Author's notes: so, this is the last chapter. thank you thank you to everyone who read, reviewed, added it to a list, or generally liked^^ love you guys!!
"Commander Shepard, report to the bridge. We're almost at Ilos."
Ashley's gaze became a little more serious as she stared at the turian. His eyes seemed despondent, a far cry from a few moments ago when they were teasing each other. She kissed his cheek, and the mandible flicked slightly, but the look in his eyes didn't change.
She got to her feet, holding out a hand to pull him up. He was heavy though, and fell against her slightly as he stood. Garrus sighed, and Ashley gave him a small smile. "Guess we'll have to put things on hold. It's showtime for you guys."
Having avoided the soppy goodbyes, and Liara stalking her round the ship after that, Ashley grumpily ditched her things in her locker. She hated being left behind while the others got to go blow that smartass turian to pieces, but took consolation from the fact that Wrex was taking it worse than her. Krogan were notoriously hard to read, but even she could see the big lizard man was walking around with a face like a slapped arse at the moment.
"Chief Williams!" It was that blood-curdling, hair-raising, pulse-stopping voice from behind her. She turned round to see the asari scientist with a sentimental expression on her bright blue face. "How are you?"
"Just peachy, thanks for asking," was Ashley's swift reply, as she breezed past T'Soni, really not feeling in the mood for a heart-to-heart with a woman she could barely tolerate. She'd put her dislike of the asari aside after the help she'd given previously, but she couldn't abide the woman following her around like they were best friends.
"I imagine Garrus' departure is as hard on you as Shepard's is for me, but if we need to be supportive. Despite this, if you feel the need to talk–"
"You'll be there," she finished for the asari. "Yeah, I got it, but what'll make me feel better than talking, is pumping a few hundred rounds into the side of one of those geth ships."
With that, she hit the button inside the lift, closing the doors on T'Soni's beseeching face, and taking the trip up to the bridge. Her destination though, was the cockpit. She wanted to know what was going on down there, and if she would get the chance to go on one of the gun turrets that were situated on either side of the cockpit.
Ashley tensed up when she heard a comm channel being opened from the Citadel Council Chamber. Joker threw her an apprehensive look –even the easy-going pilot wasn't above anxiety, as he asked, "Normandy to the Citadel, Normandy to the Citadel. Please tell me that's you, commander."
"I'm here, Joker," replied the voice of Shepard. Ashley had never felt so glad to hear it in her whole life. It meant that Saren had been taken out.
"We caught that distress signal, commander. I'm sitting here in the Andura sector with the entire Arcturus fleet. We can save the Ascension, just unlock the relays around the Citadel and we'll send the cavalry in."
Ashley caught the sound of Garrus and Tali bickering over the point in the background, before Joker finally asked for the commander's decision. They both knew what it was before she even made it, and the gunnery-chief didn't dispute it, though she knew she would have done in the not-so-distant past.
"What's the order, commander – go in now and save the Ascension, or hold back?"
Shepard replied with her earnest urgency, "Opening the relays now, Joker. We need to save the Ascension no matter what the cost."
This was the news that Ashley had been looking forward to, because it meant that she was finally being invited into the party. She dropped into the seat behind the gunnery station, taking the controls with relish. Her enthusiasm was almost palpable, but Joker seemed for the first time in his life, serious.
Ashley smiled with confidence. "She knows what she's doing."
"She does," Joker concurred, glancing towards her, "but there's a crapload of geth out there, and I'm gonna need you on that gun to cover my ass so I can get us through."
"Aye aye, sir."
She felt the typical surge as the Normandy shot through the relay. Her stomach flipped over. Though there wasn't supposed to be any noticeable change when travelling through the relays, or so said the scientists back on Earth who had probably never been through a mass relay in their lives.
As they passed through, tailed by the Arcturus fleet, Ashley caught sight of the horde of geth ships that were scattered all over the nebula surrounding the Citadel. There was no immediate sign of Sovereign, but there was plenty of sign of the decimated ships of the Council races. It looked like the fate of the galaxy was on humanity's shoulders. She couldn't help but feel proud – if only her father could see her right now, but maybe he could.
"Alliance ships move in, save the Destiny Ascension," Admiral Hackett ordered in his usual gravelly voice that was always in control.
