Author's note: New to the site. Hello! Wrote this without any clear idea of direction, partly because I was feeling uncharacteristically angst-filled and romantic and partly because I love so many of the Mass Effect characters, and I wanted to experience further interactions between them. All the characters probably bear some of my stamp, but hopefully they're not too far from true-to-form. Shepard is different in a major way , I think. I wanted his character to be deeper and more fleshed out (and also not sound like Mark Meer in my head).
I'm thinking this will likely be based much more on character development than actual missions or battles, from the perspective of whomever I feel like writing from at any given point. I've taken a number of relatively small liberties with plot and whatnot, Shepard's age during the Mindoir raid for instance, but nothing too absurd or outlandish, I hope. Reviews/thoughts/etc. are welcome.
1 – Memories
He awoke to the harsh sounds of gunfire, sounds he'd only ever heard before on vids or in his imagination, and after the initial confusion, he felt a nauseating surge of fear.
Pirates, it's pirates, they'll kill us or sell us for slaves –
His mother burst into the room and found him, a short and somewhat scrawny boy of seven sitting huddled on his bed in a wrinkled set of Superman pajamas. There were screams, now, amidst the gunfire, and the room lit up intermittently with the flashes of rifle muzzles from outside.
Viola Shepard had never considered herself a brave woman. She had been perfectly content – perfectly happy – living a quiet, unassuming farm life with her husband and child. But she knew well enough what would happen to him if these batarians took her little boy, and when she saw him there, on his bed, huddled and confused and so afraid, she felt a wave of love and adoration so complete, so sublime, that her own life, her own sense of self, in that moment utterly ceased to be of any significance. She knew then, as clearly as if in a vision, that whatever happened to her tonight, whatever she had to endure, these creatures would not take her child.
"Julian," she said calmly. "It's all right. Come here."
Slowly, as if in a daze, he obeyed. The floor felt icy under his bare feet.
"Get your shoes, please, honey," she instructed, searching through the small pile of clothes on his dresser until she found his jacket. Julian donned his socks and shoes while his mother fussed over his coat. He felt bizarrely disconnected from reality, standing there in his pajamas and wearing his shoes and jacket, a strange ensemble of clothing that he'd never had reason to don before. Most of the gunfire had died down, now replaced by strange, guttural shouts. The bedroom walls were now bathed in a murky, orange glow – one of the other buildings had caught fire.
His mother knelt before him, her eyes tear-filled but earnest and keen. "Listen to me, Julian. There are some very bad people outside, but they are not going to get you if you do exactly as I say. Do you understand?"
He nodded, terrified but full of love and unquestioning faith in her. He would do anything and everything she asked.
"I'm going to go outside, out the front door. When I'm gone, I want you to go out the back, away from the lights, and I want you to run, as fast as you can, until you get to the woods. Do you have a place in the woods, a secret place that you can go to hide?"
"I'm scared, Mama…"
"I know, baby. It's okay to be scared. But we're going to be okay. We just have to be strong for now, alright? Can you do this for me? Will you go and hide? In your secret place?"
He nodded dumbly.
She hugged him then, tight enough to hurt him, kissed him and brushed a trembling hand through his hair. It poked up every which way, just as it always had. They stood this way for a moment more and finally, briskly, she stood up, gathering herself.
"Wait until you hear the door close, then you go, as fast as you can."
"What about you, Mama? What about Dad?"
"We'll be fine, sweetie. Don't you worry about us. Just do what I told you, okay?"
She smiled. "You're a good boy, Julian. I love you very, very much."
"I love you, too, Mama…"
After one last look, she turned and left. He would never see her again.
"And it is with great personal honor that I bestow the Star of Terra, the most prestigious of Systems Alliance military honors, upon our newly-promoted Commander Julian Shepard, for stalwart courage in the face of impossible odds, for his pivotal role in the preservation of our colony at Elysium…"
Shepard let the words and applause wash over him, wishing fervently for the ceremony's end. He felt wooden and exhausted. "Hero," they were calling him. He felt more like an overly-taxed machine. He had personally killed over fifty people in the assault on Elysium, helping to turn back an attack very much like the one on Mindoir all those years ago. He should have felt proud, satisfied, thrilled that these people, cut from the same cloth as his family's murderers, had failed to subjugate the colony, that he'd been there to help stop them. But he just felt… empty.
He knew he was a good soldier – one of the best, maybe. His reputation in that regard was well-earned, and he was a natural leader, if not the most vocal or outspoken one. But killing, causing pain and suffering in others, no matter how deserving, did not come naturally to him at all, and the battle had truly been a nightmare.
This is your life now. Better get used to it.
In some ways it was a bitter pill to swallow, and he'd never felt more strange and out of place than on that stage, with a smiling colonel pinning that garish medal to his chest. He found himself thinking of that night, in the woods, crouched and shivering in a riverside cave as his childhood burned and died around him. He looked out into the small crowd of people, saw the faces of the men and women under his command, the faces of the civilians he'd helped save, saw the pride and adulation in their faces, feeling every bit the cowering child under the oppressive weight of responsibility. He saw Captain Anderson, his new commanding officer, standing toward the back of the room. Their eyes met and for a moment, a brief, strange moment, Shepard had the crazy feeling that Anderson knew exactly what he was feeling, that he understood. Anderson favored him with a slight smile.
So this is what being a hero feels like.
He wondered idly if he'd have been happier as a farmer.
