Chapter 1: Routines
She couldn’t pinpoint exactly when they fell into their own routine. Probably sometime between Cerberus’ failed attempt to take the Citadel and their long-overdue date. Or maybe it had been after that. Or maybe it had been established back in those fateful days after Sovereign’s defeat; back when the Reapers were still just a myth to the rest of the galaxy and she wasn’t half-cybernetic implants and half disillusioned soldier. Commander. Whatever.
She wasn’t sure she understood how but their routine kept her focused on the bigger picture. They still put on their professional faces just like they did back then. They went out, did their missions, debriefed back on board and interacted with the crew like they always had. But unlike the old days once they were back on board and those tasks had been seen to that strict adherence to the regs was softened, as were the lingering glances and smiles they exchanged when they thought no one noticed.
She found she needed it. She needed that escape from the seemingly insurmountable obstacle set in their path. And even though she knew there was always something she could be doing when he showed up at her door with a bottle of whiskey or a smile or sometimes just that exhausted look he got when he ran himself ragged she couldn’t help but set it all aside.
It was the routine that kept her focused on the tasks at hand because it was something that made her feel a bit like the old Shepard. And if there were two things worth fighting for it was Kaidan and feeling a bit like her old self— the Shepard that could take on anything.
Chapter 2: The Memorial Wall
There's one place on the Citadel that Shepard always visits. It helps her focus on everything that's been lost and everything at stake. Set during Mass Effect 3.
There was precious little time to catch one’s breath.
Every minute a new crisis rose up, a new front was opened, another squadron was lost. Everything required her attention; everyone wanted a word, a minute of her time. Just a minute. Those minutes became hours. Those hours became missions in the hope that they would benefit their fight against the Reapers. Sometimes they did, most of the time they didn’t.
It didn’t matter to Shepard. This was what she was fighting for. Each person she rescued, each family that wasn’t decimated, each colony that was left standing was a victory. She was fighting for the galaxy and all of it’s inhabitants. She knew sometimes her crew wondered why she was diverting to some backwater colony or distant system as if it were just a whim but she couldn’t ignore a plea for help. People needed help and she wouldn’t turn her back on them.
Too often it wasn’t enough. Too often she didn't arrive in time. Too often all she could do was mourn the dead instead of rescue them.
That’s why she visited the memorial wall on the Citadel each time they docked.
The photos and trinkets left were reminders of the people this war had swallowed. They were reminders of all the families torn apart, of all the mothers mourning daughters, all the fathers burying sons. Every breaking heart. Every stifled sob. Every clenched fist and heart set pounding when a message popped up from an unknown sender. Was this the notification that a loved one was dead?
In a fight like this it was easy to lose sight of the small things. It wasn’t hard to let it overshadow all of the little battles and tiny fronts where ordinary people had been thrust up against extraordinary odds. This war was so huge; it encompassed all of them. Every race.
And in this battle they were all the same. The war had shown her that. Human. Asari. Turian. Salarian. Krogan. They were all just fighting in the hopes that they would see an end to the Reapers, that their fates would be their own again. The odds were stacked against all of them. They didn't favor one race any more than the others. In the stark reality set before them they stood as equals.
Old grudges had to be set aside; old scars had to be allowed to fade. Every race had posters plastered on this wall; each had mourners on their knees before it crying over loved ones lost. They had to stand together because it wasn’t just about salvaging their governments or armies or capital cities. They had to fight so that children could grow up free of worry across the galaxy. They had to take the blows so that innocents might escape unscathed. They had to sacrifice so others might never know the prices paid for their own freedom. They had to unite or they would all fall.
This wall was her reminder. It showed her how much had already been taken and how much more was at stake. It renewed her enough to make her pull her boots on when a distress call woke her from what little sleep she found these days. It made her take pause when a displaced civilian with hopelessness written in the lines of their face needed just a minute of her time. Sometimes it was just a soft word they needed, sometimes an assurance to do everything she could to help find a lost loved one. She always listened, whatever the reason. It gave them a bit of courage, a sliver of hope, and that was something they all needed desperately.
And that was why whenever they docked at the Citadel she always took one of those precious minutes for the lost.
Chapter 3: Pastries
A late night detour to the mess by Shepard leads to a new discovery about the Major.
