When they found Shepard's squad, they were still buried alive under one of Sovereign's legs. It had crashed through the window bringing half the ceiling down with it. Pulling them out from under the rubble proved to be a challenge; they'd have all been crushed, save for Liara managing to generate a powerful biotic barrier that protected the entire squad from the worst of the damage. Everyone that is, except for Shepard.
The Commander had been close to the window when the leg had crashed through. Liara, her biotics already stretched to the limit by the final fight with Sovereign, had nothing left over save for enough energy to protect a small area around her. The Commander had just been too far away. Even now, it was taking all she had just to hold the rubble at bay and to keep it from crushing the rest of the squad.
Anderson pulled them out, with Buffy helping all she could, but Xander stormed past them to find Shepard.
She was buried under a ton of rubble and when he pulled her out, she was pale and still.
Buffy just looked at her and shook her head. She'd seen too many bodies in her time.
"No. No…" Xander muttered. "…it wasn't supposed to be like this. She was supposed to survive. She's a champion, like you and Faith…" Sniffling once, he added softly, "She was supposed to make it through this."
"I'm sorry, Xander, but…"
"I shouldn't have listened to her," he said bitterly. "I should've argued with her. I would've survived being buried alive; I've done that standing on my head. Literally, if you remember that time in Cairo."
"It'll be okay," Buffy sighed, sitting down next to Xander with a weary groan of exertion. "We'll finish this for her. They know about the Reapers now, and we'll find them and take them out." Placing a supportive hand on his shoulder, she added, "We've beaten stuff like this before, remember?"
But Xander was obstinate. "There has to be a way to save her."
"The universe doesn't like when you screw with it, remember?" Buffy tried to warn him. "It always comes back to bite us in the ass."
"Yeah, well, the universe can kiss my ass. Joan Shepard could do so much more. She deserves that chance." Scoffing, he sat down next to her body from where he'd been kneeling. "All of the life I have, and all the life that I'm going to have… why do I get to live forever, and she gets crushed by falling garbage? That's not cool, Buffy, that's not right."
Xander leaned over and shoved on her chest, trying to push life back into Shepard's body with CPR. He seemed frenzied, and Buffy couldn't help but wonder if this is what he'd looked like on that fateful day so long ago.
Finally, he sat back, with a look of shattered defeat on his face. Buffy cursed a universe that could put an expression like that on Xander's face. He was the last person who should ever have given up; on anything, or anyone.
"She deserves better than this," he sighed bitterly.
Xander leaned down and kissed Shepard. It was pure instinct, unsullied by anything other than a sincere desire for Shepard to know that he loved her and didn't want to let her go. But he'd forgotten that the universe listens when we say and do things. Its response was dramatic; Buffy watched in shock as Shepard's entire body convulsed violently, and she gasped as life was forcefully returned to her, just before a coughing fit took her.
She looked around, and then up at a shocked Xander. Finally, she asked aloud, "Did… did you just kiss me, Xander?"
"Uh-um, I… ah…" he sputtered as he fell over himself in hesitation. "I might have done that, yes."
"I don't remember telling you that you could kiss me." Shepard said coolly.
"…and, right about now, I'm realizing how that might be perceived." the immortal Scooby groaned. "Kill me now."
"Tell you what, get me out from under all this crap, and I might not have to hurt you," she offered.
"I'd say you're letting him off easy." Buffy added, smirking at Shepard.
"Well, I'll admit that I'm biased. He's a friend," she shrugged noncommittally. "...and well, it wasn't that bad. Nice, really. Good technique, right amount of pressure, no spit… he loses points for not being a girl, mind you, but… hey, nobody's perfect."
"So, is he good?" Buffy asked, somewhat curious.
Shepard shrugged. "Well, he kisses better then Riley, I'll tell you that much."
"Wait, how do you know about-" Buffy jumped on the apparent non-sequitur. "Did Xander say something?"
"Say what?" Shepard demanded, staring up at the ageless Slayer from where she was still lying on the floor of the Council Chambers. "Riley kissed you and Faith and… and, for some reason, I can remember that like it happened to me."
