"The Rest: A Mass Effect Short Story"
Disclaimer: All character names, locations and plot elements are the property of Bioware and Electronic Arts (EA) Games. 'Mass Effect' and all related characters are the sole property of these entities. This is a fan-written fiction.
Assumes destruction of Reapers at conclusion of ME3. An extension on that 'secret' scene, and what could have come after...
I was lost
I tried to find the balance
But got caught up in the cost
- Ryan Adams
There was a stench of burned metal, rubber, plastic. All of it, scalding the nostrils of anyone still alive to inhale it, enough to burn the throat, inflame the lungs; knock back into consciousness the collapsed soldiers. Half buried by a crippled tank, one marine opened his eyes, hacking, coughing, his lungs bellowing for air. In a panic, as if he could feel the blood vessels about to burst in his eyes, he lashed out with a biotic pulse, knocking the tank free of his body, dragging himself away, his knees barely moving him along the ground, his lungs seizing in his chest. He collapsed after one meter, his armor plates cracked and broken in places, chips missing from the edges.
He couldn't help retching, bile rushing past his teeth, splattering the ground. He felt like he'd been crushed. He recalled the tank. He grimaced, his head pulsing with pain.
He coughed explosively, blood leeching past his lips. He spat, and could feel the deep gash on the inside of his cheek, a byproduct of his teeth sinking into the vulnerable flesh. He flopped onto his back, his breath ragged, his lungs battling him. His fingers dug into the ground, bracing his body, and he struggled up, got to his knees, reached out for something to hold on to, and dragged his legs up, until he stood on his feet, wobbling, but standing.
He looked out at the field. It was open, vast, with corpses littering the ground. He stumbled, and heard some distant shouting, it sounded like cheering. His ears were ringing, hollow sounds filtering in and out. As he looked up, the massive device that had dominated the field was silent, that horrible humming sound stopped, the brilliant light that had scaled him the closer he got was gone.
He stepped forward, stumbling, his legs unsteady. He heard a clattering at his collar, the voice on the other end…
"Major? Major! Major Alenko, you alive?"
He shook his head, trying to regain his sense of balance, the sense of who he was, where he was, what was happening.
"Damn it. Don't kill me for this – Kaidan? Anybody?"
He pressed the heels of his hands against his forehead, trying to shake the noise out of his brain.
"Hey. Kaidan. Your comm is still active, I know it is. Come on, man… talk to me."
He blinked rapidly. "J-James?" he mumbled.
"Oh, shit, thank god."
"James, where are you?"
"Other side. Man, we saw it, we saw it come down; saw the explosions. The whole damn Citadel went up. I fucking saw it. I've got Scars… uh, I've got Garrus and Liara with me, but… damn it, man, I saw you and Anderson hauling ass and, and then nothing. You okay? Where are you?"
"At the approach."
He heard a scrambling, then a familiar feminine voice, "Kaidan, it's Liara. We saw the explosion, and then we saw the machines falling. They're gone."
"It was the goddamn Citadel, T'Soni! I fucking saw it!"
"We think it was the Citadel, Kaidan."
"I don't know," Kaidan responded quietly.
She paused. "A lot of our equipment is broken, but we're not badly injured. Most of the marines with us are still alive. Are you all right? Is there anyone else with you?"
He looked around.
There were corpses, burned beyond recognition. He knelt by one soldier, and felt a horrible measure of déjà vu as he gently closed the young man's eyes. Just like Jenkins, all those years ago.
"I'm… I think I'm alone."
"… We'll try to get you as soon as we can. Are you injured?"
"Minor concussion maybe," he said quietly. "I'm… going to survey the field, see if anyone else is alive."
The radio crackled.
"Guess you'll get here when you get here," he muttered.
He slowly moved through the rubble, moving around bodies, offering the dead what respect he could. He glanced up at the massive objective, the source of the laser, that bizarre transport. He remembered it firing at them on their approach, remembered hearing a voice in his ear, one last whisper, and then… nothing. The blast had knocked him cold, and half-buried him.
He looked up at the sky; saw falling, burning objects in orbit. Fires illuminated the sky. He stared straight up.
What is all that? Where did all of that debris come from? Is that the Citadel? That can't be right.
It had to be the ships from space, all the lost ships, and all those allies who would never again fight, but who had perished fighting in the greatest war of their time.
I never thought I'd see a full war. Small skirmishes, yes, but not a war.
Kaidan moved slowly, stiffly. He made his way along the path, kneeling by the dead, closing the frozen open eyes, taking tags if there were any to take. Some were militia, never soldiers, just people fighting for their right to exist. He bowed his head solemnly for them.
