I felt there is much more to be added to this one-shot, and so it is undergoing some revision. I've already written a few more scenes and once I've polished them the way I want them, I will update this story. There's still time to review on what you think could be done better, added, or altered. I would greatly appreciate any feedback over the next few weeks to get this where it needs to be. Enjoy!
There were few moments he chose to cherish in his life. Most things were not worthy enough to be remembered when his life took a turn down dark roads. As a man from humble beginnings, cherishable moments were simple and far in between, and every other moment was simply temporary pleasure to get him through the day. His life was full of temporary pleasures, hedonist experiences clouding a world of stress and discontent. They kept him perfectly happy and sane, never distracting him from what really mattered to his career. No woman to leave behind, no unfinished business requiring more attention than what he could give in a day, nothing following him to the battlefield to shake his focus. It was arguably the perfect set up for a wandering soldier doing everything in his power to keep his Marines at their best, always there for them and not someone else. Maybe this moment was the same as any other, just taking care of one of his Marines. He was needed and answered the call, nothing more?
For the first time in his life he felt content, right before the cusp of a charge into certain death. He lay bare as the day he was born, staring up into space with an arm embracing the incredible woman lying next to him. A woman he was lucky enough to know, and not just as the legend, but the woman hidden behind it. When he met her, she was exactly what he expected. Her steely gaze and infallible bearing were what he had seen on the vids, and she kept that legendary resolve from the very moment he saw her in shackles until…well, until Thessia. He knew the heavy weight of responsibility that was on her shoulders, but really he had no clue. All he had to relate was the loss of his squad to a Collector attack, a matter that has haunted him ever since, but when you compare it to being responsible for the survival of the galaxy? After Thessia, she seemed completely normal going back to the Normandy, despite a costly failure. Once again he had to admire her resolve, especially given what they had lost down there. That night, however, changed everything.
It was late, and after most missions he was still up cleaning his weapons so that they were ready for the next fight. Steve had gone to bed an hour ago, and the Normandy was mostly quiet other than night watch. Covered in gun oil and still stinking from the sweat of battle, he was definitely ready for a hot shower and a good night's sleep. Leaning back, he stretched his limbs and exhaustion set in. After securing his last weapon he made his way up to the crew deck, but when the elevator doors opened he paused mid-step at the sight before him.
She was hardly standing. There was a half-empty bottle in her left hand, and the other hung limply at her side. Her shoulders slumped under some dramatic weight and she had her forehead pressed against the names of those the Normandy had lost. The sound of the elevator was loud enough to be obvious, but she didn't seem to notice it. He stepped out and looked left and right to see that the deck was empty, and then his eyes focused on her. She was a statue, frozen in a pose he could only describe as defeat. This was a posture he had never so much as caught a glimpse of on Commander Shepard, let alone imagined he would ever see. Everyone in the galaxy and on this ship knew the legend of her accomplishments, and yet that legend was a diminished figure before him. The legend was just a shell…and here he saw woman behind it.
"Commander…" He spoke softly, not wanting to startle her from her reverie. It changed nothing. She remained still, completely consumed by shadowy thoughts and either uncaring or unawares of what was around her. He had no idea what he was supposed to do. He tried to think past the fact that this was his commanding officer and a Council Spectre, and tried to ignore the blown up fantasies of her heroism. Deep down it was clear to him that she was none of those things right now. This was Shepard, vulnerable Shepard, the human being underneath the titles. What was he? A grunt Marine with no real skill other than killing things. Sometimes he felt like a Krogan. He had never seen a Krogan try to comfort their commanding officer. The thought was laughable, and that made him feel even more awkward about the situation. What the hell was a mindless young lieutenant supposed to say? He had this pinching feeling in his gut that very few people had probably seen her like this, and somehow that made it all the more important that he do something about it.
"Shepard…" He cautiously touched her arm, and once again she showed no acknowledgment of his presence. It was unnerving, to say the least. It had to be him to stumble upon her in this state, not Garrus or Liara or Major Alenko, not someone who had been through thick and thin with her. No, the one guy on this team who knew her the least and probably had no business trying to understand what was going through her head was standing behind her scratching his head.
