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Zeppo Effect: Fight for the Lost

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This story is No. 2 in the series "Zeppo Effect". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: The Galaxy's Greatest Hero is back from the dead with a small army of the deadliest operatives in the galaxy to take on all comers. They say it's a suicide mission, that it’s certain death. THEY keep forgetting that Shepard has a Zeppo in her corner.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Games > Sci-Fi > Mass Effect Trilogy(Recent Donor)BHRamsayFR1864310,83929384129,80416 Jan 1226 Sep 13No

Lair of the Shadow Broker (2)

AN- big thanks to my beta team including Drakependragon and Reikson

8
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8

Shepard and the squad ran up a ruined staircase; reaching the top the Spectre suddenly come to an abrupt halt.

“What is it?” Xander asked, checking the action on his Predator nervously.

“Maybe… we can try NOT charging into a firefight this time?” Shepard hissed.

“As I recall," Harris snapped back venomously. "I was following YOU into that last fight,”

“Hey, here's an idea,” Kasumi whispered from behind them. “Seeing as how you brought the super-sneaky thief along, she could… oh, I don't know, scout ahead under the cover of her advanced cloaking tech so we can decide if rushing into a hail of gunfire is really a GOOD plan this time around?”

“Ooh, I like that idea,” Xander grinned, turning to Shepard. “She's good. Where'd you find her?”

“A good friend recommended her,” Joan deadpanned. “As reliable allies go, he's usually on the ball.”

“Oh, you two are just so cute,” Kasumi snickered. “You should really get an extranet vid show. You guys could catch criminals every week and Xander would have a wacky quip for every situation and stuff.”

Shepard glared at Kasumi. The thief let an unrepentant giggle slip out before creeping forward while tapping at her omni-tool.

There was a quiet vibration of power as Kasumi faded from view.

Xander crept forward, watching the four mercs he could see by the door talking quietly.

Morinth joined them at the corner. “I could set them on each other,” the Ardat-Yakshi murmured speculatively. “That would distract them long enough for you to deal with them.”

“Patience, Morrie,” Shepard sighed, checking her Mattock. “You fill up on fast food like these thugs, and you won't have room for the main course.-- Vasir.”

"Xander expressed similar concerns, you need not be worried, I've waited too long to get my hands on a Spectre to lose out now."

Xander grimaced, “Ah, quick question;" he asked Joan, "when exactly did mind-raping our enemies go from optional extra to standard policy?”

Shepard looked at him with a calm smirk, “I'd say that happened right around the same time that we started going up against career sadists, and Spectres moonlighting as paid assassins, rather than the bargain-basement mercenary thugs that we usually run into.”

“Yeah, but-”

Shepard shook her head, “Xander you know that torture is unreliable and generally ineffective. Morinth on the other hand is many things but what she does to her victims makes her one hundred percent effective.”

“So she picks up a few things from the whole mental connection thing, but is that really all that useful?”

Instead of responding directly, Shepard turned to the Ardat-Yakshi. “Morrie, what can you tell me about any of those guys up ahead?”

“That I picked up from the mercenary downstairs, you mean?” Morinth mused dryly,

She examined the mercs up ahead, Xander saw the look of cold hunger on her face and shuddered. He recalled seeing that all-too-familiar expression worn by Darla or Drusilla when they were stalking their many many victims.

“The pretty-boy ... the blond ... his name is Johnson. He's got a girlfriend on Omega that he thinks is faithful to him. Incidentally, he's wrong about that. In fact, if we're headed back there, I'd like to stop in for a visit. She thinks she knows what a good time is; she really, really doesn't. Goddess, the things I'd show her before the end.”

Shepard snorted reflexively, prompting Morinth to cock an eyebrow. “You disapprove?”

“If you want to snatch low-hanging fruit all the time, be my guest,” Joan grunted. “But nature's strongest predators tend to stay that way by hunting challenging prey, not running down easy pickings. If there is one thing I've noticed about you, Morrie, it's that you see yourself as a strong predator.”

Morinth paused. “I'll admit, Shepard, hanging around you has given me a taste for the kind of prey that you stalk. The final kill is so much more… satisfying.”

“Define satisfying,” Xander drawled.

“Vasir,” the rogue Ardat-Yakshi shrugged. “I doubt that someone like her would even darken the door of the kind of places that I liked to hunt. I doubt that she's seen the kind of vids I like or the art that I've enjoyed. But for all those faults… She is a Spectre if she is even half as strong as Shepard, that means she is so much more powerful then most of the herd. I want to taste that kind of power so very much.”

Dark swirls of biotic power crackled and seethed around the Asari, marking her growing excitement.

Xander looked worried, but Shepard remained impassive.

“First, we find Liara." Joan replied before a cold feral smile bisected her face " if Vasir won't cooperate then you'll get your special treat.”

Xander looked away for a moment. “You know, I keep thinking that I should have more of a problem this plan, but… but then I remember that Vasir tried to kill Liara and she might be the only thing standing between me and rescuing Willow.”

"Ah, the things a man will do for love.” Kasumi's whispered mocking preceded the soft buzzing of her cloak disengaging.

“You're back,” Xander rubbed his hands together. “So, are there any more guards? Can we make our move?”

“We made our move a while back,” the hooded thief shrugged. “Or, to be more accurate, we will be making our move in five… four… three… two… one…”

A series of explosions went off down the hall; well-timed and well-spaced, the four guys in sight went down along four more waiting just beyond them.

Kasumi had even hacked the fire suppression system so the small fire, that her sabotage had caused, went out almost instantly.

“…and that, ladies and gentleman, is why you hired me,” Kasumi said, smirking.

“Let's move!” Shepard hissed as the squad headed toward the door.

“So, are you still hung up on abs you can cut diamonds on?” Xander asked, deadpan. “Because I'll be honest; I'm feeling very close to you right now.”

Kasumi snorted. “I don't date otaku-boys anymore. I mean, I'm a high tech cyber-ninja; the look works for me. I start hanging with some otaku fanboy and you'll be dressing me as a magical princess schoolgirl or making me punish people in the name of truth.”

“Actually, it's in the name of The Moon;" Xander corrected almost automatically, "Sailor Moon punishes people in the name of the moon…"

He realized what he'd said and grimaced in annoyance. "and the fact that I know that isn't helping my case at all, is it?” he whined.

“It does make me think Jack has no idea of the wild ride she is in for.” the thief snickered.

"What ," Xander replied too quickly. "what do you mean Jack and I are just friends."

Harris was trying too hard to sound innocent and none of the girls were fooled in the slightest.

"Oh how cute, the convict and the clown, add some trite music and predictable dialog and it might make a decent if forgettable vid." Morinth sneered.

“No respect; I get no respect at all,” Harris grunted. As he headed toward the door.

Shepard snorted as she shook her head, she wouldn't have said so but she could think of few people in the galaxy better suited to help Jack with her many, many issues then Xander.

Convincing Xander to trust himself enough to try however, that might be a little harder.

They reached the locked door that Kasumi had already hacked, entering it only to find Vasir standing over a dead thug. Slumped against a wall was a dead Salarian.

“Sekat, I assume,” Shepard sighed.

“Sorry,” Vasir sighed. “I was too late to stop 'em from killing your girlfriend's source. Did you have any luck finding her body? I didn't pass it on the way down here.”

“Yes, you did,” Liara hissed, coming up from behind them, an M-4 Shuriken in hand. “I just thought that meeting face-to-face shouldn't happen until Shepard had dealt with the rest of your hired guns.”

“Liara, you made it,” Shepard said, both shocked and relieved. “I was worried.”

Liara flushed briefly before focusing on Vasir, who backed away.

