Or: how I stopped worrying and learned to love aliens.
I just finished Mass Effect 2 a few hours ago, and I finished ME1 for the first time a few short weeks before that. Everything is incredibly fresh in my mind. I’ve never really cared about a romantic arc in a game before, but sitting here, bereft, at the end of the game, it amazes me how much I had invested, how many actual emotions I experienced. And now I’m justifying my actions, and still having… emotions about them. So I decided to write up a summary of my FemShep’s emotional processes in her narrative arc.
(Warning: I use the terms friend, pal, and bro interchangeably in this essay to indicate platonic friendships. I hope you will forgive me. My use of bro is probably motivated by this wonderful ME2 comic. Also, is there a better word for an intense platonic friendship than “bromance”? I couldn’t think of one, so here we are.)
I came off of Eden Prime already sick of Kaidan Alenko. He kept running straight into enemy gunfire, while Ash was kicking ass and taking names. I had already filed him away as a useless, goody-two-shoes incompetent. Even a paragon doesn’t necessarily have the patience of a saint. Not only did he repeatedly get himself severely wounded, he almost got himself zapped by that pillar and I had to take the hit for him. Ash was competent and sarcastic, and I liked her. I wanted to be friends with her, and took her on most of the human-oriented missions for a while thereafter.
I spent the first part of our journey half-jokingly lamenting the fact that Wrex was not a romantic option, though I eventually decided I just wanted to be his roommate. We could hang out, collect guns, maybe go out at night and pick fights with jerks in bars. Man, that still sounds like a good retirement plan! I didn’t meet Liara until a bit later, but I’d seen some Asari, and they seemed attractive enough. I figured I’d either stay single, have a bromance with Wrex, or pick up the hot blue lady (can you have a bromance if you’re a girl? I contend that you can).
Still, I wasn’t going to be a complete jerk to Kaidan, just because he annoyed the heck out of me and possibly ruined my life. It wasn’t his fault he was fragile and easily killed, so I started to talk with him. And he was… nice. I took him on a lot of the missions when we were dealing with human colonies, mostly because he was a people person – good at calming people down, making them feel like the alliance really cared about them. It offset Ash’s harshness (which I got increasingly tired of) or Wrex’s giant-murder-lizard-ness (which I NEVER got tired of). Also, Kaidan always gave humanity a good name, something I was valiantly struggling to do. I started to soften. I was still talking to everyone; but Wrex, Garrus, and Tali’s dialogue dried up after I did their missions. Kaidan kept talking. He also became competent somewhere along the way. With upgraded shields and armor he wasn’t getting himself killed all the time, and he could hack and quip; everything I needed from a non-Wrex squadmate. I’d been bringing him along on missions as a face man, but now I actually liked having him around. We were starting to flirt and our flirtations were subtle, fun, full of jokes, and went along at just the right pace. We never pressed things, just let it develop naturally. Liara’s affections were simple and childish-seeming in comparison. Plus she wasn’t good at jokes. I require jokes!
As things got more personal, I really started to fall for Kaidan. I started blushing when we talked. He pushed my buttons exactly, embodied a kind of guy I’ve always had a weakness for: he had a messed up past that pains him to this day, but didn’t let his insecurities keep him from being good at his job. He was gently sarcastic, more than a little flirty, admired and respected me. Also, he kept me honest: any time I wanted to stray from the paragon path, he acted as my conscience, helped tip the scales. By the end of Mass Effect 1 I was completely in love with Kaidan. I even took him with me on the final confrontation, choosing him over Garrus or Tali. I thought for sure I’d mated for life.
I went into Mass Effect 2 expecting to stay faithful. I mean who could top Kaidan? I knew Wrex still wasn’t an option, so unless our new human or lizard ended up being the height of humor, charm, and vulnerability (even moreso than Kaidan), I was on course for faithfulness.
I was even more certain of myself after I met Jacob and Miranda. Both were nice, I suppose, but also dull, overly serious, and with questionable allegiances. Then I met Mordin, and immediately plunged headfirst into my new bromance. “Ah, here we go!” I thought. “Just like in the first one, Kaidan’s biggest competition will be the awesome weird alien with no romance option. Good good.”
