The Return of Archangel
(Post-Control Ending to ME3, MShep with LI Tali, not that it really matters that much to this particular story.)
SSV Normandy, 5 weeks after the Battle of London
"There's no Shepard without Vakarian."
"Therefore, logically, there's no Vakarian without Shepard." Garrus said aloud, as he drained the contents of his glass.
The Normandy's lounge-slash-bar was quiet. Everyone on board was busying themselves now that repairs were complete and the Normandy was in the air, but no-one was in a particularly celebratory mood. The Normandy had been stranded without news on the jungle planet for some time before impulse engines had been restored. Joker's voice suddenly blared over the comm.
"Hold on to your hats people, we're gonna get some turbulence as we pass through atmo."
Garrus steadied his glass and the bottle as the turbulence hit. After a few seconds, Joker's voice came over the comm again.
"We're all clear folks, commencing long range scan."
Garrus returned to his deliberations. No-one knew quite what had happened. EDI was as close to perplexed as an AI could be. The chances of crash-landing on a habitable planet were quite literally astronomical. She reported being locked out of systems when the blue shockwave caught up with them, as if her navigation and propulsion systems suddenly gained minds of their own.
Then, as quickly as the systems had been taken over, they were operational again. Garrus recalled the conversation he and Shepard had before the Battle of London, about Shepard watching over him from the bar in heaven.
When EDI relayed the story of the anomaly, that's when he knew. Shepard was dead. Watching over them, sure, but dead all the same.
Garrus thought back over Shepard's life. He remembered standing next to Wrex, awestruck as Shepard was lifted into the air by the Prothean beacon on Virmire. Even then, Shepard probably knew how his story would end, Garrus reasoned.
The turian sighed, and poured himself another brandy, pausing as he realised that the bottle was suspiciously lighter than it should be. Tali must have been hitting the bottle as hard as she dared.
Garrus was impressed with Tali. She had lost the most when the Normandy had retreated to the relay. But, after the crash landing, she attended to her duties in the engine room as normal, getting the Normandy ready to return to Earth. He hoped that she wasn't in denial over the loss of her love, though was extremely relieved that he hadn't needed to wrestle her shotgun away from her. More than anything, she was quiet. So were James and Javik. Even Joker and EDI were far more subdued than normal. Still, he didn't like to think of her nursing a glass of brandy and crying alone in Shepard's cabin during her off-time.
Liara went into full Shadow Broker mode, acting as the Major's XO, getting repairs into full swing. She was doing her best to comfort Tali, while still mourning the overwhelming annihilation that had befallen Thessia and the loss of Shepard himself.
"And what have you done, son?" His father's voice drifted into his head. Garrus snorted into his brandy.
"Well Dad, I've sat here getting drunk."
"You should be helping the crew however you can, it's what any turian worthy of…"
"Well Dad, as you and I have both said before, I'm not a very good turian."
"Attention all hands!" Kaidan's voice came over the intercom, snapping Garrus out of his imaginary dialogue. The Major had solemnly taken command of the Normandy, and was doing his best to keep morale up. However, this time there was a tone of urgency in his voice that Garrus didn't like. "Multiple Reaper signatures on intercept course, all hands to battle stations!"
Garrus couldn't help it. He laughed as he got off his bar stool and readied himself for the run to the forward batteries.
"Well Shepard, get me a round in." He said. "I'll be there in five."
Joker was furiously tapping controls as the Reapers closed in. There were two, on an intercept course.
"EDI?" Joker called out.
"Our mass effect core is offline, primary thrusters are online. Kinetic barriers at 17%."
"Fully operational, Thanix cannon charging."
"Then let's give 'em Hell!" Kaidan interjected. "If we're going down, we might as well go down all guns blazing."
"Firing!" Joker yelled, as the mass effect cannon blast surged towards one of the Reapers, only to be dissipated by the Reaper's shields.
"Zero effect on target." Joker sighed.
"Major, sensors show that while the Reapers shields are at maximum, they are not charging weapons, or undertaking offensive manoeuvres." EDI stated.
The intercom buzzed.
"Sir," Specialist Traynor started, "we're being hailed… by the Reapers."
Kaidan and Joker shared a concerned glance.
"Put them through Traynor." Kaidan replied. "Relay the channel on all decks."
Garrus heard the intercom crackle as he dashed around the forward battery.
"All hands," Traynor's voice came through, "we have been hailed by the Reapers. Patching in all decks."
"ALLIANCE VESSEL NORMANDY." A booming, synthetic voice began. "YOU ARE TO BE ESCORTED BACK TO EARTH. LOWER YOUR KINETIC BARRIERS AND PREPARE FOR FASTER THAN LIGHT TRAVEL."
"Bullshit." Kaidan replied. "If you're going to kill us anyway, why bother taking us back to Earth?"
"THE CYCLE HAS BEEN BROKEN. AS SUCH, ALL HOSTILE ACTION HAS CEASED."
"Wait a minute…" Garrus muttered to himself as he tapped into the comm.
"Is this Harbinger?" Garrus asked.
"AFFIRMATIVE, THIS IS THE CONTRUCT THAT WAS ONCE KNOWN AS HARBINGER."
"Right, so the construct that once threatened to swat us like flies and claimed to be our salvation through destruction wishes us no harm." Garrus probed, perplexed by the unexpected turn of events.
"AFFIRMATIVE. FOR THE PURPOSES OF CLARIFICATION, WE SUGGEST YOU CONFER WITH ALLIANCE COMMAND. OUR LONG RANGE SENSOR NETWORKS SHOW THAT HUMAN ALLIANCE ADMIRAL STEPHEN HACKETT WILL ARRIVE IN 8 MINUTES BY FTL."
