A/N: Sorry about that insane delay . . . our wireless router crapped out and the new one didn't get here until today, and because I live with a roommate I didn't want to keep stealing the internet to do the intense and crazy edits I always have to do to these, so nothing got posted.
And here's your last chapter. Farewell note at the end.


I don't care
I don't care what you believe
As long as you are in my heart
You're just as real as me
Maybe even more
Someone has touched so many lives
Can never, never die

Chapter 65: Familiar Landscapes

Kaidan leaned back against the doorframe of their makeshift firing squad in the cargo bay, watching silently as Shepard braced her enormous Widow Anti-Material Rifle against her shoulder.

He remembered the first time he'd seen her use a sniper rifle. Vanguards weren't trained for them, only trained for regular sidearms, shotguns, and the occasional assault rifle. But she'd calmly pulled off her regulation sniper rifle as they stood on top of a cliff, aimed, and blasted the head off the man who'd masterminded the Skyllian Blitz. When he had asked, she'd gotten a slightly distant look in her eyes and quietly murmured that it seemed appropriate to shun her vanguard training and use the weapon that had saved her life on Elysium.

With a loud bang, the rifle fired. Shepard jerked backwards with the force as the round slammed into the paper target at the far end of the range, utterly destroying it. In a second she'd ejected the clip and replaced it, swinging the weapon up just as the next target dropped. The next shot threw her off-balance, and she staggered backwards. Kaidan stepped forward and steadied her. With a half-groan, she pulled away.

"Marra." Shepard ignored him, opening the barrel of her beloved weapon to check the clip ejector. There were two circumstances where Kaidan used her first name: they were having sex, or he needed her attention. Due to the copious amounts of clothing currently possessed by both of them and recent lack of the former, she figured it was the latter. "What's wrong?"

"Don't know what you – dammit!" Shepard yelped as her finger got caught in the weapon's mechanism. She managed to extract it before dropping the weapon to the floor, sinking against the range stall and digging into her eyes with her palms. Kaidan sighed, settling down next to her.

"Is this about Bahak?" She nodded, paused, then shook her head. "Which is it?"

"I don't have the luxury of questioning my decisions," she said quietly. "But destroying the Collector base instead of using it, and then destroying that relay . . . and every night I have nightmares that aren't mine and I see what we're facing and I know they're here and . . . and I do something stupid like take a salarian and a geth into a mineshaft crawling with some sort of husks and risk them for nothing. Because I've started second guessing my own decisions."

Kaidan raised an eyebrow. "What are you talking about?"

"I should have kept that base. Not for Cerberus . . . but for the Alliance or the Council or just for ourselves. If I hadn't gotten cocky Kenson would never have been able to get the drop on me and thousands of batarians would still be alive. If I hadn't been so desperate to find one Reaper artifact that we didn't need to destroy . . ." she sighed. "How is Legion?"

"Tali says it's in self-repair, but it'll be fine. What happened?"

"The tunnel caved in behind us, trapping us in the room with the artifact. We rigged up an explosive to open the second tunnel but one of the husks tripped it before we could. He got caught in the blast." She glanced at him. "He . . . it . . . grows on you."

"Yeah." Kaidan frowned. "So you're . . . how exactly is all this connected?"

She settled her head in her hands. "I'm fucked."

Kaidan fell silent as a terrifying thought dawned on him. "Hackett contacted you."

Shepard nodded quietly. "He delayed them as long as he could," she murmured. "But they want me to report to Earth a-sap. I got the message as I was heading for the Hammerhead."

That explained that. He rested his head on the back of the stall. "Now what?"

"I guess we set course for Earth." She paused. "Well, that's a lie. First I have to talk to the crew. I'll try to get rid of as many people as possible."

"I hope you aren't planning on trying to get rid of me."

Shepard managed a small, half-hearted smile. "No. You're my escort, after all. God forbid I try to dump you off on the Citadel or something."

"Who're you going to be able to get rid of?"

