Author's Note: First story! There aren't many Shepley stories compared to every other LI, I figured I'd contribute my first story to that cause. This won't be as much plot as interaction between Shepard, Ashley, and the Shepley spawn. Not sure either how long it will go or whether the chapters will be in chronological order, I'll wait until I see some reviews before deciding. Don't be gentle, let me know what I should improve and I'm always open to ideas. Also, if any of you know the name of Ashley's mother, PLEASE let me know because I could not find it anywhere.
Chapter 1: Madeline Nirali Shepard
Ashley's eyes opened slowly, groggily, and she was tempted to just give in to the urge to go back to sleep. That would be both stupid and impossible,she knew, but it was still a nice thought to think she had that freedom. The screeching sound from the nearby room was still reverberating through the apartment, and with a long, heavy sigh Ashley forced herself out of bed. She left the master bedroom and walked over to the smaller one on the left side of the hallway. Two buckets of paint lay on a plastic sheet nearby, near the one section of the wall they'd had time to paint. The rest of the wall was still a sterile white that drove Ashley crazy. Making her way over to the crib in the corner of the bedroom, she looked down at her wailing daughter, dressed in fuzzy, Alliance blue pajamas. Still blinking sleep away, she picked her up, and smiled when Maddy's crying immediately lessened and eventually stopped. Maddy would probably be hungry, she realized. Ashley walked out to the kitchen, grabbed a bottle, and returned to the baby's bedroom, all the while trying to keep the baby in her arms from resuming the fit that had woken Ashley up to begin with. Maddy eagerly sucked on the bottle, and her nervous mother immediately felt relief.
"Skipper, where are you when I need you," she whispered as Maddy continued to nurse the bottle. She often tried to make herself be angry at Shepard, but she knew that was stupid. Shepard tried his best to be home whenever he could, but unfortunately part of being an Alliance soldier, especially one as important as Shepard, was that he was needed elsewhere. Ashley loved her daughter, cherished every moment with her, but she could not deny that she was eager to resume her own career. Maddy was seven months old now, and Ashley's maternity leave from the Alliance had ended a month ago, but she had still not been given an assignment. Almost certainly due to Shepard, she thought somewhat bitterly.
Ashley's thoughts were interrupted when a hand reached up and touched her collarbone. She looked down to see that Maddy was no longer drinking from the bottle, and proceeded to gently lift the baby up to her shoulder so she could burp her. Maddy complied, and Ashley lay her back down in the crib, where the baby girl proceeded to fall back asleep. With her daughter quiet and sleeping again, Ashley could appreciate just how beautiful she was. Shepard insisted that Maddy looked just Ashley, and Ashley insisted she looked like Shepard. The truth was probably somewhere in between. She had Ashley's hair, that much was evident, as was the fact she had Shepard's eyes and lips. Looking at her now, Ashley could see how their daughter's cheeks and nose were like hers. Hopefully Maddy would grow up to be pretty, prettier than Ashley had ever been.
Unable to go back to sleep, Ashley eventually got up and checked her extranet messages. After scanning through one page of spam, regretting ever filling out a survey out of boredom and vowing for the fifth time that she would never do so again, her heart jumped at seeing a message from Shepard.
Hey Ash. It's just past two in the morning here, and I can't sleep at all. Thought I would send you a message while I lay here in bed. How's Maddy doing? You know I wish I was there, and I should be home in a couple of weeks. Hopefully earlier. Politics, I was not born for it. I don't care if it's the biggest krogan that ever existed, I might end up punching the next diplomat that insists I personally solve their problems.
Anyways, I miss and love you both. Send me a message back when you get the chance.
Ashley could not help the smile that came to her face, or the fact that any resentment she had for Shepard that morning was gone in the time it took to read his message.
Hey to you too, Skipper. Maddy's doing great, so well behaved. It's a good thing, if she was anything like Mom and Dad said I was as a baby, I would have broken your legs myself so you would have to stay home with me. She's gotten so big in the last month. I'm sending you a picture with this message.
Stay safe Skipper. No punching krogans or anyone else that doesn't punch you first.
