title; Everybody knows
Pairrings; John Shepard/Kaidan Alenko, John Shepard/James Vega
fandom; Mass Effect
warnings; language, alcoholism, angst, spoilers
AN; Written for this Kmeme; Okay, I know that we all want to see Shepard with his/her love interest in the end, they have children, they live happily ever after, blah, blah, blah, yeah we’ve all seen it done to death by everyone and their dog. I would like to see something a little bit different….After the Reaper wars, Shepard (either gender is fine) isn’t treated as a war hero. Shepard isn’t treated as one of the galaxies most important people to ever live. Instead, Shepard is stripped of his/her spectre status, blacklisted from the alliance, and just looked down upon with scorn and contempt. His friends are long gone, love interest is dead/broke up with them, and almost all traces of his/her heroics are gone. It could be because of the situation of Arrival, the sabotage of the genophage, hell, Shepard could have a video of him/her eating a baby for all I care, I just want to see Shepard as just some old drunk who claims to be one of the greatest heroes who ever lived, with passersby just humoring him/her by listening to these stories. Bonus points if one of his/her former squadmates (could be Liara, could be Tali, could be anyone) finding him and taking him/her in.
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
John Shepard woke with a jolt as the bartender Sue poked him. “John-John! We’re closed, go home.” Shepard lifted his head, wiping off drool from his chin. Not even bothered to form an actual answer, he just grunted and gracelessly slipped off the barstool. Furrowing his brows he aimed for the door to the parking lot. “Hey John-John?” Sue called, not stopping John who just pushed forward, trying to home in on the doorframe.
Sue tossed down the rag and walked over to John, offering him a steadying hand. “How about I drive you home? You can’t make it all the way to Hidden Valley like that.”
“S’pressiated.” John slurred.
“Don’t mention it.” Sue snickered, struggling with holding John up on his feet, and out through the door. “Stay there.” She said softly and placed him on a crate outside the door, “I have to lock the door.”
Shepard just nodded, his eyes closed.
Sue put the keys back in her pocket after locking the bar, grabbing a hold of John again, “Come on old man, you need to sleep.”
“S’not old.” John argued weakly as he let Sue help him maneuver him into her car.
“Could have fooled me John-John.” Sue snickered slamming the door, preventing Shepard from stumbling out again. She got into the drivers seat. “You know John-John, you could do with a new jacket, might have more luck with the ladies.” She said softly, turning the key in the ignition.
“I like this one.” John slurred, running a dirty hand down the sleeve of his standard issue N7 jacket. “S’been with me,” He drifted off, closing his eyes again, “Fo’longer than most people.”
Sue just shook her head, “If you say so John-John.” She rolled down the window, hoping it would sober John-John a little so he might not be so hard to get up the steps to his home. But he just sat there with a mysterious, drunk smile on his lips enjoying the breeze in his face. Sue leaned in and tried to find something decent on the radio, but after searching through the entire FM band, she gave up. “John-John tell me a story.”
“Why? You think I’m a crazy drunk anyway.” Shepard mumbled, not opening his eyes.
“Humor me.” Sue said, “I had a horrible day at the bar today, I could use with a happy story.”
Shepard bit his lips, “Sorry Sue.” He said softly, “Don’t know any happy stories.”
Sue turned her head real quick to look at Shepard, she wasn’t even aware that he knew her name. “Were you ever married John-John?” she asked, poking for a story.
“No.” Shepard said finally opened his eyes.
“Sorry.” Sue said sofly, not wanting to offend him.
Shepard turned his head and looked at her, “You? Were you ever married?”
“Yeah.” Sue said, “He turned out he liked my sister better, that unfaithful shitstain.” Sue smiled, “So packed my things and came out here to start over, and that would be around.. ten years ago. Fancy that John-John, we have known eachother for ten years.”
“Fancy that.” John sighed, closing his eyes again.
“We’re here” Sue said, stopping the car, “Can you get out on your own? Or do you need help?”
