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Outside of Space and Time

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A/N: Standard disclaimer that I don't own the rights to Mass Effect etc.


The Presidium was quiet that morning, or as quiet as it ever was; the only sound was the distant hum of early-morning traffic high above the embassy offices, barely noticeable from so far away. A lone turian Citadel security officer was making his way across the courtyard to the embassies' front entrance, the heavy tap of his steel boots against the concrete echoing off the stone walls of the building.

He walked with the same air of authority most turians held, head raised, chest pushed forward. Whether it was a product of his militaristic culture or simply his anatomy, even he was unsure. Walking with any other gait felt unnatural.

The turian's broad chest was covered in heavy blue and black C-sec armor, two rifles strapped across his back, thermal clips loaded. A sniper's visor covered one eye and glowed a soft blue, a single white ring in the center highlighting one of his hawkish blue eyes.

At the entrance to the embassies, he swiped his identification against a scanner and the door chirped affirmatively before sliding open. Inside was cold and quiet. At its busiest, the reception area would be filled with people of every species, waiting to meet with ambassadors, councilors, C-sec officers, perhaps even Spectres; or else screaming at the poor turian receptionist. For the moment, however, the reception room was empty, save for two guards posted at the front entrance and said receptionist.

"Good morning, Garrus," she greeted the C-sec officer airily.

She was a waifish thing, if such a word could be used to describe a turian. Her chest was not as broad, her mandibles not as pronounced, and while females had noticeably shorter and smaller fringes than males, she hardly had any to speak of. Still, she was friendly enough, Garrus supposed. He knew that she was interested in him, but he wasn't particularly interested in her. He preferred his women assertive and strong and he very much doubted she was either based on her frame alone. He forced a fleeting smile, nodded to her, and brushed past her toward the Earth Ambassador's office.

The office was down a long, narrow hallway, not far from a C-sec office manned by a human officer he didn't care for. He stopped at the locked door to the office and peered into the camera next to the door's controls, then pressed a green button and spoke.

"Ambassador Udina, it's Garrus Vakarian," he said, the sub-harmonics of his voice producing a flange that almost sounded like a purr when he spoke so softly.

There was no reply, but a moment later the door unlocked and opened to allow him entry.

The Earth ambassador's office was much too large, in Garrus' opinion. There were far more important things to devote Citadel resources to than a non-council race's embassy; even the elcor and the volus had to share embassy office space. The ambassador did have assistants and other humans working in the space, but the enormous room was still too large.

The ambassador was waiting for him behind a lavish desk made of some dark wood shipped all the way back from Earth. Whatever term Udina had repeatedly used for it the last time Garrus had asked, his translator couldn't make sense of it, and untranslated human speech sounded like jibberish to the Turian.

The man himself was wearing a sour expression as Garrus approached him. His face was pale, his greying hairline receding, forehad marred with wrinkles. Garrus hated his meetings with the ambassador, but they shared a mutual interest of bringing another turian to justice: Saren, a Spectre who both men believed was abusing his power. This shared passion was enough to make Udina just barely tolerable for the brief meetings they had to discuss the matter.

Udina had called Garrus personally early that morning to request the meeting, much earlier, in fact, than Garrus cared to be awake, but he knew it would be worth it. Udina rarely requested a meeting himself; it was usually done through his assistant or else Garrus was the one reaching out with an update on another dead end.

"Vakarian," Udina said, his voice sharp, eyebrows furrowed.

Eyebrows were such a curious human aspect to Garrus. What purpose hair could serve there was beyond him. And there was such nuanced expression in their movement. He had been living amongst humans on the Citadel for nearly nine years and he was only finally beginning to understand the meaning of all their body language, though he found that some body language was universal across species. He knew enough to know that furrowed eyebrows usually meant anger.

"I have another tip from a black-market dealer down in the wards," Garrus explained, taking a seat in front of the ambassador's desk and bringing up the information on his omni-tool. "I'm planning on following up on that after our meeting here."

"Forget that," Udina waved his hand dismissively. "I've had word from the SSV Normandy."

"I'm unfamiliar," Garrus shook his head.

"An Alliance navy vessel," Udina said. "Manned by Captain David Anderson. His Lieutenant Commander, Rembley Shepard, is the one with the report. They're on their way back from a mission on Eden Prime. I wanted to let you know before the news breaks. They bring news of Saren."

Garrus leaned forward, his full attention now focused on the ambassador. "What news?"

"Shepard and her squad encountered Saren, or at least news of him, while on assignment on Eden Prime. A turian spectre named Nihulus was killed during the mission. They claim a resident of the colony saw Saren shoot him," Udina explained.

"Do they have evidence?" Garrus asked, brimming with excitement.

This was the first real lead he'd had since being assigned to Saren's case months earlier. They'd only assigned him because Udina wouldn't stop complaining that Saren had gone rogue. Garrus knew Saren, and he didn't trust him one bit. He was eager to take the case, and volunteered as soon as C-sec was assigned to it.

"Not that I know of. They're going to speak with the council as soon as they arrive."

"I'd like to be there when they do. When do they arrive?"

"They should be here by midday," Udina said, glancing quickly at a clock on his desk.

"I'll be ready for them then. Midday at the citadel tower."

"Don't get your hopes up, Vakarian," Udina warned. "It's a solid breakthrough, and I believe them, but without proof, the council never will. What's more, I worry that Shepard will be blamed for Nihlus' death. That has poor repercussions for humanity. She was being assessed for Spectre status."

"A human spectre?" Garrus marveled. "This commander of yours must be something else for the council to even consider granting her Spectre status."

"I'm loathe to say it," Udina's voice was dripping with disdain, "But she's one of the best officers the Alliance navy has ever seen. If she could achieve Spectre status, humanity would be one step closer to a spot on the council."

Garrus let out an involuntary snort of disbelief, which he quickly tried to turn into a cough. Udina narrowed his eyes, another sign the turian had learned to associate with anger, or suspicion.

"You're skeptical that humanity will ever have a spot on the council?" Udina asked.

"It's nothing against humans," Garrus shrugged. "But the council are hard to budge on any topic. They're just like C-sec, try to get anything done, and you're drowning in red tape."

He stood up and punched in a request for a taxi into his omni tool. "I'm still going to look into the black-market dealer. See if I can't turn up any evidence to help this Commander Shepard. If she's got anything on Saren, I want to give her all the help she can get. I'll see you at the tower, Udina."

"Vakarian." The ambassador said curtly, nodding as he left.

The turian headed for the embassy exit with a renewed hope. This might finally be the chance he needed to get Saren's Spectre status revoked and put him behind bars where he belonged, and he apparently had a human to thank for it.


Rembley Shepard was dead tired when the Citadel finally came into view from the window of the crew quarters aboard the SSV Normandy. The trip back from Eden Prime had felt like a century and the weight of what had happened there was heavy on all of the crew. They had picked up an Alliance gunnery chief on the colony, and left behind one dead turian Spectre and an alliance corporal.

Shepard had been affected by the Prothean beacon herself, in a quick effort to save her lieutenant from its effects. Whatever nightmare it had seared into her brain, it had left her with a pounding headache that was just finally beginning to ebb, though it had been hours since Dr. Chakwas had given her medicine for it.

She sat with her head against the cool glass window, looking out at the endless black of space and the approaching Citadel, its four massive arms stretching out as if to embrace the ship. She was replaying the images from the beacon over and over like a movie in her mind.

"Commander?" A man's husky voice interrupted her thoughts.

She jerked her head up and found her lieutenant and the gunnery chief standing in front of the table where she sat. The lieutenant, Kaidan Alenko, was a man of few words, but he always had a look of concern in his amber eyes. He was like a puppy with muscles, Shepard thought, and true to form, he was giving her those stupid, concerned puppy-dog eyes at the moment. She felt a twinge of guilt at her annoyance with the look. He was genuinely concerned and she ought to be thankful she had anyone that cared about her in such a selfless way. Still, she could sense a hint of pity behind the look as well.

The gunnery chief, Ashley Williams, was a plucky and opinionated girl: this much Shepard knew just from a few days of her company. She had her arms crossed over her chest, a slight frown on her face. Her look of pity wasn't masked behind honest concern at all, not that Shepard doubted her sincerity; she just didn't know her well enough.

"Would you both not look at me like that?" Shepard groaned.

"We were just coming to see if you were okay, Commander," Kaidan said. "You've kind of had us worried since that encounter with the beacon."

"I'm fine, really," she assured them. "It can't be worse than your headaches, Alenko. Anyway, I don't have time to worry about it. We have a lot of information to present to the council and we've already got word from Udina that he expects a very detailed report for them."

"He wants you to pull up evidence where there is none," Ashley complained. "You can't just fabricate proof that Saren killed the other Spectre. It's not fair of him to ask you to do this."

Shepard rubbed her temple and sighed. "If only politicians knew what 'fair' meant," she laughed hollowly. "Udina especially has no concept of the term. If the galaxy were 'fair', he'd have a seat on the council. Which is exactly what he's gunning for by having humanity present evidence of a turian Spectre's betrayal. I appreciate the concern from both of you, and you're right, Williams, we can't fabricate evidence out of thin air. We'll just have to tell the council the truth."

Kaidan and Ashley exchanged a look pregnant with meaning. Shepard didn't have the energy to decipher it, so she was glad when Kaidan spoke.

"Er…Commander? Don't take this the wrong way, but are you going to tell the council everything?"

Suddenly Shepard understood. "You mean am I going to tell them I saw images of the Reapers in the Prothean beacon?"

"Yeah, that."

"If it comes to that, I will. It's the truth, and a concerning one given everything that happened on Eden Prime. Geth attacking outside the veil, a rogue spectre. It seems like the image on that beacon might be relevant to the story."

"It's not that we don't believe you, Commander Shepard," Ashley insisted. "It's just that…"

"That it sounds insane?"

"Well…yeah," Ashley looked sheepish and found sudden interest in her feet.

"I know it does," Shepard shrugged.

Quite frankly, she felt crazy. Replaying those images over and over. It sounded even crazier saying it out loud. An old legend used to scare kids out of joining up with the navy: the Repears will come to get you in the deepest corners of space. Still, she knew what she saw. She wouldn't have made it off Mindoir, or Elysium, if she didn't trust her own instinct. She would have to do so here as well.

She knew her crew was just trying to protect her, worried about her mental state after the encounter with the Prothean beacon. She couldn't hold it against them for being worried. But she was their commander. It was her job to look after them and keep them in line, not the other way around.

They were still watching her with those looks of pity and concern.

"If that's all," she said quickly, before either could bring up anything else, "You should make sure all your effects are in order. We'll be disembarking soon. Anderson wants us all present at the council meeting. We were all there. We all saw Nihlus."

The two crew members saluted and dismissed themselves. Shepard leaned her head back against the window and watched as one arm of the citadel grew closer and closer as they made their descent into the docking bay.

The turian Spectre's death was weighing heavy on her mind as well. No one on board the Normandy had really cared for him. Aliens were rarely present on Alliance vessels and there were more than a few crew members who probably held xenophobic views. The turian in particular were not well loved by humanity for their role in the First Contact war. Still, Shepard hadn't minded him. He was friendly and encouraging. She knew he was there to assess her for Spectre status. She supposed she could kiss that dream goodbye now that she'd managed to get him killed on a simple recovery mission. She knew it wasn't her fault. She couldn't have known about Saren, but every death under her command ultimately came back to her.

She could just imagine how furious Udina would be about the situation too. That certainly wasn't helping anything.

"We're pulling into dock 422 now, Commander," the pilot's voice came over the intercom. "Ambassador Udina is already waiting for you outside. Just warning you, from here, he looks pissed."

"Joker," She heard the stern, reprimanding voice of their captain before the intercom shut off.

"Thanks Joker," Shepard sighed and made her way to the front of the ship.

It felt like it took an eternity to reach the bridge. The elevator on the Normandy was notoriously slow and Shepard's legs felt like they were stuck in quicksand. Her mind was swarming with thoughts and she was thoroughly exhausted. As she reached the command center and made her way to the bridge, the thought occurred to her that she couldn't remember her last meal. That couldn't be helping matters.

Captain Anderson was waiting for her when she reached the bridge. He was a distinguished man, tall, the bags under his eyes and wrinkles lining his forehead betraying his age. He'd spent his entire career in the Alliance navy and he was the one person Shepard respected most in the entire galaxy. He had been the closest thing she'd had to a father since her own family was killed. He'd been a mentor to her since the first month she'd enlisted with the navy. It was the greatest honor she could think of when she was asked to serve under him on the Normandy.

"Shepard, you look like hell," he greeted her. He was never one to blunt his words.

"Feel like it too," she replied.

"I'm sorry to say we won't have any downtime. Udina's waiting outside, as Joker told you," he said this last part with a biting edge and looked daggers at the pilot, who shrunk down in his seat in front of them.

Shepard stepped forward and leaned on the top of Joker's seat to peer out the side window. Udina was there, as promised, the same look he always had plastered to his face: like he'd just sucked on a lemon. She looked down at Joker, the top of his head hidden perpetually behind an Alliance-issue cap.

"You should come with us, Joker. Udina loves your company," she grinned.

"Very funny, Commander," he rolled his eyes. "Somehow, I'll have to pass. But you should get going, before his lips pucker so hard he swallows them."

She punched Joker lightly in the shoulder and turned back to Captain Anderson.

"I guess it's now or never."

"Are you ready, Shepard? This won't be easy," Anderson warned.

"Ready as I'll ever be, Captain."

Kaidan and Ashley were waiting for them in the airlock. They formed a neat group of two and two, falling easily into Alliance order, and waited for the airlock to open. Shepard was not ready, not really, not at all. But she would have to fake it. And anyway, she was dreading Udina more than the council, so if she could make it through him undoubtedly screaming her down for letting a Spectre die on her watch, then the council might just be a cakewalk.

A/N: This is my first ME fanfic, and I'm fairly new to the fandom in general. Always appreciate genuine constructive criticism. Much more to come!

Chapter Text

The Citadel tower was an impressive feat of architecture and design; overseeing the entire Presidium, it was where politicians representing the various races of the galaxy convened to the make decisions about galactic law, under council supervision and in offices lined with marble tile and stocked with the finest provisions credits could buy. Garrus hated the place. It was the very pinnacle of unnecessary, restrictive rule-making and waste; the reason for most of the red-tape that had thus far held up his investigation of Saren. He didn't always see eye to eye with his father, but one thing they had both agreed on was that politicians had far too much power with far too little impact.

This was all Garrus was thinking about as he stood waiting for the arrival of the Normandy's crew at the top floor of the tower. The council chambers were just ahead of him, up a short set of stairs. He could see the balcony where they oversaw meetings, but they had not yet arrived. He glanced at the time on his omni-tool. It was almost midday and no one was there yet.

He scanned the room for any sign of the Alliance, but found none. Humans were boisterous, as a species; he imagined he would know when they had entered the room. All he saw for the moment were a few keepers scurrying around making repairs and a salarian staring suspiciously at them. He watched the salarian for a moment, trying to figure out what he was doing, when an unwelcome voice interrupted him from his spying.

"Vakarian, glad that I ran into you."

Garrus turned to his right to find the head of Citadel security, and his boss, standing in front of him. Executor Pallin was a fellow turian, though apart from species the two men were nothing alike. Pallin was a lean man, with a drawn face, and white clan markings that covered his entire face and part of his fringe. Garrus was often butting heads with him. Garrus' approach to his work was much less…orthodox…than Pallin's. As head of C-sec, Pallin didn't appreciate workers who didn't play by the rules, though he must have recognized Garrus' talent or he would have fired him long ago.

"Executor Pallin, I'm glad you're here," Garrus lied. "I wanted to ask you for an extension on the case against Saren."

"I also wanted to discuss Saren," Pallin nodded. "But not for an extension. It's been months, Vakarian, and you haven't turned up a shred of evidence against him. Enough is enough. I can't continue wasting resources on this."

"I'm turning up dead ends because all of Saren's files are confidential due to his Spectre status," Garrus growled, the flange in his voice more pronounced than ever.

"I suggest you consider that you're talking to a superior officer, Vakarian," Pallin replied, his sub-harmonics rising in pitch an intensity to match Garrus'.

Garrus bristled, but tried to control his voice. "Sir, I'm sorry, but I've gotten word that…"

"Enough, Vakarian. You'll be reassigned to a new case tomorrow. Forget Saren. It's over."

The executor marched off, head held high, while Garrus watched him with a growing rage welling in his chest. He turned his gaze back to the council chambers, fuming, and was startled to find himself staring at a group of humans instead. How had humans managed to sneak up on him? That's what he got for letting his emotions get the best of him.

"You were talking about Saren?" the human in front spoke.

She was tall, for a human, though all humans seemed short next to a turian. Her chest was covered in Alliance armor, but her arms were bare past the shoulder, exposing well-toned muscles beneath her soft human flesh. Though many human females Garrus had seen wore their hair long, this human had shorter, more practical hair, cropped at the nape of her neck. Two guns were secured to her back and she carried hacking equipment on her omni tool, though no one without experience with said equipment would have noticed it. She stood at ease, and yet her presence was commanding and more than a little intimidating.

He had never seen a human female as imposing.

"You must be Commander Shepard," he decided. He wouldn't have attributed the title to any of her companions. He knew Ambassador Udina, and was already vaguely familiar with Captain Anderson, through Udina. In addition, the man and woman behind Shepard appeared capable, but their presence didn't demand his attention the way the commander's did.

"Have we met?" She cocked her head. An oddly universal expression across the galaxy: confusion.

Garrus extended a hand, the sharp edges of his talons covered by thick gloves. This was considered polite amongst mixed-species society, and besides, the gloves made it easier to grip his guns and utilize his omni-tool.

"Garrus Vakarian," he explained. Shepard shook his hand. A firm handshake. Good. "Citadel security. I came to watch your appointment with the council. We have a mutual interest in exposing Saren. I've been investigating him for months, but to no end. Ambassador Udina told me you have potential news that could convince the council…"

"I don't know if it will convince them," Shepard admitted. "I don't have any direct evidence."

"If they ask for something concrete, I'm interested in helping."

"I appreciate the offer," Shepard said.

"We don't have time for chit chat, Shepard. The council is expecting us," Udina interrupted.

Shepard sighed. It seemed she was as fond of the ambassador as Garrus was. She gave the turian an apologetic look, then surprised him by shaking his hand again. Her grip was like a vice.

"We'll talk after the meeting."

Garrus nodded and watched them head through the marble-tiled hallway up the set of steps leading to the council chambers. After some space had been put between them, he followed. He would listen from a distance and see what happened.


It came as no surprise to Commander Shepard when the council put little stock in her claims, though she had been surprised by their choice to conference in Saren himself. Typical to his reputation, the turian had laughed at her story of the vision from the Prothean beacon, as well as claiming that Nihlus had been a dear friend. Seeing him say the words just reaffirmed the truth for her.

For his part, Udina did put up a fight with the council, but his overzealous responses always spoke to his true purpose: a place for humanity on the council. They wouldn't hear his complaints, and without evidence, they wouldn't hear more from any of the Normandy's crew.

Dejected, they made their way back out of the tower. Shepard was determined to find something, anything, that could implicate Saren in the mess that had happened on Eden Prime. Innocent people had died because of his actions. She had always had a hard time grappling with injustice, and she'd seen enough of it to last her a lifetime. If she could make a difference here, she was damned well going to try.

She'd go to the turian first. He had seemed eager to help and a C-sec officer would know the Citadel far better than she or her crew did. Besides, there was something about him that she liked. She didn't even know him, but she felt like she could trust him. She would have to follow her instinct as she always did.

Unfortunately, the turian was missing when she and her crew exited the chambers. The only soul left on the entire floor at the top of the tower was a salarian taking notes next to a keeper. Now her only decent lead had disappeared.

"You should go find Vakarian," Udina suggested as they approached the elevator. "Talk to detective Chellick in C-sec. He might know where to find him."

"You know him?" Shepard asked.

"We're acquainted," Udina was impossible to read. Regardless of the subject matter, he always seemed pissed off. Whether he thought highly of the turian C-sec agent or not, Shepard would never guess. "He has a keen interest in stopping Saren and he's been researching the matter for months. I think if the two of you put your heads together you might turn up something. And you had better. There's a lot more riding on this than just bringing Saren to justice."

Before Shepard could speak, he swept away into the elevator and jammed the button to close the door before the rest of them could approach.

"Well isn't he charming?" Ashley spat.

"We might just get along, Williams," Shepard grinned. The gunnery chief returned the smile.

"So we should head down to C-sec then? Ask this Chellick if he know where the turian might be?" Kaidan asked.

"As much as I hate to agree with Udina," Captain Anderson spoke, "I have to agree that the turian's your only key to any evidence right now." He put his hand on Shepard's shoulder and squeezed it. "I'm sorry to keep asking so much of you, but I trust you can handle this. Come by Udina's office if you find anything. If it makes your task any easier, it has to be better than keeping Udina company."

Shepard laughed, "Thanks, Captain."

They boarded the elevator together and took it out to the Presidium. Shepard had only been to the citadel a handful of times, but she never got sick of the sight of it. An artificial atmosphere had been created around the center ring of the Citadel where the Presidium lay, and the sunshine, though fake, felt real enough on her skin as they exited the elevator. Lush grass and flowing lakes surrounded by skyscrapers curved up and out of sight in either direction, an artificial gravity field created by the constant spinning of the center ring.

The three alliance crew members escorted their captain back to the embassies, said a quick goodbye, and made their way across a bridge spanning the running water below, toward the C-sec training academy where they were told they could find detective Chellick.

Ashley was staring in wonder at everything they passed, trying to take in everything at once. Shepard could see she was overwhelmed by it. The girl was well traveled, but she'd spent her service on human colonies. It was her first time on the Citadel and it was plain to see she was in love with it, an in awe of the diversity of the alien population. She'd probably only seen hanar in training pamphlets, yet there they were, floating on those spindly legs, preaching outside the academy.

"It's a lot to take in, huh?" Kaidan said.

"That's an understatement," Ashley replied. "I've never seen anything like this."

"I remember my first time on the Citadel," Shepard spoke. "I think my reaction was something like yours. It never gets old though. I could see myself living here, if I ever settled down."

"No offense commander, but I can't see you working a desk job," Kaidan said, smiling.

"Me either," she laughed. "I'd be bored in five minutes. But there are days, like today, where it seems appealing."

The C-sec academy was bustling with activity when they entered. Humans, turians, asari, even a few salarians were all passing to and fro across the great main hall where elevators led back to the Presidium and up to the docking bay. All of the officers wore the standard blue and black C-sec issue armor, custom fitted to their frames. Turians overwhelmingly made up the bulk of the officers. Udina said it was in their nature to be in such authority positions. He wasn't fond of them, to be sure, which was why it surprised her that he knew the one they'd met up in the tower.

"So first we have to figure out how to find Chellick before we can even find the turian," Kaidan said. "This place is huge, and the hallways are a maze, I know from experience. We should ask someone for directions."

Shepard reached out and grabbed the arm of a passing human. She wasn't sure the gesture would be taken well by an alien, but a human she could handle pissing off for the moment. A young officer who couldn't have been older than eighteen jerked to a halt at the commander's grip.

"Can I he-" her sentence trailed off as she saw who the hand on her arm belonged to. "You're Commander Shepard!" She said excitedly. She seemed to remember herself immediately after her outburst, and flushed red. "I'm sorry, ma'am. But you're a war hero and a…a personal inspiration."

Shepard felt her cheeks warming. She hated when people called her a war hero. She had only been doing her duty. She wanted to believe any other Alliance officer in her shoes would have done the same. She was also tremendously bad at taking compliments.

"Er…" Shepard cleared her throat. "I'm looking for detective Chellick."

"Sure, I can take you to him. Wow, I can't believe I'm actually talking to the commander Shepard. I heard you were up for Spectre consideration. Is that true? My boyfriend told me, but he's always blowing hot air and I know how unlikely a human Spectre is, but if anyone could do it you could, and I told him so and…"

The rate of the girl's speech was making Shepard dizzy. She and her squad followed her around the corner down a long hall, through twists and turns until she was sure she'd never find her way back. Kaidan hadn't been lying, the place was a maze.

Finally they came to a halt in front of a small office with no door where a turian officer sat typing away on his private terminal. Shepard had always had a hard time telling different aliens apart, as much as she hated to admit it, but turians all wore different clan markings on their faces that helped differentiate. Garrus' had been blue across his eyes and the bridge of his nose, but Chellick's were silver down his chin and mandibles.

He glanced up at their arrival and gave the young officer a withering look. She shrunk back, but mustered up the courage to speak.

"Detective Chellick, this is Commander Remblery Shepard of the alliance navy. She was looking for you."

Chellick's beady green eyes turned sharply to Shepard. "I've heard of you."

Shepard's reputation always seemed to precede her. "I'm looking for Garrus Vakarian," she cut to the chase. "Ambassador Udina said you might know where he is."

Chellick rolled his eyes. "What's he done now that he's got the Alliance navy looking for him?" He held up a hand before Shepard could speak. "You know what, I don't want to know, because if I know, then I have to report it to Pallin, and I'm not dealing with that today. He mentioned over the extranet that he was headed to the wards. Looking for a guy named Fist. He runs a strip club down there called Chora's Den. Real scumbag. Garrus said he got a tip that some of Fist's men were going to be hitting up a med clinic. Something about a doctor knowing too much. I can't be expected to read every message Vakarian sends."

"That's plenty of information, really. Thanks for your help," Shepard said.

"Yeah, whatever," Chellick waved his hand. "I've got work to do, so help yourself out."

Chapter Text

Garrus hadn't planned on darting out of Commander Shepard's council hearing so early, but he'd received an urgent message from Dr. Michel down in the wards about a quarian, a criminal named Fist, and concern for her own safety. He'd jotted a quick message on the extranet to a few of his colleagues to make his whereabouts known, then hurried as fast as he could down to the med clinic run by Dr. Michel.

Unfortunately, for all his speed, he'd arrived just a little too late. He entered the clinic to a hail of gunfire, a bullet hitting his shields before he managed to take cover. Some of Fist's thugs had cornered Dr. Michel and had a gun to her head while the rest took aim at Garrus. Moving as quickly as he could, he drew his rifle and fired a shot. One of the men across the room crumpled to the floor and he retreated to reload his thermal clip and shoot again.

He managed to down two men before the med clinic door flew open. He was expecting it to be reinforcements for the thugs, but instead he was pleasantly surprised to find Commander Shepard and her two fellow officers, guns drawn.

They wasted no time in moving into action at the sight of enemy guns trained on them. Shepard threw a flash grenade and ducked under cover with the other female while the male officer amped up his biotics. A blue aura enveloped him and with a wave of his hands, two of Fist's men were flying in the air. Shepard turned and trained an assault rifle on them, firing off her rounds with deadly precision. The biotic let them drop and moved his attention to the next men, whose bullets were firing off of his shields.

It was incredible to watch them work. Garrus was mesmerized, particularly by the Commander's marksmanship. Not a single shot was wasted: every bullet found its mark. The other human female was good, certainly, but Shepard made it look effortless. The biotic was powerful too, though the effort of his skill was betrayed by the blood trickling from his nose. He had to stop, the blue aura of his mass effect field vaporizing as he backed under cover.

"Kaidan, are you okay?" Shepard asked, reloading a thermal clip.

"I'll be fine, Commander."

One thug remained. The one holding a gun to Dr. Michel's head. Shepard was still reloading her clip and the other female was tending to the biotic. Garrus had a clear shot and he knew he could make it without risking the doctor. He lined up his sniper rifle and in seconds his visor was flashing an affirmative that he had the shot. He let off a single round and the last of Fist's men crumpled.

Shepard and her fellow officers hadn't noticed him, and they turned in surprise at the sight of him. He offered a hand to the Commander and she took it, allowing him to help her to her feet from her spot under cover against the wall, her fingers wrapping around his. They seemed like tiny tentacles, so numerous and small compared to his three large talons.

They shared a glance for a moment, then he turned quickly to Dr. Michel.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

The woman was shaking, but not hurt. Garrus was unaccustomed to expressions of comfort outside his own species. He understood a pat on the back might be appropriate, but hesitated too long for it to be a natural response.

Shepard bridged the gap, placing a comforting hand on the doctor's arm. "You're safe now," she assured her.

"Thank you, all of you," the doctor said. "I really thought they might kill me."

Several of Garrus' human colleagues at C-sec had mentioned repeatedly that the doctor had a sexually attractive accent, in addition to being considered beautiful. Garrus had a hard time distinguishing the attractiveness of aliens, besides perhaps asari, and he certainly didn't understand the notion of a particular accent being attractive. He might ask the biotic his opinion on it later.

"Why were they after you, Dr. Michel?" Garrus asked. "You mentioned a quarian in your message."

"Yes, I treated a quarian for a gunshot wound yesterday in my clinic. She was fleeing from Fist. She had information on Saren, but I haven't heard from her since she left the clinic and I fear Fist may have found her," the doctor explained.

"Saren," Garrus clenched his fist. "What was the quarian's name?"

"She wouldn't say," Dr. Michel shook her head.

"We should head for Fist's office," Garrus turned to Shepard. She watched him with curiosity. "If we can get to Fist's office, we can use force if necessary to threaten him into giving us information."

"I don't love waving a gun around making threats, but if his thugs are any indication, it might be our only option."

Garrus admired the response, even if he couldn't fully agree with the mindset. It took a real dedication to a belief system to stand down from violence as a moral and first-option, especially in the face of a criminal like Fist, but she didn't completely dismiss the idea. It was idealistic, to be sure, an approach he wouldn't necessarily consider, but he could tell the Commander knew what she was about.

"Are you sure you're okay, doctor?" the biotic asked.

"I'll be fine, I promise," she smiled at him. Perhaps the biotic was attractive by human standards. It was so hard for Garrus to tell.

He realized he couldn't go on calling them 'the biotic' and 'the other female' in his head. They might take slight offense to the phrases if he used them out loud.

"I'm sorry, I didn't introduce myself to your fellow officers when we met up in the tower," he apologized. "I'm Garrus Vakarian," he offered his hand first to the female.

She shook it hesitantly. Her grip wasn't as firm as Shepard's and he sensed she had a general anxiety about his involvement. "Ashley Williams," she said.

He shook the biotic's hand next. He introduced himself as Kaidan Alenko. His surname was almost turian-sounding. Garrus decided he liked this Alenko. He was a powerful fighter with a firm handshake, and he looked him right in the eyes when they spoke.

"Let's head out. Who knows how much time we have before we lose a chance at this information," Shepard said. "Thank you for your help, Dr. Michel."

"No, thank you. Really, you all saved my life," the doctor said sincerely.

The four of them exited the med clinic only to run headlong into a massive red krogan, deep scars running down the front of his face. He seemed unhappy to have run into them, but then again, krogan always seemed unhappy to Garrus.

"C-sec, huh?" the krogan barked, his voice guttural and low. He eyed Garrus' armor and then looked past him to the dead men on the floor of the clinic. "I guess I'm late to the party. You're looking for Fist?"

"How did you…?" Ashley began.

"Doesn't matter," the krogan shook his head. "Name's Wrex. Let's go. Fist won't wait for us."

Shepard didn't hesitate to follow the krogan, so Garrus followed as well. He could tell that Shepard's teammates were more hesitant. The krogan as a race had a reputation that preceded them and a history marred by disaster, some of it at the hands of the turians. Most people were afraid of the krogan because of their violent reputations, but Garrus wasn't interested in species stereotypes at the moment. A well-armed krogan was worth having on their team. Fist wouldn't be alone when they arrived.

The firefight at Chora's Den hadn't been totally unexpected, but Fist's men still managed to get Shepard's shields down when they first arrived. The addition of the krogan to their team was unexpected, but a welcome help. Shepard had never worked directly with one, but Wrex was built like an ox and he had no trouble plowing through some of the thugs when he grew tired of loading thermal clips into his shotgun.

There was no way that Shepard and her team would have made it into the building, let alone back to Fist's office without the aid of the turian and the krogan. Both were skilled at their work. Garrus could aim and fire a direct kill shot with his sniper rifle in the blink of an eye. Even she couldn't aim that quickly.

By the time they reached Fist's office though, Kaidan was running low on energy. His L2 implant gave him greater strength and control than most newer biotic implants, but it also gave him grief in the form of constant headaches and power that exceeded his own energy reserves. Fresh blood was trickling from his nose and though he wouldn't ever say it, Shepard knew his head felt ready to burst. Ashley did a good job of covering him at the end when his biotics cut out and he had to step out of the way of the gunfire. They worked well together. When they left, she would ask the gunnery chief to enter service on the Normandy. She knew Captain Anderson would approve the transfer.

They were at Fist's office by that point, and Shepard had Ashley and Kaidan pull into cover further back, mostly to let Kaidan recharge, but also because backup might be necessary. Two turrets were set up outside the office, with motion sensors ready to fire at one wrong move. Shepard was an infiltrator by training, and she knew if she could hack into the turrets' hardware, she could set them on each other and save the team a few thermal clips. To do so, however, she needed them in her line of sight, something that seemed impossible at the moment.

The krogan, Wrex, had made it to the other side of the doorway before the turrets activated and was stationed around the corner, waiting for a signal from Shepard. She and Garrus were pressed against a large, overturned shipment container that was effectively the only thing keeping the turrets from recognizing their presence.

"What do you need me to do, Shepard?" Garrus asked, gun held tightly against his chest while he tried to get a visual on the turrets through a reflection in his visor; he wasn't going to risk peering around the corner and activating them. The shipment container they hid behind was sturdy, but neither soldier was confident it would hold up to rapid turret fire.

Shepard glanced at the turian. His steely blue eyes were roving up and down the visor, in and out of focus, mandible flaring as he silently worked through a plan of his own.

"Tell me what you're thinking," she said.

His eyes moved from their point of concentration in his visor to lock with hers. "I think I can ricochet a bullet off of the steel beam there," he pointed to a beam that ran diagonally across the ceiling from just above where Ashley and Kaidan rested under cover. "If it works, it will deflect back and hit the turret to the right of the door, which appears to be the one trained in this direction. It won't stop it, but it will momentarily jam it. That should give you just enough time to run to where Wrex is and take cover there. You should be able to visualize the left-hand turret from that spot. Then hack into their systems and turn them on each other."

Shepard tried to trace the trajectory of the hypothetical ricocheted bullet in her mind. It was a batshit crazy idea. The turian was a skilled shooter, she'd seen as much already, but she didn't think anybody could be that good.

"You seriously think you can pull that off?"

"The other option is to turn and pivot and hope I can fire a shot to destabilize the turret before my shields cut out," Garrus shrugged. "The first option seems less likely to end in my untimely demise, which I'd prefer."

Shepard laughed. "All right. If you make this shot, Garrus, I'm buying you a drink later."

He smiled, his mandibles flaring almost all the way out before settling back against his face. "I'm holding you to that," he said.

She crouched into position to run as soon as she could, then she watched him as he readied his shot. He aimed his sniper rifle, lining the shot up directly into the corner where the steel beam met the wall. His mandibles twitched with concentration, but his hands and arms were as steady as stone. He let off one shot and an instant later the sound of the bullet richocheting off the steel echoed through the hallway. The right-most turret began to fire at the motion, but just as quickly, it stopped, the chirping sound of malfunction signaling that Garrus' bullet had found its mark.

But Shepard didn't have time to pause and be impressed, and Garrus reminded her as much.

"Go now, Shepard, before the turret repairs itself!"

She darted, ducking and rolling past the doorway, feeling the left-most turret's bullets catch her shields as she rolled past and ran right into Wrex.

The krogan caught her and yanked her behind the safety of cover before her shields could fall any further. Her heart was pounding in her ears then, in disbelief that Garrus had made the shot and she had made it to the other side in one piece. Surely enough, she could see the turrets from her vantage point, and she wasted no time going to work with her omni tool to hack them.

"I can't believe the turian made that shot," Wrex said, the disbelief registering in his voice with only slightly more emotion than an elcor might display. "I'll be the last one to compliment a turian on anything, but that was a damn good shot."

Shepard nodded, too focused on her hacking. It was easy enough bringing up the schematics on her omni-tool, and the defense system was done by an amateur, then it was just a matter of crossing data paths behind the defense system. That was her favorite part; she could lose herself in the intertwining data paths until she'd properly uncrossed them. It was almost like meditation, in a way.

The signal of her success came shortly after. Both turrets whirred as they turned to face each other, then obliterated each other in a hail of bullets. Only after the sound of firing bullets had completely ceased did any of them chance to come out from cover.

Shepard didn't know much about turian customs of affection amongst comrades; they weren't part of military training, but she knew that if Garrus were a human, she would slap him on the back in congratulations, so that's just what she did. He faltered, perhaps surprised at her strength, but quickly smiled when he realized it was a gesture of friendliness.

"Garrus, you son of a bitch. We could use a turian like you on the Normandy," she laughed.

"I'm sure the humans would take well to a turian in their midst," Wrex snorted.

Kaidan seemed to have recovered somewhat from the strain of using his biotics. He took the safer approach of shaking Garrus' hand. "That was quite a shot," he said.

"Thank you," Garrus replied sheepishly, his subharmonics subdued. Turians couldn't blush, at least as far as Shepard was aware, but they showed embarrassment in other ways. His mandibles spread away from his face, almost in mimic of a smile, but subtly different, more rigid. He was unused to praise.

"Not to be a spoilsport, but we can celebrate when this is over," Wrex interrupted. "Fist is in his office, probably soiling himself. We should take advantage of his fear."

The door to Fist's office was locked behind an encryption, but Shepard made quick work of bypassing it with her omni-tool. When the door swung open, it was to reveal an office noticeably lacking any living beings, human or otherwise. A shoddy desk was the centerpiece to the sparse office, and a heavy steel safe had been shoved into the corner.

Garrus' visor revealed the truth however; the heat sensors detected movement from behind the desk. Based on the shapes, it looked as though Fist had a gun, he was just waiting for the right moment to use it.

"I wonder where he could have gone," Garrus said, making pointed eye contact with the rest of the group.

Wrex cocked his gun and Shepard turned to the biotic, Kaidan, nodding toward the desk.

"Looks like the fire fight was meant to distract us," Shepard frowned.

Fist's heat signature shuffled behind the desk and for a moment Garrus thought he might strike, but before he had the chance, Kaidan had him in the air, contained within a tidy and powerful mass effect field.

Garrus had seen Fist before. Most C-sec officers were familiar with the man thanks to his reputation for thievery and debauchery. Not much else could be expected from the owner of an establishment like Chora's Den. He was muscular, but not intimidating, particular not as he hovered above them with his arms and legs splayed, a look of complete and utter shock on his face.

"You can put him down now, Kaidan," Shepard said.

The biotic let Fist drop from the ceiling. He landed on the office floor with a thud, narrowly avoiding a concussion as he rolled his head up to keep it from bouncing off the concrete.

Before he could even think to escape, Shepard had her boot on his chest and her gun pointed at his head. Wrex chuckled and leaned against the desk to watch the scene unfold. Garrus stepped closer. He was happy to let Shepard lead the charge, but he'd be damned if he was going to take a backseat to interrogating the first real lead in the case against Saren.

"L-look, I don't know what you want but I don't know anything!" Fist cried.

Shepard rolled her eyes. "I haven't even asked you anything yet."

"Doesn't matter, I've got nothing to tell."

Garrus pointed his rifle at Fist's head. "Are you sure about that?"

"You won't kill me," he said confidently, eyeing Garrus' uniform. "You're C-sec. You'd be in deep shit if you shot a small time criminal for no reason."

"I wouldn't press your luck." Shepard said, digging her boot harder into the man's chest.

Garrus shrugged. "I guess he's right, Shepard. I would have a lot of paperwork to fill out if I killed him. I might even lose my job. But there are other things I could probably do and get away with a warning. My boss can be very understanding when he needs to be."

He moved his gun slowly away from Fist's head to point instead between his legs. Fist squirmed and began to sweat.

"Okay, okay. What do you want to know?"

"What do you know about a quarian who had information on a Spectre named Saren?"

"Nothing! I mean…I didn't do anything to her. You might be able to catch her if you hurry," Fist said.

"What aren't you telling us?" Garrus demanded, prodding his gun between the man's legs. He yelped in response. Levo-based species were so poorly designed by evolution, their reproductive organs hanging around outside of their bodies at all times, a constant weakness. It was easy to get males of any levo-based species to listen to you if you prodded them hard enough between the legs. They usually never had the good sense to wear some sort of protective padding there.

"I told her she was meeting with the shadow broker. That he would be interested in the info she had on Saren. But I actually sent her to meet with some of Saren's men. They were going to recover the data…by any means necessary. She was meeting them in a warehouse on the other side of this ward. She might not be there yet," Fist looked desperate now.

"We should take him out and go after the quarian," Garrus suggested.

"He gave us the information we needed," Shepard shook her head. "We haven't got a good reason to kill him."

"He's scum," Garrus said. "He's a thief, a murderer. He treats the women in this bar like…"

"I'm surprised," Kaidan interrupted. "You're a C-sec officer. There are laws for a reason. Why not apprehend him and…?"

"And what? The reason we haven't already arrested him is because he knows how to cover his tracks. I am a C-sec officer, but some people aren't worth saving. And it's not my call. If I shoot him, I'm looking at a suspension at best. But Alliance navy can claim jurisdiction with a human."

"Just because someone's done something wrong doesn't mean they can't change," Ashley took Kaidan's side. Shepard watched the argument unfolding, waiting to get a word in edge-wise.

Wrex stepped forward and shot Fist in the head before anyone could stop him. Blood spattered across Garrus and Shepard's armor.

"There's no use arguing about it," Wrex shrugged. "We shouldn't be wasting time. Saren's men could already have the quarian. I was paid to kill Fist, so none of you have to worry about an excuse. You were never here maybe."

"Hard to make that claim with his blood all over my armor," Shepard said. "But what's done is done. And you're right. We need to find the quarian. Garrus, do you know how to get to the warehouse Fist mentioned?"

"Of course. Follow me."

He led the way, Shepard close beside him, her team following obediently behind her, and Wrex bringing up the rear. It was an inexplicable bunch to the citizens of the ward who saw them pass by. A krogan and a turian working together was a sight in itself, but Alliance soldiers made it even more unlikely.

There was a palpable tension in the air as they ran across the wards, guns in hand. Kaidan and Ashley hadn't approved of the killing, and they were clearly wary of the krogan, more than they already had been at least. It didn't seem to faze Shepard. Garrus watched her out of the side of his eye as they moved. She was focused on the task at hand. Whether she was aware of the disquiet in her ranks or not, he couldn't tell. Perhaps it was only a scent he was picking up from the uneasy humans, one the humans' noses were too weak to perceive. Or perhaps it was a commander using good judgment. A crew member's individual opinions on an error in the mission shouldn't compromise collecting valuable information, and Wrex was still an important asset if they were going to encounter more gunfire. Their bruised egos could be tended to after the battle was won.

The warehouse on the other end of the ward was stacked with shipping containers. As they approached, softening their steps, voices sounded from the center of the warehouse. Garrus pulled the group to the side behind a set of the containers to take cover, then he carefully peered out to observe the scene. Shepard, not willing to miss what was happening, forced herself next to him so she could see as well.

The quarian was still alive, that much was immediately clear. Her back was turned to them and all they could make out was her purple head scarf and the back of her matching protective suit.

"Did you bring it?" A distinctly turian voice sounded. In the shadows where the quarian stood, Garrus couldn't see the turian at all.

"Where's the shadow broker? Where's Fist?"

"Don't worry about it. They'll be here. Have you got the evidence?" A talon brushed the quarian's side and she slapped it away.

"Forget it. The deal's off." She looked around unsurely.

Shepard prodded Garrus and pointed across the warehouse. From the other side, a group of thugs in protective armor were approaching. Shepard moved to a set of shipping containers closer to the quarian and Garrus began to line up a shot. Shepard beckoned Kaidan over to assist her, but before he could move, the quarian threw a flash grenade and ran.

With the smoke from the grenade, it was too difficult to line up a shot, so instead, Garrus and Shepard both ran for the quarian. They collided with her past the set of shipping containers they were hidden behind, and the three of them went tumbling to the ground.

Before the quarian could fight back, Shepard was gone, ducking ahead to take out Saren's men before they recovered from the flash grenade. Ashley and Kaidan followed her into the fray. Wrex seemed to hesitate, curious about the quarian's data, then decided bloodshed seemed preferable, and hurried to follow Shepard and her squad.

"We're here to help. Don't run. Are you hurt?" Garrus knelt down beside the quarian, who was already reaching for her gun.

She turned to face him. Beneath the protective shield that sealed her in to her immune-containing suit, all he could see were her bright, fierce eyes, and the outline of her nose. There was anger in the look she gave him, but it quickly subsided to relief when they locked eyes. It seemed she trusted him, at least more than the turian who was trying to kill her a moment earlier.

"I'm fine," she replied shortly, pushing herself to her feet. "I should help your friends."

The sounds of gunfire and screaming were echoing around the warehouse. The two of them exited cover to assist Shepard and the others, only to find they had already taken care of the problem. Kaidan flung the sole survivor of the carnage into a wall using his biotics, then they turned to rejoin Garrus and the quarian.

Shepard was quite a sight, walking out of the filtering grenade smoke, dead humans and turians at her feet, Fist's blood spattered across the front of her armor. She hooked her gun onto the holster on her back and offered her hand to the quarian.

"Are you okay?"

The quarian shook her hand and nodded, "You saved my life. Thank you. But who are you?"

"I'm Commander Shepard, Alliance navy. These are my squad mates, Kaidan Alenko and Ashley Williams. The krogan is Wrex."

"Urdnot Wrex," he corrected gruffly.

"And I'm Garrus," the turian said, offering his hand as well. The quarian shook it.

"My name is Tali. Tali'Zorah nar Rayya. Why were you here? How did you…?"

"We're looking for information on Saren. We need proof that he's gone rogue for the council. Dr. Michel said you might be able to help us."

Tali nodded. "I can, but we should discuss it somewhere safer, before someone comes looking and finds the six of us standing around a bunch of dead bodies."

Garrus couldn't argue with that plan, and neither could Shepard.

"Perhaps we should take her to see your ambassador," Garrus suggested. "He'll want to hear about this."

"Good thinking, Garrus. Let's go."

She led the way out of the warehouse and Garrus felt a rush of adrenaline and excitement. This might finally be the break he needed for his case. And he had a bunch of humans, a krogan, and a quarian to thank for it.

A/N: Thanks for the kudos and bookmarks! I'm going to try to stick to a roughly weekly update Tuesdays or Wednesdays if I can. 

Chapter Text

"Eden Prime was a major victory; the beacon has brought us one step closer to finding the conduit."

"And one step closer to the return of the Reapers."

The voices played for the third time as Udina and Anderson listened, the former with a look of absolute glee and the latter with furrowed brows. The first voice belonged to Saren, the vocal readings were authentic, so it was utterly undeniable. The second voice was unfamiliar, but it belonged to a woman. The quarian, Tali, had been made to play the recording multiple times so that Shepard could run the vocal readings through her omni-tool and verify them against a Citadel file with Saren's voice on it.

"This is definitely the evidence we need to convict Saren," Anderson said. "But what exactly are they planning? Reapers are just an old myth, something to scare children."

Shepard wasn't so sure. She'd seen something vivid and horrible in the Prothean beacon. Something she couldn't quite piece apart, but it had definitely involved the Reapers. And mass destruction left in their wake. The first time Tali had played the recording, it had given her goosebumps. If the council would accept the evidence, which they should, she wanted to lead the charge on the hunt for Saren. Even playing at the return of what she saw in the beacon was too big of a risk.

"It doesn't matter what they're saying," Udina waved a dismissive hand at the captain. "What matters is we have proof of Saren's guilt. We need to take this to the council immediately. Come on. And bring that motley crew of yours with," he eyed the aliens with distaste.

They were an unusual bunch. Quarians and turians might be seen together frequently; Shepard had even heard of some quarians who'd left their fleet to marry a turian lover. Still, the sight of Quarians on the citadel was rare. Krogan were almost as rare a sight as quarians, and usually stuck to their own kind. Since the turians had inflicted the genophage on their species, greatly limiting their ability to procreate and decimating their numbers, there had been bad blood between the two races. The humans and the krogan had a common enemy, both having fallen victim to military assault by the turian, but it certainly didn't bring the two species together. A human was much more likely to befriend a turian than a krogan, despite tense relations. To see all four of these alien races working toward the same goal…well, it was a sight Shepard never expected, much less of her own doing.

The three humans and the three aliens followed Udina out of his office, through the embassies, and out into the main Presidium. Anderson brought up the rear, a distracted look on his face. He was clearly lost deep in troublesome thoughts. Shepard shared his confusion and concern, but she also understood Udina's zeal to get the evidence to the council as soon as possible. Saren knew he was being investigated; the longer they waited to convict him, the further away he could get using his Spectre status.

The walk across the Presidium seemed to take forever. Shuttles and taxis hovered by overhead, the passengers completely oblivious to the magnitude of events unfolding right below them. Eden Prime had been a sad news piece to discuss at the water cooler for most of the people on the Citadel; their interest in the topic would fade quickly without a direct tie to the colony.

When they finally reached the elevator leading up to the Citadel tower, there were far too many of them to fit in one trip, so Udina boarded with Anderson, Shepard, and Tali, while the rest were left to wait for another elevator.

The elevator rose slowly, it would take a while to reach the council chambers from this far down on the Presidium. Tali shifted uncomfortably next to Shepard, wringing her hands and fidgeting.

"It'll be okay," Shepard reassured her. "All you have to do is play the evidence."

"The Citadel has never exactly been welcoming to quarians," Tali spoke softly. "They treat us as 'undesirable'. But we all have to leave the flotilla at some point for our pilgrimage. If they bothered learning anything about us…" She shrugged. "And now that the geth have attacked Eden Prime…"

"You're worried that the council will blame the quarians," Shepard guessed.

Tali nodded. "We're the reason the geth exist."

"Surely the council can't blame your people for something their ancestors created."

"What have the quarians done to stop the geth in the interim?" Udina piped in.

Shepard glared at him. "They've survived. I doubt anyone is more concerned or upset by the geth than people who've been forced to live off of their home world in a flotilla for the past three centuries!"

"I'm sorry," Tali said. "I didn't mean to cause a fight. I shouldn't have…"

"You have nothing to apologize for," Shepard said firmly.

The remainder of the ride up was spent in stony silence. Shepard was annoyed that Udina had felt the need to intervene on the conversation. Tali was the reason they had evidence against Saren at all, and he was going to complain about her people? As if humans were perfect. He never had anything constructive to add to a conversation unless it might help to lead humanity to a council seat.

When they reached the top, it was another long wait for the rest of the group to arrive. Udina would have rushed the council chambers right then and there, but Anderson reminded him that it would be important for all of the group to be present; Ashley and Kaidan could help answer any additional questions the council might have about Eden Prime and all of them would be able to explain how the evidence had been obtained.

Udina made a crude comment about turians and krogan, but agreed to wait.

When the entire group was reformed, they made their way into the council chambers to present the evidence.

Shepard stood stoically as the council listened to Tali's evidence against Saren, while Garrus and the others watched with bated breath. After viewing Shepard's data indicating the vocal files were authentic, the turian councilor spoke first.

"This evidence is irrefutable. We must move to strip Saren of his Spectre privileges at once."

The asari councilor nodded and tapped something on the screen in front of her. "I am also concerned about the second voice on the recording."

"You know who it is?" Shepard asked.

"Matriarch Benezia. A powerful asari. If she's working with Saren…well, she has many connections and her biotic prowess is well known. She'll be a formidable ally for him," The asari councilor explained.

A small crowd had gathered in the rafters overlooking the chambers. After all the commotion they had made down in the wards, Garrus wasn't surprised that word had gotten around.

"That is troubling," the salarian councilor agreed. "And what of Saren's mention of the reapers?"

"A ploy, surely. Something to distract from his larger purpose, perhaps a code word. The reapers are just an old myth. Something to explain away what historians can't solve regarding the Protheans," the asari councilor said dismissively. "We needn't concern ourselves with such nonsense."

"I saw a vision of the reapers in the Prothean beacon. It doesn't seem like something we should take lightly," Shepard growled.

Garrus had heard her speak about her vision of the reapers before he'd slipped out of her last meeting with the council. He had to admit that he was skeptical as well. What evidence was there that anything like the reapers had ever existed? Still, in the few hours he'd known Shepard, he could already sense it was worth listening to what she had to say. No one had ever come in contact with a functioning Prothean beacon. Who were they to say Shepard was wrong? If two people as powerful as Saren and this asari matriarch were discussing the reapers, he had to agree it wasn't something to be dismissed without second thought.

"Who knows what the Prothean beacon might have done to you," the turian councilor said. "You admitted yourself that it affected you physically. A vision is not proof of anything."

"I warned you about Saren before and you didn't want to listen. Are you really going to ignore me a second time?" Shepard demanded.

Humans, of all the species on the Citadel, were known for ardent displays of emotion. Garrus could see the frustration bubbling beneath Shepard's surface, but he was impressed at how composed she still remained while questioning the councilors. Her speech was impassioned, certainly, but not at the risk of making her sound angry or unstable. She was well fit for the role she held.

"You have tangible evidence of Saren's guilt. There is no tangible evidence that the reapers exist, much less that they caused some sort of mass destruction or extinction," the salarian councilor spoke.

"Regardless," Udina spoke up. "Saren and the geth could be gathering to attack other colonies. We know he's hiding somewhere in the traverse. You need to send a fleet after him!"

"Even a fleet could not find one man in the entire expanse of the galaxy," the salarian councilor said.

"A fleet could at least ensure the protection of the colonies Saren hasn't attacked yet," Udina growled. He was not as skilled at hiding his emotions as Shepard was.

"Or it could trigger a war with the Terminus system. I hardly think a galactic war is worth protecting a few dozen human colonies that may or may not be under attack in the future," the turian councilor said. "Saren is being stripped of his Spectre status and all rights therein. That should be enough."

"If you won't send a fleet, then send me," Shepard stepped forward. "The council can avoid a war, and the ambassador will be placated, and in the meantime I might actually find Saren."

The councilors exchanged a meaningful glance. Garrus leaned forward in anticipation of what would come next. The crowd on the balcony was growing larger as well.

"There is a way to grant Commander Shepard this ability," the asari councilor said.

The turian councilor clenched his fist. "It's far too soon to grant humanity the benefits of Spectre status."

"Too soon?" Shepard said. "It was a Spectre who started this mess. A turian Spectre gone rogue. And I brought you the evidence. If he'd been allowed to keep his status, who knows how many more innocent lives might have been lost?" Her voice was rising in volume, but she seemed to catch herself. She stood up straight and spoke with cool composure. "If the council would grant me this honor, I promise, I will find Saren and bring him to justice. No matter what."

The councilors spoke in hushed whispers for a moment, then the asari stepped forward.

"Very well. Commander Shepard, we grant you here today the rights and privileges associated with the Special Tactics and Reconnaissance branch of the Citadel," she said. "There is no training for this role; those worthy of Spectre status have a resumé already proving their worth. From here on out you will have Spectre status. Use this status wisely. You represent not only humanity, but all those who fall under purview of the council."

"Spectres bear a great burden," the turian councilor spoke. "You are our first and often last lines of defense. Protectors of the galaxy."

"It's an honor, councilors," Shepard said. She kept the same stoic face she'd been wearing for most of the conversation, betraying no hint of her true feelings. Garrus felt emotional just from watching the induction, he could only imagine how Shepard felt. This was history in the making: the first human Spectre. He never thought it would happen within his lifetime, much less within his view.

"Your first role as Spectre will be to find Saren and bring him to justice. Use any means necessary to apprehend or eliminate him," the salarian councilor told Shepard. "We will forward any relevant information we find to ambassador Udina for use at your discretion."

"This meeting of the council is adjourned," said the asari councilor.

There was a great deal of clapping from humans up in the rafters. The councilors retreated from their post and slowly, the crowd above began to dissipate as well.

Udina, true to character, couldn't show a shred of gratitude to Shepard even now that she'd achieved what no human had before.

"Gather anything you need, Shepard," he said. "When you're ready, meet Anderson and me at the docks."

"I'd like to have a few words with the commander if it's…" Anderson started.

"No time. We have important matters to discuss before Shepard leaves."

Anderson sighed. He clapped Shepard on the shoulder. "Congratulations, commander. You've done humanity proud today."

She smiled, "Thank you, captain."

"Now, Anderson," Udina growled.

Anderson hurried off after him, leaving the chamber empty except for Shepard and her unusual squad. Garrus had been so caught up in what was happening, that it took him a moment to realize he needed to speak to the commander. Kaidan and Ashley were congratulating her with handshakes and pats on the back. She thanked them with appropriate modesty and spoke briefly with Ashley, the conversation ending in an excited handshake, then stepped away from the two humans toward Tali, who had remained silent since showing the evidence to the councilors.

"Tali, I wouldn't have been granted this honor without your help," Shepard said as she took the quarian's hand and it shook it. "I don't know or care what the Alliance has to say about it. I could use someone with your tech skill on the Normandy."

"Oh," was all Tali could muster for a moment. "Commander Shepard, I…I don't want you to think…I still feel I owe you a debt for saving my life."

"You don't owe me anything," Shepard assured her. "But if you want to come aboard, I know our engineers would be happy to have you. And you may find something useful to take back to your fleet as part of your pilgrimage."

"If you'd really want me there…"

Kaidan stepped forward then. "Not just the commander. I'd be happy to serve alongside you."

"I suppose I have nothing keeping me here in the Citadel," Tali said. "Yes. Okay. I'll come with you, commander."

"I wasn't invited," Wrex spoke. He had been leaning against the wall watching everything unfold without a word. "But I'm coming too." He stepped forward and brought up his omni-tool. "I'm sending you half the money I was paid for killing Fist. I would say I couldn't have done it without you, but that's not true. Still, it would have taken me longer."

"I'm happy to have as many good soldiers as I can get," Shepard said. "But I have to ask. Why do you want to come aboard a human vessel?"

"I'm eager to see how this plays out," Wrex shrugged. "I'd rather go with you and get my hands dirty fighting geth than stick around here waiting for another bounty."

Shepard's squad mates seemed less sure about the addition of the krogan. Garrus couldn't blame them. A krogan's presence on a ship would make anyone uneasy. Still, Wrex was certainly an invaluable asset to have on the battlefield.

He realized it was his turn to speak up then, and in fact all eyes were on him.

"What about you, Garrus?" Ashley asked. "You said you've been trying to find evidence of Saren's guilt for months. Well, now we have it. What next?"

"As far as C-sec's concerned, my case against Saren is closed. They'd have me back at a desk filing paperwork." He turned his attention to the commander. "Shepard, if you don't mind taking on one more non-human, I'd like to get in on the action as well. I've got a vested interest in bringing Saren to justice now, I'm a damn good shot, and I can keep the weapons and ship systems calibrated to contribute."

Shepard laughed. "You don't have to prove your worth, Garrus. I would have asked you to come anyway."

"Really?" He was surprised.

"Hell, if I'm bringing the krogan…" she shrugged. The others looked unsurely to Wrex, but he just laughed. They smiled hesitantly as well. "That settles it then. All of you, gather what you need and meet us up at dock 422 in an hour. And that's an order!"

"Commander!" The two humans stood at attention and saluted.

"If you expect me to salute you, you've got another thing coming," Wrex waved his hand dismissively and sauntered away to take care of his loose ends on the Citadel.

As the humans and Tali made their way out of the chamber, Garrus trailed behind them. He felt exhilarated at the reality of what was happening, his heart pounding in his chest. He finally had a shot at Saren, and with the unrestricted access of a Spectre. No more C-sec, no more red tape preventing him from carrying out justice. It had been too long since he'd even been off the Citadel.

He was finally in a situation where he could really make a difference, and, as loathe as he was to admit it, he had ambassador Udina to thank.

Chapter Text

Shepard would probably never say it out loud to any of her crew, but her whole body was tingling with the rush of being granted Spectre status. The first human Spectre; it was hard to fully grasp. She had never been one to downplay her own ability as a soldier, but she never talked herself up either. Shepard had built her entire career on focusing on the mission rather than the glory, but somehow glory still found her. She knew she was a skilled soldier, she wouldn't have been a commander otherwise, but she never in her wildest dreams really thought she'd actually be the first human Spectre.

She was still riding that high when she reached the docking bay. Udina and Anderson were waiting for her outside the Normandy. Anderson had a somber look on his face, Udina still wore that sour expression of his. He couldn't even manage a smile or 'congratulations' for Shepard.

"Good, you're here," Udina greeted her. "The news is already spreading quickly. I heard two asari on the elevator discussing that there was a human Spectre now. This puts us one step closer to a seat on the council."

"Is something wrong captain?" Shepard asked, ignoring Udina.

"Nothing wrong," he faked a smile. "I'm very proud of what you've accomplished today Shepard. The Alliance is as well. That's why they've decided to turn control of the Normandy over to you. Beginning immediately, you are the new captain of this vessel."

"What?" Shepard turned to Udina, eyebrows furrowed. "Why is Anderson being dismissed as captain?"

"You act as if it were solely my decision, Shepard," Udina feigned upset. "Anderson and the alliance have reached a mutual agreement. Anderson has had a long, respectable career. His talents are needed here on the citadel now. He's not retiring, just moving on to a place where his skills can be more efficiently used. Which opens up room for your skills to utilized to their fullest extent. A Spectre needs her own ship. The Normandy is yours now."

Shepard didn't accept the explanation, but she wasn't going to press it further with Udina. She shook Anderson's hand, though she wanted to break protocol and hug him. The man had been there for her for the past 11 years. He deserved better than this.

"It has been an honor and a privilege working under your service, captain. And it's an exceptional honor to take over your ship for you."

He shook her hand and smiled, a real one this time. "I wouldn't leave her in anyone else's hands, Shepard."

"Where are Alenko and the girl? You should get going. The faster you leave, the faster you'll find Saren," Udina said.

"My crew are gathering up supplies before we live. And the girl has a name. It's Ashley Williams."

Udina rolled his eyes. "Fine, yes, whatever. We have some info for you. Leads for you to follow. The first is that this Matriarch Benezia has a daughter, Dr. Liara T'Soni. We believe if you find her, you can gain more intel on Benezia and possibly identify her location. Dr. T'Soni's last contact was from somewhere in the Artemis Tau cluster. I suggest beginning your search there."

"Thank you," Shepard said. As much as she hated Udina, he could sometimes be helpful, when it suited his own needs.

"In addition, there have been reports of geth near a human colon on Feros, and sightings on Noveria as well. Considering that before Saren's involvement on Eden Prime, the geth rarely ventured past the veil, it would be prudent of you to investigate these sightings as well."

"I'll have Joker map the coordinates," Shepard assured him.

"Good luck," Udina said. "Send word if you find anything on Saren."

He left without fanfare, leaving Shepard alone with Anderson. She was glad for a moment of privacy to speak openly with him.

"Tell me the truth, captain. What's really going on?"

Anderson shook his head. "A lot of politics at play. Udina's forte, not something I like to get involved in, but I guess I have no choice now. The decision to hand the Normandy to you still makes sense, though. You know the crew, you know the vessel, and you do need your own ship now. The alliance had high hopes for me when I was your age, but I never quite met their expectations. At least you have, Shepard."

"The Normandy will be worse off without you aboard, captain. It won't seem right," she sighed.

"I'm sure you'll manage, Shepard." With no one around, he allowed himself to give her a quick hug. "Go out there and do us proud."

"Captain," she saluted, her watery eyes betraying her emotions.

As soon as her salute was finished she wiped her eyes quickly, before any evidence of her sadness could be seen. Anderson gave her one last handshake and headed for the elevator back down to the Presidium.

Shepard turned to the Normandy and stood staring at it for a moment, trying to take in that the entire ship was under her command now. She had become a Spectre and the captain of the Normandy all in one day. It was enough to make her head spin, if she'd had time for such a thing. Instead, she stepped forward and headed into the airlock to greet the crew as their new captain.

The Normandy was perfect evidence of what species could accomplish through cooperation. She had been a joint effort between the humans and the turians and it showed. It was a flawless specimen, in Garrus' eyes, the nicest ship he'd ever stepped foot on. Every inch of it was clearly designed with function in mind. The cockpit was state-of-the-art; the bridge, with its map terminal, was the largest of its kind; and that was just what Garrus had seen so far.

Shepard had been waiting for them when he and Tali and Wrex arrived. It turned out, she informed them, that she would be replacing Anderson as captain of the ship. It was a smart move on the part of the Alliance: the first human Spectre would need a ship to give her unlimited travel access and why not one with a crew that was already loyal?

They met the pilot first, a short man with a face covered in stubbly hair. This was a common sight amongst male humans, a fashion choice it seemed. Garrus was still perplexed by all the places humans seemed to grow hair. It was a way to differentiate males from females, certainly, but not in any permanent way like a turian fringe or a krogan hump. Plenty of male humans shaved the hair off of their faces, again seemingly for aesthetic purposes.

The pilot went by the name of "Joker", though his real name, Shepard explained, was Jeff. Joker had been particularly annoyed with Shepard for telling them that. He was a pleasant man, Garrus decided. In fact, he'd heard jokes at the man's expense, it turned out. Joker had a disease that turned his bones brittle. The turians used to joke that the Alliance kept pilots with brittle bone disease to give their officers a fair fight. He would keep that joke to himself.

Shepard gave them a tour of the rest of the ship. The bridge and command center were well staffed. An officer named Pressly served as the ship's navigator. He was wary of Garrus and the other aliens, though he didn't say as much. It could be seen in his body language and the scent he was giving off.

Down a flight of stairs to the either side of the central elevator, Shepard led them to the crew quarters. There was a dining area, a medical bay, bunk rooms, and Shepard's own cabin. The ship's doctor was friendly, an elderly human with vibrant white hair. Garrus trusted an older doctor better than a young one; she had experience, and her career had been spent in the navy, so she knew how to heal battle wounds: that was important.

As they were touring the dining area, Tali thought to speak up. "Shepard, my apologies for interrupting, but…does this ship carry any dextro foods? Garrus and I can't eat your levo foods."

Shepard rubbed the back of her head and looked sheepish. "I don't actually know, Tali. I'll look into it. If we don't, I'll make sure the mess sergeant orders some for you."

"I don't mind paying for my share," Garrus said. "It's the least I can do for…"

Shepard shook her head. "We'll take care of it. Don't worry about it."

Garrus knew this level of kindness was coming from the commander herself, not from the Alliance in particular, based on his past experiences with Alliance officers. He appreciated the gesture immensely. Both he and Tali gave series of 'thank yous' before Shepard shushed them and moved on with the tour.

The central elevator took them down to the cargo bay. It was a vast room, filled with weapons lockers and a large off-road vehicle, but devoid of any crew. The vehicle was an old mako model with a turret on top. The turian military hadn't used them in years; they were difficult to steer, but built to withstand hard hits. He would have to see what he could do to improve the ancient thing.

A series of cots had been set up along the far wall of the cargo bay with bedding folded neatly on top. Shepard sighed when they reached the cots.

"Unfortunately, there really isn't any extra space in the crew quarters right now, so we've had bedding made up for you all. The extra-large cot there is for Wrex. And Garrus, we found one that's a little longer for you, to accommodate your height. To be honest, I think they're cots built for alien prisoners, but it's all we had."

"Thank you, Shepard," Tali said. "It's more than enough."

"Turians can sleep on anything," Garrus said proudly. "A cot won't be a problem."

"Do you think my ass is that fat?" Wrex laughed. The cot they had provided for him was comically large, even for a krogan.

"Maybe it won't be once we get you into battle," Shepard shrugged.

"Hah! I like it here already," the krogan said.

"Don't feel like you have to stay down here all the time," Shepard said. "You're part of the crew now, so the crew quarters are for you as well. And tell me if anyone is giving you a hard time. A lot of the Normandy's crew aren't used to having aliens on board their vessel. And a few of them even lost family in the First Contact war. But whatever your ancestors did isn't your fault. I want you to feel welcome here.

"We're going to set a course for the Artemis Tau cluster first. Apparently Matriarch Benezia has a daughter who might be able to point us in the right direction. I have to go map out the coordinates with Joker and Pressly. Make yourselves comfortable. And I'll check about the dextro food with the mess sergeant as well."

She dismissed herself, heading back up to the command center and leaving Garrus, Wrex, and Tali alone in the cargo bay.

"No windows," Wrex complained.

He hadn't brought much of anything with him besides a duffel bag containing his weapons and armor. He dropped the bag next to his oversized cot and sat down.

Garrus also hadn't had much to bring. Turian culture was so focused on military lifestyle that he'd learned early in life to pack lightly. He'd brought his weapons, his armor, and a few pairs of civilian clothes. He'd had a small apartment on the citadel, but it wasn't filled with much; nothing he desperately needed to bring with him. He didn't know how long he would be gone with Shepard, but considering the months of time he'd put into investigating Saren, he couldn't imagine the hunt for him would be short.

Tali set about unpacking her bag as Garrus unpacked his. She had a bit more than he or Wrex had brought, a lot of pieces of old tech, weapons, items for maintaining her enviro-suit, shield boosters; he thought she would never stop pulling things from her bag. Wrex watched her, curious, but silent.

"Is it typical for quarians to carry so much with them on their pilgrimage?" Garrus asked.

Tali didn't look up from unpacking as she replied, "We never know how long we'll be gone. Some of these are things I've gathered so far, ultimately junk, but some of the tech seemed promising at the time. Our enviro-suit maintenance gear is probably the most important thing we have to bring with us. It's less weight to carry than it looks like. Who knows how long we'll be out here with Shepard? I know that I'll find something to bring back from my pilgrimage with her, but it could be a long time before I'm able to go back. Some quarians are gone for years. Some never come back."

"I have a cousin that's married to a quarian," Garrus admitted. "I always wondered how that worked."

Tali stopped unpacking and stared at him.

Wrex laughed, "Seems like it would be hard to do anything fun with that suit on."

"I was talking about leaving the flotilla," Garrus said. "But I suppose now that you mention it…"

"Men," Tali muttered. "If you really want to know, it involves a lot immune boosters and a cold that can last a few months…if it doesn't kill you."

"Doesn't seem worth it."

"I guess if you loved someone it would be," Tali shrugged.

"What's love got to do with it?" Wrex rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling.

Garrus privately agreed, but didn't say as much. Turian culture had never stigmatized sex the way humans seemed to. But he supposed he could understand the quarians need to conflate sex with love. If having sex meant risking your life, it really wasn't worth it just to blow off some steam. Still, he couldn't quite imagine such a life.

Tali grabbed a few pieces of tech from her tidy pile of things. "I'm going to go talk to the engineers and check out the ship's drive core. I've never been on a ship quite like this. I'm intrigued to find out how she runs."

If he found it difficult to read human expression, Garrus thought quarians were a complete enigma. Their tone could reveal a certain amount, but with most of their face obscured behind their masks, it was hard to get a read on them. He couldn't decide if Tali was insulted by the topic of conversation that had come up, if she was just young and naïve and embarrassed by it, or if it didn't really bother her at all. For as long as he'd lived on the citadel, he realized he didn't really know much about alien culture. He supposed his stay on the Normandy would change that.

He decided to explore the ship once his things were organized. He invited Wrex, but the krogan wasn't interested, so he went alone. The drive core was on the other side of the elevator on the same level as the cargo bay, so he visited that area first.

It was a quiet ship, even in engineering. Tali was having a civil, but heated conversation with the chief engineer, a man named Adams, about the ship's maintenance systems. Garrus sidled past them to observe the drive core and meet the engineers. They were all pleasant, as humans went, and seemed to have no qualms with his presence on the ship. He wondered if the other crew members would be as placid about a turian on board. If some of them had lost family in the First Contact war, he very much doubted they would warm up to him, but he wouldn't know until he met them.

After he'd explored the drive core, he headed up to the crew quarters. Here, he received more wary looks than he had down below. Three of the crew members seated at a table in the center of the quarters were whispering to each other as they looked at him. Their whispers were too low for his translator to pick up, but he was sure he could fill in the gaps. Kaidan and Ashley were having a conversation in the corner, so Garrus wandered over to where they were.

"Hey Garrus," Kaidan smiled in greeting. "Settling in okay?"

"Just fine. The Normandy is a magnificent ship."

"She is, isn't she? Sorry about shunting you guys down to the cargo bay. The bunks up here aren't really built for aliens. And honestly," he lowered his voice. "Some of the crew aren't very friendly towards turians. It's probably safer for you and Wrex to be down there anyway."

"It's no imposition," Garrus assured him. "I thought I might see if I could improve the firing capacity and steering fluidity on the mako. I haven't seen one in years, not since I was in military training, but I remember how hard they were to drive."

"I'm sure the commander would appreciate that," Kaidan said.

"I'm having a station set up down in the cargo bay for weapons maintenance," Ashley explained. "So I'll probably be down there keeping you company from time to time. If you need your gun polished, just let me know."

Kaidan stifled a laugh and turned away. Ashley's eyebrows furrowed. "What? …Oh! Really, Kaidan? Not what I meant."

"I'm afraid I'm in the dark here," Garrus said.

"Double meaning," Ashley shrugged. "Kaidan was being immature."

Garrus thought about what she had said for a minute and assessed it for a second meaning. "Oh." He said finally.

"I think Officer Strickland might like you to polish his gun, Ash," Kaidan grinned.

She punched him in the arm. "Grow up! I'm going to go see how much they've gotten set up in the cargo bay," she marched off.

Garrus laughed and left Kaidan to sort out his paperwork on the nearby terminal. He visited the doctor in the medical bay next and spent a few minutes discussing her knowledge of alien biology. It turned out she'd actually served on the frontlines in the First Contact war and had treated some of the captured turian soldiers. She seemed to harbor no animosity toward the turians, though. She told Garrus that in treating the enemy soldiers, she'd learned that they weren't so different from the humans. This further solidified his decision that the doctor was trustworthy.

The crew continued to watch him unsurely, so Garrus decided to take the elevator up to the observation deck Shepard had briefly mentioned during their tour. She hadn't taken them due to the speed of the elevator and her need to meet with the navigator and the pilot sooner rather than later.

The elevator was interminably slow. Garrus decided he would have to find out where the stairs to and from the cargo bay were located or else he would go insane having to ride the damn thing up and down all the time. Surely there were stairs to the observation deck as well. He would ask Shepard when she had a moment, if she ever did.

After an inordinate amount of time, the elevator finally opened up onto the observation deck. It was a long chamber, the length of the rounded top of the ship, with a few chairs and couches and a small bar that was not well stocked. Large floor-to-ceiling windows allowed a view in all directions. They were still docked at the moment, so the view was nothing spectacular, but Garrus imagined it was quite impressive when traveling at FTL speeds. He took a seat on one of the couches and sat by himself, staring out at the docks and falling into his thoughts. It had been a long day. He'd never imagined when he met with Udina early that morning that by the end of the day he'd be part of the crew of an Alliance vessel, under a human Spectre, chasing Saren through the traverse, but he was happy it happened.

