The dust is dense and swirling, the air so thick with smoke and debris that Garrus can hardly even make out the barrel of his rifle. He lifts one hand to shield his watering eyes, the gesture automatic despite its obvious futility. His combat visor is long gone, stripped off his face and shattered on the ground somewhere along the way, though he hadn’t realized it was missing until it occurred to him that “Die For the Cause” was no longer blaring in his ear.
There’s some irony for you, he thinks, and his rattling cough doesn’t do much to keep the dust out of his lungs. For one brief, absurd moment he wonders if he managed to survive geth, rachni, Sovereign, Collectors, and the combined forces of all Omega’s gangs just to end up choking to death on the remnants of collapsing buildings.
But then the haze slowly begins to clear, and he glimpses motion to his left, feeling a quick jolt of relief as he recognizes the glint of light off Shepard’s armor. His eyes follow her movement, a half-sprinting, half-hobbling run to the cover provided by a jagged chunk of what probably used to be someone’s office wall. He follows suit, slipping down next to her and pressing his back against the solid surface, closing his eyes and finally letting himself exhale.
“Still alive,” he grunts.
Her responding laugh jerks a little in her throat. “Yeah.”
He forces his eyes open and looks over at her. Through the settling dust, he can just make out her clenched teeth, the tension in her jaw, her lips peeled back in a grimace. Her arm is bent at a not-quite-right angle, pressed against her side, and Garrus can’t stop his mandibles from flaring when he catches sight of the telltale red sheen on her armor.
“Shepard, you’re bleeding.”
The grimace almost disappears as she raises an eyebrow, making a vague gesture with the barrel of her gun. “So are you.”
He glances down at himself, blinking at the brand new hole in his armor’s midsection. A steady stream of blood trickles down the gashed surface, leaving blue splatters in the dirt alongside the red droplets. He narrows his eyes, trying to remember when exactly that happened, until Shepard’s grunt distracts him.
“Here.” She shifts gingerly, an almost imperceptible wince crossing her face as she holds out the medi-gel. “It’s all we’ve got left. Use it.”
Garrus begins to shake his head. “Shepard, you should—”
“I already used some.” He recognizes her Commander voice, the one that brooks no argument, the one that makes people willing to stand next to her and stare death in the face. “Take the damn medi-gel, Garrus.”
He does. Ahead of them, the cacophony stretches on as the Reaper continues its assault. A distant voice rises in a shrill, terrified scream, the cry blending into another, until both are swallowed up by the dull roar of another toppling building. Metal screeches in protest as the Reaper’s beams tear it apart, each strike almost methodical in its rhythm. Systematic, relentless, unstoppable.
Garrus leans his head back against the debris, closing his eyes again.
Two weeks since the Reapers’ arrival. Ten days since the fall of Earth. One week since Anderson’s death, the former admiral torn to pieces by a swarm of husks. Three days since the Normandy’s destruction, the ship pulverized in an instant by a Reaper’s beam as it had swooped in for the pick-up, leaving Shepard, Garrus, and Liara stranded. One day since Liara had fallen, a bullet catching her between the eyes, leaving her staring sightless at the Reaper looming overhead.
Garrus flattens his mandibles against his jaw, clamping down on the surge of repeating memories, a tangible rendition of a recurring nightmare. He closes his ears to the sounds of destruction and hones in on Shepard’s breathing at his side, each inhalation harsh and ragged.
He turns his head to look at her.
Shepard is a master at what humans call the “poker face,” but Garrus has learned how to pick up hints during the years he’s spent following her—and the months he’s spent sharing her bed. She meets his eyes without blinking, sweat and blood and grime coating her face, her expression equal parts grim stoicism and stark exhaustion.
He searches his memory as he studies her face, but try as he might, he can’t recall ever seeing her look quite so haggard, not even when she was freshly returned from the dead. Yet despite the dark circles beneath her eyes and the lines that seem permanently etched in her forehead, he can still discern a spark of obstinate determination in her gaze.
She’ll never stop fighting, he thinks. She wouldn’t be Shepard if she did.
Another crashing sound splits the air as the Reaper thunders closer, crushing buildings as though they were insects. Garrus draws a deep breath, feeling a sudden stab of pain at the wound in his torso, the numbing effects of both medi-gel and adrenaline beginning to run dry. He presses his hand to the hole in his armor, grimacing when his talons come away stained blue.
“Well,” he says. “I guess this is about the time that, like you humans say, our lives should be flashing in front of our eyes.”
Shepard snorts, her lips twisting. “Maybe the second time will be the charm for me. Didn’t happen the first time around.” She shoots him a glance, raising an eyebrow. “What about you? Did you see your life flash before your eyes back on Omega?”
