I was… dissatisfied with Mass Effect 3's ending. But since it's been made a thousand times over, I won't belabor that point. I grew up alongside this series, which is to say, a lot of growing up happens in the 15-18 range, and for that reason, um, MY FEEELINGS WERE HURT at the way they brought it to a close. My current method of coping is denial.
But this is a piece I actually outlined very vaguely pre-game and just needed to get written out, and in keeping with my decision to post more than .1% of the stuff I write, am putting it up here. For the purposes of this story, the final five minutes have been politely booted out the door. And yeah, okay. The hopeless fangirl in me really thinks the ending should have had MOAR KAIDAN so there is that.
And: I haven't read any of the other post-game ending-change stuff yet. I know there's a whole heck of a lot of it, so I'm sure something at least vaguely along these lines has been done, and for that I apologize in advance.
And when it is over, this is what is left:
She stands in the angled glow of the Crucible, with her own blood running hot against her hand as she clutches at her side, though the sharp edges of the hole in her armor scrape roughly under her fingertips.
Her pistol's kicked away: the last shot went through the Illusive Man's heart, and the heat sink lies alongside the Cerberus leader's body like a final condemnation. But still: Anderson lies crumpled, cradled by this station that will be their shared grave; a testament to her last shot being too late.
She doesn't have to check to know he's gone, doesn't think she can reach for a pulse and find silence, not again, not another person she cares about when this war has taken so much already.
But it won't take anything more, not from her. It's over. There will never be a beach with clear skies and pristine oceans and tests run on seashells; she will never stand on another shoreline, will never taste the misty spray of saltwater on her lips again or feel warm sand shift under her toes. She thinks retirement was never really written into her contract with the galaxy, anyway.
But that's okay. Somehow that is okay. And this is what is left, when the Crucible is firing and she is bleeding out on the floor of the Citadel and starlight is gleaming off the haunting spread of cybernetics across the Illusive Man's face: acceptance.
Before, there were always, always more things to do.
"There's always something," she'd grumbled almost wryly, when Hackett's voice rumbled over her comm, told her, something is wrong, the Crucible isn't firing. The war couldn't take much more from her, but it could take the dignity of a quiet death; this thing, this desperate last hope they dubbed the Crucible, would take the Citadel down with it.
Nothing to be done about it. The apology and the goodbye were in Hackett's voice when he told her, "It's been an honor serving with you, Commander."
"Hold the line out there," she'd said, softly, before she authorized the startup sequence and the comm signal died, left her standing alone in the starlight with what was left of one of the best men she ever knew and one of the worst.
No regrets. She is a Spectre. Embodiment of courage and determination and self-reliance. The Council's first and last line of defense.
Acceptance: The Council is gone now, and Earth is burning, and her courage has been flickering for a good while, but what is this if not the last line?
The Citadel shudders.
She feels the first rumble of the ancient space station in her teeth, a subtle thing, a prickling of dark energy that tangles briefly in the blue flame of her flickering corona. The second tremor is more violent, shakes her free of the death grip she has on the control console and sends her skidding across the floor.
There's nothing to stop her, with her hands so bloodied and raw she can't find a grip on the smooth floors; when she comes to a stop, she's just still, watching the battle outside with her cheek pressed against the cold tile. There is nothing left to do but watch.
The spread of the Crucible's energy has a pleasant glow, like candlelight. And she knows it is a weapon, a devastating weapon, but it's somehow soothing anyway, like a nightlight she might have had on a colony that might have been home.
But she remembers Mindoir's beaches, cold and surly, curling waves in inhospitable oceans and foaming sea battering at the rocky shoals of its shore, and it doesn't feel like home, even in the idealistic slant of memory.
She never went back, after all, despite the occasional requests for her presence by those rebuilding from the ruins. And she's been away longer than she was ever there. Now she won't ever go back, and that's okay.
Acceptance: "Had to… to be me," she reasons with no one in particular, lying on the floor and watching the Crucible's flickering glow spread to eclipse Earth. "Someone else… might've…"
"-gotten it wrong."
Shepard said her goodbye to him in the rubble of London, in a base carved out from the strewn-about ruin of skyscrapers while Earth burned down around them. She saved him for last; spoke quietly to each of her other followers, the men and women and humans and aliens who followed her to hell and back, some of them more than once, and said her goodbyes even though she's never been good at those.
That was different.
"I can't lose you again," he'd said, with his hand along her jawline and his forehead pressed against hers; she tangled her fingers with his and felt the phantom warmth of his skin through the layers of their armor, the lines of him that were as familiar as the gun strapped to her back, and under the smoking skies he kissed her.
