“You must choose, Shepard.”
Shepard swayed, exhausted. The voices pressed close, whispers tugging and pushing at her mind, darkness on the edge of her vision.
But the choice was an impossible one.
God, I’m tired.
She looked from the three device controls and back, wondering how it had all come to this. It was wrong. All wrong. Anderson dead in the room below her, millions more dead and dying in the space outside, on Earth, on Thessia, on Palaven…and the remnant waiting, hoping.
But it all felt so wrong.
Shepard glanced back at the glowing…thing…behind her. She refused to call it a child, not with the way its non-existent eyes bored into her. The Intelligence that Leviathan had warned her about, the Reapers’ creator and guide.
“You must make a choice.”
The room felt tighter at its words, and she felt her chest constricting. Shepard looked down at her broken body as she struggled to breathe, took in what was left of her armor fused into her skin, and the blood running down burns and tears in her arms. Her abdomen and shoulder ached from where bullets had torn through them, one fired by a marauder before she could reach the beam, one fired by Anderson…
Wait, that wasn’t right. Hadn’t the Illusive Man forced her to shoot him?
Wasn’t that why the admiral was dead?
Shepard clutched her head, and wished it would stop pounding so loudly, so she could think.
“Shepard. You must choose.”
She clenched her teeth. “Why? Why me?”
“It must be you. Only you.”
That makes no sense. She stared at the panels again. No sense at all. None of this did. Not the choice, not the controls, not the words spewing from the glowing projection. But especially the choices. The choices… Control was out. She’d never give that Illusive bastard the satisfaction of being right. Synthesis…she could save EDI. The Geth. The eternal conflict between synthetic and organic would finally be over. Never again.
She could save them all.
The pressure in her head seemed to ease.
She could do it. No more war. It was an appealing thought. Because the Catalyst was right, they’d never be able to find peace between machine and man.
Wait, what the hell?
But didn’t I already accomplish that? The Geth and Quarians are at peace, after centuries. I did that. THEY did that. They’re even sharing Rannoch. And EDI has never wanted to be in conflict with us, her organic creators, her friends. Has even gone out of her way NOT to be.
Shepard’s brows pulled together. That was right, she knew it. Only the Reapers continued to fight, to destroy. And if she chose Synthesis, as somewhere in the back of her mind she realized the Catalyst obviously wanted her to, she knew she wouldn’t survive.
Liara would never forgive her.
“Promise me you’re always coming back.”
She hadn’t even hesitated. “I’m always coming back, Liara. Always.”
The memory surged through her, even as the weight closed around her again. I’m always coming back.
It was a promise she wanted desperately to keep.
But that meant destroying not just the Reapers, but the Geth and EDI as well. Could she be that selfish? I would happily give my life. But break a promise to Liara, if there was any way to avoid it? And the Catalyst seems to want it, so badly…
That felt wrong, too. The whole thing felt…wrong. There just wasn’t another word for it.
It was so, so wrong.
“You must choose, Shepard.” The Catalyst’s echoing voice teemed with impatience.
They had worked so hard for this. Worked so hard, with one goal in mind. Destroy the Reapers. The choice should have been easy.
The cost is too high.
Synthesis would save them all.
She wanted to drop there on the floor, to scream until the whispering stopped, and the pressure eased, but it only got worse.
She could shoot the Catalyst. But then, wouldn’t the Reapers win?
Goddess, Liara… I wish I didn’t have to do this.
The memory of their last night together tore through her mind, wrenching the breath from her lungs. Such painful, bittersweet beauty. But with it, came another memory. Something Liara had said to her one night, when they were both sick with worry over what would come, and Shepard had felt the overwhelming weight of her responsibility, the momentous task before her, and the weight of Harbinger’s threats.
“You have to remember, Shepard. The Reapers lie. It’s what they do. They dig into your mind, prey on your fears, give you just enough truth that you will swallow the lie.”
The Reapers lie.
The pressure around her intensified, but Shepard held onto that thought.
The Reapers lie. And hadn’t Catalyst-boy behind her flat out said he was basically one of them? That he had created them?
And Reapers always lie.
She held onto that truth like a lifeboat and stepped forward. Not to the center, but to the right, her staggered movements slowly gaining momentum as she repeated the words over and over in her head. Reapers lie. The voices around her grew louder, but her memories rose up to combat them, memories of her crew, her friends. Her family. Liara, Tali, Garrus, Ash, Miranda, James, all of them.
She raised her pistol with a smile as the last memory crashed over her, in all its irony. Jack, the Psychotic Biotic, a woman she’d be proud to call sister, and was damn proud to call friend.
“I will destroy you all!” Jack’s unrepentant battle cry, and the first words she’d heard her say.
Shepard pulled the trigger, and her gun fired, over and over.
You bet your fucking asses I will.
The glowing conduit in front of her blew in a giant red ball of flame. Shepard fired one last shot and turned back to the Catalyst with a feral grin. The creature seemed to ripple with rage as red light engulfed them. The next explosion knocked her down, but she laughed, even as the Catalyst howled.
Another explosion, and another.
Time seemed to contract. Scenes flashed faster and faster through her mind. A wave of red knocking Reapers out of the sky. The Normandy riding the red tide, crashing as it caught them. That didn’t seem right… London rejoicing.
And then the vision spun faster. Aftermath. Recovery. Mourning. The Geth gone, EDI gone.
The Citadel crumbling, the relays in pieces.
Liara placing her name on the memorial wall of the Normandy’s crew deck, tears coursing down her face, and too, too many names.
A far distant future, peace followed by war, as the cycle began again.
“Noooo!” A flash of biotics, pushing the weight off of her.
And then another voice, echoing hers. “No!”
Shepard forced her eyes open. What the fuck…?
“How, Shepard?” Her vision cleared enough to see Major Coates standing over her, his eyes wild, one hand on his head, the other holding a gun, pointed at her. “How? How can you be so strong?”
His teeth clenched, and Shepard dug for the energy for one more biotic throw, even as he continued to shout.
And then his head exploded.
She smiled. She’d know that growl anywhere. “Wrex?” She pushed up, gasping in pain. “Help me up.”
He reached out a hand. “Damn, Shepard. You look like you took on Kalros herself, and got spit back out.”
Shepard grimaced, taking quick stock. “I feel like it.” Her left arm was almost useless, and her armor half gone, burned off by Harbinger’s laser. Her head shot up to the conduit beam and beyond, where the Reaper still hung, red lightning skittering over its surface.
Wrex followed her glance. “That happened a minute ago. Dunno how long it’ll last, so we better move.”
The krogan shrugged. “Got me. It locked up, about the same time that pyjak started screaming, and then tried to shoot you. What did you do?”
She winced again, pushing forward. “I got hit by Harbinger’s laser. I should be dead, but… I think it actually tried to indoctrinate me. I remember being on the Citadel…”
Wrex bellowed a laugh. “Damn, Shepard! You must’ve fried it. Shoulda known better than to try that shit with you.”
Shepard shook her head, stumbling forward. “Whatever it did, or I did, we can worry about it later. We need to get to the Citadel, now, while we’ve got a shot.”
Wrex glanced back, nodding the other krogans forward. “You heard her! Move!” He turned back to her. “You realize you’ve got a piece of metal sticking out of your side, right?”
She glanced down in surprise. Sure enough, a section of rebar had gone right through the remains of her armor. “Fuck.” She used a bit of biotics to sheer off the end, but she didn’t stop moving. “Worry about it later.”
Wrex laughed again. “You sure you’re not really a krogan?”
One corner of Shepard’s mouth pulled up, just as she stepped into the conduit beam. “Maybe.”
She landed hard, the metal floor driving the breath out of her in a broken cry, and wrenching the rebar in her side. “Fucking hell.” She could hear screams around her, and gunfire. Guess the Citadel isn’t as lost as we thought, after all.
Wrex hooted as he flew out of the conduit beam, landing just beyond her. “Yeah! Just like Ilos, right Shepard?”
She grunted and pushed up slowly, before his hands lifted her the rest of the way. “Just like. Except for no Mako.”
“Thing was a piece of shit, anyway.”
She laughed, which made her wince. “Sure was. Never had anything that drove so impossibly bad.”
He grunted. “Yeah, I remember you letting me drive. I thought the tomkahs were bad.” He gave a small shudder, then winked.
“Nobody could drive that thing. Were you there when Tali tried? I was sure we were all gonna die. Did you know it survived the Collector attack, though? Damn thing landed on its wheels, fully intact.” She’d laughed her head off at that, when they’d found the last resting place of the SR-1 on Alchera.
Wrex grunted. “Figures. Where are we headed?”
Shepard looked up, trying to get her bearings, and pointed. “There, I think. Top of the control arm.”
Wrex bellowed orders to his krogans, and they were off. Fortunately, it wasn’t far, and if she remembered right, there ought to be an elevator…
A banshee’s scream tore through the air from behind them, tearing her from her thoughts. Shepard instinctively turned to confront it, but Wrex pulled her forward. “Looks like our reprieve is over. They’ve got it, Shepard. We have somewhere to be.”
The scream cut off in a dying wail just as they reached the elevator. Wrex ushered her in, cramming six more of his krogan squad with them, and punched the controls. She had just enough time to see several of them filling a second car before the door shut, and the carriage moved.
The ride seemed to take forever.
A prick along her neck startled her out of her drifting, only to realize she’d been leaning against Wrex’s chest.
“It’s not gonna fix that hole in your side, but the medi-gel should help a little. At least keep you awake.”
She grunted. “Thanks. I think my suit’s dispenser got fried.”
Wrex grinned. “You’re the only person I know who could fall asleep in the middle of the greatest battle the galaxy’s ever seen.”
Shepard didn’t answer, just gave an exhausted grin, and waited for the doors to open.
Her whole body buzzed by the time it did. “How much of that did you give me?”
Wrex shrugged and directed her out. “All of it. Where to?”
She nodded. “Well, the false high will keep me awake, at least. Operations should be through that door. We need to get the arms open.”
Wrex indicated, and two of the krogans pushed ahead of them, checking the room. “It’s clear.”
Shepard made a beeline for the main panel, pulling up the holographic interface controls with her omni-tool. “Glad the back-up power is still on.” She tapped a few controls. “Alliance fleet, this is Commander Shepard. Admiral Hackett, do you read?”
Static filled the room, turning to words as the signal pulled together. “…ackett, I read you Shepard.”
She grinned. “Get that Crucible moving, the arms are coming open.”
The station shook, confirming her words, as locks and seals released, and the blackness of space shone through.
“What’s your status, Commander?”
“I’m here with Urdnot Wrex, and a full compliment of krogan. They followed our charge, got me up here when the Reapers froze.” The fingers of her right hand flew across the controls, jumpstarting the enormous station’s main power, making sure life support and the kinetic and atmospheric shields were up. “Hammer’s main force was decimated by Harbinger, I don’t know more. I don’t know what the Citadel’s status is, either, but I can hear fighting, and I’m restoring main power. Looks like the back-ups held, so there’s at least a chance there are more than just a few people alive.”
A shout from outside, followed by the sound of guns firing made her look away for a moment. “Looks like we’ve got company, Admiral.” She didn’t ask if they were in place, she could see from the primary screen that the Crucible was already moving in, even as the station’s arms continued to open.”
“We’re moving as fast as we dare, Commander. Just hang in there.”
“We’ll take care of her, Admiral.” Wrex practically grinned at his promise. “Just get your damn contraption in.”
“Thank you, Warlord. Keep me posted, Commander. Hackett out.”
Shepard cut the com. Her right foot bounced, a nervous habit she hadn’t succumbed to in years, as her eyes darted across the feeds and screens. The medi-gel and fatigue were making her feel slightly loopy. Come on, come on, come on…
As the station opened wider, and power levels climbed, reports filed in. She was glad to see there was fighting in almost every section of the Citadel—fighting meant that there were people who were alive.
Not rotting corpses, waiting to be harvested. Alive and fighting.
Fuck yeah, hoo-rah.
Proximity sensors lit up as the Crucible closed in, the bulbous head coming to a rest surrounding the operational section of the control arm where Shepard was. The station shook again, and whined as power began to build.
From her omni-tool, Shepard activated the Prothean VI, Vendetta. It flickered to life.
“Detecting. The Crucible is in place, and complete. Energy levels at sixty-five percent and rising. Initiating startup sequence.”
More panels flickered to life around her. “Vendetta, how long until full power?”
“Eighty percent. Another ninety-three seconds to full capacity. Bringing up controls now.”
An entirely new holographic display unfolded before her.
“Full capacity. The Crucible is ready to fire.”
“You must initiate the sequence, I cannot. The control is before you.”
Shepard stared at the simple display. A giant red holographic button. Now this, this is right. No weird shit, no insane choices, just a big-ass red button.
“Come on, Shepard. What are you waiting for?”
She grinned, and covered the button with her hand, activating it with her omni-tool. “Not a damn thing, Wrex.”
The world turned white and gold.
