"So who else is joining this little get-together we're having tomorrow?" Garrus Vakarian said, as the small group that arrived in Macapá for the funeral of Commander Dylan Shepard stepped into an average sized building, looking about the size of a 21st Century hotel you could find in any normal American city of the time.
"It's a funeral, Garrus. Not some family reunion." The petit Quarian girl said through her protective environmental suit.
"In any case, I was told who has boarded the other shuttle and first you should know, that's it. We could only get Council clearance for two shuttles. The galaxy is too busy repairing itself and "regaining order" to honor the hero who gave his life to save it." The Admiral grimaced slightly in disgust at his last sentence.
"Shepard deserves better than this." Liara almost whispered with a touch of sadness.
"What he needs..." Ashley stepped forward with a scowl on her face and a fire in her eyes that could make a Krogan blush.
"Is for us to get our thumbs out of our asses and fly that shuttle right back to where we all left him to bring him back home...alive!"
The Turian general stepped up right beside Ashley and put a determined look on his face. "Ya know, I think our Spectre is right. We never found the Commander's body. I say screw the red tape. Shepard could be calling out to us right now. Lets get over there and drag him out of that grave that the Council's already dug for him!"
Ashley looked at Garrus and smiled slightly at her friend for wanting to help their friend (and love in her case). Tali, the Quarian admiral spoke in disbelief. "Shepard...I don't want to believe it either, but even he couldn't survive the Crucible and live for a week. The odds are so low...-"
"The odds of Commander Shepard being alive are none. The Alliance sent a full team to sweep the entire city and he and Anderson's bodies were the only ones who weren't found. And everyone else left even close to the perimeter was found dead! The Alliance wou-"
"With all due respect, Admiral. None of us answer to the Alliance. I can use my connections as a Spectre to get us clearance to go to London. We'll be there within the hour!" Ashley started to shake with excitement as her plan came together. "You may not answer to The Alliance anymore, Williams. But we all have to deal with the Council. If anybody on this planet tries anything like you're suggesting, I'd be forced to call in a team to arrest you...Please don't make me do that."
Garrus stepped right into Admiral Hackett's face, towering over him in the process and giving him an icy stare, the kind seemingly only Turians could give.
"So you'd rather kow-tow to the Council than take a chance on saving your friend from an unfair death?...You've changed, Hackett."
"You're wrong, Vakarian. Don't think for a second that I don't want to go up there and search for him. Find some closure for all of us, one way or another. But doing that would get us all Blacklisted, and you both know that wouldn't help anything. And we also know Shepard wouldn't want that. For any of us." Hackett turned to Ashley saying that last sentence, while taking a long pause to catch his breath, as well as let his words sink in to this part of the Commander's former crew. "...Don't think it doesn't kill me to see this. I'm going to make some calls, see if we can't get clearance after the funeral. If we're lucky, maybe they'll put it off altogether and we can go ASAP."
"I'm sorry, Admiral. I was wrong to doubt in you, sir." Ashley gave Hackett a strong salute, although she still hated this situation.
"Don't forget who stood up for the Commander, and you when the Alliance brass caught wind of you too breaking the fraternization rules. I'll always have your best interests at heart. Now you all need to get to your quarters and report to the Dining area in 0300 hours to meet with the people in Shuttle 2. This conversation is over."
The group stood there in silence as Hackett walked away solemnly.
After a few stares given between the four and Tali shaking her head at Garrus. Ashley, Garrus, Liara, and Tali all went to their separate rooms. As they were walking away though, Ashley couldn't help but second guess their earlier stand-off with the Admiral.
'I can relate to Hackett's struggles. Maybe Garrus and I should have gone easier on him...no. We need to get Dylan back! I need to...by any means necessary.'
Her thoughts were interrupted by the hotel worker assigned to her room saluting her and letting her in. A short, tan, Brazilian looking guy. No, he was from Argentina. Ashley could tell the difference between people of every South American distinction. It was a skill she picked up at the RTD in her younger days right there at Macapá. It helped her distinguish locals and enemies during an uprising during her time there.
'I wonder if Dylan ever picked up any talent like that in his time here. I bet he fell asleep during all the talking parts. Ha! Couldn't wait to get to the action, huh, Skipper?'
