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after the fire, new maps are drawn

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Nyx Shepard is prepared to die. 

It’s actually a funny thought. Funny, because she thought she was prepared to die about a dozen times within the last hour. Funny, because she technically already died before when the first Normandy went up in flames. Funny, because when she was growing up and running with gangs on the street she never thought she’d live past the age of 21. 

But it isn’t until this very moment, as she looks ahead at the Crucible, at the glowing swath of Earth, at the void of space beyond, that she thinks, oh, this really is it, huh?

She’s been living on borrowed time already. 

She staggers forward. Each breath she takes hurts, makes her body ache so deeply with an intensity she's never known. But she reaches for her pistol and her hand does not shake. 

The Catalyst talked of the inevitability of cycles and being doomed to repeat history, but as far as Nyx is concerned, that’s bullshit. After all, the Reapers swooped in to destroy life before the chaos ever got as far as the Catalyst claims — who the hell is to say it would’ve even got there? It shouldn’t be up to any one being to decide that. Before she was a commander, she was an engineer and she knows all about computing algorithms and quantifying data. And that means, she knows that all the data and algorithms in the world can’t account for every possible anomaly. Hell — she’s seen synthetics and organics get along, helped facilitate it. She knows it's possible.

And another thing she knows is that the Catalyst is wrong . It’s probably not lying to her; it just doesn’t know better because it’s not just organic life that changes from cycle to cycle, but synthetic life too. The hardware might be destroyed, but if there’s a backup, the software will survive. She’s an engineer. She knows this. She tells herself this. 

Destroying the Catalyst will destroy the Reapers’ software and hardware. The blast, though, should only wreck the hardware of other synthetics, as long as there’s a backup, right? 

(It might not be the same; it might not be the same, and she thinks of EDI with a pang to her chest, but there is no other way to exit this fabricated cycle that the Catalyst has locked them into.)

She cannot afford any doubts. Any other choice means listening to the thing that started all this in the first place. 

The vast expanse of space looms over her. When she was a little girl, she used to look up at the starless sky over New York City and dream of what lay beyond. She felt so small.

She feels so small now. But she knows what she has to do. 

Nyx takes another step forward. Her body aches. She lifts her gun and she aims at the power source. One bullet and the glass cracks. Two and it shatters. Three and she braces herself — she thinks of Anderson and that view they shared just moments ago; of EDI, her face twisting into a smile as she finally understands what it means to be alive; and … of Garrus, looking at her as everything around them crumbled, telling her that he loved her, and knowing that she wasn’t going to come back. 

I’m sorry , she thinks. I’m so sorry .

And she pulls the trigger for the fourth time. 

The world shakes. There is light — overwhelming light from the blast of heat — as everything around her, everything she’s ever known, collapses into dust and debris. Everything hurts. 

She is so tired.  

The last thing she remembers seeing is the stars.

Oh, she thinks, it’s beautiful up here. 

Admiral Hackett is tired.

In his time with the Alliance military he has seen many wars end and he knows that the moment the fighting is over, a different sort of battle begins. It’s always quieter, not the sort they write songs or make vids about. It’s the clean up, the letters home, the collected dog tags strewn across battlefields. And this time, the entire galaxy was the battlefield and when they do a first roll call, there are so many missing names that Hackett doesn’t know where to start. But he is very good at what he does (so he likes to tell himself), even if he needs a moment to collect himself, even if he needs a moment to mourn that ever growing list of names, and take a deep breath. 

Eventually, he starts where it ended. 

The dispatch team finds Commander Shepard’s body in the wreckage of the Citadel shortly after they find Anderson’s. He gets the confirmation from the men on the ground and feels a weight settle into the center of his chest. He’s lost a lot of men in his time and certainly, he prepared himself for the worst case scenario here — they all saw that blast from the Crucible; no one could survive that. 

Shepard did what she had to do. She won this goddamn war for the whole galaxy. 

He instructs the teams to branch off, with the majority focusing on cleaning and reconstruction as they wait for the other planetary forces to join. One, though, will return with Shepard and Anderson, and Hackett will start to make arrangements for the funeral. He wants to do this personally. It is the least he can do for them. 

“Report back once the turian and asari teams have landed.” He reaches to end the transmission. “Hackett out.”

Holy shit — “ A voice crackles through the comm link, frantic and frenzied. “Sir! Sir — do you read me?”

Hackett braces himself for the worst. “What is it, soldier?” 

“Sir — you’re not gonna believe this, but I think she’s alive .” 

Miranda Lawson is very good at what she does. 

So good, in fact, that she was not about to let a four billion credit investment go to waste before Cerberus destroyed the Collector base. As she rewrote Commander Shepard’s DNA and synthesized her tissues and rewired her nerves, Miranda Lawson also included a failsafe. 

Up until this moment, however, Miranda assumed that the failsafe kicked in sometime before the suicide mission, or sometime during — Shepard does a lot of dangerous things and narrowly evades death more than the average Alliance soldier or Spectre. It was not something she ever mentioned to Shepard, a burst of Element Zero and electricity designed to shock her vitals back into functioning. It would work once, just once, and it wasn’t designed for the intensity of, say, blowing up a high energy source controlling an army of Reapers. It was intended for something like a bad fall or a shuttle crash — an unpredictable and possibly fatal, but completely routine accident.

And then she hears a rumor, slipped to her by one Liara T’Soni, that Nyx Shepard is alive .

It can’t be , Miranda thinks, and she turns to her terminal to go over her calculations and all the simulations she ran while she meticulously reconstructed Shepard’s body. Surely, Miranda would’ve known if her failsafe was strong enough to withstand that blast from the Crucible. 

It can’t be true, and yet Miranda knows that if there’s any person out there able to defy death not once, but twice, it’s Shepard. When she created this failsafe, Miranda failed to account for the fact that there was something deeply wired in Shepard’s DNA that never gave up, even in the face of certain defeat. 

