“And then Lola just smashed the damn Husk straight in the face. Swear it does things to me hearing her scream like that, God damn.” James’ chuckle drifted through as Garrus exited the lift onto the crew deck. A few other voices joined in before another piped up.
“Is that her name? Lola?” Tali asked, her accent distinctive among the humans.
“What? Nah, ‘s just what I call her”
“Yeah Tali, didn’t you know? Her first name is Commander.” Joker piped up, totally earnest for a full five seconds until he laughed.
“That’s not true.” Tali huffed. “What is it really?”
“You don’t know?”
“Can’t say I’ve ever heard her say it. ‘S why I gave her the nickname. Joker, you’ve been with her forever, what is it?”
“Of course I know, it’s… actually… she’s just down on the ship manifest as ‘Commander Shepard.’”
“What, seriously? That’s ridiculous.”
“No it’s true, I swear.”
James lifted an arm in a casual wave as Garrus rounded the corner, then sat up a little straighter. “Wait a minute. Hey, Blue, you’re dating her so you must know, what’s the Commander’s first name?”
He opened his mouth automatically to reply, expecting the knowledge to just bubble up from his subconscious like everything he was sure of, but his brain stalled. His mandibles flared and he had to duck his head and rub the back of his neck self-consciously as he
Tali stare at him in shock.
“You don’t know either.” she said, awed. “How?”
“She never told me.” He realised. “She’s just always been Shepard.”
“Damn. I knew Turians were pretty formal but I didn’t realise you guys were that formal.”
“Shut up Joker.” Her felt his faceplates heat and resisted the urge to flare his crest up at the pilot. Damnit, how did he not know ? How had he never thought to ask?
Why hadn’t she told him?
He excused himself to stunned silence that eventually dissolved into another topic of conversation as he walked away and holed himself up in the main battery, where he always went when he needed to think. He’d been pretty sure they were on the same page with this whole… thing, between them. They’d shared more than just physical intimacy; they’d bared their deepest fears and worries and insecurities to each other. How had he overlooked something as obvious and simple as her first name? Did she not trust him with that? It obviously wasn’t some weird human thing because the other humans had been just as surprised.
He was startled out of his thoughts by the door opening, but he recognised Shepard’s gait immediately and kept his cool until he heard it shut again and felt a forehead collide gently with the back of his armour. “Tough mission?” He asked, his voice pitched low because he knew she liked the rumble of his subharmonics. He felt the weight against his back shift as she nodded and her arms came around his waist to give him a squeeze. She was strong despite her slim frame, and he tucked an arm over hers while he made a few final tweaks to the guns. She hated it when he made too much of a fuss, and he’d found it best to let her come around to telling him things in her own time. Maybe that was how he’d missed the name for so long…
“I’ll be okay.” She said, muffled because her face was still pressed against him. “Just a couple of close calls. Kaidan’s getting patched up right now, he’ll be okay too, especially with Chakwas looking after him.”
“He will.” He assured her, shifting away from the gun controls and back into her embrace, and he waited until her grip loosened a little before he turned around to hug her back. It was a practised dance by now, whenever it all got a little too much for either of them. “His head’s harder than mine, and he’s just as bad at ducking.”
He thought he spotted a tiny smile on the little of her face he could see, but it was hard to tell with the way she nestled her head into the crook of his neck. It always surprised him to realise how small she really was; on the battlefield or in the War Room she always seemed ten feet tall and made of iron, but here, just with him, she seemed to be able to be softer. He would always be grateful for that.
“Sorry.” She said eventually, as she always did in these moments.
“You’re only mortal, Shepard,” He assured her, as he always did. She smiled then, though it looked like an effort to do so. “Even if you’re apparently still hurling yourself at Husks with reckless abandon when I’m not around, according to James.”
“Oh… he told you.”
“Overheard him telling Tali and Joker. Think he’s got a thing for you. Might have to fight him.” His mandibles flared in a little smile and her tiny chuckle was the most beautiful thing he’d heard all day.