Suddenly she took her head off the wall and turned to face him. She was looking down, and before he could get a good look at her face she had leaned forward and placed it on his shoulder. Now he was really stumped on a course of action. Clearly she was drunk, distraught, and not all there. Did she even know it was him she had placed herself against? If she did would it change anything? This was as much of an invitation as any to…hold her, right? The thought felt awkward when he tried to imagine it, embracing his Commander, the most insubordinate thing he could probably ever do. Well, definitely not the most, but certainly compared to his casual nature with her before. Her head was heavy, as if all her weight depended on his support. The anchored feeling of being needed suddenly overwhelmed his thoughts and slowly he lifted his arms and encircled her body. His embrace was tentative, not wanting to overstep some unknown boundary by squeezing her too close or rubbing her back. Her body seemed to tense when he decided to hold her, which made his heart race, thinking maybe he shouldn't have done it after all. He kept his arms there though, waiting for her to say or do something to give him some direction on what she wanted.
You would think that six months of being her personal body-guard would have given them plenty of time to get to know each other. The fact was she never really bothered to take an interest in him other than his obligations to keep her sane. He tried his best, of course, to talk to her about anything to keep her mind off of the trials, including inserting some humor and the occasional harmless flirt to crack the serious face she seemed to hold all the time. Not even his most daring comments had made it through to a smile, or even a scolding, and he had been seriously worried about losing his edge with the ladies because of it.
He understood why she had simply ignored his valiant attempts at distracting her. In the six months she was imprisoned the only concern truly heavy on her mind was the heaviest of all, and that was knowing the Reapers were closer every day. He found her many times writing in the note-book she requested, brow furrowed in intense thought. It was weeks before he finally discovered the source of her obsession, when he arrived to see her asleep on the couch with it open in her lap. He picked it up to cover her with a blanket, and on her last page she had been scribbling images of something he couldn't even begin to understand. At the top of the page she had written "Eden Prime," and he could recognize the shape of Collectors and a burning planet. He realized after drifting through previous pages that she was writing down everything she knew about the Reapers. Nothing about the trial, losing her command, or losing her ship. No, her primary concern was, and always will be the Reapers.
His eyes drifted to the names of Normandy's fallen, the most recent being Thane Krios. A very dear friend to her, given the many times he had seen her visit the hospital on the Citadel even after Alenko had left. He didn't know a damn thing about the Drell, but he knew enough to feel his stomach churn at the site of Shepard's face when she knelt by him, wounded and dying. It hadn't been long before that when they lost Mordin on Tuchanka. Before that it had been the impending concern of losing Major Alenko. It dawned on him that it was more than just the Reapers that weighed heavy on her right now. The friends she had lost were creeping through her resolve, and in this moment she was dropping her strong façade completely. The defeat on Thessia at seeing Kai Leng escape, again, and leaving the memory of Thane with her must have been the straw that broke the camel's back. Despite everything she did to keep hope in those around her, it was obvious to him that there was none left for her.
There was a light tingling on his right side, and after a moment he realized that it was her fingers weakly grasping at his waist. Her head turned to face his chin and rested fully against his shoulder, her body nearly pressed against his now. His body tensed at the sudden change to a more intimate position, but the tension in hers had completely left and she now became wholly submissive in his arms. Once again he was taken by surprise and was late to the punch, and it wasn't until she began to shift to keep from sliding down from his embrace did he finally tighten around her, fully supporting her surprisingly small frame against him. A shaky breath left her and the alcohol rode on it up to his nose. It unnerved him having her so vulnerable in his arms, unable to stay standing without his support. Everything he knew about her just fell to ashes and was swept away, leaving her raw form behind. He knew she was human, but now he could see it.
After a few long moments of comfortable silence he noticed a change in her. The calm deep breaths against his neck suddenly went shallow, and every few seconds her shoulders quivered. It was then that he noticed the wetness sinking through his shirt, and another wave of surprise struck him senseless on how to proceed. A woman's tears could make most men crumble, but when the tears are Shepard's? He felt more ill-equipped to handle this than he did popping out babies. Not once could he remember calming a woman's grief besides his own mother, ages and ages ago. She was completely unmanning him. The only sensible thing that ran through his mind was to keep holding her. She seemed comfortable with that. Best to stick to the guns you know when the fog of war seeps in, although he felt like he was in the dark the moment he stepped off the elevator.
