The med-bay was surprisingly silent as she filed another report. Shepard and his ground-team arrived in the med-bay after every mission with the usual scrapes, scratches and minor wounds, but she was thankful that there had been no major injuries so far. It wasn't that she couldn't deal with anything thrown her way. It was more that, like the original Normandy, she had gotten to know the team that Shepard had assembled, and had grown close to some of them. She had even started to trust those who worked for Cerberus. She still had no time for Cerberus as an organisation. Her opinion regarding them would never change, despite the task the organisation had undertaken. One good turn would not make up for the atrocities she had heard from Shepard during the chase for Saren. But like the Commander, she judged their operatives on who they were as people, not based on who they happened to work for.
She wasn't sure where the Normandy was at the moment. All she knew is that Shepard had been relatively quiet for the past day or so, as if he had a lot of time on his mind. He stopped by every day, like usual, for a chat, and dinner was always together, but she had noticed a slight change in his demeanour. She was aware that he had departed the ship for some reason but, other than that, she wasn't in the loop. Not that she expected to know everything he was up to, though he did usually share certain details about upcoming missions. Their relationship was still quite strange at times, she thought. A definite attraction and they knew how each felt about each other, but even after all this time, there was still hesitation. Mostly from herself. Making that finally leap…
She heard the door open, looking up from her terminal to see Garrus enter the med-bay. That was a surprise as the turian usually avoid the med-bay like the plague. Must be something important if he's here. She stood up out of her chair and rounded her desk as the turian approached her.
"Garrus, surprised to see you in here."
The turian nodded but kept quiet for a moment. She immediately guessed something was wrong. "Doc, it's Shepard…," he started, before trailing off.
She felt her stomach drop. "What is it, Garrus? Has something happened?"
"He's perfectly okay. Well, physically anyway… But… Do you know where we are?" She shook her head. The turian took a breath. "We're above Alchera. Last stop before we hit the Reaper to grab the IFF and go through the Omega Four."
"Oh." She knew exactly what that meant. The Normandy crash site? She stepped back and leaned against her desk. "Why are we here?"
"I think he wanted to lay some personal demons to rest before the final jump."
"That makes sense, I guess. He's taken everything since his resurrection far better than I would have expected."
The turian shook his head. "But he hasn't taken this well. While searching the wreckage, he found… reminders of what happened." He sighed. "He's down in the Port Observation Lounge now. I think he needs you, Doc." She raised her eyebrows at that. The turian just chuckled. "Come on, Doc. He's my best friend. And while he's not exactly an open book about a lot of his private thoughts or feelings, we do talk about our personal issues."
"And what has he said?" she asked, somewhat nervously.
"I'm aware of his… personal situation. Regarding you, that is. He hasn't been explicit, but I'm aware of his feelings. And I also notice his behaviour around you. I'm far more perceptive than given credit for. That's why I'm here now. I don't think he should be alone right now, and I think you're the best person to help him."
She smiled, walking forward, laying a hand lightly on his forearm. "Thank you, Garrus. I'll go right away."
She followed the turian out of the med-bay, who then turned towards his usual station towards the front of the ship, as she walked towards the lounge, wondering what sort of state he was in. The doors to the lounge opened, the large window in front revealing the vast darkness and emptiness of space. Otherwise, the room was quiet as she turned towards the bar to see Shepard sat by himself. He had both elbows up on the bar and head in his hands but he wasn't really making a sound. She approached the bar, laying a hand on his shoulder as she stepped up onto one of the other stools beside him. He lifted his head from his hands and gave a slightly sad smile.
"I'm okay, Karin. Just… dealing with it, that's all."
"Would you like some company? Maybe talk about it?"
He nodded. "I'd like your company, at the very least," he said quietly. She just grinned slightly as she lay a hand on his shoulder, giving it a slight squeeze. She could feel the tension in him. He wasn't visibly upset. Like usual, he kept himself a relatively blank canvas but there was no denying the inner turmoil he was currently experiencing. She noticed he had a bottle of whiskey on the bar but hadn't touched it so far.
"Planning on having a drink, Shepard?"