Ash let out a small grin as she nodded to the attendant and walked to her living quarters. After seeing it, she was glad she didn't plan a long stay. The walls were an ugly shade of light brown and of course had no pictures on the wall. There was simply a small bed that had white sheets on it and a desk next to it with one drawer, and was decorated with a lamp and a vase that seemed to have some meaning to the locals.
"5 star accommodations, my ass! Ah well, at least there aren't any bugs."
Ashley hung up her Commander Shepard nameplate she'd continued to hold onto on a rusty nail sticking out of the wall, before she plopped down on her bed and clutched the poetry book to her chest.
"It feels just like you're here with me, Shepard. That would make just about any place feel perfect to me. Well, as long as there aren't any rats. I hate those things. Or bombs! They're bad too."
"Is talking to oneself normal for a human, Spectre Williams?"
Ashley sat up on her bed and looked to see then"young" Asari, Liara T'Soni, standing there with a gentle, but smug look on her face.
"Why are you in my room, Shadow Broker? I thought the door guy would keep everyone else out. I was in the middle of planning an important strategy for something, I'll have you know. I just got sidetracked thinking about something stupid."
"I don't consider thinking about being embraced in the Commander's perfect arms stupid, Ashley."
"Watch it, Liara. I don't think now's the right time to test if I'm the jealous type or not...I am." She emphasized angrily to ward off her blue "friend".
"And I would watch what I would say if I were you, Ashley. Especially when I'm here to give you a present."
'A minute in, and I already want to get away from this blue bitch. And that's with her offering me a present!'
"Alright, Liara. I'll bite. What do ya wanna give me?"
"The same present I gave to Shepard before he made his last move into the heart of the Reapers..."
'If this goes where I think it is, I'm shooting her once for trying to seduce me, twice for trying to seduce me NOW, and three times for seducing Dylan...my Dylan!'
Liara walked around the bed and stared deeply into the former Lieutenant-Commander's brown eyes and took her hands in her own, not even noticing the blushing and look of disgust on the human's face.
"I want to...show you something. Something important. When Shepard was going to go to the Crucible, I allowed Shepard to link with my mind."
Ashley immediately jerked her hands away and leapt off her bed, pointing an accusing finger towards her Asari companion. "Liara! What the hell were you thinking!? How could you, how could he-"
"Wait." The Shadow Broker held up her right hand to calm the tension between herself and the human Spectre. "I promise you. It isn't what you think and I would never do that, Ashley. Not without his permission, which we know...you'll see, that he'll never give. I want to link our minds too. Perhaps it will help you find some peace."
"I don't need that!" Ashley yelled out, this time with a tinge of nervousness in her voice, still not sure whether to believe the Asari doctor or not. "I'll find my peace when I bring him home alive..."
"I know you want that. We all do. He was an extraordinary person, and touched so many people's lives. I wish...it doesn't matter now. I'm offering you a chance to know the man you care for most in a way few humans have. Just try and trust me, Spectre Williams."
Ashley's head was spinning. She was starting to feel like a child for acting so upset, though she was still uneasy about Liara's obvious affection for the Commander. She also felt a little guilty about wanting to do this anyway. Who was she to dig into his mind that way? She wasn't even that insecure before all this. Why did everything seem so much harder now? But in the end, the desire of getting to see Dylan again was too much to resist.
'Growing up's for the birds. Plus maybe...maybe he told Liara something before he left for the Crucible, some clue I can use...'
Taking a deep breath, Ashley sat down next to the alien next to her on the bed and looked at her with an untold amount of pain, before looking down and rubbing the sheets of the bed. Surprisingly smooth feeling for what is otherwise a simplistic setup in the room.
"I'm sorry, Liara. You've been a true friend to Shepard. Heck, way better than I was when he needed help. You were always better than me..."
"I appreciate the intent of your comment, Ashley. But there's no need to facilitate the idea that you're in competition with me. I respect those boundaries and always will. The need to worry is also considerably lessened now that he's go-"
"Don't say it." Ashley leered at the Asari at the thought of her accepting Shepard dying.
"I'm sorry. Would you still accept linking with me?"
"...Will it hurt?"
"There will be mild discomfort when I disengage from your mind. But nothing that won't go away after a few minutes."
"Do it, Liara." Ashley stared right into her eyes, shivering with anticipation.