There was a sudden loud clatter that echoed around them, making both of them jump. His senses sharpened and he looked down to see the bottle that had been in her hand. She must have loosened her grip until it slipped right through her fingers. Luckily it didn't shatter, but the fact that it startled them both made him huff a big sigh and squeeze her close again, this time running his hand up and down her back just once. He had to oppress the urge to chuckle, which seemed inappropriate for the moment. Her body relaxed again, and this time both her hands went around his waist and weakly embraced him in return. The gesture got his heart racing again, although he wasn't willing to admit why.
She was letting him be an anchor, which humbled him, especially given the fact that they were not exactly close. Deep down he always wanted to be. He wanted to know her. Who wouldn't want to know the real Shepard? She was terrifyingly beautiful and an absolute challenge to befriend or even fight beside. She chose her company with purpose…and it gave him a warm fuzzy feeling to think that she had chosen him to keep her afloat in a time of need. The awkward feeling in his stomach had nearly subsided completely, and was replaced with confidence in where he stood with her.
Her head lifted and she gently pushed him away, his arms dropping immediately to his sides on cue. After a deep breath she looked him in the eyes and gave him the faintest curl of her lips he had ever seen, but his heart leaped at the undeniable site of a smile breaking through. If this had been any other moment during her imprisonment on Earth he would have made an exaggerated fist pump at his success, but somehow now didn't feel like to the time for such a celebration. The thought that he had somehow brought it out of her without a single word in her most unguarded moment to date made him stand a little taller. He had finally given her something she needed, and it was fulfilling to say the least.
Silently she passed him, lightly grasping his arm and then letting go when she entered the elevator. The touch lingered, and it wasn't until he watched the doors close that he realized goose-bumps had cropped all over his body. A satisfied smirk bloomed on his face, and after rubbing the spot where she had touched him he strutted to the shower.
Now he had her in his arms again, sleeping peacefully and gloriously naked against his chest. She had chosen him…again, the night before the war came to a head and threatened to rip their lives away at a moment's notice. She had called him to her cabin and wordlessly kissed him, drew him to her bed and asked him to pretend he loved her for one night. The sincerity of her need to feel intimacy had tugged on his heartstrings in a way that made him believe he really did love her. Honestly he wasn't sure what it felt like and didn't care to find out. All he cared about was fulfilling her need to have him close, caring for her so that she could have a moment of release from everyone depending on her. This time he accepted his role as her anchor without hesitation. He had laid her down and covered her body in gentle caresses and kisses, warming every curve with his hands and locking her eyes with his every moment he could. He couldn't recall ever making love to a woman before, but there was no desperate urge for a hot and heavy physical release with her. Overwhelmed by the thought of making her feel loved had brought out his dormant romantic side, and he did everything he could think of to do right by her.
A slight moan escaped her lips and she nestled against him again, sighing contentedly and bringing a smile to his face. She seemed to be wholly satisfied with her choice of companionship, and that was more than enough for him. She would be ready for anything tomorrow, and that's all that mattered. He could worry about…loving…when the Reapers were gone and she was left breathing.
The thought of her not surviving the fight crept up on him…and the heavy feeling in his gut told him this "love" thing may have already pulled him under. He forced the thought from his mind and looked down at her, caressing her lovely face and planting a kiss on her forehead. She stirred and lazily opened her eyes, finding his face and giving him a sleepy smile. He smiled back and kissed her lips for a lingering moment before pulling her close.
"You smell much better than last time." She croaked, earning a chuckle.
"You didn't seem to mind then."
She smiled again but didn't entertain him with a witty response. She tended to leave him hanging like that, always letting him get the last word but making him feel like she always had the last say anyway. Her eyes slowly closed again as she floated back into her gentle sleep. He grazed her face with his fingers again, brushing strands of hair away.
"So…can I call you Lola now?" He had to ask.
A broad smile covered her face and he felt his heart leap again at the sight. It seemed like something he could never get tired of, especially knowing he was the reason for it.
"After tonight, you can call me whatever you like, James."
James. It hit him like a fuzzy brick wall that it was the first time she had ever used his name, and it knocked him back in a sweet way. Hearing it come from those lips that he had kissed so thoroughly earlier tonight gave him goose bumps again. She was in deep under his skin, that's for sure, and he had no idea how it happened so fast. Maybe she had been finding her way in all along and he was just dumb as a doorknob not to see it coming. Right now it didn't really matter. He kissed her deeply one last time and drifted away to dreamless slumber. Before tomorrow, at least, they would feel at peace with fate. Tonight would be his final and most cherishable memory, whether he lived to remember it or not.
"Sweet dreams, Lola."