"Maybe just one. Take the edge off. You know I don't drink a lot."
She reached over the bar and grabbed a couple of glasses, placing one in front of the Commander and the other in front of herself. She took the bottle, twisted off the cap and poured a small amount into his glass then another amount into her own, placing the cap back on the bottle and setting it down. There was no clinking of glasses or a statement of 'cheers'. The Commander simply picked up the glass, looked at it for a moment before he brought the glass to his lips and swallowed it in one go. She did the same. It wasn't the greatest of whiskey but it was smooth enough. She set the glass down and turned back towards him, laying her hand on his shoulder again.
"There wasn't anything but wreckage down there," he started quietly, "I guess the ship broke up far more once it entered the atmosphere and eventually crashed into the surface, though I remember it was already in a pieces when I was trying to rescue Joker." She stayed quiet as he continued to speak. This wasn't the time for questions. "Just glad I didn't see any bodies. Guess they were retrieved?" he questioned, "Maybe they burned up in the atmosphere."
She shrugged her shoulders. "I'm not entirely sure what happened. I know a search party was sent out to look for you but…," she trailed off. It was almost as if they wanted you gone.
"I know. Anderson told me that it was paltry at best," he replied. She noted a slight tone of bitterness. It wasn't entirely surprising. If they had done more to find his body, he may not be alive, but at least he wouldn't be working with Cerberus. But that would mean he also wouldn't be here, right now, with me… She shook her head, trying to clear her mind of the thought.
"Some of us never gave up hope until it was official. After that… there wasn't a lot we could do except move on with our lives." He reached across and grabbed her hand, giving it a squeeze, looking up and giving a slight smile but staying silent. "I'd be lying if I said I never gave up hope. I had moved on when I was contacted by Miranda. When they told me that they helped fix you." She paused before asking, "How have you dealt with all of this?"
"Honestly, I probably haven't. I woke up and there was the mission. It's kept my mind occupied. If I'm not on mission, I've usually got a million other thoughts that mean I simply haven't had time to comprehend everything. I was… dead, Karin. The way Jacob described it, I was nothing but a meat bag."
"I saw the video," she whispered. He looked at her and immediately hugged her with one arm. "You… weren't you, Shepard. Barely recognisable. I know why considering what happened, but seeing that compared to you now, it's nothing short of a miracle." She paused before adding, "Money well spent, I might add."
"I still wonder 'Why me?' though. I mean, I wasn't the only one to die on the old ship. Yes, I know who I am and what I've done, but I don't think I'm anyone special."
"Well, I might disagree with you there, Shepard."
That made him chuckle, at least, as she leaned back and shuffled her seat closer to him. He grabbed her hand, locking their fingers together, resting it gently on the bar. "You've helped me get through this, Karin. You really have. I can't thank you enough."
"Just like you, I don't need any thanks. I'm just doing my part to help regarding the mission."
He poured another drink with his left hand, poured her another one, before knocking back his again. Then he glanced in her direction. "And your feelings regarding a certain matter?"
She knocked back her own drink and gathered her thoughts. Time to be honest, I guess. No better time now that we're alone. "I'm scared, Shepard. I'm a middle-aged women terrified of her own feelings for someone."
"Because of how strong they are. And the fact you are back, it makes me smile every day. But I also know that there is a chance of losing you again. I've lost you once, and the heartache I suffered… I don't know if I can handle that again."
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
She squeezed his hand. "Never. Never apologise. We all know what we're signing up for. But I guess it's why they don't allow relationships. But sometimes you can't help falling for someone you know you shouldn't. I still remember the night you shared your feelings for me, Shepard. And I know they haven't changed. Each little moment we've stolen since you returned, each time we have dinner, each time we dance, each kiss we share… I know how I feel about you, as I'm sure you do, but… I hesitate for what I think is a good reason. Not just losing you, which is bad enough, but there is the mission. And once we complete this, we both know what looms on the horizon."
