This is her first nightmare.
She's never had dreams before. Everything the Shepard family does is shipshape and Bristol fashion. Neat. Efficient. Militaristic. They sleep because they have to.
In her first nightmare, the boy she failed is on fire. In her first nightmare, the expression in his young eyes is unreadable and frightening. In her first nightmare, there are shadows, and trees, and whispers, whispers, whispers.
Earth was supposed to be the safe place. No slavers or pirates, like in the colonies. No enemy ships and endless vacuum, like in space. Earth is burning. Her mother is probably dead, and all Shepard can think is that Captain Hannah Shepard must have died believing that her daughter was a disgrace. A murderer.
If she's the last Shepard, her dog tags will break her neck with the weight of what that means.
Shepard buries her face in her hands for a moment. She didn't bother to undress before she fell asleep—
(Can you really call it sleep when you wake feeling more tired than you were before? How does anyone bear dreaming?)
In any case, she didn't bother to undress before she fell asleep. She is dressed and ready to act in the uniform she wore to meet with the Council—
(The Council. What good are they? Why did she bother saving them all those months… years…? When did Sovereign attack the Citadel? Does it even matter? Shepard is tired of being told that humanity will have to fend for itself.)
She might as well be awake. There is so much work to do. She needs to talk to Joker about the approach to Palaven. There are questions to ask EDI about the Normandy's retrofits, like where her personal belongings went. She needs to talk to Vega about getting her hands on an assault rifle. There are questions to ask about the new shuttle, like who's the proper pilot.
What Shepard wants to do is go hide in the cargo bay. If she finds a small corner, draws her knees up to her chest, and rubs her eyes with her fists when she cries, her mother will come find her. The way she always does. 'Big Shepard' will stare down sternly at 'Baby Shepard,' before scooping her up with a sigh. The rest of the crew will think that Big Shepard is irritated with her little one, but on the walk back to their cabin, Big Shepard will sing under her breath to Baby Shepard in off-key tones that mean I love you. When Baby Shepard stops crying, she'll tell her mother who was mean to her, and Big Shepard will teach her how to protect herself. Then, they'll sleep without dreams.
There's a knock on the cabin door.
For a moment, Shepard thinks it must be Kaidan. He is always knocking on doors. Most soldiers prefer to barge in, or use an intercom, but Kaidan knocks. He's so old-fashioned. Does she think that's charming?
Then she remembers it can't be Kaidan. He's in a hospital on the Citadel. The Cerberus mech broke him into little bits.
Shepard squares her shoulders as she opens the door, ready to be tough.
It's only Liara. Shepard lets herself slouch. Liara's seen Shepard when the human was nothing more than meat and tubes. There's no need to hide.
"Hey. What's up, Liara?" She steps out into the alcove in front of the elevator. She doesn't want to stay in her cabin. What if it's something in there that caused the nightmares?
Liara says something about the Prothean device, or the turians. Something about information.
(How can she be working? When does Liara sleep? Does something keep her awake? Does she have nightmares? Or is she just that much better at focusing on saving the world that sleep doesn't matter anymore? Maybe it's not so mysterious. Maybe it's a difference in asari biology).
Oh. That last thing she said was a question. Shepard turns from where she's been leaning.
"Are you all right?" Liara repeats. She steps closer to Shepard. Shepard steps away. She is afraid to let Liara too close. What if these nightmares are something she can catch? The memory feels like a sickness.
"I didn't get what you'd call a good night's rest."
A line appears between Liara's eyes. Now Shepard has made her worry. "There is more to it than that," she insists. "What is really bothering you?" She steps closer to Shepard. Shepard stays still, hands twisting nervously.
Shepard forces herself to smile. No need to worry about her. Dreams fade, the way everything does. There are more important things that need attention than what is really bothering one foolish soldier. Nightmares are something children get, not adults. "How much time do you have?" she tries to dodge the question.
Liara crosses her arms. "As much time as you need me to have."
It's too hard to keep lying when faced with those concerned blue eyes. Shepard looks away. "When the Reapers hit… I could hear people screaming in the streets below me." She tries looking at Liara. "I left them all behind."
It occurs to Shepard that this actually is what's bothering her. That she didn't think to look for Big Shepard until the Normandy had already left Earth behind.
"You could not have stayed," Liara says gently. Pragmatically. "Right now, you need to be here, getting support for Earth." She reaches out slowly, as though Shepard might shy away, and touches the commander's arm. "You will get back there in time to help."
Shepard stops moving her own hands. Liara pulls away. Shepard instantly misses the reassuring contact. "I—" she begins.
The elevator beeps. Someone else is coming up. Shepard straightens her spine.
Time to wake up. The Reapers are here.