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The Stars Asunder

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“Hell of a thing you just pulled off, Commander. Curing the genophage. I never thought I’d see the day.”

Shepard nodded, trying to keep the exhaustion out of her voice. It was a hell of a thing, and she was sure that if she could just lie down for a few hours, she’d actually appreciate it… “Wrex has agreed to help the turians, Admiral. We should get their full support.”

Hell, she couldn’t even remember the last time she slept. Before, or after they’d picked up Garrus and the Primarch? After Grissom? At least Jack and the kids were safe, and Kaylie Saunders. Surkesh, Tuchanka, countless drops in between… And still so much to do.

“I take it that leaves the salarians out of the equation?”

She gritted her teeth, pulling out of her thoughts. Just the memory of the dalatrass’s offer of betrayal still set her on edge. “Officially, yes. The cost of their support was too high.”

“And unofficially?”

Shepard let herself smile wryily. “You might get some back channel offers of support. From STG and the like. Captain Kirahee, in particular. I think they’re tired of the politics getting in the way of galactic security.”

“I see. I’ll defer to your judgment there, Commander. Hackett out.”

Shepard scrubbed her face, and turned away from the QEC room. God, I need sleep. I’m getting sloppy. Mordin’s death weighed on her, despite his willing sacrifice. Too many gone. And how many more will I fail to save, before this is over?

It was a question that was steadily usurping her mind.

Liara had told her again and again that she couldn’t save everyone, it wasn’t possible. And in the back of her mind, she knew the asari was right. Still, every death felt like a failure.

Primarch Victus stood waiting for her in the war room, and she reluctantly answered his silent summons.

“Commander.” He turned to face her as she approached. “Urdnot Wrex has begun sending troops to Palaven. You kept your end of the bargain, and now I’ll keep mine.”

The Primarch extended his hand, and Shepard took it. “The turian hierarchy will stand with humanity against the Reapers. You have my word on it.”

“I’m glad we could help each other. Working together is the only way we’ll defeat the Reapers.”

Victus nodded as they walked around the war map to where Garrus stood. “That much is certain. To that end, I have several dry-dock ships ready to help build the Crucible. Garrus will coordinate them.”

Garrus gave a curt nod. “Yes, sir.”

“And when the time comes to deploy it, the full measure of our fleet will be there for Earth.” Together, the three of them turned to look at the Crucible holo, showing its progress. Victus shook his head. “May the Spirits watch over us all.”

Shepard exhaled hard as the Primarch walked away. Let’s hope they do more than watch. We’re going to need all the help we can get.

Garrus’ eyes followed her as she slowly leaned against the holo board. “I’ll start managing turian support right away, Shepard. You must be exhausted. Mordin dying…it can’t be easy.”

Sleep would be beyond welcome. But there was so much to do, so much to plan. The next step, and the one after that, and the whole galaxy looking to her to find a way, to bring them all together, to make it work…

To save them all.

No one can save them all, Shepard. Not even you.

The memory of Liara’s words didn’t help. Shepard shook her head. Too much to do. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

Garrus stepped closer, hos voice dropping into a soothing tone, even though the words that came out bordered on a lecture. “We both know you need a clear head to win a war. There’s no room for mistakes here. You should catch some shut eye.” While you can. The last words were unspoken, but they both heard them. “I’ll make sure Joker doesn’t launch any suicide missions.”

Shepard shorted a soft laugh. “Yeah, we wouldn’t want that.” She sighed, her shoulders dropping in acceptance. “Alright. But Garrus. Anything happens, you let me know.”

“I will.”

She pushed off the war map. “Alright. Alright.” Her feet took her out of the room before she realized she was going. Through the damn security scanner, that she still hadn’t remembered to talk to EDI about, and into the elevator.

The last thing she remembered was face-planting on her mattress.

 

***

 

Darkness surrounded her, a dull twilight full of shadows and voices. Voices of the dead. Voices of her guilt.

Voices that called her name, whispering memories full of hurt and blame. People she hadn’t saved. Her unit on Akuze. Soldiers and civilians she’d seen die in the Blitz. Jenkins, Alenko. Nihlus.

The list went on, catalogued by the shadows. Benezia. Mordin. Every colonist taken by the Collectors. Every batarian who died when she launched an asteroid into a mass relay.

Every one of them, dead. Because she hadn’t saved them.

Because she hadn’t done enough.

Shepard.

Shepard.

The guilt ate at her.

A different noise added itself to the weight of her guilt. The sound of tears. A child’s choked tears. And then she saw him. Running again.

Let me save you! she wanted to scream. But the words stuck in her mouth, even as she ran, and the metallic groan of the Reapers came again, and the fire, always the fire, burning, consuming, as the boy looked on with eyes full of blame—

Shepard sat up with a gasp, and a pounding heart.

God, not again.

She shoved the data pad she’d fallen asleep on to the side, and rolled off the bed. No sleep at all was preferable to these steadily worsening dreams, and the blinding headaches that accompanied them. Shepard rubbed her face and pulled a stimpack from her kit. She hated using the things, but the way her head was pounding, it wasn’t going to go away on its own.

The pounding stopped within seconds, as the stim flooded her system. Shepard cracked her neck, and headed for the bathroom. Some water in her face could only help make her feel more human. The face that looked back from the mirror, though, told a different story. Pale skin, bruising under her eyes. I haven’t looked this bad since those black ops assignments following the Torfan raid.

A knock at the door distracted her from following that particular rabbit down its hole. “It’s open.”

“Shepard?” She could hear Liara walk into the room, her step all business. “There’s something you need to hear.”

Shepard rubbed her face, but didn’t leave the bathroom. “Alright.”

Liara’s steps hesitated outside the thin metal door. “Is this a bad time?”

Shepard leaned against the sink, letting her head hang down. “It’s… I don’t know. I’m beginning to wonder if there will ever be a good time.”

A pause, and when Liara’s voice came again, it was closer, like she’d leaned against the doorframe. “Someday. When we make it through all this. And it’ll be thanks to you.”

She leaned forward, putting her head in her hands, and feeling hot tears pull at the corners of her eyes. So many gone, no thanks to me. Because I wasn’t good enough. “Liara, I…”

“You had another nightmare, didn’t you? Shepard, you can’t blame yourself. You’re the reason any of us are still alive at all. Those deaths, they’re on the Reapers, not you.”

You don’t understand. The words hung on the tip of her tongue, but Shepard choked them back. Liara did understand, better than almost anyone else could. She’d seen inside Shepard’s head, seen her past, lived a lot of it with her. So instead of a petulant reply, Shepard took a deep breath, and opened the door. Liara pushed off the frame, and immediately took her in her arms.

And for just that moment, everything was alright.

Shepard took a shaky breath, and pulled back enough to see Liara’s face. “Thanks. I needed that. What was it you needed to tell me?”

Liara’s fingers traced slowly over Shepard’s face, memorizing the planes and dips, every freckle, while deep blue eyes held her gaze. “Always, Kylie. I’m always here for you.” She leaned in, placing the gentlest of kisses on her forehead. “The salarian councilor has an urgent matter.”

Shepard sighed, not wanting to leave the circle of Liara’s arms. She felt safe there, right. “Let me guess. He called the comm room?”

Liara smiled wryly. “Let's hope it means the Council is taking the Crucible seriously.” She brought her lips to Shepard’s, but the kiss didn’t last. “I’ll see you downstairs.”