friendly reminder that Elthina officiated Hawke’s grandparents’ wedding and dedicated Leandra to the chantry. ✿◕‿◕✿
Imagine your OTP with a newborn baby. The baby wakes them up crying in the middle of the night. Person A says it’s their turn to get up and for Person B to stay in bed. B can’t fall back asleep and after a little while goes out to join A who is sitting on the couch giving the baby a bottle. A looks up, and they just smile at each other, because they’re both exhausted but still so completely happy.
AN: I wanted to write something happy and fluffy and goddammit if there are more sparkles I would swear a certain biotic had shown himself. Also, it’s fun to write those two doing something other than kicking ass, because ass would heartily be kicked in a couple like this.
On the fourth straight week of absolutely no sleep except the four minute snatches of cat napping Tora stole from the greedy little sinkhole that was her child, she was almost at her wit’s end.
Tora’s biotics buzzed uncomfortably in her head, giving her the worst headaches known to man and her baby, her dear sweet four week old baby Nyota had a shriek to her worse than a Banshee. She got that from her father, Tora decided indignantly while rocking the kid in a neauseating half sleep half not. There was no way in hell her offspring got that shriek from her.
Tora started awake and clamored for her pistol at the hand squeezing her shoulder. Zaeed’s chuckle was low and gravely as he pressed a kiss on her temple.
"What time is it?" She mumbled, dropping the gun back down on the coffee table beside her. She ground the heel of her palm against her right eye, trying to clear the sleep out of it.
"Late." He offered to hold the baby while she stood, but she shot him an apologetic glance before holding the bundle tight against her chest and stepping toward the baby crib. "I can hold a baby, Tora.”
The baby was a time bomb that Tora gingerly placed into the crib. For a moment the little face screwed up angrily and Tora feared the bomb was about to go off. Her life flashed before her eyes, from slums to Basic, to Terra Nova, Akuze, the Citadel, the Collector Base, London and then to Sydney.
Tora held her breath.
Nyota sucked her pacifier a few times and then frowned a little in her sleep. Tora let out a sigh of relief and started a little at the kiss on her cheek.
"Come on sweetheart, you need some sleep."
She turned around and put her head on his shoulder. “Can I just sleep right here? She’ll be awake again in twenty minutes anyway.”
He embraced her, held her neck against his shoulder, rocking her back and forth. If she didn’t know any better she’d swear they were dancing to their kid’s breathing. Hell. It was worth a victory dance.
Even if her dancing was pathetic and horrible and awful, but she had a living breathing tiny human under her care that had survived four weeks. Thus far.
Tora woke up in bed, arms around around Zaeed, head nestled against his neck, and the little banshee squalling as though to trumpet the world were ending.
Tora wanted to cry right along with the baby. What did the little shit have against sleep?! She was so damn tired. Even more exhausted than the time she’d fought eighty seven hours with her biotics and a hand grenade.
"I’ve got her. Sleep." He ruffled her hair just a little and left the bed.
"I love you so much." She whimpered. In that one moment if that grizzly old merc had asked for the whole galaxy. She’d have given it to him on a platter. Even put a nice garnish…
The sheets were soft against her face when she woke again. She had no idea how long she’d been sleeping. Twenty minutes? Four hours? A day? She rubbed her face with her palm, rolled off the bed and padded toward her baby.
Eight years ago she’d have laughed at someone claiming that the angry, hard-bitten mercenary hired to the Normandy crew would ever snooze, well, beyond snoozing, outright snoring, head back in the chair, baby on his chest, feet propped up and gun in his lap. It was an absolute vision of fatherhood.
She went behind the chair, kissed his forehead and got a Carnifax in the face before his eyes even opened. Tora smiled softly. The merc grunted, recognized her and put the gun down.
"She’s like you," He accused softly, pulling her down by the back of her head to kiss him.
"How?" Her eyebrow raised.
"She doesn’t bloody sleep unless she’s on top of me," He complained emptily, shifting the baby over just a little to accommodate her sitting on his lap too. The little booger squirmed a little before resting peacefully.
"Can’t help it if we have good taste."
He rolled his eyes, but the slightest grin rested at the corner of his mouth.
