And here it is! The last chapter for Pride Goes Before the Fall. Thank you for all your support through this journey! Your words of encouragement and excitement have kept me writing every step of the way. I hope you enjoy this last chapter (for now!). See you at the bottom!
All copyright belongs to Bioware; I'm just taking a spin through their universe.
Crews had been tirelessly working to restore the Citadel. Teams made up of asari, turians, salarians and humans, sprinkled with a few elcor, had been moving debris, helping those whose homes and businesses had been destroyed, and gathering the dead. The Keepers of course were fixing the repairs the crews were putting up, apparently unsatisfied with their efforts. She had even heard that the asari Consort Sha'ira had opened up her place of business for the homeless to stay while they waited for new quarters. It was an impressive effort. Shepard should know. She had been watching it through the windows of Marshall Hospital for a week now.
"I am literally about to go crazy," she complained to Garrus, who was sitting beside her with his arm in a sling.
The skin above one eye lifted in his attempt at an eyebrow raise. "About to go crazy?" he repeated. "Meaning you were sane before this?" That got him a pillow in the face.
"Commander!" warned the business like nurse from the hallway.
Shepard slumped back with a growl. "I'm fine! Ribs are wrapped up, my surgery is over, electrolytes and all those lovely details are normal again, my cuts are all stitched up, and my implant checked out. I don't need to lie here any longer being useless."
"You're keeping me company," said Liara from across the room, propped up in bed with a holo pad in hand. "You are hardly useless."
"Fair enough. I just want to know what's going on! No one will tell me anything in here."
Garrus paused then pushed forward. "Have you heard from your mother?"
Shepard's face turned to stone and she looked back out the window. "Not since her first message." Two days after the Battle of the Citadel, Hannah Shepard had sent a brief message detailing Cleon and Nate's condition—including his avowed hatred of Commander Shepard. It had been designed to hurt, to punish. Shepard knew Katie and her mother had been close once upon a time, back when they all lived on the same base as kids. Between her death and Nate's trauma, Shepard knew her mother would not be forgiving her for these latest transgressions any time soon.
The door to their hospital room slid open. Captain Anderson entered the room, nodding at Liara and shaking hands with Garrus. Ambassador Udina followed him, still managing to look as presentable and oily as ever. "We'd like to speak with you in private, Commander," he said, barely glancing at Liara and Garrus.
Shepard wasn't in the mood to deal with his anthropocentrism. "We can move into the courtyard. I've been allowed to go that far." She stood gingerly, Garrus wisely remaining in his seat and not offering to help again.
The hospital was one of the few places in the Presidium that had not been touched by the destruction in some way. The courtyard's benches were mostly taken by the wounded, out to enjoy the artificial sunlight and escape from the crowded hospital. Still a pathway cleared as Shepard led the way to her favorite part of the garden. Dressed in a loose pair of black pants and a black tank top, her hand lightly wrapped from the burn, healing cuts and bruises all over her face (not to mention the heavy wrapping from her broken ribs and slash around her middle), she looked like she'd had a fight with a krogan and lost. Or nearly lost. If you truly lost a fight with a krogan, you'd be dead. But her face had been in enough vids over the last few days that everyone knew that this was not some grunt. The Spectre commanded respect now and she felt very uncomfortable with it.
Shepard sat down on the bench, hiding the fact that even this brief walk was still exhausting. Her biotics had taken a lot out of her. Anderson sat beside her, though Udina stood in front of her, enjoying his advantage in height for a brief moment. Shepard smirked to see that he still had a faint bruise from where she had whacked him. "I want to thank you, Commander," he said, his sincerity sounding strained. "Your efforts stopped Saren and his geth and have given the Alliance quite the step up in the galaxy."
"I didn't do it to get you a better office," said Shepard bitterly. "Saren was about to bring the Reapers through the activated relay and wanted to throw us into chaos, then destruction. We had to save the Council to prevent that."
"No one doubts the validity of your actions, Shepard," said Anderson. "You did what had to be done. The Alliance men and women who died to protect the Council and destroy the Reaper will be remembered as heroes."
"Now we must move forward," said Udina, trying to steer the direction of the conversation. "The Council would like to offer a seat to humanity. They are interested in your opinion on the matter."
Shepard raised an eyebrow. "My opinion? I'm not politician material. I prefer to hit things than to talk my way around them."
"That is not in dispute," said Udina dryly.
She flashed a big smile at him, making Anderson chuckle and the ambassador frown. "What I do know," she continued, "is we need a leader on the Council who can help unite us against the Reapers. Sovereign said that we had only delayed them. We need to take advantage of every second we have to prepare."
