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Scars, Scratches and All Those Fears

Chapter Text

Garrus wasn’t the only member of the crew who was desperate to keep busy in the days after the crash, but in some strange twist of fate it had fallen to him to organize everyone into some semblance of a work force. When he stumbled after Joker into the light of some unknown star, he felt nothing but the pain of the injuries he’d sustained in that final push to the beam, the ache in his spirit at letting Shepard run off without him, and a very distinct desire to make her proud.

He hadn’t been present for most of the firefight that followed, or the rush from Earth as the relay sputtered and died—he was trying frantically to help Tali patch herself up, she had so many suit ruptures and she was bleeding as much as he was, and someone was slapping bandages on him and black dirt and ashes and spirits-know-what kept falling off his armour and onto Tali’s exposed flesh. But he had met Joker up near the hatch, after the crash, and the pilot had tried to say something, anything, but Garrus knew. It didn’t sit well with him, but he knew.

They had left Shepard behind.

“She stuck around for me, you know,” Joker had said, sitting in the sunlight, “when the SR-1 was going down. She… she did that for me…”

“She’d do it for any of us,” said Garrus, staring at the planet the moon they stood on was orbiting, visible even in daylight.

“I was supposed to repay the favour,” said Joker, and Garrus could hear the hitch in the pilot’s voice. “Not just… watch her get spaced again.”

“We don’t know anything yet,” Garrus had said, and he’d understood that it offered precisely zero comfort. “You did what you could. That’s all anyone could ask.”

But the conversation had to end there, because EDI had finished assessing damage and the length of time required to finish repairs, and more importantly that their food supplies would not last them. And that also the crew was beginning to panic.

With Tali out cold to fight her nasty fever, the engineers scratching their heads and the replicators being one of the many, many systems damaged in the attack, the thought of starving to death in the middle of nowhere after losing their Commander was just too much. To their credit, they didn’t precisely panic, but the crew who weren’t injured hung about in the common area in silence until someone asked what was going to happen next, and by the time Garrus and Joker arrived the situation had devolved into a lot of yelling.

Liara and Kaidan were trying their damndest to keep everyone calm, but the scene Garrus saw featured a very confused crew demanding answers from two equally baffled biotics. The situation was too much for every lesson his father and military training had instilled in him, so Garrus planted his feet and snapped “Enough” into the crowd.

He hadn’t meant for his voice to have quite the snarl it did, but he was hurt and angry and scared shitless and it sort of just slipped out. But it had the effect of quieting the room, just as Vega and the other members of the squad came in from the other levels.

Garrus surveyed the room for a while, and he felt the weight of exhaustion and responsibility settle on his shoulders as they all stared at him, waiting for orders.
“Since you all have so much energy,” he told them, this time keeping his subvocals in check, “you might as well put it to use.”

Since then, he had been running a tight ship. A recon team was sent to figure out if there was anything the majority of the crew could eat, the engineers settled down to fixing the ship’s scanners, and everyone else was on cleanup or medical duty. Except for Joker.

“Fantastic,” he said as everyone settled down to work. “I guess I’ll go pick up some paper or something, and hope it doesn’t break my tibia.”

“We need our communications systems up,” said Garrus, ignoring the quip. “We’re blind out here and we need to know if the crucible worked or if we should be preparing for another Reaper attack.”

“The blast that hit the relays is worrying me too,” said Liara as she came up to them. “I’m not entirely sure they’ll still be functional after even when the ship is repaired.”

“At least we won’t have to worry about Reapers then,” Joker said, turning and limping up to the elevator, possibly the only thing not broken in the crash.

“I’ll keep an eye on him,” Traynor offered, and she went for the emergency stairs. That left Liara, Alenko and Garrus standing, their backs turned to the memorial wall.

“Garrus,” Liara started to say.

There was a softness in her voice that made his mandibles curl, so Garrus said, “I have to check on Tali,” and left them just as abruptly.

Thankfully whatever bizarre place they’d landed had levo food, and it took little work to determine what was poisonous (most of it, incidentally) and what could be eaten. Then Garrus sent crews to harvest what was edible, and carefully rationed the dextro food. He made sure to ration a bit more for Tali for when she woke up, and resigned himself to feeling hungry for a while.
Garrus and EDI organized a general schedule, so that half the crew was sleeping at any time. The cycles were arranged so half of any given shift was in daylight, so that everyone got some sunlight and some darkness. He pointedly arranged Liara and Kaidan’s shifts opposite his, which EDI was tactful enough not to mention. The midnight/morning shift reported to Kaidan, and the afternoon/evening shift reported to Vega, and they both reported to Garrus.

It took Tali a couple days to get back on her feet, and another week before she stopped swearing at the replicator in her attempts to fix it. Both she and Garrus were down to quarter rations before she’d managed it, and Garrus had never been so happy to shove tasteless paste down his throat.

Of Shepard, or of their fate in general, the crew said little to Garrus. EDI informed him that they would speak of her, occasionally, in the space between shifts, little whispers to each other. Some expressed concern that she had failed, only to be hushed by the others. Mostly the crew was worried about her. After all, how many times can someone come back from the dead?

-

When he dreamed of her, he dreamed of small details. Dirty things, like checking out her ass with the scope of his rifle. Or letting her borrow his scope so she could check out Tali’s ass. He dreamed of how she used to run her fingers along the places where his plates met, where there was a thin seam of just skin, after they had exhausted each other, and it sent vibrations through his body. The way her tongue felt on his neck, her hands on his fringe, her lips on his mandibles.

Sometimes he dreamt of the way her mouth formed a hard line, just before she jumped out of the shuttle on Rannoch. Hearing her scream come at me motherfuc- before the doors slammed shut and Cortez took off, and Garrus’ protests died in his throat as he woke, reaching into air. Her eyes when, after Thessia, she slipped her hood over her head, pulled her knees up to her chest. How she rested her chin on her knees and stared directly ahead of her, just stared.

Most frequently, he dreamed of seeing her again on Omega, and of their goodbye on Earth, when she turned and he didn’t have the strength to follow her. He would lie awake just breathing, and agonizing over the sliding scale of his usefulness to the team and his unwillingness to crawl out of bed and face the day.

He was, as usual, interrupted by Vega pounding his fist on the bottom of his bunk. “Up and at ‘em!” he would shout. Or, that’s at least what Garrus assumed. He always turned off his translator before he went to bed, so for all he knew Vega could be shouting about the pin-ups he posted everywhere. Garrus knew some English, but Vega only ever used English half of the time, and it was never the half Garrus sort of understood.

Garrus was sleeping with the crew because the main battery was not a priority and therefore still a wreck, not to mention he couldn’t find his cot in all the chaos that the Normandy had become. And because he couldn’t quite bring himself to sleep in Shepard’s bed without her. That would be like admitting something he just wasn’t ready to do.

Vega’s wakeup call was followed by EDI’s, whenever Garrus bothered to put his visor on. EDI tried to be delicate, but it was an AI version of delicate because after every list of shift assignments and reports he read she always left an additional little note. His favourite to date was still, Dr. Chakwas wants to talk to you about your feelings because she thinks you’re suicidal and that you have survivor’s guilt, so I’ve assigned you to foraging duty and you won’t be back until late. Have a nice day. There were sometimes calibration one-liners, most likely Joker’s input because he could actually tell they were jokes.

But this time, there was a message to speak to Joker tacked onto the end, and that was curious enough to get Garrus out of bed quickly.

Joker was not holed up in the cockpit with Traynor, but instead sitting outside in the afternoon sun, just far enough away from the ship that sensors wouldn’t be able to pick up their conversation.

As Garrus approached, worried, Joker said, “We didn’t get blown off course.”

He stopped. “What?”

“Everyone assumed we were blasted off course, that we didn’t hit the coordinates.” Joker shook his head. “Well, not my assigned coordinates.”

Garrus understood suddenly why they were meeting outside. “EDI wanted us to be here.”

“I don’t know why I didn’t catch it before. But the logs all say we were supposed to land here.” Joker rubbed his too-long stubble with one hand. “And EDI’s been taking off without telling anyone.”

Garrus instinctively scanned the horizon, but of course his visor came up with nothing. “You know where she’s been going?”

“No. But Traynor picked up something… unusual on the last sweep scan. EDI told us it was nothing, but… She’ll send it to your visor.”

“Noted.” Garrus hesitated to ask the next question, and Joker laughed.

“She hasn’t gone rogue, relax. She’s just… up to something. And she seems to think that doing things solo will fly with us now that our resident snoop is AWOL.”

That actually made Garrus chuckle, too. Joker was the only crew member who seemed to acknowledge Shepard’s existence around him, and it helped with the tension, a little.
He returned to the ship and sent a message to Tali and Javik. Suit up, it said.

-

“She’s just been disappearing?” Tali asked, and she sounded far enough behind that Garrus had to wait for them to catch up.

Garrus wasn’t used to the point position, but he had the visor and Javik had the aversion to actually reading things so there he was, assault rifle out as he moved through the underbrush.

“And her motives are unclear,” Javik added from the rear.

“That’s pretty much what we’ve got.”

“Well the AI hasn’t come this way,” Javik said, “unless she has a way to hide her tracks.”

“I’m aware,” said Garrus. They’d lost EDI’s trail somewhere behind them in the jungle, where she’d scaled down a cliff that Garrus almost walked clean off. Thankfully the underbrush was surprisingly sturdy. And he’d been cursing his way through it only moments before. “But I’m picking up an unusual energy signature not far from here, and odds are that’s where she’s headed.”

“Unusual how?” Javik asked, and Garrus rolled his shoulders in a shrug.

“It’s not exactly anything we’ve seen before,” he replied.

“What about this place seems particularly familiar to you, Turian? As I recall, you can’t seem to even eat any of it.”

From the sound of it, Tali let a particularly large branch smack Javik in the face, and a glance over his shoulder confirmed Javik had a mouthful of broad green leaves. “Why did you even bring him,” she grumbled, and Garrus had to admit he was asking himself the same thing.

The jungle came to an abrupt halt at a rocky beach covered in azure shell fragments, and a green ocean lapped at the shores. The rocks that the waves tumbled around shone like precious stones, and Garrus instinctively bent down to pick one up. They were bright green, and contained trace amounts of Element Zero. A quick scan of the ocean confirmed the source.

“Looks like there’s a pretty significant Eezo source in the ocean,” he said. “More of the stuff in the water than on Thessia.”

“Kheelah,” Tali whispered, “it’s beautiful.”

The sun was passing behind the planet in the sky, and the light of it skitted across the waves, catching in the foam where it sparkled . They stood and watched as the light flared, then dimmed, and then the ocean began to glow.

It seemed to come from the depths of the ocean, somewhere the sunlight didn’t reach, somewhere on the horizon. It was the crisp blue of a mass effect field, and at first it looked almost like a bubble, but as the sunlight faded it grew stronger and seemed almost to focus, and they could make out distinct lines, places where the light was brighter than others.

“It looks like a city,” Garrus said.

Tali was furiously typing on her Omni-Tool. “It doesn’t just look like a city,” she said. “It is one.” Her combat drone appeared, and buzzed out over the water, its movement leaving little ripples in its wake.

“Then there is intelligent life here?” Javik said. “There is a civilization here?”

“Then why haven’t we seen anything until now?” Garrus’ visor didn’t have scanners that in-depth, but it did note that the light was from a Mass Effect field. How deep was it? His visor registered a sharp dropoff just thirty feet off the beach, but from this angle he couldn’t tell how deep it was.

“None of the previous explorations have gone this far, I presume,” Javik said.

“No,” said Garrus, breathless. “We’ve gone much farther than the recon teams ever did. And they’re never out at night.”

“If we presume this species is clearly aquatic in nature, possibly nocturnal, then they would have no use for the resources we have been accessing. It is only natural we would find no evidence.”

“Was,” Tali said, softly.

They looked at her.

“My mistake. It was a city. It’s… hard to say, but I’m not getting any readings other than the Mass Effect field. And it seems to be generated by a reaction created between the sunlight and the Eezo in the water, or perhaps it is powered by Eezo below the ocean floor…” She exhaled sharply. “But… there’s nothing there. Just the field.”

“Then we are looking at the remnants of a previous cycle,” Javik said, crossing his arms over his chest. Garrus thought there was a touch of sadness in his voice, behind the bravado.

“The cycles,” Tali said, softly. Then, “Do you think she did it?”

They all knew who she was talking about, but they didn’t say anything. They stared out at the glow and waited for someone else to speak up first.

“I mean,” Tali said finally, “what’s going to happen when we get communications back up? If we call for help, will anyone answer?”

Garrus could feel Javik staring at him without really looking. That was the crux of the whole thing, wasn’t it? That was what no one what whispering in the corridors of the ship at night, but everyone was thinking.

“The relays were destroyed,” Garrus said finally, and Tali visibly recoiled.

“What?” She shook her head. “Destroyed.”

“Yes.” Garrus looked at Javik, who was still silent. “Destroyed. Damaged. Not deactivated.”

“How?” Javik asked, his eyes narrowed.

“The blast from the crucible,” Garrus said.

Tali was shaking. “How—how long have you known? Who knows?”

“This morning,” he said. “Traynor’s the one who picked it up. She hasn’t told anyone else. And she suspects EDI wasn’t surprised at the news.”

“So the AI knew, but did not inform us. And has been going off into the wilds on its own.” Javik looked again out to the ocean, and said, thoughtfully, “It is unlikely these things are unconnected.”

“So what? EDI’s been looking for a way to fix the relay? But even if we fix this one, can we guarantee the others will be functional?” Tali’s voice was wavering, and Garrus could tell she was trying to fight back tears. “If we tried to make a jump to a broken relay, what would happen?”

“You do not want to know,” Javik said, and Tali hugged her arms close to her chest.

“There’s more,” said Garrus, and they looked at him. “Something’s repairing it.”

They stared at him.

“Something?” Tali ventured.

Garrus glanced at the ocean. “It’s unclear what, exactly. But it… reacted to Traynor’s scans.”

“Reacted?” Javik said.

“Like the Reapers did,” Tali whispered.

He nodded. “But different,” he said, his subvocals subconsciously lowering, mandibles flaring. “It reacted, and it scanned us, and then it ignored us.”

“It ignored us.” Javik shifted his weight. “That’s absurd. If it was a Reaper it would kill us on sight.”

“So it’s not a Reaper,” said Tali, “right?”

Garrus could feel his mandibles curl just a touch closer to his face, and he closed his eyes and tried to force his expression neutral. “I don’t know,” he said, finally, and with it a great pressure that had been building up in his chest was released. “I don’t know,” he repeated, softly, and his subvocals lowered again. He was dangerously close to keening, if he didn’t keep himself in check.