He turned towards her, leaned forward and kissed her. She responded immediately. She couldn't help it. Two reasons. One, she always enjoyed kissing him. Two, she knew he definitely needed it at that moment. His powerful arms and chest as he pulled her forward, both of them standing up. She knew he perhaps wanted nothing more than taking her up to his cabin. The longer they danced around the subject, the more she thought she should give into temptation.
It was perhaps the longest they kissed. By the time they were done, his eyes were filled with any number of emotions. Desire. Lust. But also the love she knew he had for her. She wondered how she looked at him. When his hand gently caressed her cheek, she figured she looked at him just the same way.
"Thanks for coming to chat," he said quietly.
"Thank Garrus. He came to get me."
"Yeah, but I don't really want to do this with him."
That made her laugh, which made a grin appear on his face that lit up the room, spreading across his face, lighting up his eyes. And that just made her lean forward and return the favour. She felt him smile as their mouths met again. She knew he definitely wanted more, particularly when she ended up on her back, and there was no doubting his… excitement. He broke the kiss first and took a deep breath, before he sat back and helped her sit up, immediately looping an arm around her as she leaned against his shoulder.
"Better stop otherwise…" he trailed off.
She took a deep breath herself, her heartbeat galloping away. She hadn't felt like this in years. She couldn't even remember the last man who'd made out with her in such a way, the last man who made her feel so desirable. She would admit to him that it had been a rather lonely existence, romantically at least.
"I'm glad you chose to join the ship, Karin."
"I was never going to say no, Shepard. Not because of the enemy. Not because of what I know is on the horizon. You are the reason why. If you were not here…" She paused and looked up to meet his eyes. "I did it for you, Shepard."
He turned towards her, taking his hands in hers. "Can I be blunt, or ask a blunt question?" She nodded. "How strong are you feelings?"
She felt her cheeks heat up immediately as he gazed at her. But she knew he wasn't going to take deflection. Not this time. "They are more intense than ever, Shepard. Every time you walk into the med-bay… every time we share dinner… every time you just steal a quick glance in my direction during a meeting…" She met his gaze. "I fall for you a little bit more each time."
He caressed her cheek again, unable to stop closing her eyes and moving her head into his palm. "You're the reason I still fight," he whispered, "Because if I fight and I win, then maybe there is a future for us. And I don't plan on dying again. This isn't a suicide mission, not in my mind. No, we go through the relay, we wipe out the Collectors, then we return and begin preparations for the next fight. The big one. Then we defeat the Reapers and enjoy the peace that will follow. Maybe then we can… be together… I mean permanently…"
She took a deep breath and met his eyes again. "I'd love nothing more, Shepard. Perhaps we both retire and settle down somewhere?"
"Something to hope for. Guess a little bit of hope for the future will get us through this."
They had talked a lot over the past few months but, she had to admit, that was the first real conversation they'd had in a long time, always having danced around their feelings, their hopes and dreams, and what they really wanted from each other. His feelings had only deepened, that much was obvious. And she was now sure of her own.
It was now rather late after he checked the time, and he admitted to being exhausted, psychologically rather than physically. They cleaned up their glasses before heading towards the elevator. The lights were down low, only the skeleton night shift now upstairs, so no-one was around in the mess. They shared a final kiss before he leaned back and she knew he was ready to ask perhaps a big question.
"While I want nothing more, Shepard… And, believe me, I've thought about it for a while now…"
"We're ending on a good note here." She placed both her hands on his hard chest. "I just… Let me gather my thoughts about it. You know how I feel about you. I know how you feel about me. What I know is that there isn't any rush. I want… I want intimacy, Shepard. I can admit that to you here and now. But we've waited this long. Is waiting a little longer a problem?"
"You'll be worth the wait, Karin."
The tone made her blush. If she'd ever doubted how much he wanted her, just the tone he used in those few words spoke volumes. She hugged him tightly, feeling his arms around her once again, before he let her go and stepped onto the elevator. "Goodnight, Shepard."
"Goodnight, Karin. I'll see you at breakfast."
The doors closed and she couldn't help sigh. Part of her wondered if she shouldn't have joined him. Just sleeping next to him would have been enough, to feel him hold her as they slept. But still, she couldn't quite give into the temptation. Not just yet.