He came closer to the far site, the center. The explosion had knocked him all the way from here? He stared at the ground, littered with debris, burned stone and twisted metal, the stench of blood and raw meat heavy in the air.
He did not know what to feel.
Liara had declared the machines gone, the war done. Something had happened to make it that way, but there had to be someone else alive. Someone else had to be. Kaidan shifted his feet.
He heard something, a soft clatter of stone.
He turned his head; saw a pile of rubble, stone, metal, crushing down on top of a body. He could see the glimmer of silver against armor. He saw the splash of red and white…
"Oh my god," he whispered, and dashed forward, in time to hear a gasping breath, rattling within a pair of lungs. He reached out, digging the stone away, slowly uncovering what rested beneath, heard the breath, rasping, wet, agonized, and saw the glint of metal clashing with blood and burned, exposed flesh. The forearms and hands, the left hand was nearly gone, the skin and muscle burned away, the twitching metal implants all that remained of the fingers. He dug, finally exposing the face.
The eyes were frozen open, the dark blue irises clouded with agony, blood streaming from the tear ducts, frozen trails against the skin. The buried man's face was a mass of bruises, his black hair burned and singed, his eyebrows nearly burned away. His eyes blinked painfully, but when he saw Kaidan, his mouth twitched, and the smallest of smiles curled the corner of his lips.
"Oh god," Kaidan whispered, and reached out his hand. He gently clasped the other man's burned fingers, and felt a weak response. "Oh, god, Shepard…"
"Hey…" whispered the buried man. "You made it."
"Yeah… yeah, so did you. How'd you… what did you… oh, god, you need help."
A tight smile responded. "Don't… feel so well."
Kaidan's free hand tapped at his radio frantically as he helped the other man into a sitting position, trying to push him out of the rubble. "Liara? James? Anybody. Anybody, please, I need you here. You need to get here now, now, I've got, I've got wounded."
"Major? That you?"
"James. I need you here. I'm near the device. Get here; get here now. I've got wounded. On the double, Lieutenant!"
"Roger that, Major. Be there ASAP. Got a lot of territory to… ground troops're say… survivors, sir."
"James? James! I can't hear you. I'm losing you. Get over here, Lieutenant!" He was nearly screaming into the radio. He turned his attention back to the buried man. "What did you do?" he whispered. "What the hell did you do?"
"Made… a choice…" The blue eyes flicked to his face. "Chose… the right one."
"Shepard… Will, come on. I need to get you out of here." When he tried to pull away, the burned fingers closed fiercely on his hand.
"Damn it, you don't give me orders. I outrank you. I'm getting you out of here. You didn't leave me on Mars; the hell I'm leaving you here. You need help." He tried to move away, but the grip tightened. "Shepard, let go of my hand. I need to get you out of here."
The buried man slowly shook his head. "Don't think I'm going anywhere," he said softly. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.
Shepard's mouth curled into a sad smile. "Sorry it took so long," he whispered. He tried to lift his other arm, but his shoulder simply twitched at the joint. His eyes shifted. "Guess… that was one too," he muttered.
"Lots of… of synthetic material… guess I'm not, not all the man I should be, huh?" The smile was weak. His head slowly moved, and he looked at his legs. "Half-buried. Save you some work."
"No," Kaidan said firmly. "I'll get you out. Let me save you for a change."
"Shut up, Shepard. Let me finish digging you out."
Shepard did not speak while Kaidan pulled what rocks and debris he could from around his body. Kaidan stared at the shattered armor holding Shepard together. "Guess I shouldn't ask if you're okay," he said.
Shepard smiled. "It's not so bad."
"The hell it isn't." Kaidan sat down beside him. Unconsciously, his hand reached out, his fingers lacing between Shepard's. He gave the hand a gentle squeeze. "Liara, James, and Garrus, they made it. They're on their way here."
"'Bout time," Shepard murmured.
Kaidan could feel a thready pulse beneath his fingers. "Hey," he said, "hey. Wake up. I didn't say you could fall asleep on me."
"Not the comfiest spot."
"I don't remember you telling this many jokes when we first met."
Shepard smiled faintly. "Says the newly badass marine."
"Hey, I had a good friend who kicked some ass with me back in the day. Saved my life a few times, too." He sat back. "Guess we finally got that quiet moment we were talking about."
"Not quite what I had in mind."
"Me neither. I thought drinks on the Citadel at least."
"Make it up to you."