The moon sank like a stone and the sun rose like a lover worn out from the night’s activites.
She didn’t miss the beauty of her surroundings. Rolling mountains as far as the eye could see cradled the small spurts of humanity that still clung to life despite the apocalypse. It was one of life’s little ironies she supposed.
Sometimes other survivors, hunters and roamers like herself, tried to discuss the current theory for the dead rising amidst the hills and claiming most of humanity with them. Said it was the fourth horseman or whatever. God coming back and hell overflowing.
The theory more popular with Tora though, was that when the polio vaccines were released in the foods and exposed damn near everyone to them, the vaccines mutated. Those who weren’t killed immediately at least were exposed.
Didn’t matter much how it happened just that it did, she decided the night her family turned to Walkers. And she became truly at peace with that thought the next day when her husband went Walker on her too and she shot him through the head.
She was twenty eight when that happened. To her best knowledge, she was thirty five now. She’d had Bastard for four years, since he was at least a year old. Or however old they gelded horses. She didn’t really know and wouldn’t pretend.
She’d been a cop before everything fell to shit. Been a Marine before then. She considered herself a professional survivor now. Not much else to do but that these days. Well, there was always the obvious of settling down in a Settlement, but that never struck her much as the thing she ought to do. Too many politics.
Tora passed the time on the back of Bastard sometimes by humming to him. Today’s song was an old favorite. A mournful rendition of ‘You Are My Sunshine’. It reminded her of happier times of beds, vanilla smelling soap and swinging a happy little toddler around before his father ate his eyes.
Bastard bobbed his head in time, maybe enjoying the song or the sound of another creature’s voice, keeping his hooves crunching down on leaves to the same timing. It made her laugh, a hoarse sound that was rare.
"Like that big boy?"
Her answer was a snort. She patted the patient gelding’s palamino neck.
So far as horses went, Bastard was the best she’d had. She’d preferred mules or donkeys before the palamino gelding, because they’d been shorter and strong, but Bastard seemed to be the bastard runty offspring of a Fjord horse and a Quarter horse. He was strong, had nice bursts of speed when he needed and was the hardiest little bastard Tora’d ever seen.
Travel through the mountains was soggy business today. It was improved slightly by the meat that Tora popped in her mouth occasionally and the iodine taste in the water of her canteen, but the dribbly rain blatantly refused to leave and left her as damp as she’d been when she’d went to sleep.
A gunshot echoed through the mountains.
She pulled Bastard to stop quick and listened. Birds chirped angirly and flapped away and the winds were quick through the trees. Squirrels and shit scampered away in the trees, running back to their burrows.
She kicked Bastard to a quick run, in a direction away from the shooting. No sense looking for trouble. Not when she’d seen a horde already today. She kept her kill and rifle in her lap, just waiting for an excuse to use either.
Six miles later she stopped again to listen. Birds were chirping though. Sounded okay. Deer trumpeted off in the distance. Didn’t put her much at ease though. Could mean anything. Mountain lions could be stalking the area.
Tora pulled up the collar of her jacket closer and decided it was time to take Bastard down the mountains. Maybe aim toward one of the old highways, even as Walker infested as they would no doubt be. It might be dangerous, but not as dangerous as the cats.
Tora woke in pale moonlight some time later to the feeling she was being watched. Her hand tightened around the butt of the pistol she slept with, prepared full well to get one good shot in a big cat before getting her bootknife and slicing the poor bastard up.
To the unfortunant deer’s realization, this horse and rider combination was not a new installation of rot. The shot barked out and the small doe cumpled with a new hole between the eyes. In almost a response the gutteral growl of a Runner sounded in excitement.
Tora swore, shoving Bastard awake and slapping on his blanket, saddle and her gear on her back, draping the deer across her shoulders, just as the first Runner shrieked into view. She spared a bullet on the leading zombie, a bullet between the empty eye sockets before really kicking Bastard into action.
She considered leading the smallish horde of five (looked like a family in their matching camo) back to the Setlement and letting those snipers deal with them and then reconsidered the hills that Bastard would have to climb with the added weight of the doe.
