Title: Under Better Circumstances - Chapter 6: Arrogance Begets Admittance
Game: Mass Effect
Characters/Pairing: Commander Nevada Shepard (femShep) and James Vega
*****SPOILERS ARE IN THIS CHAPTER!!!!*****
Chapter 6 –Arrogance Begets Admittance
The echoes of gunfire drowned the battlefield. Nevada Shepard dashed to cover in a freshly exposed room from a rocket blast. The building was barely standing after the ambush from Cerberus operatives. The pillars were creaking and the walls were crumbling apart but it was her only option. Hunched under the window opening, she signaled Major Alenko and Lieutenant Vega to move forward. She pulled out the M-98 Widow and surveyed the surroundings, counting the remaining operatives.
As she commanded her squadmates to take out the three Cerberus soldiers, she noticed a bright flash through the scope. A rocket soared directly towards her location. Without any hesitation, she ducked down and covered her head. The projectile collided nearly three feet from her position, disintegrating the wall beside her.
"Shepard! Are you alright?" the Lieutenant cried back, dust and falling debris clouded his visibility of the Commander.
"Yeah, I'm fine. That was nothing," she responded through her helmet transmitter, "Continue holding your position."
"Are you sure? They kicked up a bunch of debris… I can come back and cover you."
"It's going to take more than some falling rubble to kill me, Vega. All it did was piss me off… and those Cerberus operatives are about to find out what happens when they make me mad."
Kaidan chimed in, "We should still show caution."
She scoffed, "I was dead, Major. I think I know how to handle myself. They should be more cautious when dealing with me."
"Don't you think you're getting a little cocky?" he replied.
"Never. It'll take this whole damn building to fall on me before I start to break."
"I love your attitude, Shepard, because here comes more!" Vega called back, scouting the incoming Cerberus soldiers closing in on their location.
One by one, her enemies fell. Nevada found satisfaction in taking down every one of them with her sniper rifle. The adrenaline raced through her veins as she brought them into her crosshairs and pulled the trigger. Watching them collapse before moving onto the next victim.
The Commander hunched back behind her cover, taking a moment to reload her gun and catch her breath before the next wave of operatives arrived. She noticed the falling chunks of concrete and metal piling up around her feet. The bombardment of bullets and rockets gave the building a severe beating, taking a toll on its structural integrity.
A deafening noise violently pulsed from above her, immediately causing her gut to wrench. Before she could react, the two story building collapsed. The shockwave rumbled the ground and caused her squadmates to lose their footing. When they glanced towards Shepard's hideout, all they could see was a thick cloud of dust. As soon as a clearing opened, only the leftovers of the demolished structure remained.
"Shepard!" Vega screamed as he and Alenko rushed to the debris. They frantically began searching through the rubble for their Commander. Dreading whatever outcome lay concealed under the chaos.
Desperation rang in their cries, "Where is she?" … "Hurry up!" … "Shepard?"
The faint rustling of bricks slowly exposed the hand of a beaten soldier. She slowly crawled her way out, grunting over the jagged pieces and cursing away the heavy steel poles holding her back. Hearing her vulgar exclamations, her two squadmates immediately ran towards her and began removing the bits of debris holding her down. James grabbed Shepard by the shoulders and pulled, releasing her from her concrete grave.
Kneeling beside her, he propped her up in his arms and asked, "Are you okay, Shepard? Are you hurt?"
"I'm fine…," her voice stuttered before passing out.
"Is she okay?" Kaidan desperately asked, kneeling beside his Commander.
James carefully removed her helmet and handed it to the Major. As he began examining Shepard, "She's still breathing but her pulse is heightened. Her body must be in shock. I'm also noticing some blood dripping from her forehead… I don't know what from."
Kaidan surveyed the helmet and discovered a sizable dent, "This appears to be the culprit. My guess is she suffered some sort of blunt-force trauma when the building collapsed."
"We need to get her back to the Normandy and quick," James ordered, taking Shepard into his arms, "I'll carry her."
"Why do you get to carry her?" Kaidan retaliated, "Let me take her!"