But even if Shepard narrowly avoided death, she will need to recover. That will be a long road and there is no one who knows the mechanical workings of Shepard’s body more precisely than Miranda. The Alliance doctors will need her help and her expertise, there is no doubt about it. She’s certain they’ll message her almost immediately. 

Of course she is going to say yes. There is no doubt about that in her mind — Miranda will race as fast as she can to rush to Shepard's aid. It is the right thing to do, certainly, but she also owes Shepard this much. Without Shepard’s assistance, Oriana might be dead — hell, Miranda herself might be dead. And also, well, Shepard is a friend. Perhaps one of the few people in her life that Miranda can actually say deserves that title. 

She has never had many friends. It was more important to be self-reliant. But Shepard showed her that it was okay to lean on others. Okay to ask for help.

Miranda does not want to do this because she feels like she owes Shepard; she wants to do it because she wants to see Shepard’s face again, that blazing look in her eyes, that infectious curve of her smile. 

When she’s with Nyx Shepard, Miranda feels less lonely.

Miranda wants her back, not because it is the right thing to do, but because she is selfish and she would like to see her friend again. Does that make her a bad person? She tries not to dwell on that; there is a job to be done and no one can do it better than her. 

“Admiral Hackett,” says Miranda, when the call comes in. “I figured you’d be needing my expertise.” 

Jeff Moreau is racing as fast as he can. 

The moment they got the news from Hackett, Joker knew exactly what he needed to do.

Inside the Normandy, the tension is palpable. EDI’s lifeless body still sits next to him in the cockpit. She had started to short circuit or something like that the moment the red light that pulsated from the Crucible caught up with them. Joker hates himself for not noticing when it happened. He’d been tearing himself up over leaving Shepard behind in the wreckage.

And then he heard something that didn’t sound good at all — a metallic screech that clawed at his insides — and looked over to see EDI’s limbs jerking, sparks flying around her joints. Her eyes met his and she opened her mouth as if to say something, before her neck violently snapped forward and she was nothing but a chrome shell next to him. 

He didn’t have time to react, but when he managed to land the Normandy and walked out into the sun, squinting, he felt like he was walking through a dream. The nightmare was over, but he still didn’t feel like he was fully awake — not without Shepard, not without EDI. 

He still feels like that, actually, like his body is on autopilot as he navigates the ship. (Of course, Joker on autopilot is still better than the actual autopilot of the ship, especially with EDI offline — he’s not going to think about that, not going to dwell on the growing ache in the center of his chest). 

Garrus stalks around the cockpit and navigation area, bristling if anyone approaches him. The only time he speaks is when he comes up behind Joker and asks for the ETA. Joker resists the urge to playfully quip something like “ We get there when we get there .” Actually, he doesn’t resist much. He answers truthfully, because they’re in the same boat here (literally and figuratively). 

Everyone else is silent and tense. Tali nurses a three-day old hangover. Chakwas only leaves the infirmary to eat. Liara shuts herself away in her quarters, concentrating on her work. Vega and Cortez don’t really leave the docking bay. Javik lurks in his room, not that he ever came out much before. Traynor flutters around, looking for something to keep her busy. Kaidan brings everyone glasses of water without prompting. It feels like they’re all stuck in some variation of autopilot, mechanically going around the Normandy along pre-programmed flight patterns. 

The thing is, this has happened before.

The thing is, last time it was different.

Last time, none of them thought there was a chance Shepard could be alive. They’d all seen her blasted into space to save his own stupid ass. They’d drifted apart after two years, each of them lost and grieving in their own way. 

But this time, this time there is a chance. This time, instead of splintering apart, they come together. Joker gets the feeling that even if they hadn’t gotten the call from Hackett, they would still band together. He’s not sure what changed — he knows he’s grown as a person, so maybe everyone else has too. Maybe with the enemy defeated for real, they can finally celebrate. Maybe with the war over, they’re all just tired and want to cling to one another as the chaos around settles down.

“We’re almost there,” Joker says automatically, feeling someone come up behind him. As expected, it’s Garrus, though this time he’s not alone. Kaidan is with him, Joker notices, and so are Tali and Liara. Everyone from the original crew. Well, everyone alive and here. 

“Christ, Garrus, did you bring the whole platoon? Give me some space to work here.” 

“They followed me.” Garrus sounds brisk, but not completely annoyed, as he glances over his shoulder to acknowledge the others. 

“We wanted to check up on you,” says Kaidan. “See how you’re doing and…” He glances at EDI, her metallic body still positioned in the co-pilot’s seat, unmoving as her blank eyes stare at nothing.

“I can take her down to Engineering,” offers Tali. “The Admiralty has informed me that all the Geth have entered a similar state — offline and unresponsive. But there are still some faint signals, so it might be the same for EDI.” She pauses. “Of course, we still do not know what it will take to get her back online, but…”

It’s hope. It’s more hope than Joker had a second ago. It’s hope, but Joker doesn’t want to lean on it. They already have one miracle — the fact that Shepard is somehow against all fucking odds alive . Another would be selfish. Another would be stupid.

He feels his throat tighten. 

“The statistical likelihood of getting her back online is low,” says Liara, her voice soft and soothing. “But then again, so was the probability of defeating the Reapers.” She reaches to touch his shoulder. His first instinct is to brush it off, but her fingers are soft and warm and he feels something squeeze in his chest. He leans back in his seat.

Hope might be foolish, but hope is all they have. Hope got them through this once.

“Thanks, Tali.” He nods. He is older than he was last time. He has grown as a person. He can take help when it is offered, does not push it away in order to maintain fabricated independence. Look at him — thinking of pretentious phrases like “fabricated independence” without cringing. That’s growth, if you ask him. Shepard would get a kick out of it. She will get a kick out of it. “Keep me updated.”

— 

Samantha Traynor is ready to help. 

