A/N: There actually will be an explanation of why John was there and how he ran into Liara, (but it's not particularly groundbreaking), and it'll be in the sequel.
Yes. There's a sequel.
And don't worry, the space hamster will be making an appearance.
Also, Hannah Shepard.
"I mean, I truly believe there exists some combination of words. There must exist certain words in certain specific order that would explain all of this. I just can't ever seem to find them."
-Walter White, Breaking Bad "Fly"
Jane awoke half-immersed in the filling bathtub, sputtering and cold.
Instinct drove her upward, ignoring the pain from her battered body. The legs filled with fire and ants, the spine carved out of wood, her arms aching. Where the hell were her crutches?
She'd wanted to take a bath. That was all. That she would have sworn on stack of holy books from every race.
Right now, she didn't want to die, and that was not all adrenaline talking.
I will die when I am good and ready, and it will not be in a bathtub.
Shepard crawled out, and felt little shame about doing so. Her pants, soaked black, she had to wrestle off her, and peeling off her shirt only caused more pain. The old scars looked fresh, despite how they'd faded to an ugly pink. Jane so rarely stared at them anymore. So rarely undressed and looked down on anything besides Liara. She kept going, kept removing all of her clothes.
It hurt, to think about her. To even hear her name in Shepard's head, but it was a good hurt. Like putting antiseptic on a wound.
For her, she would keep going, as she'd told Liara.
She had to remind herself: I won. This pain means I am still alive.
There had been nothing when she'd been spaced, therefore anything was better.
They'd fallen over, her damn crutches, and it took faith and time to get to her feet. The new dents in the wall gave her a pause, and a funny sensation looking at them. Searching for a new place to stay up here in the northeast, and finding that one particular hell. She'd been in a much more playful mood, and there had been a hole set into a wall at the perfect height. Liara had claimed to find the whole thing disgusting, as she zipped her pants back up and stashed her favorite toy away.
Hung over, Shepard stumbled back into bed naked and curled up beneath the blankets.
The nightmares came back, as bad as when she'd been on the Normandy again, trying to find some way to bring the galaxy together. Worse than at her parent's home. Worse than even the dreams she'd had when settling here, and waking up Liara from the sounds of her yelling and struggling beneath blankets. 'It was nothing. Don't move. Just lay there.' Refusing even a meld that might have calmed her, in exchange for simply watching Liara breathing and waiting for Jane's orders.
Sometimes, the red light coming through the windows would scare her.
Still she stuck around this place, hoping that Liara would come back. There was no convenient clue left behind, a travel brochure hidden away for her. The ashes left in the tray besides the wiped-clean terminal might have meant something, but Shepard could no longer read that language.
Liara had claimed that she had felt a void when Jane had died, and that touching her again was enough to know that this was the real Shepard, come back. They'd had a connection that would transcend time, and even after she'd died, Liara would still have that imprint marking her.
Aethyta told her point-blank to fuck off. No amount of begging, literally begging, would move the asari Matriarch's heart. "Maybe she's better off without you?"
As Jane snorted back tears, horrified by all the emotion leaking out of her. "I know. But I think I can still make her happy. We used to be so happy, before I fucked it up."
Her sobbing was too pathetic to stand for long. And she would find a way to get ahold of Aethyta, even if it meant calling and bribing random people into going to asari space to pass notes. If there was one thing Shepard was still good at, it was being a pest. "She said she might be coming over to Thessia. But it could be months, kid. I think she might need time alone."
While this shuddering mess responded with a pitiful, "But I need her."
The most selfish thing she'd ever admitted to. Why would any father want to inflict this on her child?
At least Liara had gotten the courage to cut her off. To just grab her stuff and leave. She certainly had a quad, as Aethyta might have told Shepard.
The Matriarch also made sure to twist that knife by sending a holovid of Liara, young, and tiny, digging resolutely into the dirt. Benezia's voice, not in the slightest bit upset at seeing her daughter messing up what looked to be an expensive outfit. The video focused only on the young asari, still armed even at that age, but with a shovel rather than a pistol. "What are you looking for?"
Liara hardly spared her mother a second look. "Treasure."
"'Treasure'? What kind?"
"The shiny kind."
Jane had to laugh, especially when Benezia joined in to help her struggling child. Holding up a rock. "Is this shiny enough?"
A resolute shake of that tiny head that had them both turning back to their work.
If only it had been a dirty message on how to win Liara back. But when she attempted to get Aethyta to mention doing such a thing, if she had any tips, her almost-father-in-law only sent back the message that if she didn't know how to do that, Liara truly was better off.
