Peace, and Happiness


Author's note: ME3 ending spoilers ahead.

First up, I want to say that I do love the Mass Effect games. Bioware did a fantastic job in my opinion... with everything except for the very ending of the trilogy, sadly. This is a story taking the extended cut ending's attempt at fixing the gaping plot holes into account, but trying to fill the immense void still left by the lack of emotional closure. This is for those who chose the 'Destroy' ending where Shepard's fate is 'left open' so she may 'live', yet were still deeply unsatisfied and upset by the fact that, as far as the endings seem to imply, even if Shepard is left breathing at the end, everyone including her squad and love interest - in my case, Liara - still believes she is dead, therefore why would anyone go looking for her to find her trapped beneath the rubble of the Citadel, meaning she's probably going to die regardless, only of starvation or suffocation or bleeding out instead, so much slower and more drawn out and painful than the instant-kill of the other choices, so... that's the 'best' ending, is it? Huh. Anyway, having waited for the extended cut in the hopes of seeing this resolved; since it wasn't really, I have now decided to write a short story to deal with what I felt ought to have been included. This way I can play the Mass Effect games again someday, if I have a post-ending story with the emotional resolution that I, as an emotionally invested player, seriously need. I had read other stories that have already done this, and done it well, though the ones I read were written before the EC release, and now with my heart once again bleeding in my hands, I find myself compelled to write my own ending, because reading them again no longer works. I don't know why... but I guess I just needed to do this. For my own Shepard and Liara.

So, here it begins. I should also note that this work is complete as it is; I wanted to post it all at once. It definitely won't be my best work, and it will be very short; certainly not be anywhere near the length of my other story, 'A World Without Shadows'. Just a couple of short chapters, but I aim to make it do for me what the EC didn't. I won't call my Shepard by her first name, and will try not to describe her in great detail, so that she fits most back-stories and custom faces. Except she won't match Renegade players, I guess, since I always play Paragon. For the record, I also always play Shepard as a Colonist War Hero Vanguard. But I'll try not to let that come into the story. And you'll probably have to be a little flexible with squad mate choices, previous mission choices, etc. I also haven't lost any squad mates except Kaidan on previous playthroughs, so everyone will probably get a mention. But really the only thing I will focus on is the destruction of the Reapers, and Shepard and Liara. It will contain spoilers for the Extended Cut ending, but after what other closure that provided, the rest of it (barring the characters and sci-fi stuff that Bioware came up with, etc) is my own imagination at work. Hopefully, anyway. I haven't read any ending-related Mass Effect stories since the EC came out in an effort not to be influenced and do the exact same thing as them, but if at any time there's something in here that seems to be suspiciously close to someone else's idea, then I apologise. Having been the victim of it myself, I do not like plagiarism, and would never intentionally try to pass off another person's work as my own. If far-too-similar plots/themes occur, then it's either a case of great minds thinking alike if I haven't read the story, and unintentional plagiarism that must be altered if I have read it.

Anyway, long-winded author ranting done with, on with the story. Rated M to be safe. For violence and adult themes, I guess.


Chapter 1


Shepard took another step.

Breathe.

Move forward.

Keep... moving... keep breathing... got to... got to finish this...

Finish them...

Another step. And another. Again.

Keep... going...

Each laboured, dragging, agonising step brought Shepard closer to the mass of wires and circuits enclosed in their protective casing; the fate of every organic, every synthetic, every Reaper in existence awaiting her choice. A choice already made, long ago, before the invasion, before the Collectors, even before that god damn beacon burned the nightmare vision of war and death and unimaginable horror into her mind. A choice made the moment that she first saw Sovereign as it blasted into the skies of Eden Prime, incinerating an entire colony without feeling or mercy, without a thought. Even before knowing that it was far more than just a ship, even before knowing what the Reapers were, that decision was made; whatever this thing was, one thing was certain.

She had to destroy it.

Destroy them all.