“I’m fine.” John said, “Thanks for the ride.” He opened the door and got out, stumbling slightly towards the door of his small mobile home. Opening the door he was met by a dog, “Yeah yeah Alenko, I’m here now.”
Sue shook her head, confident that John wouldn’t stumble and hurt himself on his way home. She turned the key in the ignition and drove off.
You could say a lot of things about John, but he was regular as clockwork, arriving at the bar at nine, drinking himself into oblivion, stumbling home when it closed. When Sue had started this job, she had been warned about crazy John-John, he would cry a river anyone who bothered to listen, telling unbelievable stories about strange planets, and the crew on the Normandy. The regulars at the bar tolerated John because he was all in all a harmless tosser, and they all just humored him when he went off in his stories about the fabled Commander Shepard. This one fella actually saluted him, just out of spite.
Except this specific evening John didn’t show, Sue was puzzled when the clock struck ten, and dead worried at elleven. “Hey Paul,” She waved one of the regulars over, “Have you seen John-John?”
Paul shook his head, “Nah, He probably escaped Arkansas on the Normandy, what do I know?”
Sue rolled her eyes. And as she closed down the bar, she took a decision. John-John’s place was on her way home anyway, sorta, if you squinted your eyes it wasn’t a massive detour. Okay fuck it, it was a mother of a detour, but she was really worried. And so she got into her car driving to the mobile home where she had dropped him off so many times.
When she got there she was surprised to see him sit outside, he looked comfortable with a bottle between his feet, leaned back in an old, torn wiccer chair. Sue parked her car on the other side of the road and got out, walking up to where John sat staring off into the stars. “Hey.” She said, which set off the dog she had forgotten all about. The dark brownish mutt came running around the corner barking like no tomorrow.
“Shut the fuck up dog!” John yelled, efficiently reducing the dog’s barking to muttered woofs as it trodded over to it’s master, sitting at John’s side, staring accusing at Sue. “Good boy, Alenko.” John said, petting it’s head. “Jesus, I always wanted to say that!” He roared with laughter, the joke lost on both the dog and Sue.
“So uhm..” Sue said, “I just wanted to check if you were alright. You didn’t come by the bar, and..” She smiled sweetly, fidgeting the hem of her blouse,
“I didn’t mean to worry you.” John said, sounding more lucid than he had for years. “Sit.” He gestured at a dangerous looking wooden chair next to his. “Want a beer?”
“Sure.” Sue said sitting, “If it isn’t too much trouble.”
“It’s the least I can do.” John said, standing from his chair, picking up his empty bottle from the ground. “Anyway I needed a refill.” He smiled at her in a strange boyish manner she also hadn’t seen before. He walked into his home, closely followed by the dog.
Sue tested the chair, but it didn’t seem like it was going to give out on her. She leaned back and looked up into the starlit sky, she had to admit it was really beautiful on a night like this. Made you feel insignificant and small.
“Awe striking, isn’t it?” John asked as he came back out, seeing her staring off into the sky.
“It is.” She admitted.
He handed her the beer and sat down again. “Somehow I had imagined this different.” John said, “Peace, and growing old.”
“You aren’t that old.” Sue said, “You can’t be more than 40.”
Shepard laughed amused, “I feel 140.”
Sue just took a sip of her beer and thought that she would feel ancient if she drank as much as he did. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, “So how come you didn’t come by today?”
“Do you think I’m crazy too?” John asked, answering her question with a question of his own.
Sue shrugged awkwardly. “I don’t know John-John, I mean all those stories of being Commander Shepard, saving the earth from the Reapers, are a little wild. Come on, why would a war hero spend his life getting drunk in the middle of nowhere in the midwest?”
John nodded, “True. It does sound crazy.”