"Like… a memory?" Buffy asked suspiciously.
"Oh, NO…" Xander groaned, realizing what he'd just done.
Frowning, Buffy then asked, "If I say… 'one girl in all the world,' what's the first thing that comes to your mind?"
"…a chosen one," Shepard replied automatically. "She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the vampire, demons and the forces of darkness; to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their number…"
"She is the Slayer." Buffy and Shepard chorused together.
"Uh, guys, we're about to have company. So I suggest we work this one out later," Xander whispered as he turned to the approaching rescuers before saying loudly, "Guess who we found?"
"What did he do to me?" Shepard hissed in an aside to Buffy.
"You may not think it, right now," the immortal Slayer replied, enigmatic amusement in her voice. "…but it's something wonderful."
Throne Room/End Titles
Xander and Shepard stood in silence as the elevator took them up to the Council Chambers.
"A Slayer," Shepard sighed, for what might have been the hundredth time. "You made me a Slayer "
Xander grimaced. "I think that you're losing sight of the important part, boss. You had a chunk of Reaper fall on top of you and you're still alive."
"I'm not going to start running around and trying to kill demons, am I?"
Xander snorted. "Boss, you just destroyed an ageless supercomputer with delusions of grandeur and plans for galaxy-wide genocide. And even IF there were still vampires to slay, I'd say that you wouldn't have that much to worry about."
"What do you mean, no vampires?" she demanded. "What's the point of a vampire slayer if there are no vampires to slay?"
"I don't make the rules, boss, I just ignore them," he said dismissively. "Last vampire I know of? It died about… a hundred and seventy-five years ago, now."
Shepard's eyes closed in memory. "Calcutta, a few years after the Brawl… Buffy hunted it though the poor sections of the city." Then she glared at Xander again, a little put-off by his response of a quirked eyebrow. "By the way, that whole shared-memories thing? Is that going to keep happening?"
"It'll calm down eventually." Xander shrugged. "Just think of it as the price you pay for all the really cool optional extras."
"Hello? Extra strength, speed, stamina, enhanced combat ability… a definite advantage, don't you think?" Xander said, in that occasional bout of airheaded condescension that he knew she hated. He'd been using that tone more often, ever since she'd found out that he was immortal. "And, can I just stress that the whole you-not-being-dead thing? That's kind of an important point, boss. To me, at least."
Shepard waved away his protest. "I get it. I'm not THAT upset at still being alive. In fact, in light of the special occasion and all, you can even call me JL. Just this once."
"Considering that half the galaxy refers to you almost exclusively by your last name, I'm surprised you even remember that you have a first and middle name."
She smiled at him, "So, I hear that you joined the salvage teams on the Madrid. Anything I need to know before al-Jilani brings it up in a interview?"
"Hobbs' parents," Xander answered. "They came to collect both Reggie and Coleman. I managed to recover the VI program that Tali made, but I just want to do something else. Coleman should be getting an award today not me."
"He, and everyone else who died during the battle, are getting honored as heroes," Shepard replied decisively. "Starting with today's ceremony."
"Half the Wards are still covered in wreckage, but the Council Chambers are repaired enough so that they can hold a damn awards ceremony," Xander sneered. "I don't know if that's funny or sad."
"It's good for morale," Shepard replied noncommittally.
"You want to know what's good for my morale?" the immortal Scooby grumbled. "What's good for my morale are the ten thousand Asari who owe the Normandy's crew their lives, and are very grateful for that fact."
"Any of them show their gratitude to you yet?" Shepard asked dryly.
Xander snickered. "You see this ass?" he gestured to his butt. "The only way this ass could get more spoken for, is if it had a tattoo on it."
"Are you sure that Ashley's cool with things?" Shepard wondered.
"She's getting there," Xander shrugged. "It helps that she saw me turn down Matriarch Lidanya herself."
"You turned her down? Impressive," Shepard shrugged. "Scuttlebutt is that Lidanya's something of a freak… in bed."
"Really? Now I wish I'd hooked Joker up."
