A/N: So this is the final chapter, up at long last. I'm sorry to those who received notifications last night about this story, I had some major issues uploading. Again, thanks to those who reviewed and followed and favorited, as well as a big thanks to my beta Steve, who pushed me into giving this story an ending. I worked really hard on this chapter, so please let me know what you think!
"Your time is at an end. You must decide."
Shepard stood clutching her side, pain ripping through her as the Catalyst's words rang hollow in her ears. Her mind was having trouble processing what had just occurred. When she had finally gotten to the beam back on Earth, she had expected to find… something other than this. Tech maybe. Some sort of missing piece to the Crucible puzzle… but not some ancient AI who was attempting to push her into a solution of its own making.
"Its options aren't good enough," the voice in her mind kept screaming at her. She wasn't about to control the Reapers. That's exactly what the Illusive man would have wanted, and there was no way she could fathom that as a solution. No being should be able to wield that kind of power. And the idea that synthetic and organic be synthesized together was ridiculous to her, something she really couldn't wrap her mind around. The AI was talking about totally reorganizing the genetic structure of every living creature in the galaxy, and she couldn't be sure what the consequences of such an action would be. She also knew in her gut that letting the Reapers live wasn't an option, not after all the destruction and pain they had brought throughout the galaxy. Had brought on her. But how could she destroy them? If she chose that path it would lead to the deaths of all synthetic life, and she was not willing to sacrifice an entire race of people. Not after the peace that had been forged between the Geth and the Quarians. There was a new era dawning between their cultures, not to mention the Geth and the larger galactic community. She wasn't about to destroy them. She just couldn't…
"No," Shepard cried out, as she struggled to stand and face the AI, "I'm going to end this war on my terms."
"Then you will die knowing that you failed to save everything that you fought for," the Catalyst said simply.
"I fight for freedom, mine and everyone's. I fight for the right to choose our own fate," she declared coldly while staring down the AI. "And if I die, I'll die knowing that I did everything I could to stop you. And I'll die free." An eerie silence and darkness fell over the room, the only light coming from the AI in front of her.
"So be it!" a deep, synthetic voice boomed from the Catalyst as it turned and walked away. As it did so, the lights of the AI faded into darkness, and Shepard was left completely alone.
As the lights went out, she struggled to maintain her bearings and stumbled towards the platform that brought her up to the Catalysts chamber and made her way back down to the comm system. As she moved forward, she tried desperately not to look out the windows at the battle that was raging above her, the battle that now had to be fought without the help of the crucible, the help that she failed to provide. Attempting to shake those thoughts from her head, she began to fiddle with the comms, and when she saw a signal was ready, she put through a hail to Hackett.
"Admiral. Admiral, do you copy?" Shepard spoke into the transmitter hoping to god that the signal strength was strong enough to carry.
"Shepard, I read you," said Hackett, though his voice was faint and garbled with static. "What is the status on the Crucible? Nothing is happening."
"Sir… the Crucible... It isn't going to work. It won't fire," Shepard said with great hesitation. This was the first time since this war started that she was truly terrified. She had been getting through the last few months on hope – hope that the crucible was going to be the galaxy's ace in the hole, and when it was working, it would save them from the Reapers. Suddenly, that hope was gone. The Crucible wasn't going to help them and the galaxies troops were utterly alone. Nothing else was coming to their aid.
"Good god." Hackett breathed slowly. A moment of silence passed between the two soldiers, each wrapped in their own thoughts. After the moment had passed, Shepard spoke up.
"Admiral, I need you to put me through to the Normandy."
The Admiral knew that he shouldn't put the transmission through. He knew that the priority needed to be to devise some kind of new strategy that would help the fleet, and that Shepard was one of the people whose input he needed the most. He was about to refuse her request, but he couldn't ignore the tone in her voice. There was a pleading that he had never heard before. Shepard was one of the best soldiers he had ever met, and never once had he heard her plead with anyone. He had heard her issue orders and give commands, issue threats to mercenaries and pirates, even talk softly to injured civilians and reassure anxious recruits. But he had never heard her plead.
"Give me a moment Shepard," Hackett wearily replied, "I'm patching your signal through."
