Interlude: Alive and at Large (6)
Thanks to Drakependragon and Reikson especially for putting up with my efforts to create shmexy content
Interlude: Alive and At Large (6)
Xander gasped, coughing roughly as he woke up.
“W- what the-?!?” he sputtered.
“Relax, relax.” Shepard soothed, pressing a firm hand on his chest. “You’ve been out for an hour.”
“An hour?!?” he parroted. Slumping back onto the biobed, he remarked, “Note to self; systemic neuropathic disruption is now my least favorite way of dying.”
“C’mon, death by Ardat-Yakshi?” she razzed him gently, bumping an elbow into his side. “If you gotta go, at least you go with a smile.”
He rolled his eyes. “If you told me a century ago that I’d complain about dying by super-orgasm, I’d have laughed in your face.”
She stared at him wryly. “I’m betting you didn’t think you’d be around
to have a moment like this two hundred years ago.”
He shrugged. “I’m still surprised it took me so long to recover. Getting brain-fried must really suck.”
“I’d imagine it does, but you were only dead for a few minutes,” she pointed out. “You’ve actually been unconscious since then.”
“Really?” he perked up.
Shepard nodded. “Chakwas says it’s your body’s response to constantly dying from… whatever Morinth did to you. Think of it like overworking a muscle or some kind of protein deficiency thing.”
“How is Morinth, anyway?”
“She’s fine, got a bit of a headache but…” she trailed off, shaking her head. “She’s lost her biotics somehow. That guard dog Willow mentioned? It fried her brain somehow.”
Xander sighed and fell back to the bed. “Great, I thought I was helping her.”
“Strangely enough, you did,” she shrugged, slumping down into a foldout chair next to his bed. At his gaze, she said, “Morinth can’t burn anyone with her melding anymore, at least not deliberately.”
At his noncommittal look of enlightenment, she continued. “That said, Mordin’s still running tests. He thinks he could duplicate what you ended up doing, with nanosurgery. You might have accidently helped to find a cure for the Ardat-Yakshi.”
“Yay, me,” he grumbled. “How’s Willow?”
“Still a little pissed with you.”
“When is she not, these days? What about you?”
“Officially, I disapprove of your reckless behavior and callous disregard for your life. You’re important to this mission, after all.” Leaning back in her chair, she seemed pleased with herself. “Unofficially… I like knowing that I have a friend who I can count on to have the crew’s back.”
“So what’s on the agenda?”
She shrugged. “We tie up a few loose ends and then head for Illium. Mordin’s hoping to consult with an Asari expert about Morinth’s condition. Plus, Miranda has some personal business that she wants help with; in fact, I want you to come along.”
“Oh, joy. If I get within ten meters of Miranda, Jack’s spider-sense starts tingling.”
“Oh, yeah, about that?” she mumbled sheepishly, rubbing the back of her neck. He turned an inquisitive gaze to her. She winced and added, “Brace yourself.”
Just as he realized what she was talking about, the medbay’s door opened and a steamroller hit Xander, pinning him up against the nearest wall.
“What the HELL
were you thinking?!?” Jack snarled, dark energy seething around her body.
“Concerned about my condition, was she?” he deadpanned.
“As a matter of fact, yes; Jack did
express some concern.” She shot back.
Xander struggled against the gravitic field distortion holding him in place before he turned an imploring gaze on Shepard.
She rolled her eyes. “Jack, put him down. You want to kick his ass so bad, you get in line behind Willow.”
“How come Red get a shot before I do?”
“Seniority,” the Spectre-Slayer shrugged. “In fact… Xander, head for the Broker’s ship, I’ll talk to Lawson alone.”
“Right, boss,” he nodded as much as he could.
Jack dropped Xander to the floor while Shepard headed for Miranda’s office.
The not-couple headed for the shuttle bay. “Sorry If I scared you,” he shrugged.
“I wasn’t scared.” Jack snapped. “It’s just… you know… you ain’t done building me my shower yet and I’m liking the idea.”
“Hey, it’s gonna be cool, you’ll love it.”
“Willow… got kinda crazy after she got back.”
“She gets like that,” he shrugged. “Truth is, we all do from time to time.”
“Not an expert here, but I’d avoid pissing her off like that anymore. She’s wound up a little tight where you’re concerned.”
He rolled his eyes. “Tell me something I don’t
They arrived in the shuttle bay and found Willow disembarking from the Kodiak. She looked up to see them coming as she gestured behind her, prompting a simple trunk to glide off the shuttle and rest on the floor.
“What’s in the box, Wills?”
“I’m still not talking to you.”
Xander shrugged and elbowed Jack, who rolled her eyes. “What’s in the box, Red?”
