Shepard Sees the Sky
"'Garrus…' 'You can't tell me you haven't thought about it before. Getting her back.'" - Garrus and Kaidan finally get down to the barebones of loving Commander Shepard when they think she isn't listening. Hint: she is.
* * *
A loud, reverberating clattering sound wakes Shepard, but she's too tired and too worn out to do much else but blink into blurry consciousness.
"Shit! Shit shit shit! Sorry!" Kaidan whispers somewhere behind her. And then she hears Garrus' low chortle, a sound she has grown to know intimately.
They're stuck here, beneath the rubble of one of Tuchanka's old military installations, barely managing to survive the decimation reigned down by the Cerberus cruiser's bombardment before their newly hacked krogan canons could blow the thing out of the sky. One of the bunkers beneath had given way under their platform, and after surviving the rough tumble and checking for any severe injuries, they were met with the unfortunate reality of being buried under a cave-in. Radios weren't getting through the surface, and any attempt on their part to clear out the rubble had only resulted in some terrifyingly suspicious rumbles and minor rock slides within the cramped cave.
And so they decided to wait it out until help found them.
Shepard was enjoying her turn to sleep, and leaving the watch in Garrus' very capable hands, when the sound of Kaidan dropping his rifle along the echoing stone at their feet drew her from the depths of sleep.
There is a long tense silence following Kaidan's slip, and Shepard slowly begins to blink back into full awareness. Her back is to the two crouched men behind her as they lean up against the other side of the cave. She can see the cave wall in front of her, just barely in the encompassing dark. She's about to release a weary sigh and push off the cold ground when Kaidan's cautious voice stops her.
"You think it woke her?"
She nearly barks a laugh at the question, but decides to wait this out and see how far the oblivious oafs will get before they realize she's wide awake.
Garrus chuckles. "Of course not. The woman can sleep through anything."
She pouts mildly at the observation, unseen.
"I know," she hears Kaidan laugh, "I mean, I remember one time when she fell clean off the bed and I jolted awake, scared shitless I tell you, and there she is, just snoring away, just…" His laughter teeters off into a low "oh", and then a sigh, a rustle that sounds like his hand running through his hair, and then an uncomfortable groan.
She remembers that night. Mostly because he had told her about it the next morning. And though the memory is a fond one, it is blanketed by that familiar sense of almost and not-enough. It twinges harshly at her heart and she just barely manages to quell the urge to curl in on herself.
But more than anything, she's anxious about Garrus' response, and her body keeps deadly still. Suddenly, she cannot move for a whole other set of reasons.
Kaidan blows a self-chastising breath of air through his lips. "Garrus, I'm sorry, that was out of line. I didn't mean to –"
"Don't worry about it." The turian's voice is tight and controlled, but there's a gentleness laced beneath it that puts Shepard's heart at ease. "You two had history. It's ridiculous to pretend otherwise."
There is a light shuffle of what sounds like armor adjusting on rock and then another silence.
"It's hard to believe how things have happened sometimes, you know?" There is nothing but quiet awe to the Major's voice. Maybe a little ache. Maybe just a hint of regret. "I mean, all those years ago, who'd have thought you and the commander would be something."
Another silence, in which Shepard can already imagine Garrus' incredulously raised brow plate in Kaidan's direction, and she smiles secretly to herself at the image.
She seems to be spot on, because then Kaidan is spluttering, desperately trying to keep to his whisper. "Oh, I don't mean…well, it's not like…I mean not that it's impossible or weird or anything just…okay, yeah, I'm just digging my grave here now." He lets out a short rueful chuckle. "This is not how I wanted any of this to come out."
Garrus releases a low hum, short and restrained, and then he is speaking, cautiously, "How you wanted what to come out, Kaidan?"
Another sigh. A low rustle. "I think I've…I've just had a lot on my mind lately. A lot about the past. My past with Shepard to be specific and…I don't know, it's…seeing you with her it's…"
"Uncomfortable?" he offers tentatively.
Shepard imagines her turian lover gripping the barrel of his rifle to quell any emotions brimming just beneath the surface.
She cannot see the way Kaidan shakes his head. "No, just…oddly familiar."
"What could possibly be familiar about it? I'd never been with Shepard while she was with you, I can assure you that."
"Oh no, I know that. And I know Shepard. She wouldn't do that kind of thing. But I think some part of me always knew you two were close and somehow, to now be intimate, it doesn't…it doesn't feel wrong, is what I'm saying. And maybe I always thought it would, I guess. Maybe I always thought it'd hurt to think that."
Shepard curls her gloved fingers into the dirt at the confession, trying to ease her tremors.
The Major continues on, voice hushed and small. "I know that you two aren't looking for my blessing or anything, or need any kind of acknowledgement from me at all really, because that's your business, and you're adults and I had my chance but I…I blew it and.." He expels a tight breath of exasperation. "What I'm trying to say is that I'm okay with it. If that means anything to you at all. I'm okay with it. And…I think you might be far better for her than I ever could be."
Shepard's breathing deepens as she lies in soot and stone, her eyes blinking furiously in the dark. This space is suddenly too small. Too cramped and too cold and there isn't enough air and –
"Sometimes I'm terrified she'll leave me."
Garrus' voice is so low, and so hesitant, that she has to stuff a fist in her mouth to keep from releasing the sudden sob lodged in her throat. Her eyes narrow instantly, brows furrowed tightly.
"What are you talking about?" Kaidan asks, his voice genuinely baffled.
