Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 22

Interrupted Investigations

Varric would be sorely disappointed in my ability to weave a story, even after so much time spent at his side listening to him effortlessly pull a dozen such lines together. Yet again I’ve forgotten an important thread in my own tale. But our investigation into Kirkwall’s disappearing women came home to roost with a vengeance that even Justice could have envied.

It started early on, one of the first jobs I took after my year with Athenril when Bethany and I were still amassing the funds we needed to buy our way into the Deep Roads expedition. A thoroughly distasteful but wealthy man by the name of Ghyslain de Carrac, his Orlesian accent so thick you could have used it for mortar, hired us to find his wife. Apparently she’d disappeared and her family suspected him of foul play, a concern he found more disturbing than the fact that she’d gone missing.

The only hint he gave us was the name Jethann, a whore at the Blooming Rose. Ninette had been rather free with her favors, it seemed, even with those whose favors were not free. Ghyslain had only found out about the elf when Jethann had sent the woman lilies just before she’d gone but the prostitute wouldn’t talk to his customer’s husband.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 23

Back in the Saddle Again

Miranda started scolding like a magpie as soon as she was within finger-shaking distance. Somehow I had to find a way to bribe EDI to quit announcing my arrivals and departures so people stopped ambushing me like this. I really, really needed a nap.

“Where the hell have you been, Shepard?” Miranda started. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Garrus’s head snap around at her tone. I decided to let him take point on calling her a bitch while I stayed reasonable and found out why she was so mad in the first place. I could hear his rumbling growl and had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from showing my amusement. He couldn’t stand her and I figured she was going to push his buttons if he took my side…when he took my side.

I smiled sweetly at her and cocked my head to the right. “Whatever business is it of yours? Have I missed a planned event?” Kelly would have envied the perky innocence in my voice.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 23

I struggled to sound reasonable. “Kaidan, we need to clear the air or we can’t work together. Anderson and Hackett think they’re being cute but I’ve wanted to talk to you for so long. I just…couldn’t find the nerve to start.” My voice failed a bit in admitting my fear.

“You didn’t seem to have any trouble talking to everyone else on the Citadel about the toils and perils your wonderful new team faced while they worked to save the galaxy and…and about how much you loved Thane.” The bitterness that filled those words tore at me, both hearing him say Thane’s name and the pain I could feel in his words. Yet had I ever said that, spoken of Thane so bluntly or publicly?

I didn’t believe that I had, that those words had been broadcast anywhere. Obviously Kaidan was getting his information somewhere closer to me. But we’d come to the root of the problem now and denying I’d told any interviewer about my personal relationship with Thane wasn’t enough.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 21

Fixing the Family

Viscount Dumar shuffled along the shadowed entry and into the moonlit expanse below us. His ashen face showed me that Aveline had already broken the news. I’d never before considered the man old, despite his balding grey head, but at that moment he seemed ancient. Aveline helped him up the stairs and he all but fell beside his son’s body.

As the guards cleared away the survivors Dumar gathered Saemus into his lap. For a time it appeared that he spared no thought for what surrounded him. Then he spoke to me, though his eyes never left the young man’s face. “Who did this?” he quavered, throat clogged with grief.

“She’s dead, sir.” Aveline spoke as matter-of-factly as ever. “We’re rounding up the accomplices that survived and they will stand for what they’ve done.”

“And the Arishok?”

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 22

‘Round and ‘Round She Goes

Kaidan took my hand and pulled me past the couples lined up for their turns. This appeared to be the place to be for a romantic evening. I tried to protest the unfairness of cutting ahead of them all but he shushed me. “That’s the advantage of calling ahead.”

When we neared the front of the line I saw an area cordoned off within which a few people craned their necks to watch others swooping skyward or drifting down again. Kaidan gave a name to the Asari standing just outside this seeming VIP section. She checked her omnitool and gestured us through the boundary. The already-stately pace began to slow and the thing came to a stop. Squeals of delight issued from above our heads as the oval cages tilted and swung.

Within a few minutes we were ensconced in our own little coop. A bench ran along one side with just enough room to stand side by side before it. The door clanged shut and a lock hissed, ensuring we wouldn’t be foolish enough to leap from the thing fifteen stories in the air. After the prison ship incident I was a little nervous about being locked up but as soon as we began to move I forgot my concerns.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 22

It has been five months since I helped Thane die. Kolyat and I met briefly, painfully, a few times. I’d signed over Thane’s body to his son, to be given to the sea as Irikah had been. The boy had wanted to know more about his father but couldn’t contain his anger at my place at the end of Thane’s life that Kolyat felt his mother should have had.

