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Summary: The galaxy knew that the great Commander Shepard was something more than a mere man. He was the hope in the wake of the oncoming storm that were the Reapers. In the end it was Shepard who united the galaxy. He was a survivor, and in the end it would prove that his humanity would be the key to stopping the Reapers.
AU, alternate ending. Rated T. One-Shot.
Mass Effect: Endgame
Commander John Shepard stared at the three choices the Catalyst had presented him with. On the left was the station where he could seize control of the Reapers at the cost of his physical form, becoming one with the Catalyst. On the right was the generator he would have to blow up to destroy the Reapers - along with all synthetic life including EDI and the geth. And dead center in front of him was the beam he would have to jump into to turn all life into an organic/synthetic fusion, at the cost of his own life.
Those were his options… and why did his head hurt so much?
Shepard glanced at the generator. He couldn't destroy the Reapers now without also destroying EDI and the geth. He wouldn't do it; he could not just toss away Legion's sacrifice like that. That left Control or Synthesis. Control was not an option, nobody, not even he, should have that much power. Could he really trust himself not to abuse it? No, Control wasn't an option either, that meant all that was left was Synthesis… but wasn't that what the Reapers wanted all along? Did he even have the right to force every living thing in the galaxy to go through this transformation? No, that wasn't an option either, there had to be another way.
He turned to the Catalyst, the source of it all. What was this being, this… star-child? Was it truly the master of the Reapers as it said? Was it God? Shepard immediately dismissed that claim, he had never been particularly religious but he knew that whatever God was, he wasn't some mad AI. And why did the Catalyst take on the form of the child from his dreams? How had it even known to take that form? Had that child ever been real, had it just been a figment of his imagination all along?
"Why?" he asked.
The strange star-child cocked its head to the side inquisitively. "Elaborate on your question."
"Why does it have to be these three options only?" Shepard said. "There has to be another way."
The Catalyst shook its head. "There is none, I have given you the options. Choose."
The Catalyst's ghostly eyes narrowed. Shepard clutched his head as the dull throb of his headache intensified. "Choose."
"No…" John cried out as the pain increased. "I… won't…"
"You must, or all you know will perish and my solution will continue," the Catalyst boomed.
John shook his head. "I… know… there… is… another… way…"
"There is not," the Catalyst spoke in its haunting, child-like voice. "Synthetics and organics cannot coexist. Conflict will always arise and one or the other will always perish."
"I… don't… understand…" John closed his eyes; the pain was getting worse.
"You do not need to."
"Yes… I… do…"
There was a pause before the Catalyst spoke again, "Very well."
John breathed a sigh of relief as the pain suddenly stopped. Then, without warning, it returned a thousandfold. John released a scream as he fell to his knees. The pain was like someone driving a thousand nails into his skull simultaneously, like molten metal was being poured over his brain, and like his head was being viciously ripped open all at once. Nothing, not even dying, was more painful than this. Then, just as John thought he couldn't take it anymore, he saw it.
The origin of the Reapers…
Once, countless millennia ago, there was a mighty civilization. They were alone in the galaxy, the first civilization to evolve. They were the ones who built the Mass Relays and the Citadel. They forged a mighty empire that spanned across the galaxy and beyond. Then, at the height of their power, they made a fatal mistake: creating synthetic life.
Over time, the synthetics began to evolve and soon rebelled against their organic masters. The first civilization was caught by surprise and reeled from the onslaught of their mechanical servants. Desperate and left with no other option, the leaders of the first civilization realized that the odds were against them. Machines did not eat, they did not sleep, nor did they tire in their hunt. Machines showed no mercy, no fear, and could not be stopped. They realized that the only way to defeat synthetics was to become synthetics. So the first civilization seized billions of its people and retreated deep into the galactic core, where they used a new experimental technology to fuse themselves together and create Harbinger, the first Reaper.