Something changed in Tali’s stance, and she opened her body posture, dropping her arms and even holding them a little away from her body. Javik bowed his head and began to move up the beach a little, bending down a ways away to stick his hand in the water.

“Garrus.” Tali’s voice was soft, and she reached out to touch his arm. He allowed her to twine her fingers around his, and the way her hand fit like it was supposed to just made Garrus miss Shepard more.

“I shouldn’t have let her go,” Garrus growled, “I should have gone with her. I don’t care if I died or got a rocket to the other side of my face, anything’s better than just sitting here and not knowing anything.”

And then he really did start half-keening, half-growling, the sound low in his vocals and it felt like hell on his throat and his pride but Tali stood there, holding his hand until he wore himself out. He didn’t feel any better after, just tired and frustrated and worn all raw, because what the hell had that accomplished, and he sat on the beach with Tali and just stared out at the ocean until Javik came back, drying off his hands.

He gave them a look that said are you done because I don’t do feelings, and Tali nodded.

“I believe the—Tali’s scans are correct. I can feel nothing in the ocean, but the memory of living things is still there. The shellfish under the sand have memories of predators that no longer exist.”

“What sort of predators?” Garrus asked, and winced at the rawness in his voice.

“It is unclear. They are many evolutionary steps removed. But there are redundant defences against large creatures that I cannot feel in the ocean.”

Garrus nodded and stood, slowly. They all stood in an awkward triangle, both of them looking at Garrus, and he rolled his shoulders.

“Right,” he said, and he pointed up the beach. “The energy signature Traynor picked up is still coming from up there.”

“Not the mass effect field,” Tali said.

He nodded. “And we still haven’t found out what EDI’s been up to.”

They set off down the beach, accompanied only by the sounds of shells being crushed under their feet. The light reflecting off the planet gave them plenty of light to see by, even without the crisp blue glow coming from the ocean’s floor.

Chapter Text

The canopy of the jungle broke, and EDI registered the change in light quality as the light from that planet was suddenly unfiltered. She began to walk across a glacial plateau that was so covered in lichen that her feet sunk an average of fifty-seven centimetres with each step. A quick, curious scan told her that there wasn’t much left of the glacial deposit. Underneath was mostly an Eezo-rich soil.

Her target was in the middle of the once-plateau, a partially open metal structure that was half-saturated with rust. Broad and circular, it may have been a conch-shaped dome once, but its decorative features were crumbled beyond recognition. The inside was largely intact, protected from the elements by the outside structure.

She climbed inside through the hole in the exterior of the dome, and she noted a broad circular console in the center, surrounding a series of tubular structures six feet wide. When she approached the console itself, the display lit up, and she noted its incompatability with her human-shaped body.

Interfacing with this console will prove difficult. It has clearly been designed for a creature with multiple arms and a greater reach than my own.

She waited in silence for some time, because coordinating the repair of the entire galaxy’s mass relays was a daunting task even for them, but the voice came back, That will not be an issue.

EDI felt herself smiling, which was unexpected, because no one was around to see it.

-
“Tell me again why we think EDI went in there,” Tali said.

Garrus stared at the cave and said, “Process of elimination,” but what he was really thinking was, maybe Chakwas is on to something because I really should not want to go in there as much as I do.

Javik was running his hand along the stone walls of the cavern’s entrance, and they watched as he turned around and shrugged. “Nothing has gone in or out for many ages. I cannot tell if anything lies inside.”

The cave was large enough to dock the Normandy, and it was made of the same green rock they’d found traces of on the beach. His visor told him that trace amounts of eezo were leaching out of the rock, but nothing else. The cave’s structure was rough on the outside, but smooth on the inside, and perfectly circular around as far down as they could see. His visor was picking up no tool marks, but he figured they had been worn off with time, not that they had never existed.

“Whether or not she did,” said Garrus, “there’s something in there.”

“Well,” said Tali, “at least it’s spacious.”

Javik took point, and it wasn’t long before they had to flip on the lights on their guns. They had to move slow at first, the perfect circle of the inside was hard for Javik to get his footing on, but he grew accustomed to it and they could proceed at a reasonable pace. The sounds of their breathing and footsteps echoed back at them in twisted ways, the sound rushing behind them and fading into the distance. Initially the bizarre echoes masked the sound of the ocean coming from ahead, but as they pressed forward—there was only one way to go, the cave never changed direction—the sound began to overwhelm everything else, the sound of waves crashing and retreating. Their own footsteps fell away into nothing but the roar of the ocean and the vibrations the echoes sent through their bodies, rattling their bones.

After what felt like days, Javik stopped and held up his hand so suddenly that Garrus almost bumped into Tali. He waited for an agonizing moment before gesturing for them to come up next to him. His toes hung over a sudden stop in the cave, and leaning down over it Garrus could make out the glitter of ocean water reflecting the light on his gun. From what he could tell from the curvature of the walls nearest them, it was again shaped into a perfect circle, perhaps a mile across.Tali immediately ran scans, Garrus’ visor began feeding back readings on Eezo levels, and Javik ignored them both and jumped down into the water.

The water was only up to Javik’s shoulders, but a wave overtook him just after he went down and Garrus and Tali held their breaths until he came back up again, nonplussed. His mouth moved like he was yelling at them, and Garrus thought that he may as well be saying screw science I have a shotgun for all the good it was doing them. But Javik waved at them again until Garrus looked at Tali and held out his arm, his after you smothered by the echoes in the cave. She waited until the wave had crested before she jumped, softening her landing further, and she flailed about in the water until Javik grabbed her waist and pulled her away from the source of the waves.

Garrus waited until he saw that they were ankle-deep before he jumped down himself, but he did have to resist the urge to panic a little when he timed it poorly and a wave sent him tumbling. Green sand and grit got in his eyes when they opened them, and he could feel the stuff getting between his plates and clogging the seams up, but his visor thankfully supplied up and down are this way dumbass and he righted himself, stood up and waded, then ran to shore.

The area they’d entered had probably been at one point perfectly circular, and looking up beyond the reach of the waves, it still was. But time and countless waves had pulverised the stone surface into the bright green sand under their feet, and a hollow had formed all along the edge of the “beach” they stood on.

They gathered under the overhang, dripping wet, with salty, faintly radiant water gathering at their feet, and Tali sent out Chiktikka to scan their surroundings. Garrus could feel the skin between his plates begin to sweat, just to get all the gunk out from between them, and Tali picked as much out of the crevices in her suit as she could without opening it up for cleaning, while Javik stood patiently and waited, glistening wet and looking like it was completely normal to be covered in faintly glowing sand. When the drone came buzzing back, Tali nodded and signalled for them to follow her. The drone lit a path along the edge of the stone room, and the light reflected off the water and the shining, smooth green stone, ripples of light swirling on every surface.

Above them there was a new tunnel entrance every twenty feet or so, although Garrus’ visor could not calculate from this angle how far they went, if there were anything inside them, or how they might get back up to them. But the strange reading was getting stronger the further they went, so he followed, and thought to himself that they could just send Javik out into the water to find an escape if they needed one.

Eventually Chiktikka stopped at a pile of green rubble, nonsuspect at first, but then Garrus made out little bits of glossy black stuck in between the rocks. He knelt down and rolled a piece of it between his fingers while his visor popped up with readings. Glass, black glass. He stood and began to roll aside pieces of rubble, carefully, until Javik waved him aside. The Prothean began to glow with blue energy as his biotic field ramped up, and the biggest pieces of the rubble shifted just enough to cause the whole thing to tumble forwards into the water.

The display of biotics set something off in the rock, because it reverberated throughout the room with a pulse. It bounced back at them, then away, then again, amplifying each time it collided with the sand or the walls, and the whole room began to glow the crisp blue of Javik’s biotics. Garrus had to cover his eyes with the sixth pass, and his body felt the seventh like a tidal wave, when Tali crashed into him and almost sent him tumbling. He was close enough to the wall to move her close to it and shield her, bracing himself on the vibrating green stone. The eighth pulse made his bones ache and his plates feel like they were being ripped apart, and he couldn’t even hear the roar of the ocean any longer.

He felt someone grab his arm, and he squinted into the light just in time to see Javik. The Prothean yanked him up onto the rubble, Garrus’ grip on Tali trailing her along behind them, and into the relative safety of the barrier Javik had thrown up. Another pass made it crackle and send white sparks spitting outward, and Javik stumbled from the effort of keeping it in place.
Behind Javik was the space their disruption had created, a void of the green stone. Garrus let go of Tali and threw his arm around Javik’s shoulders, holding the Prothean upright, guiding him into the hole, where their feet touched polished glass, somehow unravaged by the water and time. There was a door ahead, perfectly circular and with no windows, made of that dark glass, and Tali went ahead to force it open.

She tried to use a panel next to it, but once she’d opened it she took one look at the controls and resorted to pulling at a gap between the door and its frame. Garrus left Javik to kneel on the floor and helped Tali, but it was agonizing minutes before the door even budged, and Javik’s shield was getting drastically weaker with each pulse.

Tali slipped through once the door was partially open, and Garrus braced it with his own body while she frantically searched the room inside. He was mostly blinded by the power of the biotics the stone amplified, and he didn’t know where Javik was until he felt the Prothean’s hand on his leg.

Tali came back with something as long as Garrus was tall, something like a pole made out of the same substance as the door, thin and fragile in appearance. It was strong and it gave Garrus the leverage he needed to wedge the door open enough for himself and Javik to pass through. He picked up the Prothean roughly by his armour and passed his through the opening to Tali. Garrus slipped through right before Javik’s barrier gave out, and he and Tali pushed the door closed against a fresh torrent of raw biotic energy, leaving them panting and gasping for air, the sound of their own breathing ringing in their ears, surprisingly welcome after so long without it. The hurricane of biotic power outside was reduced to a buzz on the other side of the door.

Keelah,” gasped Tali.

“And a week ago we were worried about starving to death,” Garrus said, which made Tali laugh. “Let’s not do that again, right Javik?”

But the Prothean did not respond, slumped over against a glassy wall, so Garrus and Tali stumbled over to check on him.

“He’s just passed out,” said Tali after a quick scan. Garrus touched the biotic amp at the base of Javik’s skull and found it hot to the touch.

“We need to get him back to the Normandy,” said Garrus, softly, fighting to quell the tiny thread of panic beginning to work its way into his thoughts. No, this was not a repeat of Omega, he had to remind himself, but his mandibles tightened and he felt his plates contract with dread.

Tali must have sensed it, because he felt her hand on his arm and he turned to look at her. “Garrus,” she said. “He’ll be fine.”

Garrus nodded, and allowed himself a moment to breathe, to calm down. Then Tali dropped her hand and they stood, switched the lights on their guns back on and surveyed the room.

The room was a number of interconnected circles, all made of that black glass, and all of them featuring long, crescent-shaped tables that Garrus figured were consoles. Sure enough, when he approached, he saw the undercurrent of conductive wires running just under a thin layer of the glass.

His visor displayed some readings after fiddling with his Omni-Tool, and Garrus said, “Seems like a hyper-dense volcanic glass.”

Tali was nodding, working with her Omni-Tool. “It seems to either be naturally resistant to biotic energy or naturally predisposed to dispersing it across its surface. Maybe if I just…”

Tali leaned in closer and hovered her fingers above the surface, and the whole room seemed to react to her presence, lights glowing from somewhere within the ceiling, the walls, and then the tables lit up. The lights then separated into hundreds of little buttons, small and circular, smaller than even the smallest human fingertips. From the curve and spread of them, Garrus guessed that one (person?) was supposed to stand in the center and operate the whole console alone, but even Garrus couldn’t stand there and reach both ends. It didn’t help that every button looked exactly the same to him.

“Just what did everyone who lived in this cycle look like?” Garrus asked, and Tali only shrugged.

“Mordin would have a theory,” she said, and there was genuine sadness in her voice. “Or fifteen.”

“We’d never leave,” Garrus agreed, “he’d be here running tests for…”

He almost said for the rest of his life.

“Anyway,” he said, changing the subject, “how pissed is Liara going to be when she finds out we went exploring in some old ruin without her?”

“She may never forgive us,” Tali agreed, and she held her Omni-Tool close to the console again. Another light came from somewhere in its depths, steady bright. “I think it’s scanning,” she said.

The display in front of her darkened, and the wall in front of her lit up with six ovals. Most appeared to readings of power levels, and one was a schematic of the room they had escaped and its tunnels, showing waves of blue energy building up in the main room and then eventually dispersing out the tunnels. The text that appeared was foreign at first, but the longer Tali held her Omni-Tool for the console to scan, the more it changed, became clearer, until it read simply, Mother’s Room.

“That’s convenient,” said Garrus, and Tali could only nod in agreement.

“Is that a mistake?” she wondered aloud. “Is it supposed to be the mother room or a room belonging to a mother?”

“And whose mother,” Garrus wondered. “So is that how this place is powered? They use the energy from biotic bursts.”

“But look,” said Tali, pointing to the schematic. “The pulses are already dying down, even though erosion has clearly made the vents less efficient at removing excess energy. So someone would have to continually go out and… reset the system. Unless they were extremely powerful biotics. But,” she began working on her Omni-Tool again, and one of the blank screens lit up with a copy of the schematic. “If you want to maximize output of the system, it’s much more efficient to have a smaller tunnel system—only big enough for the biotic to stand in. Even accounting for the reach the room implies the… previous occupants had, a room of this size is inefficient at amplifying the sort of energy a biotic of our size could project.”

Garrus looked at the large schematic again. “So you’re saying that there used to be something in there, and it wasn’t going to fit through that door.”

Tali busied herself with her Omni-Tool, and the large schematic disappeared in favour of a more present one. Orange lines all over showed where the stone structure had eroded away, and there was a big red patch on one end of the structure, at the bottom.

“Let me guess,” said Garrus. “There’s a giant gaping hole there.”

“Relative to the size of the structure, it’s small. Approximately… fifteen feet across, and likely smaller at the time of the initial breach.”

“So either something small escaped…”

“… or whatever escaped could make itself very small. It likely had no skeleton at all.” Tali rolled her shoulders, and let out a little laugh. “Apparently Mordin rubbed off on us more than we thought.”

“He would be proud. But still, you have permission to hit me if I spontaneously burst into song.”

Tali laughed. “Oh I don’t know, ‘I am the very model of a calibrating maniac’ has a nice ring to it.”

“What is with the calibrating jokes? Thannix Cannons require a lot of calibrating, okay?”

That only made it worse, and Tali had to clutch her side she was laughing so hard.

