Author's Note: This, my dear friends, is it. I hope it pleases.


— Zero Hour —


Morinth learns to revel in newfound powers as the weeks unfold before her. She finds weapons where she can and discards them as they lose their usefulness. Only a small hunting knife becomes her sole companion. It has a short blade of midnight-dark metal, its edge expanding into an inch of searing heat at the slightest pressure of her fingers where they wrap around the knife's woven hilt as they would around a lover.

The knife shrinks the distance between her and her foes as she carves them to pieces. She feels the resistance as she cuts into them, dissecting the Reapers' work one strap at a time. She finds a certain beauty in it, in the end. After all, it is a kind of artistry to take a entire species and shape them into twisted, hopeless shades of their former selves. An ingenuity and a taste for cruelty she can appreciate. These are pieces of art, hunting her through the empty streets and open lands of Earth, made of flesh and nightmares. The true triumph of evolution, the last step for life to take before plunging into darkness.

She sees a mirror world in them, an alternative to existence as she knows it. There are batarians there, far more glorious now than their lost and ruined civilisation will allow for. What turian has ever been as victorious in any battle, what krogan as unstoppably powerful? The rachni have returned in hordes of splendour and even the asari now know the truth of themselves.

And yet, here she is, fighting on. She will prove to them all what she is made of. They will learn — the Reapers and the lost souls of her sisters and her mother's scornful memory — that she shall not succumb and break. She will not bent the knee to these new masters of her fate.

The fight is nearly done when the change comes and it takes her a moment to even notice. She hacks down into the shoulder of her enemy and vile blood spurts in her face. The Cannibal howls like one of her sisters, flails desperately, but is unable to stop her as its arm comes loose.

The sky pulses in a sickly orange, not unlike the omni-blade of her beloved hunting knife. It cause a ripple in the air, hurtling towards them, the fulfilment of a prophecy riding on the crest of a tsunami. Something pulls and tears in her heart and mind as it passes over her, setting her thoughts adrift on the wind.

The Cannibal goes limp in her hand, heavier than it would if it was merely dead. It transforms — though its outward appearance remains the same — it becomes something else. Not a corpse, but an empty shell of a future denied to it and its brethren. It pulls her down until she lets go, staggering in the wake of the wave.

It feels as if she has not taken a breath in years. She has not seen the world with these eyes for what it is, she has been asleep, lulled into an animal state of being, killing in the ruins, hunting but dying, too. For the first time in a long while, she can no longer hear her sisters. Their call has fallen silent and their memory is washed away. Only then does she perceive the brink to which she has been driven and understand the danger and the lure of it. She thought she was hunting her sisters to set them free when in truth, it was the other way around. It was them, coming for her to bring her into the fold and reshape her body according to the Reapers' needs.

Morinth finds a seat and sits, crouched on a pile of detritus and does nothing but breathe. It feels like hours, or maybe days, an eternity all its own. The sky is darkening above her, a heavy gunmetal grey with drifting swathes of smoke and ashes obscuring the view of distant stars and flecks of flaring explosions flickering and dying for nothing but her enjoyment. It is a fantasy, but a pleasant one and the display is no less resplendent because of it.

After a while, the explosions begin to fall around her as debris reaches the surface, still burning from the heat of entry. It makes little difference. There is nothing left of Earth and it's glorious, blood-soaked past or its desperate, blood-soaked present. Nothing left to be torn down, only scorched Earth and ruins shivering on their foundations with the impacts.

Tiny tremors travel through the soles of her feet and up her legs. It's like a touch all over her body and she savours it, lets the sensation flood her body and her very being.

Movement catches her eye and she snaps her head around to focus on it. For a moment she believes it a remnant survivor throwing its life away by attacking her, or perhaps it is just falling mortar creating the illusion of life. Deep in her heart she knows there are no enemies left here and the humans have long since deserted the area.

She is the last one standing.

But it is not an apparition, imagined or otherwise, although it might as well be. The shape of a man peels itself from the swirling dust, slow steps carrying him forward, laboured but deliberate with vestiges of strength and grace.

She recognises him before she even believes it, before her mind can begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together and comprehend the sheer impossibility of it. Here is Shepard walking towards her, the warrior-prophet of the galaxy's last great hope. The one idea they have clung to until the very end, the hope that was to be extinguished after all the others when the Reapers finally conquered.

He stops as he sees her and a gust of wind clears her vision as if she asked it to. Shepard's hardsuit is torn in a dozen places, his skin is blackened by fire and dirt and crusted blood. The cybernetic scars are all long gone, made to heal so he resembled a mortal man rather than an undying demon, but the skin has been torn from his cheek and laid bare the lattice of wires to catch the light as he tilts his head to regard her.

Morinth watches him as he begins walking again, as each step brings him closer to her and reveals the extension of the damage done to his body, the bruises and open wounds. He looks like he has died again. Died and once more it simply wouldn't take. Blood covers the other side of his face, drips from a cut below his eye like tears as they trail down, an outline, tracing the shape of a cheekbone to the broken corner of his mouth.

