Author's Notes: Written for a prompt from the masseffectkink community on LJ. The prompt asked for a post-ME3 world where Shepard chose the control ending and many years after the end of the war, a Turian ship carrying a descendent of Garrus Vakarian comes across a derelict Reaper deep in space. After boarding and exploring the interior of the Reaper, they find a hologram of Commander Shepard, who quickly mistakes the descendent for the Turian man she knew and loved.
June 2012 Note (and FYI, mentions of Extended Cut Spoilers in this blurb): For those reading this story just now, this was written two months before the EC was released, and oddly enough, now fits kind of perfectly into canon on the Control ending choice.
A hundred years after the end of the Reaper War, the memories of what had happened galaxy-wide so long ago had begun to fade. To many who had fought in that war and made it out alive, their deaths were calling, if they hadn't already been taken to the eternity they believed awaited them. The Asari, of course, still had the clearest view of the things that had transpired, and they more than the others, would carry the burden of not letting the rest forget the horrors that had once threatened to bring genocide to their corner of the universe.
What had been lost—the ships and buildings and all the rest—had been rebuilt, and save for the monuments that littered planets and moons across the galaxy—each a unique memorial to those that had died and sacrificed themselves in the fight—there were few reminders that life as intelligent life knew it had nearly been split at the seams and been all but obliterated. Life had returned, in most ways, to as close to the past version of normal as it would ever get.
So when the Intrepid—twenty-three cycles into its exploratory mission past the boundary of the known and explored galaxy—crept up on the derelict hulk of an abstract ship, it was no surprise when only one member of the crew recognized it for what it was. A lifeless, floating, hunk of Reaper.
That man was the acting captain of the ship, a seasoned veteran at his age that had recently received word of the oncoming promotion waiting for him when he returned home. An early death in the chain of command, and he would find himself sitting as General Vakarian when his mission ran to completion. But as he saw the distinct curvature of the ship and the splayed tentacle-like arms across his pilot's video screens, Nero had the unfortunate feeling that maybe he wouldn't be living long enough to see that promotion after all. Even if he did, maybe he wouldn't want the position if it meant wartime ahead of them. He was a good soldier, the best in fact, but that didn't mean he wanted to make the hard choices. He would if he had to, but he woke every morning with a prayer to his Spirits that the events of the day wouldn't test the leader in him.
Today wasn't one of the days the Spirits answered. Or maybe they had, and they'd just told him no.
For a long time they waited at the maximum distance that still allowed them to keep a keen eye on the Reaper, while a series of messages were relayed back to the high command. This deep out, communications were no longer instant, not with all the relays and beacons their encrypted data would have to bounce off of before finally coming in contact with the right eyes. And then, Nero knew, there'd be a panic back amongst the hierarchy of his civilization as they chose the proper plan of action. He knew, had seen some of the plans himself, that there were contingencies for things like this, ever had been since the war ended. Without knowing truly how things had ended or why, there had been a lot of questions and fear back then. Fears that still persisted, even if it often went unsaid.
It took some time, but the ship's VI alerted him to the arrival of a new message, highest priority. Nero took it at his private terminal with a calming breath, blood pressure rising as he read the brief, but succinct, orders. No, he certainly no longer believed he'd be seeing that promotion. He was to take his crew and board the Reaper, see what information he could glean. They were sending a fleet out to his location, but it would take time to get them there once they were armed and prepared. They were ready for the worst—the worst that they were ordering him directly into. But Nero was a good soldier, did as he was told, and with a steady click on the ship's comm system, he relayed his orders.
They suited up, a small crew—even if that hadn't been the orders and command had wanted him to take every person he could, Nero would be damned if he would sacrifice people who needn't be for a fool's errand—and took a shuttle across to the Reaper. Its hull was scratched and scraped, jagged pieces cut into it, and even a few of the joints of the legs missing, torn off and probably scattered across space somewhere else. It had seen battle, that much was clear, but Nero just wasn't sure when. Recent? The Reaper War? Long before then? The doors covering the firing chamber hung slack and open, exposing the Reaper's weapon, and the only comfort that Nero found was in the fact that there was no glowing there, no hint of the creature ready to arm itself and attack.
With no easily accessible entrance to the ship, the shuttle pulled alongside the floating Reaper, as close as it could get to a portion of its core. If there was anything at all to be found, he assumed that was where it would be, and as such, Nero watched on as a few of his men clung to the Reaper's hull with mag-attachments and began cutting through the outermost portion. It was a slow process, cutting out a chunk big enough for them to fit through comfortably, but when it was complete, they affixed the temporary airlock attachment from the shuttle to the Reaper, and hesitantly headed inside.
