A/N: Bioware owns Mass Effect.
No Coward Soul
Kaidan finished the last crisp fold of the Alliance flag and pressed it into Mrs. Williams' waiting arms.
"As a representative of the Alliance Systems Navy, it is my high privilege to present you this flag. Let it be a symbol of the grateful appreciation this galaxy feels for the distinguished service rendered to humanity by your loved one." The ceremonial words felt flat from his mouth, and he broke protocol slightly by pressing the older woman's hands. Her mouth trembling, Mrs. Williams nodded once in grateful acknowledgement and held the flag to her chest.
With that, the formal ceremony was over. Kaidan sat back down on the front row, Commander Shepard at his right as Ashley's family accepted the condolences of the other funeral attendees. Soon, along with Ash's family, they were the only ones left at the gravesite. Like many military families who didn't get closure in the form of a body to bury, the Williams family decided to erect a small holographic memorial. This memorial site was located on wide swath of sun-baked prairie—just outside the small town Kusanagi on Amaterasu. The sky was a clear blue with fluffy white clouds racing across the expanse. Kaidan glanced to his left where Joker sat stiff on his chair, hands white-knuckled where he gripped his canes. The pilot caught his eye and threw him a tight-lipped grin.
"Just imagining what Ash would say about the twenty-one gun salute..." He swallowed hard, not bothering to finish. He sat for a moment and then stood, his leg braces whirring as they supported his weight. "Later, LT." Joker adjusted his crutches and stood for a moment at the holographic picture of Ashley, grinning at them, her brown eyes alight with mischief.
Kaidan glanced to his right. "Commander?"
"Just one minute," she murmured, standing and going to stand beside Joker. Kaidan followed, tugging his white hat back on. They approached Ashely's parents and sisters, but there, Shepard's customary confidence wilted slightly. Kaidan knew that she'd talked them already via vid phone—but this was the first time she'd seen them face to face. It couldn't be easy.
"Commander?" the youngest sister, Sarah, spoke up before Shepard could open her mouth. Kaidan could see traces of Ashley in the way the girl held her head, in the way she looked directly at the person she was speaking to.
"Ash always loved this one poem, but she didn't let anyone know. She thought that liking Emily Brontë might make her seem like a wuss." A smile broke through the grief on the teenager's face. "Would you mind reading it for us? I know she'd like that."
Shepard's face wavered and Kaidan thought for a moment that she would break. But she steadied and took the outstretched slip of paper with barely a tremble in her fingers.
"I would be honored to," she said quietly. At some unspoken sign, they family gathered around the small holographic representation of Ash.
"No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world's storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heaven's glories shine,
And Faith shines equal, arming me from Fear.
O God within my breast,
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life, that in me has rest,
As I, undying Life, have power in Thee!.
Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men's hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,
To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thy infinity,
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of Immortality.
With wide-embracing love
Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.
Though earth and moon were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou wert left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.
There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou -Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed."
"Amen," whispered Sarah, eyes glittering with tears. Commander Shepard closed her eyes briefly and then pulled the girl into an awkward hug. Joker, standing off to the side, muttered something and quickly swiped at his eyes. Kaidan felt his own eyes prickle.
"Welcome home, Ash."