Final chapter of this story. I can't believe this took as long as it did, what it turned into and how many of you stuck with me! Thank you so much and like I have been saying there is a continuation that I have already started.
Shepard and the crew made quick work of returning to the Normandy. Upon entering the vessel that had been their home for just under a year, the crew shared collective looks of disbelief and outrage at the sight of empty chairs and halls that should have been filled with their crew members. The remnants of the horror that had swept through the ship had been relatively cleansed with EDI's help, but here and there a bloodstain or scaring of the wall where a gun blast had hit it gave hints to the nightmare the crew had gone through. Each and every one of the ground team members were thinking much along the same lines, why weren't we here? We could have saved them? Wasn't that their job here anyways? To fight and protect people from exactly what happened here? No one spoke, no one had to in order to understand what the other was feeling. Their home had been defiled and their family taken, leaving a hollow, deafening feeling of despair and a murderous thirst for revenge. None felt it more than their Commander however, and one look at the woman's face left no question to what she intended to do.
Shepard stood on the platform overlooking over the galaxy map, the crew surrounding her, watching her and waiting for the order that was obviously coming, but they all needed to hear it none the less. Maria's jaw was tense and her form ridged as she swept her eyes over them, her fluorescent eyes taking in the emptiness around all of them as well. The woman was livid, and the crew was feeding off her emotions, fueling their own rage and preparing themselves for what lay ahead.
Shepard allowed her eyes to close briefly, taking a deep breath in through her nose and exhaling, releasing her anger and focusing her mind on the task ahead. As her sharp eyes opened, she addressed the crew, "All hands prepare for battle. We are taking the fight to the Collectors and bringing our people back home. We are going to kick these sons-of-bitches straight to hell and show them just what happens when you piss us off." Maria watched as the crew reacted to her words, Jack cracking her knuckles, Garrus rolling his neck and Miranda's biotics rolling over her body.
Joker's voice coming over the com sounded just as serious as the commander's as he spoke, "ETA one hour Commander."
Shepard nodded to the crew around her, signaling they were free to go and prepare on their own. As the crew filed past, Maria turned to the two drell that stood off to her left. Riue had followed his brother Thane onto the ship with no questions of what was going on or if he should come at all. As brave and capable as Maria suspected he was, she was not going to allow him to stay on the ship while they embarked on this mission.
"Riue, EDI has the Kodiak prepped for you down in the cargo hold. You can pilot it back to Omega from here." Shepard left little room for argument if the drell had any intention to try and sway her into allowing him to stay.
Luckily it didn't seem that he had any intention to, "Thank you Commander. I'll be returning to the Citadel to stay with Kolyat. If anything is to happen on this mission . . ." The steel colored drell cleared his voice awkwardly, obviously not wanting to put into words the grim possibility that he had hinted at, "Well he will need family if you two are to cross the sea."
"Thank you brother." Thane clapped Riue on the shoulder, bring him in for a tight embrace, which was returned with enthusiasm.
"Amonkira watch over you in your hunt brother and may Kalahira guide you safely across the sea if your body shall fall." Riue recited before pulling away from his older brother.
"May Arashu watch over you and our family little brother. Live with your eyes open." Thane spoke back, a look between contentment and sorrow reflected in his obsidian eyes.
Maria continued to look on silently, curious over the last bit of Thane's goodbye. Live with your eyes open. After a second of contemplation it dawned on her the meaning of the saying. To live with one's eyes open equated to not living in battle sleep.
Riue gave Maria her own hug as well and bid her farewell before entering the elevator that would take him down to the Kodiak. Shepard watched the shuttle depart from the ship on the galaxy maps radar. As the red dot bleeped out of range, the Commander allowed her shoulders to slump forward as she held her body up by the railing by her terminal screen. Too much had happen in too short a time over the last few days and it all seemed to weigh on her at once.
Thane's silent steps behind her of course weren't heard and his presence was almost forgotten until he wrapped his strong arms around her slim waist. His lips pressed lightly to the back of her neck in an effort to comfort her. His pleasant scent and familiar contact was soothing, especially after thinking she would never feel it again.
"Come to our rooms with me." Thane spoke into her ear, the feel of the vibrations from his drell voice never growing old.
Without resistance Maria followed Thane to lead her up to their cabin, the door locking behind them as he guided her to the bed. Thane stopped her just before meeting the side of the bed, his strong hands pushing at the material of her leather jacket, peeling it from her body before tossing it to the couch. Maria stood there mutely, only watching him with her eyes as she allowed him to undress her. His scaled fingers would knead her tired muscles at certain points, earning a soft moan from her lips or flex of her fingers. Eventually, she was laying on the bed, her stomach pressed to the mattress wearing only her underwear; and Thane's gold arm band.
