Hey guys! So this is it - the end. I want to thank every single person who took the time to read, to fav and follow and especially those who took the time and gave reviews. It was all greatly appreciated. So "Crucible" is over but the story of Gaius and his family and friends isn't. I've already got a sequel lined up (have chapters but can't think of a title for some reason!). I'll hopefully start publishing that in the next two weeks. Anyway thanks once again for all the support and I hope to see you all over at the sequel!
"'Tis moonlight, summer moonlight,
All soft and still and fair;
The solemn hour of midnight
Breathes sweet thoughts everywhere,
But most where trees are sending
Their breezy boughs on high,
Or stooping low are lending
A shelter from the sky.
And there in those wild bowers
A lovely form is laid;
Green grass and dew-steeped flowers
Wave gently round her head."
Moonlight, Summer Moonlight,
"So glad you could make it! Come on in."
"You're very cheery today," Shepard chuckled as she was hurriedly ushered into the cool hallway out of the hot summer sun by Miranda.
Gaius, now an alert eight month old, peered around at his new surroundings from his mother's arms with vaguely miffed air - he was still sullen from a temper tantrum he had on the journey to Miranda and Victus's home.
His father was busy outside attempting to fix a rattle in the car that had driven the turian almost to madness on the way over.
Shepard admired her friend's new place greatly. It was such a nice spot – a pretty little cottage in a quiet and peaceful looking suburb in the countryside.
A former holiday home for Victus's family when he was young, it had been inherited by Adrien's younger brother before the Primarch had bought the place entirely for a substantial sum long before the war.
He had originally intended on retiring to the house and the quiet town-land it was situated in. Obviously plans had happily changed for Victus since then.
Now with reconstruction fully under-way in the distant but visible capital, Miranda and Victus had both decided that this small out of the way home was perfect until Victus's house in the city proper was rebuilt – which was a long way off considering how low down they were in the reconstruction queue. Not that they minded. This house was perfect.
"Good weather and even better news always makes me cheerful," Miri laughed. "Although I find that I express it better and more often than I once did."
Shepard grinned. "That you do. Where are your boys?"
"Out back near the pool," Miri said before she bent her head to kiss Gaius on the cheek – the baby quickly out of his foul mood and squealing happily as she did so.
Miranda pried Gaius out of his mother's arm. "Come on, baby! Tib's been waiting to see you!"
The back garden was almost as immaculate as the house.
When Victus had first brought Miranda to the cottage to see if it was still inhabitable, she had immediately fallen in love with the place.
There was some minor damage from the war – the town far enough away from the capital to be low on the Reapers list of targets.
Some of its curved windows needed replacing along with general wear and tear on the walls and doors.
Her heart had been set the moment she stepped into the large back garden and saw through the little wilderness that had grown there to the pool.
It was old and unused with cracked dirt covered tiles. But Miranda could see the shallow waters that would fill it would be perfect to cool off on long summer afternoons and for teaching Tib to swim.
When not working (more accurately arguing) with Atilius in his office, Miranda made her way to the cottage where she worked at clearing the debris and weeds.
After the first week, she felt little progress had been made so Miranda turned to Jack and his AI companions.
Jack and Karas had never been more grateful then when she had arrived back from Haestrom with David and returned Emilie to them.
The Kynes's had insisted that if she needed anything then she just ask. Not long afterwards, Jack's AI family from Omega had arrived to Palaven to rejoin Jack and the others.
With Victus's help, they had set up a home for them all on a small compound in an adjoining town where Jack could work in peace and the AIs could help without being harassed. Miranda called in the favour.
David had led from the start, instructing the other AIs in the work and discussing with Miri everyday on how it was going. Within a week they had completely transformed the place.
It was during this work that Victus finally found among the AIs a proper aide for his office.
Adrien had gotten to know the AI called Bob quite well. He was polite and courteous – great at organizing and other such work - and had spent two days at Victus's insistence helping Adrien with the more mundane aspects of the Primarchship.
It had been to the AI's surprise and delight when Victus offered him the job full-time.
Bob had gone home to his family bubbling with happiness. Jack had smiled warmly as Bob rattled off his excitement at this whole new world opening up for him.
