Shepard sat in the dirt of Rannoch, Miles squirming in her lap to be let down. She held him tightly and rubbed her eyes. They stung with the mixture of dirt, sweat and tears on her face. It had been hours since the defeat of the Reaper on Rannoch, the liberation of the geth, and the reclaiming of Rannoch.
Beside her, Tali sniffed.
"Don't worry," Shepard managed, blinking rapidly. "He won't be forgotten."
Legion was dead, sacrificing himself to give the geth true consciousness with the Reaper upgrades. She and Tali had buried his body beneath a bush of jagged flowers and marked the spot with a rock simply etched 'Legion.'
"I know," Tali sighed. "I just can't believe it. We have our homeland back and peace with the geth. I just didn't think I'd feel like… this."
"Legion chose this," Shepard reminded her, trying to convince herself. "That's the thing about being an individual. You get to choose how you go out if you're lucky."
Tali gave her a long look. Shepard wished she could see her face more clearly behind her mask.
"I feel awful for how I treated him sometimes… before I knew him."
Shepard shook her shoulder. "Hey, he understood. And you changed your mind in the end."
There was a burst of high giggles. Shepard glanced behind her to see a gaggle of tiny quarian children sitting by a pile of rocks, excitedly playing with them. She smiled - something as mundane as a rock seemed like the greatest treasure to them. Further on, she could see more quarian ships carrying civilians down to the earth. The battle ready quarian ships as well as the geth would join with the Alliance fleet, leaving a token force behind to defend their home.
Miles watched the quarian babies with bright, intense interest.
"Do you want to play with them?"
He blinked up at her, pacifier firmly stuck in mouth.
Shepard stood, taking Miles with her. She knelt by the quarian children. Their mothers and fathers were gathered together, planning their new homes not far away. They watched Shepard but allowed her to approach.
"Hi!" she said brightly to the children. They froze in their play and looked up at her, their eyes large behind their tiny masks. "Is it okay if Miles plays with you too? He brought a rock."
Shepard took the rock and offered it to them. They snatched it eagerly as she set Miles down with them.
"Hooman!" laughed one of the quarian toddlers, who looked no older than three. He poked Miles.
Miles touched his suit gingerly, pulling a on a latch. Fascinated, he looked back at his mother as if to check her reaction.
"It's okay," she said. "Just like Aunt Tali."
Satisfied that she wasn't scared, Miles sat with the quarian toddler, almost shyly patting his suit.
Shepard smiled. "You have fun, okay kid?"
"Soon," Tali said, her voice quavering with emotion as Shepard took her seat beside her again. "They can play without a suit too."
Shepard put her arm around her thin shoulders. "I'm proud of you."
On the Normandy, Shepard put Miles down for the night. He was exhausted from his afternoon of play with the quarians and fell asleep more easily than usual. Shepard watched his chest rise and fall for a while before she went and had a quick shower.
"EDI?" she called as she pulled on her sports bra.
"Can you watch Miles for me? I want to go downstairs for a while," she replied, pulling on her crew pants and a tank top.
"Of course, Shepard. I will alert you if he wakes or is in any danger."
"Thanks, EDI. You're a lifesaver."
"Literally," the A.I replied.
Shepard shook her head, grimacing. Maybe EDI spent too much time with Joker.
She first checked the Starboard Observation but didn't find her prey. Puzzled, she then opened the crew quarters.
She found him curled up on a bed, the lights out. Stepping lightly, she went over to him, not intending to wake him up but just to see if he was alright. It was unusual for him to be sleeping so early, not at least without saying goodnight to Miles.
He wasn't asleep. "Hey, Shepard," he slurred. She studied his face and realized he wasn't drunk, just in pain.
Sighing, she sat on the bed beside him and pushed her fingers through his dark hair. "Headache?"
"Yeah," he said, squinting in the light coming from the door.
She cocked her head, studying the lines on his face, the crinkles by his eyes. He looked tired and old. She wondered if she looked like him, if she was starting to wear her age by her eyes? She certainly felt it in the lines of her bones, in the sluggish beats of her heart.
He shrugged and said nothing but that was enough.
"Go to sleep," she whispered, bending down and kissing his cheek. It was cool against her rough lips.
It was a quiet, gentle night, made for old soldiers and old lovers. She was lethargic but brave, muted but electric. She wanted affection and attention from him, she wanted him to get mad at her, love her, fight with her, anything as long as he was with her. She wondered if this was what they were made for, quiet kisses on quieter nights, hidden away in the dark. Her mouth tasted like the salt of a barren sea and endless thirst.
