Actions

Work Header

Mass Effect: A Hero Rises

Chapter Text

“The target planet is Virmire. You may have heard of it, though perhaps not. The Alliance was, at one time, seriously considering this as a planet worthy of colonisation, equivalent to an Eden Prime or an Elysium. Unfortunately, it is located in just the wrong position, as it would take an incredible defensive network to be set up to ensure its safety, and it’s just something the Alliance are currently not willing to invest in. The Alliance has even approached the Council, willing to lead efforts, but instability along the frontier, quite frankly, scares them off.

Now to why we are actually here. There is a Salarian Task Group (STG) on the planet. They had been tracking anything to do with Saren and his ship and eventually located him on the planet. They have since started their investigation and confirm Saren has a base of operations on the planet and his ship has also been sighted. At the moment, we only have a vague location of where the STG team is, though it is understood they are still alive, or were when the transmission was made.

There are two objectives to this mission. The first is to link up with the STG and learn what they have discovered. The second, and arguably more important, is to find Saren and finally end whatever it is he has planned in that head of his. We will drop in by Mako as always. Anticipate serious resistance from the geth. If this is Saren’s central base, there will be fortifications and…”

Commander, we’ve got a problem.”

“What is it, Joker?”

“Saren’s base, Commander. It is surrounded by enormous defensive cannons. There is no way I could drop you anywhere close to the base or where the STG team could be dug in. I’m going to have to drop you some distance and you’ll have to make your way forward by Mako or on foot.”

“How close can you get us?”

“Without drawing the attention of their cannon? You’re looking at a few clicks, Commander.”

“Get us close as you can, Joker. We’ll do the rest.”

“Aye, Commander. I’ll have you on the ground in five minutes.”

Shepard turned to his team. “You heard the man. Suit up, pack your shit, and get on board.”

Wrex didn’t really need to suit up nor pack his shit. He was already wearing armour and never walked anywhere without at least one weapon, even when on the Normandy. He watched as others put armour on, checked weapons, or filled small packs with supplies in the event they were planet-side longer than expected. He could also see the relationships formed. Ashley and Tali were obvious in their affection. Liara and Shiala had found a common bond. Benezia, though not invited to join them on the ground, hovered close by. Others cut solitary figures. Shepard, as Commander, still kept his distance, though would lead from the front once on the ground. Garrus was a born soldier but awkward as fuck around anyone else. Alenko seemed rather lonely, and even Wrex would admit he missed some of the comradery the pair had shared when they’d fucked. He didn’t regret the decision to stop their physical relationship, knowing the price would be any friendship they had built beforehand. It always does once you involve sex.

Loading himself last into the back of the Mako as normal, he heard Shepard start the engine, rolling it to the edge, hearing Joker call over the radio the marks to get ready for descent. He was as used to these air drops as everyone else, but considering his size and breadth, he still hadn’t figured out how to position his body to stop his head smacking into the roof.

It happened again when they landed on Virmire. Before Shepard even started, he called out, “Who wants out?”

Everyone piled out except Tali and Ashley, no surprise the latter remained, taking over the gun from Garrus, who didn’t mind getting out into the fresh air for once. Alenko took control on the ground as always, though he generally let everyone do what they do best. Liara and Shiala biotics, Garrus was just like Ashley, deadly with assault or sniper rifle, Alenko would mix up his technical and biotic abilities, while Wrex would just run rampage through enemy lines. He’d be left bleeding and sore at the end of the day, but krogan could sustain much more damage than anyone else.

Shepard kept the Mako at a constant speed that only required them to lightly jog. Given they only carried weapons and wore armour, it wasn’t as gruelling as it could have been. The weather was mild, little humidity, even a light breeze at times. Even Wrex thought it was rather idyllic, at least until they ran into geth drones, that rained rockets down on them. Ashley had the Mako’s machine gun singing quickly enough. Those on the ground found cover where they could and did their best to assist.

The intelligence had been right about one thing. The geth were there in force. In fact, there were probably more geth just on Virmire than on all the planets they’d fought geth out in the Armstrong Nebula. If that didn’t prove this was Saren’s most important base, he wasn’t sure what else the turian had up his sleeve.

He quickly lost count of how many geth he put on the ground. He had an assault rifle for distance, shotgun for when they were up close, and his fists if they were within striking range. He could even use his biotics if tempted, but he left most of that stuff to the two asari and Alenko. The trio could mix up their attacks, causing at least some confusion in geth lines, leaving them as easy pickings for the rest of them.

The geth had set up what appeared to be a serious of gatehouses. Wrex had no idea why they’d do it, but that is where the geth well and truly dug in. The big krogan took it upon himself to clear the first one, charging up the ramp, using his shotgun to blast away anything that came within range. One or two geth found themselves hurled over the barricade to the ground below. Once it was all clear, he found the lever to open the gate, strolling back, grumbling about the sheer stupidity of it all.

With each metre they covered, the geth threw more in their faces. Rocket troopers were now a major part of their defences, and it was only quick thinking that kept them all in one piece. The machine gun of the Mako was incessant, Ashley only backing off when it was clearly overheating. Shepard was trying to do about three things at once. Beat the geth. Protect those outside the Mako. And ensure the vehicle wasn’t blown up at the same time. Hard work, and he imagined Shepard inside, covered in sweat, muscles all tense as he tried to make the lumbering machine do what he wanted.

So that’s what he told Alenko, wondering what sort of reaction it would get. Alenko just looked at him and grinned after he’d biotically thrown a geth a few metres. “Don’t tease, Wrex. It’s not funny.”

“Just wondering if you’ve ever looked at him in a certain way.”

“Of course I have; I won’t deny that. But Shepard certainly isn’t interested in men. That is plain and clear.”

“Not sure he’s interested in women on the Normandy though,” Liara muttered.

“Hey, he’s gone rather cold on me, Liara,” Shiala added.

“Least you got your chance with him. He likes chatting to me, there’s flirting, and I think I’m rather blunt at times about what I like and want, but he doesn’t seem to react in the way I’d really like him to.”

“It’s because you’re under his command,” Alenko said, as the group moved out of cover, following the Mako, “He gave into temptation with you, Shiala, because I believe he didn’t think you’d still be with us. As for anyone else, he’s the commander and I guess believes he needs to keep his distance from his subordinates, whether they are part of the Alliance or not.”

Wrex noticed Liara lean into Shiala. “Guess I’ll just have to keep using sex toys then,” she said with a giggle.