Shepard watched the video, over and over again, hating that she'd gone out to buy liquor, hating herself for taking that first sip of terrible paint-thinner, hating that she could imagine Liara's expression if she'd been here, and hating that she could so easily imagine that child on the screen as her daughter. The war had been over for months now, Liara could have been pregnant at this point, months and months ago. Another day would pass and another, and that would be one more day of having a child here, a little person that she could call her own and would in turn refer to her as 'father.'
It would have been cruel to bring a child into their relationship at this point. Something she'd known as soon as her bondmate had even mentioned raising a baby, bringing life into this galaxy where so many others had died. To pretend that she was alright, that she could raise an infant would also have been miserable. How could Jane hold a kid and use her crutches at the same time? How could she love and provide for someone when she could hardly function herself without Liara? She was not insane, not at all still in denial about the state of their feelings for each other. Liara might still love her, and god knows Jane loved the asari, but that didn't mean a whole lot ultimately.
What did it now matter that Shepard wanted a daughter? That she wanted that connection, a family, a bondmate, things for the future. A future.
I will drop to my knees and beg before her. There will either be more crying, or I'll just sit there. But she will reach down and help me back up. I will stand without those crutches.
She left a message on her mom's omni-tool, telling her where she could pick up her hovercar and that she was sorry about taking it. That little grasp of maturity was rewarded with Hannah Shepard informing Jane where John was, and who he'd discovered during his trip overseas courtesy of the Alliance to help with repairs. 'At least someone got to finally meet your little ex-girlfriend.'
Of course her mother had to give Liara that title.
'They seem to be hitting it off.'
Liara, with a Johnny, the little boy she'd saved from bullies and stuck up for when it came to their parents. John, who had become a mystery even before she'd gone to Basic, and who was ignoring her messages. John, tall and handsome and presumably alone. With Liara, who was on the rebound and also alone and lonely and probably vengeful.
A dumb animal pain that drove her into moving, feeling like cattle headed for the slaughterhouse.
When Shepard walked into the airport, everyone knew who she was, and that didn't make her stomach curdle. Liara had only added to her bank account, as the credit system recovered, and she paid for a ticket, one-way, from a star-struck attendant. Her one bag was hardly checked over, and Jane remembered that she might still technically be a spectre. It had been months since having any contact with the Council.
Though it wasn't like she was smuggling anything illegal across the border. Just one pathetic attempt, one stab at trying to live as she'd used to, again.
She'd never left the country as a tourist. It had been a long time since she'd felt like a civilian, despite what she carried and what she wanted back.
Either out of guilt, or some familial bond, or because she really did like Liara and want her as a daughter-in-law, Hannah managed to get a few more details from John. Since Jane still had not been able to get ahold of him.
Despite her growing agoraphobia, Jane managed to not get completely lost and had only a few mild panic attacks. She noticed only the sights in the most peripheral way. Fate was either kind, or particularly cruel that day to grant her the way to some tiny bistro and see that familiar blue head. Because it wasn't like Liara had been in hiding, it wasn't like she cared if Jane came after her-probably hadn't even suspected after all this time to see Shepard again, that Shepard would care enough to come after her. Just another tourist in a tourist place.
There should have been lightening to strike them both. Blood to pour from Shepard's eyes, as she finally saw Liara. The ground to crack beneath them, and further divide them and cast them apart.
Instead, Liara didn't even seem to notice the ghost behind her.
And Liara looked better than ever. Healthy, less thin, finding calm rather than becoming increasingly angry when she took in the familiar shape of the shadow falling across the table.
Shepard was disgusted by her own smile. She had no right to it, yet there it sat, stretching her tired face muscles. There was no mania behind it. It didn't hurt either, to move so quickly using the crutches. "This is about the last place I would have thought to look for you."
The blue eyes were only mildly curious. The world did not stop rotating on its axis, the galaxy did implode, there was only the crushing feeling behind Shepard's chest.
"My Mom told on you."
Yes, those were what you said after being reacquainted with the love of your life.
"She did the same for you, Jane."
"You've been in contact with her?"
"A little. John must have told her where I was." Liara's eyes were unblinking, unflinchingly blue.
"John?" Something terrible was beginning to gnaw into her gut. "He didn't tell me anything about seeing you. I haven't talked to him in a while."
Only to Hannah had she spoken to lately. Hannah Shepard, who held cards close to her chest and was so good at twitching a finger and getting her children to do what she wanted. There was an awful stirring in those blue eyes. The blandness to her words. Why hadn't John said anything to his own sister? How long had Liara been here, and with John? He wouldn't have hurt her, unless perhaps he didn't know, but no, Liara would not do that. An absurdity. Her little brother, that had always wanted to be a hero and follow his sister's footsteps but was surely his own person who could no longer be threatened to stay away from her things with the threat of getting punched in the stomach anymore.
