DISCLAIMER: Mass Effect is the property of Bioware. This series is done purely for fun and I am making no profit off of this in any way. The series will cover the already known Mass Effect Universe with some (obvious) tweaking. While I will attempt to stay close to canon there will obviously be some artistic liberties taken to conform this series to my liking. This series is also going to portray love and sex between two or more women with minor references to some m/f pairings. There will be multiple f/f pairings and yes, this will eventually be a harem fic of sorts, so if that is not your thing then please move on. This story will also contain scenes of violence, death, and other content of dark nature (no rape however) further down the road.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: My character is based on a mostly Renegade, Earthborn, Soldier, who lived through the battle of Torfan.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To xfiredancerx[at]gmail.com
Six Degrees of Separation Series
Book 1: Tangled
Chapter One: After the Storm
Ashley Williams jerked awake, and then gasped as the action caused pain to lance through her badly injured body. "Easy Chief," came the soothing tones of a familiar voice as Dr. Chakwas' face finally came into her view.
"Doc," she whispered hoarsely. It was both a greeting and a plea and the older woman intuitively understood and pressed a hypo against Ashley's neck, administering a painkiller that quickly eased the agony. Several moments later, Ashley's eyes closed as she exhaled slowly in relief. "Thanks."
Chakwas smiled down at Ashley and patted her free arm before reaching for a cup with a straw in it. "Here you go, just sip it, and if this doesn't bounce then I'll let you have the rest in a few minutes."
Ashley lay immobile on the bed as Chakwas held the cup for her and sipped a bit of the water down, chasing some of the bitter taste and dryness from her tongue and throat. When she was done, she looked down at herself and grimaced. Her entire left side was immobilized. "What happened?" she finally asked dropping her head back onto her pillow.
Chakwas frowned, concerned. "What do you last remember?" Ashley's injuries had been severe, more than she'd first let on, but there had been no indication of any head trauma severe enough to cause loss of memory.
"I remember being pulled out of the wreckage and thinking ." her throat closed off as she closed her eyes in pain. "I remember thinking that the Commander had been killed. And then just as we were leaving, there she was .beaten all to hell and barely able to walk but she was alive. The med team helped her to us, and she and Liara and I hugged and then I passed out."
Relieved, Chakwas chuckled. "You both passed out. With the Citadel in shambles, I ordered all of you to be brought here for treatment since you both needed surgery right away and I knew you couldn't get it anywhere else."
Chakwas smirked to herself. "Seen better days, but she'll be fine after a few weeks of rest and physical therapy as will you."
"What's the damage?"
"Standard fare after the firefight you obviously had, but you were all apparently running low on medi-gel by the time Sovereign came crashing down around your heads. Both of you nearly bled out by the time we got you back here. You're armor saved you from being crushed completely by the debris, but it couldn't protect you from the force of the impact. We had to take a cutting torch to both of you to get off half your armor. Five broken ribs, your shoulder was dislocated and the collarbone fractured in multiple places. Your leg suffered fractures in multiple places, but thankfully none of the breaks were complete. When we finally removed your armor however, we realized a thin sliver of metal debris had punctured clear through your knee causing extensive damage."
Ashley's eye's closed as she drew in a steadying breath. "Will any of this affect my performance in the future?"
"If you follow my orders to the letter and stick with my regimen of therapy no it won't. You'll be back out there throwing yourself into the line of fire in no time at all Chief, you just need to do as I say for now, understood?"
"I hear you Doc."
Chakwas smiled warmly at her. "Good. Now here's the rest of the water and then I want you to get some more rest."
Ashley wanted to ask more, but she could already feel her eyelids getting heavy and knew she couldn't fight it for much longer. And in all honesty she didn't want to. All her life she had been forced to struggle and fight to get where she was at, but here, on the Normandy, she had been given a new life and a chance at earning respect. That's why she liked the Doc so much. Chakwas was a straightforward woman who called things as she saw them. And Chakwas had never held Ashley's family history against her. In fact she'd been one of the few to befriend Ashley when she'd first come aboard. She trusted Chakwas implicitly, and if the Doc told her she and Shepard would be fine, then Ash knew they would be.
Comforted with that knowledge, Ashley finished her water and let herself slip off into a deep and healing slumber.
