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All Whom Walk This Dark Path

Chapter Text

Victory flashed before Emilia's eyes, then pain. Then darkness. It was over. The Reapers would be no more. 

All of synthetic life was no more. 

Her eyes were covered in darkness when the pain hit her full force. It hit her strong and hard, forcing a cry from her already weak body. Shouldn't she be dead? Shouldn't it all be over? Where was the sea? Was the galaxy fucking her over in one, final, grand gesture? Is that what this was?

Emilia's body heaved and shuddered as her head tilted back, pressing against something hard and metal. Even if she thought she could open her eyes, she had them squeezed too tightly from the pain. Every nerve in her body was on fire and every muscle felt as if it was being torn into pieces.

A gentle hand pressed to the side of her face, warm and sweet, smelling of honey and oranges. It was familiar, but not what she expected. She took a few shaky breaths as she straightened herself up, afraid to open her eyes now.

"Margaret..?" Her mouth felt dry, the word forcing itself past her lips. Had she ever said the other woman's name since what happened on Akuze? 

Had she really let her just disappear into being a memory?

But that couldn't be. That memory was touching her face. If she opened her eyes, would she see those beautiful green ones staring back at her? Her heart raced, almost like someone had kicked it back into life. Oh, but it hurt. It raced and ached, hurting worse than the pain Margaret chased away.

"Open your eyes, silly." A gentle, scratchy voice teased. Emilia took a deep breath and held it before slowly opening her eyes. The last thing she had seen was that machine when she went to it, her condemning all synthetic life to destruction. An end to it all.

But this was not so blinding.

A beautiful night sky - No, a Mindoir night sky - that was alive with pretty stars she once only ever dreamed of reaching, and two, beautiful green eyes on a warm face, framed by thick, black curls. And that smile. A smile that never died and haunted her.

Emilia could not stop herself from taking Margaret's face in her hands and pulling into a kiss, her heart still aching and still racing, tears sliding down her cheeks. Her hands slipped so her arms wrapped around her neck, while Margaret's hands moved to her shoulders, neither pulling her closer nor pushing her away. Her lips still felt so smooth and soft, especially against her own chapped ones, and it felt right again. This woman the galaxy had ripped away from her, replaced with Thane-

Thane...

The sea.

Where was any of that?

Emilia broke the kiss and glanced down. It looked like they were sitting on the roof of one of the homes on Mindoir. Not surprising. When she was young, she did that often with her best friend.

"You cut your hair." Margaret whispered, pressing her lips to her cheek. "And all your old scars have been replaced with new ones..."

"Next you're going to say I got old." Emilia laughed a little, closing her eyes again. She missed Thane, but Margaret... Margaret was a yearning, a wanting she forgot she had. She loved Margaret, once. Before she ever got aboard the Normandy. Before Commander Shepard became a title to be feared and respected, depending on who you were.

"You did." Margaret chuckled. "And tired... I missed you so much, sunshine."

Sunshine. Hair like wheat, eyes like a clear sky. A guy from Earth said that to her once. From London, in fact. Did he make it out alive?

Margaret kissed her cheek again. And again. And again, before finally resting her head on her shoulder. They drifted off to silence together, Emilia's hands behind her neck, and Margaret's face buried against the crook of hers.

It was over. The war was over. The hell she walked was over. All the pain vanished, disappeared with this moment. It was done.

But then... Where were the ones she lost during the war? The people she had to apologize to? The ones she failed? Why had she been granted peace in death?

"You always worried about everything, everyone." Margaret said softly. Emilia closed her eyes. "No one was allowed to worry about you. Some things never change, do they? You're still so stubborn. You can't see when people love you, and how everyone's still going to worry about you."

"It wasn't their job to." She muttered, tilting her head back against the door to the roof. "I was their commander."

"And you still are." Margaret giggled as her hands moved to take her hair down from the ponytail it was in. "But you're still human, Emilia."

Emilia. Who was the last person to call her that? Even Anderson just called her Shepard. Never Emilia. That was her, right? That was her name, right?

"You never stayed in one place, either. What happened to moving to a quiet little colony some day?" She teased, kissing the side of her neck. Emilia bit her lip and resisted the urge to scream. Her whole chest hurt more than before.