"Why didn't you?"
"Did you see the build on her?" he asked, incredulous. "Amazon doesn't even begin to come close to describing her. I thought she might break him in half… literally."
"He looked pretty happy chatting with their helmsmen." Shepard mused thoughtfully. Then she frowned as something occurred to her. "A little too happy, now that I think about it."
Xander snickered indulgently. "Joker may have met the only Maiden-stage Asari who's more into flying than he is. I think that she only wants him for his piloting skills."
But before Shepard could say anything else, the elevator stopped and its doors opened up to reveal Liara, Tali, and Ashley, all waiting for them. Liara threw her arms around Shepard, while Ashley greeted her man with a kiss before he gave Tali a hug.
"No arguments, Tali." Xander insisted. "You're coming on stage with us." When she stepped back and looked at him, her body language screaming incredulity, he added, "We wouldn't have beat Sovereign, or the Geth, if it wasn't for you. You should get some credit."
Shepard rolled her eyes. Xander had been having this argument with Tali for a day now, and Xander's charming stubbornness was slowly wearing down the Quarian's resistance.
"Tali, half the galaxy knows who you are anyways," Shepard argued. "You might as well let them know just how much they owe you their lives."
"A few months ago, half the people in that room would've wanted me to just go back to the Flotilla and disappear," the little Quarian lamented. "Now, I have people all wanting to be my friend, and give me work."
Ashley snorted. "Saving the galaxy from certain doom tends to improve people's opinions of you. Just look at what it did for this chucklehead." She elbowed Xander, who hugged her.
"It's good to be popular," Xander sighed theatrically. "You hear from your dad, Tali?"
"Apparently, there was some crisis in the Fleet that demanded his attention," she said, somewhat downcast. "…but my auntie Raan is here."
"Wait, WHAT?" Xander sputtered. "His daughter, his only daughter, is about to be honored by the entire galaxy!" he shouted, sweeping an arm around to indicate the Council Chambers in his anger. "He thinks that there's something MORE important than that?"
"You don't know my father, Xander," Tali explained. "As far as he's concerned, all of this is just validation of everything that he's always expected of me in the first place." Xander literally had no words for that, his mouth moving wordlessly in his shock.
"I saw your sister-in-law," Ashley commented, trying to change the subject. "She decided to stay for the awards ceremony after all."
Xander smiled. "She should totally be getting some kind of honor herself, you know. "
"I think that they might have been inclined to offer her some kind of official recognition, except for the fact that all of the security footage from the attack seems to have been altered," Shepard said severely. "You can't make out Buffy's face at all, and no one really believes that a tiny little thing like her could take down a Geth Juggernaut in one punch."
"It's better this way, J-L," Xander replied flatly. "The galaxy's just not ready for the weird yet."
Shepard just shook her head at the Tech Sergeant's obstinacy. "You do realize that a day may come when, ready or not, the galaxy is going to have to deal with the weird."
Xander shuddered. He remembered having this very argument with both Buffy and Willow a long time ago. If Shepard's story about Kaidan's ghostly visit was accurate, then it seemed that the long pause in his first war was finally coming to an end. He wasn't sure if he was fearful for the fate of the galaxy, or excited to finally have something to do after two centuries of no weirdness to deal with.
And as they continued walking into the Council Chambers, they noticed that Wrex and Garrus were waiting for them.
"Wrex, buddy, how are you feeling?" Xander asked, clapping a hand on the old bounty hunter's shoulder.
"I had half a building fall on me after being shot at by half the galaxy…" the old Krogan battlemaster deadpanned. "…I'm feeling pretty good, actually."
"Well, you won't have to slum for the Shadow Broker anymore," Xander shrugged. "You can work for anyone you want, after this."
"You got that right," Wrex nodded. "…and I already know who I want to help next. I'm going home."
"Tuchanka? Why, dude? No offense, but I hear it's a waste."
"None taken," Wrex shrugged. "And, actually, that's why I want to go back. All of this running around and saving the galaxy against nightmarish odds… it's got me thinking." The old Krogan bounty hunter was unusually pensive. "Maybe my father was wrong. Maybe I was right. Maybe… just maybe… if the Krogan can do better… then maybe we can be better."