Victus helped him open a bank account for the wages he would receive, ordered that Bob get the access he required to perform his job correctly, had stepped in and reprimanded those who had been less than accepting of Bob and even helped him purchase some official looking clothes for his new position. In return, Bob was hell-bent on proving himself to Victus – who didn't need it - and all those who had doubted the Primarch's decision.
It was working, slowly but surely.
Shepard followed Miranda through the small house and out the back-door to the gardens.
There they found Victus lounging – with his nearly two month old son hidden in his cowl – on a recliner in the shade.
"Spectre!" he greeted happily as he got to his feet and welcomed her with a loose embrace.
"Primarch," Jane chuckled in return. "How's Tib?"
"Take a look," Adrien replied as he tilted his cowl to show Shepard the tiny baby wrapped up safe in the pouch.
"God, I remember when Gaius was that small!"
"Your boy's growing up strong, Shepard. Where's Garrus?"
"Fighting with a loose connection in the car. He'll be in shortly."
Jane carefully took back her son from a disappointed Miri before taking a seat in the shade. The pool glittered beside them – the waters coloured a light blue from the tiles laid in it.
"That looks so damn inviting," Jane mused.
"I've learned the hard way not to swim at this hour," Miranda replied. "Terrible sunburns the first time I tried. Once things settle, I'm going to buy a small reflector that will shield the pool from the worst of the sun's rays."
"Sounds great. I better get an invite when that's up and running."
Miri smiled warmly. "You will. I'm hoping to have a few gatherings here once Tiberius is a little older and more settled. A drink?"
"Yes, yes and yes!" Shepard laughed.
While Miri left to fetch some cool drinks, Shepard sat back with Victus who had fished out his young son from the pouch.
Tib – safe in the shade from the bright light – peered at the other baby who was equally as taken with him. Gaius reached out with his stubby hands before having another small tantrum when his mother wouldn't let him reach the object of his curiosity.
Once that was over, Gaius took to playing with his mother's shirt buttons and babbling the new sounds he could make.
"Ba ba ba! Ba ba ba ba ba ba!"
Victus laughed while Tib eyed Gaius worriedly.
"He's gonna be talking so fast!"
Shepard sighed. "I know. We're trying to get him to say 'Ma' or 'Da' but nothing is sticking."
"He'll get there. No rush."
Shepard grinned. "True."
"So what time are you leaving tomorrow?"
Jane leaned back while Gaius continued to munch on her buttons while babbling.
"Early. We've got to visit the Citadel first and then off to Khar'shan."
"If you don't mind me saying, Khar'shan's an unusual spot for visiting."
Jane smiled. "Long story. It's only for a few days in any case."
"Hmm. Well, enjoy."
"Oh I'm sure I won't."
They were laughing heartily when Garrus arrived helping Miranda with glasses and trays.
The stop off at the Citadel was going to be brief – mainly just for refueling before continuing to the batarian home-world.
The station had long ago been towed back to its spot in its home nebula under new management to everyone's surprise.
When the Normandy had finally returned to Earth, Tristan had immediately transferred over to the damaged Citadel's systems with EDI following him shortly afterwards.
After that, there was silence.
One week after the AIs had gone into the station, a geth frigate had arrived and began to tow the Citadel out of the Sol System and back to the Serpent Nebula where it belonged.
The Alliance and the stragglers of the rest of the Council species in the vicinity tactfully decided to not interfere. They had no desire to fight over what was essentially a ruined wreck – especially considering the state of their vessels which were in no condition to confront the geth's superior ship.
A month or so later, the Council and the heads of the respective Council races received a strange invitation for a grand reopening.
Shepard and Garrus had received the same. While Victus couldn't attend, he insisted that Garrus go in his stead.
When they arrived it was to find the place was perfect, as seamless as it was before with no evidence there had been any damage done at all.
The guests were greeted at the docks by a number of geth who led them to what had once been the Citadel tower, the Councillors to the front. Within what had been the Councillors chambers they were met by... EDI.
Not just EDI the AI but EDI the person, clad in human body forged from the same vats that created the Keepers. She was tall, blonde and stunning in an outfit befitting an asari Matriarch.
Shortly after, Tristan in a male form similarly forged – and strikingly resembling Jack Kynes - joined her.
There they had laid out the new way things would run.