It was dark, impossibly so, with only their omni-tools and additional lights to guide their way. It didn't take long for them to find portions of the ship that were strikingly familiar to their own, walkways and ramps and the like, even doorways they were able to force open through omni-tool overrides. Nero wasn't sure what he expected to find in the Reaper, maybe organic-like bits and pieces, but he didn't expect this. It was like anything else, boring and bland and uneventful. That was, until, they forced open a new doorway and weren't greeted with the same unnerving blackness, but faint illumination along the floor.
Nero tensed instantly, and everyone drew their guns as he radioed in to the shuttle and Intrepid, keeping them informed. Everything in his body told him to turn around, to return like a coward and wait out the fleet of reinforcements, no matter how long it would take for them to arrive. What he was leading his men and women into, he had no idea, but for the sake of the mission, he continued on, following the dim lights until they grew brighter and brighter and they eventually encountered a functioning door. It glowed green.
Captain Vakarian paused in front of it, prayed silently to his Spirits, and opened the door.
The room was better lit than the rest, a pale blue glow coating the surfaces of everything within the large room. At the far end he recognized the large mass effect core, not bright enough to be functioning at full potential, but still buzzing with life nonetheless. And what was more remarkable was that at the foot of the core, Nero swore he could make out the shape of something vaguely organic.
He held up a hand to his squad, giving them pause as he proceeded forward, weapon still held high and his finger hovering just barely over the trigger, ready to protect himself at a moment's notice. The nearer he drew, the more he could recognize. It was human, he knew, by the lack of the Asari crest, and not Quarian by a few of the subtle body differences. Spirits, he realized as he moved closer, it wasn't even real. It was a hologram. Nero stopped a few feet behind the shape, its slightly fuzzy form seated facing away from him, feet to the floor but legs bent at the knee to create obtuse triangles, the human's arms loosely draped over and around her knees.
"Who are you?" Nero demanded, forgetting all proper protocol.
The image, or human, or whatever the hell it was, didn't respond. Didn't even move.
"By the Turian Military, I order you to tell me who you are," he repeated, a little more sure of himself, though he wasn't confident the image could hear him at all, not if there wasn't any kind of air to speak of.
The shape moved then, its form shifting ever so slightly as it seemed to, of all things, sigh. Its arms fell from its knees to the floor, pressing palms into the metal to help itself up—though Nero wondered why something so incorporeal would perform such an action, like it physically felt the weight of an organic life, or a memory of one. He gripped his pistol a little tighter as it turned.
Less than he ever expected to see that dead Reaper out on the edge of space, he never expected he would ever come across this particular face in anywhere but his dreams. He'd never met her. No, she'd died many decades before he'd ever been born at all, but he knew her from the extranet, the textbooks on his data-pads. The savior of the Galaxy. Commander Shepard. More importantly, he knew her from the pictures he'd when he visited his grandfather's home while growing up. The pictures his grandfather had kept hidden away most of the time, but as a child, Nero had so often caught the man reminiscing over.
As he'd grown older, Nero had even heard some of the stories. The Omega Relay. Saren and the Citadel. Earth and the final stand. The younger he'd been at the time of hearing a specific story, the vaguer it was, the more heroic. The perfect tale for a child to dream about. Aging, though, his grandfather had become more honest with the tellings, letting more slip through each time. Maybe it had been an accident, but some part of Nero knew it was just Garrus' way of leveling with his grandson about the truth behind it all. As a man, he could handle the truth and maybe some of the racier details hidden between the lines.
"Commander Shepard," Nero said, stunned, staring across to the blue face of the—former?—Commander.
Her face, as expressive as it must've been in the human flesh, contorted slightly, brows pushing together in almost a painful manner. She swallowed, her throat bobbing with the action, and then raised her eyes to the room's high ceiling, and glanced around before looking back to him. "I've pressurized the ship for you," she said, her voice emotionless.
Nero glanced down to his omni-tool, taking in the new readings. Where it had once been void of breathable air and just pressurized gas of any kind, the immediate area was now capable of sustaining life. It went against every regulation in the book, but Nero reached for the latch of his helmet, and slowly pulled it off.
Shepard gasped when she saw his face, her hand drawn to cover her mouth, or at least the projected image of it. It took her not a second more to react again, and this time she reached out, her hand to his cheek.