Joker, proving that he was the skilled pilot he always claimed to be, weaved in and out of the rubble that floated around them, and was sometimes flung straight at them. Missiles hurtled towards the oncoming Alliance fleet, blasting various ships to pieces, while the Normandy just managed to skirt their path.
Ashley gritted her teeth, glaring in anger at what the damn synthetics were doing to the Alliance. She opened fire immediately, sending off a few missiles in the direction of a nearby geth ship, causing it to blow up. Not pausing to celebrate the tiny victory, she moved on to one of the many other geth ships, blasting it with a prototype laser that the Normandy had been fitted with.
"Destiny Ascension you are all clear, I repeat you are all clear," Joker announced to the asari commander waiting on the comm channel, as soon as a path had been cleared for the immense warship. Despite its power and size, even the Ascension couldn't single-handedly hold off the attack.
Hackett's voice came down the line to them again. "The arms are opening, all ships move in. Concentrate on Sovereign."
Ashley's attention was diverted to the glittering ward arms – was that fire? – and as they opened, she caught sight of Sovereign. It had latched itself onto the Tower, no doubt waiting for Saren to hand all power over to it. Surely it knew that that moment would never come? It made her sick to think that Garrus and the other two were so close to its metal claws.
The Normandy was the first through the arms, but was swiftly followed by other Alliance ships, all sending a barrage of gunfire towards the Reaper, which repelled every attempt with some impregnable shield. Even Ashley's laser couldn't pierce its protection, much to her fury.
Then, as though its apparent invulnerability wasn't enough of a kick to the crotch, it unleashed a laser a gazillion times stronger than that of the Normandy. The weapon tore through the Alliance ships, obliterating them. They couldn't defeat it; all they could hope to do was evade its attack.
A panicked voice from another Alliance ship fed through to them, speaking the truth that none of them wanted to accept. "We have to pull back – Sovereign's too strong."
"Negative!" Hackett replied vehemently. "This is our only chance; take that monster down, no matter what the cost."
His conviction was infectious. They realised that there was no turning back; if they did so, destruction would be all they achieved. Ashley, for one, was certainly not going to turn-tail and run from this synthetic bastard.
For good measure, the gunnery-chief sent a few blasts in Sovereign's direction, as though she expected it to suddenly penetrate that infuriating shield. What other choice did she have? Joker kept darting in and out of the hail of fire, and despite his faults, she had to admit he was an amazing pilot.
Just as Ashley was beginning to wonder if this was it, that they would exhaust all attack power and still not defeat this Reaper, a vivid red electricity covered Sovereign, and it swayed on the pinnacle, almost as if the machine was dizzy. Whether it was something Shepard had done, or the strain of its shields having to deflect a relentless attack, Ashley didn't know, but this was what they'd been waiting for.
"Its shields are down, now's our chance!" Joker yelled into the comm, confirming what Ashley had suspected.
Hackett's reply was immediate and indomitable, "Hit it with everything we've got."
The Normandy flew up over the Reaper, before Joker spun it round, so the nose was facing downward for the briefest moment. "Hard on my flank, I'm going in!"
The ship bore down on Sovereign, weaving through the blasts from the other Alliance vessels. Ashley was ready. She fired, the laser ripping through the metal of that damn synthetic with a vicious slash. It shook, exploded, hunks of the Reaper ship flung through the space within the ward arms. Some of the debris caused even more devastation to the wards, some hitting Alliance vessels, and the tip of one claw plunging towards the comparatively tiny Citadel Tower, right were Garrus, Tali and Shepard were.
Ashley felt her breath catch in her throat.
The acrid taste of the smoke that swamped the Citadel Tower filled Garrus' mouth, and he tried to push himself to his feet, but found that his leg must have been injured when a chunk of Sovereign had crashed into the Tower.
Debris was scattered all about them, hemming them in, and possibly obstructing the path of anyone trying to help them. That was, if there was anyone left who could help, given the fact the whole of the Citadel was in ruins.
"I wonder if anyone will come for us. The causalities will be very high, and we might be dead before anyone reaches us."
