Normandy, named for last hope and spilled blood, named for brotherhood overcoming evil. Normandy, named for family.
They ground him, but no one can clip Shepard’s wings.
At night, he shuts his eyes and listens for her engines.
* * *
They put him in a cage. Trot him out for day after day of trials. Lawyers come to question him. Batarians scream at him in the court-martial proceedings. He decides to study Batarian language, because aside from sparring with Vega and writing letters, there is nothing else to be done.
(What they all fail to see is this: Commander Shepard doing what he does best. Caging him has no effect on what makes him most effective.)
He strikes up a friendship with Vega.
“Informally, Miranda. What do you think of his chances?” Behind the Illusive Man, entire worlds burned. One of his screens told the story of her triumph over death.
Miranda did not dwell on the irony of her having created life.
“Put him in a desert,” she said, “and he will walk out with an army loyal to the last breath.”
He can’t stop at the sight of her.
The Normandy crests destruction’s horizon, appears like the Allied Forces storming the beach, and Shepard’s heart sings along with her guns. He can’t stop, he’s running flat out for her.
She catches him, welcomes him as passionately as any lover ever has. But when he reaches back to bring Anderson to his side, he finds only empty space. One of them has to stay and hold the line, one of them needs to walk into a desert to find an army.
Anderson knows there is no hope for any of them, because Shepard has it all.
* * *
He gathers them like his namesake builds a flock. Joker and EDI bring with them soldiers, good soldiers. He likes them, likes listening to them bicker and argue. Traynor doesn’t remind him of Kelly in any way at all. She has a glint in her eye, something he recognizes. It is the look of a racehorse ready to run.
There are too many empty rooms and he feels the Normandy’s loss in the pit of his own stomach. They need an army and all he has is space.
Shepard’s footsteps echo, his path filled with empty stops as he makes his rounds. He needs them. Like a housewife making a grocery list, so he thinks; To Win This War, I Will Need: Jacob’s honor. Kasumi’s cunning. Samara’s wisdom. Jack’s rage. Miranda’s ruthlessness. Grunt’s ferocity. Zaeed’s experience. Garrus’s strategy. Mordin’s intelligence. Tali’s genius. Thane’s lethality. Legion’s analysis. Liara’s connections. Ashley’s allegiance. Vega’s brawn.
He paces the halls, roams rooms unfilled. Hears only the echoes of memories. He had twice as many for a suicide run against a single base. He will need scores as many for this war. He will need everyone.
It is time to go shopping.
"Hey, Garrus, how do you eat an elephant?”
“What’s an elephant?”
“Large land mammal, family Elephantatidae. Largest living land mammal of Earth. Roughly size of Elcor.”
“What he said.”
“Do humans usually eat them?”
“No. Maybe. I don’t know. That’s not the point. How do you eat an elephant?”
“I honestly have no idea.”
“You make a crap sidekick. A good sidekick would set my lines up better.”
“You can’t imagine how disappointed I am to hear that.”’
* * *
One by one, step by step. Shepard wins wars because he wins battles and he wins battles because he wins hearts. Liara wonders if he even knows he’s doing it, wonders if his charm is a premeditated act of war. She could not leave her work to join him, before, and he was ruthlessly understanding, unfailingly helpful despite it. This time...
This time she brings her work with her. The quarters are remarkably easy to adapt for her purposes. Someone has hardwired most of the room for serious information gathering. The intelligence of the galaxy flows to Shepard and if she wishes to truly know the events of the universe, his ship is the best place to be.
There are echoes of the woman before her, in her quarters. The silk sheets on the bed just confirm the woman’s good taste.
A reporter. Shepard likes that. Someone to tell the story, someone to tell the things that need to be told. Once she stops asking about him, and starts focusing on the war, he likes her a lot more.
Chakwas loves the Normandy almost as much as Shepard does. He cannot leave her on the Citadel. Come home, he says. We need you. There is no hesitation.
Wrex. Victus. Garrus. Mordin. Eve. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check.