She was halfway through stuffing an overly large pastry in her mouth when she heard someone clear their throat behind her.
It was late and the Normandy had been beyond quiet. She thought for sure she’d have the mess to herself as she made her way from the war room to her cabin for a few hours of much needed sleep. Her growling stomach had cut through her weariness enough to make a detour necessary. It wasn’t that she cared about eating in front of people, rather that she hated getting caught with her mouth full and in this case ‘full’ was an understatement.
“Did you even check what flavor that was before you stuffed it in your mouth whole?” Kaidan asked, laughter evident in his voice as she looked over her shoulder at him.
The humor in his voice erupted into full blown laughter when she turned and she glared at him because her mouth was just too full to tell him to shut the hell up. If he carried on like that he was going to attract an audience no matter the hour and that was just what she didn’t need; a crew seeing their commanding officer with her mouth overflowing with pastry.
Chewing didn’t seem to be helping as fast as it should have been. There would be no quick retorts for her tonight. That didn’t stop her from dancing out of the way of Kaidan as he came around and tried to catch her by the arm.
“Come-on Shepard, you don’t need to glare. You know I’m only giving you a bad time in return for all the times you’ve done the same for me.” He managed to snag her elbow and he tugged her towards him.
She allowed herself to be pulled into the circle of his arms but continued to glower at him, chewing all the while. What had they put in this thing? A military-grade bonding agent?
Finally she was able to swallow the damned pastry.
Despite her initial irritation at getting caught with her mouth full Kaidan was warm and solid. The exhaustion that had drove her from her console in the war room was replaced with a new feeling that settled warm and low in her belly. She leaned into him still pouting but now with a completely different agenda in mind.
His mouth turned up at the corners as he leaned in to press his mouth against hers, gently teasing her mouth open as he did. “Mmm,” he murmured against her lips when they finally broke apart. “You taste like my favorite flavor.”
She pulled back and smiled up at him, “Oh yeah, Major? What flavor is that?”
They both froze instantly when another voice cut in. Turning they saw Vega sitting at a table against the wall. He was smirking.
“Cherry, huh? Color me surprised. I’d have figured you for a peach kind of guy, myself.”
Chapter 4: London
What will come to known as the shortest drabble I have ever written... But oh well.
It’s a breath or a sigh or a whisper. It’s an unspoken promise to make it through whatever is speeding towards them. The regs are forgotten, the ranks dissolved. They are two people hoping when there is no hope that they’ll live to see each other again. That’s what London is to them. It’s not just a battlefield. It’s not just the frontlines of the fight to save the galaxy. It’s a quiet corner in a city filled with explosions and shouting and death. It’s the touch of lips, the twine of fingers. It’s about reaching the end of the line and saying I will not surrender.
Chapter 5: The Ocean
Post ME3. Kaidan takes Shepard to the beach.
Kaidan drove her out of the city as soon as his leave was approved.
The old truck her father kept around had been loaned to him and when he pulled up to their house he didn’t bother shutting off the engine. He honked once and waited until she appeared in the doorway, her dark hair loose around her face, her eyes hidden behind sunglasses. It was a completely different look and he found he liked it. A lot.
She was smiling as she tossed their bags in the back and slid into the seat next to him.
He’d been meaning to do this for a while. Well, he’d been meaning to do a lot of things for a while. Back on the Normandy he and Shepard had talked about so many things, one of which was going to a beach. It had been lost among the concerns of the Reaper War but he had brought it up again last week. Shepard had looked at him with skepticism when he suggested it. She was picturing palm trees, books and crowds. He had something completely different in mind.
When the truck rolled to a stop Kaidan wasn’t watching the waves, he was watching Shepard. Her blue eyes widened and she was out the door before he could say a word. The wind whipped her hair into her face as she walked towards the water. The sea was angry and loud, the evergreens behind them were reflected in the wet pockets of sand. It was a grey day and the beach was empty but it was beautiful, perfect.
He caught up to her at the water’s edge and they stood barefoot letting the cold Pacific rush around their ankles, lapping at the jeans they had rolled up around their calves.
