This fic is an outpouring of a lot of feelings, and as such is one of the most self-indulgent pieces I've ever written. When I play games that allow for some level of customization, I usually play my starting character like my twin sister, Amanda. Playing her in the Mass Effect universe gave her a new life for me, and after ME3, I wrote this in an attempt to work out some of my emotions. It's a condensed trip through all three games, and I hope you'll give it a shot even if it's something you wouldn't normally consider.
"Glad you managed to find time for me in your busy schedule."
Coming from another person that would have been meant as a jibe. Coming from Cristina, her lips pursed as she tried not to smile, it was a teasing commentary on their lives. She remained in her seat but pushed the wrought iron chair across from her away from the table with her toes.
Around them, the Citadel bustled with activity. Crowds of aliens passed, and Cristina watched them with the same passing interest she might afford a pretty flower. Her gaze lingered on an asari long enough for the asari to notice and smile back, and she jerked about to face Amanda again.
Amanda slid into her seat with a small smile, her fingers lightly touching her twin's wrist. Cristina's petulant expression turned into a smile much broader than her sisters, with a flash of teeth and considerably more warmth. Even though they looked exactly alike, seeing such wide and easy expressions on Cristina's seemed more natural.
"You look good," Amanda said, trying to find a comfortable position in the seat. She wore light body armor under the long-sleeved shirt and heavy pants. The combination was just enough to make settling into a chair difficult.
Cristina laughed, giving her a dismissive hand wave. "Half a bottle of hairspray and five layers of makeup. If I didn't, I'd look like you." Her brows rose.
Amanda matched the expression. "Like a marine?"
"Like the first human Spectre. Commander Shepard, oh so important darling of the human embassy."
Slumping into her chair, Amanda let out a sound of disgust, rolling her eyes. "You would know," she muttered, slouching as low as the armor would let her. It bit into her skin, but it was worth it to see Cristina lean over the table with a wicked, impish grin.
The waiter took that moment to stop at their table. "Are you ready to order," he inquired, sneaking quick glances at Amanda. He must have thought she wouldn't notice. "Or would you like more time?"
Cristina flicked a glance at Amanda, and Amanda shrugged. She didn't need a menu; Cristina could order for her just fine. "Fuji apple salad for me," Cristina said. "Bacon burger for the starving marine. Medium rare, no onions." She caught her lower lip in a pensive expression for a bare second. "Extra pickles, yeah?"
"I could go for a few more pickles," Amanda agreed after a moment's thought. "We're both fine with water." And Amanda could order for her twin just as easily.
The waiter nodded and departed.
He was barely away from the table before Amanda pushed herself up and leaned against it, arms crossed on the edge. "You could have at least let me tell you," she said, trying not to sound too grouchy about it.
Cristina scoffed, her eyes bright with amusement – that was usually the only way to tell them apart: their expressions. Cristina swung between them like a wild pendulum, each emotion playing across her face like a beacon. Amanda, though, held her peace and possessed a much greater level of reservation. She'd always preferred to let her twin emote at the forefront of a crowd. Which made it odd that she was the smiling war hero while Cristina hid behind a computer screen for the bulk of the day.
"It's more fun to know and then tease you about it for waiting so long to share it with me."
Manda sputtered and Cristina laughed, pushing her hand through thick brown curls and tossing them over her shoulder. "So long?" she demanded. "I just got word this afternoon! So long my ass."
"Congratulations, then," Cristina said, lifting her glass of water in mock toast. Amanda huffed and didn't move to lift her glass, feeling grumpy. "Are they deploying you again?" Right away?"
They were. And it sucked. Amanda hadn't seen Cristina for more than a handful of hours in months. It was sheer luck they were both on the Citadel. Usually, they left rambling, half-coherent messages for each other at odd hours, and while Cristina's were full of stories and people, Amanda's sounded more like well-rehearsed cover up stories. Which they were. And her twin took well enough.
"Yeah, I… can't be here too long." She watched her sister's face twist with upset, watched the emotions run across Cristina's face as she processed and digested the information. "Something came up."
She saw Cristina's curiosity. And she saw the moment Cristina shelved the curiosity for simple understanding. It hurt that she couldn't be more open, but the distance, at least in terms of Amanda's job, hadn't ever bothered Cristina too much.
Twisting in her seat, Cristina flung both legs over the arm of the chair and propped her forearms on her knees. Leaning forward, she sighed. "Lucky bitch. You get to have all the adventures."
Amanda swallowed. "It's—"
It wasn't that they could read each other's minds – biotic skill wasn't telepathy no matter what some people believed and what others would say. They just had an uncanny knack for knowing what the other was thinking. Sometimes, in the middle of a sleep cycle, Amanda would wake up feeling happiness that had nothing to do with the current situation, and she would know it had nothing to do with her and everything to do with her sister.
"It always is." There was no bitterness in Cristina's voice. "One of us has to have adventures, and since it can't be me, it has to be you." She brought her finger down, suddenly, on the tines of her fork, sending it shooting off the table. Catching it in her fist, she jabbed it at Amanda's face.
Amanda didn't flinch, just sighed. It was hard to flinch at a fork in your face when people waved guns in it regularly. And after Eden Prime, there wasn't much left to startle or scare her.
"You're obligated to write me, you know. Especially if those hot pieces of man ass are going to be following you everywhere."
Startled, Amanda swung around. Alenko and Vakarian bent their heads over Alenko's omnitool and did their vest to look very busy. Her gaze slid back to her twin, a brow raised. "Turians, Cristina?"
"Oh, like you didn't watch those vids." But a flush colored Cristina's cheeks. The pattern of glass on the tabletop held her in thrall.
"You were always the one hacking datapads for dirty xeno porn, not me." Not that they hadn't hid under the covers and watched a vid or two together, until they realized how bizarre and uncomfortable that was.
Cristina snorted. "Because all those space stations were boring and I need something to do with my time." She pursed her lips. "After I got busted for so-called acts of vandalism."
"You painted over emergency exit information."
"I made the emergency exit information into a typographical mural."
"It was illegible."
"It was a work of art."
The indignant expression on Cristina's face was too much, and Amanda broke into laughter. Nothing raucous like Cristina's laugh, which could wake the dead, but a quiet, contained chuckle muffled by her hand over her mouth. The waiter appeared at that moment, putting their food on the table, and Amanda sobered immediately, giving him a curt nod as he set her burger in front of her. Cristina murmured a thank you and promptly turned a healthy salad into a heart attack by slathering it with dressing.
She popped a dried apple into her mouth. "And the coronary on your plate isn't, Ms. Super Special Spectre?"
Feeling childish, Amanda stuck her tongue out at her sister. "So did you hear back from that ad agency on Illium?"
Cristina watched her for a long second, and Amanda pretended not to notice as she spread mustard and ketchup on her burger. Finally, Cristina sighed and launched into a long, involved story about her interview. Nothing more was said about her Spectre status.
Keeping in contact with someone while gallivanting across the galaxy – gallivanting wasn't quite the right word, though; that implied some kind of fun excursion and chasing Saren was anything but – was next to impossible. Amanda left messages as much as possible but rarely had time to listen to Cristina's. She tried, she really did, but she usually only made it through the first five seconds before dropping into a dead sleep.
Cristina seemed content to receive quick notes via extranet. "Still alive :-)" one read. Another said "Went to Noveria. Got you a souvenir." But her twin's messages became shorter and shorter, dropping from ten minutes of rambling and sharing stories about her coworkers to quick, two minute messages wishing Amanda the best.
There was a stretch where Amanda didn't check her messages for nearly three weeks – and she was shocked to read Cristina had spent five days of that time hospitalized. She sent a card immediately and tried to call. But Cristina didn't answer, and Amanda spent the rest of the time on Feros acting less like an Alliance commander and more like a kicked puppy.
Garrus called her on it when a poor tactical decision had Liara meeting a geth juggernaut head on. He was right, of course. She resolved to do better.
And then they went to Virmire.
Garrus moved through the Normandy with purpose, looking for Shepard. After their mission briefing, she'd vanished into her cabin and no one had seen her since. It'd been nearly twenty hours, and he'd resolved to haul her bodily from the cabin if he needed to. She'd done what was necessarily on Virmire, and he wasn't about to let her beat herself over it.
She wasn't in her cabin.
He ticked off the places she could be, the quiet, hidden places few people would think to look. Life support, maybe. Or with Chakwas in the medical bay. Following a nagging feeling in his gut, he went to the comm room and froze just inside the door.
