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Marcus Shepard was his daughter’s first ghost.

 

 

For as long as she could remember, her father had always looked tired.

Heavy bags perpetually hung beneath his amber eyes occasionally lifted and hidden away by his wide smiles and boisterous laugh. He’d swing her through the air until she could touch the skylights in their cabin and they’d watch the endless black spread before them in awe. He could never hold her up for long, arms shaking from take-off to landing though Dana never minded the turbulence. It made her stomach swoop in excitement every time he nearly dropped her.

Marcus Shepard was not a soldier like her mother Hannah, but he waged war with the best of them every day when he drew breath.

Curious by nature, Dana observed the people on the ship and how their interactions with each other differed from those with her family. The term ‘walking on eggshells’ became ingrained in the back of her mind with every pained smile and hushed whisper she caught in the cold corridors. Even her own mother handled her father delicately; choosing to press kisses to his calloused palms and weathered knuckles instead of pulling him into private corridors, lips locked, like other couples did when they didn’t know Dana was nearby.

It wasn’t until she was older that she found out why he ran out of stamina easily and spent days confined to his bed. The medical terms flew right over her head, but at fourteen she was able to recognize a no-win scenario. Her mother held his hand every time he was admitted to the medbay until eventually he never left.

Members of the Alliance visited him often even on his bad days when he would look at them in confusion bordering on fear. His memories came and went like the stars in the windows Dana hid beneath when everything got too loud. She avoided her father and dodged her mother until the nagging in the back of her mind eventually found her at the foot of a bed watching her mother cling to a fading light.

Stuck on autopilot, Dana took his free hand and filled the room with platitudes: Her words getting lost in his shallow, hiccuped breaths that eventually stop when his chest stilled. She held her mother through stifled sobs and spaced the Bible he gave her in the trash chute when the skeleton crew took over. Her tears burned trails of fire down her checks and she cursed an invisible force that showed her father no mercy. The ship waits for a meltdown that never happens and Dana throws herself into her studies until her body evolves into a weapon.

Her father visits her dreams, less and less as the years pass, but his voices stays with her for a few minutes after her eyes open. Sometimes she catches him in the corner of her eye as she undergoes N7 training. She can’t make out the expression on his face, but with every test aced and every squad mate saved pride fills her chest until it is fit to burst.

A battered copy of the good book finds its way into Dana’s locker after her first close call and she looks around the empty quarters, searching for the culprit. Years will pass before Hannah admits she passed it along to the CO and asked him to put it there as a personal favor. Standing in an empty room, Dana catches the scent of cologne and smiles through her tears and shoves the book into her sack.

It sits under her pillow as she heals from the devastation of Akuze and is flipped through during the hunt for Saren.

It burns to ash when the Normandy goes down over Alchera.

She does not buy a new one – the stories seared into her flesh with angry red scars that glow brighter than her rage. Dana aches and the name Lazarus echoes in her ears like tinnitus and no amount of pillows curled around her head can stop the ringing.

 

 

Lt. Tak timed her shots perfectly every time.

“Don’t look so disappointed D,” she teased before settling into the shuttle bound for the surface of Akuze, “when we get back I’ll show you how to make the Titan purr like a kitten.”

Dana rolled her eyes and shoved Hernandez off his seat when he wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.

“Can we focus on the mission please? You and Shepard can continue your weird mating ritual after we investigate the distress signal,” Specialist Grant sighed in fond exasperation. Cheeks warm, Dana resisted the urge to snap to attention long enough to flip Paxton off when he puckered his lips as she walked by.

“I hate this squad,” she grumbled, but it gave way to laughter when her childhood friend Nomi hacked Paxton’s omni-tool which had recorded his horrendous rendition of an Earth classic earlier that morning.

“Aw Sarge, come on!” he whined.

“Laughter’s good for the unit Pax; lighten up.”

The mood continued until they touched down and suddenly laughter was the last thing on everyone’s mind. When asked to give her report two weeks after the incident the first word out of Dana’s mouth is, “Chaos.”