"How could I without you?" She laughed a little, the sound strangled as it left her. Margaret was her world once. Her reason to live, to fight. Just like Thane.

"You stood on your own against those Threshers until help came. And Saren. And the Collectors. And the Reapers." Margaret scolded, tapping the hollow of her throat. "I think you could stand on your own living on a farm, Emilia."

"How do you know about all that..?" She asked as she shifted, opening her eyes and glancing down at her. She was met with a mass of black, tangled curls hiding the other's face. 

"I've watched you for so long, waited for you to come back. And when you did the first time, I knew it wouldn't be long." Cerberus. "You were happier after you died. Not at first, but... You were happier."

Emilia fell silent. She knew what Margaret meant. The worst part was how there was no pain or anger or bitterness in her voice. Just... Love. Affection. Happiness.

"With your friends at your side... You weren't afraid of anything." She whispered, shifting so she could look her in the eye. "Except the past."

"And the pain." Emilia commented. Margaret huffed, then pulled away and stood. Emilia immediately mourned her kiss, her presence, her warmth. Margaret, come back to me

Then Margaret held her hand out to help her up to her feet. She took it and felt that gentle hand pulled her up, then another hand move to the small of her back. And without so much as a word, only a wicked smile, Margaret began to dance with her atop the roof, under a starry sky.

#

“How’s our little miracle patient?” A nurse asked as she looked down at the bandaged up woman on the bed. She was unresponsive, eyes closed. Monitors beeped to show she was still alive, by some miracle or grace of whatever gods existed.

The nurse watched her for a few minutes, sorrow in her eyes. She reached down and touched the woman’s hand briefly.

“Don’t worry, honey… Once we get you I.D.ed… I’m sure you’re gonna have a whole buncha people here to see you.” A sad smile tugged at the nurse’s lips. “They’re gonna want you to wake up.”

Still there was no response. No change in the beeps or anything. It was as if she had never heard her.

The door opened, prompting the nurse to turn around. Another woman stepped into the room, dressed in blue and wearing a white coat. Her eyes were wide with shock.

“Sandra? You’re not going to believe who our little coma patient is…” She said in a hushed tone.

“Ma'am..?” Sandra looked back at the woman. She slid her hand back over and grasped the woman’s hand, offering a small smile before looking back at the doctor.

“Commander Emilia J. Shepard…” Sandra’s heart leaped into her throat. “The galaxy’s savior.”

Chapter Text

“Right this way, Dr. T'Soni…” A young woman dressed in blue scrubs said as she led them. Her hair, as Liara had been so kind to educate him on the proper terminology of humans, was a dark brown color and short. She seemed nervous, yet excited with an odd bounce in her step.

The woman stopped at a door with a small window to view inside. It was clinical and white from what he could see, with different machines and technology than what he had grown accustomed to. Once inside, he felt nearly blinded. He almost did not notice the body laying in the bed, hooked up to all those machines.

It looked wrong. While he had not known the Commander long, he knew her as a warrior. A hero is what they would call her in later generations of her species. No, not just her own. The galaxy over would likely call her such.

Even he might be convinced to call her that on occasion.

But this was not her. She lay there, looking frail, fragile and broken. Fresh bruises and lacerations marked her body, her skin marred by the blows she suffered. Half of her hair had been shaved off so the doctors could stitch up a wound there. She looked... 

Small.

"They should have let her die on the field." Javik said, his tone dark with resentment. The asari glared at him. "She would have died a proper death."

"She was still alive, Javik." She snapped at him. Her adoration of the Commander had always been apparent, but not as much as it was right now as the woman lay dying in front of them. "They can save her."

"Or they will fail." He said coldly. "It is a reality you must be ready to face."

She turned away from him and back to the ghost of the Commander.

Silence fell over them, interrupted only by the beep of the machines as the asari sat beside the woman and grasped her hand. There was no reaction in the Ghost, save for the steady rise and fall of her chest. How simple would it be for that to cease? For her pain to end?

But what if the asari was right? What if they saved her? The thought as... Comforting, he supposed. He could see why she took solace in it, but she must get a grasp on reality. She needed as much, to cushion the blow should the Commander pass on here in this cold room.