He sighed and shut his eyes against the kiss' touch, accepting it with warm familiarity. His body was tense underneath his t-shirt when she placed her palm against it. His heart fluttered wildly, betraying his face.
"I'm sorry I scared you today," she whispered. "The stunt with the Reaper-"
"Was suicide." His eyes glittered at her darkly.
She touched his face with her cool hand, ghosting over the lines, the freckle over his eyebrow, the crease between his eyes.
"It was calculated," she argued in a whisper.
"You don't calculate. Never have," he accused softly. "You don't look before you leap and you leave everyone behind."
You leave me behind, was unspoken.
"No, I don't." Her voice cracked a little. She made the effort to clear it. "I don't mean to."
She reached out and put her hand to the back of his neck, feeling the hard metal of his port. She lightly scratched her nails at the short hair of his neck and down.
"It's okay," he breathed. "I know."
She bent down and kissed his jaw slowly, winding up to his temple. It felt like eternity until her canted his head and her lips touched his.
Shepard shut her eyes.
Shepard pulled her hoodie on as she wandered into the commissionary looking for coffee. It was late and as usual she couldn't sleep. She only felt a little guilty for sneaking away the minute he fell asleep. She realized her mistake only a moment too late when she spotted Bill, the Normandy's psych officer, sitting at the table with a bowl of something unidentifiable.
"Shit," she muttered, wondering how she could gracefully just slowly back away before he spotted her.
It was too late.
"Shepard!" he called warmly. "Come have a seat with me."
Seeing no way to refuse without making it seem like she was avoiding him on purpose or behaving suspiciously awkward, she grabbed a cup of coffee and glared at him as she sat across from him at the table.
"Quiet night," he remarked easily. "Think everyone's tired after today."
"Yes," she agreed slowly. "I'm not tired," she added as an afterthought. "At all."
He raised an eyebrow. "Oh? Was there some reason you think you should be tired?"
"No?" she ventured, trying not to bite her lip. "Just saying."
He gave her a smug smile. "Really? That was quite the feat you achieved."
She frowned. "How do you know-?" Reading his expression, she shut her jaw with a click. "Oh that. The Reaper. Right."
He shot her a bemused look. "What did you think I was referring to?"
"Nothing," she said quickly, drinking her coffee too quickly for comfort.
He searched her face with those annoying piercing eyes of his. "Do you think your propensity for severe risk taking is a normal reaction to stress? Is this something you have always struggled with? I've been reading your file. It's quite remarkable. And not quite spotless."
She glared at him.
"No, nothing major, of course. Until the obvious recent incidents," he demurred. "But I notice this pattern of behavior. It's quite interesting."
Shepard froze her smile in place, a perfect complement to his polite conversational tone.
"Just curious," he shrugged amiably.
"I'm curious," she grinned savagely. "Did you get into analyzing just to get off at feeling superior to people because you're impotent any other way? Or is that just a neat side benefit to the glasses making you look like a dick?"
He burst out laughing, almost spraying her with coffee. She threw a napkin at him in disgust.
He mopped at his eyes. "I'm sorry. It's just funny. What they say about you is true."
"Oh yeah?" she snarled, itching for a fight he seemed intent on making happen.
"Yeah," he replied, eyes twinkling as he mopped up coffee. "You don't scare easy. Or back down. You know, I get to most people. Oh I try to make them comfortable of course, but people don't like me. They don't like being prodded into bringing up their most painful personal history."
"Imagine that," she said dryly.
"You're all that and more. I wouldn't be surprised if you jumped out a window to avoid me."
She studied her nails, feigning boredom. "I've tried. Turns out it's harder in space than you'd imagine."
"But," he said, capturing her gaze. "You don't back down. Not really. Even when I prod you. You're not scared of me."
She scoffed. "Why would I be scared of you?"
"Because they're scared of what I make them face."
She leaned across the table, enchanted despite herself. She met his watery eyes.
"So my question is, Shepard, what are you afraid of?"
Her mouth suddenly went dry. She could see her pale face reflected in his glasses.
Three days later.
"Shepard, we need to talk."
"Yeah, I know," Shepard muttered distractedly, swiping a wet face washer across Miles' face. He bawled his face up in reaction to it.
"What?" she despaired. "You're dirty and you're making me late."
Kaidan took Miles and quickly fixed his hair as Shepard threw her own up in a ponytail. She then snatched Miles and dashed for the door.
"Shepard!" Kaidan called.
"I know!" she called through the elevator. "Talk later. Gotta go."
The door shut on his face.
"Yikes," she whispered to Miles. "Daddy wants to talk about feelings. Ick." She pulled a face.
