Heavy spoilers for ME3 follow, plus a lot of cheese. Read at your own risk, it's not my fault if you're lactose intolerant.
Disclaimer: Bioware owns all. Including my soul.
Beyond your comprehension.
Shepard didn't know what the Reapers were, or who they used to be, or why they did what they did. And quite frankly, she didn't need to. All she knew was that she had come here to do one thing, and some holographic little brat wasn't about to change that.
Three choices. Three destinies. One sacrifice.
As if she even had to think about it.
That first step almost sent her crashing to her knees. All strength had left her body; it was only through sheer willpower that she was able to continue limping forward, fueled by thoughts of her friends, her family, all the people she was willing to sacrifice herself for without the blink of an eye.
Her arm felt like lead as she slowly, shakily raised it, pistol in hand. All else erased from her mind, save for one single goal. This was it, the final moments, an end once and for all to the chaos that had erupted into her life three years ago. Seconds turned to minutes as she steadied her aim, placing her finger on the trigger.
Comprehend this, she thought, almost smugly, as she loosed the first shot. The recoil almost blew her back, yet she felt her strength growing, as if some energy, some outside force, was lending her its aid to finish the job. She could physically feel all the negative emotions, the stress, the pain, the shock and horror of the last few weeks, fly away as she straightened and strode forward with purpose. She'd never felt stronger before in her life than in that final pull of the trigger.
That did it. With the final shot, the Crucible exploded, emitting a powerful blast of red energy. The explosion threw Shepard back like a ragdoll, and this time, she didn't have the will to fight it as unconsciousness overcame her.
Slowly, Shepard cracked open her eyelids, squinting against the harsh light. The sun shined down from a clear, blue sky, not a cloud in sight to hinder its warmth.
How long had she been out? Thinking back, the events felt as though they had occurred mere seconds ago, yet at the same time they seemed almost like they hadn't happened. It was all too surreal…
The sound of waves caught Shepard's attention. She placed a palm on the ground, surprised when it was sand that met her touch. Pushing herself up into a sitting position, she saw she was on a beach. No civilization in sight, yet no Reapers, corpses, or destruction, either.
Equally as surprising, she discovered she was wearing her standard issue Alliance uniform, and the wounds from her past endeavors had miraculously disappeared.
Several thoughts flashed through her mind instantaneously. What the hell? Where am I? How did I get here?
"Enough, if something from our hands have power," a soothing voice carried past Shepard in the wind, faintly at first. But not just any voice.
"To live, and act, and serve the future hour," a voice from the past, one Shepard wouldn't, couldn't, ever forget.
"And if, as towards the silent tomb we go,"
"Through love, through hope, and fate's transcendent dower,"
Shepard turned into the wind, hoping to catch a glance of the voice's owner, but to her disappointment, only a vast expanse of sand met her gaze. Glancing back to the ocean, she was startled at what she saw. Datapad in hand, standing as casually as if she'd been there the entire time, stood her squadmate, her friend, her sister-in-arms, Ashley Williams.
Ashley's focus was not on Shepard, but rather the datapad she held in her hands. "Emily Nicole Shepard," she read, matter-of-factly. "Born April 11th, 2154, to Hannah and John Shepard. Current age, 32."
"You brought me all the way out here just so you could profile me, Ash?" Shepard chuckled, the sound of her own voice feeling foreign.
Ashley smirked, still not moving her eyes from the device in her hands. "Persistent sarcastic streak, I'll have to add that one to the notes."
"So…" Shepard sighed, "why am I here, Ash?"
For the first time, the two women made eye contact. Ashley's gaze was warm, yet somber, causing Shepard to look away after a moment.
She pulled her knees up to her chest. With a gulp, she asked the question she knew she'd dread. "Am I…-"
"Dead?" Ashley supplied the word stuck in Shepard's throat. "I know the answer, but the question is, do you?"
Before Shepard could form a reply, her ear-com crackled to life. Yet she had no ear-com, her omni-tool was missing and she clearly wasn't wearing her armor. All the same, she knew what she heard.
