Shepard's Saga Chapter 1

Alexandra Samantha Shepard was born on Mindoir, a small colony in the Traverse. Her mother's name was Hannah, a retired Alliance medic, she was now the colony's doctor's assistant. Her father, Alan, was a shuttle pilot . She also had a twin sister called Alice Rebecca, and an annoying little brother named Albert. Her family had a thing about the letter 'A'. Very early in Hannah's pregnancy, she been trapped in a ship's engine room helping the other crew members hurt in an explosion. For eighteen hours she was exposed to an eezo leak, the result of that was that Alex had shown biotic abilities at age four, however, Alice her twin never did. It was a standing joke that Alex had soaked up all the eezo. Hannah didn't let Alex get the available L2 biotic implants because of the terrible side effects, luckily there was an asari living on the colony and she'd agreed to teach Alex until a safer implant was available.

Where Alice was a typical girl, liking dolls and dressing up, Alex was a tomboy, but for all their differences the two got on great. If anyone was stupid enough to pick on Alice they faced Alex's wrath. Just before their eleventh birthday a huge new cave system was discovered in the nearby mountains. The house next door to them was empty and had been for the last six months.

A few days later on the way home from school Alex saw a van outside the empty house, a dark haired girl roughly the same age was lifting a large box from the back, a smaller box perched on top of it. The boxes wobbled and started to tilt dangerously to the side.

Alex glowed blue and caught both boxes with her biotics before they could hit the floor. Carefully she lowered them to the ground.

"Thanks," said the girl with a grin, "That's really cool."

"Thanks," replied Alex. Some of the kids she knew treated her like a freak so this girl's friendly attitude was a nice surprise. "Do you need any help? I can float most of this stuff to your door."

"That would be great. I'm Ashley Williams. Call me Ash. My sisters who are supposed to be helping have vanished."

"Alex Shepard. How many sisters?"

"Abby, Lynn and Sarah. You?"

"Twin sister Alice, not identical and a little brother Albert." It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Ash's mom, Ruth, was going to study the caves for the next four years, which Ash explained would mean that even if her dad , who was in the alliance got transferred, the rest of the family were going to stay put until Ruth's work was done. It would also be the longest .they'd lived in one place since Ash was little.

A month later, the Shepards and Williams were like one big family. Albert was suddenly surrounded by even more sisters, though being the only boy did mean he got spoiled.

Alex and Ash, who was also a tomboy, became best friends almost instantly. Ash was shown all the trails in the surrounding woods and often came home covered in mud and green grass stains. Some days Alex would take them all hiking, knowing full well that she and Ash would end up carrying Sarah the youngest who was five and whose little legs couldn't manage the all day hike. Alex was an excellent tracker, which was a little strange, because she hated hunting and had never killed anything bigger than a bug in her life. She was a fantastic shot with her dad's hunting rifle but the thought of shooting a living creature made her sick to her stomach. Ash was a good shot too and planned to join the alliance when she turned eighteen.

"Why don't we both join?" she asked , lounging on her bed attempting to do her homework.

"Are you nuts? Alliance- shooting things!" replied Alex shaking her head.

"Well what about a shuttle pilot or something then? Then at least we'd be together at least till we finish boot camp. Or an engineer, you're good at fixing stuff."

Alex seriously considered it, she couldn't imagine her life without Ash in it. "Okay ."

"Yahoooooo!" yelled Ash, happily jumping up and hugging her friend.

"Ash can't breathe ," gasped Alex.

"Oops sorry."

Three years later, they were still firm friends. During that time Alex's dad had died in a shuttle crash. Alex still missed him and Ash was trying to keep her mind off it with a long hike with a picnic lunch. Alice, who wasn't a fan of nature, was coming too. She was worried about her sister as she'd cried a lot over her dad, while Alex hadn't, she'd bottled it away. Usually Alex was a very even-tempered person, but since the crash she couldn't seem to control her temper. Alice had even asked Ash if Alex had talked to her. She hadn't, though Ash had offered her a shoulder if she needed it.

The hike started out pretty normal. At the last moment Sarah had begged to go, she loved the twins like they were her own older siblings, just like she was always fighting with Albert. An hour in and Alex suddenly stopped looking around silently at the surrounding trees. She definitely felt like she was being watched, not counting her twin and her friend following her every move. The woods were quieter with less birds singing.

"What?" asked Ash.

"Don't know, just feels wrong."

A short while later they stopped for their picnic in a large clearing. Something was still making her skin crawl. What she wanted to do was leave.

"You're starting to creep me out," said Ash watching her friend survey the surrounding area for what seemed like the tenth time.

Alice frowned, her twin had excellent instincts.

Before Alex could answer, a loud feral growling erupted behind them and Sarah screamed. The girls spun round to see that the small girl had wandered off and was staring at a very large varren, crouched ready to pounce.

"Sarah!" screamed Ash in horror they were too far away.

Alex had to do something. Her biotics had to be good for something other than parlour tricks. Suddenly she glowed blue as the varren attacked. Alice froze.

Ash saw a flash of blue as Alex vanished in a blue blur to tackle the creature in mid-air. They hit the floor and rolled. Alex was dazed from the impact and was not ready for the varren jumping on her. She barely managed to get her left arm up to prevent it going for her throat. Its teeth clamped around her left arm, one of its huge canine teeth going all the way through. She heard and felt bones break. Alex bellowed in pain and thumped it with her free arm which did absolutely nothing, then she focused on her biotics, the blue energy emanating from her hand, and slammed her fist into its head. The varren landed ten feet away, leaving one of its teeth snapped off in her arm. Alex scrambled to her knees so she could see the creature, feeling very light headed due to the pain and amount of blood running down her arm, not to mention the skull splitting headache from overusing her biotics.