He'd been looking for Shepard, had decided he wasn't going to let her stew in her own guilt, but he hadn't planned past that. And he wasn't sure how to proceed now that he'd located her, and she wasn't alone. In the strictest sense.
Shepard, her head bowed and arms braced against a railing, stood before a projection of a woman who looked exactly like her. For a moment, he though she was watching something she'd recorded before. A report, maybe. But even though the woman looked exactly like her, their mannerisms were nothing alike.
And he thought her waist might be slimmer than Shepard's, but that could have been a function of the belted tunic she wore.
Her twin, then. He met her, sort of, on the Citadel when Shepard had insisted on lunch with her. Their identical faces unnerved him. Humans who looked similar, never mind identical, were bizarre enough.
Her twin crouched, level with Shepard's bowed head. "Stop it," she murmured. The display rippled with her motion, the refresh rate not quite fast enough to keep the motion smooth. "Hey. Manda. Hey."
Shepard's head jerked up, and her twin smiled softly. The expression was almost familiar, an exaggeration of one he was used to seeing on Shepard's face.
"It's not your fault."
"I made the choice." Shepard's voice caught. Hitched. She sounded so unlike herself it made something in his chest hurt.
"That doesn't mean you're allowed to beat yourself up for it."
Every muscle in Shepard's body went taut. "I left Ash to die! Me! Cristina, she was my friend, and I let her die."
Realizing he was intruding, Garrus shifted his weight and turned to leave.
Shepard's twin, Cristina, looked up at that moment, and the vid camera must have been set wide, or else Shepard wasn't occupying much of the screen, because her eyes widened in recognition when they landed on him. She jerked her head the slightest bit. A human gesture he'd learned to read. No.
He stilled, touching his fingers to the wall to steady himself.
"Hey, no," she said gently, turning back to Shepard. Her hand reached out, her translucent fingers ghosting over her twin's cheek. "You did what you had to do."
"Doesn't make it right."
"No. No, it doesn't. Manda-Manda?" Shepard's head dropped again, and her sister's fingers flexed. "It's why you're here. Because you can make those calls. Most people can't, but you can. Even when you wouldn't say a word back home, you'd draw a line in the sand. This far, no closer. This is who I am. What I am. This is what I'm going to do. It sucks that you had to make that choice, but if it had been up to someone else? They'd both be dead, and you with them."
Shepard remained silent, and her sister drew away, straightening.
"Nothing's going to make it better," Shepard whispered. The harsh sound of her voice bounced through the quiet room.
The silence that followed was brutal. It pushed its heavy weight against Garrus' shoulders, and its clawed hands dragged at his arms, pulling at him. He didn't understand why the two of them just stood there, not even looking at each other. Couldn't comprehend why Shepard didn't just cut the feed. There wasn't any comfort in that.
"Death, be not proud, though have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so." Cristina's voice cut through the quiet, a sharp, superheated blade that seemed at once horribly out of place and sweetly sublime.
A choked laugh escaped Shepard, her shoulders shaking ever so slightly. "For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me." She exhaled, finally pushing away and standing straight. "Thanks."
Cristina rolled her eyes. "I'm always here. Call me if you need me?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I will. I'll be better about it, I promise. But, um. Are you still on the Citadel?"
Her lips did a funny thing, sticking out from her face, while her eyes narrowed. Human expressions were the damnedest things, and impossible to read. He'd only managed to figure out the basics.
"No. I moved to Illium about a month ago for that job."
"Right." Shepard sounded relieved. "Good. How is it?
Garrus slid out of the doorway as Cristina gushed about how lovely Illium was this time of year and made his way back toward the elevator. He could wait to talk to Shepard.
The Alliance delivered the message personally.
Ambassador Anderson knocked on her apartment door.
She'd known the message was coming. Knowing really didn't make it easier.
"So sorry for your loss," he said. "I knew Amanda personally," he told her.
Cristina stared numbly at the letter in her hand. Cover stock. 80 pounds. Matte paper. The font looked like one she'd used for a recent corporate branding project. She'd never be able to look at it again.
"She saved millions defending the Citadel."
She traced the outline of the letters with her eyes. Her fingers measured the leading. Anderson was still talking when she interrupted. "What about everyone else? Her crew?"
He hesitated. And she hated every person on that ship who survived. "Twenty-two dead, counting the Commander."
"Her body." She was numb. So numb. Her world shrank to the piece of paper in her hands and the words printed there.
His tone was so matter of fact when he spoke. "We don't know the exact location of the attack that led to your sister's death, except that the attack happened in planetary orbit in the Amada System." He paused and gentled his tone. "Reports from surviving crew members suggest that her body was caught by the planet."
Cristina set the paper on the little coffee table between them. Smoothed it very carefully until it lay flat. "Thank you for telling me," she said softly, staring at it until her eyes blurred.
"I'll see myself out."
She said nothing. Anderson saw himself out.
The funeral was small. Her sister's crew received invitations because it was polite. They offered their condolences because it was polite. She met their eyes and thanked them because it was polite. And she hated every last one of them.
She barely jumped, though her eyes widened and her pupils dilated when she snapped her head up and toward him. "Thane. You startled me." The expression shifted into one of suspicion. It was a friendly sort of suspicion, strangely enough, one that spoke of companionable interest instead of outright distrust. Refreshing. "Why aren't you taking your shore leave?"
Taking the question as an invitation, he settled in the uncomfortable metal chair across from her. "I have no business at the Citadel."
She frowned, her brows drawing ever so slightly together. He wondered if she realized she made those tiny expressions, barely discernible if one wasn't paying very close attention. "What about Kolyat?"
"I have done what I can," he said, folding his hands together on the table. "Imposing upon him would do nothing to improve our relationship. Why are you still here?"
The bare moment's hesitation between his question and her response, and the way her eyes darted toward the datapad in her hand, marked her response a lie before she even spoke. "Paperwork to catch up on, really. I've put it off enough, and now Miranda is—what?" She swallowed, and he watched the muscles in her throat work.
"If you prefer to keep your reasons to yourself, I will not pry." Shepard was, by her very nature, secretive. She rarely divulged personal information.
For nearly a minute, she was silent, the quiet hum of the ship the only noise between them. The rest of the crew deck was empty, making the lapse in conversation uncomfortable at best.
He moved to rise. "Forgive me, Shepard, I should not have—"
"I'm trying to write a letter to my sister."
He changed direction, shifting closer to the table as he watched her with intent eyes. "I wasn't aware you had a sister."
She shook her head. "I… don't like to talk about… me. Very much." She glanced to the side, over his shoulder, and her gaze rooted there. "We're twins. Identical. And she… she doesn't know I'm alive." Her throat worked, and she swallowed hard. The brightness of her eyes had nothing to do with vitality and everything to do with restrained tears. She let the datapad clatter the scant few inches from her hands to the table, closing her eyes and letting her head fall forward. "I have no idea what to say."
Thane reached for the pad slowly, giving her plenty of time to open her eyes and bat his hands away. She didn't move to stop him, didn't lift her gaze to him even when he dragged the pad noisily across the surface of the table. Taking that as permission, he lifted the pad to read what she had written.
"By now," he read aloud, "you've probably heard the rumors. This is Amanda, and I'm not dead. I'm sorry I didn't tell you as soon as I woke up. I work for Cerberus now. When I ran into Kaidan, he wasn't happy. I didn't know how to tell you." He read the rest of it silently.
At her heavy exhale, he glanced at her. Found her slouched in her seat, fingers pressed against the inside corners of her open eyes. "Disjointed. Terrible."
He turned back to the datapad, scrolling down. There were several more letters, none finished, and then something completely different. "Death, be not proud," he read, carefully enunciating each word, recognizing the words as poetry, if human.
Human poems lacked something prevalent in his own species' writings such that he'd never enjoyed it. But this had a lyricism he found attractive. Appealing, for all the punctuation was difficult to read.
"Death, be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; for those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me. From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, and soonest our best men with thee do go, rest of their bones, and soul's delivery." He paused make an inquiry, but she spoke before he could.
"Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men." She dragged her fingers away from her face and gave him a weary look.
"That's beautiful. Did you write it?"
Her bark of laughter was harsh. "No. John Donne did. Back in the 1600s." He had little frame of reference for what the year 1600 might mean, but he understood her meaning from her tone. The poem had been written hundreds of years ago. "My sister, Cristina, found it in a poetry book when we were kids. She loved it before we understood what it meant." Another laugh, this one dry. Disparaging. "We just sort of memorized it."