“Shepard, you wanna tell your girlfriend that I'm on your side?” the Asari Spectre asked wryly, half-demanding.

“Don't lie, Vasir, you're no good at it,” Liara sneered coolly.

Shepard sighed, “You know that truth is the basis of any good relationship. Take our relationship Vasir; It was wrong of me to even pretend that I believed your lies for one second.” The Spectre replied.

Vasir's face fell. ”Hmm… that thing about Alingon was what tipped you off, huh?”

Shepard nodded, “I'm betting Tazzik didn't bother telling you that I was definitely not in a position to file a report of any kind about that mission let alone tell anyone about it. Cerberus had me in lock down right afterward so if you know about that mission..."

"I thought Tazzik was hiding something when he was boasted about having his way with you." Vasir snarled.

"That, and some other matters as well,” Joan replied .

“How'd you know I wasn't going to wax your girlfriend before you reached her?” Vasir shot back at Shepard.

“Like I told you before Vasir my girl was one capable woman long before she met me and since then she's learned from the best,” The Spectre Slayer shrugged. “She wasn't going to be found unless she wanted you to find her. Besides, I'm a great believer in the old adage 'keep your friends close and your enemies, even closer' and all that.”

“So, Doc, how'd you make it out of the apartment?” Xander asked.

“I knew that someone would come for me at home eventually, so I planned ahead,” Liara shrugged. “Replacing the glass in my apartment was the easy part, getting the building management database to forget that I'd done so, was a little bit tougher.”

Popping her Shuriken's heat sink, she added, “Pricey, but ultimately worth every last credit in the end. After all, Vasir's shots only cracked the glass instead of smashing it and blasting me away.”

Shepard's eyes hardened. “…and once Vasir knew she'd missed, she had to finish the job.”

Liara nodded. “When her bullets cracked my window, I didn't panic. I knew that there were only a handful of places nearby where those shots could've originated. So I stashed an OSD with Sekat's message away before leaving, just in case Joan came looking. Then I doubled back afterwards, and saw Vasir trying to ransack my place. I'd disabled security monitoring of my place a long time ago, but that didn't extend to the building proper, so I called the cops and waited to see what she'd do.”

“Smart, and hats off to you, Vasir,” the Spectre-Slayer nodded. “The cops show up, followed shortly afterwards by me, and you have the presence of mind to come up with a believable-enough tale that the cops don't question you being at a crime scene.”

The Asari Spectre only shrugged. “Thank the Goddess you were so helpful. Once I had T'Soni's location, I could alert the Broker's forces. I tried calling Tazzik, but he isn't answering. That's your doing, I assume?”

“Tazzik's street pizza,” Xander said flatly. “Now cough up the data unless you want to end up the same way.”

“Oh, honey, you're cute,” Vasir sneered, “…but I lazzed that disc the second I had it in my hands. Then I killed Sekat, so your little hunt ends right here and now.”

“You destroyed the data?” Liara sounded like she'd been punched.

“Relax, Liara, she's lying,” Shepard smirked. “I can tell that she's still got it on her. But even if she didn't, we'd still be able to get what we need.”

"Who do you think you're dealing with?” Vasir snorted. “You think I'm some two-cred merc who's gonna crap themselves because of Commander Shepard and her ooh-scary reputation?”

Shepard just shrugged. “Morinth, you're up,” she gestured to the Ardat-Yakshi, “Make it quick; we need that data.”

“As you command, Shepard,” the serial killer grinned, sidling towards Vasir sedately.

“Shepard, you watch too many vids,” the Asari Spectre scoffed. “Do you really think some Asari merc you picked up on Omega is going to pull some cool mind trick and pull the secrets from my head? I'm a trained Spectre, a commando of the first rank. I don't fold under pressure, even mental ones.”

Liara looked worried. “Shepard, Vasir's right. Dominance is no easy feat, and to use it on one such as her will take time.”

“Trust me, babe, I have my ways,” Joan smirked. “Just know that this is all for you; for your protection. For you, I'd do anything and work with anyone who could help me keep you safe.”

“Morinth… was it?” Vasir sneered. “You're a few seconds away from the toughest fight of your life. I'm going to turn your skull into so much jelly.”

“So strong,” Morinth moaned. “I need this.”

“I'm not going to make it easy on you,” the Asari Spectre sneered.

“Good,” the rogue Ardat-Yakshi purred. “I like any game where your opponent can still think they have the advantage … right before you destroy them.”

“Wait… wait, what are you-” Vasir started to panic, her eyes widening with slowly-dawning horror.

Morinth closed the distance between them, her biotics swirling around her as she seemed to be sniffing the air. “Ooh, how wonderful… a fear so thick, I could eat it,” she drawled listlessly. “I'm going to enjoy this one…”

As she leaned into Vasir's face, she absently rolled her tongue around in her mouth.

“I'm going to Join with you” Morinth caressed Vasir's face, as if she was trying to memorize the Asari Spectre's visage.

"I'll fight you!" Vasir snarled.

“Fight me as much as you want to Tela. I hope that you fight me every step of the way. I'll love it, really. I WANT you to fight me back as long and as hard as you can; it'll make the inevitable all the more enjoyable. I want to experience every last one of your sensations before it's over.”

“I don't join on the first date,” Vasir sneered, growing nervous.

“You lie,” the rogue Ardat-Yakshi cooed mockingly. “You mustn't lie to your Mistress; now, tell mistress the truth. You wanted Shepard the moment you saw her.”

“Yes…” Vasir mumbled, shocked that her mouth was moving. “How'd you do that?”

Morinth ignored the question. “Standing there, looking so dangerous and deadly… you wanted her,”

“Yes…”

“You would've taken her, right on T'Soni's bed if you could.”

“Yes…”

“Aw, how sweet. But you aren't worthy of Shepard my little puppet, Not when you're so much weaker than her…”

“Goddess, you're… Ardat-Yakshi?” the Asari Spectre mumbled, her eyes widening in terror.

“Mm… yes, I am, my sweet little meat puppet…” Morinth nodded. “Yes… I can see it. You always wanted to fight Shepard, to test yourself against her and see which of you was better.” Leaning in, she whispered into Vasir's ear, “…but this is as close to Shepard as you were ever going to come. Shepard will watch you die, so be sure to give her a good show.”

“Get away from me, you freak!” Vasir shrieked, blowing out the window behind them with a massive biotic blast. The explosion's shockwave, and the sudden change in air pressure, hurled Morinth back into the rest of the squad and bowled them all over.

Vasir grabbed the now-lethally sharp chunks of glass and hurled them towards the squad, even as Liara brought up a powerful Barrier that kept the whole squad from getting filled with brittle shrapnel.

Xander saw Vasir rising from the floor with her biotics and darted from the Barrier's cover to tackle her to the floor. At least, he'd intended for the floor be where they fell. But the whole size-mass-weight redistribution thing, endemic to use of mass effect fields, had escaped his memory briefly.

As his body slammed into Vasir, the two of them fell out the window and began falling towards the ground, spinning and struggling as they went.

Vasir finally managed to roll them around enough that she was no longer the one on the bottom and sent a surge of power that hurled Xander away.

He crashed to the ground, the breath forced from his body by the force of the impact.

Vasir landed more delicately. Looking down at the gasping Scooby, she clicked her tongue.

“The Matriarchs are so scared of you and Shepard,” the Asari Spectre snarled. “Councilor Tevos somehow put the fear of the Goddess in them about you both. Now I see why they're so scared of Shepard, but you don't seem that tough.”

He managed to affix her with a poisonous glare, which made her even warier. “I'm going to make that bitch remember what a bad idea it was to humiliate me,” Vasir hissed decisively. “It's time you feeble humans were reminded what it is to deal with a race that was born to power, instead of just tripping over it like you ape-primates.”

