AN: The bunny wouldn't leave me alone - No regrets, man. Took time out of my busy BB time to write this, get it out of my system. I should tell you that there is no smut in this story, only hints of what once was.
Betaed by Goodbye_sun
AN2 for - This is a smutless story, also it has MAJOR Citadel spoilers in it's plot! It is a MShenko romance story but since it's a crossover it won't allow me to pick them both - Go .
What if there was no line
Nothing wrong, nothing right
What if there was no time
And no reason, or rhyme
What if you should decide
That you don't want me there by your side
That you don't want me there in your life
What if I got it wrong
And no poem or song
Could put right what I got wrong
Or make you feel I belong
"Commander," Traynor called over the intercom, "Sir?"
Shepard looked up from his datapad and pushed the talk button on the intercom, "What is it?"
"There is a call from Hackett, Sir."
"Patch him through," Shepard sighed, and leaned back in the chair, watching as his intercom screen fizzed and came alive again with Steven Hackett's face staring directly at him.
"You're looking tired Shepard," Hackett said.
"I'm fine, Sir." Shepard said a little too swift, leaning forward to push his glass of whiskey out of Hackett's line of sight.
"That's good," Hackett answered, not looking all too convinced. "Another ship picked up a distress call," he said, knowing Shepard's preference of getting straight to the point. "The Normandy is the only ship in even remote proximity. I want you to go take a look at it."
"Alright," Shepard said with a nod, "We can do that."
"I thought you could do with a change of scenery," Hackett said with a slim fatherly smile.
Shepard shrugged, "What are the mission parameters, sir?"
Hackett's gaze flickered for a moment, and then he said, "EDI can fill you in, she has all the information."
"Very well, Sir." Shepard said, returning the slim bloodless smile, "Consider it done."
"I knew I could count on you," Hackett said, his smile more relaxed, "Hackett out."
Shepard leaned in and grabbed the whiskey glass, taking a sip of it, his expression grim and angry. "EDI!" he yelled out into the room.
"Yes, Shepard?" EDI's bodiless voice said.
"What are you trying to pull?" Shepard growled, "Hackett said that we were the only ship in the area, why did we not pick up on this distress call?"
"We did," EDI said. "But, I advised against telling you, and wired it through to Admiral Hackett instead." There was a moment of silence before EDI spoke again, "I wasn't sure our resources were spent best on a detour like that."
"EDI," Shepard sighed, pouring himself another drink, "Even without a face, I can tell you're lying."
"Maybe I am," EDI said cryptically. "Are you ready for the mission parameters, Shepard?"
"Shoot," Shepard groaned, swinging his feet to his table, leaning back further in his chair.
"The distress call came from a small mining and terraformer colony, on a distant planet known as LV-426," EDI said. "The colony was shut down for a decade due to problems with the atmosphere plant. Somehow, the processor became unstable and posed a danger to not only the planet but to every colonist."
"Nuclear powered?" Shepard asked bored.
"Yes." EDI said, "Here is the strange thing, I can see that according to the files the first colonists were all reported as having been evacuated, but there is no trace of them arriving anywhere. Shepard, whoever covered this up did a poor job."
"But good enough so some asshole sends a new shipment of colonists out there?" Shepard asked.
"Seems like it." EDI agreed.
"Was it a human colony?" Shepard asked, taking another sip.
"Earth founded, yes. But the colony had several species working there. Apparently, humans are not the only ones who want new frontiers to conquer."
Shepard snorted annoyed, "Let me hear the distress call." But EDI didn't react, "EDI, the distress call."
"Very well Shepard." EDI said, and started the playback of the distress call.
'fffzztttt...Thi-s is ffzzztffzz requesting imidia-te-te-te-te ffzzztttzz assista.. sqqrrrrzzz I repeat, this is fffzzzssqiii'
Shepard paled a little, clutching his glass tighter, "Can you clean that up EDI?"
"No sorry, this is the best I can do. I think that the atmosphere might be disrupting their signal." EDI said, "We can't raise the colony either."
"You tried?" Shepard rose his eyebrow. "Look what is this about? First you don't tell me about a mysterious SOS signal, and then you try and raise the colony on your own. What the hell is going on EDI?"