"Alex!" Alice was about to run to her sister, when Ash stopped her, hoping that somehow Alex could get away, but in case she couldn't, she looked around for something, anything, she could use as a weapon.

"Sarah don't move!" yelled Ash getting closer to her friend, who would not survive another attack. She didn't dare look at the mangled arm for fear of being sick and that wouldn't help anyone. The varren who was coiled to spring again turned to look at her.

Something inside Alex snapped - she would die before letting Ash get hurt. She summoned the last dregs of her biotics and threw the ball of blue energy at the varren; it floated off the ground . Alex closed her fist and the creature exploded, showering her with blood, flesh, bones and bits of skin. Immediately she started retching. Ash grabbed her sister and pulled her to Alex, who'd slumped over.

"C-call aunt Hannah," ordered Ash pulling off her belt and securing it around Alex's upper arm to stop the bleeding. She got a grunt of pain, "Stay with me okay?"

"Sarah? Alice?" asked Alex her voice shaking badly. "She's fine thanks to that truly awesome biotic charge. You never told me you could do that."

"Didn't know I could." Her nose started to bleed . "I overdid my biotics," she said answering the obvious next question.

"Ash, I've got through to her," said Alice, trying not to cry .

As quickly as she could Ash explained what had happened and replied to Hannah's questions about her daughter's injuries. Help was on its way and the most important thing was to keep Alex awake. Alice made sure Sarah was okay ,hearing how scared she was might make Alex panic. Besides, Ash and Alex had some kind of weird crazy ass connection that was more than being best friends and different to being sisters. Once, she'd overheard their mothers late one night discussing their relationship, wondering if it would develop into something more.

"I'm gonna sit you up okay?" Alex nodded, gritting her teeth gasping in pain until she was leaning against Ash, she also got her first proper look at the arm, bile rose in her throat.

"Don't look," said Ash "Next time you say something's hinky I will believe you."

Alex appreciated her attempt at a joke. Her eyes fell on the bloody mess that used to be a varren; she shuddered.

"You had no choice," Ash said softly, "It was going to eat you or me or our sisters."

Suddenly Alex started feeling very strange and her head felt like it was going to explode.

"Ash I don't feel so good."

Alice glanced over at the tone of her twin's voice, she sounded terrified, a moment later Alex went rigid and started convulsing. She heard a shuttle coming. "Don't you dare die on me!"

They couldn't save Alex's arm, because she wouldn't survive both the procedure to save her arm and stop the haemorrhaging - that was causing the convulsions, so her lower arm was amputated on the shuttle on the way to the hospital, while the two medics tried to stabilize her. The main problem was her biotics, using them to that excess had caused a number of small bleeds in her brain. Even though the two older girls didn't understand most of the medical terms the medics were using, they knew it was bad, very bad. Ash was sitting in the middle, one arm around her sister and the other Alice.

"I can't lose her," whispered Alice, shaking.

Ash tightened her grip thinking exactly the same thing. By the time they reached the clinic, their parents were there, Abby and Lynn stared in horror at their older sister - Ash was covered with blood. All they could do was wait for Alex to go through surgery.

Ruth Williams held her daughter's hand, praying quietly. Hours later, Hannah came to the waiting room. She looked exhausted.

"She's going to be fine."

They three youngest jumped up and down for joy. Albert laughed.

Hannah hugged Ash, "Thank you, your quick thinking saved her life... blood loss on top of everything else ..."

"She saved Sarah." replied Ash, "What's going to happen to her arm?"

"She'll get a cybernetic one, that can even let her channel her biotics through it."

"How, if it's not real?"

"Well, she's going to have biotic implants fitted. Luckily they have an L3 type now. It means they'll keep her sedated for the next two weeks until its done."

"Why get them right now?" asked Ash.

"Because if she doesn't have them and she ever uses her biotics like that again - it will kill her."

The two weeks dragged by and even though Alex was out cold, she had a lot of visitors. Ash would do her homework, all the while keeping up a running commentary. The implant operation had gone well. Sometimes older children and teenagers got complications, but luckily Alex was absolutely fine . It would allow Alex greater control and more power over her biotics.

"Sarah says 'hi' by the way. She's getting a new fish and naming it after you in honour of saving her . You don't want to know what happened to the last one," Ash chuckled, "How many fish has she had now anyway?"

"S-seven."

"Alex!" Ash grinned, "How you feeling?" She gently held her friend's hand.

"I'm kinda buzzing," replied Alex a little confused, "But okay."

"You got biotic implants ," answered Ash ,"You really overdid them." She couldn't completely keep the fear she had felt out of her voice.

"I scared you, huh? I scared myself." Alex remembered the feeling right before she'd started seizing. "I swear I'm never doing that again."

"I'm going to get your mom." Without thinking, Ash kissed Alex on the cheek then hurried from the room, leaving Alex's heart beating faster and her face red.

Hannah hugged Alex very carefully before examining her. Alex hadn't even realised she had a cybernetic arm and spent the next few minutes wiggling her fingers . The skin tone was an almost perfect match. "When?"

