“Shepard, you’re in my sight line!”
Every inch of him was tense. She could see it from her vantage point, and it was plain in his voice. The thinly veiled anger in his subharmonics blended almost perfectly with his vocals, that alone spoke of his complete and utter focus of emotion, to the exclusion of all else.
Shepard was right. Two years had not been kind to Garrus. The pain, the anger and grief. He’d held on to it all. Not just Omega, not just Sidonis’s betrayal, the death of his squad. As if that wasn’t enough. He held on to Shepard’s betrayal as well.
Kaidan had said once that Shepard made it easy to believe, if you let yourself, that no matter what the odds, there was always a way to beat them. They had believed, they had all believed. They had armoured themselves against doubt and uncertainty, against death that stared them in the face on every single mission, because Shepard showed them how. Even after Virmire, Shepard’s pure force of will saw them through the other side. There was no pretence, no affectation of leadership. It was just who Shepard was. The complete and utter conviction that together they could move mountains and slay demons. Shepard was. Shepard was their touch-stone. Immovable. Absolute. And then…then Shepard betrayed them all. Then she died.
She died, and none of them could really believe it. Oh, they pretended to. Well, most of them had tried. Wrex wasn’t convinced, and said so. Bluntly. Because that was how Wrex was, and no one really felt like arguing the point with him.
Liara had broken down. For months, no one could even allude to Shepard around her without danger of reducing her to tears. To any outsider, Liara seemed the most affected by Shepard’s loss. The rumour mills quickly took to that, once a respectable period of time had passed of course. The hero of Elysium, the saviour of the Council and the Citadel. Even gossip mongers knew it was wise to keep their peace until heightened emotions had cooled.
Tali hadn’t heard immediately, one of the drawbacks of the Migrant Fleet. Forever wandering, and remarkably insular. When Captain Anderson had finally been able to get a message to her, she sat in stunned silence for a long time. It was like someone had reached inside her and taken out something vital. Something she didn’t know she needed until it simply wasn’t there anymore. Shepard. Dead. It didn’t seem possible. But almost as soon as she felt her own grief start to trickle through the shades of her denial, a more awful truth hit her.
Garrus. Garrus would be devastated. She sent him messages, none of which were ever answered; and when the Neema next scheduled a vessel on supply run, she had talked her way onto it, and tried to contact him directly from the supply station. By that time, he had left C-Sec, and no one knew where he had gone. The extraordinary burden of knowing what Garrus and Shepard had been to each other, something that had remained a secret even after she had discovered it, and the pain of realising that in this, in his mourning, Garrus would be completely alone.
There had been many times on her pilgrimage when she had felt acutely isolated, desperately needing the comfort of sentient interaction, even from complete strangers, to keep her from madness. She could only imagine that it must have been so for him.
She mourned them both. One because life, and the galaxy was lesser without her, the other because he was so very alone.
And so time had passed. The surviving crew of the Normandy was dispersed and reassigned, the Alliance folding in on itself in it’s own particular way. Wrex went home, which came as a bit of a shock, even more so when rumours started to circulate that he was attempting to unite the clans.
Liara…Liara turned her focus to work. Used what Shepard had taught her to build a wall around herself, leaving only logic and rationality to rule her waking life. It chilled Tali how like Benezia her friend had become when they met on Illium. She hoped the true Liara was still in there, somewhere.
Tali had still searched for Garrus when she could, but more and more of her time was given to the fleet. She lived always in the shadow of expectation, something she was all too aware of. As the months turn into years, memories moved into the periphery, lost their edge and immediacy.
Then the screw had turned again and their lives upended themselves once more, pulling them inexorably towards the lodestone that was Shepard. The reunion, the blossoming of surety, the joy, the affirmation of Shepard’s seeming omnipotence, the underlying uncertainty that the cloud of Cerberus brought with it, all balled together in one tight singularity of frantic nostalgia that she wanted nothing more than to drag to her breast and trap there.