"We don't have the time to fight over this! Right now we need to focus on getting the Commander to safety. I have the strength to carry her along with all her armor and weapons. But I'll be defenseless so I need you to use your abilities to create a path back to the ship. If we work together, she'll make it back safely… and if it means that much to you, I'll tell her that you carried her back."
"She'll never believe it. How about you…"
"No offense, Major, but we're wasting time here," James interrupted, "Let's get her to safety first and then we can discuss the details."
Kaidan nodded and began clearing the area ahead.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Hey Shepard, I brought you some eggs and salsa. Not as good as my abuela's but I thought you could use a nice meal…" James Vega announced walking into Shepard's quarters.
Instead of finding his Commander, he noticed a path of destruction. Her belongings were scattered across the room, shards of glass and scraps of metal littered the floor. Looking vaguely similar to the battlefield they nearly escaped.
On the table he noticed the white queen and white knight sitting next to each other… but the board was gone. He surveyed the floor and came across a pile of broken bits and pieces, coming to the conclusion that it was all that remained of her beloved chessboard.
"Thanks but I'm not hungry… I could use a bottle of tequila though," she strode into his vision, avoiding eye-contact and concealing the right side of her face.
He set down the plate of food and suggested, "I could get some."
"Don't worry about it. It wouldn't matter… the damage has already been done," she shuffled her boots through the broken shards of glass.
"What happened?" Vega asked.
"Just an outburst of frustration, I'll get over it," she grinned through gritted teeth, attempting to falsely reassure the Lieutenant.
"Is that why your chessboard deserved to die?"
"It was in my way…" she pushed her knee against the table, trying to validate her radical actions, "And I wasn't completely out of my mind, I did save two pieces."
"I understand saving the queen… but why the knight?"
She immediately looked away, "There's no reason."
"Shepard, I know there's more to this… why not just tell me?"
"I can't hide anything from you, can I?" she shunned, "I let my cockiness get the better of me. I got sloppy. I played with fire and got burned… and it nearly cost me. So yeah, I'm a little upset."
"First off, Commander, you aren't cocky… you are confident. And we will need that confidence if we're going to have any chance in this war. No one could predict that building collapsing."
"I could… Cerberus is bound and determined to kill me. I would say using a building one hell of a weapon," she sneered, lightly grazing her fingers over the gauze covering her skull fracture.
"I must admit, Shepard. When I heard the stories of your near-deaths, I found them a bit impossible to believe. Now that I've gotten the chance to serve under you, I believe every one of them. You are one hell of a woman."
"What can I say? Lady Luck must have decided to stick around after my resurrection otherwise I would have been dead a long time ago. Must make it difficult for you…"
Interrupting his commanding officer, he pointed out, "Difficult? I knew protecting you was going to be no easy task. But I would never give up on my promise, you're too important for me to give up."
"I don't need your protection, Lieutenant. I'm quite capable of handling things… and myself."
James crossed his arms, covering his clenched fists, "And what about today? You expect me to believe that you would have crawled out of the rubble and walked the long haul back to the Normandy all by yourself?"
"Today was an exception! If I didn't let my arrogance get the better of me, none of this would have happened!" Nevada scowled, her eyes finally meeting his. The gentle golden brown eyes she typically greeted him with was no where to be found. They were replaced with the red glow of robotic pupils. A glowing scar veined down the right side of her face, burning brightly as her anger peaked.
Shocked, the Lieutenant questioned, "Holy shit, Commander! What is wrong with your eyes? And your face?"
"Oh," ashamed of her scars, she averted her gaze, "this is the first time you've seen me like this… well… this is the burden I carry from my resurrection. Anytime I get angry, I start… glowing. Lately it's been happening more and more."
"How come I've never seen this before?"
"There's a scar modification machine in the medical bay," she nervously rubbed the back of her neck, "I use it every time they start coming though."
"What about when you were detained at Alliance Command? How did you hide them then?"
Shepard looked at him, her burning eyes on the verge of breaking, "I had someone to help keep me in line. If it wasn't for you, I'd be nothing but a war machine. You made me feel human again… instead of some defective abomination."