“Oh, do tell, Liara.” She met his eyes and immediately blushed. “Come on, you’re over one hundred years old and, if not sexually active with others, you’ll certainly know what to do by yourself. Okay, how about this. Ever had someone else use a sex toy, something like a dildo, on you?”

Liara tried desperately not to glance at Shiala, but the latter gave it away with the shy grin that appeared on her face. “Damn it, Wrex, I didn’t want anyone to know.”

“Embarrassed?”

“No, it’s just private. Shiala and I are… We’ve done a lot of talking, much of it about Benezia obviously, but as we’ve talked, we grew closer. Now there are reasons why I won’t be particularly intimate with one of my own kind, but… well… we experimented a little bit…”

“I have to say, I am enjoying this conversation,” Garrus joked from behind them.

“Don’t you start, Captain Awkward,” Liara warned.

“What? You too!” The turian sighed. “Damn Shepard and his teasing…”

“Garrus, it’s because you are one fucking awkward turian when it comes to the opposite sex,” Wrex bellowed, chuckling away.

“Though it can be endearing in the right circumstances. Chloe seems to like it,” Alenko added.

Can we get back to the two asari pleasuring each other please? Need more details in here.” Everyone froze at the sound of Shepard’s voice, his laughter soon echoing through. “Seriously, guys, how the fuck did you forget you were linked in here? Liara, Shiala, I hope you know Ashley and Tali were very interested in your shenanigans. I thought I was on the verge of getting a free show in here.”

“Shepard, if we can seal these doors, I’m getting my suit off,” Tali exclaimed, Ashley suggesting that sounded like a bloody good idea.

“You can have a free show if you want, Shepard,” Shiala said in such a sultry tone, it even made Wrex do a double take.

“Noted, Shiala. Now, being serious, while I would love to hear all about Liara and Shiala getting intimate with each other, and I know you’re now looking for a hole in the ground to swallow you, Liara, let’s get out heads back in the game.” There was a brief pause before he added, “Liara, if you want to send me a video of yourself and Shiala…”

Shiala leaned into Liara. “You know, it would one hell of a tease. Might just give into temptation.”

Wrex looked back and noticed that, during all the chatter, they’d mowed their way through the geth and at least one of those gatehouses the geth had set up. It was amazing how easily the killing now came to all of them, anticipating the moves of their squad mates without a second guess. Everyone fought with confidence that they’d made the right decision, and apart from the occasional failure of shields, and scuffing of armour, no-one had suffered what he would call a severe wound so far, certainly nothing life threatening. Even if someone was shot, medi-gel would usually do the trick until they could visit Chakwas back on the Normandy. Not always, though. Shepard had already spoken of the young soldier they’d lost on Eden Prime. Wrex knew that still rankled with the commander…The Mako came to a halt with the third gatehouse in the distance. “Garrus, pull out your sniper. You seeing what we’re seeing?

The turian moved to side of the Mako, pulling out his sniper rifle, getting into position. He heard the turian mutter to himself before replying. “I count six armatures, Shepard. I repeat, six armatures.”

Copy that, Garrus. That’s what I have too. Right, this isn’t going to be easy. Ashley will be focusing solely on those. Ground team, you are mopping up the rest. It’s clear this is their last stand. The STG team must be somewhere beyond.”

Wrex would admit that the next few minutes of his life were probably the closest he’d really come to death in quite a long time. The Mako simply couldn’t provide the cover, focusing on the armatures as it was, never stopping as Ashley rarely missed her shot, but everyone could see the Mako was taking a pounding. It was a good enough distraction that the rest could focus on the geth troopers, getting in and around the legs of the armatures.

The geth had some rocket troops, Alenko proving to be rather devious, and the geth surprisingly stupid, as they fired rockets at the ground troops taking cover near their armatures. Wrex wasn’t the only on to roar with joy when the back legs of one armature found themselves blown up by a couple of rockets, the team splitting up as the thing then exploded.

Do that again!” Shepard shouted over the comm, “We’re getting pounded here.”

“Shields at forty percent, Shepard,” Tali reported, “I’m re-routing what I can, but unless you want the Mako a sitting duck…”

The geth weren’t that stupid. What happened once didn’t exactly happen again, but being in and around the armatures was a good enough distraction. Unbeknownst to nearly all of them, Garrus had disappeared and found elevation, and was soon picking off geth troops with ease. Wrex wasn’t the only one to look around for the turian. “Where the hell is he?” Alenko asked, overloading the shields of a nearby geth.

Wrex was in cover behind him, one of the rare instances of using his biotics. “Fucked if I know but he’s doing a damned good job.”

“Got a tear in my eye hearing you say that, Wrex,” Garrus whispered over the comm before there was the sound of another shot. “Right in the optics! Take that, you geth bastard.”

“Anyone get the feeling none of us like the geth?” Alenko asked himself.

Wrex answered that with a blast of his shotgun, a couple of geth trying to sneak up to them. Noticing their numbers had wilted, and most of those armed with rocket launchers had disappeared, Wrex took a deep breath and simply charged for the nearby ramp, shotgun singing as more than a trio of geth tried and failed to stop him in his tracks. Arriving at the top, his shields failed within seconds as gunfire turned his way, roaring as he charged towards the gaggle of geth nearby. He felt himself shot at least a couple of times but that didn’t stop him blasting until his weapon overheated, swinging it in his hands so he could use it to club the last remaining geth units. The very last one, he grabbed it by the head and used all his strength to just squeeze it until there was the sound of crushed metal…

Feeling the rage building up, he walked to the nearby wall, put a hand against it and took a few deep breaths. He heard footsteps behind him. “Just give me a minute,” he warned.

“Okay. But… you okay?”

“Just cooling down, Alenko. But thanks, I’ll be fine.”

“You realise you left none for us?”

He chuckled. “That was the point. Get them out of the way so we move on.”

The Mako was still functional, Shepard leading the way. The machine had taken significant damage, left with the feeling it would soon be abandoned, as it would take a mechanic a few days to get it back into working order. The geth had disappeared, assuming that last gatehouse truly was their last stand. Apart from the rumble of the Mako’s engine, the only things we could hear were the crashing of the waves, the occasional bird whistling overhead, or the rustle of the wind through nearby trees. That word again. Idyllic. Enough to make some men or women want to retire.

“Commander, we’ve got a problem,” Joker called in over the radio.

“Copy, Joker. What’s up?”