Liara was still silent. Eyes not dropping, and horribly patient as she waited, waited for what?
There should have been screaming, insults, throwing of their mugs. Why did you leave, why didn't you contact me, why are you even here? What did you do, Liara?
After so long together, they didn't need the meld to even exchange what they were thinking. They were practically married, and all married couples had their own secret language.
Shepard didn't understand what she'd said, until it was already passing her lips. "You and John have been spending time together. Good ole Johnny. Why the fuck are you not saying anything? Did you sleep with him, to spite me? Did you two screw? Would you say something?"
Her hand ached, and she had to pull her eyes away to realize she had pounded it against the table way too hard.
"I wouldn't have done that. Perhaps I don't care so much anymore about hurting your feelings, Jane."
"What, you didn't fuck him? Out of respect to John?"
"John was…you're doing him a disservice. He is a friend. He actually talked to me."
"Yeah. He's good at that. You just talked to him, that's all? Kept your hands above the waist? Is that what happened?" Her face was hot, and there was pressure throbbing behind her eyes. "Thanks. For not fucking my own brother."
There was fire blazing in those eyes. Biotics just behind them. In this state, Liara could literally murder her right here, and Jane wouldn't even try to fight. "S-shut up, Shepard. You think you can tell me who I can and can't be with? You lost that privilege, after months of not even contacting me. I had to find out from your own mother where you were. If you were even alive."
"As though you didn't skip town. Did you even try looking for me?"
Liara flinched, as though she'd been slapped. "Of course I did. You think I didn't? What, what exactly did you think Jane, that I didn't love you, that I wasn't terrified that you might have killed yourself?"
"'Didn't.' Is it alright if I sit down? Can I do that?"
I need to sit down. I need to leave. I should never have come here.
Her shoulders inside that white armor sagged, and she looked like the old Liara. Not the asari that had needed rescuing, not the information broker, but Jane's poor love, the only person that could still stand her, hanging around their apartment and making sure that Shepard did not jump off the roof or slice an artery and bleed out in the kitchen. Reduced, and hurt. "Sit then."
"Or better yet, let's both stand up and go see my brother, huh? Have a happy reunion, and a long chat? Were you happy with him? Did he make you happy, Liara, did you go on long walks on the beach? Was it nice? Did he kiss you?"
It was like a scene from so many bad holovids that John and their Grandmother would watch. People were looking over, with simple curiosity. Now they would tear each other apart, with whatever tools they had, armed with knives of love, and jealousy, only wanting to hurt the other as much as they'd hurt themselves. Years together, storing up anger and resentment. Simply living together had created rules and boundaries to never be crossed.
Jane wanted to scream. You think you're the only victim? You fucked off too. Did you think about fucking my own brother? Or was there someone else? Why did you say 'didn't'?
Shepard knew she looked ragged, worn out. Her eyes must have sunk into her head by several centimeters, and she felt as exhausted as her jeans and sweatshirt. A fucking mess, inside and out.
"We shared a bed. One night. Nothing happened." There was no shame or guilt on her face. Only steadily offering this strange fact that Jane didn't understand.
"Why?" Why are you telling me this? Why would you share a bed with him? My brother. Why my own brother? Is that why he avoided me, because he was trying to worm his way into your pants?
She wasn't crying. That had passed. It seemed like there were no more tears to squeeze out, and that was a relief maybe. The old Jane Shepard would not have wept over this. Neither really needed to hear Liara say the answer.
"Tell me what to do."
Liara was looking at her, Shepard knew. Even if Jane couldn't bring herself to make eye contact.
"Just tell me what to do."
Shepard awoke in darkness, and had to spend a few seconds remembering where she was. In France. Or all fucking places.
When she sat up, got up, she could imagine how she looked. Tired and pale and worn down. It was too dark and she was too alone for anyone to see any of her scars dotting and tracing her body. There had been a time not long ago where that would have comforted by that.
Now, she pulled off the clothes she'd worn yesterday and had fallen unconscious in. Her bag left by the desk, untouched until now.
The shot she took to her arm hardly hurt. Nor did the ones to her legs either.
It was good that one of us had the dignity and respect to finally leave. That Jane could agree with, if not the pity in those blue eyes. 'You were so strong, Shepard, to actually leave. Maybe you don't realize that. But you were.'
'Does that mean I should just fuck off now? Leave you to your European vacation?' To my brother?
Making a scene, in the perfect Hollywood way. She'd never wooed back a lover, from the arms of anyone. Let alone her goddamn brother that was waiting at the Alliance base miles away from the hotel Liara was staying at. Fuck John; the entire galaxy that would be glad to have her.
Jane had never tried to fight back to get a lover back at all, from anything.
