One Last Goodbye: Through the Night

Yay, I'm back! So, I kept rereading my first Mass Effect fic, "One Last Goodbye," and the two-part epilogue I posted for it, "One Last Goodbye: Even When I'm Broken," and I kept thinking "well, I wish I'd done this" or "if I kept going, I could've done this" and I finally decided "Why don't I keep going?" So, here's a sequel! Sorry the summary's vague, but I didn't want to give away anything about the story overall or the first two, which form the basis of this entire plot, so summarizing it was difficult. On that note, if you have not put this together yet, I STRONGLY recommend reading the first two before touching this one at all.

Note: this one is rated T not just for the action sequences but for implied...activity, descriptive lead-ins, and some jokes about it, which is also the main reason I had to change the rating on the first story from K+ to T. Just so you're aware. (Probably doesn't matter since the game itself is rated M, but still.)

For theme songs, I would suggest "Your Guardian Angel" by Abandon All Ships, "Love You Like I'm Gonna Lose You" by Meghan Trainor and John Legend, "Unbreakable" by Fireflight, "My Freedom" by Two Steps from Hell ft. Merethe Soltvedt, or "Stand By You" by Rachel Platten.

Now that I've said all that, here we go...

Chapter 1 – Shepard

I lean against the railing around the galaxy map, looking down at the illuminated display of the celestial spiral housing all known life. Life that is currently threatened by an ancient race that has already claimed countless lives…too many of which were friends. Things seem quiet at the moment. Too quiet for these circumstances. I can't shake the feeling that something's wrong. Very, very wrong. But I don't know what.

"Shepard," EDI, our trusty AI, comes over the intercom to talk to me, "I am picking up a distress call on the surface of Lusia."

I look over at the galaxy map as it zooms through the Athena Nebula to the asari colony in question. "What's down there?"

"Unknown. But the signal is coming from Reaper-controlled territory."

Reapers. The synthetic monsters fighting to destroy us all. It seems my sole purpose these days is keeping them from succeeding. One distress call might not seem like a high priority, but I'm not going to just pass by when we're so close. "Alright. Activate the stealth drive and tell Tali and Liara to get ready. We're going in." Once EDI has confirmed the order, I step back from the map, prepared to turn to the elevator and head down to the armory.

Someone stops me first, wrapping their arms around my waist. "What, you're not taking me?" Garrus.

I smile, my dark thoughts thrown away by the sound of his voice. "Shouldn't you be in the med bay?" For a split second, I remember the sight of him on Thessia, limping to the extraction site and clutching his side to make sure his wounds didn't start bleeding. Just thinking about it makes me worry again.

Then he brings me to lean against him, as strong as ever, the warmth of our contact chasing away my worries completely. "You know it takes more than a gunship attack to keep me down."

I let off a laugh. "Got me there." Slowly, I turn my gaze up to him and find myself lost in his dark blue eyes. No movement crosses my mind, so I have no idea how my hand ends up pressed against his scars. Of course, I'm still not considering changing positions when we end up tied to each other again. As if I could care less whether we're kissing in the CIC—it's certainly not the first time and the crew has stopped paying attention (although Traynor still tosses a few smiles my way about it). When I finally pull away, though, EDI steps back in just long enough to say that Tali and Liara are already waiting in the armory and I wonder how long we've been standing here like this. I sigh. "Don't worry. I'll be back before you know it." Then I pull away, holding to his hand as long as I can, and step over to the elevator. As the doors close to take me down to deck 5, I catch one last sight of him and smile.

In five minutes, Tali, Liara, and I are in the shuttle on the way to the LZ. I spend half that time checking my weapons to make sure we're ready for anything. When we finally step out of the Kodiak and onto the planet's surface, though…that's when things start to go wrong. The signal's coming from inside a locked-down facility. I send Tali ahead to get the door.

"Looks like someone hid in here after the Reapers arrived," Tali explains as she hacks into the locks, "The distress call implies they wouldn't be able to stay hidden much longer. Maybe—" Then the door actually opens and Tali freezes in shock. "…Keelah…"

I quickly look to see what the problem is, Liara following. We both freeze with her when we see.