Chapter Two: Awakenings
The first thing she remembered after passing out in Anderson's arms was waking up in horrible agony with Chakwas' concerned face looming over her as she gave terse instructions to her staff who were frantically cutting away at her armor. The Doc then looked down at her and managed a wry smile and a brief shake of her head even as she pressed a hypo against her neck. "Don't worry Commander you're in good hands now."
Her vision faded, and she was caught up in her nightmares once more, only to briefly awaken some time later by a light and familiar voice whispering reassurances in her ears as a cool cloth was pressed against her forehead. Liara, her mind supplied and she settled back into a deeper sleep.
When the nightmares returned and she began to thrash in her sleep, it was a more melodic voice that chased the images away and soothed her fevered brow. Tali.
Three days after the attack on the Citadel, Commander Shepard finally opened her eyes, blinking against the dimmed lights of Normandy's med bay. She rolled her head to the side and saw Ashley lying in the bed next to hers, half her body locked in an immobilizer, but alive and resting. The Doc was slumped over her small desk, reports and paperwork forgotten as she dozed. Despite her pain, Shepard couldn't help but smirk ever so slightly, knowing that her friend had probably been keeping vigil for however long she had been unconscious and was most likely well overdue for a long night of solid sleep.
Not wanting to disturb the doctor and feeling the pull of exhaustion herself, Shepard closed her eyes and slipped back into unconsciousness once more. It was another ten hours before she woke again, and this time she was greeted by the sight of Liara and Tali sitting on either side of Ashley's bed, having a quiet conversation in hushed tones.
Shepard shifted slightly and then groaned, realizing she too had immobilizers keeping half of her upper body locked in place. Her groan announced her alertness and the other three women were instantly focused on her. Liara moved swiftly to her side, concern and relief in her pale blue eyes as Tali hastily went to the back room to fetch Dr. Chakwas.
Liara said nothing as she simply held Shepard's free hand until Chakwas entered the room, tugging her medical coat into place as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes. She cleared her throat and asked Tali if she could fetch a small cup of water and a straw before running some scans over the Commander and then looked down at her patient.
"Commander," she greeted with a warm smile. "Glad you could rejoin us in the waking world. I was starting to become a little concerned."
Shepard tried to answer, but her throat was to scratchy and dry from disuse. "Here, sip this slowly and don't try to talk for a few moments." Chakwas instructed as she took the cup Tali had fetched. Shepard drank it thankfully and closed her eyes and relaxed afterwards letting the water hydrate her parched throat.
When she finally felt a little better, she opened her eyes and tried again. "How long?"
"Almost four days since the attack."
"Crew?" she asked, still trying to work on voicing more than a single word at a time.
"A little roughed up, but none the worse for the wear. As you can see Liara is already patched up and back on her feet. You and the Chief took the brunt of the damage. As I already assured Williams, you'll both make a full recovery if you follow my orders and rest for a proper amount of time before pushing things." Shepard nodded, and for once, didn't feel inclined to push things. "How do you feel?"
Lying with half her body in an immobilizer, Shepard realized she didn't need to keep up the tough mask she normally did. "Like my arm was caught in a meat grinder and a ship fell on my head."
"Unfortunately, it most likely will for another week or so. You took a nasty blow to the head that caused some swelling of your brain, but I was able to get that under control quickly. Your arm was touch and go however. It was badly shattered and it took me over three hours of surgery and some steel plating fused to the bones to save it. It's going to be a few weeks before you'll have full use and strength back in both that and your hand. I'll up your dose of pain-killers however to help keep the discomfort down for now."
"Thanks." Shepard swallowed and then managed a tiny version of her smirk again. "You look like hell Doc."
Chakwas laughed and everyone else grinned. "Says the woman who has two black eyes and a broken nose."
"Dr. Chakwas has been insistent on keeping an eye on both you and Ashley. It took Tali and I over a day to convince her we could watch over you both and would promise to wake her if anything happened," said Liara.
Tali snorted. "And she still hasn't slept more than a few hours in the last three days."
"I'm fine and not going anywhere Doc ..get some sleep. Commander's orders."
"All right, with all of you ganging up on me, I have no hope of winning now do I?"
"I'll tell them to tranq you," Shepard teased.
"If you're well enough to threaten, then I think my work here is done for now," Chakwas chuckled raising her hands in defeat. She fixed Shepard and Ashley with a stern glance. "There will be no attempts to get out of your beds or stray from the strict orders I have given them about your care."