'Do you want to leave, Shepard? Or do I have to spend ten years watching you slowly waste away? I don't care if I live to for a thousand years, I will not wait to witness that.'
And Jane couldn't and didn't want to make her go through that.
'I can't tell you what to do. I'm tired of watching you hurt yourself. I'm tired of never talking to you about your problems.'
The pattern of her injuries spelling out what she'd done. This scar on her shoulder from the geth. The one on her arm from being fractured so badly from that last fight. A back that had nails driven into it, perhaps literally. These ones on her legs below the knee, from the blisters, the burns that had driven sanity from that—no, her, from her when she'd laid on that bed with tubes everywhere and saw only the white ceiling and blue eyes. Scars from implants set into skin that had healed, then reopened. It looked like she'd been torn apart and sewed back together. She looked like the truth of everything that had happened to her.
You can't throttle down your depression and rage. This is only a stop-gap.
"But I will get better." That she promised to more than just herself, but to her family, to her friends, lost or still living, and even more to her bondmate that she'd let down enough.
The polite goodbye, we'll talk again tomorrow, it's good to see you, a touch to her shoulders and a lingering look. Had Liara expected Jane to follow her, and bug her, plead again for another chance?
No mania. Only the hard knowledge of what had to be done. Shepard nodded to her own failings, of her flaws and could only vow to do better in the future. She wasn't sure even after her death, even after telling Liara what she'd remembered, if there was any higher power exactly, but if there was, she hoped it still had her back if it ever had.
In her armor, hair hacked to its usual length, she didn't look too thin or pathetic to be Commander Jane Shepard. She didn't bother with the helmet. That was a mockery, a lie, to what she was now.
This is my face. This is me. Shepard grinned at her expression, at the strong grin and the simple raw fearlessness in her eyes. Older, and a little more fucked up, but still the person that had defeated the Reapers, that had shaken the fuckers out of the galaxy and saved the day. Jane watched her grin become wider, as she did her best to embrace that woman she'd been. That person that the galaxy turned to look for a savior.
And had she not risen to that challenge, and done her duty again?
Hurt wasn't the same thing as broken. Pain wasn't defeat.
What she had to say, to make it true, "I am Commander Jane Shepard, spectre, N7, member of the Alliance. Bondmate to Liara T'Soni. I am the Breaker of the Reaper Cycle. I will not just let anything else leave. I will not just wait to die."
'This is the same argument we've been having since you woke up. Do you realize that?'
Halfway to the room, she finally threw the damn crutches aside, and was almost amused at how even then they didn't break and only waited patiently for her return.
It was right before dawn when Shepard broke down the door in one good, satisfying crunch of metal and wood. Sparks literally flying, though thankfully nothing caught on fire. Though that wouldn't have even given this Jane a single pause. Not even her relief over seeing Liara alone, sitting up in that bed, trying to stand and fumble for the gun on her nightstand.
It was nothing to shoot it away from her. To leap at her, before biotics could go off. She practically fell on Liara to grab her wrists, wrenching her arms to the side. There was power in Jane's upper body, solid, especially after using those crutches for so long. Liara seemed to snap to who this person was, what she was doing, and settled for glares and less struggling.
Shepard pulled Liara into her arms, like the bride she should have been already.
"Where are you even taking me?"
"To whatever those fuckers left of the Eiffel Tower."
"This has to hurt you."
"Stims." The same thing Liara had used, to keep herself going during those long hours on the Normandy.
"Shepard, put me down. Use your crutches. You're limping." The long fingers touching her breastplate, the N7 insignia. "You can't make it all that way. Jane."
"Let's see. Can we just find out if I can or not? Can we just see?"
She was looking at Jane, seeing what, Shepard didn't know. Her hands were on the Commander's shoulders. "If you need help. I'm here. Do you understand?"
"I don't know. Yes. I'm going to try, Liara. I don't know if you're still willing to hang around and watch me attempt to get my life in order. I don't—fuck. I don't want to be miserable anymore. I especially am sick of making you miserable." Shepard pulled Liara a little closer, enjoying despite everything the way her bondmate clung to her. Trusting her. "I want to try living again, doing what we'd planned and starting a family and trying to be happy. Is that it? Have I covered all the bases? I'm still a mess, and I know it, and I'm not sure why you'd take me back."
Shepard dug into her pocket, pulling at the lighter that seemed to have traveled a ridiculous distance to be here. She could feel the warmth of the metal, rather than the pain in her back and legs.
Liara took the lighter, looking at it like she'd never seen one before. "Because I love you, Shepard. And I'm glad you're here."
Shepard couldn't even remember the last time they'd kissed, but knew it hadn't been this gentle. And Liara hadn't looked at her without anger or pity from that blue gaze for much longer. "What took you so long, Commander?"