Shepard had Pressly and Joker set a course for the Artemis Tau cluster, then set Kaidan to checking the extranet for any news on Liara T'Soni, to help narrow down their search once they arrived. The mass relay was just outside the citadel and would only take an hour to reach, but once in the cluster, it would be several days' journey to whatever system and planet Dr. T'soni might be on. Hopefully by the time they reached the cluster, they might have some clue about what system to find Dr. T'soni on.

It had been an immensely long day for Shepard. It was hard to keep track of time with galactic travel. She felt like she hadn't slept since Eden Prime, though she knew she had, several times on their journey to the citadel. She'd never imagined when they arrived that she would be leaving as a Spectre.

She'd addressed the crew before the aliens arrived, but she took the intercom one more time, to announce they would be departing for the Artemis Tau cluster. It was a short address, one to keep the crew apprised of the mission. She didn't have the energy to talk for much longer. As tired as she was though, she didn't want to retreat to her cabin in the crew quarters. Nothing in there was hers yet. Up until an hour earlier it had been captain Anderson's. She didn't want to be reminded of that at the moment, so she headed up to the observation deck to try and clear her head.

Taking the elevator was a daunting thought, one that Shepard simply didn't have the patience for at the moment, so she snuck around into the back of the med bay where a set of ladders led up to the observation deck or down to the cargo bay. They were technically for emergency use only, but Dr. Chakwas wasn't going to question the new captain of the ship, and she had let Shepard get away with it before she was captain anyway.

The observation deck was never busy despite its typically stunning views. Most of the crew stayed down in the crew quarters playing cards, or watched the view from the bunk room. So Shepard was surprised to find she wasn't alone when she reached the top of the ladder and climbed out onto the deck.

Garrus was seated on one of the couches, watching as the Citadel faded into view before the jump to FTL was made and the system shot by in a whirl of stars and space debris.

"Commander Shepard," he greeted her with a nod. "How are you adjusting to your new role?"

Shepard sat down next to him on the couch and stared out the window.

"I think I'm still processing it. I need to sleep, to be honest."

"It's been a long day," Garrus agreed. "I see you took an alternate route up. Good to know about that. You weren't lying about the elevator."

"It's horrible. I've been begging Anderson to have someone fix it for years. Everything else on this ship is state of the art, you'd think the elevator would run more smoothly. You'll want to use the ladders to get in and out of the cargo bay on a regular basis. But I didn't tell you about them. They're for 'emergencies only'."

"Avoiding the elevator could be classified as an emergency," Garrus suggested.

"I like your thinking."

"I took the liberty of researching a bit about Dr. T'soni," he explained, bringing up some information with his omni-tool. "I was just sitting here staring off into space, I figured I could make myself useful. It looks like her area of expertise is Prothean history and culture. There's a bit of news on the extranet that she was heading to Therum to examine some Prothean ruins there."

"Wow," Shepard exhaled. "You didn't have to do that. I had Kaidan looking into it. But thanks. That will really help us a lot after the jump through the relay."

"I want to contribute more than just my bullets," Garrus shrugged. "Speaking of which, I wanted to make some updates to the mako down in the cargo bay. Kaidan didn't seem to think you'd mind. Calibration and repair are sort of hobbies of mine."

"Useful hobbies," Shepard laughed. "If you want to make any changes to that old piece of crap that will make it more manageable to use, be my guest. Driving that thing is a nightmare."

"I'll get to work on it soon," he assured her.

They sat in silence for a moment, both of them staring out the window, lost in their own thoughts. Shepard thought about how unusual it was to be sitting side by side with a turian on an Alliance navy vessel. How many turians had even willingly stepped foot on Alliance vessels? Nihlus was the first one she'd ever seen, and the Normandy had been built with the help of the turians.

"How are the crew treating you so far?" Shepard broke the silence.

"Kaidan and Ashley are pleasant. As are the engineers. Some of the other crew members don't seem very fond of me. I guess I can't blame them. I know plenty of turians who would have the same reaction to a human aboard their ship."

"I'm sure they'll warm up eventually. If they don't, I'll have a word with them."

"I'm still not sure why you brought us aboard," he admitted. "I mean, I'm not complaining, but I am surprised."

"You and Wrex and Tali have more than proven your worth. I need skilled soldiers with me when we take on the geth. Not all of my crew can handle that, but I think that you can. Plus, Tali's tech skill will be a huge asset against them as well."

"Well, I appreciate you taking me on," Garrus said, looking directly at her. His steely gaze so intense that after a moment, she had to look away.

"I'm surprised you agreed so readily. Wrex is a bounty a hunter and Tali's on her pilgrimage. I would have figured you might have family or something tying you to the citadel, being C-sec and all."

Garrus laughed. "I'm married to my work. I have some friends in the agency, certainly. No one I'll miss enough to skip out on a chance to reign in a rogue Spectre without any red tape to hinder me."

"Sounds like me," Shepard said. "Married to my work, I mean. I can't imagine life outside the navy. Though…what we're doing now, this is Spectre work, not Alliance work. It's an adjustment to realize I only have myself to answer to."

"My father hates the Spectres because of that," Garrus said. "He's a C-sec man through and through. Very by the book. He was always telling me, 'Garrus, do things right or don't do them at all'. He thinks it's dangerous the way Spectres are granted unlimited power. Saren doesn't exactly make a strong case for the Spectres either. But I think that sometimes you need people to push through all the bullshit and regulations and just get things done."

Shepard watched him as he talked, his mandibles flaring, clearly impassioned by the topic. "Sounds like a point of contention for you."

"I've spent most of my life following in my father's footsteps. But eventually I realized that I'm not him. And there are aspects of myself that will never live up to his ideals. I have to do what I think is right," he turned to face her, those bright blue eyes boring into her again. "I think what's right for me, right now, is traveling with you, Shepard. I've never met another human I would have said that about."

As usual, she didn't know how to take any praise aimed toward her without a stoic or absent response. She decided it was time to get some rest, but she was pleased that the turian felt she was a worthy commander to follow. Turians prided themselves on their military prowess; it was a real compliment for one to want to be part of her crew.

She smiled, "Thanks, Garrus. I think I'm going to get some sleep."

"Good idea," he nodded. "You want to be well rested. Should I pass along the news about Therum to the pilot?"

"That would be great. Go and find Kaidan and let him know too."

She stood up and headed for the ladder back down to the crew quarters. The crew quarters seemed to be bustling, but Shepard wanted nothing to do with it. Kaidan tried to stop her for a conversation, but she asked him for a raincheck. The lieutant was a sweet guy, and she felt bad shutting him down so harshly, but the lack of sleep was finally hitting her and she needed to lie down.

Entering the captain's cabin felt wrong. All of Anderson's belongings were gone and the bedding had been changed out. Now the cabin was devoid of any decoration or personal touch. She would have to add something to make it feel right. She had a picture of Anderson awarding her the Star of Terra, maybe she would put that on her desk.

She climbed under the covers on the bed, finding the mattress firm and uncomfortable, though still better than the bunks she was used to sleeping on. As soon as her head hit the pillow, her eyes were closed and she was out like a light.


Chapter Text

It had been three days since the Normandy departed from the Citadel, and it would be another three days until they arrived on Therum. When Garrus had delivered the update to Pressly, the man had seemed unhappy to have to talk to him. He suspected Pressly had a personal distaste for either turians or non-humans in general. He made a mental note to avoid doing anything to further exacerbate that distaste.

Most of Garrus' time over the past few days had been spent calibrating the mako and keeping himself confined to either the cargo bay or the observation deck. The Normandy did have dextro rations, it turned out, consisting mostly of stale breads and instant meals that were probably expired. Shepard had apologized multiple times for the state of things. She was having the mess sergant put in an order for new rations, for which Garrus and Tali were immensely thankful.

Tali had been spending all of her time in engineering, working on improvements to the ship with engineer Adams. Wrex, to Garrus' surprise, had spent a large portion of his time talking to Kaidan and reading books on biotics; it was apparently an interest of his. Garrus, for his part, wasn't really aware krogan could read. Perhaps every species had its prejudices.

He said as much to Wrex as the krogan leaned against the mako reading his book while Garrus worked on upgrades to the turret.

"You know, Wrex, I'm kind of surprised you're so interested in biotics and reading. I have to admit I was raised to think all krogan were savage thugs."

"What?" Wrex replied in his usual deep rumble, "using the genophage was more bearable when all krogan were savage thugs? You'd better head back to the citadel, kid. Any longer in the real world and you might actually learn something."

Garrus shook his head. "I know it sounds ridiculous now."

"It doesn't sound ridiculous." Wrex put his book down. "Everyone thinks that about us. I've heard it enough times in my life and I've been around for a long time, let me tell you. Maybe you'll realize you don't know anything about krogan and later you can run home and tell the rest of the turians so they can get it through those thick metal heads. You think I think all turians are warmongering pyjaks with a superiority complex?" Garrus was about to respond when Wrex let out a belly-laugh. "Well, I do! But maybe you're not like the rest."

"Fair enough, Wrex," Garrus laughed in return. "Maybe we'll even be friends. Imagine that, a turian, a krogan, a human, and a quarian all getting along."

"If anyone could manage that I'd say Shepard could. She runs a tight ship."

"She really does," he agreed.

"Hope you aren't causing too much trouble down here," a voice called from the elevator.

Ash was headed toward her work bench across from the mako with an arm full of weapons. In fact, she could barely be seen behind the massive pile. She set the weapons gingerly onto the workbench and began sorting things.

"Either of you need a tune-up on your guns?" she called.

"No, I don't let anyone handle my weapons but me," Wrex replied.

"I'm fine, but thanks for the offer."

Ash turned and looked at the two of them unsurely for a moment before turning back to her work. She was very friendly in conversation with others around, but Garrus suspected she was hesitant about their presence on board the ship. He wondered if she had family that had served in the war, because it was his presence specifically that seemed to bother her the most. If Kaidan or Shepard was around, she could find plenty to say, but if it was just the two of them down in the cargo bay, she was almost icy in her responses.

He didn't hold it against her. He was sure she'd warm up to him eventually. He would just have to be nice to her until she realized that all turians weren't responsible for the actions of their ancestors.

"What are you doing to that thing anyway?" Wrex asked. "You've been tinkering it since we left the citadel."

"It's an old piece of machinery; slow, hard to steer, easy to overheat the turret. I'm trying to make some technical upgrades so it's a little less…terrible."

"It's better than what we've got on Tuchanka."

Garrus privately thought that it wasn't saying much to compare anything to what the krogan had on Tuchanka, but he didn't say anything to Wrex. He liked the krogan, from the little time they'd spent together, and he didn't think the comment would be appreciated. So, he just kept on working on the upgrades and Wrex went back to reading his book.

Shepard was on the observation deck reading the files Garrus and Kaidan had sent her on Dr. T'soni and Matriarch Benezia. Some of it was hard to get through, mired in heavy wording and technical terms about the Protheans. She was actually just drifting to sleep reading a particularly dull paragraph about an excavation in the Hades Gamma cluster when the elevator doors chirped and Kaidan entered the room.

"I thought I might find you here, commander."

Shepard's eyes snapped open and she closed her omni-tool. "Kaidan, hey. Can I help you with something?"

He sat down next to her, with a sizeable space between them. "I was just coming to see how you were handling everything. It's got to be a little overwhelming, everything that happened on Eden Prime, then becoming a Spectre, Anderson being removed from the Normandy…I feel like my head is spinning. I can only imagine how you must feel."

"I appreciate the concern," Shepard said. "But I'm all right, really. I'm eager to get to Therum and see what we can find out. The longer it takes us to find clues on Saren, the longer he has to find this 'conduit' and the less likely it is we'll actually catch him."

"What do you think the conduit is? Captain Anderson said he thought it might be a weapon."

"It's obviously related to bringing back the reapers somehow. So whatever it is, it's bad news."

"I'm sure if we can find Dr. T'soni, she can help us," Kaidan offered.

"Who knows?" Shepard shrugged. "I think her knowledge of the Protheans could certainly be useful. But just because she's Matriarch Benzia's daughter doesn't mean they're even still in contact with one another. I mean, asari live for hundreds of years. And I know plenty of people who don't keep in touch with their family for whatever reason. I'd like to hope she can lead us where we need to go, but I'm not confident."

"I think if you can get a krogan and a turian to have a civil conversation with each other, you can get something useful out of this asari," Kaidan said.

It wasn't that Shepard didn't appreciate the praise in Kaidan's vote of confidence, but half the crew had been telling her similar things since they'd left the citadel, the aliens included. She didn't need constant reassuring, she just needed someone she could vent to. She'd never really had that in her life, not since she'd lost her family. Anderson had been the closest thing, but she couldn't vent to her commanding officer. She knew everyone on the Normandy so well, and at the same time, she felt isolated by her inability to have a deep and nuanced discussion with any of them. She was their commander now, which only made it worse.

"Thanks, Kaidan," was all she said.

"The krogan keeps asking me about my biotics," he told her. "He asked if a krogan could get implants and learn to use biotics. I told him it's a bit more complicated than that," he laughed. "How many krogan do you figure have any eezo in them?"

Shepard contemplated the question. Krogan numbers had dwindled substantially since the genophage had been introduced over a thousand years earlier, but most of the surviving krogan were far spread across the galaxy. It wasn't outside the realm of possibility to think that krogan biotics existed somewhere.

"Even if they did, what krogan would send a precious offspring away to hone the talents? Turians are skeptical of biotics and they're not as bull-headed and bloodthirsty as krogan."

"Good point," Kaidan said. "I've been answering Wrex's questions anyway. He's got a few books on biotics he's been reading. He's very interested in the subject."

"Thanks for being nice to the aliens, Kaidan. I know some of the crew haven't been very friendly. The engineers have been good to Tali, but I think Garrus and Wrex aren't well liked."

"I like them," he told her. "They want to help out, and they're not at all what I expected of their species. I hardly knew anything about quarians, so it's nice to talk with Tali. She knows so much about tech and engineering, it blows me away."

Kaidan was a good-natured guy. It didn't surprise Shpeard that he got along with the aliens. He seemed to get along with anyone, though he was generally reserved and quiet in large crowds. He and Shepard had begun their service on the Normandy at the same time, so he was probably the closest thing she had to a friend on board. Still, he was idealistic sometimes. She imagined that if she really let loose about her problems to him, he'd give her those puppy-dog eyes and think he needed to help fix her. And she couldn't imagine him venting about anything.

"What do you think about all of this, Kaidan?" Shepard probed.

He cocked his head. "You mean us chasing after a rogue Spectre under your command?"

"All of it. Saren, me becoming a Spectre, the aliens on board, the reapers…all of it."

He exhaled slowly. "It's exciting. And scary," he looked at her and hesitated before he spoke again. "The reapers…I trust what you saw, Shepard, but I don't know what it means. And what this conduit has to do with anything or why Saren would want to bring them back if they really did exist. I like working with what I know, so it's hard because this all so new and unknown. If it was anyone else leading the mission, I'd be terrified, but I trust you. So I guess I just have to see what happens."

Another deferment to her capabilities. She sighed and stared out the window into space, passing by in a blur.

"I guess we will."

"Shepard? Are you up here?" A voice sounded from behind them. Shepard turned and saw Garrus coming up the ladder from the med bay. He stepped down onto the floor, his talons tapping against the metal. "Oh, hello Kaidan," he nodded in greeting.

"Hey Garrus, I was actually just leaving," Kaidan stood up and patted Shepard's back. "Good talk, commander. Nice to see you Garrus."

"Don't leave on my account," the turian said, his subharmonics tinny with some meaning Shepard couldn't detect.

"I'm not, I promise. I'll catch you later down in the cargo bay."

The elevator doors shut in front of him as Garrus walked over to where Shepard was sitting. "Sorry, Shepard, but are you and the lieutenant…?"

Shepard raised her eyebrows, "Excuse me?"

"Forget I asked," Garrus shook his head.

"No, please Garrus. What makes you think we're breaking Alliance policy?" Shepard crossed her arms. The turian looked embarrassed, his mandibles flared and rigid.

"He…er…left behind a distinct scent." Garrus coughed uncomfortably. "A pheromone. I've smelled all kinds before…mostly in clubs," he looked at his feet with interest. "Humans release it when they're attracted to another person."

"You can smell that?" Shepard was flabbergasted. She knew turians had a superior sense of smell, something she had learned in her military training (an important reason to avoid perfumes or scented deodorizers), but she didn't realize they could smell things like that. She was too distracted by this new fact to consider the implications of Kaidan releasing 'attraction pheromones'.

"You can too," Garrus said. "Subconsciously. That's how humans become attracted to each other."

"I think it's a bit more complicated than that," Shepard growled.

"Sorry if it was a sore point. I made an assumption. I'll just say I think the lieutenant is interested in you."

"Thank you," she snapped. "Did you have something you wanted?"

Garrus folded his arms over his chest. "Don't shoot the messenger, Shepard. Anyway, I wanted to get your approval to order a spare part for the turret on the mako. It's overheating because the heatsink coil is rusted and has a hairline fracture."

"Sure, I'll approve it. Just send the forms to my message terminal," she agreed.

He continued to stare at her. She looked up at him once more. He was wearing his civilian clothes, which she hadn't really seen him in or noticed at first. The talons of his feet were exposed, and his hood was slimmer than with the armor on. It was so unusual to see a turian out of armor that when she noticed it, it was almost jarring.

"Yes?" she asked.

He sat down next to her. "You're anxious about Therum," he said simply.

"What? Can you smell that too?"

He laughed, "No. I can just tell. You seem tense and exhausted. It makes sense. I'm anxious about it too. I've been reading the notes Kaidan found on Liara. A lot of it's not very interesting, but I'm excited to find her and see how she might help us. It's normal to be anxious. I've fought a lot of battles, but never against the geth. I'm a little worried, to be honest," the words tumbled from his mouth.

She thought back to her conversation with Kaidan and her desire to vent without being reassured or complimented. For some reason, the act of Garrus sitting down and admitting his own anxiety made her feel like she could tell him how she was really feeling. She felt bad if the turian didn't realize that's what was in store for him when he sat down.

"It's terrifying, isn't it? Who knows what we'll find on Therum? I mean, the last time this crew went to investigate Prothean technology, I almost got killed, and Nihlus and Jenkins did get killed. Now we're going to go marching into some Prothean ruins looking for an asari who may or may not want to kill us, because honestly, we have no clue if she's working with her mother," she clenched her fists as more words came pouring out of her mouth, unable to stop the ceaseless flow now that she had opened the flood gates. "And I'm not saying I can't handle responsibility. I've been a commander for a while now. I have a Star of Terra. I mean I've never been afraid of taking charge or doing what needs to be done. But how the hell am I really a Spectre right now?"

She never voiced her own self-doubt…to anyone. It felt cathartic to say it out loud. Ever since the induction ceremony three days earlier, she'd been stewing in it. Sure, she knew she was capable, she was honored by it, she knew her service in the military made her a more than adequate candidate for the role, and all the same she was wracked with the worry that she wouldn't live up to all the hopes humanity had for her. She was representing her entire race now and it felt like such an enormous burden.

"I just…I worry that I'm not good enough," she said softly. "That I'll disappoint everyone. This all happened so quickly. It's like being back on Mindoir watching everything and everyone die around me. I want to do the right thing and I know I can. I want to find Saren. But at the same time, I just feel so…lost."

A prolonged silence followed her rant. She waited for the same response she always got. 'How could you doubt yourself, Shepard? You survived Batarian slavers! You're the hero of Elysium! You brought a turian and a krogan and a quarian together on an Alliance ship! You're the first human Spectre! How can you think a simple task like finding an asari on some Alliance mining planet is beyond your talents?'

The flattering platitudes never came.

All Garrus said was, "I can only imagine how you must feel, Shepard."

She leaned back and stared at him. He was staring out the window, his feet propped up on a chair in front of him and his hands behind his head. She followed his example and propped her feet up next to his. Maybe she finally had someone she could vent to who would offer her no constant reassurances, just an understanding ear. And it was a turian, of all people.

Chapter Text

The mako landed with a thud on the dusty red surface of Therum as the sun was rising, though most of the beauty of the sunrise was obscured by haze and smoke generated by the molten lava flowing above and beneath the surface. The air drop from the Normandy hadn't been as rough as usual, which Shepard noted as she began to steer toward the map point where the Prothean ruins were marked.

"I upgraded the shock absorbers," Garrus explained. "Of course, buying new ones that aren't twenty years old would be a better solution…"

"Thank you, Garrus," Shepard said.

The squad was crammed into the interior of the mako, all seated behind Shepard except for Garrus, who occupied the seat next to her to control the turret's firing mechanism. She had brought along Kaidan and Ashley as well as the three aliens. She would need all the help she could get, and after their work together on the citadel, she knew this group could cooperate in an efficient way.

As they were making their descent into Therum's atmosphere a call from Admiral Hackett at Alliance Command had notified them of geth sighted on Therum's surface. The news was unsettling, but somehow not unexpected. Whether Dr. T'soni was working with Saren, or wanted by him, Shepard had anticipated possible geth resistance. And after her fight with the AIs on Eden Prime, she wasn't looking forward to facing them again. They didn't think or react like organic targets, and that made them dangerous.

"It's as hot as Palaven in here," Garrus said, pulling at the black fabric beneath his armor.

Shepard was warm too. The mako had never had the most hospitable interior, and it usually wasn't this crowded. Normally two or three squad members might be occupying the back seat, which could comfortably fit around eight people in full armor. Unfortunately, Wrex took up two seats by himself. The body heat generated by a krogan was immense in such a small space, and the additional bodies didn't help matters. It was beginning to smell like sweat and body odor as well, which was only compounding everyone's discomfort.

"How long until we can get out of this thing?" Wrex demanded.

"ETA is 20 minutes before we have to get out and go on foot." Shepard glanced at the map. The path narrowed ahead and the map was indicating that the mako would not fit. From the stop point, it was another twenty minutes on foot.

"Have to?" Tali asked. "It sounds like a blessing to me."

"You know it's uncomfortable in here when the girl who spends her whole life in an enviro-suit is feeling cramped," Ash muttered.

"Why do quarians wear the enviro-suits?" Kaidan asked. "I mean, I know it has to do with your immune system. But do you even wear them on the flotilla?"

"We wear our suits everywhere," Tali explained. "Living off world weakened our immune systems. We only take them off under rare circumstances."

"It must feel isolating," Ash said, frowning. "No touch or skin contact. It's such an integral part of life to us."

"You can't miss what you rarely know," Tali shrugged. "Quarians don't need pity. It's a testament to our resilience that we've found a way to survive even with our immune systems as weak as they are."

"You're right. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to insult you."

"You didn't insult me," Tali said more softly. "There's a lot people don't know or understand about the quarians, a lot of misconceptions. I've gotten used to it since I left the flotilla for my pilgrimage. I know you weren't asking out of malice."

Shepard was half listening to the conversation as she drove. Visibility was always low out of the front of the mako, but the smoke rising from the planet's surface was making it worse. The radar screen was a better indicator of where to go, and Garrus would occasionally comment when the mako was straying too near to a lava pool in Shepard's blind spot. He was good to have in the co-pilot seat. He'd spent the last week calibrating the mako and he knew it well, so he was a natural choice. Jenkins had filled the role previously on their missions, but they had lost him on Eden Prime. He'd been a good soldier.

Distracted by the memory of her former squad mate, Shepard didn't notice the radar screen until Garrus said something.

"There's something up ahead that's not indicated on the map. Could be Alliance, could be geth," he pointed out.

She looked down to see a tiny red dot blinking on the radar, approaching closer and closer. The squad in the back leaned forward to try and see what was happening. Shepard peered out the window trying to get a visual on the approaching target.

She and Garrus realized what it was at the same exact time. Garrus jammed his finger on the mako's jump mechanism, just in time to avoid the blast from a geth armature. The mako leaped gracelessly over the blast beam and landed back on the ground with a boom. Garrus aimed the turret and started firing while Shepard did her best to steer out of the way of the siege pulses being fired by the armature.

Garrus' aim was good, but the geth armature had strong shields in place, and it would take a lot of heavy fire to bring it down. They were so focused on firing, that they never noticed the second armature to the west of the first. A blast hit the mako's shields and shook the vehicle so forcefully that Ash went flying from one side to the other. Kaidan moved quickly to stop her with a biotic field before her head could slam into the wall.

Tali pushed her way forward and wedged herself uncomfortably between Garrus and Shepard. There was hardly room for two people at the front, let alone three, particularly when one was the size of a turian. The result was Shepard ducking beneath Tali to retain control of the vehicle, while Tali sat, almost perched on Shepard's shoulders, tapping hurriedly on her omni-tool.

"Can you hack the armature from here?" Garrus asked, incredulous.

"You need to get me a little closer. If I can hack the closer one, I can make it fire on the one up the hill. Then we can focus our efforts there."

"I'm on it," Shepard said, slamming her foot on the gas and moving toward the closer of the two armatures.

It fired another siege blast and Garrus hit the jump mechanism before firing back. Tali continued to tap heatedly at the omni-tool. Confirmation of her success came as they drew almost too close to the armature to fire. It seized up, shifted awkwardly, then began firing on its ally up the hill.

Shepard veered the mako toward the second armature and Garrus let loose with the turret. Tali continued typing commands into her omni-tool as they moved. With the help of the sabotaged armature, the second one fell quickly, collapsing in a heap before it exploded. Tali activated the self-destruct on the hacked armature and it followed suit.

The radar was clear once again, and the three of them collapsed in relief.

"We should have been prepared for that," Shepard sighed.

"Should have," Wrex agreed. "Pay more attention to your radar, Shepard."

"Thanks," she replied sourly. "Everyone okay back there?"

"Fine now," Ash said.

Tali climbed back into the rear of the mako when she realized how cramped it had become up front.

"Sorry," she said quickly.

"Don't apologize, you saved our asses," Shepard told her. "And good firing, Garrus."

"I'm a turian, of course it was good," he replied coolly.

"Well, now we know the geth are definitely here. Let's keep an eye on the radar and try to get to the dig site in one piece, shall we?" Shepard addressed the squad as she kicked the mako back into gear and continued on their path toward the Prothean ruins.

It was a welcome relief when the mako approached the narrow pass, surrounded by cliff face, signaling the necessity to continue on foot. Even Garrus had been feeling warm inside the cramped vehicle, and turians were known for their tolerance to heat.

The group of them spilled slowly out of the side of the vehicle onto the rusty red soil of Therum. It felt good to be able to move and stretch their limbs. The mako had been modified for human use, different on the interior than similar models Garrus had seen during his military training on Palaven. It wasn't designed with the long legs and arms of a turian in mind by any means.

Shepard brought up the map and radar on her omni-tool and motioned for the group to follow her up into the pass.

"There's a lot of red up ahead," she said. "Be prepared to encounter heavy geth resistance. Everyone have their shields up?"

Everyone replied back in the affirmative. Garrus readied his sniper rifle. He didn't like being enclosed like they were, the cliffs towering above them. From their position, there were a hundred spots a sniper might have the high ground to fire down on them. But the cliff-face was too high to climb so that he might have a better vantage point, so he kept his eyes peeled for any sign of movement or flashing light that might indicate an enemy troop.

The path was rocky and uneven, red dust kicking up around them as they moved. Turian feet were made for navigating such terrain, their bodies built to self-stabilize when balance was compromised. Garrus had no trouble sliding down stony embankments or climbing up steep hills, but the humans were a bit less graceful in their movements. Though none of the skilled soldiers managed to trip or fall, they held their arms out awkwardly to maintain balance, wobbling as they prevented themselves from toppling over. Of course, Garrus had seen the same behavior in humans when they were drunk (though they fell over more frequently then), but it was still amusing to watch all the same.

Wrex's lumbering form seemed to balance itself, despite its considerable roundness when compared to a turian's. Tali, however, moved like Garrus did. She was light on her feet and always three steps ahead of the rest of the group, except Shepard, who managed to maintain her place at the front of them, marching steadily onward, a close eye on the radar.

The path widened and sloped downward ahead and she held a hand up to stop them. From their vantage point, and with the help of his visor, Garrus could make out a small circular compound up ahead, filled with Alliance gear and guarded with mechanical gate houses. Manning the walls of the gate houses were sturdy geth turrets. Geth prime walked the perimeter, waiting for any sign of intrusion, likely alerted to the group's presence by the armatures they'd destroyed on the way in.

"Geth up ahead, Shepard," Garrus told her.

She turned and showed the group the map on her omni-tool. The entire compound looked like one huge red mark on the map. Behind those gates, it was swarming with geth.

"There's no way we'll be able to take them all on. Besides that, I saw turrets above the gates. One blast from one of those and your shields are gone," Garrus said.

Shepard pointed to a tiny opening on the east side of the path a few yards ahead. "We could go through here and enter through the back. Take them by surprise. It won't be easy, but I don't see what other option we have. That compound blocks access up to the dig site. We can't get there otherwise."

The new path led up and around to the side of the compound where no gate was indicated on the map. It was a small weakness, but if they could take the geth by surprise, it would be worth a shot. And Shepard was right, it was their only option.

Garrus could see the opening with his visor. It was out of view of the compound, so they could make their way onto the new path without being detected. There was also a bit of rock jutting from the cliff face that might be scale-able at this height. If he and Tali and Ash could get to higher ground, Tali could hack the turrets while he and Ash took out geth from above. This would leave Shepard, Wrex, and Kaidan an entrance on foot without being ambushed. Kaidan could provide a barrier for them upon initial entry, and once enough geth had been eliminated, join the battle.

He explained as much to the group and then folded his arms waiting for a response.

"It's a good plan. Very strategic," Shepard agreed. "Kaidan, how long do you think you could hold a barrier against the geth?"

The lieutenant shrugged. "Two, maybe three minutes. It would buy us enough time to gain the upper hand. Barriers take a lot of energy at that size. If I hold it any longer I won't be able to use my biotics to fight."

"That's plenty of time," Garrus insisted. "We'll be picking off geth from above, so that will help matters too."

"Once I've hacked the turrets, I can focus on several geth at once from that height," Tali added.

"It's a good spot," Ash agreed. "I could get a lot of shots in before you guys even reach the compound"

"What are we standing around for then?" Wrex demanded. "We wait much longer and the geth are going to figure out we're here."

"Wrex is right," Shepard said. "Keep in touch over the comm channel. Garrus, Ash, you give the word when we should move in."

"Commander," Ash saluted.

Garrus nodded, "Shepard."

The group moved out, into the narrow passageway. The set of rocks leading to the top of the cliff were small, not quite large enough for a turian foot, but still scale-able. Ash took the lead, scrambling up the rocks surprisingly quickly for a human that had been on the verge of stumbling down every slope along the path so far. Human hands had more fingers to grip with than turian ones, though Garrus had his talons to help the task.

Tali brought up the rear, the slowest of the three. Quarians were shorter than both turians and humans, and towards the top of a cliff, the gap between the rocks was too large for her to reach her leg up as if it were a step. Garrus had to pull her up, an easy task as she weighed hardly anything, especially compared to turians he had carried during his military service.

When they reached the top of the cliff, it was to immediately fall onto their stomachs to avoid being seen by the geth. They were above them, but close enough that if they stood around too long they would be easily sighted.

"Ash, you go to the other side of the cliff at the front of the compound with Tali. Keep the gunfire off of her while she's hacking the turrets. I'll head over here by the unguarded portion and clear the way for Shepard and the others. Meet me when you've cleared the gatehouse."

"Will do. Good luck, Garrus," she said. She sounded sincere too. Perhaps in the heat of battle, there were no species, just comrades.

Garrus crawled along the ground with some difficulty until he found a cluster of rocks that would provide excellent cover from gunfire, almost directly overlooking the compound and the opening where Shepard, Kaidan, and Wrex would soon be.

"Any word?" Shepard's voice came over the speaker on his comm link.

"In position," Ash's voice said. "Tali's hacking the first turret. Waiting to fire until the turret activates against the geth."

"Roger, holding fire," Garrus replied.

He peered around the rock he was leaning against to observe the compound. Shepard's radar had painted a fairly accurate picture. There were at least fifty geth patrolling the compound, chattering in electronic noises that had no meaning to Garrus' translator. Most of the group was composed of geth prime and snipers, a few hunters interspersed. They could be dangerous if they activated their cloaking devices, but taken from behind they wouldn't have time.

The most worrisome finding in the compound, however, was the massive geth colossus stationed in the center, balled up and inactivated, it would be at the ready as soon as the shooting began. Garrus was familiar with the names of every type of geth from military training, but he'd never actually seen any of them until now. The colossus had been its own two-day unit. They were similar in build to the armatures, but larger, with stronger shields and armor. To bring one down without the mako's turret would be a challenge. Further complicating things were the geth hoppers, lithe, sinewy things that could scale horizontal walls and moved too quickly to fire accurately against. Ash and Garrus would have to act quickly or Shepard and her squad would be walking into a death trap.

"Begin fire now," Ash's voice came over the speaker. At the same time Garrus heard the geth turret fire up and looked over across the compound to see it firing on the unsuspecting geth guarding the gatehouse.

Retaliation was immediate. The geth were all connected through their own network, one mind and one thought, able to respond to stimuli in a way organics couldn't even imagine. The colusses leaped to life, scanning the compound and firing up at the malfunctioning turret. In turn, the turret turned to fire on the colossus.

Garrus didn't have time to watch the scene unfold. He lined up a shot with his rifle and fired, blasting a geth prime in the chest with a shot that fried its internal components. It landed in a useless heap in the dirt. He moved on to the next target, and the next, firing off round after round, stopping only to reload his thermal clip. When he was in sniper position, the world seemed to slow down around him. Despite the adrenaline of battle, he always felt an unusual calm when he was shooting. Everything else faded away and it was just him and the target.

"First turret has self-destructed," Tali called over the speaker system. "Hacking the second one now."

The immediate sound of gunfire mingled with the artificial sound coming in through the speakers, creating an odd lagging. Garrus had taken down at least eight geth by then. He would need to take out more if Shepard stood a chance against the colossus. He couldn't take it by himself, but if he fired at it now, its missiles would obliterate his cover and he'd be as good as dead. He would have to wait to fire on it until it was distracted.

A quick glance to the left revealed a fair number of geth that Ash had managed to shoot down. The geth were firing back, but with no immediate way to reach the snipers on top of the cliff, the turian and the human kept the upper hand.

"Getting bored down here," Wrex said. "When can we charge?"

"Not yet," Garrus spoke into his comm link. "We've taken down twenty maybe. There's still a few hunters. I'm trying to take out the hoppers, but they're too fast. There's a colossus in there and if we don't take down more, they'll ambush you."

"A colossus!?" Shepard sounded almost nervous.

"Just one. If you can't handle it, we'll just keep firing from up here until it annihilates us with its missiles. Don't worry."

"Garrus," Ash cut in. "I'm going to use a concussive shot on the hoppers. Be ready. If I can hit them, you take a shot while they're stunned."

"On it!"

He ducked out of cover, ready to fire. A geth bullet clipped his shields, but they were still holding strong. The sound of Ash's gun releasing the concussive shot was louder than her other shots had been, but she found her mark: one of the hoppers fell to the ground, twitching, but not destroyed yet. Garrus cheered silently as he aimed and fired. The bullet tore through the hopper, causing the geth to explode, which had the added benefit of taking out the shields on a nearby hunter.

Ash and Garrus played that game of back and forth for several more shots, taking out four hoppers in the process. Ash missed a few, but her aim was better than Garrus could have hoped for against targets that moved that quickly. There were only two left, which would help the odds considerably.

"Second turret's gone," Tali said. "We're heading for you Garrus."

Garrus rolled onto his side and watched as Ash and Tali ran from their own cover, a hail of geth bullets raining down on them. Their shields held up though, and together they rolled and ducked into Garrus' cover, Ash slamming her shoulder hard into the rock as she came to a stop. Bright red blood blossomed on her protective suit in the small gap between her shoulder guards and her chest armor.

"Are you all right?" Tali asked.

Ash winced, "I'm fine."

"Here," Garrus applied some medigel to the wound. "You can't fire with a wounded shoulder."

"Thanks," Ash smiled. "Feels better already."

They turned to assess the damaged they'd done. The geth were holding their fire to conserve thermal clips, waiting for one of them to step out of cover. Garrus changed his visor to reflective mode and tried to angle it so that he could see the compound without giving up the protection of the rock they were leaning against.

They had taken out at least thirty of the geth, if not more. They could get the others while Shepard, Kaidan, and Wrex stormed the colossus. It was still going to be a tough fight, but the playing field was a bit more even now.

"All right, Shepard," Garrus said into his comm link. "There are some Alliance issue makos inside the compound. When you enter, run to your right and take cover behind one of them. We'll keep the geth from your unprotected side. You won't stand a chance against the colossus without cover and nothing else in the compound will hold up to its missiles. Go in when you're ready."

"Roger," Shepard replied. "We're heading in."

"About time," they heard Wrex grumble before Shepard's communication cut out.

Garrus and Ash wasted no time. They jumped up from their cover and began firing on the geth that remained on the perimeter wall. Tali hovered between them. She deployed a defense drone and then began hacking into the colossus' network.

"The bigger ones always have better encryptions," she muttered.

A bullet clipped Garrus' shields as he was firing on another geth prime. He was about to fire back when the colossus decided to take action, firing a missile up at the three of them. They all ducked back under cover, but the missile took out Garrus' shields. Another shot from a geth prime tore into his side before he managed to get back down.

His own bright blue blood blossomed from the wound at his side. The bullet had gone in and out, that much was clear, but damn had it hurt. He clasped his hand to the wound and struggled to bring up the medi-gel administration on his omni-tool.

"Are you okay, Garrus?" Tali asked.

"I'm fine," he said through gritted teeth. "Hack the damn colossus."

He finally managed to get the medi-gel onto the wound and almost at once a pleasant, cooling sensation overtook the throbbing pain as the gel held the wound closed. He hopped back up and began firing.

Shepard, Wrex, and Kaidan had made it inside the compound by then. Kaidan's barrier was up, shielding her and Shepard from their position beind the right-most mako. Wrex had taken up a spot behind a separate mako closer to where they'd entered the compound. He didn't have the benefit of Kaidan's barrier, but he did have stronger shields and armor than either human. He was letting off shot after shot on the colossus with his assault rifle, ducking back behind the mako each time he finished firing.

Shepard was busy firing on two geth approaching from their open side. Ash shot one down and Garrus took care of the other just in time for Kaidan's barrier to fall. Shortly after, Tali managed to hack the colossus. The encryption was too powerful for her to access the self-destruct, but she had at least caused it to seize up for a few moments, which gave Shepard and Wrex clear shots. Shepard sent out a blast of fire from her omni-tool, which knocked out the colossus' shields.

Kaidan went to work on the remaining hoppers, catching them both in a mass effect field and slamming them across the compound into the concrete walls. There were only a few geth troopers remaining, so Garrus, Ash, and Kaidan divided them. The hunters took too much energy for Kaidan to slam, but he could hold them in the air while Ash and Garrus fired. Together, they made quick work of what was left, then turned their attention to the colossus in time to see it collapse into the dirt, its spider-like limbs twitching before it exploded in a huge cloud of flame and smoke.

Garrus slumped down against the rock that had provided them cover from the geth gunfire, relief washing over him. As frightening and intimidating as the whole affair had been, he'd never experienced a battle quite like that, and with a team that could work with such coordination. He had the feeling he was really going to like traveling with Shepard and her crew.


Chapter Text

Shepard and her crew wasted no time in heading for the dig-site once the Alliance compound had been cleared of geth. They found a stockpile of medi-gel in one of the gate houses, along with three dead Alliance soldiers. From the state of their decay, the geth's arrival had been fairly recent. Shepard would have liked to have seen them given a proper burial, but there wasn't time. She radioed to Joker to have him pick up the mako, and asked him to send word to Alliance command to send a recovery ship out as well, which he promised to do.

The dig-site was just up the hill from the compound, so once everyone's wounds had been tended and thermal clips reloaded, the six of them made their way up the steep slope toward the entrance to the Prothean ruins. It was marked by a small cylindrical opening in the side of a cliff, with a metal ramp leading up to it. The opening was only a little more than six feet in diameter, leading to a downward sloping tunnel that had been bored out of the hill with a drill.

Shepard took the first step into the tunnel, pressing her gloved hands against the red earth as she moved. The tunnel wall was sturdy enough and didn't seem at risk of collapsing, at least not at the moment. Thick cables ran along both sides, bolted into the wall, bringing electricity and extranet down to the ruins.

"Damn Alliance doesn't make anything with krogan in mind," Wrex grumbled from the back.

She turned back to look at him and realized he had to duck to fit in the space, adopting an awkward waddling gate as a result. Garrus' head was brushing the top of the tunnel, so he walked with his neck craned, though still with more comfort and ease than Wrex. It was no position for either of them to be stuck in if they found more geth inside. So far, though, Shepard's radar was reading clear.

"It looks like it opens up further down here," Shepard told them. "Just a little further."

"Humans should consider that they share the galaxy with several taller races," Garrus suggested.

"It does seem strange to leave so little room if there was a need for a mass escape," Kaidan said.

"There might be a larger opening somewhere else. This was all the map turned up for us from the drop point."

A few feet further and the tunnel opened into a larger cave, with ramps running in every direction and a long elevator shaft stretching above and below; it stretched up far past visibility. Along the wall opposite them, several hundred yards away, the Prothean ruins lay partially uncovered: white tiled walls with rounded chambers built into them, protected by some sort of mass effect field. The strange chambers could be seen on every level stretching the length of the elevator shaft.

"Sterile and white," Wrex muttered. "Protheans sure now how to make a place homey."

Shepard checked her radar once again. A red dot marked the presence of something moving ahead, directly where the chambers were, but it was impossible to tell on what level, beyond knowing it was close enough to pick up. It could be the geth, but it could also be Dr. T'Soni. Considering it only appeared to be one moving object, she was hoping for the latter.

"I've never seen Prothean ruins before," Garrus remarked, looking on at the structure in awe. "Besides the Citadel, I guess."

"What is it?" Ash asked.

"Probably was some sort of building," Kaidan ventured.

"There are all sorts of Prothean ruins on Therum," Tali said. "The Alliance stripped most of them for mining materials. I'd imagine the only reason they haven't completely destroyed this one is because of the asari's interest."

"How do you know all that?" Ash asked.

Tali shrugged, "I looked it up on the extranet."

Shepard laughed, "Why didn't we think of that? Come on, there's something up ahead. It might be Dr. T'Soni, or it might be the geth. Be prepared either way."

She led them down the path to the elevator shaft and pressed the button to call the elevator. It came sweeping down the shaft at alarming speed and flew open to allow them access. There were no walls, just safety barriers to protect from falling; it was a good thing Shepard wasn't afraid of heights.

It was difficult, especially with a krogan and a turian, but they managed to fit all six of the squad members onto the elevator. It creaked upward far slower than it had descended.

"There," Garrus pointed out the side of the elevator, up two floors.

An asari was suspended in the center of one of the chambers, held up by the mass effect field that protected the chamber. She looked distressed, and Shepard couldn't imagine that the asari was holding up all of those mass effect fields through her own powers, so the best guess was that she was trapped.

They stopped the elevator on the same level as the asari and hurried along the ramp toward the wall.

"Can you help me?" The asari called. Her voice reverberating within the mass effect field made it sound almost as though she had subharmonics.

As they drew closer, Shepard could see that the woman's face matched the pictures of Dr. T'Soni they had seen on the extranet. She had the round face of youth, purple freckles dotting her cheeks, her scalp crests speckled with pink markings. She was beautiful, but most asari were, and most any member of any species would have agreed.

"Are you Liara T'Soni?" Shepard asked.

"Yes," her voice was steady, but her eyes betrayed her anxiety. "Who are you? Can you help me get out of here?"

"Commander Rembley Shepard, Alliance navy. This is my crew. There'll be time for full introductions later. Are you trapped in there?"

"Yes. It's a Prothean barrier. Part of the tower's defenses. I activated them when I saw the geth, but something went wrong and it trapped me inside," Liara replied. "Did you see the geth too? I almost didn't believe my eyes…geth beyond the veil!"

"We took out quite a few coming in. Are there more inside?" Shepard asked.

"There were. They may be the ones you encountered. I don't know. I've been trapped in here for several hours. There was a krogan with them though…" Her eyes flitted to Wrex.

The krogan snorted. "Excuse me?"

"Wrex is with us. It must have been a different krogan, and that means they could still be in here somewhere."

"I can tell asari apart," Wrex snarled.

"I did not mean to offend…" Liara started.

"Shepard," Garrus spoke up. "As long as there isn't any immediate threat on the radar, it strikes me that Dr. T'Soni is in a position where she can't escape questioning. Now would be a good time to find out where her allegiance lies."

It had been Shepard's next plan of action, but she was glad Garrus was on the same page. Her radar was still clear for the moment, so wherever the other geth and the krogan were, they'd have warning before their arrival.

Shepard stepped closer to the barrier. There was no getting through it, to be sure, but there was no getting out of it either.

"My allegiance?" Liara was flabbergasted.

"We're here because your mother is working with a rogue Spectre named Saren. Answer carefully when you consider our questions. We can always just leave you there. Who knows how long the Prothean barrier will last?" Shepard shrugged.

"Probably a long time if it's still working after all these millennia," Garrus crossed his arms.

"I don't know anything about my mother or this Saren!" Liara cried. "I am Benezia's daughter, but I am not my mother. Now please get me out of here. If you do, I'll surrender all my weapons if it makes you happy, though I'd rather have them if the geth return."

"I think she's telling the truth," Garrus said.

Shepard did as well. It was a gut reaction, so she felt compelled to trust it. Liara's look of pure terror and distress was certainly real enough. It was as she'd suspected en route to Therum, apples could in fact often fall far from the tree. Still, if Liara was an expert on Prothean ruins, she could help them.

"All right, how do we get you out of here?" Shepard asked.

"That's the problem," Liara sighed. "The shut-off control is inside, and it can only be activated from the inside. You'll have to find away around the barrier."

"Spirits forbid any of this be easy," Garrus growled.

"What fun is that?" Wrex chuckled.

"I could see if I can deactivate it using my omni-tool," Tali brought up her hacking software, then sighed. "No, its encryption is too complex, and some of the script is in Prothean. It won't work. We'll have to find a way in from the other side maybe," she motioned to the side, where scaffolding led further into the cave. There was no promise that it would wrap around to the other side.

"Or there's that," Garrus said, pointing to a massive Alliance-issue mining laser on the ground level three floors down.

"That might work," Shepard agreed.

"Blast a hole in it, now that's krogan thinking," Wrex commended them.

"We'll be right back, Liara," Shepard assured the asari.

"It's not like I'm going anywhere," she sighed in response.

They headed back to the elevator shaft and down to the ground floor. The mining laser couldn't be activated without a key, which they didn't have, so Tali set to work hacking it while the others waited a safe distance away from the blast zone.

"Ever been with an asari, Garrus?" Wrex asked, leaning against a rock, cradling his gun against his chest.

"No," Garrus replied without flinching. "You?"

"Sure," Wrex shrugged.

"Poor girl."

"Ha ha, what a gas. You couldn't handle a krogan woman, turian."

"Nor would I want to."

Wrex snorted, "What about you Shepard? Ever had an 'interspecies liason' with an asari?"

"Excuse me?" Shepard raised an eyebrow.

"That's a yes," Wrex chuckled.

Shepard rolled her eyes, but her grin gave her away.

"Shepard," Garrus said, his subharmonics almost chirping. "We have so much to learn about you."

"Get a drink in her and she'll open up," Kaidan suggested. "Not saying I know from experience, all I'm saying is that at some point, a certain corporal spent the entire night listening to a certain sergeant talk about half of her relationship history while drunk."

Shepard knew he was going to bring that up. It had been one time and she'd never live it down.

"Good to know," Garrus nodded.

"If we get off this planet alive, maybe I'll buy you that drink I owe you," Shepard told him.

Garrus opened his mouth to respond, but the mining laser fired, and the explosion drowned out whatever he was going to say.

The group turned to find that a chunk of the ground had been blasted away, leading down into one of the wall chambers, no Prothean barrier in place to bar their entry.

"Good work, Tali. Let's go," Shepard jumped down into the pit created by the mining laser and the rest of the group ran to keep up with her.

Garrus was glad for the advantage of having longer legs than the rest of the squad. It allowed him to keep pace without running out of breath. Shepard was always in the lead, but he could manage a brisk walk right behind her and still outpace the rest of them.

He was the first to follow her down into the pit created by the mining laser. Tali was close behind them, then the humans, with Wrex bringing up the rear as usual. His bulky body and heavy armor slowing his pace.

The pit led through one of the wall chambers to the other side, opening into a circular room that shot up to a ceiling too far away for Garrus to see, even with his visor on. A large circular platform took up the middle of the room, surrounding a pillar that reached up along the length of the chamber. It was some sort of massive elevator.

Once the entire squad had made it onto the platform, they took it back up to where Liara was, approaching from behind her where no Prothean barrier was in place. She was still hanging there inside the mass effect field. Garrus imagined her limbs must ache if she had been suspended like that for hours.

"Liara, we're here. How do we turn off the field?" Shepard asked.

"How did you get past the barrier?" Liara tried to crane her neck to see them, but the effort was too much.

"Mining laser. Tali hacked it," Shepard shrugged. "Er, the quarian."

"Well, thank you then, Tali," Liara sounded relieved now. "There's a small button on the side of the wall to your left. Press it and it should deactivate the barrier."

Shepard did as she said and a moment later, the barrier shut off, sending Liara falling toward the ground. Without thought or hesitation, she stopped herself with a small boost of biotic power and stood up, brushing the dust from her suit.

"Thank you for helping me," she said, a hint of shy uncertainness in her voice as she faced the squad.

Garrus could admit she was beautiful. Most species thought asari were, after all. It was said they had aspects that each species could see reflected in their own desires: human breasts, scalp crests that mimicked a turian female's short fringe, skin of a color and texture that appealed to salarians. Of course, some argued that the asari, known for their ability to join minds with another being, were simply using mind control to appear so desirable. Garrus doubted the latter theory, mostly because as beautiful as he thought the asari were, he'd never felt so overcome with desire as to pursue one.

Shepard went about introducing everyone. Liara smiled and held her hands behind her back, spouting quick salutations to each of them. She was almost bookish, a trait Garrus had never seen in the asari he'd met on the Citadel. Species stereotypes, he supposed.

"We should leave before more geth arrive," Liara suggested.

"Agreed. Does this elevator lead out of the dig site?" Shepard asked, pointing back to the circular chamber.

"Yes, all the way at the top, it opens onto the north side of the site."

Shepard spoke into her omni-tool, "Joker, do you read?"

The other end was disrupted somewhat by static interference, but the pilot's voice came through eventually. "Roger that, commander. What's your status?"

"We're heading for the surface now. Can you rendezvous at the north side of the dig-site? Sending coordinates."

They waited a moment for Joker's reply. His voice cut in and out against the static, "I should be able to land her about four hundred yards from the opening. Heading into atmosphere now. Check in when you're at the surface."

Shepard herded the squad onto the elevator in the central chamber. Liara activated the device and set its ascent to the top of the shaft. The elevator's movement was laboriously slow compared to the rickety metal box they'd taken on the other side of the Prothean tower.

"This is quite the crew you have, commander Shepard," Liara noted.

"We just need a salarian now and we'll have a whole council," Shepard laughed.

"You said you were looking for a rogue Spectre. Saren. The name is familiar. What's your next plan of action?"

"There are a few options. Alliance intel says geth have been sighted on Noveria and Feros. Either could lead us to more information on Saren. If you'd be willing to help, we could use your expertise on the Protheans. We encountered one of their beacons on Eden Prime, and Saren said he was searching for something called the conduit."

"You saw a Prothean beacon? Was it functioning?" Liara's eyes lit up.

Garrus watched the conversation with interest. Liara was now looking at Shepard almost as if she were a specimen to study.

"Well, it was working," Shepard explained. "But then I touched it trying to protect the lieutenant and it imprinted some sort of vision in my brain."

"Incredible," Liara said, breathless. "When we return to your ship, we must discuss this more."

"If it will help," Shepard shrugged.

As they continued their ascent, the elevator stuttered and the walls began to shake. A few of the squad members fell down, unable to maintain their balance from the movement of the tower.

"The mining laser may have triggered a seismic event," Liara said. "The ruins haven't been stable from the beginning."

"I can try to speed up the elevator mechanism," Tali offered, opening her omni-tool.

"Good idea. The faster we can get out of here the better," Shepard said.

Tali at least succeeded in preventing the elevator from stuttering any further, but Garrus wasn't convinced it was going any faster. The tower shook a few more times and some loose stone tumbled from the ever-approaching ceiling.

"We better not die in here, Shepard, or I'll kill you," Wrex growled.

Mercifully, the elevator finally came to a halt at the top level, in front of another rounded out chamber in the tower wall. As they gathered themselves up to move out, however, Shepard stopped them.

"We've got incoming from the north exit," she said, staring at her radar.

"How many?" Kaidan asked.

"Five. One of them is big."

"Hopefully it's not another colossus. We can't handle that in here. There's not much cover." Garrus looked around the round central chamber. The pillar was the only source of cover, not much help.

"I don't know if it's that big, but they're coming fast. Be ready."

"I can help fight," Liara said.

"You and Kaidan work together," Shepard said. "Your biotics will be a huge asset."

Garrus moved across the platform, as far against the wall as he could get, and readied his sniper rifle. He would at least be able to make one kill before he had to switch to the assault rifle, so he was going to make it count.

The rest of the squad fanned out across the platform. Wrex and Ash took up position next to Shepard while Liara and Kaidan stood on opposite sides, a blue aura surrounding them, signaling that their biotic powers were ready to use. Tali moved back behind the cover of the pillar, a gun in one hand and her omni-tool ready to sabotage the geth hardware.

A few moments later, a krogan battlemaster came into view, stepping into the chamber flanked by three geth prime and a geth hunter. Garrus lined up his shot; the krogan couldn't be taken down, even with a headshot, their hides were so thick. His best bet was the geth hunter.

"We're here for the asari. Give her to us and we might let you go," the krogan said in a low grumble.

"Fat chance, pyjak," Wrex spat in response.

"Fine, it's more fun if you don't make it easy," the battlemaster cocked his gun.

Garrus didn't leave time for more conversation. He fired a shot into the geth hunter's chest, destroying its wiring and leaving it limp and useless on the ground. He holstered the gun on his back and immediately reached for his assault rifle, firing at the remaing geth that were now suspended in biotic mass effect fields.

Shepard, Wrex, and Ash were handling the krogan. He was strong, but it wasn't a fair fight. They had the geth swept out and the battlemaster on his back within ten minutes: much easier than the fight against the geth in the compound had been.

Liara and Kaidan lifted the krogan into the air using a combined field, and held him there while Shepard approached him.

"Did Saren send you?"

"Why should I tell you?" the battlemaster croaked.

He was on the verge of death, two bullets lodged in his neck and blood trickling and caking around a burn wound on his face: Tali's work with a quick overload of the krogan's gun. Even medi-gel wouldn't have helped the krogan then, and he knew it. Shepard wouldn't be getting any answers from him, he may as well have already died.

"Just leave him to die," Garrus said. "Who else would have sent him with geth? Let's get out of here before this whole cave collapses."

"He's right," Liara let her mass effect field drop and Kaidan followed suit. The krogan dropped to the ground, limp.

As if on cue, the tower shook again; the rocks that fell from the ceiling were larger this time.

"All right, go, all of you," Shepard ushered the squad forward.

For the first time, she didn't take the lead. Garrus realized immediately what she was doing. She was going to see with her own two eyes that every one of her squad members made it out of that cave before it collapsed. If it meant trapping herself inside it, then that was a consequence she was ready to face as a commander.

He ran ahead, trusting Shepard to make it out on her own. At full speed, none of the others could keep pace with him. He would stand at the entrance and make sure they all made it out from that vantage point.

The tower opened back out into the massive cave, a worn path leading to the exit. They wound through the crumbling structure, the walls shaking more violently as they went, rocks flying from every direction. Garrus ran as fast as his long turian legs would carry him, around the winding path until he saw light ahead.

The opening was narrow, as it had been on the other side. He ducked his head and burst through. The ground stretched out flat a few hundred yards from the opening, a perfect spot for the Normandy to land. Garrus brought up his omni-tool quickly. "Joker, we're on the surface. The cave is collapsing. We need you here ASAP."

"Aw, commander, you've got yourself a little pet," Joker replied snarkily, "ETA two minutes."

Tali was the first one out after Garrus. He pointed down to the relative safety of the flat ground ahead and pushed her gently in that direction. She hesitated, worried about the squad behind her.

"Go!" Garrus urged. "I'll make sure they all get out."

She didn't need to be told twice. Kaidan, Ash, and Liara all exited at nearly the same time, rocketing out of the entrance and nearly toppling into Garrus. He led them after Tali and waited impatiently for Wrex and Shepard to appear. The ground was shaking more frequently and he was truly worried they might get caved in. He peered into the cave, but could see no sign of either of them. Damn Wrex and his bulky frame! He'd only know this squad a week and he was already worried about them as if they were his own crew back on Palaven.

The Normandy zoomed overhead, landing smoothly out where the rest of the squad were waiting. Garrus' attention moved back and forth from the cave mouth to the Normandy. The ramp to the cargo bay had been let down, but the crew weren't budging, all of them watching Garrus from far away waiting for Wrex and the commander to surface.

After what felt like an eternity, the human and the krogan came into view around the corner. Wrex was barely conscious, bleeding from a wound on his head. Shepard had the bulk of his weight on her shoulder, dragging him through the cave, her face red and flushed, sweat dripping from her hair.

Garrus rushed to her side and took some of the krogan's weight off of her.

"Garrus, get out of here," Shepard panted. "The opening might cave in."

"No offense, Shepard, but shut up," Garrus replied.

Wrex's weight was immense, even with Shepard holding up his other end. He was amazed she had managed to get him this far. The ground rumbled and more rocks fell, some large ones jamming into place and barring the opening of the cave. One more quake and the entrance would be sealed.

Garrus kicked the rocks out of the way, but found they were heavier than he anticipated. Even with his steel boots, a sharp pain coursed up his foot upon contact. Shepard dropped her half of the krogan, pulled out a blaster, and shot at the rocks impatiently. They smashed into a thousand tiny pieces. Garrus didn't have time to process the act, though, they had to get out of there.

They dragged Wrex out of the cave and down the ramp to safety, then Shepard collapsed in the dirt, falling onto her back, her chest heaving. Garrus applied some medi-gel to Wrex's forehead, and while it sealed his wound, it didn't restore his consciousness. The thought of dragging him all the way to the Normandy was daunting, and he couldn't do it alone.

He moved to where Shepard lay and stood over her. "Are you all right?"

Her face was bright red, sweat pooling all over her. She blinked slowly, still breathing heavily. She beckoned for him to move closer, too weak to sit up and speak.

He kneeled down next to her and drew his face closer to hers to hear what she had to say.

"I'm…going…" she gasped, "…Wrex…"

Garrus laughed. "All that effort just to kill him for being so heavy?"

She sighed and closed her eyes. There was no helping it, she wouldn't be able to get up and carry the rest of Wrex's weight. Her arm was bleeding at a gap in her armor, whether from the battle on the elevator or from carrying Wrex, he couldn't be sure.

"Can you stand, Shepard?"

She opened her eyes again and struggled to her feet. He helped her up and then she pushed him away.

"We're getting that fat ass of his back on that ship," she said with sudden vigor, her eyes aflame.

"Are you sure? Shepard, you're hurt and if you can't get him, we can get help."

In fact, Kaidan and Ash had been making an approach. Shepard shook her head obstinately and grabbed one of Wrex's arms, squatting and lifting the weight up to Garrus' surprise. He wasn't going to let her stand there struggling, so he grabbed the krogan's other side and they began the slog toward the Normandy. It was only a few hundred yards but it seemed like a few hundred miles with Wrex's weight between them.

Kaidan and Ash met them halfway and offered to take over, but Shepard stubbornly refused to give up on this task, despite her obvious fatigue, so the two humans hovered behind them, ready to step in if needed.

It seemed to take ages before they finally reached the ramp up to the cargo bay. When they got Wrex up and into the ship, Dr. Chakwas and some of the crew stepped in to get him into his cot and tend to his medical needs.

Her task complete, the adrenaline seemed to leave Shepard's body. She crumpled in a heap on the ground and promptly fainted.


Chapter Text

Shepard awoke in a bed in the med bay, a dull headache throbbing behind her eyes, but otherwise none the worse for the wear. Her injuries had been patched up by Dr. Chakwas, her armor removed and likely stowed back in her cabin, though she still wore the ripped clothing she'd been in on Therum.

She sat up and rubbed her forehead. It had been stupid of her to keep carrying the krogan. She should have let Garrus help her back to the ship and left Wrex for Kaidan and Ash to handle, but sometimes she just couldn't let things go. Something had gotten into her as she lugged the massive krogan through the cave and she couldn't give up until she'd completed her task. It had been her responsibility to make sure everyone got back to the ship, she didn't want to put that burden in someone else's hands, even for a minute.

She still wasn't sure how she'd gotten Wrex as far as she did before Garrus stepped in to help; pure adrenaline, she guessed.

"Commander, you're awake," Dr. Chakwas stood up from her desk and rushed over to Shepard's side.

"How long was I out?"

"Just a few hours. You over-exerted yourself," the doctor brought up her omni-tool and began scanning Shepard. "Your vitals look good. How do you feel?"

"I've got a headache, but I'm fine otherwise."

"Forgive the insubordination, commander, but I suggest that next time you have to carry an unconscious krogan through an earthquake, you take any help you can get."

"How is Wrex?" Shepard asked, scanning the room for his presence.

"He's fine. He didn't even suffer a concussion. We stitched his head up and he's resting now. There weren't any beds large enough for him up here and it would have been too difficult to move him, so he's down in the cargo bay."

"Thanks, doc." Shepard gave a fleeting smile. She stood up and spoke into her omni-tool. "Joker, rally the troops in the comm room. Everyone who was with me on Therum."

"Man, not even a krogan and an earthquake can keep you down, huh, commander?" Joker replied.

"It'll take a lot more than that," she laughed.

"I'll send out the message."

"Thanks, Joker."

"You're sure you're all right?" Dr. Chakwas asked as Shepard headed for the door.

"I'm all right. Thanks for patching me up."

She left the med bay to find the small table at the center of the crew quarters crowded with officers. Kaidan and Ash were at the center of the group, regaling the crew with the story of their fight with the geth at the Alliance compound, and the escape from the collapsing Prothean ruins. The officers listened in with rapt attention. Kaidan, the straight-laced lieutenant that he was, kept fairly true to what had happened, but Ash was taking some liberties with the story. Nothing untrue necessarily, just a bit of a dramatization. She had a penchant for story-telling though; even Shepard found herself stopping to listen in, and she had been there.

"So then the krogan and geth rushed us and Garrus, man he took one out before it could even move, BLAM, right in the chest and it exploded in a million pieces. The shrapnel caught the krogan…"

"Sounds like the aliens are growing on you, Williams," one of the officers said.

Ash, who Shepard had noticed was somewhat tense around the aliens, especially Garrus, slammed her fist on the table. "HEY. The turian and the quarian are the only reason Commander Shepard and Kaidan didn't get destroyed by the geth in that compound. I'm not sure about turians, but Garrus is a damn good shot. He earned my respect on Therum and he deserves yours too."

A few of the officers muttered something, and that's when Shepard stepped in.

"Kaidan, Ash, come with me. We're meeting in the com room to discuss the mission."

"Commander, we didn't see you there." The officers stood at attention.

Shepard rolled her eyes. "At ease. Come on," she motioned for the lieutenant and the gunnery chief to follow her.

"Uh, how long were you standing there, commander?" Ash asked.

"Long enough," Shepard grinned. "I'm glad to see you're warming up to the aliens."

"I don't know," Ash shrugged. "They fight better than half the Alliance officers I've worked with. That's all that really matters, that they can fight well alongside us."

They stopped at the top of the stairs, just before the door to the command control center. Shepard looked at Ash, but Ash averted her eyes. There was something she was missing. She didn't think Ash was xenophobic, she'd never said anything overtly cruel or reductive about any of the aliens, but she thought there must be a reason for her hesitance to trust them fully.

"I heard what you said about Garrus, but you don't trust turians. Is it because of the First Contact war?"

Ash shifted uncomfortably. "My grandfather was the general who surrendered to the turians at Shanxi. It's…a shadow over my family. Members of this family have to work twice as hard to get half as far in the Alliance because of that surrender. And the turians…" she clenched her fist. "I guess some of my issue is with the Council too. They do nothing for humanity. They turn their backs on us at every step…I'm surprised they didn't side with the turians after the war."

Shepard squeezed Ash's shoulder. "Thank you for telling me. I understand where you're coming from. But you're not your grandfather and you've proven to me that you're a capable officer, one I'm proud to have on my team. I hope that the aliens on board can prove to you that they aren't their grandfathers either. They all have individual personalities and interests. Hell, Wrex wants to be a biotic! I'm not worried about your ability to work alongside them, but I think if you give them a chance, you could be friends with them too. God knows we could all use friendship at a time like this."

Ash smiled and nodded, "Thanks for understanding commander. I…maybe I could talk to Garrus about shooting technique. His rifle is really state of the art and I know he calibrates the upgrades on it himself…"

"You should do that. I'm sure Garrus would love to discuss it with you. Now come on, let's get to that meeting."

They headed into the command control center and toward the comm room. Ash moved ahead and Kaidan hung back next to Shepard.

"You're amazing, Shepard," he said softly. "I'm sorry…commander."

Shepard waved her hand dismissively, "Please. You don't need to call me commander all the time. It's exhausting. And we've known each other too long for that." She didn't address the praise, hoping to avoid it altogether so she wouldn't withdraw into her awkward deflective state as she tended to under threat of compliments.

"Well, I just think you handled that situation with Ash really well. You were forward with her, you addressed the problem, but you also took the time to figure out what the problem was. Some commanders would have just told her to shape up and learn to deal with the situation."

"That's not my style," Shepard shrugged. "You can't have a cohesive battle unit if you don't take the time to get to know your crew and who they are as people."

She looked at Kaidan and their eyes locked for a moment; those big stupid 'love me' puppy-dog eyes. For a second she thought she saw it, what Garrus had noted before. Some sort of attraction, more than just admiration in his gaze. She looked away quickly to avoid it.

Kaidan was a handsome man, his physical appearance and his personality: a strong and capable biotic with a tender and emotional viewpoint on life. She trusted him a great deal and had been taking him on missions with her since she'd been promoted to commander. By all accounts she should feel the attraction toward him that he might be feeling toward her, but she didn't. It wasn't just rules against Alliance fraternization either: troops skirted around those rules all the time. She'd even slept with fellow officers before in the past. There was just something missing. Part of her felt like she should discuss it with him, but a greater part of her wanted to pretend it wasn't happening.

She pushed ahead of Kaidan into the com room to find Tali and Garrus had already arrived. They were just waiting on Liara now.

"Shepard, I'm surprised you're already awake," Garrus said.

"What? It was only a thousand pound krogan and an earthquake. Is that a lot for a turian?" She asked with a grin.

Garrus laughed. "Stupid of me to assume anything less than a meteor crashing directly into you would keep you down."

"Based on the display on Therum, I'm not convinced even that would stop her," Tali chimed in.

"Speaking of bull-headed battle machines," Garrus said, "Wrex is coming up. He woke up a few minutes ago and when he heard Joker calling us to meet he said he would be there. We told him he could rest, but as you can imagine it's difficult to talk a krogan out of anything."

Shepard shook her head, but she couldn't complain. She understood the krogan's inability to sit still. She  probably should have just showered and gone to lay down in her cabin, but she wouldn't have been content doing that.

The door to the comm room opened and Liara walked in, flanked by Wrex. He had a new scar across his forehead, but otherwise looked no worse for the wear. Considering the number of scars already running across his face and neck, it was hardly noticeable.

Wrex hunkered over to the seat next to Garrus and plopped down.

"Shepard," he rumbled. "Thanks for carrying my ass out of that cave. Better not spread it around that a human and a turian had to save me. Other krogan would think I was weak."

"I'll make sure not to tell any krogan I meet," Shepard said. "How about you Liara? Are you okay?"

Liara sat down unsurely next to Kaidan. "I am a little tired, but I wanted to be here for the meeting."

"When's the last time you ate or slept?" Kaidan asked.

"Dr. Chakwas provided me with some food, but I admit it's been some time since I last slept. Perhaps I'll go lie down when we're done talking here."

Shepard leaned against the railing dividing the room from the hologram display where calls were made. She folded her arms over her chest.

"Well, now that you're all here, I just wanted to debrief about Therum and talk about our next move. Liara, the rogue Spectre, Saren, is after something called the conduit. You know a lot about Prothean technology. Do you know what it could be?"

Liara shook her head. "I've heard of it before. I believe it may have something to do with the mass disappearance of the Protheans. I've been studying them for the past fifty years, but I've learned remarkably little in that time. And my youth means that few other asari scholars will take my theories seriously."

"Youth?" Ash laughed. "How old are you?"

"I may seem young to a species as short-lived as humans," Liara spoke softly, "but I'm only 106. That's barely an adult by asari standards. Regardless, as I said, I've spent fifty years studying the Protheans. We all know they were wiped out 50,000 years ago, but the interesting thing is I believe there were other civilizations before them who met the same fate. No one will take me seriously, but…there seems to be some evidence that these cultures rise up, build their civilization on the feats of those before them, then simply…disappear."

Shepard thought of the image seared into her brain by the Prothean beacon. Horrible machines ripping through space annihilating everything in their path, whole planets decimated. She closed her eyes and sighed. The thought of those images still sent chills down her spine. She knew, deep in her gut, that the images showed what had happened to the Protheans.

"I have some theories about the Prothean extinction," she said simply.

"With all due respect, commander, I've heard every theory there is, but I'm not any closer to understanding the truth. You said you encountered a live Prothean beacon," Liara seemed to suddenly remember, "What happened when you touched it?"

"It burned an image into my brain: reapers came and destroyed everything. I don't understand all of it still, but I know that much. These...sentient machines…obliterated the Protheans."

Liara's eyes lit up, despite the grim nature of Shepard's tale. "Amazing. Yes, the Prothean beacon technology was built to transmit information through images. But it's incredible that you survived it, even more so that you could make sense of anything in its data. A lesser mind would have been destroyed by such an encounter. You must be incredibly strong-willed, commander."

Garrus made a snorting noise. "You did see her carrying Wrex on Therum, didn't you? I'm not sure strong-willed is a strong enough adjective."

Shepard ignored him and turned to the asari. "Liara, would you be willing to stay on board with us? You may have to fight, I can't promise you won't, but I think your knowledge of the Protheans could really help us in solving this puzzle of what the conduit is and why Saren is after it."

Liara smiled and it made her entire face light up, "I could think of no safer place than on board your ship. I'm sure if my mother is working with Saren and he's interested in the Protheans, then they'll continue to try and find me. The geth on Therum…I fear they were my fault. I know that some of the Alliance officers there died because of that…"

"Don't blame yourself for Saren's evil," Shepard said sharply. "You didn't send those geth there. You couldn't have known. If you want to respect the memory of those dead soldiers, fight with us and help us stop Saren."

"I would gladly do so," Liara nodded.

"Her biotics will be a real asset," Wrex said. He turned to face Liara, "You worked well with Kaidan. That kind of teamwork could make or break us on the field."

"Wrex has a special interest in biotics," Shepard explained.

Wrex huffed, and if Shepard didn't know better, she might have thought he was even embarrassed by her mentioning this. Liara smiled congenially.

"I would be happy to discuss biotics with you, Wrex. I'm afraid I haven't had much interaction with krogan, or humans…or quarians. Turians, I am more familiar with," she gave Garrus a fleeting glance. Shepard couldn't quite detect if there was some secondary meaning to the sentence, but she wasn't going to probe.

"Well, you'll get to know all of them on board the Normandy," she assured the asari.

"It will be good to learn about other cultures. I spend so much time amongst Prothean books and dig sites, I've almost forgotten there are extant cultures to interact with," she rubbed her temple. "If it's all right, I think I'll go lay down now, commander. I'm beginning to feel very exhausted."

"Go right ahead. And please, just call me Shepard."

Liara stood up, "Thank you…Shepard. Dr. Chakwas has made a bed up for me in the office behind the med bay. I'll be there if you need me at all."

Once Liara had left, Shepard turned to the rest of the crew.

"I'd like to return to the citadel before we head for the next planet. We need to pick up a better stock of dextro foods, I'd like to upgrade the Normandy's shields, and maybe visit the Presidium museum with Liara to see if we can dig up anything on the conduit. They have some old Prothean archives she might be able to make sense of. Then I suggest we head to Noveria. There's a research base there and if the geth have been sighted, it's only a matter of time before it comes to blows. Any thoughts or objections?"

"Will returning to the Citadel put us too out of the way?" Ash asked.

"It's another three days to get back, then we'll need to spend a few days minimum on the Citadel while the shields are being upgraded, then two days to Noveria. It puts us at over a week out, but I think the stop will be necessary. We don't know what we're getting into once we get out into the traverse."

"I like the plan," Kaidan said, "We need to gather more intel before we strike. If we run into Saren on Noveria, we have to be prepared. The more we can learn, the better. Besides, all this fighting the geth has made me realize we could probably use some armor upgrades as well. With your permission, comman…Shepard, I can pick those upgrades up when we arrive."

"You have my permission," Shepard nodded. "We'll head back, but then I can't promise when the next time we'll visit the Citadel will be. Feros is across the galaxy and three relay jumps from the Citadel. If we're well provisioned, I'd rather head forward than to go back again after this. It will be one less relay jump if we head straight from Noveria to Feros. Barring any disruption or necessity to return after Noveria."

"It's a good plan," Tali spoke up. "I've been talking with Engineer Adams. Perhaps we could pick up some tools to help with the upgrade to the drive core that he's been wanting. It would be much cheaper to do ourselves than paying to have it upgraded and the ship will run smoother."

"Sounds like everyone's really pulling their weight," Shepard smiled. "All right. If everyone agrees, I'll talk to Joker and Pressly and we'll set a course for the Citadel. Dismissed!"

The group of them piled from the room, all except Garrus, who hung back, hovering near the doorway.

"Something you wanted to discuss, Garrus?"

The turian hesitated a moment, mandibles twitching. "It can wait," he decided. "Can you meet me up on the observation deck after you talk to Joker and navigator Pressly?"

She wondered what it was he wanted to discuss, but was glad it could wait until their course had been mapped out. "Sure, I'll see you in a few."


Garrus sat on the couch closest to the window on the observation deck, waiting for Shepard to finish her meeting. He felt bad asking to meet with her; she needed rest after Therum. She hadn't even had time to change out of the filthy tattered clothes she'd been wearing during the mission, and it was nothing pressing. He supposed she would have put him off she didn't have the time.