And embrace she did, as both of their eyes glowed quickly and for a few seconds all Ashley could see was black. But just as quickly as she started to worry, she saw a strike of lightning cut through the dark, and she was fully self-aware of herself standing next to Liara.
"...Where are we, Liara..?"
"We are in the depths of your mind, Ashley. I wanted us to get here so I can show you the memories Shepard had shown to me in London."
"T-T-This is incredible! I feel like I'm floating on air. I hope Dylan doesn't get mad at me. I hope...well, it won't matter what I hope. There are some things I need to know the truth about."
Liara turned to Ashley's presence with a quizzical look on her face.
"5 minutes ago you didn't want any part of this, now you have these many curiosities?"
"You're right, Liara...I didn't mean to blurt that out like that."
"It's okay, Ashley. But we have quite a bit to go through. Just to reassure you, I've blocked off all of each of our own minds to each other."
"So we can't like go and see each others' memories? Only Shepard's?"
"Precisely. I have no desire to let you, nor anyone see my inner-most thoughts. I can sense you too have some memories that you would prefer hidden...and they will stay that way. Thank you for trusting in me."
"Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Now about Shepard..."
"Right. Simply start with any of the questions you said you wanted answered. When you are done I will show you his last thoughts, if you desire."
Ashley stood there in amazement at the image of an eclipse in front of the two friends and allies. The thought of seeing Shepard's memories was overwhelming. Technically, they had not actually been "together" very long at all. Every time things aligned for her and Shepard to be right for them, something completely insane would show up and tear him right from her arms. In the end Ashley just felt confused. About if Dylan was alive, why she had these strong feelings about him, about this mind meld thing...Ashley grimaced just trying to wrap her head around all this.
"Just...show me what Dylan's favorite memory of me is! That should be easy, right, Liara?" Ashley said excitedly, almost in a child-like fashion that she almost had never shown in her entire life.
Suddenly, the entire vision that Ashley and Liara were standing in front of was swept away and Ashley saw her slightly younger self laying down asleep in front of both Ashley and Liara in what was like a giant movie screen, laying in what looked like... "Shepard's old cabin! From the Normandy! And that's me...asleep? Huh?"
"We're seeing this from Shepard's point of view. The memory that resonates most to him positively regarding you, Ashley."
Ashley stared at the movie-like vision in front of her intently. Even she couldn't remember this. Well, from the looks of it she was asleep for this so she wasn't actually supposed to. Suddenly, Shepard's voice could be heard, which made Ashley's heart flutter.
"You know, Ash...there's only one time in my life I felt like I had the same opportunity I have with you. I failed last time...almost everything in my life I failed. Well, besides the Blitz where I saved an entire colony. That went pretty well. Without that I never would have been anything. ...And look at me now. I let my best friend get killed, my entire crew get labeled as traitors, and I'm on the verge of letting the galaxy wiped out by a mind controlled madman. Some hero I am. But...I feel different now. If I have you with me I know I can kick everybody's ass if I have to. You gave me that strength, I believe in you, the same way you do me. And after what just happened, I finally got the chance to do...that for the first time. I promise I won't ever forget this. There's one thing I'll always be sure of...I love you, Ashley."
Ashley could see her younger self sitting up slowly and groggily, with a huge smile on her own face, which she couldn't help but have on her own face right now after hearing Shepard's monologue.
"Well now, that's a whole new spin for "on the floor and give me 20, huh?""
The Ashley watching this turned a deep shade of red remembering the events that preceded this particular conversation.
"Would you roll your eyes if I said this was the first time in months I felt that all is right in the galaxy?" Dylan said in a more clear fashion to the mind melders, indicating what they heard before were his own thoughts and not out loud. "Yes..." Ashley said with a giggle.
"So wait a minute!" The memory faded away back to the gentle eclipse image they were looking at before as Ashley turned to Liara, who had tried to look away in shyness due to the memory of the former Gunnery Chief unclothed.
"His favorite memory was the night before we went to Ilos...our night. And he'd been a virgin..."
"I think that topic would be best kept between you and..."
"Shepard. You're right, Liara. I'll talk to him about it when I find him again." Ashley said with a smile. "If you can show me a great memory like that, what about his...what about his time with Cerberus? We never really got much chance to talk about it. Besides me accusing him of being controlled over and over, of course."