It is incredible that they should find each other again like this. These shooting stars have brought him back to her or perhaps they are both dead after all and this is the afterlife, willing to take her even though she has never believed in it. But this last is such an academic thought without weight or meaning, powerless in his presence and hers.

She stands on her perch to gaze down on him, feeling like a bird-of-prey and she entertains the thought of falling on him from on high, tearing him down with her in the dust, to take him as her own once and for all. She climbs down and prowls towards him in the open square between them among cracked concrete and dismembered, disembowelled husks. She meets him halfway and they fall on each other instead.

Their mouths crash together in a kiss that is a bite, broken lips and edged teeth and hot, twisting tongues. Shepard curls a hand around her neck, fingers digging into her skull, and pulls her against him. She has ordered him to kiss her once, and she thinks he has neither forgotten nor forgiven that. But she has been wrong about something all along, the tastes she hated so much, the ones that obscured him from her grasp — the smoke, the alcohol, another's fluids, the blood — they are expressions of him, variants, foils. She should have known, because it is her game, how masks reveal just as much about the man underneath as the reality of him.

Her armour is battered, reliable enough to withstand the clumsy lunges of husks, who are almost dead by the time they reach her, but it has little resistance to offer Shepard. It tears loose easily, synthetic plating and soft fibre parting under his finger. The air is cool on her skin as it is exposed, the dust acrid and biting, the caress of razors, amplifying every sensation and every contrast between hot and cold, harsh and soft.

Shepard's broken hardsuit is a different matter. It's deformed, fastenings jammed out of shape, molten into patches. The soft padding underneath has fused into his skin all along his spine, it makes him hiss and snarl as she pulls free what she can. His skin is fever-hot from malfunctioning implants and uneven under her prying fingers and barbed nails.

Part of her realises he is dying under her grip even now, his body beginning to fail, but somehow it makes no difference. If it changes anything at all, it is that he has come to her in the end in the fulfilment of a promise she thought he has denied her.

Shepard wraps an arm around her waist, drags her against him, edges of his chestplate digging into her bared skin and she winces and wails and laughs like the goddess she is as they fall. She is crushed under his weight, pointed shards digging into her back, tearing her open like the lick of whiplashes as she scrapes on the ground.

Her power crackles around her, charging the air in a thunderstorm atmosphere. She senses him with more than her body, tastes him with more than her tongue; she spreads her legs wide around him and then draws him in. He has shifted his hold on her, dragged his hands down her exposed flanks to hold her hips and angle them.

She puts her hands around his shoulders, claws his neck and frees tatters of skin. He hates it when people hold his head, a gesture of mastery and submission she has never seen him accept before now. It brings them face to face in a moment of perfect stillness. His eyes are bloodshot, but bright and piercing in the dark frames of bruises and mixed blood and dirt. There is nothing lost in his gaze at all, no fear and no uncertainty. She has been afraid this life would break him, but it has succeeded only in laying bare the indomitable core.

For too long she was forced to hold back, veil herself in deceptions of one kind or another. For too long she has denied herself who and what she is. She has allowed herself to be caged in the twilight of her own power. She has been playing until now. Her biotics flare bright and consuming, unmitigated for the first time — the first time that counts — and it's a beautiful sight, blindingly bright in her eyes and fills her entire body, it ties her to Shepard with ropes made of nothing but forces of will and desire.

The fight before has left her on edge, the feeling of tearing flesh at the end of her hunting knife causing a different hunger in her, arousal both in the basest way and the most transcendental. Things happen simultaneously, piled on each other in nothing but a tiny slither of time. Shepard sheathes himself in her body in a long, hard slide and her biotics dance and pull tight. There is no slow easing in, no building up; one moment they are separate and unique and than they are one, nerves joined and blazing in white-blue power.

Shepard chokes on his own scream as his breathing cuts out and his heart beats madly in his chest. His whole body goes rigid, pulled too tense. His grip on her cramps but his muscles fail and he collapses into her, unable to hold his own weight.

The first thing that hits her is the pain. After all, she feels what he feels, and his body is a mess of overstrained muscles, ripped tissue and cracking bones. He is riddled with gaping wounds and blistering burns have eaten deep into his flesh.

Then the circle closes, the sensations realign themselves and transform into something greater than their components. Shepard turns his head just far enough to drag his teeth along her jaw. He pulls himself up, giving a slow, deep roll of his hips in perfect, solid friction inside her. His breath rasps in his throat and she feels the vibration as well as hears it.

"More," he says into her skin and the rhythm changes.

The ground of a dead planet chafes at her back, shards burying in her flesh as every hard, powerful thrust moves them both.

Shepard growls and hisses by her ear, as if he has shed millennia upon millennia of civilisation and evolution, stripped down to the primordial hunter feasting. He sinks his teeth into her neck, deeply and unrelentingly, until he draws blood. She feels it hot and wet between them, the bittersweet sting of pain and the scorching flash of relief.