The Normandy was moving slowly, it hadn't even made the jump to FTL yet, awaiting orders on the next route to take. Garrus liked Shepard's plan. They had left the Citadel in a hurry before, eager to get any information they could on Saren's whereabouts, and feeling somewhat rushed by Udina and the council as well. They would need to return to get their full bearings, gather supplies, upgrades, and information, and then make a logical course across the galaxy to Noveria and then Feros. Now that they had Liara to help, things might go more smoothly as well.

He hadn't been sure about the asari at first, but she'd proven herself in the fight against the krogan and the geth. He'd imagined when they found her that they'd be taking her as a prisoner to keep her from assisting her mother. He was glad it hadn't turned out that way.

There was no saying how much time passed while Garrus sat staring out the window at the distant stars dotting the sky. He found it was easy to lose himself in that view. When he wasn't calibrating the mako, the observation deck was the most peaceful place he could find: rarely occupied, dimly lit, and very calming.

The sound of footsteps alerted him to Shepard's arrival. He turned to find her approaching from the ladder, dressed in her civilian clothing, a plain grey tank-top and loose black pants, her military dog-tags hanging from a chain around her neck. It occurred to him that he hadn't seen her outside of her armor or fatigues since they'd begun their journey, she was always doing something that necessitated one or the other. She looked different, somehow. Perhaps because the civilian clothes were slightly more form-fitting than her fatigues. She seemed smaller, maybe.

She had showered, and looked a little better than she had during the meeting in the comm room, though she still seemed tired. She took a seat next to Garrus and propped her feet up the windowsill.

"So, what did you want to talk about?" she asked.

"I wanted to discuss Therum a bit more," he said. "I mean about Liara…and your…your stubborn insistence to keep carrying Wrex."

Shepard looked surprised. "Are you reprimanding me?"

"No, but it was foolish," Garrus growled. Perhaps he was reprimanding her, but she wasn't his superior officer by any turian standards, though he respected her a great deal already, having known her for so short a time. He was speaking from a place of concern, but he wasn't sure if he was conveying it properly. "You could have been seriously injured or worse. A turian general would never…"

"I'm not a turian, Garrus," she interrupted him.

"Your squad was ready to help you. I could have carried you back to the ship. You were weak, you'd already carried Wrex through half the cave by yourself somehow…"

"It was my responsibility to make sure everyone made it back to the ship safely," she sounded angry now. He hadn't meant to provoke this response, but sometimes conflict was the best way to resolve concerns. At least, amongst turians this was true. "What does it matter? I'm fine and we all made it back alive."

"The point is that if it happens again, you might not be fine. You aren't invincible, Shepard. Sometimes the best thing for your crew is to make sure you take care of yourself," his subharmonics were rising in pitch, a sure giveaway that he was getting too emotional about the topic.

Why did he care so much about this ragtag, mismatched alien crew? Only a week amongst them and he already felt more connected to these aliens than he had to half of the people he worked with in C-sec. Why? Was it the comfort of having no barriers in his way? Why did he care if the commander pushed herself? Maybe it was just his turian way of thinking.

Shepard seemed to notice the change in his pitch. "You were worried about me," she said, her voice softer, less angry.

Garrus stared out the window. "It doesn't make any sense."

"You never worried about your fellow officers in C-sec? Or in the military?"

'It was different,' he thought privately. "I don't know what it is about this ship or your crew," he said aloud. "The first time we fought together, it was like an instant connection. I hadn't felt that since my time on Palaven. Maybe I was worried. You just seem to bear a lot of weight on your shoulders, Shepard. You ought to let the rest of us bear some of it too. We're here to help you. And it's not just a mutual interest in finding Saren. I know for a fact any other human commander couldn't have brought all of these races together."

She was silent. He was beginning to realize that the commander had a very difficult time taking compliments. He had noticed it early on before they'd arrived at Therum, and in most of her interactions with Kaidan, who, it seemed, loved to shower her with praise. She was deserving of it, most could agree; an accomplished soldier with Spectre status ought to be someone worth of praise.

"What about Liara?" Shepard asked, changing the subject.

"I wanted to apologize for my rush to interrogate her. I was worried about her possible alliance with her mother, but…maybe I was too rash."

"You were thinking like a soldier," Shepard shrugged. "It was good to test the waters. We had no way of knowing where she stood on the matter. I think you made the right call. I hope you think we made the right call in keeping her aboard."

"Yes, absolutely."

"I've already heard some of the crew making comments about her," Shepard sighed. "It seems like everyone wants to over-sexualize asari because they seem to be so attractive to every species...and they're the ones who make up the majority of the talent at places like Chora's Den…but Liara seems so…I don't know…?"

"Innocent?" Garrus suggested.

"Yes. Even though she's older than most of the people on this ship, besides maybe Wrex, she seems so young…and naïve. I kind of want to shield her from those sorts of comments."

Garrus agreed with Shepard. Liara did seem naïve and shy. As beautiful as she was, she seemed too sweet to imagine anyone wanting to pursue her sexually. The thought brought him back to the conversation on Therum while Tali had been hacking the mining laser. He was intensely curious about it, but figured it wasn't his business to ask Shepard about that. Each day aboard the Normandy seemed to bring more intriguing questions he wanted answers to, about all of his squadmates, but the commander particularly; he knew so little about their pasts.

"I know it's not exactly a time for diversions," Shepard said, gazing out the window. Garrus thought she almost looked sad. "But I thought maybe when we get to the Citadel we could all go out one night. The seven of us, I mean. If we can get Liara to come along. There's a bar on the Presidium called Purgatory. We used to go before I was a commander. It might be nice to forget everything and just get to know each other in a casual environment, right? It's how Alliance crew mingle, usually."

"I know the bar," Garrus said. It was less…seedy…than wards establishments. Certainly a lot nicer than a place like Chora's den, though the waitresses still dressed proactively and they had strippers in cages above the dance floor. It was a good idea for all of them to get to know each other outside of the ship, he agreed. It could help comradery and nothing brought people together like drinking too much.

"Turians don't have the same notions of fraternization as humans," he told Shepard. "Our entire culture is centered around the military. Everyone has to serve at some point. If you can't socialize with other military officers, platonically or romantically, who's left to socialize with? We'd go extinct. Human ideals about that have always confused me."

Shepard shrugged. "They say it can distract from the mission if you're involved with an officer, though the rules on friendship are a bit more lenient."

"I would think it would be more distracting to a mission to desperately want to be with someone and not be able to. Blowing off steam with a fellow officer has to be more productive. It's practically encouraged on turian vessels. As long as you're not…what's the human phrase? Humping on the battlefield, it's more constructive to just let it happen."

Shepard let out a snort of laughter. "Humping?" She surprised him with a fit of uncharacteristic giggles.

"Is that not the word?" he cocked his head.

"No," she laughed. "It is. It's just…probably the tackiest way of describing it."

"Would you prefer making love?" He asked, not disguising his distaste for the phrase at all. "That's much tackier, I think. Humans and quarians like to use the phrase, though."

"I wouldn't use that unless I meant it," Shepard said, her laughter subsiding. "Casual sex has a different connotation than 'making love'. You've never been with someone you'd use that phrase for Garrus?" she sounded surprised.

"I told you," he waved his hand, "I'm married to my work."

"Yeah, I guess I haven't ever really been in love either. Maybe puppy love."

"Puppy love?" Garrus hadn't heard the phrase before. He was imagining a very unpleasant scenario involving a varren, which was the closest thing he could immediately associate with the human concept of a dog, or 'puppy' as he knew they were sometimes called.

"It's like…when you're young and stupid and don't know what love really is. Like the person you lose your virginity to, maybe. You think you love them, but it's just dumb infatuation," she explained.

"Oh," he understood suddenly. "I don't know how it would translate in turian. But I know what you mean."

"I'm sorry, I don't know how we got on this topic," Shepard said.

"Like I said," Garrus shrugged. "It's normal to discuss amongst officers in the turian military. It doesn't make me uncomfortable."

"I should check in on the crew and maybe get something to eat. I can't remember the last time I ate something." She stood up and lingered next to him for a moment. Her hand reached out and squeezed his shoulder, her favored gesture of support amongst her crew it seemed. "Thanks for being concerned. It's good to know someone has my back."

"I'll be on your six, Shepard," he assured her. "I'll keep it clear."

Chapter Text

The Citadel coming into view after three long days aboard the Normandy was a welcome relief. Shepard had been poring over Prothean documents Liara had shared with her for most of the duration of their trip from Therum. She wasn't sleeping well, and hadn't really had a decent night's sleep since before Eden Prime.

During the night-shift, while most of the crew was asleep in the bunk room, she would often pace around the quarters, unable to sleep. Garrus had caught her on the last night before they reached the Citadel. He'd come up to get a glass of water and found her pacing and they had sat for a while at the table talking. His concern for her well-being had surprised her when she first realized it during their conversation on the observation deck, but at the same time it had also comforted her. He didn't give her big eyes like Kaidan, filled with a pitying concern and tip-toeing around her failure to keep track of her own health and stamina. Instead, he was quite firm with her, spoken like a true turian, and fussing over her stubbornness like a mother hen. She appreciated the concern, though she would never voice it out loud.

When the Normandy docked, nearly the entire crew disembarked. Shepard had given a speech over the intercom before their arrival that it might be a long time before they returned, so she wanted everyone to enjoy themselves for a few days. She didn't add perhaps the most relevant part, that they should enjoy it while they still could.

Some of the crew had homes and family on the Citadel that they would be staying with, while most, Shepard included, would probably return to the Normandy at night with nowhere else to go. Before she left to meet with an Alliance requisition officer about shield upgrades for the ship, she arranged a plan to meet her squad at Purgatory that evening. She even convinced Liara to go, with some prodding. She was looking forward to getting to know them better. They would be spending a lot of time in close quarters in the coming weeks.

As the crew exited the ship, the squad headed in different directions. Tali left with Engineer Adams to discuss drive core upgrades; Ash, to Shepard's surprise and delight, left with Garrus to go shopping for sniper rifles on the Presidium; Wrex and Kaidan left to get a bite to eat, Wrex probing Kaidan for more information on his biotics as they walked; only Liara remained behind, unsure of what to do or where she wanted to go.

"I haven't been to the Citadel in a long time," she told Shepard as they walked together toward the elevator. "I don't know how much might have changed and I haven't been in contact with my former classmates who live here."

"You can come with me if you want," Shepard offered. "I'm afraid it won't be that interesting, I have to meet with a requisitions officer about dextro food and shield upgrades. Tomorrow we'll hit up the museum, which should be more stimulating."

"Thank you for the offer," Liara smiled politely. "But I think I might just explore a bit and see what I've been missing for the last few decades. I'll catch up with you at the bar," she still sounded skeptical about the prospect.

They parted ways on the Presidium and Shepard went to run her errands. The Alliance requisitions officer would be at the human embassy, a short walk from where she was. While she was there, she could catch up with captain Anderson and Udina and see if they had any new information about Saren, though she was sure they would have contacted her on vid com if they had.

The embassies were packed when she arrived. The main reception area of the embassy offices was usually hectic on any given day, but it seemed worse than usual as she made her way through the crowd. Lines of disgruntled citizens were queuing at the reception desk, tapping their feet impatiently and complaining loudly to their neighbors. The poor turian receptionist looked overwhelmed as a human civilian screamed at her about an issue with the clearance forms for a cat he was trying to have shipped in. Cats, as with many other earth-native species, were contraband on the Citadel. It wasn't the turian receptionist's fault that this was the case, but the human didn't care.

Shepard sighed as she passed the desk. Didn't he realize there were more important things happening in the galaxy? A pet cat meant nothing if Saren succeeded in his task. She decided ignorance truly was bliss.

Down the hall and to the right she found the human embassy, which mostly served as Udina's over-dressed and over-sized office. She entered and was pleased to find Udina was not in at the moment. A few clerks were working at the desks to the left and Anderson was outside on the balcony overlooking the Presidium.

The discussion with the requisition officer seated amongst the clerks didn't take too long. He was dubious about her requests for large amounts of high-quality dextro food on an Alliance vessel, but after she flashed her Spectre status at him, he dropped any concern and filled her requests right away.

Relieved that the task hadn't taken too long, she stepped outside to join captain Anderson on the balcony. He smiled when he saw her approaching.

"Shepard, I wasn't expecting to see you back here so soon."

Shepard gave him a quick hug and leaned against the balcony's railing. "Well, I figured we should stop in and prepare ourselves for the long journey out to Noveria and Feros. We found Liara T'Soni on Therum. I updated the council, so I'm sure Udina weaseled the information out of them."

"He had mentioned you'd picked up Dr. T'Soni…and destroyed a set of Prothean ruins," Anderson said. "The Council seemed unhappy about that."

"The Council can shove it," Shepard burst. "We did what we had to. We got Liara out of there and we took out the geth that had infiltrated the Alliance base. They reprimanded me about it when I talked to them, but I don't know what they expected. I'm not going around willfully destroying precious ruins, but I also can't hesitate if a decision needs to be made."

"I understand, Shepard. You did the right thing. Dr. T'Soni will be an invaluable asset to the task at hand. How are you enjoying your new Spectre status?"

She shrugged. "Honestly, it doesn't feel much different. I'm just allowed to break more rules, I guess. And I've got a bunch of aliens on board the Normandy. But they've been a huge help. Above and beyond what I expected, really. Wrex is a machine on the battle field, Tali and the engineers are getting along great, Garrus has been calibrating everything he can get his talons on…and you should see him shoot, captain. It's like art. Having them join the team was probably the best decision I've made so far."

"I'm glad you followed your gut," Anderson said, watching her hand gestures as she spoke. "It seems like you've taken a real liking to the aliens as well. It's good to see cooperation amongst so many different species. Turians and humans working side by side in particular is…a long time in the making. Appropriate that is should be on the Normandy."

"There's so many prejudices we seem to have." Shepard stared out at the cars hovering by above them and the water down below, sparkling under the false sunlight. Everything on the Presidium seemed so peaceful, so untouched by danger. It was a welcome reprieve after nearly dying on Therum.

She turned to face the captain, "Can I speak frankly?" she asked.

"You can always speak frankly with me, Shepard," he smiled warmly.

"Garrus told me he thinks Lieutenant Alenko is interested in me…romantically."

"Garrus is the turian?"

"Yeah. Yes," she proceeded unsurely. "We had a talk about the differences between Alliance military and turian military…in terms of…fraternization and things like that."

"The rules are fairly strict, Shepard…" Anderson began. "But you are a Spectre now too. Not to say you should eschew all the values of the Alliance. You have to balance being both things. Are you asking for my advice on what to do? Do you want to, er, pursue this matter?"

Shepard shook her head. "No, I don't think so. But I'm a little worried about it I guess. Maybe I'm too casual with my crew. I don't want him to think I've led him on by being friendly, but we've known each other since well before I was his commanding officer. I don't know, I don't even know if Garrus was serious or…"

"I doubt you've done anything to warrant upsetting lieutenant Alenko," Anderson interrupted. "I wouldn't dwell on it too much, Shepard. Liaisons happen sometimes, despite the rules. And if you don't want it to happen, then it won't. Just focus on the task at hand and try not to let it distract you."

Shepard didn't respond right away. She turned her gaze back to the sprawling scenery before her. Her entire discussion with Garrus on the observation deck had made her acutely aware of how long it had been since she'd been with anybody. Maybe her concern and confusion simply came from a need to 'blow off steam' as the turian had put it. It might not be a terrible idea to try and meet someone at the bar that night. In Kaidan's presence, it might also help quell any ideas he had about the two of them or her interest in him. She disliked the thought though. She would rather be up front with him about it than passive aggressive. Knowing herself, she would get drunk and force him to discuss it and make everything all the more uncomfortable the next morning.

"What are you thinking, Shepard?" Anderson ended the silence.

"Just…a lot of things. Thanks for the talk, captain. I'll stop by and see you before we leave."

"Take care of yourself, Shepard."


"This better not be sharing and caring hour, Shepard," Wrex grumbled as he, Garrus, Tali, Liara, and the three humans sat around a table in the lower portion of the bar called Purgatory.

The music pumping through the speakers was loud and emotionless, as club music often was. The enormous glass walls across the bar allowed a view of the Presidium, artificially darkened to nighttime now. Garrus was on his second drink and becoming very aware of how long it had been since he'd had a drink; his tolerance for alcohol had lowered considerably.

"No," Shepard said, throwing back a shot without wincing. "This is going to be get drunk and get to know each other hour."

Wrex had just come back from the bar with what could only be described as a bucket of alcohol, which he was now guzzling contentedly. He belched loudly as he set the bucket down, wiped his mouth, and said, "We'll see."

Tali had to put her drinks through a filter attached to her mask, which didn't seem very fun in Garrus' opinion, but she was probably fairly used to it.

"I don't drink much," she admitted. "It probably won't take much to get me drunk. I'll have to be careful. Vomiting in your suit is one of the most disgusting things that can happen…but usually our toxicity filters kick in before that..."

"How much does it take to get a krogan drunk?" Kaidan asked, nearly yelling over the din of music and club-goers.

"Enough to kill ten humans," Wrex replied.

"Well get drinking then," Shepard grinned.

She had been the last to arrive, and was trying to catch up with the rest of them by downing the two shots Kaidan had purchased for her at the bar. Garrus was interested to see how the night proceeded. Shepard didn't seem interested in the lieutenant in the same way he was interested in her, but alcohol could make people do stupid things. Garrus knew from experience.

"All right, if we're going to 'get to know each other' then let's break the ice with the most uncomfortable topic," Wrex said, slapping the table with his hand. "Let's talk about sex."

"Is that all you think about?" Ash demanded. The gunnery chief seemed to have the alcohol tolerance of a krogan for the amount of drinks she had already put away since their arrival. For such a small creature, she was certainly loud and hardy.

"I'm a male, aren't I? Doesn't matter what species, all males are hardwired to think about it," Wrex shrugged.

"That seems highly unscientific," Liara said, somewhat timidly. Her face was flushed purple. Garrus watched her broach the subject with interest. She seemed embarrassed.

"Yeah, women think about it too," Shepard shrugged.

"You act like a male," Wrex told her. Garrus supposed it was intended to be a compliment, but Shepard looked as though she might punch him.

Before she could respond, one of the waitresses approached the table. She was an asari, her breasts barely contained within the skin-tight bodice-like suit that she wore. Wrex, and even Kaidan, couldn't help themselves from staring at her. Garrus was most surprised to see Liara's gaze also drawn to them, though it made sense that an asari would be attracted to other asari. Like Shepard, he couldn't place Liara in that context without feeling uncomfortable.

He didn't understand the appeal of breasts as sexual objects, however. Turian women didn't have breasts, and while he knew turians who found them attractive, particularly on asari, he had never developed that particular fetish. They were meant to feed offspring with, so the entire concept seemed odd to him. Hips and waists were far more intriguing.

Shepard ordered several drinks from the waitress, then nearly broke Wrex's wrist to keep him from slapping the poor girl on the bottom. Wrex pulled his hand back and smacked the table again.

"What was that about you sleeping with an asari?" he asked Shepard. "We never finished that conversation."

"There's no conversation to have," Shepard shrugged. "I was on the Citadel for shore leave once, we met at a bar, I went back to her place, then I got back on my ship and left."

"Love 'em and leave 'em. Who knew Shepard was so heartless?" Tali giggled. She was already tipsy.

"Shepard will need to drink more before she'll go into any vivid detail about the matter," Kaidan laughed.

The entire club positively reeked of pheromones, but even still, Garrus could smell them coming off of the lieutenant as he watched Shepard from across the table. He was too busy observing the clearly lovesick lieutenant to see Shepard's hand come up and smack him on the back from her spot next to him.

"Drink more!" she urged.

He downed a drink in time for the waitress to bring the next round.

It had been a long time since Garrus had gone out with, for all intents and purposes, coworkers, for a drink. He found it was nice to relax a bit and get to know the others. At first, he thought he might watch how much he drank, but as the night proceeded, he lost track quickly. Shepard ordered round after round, while Wrex continued guzzling entire buckets of alcohol.

"So I said…I said, look buddy, that is the ugliest penis I've ever seen." More than seven drinks into the night, Shepard, true to Kaidan's promise, was regaling them with stories of past conquests and suitors. "Turns out he'd had some sort of implant…trying to make it the size of a krogan's…" she shuddered. "Didn't go near that."

"You got a problem with krogan equipment?" Wrex bellowed. A group of turians one table over turned to stare at them.

"Well, it's so…wide." Shepard said.

Wrex snickered and slurped down more of his drink.

"Did I tell you, or did I tell you?" Kaidan asked, leaning heavily on his arm. "Shepard gets drunk, she cannot shut up about this stuff. I haven't…hic…I haven't been drunk with Shep in ages…"

Garrus found the entire thing highly amusing, partly because he himself was fairly drunk at that point. The table they were seated at had a booth wrapped around half of it, with chairs on the other side. Tali had, several drinks earlier, draped herself against the corner of the booth and was now sleeping soundly, little flanging snores issuing from her mask. Ash and Liara had left a few minutes earlier to dance, and now all that remained was Wrex, Kaidan, Shepard, and Garrus. Shepard was seated next to Garrus, and she leaned on him occasionally, her balance perturbed by the amount of alcohol she'd consumed.

Wrex watched them with an interested look on his face. Garrus couldn't tell if the krogan was drunk or not. He seemed a little louder than usual, but otherwise wasn't swaying or slurring his words. He had no clue how many buckets of alcohol Wrex had consumed.

"All right, Shepard," Wrex smirked. "You've told us about an asari, three humans, and a highly questionable encounter with a drell. What about turians?" He looked Garrus right in the eyes as he said it.

"What about turians?" Shepard belched unattractively. Kaidan snorted and shook his head, devolving into a fit of laughter.

"I've heard they've got the longest…" Wrex started.

"You ever been with a turian?" Shepard asked, sipping at a drink Liara had left behind. She had been stealing drinks from everyone as the night progressed. Realizing the drink was empty, she reached for the drink in Garrus' hand. He held it away from her.

"Dextro alcohol, Shepard."

She stretched her arm out pathetically, gave up, and slumped her head against Garrus' shoulder. He was too inebriated to process that the weight of her head on his shoulder sent a little tingle down his spine.

"I've never been with a turian," Wrex spat, disgusted by the notion. "Or a salarian. They destroyed my people. I'd rather put my dick in a thresher maw."

"Lovely image," Garrus said.

"I've never been with a turian," Shepard muttered from her spot against Garrus' shoulder. "I heard you can swell up like a balloon if you…swap fluids."

"That's a myth," Kaidan said. Shepard sat up and they all turned to look at the lieutenant. A red hue was creeping up his neck to his face. "I uh…don't know from experience. It's just…I heard that if you can kiss a dextro without an allergic reaction, then other…fluids would also be fine."

"You 'heard' that huh?" Wrex folded his arms across his chest.

"We should go dance with Ash and Liara," Kaidan changed the subject.

"Someone needs't' stay with Tali," Shepard said.

"I can stay with her," Garrus offered.

"No, you should go dance, Vakarian," Wrex said, a grin plastered on his big stupid krogan face. "I'll keep an eye on the quarian."

Shepard stood up and grabbed Garrus' hand, tugging gently to urge him up. Garrus wasn't so sure he could stand without toppling over, but he tried anyway. Shepard pointed a stern finger at Wrex.

"No funny business," She hiccupped. "Tha's an order from your commanding officer."

"What did I tell you about ordering me around?" Wrex replied, though he was still smiling. "Go on, I'm not interested in quarians and their funny little suits anyway."

Kaidan was hovering, waiting for them to join him, though Garrus got the feeling the human was a little irked that he was coming along.

"Go on, Kaidan," Shepard waved him along. "We'll catch up with you."

Any suspicions Garrus had were confirmed by the look Kaidan gave him. Before that evening, he couldn't have imagined a look of such loathing coming from the good-natured lieutenant. If he hadn't been so drunk, he might have felt guilty. Instead he just gave the turian equivalent of a smile and waved goodbye to him. The lieutenant marched off toward the dancefloor unhappily.

Shepard turned to Garrus, wobbling on the spot. He reached out a hand to steady her.

"Garrus," she said, putting on her best attempt at a serious face despite the way her mouth was not entirely cooperating with her voice to get out all the words. "I see what you mean now…Kaidan's been…like all night. Right?"

"You're missing a word," Garrus said.

"He's been…flirting," She whispered the word like it was a vile curse.

"Well, yes," the turian nodded. Flirting and romance were mostly the same across species, funnily enough. It was easy to spot, pheromones or not. The poor lieutenant had been buying drinks and laughing at Shepard's jokes all night. Like a lovesick schoolboy. Garrus almost felt bad for him, but any pity wasn't registering in his muddled mind.

"I was afraid of that. Look, don't let him dance with me," Shepard demanded.


She frowned, "I'm too drunk to talk about it with him, but I don't want to dance with him and give the wrong idea. You gotta help me out, Garrus."

"What am I supposed to do?"

"Jus' keep him from getting to me."

"Shepard, you're the strongest, most intimidating human I've ever met. If you don't want him to dance with you just push him off."

Shepard groaned. "You don't get it Garrus, it's a whole social thing…"

"If I was dancing with a turian woman who wasn't interested in me, she would scratch my face and tell me to fuck off." Garrus crossed his arms. Humans were so unreasonably passive aggressive about some things.

"Well I'm not a turian!"

"Obviously," He snorted. She swung to punch his shoulder, but missed by a mile and stumbled forward. He caught her before she could fall. "You're too drunk to dance anyway," he told her.

She leaned heavily against his arms. "What'd'you know?"

He wondered what the rest of her crew, those who weren't quite as chummy with her as the lieutenant, would think if they could see her like this. She was putting all of her weight on him then, and it caused him to stumble backward into the booth, which they had not strayed far from. He sprawled out on his back, bumping his head on Tali's boots, though the quarian didn't stir. Shepard was splayed across his chest, her eyes closed, drool trickling from her mouth.

"Get a room," Wrex laughed.

Garrus sighed. He wanted to shove Shepard off of him, but now that he was lying down, the room was noticeably spinning. He closed his eyes to make it stop. The noise of the club gradually faded as he blacked out, leaning against a quarian with a human soldier on top of him.

At least he could say he was experiencing new things as a crew member on the Normandy.

Chapter Text

The first sensation that came to Shepard upon regaining consciousness was an enormous headache, pounding like a hammer behind her eyes. The second sensation was acute nausea. Bile rose in her throat and she sat up quickly, opening her eyes and scanning her surroundings for somewhere safe to throw up.

She managed to choke down the feeling and tried to figure out where she was. She was dizzy and disoriented, the dim light filtering through the shades on the window still too bright for her hungover eyes.

She was sitting on a couch in a small living room; a granite coffee table and a large vid projector were in front of her. She was in someone's apartment, mercifully fully clothed. A cursory glance to her right revealed Wrex lying on the floor next to a dining table, snoring soundly. Behind them was a tiny, pristine kitchen. An open door to the right of the kitchen led to a bathroom.

Turning back around to face the wall with the vid projector, she noticed a closed door on the far end of the wall near the windows. For the moment, she couldn't investigate. It was all it took not to throw up as she sat completely still against the couch.

She couldn't remember the last time she'd had that much to drink. What had she done? The last thing she remembered was discussing levo-dextro relations with Kaidan, Garrus, and Wrex. She could at least conclude that she hadn't slept with anyone, thank God for that. She could just imagine the aftermath of drunken sex with one of her squad. She was just starting to get to know them, what a start that would be. Still, even if she hadn't had sex with anyone, she might have done something else. Had she kissed Kaidan? She had no memory of what had occurred or how she had ended up…wherever she was.

After nearly half an hour of sitting still trying to get the room to stop spinning, she slowly ventured to move, holding onto furniture as she made her way into the kitchen and looked for a glass to drink water from. She opened the first cupboard in the kitchen to find sets of plates and bowls with odd spouts on them. The next cupboard revealed the glasses, also with odd spouts. She picked one up and examined it. Her brain hurt too much to be thinking at all, but she realized as she turned the glass over in her hand that the spout was the right width and shape to fit to a turian mouth. Was this Garrus' apartment?

She turned the faucet on and poured herself a glass of water and then moved to the dining table, where she sat sipping from the side of the glass that didn't have a spout. She desperately wished she had some medicine for a headache. She had her omni-tool, but it was only stocked with medi-gel, which wouldn't help.

Shepard wasn't sure how long she sat there sipping the water, her senses slowly returning, though her stomach was still uneasy and her head continued to throb. As she neared the bottom of the glass, the closed door against the far end of the wall flew open and a familiar turian stepped out, rubbing his temples and reaching blindly for a chair to steady himself.

It was a startling sight to see him in such a personal environment, even after the night they had all spent getting to know each other. He was clad in a pair of unusual cotton trousers, with no shirt on to speak of. Shepard became acutely aware that she had never seen a turian without its shirt on, outside of pictures from military training. His chest had a prominent ridge in the center and a cowl of cartilage wrapped around his neck. She knew turian cowls were a physical part of their bodies, but never having seen one beneath clothing, she had mentally attributed it to their armor. It was jarring to see it as it truly was.

Garrus grabbed onto a chair and blinked slowly.

"Shepard," he said, his voice gravelly and flanging. She was staring at him with her mouth slightly open, but was not immediately aware she was doing so. "Shepard?"

She shook her head. "What happened last night?"

"You and Wrex got physical," the turian's subharmonics hit a pitch she'd never heard before, giving him away.

Shepard laughed, though it hurt her head. "I think I'd be hurting even more than I am now if that had happened."

Garrus moved to the kitchen and poured himself some water and then sat down across from her at the table. Wrex continued sleeping soundly on the floor next to them.

"We passed out. One minute we were talking and the next thing I knew, I woke up and Wrex was carrying both of us to my apartment. He found the address on my ID. Smart thinking, really. I told him to let you sleep on the couch and offered to get him a cot from my closet, but he said the floor was fine," Garrus shrugged.

"Did I…do anything with Kaidan?"

Garrus chuckled. "No. You begged me to keep him from dancing with you. Like you couldn't take care of him yourself."

"I'm sorry," Shepard felt embarrassed.

"It's fine. We never ended up dancing. But you might want to sit down and talk to the lieutenant. That's just my opinion. I think it would be better to address the issue. There might be more times like this in the future. Even if we aren't…inebriated. We're going to have downtime on these trips. If you don't address the issue now, it's only going to become a bigger problem."

"Ugh, I know," Shepard groaned. She hated that Garrus was right. He was so damn helpful. "I'll talk to him before we leave."

"How are you feeling? I would offer you some medicine, but I only have dextro-meds."

"It's fine," she shook her head. "I feel like shit, but what can I do? I'll grab something when I head out. I've got to meet Liara at the museum at three. What time is it now?"

Garrus glanced at his omni-tool. "Almost eleven."

"Damn, how late were we out?"

He shrugged. "I didn't check when we got home. I just threw up a little and went to sleep."

"Well, I guess we're all more comfortable with each other now," Shepard laughed, "So that's something."

"Definitely," Garrus agreed.

He sipped his water and she stared at his cowl again. It was such an unusual appendage. She wondered what purpose it could serve. She was absolutely fascinated by the sight of it, the little nook it created above his shoulders and around his neck. She normally wouldn't have stared in such a rude way, but she was hardly aware she was doing it.

"Shepard? What are you staring at?"

"I'm sorry," she shook her head. "I've…I've never seen a turian without a shirt on before. Your cowl…it's just…different."

Garrus craned his neck, trying to see it, though he physically couldn't. "Why?"

"Well it's just not really comparable to any human parts. Why do you have them?"

"Why do you have hair?" he replied.

"It used to provide protection for our bodies. I don't know why it looks like it does now."

"I don't know that my cowl serves any purpose," he shrugged. "When I was little my dad would put me in his to carry me while he got things done. And male cowls are larger than female cowls, so I guess there's some sort of sexual preference for them on the female's part."

"Can I touch it?" Shepard blurted. She immediately wished she hadn't said it. Sure, everyone had gotten a little more comfortable with one another last night, but Garrus was still a practical stranger in the grand timeline of both of their lives. She wasn't sure what had compelled her to say such a thing.

"Only if I can touch your hair." Garrus didn't seemed bothered in the least.

"Okay," she agreed readily. She was just too intrigued to pass up the opportunity. After all, when would she have the chance again?

They both stood up and met each other halfway, near where Wrex lay sleeping. They stood awkwardly in front of each other for a moment, then Shepard reached her hand out and gently touched the sides of his cowl. She hadn't actually touched turian skin before. They were always wearing gloves to conceal their sharp talons, so even when she shook hands, it was never skin-to-skin contact. The part covered by his plating was rough, like stone, but the skin that wasn't plated was soft, almost leathery against her fingers, and incredibly warm; his entire body seemed to be radiating heat. It made sense, she supposed. Turians had to keep cool on a hot planet like Palaven. Exuding heat quickly would help cool their core temperature.

She clasped the edges of the cowl and felt her away around it, absolutely enthralled by the feel of his skin and the odd shape of the bone and cartilage and metal that comprised the cowl.

As she was doing this, he stood still for a moment, then brought his hand up and delicately touched the hair on her head. He wasn't wearing his gloves, she realized, but he was remarkably careful with the long talons extending from his fingers, careful not to catch them against her skin. He ruffled the hair and his subharmonics made a strange sound. He laughed.

"It's very soft," he said.

"Your skin is scaly," she replied, again wishing she hadn't said anything. It might be insulting.

"Yes, we have metallic scales to protect us from the radiation on Palaven," he shrugged.

He was having a wonderful time mussing her hair, she could tell, bringing up his other hand to join the first. They stood there, probing each other in what must have looked like an insane display, completely unaware of anything else until a low grumble sounded from the floor.

"What the fuck are you two doing?"

They stepped away from each other with alarming speed and looked down to see Wrex, his eyes open now, staring at the two of them with a sly grin. Shepard felt like she had been caught doing something dirty, though really, they had both just been curious. It was the way Wrex looked at them that made her feel that way.

"We were…uh…" She stammered.

"Shepard had never seen a turian's cowl before and er…" Garrus tried to make it seem less strange than it had been.

Wrex pushed himself off the floor and stood up. He held a hand up to silence them. "Never mind, I don't want to know." He belched loudly. "I'm starving, and I'm willing to bet Garrus hasn't got any food we can eat. Put a shirt on, Garrus, and let's go grab something at the Elbar diner in Zakera ward."

Shepard exchanged a glance with Garrus and he hurried away to get dressed, then they followed Wrex in an awkward, embarrassed silence, out the door and toward the Citadel rapid transit.

Chapter Text

Garrus had not seen or spoken to Shepard or Wrex since the morning after their night out at Purgatory. He had spent their shore leave on the Citadel catching up with some of his former coworkers at C-sec, shopping for some new calibration supplies, and staying at his apartment. He wasn't actively avoiding the crew, but he didn't want to hear whatever crude things Wrex was going to say about what he had seen Shepard and him doing, and he was going to see plenty of the Normandy and its crew for the next few weeks, if not months.

Feeling an odd sense of pent up frustration, sexual and otherwise, he had gone out with Chellick and some of the other turians from C-sec on their last night on the Citadel, in the hopes of meeting someone to release some of the tension with. There was a mostly turian bar they sometimes went to in the wards, classier than Chora's Den, but still a dive by most standards. He found it was nice to be around turians for a while, after so many days surrounded by Alliance humans.

At the bar, there were plenty of options to choose from. Garrus was not unattractive by turian standards, and he knew as much, though he never acted like it. He'd never had a hard time attracting women, at any rate. Halfway through the night, he and Chellick made their way across the bar to a table full of women. They were out celebrating before a bond-mating ceremony for the loudest and most inebriated of the group. Most species had this tradition, interestingly enough. Humans called them 'bachelorette parties', but it was the same idea. The only species he knew of that didn't partake in such traditions were the salarians, but they were strange about mating in general.

Garrus and Chellick spent most of the night vying for the attention of the same female, but Chellick was too drunk to win in the end. Garrus didn't quite have the stomach for excessive drinking after the night at Purgatory, and he was never very pleased with his performance when he drank too much, and usually neither was his partner.

Eventually, Chellick went to sit down and Garrus was left alone with the woman they'd been pursuing, whose name was Minia. She was nearly as tall as Garrus, muscular, with green clan markings that ran in stripes down either side of her face. After a lot of small talk, they eventually moved to the dance floor, then, after a while, to his apartment.

The evening had served its intended purpose when it was over. He'd been able to release some mounting tension in the arms of a fairly proficient lover. It had been enjoyable, but something about it left Garrus wanting, and he couldn't put his finger on it. It wouldn't do to dwell on it though, so he pushed it to the back of his mind.

Turians weren't awkward about casual sex; Minia stayed the night and slept with him again in the morning before she left to meet up with her friends. There were no awkward goodbyes, no feigned promises of seeing each other again, no meaningless exchange of numbers. She simply pecked him on the mandible, thanking him for a good time, and left.

By the time Minia left, it was nearly time for the Normandy to disembark, so Garrus gathered up his belongings and headed for the docks. He had enjoyed some time away from the humans, but he was eager to get back to the ship. In fact, he realized as he made his way down the docks toward the Normandy, that he had actually missed his squad mates. He'd never felt the same way about his coworkers at C-sec.

The Alliance vessel was a welcome sight at the end of the docks; as he entered the airlock and stepped onto the ship, it felt almost like coming home. It confirmed for him that joining Shepard's crew had been the right choice.

Entering the bridge, he found Shepard hunched over Joker's chair with Pressly next to them, discussing the route to Noveria as well as some intel from an admiral named Hackett. Shepard smiled at Garrus for a brief moment before returning to her conversation.

He was curious about how Shepard's trip to the museum with Liara had gone, but since she was busy, he would have to ask her about it later. He decided he would head down to the cargo bay and unload the additional items he'd purchased during his stay.

The descent down to the cargo bay was laboriously slow. He hadn't missed the Normandy's elevators, though the elevators on the Citadel were not remarkably fast themselves. When the doors opened onto the cargo bay after what felt like an eternity, Garrus was unhappy to see Wrex was already stationed next to the mako, his back propped against a wheel while he read.

The krogan looked up at Garrus' arrival and smirked.

"Hey, loverboy, how was your shore leave?"

"For the last time, Wrex, it was just a bit of curiosity…" Garrus sighed, dropping his things on his cot.

"It was weird, whatever it was."

Ash was over at her weapons maintenance station, but she turned around upon overhearing their conversation, and crossed the room to join in.

"What happened?" She asked eagerly.

Garrus would have been glad she was willingly talking to them by herself, but he didn't want to answer any questions about the whole awkward affair.


"Not nothing," Wrex insisted. "After we went out to that bar and you all got drunk embarrassingly fast, I had to carry Garrus and Shepard back to his apartment because they blacked out. When I woke up the next morning, they were standing over me groping each other."

Garrus' subharmonics rumbled involuntarily. "That's not what was happening."

Ashley was staring at them with a look somewhere between horrified and amused. She made a strange noise that might have been a laugh or a cough. "What!?"

Garrus groaned. "Wrex is just being crude," he didn't want to have to explain the whole thing, because he didn't think an explanation made what he and Shepard had been doing any less weird, but now that Wrex had brought it up he felt he had to explain himself. "I wasn't wearing a shirt when I woke up. Turians don't sleep with clothes on! I was only wearing pants because I know how weird humans are about nudity because all their parts hang out."

Ash stopped him. "Wait, what?"

"Turians don't have any parts. They're like dolls," Wrex laughed.

"We're not like…really?" Garrus was getting frustrated. "Everything's…internal," he said.

"Seriously? How do you…how does it come out?"

"Why are we having this conversation!?" Garrus groaned.

Wrex let out a boisterous laugh. "This is amazing," he said.

He didn't anticipate having to give the gunnery chief a lesson on dextro anatomy, but she was undoubtedly going to keep asking questions if he didn't explain it. "We have plating on our lower abdomen…it just…slides to accommodate things when…well…"

"When he's turned on," Wrex finished for him.

Ash let out a laugh and covered her mouth. "I'm sorry, really, it's just so strange…"

"Stranger than a penis that's just constantly exposed, dangling between your legs?" Garrus folded his arms. Levos thought dextro genitals were weird?

"Okay, but so then how do you go to the bathroom if you have to be uh…aroused to get it out?" Ash asked, a slight red flush coming to her cheeks.

"Well I mean I can make it come out," Garrus shrugged. He was still in disbelief that the conversation was happening. "It just won't be…"

"It'll be limp," Wrex finished.

"Wow," Ash said. "I'm learning so much. Okay, so get back to the story. You were groping the commander?"

"Groping," Wrex nodded.

"No!" Garrus snarled. "I wasn't groping her. I just didn't have a shirt on and she asked me about my cowl because she'd never seen one without clothes on it and then I asked her about her hair because turians don't have hair, so we both agreed to let each other touch them to see what they felt like."

Ash looked from Wrex to Garrus several times. "That's weirder than if you had just been groping her."

"It's not that weird!" Garrus complained, though he knew it was. "You're both being childish."

They were both laughing by that point, but Ash stopped herself. "You're right, I'm sorry, Garrus. It is weird though." She hesitated a moment and then, with a look of complete seriousness, said, "Can I see what it looks like?"

"What? Excuse me?" Garrus was taken aback.

"Your cowl…and the plates, not like…not it." She said, with additional meaning added by her emphasis. His mind had immediately gone to that, not his cowl.

"Oh fine, whatever. Turians aren't embarrassed by nudity," Garrus groaned, unzipping his suit and stepping out of his clothes.

"Krogan aren't either if you want to see my quad," Wrex offered.

"Pass," Ash held up her hand.

Garrus stood in front of them, completely naked. There was nothing inherently embarrassing about it, all of his parts were safely enclosed behind his plating, but he still felt awkward wearing only his gloves.

"Weird," Ash's eyes roved up and down his body, so foreign to her.

"Thanks," he replied bitingly.

"Sorry, I don't mean…it's just so different."

Garrus supposed a naked human body would probably be less foreign to him than his body was to her, having seen naked asari before. He guessed the general idea was fairly similar.

"Er…am I…interrupting something?" Tali had emerged from the engineering room. She stood staring at Garrus.

He hurried to pull his clothes back on, though Tali, of all the crew members, would probably be the most understanding considering she was also a dextro. Wrex let out an enormous laugh and Ash flushed red.

"Ash didn't know dextros have," Garrus explained, zipping his suit back up.

"Whatever you say," Tali said, a note of laughter in her voice.

Garrus huffed and stomped petulantly over to his cot. He had anticipated a bit of lighthearted ribbing from Wrex, but he hadn't expected to be standing naked in front of half of the squad.

"I was only joking around," Wrex said after a few minutes of stony silence on Garrus' part.

Garrus softened up a bit. "It's fine. I know." He pulled out some of the calibration equipment he bought from his bag. "I'm going to get back to work on the mako."

His acknowledgement of Wrex's apology seemed to clear any tension in the air. He just hoped Wrex wouldn't bring up the awkward scene in his apartment again.

Shepard paced the length of the observation deck nervously, her stomach in knots. The Normandy had begun its journey to Noveria, and she had asked Kaidan to meet her up on the deck when he had a spare moment. She was taking Garrus' advice and hoping to nip the situation in the bud.

She had been nervous like this before big battles, but never with men. She wasn't the most emotional person, however, and discussing actual romantic feelings was something she usually avoided. She was absolutely dreading the awkward conversation she knew she had to have with Kaidan, but it would only be worse the longer she waited. And she was a commander, after all; it was her duty to be straight with her crew members.

The elevator chirped and Shepard stopped in her tracks. Her heart was pounding in her ears. Why was she so nervous? Was it because she did genuinely care about Kaidan as a friend and fellow officer? Maybe that was it. She didn't want to have to hurt his feelings. But he was a soldier, surely he would understand…she would have to frame it that way.

The doors opened and Kaidan stepped out, beaming at the her. The poor bastard didn't have a clue. In fact, he probably thought she'd called him up here to confess her feelings. Maybe she wasn't giving him enough credit though, she had stayed behind with Garrus when he'd gone to dance at the bar. Was that a strong enough signal? She was skeptical even as she thought it.

"Shepard, what's up?" he asked, sitting down next to where she stood.

She paced in front of him and sighed. "Look, Kaidan, this isn't easy."

The smile slowly slid off his face. "Is something wrong?"

She forced herself to stop pacing, occupying her nervousness by wringing her hands. "We've known each other a long time, Kaidan. And I hope you know that I consider you a friend. And that's…it's really saying a lot because, you know, I have a hard time really connecting with a lot of people. But I mean we've been through a lot together…" She hated when other people rambled, so why was she doing it now? It was clear the line of a relationship that was too personal had already been crossed.

"Shepard," Kaidan interrupted her. "Just say what you have to say."

She took a deep breath. "I know that you have feelings for me, Kaidan."

"Oh," he exhaled slowly. "Okay…well…I admit it. If this is about the other night at Purgatory, it'd be great if you could just forget anything I said or did…we were both drunk. It's true, I…I'm attracted to you, Shepard. You're brave and confident and I find that really appealing. It's kind of surprising to see you acting so nervous. I probably would have just kept my feelings to myself though, if you hadn't said anything."

Some of the nervousness began to ebb. This was just a frank discussion with an old friend. For some reason, she hadn't expected Kaidan to take it so well. She had just been picturing those big eyes of his ripping her heart in two.

She sat down next to the lieutenant and spoke again.

"You're a great guy, Kaidan. I don't want to spout off a bunch of platitudes about how it's not you, it's me, or whatever. I just want to be honest with you about things. I don't feel the same way about you as you feel about me. I wish I did. I should. You're a handsome man, smart, funny, probably the nicest person I know. I just…can't change how I feel."

Kaidan surprised her by grabbing her hand and squeezing it. "Forgive me for the insubordination for a moment, Shepard. It's okay that you don't feel the same way. I kind of figured you didn't. I haven't been dropping hints, but I know sometimes I'm maybe not subtle about how I feel. Ash even asked me the other day if I was interested in you. I lied and said I wasn't. But I'm a grown man, Shep, I've been rejected before. It's really okay." He let go of her hand and smiled, though she could see a little bit of hurt in his eyes. It never felt good to be rejected.

"I'm glad you're being so understanding," she told him. "I guess I was nervous because I do care about you, as a friend. I didn't want to hurt your feelings, but I also didn't want things to progress and…" she shrugged. "I was worried maybe I was leading you on in some way?"

"How?" he cocked his head. "By being nice to me? By being my friend? I can tell the difference between flirting and being a good friend, Shepard."

She laughed. "It sounds stupid, now that I've said it out loud."

"It's not stupid. It's nice that you care and that you didn't want to hurt me. I would hate for this to come between us. I know you've never been very open about who you are or your past, but that's okay. Some of us are more comfortable with talking about that kind of thing than others. And…I mean, it goes without saying that it's okay if there's someone else, too."

"Someone else?" Shepard was confused by the statement.

"I just mean…if there's someone you're interested in, it's not going to upset me if you wanted to pursue that. Not that I'm exactly rooting for that to happen, but don't feel like you have to hide it on my account."

"There's nobody," Shepard assured him. She sometimes wished there was someone, even just a friend with benefits would be nice to have with so much time spent away from dock. If she had been a cruel person, she could even have seen herself with Kaidan in that circumstance, though never romantically. But she wasn't that kind of person and there wasn't anyone else. She wondered what he might be alluding to.

"Okay," he nodded, but didn't seem convinced.

"Do you think there's someone?"

He shook his head. "Forget I said anything. I was probably reading into things too much." He stood up and patted her back. "Thanks for the talk, Shepard. I'm glad we could air things out and be mature about it."

He started to walk away and she turned and called to him. "Kaidan!"

He stopped halfway to the elevator. "Yeah?"

"I'm not just saying this. You're the best lieutenant a commander could hope for. I really mean that."

He smiled, "Thanks, Shep."

Chapter Text

Noveria came into view one relay jump, and two days, after the Normandy had departed from the Citadel. It was a shimmering blue and white mass, revealing what kind of frozen wasteland awaited them when they landed at the port.

Garrus was shivering already as he stared down at the planet, growing larger as they moved closer and closer to entering its atmosphere. Turians were not built for the cold. They had evolved under the harsh Palaven sun, with bodies made to expel heat quickly: a recipe for hypothermia on a planet like Noveria. He had expressed his concerns to anyone who would listen, though Shepard and Wrex bore the brunt of his complaints. He had met with Shepard the night before on the observation deck, a late-night chat when neither of them could sleep. He must have mentioned at least twenty times how concerned about the cold he was. Shepard had assured them they would be fine.

Liara had joined them after nearly an hour of talking up on the deck. She was also having trouble sleeping, and difficulty adjusting to life on an Alliance vessel. One of the crew members had made a pass at her and she had thrown him against the wall with her biotics. She confessed this to Shepard, worried she might be reprimanded by the commander, but Shepard only laughed and commended her for defending herself. After that, Liara opened up a little more. By the end of the night, the three of them were swapping jokes and laughing like old friends.

They hadn't found a lot of information in the Citadel museum, it turned out, but Liara had found a copy of an old Prothean text. She was reaching out to people over the extranet to try and help interpret it, hoping for some clue as to what the conduit was.

As Garrus stood watching their approach to Noveria, thinking about the previous night, Shepard's voice came over the intercom.

"Ground squad, be ready by the airlock in ten. Coming in for landing at Port Hanshan." she cut out for a minute and then he heard her voice coming from his comm link. "Garrus, stop by my cabin before you head to the bridge."

"Uh, Shepard?"

"Just come by. It'll only take a minute."

He climbed the ladder down to the medical bay, curious as to why Shepard wanted him to come to her cabin. It seemed like an intensely private place. Nobody ever went in there besides the commander. It felt almost like a violation of privacy.

Crossing the crew quarters, he knocked on her door and waited.

"Come in, it's unlocked," her voice called from inside.

He walked in to find her pulling her armor on over a thick woolen sweater. Some black clothing was laid out on the small bed. Her cabin wasn't very large, and sparsely decorated. It looked like it belonged to an Alliance officer.

"Hey," she greeted him, crossing the room to her bed and picking up the black clothing. "Dr. Chakwas has an automatic knitting loom, so I asked her if she could make you a sweater for Noveria," she held out the thickly knit item.

Garrus took it and examined it. It was perfectly designed for his proportions. It even had a small space at the top to cover his cowl. "Shepard…"

"You can wear it under your armor," she suggested. "Go on, try it on."

He pulled the sweater over his head, worried he would snag it on his fringe and rip it. Carefully, he managed to get it over his head and onto his body. It fit comfortably, and the effect it had on trapping his body heat was immediately noticeable.

"You didn't have to do this for me," he insisted.

"Well, you made it seem like I did. You wouldn't shut up about how cold it was going to be. Now you'll be warm. Or at least a little warmer than if you didn't have it. Go get your armor on and meet us by the bridge."

"Thank you, Shepard."

"Yeah, yeah," she waved her hand dismissively and took off for the stairs.

He moved down to the cargo bay to find everyone had already left for the bridge. He pulled his armor on and grabbed his guns and hurried up to meet the rest of the crew.

"You should start charging people money to see this freak show, Shepard," Garrus heard Wrex saying as he approached the squad near the airlock.

"I'd have to give them money to look at your ugly mug," Shepard shot back.

"Some krogan would tear your head off for saying something like that."

"You'd be damn stupid to try."

"Heh," Wrex laughed. "You carried me by yourself through a dark cave during an earthquake. I wouldn't take you on single handed if you paid me. But you didn't hear me say that."

"Of course not."

"Garrus," Liara greeted the turian. "I see you've been adequately prepared for Noveria's cool climate."

"Cool is a bit of a lax term for frozen hellscape," Garrus replied.

"Uh, commander," Joker interrupted their conversation. "Traffic controller almost didn't let me dock. I had to pull Spectre authority on them. But you might want to be careful disembarking. They don't sound too excited to have us here."

"Thanks for the heads up, Joker."

The Normandy pulled into port and shook as the dock anchors clamped down. The group of them stepped into the airlock and, after a moment, the door flew open to reveal the brutal concrete architecture of the port.

Shepard led the way down the empty dock, her mismatched ground squad following along close behind. Even within the enclosed docks, Garrus could feel the cold penetrating his armor and clothing. He couldn't imagine why anyone would want to set up a colony here.

They came around the corner to the end of the docks to find their way blocked by two humans and a turian. They had guns drawn.

"Stay where you are," one of the humans said. She had a fair complexion, with dark hair further highlighting the pale tone of her skin.

"What's the meaning of this?" Shepard demanded. "I'm here on official business from the Council. I have Spectre authority."

"She's lying ma'am," the other human spoke, a stocky blonde. "There are no human Spectres."

"Might want to check the extranet on that one," Shepard replied coolly.

"Regardless of your status, there are no weapons allowed at Port Hanshan. You'll have to surrender them if you want to proceed."

"That's not going to happen," Wrex drew his gun.

Garrus swore under his breath. Stupid impulsive krogan.

The officers barring their way also drew their weapons, which then led the rest of the squad to draw theirs. They remained there, stuck in a standoff, no one firing, but plenty of fingers itching to pull the trigger. Garrus thought the turian guard might fire, eyeing his hold on his gun through his visor, but a voice came over the intercom before anyone could fire.

"Captain Matsuo! Stand down!" A woman's voice sounded. "We have confirmed Spectre authority. Spectres are authorized to carry weapons here. Let commander Shepard and her crew pass."

The humans looked put out by the news. Captain Matsuo, the woman with the fair skin and dark hair, folded her arms across her chest. "You can head inside. Gianna Parasini will meet you at the front desk. I hope the rest of your stay here will be less…confrontational."

The turian spoke up, "There's way too many of them. This is a high security port. We can't have half the galaxy tramping around. Pick two or three of them to come with you and send the rest back to your ship."

Garrus silently hoped Shepard would send him back. Part of him wanted to stay and be part of the action, see what the geth interference was about, but he was already feeling so cold that he thought he would just as well rather go back to the Normandy.

Unfortunately, Shepard had other plans.

"Fine, I can agree to that. Garrus, Liara, Tali, you're with me. I need your skill-sets. The rest of you head back to the Normandy and keep me updated if status changes."

Ash and Kaidan saluted. "Commander."

"Fine," Wrex grumbled. "I didn't want to hear Garrus complain about the cold the whole time anyway."

The three of them headed back to the ship while the four remaining squad members proceeded through the gates into the port facility. Inside, they were greeted to more brutalist architecture, which made the whole 'frozen planet' affair all the more depressing to Garrus. He would have thought they might build the facility out of something with a bit more heat-retaining capability than solid blocks of concrete.

Up a set of stairs, they were greeted at the front desk by the sound of alarms going off. A woman with a tight bun and a tighter red dress stepped out from behind the desk and shut the alarm off.

"Sorry about that," she said. "Weapons detectors. You must be commander Shepard. I've heard a lot about you, what with being the first human Spectre and all."

Shepard pursed her lips and said nothing. Typical Shepard-level compliment deflection. The woman behind the desk shifted uncomfortably.

"Well, I'm Gianna Parasini. I'm the assistant to the port chief, Administrator Anoleis. Let me know if you have any questions during your stay on Port Hanshan. Most areas are accessible to all guests, but I'm afraid you'll have to get permission from the administrator to leave the port."

"Have there been any…unexpected or unusual visitors?" Shepard asked. It was a good way to gauge geth presence without causing alarm. Asking if any geth had been there point blank would probably not be well-received. And if anyone was working with Saren, it would set off a lot of alarms (or more than Shepard already had simply by showing up).

Gianna tried to parse out Shepard's meaning. She eyed Liara unsurely as she spoke, "We did have an asari matriarch come through. She left for the Peak 15 research complex a few days ago however. She had quite an entourage of asari with her."

Liara bristled visibly besides Garrus. "What was her name?" she asked.

"Benezia, I believe."

Running into Matriarch Benezia was wholly unexpected, but a good sign as far as Garrus was concerned. If Benezia was here, they might be able to get information on Saren's whereabouts from her. At the same time, an asari matriarch with an entourage of commandos was no easy fight.

"We'll need to speak with the matriarch," Shepard said quickly.

"As I said, you'll have to get permission from Administrator Anoleis to leave the port. I can meet you at his office if you're interested in talking to him. It's just upstairs," Gianna said.

"Great, we'll meet you there, thank you," Shepard nodded.

Gianna took off through a door behind the desk. Shepard turned to Liara.

"Are you all right?" She asked, eyebrows furrowing with concern.

Liara looked taken aback. "You aren't going to question me about her presence here?"

"What? No. I trust you, Liara. You may not have been part of the crew for very long, but you proved yourself in battle on Therum and I think after our time on the Citadel and our conversation last night, you've earned my trust. I was just concerned about how you might feel knowing your mother's here."

Liara looked like she might cry, whether out of happiness or sadness, Garrus couldn't really tell.

"I…I am fine, thank you, Shepard. Your trust in me means a great deal."

Shepard clapped a hand on the asari's shoulder. "You're part of the team now, Liara. But I want you to know, if it comes down to it, we may have to face your mother in battle. Is that something you can handle?"

Liara nodded, though she seemed unsure of herself. "Yes, I am prepared to do what I must."

"All right, then let's head up and see about getting out to the research complex."

They followed Shepard, into an elevator and up to the next floor. The elevator opened onto an enormous room, with high ceilings and several alcoves where people sat chatting or turian guards stood at the ready. Garrus was surprised to see the place stocked with turians. Were they all as cold as he was?

On the far side of the massive room, there was another elevator, and a few hallways leading to unseen places. A line of thick glass windows along the far wall allowed a view of the torrential blizzard outside. Shepard examined a directory on her omni-tool and headed to the left, where the administrator's office was located.

Inside, Gianna was already seated behind a great stone desk with a wall behind it and openings on either side leading to the office behind. She looked up at their arrival. "Administrator Anoleis will see you, but only you, commander. Your companions will have to wait out here in reception."

"I don't like that, Shepard," Garrus said.

"It's fine. I got along okay without you guys before, I think I can handle a few minutes in an office with a port chief," she laughed and headed around the desk to Anoleis' office.

Tali and Liara took a seat on uncomfortable looking stone benches next to the desk. Garrus paced, partially out of concern for Shepard, and partially because he was so damn cold.

"Quarians are from an arid planet. You're not cold, Tali?" He asked.

"Our enviro-suits have self-regulating thermostats," she replied. "I'm quite comfortable, actually."

"I am not cold either," Liara said before Garrus could ask. "I purchased clothing on the Citadel for a variety of climates. I bought a thermo-suit on the Presidium. You should have seen if they had suits in a turian build."

'Should have,' Garrus thought bitterly. He'd been too preoccupied with getting laid to think about preparing for the stupid frozen wasteland planet they were headed to. He rarely made such idiotic mistakes. Thermo-suits were fairly new technology, in his defense, but it was probably how the other turians were staying warm.

"I don't suppose you sell thermo-suits here?" Garrus asked Gianna.

The woman frowned. "No. The hotel gift shop may have scarves and hats for sale, though."

A scarf would not take the chill out of Garrus' body. He continued to pace unhappily. The sooner they got to this research facility and found Matriarch Benezia, the sooner they could leave this planet for good.

Shepard emerged from the office a few moments later with a look that could kill.

"It went well, I see," Garrus said.

"That bastard dodged half my questions, berated me for wasting his time, and said even if he could give us access to Peak 15, which he can't because it's a private research facility, he wouldn't because all of the shuttles are grounded due to the blizzard. But he confirmed Benezia's presence. And told me that she's here acting as Saren's executor for an investment account he has as a shareholder in Binary Helix."

"Interesting," Tali said. "Binary Helix develops weapons, among other things. Perhaps Saren is having them develop new weapons for him."

Gianna cleared her throat and they all turned to look at her.

"The administrator isn't the only one with a garage pass out of the port," She said meaningfully.

The squad stepped closer to the desk. "I'm listening," Shepard said.

Gianna lowered her voice, "All I can say is, talk to Lorik Qui'in. He'll likely be at the hotel bar. I can't say more than that within earshot of the administrator."

Shepard thanked her, and they quickly headed back out into the main chamber, following the directory across the room to the elevator, which led up to the hotel bar.

"I'm surprised I haven't heard you complain about the cold yet, Garrus," Shepard said as they stood waiting for the elevator to reach its destination.

"He complained while you were gone," Tali ratted him out.

"Trying to seem brave for the commander, very noble," Liara laughed.

"None of you have physiology built for expelling heat!" Garrus complained.

Shepard grinned and patted his shoulder. "It's all right, Garrus. You're being so brave," she put on a voice humans often reserved for speaking to children.

"Thank you for patronizing me, Shepard."

She punched his shoulder playfully and turned to exit the elevator as it reached its stop.

The hotel bar might as well have been a night club on the Citadel. A few scattered tables and chairs had been placed around the large, open room, but most of it was occupied by a dance floor where businessmen and women were dancing along to the thumping music blaring from the speakers.

"We're a bit…conspicuous," Garrus noted.

The four of them standing at the entrance to the bar in full armor with guns strapped to their backs was hard to pass off as subtle.

"Yeah, so much for a cover," Tali muttered.

Shepard ignored them and headed for the bar. They trailed behind, taking in the crowd and looking for any potential threats. Shepard spoke to the bartender while they waited.

"See anyone suspicious?" Garrus asked.

"You mean apart from the four aliens with guns and heavy armor?" Tali snorted.

"Yes, apart from us," Garrus replied dryly.

He had spotted three potential suspicious candidates already. A businessman in a suit stood shifting nervously by a table near the bar, an asari near the entrance seemed to be on the lookout for someone, and an old turian near the far wall had been eyeing them since they walked in, though, in his defense, there were others who had done a double-take on their entry.

Shepard finished her conversation with the bartender and turned back to her squad. "The bartender says the old turian over there is Lorik Qui'in. Let's go have a chat with him."

They moved back across the room, still getting wary looks as they passed. Lorik Qui'in sat sipping a drink, and didn't flinch on their approach. He was older, probably in his fifties or sixties, with white clan markings all around his face and up the center of his fringe. Shepard helped herself to a chair at his table, as did Garrus. Tali and Liara stood with their backs to them, keeping an eye on the crowd and listening intently.

The old turian stared at Shepard and Garrus for a moment before he spoke. "You must be the fancy human Spectre that just came into port. What could an old turian like me possibly do for you?"

"Word gets around fast here, doesn't it?" Shepard asked.

"Sure. The guns and armor don't help you blend in either. Interesting group you've got tagging along with you. You could start an inter-species commune."

"Let's cut the shit," Shepard said. "I need a pass to get out of this port and Parasini says you can help me with that."

"Maybe I can," the turian said, sipping his drink slowly. "But it'll come at a price. I'm the manager of the local Synthetic Insights office…for now. Mr. Anoleis closed my office claiming to be investigating reports of my corruption. Anoleis is…an interesting man. He's become quite wealthy since he took direct control of rents."

"Get to the point," Garrus said.

"Ah, your pet can speak for himself," the turian smiled at Shepard. "The point is that Anoleis is demanding rent kickbacks from the companies on Noveria. I acquired evidence of this. Anoleis' hired goons are ransacking my office, probably as we speak, looking for the evidence."

"You want me to get to the evidence before Anoleis does," Shepard filled in the rest.

"If you can return the evidence to me, I will give you my garage pass, as well as a sum of credits. Some of the security officers are working for Anoleis under the table, so you may encounter them. Captain Matsuo is unaware of their outside employment, but they may need to be dealt with."

Shepard and Garrus exchanged a look. "If it will get us a garage pass, we'll help you," she told Qui'in.

"Excellent," he pulled a key card and an OSD from his pocket. "This key will get you into my offices. The OSD has a special encryption to access the evidence on my computer. Bring it back to me as soon as you have it. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty."

Shepard laughed. "I'm a Spectre, I'm never afraid to get my hands dirty."

Chapter Text

Lorik Qui'in's warning about the security guards proved to be helpful. Nearly as soon as Shepard and her squad stepped out of the elevator into the Synthetic Insights office, they were met with gunfire clipping their shields.

Liara thought fast and cast a barrier around them, while Tali and Shepard overloaded the nearby shooters' weapons. That bought them the time to duck under cover and prepare to fight back. Compared to the geth, a few hired mercenaries seemed like child's play. Shepard didn't like unnecessary bloodshed, but the guards had fired on them first. They had little choice but to fight back, as ruthlessly as necessary.

They took out three of the mercenaries quickly, then Garrus called for them to move to new cover, closer to the remaining thugs. Between the four of them, they made quick work of Anoleis' hired goons, and hurried up the stairs to Lorik Qui'in's office.

The Synthetic Insights office was as drab and cold as the rest of the building seemed to be. Despite the protection the concrete structure provided from the blizzard outside, it was still uncomfortably cold inside the building. As much as Shepard had ribbed Garrus for complaining about it, the cold was already beginning to get on her last nerve.

As Qui'in had promised, the evidence on Anoleis was stored in his terminal, and the OSD provided quick access.

"Not to jinx things," Garrus said, "But that was a lot faster than I anticipated."

"We aren't out of the woods yet," Shepard warned, pocketing the OSD with the data. "We've still got to get this back to Lorik Qui'in. And there's also still a chance that he won't follow through on his word."

She was apprehensive of any task that came easy, and this one had seemed easy enough. With the data gathered, she led the squad out of the office and toward the exit. She saw the security officers at the same time that Garrus drew his gun. The blonde who had accosted them at the docking bay was barring their exit, flanked by two guards with their weapons drawn.

"Commander Shepard," the gruff blonde guard spoke. "I don't think you're supposed to be here."

"Funny," Garrus said. "I could say the same of you. I wonder what Captain Matsuo would think if she knew her guards were taking bribes from Anoleis under the table."

"Good thing she's not going to find out," the blonde drew her gun.

Before anyone could fire, Liara had used her biotics to throw the two guards behind the blonde against the wall. Shepard dove at the blonde, knocking her into the ground and struggling to grab her weapon from her. She received a stiff punch in the eye, which she returned by slamming the guard's head into the concrete floor. This knocked the guard unconscious, which gave Shepard the time to use the guard's own handcuffs to secure her arms behind her back.

"She'll have a hard time getting anyone to believe her story when she wakes up," Shepard said, shoving the blonde in a corner and pushing herself to her feet.

Garrus shouldered his gun and walked over to her. He surprised her by grabbing her chin and examining her eye, which was rapidly swelling shut from the punch she'd received from the blonde. Medi-gel wouldn't help that, unfortunately. She would need to ice it, and it was going to affect her aim. She hadn't had a shiner since her days in the academy.

"She got you pretty good," Garrus said. "You need to get ice on that soon. Good thing this planet seems to have an abundance of it." He let go of her chin and approached the exit elevator. "Let's get out of here before anyone else shows up."

"Hey," Shepard complained. "I thought I was the one calling the shots."

"Thought being the operative word," Garrus replied.

"I feel sorry for whoever encounters this mess tomorrow," Tali said, observing the dead and unconscious bodies littering the office.

"I have a feeling this is nothing compared to what's in store," Liara sighed.

Qui'in's data successfully obtained, the group of them headed back up to the hotel bar, still full of drunken guests writhing on the dance floor. Lorik Qui'in hadn't moved from his spot at the table near the wall, and they crossed the room to meet him. Unfortunately for Shepard, they were intercepted along the way by Gianna Parasini.

"Commander, I think it's time I reintroduce myself," she greeted them.

"Excuse me?" Shepard folded her arms across her chest.

"Gianna Parasini, Noveria Internal Affairs. I've been working undercover for six months trying to gather enough evidence of Anoleis' corruption to put him behind bars. I know the data on Qui'in's OSD could do just that."

"Internal Affairs, huh? You had me fooled. What am I supposed to do about it? The data belongs to Qui'in. I'm not going to just hand it over to Anoleis' secretary on the off-chance that she's telling me the truth about being an undercover agent," Shepard said.

"I understand not trusting me. Qui'in won't trust me either. That's why I need you to convince him to testify against Anoleis in court."

"Now we're running errands for half of Noveria," Garrus muttered.

"We may be here for other purposes, but rooting out the cause of the problems here certainly couldn't hurt anything. We already have the data, after all," Liara offered.

Shepard knew Liara was right, but she was annoyed at being strung up in the middle of this corruption scandal just so she could get a garage pass to get out to the research station.

"I need Lorik Qui'in's garage pass," Shepard told Parasini. "If you can offer me a pass, then I'll try to convince him to talk."

Parasini laughed. "A garage pass is no problem. I'll even throw in a free room at the hotel. Even with a pass, you can't go out in this blizzard. There are no guard rails on the roads out to Peak 15. You don't look like you can do much shooting with that eye either. Stay the night and head out in the morning when the blizzard has subsided somewhat. But only if Qui'in talks."

"She's right Shepard, you can't fight with that black eye," Tali said.

"All right, I'll try to get him to talk." She shook Parasini's hand.

"Oh good," Garrus groaned. "An extra day on this frozen garbage heap."

Shepard rolled her eyes and led the squad away from Parasini, who waited patiently by the bar for any word on Qui'in.

The turian watched them approach, sipping his drink silently.

"Commander, you're looking a little worse for the wear," he greeted them.

Shepard's eye had fully swollen shut by this point and it was absolutely throbbing. But she wasn't going to let anyone know that. She had certainly suffered through worse wounds, the countless scars decorating her body were evidence of that.

She pulled the OSD from her pocket and held onto it. "We got the data."

Qui'in held out his hand. "I hope it wasn't too much trouble."

Shepard withdrew the OSD and held her hand under the table. "I'm afraid I can't give it to you just yet. I met with an Internal Affairs agent who wants you to testify against Anoleis. This evidence could put him away and the agent wants you to help."

The turian sneered. "Blackmail? I should have gotten the evidence myself. I'm not interested in a public spectacle."

"Just interested in blackmailing Anoleis yourself?" Garrus asked.

"You would be compensated for your time," Shepard said. "And it would take care of some of the issues you've been having if Anoleis were removed from his role."

Qui'in seemed to mull it over as he stared at his drink. "I suppose I won't be getting my data back otherwise. And I'm not interested in trying to fight a Spectre and her trained pets to try and take it by force. Very well, I'll testify. Tell me what needs to be done."

Another task that seemed too easy to Shepard. She would take any wins she could get though. They would likely be facing off with an asari Matriarch before their stay on Noveria was through, so she needed the ego boost. She was beginning to realize what kind of weight Spectre status carried now. A turian with years of experience on her might have chanced a brawl with some unknown Alliance officer, but a Council Spectre was a whole different beast.

"Someone from Internal Affairs will be in touch. I'll be passing the OSD along to them in the meantime. Thanks for cooperating," Shepard nodded and stood up from the table.

"As though I had a choice."

They left the turian to nurse his drink and found Parasini tucked away in the shadows at the side of the bar. They delivered the news, somewhat to her surprise it seemed, and she followed up on her end of the bargain, providing them with a garage access pass and a hotel room key.

They parted ways there and Shepard turned to the squad.

"The less of us these people see the better. We already stick out like sore thumbs. Let's head up to the room and see what kind of room service options this place has got."

"I assume you're buying," Tali said.

"I'll charge it to the Council," Shepard grinned in response.

The entrance to the hotel was up a set of stairs behind the bar and up yet another elevator to the next level of the port. The elevator opened into a lobby filled with modern art that matched the brutalist style of the building's architecture. Two ice sculptures of asari stood on either side of the concierge desk.

"Now they're just flaunting the temperature," Garrus growled, mandibles flaring.

Shepard checked them in and they were sent up three more levels, where the elevator opened out into a long hallway filled with doors. They had to walk all the way to the end to find their room, but it was well worth the walk, and worth the short talk with Qui'in that had earned them the stay.

The room was one massive chamber, rounded into a half circle, with floor-to-ceiling windows allowing a view of the white-out conditions outside. In the center of the room was a large bed with downy pillows and a thick, fluffy comforter to provide warmth. A sectional sofa sat to the left of the bed, around a 3D vid projector, a fully stocked minibar at the end of the sofa. A fireplace was built into the wall opposite the bed, already burning bright. Finally, to their immediate right upon entering, a private bathroom housed a tub large enough to fit two krogan next to a shower that was equally accommodating.

"I guess being a Spectre has its perks," Garrus noted, pulling his guns from his back and setting them by the sofa.

Tali rushed to the window and stood with her mask pressed against it. "It's amazing. I've never seen it in person before."

"Snow?" Shepard asked.

"Yes, it's beautiful. It was harder to see down in the main chamber, but up close…"

"Beautiful?" Garrus snorted in derision. "Cold. And dangerous. Avalanches can destroy whole settlements. To say nothing of how ice degrades buildings and vehicles."

"Let her enjoy it, Garrus," Shepard chided him. She tried to be understanding, the turian's physiology wasn't built to withstand this kind of cold and it was making him irritable, but he didn't need to take it out on the squad.

Liara sat down on the sofa and began reading from her omni-tool. Shepard walked over to her and leaned against the back of the sofa next to her.

"Are you sure you're all right, Liara? We might run into your mother tomorrow."

The asari looked up at her, deep blue eyes shimmering. For a moment, Shepard wondered if she might cry, but she only smiled. "I'm sure, Shepard. I do appreciate your concern. It's nice to have…someone who cares. I'm afraid I don't have many friends. I've spent so much of my life studying that I…I have neglected my personal life."

"We haven't known each other long, but we'll be your friends, Liara," Shepard assured her. "If you need to step out of the battle, any of them, just do it. Call out and one of us will cover you. I don't want you to get yourself hurt because of emotions."

"Thank you, Shepard. I think I'll be okay, but if I need to take you up on that offer I will. I'm going to read up a bit on this research facility before we go to sleep. I don't mind sleeping on the couch. It seems there are blankets and other bedding supplies in the chest by the minibar."

"Let me know if you find anything worth noting." Shepard left her to read, realizing she probably wanted some time to be alone with her thoughts. She couldn't imagine having to face her own mother in battle. But she also didn't really know Liara's history with her mother.

When Shepard turned back toward the bed, it was to find Garrus bundled up under the many layers of blankets and the thick down-filled comforter. He had the blankets pulled up to his chin, glaring moodily out at the snow that Tali found so enrapturing.

"I hope you don't think you're staying there all night," Shepard folded her arms.

"What? Do you think you deserve this entire bed to yourself? I'm afraid I'm casting aside any politeness, Shepard. It's too damn cold to forfeit the bed to the commander."

"Maybe Tali wanted to sleep there," Shepard tried.

"My suit regulates my temperature," Tali replied, still glued to the window. "I'm fine to sleep on the sofa. There's plenty of room for Liara and me. You and Garrus are the tallest, you should share the bed."

"I suppose I can make room for you," Garrus said, "But you have to promise to keep your hands to yourself. As much as I know you might want it, we can't give in to our base desires with Tali and Liara in the same room."

Shepard rolled her eyes. "I'll try to control myself."

She began to pull off her armor, setting it in a pile next to Garrus' at the end of the bed.

"You should be glad you're sharing the bed with me, Shepard," the turian told her.

"Why's that?"

"Turians are excellent bed mates. You won't be cold at all the way my body puts off heat."

