Tali and Legion's names looked wrong on the memorial wall.
Shepard stared at them for what seemed like hours, silent, impassive. She studied the etching on the silvery nameplates, the laser-perfect engraved bends and curves in each letter. A mote of dust settled gently onto Tali's and she reached out to brush it away. Cold metal met her fingertips.
From the corner of her eye, she saw Garrus, walking toward the elevator. Upon seeing her there—still there, as he had tried coming this way before—he spared her a remotely sympathetic look before turning sharply toward the med bay. She didn't fault him for wanting his own time to be alone; to grieve; to avoid the heavy conversations revolving around the loss of teammates. They had both experienced it many times before, and would possibly experience it many times more. While thinking about Garrus and his undoubtedly similar struggles with the situation, Shepard did not take much notice of the elevator door opening and closing behind her. It had happened many times since she'd been here, each anonymous crewmembers leaving her respectfully and solemnly to her business.
Whoever emerged from the elevator lingered for many moments behind her, hovering near enough to her shoulder that she could feel their presence but far enough that she couldn't put an identity to them. She felt her body grow cold from a pervasive feeling of nakedness, a feeling that she credited to her absence of armor. Her head especially felt too light without the familiar weight of her visor, and without its helpful notifications and scrolling readouts, her senses seemed lamed.
She supposed this mystery person behind her was Liara, come to give her comfort or reassurance, but Liara typically didn't loiter for too long without making her presence known. It was also very possible that it was Kaidan. While he didn't understand her relationship to Legion, he had been teammates with Tali as well so long ago. Those years on the Normandy SR-1 seemed lost in her memories now, drowned by a swamp of nightmares and ill thoughts. She grimaced and looked at her feet. This action seemed to spur her visitor into motion, because they placed a hand lightly on her right bicep. The muscles there flinched under the touch, hypersensitive under too few layers of clothing.
You have been here for some time, Commander.
Javik's voice caused her only momentary pause. Of all people who could have been shadowing her, she had thought him to be the least likely. He'd been avoiding her since before the mission, and during it, they seemed to clash at every corner possible—sometimes literally. She had tucked any memory of the mission that wasn't Legion falling limp to the floor and Tali disappearing over the edge of a seaside cliff deep away, far down below those images that took precedence. But upon hearing Prothean, its rich, rolling tone guttural but gentle when covered with Javik's heavy accent and intonations, all else bubbled to the forefront. She saw him rushing toward her as she escaped from the Reaper's furious red beam, four bright, wide eyes reflecting Rannoch's sunset and its years of misery. She saw his hand outstretched, saw his weapons holstered at his back as his feet pounded the foreign soil, ridges at his throat pulsing as he panted. He reached for her, not his weapons; for her, not for cover. In that moment, when Shepard could feel heat from the monster at her heels burn into her back, Javik had only seen her.
"Yeah," was the only word she could force out.
His hand fell away, and almost immediately she wished for it to return, if only to feel the comfort of another's touch. Regardless, she stayed resolute, back turned and facing the memorial wall, the physical embodiment of the consequences of her decisions and actions. Their victory may have been pyrrhic, but she would not turn away.
Javik took two steps until he was by her side, standing to her right and staring at the memorial wall as a parallel to her. He still wore his armor, as he always did, but he had not cleaned or repaired it since they had returned from Rannoch. Shrapnel and heavy gunfire had pitted and burned it in places, and his cloth undersuit was ripped where it was exposed. She turned her head only slightly toward him to catch a glimpse of the side of his face. He held his head stiffly, regally, his eyes set on the wall, though she figured he probably knew she was looking him over. He had deep purplish rings around his eyes, and his lips seemed paler than usual. A cut caked with dried blood traced an angry red line from his high left cheekbone to his sharply curved jaw. She wanted to touch it, touch him, reassure her frothing insecurities that he was no phantom and had survived Rannoch just like her, but she reigned her desire and instead turned back to face the wall. "You should get that cleaned up," she said simply, voice somewhat hoarse.
His gaze flicked to her in response, head remaining still.
"On your cheek," she clarified.
He huffed, and the armor over his chest rattled. A clasp hung loose somewhere. "That isn't important."
She folded her arms, probably the first real movement she had performed in an hour. "You can't be too careful."
He did turn to her this time, and she could see a small chip on the heavy plate over his skull that she hadn't seen before. The mark was fresh and pinkish in color. He must have noticed her staring, because he tilted his head in a way that would take it out of her line of vision. "Have you spoken with the Chakwas physician?"
"I wasn't hurt badly."