She wasn’t sure if the light faded, or her cybernetic eyes adjusted, but the room dimmed moments (or hours) later. Shepard felt, more than heard, Wrex pulling her up, dragging her away. Come to think of it, she didn’t hear much of anything, just her lungs breathing, her heart beating. Wrex seemed so far away, even after she felt herself picked up and cradled against him. He ran for the elevator, his krogans all around them, and then they were in, the doors closing behind them.
And then they were falling.
Yeah, sorry, all I really wanted out of the Crucible was a big fat red doomsday button to push. And the krogan. Why the hell Wrex and his krogan weren't part of that drive to the conduit is beyond me. They should've been.
Liara gripped the bench as the medbay shook, and a moment later Joker’s voice blasted over the com.
“Everybody hold tight, the Crucible is firing, and we’ve got to get out of the damn way!”
The room erupted in a deafening cheer, but Liara closed her eyes. By the Goddess, she did it.
Watch over her, Athame.
A hand touched her shoulder, and Liara looked up into the face of Dr. Chakwas. “She’ll be alright.”
She couldn’t answer, just nodded.
The ship lurched again, then stabilized as the dampers kicked in. The doctor glanced up, then turned back to her. “Let’s finish getting you taken care of, why don’t we? The Commander will have my head if she comes back, and you’re not on your feet.”
Liara smiled, in spite of her worry. “You know that’s not true, Karin.”
The doctor sniffed. “Yes, well. Be that as it may. I don’t like the look of this gash, so off with the armor.”
Liara winced as Chakwas gingerly pulled off the chest plate and left thigh piece. It was stupid, really. If she’d just gotten her barrier up in time, she’d have been fine. But she’d been too focused on Shepard, and hadn’t seen the truck until it was too late, and Garrus was pushing her out of the way. Mostly out of the way, because the Goddess-cursed thing had ripped a hole in her armor, from hip to thigh. Among other things.
“I wish you’d wear a helmet, Liara, instead of just that breather.” Shepard glared, and she laughed.
“If I don’t have to, I would rather not. They impede my vision, and I would prefer to see as much around me as possible.”
Now that she’d lost the tip of one of her crest flanges, Liara wished she’d listened. It would grow back, but the damned things did bleed terribly…
The soothing cool of medi-gel brought Liara back, as Dr. Chakwas slathered it over her side and leg.
“Not too bad, I’m glad to say, but you’ll need to take it easy so that you don’t rip the binding glue.” The doctor stood, checking over the cut above her right eye, and the severed crest flange. “That seems to be the worst of it.”
“Thank you, Doctor.”
Karin smiled, and squeezed her hand. “My pleasure. I’m afraid that armor is likely done for. Why don’t you go change?”
Liara stood, gingerly. “Thank you. I think I will. Good thing Shepard insisted we all have several sets.”
“She’s definitely a smart one, our Commander.” The woman gave her a parting wink, and walked back to the rest of her patients.
Liara hobbled out of the medbay as the ship shook, and over to her cabin. “EDI, what’s our status?”
“We have cleared the energy released by the Crucible. Jeff is jumping us back into Earth space now. We should know in a few moments if it worked.”
Liara took a deep breath, and started stripping off her damaged armor. She felt bruised and beaten all over, but if there was even the slightest chance the Crucible had worked, and Shepard was still alive, there wasn’t a force in the galaxy that could stop her from finding her.
“Dr. T’soni.” Glyph’s polite tone held a hint of urgency. “I am monitoring communications coming in from all over Sol. It appears the Commander was successful, and the Reapers are—”
“Liara, get your blue asari ass up here to the bridge!” She jumped at the excitement in Joker’s voice. “You want to hear this!”
“I’m on my way.”
She clipped the last seal on her fresh armor, and hobbled as fast as she could towards the bridge.
Ash rammed a fresh thermal clip in her shotgun and emptied another high-velocity round into the charging husk. “Damn fuckers! So tired of these creepy-ass reaper ground troops. It’s like they watched every last one of those horrible twentieth-century zombie movies Shepard loves so much, and decided to try and recreate every single one of them!”
“No way!” Vega laughed, mowing down more husks with his Mattock. “You know, LC, I think you may be right! I’m never gonna look at zombie movies the same way again.”
“I can’t believe you let her get you hooked on those things.”
Vega shrugged, and tossed a few grenades. “Senseless violence can be relaxing.”
Ash rolled her eyes, and switched her shotgun for her sniper rifle, so she could take down a few marauders that had just dropped. “When you’re not in the middle of it.”
“You know I’m right, LC.”
She dropped the last marauder, and finally let herself smile. “Maybe. Shit, incoming!” Ash dropped behind cover as five brutes dropped just forward of their position. “Tali! We could use a few of those drones of yours!”
“Sure thing, Ash!” Tali’s head popped out from the blind and sent a handful of drones out after the brutes, and the marauders dropping in behind them.
“Hang on, ladies. Been saving the last two charges on this baby for just such an occasion.” Vega slung his Mattock to his back, and pulled out an M920 Cain. “Eat shit, you ugly ass turian-krogan-zombie…things! Wooooo!”
The Cain let loose with a blast that knocked down all but one of the brutes. Ash popped back up, pulling out the Harrier Shepard had given her. “Light ‘em up!”
The three of them threw everything at the charging brute, bringing it down just short of their position. They looked at each other with a relieved sigh, and popped fresh clips in their guns, just as a banshee screamed nearby.
Ash groaned. “God, it never ends. Shepard better hurry her ass up, and get that crucible firing. I’m down to my last three clips.”
“Same here, LC.”
Tali handed them each a few more. “That leaves us all with five, unless I can scavenge us a few more. There might be—”
The quarian’s voice cut off sharply as she was knocked back by a sniper shot.
“Fucking marauders!” Ash found the sniper and took him down, before turning back to her crewmates. “Tali?”
Vega crouched over her, frantically pulling a med-kit apart. “Shit! There has to be some medi-gel left in here!”
“Dammit!” Ash scanned around them, then quickly joined Vega, just as he found some medi-gel. “Her suit’s punctured, that’s really not good. Tali?”
The quarian groaned. “Bosh’tet! I’m alright, Ash. I mean, I’m not, but I’m not going to die right—Keelah se’lai!”
Ash spun, Harrier at the ready, and froze in shock as the wave of white gold energy bore down on them, sweeping everything before it. She stood slowly, the rifle falling useless to her side. “And out of darkness came the hands that reach thro’ nature, moulding men.”
And then the blast reached them.
“…from Earth say that all Reapers and their ground forces have ceased to function. We’re still trying to establish contact with the Citadel, and we’ve had no word from either the Commander or Urdnot Wrex.”
Liara pulled up short at Hackett’s voice. “What was Wrex doing there?”
Joker grinned. “Apparently he invited himself to Shepard’s party.”
Hackett continued. “The hospital fleet is inbound, and we’re mobilizing both a search and rescue team, and a large recovery team to assess the Citadel’s status. Shepard did say that emergency power had held, and that there was active fighting, but we have no way of knowing the extent of the damage to the population. The structure, at least, seems mostly undamaged by the energy blast.”
Joker cut in. “Admiral, the Normandy requests permission to assist in the S and R team.”
“I had a feeling you might. If you have a shuttle, send over a crew.”
“Hackett-Admiral. The geth also wish to help search for Shepard-Commander.”
“Of course. The Destiny Ascension has a team of commandos that will meet you there. Shepard was last located in the station’s control arm ops center. I wish I had more information than that, but it’s as good a place as any to rendezvous and begin your search. Good luck. Now, the fleet status…”
“One last thing, Admiral.” Liara took a breath while Hackett acknowledged her interruption. “If you can locate Miranda Lawson, and have her on standby. She oversaw Shepard’s reconstruction the last time, and would be an asset if the Commander is badly injured.”
“We’ll track her down, Dr. T’soni.”
“Thank you.” Liara tuned the rest of the conference out. “Joker, I’m going to get Garrus. Who have we got who can fly a shuttle?”
“There’s a squad of Marines in the shuttle bay. They’ve got two pilots, and I’m betting they’d love to go with you.”
Ash stood up slowly, not quiet believing she was still alive. “Vega? Tali? You two still there?”
“We’re good, LC.”
She nodded, dumbstruck by the sight before her. Not a single husk remained; even the corpses were disintegrating as she watched. And in the sky, reapers fell, like empty shells, out of the sky.
“Holy fuck. She did it.”
Around her, slowly, a cheer went up, growing until it drowned everything else.
Liara had the shuttle door open before it had even landed, and Garrus was right behind her. He’d been nervously clicking his mandibles the entire ride, and neither of them had spoken, not wanting to voice their shared fears. The geth and asari parties were already there, scanning the ruined debris of what had once been the station’s control arm. Above them, the remaining section drifted, detached from both the station and the still-connected Crucible.
“Doctor T’Soni.” A geth trooper stood in front of her, waiting patiently for acknowledgement.
“Have you found her?”
“No, but we continue to search. We have cleared—“ The geth froze, cocking his head, then began again. “Correction. Shepard-Commander has been located.”
Liara’s breath stuck in her chest. “Is she alive?”
The geth cocked his head again. “Organic life signs are weak. She is broken. We will begin repairs once Shepard-Commander has been uncovered. Your biotics may be of assistance.”
She turned to Garrus, who immediately ran back to the shuttle, and then followed the geth. Liara had only taken a few steps when a familiar bellow echoed through the maintenance ring’s section.
Liara glanced at the geth, and ran towards the sound of angry krogan. She added her biotics to those of the commando squad working to lift the giant piece of metal debris from what looked like an elevator shaft. Several geth primes helped guide it out of the way, catching it as the asari turned back to the debris pile.
“You’re sure taking your sweet time out there. Hurry it up already, will ya?”
Liara smiled, despite her panic. “Wrex? Is Shepard with you?”
He roared as another piece shifted. “Liara? Yeah, I’ve got Shepard, now get us the hell out of here! Damned elevator’s crushing my leg!”
They worked quickly, pulling the rest of the debris apart, until a handful of krogan emerged, followed by Wrex, clutching something to his chest.
Liara’s knees buckled as she realized what—or rather, who—the krogan warlord held. “Goddess, Wrex, is that…”
The krogan nodded, growling as the geth moved forward. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Shepard-Commander is in need of repair.”
“No shit. So get a damn doctor already.”
“Shepard-Commander is in need of repair. Her inorganic parts are broken. We will repair them.”
Wrex glanced at Liara, clearly confused. “I think they mean her cybernetics. If they fail, her heart will stop. Let them.”
The krogan shrugged, and gently passed the limp body over to the waiting geth. Liara approached as they laid her down on a flat surface, but didn’t say anything more. She just sat, carefully taking the commander’s bloody hand.
Please be alright, Kylie. Please come back. You promised me.
Ashley quotes the final lines of Tennyson's In Memoriam.
So much light, it felt dark.
Or maybe it was the other way around. Can darkness feel bright? That didn’t seem right, either.
Dark. Light. Maybe neither.
I didn’t matter. Nothing mattered, against the screaming in her head. Blood-red screaming, a galaxy dying.
Did I succeed? Or did I fail?
So tired. Everything hurts.
Just want to stop, for a minute.
Is it over?
Just for a minute. Some quiet would be so nice.
“Please come back. You promised me.”
“Garrus!” Ash smiled as the turian looked up and headed towards her. “Glad to see you made it, and with only a few new scars. Damn, you look like you had a tank dropped on you. What’s the news?”
“I did, mostly. Shepard stopped it, sort of.” He sighed, and collapsed into a chair. “She’s in surgery. Hackett managed to get Miranda here to meet us, but Shepard’s in bad shape. The geth had to do field repairs to her cybernetics to keep her from crashing.”
Ash stared at him. “The geth?”
Garrus shrugged. “They asked to help, and I’m glad they did. Her implants were failing when we finally pulled her and Wrex out of the rubble. If they hadn’t been there to stabilize her, I think we might’ve lost her for good, this time.”
Ash whistled, taking it all in. “I still can’t believe she did it.”
“You and me both, especially after that tank almost pinned us, and she shoved Liara and I back on the Normandy. How did you end up here?”
Here was an asari hospital ship, the Iolesa. “Tali got shot, punctured her suit just before the Crucible fired. We called Cortez, who grabbed a shuttle for emergency evac, and brought us to the closest ship, which was here. James is in with her, now, while we wait to see if she’s stable, or if she needs a priority transfer to the Migrant Fleet. I think Cortez went back for another run.”
Garrus’s mandibles clicked nervously. “She’s not, I mean…”
“She was still talking when we reached the Iolesa, so I’m pretty sure she’ll be fine. The shot definitely wasn’t mortal, on its own. Just the shoulder. And her suit wasn’t badly damaged.”
The turian slowly sat back. “Good. That’s good.”
Ash’s brain kicked past the exhaustion. “Are you two… Oh my God, Garrus, you’re actually blushing. Ha!” She bumped him in the shoulder with her fist. “Good for you. When James comes back, you should go see her.”
“Yeah, maybe I will. So, you and Vega?”
Ash shrugged, and looked at the floor with a grin. “Maybe. I guess. It was kind of one of those the world’s ending, so why the hell not? kinds of thing, so I don’t know. We’ll see.”