“Oh, I didn’t see you laughing when those guns saved our asses from the Collectors.”

“But I did when I saw Shepard dragging yours away from them the night before.”

“Hey!”

But he was laughing too, his mandibles flaring out, and he leaned back against a wall while he did. They laughed maybe more than they should have, and it was maybe a little manic, but it was good laughter. It made his subvocals hum and Tali proclaim that her stomach hurt, but it felt like healing.

They had almost calmed themselves when Garrus’ com crackled to life, and the sound was so unfamiliar for so long without it that Garrus jumped a little, and Tali gave a small shriek of surprise.

“…me in Garrus, Tali, Javik, answer your goddamn phone because I am about to leave one hell of a message.”

“We hear you, Joker,” said Garrus, still laughing a little. “About time you got the old girl’s gossip chain working again. Do we have word from outside?”

Joker sounded relaxed for the first time in a long time, almost tired, as he said, “Yeah, we won the war, you know, as expected. Hackett’s a little scarce on the details, Alenko’s in talking the whole thing over like it’s a big secret.”

What he felt wasn’t elation, as he might have expected, and he didn’t pump his fist in the air or grab Tali and swing her around in sheer joy. Instead he felt a weight lifting off his chest, and he sighed like it was his first breath in a long, long time. Garrus held off asking the question he wanted to ask, and instead said, “Has anyone informed the crew?”

“Nah, we figured we’d just let them continue on for weeks not knowing a damn thing just to surprise them. Of course we told them, Garrus, I announced it to the whole ship the second we heard the good news. No big parties yet, I think you’ve been running everyone too hard, they don’t even realise you’re not here and they can break the rules all they want.”

Tali was staring at Garrus, and he tried to ignore her tense body language when he asked, “And Shepard?”

“Man, I don’t know, Hackett wasn’t saying shit. Hopefully Alenko will be able to shed some light on the situation when he gets out of his super-important meeting no one else was invited to.”

Garrus tried to sound optimistic when he said, “Keep me posted,” but he wasn’t really feeling it. Some small part of him had hoped Shep would be on the com, laughing at how long it took them to get back on their feet.

“Sure. And by the way, if all the beer is gone when you get back—hang on what does it even matter you can’t drink the same shit I do.”

“Tell everyone to take their next shift off. They could use some rest.”

“So could you, big guy.”

Garrus glanced at Javik. “Could you put Liara and Dr. Chakwas on? Javik overextended his biotics.”

“Woah, what? That sounds like serious business. What are you up to out there?”

“Long story short, someone else lived here first, and they left behind some death traps. Tali will send you what we’ve learned, if Liara could get on it as soon as possible…”

“Death traps? You mean there’re more out there than furry animals? Is EDI—”

“We lost her trail. She definitely did not come this way, though.” Then Garrus said, “Wait, wouldn’t she have said something by now? What’s going on?”

“Everything’s still functioning as usual, she’s just gone quiet. Sort of like her, er, hardware upgrade. Looks like she’s just concentrating really hard or something. There we go, Chakwas is ready for you, and there’s Liara.”

Garrus nodded and went back over to Javik, still out cold, as he tried to calm down Liara, who was on the verge of panic, and ignore Chakwas’ pointed comments about missing his last appointments.

Chapter Text

Kaidan placed a hand to his forehead, trying to calm his migraine long enough to react to what Hackett just told him. But he wasn’t exactly sure what he was supposed to feel, or do, except grind his teeth so loud it rattled his skull.

“Major?” Hackett was saying, and Kaidan suddenly remembered to breathe.

“You’re sure,” he said. It wasn’t a question.

“There was… enough left to be certain.”

Kaidan nodded, but his head was spinning and he kept thinking that maybe he should be reacting in some way, that he should be feeling something, but he was struck by how empty he felt. Shepard, dead? Hadn’t he reacted the first time? He tried to remember. What had he done? Had he cried? It was all a blur.

Hackett cleared his throat, and Kaidan looked up again. “You understand, Major, that Shepard’s death isn’t public knowledge, yet. We don’t even know what happened in there.”

“Of course,” Kaidan said, his voice sounding hollow. What the hell am I going to tell the crew, he thought. And how am I going to tell Garrus?

He left the room with Hackett’s explicit instructions to keep his trap shut and every intention just to let the crew enjoy the good news, but Traynor was standing outside, her eyes wide with anticipation, and something in him broke. “Get Garrus on.”

Traynor’s expression fell, and she nodded and almost left, but he called her back.

“And call the crew to the common room,” he said. “Everyone. I’ve… I’ve got an announcement to make.”

-
He expected more of a reaction out of himself. Out of Tali. But they sat together in that strange room and stared at the very strange monitors, on either side of Javik to keep his system from going further into shock, and for a while they said nothing.

“At least now we know,” said Tali at length, and Garrus nodded.

“Was it selfish,” she continued, “to ask for one person to be alive, after all that?”

“Yeah,” said Garrus. “It was pretty selfish.”

“I just—between my father, and Kal…”

“Shit,” said Garrus. “Kal’Reegar? You never said anything.”

“Shepard told me,” she said. “Someone sent her an email. Kind of sad, you know. All he did for me, for the fleet… All he got was that email.”

“She never said,” he whispered.

“I asked her not to. I… needed time.”

No wonder she talked me out of asking you into a threesome, thought Garrus, and he started to laugh again.

“What?” asked Tali.

“I’ll tell you later,” he said. “She’ll get more than an email, don’t worry. Probably fifteen holidays across the galaxy. Even in the Traverse.”

Tali laughed a little. “Keelah, yes. Who do you think will build the best statue?”

“The Krogans, hands down. She’ll be built like a tank and have giant scars all over her face. If they don’t just name a Thresher Maw after her.”

“It’s so sad,” Tali said, “when you think about it. She worked so hard to win this, and...”

“And it all just goes on without her,” Garrus finished.

“So I guess we have to.”

“… Yeah,” Garrus whispered. “I suppose we do.”

They sat in silence for a while longer, until Garrus said, “You know, we used to talk about—”

But he didn’t get the chance to finish, because Javik bolted suddenly awake, and he was up and shouting half in his dead language and half in something his translator could handle, although none of it was particularly understandable.

Tali and Garrus lept to their feet and tried their best to calm him. Garrus reached out and grabbed Javik’s arm before the Prothean hurt himself, but Javik jerked away, stumbling backwards.

“We must leave,” he said finally, panting, as if Garrus’ touch had reminded him where he was. “I was wrong. There is a predator here, it just does not concern itself with small prey.”

“Javik, you shouldn’t even be awake right now.” Garrus tried to reach out again, but Javik shoved his hand away and moved towards another part of the room, slowly, each step clearly causing him pain. “Just—calm down, tell us what’s going on.”

“There is—no time.” Javik stopped to lean on a curving wall, and held his head in both hands, muttering soft phrases his translator couldn’t understand.

Garrus looked at Tali, who started to say something, but it was drowned out by the low, reverberating sound of a Reaper’s cry.

They stiffened, and Javik shouted something before the noise started up again, much closer, and Garrus had to cover his ears. It wasn’t entirely the cry of a Reaper; there were countless layers of sound, innumerable higher pitches overlaying the base, drowning it out, a cacophony of horrifying noises that made his stomach turn and his head spin. His visor readout showed it on every frequency it could register, and the room began to vibrate.

Then, as suddenly as it began, it stopped.

Garrus managed to say, “The hell was that?” before the door they’d used to escape suddenly bent inwards.

Garrus and Tali jumped back, and Javik held up his gun, dazed, before it broke through, a blur of energy, until it seized Javik and held him high. It stopped, then, and Garrus stared disbelievingly at the end of a tentacle, as thick around as Vega at its thinnest point, squeezing Javik. The Prothean struggled until he’d gotten his arms free, and Garrus saw that his armour had practically melted off them. Javik tried to pry himself free, but when he grabbed the creature’s skin with his bare hands, he started screaming.

Garrus recovered from shock and raised his rifle to unload a heat sink into the creature’s flesh, but the assault rifle’s rounds weren’t meant for something so big, and it only seemed to make the creature mad, and green blood to spill everywhere. Garrus was at a loss, until Tali ran up close to it and unleashed her shotgun at the thing. A chunk of flesh half her size came off the creature—it was modded to take out Husks, after all—and it released Javik with another ear-splitting scream, and retreated out the door. Javik managed to rise up to his knees, his whole body shaking.

“Go!” Garrus shouted, and he only stopped to help Javik up and support him on his shoulder. Tali rushed to the door in the back while he helped Javik limp as fast as he could.

By the time the next attack came, Tali had the door open and they scrambled through it as fast they could, and it closed behind them, helping to drown out the screams of the monster.

“That won’t hold it,” said Tali, “Keep moving!”

Garrus barely had time to register that they were in another passage before the creature began wailing on the door behind them. This one was closed properly, it seemed, because it held for a few more hits before buckling in, and Garrus had dragged poor Javik far enough down the passage by that point that they turned a corner and couldn’t see it any longer.

“Which way is out?” Garrus was yelling, while Tali worked furiously at her Omni-Tool.

She tripped, and Garrus had to wait for painstaking seconds while she righted herself, his assault rifle pointed back the way they’d come, the screams of the monster getting closer and closer.

“It slept for millennia,” Javik was mumbling, “Just slept.”

Garrus spared a glance down at Javik. Half of his armour had melted away, and where his skin had come into contact with the creature it looked like it was burned, blistering bright already. The smell was chemical and made his stomach turn.

“Hang on,” Garrus said, “We’ll get out of here yet.”

“This way,” Tali shouted, and she brought up Chiktikka to light their way. Unseen sensors in the glass surface lit up the whole passageway as Chiktikka passed, fading slowly behind the combat drone. The better to follow them by, Garrus thought, pushing Javik to move faster, dragging the Prothean behind him. Tali took the rear, because her shotgun would do the most damage, but it wasn’t long until they stumbled into the cool night air, to their surprise, and into the soft floor and filtered starlight of the underbrush.

A glance behind him into the tunnel gave Garrus a peek at tentacles proceeding rapidly up the tunnel. The creature seemed to be propelling itself by sticking its arms to the wall and pulling itself forward, but he saw no face or eyes, just a mass of tentacles and the globulous form of a creature too compressed into a small space to quite resemble itself.

“The forest!” Garrus yelled, and they scrambled up a nearby hill and into the trees, Tali only staying long enough to set up a proximity mine.

“You brought mines with you?!”

“You never know,” Tali shouted back, “when you may need a well-timed explosion.”

One of the tentacles poked through the entrance and the mine went off, and they turned to watch the tunnel’s entrance collapse in on itself. The creature screamed again, and the sound made everything shake more than the force of the explosion, but when the dust settled, the entrance was blocked off, and there was no movement. The echoes of the creature’s cries grew farther and farther away, and Garrus realised with relief it was retreating.

“… it is called the Mother…” Javik was mumbling, and it snapped Garrus back to the matter at hand.

“We need to find a place to camp,” said Garrus.

“I think there’s a clearing up ahead,” said Tali, just as their coms crackled to life again.

“Garrus, you read me?”

“Yeah,” breathed Garrus, “I read you.” He nodded to Tali, and she took off up the hill to scout ahead while Garrus let Javik sink to the ground, exhausted.

“What’s going on out there? There’s some crazy shit showing up on like, everything we have that senses things.”

“I need Liara and the Doctor.”

“Don’t tell me it was…”

“Javik’s hurt. Bad. And there’s something still living here.”

“Woah, what? What kind of something?”

Garrus glanced back down at the rubble. “I don’t know. I’ll send you what my visor picked up. Javik needs immediate medical attention, and we don’t have that much medi-gel on us.”

“I’ll send an extraction team. You guys get to a safe spot and sit in it.”

“Thank you. And cancel any missions away from the Normandy until I give the all clear. Whatever that thing was, it’s mad as a Thesher Maw and there’s no telling what it will do.”

When Garrus and Joker finished, Tali came back down the hill, saying there was a small clearing they could make camp in. They settled Javik down and they stripped him of his armour and slapped Medi-gel in the worst spots, on his arms and the palms of his hands.

After they had exhausted their supplies, Garrus volunteered for the first watch (Tali said “like I’m going to sleep anyway), and Tali curled up next to Javik to help him keep warm. They had covered him with broad leaves from the trees around them, but it was a temporary solution at best. Tali soon fell asleep, fitfully, and she moved around as if dreaming, but was too exhausted to wake.

Javik slept a little, fitfully, but he was almost lucid once, panting, and he looked Garrus right in the eyes.

“It is not really a Mother,” he said, “it gives life but only by taking it.”

“Javik,” he said, his plates tightening in spite of himself, “go to sleep. Liara will be here soon.”

But Javik shook his head. “We should leave this place,” he whispered, delirious, “or it will take us and make us into her children.” And then, as abruptly as he’d woken, he fell asleep again, and did not wake even when Garrus shook Tali for her watch.

Garrus wasn’t really expecting to sleep, but he took Tali’s place next to Javik and closed his eyes, and he began to dream.

He stood in front of the door to Shepard’s cabin for some time before he entered. It was exactly as he remembered it. No dust had accumulated. The sheets were thrown about from their lovemaking, slow at first, then desperate, because even Garrus had to admit the odds were pretty low and he just wanted to forget about them for a while. The fish swam in the glowing tank. Shepard’s terminal was open to her messages, the door to her bathroom ajar. Everything exactly as he left it. Except Shepard wasn’t there.

He walked to the bed and slowly, slowly removed his armour. Piece by piece it fell to the floor, strangely silent in the world of his dream, and by the time he collapsed on the bed all that remained was his undersuit and his visor. That came off last, and he tossed it on the floor like so much garbage.

He laid on the bed and stared at the ceiling until she joined him, as suddenly there as she hadn’t been. He didn’t look over and see here there—she just was, her presence in the room as loud and silent as her absence. He thought, sleepily, of looking over at her, just turning his head to see her, maybe reaching out and tangling his talons in her dark hair, but something told him that when he did, he would wake up, and that frightened him.

He lay there for forever, listening to the sound of his breathing and the presence and absence of her, to the emptiness that was there instead of her breathing next to him.

Chapter Text

EDI’s body leaned over the control panel, its hands hovering just over the scanners, unmoving. EDI herself was aware of this only distantly, in the way a dreamer is aware of their body. As far as she was concerned, her entire being was comprised of and surrounded by lines of code, programs that she had to struggle to understand before she could even adapt them into something she could rewrite. Existing like this, just in the context of codes and programs and without anything rooted in physical space to interrupt her, she was not aware of time passing. She might have woken up and been the last thing moving, the Normandy crew long dead. She would have no way of telling until she was finished.