That was Tali speaking, of course – the life and soul of any good party. She couldn't half be annoyingly negative sometimes. Fair enough, he wasn't exactly an optimist, and the odds didn't look great, but the last thing he wanted to hear before he died was the sound of that quarian complaining. He wished that Shepard had brought Ashley instead. Although, he wouldn't have wanted her here in these ruins, faced with the possibility of dying from injuries, starvation from not being found, or the barrier that was currently stopping the air being sucked into space from failing. That said, he had no idea what had happened out there. Had she survived the fight against Sovereign? They hadn't heard from the Normandy after Shepard gave the go-ahead for the rescue of the Destiny Ascension.
"I wonder just how high the casualties are," Garrus murmured, his thoughts as dark as the blood seeping from his wounded leg. "A lot of ships will have been destroyed in the attack."
Tali replied, sounding a little vacant, "It will be okay, don't worry."
Garrus himself was feeling a little weary. He wondered if he was going to pass out, when a vague movement ahead caught his attention. At first he thought he'd imagined it, but sure enough, the scrap of wrecked metal in front of the collapsed pair was shoved aside, and the warm yellow glow from a C-Sec officer's torch fell upon them.
In the mad frenzy of nerves that had preceded the fight against Sovereign, Ashley had completely forgotten about the mail she was waiting to receive from home. That's why it came as a bit of a shock when she noticed a hefty vid-mail file sitting in her inbox. She wondered briefly whether she should look at it at all. Her family meant so much to her, and if it was negative, it could tarnish her relationship with Garrus. It was a miracle they'd both made it this far. Ashley pulled herself together. Enough of this crap. She was a big girl – she could deal with her family's disapproval.
With a deep breath, she clicked on the mail, watching as the beaming face of a young woman filled the screen. Well, Sarah seemed happy enough, but out of everyone in the family, her youngest sister was the most broad-minded. Sarah scooted to the edge of the screen and Abby's face came into view. She had that permanent expression of disdain planted on there, but no disapproval yet. Then again, Abby was weird so she might like the idea of her sister dating a turian. It was her mother and other sister that she was concerned about.
"Hi, Ash!" Sarah cried, swooping down on the camera and giving it a noisy kiss. Ashley rolled her eyes at her youngest sister. "We've been so worried! We heard that the famous Commander Shepard was leading the fight against that Reaper and I thought something might happen to you! Seriously, I've never watched the news so much in my life. But, I didn't find your name in the military obits, so I guess that means you're okay... just give us a call, sis! I wanna see all these medals you're supposed to be getting. Think we can go to the ceremony?"
"Screw that," Abby piped up, nudging the youngest over so that she could get her face fully into view "Why don't you just come home for a visit? If you don't get any time off after all the shit you've been through, I'll personally come and kick the Ambassador's ass myself. Anyway, I'm dying to see your new man... only... he's not exactly a man, is he?"
The broad grin that had been planted on Ashley's face now slid into a cringe as she waited to hear what the response had been back home.
"C'mon Abby, don't be an ass," Sarah grinned, winking at the screen. "This guy must be the best turian who ever, ever lived, 'cause somehow he's got Ash totally hooked, right sis?" There was another cheeky smile for the camera.
"What's with that, anyway?" Abby frowned. "I thought you hated aliens, especially turians. You do remember what they did to dad, right?"
"You can't blame that all on the aliens," Sarah replied with a slight roll of the eyes. "Don't listen to her Ash, I think it's awesome. Look at it this way – human guys can really suck –"
"– Amen to that," Abby interrupted with a sage nod.
"So what's the harm in seeing what the competitions like?" Sarah finished, her bright smile illuminating the screen whilst Abby looked intrigued at the idea. Ashley knew her sister had just gone through a messy break-up with her very human boyfriend in the last few months. Who knew, maybe she'd be joining turian dating sites before the week was up? "Don't worry; Lynn is totally with me on this one...well, sort of. She's a little nervous about it; you know what she's like. I think she's a little weirded out that you're dating a turian, but the unexpected is what makes life worth living."
Abby shrugged at this little philosophical speech. She seemed to have lost the disdainful expression for now, but it was replaced by one of concern. She shook her head as she began to speak, her short neon-dyed hair bouncing as she did so. "It's mom you gotta worry about – she doesn't trust this Garrus guy. She keeps saying how he might be some kinda terrorist, or he might sell you to slavers, or give you some kind of freaky-ass disease that only aliens get... or get this – he might eat you."
"Eat me?!" Ashley mouthed at the screen. She appreciated that it was her family being protective of her instead of being the other way round as it often was, but they didn't half come out with ridiculous suggestions sometimes.
