A/N: And here it is, guys. The epilogue of this series.
I've got another author's note coming up down below, but... well, let's just say that it's weird finally getting to the end of this fic. It's also strange, 'cause this is one of the first longer projects I've actually seen all the way to the end. Fun times are had with that.
But anyway, let's get to the end of the fic, shall we?
Epilogue: Satie: Vexations
Five years later…
Ack! Oh God… Oh God… Oh my God…
That was… Oh Lord…
I sit up in bed, breathing in and out. Damn it, it seems that even this far down the line the nightmares are still rather intense. I still see faces every night. Thane, Madison, Garrus, Carhon, everyone we abandoned on Earth… I see their faces, and they… They won't stop reminding me of what's happened. And then suddenly I'm on the battlefield again, running away from the danger as mass accelerator rounds fly over my head, trying to—
Dammit, Art, pull yourself together! It's over. It's been over for the past five years. You know that, right? You shouldn't need to remind yourself of this every time…
I shake my head, looking at the bedside clock and seeing that it's… God damn it, it's three in the morning. Ugh… Well, with nightmares like that, there's no way I'm gonna be sleeping tonight. No use trying to go back to bed. It's like that every time I try to sleep, so by now… well, by now I've just given up trying to go back to sleep whenever I wake up from those damn nightmares. And the nights where I manage to sleep well through the night are rare now.
At least they're not so vivid anymore. The first nights without Orange were difficult, as the dreams were so vivid I remember screaming about specific pain in areas I didn't even know existed. I did end up having to dispose of the cube, and when that happened I slept a little easier. I guess it was only a matter of time until we got here again, though. Well, at least I'm not waking Tali up here.
I look at her briefly in the bed, slowly getting out of the bed and being careful not to wake up. She sleeps a little better now, at least. I'm thankful for the small miracles involved with that. Getting over Kul'Yenvar and everything with blowing up Earth was hard, but over time I think she's taken it better than I have. She's gone back to sleeping fitfully, at least. And it's more than I can say for myself.
I shake my head, slowly walking out of the room, being careful not to make any noise. Thank God the floors are made of steel in the future: creaky wood floors are literally a thing of the past, and thank God for that.
I slowly make my way down the stairs of the house, slowly passing my work space. I pause at the opening to that, and then peer inside to see that everything is untouched, exactly as I left it. The manuscript paper is still on the desk, the pencils are in order, all the other resources are there… and there's everything else. About the only thing I can say about this war is that it's been easier to write stuff ever since it ended. Ever since the nightmares started, and I've started seeing the faces again… it's been easier to write. It has been ever since that Requiem mass I ended up writing just after the war ended. It's never enough to keep the nightmares at bay, but at least here in this study I can have some measure of peace. But I like to compose when I can actually listen to stuff, so… I don't know. Maybe not now.
I walk past it, looking outside the large, spanning window into the scenery around us. Man, Legion really outdid himself when making this house for Rael, Tali, and myself. You'd think that getting it built on Rannoch and finally fulfilling Rael's dream of giving Tali a house on the homeworld would've been enough, but damn if that geth didn't make it nice as hell. It's a beach-front house, and while the area is starting to be developed so it looks like Key Biscayne 2.0 it's still quiet enough for us, so we're still here. And the view of the ocean? That's actually pretty nice, and I've grown to like it more and more over the years.
In the corner of my eye, I see the door to Rael's bedroom, the red hologram hovering over it. He's probably sleeping soundly as usual, knowing him. I better not disturb him.
Hm... Speaking of the old men... I wonder how Mordin is doing. I've heard rumors that his little dream-share project has finally started getting used throughout the STG. I don't really keep in touch with old Mordin anymore, but he's told me that it's leading to a lot of strange research about dreams and how stuff happens. I'm just happy the dream-share stuff didn't get handed off to a bunch of corporate sharks, but I'm not sure if I like the idea of a bunch of STG guys appearing in my dreams trying to fish information out of it. I don't know, I guess it could be worse, but... I'm glad it hasn't gone to waste. Maybe we'll see more people going down there, I dunno.
I turn to the glass door as I ponder this, sliding it open slowly so as not to disturb anyone. I still can't believe Legion put this here. All things considered, I guess I should've seen it coming, but I still can't get over how strange it is that sliding glass doors still exist in this time period.