His mandibles spread in a wry smile. “No. By the time you showed up, I was almost too tired to remember my own name, let alone every experience I’d ever had.”
“And how about now?” she asks.
The Reaper bellows in the distance. Garrus takes a deep breath.
“Not everything,” he says. “Just the important things.”
Some of the exhaustion fades from Shepard’s face as she shoots him a grin, the one that always makes him lose his train of thought. “Garrus Vakarian: the greatest hits,” she says, her voice teasing. “Tell me about them.”
He tilts his head. “Right now?”
Her smile holds, but it dims a little. “I think right now is all we have, Garrus.”
Conflicting emotions grip him as her words sink in, but he pushes them all away, focusing instead on the snatches of memories running through his head.
“Hmmm,” he rumbles. “The earliest one I can remember would have to be the day I made my first headshot. It wasn’t long after my seventh birthday.”
“You had your first headshot at age seven?” Shepard’s eyebrows shoot up. “I’m almost afraid to ask what the target was.”
“Don’t look so worried,” he deadpans. “It was just a holographic target on the shooting range. Still, my mother was proud.”
“As any mother would be.” Her lips twitch up in a smile. “What’s the next one?”
“My fifteenth birthday—first day of boot camp.” He lets his eyes slide half closed, remembering the sharp scent of solvent, the shine of his first official suit of armor, the solid weight of the standard-issue rifle clutched in his talons. “Solana started boot camp two days before I did, so after listening to her talk about it for what seemed like hours on end, my expectations were pretty high.”
Shepard’s expression turns bemused. “Your sister is two days older than you?”
“Yeah, we were clutch-siblings,” he says. “She just happened to be the one lucky enough to hatch two days before I did. Didn’t stop her from introducing herself as the oldest sibling all the time as we were growing up.”
He looks away, staring at a nearby pile of rubble and trying not to think of where his sister might be now, trying not to picture her proud, confident form crumpled and trampled in some empty street, or sprawled in an unmarked grave—
He feels Shepard’s grip on his arm, gentle but firm, and hears her voice pulling him out of the darkness as it has so many times before. He blinks, refocuses on her face.
“Don’t stop now,” she says softly, and reaches out with her good hand to brush her fingertips over his scarred cheek. “What’s number three?”
Garrus lets out a deep breath. “The day I closed my first major case at C-Sec.”
A hint of a smile crosses her face. “Krogan testicles?”
He laughs in spite of himself, ignoring the angry flare of pain in his chest. “No, that one came later. This one was a different serial killer, a disgruntled old salarian who was using his last few years of life to take out everyone who’d ever pissed him off. The case itself wasn’t anything fancy, just connecting the dots—with a little help from a few stray fingerprints after he got sloppy—but it still felt good taking someone like that off the streets. Plus, solving that case was what got me my posting in the Wards, where all the real action happened.”
His eyes skim along the ground near his feet, almost absently noticing the trickle of blue blood turning to a stream, mingling with red to cut a winding path through the dust.
“But when it comes down to it,” he says, “the number one most memorable day of my life was the day I quit C-Sec to follow a possibly crazy human and her visions halfway across the galaxy and back. Twice.”
Shepard leans her head against the debris and closes her eyes, her lips twisting in a bitter smile. “For all the good those visions did her.”
“You know the Reapers would have come anyway,” he says. “Just sooner. If it wasn’t for you, I probably would have been one of the C-Sec grunts wiped out in the first attack. Never even would have known what hit me.”
He twists his body, raising himself up just high enough to peer over the top of the debris. The Reaper looms in the distance, swinging an appendage around to fire a blast of energy at a fleeing victim.
“Better to go out fighting,” he murmurs, half to himself and half to Shepard.
He can just barely hear her chuckle, quiet and weary. “And you always said you were a bad turian.”
“Well. Maybe not completely.” He flicks his mandibles, settling back next to Shepard. Her face looks a little paler than usual, and if he leans in close, he can make out the sound of her wheezing with every breath, but her eyes soften as she looks over at him.
“For what it’s worth,” she says, “I’m glad you’re here.”
She leans forward, balancing on her knees and her good hand, and brushes her lips against his mandible in the human gesture of affection that he’s come to appreciate. He reaches up to weave his talons through her hair, leaving little streaks of blue on her skin, and reciprocates as best he can with a nip on her cheek. He feels her smile before she turns her head, curling her fingers around the back of his neck and pressing her forehead to his.
“Are you ready?” she asks quietly.
He tilts his head against hers. “When you are.”
Shepard pulls back, her eyes fixed on his face. “Then let’s go.”
She hauls herself upright, hoisting her gun and heaving herself over the cover, fixing the Reaper in her rifle’s sights.
And Garrus follows her, like he always does.