When they arrive at the hospital, Miranda Lawson greets them and gives them an update of the situation, and Dr. Chakwas badgers her with questions. Samantha met Miranda before, at that party that Shepard threw back on the Citadel, though she spent most of the time too intimidated to approach Miranda. Besides, Miranda had been more preoccupied with Jack then, glaring at each other from across the room. She’s still intimidating now — gorgeous, smart, and absolutely smashing — but she immediately tells them exactly what is going on and what she has been doing to keep Shepard alive. 

There is something about the way Miranda carries herself that reassures Samantha. 

The hospital itself has seen better days, certainly, but all things considered, it is standing and it has enough supplies and that is more than most places. Shepard is hooked up to a half-dozen machines, and the hospital staff has traded her N7 armor for a protective covering of bandages and casts. She wears a ventilator, to help her breathing. Her eyes are closed. Miranda tells them that she is still unconscious, that they do not know what it will take to rouse her awake. Samantha swears in that moment that she will be here when Shepard wakes — and that Shepard will wake.

She is not a doctor, but she is a fast learner and she immediately volunteers to help in any possible way she can. Shepard taught her that all things were possible if she just set her mind to it. The best way to honor that, Samantha knows, as she logs into the hospital terminal and begins to type. 

— 

Kaidan Alenko is here when Shepard wakes up. 

Well, he’s not the only one here. The entire crew — plus Miranda Lawson and Jack, who arrived a few days after they did and declared she was going to crash in her old hidey-hole on the Normandy — is here. And technically they’re not all in the room. They kinda take turns going in and drifting out into the hallway and waiting area, except for Garrus, who hasn’t left Shepard’s side since they’ve arrived. 

And technically, Shepard only wakes up for a moment, her eyelids fluttering as she strains to open them, before she falls back into a deep slumber. 

It isn’t much, but it is the first sign of consciousness since they recovered her body. It is something to cling to. And cling to it they do.

Garrus paces around like an anxious cat. Kaidan swears he can see a fluffed up tail. He’s been on edge since they got the call from Hackett, which Kaidan can’t blame him for. They all went through this once before, and back then it was Kaidan in his place. And back then, there hadn’t been any hope — just dark despair to fall into. This time, though, there’s a chance and somehow that makes everything better and worse at the same time. Better, because she could survive. Worse, because if she doesn’t, then the fall will be all the more harder.  

Things have changed since then, of course. He’s not in love with Shepard anymore, but he loves her all the same. But it’s not hard for him at all to empathize with Garrus right now. Kaidan doesn’t know if Garrus has left this room at all since Shepard’s eyes flickered open for that split second, not even to get a drink of water or to get some rest. Tali diligently brings him food, at least. Once, when Kaidan couldn’t sleep, he walked past the room and saw Garrus still awake in the seat next to Shepard, watching her unconscious form. 

He looks tired, but Kaidan knows that Garrus won’t ever admit that. Not to him. Maybe to Tali or Liara, but both of them are preoccupied with other concerns — Tali with the rebuilding on Rannoch, that she coordinates with calls and messages, and Liara with her Shadow Broker duties. Kaidan knows that if he doesn’t say something, Garrus will run himself into the ground.

“Hey,” he says, walking up to Garrus, who’s leaning against the wall next to Shepard’s bedside. Garrus doesn’t reply. “How’re you holding up?”

“I’m fine,” replies Garrus, automatically. 

“You need a break,” Kaidan says. “Seriously, have you left this room at all?”

“I’m fine.”

“Garrus, you haven’t slept in days.”

“I’m fine .”

“Get some rest. Go back to the ship.”

“I’m not leaving her side.” He casts a glance towards Shepard.

“I’ll call you the literal second something happens,” says Kaidan. “You know she’d get on your ass if you didn’t rest.”

They glare at each other, till finally Garrus sighs, turning his head sharply away.

"Fine," he says, his mandibles flaring. Kaidan thinks it's Garrus's way of saying thank you. 

"We’ll be here." And that is Kaidan's way of saying don't worry; we love her too. 

If there is one thing he knows, it’s that: that everyone in this room, waiting outside, sleeping in chairs and slumped against the walls, loves Shepard. They might not think of it as love, but Kaidan is too old to be cynical, too weary to be jaded. Some people might go in the opposite direction. Hell, most people might go in the opposite direction, experience making them distrustful and disillusioned. But if there is one thing this war has really hammered into Kaidan, it’s the enduring capacity that all life everywhere has for hope and for love.

That makes him tear up a little now, but thankfully the only other person in the room right now is unconscious and can’t see that he is crying. 

Does this all make him incredibly idealistic? Maybe it does, but he knows it’s true. He knew Nyx — he knows Nyx — and he knows even if she would’ve never admit it that everything she did was out of love. He knows that she loves her crew fiercely, knows that the crew loves her the same way. This war would not have been won without that. Not just that, but the love that everyone in this damn galaxy had for each other. They came through in the end. She had to show them the way, but they got there in the end. 

He looks at Shepard, at her sleeping form, and in this moment, he’s certain that she will pull through. 

— 

Tali'Zorah nar Rayya is crying. 

Thankfully, no one can tell.

Whenever she has a quiet moment to herself — which is not that often, as she flutters between helping with repairs on Earth and coordinating with the Admiralty for reconstructing Rannoch — she finds herself tearing up again. It happens before she can stop herself: when she looks at Shepard, her body weak and frail and smaller than Tali’s ever seen it; when she find Garrus slumped in the chair next to Shepard’s bed late at night, holding her hand tightly; when she stumbles back to the Normandy and sees Joker lingering in Engineering, looking at EDI.

She wishes she had better news to tell him.

At least it’s something, though. Koris tells her that while the Geth are as a whole offline, their bodies nonfunctional, there are certain nodes that they’ve been able to get some signal on. Unfortunately, the current infrastructure in Rannoch isn’t stable enough to get the Geth back up and running, that, coupled with the destruction across the galaxy, doesn’t make this an easy feat. It’s possible, Tali knows, for the Geth and for EDI, but it will take a lot of hard work over time. 

