People in fandom debate fiercely about numerous parts of the Mass Effect narrative and how “good” they are. Yet no one seems to argue about how great the series is at giving its players that found family goodness (and if there’s someone who does argue about it, they’re wrong). Much of this highly prized content come from the protagonist’s krogan squadmates—Wrex, Grunt, and now Drack—but on my way to find the “Shepard bails Grunt out of jail for partying too hard” fic that I wanted, I found another sort of fic which nevertheless embodied so much of what it meant to be part of Commander Shepard’s team on the Normandy. The only problem I had with it was that I read it too early in the day and my emotions weren’t steeled enough to keep me from bawling over my favorite characters.
At first glance, vaguelyremarkable’s Love, Shepard looks like an intimidating fic to get into with its twenty-two chapters, but Love, Shepard is less of a traditional fic and more like a collection of letters. Set before the final battle against the Reapers in Mass Effect 3, vaguelyremarkable explores a very simple concept: how Commander Shepard tells each of her squadmates that she loves them and how they react to it, some while she’s still alive right next to them, and some long after she’s passed. And some, still, right after the mystery of the conclusion of ME3:
They hand him Shepard’s dog tags after the battle because he’s the most visible member of the Normandy now and the Normandy is the most visible reminder of Shepard.
“Do you think she’s still alive?” Reporters crowd in around him and shove omni-tools under his nose, recording him.
Shepard flashes before his eyes. Shepard, an untrained spectre staring down the Council, Shepard, pushing people off the burning SR-1, Shepard, lying dead on a cold operating table, Shepard, grinning at the new SR-2, Shepard, wiping away her tears after leaving Earth, Shepard, balancing the weight of trillions of lives on her shoulders, Shepard, crawling through rivers of blood on the Citadel, Shepard, laughing, saying to him, “I love you, Joker, stay safe up there.”
“Do you think she’s still alive?”
“You bet your ass she is.”
Saying “I laughed, I cried, I [insert other action here]” seems cliché at this point, but that’s what I did. There’s such beautiful humor in hearing the young krogan warrior Grunt respond to Shepard’s “I love you” with “I’m hungry”. There’s heart-wrenching pain in watching Garrus and Shepard talk bluntly about the toll this journey has taken on them physically and mentally, and a bittersweetness when they reaffirm their love for each other right before the story mentions the proposed bar in the great beyond where they planned to meet up when they both die. In a fandom so full of shipping and vitriol—though the two aren’t necessarily related—it’s a breath of fresh air to see an entire fic focus on the importance of found family and the platonic bonds between these very close friends.
If you’re thinking of taking a look at this fic—and at just above 3k words, it goes fast!—I will warn you that if you’re not into Mass Effect and you haven’t played the games, it may be a bit confusing. For ME fans, reading this fic is like wearing warm, fuzzy winter clothes while walking through a graveyard: there’s a sadness because we know what will happen and what has happened, but there’s also a fondness in remembering the good times and what they meant to us and how these characters impacted our own lives, if only for a couple of hours. But that’s not to say that if you’re not into Mass Effect there’s nothing there for you at all. Love, Shepard is a beautiful piece that doesn’t mince words on getting to the heart of strong friendships. Though Shepard may be gone (depending on what ending you chose), their memory will live on for years to come, just like this fic. Check it out here at AO3!