The main hall is littered with the corpses of Reaper ground troops, most of which have been expertly killed with what I'd say are knives or omni-blades.

"Something's not right here," I say. I scan the area. Three paths are laid out and there's no sign of life in any direction. "Which way is the signal coming from?"

Liara checks her omni-tool to see. "It's at the center of the complex. Any of these paths could lead to it."

I groan as I realize we have to do the one thing I swore I'd never do. "We have to split up. I'll head down the main hall, you two take the side ways. Let's go." I head out. It's almost an hour later before I find anything. After checking every room I come across, I find a central control room. At the center of the room is the distress signal transponder. I step over and check it. "Hello?" There's no one here. Now I know something's not right. I turn off the transponder and toss it aside before turning on my COMM. "Liara, Tali, it's Shepard. I found the signal, but there's no one here. Tell me you found something." No answer comes. "Tali! Liara!" Still nothing. I start trying to connect to the main frequency and contact EDI. "Normandy, do you copy?"

"Don't bother."

I quickly turn around, holding my gun at the ready.

A dark-haired human man stands by the main door. "The transponder was hacking your systems the whole time. Before you turned it off, it cut off your COMMs."

"You have five seconds to tell me who you are and what's going on," I growl, both hands tight against my pistol.

"Direct as ever. My name is Killian Orion. And you have something I want."

"Why go to all this trouble instead of just asking for it?"

"Because anyone who knows the least about you knows you'd never have agreed." As he says so, he starts walking across the room, no longer paying attention to my aim following his every step. "Although you of all people should understand why I'm proposing it. Think back to Eden Prime. If the Council had listened to you then, maybe we wouldn't be in this hopeless war now. I'd say it's time for a change of pace. Don't you?"

"What are you getting at? Other than that you're completely insane."

"Call it an insurgency. With you as my top agent. As a Spectre, you should appreciate the title, at least."

"You want to try your hand at what Cerberus failed and you want me to help you?! Give me one good reason I shouldn't shoot you right now!"

He smirks as he stops moving. "Alright. Just remember you asked for it." He then tosses something over to my feet.

I make the mistake of looking to see what it is. The moment I do, I drop my gun. …it's Tali's mask.

"Come to think of it, have you ever actually seen her without it on? She's beautiful."

Cautiously, I pick up the screen that sustained one of my closest friends for most of her life, kept her from dying for so long—

"Don't worry," Orion sighs, "She's not gonna die from open-air exposure. Not yet, anyway. She was already confined to her personal quarters on the Normandy when we took it off."

The Normandy. Slowly, my gaze turns back to him as I realize what he's saying.

"Yeah. Remember what I said about that transponder hacking your systems? It connected to the AI core. By the time your 'Enhanced Defense Intelligence' caught on, we already had control of the primary systems. I could completely disable life support right now if I wanted to…" Moving as if to prove it, he activates his omni-tool and calls up the—

Without thinking, I dive to grab my gun back and aim it at him again. "Try it and you'll be dying slowly!"

"Or we could avoid attempting to shoot each other away from the command signal entirely and you could go along with my plan so that your crew lives to see another day."

"If you think I'm going to stand back and watch you go after the Council—!"

"Oh, I don't. I think you're going to stand back and watch me and my army of assassins take out every officer left in C-Sec while you kill the Council…or you can stand back and watch everyone you've ever loved die."

he has me cornered. If I say "no," he'll send the signal, and Garrus and Tali and Liara and everyone on the ship will die. If I shoot him now, the assassins he says he has onboard the ship will make the move instead. If I go along with the plan, it'll buy me a few hours in which my options will likely be the same; then I'll be forced to stay the course and eventually face the biggest treason charge since Saren helped Sovereign attack. I can't win this one. There's no way I'm walking out of it. All I can do is ensure that—he's right about this one—the only people I've ever cared about don't die because of me.

After I've been silent for 15 seconds, thinking this over without letting my aim shift at all, he prepares to send the signal. "I take it that's a 'no'?"

"WAIT!" I instantly call, lowering my pistol.