The higher-ups give her a break shortly after that.

Lt. Tak timed her shots perfectly every time.

She also times her lunge perfectly and shoves Dana into the safety of the open shuttle: Dying with a choked scream on her lips as flesh melts beneath the Thresher Maw’s acidic attack. Her squad fell one by one until Dana is forced to push herself beyond the implant’s abilities and her biotics react with cataclysmic force, leaving a burning crater the size of an Alliance frigate behind along with the charred bodies of the Thresher Maw and her squad.

It’s the first Maw she kills and it won’t be the last.

The scar on her brow refuses to heal and fade into her skin; a constant reminder of an event that’s colored by blue waves of agony and blood. 

She had seen men die in combat before during the Skillian Blitz, but they hadn’t been from her unit – hadn’t been her friends. Dana is tightlipped at the ceremony and leaves with a trail of shadows close behind.

At twenty-three Dana becomes a haunted house – her father’s picture joined by five others and her dreams overcrowded.

 

 

The first time she talks about religion in fourteen years goes better than expected.

Ashley Williams serves as a reminder of the bedtimes stories Dana grew up with: It stings less than she thought it would. They spend a few nights debating theology and religion’s place in a scientific world. She tells Ashley about her father’s Bible floating out in space somewhere and is met with understanding.

“I got angry too.”

If a religious text existed out in the universe the odds were that Dana had read it at some point. Once or twice she picked Garrus’ brain since she often heard him call upon the Spirits – his surprise at her interest made her determined to work harder at making him (and the others) feel welcome on her ship.

“Didn’t peg you for the religious type Shepard,” Wrex confesses when she probes him after securing his grandfather’s armor.

“I’m not so sure I am.”

He chuckles, “Curiosity cooked the pyjack you know”

“I don’t think that’s the saying Wrex,” Garrus calls from beneath the Mako.

“Of course it is!”

Dana shakes her head and leaves them to it, realizing quickly that she’s not going to get a direct answer from the Krogan. Liara is more of a scientist than a believer, but indulges Dana’s questions once the foundation of friendship is laid. Joker avoids the topic all together and Kaidan stares wistfully past her once she casually pops it into their many talks.

A week before Virmire she and Ashley get into it over the existence of ghosts of all things, but a couple drinks later they’ve moved onto the afterlife itself and the hangover the next morning is practically nonexistent.

Garrus teases her after they clear out a nest of Cerberus agents, “You’re running a little slower today Shepard, stay up too late debating the purpose of life again?”

Dana retaliates by driving the Mako off a cliffs edge; the screech he emits as they free-fall will stay with her until the day she dies.

“Was that absolutely necessary?” Liara asks breathless and a shade paler than normal.

“No, but it sure was fun,” Dana smirks.

Garrus releases his death grip of the front console and cradles his face in his shaking hands, “The next time you feel like meeting your ancestors, leave me back on the Normandy.”

She doesn’t hesitate to pat him consolingly on his shoulder and it’s a testament to how far they’ve come that he doesn’t flinch when he feels the contact. The trip back to the ship is slow in an attempt at an apology for scaring her team mates so thoroughly. By the time they make it back everyone’s heart-rates have returned to normal and Dana can swear that’s a smile on Garrus’ face as he brags to Wrex about their adventure.

She spends the night filing reports and thinking about the feeling of exhilaration when the Mako went over: Falling was never the part that scared her.

Next thing she knows the ground is miles below her and her hearts buried beneath the building as she listens to Ashley’s goodbye.

“You know it’s the right choice LT.”

Kaidan’s swear is swallowed by gunfire and Dana can feel their eyes on the back of her skull, Garrus turning to face the way they came already knowing what her decision is going to be.

“Ash,” Dana exhales sharp and painful, “I’m sorry.”

She can picture Ashley crouched behind cover, ordering the Salarian team into position in order to give the Geth a good fight.

“Don’t be,” she hisses in pain and Dana can hear more shots fired, “It’s been an honor Commander. Give them Hell.”

“Godspeed Williams.”