She was gathering her biotic power in her fist, cocking her arm back for an enhanced punch as a wincing Xander kept trying to get up. But his body was being stubborn, making him wonder if he'd broken something when he'd hit the ground. So until he healed up, he was like a turtle on its back.

Suddenly a shout from above drew their attention. Liara came rocketing out of the broken window, her biotics sheathing her form as she came crashing down.

Xander felt dark energy swirl over him as T'soni released a fraction of her vast power to soften her landing even as Vasir danced away.

Vasir broke into a run, escaping across the parking lot with Liara in hot pursuit.

Just as quickly, the rest of the squad was there.

“Xander, are you all right?” Kasumi asked, reaching for him.

“Kasumi, Morinth, get after them. Don't leave that lunatic alone with Liara,” Shepard barked.

“Right away, Commander,” the Ardat-Yakshi nodded, breaking into a striding pace. Kasumi stayed back for a second or so, hesitating before Xander nodded and the hooded infiltrator ran off after her teammate.

As several more of the Shadow Broker's thugs showed up, trying to slow them down, the two women killed them as little more than an afterthought.

When they were alone, Joan looked down at Xander's wincing form. “What's wrong?”

“It's embarrassing…” he groaned. “Back sprain, probably a dislocated shoulder… think I even pinched a nerve…”

“Those are all pretty minor wounds,” Shepard mused, frowning in confusion. She'd seen him recover from far-more serious injuries then this.

“Yeah, minor wounds that any normal person would pass out from while THEY heal normally because if they were awake-”

“They'd be screaming in agony,” Shepard realized.

“Well, I don't want to sound like some super-emo drama queen… but yeah.”

Xander stood up with Shepard's help. He seemed fine, save for his oddly positioned shoulder.

The immortal Scooby winced as he tried to move his left arm.

“Dislocated, huh?” Shepard asked wryly.

Xander glared at her balefully before stretching out his arm submissively. “Just make it quick, okay?”

Shepard gently grabbed his arm, raising it slowly before quickly punching his left deltoid.

There was an audible popping crunch, and Xander yelled in pain.

“That REALLY hurt,” he whined.

Shepard smiled. “Pain's good, means you're still alive and human. We like pain, remember?”

Xander grunted as he rotated his arm around in the socket while his body quickly regenerated from the damage. “Liara saved me,” he muttered.

“That's one interpretation of what I saw,” Joan said bitterly as they started running after their teammates.

Xander looked at her sadly, “Remember, dark side; we get the real Broker and she'll be sweet little Liara again, I promise.”

Shepard didn't reply, her face mirroring the dark tumult of thoughts and emotions running through her head. Xander suspected that he knew what she was thinking.

They moved past the corpses of several thugs that Kasumi or Morinth had taken out and finally arrived at a dead end formed by the low walls of the parking lot, with the vast chasms of Illium's aerial roadways yawning beyond.

Vasir was trapped; fending off weapons fire not just from Liara and her Shuriken but Kasumi's Locust and Morinth's Eviscerator as well.

Suddenly, she broke from cover and hopped over the railing, plunging down into the depths.

Liara snarled something in Thessian that actually made Morinth blush and prompted Xander to quirk an eyebrow in surprise. “She still had the data on her and now she's gone,” the archaeologist-turned-information broker snarled.

“No, she's not, she's got a way out,” Shepard snapped, pointing at Vasir's car as it rose out of the chasm, still sealing itself. Vasir gave them the finger from the driver's seat.

Xander barely broke his stride, heading for a nearby air taxi. “Come one, come all! All aboard the Harris Express!” he shouted like a circus ringmaster as he got into the driver's seat. “Next stop, reckless car chase sequence!”

“I managed to tag her with a tracking chip!” Kasumi shouted over the near-deafening whine of the airtaxi powering up. “We can follow her wherever she goes!” she hopped into the back, belting herself into the seat frantically.

“Until she figures out that she's been tagged, anyway! Boss, let's go!”

Shepard saw the look of childish eagerness, mixed with undiluted terror on Kasumi's face, and realized something. “You've driven with Xander before.”

The squad piled into the cab, Liara grabbed the shotgun seat while Shepard and Morinth crammed themselves into the backseat next to Kasumi.

“By the way, Doc,” Xander said dryly, “I'm super, thanks for asking.”

“It was four floors, Xander. A fall like that was hardly going to kill you,” Liara snapped.

Just as he was about to respond, Shepard insisted on everyone buckling up and Xander snorted reflexively. “Boss, you drive worse than I do,” he grunted as he guided the air taxi out into traffic.

Shepard ignored his comment, “Tech Sarge, you have my permission to drive like you have nothing to lose.”

Liara whipped her head around in a panic. “Goddess, are you sure, Shepard?”

“You wanna catch Vasir or not?” Shepard replied.

Morinth snorted as she wriggled around in the backseat, pretending to try and get comfortable being wedged in next to Shepard.

“How dangerous a driver could he possibly-!” she wasn't allowed to finish that phrase as the air taxi plunged several hundred feet at suicidal speeds. Her frenzied screaming and frantic prayers to the Goddess accompanied Xander's manic cackling and the pounding beat of some pulse-pounding club music blaring from the car's sound system as it began to weave in and out of incoming traffic.

8
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8

Aethyta was reporting to Gallae, an old Matriarch friend of hers who'd become the leader of the Ardat-Yakshi monastery on Lessus only about thirty years ago.

Aethyta had little doubt that Gallae was already finding out, the hard way, just how her predecessors had exploited the blind eye that Asari society and the Matriarchs tended to give to the comings and goings of the Justicars, especially when dealing with Ardat-Yakshi.

The news about a fugitive Ardat-Yakshi on Shepard's squad had left Gallae unimpressed.

“This Shepard seems even more reckless then Tevos' reports lead us to believe,” Gallae groaned, massaging her scalp. “Taking an Ardat-Yakshi into her crew? Morinth, of all people? Even for a human, that's unwise!”

“Still, with everything else I've told you,” Aethyta grumbled, “…you have to admit that maintaining our 'wait-and-see' approach to T'Soni, especially with Shepard in the mix, is the best possible thing to do.”

“I'm sorry, Aethyta,” her fellow ex-commando sighed. “But me and the others… we've decided that this whole matter has gotten far too out of hand. It's time that we acted for the greater good.”

Aethyta shuddered, something cold running down her spine. She'd heard words like this used far too often. They always preceded the kind of disaster that she'd just been trying to prevent.

“You've sent someone already, haven't you?” Aethyta snarled. “You sent someone without telling me.” She didn't bother hiding how much Gallae's lack of trust bothered her.

Gallae wasn't impressed in the slightest. “Aethyta, you work FOR us, not the other way around,” she hissed. “We gave you this assignment as a favor, but the time has come to think of the bigger picture.”

“Who did you send?”

“Someone we know we can trust to get the job done; she's never failed us before.”

“Vasir,” Aethyta snarled. “Tela Vasir?”

“She'll deal with this mess once and for all. Perhaps it's time to decide if Shepard has outlived her usefulness.”

Several surveillance alarms went off and Aethya quickly checked them. A bitter smile soon spread across her face.

“I think we'll both want to remember that you said that,” Aethya rasped.

“What is it?” Gallae growled.

“Your little contingency plan for dealing with Liara? She just blew up three floors of the Drakon Trade Centre. Civilian defense and law enforcement is reporting shots fired and an air-car pursuit.”

“Then you'll liaise with Civilian Defense and law enforcement,” Gallae snapped. “Tell them to pull their people back and give Vasir the time she needs to complete her work. WE can deal with the fallout if Shepard has to be neutralized later.”