He paused, then continued, incredulous. "You were chased by a Reaper."
Her lips pressed into an uncomfortable half-smile. "It's not like I broke a leg or anything." At her words, a picture of Aabim lying helpless on the ground invaded her thoughts, and her smile abruptly disappeared. Javik's expression shifted but was otherwise unintelligible. "And anyway, I have other matters to attend to."
He looked at the memorial and then back at Shepard. "Such as stare at a wall?"
Perhaps in any other circumstance and with any other person, Javik's words might have been taken as offensive or abrasive or quite off-putting, but Shepard felt a great weight lift from her chest. She felt as though she could breathe again, though it was strangled. She laughed gently, softly.
He took a step back and turned his body slightly, looking around them to presumably see if any crewmembers were nearby. They were alone. With the news of the victory at Rannoch but of Tali and Legion's deaths, as well as the heavy casualties suffered by the quarian fleets, most of the crew had retreated to their quarters to reflect and attempt to get in touch with family and friends. Even Joker remained silent about the whole affair.
"Commander..." Javik began, sounding only slightly unsure. He looked from the closed doors of the elevator to her. "Do you wish to...speak?"
She looked at him fully now, turning, and only then realized exactly what shape he was in. His face was stained with dried blood, dirt, and soot from the residue on his damaged armor. She could see now what on his chest had made the rattling noise. A strip of crisscrossing plates hung loose and exposed a dangerously large portion of lightly clothed midsection. One hip plate seated slightly askew, and numerous tears and burns decorated his black pants. Both kneecaps were raw. She frowned. "I do, actually. Why don't you cover your knees?"
His face twisted in annoyance. "Prothean knees are not like human knees. The skin is hard. We leave them uncovered for better movement, for efficiency."
"They look pretty banged up."
"If you had suffered the same injuries, yours would be worn to bone."
The thought made her cringe, so she changed the subject. However interesting prothean physiology was, she couldn't stomach much more gore or pain. "Did you have something specific in mind? To talk about?"
"No. But perhaps you do." He folded his arms. It effectively covered his broken armor, which Shepard realized belatedly she had been focusing on, trying to piece together how it might be repaired. "The mission has been over for several hours. And yet you have done little else but dress, bathe, and mourn."
She wanted to argue the hypocrisy of his statement, wanted to point out that she had at least done this, while he still remained in his broken armor and hadn't even attended to his injuries, but the words died before she could form them. Even just as friendly banter, pointing this out would do nothing but cause harm. Clearly Javik sensed that she had discontinued her thought, because he spoke again.
"I will leave you for now, Commander."
His abrupt decision gave her a small talk. He had been the one to ask if she wished to speak, and now he was intentionally killing the conversation. She started to tell him that he was not bothering her, that it was no trouble, but he cut her off before she could protest.
"I came here to attend to some things. I have heard that the cargo bay is host to an armory and workbench." He looked pointedly down at his broken armor and torn undersuit, probing the loose-hanging latch and causing it to separate completely. He held it in his palm and grimaced. "I'll inform you if I need additional materials for repairs." With neither another word nor look, Javik disappeared inside the elevator, gone as quick as he had come. Shepard stared after him for a few moments, but in time, she turned back to the wall, back to studying grooves and dips in nameplates but refusing to read them.
It was only after Garrus finally called for her, when all else had gone still and her thoughts had again moved away from Javik and toward the consuming darkness in the back of her mind, the sound of Legion deactivating and the expression on Tali's pale, drawn face, that she moved away from the wall. Even then, she only made it into the empty mess hall, following the sound of his quiet voice, quieter than she ever remembered it.
He gave her a wan look as she approached, as if to say that he was surprised and dismayed that she was still at the wall. "Shepard," he said carefully, watching her face as if testing for a reaction. He would find none. "We...should talk."
She let her eyes fall from his face to his hands, empty and hanging at his sides. It seemed everyone wanted to talk now. She wasn't sure what to say, so she didn't, but his presence here now when before he seemed to be avoiding her made her insides churn fitfully with guilt and shame. She could face Javik, to whom Tali and Legion had been no more than strangers. But how could she face Garrus, who had been intimately familiar with the both of them? He had known them for so long, and she had let both of them slip away.
She watched his right hand rise, hesitate, and then settle on her shoulder. His three fingers were thick, heavy, but his touch was feather-light. No words accompanied this action, and she didn't look at his expression, but she knew the meaning behind it.
It's not your fault.
Don't punish yourself.
I don't blame you.
The hand squeezed ever so slightly before he pulled it away. His voice was strained. "I'm...not sure how this is done with humans. After these kinds of missions, turians would usually just...fight it out. No serious injuries, but it was a way to..."