"Last week. Because you were saving Sarah, the alliance have covered the cost of it and as you've shown a desire to join up, it's the same model they give to soldiers, so it can channel your biotics, has a built-in omni tool and an omni blade, but that feature is locked." said Hannah not sounding quite so happy about the omni blade .

Alex thought it was kind of cool. She was also starting to think of the alliance as more of protecting the people you care about and less as just shooting stuff. And Ash was going to join the alliance...she needed to figure out what was happening between the two of them.

Ruth Williams watched the two teenagers from the doorway, completely unnoticed. Ash was holding Alex's hand while she talked. Ruth decided to give them a few more minutes and went in search of Hannah. She found her by the coffee machine.

"Come to get Ash?" asked Hannah. "Those two are getting very close."

"Yes," agreed Ruth, "And I think they're starting to realise what's happening."

"Young love. They remind me of when I first met Alan. I don't know when I actually knew I loved him, but we were never put in a life threatening situation that made us realise how we felt about each other. I want Alex to be happy, but you leave for Earth in six months and she hasn't really dealt with losing her father and then losing Ash is going to be hard."

"If they're meant to be together, they'll work something out. Ash spoke to me about her feelings for Alex when we finally convinced her to go home, shower and get some sleep. She's afraid Alex doesn't feel the same." Ruth remembered the conversation clearly - it happened right after her shower when she was bringing her bloody clothes to throw away, everything seemed to hit her at once and she'd burst into tears. Ruth had held her as she talked. Her advice had been to be honest with Alex.

Back in the hospital room Ash was incredibly nervous, having decided that today was the day to tell Alex. "I need to tell you something, but can we agree to completely erase this conversation at the end?"

"Okay," said Alex confused. Maybe now she'd find out what was wrong with Ash.

"Are you okay to talk about the varren?" Alex nodded in response. "I can't think how to describe what I felt when it went for Sarah, but I can when it got hold of you - I swear my heart stopped and when you started fitting..." Ash's voice broke.

Alex's heart was pounding like a jack-hammer. Was Ash actually saying that she liked her more than as just a friend? It sounded like it. That would explain the forgetting the conversation comment.

"So s-say something." Ash was holding her breath. On the up side Alex hadn't told her to leave. Instead of saying anything Alex reached up and gently cupped Ash's cheek with her right hand. "I don't want to forget this conversation. I know we're not just best friends any more. I couldn't let that thing hurt you, even thinking it makes me go cold."

Ash smiled in relief, "Now what?"

Alex grinned and slid her fingers into her long dark hair and pulled her down and kissed her. They were both breathless when they pulled apart.

"Well," said Ash laughing, "We're not going to be sweet sixteen and never been kissed." Her birthday was three weeks away, Alex's was a month later.

"But you are moving back to Earth in six months," said Alex. "Our timing sucks."

"So we'll make the most of it and we'll have a few weeks holiday before we join the alliance, just the two of us." Ash grinned and waggled her eyebrows suggestively.

Alex chuckled, "Sounds like a plan."

CHAPTER 2

It had been four months since the Williams family had left and Alex was surviving on the regular vids Ash was sending, so Alex had started recording vids to send back and now always carried her camera in case she saw something that would interest her girlfriend - Alex was still getting used to calling her that, even though by the time Ash had left, they had slept together. Alex blushed as she remembered waking up in Ash's arms the morning after their first time. Everything had been so amazing from the candle lit dinner and dancing to lots of old, slow, love songs Eventually they'd migrated to the bedroom and for the first time completely let themselves go.

Alex was walking down the main street on her way to meet Alice when the first shuttle flew over. She had spent a lot of time at the shuttle port with her dad and could recognise most types. The one that had just flown overhead, she'd never seen before and the feeling she got from it was a hundred times worse than when the varren had taken her arm. She called her mom on her omni tool as she ran to find her sister.

Hannah answered. In the background Alex heard gunfire. "Get your sister and RUN."

"Where's Albert?" No answer. "MOM!" Alex skidded to a stop as a shuttle landed in a nearby parking area. She ran into the burger joint, luckily Alice was there staring at the aliens, no batarians, getting out. Alex grabbed her and pulled her to the back door, yelling to the rest to run. They slammed through the back door and into an alley.

"Where's Albert and mom?" sobbed Alice.

"I don't know, but getting ourselves killed looking for them won't help them."

Bullets pinged off the wall near them. Alex glowed blue as she called up her bionics and hurled the two batarians across the street. A second later, she biotically pulled one of their pistols to her and used it to shoot the next batarian that came around the corner.

"Keep moving! Head for home. If Al can, he'll get there."

"Are you g-going to kill every one we see?"

"If I have to."

Somehow they made it home without being seen. Her biotics meant that she was able to take the slavers down silently. Alex noticed a message on her omni tool and she opened it hoping it was from her mom - it was, it was a string of numbers that made up her dad's birthday. She frowned then realised it must be the omni blade activation code.

"Grab a bag! We need food and a medkit. I'll get dad's rifle."

Alice didn't move. Alex walked to her and wrapped her in a bear-hug. "We are going to be okay. I need you to focus. I love you. Food and medkit."

Alice nodded . As she returned with the requested items, Alex heard rough voices outside. She dropped to the floor and lifted the basement trapdoor and motioned her sister down the ladder, she also passed the rifle down. The voices were closer.

