Atlas

Disclaimer: The game and the characters aren't mine, etc.

A/N: This takes place more or less immediately after the ending of ME2, so there's obviously going to be spoilers. This is also the first piece of fan fiction I've ever written, and English is my third language, so if there's some odd punctuation, strange choices of words or other weird...things, please point them out. I swear semicolons and commas are my two greatest nemeses (yes, I googled the plural). Anyways, all feedback is greatly appreciated.

Summary: Shepard and Miranda deal with the aftermath of ME2.


Commander Adrian Shepard.

He was many things. To the general public, he was an orphan after Batarian slavers attacked his homeworld of Mindoir, the fabled sole survivor of a thresher maw attack on Akuze back in 2177, the first human Spectre and the recently resurrected savior of the Citadel.

To the few people who actually knew him, he was also an inspirational leader, a brilliant tactician, an all-round good guy and a damn fine soldier. There was however one thing that he was hell-bent on keeping a secret from everyone.

He was really fucking tired.

As he saw the weary eyes of the scar-covered man staring back at him through the mirror, he wondered how no-one else seemed to notice this. Maybe they did, but didn't want to believe it. Better to believe in the facade of a stoic hero. Someone who had it all figured out, someone who never asked for much in return, someone who showed no fear even when faced with impossible odds. He was the one person who everyone in the galaxy seemed to look to for leadership, for protection. He had to be strong for them. No matter how tired, pissed off or utterly terrified he was at times.

Snapping out of his reverie and wrapping a towel around his waist, Shepard stepped out of the bathroom into the captain's cabin on the new and improved Normandy. Small luxuries like his own bathroom and being able to take hot showers were definitely among the upgrades that he appreciated the most on his new ship. Leaving a trail of water in his wake, he walked over to the couch while grabbing a glass off his desk and a bottle of the hardest liquor he had managed to find on Omega.

Pouring himself a glass, he unceremoniously let himself fall back onto the couch before downing the blue liquid in his glass in a single gulp. Just how did he manage to pull off saving the entire fucking galaxy twice and yet fail miserably in keeping his own crew, his family safe?

Jenkins? Dead.

Alenko? Dead.

Pressly? Dead.

Adams? Dead.

Now he could add almost the entire crew of the Normandy SR-2 to that list. There weren't even any bodies left that he could've given burials worthy of the unsung heroes that they were. The small ceremony with empty caskets that he'd held down in the cargo bay with the rest of the survivors hardly seemed enough.

Releasing a heavy sigh, the Commander slouched forward; resting his chin in his hands and staring intently at the liquor.

"Who needs a glass, anyway?" he muttered to himself before reaching for the bottle.

*****************

Shepard's alcohol-dulled senses barely registered the door to his cabin opening a few hours later.

"I know you said you wanted some time alone after the ceremony, but you've been up here for hours." Miranda Lawson spoke as she determinately walked through the room.

She was now wearing the casual shirt and pants that the entire crew were distributed when they came aboard the Normandy; her usual uniform was filled with holes, cuts and covered in blood following their assault on the Collectors. In her hands she held two tall glasses and what looked like bottle of wine.

"And I was thinking that we do have cause to celebrate, in spite of everything..." she trailed off as she reached the couch and saw the Commander's half-naked form.

He was staring off into the distance, lost somewhere deep in thought and she couldn't help but notice the very empty bottle on the table in front of him.

"I see you've started without me." Miranda stated, a hint of amusement seeping into her tone.

No reaction.

"Shepard?"

He finally snapped out of it and turned his head to face her.

"Huh?" Shepard absent-mindedly replied before turning his head back into its previous position.

"You ok?" Concern now flashed across Miranda's face.

Shepard turned his head back and really looked at her for the first time since she had entered the room. Meeting her gaze, he silently stared into her blue eyes for several moments; seemingly contemplating his answer. He broke eye contact and turned his attention back to the innocuous spot on the wall that seemed to fascinate him so. Several more moments of silence passed.

"No." He finally replied.

Miranda set the two glasses and the wine bottle down on the table as she sat down next to him.

"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked.

"Not really."

Miranda didn't really know what to make of the man sitting next to her. She'd never seen Shepard like this. She had expected to come up to his cabin, share a couple of glasses of the fine wine she'd been saving, tell some stories and laugh at a stupid joke or two. She just wanted to help ease the burden she knew he carried. The burden of every single life in the galaxy. Up until now, it was a burden he had carried exceptionally well. She had never even considered the possibility that anything would've been too much for the Commander Shepard to handle.

As Miranda tried to come up with something to say, Shepard spoke.

"So...how are you liking unemployment so far?"

She couldn't help but smile. Both at the question itself and at the fact that it was he who broke the uncomfortable silence. He, who moments earlier had seemed so utterly lost and isolated from everything around him, consumed by some untold dark musings.