“You don't understand, Gallae; Shepard and T'Soni have been positively identified as hunting Vasir. It's early yet, but apparently Vasir was responsible for the bombing.”

“What? That's… that's impossible,” Gallae sputtered.

“Not THAT impossible. I take it that no one's told you about of Vasir's… divided loyalties?”

“What are you talking about?” Gallae demanded.

“Vasir's been working for the Shadow Broker for a very long time. I'd have told you that, if you'd told me you were sending her.”

"She makes use of the Broker as a resource.”

“That's what she told YOU,” Aethyta snorted. “The truth is… a little more complicated.”

Gallae tried to cover her shock but didn't do a good job. “Aethyta, under no circumstance are you to lose track of Shepard or T'Soni. Whatever it takes, am I clear? Whatever. It. Takes. T'Soni and her bondmate are obviously too dangerous to be underestimated.”

“Took you long enough to figure that out, didn't it?” Aethyta sneered, ending the call.

She rose from the console and was heading for the door before it suddenly opened, and a biotic Charge slammed her up against the far wall. Grunting as she realized that she was pinned, the bartending Matriarch hit her attacker with a Throw-infused palm thrust that shoved her attacker back several steps, enough time for her to grab her assailant and use a human over-the-shoulder throw.

The explosive gasp gave her enough time to turn in place and straddle her attacker, priming a fist with enough biotic force to smash a Krogan's headplate; more than enough power to kill Asari, Human, or even Turian.

Then she noticed her attacker's face, and felt her biotics die away.

“Nezzy?” she sputtered in disbelief.

“Aethyta… it's been a century,” Liara's mother, Matriarch Benezia, said coolly. “We have so many things to discuss, you and I.”

Aethyta did what any rational person would do in that situation; she fainted. Benezia chuckled. She was the first person to tell anyone who asked that Aethyta had always looked cuter when she was sleeping.

But she now had nothing to do for several minutes, except sit and meditate on how Aethyta only seemed to have gotten better-looking with age.

Idly, she wondered what her daughter, Shepard, and their immortal friend was doing now.

8
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8

The Squad's air taxi hurtled though the city with Xander tapping at the taxi's HUD. The display brought up screens including a rearview cam.

“Kas, you wanna give me the signal for the trace?” he asked calmly.

Goto released her white-knuckled grip on the back seat long enough to press and prod at her omni-tool.

Suddenly a red dot with a trail appeared on the windshield.

“Xander, stay on her!” Shepard yelled.

“On it, boss,” Harris said grimly

The air car swerved around and over several air vehicles, including a perturbed truck driver.

“Oh, classy, buddy! Real classy!” Xander roared. “I know what a signal is! I learned it the same day I learned to take it out of first!”

“Xander,” Shepard's icy calm was a contrast to everyone else's white-knuckled terror as well as his own road rage. “Eyes on the prize, Tech Sergeant, eyes on the prize.”

“She's headed into that construction site!” Liara yelled, pointing as Vasir pumped more speed out of her aircar trying to evade them.

Xander swerved across several lanes of traffic to follow Vasir's car though a series of obstacles.

He darted over a grav-lifter, under a mag-lev carrier, through several startled late-night workers (who'd later use the incident as an excuse to start asking for hazard pay), and one very disinterested civilian defense officer and his sleeping partner who had been ignoring the calls they were getting about the air chase.

8
9
8

As the two cars sped by, Turian Officer; Dolan Corvi, looked out the corner of his eyes at his Asari Partner. Meren'dith had been seething with rage over Shepard's rough treatment of her back at T'soni's apartment.

Meren'dith had been whining about it for a while afterward but had drifted off to sleep.

Dolan looked at the incoming massage. an air chase involving suspects in the Drakon Trade Centre Bombing.

Dolon sighed, He was no coward but he didn't see the point in getting involved in a vehicle chase that might well be over by the time the two of them got there.

A tapping at the window of his car made him look up it was a human dressed shabbily.

Dolan rolled down the window. "What is it human?" He asked

"I was wondering if your partner there was as asleep as she looked."

"She's had a long night , what do you want human?"

"My name is Warren and she's exactly what I've been looking for. You would not believe how hard it was to find someone who was asleep at this hour."

Warren smiled and tossed the bottle in his hand inside the car. the top popped open and spewed a dense smoke out into the tight confines of the police vehicle.

"What the hell are you playing at human." The Turian shouted as he tried to clear the smoke from his face. he watched as the smoke if that was what it was seemed to waver then then seep into Meren'Dith's eyes nose and mouth. she seemed to shake a moment then then she woke with a start. she turned toward Dolan and the Turian was shocked as Meren'dith's eyes opened,

She turned a terrifying gaze on her partner, instead of the normal bright blue of her eyes instead they now burned with blood-red infernal energy.

“Get out,” the Possessed Asari thundered in a demonic double-voice. “Get out now.”

Warren opened the car door and yanked the Turian out of the car, casually hurling him out of the car and into the yawning abyss of Illium's depths.

Sliding in beside the Asari-shaped wraith, Warren prepared for battle as his partner guided the aircar out into traffic and accelerating to catch up with the chase already in progress.

A few miles ahead of the now-speeding cop car, Xander had the accelerator shoved up against to the floor.

“She's headed topside,” Shepard noted, and Xander hammered on the accelerator as he directed the air car up past several levels of traffic before leveling off.

“I hope that this data we're chasing is worth it, really, I do,” the immortal Scooby grunted, weaving above and below the traffic lane in hot pursuit.

“Data indicating the final location of the Torchwood Protocols' funneled data-streams?" Liara mused with no small trace of sarcasm. "You think that might be worth something?”

Xander didn't answer her, but rather just finessed more speed out of the aircar as he closed in on the fleeing dot that marked Vasir's car.

“Traffic! Oncoming traffic!” Liara yelped, trying to push herself into the back of her seat.

“I can see that, Miss Sideseat,” Xander snapped tersely, trying to concentrate amidst the general noise coming from the backseat and the airtaxi's sound system blaring techno music that he only vaguely recognized.

Several cars started honking horns, and there was a sudden flare of fiery light. Vasir had caused a midair collision, several aircars spinning out of control and crashing into nearby buildings.

“Goddess, we aren't going in there, are we?” Liara whispered.

“Relax, Doc, this'll be just like NASCAR,” Xander reassured them. “You always steer towards the crash; they'll be gone by the time you get there.”

He might've been right, but nobody was reassured to find themselves so close to wildly spinning and molten-hot wreckage that they probably could've reached out and touched it.

Staring past the wreck, Liara looked around and quickly located the problem.

“Is that a proximity charge?” she asked, more shocked than anything else.

As they rushed by it, the mine's proximity sensor went off and another small and fiery nova of light and sound blossomed.

Xander felt the blast's concussion wave hit the car from behind and he had to swerve wildly just to keep the air taxi from spinning out of control.

Liara screamed in panic.

“Surely you weren't this timid during the search for the rogue Turian Spectre, were you?” Morinth sneered in spite of herself.

Liara hissed a harsh Asari epitaph.

Shepard, who thought she already knew every Asari curse word, filed this one away for future use, it seemed particularly nasty to judge by Morinth's amused reaction.

"Such language T'soni" Morinth sneered, "what would that high-class mother of yours think to hear such gutter-talk from her precious daughter?"

Suddenly, another vehicle bounced into theirs from behind.

“I do believe that we've attracted official attention,” Morinth cackled, excited by the speed and violence.

There was a thud and the car shook. Xander glanced at the dashboard HUD showing the rearview. “What the Hell?”

