She paced anxiously, people around her made space as they passed her by, some giving her strange looks but mostly ignoring her. Why was she so damn nervous? She had taken down reapers, saved the galaxy, trained soldiers to kill, been a councillor and diplomat, had two children and dealt with reporters. Why was this so hard? Because she would be letting someone else see her in a vulnerable state.
'Why did I know you wouldn't be inside,' a laugh behind her made her stop and turn.
'Kasumi, you're late,' she growled.
'So will you be if you don't go in, Shepard,' the current security officer for the diplomatic assembly smiled and threaded her arm through Shepard's, guiding her into the shop with a chuckle. 'You can do this, just think of the look on his face.'
That was what had brought her here in the first place, she wanted to do something special for his birthday and this was an idea that had been running through her head for a while. With a sigh she stepped up to the receptionist counter.
'Mrs Alenko,' the young woman behind the counter smiled and motioned for an Asari to come forward. 'This is Ariana, she will be your attendant and help you prepare.'
'Welcome, Mrs Alenko,' Ariana smiled and took her arm. 'Please come with me and we'll get you ready.' She was reading a datapad as she spoke, 'I see you want a particular set done, very nice. For someone special I assume.'
'Yes, he is,' Karra smiled and allowed the young woman to lead her through a door and into a very pleasant change room. Her hands were shaking as she sat before a large mirror, the soft lighting catching the subtle hint of grey in her hair. She had thought about colouring it but Kasumi had convinced her to stay completely natural, she said it suited her.
'Do you have your own ideas or would you like some advice, we have a large selection of designs to choose from.'
'I brought my own, if that's okay,' Shepard looked at her wide-eyed.
'That's fine,' she smiled moved to the door. 'I will get everything prepared so when you're ready please come through to the studio, there is a robe on the back of the door if you need it.'
Shepard nodded and once she was gone Kasumi urged her into moving and laughed at the look of sheer panic on Shepard's face. When she was ready they walked together into the studio where Ariana was waiting. She smiled at the obvious nervousness and did her best to make this beautiful woman feel comfortable. She was impressed that a human woman who was somewhat older than her usual clients would want to do this, many human women were uncomfortable about themselves, she couldn't understand why. From an Asari viewpoint the body was something to be admired, praised and respected.
Shepard settled herself into position and Ariana went to work. As she noticed the extensive, somewhat faded scarring she asked if they should be covered up.
'No,' Shepard gave a soft smile, 'each one is a memory, a part of me.' She ran her finger along a scar on her thigh.
'That was the one you got running for the beam,' Kasumi commented and Shepard nodded.
'Thought I was going to lose my leg,' she grimaced and touched a round, rough edged scar on her neck.
'I remember that one,' Kasumi laughed. 'That was Tuchanka, thresher maw acid because Grunt was going through puberty. You cursed like hell but wouldn't let Dr Chakwas touch it when you came back to the Normandy, something about Krogan tradition.'
'Yeah, Wrex made me promise not to lose it,' she grinned.
Ariana had continued working as the women spoke but it suddenly dawned on her who she had in her studio. Her eyes widened in recognition and she knew she had to make this collection very special, especially when she knew who it was for.
'Commander Shepard,' it was almost a whisper but both women turned towards her and grinned at her look of surprise.
'That's me,' Shepard chuckled, 'is that a problem?' She had lost count of the number of times someone around her had been unable to concentrate because of who she was. Even twenty five years after the war people still held her in awe, recognised her as a hero. Over time she had come to accept that there was nothing she could do about that, she had learned to live with it.
'No, in fact I'm honoured that you chose us to do this,' Ariana smiled, 'I assume this is for Admiral Alenko.'
'Yes,' Shepard smiled and the love on her face was so pure and sincere Ariana felt tears in her eyes.
'Well, we'd better make sure this is as special as he is,' she moved closer to Shepard, 'If you are open to suggestions I have a few ideas.'
'Morning,' Karra leaned over her husband's shoulder and planted a soft kiss on his neck. 'You're up early.' She glanced out the large, ceiling to floor window at the view over English Bay and sighed, she had never been happier or more content in her life, and it was going to be a beautiful day. This was their favourite spot in the house and even though it didn't really belong the dining table had been placed right in front of the window.
'Yeah,' Kaidan turned and pulled her onto his lap and kissed her gently, the kiss becoming stronger and more passionate as they wrapped their arms around each other. Even after all this time they could never get enough of each other's lips, arms, eyes and bodies.
Karra pulled back reluctantly and smiled, 'Happy birthday, old man.'
'Hey,' Kaidan chuckled, 'not so much of the old thank you or I'll have to show you just how much stamina I still have.'
'Is that a promise,' she purred and he shivered, still after all these years she had that effect on him. She pulled herself out of his embrace and stood up, 'I have something for you.' She smiled and disappeared into the bedroom, returning with a large, gift-wrapped box that she placed on the table before him.
'What is this,' he gave her a puzzled look, 'I thought we didn't do presents anymore, just dinner.'
'I wanted to do this for you,' she smiled, sat on the chair opposite, pulled her knees up and watched nervously as he unwrapped it and opened the box.
His eyes widened as he looked down on a photo of her, she was sitting on a bed, her knees pulled up with her ankles crossed, her arms wrapped around her knees and her head resting on them looking into the camera. Her eyes held him captivated but then he noticed what she was wearing, his old SR1 t-shirt. He remembered the very first time she had worn that, the short four days of leave after destroying Sovereign. He had loved her in it, he had thought it so sexy, so feminine and it was the first time he realised he wanted to spend the rest of his life with this woman. He glanced up to see her watching him with tears in her eyes.
He lifted the top photo and beneath that was another one, she was dressed in her black, under armour weave, leaning against a wall, her arms folded across her chest with a grin on her face. It clung to her like a second skin and he remembered the first time he had seen her getting ready for battle. He had told her later that he had trouble getting into his own armour because watching her move in that suit had aroused him so much he had no room to manoeuvre his manhood into place. Just thinking about it was sending the blood to his groin and he almost groaned.
There were a dozen photos in the box, each one a memory of a special moment he cherished, each one he had told her and she had remembered. For all these years, she had held on to those memories just as he had. His heart was pounding in his chest and his vision blurred as he turned to the last one and his breath stopped, his hands shook as he held the box to steady himself.
She was completely naked, stretched out on the bed with all her scars visible. Her face was turned towards the camera, her arm outstretched with her fingers curled as if beckoning him to bed. But it wasn't the fingers or the fact that she was naked that grabbed him by the heart and almost tore it from his chest. It was her eyes. They were alive and she was looking at him with so much love, passion and want that he felt the tears roll down his cheeks. He released the breath he had been holding and looked up at her to see her cheeks wet with tears. He knew how hard it would have been for her to put herself in this position, to allow someone else to see her this vulnerable.
No words could express how he felt right then so he forgot about words. He stood up and pulled her into his arms, his lips found hers and he kissed her with hunger and passion, just like the very first time. She wrapped her arms around him, their tears mingling with their kisses. He grabbed her on the behind he loved so much and she wrapped her legs around him as he carried her into the bedroom, lowered her gently onto the bed and proceeded to show her his appreciation for such a wonderful gift.
'Well Admiral,' she chuckled as they lay wrapped in each other's arms, their breath slowly returning to normal. 'Seems you do have some stamina left after all.'
He turned so he could look into her eyes, 'Thank you,' he whispered and kissed her softly, the love in his eyes reflecting her own, just like they had the first time they had made love, just like they had on the night they married almost thirty years ago, just like they would on their last day together.