Part 6

The CIC was midnight-quiet when the shuttle came screaming out of Rannoch's atmosphere and Shepard's voice blared over her comm calling for Chakwas to meet them in the shuttle bay immediately.

Sam put the message through and then, because she had to know, because Ashley had gone down with Shepard and even if she did have a tendency to humiliate Sam into the dust she was still her friend, she asked Shepard who got hurt.

"Ashley," the commander said flatly. "Is Chakwas on the way?"

"She's waiting for you, commander," Sam said. Her ears were ringing and her heart was a distant drumbeat, and she stared blankly at her terminal for a moment before she turned it off.

She checked the time on her omnitool and did a few calculations – if she used the elevator now she risked delaying Ash's trip up. So it would have to be the ducts then. Unless…

"EDI," Sam said.

"I am here." EDI's mobile platform said behind her, already ready with the information Sam wanted because EDI knew her as well as anyone alive and better than most. "Commander Shepard's shuttle has just docked. Doctor Chakwas has met them. They are in the elevator now."

A moment later EDI nodded at her and the elevator door opened. The platform stepped in with her, and put a hand on her shoulder.

"Is she…?" Sam asked.

"Lieutenant-Commander Williams reached MedBay," EDI said. "She appears to have suffered extensive burns and bruising and her left arm and leg are both broken, as are three ribs on her left side."

"Good Lord," Sam said, and her voice sounded faint to her own ears. "What happened?"

"I don't know, Samantha. I am sorry."

The door opened and they stepped out, to find Shepard pacing up and down in front of the MedBay's huge window. She was still in her armour, and Garrus was keeping pace with her trying to wipe blood off her hands and face with a frankly inadequate cloth. Sam sighed. Oh, not again, she thought. Shepard's attacks had been getting worse. Not bad enough to keep her off duty, but bad enough that Sam knew she'd spoken to Chakwas about drugs and Garrus got quietly hysterical every time she had an attack. Sam could understand that; after the first time she'd had to talk Shepard down she'd retreated to her bunk with a bottle of something from Vega's stash and not come out for two days. The quarian, Tali, was standing a little way away, wringing her hands together.

Garrus glanced pleadingly at Sam as they came into view, and she stopped in front of Shepard. Her eyes wanted to go to the window, where she could see from the corner of her eye that Chakwas was moving swiftly but not frantically, but she looked at Shepard instead. Her commander needed her now, and she couldn't help Ash anyway.

"Commander? You need to sit down."

Shepard looked past her blankly, her breaths coming short and fast. Her pupils were huge in her green eyes and she was shivering.

"Commander Shepard," Sam said firmly, taking her by the shoulders. She didn't immediately pull away, but she didn't look at Sam either.

Sam glanced around, and her eyes caught on the corner next to the corridor leading up to the Battery. She backed Shepard into the corner and sat her down, keeping her eyes on Shepard's face. It was always a crapshoot, and you could never know if she needed space or a corner to hide in. If you picked wrong, you'd end up with a broken nose. If you were lucky.

Sam had guessed right. Shepard's breathing started to slow almost the moment Sam had her properly blocked in until all Shepard could see was her.

"Better now, Commander?" she asked.

Shepard nodded, still breathing too fast but at least she was focusing now and that was something.

Garrus handed Sam the cloth over her shoulder, and she used it to wipe crusted blood off the commander's hands.

""What happened?" she asked, making her voice as gentle as possible.

"There was a Reaper on Rannoch," Shepard said, her voice the flat monotone of someone who either couldn't believe what she was saying or didn't want to. "We got onto a transport and we were legging it and then…I must have turned too sharply and the Reaper beam hit just past us and Ash…"

"She was thrown?" Sam asked. That would explain the injuries EDI had told her about, all along one side. She must have landed like an orbital drop, flung from anything that was going the speed Shepard tended to drive. She was lucky to be alive, Sam thought, and something in her chest clenched at the thought that someday, Ashley might run out of luck.

Shepard nodded almost calmly.

"It almost hit her directly," she said. "If it had…"

Sam spoke quickly to keep back the darkness in Shepard's eyes.

"It didn't, though," she said. "She's still alive right now, isn't she?"

Shepard nodded and sucked in a deep, grateful breath.

"Yeah. Yeah, she's alive. And Chakwas says she'll be okay. She says…she says we don't even need to take her to the Citadel."

Sam couldn't have stopped the smile that broke over her face if she'd tried. She didn't try particularly hard.