He laughed softly. “Yeah. We’ll see. Part of me can’t believe we actually pulled it off. That we’re sitting here talking, and the Reapers are gone.”
“I know. I keep waiting for someone to come tell me the world’s still ending.”
“You and me both, Ash. You and me both.” He sat back, stretching his legs out. “Heard from anyone else?”
She shook her head. “No. Seen a lot of rushing here and there and everywhere, but nobody I recognize. Honestly, I was contemplating curling up on this chair and falling asleep.”
Garrus nodded, then reached out. “You know, you should have someone look at these cuts. That one on your face looks deep.”
Ash grimaced. “Skipper always did yell at me for not wearing a helmet.”
“She yells at all of us. And she’ll wake up, and yell at us some more.”
She laughed, and then leaned over onto the turian’s shoulder. “I hope so, Garrus. Having her die once was hard enough. I don’t think the galaxy can handle it again.”
“Hm. Screw the galaxy. I don’t think we can handle it.”
Ash sighed. The exhaustion was catching up with her. “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.”
Garrus leaned his head back and closed his eyes. “Another one of your poets?”
She nodded. “One of my favorites.”
“Sounds like a good one.”
They sat like that for a moment, content in quiet companionship, before the silence was shattered by shouts.
“…think I know I’ve got a fucking hole in my side! I don’t care! Patch me the hell up already, I have things to do!”
Ash stared at Garrus, who laughed. “Jack. Come on, maybe we can help calm her down. At the very least, we should keep her from destroying the ship while Shepard and Tali are on it.”
Shepard stared up into the clear blue sky, the sun beating warm on her face, and smiled. It felt so good to just sit, just be. No one demanding anything, no one arguing or shouting, nothing to save or kill or do. Nothing aching, or burning, no dread wearing away at her, or urgent worry pulling her.
Just peace. Quiet.
A deep breath, and sunshine.
Liara would love this. I should go find her.
Just the two of us.
She’d like that. I’d like that.
Shepard sighed, a happy, content sound. The sunshine felt so good. Like a warm blanket, a lover’s caress.
Where is Liara? She should be here…
Shepard’s eyebrows pulled together and down, suddenly unsure where exactly here even was. She pushed up off the ground, and almost immediately fell down, the sharp pain in her abdomen crippling her.
You promised, Shepard.
The sun turned so bright, the sky went black. The shadows closed in, reaching for her, tearing at her with guilty, accusing voices.
“Dammit, someone shut those alarms off! Liara, I need you to hold her down, I—shit!”
Liara’s biotics caught Shepard’s body, throwing her in stasis, even as the monitors continued to shriek. Med techs scrambled around the room, rushing to do Miranda’s bidding, but the asari only had eyes for the unconscious redhead before her.
She’s not dead. Not this time.
Shepard’s eyes flickered beneath their lids. She was in there, somewhere, Liara knew. Beneath the pain of her broken body, and whatever the Crucible’s energy had done to her.
Liara reached out with her mind, stroking gently at the walls of Shepard’s mental shields.
Come back to me, love. You promised, Shepard.
It seemed like forever before the disturbance coalesced into a quiet beeping, and longer before Shepard could identify it as a simple heart rate monitor. The other pieces slowly fell into place—the tight pressure of bandages, the antiseptic smell, the softness beneath her.
Hospital. There. That hadn’t been too hard.
If only putting her own pieces together was as simple.
Shepard took a deep breath, exhaling as slowly as she had inhaled. Her body felt—not a hundred percent, that’s for sure. Nowhere near. She ached all over. Her left arm only had partial sensation, and there was a dull throb in her right shin. There was a vague memory of something wrong with her abdomen—she’d been shot? Or had it been rebar? Either way, the area ached, but not too badly.
Why do I feel like… Like I have two different memories? Like I did something twice? The same thing? But it was different…
And why does it feel like something has me pinned?
Shepard gave herself a mental shake. It would come. In the meantime, she focused on opening her eyes.
“Shepard. You never could manage to stay under as long as I preferred.”
She blinked once, then again rapidly, forcing herself to place the velvety voice and accent, looking for the right name as the familiar face came into view. “Miranda,” she finally croaked.
The dark-haired woman smiled. “Welcome back.”
“An asari hospital ship, the Iolesa. We’re still in Sol.”
“How—” The words dissolved against her raw throat. Taking a slow sip from the straw Miranda offered, Shepard swallowed and tried again. “How long?”
“Three weeks. Not bad, all things considered. But you’re not done yet, I’m afraid. The fracture in your leg needs a few more days, at least, and I’m afraid I had to completely regrow your left arm from the elbow down. Again. And don’t get me started on the rebar we had to pull out of your stomach, or the skin I had to regrow after we finally managed to remove the armor that had fused itself to your body. Good God, Shepard. You don’t do anything by halves, do you? Those scars are never going to heal at this rate.”
Shepard laughed, which quickly turned to a coughing fit, which shifted the weight on her chest. When she finally looked down, it was into a pair of sleepily blinking blue eyes, and then she completely forgot how to breathe.
Liara froze a second later, as Shepard raised her good hand to touch the asari’s face.
Shepard’s throat closed tight with emotion as her bondmate whispered her name. She barely heard Miranda’s amused voice, as she excused herself from the room. And then Liara was there, lips gentle against her own, opening their bond and enveloping her in a moment of pure, unadulterated love and joy.
Goddess, you had me worried, Kylie.
Shhhh, It’s alright. I’m here. She held her bondmate as Liara cried, finally able to release all the fear and worry and gladness she had been holding onto. In return, Shepard fed her peace and love, her own joy at being alive and able to hold the woman she loved so fiercely again.
It was forever and no time at all, when the moment ended, and Liara pulled back, gingerly easing out of the bond until they lingered at the edge of their connection. Shepard’s fingers rose to trace a light blue line that crossed over the asari’s eye. “What’s this?”
Liara captured her hand. “Nothing. It’s healing.” She turned and placed a light kiss to the center of Shepard’s palm. “I’m more concerned with how you’re feeling.”
Shepard smiled crookedly. “Probably better than I have any right to. Miranda was explaining when you woke up.”
“Oh! I should bring her back in. I’d like to hear, as well.” Liara tapped her com without releasing Shepard’s hand, which made Shepard smile. “Miranda?”
The door hissed open. “Is it safe to come in, or am I going to die from extreme lovesick exposure?”
Shepard rolled her eyes. “You’re just jealous. But I promise we’ll keep a lid on it.”
Miranda grinned as she walked back around the bed. “Shepard, anyone with two brain cells and half a heart would be jealous of how absurdly cute the two of you are. I’d just prefer not to drown in it.”
Shepard moved to wave her off with her free hand, and stopped short. “That’s…huh.”
Miranda tapped the semi-opaque metallic casing. “As I was saying, your left arm is still being regrown. It’s got a week or two before it’s finished, I believe. Your burns have healed, and faster than I expected, but for the love of God, Shepard. You were burned over eighty percent of your body. None of the krogan were, so it couldn’t have been from the Crucible—what the hell happened?”
Shepard grimaced. “Harbinger.”
Miranda stared at her, eyes wide. “You’re telling me you survived a direct hit from a Reaper’s primary laser? Shepard, that’s impossible. It would’ve vaporized you.”
She shook her head. “I don’t think it wanted to kill me. I think…” Shepard scowled again. “I don’t know. My head is a jumble of memories that don’t make sense. Like there are two sets for the same events. I remember activating the Crucible twice, once with Anderson, once with Wrex. I remember my stomach injury as both a gunshot, and being impaled by rebar…” She trailed off as the memories came faster, gripping Liara’s hand tight as they burned through her brain, two parallel and vastly different versions of the same event.
“You said the geth. They made it? And EDI? Is she…are they…the Crucible firing, it didn’t…”
“They’re fine, Shepard. In fact, the geth helped save you.” Miranda gave her a slightly worried look. “What is it?”
She shook her head again, trying to align her memories. They were so jumbled…
Shepard felt Liara reach to expand their connection again, and immediately pulled away. She regretted the look of hurt it caused, but she wasn’t ready to share that yet, wasn’t ready to cause her bondmate that much pain. Because she knew Liara, knew that beneath the tough exterior she’d developed over the course of their mutual association, the asari was still the gorgeous, kind person she’d fallen in love with. It would hurt her immensely to know what Shepard had gone through, and she couldn’t inflict that kind of pain and confusion on her, not yet. So Shepard squeezed her hand and gave a small shake of her head, and gave her lover a look that she hoped promised they would talk about it later.
“Well, I can tell you it was rebar.” Miranda reached behind her and held up a six-inch metal rod. “No gunshot, not to your abdomen, anyway. And it was Wrex they pulled out of the Citadel with you. Anderson was still on the ground. But Shepard, there’s something else.”
The commander watched as Miranda gave a sidelong glance at Liara, and her brows pulled together. “What is it?”
Shepard turned to her bondmate, who hesitated before she began. “After the Crucible fired, and the Reapers crashed, Hackett organized a Search and Rescue team to look for you. Garrus and I, a squad of asari commandos, and the geth volunteered. When we found you, you were barely alive. The geth said your cybernetics were failing, so they…fixed them.”
Shepard turned to Miranda with a confused look, but the woman just shrugged. “They’re well beyond even me now. But here’s the real clinch, and I haven’t even told Liara yet.”
She felt her bondmate stiffen next to her.
“You were caught directly in the core of the Crucible’s blast, Shepard, and none of us are really sure what kind of energy it was. We just built it, and hoped for the best. But it was something we’ve never seen before. And I don’t know if it’s that, or the upgrades the geth gave you, or a combination of them and God knows what else, but from what I’m seeing, well, Shepard, you’ll outlive us all.”
Shepard stared at her. “Wait, what?”
Miranda pulled up a holographic interface with a few diagrams. “The upgrades the geth made to your implants and nanites basically mimic the same cellular regeneration found in the asari, though you’ll still heal faster because of the nanites. You’ve become a true blending of organic and synthetic, something totally unique. It’s fascinating, really…”
Miranda continued, but Shepard didn’t hear her. She was too busy staring at the look of awe on Liara’s face. They’d had the lifespan talk, but she’d tried hard not to think about it, knowing that even if they both survived the Reapers, she’d still be forced to leave Liara one day.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake. I’m just going to leave you two alone for a while. Let me know when you’re done being sickeningly in love, will you? The others will want to know you’re awake. Oh, and Shepard, I took the liberty of checking on the Orizaba. They’re a day or two out, but the Admiral is on her way. Liara, try not to tire her out.”
She missed half of what Miranda said, but her head popped up at the mention of her mother’s ship. “Mom? She made it? She’s okay?”
Miranda paused at the door. “She is. Liara can set up a com, if you don’t want to wait.”
Shepard watched her leave in shock. “She made it. God, I didn’t even…”
“She’s been in to check on you a number of times. We all have.”
The commander swallowed, turning back to look at Liara. “Who else? Who…” She couldn’t finish the question. It hurt too much to think that some of her crew, her family might not have survived.
“Everyone. Garrus and Grunt have a few more scars to add to their collections, but they’re fine. Tali had a close encounter with a sniper and a suit puncture, but she was released from the hospital ship a few days ago, good as new. Jack took a beating protecting a few of her kids, but she’s been up for a week kicking all our asses. Even if she is limping while she does it. James, Ash, and Steve all came out with relatively minor injuries.
“I’ve had word from Samara and Javik both. They paired up during the fight, and seem to have stuck together. Jacob got in touch, and I’ve heard enough rumors about Zaeed that I’m certain he’s fine. Joker and EDI, and the rest of the Normandy came out of it best, completely unharmed. Hackett’s been utilizing them heavily. Even Kasumi left me a note, saying she was well.”
Shepard swallowed, shocked. “God. How did we get so lucky?”
Liara nuzzled her palm, and kissed it. “We had a brilliant Commander, who gave us enough belief to survive.”
Shepard closed her eyes for a moment, feeling overwhelmed. They all survived. All of them. “I can’t believe…” She had so many deaths on her conscience, thought she’d have so many more… “Wrex?”
“Already back on Tuchanka, keeping the krogan in line. He’ll be limping for a few months, but he’s absurdly proud of the scars on his leg.”
“And Anderson? What about Kahlee Sanders?”
Liara sighed. “Anderson was badly injured. A carrier landed on him, crushing his legs. He’s in recovery now, and Kahlee has spent a good deal of time there with him.”
“But he survived?”
Liara squeezed her hand. “Yes. He survived.”
Shepard reached out to trace the asari’s face, suddenly wanting nothing more than to hold her.
“What is it, Shepard?”
Liara smiled, and hit the control for the bed’s railing, then climbed up to lay next to her. “Goddess, I was worried for you, Kylie.”
Shepard took a ragged breath, accepting the total relief she found simply having Liara next to her. “I missed you.”
“And I missed you. Shepard, why did you shut me out, earlier?”
“Liara, I…” She turned her head to rest against her lover’s crest. “I need time. I don’t understand everything that happened, but so much of it… I don’t… I can’t put you through that. Not yet. I need to sort it out myself, first.” She swallowed against the tears that wouldn’t be held back.