The corners of her lips quirked into a half smile. "Blow off steam?"
He huffed, a gentle sound that was as amused as it was sad. "Yeah. Something like that."
After a moment, neither spoke, but Shepard finally broke the silence. "You can blame me, Garrus. It was my fault."
"It wasn't," he bit back quickly, perhaps a bit too loud, perhaps a bit too harshly. Immediately, he seemed embarrassed, and when she looked up at his face, his mandibles were pulled tightly against his face. "It wasn't," he repeated, slower, softer.
Her eyes trailed back toward where the memorial wall lay just out of view.
"I want to talk. You can't just let everything fester." He paused for a moment, and when he continued, he seemed rushed, anxious. "But not here. Not now. Tomorrow morning, when we've slept on it and had a night to think to ourselves."
"Maybe it's none of my business, and maybe I'm going about this all wrong, but I think it would help to talk to someone. Someone who knew Tali and Legion."
The spoken names of her late teammates sent a fresh stake through her heart, but she swallowed a cringe and nodded again. She thought she might have heard a touch of bitterness in his last sentence, as well, but it could have been his subvocals giving false cues. "The morning, then. I'll leave my quarters unlocked."
She saw his mandibles withdraw slightly, relaxing with a light turian smile. "Good. I have something to give you, besides."
The quiet typically offered her peace, a respite from daily bustlings and happenings. But in her cabin now, where the bubbling fishtank and low hum of the Normandy's engines filled otherwise untouchable voids, Shepard could not find rest in it. She turned her radio on and then off again, unable to find a score appropriate for the circumstances. To what music could she mourn her friends and comrades, both of whom had died as a direct result of her actions? To what procession of notes and noise could she remember the quarian fleet destroyed, despite having never met them; Legion's body falling limp to the dirt, the light gone from his optics and cables? Each melody she switched to sounded hollower than the last.
She paced, counting rivets in the steel walls.
It had been the same feeling as after Noveria: the guilt; the loneliness; knowing they were rotting somewhere while she sat awake and alive in her cushy cabin. Ashley's death resounded loudly in her mind, her warm, confident face belying the truth behind her reassurances: that it was all Shepard's fault. That something Shepard had said, something Shepard had done, had led Ashley down a path of fire and pain.
Shepard's omni-tool lit up for the second time in the past ten minutes, but again she paid it no attention. It was tuned to "silent" except for emergencies, and she assumed the somber orange now coloring her forearm just meant that someone else was trying to reach her. She would face them all in due time. She'd stand before her remaining crew with a stony and confident face, feet planted firmly and arms clasped behind her back. She'd debrief them, explain what happened but not all the details of why, assure them that Tali and Legion died as heroes and that an entire quarian fleet burning up in Rannoch's atmosphere was an unfortunate casualty of wartime. She'd remind them to stay the course. She'd remind them that they still had a war to win—for Ashley, for Mordin, for Tali, for Legion, and for all who had fallen victim. But she would not do any of this right now, when she could hardly convince herself that everything would work out for the better.
The sound of her doors opening startled her enough that she took a step back and her right arm twitched, reflexively reaching for a firearm before she remembered that she wore none in the safety of her cabin. Javik stood just outside of her doorway, appearing at least mildly embarrassed, not making a move to cross the threshold into her room. She couldn't bring herself to be surprised to see him. Hardly anything he did surprised her anymore. Something about him looked smaller, besides; he looked more vulnerable—raw in a way that she couldn't quite place in her distracted state of mind.
"I...wasn't aware it was unlocked," he explained, looking from the door's frame to Shepard. "You will have a message from me on your...device," he continued, still not moving from his spot in the hall. His voice carried through her wide room, almost echoing.
Shepard glanced down at her arm, then activated her omni-tool. Javik had indeed pinged her some time ago, leaving a message requesting that he come up to see her. It was stiff and formal, and when she looked back up to him, he looked entirely unsure, as if he was regretting even saying two words to her. She remembered the words he had said to her in front of the memorial wall, and not wanting to turn him away again with her silence, bid for him to enter.
He made to step inside, and she finally noticed that he was not wearing his armor. He still wore the black kneeless leggings and the off-white tunic that he always wore as an undersuit, but the smooth red slopes she had long come to associate with him were gone. His neck was bare, unprotected by his usual large collar and tall spaulders, and the ribbing at his throat seemed to taper off into a point somewhere beneath his tunic, perhaps at his collarbone. The opportunity to continue inspecting him never came, because he stepped close enough to her that she couldn't look at him without making it obvious what she was doing. It was intriguing to see how different he was from her, especially knowing that he was the last of his kind. The thought did nothing but add another ache to her chest.