Ashley felt slightly queasy in regards to her treatment of Dylan, but remained steadfast in being justified. How could she have known what a bunch of terrorists wanted to do with him? She had to be sure, and Dylan understood that she was right to question him. He knew she always had her guard up, anyway.
"I don't know if viewing the memories I saw would be best for you right now." Liara said to her human meldee in a matter-of-fact tone.
"What? What are you talking about? Are you saying..?"
Ashley's heart filled with dread as she immediately thought back to their meeting on Horizon, when she saw her Commander alive for the first time again. Garrus was there too, and...her. Ashley would never forget the way the woman she would come to find out to be Miranda Lawson looked at him that day. After she sent Shepard the apology e-mail and didn't hear back from him, Ashley just assumed he had moved on. That was part of the reason why she kept her head held high about her prickly behavior towards Dylan for so long...and deep down, she could never convince herself she didn't regret more than anything. Regardless of what he did with that Cerberus bitch.
"Liara, if I see whatever you saw, will it hurt me?"
"...Yes." Liara said, but after picking up on the sad look on her friend's face and sensing the pain in her heart Ashley was trying so hard to hide, quickly added, "But I suspect in a different way than you think it will." "Just...just give me the mind video or whatever you call it, Liara. At least I'll know for sure."
Suddenly things flashed before Ashley at seemingly the speed of light, Liara quickly accelerated this process of the memories, and Liara
started to waiver and groan in pain and discomfort.
"I'm sorry, Ashley. I'm running out of energy! Just try to relax."
Ashley was relaxed, but she didn't have a choice. The same images flashed through her head over and over, burning into her mind. Listening to Liara wasn't exactly highest on her priority list. Until the flashes and the visions stopped of course, and they were back in the hotel room in Macapá, with Liara sitting down on the bed, holding her head and Ashley panting along in a cold sweat, like she had just woken up from a nightmare. "Damn! All these thoughts in my head...that was crazy. I can't believe I did that. It felt like 20 minutes, but 20 seconds passed here. Lord..." Ashley sat down next to her blue friend and patted her on the shoulder, which caused Liara to look at her in a nonchalant fashion.
"Ashley, try to remember some of Shepard's memories. I transferred most of the ones that would interest you to your consciousness. I hope it helps you find...something."
Liara looked back down, suffering through a harsh headache caused by the melding.
'I suppose I have no clear answer as to what I hoped to gain by doing this. Loyalty to Shepard? I had no idea Ashley considered infidelity on his part...if you could even call it that. I suspect Shepard had little idea of those concerns either. I'm glad you can see the truth, Ashley, instead of having me tell you and you still doubt it...humans are like that.'
"Alright, Liara. Lets see what I can remember..."
As soon as she said that, the memories came to the human Spectre, as clearly as if they were her own. However, recalling them made her lips curl into an expression of both anger and despair as all she saw were the women of the SR-2 clearly coming after the Commander. First Miranda, then Tali, then an orange haired human with a boyish haircut, and a vulgar bald woman, covered all over with tattoos. She could see what they said to Dylan at the time.
"Perhaps I wouldn't mind if you admired my body. I think I could live with it..." Miranda said seductively with her hand on her hip and a smirk on her face."
"...Bitch." Ashley muttered under her breath.
"What could I possibly be suggesting? I mean, a young woman gets rescued by a dashing commander who lets her join his crew and then goes off to save the galaxy? How could she possibly develop any kind of interest in him?" Tali stood in Ashley's mind, slyly coaxing Dylan into her...suit.
'What the hell, Tali!? I thought we were friends, like sisters even!'
Ashley was fighting her emotions as she was "remembering" these things. She really wanted to shoot something right now. Preferably something living.
The orange haired woman was up now, her name not departed to her memory banks by Liara either due to lack of time or interest. She stood in her mind, slightly awkwardly, but with a somewhat cheerful disposition.
"Oh, Shepard. I wish there was time to get to know you better. Maybe over dinner in your cabin. Have a late night meal brought up to us?"
'Is a bimbo like this really Dylan's type? How could he fall for this?'
Now Ashley saw the bald, tattooed, angry girl. No name for her either, but she was leaning against the wall and things looked dark wherever this memory happened at.