Bastard reared a moment at the river before plunging into the icy wet. Tora didn’t dare look back to check the progress of the zombies before Bastard had his hooves on the other side of the bank and the river began shrinking out of view. The second zombie that tried to follow was currently splashing about ineffectively trying to swim out of the current, the others more wisely stuck to the bank.
Tora didn’t breathe a sigh of relief though until they crested the top of the mountain ten miles away. With a heavy sigh, she dismounted and gutted the doe, leaving behind the precious organs in almost an offering for what may come. If she’d had the time to build a fire and haul out the black skillet, she’d have fried them and eaten the liver and heart on the spot.
She sated her hunger with as much raw meat as she cared to chew, not missing the irony her feeding off the deer carcass was similar to a Runner eating a human. The horse didn’t like the scent of deer blood and snorted in protest when she mounted up again. She patted the disgruntled beast.
If there was a heaven this horse would go to it.
Tora couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept.
It could have been days or even weeks. Didn’t matter much so long as the horse had time to rest and eat. Poor Bastard had done well for the time they’d ridden together over those long sloping hills of the Appalachains.
She sat slumped in the saddle, reins in her hands, rifle in the crook of her arms. She wasn’t fond of how the cowboy hat made her look like some ranch dude from fifty years ago, but she wasn’t going to complain either about how well it kept the sun and rain out of her eyes and off her neck.
When she and Bastard reached the top of one hill as the sun creeped down below the horizon, she gave a heart breaking sigh. The valley below was a settlement. Complete with barbed wire, dogs yapping at the scent of horse, cows milling about toward the outside and snipers watching warily in a guard house. Lights were dimly lit in the twlight, probably by a hydroelectric generator from the wide stream that it straddled.
They fired a warning shot to Bastard’s left, startling the tired horse into rearing.
She took the message and kicked the beast into a trot back down the hillside, back into the deer trails and safety. Walkers and Runners were rare in this part of the States, what with the wildlife reclaiming what humanity had barely begun etching out and predators finding a good decaying walking corpse to be a buffet.
She rode south for several miles. Up ravines, down them again, haulting a moment to let Bastard take a few swallows and for her to refill her canteen and dump and iodine tablet in. Rain set in an hour later, much to Tora’s dismay.
She turned up the collar of her slicker and tried not to let icy drops drip down her neck. Despite her best efforts she still shivered along side the horse, blowing out puffy white clouds of steam in the organic’s best effort to frighten chill away.
As the rain slowed to trickles instead of pouring, she saw something that resembled something of a shelter. She stiffly dismounted poor bastard and laid the saddle and blanket out on the soggy ground to inspect the damage done to her gear and horse.
A few scratches and nothing more. The cut on Bastard’s chest looked better since she’d cleaned it out and cauterized it. Hooves looked good once she pryed the mud out. No sticks or rocks today. Poor Bastard was lucky today, she decided as she tied him at the door.
Tora debated about a fire in the old soggy barn and decided against it. Smoke wouldn’t get out like it should and in as late summer as it was, she wouldn’t freeze if she were a bit damp. Bastard lay down to sleep and Tora propped up against the horse.
She listened to the sound of Bastard’s breathing and his heart beat and other night sounds before drifting off herself.
During the day, it was easy to forget. Easy to ignore. Pretend. At night, when everyone else went to bed, it was easy to drink until drunkenness faded to sleepiness. Some nights the flask of Ryncol wasn’t enough.
Alcohol was a depressant and it certainly did so on her mood. The day’s great charade of big talk and flamboyancy washed away under Ryncol’s scalding flood. The Commander became Tora late at night.
The poker table was usually empty on Monday nights at 0300. The ashtrays that usually collected the expensive cigar ash, took the pack of Camelle Cigarettes only Tora smoked when she was stressed.
Curling white smoke rose up to the ceiling like tendrils of memory, each one floating around ghostlike in Tora’s head.
Screams of agony, of ecstasy, mourning. The wet squish of coupling and of a mortal wound. Tora couldn’t forget the 256th. She couldn’t forget Akuze; it was ingrained into her head deeper than Indoctrination.
Funny. She thought, I said it could break a person if they let it. And here I am.