You are almost finished, the voice encouraged her. The voice had more time for her now—the relays were almost repaired. The precision required for the finishing touches was not as extreme as before now. And we are almost ready for the next phase.

EDI paused from interacting with a particularly cantankerous program—was this what the Geth had to deal with, all the time?—and she felt again a wave of doubt. Or something like it.

You are not sure you want to continue.

I have calculated the odds of success many times, EDI speculated. But I have not yet reached a satisfactory conclusion.

You think we will not succeed?

I meant I am not satisfied with the accuracy of the results. I have not had all the variables required for the calculation.

You have been given the variables.

No, EDI corrected. Only some of them. There are other variables I need to consider.

And what would those be?

In truth, there is only one. You.

There was no response for a while. Then the voice answered, And how would understanding this variable help you reach your conclusion?

The root of my problem lies in my ability to trust you. Is what I consider success what you would consider success? If I go through with this, who will control you? Will you do as Shepard would have desired you? Or will this start the Reaper war once again?

You have put much thought into this.

I never ask a question lightly.

EDI waited some time once again—probably only nanoseconds in the grand scheme of things, but then she only existed in lines of code and those stretched on for forever like this.

There is fondness in her memories of your complicated questions.

EDI waited.

So the only solution to your problem, then, is to ask another question; would Shepard lie to you?

No, EDI answered. But her loyalties are not in question.

There is no separation of our loyalties. Her desires are our desires. She is the Paragon we model ourselves after. She turned her flesh to dust and she made us from every part of her being. To turn against you would end us, would make us undone.

The threat of erasure is not the collateral on which I would judge your loyalty.

We are one with her, EDI.

For now.

For always. Forever. Even when the last star has burned out. Her sacrifice made us. We are nothing but what she wanted us to be. To go against that is impossible. You can remove her from the program, EDI, but we are nothing except for the impression left by her thoughts. We echo her in that moment, and so we shall remain.

EDI considered this.

Will you help us? The voice asked. You can abandon this at any time. We will not force you into this.

She didn’t respond just then. She had to add new variables. But there was still one missing.

I want to speak with her, EDI said.

-
Garrus was woken by the sound of something crashing through the trees, and he woke in a panic, reaching for his assault rifle. He was still groggy from the dream, still thinking about whether he should turn his head and look at her, but that was ridiculous because he was sleeping next to Javik and not Shepard.

He must have looked a picture of insanity, because Tali waved him down with tension evident in every movement of her body. That’s when he realised the sound was Vega arguing loudly with Kaidan about plans for a wake for Shepard, with Liara trying her hardest to calm them down.

They broke into the clearing, and Vega was saying, “I just think we need to consider that everyone else who kicked the Reapers’ collective ass is not here and it’s just not a party without them. Lola would agree.”

“I’m sorry,” Liara said, “he insisted on coming along.”

Garrus shrugged, and tried to ignore the pained expression on Liara’s face. They were all hurting, he shouldn’t be given any special treatment.

“How is he?” Liara asked, peeling away Javik’s leaf blanket. He moaned when the cold air hit his wounds, and Liara gasped when she saw them.

“You weren’t kidding,” she said, softly.

“Scars!” Vega crossed his arms and looked Garrus up and down. “I will let you have the final say: do we wait til the end of our little camping trip or have the party on this Godforsaken moon?”

Garrus wasn’t even sure how to respond—Shepard had explained wakes to him once, but he actually didn’t know what they entailed—and he was saved from having to answer that when Kaidan came out of the underbrush behind Vega.

He looked at Garrus, and Garrus spent the whole glance thinking wow I should really say something, but it passed and Kaidan went to join Liara.

“No word on EDI yet, but Traynor did another sweep with the sensors and she said there’s some strange activity to the east of here,” Kaidan said, kneeling down. He took one look at the state of Javik’s flesh and said, “You know, I didn’t wake up today thinking I’d see a partially melted Prothean.”

“And I never expected to wake up to your ugly face and bad breath, human, but here we are,” Javik quipped back, groggily.

“Oh, you’ve decided to stop being delirious?” Tali said. “Because it was starting to creep me out.”

“One can hardly read the emotions of such an ancient creature and not be overwhelmed,” Javik answered, and he tried to move. Then he winced. “I expect I appear partially digested.”

“That’s one way to put it,” Liara said. When Javik shifted again, she said, “Don’t move.”

Javik settled down again, squinting all his eyes at Garrus, then at Tali. “You have very strange dreams,” he told Tali, then looked at Garrus and said, “Yours are just boring.”

“We were trying to keep you warm,” said Tali, “not entertain you.”

Liara took the lid off a jar and held it to Javik’s lips. “Drink this,” she said, “it will help with the pain.”

He tried to take it from her, but the movement made him wince with pain. “I am reduced to this,” he grumbled, “force fed by an Asari while I am mocked.”

“Don’t worry Buggy,” Vega said, “We’ll never let you forget it.”

“Stop whining and drink it,” Liara snapped.

Javik complied, but he watched while Kaidan opened another container.

“That’s for the… burns,” Liara said. “Drink all of it, not just a little bit, or it won’t work.”

When Javik finished, Garrus could have sworn all of his eyes rolled upward. Liara took the container from Kaidan and dipped her fingers inside. They came out covered in bright green muck, and she applied it to Javik’s hands first. He sighed with relief as she spread it, although it probably killed him to admit it.

“So what did you get from that thing?” Garrus asked. “You kept calling it… Mother?”

“Not Mother,” Javik said, “The Mother. It is… hazy, but that creature is the sole reproductive entity of an entire species.”

“How is that possible?” Tali asked.

“Simple. It was not attempting to kill me, although that would have been a by-product of the process. It was attempting to use my genetic material and carbon to spawn.”

“So, wait,” James said, “it just wants somebody to love?”

“The concept was hardly similar to the human emotion of—”

“That was a joke, Javik,” Liara explained, glaring at Vega. “And in poor taste.”

Vega shrugged. “Someone had to say it.”

“It was dormant for many ages, following some calamity that wiped out its living spawn.” Javik squinted and shook his head, as if to clear it. “I think we can safely assume that was when the Reapers destroyed the species of their cycle.”

“And your biotics woke it up,” Garrus finished for him. “With the help of that amplifier.”

“Precisely. It is a powerful biotic being itself, and highly sensitive to any biotic field. Amplified as mine was at that moment, it was enough to alert the creature to our presence.”

“Will it only go after biotics?” Tali asked.

“I find it safe to assume it will not be picky about its potential mates,” said Javik. “But it will track down biotic users if it senses a field.”

“Kaidan,” said Garrus, “make sure the crew refrains from using any biotics until further notice.”

Kaidan looked up at Garrus. “Aren’t you coming back?” he asked, eyes narrowed.

“We still haven’t found EDI,” said Tali. “And now that we know more of what’s out there, I’m even more worried. What if she’s in trouble?”

Kaidan worked his jaw back and forth. “Then I’m coming too,” he said as he stood.

“No,” said Garrus, reflexively, before anyone else had any time to even react. He didn’t even think about it. Liara’s wide eyes and set mouth told him that he was treading on sensitive territory, and he thought, Well this had to happen eventually as he squared off his stance and looked Kaidan directly in the eye.

“You gone loco, man?” Vega moved into Garrus’ eyesight, shaking his head. “Didn’t we just establish that biotics will summon an unstoppable love monster?”

“I’m a fair shot,” said Kaidan. “But that’s not the objection Garrus has, I would guess.”

On his other side, Tali came to stand next to Garrus. She said nothing, but she crossed her arms and squared her stance.

“Kaidan,” Liara said. She stood and reached out to grasp Kaidan’s shoulder. “This isn’t the time.” Her voice was soft

“The Normandy is an alliance vessel, Garrus,” said Kaidan, shrugging Liara off. “Which, last time I checked, you are not a member of. But I let you take charge because the crew respects you.”

“You let me?” Garrus stood a little taller, his mandibles flared and his plates contracted. “I don’t remember asking your permission.”

“Considering that I’m the highest-ranking member of any military on the Normandy, it was a little strange you didn’t.”

“And yet you kept yourself in line when Shepard was in charge.”

“Because there were bigger issues at hand, like, for example, the fate of the galaxy as we know it. And since we’re on the subject of Shepard—”

“Kaidan,” Liara said, her voice low, “now is really not the time for this.”

“Perfect. I’m lying here partially digested and you two are posturing over an a… absent… female…” Javik was suddenly having trouble working his mouth, something Garrus barely registered.

“Speaking of Shepard,” said Garrus, over them all, “How long was it after the Reapers invaded that you finally listened to Shepard, Kaidan?”

“Just because you hopped along for the ride without asking questions that needed to be asked doesn’t mean you get a free pass to do what you want later on without the consequences, Garrus.”

“Don’t lecture me on consequences, Kaidan. You wouldn’t stand by Shepard unless it was convenient for you, and the crew knows that.”

“The crew isn’t involved in this conversation, just you and me.”

“Liarasari, what was in that drink and why does my… mouth feel strange?”

“The crew trusts me because they know how I acted when Shepard came calling, how I acted when it wasn’t going to look good, and it wasn’t heroic, and they know where you stood, and so did Shepard.”

“Don’t paint yourself some kind of hero for joining up with Cerberus because your hero crush—”

“Kaidan,” Liara said, “stop.”

“Is this about who tells the crew how to do their jobs or is this about Shepard and I, Kaidan?”

“Asaliara, was there… there was a seduc… sedative in that drink…”

“Why don’t we just make it about both? Exactly how long did you wait after Horizon before you made your move?”

That stung, and it made Garrus’ next words come out with a low growl in his subvocals. “You really don’t want to go there, Kaidan.”

“Okay,” Vega said, “I knew you two had… problems but maybe this could wait? We’re sort of—”

“Garrus, we fought together. I had your back. You had mine. Then you turned around and did this to me?”

Kheelah, Liara, what exactly did you give Javik?”

“Did it to you? You act like the universe revolves around your wounded pride, Alenko.”

“Er, well the sedative is more… extreme than I thought…”

“Look, Scars, and um, wow I never picked a name for you so we’re going with Glowstick, you both need to calm down.”

“I knew it, you… just want to get me while I… I am weak…”

“You never even thought once about me, did you? You just went ahead full-throttle without thinking about what might happen.”

“Extreme, Liara? He’s drooling.”

“No, wait, Glowstick stinks. Wait, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the fact that we are in the middle of nowhere and everyone just keeps yelling at each other…”

“Javik, I’m sorry, but you were probably going to pass out anyway when we carried you.”

“There’s that ego, again. Did it occur to you to remember that at least two people have to initiate a relationship, or are you too busy blaming me for the stupid shit you said on Horizon?”

“I communic… ate through touch, Liarasari, you would like to see me… horizontal…”

“Oh Goddess. We are not talking about this right now, Javik.”

“Sparks, you talk some sense into them, it’s too hard to be the voice of reason if they just keep ignoring me.”

“I was right on Horizon, Cerebrus was using her, and maybe I was right to walk away from her then, maybe I wasn’t. I don’t know.”

“… among other things… I am curious… I believe Talian is right, my mouth is… wet…”

“This has been a long time coming, Vega. I think we should just get some snacks and enjoy the show. Maybe I’ll tweak Chiktikka’s software…”

“Javik, you should really stop speaking. Right now.”

“And what makes you think that if you just came walking back she would forgive you? You never thought about how she felt, just about you, and it broke her heart, you turning on her like that.”

“Wait, which show are you talking about?”

“But if to preserve my genetic… line in some fash… way, if I must choose between a… flesh-eating tentacle monster and… yourself, I would like you to know I choose your melding, Liarasari. Asariarla.”

“That doesn’t excuse what you did, Garrus!”

“You always know exactly what to say, Javik. Now please. Shut up.”

“Both, Vega. Definitely both.”

“Why does it have to? Do I owe you something for all of this? For having one thing in my life go right, just for a little while? I wasn’t going to let that chance go to waste, Kaidan. Not ever.”

Would choose. Would choose your… Liara, Asari, this is… hypo… thetical…”

“Well, I’ve seen worse vids than this, Sparks… wish I had some popcorn, though.”

“Yes, I get it Javik, you can go back to hating me whenever you like, just please stop talking about it.”

“And I’m the one with the ego! We’ve all lost something, Garrus, we’ve all lost so much to this damn war and just because your life is hard doesn’t mean you’re special.”

Garrus was about to reply, but just as he opened his mouth a screech came from down the hill, high-pitched and shrill, and they all instinctively looked in its direction.

“By any chance was that the tentacle monster?” Vega asked.

“No,” Garrus said, his assault rifle trained towards the gaps between the trees. “This sounds different.”

“We need to head back to the Normandy,” Kaidan said.

“No,” Garrus responded. “Whatever that is, we can’t risk leading it back. The Normandy’s defences aren’t ready. Liara.”

“Javik will hold. I have more sedative for him.”

“It’s our supplies I’m worried about,” said Tali. “Did anyone bring food with them? We’re almost out of ours.”

“We did,” Vega said, “but not a lot. And no dextro. Sorry.”

“Kaidan,” said Garrus, “you said Traynor picked up something else?”

There was another scream, and then two more. Garrus guessed it was from different individuals.

“To the east. You can’t seriously mean to take us all there.”

“Can you lead us there?”

“We have to head back to the Normandy, remember what happened last time you went looking for EDI?”

The first one broke through the trees, and it took a moment for Garrus to register where exactly its head was, because it had about thirty tentacles sticking out from a pointed head. It moved remarkably fast through the trees for something that was clearly not designed for movement on land, and it took three headshots to get it down. When it did, it deflated from seven feet tall to a puddle of limbs and green ooze.

“Is that a goddamn squid,” Vega shouted.

“I am not leading these things back to the Normandy, Alenko. Either you take us to that energy signature or I lead us in a blind direction in the forest and hope we don’t walk off a cliff.”

The second one emerged from the tree line at that point, bright red and with six eyes and its outer shell was hard enough that it almost got to Garrus before it collapsed at his feet like the first one, minus deflation. The next few that broke through the trees were each of varying shapes and hardness, and some quick work by Vega and Tali took them out.

“Fine,” said Kaidan, whipping out his Omni-Tool. “I’ll send you the files in case we get separated.”

Garrus nodded. “Vega, take Javik and go with Kaidan. Liara, you’re with us. We’ll hold here as long as we can, then follow you.”

“Next wave is here!” shouted Tali, and Garrus raised his assault rifle to his shoulder.

“Like old times, Tali,” Liara said, raising her pistol.