Morinth hacks her nails into his back, slices into his skin, carves out his shoulder-blades to make him arch his back and beat harder into her. The sensory feedback mounts and overloads, feeds the pleasure into its intensity until it begins to tip and spiral into pain and further still. Burning rapture-agony, exalting dying to the taste of diamond dust and gore and scattered weapons, here in the ruins of all their worlds and at the end of all things.

She remembers the black oceans of his mind and she hurls herself forward, desperate to plunge into it. She has been waiting for it for so long, she's come such a long way just for this. There is no resistance, Shepard's mind is thrown wide open, his soul laid bare for her to take.

And the stormy seas of her longed for memory have turned to tar. Slow, consuming, dead. The rage has all been spent, the monsters and myths she has imagined are all gone, wasted and burned and used up along the way. There is nothing left of the man she fell in love with, only the scarred, pockmarked surface of his corpse. This she cannot dominate.

Distantly, from inside her mind and his, she hears a dry, rattling laugh. Shepard pulls back from her just slightly, leaving deep bruises on her thighs as he rearranges her, hoists her legs over his shoulders and holds her poised, gaping open and drenched. She wants to beg him then, in this instant of deprivation, but she won't. Never has become a feeble word, but she will never beg him. She howls as he enters her again and goes so much further than before.

It hurts and she loves it, loves him, for the matching fury of their shared magnificence, the glory of who they are and why they are still alive. For, in not killing him, a new path as opened for her. A future none of her kind has ever had. Not the sisters she lost centuries ago to her mother's creed and not the sisters she lost to the Reapers' hopeless invasion.

In the devouring pitchblack death of Shepard's mind, her thoughts can chase the twisted rope of his very being, all the foundations of his potential for her to take as her own. The very beginning of the most extraordinary being since the beginning of history and she can take that small part of him and carry it into the future. His daughter and the daughter of an Ardat-Yakshi… the thought leaves her euphoric, greedy and disbelieving and shuddering in his arms.

If she means to kill him now, she will have to carve him into shreds with her hunting knife, but this she can still take from him, with or without his consent. He wouldn't even need to know. Only he does and it binds her beyond any hope of escape.

It is his rejection that picks her up and tosses her into an abyss of utter ecstasy. The very force of his willpower as it slams into her with abrading friction, shattering them both until there is nothing left but dust and sensation and all-consuming pleasure erupting into perfect, ravaging release. It lasts as it spins her out of her own mind, her thoughts cast adrift and dissolving.

Shepard leans over her, driving her into the fractured ground, her very bones straining and tethering, nerve-ends melting. His voice joins her in a low-pitched, beating crescendo of maddening bliss. He lurches to a halt and stays there, buried in the overheated depth of her body and their thoughts, their very being inextricably merged.

Shepard yanks her upward, her legs fall away from his shoulders to wrap around his waist once again. He leaves her floundering in vertigo, but with her eyes wide on his, intense and unwavering while everything else spins. He grinds his hips into her, moving slower now with the first frenzy spent.

"Again," she says.


The air is cool, but surprisingly soft on damp, battered, exposed skin. It feels like a caress of staggering, contrasting gentleness.

Night has fallen in a leaden, vicious grey. It smells of ashes and burning flesh. Stretched out on the unyielding ground, they are no longer touching and a silent emptiness is flooding Morinth's mind with the same pressure as the tide coming in. She senses Shepard by her side and through some fading thread of biotic power, she feels the steady beat of his heart as it finds its rhythm.

"Morinth," he says in a whisper.

There is only one regret left now.

"No, Shepard," she almost laughs. "Mirala."

Pale clouds are driven past the jagged, broken spires of a skeletal civilisation. A gust of wind tears open the clouds to reveal the clear night and the crescent of the moon and behind it, the glory of the milky way in perfect white on velvet.

Shepard says, "Eneas."

The firmament stretches out above them and she sees the myriad falling stars, tiny flickering lights going down in a firework of white and silver and gold as the fragments of the Reaper fleet scatter and burn in the skies above Earth.


End of Zero Hour


References:

'twisted rope' — an expression from "Captain Harlock: Endless Odyssey" for DNA

'Eneas' — Shepard's first name; a slightly less fancy spelling of 'Aeneas' (Trojan hero and ancestor of the mythical founders of Rome); the reason Shepard once referred to himself as "goddess-born"

plenty of other callbacks to previous installments, I think none of them are essential, but hopefully entertaining to those who spot them


Author's Note: Is there any word for 'cock' that does not completely ruin the prose? No? I thought so. Helps avoid the slippery slope into porn, though, so we are all better off for it...

Obviously, there is just no way this can be as good as I want it to be. It'll never be as good as I want it to be. It's an approximation, however, as close as I can make it.

I'm the first to admit that I may be fetishising Shepard's first name too much.

Although this feels like the final installment, I'm not quite certain that is what it'll be. As a suggestion, maybe keep the story alerts.

Feedback, as always, welcome!