Maria's eyes opened as Thane switched to her left calf, massaging the limb expertly the same as he had done with the rest of her body. The drell had been at his silent work for just under thirty minutes and Shepard knew it was just about that time for them to get dressed for the mission. As reluctant as she was to tell him to stop, Maria needed to get up, but first, there was something she needed answered.
"Thane?" Maria called quietly to the man behind her.
She received a hum in return, his talented hands never stopping their ministration on her skin.
"What were you going to ask me down on Omega? Something about the bracelet?"
Thane's hands suddenly halted in their travel down her leg, and Maria could feel the assassin at her back go ridged. The abrupt change in demeanor startled her for some reason and she began to pull up from the bed so she could turn to her lover. However, before she could even get her chest off the mattress, Thane shifted behind her, laying his hands on either side of her head and affectively pinning her body in place.
"Siha." The touch of his cool scaled forehead on her bare skin caused her to give a soft gasp. As he had spoken his loving title for her, his lips had tickled the center of her spin, causing goosbumps to appear across her arms.
Maria could tell he was having trouble articulating what he wanted to say, the rumble of his chest was alternating between a soft purr and a more ferial growl. It amazed her how someone so human looking could make sounds like that. The turians at least looked like upward facing raptors, and even though Thane was clearly reptilian she was sure she had never heard a snake or lizard make those sounds. Despite her random inquisitiveness of the drell anatomy, she was beginning to worry that she might have put him into a position he didn't want to be in, even though he had initiated it back on Omega.
Before she could let him off the hook, Thane spoke again, in a whisper that sounded chocked and breathless at the same time, "Shia, will you marry me?"
Every fiber in Maria's being froze at that moment. Their whole time together flashed before her eyes. Thane falling through the ventilation in Dantiaus Towers. Thane bowing to her in the comm room. Them speaking in life support. Watching him make his first sniper shot on her team. The fight between Jacob and him in the cargo hold. Thane kissing her. Finding Kolyat. Both of them saying I love you. Their first night together. Him killing Hock. Thane being thrown by the Shadow Broker. Kissing him before drugging him. Seeing him hooked up to the tubes and machines in the med bay. Hearing that he left the Normandy. Watching him come back for her on Omega. Her final memory was of him placing the arm band on her bicep and the look of happiness in his eyes at seeing her wear it.
"Yes." Maria heard herself whisper. She shook her head of her thoughts, all of a sudden the urge to see him, to hold him, to kiss him was all too overwhelming. She turned under him, her answer having shocked him quite well considering the fact he was doing an excellent impression of a statue, she was sure he was no longer breathing at this point.
"Yes." She repeated, placing her hands on his cheeks, snapping him back to reality as his eyes blinked rapidly.
Thane felt air rush into his lungs after holding his breath for what felt like hours. The feeling was like a kick to the chest followed by an almost crippling feeling of joy. Yes. She said yes, was like a mantra playing in his head. As his dark eyes peered down at her smiling face, Thane couldn't remember a time in his perfect memory that he had felt a stronger need to kiss someone.
Thane crushed his lips to hers, both so wrapped up in the other that the tears of joy sliding down both their cheeks was oblivious to them. Neither one of them was alone in the galaxy anymore, their relationship was no longer haunted by the inevitable death that had hung over them the past nine months. All they had to do is get through this last mission.
In too short a time for either of their liking, the newly engaged couple were in the elevator, fully dressed and ready to finish this mission once and for all. Shepard had been on many mission in her career, and too many to count where she wasn't sure if she was coming back or not. Regardless, she always seemed to pull through and return to duty and start the process all over again, even though soldiers, in her opinion, who were worth ten of her never got to return home. Yes, she was good at her job and she was confident in her abilities but she had never viewed herself as anything but a regular solider. Not the savior of the Citadel, not the heroic sole survivor of Akuze, or the only crew member on the first Normandy worthy enough to be brought back to life. What about Pressly, Nihlus, Ashley, her team on Akuze? Where was their resurrection? Why had she not been taken and studied instead of Sargent Tombs? Maybe he would have been here instead of her. All her life she had faced danger and near death experiences, the slightest ten second change could have resulted in a completely different life for her, or lack of life. Not once had she ever seen more than a simple solider looking back in the mirror. However, if there was ever a time to draw on any possibility she was the super savior everyone thought her to be it was now, because the man standing next to her now, kissing her for what might be the final time was worth living through this for. She wanted to marry him, wanted to put the white dress on and walk down the aisle and make her vows to always be his in front of everyone. If one more mission is what it took to accomplish that, then she would swear on her life that the crew, Thane and herself were all coming back from this to see her fantasy become a reality.
As the doors opened, Thane pulled away from her, his hand at her cheek lingering before nodding for her to take the lead. With a deep breath an a long exhale, Shepard stored the memories of the past hour away to the back of her mind and brought the importance of the mission to the forefront of her psyche, allowing her to detach herself from Maria Shepard, Thane Krios' fiancée, to Commander Maria Shepard, the Collector's worst nightmare.
