Aria T'Loak was not someone who enjoyed being vexed.
She was used to control, she was used to being able to predict with near perfect accuracy how to make someone act how she wanted them to act. Patriarch was easy to conquer; his weakness was in his inability to keep a close eye on his employees. Oleg was just as simple; his weakness was his belief in fair play and thinking he could account for every possibility. It was this control, perceptive ability, and the natural affinity for long term strategy that made her the undisputed ruler of Omega, its defender and now its liberator. It was these traits, honed over centuries, that she prided herself on.
And yet Shepard had vexed her completely.
From the moment she found out that the famous war hero, Commander Dante Shepard, was not only alive but would likely be heading towards Omega, she'd made contact with the Shadow Broker and paid a very large sum of money for every ounce of information that was available on him. And to her annoyance, not one bit of it helped her get a clear read on him or what to expect from him.
He didn't have any clear allegiance to anyone. He grew up on Earth with no family, so there were no relatives he felt a commitment towards. Clearly he had moved on from the small time gang he'd grown up with, he'd shot one of them in cold blood for attempting to extort him.
He had worked willingly for both the human Alliance and for Cerberus, two groups very much opposed to each other, and yet he showed no regret for his service to either and no particular interest in either group's overarching agendas of increasing humanity's political power or fueling human dominance throughout the galaxy. When he was made a Specter he kept himself out of politics as much as possible and did whatever he willed with no regard for the political consequences arising from it. So he didn't even show allegiance to his own race, much less any official government body.
From this she could conclude he was a wild card, at least when it came to working with people.
And his Psych profile within the Alliance seemed to verify this assumption. While he had served faithfully and with a distinguished N7 ranking, he was labeled as something of a renegade, adept at leading and capable of taking orders, but very much prone to recklessness and disobeying orders if he believed he had a better strategy. Which, interestingly enough, he usually did.
But as she read further, particularly of his involvement in the Skillian Blitz, she discovered this classification was truer than she had expected. Her experience had taught her that wild cards tended to look out for themselves at the expense of others. They aligned themselves with whoever could provide them with the most immediate benefit and most of them never planned far enough ahead. Those that did had a relatively clear agenda with what they were after, be it money, power or just basic survival. During the Blitz, however, Shepard showed an amazing skill for strategy and rallying people to his cause. Not only did he almost single-handedly organize the police and civilians there, but he minimized casualties and held back the enemy invaders until Alliance aid could arrive. When all was said and done, less than 300 civilians died, most of them caught in the initial assault.
He went out of his way to help the people around him, people he had likely never met before, he then led them effectively into battle, and formulated an effective defensive strategy using the resources he had available to him. And he accomplished all of this while he was apparently on shore leave, only able to use the civilian grade weapons that were within the city, and with less than an hour's warning before the assault.
So not only was he a wild card, he was a very dangerous wild card even when outgunned and outnumbered.
Well, what of personal relationships? Perhaps there, she thought, she could find a weakness. From the logs of the Normandy's mission to hunt down Saren, she discovered he made a clear point of having a strong relationship with the people under his command, particularly his ground team. The shipboard interactions painted the picture of a political idealist and an optimist. A paragon of virtue that did what he felt was right, no matter the cost.
"Cute." She remembered thinking to herself. This was it then, she could exploit his ideals to manipulate him. But again she was vexed as he handed off some classified information regarding the geth to the quarian on his squad, even noting that because it was classified he was breaking several laws by doing so. This when only a short time before he had actively refused to deal with the shadow broker, when similarly classified files were requested of him, with the additional promise of payment. The quarian had offered nothing in return for it and only wanted it for her pilgrimage. What made this case different than than the last?
And more evidence of such inconsistencies arose when the issue of Wrex's apparent disagreement with Shepard on Virmire came up. Apparently Saren had developed a cure for the genophage, which had to be destroyed, lest Saren acquire a near unstoppable army. And while he had gunned down his former gang member for threatening him with no hesitation, for one reason or the next he had used diplomacy on Wrex and showed him no ill will after the fact. Again, what made this case different from the last?
It was then that it occurred to her that perhaps he dealt with every interaction as a separate case all together. If that were the case, then studying his patterns would prove ultimately useless as there was no way to predict how he would deal with her.
So she waited, it would not be the first time she did battle with a Specter, nor the first time she had dealt with a human. Let him come then, she had told herself. She would see for herself how he chose to interact with her.
And when at last they met in person, he seemed perfectly comfortable with her, as though he'd known her for years. He was polite and friendly, but he didn't suck up to her. He knew she would have the information he was after and he wasn't intimidated by her reputation in the slightest. He showed her no more respect than she had earned from him and expected nothing more than to be treated in kind.
