A/N: Not a whole lot of changes went into this chapter. I liked it for what it was and really couldn't bring myself to change anything that wasn't necessary. Thank you again for all the reviews, alerts, and favorites, and to those of you who've transferred from the old fic and given this one a chance!
After Our Darkest Hour
Chapter Four – Reawakened
"I lost many good people, no, not people, friends – I lost many good friends to this damned war. I went into this knowing I was not going to let the Reapers win. To me, and all of you, that wasn't an option. I didn't expect to come out of this alive, I would have gladly given my life to save our home and to save the many soldiers – our family, friends, and comrades – that have been lost." Shepard sucked in a breath, trying not to let her voice break with the emotions welling up inside of her. She was tough, sure, but she was still human and she had lost good friends. It was a wonder, really, that she hadn't broken yet. Her eyes darted to where Kaidan stood, amongst her crew, just in front of where she stood to address the hundreds of soldiers gathered; if it hadn't been for Kaidan, she was sure she would have by now.
"Ashley Williams gave her life on Virmire to help me stop Saren. Mordin Sollus gave his life to bring the Krogans hope, to give them a future, and to help us in this war. Thane…Thane Krios," she swallowed thickly, "who used to be no more than an assassin, gave his life on the Citadel to keep Cerberus from killing the Council. Legion, while no more than a machine to some, was a friend to me and he gave his life to give the Geth a future, the Quarians a future, and to help us bring down the Reapers who controlled his people. I ask for a moment to remember them, and all the rest of those we've lost." Shepard bowed her head and sighed softly. She could hear some crying from some of the soldiers and, while she felt the need to cry, she knew she had it to hold it together. They needed someone to lean on, someone to look up to, and they had chosen her.
After a moment, she raised her gaze. "Many of you lost your families when the Reapers came, but I while, fortunate or unfortunate, was raised on Mindoir. I lost my family many, many years ago. I was picked up by a passing Alliance Squad…who was led by one David Anderson." She grew quiet for a moment, tears effectively beginning to show in her eyes as she looked out over her fellow soldiers. "He grew to become like a father to me; hard, stern, made you want to give it your all or die trying. I joined the Alliance because of him, graduated as an N7 Marine because of him, became the first human Spectre because of him. He kept faith in me, no matter what. He helped me escape Earth when the Reapers hit, stayed behind and told me to get my ass out there and unite the Galaxy, because if we were going to win this war, we would need everyone." She chuckled, though it was weak, a tear rolling down her cheek. "I gladly stormed through London at his side, while many soldiers gave their lives to get my squad and I to the Conduit Beam. I fell at the hands of Harbringer's beam, as many of us did. The last…the last thing he said to me was 'You did good child. I'm proud of you.' I…" She had to stop for a moment, her chest tight as she fought to hold back a sob. Whether or not it had been her fault that Anderson died, she couldn't help but feel slightly guilty; there should have been a way to be more prepared, a way that she could have saved him, as he had saved her. She couldn't help but feel maybe she had failed him. All of them.
She lifted a hand to wipe the tears from her cheeks, and when she lowered it, she stood straight and smiled faintly. "We may have freed ourselves from the Reaper threat, but I would never have been able to do any of this, if it hadn't been for Anderson. I want us all to remember him, as I will. As soldiers we know that war never comes without casualties, but we will never forget them, just as we know that we will never forget our alien comrades, and just as we know that we will never forget that we stood up to the Reapers without fear, without reserve, and that we came out victorious!"
The gathered soldiers cried out in agreement, whooping, rolling with exuberant force. Even her crew, especially James, gave in. Shepard smiled and nodded. "So even as I stand here, accepting this rank of Admiral, I would never have made it this far without all of you! Without every soldier, every friend, and every single person – human or not – that laid down their lives! Don't celebrate me, celebrate yourselves, and remember those who got us this far!"
"You did good, Lola!" James exclaimed, clapping her shoulder in a friendly gesture. The ceremony had gone well enough, and even as the Alliance soldiers returned to duties, Shepard and her crew remained behind.
Garrus folded his arms and nodded, his mandibles fluttering. "Always been good with the speeches."