"If I have to spend all night listening to you complain about the cold, I'm kicking you out of bed," she warned.

"All right, all right," he grumbled.

Shepard grabbed some ice from the minibar and a washcloth from the bathroom and used it to sooth her aching eye while she examined the room service menu. She read some of the options out loud to the squad; the menu was almost too long to make a decision, with both dextro and levo options, so they ordered a bit of everything and had it sent up. Shepard didn't even have to charge it to the Council. It seemed Parasini had taken care of everything.

After they had gorged themselves on the food they'd ordered, Shepard even risking food poisoning to try a bit of dextro-chocolate, their fatigue seemed to hit them all at once. Liara remarked that she hadn't had such a good meal in ages, often relegated to eating whatever slim options were available at remote dig-sites. Tali, too, was used to the limited options aboard the flotilla. She had eaten more than any of them, though where she was able to put all of it was beyond Shepard.

Exhausted and full, the lights in the room were shut off, leaving only the crackling fireplace as they all laid down to get some rest. Shepard climbed under the covers next to Garrus and immediately realized what he'd meant about his body heat. He seemed to be made of fire. It made the bed cozy and comfortable, only adding to her drowsiness.

Military life necessitated sharing bunks with fellow officers sometimes; she had slept between Kaidan and Jenkins in their ratty old tent countless nights out on missions. She'd never slept next to a turian before though, and while she wasn't uncomfortable with the situation, there was something odd about it, beyond the obvious, that she couldn't place.

Shepard slept fitfully, on and off, until around midnight, when she awoke and couldn't force herself back to sleep. She lay on her side, watching the snow beat down intensely against the windows for a while, the thick barrier of glass didn't seem like much standing between her and a torrential blizzard.

Garrus was shivering next to her, the blankets bunched up tightly around him. She felt bad for him, especially because she was enjoying the warmth his body was losing so rapidly. In the field, at night on a cold planet, body heat was sometimes the only way to stay warm. She could recall at least one night, huddled against Jenkins in their underwear, two blankets their only protection against the cold. Alliance navy funds didn't quite cover the steep price of mass purchased thermo-suits for every single soldier. Would it be inappropriate of Shepard to offer Garrus some warmth from her body? She couldn't decide. There was something that made her hesitate.

"Garrus," she whispered softly.

His eyes fluttered open, bright and icy blue in the darkness of the room.

"Shepard? What is it?" he yawned.

"You're shivering."

"That's because I'm freezing."

"What do turians do on cold planets during military missions?" she ventured to ask him about it.

"We huddle up. It's the only way to stay warm."

"We do the same in the Alliance," she said.

They were silent for a moment, Garrus still visibly shivering, then Shepard decided there was no sense in overthinking something any military officer would do in such a situation. She sidled closer to Garrus beneath the sheets and pressed her body against his. His skin was incredibly warm against hers, even with his thick sweater between them.

"You don't have to," he said softly, the contented pitch of his subharmonics suggesting the opposite.

"I don't mind, if it helps."

He was still shaking a little, but not as badly as he had been. She pressed herself tightly against him and the shivering subsided entirely. Their faces were very close now, pressed together as they were. She could feel his hot breath against her neck.

"Shepard?" he asked.


"Can I ask you something?"


"Can you promise to never, ever take me back to this place ever again once we leave?"

She laughed. "I'll try not to."

They were silent for a while and Shepard wondered if Garrus had fallen back asleep, but then he spoke.


"Yes, Garrus?"

"Can I touch your hair again?"

She was surprised by the request. "What?"

"It's soft," he sounded almost childlike as he gave his explanation. "I wanted to get a better feel of it before but Wrex woke up and thought we were being weird."

"I guess if you really want to," she shrugged. She understood his curiosity. His cowl had been so intriguing, after all. And there were plenty of other turian parts, and parts of other species, that she'd always been intensely curious about; the first time she'd felt an asari's scalp ridges had been its own unique experience. And she still wondered what turian mandibles felt like. Or what quarians looked like behind their masks.

Garrus' hands snaked up between them and reached for the short red hair atop her head. His gloves were removed, to her surprise. She would have thought he would keep them on because of the cold. He continued to surprise her with how deftly and gently he minded his talons to keep them from scraping her skin. She found herself closing her eyes as his talons delicately combed through her hair. She'd always enjoyed the feeling of someone massaging her scalp.

"It's so unusual," Garrus remarked. "Is all human hair this soft?"

"No. Everyone's is different," she replied, eyes still closed. His hands roved over her head in fascination. "Babies have the softest hair."


He kept talking, and she responded with little affirmative noises, hardly paying attention, slowly drifting to sleep enveloped in his warmth with his hands running through her hair. She had the fleeting thought that their embrace, with his talons stroking her head, was much more like two lovers than two fellow officers, but the thought was muddled in her drowsy mind, and she forgot it before she fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Garrus awoke, to his surprise, to find his body pressed tightly against Shepard's, his arms wrapped around her, her back pressed into his chest, their legs entwined together. For a moment, he was struck by how comfortable it felt to lay like that, but just as quickly he was horrified that he'd been spooning with the commander. He respected her far too much to have her think he was…was what? He let go of her and sat up before he could think about it too long.

However they had ended up sleeping, he was still grateful for Shepard's body heat through the night, and moving away from her it was immediately noticeable how cold it was without that heat. He decided a hot shower might help, though he knew he'd only be colder as soon as he stepped out. The momentary reprieve from the cold seemed worth it for the time being.

He climbed out of bed and crossed the room, past Liara and Tali sleeping with their heads meeting at the corner of the sectional sofa, and stepped into the bathroom. It took him a few minutes, and a blast of cold water, to figure out the shower controls, but then he was greeted by a welcome stream of steaming hot water to warm his body.

He could have stayed there all day, letting the hot water scald his skin, but they had places to be. As he'd suspected, when he exited the shower, the wave of cold that hit him was more intense than anything he'd felt yesterday. He hurried to pull his clothes back on, then stepped back into the main room to pull on his armor, hoping it would help warm him up.

By then, Shepard and the others were awake, and pulling on their own armor in preparation for the journey ahead of them.

"How's the eye, Shepard?" he asked her.

She looked up from lacing her boots, "It feels great," she said, voice dripping with sarcasm.

The skin around her left eye was a deep purple, mottled and spreading as far as her nose. Still, it wasn't swollen shut anymore, and that was the difference between life and death in a shootout.

"As long as you can see," Garrus shrugged and pulled his armor off the floor, sealing it into place around him.

"Let's head out. The sooner we get to Peak 15, the better," Shepard said when everyone seemed prepared.

Garrus chanced a look out the window before they exited the hotel room. The snow was still falling pretty heavily, but it wasn't white-out conditions anymore. He'd be grateful for the close quarters of the mako on the drive out to the research facility, something he never thought he'd enjoy.

It was still early, and when they reached the main chamber of the port, it was far emptier than it had been the day before. They made their way down the winding steps and platforms that made up the main chamber, across the room and down a hallway, where a turian guard stood blocking entrance to the garage.

"Restricted access only," the turian growled.

Shepard flashed the garage pass and the guard stepped aside, though he didn't seem happy to do so. Garrus supposed standing around holding a gun and never firing it would make for a very boring life.

The mako was waiting for them in the garage, unloaded while they slept, on Shepard's orders. Liara eyed the vehicle unsurely as they approached. She had been down to the cargo bay once on the way back from Therum, and had commented then that it seemed too small and old to comfortably and safely transport their squad. She hadn't been wrong, but Garrus had at least made some upgrades that made it marginally safer.

Shepard climbed deftly up the side of the vehicle and opened the hatch to allow them entrance. Garrus leaped up into the front passenger seat and began readying the turret and boosters.

"You're sure this is safe? These sorts of vehicles haven't been used by asari in…some time…" Liara asked as Shepard helped her into the cabin.

Tali climbed in after them and shut the hatch. "The vehicle has strong shields," she told Liara. "But it definitely needs some improvements. Still, we're with Shepard, so I think we'll be okay."

"I finally got that new heat sink installed," Garrus told Shepard as she joined him at the front of the mako. She started up the engine and the massive vehicle cranked to life.

"Good. Who knows what we'll run into out in that storm?"

She guided the mako slowly out of the colossal garage, winding around other parked vehicles, including some expensive sky cars that could have easily been crushed under the mako's weight if Shepard wasn't careful.

Outside, it was a sea of blinding white. Shepard adjusted the white point on the windshield to make the road easier to see, though visibility was always low looking out the front of a mako. A narrow, unpaved path led around twists and turns, up the mountain and ostensibly to the research facility. As they had been promised, no guard rail stood to prevent their untimely demise down the side of the cliff. Garrus wasn't entirely sure the road was wide enough to accommodate the mako, but as Shepard moved the vehicle forward, it proved to fit, if barely.

Tali hovered behind them, watching the radar with interest, but Liara sat pressed to her seat with a seatbelt strapping her into it.

"Are you going to stand the whole time, Tali?" she asked.

"Yes. I want to be ready if geth show up. We weren't prepared on Therum."

"Radar's clear so far," Garrus noted. "Let's hope the geth don't jam it."

Shepard steered the mako slowly and cautiously along the winding mountain path. Garrus kept moving his view from the radar to her, watching her bite her lip around a particularly narrow curve, never breaking a sweat, brown eyes glowing in the light from the radar screen. For a moment, he forgot to watch the radar.

"I can't believe we haven't seen any geth yet," Tali said after some time.

Garrus' eyes flitted quickly away from Shepard to the radar. It was still silent, warning of nothing in their immediate vicinity.

"I'm sure they'll be plenty of them waiting for us at the research facility. If Benezia is really working with Saren, the geth are likely helping her as well."

"I didn't think I'd say this," Liara spoke up, "But I kind of wish we had Wrex with us."

"He is a brick shithouse in battle," Shepard agreed. "Tali's skills will be more useful against the geth than Wrex's brute strength, though. And you're a powerful biotic, Liara."

"All asari have biotic ability. I haven't particularly honed my skills…I hope what I can do will be sufficient. My mother is very powerful, though. Far more powerful than I could ever hope to be."

"Visuals ahead," Garrus interrupted them.

Through the narrow windshield, a burning vehicle was slowly coming into view. As they drew closer, he could see that the vehicle had exploded, rammed into the door of the Peak 15 garage. A manual entrance to the side was luckily unscathed.

Shepard drew the mako to a halt a safe distance from the fire and opened up the side hatch. Garrus had been enjoying the relatively warm interior of the vehicle, but the gust of frigid air that blew in at them when she opened the hatch quickly ruined any happiness he'd been feeling.

It was a mercifully quick walk to the manual garage entrance, and inside the temperature was at least as bearable as it had been at Port Hanshan, which wasn't saying a lot.

The squad moved in formation without direction from Shepard, like a well-oiled machine despite their limited experience fighting together. Garrus took Shepard's six, while Tali and Liara flanked her at her three and nine. They passed through a small antechamber and into the main garage.

Garrus had his back to Shepard now, scanning the room. A few sky cars and shuttles were parked, but otherwise the room offered little protection. Garrus checked the radar on his omni-tool and saw the red dots moving in at the same time Shepard yelled,

"Geth incoming!"

She ducked behind one of the sky cars and Garrus moved for cover across the room. Liara followed him, leaping quickly behind a sky car and moving into action without hesitation. She peered around the side of the car and threw two geth across the room with a mass effect field before drawing her gun and firing. She wasn't the best shot, but she managed a few hits on their shields between misses.

Garrus lined up a shot in his scope and blew a bullet through the chest of an approaching geth trooper. It fell in a heap and he moved on to the next target. Tali was overloading as many geth as she could before her omni-tool required a cooldown, and Shepard was matching Garrus shot for shot from the other side of the room.

"Liara," Garrus said, ducking back behind the car and reloading a thermal clip. "Remind me to give you a shooting lesson next time we've got some down time."

"What are you trying to say, Garrus?" Liara tossed a geth that was approaching too quickly for comfort. "You think I'm not a good shot?"

Garrus fired at a massive geth juggernaut making its way down the middle of the room. "I'm saying you shouldn't quit your day job."

Liara laughed and fired off a series of shots from her handgun. Three of them clipped the juggernaut, two of them missed.

The juggernaut retaliated, clipping both of their shields, but thankfully not knocking them out. Garrus was about to fire off another shot when the juggernaut simply exploded in the center of the room, taking out the only two other remaining geth with it. A celebratory cheer could be heard from Tali across the room.

Garrus double checked his radar before he stepped out of cover. "All clear, Shepard."

"Well, we were bound to run into the geth eventually. Great work, guys."

Tali went about scavenging the dead geth for parts as they moved through the garage to a set of stairs on the other side.

"User alert," a female voice sounded over the facility's speaker system. "All Peak 15 facilities have suffered a great deal of damage. Biohazard materials present through facility. Virtual intelligence user interface offline."

"And we thought all we had to deal with were the geth and Benezia," Garrus sighed.

"What sort of biohazard, I wonder?" Shepard thought out loud.

"Well, if it's the kind that can kill you, I hope it's only toxic to levos. No offense," he bared his teeth in a grin.

"If it's dextro-exclusive, I'm not reviving you," Shepard retorted.

"Radar's showing clean air, for now," Tali told them. "Of course, I'll be fine either way, thanks to my suit."

Liara stepped forward. "We should try to find the building's reactors. That should get the power back up and running, and the VI interface with it. If we can get that up, the VI might be able to help us figure out what happened."

Another door led into a narrow hallway with two deactivated turrets facing away from them. Liara inspected them with a frown.

"Why are they facing the wrong way?"

"Whoever was using them wanted to keep something in more than it wanted to keep others out," Shepard said. "Better keep a close eye out."

They passed through several more halls, into an elevator and up one floor where they were greeted to another long hallway packed with snow. A window had busted open, only a crack, but it was enough to let the snow in. It had to have been broken for a considerable amount of time to allow in the amount that covered the floor. The end of the passageway opened into a room with high ceilings, a set of stairs to the right leading up to a covered walkway.

Geth were strewn about the room, already dead. Garrus' pulse sped up; it was never a good sign that they might be facing an enemy that had taken out an entire room of geth.

Shepard knelt down beside one of the geth troopers and turned it over. Something had clawed through the AI's steel frame, ripping out its internal components and rendering it useless.

"What could have done that?" Tali asked.

"A few things," Shepard replied. "None of which I particularly want to have a run-in with."

A creaking noise issued from the walkway above and Shepard held out a hand to keep the squad quiet. A prolonged silence followed.

"What was that?" the commander asked.

The creaking sounded again, followed by a high-pitched animalistic screech.

"It sounds like whatever did this to the geth is waiting for us on the walkway," Liara noted.

"Better face it now, while we might have the upper hand," Garrus suggested.

The four of them inched slowly up the stairs, coming to a halt at the top where they intersected with the walkway.

Nothing could have prepared Garrus for what was waiting for them. Two bug-like creatures, the size of full-grown krogan, stood tapping their four pointed feet and waving around tentacle-like appendages with sharp bulb-shaped claws on the ends. Their necks craned, a scalloped carapace providing a natural shielding for their bodies. Their multitude of beady black eyes watched the group of soldiers, and one of them let out an ear-piercing wail, its razor-sharp beak splitting into five parts as it opened. These were rachni, that much Garrus knew only from history lessons during his military training. They had, theoretically, been extinct for thousands of years.

Clearly not. The thought flashed in his mind. Then the rachni charged and he didn't have time to think anymore.

They were too close to snipe already, so he drew his assault rifle and began firing. Liara hit them with a mass effect field, which pushed them back for a moment, but they were heavy and strong, though still nowhere near fully grown. It took gunfire from all of four them to take down the first one, and the second one managed to get through Liara's shields and pin her down to the ground. It was about to take a chunk out of her flesh with its tentacle claw until Shepard leaped onto its back and wrapped her arms around its neck, wrestling it away from the asari.

The rachni soldier flailed, whipping its tentacles around, smacking them against Shepard's back as she held on and fought with it. The tentacles broke her shields and began to smack into her armor, whipping into her clothing and flesh where the armor didn't cover her, but still she held on tenaciously. Garrus was trying to line up a shot, but it proved impossible to aim without risk of hitting Shepard.

He shouldn't have been surprised when Shepard managed to slam the rachni into the wall; she had carried a krogan before after all. She wasn't spared from the impact however. Her shoulder made contact with the concrete wall with a sharp snap. The only sign she had been hurt, however, was a quick wince, then she was up on her feet and firing at the rachni, holding her injured arm against her side. Garrus let loose with his assault rifle now that Shepard was out of harm's way, and eventually the rachni fell still.

Once Shepard was sure it was dead, she fell to her knees, squeezing her injured shoulder, her teeth clenched. Garrus rushed to her side and dropped down on his knees next to her.

"Is Liara all right?" Shepard asked.

Garrus turned and saw Tali and Liara running to meet them. Liara looked a little shaken up, with a small scratch on her cheek, but otherwise unharmed.

"She's okay," he told Shepard. "What about your shoulder?"

She let go of it and he could see that it had come loose from the socket, hanging lower than it ought to. He ran his omni-tool over it to scan it quickly.

"No fractures. I'm going to pop it back into place, okay?"

"Just do it fast," she demanded.

He grabbed her arm with one hand and placed the other gently on her neck. "On three, all right? One…two…" He snapped her arm up before he got to three, worried that she would brace herself too much if he made it that far. The joint popped back into place and Shepard let out a howl of pain that echoed through the walkway. She promptly punched Garrus in the face.

He reeled backward and landed on his back, his head spinning.

"I'm sorry," she said, pushing herself to her feet. "But that hurt like a bitch and I just had an instinctive reaction to hurt you for it. Especially since you didn't wait until three!"

Garrus rubbed his jaw. "It's fine. I've had worse sparring with the trainees on Palaven."

"If my shoulder wasn't aching, I'd kick your ass for that," she offered her hand to help him.

"Turn around and let me put some medi-gel on your back. I saw it whip you."

She didn't argue. The gashes were deep where her armor ended on her neck. He applied the medi-gel, but he was fairly certain the wounds would scar.

"What were those things?" Tali asked, examining the dead rachni with fear and curiosity.

"Rachni," Liara answered. "But they're supposed to be extinct."

"Tell that to my shoulder," Shepard spat. She kicked the dead creature's body. "Guess we found our biohazard."

"We should get moving. There must be someone here who can explain what's going on," Liara said.

"Let's hope so. Come on," Shepard motioned for them to follow.

They headed down the walkway into another elevator, watching as the doors closed and the rachni disappeared from view. Garrus suddenly found himself wishing they were fighting geth again.


More of the rachni soldiers were lying in wait when the elevator doors opened onto a round central chamber with jammed doors barring exit from every side. Shepard's shoulder was still throbbing, but she fought through the pain to take down the rachni with her team. Now that they had faced two of them, the next ones went down faster, though it still wasn't an easy fight, and Liara's leg got whipped by one of the tentacles when her shields fell. Thank God for a hefty medi-gel supply.

Shepard sure as hell wanted to know what they were doing fighting a bunch of extinct bugs, but the answer would have to come after they rebooted the power for the facility and figured out if anyone was even still alive. So far, they hadn't come across anyone, living or otherwise. The only bodies they'd encountered were dead geth, ripped apart by the rachni.

The central chamber they were in now housed the backup generator, a small rectangular bit of metal sticking up out of the floor on the left-hand side of the room. Liara was the one to recognize it for what it is, but when Shepard tried to activate it, it gave her an error about needing to manually reboot the VI system. Luckily, the VI core seemed to be the only room that didn't have a jammed door blocking access, so that's where they headed next.

A round computer core in the center of the room had a hollow opening in the back with a platform in the center. An attempt to manually reactivate the core gave yet another error saying that the core required repair before it could be reactivated.

"I'm on it, Shepard," Tali said, stepping forward and going to work with her omni-tool.

Tali was quickly proving to be one of the most valuable members of the squad. Until her, Shepard had been the most tech-savvy soldier on the Normandy, and her skills were limited at best.

"How's that shoulder holding up?" Garrus asked her, shivering where he stood.

"It hurts, but I'll live," she rubbed the aching joint. The cold was certainly not helping the pain. "How's the cold treating you?"

"I just want to know why we can't go somewhere nice," he replied.

"You really should have purchased a thermo-suit," Liara chided him.

"When we get back to the Normandy, I'm going to put on ten layers of clothes, grab every blanket I can find, and sleep inside the mako," Garrus ignored her, his teeth chattering.

"I'll have the mess sergeant make us something warm when we get back," Shepard promised.

"Fixed it!" Tali cried.

The VI interface flickered to life: a glowing red hologram of a woman in a plain white dress.

"It looks like you're trying to restore this facility. Would you like help?" The woman asked. Her voice was the one that had been issuing warnings about critical failures and biohazards since they'd entered the facility.

"Yes. What are you called?" Shepard responded.

"This system is programmed to respond to the name 'Mira'. What may I call you?"

"Commander Shepard. Here on authority from the Citadel Special Tactics and Reconnaissance branch."

The VI whirred as it computed. "Council authority confirmed. You are entitled to secure access of all systems." Another perk of being a Spectre, it seemed. Shepard found herself thinking she could really get used to this gig. Before she could ask for anything, though, the VI continued. "Please note that all queries relating to corporate secrets require privileged access. Privileged access is only available to Binary Helix executives. This system is ready to process queries from any interface at Peak 15."

"We tried to repair the generator and couldn't. Do you know what's going on?" Shepard asked.

"One moment please. Diagnostics in progress," Mira said, the whirring noise issuing from its interface once again. "Critical failure. Main reactor shut down in accordance with emergency containment procedures. Manual restart required."

"Emergency containment procedures," Garrus huffed. "I guess an outbreak of formerly extinct bug soldiers would warrant that."

"Landline connections are disabled," Mira continued, "Passenger tram systems are offline. Report complete. Do you have any additional status queries, commander Shepard?"

"How can we get the systems back online?"

"Access is available to reactors on the roof. Activating the reactors will restore landline and tram connections. Access is available to the generator. Now that VI interface is up and running, the generator can be reactivated," Mira replied.

"What about Benezia?" Liara stepped forward. "Has an asari Matriarch been through here?"

"Lady Benezia departed on the passenger tramway to the Rift Station subsidiary labs."

"So we need to get those landlines up and running to take the tram to the Rift Station," Shepard said. "Mira, how do we get to the roof?"

"Access to the roof is available directly behind the VI core."

"Perfect. Logging off."

"Goodbye, commander." The interface shut off and Mira disappeared.

Shepard led them through the door behind the VI core, which opened to an elevator that could take them up to the roof. They held their guns at the ready, not sure what to expect up on the roof, and anticipating more rachni.

As the doors opened, the cold hit them hard and fast. It turned out they were only half-right in anticipating rachni. The geth were waiting for them as well. Some of them were fighting with the rachni, but if Shepard didn't know better, she would have thought they were attempting to tame the creatures. In fact, some of the rachni seemed to be listening to the geth's chirping robotic orders, though others preferred to rip into the throats of the AIs instead.

The squad started firing before the geth could realize they were there, ducking behind cover of pillars and ducting jutting up from the rooftop. With help from the combative rachni, the geth were quickly disposed of, but that left a lot of snarling, blood-thirsty bugs to take care of next. Tali and Liara climbed up a duct to keep out of range of the rachni and their long, sharp tentacles; working together, Liara would throw one into the air while Tali fired on it.

This left Shepard and Garrus on the ground. The rachni were moving in quickly, circling around them, so they pressed their backs to each other and began firing on the circle of approaching insectoids. Their firing was perfectly timed so that when one of them needed to reload a thermal clip, the other one already had and could keep firing in the interim. Using this system, they managed to take out four rachni more or less at once.

The roof cleared, Tali led them to the reactor and began typing away at its interface to get it back online. Confirmation of their success came when Mira's voice sounded over the speakers.

"Landlines back online. Passenger trams offline. Generator restart required."

"Let's head back down," Shepard said, kicking one of the dead rachni. "The sooner we get to the Rift Station the better."

Back down in the central chamber, Tali went to work restarting the generator, with input from Mira that the quarian clearly didn't find necessary or helpful.

"As if I need a VI to tell me how to restart a generator…" she muttered.

"I wonder how many of these rachni there are," Garrus said as they waited. "They practically wiped out the galaxy once. Messing around with genetic engineering on this level seems pretty foolish."

Liara knelt down and examined one of the dead rachni on the floor. "What if this is what Binary Helix was manufacturing for Saren?"

The four of them exchanged a look.

"An army of rachni would be hard to beat. The Protheans did it once, before it backfired on them," Garrus said.

Shepard exhaled slowly. "Rachni and Reapers. Could this mission get any more complicated?"

"Please don't tempt the Spirits, Shepard."

"The generator's fixed," Tali said, right before Mira reported the same thing.

"Great work. Let's get on one of those trams and get out of here," Shepard beckoned them after her.

If Liara was right, and Binary Helix had somehow resurrected the rachni for Saren's disposal, they were in for a much harder fight than she had bargained for. One turian rogue, an asari Matriarch, and an army of geth already seemed like a pretty unfair match, but throwing an extinct race of war-mongering killer bugs into the mix was giving Saren quite the edge.

They would have to put an end to it there on Noveria before the rachni could leave the planet and really cause some damage. Shepard just didn't know how they were going to manage that yet.

Chapter Text

Garrus was growing weary of fighting rachni, a thought he never would have believed possible until a few hours earlier. Even more of them had been waiting in the passenger tram station. Now they all sat on the tram as it moved along the track toward the Rift Station. Garrus wished it would move faster, but he was also thankful for a brief reprieve.

He and Shepard sat next to each other on a bench seat at the end of the tram while Tali investigated the software powering the tram to see if she could speed up the progress at all. Liara paced back and forth, but Shepard didn't ask her how she was. It was evident that as they drew closer to a confrontation with the asari Matriarch, Liara was growing restless. She wasn't used to such intense fighting either, which didn't help matters.

Every one of them were covered in rachni blood. It had splattered across Garrus' manidbles, down his armor, on his gloves. It seemed to be everywhere. Shepard got the worst of it after her one-on-one with the first rachni they encountered. It was even caked in her hair, not that she commented or complained. She was pensive as they sat together, staring out the window wordlessly.

"What are you thinking, Shepard?" he asked.

She turned away from the window to look at him. Between the rachni blood caked all over her, the black eye slowly spreading its borders, and the swollen shoulder, she looked terrible. Not to mention exhausted.

"I figure if we can fight rachni, we can take an asari Matriarch, right?" she smiled faintly.

"Maybe we should rest when we get to the Rift Station," Garrus suggested. "None of us expected rachni. We're all a little exhausted."

"We don't have time to rest," Shepard sighed.

"If you don't make time, we definitely don't stand a chance against Benezia. At least let the Station medic check you out," Garrus pleaded.

"If there's anyone even alive and running things, they're going to have their hands full. I appreciate the concern, Garrus, but I've been through worse than a black eye and a dislocated shoulder."

Her words weren't convincing considering the fatigue with which she said them, but he understood where she was coming from. He wouldn't have stood down if he'd been in her shape either: it wasn't the military way.

The tram slowly pulled into the Rift Station, and the four of them made their way out and up to the next floor.

To Garrus' eternal relief, they weren't greeted by more rachni when they reached the next floor. They did, however, find themselves facing five guns pointed at them from a line of humans in armor hiding out behind storage containers that had been flipped onto their sides for cover.

"Stand down!" The human at the center of the line called. His squad brought their weapons down and Shepard moved forward to meet them.

"Thanks for not shooting," she said.

The leader of the group was a short man with a balding head, clad from head to toe in high-tech armor. He looked Shepard up and down. "I see you've already encountered the aliens. We've been fighting them off for days. All of us are running on stims now. But we've still got enough sense to tell you apart from those aliens. I'm Captain Ventralis," he offered his hand and Shepard shook it.

"Where did the…uh…aliens come from?" Shepard asked, careful not to throw the word rachni into the mix. A clever move, Garrus thought.

"They took over the hot labs a few days ago. Han Olar is the only one who made it out. We've kept them out of the Rift Station, but if you came from the Central Station then I guess they've made it that far," Ventralis explained. "Who are you all anyway?"

"Commander Shepard, Council Spectre," Shepard spewed out the prepared line. "Is there an asari Matriarch here at the station with you?"

"She took a crew down to the hot labs a day ago. We haven't seen or heard from her since. Probably got mauled by those aliens," Ventralis shrugged. "I don't have enough men to spare to send any after her."

"How many are left here?" Garrus asked.

"A few other security guards, some of the scientists who weren't in the hot labs when the aliens came, one doctor down in the med bay, and a few civilians. Investors and the like. I'm afraid we're going to run out of food before someone can get to us."

Garrus didn't mention that no one back at Port Hanshan seemed to be aware that Peak 15 was even under attack. The men's morale already seemed low, he didn't want to make it worse.

"We'll help out if we can, but we're here on Council business," Shepard said. "We got the VI system up and running and re-connected the lines"

"The scientists will appreciate it," Ventralis thanked them. "And we'll take all the help we can get. Go on through. I'll radio down to my guards to let them know we let you in."

The group moved past the line of security guards, through a long hallway that led into the main part of the station.

"He doesn't know they're rachni," Tali said when they were out of earshot of the guards. "Maybe he thinks they broke in through the lab. It sounds to me like they broke out of it."

"I agree with Tali," Liara nodded. "If my mother is here working with Saren, she was likely going to monitor the work, not take care of the problem. We should find this Han Olar the captain spoke of, then head down to the hot labs. My mother is undoubtedly still there. She may even be aware of our presence by now."

The hallway opened onto the main station, where the remaining survivors of the rachni attack were clustered together. A doctor was tending to five wounded patients spread out on cots, while scientists clustered together speaking in hushed whispers. A plump volus stood by himself in a corner, away from the group.

"I'm going to ask around about Han Olar," Shepard said. "Wait here and tell me if you overhear anything worthwhile."

Garrus watched her walk away, first to speak to the group of scientists. He, Tali, and Liara hovered near the civilian survivors, just close enough to hear if they said anything that might be relevant to the mission.

"All this fighting," Liara sighed. "You and Shepard must be used to this sort of life, aren't you?"

"Turians are born and bred for the military," Garrus shrugged. "It's just part of life. We always used to joke back on Palaven that the Alliance navy was just a bunch of soft-skinned weaklings. Now that I've seen Shepard fight, I can't see how I ever thought that. That woman's made of steel."

"Like a turian," Tali suggested. "Or so they say."

"I've heard the phrase," Garrus replied dryly. "It's not well-liked amongst turians, but I guess I see why others feel that way about us. The metallic skin doesn't help the reputation. The two of you aren't as accustomed to fighting, are you?"

"Quarians know how to fight," Tali bristled. "We've been at war with the geth for 300 years. We just wage our wars with tech instead of brute force."

'How's that going for you?' Garrus almost asked. He decided Tali wouldn't take kindly to the question and he didn't want to hurt her feelings.

"I've spent the last fifty years reading books and traveling from dig-site to dig-site," Liara said. "There was always some sort of military presence at the dig-sites, so even if there had been danger, I would have had protection. My biotic skills aren't well honed and I only learned how to use a gun for protection in ancient ruins."

"You learned how to fire a gun," Garrus corrected her. "I'll teach you how to actually use it."

"I don't know that Shepard would like us firing guns aboard her ship," Liara hesitated.

"As if Shepard won't be there trying to show me up? We'll practice down in the cargo bay. No one's going to care if a few bullets dent the walls. You need to be able to protect yourself if your biotics fail."

Shepard returned from talking to the scientists.

"Hear anything useful?" Garrus asked.

"The volus is Han Olar. We should go and chat with him, come on."

The volus in question looked nervous as they approached, fidgeting and wringing his hands. Every few seconds a characteristic whhhsssh noise escaped his enviro-suit as he took a breath. Before any of the squad could get a word in, though, the volus spoke.

"You came to find out about them, didn't you?" he asked.

Shepard leaned closer. "What do you know about the rachni?"

"You know what they are?" Whhhsssh.

"We're trained military, of course we know what they are," Garrus interjected. "The question is what they're doing here. Alive and not extinct."

"They found an egg in a derelict ship." Whhhsssh. "It had been lying dormant since the krogan wiped out their race." Whhhsssh. "They brought the egg here to the labs…"

"They cloned an army of rachni from one dormant egg?" Shepard's eyes widened.

"The egg contained a queen…and a queen can lay many eggs," the volus sounded tired. "They wanted us to train them." Whhhsssh. "To control them. We should have known we couldn't. Not even the Protheans could control the rachni."

"Ventralis said you were the only one that escaped the hot labs," Garrus said. "How did you get out?"

A horrible sound issued from within the volus' suit. His body shook. Was he crying? Garrus had never heard a volus cry before. He'd never even considered the possibility that they could.

"I killed Doctor Zhonmua," the volus sobbed. "We were headed to lunch when the alarms went off. I closed the tram doors before she could get in." Whhhsssh. "I saw them…slice her to pieces. Her head…came apart like a melon."

Garrus grimaced at the image.

"I'm sorry that you had to make that choice," Shepard said, typical to the compassionate nature laying beneath her steely surface. "In the heat of the moment, we act on our gut instincts. Sometimes others die as a result. You shouldn't blame yourself for…"

"You think I want absolution!?" The volus screeched. "There is no absolution. I can never unsee what I saw. You need to destroy these creatures. If they're allowed to escape Peak 15…if they manage to gain control of a vessel…"

"I'll do what I can," Shepard assured him.

"Could an asari survive down in the hot labs with the rachni?" Liara burst forward with the question.

The volus turned to look at her. "They were…sensitive to biotics. Perhaps. Not for long though." Whhhsssh.

"Whose idea was it to breed the rachni anyway?" Tali asked.

"We don't ask questions about our funding. We just run the experiments we're told to run. It would have been a great honor if we'd been able to control them. To bring an entire species back from extinction…now we'll go down in history as the worst mistake science ever made."

"Shepard, I've heard enough," Garrus said. "We need to get down to those labs and take care of this problem."

"Agreed. Thank you for your time, Han Olar."

"Good luck, Earth clan." Whhhsssh. "You'll need it."


Shepard didn't have time to rest, though Garrus' concern on the tram had been well founded. Pain was coursing through her shoulder into her neck and ribs, her head was pounding, and the medi-gel was starting to wear off on the wounds on her back. But it was still true she'd faced worse. She could rest when the mission was over and Benezia was taken care of.

She was concerned about Liara as they wound their way through the Rift Station and back down to the entrance to the hot labs, just outside of the tramway. If Benezia was still alive, she was in those labs. Shepard couldn't imagine having to face her own mother in battle, but her mother had been a sweet-natured farmer who wouldn't even kill spiders when they got in the house. It was a far cry from a malevolent and powerful asari biotic.

Captain Ventralis was standing at the entrance to the hot labs when they approached.

"Ventralis," Shepard greeted him. "Let us through. We're here to speak with Matriarch."

Ventralis cocked his gun. "I know. She gave me orders to handle the problem."

"On your six," Garrus called.

Boots sounded against the metal floor as two guards moved in on either side of them. Garrus raised his gun and pointed it, ready to fire. Tali and Liara took a defensive stance, but Shepard didn't reach for her weapon.

"You don't want to do this, Ventralis," she said, raising her hands slowly. "It's going to end badly for you and I don't want to have to hurt you."

"I've got orders!" Ventralis yelled. "We have to follow through."

"And leave those people up there without any sort of defense against the rachni?"

Ventralis' eyes widened. "Rachni? Is that what they are?"

"Hm," Garrus tutted behind Shepard. "What's the human phrase? Guess the cat's out of the basket?"

"Close enough," Shepard replied. "Do you really think you can take down a Council Spectre, a powerful asari biotic, a turian sniper, and a quarian that can hack that gun you're holding faster than you could fire it? And is it worth it to defend someone who's unleashing rachni on the universe again?"

Ventralis had fear in his eyes now. His gun was wavering. He hadn't known that the aliens were rachni, and the thought that they even could be was terrifying him. Gradually, he lowered his gun and stepped aside.

"Stand down," he said, defeated. His men lowered their weapons. "I sure as hell can't beat you," he told Shepard. "But you're walking into your funeral if you go into those labs."

"I'll take my chances," Shepard pushed past him quickly and the rest of her squad followed.

Once past the door, they moved through a series of winding hallways terminating at a door to the main lab. Shepard turned to Liara before opening the door.

"Are you ready?"

Liara's eyes were glistening, but there was also a determined look behind them. "I'm as ready as I could ever be, Shepard. Let's go."

Shepard turned back around and opened the door. Directly in front of them, a set of stairs led up to a balcony overlooking a massive tank housing a rachni queen. She was ten times the size of the rachni soldiers they'd been fighting, trapped inside impenetrable glass, thrashing desperately in a bid to escape.

Watching over the rachni queen from the balcony, an elegant asari stood in a gown made of black silk, a sharp cap covering her head. The look in the asari's eyes was almost one of admiration as she stared down at the rachni queen. She didn't even look up at the squad's approach, though she had most definitely taken notice of them, evident when she spoke.

"There is such power in creation," she said, still gazing fondly at the rachni trapped in its chamber. "To shape a life, to turn it toward happiness or despair. It is a privilege to be a mother. A privilege you do not know or understand, commander Shepard."

"If your view of motherhood is the ability to create and control, I think we have a difference of opinion," Shepard raised her gun. "Why bring the rachni back?"

Benezia turned away from the rachni queen and faced them. Shepard could see Liara in the Matriarch's face, though her face bore signs of age that Liara's did not.

"The queen's children were to be ours. Raised to hunt and slay Saren's enemies."

"But you couldn't control them." Liara stepped forward. "Just as you could not control me, mother. What have you let yourself become?"

"If you hope to move me with sympathy, daughter, you'll find I have none left," Benezia replied coldly.

"Mother, this is not you. I know it isn't. Why are you doing this?"

"Children become petulant when allowed room to make their own decisions." A blue glow enveloped Benezia. She flicked her hand and tossed Liara into the wall with a mass effect field.

"Take care of her," Shepard yelled back to Tali and Garrus, charging at the Matriarch and firing off a round of bullets.

The bullets were easily deflected off of the asari's barrier. She brought Shepard into the air with a mass effect field and suspended her there while several asari commando units moved in from the other side of the room.

Shepard couldn't move, her arms and legs splayed, hand still tightly grasping her weapon. She was completely powerless. She'd been held in mass effect fields by biotics before, mostly during training sessions with Alliance biotics. She was usually quick enough on the field to take cover from any biotic powers. Now all she could do was watch, and wait for the drop.

Garrus ran beneath her, letting off a few rounds from his assault rifle that hit the Matriarch's barrier. Before she could attack him, he ducked and rolled, ramming into one of the asari commandos and toppling down the stairs to fight hand-to-hand.

Tali had helped Liara back to her feet and was now climbing the pipes on the side of the wall to get to higher ground where she could overload the asari's weapons. Shepard felt herself jerked backward as Liara took hold of her with her own mass effect field, struggling to pull her from her mother's grasp.

A nearby asari commando staggered backward as Tali succeeded in overloading her gun. It exploded in her hands and she reeled, which bought Tali enough time to fire off a shot that sent the commando to the ground, dead. Shepard still couldn't move, and the pull of two separate mass effect fields made her feel like her body was going to rip in two at any second. She was going to be really pissed if she managed to die ripped apart by a mass effect field. She'd certainly been through worse to let herself go out like that.

Garrus reappeared at the top of the stairs. He let out a wild noise, subharmonics flanging uncontrollably, and took a running leap at the Matriarch. He deflected off of the Matriarch's barrier, bouncing back into the wall, but the impact had damaged the barrier somewhat, and better yet, it had distracted Benzia long enough for her to loosen her attention on the mass effect field that held Shepard. This gave Liara the upper hand. She yanked Shepard out of her mother's field and set her down gently before turning her attention back to Benezia.

Shepard scrambled up and quickly took down two commandos before firing a sticky grenade at Benezia. It exploded in a dull impact, but her barriers were down then. Like the coward she was, the Matriarch turned and ran up the stairs to get away from Shepard and Liara before they could hurt her. Tali fired off a well-placed shot from her spot on the wall above them, grazing Benezia's leg, which caused her to falter.

Garrus leaped forward, tackling Benezia to the ground with the force of all his weight. The asari knocked him against the wall with a biotic throw and scrambled on all fours to distance herself from him. Shepard fired a shot while she still had a window of opportunity; the bullet shredded through the Matriarch's abdomen and she fell in a heap on the ground, dark purple blood blossoming on her dress where she'd been hit and pooling on the floor beneath her.

Liara rushed to her mother's side, despite herself. Shepard hurried up the stairs and helped Garrus up, giving the two asari some space now that the battle was over. Tali jumped down from the wall and joined them.

"Mother…" Liara's eyes welled with tears.

Benezia lifted a weak hand to cup Liara's cheek. "Listen to me, Liara. While my mind is still free of Saren's grasp. Even now…still…his whispers echo in my mind."

Liara held her hand over her mother's. "What do you mean, mother?"

"He has been using me…" Benezia coughed and purple blood trickled from her mouth. "I was indoctrinated. I couldn't…I couldn't fight him…it is such a terror to be trapped in your own mind. I was powerless to him. A tool for his disposal."

The tears that had been welling in Liara's eyes burst forth in rivulets down her cheeks. She squeezed her mother's hand. "I knew it couldn't be you, mother. I knew. I knew you could never…" she sniffled loudly. "We'll heal you. I have medi-gel. We'll fix you and take you away where Saren's influence can't reach you."

"It's too late for me, Liara. Even if I wasn't dying…Saren would find me anywhere." The light was fading from the Matriarch's eyes.

Shepard's heart ached for Liara. She had been there when her own mother died back on Mindoir, powerless to help her; it was something she wouldn't have wished on her worst enemy. She had to struggle to choke back tears threatening to form in her own eyes. She needed to be strong, for herself and for her squad.

Benezia reached into the folds of her dress and pulled out an OSD. "Give this…give this to Shepard. Data…location of the Mu relay…"

Liara took the OSD with her free hand and held it out to Shepard, not taking her eyes away from her mother. Shepard grabbed it and placed it quickly into her pocket. She was vaguely aware of the Mu Relay: it had been dislodged eons ago after a supernova blast, now more of a myth than anything. No one knew where the relay had dislodged to, only what systems lay beyond it, unreachable with one of half of the relay pair missing.

"I don't know…where Saren was going…once he opens the relay…you must find out. He has the coordinates already. Stop him, Liara, because I could not…" Benezia's eyelids fluttered weakly, the energy quickly fading from her body.

"Mother," Liara wept. "Don't leave. Please…"

Her mother stroked her cheek gently. "You have always made me proud, Liara."

Slowly, her hand slid away from Liara's face and her eyes closed as she fell limp in Liara's arms. Liara lay against her mother's body, clutching desperately at her bloody clothing, her chest heaving with her sobs. Shepard bit her lip, but she couldn't be cold and emotionless about this. How did it separate her from evil like Saren if she forced herself to choke back the emotions that made her who she was?

She stepped forward without a second thought and knelt down next to Liara, placing her hand gently on her back. Liara moved wordlessly against her, pressing her face into Shepard's shoulder, crying so hard that she thought it might make the poor girl sick. All Shepard could do was pat her back and let her cry.

"She loved you with her last breath," Shepard said, hoping it would comfort her friend. "Always remember that."

After a few minutes, Garrus and Tali joined them, placing gentle, comforting hands on Liara's shoulders. She peeled herself off of Shepard, her mother's blood staining the armor on both of them, and stood up. Sniffling loudly, she wiped the remaining tears from her puffy eyes.

"Thank you so much, all of you. Your compassion means so much."

"We still have the rachni to take care of," Garrus said quietly to Shepard as Tali led Liara away from her mother's body.

"Tali. Take Liara back to the Rift Station and wait for us there," Shepard commanded.

"No. I'll stay and fight," Liara insisted.

"Your mother just died, Liara. I'm ordering you to leave. Garrus and I will handle it."

Liara didn't put up much of a fight. She was clearly exhausted, it had been a long and trying day. She let Tali lead her out of the hot labs and away to safety.

Shepard and Garrus stood at the edge of the balcony next to a set of controls for the cage holding the rachni queen. She flailed around inside the all too tiny enclosure. Had this been the only life she had ever known? Trapped in captivity and forced to see her children turned into bloodthirsty slaves? Shepard felt a pang of sorrow for the creature.

"Shepard," Garrus' voice sounded urgent.

She turned and saw Benezia rising up from the floor, but not of her own accord. She seemed to be floating, pulled against the rachni's enclosure with her back to the creature and her dead, empty eyes staring forward at the two soldiers. Shepard was immensely glad she'd sent Liara away.

"This one serves as our voice," Benezia's corpse spoke, but beneath the voice was something foreign, almost like turian subharmonics, but distinctly other. "We cannot sing. Not in these low spaces. Your musics are colorless."

Garrus had his gun trained on the corpse, unsure of what to expect. Shepard watched the corpse speak in stunned silence.

"Shep-ard," it said her name in two sharp distinct syllables. "We are the mother. We sing for those left behind. The children you thought silenced."

It was then that Shepard realized what was happening. The rachni queen below had somehow taken control of Benezia's corpse and was speaking through it. A chill ran down her spine. She motioned for Garrus to stand down, so he holstered his gun and stood warily by her side.

"Shep-ard. You are not in harmony with those who hoped to control us. What will you sing? Will you release us? Are we to fade away once more?"

"Shepard, these controls could release acid into the chamber and kill the queen with the flick of a switch," Garrus said. "…or they can open the chamber and release her. She's asking you to make the choice."

Shepard stared down at the rachni queen, trapped in her chamber. She was still now, her multitude of dark black eyes looking up at the two soldiers. Shepard could see the spark of intelligence in those eyes. This was not just some monster, it was a complex creature, with hopes and desires, relegated to use as a slave. It was a fate Shepard had almost faced when the batarians came to Mindoir.

"Your companion hears the truth," the rachni spoke through Benezia. "You have the power to free us, or return our people to the silence of memory."

"The rachni nearly wiped out the galaxy before, Shepard," Garrus said. "Would you release them to let them do it again?"

"We are not our ancestors," the rachni said. "We would seek a hidden place to teach our children harmony. If they understand, perhaps we would return. Our children here are beyond help. We can no longer sing to them. You must put an end to them, but not us."

Shepard stood by the controls. Could she really live with herself putting an end to an entire species? Even if their extinction had not been her fault the first time, it would be now. Garrus seemed to favor ending things, but he was thinking of things from a military standpoint.

"If she doesn't keep her word…" he started.

"What if she does?" Shepard turned to face him. "I'm supposed to let her die because of what her ancestors did? By that logic, you and I should kill each other too. No, I'm sorry. I can't do it. She's just a slave. She didn't ask for this. I have to trust what she's telling us. If she's lying, then I'll take full responsibility for what happens. But I have to believe that the galaxy is better than this."

Garrus sighed, "I hope you're right."

"We will remember," the rachni queen said. "We will sing of your forgiveness to our children."

Shepard reached forward and hit the button to release the queen. Slowly, the chamber rose up to an opening above. The Matriarch's body fell back against the floor. With one last fleeting glance toward them, the rachni queen disappeared through the new opening in the chamber, free to return to the stars.

"I hope you can forgive me for my decision," she said to Garrus.

"Shepard, I respect the choice you made. I may not agree, but there's no point in always agreeing on everything."

"That's not a very turian attitude." Shepard was surprised. Most turians followed the line of logic that you never questioned a commander's orders, even if you disagreed: you pretended to agree anyway.

"Well, there's a reason I left C-sec. Bad at following orders without question," he shrugged. "Let's get out of here and take care of the remaining rachni. Some of them must still be contained somewhere."

Sure enough, there was a chamber at the back of the hot labs where the remaining rachni could be viewed through a thick glass window. They had been divided on two sides it seemed, and one side had been breached, as evidenced by the shattered glass, the dead scientist, and the multitude of rachni they had already faced in battle. The dead scientist had codes on him for a euthanizing purge, so Shepard carried out the wishes of the rachni queen and input the codes through a Mira terminal at the end of the room. The countdown gave them plenty of time to clear the room, but even from the distance they put between themselves and the rachni, Shepard and Garrus could hear the explosion that ended the queen's tainted children.

"Let's get Liara and Tali and get out of here," Shepard suggested.

"My pleasure," Garrus replied.

"You know, you haven't complained about the cold in several hours now."

"Well, the battle had my heartrate up. But now that you mention it…"

Shepard shoved him playfully as they headed back to the Rift Station. She joked with him, but the truth was she was just as eager to get off of this God forsaken planet and back out on the hunt for Saren.

Washing all the rachni blood off of her wouldn't hurt her feelings either.

Chapter Text

Shepard had been in the comm room on call with the Council for nearly an hour since they'd arrived back at the Normandy. They were still docked on Noveria, awaiting orders from the commander for their next destination, but the ship was mercifully much warmer than the rest of the planet had been.

Garrus felt bad for Shepard. She was exhausted and filthy and hadn't had a break to rectify either problem. Garrus, Tali, and Liara had already been able to clean up and change clothes while Shepard remained locked away talking to the Council.

After cleaning up, Liara had almost immediately retired to her bunk in the med bay. Garrus couldn't blame her. He felt compassion though, his own mother was in poor health and watching her slowly succumb to disease was not easy. He could only imagine how Liara felt at the moment.

Down in the cargo bay, Tali was catching Wrex, Ash, and Kaidan up on what had happened on Noveria. Ash was sore that she had missed out on fighting rachni, and Wrex went into a rage upon hearing that Shepard had released the rachni queen.

"That blind pyjak," he screamed. "Does she know how many of my people died fighting the rachni? Now she's letting them wander off into space to repopulate and come back and kill us all. Forget Saren, Shepard's just single-handedly destroyed the galaxy!"

No amount of reassurance from Garrus that the rachni queen had truly seemed to want peace would placate Wrex. Eventually he stormed off to the elevator to brood elsewhere, or else to chew Shepard out in front of the Council. Garrus hoped it was the former. The Council was surely already chiding her for that decision. It was a choice he hadn't agreed with or understood, but it had been her decision to make. He could confidently say he wouldn't have made the same decision in her shoes.

Kaidan was quiet as Tali finished her story. He stepped away from Ash and Tali and pulled Garrus aside while they were chatting.

"Is Shepard okay?" he asked.

"You saw her when we came in," Garrus shrugged.

"No, I mean…is she…okay? It sounds like you guys went through a lot on Noveria. She never gives herself a minute to rest. I'm just a little worried she's going to wear herself out and end up crashing."

"I said the same thing," Garrus told the lieutenant. "She didn't really want to hear that maybe she needed to slow down. Maybe you should talk to her about it."

Kaidan shook his head. "I think she's more likely to listen to you on this one. Maybe talk to her again once she's debriefed us about our next step."

He walked away before Garrus could say anything else. Why did the lieutenant think Shepard would be more likely to listen to him? He was a turian she'd only know for a couple of weeks. She'd known the lieutenant for years; surely she'd be more likely to take Kaidan's advice. The request seemed odd.

Shepard called them upstairs a few minutes later to discuss strategy going forward. When Garrus reached the comm room, it was to find Shepard sparring with Wrex, the krogan holding her in a headlock as she kicked and flailed to free herself from his grasp. Her weapons had been stowed in her locker when they'd returned to the ship, but she still wore her armor, which at least provided a bit of protection.

"What the hell is going on here?" Garrus cried.

His presence distracted Wrex long enough for Shepard to wriggle free of the krogan's strong hold. She shoved Wrex forcefully, but he barely moved, as heavy and sturdy as he was.

"I should shoot you in the head for that!" Shepard yelled. Her eyes were bloodshot, a dark circle visible beneath the one that wasn't already bruised purple. Her nerves were clearly frayed.

"So do it!" Wrex growled. "I should shoot you for releasing the rachni on the galaxy again."

"I made a decision! I'm the commander of this ship. If you don't like it then get off and find a different way off of this frozen rock. See if I care!"

She and Wrex stood tense, staring at each other. Wrex waved his hand dismissively. "Forget it. One of you can brief me later," he stomped out of the room to return to the cargo bay.

Garrus placed an unsure hand on Shepard's shoulder. "Shepard…"

She shoved his hand away. "What!?"

He must have hidden his shock poorly, because the anger immediately faded from the commander's eyes. She rubbed her forehead. "I'm sorry. I'm just tired. I didn't mean to snap…"

He was about to suggest that she go and get some rest when the rest of the squad arrived, even Liara, though she looked nearly as tired as Shepard.

"I just saw Wrex heading back to the cargo bay," Tali told them. "Did something happen?"

"We had a little disagreement." Shepard slumped into a nearby chair, sighing.

"Tali filled us in on the mission," Ash said, trying to be helpful. "Do we head for the Mu relay next?"

Shepard shook her head. "No. We've got no clue where it leads and no clue where Saren wants to go with it. We'll make for Feros and investigate the geth sightings there first. Maybe that will help us figure out where to go next. I've given the OSD with the relay coordinates over to Joker and Pressly. They have it mapped out, so we can find it, once we have more info."

"How far is it to Feros from here?" Kaidan asked.

"There's no direct route. We have to make three relay jumps to get there. Joker thinks it'll take about a week, but that estimate might be generous."

Garrus thought a week sounded good. Shepard and Liara particularly needed some time to rest. A week away from shore couldn't force Shepard to relax, of course. Garrus was sure she'd find some way to keep busy, poring over extranet records trying to solve the mystery of Saren's plans.

"I need to tell Pressly and Joker to get us going." Shepard leaned her head heavily on her hand. "The Council wasn't happy with the decisions I've been making. Not that I could care less." She stared blankly ahead, then seemed to remember herself. "Liara, how are you doing?"

"I'll be okay, Shepard, thank you."

"Is everyone good? We have everything we need before we take off?"

Ash cocked her head. "Commander, maybe you should go lie down."

"Yeah, I can relay the information to Joker," Kaidan offered.

Shepard stood up on shaky legs. "Thanks for the concern, but I'm fine. I'm going to go clean up. You can talk to Joker, Kaidan," she nodded. She patted Garrus on the shoulder as she passed him. "Good work on the mission."

"Shepard," he replied softly.

She left the comm room, headed for her cabin. When she was gone, Kaidan went to discuss the route with Joker and Pressly, and Liara went to lie down again. This left Tali, Ash, and Garrus sitting alone in the comm room.

Ash stood up. "I'm worried about Shepard. She's going to run herself ragged."

"She wouldn't have become a commander if she didn't know her limits," Garrus said, though he knew she had likely become a commander because she knew her limits and chose to ignore them anyway. These missions had to be different than what she'd face as a regular Alliance soldier, though. Fighting geth and rachni wasn't standard in any military.

"Well, I hope you're right," Ash shrugged. "You need anything tuned up? I'm heading back down to upgrade the rifle I bought back on the Citadel."

"My assault rifle is covered with rachni blood," Garrus said. "If you're cleaning any weapons at all, it could use it."

"Sure thing."

"I think I'll head down to engineering. I haven't told Adams or the others about what happened and they'll be eager to know," Tali dismissed herself as well.

Alone, Garrus stepped out of the comm room and headed up to the observation deck. The view of the cold, concrete docks of Noveria was not exactly ideal, but it was nighttime now and the deck lights had been dimmed to accommodate the schedule. The effect was ruined somewhat by the harsh fluorescent lights of the docking bay, but Garrus tried to ignore it.

Eventually, and to his great relief, the ship pulled gently away from the dock and glided out the hangar doors, shooting up through Noveria's atmosphere and off into space. Garrus was happy to watch the icy blue planet fade until it could no longer be seen.

He wasn't sure how long he sat there before he heard steps on the ladder and turned to find Shepard pulling herself up onto the deck. She slumped down next to him and let out a long sigh. She looked like she could barely keep her eyes open, but her hair was clean and free of rachni blood and she was back in her civilian clothing.

"You all right?" Garrus asked, feeling it was a stupid question.

"I'll survive."

He noticed some bruising around her neck where Wrex had held her. If she didn't watch herself, she'd have enough blue skin to pass for an asari pretty soon. She stared absently out the window, not taking in the view at all, lost in thought. Garrus almost asked her what she was thinking, but decided to let the time pass in silence. It could be that she just wanted to decompress without talking about it.

A good ten minutes passed before Shepard broke the silence.

"I was sixteen," she said.

"What?" he looked up and met her gaze.

"When batarian slavers came to my home planet and murdered my family. I was sixteen. I was supposed to be a farmer like my parents, but my dad had taught me how to use a gun to defend us. We held off those slavers for nearly an hour before they busted through with three dozen vorcha. My parents made me hide in the attic, but I could hear everything," her voice shook and he was surprised to see her eyes welling with tears. "My parents begged for mercy. They killed my father first and then…the batarians…they…" she bit her lip. "The things they did to my mother were…"


She stared back out the window. "I couldn't cry because if I did they'd hear me. I spent hours in that attic hoping they would leave, terrified of what would happen to me if they found me. Eventually, the noise stopped, but I didn't leave. I was too scared. When I heard the other voices and the attic opened I thought they were going to do to me what they'd done to my mother…" a few tears escaped her eyes and trickled down her cheek. "But it was the Alliance. They'd swept through and taken out the batarians that hadn't managed to flee. They took me in and took me off of Mindoir. Anderson was the one who found me in that attic."

He wondered why she was telling him this, but as horrible as it was to hear, he was glad that she was sharing it with him. He wondered how many people had heard this story before him. Was it something she told her crew so they could know who she was? No, he could tell it wasn't that. This was an intensely private story.

"When we saw the rachni queen trapped in that chamber, all I could think about was those batarian slavers. If they'd found me I could have been a slave…I would have lived and died under their whips. No war hero of Elysium. Just another number in a death toll," she wiped her cheek with the back of her hand. "I couldn't let her be just another number, Garrus. That's why I set her free." She looked at him again, her brown eyes shimmering with her tears. "I won't let myself be some cold emotionless leader who never considered the value of a single life against many."

Garrus didn't know what to say, except that now he felt terrible for wanting to kill the rachni queen. He couldn't have known. But it was the commander's unique experience that made her such a skilled leader. A different person with a milder disposition might have been ruined by the experience. Instead, she had made it her sword and shield.

"I've never told anyone that story," she said after some time. "The crew, they know I escaped Mindoir when the slavers came, but that's all they know. The details…the truth of it…I've kept it to myself."

"You didn't have to tell me to justify your decision," Garrus finally spoke.

"I didn't tell you to justify my decision. I told you because I trust you."

He trusted her too, deeply, though he couldn't figure out why. They had known each other for such a short time.

"I know it hasn't been that long since we met," she said, as though she were reading his thoughts, "but it feels like it's been longer than it has. And I always follow my gut reaction to things. With you, Garrus…I've never clicked with someone so quickly. I'm really glad you came along."

"I feel the same," he said. He wanted to say more, but he didn't have the words.

Shepard stood up and yawned. "I'm going to go get some sleep. Someone was badgering me about resting earlier," she smiled at him and took off back down the ladder.

He watched her go, feeling a mix of emotions he'd never felt before in his life.

Chapter Text

The Normandy was sailing along smoothly, FTL drives engaged, halfway through its journey from Noveria to Feros. Commander Shepard was making her daily rounds of the ship, checking in with crew members to make sure there were no issues that needed tending to. This was, at least, what she told the crew it was for. The truth was, she felt it was crucial to get to know them and make sure they knew that she cared about them. Anderson had done the same as captain and she wanted to honor that tradition.

For the moment, she was in the bridge, leaning against the back of Joker's seat as she spoke with him. The boisterous pilot was true to his nickname, always responding with some sarcastic comment, never taking even the most important of tasks seriously.

"I think the crew are finally warming up to the aliens," Shepard told him.

"Yeah, they're fine," Joker shrugged. "The quarian pops in sometimes to ask me questions about the control tech. She seems all right. And the turian pops in from time to time too."

"Garrus? Really?" Shepard asked. "Why?"

"What, someone can't stop in to talk to me without an ulterior motive? Why are you here commander? If it's to hit on me, I'll just meet you in your cabin later."

She rolled her eyes. "I'm just surprised is all. Not because it's you. Just because Garrus spends so much time down in the cargo bay working on the mako."

"Yeah, he was asking me about that, but I told him I didn't know anything about it. Ships are my specialty. Then he just sat around for a bit shooting the shit. Seems like a nice guy. Never thought I'd say that about a turian."

"He seems all right," Shepard agreed. "I like him."

"He stopped by yesterday and mentioned that you and the krogan still aren't speaking."

Shepard sighed. "He could have strangled me. I'm just still a little sour about the way he reacted to my choices."

"Come on, commander. You're a Spectre. You don't avoid conversations because you're being petty. If that were true then apparently, I never saw you rip Pressly a new one last week for saying something shady about the turian."

"I hear your point," Shepard said. "I'll go and talk to Wrex."

"Hey, I'm not telling you to do anything, I'm only saying."

"You're always 'only saying'," she told him. "I'll see you later, Joker. Try not to crash the ship."

"No promises, commander. It's hard to surf the extranet and drive at the same time."

She left the bridge and headed down the stairs to the elevator. The fact that she hadn't spoken to Wrex since their altercation wasn't only her fault. She'd been down to the cargo bay every day to check on Garrus and Tali, and Ash if she was there, but Wrex had actively avoided talking to her, or outright ignored her.

She decided she wasn't going to give him the option this time. When the elevator doors opened on the cargo bay, she moved toward Wrex like a panther stalking its prey.

Garrus was bent over the mako, tinkering with something, while Wrex leaned against the wheel reading a book. Garrus didn't see or notice her until she was upon them. She slammed her boot against Wrex's chest, thrusting him against the mako and causing the vehicle to shake. Garrus spilled off the precarious ledge he'd been standing on and fell to the floor.

"What…?" he looked around, bewildered.

Wrex grabbed Shepard's leg and pulled her onto her back.

"You want to do this again, Shepard? You won't win."

She pushed herself back up quickly. Taking the typical approach wouldn't work with Wrex. Citing her commander status, captain of the ship, Council Spectre, it all meant nothing to him. She had to keep that in mind.

"I made a decision," she yelled. "You can disagree with that decision, that's your prerogative, but it was my decision to make. I don't have to answer to you for it. If I turn out to be wrong, I'll be the first one volunteering to put me to the gallows, believe me. But until then, you need to air your grievances and move on. I'm not playing this game with you, Wrex. You're a strong soldier, and I'd like to call you my friend. Whether or not that happens is up to you."

The krogan glared at her for a moment, then he grumbled and threw his book down. "Fine. I can agree to call a truce," he held his hand out. She reached to shake it and he yanked her down to the ground again. "Sorry, last time, I promise."

She couldn't help but let out a little laugh as she slowly pushed herself to her feet. "All right. We're good?"

"We're good, Shepard," he grunted.

Garrus walked with her away from where Wrex sat, near the large door that allowed access out of the cargo bay upon landing.

"Good thinking, Shepard. Krogan respond well to brute force."

"Glad you approve," she laughed.

"It's been nice having you drop in for these little debriefs," he told her. "Wrex has always got his nose in his book and even when he doesn't, you can imagine that a krogan isn't the best company to keep."

"Well, I like checking in on everyone," Shepard shrugged. "It's important to me that I get to know my crew. Before I was running the Normandy, I kind of kept to myself a lot…didn't try to get to know anyone. I prefer it this way."

"Have you been getting any rest since we left Noveria?" he asked.

"Some," she nodded. "Probably not as much as I should."

"Well, if you ever need to talk…" he left the sentence hanging.

"Sure," she smiled. "I'm going to go check in on Tali, I'll see you later."

When rounds were done, she had to finish her log on the mission on Noveria. It was taking her forever to get it written up. Paperwork was one of the less glamorous side effects of being a commander and a Spectre. It was hard to pass the buck to someone else, since a lower crewman couldn't exactly type up what they hadn't experienced.

She found herself drifting asleep at her terminal in her office as she typed, so instead of finishing the report, she laid down and took a much-needed nap.

When Shepard awoke, she wasn't sure what time it was, but something compelled her to go down to the cargo bay. She didn't want to work on her report again, and a chat with Garrus might help pass the time instead. She took the ladder down through the med bay and was greeted to the sound of gunfire halfway down. Sliding down the rest of the way, she rushed to see what was happening, only to find Garrus showing Liara how to aim a gun. The wall behind the mako was littered with bullets, and used thermal clips were strewn about behind the two aliens. Wrex, Kaidan, Ash, Tali, and half of the engineering team stood behind them, drinking beer and shouting words of encouragement or derision, depending on Liara's aim.

"What is going on?" Shepard demanded.

They all turned and stared at her. Ash and Liara both looked mortified, but Garrus just shrugged.

"I figured you wouldn't mind. I wanted to teach Liara how to aim so she can protect herself better when her biotics cut out."

Shepard stared at the wall, full of tiny holes where the bullets had impacted. It looked like a pock-marked face.

"Joker will mind," she sighed. "But you're right, I don't. It's just a wall. There's ten layers of steel behind it. Here, Liara, let someone who can actually shoot show you how it's done."

"Excuse me?" Garrus bristled. "Is that a challenge?"

"I would say yes, but there's not going to be anything challenging about it for me." Shepard grabbed her gun from her storage locker.

"That's it, Shepard, you asked for it."

"These targets won't do," she said, pointing to the empty beer bottles lined up beside the mako. "Stationary targets aren't going to be hard for either of us. We need something mobile."

Wrex belched and held up an armful of beer cans. "I'll throw 'em, you shoot 'em."

"Sounds good. What does the winner get?" Garrus asked.

"Fifty credits?" Shepard suggested.

"What kind of stakes are those? Winner gets 200 credits!" Kaidan yelled.

The engineers were whispering with the others, exchanging handshakes and nodding. Kaidan turned and said something to one of them and then they shook hands.

"You better be betting on me, then, Kaidan," Shepard told him.

"Wouldn't dream of betting against you, Shep."

"I'm betting on Garrus," Tali said. "Shepard is a good shot, but Garrus is better."

"I'd bet on Garrus too," Wrex said.

"You can't bet on anyone if you're throwing the targets. You have to be impartial!" Shepard chided.

"Yeah, yeah. Who's up first?"

Garrus stepped forward and readied his gun. Wrex hefted a beer can, then another, and another, quickly in succession. Garrus hit each one without a miss and sent them whizzing to the ground. He stepped back with a smirk and leaned against the mako.

"Your turn, Shepard."

Shepard stepped up and, just as Garrus had, managed to shoot all three beer cans seemingly without effort.

"That was child's play," she said.

"Agreed. We need more of a challenge."

"I've got it!" Tali jumped up and tapped on her omni-tool, releasing a defense drone into the cargo bay. The blue sphere hovered around as Tali controlled it, urging it up above Shepard and Garrus. "You have to shoot the drone down. First one to knock it out wins."

"That could be fun," Garrus nodded.

Tali positioned the drone several yards away from them, hovering near the edge of the cargo bay. "On my count. One…two…three…GO!"

Shepard and Garrus both fired off a shot at the drone, but Tali moved it quickly. It zipped across the cargo bay and they fired again but as quickly as it they had shot, it was gone again, rushing toward the weapons rack. They fired, leaving a few dents in the wall, but missing the drone. Several of the engineers ducked out of the way as the guns went off.

"Steer it away from us, Tali!"

Tali giggled and hiccupped. "Sorry."

She sent the drone trailing off toward engineering. A string of bullets left their wake in the wall above the elevator, but the drone remained unscathed. It dipped low, they missed, it sped to the ceiling, they missed. Their shots were always within centimeters of each other, but neither of them could keep up with the quarians' speedy little drone. It probably didn't help that Tali was tipsy, making the drone move more erratically than it might normally.

After several rounds and dozens of dispensed thermal clips, it became less about the competition and more about the fact that everyone was having a great time watching the ship's two most experienced soldiers run after a defense drone like dogs after a bone, but Shepard and Garrus were oblivious. They were too caught up in winning.

Shepard was sweating by that point, desperate to bring down the drone and show up the turian sharpshooter. The drone was flitting around faster than a geth hopper, and those were no easy task to bring down.

Suddenly, the drone dipped behind the mako. The two of them ran for it, colliding and tripping into one another. They fell to the floor behind the massive vehicle and out of sight of the rest of the crew, Garrus sprawled on top of Shepard.

The first thing Shepard noticed was his considerable weight, heavy on her chest. He pushed himself up on his elbows and for a moment their faces hovered close to one another, his bright blue eyes staring down at her. Had they always been so brilliantly, beautifully blue? She felt her breath catch, a sudden tension between them she hadn't been aware of.

But as quickly as she noticed it, it was gone. The drone hovered directly behind Garrus and he couldn't see it because he was still pushing himself up off of her. She brought her gun up and shot it. It gave a sputtering noise and flickered out.

Garrus spun around quickly and then turned to glare at Shepard. "That's not fair!"

"It's fair. I shot it. I win. You owe me 200 credits," she stood up and folded her arms over her chest.

"I couldn't see it. We fell…"

She clapped a hand on his back and tried not to think about the moment. "Just think of it this way, Garrus. If we had fallen on the battle field and that drone had been a geth, I would have saved your life. You can thank me later."

They emerged from behind the mako and all eyes were on them.

"Which one of you shot it?" Liara asked.

"Shepard did," Garrus grumbled.

"Thanks a lot, Garrus! You just lost me a hundred credits," Tali growled.

"Well I'm out 200 if it's any consolation," the turian sighed, bringing up his omni-tool and transferring the credits to Shepard. "Maybe you should stick around and show Liara how to shoot, Shepard."

"I would, but I really need to finish my report on Noveria. You're the next best shot on the ship, you can do it just fine," she grinned at him.

"We both know I'm the best shot and in a fair match I would have won."

"You keep telling yourself that."

"Come on, commander. You aren't gonna stay and have a drink with us?" Ash asked, holding out a beer to her.

She looked between the crew and the ladder back up to the med bay. She supposed one drink couldn't hurt. After all, half the crew had been harping on her to get some rest and relaxation, hadn't they?

Chapter Text

"Is Feros warm?" Garrus asked as the squad sat around the comm room waiting for the Normandy to reach the ExoGeni docks.

"It's quite temperate," Liara said. "I came here once on a dig. Most of the planet is covered in Prothean ruins. I've never been to this side of the planet though."

"Anything has to be better than Noveria," Garrus shuddered.

"I promise it will be warmer than Noveria," Shepard told him.

He was still bitter that Shepard had beat him at the shooting match, maintaining that she had cheated. He wouldn't admit that when he fell on top of her, he had been too distracted by the strange dip he'd felt in his stomach when they locked eyes. He wished she'd seemed distracted by it too, so maybe he'd be comfortable bringing it up, but she'd gone and shot the drone, which signaled to him that she hadn't even noticed.

It didn't seem to impact their budding friendship too poorly, however. The last few days on the approach to Feros, neither of them had been sleeping much, and they had spent several hours on the observation deck talking about anything and everything. Since Shepard had told him the story of the batarian attack on Mindoir, he'd felt a closer bond with her than ever before. There were people he'd worked alongside in C-sec for years that he didn't trust as much as this human commander he'd known for a few weeks. Whatever the reason, he'd understood completely when Shepard described that 'click', that gut reaction telling her she could trust him. He'd felt it too.

He trusted the others of course, but not to the degree that he trusted and respected Shepard.

"What do we know about this place?" Ash asked. The noise dragged Garrus away from his thoughts.

"ExoGeni has a human colony stationed here," Shepard answered. "The geth were spotted a while ago, which means Saren was probably here, if it's following a trend."

"Normandy is ashore," Joker's voice broke over the ship's intercom.

Shepard stood up. "Let's get going. We've got no clue how much of a lead Saren has on us. Time is money right now."

The seven of them marched out of the comm room, through the bridge, and out the airlock into the docks of the ExoGeni colony. The sight wasn't promising: the architecture was crumbling, scorched with the recent marks of explosion, huge broken pieces of concrete lay strewn about the ground. The geth had already made quite an impact here, it seemed.

Shepard led the way forward, gun raised. The others prepared themselves for a fight. Garrus hung back at the rear of the group, keeping an eye out for any sign of the geth. Instead, he spotted a human approaching from behind one of the fallen blocks.

"Shepard, someone's coming," he called.

She locked her gun on the human and moved cautiously to meet him. He held his hands up to signal that he was no threat.

"Are you commander Shepard? Fai Dan got word that your ship had entered our atmosphere. He wants to meet with you immediately."

The human looked weak and unwell. He couldn't have put up a fight if he wanted to, but this only made Garrus warier of the situation. He scanned the dock exit along the far wall for geth…or other sickly humans.

"Who is Fai Dan?" Shepard asked. "And how does he know it was me?"

"Just come," the human begged. "We don't have much time. The geth won't wai-"

His words were cut off when a bullet pierced through his skull and blew his brains onto Shepard's armor. The squad ducked quickly behind some of the fallen concrete blocks as geth dropped down from rafters hidden by wall overhangs near the ceiling. Even with seven of them fighting, the geth were a lot to handle. There seemed to be more of them here than they had encountered on Noveria, and larger units like juggernauts barreling through the fray.

Amidst the fighting, no one noticed or had time to aim at the geth prime charging toward Shepard. Garrus moved quickly, firing off a shot that pierced through the geth's head and brought it crashing to the ground. The shot had been hardly an inch away from Shepard's own head, and she turned to face Garrus as she ducked back behind cover.

"You could have killed me!" She yelled.

"Who's the best shot on the ship?" he replied.

"I feel like now may not be the best time for friendly banter," Liara shouted, throwing two incoming geth over the side of the dock to fall to the ground far below.

"I don't think they have an off button, Liara," Kaidan muttered.

They pushed through the first wave of geth and charged forward to closer cover. As dangerous as every battle seemed to be with Shepard, Garrus couldn't help thinking it seemed a hell of a lot better than chasing down petty thieves on the Citadel. This was work that actually got his blood pumping.

When the last of the geth had fallen, the squad rose from cover, and Shepard motioned for them to follow her. She moved slowly and quietly now, prepared for geth around every corner.

The dock exit led to a dilapidated stairwell where dim sunlight trickled down from a roof that had been blasted open by the geth. Carefully, they stepped over piles of crumbling rock, leaped over gaps in the stairwell, winding their way up the stairs until they reached the top. It should have been noisier, considering the sheer size of the squad, but they were all trained soldiers, save for Liara and Tali, who were light on their feet anyway. They knew how to move without attracting attention.

The top of the stairs led through a short hallway that opened onto the human colony. A row of metal barriers had been erected, behind which stood a line of humans with guns drawn. They held their fire at the squad's approach. Garrus couldn't help thinking that last time they'd stumbled upon a line of humans guarding a sanctuary, the humans had tried to turn on them. He kept this in mind even as the humans beckoned them past the barrier, pointing to the opposite end of the compound where the mysterious 'Fai Dan' could be found.

"Shepard," Garrus said, walking alongside her as they wound around the mobile housing units that comprised the colony. "These humans don't look healthy."

"They've been under fire from the geth for a while now," she said. "I'm sure rations are low if geth are closing in. They probably aren't healthy."