"Honestly...it's not that bad. Besides, I have a feeling that I won't exactly have the time to get bored if I stick around keeping an eye on you." Miranda replied before the smile playing on her lips vanished. "I've spent my entire adult life working for Cerberus, and never once did I think that the things I did were anything other than good. Morally questionable at times, but I always believed that I was doing the right thing. Helping people."

She paused for a moment. "Looking back at those years now, I'm not so sure anymore. The fact that The Illusive Man wanted us to keep that base intact, to use it? Makes me wonder just what he's done with all the research I've carried out over the years, the intel I've procured..."

Shepard turned to face the former Cerberus Operative, taking her hand in his and gently stroking her knuckles with a calloused thumb in a reassuring gesture.

Taking a deep breath, Miranda continued. "At any rate, what the Collectors were doing on that base and that...thing we fought? Nobody should have that kind of technology. That kind of power. You made the right call."

Shepard withdrew his hand and turned away from her again, ignoring her puzzled look as he blankly stared straight ahead.

"What if he's right, Miranda?" Shepard said, and Miranda noticed a slight slurring in his speech for the first time.

"Who's right about what?"

"The Illusive Man. What if he's right about the Collector base? What if it held the key to defeating the Reapers and we destroyed it? What if all those people died for nothing?" Bitterness and anger now obvious in his tone as his jaw set in a tight line. Shepard blamed himself.

"He isn't. End of story." Miranda replied. "You've managed to save the galaxy from the Reapers twice, Shepard. Twice! You can do it again. We can do it again."

"What do I have to show for it? Saving the galaxy? Besides the people on this ship, nobody in the entire goddamn galaxy seems to believe that the Reapers even exist. They think Sovereign was just a single Geth ship, they think I'm crazy! The Council, The Alliance..." Shepard trailed off as he leaned back on the couch and ran his hands over his face.

"Shep-" Miranda started before she was cut off by the man sitting by her side.

"And the Quarians! Oh, the Quarians. They're too preoccupied with living in the past, fighting a war their ancestors started. I mean, who cares about the impending doom of the entire galaxy when you can keep sending your people to die in a pointless stalemate? Maybe I should just hire every fucking mercenary on Omega? That way I'd at least have people behind me that'd do what's necessary as long as they're paid. But it's not like it matters. They'll all die. Asari, Humans, Turians, Salarians, Quarians. Doesn't matter. They'll. All. Die." Shepard continued, his voice steadily rising until he practically shouted the last few words.

"No matter what I do, they always die." He concluded in a whisper.

A few seconds of silence passed, before Miranda reached out and firmly grasped one of Shepard's hands in both of her own.

"Shepard..." Miranda's voice was brimming with emotion. She desperately wanted to ease his pain.

"I can't do this shit anymore." Shepard's voice, still a barely audible whisper. "I can't keep burying people that were counting on me to save them. I can't keep giving eulogies to friends that I wasn't able to get to in time. I can't keep losing members of the closest thing I've had to a family since I was a kid." He paused.

"I can't lose you too, Miri." Not once did Shepard look at her during his confession.

Miranda closed what little distance remained between them until they were sitting hip to hip.

"Look at me, Shepard." She said.

He was unresponsive.

"Adrian, please look at me." Miranda tried again.

This got his attention. The last person he remembered to have had referred to him simply by his first name was his mother. Even his closest friends he'd had since always knew him simply as Shepard. His jaw slightly trembling, he turned to look at her. As their eyes met, Miranda's heart broke at the sight of the myriad of emotions displayed in his blue-grey orbs that shimmered with unshed tears. Fear. Confusion. Guilt. Anger. Love. He was once again the lost boy that had everything he knew torn away from him on Mindoir.

"You won't lose me. Ever." Miranda fiercely stated. "I promise."

She let go of Shepard's hand so she could bring one of her hands to rest on his scarred chest, right on top of his heart. Her other hand traveled upwards still, until it was tenderly caressing his heavily-stubbled cheek.

"It's just you and me in here, Adrian. It's ok, you can let go." She continued. "Let me help you with this. You can trust me. Let me in."

With that, Miranda leaned in to capture his lips in a soft, lingering kiss. The strong taste of alcohol blending with a taste she could only describe as him. She swore that through the warm skin and hard muscle she could feel his strong heart starting to beat faster beneath her hand. As she broke away after several moments, she searched his glistening eyes for signs of admittance.

He let the last remnants of his stoic facade crumble.

Shepard's face contorted into a grimace as he released his tears from their blue-grey prison. Miranda gently pulled him into a comforting embrace, and he desperately clung to her as if his life depended on it. She felt a couple of drops of moisture roll down her own cheeks, as well, as mighty, terrible sobs wracked his entire body. Years of anguish released.

As Miranda held him, whispering sweet nothings into his ear, she realized just how deeply her love for this man ran. The thought terrified her, but she knew she would have it no other way. Right now, he needed her and she swore to herself that she'd be there for him.

She'd be there to help him carry his burden.