None of this will be easy. But then again, fighting the Reapers wasn’t easy. They will do this step by step, bit by bit, but they will get there eventually. 

The important thing is that they keep taking steps. A million small steps will add up to something. As she watches Shepard day after day, Tali reminds herself of this.

The first eyelid flutter was cause for clamor, everyone in the waiting area badgering Miranda, Chakwas, and Samantha with questions that they had no answer for. Every time a new update comes in, Tali can see the three of them brace themselves. But she can’t help it; none of them can. Miranda, Chakwas, and Samantha do the best that they can to answer. They do the best that they can to provide news. But day after day passes by and the updates are scant and Tali learns that the best thing she can expect some days is nothing. 

Sometimes the updates are not good. Tali does not like those days. 

It is almost a solid two days of no news, which Tali supposes is better than bad news, when Samantha nearly crashes into her when racing down the hallway.

“You’ve got to come,” says Samantha, before Tali can ask what is the matter. “ Now .”

As she follows Samantha, Tali braces herself for the worst — especially when she sees everyone gathered around Shepard. But before she can ask, before she can steel herself for devastation, Chakwas flicks her gaze up.

“Look,” she mouths, and Tali does, and that is when she sees Shepard’s eyelids slowly start to open.

There are still many tubes running through her mouth and nose. The machines still beep. Her body is still broken and frail and wrapped in bandages. But Shepard takes a deep breath and slowly her eyes open. 

“Garrus,” she breathes out. The machines beep even faster. She takes a long pause. It's clear that talking is painful, that it's taking a toll on her. Tali watches. Shepard inhales, strained and laboured, and opens her mouth again to speak. Everyone is quiet. Tali holds her breath, waiting to hear her words. Shepard slowly turns her head as Garrus reaches for her. She looks right into his eyes, her fingers wrapped around his hand.

“You look like shit.”

“Well,” says Garrus, and his shoulders relax slightly. "What can I tell you? Some things never change."

At that, Tali cries. Of course she cries. She doesn’t even try to hide it this time.

James Vega is holding his breath. 

Unlike the rest of the Normandy crew, he has spent relatively little time in Shepard’s room while she was in the coma.

Something about it freaked him out — not that he’d ever admit it. Seeing someone so strong, so powerful, so full of light totally knocked out and unconscious chilled him. It was different from seeing a dead body. He’s seen plenty of those. It was sad, sure. Never got easier. But this was different. He can’t even figure out why, exactly, except there’s something about it that makes him want to look away. 

He’s lost people before. He’s lost a lot of people before. But losing Shepard wouldn’t make any damn sense.

Of course, Shepard’s one tough bitch, so she isn’t going anywhere. He wonders why he ever doubted. 

He waits for Garrus to leave — ‘course he's been at her side since the moment they got to the hospital, but now that she’s awake, he’s actually remembering to do things like eat — and then slips into the room. For a second, James is unsure what to say — usually, he defaults to jokes, because it’s easier to laugh things off than face them.

But the minute he enters the room, Shepard gives him that same shit-eating grin he’s used to, and that anxiety melts away.

“Your turn for the Victory Tour?” She’s propped up in the bed with a shit ton of pillows, a drink with a little purple straw next to her. 

“Lola, you gave us all a freaking heart attack.” He laughs and takes a seat. “Don’t ever do that again.”

“I’ll do my best.” She tilts her head back a little, jutting her chin out triumphantly. “At this point, I’d be surprised if I’m actually capable of dying.” 

“Yeah, no shit — what’s this, twice now you’ve come back from the dead?”

“Something like that.” It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but he sees a flicker of something else cross her eyes for a second. And yeah, James does blink and by the time he looks at her again, she’s smiling and he wonders if he was just projecting.

“How many people have come by so far?”

“I lost track,” she says. “I’m surprised you got a Garrus-free moment. He’s been hovering.” Her words could be interpreted as being annoyed, but there is a softness and affection in her voice that James recognizes. Shepard isn’t usually soft — not that she’s hard or cold or anything like that, but there’s a fine line between her usual warmth and the softness in which she says Garrus’ name now. 

Maybe he’s overanalyzing. He’s probably overanalyzing, which is stupid, because he hates when people do that. Cortez does it all the fucking time. Usually, James just takes everything as it comes.

Stupid Reapers getting in his head. 

He doesn’t want to interrogate that thought, and he figures she doesn’t either, so James does what he does best and slips right back into a joke.

“I didn’t want him to get jealous of me,” he teases. 

Shepard almost looks relieved (maybe he’s making it up again?), as she tosses her head back and lets out a barking laugh. 

“In your dreams , Vega.” 

Steve Cortez is waiting. 

When James leaves Shepard’s room, Steve searches his face.

“You holding up?” he asks.

“‘Course I am, Esteban.” James laughs, throwing his head back, as he reaches for a can of soda. “Can’t believe you have to ask that.” 

Steve knows he’s lying. 

When they are finally alone, James collapses into a chair and he holds his head in his hands. Steve says nothing. He just walks over and sits next to James, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. They’re both quiet. Steve gives James’ shoulder a little squeeze and slowly, James leans towards him. 

What they have isn’t romantic — they both know that. In fact, that’s why it works. It’s a love and a trust, not the same as what Steve had with Robert, but something just as strong. Wherever James goes, Steve will go with him, whether that means back to Earth or to some distant planet or for N7 training. They’ll have each other’s backs. Whether that means being there with the Kodiak for pickup, or kicking back and watching biotiball, or holding each other after an emotional day, it doesn’t matter. 

After a few long moments, James pulls away. He sits up straight, an easy smile coming to his face, and Steve knows it will all be alright. 