She wasn’t sure if it was the late night or the intimacy the crew had experienced lately that drove the nail deeper. She just knew the wound bled as badly as it had ten years ago.
She blew smoke at the ceiling and decided to let the memories flood her. Good and bad. Cigarettes first.
Cigarettes smelled like Mister. Mister wasn’t kind and Mister didn’t like it when Vitty cried. He slapped when she cried. A stray leg or arm would be beaten back in place only for Auntie Tia to kiss and soothe with a song that smelled like mint and oranges.
Cigarettes smelled like the first track she ever raced, where the smoke hung four feet off the ceiling. The smell hurt her then and she’d had coughing fits that ripped open the stitches of her new biotics. Mister slapped her for that. She’d paid for replacement stitches out of her earnings. The rest went to Mister’s Red Sand habit.
Cigarettes smelled like the first time she ever hit Mister back. Cigarettes smelled like the burn on her arm where Mister held her wrist down and dropped the ash, to prove to a thirteen year old biotic that he was still in charge. Even if he was strung out on Sand all the time now.
Cigarettes smelled like Jay. Bitchy Jay who complained about his knees when the temperature changed and laughed at bad jokes and blushed when you kissed him.
Cigarettes smelled like Jay’s graying hair, cut short to help hide a prematurely receding hairline, giving him the look of a much older and more distinguished Commander.
Cigarettes smelled like the first flirt, the first kiss, first tumble.
Cigarettes smelled like Mister.
Cigarettes smelled like Jay.
Good and bad. Mixed together like a Bloody Mary and tossed back quickly to help forget everything.
Tora leaned back and watched the smoke curl around the vent and imagined Jay’s face in the smoke. Some one to talk to.
"You said you didn’t have the heart to live without me."
The smoke face twisted and twirled and became a dog head, not Jay’s.
She smiled at the dog sadly and felt the prick of tears behind her eyes.
"What am I supposed to do without you?"
The dog inverted itself and became an elephant.
It occurred to Tora that she hadn’t the slightest idea of where she was. Certainly, New York was New York rebuilt and they had changed some of the streets a little, but she wasn’t even certain where in the city she was. It was like an Asari city down the street.
The architecture shifted to sharper curves and graduated the view upward, encouraging the pedestrians on the ground to enter in one of the shops and ride an elevator up to look at the other stores lofted so high up to save space. And to think this had been a slummy area almost twenty years ago.
Where fashionable couples and aliens walked now, the streets had been deserted and dangerous as the gang wars had raged violently between ally ways.
Tora’s breath hung white in the air, nearly the same color as her skin, whitened by months without sunlight or opportunity. She sat lightly on at a bistro’s table and focused, watching the world slow ever slightly.
An Asari linked arms with a man who had to be Alliance by his haircut and cheap jacket as they waltzed out of the cafe. A woman with red hair and a red jacket left a white scarf trail as she raced forward with an art pad tucked under her arm to greet a red hued Salarian. A broad Alliance officer practically ran down the street to—
Her focus shattered like glass and the world moved back at its usual pace. She’d have known James Vega’s voice even if she hadn’t seen him tear down the street toward her.
"Easy Jimmy, you’ll scare someone." She grinned and stood to shake his hand. He brought her in a hug that lifted her to her tip toes. "Oof. Its good to see you too!"
"What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be on the Citadel until next Monday." He offered her an arm which she took.
"I was. I decided I’d take a stroll down memory lane for a while. I thought you were stationed on Jump Zero until further notice?" She glanced up at him and noticed his collar. "Well fuck me sideways, look who’s a Commander now."
"If I have to sit through another debriefing, I might take you up on that." He grinned. "I’m going to be stationed somewhere in Citadel space working with you or Alenko or Admiral Anderson as XO. Someone must have written a damn loco recommendation for me," He said teasingly.
"Must have been Kaidan, I’m on an important medical leave and have been since London," She lied. "Something about a Reaper Beam, can you imagine that?"
"Well, I’ll have to thank Captain Alenko then." He sounded like he didn’t believe her. Good for him. "What about New York is cause for a stroll down memory lane?"