And it tasted like desperation, like atonement, like the ashes of the battlefield and the echoes of Ilos and Horizon and Eden Prime, the sun setting over a world on fire. It was I love you, and I'm sorry, and most of all it was goodbye.
I can't lose you again. She was afraid he already had.
Though he followed her into battle, they parted ways right there; and for once she found herself resenting their uncompromising separation of what was personal and what was their duty, because though he was at her side all the way down to the beam, she had a sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach that she would never see him again.
He's bleeding as well, too much, from his hairline and from a gash torn in his leg, and he's missing part of his armor but he is alive, he is alive and that is enough for now, enough. Selfish, maybe: but she doesn't think anybody really wants to die alone and she is tired of trying for selflessness.
"Shepard," he breathes as he limps over to her, a little raggedly, with his voice chafed hoarse by smoke and shouted orders. He's apparently lost his helmet somewhere along the way, too, and his hands are bare to the elbow, warm when they reach for hers and when his thumb fumbles for a pulse on the inside of her bent arm.
"Do I… look that bad?" she gets out, when his shoulders heave with what might be relief at the flutter of blood still flowing steadily enough under her skin, under the pressure he has on her wrist. His other hand is hovering uncertainly, fingers grazing the edges of the gaping break in her hardsuit before falling away.
He makes a sound that might be a laugh, though it's bordering on hysteria and he isn't smiling. She doesn't think she's ever seen him this pale, and the blood painting the right side of his face stands out overly stark in contrast, almost ghostly. "I don't- I don't have anything. Medi-gel, or-"
He stops; lets his hand drop and just looks at her.
"Kaidan, this… this place is going down. We've got nowhere to go," she says, through clenched teeth, with sweat stinging in her eyes. "Just- help me up, would you?"
He's silent, but he relents, easing an arm under her shoulders and helping her sit up. And, oh, damn, it hurts, but he's steady and he's warm and the lines of him are written into her memory like the fate of a species 50,000 years gone and the pressure of an assault rifle's kickback against her hands. Right now all she wants is familiarity.
Kaidan doesn't question it, the fact that they are on a doomed space station.
She thinks maybe he already knew it, too.
They lean back on the low wall surrounding the control consoles, with Kaidan's arm settling around her shoulders and her head tilting to meet the junction of his shoulder and neck, where the hardsuit's been stripped off; the angles of what's left of their armor are rough, clashing, but she can't be anywhere but right here.
"Some kind of view," Kaidan murmurs hoarsely, his silhouette painted in ethereal shades of gold by the Crucible's glow. "Think it'll work?"
"Guess we'll see," she sighs. "I don't-… yes. My gut tells me yes."
He makes a noncommittal sound. "How you feeling?"
"Like hell." Shepard inches her hand up his shoulder, curls her fingers into the hair at the back of his neck. He's trembling a little, or maybe it's her? There's gray at the corners of her vision, creeping inward. "I'm… 'm just tired of hurting. Ready for it to be… over. You?"
She feels him laugh more than she hears it, the tremor of his chest under her arm. "Don't… don't worry about me. I've never felt better."
They had their last drink; that one night universe always seems to hand her the evening before everything goes to hell. Its own sort of penitence, Shepard supposed, for the nightmares it tended to throw her way.
She had him memorized, the lines of him, the scars; he's got some new ones, but she got those figured out, traced a line along his lip that wasn't there before, a fresher one across his shoulder that made her wince from the force of memory. But he kissed her, slow and sweet, and cradled her face between his palms and told her he loved her, he loved her.
He always has, he said. And she believed him, not because he said it but because she just knew. It was in his eyes, in his unwavering faith in her. It was in Horizon, even, because he had always been the one she looked to when things got gray, the one who wouldn't compromise his own beliefs to justify her behavior.
So she kissed him back, let him distract her, if only for that one night they were allocated. She kissed him back because there, right then, she didn't have to be Commander Shepard and she didn't have to lie through her teeth about hope and fighting back and survival; there, the ever-present armor guarding her own dread could fall away. And she was so tired of pretending.
And afterwards: she slept.
It was restless sleep, but was used to her nightmares by then, and she exited them to the light pressure of his fingertips rubbing soothing circles on the back of her neck, to murmurs of it's all right. It's all right.
It'll be all right.
She's said it so many times to so many people that the promise has lost its impact, but when he said it with his lips at her ear and his arm around her shoulders, she could almost believe him.