As the couple made their way through the empty CIC, a feature that caused them more anger than either one was showing, they arrived at the cockpit where Joker was just pulling up to the Omega 4 Relay. The orange tendrils of lightning that fired down the relay's arms and the angry red-orange center where they were about to take the ship through was definitely eerie looking. The whole affect was both ominous and successfully intimidating. Shepard was surprised any ship had had the courage to go through it just for curiosity sake. However, Maria wouldn't be scared off by a creepy façade, her crew was behind that relay and she was bringing them home and making sure the Collectors never got the opportunity to repeat what they had done.
"Let's do this Joker." Shepard patted the head rest of her pilot, earning an 'aye Commander' in return.
From there on the ride through the relay was a living hell. Possibly the worst feeling in the galaxy was being stuck in a metal box, being hurled around with no way to effectively grip anything, while only being able to watch as one man and his computer steered them to safely in hopes that they weren't shot to pieces and sucked out into space.
"Shepard I can use some help down here with keeping this gun from overloading!" Garrus' frantic voice called from over the comm.
"I thought Mordin's upgrades were taken care of!?" Shepard yelled back, keeping herself from falling head first into Joker's chair.
"Donnelly and Gaby complained about the power draw throwing off their calculations so I had to make some adjustments. Unfortunately that means none of them were finished when the Collectors so rudely took our crew!" Garrus growled into his mic, the blasts coming from the gun making it hard to hear him, but the Commander got the gist.
"Thane get down . . . ?" Shepard looked back to her fiancée, only to see him halfway down the walkway, running for the elevator.
"I'm on it." She heard him shout, before disappearing.
"Let's hope the rest of the ship fairs better." Miranda commented beside her.
"I'm glad I put the shielding and the plating on the ship early on during the mission." Maria grumbled as she continued to hold herself into place and trust in Joker's piloting skills.
Two cargo hold battles, one near death experience for Thane, who had almost been crushed in the crew deck by a falling piece of a bulkhead and a ship crash later, and the crew was assembled in the conference room, awaiting their final orders before storming the base. Maria stood at attention at the head of the table, a holo mapping of the Collector base floating before the crew. It had been decided that the whole team would have to be split up into two strike forces. The larger group being led by someone else while Shepard and a smaller team would aid a sol operator who would traverse the ventilation shaft in order to open the door that would unite their two groups once more. The only problem now was selecting a member to take on the job. As Jacob pointed out, the task was practically a suicide mission in itself and as Miranda reminded her, they would need a skilled tech expert to pull it off. The volunteers started after that. Some who stepped forward were simply out of the question, like Jacob, Thane and Garrus. As skilled as they all were, this was way over their heads. Mordin was moderately more qualified, but in the end there were only two options in her mind best suited for this. The only question, which one would she send?
"Legion. You're up. You can hack any tech out there." Maria called to the geth at the end of the table. She knew her words were true and she wouldn't give the job to someone she knew wouldn't make it out of there alive. But this was also an opportunity to demonstrate just how much she trusted Legion, because even this far into the mission, she knew some of the crew still had doubts about the geth's loyalty. After this was all said and done, there would be no room for suspicion.
"Acknowledged." Legion nodded his flashlight of a head to her.
"I'll lead the second fire team down the other path Commander. Will meet up in the middle after the doors have been opened." Miranda proclaimed, stepping up to her right.
Immediately, the protests started to circulate. Granted it was started by Jack, the least likely person to get along with Miranda, but nods of agreement and looks of disappointment followed Jack's outburst.
"No one wants to take orders from you princess." Jack narrowed her eyes at the Cerberus operative behind her shaded glasses.
Shepard gave an exhale of annoyance at the situation. She hoped everyone was past this kind of mistrust or petty dislike but apparently sitting on the front steps of hell was a perfect time to bring out the school yard bickering.
"This isn't a popularity contest." Miranda bit back, sending a glare Jack's way, but turned back to Shepard as she spoke again, "Shepard you need someone who knows how to command through experience." Her last part sounded more like a plea for her to be picked. She wasn't sure if it was born from a need to prove herself, to be in control, have faith in her or a combination of the three.
No volunteers stepped forward for this. Everyone's waiting eyes were on her. Most really didn't seem happy with the idea of Miranda taking lead, but Shepard knew all of them would acquiesce to her orders no matter who she decided on. This choice merited a fair bit more consideration than who would go into the shaft.