He stays still, looking at me in anticipation, his hand still in place to decide if the closest thing I've ever had to family lives or dies.

Finally, I turn my gaze down to the floor as my weapon falls to it. "…I'll do it."

The sight of his shadowy eyes gleaming sinisterly to me drowns out the next few hours. This must be what it was like when Thane drifted into a "battle-sleep"—one minute facing down the threat, the next waking to find your appointed targets savagely gunned down. When I do "wake up," I instantly drop my gun again, falling to my knees with it. When I stop gasping for breath, my vision darkened by it all, I feel a liquid fire against my left hand and turn to see green, blue, and purple blood pooling against it. The blood of the same people whose lives I saved twice before only to deal the final blow myself. I'm no savior of the galaxy. Not anymore.

"Maybe I was right. Maybe you wanted this all along, too."

It takes all the strength I have left not to turn to what is now my least favorite person in the entire galaxy and strangle him. Of course, to be fair, I don't have much strength left. "I did what you wanted. Now it's your turn."

He sighs. "Alright." He calls up his connection to the Normandy again and—

"Life support disabled."

At those words, the strength I thought I'd lost comes back, sending me leaping to my feet and turning to face him down. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!"

"I never actually said I'd let them go if you helped me," he smirks viciously.

Then I follow through on the rest of my plan. I grab him and pin him to the nearest wall, attempting to strangle him. While I have him, I reach for his omni-tool, which is now reporting that the crew only has a few minutes of oxygen remaining, and move to counteract his last command. Before I can accomplish either, his assassins come up behind me and pull me back. I try to fight them off to no avail. Finally, they have me pinned down.

Orion glares at me furiously as he catches his breath. "You lived up to my expectations, I'll give you that." As he says so, he pulls out his own gun and readies it to fire. "But there's no place for a Spectre here anymore. Sorry, Commander, but I'm afraid our business has concluded. Thanks for the effort, though."

I failed…I failed… The thought rings through my mind 1000 times in the space of a few seconds, drawing me to turn away from the weapon deciding my fate instead of facing it down like I always thought I would. At least, if I failed my so-called family, I'm going with them.

Then Orion lines up his shot at me. And pulls the trigger.

And I wake up. For a moment, my thoughts are spinning, believing what I just witnessed was reality and wondering how I could possibly still be alive. Then my senses clear and I see that I'm back in the Normandy captain's cabin, lying in my bed like any other night. With a sigh, I bring myself to sit up and at least attempt to catch my breath and piece my true memory back together before—

Suddenly, a mechanical signal flashes across my vision. I clutch my head briefly. At least the pain has died down in recent months and what was once relative to a seizure is more along the lines of a migraine. But the psychological effects of the signal are still there. Because this signal proves I was once connected to the Reapers, the very monsters I fought so hard to destroy. I've given up any guilt I might've had for my actions a long time ago; there was no other way to save the galaxy and everyone in it besides destroying all synthetic life and I was never going to make that choice when I knew it would kill EDI and so absolutely dishonor Legion. Still, knowing that I used those genocidal robots in any capacity…

"…Sara?"

I know that voice better than any other. It's the only one that calls me by my first name. I turn to face it, coming face to face with the one person in the galaxy I hold closest to my heart.

Garrus pulls himself up to me, his dark blue eyes, a normally piercing gaze, softened by both exhaustion and concern. "Are you OK?"

I offer up a small smile, one that becomes genuine as I take his hand. "I'm fine. Go back to sleep."

He's apprehensive at first. Then I lay down beside him and he smiles as he follows. He holds tight to my hand as I lay against him, his free hand pressed to my back. He always does this. It's like he can't go to sleep unless he feels my heartbeat. The thought of it makes me keep up that light smile as I close my eyes. After lying there for about five minutes with no change, though, I realize I'm not gonna be sleeping anymore tonight and lean back to look at Garrus. He actually managed to fall asleep. I smile again before wiggling out of his grasp as gently as I can so I don't wake him up.