"My turn with the questions! People usually walk by now. Why are you really asking all these things? You eyeing me up? Because if this is just about sex, maybe you should just fucking say so."
Ashley stood up off the bed and looked at the dazed Liara with tears beginning to form in her eyes.
"For the love of...I could understand the perfect girl. But I didn't think Commander freaking Shepard ran a Cerberus party ship! I can't believe this..."
"Wait, Try to remember deeper. Focus on Shepard's responses to what you saw." Liara was worn down, but knew she had to see these memories through. Especially since Ashley looked ready to attack anyone she saw. And the Asari doctor was the only one around.
"Right. That's me. Always jumping to conclusions. Think, Williams..."
Ashley's heart almost melted at the memories she saw next in her head. Rejection after rejection. Always calm and tender hearted, and even implying some level of emotional attachment with Tali and Miranda, but the point was always clear. His heart was closed off to everyone, and nothing anyone could do or say could change that.
'Except for me.' Ashley thought with a warm smile.
Suddenly another memory popped into the suddenly emotional woman's mind, but this one was different than all the others she had seen so far. Dylan was in clear view, in contrast to the first person viewpoint that she "remembered" everything else in. He was standing in his cabin in the Normandy SR-2. He had a thoughtful look on his pale face, and was wearing some tight fitting grey, black, and white apparel.
'Man, what a great ass.' Ashley thought to herself dreamingly. She couldn't help but think of all the things she wanted to do with that...'Now's not the time for that! A minute ago I wanted to throttle him. I can think about that later. God.'
The Commander she saw in her mind now walked over to a desk in his cabin at the time, right after he heard Joker shouting "5 minutes 'til we hit the Omega 4 Relay!" over the Normandy's intercom. Dylan slowly approached the desk and picked up a picture...and just stared at it. He immediately had a big smile on his face. He looked like he was thinking over everything important in his life. And everything he was thinking of just happened to be in that picture of Ashley, in her old armor, a reserved smile plastered on her face...Dylan's greatest treasure at the time. Shepard put the pic down, gave a quick smile and nodded at it before punching his hand in anticipation and turning to put his armor on and go destroy the Collectors.
Ashley's eyes closed as she couldn't remember any more, not that she needed to. Tears began to flow freely down her cheeks, words barely capable of escaping her quivering lips as emotions took over her exhausted mind and body.
"Ashley? Did you see the right memories? Shepard was faithful to you. Why are you crying?" A knowing Liara leaned over and put a supportive hand on Ashley's shoulder, trying to handle things as delicately as possible.
"I...I was wrong, Liara. He loved me from the start, he never even thought about being with another woman, no matter how hard I tried to push him away, he never gave up on me!" Ashley still openly crying, the anguish and almost self-loathing permeating from her voice. There was no way she would write him off as cheesy now.
"Shepard understood, it's o-"
"It's not okay!" Ashley surprised the Asari with her outburst, but continued talking in a defeated tone.
"I let so much foolish pride get in the way, my own fears twisted everything I thought about him against him. I mean, he never stopped wanting me, needing me...Six months. Six months he was under Alliance surveillance, which was bullshit! And I didn't see him one time. I thought about it every day, I thought about him every day...when I was in the hospital he was the only one to actually talk to me. Listen to me. He helped me be strong for my sister and...and..."
"Please calm down, Ashley." Liara fully embraced the hysteric Spectre in a hug now, feeling uncomfortable at the sight of such a strong woman breaking down in front of her.
"What did I do? Besides break his heart over and over? I almost shoot him! I mean...what if I'd shot him that day? Because my pride was too strong? I had to be a loyal Spectre, better than the best, I had to..."
"You didn't shoot him though, your heart was true to him, even if you didn't realize it yet. Don't forget the facts. Not to mention the most important part. He loved you."
"That's it though, Liara...I took all those days, months, years away from us...for all the wrong reasons. And I haven't been able to face it, but...what if he's really gone for good?"
This was the first time Ashley truly had doubts since the news broke. It was a hard pill to swallow, and she already knew she couldn't handle it.
"I don't know..." Was all Liara could muster to say. She almost cursed the goddess's name at her lack of emotional experience. She felt like she was failing her friend, even though deep down she wanted to grieve at losing Shepard as well.