“Just a few things.” Willow shrugged. “Some clothes, a mini-lab, a data access node that I can use technomancy to access and control… when it’s fully assembled, it’s a miniature version of the Broker interface and lets me access the archives from any location in the galaxy.”
“Access? Don’t you mean control?”
“No, I mean access. Shepard’s right.” At Xander’s raised eyebrow, she shrugged again. “I can’t keep bitching about you not trusting my judgment when I’m going all Darth Rosenberg on T’Soni. Whatever else I might think of her, she risked her life to help you and Shepard, and you guys are in it up to your eyeballs. We need to stick together.”
“You mean you’re coming with us?” Jack perked up. “What about the archives? You really ready to let T’Soni run things?”
“I’ve had worse partners.” Willow shrugged. “Much
worse, and she’s proven capable so far. Maybe in a few months, she’ll be as good as me.”
“Hey, that’s great.” Xander pointed out. “I guess we need to find you a place to stay.”
“Some place with a view and with data access, and I’d prefer someplace quiet.” Willow mused.
“We can board you with Kasumi.” Xander pointed out. “She won’t mind the company.”
The thief decloaked. “How did you know?”
“Just guessing.” Xander replied
“Now I’m going to have to actually hide my collection of unmentionables.” The Cyber-thief sighed and touched a control as she cloaked herself.
Jack looked confused, “Wait , what does she mean collection of unmentionables how much underwear does anyone actually need?”
“Who said it was all her
underwear?” Xander replied.
Jack gaped at him before turning and shouting at the room, “What the hell Kasumi?”
“Relax,” Xander sighed, “If you haven't noticed any pieces were missing by now she didn’t take anything you care about.”
“That is still not cool.” jack snapped.
Xander shrugged, “I’ll help you move that trunk.” he went to pick it up Willow’s trunk but the thing wouldn’t move.
Jack snorted and gestured, her biotics flaring. But the box remained on the floor.
“Stole an idea from… you know who.”
At Jack’s look, he explained, “The trunk’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Of course, his
police box doesn’t weigh like a zillion tons.”
Willow pouted. “I’m telling you, I’m close. I’ll figure out how to make things dimensionally-transcendental without
resultant mass increase, but for now…”
Willow gestured and the box rose into the air.
“Cool,” Jack snickered, “It might be the end of the world but at least you guys ain’t boring to be around.”
“Jack,” Xander shrugged. “…alien invaders kidnapping tens of thousands of humans for God knows what reason? That’s not the end of the world; for the crowd you run with now, that’s just a Tuesday.”
“You think this is bad, wait ‘til we get to sweeps week.” Willow added, guffawing.
Morinth looked at the glass.
The water within was frosty and cold, and so she reached out her hand. More importantly, she reached deep down within herself, feeling for the wellspring of power that was once hers to command.
She closed her eyes, trying to block out all external distractions and waiting for the warm rush of energy flowing through and around her; the sign that she was channeling dark energy.
But there was nothing.
She heard the soft tap of the glass landing on the tray in front of her and she opened her eyes in hope.
Joan Shepard looked down at her from where she was standing.
Morinth looked up at her, at the glass placed directly in front of her, and then back at the look of sympathy on Shepard’s face.
With a roar, Morinth lashed out and slapped the glass aside.
“So you didn’t want a drink of water?” Shepard cracked flatly, her usual wry look replacing the sympathy.
“Pulling a glass of water is basic biotics.” Morinth growled, seething in frustration. “Asari children are considered underdeveloped if it takes longer than a day of practice to learn how do this. I mastered the technique in less than an hour myself.”
“…and now you’re struggling.” Shepard observed. “It’s not unusual. I mean, early human attempts at training children to use biotics? Not good. Moving the glass wasn’t the hard part; what was tricky was moving the glass without having a nasty stroke.”
“I am Asari!” Morinth exploded. “We’re born with some biotic control! My father used to tell me that I forced mother to take biotic suppressors weeks before any of the other birthing mothers!”
“You don’t talk about your mom much,” the Spectre-Slayer observed. “How’d she handle the whole Ardat-Yakshi thing?”
Morinth’s lips curled back in a sneer. “Not well.”
At Shepard’s questioning silence, Morinth rolled her eyes. “I share my condition with my sisters, and it drove a massive wedge between me and my mother. I’m sure that she’d love the irony of this situation.”
“Your sisters are all Ardat-Yakshi?” Joan gaped. “That sucks.”
“My response was considerably less reserved.” Morinth huffed darkly. “Given your fondness for Thessian epithets, I’m sure you’d have found it… illuminating.”
“How long has it been since you’ve spoken to them? Your sisters, I mean?”