I told him stories about his father’s regrets, his beliefs, and his love for his family. We cried, in the same room but not together. He sought my presence grudgingly, torn between resentment and his desire to believe that Thane really had loved him. Our conversations were stilted but I thought he at least accepted that Thane had tried to do his best for his Kolyat, whatever mistakes he may have made.

I'd spent the first six weeks on Earth, numb and staring. My ship had returned, freshly painted and logo-free. Garrus had arranged to have some black market techs on Omega go over every line of EDI's code as well as chase every wire in the ship to ensure that Cerberus could no longer snoop.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 20

Not long after Sebastian described the new tack some Chantry members were taking I received yet another summons from Viscount Dumar. The note arrived just before I returned, with ‘Bela and Fenris in tow, from another jaunt up the Wounded Coast. Fenris and I remained friendly in a stilted way that left much unsaid. He remained my strongest fighter, though, and I wasn’t about to let personal matters interfere with business.

That’s what I told myself, anyway. In truth, I couldn’t stay away from him. The lazy evenings drinking wine and talking, just the two of us, had ended but I invited him on jobs regularly and he still joined the group at The Hanged Man. The others seemed as determined as Fenris and I were to avoid our being alone. That eased the worst of the awkwardness most nights.

Some undertone to Dumar’s message that evening urged me to respond quickly. Instead of playing Wicked Grace with my Mabari as we’d intended we headed right back out the door and up the nearby steps to the keep. Seneschal Bran ushered us into the Viscount’s office immediately. His normal, snooty disdain carried overtones of anxiety, ratcheting up my concern another notch.

Prompt Response: Disaster

“It’s a disaster!”

Anders threw his hands in the air and dropped back onto his heels. I dodged from his left but blood still spattered my cheek. My flamboyant healer did insist on melodrama after a battle when the injuries were relatively minor. When the wounds were serious it brought out his concentration and best bedside manner but the slash on Aveline’s leg inspired only histrionics.

“These edges won’t line up. What did that thug hit you with, a rose bush? You’re going to have another scar.”

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 21

Miranda was pacing the CIC when we got back, anxious to head for the planned rendezvous with Niket, the old friend who’d arranged the relocation. The fact that we had a full hour to travel the five hundred feet to our destination mattered nothing to her but I had to eat something or I was going to fall down halfway there. Thane and Jack came with me and I hit up Gardner for a mess of nachos.

I had been kidding, not expecting he'd have the ingredients, but he produced an enormous platter filled with some sort of green chips, beans, and all of the trimmings. I offered to promote him then and there but he declined with a proud smile. “Just keep enjoying my cooking so much and I’m happy right here,” he said.

I did a little spicy dance of thanks and ferried the whole pile over to the table where we fell on them with a will, tasty Elcor cheese flying and sour cream from the milk of who knew what creature decorating the corners of our mouths. Thane said he’d never had them before but that he would again be requesting a plate. I was pleased to introduce him to some Earth cuisine, of a sort, and asked him to have Gardner fix us something Drell enjoyed later.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 21

A flurry of activity swirled outside the windows of the med bay as the refugees made their way to the airlock. It would take some time to process them all through that choke point. Dr. Chakwas returned and began packing things into a bag for me to take.

“I wish there were more I could do,” she said. I thanked her, both for the sentiment and for not trying to talk me out of what I was doing. As we spoke, Thane shifted and I turned back to him.“Why have we come to Earth?” he asked.

“You said you wanted a desert,” I answered. “They've got the only one I could think of that doesn't require breathing masks or full environment suits.” He looked at me with an unreadable expression. I could see surprise and pain but other layers that I couldn't recognize lay beneath those. If he wanted to see a desert before he died then he was damned well going to see one.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 19

Confrontation and Dismissal

Anders face settled into a serene smile and I wanted to take him in my arms to protect him from himself. He stared into my eyes, that pain I’d longed to erase hiding as he simply looked at me for once. That little crease between his brows that never seemed to disappear had gone and we just stood quietly. It was the most content I’d ever seen him look.

“Maker, I love you,” he breathed, snapping the moment. The enormity of what had happened struck me with the force of one of Varric’s bolts. I pulled free of him, my face aflame as I tugged my smalls into place, my eyes on the floor. My brain worked furiously trying to decide how to respond to him.

I hadn’t come here with the intention of seducing him, hadn’t meant any of this to happen. Yet here I was, half-clad and sweaty, catching increasingly confused looks from the corner of my eye as I restored my blouse to something resembling decency. Oh, sweet Andraste’s flaming left ear, what had I done?

