locked the flight controls."
On cue, Shepard heard Joker's stream of invective from the cockpit. A great deal of it seemed to involve things EDI was anatomically unable to do. Since she was a ship. Shepard's moment of clarity once again dissolved into snickering laughter. She sat back, brushing her still-stinging hands against her thighs, waiting for the room to stop spinning. It was strange; she'd started to take the cybernetics for granted. Generally all but the worst binges were cleared from her system before she'd had time to stagger more than a few dozen feet away from her last drink.
(The less said about the time the batarian bartender on Omega poisoned her and she ended up blinking up at Garrus and Zaaed from the floor of the men's bathroom in Afterlife, the better. Ugh. Some things were impossible to live down. Poison or no poison.)
Still, if what Mordin said was true, she wondered if the cybernetics were to thank for being able to keep her head at all. Giggles and balance be damned.
"Status report, EDI," Shepard said, in her best I'm the Commander, watch me command voice. The sound of her own voice almost made her feel like giving a speech. It'd been a while. She gave good speech. Hell, she gave great speech. If she could work in something about holding the line, it'd be perfect. She wasn't even sure what line. A line. Lines always needed holding.
"Grunt is agitated in the cargo bay—"
Shepard groaned. "I thought we dealt with that on Tuchanka."
"Jack and Kasumi are in the lounge, arguing over a bottle of tequila—"
"Right, because when in doubt add more liquor."
"Jacob and Miranda are in the XO's quarters and appear to be involved in a—"
"EDI," Shepard snapped, biting her bottom lip and swallowing the inappropriate mirth, "enough with the play by play. I know the crew's compromised. We'll handle it. Give them their privacy. I meant a Normandy status report. Any way of monitoring the levels of this… neutralizing agent?"
EDI sounded mildly affronted as she said, "Very well, Shepard. I will focus on restoring the Normandy to full functionality. I believe Professor Solus was correct. Initial levels of the intoxicant were high. They are already dropping."
"Fine. Okay. Can you open a ship-wide channel?"
"Shepard," EDI said in a tone bordering on synthetic admonishment. "I do not think you should speak to the crew in this state."
Shepard gaped. And then sputtered. And most certainly did not giggle. "Are you—is this—EDI, are you mutinying?"
"No, Shepard. But I believe you will… thank me later. You are… operating outside your usual parameters."
Just to be sure, she reached down and pinched her forearm. The pinch stung, but didn't wake her up like she hoped it would.
"Commander!" Came Joker's strangled cry. "Are you still out there? What the hell is she doing to my baby?"
"Shepard has retired to her quarters," EDI said, loudly enough for both Shepard and Joker to hear.
"This is mutiny," Shepard breathed. "And I will not retire to my quarters! It's my damned ship. I'll go where I want! If you won't open a channel, I'll talk to them myself. How's that for operating inside my usual parameters?"
"I am not certain—"
"Logging you out, EDI," Shepard cried.
"Shepard, you cannot—"
"Logging you out! You—you—you mutinizing busybody!"
"Mutinizing is not a word, Shepard."
Shepard sent a last glower at EDI's interface before shrugging out of her uniform's jacket and settling the fabric over the sleeping salarian. "You are in so much trouble tomorrow," she murmured. Mordin sniffled and shifted and muttered a few words—even more broken that usual—under his breath.
Shepard had a system. When she was doing her rounds, she usually followed the same path, unless Kelly indicated someone in particular was looking to speak with her. With Mordin asleep and Jacob… elsewhere, and no desire to face unprecedented levels of Joker-annoyance, Shepard climbed down through the ducts (EDI claimed the elevators needed to be left offline to conserve energy; Shepard accused her of lying and pried open a hatch) to the engineering deck.
Jack's hidey-hole was empty; Shepard figured this meant the great tequila battle was still raging in Kasumi's quarters. From Jack's room she made her way through the ducts to peek into the ship's core. Donnelly was singing something Scottish at the top of his lungs and—Shepard gazed, wide-eyed—attempting to direct Daniels and Tali in some kind of… jig.