“I send them messages, even the occasional package. The last was before reaching Omega, where I met you. They didn’t respond. They never respond.”
“You don’t seem upset about that.”
Morinth just rolled her eyes. “I’m a rogue Ardat-Yakshi, a noted serial killer. In short, I’m everything that our system is designed to stamp out. Every time Rila and Falere spurn my attempts at contact, they become that much more trusted in the eyes of the Matriarchs.”
“So the badder you are, the better it is for them?” Shepard summarized.
Morinth nodded. “Thanks to a certain notorious Spectre, I’m more of a threat than ever before. I really should thank you…”
“You’re welcome.” Shepard rolled her eyes.
“…if your pet immortal wasn’t responsible for taking away my biotics.”
“Xander risked his life and his sanity to save you from ending up as a Reaper puppet.” Joan scowled, defending her best friend. “A little gratitude would be nice.”
“I didn’t ask for his help.”
“I know. I
“Yes…” Morinth murmured. “You asked, and he risked himself…”
“You’re part of my team, Morinth, biotics or no biotics.”
Shepard walked to the corner and picked up the glass. Filling it with water, she placed it on the tray in front of the Asari.
“You might not have biotics anymore, Morinth, but you have skills that I can use,” the Spectre-Slayer said sharply. “Maybe you can’t pull a glass anymore, but you know what else doesn’t need biotics? A gun, and last I checked, you were pretty good with those.”
When Morinth didn’t answer, Shepard sighed. “Well, either way, we’re heading back to Illium,” she said finally. “I’ve gotta make a call and Miranda’s apparently has some business that she could use some help on, and I’m pretty sure that everyone could use some shore leave.”
Morinth nodded wordlessly, reaching for the glass of cold water and sipping at it. Finally, she said aloud, “EDI, route a weapons-inventory list to a data pad at this location. I’d like to see what other interesting toys Operative Taylor maintains.”
“Accessing now,” came the emotionless voice.
Joan entered the Broker’s office and found Liara there. Not for the first did Shepard wonder if it was just some weird coincidence that the ceiling lights tended to illuminate her form and give her an almost-angelic look.
“Hey, there,” Joan smiled, catching her lover’s attention. “I saw Willow moving in.”
Liara shrugged. “Willow seems to think that she needs to keep an eye on Xander or you’ll have him doing Goddess knows what.”
“How nice to know that I inspire such confidence in my allies,” Joan commented wryly. “So how is it being the Broker?”
“I can see why Willow is so protective of the archives.” Liara mumbled as her eyes and fingers danced across displays. “I have high level access to every major government.”
“How much power are we talkin’ about?”
“Give me ten minutes and I could start wars.”
“Okay…” Shepard chuckled hesitantly. “Now you’re starting to sound a little scary, babe.”
“I thought you liked it when I was all badass,” the former archaeologist shot back, her voice coy. She stared at her lover for a moment and then frowned.
Joan sighed. “What is it?”
“You tell me.” Liara shrugged. “Something’s bothering you. I, of all people, can tell.”
“It’s Horizon.” Shepard sighed, crossing her arms as she leaned against a wall. “I thought that once they saw what we’re up against… once they saw the threat… then maybe…” she shook her head.
“Is this about Ashley?”
“You know already?”
“I’m a very
good information broker, Shepard.” Liara shrugged. “With so many omnitools having vid-capture technology, you shouldn’t be surprised that your confrontation was uploaded to the extranet as soon as communications were back online.”
Joan sighed. “I knew it’d be a hard sell, but…” Raking a hand through her dreadlocks, she couldn’t quite explain her frustration.
“She was there, Liara.” Shepard said finally. “She was standing right there, she saw the Collectors. She had to! But…”
“Ashley’s shortsightedness doesn’t diminish your accomplishments.” Liara chided. “You faced the Collectors and stopped them.”
“They still got away with half the colony.”
“That’s better than the entire colony.”
“You sound like the Illusive Man. Would you believe he actually managed to justify luring the Collectors to Horizon?”
“How so?” Liara seemed interested, sitting down on a nearby chair.
“Ashley mentioned a Collector attack at Fehl Prime about… two weeks ago, now.” Shepard sighed. “It got messy. Apparently, the survivors reported that a Cerberus agent named Messner had worked with them long enough to get onto the Collector ship before showing his true colors. I don’t exactly know what happened next, only that the Collector ship went and exploded, killing all of the abducted colonists.”
“Goddess…” Liara whispered in sympathy.