And with that, Tali let it all go. This was Shepard. This was the woman she trusted and believed in. She remembered Kaidans words, and let them envelope and engulf her. For the first time in two years, Tali felt hope.
But Garrus…Garrus could not. Every betrayal, every wrong, every failure of the last two years hung about his shoulders and bowed him to the ground. There were flashes of the old Garrus, moments where his sham was almost believable, and she supposed that to anyone who did not know him well, nothing would seem amiss. For a while, Tali even believed Shepard was fooled by it. That was before they went looking for Sidonis.
Here they finally were. Garrus staring down the scope of his rifle, trying to get Sidonis in his cross hairs. Shepard deliberately placing herself between him and his target. And Tali, barely concealed in the shadows near his perch, the Carnifex loose in her grasp, safety off and round ready for use if needed. She silently begged him to notice her there, to prove that he was not so absorbed by this lust for revenge that he did not realise his own life hinged on what decision he would make in the next few minutes.
That was why she was here, because Shepard didn’t trust his obsession, did not trust him not to take the shot through her if he had no other choice. Shepard didn’t trust him, and Tali didn’t either. The fucking tragedy of that was sickening and palpable.
Garrus’s demands for Shepard to move out of his sights were now heavily laced with frustration and escalating anger, he spat expletives like weapons of their own down the com line at her. Tali’s grip tightened on her pistol. Please let it not come to this. Please.
“My men...they deserved better!!”
Garrus readjusted the sight, and a finger gently brushed against the trigger. He stilled and took a breath. He prepared to take the shot. Shepard still stood between him and Sidonis. Tali’s heart was in her mouth, but she raised the Carnifex, lining up with the back of his head.
“Look at him, Garrus. There’s nothing left to kill.”
The seconds slowed, each spanning an unfathomable moment during which any outcome, and all outcomes could exist and also not exist. Two lives teetering in the balance of one decision.
She watched, as if detached from herself, yet still in control of her actions. He exhaled, and her finger tightened gently in response. The moment was now, and she prepared to kill one friend in order to save the other...His head dipped. His finger moved away from the trigger. The moment passed.
She dropped her own weapon, the sweet song of relief surging through her as she watched Garrus take out his frustration on a nearby cargo crate. He wasn’t happy. But he was alive, although he did not yet realise how close that call had been.
By the time Shepard had the transport touch back down on the platform, Garrus had somewhat composed himself. Fury still brimmed dangerously close to the surface, and there was little doubt at whom that anger was directed, but he was actively attempting to control it.
Shepard stepped out of the vehicle, and before getting more than a few steps, Garrus verbally launched into it.
“I know you want to talk about it, but I don’t.” A blatant lie. If he hadn’t wanted to talk about it, he would never have stated so quite as vehemently. He was spoiling for a fight. He may have stood down from shooting Sidonis, but his hostility was still making him irrational and stupid.
Shepard regarded him with a coolness that Tali recognised at once as extremely well controlled anger. They had termed it the "Udina" look. In better times. She dismissed him and instead looked towards Tali's position.
Tali stepped out from concealment and walked casually towards the transport, holstering the Carnifex as she came.
“Shepard,” she acknowledged, nodding and stepping into the vehicle.
Garrus’s mandibles flared wide in surprise, and understanding slowly came to him as he watched the Quarian take her seat.
“Shepard…I…what…” Turian facial expressions, by their very nature, were minute and difficult for most species to read. But their subharmonics frequently revealed true emotion, particularly to those familiar with the subtle rills and shifts born of close friendship and intimacy. His voice betrayed a wounded shock. Something had happened that he did not fully grasp…and a bitter taste lingered in his mouth.
“Get in, Garrus. We’ll talk about this later.” Shepard’s voice was soft and cool. It wasn’t an order, but it wasn’t a request. Either way, he took his seat in the vehicle and they cruised back to Zakera Ward in silence.