Liara turned until they rested forehead to forehead. “Oh, Kylie. I will be here, whenever you’re ready. I do not want you to go through this alone, not when I can help. But if you need time, you have it.”
“I love you, Liara.”
“And I love you, my dearest Commander.”
I know, I know, I am sooooo sorry! Deadlines suck. Real life sucks. I will get the rest of this posted, I promise. Eventually.
The shadows taunted, accused. The trees reached for her, clutching, seeking. Harbinger’s voice.
You will fail. You will die.
“You must choose, Shepard.” The glowing form of the Catalyst stared at her as the shadows closed in.
“Why didn’t you save us, Commander?”
“Save us, Shepard!”
You cannot stop the Harvest.
The shadows grew closer, reaching, surrounding her. She turned, and turned again. Panicked. No exit.
“Your fault, Commander!”
“You let us die!”
Your struggle is useless. You will fail.
The world around her burned.
Need to move. Need to get out, before they come back. She could still hear the screaming, the blood-red screaming, but her body didn’t want to move.
Too many shapes in the dark.
She rolled, and fell down. Shapes moved, things crashed. Where is my gun? She stumbled up, and fell again, as her body refused to respond.
Have to move.
Have to move.
“…give it a day before she’s going nuts.” Ash laughed. “You know how she gets.”
“I’m afraid you’re probably right.” Liara heard the crash as the hatch slid open, saw Shepard fall, and struggle to get back up again. “Oh, Goddess. Ash, help me.”
They raced forward, Liara barely catching the commander as she fell again.
“Shepard! What are you doing? You’re not—”
“Got to get out, before they come back. Not defensible here. No gun.” Her hands sparked blue, then faded. “Fuck. Biotics not… Have to go. Have to…”
“Is she conscious right now? Because she’s not making any sense.” Ash grabbed her other side, and together, they maneuvered Shepard back to the bed.
“No! Have to get out…”
“Shepard!” Liara grabbed her bondmate’s face, forcing her to look at her. “You’re safe. We’re safe. You’re on a hospital ship. You can’t go, your body is still fragile.”
“Reapers coming. Have to…”
“Kylie. Goddess, look at me, love.”
Panic reigned for a few more moments, then began to bleed out of Shepard’s eyes as recognition set in. “…Liara?”
She nodded. “I’m here, Shepard. Ashley, too.”
The commander stared at them, confused. “I don’t…how…”
Liara reached out for their bond, with the lightest of touches. She wanted so badly to take away the pain in her lover’s mind, but she respected Shepard too much to go against her wishes. “You activated the catalyst. The Reapers are gone. We’re safe.”
The hatch wooshed open behind them. “God in heaven, Shepard!” Miranda stormed in, busy on her omni-tool. “What the hell did you do? And your biotics don’t work because I gave you a suppressant. You were wreaking havoc on my lab.”
Liara squeezed Shepard’s hand as she watched things slowly fall back into place. “Are you alright?”
Shepard let out a shuddering breath. “I…yeah. Yeah, I think. Sorry. Hey, Ash.”
“You just can’t handle not stirring things up, can you, Commander?” The Normandy’s XO smirked, but Liara could see the concern in her eyes.
“You know me, LC.” The muddled haze hadn’t quite faded, but it was getting there.
“Well stop being you for a bit, and get better, alright?” The Alliance officer shook her head, and helped Miranda clean up the machines Shepard had knocked over. “Miranda might kick your ass if you do this again.”
“Damned right. The asari have biotic restraints on these beds. Don’t make me use them.” She ran another scan, and shook her head. “You’re lucky you only stressed that fracture. Any more, and you might’ve re-broken it. Try and stay in bed this time, will you?”
“You should be. I was finally getting some sleep.” The former operative shook her head. “Well, minimal damage done. I’ll come back in a few hours to check on you. Don’t let her get up, Liara.”
She squeezed Shepard’s hand. “I won’t.”
Ash moved towards the door. “I should get going, too. Hackett’s got another run for us to make today. Good to see you awake, Skipper. I’ll tell the crew hi for you.”
Shepard’s eyes slowly came back to her as the two women left. Liara could see confusion and frustration there.
“Do you want to talk about it, Kylie?”
Shepard turned away. “Just dreams. Bad dreams. I’m fine.”
Liara pressed her lips together, but she knew Shepard. Pushing wouldn’t help. So she sighed, and fiddled with her omni-tool. “Here. This should cheer you up.”
“I don’t need—”
“Orizaba, Admiral Shepard speaking. Oh, Liara, it’s you! How is she?”
Liara smiled. “See for yourself.”
“Kylie! Oh, thank God! It’s so good to see you awake, honey…”
Liara kissed Shepard’s hand, and settled back to watch the Shepard women talk. It wasn’t wasn’t what she wanted, though it was good to see Shepard smile—what she wanted was to figure out what was going on in her bondmate’s head. Now, however, was not the time. Shepard was still weak, still recovering. But they were going to have that talk, and soon.
I am horribly sorry for abandoning this. It wasn't intentional, I swear! Life gets overwhelming sometimes. Like right now when I should be working on revisions, or promotion for the book that comes out next week (Yikes!), and instead am playing with Mass Effect fanfic, because what else would I be doing? Thanks everyone who continues to read and love this.
Shepard took a deep breath, and gently levered herself off the bed. Her left arm, still in its regen casing, was beginning to feel more normal, but it was still basically useless for anything short of a prop. Slowly, she put her weight onto her feet, hissing at how weak she felt, until finally she was standing. Well, leaning, really, on the crutch attached to her free arm, but it was better than lying in bed indefinitely.
“Well done, Shepard.”
She aimed a sideways grin at Miranda. “Can I finally have some real clothes, now? These hospital wraps are making me crazy.”
Miranda laughed. “There are some in the bathroom. I assumed you’d want a shower, now you’re up.”
“Yes, please, God. I need to deal with my hair, too, since half of it got burnt off by Harbinger. Fucking Reaper. Couldn’t just kill me, had to insult me by leaving me alive with half a head of hair.”
“You could always shave the sides and back like Jack does, since you’re halfway there already.”
“I thought you hated that haircut.”
Miranda shrugged, but didn’t look up. “Just because I say something, doesn’t mean it’s true. Especially not when I’m arguing. She carries it off well, especially with the tattoos. You could too.”
Shepard snorted. “I knew it! Unresolved sexual tension, that was always you two’s problem. But that’s not a half bad idea, really. I wonder how Li would feel about it…”
“Feel about what?”
Shepard grinned, and took a few carefully hobbled steps forward into her bondmate’s arms. “Shaving the sides of my head, like Jack. Of course, Jack might kill me for trying to impersonate her, so maybe not. And hey, speak of the devil…”
“You know it. Hey, Blue” Jack walked in the room behind Liara, her usual swagger interrupted by a limp. “I dunno, Shepard. Might put a cramp in my individuality.”
Shepard smiled, and hugged the woman. “It was Miranda’s idea anyway. Good to see you.”
Jack returned the hug with a quick squeeze. “Likewise.” She turned to Miranda with a nod. “Bitch.”
Miranda glanced up. “Cunt.”
And then Jack walked over and kissed Miranda on the cheek. Shepard coughed, and turned to Liara with a look of shocked confusion. Liara gave her that knowing smile of hers by way of reply.
“Okay, Shepard, here’s the deal.” Jack turned back to her like nothing had happened. “You can shave the sides of your head, but you have to let me give you a tat. Up to you.”
Shepard laughed. “Hmm. Tough choice. But at this point, it’s either that, or cut off all my hair so it’s at least the same length, and I don’t think I can handle short hair again. I couldn’t stand it in the Academy.” She glanced at Liara. “What do you think?”
Liara looked back with a hint of mischief in her eye. “Get the tattoo.”
Jack barked a laugh. “Fuck yeah, way to go Li.”
Shepard laughed. “I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?” She gave an overly dramatic sigh, and slowly managed to turn back to the bathroom. “I’m going to shower. We can discuss hair and tattoos after.”
Miranda cleared her throat. “I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but Liara, you’ll need to help her.”
Jack glared at her. “What the fuck is wrong with that suggestion?”
Miranda rolled her eyes. “You haven’t had to deal with them the last few days. The level of lovey-dovey cuteness those two can generate is enough to drown a few dozen krogan. Not to mention the heated glances, the times I’ve looked up to find them practically shagging with their minds…”
Shepard pulled Liara away, and left the other two to their good-natured bickering. She sagged against the wall, letting her bondmate close the door, only sort of pushing back upright when Liara began plucking at the seals of her hospital wrap. She wished she could take the damn casing off her arm, but it wasn’t going anywhere until the regen was done. “Thank you. Trying to do this one-handed and with a crutch was going to be…interesting.”
Liara smiled. “And time consuming. It’s not exactly a hardship, Shepard.”
The wrap fell away, and Shepard leaned into her bondmate, dropping the crutch so she could stroke the cords at the back of her neck with her fingertips. “No? Does that mean you’re going to join me?” She nudged her nose along Liara’s cheek, brushing her lips along the corner of her mouth.
Shepard smiled as her lover sighed her name. “I miss you, Li. I miss being with you.” She traced the lightly pebbled skin with her mouth, covering it with faint kisses.
Liara moaned softly. “Goddess, Shepard. Are you sure you’re strong enough?”
Shepard covered the asari’s mouth with her own, coaxing her lips open and plunging her tongue inside. Their kiss turned frantic in a moment, Liara’s fingers clutching at Shepard’s back, while her own hand stroked the sensitive underside of her crest. She growled, and awkwardly pressed closer. “I don’t think I care.”
She ripped one-handed at the seals of Liara’s jacket, desperate for skin-on-skin contact, desperate for her, the only woman who’d ever made her feel anything, who could reach past even her worst nightmares and fears, to see the real Kylie Shepard.
And then Liara was there, holding her tight, taking her weight, walking her backwards to the shower stall while her mouth ravished her. Her back hit the cool surface with a grunt. “God, what I wouldn’t give for the hot tub at Anderson’s apartment, right now.”
Liara smiled against her skin, and nipped at the underside of her jaw. “Your apartment, remember? He insisted. I doubt he would let you give it back.”
“Mmm. True. If it’s even still standing, anyway.”
“It is. We’ve kind of all been crashing there, on and off.”
“Figures.” Shepard sought her mouth again with a possessive kiss. “Hit the water, will you?”
Liara giggled. “Shepard, this is an asari vessel. We don’t use water showers.”
She pulled back. “Wait, what? Then what do you use?”
Her bondmate nibbled at her collarbone with a grin before reaching for the controls. “You’re going to enjoy this, my love.”
Shepard gasped as a gently pulsing biotic field engulfed them. “Oh, fuck. This is… This is good.” Her skin vibrated with mircocurrents that relaxed and massaged her body, refreshing and soothing her.
And enhancing her lover’s touch a hundred-fold.
Liara pinned her back, kissing and caressing her way up and down Shepard’s body until she was mad with need, and only then did her fingers find their mark, stroking her wet folds, tormenting her, until Shepard was insane with pleasure, the climax tearing through her body.
“Liara.” Shepard gasped her name as the pressure built again, her lover not stopping. “Liara, love, please. Join with me.”
The bond enveloped them in an instant, enhanced by the shower’s biotic field. Shepard melted into it, feeling her pleasure mirrored back, enforced with Liara’s, until neither could tell where the one began, and the other ended.
Liara held the black sweatpants as Shepard carefully stepped into them, and then slowly pulled them up, dragging her fingers along her legs. Shepard sighed. “You’re lucky I don’t have the energy for another round, Li.”
Liara stood, her fingers deftly tying the drawstring, and kissed her lightly. “We have time. Do you remember what you said to me, that night in the Citadel apartment? When I was being stupid?”
Shepard pulled the white tank down, grimacing as she covered the scars on her torso, and the bandage on her side. “I don’t remember you being stupid. Just a little stubborn. What did I say?”
Liara leaned against her, tucking her head into Shepard’s neck. “You were saying how we should spend more time together, just the two of us, and I was stupidly focused on what was ahead, saying maybe after…”
“Every day after. That’s what I said. And I meant it, Li. Everyday, for as long as I live.”
“Shepard… That could be a long time. Much longer than any human has lived. Are you sure that’s what you want?”
“Liara.” She stepped back, cupping the asari’s jaw in her good hand. “I mean it with every breath in my body. I didn’t save the galaxy just to throw you away. I saved it for you. None of it means anything, if I don’t have you. I may as well have died, firing the Crucible, or the first time, with the Collectors. I didn’t stop fighting for you then, and I’m not going to now. And if you push me away this time, I’ll just have to use those biotic restraints on my bed to keep you here until you give in. Or until the suppressants Miranda gave me wear off.” Shepard sighed, again, and glanced down at herself. “That is, if you still want me. I feel like a fucking Frankenstein.”
Liara pulled her close and kissed her, ignoring the tears that ran down her blue skin. “I don’t know what that means, but I love you, Kylie. I could never not want you.”
