“I want to do it,” she says, without hesitation. Kaidan, sitting beside her, gives her a doubtful look.
“You’re sure, Shepard?”
“Yeah. About time I got up, anyway.”
“Oh no, you don’t.” Chakwas doesn’t even look up from her datapad. “Bed rest, Commander. That’s an order.”
“I’m a Spectre, I don’t take orders.”
“You do when the person giving you them is the one in charge of the painkillers,” the Doctor shoots back.
Kaidan shifts awkwardly “It doesn’t have to be today. I just thought I’d mention it. We can always wait until, you know. Until you’re feeling better.”
“Now look here, Mr. Alenko,” she says, eyes narrowed in mock sterness. “I’ll have you know I saved the galaxy while these wounds were still bleeding. I can make it twenty feet on my own ship.”
Chakwas rolls her eyes. “I suppose it was only a matter of time before you rebelled, wasn’t it?”
“You know me, Doctor. Can’t keep me down for long.”
She has sat up. She has felt it gingerly with her hands. She has even, once or twice, felt brave enough to look at it. But the first time she swings her legs off the bed and feels the taut, tight pull of the flesh and muscle of her left side it hurts so much she nearly vomits, painkillers be damned.
“How is it?” Liara is hovering awkwardly. Shepard gets the distinct impression that she’s fighting the urge to put a comforting arm on her shoulders, not daring for fear of hitting a raw spot.
“Fine,” she says, through gritted teeth. “Just…give me a moment.”
She can’t lift her arms up properly to get her undershirt on; certainly can’t do anything as fiddly as reaching backwards to hook up her own bra. Liara helps her get dressed, gently sliding sleeves over her wounded arms, doing up the buttons of Shepard’s dress uniform whenever her own fingers fumble.
Shepard has passed a lot of time over the past few weeks following the fragmented news via her omni-tool: the major news networks are still largely in disarray and coverage is patchy, but she’s seen enough to know she’s being heralded as a hero. She has become something far bigger than what she really is; a symbol, a collection of rumours and stories from the end of the galaxy’s darkest days that threaten to become tomorrow’s legends. She wonders how many of the people currently taking courage from her mythical media counterpart would be able to reconcile that image with her now, unkempt and struggling to put her pants on.
“Hardly anyone, Shepard,” Liara says calmly. “But I think that’s the point, really.”
Twenty feet has never seemed so far.
It is excruciating: in retrospect Shepard’s not entirely sure how she did it back on the Citadel, even considering the adrenaline that must have been flooding her system.
Garrus takes her weight for the first few steps, but it isn’t long before she gently pushes him away. He gives her a questioning look; she smiles wanly at him and brushes the back of his hand with her own in reply. This is something she needs to do standing on her own two feet, if only for a few minutes. So she walks faltering forward, jaw set uncharacteristically hard. Garrus keeps a pace or two behind her, ready to steady her if she falls. Just like always.
It is her final act of the war: the last word that draws a line between the end of the conflict and the start of the galaxy’s slow efforts to rebuild. Carefully, she fixes the plaque in place then stands back and stares at it, numb with grief and drugs. David Anderson, closest thing to a parent she ever had. A name on a wall. “Goodbye, Anderson,” she says. “Thanks.”