"I seriously doubt Joker's leaving his baby. I'll try to get rid of Jack . . . hopefully she'll be content to stick with someone else. I was going to see if Liara needed any help – I think Miranda would work well with her, which would mean Jacob and probably Kasumi would stay there. Tali and Legion – if Legion's okay – I'll send back to their people so they can get things under order. Grunt'll go back to Tuchanka. Zaeed'll probably crash a ship into a sun or something. I doubt I'm getting rid of Garrus anytime soon." She leaned her head back, closing her eyes. "As for the rest of the crew . . . I doubt Chakwas is leaving, which probably means Gardner's staying. Gabby and Ken aren't going to leave their engine, and Chambers isn't going anywhere. Everyone else I should be able to deal with."

"You're sure?"

"No. I can't . . ." She ran her hand over her face. "I can't drag them into this."

"That's not your decision." Her head snapped up. "I know you're trying to protect them, Marra. I know. But if they want to go down with you, that's their decision. Not yours." She started to protest, and he held up his hand. "I told you. I know what you're trying to do. And for the most part they'll do what you want them too. But don't discredit yourself."

"Discredit myself?" She laughed tonelessly. "Can I discredit myself any more than I already have? I'm going to be arrested, Kaidan. I've never been arrested before. I . . ." She dug her palm into her forehead. "I used to be a goddamned hero, and now I'm a terrorist. How am I supposed to defend myself when the reason I committed a war crime was to defend against a shadow threat that no one except us believes exists?"

"Marrakech . . ." Kaidan thumbed her chin, drawing her head over to him. "You're a Spectre. If all else fails, everything you say on the stand will be along the lines of 'That's classified.' And besides. Most humans hate batarians more than you do. You might have committed a war crime, but they're sure you did it for the right reasons. Especially once the fact that you quit Cerberus comes out. Anderson will vouch for that."

"I only hope his word's enough," Shepard said quietly.

"It will be."


The steps echoing behind him on the floor were totally expected. Garrus was already in the cockpit, waiting for the human homeworld to come into view (he was more curious than he would admit. He'd been curious ever since meeting Shepard to learn if the human homeworld had conditioned their species to be persistent and like a – what was that dog breed they always referred to in cases such as this? A . . . bull pit? – when they were after something they wanted), and that meant that only two people were missing.

"Commander," Joker said as the steps came closer to the cockpit. "Nearing relay. Starting approach trajectory."

Shepard leaned on his chair. "How's Jack?"

"Furious." He shrugged. "She'll live. It was either dumping her off the ship on Tuchanka or getting her arrested with the rest of us."

"Shepard," Garrus said quietly. "There's still time. We don't have to do this."

Kaidan watched as Shepard self-consciously checked her shield generator. "No." An invisible change in the angle of her first Star of Terra, pinned under her collar, was fixed by a second small fidget. "I have to do this."

Joker shook his head. "Shoulda known that wouldn't work," the pilot chastised. "Entering relay."

The Normandy lurched under their feet as the relay activated. Kaidan silently wrapped his hand around hers, intertwining their fingers. Shepard glanced at him with a nervous smile.

The group was silent as the Normandy glided silently through the human home-system, the glow of Sol floating ahead of them through the viewports.

"Huh." Garrus was finally the first to speak. "So that's the human homeworld."

Shepard stared at the planet ahead of them, her breath catching in her throat. Kaidan squeezed her hand.

"We've got this."



A/N: So . . . that's all, folks. Thanks for joining me on this very long AU trip, glad y'all enjoyed it. I'm working on an ME frame-story (examining MarraShep pre-ME and in ME1 through the Lazarus Project's research) that's shaping up to have some excellent Shenko moments, primarily because I thought it sounded like a good idea and I've never written a frame story before. Don't know if I'm going to post it yet - we'll see.
Chiaroscuro may continue in ME3 depending on how The Powers That Be treat us Shenko fans in-game and how much I like it. For you fellow Whovians out there, I'm already hoping to write an ME3/DW crossover (primarily because HOLY CRAP THE DOCTOR AND REAPERS and the opportunity for more Shenko angst) in late 2012. For those of you who have never watched Doctor Who - shame!
And that's the last of it. I'll see y'all around FFnet.