Her cabin was supposed to be home. On the original Normandy it was. Gifted secondhand, it already had that special homey feel. Spaceships weren't supposed to be home, not according to human evolution, but with Anderson having it first for so long it made the breaking in process easier. All that time spent hunting down Saren and, later, the geth ensured the Normandy was the only home for her. Little did she know that sooner rather than later that sentiment would disappear completely.
People die. That much Shepard understood. Growing up on multiple space stations meant watching people leave only to never return again. Kids would show up to school crying their eyes out, and the teachers would halfheartedly try to explain death to elementary schoolers. Sometimes the kids themselves wouldn't show up, and a few days later there would be a somber memorial service. And when your mother was Captain Hannah Shepard, you had to show up to every last one. As Shepard bloomed into Cadet Shepard, the Skyllion Blitz served as yet another reminder that when your last name is Shepard, everyone you care about is destined to die. Try as she might to keep everyone alive, some slipped through the cracks.
She never dreamed that she too would one day slip through the cracks.
Cerberus. Goddamned Cerberus. Cerberus and their stupid "pro-humanity" bullshit and their human Reapers and absolutely asinine skylights. Spend billions of credits resurrecting someone and you still think installing a clear view of a reminder of death is a good idea? What were they thinking? Defeatedly Shepard rolled over in bed, creating as many layers as possible between herself and the empty vastness above her. Flying Alliance colors and she was still stuck with that goddamned skylight. Her cabin was supposed to be home and the one person who made it so, despite Cerberus and everything in between, was gone. Sent back to God knew where as a consequence of her desperation-fueled decision to sacrifice a mass relay. Coming home should have been a godsend, a welcome change from sitting in a cell with nothing but a single Marine to keep her company. But the cabin was so empty with just one person. A double bed was designed for two. One only kept it cold.
At long last Shepard found solace in sleep. Solace is temporary, however, when your pilot is Jeff Mererau. Any other pilot would respect their commander's request for no disturbance, but being the best of the best with the reward of an unshackled AI meant nothing was ever truly off the hooks.
"Shepard, we are approaching active Reaper space," EDI said, plowing straight through Do Not Disturb to Get Your Shit Together.
"Time to go to work," Joker added helpfully.
Immediately Shepard jumped out of bed. Active war zones were familiar more than a jail cell would ever become. She was suited up and in the shuttle before Liara and James finished checking their gear. Mars was only a trial run with the added benefit of finding one of her oldest friends. This time there was no Cerberus, no evil robot doctors, and definitely no surprises. Just a simple in-and-out mission. In the shuttle Shepard's eyes were glued to the small HUD screen, watching in horror as reports from all over the planet poured in. The sight was almost as bad as Earth. Perhaps worse, since it had been going on longer. The dead were stacked everywhere. The injured crawled around the battlefield only to be struck down by a Reaper's beam. The living fired with every last weapon, waiting for the last bullet to signal their deaths. Destruction followed everywhere the cameras went, a sight normal except for the monstrous robots framing every vid. If the Reaper war hadn't struck home before, it most certainly was now.
Shepard, Liara, and James fought their way through waves of husks. From all the atrocities they encountered thus far, husks were the worst. Even to Liara, the only alien amongst them, the similarity to humans was uncanny. To Shepard, they were an eerie reminder of what could have been. Cerberus, for all of their pro-humanity propaganda, had the capability to turn her into one of them. She vehemently denied it when Kaidan accused her of being one of them on Mars, but ever since she uncovered the helmet the inkling was there. She was dead for two years. Supposedly everything that mattered remained the same, but how could she be sure? The Illusive Man only needed her reputation and her fighting skills, nothing else. Replacing just enough inner wiring couldn't have been too hard. Nothing was certain anymore and it killed her.
The three of them found the camp and went through the usual bullshit military channels. It was the same everywhere, no matter the species, rank, or looming issue of Reapers flying overhead. Six months of imprisonment didn't change a thing. Shepard stood in tense conversation with the turian general until she heard a familiar, much loved click.
"You and Reapers, Shepard? Never saw the combination coming."
She whirled around. At the sight of the newly minted Garrus Vakarian she burst into an infection smile. It was all she could do to keep from bounding into his arms right then and there. Part of the Alliance's deal when she turned herself in was for all her alien crew members to go their own way. Six months was a long, long time. "It's good to see you too, Garrus."
Having Garrus back felt like a dream come true. He was one of the few people she was sure the Illusive Man could never touch, never influence into switching loyalties. It was why they ended up together. That one sweet, sweet night before attacking the Collector base and several more afterwards once she realized what she had to do and the consequences of such. Fighting again side by side, completely matching to cover each other's weaknesses and highlight the strengths, it was just like old times. Palaven might have been burning, Garrus might have been losing his home world, but somewhere deep down Shepard still hoped they won in the end. The war had not progressed so much all the hope had been beaten out of her. Some part of her thought they could win.
It would not last long.
But while it was there, Shepard would keep fighting. And now that Garrus was there, with their first mission back together under their belt, she could finally breathe again. They successfully escaped Palaven. Garrus survived Joker's opening teasing. Survived seeing EDI's new body. Shepard debriefed the ground team, caught everyone else up to speed, and set coordinates for their next mission. Life never stopped on the Normandy, but she could at least pause it for a few hours. Locked away in her cabin, Shepard stood just inside the bathroom, the door closed, gathering the strength to go back and face Garrus completely vulnerable. She was fully cleaned and wrapped tight in a towel, perfectly capable of going out and greeting him just like old times. Just like old times. But something stopped her. She had no idea what it was, but something stopped her. It didn't matter how many times she told herself it was stupid or that Garrus hadn't changed. She stood like that for what felt like forever until a voice slid underneath the door.
"Don't tell me you drowned in an automatic shower, Shepard."
That's all it took. Shepard stepped forward and the door whooshed open. Garrus drank in the sight of her, and her only response was to blush. Only Garrus Vakarian could evoke that response. Then they talked, a strange dance between what once was and what is. And then they sat together. And then they talked some more. The dance remained unchanged. But at least they danced again. The Savior of the Citadel and the former Archangel. The Defeater of the Collectors and an ex C-Sec officer. The Goddess of the Galaxy and her fallen angel.