She is a legend; a strong, capable, fearless warrior with a tongue of quicksilver and a spine made of steel. He is all the ideals of the Alliance forged into flesh and bone: loyal, chivalrous, sworn to protect the innocent and noble to the core. Or so they appear.

But there is a darkness to him, a raw, visceral pulse that he battles with every fiber of his being. His eyes harden, his hands twitch, blue fire dancing through his veins and rising with cloying sweetness to his tongue; dark, heady, tempting. But then he remembers her face, the dark, Turkish beauty of lifetimes past, and he swallows bile before forcing down the urge to let the sparks fly from his fingers and fill the air with his own rendition of Dante's haunting poetry. He plays the part of the perfect soldier, but only because he is terrified of the man he could so easily allow himself to become if he doesn't.

The fearless warrior cannot sleep without a light on, and wakes screaming and sobbing, blue eyes shadowed by the atrocities that no mortal should ever survive though witnessing (flesh melting off of bone, a mother reaching out a hand to murder her daughter in the mockery of a maternal caress). She is exhausted; all she wants is to sit in silence and have a chance to simply breathe, to lay down her weary head to rest. But the galaxy is splintered, fractured, perceives everything through broken lenses that are cracked and distorted by selfishness, greed, and hate. And so the weary woman takes up the mantle of the warrior, because she knows that without someone to unite it, the galaxy will continue to squabble and tumble its way down into the black hole of its own making.

To the members of the galaxy she has sworn to defend, she is a living legend, a savior, a being more suited to the pages of a tome of old than to the harsh realities of life. But they need hope, and she is a bright beacon of it, her destruction of sovereign and the resurrection of her body proclaiming that she alone can accomplish the impossible. In the soldier, they perceive the best of themselves: a shining example of unwavering loyalty, faith, and dedication. He is all that they want to be, and none of what they are.

To her crew, she is not a legend; she is mother, sister, battlemaster, friend. She raises their spirits when they are despondent, she cradles them in warmth when the icy tendrils of terror wind around their hearts. She is an ear, a shoulder, an embrace. She is their leader, their battle cry, the soul and lifeblood of their family, and they would die for her. Many already have. The wall that she often traces with calloused fingertips is testament to that. In their eyes, the soldier is not perfect; he is the prodigal son who cracked her strong façade and made their mother weep. But he is their brother in arms, their friend, and when he is near, the clouds lift from her haunted blue eyes and the sun shines through her smile. And so they love him. Love him but are leery all the same, watching and waiting, praying that he won't hurt her again.

In the soldier's eyes, she is simply Shepard. A woman. Not a legend, not a mother, not always a warrior. He has seen her break, has felt her thrash in the night and held her when her wrenching, gasping sobs wrack a form that is surprisingly slight when removed from the hard encasement of her armor. He has counted her scars, has traced the web of them with his lips, has reassured her when her eyes are hollow and her body drawn with exhaustion. He sees her for what she truly is- a fighter, charismatic and kind, tenacious and quick tempered, selfless and strong… She is everything and nothing, all that the galaxy makes her out to be yet little like anyone expects. Perfection that is not.

In her eyes, he is not perfect, nor is he prodigal. She has seen the darkness that pulses through his soul, as brushed against the scars on his heart with tentative tenderness. She has heard him mumble in his sleep, dark, tortured things that he would have never wanted her to know. But she has also seen his kindness; it is etched into the tender lines of his smile, in the softness of his hands against her skin, in the way he holds her when she feels as though she will shatter into a million fragments. She sees his lingering guilt over Horizon, knows that he would willingly give his life to prove his love for her. And he does love her, more than life, more than breath, more than God. He is unwaveringly loyal but conflicted, brave yet consumed by fear. He is simply Kaidan, and he is all that she has ever wanted.

So when she stands on the Crucible, the fate of the galaxy resting in her broken, bloody hands, he knows what the galaxy does not. He knows that she weeps as she makes her decision, that her hands tremble, that she cries out to the God she doesn't believe in at the injustice of it all. That salt and copper mix on her tongue as she breaks the only promise she has ever made to him because she is selfless, and she never has been capable of putting her own happiness before the greater good.

And as she agonizes over which choice to make, she knows that Kaidan will not be a part of the galaxy that she is sacrificing her life to save for much longer. Because he loves her with every ounce of his being, and because he won't survive the pain of his heart breaking for the second time. He'd lived without her once, and had sworn never to do so again. Whatever her decision, he will be with her in the end. He will be with her soon.

As the sky rains fire and twisted metal and death, the weary woman, the mother, the legend, makes her decision. And finally, finally, she lays down her aching warrior's bones to rest. And in the end, when her vision has gone dark and the fire in the sky has dimmed , she feels a ghost of his warmth against her cheek, lacing between her fractured fingers. She slips into his dark embrace, and she has everything she's ever wanted.