She asks him why he followed her up.
"Made a promise," he says, and he's got his hand cradling the back of her head, the pressure of his palm light against her powered-down amp. "I said I'd be here."
"You should've run," Shepard chokes out. She can taste blood in her mouth, sharply metallic.
"I did," he replies shortly. "On the SR-1."
She's silent, watching the stars.
"Never again," Kaidan clarifies, nearly inaudible. His skin is going cold against hers, and the hand she has at the hinge of his jaw leaves fingerprints in the blood leaking from his hairline.
The station is breaking apart; she can feel it. It feels like the SR-1, before it went down, except that it is three years later and she's done, finished, it's over and she's done her job now. No more work to do.
Kaidan seems to know it, too, because he shifts suddenly, and his hand grazes her chin, tilts her head up; he presses a soft, lingering kiss to her mouth, the corner of her mouth, the ridge of her cheekbone, her forehead. "I love you," he says, simply, and he's looking at her like he's trying to memorize every detail, with his hand against her cheek and his eyes warm in the firelight.
"Love you," she murmurs back. She lays her head on his chest, against his armor even though it's cold, and his hand settles at the small of her back, steadying.
The candlelight has spread to cover everything and the station is shaking, dying, with them on it, but she is not afraid.
"Hold the line out there," she says to the specter of her army.
"Embrace eternity," Kaidan quips, to no-one apparent.
When it is over, this is what is left:
Shepard lies there in the Citadel's command center, and knows: this started on Eden Prime, with the beacon and a dead Spectre and the dark foreshadowing of something more to come.
Memory is getting hard to keep aligned, but there are some things she refuses to lose. Wrex painted into arcane silhouette by the dark lines of his armor, standing in the rubble of Tuchanka. Earth (not burning, not yet) over the horizon as she stood on the moon, striking shades of blue and gray. Ashley's parting words, Thane's prayer for her. A Salarian song and bottles shattering high above the Presidium.
And. I've always loved you. His lips against the palm of her hand, brief and tender. The spectral wash of a biotic corona that mirrors hers in the dark.
She's never been the sentimental type, but she thinks she's earned a bit of romanticism.
When it is over, she thinks about what she has lost: she will never stand on another beach, watch the sun sink and set fire to the ocean at the skyline. She'll never stand over the lakes of the Presidium or have another drink, will never see her ship again or fire another gun. She'll never marry the man she's dying alongside, and she will never see what lies on the other side of this, right now. Whether Earth is rebuilt. Whether the others survived, and how they will go on.
But she is okay with that. And that is acceptance, when she makes peace with what has been and what will never be.
When it is over: You'll dream of a warm place. And when you wake up, you'll be in it. It's what she told the girl, the former-slave survivor of Mindoir, on this same station three years ago. And now, that is all she wants. A warm place and no nightmares.
"You cold?" she asks him, sleepily. The Citadel is rocking them to sleep, lulling as it breaks down, saving them for last.
Shepard feels Kaidan's head shake. "Not really."
She is, a little, and thinks he's lying. But the Reapers are breaking under the Crucible's beam, and satisfaction is warming, brings a last smile to her lips.
"We did it," she murmurs into the dark.
"You did it," Kaidan tries to correct, and adds softly, "I'm so proud of you."
But. "We," she insists. "Kaidan, you... made me feel like I could take on the galaxy. And I kind of had to," she jokes weakly, feels him laugh, or she thinks he's laughing, his cheek has gone a little bit wet under her hand. "Without you, I couldn't have done... just. Couldn't have."
They are quiet a moment.
"Wherever we end up," Shepard says at length, "we're… meeting Garrus. At the bar. Made a… a promise."
Kaidan is quiet for a moment. "Wherever we end up," he counters, and something in his voice breaks her, a little, "I'll be waiting for you."
"You'd better be."
The world is getting dark around the edges.
She whispers with her eyes closed, "I'm so tired, Kaidan."
"I know," he says. "Go to sleep. I've got you."
There are no more nightmares, now.
Disclaimer: I don't own Mass Effect or anything related to it, just as I do not own the Farscape line I swiped for my use within the story, or the Track and Field cover of the Kate Bush song from which I took the title.
There… might be a sequel. A 'good' ending, if you will, to this story's 'bad' one. Running the "main" Kaidan twitter account (Kaidan_Alenko) for two years has warped things to the point that I feel more comfortable in his head than Shepard's, so I'd like to have a go at something from his point of view. But anyway. Reviews are lovely and very much welcome.