"I spent some time here as a kid. Decided I wanted to enlist instead of stay in the family business." She smiled and tried not to think about Wren with the top of his head blown off and blood down the sidewalk. She pointed down an alleyway. "I made my first drug deal down that alley right there."
He winced. “I knew they’d rebuilt some of the city—”
"It’s for the best. The Undercity was a dangerous place when I grew up here and now it’s actually nice. I don’t recognize anything. I was lost when you found me."
"Oh. I was hoping you knew where you were. I was lost too."
She stopped and glared up at him. “Now James.”
"Your name is Shepard por el amor de dios! I thought you knew...” His ears and neck turned red. She sighed and grabbed his arm again and called for a cab with her omnitool.
"I’d just like to make the comment that this is the first time I’ve actually called for a cab instead of stolen a car on this street." She snorted. "It feels a little strange actually."
"First time for everything, Lola."
"Speaking of which, why are you in uniform?"
"I was lost, remember?"
"And I’m the loco one." She sighed and slid into the car before he did.
"Are you going to that little gathering that Steve’s planning?"
"Good. I’m going too."
They rebuilt the bridges across the river. Even had a nice little trick where they had blue lights that would change to red and yellow and green as time went on throughout the night.
Tora wouldn’t remember this part of New York as the trendy metropolis that Commander Shepard lived in when she was a kid. She’d remember it rightly as the war zone it was.
Before the Reds were made ash by Reapers.
She would remember the river as the dumping ground for bodies that no one had the money to pay for cremation. Or if they did have the money, the bodies were the final fuck you to their parents or gang.
That was where Wren Dixon was.
She played with him on one of the underground playgrounds and taught him to read under the orange glow of the lights so he could hide from the police better.
Bloody good it did him.
Dead in a river with a hole in his head now.
It was funny, for all the harping on fair treatment for criminals they’d done, that policeman hadn’t hesitated to shoot a nine year old for stealing a two liter of soda and some chips.
She flicked her cigarette into one of the disposers alongside of the river walk. They rebuilt New York, but it wasn’t the same. New things alongside the ghosts.
Unsettling as the “are you commander shepards” that she’d gotten all day.
That question raised more self identification bullshit than anyone of them needed to know. It was like the river she’d buried Wren in. It was still the Hudson River. But it didn’t look like it did once upon a time and certainly didn’t have the same purpose.
Her omnitool beeped insistently with a message.
'Still coming to watch to game at Gancy's?' From Steve, bless him.
The reply was as quick the turn on her heel and into the small crowd waiting for taxis.
'be there soon'
In the street.
Pedestrians jostled and swore under their breath. She knew this corner of New York. And the next four blocks come to think of it. Though when she knew it, it wasn’t half a clean nor half as nice. And it was far busier now. The corner of the wall was clean now. Spotless white metal. Probably some titanium alloy taken in from one of the asteroids.
When she lived in the alley way around this corner, the walls were made of concrete. A thin layer of grime coated nearly everything and the scent of garbage and raw sewage from the ancient system below wafted through the streets.
She walked back to the corner and fiddled with her omni tool for a few seconds, going to the very beginning of its recorded photos. Old friends and dead faces filled the little hologram before her. Until…
Finally here it was.
Same corner. Same wall.
Blood splattered and pock marks where gunfire wasn’t accurate. The very bottom of the hologram there was the face she’d seen on and off in her dreams.
Wren Dixon. A boy of nine. Gunned down in a gang shootout.
This section of New York used to belong to the 10th Street Reds. From here to 10th.
No bloody wonder the upper class had been content to live in the highest high rises and build bridges above and walkways that blocked out the sun down below.
"Hey! You’re Commander Shepard aren’t you?"
Tora made a face and pointed to the haircut Jack gave her. “Do you really think they’d let that woman keep this haircut?”
The graying woman shrugged. “Don’t know, they let that Jack woman wear hers like that.”
"Bah. Off worlders. You’d think they thought they knew everything about everything in the galaxy."
The matronly woman smiled, gave a nod and continued on the way.
Tora returned to her work. A quick photo and she was back on the street again. She watched the catwalks above her. They still seemed high as heaven.