Udina barely restrained himself from rolling his eyes. "Yes, yes, we know. The Council has asked for you to join them in Chambers so they can express their gratitude and you can offer your recommendation. Your doctor has agreed to release you later today. They'll expect you this evening." With that, he departed, leaving Shepard shaking her head behind him.
"Still a slimy bastard. Does he really think I'm going to recommend him to sit on the Council?" she asked out loud.
Anderson turned to look at her. "Who else would you ask?" he questioned, seeming genuinely curious.
"Someone honest, determined, dedicated not just to humanity but protecting this galaxy as a whole. Someone who believed in me from the very beginning, no questions asked." Shepard glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, unable to turn her sore body. "I'm going to recommend you, Captain."
"Are you sure about this, Shepard?" he asked.
She stood slowly, looking out at the men and women of different species, scattered across the garden. A few turned to look at her; some even waved. She smiled and turned back. "You risked everything to save my son's life," she said quietly. "You recognize the value of the individual even as you fight to hold the Alliance, and soon the galaxy, together. I couldn't ask for a better representative of humanity on that Council."
Anderson stood and snapped off a salute, Shepard's eyes widening. "I am honored, Shepard. As much to wear the same uniform as you as I am to be considered for this position." He clapped her gently on the shoulder. "Good work, Marion."
Her eyes wet, she returned his salute and watched him leave. "Damn," she muttered. "Now I have to find my dress blues."
Released from the hospital, Shepard stepped back onto the Normandy, running her hand fondly against the wall. Her ship was in drydock, undergoing necessary repairs. Joker was there, hovering as crews worked near the cockpit. "While you're at it, can you upgrade my seat? That construction is starting to be a real pain in my…Shepard!" He hurried over to her in that endearing limp of his, tipping his hat. "Good to have you back on board."
She shook his hand. "Good to be back." She looked around, raising an eyebrow. "I thought I told you to be careful with my ship?"
"Please. My baby looks better than you do."
"Watch it, Joker," said Garrus, coming up behind them. Shepard grinned at him, her heart rate picking up. Garrus returned her smile, reading her vitals on his visor.
Joker looked back and forth between them before crossing his arms and gingerly leaning back against the wall. "Huh. I guess I should have seen that coming," he said. He tilted his head, seeming to calculate something. "So—how does this work?"
Shepard and Garrus looked at each other, her face slightly amused, Garrus just confused. Joker chuckled. "I mean, come on. What about regs? Not that I care about that. What I want to know—I mean, he's like a foot taller than you! And not exactly, um, human. Do all the parts…line up?"
"Joker!" Shepard's face was bright red.
"What? I'm just curious is all."
"Don't be," said Garrus darkly.
Joker held up his hands, heading back toward the cockpit. "Fine. Guess that's what the extranet is for."
Shepard could barely look at Garrus. "I'm going to change," she said weakly.
"I think I need to check on the main gun," he muttered, each of them hurrying away to take separate stairwells. Of course, they both came out the same place. The pair met each other's eyes and burst out laughing. Ducking behind the elevator, hiding from another work crew, Shepard gestured him forward, placing her uninjured hand on his chest. "I'm glad you're all right," she said quietly.
"Thanks to you," he said, brushing the side of her face gently, his eyes on her many cuts and bruises.
She smiled. "You've saved me," she said simply. Her unspoken words hung in the air. They both knew she meant more than physically. But why talk about it? Garrus leaned in to kiss her gently and she sighed. "When do we get shore leave?" she whispered. He just chuckled and kissed her again.
Her meeting with the Council was nothing to write home about. They graciously thanked her for saving their lives, we owe you a debt, thank you stopping the arrival of the Reapers, etc. Shepard was not convinced. They had put too many roadblocks in her way before. Only time would tell if the Council would actually use this opportunity to prepare, not squander the precious time her team had won for them. Anderson would provide some much needed ballast.
Now she was at the docks, in her dress blues, saluting as the bodies of Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko and Urdnot Wrex were being loaded onto ships, finally being sent home. Her eyes were dry, her face a mask. From beside her, there was movement. Ashley Williams came up beside her, facing Wrex's coffin as it was moved up the ramp. "I was wrong," she said quietly. "I should have trusted you, trusted him. I've seen them prove their loyalty to you, again and again: Tali and Liara and Garrus. Wrex was a member of your team. And I…"
"Made a mistake," Shepard finished. She turned to look at the chief. "And it was a costly one. But you don't need to ask my forgiveness. You need to forgive yourself. We all do." She smiled crookedly. "They say pride goes before the fall. I let my pride get the better of me for a long time, my bias against others. I was wrong and I have to forgive myself for it and vow to do better, to be better. That's all we can ask of ourselves."