Shepard patted James' hand and grinned; he had always been one she liked to have around. Reminded her of the old days, when she had been a recruit. He reminded her of Jenkins, the first soldier she had lost after this war had really started, back on Eden Prime. And Kaidan smiled, though he stayed back to allow their friends to, well, fawn over her. She may be the woman he loved, but they all loved her in some way – how could they not?
"Good or not, this speech was a little more personal than what I was used to." She chuckled and shook her head, folding her arms across her chest. "And, while I may have accepted the promotion, I am so overdue for a vacation."
Liara smiled. "I do remember you saying something about 'an early retirement'," her Asari friend with a gentle laugh.
"Keelah, I'd like to know how the Admiral got you to agree; not many can change your mind once it's set on something," Tali teased as she poked at Shepard's arm. "You didn't even want a promotion to begin with, if I recall."
Shepard sniffed. "Underhanded tactics, I swear. Said 'It's what Anderson would have wanted'."
"Not that I expect you to stay on the sidelines," Garrus nearly scoffed at the thought, making Shepard smile. "But he was right, to say that's what Anderson would have wanted for you."
"True, but a good friend of mine once told me 'there is a time when one must rest from war and conflict'."
Kaidan saw that sad smile on her face; the mention of Thane always brought it. He'd met the Drell, when he had been in the ICU at Huerta Memorial on the Citadel. "Thane's right, Shepard," he stepped forward and took her hand, kissing her palm. Shepard's smile changed, sliding into a more relaxed set. "He was a good friend, I know you miss him."
"Thank you, Kaidan." She whispered sadly.
"They were all good friends," Garrus' sigh followed. "We have all lost too many to the damn Reapers." He grunted and chuckled then. "But at least we got to send them to hell and are still standing. Heroes now, the lot of us."
"Ugh," Shepard laughed softly and rolled her eyes. "I do remember saying we might damn well be respectable now."
"That you did, Shepard that you did."
"Nothing wrong with respectable, Lola," James grinned, bouncing on the balls of his feet.
"We all know Shepard likes to be in the thick of it," Liara sighed. "As much as it tends to shave years off our lifespans."
"Complain more, why don't you?" Shepard snorted, though she had a big grin on her face; she had missed times like these, where she could just sit and relax with her team, her friends. The moments had always been rare. To think they would soon separate made her heart ache, but she knew it had to be. Their worlds needed them, just as Earth needed her. "Garrus, Tali, Liara; I want you to know that should you ever need me, I am here for you. All these years…it has been an honor to serve by your sides. I owe you everything."
"Keelah, Shepard. Enough with the speeches – you know we will never be more than a message away," Tali said with a chuckle, opening her omni tool to send Shepard her extranet contact information. Garrus soon followed suit.
Liara smiled. "You know how to get ahold of me."
Garrus' mandibles fluttered briefly as he stepped forward, taking Shepard from Kaidan long enough to give her a brief embrace before releasing her. "I'd stay if I could, but Palaven is in just as rough shape as Earth." Shepard nodded, a brief moment of silence passing between the two; Kaidan might have been jealous, but he knew what Garrus meant to Shepard, that he was the closest thing she had had to a best friend her entire life.
"Remember Garrus, you don't go to that bar before me."
"Wouldn't even dream of it, Shepard."
Shepard turned her gaze to Liara and Tali, and even glanced at James, though he would be staying on Earth with the rest of the human crew. "That goes for all you."
"Got it, Lola."
"As you say, Shepard."
"I'm likely to live a lot longer than you, Shepard, so I am saying it to you. You don't get to go before us, either." Liara smiled and embraced her as well, Garrus stepping back to allow the Asari to do so.
Kaidan laughed softly. "So that's the plan then – we'll all meet up at the same time."
"Sounds good to me!" James punched Kaidan in the shoulder and grinned. "Don't you dare say it don't sound good to you."
"Wouldn't dream of it," he mumbled with an answered smile. He had to admit it – he'd miss them too.
Kaidan stood with Shepard as she looked out over the Earth from the Observation deck; this was the room he had made his home when he rejoined the Normandy crew. He had done the same thing, leaning against the hull and staring out the window. He did it when he wanted to think. And he had, often. About the Reapers, about Shepard, about becoming a Spectre, his students, everyone back on Earth; his mind had felt like a whirlwind for so long and it was a strange feeling to be so…calm.