"I would rather not tell you." EDI answered honestly.
"How about I make you?" Shepard yelled, slamming his glass down into his desk, the amber liquid sloshing out over the edge.
"My voice recognizer registered the voice in the distress call." EDI stated, "It is Spectre Kaidan Alenko."
"Wh-what?" Shepard felt his anger flush out his body, being replaced by cold panic. "Kaidan is there?"
"Yes. He and a team were dispatched to find out why headquarters lost contact with the colony," EDI stated flatly. "We felt it would be best not to tell you."
"Who is 'we'?" Shepard said with a tiny voice, knowing exactly who 'we' would be.
"I believe they would prefer to be anonymous, Shepard," EDI said. "So, do you want me to plot a course for you? We can be in orbit of LV-426 in nine hours. Shepard?"
"Yes, plot the course EDI," Shepard mumbled. "And send me what you have on the planet, the colony and – the team."
"Of course." EDI said, and went silent.
Shepard leaned across his desk, pulling a picture frame from under a pile of unfinished ship models he had meant to get done and data pads. He couldn't help but to smile as he looked at the picture in the frame. Kaidan and he on the Citadel, Shepard with one arm around Kaidan's waist, and the other still in cast. They looked so happy and alive on that picture. Shepard's chest felt tight with sadness, they looked alive alright, but nothing had been further from the truth. At the end of the day, Shepard had found that he was dead inside. Kaidan had wanted to settle in soft comfort, him, John and easy living. He had wanted them to pick up a teacher gig like Jack had, he had wanted them to just sit there and wait to get old. Shepard had tried, he really had, but he got restless and angry. He was a soldier, not a kindergarten teacher, he was trained for killing, not for cooking perfect pasta. So, he had coped the best way he could, at bars, in the company of anyone who'd listen.
In the beginning, Kaidan had found him, picked him up and brought him home. But that ended too, just like the soft smiles, the random hugs or comfortable silence. Even the fighting ended, eventually. Some days Shepard would return home, but he couldn't handle the look in Kaidan's eyes, so mostly he'd stay away, or sleep on the couch, fully dressed. Kaidan had tried to make him see doctors, but he had refused.
As Shepard sat here and looked at the picture, he found himself running a thumb down the smiling Kaidan in the picture. They had a good sprint, nothing changed that. He frowned. He didn't want to feel these feelings, he had carefully buried them under anger and alcohol. He recalled his last words to Kaidan, 'Guess I'm only good at destroying things, sorry'. And with that he had left. It still made him feel like a coward, running like that.
Maybe he shouldn't be in the landing party? Maybe he should assign this over to Garrus, brilliant, loyal Garrus. Kaidan would not have a problem with him. Or maybe it was just time that Shepard took the bull by the horns and dealt with whatever it was that made him fuck up the best thing that ever happened to him.
Reading through the files Shepard grew increasingly nervous and restless, "EDI what's our ETA?" he asked out loud.
"T-minus 40 minutes." EDI answered.
"Tell the crew to be ready in 20," Shepard answered back. Reluctantly he placed the personnel files of the colony down, and stood to shrug off his casual uniform, to his combat one. He had no clue what was waiting for them down there, besides Kaidan. And for the first time in the fourteen months since he had last seen him, he felt this cabin was too empty and silent.
He continued to strap himself into his uniform, zipping his boots. He could see his reflection in the fish tank, small cracks in his skin glowing red, he turned his head slightly to see a scar close to his left temple had grown, it was more like a fucking cybernetic crater now than anything. They didn't even frighten him any more, he couldn't care less if his entire fucking face was a red beacon. He had maybe also gotten more greys, and lost some weight since he battled the Reapers.
He grabbed a datapad and stalked with long purposeful steps towards the elevator.
Nodding at Garrus as he came down into the hangar, "Alright," Shepard said coming to a halt. "This is a search and rescue, but you also need to be prepared to encounter hostiles, so remember to check your weapons. I don't know much about this mission, but I do know that we received a distress call from Spectre Alenko, whom set down on LV-426 with his team, responding to radio silence from the colony."