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 20

Doesn’t Everyone Live by a Code? Thane seemed a serious fellow but he accepted my request to join the team for what was considered a suicide mission by explaining that he was dying anyway so why not? You had to respect his spirit and it saved me a fair amount of time negotiating his fee. Apparently he was out to atone for some evil deeds, not too hard to believe for a man who had so ably demonstrated his ability and willingness to kill. I hoped that his assassin credo wouldn’t make him balk at the clean-up work we’d be doing on merc bases around the galaxy along the way. We were hardly a peace-loving, spare-the-ammo bunch and there were geth galore to wipe out between TIM's Collector hints. It wouldn’t live up to his high-profile targets but we’d definitely keep him busy. When we’d returned to the Normandy I got Thane settled, brushed off Jacob’s tiresome objections to bringing yet another killer for hire aboard, and stopped on the way to get some breakfast, though the ship’s clock read 3:04 AM. I’d shown Miranda the extent of what I’d learned, burning off the huge dinner I’d eaten hours earlier. I hammered down a big mug of cold coffee and made myself some sausages and toast. I wrapped one in the other and brought them with me to the trash compacter. I didn’t want to get sidetracked again before I’d had it out with Zaeed.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 20

My heart stopped in my chest until I noticed the monitors still hooked to his body. They beeped along, flashing erratically, signaling that he was still alive. I forced my numb legs to carry me across the med bay and stared hard at Thane’s chest under the sheet, willing it to rise and fall. When I reached the side of his bed his eyes flickered open and I braced my arms on the frame as my knees buckled.

I smiled gently, hiding my reaction to how ashen his rich complexion had become. I recovered my balance and took his hand. “Thank you for keeping your promise,” I said softly. I wondered if he was somehow holding on until I released him from it but I couldn’t let him go, not yet. That may have made me selfish but just then I had too much to say to him.

“Always, for you,” he whispered around the breathing mask. I could hear the weight of his guilt, of the broken promises he’d made to his family, in the phrase. Even this close to death, after saving the entire human race from extermination, he couldn't forgive himself. I kissed his hand gently as Dr. Chakwas stopped beside me.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 18

Taken By Surprise

[NOTE: This chapter is NSFW and not for those under the age of 18. You've been warned.]

Bodahn never once expressed shock or concern when I came home coated in filth and blood as I did that afternoon. I suppose his experience traveling with the Hero of Ferelden had trained him to expect such behavior from women. He and Sandal did wonders with the things that dried to impenetrable crusts in the joints of my armor, as well. I’ve missed them sorely since they decided to leave for Orlais. I have offal from three fights ago still crunching in the articulations of my gauntlets.

Normally I’d have sunk into the bath and taken my time cleaning every last inch of myself but I was nearly frantic with worry. I didn’t even sit, just scrubbed down and splashed water over myself to remove the soap. Looking down after I stepped out of the tub I saw that had been a fortunate choice. Flakes and chunks of sewer goo floated on the surface and the smell could have felled a Qunari.

I threw on some casual clothes, a skirt and bloused shirt. My mother had managed to have the Amell family crest put on the back of half of my wardrobe, something I usually forgot when I was out of my armor. I’d been reminded about it embarrassingly often when drinking at The Hanged Man, one of the many reasons we mostly ended up lounging around Varric’s rooms casually intertwined, rather than down in the common rooms with the usual Lowtown crowd.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 19

Tall, Green, and Handsome

Having had the wind so thoroughly taken out of my sails by Miranda’s unexpected capitulation, I decided to try a different tack. “I need to know why you did this, Miranda. Did you change something to give me biotic abilities or were you testing to see if the implant would work without them? If you’ve done things to my body that you haven’t told me, now is the time to come clean.”

Conflicting loyalties showed clearly on her face. Sure, Cerberus had been home to her but I was in control of whether anyone went along to protect her sister from the mercenaries their father had hired. No matter how skilled or determined she may be she knew she couldn’t do it alone. It felt pretty sleazy to use that leverage but knowing that I was going to go with her anyway made it bearable.

“It’s a standard L5 implant,” she said after a few minutes’ consideration. “Since the whole point of the project was to bring you back, personality and quirks alike, we didn’t dare try gene therapy to add biotics but we wanted to see if someone without powers could still use the device. Without specific action from me it should not have begun working. You’ve fought dozens of biotics in the past few weeks and you’ve spent plenty of time with Jack. What happened?”