Summary: Twelve years after the end of the war, Shepard is living a quiet, retired life, having put her past behind her. An encounter with an old friend makes her reconsider some choices and just might give both of them another chance at happiness.
Notes: This is not a Val Shepard story; in fact, this is not a Shepard I’ve ever written about before. (Her personality, background, and game decisions will be referenced in the story, where relevant.) Major characters: Shepard, Garrus, two child OCs.
“Mom? I’m home!”
Renee Shepard’s first thought was that her ten-year-old son was home early. She glanced at her chrono, about to call back a reprimand, and realized that instead, she’d lost track of time. Too many reports. Unauthorized settlements in the Attican Traverse, mercenary harassment of batarian refugees, worrisome incidents of piracy in the vicinity of Illium. Over twelve years since the end of the war, and the homeworlds, the heart of galactic civilization, were rebuilding and healing, but the margins of Council space were as rough as they’d ever been. “I’ll be with you in a minute,” she called back, pushing her chair back from her desk and stretching. She winced as her stiff shoulders, back, and hips protested. She was supposed to take breaks more often; her old war injuries didn’t handle strenuous activity well, but they also didn’t handle prolonged inactivity well. Carefully, she stretched out the worst of the tightness, saved the report she was compiling, and pushed herself to her feet. Her left hip twinged, as usual, but the pain wasn’t too bad. Not really bad enough for a painkiller, and definitely not bad enough for the extra-strength painkillers. Enough to make her limp as she made her way from her home office to the kitchen, though.
It had been Councilor Sparatus who’d offered her her current job, much to her surprise. “You’ve been in the field, Shepard,” he had said. “You have the contacts and experience and an eye for detail. With you reviewing and commenting on the work of Spectres and other Council agents, we have a much better chance of spotting problems before they become crises.”
She had raised an eyebrow. “You’re sure that’s appropriate when I’m married to a Spectre?”
Sparatus had waved a hand dismissively. “That’s of no matter. You and I have not always agreed, but no one can argue with your results.”
“Hm,” she’d said, regarding the turian thoughtfully. She was hardly any kind of expert on turians, but she thought Sparatus was looking older, more tired. And she had to admit the offer had some appeal. She’d retired after the Reaper War—a medical necessity, since she’d never really recovered to the point that she would be fit for combat again—but with her son starting school, and Kaidan frequently away from home on Spectre missions, the idea of something to occupy her time and mind, some kind of useful work to give her a sense of purpose, was very tempting.
She’d asked Sparatus to let her think about it, and talked it over with Kaidan afterward. “You don’t mind?” she’d asked.
“Of course not. Why would I?” he’d said. “You still have a lot to offer, love. You deserve all the retirement you want, don’t get me wrong, but if you’d rather be working, of course I’ll support you.”
That had been the start of it—six, nearly seven years ago now. She’d kept her hours limited at first, but she’d gradually increased them over time, and after Kaidan’s death three years ago, having a useful occupation had proven to be a lifeline. If you’d taken the eighteen-year-old street kid that Renee Shepard had been, or even the twenty-nine-year-old marine, and told her that one day she’d be an intelligence analyst for the Council, she’d have laughed you out of the room. But it was valuable work, and she was good at it, and that gave her a much deeper sense of satisfaction than she could have imagined when she started.
Shepard limped her way into the kitchen and found David rummaging in the refrigerator, pulling out cheese and fruit juice to join the crackers already sitting on the counter. “We’ll have dinner soon,” she pointed out.
David gave her one of those looks, the kind that implied she was a little slow. “We had biotics training this afternoon, Mom. I’m starving.”
“Oh, well, then. We can’t have you wasting away.” She was a little hungry herself, and snagged a piece of cheese as he started slicing it.
“Mom. That’s my cheese.”
“What, I can’t have a snack, too?”