— 

Garrus Vakarian is finally alone with Shepard. 

As it turns out, everyone wanted to see her. Garrus didn’t mind. He stayed when Liara came in and threw her arms around Shepard. He stayed when Tali came in and out, excitedly telling Shepard about her new home and what awaits her on Rannoch. (He did, admittedly, leave when Kaidan approached — not because he dislikes Kaidan, but because, well, he figured he wasn’t doing anyone any favors by lingering). He stayed throughout all the visits, or he came back inside right after, and while Shepard smiled and laughed and listened, he watched her. 

He knows her face well. There was always fire there, ever since the moment he met her in the Citadel back in the day. Over the years, it never went out, but in this last fight against the Reapers — as the bitter calculus of war took its toll — he could see it flicker. And it flickers now. It’s subtle. He doesn’t think anyone else catches it, because she laughs when she’s supposed to and she smiles and she asks questions and she makes jokes about almost dying.

But now that they’re alone, the smile fades from Nyx’s face and she closes her eyes for a long time. He doesn’t say anything at first, just takes a seat next to her.

“Do you want to talk?” he ventures, knowing exactly what the answer will be.

“No.”

“I think you should talk,” he protests. “You’re always trying to get me to talk. What did you say — don’t keep things bottled up, Garrus; it’ll just eat you up . You can’t do that either. You’ve been pretending all day.”

“That’s different.” She says nothing else. 

Garrus feels a flicker of annoyance, his mandibles flaring slightly. She’s stubborn — Spirits, she is so stubborn, and that’s what he loves about her. But over the last year, he’s seen everything chip away at her. Commander Shepard is a hero — fearless and self-assured and always onto the next right thing; but she is still just a person, even if she hides that away. Even though she’s always been persistently insistent about getting the crew to open up and take some time for themselves, she rarely extends the same grace to herself. Only with him, really, and the fact that she’s bristling now makes him wonder if something has irreparably changed.

He does not want that to be true. She might be stubborn, but so is he. 

“Either you’re going to talk to me,” he says, leaning forward, “or I’m going to do what you do and ask every possible question that I can think of till you finally budge.”

Her eyes finally flicker open and she turns her head to him, raising a single eyebrow, before rolling her eyes.

“Fine, fine, fine . What do you want me to say, Garrus?” It starts out light, like a tease, like they’re so used to slipping into, but her voice falters when she says his name. “That I’m feeling sad? That I’m thankful? That I’m relieved? That — “ She presses her lips together, a thin tight line and turns away from him. 

Finally, after a long moment, she speaks. 

“I’m supposed to be dead. I should be dead.” She struggles to sit up, the machines next to her beeping as she does so. But the tubes tangle and she winces in pain, gritting her teeth together. She doesn’t look at him. Her fist curls in the hospital bed sheets. This isn’t the first time he’s heard this from her; he remembers that night in the Normandy’s battery, before they’d even slept together, where they shared a drink and she talked about living when the others did not. 

“It’s not fair —" Her voice cracks and she turns her head even more so all he can see is the side of her cheek and the sharp curve of her nose. “I should’ve died all those times ago, but I’m still here and Anderson is gone, and Mordin is gone, and Ash is gone, and so many others are gone, and that’s not fair —"

“Can’t you accept that maybe, just maybe you deserve to live?” His words come out angrier than he expects, almost on the verge of shaking. It feels like he’s choking, and it only intensifies  when she snaps her gaze to him, her brows furrowed and lips curled like she’s about to shout. 

He braces himself, ready to fire back with all the good she’s done and how maybe she doesn’t realize it but she’s better off alive and how the galaxy needs her, how people need her — hell, how he needs her.

He lost her once. He lost her again. Far be it from him to tell her how to use her life, but there is something about the way she talks about herself, like she’s just disposable and that she’s just accepted the fact that her life will be a short one because that’s what she deserves. Garrus recognizes this, because once, it had been him. 

Oh, sure, he snapped out of it. But it’s always been a part of Nyx in a way he cannot even begin to fathom. 

It makes him — well, sad.

Because she deserves to live. Because she deserves a long life. Because she deserves happiness and she deserves not to be a tool for the Alliance or the Council or Cerberus or the Reapers. 

If she wants to argue with him, Spirits, he’s gonna tell her exactly why. 

But she doesn’t say anything. Her mouth twists a bit, then falls as her lip quivers. She slumps back on the pillow, turning to him. When she finally speaks, the edge in her voice is gone.

“I’m so tired.”

He is quiet, the remnants of his outburst bitter in the back of his throat. She looks… so small. Humans always do. She once chided him for saying that, boasting that she was actually quite tall for a human female, thank you very much. But with all the tubes running in and out of her, the machines beeping, the casts and bandages, he is reminded of just how fragile human bodies are. 

"I know.”

Neither of them speak. 

“The first time I went to a hospital, I was four years old,” she begins, and it is a story that Garrus does not know. She has told him about her past, more than she’s told anyone, but this is the first time he’s heard about this particular hospital trip.  “I don’t remember getting there. I just remember waking up. They found me — well, me and my mother. We were sick. It was a bad strain of some flu-like virus that hit particularly hard that year. She would’ve survived if she could’ve gotten to the hospital earlier, but she didn’t have health insurance. I think our landlord heard me crying and then the medics found me collapsed on the floor next to my unconscious mother. They didn’t think I would make it.” She pauses, looking at the IV in her hand. “But I did.”

“Nyx…”

“And there was another time I was 15 and got into a bad fight and got cut up real bad — remember that scar I used to have? I basically bled out on the street. Didn’t think I’d make it then.”

He realizes what she’s doing, and he lets her go on. 

“There was the Blitz and then the Geth and then I actually did die…” Her voice trails off. “I died. I should’ve died. I didn’t die but so many people did.”