I step outside, letting the cool night air flow over me. As I close the door behind me, I wonder what everyone is up to now. They did end up going everywhere they said they would, but amidst everything else that's happened, I can't help but feel really unhappy. Yeah, the galaxy is safe, but… it doesn't feel safer.
I step outside, leaning against a railing on the landing. I always wanted to believe that Mordin would be wrong about his predictions, but it seems that he was right about some things. With the Alliance having decreased power thanks to to the loss of Earth, the Council is less willing to help us than they were before. It's gone back to how it was in the days when Shepard had just been crowned a Spectre, except that we can't do too much about it because we still have our Council seat. Politically, we've become a laughing stock, because we don't have much to bring to the table anymore.
And that's made the defense against the pirates harder. Exactly as the Erash family predicted, pirate attacks went on the rise with our colonies. They heard of our decreased military power, so the pirates were all "hey, let's go get more slaves". It even broke out into full-on war at one point, with the Alliance waging a war against a bunch of pirate gangs.
It would still be going on if not for the fact that the Hegemony finally stepped in, despite the various xenophobic tensions that're still raging within it. I'll bet that humanity would've scoffed at batarian aid several years ago, but they're the only ones who really wanted to do anything. The Council races were of no help since they didn't lend anything more than a bunch of Spectres, the quarians are still trying to build their species back up to something resembling what it once was so they couldn't help, and the others… well, the less said about them, the better. So it was up to the batarians to step in and provide crucial information that ended up bringing the war to an end.
And that's starting to develop into some kind of power thing. The last I heard, I'd heard rumors that humanity might be considering leaving the Council since they aren't helpful. I can't blame them for wanting to do that given that the Council isn't doing anything anymore, but… I don't think that's a good idea. For one thing, it's mostly that the Council is at a gridlock again: Tevos and the new salarian councilor are both indifferent about it, and I guess that's understandable because they're busy rebuilding their fleets from the damage they sustained during the war. But Victus has actually done quite a bit to speak up for fairness within the Council towards humanity, even though the turians are rebuilding their fleet from all the stuff the Reapers did to them. I'm sure Udina appreciates that Victus is trying to help him, but at the moment it's not enough. I'm afraid for what it would mean if humanity left the Council. Then we'd really be back at a time before the first contact war, and where would we be then?
I mean… maybe if humanity allied themselves with the batarians and the quarians, but I don't see that happening 'cause there's still a lot of xenophobic tension between both us and the batarians. And if they did align with each other, it would be cause to suddenly fuck up everything we've worked so hard to get at. I mean, Dsrondo already has a hard enough time keeping the xenophobic assholes in line; joining up with humanity would just galvanize them into revolution, and humanity would be rightly fucked if the new Hegemony got toppled. The quarians are a slightly different story, but there aren't enough of them right now even with the geth staying to aid the quarian people. They have the Fleet to help, sure, but… I don't know how well it'll turn out considering that most of the Fleet is still made up of ships that haven't been maintained properly. I just don't see how leaving the Council could be a good thing. If anything, it'll just make things worse than they already are.
And then there's the whole thing with the krogan, and that's starting to become an issue, too. True to his word, Jarel did end up curing the genophage as reward for all the krogan did. It's still in the early days of the post-genophage world, but so far the krogan are keeping themselves in check. With Wrex, Anahit, and Bakara at the head of everything, I don't doubt that the krogan are in a pretty good place, and so far it hasn't gotten into all-out war. The salarians are rather wary, though, but since the krogan haven't done anything too bad yet they can't do anything about it. So I guess that's good, but if the krogan do end up doing something...
It's tenuous right now, but at least the tensions haven't exploded yet.
Yet, being the key word. Any day now, I'm going to wake up to find that things are going to start spiraling out of control. I just hope it doesn't go out of control, but when it does…
I sigh, drumming my fingers along the railway. Dammit all to hell… Maybe if I hadn't come here, all this could've been avoided. I mean… this couldn't be what Bioware had in mind when they released the trilogy, right? I was just some anomaly, and without me we never would've found Verek or all those other guys. Damn it, I should've asked Orange about that when I had the chance.
I just… I had to be responsible for all this. I'm sure of it. This wouldn't have happened if I had come here… I mean, some good came out of it, but now the galaxy is… well, it's a couple of bad moves away from destroying itself. And I sort of made it all possible…
Fuck... What the hell did I do to this place?
I hear footsteps sound from behind me, and I turn to see Tali walking onto the landing. "Tali…" I say, standing upright as she comes closer.