"Damn. Stay there. Stay quiet." ordered Alex, closing the trapdoor and biotically moving the sofa over the top of it as well. The squeak of the back door opening had her going out the front. She didn't see the rifle butt until it hit her in the face.

Alice, hiding in the dark, heard the crash and the laughter. She hid her head in her hands, tears running down her face as she listened to them raping her sister.

"The other one has to be here somewhere. Tear the place apart!"

That got through to Alex – she wasn't prepared to let any harm come to her twin! Unnoticed, she tapped in the omni blade code.

"Hey!" One of the batarians tried to grab her arm.

She couldn't bear to be touched again. Alex slammed the omni blade into his chest and biotically rammed the sofa into the other two, knocking them out. Alice erupted from the trapdoor, took one look at the dead body and her half naked twin - Alex had a terrible gash down her forehead that was still bleeding. Alice made her sister apply pressure to it while she went and got her a pair of pants. Once Alex had put them on, she bandaged her head. Alex couldn't look at her.

"What are we going to do?" asked Alice, helping her twin to her feet.

"Need to get out of town. Get a message out. Find Albert." Alex picked up the dead man's gun and shot the other unconscious slavers in the head.

"Alex?!" Alice was horrified.

"They're not hurting anyone else," replied Alex, taking the rifle from her sister and giving her the gun.

Alice shouldered the bag and followed a very shaky Alex, who two blocks away suddenly bent over and was sick.

Alex took a deep breath,"I'm okay."

"Like hell you are!" snapped Alice.

"You really want to fight now?" Alex realised how bad a choice of words that was. Alice held up her hands in surrender. "We need high ground so we can see what they're doing. "

Carefully, they skirted around the edge of town. The things they saw would haunt them for as long as they lived . People of every age were being herded into cages after having something implanted in their heads. The screaming rang in their ears. Alex didn't dare look for her brother in those groups, she had to protect Alice. She'd also started recording on her camera what the batarians were doing. Alice thought it was morbid, but then her sister pointed out it would be easier than trying to explain all this. They made it to the Fire Rescue building, the tallest building in the area, which had already been ransacked. Quickly they climbed the fire escape to the roof. From there they had a birds' eye view. Alex gave Alice the camera while she used the rifle's scope. Both saw their mother at the same time. She was on her knees in a line of people near the cages. One of the four-eyed freaks was walking down the line pouring some sort of liquid over the six people in that line.

"What are they doing?" Alice could hardly speak for the horror below them. The answer came a moment later when the old man at the end of the line was set on fire.

"Noooooo!"

Alex ignored her twin, jaw clenched so hard it hurt. She aimed the hunting rifle at her mom, her vision blurred, she wiped her eyes and lined up the shot again.

"Mom please forgive me," she whispered and pulled the trigger. It was better than being burnt alive. As the second person was set alight, Alex didn't stop - she killed the rest of the people in the line and then slumped down sobbing. She couldn't believe what she'd just done, she'd also used all of the rifle ammo. The distance of the shots meant that the batarians had no idea where they'd come from. Still, Alice kept an eye on the fire escape, while Alex cried until she fell asleep through exhaustion.

Alice pointed the camera at her and pushed record. "This is my sister...she's the bravest person I have ever met. She got me to safety when they first landed. Last year, she lost part of one arm saving a friend's sister from a wild varren and now, she hid me in our basement keeping me safe while she got raped. She killed them..." Alice paused to clear her throat," She's just shot our mom so she wouldn't burn to death. If she survives and I don't, please make sure that she knows I love her and don't blame her...if I was down there I'd've wanted her to do the same for me. We haven't found our brother and I know protecting me is stopping her from looking for him, but I think if she tries, she'Il get herself killed. I'm Alice Rebecca Shepard. Mindoir 2170."

Alice put the camera down not really knowing why she'd just done that. When Alex woke, she was going to tell her she loved her. It was getting dark and the temperature dropping. Reluctantly she shook her sister awake "We need to get inside."

Alex looked exhausted and her head hurt.

"I love you."

"After what I did?!"

Alice nodded, "Everything you've done, not once have you considered the cost to yourself and I can't even imagine how much you're hurting right now. Don't give up."

"Don't give up." repeated Alex to herself. So long as she was with Alice she wouldn't. Quietly they crept into the building and into its loft, it was much warmer. They settled down in a corner behind some old packing crates. Alex rested her head on her knees. For the last few hours she'd been fighting a losing battle with a headache due to her overuse of her biotics - at least her implants and amp meant that when she finally blew her amp (and it was a matter of when, not if) it would stop her biotics preventing serious injury. The headache told her she was getting close and her biotics were a very big factor in why they were still alive.

"Alex are you okay?"

"I'm very close to blowing my amp," admitted Alex without looking up.

"You have one of those overload headaches ,don' t you?"

Alex nodded.

"Won't resting help?"

"Maybe a little, " replied Alex. Alice asked why she didn't just take it out if it would stop the pain. "I might need my biotics." That was true.

"Try to sleep, I'll keep watch."

Alex shook her head she was too scared to sleep. She didn't want any nightmares, reliving what she'd seen and done.

"Do you remember what dad told us when we were little?" asked Alice, then continued when she got no reply. "He had us name all the good things."

"Can't think of any."

Alice huffed. "What am I chopped liver!"

Alex met her sister's eyes, her golden brown to Alice's blue. "Okay you. That's only one thing."

"I can give you the best reason ever to live through this," said Alice moving to sit next to her sister ."Ash."