“I’ve just landed the Normandy but we are grounded for the time being. The salarian in charge can explain everything when you arrive. Name is Captain Kirrahe.”

“No worries, Joker. We’ll find out what’s going on.”

Shepard managed to drive the Mako back onto the Normandy as the rest of the team spread out. Wrex counted out the salarian STG squad, numbering only a dozen or so. He simply scoffed at the pitiful number. To take on Saren and his geth, unless you were Shepard and his crew, you would need an army.

Shepard greeted the salarian commander, and he could already feel the wary glares of the other salarians around him. He just ignored them, keeping to himself as usual, though keeping an ear out for what was being discussed. The more he heard, the less he liked, figuring that someone should just order a fleet in and blow the damn base sky high, and if the Traverse wanted to get angry about it, then blow them up too.

But then the salarian captain mentioned something that grabbed his undivided attention. “We believe Saren is researching a cure for the genophage. That must be destroyed.”

And that just pissed Wrex off, immediately storming towards the salarian captain, sensing the other salarians grow nervous with each stride he took. Shepard seemed to sense he was closing in, stepping to the side as Wrex jabbed a finger into the chest of the salarian. “Over my dead body, salarian. That is a cure for my people you are talking about.”

“Your people don’t deserve a cure, krogan. You people are clearly a mistake.”

Wrex almost saw red straight away. Instead, he puffed himself up so he towered over the salarian, bumping his chest into the salarian. “My people are not a mistake,” he growled, “And you salarians had best remember that going forward.”

He turned and walked away, the urge to kill all the salarians damn near overwhelming, and he figured if he did that, it would piss Shepard off. In fact, he’d earn the ire of the man and would end up fighting him too. And he didn’t want that.

So he walked away, probably for only the second, maybe third time in his way he backed away from an inevitable fight. He made do with standing by the shore, closing his eyes and just relaxing, letting the rage disappear from his veins. He’d already done plenty of killing today, would likely do a lot more killing going forward.

“Yeah, I don’t think Kirrahe knows diplomacy very well,” Shepard stated.

“I don’t like salarians, Shepard. And I don’t like them when they are telling me that a cure for my people has to be destroyed.”

“I understand, Wrex.”

“My people are dying, Shepard. We need this cure so we can once again thrive.”

“While my heart does go out to your people, Wrex, I have just one question. Would you trust Saren to give you a cure more than myself saying you should destroy it?”

That gave Wrex pause for thought. He’d just heard the word ‘cure’ and thought that would be it. “It’s still a cure, Shepard.”

He turned to look at Shepard, who shook his head. “No, it won’t be, Wrex, and deep down, you already know that. Saren isn’t looking for a cure for the genophage, not when he believes Reapers are coming to destroy everything. Why would he waste time doing that?” Wrex saw that point immediately. “No, what Saren wants is the belief there is a cure, so he can get the krogan on his side, and with you and the geth as his personal servants? He may just end up getting what he wants.”

“Do you think he’s doing any sort of cure though?”

Shepard shrugged. “I don’t know, Wrex. It’s possible he’s doing something about the genophage, but the sort of cure you and your people desperately want? No, I wouldn’t trust in Saren like that. He certainly won’t give you the freedom you want. And you do know I’m right.”

“If I let this go, Shepard, I’m putting an awful lot of trust in you.”

Shepard stepped forward and lowered his voice. “Look, we’ve done a lot of talking, right? About your people in general, but the genophage in particular. I’m not sure what Kirrahe is planning, but he’s got a full blown assault on his mind. So while we’re doing that, we take a look at what Saren has been doing. If what we find is compelling enough, we at least take something that’s viable and give it to some eggheads to see what they make of it.”

Wrex turned away from Shepard, walking towards the water’s edge, giving himself time to think. A cure lay possibly so close, but he knew the human was right. Saren was insane, and there was no possible way he’d make a cure to the benefit of his people. They would end up puppets or worse, under the control of a madman.

More than that, Shepard had proven trustworthy. He listened to Wrex about the plight of his people. He’d helped regain his old family armour when he didn’t have to. Wrex simply mentioned it and Shepard had the Normandy heading there within the day. And while Shepard would probably help in getting his people a cure, he would only do so under the right circumstances. He could even see why Shepard agreed with Kirrahe, despite how much it pained to accept it.

He turned and walked back to Shepard, offering his hand, which the human accepted immediately. “I’m trusting you on this, Shepard. But I know that, one day, you will help my people.”

“You’re a good… man, Wrex. And thanks.”

“Yeah, yeah, let’s not get all teary. No doubt that salarian is cooking up something. Guess we’d better listen in and go from there.”

Kirrahe had a plan all right, and even Wrex had to admit the salarian had a massive set of balls with what he was tempted to try. Shepard listened in as the salarian explained, and apart from one or two technical questions, he wasn’t tempted to try and change the plan. “Sure no-one else is coming this way?” Kirrahe did ask.

“I’m sure, Captain. We are it so we’d best make do with what we’ve got.”

The salarian then made another request, asking if he could borrow a couple of his own people. Shepard didn’t seem that bothered, asking who he wanted. The salarian didn’t seem to mind who, so Shepard selected Ashley and Shiala, Ashley providing fire support, Shiala biotic support. Kirrahe approved of the choices, Shepard heading off to explain details to the rest of the squad.

Alenko would be left to deal with the nuclear bomb.


I was surprised Kirrahe asked for any help from my squad but I guess with the plan he had, he needed some firepower to knock down the front door. Ashley was the most obvious choice considering she would provide excellent fire support. I had thought about Liara, but I figured Shiala had proven her power as a biotic so she was another good choice.

That left everyone else with me. If anyone was nervous, they didn’t show it. In fact, everyone was revved up, ready to go. Most of them had marched from the moment we’d dropped to now, but if they were tired, no-one was complaining. Tali and I had at least had the Mako, not that it was comfortable, but now we’d all be moving on foot.

Walking towards Kirrahe, I let him know we were ready go whenever he was. We then got to witness him provide a rather stirring speech, one that certainly got most of my team ready for action at the same time.

“You all know the mission and what is at stake. I have come to trust each of you with my life, but I have also heard murmurs of discontent. I share your concerns.

We are trained for espionage. We would be legends, but the records are sealed. Glory in battle is not our way.” Wrex snorted at that but remained silent after I gave him the eye.

“Think of our heroes: the Silent Step, who defeated a nation with a single shot. Or the Ever Alert, who kept armies at bay with hidden facts.