"For a woman like you, it's a suitable thing to say." Her brose rose in question. "Death, be not proud," he returned, sliding the datapad across the table to her. "If this has meaning for you and your sister, then send it and the first part."
Shepard winced. "It's not good enough. It doesn't explain anything."
"Perhaps your sister will simply be glad to have you back." Thane rose, having said more than enough. "Send it, siha."
Her eyes narrowed. "Siha? What does that mean?"
He almost smiled. "Someday, I'll tell you." With that, he left the mess.
Seeing Shepard alone and unarmed made Garrus physically ill. She looked so human and vulnerable in civillian clothes. Trousers and sneakers and a printed tee and a stained jacket. A piecemeal outfit borrowed from Kelly and Dr. Chakwas.
And everyone on the Normandy seemed to agree on that – on Shepard. That was why the bulk of the crew was spread across the open air market, ready to protect their commander should the need arise. They couldn't agree on much else. Just Shepard.
But the only one at Shepard's side was that damned drell assassin, the one who spoke a few platitudes about forgiveness and killing, who called her a few pet names, and owned her heart.
Not that Garrus was jealous. He didn't have an alien fetish, and Shepard wasn't his type.
That didn't mean he wasn't protective of her – she had been his Commander, his and Tali's – long before anyone else in their crew laid claim to her.
"Mark approaching," Miranda's voice said in his ear. He tried, again, to strip the dripping pretention from her tone. He failed, of course, as she gave the location, and he shifted his gun until he sighted the mark in his scope.
Her back to him, her head perfectly aligned in his crosshairs, his finger twitched against the trigger. He wanted to put a bullet in the woman's head.
Then she turned, Illium's warm breeze brushing her hair over her cheeks, and he felt sick again. Seeing Shepard's face on someone else, someone he wanted to kill, was a punch to the gut. She was a weakness, a liability.
Jacob's voice crackled over their communicator. "Eliminated tail."
"Eclipse merc. Someone knew Shepard had a sister." Irritation filled Miranda's tone, momentarily masking her pretention.
Garrus allowed himself a moment's pleasure. That Miranda didn't know about Shepard's sister caused him no end of amusement. But that amusement was short-lived. Miranda hadn't known, but, as she said, someone had.
"Contact," Krios's said, his voice a quiet rumble.
A shadow fell across Cristina's body. Shepard.
Garrus stroked the trigger, just waiting.
Weakness. Vulnerability. Danger.
And then the sisters embraced, bodies entangled, faces pressed against the other's neck, and Garrus grumbled. Shepard's head was between his barrel and her sister, and he'd be damned if she hadn't done that deliberately.
"I'll put a bullet in her head," he'd said. "Any indication something's wrong, and I won't hesitate." He'd meant it. He still did. Even after she'd used her biotics to toss him across the mess.
Choked sounds came over the comm, hollowed and ringing, picked up from Krios's mic. Shepard had refused one of her own, of course.
"Anderson told me—the ground, and—" Cristina's voice cut in and out as Shepard propelled her crying sister into a chair. Krios, across from them, was too far away to pick up her voice clearly. And then she pressed her face into her hands and muffled her voice even more as Shepard curled her fingers around her sister's wrists. She brought their foreheads together. Touching.
The familiar gesture, so turian, twisted his gut. It made Shepard and her sister seem far less alien, and he didn't like that. It was easier to shoot the sister if she stayed alien.
They whispered, heads together, and Garrus watched. Waited. Tali's voice crackled over the comm, giving an all clear. No more mercs. Kasumi began to say something, but Shepard's sister's voice crackled over the comm, loud and shocked.
"But he's a lizard!" she exclaimed, and bitterness made Garrus prickle.
"He's my lizard," Shepard replied lightly, off-handedly, and that seemed to disarm her sister. She slouched back in her seat, and Krios lifted his hand for a waiter.
And then they sat there.
For nearly three hours.
By the end, when his hands tingled and he could barely feel his legs, he felt little better than a voyeur. For all Shepard was the galaxy's hero, her sister was no one. She lived a quiet life in a nice area of Illium and no one bothered her. No one bothered with her. Her woes were simple, nothing near as weighty as staving off a Reaper invasion. She was unremarkable in almost every way.
Her normalcy made listening in somehow much more invasive.
They rose in synch, mirroring each other's movements with an ease born of familiarity. Krios stood to the side, but the mic still picked up Shepard's words. "If the dull substance of my flesh were thought, injurious distance should not stop my way; for then despite of space I would be brought, from limits far remote, where thou dost stay."
Her sister looked first baffled, the relieved, and finally happy. "Shakespeare, really?"
Shepard lifted her arm and tapped her omnitool. "I've reading it."
Cristina considered whatever was displayed; Garrus couldn't quite make it out. Scopes didn't make for easy reading of omnitools. Finally, she spoke, her voice slightly stilted in the way voices are when reading something new and unfamiliar. "No matter then although my foot did stand upon the farthest earth removed from thee; for nimble thought can jump both sea and land as soon as think the place where he – where she would be." Her lips curved in a smile. "Love you, baby."
The sister's embraced, and Shepard's lips moved against Cristina's hair. Cristina's head moved, the slightest nod, and she pulled back, letting Shepard and Krios depart.
The others would follow Shepard back to the Normandy. He would remain behind, with Miranda and Tali, to be sure Shepard's sister wasn't somehow compromised.
As she settled at the table, she pulled a datapad from her purse, tapping at it with intent for several minutes. Finally, she sat back in her chair, holding the pad against the table and at arm's length, and began to read. Perhaps she read aloud, perhaps she simply mouthed the words. Garrus didn't know. Wasn't sure he cared.
Abruptly, Miranda's voice came over the comms, speaking slowly, deliberately, reciting an alien poetry.
Shepard spent almost as much time at her console on the command deck as she did off world after that, typing up emails to send to her sister. Violating every security protocol Garrus knew about, she introduced the squad to her sister in short videos. Maybe because they were working with Cerberus and not the Alliance, she felt better about it. It was no secret that the Illusive Man left a sour taste in Shepard's mouth. Every since their trip through the Collector Ship, Shepard's suspicions grew. She kept them largely to herself, but had slipped one or two things to him.
Because of the videos, he wasn't quite as shocked as he might have been otherwise when an email from Shepard's sister appeared in his inbox.
It was brief. Perfunctory. He knew she didn't like him – didn't like any of Shepard's old crew. Even the new crew received a cool acceptance from her. She seemed especially wary of Thane, and Garrus really wouldn't be surprised if she'd sent a waspish email the drell's way.
"Hello to you, too," he muttered as he tapped the reply button.
He shot off a quick response before shouldering his sniper and joining Shepard and Grunt for a trip through a derelict Reaper, joy of joys.
I'm keeping an eye on her. Don't make her try too hard.
The reply was almost immediate. As the shuttle left the Normandy, he checked Illium's local time and wondered why the woman wasn't asleep.
If Cerberus gets her killed, I'll put a hit on you.
He doubted Cristina knew enough about Illium's criminal underbelly to carry that threat through. No one's killing Shepard. She came back from the dead once. That's enough to send most people running.
They were fighting off a small army of husks, Garrus wondering why Shepard decided to bring him on this mission, when his omnitool beeped six times in rapid succession. He ignored it, muting the alarm and wondering why he hadn't earlier. When they had a moment's reprieve, he checked it and found another two messages in his inbox.
The rest of the mission went smoothly, until they picked up a geth and Shepard decided to bring it onboard. Not wanting to get caught in that mess, Garrus holed up in the gun battery to do some calibrations – and to respond to Shepard's sister. Most her messages were ignorable threats, but the second to last one wasn't.
She won't tell me what you guys are doing, which means you're doing something crazy. I couldn't live with myself if she died again, Garrus. I can't hope that someone like Cerberus will be able to do that kind of thing again.
Garrus settled on the floor, resting his feet against a rail and his back against the wall. He considered the email, considered how to respond to it. Eventually, after trying to type something too polite too many times, he gave up and wrote to her like he'd write to Shepard. There's no Shepard without Vakarian. Nothing gets through me to your sister.
The response was a long time coming. He guessed a day or two passed, but it was always hard to judge the passing of time on a ship. Thank you. And an attachment. A picture of her and Liara T'Soni, waving at whoever took it.
Garrus sighed heavily. Of course Shepard's sister managed to make friends with the Shadow Broker.
