Butterflies


11/6/11: Edited, added about twice as much content to the beginning, for a more introspective look at Shepard. The "dead is a long time" phrase is from a story by WarlordFil. In which: Shep begins to deal with the fact that she has a crush on a certain turian team mate. Timeline: beginning of ME2 through before they board the Collector's ship the first time.


They bring her back from the dead, body soul and spirit intact as far as she can tell, and they drop her straight back into the fire.

Despite it all, the thoughts of how Cerberus had learned to raise someone from the dead, despite how god damned tired she was, how this new body seemed so vulnerable—the last time she'd felt this fragile, like a glass vessel webbed with cracks, she'd been a child hiding in a closet with her dad's pistol clutched in her sweaty hands, back in the nightmare that had ended her innocence on Mindoir—but despite the fact that somewhere along the line, all the glory had gone out of the fight and now she trudged on, now the long weary road stretched ahead of her ad infinitum in a duty that not even death could negate—despite this, she was grateful for her resurrection. For the chance to try again. To get things right this time.

Dead is a long time.

In the beginning, she is surrounded by psychotics and mercs and a Cerberus crew who are human enough on the outside but Shepard wonders how many of them chose to be here and how many had no choice at all. She wonders if they know who she really is—not the Spectre who saved the galaxy, but the young soldier who watched her entire team get ripped apart by thresher maws.

She doesn't care about any of these people and they don't care about her. It is only the job, the duty that she had sworn her life to fulfill.

And she'd satisfied that oath, but it hadn't been enough. Not content to let her rest quietly in her grave, the Universe had coughed her back up into the same hellish nightmare. Geth and Reapers and corruption everywhere she went. Was she Atlas, holding the whole galaxy up on her reconstructed shoulders, or Sisyphus, forever doomed to push the boulder up the impossible hill?

Most days, she is both.

Alone at night, everything is dark around her. She lets her eyes half-close and she feels like she's drifting again, weightless and guilty and failing. She lays in her bed with the Normandy whispering around her and the viewport open above her head, assaulting her with a vision of the galaxy she is supposed to save. She looks inside for the fire of purpose that had once driven her, but it drowned in the vast, inky blackness of space and she knows she's never going to get it back.

The stars have never seemed so far away.

Maybe Cerberus didn't do as good a job as they thought. Part of her is still dead after all.

There is no question that she will fight. She could no more turn away from this than she could crawl back into her grave. That decision is who Shepard is. Duty. Discipline. Honor. The blood and bones of her identity.

Soldier: this is not her job, but her definition.

And yet.

In her former life, there had always been…well, a light at the end of the tunnel. A vague pipe-dream of happiness somewhere down the line, a blurry and indistinct idea of peace and warmth and home. Not that she could or would ever stop being a soldier—but she'd always thought…always…expected

…Something more.

That chance, that hope, was now frozen ash on a forgotten world in the wreckage of a derelict ship. She'd died. That was all you got. Even though she wasn't really dead anymore, there was nothing now but the crushing weight of duty.

Not one of those stars held anything for her. Not one of the countless legion of lives out there…

She'd died. They'd mourned her, and moved on. Two years was a long time. An impossible length of distance, an eternity between then and now. May as well have been two hundred years. At least then, the regrets burning inside her would have been…cleaner. Easier to bear.

Dead is a long time. In your heart, dead is forever.

And then, Omega. The end of all things, the ancient word meant in a long lost language. Fitting, she'd thought.

Archangel.

When he'd removed the helmet her heart gave a funny little lurch in her chest. He'd seemed—distant, unsure. Although it was clear that the two years had put new scars on him, he welcomed her without hesitation. He'd changed, but so had she. She hadn't been able to restrain her joy with him, grinning like a giddy child. She didn't, at first, question the depth of her feelings. He wasn't just a familiar face, this was Garrus, with whom she had been to hell and back—more than once.

The compass of her life, spinning out of control, now held true north once more.

Later, alone, she offered her story. That it had not, in fact, been some sort of undercover mission or subterfuge. That she really had died. He listened quietly, watching her with a predator's eyes, a new edge in his voice.

Standing there, pouring out her story—she holds nothing back, nothing censored, not worried about being judged or that he might think her stupid—it is not a decision she makes, merely something that happens and she realizes: she trusts him. This is what it feels like, to be around someone you fully trust. She had forgotten. Perhaps she had never known.

He looks at her with his head cocked like he can't quite figure out what's going on with her.

That's okay. She's not entirely sure either.

And then she dreams about him.