Pushing the covers aside as little as I can, I pull my feet out and stand up. For about ten seconds, I enjoy the feeling of the metal floor against my bare feet. It's cold. Cold chases away fatigue and the last thing I want right now is to fall asleep again. I haven't been able to go to sleep one night in the past two months without facing nightmares like what I just woke up from. Garrus knows, of course. Just like he knows that I can't get any sleep at all without suffering some kind of damage unless he's there beside me. But he probably thinks my nightmares are still consisting of the months of torture I went through after coming back from my time controlling the Reapers. He doesn't know it's gotten worse.

So much worse…

I finally walk across the deck to the cabin door and step into the hall between the cabin and the elevator. I step off to the side, letting the door close behind me before leaning against the wall. Once I'm completely surrounded by darkness, I turn on my omni-tool, illuminating the hall with the dull orange glow. I scan through my personal data to what I have that EDI recovered from the Black Shadows' database the day my old squad-mates saved me from the assassins and killed the majority of them. EDI kept a lot of the data to herself, but she gladly shared the "Insurgency Initiative" data with me at my request.

I call up the file containing their original plan. A fake distress signal, usurping control of life support from EDI, backing me into a corner and forcing me to take command of their strike on the Citadel—everything in my dream. Maybe the visions I've been having lately have been coming because I wanted details on Orion and his Shadows' psychotic intentions. Maybe I'm torturing myself now, maybe as retribution for my use of the Reapers. I should really stop wondering what might've happened and just be thankful that, in real life, I didn't linger in the Athena Nebula and went straight to Sanctuary from Thessia. But I can't help it. I can't help thinking Could it be real? Chances are what I dreamed would've been exactly what happened. That's enough to kill me in itself.

Sadly, I glance back at the door, on the other side of which is my sleeping boyfriend. I could never have survived any of this without him, but there have still been nights I wondered if it would've been best for us both that I ended this a long time ago. If maybe breaking his heart might have saved his life in the end. One night, I almost asked him about it. I stopped myself, of course. I already knew what his answer would be and I didn't need to hear it. So my nightmares that night consisted of all the ways I could've avoided opening these gates and kept him from becoming the Shadows' target #1 when the time came. At least it made me realize that following through would've been the biggest mistake I could ever have made. But that realization made me wake up crying and I think that broke Garrus' heart just as bad.

I groan and bury myself in the wall, sinking to the floor as I do. Why can't I make this stop? Why does the past keep taking hold of me like this? Why won't I accept what's happened and move on and just let myself find some happiness again? In all those myths I love so much, any in which the hero doesn't die end with some sort of happy ending. Then again, I don't know of many in which the hero dies and comes back, let alone being brought back by the bad guys through months of "reassembly" as a tool for galactic domination. Still, I can't deny that some arrogant part of me believes I've earned the chance to live the rest of my life in some sense of peace—I did save the entire galaxy, after all. On the other hand, I can't deny that some selfless part of me feels like I missed my chance and that I should still be fighting to give that peace to someone more deserving. All of me agrees with one thing: I'm completely in love with Garrus Vakarian and if anyone in the galaxy deserves the peace I'm hoping for, it's him. And he's made it abundantly clear that any sort of peace he could feel is coming from having me here with him at all.

As that thought takes over, I glance over my right hand. There's a scar on it, barely visible amid the lines already across it, from where a shard of glass cut it. That night takes me over…

"I love you no matter what, Sara Shepard. Nothing will ever change that."

I smile to myself, so brightly that, just like that night, a small flow of joyful tears comes to the brim of my eyes. Though that could be attributed to my apparent exhaustion, it still draws forth a brief, quiet laugh as I push the tears away. Garrus has become my release. Sometimes, he's the only thing showing me why my life is still worth living. He's always there for me, never for a second letting me doubt that this love we have is real. With that knowledge ringing through me, I find the will to shut off my omni-tool and head back into my cabin and across the deck back to my bed. He's still right there, as if he's waiting for me. I gladly take back his hand and crawl back into his arms, curled up beside him. When I fall asleep again, the nightmares plaguing me for so long are the last thing on my mind.

As such, the sleep I face tonight is blissfully dreamless.