Garrus shook his head. "It's something else. I have a very bad feeling about it."

"Let's just see what they can tell us, okay? Watch my six like always and we'll be all right."

He knew he would be fine fighting alongside Shepard, but it didn't stop the uneasy feeling from creeping up his spine. Ash seemed to notice it as well.

"This place gives me the creeps," she commented, looking up at the smog-filled sky. "Something's not right."

"You mean besides the horde of geth?" Wrex asked

"I'm with Ash," Kaidan piped in.

"I also sense something…disturbing." Liara nodded.

"Never mind that. We need to focus on the geth right now," Tali said. "I'm not saying I don't think something feels…off…but it could just be how these humans are. What we do know is that the geth are here and we need to take care of that problem."

"You ever considered joining the quarian military, Tali?" Kaidan asked. "You might make a good commander."

"W-what?" Tali stuttered, "I'll stick to following Shepard's orders right now."

They found Fai Dan at the edge of the human colony, a rat-faced man with deep-set frown lines and dark circles under his eyes. A look of relief washed over his face at the sight of Shepard and her squad. Next to Fai Dan stood a young woman, her hair as short as Shepard's, but jet black. She was glowering as they approached.

"Fai Dan?" Shepard asked, extending a hand.

"Commander Shepard. I was beginning to think they'd never send any help for us. Welcome to Zhu's Hope."

"You're a bit late, aren't you?" The woman next to him hissed.

"Arcelia!" Fai Dan shouted. "I'm sorry, Commander. We're all a little on edge since the geth arrived."

As if on cue, the characteristic clicking sound of geth communication issued from the doorway directly in front of them. Fai Dan and Arcelia lifted their guns.

"We've got geth in the tower!" Arcelia said into her omni-tool.

Shepard took out a few of the incoming geth. "Kaidan, Ash, Wrex, with me, into the tower. Garrus, Liara, Tali, stay behind and protect the colony."

Garrus secretly wished he was joining Shepard in the tower. Close quarters battles were more thrilling, though also more dangerous. He obeyed orders though, keeping behind cover and firing at any geth that broke through Shepard's siege through the tower. They trickled through slowly, but eventually, the geth influx stopped, and they were left to wait for the others to return.

"What kind of squad does this commander have, anyway?" Arcelia complained loudly. "Did she bring half the Citadel with her? I've never seen aliens on board an Alliance ship."

"These aliens just saved your life," Tali spat. "Maybe you should be more grateful."

"We asked for the Alliance. Not some suit rat," Arcelia replied.

"What did you call her?" Garrus stormed forward. It was taking all of his self-control not to grab the human by the neck and toss her into the wall.

"Arcelia, please. These aliens are here to help us. We should be thanking them for keeping the geth at bay," Fai Dan tried to reason with the woman.

"You notice she didn't take any of them with her, only the krogan because they're just dumb brutes. She left the scraps behind to protect us," Arcelia glared at Garrus. "What are you going to do, bird brains? Strangle me?"

He probably would have, if Liara hadn't placed a hand on his arm and gently pulled him away. "Violence will solve nothing here," she said softly. "And Shepard will be angry with you."

He clenched his fists and stepped away. "You're not worth my time, human."

"Arcelia, why don't you go and see if you can help Macha fix the broken pipe outside housing bay three?" Fai Dan suggested.

She cast one last loathing look at Garrus and the others, then dismissed herself from their presence, taking off for the other side of the colony.

"I'm sorry, again," Fai Dan said. "Some of the humans here…we're not used to aliens. It's a human colony and we don't get many visitors outside of ExoGeni employees. She's just…"

"It's fine," Garrus said, still bristling.

Where was Shepard? He didn't like waiting around with nothing to do while she got to have all the fun shooting geth.

While they waited, he turned to Tali.

"I'm sorry she called you that," he told her. "It was a nasty thing to do."

"It's nothing I haven't heard before," Tali stared off through the opening to the tower. "A turian I met on the Citadel called me that as well."

"It's a cruel word," Garrus said.

"I know you would never say something like that, Garrus. Just understand that there are plenty of people, not just humans, who think that way about the quarians. We're not well-liked by most."

"Perhaps it's because not many people have met a quarian before," Liara offered. "You're such a solitary race…I'd only met one quarian before you."

"Why go where no one wants us?" Tali shrugged. "We belong together on the flotilla…until Rannoch can be reclaimed."

Garrus had heard that the quarians' ultimate goal was to one day return to their home planet, the same planet that had been overrun with geth. It was a pipe dream, he felt. The geth could think as one, and their numbers had grown substantially in the three hundred years since they'd forced the quarians to flee. He wouldn't say any of this to Tali, of course. Let her dream that one day she might see the home she'd never known. It was a nicer thought.

Voices sounded from the tower and Shepard reappeared with the others in tow. She still looked a wreck, though better than she'd looked on Noveria. The bruise around her eye was beginning to fade from purple to yellow, creating a horrendous rainbow of color across her face. Her neck was mottled with bruising as well from her altercation with Wrex. At least she didn't look as tired as she had on Noveria, Garrus supposed.

"The tower's clear of geth," Shepard reported. "For now, anyway."

"Thank you, commander," Fai Dan forced a weak smile.

"Anything I can do to help," she said. "What's the status here?"

"I'll be honest with you, it's bleak. Our water supply has been cut off by geth swarming the tunnels, we're running out of food, and the power keeps cutting out. We've lost quite a few good men and women to the geth too. We're really struggling here commander."

"I want to help as much as I can," Shepard told him. "But I also need to know why the geth are attacking. Is there something this colony is guarding…or growing? Anything that might be used as a weapon or…"

Fai Dan shook his head. "I don't know why they attacked. They just showed up and fired on us. They've set up a base in the ExoGeni headquarters. Who knows how many of their employees survived? None of them made it here at any rate. You should investigate the headquarters if you want answers about the geth. I can't help you there. I will warn you, there's an army of geth between here and the ExoGeni building."

Shepard sighed. "I'll need to think about a plan. In the meantime, I can have my squad help your people with some of your problems."

"It would be greatly appreciated," Fai Dan.

"Kaidan, Liara, go see about the food shortage. Ash and Tali, you check out the power problems. Garrus, Wrex, and I will head to the tunnels and see about getting the water valves turned on."

"Commander!" Ash and Kaidan saluted.

Wrex and Garrus followed Shepard out of the compound and along a route to the east where the tunnels lay.

"Shepard, do we really have time to help these people fix maintenance issues?" Garrus asked.

"I agree," Wrex grumbled. "We should head to ExoGeni. You're the one who said time is money."

"I know what I said," Shepard growled. "But I also know what it's like to live on a human colony that nobody gives a rat's ass about, wondering how you're going to fix these mundane problems without any outside help, never even having the option. Between the seven of us, it won't take long to help them fix a few problems, and it could mean life or death for these people. They've suffered enough, don't you think?" She turned and looked at them, brown eyes glowing with an unrivaled ferocity.

"You're too soft sometimes, Shepard," Wrex shrugged.

Garrus understood though. After hearing Shepard's story of Mindoir, he realized this was too personal for her to forgo. He would just have to support her. After all, she was right. It wouldn't really take that long to clear out some tunnels and turn a few valves back on.

They heard the geth before the even made it into the tunnels, chattering to each other in clicks and chirps. Shepard squatted down and moved slowly down the steps into the tunnel; a piece of concrete jutting out of the wall provided cover for her. Garrus and Wrex followed, peering over the edge of the concrete to get a better view of the geth.

Garrus was about to say he could probably take one or two out before they noticed them, but when he turned to speak to Shepard, she had rolled across to the other side of the tunnel, hiding behind a large steel pipe. She lifted her gun and left off several rounds, taking down three geth as she did so. Now alerted to their presence, the geth fired back.

It was fast work between the three of them: there weren't nearly as many geth in the tunnels as they'd encountered on the docks. It turned out that turning the water valves back on was the bigger issue. The valves were ancient, rusted over and difficult to move. Why they hadn't been replaced with better tech, Garrus couldn't say. If ExoGeni was funding the colony, they could certainly afford it.

All three of them had to pull the valve together to get it to budge, but finally it moved, the unpleasant sound of metal scraping against metal issuing from it as it shifted into the 'open' position. They took care of two more valves before returning to the colony to report to Fai Dan.

The rest of their squad, it seemed, had more involved missions, so they sat for a while, backs pressed to one of the mobile housing units, waiting for them to return.

"What do you think Saren wanted with this place?" Garrus asked.

"Whatever it is, I'm willing to bet it's in ExoGeni headquarters. I can't imagine this colony has anything to offer him. They just got caught in the crossfire," Shepard sighed. "War is terrible. So many innocent people get sucked into it with no say."

"That's just how it goes." Wrex shrugged.

Garrus was about to say something, anything, in an attempt to comfort Shepard, when Joker's voice issued from Shepard's comm link, interrupting him. "Commander, come in."

"What is it Joker?" Shepard responded.

"Incoming message from the Council. I told them you're not on board, but they asked me to patch them through."

Shepard groaned. "What the hell do they want now?"

"I know, I know," Joker sympathized. "But you're the one who signed up for this whole Spectre thing. Should I patch them through to your comm link?"

"I guess you have to," Shepard sighed.

"Patching them in now."

"Commander," A turian's voice replaced Joker's: Councilor Sparatus.

"This is Shepard."

"We've received a message from a salarian reconnaissance team on Virmire. The message was difficult to interpret, we believe the radar may have been jammed."

"Salarian reconnaissance?" Wrex grumbled. "Since when do salarians know how to use guns?"

"The Council can hear you, Wrex," Shepard reminded him.

"Hell if I care. That turian can lick my ass."

"Charming comrades, commander," Sparatus replied sourly. "We believe the salarians on Virmire may be in danger. I understand you're on the ground in Feros right now. Virmire is not far from there, just one relay and a day's journey. We want you to investigate the team's base camp and find out what's going on. You're the closest Spectre we have to the region. And parts of the message…" the turian councilor hesitated. "There may be geth on Virmire."

"Roger," Shepard replied. "Patch the coordinates through to the Normandy. We'll make way for Virmire as soon as our work is complete here on Feros."

"Thank you, commander."

The comm link shut off and Shepard rubbed her forehead. "It's just one thing after another with the geth, isn't it?"

"Look on the bright side, Shepard," Garrus smiled.

"What's that?"

"Virmire is a tropical planet!"

Chapter Text

If the mako had been uncomfortable before Shepard and her crew had picked up Liara, it was even more uncomfortable now. Tali had no choice but to squat awkwardly on Garrus' right, shoving him into Shepard and making the tight space even tighter. Shepard was sweating through her undershirts with the turian practically on top of her as she drove. She was sure it wasn't making firing the turret any easier for him either.

Fai Dan had not been lying when he said an army of geth stood between Zhu's Hope and the ExoGeni headquarters. The mako had been absolutely bombarded with them. There were armatures, juggernauts, rocket launchers, troopers, and even a few hoppers. The vehicles' shields had taken substantial damage, though they were still holding, thanks in large part to Tali's constant maintenance as they moved.

"Please, God, don't let me die sweating my ass off in this piece of shit vehicle," Ash muttered behind them.

"We have to be close to the headquarters by now," Kaidan said. "Shepard, how much further?"

"No noise from the peanut gallery, thank you. I'm trying to drive this thing with a turian in my lap."

"Now's not really the time for that, Shepard," Wrex quipped.

The moment was far from sexy, however. Garrus' elbow was jammed into her side between her armor, a bony, sharp appendage digging into her skin. Her sweat was probably smeared over half of his arm, and every time he turned his head, he caught her face with the edge of his fringe; if it hadn't been for the shields on her armor, her face would have been scratched to hell.

"I'm picking up static on the comm link," he told her.

"I might be able to patch it," Tali said.

After a moment, they heard a woman's voice over the mako's comm uplink.

"We've got movement. Some sort of vehicle. I don't think it's geth…"

"There!" Garrus pointed to a small tunnel on the side of Skyway. It was partially covered by fallen debris, but the dim glow of artificial light emanating from inside suggested it may be where the mysterious voice was sounding from.

Shepard pulled the mako to a halt and turned to address the squad.

"Kaidan, lift the hatch. Keep an eye out for any geth."

"We shouldn't waste our time with these people, Shepard. We have geth to kill," Wrex complained.

"We're getting out here," she replied sharply. As valuable, and sometimes funny, as the krogan could be, his insubordination over the smallest commands was starting to grate on her nerves. She was used to having seasoned Alliance crewmen follow her orders. Or at least people with more of a conscience to care about helping possible injured civilians.

Stepping out of the mako was a merciful relief, even though the air along the Skyway was smoggy and stale. Shepard led the way slowly down into the tunnel on the side of the road. It opened quickly onto what appeared to be an underground parking structure that had been converted into a safe-house for surviving ExoGeni staff. They were huddled around hastily constructed tables and cots, looking like they hadn't slept in days. A thin, sour-faced man that reminded Shepard of Udina greeted them with the barrel-end of his gun.

"Relax, Jeong, they're clearly not geth." A soft-faced middle-aged woman stepped forward.

"You probably want to lower that weapon," Garrus folded his arms across his chest. "You're pointing it at a Council Spectre. Commander Shepard, to be exact."

The sour-faced man, Jeong, brought his gun down unsurely, glowering at Shepard and her squad. "What's a Council Spectre doing on Feros?"

"What's an army of geth doing on Feros?" The middle-aged woman asked, rolling her eyes. "Don't look a gift-horse in the mouth, Jeong." She offered her hand to Shepard. "I'm Juliana Baynham. I'm a scientist with ExoGeni. We're all that's left of the staff. We were beginning to think we were the only ones left on this planet since the geth…"

"Fai Dan and some of the colonist at Zhu's Hope are still alive," Shepard told her.

"Barely," Garrus added.

Juliana turned to Jeong with fire in her eyes. "You told us they were dead!"

Jeong waved his gun at her, "I said they were probably dead."

"They're holding on. We helped clear out some of the geth from the surrounding area," Shepard addressed Juliana. "We were on the way to ExoGeni headquarters when we heard your voice on the comm link."

"Channels must have gotten crossed. Good thing, though. If you're still bent on going to headquarters, be prepared. There's an army of geth waiting."

"We've already seen an army of geth on the Skyway," Ash said.

"Do you know why the geth attacked?" Shepard asked.

Juliana shook her head. "All I know is they broke into the facilities a few weeks ago and we've been struggling to survive ever since. I don't know what geth would want from ExoGeni. Or a human colony, for that matter."

"How are your supplies holding up?"

"You gonna run errands for every human on this planet, Shepard?" Wrex demanded.

She ignored him.

"We're all right for now. I'm not sure how much longer it will last though. Commander, could I ask you a favor? I know you owe us nothing, but…" Juliana looked down at the ground and frowned.

"What is it?" Shepard asked.

"My daughter, Lizbeth…she worked at the facility with me. She never made it back. If you find any sign of her…"

"I'll do what I can," Shepard promised. "I could leave one of my squad to help protect you if geth show up if that would…"

Jeong stepped forward. "We don't need your help, Spectre. And if you're going to ExoGeni headquarters, you better not touch anything that isn't the geth."

Shepard had dealt with plenty of small-minded, holier-than-thou men like Jeong before. A good ass-kicking usually put them in their place, but she didn't have the time and she didn't want to start a commotion.

"Fine. We'll be leaving. Our comm link is open. If something happens, send a distress call."

"Thank you, commander." Juliana smiled.

"You should have stomped that stupid human all the way back to Earth," Wrex grumbled as they made their way up out of the tunnel and back to the mako. "If he knew who he was really messing with…" He shook his head. "It's like I said, you're too soft sometimes, Shepard."

"If I was too hard, I'd be a geth," she shrugged. "I prefer that people know I have a soul." She climbed into the mako again.

"How much further from here, do you think?" Ash asked, frowning deeply as Kaidan closed the door and sealed them back inside the vehicle.

"It can't be too far…"

An hour later, Shepard wished she could eat her words. As far as the map showed, and from their own visibility on the Skyway, ExoGeni headquarters wasn't far at all; only a few miles. Those few miles crawled by, unfortunately, thanks to the enormous geth presence waiting for them outside of the area where the tunnel had been.

"Shepard, you're going to drive us off the cliff!" Garrus complained as she struggled to keep them out of the way of the geth's heavy fire.

"Well if you would shoot the turret faster maybe I wouldn't have to steer like I was drunk!"

"I'm shooting it as fast as it goes. Do you want it to overheat and burn us all alive?"

"I thought you fixed the heat sink?"

"I improved it. Nothing will fix this ancient piece of junk besides launching a grenade through it!" He slammed his fist on the firing mechanism irritably.

"Well I'm sorry the Alliance isn't made of credits to buy brand new shuttles for the whole military like the turians probably fly."

"TEN O'CLOCK!" Garrus shouted.

Shepard jerked the mako out of the way as Garrus hit the jump mechanism, narrowly avoiding a blast from a geth armature.

"If you two pyjaks don't stop arguing I'm going to knock your heads together!" Wrex bellowed.

"As if you have the dexterity to get up to us in this crowded sauna of a vehicle…" Garrus muttered.

"What did you say?"

Wrex stood up, which threw the mako's weight balance off and made Shepard veer dangerously close to the edge of the Skyway. It took Ash, Liara, and Kaidan to wrestle the krogan back down into his seat, and in less confined quarters even that likely wouldn't have been enough. Tali, the model of professionalism, remained squished between Garrus and the window, typing away at her omni-tool and hacking every geth system she could access.

"Garrus, your three," Shepard told him.

"As if I don't see it?" He fired the turret.

"Remind me never to get in the middle of a fight between the two of them," Kaidan said to Ash.

"I know Garrus would disagree, but this might be worse than Noveria." Liara wiped some sweat from her forehead.

"Agreed," Shepard said. "I'm dying up here."

"You're getting your sweat all over me too," Garrus complained.

Shepard, utterly fed up with the situation, wiped her sweaty arms all over Garrus' face in act of utter childishness. He spat and swatted at her and the mako swung to the right, scraping the wall and plowing over a geth armature.

"I guess that's one way to do it…" Liara sighed.

"Would you two stop? We're almost to the headquarters, my hacking interface is seconds away from overheating. Just drive the damn car and shoot the damn turret!" Tali burst out suddenly.

Everyone fell silent. Shepard felt ashamed of herself. She was their commander, she shouldn't have behaved the way she had, even if the excuse of burning up and taking an hour to drive four miles through a field of geth was a fairly valid one.

They moved on through the fray without another word until there were no more geth in sight and the opening to the ExoGeni facility rapidly approached.

"Radars are jammed," Garrus broke the silence.

Shepard brought the mako to a halt a few yards from the facility entrance and they all piled out of the vehicle in a hurry.

"Sorry for the, uh, insubordination, Shepard," Garrus said softly as they stood next to each other outside of the mako. "Tight quarters make me a little irritable so…"

"Sorry I wiped my sweat all over you," Shepard punched his arm and turned to the rest of the squad. "Let's move in. The place is going to be crawling with geth so watch each other's backs."

They moved, Shepard, Garrus, and Kaidan taking the offensive approach while the others hung back in a defensive spread.

The original door to the facility had been blown open, and inside the antechamber, a narrow opening in the concrete was the only way through. Shepard slipped through first, followed by Kaidan, with Garrus bringing up the rear.

They ducked behind some crumbling debris and watched as a few geth troopers and a rocket trooper walked the perimeter of what looked to be the ExoGeni garage. Garrus fired off a shot that pierced through one of the troopers, and from further back Ash and Wrex took down the other small-build geth. Unfortunately, this got the rocket trooper's attention. He sent a missile flying directly toward them.

"Shepard, watch out!" Garrus and Kaidan both dove to pull her out of the way and the three of them went tumbling forward, down a broken staircase to a lower level of the garage, their fall broken by rocks and crumbled concrete.

Shepard lay dazed beneath both the turian and the lieutenant, staring up at the top of the former stairwell. It was much too far for them to climb back up, even with someone of Garrus' height.

"Are you two okay?" she asked them, gently prodding Garrus first.

He and Kaidan pushed themselves off of her and brushed the debris from their armor.

"Are you?" Kaidan asked, offering a hand to help her up.

"I'm fine."

Wrex, Ash, Liara, and Tali appeared at the top of the opening a few seconds later, peering down at them. "Is everyone all right?" Liara called down.

"We're fine. I think we're going to have to find a way around though," Shepard said.

"There's some sort of field up here barring entrance into the next room over," Ash told them. "Should we jump down?"

"No. Stay up there. We'll try to make our way around to the field. Maybe we can find a way to open it. If there's no way around I don't want us all stuck down here."

"On the bright side, we could always use Wrex as a stepping stone," Garrus offered.

"How about I use you as one?" Wrex laughed. "Wipe that smug grin off your ugly turian face."

"I'm fine down here, thanks," Garrus replied.

"Call us on the comm link if anything happens," Shepard said. "We're heading out!"


Garrus hadn't even been thinking about his own well-being when he grabbed Shepard to push her out of the way of the incoming geth rocket. It had been a gut reaction, one Kaidan seemed to have had as well. Garrus knew that Shepard had talked to Kaidan about his unrequited feelings, but it didn't stop Kaidan from having those feelings. His pheromones still surrounded him whenever he looked at Shepard, not that she was aware of it. The funny thing was that Garrus was picking up a new scent now. Sometimes he hated having such a keen nose. When Shepard had been talking to them after their fall, she had been giving off some of her own pheromones. Her scent was more pleasant than Kaidan's, earthy and warm; it reminded Garrus of Palaven.

He wondered if she was developing feelings for Kaidan, but the thought gave him a twinge of…what was it? Jealousy? Maybe he had expected her to tell him something like that; they seemed to talk all the time about anything during their sleepless nights on the observation deck. Of course, it wasn't his business if she was sexually attracted to Kaidan, so why did it make his stomach twist? Maybe she wasn't even aware of it yet. Shepard could be very closed off emotionally, that was probably it.

All of these thoughts tumbled through his mind as the three of them made their way toward the pit's opening on the lower level of the ExoGeni garages. They stepped around some debris, finding a dead varren at the opening of the large, hangar-like garage. Shepard kicked the varren's corpse to ensure it was dead just as a bullet clipped Kaidan's shields. The three of them whirled around in the direction of the gunshot, weapons drawn.

"Dammit!" A feminine voice sounded. A young woman stepped forward under the flickering red garage lights, hands held up defensively. "I'm sorry! I thought you might be geth…or varren…I…"

As she drew closer, Garrus thought he saw a resemblance to the Baynham woman they'd met back in the tunnel off of the skyway, though humans looked so alike. Spending as much time as he had with them aboard the Normandy, he was beginning to understand how to tell them apart by sight, not just smell.

"Well, we're not geth," Shepard shrugged. "What are you doing down here by yourself?"

Garrus noticed that the woman wore an ExoGeni lab suit. "Your people are back in a bunker on the Skyway," he told her. "Did they leave you behind?"

"My people? ExoGeni people? How many were there?" the woman asked.

Shepard held up her hands. "Let's start with names. I'm Shepard, this is Kaidan and Garrus. You are?"

"Lizbeth Baynham."

"Yes!" Garrus let out a little shout of excitement despite himself.

"Garrus?" Shepard cocked her head.

"I just, er, suspected they might be related," he tried to play it off cool.

"You're very proud of yourself, aren't you?"

"When you can tell me apart from another turian, I'll let you chide me," he told her.

"I could tell you apart from any turian." She rolled her eyes. "Anyway," she turned back to Lizbeth, "your mother is with a group of surviving ExoGeni staff. She asked us to look for you."

Lizbeth's eyes welled up with tears. "She's still alive? Oh, thank God. I was stupid and stayed behind to back up some data and I lost them. By the time I was able to run, the geth dropship had latched on to the building and the power went out. You must have come from the broken stairwell. I tried to climb up there, but it was no use. And there's a barrier blocking the only other way out."

"Why would the geth put up a barrier?" Kaidan asked.

Lizbeth shifted uncomfortably.

"She's hiding something, Shepard," Garrus whispered.

"Lizbeth, this is life or death right now. We need to know why the geth are here. What do you know?"

She sighed. "I don't know for sure, but if I was going to take a guess, I'd say they're here for info on the Thorian."

"What's a Thorian?"

"It's an indigenous life-form to Feros. ExoGeni was studying it. I'm only a research assistant, so I don't know much. I think it was some type of very old plant…" Lizbeth shrugged. "Some of the scientists with my mother might be able to tell you more. I think the geth ship is powering the barrier. If you could get them to leave somehow…"

"If we could do that, we'd be best friends with the quarians," Shepard laughed. "All right. Stay low and contact me over your comm link if any geth show up."

"Here," Lizbeth handed them her ID card. "This should get you access to most places."

Shepard pocketed the card and they moved across the width of the garage to a door. The backup generator was running, but poorly, and it took a few swipes of Lizbeth's card to get the door to open. Beyond the door was a tower, with stairs running up the inside and branching off at different levels. From their spot at the bottom of the stairs, they could hear a deep voice one floor up.

"Stupid machine!" The voice complained; it sounded krogan. "Access encrypted files!" Shepard motioned for them to follow her slowly up the staircase.

"No, I don't want to review protocol!" The unseen krogan yelled.

Sidling up the stairs, backs against the wall, they moved around the corner on the second floor to find a krogan arguing with a male VI unit.

"I am unable to comply. Please contact your supervisor," the VI said in response to each of the krogan's shouts.

The krogan kicked the machinery behind the VI. "Tell me what I want to know or I'll blast your virtual ass into actual dust."

"I've got a clear shot, Shepard," Garrus spoke as quietly as he could.

"If there is nothing else, please step aside. There is a queue forming behind you for the use of this console," The VI said as Garrus was lining up his rifle scope with the krogan's head.

"A queue?" The krogan turned around and saw Garrus and the two humans standing next to the doorway.

Garrus fired off his shot before he could charge them, and the krogan fell back against the wall, sliding down it into a heap on the ground. Blood spattered on the wall behind his body.

"Nice aim," Shepard said.

"Well, I am the best shot on the Normandy," Garrus replied quickly.

"I think Shepard has two hundred credits that say otherwise," Kaidan grinned.

They stepped around the dead krogan, up to the VI terminal.

"ExoGeni security reminds all staff that the discharging of weapons while on company property is strictly forbidden," the VI said.

"I see why the krogan wanted to blast it." Garrus folded his arms over his chest.

Shepard swiped Lizbeth's card into the interface.

"Welcome back Dr. Baynham. How may I help you today?"

"What was the krogan trying to access?" She asked.

"The previous user was attempting to access details on the study of Subject Species 37, the Thorian," the VI replied promptly.

"What can you tell me about the Thorian, then?"

"There is no new data on Species 37. All sensors monitoring the observation post at Zhu's Hope have been inactive for several cycles."

"What does that have to do with the Thorian?" Kaidan pondered aloud.

The VI answered before Garrus or Shepard could venture forth any theories. "Species 37 is located within the substructure of the Zhu's Hope outpost."

"That feeling we had when we walked into the colony…" Kaidan said. "Something's not right about this Thorian thing."

Garrus agreed. He had been uneasy about the colony and the sickly appearance of the humans. If this plant, or creature, or whatever the Thorian was, was somehow influencing the humans on the colony…

"Review all files on the Thorian," Shepard demanded of the VI.

"Accessing files. The Thorian is a simple plant life-form that exhibits a sentient behavior uncommon with other flora," the VI explained. "Through dispersion and the eventual inhalation of spores, it can infect and control other organisms, including humans. The Zhu's Hope control group has yielded interesting results. Before sensors went offline, almost 85% of all test subjects were infected."

"You mean this plant is…taking over the humans in Zhu's Hope?" Kaidan asked, a look of horror on his face. "And ExoGeni knew about it?"

Shepard shook her head. "This is sickening."

"It was deemed necessary to assess the true potential of Subject 37."

"This must be what Saren is after. A plant with mind-control powers would be a useful tool," Garrus suggested.

"We should warn Joker," Kaidan said. "If the people of Zhu's Hope could be controlled by this Thorian creature, the Normandy may be in danger."

Shepard nodded, but when she tried to contact Joker on the comm link, the signal was blocked.

"We have to get rid of the geth. They're jamming all frequencies."

She led them around to the other side of the second floor. The hallway wrapped around to a room where pieces of a geth drop ship had infiltrated through the concrete, extended arms of metal and coil digging into the wall with great metal spikes. Below them, on the ground, a few geth were kneeling around a glowing white light. If Garrus didn't know better, he would have thought they were praying, but why would AIs waste resources on religion?

They took out the three geth quickly and moved down and around.

"If we could release these claws somehow, it should cut power to the barrier that Lizbeth mentioned," Garrus said. "They're sturdy though, I'm not sure conventional weapons will work."

"We'll find a way." Shepard was steadfast as always.

"Even if it kills us?"

She just smirked and kept moving.

They wound their way through a series of narrow, crumbling hallways until they found themselves in the room where the barrier in question was located. A large blue field blocked access through the doorway back out to the main garage. Liara and Tali stood on the other side, investigating it and, in the distance, Wrex and Ash kept watch for geth.

Liara waved and started speaking, but the barrier was blocking out sound too. She kept talking for a moment until Shepard shook her head, then she frowned and motioned to avoid touching the barrier. Garrus decided he didn't need to find out what happened if you touched it.

Shepard spent a minute trying to mime that they were finding a way to open the field. Garrus and Kaidan watched with interest at her exaggerated hand movements. Liara and Tali stood staring at her unsurely.

"I don't think they're catching your meaning, Shepard," Kaidan said. "Maybe we should head through and find a way to detach the geth ship. They'll figure it out."

Shepard sighed. "You're right. Damn thing. Let's move."

They seemed to run through the entire building, down another flight of stairs, deeper into the structure. Eventually the found themselves in another room containing the geth ship's connections. A claw ran through an open gate, latched to the other side. Garrus speculated that if they could get the gate to close, they could sever the attachment. Unfortunately, the room was crawling with geth, as well as another krogan. Through his visor, Garrus could make out the gate controls on the other side of the room.

Shepard tried to move slowly into cover before the geth took notice of them, but her boot caught a bit of gravel, which went rolling onto a mine the geth had placed, causing a loud and very noticeable explosion.

No one was hurt, but the geth immediately began firing on them. Garrus ducked behind a fallen slab of concrete and fired off shots while Shepard and Kaidan moved to cover across the room. The lieutenant sent a geth shock trooper flying into the air and Garrus shot it down. It was just like shooting beer cans with Wrex in the cargo bay…only a beer can couldn't shoot back.

They played this game for a while, Kaidan throwing the geth and Garrus shooting them, while Shepard shot at the larger geth units, occasionally ducking back to use her tech skills to sabotage their systems. The krogan had, all the while, been hiding out behind some interface panels letting the geth do his dirty work.

When only a few geth remained, they moved in toward the krogan. He came out of hiding to fire a few shots before unexpectedly rushing them. He slammed into Shepard, knocking her shields out in the process. Garrus moved to help her, but the krogan had her in his grip before he could make it, holding a gun to Shepard's head as she struggled and squirmed in his tight grasp.

Garrus and Kaidan trained their guns on the krogan.

"Let her go, krogan. We just took out a room full of geth. So, you can imagine that this doesn't end well for you," Garrus growled.

"You think I don't know who you are? Saren didn't send me here for Commander Shepard, but I bet he'll be pretty pleased if that's what I bring him back."

Garrus watched Shepard struggling to free herself, wondering if he could line up a shot without looking through his scope. But when he looked closer, really watched what was happening, he realized Shepard was faking it. She was waiting for the krogan to get too comfortable. She had a grenade in her hand, ready to launch.

Why would he ever doubt her?

"He's right, Kaidan. We should just let him take her. I mean, if she leaves, maybe you could be the new ship captain," Garrus said, lowering his gun.

Kaidan kept his eyes on the krogan. "Uh, Garrus?"

"What's going on?" the krogan knew something was amiss, but was too stupid to figure it out.

This gave Shepard her window. She smacked the grenade into the krogan's chest with all her force and then ran toward Garrus and Kaidan. Realization dawned on the krogan's' face right before the grenade detonated and blew him into a thousand tiny pieces.


Shepard rocketed into Garrus, unable to stop herself as she ran from the grenade explosion. She wasn't sure that either of them would realize she had a way out, but Garrus did a good job of letting on he knew without ruining her chances.

Garrus caught his arms under hers quickly to keep her from falling when she rammed into him. She looked up at him and he looked down at her and for a moment she felt an uncomfortable fluttering in her chest. She shook it off; It was probably the adrenaline from trying to escape an explosion.

"Are you all right?" Kaidan asked.

Shepard took a step back from Garrus. "I'm fine."

They crossed the room to where the gate controls were. Garrus examined the interface while Shepard observed the geth ship's hold near the gate. The doors could theoretically destroy its grip, but it would take a lot of force.

"I have to calibrate the door to the right PSI," Garrus explained. "Then when I activate the gates, it will be so pressurized that it will snap down and sever the ship's connection. The problem is, there's a safety override precisely because of that, so I have to bypass that first."

"Do what you need to do," Shepard told him.

"Things just keep getting stranger, don't they?" Kaidan asked. "I liked it better when we were running errands for the Alliance."

"I don't know, there's fun in a little adventure."

"I'd hate to think what would happen if Saren got his hands on this Thorian creature. Mind control…that's a scary thing. And what ExoGeni has done to those people in Zhu's Hope..." Kaidan shook his head. "I always liked to believe the galaxy had more good in it than that."

"Shepard is the galaxy's way of apologizing for all the bad things it's done," Garrus said from his spot by the interface. "She comes in and cleans up the mess. With our help, of course."

"I'm going to make sure ExoGeni pays reparations to the colony for what they've done." Shepard didn't address his comment.

"We should be good now." Garrus hit one final button.

The room shook as the gates slammed shut with the speed and lethality of a guillotine. The force of the movement severed the arm of the geth ship and it fell down against the outside of the building, and further still possibly. Shepard didn't have to ask if removing the ship had done the trick, because a moment later her comm link came on.

"Commander Shepard? This is the Normandy. Come in. Seriously, hello? Come on, commander?"

"Joker, I'm here," Shepard said.

"You better get back here. Something happened to the colonists. It's…not good. They're banging on the hull and clawing at the door. We're on lockdown, but…just hurry."

Shepard, Kaidan, and Garrus all exchanged a look of concern. "Sit tight, Joker. We're on our way back."

"Yeah, I was going to go for a leisurely stroll, but since you told me to sit tight…"

Shepard cut off the link and turned to Kaidan and Garrus. "We better hurry. It might be too late."

She sincerely hoped it wasn't.

Chapter Text

After reuniting with their squad, the first thing Shepard had done was find Lizbeth Baynham and demand to know why she had lied to them about the Thorian. Garrus didn't feel much pity for the scientist at first, citing typical reasons of cowardice and fright, but it seemed she had been trying to act as a whistleblower, and had stayed behind in an attempt to secure the data so that others could know what ExoGeni had done to its colonists.

Shepard was angry with her, but agreed to transport her back to the other surviving ExoGeni staff. Now that they knew about the Thorian, they might be able to press the rest of the staff for more information. Whatever was happening, it was having a profound effect on the colonists. Garrus was almost scared of what they might find.

The Skyway was at least mercifully absent of geth on the way back toward the bunker where the ExoGeni staff were hiding out. Otherwise, it was as much of a nightmare as it had been before, worse with the addition of another warm body. Lizbeth wound up crammed between Liara and Wrex, clearly nervous around the krogan.

"Uh, commander…this is a really…diverse crew you have here," she said.

"I'm like the goddamn pied piper," Shepard replied.

"In our defense," Garrus told her, "You invited us onto your crew."

"I'd regret it if we weren't always saving each other's asses."

"Please, if you had stuck with humans only, you'd be dead already, Shepard," Tali said.

"She thinks she's the one carrying all the weight," Wrex snorted.

"Well, I did carry you, Wrex."

"Touché, Shepard. Touché."

"You never get used to it," Ash whispered, at the look of confusion and uncertainty on Lizbeth's face. "You just learn to go with the flow. And kick a little alien ass when they get on your nerves."

"You wish you could kick my ass," Wrex said, puffing his chest out.

Liara sighed and rubbed her forehead. "I never want to ride in this miserable thing again."

When they reached the bunker, they piled out and down into the tunnel. Raised voices were echoing against the walls, and Shepard pulled Lizbeth with her into cover, motioning for the rest of the squad to approach carefully.

Garrus positioned himself on the other side of Shepard and peered around the corner to see what the commotion was.

"You can't do this, Jeong. These are innocent people!" Juliana Baynham was shouting.

"Shut up! Let me think!" Jeong growled, gun in hand. "Someone restrain her!"

Two ExoGeni security guards stepped forward and grabbed Juliana. Before Shepard could stop her, Lizbeth was on her feet, rushing forward.

"Let her go, you son of a bitch!"

Jeong trained his gun her. "L-lizbeth? Where did you come from? Who's with you? Come out where I can see you."

Shepard gave Garrus a look of annoyance as the squad came filing out from their cover, hands raised.

Jeong's face was full of hatred. "Shepard," he sneered. "I knew it was too much to hope the geth had killed you."

Shepard shrugged. "Sorry to disappoint."

He pointed his gun at her. "There's no reason for this to get bloody."

"You're the one pointing the gun at us," Garrus noted.

Shepard held up a hand. "Drop your weapon and let these people go. Violence is senseless at this point. There are bigger issues here on Feros."

"You don't understand!" Jeong said, a crazed look in his eyes. "Communications came back up. ExoGeni wants this place purged. They're washing their hands of it."

"You can't just purge a colony full of innocent people!" Lizbeth yelled.

"A few colonists don't mean anything! There are far more valuable assets here that need to be protected," Jeong said.

Shepard folded her arms across her chest. "No point in being cryptic, Jeong. We know about the Thorian."

"The what?" Juliana asked. Garrus didn't think she was feigning ignorance, but he was surprised that her daughter would have known about the Thorian and not her.

"It's…a telepathic life-form that lives under Zhu's Hope. It's controlling the colonists," Lizbeth explained.

"And that asset is worth far more than the lives of a few nobodies on this backwater planet!" Jeong shouted.

Shepard drew her gun quickly and two of the guards behind Jeong drew theirs in return. Garrus held off, waiting to see what would happen. After the whole situation with the krogan and the grenade, he didn't think Shepard would need his help on this one.

"Stand down, Jeong. I'm not letting you get through to ExoGeni and carry out this order. These people don't deserve to die because of your mistake," Shepard said.

"Look at you, big war hero," Jeong cried. "You save a few people a few times and you think you're hot shit. Well if you're such a good person, Shepard, then you'll spare me, won't you? Because that's the kind of person you are. Well I'm not you. You want to fight, Shepard, come on!" He pointed his gun at her.

Without hesitation, Shepard fired a single shot that pierced through his chest. It was a good, clean shot. Jeong slumped forward and fell to the ground dead. The two security guards behind him looked like they might try to rush Shepard, but Garrus stepped forward, and saw that Ash and Liara had also moved beside her. The guards backed down, not wanting to wind up like Jeong.

"As if there aren't enough problems. Now we're killing each other," Juliana frowned, tears welling in her eyes.

"It was him or all of us. I made a call for the greater good." Shepard wouldn't apologize.

"Commander Shepard," Lizbeth stepped forward. "This is my fault. I want to help if I can. The colonists will try to attack you when you enter Zhu's Hope, but I think there's a way to get through without killing them. We use this nerve agent in the gro-labs…it could temporarily paralyze them if you had a way to disperse it…grenades maybe."

"Dispersing nerve gas seems like a good way to paralyze ourselves," Garrus pointed out. He wasn't keen on needlessly slaughtering colonists who had no control over their minds, but he also wasn't keen on being torn apart by them either.

Lizbeth shook her head. "It only works if your immune system's already weakened. Under the Thorian's control, the colonists have become sick. It should affect them without hurting you."

"I guess I better hope my filter's functioning properly," Tali muttered.

"If this is our only option, I'll take it," Shepard said. "It's better than nothing. If we can avoid killing as many colonists as possible, we've done the right thing."

Lizbeth led Shepard over to a table of remnant supplies to load the grenades with the nerve agent. Once it was loaded, they returned, and Lizbeth addressed the whole squad.

"The entrance to the Thorian's chamber is blocked off by a concrete block on the east side of Zhu's Hope. ExoGeni wanted to keep the colonists from finding out what was down there. You'll need to use the crane inside the compound to move the block aside."

"I can handle that," Tali said.

"Good luck, commander." Lizbeth shook Shepard's hand. "I'm sorry there isn't more I can do."

"You might have saved a lot of lives with this nerve gas, Lizbeth. That's enough in my eyes. Stay here until you get word that it's safe over the comm link. We'll handle it from here."

"Thank you, commander."

Garrus noticed that Shepard seemed to leave a lot of thank you's in her wake. It was a trait he really admired about her. She always seemed to go out of her way to help people even in the midst of a crisis; it was never too much to make sure innocent lives were spared. He thought maybe she had picked that particular trait up from Captain Anderson.

No one was happy to climb back into the mako, but the trip along the Skyway at least went smoothly.

"This is the plan," Shepard told them as she drove. "I'll take the lead with Wrex. We'll have the grenades ready to launch at any of the colonists that turn hostile. Once we knock them out, you head in behind us. There could potentially be geth at the colony, we don't know what the situation is there. If the nerve gas fails to work on any of the colonists and they continue to be hostile…we'll have to fire. Save as many lives as we can, but don't risk our own. Understood?"

"Commander!" Ash and Kaidan said.

"I don't remember volunteering to take the lead," Wrex said at the same time.

"I thought you liked being at the front and center of a battle," Shepard cocked her head.

"All right, you got me."

Shepard brought the mako to a halt at the entrance to Zhu's Hope. The door to the compound's small car port was closed, so the squad fanned out on either side of it while Shepard and Wrex moved to the gate mechanism.

The door drew up slowly, revealing something unsettling within. Garrus zoomed in with his visor. He had taken a position further back in order to snipe if necessary. What he saw made his heart drop into his stomach.

Horrible husks of human beings sat in the fetal position, dozens of them spread across the car port, covered in some horrendous green fluid. When the door finished rising, the first of the creatures rose, its eyes hollow and black. Whoever it had been, it wasn't human anymore.

Shepard didn't hesitate to open fire. She had quickly realized that whatever the creatures were, they were beyond saving. She gave an order for the rest of the squad to take aim. Liara hesitated, simultaneously revolted and fascinated by the strange creatures. One of them rushed her and Garrus shot it dead just in time. Its insides splattered out onto her chest in a wave of green liquid before it fell to the ground in front of her. This seemed to jar her into action.

The squad moved quickly, but so did the creatures, rushing anyone that let them get too close. Garrus was a little afraid of what might happen if one of them were to bite a member of the squad, but they didn't get the chance.

When all of the creatures had been killed, they left a trail of green innards and liquid in their wake. Everyone's armor was coated with the stuff except Garrus, who had been able to keep his position near the mako the entire time.

"What were those things?" he asked as he rejoined the squad.

Ash shook her head. "On Eden Prime we saw something like them. The geth had…created them out of corpses. Husks of a human…but these were different."

"Whatever they are, I'm sure the Thorian had a hand in it. We stick with the plan. But if any of these things come at us, take them out. There's no saving them. Let's just hope there are any colonists left to save," Shepard said.

They hurried around the corner and into the compound. To Garrus' relief, they were met with gunfire. It wasn't normally something that inspired hope in him, but gunfire meant some of the colonists could still be saved. Though they shouted unintelligibly and seemed delirious, their aim was impeccable. Shepard and Wrex bowled through them, launching grenades on the colonists who could still be helped, and shooting down those that couldn't. Garrus tried to snipe a few of the Thorian husks that lay ahead of Shepard and Wrex, and succeeded in taking down a few before the rest of the squad swept forward to clean up what was left behind them.

As always, Garrus was pleased with the efficiency with which they all worked together. Whenever Shepard had a plan, things always seemed to pull through. How one person could bring such a strange and diverse squad together and manage to make something decent out of it, he still couldn't fully understand.

On the east side of the compound, they saw the crane controls, guarded by one of the crazed colonists. Shepard launched a grenade and Kaidan ran Tali to the controls, holding up a barrier while she got the crane moving. The block of concrete Lizbeth had told them about seemed conspicuous in retrospect, but if he hadn't known about it, he never would have given it a second thought. It was probably even less apparent to the colonists, who were being infected by the Thorian the entire time.

Tali struggled with the crane controls while the rest of the squad held off attack, but she managed to move the concrete block far enough out of the way to allow them entrance. As soon as it was clear, she stepped back from the interface and Kaidan's barrier went down. He wiped a bit of blood from his nose.

"Let's move. We have to get to the Thorian. Now!" Shepard urged them forward.

Grenades were flying left and right, dispersing a thick cloud of nerve gas that successfully knocked the colonists to the ground. They took down a few more of the Thorian husks and then rushed into the space Tali had opened for them and down into the Thorian's lair.

 The vault beneath Zhu's Hope that housed the Thorian was built deeper into the ground than Shepard had expected. It took them several minutes to reach the bottom of the long set of stairs that had been exposed by the crane.

"How big do you think the Thorian is?" Ash asked. "Will we even be able to find it in this dungeon?"

As if in answer to her question, they reached an opening at the bottom of the stairs, leading into a large room with several tiers wrapping up around a cylindrical center. Directly in the center of those tiered platforms, lay a creature unlike any Shepard had ever seen. Its body seemed smooth and muscular, round with a strange opening at the bottom that was leaking the same green fluid the Thorian husks had been covered in. Extending from its center, tentacles branched out in every direction, growing into the walls and tearing the concrete apart around them. The appendages allowed a strong hold for the creature, so that it seemed to be hovering over the pool of filth beneath it. Its body was so massive that it extended up to the top of the room.

"That is a plant?" Liara asked.

"I almost wish we were just fighting more geth," Shepard sighed.

The Thorian made a terrible squelching noise as more fluid dripped from its opening. Quite suddenly, an asari with green skin fell, fully-clothed, from the Thorian's opening. She rose to her feet, her eyes flashing as she turned to them.

"Invaders!" She cried. "Your every step is a transgression. A thousand feelers appraise you as meat, good only to dig or decompose. I speak for the Old Growth, as I did for Saren. You are within and before the Thorian. It commands that you be in awe!"

"Saren?" Shepard asked, cautiously. She and her squad stayed glued to their spots, unsure of what could or might happen next if they made a wrong move. "What did he want from you?"

"Saren sought knowledge of those who are gone. The Old Growth listened to flesh for the first time in the Long Cycle. Trades were made," the asari replied. "Then cold ones began killing the flesh that would tend the next cycle. Flesh fairly given. The Old Growth sees the air you push as lies! It will listen no more!"

Before Shepard could move, the asari was on them, throwing Shepard into the wall with her biotics before pursuing the other members of the squad. Garrus was at Shepard's side almost instantaneously, pulling her to her feet.

"Let the others take care of the asari. We need to take out the Thorian," he said. "If we could cut off its appendages we might be able to drown it."

"Attack its tentacles, it's roots!" Shepard yelled to the squad. "Liara, Kaidan, you handle the asari."

Shepard ran with Garrus, up the stairs to the next tier of the tower-like room. They were greeted with a swarm of Thorian husks. Garrus pulled out his assault rifle and fired off a few rounds into the closest ones while Shepard grabbed her own gun. Like clockwork, their backs were against each other, moving in a circle against the Thorian husks just as they had against the rachni on Noveria. They moved so fluidly, Shepard almost felt like she could sense what he was going to do next and cover him accordingly.

One of the husks launched itself on her and Garrus whipped around, smashing it in the head with the butt of his gun. It fell to the ground where Shepard promptly blew its brains out.

No more husks in sight, they set to work on the pulsing Thorian tentacle that had grown into the wall in front of them. Shepard sliced at it with her omni-blade while Garrus fired off shredder rounds. The Thorian howled below as the appendage came loose and its grip from that position was lost.

The rest of the squad had dispersed around the tower, taking out any of the many appendages they encountered, but also running into Thorian husks along the way. Kaidan and Liara were about to join Shepard and Garrus on the next tier when the Thorian spit out another green asari and sent it after them.

Garrus and Shepard moved quickly along up the tower. They met another group of husks halfway up and moved into formation to take them out. Thinking they had cleared the area of them yet again, they moved to destroy another of the Thorian's appendages. Shepard was hacking away when she heard Garrus let out a yell.

She whipped around to find two Thorian husks had brought Garrus to the ground. He was struggling to get them off of him and failing at the task. Shepard shot one off of them and then grabbed the other, tossing it to the ground and stomping its head with her boot. Its skull gave way with an unpleasant crack. She wasted no time it dropping to Garrus' side.

"Are you all right?" she asked.

His face was coated in that horrible green fluid, but he seemed otherwise unscathed. He blinked at her unsurely and she wiped the fluid off of his face with the back of her hand. Despite the battle raging around them, the clear and present danger, he clapped his hand over hers while it still rested on his face, holding it there, pressing his mandible against her. The moment was fleeting, but tangible. As soon as he had done it, he dropped his hand and stood up, pretending it hadn't happened. They returned to work removing the Thorian's appendage without a word.

Kaidan and Liara were still down below, fighting a seemingly limitless supply of asari. Whenever they killed one, another took its place. Ash, Wrex, and Tali were making their way up the other side of the tower, on equal ground with Garrus and Shepard.

By the time they reached the top of the tower, they were covered nearly from head to toe in the green fluid of the Thorian husks. The rest of the squad met Garrus and Shepard in the middle and together they took down the last of the Thorian's appendages.

The creature let out a wailing shriek as it struggled to keep its hold on the tower. Its appendages were blunt and useless now, hacked off at the key contact points, but it still bludgeoned them against the concrete walls in a desperate attempt to maintain its position. Slowly, it fell into the pool of waste below it, unleashing a tidal wave of filth onto the first level. Luckily, Kaidan and Liara had already started their ascent to meet the squad up on the top floor.

For a moment, the parts of the Thorian that could still be seen above the water twitched with life, but finally they stopped moving and Shepard felt convinced that they had succeeded in killing the thing.

She turned to thank the squad when a noise like ripping fabric sounded from behind her.

"Shepard, watch out!" Garrus warned.

She spun around to find an asari falling from what looked to be an egg sac pulsating on the wall. Shepard and Garrus raised their guns, but something in Shepard's gut told her they were safe. This asari was not like the others. Her skin was a typical light blue, not unlike Liara's, not the strange green of those that had attacked them.

Shepard lowered her gun and approached the asari cautiously. She was struggling to bring herself to her feet.

"I…I am free…" the asari said in disbelief. She seemed to suddenly notice Shepard and her squad. "I should thank you for freeing me."

"Are you…okay?" Shepard ventured to place a hand on the asari's shoulder. The asari placed a reciprocal hand on Shepard's shoulder to steady herself.

"Yes…I think I will be. My name is Shiala," she said.

"Shiala, how did you end up inside that…thing?" Shepard asked

"I served Matriarch Benezia," Shiala explained. "When she allied herself with Saren, so did I. Benezia was wise. She could see the influence Saren would have. Unfortunately, she could not see the influence he had on her. He was compelling…she lost her way. We all came to believe in Saren's cause. The strength of his influence was…troubling."

In her peripheral, Shepard saw Liara walk to the edge of the floor and lean against the railing, looking away from the squad. The wounds of her mother's death were still so fresh. It couldn't have been easy to hear any of this.

"We saw Benezia on Noveria," Shepard told Shiala. "She…broke free of Saren's control just before she died."

"Goddess be with her," Shiala said sadly.

"I didn't understand it on Noveria and I don't understand it now. Asari Matriarchs are some of the most powerful and intelligent beings in the galaxy. How did one turian manage to control her?" Shepard asked.

"It's not Saren," the asari told her. "He has a vessel…an enormous warship. It's unlike anything I've ever seen. He calls it Sovereign. That vessel…it can dominate the minds of Saren's followers. I don't know how it happens, but they become indoctrinated to Saren's will. The process can take days…or weeks, but in the end, the control is absolute.

"When Saren brought me here, I came as a willing slave, completely under his control. He needed my biotics to communicate with the Thorian. Then he offered me in trade to the creature to secure an alliance with it. After Saren got what he needed, he sent the geth to destroy the Thorian. He knows you're searching for him and for the conduit. He attacked the Thorian to prevent you from gaining the Cipher."

"The Cipher?" Shepard's head was spinning from all the information she'd just been presented.

"The beacon on Eden Prime gave you visions. But the visions are unclear and confusing, aren't they? They were meant for a Prothean mind," Shiala said. "To truly comprehend your visions, you must think like a Prothean: understand their culture, their history, their very existence. The Thorian was here long before the Protheans. When they were exterminated, it consumed them. They became part of it."

"So the Thorian taught Saren to think like a Prothean? To understand some key to the conduit?"

"Yes, but this knowledge of the Protheans, it isn't something that can be taught. I sensed the Cipher when I melded with the Thorian. It was through this melding that I was then able to transfer the knowledge to Saren. But you must stop him. I can meld my mind with yours, teach you as I taught Saren," Shiala explained.

Shepard had a fleeting thought that such a request could be a trap. After all, how did Shiala know so much about Shepard that she had never told her? Still, she would go with her gut as she always did.

"Okay, show me then."

Shiala stepped forward, speaking softly. "Try to relax, commander. Take slow, deep breaths. Let go of your physical shell and reach out to grasp the threads that bind us to one another." The asari pressed her forehead against Shepard's. "Embrace eternity!"

Shepard was suddenly flooded with visions of the Protheans, of a dying race, of the Reapers, of death and pain and life and love, a million images flashing through her mind in bright pulsating bursts. It was like seeing the vision from the beacon on Eden Prime all over again, but all laid out clearly before her: a road to walk along as she dissected the meaning of the images. One final image burst before her eyes: a Reaper, a ship, perhaps both? It was impossible to process what it was.

Suddenly, she found herself back on solid ground, Shiala standing in front of her and her squad behind her.

"What happened?" she asked, dazed.

"Are you all right, Shepard?" Garrus hovered by her side.

"I have given you the Cipher, just as I did Saren," Shiala said.

"I saw images, but…it still didn't make sense." Shepard shook her head.

Shiala smiled with a look of relief. "You have been given the experience of an entire people. It will take time to process this information."

"We should get you back to the ship, have Dr. Chakwas look at you," Garrus insisted.

"I'm sorry if you have suffered," Shiala said. "There was no other way. You needed the Cipher to understand the beacon. In time, it may help you defeat Saren."

Shepard did feel weak. Almost weak enough to submit to Garrus' concern and head back to the ship. She stumbled and he caught her, allowing her to rest her weight on his arm.

"What about you? If you want transport off of this planet, we can offer it, but we're headed after Saren," Shepard said to Shiala.

"If they will allow it, I would like to stay here with the colonists. They have suffered greatly and I played a hand in that suffering. I hope that helping them might make amends," Shiala said sadly.

"I'm sure they'll take all the help they can get. Come on, we'll head back to the colony together."

Garrus helped Shepard out, too weak to support herself completely. They wound their way down the tower and back up the stairwell to Zhu's Hope. When they reached the surface, the colonists were still incapacitated, but Juliana and Lizbeth had arrived with the other ExoGeni staff, despite Shepard's insistence that they stay until she gave the all clear.

Lizbeth rushed to meet them when she saw them emerging from the vault below the colony.

"Commander Shepard! I'm so glad you're okay." She eyed the filthy green fluid coating Shepard's hair and armor unsurely. "What happened down there?"

"The Thorian won't be a problem for these people anymore," Shepard said. "This asari would like to stay and help the colony rebuild. She was being held prisoner by the Thorian."

Lizbeth shook Shiala's hand. "We'll take all the help we can get. We'll be sure to tell the people of Zhu's Hope what you did for them, commander. Is there anything we can do to help you or repay you? We don't have much to offer, but…"

Shepard shook her head. "Just keep them safe. And don't let something like this happen under your watch ever again."

"I promise," Lizbeth nodded.

"Shepard, you're weak. We need to get you back to the Normandy," Garrus interjected.

Lizbeth shook Shepard's hand. "I hope we'll meet again, commander."

"Me too," Shepard smiled.

She let the squad lead her for once, back to the docking bay where the Normandy still sat, relatively unscathed. A few of the Thorian husks lay dead around the airlock, and some of the green fluid had found its way onto the exterior of the ship, but it was otherwise unharmed.

Shepard's legs gave out when they stepped into the airlock, so Garrus lifted her into his arms and carried her inside.

Joker was waiting for them as soon as the airlock opened. "Commander, what took you so…whoa. What happened?" he stopped at the sight of Shepard, limp in Garrus' arms.

"She's fine," Garrus insisted. "It was a rough fight. I'm taking her down to the med bay."

As the squad filed in, Joker's face contorted with disgust. "What the hell is all over you guys? It reeks! God, go change your clothes and take a shower. Disgusting. Worse than the rachni blood."

"It's nice to see you too, Joker," Liara said bitingly.

Garrus carried Shepard down to the med bay, the others following in a line behind him. Dr. Chakwas was a bit surprised to see them all come piling through her door. She jumped up in alarm at the sight of them.

"What's going on?"

"Shepard melded minds with an asari," Liara explained. "It involved a large transfer of information. The experience left her very weak."

"Put her down here," Dr. Chakwas made space for her on one of the beds and Garrus set her gingerly down on top of it.

"I'm fine, really…" Shepard insisted. She was dizzy, and definitely too weak to stand, but otherwise just fine.

"I'll take a look at her. The rest of you get out of here and clean yourselves up. I don't need you contaminating my med bay with whatever filth you've tracked in. It's bad enough that Shepard's covered in it."

The squad filed out unsurely, all except Garrus, who hovered next to the doctor. She folded her arms across her chest. "That means you too, Vakarian."

Sulking, he left the med bay as well. Dr. Chakwas leaned over Shepard and handed her some pills. "Take these, commander. They'll make you sleep, but they'll restore some of your energy."

Shepard swallowed the pills, too weak to argue, and within minutes the world had faded away into darkness.

Chapter Text

Garrus sat, tapping his foot impatiently, as he and the rest of the squad waited for Shepard in the comm room. She had been out for an entire day, during which time they had remained docked waiting for travel orders. Whatever medication Dr. Chakwas had given her had been strong, but Garrus knew she probably needed the forced rest.

The doctor was also annoyingly guarded about the med bay. Liara could come and go as she pleased, since her bunk was in the back of the room, but whenever Garrus stopped by to check on Shepard, Dr. Chakwas ushered him away, telling him Shepard would never recover if she had a constant barrage of visitors. If he tried to sneak up through the ladder from the cargo bay, Liara would chide him and kick him back down.

When Shepard's voice had sounded over the intercom that morning calling the squad up to the comm room, Garrus had bounded up as quickly as he could, which was hindered considerably by the slow elevator speed. When he arrived, however, Shepard was not there, and they'd been waiting twenty minutes for her to show up.

Another ten minutes, after the initial twenty, passed before the doors to the comm room finally opened and Shepard walked in. She looked remarkably better, even despite the yellowing bruises around her eye and neck. She sat down at the chair in the center of the circle and leaned back.

"Sorry it took me so long," she said. "Dr. Chakwas wanted to give me one last exam before she let me go. That asari really took it out of me."

Wrex chuckled immaturely, but Shepard just grinned at him.

"Shepard, I didn't want to ask you while you were still weak, but I do have considerable knowledge of the Protheans. Perhaps I could meld my mind with yours and together we might be able to make sense of the Cipher. It should not be as energy intensive as when Shiala transmitted the Cipher to you," Liara suggested.

Shepard nodded. "I was thinking about that as well. If it won't totally wipe me out, then let's do it. We need all the information we can get to stop Saren."

She and Liara stood and met in the center of the circle. Liara touched her forehead to Shepard's and, as Shiala had done, told her to 'embrace eternity'. Liara's eyes went black and the two stood there, foreheads pressed together, unmoving, seeing something none of the others could.

Garrus was intensely curious about what it must be like. He had so many things he wanted to discuss with Shepard, and Virmire was only a day's journey away.

After a moment, Liara stepped back. "That was…the images were so vivid. All of my life spent researching the Protheans and this…"

"Did you see anything useful?" Kaidan asked.

Liara shook her head. "Whatever image was meant to be transmitted by the beacon, parts of it are missing. The beacon must have been badly damaged." She turned to Shepard. "What do you think the Reapers are, Shepard?"

"I…don't know…" the commander hesitated. 

"Just say the first thing that comes to your mind."

"It sounds ridiculous," Shepard sighed.

"This entire thing is ridiculous," Wrex said. "Just spit it out."

"Well I already thought they were sentient machines just from the beacon itself…but…they seem almost like…like sentient ships," Shepard burst.

Liara nodded. "Yes, that is what I understood from the image as well. The Protheans were wiped out by a race of sentient…vessels? There must be some link between this and the conduit, but I cannot piece it apart from your vision. Perhaps there is another beacon, perhaps Saren is searching for it."

"If we don't have any other answers, I'd say Virmire is our best shot," Ash said. "The Council wants you to go there anyway, and they said there might be geth. If there's even a chance that geth are running around, then Saren can't be far behind, right?"

Shepard nodded. "I'll have Joker and Pressly set a course from Virmire. It's only a day's journery out from Feros, so we better be prepared." She headed for the door to plot their path.

Garrus wanted to stop her, to ask to meet with her up on the observation deck. He simultaneously felt like there was nothing and a million things he wanted to say to her. He didn't stop her though. She was the commander of the entire crew and they'd just finished a lengthy mission on Feros. She had a lot to catch up on and he would let her.

His mind was too busy to go down to the cargo bay, though, so instead he made his way up to the observation deck to sit and think.

The deck was empty, as usual. It got busiest around lunch hour, but otherwise he rarely saw anyone else up there besides Shepard and occasionally Liara. He took a seat on the couch closest to the window and sat staring blankly out at the docks until the ship pulled away and took off out of the atmosphere and back into space.

He was hardly paying attention as the galaxy sped by around him. He'd been so worried about Shepard while she was in the med bay, maybe too worried. Turians didn't spend a huge chunk of time investigating their emotions. Topics relating to friendship and love were intensely private in turian culture, and Garrus was unsure how to even let himself think about them, let alone speak them out loud.

He must have been up in the observation deck for more than hour when he heard footsteps behind him. He didn't have to look up to know it was Shepard. He could smell that earthy scent he'd smelled back on Feros. Maybe she'd just come from talking to Kaidan. She took a seat next to him and prodded his side with her elbow.

"Shepard," he greeted her. "I'm glad you're okay."

"Yeah, thanks for carrying me. I wish nobody had seen it…" she sighed. "You're ruining my intimidation factor, Garrus."

He laughed. "I'm sorry. Next time I'll let you crawl back to the ship."

"Damn right you will."

They sat in silence for a moment, both of them staring out the window. Garrus looked down at his hands and mustered up the courage to speak his mind.


"Yeah?" she turned to face him.

"Turians don't…er…" he was having trouble finding his words. "Turians…erm…well we don't talk about friendship a lot. If you're friends with someone, you don't delve into the emotional aspects of your relationship. Or if you do, then it means you really trust them."

"Yeah?" Shepard urged him to continue.

"I haven't had many people in my life that I've really trusted. No one I would consider a really close friend. Even in C-sec…there's no one that I could say has been my best friend. The person I would trust with my life. I know we've already talked about…about how we just sort of instantly clicked. How well we work together."

"Garrus," she placed a hand gently on his shoulder and he finally met her gaze. "I feel the same. I haven't had a best friend since I left Mindoir. I've been too guarded. And that served me well trying to make a career in the military, but now…" she shrugged. "Garrus, I've never trusted anyone as much as I trust you. Even if it doesn't make sense. A few weeks, and I feel like I could tell you anything. You're the best friend I've ever had."

He felt his heart flutter at the words, unable to tear his eyes away from hers. He had never looked at a human and felt what he was feeling then. It was so unusual. He felt like he could drown in those brown eyes of hers.

He was suddenly distinctly aware of the earthy smell of her pheromones, fresh and fragrant. Had he misunderstood back on Feros? Had he been the target? It would have been so much simpler if she had been a turian. He would have known what her pheromones meant, would have been able to understand her body language better. He wouldn't have hesitated if she were a turian. But she wasn't, which only made him more confused.

All the time he was thinking, their faces seemed to be drifting closer together. His eyes moved down to her lips, so fleshy and foreign compared to his own rough, rigid ones. Had a turian ever kissed a human before? Was she leaning in, or was he? He could feel her breath on his mouth, a thin layer of static between them. She was so close he could almost taste her…and he wanted to.

"Shepard? Are you up here?" Tali's voice sounded from the ladder behind them.

Shepard moved away abruptly, placing a sizeable amount of distance between the two of them, her face flushed red. Garrus' head was spinning. All he could do was stare out the window and try to make sense of what had just happened. Or almost happened.

Tali clamored over, oblivious to what was going on.

"Tali," Shepard said, trying to act normal. "What's up?"

"I was wondering if you could help me down in engineering. Adams and I have an idea for improving the efficiency of the drive core, but we need sign off from you. And actually, it would be good if you could check it out, because we're in a bit of a disagreement about exactly how to implement the upgrade…"

"Uh, sure. Yeah," Shepard stood up quickly. "I'll see you later, Garrus."

"Shepard," he nodded.

They disappeared down the ladder and Garrus found himself alone on the observation deck again, kicking himself for being so dense, and at the same time still questioning if he had been reading any of Shepard's signals correctly.

Their mouths had been centimeters away from touching and he was still not completely positive that it meant what he thought it meant. He slumped lower on the couch and tried to think about anything else.

Chapter Text

The squad had been crammed into the mako shooting down geth for nearly two hours since they'd landed on Virmire. Garrus had promised it was a tropical planet, with cool waters and sandy beaches not unlike his home of Palaven. Virmire had all of those things, in fact, but it also had geth, more geth than they had seen on Therum and Feros combined, storming them from every angle. It was all Garrus, Shepard, and Tali could do to keep up with all of them; the mako's shields were taking hard hits everywhere they turned.

The Normandy couldn't land until they took out the AA guns the geth seemed to have control over, so after hours of shooting geth in the mako, they'd had a brief reprieve at a series of gatehouses shooting geth on foot, bringing down the AA towers, and then they were back in the mako shooting more geth in the cramped, uncomfortable space. Joker had already radioed in that he was waiting for them at the Salarian base camp, but it seemed it would be some time before they met him there.

Shepard hadn't spoken to Garrus at all about their brief encounter on the observation deck, nor had he brought it up. They were both steadfastly ignoring that anything had happened at all, though it was ever-present in Shepard's mind as she was crammed against the turian in the front seat of the mako. It seemed irrelevant though, considering the heavy geth bombardment they were facing, and whatever awaited them beyond the Salarian base camp.

They had seen a massive structure surrounded by defense towers as they made their way to the mako's drop point, but as to what it was, that was unclear. Shepard was sure Saren had something to do with it.

"Up ahead!" Garrus said. "I see the Normandy."

"Thank God!" Ash cried. "When can we blow this thing up, commander? I'll die happy if I never have to ride in it again."

"One day, Ash, I promise."

Shepard brought the mako to a halt and the squad piled out, trudging through knee deep water toward the Salarian base camp on the shore. It was no more than a series of tents, heavy-duty tents to be sure, but still just tents. Behind the base camp in the distance stood the structure they'd seen when they'd flown in, surrounded by defense towers.

There was nothing like water and sand to make even the most graceful soldier feel like an elcor, Shepard decided, wading through the water with a slow, unbalanced gait. Garrus was the only one who didn't seem to be hindered by it, but he had the unfair advantage of having grown up on a planet similar to this one.

The Salarian captain was waiting for them when they reached the shore, arms folded over his chest, arguing with Joker.

"What's the situation here?" Shepard asked when she reached them.

"He's grounded us, commander. I've been trying to make him see we're here to answer their distress call and get them out of this geth-ridden hellhole, but he doesn't want to hear it."

"Captain Kirrahe, Third Infiltration Regiment STG," the salarian ignored Joker, extending a hand to Shepard. "I'm afraid your ship's landed in a hot zone. Every AA gun within ten miles knows you're here now. I understand you took out some of the guns on the southern coast, but Saren's research laboratory is well equipped as well. You'll have to wait here until the Council sends reinforcements."

"We are the reinforcements," Garrus said from Shepard's side.

"What!?" Kirrahe was furious. "I told the Council to send a fleet."

"They couldn't interpret your transmission, so they sent me to investigate. The geth were probably jamming the comm lines," Shepard said. "We're all you've got."

"Investigate? Why do you think we're here? I lost half of my troops investigating this place," Kirrahe complained.

"You said this is Saren's facility?" Shepard asked.

"Yes, a research facility. But it's crawling with geth…and heavily fortified as you can see. We haven't been able to infiltrate it, though we have intercepted some comms about Saren."

"Is Saren here?" Garrus asked, bristling.

"I don't know," Kirrahe shrugged. "It's possible."

"What could Saren need a research facility for?" Shepard pondered aloud.

"He's breeding an army of krogan," Kirrahe replied, as if this were a perfectly natural response and not something that should be physically impossible.

Before Shepard could speak again, Wrex moved forward. "How is that possible?" he demanded.

"Apparently Saren has discovered a cure for the genophage," the salarian sounded more exasperated than anything else, perfectly blasé about a cure for a disease that had nearly wiped out the entire krogan population.

The entire squad turned their attention to Wrex. Shepard was rightfully concerned about what might happen next, tensing up before the krogan even spoke. He didn't get a chance to say anything before Ash butted in, however.

"An army of geth and now an army of krogan?" She said. "The galaxy won't stand a chance against Saren if he pulls that off."

"That was the Council's concern on my last report," Kirrahe said. "And a concern of mine as well. Our plan turned from investigation to sabotage. We need to ensure that this facility and its secrets are destroyed. No one can afford to let Saren leave this place with an army of krogan."

Wrex had had enough. "Destroyed? You talk about the krogan like we're some sub-sapient species. My people are dying. You think I'm going to let you just destroy a chance to save them?"

"If the cure leaves the planet, the krogan will become unstoppable," Kirrahe addressed Shepard rather than Wrex. "We can't make that mistake again."

Wrex grabbed the captain by the collar of his shirt. "Call me a mistake again, captain. You'll wish you hadn't."

"Wrex…" Shepard put a hand on his shoulder.

He swatted her hand away. "Don't act like you understand, human."

He dropped the salarian in the sand and stormed off down the shore to brood; Shepard was just thankful the situation hadn't escalated further. Garrus helped captain Kirrahe to his feet.

"Is he going to be a problem?" the salarian asked. "We have enough krogan to deal with."

"I'll talk to him," Shepard assured him. "Surely you can understand why he might be upset."

"I have more important concerns than the feelings of a krogan. My men and I have to form a new plan of attack for infiltrating Saren's base. You can go and talk to the krogan in the meantime. Hopefully he'll see reason."

The salarian captain dismissed himself and withdrew into one of the nearby tents to speak with his men. Shepard turned her attention to the squad.

"Wrex is going to blow a gasket," Ash said. "We've got to diffuse this situation before someone gets hurt."

"We can't reasonably leave this planet without destroying the cure," Garrus told them. "Wrex won't understand, but if the krogan were allowed to reproduce unchecked again…there's no way to control their numbers. They reproduce very quickly. And if these krogan are being indoctrinated by Saren and his ship…that's a much bigger issue."

"I'm aware of the problem," Shepard said, more of an edge to her voice than she intended. Garrus looked momentarily hurt by her tone, but he quickly wiped any sign of surprise from his face.

"What will you do, Shepard?" Kaidan asked.

Shepard stared down the shore to where Wrex was firing his gun at a rock jutting out of the water. If she didn't diffuse the situation, she could absolutely see Wrex hurting someone to justify his ends. He'd attacked her in the comm room over the rachni queen after all, and that hadn't affected the salvation of his people. Nevertheless, she had reasoned with him later. Wrex was a valuable, if not volatile, ally. She didn't want things to come to blows over this, but she agreed that there was no way they could let the cure leave this planet. There were too many unknowns.

"I'll talk to him," Shepard shrugged.

"Just…be careful," Garrus said, placing a hand gently on her arm.

"I'll be fine," she assured him.

Even though she knew that Garrus trusted both her combat and reasoning skills, she could see him out of the corner of her eye as she headed toward Wrex, pretending to examine his gun, really preparing to fire from a distance if necessary. She hoped he wouldn't have to.

"Shepard," Wrex grunted as she approached. He continued firing off his gun, not moving to meet her gaze. "You had better have a damn good reason for wanting to destroy a cure for something that's been plaguing my people for hundreds of years."

"Wrex, you know this isn't a black and white issue," Shepard spoke firmly.

"No. What I do know is that I have a chance to save my people."

"At what cost? Allying with Saren?"

"Saren's the one who has a cure for the genophage. You want to destroy it. The way I see it, the line between friend and foe is getting pretty blurry on both sides." The krogan finally faced her, still clutching his gun tightly in one hand, fire burning in his large red eyes.

"But we don't even know how Saren is building this army of krogan. It's possible that it's not a cure as much as a…creation. We don't know anything about it. What we do know is that Saren is going to use those krogan as tools until they're no longer useful to him. And if he does that, you might not even be around to reap the benefits of his cure."

Wrex got in her face then, too close for comfort, certainly close enough to take her down in hand-to-hand combat.

"That's a risk I'm willing to take. You're going to need a better reason than that to justify throwing away the future of my entire species."

"Do you think this is an easy choice for me, Wrex? It's not." Shepard shoved him forcefully. "I never in my life thought I would call a krogan my friend. But you are my friend, Wrex. If the circumstances were different…if this didn't all fall into Saren's hands, I swear on my life I would help you find a way to cure the genophage. But this isn't a cure. It's a weapon." She thought she saw a hint of understanding gleaming behind the anger in his eyes. "I can't pretend to even come close to comprehending what it's been like for you and the other krogan. Hundreds of years watching your numbers dwindle while the races around you continue to grow and spread. I know it must be one of the hardest things any person has had to endure. But don't let that emotion blind you, Wrex. Don't leave this in Saren's hands."

Wrex stared at her, eyebrows furrowed in uncertainty. Slowly, she could see the rage draining from his face. He stepped back and holstered his gun.

"I won't allow my people to be tools for anyone ever again. When we find a cure for the genophage, it will be on our own terms. I still don't know about this plan, but I trust you enough to follow your lead."

"Thank you, Wrex," Shepard breathed a sigh of relief.

"One more thing, Shepard," Wrex said as she moved to return to the camp.

"What's that?"

"Tell Garrus if he points his gun at my head again I'm going to snap it in two."

"I'll relay the message."

She returned to the squad, all of them pretending they hadn't been watching the entire conversation she'd had with Wrex. All except Garrus, who greeted her with a subtle nod.

"I knew you'd be able to talk him down," he said.

"Wrex said if you ever point your gun at him again he's going to turn it into a pretzel," Shepard warned him.