"By the Goddess!" that was, unmistakably, Liara's voice. "Look! The Reapers, they're…dying. She-"
"Liara!" James' shout cut across the feed. "Watch out! Move!" The sound of crashing metal could be heard, but was soon replaced by static.
"Take that, you bosh'tet!" Tali's voice chirped, followed by the sound of gunfire mixed with dying husks.
"Adios, suckas!" Joker's voice cut through the comm, accompanying the sound of the Normandy's Thanix Cannons firing.
"That Reaper was already dead, Jeff," EDI scolded from somewhere nearby.
"Yeah, I know, that one was just for good measure."
"Still no sign," came Garrus' voice. He sounded tired, defeated – Which made sense, considering he had been on Shepard's heels during the run to the Citadel.
"No," that voice sent a pang through Shepard's heart. Kaidan. "She's here somewhere, she has to be. Shepard!" Hearing the pain, the desperation, the despair in his voice sprung tears to her eyes. Just as quickly as it had come, the comm chatter died off.
"Everyone's okay…" Shepard muttered, moreso to herself. Yet the thought didn't bring her near as much relief as it should have.
Kaidan's last words burned in the back of her mind. "I can't lose you…not again." And yet that's exactly what had happened.
"Was it selfish?" Shepard blurted suddenly, glancing up at Ashley. "We knew what the stakes were, the most likely outcome, but we chose to ignore it… Maybe it would have been easier to break his heart from the start."
"Nonsense!" Ashley's tone was surprisingly harsh as she reprimanded her former Commanding Officer. "I didn't give my life on Virmire so you two could mope around each other for years." Her gaze softened when Shepard met her eyes. "Did you two…ever discuss the future?"
"The future," Shepard scoffed, "How do you think about the future when you don't even know if you'll be alive the next day?"
"Surely the thought must've crossed your mind at least once?"
She sighed. "I don't know… I guess, I saw us getting married, maybe starting a family…"
"Retiring and settling down?" Ashley inquired.
"Oh, hell no!" Shepard laughed, wiping a stray tear from the corner of her eye. "The Normandy is my ship, whether Alliance Brass likes it or not. The day she sputters out and becomes scrap metal is the day I retire from active duty."
Ashley shook her head. "You two always were workaholics." She ckuckled. "Now, is that future something you're willing to forsake so easily?"
"No," she answered almost instantly, the strength in her voice surprising her. Kaidan had told her he would fight like Hell to hold her in his arms again, and she planned to do just the same.
"When the time comes, I'll be right here to meet you- Both of you," Ashley gazed warmly at her friend. "And you can tell Garrus that he's still buying the first round."
She held out her hand, which Shepard gratefully accepted.
As Shepard was engulfed in a white light, and her consciousness slowly faded, she thought she heard her friend whisper one final message.
"We feel that we are greater than we know."
"Over here! I've got a pulse!"
A/N: While this isn't the first Mass Effect fic I've written, it's the first I've actually attempted to upload and share. This idea came to me randomly one night as I was pondering over the atrocious endings of a brilliant trilogy. The basic idea is actually something I came up with over a year ago for a Dragon Age fic I wrote (yet, again, never uploaded), and I decided to wing it and actually upload something for once.
This is also the first time I've tried my hand at writing something other than humor (my typical preference), which is probably pretty evident. I also struggle a lot with dialogue in all of my stories, any suggestions would be much appreciated!
Ashley's italicized lines are actually an excerpt from a poem, "After-Thought" by Alfred Tennyson, which is also where the title of the fic itself came from. Ashley mentions him as being her favorite poet, and I stumbled across this particular stanza and thought it would fit in kinda nicely, or at least add another tone. And Ashley's my second favorite squadmate (Kaidan being the favorite, of course!). Originally, I had written dialogue for Mordin, Thane, Anderson, Legion, and everyone else close to my Shep that had died, but I just felt it was too much to juggle and replaced them all with Ashley. Man, I hate Virmire...
For the record, I'm personally an Indoc Theory follower, but I'll leave the ending rewrites to the better authors out there!
Love it? Hate it? Want a virtual cookie? Leave a review and tell me! Thanks for reading!