Blue Skies

by R.H. Stevens

“Saren’s hiding something. Give me more time. Stall them!”

“Stall the council? Don’t be ridiculous. Your investigation is over, Garrus.”

Commander Shepard ascended the last of the stairs, Kaidan and Ashley at her heels, just in time to catch the angry exchange between the two Turian C-Sec officers. She recognised Executor Pallin, the older and more senior of the two, but not his underling, whose mandibles were twitching angrily at being so rebuked.

At Shepard’s approach, he turned to look sidelong at her for a few moments with an unreadable expression, before finally blinking bright blue eyes and coming closer.

“Commander Shepard? Garrus Vakarian. I was the C-Sec officer in charge of the investigation into Saren.”

Shepard inclined her head politely. “Sounds like you really want to bring him down.”

Garrus crossed his arms, looking away from Shepard with an annoyed twitch in his jaw.

“Something about him rubs me the wrong way. But he’s a Spectre, everything he touches is classified.” He looked back at her and his voice dropped an octave lower. “I can’t find any hard evidence.”

A gentle touch to her elbow from Kaidan. “I think the council is ready for us, Commander.”

Shepard nodded, glancing first into Kaidan’s brown eyes, and then back into the Turian’s blue ones.

“Good luck, Commander. Maybe they’ll listen to you,” Garrus said, stepping back slightly to allow the trio to pass.

As they did so, Shepard offered him another respectful nod, meeting his bright blue eyes.

During the meeting with the Council (which went very badly – it turned out the Council wasn’t going to believe her so easily, after all), Shepard found herself thinking back to Garrus, and speculating on the way he had held her gaze.

‘His eyes were very blue, weren’t they?’ Shepard thought to herself.

It didn’t take much to get Garrus on the team, through a combination of mission necessity and his own insistence upon coming aboard. They didn’t always agree; he was every bit the hothead Harkin had accused him of being, which often put him at odds with Shepard’s more reserved approach.

Even so – she liked people who told it as they saw it, liked people with a strong sense of justice, and Vakarian had both. There was something special about him, in the way he was courteous to his colleagues but absolutely driven on a battlefield. She supposed he was much like her, in a fashion. They both grew up military, carrying their family’s legacy’s with them into adulthood.

He seemed to identify with her as both a soldier and as a person, in a way she hadn’t been identified with for a long time. There wasn’t much of the idealisation she often got from other people.

Shepard suspected that Kaidan and Liara were both infatuated with her. Their affections were misplaced. Having been on the object of such infatuations before, Shepard knew they they were more attracted to the idea of her rather than the real deal. Shepard had gone through this many times. Since Elysium, and the Skyllian Blitz, her inbox had been permanently filled with a continuing stream of love letters and adoring fan-mail. It seemed to Shepard, though, that her accomplishments, and the awe they generally inspired, had made her impossible to really know.

For that reason, and simple professionalism, she let both of them down gently, preferring to spend the quieter moments in-between missions with Garrus. It was nice to have someone around with whom she could simply be herself. She liked watching him repair the Mako in the long, amiable silences between them, liked looking into his blue eyes as he talked.

They were very, very blue eyes. As bright a blue as the Earth sky she had often dreamed about as a kid, growing up in cramped ships amongst the stars. She hadn’t seen the cerulean heavens of her own homeworld until she was sixteen, but now, here, with a gun pointed at the head of the universe, a little bit of home was here in Garrus’ eyes.

The ship rocked, rivets popping loose, as the metal frame of the vessel howled out its last and began to rip apart. The Collector ship was still unloading volley after volley at the Normandy, decimating the last of the shields and melting the starboard hull.

Joker’s hands were pressed up against the glass of the lifeboat, his eyes wide, his mouth making sounds Shepard could no longer hear through the static of her radio. Her fingers were wrapped around one of the beams, holding herself in place as she floated in zero-G. One of the beams from the Collector ship succeeded in penetrating the navigation room, filling it with heat and crackling energy. With that, the Normandy died, split apart, in a series of eerily silent explosions.

Jane Shepard was blown back, spiralling hard into a cascade of debris. She heard her kinetic barriers break, felt her forearm fracture as another explosion smashed her against a section of what was the Normandy’s ready room. She was dazed; she tasted blood in her mouth, but, miraculously, she was alive. She still had some of that Shepard family luck going for her. She could see Joker’s lifeboat zooming to safety in the opposite direction, and smiled in genuine relief inside her helmet.

They were safe. They were all safe. Joker, Liara, Kaidan, Tali. That was all a good leader really wanted, in the end: the safety and happiness of her team. They were not just her squad. They were her friends, her family. And as her family, she knew they’d be back in no time to help. She’d have to float for a few hours, but she had oxygen, and she could use some of it to get her out of the gravity well of the nearby planet. It would be okay. It would have to be!