These giants do not seem to give us solace here, but they are not all that we are. Before the network, there was the fleet. Before diplomacy, there were soldiers.

Our influence stopped the rachni, but before that, we held the line. Our influence stopped the krogan, but before that, we held the line!

Our influence will stop Saren! In the battle today, we will hold the line!”

The soldiers came to attention and saluted Kirrahe, who returned the gesture before looking at us. I stepped forward, shook his hand. “Good luck, Commander.”

“You too, Captain. Don’t do anything too rash.”

As Kirrahe disappeared with his own team, plus two of mine, I gave my own squad a pep talk. A lot shorter than Kirrahe and a lot blunter. Don’t get dead. If you get a shot at Saren, kill the bastard. Other than that, anyone found in the base that wasn’t part of our team was fair game. As for Alenko, he promised that the bomb would be ready to go when ordered.

“Think it will work?” Garrus asked as we began the long walk.

“No idea. Any sort of diversion is a good one. The more geth that head off to fight them, the better for us.”

Though we were taking the back way, geth drones still patrolled, making short work of them. Figuring we could probably help Kirrahe at the same time, we made sure to disable anything that would help their own progress, such as communications, satellite uplinks, considering what the geth were, and any alarm systems we happened to find. Liara and Tali were tasked with that. They didn’t have to tell me what they were doing, I trusted them to simply do it.

Handling the drones with relative ease, it was obvious that they knew we were coming once again, the team spreading out and taking cover as the geth moved forward. Not wanting to get pinned out, we fired and moved like always, anyone moving being covered by the rest. It was always completely bonkers, with bullets and rockets flying in from the geth, left wishing we carried our own heavy weapons. Well, we had one in Wrex, but he was a bit different…

Everyone was using their abilities, Garrus and Tali with all their technological know-how, aware that Garrus had been a surprising but keen study with the little quarian, and he was fast becoming a master at disabling geth. Liara shimmered constantly in blue. When we’d first recruited her, using her biotics constantly left her drained. Now she could fight all day and simply work up a sweat. No problems otherwise. As for Wrex, he seemed to just enjoy himself as usual.

“Approaching the base,” I reported into Kirrahe.

“Copy that, Shepard. We continue on. Heavy resistance. Chief Williams and Shiala proving most helpful.”

Running into krogan wasn’t a particular surprise knowing what Saren was up to. As soon as they saw us, they charged. Liara used her biotics on one of them, Wrex charged at the other. After taking down the first, we helped Wrex with the second. He complained but I said there wasn’t time to dilly-dally. He didn’t quite understand the expression, so I gestured we should move out quickly. Then he understood.

More geth lay in wait, and we destroyed some geth flyers on the way, recognising they could be used as air support to either stop us or Kirrahe. We were left rather surprised that the geth and krogan seemed to work together at times. I joked that maybe they’d been programmed that way. Liara suggested a form of indoctrination of both of them, considering what Benezia had told us.

“Why didn’t you bring her?” Liara did wonder over all the gunfire, taking cover next to me.

“Though I trust her enough back on the ship, I didn’t want to see her slipping under his influence again.”

“She’s a powerful biotic. She would prove useful.”

“I understand that, Liara. But it’s one hell of a leap to go from basically being Saren’s underling to partnering me on the field here. I’m not sure I’ll ever have that amount of trust. I still don’t really know what to do with her.”

We stood up out of cover as we had a moment of silence. “Tevos has basically told me your people have washed their hands of her. She is persona non grata. Part of me thinks just putting a bullet in her on Noveria would have been fairer on her.”

“I’m glad you didn’t, Shepard.”

“I know you are, but if she’d done the wrong thing, I would have done, and lived with the consequences.”

“I would have understood. It would have been upsetting, but what she did before… I believe she hopes in some sort of redemption.”

“That will have to come after we’ve taken down Saren.”

The base was a real maze, choc-full of geth to kill, a few krogan around too. We found a room full of indoctrinated salarians, figuring out quickly that they must have been part of Kirrahe’s original force. Most of them already had their minds broken, and those released went on the attack, either throwing themselves at geth, one or two even charging at us with whatever weapon they could find. A simple bullet to the head did the trick, but it was something that would rest on your conscience for a while.

We found even more salarians soon afterwards, these in cells. Most were as crazy as the others, but one still seemed to be of relative sound mind, explaining who he was and what happened to him. To call it unpleasant would be an understatement, Saren clearly experimenting on indoctrination. He begged and pleaded to be released, but if he’d had six solid days having that done to him, then he was obviously indoctrinated and beyond trust. When I told him he would have to stay where he was until the end, he didn’t like that, charging at the door a few times before knocking himself out.

“Idiot,” Wrex grumbled.

We seemed to be constantly going up, down, right and left, and even I was left feeling a little lost at times. We consulted the basic schematic of the base, and I think we managed to pinpoint where we were, but whether Saren had managed to build this himself, or he’d found it abandoned, it was perfect for a siege, as the enemy would get lost in the warren of corridors and dead ends.

Finding even more salarians wasn’t a particular surprise, simply amazed that we’d found most of them alive… to begin with. After introducing himself, this one seemed more with it, apparently still to be tortured and indoctrinated. He already knew about what had happened to all the others, so we didn’t have to give him that bad news at least. Offering to release him, as long as we could trust him, we found the console that opened his door. Asking what we planned to do, I told him the plan was to blow the facility. He understood, stating he’d get out of harm’s way as best he could.

If anyone was getting tired, no-one made a peep. My muscles were burning under the strain, feeling my body coated in sweat, but I’d certainly been through a lot worse. I met the eyes of everyone before we moved out, receiving a simple nod that all was okay for now.

Finding an elevator was a moment of respite at least, and I wasn’t the only one feeling confident that we were making headway. Kirrahe reported in, stating they were now really starting to run into the enemy, but for now, they were holding the line. I asked for status of wounded or killed. He told me that wounds had been taken but, so far, no KIAs. That was some good news, at least.

Making it to the top of the elevator, as soon as we stepped out, we noticed a krogan doctor, which made Wrex burst into laughter, his asari assistant, by the looks of it, and a fuck load of husks. Wrex went for the doctor, Liara the asari, the rest of us killed the husks before helping out. “Don’t let them get close!” I said, opting to use my shotgun alongside Tali for simple crowd control. With both of ours blasting, Liara helping out with some biotics, we dealt with them before taking down the asari. As for Wrex, he’d made surprisingly short work of the krogan. “Bloody useless egghead,” Wrex grumbled, kicking the dead body, “Never thought I’d find one of my own in a lab coat.”

