She doesn’t remember anything about her parents. When Carol Shepard looks back on her life, everything about the man and woman who brought her into the world is a big blur— which disturbs her, because she knows that she must have loved them very much. And when they were gone in some stupid accident, all she had left was anger and biotic capabilities.
Biotics in exchange for her mother and father. It was a grim trade, really.
But one of the things that she does remember is that she never got to say good-bye. It was a crystal clear day and the sun hung high over the bright Chicago skies, and that is what always haunts her the most. It wasn’t the kind of day for a tragedy.
It wasn’t the kind of day to be left all alone with nothing but the cold, uncaring streets.
Shepard is a soldier. Losing people is part of her job description. She’s watched so many people die— some of the colonists she hadn’t been able to save on Feros, Liara’s mother, even Jenkins back on Eden Prime— but this is different. She’s faced with an impossible choice as she leans over the railing and stares out onto the landscape of this godforsaken planet, praying to a god that she’d stopped believing in almost 30 years ago that this is all a dream.
“Go get the Lieutenant and get the hell out of here!” Ashley shouts over her communicator.
“Belay that!” Kaidan counters. “We can handle ourselves! Go back and get Williams!”
Ashley or Kaidan. Whoever she doesn’t save is going to die. She knows that, they know that, and Commander Shepard is faced with a decision that no one should ever have to make. And she knows that she has to think fast, because if she doesn’t move now, there won’t be enough time to save anyone.
“Alenko,” she says, “radio Joker and tell him to meet us at the AA Tower.”
She doesn’t know what to tell him. She doesn’t know what to tell Ashley. But the thought of leaving Kaidan behind sends an ache through her chest that she hadn’t experienced since her parents died. She can’t lose him. Not here. Not like this.
Kaidan sounds utterly at a loss. She doesn’t blame him. “Yes, Commander, I…”
“You know it’s the right choice, LT!” Ashley, bless her, is trying to stay strong, but Shepard can hear the fear in her voice.
“Sit tight, Ash. I’m coming for you, too,” she says. She feels sick. This isn’t like those other times that she hadn’t been able to save everyone. It’s so much easier when you don’t know the person you’re shooting at, or the person you just couldn’t reach in time. Ashley is a comrade and a friend friend. Only a few hours ago they’d been sitting on the Normandy and talking about their families. Now Shepard has to leave her to die.
Some hero she is.
“I think we both know that’s not going to happen. It’s okay, Commander. I don’t regret a thing.”
The line goes dead.
“Shepard?” Tali asks gently from somewhere behind her. Shepard had almost forgotten that the quarian had been standing there quietly with Wrex the entire time. What is she supposed to tell them? She can’t even rationalize the situation to herself, much less her friends.
“We have to go.” Her voice is surprisingly calm, given everything that’s rushing through her head. “Kaidan and Ashley are in trouble and I owe Saren a bullet to the head.”
Later, when she's back on the Normandy after what feels like years, Shepard sits down and reads some of Tennyson’s poems off of her datapad.
Getting spaced is a terrible way to die.
Shepard can feel every fiber, every atom of her entire being suffocating as she drifts helplessly among the stars. There’s nothing that she can do but watch the Normandy explode out of the corner of her eye and hope that her crew made it out alive. She’d practically thrown Joker into the last escape pod when she’d lost her grip and knew that this is it.
When she was a child, she’d dreamed of seeing the galaxy and getting off of the planet who’d already taken so much from her. Maybe that was why she’d enrolled in the Alliance as young as she did, or maybe it was to atone for her days running with a street gang. But it was all irrelevant now, since Carol Shepard was going to die and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Even Commander Shepard, the hero of the Citadel, can’t outrun death forever.
She starts to see things. It’s her life, she realizes. The lack of oxygen is disorienting, but she’s definitely remembering things. Is this her life flashing before her eyes? How cliché. But she sees the foggy faces of her parents, the lonely streets of Chicago, her induction as a Spectre, Ashley, the night she spent with Kaidan, Ilos, the fight for the Citadel…
But still, she fights. She fights just as hard as she had against Saren to keep herself alive. But the pain is too much, she can’t breathe, her helmet just won’t come off, and she’s suddenly getting tired, so very tired—
I’m sorry, Kaidan.