Shepard waved her off. “It’s an old Earth story. Don’t worry about it. But Liara, I’m not… I’m nothing but a broken mess of scars. The things I’ve done, what I survived, what the Reapers did to me…” She shook her head, forcing away the memories. Real or false, Shepard knew they’d never fade. The scars on her psyche might never heal.
“Kylie.” Liara’s fingers cupped her face, guiding her back to stare at the woman she loved. “There is nothing you could do, nothing you could have seen, that would keep me from loving you. Goddess, Shepard, I…” She hesitated, closing her eyes against the tears that slipped out still. “Is this why you won’t let me in?”
Shepard drew in a ragged breath, closing her good hand around one of Liara’s. She knew the asari had brushed her memories in the mating bond, but had respectfully—if a little sorrowfully—let them be. “Partly. I really do need time. But Liara, they’re so dark. I don’t want to remember, and I know I’ll never forget. I don’t want to subject you to that.”’
Liara sighed, tucking her head back under Shepard’s chin. “I know. But I want to.”
“Why?” The question came out half a breath.
“Because I love you.” Liara’s free hand wrapped gently around Shepard’s neck. “Because I want all of you. Not just the good, but the bad, the scars, the pain, all of it.”
Shepard exhaled slowly. “Well, I guess you’re stuck with me, then. I love you, Liara. And I always will. But give me more time, okay?”
They stood together, embracing each other, until a soft tap sounded on the door. Shepard grabbed the black N7 hoodie she’d caught Liara snuggling, and hit the door control.
“Shepard, your mum’s shuttle just docked. I’m going to go meet it.”
She hobbled out of the bathroom and carefully sat back on the bed. She didn’t want to admit it, but the shower had exhausted her. “Thank you, Miranda. You don’t have to do that.”
Miranda shrugged. “If our roles were reversed, and it was Oriana coming, you’d be there to meet her. It’s what friends do, right?”
Shepard smiled and struggled back to her feet, pulling the surprised woman into a hug. “Thank you.”
Blushing, Miranda left. Liara shook her head with a smile. “When I first met her, I never thought she’d be someone I would call a friend, let alone someone I would owe so much.”
“You and me both. Help me with this?” She held out the hoodie, letting Liara take it while she threaded her arms through the sleeves. “I’m really looking forward to not needing help to dress.”
Liara laughed, and tugged at the zipper of her hoodie. “The great Commander Shepard, unable to put on her pants? You could always simply go without clothes. But I imagine I would get jealous very quickly.”
“Of me walking around naked?”
Liara gave her rear end a playful slap, and then pulled her in by her hoodie. “Of everyone staring. You are mine, Kylie Shepard. I have no desire to share.”
“Good.” Shepard kissed her again, then eased herself down into a seat again. “God, Liara. Do you know how long it’s been since I saw Mom?”
Her bondmate sat next to her, leaning against her shoulder. “Has it been that long?”
Shepard fidgeted with her pant leg, until Liara took her hand. “Six years? I think? Maybe seven. We just never manage to have leave at the same time, let alone anywhere near the same part of the galaxy. I was a new Lieutenant Commander the last time I saw her, still getting used to the rank, and still trying to live down the events at Akuze. She was a Captain, serving as Rear Admiral Hennessey’s XO, and I was so nervous then, too. The great Captain Hannah Shepard. She always laughs when I say that. Tells me I’m being ridiculous, it’s only in my head.”
Liara stroked her hair, and pulled her close. “She loves you a great deal. But she’s hardly as intimidating as the great Commander Shepard.”
Shepard laughed nervously. “She’s my mother. That alone makes her intimidating.”
The door hissed open, causing them both to look up at the woman who stood there, shock and hope written plain on her face. She was half a foot shorter, and her hair was less the fiery red of her daughter’s, and more dark auburn, but the resemblance was unmistakable.
Shepard stared. “Mom…”
“Kylie… Oh God, sweetheart!”
Shepard had barely stumbled to her feet before she felt herself engulfed by her mother’s arms. Shepard clung to her desperately, wishing her left arm could do more than hang ineffectually at her side.
Eventually, Hannah Shepard pulled back, tears in her eyes, but a huge grin lighting up her face. “Let me look at you. God, when I first saw you lying on that bed, I was sure you were dead, even with all Dr. Lawson’s efforts. And two geth primes, standing guard over you!”
Shepard sniffed, laughing, and wiped at the tears she was surprised to realize she was crying. “Apparently they gave me one hell of an upgrade. I didn’t realize they’d stuck around.”
Shepard’s mother shook her head, cupping her daughter’s face. “Only you, Kylie.” She smiled, and then seemed to come to herself. “Oh! What am I doing? Liara, get over here.” She pulled the asari in with one hand, and hugged them both together. “I am so proud of you, both.”
Shepard laughed. “Ok, this is a little awkward, since I can only hug one of you.”
Her mother pulled back with a frown to examine the silvery casing on her arm. “Yes, Dr. Lawson did say she had to regen the whole arm. What happened?”
Shepard lifted her arm and frowned. “You know, I’m not even sure. I think I broke it in Hammer’s charge, but…”
“It was on the Citadel.” Liara ran a gentle hand over the case. “When the elevator crashed, and the shaft collapsed. Wrex told me he tried, but there was too much debris. It got pinned.”
Hannah shivered. “Well. At least it’s over. How much longer?”
Shepard shrugged. “Another week, maybe? Miranda’s not sure. Apparently my new geth upgrades are a little unpredictable.”
“You never did like to keep things simple, Kylie. Even as a child. You got that from your father. He’s so proud of you, honey.”
“Thanks, Mom.” Shepard blushed, then froze. “Wait. He is? You mean he’s alive? I thought…you told me…” She trailed off, confused, a million thoughts swirling through her head.
Admiral Hannah Shepard raised an eyebrow. “I never actually told you anything.”
Shepard rubbed her face, thinking back to the last argument they’d had on the subject, just before she left for basic. “Fuck. No, you didn’t. You just let me assume he was dead.”
Her mother gave a chagrinned smile. “I suppose it’s only fair that you did the same to me.”
“Hey, I was dead! And I would’ve called. Eventually.”
The stared at each other for a minute, each grinning nervously.
Kylie broke the silence. “So… Are you going to tell me who it is?”
“He suggested meeting us for dinner, if you’re okay with that…”
Shepard stared at her mother. “I mean, I guess? Do I know him?”
Hannah bit her lip.
“I do know him! Oh my god, Mom! How many times have we met?” She whirled on her silent bondmate. “Did you know anything about this?”
“I don’t know anything, Shepard…”
“How would Liara know?” Hannah sighed. “Just don’t hate me, okay, honey? You’ll understand when you meet him.”
Shepard ran a hand through her hair. “Okay, fine, I guess… Just… Fuck.”
“Now.” Her mother stepped back and cleared her throat, tugging at the hem of her dress uniform.
“Wait, Mom, did you get a promotion?” She fingered the piping on her mother’s epaulet. “You did!”
Hannah smiled and cleared her throat. “I’m not the only one, kiddo.”
“Wait, what? But I’m not even technically Alliance anymore.”
Her mother snorted. “Honey, nobody in the brass cares if you’re a Spectre, you’re still a soldier in the Alliance. And Anderson recommissioned you, remember? Your official file never actually had you decommissioned, anyway, just temporarily suspended.”
Shepard glanced at Liara, who smiled, and gave a slight nod. Well, she’d know. Both of them would.
“Face it. You’re too popular for them to let go. Captain Shepard.” She handed Shepard a case with her new rank insignia.
Shepard stared at them. “Well, damn. Guess that means I can’t retire now. So what have they got you doing, now you’re a fancy Vice Admiral?”
“Hackett has plans to combine what’s left of the Second, Fourth and Eighth Fleets into a new Second Fleet. Eventually, anyway. It’ll be mine when it happens, but that probably won’t be soon. Reconstruction is the big thing on everyone’s mind. Until then, I’ve got the Orizaba and the stragglers, while Hackett has commandeered the Kilimanjaro, since we lost Admiral Hennessey.”
Shepard looked at her bondmate. “I told you she was intimidating.”
Liara shook her head while Hannah laughed. “Says my daughter, the Savior of the Galaxy. I’d still be a Captain if you hadn’t come back from the dead.”
Liara gave her a confused look, and her mother clarified. “They tried to promote me to Rear Admiral shortly after the original Normandy SR-1 was shot down. I didn’t have the heart to accept, it felt too much like a PR move. Captaining the Orizaba felt like the best way to honor Kylie. But then you and Miranda went and brought her back from the dead, and I didn’t have an excuse when the brass came calling again.” Hannah sighed, her expression turning sad. “It’s far too early for another promotion, but it’s the cost of war. We lost a lot of people, and those of us that are left have to step forward and take up the slack.”
Shepard squeezed her mother’s hand. “You know, I always thought that was our family motto. We do what we must. Because we’re Shepard women, right?”
The admiral laughed. “Maybe it is.” She took a deep breath, and looked between the two of them. “Now, when are you two making this official? The war’s over, and I need grandchildren before I die.”
Shepard groaned and looked at Liara, who had suddenly turned a darker shade of blue. “Really, Mom. I only just woke up a few days ago.”
“I’m just saying…”
Liara covered her face with her hands. “Goddess, you’ve been talking to my father, haven’t you?”
Hannah grinned. “Matriarch Aethyta? I don’t know what you mean. How is she?”
“Eager for grandchildren, and constantly happy to embarrass me. She’s been over on the Destiny Ascension working with Matriarch Lidanya and the Council. Which, I’m afraid, doesn’t stop her from pestering me about children. Especially now she knows Kylie is awake.”
Shepard reached out with her good arm and drew her bondmate close. “Could be worse. She could be here.”
“Give her a few days, Shepard. I have no doubt she will be.”
Shepard’s mother laughed. “She does seem rather focused on the idea. But all talk of children aside, you two are going to make this official, right? Because I’ve missed enough of your life, Kylie. I want to be around if you’re getting married. Some things just shouldn’t be missed.”
Shepard cleared her throat. “Honestly, between the Reapers and the war, and then nearly dying again, we haven’t really talked about it.”
Her mother didn’t respond immediately, just looked back and forth between them with a raised eyebrow and a calculating look, before finally saying, “I see,” and steering the conversation in other directions.
“Liara?” She felt the asari stir against her shoulder, and smiled into the dark.
“Do you remember that night, after we defeated the Shadow Broker, and you asked me what came next? What happened if it all ended tomorrow?”
She felt Liara smile, and pulled her closer. “Marriage, old age, and a lot of little blue children? How could I forget? It killed me that you could just, say that. As if it were that easy.”
“Liara…” She ran her hand down the pebbled skin of her lover’s back, and felt Liara arch into her. “Marry me? Or whatever the asari equivalent is?”
Lips grazed her neck. “Oh, Kylie… You just…say these things…”
“I know you are.” Liara pushed herself up, until Shepard could see the electric blue of her eyes. “Yes, Shepard.”
Shepard’s grin stretched wide. “Yes?”
Her bondmate grinned from ear to ear. “Of course, yes! When? How soon? Goddess, where will we live? I can run the Broker network from anywhere, and I’ve been thinking about maybe bringing Kasumi in on things, she’s been talking about retiring, and—”
Shepard’s laugh threatened to dislodge the excited asari. “Liara! The galaxy is still putting itself back together. We have plenty of time to figure out things like where and when, and all the little details. Honestly, as long as I’m with you, I don’t care about any of it. You choose. Except we’re waiting until this damn thing is off my arm, and I can walk more than three steps at a time.”
“Shepard, do you…do you really mean that?”
“That I refuse to get married with a regen tube still on my arm? Yes.”
Liara smacked her playfully. “That’s not what I mean.”
“I know.” Shepard’s smile softened, and she reached up to trail a finger down Liara’s face. “And yes, I mean it. I’ve been a spacer my whole life. I have no attachment to any planet in particular, other than symbolically, so if living somewhere like Illium or Thessia would make you happy, that’s all I need to know. At the end of the day, coming back to you is all I care about. It’s all I need.”
Liara sighed, and laid her head on Shepard’s chest. “How did I get so lucky?”
“You were smart enough to get yourself caught in a Prothean security device, so that I could rescue you.”
“Hmm. Best move I ever made.”
“Well, that and telling me I was fascinating.”
Blue lips drifted soft kisses down Shepard’s breastbone. “My dear Captain, you are fascinating.”
Twisting black smoke gave way to bone white trees, skeleton-thin trunks stretching bare fingers up to the grey sky. Black figures drifted around her, murmuring barely intelligible fragments.
“…might’ve gotten it wrong…”
“…ask the ghosts if honor matters…”
“…it is the only way…”
“…rudimentary creatures of blood and flesh…”
“…Amonkirah, grant that my hands be steady…’
“…choices that you are not equipped to make…”
“…you know it’s the right choice…”
“…even one soldier is still left standing…”
“…give them no quarter…”
“…fight the enemy you were born to destroy…”
“…you will fail. The cycle must continue…”
Shepard turned slowly, watching the thin figures glide past, their voices growing darker, and more insistent, more sinister.