David screwed up his face into a scowl, moving the plate of cheese further away from her. She let him, smiling as he fell to. She got an obscure pleasure from watching him eat; she thought it was a combination of maternal satisfaction at seeing her child healthy, and amusement at his attempts to maintain good table manners in the face of a growing biotic’s powerful appetite. He tried, he really did, but it was hard for him not to wolf down everything in front of him.
Kaidan had always been punctilious about manners, no matter how much he was eating. Deeply ingrained parental instruction, Shepard supposed. She cut David more slack, most likely. But then, David was among the first of the second-generation human biotics, and their abilities tended to manifest a little younger than their parents’ had. Researchers weren’t sure why.
At ten, David only reminded her of his father a little bit—around the jaw and eyes. She thought the shade of his brown eyes was closer to Kaidan’s than her own; his skin tone was somewhere between hers and Kaidan’s, too, a warm brown tone that was a few shades lighter than hers. He was a little taller than average for his age, but it was too early to tell how his adult height and build would turn out, she thought.
It had been just the two of them for three years now, since a Spectre mission had gone badly awry. Kaidan had saved lives, the councilors had informed her solemnly. Hostages and refugees had gone free because of him, a dangerous crime lord on the verge of turning into a dangerous terrorist had been stopped, and he deserved the Council’s thanks and honors.
It hadn’t helped much. It was painfully ironic to have survived so many desperate or ill-advised missions herself, and then to lose her husband after nearly a decade of successfully-completed Spectre assignments. She couldn’t shake the thought that if only she’d been able to be with him, he wouldn’t have died; and telling a seven-year-old boy that this time his dad wasn’t coming home was a task she’d never wanted to face. There had been a lot of tears and a lot of tantrums. Weathering Kaidan’s loss hadn’t been easy, for either David or her. By now, though… maybe it was just a mother’s pride talking, but she thought David was unusually mature for his age, kind-hearted and generous.
He swallowed down the last of his juice, and said, “There was a new kid in school today.”
“Oh, yeah?” Shepard replied, interest piqued. David’s school was fairly exclusive—not out of any particular snobbery on her part, but because there were certain security risks entailed for any child of an active Spectre, or of a celebrated, sometimes notorious war hero. So David attended a high-quality, high-security school close to the Presidium. Beyond the quality of the education, Shepard also liked that it had a diverse student population—there were both human and turian children there, a handful of asari, a few salarians, even a couple of elcor and a volus. A new child in the school probably meant some new addition to the Council staff or diplomatic corps.
“Yeah. She’s a turian. I mean—” He made a face. “I think she’s a girl, I didn’t exactly want to ask.”
It could be hard to tell with turian kids, since the boys’ fringes didn’t grow in until adolescence. “I think you can ask as long as you do it politely. What’s the new kid’s name?”
“Lexa,” he said. “Short for Thelexa.”
“That sounds like a girl’s name to me.”
“Okay.” David looked relieved. “I thought so, but I wasn’t sure.”
“What’s she like?” Shepard glanced at the time again. “Are you going to want dinner soon?”
“I could eat,” he said. His standard answer, even though he’d just had a snack. Shepard was genuinely in fear of how much he might eat once he hit his teens. She started getting out pasta and sauce ingredients.
“Anyway, she’s smart. We were science lab partners today. She’s only nine, I think, but she’s placed higher in math than me.” He made a face. “But she was really nice. Fun to work with.”
“Maybe she can help you with your math,” Shepard suggested. It was a perennial weak spot for him, one of the ways he took after her.
“Maybe,” said David, grudgingly. He watched Shepard chop onions for a few minutes before changing the subject. “Lexa said she just moved here from Palaven. Have you ever been to Palaven, Mom?”
Shepard hesitated before tossing the onions into the pan to cook. “No, but I got close once,” she said slowly. Sometimes her memories of the war were fuzzy. Sometimes they were a lot more vivid. The sight of Palaven in flames, hanging huge over the horizon, while the massive form of a Reaper stalked the surface of Menae, was one of the things she couldn’t forget, especially tangled as it was with the choking fear and determination she’d felt that day.
