A/N: Title of this chapter comes from StarGate: Atlantis, which belongs to MGM.
Shepard was standing in the bathroom, eyes closed and arms limp at her sides. Hot streams of water from the shower were running down her body, blocking thoughts and unwanted feelings.
They were gone. Her crew, her friends. All gone.
Just because she agreed to leave. Now she had the ship without crew, controlled by the unshackled AI of which most programs were based on Sovereign's software, the stressed pilot with broken bones, who was being kept aware only by painkillers, and only few hours of life left. Of course she was announcing that she was going through the Omega 4 relay with the intention of coming back to tell everyone what was behind it, but deep inside her soul, in a dark place no-one could look at, she had no illusions about the chances of survival.
Those were slim.
And yet it wasn't the worst thing. The worst was the awareness that she failed her crew when they needed her more than ever. And it hurt like hell, because the captain should never fail – unless he or she wasn't worth of keeping that title. Apparently, she wasn't.
Jane gritted her teeth and punched the wall forcefully. Blood from her knuckles merged with water and pain cleared her mind from all thoughts. Not for long, though.
She muttered a curse under her breath and turned the shower off. There was no point in depleting water supplies, even if no-one was going to need them anymore. Then she was standing there a long while, before her mind finally forced her to get dressed.
A little girl runs through the corridors of SSV Einstein with her arms spread and a model of a ship in each hand. The girl is small and thin, a ponytail is jumping funny at the back of her head. Her eyes are pools of brown light, big and shining, and making people smile.
Look at her and do it well.
"Wrooooom!" the girl screams as she runs. "Citadel control, Alliance ships are requesting permission to dock, get that turian fleet out of our way!"
Alice Dean, the navigator, takes a step and catches the girl. She gives a surprised squeak, then bursts out laughing.
"Hello, little general" Alice giggles. "Where are you running so fast?"
"To the Citadel" the girl shows her the models she's holding. "And the turian fleet doesn't want to move aside. I'm gonna kick their asses!"
The navigator lets the girl stand on her feet. "I hope you know we're no longer at war, don't you, little general? And who taught you that word, by the way?"
"I know" the girl stares at her, blinking. "But Mister engineer said doesn't matter, because the turians are just waiting to kick our asses, so we have to kick their asses first."
Alice realises that the girl became quite fond of this expression and shakes her head. She scowls and crouches in front of her to look the girl in the eyes. "Listen, there was time when people like me, who had a different colour of their skin were also considered to be worse than others. There was no reason for that. Just like there's no reason to think that the turians are worse than us. They're not. They're not better too. They're just different. And thank the universe for that, because the galaxy inhabited only by humans would be endlessly boring. Don't you think?"
"But the turians hate us."
"No. The older ones may not like us, and that's understandable. But the younger ones... and the kids, like you... they should be free of the menace of the war. It's up to your generation to find out what our races will do. Unity is strength. Remember this, Jane Shepard. If you ever find a turian friend, think about my words. Don't waste your time on pointless hate without reason. And hating someone just because they're of a different race is pointless."
The girl is looking at her, solemn, drinking in Alice's speech. She may be young, but she's not stupid. Quite the opposite – she's really smart for her age. Maybe because of being raised in space, on one ship or another. Or maybe because there aren't many children around here, so she talks only with adults. But it doesn't really matter – the point is that Alice Dean knows her speech wasn't pointless and unheard, and now she understands why children of soldiers are considered to be the future of the Alliance.
"Hey, I brought wine... Best I could afford on a vigilante's salary."
Shepard smiled, when she saw Garrus standing by the door. It was a faint and forced smile, the only one she could give him right now, but a smile nevertheless.
"So... if you were a turian, I'd be complimenting your waits, or your fringe, so your... uh... hair looks good and your waist is... very supportive."
She tilted her head, surprised. Why did he become so nervous? Back there on Omega – what was few hours ago, but seemed like an eternity – he was confident and happy. Maybe that was it – the time. Time giving just another moment to reconsider. Time allowing the second thoughts to emerge and torment, and thwart, and maul. Time telling how crazy that whole idea was.