Shepard scoffed. “Worst part is, the survivors brought back both a sample of Seeker swam venom and its antidote, which Cerberus promptly stole. TIM then used Messner’s discovery of a Collector-tracking system to set Horizon as bait in order to lure the Collectors out, and have us lured there by their presence. All to test the effectiveness of Mordin’s Seeker swarm countermeasures.”
“That bastard…” Liara spat.
“Icing on the cake is, with the antidote and the Seeker-swarm countermeasures successfully tested, TIM’s mass-produced both and he’s having Cerberus agents dispensing them across our frontier colonies.” Shepard scowled. “I don’t know if he’s actually doing it, but as long as he’s walking the walk…”
She shook her head. “Xander’s convinced that TIM’s after something; something that makes bankrolling this mission worth his time, effort, and energy, never mind money.”
“I’ll use my resources to find out what I can.” Liara nodded. “If there’s one thing this job has taught me, it’s that somebody out there somewhere knows something and isn’t being paid nearly as much as they think they deserve for their silence.”
“Thanks…” Shepard nodded. “Anyway… now, along with my immortal demon-hunting sidekick, I now have a super-witch on the payroll and another Slayer who isn’t entirely trustworthy yet.”
“Is this about the girl you met on Horizon?”
Joan nodded. “I know I need all the help I can get, but I’ve taken Simone aboard even though I know
that she’s trouble.”
Liara sighed. “What other choice did you have?”
“I couldn’t just leave her on Horizon, not with her power.” Shepard shook her head. “If I hand her over the Illusive Man, God knows what he’d do with her.”
“I shudder to think what he could do with a Slayer to mold and shape to his philosophy, although you seem to have survived the experience thus far intact.”
“…only because TIMMY needs me fighting the Collectors and the Reapers, not him,” Shepard shrugged. “I doubt he’d hesitate to take more direct control of me if it was for the greater good.”
“The greater good… I’ve used that phrase more than a few times these last few months.”
“Li, I worry about you being out here on your own.” Shepard said quietly, taking her lover’s hands in her own. “If I lost you… you’re the reason I’m doing this. I couldn’t care less about the galaxy, but after what I saw those bastards wanted to turn Morinth into… I have to keep that from happening to you, no matter what the cost.”
“How is she?”
“Thanks to Xander, Morinth’s an Asari without biotics.” Joan sighed. “She’s been running and hunting and fighting as an Ardat-Yakshi for four-hundred years. Suddenly, it’s gone. I want to believe she’s strong enough to deal with it, but…”
“…you sound worried.” Liara observed.
“The truth is, no matter how you or the Illusive Man wants to spin it, we had our asses handed to us.” Shepard growled. “I need to get this team focused. Working together, fighting together… if I take this team through the Omega Four relay right now, even assuming that’s even possible; the Collectors will grind us up and spit us out.”
“You’ll do it, Joan. If anyone can do it, it’s you.”
Joan smiled wryly. “I’m glad you’re so sure.”
sure.” Liara said quietly. “Funny enough, you say that you’re doing all of this for me… well, all of this is my way of helping you.”
“I join Cerberus and you became the Shadow Broker.” Shepard chuckled as she stole a quick kiss from her lover. “We’re just a couple of idiots, aren’t we?”
“The biggest,” Liara sighed as her hands ran through Joan’s hair. A heartbeat later, she added, “You know you can’t fool me, right?”
“What do you mean, babe?” Joan asked innocently.
“You’re hoping to get laid before you go throwing yourself into danger.” Liara chided.
“Liara, I’ve been cooped up on a ship with the perfect woman…” Liara had met Miranda during her quest to retrieve Shepard’s body, and considered the description surprisingly accurate for such an impossible paradigm.
“To compound my problems, we also have a psychotic biotic butch in Jack, and a serial-killing sex fiend who grinds on me like I was a stripper pole.” Shepard rolled her eyes. Liara wondered what the Ardat-Yakshi had done in her absence or what she’d try now that she was apparently neutered.
“Plus, not to be crass, but it’s been two years.”
Liara chuckled grimly. “The only thing that saves your ass here, Joan Shepard, is that it’s been two years for me as well and I wasn’t sleeping for most of it, like you.”
“We’re supposed to leave in an hour.” Joan muttered, her fingers already pulling at a clasp on Liara’s white armor.
“Then you’re going to be late.” Liara mused imperiously, her own fingers dancing through her lover’s hair. “I’ll need at least two.”
“Aw, screw it, we can split the difference.” Shepard shrugged. “Call it… two and a half.”
Liara’s fingers suddenly clenched, pulling her lover’s hair back hard and forcing Shepard’s head up so that they were face-to-face. “Goddess, I love how you compromise,” the former archaeologist panted, her eyes already pitch-black.
For her part, Joan Shepard’s lips curled back into a leering grin.