“But maybe Commander Shepard had nowhere else to go?” John said, looking directly at Sue. “I saved them from the Reapers, and they court marshalled me. Stripping me of everything, my Spectre status, my achievements, my glory. Instead I was made out to be a war criminal, Genocide. How crazy is that? They buried me for destroying a cluster with Batarian Civilians.” John took a sip of his beer, “They banned me from the Alliance for my work with Cerberus, calling it undermining the morale. If they had seen their chance I’m sure they would have tried me for treason and locked me away. As it was I was just demoted, estranged, and dropped off on my homeworld with a decent pension.” He laughed at it himself, “Isn’t that sorta funny? They didn’t take my pension. Suppose they expected me to crawl away and die somewhere.”
Sue just nodded politely, listening.
“You don’t believe me?” He stood up and held out his hand to her, “Come on, let me show you something.” When she looked slightly alarmed, Shepard shook his head amused, “Don’t worry I won’t jump you.”
Sue was slightly embarassed by her own hesitation, hadn’t she driven all the way out here to see him in the first place. So she followed him and the dog inside.
John took down a holo from a shelf, It was a bunch of people in the standard N7 uniform. “I’m there.” He pointed at himself in the picture, “And there’s Liara, Joker, Ashley, Garrus and Kaidan.”
Sue studied the photo and then John. “I’ll be damned, that does actually look like you.”
John reached for a holo more which had more people on it, “I’m there.” He repeated held out the holo “Tali, Joker, Garrus and Jack” He said, and then smiled “Look, you can just make out Thane there in the back. Suppose he didn’t care for having his photo taken.”
This time Sue pointed at a holo with a pair of dogtags danging from the corner, “Who is that?”
John took down the holo and ran his fingers over it lovingly before handing it to Sue. “That is Major Alenko.” He sighed sadly, “He’s been dead for a decade.” He took the other photos from Sue and placed them up on the shelf.
Sue noted that John’s eyes was moist as he took the picture of the smiling Major and put it up on the shelf. She noted that he pocketed the dogtags and didn’t hang them up there again. “So what if I believe you? Why haven’t you ever shown anybody else this? Why do you let them ridicule you like that?”
John shrugged, he didn’t really have an answer for her.
“So.” Sue said, trying to fill the silence. “All those people in the holos, what happened to them?”
Shepard took his time to answer, sighing he looked up at the holos again, “Some died, some went on to do their thing I suppose.”
“Never kept in touch with any of them?” Sue asked, putting her empty beer bottle down on a desk, leaning against it, studying Shepard. She really wanted to believe this, she just found it very hard to comprehend. It just didn’t make sense to her what so ever. If this was John Shepard, then he was a goddamn hero! The why would he waste his life away in a trailer with a dog as his only companion? Maybe he was just a sad old sod with a hero complex, she didn’t know.
“No,” Shepard said, turning around eying the empty beer bottle. “Refill?” He asked politely.
Sue bit her lip, thinking. “Sure, but only one, I’m driving.”
“Alright.” Shepard said, walking into the kitchen to get two beers from the fridge.
Curiosity got the better of Sue, and she walked over to the shelf with the holos again, looking them over. “So John-John, is that fella, with the dogtags the reason that you never got married?” She called, loud enough for John to hear in the kitchen.
“Suppose so.” Shepard answered softly. He took a deep breath and walked back into the living room and Sue. “You know the reason I didn’t go anywhere tonight is..” He paused and opened Sue’s beer before handing it to her. “It’s his birthday.” He smiled a little awkward. “I know it’s stupid, but..”
“That’s not stupid.” Sue argued, “That is just about the most romantic thing I heard in a very long time.”
Shepard laughed taking a sip of his beer before gesturing for Sue to follow him outside again.
They sat in silence and stared at the starlit skies, when John suddenly whispered, “You know, I don’t regret a whole lot, but I do regret not making sure that Kaidan weren’t in the line of fire.” He closed his eyes and smiled sadly, “Not that he would have listened to me anyway.” The dog Alenko whined and rested it’s heavy head in John’s lap. John placed his hand on it’s head. but not moving a muscle apart from that. “He always were so goddamn stubborn.” John’s voice became a whisper.