“Think he was working on the genophage?” I wondered.

Garrus and Tali quickly checked workstations and consoles around. They downloaded what they could, but I doubted they would have been anywhere close to one. I’d read up about the genophage. Made by the salarians, dispersed by the turians. And I was left thinking krogan science was a long way behind the salarians.

I had a feeling we were getting closer to Saren, and finding another asari who worked for him wasn’t a real surprise. After introducing herself, I pretty much interrogated her for everything she knew. She was surprisingly forthcoming about indoctrination theory, Saren, and also his massive flagship, Sovereign. She even gave me the key for Saren’s lab. No doubt she did all this in the hope, or perhaps belief, I’d simply just let her go.

The bullet that went into her forehead suggested she was rather incorrect in her assumption.

No-one commented as we moved forward, now taking an elevator that headed back down, left even more confused about how high or low we were now in the base. Still, I had a feeling we were approaching the end game. Exiting the elevator, we headed down some steps where we found another Prothean beacon.

“Well, look at that. Didn’t think I’d see one of those again,” Liara exclaimed, “They really do pop up in the most convenient of places at times.”

“Right, stand back. Hopefully my contact with this one goes a lot better than Eden Prime.” Casting a glance back, I added, “And I’ll be fine. It’ll probably hurt like a bitch, but I’ll live… hopefully…”

Stepping towards the beacon, I felt myself lifted up just like the first time. Instead of fighting it this time, I simply relaxed my body and opened my mind to the visions. Unlike the first message, this time, the message wasn’t garbled. I still didn’t quite understand everything, but I now understood the basics. The beacons were a communication system, a warning about the Reapers from the Protheans. There was something else at the end, that I never saw the first time. Didn’t quite recognise that. I figured another meld with Liara would help.

Dropping to the ground, I took a knee and gave my head a shake. I felt exhausted after that, the beacons clearly not designed for someone like a human. I felt the onset of a major headache. For now, I’d just have to power through.

That’s when I looked up and noticed something else. A giant, red… cuttlefish was above us. Holographic, but it also looked vaguely familiar. Heading back up, I walked out onto a platform so I could see it properly, feeling my team gather around me.

You are not Saren.

The clearly synthetic voice boomed around the small room, echoing off the walls. None of us said a word. Everyone, even Wrex, seemed to stand in quiet awe. At least, for a moment… "What the hell is this? Some sort of VI or something?" Wrex asked. The rest of us remained quiet, still stunned at what was before them.

"It's a Reaper. Or, at least, the representation of one," I murmured, "I've just seen something similar in my visions."

Rudimentary creatures of blood and flesh. You touch my mind, fumbling in ignorance, incapable of understanding.

"This isn't just some VI…," Tali stated rather ominously. 

There is a realm of existence so far beyond your own you cannot even imagine it. I am beyond your comprehension. I am Sovereign!

"Fuck me!" exclaimed Shepard, "You're not just some ship Saren found. You're an actual Reaper!" 

Reaper? A label created by the Protheans to give voice to their destruction. In the end, what they chose to call us is irrelevant. We simply are.

"How is that even possible?" Liara asked, "The Protheans disappeared 50,000 years ago. How could you have possibly been there?" 

Organic life is nothing but a genetic mutation. An accident. Your lives are measured in years and decades. You wither and die. We are eternal. The pinnacle of evolution and existence. Before us, you are nothing. Your extinction is inevitable. We are the end of everything.

"Please tell me one of you is recording this," I whispered back to my team. All I got was a sea of shaking heads. "Shit. The Council will never believe this. Not in a million years." I turned my attention back to Sovereign. "You make it sound all so easy. But there is an entire galaxy of races that will stand up and stop you. We'll be ready when the day comes. Mark my words."

Confidence born of ignorance. The cycle cannot be broken.

"Shepard, we've heard of these cycles, from my research. From what I've been able to establish, the Protheans were just the last in a long line of civilisations which have simply disappeared," Liara whispered, before turning to Sovereign, "What are these cycles?"

The pattern has repeated itself more times than you can fathom. Organic civilisations rise, evolve, advance. And at the apex of their glory, they are extinguished. The Protheans were not the first. They did not create the Citadel. They did not forge the mass relays. They merely found them, the legacy of my kind.

"Liara, is it possible?" I asked, "From your research?"

Liara nodded. "I figured there were others before the Protheans. This just confirms it. The Citadel and mass relays must be far older than we realised."

I turned back to Sovereign. "So… You built the mass relays. Why? For what purpose?"

Your civilisations are based on the technology of the mass relays. Our technology. By using it, your society develops along the paths we desire. We impose order on the chaos of organic evolution.

You exist because we allow it.

And you will end because we demand it.

We all looked at each other with concern. Ominous did not even begin to describe the threats being levelled towards us, but also the galaxy as a whole. This was something far beyond our comprehension. Beyond belief, to be honest.

"They're harvesting us! We advance to a certain level they desire then wipe us out!" Liara finally exclaimed, figuring out at least a little of their cause though not reasoning for it, "Why? For what purpose do you do this?"

My kind transcends your understanding. We are each a nation, independent, free of all weakness. You cannot even grasp the nature of our existence.

"Who built you?" Tali asked, "Who were your creators?" Sensible question. Quarians built the geth, so the Reapers… 

We have no beginning. We have no end. We are infinite. Millions of years after your civilisation has been eradicated and forgotten, we will endure.

"Are there any more of you?" Garrus wondered, "Where are the rest of your kind?" 

We are legion. The time of our return is coming. Our numbers will darken the sky of every world. You cannot escape your doom.

I felt my fists clench at my side. The arrogance of this… machine. I couldn't think of much to say, at least to begin with, so I flipped Sovereign the bird, to the mirth of my team behind me, who understood this human reference. "I don't know who the hell you think you are, but humanity has endured far worse than you. Hell, our own history is littered with events of trying to wipe ourselves out. Came close a few times. The galaxy has endured far worse. You may have ended the Protheans. But all I know is this. We'll be ready. And we'll be waiting. You're nothing but threats and hot air."

Your words are as empty as your future. I am the vanguard of your destruction. This exchange is over.

Before I could think of a response, the representation of Sovereign disappeared and all the windows in the office blew out, causing all of us to duck as they were showered in glass.

"Spirits, what was that?" Garrus asked no-one in particular.

"I think you pissed it off, Shepard," Wrex stated with a chuckle.