There's a short, deep clicking that comes from behind her, and Shepard's eyes turn to slits at the noise. It's still a new sound to her. Unlike any of his bravado or cockiness or charm. It's all nerves, all coiled, rippling anxiety. Fear.
Fear like she has never heard in his voice before.
"She loved you once, Kaidan. She could again. And that…well," he clears his throat and shifts along the cave wall. "Needless to say, it keeps me up some nights."
"You can't tell me you haven't thought about it before. Getting her back."
It isn't accusation she hears in his tone. It's…it's…a twisted kind of need. Validation.
"Not…in the way you're thinking."
"Is there any other way?"
A nervous, aggravated sigh. "Well, the thing is – sure – I have, okay? I have thought about getting her back, but it wouldn't be the same Shepard I loved. That woman died over Alchera, and the woman she is now…she couldn't love me. And that's the plain truth. That's the rub. Our time has passed, and it isn't coming back. The woman I want back isn't the woman she is now. And…nothing's ever going to change that."
There's a sad sort of knowing that passes over Shepard then. Her hand spreads over the dirt beneath her and she takes a long, slow breath in, careful not to expel it too loudly. Her lids flutter closed.
Kaidan sighs at Garrus' long held silence. "I mean, didn't your feelings…shift somewhat…then as well? When she came back from the dead? When she…changed?"
It is such a sure and succinct answer that she finds herself smiling into the darkness at the word.
"If anything, my feelings intensified," Garrus answers. "She was never 'old Shepard' or 'new Shepard' to me. She just…was. Always. The same woman I fell in love with just…maybe a little harsher, a little blunter around the edges but…in the ways it mattered, no, I don't think I could ever fall out of love with her. There's only ever been one woman for me."
It takes everything of herself not to flip over and throw herself at him. Not to curl her arms around his neck and breathe him in and never – never – let go. Something brews tight in her chest where she knows her heart thuds excitedly.
And she feels so suddenly, so vulnerably – loved. Without condition or restriction.
Without the heavy constrains of a past that no longer wants her but follows her around like a dead shadow.
Without the need to be anything but what she is in this moment.
Shepard. Whole and ragged and some days limping but…free.
And Garrus loves her for it in ways she will always be humbled by.
Kaidan lets out a short, soft chuckle. "Maybe that's why you deserve her."
Shepard thinks maybe Kaidan understands after all. She curls in on her heart at the knowledge, lets it thrum and beat and linger in the wake of this moment.
"I think…" and then Garrus stops, shuffling along the stone, and then his voice is closer, just behind her, and she feels him settle on the floor close to her back. She very nearly feels his stare along her shoulder blades and holds her breath. "I think maybe you were each what you needed, at the times that you needed it."
"Hmm," Kaidan muses. "I think I can live with that outlook. After all, I don't regret a second of it."
"We are all the sum of our experiences, you know. And maybe, in loving you, it led her to me. So…in that sense…" Garrus pauses, and Shepard can feel the heat of his talons settling in the dirt just beside her. "I guess I should say thank you."
Kaidan scoffs, but it is good-natured and followed by what she surmises to be a friendly punch to Garrus' shoulder, judging by the slight jostle of him behind her. "Now you're getting in too deep there, Garrus. Back it up a bit."
Garrus chortles, and the thought of his quickly flitting mandibles, his dark averted eyes, his lopsided grin (if she could ever call it a grin by human standards), it makes her blink the sudden wetness from her eyes. "I'm just…sorry things ended this way for you. And I mean that. You're a good man, Kaidan. And I think you deserve the kind of love you're looking for."
The silence that follows isn't tense or awkward or stilted at all. It's simply…a moment to breath.
A moment to sink into the dark stillness of the cave and just…remember.
Because she wants to remember all of it. Every single word.
It all matters.
"I'm not sorry," he finally answers, and Shepard can hear the smile in his voice. "She got her guy in the end."
A sudden shift in the rockface causes a shudder to jostle the cave and Shepard instinctively puts out a hand to steady herself in the dirt. It subsides quickly, and then she feels the warmth of Garrus' talons on her arm, even through his gloves.
She decides to feign drowsiness. "Garrus?" she asks groggily, shifting along the dirt to turn over and sit up, rubbing at her eyes as though just waking.
"You okay?" he asks, thigh pressing against hers, his touch and his warmth always – always – there.
"I dreamed of you," she says, and doesn't know why.
She's not lying. She was dreaming of him before they ever glanced each other's way, before they knew each other's names, before they ever breathed the same air.
Before she knew the weight of his hand in hers meant more than she could ever put to words.
She was always dreaming of him.
He slides his hand down her arm and threads his talons through her fingers, leaning his head closer with a teasing grin. "The kind of dream you can repeat in company or…" He lets the sentence trail off with a single, confidant flick of his mandibles, eyes gleaming.
She laughs, and smacks his shoulder.
His responding rumble reminds her that he loves her, wholly, and without demand.
She glances to Kaidan, and even in the dark, she can find his eyes. She sees the outline of his faint nod in the dim light and suddenly, she can't help but wonder if he knows, if he has always known.
But it is too dark to tell, and too quiet to ask, and too cramped and too cold and too everything.
In the end, she doesn't worry.
Because when her team breaks through the rocks and the sun blazes into their little ruin and the world is suddenly bright and warm and theirs again – Shepard sees the sky.
Brilliant and blue and endless.
She never looks back.