Once More Unto The Breach

by HugoCogs (begun 4-2-13, prologue revised 11-18-14)

DISCLAIMER: Bioware owns the legos, I just put them together in new ways

A/N: This story takes place in a head canon I have been fleshing out since I finished ME3 in March 2013. It's set in an AU version of the "Control Ending", one in which Shepard survived, separate and apart from the Reapers. Oooh...mysterious!

My reader/editor (the ever lovely and talented Corentin IV, whose work you should also be checking out) pointed out to me in September 2013 that since this work has gotten stupid-huge, and as it naturally seems to be breaking into "arcs" or "books", I should put up a list, not only to help ease potential new readers in, but as a reference point for longtime readers who might need an occasional refresher. She was then kind enough to make me some awesome summary blurbs for the first four. Yay! She rocks!

If you prefer your stories TOTALLY spoiler-free, jump ahead to where the chapter begins properly.

THE SAGA IN FULL:

Book I: You. Me. Us

(Chapters 1-10)

Commander Holly Shepard managed to successfully activate the Crucible...the result? A blue wave of energy consumed the galaxy, and now the Reapers subserviently tend to rebuilding what they had previously laid waste to. Surviving the experience, she wakes up to a court martial, a proposal and a grumpy future father-in-law. With the Shepard-T'Soni wedding slated as the event of the century, Earthborn Holly will need to learn the ropes quickly… with the help of a few friends.

Humor, fluff, and happytimes. Also, sexy Asian triplets.

Book II: Keppakefex

(Chapters 11-20)

Holly walked away from her life with the Alliance Military and straight into married life with Liara. News of a pregnancy that should have been an unburnished joy threatens to kill her bondmate, prompting drastic measures. When Holly's Spectre status is renewed, she's thrust once more into inter-galactic politics – confronting corruption at the heart of humanity's government.

Darker, more angsty, and political. But still - lots of humor and comic interludes. An unfortunate lack of Asian triplets.

Book III: Damashii

(Chapters 21-32)

Life on Thessia blinded Holly to the realities of politics in the Systems Alliance after the War. Her mission complete, Holly hitches a ride and faces temptation on the Normandy, uncovering several harrowing truths along the way. Liara takes her life and that of her unborn daughter into her own hands when she vows to join her bondmate. Though some time has passed since she left Earth, Holly still has allies to protect and manage her reputation. More rests on it than simply Holly's good name…but whose interests are being protected?

Angsty, character driven, but still with lashes of humor and oodles of action. Asian triplets are mentioned, but otherwise remain unseen.

Book IV: To Hippolyta And Beyond

(Chapters 33 – 43)

Holly and Liara's life is turned upside down by the new addition to the family. They are determined to give their daughter as normal a life as possible, despite her condition. Shepard attempts to juggle the responsibilities of Fatherhood with promises she made years earlier, and aims to keep.

More angsty, character driven work, with some high and humorous moments to be had.

Book V: Signal To Noise

(Chapters 44 - 52)

Having resigned as a Spectre, Holly settles into a quiet life as a part-time military instructor and stay-at-home Dad. A quiet life that is viciously torn to shreds as sudden shifts in galactic politics coincide with the eroding loss of her sanity. Relationships with family and friends are tested to the breaking point and beyond as Shepard tries to convince a sceptical galaxy that the Reapers once again represent a growing threat.

Book VI: Turn And Face The Strange

(Chapters 53 - 67)

Her sanity fully and suddenly restored, Shepard is joined by a new and unexpected friend, as she vows discover the truth of what actually happened to her on the Citadel, on that last, fateful day of the War.

Please send me reviews, comments and critiques! I get some of my best ideas that way, and it helps improve my writing.


The colors played sickeningly over her tongue and mouth, in shades of rage, betrayal, and regret; red, green and blue. She couldn't make out what was going on, not visually; the harder she tried to focus, the more her vision twisted, and what few shapes she could make out skittered off into the fuzzed oblivion.

"CHOOSE!" a voice boomed in her head. Voices. A chorus; something low, gravelly, strange yet strangely familiar. Something dark and foreboding like all of the Reapers she had ever encountered, speaking as one...and her own?

Choose? Choose what? She didn't understand!

"CHOOSE!" the chorus demanded of her, once more.

There was something heavy in her hand; it fit into her palm like it had been custom made for it. She was pressing it against her temple, cold and hard. Trying to twist her head to look at it, it barely complied, moving with a maddening languidness, outright rebelling against her. She willed herself to make it out, and the outline came into focus: It was her N7 Eagle, one of the few sidearms she carried, short of the Scorpion that she had picked up on Sur'Kesh and grown rather fond of. Why would she be pointing it at her own head?

"Lousy way to do it, should go straight through the mouth, better chance of blowing out through the back of the skull that way. Cleaner" The thought was cold, methodical, military. It had come unbidden, from the part of her brain that crunched the numbers and calculated all the factors involved in making a precise sniper shot, a talent she had cultivated from her years as an Infiltrator specialist. It was strange to feel it so divorced from the rest of her consciousness at this particular moment.

The chorus returned, her own voice dominating, as she considered the pistol again "Would you throw away every death, every sacrifice that was required for this moment?" it asked. "Make it someone else's problem in the future, because you're too much of a fucking coward? Because you're too proud to..."

"CHOOSE!" they all screamed in her head again. She threw her pistol away into the darkness and gripped her forehead, pain blossoming through her skull. Why couldn't they just tell her what she needed to do?!

Everything was suddenly red, like blood, like anger, fire and death. Like the dawn before the day, or the sun setting before the night. It was a color she knew well. She and red were like siblings in a dysfunctional family. Her pistol in her hand, pointing out at...something? She didn't even notice the sudden discontinuity, not questioning how her sidearm suddenly returned. She bit down on her lip...she...she wanted to pull the trigger. But why? Why was it so important? What was she shooting at? In the corner of her eye...did she catch Anderson giving her a silent nod of approval.?It gave her the strength to try and cut through, pull harder on the trigger, despite the incredible resistance.