An Asari cop with glowing red eyes was glaring at him though the screen.

“Vasir is mine Watcher,” a double-toned voice thundered through the cop car's loudspeaker system. “The Senior Partners want her and what the Senior Partners want, they take.”

Shepard noticed the way that her immortal best friend had suddenly scowled darkly, his lips curling into a feral snarl. “Xander?” she asked him carefully.

“Boss, take the wheel. I'm going outside,” he said grimly.

"What is it?" Shepard growled. "It looks like an Asari cop but it feels ...wrong somehow."

"She's Wolfram and Hart and it's trouble" Xander growled.

"What is wrong with her?" Morinth asked.

"At a guess, I'd say she was possessed." Xander answered.

"Xander?" Liara shouted, "Possessed? surely you're joking?"

"For once, no I'm not," Xander answered, "Andrew called them Shadows, they're possessing spirits; they crave flesh and blood bodies to inhabit. Its like a drug to them."

"What do they do with them once they have a body." Kasumi asked.

The glowing-eyed Asari raised her fist and smashed the protective barrier, opening the cop car to the air. The Wraith crawled out and leapt onto the airtaxi, Warren quickly taking the helm of their stolen vehicle.

"Pretty much that." Xander replied as he opened the taxi door.

“Xander, are you insane?!?” Liara screeched. “You can't go out there!”

“I have to keep that asshole occupied,” the immortal Scooby shrugged. “Boss, grab the wheel, and for the love of God, keep us steady.”

With that, he slung himself outside to confront the Asari even as Joan crawled into the front seat and took the air taxi's helm.

“You do realize that without biotics you just broke every bone in that Asaris hand, right?” Xander sneered at the Wraith.

“I like the Asari, they are far more resilient than ordinary human beings,” the Wraith said in its odd double voice. "But thank you for reminding me of all the optional extras that come with using this form."

The Wraith raised a fist glowing with biotic power and slammed it into the hood of the taxi barely missing Xander's head.

The Shadow reached out and grabbed Xander by the throat channeling biotic power into its host's clenching fist, “Go to sleep, Watcher,” it rumbled. “Go to sleep, and when you dream, it will be of what I do with your body.”

“Hang on, Tech Sarge, I'm taking advantage of Vasir's countermeasures,” Shepard's voice rang in his ear. Her steely will in situations like these were one reason why she was such a keeper in what was shaping up to be a new Scooby Gang.

Well, that was assuming that they survived their current predicament.

They shot out of a tunnel and Shepard steered toward a proximity mine, brushing past it and setting it off deliberately. The explosion slapped at the cab, sending it spinning through the air.

Xander, pinned to the hood of the air taxi by the Shadow's assault, actually had a slight advantage over the possessed alien as it was hurled into a stalled truck.

He watched the moment of dawning horror on the Asari's face as she screamed, waking up as the Shadow abandoned her to her death.

Xander could see a cloudy presence that was the Wraith searching for another sleeping or inactive mind so that it could continue the chase.

Not a hard thing to find in this day and age of autopilot-assisted driving.

“Xander, get back in here!” Liara demanded over the com.

“Can't do that, Doc, these things crave physical bodies, its like a drug, it'll keep hunting until it finds another and it already said its after Vasir same as we are,” Xander shouted, placing a finger to his ear. “We gotta get to her before it does.”

“Who cares if they possess that bitch?!? What are you thinking?!?” Liara shouted.

“If that thing gets inside Vasir, then it'd have the data disk and know how to get to Willow.”

“He's right, Liara,” Shepard butted in. “The disk isn't the only thing, either. All of Vasir's knowledge will be available to those things; including her Council Access Codes.”

Xander felt a chill run down his spine. Whether it came from Shepard's comment, or her much more reckless driving, he didn't much care.

He had little doubt that if the Shadow was working for the Senior Partners, that meant Warren was skulking around somewheres.

“Don't worry about it, Doc, we'll get this done,” Xander replied grimly as Shepard caught up to Vasir's car.

“You DO realize that a head-on collision at this speed-!” Liara screeched at Shepard.

“-would be bad, yes,” Shepard shrugged nonchalantly. “More so for us than for Xander, but we definitely want to avoid something like that happening to us.”

Then the airtaxi hit a truck and skidded along its rear bed. Arching into the
air, Shepard directed the car straight down and everyone felt a severe jolt.

Through sheer force of luck, the Slayer had managed to catch up to Vasir and had pretty much tried to land the car right on top of hers.

Xander rolled forward, launching himself through the air to land on the roof of Vasir's car and ramming his omniblade through the windshield in an attempt to gain purchase on her rooftop.

His momentum actually made him drag the hard-light weapon down the glass plate, the blade tearing open a white-hot furrow that let freezing-cold winds tear into her car's interior with a howl like a varren being burned alive.

Vasir swerved into the taxi while trying to shoot at Xander with her M-15 Vindicator, its burst-fire payload cracking her windshield open in multiple places.

Shepard swerved back in retaliation, and the two vehicles slammed together repeatedly.

Another vehicle drifted up beside them. Xander blinked recognizing the cop car from earlier even as Vasir stabbed at her omni-tool, no doubt broadcasting her access codes in the hopes that the police officer would come to her aid.

The window opened and Warren Meers leaned out trying to shot wildly at the both of them. Vasir swerved around another vehicle trying to avoid Warren's spray-and-pray gunfire.

Her car skidding off another car jolting Xander still clinging to the top. The Car she'd nudged suddenly sped up and rammed into them. Its windscreen exploded as a Turian came leaping across the distance to land on the car.

The glowing red of the Turian's eyes betrayed that this was once again the Wraith.

The wraith used the Turian's talons to slash at Xander viciously. Xander punched at the wraith but the Turian's naturally toughened exoskeleton blunted the force of Xander's blows.

The Wraith backhanded Xander propelling him backward. Xander's arms windmilled wildly as he sought to regain his balance.

Xander's eyes widened as they looked down at the impossibly long fall beneath him.

He threw his weight forward jamming his omni-blade into the roof of the car so he could regain his precarious grip.

He hugged the roof of the car as its speed turned the night air into a gale force wind that snatched wildly at him trying to drag him off the car and hurl him to the night sky.

Xander watched as the Turian-shaped wraith crawled inside Vasir's car.

All too quickly, the Asari Spectre suddenly found herself in the deadliest fight of her life ever since her days as a Huntress The Wraith trying to choke her into unconsciousness as it had tried to do with Xander.

Xander didn't hesitate, using his pistol to shoot the lock on Vasir's gull-wing door he reached out and popped it open.

"Shove it out the door , you can't kill it just get rid of it." Harris shouted.

Vasir reacted immediately, shoving the Turian out the door, she watched it spin away smoke already billowing out of its body as the Wraith searched for yet another body.

Vasir shuddered in disbelief. “What the Hell was that?” she sputtered, more to herself than anything else.

“Welcome to the other side of the looking glass, Alice!” Xander yelled through the hole in her windshield, catching her attention and spurring the two of them into fighting for control of the aircar.

Shepard caught sight of an oncoming service vehicle. “Xander, truck,” she said into her radio.

“I know,” the immortal Scooby grunted, grabbing for the steering wheel. Vasir kept fighting him off while Shepard kept on trying to sideswipe the Asari Spectre's aircar.

“Shepard… truck!” Liara yelled.

“I see it!” Joan snarled, too busy watching Xander wrestling with Vasir for control of the aircar.

Then bright lights filled the windscreen, rendering the HUD useless. Shepard looked up and instantly noticed what Liara had been so scared of; the truck driver was bearing down on them deliberately. A Drell with its eyes aflame, possessed by the Wraith.