"What's on your mind?" Kaidan asked softly, rubbing his palm reassuringly over her back.
"A lot, really." She sighed softly and turned her head enough to give him a brief smile. "I only accepted being Admiral because of Hackett; he was right, I think Anderson would have wanted it."
He pulled her into his side by sliding his arm around her slim waist; she had lost weight, he noticed, over the weeks since the Reaper invasion. The Galaxy had depended on her, but they would be foolish to think all of this hadn't affected her. "Anderson would have said he was proud of you, Shepard. He already was. He spoke of you often, and he always had your back. He trusted you when…others didn't."
"Thank you, Kaidan." She sighed again, but this time with a smile. "He'd freak you know."
Kaidan laughed softly, nodding. "Yeah, you are probably right about that."
They stood in a comfortable silence, Shepard leaning her head against his shoulder. The Earth lay before them, scarred and hurt, but whole. It had faced the apocalypse, and stood strong in the face of annihilation. As did its people. Never before did Kaidan feel so proud to be human than in this moment.
"Have we heard anything about the others yet?" Shepard finally asked softly, uncertainly, as if she were afraid of the answer.
"Grunt made it back to Tuchanka with Wrex; like I expected the Reapers to take him down." Kaidan chuckled and shook his head. "Jacob reported in, as did Jack, Kasumi, and Samara. Cortez was found in the wreckage of the Kodiak shuttle; he is in the temporary ICU, but is doing much better. We could see him soon if you like."
"Maybe…" She swallowed; even though Kaidan has reassured her that Cortez was faring better, but she wasn't ready to see someone she cared for die in front of her again. Anderson's was so fresh as it was, as were all the others. "So…no Zaeed, or Miranda." Shepard had never really gotten along with the mercenary Cerberus had paid to help them; they conflicted too often about priorities. She didn't like to think he'd died though.
"Yet, Shepard. Yet."
"It's been a week since we kicked the Reaper's ass, Kaidan."
"Miranda was running before, wasn't she? I don't expect her to report into the Alliance, even after."
"True…she could be afraid they would arrest her for being Ex-Cerberus, even now."
Kaidan turned her and cupped her face in his hands, kissing her softly. "As much as you would like them to be, not everyone is as forgiving as you. Or as understanding."
"Thank you, I just…I don't want to have to acknowledge even more casualties to the damn Reapers. They have taken more than enough from all of us."
Kaidan slid a hand down to her abdomen and kissed her again, lingering a moment before looking into her eyes intensely. Seriously. "They didn't take everything, Shepard. There is still hope for us, for everyone. Because of you."
She shook her head. "Because of all of us, not just me. I wouldn't even be here if it hadn't been for you and the others."
"Damn good thing we did. I wasn't about to lose you. And I'm not about to lose her either," he murmured, stroking a hand gently over her abdomen.
Shepard smiled. "Her?"
"Like you would allow her to anything other than a girl." Kaidan chuckled.
"True, boys are stupid."
"Hey-hey-hey, Admiral. Better not say that to your men."
"Nope, only to you." She jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow, sticking her tongue out at him, before she turned and walked toward the door. It hissed and opened to allow her to pass. She stopped in the entry way and turned back to look at him over her shoulder. "You coming, Alenko?"
He folded his arms across his chest and smirked at her. "Where to?"
"Oh you know. Just up to my room for a quick drink."
"Right behind you." He grinned.
Shepard lay in Kaidan's arms long after he'd fallen asleep. Not that she could blame him. She felt as worn out as he, and her impromptu suggestion to jump each other hadn't helped. Not that she was complaining. Making love with Kaidan was something she could and would never pass up on; he made her feel whole and like the most beautiful woman in the Galaxy, despite her scars and flaws. He made her feel safe, despite how unsafe the Galaxy really was. Even now she was afraid to sleep, knowing the nightmares that plagued her were so close at hand.
She sighed and laid her head against his chest, just listening to his heart beat and thanking god that this was real. That they were both alive and not dead at the hands of the Reapers. Before long, the weariness took its toll, his thumping heart lulling her to sleep, red lashes falling as her eyes closed.