Shepard, who'd heard the whole thing, nodded as she joined in on the conversation. "That's a good plan, Wrex," she said, smiling. "You guys sure as Hell deserve better, but… hey, that's just my opinion."
"The opinion of a great battlemaster carries much weight." Wrex rumbled.
"Battlemaster? Wrex, this woman should be a warlord." Xander said, pretending to be offended.
"Hey, if it was up to me alone, I'd say we'd declare it right now," Wrex replied, his lips curling into a hideous grin. "But I think that you might have to save the galaxy one or two more times, just to satisfy ALL the Krogan clans."
"Either that, or I could just take out the dissenters." Shepard quipped, a cold gleam in her eye.
"Ahh, spoken like a true Warlord already," Wrex rumbled, wistful nostalgia in his voice. "If only you humans weren't so soft and squishy…"
"Wrex, let's schedule a sparring match and then we'll see who's soft and squishy." Shepard threatened playfully, cracking her knuckles all the same.
"Now that could be fun," Garrus drawled, joining in on the conversation. "How are we going to make any money, anyways? Nobody's stupid enough to beat against Shepard."
"We could handicap the betting," Xander postulated. "Maybe throw in a time factor; she has to beat him in a certain amount of time."
"You're serious," Wrex laughed. "None of you would bet on me?"
"He's right; we need a few gimps to juice the betting a little," Tali speculated.
"Maybe we could use some of the guys on the Vigilance." Garrus replied. "Ari probably knows who the heavy betters are."
Xander rubbed his hands in anticipation of a good scam. "We could say that Shepard's still unsteady after the fight against Saren... "
"I can hear you, you know." Shepard snapped.
"Wrex, if we hook you up with… say, a third of the take," Ashley threw in her own two cents. "…would that sooth your damaged pride after she beats your ass?"
"A third of the take, huh?" Wrex muttered. "Yeah, I could live with that."
Laughing, the group entered the larger chamber and Shepard marveled at the sight. Beings from every known race lined the balconies and crowded the floor. Near the elevator, Chellick grimaced as he gestured the small group forward, marching them through a crowd of C-Sec officers in formal wear.
"Chellick," Shepard sneered. "It's gotta be killing you to have to do this. I mean, Hero to Traitor and back, in less than a week?" she goaded. "That's gotta be gnawin' on your ass something harsh."
"My recent promotion has soothed my sour feelings somewhat." Chellick drawled flatly.
"Promotion?" Shepard asked, caught off-guard.
"You should watch Emily Wong more, boss," Xander replied. "Seems that Executor Pallin's been granted a leave of absence, leaving Chellick here to assume his duties."
"al-Jilani's already at it again," Ashley added. "She's hinted that Armando Bailey was unfairly aced out of being considered for the top job."
"A job that he didn't even want," Chellick contributed. "al-Jilani's only whining because she actually has to work for her C-Sec scoops, now with Pallin gone."
"By the way," Shepard ventured. "…is it my imagination, or is she being flattering in her coverage of the battle?"
Tali giggled. "I hacked her VI assistant, like you wanted, and then her float-cam."
"And that woman really needs to learn some discretion when it comes to what she takes a video of." Tali said, shuddering.
Xander sighed. "The twenty-second century and the celebrity sex tape is STILL a big deal? Some things never change."
"Thank God for that," Shepard laughed. "So how long is that going to keep her on the straight and narrow?"
"Oh, I'm sure that she'll eventually get bitchy again," Tali said loftily. "But, for right now, we're getting the benefit of her... enlightened world view."
"al-Jilani getting some…" Xander sighed. "I cannot even begin to try and compute that. The idea alone is beyond imagination."
"I envy your lack of imagination," Tali quipped, a grimace in her voice. "I honestly wish that I could un-see what I have seen."
Xander's omnitool bleeped an incoming message alert at him. He glanced at it briefly. It was from Willow once again, and sparse on the wordage, reading; 'Happy belated birthday. You did good. Hope you enjoy the gift.'