She nods, her hair flowing in the cool night breeze. She finally underwent Mordin's immunization thing last year. She actually adapted to it faster than Rael did, and I guess that's the final assurance I needed that she's finally comfortable again. She walks up next to me, and looks directly at me with her piercing blue eyes.
"Nightmares?" she asks.
I nod. "Yeah," I reply. "I tried not to wake you up…"
"It's fine," she says. "You're not as good at sneaking out of the room as you think."
"I know," I reply. "I just… I get so nervous about waking you up…"
"Don't be," Tali replies as she rubs my shoulder. She then looks directly at me as I turn my attention to the waves of the sea. Those waves sound so gentle from here… This shoreline was never very heavy with the waves, but that's a good thing. "Are you all right? I mean, apart from the nightmares."
I sigh. "I… I'm thinking. Again." I shake my head, looking up at the stars. "Speculation. You know… all that."
"Those thoughts again?" Tali asks.
"Yeah," I reply. I shake my head. "I'm sorry. I know it's a stupid thought, but I can't help but think..."
"I know," she says. "It's all right, Art. I don't blame you for anything."
Tali rubs my arm, pulling herself closer. She doesn't say anything at all as she does this, but she doesn't need to. I simply pull myself closer to her in return, and place my head in the crook of her neck. We're silent as we stand in this way together, and I close my eyes as she holds me there. She's almost protective of me, really. It's quite a long way from the one who... I don't know.
She then looks to me. "Come," she says. "You should come back in." We part at that point, and then she offers me a smile.
I nod. "All right," I say. "Sorry to have woken you."
"It's all right," Tali says as she walks back into the house with me. "Come. We have a lot to do in the coming days."
I nod, leaning close to her. We walk through the house quietly, getting back to the master bedroom. I don't have the heart to tell Tali that I won't be going back to sleep, not at this point in the night. But she gets into the bed, and soon enough I find myself siting in the bed as she drifts back to sleep.
I look down at her, and then look back up at the ceiling. Briefly, I find myself thinking back to that lonely practice room on the top floor of my school, with the out of tune upright piano and the slightly confined space. I often think about that and what would've happened if I had just gone to do… um… whatever else it was I wanted to do on that day. I don't remember what I wanted to do anymore, just that it was something that wouldn't have changed my life so radically.
I still remember the moment I laid that sheet music on the piano, and the moment that everything came up cacophonous as I played it. How could I not, after everything that's happened?
Vexations. Piece for solo piano. Music of Erik Satie. Three lines of nothing but tritones stacked into chords that could only make sense to anybody who just lets it wash over them like the waves of the sea. Eight hundred and forty repetitions of all the material. And I only got six hours in before the visions got a hold of me, and I was pulled here.
I grab Tali's hand as I remember this piece. It was the piece that would change my life forever, for ill, and for what little good I can find now.
I don't know if I would do it all over again if I was sent back in time to relive that evening. If I did, though… I'd certainly do things differently. Dear God, I would do a lot of things differently. But as it is, I only have my regrets, and my music to pour them into.
I sigh, laying down next to Tali. We do have quite a bit to do tomorrow, so I guess I better brave the nightmares again.
I turn towards Tali, draping one of my arms over her in silence. I then close my eyes, and drift off to a restless sleep filled with familiar faces.
A/N: And that's that for Mass Vexations, everyone! This story is now officially over!
After a long, long while of it, anyway. Damn, this took forever to write, and I swear my ideas ended up changing a lot as we went further into the story. Looking back, there are definitely things I'd redo, but overall I don't regret writing the trilogy. It's been a fun ride, and you guys have been amazing throughout the whole thing.
So I just want to thank you readers immensely! You have all been incredible on this journey, whether you've popped in to say 'I like this' or you've said 'hey, here's some stuff you might want to think about to make this better'. Of course, there were some people that weren't such good people after all *coughNordRonnoccough*, but thankfully those people were rather few in number, so yeah.
Well, this is the end of the Mass Vexations saga, guys. But I think you'll be relieved to know that it's not the end of fanfiction for me at the moment. No, I have another story in progress at the moment, and I think it'll be a very interesting one for everyone here. Show of hands: how many of you are interested in a proper crossover fic? 'Cause that's what I'm thinking of next.
Only that it's also an attempt at deconstructing some other fanfiction trends I've seen around this place as of late. So... stay tuned guys, and we'll see something else.
It's been great fun,