Facing another day of boredom, Ashley walked back to Maddy's bedroom, watching her daughter sleep. Maybe she could continue painting today. First though, she needed some breakfast and some exercise.
"What do you mean no one can come!?" Ashley shouted. Both her hands were balled into fists, and every muscle in her body appeared to be tense with anger.
Shepard knew better than to yell back, and it always helped to show a little fear, even if he wasn't particularly scared. "I tried to convince them all, over and over, but everyone is busy. Well, except Tali, she has a harsh fever and can't travel right now."
"It's Maddy's first birthday!" Ashley continued to argue. "Damn it, we were supposed to have a celebration here. It's not much of a party if my mom and my sisters are the only ones that come."
"I know Ash. Believe me, I tried my best to get them all to come. I'm as disappointed as you are."
Shaking her head, Ashley fixed her glare on Shepard. "They all managed to show up after I gave birth. They can't show up for a freaking birthday party?"
Ashley continued to fume in anger, and Shepard cringed with every sudden movement. He was not lying when he said he was disappointed, but it could not be helped. It's not like Maddy would remember if anyone came to her first birthday party anyway, but he would never say that out loud. Not knowing what else to do, he tentatively grabbed a hold of Ash's hands, and calmed down when she did not resist. "She'll have a lot more birthdays, where we can force everyone to come. Think of it that way, now we have leverage to make them come for whatever birthdays you want to force them to attend in the future. Even Wrex won't be able to resist infantile blackmail." Ashley broke out laughing, and Shepard brought her in for a hug. The sound of a ringing doorbell snapped them back to attention. "Ready to greet some guests?"
All of Ashley's sisters had shown up at once, and Shepard stood back while they all practically ran through the door to hug her. Once they were done, the mob descended on him, hugging him, kissing him on the cheek, squealing their greetings. The Commander suddenly had that overwhelmed feeling normally present on a mission, and his anger towards the others for not being able to come to the party grew.
Once the horde was finished with him, they moved on to Maddy's bedroom where their fawning over the baby girl could be heard even where he stood near the front door. Shepard was about to close the front door when a voice called out for him to hold on. He looked outside and saw Ashley's mother, well, his now as well, hurrying towards the door, three gift wrapped boxes in her hands. "Why didn't any of them help you with these?" he asked after hurrying to take them from her hands. None of the boxes were heavy, just uncomfortable to carry.
The eldest Williams looked at him as if he was an idiot. "You've personally known me and my family for two years now. Is that a serious question? They couldn't even hold the door downstairs open for me, they had to come see the baby."
Right on cue, Abby came from the hallway. "Mom, you have to come see Maddy! She's getting so big and so cute!" Shepard smiled as his mother in-law shook her head.
The party ended up being rather quiet, at least for Shepard anyway. Ashley's sisters never left her or Maddy's side, allowing Shepard to stay far away in a corner of the living room. Every so often Ashley would pay him some attention, only to be dragged away every time. His company most of the night ended up being Ashley's mother, who like him would get caught up in a conversation briefly before her daughters moved on.
When the party finally ended, Maddy was out cold, the sisters had gossiped themselves to death, and Shepard insisted Ashley sit and relax while he cleaned up what little bit of wrapping paper and dishes needed to be cleaned up. He could not help but stop at the cake and slice off a small piece for himself. Three quarters of the thing was left, and he knew that they would most likely end up giving it to someone else or chucking it. Neither he nor Ashley were cake eaters, and obviously Maddy wouldn't be eating the damn thing. Taking a bite, he had to admit it was pretty damn good, chocolate with some fancy frosting Ashley had bought but did not remember the name of.
Watching Maddy during her first birthday had been an event he would never forget. He was full of pride while witnessing the way his daughter had handled the constant attention, charming the entire room with her giggles and smiles. At the same time though, the party had triggered guilt buried deep within him, that he didn't even realize had been there until now. Maddy was already a year old. She had crawled for the first time, laughing, smiling, her personality developing more and more every day, and he was missing all of it. Ashley had sent him a message a month ago telling him Maddy had even tried to walk, failing miserably, but the fact that she had tried and he had missed it caused him immense guilt.
