Disclaimer: I own nothing. It all belongs to Bioware / EA.
"Only human" was an idiom Shepard had come to despise. Too often it was used as an excuse for failure, used to offer comfort in the face of some manner of shortcoming. To Shepard, it was an insult. Being only human meant she was inferior to other species that populated the galaxy, meant that she could not compare no matter how hard she tried to the aliens that surrounded her. She knew it wasn't true, knew that her efforts over the past few years had proved she was the equal of any individual of any species that she had ever encountered. She wasn't a fanatic advocate of humanity as Cerberus was; she was acutely aware of the deficiencies of her kind and was aware too that those deficiencies had earned them the hatred of more than one race. What she wanted was to be known as efficient, dependable, and adept at what she did—still human, yes, but a good human. Better than what the misconceptions of other species dictated she should be, more than what most aliens expected of her.
After the mission on Horizon, which she could not help but view as an utter failure, she'd been approached by one of Normandy's lieutenant's, a young man who had something important to say. "Commander," he'd said softly, after having drawn her into one of the isolated corners of the mess hall, "you did what you could. There was no way you could have stopped the Collectors from taking those colonists."
"Thank you, lieutenant," she had replied, massaging with one hand at her left temple, where a sharp, persistent pain was burgeoning into existence. She was tired, she was sore, she was sick at heart—even if what her crewman said was true, it didn't change the fact that she and her team had been the one and only hope the colonists had had.
And they'd failed.
"Nobody could have done anything more," the lieutenant continued. In his earnest desire to assuage her guilt he was beginning to repeat himself. "You—all of you—did the best you could. Don't let it eat at you, Commander. You're only human, after all."
The words stung, though that wasn't at all what he'd intended. She thanked him again, touching him on the shoulder as she walked past, wondering if she could make it up to her quarters before the dull, leaden ache that had settled within the pit of her stomach began to grow and overtake her. She skirted the tables full of crew members and made her way to the elevator, wanting only the solitude her cabin could offer. She changed her mind suddenly as the lift doors opened and Jacob stepped out, snapping out a sharp salute.
"Commander—" he started, but she shook her head and held up a hand to forestall him. She didn't wait to see his reaction. The awful hollowness within her had decided not to wait and she could feel it rising, a terrible, rolling rush of despair that would not be stemmed. She turned and continued on down the hall, towards the starboard observation lounge, knowing that its occupant Samara was at that very moment partaking of her evening meal, sitting on her own in the area Shepard had just left. The door opened and she took a deep breath before stepping over the threshold; as she heard the heavy steel slide shut behind her, all air left her in a choked and ragged sob.
Here, away from any others, the observation windows before her revealing a breathtaking expanse of space, she deflated. She stepped out of the doorway and leaned back until she felt the solidness of the wall against her spine and it was then her knees gave out, and she slid heavily to the floor.
Shepard was not the kind of woman that was often inclined to weep. It was rare that it happened; she could count on the fingers of one hand how many times she'd broken down this way over the past few years. But circumstances were different, now—she'd been dead for two years and had awoken as a rebuilt figurehead for an army she wasn't sure she wanted to lead. She was still reeling from the knowledge that she had been dead, still incapable of reconciling her past and former selves. She was to her very core insecure these days, uncertain, hesitant, wondering if the next action she took would be the same kind that the old Shepard would take, wondering if her doubts would be the thing to get either herself or her teammates killed. Given what had just occurred on Horizon, she found herself suddenly laid siege by the smothering, unstoppable waves of emotion she had been trying so hard to keep under control.
And so she cried, leaning her head back, hands curling into fists as she wrapped them tightly around her midsection, bringing her knees up to her chest. The tears came quickly, warm and heavy as they dripped down her face and she felt no shame as she often had in the past for allowing herself to slip into such an emotional state. She—the new Shepard—needed this release, if only this once. Rebuilt, reborn, uncertain of her own authenticity as a person, she needed to weep in order to feel human.
—You're only human—
The door beside her suddenly hissed open and she ducked her head, wiping swiftly at the moisture adorning her cheeks. She felt the presence at the entry hesitate briefly, felt it move closer, felt it drop low to the ground and she squeezed her eyes shut, wondering who among her crew it was to have found her at such a vulnerable time.
"Shepard," said a voice like warm silk over sand.