It was a strange feeling, looking into this mirror for what she knew would be the last time. It was an expensive, full-body mirror, designed to eliminate glare, even enhance the reflected image. She had used it many times in the near-decade it had been in her possession, but rarely with much admiration for the figure it reflected. She knew she was beautiful, the same as she recognized her superior intellect or physical prowess. These were facts – nothing more or less. Certainly nothing to be proud or ashamed of.
Niket had asked her, many times, if this was what she really wanted, and now more than ever she could answer yes, without question. The "why" was a bit more difficult to articulate. There were the obvious reasons, to be sure – the rules, the lack of affection, no social life, impossible demands, meaningless and unfulfilling personal existence. Despite what she'd told Niket, there was undoubtedly an element of revenge in it as well, a desire to get back at the man who had done this to her, driven her to the point of abandoning everything she knew.
More than anything, however, it was her desire to do something with her life, something that she believed in, and being trapped in her father's vision of a dynasty, being little more than the physical manifestation of his enormous ego, disgusted her. It demeaned her, somehow made her less real. What use were all her gifts if only to be wasted by shackling and confining her?
And the baby… her sister. She hadn't dared tell even Niket what she'd planned, but leaving the child here didn't even feel like an option in her mind. The child was obviously meant to replace her – replace her, as if a daughter could simply be removed. She didn't even want to think about what that prospect entailed for her if she stayed, though she knew her father and wouldn't hesitate to believe him capable of anything in pursuit of his bloody legacy. But the child… What would he do differently in raising her? What mistakes did he believe he'd made? Most assuredly, he wouldn't believe he'd been too hard on Miranda.
If anything, he'll believe he wasn't hard enough.
She looked once more into the mirror, observing the grim resolve of her heart reflected back at her in her eyes, in the set of her jaw. Suddenly, impulsively, she raised her hand and violently smashed the glass. The mirror's backlight buzzed, flickered, winked out. Standing there in her bedroom, alone, her hand bleeding and throbbing, she was overcome by the feeling that this was right, for the first time in her life she was doing something right and worthwhile. She closed her eyes, suddenly conscious of the quickness of her breath, the frantic pounding of her heart. Everything was in place. If everything went according to plan, she'd have at least a week's head start, maybe more.
If. Unwise to assume it will, knowing him.
Beyond that, she had no idea what lay in store for her, but she'd managed to arrange a home for her infant sister. The family knew nothing of the child's origin – they'd simply been waiting almost a year to adopt, and all they knew was that they'd soon have a baby daughter of their own.
Heaven send it'll be enough… Please, let her have a normal life.
Let him never find her.
The blow was heavy, and it stung, dropping him to his knees. Righteous fury lurched through Garrus like a bolt of lightning. He'd expected Gidion to approve of what he'd done, or at the very least turn a blind eye –
"Explain yourself," his father demanded.
"Where should I start?" Garrus snapped, unable to keep his voice level. The blow that followed was expected, but no less painful for it. He sunk, clutching his skull in pain.
"Start with why you decided to put your classmate in the hospital. You split his skull, Garrus. If not for your age, you'd be sitting in a cell right now. I'm tempted to put in a formal request to the warden to make an exception."
Garrus wouldn't put it past him. "The guy is a bully, little more than a savage. He was beating on a boy half his size, threatening to scale him, like some blood-lusting krogan."
"I didn't ask you what happened. I asked you to explain yourself."
He stared at his father in disbelief. The anger on his face was unmistakable, but unlike Garrus' own, it was cold. Measured. "He got what he deserved! He had no right –
"What he deserved is not for you to decide."
"I'm not going to just sit by and watch some barefaced savage prey upon an innocent child –
"Enough," Gidion snapped. "Have I taught you nothing? Stand up, boy."
Garrus obeyed, his face still smarting.
"You were right in your desire to protect your underclassman. In itself, that is commendable. But what you did today was an abomination of justice. You are a child, Garrus, with no business dispensing your own brand of justice upon anyone, regardless of circumstances. You did not split that boy's skull to protect a child – you did it because you were angry. It is the responsibility of the school's governors to dispense justice upon those who misbehave."
"Reivus doesn't respect authority –
"To be turian is to respect authority!" Garrus shrunk from this rebuke. "You are to go to your room. Think on what you have done and how you have transgressed your civic duty. I did not raise a brainless barbarian, and you will learn to respect your place."
"Yes, father," Garrus said. The meekness in his voice brought a satisfied nod from his father.
"Now get out of my sight."
He slunk away like a wounded animal, livid with his father, hurt by his disapproval. Gidion Vakarian was himself a respected lawman, and Garrus admired him greatly, but the older he became, the more frustrated he became with what he considered naïveté on Gidion's part. Blunt force was the only thing people like Reivus could respect.
Everyone doesn't play by the rules. How can rules check the behavior of people who don't respect them?
The blows from his father's fist still stung. He stepped into his room and closed the door behind him. He had been angry… but he was not convinced that he was wrong.
Edit (12/13/11): A few minor changes made, but before I update in earnest I wanted to go back through and edit some of the older parts to get myself back into the mindset that I was in a year and a half ago when I started this.
Shepard's mother is named Viola in reference to the character in Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night of the same name. Viola spends much of the play masquerading as a man, and she also has a twin brother named Sebastian who bears striking resemblance to her. I gave Shepard's mother the name Viola as a reference to the fact that players can choose either gender when creating their own character. I personally found this entertaining, but as it was kind of an obscure thing to put in, I figured it required reference. I also just think the name Viola is pretty, so there is that.
More of this to come. My laptop is totally shot so I've had trouble with all things computer and internet for quite some time, but I'm looking forward to writing again and this is one of my main outlets. I hope that my continuing this story can provide some joy to some of you.