The first night Garrus is back, they snipe cans in the shuttle bay, catching up on lost time. Garrus proclaims himself unimpressed by Shepard’s newest lost cause. Shepard proclaims himself unimpressed by Garrus’ newest title.
They run out of ammo and call it a tie.
Allers runs the footage as a “goodwill piece.”
Shepard looks at the last living Prothean and finds kindred spirit in a sole survivor.
Vengeance is just Hope with a history.
Wrex reminds Shepard that they will need Grunt, that they will need all the krogan. If the turians are a great sword, then the krogan are war hammers. Wrex watches the human argue with the new Primarch, pepper him with questions, searching for new information. It’s like watching a salarian take on a thresher maw.
Clever human. Charming human. Ruthless human. Shepard is no wilting flower to accept fate, but he isn’t quite a soldier, not how Wrex would describe one.
He’s a krogan sort of human. He doesn’t believe in half-measures. His orders were to bring everyone to save Earth.
Ha. Ha. Ha. Shepard looks up at the laugh.
“You’re a literal one,” Wrex says and offers no other explanation.
Quiet footsteps and the glint of teeth. Kasumi stalks the Citadel and denies him.
She followed him through the gates of Hell once, how can he ask her to do so again?
But he knows Kasumi. Even after she hugs him, even after she makes him promise to write, even after the final goodbye, he knows Kasumi.
He knows better than to listen for silent footsteps, as he heads down to the docks. He knows better than to think she isn’t there, if he can’t spot the shimmer of the air. He doesn’t look, when he challenges Vega to an arm wrestling match.
He just makes sure to put up on a good show.
“Dammit, Shepard, that’s not fair,” whispered in his ear. He is sure that if he turns his head, he will see only empty air.
“You can have your old room,” he says.
“It’s all that’s left, Shep.”
“Then keep it. Use it as a seed to grow something more. No one who loved you could deny you.”
Rachni. They will fight Reapers.
He will let them.
Grunt takes ten years off his life when he stumbles into the sunlight covered in blood. There is too much blood, even for a krogan. Like any animal with a wounded cub, Shepard takes him back to their den.
Shepard watches Mordin and Chakwas patch him up, seated beside Eve on her cot. She rumbles concrete comfort at Shepard. He likes her. He’s never met a female krogan, but he hopes he will meet more, if they are all like her.
“Battlemaster,” Grunt says, smacking away Mordin, when the salarian would quiet him. “My company. If I go, they follow.”
Shepard understands. He and Cortez take the shuttle and bring aboard a full company of krogan elite.
“Battlemaster, you are Krantt,” Grunt said, waiting on the shuttle to take him home. “If you call, I will come. Our enemies will know death and despair.”
EDI recommends he go and oversee territory negotiations between Javik and Aralakh Company. She recommends he run.
It doesn’t take much. Krogan are easy to negotiate with if you know the trick. (A sharp headbutt and an unwavering stare.) Shepard resettles Javik in Starboard Observation.
He wonders where Samara is.
Aria promises him an army.
They will fight the Reapers. They will fight Cerberus.
(Shepard has not completely ruled out recruiting Cerberus.)
He talks to Bailey. He likes Bailey. Bailey would be a good soldier to have in this fight, but someone needs to hold the Citadel. Bailey will guard the Citadel, because he understands what loss really looks like.
Aria is right. You need people who know what color blood actually is. People who are willing to spill their own, but much more practiced at spilling others’.
Thane is dying. It is the end of his life and he has little use, beyond the memory of what he once was.
“That’s bullshit,” Shepard says and leans back in the horrible hospital chair. “I need people who can outthink an enemy. The Alliance has plenty of soldiers, we need killers.”
No, no. It is better he stay here. He cannot kill, any more.
“If you think that, I have a nice rainforest on Tuchanka to sell you.” Shepard leans forward. “Mordin and Chakwas can treat you twice as well as anyone here. You can analyze targets with Kasumi and Liara. You can train Aralakh. If you thought the only thing left in your life is dying, you would have already put a bullet in your brain.”
His gaze does not waver.