Garrus looked up at Shepard from his seat on a supply crate. Shepard looked away, mostly uncharacteristically. "Do we know why the colony went dark?" Garrus asked.
"No. EDI?" Shepard turned to EDI's physical body which stood leaned against the shuttle.
"I can tell you that the distress call was sent four days and sixteen hours ago, and we have not been able to communicate with either the vessel that Spectre Alenko and his crew arrived to LV-426 on, or the colony." EDI looked over at Garrus, "James and Liara are there too."
Garrus looked up at Shepard, angry that he hadn't been told.
Shepard held a hand up, "Doesn't make a difference, we have a job to do people. Let's do it." Anyone who didn't know him as well as Garrus did, might not have noticed the second of hesitation before Shepard stepped into the Shuttle.
The trip there was in uncomfortable silence. Garrus could tell that Shepard did his most to appear stoic, but he could tell from the way his hands were clenched that he was far from calm. "Maybe, maybe you should stay in the shuttle, Shepard?" Garrus said softly, breaking the silence.
"Why?" Shepard asked, relaxing his hands, realizing he was being watched.
"Because maybe, you know bad blood and all." Garrus said with a little shrug.
"What, you think that he's gonna shoot me in the face when we land?" Shepard asked, his voice a little too high strung for Garrus' taste.
"I wouldn't put it past him." Garrus said, with a dry laugh, "I would have, if I were him."
"Not this again, Garrus." Shepard bit him off, "I am not discussing my private matters with you. Period." And with that the cabin of the shuttle went silent again.
"We have a visual of the colony, but I don't see anyone, Commander." The shuttle pilot said. "And I mean, no one."
"Make a sweep of the perimeter," Shepard said, getting up from his seat to come stand in the cockpit. "You're right," he admitted, and then turned to his team in the shuttle. "Look alive." He turned to the shuttle pilot, "Set us down over there, and wait."
"Yes, Commander." The shuttle pilot said.
Shepard was the first to exit the shuttle, he shifted a little nervously, clutching his gun, not sure what to expect. "Okay, you, you and you," He pointed at three soldiers, "You go with Garrus, and meet us at the main entrance." He turned to the other two soldiers and EDI, "You are with me, let's go. Make sure to keep up the radio link, Garrus."
"See you at the entrance." Garrus moved out with his team, and Shepard the other way.
"EDI?" Shepard asked.
"I detect no life, Shepard." EDI said.
Shepard was just about to answer, when a bright blue explosion cloud shot out of what Shepard assumed was the atmosphere plant. "What's that?"
"Venting," EDI said. "The core in the plant is overheating, or.. malfunctioning, either way, it's bad."
"I thought the nuclear atmosphere plants were outlawed like fifteen years ago." Shepard huffed, making his way around some stranded vehicles that reminded him of futuristic dinosaurs in the rugged landscape. "Besides, who the hell would try and make this rock habitable? It's a wasteland."
"Rich on minerals and Ezo." EDI stated.
"There's that." Shepard sighed, "Always some money grabbing asshole ready to exploit the refugees from the Reaper war. Come on EDI, you'd have to be desperate to come here."
"Are you saying that because of Mindoir, or because you are genuinely against capitalism?" EDI asked with a little giggle.
"Bitch." Shepard mouthed, but couldn't help but to smile.
They arrived at the front gate, seeing Garrus already there. "The door panel is ruined, someone went through great effort to keep something in, or out."
EDI chuckled a little and walked over to the panel, it took her under sixty seconds to have the door opened.
"Have I told you lately that I love you?" Garrus said with a laugh as they made it inside. "Hey Shepard, look at around, this place is shot to shit."
"I see it." Shepard said, "Lots of blood, but no bodies."
"Where – where the hell are the bodies, Commander?" One of the soldiers asked nervously as he poked a giant hole in the floor with the muzzle of his rifle.
"Don't know, Private Walker." Shepard said with a shrug, "But we are not here for the dead, but to rally up the living." Shepard looked back at his team for a moment. Before the Reaper war, he had been surrounded by friends, and this was what it was reduced to, five skittish soldiers and two friends.