He kept his word. He watched Shepard's six, and he kept her sister informed. She needed surprisingly little to be content. A product of her entire family being Alliance, he supposed. He kept her informed right up until the point they traveled through the Mass Relay, and he sent her an email when they somehow pulled their asses out the other side, leaving the wreckage of the Collector base behind them.
Because he was the one who let her know Shepard took a private mission from Hackett, he was the one she blamed for Shepard going to jail.
Kaidan wasn't quite sure what to make of the woman sitting across from him. She'd apparently hounded Captain Anderson (how she managed to acquire his contact information remained a mystery) until Anderson finally deferred her to Kaidan. She had, after one very brief vidcom conversation, told him to meet her at a little café on the bay. She gave the time, the date, and the address before hanging up on him, and, truthfully, he'd been a little afraid what might happen if he didn't show up.
So he did.
"Shepard never told me she had a twin sister." It was a stupid thing to say since he'd seen her before. That one time. On the Citadel. It felt like a lifetime ago.
"Manda likes to keep her personal life and military life as separate as possible." Cristina crossed her legs and lifted her coffee mug to her lips, studying him over the rim. Her brows rose as she watched him. "I want to visit her."
That wasn't much of a surprise to hear. "Unfortunately—"
Something dark and terrible passed over her face. He'd seen the same look from Shepard – from Amanda. She'd worn that look whenever she stood before the Council. When she spoke of Saren after Virmire and Ash.
And then her expression melted into one of barely concealed anguish. Her hands tightened around her mug until her knuckles went white and the tips of her fingers were red. Shepard rarely emoted so freely, and seeing those expressions on her face – on her sister's face – struck him as strange.
"I just want to see my sister. Please." She closed her eyes and turned away, ducking her head, but he'd seen the glimmer of tears in her eyes. Her back stiffened, and she sucked in a long breath, and he considered.
"I'll see what I can do."
Blinking rapidly to hold back the tears, her nose red and her eyes glassy when she opened them, she gave him a warm smile. He remembered the first time he saw Shepard smile at an offhand comment he'd made, and his heart jumped in his chest.
"Thanks," she said, and then she sucked down half the coffee in her mug.
Fully expecting her to set the mug down and leave, she surprised him when she leaned forward, setting her elbows on the table top, and asked, baldly, with an unwavering gaze, "Why didn't you go with her?"
He reeled, unsure at first what she was asking and then, realizing, was unsure how to respond, unable to process the question quickly enough to manage something intelligible. Her lips twisted first into a grimace and then into acceptance, and she bowed her head and sighed. "Above they barely touch, but undermined down to their deepest source, admiring you shall find their roots are intertwined insep'rably." Her words were soft, mumbled, barely audible.
"What?" It was the only word he could grasp at enough to say.
She pulled a bill from her purse and set it on the table, momentarily tipping him off balance in the other direction as he tried to comprehend why someone would bother with paper money when they had omnitools. "Have a good day, Major."
He saw her again, three weeks later, giving her sister a body crushing hug at the end of one courthouse hall.
"I want you to leave Earth," he heard Shepard say, her voice firm and unwavering. "Go—somewhere. Anywhere. Back to Illium."
"If they're really coming, going to Illium isn't going to keep me safe."
Cristina took a step back, glancing at the marine flanking Shepard. "Safer is with you. I should have joined the army."
Shepard's lips quirked in a way he'd never seen before. "You with a gun?" When Cristina mirrored the expression, it looked much more at home on her face.
Their faces fell as the marine murmured something to Shepard and glanced toward the door to their courtroom. "Get off Earth," Shepard said again, her tone brooking no argument.
He watched Cristina watch Shepard disappear back into the courtroom. Watched her leave, walking down the hall as though gravity had sunk deep claws into her limbs in an effort to drag her down.
Thane looked up from his folded hands, momentarily startled by the familiar sound of Shepard's voice. Rising, he turned toward her, mouth already forming her name, and froze, head tipping to the side.
Her face a mask of baffled confusion, she looked from him to her chart, muttering "Tannor Nuara, Tannor Nuara, what is this," to herself. Her eyes met his once again, her drawn brows shadowing the green and brown sunflower pattern on her irises. "You're—" Her frown deepened. "Doctor Nielson is—" She made a floundering gesture. "This way."
With a gentle laugh, he followed her. "I wasn't expecting to see you here."
"It's a small galaxy," she grumbled, escorting him into a private exam room.
She hesitated in the doorway. "Does Manda know you're here?"
Shaking his head, he settled comfortable on the exam table, folding his hands. "No."
He was struck again, as he was when he first met Amanda's twin, how very different they were in mannerisms. Where Amanda held herself still and quiet, exercising a soldier's control of her body, Cristina was loose and fluid. Flowing water to Amanda's solid earth. Expressions washed across her face like the tides, each wave wiping away the old emotion and replacing it with something new.
"You should," she finally managed. "I'll get Doctor Nielson."
He endured the appointment, accepted the news of his progress with stoic grace, and shifted from the table to the chair nearby once Nielson left. He waited there, long past the time he should have left the room, until the door opened and Cristina came in.
She stopped just inside the room and gave him a perplexed look.
"You're volunteering here?" he asked, feeling no need to dance around pleasantries with her.
Nodding, she tugged the paper covering off the exam table. "Yeah. I just." Her lips twisted in a grimace. Crossing her arms with a sigh, she leaned against the table. The fingers of one hand traveled up her arm to rub at her neck. "It bothered me that Manda's out there saving the galaxy, and I was sitting on my ass at a desk every day. I wanted to help." She grinned, the smile lighting up her face and making her shine. "So here I am, getting patients to their rooms and cleaning up after them."
They weren't so different, he thought as she went back to picking up the room.
"You should tell her. That you're here." She crumpled the paper and threw it in the garbage chute nearby.
Admittedly, Cristina talked a lot more.
"So she can see you." Her eyes skipped over him when she turned in his direction, landing on a blank space on the wall. A number of negative expressions – irritation, anger, upset – flickered across her face.
"There is another patient here you don't wish her to see?"
"If they unplugged the life support, I wouldn't lose sleep." Her eyes went wide and she clasped her hand over her mouth. "I shouldn't have said that."
"Your honesty is appreciated. I will… consider sending her a message."
Cristina lowered her hand and shook her head. "Don't consider. Just… do it." She hesitated, her hands fluttering from her sides to her stomach. Her fingers laced protectively over her belly and she swallowed. "You don't know how long you have. None of us do. She'd want to see you again. Losing someone without having the chance to say goodbye is—" She swallowed again.
"I'll ask her to come." He held out his hand to her, and she took it, a warm expression on her face. As he released her hand, he said, "There was a poem she once quoted to me."
"Death, be not proud." The words came out of her as though an automatic response, and she immediately looked embarrassed.
But he nodded. "Yes. I never heard the end of the poem. Would you know it?"
She watched him with wary eyes, as though uncertain how the poem would be received, and she began to recite it. He closed his eyes as she spoke, head bowed. Her voice ebbed and flowed liked the tides—the crest of a wave, rising and falling.
When he lifted his gaze to her face, she wore an expectant expression, and he realized she had finished the poem and been silent for several minutes. "Thank you," was all he could say.
"You're welcome," she replied, opening the door for him, and he heard the echo of the ocean in her voice.
As soon as Amanda received the message, she ordered a jump to the Citadel. Bristly and on edge, she paced the command deck until Traynor quietly suggested she burn off steam with Vega in the cargo hold. She hit the elevator button for the hold with a bit more force than necessary, and when it stopped on the crew deck, she stiffened with irrational irritation.
Garrus stepped onto the elevator at her side. "Shepard."
"Vakarian." She rocked forward and then back on her heels, nervous energy biting at every inch of her skin.
"Bad time, Vakarian." The elevator door swished open and she all but bolted out, her vision tunneling until all she saw was Vega.
He turned toward her as she approached. Must have recognized something in her face, because he was ready for the punch she threw at him.
There should have been some sound when he caught her arm on his, but she didn't hear it. Didn't hear his words when his lips moved. Didn't hear the tone. Didn't hear anything as she ducked under him and brought her knee into his thigh.
He doubled over, and her elbow hit his back over his kidney.
Her vision fuzzed, little black dots and white text dancing across her eyes as she spun and Vega's fist connected solidly with her face. She staggered back, hearing the words Thane wrote in his voice. Your sister is volunteering at Heurta Memorial.