“I’ve said this before.” Garrus chooses his words slowly, carefully. “And I will say it as many times as I need to before you believe it. You can’t change what happened. All you can do, really, is move forward. And you deserve to move forward.” She makes a move, as if to protest, but he cuts her off and stares her down. “Don’t give me any bullshit — you deserve to move forward. You deserve to live. Not just survive, but live .” 

He’s probably rambling. He probably sounds stupid. 

But when she turns to look at him, all that insecurity fades away. She doesn’t say anything, just lifts a hand to touch him gently on the mandible. He reaches for her hand. They stay like that for a moment, till finally, she groans and rolls her eyes. 

“God, I hate it when you’re right .”

He chuckles. “Get used to it.” 

She sighs and closes her eyes, interlocking her fingers through his, and rests her hand back on the side of her bed. It is quiet again, but Garrus doesn’t mind. He misses their comfortable silences and honestly, he’s thankful that even after the Reapers and the war and everything else, they can still easily slip into them. She shifts her head slightly, so that her cheek grazes the back of his hand, and when she speaks next, her voice is soft. 

“I don’t want to fight anymore, Garrus.” 

“You don’t have to. None of us have to.”

Her eyes flicker open. “But I don’t want to do nothing . As nice as retirement sounds,” she adds, with a huffed exhale of laughter, “I think we’d get really bored really fast.” 

“Well the good news, Nyx,” he says, “is that there’s a lot to do out there that’s not fighting. And the better news is that we have the rest of our lives to figure out what that is.” He pauses. “And the best news is that for once — that’s gonna be a long, long time.” 

— 

Jack is rambling. 

“I get it, Shep. Look, I get it more than any of these assholes.” She perches on a table, one leg hooked up on it, the other dangling freely. “You know how many times I was supposed to die too? I stopped feeling guilty though.” She juts her chin out. “You should too. You deserve it more than I do.”

It’s the most passionate she’s felt in weeks

In passing, Shepard mentioned Rannoch and the Geth and Tali and there was something in her voice that — well it reminded Jack of right before Grissom, when she’d been curious about what that job would entail, but wasn’t sure if someone like her could be a teacher. Jack isn’t sure what to call it, but it’s the feeling of wanting to do something, but holding your own self back because you feel like that’s not what someone like you is supposed to do. But that’s bullshit. Jack knows this now. Hell — it was Shepard who taught her that. 

Two years ago, Jack looked at Shepard and saw an Alliance bootlicker — a fucking war hero —  working for Cerberus of all things, and all she wanted to do was snarl and scream at Shepard. But the two of them are more alike than Jack ever thought — both came from nothing and clawed their way to meaning something , to doing something that mattered in the end. Shepard found her way first, and because of that, so did Jack. Maybe she took the long way around, but she got there in the end. Shepard gave her that. 

If she can give Shepard something just as important in return, maybe they’ll finally be even. 

So she prods about Rannoch. About the Geth. About EDI. Jack always forgets that before Shepard was, well, Shepard , she was a kid who was good with an Omni-Tool and a knack for taking things apart and making them work better. Hell — it was Shepard who brought it up first, mentioning that Tali had just been by and showed her some simulations she’d run.

“You should help Tali,” says Jack, because subtlety has never been her strong suit. “I’m sure everyone on Rannoch is gonna need all the fucking help they can get — plus, it’s helping but it’s not fighting, you know?” 

Shepard looks at her, like she’s seeing Jack for the first time, and there’s something about that intense, violet gaze that’s always made Jack want to snarl. Well, the first few times, anyway, because Shepard did that thing where when she looked at you, you felt like she was looking right into you. Now, Jack’s more or less used to it, and this time she stares back at Shepard with that same intensity.

After she leaves the room, Jack feels someone watching her. It’s no surprise that when she turns the corner, Miranda Lawson waits in the shadows.Their eyes meet and Jack does not hesitate to push Miranda against the wall, a low growl in her throat. It’s been too long — Jack can’t remember exactly when their shadowed trysts turned from hatred-fueled fucking into something else , and she’s not even sure what this something else is. What she does know is that Miranda’s gasps are the sexiest noises she’s ever heard and also, that she doesn’t hate Miranda like she once did. In fact, they get along, even outside of the fucking. 

They just pretend not to. You know, for appearance's sake. 

“We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” says Miranda, pulling away from the kiss. Jack takes this opportunity to press her lips to Miranda’s throat.

“The sneaking around makes it more fun.”

After a few more heated kisses, Jack pulls away, her hand snaking down Miranda’s side and resting on her hip.

“You know,” says Jack. “We could use you at Grissom. Now that you’re not sucking Cerberus’ left tit.”

She doesn’t know what compels her to say this. She shouldn’t want to see Miranda every day, because they’ve made it crystal-clear since the beginning of whatever this is. It is physical, and it is nothing more. It is shadowy trysts and heated nights that give way to empty mornings. Nothing more.

That was, of course, before the war.

But Jack steels herself. Jack braces for a rejection. Miranda can be infuriatingly cool and there is nothing that pisses Jack off more than when Miranda replies with one icy word. 

“Interesting offer,” says Miranda slowly. She lets no emotion slip into her voice, but Jack swears she sees those perfect lips turn up a tad. “I suppose now that I’m a free agent, I should put my skills to use.” 

“You do have a lot of useful skills,” Jack says and she feels like smiling , like grinning like some complete idiot, because there is a future and Miranda might be in it. She doesn’t smile, though, because that’s too much right now, and instead, she just kisses Miranda on the mouth.

— 

Kasumi Goto is watching. 

That’s what she does best, yes? She watches and she waits and she sees things that no one else sees and she hears things that no one wants to be heard.

Oh, yes, she did say hello to Shepard, of course, nearly scaring Garrus when she popped into view (not that he would ever admit it — tough guy with all those scars doesn’t like to let people know he jumps behind his girlfriend when something spooky slips from the shadows and startles him! Ha!), but mostly she watches and she listens. 