He couldn't help but wonder what kind of gift his uber-powerful Wiccan witch/ridiculously-capable hacker friend had arranged.
Then parade music began to play from the Council Chambers' PA system and the people gathered in the Council Chambers quickly came to attention. Shepard paused, suddenly realizing that she knew this tune. Written by composer John Williams, over two centuries ago, for the first in a series of movies that were still known as the Original Trilogy in every corner of the galaxy in which mankind had taken root. Looking over at Xander, she noticed that he had his eyes closed and had an expression of rapture on his face.
"Xander, how the hell did you-" she sputtered.
"Wasn't me, boss," he whispered, his eyes still closed. "This was all on Willow. I guess that she hacked the protocol database for the occasion. Just act like it's normal."
"This is the bit played at the end, right? When everyone's getting their medals?"
"Shepard, we just saved the entire galaxy from certain doom," Xander grinned. "Can you think of any tune better suited to capture the mood? I think the universe owes us."
The group marched forward down the aisle, a standing ovation following them the entire way. Several humans who recognized the tune seemed confused, but shrugged and kept clapping. After all, the tune was catchy.
Shepard couldn't help but think to herself that Xander was right yet again; if someone's going to save the galaxy, then they might as well celebrate it in style.
Epilogue: Unexpected Visitors
Tevos let the door to her quarters close behind her. The medal ceremony had done its job; averting the disastrous PR screwup that Saren's attack had created. Anderson being on the Council would shake things up a bit, but if living a thousand human years taught an Asari anything… well, the lesson was that patience had its own rewards.
Give the public a few months, and they'd move on and find other things to obsess over, leaving the Council races poised to take advantage of the Geth AND Reaper technology that had been left behind. Tech firms, secretly controlled by the various Council members, had already begun a preliminary examination of the wreckage. The discoveries that they were making, would change the course of history for generations to come… that is, if certain reactionary elements could be controlled.
Secretly, the Council had been hoping that Udina would take the Council position. The man was a career politician, with just the right combination of character flaws and ruthless ambition that would've made him easy to manipulate. Tevos had seen to it that several of Udina's favorite dancers at Chora's Den were either on her payroll or owed her favors.
But Anderson? He was that rare beast known as a decent and honorable man; if he had weaknesses, he tried not to indulge them to the point that it affected his work. It was going to take time, but Tevos was sure that she could find some kind of leverage that she could use to control Anderson.
But she had another problem on her mind.
That boy, Technical Sergeant Harris… shaking hands with him at the ceremony had been disturbing.
An honest-to-Goddess immortal… how had the humans managed to hide a secret of this magnitude for so long?
Even Shepard no longer felt… right.
It was nothing that Tevos could put her finger on, exactly, but she could sense that Shepard had changed somehow.
Unfortunately, Shepard had become untouchable. She was too high-profile now, and the press flap resulting from her disappearance would just cause problems.
Harris, however… Harris was a sidekick.
But she'd have to handle him discreetly, of course.
Perhaps… an invitation to Azure, on Illium.
One of the great advantages of controlling a pleasure-paradise resort popular with humans was that what happened on Illium tended to stay on Illium.
No one would ask too many questions about a young human male who went missing after a weekend of excess.
There were several safehouses in nearby systems.
A properly-equipped commando team could have Harris secured, under control, and on his way to Thessia in a few hours.
It wouldn't be imprisonment, exactly, more like… protective custody.
A few weeks of DNA analyses, to isolate the source of his immortality, and then a few years of selective breeding… who knows? He might even enjoy it.
Besides, Tevos' point of view, Harris was being selfish by not sharing his gifts with the one race in the galaxy that could ensure that it was put to better use.
Suddenly, she sensed something behind her. Turning about quickly, her biotics flared in self-defense, but she found herself helpless in the grip of a much-stronger biotic field that lifted her off the ground and kept her there.
A familiar face walked out of the shadows, a cold smile on her face.
"Benezia?" Tevos sputtered. "But… but you're dead. Shepard told us you were dead."