"I wasn't pointing it at him…" Garrus was a bad liar. "I was, uh, checking the scope." His shoulders dropped and he sighed. "I'm sorry, but he was really close to you and I thought we were going to have a replay of your altercation in the comm room."

"It's fine, Garrus. It's good to know you have my back."

"Always, Shepard."

Captain Kirrahe approached them a moment later. Shepard had a hard time reading salarian facial expressions, but she thought even the captain looked relieved.

"Commander Shepard, thank you for talking to the krogan. We have enough on our plate without worrying about him."

"Have you come up with a plan?" Shepard asked.

"Yes, and we'll need your help to carry it through," Kirrahe said gravely.

"Anything we can do to help. We have a common goal here, captain."

"We've worked out that we can convert our ship's drive system into a twenty-kiloton ordinance. Crude, but effective. Detonating it will take out everything within a three-hundred-mile radius."

"So we drop it from the sky and nuke Saren to oblivion. Nice," Ash nodded.

Kirrahe shook his head. "The facility is too well fortified for a drop from above. We'll have to infiltrate the base and place it at a precise location. Once we do so, we'll have a limited amount of time to get aboard the Normandy and off of this planet before we're caught in the blast."

"We don't have enough men to take that base," Kaidan complained. "It's a suicide mission."

"We have limited options," Kirrahe shrugged. "I'm going to divide my men into three teams to take the front of the facility. This should open an opportunity for you to sneak in through the back. You can assist us by taking out the geth satellite uplinks and communications towers."

Shepard recognized that this was the best option. This plan would ensure that someone got into the facility to allow access to plant the bomb. There was no way that all of them would make it out alive though, not with the sheer number of geth that awaited them.

"Captain, it's a good plan, but your people are going to get slaughtered," she said honestly.

Kirrahe shook his head. "We're tougher than we look, commander. But I acknowledge that most of us won't make it out alive. Which is what makes what I'm about to ask even harder. I need one of your squad to join us: to help coordinate the teams."

"What?" Shepard felt like she'd had the wind knocked out of her. It made sense, she knew, but to have to ask that of one of her squad…

She didn't have to think about it long. Both Kaidan and Ash stepped forward to volunteer.

"The captain has a good plan," Kaidan said. "We need all the teams at their best. I can go with him and help out."

"Wait a minute, I want a say in this too," Ash complained. "Shepard will need you with her squad to arm the nuke. I've got ample ground combat experience. I think I'd be well suited for this role, commander."

"With all due respect, Ash, it isn't your decision," Kaidan said bitingly.

"Why is it that when someone says 'with all due respect', what they really mean is 'kiss my ass'?" She growled.

"Enough. I'll make a choice," Shepard sighed.

They waited expectantly. How was Shepard supposed to choose? She couldn't send Kaidan. He'd been with her crew longer than anyone else and she cared about him too much. But she liked Ash too, and time and time again the gunnery chief had proven her worth as a soldier. These were two skilled soldiers in the prime of their careers. How could she relegate one to a potential death sentence?

She had to follow her gut instinct.

"Ash, you can go with Kirrahe," She said before she could change her mind. When Kaidan started to protest, she cut him off. "Ash is right. We need you to arm the bomb. You stay with us."

Ash saluted, "I'll make you proud, commander."

Shepard put both hands on Ash's shoulders. "You can make me proud by getting through this alive and meeting us back at the ship. Understood?"

"Yes ma'am!"

Kirrahe assembled his men to give a final speech before they began their assault on Saren's research facility. Shepard hung back, feeling uneasy about the decision she'd had to make. Garrus stood by her side.

"Ash will be okay," he told her. "She's the best choice for this job. We'll see her on the other side."

"I hope you're right," Shepard said. "It's a decision I've rarely had to make on the field. Don't get me wrong, I always feel accountable for what happens to my squad, but this…if something happens to her, it will be my fault."

"War is hell, Shepard. You can't change that. If something happens to her, it will be Saren's fault," he placed a hand gently against her shoulder. There was something intensely comforting about the act. A part of her wanted to embrace him then, but she held off, remaining stoic in the face of the impending battle.

"Our influence will stop Saren!" Kirrahe shouted, his troops rallying. "In battle today, we will hold the line!"

 The back route into Saren's facility was through an ocean inlet that divided two sides of the high cliff face around them. Salt water filled the pass, as high as Garrus' knees, but higher still on his companions. Shepard was a full foot shorter than him, almost waist-deep in the water as she struggled through it.

The air was heavy with the sound of gunfire and the sight of smoke. It felt like being back in training on Palaven, but this war was real. They were closer than ever to Saren, he might even be in the facility as they were approaching; it was thrilling, but also terrifying. Ash's absence was also well noted by the squad. No one said anything about it, but they were all worried about her. As placating as Garrus had tried to be with Shepard, he wasn't positive Ash would make it through the assault. The salarian teams were risking their lives to get the bomb into the facility.

"Commander Shepard, this is Captain Kirrahe," the salarian's voice sounded over her comm link. "Establishing comm connection."

"Roger," Shepard replied quickly.

"We're beginning our assault. We'll try to take down the AA guns, but some of it may be up to you. Disconnecting the geth systems should help us considerably."

"We're on it."

"Shepard," Liara spoke softly. "Do you think the salarians will make it through?"

"We have to hope so," Shepard said, betraying no hint of emotion as she spoke.

"You should have sent me," Kaidan said.

"We aren't having this conversation. Focus on the mission. If you want to make sure Ash gets through this, then we have to help the salarians. We can have a fight about it when we're all safely back on the Normandy."

Kaidan didn't reply, but his face was set in a stony grimace. Garrus understood Shepard's decision; he knew it couldn't have been an easy choice.

Progress was slow going, gunfire breaking through on the comm link occasionally. Eventually the water became shallower and gave way to sandy banks. The squad rounded a corner to find the satellite uplink tower jutting from the cliff-face. Almost as quickly as they noticed it, the geth noticed them.

Cover was thankfully abundant in the area; stones poked up out of the sand all around the uplink tower, allowing the squad to fan out and fire back on the geth making their way down out of the concrete base of the terminal.

Tali sat with her back against the rock where Garrus was also taking cover, clicking away at her omni-tool as she always did in battle. Garrus kept the fire off of her while she worked.

"Do you think we're going to die here, Garrus?" she asked, a strange calmness to her voice.

"Not as long as Shepard's still breathing," he answered honestly. "She'll get us out of this."

"I trust Shepard, but this is a dangerous task we're talking about. Something even she's never faced before."

Garrus fired off a shot at a geth drone and ducked out of the way of a series of shots from two geth shock troopers.

"We just have to do what we can and hope for the best. Follow Shepard's lead and we're less likely to die, I figure."

"I guess that's all we can do," Tali nodded.

They moved to closer cover as the geth began to fall back into the tower. Wrex led a charge up the ramp leading into the tower, taking out two geth troopers with nothing more than his brute strength. Garrus followed their path, up the stairs around the side of the tower. There were two geth at the top, so he lined up a shot and fired from a safe distance. The first geth went flying off the ledge and landed in the sand, sparks flying from its body. The second one managed to clip his shields, and was rewarded with a well-aimed headshot.

The path cleared. Shepard and Wrex went about destroying the uplink terminal at the top of the tower while Tali, Kaidan, Garrus, and Liara kept the entrance clear, scanning the path for any more geth.

A small explosion signaled Shepard's success above. She and Wrex hurried down and they moved on, winding through the narrow pass, closer and closer to Saren's facility.

Occasionally, Kirrahe's voice would break through on the comm link, though he wasn't addressing them. He was yelling at his team to fall back or break through, gunfire drowning out some of his words. Garrus' stomach tensed into a knot. He trusted that Shepard would see them through this, but the more times he heard the confused shouts of the salarians breaking over the line, the more nervous he became.

Around another bend, they were greeted with more geth, coming from seemingly every direction. Directly ahead of them, a set of stairs led up to a skywalk, and the geth comm lines could be seen running to a terminal at the front of it.

Kaidan and Liara worked together to lift an incoming geth juggernaut, though even with their combined power, they struggled to hold it in their mass effect field. Shepard and Wrex shot frantically at the juggernaut while it was suspended, leaving Garrus and Tali to focus on the geth swarming in from the skywalk.

It was always satisfying to see a geth trooper storming their way only to freeze in place and explode on the spot when Tali hacked its systems. Not being overwhelmed with geth in his immediate vicinity certainly made it easier for Garrus to take down the ones that were further away.

Kaidan and Liara dropped the juggernaut when it was sufficiently riddled with bullets and split up to take on smaller targets. Shepard was firing at an approaching trooper, and didn't see the geth prime behind her. Garrus moved quickly and fired on it, distracting it long enough to reload his thermal clip and fire again. The prime fell to the ground just as Shepard turned and noticed its presence.

"Good looking out, Garrus," she called before she hurried up the stairs onto the skywalk.

The rest of them pressed forward, surrounding Shepard as she made her way to the comm line terminal. Geth were still incoming from further ahead on the skywalk, and Garrus could make out a krogan preparing to charge.

Wrex stepped up to the plate, knocking two geth into the cliff-face and charging on the approaching krogan. Their bodies collided at the halfway point with a crash, armor cracking. Wrex grabbed the enemy krogan's head and they spun around, struggling to knock each other off balance.

"Almost done, Shepard?" Garrus asked. He couldn't get a clean shot in to help Wrex, so he watched the fight with concern and impatience.

"Almost…" She chewed her bottom lip anxiously.

Wrex rammed his head against the enemy krogan, dazing his opponent momentarily. This gave Wrex the chance he needed. With the full impact of his body weight, he plowed into the krogan, knocking him into the jagged rocks of the cliff-face. The krogan groaned and struggled to get to his feet, which gave Wrex enough time to draw his gun and blast the enemy krogan in the face. The krogan's blood sprayed forward onto Wrex's armor.

"The path is clear, Shepard," he yelled back to them when the deed was done.

"Comm lines are down, captain," Shepard said into her comm link, rushing forward to meet Wrex.

"Thank you. And hurry!" Kirrahe replied.

The skywalk wrapped around the cliffs jutting up from the sand, ramping up until it reached the back entrance to Saren's research facility. All that stood between them and the facility now were a handful of geth troopers.

"Let's go," Shepard said. "Time's ticking."

Chapter Text

Clearing the remaining geth on the skywalk had been an easy task, but as the squad approached the back side of the base, they were greeted to a full-on assault from an entire squad of krogan, with almost no cover to speak of.

Wrex went in for head-on combat without hesitation, ramming into three krogan at once and almost knocking them all down with one blow. Unfortunately, a second later, they regained their balance and piled on him. Liara and Kaidan rushed to help, throwing the krogan with their fields, despite their large mass. Kaidan was showing signs of exhaustion already, blood trickling from his nose as he worked, but he didn't falter. He pushed through the pain, blasting oncoming krogan with biotic pulses and throwing those he couldn't blast.

"Shepard, duck!" Garrus shouted.

She ducked down just in time for him to fire a shot over her head at an oncoming krogan. The krogan's blood sprayed across her face, but he fell dead to the ground.

"Good thing I ducked!" she yelled at him.

"I knew you would," he shrugged and took off to assist Wrex, who was still wrestling with two of the enemy krogan.

Tali was doing everything she could to overload the krogan's weapons, causing them to backfire or explode in their faces. Focused as she was on her omni-tool, she didn't see the krogan rushing her. It knocked her down and grabbed her mask, threatening to smash it open.

Shepard charged without a second thought, leaping onto the krogan's back and pummeling its face with her omni-blade. The krogan shrieked and grabbed desperately at its back, its claws raking through Shepard's shields and against the skin on her neck. She ignored the pain, struggling to reach the krogan's eyes with her knife.

A gunshot sounded and the krogan crumpled to the ground next to Tali, who was holding her shotgun with shaking arms.

Shepard rolled off of the krogan, breathing hard, blood trickling down her neck and soaking into her undershirts. Tali rushed forward and applied medi-gel to the wounds.

"You saved my life, Shepard," she said.

"You saved mine too," Shepard winced until the cool medi-gel spread over her wounds and stopped the throbbing pain.

They helped each other up and rushed to finish off the remaining krogan with their squad mates. By the time they finished, everyone was in need of some medi-gel, and they progressed a bit slower around the side of the building while their shields regenerated.

Metal grating provided an unstable path to the very rear of the building where a few interface systems were set up just outside of the entrance to the facility. Tali moved quickly to the interfaces to inspect them.

"These terminals provide access to the base's security systems," she explained. "I can hack into the systems and cut the alarms. That should get us in without having to put up too much of a fight."

"More than we already have," Kaidan said.

"I can also trigger some alarms on the far side of the base to draw the security guards away from us, but that would mean they'd head for the salarians. Shepard, how do you want to proceed?"

Shepard assessed the team. Everyone was a little worse for the wear, but they could handle a few more guards. "Cut the security, but don't sound the additional alarms. I don't want the salarians taking any more heat than they have to. We'll shoulder that."

"Okay," Tali nodded. "Alarms are deactivated."

They entered the building through the door behind the terminal. Inside it was quiet, and they moved slowly behind a shelving unit, listening for any sign of the geth or other enemy opposition.

Shepard stood at the edge of the shelving unit, peering out at the center of the room. Two sickly-looking salarians stood holding guns and scanning the perimeter. She had a feeling they wouldn't react kindly to her presence, though they may have been Kirrahe's men at some point. Her suspicions were confirmed as a geth juggernaut stepped between them without harming them.

"If the salarians fire on you, shoot them," Shepard whispered to her squad. "They may be indoctrinated. If they offer to surrender, then let them, but otherwise they're fair game." She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to clear her thoughts. "Okay, let's go!"

They moved out from cover and rushed the geth juggernaut first. As she'd feared, the salarians fired on them, so she fired back; they were weak, and fell easily compared to the geth. She was struck with guilt for their deaths almost as soon as she shot them, but she knew there was no alternative. Hesitating out of guilt for the salarians that were already lost to Saren's indoctrination just put her and Kirrahe's teams at a greater risk.

They took down the juggernaut and hurried through the facility. If the outside had been swarming with geth, the inside contained a veritable army. Geth were nothing new, though, and Shepard was pleased to see the fluidity with which the squad moved to eliminate the threat. Room after room, they encountered geth resistance, and room after room, they took down every single AI that came at them.

Which wasn't to say that they left the rooms unscathed. Periodically, the geth would break through their shields, leaving burns and scrapes in their wake.

They reached a central chamber with an elevator that Shepard's map showed would lead them toward the rendezvous point. Unfortunately, like all the rooms they'd passed before this, geth were barring the way forward.

Moving behind cover, Shepard fired on the geth whenever she had a clear shot, her team fanning out across the room to cover all sides. As she took down one geth trooper, she saw a geth prime firing up a shot toward Garrus', whose shields were dangerously low as he was reloading his thermal clips. She rushed across the room, smashing into Garrus and bringing him down just in time for the geth's shot to go flying over his head, exploding against the wall in a hail of sparks. Wrex promptly rammed into the geth prime before it could fire on them again.

Shepard found herself sprawled on top of Garrus, his hands resting on the small of her back.

"Good looking out, Shepard," he said, echoing her own words back at the geth communications terminal.

She rushed to her feet and helped him up as Liara tossed the last remaining geth into the far wall.

"Let's head up, the rendezvous point should be this way," she told them.

When the elevator opened onto the next floor, Shepard's stomach dropped at the sight of what awaited them. Suspended in stasis chambers, husks like the ones they'd seen on Eden Prime hovered, dead behind the eyes, the souls stripped from their bodies. Of all the things Shepard had faced in her time as a military officer, the husks had been the most disturbing. She knew she should have expected as much with such heavy geth presence and considering the enormity of the research base, but it was gruesome to encounter all the same.

There must have been at least twenty of the stasis chambers housing husks along the length of the massive room they had entered. Experiment chambers and blood-stained dissection tables dotted the room.

"Who is that? Where's security?" A krogan in a lab suit came lumbering into view from behind one of the stasis chambers.

Shepard drew her gun. "What are you doing with these abominations?" She demanded.

"I'm saving my people," the krogan replied, gruffly. "I certainly won't let you lot stand in the way of it."

"Saving our people?" Wrex stepped forward. "Whatever these creatures are, whatever you've done to them, I fail to see how it helps the krogan. Seems like a good way to justify torture and illegal experimentation."

"You poor soul," the krogan in the lab suit said, shaking his head. "You've let these people mislead you. How can you not see that others must suffer for the krogan to return to glory?"

"I've heard enough," Wrex drew his gun and fired on the other krogan.

He ducked behind a terminal and slammed his fist on a button, releasing the stasis chambers. The husks stumbled from their prisons, turning their soulless faces toward Shepard and her squad.

The squad opened fire. The husks were nothing to mess with, lacking any will of their own, they attacked indiscriminately, exploding as a last resort if they got too close. They didn't let that happen, though. They held the husks at bay, dispensing with all of them while Wrex went after the krogan in the lab suit.

Covered in blood by the time they cleared the room, Shepard investigated for any evidence of what was going on. It seemed they'd been performing experiments in the room, but for what, she couldn't say. Whatever data there was, neither she nor Tali could hack the terminal to access it.

Moving on to the next room, guns drawn in anticipation, they found an asari sitting in front of a terminal. At the sight of them, she raised her hands in the air.

"Don't shoot!" She begged. "Please! I just want to get out of here with my life…"

"Who are you? And why should I spare your life?" Shepard asked, gun pointed at the asari's head.

"M-my name is Rana Thanoptis. I'm a neurospecialist here. I…don't have a good reason for you to spare me. But the indoctrination process doesn't just affect the prisoners here. I can…I can feel Saren in my mind…soon I'll be the one lying on those operating tables…" Tears slid down the asari's cheeks.

"Shepard, she helped with whatever was happening in that lab. Are you going to let her get away with that?" Wrex growled.

"Please," Rana cried. "Saren's private lab is just up the elevator behind me. I'll give you full access." She moved to the door and scanned her card. The access light turned green. "See? Please, just let me leave. I have to get away from this place. Away from Saren…"

"She's clearly been indoctrinated, Shepard." Liara said. "Give her a chance to escape this madness."

"We're setting off a bomb anyway," Shepard said, lowering her gun. "If you can get off the planet before it goes off, then I guess you deserve to live."

"Thank you! Thank you!" Rana rushed out of the room before Shepard could change her mind.

"Too soft," Wrex grumbled.

"Your opinion has been heard, Wrex. Let's move on."

She led them out the door, which opened to a metal platform spanning across into an elevator. If Rana was telling the truth, this would lead them to Saren's private lab, but there was also likely to be an ambush. By that point, between Shepard's squad and the salarians, they'd made a commotion on both ends of the facility. If Saren was there, there was no way he was unaware of their presence.

The elevator opened onto a small room with stairs on their left leading down to a series of terminals, and metal grating providing an overlook of the space below.

"Shepard," Kaidan pointed to the center of the room. "Is that another beacon?"

Shepard ventured down the stairs to investigate. A familiar looking device sat in the center of the room, emitting a pale green glow, strange runes carved into the sides of it. It looked much like the beacon on Eden Prime had, though this one seemed to be more fully intact.

She found herself drawn to it, against her will. That pull had been what caused her to push Kaidan out of the way of the beacon on Eden Prime. Closer and closer she drifted, until her hand made contact with the smooth stone of the beacon.

The effect was instantaneous. The power of the beacon drew her up, boring a thousand images into her brain all at once. She was lost to the world around her, trapped into a spiraling vortex of pictures and noise: the destruction of the Protheans playing a thousand times faster than her brain could process. It was all she could do not to lose her mind to the information being forced into it.

As quickly as it had begun, it was over. She was kneeling on the ground, gasping for breath, trying to assess her surroundings.

Garrus dropped to her side, placing one hand on her back. "Shepard? Are you all right?"

"This is what happened on Eden Prime," Kaidan explained.

Shepard's head was pounding. She let Garrus help her to her feet, unable to do so herself. Her limbs were weak, but slowly, the strength began returning to them as she stood leaning against the wall.

"Um, Shepard," Tali called from the overlook above. "You might want to get up here."

There was no time to be fatigued, so Shepard forced herself back up the stairs to the overlook, where a red hologram had projected itself into the air before them. The image was familiar: the creature she had seen when Shiala transferred the Cipher to her; it was some strange mix between a ship and an insect: massive, with metallic legs extending from its sides and fronts. Shepard knew instantaneously that this was a Reaper.

"What…is it?" Liara asked.

"You are not Saren," the hologram said, its voice projecting from seemingly nowhere. It was a low, guttural sound; it made Shepard's hair stand on end.

"What are you? Name yourself," Shepard demanded.

"Rudimentary creatures of flesh and blood. You touch my mind, fumbling in ignorance, incapable of understanding. There is a realm of existence so far beyond your own you cannot even imagine it. I am beyond your comprehension. I am Sovereign."

Shepard knew what was coming before the Reaper had even said its name.

"Sovereign…that's Saren's ship," Kaidan said.

"Saren's ship is a reaper," Shepard told them.

"Reaper?" Sovereign scoffed. "A name given to us by the Protheans. A way to give language to their destruction. In the end, they died regardless of what they called us. It was irrelevant. We simply are."

"They…they're real," Liara clutched the railing of the overlook. "Even after seeing the images in your mind, Shepard, I still doubted…and yet…"

"Organic beings are simply a mutation," Sovereign said. "A mistake. Your lives are nothing in the scope of time. We are eternal. We are the end of everything. Your extinction is inevitable."

"Not if I have anything to do with it." Shepard clenched her fists.

"Ignorant organic. The cycle cannot be broken. The pattern has repeated itself more times than you can fathom. Organic civilizations rise, evolve, advance. And at the apex of their glory, they are extinguished. The Protheans were far from the first. They did not create the Citadel, did not forge the mass relays. These are remnants of my kind, discovered by each new cycle."

"Why create mass relays and leave them for someone else to find?" Liara asked. "What purpose would it serve?"

"Civilizations develop around the technology of the mass relays. By using them, organic societies develop along the path we desire. We impose order upon your chaos. You exist because we allow it, and you will end because we demand it," Sovereign explained.

"What about the rest of the reapers? Why are you the only one? Are you all that's left?" Shepard wanted to probe the machine with as many questions as were springing to her mind, recognizing that the conversation was tenuous at best; Sovereign could disconnect at any time. She had to ask questions while she still had a chance. It could make the difference in stopping Saren.

"We are legion," Sovereign said. "Our numbers will darken the sky of every world. Your doom is inevitable."

"You're just a machine!" Shepard cried, unable to control herself. "Machines can be broken."

"Your words are as empty as your future. You cannot comprehend us. I am the vanguard of your destruction. This exchange is over."

The hologram shut off and a sudden explosion blew out the window on the north wall. Shepard staggered and caught herself on the railing as a transmission came in from Joker.

"Commander? This is Normandy, do you read? We've got trouble."

"What is it, Joker?" Shepard asked, righting herself.

"Sovereign's on our radars. It pulled a turn that would have sheared our ships in half if we'd tried it. It's coming your way, and fast. You need to wrap things up in there. We need to get off this planet!"

"All right. Head to the rendezvous point. We'll meet you there, Joker."

"Roger that, commander!"

 Garrus was still reeling from the exchange with the Reaper as they made their way through Saren's base toward the breeding facility where the bomb was to be set off. He'd believed Shepard, or tried to, when she'd told him about her visions of the Reapers destroying the Protheans, but speaking to one, even through a hologram, had finally cemented the reality of it for him.

It made the implications of Saren's goals that much worse. If he succeeded in bringing the Reapers out from whatever corner of the universe they'd been patiently hiding in, it could mean the destruction of all life as they knew it. But how would they prove this to the Council? There was still little tangible evidence of the Reapers' existence. Most of the evidence was vaulted up inside Shepard's brain. He doubted they could convince the asari councilor to meld minds with Shepard to prove their point.

How they would explain the Reapers to the Council was a topic of thought for another time, though. Right now, he needed to focus on the all-out krogan assault they were facing. The closer they got to the breeding facility, the more krogan that seemed to appear, ready to fight them. Wrex, the tank that he was, led the charge, slamming left and right into the oncoming masses. He was taking heavy hits though, his shields cut out repeatedly, and a set of deep wounds marred his arms and face.

One benefit of being a trained sniper, was that Garrus could hold back at the end of the line, firing from a distance. In the face of krogan, who preferred one-on-one combat, this meant his shields had barely taken a hit. Tali was also able to put some distance between herself and the battle, busy overloading weapons, and firing when her omni-tool needed a re-charge.

Captain Kirrahe had radioed that there was one last AA gun to deactivate before the Normandy could land, conveniently located along the route to the breeding facility. When they had cleared through the krogan, they found the AA gun's interface, and Tali went to work disarming it.

Allowed a brief reprieve from battle, Shepard leaned forward, resting her hands on her thighs. Garrus was worried about her. He couldn't imagine what the Prothean beacon had shown her, but it had obviously sapped some of her strength. If it was anything like what had happened on Feros, she didn't need to be in the middle of battle at the moment.

"Are you sure you're all right, Shepard?" he asked as she righted herself again.

"I haven't got time to not be," she shrugged. "I can collapse of exhaustion once we're back on the Normandy. For now, the adrenaline is keeping me going."

"Guns are disarmed," Tali called.

Kirrahe came over Shepard's comm link a moment later. "Good work on the guns, commander. We're heading in. There's heavy geth presence around the breeding facility. Clear the area of geth and then we'll land."

"Roger that, captain. We're headed in," Shepard replied.

Their reprieve was over. They rushed through a large gate leading to the entrance to the breeding facility. It was a wide, circular space, with high walls constructed around it and gates on either side. As Kirrahe had warned, the area was filled with geth, mostly drones, but a few ground troops as well. The squad fanned out. Shepard, Liara, and Wrex went after the ground troops, while Garrus, Tali, and Kaidan focused on the drones. After the krogan assault they had just faced, a few dozen geth seemed easy in comparison.

Shepard gave the all clear as soon as the geth were taken care of. Within seconds, the Normandy appeared in the sky, slowing as she descended onto the platform on the south side of the facility entrance. The cargo bay doors slid open as she landed, and the team of engineers, with a few salarians, including captain Kirrahe, carried out a bomb the size of four krogan. They led the bomb down the ramp and placed it in the center of the clearing.

"Bomb is in position," one of the salarians said.

Ash's voice sounded over Shepard's comm link. "Commander, do you read?"

"Ash, where are you?" Shepard demanded. "The bomb is in place. We need you to get to the rendezvous point ASAP."

"Negative commander, we're taking heavy fire. There's no way we'll make the rendezvous point in time," Ash's voice was quavering as she spoke.

"Patch me your coordinates. I'm not leaving you behind, Ash."

"Just make sure the nuke is set!" Ash cried. "We'll hold them off as long as we can!"

"Go, commander," Kaidan urged. "I need a few minutes to arm the bomb. You should have time."

Shepard didn't wait for further encouragement or ask for backup; she just ran for the gate. Garrus ran after her, as did Tali and Liara. Wrex groaned and followed as well, less enthusiastically.

For their height difference, and a human's general lack of speed compared to a turian, Garrus almost had a hard time keeping up with Shepard as she charged through the gate, up a flight of stairs, and toward a bridge, following whatever coordinates Ash had patched through. She was almost manic as she ran.

"Heads up, lieutenant," Ash's voice sounded over the comm link. "There's a geth dropship headed your way."

"They're already here!" Kaidan's voice sounded. "Shepard, I'm arming the bomb."

Shepard skidded to a halt and caught herself on the side of the bridge. The others caught up a moment later, all of them struggling to catch their breath.

"Kaidan, what are you thinking!?" Shepard yelled into her comm link.

"I don't think we can hold the geth off until you get back from Ash's coordinates," Kaidan said, his voice surprisingly steady. "I want to make sure this bomb goes off, even if we don't survive the assault. The geth are getting ready to land. Go get Ash."

"Screw that," Ash said. "Go and save Alenko's ass."

Shepard clutched the side of the bridge, her face red from exertion. "I…I don't…"

Garrus realized that there was only time to save one of them. With the bomb armed, if they went for Ash, they would never make it back to Kaidan's location before the bomb detonated. If they returned to save Kaidan, even if Ash survived the geth assault, the Normandy would not have time to get to her.

"Shepard, you don't have time to save them both. You have to make a choice," Garrus tried not to sound cruel, but the matter was urgent, and Shepard was panicking. He'd never seen her like this before.

She pushed herself away from the bridge's edge, seeming to regain some of her senses. "…I'm sorry, Ash. We can't make it to you. There's just not time…"

There was a pause before Ash came back on the comm link. "You made the right choice, commander. It's been an honor serving on your ship. The greatest damn experience of my life."

"The honor was mine," Shepard said, her voice faltering. "You're a war hero, Ashley Williams. I'll make sure everyone knows it."

"Thank you, commander."

"We have to go, Shepard," Garrus reminded her.

She nodded and they headed back to the bomb site with haste. Garrus pushed his emotions down to be dealt with later. None of them wanted to think about Ash dying alone under heavy fire, but crying wouldn't change things right now, and if they didn't hurry, Kaidan wouldn't be around either.

When they reached the bomb site, it was crawling with geth. The Normandy had retreated to the safety of the sky, and Kaidan and a few salarians were trying to hold back the onslaught. The squad went to work, stepping in to help. Gunfire flew from every direction, with limited space behind which to take cover. Garrus had to resort to using his assault rifle: there were no good hiding spots for sniping without getting his head blown off.

He found Shepard cornered by several ground units, so he dove in blasting his gun, and they moved into quick formation to take care of the problem together. She was running on pure adrenaline by that point, her face and armor caked in dried blood, cuts and bruises marring her skin. She didn't stop for a moment, though. As soon as they'd taken out the geth that had been surrounding them, she was sprinting across the clearing to help Liara take down a juggernaut.

When the geth had been dealt with, the squad regrouped near the bomb. Kaidan was about to say something to Shepard when a blast of blue light hit the ground inches from their feet. The squad scattered again as more blue light hailed from the sky. Garrus looked up to find the source of the beams. Saren. The turian was floating above them on a hovercraft, enveloped in a blue biotic aura, raining down energy beams to keep the squad apart.

He turned and aimed a beam at Shepard, and Garrus ran as fast as he could, grabbing Shepard around the waists and tucking and rolling. The blast downed his shields and singed his armor, but he was otherwise unscathed as the two of them went rolling into the wall. Quick to rise to their feet, they held position behind a concrete beam jutting out from the wall, one of the few places to take cover.

Garrus' heart was pounding in his ears. Saren ended his assault and brought himself slowly to the ground. The rest of the squad had scattered to all ends of the clearing in an effort to keep out of his path.

"I'm impressed, Shepard," Saren addressed her. "My geth thought the salarians were the real threat."

Garrus peered around the concrete beam. Saren was approaching them, but slowly. It had been some time since he'd seen the former Spectre and he looked older, more tired. Saren didn't wear any clan markings, an unsettling trait as far as turians were concerned; Garrus felt naked without his own. He didn't trust turians who abandoned that tradition.

"I'm afraid your diversion was useless," Saren said. "I won't let you disrupt my progress here. There's far too much at stake. More than you could possibly comprehend."

"Maybe I do understand," Shepard called out in reply. Garrus watched her as she spoke. She held her gun close to her chest, breathing deeply. The only hint of her nerves came from the sweat trickling down her forehead.

"Yes, you saw the vision in the Prothean beacon. You of all people should understand and appreciate what the Reapers are capable of. Trillions wiped out like they were nothing, their lives extinguished. But would they have perished if they had submitted to the Reapers? Imagine what organics and machines could accomplish together." Saren paced the length of the compound several yards away.

"You're not working with the Reapers, Saren. Sovereign is controlling you," Shepard replied.

"Yes, I had hoped to avoid the effects of indoctrination. The line between ally and slave can be blurred so quickly. But Sovereign needs me to find the conduit. My mind is still my own for now. I won't allow myself to become Sovereign's slave." He laughed as he said it.

"You already are its slave!" Shepard cried. "Its manipulating you and you don't even realize!"

"No!" Saren screamed, the blue aura surrounding him again. "Sovereign needs me to find the Conduit! I've been promised salvation!"

"You're just Sovereign's tool. And you'll be discarded when it's through with you."

"You're wrong! Sovereign is a machine. It thinks like a machine. I have only to prove my usefulness to it and it will see that I'm a resource worth maintaining. This is the only way organic life stands a chance. I will save more lives than have ever existed through my alliance with the machines."

"Saren, think. Deep down. A part of you must still be in there, must realize that you're being fooled…"

"If you insist on standing in my way, Shepard, then you will die first!" Saren let loose a burst of energy. It slammed into the concrete beam and blew a chunk of it to pieces.

Shepard and Garrus ran, firing at Saren as they moved. He was quick, floating along on the hovercraft, firing and narrowly missing as they ran. His blasts were so close that one wrong move would mean certain death. This thought was ever-present in Garrus' mind as he willed his tired legs forward.

The rest of the squad circled behind Saren and began to fire, succeeding in distracting him long enough for Shepard and Garrus to take cover behind another beam.

"He's too strong!" Garrus cried, reloading his thermal clip and taking aim at Saren's arm. The bullet bounced off of his shields.

"We can beat him," Shepard said with new resolve. "We just have to get his shields down."

She charged him unexpectedly, firing off round after round as she moved. It took Saren off guard and he almost lost his balance aboard the hovercraft. When Shepard was close enough for a point-blank kill, she tossed a grenade and ran in the opposite direction.

The blast knocked Saren from his hovercraft, but caught Shepard in the updraft. She went flying forward and landed on her stomach, skinning her chin as she fell. Garrus could see the events unfolding before he could make his legs move toward her. Shepard rolled onto her back, dazed, struggling to right herself as Saren charged across the clearing, grabbing her by the throat and lifting her above him.

She clawed at his hands as they squeezed around her throat, choking the life out of her. Garrus didn't think about his own safety in the next moments, he just rushed forward, hoping to free her from Saren's grasp.

Saren shot a mass effect field at Garrus as he approached, which sent him flying back into the wall. He hit the ground hard, his body aching, but his shields had thankfully taken most of the blast.

Shepard reached up, her energy failing, and punched Saren square in the jaw. The blow had its intended effect. Saren reeled backwards, dropping Shepard in the process. She scrambled to grab her gun as the rest of the squad moved in to attack.

Realizing he couldn't win, Saren rushed back to his hovercraft. Shepard fired off a series of shots, but Saren was too quick. He sped off and out of sight.

There was no time to mourn the failure; the bomb had been armed well before the battle and they didn't have much time to get out of blast radius. Garrus struggled to his feet as the Normandy touched down on the platform to the south.

To Garrus' surprise, Shepard ran to meet him, slinging one of his arms around her shoulder. They ran together, both of them supporting one another, rushing into the cargo bay where the others were waiting anxiously.

Once inside, the ramp slid shut and the Normandy propelled itself away from the platform and out of Virmire's atmosphere with incredible speed. The blast from the detonation shook the entire ship, even with as much distance as Joker had managed to put between them and the bomb site so quickly.

Garrus lay on his back, sore, exhausted, and overwhelmed. But there was no time for rest. Shepard still seemed to be running on adrenaline, because she stood up and turned to the squad.

"Meet me in the comm room in ten."

"Shepard, don't you think you should rest. We just…" Kaidan started.

"We can rest later."

She disappeared into the elevator and they let her go. Before the exhaustion could overtake Garrus, he stood up as well. This was going to be one hell of a debrief.

Chapter Text

There was nothing that Shepard wanted more in the entire galaxy than to sleep for the next ten days. Unfortunately, that was not an option. She knew an immediate debrief was necessary, and with the newfound knowledge of Sovereign's true identity, she didn't want to give Saren any more of a head start than he already had on them.

She paced the comm room as her squad slowly filed in. Did she look as rough as they did? All of them could have probably benefited from some medical attention and a good scrub down. They were tired, bloody, and worn down as they took their seats around the comm room. The seat next to Kaidan was noticeably empty.

"Shepard, if you want to wait, it's okay," Kaidan told her.

"No. We don't have time to wait," she insisted. "First, we need to address the biggest issue. We lost a good soldier out there today. It wasn't a decision that was made lightly." Shepard would have liked to cry about it, but she didn't want to do so in front of her squad, and as it was she was simply too exhausted for tears. She stared at Ash's empty chair, her heart heavy at the loss of such a skilled and valuable team the loss of her friend. "I want you all to remember Ash in the coming fights. Honor her memory. Make sure she didn't die in vain."

"Shepard, I feel responsible…" Kaidan began.

"This is Saren's fault," she interrupted him. "Don't you ever blame yourself. Now, the other thing I wanted to address is the beacon. Liara, if you're up to it, I think we should join minds again. I want you to make sense of what I saw on Virmire."

Liara nodded. "It's an excellent idea, Shepard. Are you sure that you have the energy?"

"She doesn't," Garrus protested.

"It can't wait," Shepard told him. "I'll be fine. We need to sort this information out immediately."

Garrus was clearly unhappy with this response, but didn't challenge Shepard further on it. Liara rose to her feet and met Shepard in the center of the room, pressing their foreheads together.

The visions from the beacon flashed by in succession, none of it making any sense to Shepard still, despite the Cipher and the additional information she'd received. She hated seeing the images. There was so much pain and destruction in them; they just sapped the life out of her.

The joining ended and Shepard was abruptly forced back into reality, her heart pounding. Liara looked dazed, and slowly sat back down, clutching her head. Shepard had to sit as well; the process had made her weak.

"Did you understand any of it?"

"Yes," Liara nodded. "The beacon seems to be a sort of distress call, sent out across the Prothean empire to warn others of the reapers. The warning clearly came too late…"

"Anything about the conduit?" Shepard asked.

"There were places I recognized. The images flashed so fast, but…Ilos…I definitely saw Ilos and…I believe the Conduit is on Ilos! That would make sense, considering the information from my mother's OSD. Ilos can only be accessed through the Mu Relay. No one living has ever been there, since the relay was lost millennia ago," Liara explained.

"The coordinates on that OSD are in the Terminus systems," Garrus warned. "They won't take kindly to an Alliance ship in their territory."

"I don't see any other options," Shepard sighed. "But I'll contact the Council and see what they have to say about all this. If any of you…need to talk about Ash…let me know. Otherwise, I need to call the Council and file my report and…"

"Shepard, you should rest," Garrus said softly.

"Not to agree with the turian," Wrex grumbled. "But he's right."

"Later." She didn't have time to rest. "Dismissed."

The squad filed out of the room, Garrus leaving somewhat reluctantly. Kaidan hung back, however.

"I know there's a lot to discuss, but I really need to deal with this report to the Council," Shepard told him, feeling cruel attempting to dismiss him after such a devastating loss for the team.

"Shepard, I have to ask." He paused for a moment, staring sadly down at his feet. "Why me? Why did you come back for me and not save Ash? I just…I'm happy to be alive, but I feel so guilty."

She sighed and took a step closer to him, resting her hand on his shoulder. "Kaidan, it wasn't an easy choice. I had to go with my gut reaction. And my gut said to save you. You're a good friend. I wish I never had to make that choice, but I did. Don't dwell on it or blame yourself. Saren is the reason for all of this."

He smiled, if only for a moment. "Thanks, Shepard."

When he left, Shepard sat for a moment with her head buried in her hands. She was so exhausted. She just wanted to wash away the grime and the pain and lie down in her bed for an eternity. There was still more to do though, and she wouldn't let herself rest until it was done.

"Joker, patch in the Council." She said.

"Aye aye, commander."

She stood up and turned around to face the hologram display at the front of the room. Slowly, the three councilors came into view, flickering slightly due to the poor connection.

"Commander, what news from Virmire?" The turian councilor, Sparatus asked.

"We picked up Kirrahe's men and destroyed Saren's base of operations. He was attempting to breed an army of krogan. We stopped that from happening. Unfortunately, we lost one of our crew in the explosion."

"We're sorry for your loss, commander," Council Tevos said. "But it is a relief to hear you've foiled Saren's plans. He's dangerous enough without an army of krogan at his disposal."

"Krogan are the least of our concerns right now," Shepard explained. "We ran into Saren on Virmire, but he escaped. He's been indoctrinated by a Reaper. We saw evidence of it at the base. It acts as his ship, but…"

"Commander, Saren is surely toying with you," the turian councilor interrupted. "He knows about the vision you spoke of from Eden Prime. He's using that to distract you from his real purpose."

"How many times do I have to tell you people the truth before you believe me? I warned you about Saren before and look at the mess we're in now!" Shepard had to take a few deep breaths to control her anger. Her frayed nerves were not helping manners.

"We need to focus on Saren and his army of geth right now," Councilor Valern said. "We will discuss the provision of reinforcements for tracking him down, now that we've seen what he's capable of."

Reinforcements were something, at least, Shepard thought. She could use those in the potential fight against Sovereign.

"Saren's headed to Ilos, he…"

Councilor Sparatus cut her off. "We'd like the Normandy to return to the Citadel. We'll discuss the matter with Udina and then we can possibly send you off with reinforcements." He didn't even address her comment about Ilos. "How quickly can you return?"

Returning to the Citadel meant going almost two weeks out of their way, through several relay jumps. That could give Saren too large of a head start to the Conduit. Then again, reinforcements could be necessary, and there was no saying what Saren's, or rather Sovereign's, immediate next plans were; it could take time to recover from their losses on Virmire.

Shepard sighed, resigning herself to returning to negotiate reinforcements with Udina and the Council. "I can be there in twelve days, maybe," she said. "We'll go as fast as we can."

"Very good, commander. Don't hesitate to contact us should more information on Saren arise."

The communication was severed. She wasn't ecstatic about this plan, but it was the best immediate option. She stopped in with Joker and Pressly to pass on the news and have them set a route for the Citadel, then made her way slowly down to her cabin.

She set the water running in her private shower and began the slow process of removing her armor and peeling off her blood-soaked, dirt-stained clothing. She tossed everything in a pile by the end of her bed and stepped into the shower, letting the scalding hot water burn her skin until it was tinged pink. It felt good to wash the grime away, pushing the heat of the water until she could only barely stand it. She scrubbed at the blood caked on her body, running her hands gently over her numerous new wounds.

For nearly an hour, she stood beneath the water, numb to the world, a thousand thoughts racing through her mind. When she emerged, she dried off, pulled on her civilian clothes, and lay down on the bed. She thought that she would surely be too tired to stay awake for even a moment, but as she rested her head on the pillow, the weight of the day hit her like a brick. Suddenly, unwillingly, tears burst into her eyes. A painful sob racked her chest, then another, and another until she couldn't hold them back. She kept crying, louder and louder, the force of it shaking her body, unable to halt the deluge of tears pouring down her face.

As she lay there, shaking uncontrollably, snot and tears dripping down her face, there was a knock on her cabin door. She tried to stop herself from crying, to answer with composure that she would rather be left alone, but all that came out were her sobs.

"Shepard?" Garrus' voice sounded on the other side of the door.

When she didn't answer, he let himself in, opening the door without her approval.

"Shepard are you oka…" His words trailed off at the sight of her.

Shepard had never cried in front of her crew before. Not like this. Certainly, her eyes had welled up when Liara's mother had died, but for the most part, she tried to keep that part of herself private. She had to be strong for her crew, and that meant addressing their emotions while suppressing her own until she could be alone to deal with it.

She couldn't stop herself now, though. She wiped her nose unattractively on the back of her arm and sniffled, trying to suppress her sobs. This only made it worse.

"I'm…sorry…" she said through her tears.

Garrus shook his head and moved wordlessly to her side. Sitting on the bed, he lifted her up gently and drew her against his chest. She clasped onto him, no longer worried about the implications of crying in front of a crew member. This wasn't a subordinate, it was Garrus, the only person she trusted enough to continue crying like she was.

She pressed her face against his shoulder and he rubbed her back soothingly.

"It's okay, Shepard." He said softly. "You're allowed to have feelings."

"I couldn't save her," Shepard sobbed. "She's dead. I couldn't save her. She has sisters, a family…I should have done more…I could have…I should have…"

Garrus brushed his fingers through her hair. "If you had saved her, you'd be in here crying about Kaidan instead."

She knew he was right, but it didn't take away the guilt. For all she had said to Kaidan about placing the blame on Saren, she couldn't seem to do so herself.

The warmth of Garrus' body, and the soothing way he held her and spoke to her, helped to calm her down. Gradually, she caught her breath and the sobs came to a halt. Tears still trickled down her cheek, but he brought a delicate finger to brush them away. She wouldn't say it out loud, but she was glad that he had been worried about her; it gave her some small comfort in all of the pain she felt surrounded with.

When she had stopped crying, he let the silence pass. There didn't seem to be a need for words.

Her tears spent, Shepard realized just how exhausted she was. Her eyes fluttered shut, her head resting in the crook between Garrus' neck and the edge of his cowl. She let herself fall asleep, the stress and concerns of her command a million miles away, for once.

Garrus didn't recall falling asleep, but he must have, because he awoke some time during the middle of the Normandy's night shift, his head resting against Shepard's. She slept soundly, one hand resting on his shoulder, her breath puffing gently against his neck. He could have stayed there with her like that for an eternity; he hadn't felt as relaxed and secure since he'd joined the Normandy's crew.

He knew he couldn't stay, though. If he fell asleep again, he might not wake until morning, when the crew would be out and about in the main quarters in abundance. He could only imagine what they would think if they saw him leaving the commander's cabin, and what they might say about Shepard.

Moving slowly and carefully, not wanting to disturb her sleep, he placed Shepard onto the bed and sidled out from under her. She was so exhausted, that she didn't even stir at the movement. Relieved, he stepped quietly out of the cabin and made his way down to the cargo bay.

The salarians that had survived with captain Kirrahe had been set up on cots in the corner just to the right of the elevator, a sight Garrus would have to get used to until they made it the Citadel. He tried to be mindful of the noise he was making as he passed them, not wanting to wake them; they had put in their fair share of work on Virmire, they deserved the rest as much as Shepard's team did.

Wrex was still awake, leaning against the wheel of the mako. Garrus followed his gaze to Ash's weapon maintenance station and a little pang of sadness hit him. It didn't feel real that they had lost her. She had been the most difficult of the squad to get along with at first, but she was a good soldier, and he realized as he quietly sat down next to Wrex, that he would miss her now that she was gone.

"Where have you been, Vakarian?" Wrex asked gruffly.

"Couldn't sleep."

"Giving Shepard a little 'turian comfort'?" The krogan asked, raising his brow line.

"Is that the only thing you ever think about?" Garrus sighed, exasperated.

"No, but I've also seen the way you two interact. Everyone else on this ship might be blind, but I'm not. It's fine if you've got the hots for the commander," he shrugged. "Humans don't really interest me, but I guess I get it. She's a little rougher around the edges than most of them."

"We're just friends, Wrex," Garrus insisted.

"Mhm," the krogan sounded skeptical.

"What are you still doing up, anyway?" Garrus asked, eager to change the subject.

"Thinking about Virmire. Ash was a pain in the ass, but she didn't take any shit. I liked that. I think I might even miss her now that she's gone," Wrex paused for a moment before he continued, "I still wonder if the bomb was the right decision. My people might have been saved…"

"Your people would have been slaves again," Garrus said. "You made the right choice in following Shepard. The krogan salvation shouldn't rest in the hands of someone like Saren. You'd never see true freedom from the shackles the turians and salarians gave you."

Wrex looked at him and nodded. "You know, Garrus, you're all right, for a turian."

Garrus laughed. "You're all right, for a krogan."

A groan issued from the nearby cots, where Tali lay sleeping. She sat up and shuffled over to them, carrying her scratchy military blanket with her. She plopped down between them and bundled up in the blanket.

"If you're going to keep talking, I guess I'm not getting any sleep," she yawned.

"Sorry. We didn't mean to keep you up."

"It's fine," she waved her hand dismissively. "I was having bad dreams anyway. I guess everyone is probably thinking about what happened on Virmire. War is such hell. We lose so much to it. For what? The next time we see Saren, I've got a bullet with his name on it."

Garrus had never heard such malice from her, but he understood where it was coming from. All of them had a new vested interest in stopping Saren, whatever it might take.

"Get in line," Wrex growled. "Shepard's going to wring his neck when she sees him. I can't wait to watch that."

"I hope she's getting some rest," Tali said. "I don't know how she kept going with everything on Virmire. She runs herself ragged."

"That's what good commanders do," Garrus said. "She'd fit in well with the turians."

"But would a turian fit well in her?" Wrex laughed.

"Really, Wrex?"

"I'm sorry, I couldn't resist."

"What?" Tali cocked her head.

"You haven't noticed Vakarian making gaga eyes at Shepard anytime she does anything?"

Tali let out an involuntary giggle. "Garrus, are you and Shepard…?"

"What? No! Wrex is just being crude."

"Now that you mention it," Tali thought aloud, "They do spend all their free time together. How many times have I gone up to the observation deck when I couldn't sleep, or needed a sign off from Shepard, and you two are always together?"

Garrus shrugged. "Shepard and I just…get each other. That's all. When we can't sleep, we talk to each other."

Tali turned to Wrex. "This is something to keep an eye on." The krogan nodded in agreement.

"You two can believe whatever you want. There are more important things to focus on," Garrus said.

Even as he said it, he thought back to two nights earlier when he'd been alone with Shepard on the observation deck: the warm, earthy smell of her pheromones; the electricity between them; their lips so close to touching. He'd been pushing back thoughts about that night during the mission, but with time to rest, and Wrex and Tali's prodding, the thoughts came flooding back. He had never felt like that around a human before, never even thought of humans as anything other than awkward, soft-bodied, sexless things. Did Shepard feel the same way about turians?

A comment from Tali about the mako pulled Garrus back out of his thoughts. There was no sense in dwelling on it, he decided. Saren was still at large and they had to rally the Council behind their cause. He wasn't a child anymore; confusion about his feelings could wait.

Chapter Text

Thanks to improvements Tali and the engineers had made to the drive core, the trip to the Citadel had taken a record-breaking low of ten days. Joker had been so impressed that he made the long trip down to the cargo bay to thank everyone who had worked on the improvements, not an insubstantial journey considering the state of Joker's bones. Unfortunately, it was his first trip down to the cargo bay since Garrus had begun target practice with Liara, and Shepard got an earful after the visit.

"My baby, my beautiful baby! How could you let them do this to her, commander?"

"Joker, it's just superficial. Easily repaired," she had assured him. He didn't care for her response, and spent an entire day avoiding her and the rest of the squad, sulking in a gloomy silence that permeated the bridge.

The reprieve from battle was much needed for everyone on the squad. Wounds were patched up and weapons and armor were repaired. Shepard slept well the first few nights, but then the nightmares came. In her dreams, she was back on Virmire, running toward Ash only to watch the gunnery chief's face slowly melt from her bones, the atomic blast of the bomb glowing behind her. The dream kept her up half the night whenever it happened, so she would venture to the observation deck, where she would typically find Garrus.

Neither of them mentioned her breakdown the night after Virmire. Shepard was grateful for Garrus' comfort, and for his discretion. She didn't want to talk about what had happened, it had embarrassed her after the fact, though she knew it shouldn't. Worse still, she had found such peace and comfort in his arms, which only stirred feelings she wasn't ready to deal with. As far as she was concerned, she had to stay focused on the mission.

When the Citadel finally came into view, Shepard's stomach was in knots. She was uneasy about the Council's desire to provide a fleet to assist her. Thus far, they had not believed anything she had to say about the Reapers, and Udina's involvement in the whole affair only made her more anxious.

Joker led the ship into dock, anchors clamping down on the sides, as Shepard and the squad entered the airlock. She wanted them all with her to recount what had happened on Virmire. Most of, Liara could be a potential voice of reason, having seen inside Shepard's mind to interpret the Prothean beacon's message.

Udina was waiting for them in the docking bay, lips pursed, eyebrows crinkled with his typical look of disgust.

"Shepard, I see you've brought your menagerie with you yet again," he sighed in greeting.

"They were all with me on Virmire," Shepard said. "They'll join us to meet the Council."

"If you insist. I've arranged a shuttle to take us to the Citadel tower."

The shuttle was waiting at the end of the docks. The squad clamored in, fitting inside the shuttle more comfortably than they had ever fit in the mako. Udina didn't say a word as they made their way to the Citadel tower, but he did spend the entire ride glaring at all of the aliens in turn, arms folded tightly across his chest; Shepard wished it were not a criminal offense to punch an ambassador.

Once they arrived at the tower, Udina led them up to the Council chambers, where the three councilors were awaiting their arrival. In front of the council, Udina's tone changed immediately.

"Good work, Shepard," he told her as the approached the Council, speaking loudly to ensure they could hear him. "Thanks to your hard work, the Council's finally taking real action against, Saren."

Shepard didn't respond, or give him even the benefit of her gaze. She stepped up in front of the councilors and put on her 'soldier face'. She would not betray emotion here, as long as she could manage it.

"Commander Shepard," Councilor Tevos addressed her. "We're glad you've returned to the Citadel. After much deliberation, we have decided on a plan of action."

"I'm pleased to hear that," Shepard said, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"Yes, if Saren is foolish enough to attack the Citadel, we will be ready for him. We've prepared our fleets. Patrols are stationed at every relay linking Citadel space to the Terminus systems," Councilor Sparatus spoke.

"A blockade?" Shepard asked in disbelief. "You think that will stop him? He's probably on Ilos right now, looking for the Conduit. You misled me. I was under the impression that you would be providing fleets to track him down on Ilos!"

"Sending a fleet through the Mu Relay to Ilos will start an all-out war with the Terminus systems!" Councilor Valern said. "Starting a war to prevent an assault from Saren is not an acceptable route."

"We must exercise discretion, Shepard." Udina turned his gaze to her. "Saren's greatest weapon was secrecy. Now that he's exposed, he is no longer a threat."

Shepard had never heard anything so stupid in her life. Garrus stepped forward, unprompted, also perturbed by the statement.

"He has an army of geth under Reaper control!" He growled. "Shepard has risked her life to bring this information to you. We lost one of our squad on Virmire to buy you time and you have the nerve to tell her that Saren's no longer a threat? We all saw what he was capable of on Virmire. Let me assure you, Councilors, the threat is very real."

"Do you always let your subordinates speak for you, Shepard?" Udina asked.

She clenched her fists, struggling to maintain her composure. "Garrus is right. Saren is more of a threat than ever now that he's being controlled by the Reapers."

"Your crew may believe you, commander." Councilor Tevos cast a skeptical glance at Garrus. "But only you have seen these Reapers, and then only in a vision."

"I have seen the vision too," Liara said, joining Shepard and Garrus. "I joined minds with commander Shepard. I saw the Reapers."

"You are still young, Dr. T'soni. You saw what Shepard's mind held. That doesn't make it any less of a dream," Tevos told her. "We will not invade the Terminus systems because of a dream."

"Then don't send a fleet. You've sent me this far. One ship in the Terminus systems won't start a war. Let me go after him. My squad knows how to be discreet," There was a sense of urgency in Shepard's voice that threatened to betray her emotions.

"I would hardly call detonating a nuclear device on Virmire discreet," Sparatus complained.

"That bomb saved you from an army of krogan!" She was losing her temper now.

"Your skill as a soldier served you well in the traverse, commander, we understand that. But Ilos requires a deft touch. We have the situation under control."

"No, you don't!" She yelled. "And if Saren gains access to the Conduit, we're all screwed. You have to let me go after him!"

Councilor Sparatus sighed. "Ambassador Udina, I get the feeling that commander Shepard isn't willing to let this go."

Udina was fuming, his neck a splotchy red color that was creeping into his face. "You have no clue about the political implications of your impudence, Shepard! Humanity made great strides because of your Spectre status, but I'm beginning to think you're more trouble than you're worth."

"You're a bastard, Udina," Kaidan surprised them all, speaking up from behind them. "And you're selling Shepard out for your own gains."

Udina took a breath and tried to collect himself. "This is just politics, Shepard. You've done what the Council tasked you with doing. Now let me do my job. Effective immediately we've locked out all of the Normandy's primary systems. You are grounded until further notice."

"This is bullshit!" Shepard burst. She could hold it in no longer. All the pomp and circumstance of military and social protocol meant nothing at that moment. What mattered was that they were locking her out of a mission she had done all the leg work on, and the consequences of those actions would be dire for not just the councilors, but the entire Citadel, possibly even the entire galaxy.

"Commander, I think it's time you and your squad take your leave. This mission no longer concerns you. The Council and I will handle it from here on out."

Powerless, Shepard turned to the Council one last time. "You're making a huge mistake," she warned them. Before they could respond, she stalked away, Garrus hurrying after her while the rest of the squad lagged behind, allowing her some space.

When she reached the elevator, she slammed her fist on the button to summon it. She had never felt so enraged in her entire life. How could the Council continue to ignore the matter? Was it willing ignorance? Cowardice? If the Normandy didn't get back out into the traverse soon then everything they had done since they started their search for Saren would have been in vain, including Ash's death.

"Shepard, what should we do now?" Garrus asked.

"I don't know," she said. "We've gone through so much. For them to do this…let's regroup on the Normandy. I need some time to think about it."

Garrus followed her into the elevator, down to the exchange at C-sec academy and up a separate elevator to the docks. Joker was outside of the ship, having a heated exchange with two turian C-sec officers.

"What do you mean grounded?" Joker demanded. "We're here on Council business. The commander of this ship is a Spectre. Does that mean nothing to you? Look, here she is now. Commander, tell these C-sec officers to keep their claws off of the Normandy."

Shepard glared at the C-sec officers, who looked unimpressed with what Joker had told them thus far. Her face softened as she turned to the pilot.

"The Council is grounding us, Joker. Until further notice."

"What? Did you tell them what happened on Virmire? About Ilos?"

"She told them everything, Joker," Garrus said. "They refused to believe her. They're taking their own actions. They're not interested in Ilos."

"Garrus," one of the C-sec officers spoke. "Is this where you've been? Traipsing around the galaxy on an Alliance vessel?"

Garrus gave the C-sec officer a withering look. "It beats the hell out of babysitting ships at the docks, Lestus."

"Come on, Joker. Let's head back inside. Or am I not even allowed on my own ship?" Shepard asked the C-sec officers.

They didn't bar her entry, so she, Joker, and Garrus entered the airlock. Joker limped to his pilot's chair and stared blankly at the control interface, already set into full lockdown mode. Shepard stormed past her crew, into the comm room, where she slumped against the wall and fell to the floor. She had never felt so completely helpless. What could she do now? She had no control over the situation anymore.

Garrus entered the room and stood in front of her.

"I'm sorry, Shepard. I had hoped the Council might respond to reason. I think my outburst in their chambers only made things worse."

"It's not your fault they did this. That weasel Udina is the prime culprit, undoubtedly. He let me do all the work of figuring out Saren's plans, and now he'll seem like the hero helping the Council formulate a plan of defense. He'll get what he wants from all this, probably. If we don't all die first."

"So what do we do next?" Garrus asked. "We need to come up with an escape plan."

"How can we? The Normandy is locked down. We have no way of getting off the Citadel."

"That's not the Shepard I know. The Shepard I know would be breaking down doors until she had a way out of this."

"I know, it's just…" Shepard stared at her feet. "I've never felt so lost."

Garrus knelt down and cupped her cheek with his hand. "You're not lost, Shepard. Not as long as we have each other. We'll figure out a way out. We can't let all of this mean nothing."

She met his gaze. There was a fire burning in those bright blue eyes; something in them comforted her. He was right, this was not who she was. She would find a way to get to Saren, even if it meant treason.

"Garrus, I…" She tried to find the words she was looking for.

His face was close to hers suddenly, flooding her with reminders of the moment they had shared on the observation deck before Virmire.

She scanned his face, a strange feeling welling in her chest. Turians had always frightened her as a child, after stories of the war, they had seemed cruel and brutish, accentuated by their appearance: hawkish eyes and razor-sharp teeth, visible on the sides of their faces when their mandibles moved. All of those things seemed so different now, looking at Garrus. His eyes weren't frightening, they were beautiful: so vivid, the color so cool and calming. And the same mouth that had given her nightmares in childhood: the rough, rigid lips hiding those dangerous teeth; it didn't bother her so much now. She wondered how it might feel to kiss lips so different from her own, from any she had ever experienced. She had never given turians much thought until Garrus; humans and turians still held so much hostility toward one another in most parts of the galaxy.

"Shepard," Garrus said her name softly.

Why shouldn't she find out? Why shouldn't be selfish, just once, just in that moment? She wondered what Garrus was thinking, and if he felt the same curiosity she did. His hand was still cupped against her cheek, his fingers inching into her hair, and his face was moving closer, close enough to feel his breath on her skin. 

"Commander?" Joker's voice came over the speakers in the comm room, ruining the moment.

Garrus stepped back and Shepard rose up from her spot on the ground, her heart pounding.

"I'm here, Joker. What is it?" Shepard asked, an unexpected edge to her voice. She hadn't meant to sound so annoyed, Joker couldn't have known what was happening.

"Captain Anderson sent a message through to the Normandy. He wants you to meet him down in the wards at Flux."

"Flux?" Shepard was surprised. Flux was a nightclub, certainly more reputable than Chora's Den, and with less nude dancing than Purgatory, but a club still the same. Why would Anderson want to meet her there?

"All right. Send word to the squad. Have them meet me there."

"Aye aye, commander."

Shepard turned to Garrus. They would have to address the elephant in the room later. "Are you coming?"

"Right behind you."

 Garrus was familiar with Flux from his days at C-sec. It was one of the less seedy bars on the Citadel, though officers still caught drug exchanges around it once in a while. Any place with loud music and alcohol was bound to attract that sort of behavior.

He agreed with Shepard that the bar was an odd place for Anderson to want to meet. But it was also a place Udina wouldn't suspect them to meet, and that could be reason enough.

Liara, Tali, Wrex, and Kaidan were waiting for them when they reached the entrance to the bar, on one of the lower levels of the Kithoi ward.

"Shepard, what's going on? Joker told us to meet you here." Liara greeted them.

"Anderson wants to meet. He wouldn't say why."

"If we all go in together, it might draw suspicion," Garrus said. "Why don't we stagger it? A few at a time. I can scope out the room from the second floor of the bar, keep an eye out for anyone who might be eavesdropping. Udina wants you on lockdown, I wouldn't put anything past him." 

Shepard nodded. "All right. We'll go in first. You all follow and fan out."

"Never had to get into formation at a night club before," Kaidan laughed.

Garrus entered the bar with Shepard. Music was blasting from the speakers, drunk people writhing together on the dance floor. The floor was sticky with spilled alcohol and Spirits knew what else. On the left side of the bar, a set of tables were grouped against the window. Anderson sat alone at one of them, sipping his drink.

"I'll turn on my comm link so you can hear us," Shepard told Garrus. "Stay sharp."

"I always am," he replied.

He made his way up a set of stairs near the dance floor to the upper level of the bar where more people were dancing and mingling. He leaned against the edge of the railing where the upper level looked out on the lower bar, listening as Shepard approached Anderson, scanning the room for any sign of danger.

The rest of the squad entered the room and fanned out as Shepard sat down to chat. Wrex was remarkably out of place; he leaned against a wall in an attempt to act casual, but he still drew several stares.

"Shepard, I'm glad you could make it," Anderson said.

"What's going on, Anderson? Did you know about the lockdown?"

"I did. I tried to warn you, but Udina barred me from sending any messages to the Normandy on your approach. He's power hungry. He doesn't care what you have to say. But we both know the truth, Shepard. If you don't get to Ilos and stop Saren from using the Conduit, life as we know it could be over."

"What am I supposed to do?" Shepard asked. "We can't override the controls on the lockdown."

"No, but if we can convince Citadel traffic control that Udina has lifted the order, you could leave before anyone finds out it was a lie," Anderson suggested.

"If we steal the Normandy, that's mutiny. And you'll be the one left to take the blame. You could be arrested for treason, captain. That's a capital offense. There has to be a better way," Shepard's emotions tinged her voice, only slightly, but Garrus could hear it.

"What better way? If I am arrested and tried, they'll put me to death. But if I don't do anything, we die anyway. I can break into Udina's office and hack his terminal, override the command, and lift the Normandy's lockdown. It's the only way, Shepard."

"What if Udina's in his office?"

"I'll take care of it."

Shepard sighed. It was the only way they'd get off the Citadel, and they had to. It really was a matter of life and death.

"Okay," she finally said. "It's the only way. But you have to promise me something, Anderson."

"Anything, Shepard."

"Don't get caught. Don't let Udina have the pleasure of putting you in cuffs."

"I'll do my best," Anderson promised. "Now get back to the Normandy. I'll send word to Joker as soon as the restrictions are lifted."

Shepard stood up, shook Anderson's hands, turned to meet Garrus' gaze, and walked out of the bar. He hurried to join her, as did the rest of the squad.

"Did everyone hear the plan?" Shepard asked, moving calmly and coolly through the ward to avoid attracting unwanted attention. "We head back to the Normandy. Anyone not comfortable with mutiny? Now's your chance to back out."

"Like you're gonna get rid of me just when things finally start to get interesting?" Wrex laughed.

"We all want to see this through, Shepard. If we're going to break the law, let's do it together," Kaidan said.

"I'm obviously coming," Garrus added. "Someone's got to watch your six."

"The opportunity to see Ilos with my own eyes…" Liara's eyes watered. "I cannot imagine a better group to experience it with."

"Maybe I'll bring Saren's head back to the flotilla as my gift," Tali suggested.

Shepard smiled, hopeful. She had seemed so despairing back on the Normandy, barely an hour earlier. She was emboldened now, though, her eyes ablaze. This was the Shepard Garrus had come to know and respect. This was the Shepard he would follow to the ends of the galaxy.

 Shepard's adrenaline was pumping as she led the squad back to the docks and onto the Normandy. Joker greeted them hopefully.

"What did Anderson want?" he asked.

"Get the ship ready, Joker. As soon as Anderson sends word, we're hightailing it out of here," she swept through the ship, a new energy driving her. "Pressly, map the coordinates for Ilos."

"Commander?" Pressly looked concerned. "We're on lockdown."

Shepard stepped up to the intercom mic at the command information center. "Attention all crew. This is commander Shepard speaking. As you've probably heard by now, the Council has put us on lockdown. I say, fuck that. We're taking back control of this ship and setting a course for Ilos. If the Council won't stop Saren, we will. Anyone who has a problem with that is free to leave the ship."

The crew members stationed on the bridge and the CIC didn't budge. No one wandered up from crew quarters. These people were loyal to Shepard, she realized now just how loyal. When no one voice objection or tried to leave, she continued speaking.

"I don't know what's waiting for us on Ilos, but I know what happens next won't be easy. Just remember we're doing this not just for the Alliance, but for the galaxy as we know it. Do your best, try your hardest, and don't let me down. And if you can't do it for me, do it for Ash. Don't let her death mean nothing. Shepard, out."

"Commander," Pressly said, as soon as Shepard stepped away from the mic. "We have coordinates set for the Mu Relay. As soon as we're airborne, we can set the course."

"Great work, Pressly."

Shepard joined her squad in the comm room, waiting for word from Anderson. She paced the room, anxious to leave, worried what might happen to Anderson if he was caught.

"Anderson will be fine," Kaidan said, as if he'd read her thoughts. "He's been in the Alliance for decades. I think he knows a thing or two about espionage."

She hoped he was right. There would be no way of knowing once they entered the Mu Relay. Citadel comm buoys would not be located on the other side of the relay. They would be on their own until they stopped Saren.

Another twenty minutes passed in silence. Everyone else was anxious too. They had no clue what awaited them on Ilos, apart from the fact that Saren would be there with his army of geth to protect him. They could be walking into a death trap. Whatever the Conduit was, it was likely a source of immense power. Allowing Saren to access it was not an option. Shepard would stop him, even if it meant sacrificing her own life.

"Commander, restrictions have been lifted. Normandy is aweigh," Joker's voice came over the speakers.

The ship jerked to life, gliding out of the docks and shifting to FTL as soon as they were a safe distance away from the Citadel. Shepard's heart pounded in her chest. This was the most dangerous, unknown mission she had ever faced, her entire career had been building up to it, and if she did make it out alive and return, she might rot in a prison cell for the rest of her life for her mutiny.

It was a price she was more than willing to pay.

Chapter Text

The atmosphere on the Normandy was restless; nobody knew what was awaiting them on Ilos, but most of them were frightened of what might. Garrus was pouring all his energy into final upgrades to the mako, sure they would be needed once on the surface. While he worked, Liara read stories about Ilos aloud to the crew in the cargo bay. The salarians had disembarked on the Citadel, so it was just Wrex, Garrus, Tali, and the engineers once again. Liara seemed to have every single piece of Prothean writing on the subject of Ilos, but no one had actually seen the place first-hand; it had been lost with the Mu Relay. They were going to find it again.

Garrus wasn't sure how the others managed to find sleep at night. If he wasn't worrying himself about Ilos, then his mind was racing with thoughts of Shepard. There had been too many moments in the last few weeks for him to be misreading the signals, and yet he still questioned it. He wished Shepard were a turian, he knew how to handle turian women; human women were a complete unknown.

It was the third night on route to Ilos, and the third night he had tossed and turned, unable to sleep. Wrex and Tali were sleeping soundly in their cots, Wrex letting off obnoxious snores every few seconds.

Garrus had been avoiding the observation deck because he was so confused about Shepard. He knew he would find her up there if he went, so he had stayed in his cot, restless, the past two nights.

As he lay staring at the ceiling of the cargo bay on the third night, he decided it wasn't worth avoiding any longer. Shepard was his friend, probably his best friend. He needed to talk to her about how he was feeling, not just about their relationship, but about everything. She was the only one he was comfortable sharing his fears with.

He moved from his cot quietly, not wanting to disturb Tali and Wrex. He would have to take the elevator; taking the ladder through the med bay would wake Liara up, and he didn't want to do that either. The ride up seemed to be the slowest in memory, he thought he would never reach the observation deck. When the doors opened, he was relieved to find Shepard seated on the couch closest to the window. She turned around at the sound of the elevator and smiled when she saw it was him.

"I missed you the past few nights," she said.

He sat down next to her. "How are you holding up, Shepard?"

She shrugged and stared out the window. "Honestly? I'm scared. The unknown scares me more than anything. I wish we knew what we were getting into. I keep thinking about Virmire. I have these nightmares about it…about Ash…" her voice caught in her throat and she steadied herself. "I don't want anything to happen to the rest of you. Especially not you."

"We'll get through this together," Garrus said. "No one is dying on Ilos except Saren."

He reached his hand out instinctively and clasped hers where it lay on the couch. The way their fingers fit together surprised him. He had never held a human hand before, but he had expected it to be awkward. She had almost twice as many fingers as he did, but they fit neatly, two and two, between his. She squeezed his hand, stroking the top of it with her thumb, a warm, earthy smell filling the room.

"Shepard," he said after a moment of silence.

She turned her face to his. "Yes?"

"The past few weeks…we…have you noticed…" he'd never felt so flustered before. His heart was pounding.

Shepard placed a hand on his face, her fingers soft and gentle against his mandible. She didn't pause to let the moment play out, possibly too afraid they'd face another interruption. Her lips pressed against his, smooth and delicate, with just enough pressure. It was like nothing he had every experienced before, so different than turian lips.

He leaned into the kiss, opening his mouth against hers. Her lips pressed harder against his as she grabbed his shoulder and leaned into him. Her mouth opened, enough for him to move his tongue against hers. He wasn't sure how much humans used their tongues for these sorts of things, but turians employed their long tongues in most romantic acts. She didn't seem surprised by the maneuver, meeting his tongue with pressure from her own, which he took as a good sign. The taste of her mouth was so new, and yet so familiar, so distinctly Shepard.

The longer they kissed, the less Garrus ever wanted to let go of her. They were blind to the world around them, focused only on one another. He grasped at her back, pulling her against him so that she straddled his lap. She wrapped her arms around him, stroking the soft skin behind his fringe as they kissed, her bottom grinding against his lower plates.

He felt euphoric, and was hugely disappointed when her mouth broke away from his.

"Shepard," he said, his breath heavy.

She said nothing, her lips moving to the tender skin of his neck. His talons gripped her thighs. Her kisses were so delicate, applying pressure with a sensitivity that a turian just couldn't achieve. His subharmonics vibrated involuntarily, a low purr escaping his throat.

As she grinded against him, kissing and nipping at his neck, he could feel his lower plates shifting to accommodate his arousal. Shepard felt it too, because a moment later, she drew her mouth away from his skin and nuzzled against his nose.

"Garrus." Her voice was husky. "Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?"

He laughed and she smothered his laughter with a kiss. He wanted nothing more than to rip her clothes off right there; the fabric between their skin felt suffocating.

After a few more minutes, she sat back on his legs and caught her breath. He thought it might be over as she rose to her feet, but then she spoke.

"We should go somewhere more private," she said.

"Where?" he asked, somewhat stupidly.

"Well, I had heard the commander has her own private cabin." She rolled her eyes at him.

"Are you sure?" He could have kicked himself for even asking.

She took his hand. "Yes."

He followed her onto the elevator and as soon as they were inside it, they were on each other again. He pressed her against the wall, his hands pushing impatiently at the hem of her shirt. He was intensely curious about her body, eager to explore such unknown territory.

For once, the elevator ride didn't seem slow.

When they emerged at the crew quarters, they didn't realize the doors had opened for nearly an entire minute. Thankfully, the main chamber was empty. Almost everyone else on the ship was asleep, except the night crew running things up on the bridge. Shepard took Garrus' hand once more and tugged him along to her cabin, both of them giddy, like teenagers who had never had sex before.

"Take off your clothes," she demanded as soon as the door to her cabin was shut and locked. She was already shuffling out of her own attire.

"Is that an order, commander?" he asked.

"You better believe it, Vakarian."

A shiver of anticipation ran down his spine. He could hardly believe what was happening, but he wasn't upset at the resolution of weeks of pent up tension. He pulled his clothes off in a hurry, nearly tripping out of his boots.

When they were both completely naked, they stood in front of each other, taking in the foreignness of their bodies. Her skin was covered in scars, tendrils of pale flesh on her stomach, her legs, her arms. It was a body hardened by war, and yet so soft and pliable compared to a turian's. He was most surprised at the shock of red hair growing between her legs. He knew humans grew hair there, it had been part of his alien anatomy courses during military training, but it still surprised him all the same.

His eyes roved up and down her body, trying to take it all in. He'd never actually seen a naked human in person before. Her breasts were intriguing as well, though he'd at least seen those on asari in places like Chora's Den. He knew that males of other species found them sexually appealing, even involved them in foreplay, but he still didn't understand the attraction. They were just two small lumps of fat hanging on her chest. He did wonder what they felt like, but only in the same way he'd been curious about her hair. They didn't impact his desire for her one way or the other.

She was taking him in as well, he could see. He must have looked so angular and sharp compared to a human male. She wondered if the sight of him naked would ruin things; their bodies were just so different. And yet, they had more similarities than he'd initially thought: all of their parts certainly seemed compatible.

As he stood, feeling more awkward by the second, wondering what she thought of him, she bridged the gap between them, kissing him once again as she brought her hand between his legs and stroked him.