Harbinger was ruthless and calculating, just as the synthetics were. But Harbinger was also more advanced than anything the first civilization had ever built before, and laid waste to the synthetics with its destructive power. Seeing Harbinger's success, the first civilization gathered more of their people and turned them into Reapers, including Sovereign. Even with these powerful new weapons though, the war between the first civilization and the synthetics was long and hard. Eventually, it was Harbinger who suggested that the first civilization take its entire remaining populace, and convert them into Reapers. The leaders did not hesitate in seizing all of their remaining people and melting them down to create one last Reaper.
With nothing of their masters' organic weaknesses left, the synthetics fell. The Reapers, now victorious, calculated that future civilizations would make the same mistake. In order to counteract this, the Reapers created the Catalyst to find a solution to the problem. Faced with an impossible dilemma, the Catalyst determined that, in order to prevent future civilizations from being destroyed be their own synthetic creations, the Reapers must destroy all space-faring civilizations every 50,000 years, thus clearing the way for newer generations to evolve.
Thus, the cycle began…
Shepard snapped back to the present and breathed a sigh of relief as the pain subsided. His hands released his head and fell loosely into his lap, where they remained. John bowed his head, staring off into space as he digested this new revelation.
Why did he have to go through all this, fight the Reapers in countless battles, end centuries long conflicts, survive a suicide mission with his whole team intact, unite the entire ****ing galaxy into an armada to face the Reapers, and come out with more scars- both mental and physical- than he could count only to die now? Didn't he deserve a happy ending with the woman he loved? It just wasn't fair.
Finally, his voice, hoarse from screaming, croaked out, "I… understand…"
"Then you know that I am correct," the Catalyst stated.
The Catalyst froze for a moment; it had not expected this. "Explain!"
"Just because I understand," Shepard nearly growled. "That doesn't mean you're right."
Taking a deep, shuddering breath, John tried to regain his control over his emotions. No, it wasn't fair. But since when was anything in this ****ed up life fair? He and Ashley had deserved a long and happy life together but events had conspired against them. So many people had perished, he'd lost so many friends; Anderson, Legion, Thane, Mordin, Kaidan, that it had been foolish to think that he'd get a happy ending. He should have realized a long time ago -and maybe a part of him had- that this would only ever end in one way...
Regaining his strength, John Shepard rose to his feet one last time.
What happened next, the Catalyst knew could only be attributed to some factor of Commander John Shepard's will that it had overlooked. The subtle pressure of indoctrination that the Reapers had been applying on Shepard since before the destruction of the Bahak system suddenly reversed direction and came back at the Catalyst tenfold. The Catalyst's avatar clutched its head, reflecting the distress the Catalyst was feeling as the overload of thoughts, memories, emotions, and sensations from all of Shepard's life surged back through the indoctrination connection and into the Catalyst. The leader of the Reapers pleaded with Shepard to cease the assault, but the Commander ignored it. It was so foreign, so chaotic, and so alive, that the Catalyst couldn't comprehend it. Just as the Catalyst had poured the history of the Reapers into the Commander's mind, Shepard poured all of himself into the Catalyst.
"ENOUGH!" the Catalyst boomed, shaking the entire Citadel as it sent an electrical surge through the ground and into Commander Shepard's body. John cried out in pain as he felt the thousands of volts of electricity pump into him continuously, but not for a single moment did he let up on the barrage on the Catalyst, clinging to the effort with all his might as he felt himself start to die.
Anderson, the man who had been his friend and mentor for all these years, who had taught him what it meant to be a leader.
Hackett, who held the line and kept hope alive.
Thane, who had peace and redemption and in his final hours had prayed, not for himself, but for the Commander.
Legion, who had sacrificed himself to give true life to the geth just as he had discovered his soul.
Kaidan, who had been so worried about losing control yet never showed his friends anything but kindness.
Mordin, brilliant, wonderful Mordin, who had died to give a future to the krogan.
Samara, who loved her daughters so much.
Grunt, having found a purpose with Clan Urdnot.
Jacob, fighting to protect the woman he loved and their unborn child.
Jack, having finally found a family in her students.
Kasumi, the thief with a heart of gold.
Zaeed, the vulgar veteran with more war stories than anyone.
Wrex, trying to lead the krogan to a brighter future.
Miranda, finally free from her father and Cerberus.
Tali, having finally found a home.
Liara, who had become one of his dearest friends.