"Commander? We've got trouble!" Joker reported over the radio.

"Hit me, Joker."

"That ship, Sovereign? It's moving. I don't know what you've done, but that thing has just done a turn that would tear any of our ships in half. It's coming your way. You need to wrap things up there, and fast!"

“Copy that, we’ll get a wriggle on.”

We moved out as a team and heard from the salarians for the first time in a while. In addition to that, Alenko also had good and bad news. The good news was that the bomb was nearly ready for deployment. The bad news was that the geth were closing on his position in heavier numbers. “Should have left him with support,” I muttered, “Joker, anything you can do from your position?”

“Unlikely, Commander. A blast from the Normandy’s guns could just end up killing the LT and setting off the bomb regardless.”

“Fuck! Fuck, fuckity, fuck!” I muttered.

“Commander, I have an idea,” Alenko said.

“I’m all ears, LT.”

Before he could reply, Kirrahe reported charges set, and an almighty explosion happened in the distance. “Well, fuck me, the salarians actually managed it!” Wrex bellowed.

“Commander. I’m going to set the bomb. Short count down in case I’m over-run. Go grab Ashley and the rest and get the hell off of Virmire.”

“Negative, LT,” Ashley retorted, “Commander, Kirrahe and the rest of us can fall back to a safe distance.”

No such thing as a safe distance when a nuke is going to blow in only a few minutes, Chief. Look, Commander, I know this is a bum deal, but this base must be destroyed and… I’m only one man. Save the many, sacrifice the few.”

It was a bum deal, but the man was right. “Everyone, head for the AA tower. We’ll link up with Kirrahe and depart. Go. Now. Ashley and Shiala, prepare for our departure. We need to make sure nothing can shoot down the Normandy.”

“Aye, sir,” Ashley replied.

I opened up a private channel to Alenko. “Kaidan, we still could…”

“Saren is still around here somewhere, sir. You go find him, put a bullet in the bastard, and my sacrifice will be worth it in the end.” I could hear gunfire behind him, the thump of his biotics as well. He wasn’t going down without a fight. “I’ll keep these geth back as long as I can. Once I see the blue of the Normandy disappear, I’ll make sure this baby blows.”

“It was an honour, marine.”

“The honour was all mine, sir. Had a hell of a time. I won’t go to my death with any complaints. Think they could name something after me?”

I couldn’t help chuckle. “I’ll make sure it’s some sort of school. Definitely biotics.”

Thank you, sir. Now, get Saren for me. I’ll do what’s required.”

I figured the Normandy could have got down there, but with all the geth around, there was a chance even my ship could end up toast. So I joined the rest, laying down fire at the incoming geth and krogan. We were all now pissed off, sliding in beside Ashley. She looked at me and her face conveyed a million emotions in one. “We’ll talk back on the ship, Chief.”

“Aye, sir. We’ll make the bastards pay.”

Then Saren arrived, and I saw red, standing out of cover and blasting away with my assault rifle. The bastard had strong shields, and returned fire, enough that my own shields failed and I slid into cover. “That all you got, you indoctrinated cunt!”

"An impressive diversion, Shepard. The geth were utterly convinced these salarians were the real threat. I just hope you know that this was all for nothing. The deaths of these salarians. The soon to be death of your colleague. Such a waste. You obviously don't know what's at stake here. And I cannot let you continue to interfere with my plans."

"What the hell are you doing here, Saren? What possible reason could you have for supporting a Reaper?"

"You've seen the visions, Shepard. You know what the Reapers are capable of. They cannot be stopped."

"Bullshit, you pathetic piece of shit!"

Saren took a step forward towards me, pointing a talon as he yelled. "Don't waste my time, and theirs, on pointless revolt and petty freedoms. Have you not seen what happens when you try to fight? Look at the Protheans. They were annihilated. We were lucky to even have the beacons to warn us."

"So we should just give up without a fight? Is that your grand plan?" I retorted rather sarcastically.

"Is submission not preferable to extinction, Shepard? Trillions dead for no reason other than they wanted to fight, to protect something simply not worth saving, compared to the power of the Reapers."

"You really believe that the Reapers would let us live? You’re fucking delusional! I mean off the fucking deep end. I've seen the visions, too. It was nothing but an annihilation. An extinction. I've spoken to Sovereign. There will be no peace. We will not be allowed to live. They only want our destruction."

Saren just shook his head. "We cannot win this fight, Shepard. The Council won't understand that. None of the galactic races will understand that. We are ruled by emotion instead of logic. But we can work with the Reapers and we may be spared."

I laughed. "Work with them? You’re insane! Indoctrinated! No-one without a screw or two loose could possibly think this is a good idea. Submitting without a fight and our inevitable death? What's the point? I choose to live. And I choose to fight!"

"Ah, you misunderstand. Yes, I have joined with Sovereign. I had hoped this facility would protect me. That is why I've been studying the effects of indoctrination. And I've learned that is my saving grace. I won't be fully indoctrinated as Sovereign knows how capable I am. He needs me to complete his task of finding the Conduit. And then I will be spared. Whatever the case, we must work with the Reapers to be spared on their inevitable arrival."

"Tell me about the Conduit. What is it? Maybe we can work together to stop the Reapers?"

Saren almost laughed at my suggestion. The only reason I was still talking was to give my team time to get into position. "Shepard, the Conduit is the key to your destruction and my salvation. Finding the location is the only reason why I have not been fully indoctrinated."

Now it was my turn to laugh. "You're a fool, Saren! You're already indoctrinated! Sovereign already has you under his power. You're nothing but a puppet with Sovereign pulling the strings. It's pathetic that you could even think you're still in control."

Saren took another step forward, the pair of us barely half a dozen steps apart. I had to give respect to Saren. He appeared fearless about the fact my, and no doubt at least a dozen other weapons, were currently aimed at him. I quickly peered around behind Saren and could see the geth still holding their own positions, weapons still aimed, but still not firing. As far as Id was concerned, Saren and I may as well have been alone. I only had eyes for the turian waiting for the perfect time to strike.

"You misunderstand again, Shepard," Saren replied calmly, as if talking to a child… or an idiot, "Sovereign does need me. Once I find the Conduit, I've been guaranteed a reprieve from what is to follow. That is my only hope."