Something inside her snapped, and she lunged for him, throwing herself forward with no grace. He neatly sidestepped her, slipped behind her, and grabbed her upper arms.
"—pard, the hell is your problem?"
Freezing, her pulse pounding in her ears, she tried to get her bearings. Garrus and Cortez stared at her. Vega's hands on her arms hurt. Liara stood beside the elevator doors, breathing hard. She'd come running.
"I need a drink." He released her, and she stumbled two steps forward before sinking to her knees, shaking. Vega's shadow covered her as he crouched beside her, his hand on her back. "My sister. She's on the Citadel." All she could see was Sovereign attempting to summon the Reaper armada, the husks filing the halls, the dead bodies and all of them had Cristina's face.
"So we'll go to the Citadel," Vega said, as if that solved all their problems.
We're going to the Citadel.
"And we'll get her somewhere safe."
There is no where safe.
Eventually, they arrived at the Citadel. Amanda stumbled across Cristina near the entrance of Heurta Memorial's lobby, and they engaged in a brief, childish shouting match that consisted of I told you to go somewhere safe! and There is no where safe! It ended with Thane's hand on Amanda's shoulder and his quiet plea to let Cristina stay. He'd look after her, he said. And Kaidan, too.
In the end, she capitulated.
She left Cristina in Thane's care and went to Tuchunka. She sent Mordin up a tower to his death. She lingered, watching the sky, the scintillating colors that stretched over the horizon.
"Death, be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so," she murmured, lifting her hand in farewell. "For those whom thou think'st thou doth overthrow die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me."
And when they returned to the Citadel, it was as if every nightmare she'd ever had came to life. At the end of it all, with Udina and Thane dead and Kaidan and Cristina on board the Normandy, she found herself in life support, her third bottle of vodka in one hand, her head in the other. Hot tears tracked down her face, and she wasn't sure why she was crying. For loss, surely. Regret, too. Horror, anguish.
She felt sick.
A cool hand touched the back of her neck as Cristina crouched beside her. She put up a paltry resistance to Christina's efforts to pry the vodka from her hands, eventually giving in and letting her sister take it and set it aside as she settled on the ground.
Amanda pushed her fingers into her hair, covering her face as she drew her knees to her chest. A strangled sound worked its way up her throat, and she choked on it when she tried to keep it behind her lips, coughing and gasping while Cristina's fingers drifted up and down her back in slow, languorous circles.
She was the quiet one, Amanda was, the one who thought while Cristina acted. She was the silent one, the still one. But once she had her breath back, words exploded out of her. The whole story, beginning to end, from Eden Prime to Ilos, from Freedom's Progress to Omega-4. She saw no reason to keep it to herself, not with the Reapers doing everything but holding a gun to the side of her head.
Who would punish her for giving information to someone without security clearance? The government was in disarray. Hackett was at the Crucible. Anderson was on Earth. If Kaidan had a problem – she doubted he would – Cristina would probably take a baseball bat to the side of his head.
Silence followed her story and Cristina shifted closer, leaning against Amanda's shoulder. Her warmth seeped slowly into Amanda's skin, chasing out the chill of life support's metal walls and floors.
"War sucks," Amanda finally said, breaking the silence. There was an edge of hysterical laughter in her voice.
Cristina pressed closer, working one hand between Amanda's back and the wall, wrapping it around her. "It's pretty awful. But… you know, you're doing your best."
"My best isn't good enough." It wasn't. "He's dead. Thane's dead. So many people are dead. I had to choose between a city and a spaceport. Me." She dragged her fingers across her face, leaving angry red welts in her wake. "Why me?" she asked, her voice breaking.
A sob wracked her body, making her shake, and she drew her legs closer to her chest.
Something sloshed. Vodka.
Cristina swallowed and made an unhappy noise. "Vodka," she muttered, holding the bottle toward Amanda.
Amanda took it, slowing curling her fingers around the neck, her fingers brushing over Cristina's. She brought the mouth to her lips, tipped her head back, and embraced the burn of the alcohol as it washed down her throat. The fire chased away the salt of bile and tears.
"Because you don't want it, probably." Cristina shifted until she could rest the side of her head on her knees. Lacing her fingers against the backs of her thighs, she gave Amanda a wan smile. "Anyone who wanted to do this, to be the war hero, would suck at it. You just… sort of stumbled into it. You're a decent person. And you're a decisive person."
"I've had to choose terrible things."
"I know." Cristina leaned fully against Amanda, and Amanda leaned back, trying to take her sister's strength into her.
"Just… for being here."
"Someone has to be around for you when you set Commander Shepard's armor aside."
That someone had been Thane. That made the pain of his passing so much worse, even though she'd known it would happen. She'd never thought of herself as a hopeless romantic. Cristina always said she was – said they both were – but she'd always thought herself too pragmatic for romanticism.
"We should get a bird," Cristina said abruptly.
"What?" The absurdity of the statement shocked her out of her despondency, catapulting her straight into something like baffled amusement.
"A bird," Cristina repeated, straightening her legs as she spread her arms. Her hand waved in Amanda's face, heedless of personal space.
They'd really never had much concern for the other's personal space.
"A big one. Something utterly ridiculous. Like a peacock."
"What would we even do with it?"
"Turn it loose on the Normandy and watch it strut around. Maybe teach it to peck Javik on command. Oh, and we could make jokes about it being Garrus' cousin."
She laughed. She couldn't help it. She could picture Garrus' face, his annoyance and irritation. She could imagine Javik storming into her quarters, demanding to know why she'd sent his feathered assailant after him. "You're ridiculous."
Cristina grinned, rolling her shoulders. "'Hope' is the thing with feathers."
Closing her eyes, Amanda pictured a white peacock, its crest raised and spread, resplendent and iridescent feathers shimmering in the fluorescent light of the Normandy. She ignored the logistics of it with great effort – her brain kept demanding to know how the hell she thought keeping a bird on a relatively small ship could possibly be a good idea.
"That might be nice," she said, her eyes still closed. She felt her lips turn up in a small, if sad, smile.
She heard Cristina shift, felt her move away and then back. Her sister's hand closed around hers. Cristina moved Amanda's hand to her chest, over her heart, and placed one of her own hands over Amanda's heart in turn. "'Hope' is the thing with feathers—that perches on the soul—and sings the tune without the words—and never stops—at all."
"I don't know that one," Amanda admitted softly. Cristina had always loved poetry, loved the lift and fall of the words, the way the rhymes turned and danced inside the body of the poem.
But for all she didn't know it, it resonated with something inside her. Something wordless. Something that didn't need words.
"And sweetest—in the Gale—" Cristina continued, her voice washing over Amanda like soothing waves "—is heard—and sore must be the storm—that could abash the little Bird that kept so many warm."
God, but she wanted a cloak of feathers. A rainbow symphony of colors splashed across those feathers, but mostly green cut through by red. She could wrap herself in it and be warmed by it, a familiar and welcome weight on her shoulders to replace the galaxy that sunk its claws into her arms and teeth into her neck.
"I've heard it in the chilliest land—and on the strangest Sea—" And what land was chiller than a metal ship, what sea stranger than the space between stars? "Yet, never, in Extremity, it asked a crumb—of Me."
Shepard was different with her sister on the ship. They shared the captain's quarters – somehow. Garrus didn't understand how either could stand each other with how they sometimes went at it in public. But, on the other hand, he'd found them one night in the crew lounge, curled up on a couch under the same blanket, watching a vid on a datapad.
But Shepard was different. Better. A touch or a look from her sister could diffuse her in seconds. She laughed more. Smiled more.
She seemed brighter. More alive.
They were foils for each other, a sharp and shocking contrast. While Shepard took everything seriously, Cristina drifted through life like it was joke and she was the punch line. She shrugged off Javik's outright accusations of uselessness with a shrug, a word of agreement, and an offer of cookies. She took Kaidan's borderline hostility in stride, though they seemed to have a mutual dislike for each other.
Garrus assumed it was because she kept Kaidan out of Shepard's bed.
Shepard slept more with Cristina on the ship. Her sister bullied her into bed earlier, forced her to set aside work and rest when she needed it, wheedled her into the crew lounge for rec time.
Strangely, Cristina didn't seem to sleep at all.
"What are you doing?"
She barely looked up from her canvas as he entered the crew lounge. It was the dead of "night," relatively speaking. What was and wasn't night was radically different on a starship. But it was a night cycle, and most of the crew was asleep.
