She can’t fall apart, not yet. They’re in the middle of a war. Her pain comes second to the suffering of trillions of people on hundreds of planets all across the galaxy. She is Commander Rhys Shepard of the Alliance Navy, the first human spectre, the entire galaxy is counting on her.
She doesn’t talk about it when she returns from the citadel. She offers Kolyat a place on her crew, she isn’t surprised when he declines.
Kaidan is the first person to ask if she’s okay. All eyes are on her in the crew quarters. Garrus, Liara, Tali, and Chakwas stand nearby, their faces filled with questions she never wants to answer. She laughs it off and flashes them all a smile.
Because she’s okay, she’s always okay.
She can’t fall apart, not yet.
But then he sends her that letter . The Letter.
I will await you across the sea.
She barely makes it back to her quarters before she falls down on her hands and knees. Her entire body shaking with sobs.
If all else whispers back into the tide.
Her chest clenches tight. Her heart aching painfully. She only has ten minutes before something needs her attention. Ten minutes to grieve the love of her life.
She’s a mess of smudged makeup and ruined hair when EDI patches Traynor through to her cabin.
“Commander Shepard,” Traynor begins. Her voice sounds far away, blood still roaring in Shepard’s ears.
“Admiral Hackett is available on comm.”
She stands up from the floor, absently rubbing her fingers over the marks the steel grating left on her skin. They tingle and sting as blood begins to flow to the affected areas once more.
“Commander?” Traynor asks, sounding worried when Rhys doesn’t answer her right away. Rhys takes a deep breath and rolls her shoulders, hoping she doesn’t sound as though she’s been crying.
“I heard you, Traynor,” she says, her voice harsher than she meant it to be. Traynor signed off immediately after that, with a quick apology.
Rhys says nothing in return.
Instead she goes to her ensuite and hastily washes her face, scrubbing away the smudged makeup and fixing her hair. She doesn’t have time to reapply anything before she has to be on the comm with Hackett. It’s unfortunate.
Her face is ashen with grief, her dark skin pale and sickly. She looks like a ghost, her cheeks gaunt, her gaze distant and glassy. Her eyes are stained with dark circles underneath, so pronounced they may well be bruises from battle.
Hackett seems surprised by her appearance like, but doesn’t address it. By now the whole Alliance Navy must know that she’s a widow. The thought that so many strangers would know something so personal about her rolls her stomach. She doesn’t voice her concerns.
She re-reads the letter a million times. It makes her chest ache, her lungs swell, her eyes burn.
She hides in a secret area she found in the shuttle bay, curled in on herself as she reads Thane’s final message on her omni-tool. She cries. Of course she cries. It’s almost impossible for her to stop crying. But they are fighting a WAR and she doesn’t have time to be this selfish.
Still, she indulges herself. Playing holovids of their wedding, reading countless hours of messages, listening to his voice. She does it all sitting alone, cramped in the tight space she found in the shuttle bay when everyone else is sleeping.
Chakwas asks if she’s alright next. Her lack of sleep is becoming dangerously apparent. It is now something she can’t hide with the application of makeup. The skin beneath her eyes is almost black, much darker than her own complexion.
“I’m fine,” Shepard responds. Because she’s always fine. Chakwas doesn’t look convinced.
“You need to get some rest,” Chakwas commands.
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” Rhys responds.
Chakwas gives her a sad look. Rhys can hardly stand it.
Cortez catches her reading The Letter, tears streaming down her face. Her hand is over her mouth to prevent her sobs from escaping. Her whole body shakes with them, her ribs popping and cracking as she trembles in her awkward position, folded in on herself.
“Oh Shepard,” is all he says before he’s moving her, gathering her into his arms. She struggles against him, her movements erratic and wild she she pushes against his chest.
She won’t break down in front of her officers. She’s their last beacon of hope. She’s disgusted with herself for being caught doing something so vulnerable. So human.
“I’m sorry,” she says when she frees herself from him. But she doesn’t mean it.
She rushes away, heading towards the door as quickly as she can. She wants to be free from this embarrassment.
“Shepard!” Cortez calls after her. She stills for a moment, turning her head over her shoulder to hide her tear stained face from James as he exits the elevator. James stops too, curious.
“It’s okay to grieve,” Cortez tells her. She snorts and laughs out loud, harsh and unforgiving.
“I wish someone had told me that when I lost my husband.”