She turned away from him, moving to shuffle some belongings on her desk. "If you came for a debriefing, you should know that I plan to give one tomorrow to the whole crew. It'd be best if you waited until then."
He was quiet for a beat, but when he spoke, it was low, undertoned by unspoken question and some hesitance she had never heard from him before now. "I did not come for a debriefing, Commander."
She looked at him over her shoulder. He stared at her still, hands by his side, loose-fitting tunic covering down to his forearms and tight black sleeves beneath that extending to the bottom of his palms. The tunic was long, hanging well past his thighs in the front and back, but at his sides, it looped up to rest on the curve of each jutting hip. "Then what do you need?" she wanted to ask, but the dips and bumps and unfamiliar landscape of whatever lay behind his clothing distracted her. She had never seen him so bare, and she assumed the only person to share with her in this aspect was Chakwas and perhaps his former teammates.
Rather belatedly, Shepard realized that neither of them had yet spoken. Whether Javik knew she had been looking him up and down or not, she didn't know, but she hurried to speak before he noticed. "Where's your armor?"
"Setting. The repairs I've made need time."
"Will it be ready to wear by tomorrow? I'll make a note to exclude you from any missions if not."
She watched his jaw twitch. "There is no need. My armor will be done by tonight."
She turned back to her desk. "Good," she said, her back to him once again.
This time, Javik did not allow the silence to stretch very long before them. He spoke quietly. "I came to help, Commander."
Shepard stilled, fingertips hovering above a datapad that scrolled languidly. "With what?" She moved slowly to face him and lean against the desk, bracing herself with her palms on the lip of it.
He stiffened before he began to speak, ribbing at his neck pulsing. "From what I have seen, humans—" he began, but then corrected himself: "—most humans—choose to grieve alone. Is this untrue of you?"
"Not always. Sometimes."
He inclined his head in such a way that his gaze seemed to soften. The sharp contours of Javik's face hardly afforded it to ever be described as tender or sympathetic, but the way he looked at her now, the way his mouth turned downward and his four bright eyes stared levelly at her, she could almost see it. "Perhaps," he began, his voice much quieter, the vibrating undertones rumbling gently, "you would like someone with whom to grieve."
It took Shepard approximately five seconds too long to figure out what he had suggested, because he shifted his stance and looked as if he'd made some grave mistake. She moved quickly to reassure him, opening her mouth to speak but then closing it. "Javik," she started, presumably stopping him from telling her to forget he ever said anything and slinking off to some task as he had earlier. "You...you didn't know Tali and Legion. I know that. And I know you weren't on the best of terms with them."
"The quarian and I had made our peace," he corrected, nodding curtly as if to acknowledge her memory. "I cannot say the same for the AI. But that is not important, Commander. It was not my friends who were lost in battle, and it is not for my benefit that I am offering my assistance."
She had never considered Javik to be the sympathetic type, even knowing all that she did about him. His attitude always seemed to reflect the idea of weathering the storm and standing strong rather than running for help elsewhere. She nodded at him, though, wondering what exactly he had in mind. Would he want to talk it out with her? Share stories about the quarian as they were in his cycle? Maybe relate a similar situation that he had experienced?
"I believe I have mentioned it before. In times of great anguish, my people would use our touch to soothe one another. During injury when no anaesthetic was available, when a loved one was lost, or sometimes before death." His eyes—all four of them, bright gold in the sterile grey of her room—moved quickly over her face, searching perhaps for some reaction to his words. "We have shared memories before, when you were poisoned. It helped."
"It might even have saved me."
He glanced down at the place on her midsection where she had once been injured, then back up.
"I'm not injured. Chakwas took care of whatever bruised me up back on Rannoch." She rubbed her left arm, still somewhat sore from when a geth had wrenched it backwards. She had spoken with Javik before, but never like this—never alone in her cabin, never with them in such states of undress, never with her mental faculties stretched so thin.
"It is not your physical wounds that concern me."
The meaning behind what he said hit her with sudden and startling clarity. Just like when he transferred memories after the poisoning, he wanted to use his abilities to help her. He wanted to heal whatever hurt ached her. The situation presented itself with entirely different intent, though; while on the Cerberus station, he had meant to preserve her life. Here he meant only to chase away the dark animals of regret and grief that skulked quietly in her mind.
His eyes shift to look pointedly at her bed. "This is where you sleep?" he asked, though she doubted he really needed her confirmation.