Ashley dried up her tears from her face, rubbing her already deeply red eyes and going over to the drawer on the bedside table and pulling out a small bottle, immediately twisting off the cap and drinking down a fairly large gulp of the brown liquid inside.
'Straight Whiskey. And it's strong. Perfect.'
Liara stared on disapprovingly at her human friend, but with the sympathy building her heart, she still couldn't say anything that could help.
"Ashley!" Suddenly Admiral Hackett's voice sounded from outside the door, which gave Ashley the chance to close the Portuguese whiskey bottle and place it back in the drawer next to the Bible that was sitting there. She also noticed the small sign saying opening the drawer cost 50 credits that would be taken out of her bank account, right as Hackett barged in.
"Oh Liara, what are you doing in Spectre Williams' room?"
"I was just..."
"Doesn't matter. It saves me the trouble of going to find you. You can both get to the designated dining area now. Shuttle 2 has arrived."
"What is it, Williams?"
"Can you tell us who was on there? You never actually told us who was coming."
"Right. You should know most of them already, if not, I'm sure our Shadow Broker will." Hackett closed his eyes for a split second, the Admiral recalling the entire list he was given by the Alliance brass with relative ease, especially for one of his years.
"Urdnot Wrex, leader of the Krogan race. Jacqueline Nought, the head instructor of Grissom Academy. Kolyat Krios, a C-Sec officer and son of Thane, one of Shepard's best friends who was killed by the Cerberus assassin Kai Leng. And Miranda Lawson, ex-Cerberus scientist and the woman who saved Commander Shepard's life after the first Collector attack on the Normandy almost 3 years ago. Will any of those be a problem?
"What about Joker, sir?"
The Shuttle 1 crew had known about Steve Cortez, the pilot for the SR-2 that crash landed on Earth, as well as Lieutenant Vega, who stayed behind to protect his home planet when Ashley and the rest of the crew flew away...per the Commander's orders. But why was Joker not coming to his best friend's funeral?
"We sent the order to retrieve Flight Lieutenant Moreau for the Commander's ceremony, but he was unable to be found or even contacted. We're readying a minor search for him, but quite frankly we've got bigger problems."
"I understand, sir."
"Jeff's gone missing? Oh dear. We need to try to figure this out." Liara stood up and put her hand on her face in concern over her favorite pilot.
"At any rate, you two need to join us for our meal. It was Shepard's favorite. ...Williams. T'Soni." Hackett nodded respectively to the woman and Asari and walked off, with Liara ready to follow.
"Wait! Liara..." Ashley said, jumping off the bed and embracing the Shadow Broker into a big hug.
"What is it- Oh!" Liara was genuinely surprised, but let out a small, happy laugh at her comrade's positive outburst.
"Thank you for showing me that. I know it wasn't easy, especially with me turning psycho-emotional on you there. But it also made me happy to see more of the love he had for me. Hell, that mind melding stuff was amazing too. You're an awesome, uh...person. You know what I mean. Just promise you won't be having any of my babies or anything."
Liara sighed in amusement at her friend. "I'm going to rest. I feel completely drained of energy and I can give my greetings to my other friends tomorrow."
Ashley frowned at the thought of facing a bunch of women she wanted to beat the hell out of without her unexpected confidant there.
'Wait, I have a great idea. Dylan would totally love this.'
The Spectre went back over to the desk and quickly secured and down the rest of the whiskey bottle right in front of Liara.
"Why waste it, right?"
"Is risking what humans call...a hangover at Shepard's funeral really wise, Ashley?" Liara blankly stated.
"Well..." Ashley let out a humongous burp, followed by a giggle that the former Asari professor couldn't help but be amused by.
"See ya later, Liara. I'm ready to meet up with everybody again. It'll be just like old times..."
Liara gave a small nod, then retreated to her room, allowing Ashley to head to the dining room...stumbling in her Alliance gear as she saw the crowd of past friends and some newfound enemies.
"Hiya, everybody! *hiccup*"
Everybody turned towards the drunken woman who sauntered her way over to the table where Garrus and Tali had taken their seats at the table, with two glasses of white wine, one of which had a straw in it, for Tali's sake.
"My bestest friends! Garrus Vakarhynan and Tali Zorah vas...you Quarians have too many names. "
"Well, close enough."