After Mordin, I moved on to Archangel. Some random merc doing good deeds? Maybe he’d end up being some handsome Robin Hood type, and I’d be in trouble. When I heard he was a Turian sniper I thought… no, it couldn’t be. Garrus wasn’t a mercenary, after all. But it was him. and he was so damn happy to see me. He had gotten his dumb ass into a huge amount of trouble trying to be a leader and a hero… trying to be me. He would have made his defiant last stand up there, died in a blaze of glory, if his knight in shining armor hadn’t shown up. I’ve always had a thing for people who are extremely competent but keep getting in over their heads, and this made me even more determined to save him. I got legitimately nervous while trying to deal with the tunnels downstairs, and when he took that hit from the gunship, my heart lurched. When he was lying on the floor, that puddle spreading out below him, that horrible gurgling noise – I needed to save him, needed him to be OK. If there was one person in my old crew who hadn’t given up on me, who would come with me on this new adventure… I had to save him. “Don’t leave me out in the galaxy with these creepy Cerberus people, Garrus. I need an old friend. With you and my new bro the doc, we will have an unbeatable sarcasm squad.”
That’s all it was, at first. It was good to have my friend back, with his witty remarks, his glee in battle. My new pal Mordin and my old pal Garrus, ready to take on the world! I chatted with Jacob a bit and really disliked our weird, hyper-flirty mechanic. Made me feel like a creep, so we stopped talking. HE wasn’t going to be replacing my boy Kaidan anytime soon, that was for certain.
Then I learned Kaidan was on a colony that had just come under Collector attack, and my heart didn’t just lurch, it wrenched. You might say “everything pulled hard to port,” (damn you.) I needed to save him. More than Garrus, maybe even more than Wrex, I needed to see Kaidan. It had been two years, I had been dead, Joker saw me spaced, I’m sure they all must have mourned me. I’d have sent him a message earlier if I could, but now it was time for the reunion. I didn’t even necessarily want to take him with me, I didn’t want to risk him on a suicide mission, but I wanted to save him and talk to him, tell him I was OK, and that I still loved him.
I looked for him everywhere while fighting my way through Horizon, to no avail. When the collectors took off, I thought they must have taken him. I thought I was going to have to track that ship down and tear it to pieces to get him back, and then he walks around the corner. I was so relieved I almost fainted. Everything seemed to be going ok at first, but things went south quickly. He was angry, and he wouldn’t listen. Even though I didn’t want to get him killed, didn’t want to take him from his duty, I needed more time to talk, so I asked him to come with me. He didn’t say he wished he could (like good old Wrex would later), he just told me he had moved on, told me I was probably being manipulated, and turned his back on me.
I could tell he was hurt, and his email just confirmed that, but you know what? Not good enough. I died, Kaidan. I saved you, saved Joker, saved everybody, and gave my life for my crew. Now I’m back and everything is f***ed up. I’m dealing with it, I always deal with it, but I could have used a kind word from you. You could have handled it better. You could have said something nice, about how you wanted to come with me, wanted things to be the same. If you had even said “I love you,” instead of using the past tense. I understand you not coming, not wanting to join Cerberus, but the way you turned your back on me, and that wishy-washy letter? “When things settle down a little… maybe… I don’t know.” f*** you, Kaidan. You think you were the only one who was in love? As far as I was concerned, he had broken up with me, moved on. I still had his picture, and that letter, but there were no promises. If he’d said he’d be waiting when I came back, if he’d said he still knew I was the same woman he loved… hell there were a hundred things he could have said that would have made me feel like we were still together, like he still loved me. That letter reminded me that I still loved him, but it was a Dear Jane letter all the same, even if it did leave a glimmer of hope for a reunion. No guarantees, though, just a lot of guilt and a ‘maybe.’
So now I was angry. I met up with Liara and she seemed interested in me again; I was half tempted there. I had rejected her in favor of Kaidan while chasing Saren, but now here she was, still loyal, still trusting me implicitly, while he wasn’t speaking to me anymore. I was pacing around punching things, wanting to take my pain out on someone, wanting to relieve the tension somehow.
I met Thane, and appreciated his grace, his beautiful green skin, his voice, his deep, dark eyes; but I was turned off by his humorless sadness. His humorless sadness is completely understandable, of course, but it’s not my style. I like some dark humor about the fact that we’re going to die. Still, he was interested, tender, flirty even, and I was grateful for the attention, for the distraction. I thought maybe I’d give him a tumble to cheer him up, but I wasn’t falling in love, not like with Kaidan. In the meantime, I had a job to do. So I pal’d around with Mordin (Lies of omission. Also, other kinds), introduced Grunt to Wrex (I still value that bromance over all others), caught up with Tali, chatted with everyone but Jacob (still creepy). Garrus was always busy with his goddam calibrations, anyway. I took him on missions a lot, enjoyed his little shouts whenever anyone got scoped and dropped, but he was just another dude on my platonic alien bro squad.