Kasumi grins when she sees Thane’s expression.
“Yeah,” she said, “and we’re his friends. Can you imagine what he’s going to do to the Reapers?”
“There is a theory about unstoppable forces and immovable objects,” Thane remarks, looking around Life Support. He settles into a chair with a sigh.
“Shep is both.”
It’s easier than the push of a button to authorize Gabby and Ken’s return.
He feels a flicker of rage that they need to be pardoned at all.
Allers does a report on the two heroic engineers the night they return. It goes live on eighty-six planets. Shepard isn’t content until he hears Al-Jilani lead into the story with “The tale of two heroic Alliance engineers...”
Shepard likes Liara’s father. Mother. Other parent.
He likes her a lot more than he liked her mother. Other mother. Other parent.
(...but he’d liked Benezia alright, too. Hard to hate someone that strong willed.)
He’d love to have both by his side for the upcoming fight.
He’ll settle for the better half, though.
Jack can’t ask that he keep her students out of danger, keep them safe. She can’t, but he can see she wants to.
She’s a mother lion, now. Twice as dangerous and every ounce as vicious; uneasy but certain her cubs need to learn to use their claws.
“It’ll be crowded, but I think I can put some bunks down in Engineering,” he says, studying the group. “You’ll have to figure out who gets top on your own.”
She thanks him when she thinks the others aren’t looking and he pulls her ponytail.
“Your hair looks good,” he says and kisses her cheek. She is slow to throw the punch and he’s quick to dance out of the way.
“Kahlee,” he says, when the other women speaks of leaving, “I’ve got a direct line back to Earth.”
She beds down with the crew.
Miranda denies him twice.
He lets her go.
She’ll come in her own time. He’ll help when she needs it.
Victus dies a hero.
Victus wears his grief in every move.
Shepard snaps compassion back into Wrex with brutal words. He has lost one. He has lost.
He cannot lose.
“Who’s the bint?”
Shepard gives Zaeed a warning glare, but Allers is unfazed.
“Oh my God, you’re Zaeed Massani!” She almost pushes Shepard out of the way.
Zaeed’s too old, too scarred to be unwary of such a greeting. “So what if I am?”
“I’m Diana Allers. I did my graduate work on you. Well, the impact of private mercenaries on Alliance forces. It wasn’t much of a piece, but it landed me Battlespace.” She holds out a hand. “It’s quite an honor. I heard you’d retired.”
“I saw that piece,” he says, shaking her hand. “Not bad, but I think you owe me royalties.”
“I’ll owe you more than that if you give me an interview. My viewers would love to hear your thoughts on Aria T’loak’s new army.”
“Hah! That bitch? I could tell you stories...”
Shepard leaves them to it. Somehow he doubts there will be an issue with their sharing quarters.
Jacob has a baby on the way.
Shepard crosses his name off the list.
Some things are important.
He won’t beg Ashley back.
(She wouldn’t come if he begged.)
He doesn’t ask Ashley back.
(She wouldn’t come if he asked.)
He fires the shot that bursts the boil, exposes the corruption and infection. He gives her the promise of fighting the good fight, reminds her that the Alliance is no more perfect than anyone else.
He worked with Cerberus. He will work with anyone if it means saving the galaxy.
He will work with everyone. Everyone will work with him.
He doesn’t ask Ashley back.
“It’s not that simple, Miri.”
“It is entirely that simple, Jacob.”
“I have other things to think about now. A baby on the way.”
The silence is a void.
“Don’t be. I’m not. That’s great news. But irrelevant.”
“I can’t go tromping off through the galaxy to fight Reapers! I have other things to consider! I have a family! I’m not going to be like my father, running away from my responsibilities.”
“Is that what you’d be doing? You’re locked in your fantasy world and ignoring reality. Playing house while there’s real danger threatening.”
“...That’s low, Miranda.”
“Only because it’s true. He’s saved the galaxy a few times before. We can assume he knows what he’s talking about when he says he needs us.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“We followed him into Hell once before. I haven’t forgotten my reasons for doing so. Have you?”
