An explosion. Fire. Blackness.
Pain. Pressure. Hard to breath.
A face. No, a mask. Quarian. Words she could barely understand. Questions about how she had survived. About why she had survived.
A memory then, words echoing in her head. Come back alive, they said. I love you too, was the echo. She had found her voice then. Through the pain of raw vocal chords; of lungs blackened by smoke; of broken ribs. One word. "Orders," spoke with a smile. Pained and painful.
And then there was blackness once more.
She was lost in an empty void, wandering in the darkness unsure if she was actually moving. She couldn't tell which way was up, or even if there was an up. It was never completely silent. There was always some kind of background drone. Sometimes it was a low hum, like the Normandy's engine, or her fish tank. Other times it was a faint but steady beep and the occasional whirr of a machine.
And occasionally there were voices.
There had always been voices, especially in her dreams. Her nightmares. But those were sinister whispers, a low hissing sound in the forest she couldn't escape. And the voices of the dead. They were silent now; all gone. No more was there a dark edge to the voices. It was a calming murmur. Like the chatter overheard on the Citadel. Not loud enough for words to be made out, but loud enough to be recognised as voices. Of all races, it sounded.
Occasionally there was a clatter, somewhere far away. Or a shout of alarm. There was the distinct sound of someone crying once. But nothing she could make out. No words that had meaning, no sounds that could help her make sense of the complete and utter darkness surrounding her. No direction. She couldn't even see her own hands.
But she knew they were there, somewhere. There were sensations. Pain, numbness, pins and needles. The same with her feet. But nothing that gave any bearing in the darkness. Her hand could be a foot away from her face or a mile away in some random direction.
Was this death? No. It couldn't be. It wasn't like this before. Before, it had just felt like falling asleep for a few weeks and waking up with one hell of a hangover. There were none of these sensations. But she just wished that she could feel something other than the nothing. The feeling of falling. Or floating. Anything to give her an idea of where she was. But there was nothing. Just those distant noises and feelings that meant nothing.
But she felt surprisingly emotionless about it. She should have felt something. Confusion, perhaps. Frustration. Fear. But there was nothing, just like there was nothing around her. She was as passive as the darkness. Even this didn't bother her. She didn't even know her name anymore. Or what she was.
And it lasted for an eternity. An eternity in a moment.
Until there was something that sent a ripple through the darkness. A smell. The scent of pine and wood smoke with a faint metallic tang. Of gun oil and solvent. A smell that brought back a memory. An emotion. Her fingers remembered his skin. Her tongue remembered his taste. Her body remembered him. And she began to remember herself. She felt her fingers twitch as they longed to touch; her tongue itched as it longed to whisper his name into the darkness. And out of the background voices, she strained to hear him. She wanted to pick him out of the gloom and have him shine as a beacon.
But there was nothing.
Perhaps there was something there, just beyond her hearing, but she was unable to locate it. And her feelings, her memories, began to fade as a whole new emotion surfaced. Despair. And logic said that any emotion was better than the nothing she felt before, but there was no room for logic here. There was just pain and loss and longing.
A voice had risen from the darkness like a banshee and sent her spinning off into oblivion. Soft and gentle and terribly, terribly afraid. And that word. Shepard. That was her name wasn't it? She was Shepard. Commander Eden Shepard of the Alliance. N7. Engineer. Daughter. Officer. Lover. Friend. Had she truly forgotten that? Was that why she was drifting as she was, in a sea of nothing?
"When I said to come back alive, I didn't mean like this."
Orders. She had orders. She had taken orders from her subordinate simply because they were given by him. And she had known that no Reaper would ever stop her from fulfilling those orders. Because they were his orders. And she was a damn good soldier. And they were damn good orders. And once upon a time, she was determined. She remembered that, then wondered when and why she had stopped. You don't abandon your mission because your tired or you hurt. Your work is never done when the mission is not complete. She had failed missions, but she had never abandoned one.
And she would not abandon this one. Nor would she fail.
The first thing she became aware of was the steady beeping of a machine over to her right, followed by how heavy she felt. Where she had been weightless before, she now felt pressed into the soft bed by her own comforting body mass. It was so different to the last time she had felt her own weight, when it was pressed under rubble and resting on a broken shoulder. She felt the air in her lungs, clear and cool and smelling faintly of antiseptic. Gone was the burning, acrid smoke and the pain of broken ribs. Gone was the stench of burning bodies and disintegrated Citadel.
She couldn't open her eyes yet, but she felt she didn't want to. She just wanted to enjoy the feeling of having her own body back.