"Yes," she answered stiffly, looking also to her bed, still made up from when she had awkwardly fixed the covers in full armor before the mission. "Your beds looked different?"
"I don't know."
It occurred to her that she had no idea just how much Javik did and didn't remember. Liara had told her that he most likely remembered little to nothing about his past, with the exception of possibly the precious hours before his descent into stasis, but he seemed to catch glimpses of his more distant past from time to time. He had remembered his favorite fish, and he remembered basic cultural norms. If he continued to transfer memories with her, would he eventually run out? Just how much did he know? She asked her last thought aloud, watching his face for any modicum of discomfort: "Does it open up new memories for you?"
His gaze remained level, his posture completely unchanging. But for all the staring that Shepard did, he elected not to answer, instead saying, "We should begin," in a cool voice.
She made a careful word of agreement, moving to ready herself for sleep. He moved his eyes politely away from her when she gripped the zipper at her collarbone and started to pull it down, but other than this, he showed no indication that he found their situation strange.
She felt oddly embarrassed to be slowly undressing in front of Javik, despite the fact that she had never been ashamed about her body or its various states of dress. But she felt vulnerable somehow, and this vulnerability gripped her warmly and nervously. Javik stared quite intently at her model ship collection. Whether he did this out of respect for her modesty or simple complete disinterest in her or her thinly clad body remained entirely unclear. Shepard laid her hoodie and t-shirt gingerly over her desk chair once she had finished removing them, bending afterwards to unstrap her boots. Once stripped to just her thin undershirt, frayed under-leggings, and dingy military-issue grey socks, she cleared her throat, prompting Javik to look her way. She hadn't meant to signal for his attention, but the way his eyes moved to settle on her face—and nothing else—made her muscles tense.
"I don't want it to be too dark for you," she said, voice quiet, "so I'll just lower the lights."
"Turn them off." He continued to stare impassively at her, ever unfettered by what continued to unfold around them. "If that is how you normally sleep."
She nodded, and with only a few short steps, turned the lights off at the wall console. Immediately, near-darkness bathed her room. Preprogramming in her private terminal as well as the large fish tank caused the backlighting in them to dim dramatically, and as Shepard drew closer to her bed, her room gradually grew even darker behind her. Javik remained to the side of her bed, just in front of her armor locker, head lowered slightly as he watched her. His eyes glowed gold and subdued, four pools of dull light in the pitch darkness. It would not be enough to distract her from sleep, but for now, it was certainly enough to cause her momentary pause. With his eyes slightly alight as they were, she couldn't track their movements nearly as well, and she couldn't be sure if he was staring at her or at some point just behind her. She had never seen his eyes glow like this before, but then again, she'd never been in total darkness with him, either. "You can see in the dark," she noted, wondering only momentarily if her observation was wrong.
"Somewhat. Better than you, undoubtedly."
She smoothed back the blanket on her bed, revealing an all too inviting space into which she would, under normal circumstances, crawl into with a contented sigh. Instead, she forced more conversation, feeling awkward and desperate to encourage all thoughts away from the reality that Javik would be watching her sleep. She did trust him, of course, as she trusted any crewmate who collaborated with her on the battlefield and in delicate circumstances...but this was far more intimate. "How did you handle that during night missions?"
Javik huffed and folded his arms, though the telltale clink of armor that accompanied this action did not come. Instead, Shepard only heard the soft sounds of shifting fabric, and she found herself thrown out of sorts by it. "Some handled it much as the quarians did." When Shepard's curious look did not waver, one hand still resting on her folded-back blanket, he went on. "Helmets or tinted visors, in most cases. Although I am partial to neither."
"Most protheans refused to hide behind masks, the cover of darkness included. Occasionally it was necessary, these tasks requiring anonymity undertaken by the women. They are smaller, less noticeable. They are not as...bright."
"What do you mean?"
"Their colors," he clarified, four circles of light moving with him as he looked her up and down, as if to appraise her own colors. "Where men were green and blue, they were grey and brown. Where we were red, they were pink. Their eyes glowed less and with softer colors."
She wanted to ask him if he'd had a small brown prothean woman at his side at any point, but she swallowed the question. He probably didn't remember, but even if he did, bringing it up would only hurt him. All that he had once known of his people was now lost to time, brown-skinned and softly glowing prothean women included.
He didn't continue with this line of discussion, and not wanting to prolong whatever feelings accompanied his recalling of the past, Shepard picked back up where she left off. She slid under the blankets and adjusted herself until she was comfortable. She stayed very still, staring at the nothingness around her, until her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness. Beside her, still standing next to her armor locker, she could see the outline of Javik. The glow of his eyes was pacifying somehow, and the silence between them became much less uncomfortable. Presently, her mind began to wander, though she tried fruitlessly to keep it off of the recent tragic events.