With that, Harbinger cut the communication. Garrus shook his head as he proceeded to the bridge.
"What was that all about?" Garrus asked as he stepped on to the bridge.
"No idea," Kaidan replied, "but he wasn't lying. The SSV Orizaba is on the approach, I imagine Admiral Hackett is onboard."
"The Orizaba?" A voice came from behind them. Garrus, Kaidan and Joker turned to see Tali hastening to the bridge. "That's Shepard's mother's vessel!" She finished brightly.
"Yeah…" Kaidan said, quietly. He shared a look with Garrus. The two military veterans knew that Hannah Shepard would more than likely be here to be the bearer of bad news rather than good news.
A flash of light signalled the arrival Orizaba.
"Incoming signal, patching it through." Joker reported.
Admiral Hackett appeared onscreen. Garrus looked back at Tali to see her deflate slightly. A part of him had hoped to see Shepard too.
"Greetings Major." He began. "Glad to see you're all in one piece."
"Thank you, Admiral." Kaidan replied politely.
"Skip the pleasantries." Garrus interrupted. "We're in urgent need of a sitrep."
"As you wish, Field Marshal." Admiral Hackett nodded. Garrus flinched. He was worryingly high up the chain of succession these days. "It seems the Reapers have had undergone some kind of paradigm-shift. Their ground forces have ceased all hostilities and begun minor repairs and clean-up, while Reaper capital ships are reinforcing infrastructure and buildings. They even respond to orders from our ground teams."
"That's… disturbing." The Major ventured.
"Agreed Major," the Admiral replied, "but we need all the help we can get. Tuchanka and Palaven have reported the same activity. Reapers have also touched down on Rannoch-"
"What?" Tali exploded. "My people joined the combined assault to make sure that never happened!"
"Your Admiralty Board and the Consensus requested their aid Admiral Zorah." Hackett responded. "You've got a planet to build pretty much from scratch."
Liara suddenly appeared in the comm.
"What of Thessia?" She asked.
"As far as we understand, your colonies are doing well, but Thessia is damn near a total loss. The remaining survivors main concern right now is food and water, which the Reapers and the Alliance are providing as much as possible. The Reapers hit so hard, we estimate it will be around 15 years before Thessia will return to its former state, even with Reaper help."
"And… Shepard?" Liara asked.
Hackett was quiet for a moment.
"Captain Shepard wishes to come aboard." He replied. "Permission to dock?"
"Granted." Kaidan replied.
That was it. The airlock opened, and Hannah Shepard stepped out to meet Tali. They shared some words, and Tali collapsed, sobbing into the elder Shepard's embrace.
Shepard was confirmed KIA. The fact taunted Garrus as he downed yet another brandy.
"You know," came a voice from next to him, "I believe that brandy is more a drink for savouring than downing in one."
Garrus turned to see the Shadow Broker herself, smiling a half smile at him.
"I was never much of a connoisseur." He replied, helping himself to a refill. Liara strode past him, taking a seat to his left. She poured herself a glass of Earth wine from a nearby bottle. After she set it down, Garrus examined it.
"Merlott?" He ventured.
"I believe it's pronounced Merlow." She replied, taking a sip. Garrus chuckled as he returned to his brandy. The doors to the lounge opened to reveal Tali.
"Hi." She said, meekly. Garrus desperately thought for something to break the ice.
"Admiral!" He greeted her with a mock salute. She let out a small chuckle before returning the salute.
"Field Marshal." She replied, taking the seat to his right. She poured a glass of the brandy for herself before preparing a straw.
"Ugh, forget this." Tali began as she fiddled with her straw. She raised her hands to her mask and released the clamps with a pneumatic hiss.
The asari and the turian recoiled in shock.
"Tali, are you sure that's wise?" Liara ventured. Tali turned to her companions, seeing them for the first time.
"No." She replied, her voice seeming more melodious without passing through the filter. "But my resistance is high enough now that I'm only risking a half-day in the med bay."
She removed her whole helmet, and let her long, wavy black hair cascade down her back.
"Wow." Garrus exclaimed.
She took an awkward sip from her brandy. Garrus realised it was the first time she'd ever drunk anything from a container without a straw. Silence fell and lingered for a while between the three.
"So." He began. "Friendly neighbourhood Reapers?"
"I know." Liara began. "In my head it feels wrong. But…"
"But what?" Garrus asked.
"Well, when I looked out the cockpit window, right at Harbinger… it just seemed kind of…"
"Right?" Tali suggested.
"Yes." Liara replied. "I know that must seem strange."
"I felt it too." Tali said.
"Tali, do you… want to talk? About Shepard?" Garrus asked.
"I love him, and always will." Tali started. "But this isn't the first time someone has told me that he is confirmed KIA. I'm either right, in which case he'll find his way back to me, or I'm wrong, and we'll meet in the next life. In the meantime, I have one society to rebuild, a peace treaty to formally negotiate and the co-ordination of the largest fleet in the galaxy to keep me occupied."
Liara and Garrus shared a sceptical look.
"OK." Liara replied. "But, if you need anything…"
"I know Liara, thank you." Tali said, with warmth, but a tone of finality. Subject closed.
The three fell into companionable silence. Garrus resumed his earlier deliberations.
"Tali'Zorah without Shepard is the Admiral. Liara T'Soni without Shepard is the Shadow Broker. Vakarian without Shepard is what?" Garrus mused. "Field Marshal Vakarian? Specialist? Officer?"
Then it hit him. He thought back last time Shepard was dead, with no chance of return. Maybe, knowing what he knew now, with his greater grasp of leadership and sacrifice, it could work out. He could maybe do some good once more.
"Vakarian without Shepard is Archangel."