"Thank you sir," Shepard said gently as she waited for the Normandy to receive the signal. She slowly sank to the ground in front of the console, next to Anderson's body. She was feeling dizzy from blood loss, and it was becoming more difficult to stay conscious. She knew that she wasn't going to be able to get out of this one, but she fought the blackness that was beginning to creep into the edges of her vision.
"Shepard…Shepard is that you? What the hell is going on?!" yelled Joker, his voice cracking over the static.
"Joker, there isn't much time. I need you to put me through to Garrus. I need to talk to him before it's too late . The Crucible isn't going to fire." There was a heavy silence on the other end of the line.
"Commander…" Joker said. His discouraged voice barely broke through the static. There was a quick pause and the line clicked on.
"Garrus, is that you?"
"Shepard, where are you? What the hell is happening over there?" Garrus said quickly, worry heavily lacing the flanging tones in his voice.
"Garrus, the Crucible isn't going to fire. I can't get into details right now, but it's just not going to work. I need…" Shepard took a breath in and shuddered as pain ripped through her body. "I need you to take command of the Normandy and get the rest of the fleet to regroup in another system. There are too many Reapers here, and without additional support, every ship is going to get torn apart."
"What about you?" Garrus said, trying to keep calm, "How exactly do you plan on getting out of the system?"
"Garrus… I don't think I'm going to be getting out of this one."
"That's bullshit!" Garrus cried sharply, "I'm getting you out of there. Get to an escape pod. Or a transport shuttle. The Normandy can pick you up if you…"
"Garrus," Shepard said softly, cutting across him. "I'm not making it out of this one. I want to… believe me, I want to, but there just isn't time. I need you to get the message to Hackett, and I need you to beat the Reapers… but to do that you need to get out of Sol and get to another system, and you need to do it now."
"No. There is no way I'm leaving you behind. You need to get out of there. The Normandy can dock and a rescue team can make their way to you."
"Garrus, no! There isn't enough time for that! You need to make sure the fleet survives and can keep fighting." She paused to collect herself before continuing. "I don't think I'm going to last long…I've lost a lot of blood. I don't think I could make it out, even if there was time."
"There has to be a way I can get to you." said Garrus desperately, "I can't just leave you behind."
"Garrus, you're not leaving me behind. I'm not going to make it, and you need to ensure that this war keeps going, and you need to win it." There was a long pause between the two, as both fought to keep their emotions in check.
"Shepard… I can't do this without you." Garrus' voice strained with emotion.
"You need to. Keep fighting for the both of us, ok?"
"Okay Shepard. I will." Shepard could hear the resignation in his voice, and she knew that he wasn't going to try to find her. She didn't want him to; she was counting on him to finish this war, once and for all.
"I love you Garrus. So damn much."
"I love you too Shepard."
"Now go," she said, fighting to keep her voice steady. "Go and win this war."
"I'll do my best," said Garrus.
"And remember Garrus… you'll never be alone."
"Never," Garrus whispered, and with that the comm signal faded and Shepard was left truly alone, looking out onto the battle that raged in front of her.
She sat back against the console and tried to ignore the pain she felt coursing through her body. As the black started creeping back into her vision again, she tried to fight it and focus on the ships in the skies over earth. As time slipped by, she soon noticed that, one by one, the allied ships were jumping away. Soon only Reapers were left in the system. She smiled to herself, proud that Garrus and Hackett had managed to get the rest of the ships to some semblance of safety. As she watched them leave the system, she prayed to whatever divine entity might exist that there would be a way to defeat the Reapers. That Garrus, Hackett and Liara, and whomever else, would be able to stop them and end it for good.
The darkness continued its threats to consume her. Shepard finally gave in and closed her eyes. An image of Garrus, looking happier and more carefree than he had ever looked in his life, came into her mind. He was with a small Turian child, no more than two years old, playing in the sand on a tropical beach. He looked up toward her from down by the water, the sun pressed warmly on his back, and gave a sweet, calming smile, beckoning for her to come join them.
The massive horn blare of a Reaper weapon snapped her back to reality and forced her eyes open, and the last thing Shepard ever saw was its bright red beam heading towards her.