Javik's weight pressing down her mattress unnerved and disoriented her, but she found it wasn't entirely unpleasant. He kept his back to her, the lines of his shoulders so much smaller without the bulk of his armor. She was prepared for the memory transference, for the feeling of freefalling out of her own life and landing haphazardly in photographs of his, but she would have preferred if he carried it out as soon as possible. She drew her arm around his side, resting her hand lightly on his thigh as a signal to start.
He remained completely quiet. At a loss, Shepard fought down fragments of memories from the events on Rannoch. As much as she tried, she couldn't force Tali's face—for once unobscured by the helmet—out of her mind. She couldn't banish Legion's subdued but content voice from filtering over her thoughts. As she lay in the stillness of the room, her hand on Javik's leg and Javik on her bed and the Normandy humming around them both, Shepard felt completely powerless. The Reapers would come, as they had with Javik's civilization. They would kill more. Her chances at victory weren't great—weren't really even good—and anyone who said otherwise was deluded.
Javik's impassive back showed her no emotion and gave her no reassurance. He was alive, and so was she, and many others still were, but it was not enough. As long as the cold grip of death touched even one person, it would never be enough. Her cabin felt impossibly large, and Shepard herself felt impossibly small. Suddenly, instead of warm in a bed on a warship beside a man who had been asleep for the past 50,000 years, she found herself on a cot in a dirty Earth shelter, curled protectively around a pack of her meager belongings in a room full of other disadvantaged strangers. She was thirteen years old again, entirely alone in her life and owning nothing but a fleece blanket, some spare clothing, a backpack, and her name.
But Commander Shepard now, thirty-two years old and entertaining the company of a prothean, tried very hard not to let her lower lip tremble. Commander Shepard, decorated hero, Earthborn, first human Spectre, Alliance starchild, gritted her teeth very hard. For the first time in a long time, Commander Shepard hastily wiped away a tear and was grateful that Javik's back remained to her.
She wondered why he hadn't started the memory transference process yet, giving in completely and allowing memories to flood her. She saw a flurry of faces—every person who had died under her command, every enemy she had killed and their families, grieving for lost sons and daughters. Perhaps he'd changed his mind and was simply waiting for her to fall asleep now. Perhaps he'd felt pressured to come up and reassure her.
She withdrew her hand, sliding it off of Javik's thigh and returning it under her blanket. She turned onto her side, facing her back to him. Sleep came sooner than she expected, claiming her with a hollow embrace and dragging her beneath a thin atmosphere of fear. She dozed lightly, toeing the line between wakefulness and true sleep, her surroundings melting between the common dark forest of her most current dreams and the clean grey walls of her cabin. Whispers still hung thick no matter her environment, Legion and Tali asking her the same questions over and over again. Commander, why didn't you do more? Commander, why did we have to die?
Something on the bed—something that wasn't her and was most probably Javik—shifted, and then there was a light pressure against her cheek, and her mind quieted with only a stutter of resistance.
Shepard could maintain only a small fragment of lucidity while involved in Javik's memories. She could vaguely tell that Javik was much smaller than usual, and the air was warm and humid. Beside him, an even smaller prothean stood. It was a child, and it stared curiously at what lie in front of them. Javik turned to look, as well, and the sight of a large, calm greenish-blue lake greeted him.
"We should not..." Javik began, his voice high and his usual vibrations hardly even registering. He dipped a curious bare toe in the lakewater and then quickly drew it back at the cold temperature, wincing. "And it is cold."
The smaller prothean child scoffed and bent to gather up the hem of his dark blue robe. The shoulders and breast were decorated with silver-lined insignias and symbols that Shepard didn't recognize. "When will we ever have another chance? You're leaving tomorrow."
Javik watched as his companion waded stiffly into the water, legs thin and knees knobby. He turned to face Javik and feigned a delighted smile. "It's great!"
"Aabim," Javik warned, and though his voice was high-pitched with immaturity and not nearly as full, Shepard could still hear his familiar intonations. "We will both be punished. I am the—"
"—the Avatar of Vengeance, right, right." Aabim, his crest short and stubby and more forest green in color than the dark brown that Shepard was accustomed to from Javik's previous memories, waved a dismissive hand. In the process, a side of his robe drooped into the water, and he scrambled to scoop it back up.