"Bleck," he mimicked, screwing his face up.
"Atta boy." She ran her hand across her sweaty forehead and checked her watched. Anderson had been waiting for ten minutes now. The briefing about their dwindling supplies for the month had run long and then there'd been an issue about the latest shipment of rifles. Then Kaidan had been waiting for her upstairs and quite the opposite of what she intended she had a complete internal meltdown over what she wanted to say.
"Ugh." She leant her head against the cool metal of the elevator. "Why are words so hard."
"That's right," she agreed. "I'm a perfectly reasonable adult with perfectly reasonable responses to things like emotions. I'm glad you agree."
Down in the communications Anderson's image burst into life in front of her eyes, smiling widely.
"Finally! There he is," he said, his eyes lighting up at the sight of Miles in his mother's arms. "You're getting big."
"Thanks, I knew I put on a few pounds but geez," Shepard said.
"Funny," Anderson, rolling his eyes. "You're late."
"Yeah, saving the galaxy and all that."
He gave her a stern look that said he didn't buy it but continued.
"I got your report. Good work on Rannoch."
"Thanks." She grinned. "So what's up? Hackett said I should call you, that you wanted to talk. Something wrong with my report?"
He paused, staring at Miles.
"I wanted to talk to you about something else, not work related."
She raised her eyebrows expectantly.
"Shepard, have you thought about your future?"
"What?" she blurted.
"You heard me," Anderson said sternly.
"What is it with men and the future?" she muttered under her breath.
"I'm serious. What are you gonna do when this is all over? Miles can't stay on a military ship running high risk missions, you know that. The only reason you've gotten away with it is because it's a matter of his safety and with the war on, the Alliance is more inclined to look the other way as long as you do your job. But it can't last."
Shepard bit her lip. "I haven't thought of it," she lied easily.
"You need to," Anderson insisted. "And I have an answer to part of your problem."
She blinked at him. "What do you mean?"
"I have a place on the Citadel. I want you to have it."
She laughed. "You're kidding me."
His lips thinned. "Don't bullshit me, Shepard. I wouldn't offer if I wasn't serious."
"What about you?" she gasped, realizing that he wasn't joking, that he was genuinely offering her his apartment that must have been worth millions of credits. "That's your home! No fucking way."
"The thing is," he said, looking behind him at something her couldn't see. "The longer I'm on Earth, the more I don't want to leave."
"But what about when the war's over?" she argued. "Where will you live? I thought you and Kahlee wanted to settle down?"
He smiled gently but it seemed like a kind lie to Shepard. "I'm sure Kahlee and I can find somewhere else, somewhere quiet. Now don't argue with me, Shepard."
"No offense, Anderson, but don't pull that shit on me. You can't order me to take it," she replied mutinously, hating that he didn't see himself coming home either.
"Fine," Anderson said bluntly, "then explain to me how you and that kid will live. Do you have savings?"
"Well, sort of, I have a few-"
"Where will he go to school? Where will you both live? Will you send him with his father? What will he do then? Take him to Earth that's so ruined there's no running water not tainted by the dead, where the corpses are piled as high as trees?"
Shepard stared at him, her mouth falling open. "Anderson-"
"Shepard," he said, calming his tone. "I'd hoped you'd always known how I-"
He cut himself off, warring with his emotions.
"Shepard, I've known for longer than either of us care to remember. I just want you and that baby of yours to be taken care of when this is all over. Things haven't been easy for you. I'm trying to make somewhere for you to go home to."
"I know, Anderson," she croaked, feeling a bizarre need to flee away from the moment, but she was stuck. She couldn't turn her back on him. Not now.
Somewhere for you to go home to.
She wished she could reach out and touch him, just for a moment. She wanted him to take Miles in his arms, to tell her she did good. That after everything… he was proud.
"So you'll take it?" Anderson said, staring at her too, as if he too wished he could take her into a paternal hug.
"Alright," she breathed. "But you're visiting, alright?"
"Okay, but I'm not eating your cooking," he laughed.
She laughed more forced than she would have liked. "Done. And Anderson?"
His warm brown eyes met hers.
"Thank you. I mean it this time."
He nodded and cleared his throat. "Good. Been wanting to do that for a while."
I'm pretty sorry this is very late but it has been for a good cause, my personal and professional life has drastically improved and I'm very happy and busy. This has been bad for the fandom side of things, unfortunately and I'll have to stop making promises that make me a liar, but I still work on this when I can and when my self confidence regarding this story and my writing ability isn't horrendously low :p I have this all mapped out still, it's just writing it that's the hard bit.