The comm cuts out before she can hear Ashley take her last breath, but she feels it like a punch to the gut anyway. She is fury on the field, nearly ripping Saren in two with her biotics. His escape tears at her already bleeding heart and she punches the lift until her fists are streaked red – the pain does not register until Dr. Chakwas applies the medi-gel.

She avoids Kaidan’s guilt like the plague and is harsh in her comfort, but he doesn’t hold it against her. Sleep plays a game of avoidance, so she finds Garrus picking up Ashley’s duties in the garage. Dana empties the locker and says nothing which doesn’t seem to bother her companion at all. Wrex eventually joins them and shoves a cup of foul smelling liquid into her hands.

“To Williams, she died with honor and dragged many enemies with her.”

“To Williams,” she and Garrus echo before chugging their concoctions without wincing at the burn.

After that, time speeds up barely giving her a time to process the loss. Comfort is found in Kaidan’s arms before Ilos; his affection a salve on the pulsing bruise of grief that twinges every time she boards the Mako and sees the empty station.

It nearly ends when pieces of Sovereign rain down. Dana is brought back into the waking world as if someone had shouted in her ear and crawls beneath the rubble until she’s free and that look on Garrus’ face is definitely a smile. Tali sniffles in relief as Dana marches down to meet them, but her cry of alarm when the adrenaline leaves Dana’s body as quickly as it had come follows her into darkness.

Ashley takes her place next to Marcus Shepard: A graveyard spread beneath their feet leading directly to Dana who cannot cry anymore.

 

 

Death finally comes for her.

Looking up through the holes in the Normandy’s hull feels a lot like falling in the way it plays havoc with her stomach.

Get Joker,’ becomes a mantra in her mind as she navigates the wreckage and dodges floating debris. The sound of her shallowed breathing is deafening – her mind searches for something to dull the noise and like a radio flits between stations until it settles on a song her father used to hum when working.

It grounds her until she reaches Joker whose stubbornness nearly rivals her own, but she gives him no choice: She was not leaving someone else to die, not when she could save him.

When Joker is rescued and reunited with the crew he won’t be able to speak for an hour, his mind replaying the scene until a sedative is forced into his system. Later he’ll look Kaidan in the eyes and tell him that she died saving his life.  He’ll reach out to Garrus on the Citadel and track down Tali after she’s returned to the Flotilla and listen to Liara’s muffled sobs when she answers his call.

What he won’t tell anyone – not even Dana when he blows up in guilt over her death as the Reapers breath down their necks – is the way her voice cracked as she urged him into the escape pod.

“No one else,” she muttered unawares, “I won’t lose anyone else.”

Once he’s safe in the pod, she smacks deploy without hesitation, fully aware that she’s not going to make it. Her name, the last thing she hears, gets lost in the vacuum of space along with her frantic breaths as oxygen leaves her suit.

They say the captain goes down with the ship,’ her father’s voice fills her head, chasing the terror away until she can just make out the curve of the planet below that looms closer with each shaky exhale.

“So when the world ends,” Dana finishes with her last breath, “will God go down with it?”

 

 

Like the big bang, Dana explodes into the waking world without warning.

 

 

Dialed up to a thirteen on a scale long busted, Dana charges through battle with an ease she did not have before death. Miranda confirms her upgraded L4 implant along with other Cerberus goodies before leaving her alone to take a breath.

The first thing she notices is the lack of a scar on her left eyebrow. She smashes the mirror in her cabin with a glowing fist and waits six hours before sneaking down to see Dr. Chakwas.

“Oh Shepard,” sympathy thick on her tongue, she patches Dana up without fuss and offers her a sleeping aid.

“There’s a skylight in my room.”

Dana rushes from the medbay before anything more can be said. By the time she makes it back to her cabin the mirror has been replaced; the glass shards long gone. Panic grips her, eyes flickering from corner to corner, wall to wall; expecting to see someone but there’s only the whirl of the empty fish tank and her stuttering heartbeat.

She counts.