Something was thrumming insistently at her back, and Shepard’s smile dissipated. What was that? She reached back behind her and felt her fingers come into contact with a steady stream of compressed air. Well, damn,

Her oxygen tank had been damaged. Frantically, she reached around herself, her legs flailing at nothing as she spun through space. The stars made whirlpool patterns across the glass of her helmets as she began to suck in breath after desperate breath. The emergency systems were letting off klaxon blares to correspond with the warnings flashing on her HUD.

She needed to get her Omni-Tool going, needed to seal the breach, but her lungs were on fire; it was hard to think of anything but the pain. She was drowning, all alone, in the dark.

‘I guess that’s it then,’ Shepard thought to herself. ‘It’s really true what they say, then. Your life does flash before your eyes when you die.’

Memories manifested themselves behind her fluttering eyelids. Her mother and father, proud and unknowable, who smiled at her and ruffled her hair and told her to go play with the other children – on a ship with no other children. She saw herself, small and stoic, even then, deciding that one day would be different, one day, she’d have friends, lots of ’em, who would always be there for her if she asked, even if they were busy with grown-up things.

Joker, who always made her smile. Beautiful Liara, the tenderest friend Shepard had ever had. Wrex, with his warrior’s pride. Kaidan, like one of the Knights in a storybook, honest and true. Tali, everyone’s little sister. And Ashley, strong, tough, misguided Ashley, who died a bigger hero than the Galaxy might ever realise.

‘Goodbye, guys,‘ Shepard whispered in her head. ‘You’ll have to finish this without me.’

Then there was Garrus.

‘Ah, Garrus. My whole life has been for the uniform. I never stepped out of it, not once. Not even to tell you how I felt. Now it’s too late.’

Now, this thought was a surprise. Shepard’s brow furrowed, even as her vision blurred. What fresh insight was this? Where was this sudden regret coming from?

‘I think…I think you must really have deep fee-‘

And then there were no more thoughts.

She was still lucky. Anyone else would have been left in the afterlife, but not Shepard. Her body was recovered, resurrected, re-wired, and then she plopped unceremoniously back into the world of the living with a new ship, a new mandate, and as many honest faces as she could gather.

Some of the old crowd wouldn’t join her, this time: Kaidan, so distrustful of her motives now she was aligned with Cerberus, and Liara, hung up the machinations she had wrought amongst the criminal elite.

Garrus had been brought back to her. She’d pulled him out of the jaws of death, and, as he had in his younger years, he’d fallen into step beside her, just where he belonged. It seemed that Shepard’s death had changed him, for there had been a certain translucency to him when she had known him in her first lifetime. Emotions passed through him like sunlight through glass. Now, he’d developed into the prodigy she had always seen in him.

She’d stopped him from taking his revenge on Sidonis. That moment was pivotal, she knew. What he did then would determine what he would be when he stepped out of that chrysalis, and she didn’t want him to become the sort of person who let his anger control him, the sort of person who let vengeance overpower justice and become something ugly.

In the days afterward, he’d seemed to come around to her point of view, brightening up somewhat, and Shepard smiled at herself in the mirror in the mornings, for the student was becoming his own master, and that was the way she wanted it. The potter was happy when the clay became beautiful in their hands.

“I remember there was this scout and I who had been at each other’s throats, nerves mostly,” Garrus was saying, recounting how his people relieved stress. Shepard was sitting on a nearby crate, smiling up at him as he extrapolated on the sizzling encounter between he and this bold Turian woman. Shepard herself had never had a one-night stand; she had, to her name, one long-term relationship which had hit the rocks in its fifth year, shortly after Elysium. She still vividly remembered the contents of the message which had signalled the end of said relationship.

“I’m always lonely, Jane. You’re never there for me. And I never know what you’re thinking. You keep everything locked away inside. You want things, but you never say them. You always leave me guessing, and then neither of us get what we want. Can’t you be Jane, not Commander Shepard, for just one day? I can’t keep waiting around for the real you to show up and love me.”

“More than one way to work off stress,” Garrus smirked at her, leaning back against the control panel of the battery, and she shook her head, smiling to herself and standing.

The moment was suddenly heady with potential. Garrus was still looking at her with a quirk to his mandible. The contrasting lighting of the room made his face even more compelling, the hard angles of his uninjured side bleeding into the ruin of the other, his blue (so blue) eyes almost glowing in the dark. She suddenly wanted very much to kiss him on his mouth, to press her lips into his skin, hold him close, protect him, love him forever, all of those romantic things that she had put aside for long years of solitude.

‘Just tell him!’ The voice screamed in her head.

“I should let you get back to work,” She said instead, with one of trademark perfect grins, a vid-worthy smile which meant nothing at all.

If Garrus seemed disappointed, she didn’t see it as she left the room with the voice howling in recrimination inside her head.

The Reapers were there, rampaging through her own homeworld. Her beloved blue, lost in a cloud of smoke and blood and pain.

She was tired of turning away from the things she wanted the most. Tomorrow, they would go back to Earth and take the fight to the Gods. The crucible would be used to destroy the Reapers, Shepard told herself. There would be no other solution, there would be no compromise, there would be no differing perspective.

