NOTE- THERE IS CURRENTLY A MORE RECENT VERSION OF THIS STORY!
Please check out 'REUNION' on my profile instead, because this is the OLD VERSION!
She can't sleep.
Though, this isn't new. Most nights Commander Shepard restlessly paces her cabin, wearing grooves into the floor as she parses data and plans missions. She's taken to writing the old fashioned way when her thoughts are especially turbulent; there is something calming about the feel of a stylus in her fingers, crisp paper under her swiftly moving hand.
She remembers Kasumi collects old fashioned books. Maybe she'll get her hands on these old-fashioned pages one day, these old worries.
She feels old. Her machine heart thuds in the bone cage of her chest, thrumming in time with the engines vibrating beneath her feet. She's lived most of her life on ships, and the sound of a humming engine used to put her to sleep faster than her mother's voice, threaded low in song.
They're hours away from the Cerberus base. Hackett was clear; this is phase one. She only has to consider the approach before her mind spins off on a thousand tangents, each more speculative and fearful than the last. A bitter chuckle escapes her lips; how in the hell did she think she'd be able to turn her mind off long enough to sleep?
Not that she's sleeping well any other nights. She's haunted by ghosts. Like a long-condemned building, infested with the whispers of those who lived before. Last night, she heard Mordin greet her a thousand times, each more painful than the last. Had to be me, he said finally, owlish eyes blinking. Someone else might have gotten it wrong.
She couldn't sleep much more after that.
With a sigh, she tosses the datapad she'd been perusing and watches it skitter across her desk before clattering on the floor. It lands faceup, the scrolling words taunting her. She bends to retrieve it when a knock startles her.
It takes her a moment to realize it's only Kaidan. Her heart beats anew, though not from surprise.
"Can't sleep?" he asks her. There are shadows under his eyes.
"Hm." He stands in the doorway, waiting for her to invite her in.
"Come on," she gestures him in. "Might as well be insomniacs together."
"Thanks, Shepard." He touches her arm briefly before brushing past, and it sends a rush of feeling through her. She is suddenly so grateful for his presence she can't speak. "Have a drink with me?"
"It's as good a time for one as any, I guess." She sits across from him, watching him pour a glass for her before pouring one for himself. She notices his hands shake. But when he catches her glance, he smiles for her, and the sight of it is profoundly beautiful.
They don't speak for a moment. There is a weight in this silence, stretching between them vast as the void, heavy with the questions and fears they've both trained themselves to swallow for the sake of others. It's still unnatural to let down their guard long enough to lean on another.
"Are you ready?" he finally asks her.
She's tired of lying. She has to lie every minute of every day, when her friends and allies beseech her for encouragement and strategy, when her subordinates and superiors demand her attention. "No," she said, voice breaking.
"Shepard," he says, touching her shoulder. "You've done everything you could. More than anyone could. You know that, don't you?"
"It isn't enough." Her hands are shaking too; even her machine heart can't keep her steady now. "It's never enough."
He's shaking his head, and his eyes are beautifully earnest. "Don't say that."
"I . . . Kaidan, I-" She closes her eyes. "So many have died. So many will die." She takes a gulping breath. "You asked me how I do it something harder, sharp edged.
"I don't know how much longer I can do this," she whispers into his shoulder.
He's quiet for a moment. She always loved how thoughtful he was, how he measured his words like beads in an abacus, parsing this way and that toward the perfect expression. "I know you're tired," he says. "I am too. But you can count that when you stumble, I'll be there to pick you up. When you need an arm or a shoulder, I'd give them gladly a thousand times. Promise me you'll keep going, and I'll be right there at your side for as long as I'm alive."
He's so serious, and he looks at her as if she is precious. She's so used to being looked at as if she is the unmovable stone of an idol, the unwavering steel of a Commander. Kaidan looks at her as if she is a woman, the full measure of it, and she loves him more than she knows how to express.
She kisses him fiercely. She's a warrior by trade and a warrior in love, and he responds with the same. He pulls her closely so only their clothes separate their bodies and threads his hand in her hair. He trails burning kisses up her neck, along the line of her jaw. She can feel his breath on her ear and it sends a shiver running through her.
Now they're standing, needing hands seeking zippers and belts, finding and undoing with feverish haste. Each inch of bare skin revealed is a triumph. He's golden and tautly muscled, just as beautiful as she remembers from those three years ago, overcome and yet still waiting for the hammer to fall, still worried for an out. There are no such considerations now, here at the end of the world.
He fumbles with her bra before tearing it, a growl of frustration coming from between clenched teeth. She laughs and the sound of it is strange to her; she hasn't laughed in years. He's not insulted, of course- he takes her amusement as a challenge, his lips curving, eyes predatory. He captures her breast in his mouth and she gasps from the unexpected pleasure of it.
She pushes him down onto the bed and he pulls her after. They topple, limbs tangled, entwined. She gasps, he moans; their hands slide over skin uncaught and untamed, desperate now. It has been so long and yet it is so new, still, and she marvels that she still feels the capacity for pleasure and the hot burn of desire in her gut. She marvels at the feel of him inside her, the feel of his skin on hers, the way he looks at her as if she is precious and needed and loved.
After, he pulls her close, wrapping his arms around her and burying his head on her chest. She watches it rise and fall in time with her breathing, and the sight of it is so tender. It's only after a long while she notices his eyes are bright.
"What is it?" she asks him, brushing her thumb across his cheek.
"This isn't it for us," he says fiercely. "Okay? After this is over, we can really begin."