"Painting," she said, as if that explained everything.
It should have, he supposed, watching her drag a wide brush across the canvas.
"Is that all you brought with you?" He nodded toward the mess of tubes and paintbrushes and canvas around her as he made his way to the couch and dropped onto it.
"One bag for art, one bag for personal things." She wrinkled her nose, holding her brush over the canvas. "Some personal things. Manda and I are the same size."
"Which is why you're wearing her uniform and scaring the crew to death every time they turn a corner?"
"Added bonus." She dipped the brush into a jar at her side. It didn't smell like water. "Is there something you want?"
He didn't want to admit curiosity, so he shrugged. With her back to him, she couldn't see, but it didn't matter. The easy silence communicated a noncommittal sort of reply. "Couldn't sleep either."
Setting the broad brush down, she picked up another, smaller brush, dipped it in a bit of pale brown, and began dabbing at the canvas. The canvas being a silvery blue, the pale brown didn't stand out very well; instead, it created a subtle, textured look.
It reminded him, in some ways, of his own coloring.
"You need to sleep," was all she said.
She had a habit of worrying after people. If it could be called worrying. She never crossed the line of polite, societal concern.
"So do you."
"If this is your clever attempt at finding out why I'm down here painting instead of passed out in a bed, you're doing a bad job of it." She traded out that brush for another, sticking the first in her sloppily pulled back hair.
Thank the Spirits that her hair was longer than Shepard's. With her wearing Shepard's clothes, that was the only way to tell them apart.
"Then consider this me asking."
"You haven't asked me anything."
She unfolded her legs and rocked to her feet, stepping backwards over her supplies until she stood just behind the couch. He watched her peer at the canvas, tilting her head to the side, and wondered what she saw.
"Fine, then. Why are you awake?"
"Because every time I sleep, I dream of Reapers sticking their tubes and needles into my sister's body and turning her into some kind of husk." She sounded angry but looked tired. Sad.
She scowled at him as she settled in front of her canvas once more.
The silence was less easy then and more awkward. Finally, he asked, "Are you always this contentious?"
Her shoulders drooped and her forehead fell forward until it almost touched the canvas. "My baby sister is fighting a war against a race of sentient machines that have wiped out all advanced organic life at least three times, probably more, and I can't help." She laughed, the sound bitter. "All I can do is smile and encourage and bear the weight of her because no one else gets it. No one else can." When she turned toward him, shuffling about the mess of art supplies that now looked more like a cage, she was crying.
He'd never seen someone that willing to cry in front of a relative stranger.
"She died once, and that was awful, but this? This is watching her die in slow motion every fucking day and not being able to do a thing about it!" Her voice rose until she was shouting, and she rocketed to her feet, flinging one of her paintbrushes at something over his shoulder. "So you'll have to excuse me if I'm short-tempered, irritable, and generally pissed off when the one thing I enjoy doing to relax gets interrupted. You'll have to excuse me if I snap and snarl when someone springs their company on me. Do you have any idea what it's like to always be happy for someone?"
She wrapped one arm around her body, hand circling her waist as she jabbed a finger at him. She was too far away for it to have any effect, too small and human and frail to be even remotely threatening, but there was a certain measure of emotion behind it that made the jab more like a punch he felt somewhere in his stomach.
"Because that's what I'm doing. I can't shoot a gun, I can't use biotic powers. I can't save her life on a goddamn battlefield. Instead, when she's here, I'm the one pillar of support she has. I'm the single goddamn ray of sunshine in her bleak fucking life, and it's exhausting, and I'm so exhausted." She slumped, the energy draining out of her. "I'm just so tired." She pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes. "I love her so much that I can't be tired. I can't be."
Pulling her hands away from her face she looked at him with a stark expression that translated across species. "Who's going to be there for Commander Shepard if her sister can't be?"
She shuddered, once, rocking with the strength of it, and then she scrubbed furiously at her face as if that would wipe away the evidence of her tears. "God, I'm—I wish I could say I'm not usually like this—"
He remembered how her head looked in his sniper scope. Remembered how badly he'd wanted to shoot her and splatter her brains across a wall to protect Shepard.
"I'm such a disaster—Manda always said I was an emotional basket case—"
Then he remembered all the emails they traded, how when she didn't have her back up against a wall she was clever and funny.
"You said something to her. Two years ago." She froze, her motions stilling, her eyes wide and uncertain as she stared at him. "After Ash died. Something about death being proud."
She looked momentarily startled. "No. The poem is about how Death, therein personified, shouldn't be proud. Death, be not proud, though some have called thee might and dreadful, for thou art not so."
Lifting his hand, he typed quickly into his omnitool. "For those whom thou think'st thou doth overthrow die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me," he read. It lacked something when he read it in turian that was surely there in her human language when translated.
A small smile flickered across her face, and she moved toward the couch, sat down on it. He noticed her shaking frame, how she clenched and unclenched her left hand spasmodically. "From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow," she said, her eyes on his. "The poet says that if rest and sleep are pictures of death and enjoyable things, death itself must be that much more pleasurable."
He lowered his hands to his lap, omnitool deactivating as he did so, and flared his manibles, fluttering them slightly. The expression would be lost on her, he was sure. "An interesting view of death."
"A… reassuring one," she said. "Thank you. And I'm sorry for… unloading on you."
He nodded, once, sharply, not feeling the need to push her. "I admit I don't know much about human art."
A strange, choked noise emerged from her, but her expression was one of good humor. He thought. Either that, or utter mortification. He went with humor.
"What are you painting?"
Flicking a stray piece of hair behind her ear, she regarded her canvas for a minute. Lots of silvery grey, a bit of detailing in thin lines of darker gray. A spider web pattern of pale browns and fleshy tones across the lower right corner.
"It seems… abstract." Lame finish, Vakarian. Lame finish.
"I suppose I'm trying to capture the essence of loyalty," she said.
He wondered if grey had some kind of deeper meaning for humans than it had for turians. If he'd set about painting loyalty, he would have chosen a bright color. Something dynamic. Maybe that was why he wasn't an artist. "I… see…" He didn't. At all.
She laughed, and he found himself marveling at how fluid her emotions were. Like water. Or mercury. Humans had some expression about mercury. "No, you don't. It's… well, it's you. Sort of." She bit her lower lip, glancing fleetingly at him before studying her canvas with great intensity.
He stared at the canvas, too, trying to understand how that was supposed to be him. Maybe the coloring was supposed to be like his, but he wasn't that pale. And maybe the fleshy tones were supposed to be representative of his scars. But they didn't look anything like that. Human art, he realized, was inscrutable.
She pushed his shoulder.
Not expecting that, he tipped to the side, turning to regard her with flared mandibles once more. "What was that for?"
"You're judging me."
"I'm judging your art."
"Same thing." She yanked a paintbrush from her hair, twirled it once in her fingers like her sister might a pistol, and handed him the blunt end. "Here. Since you're such a critic, show me some turian art."
In the end, they were both covered in paint – he'd given up on the canvas and tried to apply clan markings to her face instead, but it turned out she was incredible ticklish and in a fit of laughter had rolled onto her pallet. In revenge, she'd rubbed the brownish goop onto her hands and dragged it down his chest and arms.
But by the time they'd parted ways for the shower, she'd been laughing, and he'd come to the conclusion that splattering her brains on a wall probably wouldn't have done anyone good.
Kaidan found her under the table in the mess, huddled in a blanket with earbuds blaring music. He crouched at the end of the table, waiting for her to notice him, and wondered why he was doing this. Because she was Shepard's sister, he reminded himself. Because they had only one thing in common, and that was Shepard, and Shepard was everything to both of them.
And because no matter how much they disliked each other, he was a nice guy.
Cristina finally noticed him and pulled the buds from her ears with a wary look. "Hey," she said softly, drawing her knees toward her chest.
In the belly of the Normandy, protected by metal and guns and shields, they couldn't hear the sounds of the battle raging outside, but every small noise made her flinch.
Made him flinch, too. He hadn't appreciated Shepard leaving him behind. But she'd insisted on taking Liara with her and Tali. He'd figured it'd be good for him to go instead; everyone else had a place on the ship, but not him. He had no job, nothing to do to occupy himself. Shepard said no, and that ended it.
"Hey," he replied. "Can I join you?"
He braced himself for rejection when her lips pressed into a thin line and her lip turned up at the corner, curling with a disappointed sneer. Then she nodded and scooted back, pressing against the bulkhead behind her. "There's not a lot of space."
