There is a moment.
That’s all he’s made of, Shepard thinks as the Catalyst’s power strips them away. cell by cell, moment by moment, everything he was, everything he could have become, flaking away like so much ash as he struggles to hold on.
A moment, Kaidan’s lips on his. A moment, garrus’s hand on his shoulder, liara’s smile, joker’s laugh.
It hurts. Flesh and bone and cybernetics and memories chewed up and digested into the power, like acid bubbling up inside of him, burning him away. It hurts so much, but he holds on.
He *has* to. For Kaidan. For them all.
Another moment gone, another memory gone and he struggles to remember what colour Kaidan’s eyes are. He knows, he knows they’re being rebuilt, reassembled somewhere else, somewhere where he can keep them all safe - his moments and the ones who made them.
Another moment, three freckles above an eyebrow, and Shepard remembers kissing them but he doesn’t remember whose they are and a voice begging him to not leave them behind.
And he’s afraid. He’s so afraid now because he doesn’t even know who he is and there are no more moments behind him and no more moments ahead. Nothing left but ash and fear and lightning and pain.
And then, someone is telling him something. Gentle and calm and the pain is just something distant, faintly tingling like bubbling water across what’s left of his skin.
(I will watch over the ones who remain. I will never forget.)
And Shepard takes himself in his arms, holding the crumbling ghost close, soothing the last of the fear. (Don’t be afraid. I am all that you were, and all that you will become. And I will protect them. I will protect him. Always.)
And then, that moment too, is gone.