"Here, Ashley, why don't you sit down? Here, have a drink with us. Celebrate Shepard!" Tali tried to be cheerful for her friend, despite her obvious drunken stupor.
"Y'know...he was such a great guy. I think I will..."
Ashley then reached over to grab Garrus' glass of wine, and when she lifted the glass up to her lips, the glass slipped out of her hand and after a comical attempt at catching it, managed to spill both glasses onto Tali's suit. Which Garrus couldn't help but giggle at quietly.
"Gah! You bosh'tet!"
Tali quickly grabbed a napkin and started wiping off her visor and suit in a vain attempt to get dry.
"Ashley, what is wrong with you?"
"Uh...sorry, I just thought you wanted to celebrate Shepard..."
"You were the one that offered her a drink in the first place, Tali. Give the girl a break, she's grieving, clearly."
The Turian gave Ashley a subtle wink before Tali could turn to his direction and give what Garrus already knew was an intense glare.
"Easy, baby. I meant to say I'll help you dry off and fix your breathing suit myself after this meal is done. "
"That's what I thought, you. And you!" The Quarian said turning towards the intoxicated Spectre.
"You need to lie down. Urgently."
Ashley simply shrugged off Tali's statement and slumped her way to the other end of the table, all while Admiral Hackett had started to keep a watchful, and angry eye on her. Only to see her walk by the ex-Cerberus operative and have the pale woman cry out in pain with her native Australian accent as Ash continued to walk by.
"Ow! That hurt you...hey! Don't walk away from me!" Miranda got up from the chair she was lounging in and grabbed the former Gunnery Chief by the arm, which resulted in Ashley drunkenly turned around and "accidentally" slapped the other woman's left cheek, leaving a noticeable handprint on her pale skin.
"Ouch! That's it! Now you're getting it, and I don't give a damn if you're a bloody Spectre!"
She wound up a biotic-enhanced fist and launched it towards Ashley, who had expertly readied to protect herself. Except, Miranda's fist stopped in mid-air.
"...What? What is this?" Miranda said confused, but then gasped, which Ashley did too, as the form of a ninja-like woman clad in black with a hoodie and a calm smile adorning her head and face appeared out of thin air, with two hands firmly holding Miranda's arm in place.
"What the hell are you doing here, Kasumi?" Miranda said in shock before putting her arm down and relaxing. "I'm here for Shep's funeral. What else? A little disappointed Jacob wasn't here, also that security on your Shuttle was so weak. When cloaked, it was a breeze."
"I don't know about any of this, but I do know that the ritual of death is sacred to my father and my people. I can't allow the Commander's journey through the sea to be interrupted by hostilities!" The young, aqua colored Drell, Kolyat Krios stepped forward to diffuse the situation between Ashley and Miranda.
The Admiral then walked up to Ashley, clearly fed up with her behavior. "I think Kolyat's right. And the best way to prevent anymore "hostilities" would be for Miss Williams to get to bed early. Forgive me Tali, Miss Lawson. I don't know you, Kasumi, but consider yourself warned. And under constant surveillance. Lets go, Miss Williams."
Ashley looked dejected, but complied and turned towards the stairs and back to her room.
"Wow! That slap was stiffer than most men, girl. Couldn't happen to a nicer girl than the Cheerleader. Heh." The tattooed girl with the ponytail and vulgar mouth known as "Jack" to Shepard and crew said to Ashley as she was walking by where she was, next to a large ice cream cake at the end of a second table.
"Heh! Yeah...she deserved it..." Ashley said, starting to slur her words.
As Ashley started to walk away again, she stumbled and ended up catching herself on the end of the table, and she had enough force to tip the other end of the table, and mostly the cake, straight up, shoving right into Jack's face.
"Alright, time to go, Williams!" Hackett stormed over and practically dragged the drunken Spectre away before Jack could get her hands on her and get everyone kicked out of the simple hotel.
"Haha! I always knew Shepard had great tastes! If he weren't dead already I'd have to kill him to win her honor." Urdnot Wrex finally stepped up, remaining mostly silent through the antics on display throughout the "dinner".
"Where's the food at anyway? I thought this was supposed to be some kinda five star hotel."