The woman beside him reminded him of the ocean. Both could seem so inviting but given the right conditions they could grow dangerous and deadly if you took their power for granted, even for a moment. They were wild and mysterious, as if they existed to protect some closely guarded secret; something worth discovering despite all their efforts to keep it from the seeker. They could draw you in, distract you, and send you off on a completely different course without realizing it.
And Shepard had done that to him. Five years ago Kaidan would never have imagined this moment but then she had come into his life and everything had changed. Every course he’d laid had been changed and he didn’t regret it for a second.
He had known this day was coming for a long, long time. Still as he dropped to his knee on the wet sand his heart was in his throat and he could see the surprise written on her face, the shock as she saw the ring in his hand.
Nervousness made his voice catch but almost before he could even finish asking she was tackling him to the sand, her arms around his neck, her smile evident in the curve of her lips against his.
Even though he could have guessed her answer, bet on it even, happiness and relief flooded through him when her voice tickled his ear.
Chapter 6: Tattoo
“N7, yeah…or you could get my name. Somewhere special.”
Vega was a tease so she never told him that she already had an N7 tattoo. She didn’t tell him because she didn’t want him to know that once she hadn’t been so different from him, not really. She had been head strong and impulsive. She had dashed in, guns blazing, not for glory but because she felt like she was born to do it; like it was the one thing she was good at. She didn’t tell him about the time in Rio when her and some of her old buddies went out, got drunk and got inked. She would save those revelations for another time.
Eventually she did get a tattoo of a name, though not in such a special place as Vega would have imagined.
She didn’t get it right then at some makeshift lean-to in the Citadel while the world went to hell around them but later, when her body had healed from the Reaper War and she wore an engagement band on her finger. It was after she had been discharged from the Alliance and yet not so long after she said goodbye to the bitterness that followed the decision by Alliance brass to retire her.
When she finally went Vega went with her. He stood at her shoulder as the gun buzzed and the sting of the needles drew more of her attention than it had when she was younger. When he saw it he teased her, saying it wasn’t his name but nodding in approval because he knew it was the right one. It was the one that would be associated with Shepard’s for as long as that ink showed on her skin…at least to those closest to them.
It was a little bit impulsive and more than a little crazy, but she liked it. It made her feel a bit like the daring Shepard of days long past. She didn’t mind the person she’d become; she was more than just Shepard now. People called her ‘hero’, or ‘legend’, or ‘veteran’. Her father called her ‘kiddo’ again. Kaidan called her ‘fiancée’. She was pretty damn sure she liked that best of all. Still sometimes it was nice to feel like the person she used to be, even if only for a moment.
And she was learning to love this new life, though it had admittedly taken some time. She loved that she and Kaidan had been together long enough to form habits. She loved how he laid his hand between her shoulder blades, his long fingers skimming the back of her neck when he returned from work. It was as much of a greeting as the whispered I’m home in her ear.
That’s why she’d gotten the tattoo there, somewhere special, where his hand always rested; where even when he was across the galaxy she could still feel his touch.
Chapter 7: Holding Hands
A prompt from the 30 Day OTP Challenge. I don't plan on doing these as a daily thing, more like when the mood strikes me since I should really be finishing up other things.
Nevertheless, here. Have a short drabble.
It wasn’t about being an anchor, even though it kind of was. It wasn’t about reminding the defender of the galaxy that they had one more person to protect, one more to be lost among billions if they weren’t careful enough, because the truth of it is that there are some people who could never be misplaced. They stand out no matter how much they try to blend in. No matter how much the hunch of their shoulders or shuffle of their feet could be mistaken for any one of the people around them.
No, it’s about making sure the person who always did the protecting was protected as well. It’s about realizing that the one who was so unique that you’d never think they’d get lost among the masses was the easiest to lose. They didn’t get lost in the way a child misplaces a favorite toy only to rediscover it at bedtime. It was more like the penny that faded into the depths of English Bay when you dropped it overboard just to watch it swirl into nothing. When it was gone there was no getting it back.
It was too easy to get lost beneath all the expectations. Labels were tossed around like dice at a casino full of gamblers with nothing left to lose. Hero. Savior. Defender. Murderer. Criminal. They were heavy things, those titles; even the good ones. They bowed backs and weighed down feet. They could suffocate someone who hadn’t spent their whole life learning how to breathe in spite of them. They could shackle ankles and imprison a person’s spirit as surely as the Alliance could jail an officer willing to make a hard call—an impossible call—even when it was the right one all the same.