Ashley's eyes were red but she did not cry. She just nodded. "Thanks, Shepard," she said. "I'm honored to be a part of your team. I hope I never give you cause to mistrust me again."
Shepard shook her head. "You saved Nate. And Cleon. I trusted you with their lives and I don't blame you for Katie's death. There's only one person who owes me for that and it is not you."
"When you find the Broker, I want to be there with you," said Ashley tightly.
Shepard smiled darkly, watching as the shuttles sped away. "I wouldn't want it any other way."
The ocean tides moved back and forth in a slow, predictable pattern. Something about the light off the water, the smoothness of the sand, the cry of gulls up above should provide peace. But Nate wondered how everything could look so happy when his mother was dead. It didn't seem right and it made him angry.
But he was also tired. That's why he was just sitting here on the beach, staring at the water, missing his mother. His small fingers traced shapes in the sand, not paying attention. After a few minutes, he stood up, heading back toward the Alliance guard who was watching nearby. Broken holos and ripped pages were left behind, to slowly be devoured by the ocean.
From further down the beach, Shepard watched him walk back to safety. She could barely make out his features, just saw that shock of black hair, the gangliness of his arms and legs, the way his head bowed down a little bit. He was her son and he was alive. And she could never meet him. Her throat tightened until she felt she could barely breathe and she sat down in the sand, biting her lip. She knew she had failed him; now he knew it too.
"What are you doing here?" She scrambled up at that tone, hand reaching for a weapon she didn't have. Cleon stood behind her, glaring.
Shepard swallowed. "I just needed to make sure he was okay," she replied. "I'll leave him alone."
"You think that makes a difference?" demanded Cleon. "Just being associated with you puts him in danger."
"You think I don't know that?" she shot back. "I've done everything I can to protect him."
"Then why is my sister dead?" Cleon's eyes were rimmed with red, his hair mussed like he had just woken up from a terrible night's sleep.
Shepard struggled to find words. "I had to stop Saren," she finally said. "I wanted to come and find you, I did! You think I enjoyed leaving you behind? Don't you think I wanted to be with my family? But I couldn't! The Reapers threaten everything in this galaxy and I have to stop them. If I didn't go after him, then none of this would matter. I'm protecting Nate the only way I can!"
Suddenly the fight went out of Cleon. He sunk back against a dune, bowing his head between his knees. "I know, Rin," he said quietly. "You're a marine, and a damned good one from all the reports. I heard what you did at the Citadel, heard about some kind of monstrous ship and a portal that opened up."
Shepard blew out all her air and sat down across from him. "The Reapers. They're bad news, Cleon. You've heard of the Protheans?"
"I know my basic history, Rin," said Cleon wryly.
"Well the Reapers are the reason the Protheans don't exist anymore." For a moment, all they could hear was the sound of the waves as the tide came in.
"Shit," said Cleon. "They've survived this long? And now they're back? Why?"
"I don't even pretend to understand it," admitted Shepard. "It appears to be a cycle. Every 50,000 years, they return to our galaxy and 'cleanse it' of advanced organic life. They manipulated Saren in an attempt to return. We've delayed them, for now."
"So what can we do?"
Shepard was quiet for a moment. "We fight," she said simply. "For the ones we love. We fight."
She stood, brushing the sand off her pants gingerly. "Does he really hate me?" she asked, not looking at Cleon.
"He's too young to understand," Cleon said by way of an answer. "He heard that monster say that Commander Shepard was supposed to come to the rescue. He idolized you. When you didn't show up—he doesn't know how to handle that."
Shepard sniffed but just continued to stare at the ocean. "I'm sorry about Katie, Cleon. Truly. She was a mother to Nate in a way I will never be able to do. I owe her everything. And you, for taking care of him." Something occurred to her and she looked at him with a frown. "Are you going to tell him? About you?"
Cleon stood, scratching his head. "That's something I can't answer yet," he replied. "But I think the kid deserves to know he's not an orphan. I just haven't figured out how to tell him yet."
"Leave me out of it," said Shepard, her voice harsh. "He has enough to deal with without realizing I'm his mother. Just," her voice softened, "keep him safe."
"Always," he said quietly.
Shepard nodded and turned away, her hands in her pockets, a lonely figure against the darkening sky. "Hey, Rin!" Cleon called. She paused, her head barely turning back. "Be careful out there." Her mouth quirked in a small smile and she continued through the sand.
The week of shore leave was much needed. And yet Shepard found herself anxious, counting down until she could return to the Normandy and her duties. The Reapers were out there and she knew she needed to find as much information as she could while persuading the Council races to prepare to defend themselves. Conventional weapons and tactics would not be enough against this enemy.