She listens when Shepard asks Tali about EDI, about if there is anything they can even do for her, and then the two of them talk about the bits and pieces of tech and what goes where and new ways to make things spark and old ways that maybe they haven’t been thinking of — and well, it’s a side of Shepard that Kasumi has always liked, because once upon a long time ago, Kasumi knows, Shepard was almost like her. 

Different, though, of course. Shepard didn’t take things because it was fun; she took things for a reason, but there was still a thrill in the figuring-out-how-to-take-things part of taking things. Shepard’s always had more of a cause than the average person, which Kasumi thinks is a wonderful thing. Not for her, of course, but it is wonderful that there are people like Shepard out there to do things like help people and save the galaxy from certain destruction. 

“If you don’t go help Tali, then I will,” Kasumi declares. “I had a lot of fun working on the Crucible, you know. You were right — a big, brilliant puzzle to solve. It’s not going to be as fun anymore.”

“You can still come if I do.” Shepard has always been particularly annoying when she is particularly right. 

“Hmm, I think I’ll pass for now — but no promises. I still owe you a drink, right? I’ll get to it eventually. You have my word. A thief’s honor, Shepard. That means a lot.”

And Shepard laughs, and it’s a sound that Kasumi has always liked. That’s another thing they have in common — Shepard laughs easily, despite everything she’s been through. She laughs easily and she prompts others to laugh. But there is something different about Shepard now. A good different, Kasumi decides. When she laughs, there is just something more to it. 

She will go to Rannoch, Kasumi hopes, at least. And she will solve puzzles and help people and do her brilliant, special Shepard thing. And Kasumi will watch and she will smile, and when the time is right, she’ll take Shepard out for that drink. 

Kolyat Krios is different. 

He has Shepard to thank for that. Because of Shepard, Kolyat got to spend time with his father in those final moments. Because of Shepard, Kolyat finally forgave him. Because of Shepard, he’s decided to turn a new leaf and find the purpose that his father never got to. 

He hears the news from Liara T’soni, who has apparently taken it upon herself to keep everyone informed. 

He is thankful. He is so thankful. Shepard gave him a second chance; she has given so many second chances. It is only right that she gets her own. 

He steps out onto the viewing deck of the ship he is on, and he thinks of his father, now, and he imagines a dark blue sea stretching endlessly into the horizon. Perhaps Shepard almost crossed it — but she came back. The sea returned her, for it was not her time. 

One day, he will cross that sea, and his father and mother will greet him with open arms. But not yet. There is time, for him and for Shepard, and for that, he is thankful. 

— 

Jacob Taylor is a father. 

Brynn went into labor just moments after the Crucible blast hit, her body triggered by the shock of it all. There was a strong chance the baby would not make it, born months early in a scattered, wartorn galaxy, but they were able to rush to a makeshift hospital on a space station somewhere and get her into ICU. 

The day that Jacob gets the news that Shepard is alive, that she's survived despite all the odds, that she’s able to hold conversations and sit up in a hospital bed, is the same day they’re able to take his daughter off life support and get her into her mother’s arms for the first time.

“I know you didn’t like my name idea.” Brynn tangles her fingers in Jacob’s sleeve as he cradles their newborn daughter. “But you have to admit… it’s fitting.” 

“You were right,” says Jacob. 

“Also, Shep is a cute nickname.”

“Okay, I don’t think you’re right about that.” 

Urdnot Wrex is right.

There wasn’t a doubt in his mind that Shepard would be alive. He wouldn’t be surprised if there was some Krogan back in her blood, that one. Takes a damn lot to kill a Krogan. Takes a damn lot to kill Shepard.

He can’t visit. He’s on Tuchanka, leading his people with the chance that Shepard gave them. 

Soon, there will be a whole generation of baby Krogan. He will tell them about the human who gave them life, who saved them all from certain extinction. Her name will live on, long after she does.

He is glad, though, that she gets to live a little longer.

One day, they’ll meet again. One day, he’ll shake her hand and give her a proper celebration. But till then, he will be hard at work.

Solana Vakarian is visiting. 

For once, her brother actually remembered to call. Palaven is recovering, slowly, but surely. The same is to be said of everywhere in the galaxy, of course. Solana is doing all that she can. Everyone is, really. 

This is actually the first time she’s meeting this Commander Shepard, the infamous human who stole her brother off the Citadel three years ago and somehow seduced him. She’s skeptical, but the moment she walks into the hospital room, Nyx Shepard greets her with an excited shout, hobbling over on crutches and throwing her arms around Solana. She nearly collapses and Garrus has to swoop in to steady her, but she laughs and smiles.

“I’m so glad to finally meet you,” Shepard says. Solana can still hear the laughter in her voice and see it in her eyes, and well, it is completely clear to her why her little brother is so smitten. 

“Please don’t say anything too embarrassing,” says Garrus. Solana may not have seen her brother in some time, but she knows him well enough to sense the awkwardness and that makes her smile. He might be some respected government official now, but she knew him when he collected justicar vids and action figures. 

“Are you kidding?” Shepard laughs and turns to smile at Garrus. The way she looks at him almost makes Solana want to look away, so full of affection it is. “Please give me all the embarrassing Vakarian childhood stories.” 

Solana does, and Garrus groans, and pretty soon the three of them talk like old friends. Solana did not realize just how much she missed her brother till this moment. She always tried to pretend she didn’t, because she was a grown adult who could handle herself. But right now, she misses their childhood, playing games on the Citadel and secretly staying up late to watch action vids together. 

“So you’re headed to Rannoch?” she asks, once she and Garrus are alone, catching up by themselves. Shepard mentioned it in passing, and Garrus clarified what that meant. As it turns out, while they definitely bonded over shooting things, Garrus and Shepard also share a love of tinkering with tech and making it work just right. Helping the Quarians is a way to continue to do good — just without the killing things part, added Shepard with a laugh. 