His brain momentarily short-circuited. Her hands were so soft, her fingers so small and numerous.

"Shepard," he gasped.

They kissed for a few minutes, stumbling into the wall. It took everything in his power not to throw her down on the bed and ravage her. He didn't want to seem too eager, like some teenage recruit who'd never seen a naked woman before.

After several more minutes, his mouth broke away from hers. He had to ask, had to have one more reassurance.

Part of him was worried it wouldn't even work. Their parts seemed compatible enough, but there wasn't a lot of precedent. Every other species seemed to be screwing each other except turians and humans. What if something went wrong? Rumors had always swirled that dextros and levos couldn't have sex without one of them swelling up with an allergic reaction, but he doubted the truth behind the rumor. After all, they had been swapping spit for nearly an hour now and neither of them was breaking out in hives, and he knew turians who were married to asari.

"Garrus?" Shepard pulled him from his thoughts.

"Shepard," he said slowly. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

She pushed him gently away from her and walked over to the bed, lying down and staring at him. "I want you, Garrus." she answered.

He didn't need to be told twice. He climbed on top of her, moving between her legs, mindful of his weight against her body. She looked up at him with so much longing in her eyes that any doubt he had vanished. He kissed her and she gripped his hips with her legs.

He guided himself inside of her in one slow, fluid movement. She let out a gasp and her eyes squeezed shut and he was immediately concerned he had hurt her. Her muscles were so tight around him, much tighter than any turian he'd ever been with.

Frozen in place, he propped himself up on his elbows. "Shepard…did I…does it hurt?"

She let out a long, slow breath and opened her eyes, her cheeks flushed. "You're just…a little bigger than I'm used to," she said slowly.

"Maybe this is a bad idea." He hated himself as he said it.

She brought her hands up to his face. "No…no. I want this, Garrus. It's just new. There's always kinks to work out with someone new. Here…if I just…" She moved her legs, hooking them up above his hip spurs, which allowed her to spread them a little further. "There," she said, settling back onto her pillow. "Try again. Slowly."

He kissed her again, feeling her tongue pressing against his eagerly. He gave a few slow, careful pumps of his hips and she responded accordingly, short gasps escaping her mouth, eyes half closed. This was a better sign.

All he could focus on was the feel of her, the taste of her, the smell of her. He brought his tongue along her collarbone as he moved inside of her. She was still so tight against him, so wet, so warm, so soft…

"Stop, stop, ow…" she patted his shoulder.

He slowed to a halt. "What did I do?" he asked, concerned.

"Nothing, nothing, God, fuck, you've got to get off of me," she pushed on his chest. He pulled out of her and rolled on to his back. She hopped to her feet and hobbled around the cabin.

"What happened?" he asked.

"My hip just…locked up." She rubbed the joint as she tried to walk out the cramp.

"Is that, uh…common?"

She hobbled around for a few more seconds and then sat on the edge of the bed. "Sometimes, if I move my legs a certain way during sex, it happens. They're just not used to that position…with the hip spurs. It's just an adjustment."

"What if we can't make this work?" Garrus sighed.

She leaned over him, her soft breasts pressing against his chest as she kissed him. "I want it to work," she said. "I'm not letting you leave this room until we resolve this."

"It feels good for me," he said, honestly. "I want it to feel good for you too."

"Here, let's try this. Get behind me."

She rolled onto her hands and knees and he did as she said. His erection was absolutely throbbing, and he would have loved nothing more than to plunge into her and pick up where they'd left off, but he could tell she had something more in mind.

"Come closer, lean over me."

He pressed himself against her, draping his body over her back and gently kissing her shoulder. She grabbed his hand, wrapping it around her hip and up under her, guiding his fingers between her legs.

"Watch your talons," she said softly.

"I know," he replied.

Her fingers guided his into the warm, wet folds between her legs. She didn't seem so different than a turian in that respect, until she led his finger to a little bundle of flesh just above her opening. When he put pressure there, she let out a little gasp and let go of his hand, leaning onto her elbows and moaning into her pillow.

Another unusual and confusing human attribute. Turian women had this part inside, where it would actually be stimulated during sex. Now that he knew where it was, he continued to move his finger against it, rubbing in a circular motion as her body responded beneath him.

"Garrus…" she gasped, clutching some of the sheets in her hands. Now things were starting to improve.

Keeping his fingers moving between her legs, he kissed and licked between her shoulder blades, up to her neck, where he nipped at her skin with his coarse lips, afraid his teeth would be too sharp on her fragile skin. She moaned beneath him, his name escaping her lips several times.

He wondered how long he should wait to start things again, still moving his fingers in slow circles over the knot of fleshy nerves between her legs. Characteristic of her station, she gave the orders when she was ready.

"Dammit, Garrus, fuck me already," she gasped.

He wasted no time. Grabbing her hips, he slid back inside of her. She was still tight, but the movement was much more fluid now. He returned his fingers to their work as he gave a few slow, steady strokes. She bunched the sheets in her hand and moaned loudly.

Finally, they seemed to be figuring it out. He was overwhelmed with how good it felt, how right it felt. She was so soft…and the sound of his name leaving her lips was like heaven. He leaned forward and kissed her shoulder, the edges of his mandibles dragging against her skin.

"Shepard," he gasped.

"GarrusfuckGod, Garrus!" she moaned. "Oh…it feels so good…please don't stop."

Were all humans this talkative during sex? He didn't mind, he liked the string of unintelligible noises of pleasure issuing from her mouth, but Turians certainly weren't so vocal; their subharmonics did most of the talking. He wondered if Shepard understood the frequency at which his own were vibrating; it was a pitch he'd never be caught dead making in public.

He wanted to last as long as he could, wanted to make this perfect. Now that they had a rhythm going, more than anything, he wanted to make sure she would enjoy it as much as he was.

She was sweating, half of her face pressed into the pillow, her body red and splotchy, eyes closed and mouth open as quiet little moans and gasps escaped her throat.

"Harder…faster…Garrus…" she gasped. He complied, bucking against her as hard as he could muster. "Don't ever stop…" she moaned. "Don't ever stop…God…."

But then her breath sped up and she gripped the sheets until her knuckles turned white as a series of short, sharp gasps left her lips, punctuated by his name. Her muscles tightened around him in spasms and it was too much. He tried to keep going, but the feeling was overwhelming. The rhythm of his movement became uncoordinated as he gave a few last thrusts, a wave of pleasure gripping his entire body, moaning her name as his subharmonics oscillated.

And then it was over.

For a moment, he lay draped over her back, still inside of her, her muscles still contracting against him, though the movement was slower and further apart until it halted altogether. Both of them were breathing heavily and she was covered in a thin sheen of sweat. He licked her shoulder affectionately and finally pulled out of her, falling onto his back, his chest rising and falling heavily.

She stood up slowly and disappeared into the bathroom for a moment, returning with a hand towel, which she handed to him as she lay down next to him on the bed. He wiped himself down and tossed it on the floor.

"We should have done that sooner," she said.

He laughed and turned onto his side to face her. All of the tension that had been building between them had dissipated. He stroked her cheek, mindful of his talons.

"Should I go?" He didn't want to leave, but he wasn't sure what the protocol was, and if they slept too late, they risked the crew finding out what they had done.

"No." She sidled up against him and rested her head on his chest. "Stay."

He didn't need to be told twice.

 Shepard awoke the next morning, worried she had dreamed the entire thing. When she opened her eyes and found Garrus lying next to her, sleeping soundly, she felt a small sense of relief.

She lay watching him for a while, observing the way his mandibles twitched as he dreamed. When Garrus had shown up on the observation deck the night before, she'd never anticipated that things would have happened the way they did, but she wasn't upset. A tension had been building between them over the past few weeks, but every time they'd almost kissed, they'd been interrupted. When he grabbed her hand on the observation deck, she had made the decision not to hesitate; it had been the right choice.

It was still early; the crew would not be up and about the main chamber of the quarters for another hour or so. As much as she had enjoyed her night with Garrus, she didn't want anyone else to know about it. It was personal, for starters, and something she wanted to keep distinct and separate from her role as commander. She also didn't want to make it awkward. Whatever the night had meant to both of them, bigger and scarier things awaited them on Ilos. If they survived whatever Sovereign was planning, then they could talk about what things meant.

After a while, Garrus stirred, stretching out his long limbs, his subharmonics chirping as he stretched. He rolled onto his side, opened his eyes, and smiled.

"Good morning," he said, still wearing a mask of drowsiness.

"Morning. How did you sleep?"

"Better than I have in days," he admitted.

"Me too."

Shepard had experienced one night stands before and the subsequent discomfort the following morning. She was a little worried she would feel that discomfort with Garrus when the heat of the moment had passed, but it never came. She felt as at ease with him as she always had, perhaps more so now that the sexual tension between them had been released.

Garrus lifted his hand and stroked his fingers through her hair.

"Still fascinated with my hair?" she asked.

"It's nice. It's so soft. There's nothing comparable on a turian."

"I don't know." She reached her hand up and brushed her fingers against the soft skin directly beneath his fringe. "This feels pretty soft."

"Shepard…" his subharmonics purred. "That's a very sensitive spot."

"Oh," she withdrew her hand. "Should I not touch it?"

"No, you should keep touching it," he insisted.

She moved her hand back against his head and he closed his eyes. His own hand stopped moving against her as his subharmonics made his whole chest vibrate.

"Any other spots I should know about?" Shepard asked.

He opened his eyes. "Isn't it more fun if you find out through experience?"

She grinned and rolled on top of him. "If you insist."

After they had finished their morning romp, she lay on her back next to him, her body covered in sweat, weak from the exertion. He was running his tongue along her collarbone, nipping at her skin with his rigid lips.

"Is this a turian thing?" she asked.

He propped himself up on his elbows. "Is what a turian thing?"

"You're licking me," she said.

"Do you humans not lick each other?"

"Well…sometimes. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. It feels good…"

"Turians sense of smell and taste is very important in…er…sexual relations," Garrus said, somehow managing to seem awkward discussing the topic despite having been inside of her a few minutes earlier. "Biting is good too, but, uh, your skin is so soft…I don't want to hurt you."

"Humans employ biting too," Shepard said. "Sometimes." She eyed his razor-sharp teeth unsurely. "Maybe you should try it just to see."

"I don't know, Shepard. I really don't think…"

"Garrus, you've seen all my scars. I can handle a little pain. Besides, sometimes pain can be fun," she smirked.

"If you're sure…"

"Just do it and see."

"All right, but you can't be mad if it really hurts."

"I won't, I promise."

He kissed her neck, as delicately as turian could with such rough skin, moving his kisses down to her shoulder, licking the sweat from her skin as he moved. Then, when he reached the cusp of her shoulder, he clamped his teeth down, probably biting much lighter than he could have.

Shepard let out a yelp and swatted him off of her.

"OW!" She growled.

Blood was trickling from the wound, streaking down her chest and back as she sat up.

"I told you!" He complained.

Shepard grabbed some medi-gel from her nightstand and sealed it onto her shoulder. She would need to have Karin look at it. She was not looking forward to that conversation.

"I'm sorry," Garrus said sheepishly.

"Don't apologize," She frowned. "I told you to do it."

"You can bite me if you want."

She shoved him. "You'd like that, wouldn't you?"

"Yes," he purred.

Shepard lay back down, stretching her body out and sighing. "We should probably get up. The crew will be up soon and we'll want to get out of here before that. I just don't think we should tell anyone. You know, I just…don't want to make things uncomfortable for anyone else and…"

"I agree," Garrus nodded. "This should just be between you and me."

She kissed his mandible. "Thank you."



"Before we get up…can I…" his mandibles flared with embarrassment, "er…could I…touch your breasts?"

She blinked at him. "What?"

"I've only been with turian women," he said. "They don't have them. I've heard it's supposed to be part of human foreplay, but I wasn't really sure what to do with them so I just ignored them."

Shepard laughed. "Yes, you can touch my boobs, Garrus." It was a sentence she'd never imagined herself saying until the night before.

He brought his hand against her chest, mindful as always of his sharp talons, and squeezed his fingers around the soft, doughy flesh. Her body reacted instinctively to the touch.

"They feel odd," Garrus decided.


"No, in a good way," he pinched the upraised flesh of her nipple and she let out an involuntary gasp of surprise. "Did I hurt you?" he asked with concern.

"No, I just wasn't expecting that." She watched his hand, squeezing and moving her breast. It was by far the least sexy experience she'd ever had while having her breasts groped, but she appreciated the novelty of it all for Garrus.

"They are fun to touch," he said. "But I still don't understand the sex appeal. Do human men put their mouths on them?"

"Yeah, sometimes," Shepard shrugged. "Don't bite them though!" She added for good measure.

He laughed and brought his tongue experimentally against her skin, brushing it over her nipple. Pleased with the sensation, and her response, he did it again, this time moving his tongue around it in a circle.

"Garrus, don't," she said softly.

"Why? Does it hurt?"

"No. But this is what humans do as part of foreplay, and we don't have time for another round in the sheets, so I'd rather you didn't get me revved up, if it's all the same."

"Oh." He moved away from her chest and sat up.

"Let's get dressed and get out of here before everyone wakes up," she suggested.

They stood up, Garrus gathering his clothes up off of the floor while Shepard pulled fresh ones from her dresser.

"When all of this is over," Shepard said, pulling her shirt on over her head, "We can talk about it. Until then, let's just enjoy the memory."

"Agreed." Garrus nodded.

Once they were dressed, Shepard peeked out of her cabin to make sure no one was out in the main chamber of the crew deck. Seeing that it was empty, she beckoned Garrus to follow her. They moved quietly toward the elevator, Shepard practically tip-toeing to avoid arousing any suspicion. Just as she was about to hit the button to summon the elevator, a voice sounded from the door to the med bay.

"Commander Shepard, Garrus, could I have a word with the two of you?"

Shepard spun around, feeling like a child caught breaking a rule. Karin stood in the open doorway, arms folded across her chest, her expression unreadable.

"Uh, what about, Karin?" Shepard feigned innocence.

"Probably best if we discuss it inside the med bay." She turned around and walked back to her desk.

Garrus and Shepard exchanged a glance a followed Karin inside, the door sliding shut behind them.

"If you could both just have a seat on the examination table there." She pointed to the table closest to her desk.

They sat down obediently, wondering how much she had seen or heard and what she might say to the rest of the crew. Shepard had always trusted and respected the doctor, which perhaps made her feel guiltier for having been caught.

"Are you sure we should talk in here?" Garrus asked. "Isn't Liara…?"

"Liara woke up an hour ago and went down to the cargo bay to visit Wrex and Tali…and you, ostensibly," Karin said, eyes flitting to Garrus. "We're quite alone, I assure you."

'Good try', Shepard thought.

"Listen, Karin, I don't…" she started.

"Commander Shepard, you are by far one of the best commanders I've had the pleasure of serving under, and it's been a joy to watch you rise in the ranks aboard this ship. I have no interest or concerns about who you choose to spend your free time with or how you choose to spend it," Karin interrupted. "But I would question my own credibility as a doctor if I didn't make sure that both of you aren't showing any signs of hyper-allergic reaction to one another."

"Oh, we're uh…" Garrus tried to think of something to say.

"Please don't lie to me, Garrus. I saw the two of you last night. You can see my desk right there, it looks straight out to the elevator through that window. I also saw you sneak away to commander Shepard's cabin and I saw you sneaking out this morning. And I also unfortunately heard a few things as I was grabbing my breakfast from the cooling unit this morning."

Shepard's face grew warm and Garrus' mandibles flared. Neither of them could look at the doctor. Shepard felt like a teenager again.

"Er…sorry," was all she could muster.

Karin grabbed Shepard's chin and shined a light in her eyes before making her stick her tongue out and say 'ahh'.

"You don't have to apologize to me, commander. I remember what it was like to be your age. In fact, I had a brief affair with a turian soldier myself, during the war. I was probably about your age then. Take your shirt off, dear I need to inspect you for signs of hives."

"You uh…you what?" Shepard was reeling. Sleeping with Garrus had felt like breaking some huge taboo. Humans and turians that were even friends were so few and far between, part of her had genuinely thought they might be the first human and turian to ever have sex with each other. Now she realized what a naïve thought it was. There had been plenty of sympathizers on both sides of the war, it shouldn't have surprised her that some of them might have become romantically involved with one another.

"You think you're the first turian and human to figure out their parts were compatible?" Karin laughed. "That's sweet, but no."

She pulled Shepard's shirt up over her head and all Shepard could do to assist her was raise her arms. She could not believe the situation she was in.

Karin tutted at the sight of the bite wound on her shoulder.

"Garrus, human flesh is far too soft for turian teeth," she said.

"Yeah, Garrus," Shepard chided.

Garrus' mouth fell open. "What? You told me to bite you!"

"Even still, you shouldn't have listened to her."

She went about removing the medi-gel and cleaning the wound with antiseptic. Shepard winced. Karin patched the bite up with a large bandage before investigating Shepard's skin for any signs of an allergic reaction.

"I really think we're fine, Karin," Shepard insisted. Her face was burning by that point. She was never one to shy away from the topic of sexual conquests, but the doctor was such a motherly figure on the ship, it felt obscene to discuss with her.

"You do look okay," Karin said. "It's different for everyone. One of the Alliance nurses who worked under me…her face swelled up and her throat closed. She was lucky we had ample medication on hand or she could have died." She looked at Shepard unsurely. "You didn't…ingest anything, did you?"

Shepard didn't think it was possible for her face and ears to get any warmer or redder, but they did. "Um…no." She said after a moment.

"Ingest?" Garrus cocked his head.

Based on their experience the night before, which had been more than enjoyable, Shepard knew that Garrus wasn't sexually naïve. He did sometimes have a hard time extrapolating translations to secondary meanings, but that was a cross-cultural issue. There were plenty of turian sayings Shepard didn't understand.

"Oh, Garrus," Karin gave him a pitying look. She turned back to Shepard. "Well, you might want to keep an epi-pen just in case."

"What does she mean, Shepard?" Garrus asked.

"I'll tell you later," Shepard growled.

"You look fine, commander. Let me examine Garrus."

The doctor sidled over to the turian and began her examination over again. After several minutes examining his skin, she seemed satisfied.

"All right, you can go. But remember what I said. I keep the epi-pens in this little cooling unit beneath my desk if you need one."

Shepard hopped down from the examination table.

"Um, Karin, if you could just…not mention this to anyone…"

"Doctor patient confidentiality," She said, crossing her finger over her heart. "No need to worry, commander."

"Thanks. Garrus, come on," Shepard beckoned him after her.

He followed her out of the med bay and into the elevator.

"That was embarrassing," he said once the doors had closed.

"Incredibly," she agreed.

Not content to drop the previous subject of conversation, Garrus turned to her, arms folded across his chest. "What did she mean by ingest, Shepard? Is it a human phrase my translator's misinterpreting?"

"No, it's uh…" she coughed. "Well, you see…sometimes…people use their mouths to…wait a minute. Turians use licking as part of sex and you don't know what she means about ingesting?" Shepard crossed her arms, mirroring him.

"I already told you I don't!" he stomped his foot in frustration.

"Well…sometimes people…have you ever heard the term blowjob before?" She felt her face growing red again. She recognized that any interspecies sexual interaction could be awkward, but she was beginning to realize how little she knew about turian culture and intimacy.

"I've heard it. My translator doesn't interpret it."

"Turians don't have a word for that?"

"For what? Dammit, Shepard, would you be an adult and tell me what it means?"

"It's when you put your mouth on someone's dick and suck on it!" She blurted.

He spent several seconds staring at her, a look of revulsion growing on his face. This was certainly the first time Shepard had seen that kind of look on any man's face when discussing the topic.

"But…would your teeth...?" he started to ask

"OH," suddenly it dawned on Shepard why Garrus' translator couldn't interpret the word. Turian teeth, as she'd learned first-hand, were incredibly sharp. She supposed that putting such a sensitive organ in a turian mouth would be like sticking it in a bear trap. She winced at the thought. "Well, uh, human lips are more pliable than turian lips. We don't use our teeth. We just…uh…use our tongues…and our lips."

He gave her a very skeptical look. "And 'ingesting' is some sort of human slang for this?"

"No…God, Garrus."

"I'm sorry, but the entire concept is foreign to me. If I put my penis in a turian woman's mouth I would lose it," he shuddered.

Shepard sighed. She didn't realize she'd be giving a sex-ed lesson in the elevator when she woke up that morning. "Ingesting…swallowing…it's…God this awkward…"

"We're both adults," Garrus said.

"When you um…finish…in…someone's…mouth…"

"Spit it out, Shepard."

She snorted with laughter involuntarily. Garrus didn't understand why she was laughing, and she could see that he was starting to get annoyed. She stifled her laughter and continued.

"Well the person who's doing the uh…sucking…they can either…spit it out or swallow it. Most people swallow it because it's easier and less unattractive."

"This is the most bizarre thing I've ever heard of," Garrus shook his head.

Shepard shrugged, then thought for a moment. "Wait, are you telling me turians don't uh…well your tongues are so long…"

"We lick things," he said. "That part is usually more fun for the females."

She patted his shoulder. "We do that too. Just for future reference."

The doors to the elevator swung open and they stepped out into the cargo bay. It was time to pretend nothing had happened the night before…or that morning.

"Another late night on the observation deck?" Wrex asked from his spot against the mako.

"As usual," Garrus responded.

Tali was seated next to him, tinkering with some geth parts she had salvaged back on Feros. Liara sat above them on the edge of the mako's side, reading something on her omni-tool.

"Wrex, have you ever heard the term blowjob?" Garrus asked.

All three aliens looked up at him. Liara's face tinged purple and she went back to reading her omni-tool with renewed interest. Shepard sighed and shook her head, slumping down next to Wrex on the ground.

The krogan let out a belly-laugh. "Excuse me, Vakarian? You haven't?"

"Shepard was just explaining what it meant," he said. "Turians don't…er…our teeth are very sharp."

"Why were you talking about blowjobs?" Wrex asked, narrowing his eyes at Shepard.

"One of the crew members used the term," Garrus covered quickly. "My translator didn't have a word for it. I just can't imagine it feeling very good. I'm picturing a lot of teeth."

"If they're doing it right, teeth aren't involved," Wrex shrugged. "You should try it with an asari some time."

"Really!" Liara burst. "Excuse you, Wrex!"

"Don't be so naïve, Liara," he replied.

"Could we please talk about something else?" Shepard asked.

"I notice Tali hasn't said anything," Wrex said. "Seems weird that quarians would have a translation for that, considering you live your whole lives in a suit. Doesn't seem like your immune system would handle it well."

"Just because we don't have a word for it doesn't mean I don't know what it is," Tali shrugged. "Some of us are a bit more worldly than Garrus."

Wrex laughed loudly. "Hear that, Garrus? Even the quarian's got more experience than you."

"I'm sorry I mentioned it," Garrus grumbled.

Shepard couldn't help but laugh at the annoyed expression on his face. Wrex continued to poke fun at him, Liara's face getting more purple by the minute as she eavesdropped, Tali piping in with unexpected quips once in a while. Shepard remained silent, watching and listening, taking in the moment. After Ilos, if they survived, what would become of this ragtag team she'd built? The Alliance would have new tasks for her, if they didn't court martial her for mutiny. Would they stay on and help her? She had come to care for them all so much; her ship would seem so empty without them.

She shook the thought from her mind. That was a worry for another day.

Chapter Text

The bridge was crowded as the Normandy made its approach toward Ilos. It had shot through the Mu Relay only twenty minutes before, fortunate considering the crew had no clue how much of a head-start Saren had on them.

Garrus hung back near the airlock, holding the wall with one hand to keep himself steady. Shepard stood behind Joker, asking about their descent, surrounded by Pressly, Tali, Liara, and Kaidan, their voices speaking over each other with a bombardment of information.

He wasn't processing any of it. He watched Shepard silently, taking in his newfound appreciation for her body: the wide, supportive hips not unlike a turian's, though her waist was less slender. He felt like a recruit again, discovering sex for the first time. He couldn't stop thinking about the time they had spent together a few days earlier. They hadn't risked it since, their nerves frayed as Ilos grew closer, everyone on the ship on edge and up at odd hours.

He knew he needed to get his mind off of it, needed to focus on the mission; and when the time came, he would find the focus he needed. For the time being, he took in the sight of Shepard, appreciating her commanding presence as she issued orders on the bridge, remembering how she had tasted, the smell of her hair…

"You're not very subtle," Wrex said, jarring Garrus out of his thoughts.

"What?" he turned quickly to face him. He hadn't seen him arrive.

"You were staring at Shepard like she was a bag of meat."

"No I wasn't!"

Wrex shrugged. "You know, Vakarian, I noticed something the other day when Shepard was training in the cargo bay."

"Please, don't tell me if it's just going to be something crude," Garrus sighed.

"Not crude," Wrex said, a fiendish grin growing on his face. "But Tali was in engineering and Liara was up in her room so no one else was around to see it, which is too bad because I think Tali would have a lot to say about it."

"About what?" Garrus asked, exasperated.

"Oh, she took off her jacket when she started getting too warm and I noticed these bite marks on her shoulder. They've faded pretty well, but I could still see them," he shrugged.

Garrus felt his heart drop into his stomach. "Maybe a varren bit her on Feros," he said unconvincingly.

"Maybe a turian bit her in the bedroom." Wrex jabbed Garrus in the chest with his finger.

"Really, Wrex, I don't know what…"

"Drop the act, Garrus," he huffed. "When this is over, I'm buying you a drink and you're giving me the details."

"I don't think Shepard…"

"Oh, Shepard's invited too," Wrex grinned.

Garrus sighed. "Could you please not mention it to anyone else?"

Wrex shrugged, "My lips are sealed."

Shepard spun around suddenly and for a moment, Garrus thought she had overheard the conversation. Her face was stern and serious as she addressed them.

"We're moving down to the mako. Joker's got a narrow window to get us in there and we have to hurry." She swept past them and headed for the stairs.

"He might toss us into a building and kill us all," Kaidan added, hurrying to follow the commander.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence!" Joker yelled.

Garrus rushed after Shepard, moving past Kaidan and catching up to her in a few steps. When they reached the bottom of the stairs, they bypassed the elevator for the ladder in the med bay, the squad trailing behind them.

"Any sign of Saren?" Garrus asked.

"The geth are there in force. I need your best aim in the mako, Garrus," Shepard said.

"I never give anything less than my best."

They moved quickly down the ladder, one by one, and piled into the mako in a hurry. The cargo bay doors were already open, ready for their departure. Shepard and Garrus squeezed into the front and Tali joined them, even though they were no longer lacking for space with Ash's absence. She was more efficient in assisting them when she could see what she was doing.

Shepard steered the mako forward, pointing it toward the exit, and waited for the signal from Joker. The entire vehicle was tense with anticipation; Garrus' heart was pounding in his ears.

"GO NOW, COMMANDER!" Joker's voice sounded on the mako's comm link.

Shepard slammed her foot on the gas and the mako pushed forward, as fast as the old thing could move, accelerating as it moved closer and closer to the exit ramp. They reached the edge and went flying into the air, a narrow stretch of ground awaiting them below. If Joker had mistimed it, they would slam into the ancient stone structure ahead of them and likely be incinerated.

Time seemed to slow to a halt as they fell. A line of geth was marching into the structure ahead, and right in the center, looking up at their approach, was Saren. He ushered the geth in, desperate to get inside and shut the door before the mako could land. Garrus wanted to fire at them, but any blast from the mako could throw it off balance and ruin their landing.

The vehicle hit the ground with a shuddering boom that reverberated through Garrus' spine. Shepard approached the gate into the structure at full speed and Garrus took his opportunity to fire on Saren and the geth. Tali was already fast at work overriding the geth systems: a few of the nearby units exploded on their approach, but none close enough to catch Saren in the blast.

Garrus got one shot in, one shot that would have hit Saren, but the doors slammed shut just in time. Shepard switched to the break, pushing it to the floor in a desperate bid to get the vehicle to stop. It skidded to a halt less than inch from the stone structure's closed door, shook at the force of the stop, and finally fell still.

Kaidan wasted no time in opening the mako's hatch. They rushed out and Shepard fired her gun on the door, but it was no use. Tali and Shepard's hacking skills didn't help either. An ancient electronic mechanism was keeping it shut.

"Saren found a way to open it," Tali said. "There must be some mechanism nearby that will override the lock."

Liara stood behind the squad, taking in everything around her in silent awe. She had spent her life dedicated to researching the Protheans, and now she was standing on a planet no one alive in the galaxy had ever stepped foot on before, a planet she had only read about through second-hand ancient Prothean sources. Tears welled in her eyes and she wiped them away.

"Let's go," Shepard called, marching ahead of them in the other direction.

A narrow passageway could be seen ahead, blocked by downed trees and fallen stones. It was too small for the mako to pass through, so they would have to go on foot.

The world was silent, sunlight filtering down in streams through smoke and forest overgrowth. No animals rustled through the trees, no voices sounded, not even the threat of geth; the place was entirely uninhabited. It made Garrus uncomfortable. He thought of what it would be like to die there, alone, the only person left on the entire planet.

He shook the thought from his mind.

The path they took opened onto a tranquil courtyard, filled with crumbling statues and remnants of a culture that hadn't breathed with life in fifty-thousand years. Liara couldn't take everything in fast enough. She snapped a picture with her omni-tool, apologizing to Shepard for her cavalier behavior.

"Don't apologize, Liara," Shepard said. "The circumstances might not be ideal, but you spent your life studying their culture. If we survive this, you deserve a keepsake of a world no one else has ever seen."

The courtyard continued through a set of dilapidated pillars, into another area filled with broken statues. They seemed to be in a garden of some sort, overrun by plant life, but nothing else. Vines had crept through stone for millennia, eating away at the foundation of buildings and walls, causing them to collapse. Garrus was concerned about how quiet it was. Why would Saren take all of his geth with him into the structure back at the landing zone? He had brought an army. Where were they?

A thunderous noise addressed his concern. A geth armature had fallen, seemingly from the sky. A quick look forward revealed dozens of geth pouring over the sides of the walls enclosing the garden, firing on the squad as they came.

"Get to cover!" Shepard yelled, ducking behind a massive stone block.

Garrus moved quickly, taking out two geth troopers as he ran. He moved behind a pillar, the crumbled top of it reaching just above his head. From there, he took position, firing shots left and right as the garden became a chaotic war zone.

Tali was hiding behind the stone next to Shepard; Garrus could see them off ahead to the left from his position. She was trying to hack into the armature's systems while Shepard focused on taking out its shields. Kaidan and Liara were tossing geth left and right, mowing through the field and sending up a barrier whenever the armature fired on them.

Wrex, foregoing any nuance or strategy, leaped onto the back of the armature and began jumping up and down in an effort to break its exoskeleton, holding its neck with one arm and firing bullets into the geth around him with the other. Garrus had to hand it to him, he'd never seen fighting tactics quite like Wrex's.

"Wrex, you idiot!" Shepard yelled. "Get down or I'm going to accidentally shoot you."

"I've got good armor, and better shields," Wrex yelled back, still stomping on the armature.

The geth in question was spinning its ocular lens around desperately trying to see what was assaulting it, firing its blasts haphazardly in Wrex's distraction. One of the blasts went flying toward Liara and she barely got her barrier up in time to stop it, the force of its impact still knocking her to her feet.

Garrus continued to focus on picking off the surrounding geth while Shepard and Wrex argued about the armature. Most of the geth were rushing to the aid of the largest unit, making them easy targets. After a few minutes, only two snipers remained, up on the wall to the left. He made quick work of them.

Shepard, fed up with Wrex's antics, walked up to the frantic armature and shot it in the head. It sputtered and sparked and then collapsed in a heap on the ground, sending Wrex rolling off of it.

"Good teamwork, Shepard," he said.

"Is everyone okay?" Shepard asked the squad.

Everyone seemed relatively unscathed, Kaidan's nose wasn't even bleeding yet, so they pressed on, now on high alert for approaching geth.

They wound their way through the garden, down ramps and under massive buttresses jutting from the walls. The place was beautiful, in a disquieting sort of way. Some of the statues that were still intact were the most unsettling, giants of stone with tentacles fanning out from their faces, worn down by time into ghastly creatures. Garrus wondered what it must have looked like when the Protheans ruled the galaxy; he wondered if the likeness in the stone were Protheans.

Moving through the lower portion of the garden, they were met with more geth fire. It was possibly a good thing that, by that point, they had faced so many geth to get to Ilos that fighting them now just felt like going through the motions. The squad knew their roles, worked together to bring them down quickly, so efficiently that Shepard hardly had to issue orders, except the occasional chastising comment toward Wrex.

With the geth cleared, they pressed on, passing under more of the gigantic buttresses, into a clearing with a building overlooking the area. Like everything else in the garden, the building was overrun with ivy, crumbling in places, but they made their way inside regardless, up a set of stairs and into a chamber with a small, rusted console in the center.

Tali stepped forward and pressed some buttons on the console. It sprung to life, a green terminal presenting itself despite all the years it lay dormant. She pressed some more buttons and shook her head.

"It's our tech, but I can't read any of the inputs. It must be written in Prothean, Liara, can you read it?"

Liara stepped forward to examine the screen. "I only recognize some of the words. It seems to be the mechanism for the gate…there's something about archives written here. I can't make out the rest."

Shepard joined them. She pressed a few buttons and an affirmative chirp signaled from the console.

"How did you…?" Liara began.

She was interrupted by a red VI unit firing up to the left of the console. It was distorted by centuries of disuse, flickering without a defined shape, but Garrus was impressed it had any power running to it at all. It seemed to be speaking, but it was a language that his translator couldn't comprehend.

"I wonder what it's saying," Kaidan pondered.

"You don't understand it?" Shepard asked.

Liara's face lit up. "I see now! After your exposure to the beacons and the Cipher, you've developed an understanding of the Prothean language. What is the VI saying?"

Shepard shook her head. "Some of it is distorted. It's a warning about the reapers." She turned and pointed to the console, "That was the gate mechanism. We should head back; Saren's already got a head start on us."

 When the squad reached the gate back near the mako, the door was open, revealing a straight path stretching inside the stone structure, deep within to a point that Shepard couldn't see. The way was big enough to fit the mako, so they climbed back in and steered it down into the unknown.

Inside was a sight Shepard couldn't have imagined, and yet she had seen it before in the beacon. Walls stretched up on either side of the mako as far as the eye could see, with pod-like structures jutting from either side, hundreds upon hundreds of them. The sight was both amazing and bone-chilling.

"What are those things?" Tali asked.

"Stasis pods," Liara replied from the back of the vehicle. "The Protheans likely tried to preserve themselves cryogenically, but the power drain would have been far too much for all this time. Most likely the chambers are dead, and the Protheans inside them as well."

"There's hundreds of them," Garrus said sadly.

"And trillions more who were killed by the Reapers," Shepard reminded them.

The path forward seemed never-ending. She was anticipating geth, but none appeared; their absence was unnerving.

Garrus said as much. "Why haven't we encountered anything yet?" he asked. "I would have expected Saren to set a trap for us."

"Don't jinx it, you pyjak," Wrex hissed.

"It makes me uneasy," Garrus' fingers tightend on the grip for the turret's trigger. "Stay sharp, Shepard."

"I'm on edge too," she told him. "Something's not right."

Yet they continued to move forward unhindered, their path clear, the stasis pods the only sight ahead or behind them. They drove for what felt like hours, but was surely only minutes, all of them on the edge of their seats, hearts pounding, anxious for what lay ahead. Shepard wasn't as worried about fighting Saren as she was about potentially facing a reaper.

After miles of unimpeded driving, a shimmering purple barrier came into view ahead of them. Shepard slowed the mako to a halt, worried the barrier would be impassable. Her fears were confirmed when the edge of the mako bounced off the field and would pass no further.

"Guess we found Saren's trap," Wrex sighed.

"I do not think this is Saren's doing," Liara said, shaking her head. "We should get out and investigate the area."

Kaidan lifted the hatch and they all climbed out onto the path. Their feet were met with a shallow layer of water as they jumped down. The walls around them seemed even larger and more imposing than they had within the mako; looking up at them too long gave Shepard the feeling that they were falling in on her.

"Over here," Garrus called. "There's a door."

Recessed into the wall, barely visible and certainly impossible to see from the mako, a door with a green access light stood closed. Shepard pressed her hand against the access light and the door flew open, allowing them entry into a vast cylindrical chamber filled with hundreds more of the stasis pods, stretching up and up and up. A small ramp led them down to the center of the chamber. A VI unit fired up on their approach, nothing but red static in image, but Shepard could understand the words it began to speak.

"You are not Prothean," it said. "But you are not machine either."

"I can understand it!" Liara cried.

"I have been monitoring your communications since you arrived at this facility. My programming adjusted my output accordingly. I do not sense the taint of indoctrination upon any of you," the VI paused for a moment, the effort of running its programs after fifty-thousand years of dormancy was probably a great strain. "My name is Vigil. You are safe here for now, but soon nowhere will be safe."

"Did you put up the barrier that stopped us?" Shepard asked.

"Yes. I brought you here so that you might listen. You must break a cycle that has continued for millions upon millions of years. But first you must understand what we did, or you will make the same mistakes," Vigil explained.

Shepard could practically feel Liara trembling beside her, full of so many questions, but aware of the time-sensitive nature of their task.

"The Citadel is the heart of your civilization, the seat of your government, just as it was for us. But this is a trap. The Citadel is actually an enormous mass relay, one that links to the empty void beyond the galaxy: dark space."

Shepard shuddered, her mind flooded with images of the Reapers descending upon the protheans. She suddenly realized that the Citadel had featured in those images, that the Reapers had begun their assault on the galaxy at the heart of it.

"Spirits," Garrus muttered, piecing together the implications of Vigil's statement.

"When the Citadel relay is activated, the Reapers will pour through, and all that you know will perish," Vigil said, confirming Shepard's fears. "We were taken by surprise. The Reapers succeeded at their task thanks in part to their use of a seemingly benign organic species. The keepers maintain the Citadel and each cycle that inhabits it allows them to do so, ensuring that no race ever discovers too much about the Citadel's technology."

"One surprise attack could wipe out the seat of galactic civilization…" Garrus said.

"So it was with us," Vigil replied. "The Reapers entered through the Citadel relay and destroyed our entire government before most of the galaxy even knew it was under attack. From their position in the Citadel, the reapers had access to all of our records, a detailed map of the galactic spread of our civilization. They also had access to the mass relays. One by one, they cut off communications between systems. Entire clusters went dark in an instant. Then, over the span of several decades, they systematically obliterated prothean civilization. Those who surrendered were taken by the Reapers and mutated, indoctrinated, used to lure their own people in. One by one we were either killed or enslaved, until none remained."

Liara let out a quiet sob and turned her face away, brushing tears from her eyes. "To know…what truly happened…it is…horrible."

"Once the prothean genocide was complete," Vigil continued. "The Reapers wiped out all evidence of their invasion and retreated to dark space through the Citadel relay, sealing it behind them. I have brought you here so that you might stop them from gaining access to this relay. This facility was once a top-secret research base. Before we perished, we were on the cusp of uncovering the science behind the mass relays. We built a small-scale version of a relay here, one that linked directly to the Citadel, the hub of all galactic communication."

"The Conduit," Shepard said, suddenly realizing. "It's not a weapon at all, it's a back door to the Citadel. But how did the people here survive long enough to build it?"

"The records of our facility were destroyed in the initial attack. The Reapers did not know of our existence, and so we were temporarily spared. The scientists here eventually put themselves into stasis. I was programmed to safeguard the facility and awaken them when the Reapers had retreated. But the genocide of an entire species is a slow process. Centuries passed and yet the Reapers persisted. My energy reserves dwindled. As the result of contingency programming, I began to shut down stasis pods of non-essential personnel to conserve energy. By the time the Reapers retreated back through the Citadel relay, only a few dozen scientists had survived. These scientists, understanding that the prothean race was doomed, used the last of their resources to formulate a plan to stop the Reapers from returning."

"Using the Conduit? But how?" Shepard asked.

"The key is through the keepers," Vigil answered. "The Citadel was programmed to send out a signal to the keepers when the time of the Reapers return came again. The keepers would activate the Citadel relay and allow the Reapers to access it. But the scientists used the Conduit to access the Citadel and alter the signal. This time, when the signal was sent, the keepers ignored it. In order to bypass the Citadel's defenses, Sovereign requires Saren to access the Citadel through the Conduit. Once inside, he can transfer control of the station to Sovereign. Sovereign can then override the Citadel's systems to open the relay, allowing the cycle of genocide to begin anew."

"Then we have to hurry!" Kaidan yelled. "We have the information, if we don't go soon, Saren will turn access over to Sovereign."

"He's right," Shepard said. "Can you lift the barrier and let us through?"

"It will be done. But first, take a copy of the data file from my console. When you arrive on the Citadel, upload it to the station. This file will corrupt the Citadel's security protocols and grant you temporary access over the station. This may give you a chance against Sovereign. When you pass through the Conduit, you must stay inside your all-terrain vehicle. The force of the relay is too strong to pass through without defense. Once on the other side, follow Saren. He will lead you to the Citadel command center," Vigil told them.

Tali uploaded a copy of the data file from Vigil's console onto her omni-tool. "Let's go, Shepard."

"All right. Let's move out."

"Good luck, fellow organics. May your efforts succeed where ours could not," Vigil said as they hurried out of the room and back to the mako.

Outside, the barrier barring their way had fallen. They climbed into the mako and Shepard hit the gas as hard as it would go. The seemingly never-ending path they had been traveling on thus far did in fact have an end: a steep drop down into a shallow canal. The canal twisted and turned, making the going rough for the sturdy but slow mako.

"So let me get this straight," Wrex said. "If we make it in time, we stop Saren and keep the Reapers from accessing the Citadel mass relay…which slows them down. But eventually they'll find a way through from dark space, and then we all die. But if we don't make it, they come through now and we all die sooner." 

"Yeah, that's about right," Garrus nodded.

"So you think if we pull this off the Council will actually start giving a shit about what Shepard has to say?"

"I won't hold my breath," Shepard said, swerving around a curve. "But having a head start on the total destruction of the universe can't hurt anything."

They came over the crest of a hill and the Conduit came into view: a series of metal arches rotating around a bright central core. It was just as Vigil had described, a miniature version of an actual mass relay.

Liara said what everyone was thinking, "It's so beautiful."

Ahead, they could see Saren's vehicle escaping through the relay.

"There's geth ahead Shepard, you better gun it. We don't have time to fight them off and Saren will close the relay as soon as he has a chance," Garrus warned.

Shepard pressed her foot against the pedal until it touched the floor, the mako zooming forward as fast as it could muster. Time seemed to stretch as they approached the relay, the geth surrounding it and firing from all sides.

"Hey," Tali said. "If we don't make it out of the Citadel alive. I just want to say…you're some of the best people I've ever worked with. I'm proud to call you all my friends."

"Me too," Kaidan said.

"You're the best friends I have ever had," Liara added, teary eyed.

"You're all right," Wrex grumbled.

"I'm not saying goodbye," Garrus growled. "When this is over, we'll meet at the bar."

"Drinks are on Garrus!" Shepard yelled.

The mako sped up, collided with the Conduit, and shot through the relay in a burst of blinding light, leaving Ilos behind.

The Citadel awaited.

Chapter Text

The mako burst out of the other side of the Conduit's mass relay, appearing in mid-air in the center of the Presidium. Shepard lost all control of the vehicle as it careened forward, crushing two geth as it landed, before rolling over twice and landing upside down.

The crash rattled the crew, they went flying against each other and Shepard wound up pinned beneath Garrus and Tali in the front seat. Kaidan was the first to get his bearings, standing on the ceiling of the mako, legs wobbly.

"Is everyone all right?" He asked.

"If you don't hurry and open the door, I'm going to crush Shepard's ribs," Garrus called. He was struggling to pull even a small amount of his weight off of her, a task made harder by Tali's weight on top of him.

Kaidan attempted to open the hatch on the side of the vehicle, but it was stuck. He rammed his shoulder against it a few times, and when that failed to work, he blasted it open with a mass effect field. Once outside, he helped Liara and Wrex out, then pulled Tali off of Garrus so that the turian could free himself. Shepard was the last one out, gasping for air as she was freed.

Outside of the mako, Garrus took in the surroundings. The Citadel had been plunged into chaos with Saren's arrival. It seemed Sovereign and the geth were launching a full-scale assault from outside, geth being dropped from ships all around the Presidium. Fires burned where taxis and shuttles had crashed into the walkways, people ran screaming, hoping for safety in the wards.

The Citadel was in the process of shutting itself off to the invaders, drawing in the five points of the wards to form a shell around the Presidium, but the mechanism that allowed the protection was slow-moving and more geth ships streamed in by the minute.

An Avina terminal was short-circuiting nearby, and Shepard ran up to it, just in time to be set upon by husks. One of them leaped onto her, clawing at her shoulders, and she spun around and rammed against the wall to shake it from her. Garrus rushed to help her, yanking the husk from her back and smashing its head in with his boot. They took out another three, approaching from near one of the burning cars, blood splattering against their armor as they shot.

When the problem was dealt with, Shepard turned back to the malfunctioning VI unit.

"Avina, where is Saren?"

"Rogue Spectre agent Saren Arterius is approaching the Council Chambers. A warr…warrant has been put out for his arrest, but Citadel Security is not available available available available to handle the re…request," the VI's hologram image flickered in and out as it attempted to speak.

"No kidding," Garrus muttered.

"What about the Council?" Shepard asked.

"In accordance with standard evacu…evacuation protocols protocols protocols, the Council has left the Cita..Cita…Citadel on the Destiny Ascension."

"We need to get to the Council chambers before Saren can grant access to Sovereign," Garrus said.

"Shepard, there's an elevator over here that's still functioning!" Tali called from a few feet away.

They ran over to it, all of them piling in to the cramped space. Garrus wasn't sure how the machine was still functioning with the Citadel in such a severe state of emergency, but he wasn't complaining. Finding any other way up to the Citadel tower seemed impossible.

The elevator moved slowly and Shepard twitched impatiently as it made its ascent. She, Garrus, and Tali were pressed against the glass side of the elevator, allowing a view of the entire Presidium as they rose. Normally a gorgeous sight, all Garrus could see now was destruction and death. He looked up to where the wards were closing and saw some sort of massive ship gliding through just as the points came together.

"Shepard, look!" he pointed.

She followed his gaze to the ship. It was like nothing he had ever seen before, huge metallic arms jutting from its front and sides, moving with as much dexterity as a finger might move on a hand.

"Sovereign," Shepard growled.

"A Reaper…" Garrus said in disbelief.

"It's huge."

Sovereign reached its many arms out, descending slowly toward the Citadel Tower at the center of the station. It grasped onto the tower and took hold. At the same time, the elevator shook and ground to a halt, the green access light on the door flickering off.

"Great," Wrex sighed. "Now what?"

"Saren must have shut the power," Shepard looked around. She exchanged a look with Garrus, who understood what she was thinking.

With the Citadel closed, the artificial gravity field would be skewed. The only way out was to break the glass and climb along the side of the Presidium toward the tower.

"Everyone, put your helmets on," Shepard said.

"Why?" Kaidan asked, though he still grabbed his helmet off of his back and clipped it onto his head.

Garrus sealed his own helmet on and watched as the rest of the squad did the same. Once everyone's helmet was securely attached, Shepard lifted her gun and fired a shot into the glass side of the elevator. It shattered into a thousand pieces, each shard floating slowly away from them in the weakened gravity field.

Stepping out of the elevator was momentarily nauseating for Garrus. The ground of the Presidium seemed far below, but as soon as they climbed out, his feet locked on to the side of the elevator as though it were the center of gravity. Shepard hurried forward, as fast she could muster in such low gravity, bouncing off of the walls toward the tower.

The squad followed obediently.

Unfortunately for all of them, they weren't the only ones taking advantage of the skewed gravity fields. The geth were swarming the walls in force, rapidly approaching them, while in the distance, Sovereign hammered its huge metallic fingers down on top of the Citadel tower.

A fire fight in low gravity proved to more challenging than Garrus would have thought. As the geth drew closer, and with limited cover to speak of, the squad let their bullets fly. The impact of firing his assault rifle pushed him back a few inches every time he fired, and he would have to move forward and correct himself every time he replaced a thermal clip.

The geth didn't seem to suffer the same effects. They were machines, not organic, and they could self-adjust their own gravity centers readily. Despite their best efforts, Garrus was afraid they would be overrun by geth before they could ever gain access to the Council chambers, but Tali turned out to be their savior. Thinking quickly, and observant enough to notice the Citadel's defense turrets a few hundred yards off in either direction, she hacked into their interfaces and turned them against the hordes of incoming AIs. This cleared the path for them, and they pushed forward, closer to the tower every moment.

When they finally did reach the entrance to the Citadel Tower, the elevator up was malfunctioning, likely another roadblock from Saren. There was no way they would be able to climb all the stairs inside to reach the top before Saren succeeded in his task, but Shepard wasn't giving up. Together, she and Tali reprogrammed the elevator switch and it chirped back into operation.

Once inside, they removed their helmets and turned to face each other. Garrus had never, in his life, experienced a slower elevator ride than the one that took them to the top of that tower.

"When we get to the chambers, we stop Saren by any means necessary," Shepard said. "We have to prevent him from granting access to Sovereign. I guarantee that nothing anyone in this elevator has done up to this point in their life will ever surpass the importance of this mission. We do this together. I'm damn proud to call myself your commander."

"Let's kick Saren's ass!" Kaidan said, surprising them all. He shrugged, "It's what Ash would have said."

The elevator doors swung open onto the Council chambers and they all fell silent. Fires burned throughout the room, filling it with the sight and smell of smoke, while the emergency alarm sounded over and over again. Shepard inched forward and they followed, one by one, behind her.

Two human civilians and a turian C-sec officer lay dead near the room's central fountain, gunshot wounds on their heads. Taking in the destruction surrounding them, Garrus found it hard to believe that not that long ago he had met Shepard for the first time in the very same spot. He couldn't have fathomed that their meeting that day would culminate in anything like this.

They moved slowly up the stairs leading to the heart of the Council chambers. There was no sign of Saren, which made Garrus' stomach twist in knots. Something wasn't right.

His fears were confirmed when a grenade went flying out from the center of the room. Reacting instinctively, he grabbed Shepard and dove out of the way, the grenade exploding as it hit the floor. The blast sent them all flying; he and Shepard rolled behind a piece of railing and lay there, dazed.

Shepard recovered first and shuffled for cover behind a piece of the platform that jutted up above them. She dragged Garrus with her and he narrowly avoided a shot from Saren's gun.

The turian in question was hovering behind them on his disc-shaped hovercraft, level with the Council's observation platform. The rest of the squad had taken cover on the lower levels, hopefully still conscious. All Garrus could see was the edge of Wrex's armor jutting out from behind a rock a few feet away.

"I was afraid you wouldn't make it in time, Shepard," Saren said, his subharmonics gravelly. "Of course, you're too late. Soon the Citadel will belong to Sovereign and the Reapers will return to wipe out all of this meaningless existence."

"Not if I have anything to say about it," Shepard said, not flinching from her spot behind cover.

Garrus' heart was pounding in his chest as Saren's hovercraft moved in slow circles around the room.

"I had been thinking about our chat on Virmire endlessly," Saren said. "Wondering if what you said could be true. All of your talk about Sovereign's control and indoctrination. Sovereign sensed my hesitance, my…doubt. It improved me. How could I have questioned my loyalty to the machines? I was made stronger, better."

"What did it do to you?" Shepard demanded.

"I was implanted. To strengthen my resolve. Enhanced with cybernetics. Organic and machine intertwined. All of the benefits of both systems," Saren's voice was full of a sickening glee as he spoke, blind to his own indoctrination.

"Sovereign used you. It made you stronger to suit its needs. When you've finished what it sent you here for, it will devour and spit you out, just like it did to the Protheans."

"THERE WAS NO CHOICE!" Saren bellowed, his voice reverberating through the circular room. "You saw what happened to the Protheans yourself, Shepard. They had the option to surrender and they refused. And so, they perished. Every. Last. One of them. I refuse to submit to the same fate. If I'm a tool to the Reapers then so be it, that means I have worth to them."

"Until your worth runs out." There was an almost imperceptible quaver to Shepard's voice, but Garrus could hear it, betraying the fear coursing through her; the same fear Garrus felt. "Think deep down, Saren. You're still in there. Don't let the Reapers do this. There's no hope for any of us when they return. You have the power to prevent that. Think about what you're doing."

"No…" Saren faltered. "No I…you're wrong! They'll be our salvation if only we…no…"

Shepard stood up, to Garrus' alarm. He rose as well, but felt frozen to the spot. Watching as the commander carefully inched her way out into the open where Saren could see her. He was grasping his head in his hands, tortured by his thoughts.

"This can end now," Shepard said. "All you have to do is fight it. Don't be a coward, Saren. Fight. All of organic life has existed to keep fighting to survive. Don't give up now."

Saren fell to his knees on the hovercraft, "It hurts…every moment…the machine is inside of my thoughts…" he gripped the edge of the hovercraft with his sharp talons. "It's such agony to fight this, Shepard."

In that moment, he wasn't an evil agent of the Reapers anymore, he was just someone who had been too desperate for power, too greedy, willing to do anything to have more of it. That desire for power had been how Sovereign lured him in, how it continued to control him. He wasn't a threat, if only for the moment, he was just a scared turian in pain.

"Fight it, Saren," Shepard said again. "I can't imagine how it must hurt, but you can do it. Stop all of this needless destruction. We can help you," she reached a hand out to him.

With difficulty, Saren stretched his own arm out, pain clouding his eyes. His subharmonics sounded at an awful pitch and Shepard looked to Garrus with concern, but Garrus knew the sound well. Saren was crying. Unable to produce tears, turians' subharmonics would oscillate at a nearly unbearable frequency. His whole body shook with the sound.

"I'm sorry," Saren said, lifting his gun.

For a heart stopping moment, Garrus thought he was going to fire on Shepard. Instead, Saren pressed the gun against his chin and pulled the trigger, the bullet flying out the top of his head, the contents of his skull spraying in a silhouette against the fire burning behind him. He slumped off of the hovercraft, shattering the glass below the platform and falling down to the floor below, where a small tranquility garden had been planted.

Shepard's shoulders slumped with visible relief.

Tali was the first to come forward, appearing from the stairs, she rushed past Shepard to the terminal at the center of the room and began to run Vigil's data file in the system.

Garrus approached Shepard slowly. "You did the right thing," he told her.

"I know. I knew what would happen. But it had to end. Better that he die of his own will than to be gunned down by us fighting for Sovereign," she sighed. "That noise he made…"

"He was crying," Garrus said. "He must have been in unimaginable pain."

"Shepard, Vigil's file worked. I have full access to the Citadel," Tali reported.

"You should open the arms so the fleet can move in to attack Sovereign," Garrus suggested.

Before she could respond, Liara, Wrex, and Kaidan reached the platform and a transmission came in through the open comm link at the terminal where Tali stood.

"Come in. Come in. This is Normandy. Commander? Please tell me you're in there," Joker sounded over the system.

"We're here, Joker. What's your status?"

"We're in the Andura sector with the entire Arcturus fleet. We just received a distress call from the Destiny Ascension. We can answer the call, but we need you to unlock the relays around the Citadel to let us in."

"You let them in and half the fleet will be destroyed," Kaidan growled. "For what? To save the Council? The same Council who wouldn't listen to what you had to say when you warned them this would happen?"

Garrus nodded. "Kaidan's right. Don't waste human lives for them. Conserve the troops and open the arms to attack Sovereign. The Council deserves whatever they get." He was not one to wish death on people needlessly, but in his mind, it wasn't worth saving them after all the warnings they had ignored, if other lives could be lost in the process.

"Shepard, think of the Protheans. They lost the seat of their entire government in one day. Saving the Council could mitigate some of the losses here and create some sense of normalcy in all the chaos," Liara argued.

"Fuck the council," Wrex said.

"What's the decision, Shepard?" Tali stood at the ready.

Shepard shook her head. "I'm sorry, but Liara's right. I don't like the idea that we could lose human lives to save those bastards, but if we let them die, aren't we letting the Reapers win? We can retain our sense of galactic civility and governance, something the Protheans never had the opportunity to do. Open the relays, Tali, send them in. When the Destiny Ascension is out of harm's way, open the Citadel and have the troops focus on Sovereign."

Garrus let out an involuntary growl of disapproval. He understood Shepard's level-headed line of reasoning, but he didn't agree with it. He supposed that's why she was a commander, and a Spectre; she made decisions that weren't easy, that wouldn't please everyone, and despite her own preferences.

Tali tapped on the terminal interface to open the relays. "The relays are open and ready for travel," she said.

"Heading through," Joker replied.

"You better get your ass out of there alive, Joker," Shepard said. "And with my ship in one piece."

"Your ship, commander? We need to have a talk about terms of custody when this is over."

Joker's communication cut out as he entered the mass relay.

"Anybody want to argue about my decision?" Shepard asked, turning to face the squad.

"Nothing to be done about it now," Kaidan scowled. "But I don't agree with it."

"That's why Shepard's the commander and you're the lieutenant," Wrex said, slamming a meaty krogan palm against Kaidan's back. "I still say 'fuck the council', but I also like the idea of them owing you their lives. That's gonna be good to hold over their heads for the rest of eternity."

Shepard was distracted, and didn't respond to Wrex's comment. Instead, she walked up to the edge of the platform facing the Councilors' overlook and peered down into the tranquility garden where Saren's body lay.

"What is it, Shepard?" Tali asked.

"We need to make sure he's dead," she answered.

"He shot himself in the head, Shepard. A krogan might withstand that, but not a turian," Wrex told her.

Garrus understood Shepard's concern. Saren's last words had been an admission that Sovereign had implanted him with cybernetics. A turian couldn't survive a point-blank bullet to the brain, but a machine might.

"I'll check him," Garrus volunteered.

He would be happy to fire off a few more shots to ensure the machinery within Saren was as dead as he was. Maybe the old turian hadn't deserve his fate, but even before he'd sided with the Reaper, Garrus had seen him for what he was. His constant criticism of the Spectre had not been well received. Even his father had chastised him for his behavior, and his father's distaste for Spectres was notorious. Garrus felt vindicated by the fact that he had been right about Saren, though he also felt guilty for taking pleasure in such suffering. Given what had occurred because of Saren, he wished he'd been wrong.

He shimmied down the side of the wall next to the platform, where some debris provided a makeshift ramp down to the garden. Saren's body lay motionless in a pool of blue blood. He stepped over to the body and fired off three rounds into the corpse. The cybernetics gave no sign of activity.

"He's dead, Shepard." He called up to her.

The words had barely left his mouth when the ground began to shake, threatening to send him toppling.

"Sovereign must be moving," Shepard said, the whole squad looking up toward the ceiling. "Tali, open the gates," she called up Joker on her comm link. "Joker, what's your status?"

"Destiny Ascension has been moved to a secure location commander, we're looping around to confront the Reaper. We took some heavy losses, but the Council survived and we have enough vessels to stand a chance against Sovereign. I like our odds," Joker replied.

"Just try not to shoot the tower when you're aiming for the reaper," Shepard said. "Keep me updated."

"Aye aye, commander."

Tali programmed the Citadel structure to reopen just in time for the ground to shake beneath them again. Garrus wasn't so sure it was Sovereign. He turned to inspect Saren's corpse again only to find it was gone.

"Shepard!" He called up to her. "Get down here! Right now!"

"Is that an order, Vakarian?" She laughed, peering down into the garden. The smile slid quickly off of her face. "Garrus…you need to run."

Garrus turned and looked behind him in time to see Saren, or what was left of him, racing toward him on all fours. It was a turian skeleton, brought to life by the cybernetics implanted in the bone, red tendrils of electricity flowing through them. Garrus couldn't move fast enough to get out the way. Saren leaped onto him, knocking him face-first to the ground. His talons ripped through the shields on Garrus' armor with inorganic strength, tearing off a chunk of the protective metal covering Garrus' back and digging into his flesh. Shrieking in pain, his voice flanging to a higher pitch than he thought possible, Garrus clawed his way toward his gun, which had gone flying off of him on Saren's impact.

"I am Sovereign," Saren's skeleton spoke in layers upon layers of guttural voices. "This station is mine. You cannot win."

"Hold your fire!" Shepard yelled from above. "You'll hit Garrus!"

Garrus thought he might prefer to be shot when Saren's talons ripped at his exposed shoulder, digging deep into his flesh, blue blood gushing from the wound. Liara attempted to throw the cybernetic skeleton off of him with a mass effect field, but the creature's shields were too strong.

Shepard wasted no more time. She secured her gun to her back and took a running jump off of the platform, landing on top of Saren and Garrus. The impact felt like a ton of bricks, but a moment later, the hybrid creature was off of him. Shepard had a hold on Saren now, tumbling through the garden trying to avoid his razor-sharp talons.

Wrex fired off a shot which narrowly missed Shepard's head and managed to strike Saren, blowing him back into the wall and momentarily dazing him.

"You could have killed her!" Kaidan growled.

"But I didn't."

"I can't sabotage his hardware!" Tali cried. "It's too foreign. The Reaper tech is impenetrable…"

Garrus lay useless in a pool of his own blood, watching Shepard grapple with the enemy. He could barely move, his arm limp beside him, shoulder exposed to the bone. Looking at it made him dizzy, and he was never one to shy away from gore in the heat of battle.

Liara floated down into the garden using her biotics, a skill he didn't think she would have been able to pull off just a few months earlier when they'd first encountered her. Unable to stop Saren with a biotic throw, she shot up barriers to block him from moving in certain directions, leading him into Shepard's gunfire. Kaidan assisted with the task from above while Wrex and Tali fired off shots when they could.

"Garrus, you still alive?" Wrex called down.

Garrus wasn't quite sure. He waved his good arm to signal he wasn't dead.

"Good. Stay that way," the krogan replied.

He hated being sidelined almost more than he hated the excruciating pain coursing through his shoulder into his back. He watched, his vision blurring, as Shepard fired off round after round, deftly avoiding Saren's attacks. Whenever she needed to reload a thermal clip, Kaidan and Liara would reroute Saren away from her.

They had the upper hand, and Shepard had barely taken a hit. But Kaidan's barrier faltered as his nose began to bleed, and it was just the window Saren needed. He burst through the barrier, colliding with Shepard and sinking his teeth into her thigh. She shot him off of her, but he took a chunk of her flesh with him.

Bleeding profusely, she limped to her feet. Slapping some medi-gel on the wound, she pursued Saren once again.

Weak, close to passing out, Garrus remembered his gun. He resumed his crawl, inch after painstaking inch, coating the ground in his blood as he moved. When he reached the gun, he leaned onto his side and lined the scope up, struggling to catch Saren at a standstill.

Liara saw what he was doing and shot out barrier after barrier, desperately trying to catch the cybernetic creature in one. She succeeded after several tries, her energy levels failing, but the barrier only held for a millisecond.

It was enough time for Garrus. He fired at Saren's skeleton and finally, with a howl of anger, the cybernetics failed and what remained of the turian fell to the ground, well and truly lifeless. Garrus fell back against the ground, the last of his energy spent.

A moment later, an explosion outside the window shook the entire building. Looking up, he could see one of Sovereign's massive metal fingers careening toward the window. He was vaguely aware that it was headed directly for them, his vision fading. The last thing he saw was Shepard throwing herself on top of him to shield him from the impact, and then all was black.

The Citadel's emergency alarm sounding on repeat was the first thing that came back to Garrus as his senses returned. He struggled to open his eyes. Debris flew from his face as he let out a weak cough and looked around. Pieces of Reaper and the Citadel tower lay strewn across the floor, huge hunks of metal and stone had fallen into the tranquility garden.

The bone of his shoulder was still exposed, but someone had placed medi-gel on it, temporarily relieving the pain and allowing him to at least sit up. When he moved, Shepard slumped off of his chest and into his lap, motionless. A heavy piece of stone about half the size of Garrus himself had fallen onto Shepard's lower half.

A rush of adrenaline hit him as he got up and struggled to pull the stone off of her. Voices sounded in the distance, but he could only focus on Shepard, pinned beneath the rubble.

"Captain Anderson! They're over here!"

Flashlights beamed toward them as a group of humans rushed into the debris. Suddenly, more hands were helping Garrus to lift the stone off of Shepard's body. When it had been tossed aside, he dropped down to the ground and cradled Shepard against him, shaking her.

"Wake up!" he yelled. "Shepard!"

"Garrus, you're badly injured," A familiar voice sounded behind him. "Let me get you and the commander to the hospital."

Captain Anderson was there, trying to pry Shepard away from him.

"Is she breathing?" Garrus cried. "Is she breathing?"

He was vaguely aware of his other squad mates being pulled from beneath the rubble. Liara was the first to emerge, followed by Wrex, then Tali, and finally Kaidan. They were bruised and scraped, but alive. Only Shepard remained immobile.

"Her pulse is weak," Anderson said.

"Give her something. Do something!"

"Someone get him out of here!" Anderson barked. "His arm's about to fall off and he's out of his mind. I can't help her if you don't give me space, Vakarian!"

Garrus didn't want to give him space. He had to know if Shepard was alive. The thought that she wasn't felt worse than any physical pain he'd ever felt. He would have hacked off the rest of his shoulder right there if it could save her.

A medic moved in, scanning his omni-tool over Shepard's body. He injected something into her arm and a moment later she gasped and sat up, choking and spluttering, but alive. Alive…

"Shepard…" Garrus reached a hand out for her and promptly fell against the ground unconscious, his last thought: pure relief.

Chapter Text

The incessant beeping of the hospital monitor systems was driving Shepard insane. She had been confined to her room at Huerta Memorial Hospital on the Citadel for the past three days under constant supervision from a litany of doctors and nurses and all kinds of specialists she had never heard of. She knew the treatment was coming on the heels of her decision to ensure the Council's survival. The Councilor's themselves had only just arrived back on the Citadel that day, per the news report on the vid screen, but she was sure they'd had a hand in providing her the best care the Citadel had to offer.

The view outside her window was one of complete destruction. Those who had survived the battle against Sovereign unscathed were assisting in the cleanup efforts. Half of the Citadel had been blasted apart in the battle; some of the damage might take years to rebuild. Still, they had been successful, for the time being. It gave them a head start on the Reapers, if the Council would finally commit to assisting in the effort against them.

The hospital was full to bursting with injured civilians and soldiers. Though Shepard hadn't seen it herself, one of the nurses had told her that even the main lobby had been converted into a med clinic, with cots available for less serious injuries. Major triaging was being done to ensure the most severely wounded were treated first.

She had asked them thirty times or more about her squad, but they had not given her any definite answers. Reporters were apparently swamping the reception desk in an effort to speak to her, so the only saving grace of her confinement was that she didn't have to face any of them.

When the nurses brought lunch to her that third day, they left the room empty, and she momentarily considered tearing the electrodes off her skin and sneaking out to find out what had happened to her squad. She didn't think her injuries warranted the observation. The worst wound she had taken was the chunk of flesh Saren had ripped from her thigh, and they had already regenerated the muscle she'd lost from it. She did have a sizable scar across her thigh now, but no pain or bleeding.

Poking at the unappetizing food on her lunch tray, she wondered how Garrus was doing. He was badly injured when Anderson had found them; he'd taken the worst of Saren's attack. She wanted to see him, but all the nurses and doctors would say was that he was 'alive and stable'.

The door to her room opened and she placed her potatoes on her spoon, childishly flinging them toward what she thought was an incoming doctor. Instead, the mushy potatoes smacked Ambassador Udina square in the forehead. He winced, his lips pursing so tight she thought he might swallow them. She stifled a laugh with a fake cough.

"Shepard!" Udina barked. "What was the meaning of that?"

She cleared her throat. "Thought you were someone else, ambassador."

Anderson entered behind Udina, followed by the three Councilors, all of them looking haggard, but very much unscathed.

"Shepard," Anderson nodded. "Glad to see you're all right. We were worried about you when we pulled you from the rubble. Vakarian was so concerned I thought he was going to maul me when I tried to get you away from him."

"Garrus is my right-hand man," Shepard shrugged. "Maybe you can tell me what happened to my squad. No one here will say."

"Dr. T'soni and Lieutenant Alenko are assisting in the restoration efforts," Anderson said. "The krogan… has been calling my office every day asking where the hell Shepard is. The quarian, Tali, she's been going over some of the recovered Reaper tech with the Council. Vakarian is here in the hospital recovering."

Shepard slumped back against her pillows, relieved. "What about Joker?"

"Joker's in the lobby. He wanted to visit but they wouldn't let him. He's afraid to go back outside because the reporters found out he was the one piloting the Normandy and now they want to ask him a million questions," Anderson laughed. "No one is quite sure what to do with the newfound fame. You might be the most famous woman in the galaxy right now, Shepard."

She groaned. "I keep seeing my face on the vid screen."

"We came here with a purpose, Anderson," Udina interrupted.

Councilor Sparatus stepped forward. "Commander Shepard, we owe you a sincere apology."

That didn't quite cover it, but Shepard wasn't going to say as much. She was also no longer going to give them her stoic soldier routine. She'd given them plenty of her patience and the result was all around them. They could have a bit of her mean side for once.

"And?" Shepard asked.

"Your bravery and selflessness may have saved countless lives during the battle," Councilor Tevos said. "Given all that has occurred, we would like to offer a place for humanity alongside us on the council. Captain Anderson and Ambassador Udina both come with high commendations, and considering your first-hand experience with both of them, we felt we owed it to you to allow you to make the decision on who should join."

Shepard reeled. She had not been expecting a Council seat for humanity at all when they had entered the room; she had only been expecting trite apologies. When she grasped the gravity of the situation, she had a moment of panic. Anderson was the natural choice in her eyes, an excellent representative for humanity, but he hated politics and she thought he would likely despise working alongside the councilors. Udina was made for this sort of thing, but he was also a vile little worm that didn't deserve any happiness.

"I…wow…" Shepard stared at them. "Well, Captain Anderson is the most outstanding leader I've ever served under." Udina's face soured as she said this. "But the ambassador has a lot more experience in politics…"

Anderson solved the problem for her. "Udina would be a better fit for this role. You can feel free to make your choice, but I wanted to air my opinion."

Shepard nodded. As loathe as she was to grant Udina any favors, it felt like doing Anderson a disservice to force him into a Council position. "Then I choose Udina."

"Thank you, Shepard," Udina said, coming the closest she'd ever seen him to smiling. She was also fairly sure he'd never said 'thank you' to her in his life.

"We'd like to award you and your squad with the Palladium Star for your service during the battle," Councilor Valern explained. "A ceremony is being planned, to be held next week, at the 3rd district hanging gardens. We'll be renaming the gardens the Citadel Battle Memorial Gardens and awarding several distinctions to the units who fought the geth and the Reaper."

"We would…appreciate your discretion, commander." Sparatus said. "We don't want to drum up fear in the populace after this monumental loss. The official explanation of the battle is that the geth, brought together by the rogue Spectre, Saren, attacked the Citadel. Talk of Reapers…it's too much…"

"So we're just going to keep lying?" Shepard growled.

"We don't want to create hysteria." Tevos shifted uncomfortably as she spoke. "This way, we can privately focus our resources on preparing for the eventual Reaper invasion. We are sorry for our failure to heed your warnings. We want to work to make this right. But a public venue expressing Reaper intent will only make things chaotic."

Shepard folded her arms over her chest. "I can't make your decisions for you." She wanted to tell them they could take their Palladium star and shove it where the sun didn't shine, but it was an honor far higher than the Star of Terra, one her squad deserved for their bravery.

"We'll send the details on the ceremony to your omni-tool. In the meantime, we'll instate ambassador Udina and continue to focus efforts on rebuilding. Your Spectre status remains intact. Please stop in and see us if you plan on leaving the Citadel."

The Council, and Udina, took their leave, but Anderson stayed behind.

"You made the right choice, Shepard. And the Council will always be that way, protecting their image above their duty. I think we can at least get them to commit some resources to this fight now. But you deserve some rest before we think about that. We've bought ourselves some time now. When they discharge you, watch yourself out there. The reporters are swarming." He walked over to her and shook her hand. "You have made me so proud, Shepard. I'll be here for you, next steps, whatever they might be."

She smiled. "Thanks, captain."

"Oh, and Shepard?"


"You took down an army of geth and stopped a Reaper invasion…you really going to let some electrodes stop you from seeing your friends?" He winked and left the room.

Shepard realized he was right. She had most of her strength back. What could the doctors and nurses do if they caught her leaving? They couldn't keep her there against her will.

Standing, she tore the electrodes from her skin, ripped off her hospital gown and pulled her clothes from the cabinet by her bed. The nurses had washed them for her, but they were the clothes she had been wearing during the fight with Saren and they were stained red and blue, her own blood mingling with Garrus' in patches of purple. It didn't matter, though. She pulled the clothes on and marched out of the room without a glance back.

The monitors were, of course, beeping frantically as though she were dead, so she hurried down the hall before the doctors started piling into her room, moving quickly to avoid being seen.

"Commander Shepard!" A nurse yelled as she spotted her.

Shepard sprinted for the elevator, sliding in and slamming her fist on the door close button. The doors swung shut just as the salarian nurse was about to reach them, and the elevator shot up three floors.

Safely off of her own unit, Shepard brought up her comm link and dialed Joker.

"Commander?" Joker picked up before it had even begun to ring. "They finally let you make calls?"

"I busted out," she whispered, tucking herself into a corner and out of view, behind a shelf in the hall. "I'm trying to find Garrus' room."

"He's in 1493. They wouldn't let me up to see either of you."

"Joker. You're a famous pilot now. You blew up a Reaper. Are you going to let some hospital receptionist tell you where you can and cannot go?" Shepard asked, mimicking Anderson.

"Well, no, but the turian security guards can and will break my bones," he replied.

She sighed. "Good point. I'll come down to meet you after I visit Garrus."

"Roger that, commander."

Shepard popped back into the elevator and took it up to the fourteenth floor. When she stepped out, an alarm chimed and a voice sounded over the hospital intercom. "All units to floor seven. Codename Steel Cobra has escaped her unit. All floors going into lockdown. Only authorized units may access elevators until lockdown is lifted." The alarm shut off and the elevator behind her deactivated.

Shepard's timing couldn't have been better. She strolled casually down the hall of the fourteenth-floor unit until she found Garrus' room. The door was ajar and when she looked in, she was surprised to see another turian in the room. She could only see the back of him, standing before Garrus' bed, obstructing her view of him.

The unfamiliar turian's skin was a paler grey than Garrus', which she knew was sign of age in the species, not unlike the grey hair humans grew as they aged. From her vantage point, the only other thing she could piece apart about the turian was that he was wearing C-sec armor.

She tapped lightly on the door to alert the two turians of her presence.

The older turian turned around and moved slightly to the side, allowing a view of Garrus. His shoulder and back had large muscle regeneration units attached to them, glowing softly as they worked. The arm attached to his injured shoulder hung in a sling to keep him from moving it while it healed. Most jarring to Shepard was the absence of his clan markings. The durable paint had been washed off and his face was bare; it was unsettling.