Then, one day, he had something to ask of me. He’d caught up with Sidonis, the guy who had gotten his squad killed, right before I picked him up. That was yet another time he failed to live up to his heroic ideal, and I knew it was eating him up inside. He was going to want to kill the guy. I knew it. Garrus had always been sort of the little devil on my shoulder, and I’d been the angel on his. The time I stabbed that Merc in the back with that welder, I did it for him… one of my first real renegade actions. And when he handed me that sniper rifle, I totally pinged that bot; it felt good. Hell, I’d picked up sniper skill on that collector ship because he made it seem like so much fun. So, sure, I’d go with him on his revenge hunt. There’s nothing wrong with revenge… I would totally have let Zaeed murder that guy, if he hadn’t set fire to the complex beforehand, like an idiot. We’ve taken out that many mercs before and we could have again, but I wasn’t going to let innocents die to achieve it. This was a clear case of clean revenge, no collateral damage, no bad press for the alliance; I was all for it.
We tracked his mark, and tracked down the dirty cop who had our next lead. During the interrogation, Garrus was getting pretty dark. There was a moment I could have stepped in and stopped it, but I hesitated, and he shot that guy in the leg. I regretted my inaction instantly, but it’s good that it happened. It opened my eyes… Garrus wanted to be a hero, but he didn’t have the strength. It was up to me to be that strength. He’d listen to me. So when I got the chance to prevent him from killing Sidonis, I did. And he didn’t let me down. He wasn’t angry at me for what I did, either. He understood, was glad even. Because he trusted me.
And now he was more open, more chatty. Not so busy with his calibrations. He told me that story, about hooking up with a female crewmate. The way his voice got soft, and the faraway look in his eyes… I couldn’t resist. I flirted, half jokingly, mostly to get a rise out of him, but once I’d said it I couldn’t take it back… or rather, I could, but didn’t really want to. It was awkward, but he was my most loyal friend, the one person from my original crew who had absolute trust in me, no matter what. I could keep him from getting his revenge, I could activate a Geth on board, and he’d always trust me, always respect me, always be ready with a joke. Thane never had a chance, after that. And Kaidan… well… he broke up with me. He was probably back on the citadel, having drinks with some doctor. Light years away, literally.
And the best part was that Garrus and I were… well… friends. This was a fling, a silly little friends-with-benefits thing, a little fun and relief before we went off to our very likely deaths. I was still… a little in love with Kaidan, but we were at least on a break, if not broken up altogether, and I deserved some comfort before sacrificing myself for the universe. Who better than an old friend, someone I trusted implicitly? And if we were just relieving tension… what was the harm? If Kaidan wanted to hold this against me, that would pretty much prove he wasn’t worth it.
Then, suddenly, one night, it was real. Garrus was there, being all awkward and cheesy and vaguely inappropriate. I was ready to have a laugh, relieve some tension, so I told him to be cool, not to worry. “I just want something to go right…” he said, and it broke my heart. I wanted this to go right too, I wanted him to know I cared about him, trusted him more than anyone else. I wanted him to know he was still attractive, even with those scars. But I thought… I thought we were friends, colleagues, comrades, crewmates. I didn’t think he’d really fall for me. I was… counting on him not falling for me. It seemed like this was a one time thing, an experiment, a bit of tension relief. We hadn’t fallen in love, had we? It hadn’t been romantic, rather it had started with a joke, and it had been jokes and camaraderie and the awkwardness of FWB all the way through. Now things were real. No more jokes. Just comfort, and safety, and real, complete trust. Damn.
And now I’ve totally f***ed everything up. I still have some feelings for Kaidan. The nice things in his letter, his obvious pain, still get to me… but they’re undercut by his statement that he doesn’t know who we are anymore, and his little bull**** “maybe… I don’t know.” But as angry as I was with him, I still love him a little, I was still thinking that maybe… when we met again… he’d apologize, I’d forgive him… I’d apologize, he’d forgive me, and everything COULD be like it was before. If I survive after we save the universe, I might want to have kids someday. Maybe they’ll follow in my footsteps, like I did with my mom. I sort of thought that might be possible with Kaidan, I didn’t think long term was on the table, this time.
But now I’d rather eat a bullet than hurt Garrus. The question is, what does he expect? Nothing we’ve said, nothing we’ve done up to now implied falling in love, or a real future. We had a good time, things went right, we care about and trust each other, but can we go back to being friends again? Will he… fight for me in ME3? Will he be relaxed and jokey if we break it off? Will he go on to have little Garruses with some Turian with a supportive waist, while I have little Sheps with some human?
So that’s where I am right now. Anyone else want to share their narrative arc? Or yell at me about mine?