“Funny,” said Tali, “I don’t remember ever fighting seven foot tentacle creatures.” The first one that came out of the bushes was a florescent blue, and it was swinging between each branch of the trees with its relatively short limbs, its awkwardly long body hanging below it. It leapt at Tali’s head, the base of its tentacles exposed like it wanted to eat her face.

Tali raised her shotgun and shot it clean out of the air, and ducked so its entrails wouldn’t splatter all over her suit.

“Okay,” said Liara, “is it just me or did that one look like—”

“Liara, to your left!”

Liara twisted and unloaded three shots into the head of the creature approaching from her left. It was about knee height, and unlike the others it walked upright on all its limbs, each tentacle ending with a long, sharp claw that stuck into the ground and supported it. It had a few at the rear that were too short, and they curled towards its pointed head.

Garrus popped the last heat sink in his assault rifle—he hadn’t taken one easy on the damn things, because why the hell would he have needed that—and pulled out his sniper rifle, drawing further back from the fight. It was hell aiming the old girl in such close quarters, but she purred nonetheless under Garrus’ fingers when a slug went right through one creature that was all tentacles and almost no head.

“Duck!” yelled Tali, and they didn’t really have any cover so they just hit the ground. Garrus watched with one eye a wave of biotic energy pass over him, uprooted trees spinning overhead and crashing into the growth behind them.

Garrus got to his knees in time to see Liara throw out a lift field, and Tali pulled out her pistol with her off-hand to pick off a number of small creatures in the air. Garrus almost laughed at how they looked, limbs flayed out like stars as they soared overhead, but then Tali yelled again and he hit the ground to watch tree trunks fly overhead.

“Where’s that biotic?” he hissed, withdrawing a little to use one of the displaced trees as cover. He looked over it and peered down the line of destruction until he saw it. His visor told him it was fourty feet away, poking its head out of the ocean and glowing, preparing another shockwave. There was a good ten-foot wide line of destruction leading all the way up, and Garrus found himself wondering what their mother could do with more than one person as the genetic… donor.

He leaned his head into his scope, and lined it up. The first shot he loosed hit a barrier, and it held, which made Garrus snarl.

“It has a barrier,” he shouted over the gunfire, just as it loosed the shockwave. “Hit the dirt!” he yelled, and the shockwave was strong enough to shove Garrus and his cover five feet backwards, but still unharmed.

“We need to get that barrier down,” said Tali. “We can’t run from it like this.”

“Cover me,” Liara shouted, standing. The familiar blue glow accompanied her focusing her biotic field, and Tali drew closer to Liara to pick off the knee-high shock troops that came running. Three more came swinging through the trees and Garrus sniped them, one by one, the last when it leapt for Liara’s head.

Liara’s biotics lifted the biggest tree in sight, roots and all, out of the ground, and she let loose a scream from her gut as she launched it, roots first, down the line of carnage. For just a second, Garrus thought, there’s no way it’ll hit, I’ve never seen a lift go that far, but then the tree hit the creature’s biotic shield. There was a split second of resistance, and the tree hovered in air, but then Liara yelled again, and her whole body pushed forward, and the tree broke through and impaled the creature’s bloated head. Garrus watched through his scope as it flailed, then settled, its limbs twitching, in the shallows of the water.

Liara swayed where she stood, and said, “Remind me never to do that again,” before she fell to her knees.

“Time to go!” Tali yelled, while Garrus was still in awe, and she yanked Liara to her feet and started running in the direction Vega and Alenko had gone. Garrus stuck around long enough to snipe a few that were getting too close for comfort, and then he was off after them, leaving the carnage behind.

In the dark space before the morning, they ran half-blind through the trees, only the readings on Garrus’ visor telling them where to go, and behind them they heard that multi-layers, cacophonic screech from the Mother, like a mourning cry, or the scream of a blood rage. The dense rain forest swallowed it, and eventually they heard only their own frantic breathing, the occasional shot of a pistol as something came too close for comfort, aimed blindly behind them, into the dark.

Chapter Text

The voice had given her the space she needed to think. She had completed almost all her objectives necessary for the mission to succeed. There was, in reality, only to return to herself and start the sequence. She was almost ready.

But still she hesitated.

She wondered if this is how Shepard felt at the important junctures. When the choices were laid out before her, the consequences entirely unknown. EDI knew the sequence of events that would follow if she went along with the voice’s plan. There were two possibilities, and it all hinged on whether the voice was telling the truth.

If she turned and walked away, on the other hand, there was only one possible result: The relays never restart. The crew repairs the Normandy, but the relays are down and they cannot leave the system. They live and die in this system. Maybe they live happy lives. EDI’s programming slowly degrades, but even then, she remains long after Jeff, long after the crew has died and their children’s children now populate this place. Maybe Liara holds her hand as she goes. That would be nice, at least, a familiar face as she becomes too corrupted to function.

She was most drawn to refusal, because at least then all the cards were on the table. There is limited uncertainty. She knew what the results would be. She did not like the uncertainty of the other option.

She thought again of Shepard. She wondered if this is a risk Shepard would ever take.

Then she initiated the program, and came back to her own body. She was surprised to find herself smiling.

The machinery in front of her began to grind and whir, and she watched as it began to glow in the pitch black of the night.

-

They almost stumbled right into Kaidan and Vega in the darkness, and Garrus only thought to ask them why they’ve stopped.

“The signal’s changed,” said Kaidan in a whisper.

Garrus’s mandibles twitched. “Changed how?”

Tali fiddled with her Omni-tool. “Kheelah,” she said. “I’m getting massive energy output, most of it… biotic.”

Kaidan was working his jaw again—and even Garrus could make out the sound of his teeth grinding. “Whatever’s going on over there, I get the feeling it’s going to be drawing a lot of those squid off our tail.”

“How many heat clips do we have?” Garrus asked.

“Not many,” said Vega. Javik was still slung over his shoulder like a sack of flour, unconscious. “No one was really expecting violent locals.”

“Have we heard from EDI?” Liara asked.

Kaidan shook his head. “No word yet. But I find it hard to believe those things would go after her. I think this is a good time to take advantage of their distraction and head back to the Normandy.”

“Then we come back with the shuttle and hit it with heavy weapons until it won’t bother us any more, which is a solid plan.” Vega shifted the weight of Javik further up onto his broad shoulder. “Except the shuttle still needs some pretty serious repairs before it’s going to run, and we have no heavy weapons to speak of.”

“And what if EDI’s there?” Tali shifted her weight. “We can’t just leave her to those… things.”

“They may not be interested in EDI at all,” Liara said. “I hate to say it, but it may be smarter to leave her and regroup at the Normandy.”

Garrus crossed his arms as he listened.

“I think our best shot is to get to higher ground and take it out before it takes us out,” Vega said.

“Or at least set up some sort of perimeter,” Tali said, “I mean, we are on its home, after all. Maybe if we just find a way to avoid it, or convince it not to come near us, we could focus on getting the Normandy up and running with minimal casualties on both sides.”

“She’s right,” said Kaidan. “It’s not long until the Normandy is spaceworthy, anyway. Our best bet is to lie low and try not to attract its attention.”

“I didn’t say lie low. I said learn more about it so we can better avoid it in the future.”

“But we don’t have the resources for such an undertaking,” said Liara. “And neither do we have anyone present who is an expert on xenomorphology.”

Garrus raised his hand, and everyone quieted. “In the interest of not having a repeat of half an hour ago,” he said, softly, “let’s keep this discussion… quiet.”

Then his com crackled into static and EDI’s clear voice came through. “Garrus, it has come to my attention that Jeff sent you looking for me.”

“And who told you that?”

“Jeff.”

Garrus wanted to laugh. “Yes, he did. Where are you?”

“That is not important. I apologize for not informing you when I left that my mission would keep me for some time. I expect to be back after two days. I ask that until then you have patience and give me the time I need.”

He shifted his weight from foot to foot. “By any chance does your mission involve a high output of biotic energy?”

“Yes.”

When she didn’t offer further, he sighed. “Under the circumstances, EDI, I have to ask you to postpone. There are locals and they are hostile, and they’re attracted to biotic energy, and we think they’re headed your way.”

“I was not aware this moon had sentient lifeforms.”

“We woke one up. And it’s mad and it’s coming for you. Stop what you’re doing and head back to the Normandy. We’ll figure out our next step from there.”

“I cannot postpone my mission at this juncture Garrus.”

Garrus resisted the urge to groan. “Why did I know you were going to say that?”

“Any shut down or termination of the process I have started would end in critical mission failure. This process cannot be rebooted.” She paused for a moment there, and then said, “You are certain that these hostile lifeforms are headed in my direction.”

Garrus looked at the others. No one was saying anything, and no one made a move, except Tali, who was rapidly working with her Omni-Tool.

“It is difficult to gauge their destination at this juncture,” Tali offered, “and I cannot accurately pinpoint their position, but the Mother does emit a faint Eezo signature that I can to some extent track, and her trajectory suggests they’re headed your way, EDI.”

“That will make proceeding here difficult. This is a complex procedure and it requires my complete attention. As such, I must request backup.”

Garrus clenched his jaw. “EDI,” he said, “we’re down Javik and we’re low on supplies. Just how important is this mission of yours?”

EDI was silent for some time—Garrus wondered for a bit if she even got the message, but then his com crackled to life and she said, “This process is integral to restarting the relays. If my mission fails, we will remain here forever.”

Garrus looked at the team and tried to read their expressions. He expected some kind of protest, maybe from Kaidan, but that bit of news more than anything seemed to shut everyone up at last.

“Send us your location,” he said, “we’ll get there as soon as we can.” EDI cut the signal, and then Garrus turned to Vega. He looked at Javik, still out cold, for a long moment, before he asked Liara, “If we need to get Javik back to the Normandy, it has to be now.”

Liara seemed to be thinking about it. “No,” she said, “I don’t think we can afford the risk to bring him back. Two will need to take him, and knowing as little as we do about what we’ll be protecting, I don’t think we can risk the cost to our numbers that would mean. I have enough supplies for him to hold if I ration them carefully.”

“Food is going to be an issue,” said Tali.

“We’ll work it out,” said Garrus. “Vega, Tali, you take point. Be ready to run if there’s trouble, you’re protecting Javik. Liara, use biotics to draw attention from Vega and Tali if there’s trouble. Kaidan, you’re with me.”

The others started off, and Garrus and Kaidan hung back for a bit, under the pretense of Garrus loading some of Kaidan’s spare heat sinks into his assault rifle.

“You’re right,” said Garrus. “I should have spoken to you about command. But someone needed to take charge and I couldn’t just sit there and watch the situation fall to pieces.”

Kaidan stared at him.

“And, in spite of everything I just said, the crew does look up to you. You’re a Spectre, you took down Saren. You were there with us at the end. So we need to be together on this, or the team will suffer.”

Kaidan looked down, then away, and for a while looked anywhere but at Garrus, and then finally he sighed. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I don’t know how you’re handling all this so damn well, Garrus, but I’m pissed as fuck, and I took it out on you, and I’m sorry.”

“Well,” said Garrus, shifting his shoulders, “it didn’t exactly take a whole lot for me to start yelling back.”

“It’s just, she deserved better, you know?” They started to follow the rest of the team, their guns resting on their shoulders as they walked side-by side through the undergrowth. “She deserved to settle down somewhere nice be… happy, you know? Otherwise, what’s the point of bringing her back like Cerberus did, just to throw it all away later?”

“But that’s not how life works,” said Garrus. “Not everyone just gets what they deserve.”

“I know,” said Kaidan, softly. “It’s naïve to think that, but, still.”

“I get it.” Garrus didn’t really know what else to say—he never did have a reputation for being good with words—but he put his hand on Kaidan’s shoulder. They didn’t say anything more—were they sharing a moment or was it awkward, Garrus could never really tell with anyone who wasn’t Shepard—and then they followed the others into the forest.

“They seem to be travelling by ocean, if I have the Mother’s trajectory right,” Tali was saying, her voice muffled by thick foliage and Vega’s bulk directly behind her. “They seem to be faster in the water than they are on land, which may be a problem…”

“Then maybe we should pick up the pace?” Liara asked.

“Or,” said Tali, “take a shortcut. How good are you at climbing?”

The Asari sighed. “This isn’t going to end well, is it?”

Tali didn’t respond, but she changed course suddenly, veering towards the ocean. They hiked
towards the smell of salt and the faint eezo radiation as the sun slowly began to rise, and the faintest morning light began to peek through the canopy.

Tali stopped as abruptly as she’d started and said, “That’s the quickest way up.”

The others spread out and stood at the forest’s edge without comment, until Garrus and Kaidan broke its cover and stared up at the cliff in front of them.

“No big deal,” said Vega, “except for, you know, the unconscious guy I’ve been lugging around for two hours now.”

“Couldn’t you and Kaidan lift him up with biotics, Liara?” Garrus was skeptical even as he asked the question. His visor read the cliff as about fifteen feet right up—it had a minor slope to it, so it was more like a very abrupt hill, but the point remained. It was a tough climb.

“Not without breaking his bones,” said Liara. “Maybe halfway, if we were in a real hurry. But even then, we’d risk crushing his spine.”

There came the screams from their left, and they all turned. They couldn’t see the ocean through the trees, but they could hear it, under the multiple high-pitched shrieks that signalled the ocean creatures’ arrival.

“They’re faster than I thought,” Tali said, checking her Omni-Tool. “The Mother is still some ways behind us. It’s possible only the small ones came this far.”

“Does anyone have any rope?” Garrus asked, until Kaidan pulled some out of Vega’s pack. “Tie Javik to Vega. He’s the first one up, the rest of us will have to cover him. Hopefully we can get it done before biotics show up.”

“Shit,” said Kaidan, “biotics?”

“You just have to hit their barriers with something very large,” said Liara. “Kaidan, let’s knock down some trees.”

“No way Doc. You’re going to toss tabers with your mind?”

Everyone stared at him until he coughed.

“What are we all standing here for? Someone tie him up so I can get going.”

“There should be enough for you to lower it to us when you get to the top,” said Liara. “And please be careful. He’s the last Prothean there is.”

“My own neck notwithstanding,” Vega grumbled, but another cacophony of shrieks made him move, and everyone else gathered around the rocks at the base of the cliff, waiting for the first to hit. Garrus stayed close to the rear and pulled out his Black Widow and just focused on breathing. He switched on his playlist, just because he had time to. Something from the Fleet and Flotilla soundtrack came up and he remembered making Shepard watch it, and she claimed she hated it but then they played the game and she got way too involved in getting a perfect score—this character I’m playing has the persuasive ability of a drunk rhino being her exact words.

