What happens next, her senses cannot process properly.
Reality seems to shatter around her, into pieces like etched glass, she can hear the pieces breaking and falling around her
But at the same time everything seems to blur like chalk in the rain or a wet hand through watercolor paint
the black of the void
Earth's blue and green
the silver of warships
the red and orange of explosions
all streaks together and she doesn't know what she's seeing
something roars like a sonic boom and the floor vibrates beneath her feet
She closes her eyes, disoriented
but with her eyes closed she can no longer tell which way is up
there doesn't seem to be anything solid under her feet
but everything is shaking
maybe the very air around her is vibrating so hard
and she tries to open her eyes again
either she can't
or there is nothing to see
if she shuts them again color swirls behind her eyelids
she can feel one thing
a hand in hers
grip strong and sure
she holds on tight clings with everything she has
Garrus squeezes back
So she's not alone.
Shepard doesn't know how long this state lasts, it could be moments or hours or, hell, years, but eventually light and sound seem to come back, it feels as though air is rushing around her. Maybe she's falling?
Even as she has that thought she realizes she's lying on something hard and flat. She… there might have been a thud, like she just fell and landed there, or maybe she's been lying there for a long time. Her eyes are closed and feel gummy, like they've been closed for a while.
There's a voice in her ear.
"Commander Shepard? Do you read? Shepard, status."
It's Admiral Hackett. Of course.
Her breath comes out of her in a wheezy little laugh. She licks her lips and manages to say, "Yes, sir, I read you."
"I don't know what you did up there, Shepard, but it worked." Hackett keeps talking, but Shepard stops listening.
She pries her eyelids open and stares up into the starry battlefield. Huh. It looks as though she's lying right on the main platform, before they ascended to meet the Catalyst. And she's still holding onto something, hard enough that her fingers have cramped up. She flexes them and feels an answering twitch. She turns her head to the side. It feels like a tremendous effort.
It's worth it, because Garrus is lying at her side, and as she watches, his eyes flicker and then open. Without any effort at all, a smile spreads over her face.
"Hey," she says.
"Hey," he replies, a little raspy. He blinks and props himself up on his elbow. "Well. This sure isn't my desk at C-Sec."
Her laugh still sounds rusty and strange. Everything feels stiff and achy, but she also pushes herself up and looks around. "Yeah, it's not the Normandy's medbay, either." She feels a weird pang of regret that she's never going to see the original Normandy again.
Around her, the rest of the team are also struggling to consciousness. Only Legion has no difficulty, rising smoothly to survey their surroundings.
Hackett is still talking in her ear, saying something about searching the Citadel for survivors, and she interrupts. "With all due respect, Admiral… I quit."
"Now, let's not be hasty, Commander—"
There's a brief cacophony, several voices at once, and then a different voice says into her comm, "Shepard. How are you?"
She smiles, hauling herself to her feet. "Anderson. Good to hear you. I'm mobile, at least. I don't have a handle on what happened. You all right, sir?"
He chuckles, warm and reassuring. "Yeah. Didn't make it to the beam, spent a while dealing with Reaper ground forces. The rest of your team okay?"
Everyone's on their feet, even if they look a little stunned. "Looks like."
"Good. Take it easy, Shepard. You did good. We'll get a team to you."
For a moment she remembers him next to her, bleeding out, while she herself is dying by inches. She suppresses the momentary panic, lets herself feel relief. They're both alive and this… this has never happened before. "Roger that, Admiral."
With any luck, she can look forward to a lot of things that have never happened before.
She looks around. "Is everyone all right?"
"Just some bumps and bruises," says Miranda.
Legion adds, "All systems operational, Shepard-Commander."
"Good, then." She looks up. There are still ships flying, but no explosions. "Damn, people. I think we actually did it."
A moment later Garrus picks up and swings her around in a circle and she's laughing from the sheer surprise of it, from the sheer euphoria. The fact that they've won is still setting in, oh so slowly. She doesn't let go when he sets her back on her feet. "Sorry," he rumbles in her ear. "I've wanted to do that for a long time."
"No need to be sorry," she says, and pulls him into a long kiss.
SIX MONTHS LATER
Shepard lounges on the beach, wearing nothing but sunscreen. She doesn't even have a gun within reach. It's a private beach, to go with a private beach house, which she has rented for the last month.
She doesn't even bother to open her eyes when she hears footsteps in the sand. "Hackett called again," Garrus reports.
"Mm. Did you tell him I'm on my honeymoon and I'm not ready to come back yet?"
"I did. He kept talking until I offered to tell him all the honeymoon details."
She smiles and opens her eyes, looking up at him standing over her with one of those oddly soft expressions. "Thanks."
"No problem." He settles down beside her.
It was easier to say "I quit" than to actually quit. She'd agreed to public appearances, memorial services, speeches on Earth and the other hard-hit worlds as their engineers threw themselves into rebuilding the relay network. There's been a little action, mopping up Cerberus forces, dealing with the pirates who immediately popped up to prey on refugees, that sort of thing. But then she demanded the leave that she desperately needed.
Their wedding had been simple, quiet, private, just them and their family and friends. Even meeting Garrus's family had gone a lot better than she'd feared. She looks forward to getting to know them better.
But for now, a nice long spell of quiet time, just the two of them, is just what she wants. She's just beginning to get the vague itch to be doing something again, and it doesn't stick around long. Another month or maybe two, and she'll be ready. Until then, Hackett and the Council can wait.
"Any other messages?"
They only check their mail every two or three days.
"Yeah, plenty." Garrus digs out a datapad. "Let's see, Thane's still hanging in there, and Kolyat got married last week."
"Seems to be going around," Shepard observes. From what she hears, marriage rates are way up since the war. "I'm glad Thane could be there to see it." Both Thane and Kolyat had been instrumental in helping to protect the population of the Citadel, along with C-Sec and many others.
Garrus nods. "Tali and Kal are still working on the house. She's determined to build it without geth help."
Shepard grins. "How's that going for her?"
"Well, you know Tali, she can make anything out of anything. They'd be further along if she weren't being a perfectionist about it. She says the constitution they're drafting giving geth full rights as sentients is coming along well, though. Legion and some of the other geth are starting exploration beyond the galactic rim, too."
"Mm. Glad to hear it."
"James says he made N2, and he's getting a new tattoo to celebrate."
"That was fast," Shepard observes.
Garrus grins at her. "I think you motivated him. Role model."
She sticks out her tongue at him. That just makes him lean over to brush his tongue against hers. She wraps her arms around his neck, and for a long moment they're preoccupied with each other. "Was that everything?" she asks when she breaks away.
He's breathing a little hard. "Uh, not quite."
"Um, Wrex is crowing over the new krogan baby crop. He sent pictures."
"I'll look at them later."
"Seems like both Kaidan and Ashley are going to be made Spectres." The two of them had started dating again, tentatively, and had command of the Normandy for the moment.
"Hm. We should send them congratulations. Later."
"Uh, Liara's trying to use the Crucible plans to piece together the history of the cycles—"
"Yeah, that one can really wait."
He tries to look innocent. "Wait for what?"
"Well. I don't think we've had sex on this particular patch of ground yet." She arches up against him.
"You know, you might be right about that," he says, somehow maintaining a serious expression.
"And I'm all about doing things I've never done before these days."
"I'm with you there," Garrus breathes.
She pulls him close and kisses him again, and nobody talks about the mail for some time.
Thanks to everyone who's been reading and thanks for all the reviews!