"Guess you'll owe me a drink. Or three. Christ, after these past few weeks, I might drain the bar," Kaidan said.
Shepard laughed, but it collapsed into a hacking cough.
"Let it out. It's okay." Kaidan looked at him, smiled. "Glad we settled this thing, you know."
He felt the metallic fingers twitch, an attempt to return the affectionate squeeze. "Hey, save that strength. I need another badass marine around here. James can only do so much."
"Not sure how much good I'll be."
"You're just banged up. A little time with Doctor Chakwas and you'll be good as new. I intend to be there for every time she shouts at you about getting injured."
"Brutal," Shepard responded.
"I haven't even started. I owe you three years' worth of hell at this point."
"Worth it." His eyes grew sad suddenly. "Anderson's… gone?"
"I didn't see him. Just you."
"Did he die fighting?"
"Then I'm not sorry. Went out like a soldier should. Bet he's damned proud of us."
"We did good," Shepard said.
Kaidan grinned. "They'll be here soon. You can tell me all about whatever crazy stunt you pulled that got you into this mess. Then, when you're back to normal, we'll get medals on our chests, and Hackett can salute us for once."
He felt Shepard's head rest against his shoulder plate.
"Then, I guess we'll get some time. Maybe find a new ship, a new crew, some new adventures to get caught up in. How does smuggling or piracy sound? I'm game for not serving on military ship, but I guess you can still be commanding officer if you really want."
"Don't want your job," Shepard sniffed.
"Hell, I don't want my job." Kaidan laughed.
He glanced up; saw the sunlight shifting through the clouds. It was as if the sun hadn't shone in London in years. The city seemed to light up, and even though it was devastated, filled with rubble and horrors, it was beautiful. He heard a soft breath beside him.
"Look at us, Will," he whispered. "We're alive. After all this, we're alive. We're goddamn alive."
He felt the hand's grip tighten on his.
"Ash is smiling at us, Will. She's smiling on us, seeing what we've done. I know she's watching us. Her, and Anderson, and all the friends we've lost. Ashley's proud of us, Will. I know she is."
"Miss her," was the whispered response.
Kaidan stared at the rising sun. "Hey," he whispered to the man sitting next to him. "Wake up. Come on, Will. Wake up. The sun's coming out."
Beside him, Shepard's head slowly shifted. "Sight for sore eyes," he said, his voice barely above a whisper.
"No kidding," Kaidan said.
He heard his radio crackle.
"Major? We're right up at the edge. We're almost there. Got a doc for your wounded. How many?"
Kaidan looked at Shepard. His head was bowed.
He reached out his hand, gently touched the other man's face.
He stroked a thumb along the bruised cheekbone.
"Will. Wake up."
The blue eyes cracked open a slit. They were pleading, begging for rest.
"No," Kaidan murmured. "Don't do this to me again, please."
Blood stained lips muttered, "Sorry."
"Help's on the way. Just hang on."
Shepard shrugged weakly.
"Shit, Will." Kaidan exhaled. "I… wish I'd gone with you. Back on Horizon. I'm sorry. I wish I'd gone with you."
Shepard closed his eyes and gave a slight nod.
"I wanted you to know. I wish I'd gone with you."
"Glad you're here," Shepard muttered.
Kaidan blinked back the moisture that threatened his eyes. "Hey," he said quietly, "you and Ash, you take care of each other, okay? Wait for me. I'll find you guys again. I promise." He held Shepard's hand. "It's okay, Will. Go to sleep."
"Major? How many wounded?"
"It's fine, Lieutenant. Take your time."
"… I'm sorry, sir."
"It's fine," Kaidan said, and gently helped his oldest and dearest friend settle onto the ground. He kept his grip on Shepard's hand. He listened to the breathing, soft, fading with each moment. "Go to sleep, Will. I'll be here when you wake up."
The eyes opened once, stared at him, then a soft smile creased the lips.
"Hey, you remember Talitha, that girl on the Citadel all those years ago? From Mindoir? Remember what you said to her?"
The eyes shifted, a question.
"'You'll dream of a warm place. And when you wake up, you'll be in it.'" Kaidan smiled. "You'll wake up," he said.
It was a pleasant lie.
"I'll be here," he said again.
He heard the last breath.
The blue eyes were still fixed on him. He reached out and gently closed them. "Sleep well, Commander Will Shepard," he said softly. "I'd've followed you anywhere."
He thought he saw the ghost of a smile.
"Wait for me," he said softly. "Just wait a little longer. I'll be there someday."