"Och, no!" he cried, breaking off mid-tune, and Shepard lowered the hatch, afraid she'd been seen. And more afraid she'd be required to join in. Tali and Daniels burst into gales of giggles and continued their mad, uncoordinated waltzing. "S'all wrong! It's a solo dance. Solo. Toe-heel, Tali!"
Tali laughed. "Have you seen my feet? I can't toe-heel. Whatever't is."
Shepard had wondered if Tali's suit might protect her from the worst of the agent, but apparently Mordin's work was clever enough to bypass environmental filters. Fantastic. At least they were laughing. Well. At least Tali and Daniels were laughing.
Donnelly glowered and turned his ire on Daniels. "You can toe-heel. Toe-heel, double shake and rock, crossover, Gabby. Crossover!"
"Toe-heel, crossover, shake," Daniels jibed. "Do the hokey pokey, turn it all about, who cares. You're not the boss, Ken."
Shepard bit down on the inside of her cheek when Donnelly turned so fast he almost fell. She didn't think she'd ever seen anyone quite so aghast. "Hokey pokey? I'm teaching you the Highland Fling. Ingrates, the both of you!"
Shepard backed down through the ducts to the sound of Tali and Daniels galloping about and Donnelly once again accompanying them with Scottish song. Annoyed Scottish song.
She didn't try to hack Grunt's door. She could hear him bellowing inside, but since the shouting wasn't immediately followed by gunshots or the sound of glass breaking, she assumed he was just… venting. Hell, maybe he was even happy. Did happy, drunk krogan bellow? It sort of seemed like the kind of thing they'd do. If she didn't have the rest of her crew to check on, she might even have considered joining him. Instead, she wandered down the hall to Zaeed's room. It was empty.
At least all his guns were present and accounted for. Small mercies.
On the Crew Deck, she looked in on Samara first. If not for the giddiness still lingering just beneath the surface and the wobbly tilt of her own gait, Shepard might've thought the ship was back to normal. Samara was wrapped in the familiar glow of her biotics, meditating.
"It is not a good time, Shepard," Samara said, before Shepard could speak. She sounded strained. "I am… not myself."
"You should be fine in an hour," she said. "An experiment of Mordin's went—"
"Thank you. Perhaps we could speak later. I wish to meditate."
Samara lifted her face just enough for her reflection to appear in the bank of windows opposite her. The grief there was palpable, and Shepard took a step backward at the force of it. Perhaps intoxication and the Justicar Code didn't mix for a reason.
"Please, Shepard. I would rather be alone. Please."
Shepard nodded, and when the door closed, she leaned heavily against it, and told herself it was because she needed to make sure her balance was okay and not because she didn't want to shed tears over whatever horror Samara's lowered inhibitions were making her relive.
Shouting from down the hall finally galvanized her into action. She didn't even have to open the lounge door to hear it.
"Who died and made you the fucking alcohol police? Just give me the fucking bottle, Kasumi!" And then, a few moments later, "If you disappear behind that fucking cloak one more time I am going to blow up this whole room, you sneaky bitch."
Shepard hacked the door and stood in the open doorway with her arms crossed until Kasumi reappeared from beneath her tactical cloak and Jack turned to glower at her. "Share," she said. "That's an order."
Kasumi jabbed the bottle in Jack's direction. Without once taking her gaze from Shepard's, Jack took the bottle, raised it, gulped down a long swig, and handed it back to Kasumi again. The thief's lips turned down in a distasteful grimace, but then she took a sip of her own.
"Stay in here for another hour and try to get along," Shepard said. "Don't be hungover tomorrow."
Jack rolled her eyes.
It took all Shepard's remaining willpower not to return the gesture. Perhaps with a flipped middle finger for good measure. Sometimes—sometimes—Jack asked for it.
As soon as she was safely out in the hallway, she stuck out her tongue. And smiled a very satisfied smile, even though no one was around to see it.
Thane didn't look up when she entered Life Support. He sat with his palms flat against the table, his head bowed. He looked so vulnerable with the back of his neck bared, and Shepard's gut twisted. Thane was usually so self-contained, so calm, but the line of his back was all tension now, and as she watched, his fingers curled into fists against the metal of the table.