Alex's head snapped up.

"She's NOT here - she's safe and she loves you," continued Alice.

"Even when she finds out what I did?" Alex looked back down at her feet.

"Stop that, you haven't done anything wrong... If I was down there and knew you were on a roof, I'd want you to do the same thing. I'm telling you now that if anything like that happens to me I want you to kill me or if I get so badly hurt that I slow you down. I know you won't leave me to them."

"Please don't ask me that" begged Alex "I can't."

"Yes you can."

"I'm not strong enough." Alice forced her sister to look at her, "Whenever things are bad, I want you to say three words over and over and over to yourself."

"What words?"

"Ash loves me. Ash loves me. Ash loves me."

"When did you get so smart?"

"When you needed me to be."

Alex curled up in a ball with her head on her sister's knee ." Ash loves me. Ash loves me. Ash loves me." She kept repeating it to herself in her mind. She felt physically ill by what she had done, never mind feeling nauseous from her headache.

Alice started to gently run her fingers through her short light brown hair, it was soothing and combining it with exhaustion Alex drifted off to sleep. A crash woke her. Alice clamped her hand over her mouth to muffle her startled yell. Noise was coming from downstairs . Soon they heard voices close enough to make out what they were saying, " The shooter's going to be long gone." Complained one voice. "Only a trained sniper could make that kind of shot from here and a soldier knows to keep moving."

"Look Balak said to check so we check." said another, "With that alliance cruiser showing up it won't be long before we pull out. We don't have the numbers to hold off an attack and we still don't know who's been killing our men on this side of town." The twins exchanged a glance, surely Alex hadn't killed that many?

"And we still haven't found that damned asari."

"Last seen near the caves. Second squad are heading that way to flush her out. Okay we checked the building lets go."

"Dalia's alive," thought Alex, thinking of her asari biotics trainer. Of course she'd be able to take care of herself. Maybe if they joined forces it would allow Alex to look for her brother, knowing that her twin was safe and if the slavers were going to leave, this might be her last chance. She looked at her sister who nodded - at times, the twins could communicate without words. Once they knew the coast was clear, they slipped silently from one building along a back alley to another structure. All the while, doing their best not to look at the burnt out houses and dead bodies that littered the street…the smell was much harder to ignore. Alice was pointing the vidcam at the path. At the very edge of town, where the path leading up to the cave started, they almost ran splat bang into a group of slavers who opened fire, one threw a grenade. Alex had a split second to decide what to do. Biotically she caught the grenade and hurled it back, in that second her amp blew and a bullet thumped into her shoulder. Alex dropped to her knees and yanked out her amp before blind firing at the barbarians, as Alice pulled her into the closest doorway.

"That hurts!" gasped Alex leaning out and firing two more shots before the weapon clicked empty. "Okay cowards! Which one of you has the balls to fight me one on one." As Alex yelled out the challenge she knew what a crazy idea it was.

"Throw the weapon out first, bitch." Alex tossed the useless weapon where it could be seen.

"What the hell are you doing?" whispered Alice, her heart beating in fear already guessing the answer.

"Buying us some time. Just run okay. I figure there's only one or two left and I'm sure they caught some shrapnel and the last thing they'll expect is a teenager with an omni blade."

"Alex that's..."

Alex interrupted her by wrapping her in a bear hug. She didn't notice her sister still holding the vidcam, neither realised it was still recording. Alex stood up, half expecting to be shot down then and there, but instead found herself facing two batarians. Both were bleeding.

"So you're the one who's been killing our men." He didn't seem impressed.

"Well you killed people first." Her omni blade would surprise one of them but not the other. Obviously they were bigger and stronger but at 5'7 she wasn't exactly small and she was fit, so long as she could beat these two goons before blood loss became a factor. "Well, what are you waiting for. Are you scared of little old me?"

"Just kill her already Balak, then we can get out of here before the alliance lands in force."

"You do it." Balak crossed his arms across his chest.If the girl really was behind all the deaths she wasn't going to be a pushover.

"Fine." He walked to her and swung a large meaty fist at her.

Alex ducked and jabbed her fist into his side as she activated her omni blade. At the same time, she spun his body in front of her like a shield.

"Not bad," said Balak, "for a pathetic human." From behind his back he produced a pistol and fired. The first few shots were nowhere near her, then two slammed into the batarian she was holding. Balak advanced as she let go of her shield. His first blow hit her raised arms as she blocked. Most of the impact hit her cybernetic arm and his reaction was to back away shaking his hand, swearing viciously.

Alex was so used to it that most of the time she totally forgot about it. Now she wondered what it would feel like be hit with a cybernetic arm. She moved, ducking under his counter punch and slammed her fist into his jaw. Balak retreated a few steps spitting out blood. His radio chirped and a voice, using a completely unknown language, came through with a message that had him turning his back on her and quickly leaving her alone. She turned to see her sister lying on the floor on her back.

Alex ran to her sister and knelt down by her, "No , no, no,no. Oh please God no." All the shots that Balak had fired away from her had been aimed at Alice, two in her chest and one in her stomach. As Alex was frantically pulling out their tube of medi gel, Alice raised a bloody hand and stopped her sister. "You use it." Each word forced blood out of her mouth.

"I'll find m-more." Alex didn't feel the tears that were running down her cheeks or notice the lump in her throat.

"F-find Albert." Alice coughed struggling to breathe, "You pro-mised."

"I can't ," sobbed Alex her whole world was crashing.