Her eyes stayed fixed on the power conduit at the far end of the ledge to her right as she fought to keep her balance and keep going, keep forcing herself onwards. In her current condition, it was a battle every bit as fierce as the fight against Sovereign or the Collectors, every bit as brutal and desperate as the one still being waged on the world so far below, on every Reaper occupied world. Between the terrible firefight to defend the missile battery from the never-ending rush of brutes, banshees, husks, even harvesters, and the disastrous run to the beam afterwards with Harbinger taking shots, there didn't seem to be any part of her that hadn't taken damage. Searing agony tore through her body with every step she took.

A twenty metre walk had never seemed so far...

"Damn it, Shepard, don't you dare quit now!" The harsh, gruff voice of her old training master Gunnery Chief Ellison hollered in her head, urging her on. "There's no room for goldbricking in my unit, soldier, so get. Your. God. Damn. Ass. MOVING!"

Yes... yes, sir!

She responded to the command like the soldier she was; ignoring the pain, forcing one foot in front of the other through the haze of fatigue and exhaustion threatening to overwhelm her with every step. But the Alliance trained its soldiers well, pushing them to the absolute limits of their physical capabilities, and then pushing them even further. The gruelling ordeals of the N7 training went beyond even that, into realms of physical and mental endurance beyond imagining, trials and torments that taught recruits to find a way to keep going through anything. Shepard's will, her indomitable spirit, forced her torn and broken body to go on, to move, to do what her mind told her was impossible. So she did.

She always did.

Almost... there...

Shepard reached the end of the cold metal ramp and stumbled onward, step by step by step, her pistol held loosely in the hand dangling at her side as she cradled her other blistered, bleeding arm against her stomach, trying to staunch the steady trickle of blood from the wound in her side. Whether it was from Harbinger's beam, or a gunshot, she couldn't remember... but she hurt like god-damn hell all over anyway, so... it wasn't important. Not anymore. There was only one thing that mattered now; the gun in her hand, and the circuitry before her, the circuitry that kept the Reapers linked to the Citadel and the Catalyst; their source of power and purpose. Destroying it. Destroying the Reapers. Putting an end to them. An end to this war, spanning countless millennia, countless cycles. Countless losses, countless lives. Countless species. An end to the pain, and death, and destruction. The extinction.

An end, once and for all.

Just a few more steps...

A few more...

Now.

Shepard raised the pistol, her broken, bleeding body screaming in protest at the movement, and fired. Again. And again. Every bullet was for every victim, every martyr, every sacrifice of this godforsaken war, this galactic massacre. For the lives of the living, fighting right in this moment. The soldiers and civilians. Every father, daughter, mother, son. For every unborn child. For the futures of each one of them, and for the generations yet to come, if they could only have their chance. For her squad mates, her crew, her friends...

For Liara...

Oh, Liara...

She could see the beautiful asari in her mind's eye, the memory as clear and sharp as if living the moment over again... her and Liara, and one last moment of peace...


...

'How are the casualties?'

The asari glanced briefly away from her omni-tool as she registered Shepard's entrance into the makeshift med bay, quickly returning her attention to her scan of the injured man lying supine on the rough cot in the corner of the room. 'They haven't brought in many more wounded.' she answered quietly.

That was, if not good news, at least better than Shepard had expected. She looked the soldier over briefly. A few wounds, but nothing that looked too serious, and only minor damage to his hard-suit. Assuming his inbuilt medi-gel dispenser was still functional and the on-duty medic wasn't killed applying field dressings when the next enemy assault broke through the defensive perimeter, he would probably see tomorrow. If it came. 'That's something,' the Commander ventured, trying to sound positive.

Liara nodded a little as she ended the scan, keeping her face turned away from the Commander as she shut down her omni-tool and crossed her arms beneath her breasts, her manner defensive, withdrawn. Never a good sign at the best of times, even given Liara's quiet and somewhat introvertive nature, but now... now was not the time to be seclusive. Shepard touched her arm gently, the contact usually allowing her to feel Liara through the mental and often near-physical bond between them; yet another strange and wonderful trait of the ever-adaptable asari Shepard never ceased to marvel at. This time, however, she felt nothing, though truth be told she knew why. Being human, Shepard was only able to passively receive; she could not reach out to Liara to feel her thoughts and emotions unless the asari opened their bond and allowed her into her mind, joining her consciousness to Shepard's, guiding her. Ever since their talk on the Citadel when Shepard had, with loving patience, once again reassured Liara in no uncertain terms that she wanted to be with her for the rest of her life, Liara had used every private moment the two had together to allow the Commander into her mind and heart until Shepard felt she knew Liara inside and out, immeasurably strengthening their bond so that with a touch, Shepard could instantly tell exactly how Liara was feeling, even sense her thoughts on occasion. But their connection relied entirely on Liara to drive it. Right now, Liara was keeping herself closed to her, which Shepard was sure could only mean one thing.