James took a moment to grasp her confession.
"But now you see the real me, what really hides behind this flesh… and again, I'm defective," she hung her head, angrily biting her lip. Striding over to the bare wall, she punched her knuckles directly into the steel siding and left a large dent. Her hand had a fresh gash but didn't bleed. Instead the red glow burned brightly through the opening. She stared at her hand, "Maybe you should go."
"Why would I want to do that?"
"Because I want to head back to the med-bay and I would rather do that by myself."
"At least take Garrus with you."
Shepard raised her eyebrow, confused, "Why?"
"You have something onboard that heals scars and you didn't even tell him. I think you owe him a stab at that machine," he joked, slowly walking up to the Commander.
"Yeah, I know… I'm a horrible person, aren't I?"
"Hardly," he smiled, taking her beaten hand into his. The warmth radiating from her exposed cut burned against his skin.
"Don't," pulling her hand away and shamefully covering her scar, "I've had enough for today. I don't need another thing standing in my way."
"What if I want to stand in your way?"
"Then that would depend on your reason, Lieutenant."
"There's no reason," he stood directly in front of Nevada, taking her hand and guiding her closer, "Sound familiar?"
"Touché," she drew her attention towards the chessboard and her two remaining pieces, knowing he was merely repeating her excuse. Without giving him any resistance, she crept nearer and breathed in his sweet scent. His welcoming stance calmed her nerves and left her craving more. The softness of his skin against hers fueled her aching heart, reviving the playfulness, "Except I can order you to tell me."
"You can… but what if I decide to be defiant?"
"Then I would have to subdue you."
"I'd like to see you try."
"Are you questioning my abilities?"
"No… merely turning the tables," he growled, leaning closer towards Nev's lips, his nose barely brushing against hers, "You cannot expect to tease me without thinking I'm going to ask for something in return."
"Yes I can. I know what I'm capable of… including tugging on your heartstrings," Shepard guided her hand up his muscular chest and around his neck, "The only way I would be at your mercy is if those damned shackles were involved."
"That can be arranged."
"So you think you can tame me?"
"Under the right circumstances…"
"You know I would never break protocol."
"Teasing me like this should also be forbidden."
"But it's not," a wicked grin appeared, "So I can do this all I want."
"So you think," he whispered. Realizing he needed to play by her rules, James placed his hand on the lower of her back and directed her body closer. Nevada's pulse pounded through her fingertips, fluttering rapidly with every one of his touches. Grazing the tip of his nose against hers, his lips danced lightly against hers. "Lola," his soft voice resonated, sending chills down her spine.
A slight smile curled onto her face, "It has been awhile since I've heard you call me that. I thought you forgot…"
"I could never forget anything about you."
"You certainly have a gift, Mr. Vega," her voice purred, "You know how to calm this savage beast. I'm intrigued… what other talents do you possess?"
"Just give me the chance and I'll show you," he whispered, tracing the curves of her cheek with his nose. Carefully teasing her lips with his as her breathing became heavier. Waiting to see if she would take the final leap… her eyes slowly closed… her lips nearing his… was this it?
"Hey Commander," the helmsman of the Normandy beaconed over the intercom.
With a violent bolt back into reality, Nevada stepped back and took a deep breath, "What is it, Joker? Is it something important or are you just skillfully timing your interruptions again?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about," his sarcasm could be heard loudly through the speakers, "But Major Alenko has been requesting your presence. Won't shut up about it either."
"Understood, I'm on my way," she ran her hand through her hair and stormed out of her room, leaving the anxious Lieutenant in her wake.
Vega's sigh got interrupted by the Normandy's pilot chiming in, "You nearly had her there."
"So you were watching," he cocked his head at the intercom.
"No… just listening."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"You needed me?" Nevada asked upon stepping into Kaidan's location.
He was sitting down in his chair, heavy in his thoughts. As soon as he noticed his visitor, he stood up, "Hey Shepard, I wanted to see how you were doing since we got back."
"I was doing fine. In fact I was getting a great deal of venting done," she noted, staring at her knuckles. "Hopefully my well-being isn't why you dragged me down here."
