She moved as quickly as the crutch would allow through the large lobby of Anderson Memorial Medical Center, it's metallic frame clicking sharply against the floor as she made her way towards the reception desk at the end of the large hall. Shia was apprehensive, she never liked hospitals and this one was no exception. The pungent smell of antiseptic filling her nose, the sighs and groans of people in pain and the constant low murmur of the medical staff all made her weary, and she feared that it would get even worse once she entered the actual ward. Then there was the purpose of her visit, the image of the Chief laid out on the ground of the grimy alley with a hole in his head was still fresh in her mind, and she wasn't much looking forward to reliving the experience.
Jani seemed much more at ease, moving gracefully by Shias side as the two young women navigated through the mostly uniformed crowd, her head bobbing from side to side as she struggled to take in everything that was happening around them, the tint of her visor seemingly reflecting the curiosity that surely rested firmly on the face beneath. Shia could understand her fascination, the clinic, like the Station in general was almost painfully human in it's design, bulky yet functional, and obviously exotic from her point of view. A smile forced it's way through her strained expression at the thought as they finally reached the queue at the front desk.
After waiting her turn behind a very upset Lieutenant who was apparently quite adamant about having a cast removed from his arm, Shia stepped up the the shiny white surface of the counter, leaning against it with both hands. The young receptionist paid her no attention at first, staring drowsily at his terminal while sipping what she assumed to be coffee from a metallic container. Shia considered him for a moment before clearing her throat to grab his attention. He slowly raised his gaze from the terminal and shot her a tired, uninterested look.
"Yes, what can I do for you... Corporal?" he said, squinting his eyes as he read her name patch.
"Yeah, I'm looking for a patient, he was brought in-"
"Name and rank?" the man interrupted with an annoyed, exaggerated sigh that seemed to convey the message that she was wasting his precious time. Shia felt a hot burst of anger boil up inside her, but decided that it was best not to argue needlessly, her green eyes iced up as she replied with a cold voice. "Adams, Gunnery-Chief. Assigned to the SSV Narva."
The man sighed once again as he turned to his terminal, inputting commands quicker than his demeanor would suggest him capable of. "Room K42, ward A, second floor." he replied dryly without turning back to face Shia, waving his hand nonchalantly at the access elevator to the right of the desk. She thanked him sardonically as she pushed herself from the surface and turned towards the elevator. Jani glared at the receptionist through the opaque glass of her visor, "Bosh'tet." she muttered acidly before turning to follow Shia. When she reached her, she stood silently in front of the elevator door, staring intently at the green circle projected onto it. She approached her slowly, placing a a hand gently on her arm as she spoke. "Do you want me to go up with you?"
Shia turned to her and smiled faintly. "No... No, I think I should go up there by myself." she said, shaking her head slowly.
"Ok, I'll be here when you're done." Jani said, giving her arm a gentle squeeze.
Shia leaned in and kissed the top of her visor lightly. "Thank you..."
- - -
As she'd expected, the ward itself made her even more uneasy than the large waiting area she just left. The place was much less crowded of course, and much quieter, but this somehow made it worse. It was the silence, and that horrible sterile scent, which was stronger here, that sent her mind spiraling with thoughts of helplessness and death. She hobbled slowly down the silent corridor, listening to the soft voices of some of the medical staff emanating from a small lounge, mixing with the low hum and beeping of medical equipment. Glancing at the markings on the doors to her side as she made her way down the dimly lit corridor, she stopped outside the one marked K42, hesitating whether she should go in. She was unsure why she had felt the need to come, much less what she should say.
"Can I help you?" a deep voice from behind caught her attention, she swung around to face a heavy-set human. He was older, a thick white beard contrasting against his dark skin. She met his eyes, they were set deeply on his face with his prominent brow casting a shadow over them, they beamed with kindness which put her instantly at ease.
"I, uh... thought I'd check in on him." she said glumly, feeling a bit foolish as she motioned to the door.
The man studied her for a moment with a faint smile on his lips. "You know him?" he asked softly, the depth of his voice sending a faint rumble through the sterile air.
"Yeah, I was... with him when he got hit." She replied, shuddering slightly at the memory.
The man nodded with understanding. "He was in a bad way." he said after a moment "We managed to repair most of the damage, he's coherent when he's awake, which is a good sign. As for his motor function, that's a different matter. It will take time..."
Shia lowered her head. "Can I see him?" she asked quietly.
The man stepped up to the door and opened it. "He might not be awake, but go ahead." Shia simply nodded in appreciation as she entered the room.
Feeling the door slide shut behind her, she made her way slowly towards the bed. The room was lit in much the same way as the corridor, a faint blue light coming from small lamps in the ceiling, but the window facing out towards a large chamber bathed in artificial sunlight gave it a much warmer feeling. She stepped up to the side of the bed, watching the Chief draw slow, steady breaths. He appeared to be asleep, the eye not covered by the large bandage to his head firmly closed. Shia couldn't help but be amused by his stern expression as he slept, it was exactly the same one she'd seen during their briefings, and she half expected him to start barking orders.
"Hey Chief..." she whispered after a moment of contemplation. TO her surprise, the man squirmed slightly in his bed and the exposed eye squinted open.
"Mghrwhossat?" he grumbled groggily before managing to fix his eye on her. "Shepard..." he said, his voice raspy and tired.