When he walked in the bedroom ten minutes later, Shepard had moved past guilt to depression. The door leading to the bathroom in the bedroom opened, and Ashley came out wearing a blue tank top and grey sweatpants, her usual sleepwear. Normally he would be all over her, grabbing and kissing, but tonight he simply walked into the bathroom after she was gone, not even noticing the concerned expression on her face. The splash of water on his face felt cool and refreshing. After stripping down to his boxers and undershirt, placing his clothes from the day in the laundry hamper, he left the bathroom with a resolute feeling. Ashley was sitting on the edge of the bed, and Shepard joiner her, staring at the wall ahead. "I'm staying home from now on," he said.
"I'm staying home," Shepard repeated. "At least for a few months, maybe a year. I realized today that I am missing everything in our daughter's life. I missed her crawling. I miss months with her. The way things are going, I won't see her first steps or hear her first words. Before I know it she'll be a young girl who's father was never there. I'm not letting that happen."
"Are you sure about this, Skipper?" Ashley asked, not sure whether she should be supportive of Shepard's decision or not. For the most part she was absolutely thrilled, both for herself and their daughter. On the other hand, she did not want Shepard regretting his decision after a couple of weeks and not being able to change it.
"Yes. Tomorrow I'm calling Admiral Hackett, and making all the arrangements I have to. I know the Alliance will let me, I've already had this conversation. With luck, I won't have to leave home other than to meet with whoever I need to see to make this official."
Ashley tried to think of an argument against his decision, but she couldn't do it. Anything she might say would be completely insincere. The smile that spread on her face was anything but false. She threw herself at Shepard, arms gripping around his neck as her lips crushed into his.
Nearly an hour had passed, and still Maddy would not stop crying. Shepard had tried feeding her, burping her, rocking her, entertaining her with toys, everything he could think of, and nothing would calm the baby down. At best, she would stop crying for a minute before starting up again. She needs her mom, damn it. Ashley had finally been given an assignment two months ago, her first since she was given maternity leave. It was not far from their home on Amaterasu, overseeing the reestablishment of defenses on a colony about a two day trip away, but her absence was a new development that Maddy was not taking well. Not that Shepard could blame his daughter. After a year and three months of being able to see her mother whenever she wanted, both Shepard and Ashley knew the sudden absence would not go over well.
Shepard cradled his crying daughter in his arms, rocking her gently for the third time now, and remembering all the messages he had received whileaway from home, telling him all about how perfectly behaved Maddy was. Too bad he had missed out on that phase. Well, that was not exactly true. Maddy was still perfectly behaved when Ashley came home, which she did every couple of weeks. It was his fault Maddy cried for her mother now, because he had been gone so often after she was born. The pangs of guilt assaulting him were not new, not even close. He had felt them the first time he had to leave, when Maddy was two months old and Shepard was called upon to make a diplomatic trip to Tuchanka. He had felt them when he had to leave three days after her first birthday, to meet with representatives of various colonies and hear their needs along with other influential members of the Alliance government. He was certainly feeling that guilt now, when his presence was no where near enough to stem the sadness and confusion his daughter was feeling.
Maddy's crying continued for another ten minutes, when finally Shepard decided to resort to the one thing that had always worked. He carried her over to his terminal in the bedroom, opening up the messages and searching through the ones he had already read. Finding the right one, he opened the video attachment provided with it. "Maddy, look," he said, lifting the baby so she could see the terminal display and pointing.
Ashley's smiling face popped up on screen, dressed in her blue Alliance officer uniform, her hair in its usual bun. "Maddy," she said, drawing her name out, and immediately the baby began quieting, fixated on the screen. "Hi Maddy. mommy really misses you. You are so beautiful, sweetheart, look at you! I know mommy isn't at home, and you're probably upset, but I miss you and I promise I will be home as soon as possible. Until I get home though, I need you to be a good girl for daddy. Can you do that for me?" Maddy giggled, reaching for the screen. Shepard smiled warmly. "You'll have plenty of time to make daddy feel bad with tantrums, but for now I need you to be a good girl until mommy gets home. I love you, Maddy, I love you and daddy so much." The video stopped, and so did Maddy's crying.