“…they failed to understand they were part of the problem…”
“…you must decide…”
“…you will fail…”
“…your extinction is inevitable…”
“…you will die, knowing that you failed to save everything you fought for…”
No! Shepard ran, trying to get away, but the voices followed, growing louder and more distorted. The shadows closed in, pressing around her, until she couldn’t see, could only hear the now-unintelligible whispers that twisted at her mind. Still, she ran, pushing forward through dark, clutching hands, until something caught at her feet, sending her sprawling onto the smoke-obscured ground.
The black smoke parted slowly, revealing the twisted shape that had caught her up. A huddled body, limp on the ground. Murky splotches covered the misshapen form, murky black-purple on dusky blue skin…
Oh God… “No… God, no…”
Empty blue eyes stared up into nothing, and behind her, the blazing eyes of the demon Reaper-child.
“You have failed, Shepard.”
“Liara! No!” She surged forward, ready to face an unidentified enemy, the blue fire of her biotics flaring up along her arms.
Too much darkness. Too much she didn’t recognize, and the only pinpricks of light from unfamiliar machinery. But if they’d gotten her, if they’d gotten Liara, nothing mattered. The shadows closed in, pressed against her, lights glowing red in the gloom. Shepard flexed her biotic shields, and prepared to release a nova.
“Shepard? Goddess, Kylie…”
Warm arms wrapped around her, warm hands soothed, and a voice that always calmed her, no matter the darkness. Her voice cracked with desperation as the energy around her dissipated. “Liara?”
Slowly, the room came back to focus.
Hospital ship. Iolesa. The Reapers are gone…
“I’m here, Shepard.”
A sob tore through her chest. “You were dead. God, Liara, you were dead, and I couldn’t save you…”
“Shhh…” Liara’s arms tightened around her. “I’m not dead, Shepard. I’m alive, and so are you. You saved us all. It was only a dream.”
Shepard sagged into her bondmate. “It was so real. What if it isn’t over? These dreams, I’ve had them before…”
“Shepard…” Liara cupped her face and brought hers close. “You have screamed in your sleep every night since you woke, and even before. I know I told you to take your time, but…please. Let me in. Let me share your burdens. Let me soothe your mind.”
Shepard squeezed her eyes tight as the tears streamed down. “You don’t want to see it, Li. I don’t want to see. I wish I could forget it all…”
“I know. But I need to, Shepard. And you need to share it.”
“It was horrible. You don’t want—”
“Kylie.” Shepard opened her eyes at her bondmate’s stern tone. “I love you. Let me in. Please.”
She took a shuddering breath, and her will collapsed. Liara’s forehead touched hers, and then the eternity of their bond enveloped her.
Memories swarmed past, dreams and horrors. The charnel house of the Citadel, from Harbinger’s indoctrination vision. The Reaper-child’s demanding choice. The krogan march, and the pain, the constant pain. Darkness, and blood, and pain. And the dreams, always the dreams.
Lost friends. Horrible sacrifices. So many deaths on her hands.
But throughout it all, the comforting touch of Liara’s mind traced lines of cool blue healing over her fevered thoughts.
This isn’t you, my love. Her mind calmed at her bondmate’s touch. These are scars, left by Harbinger as he sought to control your mind. These dreams, those memories… None of them are real. They are not you.
Some of them are real. I wish they weren’t.
And if you had not made the hard choices, we would all be dead. I told you the first time we met, that you had incredible strength of mind. That a lesser mind would have broken, under the beacon’s message. And so it is here. A lesser mind would have let the Council’s doubts sway them, and let Sovereign win. A lesser mind would have let death break them, would have never made it back from the Collector base. A lesser mind would have become indoctrinated long ago, by Sovereign, by the Reaper artifact in Bahat, by Harbinger. A lesser mind would never have rallied the galaxy, or survived. But you, my love, did. You did all of that, and kept going.
Shepard shuddered in her lover’s arms. What if the cost was too high?
The cost of failure would have been higher still. And forgive me, Kylie, but the only cost I am unwilling to pay is you. I will not give you up, not to them, not to anyone.
Through their bond, Shepard felt Liara work, smoothing over the rough edges, shedding light into the dark corners, until she could sense the taint receding, the implanted memories fading, until her mind felt clearer, and more her own, than it had in a long time.
Until finally, she felt a measure of peace.
OMG IT'S AN UPDATE THE WORLD IS ENDING!!
Seriously though, I don't even know what happened to 2015, except that as far as writing goes, it sucked. I apologize once again for letting this go so long. I will get it finished, I promise!
Miranda scribbled a note on the holographic interface, and then closed it. “That’s it, Shepard. You’ll need to keep up with the therapy, and take it easy for a while, but you’re officially released. I really would recommend a few months off, though. Rest would do you a world of good, and after everything you've been through, your body needs it.”
Shepard flexed her left hand, watching the fingers move. The regen casing had woken her with a loud beeping, and then split open. Miranda had arrived not long after, to look it over. The new arm still felt a little odd, but it was way better than the useless stump she’d had. “Rest would be nice. Hopefully, I can convince both the Council and the Alliance that I deserve some.”
Miranda snorted. “Shepard, if anyone in this galaxy deserves a rest, it’s you.”
She grunted and stood, stumbling slightly. She still felt physically weak, and very wobbly, but mentally she hadn’t been this clear in years. God bless Liara. “Yeah, well, this is the Council we’re talking about. Of course, after I tell them I’m getting married, they damn well better give me the time off. Otherwise, I might have to threaten to do something unseemly. Or at least more violent than usual.”
The doctor laughed. “You, do something violent? Please, Shepard.” She shook her head, then froze. “Wait, did you say married?”
Shepard grinned and ducked her head. “Yeah. I asked Liara.”
“And of course, she said yes. Have you set a date?”
Shepard scrubbed her face, still grinning. “No. I’ve still got to deal with the Council, and Hackett and the Alliance, and I haven’t even seen half the crew…” She trailed off as Miranda’s smile turned slightly wicked. “Miranda…”
“You worry about the Council and your Alliance military. Let me deal with the rest.”
“Why do I have a bad feeling, like I’m going to regret this?”
Miranda laughed again, and shooed her out the door. “Trust me, Shepard. Now get moving. You know Jack doesn’t like to be kept waiting, and you’ve got meetings later. Oh, and Liara had some things delivered to your apartment on the Citadel. Now, go.”
Shepard shook her head as the door closed, leaving her standing in the hall, leaning on her single cane. Now you’ve done it, Kylie. Li’s gonna kill you.
She sighed. She could always go back in and put a stop to whatever Miranda was already planning, but honestly, it wasn’t worth it. She didn’t really think the woman would do anything bad. And she was right, she did have places to be. Like getting my damn hair dealt with.
Her omni-tool chirped, and Shepard smiled as she pulled up the message from Liara: Don’t forget you’re meeting Jack. Can’t wait to see what she does with you.
Shepard closed the message, and started the slow trek to the shuttle bay. She was walking better, but it was still rough going, and still couldn’t go far without the cane. Her body, apparently, was still adjusting, and it would just take time. Time she had, though, and the fact that Liara was excited about her getting a radical haircut and a tattoo made her laugh. She’d never have guessed it about the prim and proper asari, but then, she’d never have guessed a lot about her when the first met.
I should know better by now.
“Shepard! Nice to see you got rid of that damn stump. You ready to get off this shithole?”
She grinned at Jack, who leaned casually against a Kodiak. “You probably shouldn’t insult our asari hosts, since they were kind enough to put us both back together.”
Jack shrugged. “Whatever. Ok, well, you, sure. But all I had was a hole in my leg. Coulda patched that shit up anywhere. Besides, even the Normandy is more fun than this place.”
Shepard gave her a lopsided grin. “I don’t think hospitals are meant to be fun.”
“Depends on the hospital. I’m still glad to be getting out. Come on, someone wants to say hi.” She pulled open the Kodiak door and shouted. “Hey dumbass, she’s here!”
Shepard followed her in, grinning when she saw the pilot, who stood to envelop her in a hug. “Cortez! Damn, it’s good to see you!”
“You too, Shepard. We weren’t too sure you were gonna make it.”
Jack shoved him. “Shut it, Steve. Some of us knew the commander’d pull through.”
Cortez grinned. “Alright, alright. Sorry, Commander. Some of us were more worried than others, apparently.”
“Hey, I wasn’t actually sure I’d make it for a while there. So don’t worry about it. And actually, Lieutenant, it’s Captain now.”
“No shit.” Cortez smiled and snapped a salute. “Congratulations, ma’am.”
“Whatever, Shepard.” Jack grinned, giving lie to her words. “Get us out of here, Steve. I had to call in a few favors to get this buddy of mine to do Shep today, so stop wasting time.”
Cortez climbed back to the pilots seat and fired up the engine. “Buckle up, kids. Next stop, Citadel.”
“So what is it, exactly?” Shepard stared at the holo as Jack’s friend put the last few lines on her head.
“It’s the Normandy, dumbass.”
Shepard shot Jack a glare. “I got that. I mean the bit above. I can’t make it out.”
“Oh. Well, um, Blue actually helped with that. It’s us. Your crew, from the SR-1 to now. She helped me put our names in old Asari runes.” Her friend cut off his tattoo laser and stood with a nod. “Thanks, Pi.”
“No worries, Jack. See you ‘round.” The big man nodded to Shepard, and left.
“Anyway, here.” Jack blew up the holo so she could get a bigger look. “See, we even got the guys from the SR-1, Kaiden and Pressley, and all of us from the Collector suicide trip, and everyone from this last run. That’s you and Blue, Tali, Garrus, Grunt…” She rattled off names, matching them to runes. “…even Miranda.”
The holo shut off as Shepard stood. “Speaking of Miranda…”
Jack rolled her eyes. “Fuck’s sake, Shepard.”
Shepard laughed. “Hey, you know me. I’m not judging. Just wanted to know where things stood.”
Jack groaned. “I don’t know, okay? Maybe we’re just blowing off steam. But she’s a fucking wet dream, so whatever. Why do you even care?”
“Because you’re both my friends, and I like seeing you happy.”
“Whatever. I blame you.”
“Well, I do recall mentioning that you two should just kiss and get it over with already.” Shepard stood and wandered into the bathroom, and Jack followed. They’d met Pi and gone back to Anderson’s apartment, where it was at least quiet, unlike most of the rest of the Citadel. The station may have survived, but there was a lot of work to do, and it was all noisy. My apartment, not Anderson’s. She pulled out the elastic on her hair and shook it out. It was still hard to think of the spacious residence as hers. She’d spoken with Anderson during their convalescence, and he had indeed refused to take the place back. “But I’ll take that blame. Happy isn’t something I expected for any of us, even if I hoped for it. So yeah, I’ll take it. This actually doesn’t look bad at all. You can’t even half tell when I wear it down.”
Jack snorted. “Looking presentable isn’t the point, Shepard.”
She grinned and put her hair back up. “This coming from the woman who never has to look presentable.”
“Don’t give me that shit, Shepard. I’m respectable now, remember? Which is also your fault. And all you have to do is start glaring and reach for your gun, and nobody’ll care what the fuck you look like. Hell, you don't even need the gun, your biotics are almost as strong as mine.”
“I’ll take the blame for all of it.” She laughed. “But you have a point. Jack, thanks for this.”
Jack shrugged. “Whatever, Shepard. Consider it a thank you for not getting yourself killed. Now, can we throw a damn party, or what? Because we fuckin’ saved the galaxy. I think that calls for drunkenness, debauchery, and a little insanity.”
“Yeah, um, about that…”
“Dammit, Shepard, what did you do this time?”
She glanced down as her omni-tool chimed. “Shit. I have to get changed and go. Miranda said Li had some things delivered… Ah.” She pulled open her closet and found a stack of new uniforms and other clothes. “Perfect.”
She winced at Jack’s don’t-fuck-with-me tone. “I asked Liara to marry me.”
“What??” Jack tackled her. “Fuck, Shepard! You and Blue? That’s fantastic! Wait, she’s not knocked up already, or anything, is she? Because damn, woman…”
Shepard laughed, and went back to changing. “Breathe, Jack. No, she’s not pregnant. At least, as far as I know.” She pulled the uniform pants and the stiff jacket of her dress blues on. “Anyway, if you needed an excuse for a party, you have one. I told Miranda just before I met you in the shuttle bay, and she got that look in her eye—”
“Oh, fuck, Shepard, you didn’t. You actually gave her something to plan? Don’t you know how dangerous that is?”
“It just kind of slipped out!”
Jack shook her head slowly. “Fuck an ansteroid, Shepard. You can save the galaxy six times over, but you have the worst self-preservation skills of anyone I’ve ever met. I better find her before this turns into an interplanetary circus…” She wandered out still talking to herself, and leaving Shepard to wonder how she’d lost control so easily.
She took a deep breath and buttoned her jacket before shooting off a message to Liara: Heads up. Miranda and Jack know. I fear the worst.
The reply was quick: Oh, Shepard. Go to your meeting. Kasumi and will do damage control.
Shepard walked out the door with a puzzled look. Wait, Kasumi? What did Kasumi have to do with it? You know what, never mind. Better tell everyone before they do. Love you.
You are so not off the hook, young lady.
Shepard grinned, and headed for the shuttle.