“Shepard, TRUCK!” Kasumi shouted from behind her, and the first Human Spectre snapped out of her reverie.

“Hold on!” the Spectre-Slayer barked, swerving.

Vasir was so intent on ridding herself of Xander by slamming the car against Shepard that she was shocked when Shepard suddenly gave way. She could feel her blood draining from her face as she noticed her car sliding in front of an incoming truck. Screaming in terror, she released her grip on the helm in favor of covering her face with her arms.

Xander instantly tapped several keys on her helm and veered them out of the truck's path. As it was, the truck still clipped Vasir's car and sent both vehicles spinning out of control.

Shepard followed the flaming wreck down to a nearby rooftop, smirking in cold satisfaction as the Asari Spectre spilled out of the car and stumbled away from her ruined ride.

Landing as close as she dared near Vasir's car, Shepard and the rest of the squad gave chase.

Homing in on the wreckage, Shepard noticed that Xander was striding out of the burning wreck, brushing flaming debris off of his armor. Parts of his armor had melted somewhat, but the damage was entirely cosmetic.

Smiling broadly in spite of herself, Joan ran up to her best friend and gave him a quick once-over before saying, “You're one-in-a-million, Xander.”

“So how are we supposed to keep on her with all this chaos?” Kasumi muttered, tempting the Dark Lord Murphy in the process.

Her answer came in the form of several crashing noises and gunshots ringing out. Almost immediately, a stream of screeching half-dressed men, women, and Asari all ran past them.

“Ahh, where the Hell are we, exactly?” Xander asked the obvious question as he took in the impromptu scenery with some bemusement.

“Azure; it's an exotic resort catering to Asari fetishists,” Liara explained. “Azure is an Illium-based slang term for a certain part of the Asari body.”

“Which part?” Shepard asked, almost without thinking.

Liara leaned over and whispered in her ear.

Shepard frowned somewhat. “Wait, so that's what you girls call it? Why is it I've actually been intimate with an Asari and Im only now finding out about this now?”

Liara flushed. “Well In all fairness every time I thought about mentioning it we were usually ...engaged in far more ...interesting activities. For obvious reasons, I was disinclined to stop what you were doing for an anatomy lesson.”

“Well I guess we'll have to schedule a more ...through examination in the future,” Shepard snickered.

“Seems like your kind of place, Morrie,” Kasumi snorted.

The renegade Ardat-Yakshi only snorted disdainfully. “Too bad that every Asari who works here… if you want to call what goes on here work… has to submit to weekly physical and genetic screening.”

“Oh, yeah,” Xander nodded. “STDs can be nasty, this I know. Try explaining to a doctor how you managed to pick up a strain of syphilis that died out hundreds of years before you were born. No, spiritual possession is not an explanation that they go for, down at the local walk-in clinic. I can tell you that for free.”

Morinth snickered. “A charming image, but what I meant is that the last thing that any of the Matriarchs want is for their dirtiest of dirty little secrets to interfere with their most effective method of maintaining cultural dominance.”

“Maintaining cultural dominance?” Xander laughed. “C'mon, Morinth, it's a intergalactic sex hotel.”

"…in which those with a taste for Asari flesh may indulge themselves to their heart's content, all the while exposing the deepest and darkest secrets of their minds and spirits to a species that's uniquely capable of exploiting said knowledge.”

Kasumi laughed nervously. “You've got to be kidding me.”

Morinth arched an eyebrow in amusement. “How much critical thinking occurs in those little brains of yours while you're watching some Asari shaking ass on a stage?”

“Way to ruin Asari for me, Morinth,” the hooded thief sighed.

"Don't worry sweet thing," Morinth cooed, "Your secrets would be safe with me. I'd never betray any secrets we shared with another soul."

"Morinth!" Shepard growled, "You're getting Vasir, don't get greedy."

Shepard's cold gaze spoke louder then weapons or threats ever could. Still such was the Ardat-Yakshi's mania for violence and destruction that a small part of her idly wondered what death at Shepard's hands might be like. Her musing was cut short as the squad had reached a central area.

Shepard stopped, noticing one human male in particular cowering nearby. She reached out and dragged him from behind the bed.

“Where's Vasir, Trevor?” she demanded. “Which way did she go?”

“Towards the bar,” Trevor Phillips Junior grunted. “She was bleeding.”

“Where's Mariana?”

“I don't know,” he scowled. “We… we were fighting about something and she left. I think she went to-”

“Goddamn it, of course she's at the bar,” Joan snarled in frustration.

They ran though the complex, Trevor trailing reluctantly after them, until they arrived at an elevated bar.

They noticed both Toombs and Mariana sitting next to each other, just as Vasir reached them.

“Vasir!” Shepard shouted, arming her Mattock. “It's over!”

The Asari Spectre looked around. She was probably a little shocked when Toombs raised a gun and pointed it at Shepard.

“I'm a Council Spectre on official business,” Vasir snapped. “These… these Cerberus terrorists just blew up the trade center.”

“Drop the weapon, Shepard,” Toombs snarled. “You know that I don't have a problem killing Cerberus scum.”

"Check the numbers, Toombs,” Xander snapped coldly, his Revenant fully deployed. “This won't end well for you.”

“Then I'll make sure that I go out killing the worst traitor in galactic history,” the former Marine sneered. “They've got school kids who admire you, Shepard; school kids. You turned on the galaxy.”

“You'll be a hero… do it,” Vasir hissed, wincing and clutching at her side.

“Yes, do it,” Morinth sighed sibilantly, her eyes black as pitch. “Be the hero. Can't you hear them? The crowds cheering your name, Stephen? Toombs… Toombs…”

The renegade Ardat-Yakshi's face darkened momentarily as she hissed, “Toombs…” before that dark visage died away. “Isn't it beautiful?” she cooed. “…and the women… oh, yes, Stephen, the women.”

Everyone there just stared at the spectacle of Morinth slowly drawing the former Corporal under her spell with poisonously-honeyed words. “Finally… they see you, and not other people. Just you and you alone… Stephen, I want you; Stephen, I need you; Stephen, you great man, take me and make me yours…”

Shepard had to muffle a giggle at the way Xander rubbed at his forehead, probably more aroused by Morinth than he'd ever admit. “But what about that gun?” the Ardat-Yakshi cooed. “Surely it's too heavy, and you're needed in the hot tub. Three of them, Stephen, three Asari in a hot tub… their bodies glistening as they wait for you… Can't you hear them yet? Come to us, Stephen… come to us…”

Toombs staggered forward a few steps, his gun falling uselessly to his side. He sank to his knees at Morinth's feet.

“So heavy…” he mumbled. “…needed in the hot tub… just need a moment… ladies?”

Morinth reached down to caress Toombs's scarred face before Xander grabbed her hand and pulled her away. She jerked in place, turning to glare at him before she startled.

She could hear it at last, that thunderous beat of four that had been playing throughout the Normandy's corridors for weeks now. The music she had tried in vain to find.

She could hear it clearly now, hear it through Xander ... She realized Xander was the source; no not the source, he was a channel and the power was flowing ,,, singing... through him.

Morinth looked at this simple human boy seeing him for perhaps the first time in weeks and saw past his ice-cold stare, she could see the decades, the centuries behind them. She saw it at last, the power within this human -- power such that Morinth was left feeling naked and vulnerable before it.

“I… don't think we have to go down THAT road now do we?” Xander asked her quietly.

The renegade Ardat-Yakshi shook him off, a look of understanding slowly dawning on her face.

Xander was about to ask what was wrong before Vasir's shouting distracted him.

“Goddamn it,” Vasir swore, grabbing Mariana and shoving a Carnifex pistol into the soft of her neck where it was connected to the base of her skull. “Hey, sweetie, bet this isn't quite how you wanted to get up close and personal with a squid-head, is it?” she taunted.