Of course, she had her doubts too, that was nothing weird. But the time for consideration had passed, at least for her. There was no way back – if she decided to reject him, it would crush him, and losing him was not an option.
She just wouldn't – couldn't – do that to him. Not now. Not ever.
"Come on, Garrus" she took a step closer. "We've already been through the foreplay. Why so hesitant now?"
Don't tell you've changed your mind.
He fixed his eyes on the floor. She knew his body language well enough to recognise that he wasn't about to do something unpleasant either for her, or for himself. He was just anxious. Expecting rejection, perhaps? Could be anything, but for some reason she was sure that he wasn't going to tell her 'Let's forget about the issue, I don't want to ruin our friendship'.
"I just... I've seen so many things go wrong, Shepard. My work at C-Sec, what happened with Sidonis..."
Her smile disappeared as if blown off by the wind. When was the last time he admitted that something was wrong with his life? Two years ago, that's for sure. New Garrus – Archangel – was avoiding talking about his life at all cost. In fact, they were both fighting their inner demons to conquer their fears and at least try to act like they had been acting before she died. But maybe that was a mistake; maybe they had to give up and find a way to leave the hell of the previous two years behind their backs and create a new life. Maybe together it would be better.
"I want something to go right" Garrus shook his head helplessly, his voice full of desperation. "Just once. Just..."
Jane touched his scarred cheek, causing the turian to inhale a shuddering breath. He lowered his head; she mimicked his gesture and their foreheads touched. She still didn't manage to grasp the meaning of this turian display of affection, there was something that was slipping between her fingers when she was trying to determine the importance of 'forehead-to-forehead'. Right now she was sure of one thing.
No rejection. No leaving. Not now.
Garrus wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close, and she allowed herself to drown in the heat of his body. She allowed herself to stop thinking about the Collectors and the Reapers. To forget about the world. Just once.
"Is this wine by any chance one of those miracles of modern science that allows it to be safe for both of us?" she asked after a while. Garrus straightened himself, took her hand and guided her to the couch.
"Yes" he answered. "That's why I bought only one bottle. It's horribly expensive."
Shepard took the glasses and held them when he was pouring the liquid. "Thank you for the thought, but you didn't have to buy it."
"I wanted to."
She smiled and tasted the wine. It was strangely sweet and had a flavour she couldn't recognise, but it was good. She raised the glass and looked at the turian. "To us, then."
He clinked his glass against hers. "To us."
There was a moment of comfortable silence, when she could just lean against side, drink the wine and enjoy the moment. She could be Jane, a woman, a person. Not the Commander Shepard, the Butcher of Torfan and the Saviour of the Galaxy. Those were only masks she was putting on while leaving her quarters.
"Jane?" Garrus's voice was a gentle murmur caressing her senses.
"May I ask you something?"
He cleared his throat. "Jane, why... Why me?"
She sat upright and looked at him. "Why are you asking that?"
"Well, you could have every male from the crew" he shrugged. "From the team as well. The only thing Thane's talking about is how siha keeps coming to him to have conversations. Jacob continues asking me if I know how to pick you up. When I say it's difficult and you tend to keep men at a distance, he's grinning and saying something about 'the priiiize'."
Shepard imagined Taylor telling that and snickered. She just couldn't help it.
"Or Joker, who's so damn proud of himself that you ended up in his bed, when you were so drunk that you couldn't find a way to your own room. And I don't know if I'm supposed to laugh at them and announce that you're mine, or announce that you're mine and kill them all for their disrespect towards their bonded commanding officer."
She tilted her head. "So I'm 'yours' now? That's new."
His mandibles were quivering as he averted his gaze. "It's just a figure of speech, Commander."
Back to 'Commander'. He's nervous. Ease up, Jane.
"I'd like to think that it'll be true someday."