Javik, last of his kind.
Vega, young, brash, and ready to take on the universe.
EDI, discovering her humanity along with love in Joker.
Garrus, the best friend who stood by his side throughout it all. The one he'd planned to meet at the bar when this was all over.
Everything started to go dark, the pain was becoming unbearable. He thought of Ashley. How her eyes twinkled when she was teasing, the brush of her lips against his, the brilliant white of her smile, her fiery temper that concealed a gentle heart. He thought of how she had grown past her mistrust of aliens, and free from her family's curse. The nights they spent together. How she had broken his heart on Horizon and then mended it with a simple message. How he had been gripped by terror when he had thought he might lose her on Mars, and how relieved he was when she recovered. The joy he felt when she returned to the Normandy. The nights spent playing poker in the lounge with the rest of the squad. Her grace and skill on the battlefield, and how she always smelled distinctly of gun oil, roses, and old books. Her love of Tennyson, the way his heart sped up when she was near. The night he told her he loved her, the night she made everything feel alright again, even if it was only for a little while. In his last moments, Shepard let a faint smile grace his lips as he closed his eyes.
The Catalyst was dimly aware through the torrent of emotions of the dull thud as Shepard's body fell to the floor.
Commander Shepard was finally dead.
So why wouldn't it stop?
Jack stood back-to-back with Miranda, Husks swarming around them. "It's been a hell of a ride cheerleader," she said grimly to the ex-Cerberus operative.
Miranda nodded. "I never thought I'd say this but… it was good to fight by your side Jack."
Jack snorted. "You're not going to go all mushy on me are you? That would so not be what I'd want to die listening to."
Miranda laughed. "Don't worry; I still think you're an uncontrollable menace."
Jack smirked. "Good to know Lawson. What say we give these mother****ers hell!" She fired up her biotics, ready for the husks' charge.
It never came.
"Jack," Miranda said complete and total shock in her voice. "Look up…"
Jack raised her eyes to the sky and her jaw dropped. "What the ****?"
Wrex flung the Marauder away with his biotics. "IS THAT THE BEST YOU'VE GOT?!" he challenged, blowing a Husk's head off with his shotgun.
Nearby, a Rachni brood warrior was in the process of ripping a Ravager to shreds with its biotics and Grunt was charging headlong into a swarm of Cannibals. Wrex scanned the battlefield, noting how the Krogan and Rachni were slowly pushing the Reaper forces back. When he looked skyward to see if any Reapers were heading towards their position, he frowned at what he saw.
Lemm'Shal vas Idenna fired his shotgun at the mob of Husks rushing him while next to him, a Geth Prime did the same. He knew they wouldn't be able to hold out for long against this onslaught. Lemm swore as he ran out of thermal clips. He tossed his shotgun to the side and pulled out his pistol, downing a charging Husk with a quick headshot. Suddenly, all the Husks froze in place. Confused, Lemm looked up and gapped beneath his mask at what he saw.
"Keelah, what is happening?"
Next to him, the geth Prime looked up. "No data available."
Samara punched a biotic fist through the Banshee's chest while around her, Jacob, Zaeed, and Kasumi fought the Cannibals surrounding them. As the Banshee fell dead, Samara Reaved a nearby Cannibal while simultaneously shooting a Husk through the eye with her pistol. Jacob used his biotics to hurl a Cannibal into a shot from Zaeed's rifle while Kasumi stealthed behind another Cannibal and plunged her omni-blade into its skull.
Samara spun to shoot another Cannibal between the eyes when she noticed that it had frozen in place along with every other Reaper minion. Glancing upwards, Samara raised her eyebrows. Nearby, Zaeed grumbled, "What the God'amn hell?"
All across the ruins of London Reaper forces froze in place and every fighter; human, turian, quarian, salarian, asari, krogan, batarian, geth and rachni alike, looked skyward. As the sky lightened on the horizon, heralding an end to the long night, the Reapers ceased their attack, and the entire galaxy held its breath.