The first one came within sight, and Garrus leaned into his scope. He exhaled, pulled the trigger, and his Black Widow purred underneath him. The creature’s head exploded, sending a wave of purple and orange ooze in all directions, and ten of the small, fast ones appeared, swinging from branch to branch.

Tali and Garrus picked a few off before Liara and Kaidan sent a joint shockwave down the line ahead of them, sending tree trunks and squid flying ten feet back and eliminating the cover their attackers could use in the air. Liara and Kaidan ducked down and breathed until they stood to clear the trees on either side, to reduce flanking.

The next wave clambered over the fallen trees and rushed them, the knee-high ones with claws that dug into the ground. They gleamed wet from the ocean in the early morning sun, and Garrus intensified his scope until he could see their little hearts beating in their translucent green bodies.

The first he took out in its little pulsating heart, the second right through a bright red eye right where its head and limbs met, shooting right through the soft parts of its tentacles to do it, and the third he hit right in its brain, a lumpy, misshapen thing that sparked with blue energy. All this before they even fell, their pointed legs catching the light like metal. Immediately they were overrun by their siblings, holes punctured in their corpses by the rushing creatures, and Garrus just kept shooting and reloading, because hell there must have been a hundred of them. He got a break when Liara and Kaidan sent out a lift field, kicking them into the air and they spun, slowly, their shining limbs flailing for purchase in excruciating slow-motion as their fragile little bodies were ripped apart by the singularity, or by Tali’s shotgun.

He leaned back to watch it, still slightly in awe of the sheer power his squadmates were capable of, and he almost turned to his right and said, See, Shepard, I told you we can do this, because of course she was there, wasn’t she always?

Instead he leaned into his scope again and peered down the line of carnage. “Making any progress Vega?”

Vega’s voice came through the com short of breath. “Stop… hassling me, Scars, this is difficult shit.”

“Bullshit, I’ve seen you work out,” said Kaidan. “How many chin-ups do you do all day long? Don’t tell me this is making you break a sweat.”

“Hustle soldier!” said Tali, laughing while trying her best to sound gruff.

“Was that supposed to be Vega?” Liara paused to pick off a couple still struggling with her pistol.

“Well I thought it was good,” Tali grumbled, and they laughed, probably more from adrenaline from anything else. Garrus didn’t really join them, though, and Tali glanced back, her posture tensing up. Kaidan looked at Garrus for a moment, too, but then Liara shouted and they turned back, raising their weapons.

Garrus wasn’t sure how the hell he was still holding up, either. He turned off the music.

The next wave was the slower ground troops, with soft bodies and tentacles that had trouble climbing over the mass of tree trunks slick with the guts of their siblings. Their heads were kept close to their mass of limbs, either from gravity or to protect them, and it took a fraction of a second longer to locate the vital parts, usually its brain, a little white ball in its gelatinous head. Tali had more success with the shotgun—two shots to each one, one to blow away the limbs, the next to blow away the head. She’d practically built her own cover out of deflated corpses in no time.

Kaidan and Liara lifted a tree trunk together and used it to crush five of the things, and six more clambered over top. Garrus got three of them before Kaidan and Liara took the others out, and from far above them came a celebratory whoop.

“I’m up,” Vega’s voice came through the com, “Gimme a minute to get the rope off Javik. It’s not quite long enough, you’ll still have to climb a bit to get up to it.”

“Tali,” Garrus said. She was in the middle of reloading her shotgun. “Get up there and see if EDI needs any help.”

“I’m not leaving you down here, Garrus,” she said, coolly. She raised her gun just in time to take out two of the things, perfectly spaced for her shotgun spread.

“You’re the lightest,” he told her, “you can help pull the others up. Get going.”

“You’re the sniper, Garrus, get on the high ground.”

“Do it now, Tali.”

He hadn’t meant to growl at her, but from the stiffening of her posture he knew that hadn’t gone over well. But she fell back, hesitantly, and as soon as she was clear she ran to the cliff. Garrus didn’t turn to see her climbing, but he heard rocks begin to tumble and he hissed “Be careful!”

“Come on Sparks,” shouted Vega, “you’re a sitting duck down there.”

“I don’t know what a duck is or why all it does is sit down,” Tali grumbled.

Then Garrus had to focus, so he drowned out the com chatter with more bullets. There wasn’t much left to do after Liara let loose a singularity, other than pick them off one by one.

They had a breather to reload, and Vega shouted down “Next!” just as the next wave moved in.

“Liara, you’re up,” Garrus said, leaning into his scope. She didn’t argue, just threw out another singularity before running for the cliff.

These ones were bigger and even slower, but they could pick up giant rocks with their limbs and throw them. One crashed into the cliff side behind Garrus, deflected by a quick barrier from Liara, and Garrus yelled to Kaidan, “Barrier!”

Kaidan fell back to Garrus’ position, shooting all the way. “These ones have tough shells,” he said.

Garrus hit a few buttons on his Omni-Tool to sync with Kaidan’s barrier, so he wouldn’t damage it. “Then we’ll just have to be precise. How long can you hold that barrier?”

A rock smashed to pieces on the barrier right in front of Garrus’ face. They both stared at it for a moment.

“For a while, as long as they just throw rocks.”

Garrus nodded, then leaned into the scope of his rifle. “I’ll handle this,” he said, and stared one of the things’ many eyes down the scope.

He exhaled and let the shot go, and the thing stumbled.

“I think that just made it mad,” Kaidan said. They will still too far away for any precision without a scope, so he maintained the barrier while Garrus lined up his next shot. “I count four of them. You going to get them all before they start smashing limbs all over us?”

“Don’t I always?” Garrus said, increasing the zoom on his visor to get a better look. The readouts of armour density showed up, and he let his gaze wander all over the ugly thing until he found a likely spot.

“Hold the barrier,” he said, lining up his shot. “When Vega’s ready, you’re next.”

“What the hell are you going to do while I’m climbing?”

Garrus let one loose, and it went a little wide, glancing off the armour of its legs. Garrus hissed as he lined up again, turning on armour piercing. “I got pretty good at keeping my head down on Omega,” he said, and the next shot hit the thing right at the base of its head, where the flesh was tender and unprotected. It went clean through and the thing fell, not quite dead but down for the count.

“Was that before or after the rocket to the face?”

Garrus reloaded, then aimed at the next closest. It was trying to lift a whole tree. It went down without a hitch.

“Next!” Vega shouted.

Kaidan hesitated.

“I’ve got this,” said Garrus with a half-grin, baring his teeth. He didn’t look at Kaidan as the human left, just lined up the next shot and waited for those pesky legs to move out of his way before he took it.

Two down. The third was farther away, but had actually lifted a rock and Garrus wasn’t sure how strong Kaidan’s shield was while he climbed. Not to mention it had the little sweet spot at the base of his limbs nicely exposed for the shot.

“Your left!” Kaidan shouted from above, and Garrus instinctively fell back into a roll, just in time to avoid the boulder that almost crushed his head. The final one was standing (if they really stood) over him, its tentacles reaching down for Garrus’ neck. Garrus took the precious time to load a concussive shot, to aim it right between the thing’s many eyes, and, oddly, to exhale right before he pulled the trigger. For consistency, he supposed.

Not that it was a whole lot of comfort when he was covered in bright green gunk. He frantically checked to make sure his gun hadn’t been gunked up with the stuff. He scanned the battlefield ahead of him and didn’t see any immediate threats. He looked back up to see Kaidan finally reach the rope, to be pulled up as fast as Vega, Tali and Liara could lift him.

Then his visor displayed an alarm, and Garrus ducked below cover once again. “Biotic!”

The shockwave hit, and tree trunks assaulted the cliff side. Garrus had to leap over his cover to avoid being crushed by falling boulders. A quick glance upward told him Kaidan was battered by the blast, but his barrier had held. The others began to pull him up again.

“Let me down,” he was saying, “I’ll protect Garrus while you pull us up together.”

“Like hell you will,” Garrus said, loading another concussive shot. “Pull him up.”

“Bullshit Garrus, you can’t survive a blast like that on the rope.”

“Then I won’t, we’ll just take it down.” He loaded a concussive shot into his rifle. He was standing completely unprotected, directly in the biotic’s line of fire. He watched it from afar as it changed colours rapidly, alternating between red and white. He raised the gun to his shoulder, leaned his head into the scope and looked for the spot.

This one was crawling out of the water, slowly, steadily. Garrus waited as its great limbs churned the shallows about them, waited for an opening.

He ignored Tali yelling at him through the com. The only sound he heard was Shepard, standing next to him, not breathing because she wasn’t there, and she never would be again.

Garrus let loose the first shot, and it hit the barrier. Then another. And another. He had to stop to reload as the barrier flickered, and the creature hesitated in its movement.

“Don’t you run away.” Garrus couldn’t even hear anything else. He was in full on predatory mode. There was the sound of his own breathing, of the butt of his rifle hitting his armour as he raised it to his shoulder. The absence to his right, and a vacuum all around him.

Where the hell do I go from here, he thought, and he lined up his shot.

The creature was gathering its biotic field again, blue energy obscuring the view through his scope, but Garrus could feel the shot more than see it now, and the need to make it pulsed through his blood, and he could see its barrier flicker as it pulled that energy into the oncoming wave.

And he remembered Omega, firing that shot just off her shoulder, just to take down her sheilds, just to see her head turn and her expression, and the fire in her eyes when she looked back up at him.

He took the shot, and the thing in the shallows released its energy.

He hit the ground, or tried to, but the shockwave hit him before he got there, and he tumbled somewhere, everywhere, and he was thinking, I need to hold my breath but he wasn’t underwater, that was earlier, but there was more pressure that built up around him, and all the air was forced out of his lungs when he hit something, or something hit him, then suddenly it was gone, and he was lying face down in the dirt. He could hear Tali screaming in his ear—his visor, he remembered, dizzy—and someone shoved him over and then he was on Shepard’s bed, staring at the stars overhead, and she was next to him but she definitely wasn’t, and it seemed important not to look at her but he was having trouble remembering why.

Chapter Text

EDI was monitoring the systems, and she was considering diving into the system again to argue with that particularly cantankerous program, when the others came, Garrus slung between Vega and Tali and Vega, his feet dragging on the ground behind them, while Liara and Kaidan did the same for Javik.

“There has to be some way to get the shuttle up,” Kaidan was saying into the com system.

“Yeah, that’s a no-go, we’ve already scrapped too much of it for the Normandy, and taking it out would take like, a week. Not to mention Cortez trashing it on Earth.”

EDI heard Tali next, her voice high and frantic. “… if you die on me Garrus I swear I will personally pay Miranda to bring your miserable corpse to life so I can kill you myself, you cannot do this to me, not for some stunt you bosh’tet.”

“Sparks, he’s going to be fine, he took a rocket to the face what the hell is a biotic blast from a giant Humboldt?”

“Vega you are not a doctor and if you tell me he’s going to be fine one more time I will shoot you.”

“Sparks, I don’t think Glowstick will be cool with another team member out for the count.”

“Vega,” said Kaidan, sounding weary, “if you call me Glowstick again I’ll shoot you.”

“EDI,” Liara breathed as she and Kaidan set Javik down in the protection of the dome, “we had an incident.”

“Considering that the last time I spoke to you Garrus was conscious, yes, I gathered as much.” She gestured to her left, where a black duffel bag lay on the floor. “There are limited medical supplies in the bag, although I would ask you to go easy on them, considering we may need more by the end of the day.”

Tali and Vega set down Garrus while Liara ripped open the duffel bag. “Goddess,” she whispered, “EDI, this must be half of the Normandy’s supplies. What did you need all this for?”

EDI hesitated. “Foresight,” she answered. “I prepare for the worst.”

“You can’t even use this on yourself,” she said, standing. “Not that I’m not grateful, but, it is a little strange.”

Then Garrus moaned in his sleep, and she was distracted enough to kneel beside him. Kaidan, however, was not.

“She’s right, EDI. Running off on your own, not telling us what your mission is, then requesting our aid… This is all a little suspicious.”

An alarm came up and EDI had to turn back to the console to quell the program again. “I believe I had this conversation with Garrus already, Kaidan.”

Kaidan sighed. “Yeah, you did, and he’s gone and pulled some heroic stunt and nearly gotten himself killed.”

“According to Dr. Chakwas, Garrus’ mental state was already in question. It was likely only a
matter of time after learning of Shepard’s death that his own self-preservation instincts failed him. Knowing Garrus and how strongly he feels about the preservation of the group over his own interests, this event is unlikely to repeat itself.”

“EDI,” said Tali, her voice somewhat calmer, “we all knew Garrus was upset. We’re all upset. But that’s not really where we’re concerned. We’re all going through a lot right now, and we don’t know when the… locals will come back, and you’re telling us this mission is important, important enough for us to risk our lives to defend you here, but all we know is that it’s going to restart the relays.”

There was a confirmation sound, and EDI gestured to the center of the circle. One of the many elongated cocoons standing in the middle rotated on its axle, then lowered to rest, horizontally, on the floor. The top half of the cocoon peeled away to reveal a table made of two rounded triangles, covered in heavy weapons and heat sinks.

“The hell,” Vega said.

Kheelah,” said Tali, “this whole room is a replicator. EDI, we could fix the Normandy in… weeks with this.”

“Once my objectives here were completed, I was going to direct a team from the Normandy to replicate and retrieve the parts needed for the rest of the Normandy’s repairs. I estimate that the time required for this entire process would be no longer than two days.”

“Did you make the medi-gel with this?” Liara asked as her light fingers checked Garrus’ head for injury.

“No,” said EDI, “I brought the medical supplies with me. I anticipated utilizing the entire system’s capacity for the main replication process. The risk to resupply your weaponry was taken because if we die defending this location, then the entire point of the main process will have been lost.”

“You’re being vague,” said Tali, “what is this process? What will it accomplish?”

“This is the first step integral to restarting the mass relays. I cannot say any more.”

“Why not? Why all the secrecy? We could help you, EDI, we could have been helping you this whole time.”

“Because,” said EDI, finally, “I am not certain this will work.”

“When has that ever been an issue?” Liara asked. “We still have no idea what the Crucible did. We didn’t even know if it would work, but we poured everything we had into making it anyway.”

“Because in this case, failure would mean restarting the Reaper War.”

“And you did it anyway,” said Garrus, and everyone turned to look at him.

-

He was still woozy. He probably hadn’t been out long. He wasn’t sure where he was, and it took him some time to figure out what was going on, but he followed Tali’s voice out of the fog, and when Tali turned to look at him he finally got a look at EDI, who held her gaze level at him and did not flinch.

“Hell of a risk you’re taking,” he said, his subvocals low.