Liara was frightened... terrified... and she didn't want Shepard to know.

Of course she was scared. She should be scared; they all should be. But they couldn't let it master them. Which meant she couldn't let Liara try to hold this inside. Not now. 'How are you holding up, Liara?' Shepard asked gently.

Liara stared at the unmoving form of the wounded soldier on the stretcher before her, blue eyes wide and unseeing. 'This... is it, isn't it?'

Shepard's heart bled at the note of ill-concealed fear in her lover's soft voice. She took a step towards her, trying to come up with something comforting. But at this point... what was there to say? Nothing that wouldn't sound like empty platitudes. All she could do was answer just to let Liara know she was here, that she wasn't alone. Maybe that would be enough. 'Yeah,' she replied after a moment. Simply. Truthfully. 'This is it.'

Liara hugged herself tighter, dropping her head. 'I... don't know what to say,' she almost whispered. The young asari glanced at Shepard, noting the look of deep concern in her eyes and tried to smile for her; an act of bravery in itself, given the circumstances. Her voice quivered, and the Commander could see she was trembling slightly. 'All those little blue children are going to be disappointed I didn't have a speech.'

Oh, Liara... Shepard felt her throat tighten. 'We'll make up a good story for them.'

...


Shepard tore herself forcefully away from the memory, coughing out a humourless laugh as she shook her head slightly. A good story. She fired again, eyes narrowed as the bullets hit the reinforced glass and glanced off harmlessly. What a story this would have been. No need to make something up; no one would ever believe this, not even children. Maybe it was for the best that... that when she was dead, no one else would ever know about this. That what really drove the Reapers was some unexplained God-like supercomputer...

Right.

The bitter part of Shepard's mind raged helplessly at her situation, even as her body continued to shoot, as her feet carried her forward to her end. Only there'll be no little blue children to tell stories to, will there? Not now. Everything I've done, all I've given for everyone else in the galaxy... and this is my reward. One last, ultimate sacrifice. No good deed goes unpunished, huh? I suppose... if I do this... no one will know what I did, or what happened here, but... at least they'll know the Reapers were destroyed because of it. That would make for a better ending.

The corner of Shepard's mouth turned up briefly in the barest ghost of a wry grin. Even if I could make it out of this, somehow... Have... have little blue children to tell stories to... I think I'd have to try and make up something more believable to tell them. I'm no writer, but even I know a deus ex machina is a terrible way to end a story.

Maybe it's for the best that only I will ever know about this. Better this way. Better that... that I'm alone... that my friends were all safe, relatively speaking. My team. My family. Those with me from the very beginning, who stuck with me through it all...

Doctor Chakwas... Karin. You were like a mother to me, doc. To all of us.

Joker. My smart-ass helmsman. Brimful of humour, dedication and arrogance. Fully justified, of course.

EDI... you sure as hell came a long way from that little rogue VI system that tried to kill me on the moon. Fully aware, utterly loyal, and completely, undeniably alive. No question. I'm sorry, God, I'm sorry, but... I... I have to do this.

Ash... you were a pain in my ass, sometimes, but a damn amusing one. Whatever our differences, I'm glad you saw your way clear to trusting me again.

Tali. You always stood by me through everything. Even when Cerberus had me under their thumb, you stayed. You never let me down. You're an amazing woman. And you'll make one hell of an admiral, kid.

Garrus... I'll be looking down, brother. Raising my glass to you. I'll always have your back. You always had mine.

Liara...

Oh, Liara, I'm sorry... I'm not coming back this time, like I promised... but... you will have a chance, now. I'll make damn sure of that. I wish I could be with you... but I'm glad you aren't with me right now, love. Not this time.