"Am I not allowed to be concerned?"
"No," she sternly shot at him, "If that's all then I should go."
Before she reached the doorframe, Kaidan asked, "Commander, are you avoiding me?"
She stopped in her tracks and looked back, "No, I've been very busy."
"It feels like you have been distant with me ever since the incident."
"Again, Kaidan, I've been busy. I have a ship to run, I have enemies waiting to die,
and a small thing called Earth that needs saving. The last thing I need is to argue with you over something as miniscule as this. So don't mind me being so distant at the moment."
"You've changed, Shepard," he shook his head, "I don't remember you acting like this prior to your death."
"Me? I've changed?" she shot back, "You've changed so much that I'm finding it difficult to believe we used to work together. Whatever happened to the subordinate I had on the SR-1?"
"I don't know… I usually don't act like this. It's been difficult since we left Earth. Especially since… especially since I still haven't heard back from my dad," he froze, his mind filled with the concern over his father. He sat down on his chair and hung his head, tying to hide the tears forming in his tired eyes.
Nevada's heart sank. She immediately felt bad for her attitude towards the Major. She knew the pain he was going through all too well. She took a seat next to him and consoled him, "I'm sorry to hear that Kaidan. I know it's difficult… I still haven't heard back from my mother on the Kilimanjaro. We can only hope that they made it."
He sat there quietly with his eyes closed.
Shepard knew she was being harsh on him before, coming to terms that maybe it was uncalled for. The stress of having to save the world was a heavy burden… and it was taking a toll on everyone.
"I know things have been rough between us lately…" she tried apologizing but couldn't find the words,
"They have been… not knowing if my dad is alright is causing me to be a bit on edge. Especially on that day… since we were rushed off Earth…"
"Tempers were pretty high that day. I know I was irritable."
"Just a bit," he held up his fingers to measure out an inch.
"You know me, I have a problem with stepping on toes… especially when they are standing in my way," she smiled. All she could think about was her recent encounter with the Lieutenant.
"You don't need to step on anyone's toes… you have that guard dog now."
"You know very well that I could take you down without even trying. I never asked James to protect me… I am quite capable of handling things myself."
"He seemed eager to stand beside you every waking moment."
"He's only keeping to the promise he made to Anderson."
"There seems to be more…" he started but noticed the red glare shooting from Nevada's eyes, "I'll stop."
"Good. I'm hoping the two of you put your differences aside… and soon. I cannot handle another quarrel happening on my ship."
"Understood, Commander. I will do my best to keep things peaceful for you," Kaidan nodded.
"And… we know this war is going to have us all on edge so if you ever need anything, anything at all, you know where to find me."
"I appreciate the offer… as long as you know where your boundaries are," she glared.
"I know, Shepard. As much as I wish otherwise, I know I don't have a chance with you. You made that pretty clear back on the SR-1 and yet I still tried. Now all I can hope for is that you find happiness in this messed up world."
"One day I will…"
Kaidan stared at his commanding officer, curiously wondering, "Do you like him?"
"Do you like the Lieutenant?"
She hinted, "Just a bit."
"Does he make you happy?"
"Yes," she confirmed with a smile, "You're not going to cause any problems are you?"
"No, I always wished that you were going to choose me and I will continue to hold onto that dream but I will not interfere. I've made a fool of myself already, can't afford to do that again, especially over another woman."
"Oh yeah, that's right, Commander Vyrnnus."
He nodded, ashamed of his past baring its teeth, "I've been so hesitant about my abilities since then and even more so now. I snapped once already, I fear it will happen again."
"You won't. Not under command at least," she nudged him playfully.
"Thanks for believing in me, Shepard."
"Just a thought… and I can't believe I'm going to suggest this…" Kaidan paused hesitantly, "but maybe you shouldn't wait until it's too late."
"What do you mean?"
"Our futures are bleak… all we have is right now. You should make the most of it while you can."
"I like it when we're not jumping down each other's throats," Kaidan nudged the Commander.
"It's a nice change of pace," she smiled, nudging back.