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Let us live in this moment, Samara had said, the night before they headed out to Cronos Station. Shepard had clung to that, kissed Samara breathless, fucked her with a desperate need to feel something; a last fuck, like they might die tomorrow. She’d honestly assumed they would.
She wakes up in stages. First sounds filter through: the harsh, insistent beeping of machines; a jumble of voices, distant and indistinct; footsteps and the bustle of people around her. As awareness trickles through, she forces her eyes open to face the bright lights and blurred faces.
They always said there would be bright lights, but Shepard doesn’t really believe in heaven, no matter what she said to Garrus. Besides, she’s done this before.
The next time she wakes, there’s someone sitting beside her bed.
She opens her mouth to speak but only a hideous croak comes out.
“Shhh,” Samara says soothingly, placing her hand on Shepard’s forehead. “Don’t try to speak. There –” She hesitates, breathes out. “There is a lot of damage.”
Damage. A word that can cover a multitude of sins.
Something must show on her face because Samara’s expression goes soft, softer than Shepard has ever seen it. “I am sorry, Shepard,” she says, and presses a kiss to her cheek. Shepard sleeps.
Recovery is slow. The synthetic parts that Cerberus had put into her after she died were destroyed along with the Reapers and the relays. The Geth. EDI. Beings she’d fought hard to even get recognised as beings. There is so much destruction on her hands; she deserves to feel some of it herself.
Samara sits at her bedside and tells her stories of the war, the aftermath. She tells Shepard about Falere, about Wrex and Bakara, about Garrus and Tali. Stories about life and hope. After weeks of this, Shepard snaps. She thrashes and struggles and croaks her displeasure until Samara gives in and joins with her like Liara had done all those years ago, allowing Shepard to push all of her aggression and her desperate need into Samara’s mind. Then Samara sighs deeply and tells her about Joker’s breakdown, about all the people they lost, about the struggles and squabbles and day to day difficulties of rebuilding a shattered galaxy.
For the first time in a very long time, Shepard cries. Samara curls up next to her in the hospital bed, holds her, allows Shepard to shake apart in her strong arms.
When she sleeps now, the nightmares come.
There have always been nightmares, of course, after Akuze. More after the first Normandy. Now her dreams are filled with the horror that the Illusive Man turned into at the end, with Anderson’s blood running through her fingers, with a childish voice and fire and then nothingness.
Since she got her voice back, Shepard wakes screaming.
“Why are you here?” she asks Samara one day, in the middle of a story about the Citadel rebuilding project.
Samara looks surprised. “Where else would I be?”
“Anywhere,” she spits, and then the words burst out like weapons fire, an unstoppable barrage of them. “Anywhere, Samara. No promises, you said. What happened to your Code?”
“Shepard, my order is gone,” she says calmly. “And besides, it would be unjust to leave you here alone.”
“Unjust,” Shepard says bitterly, clenching her fists. “It would be unjust? I don’t want to be your obligation, Samara. I'm not the broken Spectre for you to get back into fighting shape.”
“That was not what I meant,” Samara starts, but Shepard suddenly can’t stand to look at her.
“You should go.”
“Get out,” she says, with as much venom as she can inject into it.
Samara doesn’t move. There’s something in her eyes that looks like pity.
Shepard feels it sing through her veins a moment before it happens: a pulse of biotic energy that throws Samara backwards across the room. It feels good, Shepard thinks, detached, to have her power back. Blue light sparks around Samara, and for a moment Shepard thinks she will retaliate, thinks perhaps that’s what she was hoping to achieve in the first place. Anger is an emotion she can deal with, after all; fighting is an action she can take. Instead, Samara turns on her heel and stalks out.
She doesn’t come back.
After two months, Shepard eventually stops expecting her to.
It’s harder, this time, than it was with Cerberus. The tools are harder to come by: medicine, technology, personnel. And Shepard herself is harder to fix. There were too many scars on her body already, let alone the ones on her mind. Brain damage, the doctors say, is causing her mood swings and violent impulses. Shepard thinks that the violent impulses have been there all along, she just used to be better at controlling them. She used to want to be better.
The others come, sometimes. Not often; it takes longer to get around the galaxy nowadays, and everyone is busy rebuilding what Shepard tore down. Hackett can’t look her in the eye during the half-hour she spends telling him about Anderson. Garrus perches on the edge of a plasteel hospital chair, looking small and vulnerable out of his armour. Liara spends several hours filling Shepard in on the galaxy's secrets, but the sight of her makes Shepard nauseous. She can’t help comparing Liara’s rounded features with Samara’s sharp ones, her maiden’s soft curves with Samara’s compact, muscular body; can't help picturing Samara taken by surprise and slammed into a wall.
They treat her as if she’s fragile, as if she's made of sand and will crumble if touched. She knows in her soul that she's made of eezo: volatile, poisonous, and carrying too high a cost.
She flat out refuses the medal Hackett tries to give her.
She’s walking again now, though not easily. Her respect for Joker has risen a thousandfold since she started this.
(He still hasn’t come. Shepard worries he won’t, worries he will.)
She’s hobbling halfway down another nondescript grey corridor when she sees it: a flash of bright blue skin and a black skintight jumpsuit. Shepard still feels a wrench in her gut every time she sees an asari, and a bone-deep longing that eats away at her from the inside out. Except –
“You came back,” she says, trying to keep her voice steady.
“I should not have left,” Samara replies. Her eyes rake over Shepard’s recovering body, taking in the braces on her legs and the way her muscles have wasted. Shepard feels hot, exposed, defenceless.
Their eyes meet, and for a long moment neither of them moves.
“You’re walking,” Samara says, at the same time as Shepard says, “I’m still broken.”
“We will mend you,” Samara says, her eyes soft.
When they embrace, Shepard sags as if a physical weight has suddenly lifted. Samara holds her steady.
The next time Shepard lashes out, Samara does not leave.
“What if I’m always broken?” Shepard grits out into the smooth skin of Samara’s throat.
“Then we will always be mending,” Samara says, voice placid.
Sometimes, when she looks into Samara’s eyes, Shepard remembers that she has lived for centuries, seen more than it would be possible to see in a human lifetime. She remembers that she has killed untold beings, without guilt or compunction. She remembers that she is a creature of unfathomable power, feels it thrum under Samara’s skin when Shepard runs her hands over her body, touches the edge of it when they join, tastes it on her tongue when she kisses Samara, dirty and wet.
They have both razed worlds, but Shepard is a mayfly in the grand scheme of Samara’s life.
When she voices that fear, confesses it in the dark of night after she wakes them both screaming, Samara kisses her and says, “You will spread your wings, and we will enjoy the time we have together.”
They didn’t die, and now Shepard has to learn how to live.