Nero flinched, took a half step back. "I'm…"
She was relentless, moving forward to accommodate the added space he'd put between them. Her hand ghosted over his left mandible, palming it even if he couldn't feel it aside from the slight prickle one experienced when passing directly through the energy field of a hologram of any kind. Regardless, she moved like she was solid, her hand cupping at his jaw, thumb tracing over the blue paint on his cheek. Her face wrinkled, tears in her eyes—Spirits, could holograms even cry?—and then her face broke into a smile despite it all.
"You came," she whispered.
"I…" He stuttered.
"You found me," Shepard continued, and this time moved closer, her limbs around him though he felt no pressure of her weight or strength. Just, once again, that tingle, wherever she touched, even through the thickness of his hardsuit. He was unsure of what to do, but Nero did what came on instinct, and closed his arms about her, holding his grasp carefully around the boundaries of her image rather than going directly through her.
"I knew you'd find me."
For the first few moments, Nero had no idea of what exactly was happening. Was he dead or dreaming? In that space that existed between life and death? It all seemed more likely than all of this being real: that he'd found a Reaper, found its core still active, and sitting watching it had been the image of a woman who, by all accounts, died a hundred years earlier trying to save them from the very thing she was inhabiting.
"I've been waiting," she went on, and Nero felt the tingle of her hand moving up along his back, at the back of his skull, and then the confusing sensation of her holographic digits soothing against the underside of his fringe in a rather presumptuous and erotic manner. He tensed. "For so long. I thought you'd died, Garrus. I thought I'd been too late, that you'd gotten killed before I could save everyone. You don't know what its been like, not knowing what happened and knowing I couldn't ever go back to find out."
Spirits. He'd been told many times how much he resembled the man that was his grandfather, what with his particularly large cowl and blue eyes, even the ridges of his face. But never had he been mistaken for the elder man, with his aged and worn plates and that scarred mandible. He felt the prickling around him shake a little, a tremor of her body, heard the sound of her soft tears—in pain or joy, he didn't know—and Nero decided that just for a minute longer… he'd let whatever this thing was, Shepard or not, rejoice in the feeling of being reunited with the man she thought he was.
"I love you," there was a pained laugh, wet with the sound of her sadness, "I never thought I'd get to say that again to you, but I hoped you always knew." Shepard's head lifted and she shifted to the other side of his head, nuzzling against his mandible. That was when she stopped, her tingling stiff as a board, as though every atom her projection was made of had instantly stopped and aligned perfectly. Like she wasn't there at all. Shepard's shape pulled back from him, eyes on his right mandible. The one, that unlike the real Garrus Vakarian, was perfect and healed.
"How long has it been?" She asked, her voice quaking as she touched his mandible gently. "They finally got that fixed for you?"
Looking at her, the concern on her features, however real they were or weren't, Nero knew it was one thing to let her keep believing things on her own. It was another to lie to her outright. He steeled himself, stood a little straighter. "Commander…"
Her focus quickly left his mandible to find his eyes, and before he could say anything else, Shepard pulled away from him, betrayal written across her blue-hued features. "He doesn't call me that," she said accusingly, and took another step. "Who are you?"
"Commander," he repeated, and this time he was mirroring her actions from earlier, taking the steps closer to her as she moved away. He offered up his hands in peace, his pistol long since holstered at his waist. "It's been a hundred years."
Shepard stopped suddenly, and shook her head in a harsh denial. "No," she said firmly, as though he was simply mistaken.
"The year's 2286."
She wouldn't hear it. "No."
"I'm not sure what I can do to prove it to you—"
"I would know!" She yelled, her emotions growing erratic.
Behind him, Nero heard the antsy shifting of weight among his squad. What they would do, he wasn't sure, since he was pretty confident one couldn't wound a projection with a weapon.
"It's been a long time… but not that long! I would know!" Her form collapsed in on itself a little, bending forward at the waist, spine arching slightly as she let out an uncontrolled, shuddering sob at the thought.
Nero could only watch.
"Who are you?" She demanded, looking to him with squinted eyes, anger over her features. "You have his markings! Who are you?"
"I'm… Nero Vakarian. Garrus, he's my grandfather."
The anger faded back to more pain, and Shepard hid her face away from him as she turned her body completely, eyes on the mass effect core. From the few feet of distance, he could see her projection trembling every now and then, untold emotion slipping through her.
For the longest while, they stood like that, frozen in time. Shepard at the front of the room. His squad at the back. Nero near her, but between both groups, ever the diplomat. In the end, the image of the Commander caved first, her voice a notch steadier than it had been before, but still she refused to look back to the descendent of the man she knew.
