Yeah, so I wasn't satisfied with the ending and like so many others, I'm gonna write my own. I'll start from the last charge towards the conduit and then go AU from there. I'll probably write two possible alternatives, but use the same intro. I need to get these ideas out of my head. The plot-bunnies, they won't leave me alone!
Edit: I'm actually OK with the extended cut, though still not thrilled. Still, I'm going to finish this.
Also, I'm not certain I will write my other alternative ending. Though I will definitely finish this, I'm not sure I will make another one.
In the Shadow of Death
The air was thick with the smell of smoke, blood and rot. From the crumbled and blackened ruins of the city blew a cold wind, carrying with it the sounds of desperate battle; gunfire, shouts and screams, explosions and the eerie moans and shrieks of their enemies.
The sky was dark with thick clouds, lit here and there by streaks of fire, pieces of wreckage falling to the city like fiery rain. In space, above the thick clouds covering the broken metropolis, the fleets of every race in the galaxy fought the greatest battle of their time, united against an enemy wanting nothing less than their complete and utter annihilation.
Here, on the ground, the main force of Hammer, the joint forces of human resistance and recently arrived alien reinforcements, purposefully climbed a wide ridge towards their goal, a pillar of bluish white light stretching toward the sky. Where the white incandescence pierced the dark clouds, they swirled like an inverted maelstrom. The light was the only way onto the Citadel and any chance of winning this war depended on reclaiming the ancient space station.
As Commander John Shepard crested the ridge with his team, he got a sweeping view of the remains of London. The landscape dipped into a wide valley, a vast expanse of flattened, black-charred ruins. In the distance, high-rises and skyscrapers were visible, wrecked and scarred, but still reaching defiantly into the sky.
At the bottom of the slope, the light stretched from the ground to the sky, illuminating three enormous, carapace-clad towers that rose like needles towards the sky around it, easily dwarfing the skyscrapers in distance. Three smaller, similar structures stood within the triangle the three towers outlined.
A shiver of fear and despair swept through him and his teammates, but not because of the devastated city.
It was caused by the figure, like a titanic hand clad in metallic carapace, which was descending with deceptive speed and grace from the sky. It landed behind the towers, the crash of ruins crumbling beneath it audible even at this distance. Four piercing, yellow lights on the front of the behemoth, its eyes, swept across the forces cresting the hill. The baleful gaze felt almost like a physical force and Shepard could practically feel the wave of terror and despair sweeping through the soldiers around him.
"Harbinger," Shepard whispered, his step faltering.
"Shit," Anderson cursed as he walked up beside him, rousing Shepard from his shock, "we gotta move!"
"Come on!" Shepard shouted in answer, smothering his fear with the fury he felt toward this enemy. He drew his M-77 Paladin and sprung forward. Without hesitation, his team, the team that had followed him through so much, charged alongside him. At his left, Garrus and Tali ran, moving with grim deliberation, true companions that had been with him from the very beginning. Javik moved with them, his expression all cool rage now that they were so close to avenging his people. To Shepard's right Liara and Kaidan charged, friends and comrades he'd once thought lost to him, now rushing with him at the very end. And behind him, out of sight, he knew EDI and James Vega had his back, forged in the same war as the rest of the team.
Around him a collective roar declared the charge as the rest of the force stormed ahead. The engines of Mako infantry fighting vehicles rumbled alongside them and Mantis gunships swooped in above them.
Just a moment after the charge had begun, all hell broke loose. Harbinger's eyes flared red and crimson beams shot out, a hellish blaring sound accompanying them. One tore up the ground towards the charging forces, before incinerating a squad to their left, the squad letting out terrified screams before they went silent. Two more beams swept past them, while a third simultaneously took out a gunship and a Mako in short order. Shepard ducked to the side as the Mantis' remains rained down on them, then changed direction to avoid another beam, which swept the breadth of the hill. The team ducked and weaved, desperately trying to advance, as infantry and vehicles were ripped apart with contemptuous ease.
A Mantis directly above him exploded, the shockwave throwing him to the ground along with the rest of the team.
He got to his feet with a groan, dimly registering the coppery smell of blood in his mouth and the slick feeling of the same on his face, and sprinted on. Above the ringing in his ears, he could hear screams and shouts and explosions. Harbinger was bringing down the entire attack force singlehandedly and he couldn't do anything except keep going. As he narrowly avoided a beam sweeping past his right, he noticed with alarm that neither Liara nor Kaidan was at his side anymore. At his left, Javik was missing too.
He blinked away tears and ground his teeth, silently swearing that he would break Harbinger, even if it was the last thing he did. A moment of relief hit him when he noticed that Garrus and Tali were still with him, but the relief was replaced by cold grief when he noticed that they were the only teammates still moving with him.