The mail erupted with waves of raucous laughter from her sisters. "You know what might change her mind?" Sarah began with a sly smile. "Maybe you could bring him home for a meet-the-family weekend?"
Ashley shuddered at the thought. The last thing she wanted was to bring Garrus back to meet her distrustful mother and her overly-inquisitive sisters. Aside from the fact that the turian was way too argumentative to hold a sensible conversation with any of them for long enough, there was a good chance that her mother might ask some really embarrassing questions, or even worse – she might pull out the baby photos.
Now that the mostly-positive mail from home had lifted her mood, Ashley took a trip up to the med-bay, where Garrus, Tali and Shepard had been spending most of their time since they returned from their impromptu trip to the Citadel.
She'd been worried as hell when they'd first been brought back to the Normandy. All had been in fairly bad shape, sporting broken bones and all-sorts, and there had been a short scare when Dr. Chakwas had fretted over whether Tali's wounds had been infected. The quarian, however, made a good recovery, and was up and about soon after, though not nearly as soon as Shepard, who had lain still for all of five seconds before she wanted to get up and arrange meetings with the Council and whoever else.
She entered the med-bay, finding it unusually empty, except for the turian resting complacently on one of the beds. Ashley couldn't help but grin as she watched him, completely oblivious to her presence. She had been distraught and baying for geth blood (Well maybe not blood, but...) when they had first brought Garrus in, supported by two C-Sec officers and in bad shape. All that time, she had been more concerned for his welfare than she had ever thought possible – not that she would ever admit it.
"You know, you're really lazy," she grinned as she drew closer to the hospital bed he was sitting on.
Garrus seemed faintly surprised. "I am?"
"Yup. You've been out of commission for ages now, while the rest of us work our butts off trying to sort out the Citadel and what's left of the fleet. We lost a lot of guys saving your alien asses."
"I hope you don't think it was a waste of time, chief," he replied, deciding to take her comments with a pinch of salt these days.
Ashley plonked down on the bed beside him with a broad smile still lighting up her face. "Course I don't – if we hadn't come to the rescue, your scaly butt would've been fried by now, and I can't have that."
"I appreciate it," he growled softly, his hand finding its way to her leg, fingers gently trailing upwards. He leaned closer and she felt his hot breath on her neck.
"Slow down there," she laughed, lifting her forefinger and placing it over his mouth before he got carried away. "We're all wanted in the comm room. Shepard's piling everyone in there so she can give a big pep talk. Bet you a fifty credits she'll mention something about making nice to non-humans. She throws that in whenever she can."
Garrus gave a small sigh of disappointment, but quickly covered it up, as though he thought the Commander might somehow know that he had momentarily considered blowing the meeting off for an hour alone with the Gunnery-Chief. "Alright, I accept. After an attack on the Citadel, I'm sure the commander will have other things on her mind than improving race-relations."
"Don't bet on it – oh, too late!"
She headed up to the comm room, where just about all of the personnel aboard the Normandy were gathered. Nudging a few other crew members aside, Ashley managed to work her way to the front, so she got a clear view of the battle-worn commander. Garrus stood close beside her, mostly because the room was cramped as hell with everyone packed round the door, but she couldn't help but think that their relationship had matured a little. It had for her anyway. If she could be open with her family about her relationship with Garrus, then the whole crew and every last person in the galaxy could see her kiss the damn turian for all she cared.
"We've got a hard fight ahead, people," Shepard announced, her voice filling not only the room, but the ship, as Joker broadcast it over the Normandy's comms. "The Reapers are coming, and we're going to be the ones on the frontlines, united with the rest of the galaxy to bring them down. I know we can do it, but we're not alone in this..."
Ashley smirked as the Commander's speech continued, and murmured under her breath to the turian, "Fork over my credits, smartass."
He chuckled quietly and slid an arm around her waist, attracting a few nosy glances from the other crew members, and a mysterious gagging noise from Wrex.
As Shepard continued her speech about working with the other races to rebuild the Citadel and fight the Reapers, Ashley felt strangely comfortable. She knew the fight ahead would be hard. Sometimes, it might seem impossible. But she had Garrus, and she honestly didn't care anymore what anyone thought about that.
Thank you and goodnight!!