They remained there for some time, he was not quite sure how long, before the nurse returned to tell them visiting hours were over. Liara shot her a look, then got a defeated expression and pressed her lips to the Commander's forehead.

"I'll come back tomorrow. Please, wake up soon." She whispered before she pulled away. Javik watched her, then looked at the Commander. It felt... Improper to leave in complete silence.

"Thank you, Commander."

#

Margaret danced with her under the stars even as the world shifted, jolted into a place she recognized with much more ease. Ilos. The tomb on Ilos, filled with the long dead victims of the Reapers. Margaret released her as everything came into focus, then ran ahead.

"Margaret!" Emilia called as she raced after her. Black curls bounced and laughter filled the air, her body shivering like smoke. Then, like smoke, she vanished.

Emilia froze in place. She called out for her again and again, panic settling into her chest as she looked around. How was the right? Fair? She was dead, she should be allowed to spend the rest of eternity with her! Why was she not there anymore?

Was this her punishment..? Was this how the universe intended for her to pay for losing so many lives? A never ending torture?

She ran at first through the tomb, slowing after a while. She missed having Garrus and Liara with her here. Liara was so excited about Protheans once.

Time had changed them all. Her death had shattered them once, altering her friends into drastically different versions of themselves. How were they coping this time? Were they still in mourning?

A figure came into view over a hill. Too tall, too bulky to be Margaret. She reached for her gun only to find the rifle at her back was missing and the pistol at her side nonexistent. Damn it.

The figure turned to face her and the world flashed to the Collector Base. Her heart stopped in her chest, then it flashed back to Ilos. And in front of her stood the only Prothean any of them could ever meet. Pretentious, a bit of an ass, but their companion. He took orders well, after some coaxing.

She approached him, meeting him halfway. The ground was damp, slick. She didn't want to imagine why.

"Shepard," He began, holding his head high. Ever so proud. "You have done what we could not in my cycle."

She said nothing. They both knew what he meant, and how it must hurt. Humans survived. Protheans failed. He failed. But she was successful.

"I'm sorry your people couldn't have been saved, Javik." She said quietly. He stared at her, then looked up and past her, at the tombs. Did he know any of the people here? Were they friends? Family? Did he love any of them once?

"It was an honor to fight alongside you, Commander." He said as he watched the tombs. Was he waiting, perhaps? To see if any of them woke like he did?

You weren't afraid of anything. Except the past. 

Emilia watched him, then gently touched his arm.

"Come on." He looked at her, then slowly nodded. Where they would end up, she had no idea. But anywhere was better than lingering in past wounds.

 

Chapter Text

When the tomb disappeared, so did Javik. One moment they were just leaving it, and stepping onto the Presidium on the Citadel, then the next Javik was gone. Margaret had disappeared, too, so she was not nearly as surprised. Annoyed, maybe, but not surprised.

The Presidium was familiar and, for the most part, safe. Shore leave, for a time, had been kind here. It was beautiful, temperate, and relaxing. She once said she would love to set up an easel here and start painting whatever struck her, but that would be hard. She was, after all, a living legend. And people did not let legends have peace.

As she ventured through the Presidium, something caught her eye. Her heart stopped. Sitting on a bench, with Joker's head lazily pressed into her shoulder, was the body they had given to EDI. EDI. An AI. Synthetic life.

This was the afterlife, then. And now she was going to pay for her choice. Her choice had killed EDI, EDI and countless others. Maybe even organics that relied on synthetics for living.

Her legs felt heavy as she approached, her heart sinking into her stomach. If she was dead, why did she still feel it beating? Maybe the afterlife was just trying to simulate being alive, or it was just an impulse. Something she would continue to feel.

EDI's head tilted up to look at her. Guilt stabbed through her chest. Like Kai Leng's sword stabbed through-

Damn the memories. Damn this hell. Damn the fucking Reapers.

"Shepard." EDI's voice was devoid of emotion, but held that curiosity she always had. There was no hint that she might hate her. "You are scared."

"I destroyed you." Her voice hitched. There it was. Confession of guilt, of sins. Her heart leaped into her throat as EDI looked over at Joker.