Ducking under the table, he slid across the floor. She scooted to the side, and he settled beside her. "Brought cards," he said, pulling a deck from his pocket.
"I only know solitaire and war." A moment's silence passed. "I don't think I want to play war."
No, probably not. So, he'd try talking. They could talk. "How are you settling in?" Maybe.
"Okay, I guess." She laughed, softly, and it reminded him of Shepard's laugh. "It's funny, when we were eighteen, it was pretty much expected that we'd both join the Alliance. But I couldn't stand the idea of living the bulk of my life on a boat. We'd already spent so much time in space. I just wanted to get to solid ground."
He waited, quiet, for her to continue.
"Manda signed up without hesitation. She liked the idea of protecting people. Me… I just wanted earth beneath my feet. Ended up on Illium. Thought about the Alliance a few times, and then got diagnosed with MS and never considered the military again." She pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders and let her head hit the bulkhead behind them. "And now I'm back here. On a ship." With a sigh and a quiet laugh, she glanced at him. "What about you?"
"Me?" He really hadn't expected her to ask.
"Yeah. How'd you end up here?"
He wasn't sure he wanted to tell her the whole story. He wasn't sure he wanted her to know. Eventually, she'd learn. Shepard would tell her, or maybe she'd get the pieces from another member of the crew. Garrus seemed to like her well enough, and Garrus knew bits. So did Tali. "Started out on Jump Zero," he finally said.
Her hiss startled him. "That place."
"You know about it?"
"Could have ended up there myself," she said. "We were exposed to eezo when Mom was pregnant. As one is."
"Shepard's an adept," he mused.
"Yeah. She always said I'd make a killer vanguard." He glanced at her as she said that and caught the wince. "But I wasn't really interested in learning how to use crazy voodoo space magic. And… for what it's worth, I'm sorry. About Jump Zero."
"Don't worry about it. It was ages ago."
But it still stung. And he did appreciate the kindness. Especially from someone he didn't expect to give him any kindness at all.
There was sudden pressure on his arm. Cristina leaned against him, her head on his shoulder, and squeezed her eyes shut. "How do you do it?" she asked, her voice full of strain.
"You… do things. Go through procedures. Tinker with a broken terminal. Fuss with your sleeper pods." He shifted his hand behind her and, after a moment's consideration, set it on her shoulder.
They didn't like each other. At all. But they both loved the same woman.
"I'd get in trouble for that," she pointed out.
"Probably. That's why I brought the cards." He gave her shoulder a squeeze and then shifted, urging her off him. "Why don't I teach you a game?"
She pursed her lips, considering, and then nodded. "Sure. Why not? It'll help kill time." The expression made her wince, but he laughed.
"Take the humor when you find it," he advised, cutting the deck of cards. "How do you feel about poker?"
Her lips curled in a smile that could only be described as wicked. He'd seen that smile on Shepard's face right before she'd lain someone flat. "Can we bet our rations?"
In the end, he lost everything twice, but so did she. They parted ways more or less even, though she got a few of his dessert rations and he some of her protein bars. She might have given him more smiles than usual, too, something he only noticed because she rarely smiled at him while the rest of the crew received them with excess.
"I think I'm growing on your sister," he said to Shepard that night as they worked together on a mission report of Rannoch and the state of geth-quarian relations. Really, it was just Shepard working on it. He merely kept her company.
"Oh?" She used her distracted/working voice, the one carrying a tone of you can keep talking, and I'll listen, but I can't promise I'll actually hear a word you say.
He made a quiet sound of affirmation, watching her tap away at her datapad. "She actually smiled at a few of my jokes."
"Cristina always smiles."
"Never at my jokes." That sounded petulant and whiny. He cleared his throat. "Is there anything I can do to… help?"
Shepard looked at the datapad in her hands and then turned to him with both brows raised and an expression of incredulity.
"With your sister. I would like us to get along." He didn't say for your sake, but the words lingered in the air.
Shepard set the datapad on her lap and stretched her arms over her head, arching her back until it popped. "If you try, she'll know, and she'll resent you for it." She pushed the datapad onto the couch at her side and slipped onto Kaidan's lap, tucking her head under his chin. He held her in loose arms, wondering how their lives might have been different if they'd both been at Jump Zero. "I'm glad you're not at each other's throats, though."
He slid his hand through her short hair, feeling the rough strands of it against his palm and fingers. "We're trying." He laughed quietly, pressing a kiss to the crown of her head. "You should get some sleep." When she made a quiet, non-committal sound against his shoulder, he tipped his head back to get a better look at her. Her eyes were closed, lashes dusting her cheeks, her breathing slow and steady. "Then we'll just sleep here," he agreed, shifting carefully until they lay across the couch.
The datapad clattered to the floor and remained there, forgotten.
They stood in the shuttle bay, foreheads touching, eyes closed. Cristina had one hand on Shepard's cheek.
The squad gave them a wide berth for privacy, every last one of them pretending to look everywhere else, but Garrus didn't bother averting his gaze. He watched them just stand there, silent, no words passing between them. Tears tracked down Cristina's face. A muscle twitched in Shepard's jaw. Both of them vibrated with tension.
When they opened their eyes, it was as one. They stepped back as one before Cristina threw her arms around Shepard, heedless of the sharp corners of her sister's armor. She pressed her face into the crook of Shepard's neck, and Shepard whispered something in her ear.
Drawing back, she wiped the tears from her face. "Stay safe," she said, loud enough for everyone to hear. Loud enough so they'd know the sisters were done.
Cristina turned away from her sister, blinking rapidly. Red splotches covered her cheeks, and she sniffed repeatedly, scratching at the side of her nose as if it would help. Garrus hesitated just a second before moving to her side. "I'll look after her," he promised, setting one hand on her upper arm.
Eyes bright with tears, and red, she managed a quiet, shaky, "thank you" before fleeing from the bay.
He watched her until the elevator closed behind her, and then he put her from his mind. "Shepard and Vakarian," he said, slinging his assault rifle onto his back with a cocky grin.
Shepard's expression, taut and uncertain just moments before, shifted to self-assured arrogance. "Just like old times."
Kaidan nudged Shepard with his elbow. "I'm here for you," he said, with the same, certain attitude.
"We're all here." Tali crossed her arms, lifting her chin.
Cristina stood on the command deck, in her sister's place, staring at the holographic map of London that kept the Normandy's crew up to date on the battle. She stood still and silent, unmoving. Unblinking. She didn't think. She barely existed. The singular reason for her existence was to watch the map in front of her. She wouldn't have breathed if breath wasn't necessary.
Her fingers wrapped around the rail in front of her until they ached and her knuckles turned white. Her body screamed in protest, muscles in her left leg cramping and spasming. Her knee buckled at one point. She sagged, throwing her weight onto her twitching right leg, and ignored Garrus' offer of help.
Her thoughts hiccupped for a moment. When had—an evac. Amanda had sent her squad back to the Normandy.
Always the big damn hero.
Noise exploded over the comms, but she barely heard it.
People moved around her, but she didn't see them.
Time probably passed. She supposed it had to. But she didn't feel it. Life was a single drawn out moment of breathless terror as she clung to the rail and stared at the map. She willed Amanda onto the Citadel, her pulse racing. The smell of death and rot filled her nose, and she swallowed hard to keep her gorge down.
Her body tensed. Adrenaline made her tremble.
She felt—she didn't know. Rage. Helplessness. Defeat.
And then, blissfully, relief.
Her heart beat strangely in her chest, its rhythm wrong. Hackett's voice came over the comms – something about the Citadel arms not opening.
No, she thought. No, stop. Don't ask her to do anymore.
Slowly, she sank to her knees.
She pressed her face into her hands. Just stop. Please.
Her body ached. One final reach. One last victory.
Cold metal bit into her cheek. Exhaustion pulled her to the ground. Air swept by her, rustled her hair.
Cristina lifted her face from her hands. Confusion swept over her. Horror.
She realized she was crying. She wasn't sure why.
The command deck was silent but for the sound of computers at work.
Hackett's voice cut through the silence. "All fleets! The Crucible is armed. Disengage and head to the rendezvous point."
She blinked twice, looking around in confusion. For a moment, she was lost. Adrift. She didn't know where she was. Couldn't comprehend her presence on the command deck. She should have been somewhere else. Somewhere—
She stiffened. Went utterly still for a heartbeat's time. And then the hollow feeling of confusion was replaced with a bitter, frozen emptiness. A shriek of grief and despair filled the silence in command deck, and she lurched to her feet. Took a stumbling step toward the bridge. And then she ran.