It’s suddenly too much for her. Chest tight and aching again at the thought of Him. The thought of Thane’s final prayer, his final words, his final letter. She wants to scream, she bites her tongue to hold it in.
“Are you alright, Lola?” James asks when she passes him.
“Fine,” she says, boarding the elevator and heading to her cabin.
She’s not okay.
Liara is the next to ask her if she’s alright. And it feels like the more people ask her that question, the less alright she actually is.
“Shepard,” she says, her voice soft and melodic when Rhys tries to brush off her question.
“Don’t,” Rhys says.
Tali tries to get her drunk sometime after that. She supposes it’s to dull the pain of her loss, or at the very least to lower her inhibitions enough to get her to talk about it.
It doesn’t work.
Rhys isn’t interested in dulling what she feels. That would be an insult to his memory. If she had died first, he wouldn’t have forgotten her. Thane would remember everything. Her laughter, the curve of her cheek, the swell of her lips, the freckles that brushed across her cheeks. She’s overcome with grief at the thought.
She leaves before Tali can pour the first drink.
She takes the elevator back to her cabin and sobs uncontrollably until she vomits.
Garrus is there when she finally breaks. The last chink in her armor. He finds her in the hallway, curled in on herself after she ends a holocall from Kolyat.
“Shepard,” He says in surprise.
She’s crying, her makeup smeared across her face from her fingertips. She rubs at her eyes hastily as Garrus stares down at her, his expression belaying concern.
“Garrus,” she says, voice heavy with grief.
He doesn’t ask if she’s okay. It’s obvious she isn’t. She hasn’t been even before Thane died.
“Garrus,” she says again, a sob tearing free from her lips.
“Garrus.” His name is the only thing she can say. She feels so weak.
She reaches for him.
He’s by her side in an instant, pulling her to her feet and gathering her into his arms. She’s embarrassed. She can’t even stand.
He carries her to the elevator.
She rests her cheek on the cool breastplate of his cool armor. She’s exhausted.
Garrus says nothing. He carries her to her quarters in silence. Moving through her room to place her down on her bed. She groans in protest, holding onto him when he tries to put her down. She points towards her shower.
She half expects him to protest, but he doesn’t. Instead, he walks back towards her ensuite, placing her down in front of the entrance to the shower.
Rhys closes the door behind her and sheds her clothing. She turns the shower on to the hottest setting and stands under the spray. She lets it wash over her, erasing everything is, still crying miserably when it doesn’t erase her completely.
She wills herself to stop crying, to stand tall and act like herself. Act like the Commander everyone expects her to be. There’s no time for her to be like this. And yet, it’s all she’s done for months in the wake of Thane’s death. Selfishly mourning his loss when the entire galaxy is falling apart at the seams.
She fully expects Garrus to be gone when she’s finished showering. She has no doubt that she scared him off with her soft whimpering sobs that were not at all drowned out by the roaring water of her shower. If anything, they echoed through the chamber, amplifying the sounds of her grief.
She wraps herself in a towel and looks at herself in the mirror.
She’s a shell of herself. This was has taken its toll on her. She looks like a ghost in the mirror. Her eyes are hollow, face even more gaunt than the last time she caught a glance at her reflection. There are creases around her mouth and eyes, a result of endless stress and suffering.
She’s nothing more than a husk. She wishes someone would put her out of her misery.
She exits her ensuite and heads to her bed. A few hours of sleep and she would be able to function. She could get through tomorrow without breaking down.
She tosses her towel haphazardly onto the floor. She would worry about that when she woke up. For now she wanted nothing more than to be dead to the world for at least the next few hours. She prays silently to every deity in the galaxy that she doesn’t dream about Thane.
She doubts she’ll be that lucky.
“Shepard,” Garrus’s low voice sounds from behind her when she bends her knee to climb onto her bed.
She jolts in surprise, turning her head towards him and crossing her arms over her bare chest.
“Garrus,” she says, surprise evident in her tone, “you’re still here.”
He stands, moving towards her with a grace she had not thought Turians possessed.
“Of course I’m still here,” Garrus says, his tone sounding almost accusatory, “I’ve given you month’s, Shepard,” he shakes his head sadly and looks at her, “And you haven’t come to me. You haven’t come to anyone.
“I had hoped you would speak to at least one of us if not me in particular. You didn’t. Then I found you on the floor in the hallway of the crew quarters…” he trails off then, a sad look on his face.
He’s worried about her.