The Citadel was theirs to keep, to maintain and to protect for both synthetics and biologics alike. The Council was given an invitation to return but with an important amendment. Tristan and EDI would have a seat on it - as mainly neutral arbiters. The vast wards of the station would be open to all those who wished to return – C-Sec included – but those who did would have to live with the synthetics who also chose to make the station their home.
The station could be everyone's so long as those concessions were made.
While the leaders deliberated, Shepard and Garrus met privately with EDI and Tristan.
"God, EDI!" Shepard laughed as the AI hugged her.
"It's so good to see you, Spectre."
"How have you been?"
"Well - as you can see. We've had much to do in the time since we last saw you."
Shepard frowned as she spotted a familiar boy step out from a nearby room and hover uncertainly at the edge.
"Wait. I know him. That's..."
Jane stared at the face that had haunted her nightmares ever since the war before she glared at EDI. "You know what that is!"
Tristan placed a firm hand on Shepard's shoulder. "He is not what he was, Spectre Shepard. We found him in the dark. So much of what he had been was lost, destroyed when you fired the Crucible. The sole piece that was left was scared. A child who was blind and deaf, unable to see outside of a tiny little box that was his prison. He is our child now."
Tristan waved the boy over. When he arrived, EDI took his small hand in hers.
"Shepard, I'd like to introduce you to Jeffrey. Jeffrey, say hello to Spectre Shepard."
The boy gave a half wave to Shepard. "Hi."
"Hello," Jane replied stiltedly.
EDI tilted her head at Shepard. "I know this is concerning for you, Shepard, but he is not what he was. There is nothing to fear. We will raise him to be different."
She smiled warmly at the boy handing on to her hand. "Come along, Jeffrey. We must go and visit the Keepers."
Shepard and Garrus watched her leave with Tristan beside them.
"EDI is correct, Spectre. Jeff is not the same being you confronted during the war."
"You better be right, Tristan, otherwise I'm... you know what I'll do if I have to."
"I understand. It won't be necessary however. As it is, Jeffrey has been most helpful in our rehabilitation of the Keepers."
Tristan folded his hands behind his back carefully. "They were a species in their own right before they became what they are now. All that engineering of them has caused some unexpected intellectual difficulties that we are seeing now that we are in the process of allowing them free will once more."
Garrus and Shepard glanced at each other before staring at Tristan.
"You're... setting them free?"
"Of course. We can hardly ask for peaceful coexistence when we keep slaves bound to our will. What we do with the Keepers is a slow process and I fully expect we shall not see the full fruits of our work for a couple of decades but it will happen. They are very... childlike. Jeffrey has been most helpful in aiding us understanding each other."
While their ship refueled, Shepard and Garrus met up with EDI and Jeffrey once more.
The Citadel was busy again with people flooding in and out like the tides. Jeffrey was very chatty, the AI child overcoming his shyness as he sat next to his mother.
They left on far better terms than when they had last – Shepard seeing now the fruits of EDI and Tristan's work with the boy.
Maybe there was hope for everyone after all she had mused while waving goodbye.
They arrived at Khar'shan at a very opportune time.
Batarian society had collapsed under the Reaper onslaught. Where before it would have been near impossible to get permission to visit the surface, now there was barely any resistance to their request at all.
They landed at a very industrial and grim spaceport in the equally gritty slums of what had once been a thriving city.
From there, Shepard and Garrus managed to get a place on a transport heading to the plains of Duren – something she was surprised to find was a regular route with eight trips a day going back and forth.
They had sat in the packed cabin with Gaius wrapped up tightly against his father's chest while all around them sat batarians of every sex, size and occupation. A number of what looked to Shepard like hardened mercs or slave traders stared at both her and Garrus until her partner made a point of pulling his rifle off his back and having it within easy reach.
The ship finally landed just behind a small hill with waving purple grasses.
Shepard and Garrus were last off. The other batarians who had reached the top of the hill had all stilled – some of the mercs were even on the ground sobbing to themselves.
Shepard quickly scaled the mound and stood in awe as the valley stretched out before her.
Tall rocky mountains surrounded the vast plains below. From those jagged peaks, statues ancient and fierce looking had been carved.
Just at the very back, she could make out the eight arms of Lord Samikis as he seemed to emerge from the rockface.
She spotted the cause of the fuss right away. To the right was the remains of a throne while the occupant of lifeless rock knelt on one knee in the middle of the plains with one Reaper dead underfoot and another pierced through with the heavy broadsword of rock that once had a place beside him on the mountainside.