"It's nice to see we all have our priorities straight here. For a second I thought we were here because someone important died." Garrus spoke up in his usual sarcastic tone, that also took the sting off all the things Ashley set into motion.
Tali stood up and looked at her Turian lover with conviction. "Just remember, Garrus. I think it's safe to say that this could only be one man's funeral. It only makes sense that all the people he cared about would act crazy. Just another day in Dylan's life..."
Everyone in the room seemed to go silent, just remembering the man they were all here for. It was the one thing they could all relate to. Even Jack, who went from enraged, to somber after she cleaned the cake from her harsh face. No matter what happened, or what rivalries would be formed amongst them, there was one thing that would remain true...
They missed the Commander.
Meanwhile, up in Ashley's room, the drunken Spectre stumbled back onto the bed as Admiral Hackett stood in her door, a look of disappointment more than anger covering his ghostly face.
"I don't know what that display down there was all about, but you need to get ahold of yourself. This isn't honoring Commander Shepard's memory. If you pull something like that at the funeral tomorrow...Don't make me have to handle that situation, Williams."
"Aye, aye, Admiral. It won't happen that way. I promise."
Hackett just stared at her for a few seconds before turning and shutting the bedroom door behind him.
Ashley stood up after Hackett left, and walked to the Commander Shepard nameplate on her wall. With a flick of her hair and a smirk that formed on her mouth, she gave herself a mental pat on the back.
'Shows what Hackett knows. You're a jealous bastard too, Dylan. I know you would have liked my performance...I wish you were here to make a joke about it all. I do feel a little guilty though. Nobody would have gotten close to you if I had just believed...in you... It was my own fault, after all.'
Ashley sighed to herself as she snatched the nameplate from her wall and tapped it against her hand slightly, just staring at it thoughtfully.
'O' Captain, My Captain...I'll make this all up to you, Dylan. I'll find a way to make this right...I promise.'
Ashley went back to her bed and laid down, clutching the nameplate to her chest after she pulled the covers over her body. She was going to sleep for the first time since this all started...she was going to overcome any guilt or doubt. She was getting him back. Whatever it took.
"I'm sorry, Skipper."
Dylan Shepard was in the same position he had been in for the last eight days. He needed a miracle, and that wasn't happening now. He already knew...he was screwed. His time was up. All he had was his picture of Ashley...and with an involuntary arm twitch, he dropped it.
Shepard groaned in despair as the picture, his life, had dropped down the rubble to the ground just out of his reach. He tried and tried and fought and fought to just move. That's all he wanted was to move. But he couldn't. His body was heavily damaged and he had no energy left. His vision started to blur, and he could see a light, he could see Ashley's smiling face...he couldn't fight anymore. He closed his eyes one more time, he was broken.
"I'm sorry, Ash."
Dylan opened his eyes. He was standing up. He looked at his clothes, the same he was wearing when he fired the Crucible. Only...there wasn't a thread out of place. He also noticed he didn't have a scratch on him. He was in perfect health. Heck, he'd never felt better! But suddenly a feeling of nervousness and dread overtook him as the realization of what happened began to set in.
"Come on now...tell me this is a dream...some kind of vision."
Suddenly the Commander's gut filled with a warmth and sense of love he'd never even came close to knowing before.
"Dylan. I assure you, what you see and what you feel is no trick of the mind."
The beating in his chest interrupted all of the thoughts that raced through his mind, all the Commander could do was turn around to face the source of the ethereal voice that reassured him. A magnificent light, that completely overshadowed everything else in sight, every sound, every thought meant nothing. This...this was where Dylan Shepard needed to be.
*A/N: Boy was this a crazy long process. SO MUCH EXPOSITION. Talking about Ashley's day at the hotel was like 3,000 words longer than I thought it'd be, mind meld and all. But still, it was (will be) rewarding to see this put up. Really touched by the reviews and favs and stuff on Chapter 1. Thanks, guys. Hope Chapter 2 blows up even bigger. Me personally? Doesn't feel like my best work. But a necessary piece of the puzzle in my opinion. Things shift more towards a focus on Shepard in the next chapter, so be ready. Gracias.
Special thanks to xXISwearToBlackBalloonsXx. My real life sister and beta reader. Heck, it was her idea that I ever start writing here to begin with. She works hard and I thank her for it, as well as for talking me into doing this. Yay.