His train of thought was cut off as Garrus yelled, "GET DOWN!"
Shepard got down only to hear the sound of a bullet meeting flesh, followed by a muffled scream. Goddamit, he thought to himself, but laid flat on his stomach and waited.
"I think it's empty now." Garrus said slowly standing.
"What was that?" Shepard asked, brushing himself off as he stood.
"A turret." EDI said.
Shepard rose a brow, "Are there more of those?"
"Yes, but none are armed."
"Alright," Shepard turned to see the injured soldier clutching his shoulder. "Get him up, and fall in line." He turned and walked over a hole in the floor. Garrus looked at EDI when Shepard just walked away, but EDI just shook her head.
Raising his gun, and his biotics flaring alive as they heard a door slide open, Shepard aimed at whatever came out. "James?" he asked with surprise when he saw the bulky man in the doorway.
"Shepard?" James asked equally surprised. "Garrus? EDI?" He waved them into the door, "Get in here, all of you."
"We have an injured man," Shepard said, "Do you have medical supplies?"
"Yes, yes. Just get in here." James answered slightly antsy.
The moment they were in, James shut the door, and pushed a shelf in front of it. "We were meaning to weld this shut as well, but lucky for you we haven't yet."
"What's going on?" Shepard asked.
"I'm not sure." James rolled his shoulders and sighed tired, "You'd have to ask Liara, she has been studying all the files and video feeds."
"Alright," Shepard said securing his weapon. "Where is she?"
"Over there in controls, and diagnostics," James said, pointing out the only door in the room. "Come on, I'll take you."
"It's good to see you James," EDI said, smiling at the Marine.
James smiled back quickly, "I didn't miss you either, Robot."
Shepard took in the makeshift barricades, as James led him two rooms down. "Liara's in there," he nodded at the room.
"Thanks," Shepard said lifting his hand to place it on James' shoulder, but changed his mind in the last moment, and let his hand fall.
"James, the last turret..." Shepard stopped dead, silent. Looking at Kaidan's back as he stood leaned in over a blueprint of the colony. "James?" Kaidan slowly turned around, unable to hide his surprise as Shepard stood there, like a thief in the shadow. "Commander?" He said, "What a – uhm, surprise."
"Alenko," Shepard said with a slight nod, trying to ignore how surprised and saddened Kaidan looked. He pocketed his hands in lack of other things to do. "So, Liara," he said, avoiding Kaidan's eyes.
"Next room," Kaidan said.
"Okay," Shepard said, his shoulders so tense he was amazed he didn't snap a tendon somewhere. "I should -"
"Go, I know," Kaidan said, turning around to study the map again. And as soon as Shepard had awkwardly inched past him, he let out the breath he had been holding. "I am in hell," he whispered to himself, shaking his head.
"Hey Liara," Shepard said with a little smile, as he entered the back room.
"Shepard!" Liara cheered, and grabbed Shepard before he could argue, and pulled him in for a hug. "It's so good to see you!" She held him out in stretched arms and looked him over. "Are you getting enough sleep?"
"Have I ever?" Shepard grinned with a disarming smile.
"Well," Liara let go of him, and walked back to her work, "The Reapers are gone, and Cerberus are nothing but shattered cells."
"Someone has to keep the cells from merging. Right?" Shepard said, walking over to Liara. "So what can you tell me?"
Liara opened her mouth to speak, when they heard a bone chilling scream, and Kaidan that yelled, "Did you weld that last door James? You were supposed to...Never mind, get back!"
Shepard came running out of the back room, only to see the the feet of the injured soldier disappear up into the ceiling before anyone had had time to draw their guns. "EDI?" He gasped, EDI lay decapitated on the hallway floor. All around him people seemed to jolt into action, someone slamming a metal plate to the hole in the ceiling, welding it. And someone running past him, he assumed to check the perimeter and weld that door they came in through. "EDI, speak to me!" Shepard knelt next to EDI's unresponsive metal body, "Say something EDI."
"Shepard," Garrus placed a hand on Shepard's shoulder.