She can’t even look at him.
“Talk to me, Rhys.”
She shakes her head no. A soft whimper escaping her lips.
“Shepard,” Garrus says, concerned. He reaches for her, but she jerks away from him.
“You’re cold,” She says when he looks hurt by her actions.
All she wants to do now is sleep. She wants to be alone and sleep off the pain that sits heavy in her chest.
“Rhys,” he says, his voice insistent and filled with concern.
“Please just leave me, Garrus,” She tries, “I just want to sleep. Tomorrow we’ll know if we’ve won this war. I…” She trails off, shaking her head and closing her mouth with a soft click of her teeth.
“Let me stay,” he says. And she knows she won’t deny him.
Garrus has been her best friend for years. She needs him. Has needed him for months. He had given her the space she needed, something no one else had been willing to give her.
“Not a good idea,” she protests weakly, but doesn’t put up much of a fight.
She feels helpless.
He sheds his armor and climbs into bed with her. She has her back to him, hr face buried into the pillow Thane used to use.
His scent is long gone, erased by the passing of time. The fabric smells like her now, but she can still remember him.
All she has left of him now are traitorous human memories. She knows when those will fade with time. The thought tears her apart inside.
Garrus holds her, his hands gripping the blanket where it covers her waist.
She’s fading in and out of sleep, consumed with grief, and delirious when she starts talking.
“I loved you, you know,” she admits because it’s true, because he’s holding her in the absence of her great love, because he’s the aftermath of her destruction. Her archangel.
“I know,” he says, with profound sadness. Because he’s always known.
“It would have been so much easier with you,” she chokes out between sobs. Because it would have been, he was still here. He would outlive even her. There wouldn’t be time to erase him from her memory. She wouldn’t have to lose him the same way she had already lost and was still losing Thane.
“I know,” he says. Because she’s right. Because in that moment he would have done anything to make her feel whole again.
But the truth remains. Quiet and unspoken between them.
She LOVED him.
she had loved him.
She’s inconsolable after that, face pressed into Thane’s pillow, staining it with tears.
Maybe one day she could find it within her to love someone else. Maybe one day that would even be Garrus.
She whispers her promises to him in the dark, his face pressing against the back of her neck. The harsh feeling of his scales ground her to reality. Her lips still working around promises of love and forever.
“I know,” Garrus repeats, placing his hand flat over her bare stomach, “I know.”
He repeats the words over and over and over again until they fall asleep.
Tali and Garrus follow her into hell. Their final mission, finishing the reapers where it all began for her. On earth.
The battle is hard and not easily won. Soldiers die in mountains around their feet as they march, armored feet beating against the ground. They’re at the last leg, the final part when she bids them to leave her side.
Garrus protests, unwilling to leave her.
Of course he protests.
She meets his gaze, leaning up against him and pressing her mouth to his in a short, chaste kiss. It’s the only thing she can give to him for now. The promises from the dark of their night spent together hang between them, unspoken.
“Go,” She whispers against his mouth. Because it’s the right thing to do. Because she won’t have another person die for her. She won’t have someone else erased .
Because if nothing else, she wants Garrus to live .
“Come back to me,” he tells her. Because it’s all he can say.
“To us,” Tali adds.
She says nothing in return, backing away from him and Tali and turning towards her fate.
“I love you,” she says to Garrus, to Tali, to Thane, to everyone she’s lost in this war. Because she does. Because it’s all she has left to say.
Her words are a whisper, drowned out by the roaring tide of battle.
In the end her choice is simple. She watches Anderson die. She sees the Illusive Man for what he is; a puppet just like everyone else.
She sees mountains of bodies, the reaper ship is filled with hordes and hordes of the dead. The stench is overwhelming, dizzying.
In the end, it isn’t even a choice at all.
“Choose,” The boy, another ghost from her past bids her, “choose.”
And she does. She runs, clutching at her battered body, every part of her screaming in pain as she does.
“Choose,” the ghost says still, the command barely audible over the roar in her ears.
She jumps, soaring into the light, willing to sacrifice herself in order to give new meaning to the galaxy. Her galaxy. To end the cycle the only way it could end, with her.
Every cell in her body is alight. She’s burning and disintegrating, and she’s rewriting history.
The Galaxy, her great unwritten symphony. She would leave behind her legacy. Sewing seeds of herself into every piece of the universe. That would be enough.
All else would whisper back into the tide.