“The fact remains, with half the Council dead, change is inevitable.” Councilor Tevos cleared her throat and continued. “The Matriarchy and Councilor Valern agree that we would like your input.”
Shepard stared, surprised. “I’m sorry, do you mind if I sit? I’m still getting my strength back.” She really did need to sit. Her leg and back were starting to ache, and her arm from holding her weight on the cane. But asking provided the added bonus of being a nice stall.
Tevos waved. “By all means, Commander. Or, I suppose it’s Captain now, isn’t it?”
“Thank you, yes.” She took a seat, and cleared her throat. “I’m flattered you want my opinion, Councilor. But you know I’m not exactly the most political person. I do better with a gun.”
The asari councilor gave a wan smile. “We are aware, Shepard. But not listening to you in the past has done us no good, and we are also aware that this galaxy is here because of you. Because despite being better with a gun, you united us all when no one else could. So we feel it’s only right that you have a say in how it continues from here.”
Shepard glanced around the room. Tevos and Valern were there in person, as well as both Matriarchs Lidanya and Aethyta, and Primarch Victus. Sparatus hadn’t made it, a fact that despite their somewhat antagonistic relationship, saddened her. Representatives from all the other races were present through QEC, including the batarians, rachni, and even the geth. And Bakara and Wrex, of course. “Well, since you’re asking my opinion, I think this is a good start. We survived because we came together. Things can’t go back to the way they were. Staying together is the only way to move forward. A new Council, one that represents all the races, at the very least. A joint military, maybe. Like I said, this isn’t really my thing. But the only way to foster better understanding between the races is to work with each other. The Normandy is a great example. I’m not saying integrate everything. But we all have our strengths, and sharing them would, in my opinion, be a great thing.”
Tevos glanced around the room. “We will take your suggestions into consideration, Shepard. Thank you.”
“Yes,” Valern agreed. “We had, actually been considering those same options. Thank you.”
Shepard nodded. “Did you need me for anything else?”
Matriarch Lidanya spoke up. “Only that we all wished to offer our sincerest thanks. Too many of us disbelieved you, some of us even stood in your way, and yet, in the end, you saved us all, in spite of everything. The galaxy and its peoples owe you a debt none of us can ever repay.”
Shepard shook her head. “What’s important is that when it mattered, you all came together. Don’t lose that.”
Tevos cleared her throat. “Thank you. Shepard, I don’t know what your plans are, going forward, but we would consider it a great honor if you would remain a Spectre. I have no doubt the galaxy will continue to need you.”
“Of course, Councilor. I’m honored. Though, only on the condition that I have some time off. Coming back from the dead isn’t exactly easy on a person, especially not the second time around. Much as I hate to admit it, I’m still weak. And exhausted. I could use a few months to recover.”
Councilor Valern actually laughed. “Of course, Captain. So long as we can count on your support, seeing as you’re the Savior of the Galaxy. You hold more political clout than you may like, now.”
Shepard sighed quietly. The salarian was right, and she knew it. “If this is an example of where things are going, you have my full support, Councilor.” She stood.
“Councilors, Admirals, Representatives. I wonder if I might have a quick word with Matriarch Aethyta, before I go?”
“No need to stand on ceremony, Shepard.” Liara’s father stood with a barely concealed grin, and headed towards her.
“Captain.” Shepard turned to Hackett’s QEC. “We’ll see you aboard the Kilimanjaro in an hour.”
The Admiral and the rest of the makeshift Council all nodded and turned back to their discussions as Aethyta walked her to the meeting room door. “Well?”
She looked down at her hands, suddenly nervous. “Aethyta… I, um…”
“Really, Shepard, just spit it out.”
“I asked Liara to marry me.”
The matriarch let out a hoot that silenced the Council. “About damn time, woman! I assume she said yes? When’s the date?”
“Is everything alright, Aethyta?” Tevos leveled a curious stare in their direction, and Shepard felt her face turn red.
“Alright? Hell, yes! Shepard finally asked my daughter to bond her.” Aethyta slapped her on the shoulder, knocking her off balance. Shepard scrambled, wincing, but managed to stay upright.
“I see.” A smile played at Tevos’ lips, though she didn’t let it do more. “Allow me to offer our congratulations, Captain Shepard, to you and Dr. T’Soni. This is, indeed, excellent news.”
“Thank you, Councilor.” Goddess, Liara’s going to kill me. “I should be going.”
Tevos nodded. “Of course. Matriarch, when you’re ready.”
Shepard smiled tightly at everyone. Their reactions ranged from overjoyed to not caring, but several threw in their own congratulations before turning back to their meeting.
“Good for you, kid. You got quad.” Aethyta slapped her shoulder again. “I should get back to these priliks, though. Gotta keep them from doing anything stupid.”
“Heaven forbid. Look, they finally let me off the Iolesa, so Liara and I are crashing on the Citadel for now.”
“In that fancy apartment in Silver Sun? Nice.”
Shepard resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of her nose. “Yeah. Come have supper with us tonight.” Liara will definitely kill me, but oh well. I should ask Mom, too.
“Done. Now get out of here, so I can work.”
She shot the asari a smart-ass grin. “Sure thing, Dad.”
Shepard laughed as Aethyta shoved her out the door.
“You did what?”
Shepard groaned and collapsed into a chair, pulling at the seals on her dress jacket. Her meeting with the Admiralty had gone long, and Liara had beaten her back to the apartment. “It just kind of happened. And then she announces it to the entire Council meeting, so now everyone in the galaxy probably knows.”
Liara dropped her head in her hands. “You are extremely lucky I love you, Kylie Shepard. Because otherwise I might have to kill you.”
“I’m sorry, love. Aethyta has been so, I don’t know, responsible, working with the Council and Lidanya and the Matriarchy, I kind of forgot what she was like.”
“What she’s like is a nightmare.”
“I’d say she’s not that bad, but that’s only because you haven’t heard what happened after.”
“Wait, I thought you met with the Admiralty after?”
Shepard rubbed her face. “I did. Mom ambushed me as soon as we finished. She wanted to do dinner with my father tonight, but then I told her I’d invited Aethyta, so she pulled me into a room, and…” she shook her head, still trying to wrap her mind around it.
“You know him, Li. Everyone knows him. And I kinda get why Mom refused to say anything, now.”
“We’re going to have to invite him to the wedding. I mean, I would’ve, anyway. But fuck… I still can’t believe he’s my dad.”
“Kylie, you’re starting to worry me. Who is your father?”
Shepard looked up. “Hackett. My dad is Admiral Hackett.”
Her bondmate stared at her, speechless.
Shepard slumped against the seat back. “That was my reaction. I mean, Admiral fucking Hackett. I’d be lying if I hadn’t once or twice thought, you know, maybe he treated me a little like an honorary daughter, but fuck.”
“You’re handling this surprisingly well.”
“I’m still in shock. Just be glad I didn’t know about this before I talked to Aethyta.”
“Goddess… When this gets out…” Liara groaned again. “Maybe we can elope. That is the right word, isn’t it? Do humans still do that?”
Shepard sat forward and gave her bondmate’s chair a yank, pulling her close so she could hold her. “It’s still a thing, yes. But Mom would kill me, and your father probably would, too. Not to mention all our friends. And my father would probably hunt us down. God, that explains so much…”
“So we get them all on the Normandy and fly away. They can drop us off somewhere secluded for a month.”
Shepard smiled. “I kind of like that plan.”
Liara sighed. “It wouldn’t work.”
Liara sighed again, then sat up, giving Shepard a quick kiss. “Fine. We survived Reapers. We can survive this. You realize though, don’t you, that my father will only be more insistent about children now?”
Shepard grinned, and pulled the asari into her lap, tracing the line of her throat with her lips. “I thought you had a few centuries left in your Maiden stage. Why’s she so hot about you having kids so soon?”
“Mmm. She wants as much time with grandkids as possible. She is in her ninth century, after all.”
Shepard smiled as Liara’s hands closed on her shoulder. She pulled at the seals on Liara’s jacket, giving her lips clearance to wander lower. “And what do you think? Are you ready for lots of little blue children?”
“Shepard… Oh, Goddess…”
“It’s a legitimate question, love.” She smiled wider, and pulled a dark blue nipple into her mouth. She gave a gentle tug, then ran her tongue over and around the nub, until
Liara was squirming and sighing in her lap. “Well?”
Shepard laughed, and switched to the other side.
“Goddess, Kylie. I can’t think when you do that…”
She took her time, switching back and forth until her lover clutched at her head, tugging her ponytail in desperation. “We could start now, if that’s what you wanted.”
Liara gave a fierce growl, and wrenched Shepard’s head up. Their mouths collided in a desperate, hungry kiss. When she finally pulled away, her eyes were dark with need.
“We can talk about being ready for children later, Shepard. Right now I am very, very ready for you.”
Shepard stood with her own growl, pinning the asari to the table, and kissing her hard while she stripped off their clothes. “Join with me, Liara.”
The bond enveloped them both as Shepard kissed her way between her lover’s legs. Pure sensation washed over her as she sucked, pushing three fingers deep inside her wet core. Liara’s hips bucked, as her orgasm washed over them both.
I love you so much, Liara.
She sat on the edge of the chair, and pulled her bondmate back into her lap. Their hips crashed together, and Liara immediately beginning to grind on her. Shepard wedged a hand between them, returning her fingers to the sweet heat of Liara’s channel. Every roll of the asari’s hips pushed Shepard’s hand into her own clit, and they both spun closer and closer to release. Shepard pulled her deeper into the bond, needing the absolute completeness of their meld.
Pure pleasure washed over them, rendering everything else irrelevant, as they held each other close in mind and body.
Did you invite Aethyta your mother for dinner?
Um…didn’t I mention that earlier? I swear I did…
Liara’s laugh bubbled up through their connection. Damn you, Kylie Shepard.
You love me.
Sigh I do, Goddess help me. I so very much do.
“That’s… A lot of land.” Shepard stared past Liara at the holo. “I guess we’re living on Thessia, then. So that’s all yours?”
Liara craned her head around and placed a kiss on her cheek. “Ours, Shepard. But yes. It was my mother’s, and it passed to me. I wasn’t sure it would, not with… Well, how things ended. Saren, and her indoctrination, and all. I’m surprised it survived the attack so well.”
Aethyta grinned. “It’s far enough out. And after that interview you gave, and everything the two of you have done, the Matriarchy didn’t really have a foot to stand on. They didn’t even really want to try. I didn’t even have to convince them to release it. Plus, the house is big enough for half a dozen krogan, so when you finally start giving me grandchildren, you won’t have to worry.”
Shepard laughed, and kissed Liara’s crest. “All in time, Aethyta.”
“Time? Kid, you’re human. You haven’t got time. Sorry, Hannah,” she added, glancing at Shepard’s mother. Hannah took another sip of wine, and waved her on. “You two have had the lifespan talk, haven’t you? You know Liara’ll outlive you by several centuries, at least? Hell, if you started now, you’ll be lucky to see your kids grown!”
Liara glanced back at her, and they both laughed. “Do you want to tell her?”
“Tell me what?”
Shepard grinned at the matriarch. “You know I’m not completely human anymore, right?”
“Yeah, you’ve got some fancy synthetic parts from when Cerberus brought you back from the dead. So what?”
She nodded. “Something like that. My body is probably almost half synthetic now, and when the geth pulled me out of the rubble after I turned on the Crucible… Well, let’s just say they gave me the upgrade of a lifetime. Between the synthetics and the nanites, and whatever kind of energy the Crucible released, not even Miranda can guess how long I’ll live. I might outlive Liara.”
Liara leaned back into her, and Shepard wrapped her arms around her bondmate while her mother stared. “Kylie, this is…”
“Huge. I know.
"Your father will be quite surprised when I tell him. But then again, he may not. He always did think you could do anything."
Shepard blushed. She was kind of glad Hackett hadn't come tonight. She was still wrapping her head around the whole thing. "Anyway, Miranda’s doing more research, but it may be impossible to duplicate. Regardless, it means the lifespan conversation took a huge detour elsewhere.”
Aethyta huffed. “Yeah, I bet. You know most asari don’t even stay together their whole lives? People change.”
Liara reached out and took her father’s hand. “People change. But you never stopped loving Mother.”
The matriarch smiled. “No. I never did stop loving Nezzy. Well, if anyone has a shot, it’s you two. That still doesn’t tell me when I’m gonna get grandkids! And even if you live forever, Shepard, your mother won’t. Do you really want to deprive her?”
Shepard smiled, and held Liara tighter while they all laughed.
“Mmm?” She smiled as Liara’s fingers drew patterns on her bare stomach.
“I need to tell you something.”
Shepard sighed happily, and ran her hand along the textured skin of her lover’s back. “What is it, love?”
“I…” She trailed off, and the silence stretched between them, until Shepard began to worry.
She pushed up on one elbow, and found uneasiness written deep in her bondmate’s blue eyes. “Liara? What’s wrong?”
“I… I’m afraid I did something, that you may not be happy about.”
Shepard sat up and pulled Liara tight to her. “Somehow, I doubt whatever you think you did is really that bad. But if it’s got you so worried, you’d better tell me.”