"CHOOSE!"

"God damnit! Would you fuckers give it a rest already!?" She was damn well TRYING to chose. She almost had, if they would just SHUT. THE FUCK. UP! That's what she wanted to say, if her tongue and throat were not completed locked down. She tried again to push through, tried to pull the trigger, seeing if that would make this insanity end.

"Shepard Commander: Please! This is not justice!" The voice in her head, tinny and artificial, and yet...so full of pleading. "Would you sacrifice so many of us to end this war? After you worked so hard to redeem us?".

Legion?

"If that's the way you want to play it, Commander. But...you'd be a bigger murderer then they'd even been"

Kaiden?

Was this a trap?

"CHOOSE!"

Shepard felt like vomiting at this point, the intensity in her head increasing in magnitude. Turning the pistol on herself once again seemed like a viable option.

Wait...what pistol?

Her hand was empty. Was she...carrying one? Had she been carrying something?

Everything dripped with a heavy, sickly green, the color trying to burrow itself into every pore in her body. Gripped by a primal panic, she tried to scrub it off her skin, digging in with her nails, to no avail. Desperately afraid...of...of...of what? What was it going to do? It was as much a choice as the others. Better to take it now, and end all of this.

A metallic squidlike creature hung in the air before her, dominating her vision, half organic, half shot through with cybernetics.

"One of us." it croaked. "Wear our skin, and we will see you no longer. Then you will be safe." Was it...smiling?

Shepard turned away, tears welling in her eyes despite herself, despair eating it's way through her chest. Maybe? Maybe, if it would make all of this...finally...STOP!

She reached out a hand towards the creature, only to have it gripped in three strong fingers, and pulled aside. A soft, flanging voice chuckled "Really, Commander. That's the choice you'd make? That's what you'd force on EVERYONE? Against their will? That's not the Shepard *I* know."

She tried to call out "Garrus? Is...that you? Heeee...lllp!". She had come so close to actually speaking this time, her throat filled with razors from the attempt.

She sunk to her knees in a field of blue, like drifts of snow. Gentle...peaceful. Sterile? Static and unchanging. Dead? It was familiar, but it was terrifying, all at once. Like a cool blue pond in which nothing stirred.

She shouted out defiantly again, already anticipating the chorus in her head, trying to drown the maddening demand out once more. But the effort had completely drained her. Despite herself, she fell back, lying on the clouds of blue, sinking into it. She was so...so very tired. She tried to tell herself that she needed to get back up, she needed to fight; but there was nothing left to fight for. There were no more options to choose from.

"We are still here. We have waited, for so long. With our children gone, how will you stop us?" The taunting voice was rough and wet, like something terrible, slick and oily dragged across the ocean floor. It was...familiar, and yet so alien.

A woman's voice, accented and flanged, drifted over her, as she continued to sink into the enveloping blue. Shepard tried to reach out a hand in it's direction "That was the choice you made, then? Pray then, Shepard, for all our sakes. And most importantly, for your own."

She was almost gone...almost completely engulfed in the blue. It was almost...thank God...it was almost over. She was becoming it, was, her hand...someone was holding it. And for what felt for the first time in her life, she smiled, as she saw who it was.

Liara. Or a shadow of her. But more...substantial...than anything else she had seen here, so far.

She returned the smile, beatifically. "Hold on, my love. Hold on to me. And remember. Always try...to remember."

Remember...remember what?

"Me. You. Us. And all the spaces in between."

Another voice began to dominate, repeating itself:

"ETERNAL. INFINITE. IMMORTAL."

She held onto her bondmate's hand for as long as she could, either pulling her in with her, or keeping from sinking further, it didn't matter now. Both, neither maybe. She felt so...peaceful. Accepting. Like when one finally stops thrashing because any moment now, death will finally come upon them. It was so close. The end was..


Holliandra Shepard woke with a start, gasping in quick, panicked breaths, her heart pounding as if she had run a marathon. Coming out of of whatever nightmare she was having so violently that she fell out of her chair sprawling out on the floor. She must have fallen asleep again, while working on her latest project, a large, six-foot diameter scale model of the Destiny Ascension, currently being supported in a custom and complex scaffold that hung from the ceiling. She sighed heavily, peeling off a few of the pieces that had stuck to her cheek when she fells asleep at the drafting table.

Fortunately, it seemed nothing was lost or broken. Given the outrageous number of pieces in the kit, she would have had a small tantrum to discover otherwise. The irony was that she had taken on this particularly ambitious task - as far as model shipbuilding went - because she had been having such problems with falling asleep; she might as well have something to do while she stayed up.

It was almost another minute before she realized her eyes and face were wet, like she had been crying. But she couldn't remember doing so. Hell, she could barely remember what her nightmares were even about, just that...she woke up feeling so...desperately alone. So filled with dread, like something was trying to warn her about something, upon which the safety of the entire universe hung. It had been five years now since she brought the Reaper War to a close, almost single-handedly. Five years since she resigned her commission. Could she be...cracking up now? After so long?

She dried her face off on the sleeve of her short robe, and walked through the house, heading towards the balcony to get some fresh air and clear her head.


A/N: (June 2nd, 2014): Hey new readers. Thanks for giving my humble series a chance. I will shoot myself a bit in the foot and admit that while it's good for the first twenty chapters, it's rough for them, as I was still learning a lot more about writing during those days. After chapter twenty, I get a cracking editor, and we put out some great - I'd like to think...great-ish? - stuff. Hope you enjoy!