Javik narrowed his eyes, crossing his arms resolutely. The fabric of his own robe felt itchy and too thick in the heat of the day. "I have responsibilities. Duties. Expectations to be fulfilled. We don't have time to play when the Reapers could come at any moment and destroy this entire planet without warning."
"Then isn't that all the more reason?"
Javik considered this for a moment, and Shepard could feel the indecision in his mind. She could feel the way that his desires and his sense of duty warred. And yet, despite these very mature inclinations, she could still feel the excited young voice of Javik calling out to play in the water with Aabim.
As Javik stepped forward, the lake's edge lapping his toes, the world began to tilt and warble. When she regained her senses, Shepard found herself bathed in cool night air. Above her, the sky bled in white pinpricks of millions of stars, more than she had ever seen on any planet. She knew it was dark, but somehow she could see very far and fairly clearly.
"When do you think she'll come back?" a small voice asked to Javik's left. He looked there, turning eyes upon a tiny form with knees to its chest. It was a prothean child and very, very small. Javik himself seemed much smaller than the previous memory as well. The prothean child's crest was vivid, the color of Earth grass in the spring.
The child stared expectantly at Javik, mouth downturned. He waited patiently for an answer.
Javik turned away, shame burning hot in his gut. "She won't." He wanted to give a better answer, but he didn't have one. He turned his eyes to the sky again, and the color of nighttime swam until it became red and hazy with sunset. When he again lowered his gaze, he was looking out across a brownish landscape dotted with rocks and occasional jagged foliage. Shepard was confused and disoriented until a Reaper cried out and the percussion rattled Javik's teeth. He was on Rannoch, and for a terrifying moment, Shepard wondered if her nightmares had become his.
"Keelah, it's huge," Tali breathed from somewhere behind him, her voice panicked but most importantly alive. Her voice made Shepard want to turn and rush toward her, but she was in Javik's body now and in an entirely different time—a time where she had no control and could only watch silently. Javik didn't react much to her voice, instead staring with her at the Reaper that climbed unsteadily to its feet, struggling like a newborn fawn until it found purchase and wailed again. Its red eye turned toward Shepard in the distance, who stood unmoving and far too close to it.
Terror the likes Shepard had never felt seized Javik in a vice grip, squeezing his throat until he could scarcely breathe. That he was now running as fast as possible toward Shepard did not help his breathing situation. Shepard's form—her own form, and only now did she realize how doomed she must have looked—turned in that moment and raced toward Javik and the vehicle manned by Legion. In her own face, Shepard saw a familiar note of panic, amazement, and determination.
The thought "Not again," raced through Javik's mind as he watched the Reaper lumber closer to Shepard, watched Shepard run but not fast enough. He collided with her on an exhale of breath, uncaring about the lack of grace or how he was normally so self-aware of his own body and where it was going. He took hold of the closest limb he could—her arm—and questioned her once in a voice that was more terrified trill than rolling vibrations, never stopping running. The Reaper's beam made the air hot as it cut toward them. He felt her body give as she stumbled over something, a voice screaming "Not again," so loudly in his head that Shepard could hear little else, but he never released her. Even if she had fallen, even if she had been unable to recover her footing, Shepard had no doubt that he would have dragged her limp body through Rannoch's soil all the way to Legion and Tali and relative safety. She did recover, though, and shortly afterward they dove into the geth vehicle, rocking it on its foundations. Shepard landed heavily atop Javik, who had never let go of her arm and had clutched his free hand to the back of her armor, gripping some shelf there. He took only a moment to revel in their small victory, to breathe, before Shepard scrambled off of him and disappeared into the upper deck of the pod.
Javik lay for many moments on the metal floor, even as he heard the mounted turret roar to life under Shepard's hands. Tali paid him little attention and Legion gave him even less. His heart hammered wildly against his ribs, his hands shaking. He struggled to keep his breath even. It had almost happened again.
Shepard re-emerged, her face a hard and fierce sight, climbing down the ladder. Javik looked at her and Tali said her name in puzzlement, and Shepard only said, "Legion, stop here!"
Legion questioned her, but she shot it down quick enough. Shepard, still tucked quietly inside Javik's mind, only now thought back on how insane she must have seemed.
"Stop. I'm getting out."
Open panic and unrestrained anger brewed hotly within Javik in that moment, and he bared his teeth, vibrations already rumbling in his chest, but Tali spoke before he could. "Shepard, you don't want to do this."