"I can control this," he whispered, and she knew the words weren't meant for her. "I can—her fingers trailing paths along my skin, never the same twice, leaving fire in their wake—this is not natural. This can be overcome. Her lips curve in that most secret of smiles. I think she's dipping to kiss me, but instead she bends to my ear and whispers—no! Not now. Not here."
Thane brought the flats of his hands to the table again and said, "Forgive me. Forgive me. Forgive me."
Shepard didn't think the words were meant for her, and they hurt her the same way Samara's grief had hurt her, so she only backed away again, and left Thane to his memories and his regret.
EDI had already warned her about Miranda and Jacob, of course, but after the misery of Samara and Thane, she couldn't help listening in. Just a little. So she pressed herself against the cool panel and put her ear to the door.
Miranda's voice, cool and crisp, said, "This didn't happen, Jacob."
"You say that every time this doesn't happen, Miri."
"Did you hear that?" Miranda asked. "EDI, is someone eavesdropping—Massani, if that's you, I'm going to—"
Shepard turned and jogged toward the medbay. Tried to jog, anyway. It was more of a lurch mixed with a stumble. She misjudged the distance and had to put her hands on the medbay windows to keep herself upright.
She looked up to see naked skin everywhere.
At least now she knew where Zaeed had gone.
Blinking, she backed up, but not before Zaeed glanced over his shoulder and smirked at her. Shamelessly.
Shepard clapped a hand over her eyes, but it was too late. Much too late. Some things could not be unseen. And she had just seen more of Zaeed Massani and Karin Chakwas than she'd ever expected to wanted to.
Which left only the battery in her rounds. Shepard got the door open just in time to hear Garrus say, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, Chambers. No."
"It will all be all right, Garrus. I want you to know it'll be all right."
"Yeah," Garrus replied. "I'm—whoa, no, I think you've got the—whoa, definitely have the wrong idea—dammit, Chambers. I'm fine. Totally fine. Absolutely all right."
"I can see how much you're hurting. I can see how heavy your burdens are. I can help you. Let me hold you. Let me make you feel—"
"Shepard," Garrus choked out, half-strangled, his wild gaze finding hers over Kelly's head. "Need me for something? Please?"
Having backed him up against the console, Kelly was half-draped across him, gazing up with adoration. Creepy, inebriated adoration, but adoration all the same.
The giggles came back.
"I don't know, Garrus," Shepard drawled. "Sure you're not in the middle of some calibrations? 'Cause I could come back some other time."
He glared at her. Perhaps the young woman wasn't quite nuzzling him, but it wasn't far off. Garrus, straight-backed and stiff-shouldered, reached out and tried to push Kelly gently away, but instead she only grabbed his hands and pulled them close, resting her cheek against them.
Shepard coughed to clear her throat and barked, "Chambers," in the voice she usually reserved for misbehaving new recruits. It had the intended and instantaneous effect of making Kelly jump upright. Of course, this was followed by an unsteady stagger, and with a long-suffering sigh, Garrus reached out to make sure she didn't fall flat on her face. For a moment Kelly appeared torn between leaning into Garrus—again—and facing her commanding officer. The latter won out. Score one for the scary commander voice. Shepard bit her tongue. Goddamned giggles.
"C-commander," Kelly stammered. "I—it's like I said—I was worried about him. I just wanted him to know he didn't have to be alone."
"I'm good with alone," Garrus muttered. "I am fine with alone."
"Sleep this off, Chambers," Shepard ordered. "I mean it. Here to bed with no stops. If I find out you've been interfering with Grunt or Thane or—"
Kelly's huge eyes widened. "'M not interfering. I just want them to know they're welcome, Commander. So they don't have to feel—"
"Alone," Shepard said. "Yeah. I got that. You've done enough for one day, I think."
Shepard managed to hold her laughter inside until she was certain Kelly was out of hearing range. Then she bent over, hands to knees, and laughed. "Oh, Garrus," she said, "oh, your face."