When he left to go fetch Mordin, she discovered to her annoyance she knew no more about him or how his mind worked, than when he had walked in. So she decided to see his penchant for strategy at work. She leaked information to the Blood Pack about Patriarch spreading some rather unpleasant stories and had one of her men send Shepard to see how he would deal with the issue.
She had expected a simple escort, but as she got word that the plague in the slums had been dealt with and that Patriarch apparently had a new Kraant, she learned quickly that nothing was simple when it involved Shepard. Not only had he killed the mercs, he'd done so in such a manner that Patriarch looked less like a trophy and more like a retired warlord who still had strings he could pull and guns he could hire, therefore lessening the chances of any real threats coming after him in the future to get to her. What had been a test of his willingness to follow her orders, had turned into a show of his ability to not only achieve his objective, but to do so in a way that strengthened her operation as a whole.
It was…Intriguing. Made even more so when he returned from collecting Archangel and delivered a datapad revealing that the three groups that had tried to kill him intended on going after her next. And she would have had no idea it was coming. And even still she couldn't be sure where he stood with her. He aided her, but did nothing to change the balance of Omega. In fact, she could almost assume he was doing all he could to preserve it, to what end she couldn't guess.
And then the reclaiming of Omega…
He had her on edge the entire time; he never challenged her rule or strategy, save when he found a solution that would benefit their end goal more than the current plan, but at the same time she could never predict his next move or response. When she and Nyreen were trapped and he was attempting to redirect the energy from the shields, she could hear Oleg trying to persuade him to let her die to save the civilians and for a moment she thought he might do it. That, in this case, her continued rule wasn't worth sacrificing so many lives. And only when he pressed button and overloaded the core did she breathe a sigh of relief.
And even still she couldn't begin to guess where they stood. It was clear he wasn't particularly happy about sacrificing them, but at the same time he still chose to follow her lead, even if it meant many civilian deaths. Then when she had Oleg by the neck prepared to make him pay for taking her station away from her, she almost felt dread when he begged to be spared, offering crucial information against Cerberus that would no doubt be invaluable in the war effort.
She wanted Oleg dead, but she knew that there was little Shepard wouldn't do for an edge in this war, and while she was indeed formidable, a small part of her doubted she could've taken him on if a fight broke out. If the liberation of Omega had taught her anything about him, Shepard was more a hyper lethal vector than a soldier and he seemed to always have a plan to kill any enemy.
And once more he surprised her; he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and calmly watched as she murdered the general in cold blood with a look of genuine satisfaction on his face. And he kept that satisfied look as he turned around and looked out at her ruined bar.
And it was that look: that satisfied, amused smirk that finally made her snap.
"This partnership has been an exercise in frustration."
He raised an eyebrow, amused and perplexed. "Really? Here I thought you'd be breaking out the drinks and celebrating our victory."
She can't help but smirk at that. Humor. He always seemed to deflect what people said with humor. He used it a shield, and damn it if he wasn't good at it. "I like to know what makes people tick." She looked over at him, narrowing her eyes in suspicion. "Especially someone I might need something from in the future." She crossed her arms, searching his face for some kind of tell, any way to sense his thoughts. "So come clean. Have you been trying to work me? Validating me one minute and judging me the next? Which is it, really?"
He chuckles, again deflecting the question with humor and still revealing nothing. It was infuriating, really. "Am I that hard to read?"
"Shepard, I've lived for a thousand years and you may be the most powerful and baffling creature I've ever encountered." It was unnerving being this honest with someone, this…desperate to know. It was like an itch she couldn't scratch. "I have no idea where I stand with you."
Shepard just shrugs, his face breaking into a grin. "I think I like to keep you guessing. I'd hate for the great Aria T'Loak to get complacent."
She scowls. More deflection… She should've expected as much. "You are a truly dangerous person."
He laughs and stretches before leaning over the railing. "I think Omega's gonna be happy to have its rightful queen back in power."
She scoffs and headed over to the console. "Of course they will." She takes a breath and looks back at him. "Bray will get you back to your ship. Once I've whipped this station back into shape, you'll have all the ships, troops and eezo you need. I honor my debts."
"I'd expect nothing less for you." Shepard smiles and pats her back as he walks past, firing up his omni-tool and trying to connect to someone on his ship, by the sound of her she was quarian. "See you around, Aria. If we both survive this war, I'm buying the drinks!" She rolls her eyes and begins addressing her people. She was back home, she was queen once more. And though he was still completely vexing to her…
She honestly wouldn't have it any other way.