— and then the darkness wins.
The air is thick with the smell of smoke, fires, and death and Shepard shields her eyes from the dust and debris. She wants to go with Anderson. She wants to put up more of a fight instead of just running away like this. He’s walking to his own death because they don’t stand a chance against the Reapers, and yet— he’s right. They need help. And somehow, she has to rally the rest of the galaxy into standing with humanity.
Since she came back from the dead, she hasn’t even had the chance to sit down.
She hopes that Kaidan isn’t watching the scene playing out below them. She doesn’t want to watch it, either, but she can’t turn away. There are some Alliance soldiers— kids, really, they can’t be much older than 18— herding some civilians into a shuttle. She sees the child that she’d tried to save when the attack first started step in as the Reapers fire beams at everything they can reach. Buildings come crashing to the ground as Vancouver itself is being leveled right before her eyes and there’s nothing she can do to stop it. An entire city gone because no one had listened to her warnings all those years ago.
The shuttle takes off, but Shepard realizes that it’s doomed the moment it leaves the ground. One of the Reapers shoots at and hits it, and the shuttle goes down in flames. She doesn’t know how many people were on there, but there aren’t going to be any survivors. The Reapers are thorough in what they do.
The Normandy’s door closes and the ship flies away as the fight for Vancouver rages on.
There’s nothing she can do to talk Mordin out of this. The genophage needs to be cured and someone has to make sure the shroud works. But the whole place is coming apart, and whoever goes up that elevator isn’t coming back.
Shepard looks at her comerade, the eccentric salarian doctor who’d once modified the genophage and was now going to give his life to undo his own work, and she doesn’t know what to tell him. What can she say?
I’m going to miss you, is what she wants to say. I know we didn’t always agree on everything, but you’ve been a true friend. I’m glad I recruited you to help me fight against the Collectors. You’ll always have a place on the Normandy. But it comes out as, “I’m sorry.”
“I’m not,” Mordin says, almost dismissively, as he walks into the elevator. “Had to be me.”
The doors close.
“Someone else might have gotten it wrong.”
She watches the elevator go up until she can’t see it anymore, then turns away to leave.
When they’re back on the Normandy, she, Garrus, and Joker crowd around the table in the port observation lounge with a few drinks and have a toast to Mordin. When Traynor asks what they’re doing, Shepard simply smiles and shakes her head. “Honoring the very model of a scientist salarian.”
At this point, dying is a strange sense of deja vu and she’s greeting death like an old friend. Shepard knows that she’s done for, but it’s just as well. The fight is over. They’ve won. She pulls herself over to sit by Anderson so they can stare out the window of the Citadel one last time. It’s peaceful, almost, even though she’s bleeding out from a gunshot wound she’d take earlier and it feels as though every bone in her body is either broken or on fire.
“Commander,” Anderson says, and it sounds strangely casual for someone who’d taken a shot that was most likely fatal. She wants to believe that he’ll make it out of this alive, since someone has to, but it’s becoming less and less likely by the second.
“We did it,” she breathes, and he gives a small nod.
“Yes, we did.” He motions slightly to the window, where they can see the debris from the final battle against the Reapers drifting above Earth. Shepard had seen her home planet from space many times, but somehow, this is different. It seems…hopeful. “It’s…quite a view.”
“Best seats in the house.”
“God…feels like years since I…just…sat down…”
She manages a chuckle at that. “I think you’ve earned a break.”
“…You ever wonder…how things would’ve been different?” He asks after a small pause. “If this…hadn’t happened? I never had a family, Shepard. I never had…children.”
“They’ll be time enough for that now,” she says, still trying to convince herself that Anderson isn’t going to die here.
He laughs weakly. “I think…I think that ship has sailed. What about you? Ever think about settling down?”
She sees a house by the shore with a white picket fence, which something she knows that Kaidan would’ve wanted. She sees two kids, a boy and a girl, running along the beach as she and the Major watch on from the porch, having a quiet moment to themselves. The sun is setting, and it’s a late summer’s day. Later that night, they’ll go inside and they’ll tell their children stories about how they walked the stars and saved the galaxy from the Reapers. They’ll tell them about Ashley, Mordin, Thane, Legion, and all their friends who never had the chance to see peace.
