The second time, it takes Shepard a little while to figure out what’s going on.
She wakes up in the medbay, and Chakwas is talking to her about the beacon and she thinks, Wait a minute, I was in London... the Crucible... the Catalyst... but maybe that was just part of the vision. So she goes about her business, but everything is too familiar, people have said these things before, done these things before.
In Dr. Michel’s clinic, she stares into Garrus’s face, looking for any sign of recognition, but he just looks at her expectantly, and as soon as she says her piece, he’s off telling her things she already knows.
She doesn’t change a lot, until the end. Standing in the Citadel Tower, she hesitates. Maybe if she saves the Council this time, they’ll believe her. They won’t send her off after geth until she gets killed.
It doesn’t work. They don’t believe her. They do send her off. She dies over Alchera, gasping for air, thinking, Goddammit, not again, and then she’s waking up and rolling off that table before Miranda even finishes speaking.
She goes for Archangel before Mordin, that time, thinking maybe she can spare Garrus the injuries from the rocket, but no dice. She still has to haul his bleeding body out of there, hoping like hell she hasn’t fucked things up, and when he walks out of the medbay and cracks a joke, she just wants to throw herself into his arms.
But she can see his pain and grief more clearly this time around. The first time, she’d been a little preoccupied with her own resurrection. So she sighs and gives him his space, works step by step to coax him out of his shell, talk him around, knowing this tune. She has to fight not to giggle at his surprise that everything goes so smoothly on their “first” time together.
If she has to go through the whole damn war again, at least she’ll do it with Garrus by her side.
But it doesn’t work, and she wakes up the third time, and groans, “What? Again?”
“What?” says Dr. Chakwas.
“Never mind,” says Shepard.
This time she mixes it up a little. Saves Kaidan on Virmire instead of Ashley, and is surprised when he shows up at her door before Ilos. Well... okay... she thinks, and it’s... fine. He’s a nice guy, the sex is good. Maybe this is the change she was supposed to make? But he’s almost the same as Ash on Horizon, the same hostility and suspicion and questions that he won’t stick around and let her answer. She watches him go with a mixture of sadness and resentment, and of course Garrus is the one who claps her on the shoulder and tells her something reassuring.
This third time, she hasn’t the heart to go through the same steps with Garrus again, and she’s not sure about Kaidan. She frets about it, on their way to the Omega-Four Relay. Is this what she’s supposed to be doing? Was this all a cosmic message that she’s supposed to be with one of her own species? If so, that seems... oddly personal, but she doesn’t know what else to do. So she grits her teeth and sticks with it, even though Kaidan really freaking irritates her on Mars. She agrees to get back together with him, later, and then later still she walks into the main battery and finds Garrus in a clinch with Tali.
Her heart almost breaks, and it’s ridiculous. (This time) she’s never done a single thing to indicate she wants him, cares for him as anything more than a friend, so... it’s good he found someone else, right? He shouldn’t have to be alone, and he and Tali both deserve to be happy.
Kaidan comes up to her quarters that night, and the sex is still good, but it takes her a while to fall asleep, staring up at the stars, feeling empty. When she’s saying goodbye in London, she forgets herself a little and gushes to Garrus maybe more than is appropriate for a best friend. He doesn’t seem to think anything of it, at least, and soon it’s all over. Again.
The fourth time she rushes. Skips everything that doesn’t seem essential, that doesn’t lead directly toward her goals. She is tired of the mess she’s caught in and just wants to get it done.
It’s awful. Wrex dies on Virmire, while she’s stammering, fumbling for the words she used to persuade him before. The mission to the Collector base is a disaster. She loses so many. Worst of all, Garrus, saying, “Guess I won’t be there at the end, Shepard,” before the light goes out of his eyes. She crouches there a minute, stunned. This isn’t right. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
“Shepard, we have to go,” says someone—Miranda, she thinks—and she leans forward and kisses him on the brow. It’s already too cold. He’s supposed to be warm. He’s always so warm.
She survives the mission, barely, and rushes through everything else, too. She’s just going through the motions. All those people who need some damn artifact fetched can do without. She keeps looking for faces who are supposed to be there but aren’t. Sometimes there’s someone else in their place, someone she doesn’t really know, and sometimes no one’s there at all. Now and then, she walks into the battery out of habit, and finds it gleaming and quiet and empty. She stares around stupidly and walks out again before she does something she can’t afford, like burst into tears.
After that nightmare, it is a relief, a huge fucking relief, to wake up in the medbay for the fifth time. At least she’s got a chance to set things right again.
So the fifth time, and every time afterwards, she forces herself to slow down, be methodical. Does a few things differently. Changes up her weapons and her tactics and her ground team. To keep herself from getting bored on ground missions, she works on learning to drive the Mako properly. Unfortunately, nothing stops planet scanning from being boring. She gets to a point where she actually remembers which planets have the really good palladium deposits, and she can hardly believe that something that dull is taking up space in her brain.
Most of those times, she pursues Garrus again, even though she has to go so slowly that she wants to scream. A couple of times she tries to flirt with him on their first mission, and he just looks at her blankly. She’s not sure whether he’s that clueless or she’s that bad a flirt. She sighs and goes back to helping him fix the vehicle.
Her memories from the first time are still the sharpest. She knows there are some little things that are different every time: casual conversations, inconsequential interactions. She loves Garrus, every time. She hasn’t managed to fall out of love with him yet. But she misses... she misses the original. Her Garrus. Back when everything was new and fresh and unpredictable, and she didn’t know everything he was going to say before it came out of his mouth. She holds herself back, a little bit, because she knows soon they’ll be back to square one and singing this same song again.
It’s still better than not having him at all.
It takes her some practice, but she gets good at driving the Mako. (In the back of her mind, she can hear the original Garrus dryly teasing her for taking longer than average.) She can jump over armature fire, crush geth rocket troopers under her wheels, and dodge thresher maw acid. She sails off cliffs and lands them as gently as a kiss. All of her teammates are impressed, even Wrex, who generally makes a point of not being impressed by anything. Garrus is always particularly admiring, and she has to admit it gives her a thrill to see that particular gleam in his eyes. She takes him on most of the Mako drops, just so she can hear him drawl compliments, and the dim light inside the tank hides her rising blush.