The edges of her vision come back into focus slowly and her heart stops trying to burst out of her ribs. Dana slides down the cold wall next to the sink, rests her throbbing head on her knees and counts to three hundred.

When she inevitably falls asleep, curled around her healing fist on the bathroom floor, Dana dreams she’s piloting the shuttle heading towards Akuze. The dead talk in low murmurs behind her, but when the familiar voices of Garrus and Tali join the fray Dana jerks awake drenched in sweat and terrified.

“Commander Shepard, we are in the process of docking at Omega. Miss Lawson and Mr. Taylor are waiting for you at the bay doors.”

Memories of the past 48 hours crash into her like violent waves borne of a hurricane, but Dana manages to pull herself up and push the bile in the back of her throat back down.

“Tell them I’ll be right down,” she orders.

Dana splashes cold water on her face, hands flinching when they touch the cybernetic fissures along her jawline. She avoids the mirror and marches to the lift, locking her conflicting emotions in a box and shoving it down to be dealt with later. Before joining Miranda, Dana looks up where she imagines a camera is and feels like she’s talking to more than just an AI.

“Thank you EDI.”

 

 

With every mission completed Dana finds pieces of her old self.

Purpose lights her veins and she throws herself into another cause – taking down the Collectors and saving as many people as possible. Gathering her crew pulls nostalgia to the forefront and when she sees Garrus on Omega the relief nearly cripples her. Getting Tali to stay and walking on Tuchanka to be greeted with a firm handshake from Wrex feels surreal.  Liara wears her grief like a wrinkled shawl, but her embrace is warm.

Dana avoids the thought of Kaidan until she can’t anymore.

Kasumi puts two and two together and gets Dana so drunk the thief has to call on outside help to get her back to her cabin. It’s no surprise when Garrus shows up, however she is surprised when he tucks her into bed and arranges the pillows so they block the giant hole in her ceiling if she turns her head just so.

“Get some rest Shepard. We’ll go kill something tomorrow – that always makes me feel better.”

Less drunk, but no less sad than before, Dana reaches out and clumsily paws at his arm, “What would I do without you Garrus?”

“Let’s make sure you never find out, shall we?”

Garrus carries his ghosts on his shoulders – visible to those who know what to look for. She used to be one of them and if she peers closely Dana can see the spot he made for her when the Normandy went down.

He stays long enough to see the tears slide silently down her healing cheeks, her breathing eventually evening out minutes later and Garrus finally feels like she is safe and he can physically walk away.

Something shifts in those few stolen moments.

When she’s not planetside or checking up on the crew, Dana spends her free time split between meditating with Samara and filing reports in the Main Battery while Garrus tinkers away. He is there for every close call and near miss, making himself readily available to assure her (and him) that they survived to fight another day.

They come together and fit in ways she hadn’t thought possible. A part of her that she was sure Cerberus stole – or couldn’t bring back – slides into place when she kisses him and it feels more like a rebirth than waking up in that lab ever did.

Sheets cool to the touch, Dana tells him stories of her father and he listens to everything she doesn’t say. He picks up on her fear without having it spelled out and brackets her body with his, a shelter rather than a cage.

“I have never been a spiritual sort – the practicality of military life demands more attention than thoughts of the divine. However, seeing you charge across the bridge in Omega,” he pauses to collect himself, “that damn near made a believer out of me right then and there”

Touched, Dana reaches up to trace the damaged side of his face and pulls him down to pour her unspoken thoughts into his mouth.

“You can argue that it wasn’t a God that brought you back, but someone, something, out there pulled the right strings at the right time and now you’re here with me.”

“I believe that classifies as a miracle.”

Dana’s choked laugh turns wet with tears and just like that they’re done talking. She wakes and paces the ship, checking on the crew before the final hour as she did before going to Ilos. Déjà vu keeps her company as she runs her hands over the SR2: Her ship has new bells and whistles, but she purrs the same beneath her touch and they are remade – reborn – and ready for the next fight.

