John Shepard stands as tall as he can, the pain in his healing legs be damned.
His friends slowly raise their hands to salute him as he walks towards the Normandy, Kaiden at his side. He’s wearing his N7 armor, still a little too big on him despite the weight he’s gained back.
It’s heavier than he remembers. It feels like it’s slowing his body down. But he keeps his head up and takes one step after another, determined not to falter or trip.
He left his cane at Kaidan’s house. He’s still recovering from the war, but he’d been practicing walking without the cane for weeks now. He was going to be the strong Commander Shepard they all remembered.
Joker meets him at the entrance to the ship. “Commander. She’s missed you.”
“I missed her,” Shepard said, looking up at the ship.
“Come on. Kaidan’s going to get jealous if you keep eye-fucking the ship like that,” Joker said, the door sliding open.
The crew followed Shepard onto the ship. There were too many of them to all fit into the elevator, so Shepard stood aside and let them go down in groups. Shepard used the time to look around the familiar ship.
“Welcome home, John,” Kaidan said quietly.
Shepard nearly smiled at the word. He’d grown up an orphan, joining the Alliance and bouncing around from post to post. Home had been a vague concept to him for so long.
Until the Normandy.
The Normandy gave him a home. His crew gave him a family.
Finally, only he and Kaidan remained. Kaidan waited for Shepard to move towards the elevator though, giving him time to finish looking over the ship.
“Let’s go,” Shepard said at last.
They entered the elevator, and Shepard closed his eyes at the familiar shake it gave before starting its descent. Kaidan’s quiet laughter had him opening them, though.
“What?” he asked.
“Remember how slow this thing used to be on the SR-1?” Kaidan said. “We’d have distress calls to get to, and the elevator would take so damn long to get us up there. The ones on the Citadel weren’t much better.”
Shepard shook his head fondly. “Those damn elevators.”
That felt so long ago. He thought of Ashley, and the amusement cleared from his face. He was here to keep a promise to his fallen friends.
The elevator doors slid open and they stepped out. Shepard straightened up as he was met with the sight of the Memorial Wall.
His crew stood to the sides of the Wall. Shepard approached it, Kaidan letting him go on his own.
Anderson’s name had been added. So had EDI’s. Shepard looked over the names of all his lost friends, thought of all the things he could’ve done different.
But nothing would bring them back. He’d saved Kaidan on Virmire at the cost of Ashley’s life. They’d cured the genophage at the cost of Mordin’s life. They’d freed the geth at the cost of Legion’s life. He’d saved the council at the cost of Thane’s life.
He’d shot Anderson. Killed EDI to stop the Reapers.
“I have a kid because that crazy salarian died to cure the genophage,” Wrex said, breaking the silence.
“The Collectors didn’t kill me because EDI got rid of those bastards,” Joker said, not meeting anyone’s gaze.
“I’m alive because Ashley isn’t,” Kaidan said. He stepped forward and put a hand on Shepard’s shoulder. “I’m sorry you had to make that call, Commander.”
“I watched my team- my friends –die on Akuze. I had to live with that,” Shepard said. “But this…” He reached out, lightly running his fingers over Anderson’s name. A mentor. A friend. Another lost life. “We made it count. They sacrificed their lives, but it wasn’t in vain. We beat the Reapers.”
Shepard stood tall in front of the Memorial Wall, his heart heavy. He saluted the wall, saluted the memories and sacrifices of people he’d considered family.
“Thank you,” he said, his voice as strong as their wills had been.
The others copied him, each member silent but respectful. Shepard felt a swell of pride and sorrow at the sight.
They stood there for a good while before slowly dispersing. Shepard remained, and he knew Kaidan was behind him.
“I keep wondering-” Shepard started.
“Don’t, John. Nothing can change what happened. I’ve thought it over a million times, too. You couldn’t have saved them,” Kaidan said. He reached out, taking Shepard’s hand. “I know it’s not fair of me to ask. You can tell me to shut up and go space myself. But why did you save me back then?”
Shepard reached out, cradling Kaidan’s cheek in his palm, meeting his eyes. “I tried to tell myself it was logical. Maybe part of it was. You were with the bomb, and we needed to make sure it went off. But…how could I ever leave you behind, Kaidan?” He swallowed the lump in his throat. “I left her to die. And I can’t even say I’d do it differently if someone made me choose all over again.”
Kaidan pressed his forehead to Shepard’s. “I was guilty over it for so long. Guilty that you had to live with the weight of that, and guilty that she’d died because I lived. Worst survivor’s guilt I’ve ever endured. But I don’t think she’d be bitter about it, John. She was willing to sacrifice herself for the fight against Saren. And she cared about both of us.”
Shepard didn’t want to say it out loud, so he kissed Kaidan instead. How could he disrespect Ashley’s loss by saying he was grateful Kaidan had survived? He’d loved Kaidan even back then, even before he knew it. Logically, yes, he’d needed to make sure the bomb went off. Emotionally, he’d needed to get Kaidan to safety.
Another name on the Memorial Wall. Another weight to live with. He’d shoulder it.
But he wasn’t alone. Kaidan had his hands on Shepard’s shoulders, warm and firm.
“Come on. Let’s go join the others,” Kaidan said at last. He’d noticed Shepard struggling to stand for so long.
Shepard turned back to the Memorial Wall, reading over the names one last time. He’d survived the war. He’d made it back here to honor them.
“Yea. Let’s join the others,” Shepard said, putting a hand on Kaidan’s back.
They’d lost so much to this war. But he was back home with his family. Home with Kaidan.
They rejoined the crew. They drank and shared stories. They laughed and mourned and celebrated. They lived.
Shepard would commit the Memorial Wall to memory. But he would keep living, keep honoring those sacrifices and those people.
“Everything okay, Commander?” Kaidan said.
Shepard gave him a small, genuine smile. He was still recovering, physically and emotionally. That didn’t stop him from nodding.
“Everything is fine, Kaidan. Just feels good to be home at last,” he said.
And it really did feel good to be back home.