"Yeah." Shepard nodded, turning on his omnitool, "Normandy, this is Shepard, come in Normandy...Joker?" But he was greeted with silence. He looked up at Garrus, "Too much environmental interference, I can't raise the Normandy."
"Makes sense," Garrus nodded. "What about the colony com link?"
Shepard turned to Kaidan, "How many are you?"
Kaidan sighed and leaned against a table, "Me, James, Liara and two more. But one probably won't make it through the night."
"And the Colonists?" Shepard asked.
"Presumed dead," Kaidan said, staring at Shepard puzzled, "Didn't you receive my distress call? Isn't that why you're here?"
"We did." Shepard stood, stepping over EDI's leg, "But it was so mangled we couldn't hear a word you said."
"Goddammit!" James growled.
"So you came in blind?" Kaidan asked.
"Pretty much," Shepard sighed. "Alright, we can squeeze into the shuttle all of us, no problem." He looked at Garrus, "Would you raise the pilot?"
James asked, crossing his arms over his chest, "Why would you be able to raise him, when you can't raise the Normandy, Commander?"
"Because," Shepard looked up at Garrus in a moments horror, "Because we left him out on the landing pad."
"You did what?" Liara asked horrified.
"We didn't know!" Shepard argued, "We thought it was a question of an electric storm, or I don't know...But we didn't think."
"You never do!" Kaidan suddenly yelled, "You just thought you could waltz in here and 'save' us, didn't you?" He narrowed his eyes and stared at Shepard, "If it had been that easy, don't you think we would have taken care of it ourselves?" Kaidan huffed, and shook his head, "Come on, we should hurry up and get the hell out of here." He brushed past Shepard, shouldering him on purpose as he did.
Shepard looked up at Garrus, "When we get out of here, we are dropping him off at the nearest civilized space port."
The sun was dim and just about to set, when they all stood on the landing pad near the Normandy shuttle. Shepard looked at Kaidan, and then stepped towards the shuttle, "Shepard to shuttle," he called, but there was no answer. He went all the way up to the doors, banged the hull, but no answer.
"Maybe he went for a piss?" James suggested.
"And left the door locked from the inside?" Garrus asked, staring at James.
"Could someone get the door?" Shepard asked, not surprised to see Kaidan step up beside him work his magic on the fail-safe locking mechanism.
"There," Kaidan said, stepping away from the door as it opened.
Shepard stepped inside, gun raised. "Morri-" He stopped in his tracks and stared at the mangled scene in the cockpit. "How the...?"
Kaidan came to stand next to him. "Maybe he really did step out to piss, and something got in here with him?"
Shepard whispered, "If it was here, then where is it now?" Turning around swiftly he aimed into the darkness of the crew seats. None of them hardly dared to breathe, just listening to the wind howling, and the static of dying electronics.
"Hey, what's taking so long?" Garrus asked from the open door.
Shepard turned his head to see who spoke, and in the second he did it, he knew it was a bad call. "Shep -" Kaidan called, but was cut off as something which was quick as lightning and black as night, shot out of the shadows, and took a stab at Shepard. Kaidan reacted on pure instinct and pushed Shepard back. Caught off guard, Shepard stumbled and fell flailing towards what was left of the pilot. In the same moment Garrus took a blind shot in the dark, hitting the thing, which made a mad dash for the exit.
Kaidan hardly noticed that it was Shepard groaning in pain, under the gunfire. He turned to look down, and saw Shepard sprawled in a pool of blood, he knew it was not his, but he could see a long angry cut across his chest and his neck where blood seeped out between Shepard's fingers. "Shit," Kaidan gasped, and with trained ease, hauled Shepard to his feet, and outside.
"What the hell is that thing?" Garrus asked, kicking the dead thing that had been in the shuttle.
"I have no idea," James sighed, "But they are fucking good at what they do. They managed to wipe this entire colony out in less than a month."
"Some form of Rachni?" Garrus asked.
"Could be, maybe they mutated during the indoctrination?" James agreed, and then shook his head. "Nah, those fellas have been around here longer than that."
Garrus sighed, "So just an old fashioned mutation, or maybe a whole new thing we never saw before."
"Protocol says that we should bring a specimen back to study," Liara said with a tiny voice, "But I'm not sure that is wise."