Sue didn’t know what to say, so she just took a sip of her beer. “What I don’t understand,” She finally said, “Is; why here? Why this place of all places?”
Shepard grinned bitterly. “Because that is where I stranded. Nothing more to it.” He opened his eyes and looked over at Sue, “Plus you can see the stars real clear out here. Like no where else.”
Emptying her beer, Sue stood up. “Well.” She said “It has been really nice, but I have to get on home.”
“But of course.” Shepard said, standing up as well. “We should do this again some day.” He said holding out his hand.
“Absolutely.” Sue said shaking Shepard’s hand. “Good night John-John,” She smiled down at the dog. “And you too Alenko.”
Shepard sat in his chair looking down the road long after the taillights of Sue’s car was gone. “Do you think she believed us Major?” He asked the dog who slept at his feet. “I like to think she did.” He stuck his hand in his pocket and dug out Kaidan’s dogtags. “You were supposed to be here,” He whispered, “Drinking your stupid canadian beer, making old-man jokes, enjoying peace.” John’s lip trembled, and he quickly pocketed the dogtags again. “Oh well,” He sighed getting up from the chair, startling the dog. “I’ll give them back to you someday. But no yet.” He mumbled walking into the dark house.
The next evening Sue was glad to see Shepard entering the bar with a smile, he chatted about this and that. His neighbors damn tree that would shed all it’s leaves in his front yard and other smalltalk. He didn’t even seem to be in a hurry to get plastered, he just seemed like he genuinely just liked the company. Even when that guy who saluted him every day, told him he was a crazy drunk. Most the regulars huddled in the bar waiting out the thunderstorm outside, not really looking forward to go outside and get soaked again. The evening was slow and event less for everyone else but Sue. All of them stayed in and ordered dinner too, which only gave her twice the work as on a regular Tuesday.
An hour before closing time she finally sat down on the lower table behind the bar, and pulled off her shoes, massaging her feet. “You’d think that I had gotten more used to this after so many years in this job.”
“Maybe you just need new shoes?” John said, leaning in over the bar, dangling a bourbon glass in his hand, trying to convince himself to go home. And that the dog was most likely frantic because of the thunder.
“Maybe.” Sue said with a blissful sigh kicking off the other shoe too.
Everybody’s attention was caught by the door to the parking lot as it swung open. A hooded soaked man entered. He politely closed the door after him and walked up to the bar, pushing his hood down. Leaning in over the bar at Shepard’s side the stranger said “Who’s like us?” The stranger smiled from ear to ear when he could see Shepard visibly tensing with surprise. “Damn few.”
“And they’re all dead.” Shepard finished before swinging around on the barstool staring straight into his old friends grinning face.
“Commander.” James said, unable to hide his happiness over finally finding the aloof soldier.
“Vega!” James said, blinking rapidly as to try and determine if it was delirium or real.
Sue served them a drink each, on the house. She couldn’t help but to notice that it had been long since she had heard John-John carry a conversation so easy, somehow it seemed like those two had seen eachother last week.
Shepard shook his head with a laugh, listening to James about his less than glorious trip there, hitchhiking for days with different more or less sane people. “So..” He finally said, “How did you know I’d be here?” He asks.
“Com ander.” James said slamming down his drink, “You aren’t exactly the hardest person to find, if someone puts their mind to it.”
“I thought I had hidden away quite well.” Shepard said, sounding slightly put off that it apparently had been so easy to track him down.
“No offense.” James chuckled, “You never bothered to change your name for one.” He smiled at his old Commander, “Also I used to, uhm, know this girl who was in the Alliance financial department, and your pension aren’t exactly hard to follow either.. Again if you know where to look.” He smiled a little clever smile, amused that Shepard looked slightly unsettled.
“Alright.” John said, “So you were looking for me I take it? Why that?”
