Stand disclaimer applies: Bioware owns Mass Effect, I only own my likeness of Shepard

Lamentation – The act of lamenting or expressing grief; A lament

After Effect

A Mass Effect fanfic

Chapter IV: Lamentations

'Jack, stop playing with the controls or I'll have you tied to the chair,' Liara threatened. Shepard's vain attempts at taking positive control of the contraption from his bondmate ceased after another futile try, and he growled in frustration.

'You know I hate hospitals,' he grumbled. She ran the fingers of her free hand along his stubbled cheek, glowing momentarily in adoration as he pressed against them.

'I know. But I also know that Chakwas will make your visit uncomfortable if your usual antics keep up.' He grimaced at the thought. The doctor was one of very few people capable of eliciting such a reaction from the man.

The food carts were gone when Liara and Shepard re-entered their room and found the three orderlies tasked with helping Shepard wheeling out the bio-bed, having been replaced with a larger version capable of holding the couple at the same time. A minute later found the Spectre laying down again with his blue-skinned mistress curling up next to him contentedly. The orderlies departed and the couple was left alone for a few minutes before a doctor came, took Shepard's vitals, and left. Jack felt Liara's synthetics spark and sizzle as they interacted with his own, sending memories back and forth randomly.

Therum, trapped behind a pair of shimmering white-blue barriers. Waking early to hunt reed pheasants with Jazz. Watching the sun set behind Mindoir's hills.

Her fingers pleasantly coaxed his hair while a calloused hand trailed along her neck, eyelids lulling closed as they slipped into a comfortable state.

Sheepishly avoiding Mother's scowl, dirt-stained hands hidden. Cowering in fear as the strange human charges headlong at the krogan. Tossing his dress cover into the air at officer graduation. Mother humming a lullaby as her baby slips into sleep. The colony burns as he holds Ren's tiny body in his arms.

Shepard stiffened despite himself at the memory. His bondmate could practically taste the sorrow that still plagued that particular recollection, gently snuggling closer and kissing his cheek to comfort him.

'It is not your fault, Jack.' He only nodded slightly. The pain lessened somewhat and Liara took heart that she could at least do that much for the old wound, which no other had been able to even approach.

'Sometimes I wonder if that will ever truly heal,' he said softly. She was silent a moment before replying.

'I imagine that were I an approximate asari age to your teenage years and I came home to Armali and found it burning, my family slaughtered, and the slavers responsible for it were torturing my baby sister, the memory would travel with me for the rest of my life.' Shepard shifted slightly, a tell that he rarely gave and one that Liara had learned he did only when uncomfortable. He tried to combat the fatigue pressing at him again.

Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck I hate recovering. His bondmate heard his thoughts and sensed his weariness, laid a hand on his chest.

'Rest, Jack. I'll be here when you wake up.' Shepard tried to reply but his mouth refused to form the words, and he felt the welcoming oblivion embrace him as her lips pressed against his own. She slipped into a pleasant half-sleep alongside him, her burgeoning cybernetics feeding random bits of his biometric data to her. Somehow they comforted her, feeling his breath and powerful heartbeats and knowing the science behind how well his body was functioning, despite medicine being far from her area of expertise. She exhaled, glad to simply be in his arms and not have to worry about an impending invasion or him rushing off to stop an alien menace.

The deep-seated urges she'd been keeping at bay slowly trickled to the forefront of her thoughts as she lightly stroked a hand over an arm at least three-quarters the size of one of her legs, even after she'd focussed on working them when Jack had expressed his particular liking for 'thick thighs and plump asses'. A finger traced the sharply-defined channels of his musculature, not for the first time admiring the solidity of his build and how well he'd managed to keep in shape. Tiny embers of heat gradually pooled together in the spot between her legs as she thought back to their first night, just before Ilos. She had been so nervous, despite her conviction that what they were doing was right, and he had managed to allay all her fears with that first kiss, had been so gentle with her even when her body demanded more of him. No-one would have believed that the walking mountain of a man was capable of loving again after Mindoir and Torfan had emptied him of the emotion.

The years had changed them: He had become more open and she more ruthless, more human. But they both still balanced each other. The fact that their love had persevered despite the adversity of the Reapers only strengthened her desire to stay with him, come what may.

Shepard's lids fluttered as his eyeballs stuttered in REM sleep. Liara raised herself up a bit and carefully pressed her forehead against his in an attempt to interface with him as he had done earlier. A few moments of concentration rewarded her with a feeling not unlike initiating for a meld.

Amalgamating... Complete. Accessing REM cycle.

Mindoir was burning again. No matter where he went he was greeted by flames and scorched pre-fabs. The faces of those long-dead stared back at him through the conflagration, their skin crackling and peeling back as muscle and adipose tissues spat and sloughed off their bodies.

'You survived,' they accused. Dream-Jack gasped, turned and ran as hard as he could.

'You survived,' they repeated, the phrase like a mantra. His parents watched him from outside the skeletal remains of the warehouse they'd used to store crops for the planet's hard winters. The fires consumed them until their blackened skulls grinned back at him.

'You survived.' Their voices were not as he remembered, thin and reedy and devoid of emotion. Gunshots drew his attention, and he was greeted by his brothers slumping against a fence, a lone batarian standing over them, heavy-calibre pistol still smoking. Blood and brains and bits of bone painted the fence. The twins' grey eyes focussed on him as they sloppily gained their feet and pointed incriminating fingers.