"Someone will have to look at the shuttle and see how bad the damage is," Kaidan huffed, holding a weak kneed Shepard up. "James get the Commander back to the lab. Liara, you go with him."
James dutifully took over Shepard, and started to lead him back towards the main gate.
"Alright," Liara said, "You have to take your hand away if I am to clean that wound."
Shepard hesitated for a second, but then took his hand away, feeling the sickly feeling of blood run slowly down his neck.
"I'll be quick," Liara said, starting to bandage the wound. "I'm sorry, Shepard."
"For what?" Shepard asked softly.
"That you are stuck here with us." Liara answered, "There." She took a step back, "Take off the breastplate."
Shepard obediently removed his breastplate with automatic, stoic moves. Looking away from Liara as she looked at the thin fabric he had under his uniform. It was torn as the thing's tail had ripped through the armor, like a sword, but there was no blood to speak of.
"How?" Liara whispered mostly to herself as she prodded the damaged skin.
"Because I am more machine than real," Shepard whispered with a frown.
"That is not true," Liara said looking up at Shepard in alarm.
"Is it now," Shepard huffed, his shoulder slumping.
"You are you," Liara answered, placing a hand on Shepard's cheek. "Maybe it didn't cut so deep."
"Just patch it up," Shepard sighed.
"Want me to use the stabler?" Liara asked angrily.
"If you want to," Shepard answered, looking straight at her.
"You are horrible," She groused, but reached for clean bandage.
"I know," Shepard said with a little smile, "So what can you tell me anything about those things? What are they?"
"They are," Liara said, focused on her task, "I am not sure what they are, the scientists here were leaning towards them being a mutation of Rachni. Xeno's they'd call them." She looked up at Shepard's steel blue eyes for a moment, wondering if she really saw red specks in them or what. "Everything points to them being a part of natural selection, they are the only living thing that naturally inhabits this planet."
"So they are unique?" Shepard asked, "Hey wait, are you saying what I think you are? That this is what the Ranchi would eventually have become, if the Reapers had not come?"
"Not sure, maybe they have been around more than just one cycle." Liara shrugged, "But what I can deduct from the scientists notes here, is that this is unchecked evolution." She patted him on the shoulder to signal that she was done. "Are they unique? You traveled most of the known universe, including the fringes, have you seen anything like them?"
"No." Shepard looked down at his chest, sighing at the long tear in his under suit. "They must be organic, but I have never seen anything organic rip through armor like that."
"They are magnificent Shepard. Made for killing," Liara said, walking over to the working computer, pushing the screen till Shepard could see a 4d version of what looked like some weird mix between a Rachni and a regular ant. "Meet the Xeno," she said. "Their tails are made for more than keeping balance, it is also a sharp spear-like weapon, used to stab and slash their opponent." She pointed to the head, "Their skulls are hard as metal, and their double set of jaws gives them longer reach with a bite."
"Wait... it has a second mouth, inside it's mouth?"
"Indeed," Liara said. "They can also crawl on almost vertical surfaces, and jump much further than you'd expect. But as far as their research went, I believe they are mostly blind, or maybe completely blind, and like bats or snakes rely on heart, heartbeat or maybe movement?"
Shepard nodded, "Sounds... crazy."
"I haven't told you the worst yet. Their blood is mostly like hydrosulphuric acid composition of some sorts, so it's deadly to you or me. It will even eat through any armor or metal." Liara took a step back, studying the 4d Xeno warrior, "Magnificent creature really. Shame they are hostile. I wish Mordin could have seen this."
"Are you kidding? We would never get off this rock, cause he'd run tests on everything. Or better yet, make us go down and harvest some tissue, or worse, a live specimen." Shepard sighed, covering over that he wished Mordin was here as well.
"You're right." Liara smiled, shutting down the Xeno demonstration. "Look Shepard, you really should get some sleep. We can't work at night anyway."
Shepard laid down on the cot and watched as Liara brought him a military standard issue blanket. "Thanks," he mumbled, already half asleep. He wasn't even aware that he had been this tired. And the sound of beeping machines and Liara shuffling about was oddly comforting.