That’s why it wasn’t meant to be an anchor, even when it was. It wasn’t to add to the burden, but to take from it; a gentle reminder that there was one less thing to worry about, one less thing to be pulled under by. It was the twine of one finger, then another. It was the gentlest of touches, the softest of promises—that even when the galaxy was falling down around them there would be someone there to save the hero like the hero was saving them.
Chapter 8: Pieces
Since I’ve really wanted to write lately but just haven’t been able to get anything finished I went with a writeworld prompt from Tumblr.
There's only so much a person can do to hold a galaxy together before she starts to come undone herself. There are only so many times an old soldier--one whose age is measured by the weight on her heart and not the years since her birth--can buckle down and give it their all. It's hard work. Tough on the body and damn near brutal on the soul.
And when that battle is done, when those proverbial walls have stood against the storm, what's left? What does that person do then, when everything that they were and everything they are doesn't feel like it's really theirs anymore? After the healing and learning to walk again. After the months of meetings with brass and having every action, every decision, called into question and scrutinized. After all that, what was left?
Doubts, even though the end goal was accomplished in the face of seemingly impossible odds. Pain, even though the bones had been set and prosthetic fitted. Fear, because she knows she’s just a broken soldier, a fragile pawn. It doesn’t matter that it’s a hero’s title she carries now.
That's what was left.
Those were tough things to live with, but she'd done it before and that had to be something. It had to be some testament to her courage and her will. To her ability to see things through to the end.
After all she was a soldier, through and through. This was just a different tactic, another way of knowing when to shoot and when to duck for cover. When to advance and when to retreat. It was about knowing that even though the clip was so close to overheated it shouldn’t last that she could squeeze out one more round. She could steal a deep breath, center herself, and put the pieces back together one more time.
Chapter 9: Maybe It's Not Enough
Taken from a prompt on Tumblr "Maybe it's not enough."
Not a particular pairing (though in the back of my mind perhaps it was femshep/liara once). And this is a different Shep from before. Colonist/Sole Survivor.
Loving Commander Shepard who’s fighting the Reapers, kicking ass and taking names isn’t the same as loving Commander Shepard who fought the Reapers, got her ass kicked, and feels more broken than triumphant. That kind of experience changes a person. Changes people. And you don’t realize it until it’s after the fact because you’ve been so damn focused on everything but yourself.
It leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth, ill-fitting pieces that just can’t be forced back together again. What was it Miranda had said? Even if we pull this off everything will be different.
She had been right.
Priorities change when the biggest threat to the galaxy isn’t synthetic life forms intent on wiping civilization off the map. People spend their time rebuilding instead of running, looking for food instead of ammo. Time feels like a precious commodity now. If you don’t keep your eye on it you’ll lose it. Or someone will steal it out from under you. Time is no longer there to be wasted. The Reapers had convinced the galaxy of that.
But that’s the funny thing about time. It’s not really there to lose. Time can be made, and it doesn’t take any expensive materials to do it. It just takes a willing heart.
If it’s important enough the time will be there; it will be found.
If it’s not? Well then people are just shit out of luck. Even beat up old soldiers that had given it all.
When it’s over, really over, things are different no matter how much time was spent wishing they weren’t. Sighs full of bottled-up fear and hopelessness were released. Families began rebuilding the shattered remnants of their pasts while figuring out their futures.
A once rogue C-Sec agent returned to the family that had survived the onslaught, ready to help a planet rebuild. A young quarian who had just been a kid on her pilgrimage at the start of the war rose up as an Admiral prepared to help her people settle on the home planet they had lost centuries ago. And friends who had seen it all together parted ways with a tense nod, because sometimes when the death of loved ones lay between two people even the best of friends have to find a way to accept it. Or not accept it. Only time would tell.
And lovers would find that love, despite the promise in all those poets’ prose and all those writers’ musings wasn’t always strong enough to withstand. Sometimes duty came first even when the opposite had been promised. Because loving someone in war time isn’t the same as loving them in peace time. Especially an old soldier with more war wounds than happy memories.
The Alliance had wanted her to come back to work. They’d give her all the time she needed to heal before they put her back in her blues. The galaxy needed her, they said. She could still do a world of good.