Well, that worked for now, Shepard thought with a sigh. Unfortunately, he also felt worse than ever. All it had taken was one look at a video of Ashley to accomplish what he had spent more than an hour trying to do. Lifting Maddy up so that they were face to face, he smiled as warmly and lovingly as he could at her. "I know I haven't always been here, and that you don't know me like you do mommy, but I love you. I swear, I will always be here for you, whenever you need me. I does not matter where I am or what I am doing, I will come find you right away, you are the best thing I was ever responsible for. Can you do me a favor though? Can you take it easy on me until mommy comes home?" Maddy reached out with one hand and touched his face, a gesture that she often made to her parents when she was calm and relaxed. She would just reach out with one hand and touch them, as if she was letting them know she understood. "That's my girl. Besides, if you don't behave, the tummy monster will come around!" He lifted up her shirt to expose her stomach, and began blowing on it, making Maddy giggle uncontrollably.
Shepard had managed to get back to sleep later, only to be woken up in an hour by Maddy crying again. Now what, he thought, growing frustrated but calming himself as he reached for his sweatpants where they lay crumpled up next to the bed. He took a few moments to wake himself up, but when he stood off the bed Maddy suddenly stopped crying. Confused, Shepard left the bedroom and began walking towards the baby's room. He stopped when he heard a gurgling sound, and broke into a sprint, panicking. Did he leave something in her crib she could choke on? Had she managed to get a hold of something?
Shepard burst into the room, and was stunned to see someone standing over the crib. "Get the hell away from my daughter!" he screamed. The intruder turned quickly, and Shepard stopped in place, heart nearly jumping into his throat. "Jesus, Ash, you scared the hell out of me. Is Maddy okay?"
Ashley smiled confusedly back at him. "She's fine, why wouldn't she be? What did you do to her Skipper?"
"Me? I heard her crying and then she just suddenly stopped," Shepard fired back. "I had no idea you were coming back tonight, I thought someone had broken into the house." He slumped against the wall, taking deep breaths to calm himself down. His eyes were cast towards the ground, and he did not notice that Ashley had taken Maddy out of her crib, sitting down next to him, until a hand reached out and grabbed a strand of his hair. He looked up to find Maddy smiling at him, still making happy gurgling sounds.
"I figured you needed the sleep. You look like hell, John." Ashley made a few funny faces at Maddy. Shepard knew she was right. The bags under his eyes and the pale skin hadn't gone unnoticed to him, it certainly would go noticed by Ash. "Has Maddy made things that rough on you?"
Shepard sighed. "There have just been so many nights where she would not stop crying. Most the time she would only stop if I showed her that video you made. She just wanted to see you, and to hell with anything I would do." He looked over at Ashley, who was whispering nonsense at their daughter. "This is hard, Ash. I knew it would be, but I figured hey, I've killed a rogue Spectre, blown up a space station surrounded by black holes, and somehow managed to defeat the Reapers while surviving an explosion on the Citadel that sent me propelling to Earth. How hard could being a parent really be? Surprise, surprise, a crying baby made me feel more helpless than a skyscraper sized death machine ever did."
"I know what you mean," Ashley said. "Mom always told me that I would know exactly what to do when the time came. What a lie that was. The first time Maddy cried, and you weren't here, I panicked like you wouldn't believe. I was running back and forth, sweat rolling down my face, arguing with myself about what to do. I just picked her up and comforted her and she eventually stopped."
"I wish that worked for me," Shepard said, rolling his eyes.
As if Shepard's statement had been a dare, Ashley handed Maddy over to him, not even asking first. Shepard took his daughter, carefully holding her. To his surprise, she giggled, reaching up with both hands towards his face. "See, she loves you," Ashley said. "Of course she loves you, you're her dad, and you're the most amazing man she'll ever know, even if she'll think she hates you as a teenager." Shepard rolled his eyes. He did not need to be reminded of those coming years. Baby Maddy was suddenly a blessing compared to the prospect of teenage Madeline, who would be a cross between himself and Ashley, a stubborn, fiery monster that would be dating boys and causing trouble everywhere she went. "Besides, if you think I know what I'm doing any more than you do, you are crazy."
Shepard grinned and shook his head. "We are in some trouble then."