“Let her go, Vasir,” Shepard snarled. “You're finished as a Spectre.”

“Really?” she purred. “You think so? I just saw people running from Cerberus terrorists, one of them so dangerous that they use an Ardat-Yakshi to mind-trick their victims.”

“Once I identified you Vasir, I accessed your banking records,” Liara growled. “Evidence of your involvement with the Shadow Broker is a little hard to ignore.”

“All you had to do was walk away, Shepard,” the Asari Spectre snarled, shaking her head reproachfully. “There are hundreds like T'soni out there ...hell there are thousands… they breed like insects and the bunch of them love chasing after humans. You'd have found another.”

“I don't want another," Shepard purred lustily, "I want this one," her lips curling into a sneering leer as Liara flushed involuntarily.

“More to the point, do you really think that the Council will ignore you doing the Broker's wet work?” Xander added.

“Oh, grow up, Kid! Do you REALLY think that they don't already know?” Vasir laughed bitterly. “The Council turns a blind eye to anything and everything they have to, or else they'd have to admit to what it takes to keep this galaxy spinning.”

“Including assassinating the Shadow Broker's enemies?” Shepard chuckled.
“Do you know how many of these sheep are alive today BECAUSE I got critical intel from the Shadow Broker? So what if the Broker needs a favor from time to time? I'm sure as hell not going to complain. The ends justify the means.”

Shepard grimaced and Vasir caught it. “Oh, yeah, I read your file, Shepard. Read up on you something fierce after you went rogue, just in case they sent me after you. I know what you're capable of doing.”

“You don't know anything about me at all, Vasir,” Shepard murmured, making Xander look at her with surprise and a touch of wariness.

Shepard sounded much as she had that day on Terra Nova's asteroid, when Buffy's intervention had been the only thing keeping her from sacrificing dozens of lives to stop a dangerous terrorist.

“Really? I know why you said yes to Cerberus,” Vasir shrugged. “People vanishing, whole colonies going dark, the Human Alliance mired in politics and paralyzed by bureaucracy… and along comes the Illusive Man, with enough resources and equipment that you can do the job that has to be done. So… how am I doing?”

Shepard glared at Vasir, "Innocent lives were in danger and where was the Council? Where were you Vasir? if it had been Asari lives in danger; Asari colonies under attack, you know I would have stormed the gates of Hell itself to stop whoever was behind it."

The maverick Asari Spectre dug the knife in a little deeper. “That's one thing that I admired about you Shepard, You of all people should understand why I made a deal with the Broker. What's one dead Asari and a kidnapped Human girl against all the good working with the Broker has let me accomplish.

"Hey that Human girl you're talking about is my best friend." Xander shouted.

"...and I happen to love that Asari." Shepard snapped.

"Well he needed your little friends gone, so did the Matriarchs, it wasn't like that little favor was going to hurt anyone, right? So what's the big deal if I do it?”

“You forgot a few things, Vasir,” Shepard replied. She was still unnaturally quiet, but her voice was enough for Xander to activate his High-Explosive Rounds mod. “You hid your deal with the Broker from the Matriarchs while the Council knows who I'm working for and what I'm capable of, and yet they STILL gave me back my Spectre status.”

A single finger-twitch later, and her Mattock now had her favorite ammo-mod, the heavy cryo-based Snowblind Rounds, activated and ready for use. “Blowing up a building?” Joan added, scoffing derisively. “Vasir, I blew a nuke on a garden world, unleashed the Rachni upon the galaxy again, and actually died. Do you really think that the Council's going to bat an eyelash when they hear that a building blew up around me?”

The Asari Spectre grimaced, activating a gray ammo-mod of some kind and digging the barrel of her gun into Mariana's neck.

"But you Vasir, " Shepard just smiled her eyes shining with a cold light. “Naughty, Naughty girl, giving the most dangerous information broker in the known galaxy, access to the Council, allowing him to manipulate them, use them… I highly doubt that the Matriarchs will be all that happy when they find out either. I wonder who they'll send to deal with you, like you were sent to deal with Liara.”

Now Vasir looked panicked. “This is your last chance, Shepard,” she snarled. “The hostage dies if you don't back off.”

“Not bad, Vasir, you almost sound sincere,” the Spectre-Slayer shrugged. “…but if you knew anything about me at all, then you'd know that the woman you're hiding behind right now? She's an ex-girlfriend, the one who nicknamed me the Butcher of Torfan.”

“Drop the weapons or I swear I'll kill her!”

“She leaves me for another man, and the first time I see her in years, she acts like I'm the one who betrayed her,” the dread-locked woman said dryly. “After everything that I did for her, everything we were to each other…”

“Please, Shepard, don't do this,” Mariana pleaded. "I have a son."

"You hear that Shepard, I hear losing a parent can be horrific for a child, scars them for life."

“I'm going to shoot Vasir Mariana, I'm going to shoot through you and it is going to hurt like a bitch but as bad as it is going to hurt I promise you Vasir will suffer much more then you will. " Shepard said flatly.

“You're bluffing,” Vasir scoffed. "You want Mariana's little boy to grow up without a mommy?"

Joan shrugged, "Didn't do me any harm."

Shepard's M-96 Mattock barked once. Mariana screamed, but Vasir's howl of pain was even louder; that single shot had only grazed the right side of Mariana's neck while punching into Vasir's right cheek blowing it open in a spray of Bose-Einstein condensate that flash-froze the damaged tissue into a mess of icy crystals.

Liara pulled Mariana to safety with her biotics while Kasumi wrestled Vasir to the ground and Xander leaped forward and kicked Vasir's gun away.

Shepard strode up to Vasir as she collapsed her Mattock before squirting medigel over the messy hole that was left of the Asari Spectre's right cheek.

“So, human, gonna turn me over to the authorities? Prove you're the better woman?” Vasir sneered dryly. There was no real bite in her words anymore, not with the agony in her right cheek leaving her unable to concentrate enough to use her biotics.

“Nope,” Shepard shrugged, standing up. “I promised you to Morinth and I keep my promises.” Turning to her Ardat-Yakshi teammate, who was all but drooling, she only had a few words ready. “Drain her completely, Morrie. I want it all.”

“Yes, Commander,” Morinth's eyes glittered as they darkened, her lips curling into a predatory leer as she knelt at Vasir's side.

"At long last, lover, it's just you and me,” she cooed poisonously. “Soon enough, however, it'll be just me. But I'll make sure I enjoy you to the last drop before it's all over.” She reached out and grabbed Vasir's skull with both of her hands. “Now, sweet thing… embrace eternity!”

Shepard watched the mass effect conflagration between Morinth and Vasir as the rogue Ardat-Yakshi cackled sadistically while the Asari Spectre's moans veered wildly between pleasure and pain.

When it was over Shepard left Morinth to her post-orgasmic bliss turning to deal with the rest of the fall out of this evenings chaos.

She noticed that Liara had turned Mariana over to Trevor, who was fussing over her wound, while she was examining the data disk with her omnitool and studying its contents. Xander was quietly discussing something with Kasumi.

“With this data, we can pinpoint the Brokers location,” Liara said decisively.

“Good, send it to Joker. He can plot a course and we can finish this once and for all.”

“Thank you, I… I wasn't sure you'd want to help me after…”

“You did what you had to do, Liara. If anyone in the galaxy can understand that, it's me.”

Liara nodded. “We'll only have a short amount of time before the Shadow Broker realizes we're not in Illium. Hopefully, we'll have the element of surprise on our side for once.”

Shepard nodded coldly. “Then let's get it done.”