Another memory flashed through Shepard's mind, unbidden, unstoppable...


...

The heavy vehicle, so clumsy on open terrain, pirouetted gracefully in mid-air as it hit the downed Mako in front of it that had missed Shepard by bare inches moments before, launching it into the sky. Shepard was rising and running back even as she saw it fall as though in slow, torturous motion towards her squadmates, frozen in shock only a few steps behind her... towards Liara...

Her mind screamed. No!

Turian and asari broke the spell at the same instant, diving to either side as the falling Mako hit the rubble-strewn ground, bounced, flipped, landed, and burst into flames, the force of the blast ripping into Garrus and Liara, throwing them clear...

...but not unscathed.

Liara!

Shepard ran, leaping over the still-flaming vehicle, checking on Garrus, who waved her off with a reassuring nod as he clawed his way to his feet. She sprinted for Liara, lifted her with an arm about her slender waist and dragging Liara's arm across her own shoulders, supporting her as they stumbled into cover behind the downed MAKO, Garrus close behind them. Shepard examined Liara, heart in her mouth as she saw her lover covered in splatters of her own blood, running from countless tiny gashes and cuts from the debris of the exploding vehicle, her armour charred and blackened. She ran a medical diagnostic with her omni-tool and flinched at what she saw; broken ribs, a fractured humerus, torn ligaments in her right knee, concussion, second degree burns, internal bleeding...

Garrus peered out from the edge of their cover, clutching at his side. "Hammer is getting slaughtered out there," he coughed. "Harbinger is decimating us."

"We will make it through," Shepard said forcefully, her attention still on Liara, who slumped back against the MAKO, trying to quiet her agonised breathing. "Someone has to. This is our last shot."

Liara tried to rise, despite her injuries. "Then... we... we have to go..."

Shepard held her back. "Liara, stay down.'

Liara shook her head at Shepard, stubbornly pushing herself up. "I'm alright- ah!" She gasped as her leg trembled, protesting her weight.

"Stay down. That's an order." Shepard pushed her gently back to the ground, swiftly reassessing their situation as the rest of Hammer continued to surge past them. There was no way Liara could complete the run to the beam; she'd be incinerated in an instant. She made her decision.

'Normandy, do you copy?" Shepard yelled into her comm, hoping desperately that Joker would hear. "I need an evac, right now!'

'We're taking heavy losses up here, Commander. Doing my best to break away.' A few seconds pause; a few too long for Shepard. She breathed an inaudible sigh of relief as Joker's affirmative buzzed in her ear over the crackling comm link. 'On our way, Commander.'

...


Shepard fought to hold her aim steady, her arm trembling with the effort.

Shoot.

Again.

The bullets ricocheted off the impassive casing. No damage. Not even a scratch.

God damn it...


...

The Normandy curved gracefully through the air, landing close to their position. Shepard felt her heart lift at the sight of it as the cargo bay door lowered. She drew Liara's arm across her shoulders again, all but carrying her across the uneven stretch of open ground towards the promise of the Normandy's relative safety, beckoning to Garrus with a jerk of her head. 'Come on.'

They stumbled towards the open hatch as the shuttle bay crew opened covering fire; Liara's laboured breathing heavy in Shepard's ear. Despite the fact that Liara was clearly in pain, a very selfish part of Shepard was glad, because it meant that now Liara had a much higher chance of surviving this fight. Garrus too. She was glad, because now she had a fully justifiable excuse not to order her best friend and her soul mate to follow her to their deaths.

Garrus boarded the ramp ahead of them, turning to help as Shepard and Liara stumbled to a halt behind him. Shepard shifted her grip on Liara, transferring her gently into the turian's waiting arms. 'Here. Take her.'

Liara's frantic voice rang above the deafening sounds of battle as she felt the Commander's hands leave her. 'Shepard!'

'You gotta get out of here,' Shepard told her firmly, stepping back.

'I'm all right, Shepard,' Liara protested, trying to look convincing as she gave Shepard a determined nod.