I lowered my gun as I stood out of cover, trying a different tact, though sensing plenty of weapons aimed in my direction. Sometimes this worked. Others, well… "Join me, Saren. It's not too late. We can work together. We can find the Conduit. We can stop the Reapers together. We'll explain what's happened to the Council. It… may be difficult to explain. But surely that would be better than witnessing the end of civilisation as we know it? How can you possibly justify the annihilation of every organic in the galaxy? Join me and my team, Saren, and we can beat the Reapers together."

Saren just shook his head, almost sadly, as if sorry for me. "No, Shepard. I no longer believe any such victory would be possible. The Reapers are too smart, and too powerful. They have millions of years of experience to deal with the likes of us. You've seen the visions. My only hope of survival is to work with them."

I aimed my gun again, finger trembling on the trigger. I'd tried negotiating. Now I let the anger flow. "You cowardly piece of shit! You were a Spectre. The best of the best. And you swore a vow to protect the galaxy from any and all foes. And now you turn your back on the very people you vowed to protect. You know what, Saren. Fuck you. Fuck you and the Reapers."

I pulled the trigger again and again.

And again nothing happened.

Saren raised an arm and I found himself unable to move, trapped in stasis, groaning in frustration as Saren stepped forward quickly, grabbing me around the throat and lifting me off the ground. His strength was rather surprising as I tried to undo the grip of his talons.

"I'm not doing this for myself, Shepard! How can you not see that? This is our only hope that any of us would survive! But you continue to interfere with my plans. Noveria. Feros. Therum. I had everything organised. No-one would have been any the wiser if you hadn't received your own vision. You are dangerous. You are a problem. You must die."

And Saren continued to squeeze, raising both hands to my throat and the talons surrounding it, to stop my inevitable suffocation as my throat continued to be constricted. I was already starting to feel light-headed as he struggled wildly. I couldn't believe the strength in Saren's arm.

"Let him go, you bosh'tet!" Tali cried, charging out of cover, shotgun raised as she ran towards Saren, taking at least two shots. They impacted into his shields, but again caused no damage, Saren raising his other arm and flinging a warp at her, Tali diving out of the way into cover just in time.

That was just the distraction I needed, as Saren turned his attention back to the me just in time see a fist flying towards him. My fist connected square in the turians' jaw and I dropped to the ground, immediately shaking my hand as a turian’s jaw is rather hard. Saren turned and ran back to his board, chasing after him, pistol raised firing wildly, nothing hitting it's target, as numerous other weapons finally opened as well, the geth returning fire once again. Saren was quick, getting on his board and floating away as I continued to fire, none of my shots managing to pierce his shields.

"Fuck!" I shouted as Saren disappeared from view.

"Commander, there's no time. You need to go now!" shouted Alenko over the radio as the Normandy descended above them.

"Let's go, people! Move! Move! Move!" I shouted, gesturing towards all the survivors dotted around the AA tower. It took only seconds for everyone to run up the ramp of the Normandy. I was the last to board slowly, turning around to look around one last time.

Putting a finger to my ear, I asked, “How long, Alenko?

“Thirty seconds, sir.”

“I’ll keep the channel open, Kaidan. How you doing down there?” I asked as I the Normandy began its ascent.

I heard the chuckle. “I’ve had better days, sir. But… Thanks. For giving me a chance.”

“Want me to speak to anyone when we get back?”

“Yeah, just one person, Shepard. Tell my dad I…”

He didn’t get to finish his sentence as I watched the explosion. I could only bow my head in respect, whispering a quiet prayer. I was not a religious man at all, but at times like that, you could only pray that he would now be looked after by some sort of higher power. As I turned back into the garage, the only thing I could promise Kaidan Alenko was that I was going to make Saren pay.


The post-mission briefing was difficult for everyone. I praised Tali for coming to the rescue regarding Saren. She was rather embarrassed but still managed to take it in good grace. Wrex was pissed off that Saren got away so easily. Liara melded with me and at least could make more sense of my vision, so that was something at least. Ashley was beside herself with guilt and grief. I knew the two had built up quite the rapport during the mission, everyone had, but she was taking it harder than most.

Dismissing everyone but Ashley, I sat back and let her get everything off her chest. “You made the wrong damned choice, sir,” she stated rather harshly, though I noticed her wipe her cheeks.

“You know I would have saved everyone if I could. But the simple fact is I saved you, Shiala and the salarians. It is the burden of command do a reason, Chief. I had to make that call. It was a shit call to be left with having to make, one I hope I don’t have to do again. But if I was left with the same decision, I would choose the many, not the few. Alenko understood and he died knowing that.”

“Nuclear fire though… No-one deserves that.”

“You’re right, but at least it would have been instantaneous. He wouldn’t have felt a thing.”

I watched her take a couple of deep breaths. “This sucks, sir. I’ve already seen too many people die since the bloody geth…”

“We’re marines, Chief. We’ve all seen death too many times.”

“How do you cope, sir? With all that you’ve done already?”

“Fight on in their memory. Make the bastards who did it bleed then die in retribution.”

“Revenge?”

“In a way. Already got payback on Haliat for what he did to Elysium. Now I’m going to make Saren pay for all his insanity, and for making me have to leave Alenko behind.”

“Will we have a memorial service for him?” I nodded. “I’d like to do a reading, if possible.”

“Of course, Chief. We’ll do it tomorrow. Think it’s best we just… take it easy tonight.”

No-one was really in the mood for much conversation as we ate dinner, everyone heading off to be alone with their thoughts pretty much straight away. I headed back to my quarters, sat down at my desk, and started to write the letter required. I’d never had to write one before. Even the one for Jenkins had been written by Anderson. I still had to report in to the Alliance and let them know what happened.

“Commander, I’ve just received word from the Citadel. The Council are requesting the Normandy return immediately.”

“Any reason why, Joker? We have the location of where Saren likely headed next.”

“No, Commander. Just that your presence is expected straight away.”

“Well that’s just fucking stupid,” I mumbled, “Okay, Joker, take us to the Citadel and I’ll see what they want.”

It took me a couple of hours but I eventually finished the letter of condolence. I read it back at least half a dozen times. It just sounded so hollow. I really liked Alenko, he was a good man, and certainly didn’t deserve how he died. But there are regulations to these letters and they just come across as… well, a little fake, to be honest.

I was just about ready to hit the hay when there was a knock at the door. I opened it to find Ashley standing on the other side. Without a word she simply stepped forward to hug me. Ashley Williams didn’t cry. Or, at least, I’d never seen her cry. She may have done it in private, but for her to do it in front of me? That was something new. I shut and locked the door and simply closed the embrace.