Garrus caught her in the doorway, his arm around her waist, holding her back.
"I repeat: Disengage and get the hell out of here!"
"Jeff…" Liara leaned over Joker's shoulder. "We need to go."
"No." Something terrible and finite crystallized inside of her, something unbearable. She surged against Garrus' hold and screamed. Hot tears poured down her cheeks, splashed onto Garrus' arms. He held her anyway. "Why?" she demanded, her voice a wail of agony.
Traynor and Liara glanced fleetingly at her and then away as though guilty. They didn't understand her question.
"Why?" she screamed at the Citadel as green energy flickered down its sealed length. "Why do you always leave me behind? By myself? Why, damn you?"
She waited, desperate and wide-eyed, for some answer. Some tiny, prickly feeling. Something. Anything. And when it didn't come, she whimpered and sagged in Garrus' hold, shaking. All the energy, all the fight, went out of her. "We can't leave," she whispered as he turned her and drew her against his chest. The hardened edges of his armor, the blood and grime, didn't even register. "You have to take me back." Her fist hit his chest. "You promised. You bastard, you promnised."
He said nothing.
"Why?" she asked.
There was nothing worth saying.
In the hours after the war, when the lines of circuitry were still new and fascinating, she stopped eating. When Garrus brought her food, when he coaxed her into eating it, she cried so hard she threw it up. She broke the mirror in the bathroom, shattering it into pieces on the floor. She covered all the reflective surfaces with blankets and clothes.
He found her in the center of the bed with one of Vega's knives, surrounded by hunks of cut off hair. Eventually, she agreed to let someone else trim it into something resembling a normal hair cut.
In the days after the war, she received money from the Alliance for Amanda. It sat in the banks, untouched. Her inbox filled with emails expressing gratitude. She deleted the account. Gifts found their way onto the Normandy. She threw most of them out the airlock. For hours, she would sit on Joker's left side and stare into the blackness of space, wondering if it was as cold and empty as she.
Once, she stood in front of the air lock door for three hours, her hand hovering over the command console. She knew EDI would never let the doors open. But just standing there on the brink of death was somehow soothing.
She slept, too. She slept through the rebuilding of the relays. Through the revival of Tuchunka and the rebirth of Rannoch. Sometimes, she managed to sleep on the couch in the rec room. Mostly, she slept in the med bay, where the lights and the noise helped fill the empty void of her thoughts.
Garrus stopped by frequently, but every time she looked at him, she hated him more. "You promised," she reminded him. She couldn't put any heat into her voice, couldn't voice any of her loathing. The deadness in her tone seemed to communicate well enough. He stopped checking on her.
He never made excuses.
In the weeks after the war, she bought an apartment. She went to Rannoch with Tali. She stopped answering calls. Didn't open her door to visitors when they came by. Eventually, they stopped coming by at all. Even Tali. The only person who remained undaunted by her withdrawal was her geth medical unit. It came by once a week. If it had a name, she didn't know it. She didn't mind the geth, probably because it was the only person who could look at her face without seeing Amanda's. She hated the thought that people saw Amanda when they looked at her.
Four months after moving to Rannoch, she caught a glimpse of her reflection on the front of an appliance. Hope swelled within her, and she turned to throw her arms around Amanda. But Amanda wasn't there. She picked herself off the floor thirty minutes later.
One day, in the grip of a sudden impulse to move, she left her apartment. She climbed into a car that had been a gift from someone in some government position. She drove for four hours. When she stopped, she was hopelessly lost. She'd left the road behind, driven across rocky terrain, and come to a gorge.
Leaving her car, she went to the edge of it. Peered down at the river below. Considered throwing herself off it. Caught sight of the circuitry just under her skin and knew she couldn't.
Instead, she sat down and cried.
At some point, sometime later, she heard the sound of a reaper approaching. It wasn't unusual to see reapers on Rannoch. It wasn't unusual to see reapers anywhere. They were common. Every day.
It landed gently nearby, barely disturbing the ground. The setting sun cast its shadow away from her.
She didn't look up.
"We are Harbinger," it said.
It shifted closer to her, until one of its massive legs nearly touched her. She was an ant beside it, tiny and meaningless. "You killed my sister," she replied.
More time passed. The sun sank lower on the horizon. Their shadows stretched and melted together. The silence between them became a weight on her shoulders, a burden she could not bear, and she finally snapped at it, "Either tell me what you want or go away."
"You have rejected our gifts."
She wanted to throw up. "I don't want gifts." She could have drowned in them. Gifts of pity. Of false sympathy. Gifts given with expectation – that she would be thankful, grateful, delighted. That she would fall on the giver's willing shoulder and unload her grief into their willing hands. "Least of all from you."
"We would like to offer one last gift." It made a strange humming noise that was somewhere between gears grinding and ships exploding.
She wanted to run, but there was nowhere to go. Running from a reaper was moronic; she was not her sister. Feeling ill and wasted, sickly and thin, she sighed. She dropped her head. "What, then?"
It made another noise, and when she glanced at its leg, she realized it was slightly extended. Like a gesture of offering. She hesitated just a moment before touching it, figuring she had nothing to lose. If it killed her, that would be better than living.
She pressed her hand against the cool metal that was its skin, the circuitry in her fingertips lighting up. There came a mental nudge, like a popup on a screen, and she accepted it without hesitation. Memories flooded her brain. Harbinger's memories. Memories of Amanda.
They were hard to understand, the visual information incompatible with her own perception of the world. But beneath what Harbinger saw was what it felt. Hatred. Loathing. Disgust. And then a burgeoning respect. A desire to know more. Surprise. Interest. By the end, when it stood over London and tried to kill her sister, it had, in its own way, loved her. Amanda's actions, her adamant refusal to bend to its will, eventually came to define Harbinger's entire existence.
Pulling her hand away, she wiped the thick stream of tears off her cheeks. "Thank you," she said, because she couldn't manage to say anything else. Because she didn't know what to say to the only gift worth receiving.
She tried to start her car then, but it wouldn't work. She wasn't surprised. Harbinger took her home.
And in the years after the war, a monument was built. The architect was commissioned by the new Council and the Alliance. It was built around the three towers in London where the beam had taken Amanda to the Old Citadel. They replaced the ground with white marble. They carved the names of the dead and the lost into the marble. Where the beam once stood was a single, deep well filled with water.
Harbinger brought the design to her attention. It was simple. Elegant. Amanda would have approved. The architect wanted her approval, as Shepard's sister. So she gave it.
When it was finished, she received, by way of Harbinger, requests to deliver a speech at its opening. She mentioned it to Tali. Tali said she should accept. Harbinger said she shouldn't. Against her better judgment and Harbinger's, she took Tali's advice.
She stood before a large crowd holding two sheets of paper. The paper had been torn from a notebook. The notebook had been a gift from Garrus. They were talking again. He'd asked about the paper. She said she just liked writing on it.
Behind her stood the Normandy's crew. Admiral Hackett's son was there. Anderson's sister, too. Wrex and Bakara brought their son, Mordin. Tali represented the quarians. A geth unit stood at her side. Garrus was for the turians. Liara for the asari. There was someone important from every race behind her. Like she was someone important.
Who was she?
Flashes went off. The crowd fell quiet.
She looked at the paper in her hands. Ten years ago, it began. She looked up at the crowd. They looked back.
Ten years ago, she thought. Her hands shifted on the paper. Ten years ago. She tore it in half once. Then again. Then again. When she opened her hands, the wind caught the pieces and carried them away. The crowd shifted uneasily.
"Death," she said. "Death, be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; for those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me."
She found a face in the crowd, a young boy, and she met his eyes with a small, sad smile. "From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, and soonest our best men with thee do go, rest of their bones, and soul's delivery. Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, and dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell, and poppy or charms can make us sleep as well and better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then? One short sleep past, we wake eternally, and death shall be no more."
The smile grew, her eyes shifted their focus to a point beyond the boy's head. There wasn't anything there to see, not really. But she could picture Death there, and her sister at his side. Her smile became one of welcome. "Death," she said, speaking his name like she might an old friend's, "thou shalt die."
Death Be Not Proud was written by John Donne.
Sonnet 44: If the dull substance of my flesh were thought was written by William Shakespeare.
Friendship was written by Henry David Thoreau.
"Hope" is the thing with feathers was written by Emily Dickenson.