It comes and goes without a new gravestone and Dana weeps silently in relief in the safety of her bathroom until Jack’s request for alcohol cannot be denied. Maybe it’s not a good idea to make repairs while indulging in inebriating substances, but her crew is back in one piece and the Collectors will never harvest another being again.

Garrus fills her cup and takes her hand when she joins them in Kasumi’s designated room. They’re squished together but the music is loud and Dana’s able to look outside the wide window without losing herself in the black. The dead leave her dreams untouched that night, but they do not stay gone long.

 

 

The weight of 30,000 souls settles into her bones: Dana becomes a mass grave long before Earth burns.

 

 

A familiar pattern begins to emerge with every person that boards the Normandy. She holds her breath and pushes for an alliance that should have been in place years ago. It’s so close; Dana can taste the relief on her tongue like the hot Tuchanka sun that burns bright until her eyes sting. When it comes crashing down so predictably she nearly screams.

“Mordin no!”

If she were faster, she could have grabbed him – she could have saved him, but the cost would’ve been too high in the end. One life ended to bring about countless ones: Surely the math was in their favor.

For a split second however, the numbers didn’t matter to Dana and on the shuttle ride back her heart breaks into tiny little pieces for Mordin and for the futures she would’ve traded for just one. She doesn’t feel like a hero on her walk to the cabin no matter what the crew says as she passes. The impossible accomplished and all it costed was a Salarian: Her friend.

The nightmares are nearly nightly and she dreads that ashen place where they speak to her in whispers. Dana wakes feeling the losses as if they just happened and tells Liara a story about a boy on Earth who burned before her eyes.

Mordin’s voice joins Ashley’s at night, followed shortly by Thane’s which kicks her when she’s still recovering from Tuchanka.

She locks her door to all but Garrus after Cerberus attacks the Citadel. The prayer she recited with Kolyat reverberates in her frazzled mind until she finds herself picking it apart and blending it with others she’d said over the years in fear and desperation. Knowing there’d be causalities did not prepare Dana for how it’d feel putting names on the memorial wall.

Dana isn’t sure how much more loss she can take.

She pushes her body beyond its limits and spends more time with Dr. Chakwas than she can recall in previous runs. Garrus finds subtle ways to voice his concerns without making Dana crawl out of her skin and she loves him for every reassuring touch and subvocal affirmation he produces in the dead of night.

Saying so, with the whole Presidium beneath them, fells like flying and falling at the same time: It leaves her breathless and hopeful in spite of the odds.

Some of the old crew pops up in unexpected ways; continuing to show their support and willingness to fight for her cause. Dana wants to gather them all and lock them in the AI Core where it’s safer than most places, but she watches them go – a bittersweet taste coating her tongue as she says goodbye to Samara and Jacob.

Jack checks in when she can and Wrex lets her know when Grunt is giving his doctor’s hell in hopes of getting back into action soon. Zaeed gathers a ragtag bunch of mercenaries while Kasumi snags tech from war-torn factories. Worried about Miranda, she offers help every time she gets the chance, which isn’t often unfortunately, but is waved off and quickly distracted by the Quarians.

Tali is a welcome sight.

 

 

Rannoch is beautiful.

Dana finds a boulder and lifts it onto the churned earth where Legion collapsed. Her biotics flicker and quit as she leans forward and bites her bottom lip until it feels like it’s going to split from the pressure.

Below, dozens of Quarians and Geth work in tandem to salvage the remains of the dead Reaper. Another war avoided, the impossible accomplished once again as the universe crumbles around her. There are hands to shake and reports to make and she goes through the motions with a straight face – fooling everyone planetside except Garrus and Tali.

She speaks with EDI first about it.

It’s no wonder he keeps losing his money to Kaidan: Joker is an open book – concern painted plain as day on his face with eyes that burn a hole in the back of her head when she eventually leaves to create a new plaque.

Does this unit have a soul?

She tosses and turns through the sleep cycle. Before she can give up and wander about the ship until her body shuts down Garrus comes to her rescue with a cup of tea. Her ‘thank you’ fades into the air like the wisps of steam dancing along the cup and he hums softly and takes a seat next to her.