“Why not?” James said with a slight shrug, waving at Sue to bring them both a new drink. As Sue came over James gave her his most charming smile, “And one for the lady too.”
Last week Sue would have said ‘I thought you already bought one for John-John’ but now that she had gotten to know him a little better, she felt a remark like that would be heartless and cruel, even if it was meant as a jest. “Thank you.” She smiled, “I never got your name.”
“James Vega, Ma’am.” James said, ignoring Shepard’s dirty grin.
“Roll it in, Marine.” Shepard laughed, genuinely amused. Sue joined in the laughter finding John’s laughter contagious.
“Sorry ma’am.” James said holding out his hand, “Old habits die hard, I hope you understand.”
“It’s fine,” Sue chuckled, “I have heard worse. And at least you haven’t grabbed my ass yet.”
“Give him twenty minutes and three drinks more.” Shepard mumbled amused, even as James punched him lightly on his arm.
“I gotta get back to work fellas.” Sue said followed by a deep sigh, “We don’t want the others to think I’m giving you two special treatment.” She winked as she left.
“I like her.” James grinned as she left.
“Sue is a good person.” Shepard just said, returning to his drink.
As James and John stumbled out of the bar and made their way to John’s car, Sue called behind them. “You two! You shouldn’t be driving! Either of you! Come on I’ll give you a lift, and you can pick up your car tomorrow.”
“Yes Ma’am.” James saluted her before breaking down laughing, dragging Shepard towards Sue’s car. “And that’s an order.” John muttered under his breath, giggling, causing James to giggle as well. Sue just rolled her eyes and waited for them to get into her car.
“A pair of regular comedians, huh?” She said, but couldn’t hide her grin in the rearveiw mirror.
Sue dropped them off at John’s trailer, and drove away. And John walked up and opened the door, letting out a very exited dog, until it saw James and it started to growl backing away behind John’s legs.. “Relax Major.” He slurred, “It’s okay, he’s a friend.” But the dog kept growling, and Shepard just took it by the collar and shoved it outside, shutting the door. “Goddamn dog.” He muttered, “Hang on a second, I’ll find a pillow or something.”
“Sure.” James said, walking over to the same shelf that Sue had been studying, taking down a picture with himself in it, he smiled. Funny how those days seemed like yesterday, and still they felt like a million years ago. Like they never happened. “I have never taken you for a sentimental man, Shepard.” He said out loud.
“I am probably a lot of things that you never thought I was.” John said coming back into the room, carrying a pillow and a blanket. He tossed it on the sofa, and turned to James. “Look at how young you were.” He grinned.
“I could say the same about you, Sir.” James grinned, putting the picture back. “Wonder if Liara ever had all those kids she wanted.”
“I am sure she did.” Shepard said with a little smile, “I like to tell myself that they are all alright, you know? That peace really meant that they got the life they always wanted.” He smiled awkwardly at James, “I thought that you would have been a teacher or something by now.”
James laughed bitterly. “No, I..” He sat down on the sofa and pulled off his boots, “I know you don’t know anything about what happened after the whole reaper business, but while you were scavenged and patched up, the rest of us had our own shit to deal with, okay?”
“Sorry.” Shepard whispered, “I know, it’s just..”
“Don’t worry about it Commander.” Vega said, “Thanks for letting me crash, by the way.”
“Don’t mention it.” Shepard said, “I enjoy the company.” He turned around and walked into his bedroom, sitting down at the foot end of his bed, clutching Kaidan’s dogtags under his shirt. Somehow, seeing Vega made him miss Kaidan all the more, like it just got more real again. With a sigh he got up and pulled off his shirt, tossing it in the hamper, before tiptoing through the living room where James was snoring already. To let the dog in again, “Come on boy!” He called out into the night. It took long moments before there was a reaction, but then the dog came around the corner. “Don’t be like that.” John couldn’t help but to smile over the dog’s slightly miffed expression. “He’s not staying, so behave.” He stepped aside letting the dog inside.