Jane glanced at the batarian dressed in long robes of puce as he rushed up to greet her from the plains.
"Heimc isn't it?"
"Yes! It's good to see you, Spectre. After all our communications, I was a bit concerned that you might get caught up in the city. My fears unfounded I'm glad to say."
Shepard spotted the long ornate medals bearing images of Josok and Samikis that swung from his neck.
"You're here to see the miracle of Duren?"
Heimc's voice woke Shepard from her reverie.
"I think I can see from here what's happened."
"Of course! We've had a number of salarians working around the clock to find an explanation. I would say you would be hard pressed to discover why mountains came alive."
Shepard smiled. "I'd tend to agree with you on that point."
"Well I can introduce you to some witnesses if you like? First hand accounts of what happened."
"I'd like that."
Shepard and Garrus were introduced over the course of the following couple of hours to numerous batarians of varying ages – all members of the faith of Josok, Samikis and the Song.
They discovered it wasn't so much a religion but a codex of how to be good to each other. They didn't worship Josok as a god but more as the first of their number. Worship was reserved solely for the Song.
They learned of Samikis's twin, Lady Ouhil, who watched over life as her brother, Lord Samikis, did the same with the domain of death.
They ended up with volumes and tomes all written by the great intellects of batarian civilization - the most colossal of which was Josok's own which was a retelling of his life and what he had discovered over the course of it.
The story of the miracle of Duren was remarkably the same from all those they talked to.
The Reapers came to the valley and the priesthood ran with all those they had given shelter to into the temples dotted around the plains. There they had prayed. Prayed that perhaps Samikis would be merciful and allow them a quick death, that he would not let their bodies be corrupted by the machines.
Just as the first husks had arrived to the sealed doors of the first temple, they had all heard a terrible noise as the mountain woke up.
The few that had seen it claimed that Josok's eyes had glowed a terrible green. That the sky had turned into storm clouds that poured down from the heavens into terrifying tornadoes of black swirling winds.
Their king had stood up from his mountain throne, taken up his sword and had slain the enemy that had threatened his people.
"So... what do you think?" Heimc had asked Shepard following the last witness.
"I think you might actually have a miracle here," Jane replied.
"There is one more witness... if you like. I haven't allowed other outsider to speak with her but I think I can trust you. These things should be told. Recorded."
Shepard frowned. Heimc shrugged. "It's my daughter. She's only three but she saw it. She saw it all."
Heimc led the couple to a small stone house not far from where they had sat talking to the others.
He gave a sharp rap on the door, smiling as it opened to a young batarian woman.
She quickly looked from her husband to the couple beside him.
"It's okay. They're here to talk to Ceimal."
Shepard's heart leapt in her chest at the name but she kept her mouth firmly shut.
The woman left, returning shortly after with a little girl in her arms.
Ceimal stared into Shepard's eyes. "You've got eyes like Lord Samikis," she said resolutely.
A broad smile spread out on Shepard's face. "Do I?"
"Yep," Ceimal said while nodding sagely.
"How do you know that?"
"Cause I met him, silly."
Shepard smiled at the girl. "Can you tell me how?"
"It was when the big metal things came," Ceimal replied. "They were ugly and stuff. Everyone was praying and then I saw him. He told me stuff then he made the sky fall and then Lord Josok woke up!"
"What did he tell you?"
Shepard frowned. "What true things?"
Ceimal blinked. "I promised not to tell. He gave me this!" She lifted up a heavy pendant that Shepard immediately recognized. The worn enamel rendering of Samikis in all his glory gazed back at her.
"It's very pretty."
"Yep! It's cause I've lots of stuff to do. It'll keep me safe!"
Shepard smiled. "I bet it will."
Ceimal stared at her hard. "You have to go to the mountain temple! He wants you to go there. He told me to tell you."
Heimc led them out once Ceimal had said all she wanted to.
"I'd appreciate it if you kept what she said secret," he murmured. "If they knew about Ceimal I know they'd be here driving us crazy. My daughter's just a baby still. She's not ready for any of this."
Garrus rearranged the sleeping Gaius in his arms before he replied, "Don't worry. We won't be saying a word."