"Do you regret your decision? Would you have changed it?" EDI asked. Emilia stared at her, unsure. Part of her wanted to say yes, but...

"I had to destroy the Reapers. What choice did I have?" She asked quietly, her hands shaking. This was like a bad trip.

"Then you have nothing to be afraid of, Shepard." Her voice was still mechanical, but she could hear a sense of humanity. "What you did saved all organic life. Saved... Jeff. You did what you thought was right."

But I had a choice. I could have saved you, too.

"Yeah..." She muttered, looking away. "I did what I thought was right."

EDI did not rise as the Presidium shivered and began to fade.

#

Sandra peeked back in on Shepard’s room. A man with brown hair and in desperate need of a shave sat at her bedside today. He had come in wearing a hat, but that was now on the bed and his hands gripped at the woman’s. He looked disheveled and scared, exhausted. She couldn't quite blame him, she supposed.

He was talking, but she couldn’t make out the words. His lips moved in a frantic manner and at best she caught “Please”. She could only imagine he was begging her to wake up. To survive.

After a few more moments, she heard him shout, then throw his arms and the bed and bury his face in them. His shoulders shook. Their patient made no response. No change.

There was never change.

When she came back an hour later to check on them, she found the man gripping Shepard’s hand again. Only this time, he was asleep. She didn’t have the heart to wake him, so she took one of the spare blankets and put it over his shoulders.

“Wake up, soon, Commander.” She said as she looked at the comatose woman. "Your friends miss you."

Chapter Text

“Right in here, Mr. Vega.” The small nurse said, offering him a sad smile as she held open the door. She looked over at the room, her expression distant. How long had she been watching over the commander?

James took his seat in the chair next to the commander's bed. It was jarring to see her laying in the bed like this. She was inspiring on the field, powerful and unstoppable. A one woman army.

Had someone finally beat that army?

He looked around the room. It looked like the hospital room of a very well loved person, but what stood out where the pictures people brought. There was a group shot of the crew from the first Normandy, and a few candid shots from her time in Cerberus. Then the group picture they had all taken at that party at her new place on the Citadel.

This wasn't right. Commander Shepard was an unstoppable force of nature and will. Strong, unrelenting. She got back up after anything, after everything. Why wasn't she getting up now?

His hands clenched against his knees as he watched her chest slowly rise and fall with every breath she took. This just wasn't right. Where was she? Where was Shepard?

“You’ve got a lotta people out here, lola.” He whispered at the still body that laid there in front of him. There was no response. Had anyone gotten a response from her? He knew a good portion of people came to see her already.

Tears filled his eyes, blurring his vision of her. He could hardly make out where they had shaved the side of her head to stitch up a wound until those tears finally spilled down his cheeks. The first thing he noticed about her was her hair. So bright and just... Yellow. There was no real way to describe it. And now a good portion of it was gone.

“Sorry I couldn’t come by sooner. N7 training and all…” It was a poor excuse, but it would have to suffice. He wasn’t about to say he was afraid of what he’d see. Not here, not now. She had to hear him, right? “Really sucks without you looking over me.”

Still nothing. His heart felt heavy in his chest.  Where was she? Why wasn't she saying anything? Why couldn't she just wake up?

"Damn it, ma'am..." His bowed his head, shoulders shaking ever so slightly. "You've gotta wake up. It... It really bites seeing you like this."

#

The Presidium vanished entirely with the cargo bay of the SR-2 replacing it. Fear and joy filled her chest all at once, heavy and airy. She was home; this was her ship, her home. But she was home in a land of dreams and chaos, in a land of memories distorted by some otherworldly force.

Each step she took echoed, bouncing off the metallic walls. It looked the same as it did during the war. Was the war still going on out there, somewhere? Did she lose?

Cortez was at his usual post and there were a few other soldiers, decked out in Alliance garb, loitering and chatting. Off to the side, she could hear James slamming his fists into his punching bag. Each punch was punctuated by a grunt or a groan, frustration evident in the sounds. Familiarity flooded her, accompanied by a memory. A smile tugged at her lips as she approached, pausing to watch his relentless assault.

“The bag’s a pretty poor choice in partner,” She teased. He looked up and for a moment, she could see pain flash behind his eyes. “How about some flesh and bone?”