And she sees what he sees in that brief, Reaper-less moment; a home somewhere, a retirement well earned. Children, maybe with her red hair or his beautiful brown eyes. Many long years of peace stretching onward. A chance to grow old together. She doesn't want to cry but something about his words strips her raw.
"After this is over, no matter what happens, we'll find each other, okay?" he tells her.
"No matter what happens," she echoes with his intensity, and the words are the truest she's ever spoken.
Shepard was first aware of the sound of scraping, straining metal; the Citadel twisting in the void. Her eyes were crusted shut- from the blood, she guessed. She couldn't move. Every bone in her body felt broken, snapped like flimsy twigs. Her armor had since been blasted right into her flesh, the plastic and metal burning into her skin.
She should be dead, but she was not.
There was pain like she'd never felt before. A howling, burning agony, reverberating through her bones like a struck gong, and yet her machine heart beat on. The weight of the Citadel rested on her broken chest, and that heart refused to stop.
She wrenched open her eyes with colossal effort, blinking to reorient herself. She saw blasted stone and twisted metal, and above her the void was littered with the detritus of battle, the corpses of ships and Reapers alike. There were no streaks of gunfire dotting the darkened sky, and she knew. It was over.
The Reapers were gone.
It was strange, to suddenly be relieved of her purpose. One would certainly resurface, she supposed. But for now, there was nothing. There was a sense of victory, yes; slowly sinking in. There was relief.
In that brief moment of relief, she remembered Kaidan and the Normandy. She remembered it streaking through the blast-scarred sky, slowly as if in slow-motion. She remembered Kaidan's face, his eyes wide and pleading. She remembered telling him she loved him before dashing away toward the beam.
The Normandy. The Normandy was her purpose now. She chased away all speculation that the ship might have met its end in the course of the battle, incinerating everyone aboard, thrown outward in chunks of metal and flesh. She ignored the thought of it being forever out of her grasp. She would find the Normandy if it killed her, and she would find Kaidan.
She had promised, after all.
She let her head thud back into the rubble. Breathing was painful and her head spun, turning the sky above her head into a smear of darkness and starlight, diffuse as oil on a canvas.
She wondered how many broken bones she had through an insurmountable disconnect, her foggy thoughts far away. She thought of Mordin and his clinic, the many times he'd patched her up after a mission gone south. She thought of Dr. Chakwas. tutting as she fidgeted on a gurney, impatient with the proceedings.
It was impossible not to entertain thoughts of escape, still half-broken, limping to a ship and taking to the sky, in search of Kaidan. Selfish, of course. She knew that. But she figured she had earned the right to be a little selfish.
She drifted. She resurfaced from unconsciousness at odd intervals, gasping a little as her heart faltered. She looked up, through the glass above her head; the patterns of the stars changed too randomly to be marked. She lost all conception of time, and as it passed, even the pain began to fade.
She realized she was dying.
It was a nearly involuntary reaction to fight death. She clung to consciousness like a drowning man clings to detritus floating on the sea. She clung to her memories, and they sustained her. Kaidan, holding her hand. Kaidan, his glowing barrier rippling against enemy fire. Kaidan, his lips on hers.
"No matter what happens, after this is over we find each other, okay?" he said in her memories. Or were they memories?
She thought she saw him through her blood crusted eyes, picking through rubble. Just as he had three years ago, after they had defeated Saren. He hadn't given up then. He'd clawed through the rubble even though his shoulder was dislocated and his hands were bleeding. His thumbnail had been pried off, and he hadn't even noticed the pain of it in his desperation. It had never grown back, she remembered.
That month after the defeat of Saren had been the best of her life. They had two weeks of shore leave in Chicago. Their combined status as heroes of the Alliance and saviors of the galaxy granted them special consideration, which they used to rent a hotel on Lakeshore Drive. They didn't leave their room for six days. She'd grown accustomed to everything he was, outside of being a soldier; his stories, his failures and triumphs, his quirks. She'd memorized the constellation of moles dotting his shoulders and back. She'd kissed every inch of his skin.
"No matter what happens," he reminded her. She reached for him but he slipped through her fingers, and she realized he wasn't really there. Just a shadow, a memory. If she had tears left to cry, she would have then.
"Kaidan!" she rasped, as if she could summon him. There was no answer.
It was later when she heard voices. She dismissed them as shadows, just like Kaidan had been, just like the grieving phantoms of her dreams. Even though she was aware of hands on her body, pulling away pieces of blasted rubble, she ignored them.
"We got a body here," one said, through a great distance. "Barely alive."
"It's Shepard!" another said.
"Careful with her, careful! Get that shit off her legs!" a woman with a fierce voice said.
"She's not going to make it." This voice was deeper, rasping. Zaeed? He'd said the same thing over Garrus after he took a Blue Suns missile to the face.
"Shut the hell up," the fierce woman said. "Get the medi-gel!"
She struggled to open her eyes, but only vague shapes loomed before her eyes. "Where is. . . the Normandy?" she rasped, struggling to speak. Her tongue was like lead.
"Hold on, Shepard," the feminine voice said. "We'll get you out of here."
She would have fought, if she could. Her question became a demand the longer it went unanswered, rankling like an insult, a splinter in the mind. She clenched and unclenched her fists, struggling to make herself well enough to stand, to make herself heard and obeyed but she could not. She was mostly dead, she remembered vaguely. She'd lain in a puddle of her own blood for who knows how long.
Her brief hold on consciousness faltered and she sunk into the darkness, haunted by her ghosts. Her last thought was of Kaidan and his promise; then a salve, now a wound.