"He made it, then?" She questioned. "He survived the war?"
Nero nodded, even if she couldn't see it. "He did. As much as I know… the rest of your crew did as well." A weight seemed to lift from her shoulders, though it may just have been part of his imagination. Spirits, he really was losing his mind out here.
She should have had a million questions to ask him, like how all the species were fairing, how the worlds were getting along in the wake of her sacrifice, even if some of her other friends still remained—the answers wouldn't be happy, Nero knew, but Liara T'Soni was still around and likely would be for centuries to come—but Shepard didn't ask any of those questions.
"Was he happy?" The inquiry came and went, her voice small, quiet.
"He…" Nero paused, unsure of how to proceed. His grandfather had never outright told him how he'd felt about Shepard, but he'd read into all the things his grandfather hadn't said, which had told him enough. His grandmother, Spirits bless her, had been loved, without question, but Nero had always known there was something else. Someone else, was more like it. And now, a hundred years after Garrus had lost the woman he loved, Nero finally knew the truth of it all. It wasn't very Turian, but his insides clenched at the loss his grandfather must have felt for the last century, and at what this image—if she was Shepard, or merely thought she was the woman—felt as well. "He was. He got married… maybe ten years after the war ended. Had three sons and a daughter."
Shepard wavered on her feet for just a second, and he watched her hands retreat to her face, presumably to cover her eyes. "Good," she forced out, but her tone was a mix of happiness and loss. "He deserved it. I'm glad he got it in the end. I think…" She stopped, and a deep breath later—one she didn't really need, but was clearly just a habit—she spoke again. "I think that's what he always wanted, he just knew it wasn't something Turians talked about out loud."
He could say nothing in response, but he silently acknowledged her words. He'd gotten to know his great-grandfather, Garrus' father, a little before his death, and Nero knew him to be just like most other Turians. But Garrus… he was unlike them all. He was kind and so many other things. Nero now had to wonder if that was just always the person his grandfather had been, or if it was because of the human woman he'd loved so long ago.
"Commander, I have to ask. What happened on the Citadel? Why did the Reapers retreat? Where did they go? Are they coming back?" All at once, the questions flooded out of him. He couldn't help it.
Shepard just sighed, head shaking as she turned back around to look at him, her face a painting of every echo of pain she'd felt over the last hundred years. He was certain of it.
"I was offered a choice… how to protect life. And whether it was the right choice or not, I chose to become part of the Reapers, to control them, to force them away from the galaxy and never come back. I'll be alive forever," she said, wearily, "if this is living at all. But I'll be here, making sure what happened a hundred years ago and for millennia before that, never happens again."
That wasn't what anyone had believed to have happened, and listening to her, Nero wasn't sure how much truth there really was to it. Maybe he'd entered the Reaper and that process—indoctrination?—had begun to work on him. Maybe he was in too deep now, ready to become a pawn for the force against organic life. Shepard's face, though, there was something in it that made him believe otherwise.
"There's a fleet coming here," he confessed. "I'm not sure if they intend on destroying this ship or studying it."
Shepard just nodded, defeated. "I can be gone before then. It doesn't matter. Nothing really does. I just liked it here, felt as close to home as I thought I could get." A stifled, bitter laugh was given. "I thought he'd find me."
Nero gave a tight dip of his head in acknowledgement. He should head back to his ship, file a report, and let the command know what he saw. But something about it all… He ventured another glance to Shepard as she stood perfectly still, eyes lifeless and vacant—which wasn't surprising for a hologram, but was in such a contrast to what her image had shown before. Everything about her felt real, not like the avatars in ports and cities to guide tourists around. This wasn't a computer program, a VI, or even an AI. Somehow, in some way he didn't understand, the woman that Shepard had always been was still here. Trapped.
"He tried," Nero offered to her as a consolation. "I know he did. But this, I don't think anyone could ever fathom this was where you'd be."
She looked to him. There was thanks in her eyes, thanks for his kind words of comfort, even if they'd never be enough. "You should get off the ship. I'll need to be moving this one out of the area before your backup arrives. It's best that they don't find me."
Shepard was right, and Nero reached for his helmet at his feet. He went to put it on, but something in him made him stop. "Can I ask you to do something for me?"
She scoffed, a bit of humor in her throat. "What can the ghost haunting a Reaper do for anyone?"
"Just tell me where I'll be able to find you after you go."