“Don’t do that. It’d be fun to watch, but whoever lost their ego would never recover.”
“Wow. Not even going to come down on my side?”
“The man’s a tank. I wouldn’t even bet on myself.” She said, shaking her head and freeing his waist from her grasp, though she didn’t back off at all or try to escape from his loose hold. He let out a long sigh as the tension eased from his body and leaned his face into her hair, breathing the faint smell of sweat and ozone that always lingered on her after missions.
He let the companionable silence stretch for a while as he tried to figure out how to broach his question. “Something else funny came up in that conversation.” He said, trying to play it casual.
“Yeah. Turns out none of them know what your first name is. They asked me, and I realised I’ve just been calling you Shepard this whole time. You must think I’m such an ass for that.”
Despite his light tone, he felt her tense in his arms and his heart sank. Maybe he shouldn’t have brought it up, maybe he should have left it for a time when she wasn’t tired and stressed. Oh Spirits, he was an asshole…
“Nah, I don’t think you’re an ass. I never told you. I’d be more weirded out if you did know.” She said. He couldn’t help but feel like she was bracing herself for something, and he let his hand caress her back gently, hoping to soothe. Let her say it in her own time, he thought, don’t push.
“You wanna know what it is, don’t you?”
“I don’t mind.” He said, “I just wondered if there was a reason…”
She sighed. “Not really. I just never felt like I needed to. Everybody calls me Shepard and I like it that way, it’s been like that since I enlisted.” She said, her shoulders drooping slightly in relief when he didn’t ask. She tucked a stray strand of hair back behind her ear and, when he didn’t press, she continued.
“I guess there is a reason. I’ve told you before about growing up in the gang. Back then, the only time anyone ever called me my first name was to try to assert dominance over me, surnames or nicknames were a mark of respect. And then when I enlisted nobody called me that and it was years until I heard it again, and when I did it just… didn’t feel like me any more. It was a name that belonged to a scared, alone little kid and… that’s just not me.” She shook her head. “It probably sounds really dumb.”
“I don’t think so. And I don’t think anyone here would think less of you for it” He assured her, tucking back that strand of hair that she’d shaken loose again. “We’ve all got things about our pasts we don’t like, and you don’t owe them that. You don’t even owe me that. Or anything, come to that.”
“Yeah, well. At least now you’re not gonna think it’s coz I don’t like you or something.” She tipped her head into his touch, relaxing.
“Nah, I’d never think that.” He said, as though he hadn’t been fretting irrationally about that very concept for the last couple of hours. The corner of her mouth twitched up into a smile and he knew that she’d seen right through him, and then she leaned up on her toes and kissed him gently on the mouth, and all seemed right in the galaxy for a moment.
She drew back, the smile turning wicked for a moment. “Well then, guess you won’t need to come up to my cabin after lights out so I can remind you just how much I like you.” She said, and he was unable to restrain the subvocal growl of arousal the words forced out of him. Damnit, why did she have to know exactly how to get his attention? She knew exactly what that sound meant, too, but before he could say anything else she was walking away with a confident sway of her hips that, while definitely put on, was certainly put on to taunt him.
“Fine” He called after her, “I’ll just stay here consumed with lust for the rest of the day.”
Her laugh made everything worth it, all the fretting and the awkwardness and the teasing he was bound to get from the others when he did finally emerge.
Later, much later, they lay together in the dark of Shepard’s cabin, watching the stars pass by through the skylight in a hazy blur of pleasure and satisfaction. She was a warm, relaxed weight in his arms, her head tucked under his chin and her torso curled around his cowl, just perfect to nuzzle his mandibles against her hair in a way they both found soothing. He felt her stir and loosened his grip for a moment. She didn’t get up though, just shifted to kiss him, and in a whisper against his mouth she uttered a word he had to strain to hear.
“Vera.” She breathed. “My name is Vera.”