She wakes up abruptly in the middle of the night not long after they'd picked him up from Omega. She sits up and stares down at her hands, still half-dreaming enough that even though she knew they were hers she felt like they weren't. Not after what her unconscious mind had been doing with them. She crawls out of bed and takes a cool shower. Tries to go back to sleep and whether it is the darkness and the late hour combined with her own exhaustion or...something...else...she can't keep her mind from wandering back to the—events—of her dream.

What...what if...?

Even alone and in the darkened privacy of her room, her cheeks flush at the thought. She immediately has a dozen reasons why not and yet...she can't keep her mind from circling back—his eyes, turning to focus on her, what would it feel like to touch...?

She pulls the spare pillow over her face and presses down. Her heartbeat thunders in the muffled silence. Oh God. Oh God.

This is not her element. She doesn't know what to do with this and if it weren't so god damned important she wouldn't do anything at all.

But—dead is a long time. And she cannot put herself through it again, the weight of shame and failure, the bitter burning of regret.

She watches him on their missions, fantasizing about what if when her mind should be focused on wind sheer and projectile trajectory and how fast a krogan could run uphill over uneven ground. Thinking about him was not good for her. Was. Not.

But she watches him and wonders: could you kiss a turian? If you ran your fingertips over that thick plating, would he feel it? What would his skin taste like? If she bit him just there, at that spot under his jaw, high on his throat where the scales looked like soft leather—

And then he would turn and look at her and her cheeks would flush and she was so glad that her helmet hid her face.

What was he saying?

Oh. Right. The fight.

She was such an idiot.

Gunshots and ducking behind cover to avoid biotic discharge. Bloodshed and bullets and mission complete.

Shepard works up the nerve and asks Mordin to search her terminal for Cerberus bugs and is so glad she didn't chicken out of doing so when the former STG turns up a handful of odd little devices designed to record everything from her incoming and outgoing messages to how long she left the lights on in her quarters and what time she usually took a shower.

Goddamned Cerberus. There had to be a polite way to tell Miranda to back. The fuck. Off.

She wants to wait a few more days to work up the guts to actually run a search but she knows that Miranda will replace the bugs with better ones, and that if she wants her secret to stay a secret...

She takes a deep breath.

What she's thinking about...well, it's...it's physically possible. She knows that. Everyone knows that. But...was it...would it be...

...good?

And now here she was weeks later, double and triple checking the lock on her door before sitting down and swiveling both the screen and her chair so that she had her back to the wall. EDI had been shut out as well as Shepard could manage such a thing, which meant asking very nicely and hoping EDI's own morality would be enough for the AI to keep its word to honor her privacy.

Shepard opened the Extranet, bypassing her messages and pulling up a search engine. The cursor blinked in the search bar. She tapped her fingers on the desk and tried to think. Tried to ignore the fact that her palms were sweating and her heart was racing and she felt like a teenager sneaking her first glance of...of...

Well, honestly...

She sighed and gave up.

Turian/human porn.

The cursor blinked behind the words for another long moment and then she sighed again and steeled her spine and clicked enter.

1,390,000,000 results

With one finger on the key, leaning backward in her chair, Shepard scrolled through the results. She didn't necessarily want to watch anyof it...was there something here that was...a how-to text? Interspecies Sex for Dummies?

The problem was she wasn't even any good at intimate relationships with her own damned species. Christ.

This is a bad idea, this is such a bad idea, I can't believe I'm actually doing this.

Garrus would kill himself laughing if he could see her now.

The thought brought a small smile to her lips and she relaxed a bit. Yes. That's it. Don't let yourself think about all the horrible, awkwardness that could result if—things went wrong. Just...think about what you want. Why you want it.

So.

She cared about him. A lot.

She felt almost like she had back in her first days at the Academy when she'd had a horribly pitiful crush on her firearms instructor and she had worked so hard to hide her feelings. She was good at setting aside her feelings to get on with the mission.

Too good.

That was the whole reason she was sitting here, scrolling through an astronomical amount of links and not clicking on a damned one.

Coward, she thought to herself, and clicked the next link that came up.

FREE PORN FREE SEX VIDEO XXX FREE PICS FREE MOVIES TURIAN/HUMAN SEX INTERSPECIES SEX XXX

A wall of thumbnails below the site's banner featured...well, exactly what was advertised. She didn't even have to click on one—simply hovering her cursor over the picture resulted in a short preview of the...action.

She didn't know how one was supposed to feel when...one looked at...pornography. She'd glanced through the Extranet a couple of times in her younger days, and then she'd dated a couple of guys and found out that sex was just—sex. Nothing spectacular. Really. Nothing that she couldn't live without and, ah, take care of for herself. And who wanted the emotional headache that came with a relationship anyway? But then, she'd never been good at feelings when it came to herself and it was just so much easier to keep a cool, professional distance. Sure there were the occasional misunderstandings to deal with but she'd never really met someone that she...needed. That she cared enough about to work at the whole relationship deal.