Shepard said nothing. She pulled the laser targeting device form her back, and, obediently, unquestioningly, Legion opened the pod doors for her. She saw herself washed in the colors of sunset, and she saw the grim confidence across her stern face, the defiant spread of her feet, the determined lines of her shoulders. She looked confident, triumphant even though they teetered on the edge of a nearly unwinnable battle. It was little wonder her teammates followed her so faithfully if she looked like this all the time. It was the first time in a long time that Shepard really reflected on what she was: an uplifted street rat; a scarred lone survivor; a highly capable commander. For the first time in far, far too long, Shepard felt proud. They had taken casualties—some that may have been preventable—but at the end of the day, Shepard and her team still toppled a Reaper, still united the geth and quarians, and still helped an entire species win back their long-lost homeworld.
Javik felt no such inclinations of pride, and the difference between Shepard's swells of contentment and his crashing waves of alarm played a strange battle. Before she could jump out of the vehicle and race toward the Reaper that she had only moments ago narrowly avoided, Javik grabbed her again by the arm. When she turned to face him, her face was the same. It did nothing to soothe him.
She would not relent. He knew it. He only gave her a stiff nod and then released her, taking a step back. She remained a moment longer, in which her expression finally broke and she raised her eyebrows at him, but he worked desperately and fervently to keep his own expression closed. It had worked, she remembered, but only partially. She wished now that she could again see the brief twist ofsomething on his face.
"Stay safe," she told him, a whisper that chilled him, before she bounded out the door. He watched her for as long as he was able, hands closing and unclosing into tight fists, until Legion was forced to pilot the pod to a safer distance.
Javik saw none of the battle that Shepard waged with the Reaper, and Shepard noted that, curiously, this memory was far more vivid than any other she had received from him. Every detail was perfectly clear, every moment passing as if it were happening in real time. Javik stayed silent and still inside the pod while Tali chattered nervously to Legion and Legion tittered back. With the door closed, he could not see outside. He only heard the sounds—the awful sounds of the Reaper firing its beam again and again. Each new beam meant that Shepard had survived the last, but then the wait between it and the next kept his nerves frazzled. He was always so cool, so smooth, that feeling these emotions inside of him—these emotions that threatened to overtake his very being but that did not manifest on his physical body—put her in something of a state of shock. She rationalized that it was because of his past experiences with teammates and Reaper standoffs, remembering Aabim on the ground and the taste of burnt flesh in the air, but Javik noticed that the Reaper had not discharged at her in quite some time, and his emotions rolled over her thoughts like a thick miasma. Her control over her own thoughts and feeling fell away completely until all that remained were Javik's. She did not exist here anymore; only he did—only he and his hands throwing open the pod's doors.
Tali was out before he was, fast for an injured person, walking steadily toward the veritable ground zero now that the painkillers had taken root. Javik did not leave the geth vehicle, one hand braced on the open door, staring up at the Reaper as it toppled in the distance. On a cliff near it, so small that she was no more than a vague shape against the horizon, stood Shepard. Whole, intact, and alive.
Tali continued toward her commander, but Javik did not, instead electing to lean heavily against the door and let every tense muscle relax. Legion exited the vehicle as well, keeping a fair pace behind Tali. He watched them both approach Shepard, watched Shepard speak with them, watched the Reaper crackle fitful and red in its death throes until it was no longer comfortable to stand. He looked down at his knees, raw and red from scrambling in and out of cover, and at the piece hanging loose on his armor that had been dislodged during his initial collision with Shepard and then worsened when she'd landed on top of him.
They had killed a second Reaper, and it had been more than his people had ever been able to accomplish.
Shepard regained herself slowly, watching the scene first as one entity and then separately from Javik. She did not feel what he felt now, but from the way he slumped, she supposed it was mostly exhaustion and relief. She watched the small, distant forms of her and her teammates against the red of Rannoch's sky. Legion crumpled. Tali fell. The sun set.
When Shepard awoke, it was gently, Rannoch's twilight blurring into the muted grey walls and ceiling of her cabin. Her fishtank still bubbled. The artificial light had begun to grow brighter to simulate a sun rising. She stared at nothing with her eyes half closed.
Legion and Tali had been instrumental in defeating a second Reaper, in bringing hope to a universe sorely lacking. They would be remembered as heroes. Shepard would make sure of it, but she didn't think she'd really need to. The geth would speak of Legion for eons to come, and though he had only briefly experienced individuality, she knew it was enough. The quarians would remember Tali'Zorah as a recapturer of their homeworld, and though she felt Rannoch's air against her bare skin only once, she knew it was enough.
Shepard had done what she could. She had fought her hardest. She had done what she thought was right, and in the end, everyone had come together to overcome yet another set of odds stacked against them.
And she knew it was enough.