Tali had lead a team back on Heastrom and Freedoms Progress but she couldn't see her handling a leadership role like this; or wanting to for that matter. Grunt was too head strong and Miranda was right, she need someone with experience. He may have the potential one day but not the experience now. Jack was much the same as Grunt, too headstrong and no experience leading a group. Mordin had worked STG but this was not a stealth operation and they would need more than tact to survive this. Zaeed had lead the Blue Suns all those years, he kept his cool and worked well with the team. He would make a viable choice. Jacob? No. Samara? No. Thane? No. Kasumi? No. Garrus? Yeah, Garrus would be a phenomenal leader. Not only experienced but he had worked with her for years now, he knew exactly how she would run her team and what calls she would make, plus the crew held more loyalty towards him than Miranda. Garrus would lead the team as closely as she would lead her own out of any of her choices. However, Miranda was capable, she knew it. Regardless of how the crew felt about her personally, Miranda was an exceptional solider and a competent leader. Unlike the rest of the crew, Maria had gotten to know Miranda on a level that no one else had the opportunity to, she could be trusted, she knew, but could she be sure the rest of the crew would see that, and could she risk it now?
"Miranda, you'll be leading the second team." Maria gave her a nod and flicked her eyes over the rest of the squad, giving them a look that said the discussion was over and her choice was final.
Miranda looked stunned for a moment before quickly hidding it and giving her a grateful smile, "I won't let you down Commander."
Maria nodded to her, then turned her attention on the whole room. It was strange, the feeling she got right before a big fight like this. No matter how many times she did it it was always the same. A disembodied feeling of looking over all of them, replaying the memories of her time with everyone and her own life. It never secede to amaze her the turn her life took the day she joined the Alliance and the person she became was unrecognizable from the person she once was. All the people surrounding her and all the friendships she had made would never had happened without that first step. And all of it, all the time, blood, sweat, tears, fights, laughs, smiles, healing, love . . . all of it could be taken away as soon as she stepped through those doors. She was leading not only a team of warriors to their possible death, but her family, and that was the realization that always gave her this feeling. This numb, time stopping feeling where she took everything and everyone in and was presented with what she was putting on the line.
"When I was young, I only lived for myself." Maria began, knowing she had to say something to them before they left the ship, something they could carry with them through the battle and push them through until the end. Her opening received curious looks, all very interested in hearing what she had to say. Shepard continued, "My file is open to the public yeah, but all of it, every mistake in my life every sin I committed all those years. No one can comprehend." Maria shook her head, finding it hard to look at them with memories like those flashing in her mind, but she pressed on, "There's no conceivable reason I should be here. I can think of a hundred people off the top of my head who deserve to be here more than me. But they're not, I am." Shepard swept her eyes over the crew, some looked like they wanted to protest, but they kept silent, waiting for her to speak. "When I joined the Alliance, it lead to so much more than I could have ever imagined and who would have ever guessed that the street thug from Mexico, would be standing here on the other side of the Omega- 4 Relay ready to lead the galaxies best damn crew on the mission that will save everyone who doesn't even believe a threat is coming." She could feel her jaw tense, her eyes burn but she kept her cool reserve in front of them, even though her words were beginning to chock even her. Those whose eyes she could see she could tell were affected by what she was saying, internalizing and reflecting it back on to themselves.
"We are more than what we started as. More than a legacy." Maria nodded to Miranda, whose eyes took on a more vulnerable look, which changed to a grateful one. Shepard's head turned to Jack, whose lips pressed tighter as her jaw tensed, "Or a phyco." That earned light laughter from the room, and even Jack gave a snort of amusement. "Or a science project." She lifted a brow to Grunt, who turned his eyes to the floor, "Or a vigilante." Garrus nodded to her in understanding. "A thief." Kasumi blushed under her hood. "Or an assassin." Maria's eyes rested on Thane at the end, who held her gaze with a blank stare, but Maris could see the emotion rolling in his dark eyes plain as day. He too offered her a simple nod which she returned.
"Or a thug. " Maria pushed off the table, which she had been leaning on and pointed to herself, "It's not the past that defines us or even how everyone outside this room views us. What defines us are our actions now, today. It doesn't matter where you have been or what you have done, after you step out those doors, it changes forever." Maria could see how appealing that was for most of them. A clean slate, no labels, no judgment. This was who they were.
"When I look at you all. When I think back to other missions, I think that maybe I'm here, and not those other hundred people, because I can see you all in a way no one else can." Maria gave them all a small smile, "I don't see you as a label, or damaged or even a solider. I see you as my family. And if your family isn't worth fighting for, worth coming back for, than I don't know what is."
Maira lether final speach linger between them, hoping they all realized how much they meant to her, how much they meant to each other and that they were so much more than a summary in a dossier. This was thier defining moment and today they were all heros, and she was going to make sure the galaxy knew it when this was all said an done.
That's it, it's over and done. I decided not to write the battle because I couldn't make it sound right and it just sounded like I was taking it straight from the game. But I hope you enjoyed the story and will go on to read the continuation. The second part of this will pick up right where this ended and im going to hit the ground running with it! Thank you all!