Tomorrow, when she made planetfall, it would be to end the Reapers forever, or die trying. Tonight, though, she was going to follow her heart. For once, in her lonely, miserable life, she was going to come out with the truth. If he felt the same, great. If he didn’t…Well. It didn’t matter. At least she’d been honest.

The doors to the main battery took a little longer to open that unusual, their holographic interface whirring quietly. They were locked, and although they immediately set to unlocking at Shepard’s approach (she was the Commander of the ship, after all), it struck her as unusual. Garrus never locked the battery. For one thing, it was against procedure, and, like her, he was all about procedure. It was one of the many things she felt they had in common.

The doors finally shushed open and Shepard immediately checked her own facial expression, stopping the devastation from making itself known through her eyes, her mouth.

“Oh!” Tali giggled in embarassment, immediately disentangling herself Garrus’ arms and backing up. Garrus’ eyes were very wide as he stumbled backwards, a blue flush settling on his neck.

Shepard checked her face again, making sure she looked only mildly interested. There was a tightness to her mouth she just couldn’t shake.

“We were just, uh…” Garrus began, looking completely mortified.

“Well, I just came to say goodbye, and, well…” Tali continued.

“One of my mandibles got caught on her helmet…” Garrus stuttered.

There was a loud pounding in Shepard’s skull, blood thudding past her ears. It blocked out the sounds of what they were saying. All she could really do was concentrate, very hard, on maintaining a neutral expression. It wasn’t easy to do.

She knew she hadn’t made a move. She knew she had no right to claim what had never been offered. But that didn’t stop her from wanting to strike the young Quarian, and the sudden impulse horrified and sickened her. She was Commander Shepard! She was so much better than that, so far above such pettiness. Hadn’t she, inwardly, looked down upon Liara and Kaidan for the way their emotions so frequently got the better of them?

Shepard’s mind raced, even as she dutifully gave one of her friendly smiles, as if she was somehow amused by the gut-wrenching impact of knowing the man she pined for now had now moved on to another.

‘Looks like everyone on this goddamn ship is away with the fairies, today,’ A resentful voice muttered in Shepard’s head. ‘The galaxy is going to hell, and all these people care about is curling up with another warm body for the night, pathetic!’

“What do you mean to come back to?” Tali was teasing Garrus. “This is just a fling, Vakarian. I’m using you for your body.”

“You’re so mean,” Garrus rumbled back at her. “And I’m okay with that.”

‘After everything I’ve done for them,’ The renegade voice sneered. ‘And in the end, they’re still just out for themselves.’

“I’m happy for you,” Shepard said, beaming. “I’m glad you two have each other.”

She was vaguely aware of leaving the room, walking blindly back to her quarters. Suddenly, the war with the Reapers seemed quite meaningless. Maybe she would win tomorrow. Maybe she would lose. Either way, it didn’t appear to matter any more.

In the end, Shepard’s sense of justice wouldn’t quite allow her to take the easy road out, of controlling the Reapers and becoming a God in her own right.

‘It’s your natural evolution, though,’ The bullying voice in her head insisted, as Shepard climbed the ramp leading to the array which would shut-down the Reapers. ‘You have all the components for this: you’re strong, you’re intelligent, and best of all, you have no love inside you. And no one loves you, either! No one for you to miss. No one to miss you.’

“Just shut up,” Shepard muttered to herself, pulling the trigger of her gun. A single round lodged in the glass tank of the array, sending a spider-web of cracks around it. “Go away; leave me alone.”

She unloaded round after round, walking forward as she did so. Electricity was beginning to arc around the device, unable to withstand the damage being done to it. Shepard had been around enough exploding machinery to know intuitively what was likely to come next. At any other point in her life, Shepard would have backed up immediately to avoid the rising fire, but this time, things were quite different.

‘I’ll leave you alone,’ The voice whispered. ‘Alone: as usual.’

The tank exploded in a hail of glass and flame, the impact sending her flying. The Crucible was armed – the Reapers were done for.

She hit the ground, and heard something crack. Something probably important. It didn’t really matter. The most important thing was already broken. She was going to die, she supposed. Just like last time, her mind spun through the litany of emotions and memories that had comprised her existence.

She did hope that all of her friends were safe. For all that Shepard had lost some of her shining optimism in the days after Earth’s invasion, she hadn’t lost her sense for friendship. They had all defined her life, one way or another. Tali and Garrus – she was angry, she was jealous, but she still cared, even now. The crucible roared, sending a beam of red energy shooting out into the darkness of space. Shepard heard distant explosions, from the depths of the Citadel. The whole station was evidently falling apart.

Her eyes lolled back, taking in the darkness of space and looming planet Earth below, its atmosphere still stained with the detritus of the war. When she closed her eyes, she could see in her mind’s eye the lush, rolling forests, and the endless seas and skies of her long-lost blue.

‘They’ll all be okay now,’ Shepard thought wearily, eyes falling shut, as the ceiling began to collapse, causing concrete and glass to fall, like stalactites, from the ceiling, perilously close to where she was lying prone, unable to stand.

‘But I won’t be.’

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