Alice reached up and touched her face, " Strong enough." Her voice only a whisper she sounded like she was drowning in her own blood.

Alex got up and grabbed the first hand gun she saw and sat back down by Alice and pulled her into her arms ,"You're the strongest person I know and I love you." While she was talking she had brought the gun up under her twins chin as she said the last word she pulled the trigger as her sister's body slumped a scream of agony and grief erupted from her. She kept screaming until she was hoarse. Then she just rocked Alice's body until the alliance found her two hours later.

CHAPTER 3: Earth

Abby Williams ran through the school's hallway on the way to the cafeteria where she knew her older sister would be. News of another slaver attack had been going round the school since that morning. Abby burst through the doors and quickly spotted where her sister sat with her new friends.

"Hey, where's the fire," laughed Tony Mendez, who everyone knew was seriously crushing on Ash.

"Ash!"

Ash could tell something was wrong by her sisters expression. "What?"

"The colony that was hit - it's Mindoir."

All the colour left Ash's face ,"Alex!"

"So you do have a boyfriend, " said Tony, "He'd have to be something amazing to survive that."

"She'll survive," said Ash. She has to.

"A girl!" Tony's voice took on a note of disgust, "You're a..." He never finished that sentence because Abby decked him. "Don't you dare."

Ash pulled her away ," He's not worth it. I have to go home."

Abby had already told Lynne who was going to pick up Sarah. She'd also called their mom who was trying to find out as many details as she could about survivors. She already knew Hannah was dead and was focused on finding the younger Shepards.

Ash turned on the news network which was reporting that the alliance had landed but were meeting with heavy resistance and were waiting for reinforcements. Abby made her sister coffee, then sat on the couch next to her and watched too. After about an hour the first casualty lists started appearing. One of Abby's old teachers was the first name they recognised. It hit home to both of them that the Shepards could be on that list. Ash burried her head in her hands.

"She'll be okay, " said Abby softly, wrapping her arm around her sister, "That idiot was right about one thing it will take someone amazing to survive. And Alex is."

Not long after, Ruth walked in to find her three younger daughters on the couch, eyes glued to the screen. "Where's Ash?"

"Mom!" exclaimed Lynn

"Are they okay?" asked Sarah.

"I need to talk to Ash first," replied her mother.

"She's in her room," replied Abby, knowing that bad news was coming.

Ruth knocked on Ash's door and went in. Immediately Ash sat up and hugged her mom.

"Is Alex dead?"

Ruth held her daughter tightly ," No she's alive."

Ash burst into tears of relief. "The others?"

"I'm sorry sweetheart, Hannah and Alice died and Albert is missing, presumed taken."

"Was she hurt?" Ash wiped her eyes on her sleeve "She is coming here, right?"

"She was shot in the shoulder and has a bad head wound."

"What aren't you telling me?"

Ruth sighed. One of the soldiers had found the vidcam and watched it before giving it to his CO and that was who she'd talked to when she'd said she was Alex's legal guardian. "It seems the twins had a vidcam with them and were taping what they saw. At one point one of the girls recorded a message, from what I could gather, I think it was Alice and she said Alex had been raped."

Ash stood up and rushed to the bathroom, just making the toilet in time before losing her stomach contents. Ruth followed and sat next to her.

"What else?" By her mom's expression, she knew it was going to be awful.

"The slavers were going to burn some of the colonists alive... Hannah was one of them."

Ash groaned.

Her mother reluctantly continued. "The vidcam shows footage of them from a fair distance away and the recording says that Alex shot her so she wouldn't die like that."

Ash started retching again. Ruth gently rubbed her back. She curled up in her mom's arms.

"If they were together,r what happened to Alice?" Ash shuddered at the mere thought of losing any of her sisters.

"They got cornered. Alice was shot while Alex was fighting slavers. " Ruth didn't give any more details. "We're leaving in the morning to go and get her."

"Can I see the vidcam recording?" asked Ash. "I need to know, so I can help."

"Ash honey, maybe that's not a good idea."

"If Alex can live through it - I can watch a vid of it. Besides you will."

"Okay." Ruth relented. As much as she wanted to protect her daughter, the best way to help Alex was to know what she'd gone through. "We leave at 08:00 sharp."

ME ME ME ME ME ME

Alex lay on the field hospital's cot with her back to everybody. The medtechs had given up trying to get her to talk. Even the shrink hadn't been able to and when he'd started pushing her, attempting to get a reaction, Alex had gotten violent and physically tossed him out of the room. When the doctor in question had then wanted her either sedated or restrained, Lieutenant Commander Anderson had stepped in, demanding to know what the doctor thought he was doing provoking her like he had. The girl had been forced to kill two of her own family. Anderson admired the inner strength of the girl and while taking on batarians in unarmed combat had been suicidal, it also took the kind of guts the alliance marine corps was looking for, hell it was what the N7 program was looking for.

That had happened yesterday and today her legal guardian was coming. It would be a long time before Alex was okay, but the love and support a family could give would be a huge step in the right direction. Anderson went to meet the shuttle. He was a little surprised to see a teenaged girl with Ruth.

"Mrs Williams it's a pleasure to meet you. I wish it were under better circumstances. My condolences on the loss of the rest of the family ."

"Thank-you. This is my daughter Ashley, she's Alex's girlfriend."

Anderson nodded. Love could do wonders if Ruth failed in reaching Alex, maybe her lover might.