“I don’t know how many more friends I can lose to this war,” she confesses.

He doesn’t respond and she isn’t sure what she’d want him to say anyway so she sips her tea and eventually falls asleep to the feeling of his talons running through her hair. She comes to three hours later and it takes her a minute to realize that Garrus is speaking.

“My mother was a very good Turian you know – had an alter for the Spirits and invoked them only when absolutely necessary. Solana and I indulged her of course, but in the end we both prayed and she went peacefully.”

There’s a lot she could say, but chooses instead to tighten the arm she’d tossed over his waist at some point and press a tender kiss next to where she’d rested her head. Cerberus had fucked up in more ways Dana could ever count, but the advancements they made to her senses – allowing her to hazily make out the second layer of language hidden from most outside his species – reminded her just how much she owed a madman.

“Bear it a little longer,” Garrus pleads, “At some point even Death needs a breather.”

 

 

The second time she dies is not gentle.

 

 

Fresh on the heels of Anderson’s slumped over form and closed eyes death takes and takes and takes until she’s shaking and bleeding with every step past a virtual apparition. She wanted to close her eyes and bleed out next to him; a man who stepped in and looked at her the way her father once did before sickness stole him away. Hasn’t she given enough?

Her fury only calmed by acceptance; a silent message sent across the cosmos before the final blast.

A vibrant explosion of energy nearly disintegrates the flesh from her bones, but fight kicks in and the unstable blue field that envelops her as she falls is unprecedented. The rubble hums around her biotic made life-pod which doctors will study until eventually giving up months after she wakes.

“I guess Death was too afraid to take her a second time.”

Joker wipes away his tears and walks out of her room before anyone can scold him though Dana’s laugh follows him down the hallway and into a locked closet where he sits in silence for three hours.

She dreamed the whole time – from the second the last bullet hit the glass up to the Normandy entering Earth’s atmosphere at dangerous speeds. After a few days she eventually tells Garrus about Heaven; or what she assumes was her brain attempting to process the loss of her friends and her own potential demise. He doesn’t question her – having seen too much to doubt for one minute that Mordin was collecting shells on an ethereal beach.

What does surprise him is the disc she pulls from under her hospital gown when Tali finally stops by.

“She wanted me to hold onto his in case anything happened.”

Tali and Garrus exchange looks until it clicks at the same time.

“EDI…” he whispers as Tali takes the backup in her shaking hands, “How did she…?”

“I insisted. Before we hit Earth we’d talked about a few things – mainly about mortality and directive changes. I asked her if there was a way to preserve herself in case the Reapers demise had a negative effect on synthetics.”

Dana stares wistfully out of the window.

“She didn’t want to at first, stating that she wanted to be different from the Reapers who have existed for so long. I told her that she could save her life and still be better than the Reapers since organics have often looked for ways to cheat death since the dawn of time.”

“It is damaged,” Tali turns the disc in her hands over and over and hates herself for even voicing the fact when Dana sighs and curls in on herself.

“But it’s better than nothing. I’ll get started right away!”

“Don’t tell Joker,” Dana warns, “Not until she’s up making jokes.”

“Of course.”

Dana holds onto her belief that EDI could be returned to them and that belief only strengthens when Kasumi tells her about the survival of a handful of non-networked Geth.

“Their platforms are busted, but not beyond repair. Add the gratitude of the Quarians and it’s entirely possible they might return to their numbers in the future.”

“I thought the Crucible destroyed all synthetic life,” Garrus feels a headache coming on as Kasumi patches in Tali and they take turns explaining something that should’ve been impossible.

“Think about it like this Garrus,” Tali reasons, “we had several Quarians and Geth working on the Crucible – side by side – looking at it from all angles. If you think for one minute we didn’t realize the potential outcome of its activation you clearly haven’t been paying attention. It was a patch job; a last minute plan to see if it could be done. Not as many survived as we had hoped, but they can come back from this.”

“We all can.”