She tried to spend the spring days enjoying the old city of Boston: walking the historic town, lingering outside buildings that had been built with brick and mortar and wood next to monolithic structures of metal, covering the landscape with their shadows. She watched children run through the streets on hoverboards and fly their toy ships around while business men and women bustled along, too busy to pay attention to one woman standing still in the middle of a crowded marketplace. The visions from the beacon ripped through her mind: could all of this be gone? Wiped out of existence, a giant insectlike machine descending on top of these buildings? Though the day was warm, Shepard felt cold, fearing the possibility and feeling very small in that moment.
Her omnitool beeped and she opened up the message, smiling at Garrus' insistent reminder to not be late to the Opera House. The turian had tagged along to visit Earth on his shore leave before heading back to Palaven to see his family. He had formally left C-Sec and was waiting for the turian hierarchy to officially transfer him to the command of Spectre Marion Shepard. Neither of them believed it would take very long.
Her spirits lifted considerably as she made her way to the Opera House. She smiled: yes, the Reapers were on their way. But right now, they had time, time to prepare, time to fight, time to live. She intended to do that for as long as she could.
"The board is green, Commander. Requesting permission to take off."
"Permission granted. Let's move, Joker," said Shepard, standing on the bridge.
"Finally!" The Normandy moved out of dock, leaving the Citadel behind. The Council had asked Shepard to patrol the edges of Council space, searching out pockets of geth resistance. She had grumbled but understood. Yes, Saren was gone but the geth had been mobilized. It wouldn't do to ignore one threat because there was another one on the horizon. She only hoped this mission wouldn't occupy her for too long…or give the Council time to forget about Sovereign's threat.
On the docks, Mymene T'Neis watched the Normandy disappear into the distance. Opening her omnitool, she connected into the Normandy's systems, watching video of Commander Shepard walking down the bridge, stopping to pause and speak to one crew member. Mymene frowned. Socrates had been an idiot with too much power and not enough intelligence. Brute force would never work with Shepard. She had to be convinced, understood. She needed to be made an ally, not an enemy. There was a reason no one knew the Captain of the Destiny Ascension was a Broker agent. Because she was very, very, good at her job.
Shepard surveyed her cabin, double checking that her photo was still in place, her belongings stored properly. The air smelled of eezo, her shampoo and whatever they had just had for dinner. She smiled. It smelled like home. Sitting down at her computer, she opened her messaging program, determined to sort through it before bed. One message near the top caught her eye, the title written in Alliance code for top priority. Frowning, she opened it, scanning quickly. Her frown turned to a deep scowl and she read more slowly.
I know we have not been formally introduced, but I've been watching your progress through the Alliance for many years. What you have managed to accomplish with limited resources is quite impressive. Not only in delaying the return of the Reapers, but in advancing humanity's cause in this galaxy. Your team may be unconventional, but your results cannot be argued with.
I represent Cerberus, a human interest group you may be familiar with. I am sorry to say that you have encountered some rogue operations in your time as an Alliance solider. Cerberus seeks to extend humanity's influence in every way it can, but not all operations are known and cleared with me.
Despite our tense past, I want you to know how much I admire what you've done. This may be hard to believe, but I want to help you stop the Reapers. I too have humanity's best interests at heart. I hope we can work together in the future to protect humanity and stop this threat to our society.
Keep up the good work, Shepard.
The Illusive Man
Shepard stood slowly, backing away from the computer as if it were a snake that had appeared on board. Her fists clenched, she fought the urge to smash her computer. She needed her computer; she was the commander of the most advanced warship in the galaxy. Communication was essential and destroying her computer was not helpful.
Moving quickly, she hurried into the medbay, rushing past Dr. Chakwas' expression of surprise into Liara's room. The asari was now an official adjunct on the Normandy; she had set up a system of computers in the backroom to aid her research into anything Prothean or Reaper related.
"I have a side project for you, if you're up for it," said Shepard, her eyes burning.
Liara's brow furrowed but she nodded. "Of course, Shepard. What do you need?"
"Cerberus," spat Shepard. "The human interest group Cerberus. I need you to track them, gather information, find me something. We've seen what they're capable of. I want to be ready for when we come across them again. Especially the person known as The Illusive Man."
Lots of set up for the next part of this saga! The story will continue with a rewrite of ME2 with some alterations to canon as befit this Shakarian story :) My plan is to start posting the next part of this story near the end of June, as long as I can put together my thoughts and outline in time. So if you haven't already, follow me as an author so you see when the next story gets posted!
Thanks again for all the love and encouragement. Please leave a few last words of advice, excitement, comments, questions. I try to always respond and would love to hear any theories you might have about the events of the next story! Thanks for the wild ride! See you in about a month!