"Shepard told you exactly what you wanted to hear," Matriarch Benezia replied dispassionately. "Like all really good Spectres, she's learned that telling Council members what they WANT to hear is the best way to get them to listen."
The Asari Matriarch calmly sauntered into the center of the room. Tevos found it daunting that Benezia's power and control was so much greater than her own.
"You escaped Noveria…" she realized. "Shepard… let you go?"
"I've kept myself busy," Benezia shrugged. "The Rachni Queen and I have been exchanging thoughts and ideas. She's quite astute; a far better student than you ever were." Sitting down in a recliner and pouring herself a drink, she then mused aloud, "Come to think of it, she's quite a good teacher, too. Her new crop of children will be far superior to the ones that Binary Helix ended up corrupting."
"You're working with the Rachni now?" Tevos sputtered, this time in outrage.
"Working with…? No, she and I have only been engaged in a type of information exchange, but that's not important." Waving her hand, Benezia let Tevos fall to the floor before taking a sip from the drink glass in her free hand.
Once Tevos managed to stand up, she stumbled towards the nearest chair before slumping down upon it as if she was a maiden again. When she'd sat down, so to speak, Benezia continued. "I assume that you've met the boy by now. Shepard's resident immortal?"
"Yes," Tevos nodded. "I have no idea how she managed to hide this from us for so long, but now that we know-"
"Let me guess, Tevos," Benezia interrupted her protege archly. "Protective custody, locking him away in some remote monastery like what we do with the Ardat-Yakshi, and breeding him until your scientists find a way to pass his gifts along to another Asari?"
"I can think of much worse ways for a young man to spend a few decades." Tevos said defensively.
"You'll never get what you want that way. Xander Harris will give his gifts of his own free will, or there will be consequences. Grave consequences," Benezia intoned ominously. "Leave him alone, Tevos. Leave him alone, or you will unleash a force upon this galaxy that is collectively beyond your comprehension."
In spite of the atavistic shiver that ran down her spine at Benezia's warning, Tevos still had something to bring up. "Why should the humans benefit from his secrets?"
"For one thing, he's hidden himself from the humans for as long as he has done so from anyone else," Benezia said dispassionately. "Another thing is that humanity will have much bigger problems to deal with, soon enough."
"What are you talking about?" Tevos frowned.
"There are dark times ahead for us all, Tevos," Benezia mused, taking a sip from her glass. "The Rachni Queen has been hearing rumors that the Collectors are on the move again, and that humanity has drawn attention to itself; dangerous and powerful attention."
Tevos scoffed. "The Collectors? They're just myth."
"Immortals are myths, Tevos, but you met one earlier today," Benezia chided her former protege coldly. "The Reapers are myths, but you were almost killed by one."
Finishing off the last of her drink, Benezia stood up to leave. "Understand this, Tevos. Sometimes, a myth is simply a truth that's too horrible to imagine but too dangerous to be ignored and forgotten. Sometimes, myths and legends are real. So leave the boy alone. For now, at least."
AN- ...and scene, that was quite the run. and I want to thank each and every reviewer commenter and random hater who helped to make this possible.
When I first started this it was only supposed to be some light comedy, a couple of drabbles and ficlets and some quick jokes but as I read the reviews I was really inspired to push the envelope and I want to thank each and every single one of you for that.
While we are on the topic I want to give props to two writers whose work was a real inspiration
Setrus has done a couple of Mass Effect stories including Shell of Heroism and Spirit of Heroism
Melaradark has written two stories in her Dark Energy series
You would be doing yourselves a huge disservice if you did not sample both of these amazing writers work.
I would be totally remiss if I didn't give big-ups to my man Reikson who came onboard as a bata for this project in its early stages and really stayed the course.
There is no bigger fan of Mass Effect or Buffy and this story is a hell of a lot better because of it.
in fact let me get him in here for a second.
BN - Coming Soon; the next installment in the Zeppo Effect saga. But, for now... Thanks for reading "Zeppo Effect"
Yeah what he said :-)