"You said we can see the tape?" queried Ruth.

He nodded "It's set up in an office for your privacy." His eyes flicked towards Ashley, "Are you sure you both want to see it?"

"Yes."

They had stopped outside a tiny office. Anderson opened the door for them, then quietly closed it behind them leaving them alone. Ruth had unsuccessfully tried to talk Ash out of watching this but her daughter was adamant that she would be better able to help Alex if she knew. Ruth pulled up a second chair and pushed play at the same time as taking hold of Ash's hand. The very beginning was a collection of shots of places and people for the next vid message .

The first shot of the invading slaves was a quick shot of the first shuttle flying over. They also heard Alex's frantic call to Hannah, the vidcam was set to stop recording when it was closed and at that point Alex must have just stuffed it in her pocket. The next clips were taken near the Shepard's home. Smoke was rising in the background and the audio was picking up gunfire. Alice must have been doing the taping, because Alex was in a lot of it - she had a bloody bandage tied around her head and her sweatshirt was splattered with blood too, not all of it was red. Ash was gripping her mom's hand in a death grip, while on screen Alice recorded bodies littering the street and groups of colonists being herded towards the shuttle port. Ash didn't think she'd ever been so angry as she witnessed them being implanted with God alone knew what. She gasped when a shaking camera settled on Hannah, kneeling with her hands tied behind her back in a line of other people. The camera turned with her to look at Alex and both Williams knew by the heartbroken expression that Alex knew what she had to do, though they didn't expect her to shoot all the hostages. However, Alex wanting to save them from an agonizing death was what she would always do. Ruth paused the playback as the vidcam's audio picked up the sound of Alex sobbing.

Ash had tears running down her face. Silently, Ruth pulled her into a hug. "We're going to help her every step of the way, Ash. She's strong."

Ash wiped her eyes and resumed the playback. At this point she just wanted it over. Alice's message was almost too much to bear and the shot of Alex in a shaking huddled ball made Ruth wonder if Alex had broken under the pressure . Alice had recorded their conversation in the loft and she glanced at Ash when Alice told Alex to use Ash's love to keep her going.

"Ash loves me," repeated Ash softly all her emotions completely raw.

It wasn't long until the end of the recording. Ash physically jumped when Alex got shot. Neither of them expected to see Alex kill the batarian with her omni blade. Ash had to swallow to stop herself from being sick as the second slaver attacked her. The vidcam suddenly jerked and the picture spun crazily before hitting the floor part of the shot was still on her sister the other had Alice's leg in it showing that she was flat on her back.

"No." Ash covered her eyes.

The audio on the vidcam was still working "Ash if you e-ver see th-is. Take c-care of her." Alice was making gurgling sounds as she breathed or tried to. That was when Balak left and Alex found her. Ruth hadn't known about Alex killing Alice, but as she listened that last whispered exchange she realised what was going to happen she wasn't fast enough switching it off. The last thing they heard was Alex screaming.

"How can anyone survive that?" asked Ash shocked.

"Because God willing she has us to help her." replied Ruth hugging her daughter close.

Dr Jordan saw Anderson leading a woman and a girl towards the crazy girl's room. He was still sore from being thrown out of it and the public dressing down he'd gotten from the CO. "Go in there at your own risk. That kid's lost it."

Before Ash knew it, she'd slammed her fist into his nose, "You're supposed to be a doctor! You don't write people off like that."

"I want that ruffian arrested," said Dr Jordan from the floor.

"You really need to work on your bedside manner," commented Anderson not paying the slightest attention.

"I will press charges!"

"Good luck finding any witnesses." Snapped a middle aged grey haired doctor, "Your treatment of that poor girl is intolerable. What she did for her family is the strongest expression of love I have ever seen. She is a hero, she might not feel like one right now but she is." She turned to Ruth. "I'm Karin Chakwas. I treated Alex when we first found her. Physically she's going to be fine and with proper support, I believe she can recover. And I'll find an ice pack for your hand young lady."

Dr Jordan scowled and stormed off.

Alex heard the door open, but didn't turn over. If it was that stupid doctor she'd... The unknown person pulled a chair up to the side of the bed, scraping the legs on the floor. It definitely wasn't Doctor Jordan, maybe it was Karin, she was nice.

"Hey."

Alex froze at the voice. It couldn't be? Very slowly, she rolled onto her back and found herself looking into Ash's dark brown eyes. "No... You're not here."

"Yes I am."

Ruth had told her to back off if anything made Alex uncomfortable. She had no idea how she'd react to a hug. Slowly Ash reached out her hand and linked her fingers through her girlfriend's. "See."

"Do you know?" Jordan had known what she'd done to her mom and Alice.

Ash nodded. The jagged scar on Alex's forehead still looked painful.

"And you're still here?" Alex's voice was starting to shake, so was the rest of her, Ash could feel it.

"I am not going anywhere." As tried to convey as much love as she could in those five words. It shattered the fragile barrier Alex had put up to keep the anguish and guilt at bay. Ash saw her expression change and her eyes fill with tears. To hell with going slowly, Ash pulled Alex into a strong embrace. "It's okay, let go. I'll be your anchor."

"Why am I still alive?" sobbed Alex as she clung to her friend who right then was more of a lifeline.

"Because we're going to find Albert and we're going to make that son of a bitch Balak pay."

ME ME ME ME ME ME

When Alex had fallen asleep curled up in Ash's arms, Ruth quietly entered carrying two cups of coffee.