But she’d already done a world of good, and she’d come to realize that the galaxy would never stop needing someone. It didn’t have to be her. She was just convenient. Brass had taken her formal resignation like it was some kind of joke; like in a few months she’d realize that she was needed too much to walk away. That was fine with her. Let them think she was just going through a phase as she boarded a shuttle headed out to the Attican Traverse.
Away from everything she knew. Back to everything she had once known…a long time ago.
Time made many promises it had never intended to keep, and maybe eventually it would heal old wounds. Or maybe it was all a trick. A way to lure a person into believing things would get better.
Or maybe it was just about letting yourself believe.
Looking out over an old planet she hadn’t stepped foot on for decades, she thought maybe that wasn’t enough.
“There are no happy endings,” Shepard muttered to herself as she stepped off the transport.
“What was that?”
She shook her head at the lieutenant beside her, “Nothing, just… nothing.”Just an old soldier coming home.
He studied her for a moment too long before saluting her. “Welcome home to Mindoir, Commander.”
This planet hadn’t been home in a very long time, or maybe her coming back meant it had been even when she thought it hadn’t.
She heaved out a heavy sigh.
Time played cruel tricks indeed.
I saw this image prompt (http://writeworld.tumblr.com/post/38557131481/writers-block-a-picture-says-a-thousand-words) from writeworld on Tumblr and immediately my mind went to something like this. Depressing? Yes. And it took a lot longer than it should have for such a short drabble. Colonist/Sole Survivor Shepard, returned to Mindoir alone after the war.
It was that stupid hole in the fence that saved her in the end. The one her dad had been after her for days to fix. The one that was still there all these long years later.
The task had been hers to complete, and hers alone. The goats were her responsibility and the fence that had been damaged was part of their pasture. The goats are going to get out, her father warned her. She acted like she didn’t care. It could be attributed to that sense of entitlement teenagers have. That stubborn refusal to do anything their parents asked that didn’t benefit them outright. She’d always meant to get it done eventually, but never in the moment she was asked. I’ll get to it later, she always told him.
It was the one decision she regretted and was thankful for all at once.
The night had been dark, the new moon making the shadows deeper and more menacing. She had wanted to be snug in her bed but her father had given her an ultimatum—fix the fence by morning or be grounded for two weeks, and there was a cute boy in town that had her pulling on her boots and grabbing one of the power cells she’d need for the tools and the lantern.
She had whistled for the Bowser, the family dog, but the old hound had been asleep in front of the heater and had ignored her.
She was in the barn when she’d heard the first shot. It startled her, making her drop the lantern, which clattered against the stone floor and went out with a hiss. She heard Bowser bark once and then stop.
“Dad?” she called out, thinking it could have been a fuse blowing. The circuit breaker was out in the barn so she expected him out in just a moment to reset it.
The volley of shots that followed quickly banished that thought.
She still hears them just as she did that night, angry and violent bursts of sound followed by people screaming. People she knew. People she loved.
She could hear her brothers’ voices and she told herself they fell silent because they had found a place to hide. She heard her mother begging someone to stop. There was fear in her mother’s voice and that scared Shepard more than anything. Her mother wasn’t afraid of anything.
She never heard her father. Not once. Back then as a scared sixteen year old on Mindoir listening to her family get slaughtered she had wondered why. She had wondered how he would be silent through it all. It was only later that she would realize that very first shot had been for him.
When the blasts stopped the night grew so silent that she wasn’t sure this wasn’t anything but a bad dream.
You’ll wake up and you’ll be back in your bed. You’ll be grounded but this will all just be a bad dream.
Her feet moved of their own accord as she ghosted back towards the house in a daze. Yes, this had to just be a bad dream.
“Boss, there’s a third room. There’s another kid. A girl.” A grating voice had pulled her back to the present.
There were strange men in her house—strange men who would be looking for her.
Run. A voice whispered in her head. Run. Run! RUN!
So she had run though, even as she heard the crashes of her house being ransacked as they searched for her. Even as she heard the distant blasts and gunfire that told her what had happened to her family was happening to others.
She had run straight through the fields to that stupid hole in the fence and dove through it like a batter sliding into home plate. She tore her clothes and cut her side open, but in that moment, high on adrenaline and heart pounding with fear she hadn’t felt it.