"Sorry, didn't mean to wake you, sir." she replied anxiously, a tinge of regret evident in her voice.
"'s fine" he mumbled "tired of lying 'ere alone anyway."
"How are you holding up?"
A light chuckle escaped from his lips. "Oh, 'bout as well as can be expected considering the hole in the head." he said, a mix of anger and regret painting his face as he continued "We won't be doin' any missions together anytime soon though..."
"Chief, I-" she began, but she fell silent again, unsure of what to say.
"'s fine, Shepard. It comes with the job, we all know the risks..." he said, glancing down at her injured leg "...and I guess now, you do too." He paused for several moments before continuing "So you pulled me out?"
Shia nodded "I took down the shooter but... I-I was too late-"
"Thank you." he interrupted "You did good, kid... you did good."
Shia felt a warm feeling in her body as she managed to relax completely for what felt like the first time since leaving the colony. She smiled as she reached out and took Adams hand in her own "It was an honor to serve with you, Chief."
He smirked and unable to raise his hand, grasped her hand as tightly as he could. "Likewise, Shepard."
- - -
The meeting with Adams had left her mentally refreshed and in a far better mood, but she still ached to leave the hospital. Exiting the elevator on the ground floor, she hobbled as quickly as she could while her eyes peered around looking for Jani. Turning her gaze forward again she stopped abruptly as she nearly collided with a bulking frame clad in black armor. As she was about to deliver a sardonic remark at the obstacle in her path, she quickly swallowed her words as she caught the unmistakable white and red outlines of an N7 patch on the chestplate.
Without a moments hesitation she stood at attention the best she could, considering her leg, fidgeting with the crutch to produce a salute. She didn't look for rank, with the N7 it didn't matter, you saluted all the same. Hell, she'd seen Admirals saluting Commanders out of respect if the latter wore the N7 insignia.
"Sir! Sorry, I-" she stammered, unable to contain her embarrassment.
"Easy there, Chica." A very familiar voice replied with a laugh. "Hoped I'd find you here."
Shia looked up with a mix of shock and joy. "Uncle James? I mean, Captain..." she exclaimed. Struggling to resolve the familiar with the professional, it reminded her of that first day of basic when she'd seen Ashley.
"Hey! I told you, no 'uncles' or ranks, makes me feel old."
"You are old." she retorted, instantly falling into the familiar mocking they'd often engage in "What are you doing here?"
"Looking for you, heard you headed to the med center so I thought I'd catch up with you."
Captain James Vega was an intimidating man on any given day, but wearing his bulky armor with the coveted logo made him even more so, turning quite a few heads as they moved to sit by the panoramic window that ran the length of the waiting hall.
"Why are you really here, though?" Shia asked inquisitively, studying him carefully.
"Nothing gets past you, does it? Man, I swear you're just like your parents." he said ponderously "Okay, yeah. I did want to talk to you about something."
"I figured as much. So, whats up?"
"I'm taking command of the Narva, the Alliance wants it assigned to special ops." he said, his tone was more serious than what Shia had come to expect.
"I see..." she replied, pausing briefly "So, where does that leave me?"
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about." he said, studying her closely as he spoke "I'll understand if you want to put in for a transfer... in fact, I think the brass would expect me to force you out, given that you're enlisted." He looked out the window for a moment "But I know what you can do... This latest mission only confirms what I already knew. I'd like to have you on board, you'd be an asset, especially since the squad lacks biotic support... If you want to stay?"
Shia looked around briefly, thinking through her response. "What about Jani'Nara?" she asked carefully.
"What, the quarian engineer? Already set it all up with her. Hell, ever since Sparks I've never been comfortable on a ship if it didn't have a quarian mechanic running the show." he replied excitedly, his mind drawn to the old days when he was still a grunt.
Shia smiled widely "In that case, yeah, I'm in."
"Sweet!" he exclaimed with a chuckle before his expression became more serious again. "I gotta say though, it might get ugly out there."
She studied him with concern "What you mean?"
James stood up and walked over to the window, Shia following him as best she could. As she stood next to him, he spoke in a low voice. "There's something brewing in the Verge... Something big." he said, glancing over at her, meeting her gaze "I can't really say anything more right now."
"Fine" Shia shrugged "I guess I get to know when I need to know."
"We've all been there... and trust me, knowing ain't so great, just means you have more information about the shit you can't change."
"I guess." she replied with another shrug "So, have you eaten yet? I was going to hook up with Jani and go get something, I'm starving."
James lit up at the very mention of food, and Shia had to stifle a giggle at his enthusiasm. After meeting up with Jani by the exit to the medical center and making the they headed off for the civilian sector. Jani was apprehensive at first, spending time with the new Captain in such an informal manner, but she quickly let up when Shia explained their history. As they walked along the promenade their attention was drawn to a large crowd forming by one of the large holoscreens that littered the sides of the path. As they approached, they could hear the gasps and murmur of the crowd almost drowning out the news feed from the Alliance News Network.
'... a full scale invasion of the Skyllian Verge. Calling itself the Free Batarian Republic, its leader Vohrek Khed'han calling for the eradication of the human occupation of what the Republic considers to be rightfully batarian space...'
"Goddess!" Shia exclaimed, looking over at Jani who stood motionless in front of her.
"Like I said..." James said coldly "Something big."