Continued from “It’s Still Me“– spoilers for the video game Mass Effect 2
“We’ll stay here until the evacuation is complete. I hope we can talk before then.”
“We’ll see.” Ash stared through him. She might as well have been talking to a mirage behind him.
Shepard went to find his own crew. They were performing medical support for the colonists. The Alliance commander didn’t trust Cerberus, either, but he was thankful for the help. He insisted that his own troops perform security, and that the Normandy’s crew kept their weapons slung unless the Collectors returned. It chafed Shepard, but he recognized the protocol: the same as mercenaries at an Alliance colony.
Miranda was directing the team, and making sure the Normandy got a share of Collector bodies and technology for analysis. Shepard also thought she was watching him. Maybe she was afraid he would defect.
Evacuation shuttles began mustering about an hour later. Crying children held strangers’ hands as they boarded. Adults sniffed back tears, too, or held their faces in still masks to keep from breaking down. A few brought mementos with them. One picked up a handful of dirt. Shepard looked up at the sky, wondering where the bastards had taken these people’s families.
And what they were doing with them.
Like any good soldier, Ash was among the last to leave. Shepard saw her as he helped a colonist load a crate of supplies into a shuttle. She walked alongside the security chief, talking and pointing to the colony’s defense guns. They would probably dismount them after the colonists were safely away. Shepard smirked. He couldn’t stop thinking like an Alliance soldier himself.
Ash walked toward him slowly. Shepard thought of the last time they’d said goodbye, with the ship shaking, them talking to each other through their helmets because the ship was bleeding oxygen. He remembered her eyes.
He had to tell her how he felt.
Shepard secured the crate and walked down from the shuttle. When Ash didn’t turn away, he said, “I wanted to say goodbye.” Ash started to shake her head. “Look, I’m sorry for how this happened. I love you, Ash. This symbol on my armor doesn’t mean anything.
“Stop it. Stop!” Ash snapped the words like bullets from a sharp rifle. Shepard suddenly saw two long years of experience on those shoulders. He shouldn’t have thought she was the same Ash.
Her expression softened. “Dear God. It’s that same look on your face. You have the same voice. You sound just like you did in my dreams.”
Shepard wanted to hold her. Unbearably, painfully so. He had to let her talk. He was the one who’d thrown her world upside-down, showing up with Cerberus like this.
“I’m the one who’s sorry. I didn’t mean those things I said. When the Collectors attacked I thought it was all over. And all I could think about was you and me, fighting tooth and nail against an alien enemy, and how by some miracle we pulled it off!
“Then the guns started firing. Then I saw you. First I was glad. Then I thought, two years? And how could you have walked away. Then I saw that stupid emblem on your armor, and I lost it. I just lost it. I thought it wasn’t you. Couldn’t be you. Or that it was all a lie.”
“All I could think about after they woke me up was how to get back to you. You have to believe me.”
She stepped toward him. “Is it really you?”
There had been times he’d wondered. Someone brings you back from being a slab of burned meat…
Ash put her hand over his heart. He held it. She looked into his eyes.
He couldn’t help it any more. He kissed her. For a second, he imagined he was back in her arms, back in that awful, brick-foam bunk in his cabin. They were afraid they would die tomorrow. For that night, they gave each other something to live for.
Ash pushed him away. She had tears in her eyes. “I can’t. Damn it.” She punched his chest. “What’s the matter with you?”
“Two years. I mourned you. I let go of you!”
Shepard felt like his heart ripped open. “Ash, for me it’s yesterday!”
Ash composed herself. Again, Shepard saw the woman she’d become, not the woman he’d known. He wondered how much he’d truly lost. “I moved on. I’m an Alliance special operative. I don’t know if you’re the man I loved or not.”
Instead of feeling like he’d been kicked in the belly—that would settle in later—he felt like cold, settled water.
She had a point.
And she and he were headed to opposite sides of the galaxy.
Even if he proved himself to her, would he see her again?
“It’s me, Ash. And right now, I can do more good with Cerberus.” His dreams of holding her as they flew away together on a shuttle were falling away like old paper. “I didn’t think this all the way through. I was just so glad you were alive, and then I was just glad to see you… I didn’t think about the rest.” He touched her arm. “Be careful out there, okay?”
She nodded. He looked away from her—it sucked—and started to leave.
Ash kissed his cheek. Shepard’s eyes widened. She gave him a quick strong hug. “Just in case it is you,” she said. Shepard hugged her back.
A soldier called her to board the shuttle. She gave him a wave. She let go and hurried aboard. Shepard hoped for one last look at her face, but the trooper slammed the hatch shut too fast for him to see.
The shuttle’s thrusters fired, blasting hot air into his face. Then it was gone. She was, too.
His radio crackled. “Shepard, this is Miranda. Colony assistance team is mustered at the landing zone. Ready to leave when you are.”
“On my way.” Shepard jogged to meet his shuttle. His thoughts were on Ashley’s.
Image credit: “Mass Effect 1 Ashley Romance H1n“at W5d.com, used without permission