“Get it done?!?” Trevor Phillips Junior snarled. “You gun down my wife and that's all you have to say for yourself afterwards?”

Shepard turned a cold glare on Trevor, who shrank slightly from its intensity, before she scoffed derisively. “I barely grazed her,” Joan grunted flatly. “The frost-burn damage should be mild enough to leave no scarring.”

Liara felt an odd swell of pleasure at the man's obvious intimidation. She had to wonder what exactly this Mariana woman had been thinking in choosing a weakling over Shepard.

Xander and Kasumi were helping Mariana back to her feet.

“You shot me,” Mariana snarled.

“I did warn you, before I shot you I think that should count for something,” Shepard shrugged.

“To Hell with you, Joan, you enjoyed that,” Mariana snarled.

“Seeing you again, or shooting you?” the revived Slayer asked wryly. “Because my answer to that would be yes to the former and no to the latter, but then you already knew that about me, Mari. The mission comes first; the mission always comes first.”

“Please. I always knew you were a cold-ass bitch but I think you enjoyed shooting me.”

Joan shrugged, “I'll admit to a lot of unresolved feelings.”

“Thank God you don't hate me then.”

“Well, Alliance High Command will hear about this, Shepard, I can promise you that,” Trevor butted into the conversation.

“A high-ranking diplomatic asset in a high-profile Asari brothel?” Xander joined in, crossing his arms. “Go ahead and disclose that info, Princess; I'm dying to see what your darling daddy makes of that.”

Then Shepard noticed that her omnitool was beeping. Tapping at it, a display lit up to show Miranda's face.

"Commander I thought you'd want to be told right away. The Illusive Man has found Tali on a remote Quarian colony world."

"Great news Lawson, program the coordinates into the Galaxy map and as soon as we've dealt with the Broker we can set course right away." Shepard smiled.

"That's where the complication arises, Commander, according to the message, Tali's team is under attack; the colony is swarming with Geth."

Shepard shuddered, "How long would it take us to reach Tali at max burn. Lawson?"

"Only a few hours, Joker says he can shave some time off."

"Then set the coordinates and tell Joker to head for the relay as soon as we're back aboard. We'll make best speed."

Liara gaped. "But I thought ... The Broker ... we're so close."

"Its Tali Li," Shepard replied, "shes surrounded by Geth I'm not leaving her in harms way. I'm sorry."

"But Feron, he put himself in harm's way for me , for you. "

"So did Tali; I'm supposed to leave Tali in danger to satisfy your desire for revenge?" Shepard asked.

"What about Xander's friend, Willow-"

Xander cut her off, "-has been getting along fine without me rushing to the rescue for a long time now. If this is suddenly a democracy then I vote we get to Tali and soon. Willow and the Broker have been waiting for two years they can wait a little bit longer."

Liara turned, her rage and emotion clearly shaking her small frame. Shepard thought the rage was directed at her. Xander knew better.

"Look Li," Shepard sighed, "I know that the Broker's important to you , but…”

“I'm coming with you.” Liara snapped.

Shepard gaped at this sudden reversal. “W- what?” she managed to ask, incredulous.

“You heard me,” the former archaeologist demanded, crossing her arms. “I'm coming with you. I'm not leaving you to the mercies of the Geth or the Collectors and you are going after the Broker directly afterward yes? ”

"Liara, the Collectors have technology that targets humans and paralyzes their victims. I don't know if I can keep you safe.”

“You may not have noticed Joan Shepard but I'm not human. While contrary to popular belief, you still are. If anyone's in danger, it's you. The more aliens you can put in the field, the greater your chances are of being able to finish your mission, regardless of what happens.”

“You're not going to let me argue about this, are you?” Shepard deadpanned

“No. I've become very stubborn these last few years.”

“Fine, you can come, but you follow my lead. You're part of my team and that means-”

“Where the Hell do you think you're going, Shepard?” Trevor snapped loudly, interrupting them. He raised an M-5 Phalanx on Shepard, and Xander was the only member of the squad who didn't respond in kind. “You're a criminal. You're under arrest,” Phillips Junior continued, trying to keep the waver out of his voice.

Shepard looked at the squad backing her up, then at Xander and his indifference, and then looked back at Trevor. He looked pathetic, enough for her to feel a faint glimmer of pity.

“That's not gonna happen, Trevor,” she said coldly, her flat gaze burning into Phillips Junior.

“You're the criminal. If I arrest you, I'll be a hero.”

“As a wise man recently told me, Trevor, if you haven't found a reason to be a hero on your own merit after all this time then arresting me won't make a damn bit of difference.”

Trevor looked away from those terribly-flat eyes and focused on his trembling hand, willing it to stay still and stop betraying his nervousness.

“No, I will be a hero. I have to be, or else… or else dad won't ever leave me alone. Mari won't love me for real, and all I have to do is take down the great Commander Shepard-” and he grimaced before freezing in place.

Shepard startled before noticing the blue-white light of a stasis field.

“Wait, what you just did… what was that?!?” Mariana demanded.

“He's fine, Mari; Liara wouldn't harm him. That stasis field's as much for his protection as for mine.”

“This is Trevor we're talking about. He wouldn't have hurt you, not really. There was no need to turn your squad of killers loose on him.”

“He was threatening me with a gun, Mari, not a lot of people tend to survive doing that.”

“Of course not, you're the deadly and dangerous Joan Shepard. How dare a husband be worried for his wife, especially after you shot her?”

“You really believe that or is that just what you've chosen to think?”

“Is there a difference?”

Shepard looked at Mariana sadly. “No… I guess there isn't,” she muttered before shaking her head. “Sorry about your neck, Miss Phillips. Please let your husband know that this whole incident was nothing personal.”

Joan wheeled around and walked away to where Xander Harris was waiting for her with a fresh airtaxi, Kasumi already in the shotgun seat. He placed a hand on her shoulder, looking concerned, and she smiled up at him weakly as she reached up to squeeze his hand reassuringly.

That other Asari, ... Morinth, joined both of them and climbed into the backseat just before Shepard got in next to her.

Mariana Baker-Phillips watched Joan Lisbon Shepard walk out of her life again.

This whole fiasco was just as bad as her wedding day.

She'd seen Shepard in the audience and hoped that the whole wedding would end just like in the vids, where Shepard would stand up, shove Trevor aside, and stop the wedding with her usual sense of brusque aplomb. Instead, she'd remained silent; staring impassively at the ceremony's proceedings before leaving as soon as politely possible.

That moment defined the end of their relationship; all Hell had broken loose on Torfan and then Shepard had walked away after saving the day. She'd refused to play the most important part in the story; rescuing the princess locked in her tower, and instead going off to find another princess.

Mariana locked eyes with Liara T'Soni, who stared back at her defiantly for all of a few seconds before Xander Harris guided her into the aircab and next to Shepard. As he climbed into the driver's seat, he turned to regard her briefly before driving the aircab up into Illium's many lanes of aircar traffic.

***

As the air ambulance loaded up Vasir's body, one of the Asari medtechs was looking at the chart and reporting into her omnitool, “I'm seeing near-total neuropathic disruption here. I haven't seen anything like this in… we should send word off-world if we really do have a renegade Ardat-Yakshi running around.”

She walked away, leaving the body alone.

Warren Meers climbed into the ambulance and watched as the sinister fog swelled around Vasirs body and before sinking into it Her body convulsed before her body suddenly sat up, her eyes now glowing a faint red.

“The Spectre's mind is all but drained,” the Wraith rasped through Vasir's body. “…but what little information has been left intact may prove useful.”

“Then we'll take it back to The Conduit and the Senior Partners,” Meers grunted as he drove the ambulance away.
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