"Alright, lola, let's dance." He said, flashing her the smallest grin she ever saw him with. She nodded and lead the way to a more open area, then brought her arms up to defend herself. James mirrored her, then took the first step and threw the first punch. She blocked and her arms ached from the pressure of impact. Maybe she wasn't dead.

But then... What was all of this?

She threw her weight into a well placed punch that connected with the side of his face. He staggered, rubbed his jaw and swung at her. She ducked and moved to the side, then swung again. He blocked. Each step taken was mirrored, each strike blocked or matched. Their fight really did seem more akin to some, strange, violent form of dancing. They moved as one without even trying.

Then the ship moaned and shook. Where the Alliance Blues had covered her body she now saw armor. It was light, no heavier than anything she'd worn before. In her hands, she held her rifle and beside her James barked orders and gave commands. Without questioning it, she ran ahead.

“James, you wanna fill me in?” She asked over the communicator system. Maybe these were memories. Or a hallucination. Or… There had to be some explanation. Maybe that’s what she was asking for.

Instead of the answer she got, she received updates on a battle she didn’t remember fighting. Names that meant nothing to her filled her head, but she stepped up. Enemies she recognized only as husks and Reaper forces on a field she didn't know flooded her vision. Afterlife or not, she refused to ever witness another Akuze.

Chapter Text

The mechanical scream of a Reaper made the whole world shiver and shake into darkness, until only a small path was illuminated. From chaos and warfare, Emilia found herself in deafening darkness, with the only sounds to accompany her were the creek of steal, her breathing and the heavy thud of her footsteps.

She had no inkling as to where James was this time, if he was even still with her. Had she already moved onto the next ghost sent to remind her of the past? Of the people she possibly damned?

The further she walked, the brighter things got until everything was painted in a dull orange glow and she found herself facing the Human Reaper from the Collector Base again, synthetic heart still in the decayed chest. She made sure the Base was destroyed, but this was a land of memories and suffering, whatever was going on, whatever level of hell she walked through, it was making sure she was disoriented.

“Commander.”

She knew that voice. Calm and stoic, almost as emotionless as a geth. The only hint of organic life was the smallest bit of warmth underneath the tone.

She turned to the sound of the voice and watched the Justicar approached, her gait smooth and fluid. She was graceful and powerful, a terror to behold if the Justicar did not consider her among the ranks of friend. Emilia took a deep breath and nodded to her when the asari stopped in front of her.

“Samara.” She said before looking back at the heart as it gave a mighty thud to signify it coming back to life. Samara put a hand on her shoulder.

“You have nothing to fear here, Commander.” She said. Emilia slowly nodded and relaxed. She always trusted her judgment. “You fought well and hard.”

“Was it enough?” Emilia asked in a hushed tone. The heart gave another shudder, then began to pound against the creaking ribs in front of them. It reminded her of the storms on Mindoir, how the thunder was fierce and strong and shook even the sturdiest of buildings.

“You have always asked that question. Have you ever been answered?” Not many knew about her doubts, but then again, of course Samara did. Her, Kasumi, EDI, and Thane were hard to keep secrets from. Liara, as well, after becoming the Shadow Broker.

“No. And I guess now is too late to start.” Emilia gave a short laugh, shouting to be heard over the heart beating in front of them.

“What makes you believe that, Commander?”

Commander.

Commander.

“My name is Emilia!”

#

Even in more restrained, somber settings, those of the Code walked with dedicated purpose. A fact emphasized by the sound of her heels clacking against the cold floor of the hospital. Many of the people there stared, some in awe and some in fear. Not many of them would ever see another like her, and none should want to.

But she was not there for the sake of the Code. She was there for a friend. She was there for Shepard.

The young nurse opened the door to Shepard room. It was largely in chaos, with a lone chair at the Commander’s bedside. Balloons, flowers and cards filled the room, crowding the small woman in the bed, covered by the pale linen of a thin blanket. Given the temperature of the room, it almost seemed she would need more.

Samara took her seat beside the bed and placed her hand on the back of Shepard’s, mindful of the IV and the other tubes plugged into her body. Her hand was cold to the touch and her chest shuddered with life. It was a terrible sight, if nothing else.