But it’s a life they can never have because reality tore it apart.
“Yeah,” she says finally. “I like the sound of that. Not sure I’d be much…good at it, though.”
“Sure you would. I’m sure you’d make a great mother.”
She can practically hear the smile in his voice.
“Think how proud your kids would be…” Anderson continues, “telling everyone that their mom is Commander Shepard and their dad is Major Kaidan Alenko.”
“I dunno about that,” she says. “Not everything that I’ve done…is something to be proud of…”
Joining a street gang as a dumb and angry teenager, leaving a friend to die surrounded by geth in a nuclear explosion, failing to save an entire system’s worth of batarians, watching another friend get taken out by an assassin with a sword of all things, being helpless to do anything when the Reapers first attacked Vancouver…
“I’m proud of you,” Anderson says firmly. “You did good, child. You did good.”
“Thank you, sir.”
In her semi-conscious state of mind, Shepard realizes that it’s the first time she remembers a mentor (or parental, because Anderson is the closest thing she’s ever had to a father that she can recall) telling her that she did well.
Anderson gives a grunt, but then says nothing else. After a moment, his head droops down and his body goes limp.
You won’t be alone long, sir.
She closes her eyes.
Commander Shepard hasn’t had very good luck with death. It always seems to be more trouble than it’s worth and takes people from her far too soon.
It feels like she’s…floating. Drifting. But this isn’t the horrifying, frantic kind of drifting that she’d experienced after being spaced. This is gentle— almost as if she’s caught in the tides near the house that she’d imagined for herself and Kaidan. It’s surreal.
There’s nothing but blackness around her, but she hears things. Last time she heard things in her dreams (is this even a dream if she’s dead?), they were nothing but echoes of her past failures coming back to haunt her. But this time, she heard different things. Voices, yes, but they were saying different things.
She hears Ashley telling her not to give up because she and Major haven’t had the chance to be “nauseating” together yet. Then there’s Mordin, who’s glad that Wrex came through on earth and that the future looks bright for the krogan. He also seems convinced that the odds are in her favor for beating death once again. At some point, she swears she even hears Thane, who says that she still has some time yet before she journeys across the sea.
And then there’s another voice; one that’s all too familiar.
I’m proud of you.
Sometimes she hears other things, too; unfamiliar voices drifting in and out of earshot, doors opening and closing, and footsteps. Occasionally, she even swears that she hears the voices of her crew, but that’s impossible, because she’s dead. But if she didn’t know any better, that was definitely Garrus mourning the fact that she wasn’t awake to see him “calibrating all the supplies for refugees” and Tali mentioning something about EDI’s backup files.
But the strangest thing of all isn’t a voice— it’s a feeling. It isn’t the feeling of floating through nothingness, either. There’s something warm around one of her hands, but it’s also familiar. It’s calling her back.
She fights through the darkness one last time and opens her eyes. Shepard isn’t done with the world yet.
It’s still dark, and it takes her eyes some time to process wherever she is with only limited light and an only semi-awake state of mind. Eventually, she’s able to piece together that this must be some sort of field hospital and it’s late at night. It’s quiet, but she can still hear voices outside and people running around.
Finally, close to her bed, in the corner of the room, she sees someone sitting in an uncomfortable-looking chair with his eyes closed. He’s probably sleeping, and she swears he’s more gray around his hairline than he was when she’d watched Garrus half drag, half pull him away while she charged towards the beam back on Earth, but it has to be—
Her voice is little more than a whisper, but he practically jumps up. He stares at her as if she’s a dream and she’ll disappear at any moment, and his expression is a combination of relief and disbelief. She weakly reaches out extends her hand to him, trying to tell him to come closer without actually speaking. But Kaidan knows what she means because he’s always understood her better than most, so he takes her hand so gently you’d swear that she was made of glass.
“You came back,” he says, and if she didn’t know any better, she’d swear that there were tears in his eyes. “You came back.”
“Always…always do,” she manages, and smiles up at him.
It’s about time that she stopped saying good-bye.