The Commander wasn't fooled. 'Don't argue with me, Liara.' There was no way Liara was going to follow her this time. Shepard was not about to give in. She knew in her heart that the chances of her coming back alive were slim to none.

So did Liara. The asari gasped painfully as she tried to pull out of Garrus's strong hold, straining towards Shepard, trying to go to her. 'You're not leaving me behind...'

Shepard felt the heavy weight of the unspoken words in that desperate utterance, could see the naked fear in those azure eyes... As close as they were right now, Shepard could feel Liara's turmoil through their bond, feel her emotions, even sense her thoughts, racing so frantically as she stared desperately at her lover...

...Liara wanted to be with Shepard at the end, she couldn't stand losing her again... she wanted them to return to the Goddess together, in her heart of hearts that was how she thought of it, despite, as Javik would put it, the primitive foolishness of subscribing to such a religion. But it was in the vernacular, and in the poetic language associated with death, with ending, and for Liara it felt... fitting. But now Shepard was sending her back to the Normandy, out of the fight, and she couldn't pretend to herself she could make it to the beam. Neither could she stop herself from protesting that she could. She didn't want to leave Shepard, to let her charge into certain death alone. She couldn't go on without her. Goddess, she couldn't... not again...

'Not again...' Liara whispered aloud, and Shepard felt her heart break. 'Goddess, Shepard, please...'

'No matter what happens-' Shepard stepped in close, raising her hand to gently cup her lover's face, trying in that one small, momentary gesture to communicate a lifetime's worth of true and all-consuming love. 'You mean everything to me, Liara.' She brushed a gloved thumb gently over Liara's cheek. 'You always will.' Her voice broke a little over the words, and her eyes searched Liara's beautiful features for a long moment, before she began to move back. She had to... had to leave, had to go... the Catalyst...

...


Her muscles screamed.

Pull the trigger. Shoot. Again.

Just...

Keep... keep firing... gotta break this bastard open...

The tube casing fractured slightly. Shepard stumbled forward, fired again. Again.

Do it... finish it...

Finish them... for her.


...

Liara gazed into Shepard's eyes, the tell-tale stinging brightness of welling tears pricking her lashes. 'Shepard, I..." Unconsciously, she reached for Shepard even as the human pulled reluctantly away from her, neither willing to tear their gaze from one another, their thoughts and hearts still connected. The asari maiden stared into the eyes of her soldier, her lover. Her bond-mate, in everything but name. 'I am yours,' she all but whispered, but Shepard heard her, felt her, and she smiled, just a little.

'And I'm yours, Liara. Always.' I love you more than anything...

Shepard took a step backwards, and another, her eyes locked intently on Liara's face as though burning it into her thoughts, her memory, the very fibre of her being. Behind her, Harbinger bellowed, the sound a wretched clarion call back to the present, to the reality, the immediacy of now, and the impossible mission still before her. Shepard turned at the sound, gazing up at the tower of living metal looming over them. The fight wasn't over.

She had to reach the Catalyst... or die trying.

Shepard glanced back at Liara, still reaching for her, then looked to Garrus. 'Go!' she cried, her voice ringing with frantic command, her eyes blazing a last pleading message to her turian comrade.

Protect her...

Garrus just nodded, speech failing him. Liara let her arm fall to her side as the Commander gave Liara one last desperate, lingering look, watching Garrus half leading, half carrying Liara back into the hold as the young asari tried to hold back her tears... and then Shepard turned and ran towards the beam, hearing the Normandy roar into the air behind her as she dodged and sprinted with the stragglers of the Hammer unit towards Harbinger, towards the beam... towards the end...

...


Shepard redoubled her efforts as the power conduit casing cracked, weakened slowly, shot by shot, under her assault.

Another shot... one more...

There!

The casing splintered, then shattered... the wires exposed at last...

Shepard sighted down the barrel. One more shot... and another, for good measure... a spark, a flame...

The world exploded around her.

Flashes... faces... friends. Family.

Legion. Thane. Mordin. Lost.

Anderson. Gone.

EDI.

Sacrificed.

Oh, EDI... I'm sorry...

Liara...

...forgive me... my love...

Fire...

Pain...

...darkness.