"Too tired to protest," Shepard admitted wearily.
Chakwas nodded and then looked at Liara and Tali. "One of you has to be in here at all times, and remember to keep the conversations with the patients to a minimum. I want them to rest. That also means keeping the rest of the crew out of here, unless it's a damned dire emergency. Wake me if anything out of the ordinary comes up I don't care how insignificant you might think it is. The nurses will be back from helping out on station in about three hours and have orders to check on them before they retire as well."
"We understand Dr. Chakwas."
"All right then ladies, a pleasant evening to all of you and I will see everyone in the morning." She gave Shepard a final fond smile and squeeze on her uninjured shoulder before heading back to her bunk.
"Do you need anything else Commander?" Tali asked holding up the cup again.
"More water sounds good," Shepard said gratefully. Then she looked over at Ash who had been quiet the whole time. "How are you Chief?"
Ash managed a wry smile. "Sore, tired and itching to get out of this damned immobilizer. But we're alive, we beat that son-of-a-bitch and that's all that matters right now right?"
"Amen, Chief," Shepard sighed. "Glad you'll still be around to watch my six Ash," she said with heartfelt sincerity.
"I'd follow you to hell and back Commander," Ashley responded with quiet intensity.
Shepard felt Liara begin to withdraw her hand as she looked away, but Shepard managed to squeeze her fingers and looked at both her and Tali, who was standing somewhat awkwardly off to the side with a refilled cup of water. "I couldn't have done this without any of you. I know I was a bitch most of the time and rode all of you hard .but you were the ones who gave me the strength to get through this. Thank you," she told them quietly.
The room was silent as the two aliens stared at Shepard in shock and in a new light. Tali finally shook herself from her daze and helped the injured Spectre finish the second glass of water and then took a seat in between the two patients. "You should rest Shepard and you as well Ashley."
"Sleep sounds good," Shepard agreed her eyelids growing heavier each moment. Liara squeezed her hand gently one last time and then moved to sit at the desk where she had some of her own research papers out while Tali called up her Omni tool and began going over data.
Shepard rolled her head and caught Ashley's eyes and held them for several long moments. Finally her lips twitched upwards and Ashley returned the faint smile before they both settled in to sleep.
Chapter Three: Visiting Hours
"Well it's nice to see you two ladies are finally on the mend."
Shepard and Williams, who had both finally been allowed to sit up in bed and start eating real food again, stiffened as they heard the familiar voice of Admiral Hackett as he entered the med-bay. Chakwas sighed in exasperation, and Hackett chuckled.
"At ease ladies. The last thing I need is to have your CMO give me an earful about setting your progress back because you were trying to salute," he teased.
Shepard settled for a respectful single tilt of her head however. "Sir," she greeted.
Ashley glanced over at the Commander with a raised eyebrow. She had heard the Commander be gruff with the Admiral after several of his requests for them to go clean up some Alliance mess or another, and she had definitely seen Shepard all but tell another Admiral to kiss her ass and that there was no way in hell he was stepping on foot onto HER ship for an inspection. And yet here she was as respectful as Ash had ever seen her with any top brass.
Shepard noticed and rolled her eyes. "I can show some respect for my superiors," she commented dryly.
"Especially when one of them has a soft spot for his star pupil," Hackett grinned. "I came across Shepard back when she was nothing but a feral kid just trying to survive in a gang ridden territory back on earth. Saved her life that day, and even managed to convince her that she could have a better life if she had the courage to take the chance," he said with a fond smile to a now blushing Shepard.
"I had nothing to lose. Of course had I known back then that one day I would have survived Torfan, have my brain overloaded by ancient Prothean technology, and spend month after month on a grueling search to stop a rogue Spectre from helping to destroy all life as we know it, I might have run the other way," Shepard retorted with a smirk.
"Fate seemed to have plans for you Shepard. I think one way or another, you would have been sucked into this whole mess no matter what. How are you both feeling?" he asked, settling into a chair Chakwas pulled out for him as he looked between both of them.
"Better," Shepard answered simply.
Hackett rolled his eyes when no other answer was forthcoming and turned to Chakwas who was observing discreetly from her desk. "Doctor? How are our patients doing?"
"All things considered, very well. They are both still in a great deal of pain as to be expected with their injuries, but we have been able to keep it at tolerable levels. They are behaving themselves, and getting plenty of rest at least and I hope to start the Chief's physical therapy in a couple of days. The Commander
will need another week before we start hers."