You were only supposed to get one chance at life.

Shepard didn't want to go back to that lonely, duty-driven existence. The clarity of hindsight from beyond her own grave—how's that for a life lesson? Fighting—her duty as a soldier, as a Specter: this was the core of her identity. She had rushed headlong into proving her own worth to herself and although she'd succeeded beyond her wildest dreams she had never stopped to question: what for?

It was what Mordin said about the small picture. She couldn't really fight for the salvation of the countless lives in the galaxy. But she could, maybe, show one turian that life wasn't as unjust as he thought. That it was possible to achieve this crazy thing they'd set out to achieve and they could do it if—if only—

(if he believes in me like I believe in him)

She'd already died once. She'd already faced a lifetime of wrong decisions and wasted regrets.

She was not going to go through it again. Living her life in denial of her needs and wants hadn't accomplished anything. It hadn't made her a better soldier, it hadn't made a difference in her stupid feelings except that she was still lonely and still refusing to admit it. She didn't want that anymore.

She wanted Garrus.

Probably.

Okay, face facts here Shepard—looking up interspecies porn puts you a little past the realm of 'probably'.

He was her best friend. This maybe wasn't saying a whole lot because aside from the crew and a few contacts back in the Alliance, she didn't exactly have friends. Shepard wasn't a friend-making kind of person. She had charisma all right and she knew damn well how to read people and what to say to get them to do what she wanted and like it, damn it. This made her damned good at her job but it wasn't really conducive to establishing intimate relationships with someone.

With Garrus none of that seemed to matter somehow. Whether it was because he'd served with her before or...whatever...they just plain fit together. She trusted him in a way that she hadn't really trusted anyone since she'd lost her family on Mindoir. And she'd never really decided to let him in. It had just kind of happened somehow. He was always there, he always had her back. Half the time she didn't even need to tell him what was needed, they fought so well together that it was scary sometimes. She just knew he'd be where she needed him.

He never crowded her boundaries the way Alenko and Liara had back in the day, or the way Jacob did now. He never made her feel uncomfortable or awkward—well, unless he was picking on her, but then she'd almost certainty done something to deserve it and—to be fair she was the one crowding his boundaries these days and she'd gotten more than a few measuring looks from him—but—but that was right...wasn't it? When you were flirting with someone? You pushed a little to let them know you were...interested...

Oh, Shepard, you've got it bad.

And now all she's accomplished is to work herself up into an even greater state of nervousness. Sitting here alone in her darkened quarters, with the fish tank and the garish neon colors from the porno site flickering over her. Approaching this with all the wrong feelings, trying to stay detached and utterly failing, trying to keep her cool and not even coming close.

But at least she was trying. This life wouldn't be a waste.

And as difficult as this was, Garrus was worth it.

Shut up. Stop being such a prude. It's just—naked people, for Christ's sake.

She tapped the key lightly with her finger. It wasn't just the nakedness and her own uncomfortable, fumbling attempts at researching this. It was the this that she was researching. It was the fact that once she stepped through this door she wouldn't be able to pretend anymore that she had just missed a familiar face or that it was just a misplaced crush or whatever it was she told herself when she wanted that damned inner voice to shut up about what the rough skin of his palms would feel like running up the flat plane of her stomach, or when he opened his mouth and said something so incredibly out of place that while everyone else was groaning and laughing and he himself blushed bright blue she wanted so badly to lean in and kiss his cheek because he was so. Damn. Cute.

Shepard leaned forward until her head hit the desk.

Dealing with her emotions was not her forte. Not anywhere close. And now she found herself in this wonderfully awkward position looking up alien porn so that she could proposition the one person in this galaxy she really respected. And she didn't know how to find out if he would even consider—what she was thinking about, let alone...have a...meaningful relationship with her. Or what the consequences would be if she spoke up and he rejected her. Or what would happen to the friendship that she had come to rely on so much if things fell apart.

Her heart hammered in her chest in a way that had nothing to do with lust.

I'm scared.

Okay. So what? She frowned at herself, clenching her fists and trying to boost her own courage.

This is no different than fighting geth or mercs. I just need to rush in and blow everything to hell.

Wait.

Bad metaphor.

And now her thoughts had gone in that inevitable direction and her cheeks burned.

Christ, I'm bad at this.

Every time she started seriously dealing with her feelings, her well-trained defenses stepped in and changed the subject and derailed her whole thought process.

Easy answer then. Stop thinking about it, just do it, soldier.

Right.

She sat up and clicked the first vid on the screen.