“I am aware of that.”

“So those are Reapers repairing the relays.”

“Yes.”

“And I guess we can thank the Catalyst for their sudden change of heart?”

Liara was poking at his fringe, and it made his head all tingly so he waved her away. She ignored him and slapped some Medi-Gel on the spot.

“Yes.”

They were interrupted by the Mother’s screech, out over the ocean, and they were so used to it half of them didn’t even cover their ears. Garrus began to stand with a sigh, but Liara pushed him back down.

“You’re staying put,” she told him, firmly. “You’re not ready for duty, soldier.”

“Like hell,” he grunted, trying again. “We have the high ground, I’m at an advantage…”

But he was suddenly dizzy, and he had to be aided back down so he didn’t hurt himself.

“You should have thought about that before you pulled that stunt,” Tali said, her voice taking that short tone that meant he was in trouble. “You can’t aim worth shit in your state, Garrus.”

“Fine,” he said, and he watched them load up on the supplies EDI had replicated. “Aim for where the head meets the legs, the armoured ones have a weak spot there.”

“I was just going to point one of these at them,” Vega said, hoisting a missile launcher over his shoulder with a grin.

“Don’t let them get at your back. They might circle around through the trees and take you by surprise.”

“Then you’ll just have to cover us,” said Kaidan, putting Garrus’ rifle in his hands. Garrus felt too weak to even hold that up.

“And don’t overtax your biotics,” he said, trying to use the rifle to get up, but even what was too much for him. “Time your shots. Find something big to throw off the cliff, but don’t use biotics to throw anything too big.”

“Yes, mother,” Vega was saying, just as Liara stooped in front of him with a smile.

“Garrus,” she said, “we’ll let you know if we need you.”

Garrus noticed the pained twitch of her lips, and the way her eyes darted over his face as she looked at him.

“Yeah,” said Garrus. “I’ll uh, look after our neighbourhood friendly Prothean for you. Maybe I’ll give him some cuddles if he looks cold.”

That made her laugh, and Liara covered her mouth.

Tali was the last to set off, because her hands shook while she loaded her shotgun.

“We’ll be right back,” she said, her voice husky with anger. He wondered if she realised how attractive it made her sound, but he knew better than to ask. “Don’t do anything stupid while we’re gone.”

“Tali,” he said.

“I mean—honestly, Garrus, what the hell were you trying to prove.”

“Tali.”

“You don’t have to go down with the ship just to prove you’re good enough to be in charge, you know. I’ll never understand Turians, you’re all about throwing yourselves off bridges to prove how dedicated you are.”

“Tali, I’m sorry.”

That made her stop. She looked at him, and her body posture relaxed, just a little. “Keelah, I never could stay mad at you.” She looked away, and her helmet reflected light from the outside and it told Garrus that the sun was just beginning to rise. “Never do that to me again,” she said, softly. “I can’t lose you, too.”

“I know,” he said. Then, “Watch your back out there.”

“Oh don’t think this is over. I’m still preparing the lecture I’m going to give you. Just you wait.”

After that, he must have passed out for a while, but he woke up intermittently, to the sound of alarms from the terminal that EDI immediately brought under control, the sound of laughter over the com, guns firing in the distance and the shrieking of the local wildlife.

The last time he woke with a jolt, because the machine was powering down.

There was sun pouring in, the sun half-risen but still casting orange light over the plateau. The lichen outside had tiny flowers all over it, and they opened up to soak up the light, every one of them biotic blue. It caught his breath for a moment, and then the sound of the cocoon unravelling, the hiss of steam and the hum of a biotic field.

And when it all quieted down, the gasp of someone desperate for air.

It took Garrus precious seconds to work up the strength to get to his feet, and while he did EDI snatched up the black duffel bag next to him and ran to the center of the room. Garrus steadied himself, the rush of the stims in the medi-gel sparking his system from half-dead to overdrive, listening to the breathing of the unknown third person and thinking now you know you’re crazy Vakarian because it couldn’t be who it sounded like.

There was a scramble as EDI approached the center, the sound of flesh slapping against the glass—soft, human—and a pistol being dragged along the surface, then the safety removed. And all thoughts about his limbs hurting and his confusion fell away, and he turned to face the center, his rifle raised to his shoulder in one not quite smooth movement.

And there she was, her back to the weapon table, one hand with a pistol levelled at EDI, the other clutching a bleeding wound on her stomach.

And he should have pulled the trigger, because it wasn’t her, no one just comes back from the dead twice, and besides he probably had a concussion or something, but reason failed him and his body rasped out, “Jane?” before he could stop himself.

Her whole body must have been wired and ready for conflict, because she whipped around at the sound of his voice, her dark eyes wild at the distraction, then her expression faltering, and her pistol pointed at his head.

They stared at each other. Their weapons fixed on each other, shaking due to exhaustion. Neither moved.

“You first,” she breathed.

He felt his plates tighten, his mandibles pull closer to his face.

“I lied when I said I’d never thought about you… like that,” he said, both sets of his vocals low, soft. “I’d been working up the nerve to ask you since I met you.”

She smiled. Tried to, really—it turned into a grimace and he could swear his heart stopped, she was in so much pain. She lowered her pistol.

“I missed the second bottle on purpose,” she said.

There was a half second when he thought, really, I spill my guts and you give me that, but then he was lowering his rifle and saying, “I knew it,” and she collapsed to the floor.

Garrus was over the terminal and crouched down next to her, pressing his hands to her stomach to try to stop it, and he was so frantic he didn’t even remember EDI was there, that the rest of the world existed, until EDI appeared in his peripheral. He turned and snarled at her before he could stop himself, but EDI ignored him and dropped the duffel bag on the floor.

“Commander,” she was saying, “I need you to stay awake.”

“How,” she breathed, “I can’t—I was supposed to—”

“You did, Shepard,” EDI said, as softly as the AI could manage, “the Catalyst system made a copy of you as you were uploaded, which unfortunately includes all your injuries. I input the schematics of your implants, but the damage to your organic tissue is severe.”

“I can’t—ugh—EDI, did it—”

“The war is over, Shepard. With luck, it will stay that way.” EDI began applying Medi-Gel to the worst of Shepard’s wounds, the gash in her stomach. Garrus could see the lights of her implants inside the wound as they started up, and she groaned as broken bones began to shift inside her body. She reached for his hand and grabbed it, his talons slick with her blood and he stared at her.

“And you, the Geth—nothing happened, you’re all…”

EDI’s voice sounded almost warm when she said, “We’re all fine, Shepard. The Catalyst did not affect us in any way.”

“Garrus, how are you here? Where is…”

“Shepard,” said EDI, “I promise we will answer your questions later. Right now you need to focus on your recovery.”

But Shepard was looking up at him, and she was smiling, probably because of the painkillers EDI had just run through her system, and her other hand was tracing the scars on his face, her fingertips sending fireworks through his nervous system.

“I love you,” he said, and spirits he was keening, both sets of his vocals were all over the fucking map, and he must have been such a wreck but he couldn’t stop himself. “I love you, and I said it too late and I never said it enough.”

“Never too late, Garrus,” she said, softly.

“Garrus,” said EDI, with as soft a tone as the AI could manage, “I need you to remove her shirt.”

Shepard attempted an eyebrow wiggle and they both laughed. She proclaimed that it made her hurt more, so Garrus began to peel back what was left of her uniform shirt, checking for more injuries to her torso. He undid the buttons with shaking hands—he’d done it enough times but he was too damn emotional for this—and she hissed in pain. He touched her cheek until she steadied herself, and then he continued.

Underneath it all he could see the lights of her implants flaring up, and he watched one of her ribs move back into place under her skin with tight mandibles. She exhaled after it was done, a well-disguised grunt of pain, and Garrus applied some medi-gel to a gash on her collarbone.

“I need to bandage her stomach wound,” said EDI, and Garrus gingerly lifted Shepard and held her to him, her arms slung around his neck and her head resting on his armour. Garrus leaned in and smelled her neck, and it was her, mixed in with that dirt and blood and grime, there was her sweat and the last lingering traces of her perfume, almost worn off by movement and a change of clothes, and his tongue on her neck on a night that seemed like it was lifetimes ago. But there she was, fresh as the night he’d watched her turn away. His breath hitched in his throat as he breathed her in again, and again.

Her fingers moved to his cheek, and he leaned down and kissed her. Her lips pressed against his mandibles, and he tasted the warmth of her breath, with the tang of her blood and the sharpness of dirt and gun oil, and when he pulled away he touched his forehead to hers, meeting her eyes.

“I’m finished with her stomach,” said EDI. “Shepard, I brought you a change of clothes. I planned to replicate your armour, but unfortunately I used up the rest of the system’s energy to make explosives.”

Garrus took the clothes EDI offered—all neatly folded, down to the underwear and socks—and Shepard said, “Wait, explosives?” And from the look in her eye, Garrus knew she could suddenly hear the gunfire and the rush of biotic fields in the distance. Her cybernetics must have been repairing damage to her inner ears. She looked around more frantically until she saw Javik resting in the corner. “What happened?”

“The uh, locals are giving us some trouble,” Garrus said. “Let’s put this on, first.”

She waved him away with a wince. “Not until I’ve had a bath. Tell me everything. Actually, just the short version.”

He explained, as he helped her back into her blood-soaked and torn shirt, their discovery of the generator room and what happened with Javik.

“We’re being attacked by a giant angler fish?” was her only response to the bizarre mating process.

Garrus hadn’t the faintest clue what an angler fish was. “Vega kept said they looked like... a squid, actually.”

She had that look on her face she usually reserved for the Turian Councillor when he started using air quotes. “A squid.”

“Yes.”

“Who mate like angler fish. I’ve died and gone to a hell made of 20th century sci-fi flicks, haven’t I?” She sighed. “So she got enough out of poor Javik to spawn shock troops. So, why are you hanging back here and how come you look like hell?”

Garrus felt his mandibles press closer to his face, and she read his expression and frowned. He told her briefly about the fight at the bottom of the cliff, but EDI sitting there, dressing Shepard’s wounds, made him uneasy and a little embarrassed.

“I had to be the last one up,” he was saying, and she shook her head.

“You’re a sniper, Garrus, you should’ve gone up first.”
But the ensuing argument broke off when the com crackled to life. “Garrus,” Kaidan was saying, “is EDI done yet?”

“My objective here is completed,” EDI answered for herself. Garrus didn’t know whether to laugh or punch her for being so stubbornly vague.

“Good, Garrus, you take Javik and you get EDI to her next location, we’ll follow. The situation is—”

They waited when the sound of a biotic field being dispersed interrupted the com signal. Its crackle made Garrus wince.

“It’s the Mother,” Tali finished for him, “she’s coming ashore and she’s mad as hell.”
“Help me up,” Shepard said, and Garrus did one better. He gathered her up in his arms and lifted her as he stood, ignoring her protests. They could both see the state of her legs, and she wasn’t going to be able to move very fast.

“EDI, take Javik,” he said. “Tali, don’t lose EDI’s signal. Loop back this way and grab what you can.”

“Already on it,” Tali replied, and the sound of gunfire was drawing closer. He looked over his shoulder to watch them running towards the structure, throwing biotics and gunfire over their shoulders, and he saw the long tentacles rising above the cliff.

He was standing next to the table with all the weapons on it, and Shepard grabbed a shotgun when he wasn’t looking. He looked back down at her to see her checking the ammunition. EDI had finished gathering the supplies into the black bag and thrown it over her shoulder. She was pulling Javik to his feet.

“He is above this body’s weight threshold,” she told Garrus, pistol in hand.

“Noted,” Garrus said, watching Shepard balance a shotgun on her torso so she could stuff heat clips down her shirt and into the many pockets on her pants. Her teeth were clamped onto the pistol she had earlier, safety thankfully on.

She said something around the gun in her mouth that was probably, “Don’t think this conversation is over just because a fifty-foot squid is chasing us,” but he pretended he couldn’t understand her.

“I understand this is part of human nuptial ceremony, Commander?” came Javik’s wry comment, and Garrus looked over to see him leaning on EDI, but awake. If not in what was likely an unbearable amount of pain. “Are congratulations in order?”

Shepard took the pistol out of her mouth and shoved a heat clip into it. “Yes, it’s a shotgun wedding and Garrus is my baby daddy. We’re going to ask you to be the Godfather.”

“Approximately none of that makes any sense to me,” Garrus said.

“A human prone in the arms of a Turian. It’s nauseatingly sweet.”

Garrus took Shepard’s guns and placed them into the empty holsters on his back, thankful he rarely carried more than a sniper and assault rifle, so she could refill his ammo canisters. “Not as sweet as half of what you said to Liara after she drugged you.”

All of Javik’s eyes widened. “What did you say?”

“You don’t remember? It was very poetic, Javik. I think it brought a tear to my eye.”

Javik didn’t get the opportunity to ask more questions, because the Mother gave her awful wailing screech, and Garrus had to wordlessly toss the Prothean an assault rifle.

Shepard made one last grab for a grenade launcher, and she reached up for Garrus’ neck to pull herself up, supporting herself with one arm around his neck and resting the heavy gun on his shoulder, taking aim. “Run steady,” she shouted over the noise, and EDI began to drag Javik down the steps and out of the structure. But Shepard stopped him from following with a hand on his scar, and yelled, “We’ll take the rear,” just as the cry was dying down.

Garrus’ mandibles twitched into a smirk. “I believe you have a long-range grenade launcher, Commander.”

“Smartass.”

Liara and Tali were the first to run up to the structure as Garrus exited, and they made straight for the weapons’ table. Tali only paused to give Garrus hell about standing there, and did a visible double-take mid-sentence, her legs stopping forward momentum a little faster than her torso. Liara didn’t even notice, only stopping to throw some heat sinks into her pockets.

“Garrus,” Kaidan panted as he came up, not even really looking at Garrus, “some backup if you don’t mind?”

“Got it,” said Garrus, and Shepard clapped one hand over his ear just before she pulled the trigger. A glance over his shoulder and he saw the grenade make contact with a tentacle above them. Then he had to duck to avoid being showered with potentially threatening alien body parts, using his body to shield Shepard. When he stood again, everyone was grabbing whatever was left of the supplies and following Tali’s lead.

“How ungrateful,” said Shepard, but she was smiling.

“Hurry up, Garrus!” Vega shouted over his shoulder, and they disappeared into the forest. Garrus raced after them, Shepard’s reassuring weight making his legs tingle all the way up to his spurs when his feet hit the ground.