“Mom?” David was saying, and Shepard blinked, recalled to the present.
“When did you go? What were you doing?”
“It was back during the war. I had a mission on one of Palaven’s moons. Menae.” She took a deep breath, pushing down the conflicting emotions of the past, and stirred the sizzling onions around.
“What was the mission? Was Dad there too?”
She winced. His father had been in a coma at Huerta Memorial at the time. No need to talk about that. “No, honey, your dad wasn’t there. I was trying to locate the turian Primarch so I could escort him to a war summit.”
“Ohhh.” After a moment, David added, “Did you find him?”
“The Primarch? Yes, I did.” No need to get into the messy succession details, either.
His eyes got big. “Mom, does that mean you know the Primarch?”
He’d traveled on her ship for weeks. She’d watched his son die. They’d seen each other’s planets burn. That didn’t exactly make them friends, though. “Well… sort of,” she said. “I’ve met him, but that was quite a while ago.”
“Can we go to Palaven sometime? Lexa kept talking about it, and it sounded really cool.”
“I think it’s really warm, actually,” she said with a smile.
“Ha ha,” said David. “But could we go? We go to Earth sometimes, but we never go anywhere else.”
Shepard frowned, considering. The Citadel had been home base for a long time, ever since the station had begun to be habitable again. With Kaidan being sent anywhere in Council Space on short notice, it had made sense, once the reconstructed Citadel resumed its place as the hub of the repaired relay networks. She didn’t have a lot of sentimental attachment to Earth herself, in spite of growing up there. She hadn’t really thought about traveling in quite a while. Space travel had been so chancy for a couple of years right after the war, and then somehow she’d gotten used to her home and her routine. Nowadays, David’s school met year-round, so there weren’t even long vacations to take advantage of. “Oh, honey, I don’t know—” She hesitated. “There are a lot of different places we could go, if you want to travel. We could maybe go to Rannoch or Thessia or something. On Palaven, we’d have to be careful of the radiation. You know humans aren’t built to resist it the way turians are.”
“I know. I’d be good, I promise. I’d wear an exosuit or whatever we had to do.”
“Well… maybe. I’d need to do some research and figure out what we needed. I do know a couple people on Palaven. Maybe we could visit. Sometime.” Shepard frowned, stirring the sauce, trying to remember when she’d last heard from Garrus.
She hadn’t been very good at staying in touch with a lot of her old friends. After the war, they’d all tended to scatter, heading home, reassigned, taking up new responsibilities as the galaxy turned its collective attention from warfare to rebuilding. Some, like Tali and Liara, wrote frequently, and Shepard didn’t find it hard to keep up her end of the friendship. She still saw some of the human crew occasionally as their business took them through the Citadel, too. Others didn’t send messages regularly at all, and that meant she slipped up on her own end. Garrus… wasn’t a good correspondent. She remembered that he’d sent her a sympathetic note after Kaidan’s death, and she thought she’d sent a brief reply. She’d been pretty overwhelmed at the time, between her own grief and taking care of David, and she just hadn’t had the energy for more. But had that been the last time? Really? Nothing in three whole years?
Shepard tried to remember, but she couldn’t come up with any messages exchanged since. She felt a stab of guilt. It was hard to believe she’d so thoroughly lost touch with someone who had once been such a presence in her life. There had been a time when she’d hardly gone anywhere without Garrus, when a day seemed odd if the two of them didn’t speak. They’d once had a rare kind of friendship. She didn’t let a lot of people get that close. She wasn’t pretty sure he didn’t, either. How had that changed in the last twelve years?
Facts of life, she told herself. She had a family and other responsibilities, and so did he. And it wasn’t all her fault, now, was it? Communications worked both ways, and he didn’t write, either. She should turn over a new leaf, she resolved: send him a note, get him up to date and see what was going on in his life. And then, maybe, eventually, if David still wanted to go, they could go for a visit.
The mundane problems of dinner and homework occupied her for the rest of the evening, though, and her resolution slipped out of her head by morning.