Ahead of them, on the last third of the descent, soldiers that had overtaken them somehow sprinted for the light, dying left and right but pressing on. Pumping his legs harder than he'd thought possible, Shepard raced down the incline, dodging wreckage and leaping over charred corpses. An explosion made him stagger, and a beam made him leap for his life, but he kept moving towards the light. The blue-white radiance was the only thing left in the world as his vision seemed to narrow to just the path between him and the pillar, not even noticing the figures moving in front of the light.
As he moved between the inner trio of towers, his attention was caught by one of Harbingers infernal red eyes seeming to focus on him.
He was so close.
Time seemed to slow, and as he looked into that red eye, he cursed the damnable Reaper for the millionth time.
He couldn't fail a matter of seconds from the objective.
The beam shot out and he desperately moved to dodge. Behind him he heard the roar of an engine and as he flung himself to the side, his shields shattered and he felt his skin blistering in the heat of the passing beam, before an explosion threw him forward. He felt his armor breaking and pain lanced through him as metal fragments pierced his body in several places. As he landed, he felt bones break and everything went dark.
He couldn't fail.
He lay broken on the ground mere meters from the objective, the metallic titan towering above him annihilating the rest of Hammer.
"Our entire force is being decimated!" his radio crackled.
The galaxy's fate was at stake.
His left arm was broken, bent at an unnatural angle. Each labored breath felt like getting stabbed. Yet, he somehow still gripped the Paladin in a vice-like grip.
He couldn't fail them.
Gritting broken teeth, Shepard put the Paladin under himself and, with a roar of equal parts pain and rage and defiance, pushed himself to his feet.
The effort had him seeing stars and his vision blurring, but he was standing.
He wouldn't fail.
He staggered forward, towards a small bridge leading to a platform where the light touched down, as red beams continued to blast past him. Harbinger had apparently lost him in the now almost blinding pillar of light. Ahead, three husks charged him, and he lifted the Paladin, somehow having no problem following their movements. As he put one down, he winced at the pain the recoil sent racing up his arm. The second fell just as easily and the third lost its head before he even pointed his gun at it. Staggering on, he saw an armed figure appearing. He lifted his gun again, cursing inwardly. With barely the energy to move, he had almost been overwhelmed by mere husks and an armed enemy with shields might just be too much now.
He wouldn't fail!
He trained the gun at the marauder and it did the same. Before any of them pulled the trigger though, the telltale flicker of blue announced the collapse of its shields, and as it staggered back, its head exploded in a shower of blue blood.
Shepard's mouth twitched, the closest he came to smiling at his good fortune, limping slowly and purposefully towards the center of the platform. As he moved across the bridge, a sudden impulse made him look up. Above him, four blazing red orbs suddenly focused on him. A deep booming voice, filled with menace and anger sounded: "Shepard!"
With the telltale crackle of Harbingers beams in his ears, Shepard leaped for the center of the platform, muscles screaming in pain. As he flew towards the pillar of white light, he thought with some morbid, dazed amusement that Harbinger sounded slightly frantic.
He would win this and nothing would stop him!
His vision became filled with red a moment before everything vanished in blinding white.
Though the slightly tinny voice was almost drowned out by Harbingers booming declaration, Garrus heard the quarian's anguished cry clearly. Through his scope, which had previously been trained at the staggered marauder's head, he saw Shepard vanish in the blinding white radiance even as the Reaper obliterated the central platform. A heartbeat later, the inner towers where blasted, and as they collapsed, the pillar of light flickered, wavered and vanished in a shower of blue-white lightning. Behind the lightning storm, Harbinger took off, turning back towards the sky.
He dropped his Black Widow and put his left hand on the distraught quarian's shoulder, trying to stop her attempt at getting to her feet.
"Tali," he ground out, "lay still."
"No, we have to help him!" she cried, her strained voice cracking as she struggled, her whole body trembling.
"He made it," Garrus snapped, as his worry and the immense pain he tried to ignore bled into his voice. As his other hand grabbed her left shoulder and forced her down, he heard a sharp hiss and felt cold skin instead of the fabric of her suit. He ignored it and forced her down anyway.
"We can't help him. And he won't like it if he comes back to see I didn't stop his girlfriend from killing herself!"
She stilled and snapped her head uncertainly towards him, and he got his first ever glimpse of her face through the cracked faceplate. Oddly confused and abashed, he diverted his gaze to her side instead, where a long, ugly piece of metal had pierced her side.
"We need," he ground out between increasingly ragged breaths, "to take care of ourselves."
She inhaled sharply, tensing under his hands, but otherwise she stayed still.
"Keelah, Garrus," she gasped, pain in her voice, fumbling with her right arm for a medigel pack. Her left arm hung limply.