"On a side note," Shepard began. "Which way to that temple Ceimal mentioned?"
It didn't take long to find the strange engraved door in the mountainside.
"Shepard... that's not rock," Garrus muttered.
"I know. It's a ship. The same as the one that was in the north."
Garrus frowned at his wife. "How do you know that?"
"I just do. Could you let me go in alone? Just for a few minutes."
"Only a few minutes and only because I need to move Gaius into something more comfortable."
The ship was virtually identical to the one she had walked through in the northern snows of Palaven and she soon found her way to the vast chamber that housed the eezo weapon.
"My god..." she murmured as she stared down into room from the upper control tower.
Far below, the eezo had poured out from the control tower, solidifying into a sea of yellow crystal in which she could make out the frozen and undecayed corpses of batarians dressed in clothes from another era.
One of the windows into the tower was shattered by an ancient sword that was also shrouded in the element.
"Funny isn't it."
Shepard sighed. "Hello, Sam."
"Dad. Hello, Dad, you mean."
Jane gave a half laugh. "What happened here?"
"The backup plan that failed. They made two. The wyrms I mean. Two weapons just in case. This one fell from space during their own desperate fight for survival. It remained here hidden by geology for generations until-"
"Until that cult found it," Shepard finished smoothly.
"Indeed. They had no idea what it was. Playing with fire. As you can see..." Sam pointed out the sword in the tower. "Josok did a fine job of stopping them."
"I thought he died and was reborn in the plains outside."
"Oh he was. This was were he saved the universe. The plains was where he saved his people."
Shepard turned her attention to Sam. She couldn't stop herself reaching out and touching his jaw. He just smiled at her.
"I saw your handiwork outside. The mountain came alive."
Sam grinned. "I had an old friend that was passing through. He thought he could make a difference and he did."
"A girl with a big future ahead of her."
Shepard sighed. "She's only three."
"She won't be forever. Don't worry about Ceimal. Leadership runs in her blood. Josok's descendants are all strong in heart and mind."
Shepard gave a short laugh before she glanced back at the tower. "I want to meet Mom."
"Alright. Take my hand."
Sam shook his head a little. "For you here, a fraction of a second will pass. Come."
It was a beach.
As Jane adjusted to her new surroundings, the noise of the crashing waves was the first thing that rumbled in her mind. Just behind her was dunes of sand and patches of grass while before her was waves rushing ever forwards and back with a backdrop of thick rolling storm clouds.
"Come on, Janey."
She glanced to right where she saw Sam standing barefoot in the beach. He turned and headed towards a small beach house she hadn't seen before.
Jane reached Sam just as he himself arrived at the small dwelling. Outside a small garden bloomed with flowers while the waves continued to crash against the shore.
Sam led the way up a small set of wooden steps before he entered the house.
"Sarah? We've got a visitor."
They sat and talked. Talked in a way that Jane never thought was possible with the woman she remembered from when she was young.
Sam stayed carefully out of it, allowing them time together while he pottered around doing random things in the living room.
"Where is this place?" Jane finally asked.
Sarah bit her bottom lip as she thought about the answer she would give.
"It's odd. I'm not sure you can understand it."
"Hmm. You know about the Song? About the strings? Well your father... he's sorta the gatekeeper. You need to go back but you can't just rush straight in. There has to be intermediary otherwise you can go a bit crazy. That's Sam. The light at the end of the tunnel is the Song but Sam... Sam's the tunnel you pass through to reach it. This place is somewhere he made and buried deep within himself."
"A place in himself?"
"Sam just wears a form to make things easier for you. For me even. Look at those storm clouds outside. That's him. The real him. This place has never been without them since the day I got here. And never will. But I'm okay with that because that's Sam."
Sarah fiddled with her hands. "I'm glad you're okay, Janey. I worried. Endlessly. Hopelessly. Sam tells me you married. Have a child of your own now."
"Yeah. I thought you'd have known that yourself."
"I try not to venture too far. Only if Sam needs me to do something for him."
"You won't try again? Another life I mean."
Sarah chuckled. "No. No I think I'm done with all that. It's just me and Sam now. Forever."
She turned her blue eyes on Jane. "You can come to visit now. Whenever you want. Or... or we could come to you."
"Yeah. You just have to ask."
Jane smiled. "I will."