"And you think they will make a full recovery?"
"I can guarantee it so long as they don't overdo it and re-injure themselves."
"Well ladies, you heard the good doctor. Consider it an order."
"Yes sir," Shepard grinned. "So what's the word Admiral?"
Here his expression fell a bit. "Things are a political mess right now. With the Council gone there is no one to officially calm the panic that has started. The Citadel is half in ruins, thousands are dead, and it will be weeks before clean-up crews can even get to some sections. Worse yet, there are certain greedy bastards that are trying to seize complete control of the Council in humanity's name and it's almost like a damned Crusade. The one good thing is that Anderson has agreed to step up to the plate as a potential nominee."
"Good. Udina is a backstabbing bastard who needs to be kept as far away from a position of power as possible," Shepard said vehemently.
"Having a former soldier would be a smart move anyway with the threat of the Reapers and war now," Ashley added.
Hackett grimaced. "That's the other thing. There are already rumors of the governments wanting to sweep this whole mess under the carpet. They don't want wide-spread panic and hysteria, which is already happening, and are trying to blame this all on the Geth."
"Are you fucking kidding me?!" Shepard demanded angrily. "This crew and I risked our lives to prove to the Council that the Reapers are real! I had to sacrifice one of my own men out there and have pushed this crew beyond their limits to stop Sovereign!!"
"Admiral," Chakwas warned quietly.
"Easy Commander," Hackett ordered calmly. He watched as she clamped her jaw tightly and saw her struggle with the tears that had moistened her eyes. That more than anything, spoke of just how badly this ordeal had worn on her.
"Damn it Jack," she finally grit out, hurt by his admission.
"I know Alex," he sighed, equally as frustrated. "But I believe you and Anderson believes you. Which is why I am pushing so hard for him to be on the new Council, because he won't let them get away with this- not without a fight. I'm going to do what I can to make this right, but I thought you should know up front what is going on right now."
Shepard closed her eyes and exhaled heavily as she sank back into her pillows, almost defeated. Ashley finally spoke up in the silence. "Sir, there were hundreds of Alliance and Council ships who fought that thing. How can they just get away with claiming that the Reapers aren't real?"
"Because we know so little about the Geth, that what debris we have been able to get our hands on, looks very much like Geth technology, if not more advanced. Couple it with the fact that Saren was knowingly allied with the Geth and they were working for him, and it makes it easier to believe. People are happier to believe it was just a Geth insurgence instead of some kind of super-race that has been wiping out entire civilizations for god knows how long."
"What happens now?" Ashley finally asked, dejectedly.
"You go home," he answered holding up a hand when both women jerked at that answer. "This is not punishment, this is my thanks to you and your crew for saving our collective asses. The Normandy needs repairs that cannot be accomplished here on the Citadel right now, and your crew is long overdue for some R&R. It'll be several more weeks before both of you can be released back to full duty anyway, so I spoke with the Admiralty, and convinced them that it was best if we brought you all home for repairs, recovery and some well earned time off. Since it will keep you all out of the spotlight that is being shined on the Citadel here, they were more than happy to agree."
"When are we expected to leave?"
"Chief Adams says it will be about a week before the engines will be stable enough for FTL, but he says there are some hull fractures they need to repair before he recommends jumping through one of the relays. Plus your med staff has been invaluable in helping out at the clinics right now until more personnel arrive from amongst the various races. I would say you'll be docked another two weeks and you should be seeing Earth by the end of the month."
"How long will our shore leave be?"
"We have a lot of ships limping home for repairs, but the Normandy will take precedence once she arrives. I estimate about a month right now. And you're crew has earned every hour of that, so no arguments on the timeframe."
"Well at least by then I should be almost fully healed," Shepard sighed.
"And itching to blow shit up I'm sure," Hackett smirked at her.
Ashley snickered, there was a snort of amusement from the Doctor's general direction, and even Shepard had to chuckle. "I know when I have been in the field too long because I feel naked without my armor on."
"Well considering the wealth you have managed to amass over these past few months, I think a few weeks on a nice quiet private island of your choosing will cure you of that. Be sure to send me a postcard," he said standing, knowing the good doctor would probably be chasing him out soon. He still had once last bit of business before he left though.