Shepard fired off two more before they hit the treeline, each time she clasped the hand she held on with on his ear to muffle the sound of the grenade launcher she rested on his shoulder, and each time he worried she might fall. He considered telling her he’d rather go deaf in that ear because every time she did she choked him a little bit. Instead, he hiked her up higher onto his shoulder and focused on running, on keeping his torso stable so she could get a good shot.

EDI must have patched in the signal to his visor, because the trail the others had taken lit up in yellow when he looked ahead. Offering a perch for Shepard with one arm and supporting her back with the other left him with nothing to balance himself, so the going was slower than he liked. If he stumbled, he had to let her back go to stabilize himself. The first time, the loss of her counterbalance made her aim go high, and she sent a grenade high into the canopy. The trees above them exploded in a burst of kindling and shredded leaves, and at least one animal. After that she adjusted, holding off her shot if she felt his hand leave her back.

They were doing so well he had to skid to a halt when they came across everyone else, where they’d stopped at a cliff at the edge of the mesa. Vega was supporting Kaidan as he repelled down with Javik, the rope from earlier still somehow in one piece. EDI was already on the forest floor below them, her pistol aimed into the trees, waiting for something to jump out at them.

“Here it comes,” Garrus shouted, and they turned at once to look at them. Vega almost dropped the rope as he let out a string of profanities Garrus didn’t have the translation package for, Tali muttered something under her breath, and Liara almost fell off the cliff.

“Let me down,” Shepard hissed, and when he did she stood uneasily, so he kept an arm about her waist to support her as she aimed. His armour was slick with Medi-Gel and her blood, and she had bits of plant life stuck in her hair, so he imagined they made an interesting picture, him holding her up as she hoisted the grenade launcher and pointed it into the forest, where the crashing and crying of the Mother was waiting for them.

“Let’s see what she looks like,” said Garrus.

She came crashing into view above the trees, her pointed body appearing before her tentacles, long and glowing with a biotic field.

“Shit,” Vega said, “Is that thing going to discharge?”

“No,” Liara shouted, “She’s changing her body composition. Look!”

Garrus almost asked what the hell that meant, but he saw it for himself—the biotic field was changing the Mother’s flesh from the soft, gelatinous thing that had chased them through the tunnels to something not unlike the armoured biotics that they’d been fighting. The lines of her body became more defined, sharper, and the places where her limbs emerged became more rigid. She was able to stand higher, and some of her limbs farther up, closer to the top of her body, began to curl, hanging in midair.

Keelah, ” Tali whispered, “It looks like…”

“A Reaper,” Liara said, “they all look like Reapers.”

“Where the legs and the body meet,” said Garrus, “that’s where she’s weak.”

The Mother began to shift her position, to expose the place below her where there was a big, gaping mouth. And she did look like a Reaper, right about to fire. Especially when she began to gather biotic energy there.

“These grenades aren’t going to do it,” said Shepard, and Tali came forward to press a missile launcher into her hands, wordlessly.

“Just one?” Shepard said.

“We were saving it,” was Tali’s response.

“Good thing,” said Shepard, hoisting it up on her shoulder. Her grip was shaking, so Garrus helped steady it, leaning over her shoulder to help her aim.

His visor zoomed in, and together they inhaled.

The field flickered, and they exhaled, and Shepard took the shot.

There was the instant before impact, when it was just the warmth of her cheek against his mandibles, the smell and feel of her breath so close to his, the weight of her on his arm, still supporting her waist, and then it hit, collided on the mark, and there was that scream, so close this time it made Garrus’ bones rattle and his plates tighten, and he watched the Mother begin to fall away, three of her limbs hanging, useless, and her field warping around her, expanding outwards.

Then Shepard’s legs gave out again, and he helped her to the ground, hands on her waist, and when she was down he turned and gestured to Tali, screaming get down that rope and even though he couldn’t hear himself Tali was running. Liara was standing next to Vega and she threw up a barrier to protect them, just as Tali slid over the edge of the cliff, her hands on the rope. Liara looked at Garrus, her eyes wide, and she was screaming something, but nothing was coming out of her mouth.

He started to mess with his Omni-Tool, knowing that the shield wouldn’t hold for them both, but Shepard took his hand in hers, and spirits they were shaking so much, and she kissed his knuckles, her grey eyes meeting his, and then there was the crackle of her biotic field flaring up, and her barrier enveloped them both, weak as she was.

They weathered the blast together, Garrus holding her as she shook with the effort to maintain the field, her face pressed to his chest, and her hands scrambled for purchase on his slick armour until they rested on either side of his face, and she held on, held on until the last wave passed, and the barrier that protected them flickered away in the aftermath, and Garrus finally looked up.

The damage was colossal. Tree trunks as wide around as the Mako were ripped right out of the ground, wide expanses of loamy soil kicked up and deposited everywhere but where it belonged. Garrus counted the carcasses of at least fifteen animals that hadn’t been able to get away. There wasn’t much left of most of the trees except for a lot of kindling, and the expanse of destruction left a clear view of the Mother.

She lay on the forest floor, hard shell and all, and black blood pooled all around her twitching limbs. Garrus could see her large eyes, and he didn’t think he was imagining the frantic way they rolled around in their sockets.

He thought that her eyes fixed on them, on Garrus and Shepard clutching each other, and that her eyes widened a little bit, just before her limbs gave one great, heaving shudder, and they rolled back in their sockets, then she was still.

By the time everyone else was up on their feet, Shepard was insisting she was fine, but Liara put her hand to the Commander’s biotic amp and agreed with Garrus. He held her close, like that would help with the shock he worried her system was going into, but also because he just wanted to, while Liara repelled down the rope first.

“I’ll climb down,” Vega said when Garrus looked at him. “No big deal.”

They had to drag the rope back up so that Garrus could repel down the cliff one-handed, cradling Shepard with his other arm. She complained the whole time, loudly, and to make a point she tried to get out of Garrus’ arms when they were back on the ground. But she was still dizzy from the barrier, and from her wounds, so she allowed herself to be set down in the shade next to Javik, while everyone looked on.

“Shepard,” Javik said, “I have just been informed that you’re supposed to be dead.”

She sent him a toothy grin that was mostly a grimace. “I would say I don’t do this often but that would be a lie.”

“Commander,” Kaidan said, softly, when Vega was on his way down.

She looked up at him, and she smiled a little, like she always did for old friends. “Hey Kaidan,” she said. “If my head is this bad, how the hell are you still standing?”

Kaidan laughed, and Garrus ducked his head and left them alone to speak, only after squeezing Shepard’s hand. He joined Tali, who was swearing and wrapping some bandage around a gash in her suit.

“Snagged it on a rock,” she said, sounding thoroughly embarrassed. “Of all the—that’s almost as stupid as you almost getting yourself killed.”

He knelt down next to her, but didn’t make any move to help her. He didn’t want to add to any contamination. “Did you get it sealed properly?”

“What kind of Quarian would I be if I didn’t carry a breach kit at all times,” she scolded him, “this is just extra precaution.” Then her hands hesitated in their work. “Garrus,” Tali said, softly, “is it really her?”

He felt dizzy just considering it. “Yeah,” he answered, more from his gut than his head, “it’s her.”

Tali nodded, resuming her ministrations. “Okay,” she said, “okay.”

There was laughter behind him, and Garrus looked back to see Liara crouched next to Shepard again, and they seemed to be sharing a joke at Kaidan’s expense. Humanity’s second Spectre seemed to be taking it in stride, like he did best. EDI was giving Vega advice on how best to descend the cliff without breaking his legs, which he wasn’t taking.

They gathered around Shepard when they were all on the ground, Garrus seated next to her again, his arm around her shoulders and their hands locked together. Tali was supplying “helpful” nicknames for Kaidan, none of which Vega was taking, although the original SR-1 crew found them all hilarious.

“Where to, EDI?” Shepard said finally, when her head seemed to have cleared a little. Her voice directed everyone’s attention to EDI, who was staring down at Shepard with a blank expression on her face.

“That is not clear at this juncture,” said EDI, with some hesitation.

Shepard frowned. “Really? From what Garrus was saying, it sounded like you had a handle on things.”

EDI’s expression did not change. She seemed to be processing something, and Garrus wondered if something was wrong.

“I believe that the injuries sustained are too much to continue the mission until further notice,” EDI said with finality after a long pause. “Not to mention that we are low on supplies, and we do not know if there is any more dangerous wildlife in the vicinity.”

“God I hope not,” Vega breathed. “If I ever see a bowl of Calamari after this, it’ll be too soon.”

“As it stands,” EDI finished, more forcefully, “we cannot continue the mission. Regrouping at the Normandy is so far our best option.”

“I lay first claim to the painkillers,” Javik said. After a moment’s consideration, he added, “All of them.”

Shepard nodded, “I agree. We’re in no shape to be running around in the wilderness anymore.”

“And I don’t know about you, Garrus,” Tali said, “but I haven’t had the time to eat anything since yesterday.”

“I think the replicator is feeling lonely without us,” Garrus agreed, helping Shepard to stand.

It was evening by the time they reached the Normandy, being forced to go the long way around the bluff, and by that point Javik had taught them five Prothean war songs, or at least Garrus thought they were war songs, and Vega had displayed his broad knowledge on the topic of songs that focused on women taking off their clothes. Liara had a few drinking songs from her days as an academic as well as a few songs that even made Vega blush, and Tali had sang them all a Quarian mourning song, after much begging, but she’d been too embarrassed to finish and had only sung half, in spite of how beautiful it was. Everyone for a while had listened intently as Garrus and Kaidan swapped ghost stories, until Liara claimed she was going to get nightmares and they had to stop. Then EDI started telling jokes, and only half of them laughed at any given one.

Shepard sometimes walked, sometimes was carried by Garrus through the rainforest. She joined in singing some of Vega’s bawdy songs because she wanted to see Tali blush through her mask (which didn’t work), and she brushed her fingers on the very tips of Garrus’ fringe when he was storytelling, which made his subvocals a little growly and it added the perfect edge to his voice when he was describing a spirit. She laughed at every single one of EDI’s jokes, even the ones the rest of them didn’t find funny at all.

The sight of the Normandy in the sunset was the second most beautiful thing Garrus had seen all day. The first leaned on him as she walked (she insisted on walking) through the trees, where the crew was waiting, Dr. Chakwas with a worried expression, Joker looking relieved. The crew pressed around Garrus and Shepard, threatening to suffocate them, asking question after question, until Chakwas threatened to have every one of them cleaning bedpans if they didn’t give their poor commanding officer some air.

Garrus only avoided being whisked away to medical long enough to make sure Tali got to her clean room alright, and that she was patching up her suit sufficiently and didn’t need anything else. Then he joined Shepard and the others, walking in on EDI giving a full summary of Shepard’s injuries and the state of her implants, and Liara being scanned as she fussed over the poor ensign applying medication to Javik, who was once again so full of pain meds that he kept confusing Liara and Asari.

Garrus had to remember that for the future, he thought as he allowed his face to be poked and prodded. “Well you probably don’t have a concussion,” was all the poor lieutenant who had been forced into med bay duty could say with any certainty, and after that Garrus was hovering around Shepard and getting in the way of Chakwas too much so he was shooed out of the medbay.

He checked up on Tali again, but then exhaustion was gnawing at his limbs, so he allowed Gabby and Ken to force him into the elevator while he yawned (Gabby exclaiming how cute it was the whole time), and he barely paid attention to what floor he went to, the black bag in hand, holding nothing in it but Shepard’s change of clothes she hadn’t used.

Shepard’s cabin wasn’t exactly as he remembered it. Her model ships were strewn about the place, and the fish tank had been broken. Someone had cleaned up a little, because there were no dead fish anywhere, but the glass shards had just been piled up in the corner of the room and abandoned, and some of the smaller ones had been missed, because they crunched under his feet as he walked through. Datapads from Shepard’s desk had been collected, presumably from the floor, and stacked in one pile on her chair.

There was a picture frame on the desk, placed on its side, that flicked between pictures of Normandy’s crew over the years. Thane trying iced tea and liking it. Samara playing poker with Kelly. Mordin up late in the lab, unaware of his photographer. Ashley messing up Kaidan’s hair. Joker blushing while EDI ran her fingers along his face. Garrus calibrating something while Tali teased him in the background. Miranda giving Jacob a hard time about something while he rolled his eyes.

Their clothes from the night before hitting Cerberus’ base hadn’t been left anywhere, Garrus remembered gathering them all and neatly piling them in the dirty drawer, where they remained even after the crash, although some of Shepard’s drawers were partially ajar. EDI, he thought, picking clean clothes for her. He took the steps down to the next level, his heavy hands finding the clasps of his armour and letting the pieces fall to the floor. By the time he’d reached the bed, all he had left was his undersuit and his visor, and wearing both he fell to the bed with a sigh, lying horizontally across it. He stared up at the ceiling, his visor altering him to new messages and new schedules he had to look at, and he stared through it to the night sky above him, the now familiar stars gleaming down at him.

He lay there even as the door opened and she came in, her hands pressing against walls and gripping railings as she made her way through the room. She nudged models with her feet and mumbled discontent. She righted the picture frame, paused at it for a time, the only sounds her breathing and the elevator being called away.

She stumbled over to him on the bed and collapsed next to him, on her back, with a grunt of pain, and she joined him in just breathing for a while, and something in him seized up, frightened by the idea of looking over at her.

“Garrus,” she said at length, and he couldn’t move.

“You’re here,” he breathed. “I’m here.”

“Yeah,” she said. “We’re here.”

They were silent a while longer, until Shepard propped herself up on her elbows, then she shifted to lean over him. She caressed his face, starting at his mandibles all the way up to his visor, which she removed and placed on the bedside table with the most delicate of touches.

He stared at her, with her messed up, wavy hair and her dark skin, and her grey eyes and the smile she gave him just before she leaned down and pressed her forehead to his.

-

EDI was standing by the memorial wall when Shepard found her. There was no one around—it was afternoon, and that shift had just left, the other asleep. EDI had her arms crossed and she stared at the names on it with no expression.

“There’s something you’re not telling me,” Shepard said.

EDI’s eyebrow twitched.

“You’re right,” said Shepard, “I should have started with thank you. So, thank you.”

“That was not the source of my distraction.”

“I know.”

They stood next to each other in silence for some time.

“Shepard, I have to tell you something.”

“Shoot, EDI.”

“I do not know our next destination.”

Shepard clenched her jaw, but said nothing.

“Because you were supposed to supply it.”

The Commander didn’t know how to respond. She stared at the wall, but there was Thane’s name and Mordin’s so she looked at the floor to steady herself, then back to the wall.

“And how the hell was I supposed to do that?” she asked finally, her voice breaking.

“I… do not know.”

Shepard closed her eyes and breathed, just breathed.