"You did great honey." She was really proud of her daughter.

Ash nodded her thanks and accepted one of the mugs. "I didn't do anything." Alex twitched in her sleep. "Shhhh its okay -you're safe." Alex settled.

"Mom I want Alex to come home, but they won't let her like this will they?" She didn't know why she was asking, she already knew the answer. The thing she was most afraid of was Alex hurting herself.

"We may have a way to help her," said Ruth with a genuine smile, "While you were in here, I bumped into Alex's asari biotics trainer Dalia and she says that during a mind meld, good memories can be layered over the bad ones. It's not an instant fix by any means, but it will stop them overwhelming her which will give her the chance to process, grieve and heal."

Ash sipped her drink, "Is she okay?"

Ruth explained that the asari had sent out an S.O.S to the alliance, then had run into a small group of young children with their teacher, trying to find someplace to hide and she'd lead them into the woods where she'd kept them safe. The few times she'd ventured into town she hadn't seen any survivors. She'd had no idea that the twins needed her help.

"When she's awake we'll tell her." Ruth left the room when Ash too had fallen asleep. She found Karin and Dalia in the same office they had used earlier. The asari had just finished watching the twins tape.

"Goddess." Dalia now had an idea of how to help Alex, she just needed a few details. "Ruth the girls have they been intimate?"

"They're teenagers in love," replied Ruth, nodding. "Yes they were sleeping together by the time we left."

Dalia stood up, "Good that's the best memory to overlay the rape, it will also help them both deal with it together. Please call me when you want me to explain this to Alex."

ME ME ME ME ME ME

"NO!" Alex had just heard Dalia's explanation for the mind meld. The thought of Ash seeing and feeling what she had, terrified her.

"I can buffer your emotions," said Dalia, guessing correctly the main reason for her refusal, "Right now you need someone you trust absolutely and who knows you well enough to be able to direct you to better memories for this to work."

Ash could see her girlfriend struggling with knowing she would be letting her into her mind and knew exactly what to say to make her agree, "Alex if you were in my place what would you do?" Of course Alex would do everything in her power to help.

"Do you have any idea how totally screwed up I am?"

Ash hadn't left her side since they'd woke up. Her reply was Ash taking hold of her hand and kissing it.

"I want to help. Please let me."

Alex knew by now that Ruth wanted her to go home with them and truth be told she didn't actually trust herself. She'd been truly shocked at herself for throwing that idiot shrink out of the room. What if she accidentally hurt Sarah or Lynne ? "Okay."

"Follow me," said Dalia, leading them to a small room with a single bed in the middle of it. "You need to be close and you'll both sleep after," she explained. She got them to lay down facing each other and was about to ask them to rest their foreheads together when she noticed that they'd already done it. Ash was whispering softly into Alex's ear and a moment later they linked their fingers together. Karin had offered to monitor the process from the next room with Ruth.

Dalia explained to Ash more about the mind meld as she had the girls focus on a simple meditation technique that Alex already knew from her biotics training. Alex had also experienced a knowledge meld before, when Dalia had shown here a biotic move that Alex couldn't quite master. Dalia sat on a chair at the end of the bed and gently placed a hand on the top of each girls' head. Her eyes turned black. "Embrace Eternity." Even with the buffer, Ash was still hit with pain, despair , guilt and a complete feeling of helplessness.

"I love you." That was when Ash discovered that they could talk to each other through the meld, because Alex heard and felt it. Dalia asked Alex to remember from the first shuttle she saw. It was the love and support she could feel from Ash which gave her the courage to do it.

Dalia concentrated on the rape first. "Ashley I need you to recall the strongest memory you have of you making love, Alex concentrate on that same event. The one that Ash settled on was the very very last time before she'd left for Earth, because they'd poured their hearts and souls into it as they were also saying goodbye. Carefully, Dalia layered those emotions and images over Alex being violated. Though both Ash and the asari witnessed the original , luckily Alex hadn't been conscious at the start of it as she'd only come to as the batarian she had later killed had pulled out of her. Alex had frozen in disgust and terror - it was only the threat to Alice that had forced her to pull it together. When she shot the other batarians, understanding flowed from both Dalia and Ash. As the better memories diluted the bad ones, Alex's mind started calming down. Ash could feel the change, though she had no idea what Dalia would use for what had happened to Hannah and Alice. The answer came with Dalia bringing up her own memories of Hannah, of how proud she was of Alex and how much she obviously loved her. Ash did the same, she also showed her girlfriend the message that Alice had left on the vidcam right after. Alex started crying and Ash tightened her grip, pushing as much comfort as she could through the bond. They did the same thing with memories of Alice. Alex was shocked by her twin's last words to Ash, but it finally convinced her that her sister didn't blame her. As Dalia checked that they had done as much as they could, she noticed a part that Alex had blocked off, something that Alex had supressed. She felt resistance when she approached.

"Ashley can you get her to show you that or tell you what it is?"

"Alex? Nothing you show me will change the fact that I am completely head over heels in love with you."

"I didn't try to look for my brother... Even when I didn't have Alice anymore... I... just fell apart."

"Don't ," said Ash gently and showed her seeing Alex get shot, "You were exhausted and badly hurt - you were in no condition to go anywhere." She didn't have to add that she would have gotten herself killed. She did however add what Doctor Karin had said about her. On that note, Dalia told them to sleep and ended the meld.

TBC….