"It's fine," he gasped weakly, turning his head down the hill again; "I was beginning to worry that I'd lose my scars if I didn't refresh them."
The pain was beginning to get to him. Every word he spoke made him acutely aware that the right side of his face was badly damaged once again. His whole body ached, not to mention how his legs felt.
"Your legs," Tali said, worry filling her voice.
"Ah," Garrus answered, trying for his usual teasing nonchalance, "it's just a flesh wound, take care of yourself."
He didn't miss how pained he sounded. The painkillers were taking the edge of, but he still hurt like hell.
"You bosh'tet!" she exclaimed, worry giving way to concerned anger.
"Take care of yourself, I've got this," Garrus responded, turning his upper body towards his legs and picking up the medigel he'd discarded when he saw those husks charging Shepard. Tali hesitated for a moment before apparently acknowledging that he could handle it himself.
Bending to his left stump, he hurriedly smeared the gel liberally over the wounds, trying to ignore the puddle of blue under it and the pain. His suit had at least prevented fatal blood loss for the moments they had both blacked out.
His other leg got a little medigel, but he couldn't really properly get to it. The large piece of wreckage currently resting on it was in the way, but at least it stopped the blood flow.
He looked up at the agonized, shuddering gasp Tali let out. She had pulled out the metal from her side and discarded it. Now she was smearing the wound with medigel, wincing faintly at each movement.
"Tali?" he asked, concern in his voice.
"I got this, thanks," she answered, her voice hitching slightly, her pain evident. "I'm practically swimming in antibiotics and painkillers," she joked weakly.
Accepting the answer with a frown, he lay back down and looked around. Relief swept through him when he saw Liara and Kaidan walking down towards them. Liara's right arm was a mangled mess and her uniform was tattered and burnt. Kaiden was limping and leaning heavily on Liara. Worry was written on their faces. Further up the hill, more soldiers were helping each other up, an air of confusion, despair and horror palpable even this far away.
Moving his gaze further, he saw Javik helping James up from beneath a mangled metallic body. The relief was tempered with a sudden fear for EDI's wellbeing, before he pushed it down. Her mind was mainly on the Normandy. She was fine. She had to be.
As Tali followed his gaze, she voiced his thoughts.
A crackle and metallic whine blasted into his ears, making him flinch in surprise.
"Did we get anyone to the beam?" A voice asked frantically through the static.
"Negative, our entire force was decimated," Major Coats voice answered, not quite managing to conceal the note of misery in his voice.
"Not quite" Garrus broke in, "Shepard made it. So did some others."
"All squads report, did anyone get to the beam?" Major Coats barked, a note of hope now creeping into his voice. No one answered.
"The closed arms are probably blocking signals," Tali suggested, her voice ragged but confident. She nodded at Liara and Kaidan as they reached him.
"If anyone can do this, it's Shepard," Liara added, no doubt in her voice.
"Yeah, we're not outta the game yet. Loco'll pull through, just wait," James broke in, as he and Javik reached them, Javik nodding silently.
"Alright. The gate to the Citadel is closed. All squads, your orders are to fall back and regroup. Fall back and regroup," Major Coats ordered.
The order was barely finished before the team once again noticed the moans and shrieks closing in around them.
"I don't think we're going anywhere," Garrus said grimly, picking up his Black widow. He shared a glance with the rest of the team and they instantly got into a defensive formation, eyes scanning for the first sign of the enemy.
"All squads, defensive positions!" James ordered, the radio crackling at the volume of his voice.
Further up the hill, the soldiers scrambled to follow his orders.
"Time to settle that wager," Tali said with forced cheer.
"Considering what we face, I will enter this as well," Javik said, tone solemn. A heartbeat of stunned silence followed.
"Hell yeah, loser gets everyone sloshed, including the Commander!" James exclaimed loudly, bringing a small smile everyone's faces.
"I will join too," Liara answered, her smile turning sad.
"Yeah," Kaidan said, nodding, his smile lessening but not vanishing.
Garrus couldn't help but grin widely, his remaining mandible flaring, even as pain blazed across his face.
"Give 'em hell Shepard. 'Cause we sure will," Garrus declared, as the first husk came into view.
I hope I did the scene justice. Any and all criticism is welcome, I'm a grammar nazi myself and I love getting constructive criticism. Flamers will get laughed at. Though I kinda feel like I'm tempting fate here. Do be civil please. Oh, and did I horribly mangle the characters or did I do reasonably? Writing canon characters properly are what I'm most worried about, as it is incredibly hard. Let me hear your thoughts.
Also, I'm a bit worried that there might be cries of Stue-dom later, but I'll leave it up to you to decide when I get that far.
Hope the T-rating is enough, no sex is planned, so it will only be on the gore and pain side that might be worth raising the rating. I'd like to hear if anyone thinks I should up the rating.