'He survived,' they intoned. Four pits found him as the slaver turned, lips opening in a toothy grin.

'Not this time.' The hand cannon raised up, aligning with him as he began to flee. He had no rifle, he could not fight back.

Thunder split the air as the weapon discharged. Dream-Jack stopped mid-stride, mouth hanging slightly agape, and began to shake uncontrollably.

Ren stood before him, her dress in smouldering tatters, blood pouring down the side of her face from the open wound on her head where they'd tried to implant the control chip. A second crimson bloom stained the girl's side, the laceration hanging open to reveal intestines, liver, and a kidney, all cut to pieces. Wide emerald eyes looked at him innocently, worshipping him, trusting him.

'Why didn't you save me, Jack?' The voice was so sweet, so pure it cut like numberless blades.

'I tried... I tried so hard,' he replied, his voice sounding weak even to him as it crackled with sorrow and regret. Not-Ren stepped closer. He didn't have the will to retreat from her.

'You were supposed to take care of me.' Jack slipped to his knees as she closed the distance between them.

'I'm sorry.' He couldn't even hear his own voice. Tiny hands grasped his cheeks and tilted his head back to look at her. Ren's face began to melt, brilliant red hair crisping as ocular fluids ran down her cheeks.

'You survived.' Bony fingers pulled him into an embrace as the inferno consumed them both.

Shepard woke with a loud start, frightening Liara as he sat straight up, his muscles protesting their abused state a moment later. Groaning, he let his torso simply fall back down, nearly squashing his bondmate. She watched him the whole while, sidling up against him once more uncertainly as he breathed heavily, beads of sweat quivering on his brow.

A pained noise escaped him as he relived the nightmare in a heartbeat. The information transmitted through their bond.

'Oh Jack,' Liara whispered as she wrapped her arms around him comfortingly. Shepard fought the heat behind his eyes down shudderingly, and pulled her as close as he was able, trembling slightly against his lover. It was only with a monumental effort of will and several minutes that his shaking ceased.

'I remember the first time we melded, when we were hunting Saren.' She spoke in a voice almost less than a whisper, stroking his collarbone in what she hoped was a soothing gesture. 'Along with the information from the Prothean beacon, I glimpsed a memory of you chasing her through a field of tall yellow flowers. There was laughter, and you were having more fun than I thought you capable of at that time.' Shepard's gaze grew distant as he fished around his memory for a few minutes. A small, lop-sided smile curved his mouth.

'Most of what we grew on Mindoir was vegetable crops, but one of the colonists, a woman named Elaine, had brought several packets of sunflower seeds from Earth. She had a ten-acre field that the kids would play in. Ren loved running through it, 'specially if she and I were playing tag.' He chuffed slightly.

'I was always 'it', and I'd never catch her.' The smile waned. 'It's been sixteen years, and I still miss them.' Liara's fingers brushed his coarse stubble, memories of Beneziah bubbling up.

'Who they were has stayed with you in your heart, as my mother has with me. They'll never truly die so long as you hold them there.'

'It'll never replace them, though,' he countered before scrubbing a hand over his face and placing a finger on her open mouth. 'Let's not argue, I'm not sure I have the will for it right now.'

Before the asari could respond, a chime announced the arrival of two very tired people that immediately brought a smile to Shepard's face.

'Cat, Mal!' he exclaimed as the two contractors trudged into the room. A second inspection put both the bed's occupants on edge: the mercenaries looked exhausted, their very gazes haunted and glassy. Cat held one hand closed tightly.

'What's wrong?' Shepard asked. A creeper of dread began digging around his stomach. Metal clinked as Cat's fist clenched tightly for a moment, then she extended her arm to him, palm downward. Jack reluctantly placed an open hand beneath it. Something cool and metallic plopped into it. He recognised it as a pair of dogtags, blackened and crinkled. Turning them over and reading the name, he felt his guts churn violently. A small voice spoke in his mind, denying what he saw. Icy talons constricted around his heart.

No. NO. No no no no no nonononononono! Liara gasped as she realised what had happened. Mal stirred slightly and spoke.

'The Reapers destroyed the SSV Pale Horse in the battle over Earth. All hands lost.' The dead voice trembled thickly with emotion at his next words. 'Jasper Kell confirmed KIA.'

The words hit Shepard with all the force of a supernova, clawing and biting and tearing him apart as his heart throbbed painfully. He started shaking, the heat he'd fought down rushing back up to his eyes as Cat and Mal moved to either side of the bed and embraced the two between them. Liara wrapped herself tightly around her love.

He had survived events that would break hardened men, saved the galaxy three times over, and come back from the grave twice now. Most of the people he'd come to care about had disappeared from his life without so much as a tear shed. But this, this was far too much, even for the legendary first human Spectre. The flensing pain of losing a friend who had been closer than any brother left his heart raw with grief.

For the first time since Mindoir, Jack Shepard wept.

A/N: Dear God. I've never had this much trouble putting out a chapter. I'm so sorry about the wait, y'all, I hope this chapter helps even though it's much shorter than what I normally write.

To make a few things clear: Cat and Mal are members of a small mercenary group called Grey's Legion, headed up by Shepard's best friend: Jasper 'Jazz' Kell. In my old fic, Jazz and Shepard survived Mindoir together, and Shepard's grandparents were kind enough to take in Jasper as well.

As ever, R/R is appreciated - Prophet