"Janey, I'd like you to find my family. Not for me. For you. They searched for you for years. I had lost contact with them shortly after Sam died. They never gave up. Could you... could you go to them for me? I don't want my parents to pass away without ever having known what happened to you."
Shepard nodded slowly. "Where do I go?"
"Contact Admiral Rivers. Tell him you're Sarah Rivers daughter. That will be enough."
"Alright. Look... I know about Swan."
Sarah froze but Shepard pushed on. "I'm going to set him free. I know Sam... Dad won't do it but-"
"I'll talk to him."
Jane blinked. "It's fine. I mean I can-"
"No. I don't want you going near him. I'll talk to Sam. Promise me that you'll stay away from him."
Shepard merely blinked and found herself suddenly back in the ancient ship with Garrus staring at her in surprise. Sarah's last words rang out in her head.
"You okay?" Garrus asked softly.
"Yeah... let's go home."
Admiral Rivers had been very surprised with the call he received from the famous Jane Shepard. Even more so when she had said the name Sarah Rivers.
"My god... you're Janey!" he'd gasped.
"I guess I am."
The Admiral shook his head in disbelief. " I thought... Hackett had sworn to me that you weren't the same Janey!"
Shepard had baulked at that. "What do you mean? What has Hackett got to do with this?"
"I'd thought back during the Saren incident that you might be the girl we'd been searching for. I'd asked Hackett to look into it for me. He swore to me that you weren't the same girl."
Shepard slumped in her chair. "Why would he... it must be a mistake."
A familiar hardness she had seen sometimes reflected in a mirror came over the older man's face.
"He would if it benefited him. I should have known. Damn it. Look, can you come to Earth? Your grandparents... you have no idea how happy they're going to be. They've spent nearly the last thirty odd years mourning you and your mother."
Shepard smiled. "I'll let you know. Have to make arrangements."
"Good! Ahem... just so we're clear, you should keep your omnitool on you. You're going to get a lot of calls."
Once the call was over, Shepard joined Garrus on the couch in their Cipritine cabin where Gaius was practicing rolling from his back to belly on the soft cushions.
"How did it go?"
"Really well," Shepard replied. "We're going to Earth at some point."
"Fantastic. Not too soon, eh? Only just back from our travels as it is."
"Hmm." Jane hummed as she nuzzled against him.
They both froze.
"Did you hear that?" Garrus whispered.
"I think I did."
They both looked to the baby who wiggled his arms at Garrus before chirping "Da Da!" once more.
Gaius purred as Garrus picked him up.
"He... he..." the turian stuttered.
"I know. Congrats, Garrus, on being his first word."
Shepard touched the top of the baby's head. For a brief second, there was no cabin, no baby, no comfortable living room.
There was dust and wind with a sun baking the already parched earth. In the distance a city gleaming in the daylight. A tall turian... no, a tall hybrid stood with his back to her. Makern, a few metres ahead, faced them with a grim look.
"Are you ready?" the ancient turian rumbled.
A deep voice edged with a northern twang answered defiantly, "Are you? Cause I know you've never met anyone like me."
Makern chuckled. The chuckle turned into a deep and resounding laugh.
"Let's go!" he finally barked before lunging forward.
Jane's hand slipped off the baby's head. She stared Gaius who gurgled at her before reaching out to his mother.
She was about to speak when her omnitool beeped. She quickly scanned the message before slumping back on the cushions.
"A man has passed away."
Garrus stared at Shepard with concern.
"Anyone you know?"
"Nope. A guy called Doctor Swan. He died today nearly twenty years after he was locked in his own body following a car crash."
Shepard knew Garrus was staring at her, willing something more from her but she couldn't find the words.
Instead she rested there, curling in to her partner's arms when he joined her.
That night, Shepard slept without bad dreams.
Garrus had awoken only once when Gaius had fussed. He carried the infant out of their small Cipritine cabin and walked under the light of the moons.
The turian eventually sat down on the steps and stared up at the stars.
In his arms, Gaius finally slept once more wrapped up in a warm blanket. The little blue lines along his spine lit up as his nanites raced along, busy as they were when the rest of his body rested.
Garrus pressed his mouth-plates to the baby's head before he got back to his feet and stepped back inside.
High above, the universe glittered with stars that stretched out across the vast darkness.
Soon it would be morning and another day.
- Fin -