It’s not all ‘sunshine and daisies’ and Tali is quick to counter Dana’s budding enthusiasm, “It will be a long road. They’re not as advanced as they were before: Their processes have been reduced to simple commands and actions – similar to how they were before our home world was lost. However as they evolve and network we will ready to accept their growth. We will tell them of our history.”

“It’s better than genocide,” Dana points out and turns away from the door to sleep and dream in colors instead of ash.

Miranda comes by the next day with good news about her latest project.

“I can’t promise it’ll be easy, but these prosthetics were made for you – and only you Shepard. I’ll be here for every single step and stumble.”

“She did build you from scratch before.”

Dana rolls her eyes at Garrus, but still squeezes his hand as she lets Miranda uncover her leg. The nerve damage in her left side – hip to ankle – will never be fully repaired, but it’s better than the blank sheet where her right leg should’ve been. The scaring along her right side is still vivid and angry; streaks that rival her old Cerberus scars decorate her from head to missing toe.

“I used some of your old tissue locked in a safe house so the prosthetic won’t be rejected. It’s not completely organic, but then again neither are you.”

Dana snorts and the next couple hours are spent adjusting and swearing until she’s able to stand for the first time in months. Her nails dig into Miranda’s arms leaving behind tiny pink crescents beneath her uniform. They work on standing and sitting though Dana swears she is ready to move more than vertically.

“I know better than most what you’re capable of Shepard, but trust me when I say we need to take this slow. There aren’t any mechs blowing up the place so there’s no reason for you to be running around just yet.”

Dana does not pout though, Garrus will insist that she was, and listens to Miranda’s carefully detailed plan for the integration of her new limb and updated biotic implant. She lets herself get poke and prodded until the sun begins to set.

The night is spent walking with Ashley and laying beneath a giant palm tree as Mordin prattles on about the variety of shells present on their beach. The dreams don’t feel the same; coming to her more as echoes of an experience she cannot explain with words that don’t make her sound crazy. The ghosts that once trailed her every move have become shadows of themselves – melting beneath the sun of a war-ravaged reality demanding her attention more than ever.

“I think they saved my life,” she once confesses to Garrus after a long day of PT.

“Of course they did,” he responds as if it were the most natural thing in the world. He holds the data pad beneath his back with the promising numbers of Tali’s latest progress with EDI’s recovery. James and Grunt barge in before he can give her the good news, but he doesn’t mind when he sees the way her face lights up.

 

 

Eight months later – a year and two weeks after the Reapers were defeated – Dana is nearly shocked into the grave for a third time when a familiar synthesized voice greets her at the door.

“Hello Shepard.”

Joker snaps a vid of her face and threatens to frame it above his bed when she lunges for his omni-tool. He then proceeds to film their reunion; Dana smiling and crying as she hugs EDI close. EDI looks alarmed for a moment and then relaxes; carefully putting her arms around Dana’s shaking shoulders. He and Garrus watch until Jack pipes up from behind the doorway and asks if they’re going to just stand there like idiots or let them in.

Vision blurry, Dana’s able to make out the long line of people waiting to be invited into the apartment she shared with Garrus. They file in, Dana stands by the door with her arm wrapped protectively around EDI who seems content to stay put as greetings are made.

“Well Shepard,” Kaidan hands her a bottle of something outrageously expensive, “I think we’re due for another sanity check.”

“I’ll say,” Vega agrees reaching around Kaidan to ruffle her hair that’d grown past its original length. “I haven’t stopped moving since we hit Earth – I could use a siesta.”

While not as rowdy as their last shore leave, the atmosphere in the apartment borders on delirium as everyone plays catch-up. Dana can’t remember the last time she felt so alive and beneath the soft lights of her home the ghost of Marcus Shepard fades into the atmosphere.

Thank you,’ Dana prays not bothering to hide the stray tears that break from her violet eyes and race to freedom only to splash on the wooden floor.

The resounding cacophony of voices in her head sets her soul alight – a perilous inferno that threatens to consume all it touches until Garrus pulls her close and it morphs into a steady flame: Cleansing, an exorcism long overdue.

 

 

She is haunted no more.