The forest had stood before her, full of dangers her parents had always warned her against, but certain death had been nipping at her heels so she fled into their depths. The Alliance patrol that found her had had a medic with them, and she had been lucky. Infection had rendered her nearly unconscious and completely indefensible.
“She’s a survivor,” she heard them say through the fever.
“She must be a fighter to have escaped them. Poor kid has gone through a lot.”
But they had been wrong. She hadn’t been a fighter, and she wasn’t a kid anymore. Shepard had been a child when she’d gone out to the barn that night. By the time the sun capped the horizon the next morning she’d been an adult. She’d had to grow up in the blink of an eye. There was no one left to watch out for her but herself.
Maybe that’s why she joined the Alliance as soon as she’d turned eighteen. Life among their ranks wasn’t easy, but it provided her with a sense of family she’d missed desperately. After Mindoir she had been strict with herself. Strict about everything. She was at the top of her cadet class, and she expected more of herself than anyone else.
She’d sworn to herself that she’d never allow what happened on Mindoir to happen to her again, and she swore she’d never set foot on that planet again. But despite all of her planning, fate had had other plans.
Didn’t it always?
Akuze. Virmire. The Reaper War.
And fate brought her full circle. She was home on Mindoir, sitting next to the hole that had saved and changed her life in an instant, shedding tears that had been waiting a lifetime to fall.
Chapter 11: Ghosts on the Water
Writeworld Image Prompt: http://writeworld.tumblr.com/post/39053101971/writers-block-a-picture-says-a-thousand-words
Earthborn Shepard - Pre-ME. This is just a quick drabble based on that prompt. It stuck in my head after seeing the image. Also, a small homage to Dragon Age. :)
There were nights when the ships looked like ghosts on the water. When the fog rolled in and the lights from the tankers and the old, obscure fishing boats lit up the mist like a jack-o-lantern’s face. It flickered and danced along the metal railings and errant ripples like a living thing that could burn you alive if it touched you.
The city beyond, never dark even in the depths of the night, hid its decay well. The underworld was swept into the shadows, the lost children pillaging dumpsters and taking up arms in a desperate bid to survive lost among the shining towers and brilliant mansions. They were no concern to the wealthy, to the elite. And compared to them everyone was elite. They crept along the alleys and beneath the docks like the rats they fought with for scraps. They stowed away on boats or in airships when the weather got cold, or when desperation left them no alternatives.
Sometimes they’d disappear without a trace, swept off to places unknown. Maybe death took them, or a new life. They all hoped for that. A new life. A way out. Other times a body would be found, and even though the authorities spoke a word to them the news spread like wild fire anyway. Death from exposure, from malnutrition, from violence. They had seen it all despite their youth—seen more in their short span of years than most adults could fathom.
Darkness was their cover, danger a constant menace at their heels.
Except for one on those nights when the ships floated like dim beacons on the waves.
She was tiny, a girl of eight years, give or take. Her dark hair waved and fell over her thin shoulders as she darted between shadows to the end of an old pier where none now moored.
This was her place, her dock, where she came on nights like this. She left the others to their bickering, and fear, and death. She left them all just long enough to imagine this life had faded away.
“Tie up those lines!”
“Get that motor running or I’ll boot your ass outta here so fast you’ll never know what hit you!”
“Cast off the stern!”
She loved to hear the sailors yell at each other. She couldn’t see them, only hear them but she imagined what they looked like, what stories they might tell. She wondered what far off lands they’d been to and what things they had seen. If they’d had dolphins ride their bow or seen a sky so full of stars they stared in wonder at the sight.
In reality these men had never visited far off lands or taken a moment from securing the rigging or weighing anchor to take in the view but she didn’t need to know that. She thought her Grandma Bela would have loved to watch the ships. She had often spoken of other worlds full of pirates and magicians. She had woven stories of knights and fairytales. You’ll see places like those someday, she had whispered before she passed. Your destiny has always been written in the stars.
“One day,” she’d whisper to herself. “I will see those things. One day this life will fade away.”
She’d give up hope long before that day would come. She would dismiss it as a child’s delusion. But in the end Grandma Bela would be proven right; it would come.
And when it did it would bring with it things she had never imagined.