Tentatively, experimentally, she twitched every individual muscle she could. The thighs and calves of of both legs, followed by flexing of her bare toes. All ten accounted for there. She clenched and unclenched her buttocks and core muscles, twitching her abdominals as if she were about to sit up. Pectorals and shoulders were stiff but mobile, as were biceps. Finger by finger, she counted. To nine. She found herself frowning (noting that her facial muscles worked as she did so) and counted again. Nine. She either couldn't move or was missing her little finger of her left hand. Missing was most likely, as the memory of the pain echoed in the back of her skull.
She also noticed that her right hand felt very heavy. Far heavier than her left. As if something was on it.
Her fingers twitched against something rough yet smooth, like a leather glove. It took a few moments before her brain connected to what it could be and on instinct she turned her palm over and gently locked five fingers with three.
It took a great deal of strength but she finally unglued her eyes from where they had stuck together. And then she immediately closed them again as a sterile white light flooded her and caused red dots on the backs of her eyelids. She cracked them open slowly, letting herself go from incomprehensible blackness into the brilliant lights of her hospital room. Not typical of a hospital room, she noticed. Cracked walls, the occasional bullet hole. Small window showing fluffy white clouds on a pale blue sky. She was on Earth then. Or perhaps a hospital ship with holographic windows. No…concrete walls. This was a planet.
Eventually, after staring at the ceiling for a while, she let her gaze drift down to where a familiar hand lay interwoven with her own. It's owner hadn't seemed to notice. A faint smile tugged at one side of her lips as she followed the line of the arm up until the rested on the face of a very familiar turian.
Or rather, the top of said turian's head. He was slumped forward in the chair, dressed in what looked like cheap casual attire. His posture screamed exhaustion but his breathing whispered peace. And Shepard felt her smile turn fond as she watched him sleep. He had come back. He had waited. No visor, she noticed. It was sitting upside down on the small table nearby, still glowing blue and scrolling through readouts. She'd seen that before, in the captains cabin back on the Normandy. When exhaustion (or passion) had overcome them, he would just take it off and discard it on the nearest stable surface.
With great effort, she lifted his hand to her lips and planted a kiss on the soft skin between his fingers. This simple movement caused him to twitch and as she gently lowered their hands again, she noticed the movement in his brow plates that told her he was waking. His mandibles twitched and drooped as he yawned, tired blue eyes finally meeting hers. And then he froze mid-yawn, causing Shepard to involuntarily smirk.
"Shepard?" It was barely a whisper, his eyes drilling into hers with so much emotion that it was suddenly very hard for her to breath. She had only seen that look once before, in very different circumstances. Before the beam and the Catalyst. Back when she had ordered James to take him. Back when she didn't know if she would ever see him again.
"Hey." Even her voice felt heavy, coming out in a slow exhale as it did. He was already moving, sitting on the bed, leaning over her and holding her hand as if she was going to vanish into smoke. "You look tired."
He barked out a breathy laugh that sounded far more like relief than anything else. "You don't look too awake yourself."
"Mmm. I don't think I am yet. Not completely." Her thumb made light circles on the back of his hand and he watched it as if he wasn't sure this was real. As if this was a dream born from exhaustion and he would wake up to find her still asleep. Shepard herself wasn't too sure of it either. "How long was I out?"
"Hard to say. I'd put it at around thirteen earth months."
"Damn. Guess all those sleepless nights finally caught up with me."
Garrus didn't respond. Instead his forehead was pressed to hers with his eyes squeezed shut. She could feel the relief washing off him, feel the tension just slipping out of his almost rigid frame as he affirmed that this was no dream. "They said you wouldn't wake up, Shepard."
The pain in his barely-whispered confession broke her heart and she summoned the energy to lift her still bandaged left hand so she could rest it on the back of his neck, the tips of her exposed fingers rubbing small circles under his fringe. "They also said the Reapers couldn't be stopped."
"I don't think that's quite the same thing."
"Is it not?" She pushed lifted their still joined hands and pushed him back so she could look into his eyes. "I was given orders to stop the Reapers. I did." A pause, a heartbeat. "I was also given an order more important than that one."
Garrus merely looked puzzled. For someone so clever, she thought, he could be exceedingly dense sometimes.
"An order to come back alive."
"Whoever gave you that order was either very smart or utterly crazy."
"I think perhaps both. But it was a good one."
"I can't argue with that."
Shepard let him lean back into her, enjoying the simple pressure of him being there. Allowing him to chase away the darkness and the lingering feeling of nothing she had been swimming in for far too long. At the same time, she knew that the simple act of their gentle embrace was soothing away his fears that she'd never return to him. The thought that he would continue to wait by her bedside until her body gave out was too painful to comprehend. No. There was no way she could ever have not gone through with those orders. There was no way she could ever leave him again.
Thank you for reading :)