She chose not to speak. What words could she offer someone on the brink of death? A hero that had saved the galaxy, almost at the cost of her own life…

Samara closed her eyes and prayed to the Goddess that, if she felt it was time to take this woman, that there would be a hundred more like her to follow. And maybe that would come close to saving the galaxy.

Chapter Text

Each beep of the machines told Sandra her favorite patient was alive as she cared for her. The techs bathed her, made sure she was comfortable. A sick routine that was nothing, she was sure, compared to the days of being Commander Shepard.

As Sandra marked down on the chart in the room, she wondered what sort of person this hero was as she lay there, fighting a battle inside her own mind.

Everyone knew the stories of the great Commander. Sandra was in high school when Shepard became famous for surviving Akuze. She had served as an inspiration to a great many people that day. How do you live after something like that?

She looked over at her, at the memorial surrounding her. So many pictures and flowers. Someone even brought a stuffed red panda – apparently her favorite animal – and left it on the table for when she woke up. Letters, actual hand written letters, covered a whole wall. From her crew, from people thanking her. While her room had strict access, everyone knew now where she was.

“You should wake up soon.” Sandra said, offering her a smile. “Everyone is waiting.”

And for the first time in four months, Commander Emilia Shepard’s hand twitched.

#

Her voice echoed out and shattered the Human Reaper. With it, Samara vanished. Emilia dropped to her knees and held herself tight in the empty darkness. She didn’t want to be Commander anymore, she wanted to be a person again. A person didn’t have to be a martyr.

A person could have her happy reunion in the afterlife, couldn’t she?

Thick, grey smoke filled the void around her, only to dissipate and show her the Normandy again, the way Cerberus had designed it. Home, as loathe as she was to admit it right now. She was home and it brought tears to here eyes and another scream from her throat.

“Shepard-Commander.”

Emilia looked around, surrounded by the echo of Legion’s voice. Her heart throbbed in pain. Another one she failed. Another dead. How many died? How many died because of her?

“I’m sorry.” Emilia whimpered, curling in on herself. “I’m sorry I failed you.”

“You did not fail.” The geth’s words were bizarrely comforting , as mechanical as they sounded. “You succeeded in defeating the Reapers.”

She wanted to laugh. Cry. Scream. Her mind echoed the geth’s parting words, questioning if it had a soul. Back then, she could not have given an answer.

Emilia looked up, her eyes searching for the familiar bit of her armor it affixed to itself. Her biggest fan, and she caused it to die. But perhaps her answer here would mean something.

“You have a soul, Legion.” She whispered, watching as everything shivered. “And I couldn’t save you.”

Chapter Text

Emilia clasped her hands over her ears as the world shivered and spun, echoing screams and gunfire all around her. A new level of hell. Didn’t Dante’s Inferno list nine? Maybe that was his and his alone.

For her crimes, she would be trapped forever.

Silvers, blacks and blues spun until she saw browns and greens, pale beige and red. Everything came to a stop and set her amongst an army of fifty shadowed soldiers. Marines.

“Go, go, go! Get to cover!” A voice called out, crackling over her comm.  Her heart seized. She knew that voice; he had been the captain.

She looked around, her rifle heavy in her hands again. The ground shook, violent and hard, then burst open in front of her, throwing her back. A monster burst forth from the opening, all too familiar from too many encounters.

Though most of them had been here, on Akuze.

This one was worse, however. It watched her with noted curiosity. It leaned in, pincers clicking as it did. She could hear someone shout for her over the comm; Margaret, without a doubt. Emilia was frozen, however. This played out just like her memory.

The first time she’d witnessed a Thresher Maw in person had been on Akuze. Terror overcame her when one appeared in front of her then. Margaret saved her.

Margaret died for her.

Not again.

Tears burned her eyes as she aimed her rifle, then fired a concussive shot at the beast. It cried out and shuddered, then lunged for her. A guttural laugh split the air as several blasts fired into it. It retreated into the ground and Emilia turned to see a familiar figure running toward her. Tall and in silver armor, the krogan rushed toward her.

Grunt stopped at her side to help her to her feet, bright blue eyes shining.