"Glad someone thinks it's funny. The hell, Shepard? In here minding my own business and then the lights go out, the boards go red, and I feel like I've found the bottom of a crate of turian brandy. And then… that. Whatever… that… was."
"She loves aliens," Shepard teased. "There was a list." She teetered over to the side of the room and hauled herself onto the chest in the corner. A moment later, Garrus sat down next to her.
"So do turians just not do drunk, or is life so unfair that you're the only one unaffected by whatever the hell it is Mordin did?"
"Mordin?" Garrus snorted. "Of course it was Mordin." Then he laughed and leaned back against the wall. "Damn, Shepard, are you kidding? I'm turian. We tend to keep blinding breaches in protocol to ourselves, when they happen. Can't get taken to task for what your superior doesn't know. Truth is, I haven't felt this drunk since—" The amusement vanished as suddenly as it had come. His mandibles pulled tight to his face, he turned his head slightly away from her. Shepard was sitting close enough to feel the way he tensed. She blinked and nudged him lightly with an elbow.
"Hey, Garrus," she said quietly. She knew it was the not-quite-drink talking, but for once she didn't want to stop herself. She'd been pretending for a long time. She wanted, just for a second, to stop. "You're allowed to not be okay."
He gave her one of his looks. The kind that said he was falling for exactly none of her bullshit. No one else could give look like Garrus Vakarian. Sometimes she dreaded it. Tonight, not so much. "That so? And you?"
She didn't flinch or deflect or immediately run from the battery on the pretense of business. Instead, she closed her eyes and leaned her head back. "I'm not okay."
She opened her eyes just in time to see him nod. "Horizon?"
"Yeah," he echoed. "It was. Like Omega. And… and Alchera, for that matter."
"You're not okay, either."
"I'm definitely not okay either."
They sat in companionable silence for several long minutes. Shepard tried not to think about the look on Kaidan's face back on Horizon, or the tone of his voice. She tried not to remember the way her gut twisted and her heart ached when he threw his disappointment in her face and declined rejoining her crew.
She tried not to think about how much it still stung that he—he of all people—hadn't trusted her, in the end.
The night after Horizon was the last time she'd set out to deliberately drown her sorrows.
It hadn't particularly worked. Garrus had kept her company then, too, each of them slowly and steadily putting away the good stuff, neither discussing their ghosts.
"Garrus? I know the Cerberus thing was… alarming, but… thanks. For believing me."
His mandibles flared into a brief smile. "Never a question, Shepard."
"Shit," she muttered. "Now I know I'm compromised. Maudlin. I hate maudlin."
Garrus bumped her shoulder with his and replied, "Maybe we'll all forget this in the morning?"
"I should be so lucky."
He smirked. "Chambers should be so lucky."
Shepard chuckled. "She's not going to be able to look at you for days. Weeks, maybe."
"Then I look forward to making her feel half as uncomfortable as I felt fifteen minutes ago."
"You have no idea. I think, given what I saw with the rest of the crew? You might've got off easy."
His brow plates raised. "Tell me you're not going to hold back with the details."
Anyone else, any other time, she might've kept quiet. But it was Garrus, and he said it was okay to not be okay, and he was her best damned friend in the galaxy. So she told him. And after he'd laughed and gasped and made all the appropriate horror responses she expected of someone who heard she'd had to see naked people doing naked things in her medbay, she smiled and said, "So, how're you feeling? I'm almost starting to think I won't fall over if I try standing up."
"Nothing to do but try."
Shepard grabbed the hand Garrus offered, and let him haul her upright. She didn't waver. Her vision no longer blurred.
She had exactly no desire to giggle.
Good as new.
When she returned to her own cabin (without so much as glancing toward the medbay and its wide windows), she said, "EDI?"
"I take back the mutinying comment."
"Thank you, Shepard."
"Do it again and I'll rip out all the wires down in the AI core."
EDI sounded vaguely unsettled. "…Understood."
"But thanks. Now log yourself out and let me get some rest."
Shepard fed her fish, shrugged out of the rest of her uniform, and made a mental note to swing by a fueling station to pick up more probes.
The eezo wasn't going to mine itself, after all.