She could have ordered him away—wanted to, in fact, the words poised to tumble out her mouth. But she was belayed by his touch as his fingers ghosted against her cheek, moving down to cup her chin. She resisted his pull briefly, moving back, trying to hide her damp face and the still-flowing evidence of her break with her own internal faith. He was persistent, softly saying her name once more, and with a heavy, shuddering sigh she yielded to the gentle pressure of his hand. Feeling suddenly like a child she found she could not meet his eyes. This was not the example a commander should be setting for her crew, nor was it that image she wished to present to her newer recruits, like the one now crouched silently at her side. The old Shepard would have at least had the strength to make it to her privacy of her own quarters before collapsing into an emotional heap for all to see—
"This doesn't lessen who you are," Thane said.
Still unwilling to lift her eyes she closed them instead, making a sound that was something between a laugh and a sob. "It doesn't really fit with the bad-ass persona I'm trying to maintain, either."
"You're not at fault for the strength of your emotions. You're—"
"If you say 'only human' ", she interrupted in a voice that managed to convey a dire sense of warning despite the way it trembled, "I'll—"
"—doing what has to be done, Shepard," the drell continued smoothly as though she hadn't interjected, "and none of it is pleasant or easy. This task you're set upon will be a rough road and casualties along the way are both unfortunate and inevitable. You can only do what's within your power."
She found herself able to move then, lifting her eyes to meet the inky depths of his own. His fingers holding her chin loosened, fanning out and up over the line of her cheek, brushing an errant lock of hair back from her brow before sliding downwards. As his fingers curved lightly about the back of her neck, as his thumb brushed against the line of her jaw, he spoke again.
"I don't know you well. I am a relative newcomer to this ship and to your team. But I know enough about you, Shepard, to know that you'll carry the weight of this task alone, without complaint and that you'll suffer for it. You're suffering now," he said, and she felt the rough pad of his thumb graze her lower lip. "All of us, in this team you've built—we're here by choice. And by choice, I'm offering you my support. Not just in the choices you make and in the plans you design, but in helping you shoulder whatever burdens, whatever grief, whatever guilt that may arise."
Shepard found sudden difficulty in getting air to her lungs. She understood the gravity of everything Thane had said and the implications of everything he hadn't. The shame she'd felt upon his finding her here had faded, giving way to an amalgam of relief and trepidation and a shiver of uncertainty, because she had just been offered a lifeline, an intimate link from which to draw strength from during the trials that would come ahead by an individual she was still just beginning to know.
"I expect nothing in return, unless you wish to give it," Thane said, his voice a conundrum of soft and rough, his touch still warm against her skin. "Let me help you."
"Horizon ..." she started to say, but faltered and fell silent. A stray thought struck her, the image of a colonist frozen in terrifying still life by the power of the Collectors' seeker swarms.
"Shepard," Thane murmured. "Let it go."
And she did, bit by bit, as he pulled her carefully into an embrace that was meant more to comfort than anything else. She expected a sudden re-emergence of tears and the crippling sense of failure but found, unexpectedly, only a warm and enveloping sense of solace. Her forehead resting against Thane's shoulder, she allowed herself to drift for only a moment, knowing that all too soon time must snap back into its brisk flow and that she must then again take on the mantle of Commander Shepard. When finally she pulled away, it was with great reluctance. But Thane caught her by the arm as she made to stand and, startled, she turned her face to his.
The kiss was brief, a searing white-hot moment where the stars without swam and re-ordered themselves. His lips were as contradictory as his voice, rough and soft and so very capable of rendering her senseless. When he let her go abruptly she reeled; placing one hand upon the wall behind her she managed to anchor herself. She stared at him as she tried to place her thoughts into some semblance of order, noting that, for the first time since encountering him there was the faintest trace of a smile upon his lips.
"Whenever you need," he told her as he stood in an easy, effortless unfolding of limbs, "I am here."
"I ..." she started, but then paused and shook her head. Her answer instead became her own smile, full-blown and genuine. Shifting from her knees to a crouch, she rocked back on her heels and waved towards the door as a dismissal.
"Commander," the drell said, bowing his head and stepping from the room.
When Samara returned to the lounge from her meal, she found Shepard seated cross-legged on the floor before the observation window, a small smile still on her face.