“Battlemaster,” he said as he clasped her shoulder, hard. He seemed different from the Grunt she knew, more like Wrex. Was that the way she wanted him to be?

“You got here just in time.” Emilia brushed herself off and looked at the hole in the ground from the Thresher Maw. “It’s not gonna be easy.”

“I look forward to it.”

#

How could such a small nurse care for his Battlemaster in a place like this? How was Shepard expected to recover here? She needed to be elsewhere, she needed the doctor from the ship. Not whoever this small woman was in this place.

“Right in here, um… Grunt, was it?” The little nurse asked. He nodded, then pushed the door open and side-stepped inside. The doors in human hospitals were not accommodating for his kind.

In the room was a worse sight than the rest of the hospital.

This was not like his Battlemaster. To lay in bed when the galaxy needed her, to rest when there was still a fight. Shepard was strong and noble, with purpose. Shepard was someone worth following.

The woman in this bed, with yellow hair shaved on one side and covered with a black and red blanket, looked small and fragile. Weak, as she depended on the oxygen mask to help sustain her.

“Get up,” he said, his voice low as he stood by her bed. “Shepard, get up.”

There was no response, not even a beep from a monitor. She laid there, still and breathing. Something in his chest ached and he looked away. This was not Shepard.

He turned away and exited the room. The little nurse looked up at him, then bowed her head. He sneered at her.

“You should think before you lie, next time,” he growled. “That is not Shepard.”

Chapter Text

Jack watched the steady and slow rise and fall of the commander’s chest. Beeps echoed in the silence, constant, incessant. But they were proof she was alive in there.

Somewhere.

It was unnerving to see how the commander looked. Girl scout. Always doing the right thing.

And look where that fucking got her.

“You know if anyone needs a fucking nap, it’s you,” Jack muttered to the body in front of her. “But fuck, Shepard, don’t you think this is some shitty ass overkill?”

The beeps sped up and the body in front of her shuddered and thrashed. Jack ran to the door and threw it open, then shouted, “We need help in here, quick!”

The next half hour felt like a blur. She was shoved out of the room, forced to pace back and forth. Biotic energy crackled just under her skin and she wanted to scream, to throw something. They better not fucking let her die.

An hour went by before the mousy nurse approached her. She’d taken to sitting on the floor, knees drawn to her chest. She looked up to see the woman give her a tired, gentle smile and a nod.

Jack breathed a sigh of relief and tilted her head back against the wall.

“Knew you were tougher than that…”

#

Emilia collapsed to her knees, gripping her arm. Acid from the Thresher Maw ate away at her armor, burning her skin and creating sores that bled. Her muscles burned and her bones ached.

How had she survived the first time?

Grunt roared in pain somewhere to her left and the ground rumbled. A Thresher Maw burst from the ground in front of her and she closed her eyes. This would be it. She could end the nightmare.

Everything was silent and cold.

“The fuck you think you’re doing falling asleep on me?” A familiar voice snapped. “I don’t tolerate that shit with the kids, let alone you.”

It wasn’t over.

Would it ever be over?

“Just… Let me sleep,” Emilia mumbled, her head tilting back against the wall, legs splayed out in either direction. “I don’t want to be awake anymore.”

“Oh, boo fucking hoo, girl scout,” Jack snapped. An all too familiar sound filled the air and something hard and heavy smacked into the wall beside her head. She jumped. “You’ve got people fucking waiting on you.”

“Shit, Jack…” Emilia groaned. “I can’t… No, I won’t do this anymore.”

“What kind of fucking bullshit is that?” Jack asked. Her heavy boots slammed into the floor, louder and louder as she got closer. Her hand wrapped around her arm and she yanked her to her feet.

Emilia forced herself to open her eyes and gave Jack an empty stare.

“You’re fucking tougher than this, Shepard,” Jack snapped, shoving her back against the wall. “And you don’t want me to be the one to teach you that fucking lesson.”

“Yeah, I hear you’re a real hard ass in the classroom,” Emilia smirked. Jack stopped, then grinned and slammed her fist into her shoulder.

Despite the setting change and the scenario shift, it still hurt from the Thresher Maw attack and that just made it worse. She cringed, but smiled and clasped her hand with Jack’s.

“Thanks.”