'There is a time when one must rest from war and conflict, Siha. It is not your time but it is mine.'
She was running, through the body infested halls of the citadel she had sworn she's seen, the corpses piled higher than she remembered. It was dark and she felt like she was running blindly, though that faint light so far in front of her kept her moving.
'You were a great protector, Siha, but even some things are beyond you.'
Thane was here? She kept running. Maybe it wasn't too late after all, maybe she could save him. Just keep moving, one foot after the other.
'You did good, child. You did good. I'm proud of you.'
'I'm sorry Shepard-Commander, it is the only way.'
"I tried to save you! I tried!" Shepard cried out in the darkness, her voice echoing far and only returning to be heard by her.
'You know it's the right choice, LT. It was an honor serving with you, Commander.'
Shadows moved around Shepard as she raced toward the light, her hands slapping over her ears; she wanted to listen, knowing this was the only time she would hear their voices, but it was so painful. I failed them.
Suddenly she through the light and stumbling onto a beach, her feet bare so that the sand meshed between her toes. The sea air brushed by air, the smell tickling at her senses. The sun was setting just behind the horizon, illuminating the sky in a brilliant orange-yellow haze. The blue-green water lapped at the sand's edge and as she focused she saw a figure clad in black standing there, at the edge, back to her. As she slowly approached, it turned and as she stopped a mere few feet away, she realized she was standing face to face with Thane.
'You need to stop blaming yourself for our deaths, Siha.' He stood with his hands clasped behind his back, as he often did when they spoke. Even that simple characteristic gesture she found she missed.
'I failed you, Thane.' Shepard cried, covering her face with her hands as the sobs she had been holding back came out in full force. 'I failed you all.'
'No matter how much you want to save us all, you know you can't. That is no reason to put such blame and despair upon yourself.'
Shepard continued to cry, falling to her knees in the sand. She had been holding it back for so long that she couldn't swallow the sobs as they wracked her body. She had been strong for so long and in the face of her failures, she couldn't be strong. She needed a moment of weakness. Thane came toward her, kneeling at her side and grasping her chin to tilt her face up toward his. Her face was tear stained, in blood red tears, almost physical torment, her silver-blue eyes anguished.
'Listen well, Siha. I am at peace.' He wiped the tears from her cheeks with his knuckles. 'We all gave our lives to protect you, to keep you alive. We all wanted to help you. We are at peace, Siha. We love you, all of us – we would gladly lay our lives down again if it came to that.'
'No, don't, Siha. Do one last thing for us, for me?' Shepard swallowed thickly and nodded. 'Live, Shepard, live. Live your life. Don't wallow in despair and let yourself die.'
Shepard stared up into face, memorizing every detail and, as she did so, the others came down to stand beside Thane's kneeling frame. Ashley, Legion, Mordin, Anderson. Her friends, her family – the ones whose deaths had affected her so badly. Even Jenkins was there, way in the back, laughing excitedly as he splashed through the water.
'You are strong, Commander. You can do it.' Ashley grinned.
'Impractical to mourn so for us.' Mordin nodded. 'You live, you are alive. You should live. More pressing things to attend to.'
'Shepard-Commander, you will always be a friend to us.'
'You did good, Shepard. You will continue to make me proud, I know it.' Anderson said with a smile.
Shepard nodded, more blood red tears rolling down her pale cheeks. She couldn't help but laugh softly as Jenkins whooped, throwing a fist into the air.
'You see, Siha? We are fine. Do not worry so.' Thane smiled. 'Forgive me.' He leaned down, keeping hold of her chin and pressed a kiss to her lips. 'Call it a dying man's final wish,' he chuckled as he drew back, standing with the others. As she watched them walk into the sea, Shepard's tears faded and she felt strangely at peace as they disappeared beneath the rolling waves.
'Thank you…' she whispered.
"Shepard, Shepard!" Her eyes fluttered open to see Kaidan leaning over, his amber eyes worried as they looked down at her. "Are you okay?"
Shepard smiled softly and cupped his cheek with her hand. "Yeah, I think I am."
A/N: Shepard did skip ranks, but with having led and gathered the forces that defeated the Reapers, I assumed they would have given her the highest rank they could. In my belief, Hackett would have seen her as an equal and thus made her as such. ^.^