"I'll be sure to do that. Thank you for stopping by Admiral."
"Just glad you came through this insane mess alive Shepard. I know it's been tough on you and this crew. I know you never got a chance to really bounce back after Torfan and I'm sorry I threw you into this so soon afterwards, but it was a chance I couldn't let you pass up and I knew you had what it took to be a Spectre. I'm just sorry that your first assignment was something so horrifically burdening. But I'm proud of you kid, and I know that when you finally have a chance to heal from everything, you'll be back in the saddle proving those bastards wrong."
She didn't trust herself to speak just then so she nodded and reached up to squeeze the hand that had settled on her shoulder for a moment. Then Hackett turned to Williams. "By the way Chief, I want you to know that I appreciate you keeping the Commander's hide intact long enough for her to finish this mission. I know you two had a rocky start, but I am also aware of just how invaluable you were to her. I have been against the stonewalling of your career from the start, but unfortunately you do not fall under my direct chain of command. However, I want you to know that I have submitted your name in for a battlefield commission to officer rank of Lieutenant 2nd class. I don't know if they'll approve it, but I thought you deserved to know that I feel you've more than earned it."
Ashley stared at Admiral Hackett in complete shock. For most of her life, she'd wanted nothing more than to serve as an officer in the Alliance Marines and bring honor back to their family name. It wasn't until she'd been rejected for officer candidate school despite a flawless record, that she'd realized just how deep her family's stigma ran. It had crushed her to be denied the one dream she'd had for herself, but she'd continued to work hard and serve loyally despite the fact that her postings continued to become more dismal each time. Now, she had someone who was able to see her for herself and what she had accomplished on her own, and was willing to take a chance on her. It was more than she had ever let herself dare dream. "I I don't know what to say Admiral. Thank you."
He shrugged and smiled a bit sadly. "I honestly don't know if they'll approve it Chief, so don't get your hopes up too high. But the one thing I can guarantee you is that so long as you want it, you'll remain aboard Normandy under Shepard's command. I am also attempting to get you reassigned to my command, but there is a lot of red tape to get through with that, and there are more pressing matters to consider."
"Sir, it would be an honor to receive the commission, but even if I don't .just knowing that someone in the Admiralty can see me for who I am and what I've done is enough for me. You have no idea what this means to me."
"So I take it you'll stay on with the Normandy?" he asked with a grin.
"For as long as the Commander will put up with me Sir," she replied with a watery grin towards Shepard who smiled back at her, pride and something else a lot warmer in her eyes.
"Good. Take care then ladies and I look forward to seeing you both in a couple of months before the Normandy pushes out again."
"You take care too Admiral."
With a final tilt of his head to Chakwas who offered up a casual salute, he left the med bay. Chakwas turned to Ashley who was staring at her sheets. "Well Chief, it seems congratulations are in order. Whether you get the commission or not, you were nominated for it and I know for a fact that it's been a very long time since anyone has been nominated for a battlefield commission."
"I .it's incredible. Thank you Dr. Chakwas," Ashley finally said.
"He's right you know, and I meant what I said before. If it weren't for you watching my back, I'd have never made it through this mission alive. You have more than earned this and I hope those bureaucratic bastards finally give you your due. But if they don't, I hope you know you will always have a home and the respect of this crew."
Ashley swallowed hard, once more struggling with her emotions and nodded once. "I do. And I thank you for giving me a chance Shepard. All I ever wanted to be was a good operational marine and restore some honor back to my family name. You gave that back to me and so much more. Thank you."
Chakwas allowed a moment of silence to pass between the two younger women and then stepped away from her desk to collect their food trays. "Okay you two, it's getting late and I need for you to get some rest. If you both continue to behave, I'll even release you to quarters in a couple of days unless you'd like to remain here Chief since those pods are a little cramped."
"Actually, Garrus Wrex and I rigged some field cots down in the Mako bay. We spend most of our time there, and we've gotten used to each other's company. No one hardly goes down there except for a few engineers every now and then."
"So long as I don't catch you working down there before I release you, I see no reason why not. All right ladies, I'll be in my back lab," she told them as she dimmed the lights. "Call me if you need anything."
The two settled carefully back down onto their beds and lay there in the semi-darkness contemplating their futures and everything that was starting to lay before them. Sleep didn't come quickly for either of them, but when it finally did, there was a small smile on both their faces.
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