Her instinct ordered her to run. She resisted. She had read about the turians' tendency towards possessiveness. They could work this out if necessary, but later. Teaching Garrus how humans were handling their relationships was not on today's agenda.
"Unless you go too far, I'm okay with that" she assured him and chuckled. "So they're asking you for help, thinking that you're just my best friend. How ironic."
Was she really so blind that she didn't notice things she should have? That was disturbing. Hadn't she been so tired...
"So, why me?"
Shepard took his hand. "Garrus, you should know."
"I know I'm your best friend, but that doesn't create a working relationship."
"I know you won't leave me. I know you won't hurt me. I trust you with my life. If that's not enough, I just don't know what else is required to create 'a working relationship'."
He squeezed her hand and his eyes found her gaze. "What about love, Jane?"
"We're both too old to believe that love's a solution and an excuse for everything, don't you think, Garrus? I'm on a good way to fall in love with you someday, but now I trust you and that's more important to me than a blind infatuation. Does it bother you?"
"No" he flared his mandibles in a smile. "Because I didn't reach the love stage myself yet. We'll have plenty of time to learn how to love each other, if you don't run away from me."
Jane scowled, but didn't deny it. He knew her too well.
"I'll try, Garrus" she promised and he nuzzled her neck.
"I know" he whispered into her hair and looked at her, so she could see playful sparks dancing in his blue eyes which became so dear to her. "Let's finish what we started, shall we?"
A woman that was once girl lies on a double bed, with her lips curved in a smile and hands caressing her lover's neck. Her brown eyes are closed; eyes that usually make people look away in fear, or at least uncertainty. Brown eyes that used to shine with the reflected light, but now are creating the glow themselves, red glimpses of cybernetic implants installed there to allow the woman to see again. The light skin of her face and the left side of her torso is criss-crossed by scars, also revealing red, glowing cybernetics. She doesn't care about them; truth to be told, she has already forgotten and now remembers only when she looks in the mirror.
There's a turian too, snuggled up against the woman, exploring her body and whispering something into her ear. His skin is brown and his plates and small scales are silver, reflecting the light just like the woman's eyes so long ago. Jagged scar marks the right side of his face and neck, but he doesn't seem to care. There's no reason to care about something that can't be undone. Two long years ago, he's been wondering what it would be like to hold her, caress her and love her, to make her his. Now he can experience this and it's better than dreams, better than impossible hopes. He buries his face in her hair, inhales the scent of her skin and suddenly he knows that there won't be any other woman, never, only this human who looks so fragile and vulnerable compared to himself.
Look at them, the woman and the turian, and do it well.
Look at them, when the turian gives up on efforts to control desire boiling in his blood, and enters the woman's body in the most intimate way. When he's fucking her, loving her, making her his and giving himself to her. Look at them, when the woman pulls him even closer, accepting what he's offering to her and doing the same, merging their bodies and souls. When she sinks her teeth in his neck in an atavistic impulse; it's the only thing she can do, because at this one precious moment she has lost her ability to speak, to scream, even to breathe and think. When she finally collapses onto her back as the fire burning in her nerves subsides, when she pants, clinging to her turian lover as tightly as he clings to her.
Look at them, the woman and the turian, because despite they know all too well about the hell that awaits them, they've just found their own part of heaven, a little piece of eternity that it's theirs and theirs only. Look at them and let them be, let them pretend it would last forever.
Because this forever is very much theirs too.
Author's note, the final one: I had other plans for this chapter – I've even started writing that first version; only the first paragraph survived and you've just read it a while ago since it's the same first paragraph I used here – but my writer's instincts bent me to their will. For good or for bad, I can't say. All I can say is: it's done. Not many details, I know, but I wanted to write something different than all those stories about 'what happened before the Omega 4 relay and after Bioware gave a forehead-to-forehead to us'. And you know, describing only sex and nothing more isn't really challenging.
So here I'd like to thank those of you who decided to give my story a chance and were stuck with me till this very end. All of you who read, added the story to alert list and reviewed it – I owe you an astral beer.