She didn’t say it, but something about her voice felt tired. And from the way Garrus reached for her hand, Solana knew not to press.

But it’s just the two of them now, and Solana knows her brother, and she just wants to make sure.

“That’s the plan,” says Garrus. “I’m sure they’ll need a lot of things calibrated over there. And at least I’ll be able to eat the food.”

“I think this will be good for you,” says Solana, because if anyone is going to be honest with Garrus Vakarain, it’s going to be his big sister. “More constructive than going vigilante on Omega.”

“Hey, I did a pretty damn good job at that.”

Solana laughs, then tilts her head.  “Keep in touch this time, alright?” She pauses, then adds, “I don’t want to go years without hearing from you again. It’s hard, you know.”

Garrus is quiet, before he replies.

“I know. I’ll do better this time.”

“You better.”

“This time, she’ll make me,” he says.

“I knew I liked her.” Solana pauses again. “And Garrus?”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t let this one go.” 

Dr. Chakwas is skeptical.

As she reviews Shepard’s final medical assessments, Chakwas can already tell that Shepard is antsy and impatient and ready to just dive back into the fray. She looks over the charts, then raises a single silver eyebrow as she fixes her glare on Shepard, who sits on the medical examination table and swings her good leg back and forth. 

“Do I pass, doc?”

Chakwas rolls her eyes. 

“You need to take it easy, Shepard.”

“I will, I will.”

“I don’t believe you for a second.” She sighs “Not many people can say they’ve come back from the dead not once, but twice. You really ought to think about properly retiring. Find a beach planet somewhere and live off margaritas.” 

To her credit, Shepard pretends to listen. But Chakwas knows it's futile — Nyx Shepard is headstrong and stubborn and won’t be able to rest if she can help. At least, this time, it’s not Reapers this time. Thank God for that. At least, this time, it is fixing things and rebuilding things and new beginnings, not endings. 

“You’ll have to make sure to take these nutritional supplements,” says Chakwas. “And make sure to keep hydrated. Rannoch is arid by human standards.”

“Take my vitamins and drink water,” repeats Shepard. “Anything else?”

This time, when Chakwas looks at Shepard, her gaze softens some.

She cares about this stupidly recalcitrant young woman, who’s always blazed a trail of fire and light in the darkness. If it were up to Chakwas, she’d prescribe Shepard with permanent vacation. And even though Shepard won’t rest, well, at least she can impart some wisdom. 

“Remember to live a little, Shepard,” she says. “Please, kick back and have a drink every once in a while. If not for yourself, then do it for me, alright?”

This time, when Shepard looks back, her eyes are serious. She’s still smiling, but when she speaks next, it isn’t a light joke. 

“Alright,” she says. “I promise, I’ll take it easy.” 

“Doctor’s orders,” says Chakwas. “I’ll have a team keep an eye on you.” Now, she laughs, a weight off her shoulders. Only time will tell if Shepard actually takes this advice, but at this moment, at least she seems open to it. Chakwas will take that. And as for the future, well, she’ll just have to make plans to go to Rannoch herself. 

 “Medically prescribed margaritas,” laughs Shepard. “Now there’s something.” 

“I’ll bring you a personal prescription when I visit.” 

Liara T’Soni is listening. 

Shepard tells Liara everything — about the Illusive Man, about Anderson, about the Catalyst. And she tells Liara about the choice she made. Liara knows this is hard for her. Shepard can stand now, albeit while leaning on a crutch. She stands by the window and when she tells Liara about the decision she made, her words do not shake, but her gaze shifts towards the window and she looks out at the stars.

When she speaks next, her voice is small. 

“Did I make a mistake?” 

“Of course you didn’t. You had three impossible choices.” Liara walks over to her, and reaches for her hand, giving it a little squeeze. “You picked the one that brought you back to us. That means it was the correct one.” This, Liara knows to be true. She cannot imagine how she would even act were she in Shepard’s place, does not know how she would even prepare for such a choice. 

“That’s what Garrus said, but I told him he was biased.” Shepard laughs, snorting a little. It’s a quirk of hers that Liara has always found charming. “You’re probably biased too. All of you are.”

“Maybe. But you’ve made a choice that had no right answer. All we can do now is make that choice the right one. And I know you, Nyx. I know you’ll make it right.” 

There is nothing Liara knows with any more certainty than the fact that Nyx Shepard will always work towards the right thing. 

Shepard is quiet. She leans against Liara, their shoulders brushing. 

“I don’t know about that,” she says, after a moment of silence, but before Liara can correct her and reassure her, Shepard shifts her gaze back. And in her eyes, Liara sees that blaze of brilliant fire, a reignition of the woman Shepard once was, before the Catalyst, before the war, before the Reapers — the woman Liara only knows from stories, who clawed her way out of nothing just to see the stars and make the world a  better place.

 “I don’t know if I will,” she repeats again and then holds her head up high. “But I’ll try.” 

Nyx Shepard is prepared to live. 

It’s actually a funny thought, because she’s not quite sure she’s ever had it before. Death has never scared her, ever since she was a little girl and she narrowly avoided dying once, twice, more times than she’s ever been able to count. Death has clung to her ankles, like a shadow, like a partner in some twisted dance. She learned to step with it, told herself that if it decided to claim her fully, there was nothing to fear.

But for the first time in her living memory, the thought of dying terrifies her.

And it is the best kind of fear. 

Besides — there is so much work to be done and she cannot do it alone. 

She hobbles out to the Docking Bay, leaning on a crutch.

“You look like shit.” Garrus holds out his hand.

“Yeah, well—” And she looks at him — at Liara and Tali and Joker  — at the endless swath of stars beyond her ship, at the beautiful void of space beyond, at all the possibilities that await. 

She looks at it all and she thinks, oh, this is it. 

This is it — and it’s beautiful .

And she smiles.

“I’ve never felt better.”