Ashley believes the lounge is haunted for three weeks. This is a more plausible explanation than a mysterious thief no one can prove exists.
“You’re an twisted bitch,” Jack remarks to Kasumi one night, after Ashley storms off, ranting about lost underwear.
“She had it coming,” Kasumi says. She smiles. “I hid them in Wrex’s bunk.”
Jacob hails the Normandy. Shepard is in the area, (relatively.)
He kisses Brynn’s cheek in greeting, asks about the baby, work on the Crucible.
“About that,” Jacob says. “...Think you have room for a few more?”
Shepard lights up at the idea. Mordin will love having more scientists around and Ken is probably already running the numbers on Jacob and Vega’s sparring matches.
He loses Mordin and Eve in the same day.
The Normandy trembles with his rage, aches with his sorrow. Bring everybody. He has lost two. He has lost them. He has lost.
He is lost.
He stands in the empty med-bay and cannot hear for the silence.
Tali wears her authority well. Home no more home to me, whither must I wander? Spring comes with her, spreads about the ship. One piece closer to whole, she settles in, bringing the other admirals with her.
He would protest them, except with them comes the Fleet. He might not always like their politics, but he has long loved their people. They understand how precious each piece must be.
”What is thy name?”
And he answered, saying “My name is Legion: for we are many.”
And he would not send them away out of the country.
Shepard does not need to ask Legion to return. Legion does not need the invitation.
They are needed, so they come.
“She doesn’t need you there,” he tells Kal’Reegar over a vidcom. It took EDI and Traynor three days to track his unit down.
“I have orders,” Kal’Reegar says, but Shepard knows what pieces he needs. Shepard knows what pieces his pieces need.
The Admirals control the Fleet, but Kal’Reegar leads the Marines.
“We need you here. She needs you here. Jacob and Garrus are coming to collect your unit.” Shepard grins. “Call it Spectre Authority.”
“You realize we’re not Alliance,” Kal’Reegar points out.
“By the time they realize it, you’ll already be here. Harder to lose a ground war when you already occupy the land,” Shepard counters.
Kal’Reegar considers this. Shepard is not the only one with a streak of renegade staining his soul. “See you soon, Commander.”
The Admirals do not like that he did that.
But Tali’s eyes are grateful, behind their shroud.
He puts the quarians in the shuttle bay. They do not mind the lack of space; it’s almost luxurious after they are done. They hold daily scrimmages against Aralakh company. The Normandy swells.
He has lost so many; he cannot lose one more.
He stops death, when Samara would invite it. He needs her wisdom. He needs her.
He cannot afford to lose more.
He holds her close when she would fight, holds her and stands unwavering until the galaxy can offer him a better solution. He has lost too many, he will not lose her.
He holds her when she sags with relief at her daughter’s offer.
He waits, while the women speak. Not one to sit idly by, he and Grunt and Vega begin to rebuild, rig up a generator, get a few rooms cleared out, safe for Falere to live in. EDI and Liara ride the shuttle down, bring rations, supplies, ammo.
Before they leave, Shepard ensures that no matter what, Falere’s communications will reach the Normandy.
“A prothean,” Samara says, inclining her head.
“Another asari,” Javik says, wearily. “What is next, Shepard? A yahg?”
“Do you think they’d fight the Reapers?” Shepard asks, serious.
Samara waves him off. “We will share our space,” she informs the commander.
Three days later, he finds them locked in an incomprehensible game that involves biotics. He does not interrupt to ask them about it.
Shepard leaves his breastplate over the hole, but pries up the smooth piece opposite it.
Later, Cortez finds him welding it to his N7 Armor, over the insignia.
“There was a hole,” he tells the pilot.
Miranda comes on fog’s silent feet.
“Now?” he asks her.
“Yes,” she says, her business settled.
“You could have let me help more.”
“I could have,” she agrees. “Don’t we have a war to win?”
He holds her hand the entire ride back to the Normandy.
Shepard turns his gaze upon the Three Headed Dog.