I held her for as long as I felt her shudder from the tears until she finally seemed to calm down, feeling her relax in my arms. I raised a hand to gently stroke her hair, my other arm wrapped tightly around her body. I inhaled her scent, and even after everything, there was a trace of deodorant and perfume. I could feel her body moulded into mine.

She leaned back and her kiss wasn’t a surprise. I responded straight away, though it didn’t last long, resting our foreheads against each other. “I really want this, Shepard,” she whispered, “I want to end this shit day with something… good…”

“Ash…”

“I know you like me, Shepard. I know you want me, but I also understand why… you pull back.”

“I have to. I can’t get close to anyone under my command. It will cause… problems, for me.”

She met my eyes. “Can I stay the night? Maybe you can just… you know, hold me?”

“You know it won’t just be that.”

She leaned forward and kissed me again, this time deepening it immediately. My body reacted of its own accord, pushing her back until she was pressed against the wall, hearing her whimper as I broke the kiss and gently bit her neck. “Shepard,” she breathed. I kissed back up, our mouths meeting. My mind was in turmoil. I’d just lost a good friend. I really shouldn’t be doing this with her. I really wanted to see her naked.

It was a real battle of wills. I could have slid my hand down her trousers and they’d have come away wet. I definitely poked her, which caused her to smile even while kissing me.

I broke apart again, taking a step back this time. She looked part pleased, part shattered. No doubt her mind was in complete turmoil. I walked to the bathroom and grabbed a towel, handing it to her. “Have a shower first. Get rid of everything from today. And before you ask, yes, I’d like to join you, but no, I’d better not.”

“I’ll just walk out naked.”

I couldn’t help chuckle. “If you want, by all means. But I’ll still be sitting here dressed.”

She disappeared and I soon heard water running, sitting back at my desk, signing off the letter and sending it off. I’m sure Anderson would be in contact soon enough to offer his thoughts and condolences too. I was sitting back, reading reports, when I looked at the time and realised she’d been in there quite a while.

Knocking at the door, there was no response. “Ash?” I asked softly. Still no response. “Ashley?” I asked again.

Taking a deep breath, I opened the door to find her sat under the water against the wall. It had turned cold by now. Taking off my jacket, I immediately covered her as I sat down next to her, holding her in my arm as I turned off the water. I heard her teeth chatter so stood up to grab a towel, kneeling in front of her and at least drying off her hair.

Sitting down next to her again, she slowly but surely sat up before straddling my lap, and I got a good look at her naked body for the first time. She was gorgeous. Slim and athletic. Breasts were probably a C if I guessed correctly. Little fur above her pussy. And the tell-tale signs of battle we all knew well. She leaned down to kiss me again, my hands going to her naked back. I felt a long scar on her lower left, a bullet wound on her upper right. As for her hands, they were busy unbuckling my belt.

“Fuck it,” I muttered, which made her, of all things, giggle.

Cock released, it didn’t take long for her to slide down it, gasping as I filled her. Once my length was inside her, she kissed me even harder. “I need this, Shepard,” she breathed, “Please.”

“Wrap your legs around me.”

She did that as I managed to lift myself up, Ashley hanging on as I carried her to my bed. Resting her back, I threw off the rest of my clothes and joined her, immediately sliding inside her once again. “Wow,” she whispered, “You’re fucking built, Shepard. I mean, totally hot.”

I couldn’t help chuckle at her tone. “You’re not bad yourself, Chief Williams.”

“Not bad?”

“Gorgeous,” I replied with a smile.

She draped one arm around the back of my neck, caressing my cheek with her other arm, as we slowly coupled. Her lip trembled from time to time as no doubt her emotions were all over the place. All I did was gaze into her eyes the entire time, leaning down to kiss her every so often, letting her know how beautiful she was, or how good she felt the rest of the time. Feeling her legs wrap around me, it changed the angle and made her cry out. “Fuck that’s good,” she moaned.

“We didn’t even have foreplay, Ash,” I mentioned.

“I just wanted this tonight, Shepard. I just wanted… you. I wanted us. After everyth…”

I kissed her before she could finish. “I understand. Grief works in weird ways.”

“Done this yourself?”

I stopped as I was buried inside her. “After Elysium… I went wild. A long line of… you know, they meant nothing, it was just…” I trailed off. “This is different, at least. I genuinely liked you for starters.”

She pushed me off her, showing her surprising strength, before she mounted me, resting hands on my chest. “Just so you know for next time, Shepard, I love to ride cock.” She gyrated as I was buried inside her, watching her face light up as she moaned. “And I think I’m going to love riding yours.”

Ashley Williams was right about one thing. She definitely loved riding my cock as she had her first orgasm within a few minutes. I thought she would have wanted to stop but she kept going, and enjoyed a second one a few minutes later. That’s when I grabbed her firm arse, got my legs into position, and really fucked her. That made her lean down, resting her forearms on the bed, lips pressed against mine, as I felt the oncoming orgasm.

“Give it to me,” she whispered.

“Fucking hell,” I grunted, “Going to be a good one.”

I buried myself fast and hard a few times before I finally felt eruption. The sense of relief was palpable, immediately relaxing once I felt empty, Ashley shuffling as she straddled me as she relaxed against my chest, resting one of my arms on her back. We lay back in silence, listening to each other breath.

“Well,” she finally said.

“Guess it was bound to happen eventually,” I admitted.

“I really needed that, Shepard. I needed to feel… alive. Is that wrong?”

“No. As I said, grief is a funny thing. People have different ways of reacting. I certainly feel… content now.”

“Can I stay?”

“Ashley, I’m not going to fuck you then kick you out. You’re definitely staying.”

She lifted herself up slightly. “Promise me this won’t change things. I know I’ve…”

I leaned up, kissing her softly. “It won’t, and it wasn’t just you. I could have kicked you out. Glad I didn’t now!”

That earned a smile before suggesting we should definitely shower again. There was enough hot water for a quick wash before we dried off and headed to bed. Ashley definitely enjoyed spooning against me, feeling her wriggle her butt as she got comfortable. As I felt her relax, I whispered into her ear, “You are beautiful, Ashley Williams.”

She didn’t reply to that, feeling her squeeze my hands that she was holding. I remained awake until I sensed she had drifted off to sleep. It was a good way to end a shit day and I guess what happened was always going to happen. Circumstances could have been better, but I think we both needed to blow off steam and we dealt with grief in similar ways.

I could now only wonder why I was being summoned back to the Council.