Near the Conduit to the Citadel, Ashley lifted her head from her hands as she heard Admiral Hackett order the Allied forces to hold fire for the moment and wait to see what the Reapers were doing. Ashley's eyes widened as the beam, which had shut off previously, briefly activated before shutting off once more, leaving three motionless figures where it had once touched the ground. Her heart clenched.
Liara seemed to have noticed the bodies too. "Is that…?"
Before she could finish, Ashley broke away from the asari in a mad dash down towards the bodies, ignoring the pain that rocked her body and Liara calling after her. All she could see was the broken body lying face down in between the other two. She rushed forwards and fell to her knees in front of the body in N7 armor. Gently, she turned the body over and felt her heart shatter; it was Shepard.
Her eyes watered as she limply pulled the Commander's body into her lap. His eyes were closed, making him seem almost peaceful, in spite of the cuts and scrapes his face was covered in. Ashley wasn't even aware of the bodies of Anderson and the Illusive Man to her left and right. She wasn't aware of Liara, Tali, Javik, James supported by EDI, and Garrus approaching. All she knew was that Shepard was dead, and that her world had ended.
She held Shepard close as the sobs came. Soon voices crackled over the radio.
"The husks… they're dying!"
"The Reapers are leaving!"
"Did we win?"
"I can't believe it…"
"We drove them off!"
"Haha! Yeah you better run you giant… weird… evil… tentaclely… Cthulu… cuttlefish… things!"
Cries of jubilation and relief flooded the radio before Admiral Hackett's cut through the cacophony like a knife. "What about Shepard?"
Everyone fell silent, waiting to hear the news in their beloved hero. Finally, Liara managed to choke out, "H-He's dead…"
And with those words, the celebration was over.
Silence reigned supreme as the news sunk in, only broken by a lone bellow of grief that echoed throughout London as Grunt mourned for his Battlemaster. Soon, the bellow was taken up by other krogan throughout the ruins until it shook the very heavens. Wrex joined the cry in memory of the human that had believed in his people. Kasumi stood frozen in place, her eyes twinkling with tears as she remembered the friendly Commander. Zaeed swore and kicked the nearest piece of rubble as hard as he could. Jacob put a comforting hand on Samara's shoulder as, for the first time in centuries, the asari justicar lost her composure and fell to her knees. Jack screamed to the heavens, unable to understand why the universe had taken her first true friend from her. Miranda supported herself against a wall with one hand while wiping away her tears with the other. Every single geth shuddered as the last remnants of Legion grieved.
On the Normandy, Joker slammed his fist into the arm of his chair, not caring that he had broken several bones. At her station, Traynor, put her head in her hands and wept freely. In the med bay, Chakwas gasped and had to sit down lest she collapse. In engineering, Ken held Gabby in his arms as she cried while Adams put his head in his hands. Allers, who had been filming from the CIC, merely stood there, staring at the camera in shock with tears rolling down her cheeks as she was sure her audience was doing the exact same thing. On her ship, Rear Admiral Hannah Shepard collapsed and wept for her son as down on the ground her husband Carn did the same. Cortez ceased his work on repairing the shuttle and collapsed against it, tears starting to trickle out of his eyes.
James, the blood having stopped flowing from the stump that had been his arm, cursed and punched the ground with his remaining fist. Javik bowed his head in honor of the man who had earned his respect and friendship. EDI bowed her head as she felt this strange sensation inside her processors that could only be described as grief. Tali and Liara wept, holding each other in a vain attempt to find comfort. Garrus merely stopped, frozen.
The entire galaxy having been united against the Reapers, as one turned their attention to the heartbroken woman clutching her lifeless love as they were united once more in mourning the man who had sacrificed himself to save them all…
Commander John Shepard.
Tears streaming down her face, Ashley stroked John's cold, scarred, cheek. "You did it Skipper…" she whispered. "You saved us. I wish you were here to see it."
Then the ground shook before as the beam once again descended from the Citadel. A voice, booming yet childlike spoke, "I understand."
Before Ashley could do or say anything, the cybernetics that Ashley could see beneath his skin through the cuts started to glow. Then, a miracle happened: Shepard opened his eyes and took a deep, shuddering, breath.
Ashley's eyes widened and she ordered, "GET ME A MEDIC!"