Liara took a deep breath. “I don’t know…”
Shepard leaned down and kissed her gently. “Would it be easier to show me?” She opened her mind as Liara nodded, allowing the bond to pull her in.
Memory washed over her. Their last quiet moment in London, before the push to the beam. Liara, offering her a gift, the overwhelming emotion of all their memories. And then…
Shock made Shepard pull out of the bond. “Really?”
Liara winced at the abrupt disconnect, then relaxed as Shepard welcomed her back in. Yes.
Joy. Excitement. Elation. But that’s wonderful!
Joyful laughter. Mad? How in the world could I be mad? Liara, you’re going to have my child! I couldn’t be happier! I just wish you’d told me.
Chagrin. I wasn’t sure how you’d feel. But I couldn’t stand the idea of you dying, again, and being left with nothing.
Overwhelming love. I would never have denied you. My dearest love…
Goddess, Shepard, I don’t deserve you…
Don’t ever think that, Liara. Never.
Her reflexes kicked in just quickly enough to identify the rushing krogan before he swept her up in a bone-crushing hug and hauled her into the apartment. “Oof. Good to see you too, Grunt.”
Wrex limped by and gave the young krogan a shove. “Try not to kill her, will you?”
“Bah. Nonsense, old man. Shepard can’t be killed.”
Shepard raised an eyebrow, but Wrex just shrugged. “I’m beginning to believe it. Good to see you awake, Shepard.”
She affectionately head-butted Grunt, and he finally set her down. “What the hell’s going on here, anyway? Not that it isn’t good to see you, but…”
The krogans glanced at each other and laughed. “Jack! Shepard’s asking questions!”
“Well drag her boney ass in here, then!”
Shepard groaned. “Just tell me the apartment’s still in one piece.”
“For now.” Wrex grabbed her and tossed her over his shoulder.
“Dammit, Wrex, don’t make me rip off your headplating! I—”
Wrex dropped her on her feet, suddenly surrounded by familiar faces. Friends, crew members, family. Her mother, Aethyta, Miranda, Jack, Ashley and James, Joker and EDI, Garrus and Tali, Javik and Samara. The whole crew of the Normandy, including Karin Chakwas, Sam Traynor, even Adams, Donnelly, and Gabby. And in the back, smiling, stood Liara.
“What are you guys…”
Jack walked up and punched her in the shoulder. “What do you think, dumbass? You’re the one who gave miss cheerleader something to plan.” She leaned in closer with a conspiratorial grin. “Consider this your bachelorette party, both of you. And your welcome-back-from-the-dead, we-saved-the-galaxy party. Or some shit. Now, are you going to officially tell them, or am I?”
Shepard stared. “Wait, they don’t know?”
Jack gave her an evil grin. “Nah. Your news to share, not mine. Miranda agreed with me.”
“That’s gotta be a first.”
Jack grinned. “Shut the fuck up.”
“Ok. Right, wow.” Shepard took a deep breath, and looked around. “God, it’s good to see all of you. We’ve been through a lot in the last few years, all of us. Honestly, as much as I hoped, I didn’t expect that we’d all make it out. But seeing all of you here, alive, and with a future, it means so much. All of you mean so much.” She ducked her head, then looked up at Liara before continuing. “I’m not used to making speeches unless we’re all about to die. I kind of suck at this.”
“Come on, Commander! Just tell us you love us and let us get to the drinking!”
Shepard grinned at Ashley. “That’s Captain to you, LC. And you’ll have plenty of time to get drunk and climb all over James, no worries.”
Ash laughed. “I hate you.”
“I hate you…?”
The lieutenant commander laughed. “I hate you, ma’am!”
Everyone laughed, and Shepard waited for the comments to die down again before continuing. “Ash is right, though. We do need drinks, so I’ll make this quick. You guys are my family, and I don’t know what I would have done without you. So I’m hoping you’ll all be there for me one more time.”
“What did you get yourself into this time, Shepard? And no, you can’t have my sniper rifle. I saw what you did to yours.”
“Thanks for reminding me, Garrus. Bad enough the damn Reapers burnt off half my hair, what they did to my Black Widow was unforgivable.”
Garrus laughed. “And there you have the real reason the Reapers went down. Never melt Shepard’s sniper rifle. Oof.” He bent over laughing as Tali elbowed him.
“Hush, Garrus. So, Shepard, what do you need us to do?”
The apartment quieted, as every pair of eyes turned back to Shepard. “No guns, this time. No fighting, no dying. I just need you to show up, and be happy.”
Everyone looked around, but it was Joker who finally spoke up. “Well, that’s easy enough, Commander. I mean, Captain. What are we being happy for, exactly, besides being alive? And when?”
Shepard smiled. “Oh, just this thing, tomorrow. When Liara and I get married.”
The room exploded with excitement, as her friends, her family all tried to congratulate them at once, but Shepard could only grin and stare at her bondmate. Finally, someone slammed a full glass in her hand and shouted, “Shepard and Liara!”
The room echoed the toast, and she lost herself in a sea of happiness.
Shepard smiled sleepily and pulled Liara closer. The asari sighed against her, then squeaked suddenly, as she was yanked away.
Shepard’s eyes flew open, zeroing in on her bondmate’s struggles. She flew off the bed, rage fueling an adrenaline burst, and lighting up her biotics. Liara’s assailants were pinned to the wall in a heartbeat, fighting helplessly against her grip. “Let. Her. Go.”
Liara’s touch cooled her anger, enough to realize it was Jack and Tali whose throats she held. “Oh, God.” She dropped them.
“Fuck, Shepard. What the hell?”
Shepard took a horrified step back. “I am so, so sorry.” She clung to Liara, who continued to soothe her.
Tali rubbed her throat while Jack laughed. “Shepard, it’s fine. Miranda warned us, but we thought it would be fun to steal away the bride. We didn’t think it through.”
“Damn, Shepard.” Jack continued to laugh. “I don’t know what they did to you, but I think your biotics got stronger. I might’ve actually had to work to take you down!”
Shepard grinned, despite herself. “Yeah, well. Maybe we’ll test that theory sometime.”
“Deal. Now, can we steal Liara already?”
Shepard turned to her bondmate. “What’s this about?”
Liara shrugged. “I thought it was some human custom.”
Ash stuck her head in the room. “It is, kind of, but we’re improvising, since you’re both girls. It’s not like Shepard’s wearing a dress today, so…”
Shepard groaned. “So you’re leaving me with the boys. Thanks, LC. I expected to see you passed out on the floor somewhere, not upright and chipper.”
“Ha, ha. And miss my captain’s wedding? Not hardly, Shepard. I’ll get pass-out drunk tonight,” she added with a wink.
“Thanks, I think.” She sighed. “Alright, go on.” Standing, she pulled Liara in for a kiss. “I’ll see you soon.”
Kasumi flashed into the room. “By the way, Shep, the boys are waking up, so you might want to put pants on.” She vanished again as the others laughed, and pulled Liara out of the room.
“Hmph. I like my underwear.”
“Hey Lola, you decent?”
Shepard groaned, and dropped her head in her hands. “No. And I’m getting in the shower. Make some coffee, will you?”
James grunted something, and she turned to the shower. Goddess, this is going to be a long day.
Shepard stepped out of the bathroom in a bra and sweatpants, still toweling her hair, and grinned. “Hey, Mom. I’m surprised you aren’t with all the other girls.”
Hannah snorted. “I love Liara, and I couldn’t be happier about you guys, but you’re my daughter. Which means my loyalties sit very firmly here.” She kissed Shepard’s cheek, and handed over a coat bag. “I wasn’t sure if you had a new set, so I picked had a ceremonial dress uniform done for you.”
Shepard grinned and unzipped the protective bag. “Mom, thank you. I was going to fudge it with my regular dress uniform, but ceremonial whites—fuck, where the hell did you find an officer’s sword?”
Her mother laughed as she pulled out the saber, a tradition millennia old among Earth’s navies. When Shepard looked at her, she just grinned. “I know people.”
“No shit.” She set the sword down and hung up the uniform, before pulling the older woman into a hug. “Thank you, Mom.”
“You’re my only daughter, Kylie. I don’t care how quickly you’re getting married, I want it to be done right.” Hannah pushed her back to arms-length, and smiled. “I appreciate you asking your father to officiate.”
Shepard shrugged. She still wasn’t sure how she felt about having Hackett for a father, but her feelings didn’t change the biology. “I probably would’ve asked him, even if he wasn’t. Well, okay, maybe I would’ve been too nervous to ask…” She sighed. “Sorry he has to share the duty with Aethyta.”
“He’s very happy you did, Kylie. He’s been wanting to tell you for years, but we were afraid—”
She waved her off. “It’s fine, Mom. I get it. I’d have done the same. Honestly part of me finds the whole thing hilarious. Liara and I both grew up not knowing who our fathers were, and now they’re officiating at our wedding. You have to see the humor…”
Hannah chuckled. “Oh, I do.” She hesitated. “Kylie, what happened earlier...”
Shepard sat on the bed, her face falling. “I know. I'm working on it. We both are. Liara's been helping me deal with it.”
Her mother sat beside her gingerly. “You've died twice now. It's not surprising that you're struggling with PTSD. Just promise me you'll keep working through it. Go see someone, now you're not overwhelmed with saving the galaxy again. Please?”
Shepard nodded. “I will. I don't want this to ruin everything. Not after everything we've been through. Especially not with a kid on the way—”
“What?” Her mother turned quickly. “Kylie Jane Shepard...”
Shepard winced at her middle name, then laughed. “Liara just told me the other night. We wanted to get the wedding over with, but... Yeah. She's pregnant.”
Hannah wasted no time enveloping her in a bone-crushing hug.
The knock on her door didn't even make them flinch.
“Hey, Lola. You decent, yet? I have coffee, and the boys are getting restless. Esteban is trying to set up another shooting gallery for Joker.”
Give me patience. Shepard untangled herself from her mother's arms and threw open the door. “Dammit, if I hear one gun fire—”
She froze as every male member of her crew came to attention. All in full dress uniforms with every button and clasp and ribbon shining, or ceremonial armor polished to a high shine. James dropped his salute and handed over two steaming mugs.
Shepard took a sip to cover her shock. Even the krogan were all shiny.
She shook herself off. “At ease, boys. God, James, this is fantastic coffee.”
Joker cut him off. “I brought the good stuff, Captain. Figured after all those years of crappy shipboard coffee, we deserved it.”
James cleared his throat.
Joker rolled his eyes. “Fine. EDI made it.”
Shepard laughed. “Well, thank you.”
Behind them, Garrus cleared his throat. “Shepard, unless you want to miss your own wedding…”
“I’ve got her, boys. Just go wait downstairs, I’ll have her ready shortly.”
Shepard grinned as they all saluted her mother, then performed an absolutely perfect group about-face, and marched back the way they’d come.
“I wonder how long they had to practice that maneuver.”
Hannah winked. “They were probably up all night working on it.” She shooed her daughter back to her seat. “Sit, so I can deal with your hair.”
“I was just going to pull it back—”
Her mother leveled a glare. “For your wedding? Please, Kylie. Now, sit. That’s an order.”
She sat, and took a sip of her coffee. “Yes, ma’am.”
In the back of her mind, Shepard recognized how amazing her surroundings were. How miraculous it was that they'd found an almost untouched area of the Presidium. The sheer number of people that had survived, and were there, watching. But the truth was, she had eyes only for Liara, who stood at the top of a raised dias, resplendent in a flowing white gown.
That was the true miracle. Liara, waiting for her. Alive, both of them, and about to be joined for eternity.
Shepard's chest tightened even as she took steady steps forward down the path left open for her between the press of friends, family, and everyone else who had come to celebrate the bond ceremony of two of the galaxy's most famous saviors. Liara's eyes never left hers.
She barely heard the words spoken in Hackett's—her father's—deep rumble, or in Matriarch Aethyta's smoky drawl. She just went through the motions, said the words, her attention solely on her bondmate. And in the end, two new matching tattoos adorning their wrists, it was all that mattered.
Captain Kylie Shepard stared deeply into the eyes of her new wife, Liara T'Soni, as the crowds around them cheered. Shepard and T'Soni. Joined forever, their child on the way.
Forever, for them, would be a long time.
Shepard was looking forward to it.
I can't believe how long I've been working on this. For the most part, this final chapter has been done for a long time, but life and circumstance have kept me from finishing it. the end of last year was particularly traumatic for me - I moved in September, and in November was called back home to deal with a family emergency that almost destroyed my life. I had to leave my friends, my job, close all my social media accounts, everything, and in the back of my head I couldn't help being really sad that I'd never finished this. I made it back home at the end of January with no phone, no computer, no job, and no money, only knowing exactly what I wanted to prioritize in my life. Friends and writing being foremost on that list.
A good friend sent me her spare laptop this week, and I'm thrilled that posting this final chapter is the first thing I'm doing with it (especially with a new Mass Effect game coming in less than 2 weeks). Thank you to everyone who has left kudos, commented, read, and encouraged me with this. I can't wait to see where Andromeda takes us.