He beamed when he saw her, his mandibles twitching, mouth moving into the turian equivalent of a smile. She only had eyes for him, almost forgetting the second turian's presence in the room. The night they had spent together had been on her mind since it happened, momentarily forgotten during the battle, but front and center as she lay worrying about him in her hospital room. She rushed to his bedside and was about to stroke his head affectionately when she remembered they were not alone. She stopped herself short and opted to grab his ungloved hand instead, his sharp talons pricking her skin. She didn't care.

"Garrus," she said. "I'm glad you're okay."

She could feel and see his own desire to embrace her. They hadn't had a serious discussion about the newfound nature of their relationship, pushing it off until the battle with Sovereign was over, but he was still her best friend regardless. She wished the other turian weren't there.

"Shepard," Garrus said, a sigh of relief issuing from his chest. "I thought you were dead when they pulled you from the rubble."

The turian at Garrus' side cleared his throat and they both turned to face him. Shepard was immediately struck by the older turian's resemblance to Garrus, though his clan markings were different, his eyes were the same piercing blue, his mandibles a similar shape, but longer and more pronounced.

"Commander Shepard, I presume," the older turian said, offering a gloved hand. "Castis Vakarian. Garrus has told me much about you."

Shepard shook his hand, opening and closing her mouth. Nothing came out. She was rarely at a loss for words, save when she was receiving compliments, but it was slowly dawning on her that this was Garrus' father: the by-the-book C-sec agent who disliked Spectres. She didn't know how he felt about humans, but she had a sinking feeling he wouldn't have cared for the idea of his son rolling around in the sheets with one, especially one that was a Spectre.

"Did you lose your tongue when you fought the Reaper?" Castis asked, a stern note underlying the flange in his voice.

"I'm uh. It's very nice to meet you," Shepard finally managed.

"Dad, could you give us a minute?" Garrus interrupted.

"I wouldn't mind having a conversation with the commander," Castis said. "But I suppose I can step out for a minute. I understand you saved my son's life during the battle. Thank you for that."

"Well," Shepard flushed red. "He's saved mine a few times."

Before he stepped from the room to give them a moment alone, Garrus' father made a sound with his subharmonics that Shepard couldn't interpret. She watched him go, bewildered.

"I didn't realize I'd be meeting your father when I snuck up here," she said, turning on Garrus.

"Well, he came to make sure I was all right."

"Were you that intimidating when we met?" She asked. "I can't remember."

"No. Pretty much everyone is scared of him," Garrus laughed. "Commander Shepard: hero of the Citadel, scared of Garrus' dad."

She clasped his hand again. "Seriously, Garrus. Are you all right?"

"I've had worse."

"No, you haven't."

"All right, I haven't. But I'm fine, Shepard. They're patching me up. They said I'll be ready for discharge in three more days. And they've given me a bunch of meds so I don't feel the pain at all," He told her.

"Garrus, now that we're alive and…we have a minute to breathe…do you think we should talk about that night, before Ilos…"

His subharmonics purred and he brushed her cheek with his hand. Just as quickly, his hand fell away and an unhappy look came across his face. "Wrex knows about our little interspecies liaison."

"Excuse me?" Shepard demanded. "Why does Wrex know?"

"He saw the bite marks on your shoulder. And he was already suspicious to begin with. He told me when the battle was over he wanted to take us out for drinks and hear the details," Garrus sighed. "Also, you're right. We should talk about it."

Shepard stared at her feet. She hated discussing emotional matters, even with someone like Garrus, with whom she was so close. She started the conversation anyway. "Garrus, you're my best friend. And I had an amazing time with you. It…it was more than just a one night stand to me. But we have no clue what the future has in store…and I don't like putting labels on things. It can get complicated so fast. I just…I don't know…could we maybe just…see where things go and not…not complicate it with labels and…"

"Shepard," Garrus said, stroking her hand. "I understand. I agree. It was more than just…casual sex, but…who knows what happens next? We should just keep this to ourselves. No need to call it anything. We're just two friends who happen to know how to have fun outside the shooting range."

Shepard felt a wave of relief wash over her. "Yeah. Just two friends."

"If you think about it, a good friend wants their friend to feel good, right? We're just being good friends to each other."

"Right. What's an orgasm between friends?" She laughed. A serious expression quickly replaced her smile. "We need to make sure Wrex doesn't tell anyone else. This is just between you and me, and the krogan apparently. Enough people hear about this and with the way things are right now, we're going to have our faces plastered on every news channel with obscene stories about it."

"Once I'm discharged, we can talk to Wrex," He assured her.

"Oh, speaking of. They want to award us a Palladium Star."

She began to fill him in on everything that had happened with the Council. When she finished her story, he clenched his fist, mandibles twitching with anger.

"So, they're just going to tell everyone it was the geth? So that they don't have to face the hysteria? Better for people to go crazy now, when it's already chaotic than to wait until the Reapers are here when we'll need order to defeat them!"

"You're preaching to the choir, Garrus. Still, they said they'll start discussing ways to prepare for it. It's better than nothing," Shepard sighed.

There was a tap on the door and Shepard turned around. Garrus' father was standing in the doorway.

"Have I given you adequate time to speak privately?" he asked.

"Yeah, dad. You can come in," Garrus told him.

Castis crossed the room and sat in a chair near the end of Garrus' bed. Shepard realized she was still holding Garrus' hand. She dropped it and sat down in the chair next to the head of his bed.

"So…" Shepard said, suddenly immensely uncomfortable. "Garrus tells me you've spent your entire career with C-sec?"

"Most of it," Castis nodded. "I was extremely disappointed when Garrus decided to leave to join a Spectre on a wild goose chase," there was a notable bite to the way he said 'Spectre'. "But I suppose it wasn't such a fool's errand after all."

"Shepard said they're awarding us the Palladium Star," Garrus told his father.

The look on Castis' face was incomprehensible to Shepard. Spending as much time as she had with Garrus, she had begun to learn how to read turians' facial expressions, so different than humans'. She couldn't piece this look apart though.

When Castis spoke, his voice caught in his throat for a moment. "That's a great honor, son. You should be very proud. It's well deserved."

She realized that the look he was expressing was pride, possibly mixed with a reluctance to express it. Garrus looked away from his father and coughed. It was evident that the Vakarians didn't discuss emotional topics frequently.

After a moment, Castis spoke again. "I should tell your sister. When's the ceremony? She could be here in a few days."

"It's next week," Shepard said.

"Don't bother Solana," Garrus insisted. "She can watch it on the news."

"Her brother is being decorated with one of the highest awards the Council can give and you think she should stay home and watch it on the news? Nonsense. We should see how your mother's feeling too, she might be up to it…"

"Dad…" Garrus sighed.

Shepard felt caught in the middle of something.

Castis shrugged. "We'll discuss it later," he said.

They sat for a few more minutes in awkward, uncomfortable silence. Shepard had never felt so intimidated by anyone. She'd stood up to higher ranking officials than Castis Vakarian without batting an eyelid, but there was something about his stern voice and gruff demeanor that made her feel like a child being scolded.

"What will you do now that you've succeeded in your mission, commander?" He asked. "Does the Council have new work for you?"

"I don't know," She said honestly. "If they don't, then I'll go back to whatever the Alliance wants me to do."

"How old are you, commander?"

"Uh…twenty-nine," She said hesitantly.

"Hm," Castis tapped his fingers on the chair's armrest. "Quite young to have been awarded a Star of Terra and a Palladium Star."

Shepard was unsure how to respond and unsure whether his tone was judgmental or impressed. Next to her, Garrus' eyelids were fluttering shut. He struggled to keep them open, the sheer quantity of his pain medication finally hitting him.

Castis looked at his son and then back to Shepard. "I believe that Garrus intends to follow you, whatever your next task might be."

Shepard's heart fluttered. Among the many worries in the back of her mind since she'd woken up in the hospital, one had been what would become of her squad now that the mission was over, and of all of them, she'd hoped Garrus might stay most of all.

"Oh?" was all she managed to say, trying not to reveal her excitement.

"Yes. I've received several long-winded messages about your prowess as a soldier and commander. It's evident that Garrus has a great degree of respect for you."

Shepard could sense that there was more coming. After a pause, Castis said,

"The executor wants to offer him a higher-ranking position in C-sec if he's willing to return. It would be my hope that Garrus would accept the offer, but based on the discussions I've had with him, it seems unlikely that he'd be willing to leave your side to return to a job where he's bound by rules and regulations."

"Sir, your son is a valuable asset on board my ship. He's one of the most skilled snipers I've ever seen. He saved our squad countless times on the mission to find Saren. With all due respect, and understanding your opinion on Spectres, I would prefer that Garrus stay on as part of the Normandy's crew," Shepard said, mustering up all her courage just to say it.

Castis said nothing in response. He looked back and forth between Shepard and Garrus and waited nearly an entire minute before he spoke again.

"Commander Shepard, what exactly is the nature of your relationship with my son?"

Shepard felt like she'd been punched in the stomach.

"What do you m…?"

"Please, don't play coy," Castis interrupted. "Even if you hadn't been shooting off pheromones like a lovesick teenager, your feelings were evident in the way you looked at him when you walked in. It's my understanding that Alliance policy prevents fraternization amongst troops. Turians have no such policy in our military, but we do have policies against fraternizing with subordinates."

Shepard felt warm and clammy. Garrus slept soundly in his bed, not hearing any of the conversation. Castis' decision to bring up the topic once Garrus had fallen asleep was completely strategic; very turian.

"Garrus isn't my subordinate," Shepard finally said. "He's not a member of the Alliance. We work as equals on the battlefield. Garrus is my friend. My best friend. I think that's all you really need to know about it."

Castis was stone-faced, not betraying any hint of emotion. He stood up and walked over to Shepard. Her heart was pounding in her ears, terror seizing her.

"He's my only son," Castis said. "You aren't a turian and he's not a human. Don't forget that, commander."

He exited the room without another word. Shepard slumped in her chair and wiped some sweat from her forehead. She had the fleeting thought that she'd rather face a Reaper than have to talk to Castis Vakarian again.

Chapter Text

The 3rd district hanging gardens were a beautiful sight to behold: tiers upon tiers of flowers native to planets all over the galaxy, ancient trees belonging to every culture, a tranquil stream flowing down the sides of the garden in a series of waterfalls. It was a popular tourist destination when arriving on the Citadel, and the site of Garrus' first assigned patrol as a C-sec agent. At night time C-sec agents had to weed out couples coming for a romantic roll in the flowers; it had not been the most rewarding of patrols.

The top tier of the gardens had been converted into a stage for the ceremony that day and an enormous crowd of people had gathered to watch as the brave soldiers who had fought in the Battle of the Citadel were awarded one of the Council's highest honors. Garrus didn't fool himself into believing that anyone was there to see him. Most of the crowd, including the hundreds of reporters in the front few rows, were there for two things: to see the first human Spectre -and perhaps the most famous face in the galaxy at that moment- receive her award, and to watch humanity make history with a Council seat.

Shepard stood closest to the podium where the Councilors were delivering their speech, wearing the face of ambivalence she always put on when facing superiors…or praise. For the occasion, she had worn her dress uniform, the edges embroidered with golden thread, her Star of Terra pinned to the front.

Next to Shepard stood Kaidan and Joker, also decked out in an Alliance dress uniform. Garrus stood between the Alliance officers and Liara, who had worn a brilliant purple suit inlaid with silver jewels. Tali wore decorative shoulder plates, which the quarians often wore to formal events. Wrex had made no attempt to dress up, instead arriving in his battle-worn armor, a mix of different colored blood spattered across the front of it.

Garrus, himself, had dressed in his dress blues from his time in the military. He hadn't worn the suit in years, so he was just pleased it had still fit.

Behind the line of them, more Alliance soldiers stood with a squadron of asari commandos and a handful of turians. All of them had been instrumental in the air fight against Sovereign, or, as the official Council line went: the geth.

The Councilors were droning on about the great bravery and sacrifices made by all of the races represented on the stage, placing particular emphasis on commander Shepard's decision to rescue the Destiny Ascension and ensure galactic civilization's future. A lot of empty words full of political importance were said about the humans that had died protecting the Council.

In front of them, recording drones were capturing vids of the entire affair. Garrus glanced down at the reporters holding their tablets, trying to keep up with what other news networks were reporting as they reported themselves.

"And so, thanks to the valiant actions of commander Shepard and her crew, we feel it is time for humanity to finally join us with a seat on the Council. The human ambassador Donnel Udina comes with high recommendation from commander Shepard herself, with many years of experience in politics that will surely guide his decisions as a member of our Council," Councilor Tevos said. "Please join me in welcoming Councilor Udina to his new position."

The crowd burst into applause, with a bit of booing issuing from the back. Most of the naysayers were non-Council races that felt they deserved a seat on the Council more than humanity. After all, humanity had barely been part of galactic civilization for twenty-six years. Some of the booing, however, was coming from other humans. Back at the hospital, Shepard had confided privately that she didn't want to be associated with the decision to make Udina a Councilor. He was not well liked, but he was a ruthless politician. Garrus understood why she'd made the choice. Shepard, of all people, was probably the least fond of the man, but it had been the right decision.

Udina accepted the praise with as much grace and dignity as a krogan in a ballgown, always wearing that sour expression of his. It seemed he couldn't even smile as he finally got what he'd been gunning for all these years.

When the applause had died down, Councilor Sparatus stepped up to the podium. "We would now like to take a moment to honor those who fought on the front lines here during the battle. Because of this brave group of soldiers, many lives were saved. For their gallantry in battle and level-headed decision making, we award the Palladium Star to the following individuals: Commander Rembley Shepard, N7, Alliance Navy, and Citadel Special Tactics and Reconnaissance agent."

An asari in a stunning crimson dress stepped forward holding a small chest containing the awards. Captain Anderson joined her and pulled the first Palladium Star from the chest, pinning it next to Shepard's Star of Terra. The captain was teary eyed as he did so, blinking away any signs of his emotions quickly. Shepard kept her cool, but Garrus was sure she was feeling emotional as well.

"Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko, Alliance Navy," Sparatus continued reading as Anderson pinned the awards onto each squad member. "Flight lieutenant Jeff Moreau. Garrus Vakarian, former Citadel Security."

Anderson pulled another medal from the chest and pinned it on Garrus' suit. Garrus scanned the crowd and noticed his father standing at the edge of the garden's first tier. His mother and sister hadn't made it, it seemed. He was relieved; he didn't want his already ill mother to make herself worse just to see someone put a fancy pin on his shirt. They would be able to see it on the news.

"Doctor Liara T'soni," Sparatus read. "Tali'Zorah nar Rayya. Urdnot Wrex."

Having nowhere to pin Wrex's award, Anderson simply handed it to the krogan. Wrex seemed unimpressed with the medal. Garrus wouldn't be surprised if he sold the award for credits later.

The ceremony continued for over an hour, awards being handed out to the naval forces that had fought against Sovereign. When all of the medals had been distributed, there was a moment for reporters to ask any questions. Nearly every question was focused on Shepard. Did she feel bad for letting innocent humans die to save the Council? How did she feel knowing she was now a galactic hero who had made an effort to save non-human lives? What were her plans after this?

Shepard stood silent, not responding to a single question. Anderson stepped forward to answer for her.

"The Council and the Alliance will be working closely to ensure that any remaining geth threat is eliminated. No decisions have been made yet on an assignment for the Commander. We would prefer to keep such sensitive matters private. Thank you."

More questions erupted, but it was time to go. The Council was ushered off the stage to a waiting shuttle that would take them away from the crowd. Another shuttle was waiting for Shepard and her squad, though where they would go, Garrus was unsure.

They all climbed in, feeling a bit like royalty, and enjoying the ample room in the back of the car; much more space than the mako ever afforded. Garrus was glad the old hunk of junk had been destroyed during the battle against Sovereign.

Shepard collapsed in her seat, rubbing her forehead and groaning. "God, I thought that would never end."

"Where shall we go now?" Liara asked, tears forming in her eyes.

"Liara, are you crying?" Kaidan cocked his head.

"I'm sorry," she bit her lip. "I just…I have come to care for you all so much. I have spent so much of my life devoted to studying the Protheans, eschewing traditional social patterns in favor of a pursuit of knowledge. You not only gave me the chance to see Prothean technology and culture beyond my wildest dreams, but you…you're my friends. I have never had such close companionship before. I don't know what will happen next and I hate to think of never seeing you again."

"I thought you were staying with us on the Normandy," Joker said, as though any other option were absurd.

"I…what?" Liara's eyes lit up. "Would I be…allowed to continue traveling with you?"

"I'm a Spectre," Shepard shrugged. "They have to let me do whatever I want. You don't have to stay, but we'd really miss you if you decided to go."

Liara shocked everyone by moving across the shuttle's cabin and throwing her arms around Shepard's neck in a hug.

"Thank you, Shepard. You don't understand what this means to me."

Shepard patted Liara's back comfortingly. "Didn't have to think twice about it."

"Well, as much fun as I had killing geth with you," Wrex said. "I think it's time I returned to Tuchanka. If the Reapers are coming, the krogan need to unite more than ever. Maybe I can be the one to do that." He examined the medal in his hand. "I'm holding you to your promise too, Shepard. If I find a way to cure the genophage, you're going to help me do it."

"I promise," Shepard assured him.

"I should return to the fleet," Tali said. "But…maybe I could stay on a bit longer. It would be nice to have options of gifts to bring back."

"What about you, Garrus?" Shepard asked, turning to him.

"Well, someone has to cover your six," he told her.

She smiled. "There you go, Liara, you're only going to miss Wrex."

"I doubt she'll miss me much," Wrex chuckled.

Liara placed her hand gently on Wrex's arm. "I will miss you."

"All right," Wrex tore his arm away. "Enough mushy crap. We've all been through hell and we look like it. I say we send this shuttle up to Purgatory and get blitzed. Garrus is buying the first round."

There was a round of laughter and cheering as Wrex entered the coordinates for the bar into the shuttle. Garrus couldn't even be mad that he had to pay for the first round; he only felt happiness, surrounded by people he was glad to call his friends, allowed a brief moment of respite after all they had been through.

Shepard discreetly squeezing his thigh didn't hurt either.

When the squad arrived at Purgatory, there was a long line to gain entry. Many of the Citadel's residents dealt with chaos by ignoring it and drowning their fears in alcohol and sex, so it was naturally busy. Shepard was prepared to wait in the line, but as soon as they stepped out, the crowd was in an uproar. Clips of the ceremony were still playing on vid screens above the door.

Shepard and her squad were ushered past the line of people, some of whom were shouting for autographs, others who were shouting for her to throw herself off of the roof. The turian bouncers allowed them entry inside and they quickly found a booth to sit at, all of them requiring at least a little alcohol before they would hit the dance floor.

"This is fun," Joker said. "Hanging out with the squad. I don't usually leave the Normandy much when we're docked."

"You would marry that ship if it were sentient," Shepard said.

Joker made no attempt to disagree. "She's my baby."

"She's technically my ship."

"Technicalities," Joker shrugged.

"What is everyone having?" Garrus asked. "I'm ordering the first round."

"I want a bucket of Tunchankan jackwick," Wrex said. "Extra potent."

Garrus made an unpleasant face. He tapped the orders down on his omni-tool as each of them spouted off what they wanted, so he would remember everything, then took off for the bar.

"Maybe I'll let loose more than last time we were here," Liara said. "I could even…perhaps I could even kiss a stranger!"

"Don't get too crazy, kid," Wrex laughed.

"I'm sorry. I've never been the type to uh…have casual encounters…" Liara's cheeks tinged purple as she said it. She was so intelligent and, comparably older, that Shepard sometimes forgot she was still very young by asari standards. Her naivety came through most often in discussions of sexual matters.

"You can kiss me, Liara," Joker offered. "As practice."

"I think it might be awkward to kiss one of the crew," she replied, gracefully deflecting the advance.

"Whatever happens, we're going to have fun tonight," Shepard said. "We deserve a little rest and relaxation after all the shit we've been through."

"Amen to that," Kaidan agreed.

Garrus returned from ordering the drinks and sidled in next to Shepard. A group of turian women across from the bar eyed him as he walked past, watching him from the corner where they stood.

"You've got some admirers, Garrus," Tali said, nodding to them.

Garrus looked up. "Hm? …Oh."

Shepard felt an unwelcome prick of jealousy. "Where are the drinks, Garrus?" she asked, subconsciously attempting to deflect his attention.

"The waitress is going to bring them. Wrex's drink alone cost me five hundred credits, by the way," he looked pointedly at the krogan.

"I'll need ten more of those if I'm going to get sloshed tonight," Wrex shrugged.

"So, are you going to talk to any of them?" Tali asked, redirecting the conversation back to the turian women across the room.

"The turians?" Garrus looked up at them. Shepard wondered what he was thinking. Of course, it wasn't like they were dating. They'd slept together once, twice counting the morning after. He could go after whoever he wanted, right? So why did she feel so annoyed? "The one with the purple facial markings has a nice fringe. And strong looking arms." Garrus shrugged.

"You should tell her that," Joker laughed. "Charm her pants off."

"Turian women don't respond well to platitudes about their beauty," Garrus said. "If I walked over there and told her she was sexy, she'd punch me in the nose."

"I know plenty of human women who would do that too," Kaidan said.

"I'm not here to meet anybody, anyway. Look, here's the waitress with our drinks. Let's just spend some time together and not worry about other people. If they're interested they can come talk to us. We are the heroes of the citadel, after all," Garrus said with a grin. Beneath the table, his hand brushed Shepard's knee.

The waitress came by and passed around the drinks. In addition to everything they had requested, Garrus had ordered them a round of shots. For the levos, it was some type of asari liquor, incredibly potent. Joker nearly gagged on it and even Shepard coughed as it burned down her throat. Only Liara seemed to think it tasted good.

"Getting things off to a good start," Shepard laughed. "Good choice, Garrus."

"Only the finest ten credit rocket fuel for my squad mates."

"I've got a question," Kaidan said, sipping on his beer. "I see quarians at the bar sometimes, dancing and flirting and everything, but…do you guys do anything with each other when you go home?"

"There are ways to show affection that don't involve exchanging fluids," Tali replied tersely. "Just because the rest of the galaxy doesn't know how to have fun any other way doesn't mean we don't. Maybe if you're lucky, you'll find out some time, Alenko."

Kaidan didn't know how to respond, so he took another sip of his drink.

"You know what I think?" Wrex barked. "I think since Shepard's this big hero now, we should be her wingmen tonight. Help her get laid."

"I swear, Wrex, is that all you think about?" Liara demanded.

"Well, mostly. That and shooting things." He shrugged. "Come on, Shepard, I bet you could have any man…or woman…in this bar. We've spent so much time cooped up on the Normandy, when's the last time you even got lucky?"

Shepard knew that Wrex knew very well when the last time she'd gotten lucky was. He was being intentionally provocative, hoping to goad either her or Garrus into admitting to the entire squad that they had slept together.

"It's been a while," Shepard said, "Not that it's your business."

"Maybe those turians are checking Shepard out," Wrex suggested.

"Actually," Garrus cocked his head. "The one with the red clan markings might be."

"What would a turian see in a human?" Joker asked. "You two are the only turian and human I've ever seen on friendly terms."

"Yeah, what would a turian see in a human, Garrus?" Wrex asked, a big stupid grin plastering itself on his face.

"Who wouldn't be interested in Shepard?" Liara asked. Everyone turned to look at her and Joker raised his eyebrows. The asari turned bright purple as blood rushed to her cheeks. "I just mean…well I mean, Shepard's so level headed and strong and assertive…I just think plenty of people would find those traits attractive."

"It may surprise you to learn that a lot of human men find those traits intimidating and emasculating," Shepard told her. "Their words, not mine. Too bad for them, they don't know what they're missing."

"Hey, how about this game?" Joker interrupted. "We pick someone in the bar, and you have to say whether or not you'd take them home."

"Hot or not, Joker? Really?" Kaidan sighed.

"Aw, come on. I used to play it with the recruits all the time."

"That's very demeaning," Liara scolded him.

"Man, no wonder I never hang out with you guys."

The topic mercifully shifted to fashion trends, so instead of playing Joker's game, they picked people in the bar who were wearing the most outlandish outfits and tried to decide who looked worse. Of course, they were all dressed in their military dress uniforms, so they weren't exactly pinnacles of fashion themselves, but it was fun all the same; more fun after two more rounds of drinks.

After another set of shots had been ordered and painfully downed, Tali sidled out of the booth and walked over to Kaidan, grabbing his hand and pulling him up out of the seat.

"Come on, lieutenant. Let's dance."

"Oh, uh…" Kaidan, even tipsy, was unsure of himself. "Well, I can't really dance…"

"Neither can I," Tali shrugged. "You coming, Liara?"

"Yes, I think so!" Liara hopped to her feet. "What about you, Shepard, Garrus?"

Shepard was buzzed and feeling pretty good at that point, so she stood up and followed them, beckoning Garrus to come with. He hesitated for a moment and then got up, leaving Wrex and Joker alone to continue drinking.

The dance floor was full of writhing, sweaty bodies, and plenty of heat. Tali surprised everyone with the fluidity of her motion when she began to dance. Shepard wouldn't have guessed anyone could be so graceful in such a large suit.

Garrus danced in an awkward little shuffle, unperturbed with how stupid he might look, a content, tipsy smile on his face. Kaidan's dance moves were almost as horrendous as Garrus', but none of them cared how they looked to everyone around them; they were getting drunk and having a good time, which had been a long time coming.

Shepard and Liara danced with each other a bit. She hadn't seen the asari so open or comfortable since they'd met. As they danced, she kept glancing over to Garrus. All around them, couples writhed against each other, bodies pulsing as they attempted to touch every inch of one another; she wished she could have done the same with Garrus. She was remembering the firm grip of his hands on her thighs, the rough feeling of his skin against hers. She always got a little bit more interested in such things after she'd been drinking, but it had been on her mind before then anyway.

One of the turian women who had been eyeing him down in the lower bar sidled up next to him on the dance floor, placing a hand on his shoulder and whispering something in his ear.

Shepard hated the ugly feeling of jealousy flaring up in her chest. Was Garrus handsome compared to other turians? She still had hard time differentiating that. His looks had certainly not been what attracted her to him; it had been his companionship, the comradery they had built, though there were things she'd begun to find attractive about him over time. Those bright blue eyes, for starters, and his tall frame, his broad chest and shoulders; even something about his skinny little turian waist was appealing. But she didn't really know what turians looked for in one another. Maybe a large crest of horns meant more than a pair of nice eyes.

She had been hoping to go home with Garrus that evening and possibly pick up where they'd left off last time, but now she worried he preferred someone within his own species. She thought about what his father had said to her in the hospital. She wasn't a turian. What had he seen in her?

It wasn't long before her fears were alleviated. Garrus exchanged some words with the turian woman, then she walked away, back down to the lower bar. Shepard danced over to him while Liara joined Tali and Kaidan.

"You're a regular ladies' man, Garrus," she told him. "You weren't interested?" It had been the turian with the purple clan markings who'd come to talk to him, the one he'd said was attractive earlier.

"She was only interested in me because I was on the news," Garrus shrugged. "I mean, only being interested in me for my looks isn't that different, but at least that way I know I'm not just going to be a story for her to tell her friends later."

"I'm getting warm," Shepard said, "Let's go sit down."

He followed her back to the table where they sat down in the booth. Joker was talking to some Alliance recruits by the bar and Wrex sat alone, guzzling alcohol from his bucket.

"Hey, lovebirds." he greeted them by smacking his hand on the table. "I know what you did and I want details."

"Do you need me to explain the birds and the bees to you, Wrex?" Shepard asked.

"No, I need you to explain the turians and the humans. I've never heard of such a thing. Besides, I can't imagine Garrus doing anything that a woman would find attractive. It must have been incredibly awkward and that's why I want every detail."

"Apparently, we're not the first," Garrus shrugged. "You didn't hear it from me, but Dr. Chakwas has had her own interspecies affair."

"You're shitting me!" Wrex laughed. "Didn't know the old bird had it in her."

"There's nothing to tell, anyway. Turns out it doesn't matter who the parts are attached to, they still work together," Shepard said.

"Shepard, humans would never be a krogan's first choice for mate. You're fleshy and squishy and you've got so much hair."

"Gee, thanks." Shepard glared at him.

"That being said," Wrex continued. "I think you could do better than this one. You should have a little more self-esteem than that. Turians all look like they've run their face through a jet engine."

"Thanks," Garrus hissed.

Liara returned from the dance floor and the conversation ended. She sipped at unsupervised drinks on the table, grasping at them eagerly. Garrus kept handing Shepard all of the dextro drinks to keep them away from her.

"I only have two hands, Garrus!" Shepard complained, rushing to set the drinks on the opposite end of the table.

"Liara, are you all right?" Garrus asked.

"I feel wonderful!" She cried. "I still haven't kissed anyone though."

"I'm sure Joker would still…" Garrus started. He was interrupted as she planted a kiss squarely on his lips. She backed away from him when she was done and wobbled where she sat.

"Blegh." Liara stuck her tongue out. "Your skin is like stone."

Garrus blinked at her, still in disbelief at what had happened. Shepard let out a loud laugh and smacked Garrus on the back.

"Maybe I'll see if someone on the dance floor is interested." Liara stood back up. "Not a turian," she added.

"Hey, Tali, Liara's headed back your way," Shepard said into her comm link. "Might want to keep an eye on her."

Tali responded, but whatever she said was drowned out by the loud music on the dance floor. Shepard saw Joker leave the bar with one of the recruits, a cute girl who couldn't have been older than twenty. He gave Shepard the thumbs up as he left, a stupid grin plastered on his face.

She typed a message to the pilot on her omni-tool. 'Don't break your femur.'

"First time you ever kissed an asari?" Wrex asked Garrus.

"Smashing your lips against someone's face barely qualifies as a kiss," Garrus replied.

"She was just curious. And for the record, your lips don't feel like stone," Shepard told him.

Wrex rested his chin on his hand. "You two are stupid."

"Thanks again, Wrex."

He waved his hand dismissively. "No use explaining it. I've been around for hundreds of years. You guys are just dumb, oblivious kids. You'll see eventually."

They drank for a while longer, Tali, Kaidan, and Liara returning periodically from the dance floor to retrieve more drinks. Garrus eventually started switching out their liquor with water, but the three of them were too drunk to notice. Shepard was just glad they were having a good time; they had all needed it so much. She was especially glad Kaidan was enjoying himself; he hardly ever let loose.

It was nearly two in the morning by the time Liara, Tali, and Kaidan returned to the dance floor after their seventh trip back for drinks. The artificial atmosphere outside the windows on the Presidium had long since shifted to a starry sky with fake moonlight shimmering down.

Shepard stretched her arms and yawned dramatically. "I'm starting to get tired. What about you Garrus?"

Garrus shrugged. "Actually, I'm not as tired as I thought I would be."

"Really? I'm very tired," Shepard said.

"If you're that tired, you should probably head back. But you might want to take a shuttle, the docks are pretty far from here," He suggested.

She slumped her shoulders forward and Wrex snorted.

"The docks are far," she agreed. "But your apartment is pretty close to here. Maybe I could just stay there."

"You might not like my bed," he told her, completely oblivious to what she had felt was a less than subtle move. "Turians sleep on firm surfaces usually. I mean, it's still a mattress, but it's not soft like what you'd be used to. I don't know how well you'd sleep on it."

"Garrus," Shepard growled. "What if we went back to your apartment to have sex and you understood what I was saying?"

Garrus' mouth opened and closed a few times before he finally said, "Oh. You're not really tired."

"No," Shepard shook her head.

Wrex howled with laughter. "You've got your work cut out, Shepard."

"I expect to see you before you leave the Citadel," she told him as she and Garrus stood up.

"You will, I promise. Now go on. Before one of the others sees you."

She and Garrus left the club, slightly tipsy. Now that Garrus realized why she'd wanted to leave, both of them were eager to get to his apartment. She could feel that familiar electricity between them as they walked. All she could think about was touching him again.

The walk to his apartment wasn't a long one, but it seemed to take forever. Once they were in the building, the ride up to his floor seemed to last a lifetime. His fingers brushed hers and even that small act was enough to give her goosebumps.

When they reached the door to his apartment, it took him several minutes to stand still enough for the access interface to recognize him, then the doors flew open and they stepped inside.

She hadn't been back to his apartment since the last time they'd gone to Purgatory, when she'd awoken on his couch with a terrible hangover. She was nowhere near that drunk now, thankfully. The place was as immaculate as it had been the first time she was there; the building must have had a cleaning service maintaining it while he'd been away.

He had her pressed against the wall before the doors had even finished closing, their lips coming together roughly. She grabbed his hips with her legs and he held her up, his talons tugging eagerly at the buttons on her dress uniform.

"Don't rip it," she said, helping him with the buttons. "It cost too much money."

"You can rip mine if you want," he told her before their mouths came glued back together.

When her buttons had been unfastened, she shrugged the jacket off her shoulders and tugged at the buttons on his suit. He moved his mouth down her neck, his tongue dragging across her skin. Shoving impatiently at the hem of the tank top she wore beneath her jacket, she lifted her arms to let him pull it over her head. As soon as the shirt was off, she shoved his suit jacket from his shoulders and it fell to the floor.

Still gripping his hips, her arms wrapped around his neck as they kissed, he carried her into his bedroom, dropping her onto the bed, which was as firm as he had promised. He yanked her pants off of her and nearly tripped out of his own in his eagerness to remove his clothing. Turians didn't wear any undergarments, having heavy plating to protect what humans laid bare. The plating on his lower body had shifted though, revealing just how eager he was.

He climbed on top of her and they lay kissing for some time, his hands roving up and down her body with interest. As his talons wrapped up around her back to her bra, his kisses slowed, eventually stopping altogether as his mandibles flared in his frustration.

"Do you have a firewall on this thing?" he demanded. "How does it come undone?"

She reached her hands up behind her back and unhooked the latches. It fell from her shoulders and he tossed it on the floor. He seemed to remember what she had told him before about breasts and foreplay, because he kissed his way across her chest and moved his tongue in slow circles over her nipples.

"Garrus," she breathed heavily.

"Shepard." He kissed her collarbone.

"I appreciate you taking your time," she told him. "But I'm really ready for the main event."

"Not yet," he said, kissing down her stomach and removing her last article of clothing

He grabbed her thighs and placed her legs on his shoulders, kissing up her inner thigh and bringing his hand between her legs to gently part her lower lips. His tongue snaked out of his mouth and flicked experimentally against her. She let out a gasp and grabbed his head.

"Yes," she said sharply.

Spurred by her response, he licked her again, gently at first and then applying more pressure, tracing shapes against her with his tongue.

Every single thought left her brain except for the pleasure she was feeling then. She tightened her grip on his head and grabbed a pillow with her free hand, the feeling mounting, coursing through her body.

Suddenly, and unexpectedly, his tongue shot inside of her while his thumb replaced it on her clit. A turian tongue, it had to be said, was far more dexterous than a human's.

She couldn't think. Every action was involuntary: his name escaping her mouth in a low moan, her body arching against him, desperate to feel more of him. She was about to explode, she felt so good, so close to the edge…

His tongue returned to his mouth abruptly and his lips moved back to her stomach and up her chest until he was on top of her again.

"Why did you stop?" she asked, her face red and warm.

"Did it feel good?" he kissed her neck.

"Garrus…I wasn't finished…" she groaned.

His hips moved between her legs and she forgot her complaints.

Chapter Text

When Garrus awoke in the morning, Shepard was no longer next to him. They had fallen asleep some time not long before the Presidium's scheduled sunrise, but he had no clue how long they'd slept or how late it was. He turned his head and saw her standing in front of the window, the blinds half opened, staring out at the view of the Presidium from his room. She was still naked, her silhouette outlined by the fake sunlight shining in from outside. He took a moment to admire her shape, so different from a turian and yet still so lithe and muscular, not as soft as other humans.

"Shepard," he said softly. "What are you doing?"

She turned around to face him. "I didn't want to wake you." She smiled.

"After the night we had? I was dead to the world."

She crossed the room and climbed onto the bed, draping herself over his chest. "I know. I feel like I could sleep for the next two years. It's already noon."

Garrus' hand idly stroked her back. "Maybe we should just stay in bed all day," he suggested. "Personally, I think we've earned it."

"That sounds great," she said. "But I've got to eat something first and you don't have any food I can eat. You barely have any food period."

He sighed and sat up. "You're right. We need to eat. So we have energy for…other things," his subharmonics vibrated.

"Well, if we're going to go out somewhere, I should shower first," Shepard told him. "You do have a shower, don't you?"

"What am I, a krogan? Of course I have a shower. It's just through the door there," he pointed to a door on the opposite wall.

She hesitated for a moment, staring at him, then walked into the bathroom and started up the shower. A few moments later, she poked her head out of the bathroom door.

"Garrus, we have to teach you about double meanings or this isn't going to work," she said.

"What do you mean, Shepard?" he asked, genuinely oblivious.

"You should join me in the shower," she said.

"I don't really need to." He shrugged. "Turians don't sweat like humans do. It's less of an issue."

Shepard sighed. "Maybe you could help me get clean."

"Is that customary for humans?"

"Garrus!" she cried. "Come get in the shower with me so we can have sex again before we go eat."

"Oh." It seemed obvious as soon as she said it. He jumped out of bed and hurried to join her.

After they were done in the shower and had dressed, Garrus in his casual civilian attire and Shepard still sporting her dress pants with her tank top, they left his apartment to get some breakfast at a café on the Presidium commons.

It struck Garrus, as they walked through the commons, past dozens of other people going about their day, how very normal everything felt. Despite the destruction caused by the battle, many parts of the Citadel had escaped unscathed and people found a way to stick with their routines through any situation. He wasn't used to normal; he'd spent so much of his time lately living a very abnormal life. It felt strange to be walking around the Citadel with his friend like they hadn't just saved the entire station.

Plenty of people stopped to stare at them as they went. Garrus knew the stares were because of Shepard. He braced himself for someone to stop them for an autograph, but, at least on the Presidium, people were content just to look, or snap a discreet photo with their comm links or omni-tools.

"How long do you think this will last?" Shepard asked. "Because all this staring has me thinking staying in your apartment for a few days doesn't sound like a bad idea. Even if I wasn't getting laid."

They sat down across from each other at a table that overlooked the water streaming through the Presidium down below.

"I'm sure eventually it will blow over." Garrus tried to assure her. "Don't your people already recognize you for your work in the Alliance?"

"Yeah, I guess," she tapped her fingers distractedly on the table.

"Is something bothering you, Shepard?"

"Do you think if any of the squad saw me they'd know we slept together?" She asked.

"What?" Garrus blinked at her.

"Well, I'm wearing the same clothes I wore yesterday. It could be suspicious. I don't know what their plans are. We might run into them," she said.

"It's a pretty big station, Shepard…" he replied slowly. "Anyway, we can just say you slept on my couch because you were too drunk to get a shuttle back to the docks. It's not like you've never done that before."

She relaxed a little. "You're right."

They ordered their food from an asari waitress and sat for a while in silence, watching the people and cars passing by all around. One thing Garrus had come to appreciate most about Shepard's presence was that the two of them could sit in silence comfortably, never feeling the need to talk just to make conversation. There were few people he'd met in his life that he felt that comfortable around; it was nice just to enjoy each other's presence.

"Hey, Garrus?" she asked after a moment.

"Yes, Shepard?"

"Is it possible…for a human…to consciously stop releasing pheromones?" Her face tinged pink as she asked. He liked how humans and asari blushed when they were embarrassed.

"I don't think so. Why do you want to? I like the way you smell."

"When I was visiting you in the hospital the other day, you fell asleep because of all the meds they had you on and your dad kept talking to me. He…uh…" Her face grew redder as she spoke. "He knows we're sleeping together."

"Excuse me?" Garrus' mandibles flared. He could think of nothing he would have preferred less than for his father to know he was sleeping with a human.

"He said I reeked of pheromones when I came in. Then he got a little angry with me. I'm pretty positive if he didn't already dislike me because I was a Spectre, he really hates me now."

"It's not his business!" Garrus complained. "Humans release pheromones for plenty of reasons. What right does he have to pry…?"

"Look, I don't want to drive a wedge…it's just casual se-"

"It doesn't matter. Spirits, Shepard. I'm almost twenty-seven years old. The fact that my dad thinks he has a say in what I do and who I do it with. It's because of the First Contact war, you know. My father wanted to fight in the war but he'd joined C-sec and he had two young children. When the war was over and humans came to the Citadel he was bitter about it. He took the loss of the war very personally," Garrus shrugged. "He didn't have any right to say anything to you. By all accounts if you weren't a human or a Spectre, he'd think you were worthy of respect."

"So…if I wasn't…me…?" Shepard asked.

"No, that's not what I mean," Garrus interrupted. "I mean you're a skilled soldier and an excellent, level-headed commander. Most turians would love to serve under someone like you. He's just being…dad," he crossed his arms and sighed. "I'm sorry he did that," he added, more softly.

"This may surprise you, Garrus, but I'm a big girl. I can deal with it. I just…wanted to talk about it with you. I don't want to alert every turian in a hundred-mile radius that we're having sex just because I can't control whatever chemicals I'm releasing."

"Oh, we smell so many things, unless it's clear or impacts us personally, we shut it out. Like background noise," he assured her.

"Well that's a relief."

Their food came and they dug in with voracious appetites. Shepard's food looked wholly unappealing: eggs and bacon. Garrus was familiar with the food items, as popular as they were among humans, but the color of them was off-putting. Turians ate mostly meat, cooked only slightly. He couldn't imagine eating the eggs of any creature he was familiar with.

Shepard shoveled the food into her mouth unattractively, belching when she ate too fast. They were certainly comfortable around each other.

"Are you really twenty-seven?" she asked him, though some time had passed since he'd mentioned it.

"Why? Did you think I was older?"

"Well, yeah, I guess," she shrugged. "Like my age."

"The difference is hardly notable. Still, only two years on me and you're a commander and a Spectre. What am I? I don't even technically have a job," he shrugged. It didn't bother him. He would take running missions on the Normandy over C-sec any day of the week.

"You're my sidekick," she said through a mouthful of bacon.

"Your sidekick?" he crossed his arms. "All right, next time a geth is shooting at you, I'm letting it take out your shields before I jump in to help."

"Okay, okay maybe not my sidekick. We're partners," she shrugged. "Anyway, who cares about titles? You helped bring down a rogue Spectre and stop a Reaper invasion. That definitely trumps being 'Garrus Vakarian, C-sec officer'."

He nodded. "You're right."

They sat in silence again as they finished their food. The meal over, Garrus sipped at his water and watched Shepard as she observed a group of children being led through the Presidium by a daycare supervisor.

"How long do you think it will take them to rebuild all this?" she asked him without moving her gaze.

Some of the damage looked substantial, but much of it was superficial, at least on the Presidium. The keepers were already hard at work restoring order with the citizens.

"I don't know. Not long, I would imagine. A few months at the most."

She nodded. "Maybe I'll get an apartment here. I've always just kind of lived aboard whatever vessel I was on. I don't have much to my name…it would be nice to have a home away from home."

"We should get some food," Garrus suggested.

"We just ate," she laughed.

"I mean for my apartment. If we really want to spend the next day or so in bed, we should have plenty of food to keep our energy up," he winked at her.

"I like your logic," she nodded and stood up. "Let's go raid the grocery store. And we should stop by the Normandy so I can get some clothes. It should be pretty empty, so I can get in and out without anyone asking why I've got a bag full of clothes with me."

"Good plan. I know the perfect store a few districts over. They have a good mix of dextro and levo foods. Some of my favorite chocolate too."

Shepard rubbed her stomach. "I won't be sampling that again." She nudged him. "But maybe I can feed you some."

"Do, uh…humans incorporate food into their sex acts?" he asked, starting to catching on to the voice she made when she was hinting at a 'double meaning'.

"Sometimes. Whipped cream. Chocolate sauce. To be honest, it just risks getting in places you really don't want that to get in."


"We have so much to discuss this weekend," she told him, grinning.

"Ideally, we won't be doing too much talking," he replied, subharmonics purring.

"I knew I was friends with you for a reason."

Shepard and Garrus had purchased entirely too much food from the grocery store in the 5th district, but it had been hard to resist. They had spent months predominantly relegated to the bland military-grade ship food provided by the Normandy, and they had been awarded a not-insignificant sum of credits for their bravery in battle, so they had cash to burn.

When the stores of food had been dropped off at Garrus' apartment, they made their way to the docks, where the Normandy was undergoing some repairs and upgrades. Garrus suggested purchasing a decent shuttle to replace the mako, but the Alliance would have to make that call.

The ship was almost unsettlingly empty. A few stray crewmen were leaving with bags in tow, stopping to salute Shepard as they left, but otherwise no one was around. Everyone had been eager for the shore leave following the missions they'd had over the past few months.

They took the stairs down to the crew deck and Shepard went to search her cabin for clothes while Garrus stood around waiting for her near the table at the center of the room. Shepard threw clothes indiscriminately into a duffel bag she'd had stuffed under her bed. It didn't really matter what she took, she figured, she wouldn't be wearing much of anything while she was there.

Before her first night with Garrus, it had been so long since Shepard had even had sex; far too long. It had been even longer still since she'd spent an entire weekend in bed with someone; she felt her body brimming with excitement at the prospect. It was always fun to explore unknown territory with a new lover, but Garrus was especially unknown territory. There was plenty Shepard didn't know about turian anatomy, despite her military training. She knew the basics, and had learned a bit since sleeping with Garrus, but they didn't teach you turian erogenous zones in military academy.

She emerged from her cabin after a few minutes, bag full of clothes and a few toiletries, to find Garrus having a discussion with Karin.

"Karin," Shepard greeted her. "What are you doing here? You should be out having a good time on the Citadel."

"I appreciate the concern, commander," the doctor smiled. "I was actually just coming to grab a few things I forgot when I left. I see you're here for similar reasons." She eyed Shepard's duffel bag.

"I'm uh…" Shepard shuffled uncomfortably. The doctor already knew they had slept together, it wasn't like they had to hide it from her. "Well, I'm staying with Garrus for a few days. He has an apartment on the Presidium."

"Yes, so he was telling me. You two have fun," she winked and then said, "Oh, commander, a quick word before you go. Just you and me."

"I'll just…er…wait up by the airlock. Here, I'll take your bag." Garrus grabbed the duffel bag from Shepard's arms and hurried up the stairs.

"What did you want to talk about, Karin?" Shepard asked.

"Forgive the insubordination, commander, but I'm speaking from experience here. You'll want to go and buy some Nos-Astran skin-restoring cream. You spend too much time with a turian between your legs and there's going to be a lot of chafing."

Shepard was mortified, but did her best to hide it from the doctor. She managed a very weak smile. "Uh…I'll take that into consideration, Karin."

"I know it may not be something you want to discuss, but I'm simply giving you the practicality of it. Human skin was not built for handling something like a turian. You'll adjust, though, given enough time."

Despite her horror, Shepard was intensely curious about the doctor's former turian love affair.

"Karin? What happened with you and the turian soldier?"

She sighed wistfully. "It was a long time ago, commander. During the war, as I said. We couldn't be together, it was too dangerous then. But you and Garrus…"

"It's just a friends with benefits kind of situation for us," Shepard assured her.

"If you insist, commander. Go on now. Have fun. I'll be taking my leave for a bit."

Shepard left to rejoin Garrus, eager to return to his apartment and finally enjoy some much-deserved rest and relaxation.

For nearly two days, Shepard and Garrus had not left his apartment on the Presidium. They hadn't let go of each other except to eat, and even that they often did on the couch, resting against one another. They spent the entire weekend exploring each other's bodies: bodies that were so different than the lovers they had known in the past, so new and exciting, unexplored terrain to be discovered with fingers and lips and tongues.

Shepard learned that a small gap existed in the plating of Garrus' chest, barely the width of a human finger, running directly across his waist, and when she ghosted her fingers over it, it made his lower plating open partially. When she licked it, sometimes he would pop right out of his sheath.

The plating had been a surprise at first, one she viewed as a puzzle she was determined to solve. Touching the little gap in his chest plating was the starting point, and, with his help, she experimented from there. His cock was hidden in a sheath beneath the plating; when it was partially opened, she could slide her fingers inside like she was, for all intents and purposes, fingering him. His skin was incredibly sensitive beneath the plating, so she had to move slowly and carefully, but once she did, she could brush her hand against his cock and coax it out easily enough.

That had been another surprise altogether. First, it was blue, which made sense considering that turian blood was also blue, but it had been entirely unexpected. In addition, when she'd brought her hand between his legs on that first night together, she'd been surprised to find he was already lubricated. In retrospect, that also made sense, protected as it was inside the body cavity beneath the plating, and it had been a tremendous help considering the size of him compared to what she was used to. He wasn't too big to take, proportionate to his height by all means, but he was certainly the biggest she'd ever had.

He had learned things about her as well: the exact pressure to apply between her legs to get her screaming his name, the angle at which he could move his fingers inside of her without catching her with his talons. His favorite finding had been when he'd gone down on her while his subharmonics were rumbling, sending a vibration up through his lips that made her legs shake; he'd done it endlessly since he'd discovered it and it had become her favorite finding as well.

Karin's warning about chafing hadn't been without reason. By the end of those two days together, as Shepard lay naked next to Garrus on the bed, both of them catching their breath after another roll between the sheets, she realized just how raw her body looked. It was like a pink war zone leading directly between her legs, skin chafed around her thighs and stomach and anywhere Garrus had been rubbing against it repeatedly. It stung too. She should have bought the damn lotion.

She sat up slightly and tenderly touched the raw skin. "Ugh," she groaned. "I don't suppose you have any lotion, Garrus?"

He observed her skin. "I thought it seemed unusual, but I wasn't sure if that's just what humans look like after this much sex."

"No," Shepard groaned. "This is what humans look like after rubbing against a turian for two days straight."

"I'm sorry," he said sheepishly. "I do have some lotion, though. I'll grab it for you."

He crossed the room to the bathroom on the other side to retrieve the lotion. She admired his body as he walked. Now that she'd had ample time to explore it, she had a newfound appreciation for it: the toned muscles of his back and shoulders; his tiny, firm little butt.

He stood with his back to her as he rummaged through a cabinet in the bathroom.

"I gotta say, Garrus, I'm liking the view from here."

"Yes, I've been told my backside is my most attractive angle. Of course, I've been told that by both turian women and human men. The latter usually followed it with 'not that you can tell a turian's backside from their front'."

He returned with the lotion and, instead of handing it to her, he sat down next to her and dabbed some onto his hand, rubbing it with a surprisingly gentle touch into the skin on her legs and stomach. The cooling effect it had was instantaneous, to her relief.

Tossing the lotion aside when he was done, he delicately lifted her leg and ran his hands along her calves.

"I still can't get over how…smooth your legs are. No spurs. No plating. Just soft."

"You should feel them after I've shaved," she laughed.

"You shave your legs?" he looked aghast.

"Well, women do, usually. And under their arms. I don't do it often, because I'm on the ship and I'm in battle and it just doesn't make sense to waste the time, but…if I'm going out on a date or I'm getting dressed up then sometimes I'll shave."

He rubbed his hand up and down her legs, feeling the fine red hairs. "I like the hair."

"There's where you differ from most human men."

"Yes, I think that's the only way we differ, though," he replied sarcastically.

He let go of her leg and leaned over her, tracing the fingers of one hand across her chest and stomach while the other moved through her hair. She closed her eyes and sighed, completely and utterly content. She hadn't felt so calm or happy in ages, certainly not since before Eden Prime.

When she opened her eyes again, several minutes later, Garrus was staring at her, his mandibles twitching, mouth moved into the slightest hint of a smile, though his smile really came through in his eyes.

"What are you thinking?" she asked, running her hands along his fringe and rubbing the soft skin behind it.

"I was just thinking, I don't think there's anyone in this galaxy I respect more than you. You really led us through hell, Shepard, and you pulled us back out again. I've never trusted anyone more."

She smiled. "I don't know, Garrus. Some of the things you did to me this weekend would be considered pretty disrespectful in most systems."

He nuzzled her cheek, his subharmonics purring. "Yes, but you liked them."

"I did," she agreed.

They lay in silence for a while, him on his side with one arm draped across her chest, his face nestled against hers; her on her back with one arm wrapped around his shoulder, stroking the back of his head. They had spent plenty of time in that comfortable silence over the past few days. Whenever they came up for air, they might talk for a bit, or they might just lay in silence, holding each other; neither felt wrong.

After some time, she spoke again.

"Garrus?" She asked.


"Can I ask you something kind of personal?"

"Shepard, after the things we did to each other thing weekend, you can ask me anything," he said.

"How many women have you slept with?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. Twenty-five? Thirty? I never kept count."

"Thirty!?" She cried.

"What? Is that a lot? You have to remember, Shepard, turians approach sex very differently than humans. It's not taboo or frowned upon. Even in the military, they expect troops to do it. It helps blow off steam so troops are more focused in the long run. So, if you meet someone, and there's any sort of attraction, usually you just go for it. There doesn't need to be any long-term connection. I've only really dated a couple of women. Once I took my job at C-sec, I didn't have time for a relationship," Garrus explained.

"Still, thirty…" Shepard sighed. "For a human, that seems like a lot."

"Well how many men have you been with?" he asked.

She thought for a moment, "I've been with…six men…seven now I guess. And three women."

"Oh yes, you did tell us about your little tryst with an asari," he kissed her shoulder. "Why does it matter how many people someone's been with anyway?"

"I don't really know. It's just something humans seem to care about," she said.

"Well, I don't care about it. Besides, you're the only human I've slept with."

"Gee," Shepard laughed.

"I've never found humans attractive until you," his lips and tongue moved against her neck. She liked the way his mandibles brushed her skin as he kissed her, twitching as he moved.

"What are we going to do when we're back on the Normandy?" She asked, changing the subject. "It's going to be hard to sneak around on a regular basis."

"I'll just sneak up to your cabin," he said. "Tali will think I'm going up to the observation deck, if she sees me."

"We'll just need to be careful. I don't want people to think I'm giving you special treatment."

"Of course not," he said, mouth still glued to her neck.

His hand drifted up to her breast, squeezing it. For someone who had been baffled by breasts when they'd first slept together, he'd spent a lot of time touching them over the past two days. He liked how they felt, he had told her as much, so he didn't mind incorporating them into foreplay if she liked having them touched.

"Ready again already?" she asked.

"When you are."

He moved to climb on top of her, but she pushed him gently onto his back and climbed on top of him instead. "My turn." She kissed him.

"Oh, commander."

Chapter Text

The shopping plaza in the 2nd district of the Presidium was home to so many storefronts it could make a person's head spin: weapons suppliers, armories, book stores, pet stores, a whole store just for hand creams. It was here that Garrus and Shepard decided to pay a visit after two and a half days holed up in his apartment.

Shepard, to Garrus' eternal embarrassment, was looking worse for the wear for the time they had spent together: her body was chafed where he'd rubbed against it and his lotion seemed to help only temporarily; he had, in the heat of things, dragged his talons across her back, which she had claimed felt good in the moment, but he remained skeptical; she also sported a few bruises on her neck and shoulders where he'd nipped too hard with his lips, which she claimed was not any different than something humans called a 'hickey'. She'd covered the bruises with some sort of powder she'd brought in her bag, but she couldn't hide the way she walked, an almost imperceptible limp. Maybe they had overdone it; Shepard was a strong woman, but she was still a human and Garrus was still a turian. They would have to figure out a workaround to some of the biological barriers they were slowly discovering. It certainly seemed worth it, but Garrus wasn't the one limping through the Presidium.

"You're sure you're okay?" he asked her as they browsed through the shops.

"Garrus, I'm fine," Shepard growled. "I'll get some of the lotion Karin recommended for me. And it's not like a guy's never dragged his nails across my back. Yours are just a little sharper…"

"Maybe I can file them down," Garrus suggested. "Or…wear my gloves…"

"Don't wear your gloves. We'll figure it out. It's still new." She patted his shoulder reassuringly.

They moved along down the row of shops until they heard a low, rumbling voice calling out to them.

"Shepard! You're walking like you rode a thresher maw." Wrex approached them from the other side of the shops. He turned to Garrus, grinning. "Is this your handiwork?"

Garrus sighed, "Hello, Wrex."

"Where have you two been? Not that I really need to ask," Wrex chuckled. "Liara's been asking after you. Have you checked your extranet messages at all?"

"I've barely touched my omni-tool," Shepard sighed. She brought up her messages quickly. Garrus had been ignoring his as well, though he'd seen the blinking light indicating he had new ones. He figured if it was urgent enough, whoever was trying to reach him would call.

"I'm headed out of here tomorrow," Wrex told them. "Picking up a few supplies. There's a cargo ship heading past Tuchanka, so they agreed to send me down in a shuttle when they pass. Didn't come cheap though."

"Good luck on Tuchanka, Wrex. I think if anyone can bring a group as bull-headed as the krogan together, it would be you," Garrus said.

"Bull-headed? This coming from a turian," Wrex laughed.

Shepard groaned next to them, not paying attention. "I've got about twenty messages from Udina about possible geth sightings in the traverse. Liara messaged twice to see what we were up to. I have one very incomprehensible message from Tali the night we went to Purgatory…I think she was misspelling a lot because the translator can't pick up half of it. Kaidan also messaged that night to ask if quarians could throw up inside their suits and what he should do if Tali did that…followed by a message ten minutes later that just says 'never mind'. And finally, a message from Anderson marked from today saying the Alliance wants the Normandy to pursue and eliminate any remaining geth. What a waste of time. We should be looking for Reapers!"

"They're probably just trying to keep you busy while they figure out what to do about the reapers," Garrus suggested. "I'm sure the Council will send down orders when they're ready." He doubted it even as he said it.

"You'll make quick work of the geth," Wrex said.

"Yeah, I know." Shepard folded her arms. "But it seems like busywork. A lot of wasted travel time and short missions."

"Well, you've got this one to keep you busy during the travel." Wrex nodded to Garrus.

"Yeah," Shepard laughed. "But he's not touching me for at least a week. I need to recover from this weekend."

"If you need to recover, you were doing things right. That's what the krogan say, anyway. Well, Shepard, I've got to pick up more supplies before I leave." Wrex grabbed her head and bumped his against it, leaving her with a dazed look. "You take care of yourself. And keep the turian alive. Not many turians out there I can call my friend."

"Shepard keep me alive?" Garrus asked. "I think it'll be the other way around."

"Either way. You take care of yourself too, Garrus." He smashed his head against Garrus' skull, which made his ears ring. "So long. Don't be afraid to stop in and visit me in Tuchanka. But you might want to wait a while. I don't think the krogan would be too welcoming to a turian or a human just yet."

"Bye, Wrex," Garrus said. "Take care of yourself too."

He waved a hand as he walked away.

"Now who are we going to send plowing into geth?" Shepard laughed.

"You know what? I might even miss him when he's gone."

They continued on past the shops until Shepard stopped at an armory to investigate some chest plating. Garrus leaned against the wall and read through his extranet messages while she inspected the armor.

There were a few messages from friends back home and in C-sec who'd seen him on the news, and a message from Chellick asking if Garrus was interested in returning to C-sec. He opened a message from his sister saying that their mother had been in good enough spirits to watch the ceremony when it aired, that she'd 'never been prouder of her son', and asking Garrus to visit if he could. He wasn't sure when a trip to Palaven would be feasible; it was the opposite direction from where they were headed next, but he guessed that Shepard wouldn't mind an unscheduled stop on the way back. He would visit then, perhaps.

The last message he had was from his father; a bid to get him to join C-sec again, though he acknowledged that Garrus would likely want to stay on with the Normandy, followed by a three-paragraph rant about the 'dangerous lure' of Spectres, the futility of romantic relationships with humans, and his desire to see his son 'settle down into a respectable job with a respectable family'.

Garrus was too irritated to respond, so he closed the message and crossed his arms. Shepard walked away from the armory looking as annoyed as Garrus felt.

"Price gouging. He wanted twenty-thousand credits for that chest plate. I told him where he could stick it…what's wrong?" She seemed to suddenly notice that he was upset.

"It's nothing," he shrugged. "My dad sent me a message about C-sec. He wants me to go back, but I'd rather stay with the Normandy."

"Is that all it said?"

"There may have been some choice words about you. It doesn't matter. Why don't we go and find Liara?" he suggested.

"Garrus, do you want to talk about it?"

"I really don't."

She nodded. "Okay. But I'm here if you change your mind. I'll call Liara and see where she's at."

Garrus was grateful that Shepard didn't press the issue. He didn't want to talk about his family problems. It was one of the few things he'd rarely discussed with her; he'd never once told her about how sick his mother was. All other topics of conversation seemed fair game up on the observation deck, but he felt like his personal issues would only be a burden on the already busy commander.

Shepard called Liara, who it turned out was down in Zakera ward doing some shopping of her own, but they agreed to meet later in the evening for dinner. They had the rest of the day to themselves, it seemed.

"So," Garrus asked. "How soon do they want us out fighting geth?"

"As soon as the Normandy's repairs are finished. I got word from Joker that she should be ready in another day or so and then I guess we just…explore the traverse, investigate any geth sightings. I know we're experienced in fighting with them, but I still think some other team could…"

"Maybe we'll find something on the Reapers while we're out there," Garrus suggested. "The geth seem to revere them. It can't hurt."

"Yeah, maybe you're right. So what should we do with the rest of our day?"

Garrus thought for a moment. "Well, going back to my apartment is out, I guess."

"Sorry, but yes," she winced.

"Have you ever been to the park in the 8th district?"

"No," she shook her head. "There's a lot of the Citadel I haven't seen."

He smiled. "Well then follow me."


The 8th district park was not as stunning in its beauty as the hanging gardens had been, but it was a quaint green space for people to enjoy, as though they were really on a planet rather than a massive space station. Families sat having picnics together, children ran around shouting and playing, lovers lay cuddling together beneath trees; the whole place felt like a warm summer afternoon back on Mindoir. It made Shepard feel calm.

She and Garrus took a seat at the base of a tree and sat for a while, observing the people around them. It was nice to be able to enjoy the silence and just observe the life of the Citadel, still flourishing despite the destruction and havoc that had occurred only days before. As much as Shepard loved the peace and relaxation, though, she found she was already missing life aboard the Normandy. There was a different kind of pleasure in watching the stars fly by out in endless space. She couldn't imagine herself on shore leave for too long of a time.

After a while, two little children, not older than six or seven, came running excitedly up to Shepard and Garrus where they sat. It was a human and a turian, the human holding a small sphere that they had been playing with earlier.

"Wow!" The human boy exclaimed. "Are you…are you Commander Shepard?"

Shepard smiled. "I am."

"My dad says you saved the whole Citadel," the turian boy chimed in. He was an awkward, gangly looking thing, his mandibles almost too large for the rest of him.

"Well, I had some help," she told him. "My friend Garrus here also saved the Citadel."

"Wow!" Both boys exclaimed.

"How many geth did you shoot?"

"Do they really bleed oil?"

"My dad says when I grow up I could be an Alliance soldier like you!"

Garrus leaned forward, mandibles flaring, "Commander Shepard took out three hundred whole geth. All by herself!"

"Whoa! Really?"

"Yes, but look, there's more coming over that ridge!" Garrus pointed dramatically.

The two boys spun around, arms at the ready, pretending they were holding guns

"Where are they?"

"We'll save you, commander Shepard."

Shepard watched the scene unfold with a grin.

"Oh no!" Garrus clasped his side. "One of them got me! Oh…Shepard…I'm fading fast…" he clutched at her arm and shoulder and then slumped over into her lap, tongue lolling out of his mouth, pretending to be dead.

"We have to avenge him!" The turian boy yelled.

The two boys ran around pretending to fire on the imaginary geth. Garrus sat up with a grin and watched them. Shepard nudged him, smiling, and they sat together in silence while the boys continued playing at war. When they had defeated all of the imaginary geth, they came running back up to them.

"All the geth are destroyed, commander!" the human boy reported.

"Good job!" Shepard commended them. "You boys deserve an award. Are your parents here? I should tell them how brave you were."

"My mom is here," the turian said. "But she doesn't know I'm playing with Jake. We're not really supposed to play together."

"Why's that?" Garrus asked.

"My dad says that turians are bad…that they killed my grandpa and I'm not allow to play with any." The human boy frowned.

"Well, you can tell your dad that if he wants you to be like commander Shepard, you have to be best friends with a turian," Shepard told them. "I couldn't have saved the Citadel without Garrus. How can you save the Citadel in the future without your friend?"

The two boys smiled. "Yeah! Thanks, commander Shepard!"

"Now go have fun. Try not to run into any geth!"

They ran off, throwing their sphere back and forth, disappearing beyond the ridge. Shepard turned to Garrus.

"You're cute with kids," she told him.

"Am I?" Garrus shrugged. "I just think they deserve to have fun and be kids. It's sad they have to know about the destruction that happened here. I wish I could protect them from having to know about war. My dad would never answer my questions about the Relay 314 incident, not until I got older; he wanted to shield me from those things while I was young."

"Really? That's kind of surprising considering how military-focused turian culture seems to be."

"Well, everyone has to serve. But turians also believe that children should be allowed to grow and learn protected by society. By having to serve when you're older, you learn about war, but it also ensures that there's a large portion of the populace protecting children from ever having to know about the atrocities that happen. I know it's not as simple on other planets and in other cultures, but it's something I appreciate about mine."

"I haven't seen a lot of turian kids," Shepard said. "They're cute. All legs and mandibles."

"Human children seem evolutionarily inefficient," Garrus snorted. "They have no means of self-protection. They can't even lift their heads on their own when they're tiny. It makes no sense. A turian baby can walk after a week."

Shepard shrugged. "Obviously, we managed okay."

"You did anyway." He nudged her.

She would have liked to rest her head on his shoulder, to cuddle up with him as the other couples in the park were doing. But they weren't a couple, and it was too public a place to be affectionate, so she leaned back against the tree and watched the people around her.

She hadn't ever imagined feeling this way about a turian.

Chapter Text

When Garrus stepped back onto the Normandy, it had almost felt like coming home. He realized, oddly enough, that he'd missed the ship and its inhabitants while they'd been away on shore leave. He'd had an enjoyable time on leave, certainly, but it was nice to return, to get back into the action.

With no mako to calibrate, and Wrex gone, he would have to find some other way to bide his time. Shepard was busy mapping routes with Pressly and Joker, or else making her rounds to keep herself familiar and friendly with the crew. Even if she hadn't been busy, he recognized that they needed to spend a little time apart. They'd grown too comfortable together, especially while on leave, he didn't want to do anything that might make the crew even the least bit suspicious of the way their relationship had changed.

Tali was as busy as ever down in engineering, so Garrus found himself spending most of his time with Liara. She had taken to using Wrex's old cot, though he imagined the bed in the med bay was more comfortable. She said she liked sleeping down in the cargo bay where it was a little warmer, and the extra room on the cot made it bearable.

Still unsure of her own skill with a gun, Garrus took to target practice with her again, though occasionally she would get frustrated and make the bullet hit its mark with her biotics. He had to remind her that if she was using her gun on the field, it might be because she'd run out of energy for biotic power use. She only listened sometimes.

For the first few weeks of their travel, they didn't encounter much of anything. It was a lot of 'reports of geth' that turned out to be nothing, and a lot of sitting around the ship. After a week or so, Garrus took to sneaking up to Shepard's cabin at night, which made him feel like a child breaking a rule and trying not to get caught. Occasionally he did get caught, but only by Karin, who would usually just roll her eyes.

The reward was always worth it, though. He would have spent every night with Shepard if he could have; exploring her body, the experience always so exhilarating and pleasurable. But neither of them wanted to risk any of the crew knowing about their little affair, so he would always sneak back down to the cargo bay when they were done. There were some nights where he nearly fell asleep, but he had always caught himself in time. He wanted to stay, and Shepard wanted him to as well. Sometimes, he thought, it was almost as good of a feeling just to hold her body against his, to feel her smooth skin and soft hair.

A month after they had left the Citadel, he was feeling a lot of emotions he didn't want to address. He wondered if Shepard was feeling the same way, wondered if he was even sure about what he was feeling, if he could even feel that way about a human. He wouldn't give it a name. Like most turians, he would stomp down his emotions and forget about them until later when they came boiling to the surface.

By that point, the ship was nearing the edge of the Terminus systems, a much more dangerous place for an Alliance vessel to be. They'd spent nearly four days searching up and down a sector near the border, looking for any sign of the geth. Several ships had gone missing in the area, so there was definitely something happening there, but Garrus was skeptical that it was geth.

He was making his way over to the mess hall, listening to Joker's status report on the comm system, when the ship shook violently. Several nearby crew members went flying, and even Garrus didn't have the balance he needed to keep himself steady during such an impact. He toppled forward as another blast hit the ship.

The hull breach alarms went off and Garrus rushed down to grab his gear from the cargo hold. Suiting up, he took the ladder back up as more blasts hit the ship. The crew was in chaos, running around trying to get their gear together frantically.

Where was Shepard?

Garrus hurried up the stairs to the CIC to find himself surrounded by a sea of orange flames, the heat overwhelming. He moved forward, past the bodies of crew members who'd been killed in the blast, blood pooling on the floor beneath them, running to meet Joker at the helm. Pressly and his ensign lay dead on the floor behind the pilot. Garrus stepped carefully over them, his body too flooded with adrenaline to process the full reality of what was happening.

"Joker, what's happening?" He demanded.

"Ship's been hit. I don't know what it was. Some huge ship…maybe a Reaper…" Joker's face was covered in sweat, hands moving frantically across the ship's control display.

"We need to evacuate!" Garrus cried. "There's a dozen dead already. Where's Shepard?"

"I don't know. Go save yourself, Garrus. I'm not leaving my ship," Joker waved his hand dismissively.

Garrus didn't have time to argue with him. He would come back for the stubborn pilot, but first he wanted to find Shepard. He ran back toward the command center; pieces of the ship had been breached entirely, a whole section of the wall gone now, an emergency mass effect field holding the ship's atmosphere together.

Shepard stormed from the comm room, fully suited, and ran headlong into Garrus.

"Garrus!" she grabbed his shoulders. "Get to the shuttle."

"I'm not leaving without you," he told her.

"I just had this conversation with Liara. Get your ass out of here."

"Joker's refusing to leave," Garrus told her.

"I'll take care of him. Now go!"


She shook him roughly. "I can't lose you, Garrus. Get on the evac shuttle. Now."

He hesitated. He wanted to drag her to the shuttle with him. But she was bound and determined to get Joker out of his chair and into the escape vessel. He knew it would only be more dangerous for both of them to be up there, the fires raging around them, but he didn't want to leave her. There was a sinking feeling in his stomach. Something wasn't right.

She pushed him away and he ran. It was no use both of them dying for no reason. This was Shepard after all. If she could take down a rogue Spectre and hundreds of geth, she could handle an evacuation protocol; even if it was the most intense evacuation he'd ever experienced.

He hurried to the side of the ship, where the emergency evacuation port with the evac shuttle was. He climbed in and saw that a scarce few of the crew had made it. Liara was there, and Tali, Karin and Engineer Adams, and only a handful of others.

"Where's Shepard?" Tali cried.

Garrus stood by the door of the shuttle, not wanting to strap himself in, his heart pounding in his ears.

"She's getting Joker. She'll make it."

"The commander's dealt with worse than this," Karin assured him.

"Shepard? Do you need help?" Garrus asked into his comm link.

"Negative," she replied quickly. "En route with Joker."

She left her comm link on. They could hear her labored breathing as she carried the pilot along toward the shuttle, the sounds of electronics malfunctioning in the background. Garrus waited, and waited.

"They're prepping another attack," he heard Joker say.

A moment later, Shepard appeared, thrusting Joker forward into the shuttle. Garrus caught him and pushed him into a seat before reaching his hand out to Shepard to pull her in. Her fingers grasped his, a moment that seemed to last an eternity. Before he could get a hold of her and pull her in, though, another blast rocked the ship, exploding between them in a flash of blinding light. She flew backward, grasping at the ship's wall desperately.

"Shepard!" Garrus screamed, nearly launching himself out of the shuttle after her.

She slammed her fist on the shuttle lock on the ship wall and the door sealed shut, sending the evac away from the burning hull of the ship. A second more and Shepard was floating away into space in the opposite direction.

Garrus pounded against the impenetrable steel door of the evac shuttle. "Shepard!" he screamed.

"Garrus," her voice sounded over the open comm link.

"Turn the shuttle around! Turn it around, we can save her!" He demanded.

But it was an automated evac shuttle, meant to send out a distress call and seek out the nearest Alliance vessel. There was no way to control where it went. He stared out the window on the door, watching her body float away. A piece of the ship debris was floating toward her, and a moment later they heard the sound of it ripping through her suit on the comm link.

Garrus slumped to the ground. Shepard struggled to seal the suit back up, the effort sounding out to the entire shuttle, her breath was ragged as the oxygen within the suit depleted itself

"Garrus," she gasped. "I…I…" A series of horrible coughs and gasps escaped her throat.

"Turn it off!" Liara begged. "Turn it off!"

Garrus buried his face in his hands, listening as the last breaths escaped from Shepard's mouth until there was nothing but silence on the other end of the comm link. His entire body felt numb. He had just been lying in bed with her barely two hours earlier. She had survived so much more than this. It couldn't be true, she couldn't be gone.

Unaware of himself or anything around him, his body shook as his subharmonics vibrated in a horrible keening sound. After a moment, Tali unlatched her harness and knelt down on the floor next to him, wrapping her arms around him in a warm embrace.

"I'm sorry, Garrus," she said softly, sniffling; she was crying as well. "I know how close you and Shepard were."

He had no words. His brain couldn't process anything except the fact that Shepard was gone.

Not gone. Dead.

He couldn't control the violent shaking of his chest or the awful noise his subharmonics were making. It was simply too much to bear. He slumped against Tali, barely aware of the others in the shuttle who had also begun to cry.

When the Alliance vessel found them, they were taken in to be returned to the Citadel. The report of Shepard's death seemed to be a devastating blow to everyone who heard, but Garrus selfishly felt that none of them could have possibly hurt more than he did. He didn't know it was possible to feel so much pain without a physical injury to show for it. He wanted to reach inside his chest and pull it out, but it wasn't tangible, which made it all the worse.

He, Tali, and Liara, out of place aboard an Alliance vessel, holed themselves up in one of the store rooms aboard the new ship. The three of them were despondent. Liara had cried so hard he thought she might be sick, until no more tears would come and she could only stare at the ground blankly. He felt a twinge of pity for her; she had only just lost her mother a few months earlier.

How could something like this have happened? This was supposed to be a routine sweep of the traverse. They'd taken on hundreds of geth, what were a few more? It seemed like child's play compared to fighting an indoctrinated Spectre and taking out a Reaper. How could she really be gone?

He kept replaying the comm link broadcast, listening to those horrible, wretched final breaths. Had she been scared? Just like Shepard to put others before herself right to the end. She could have been aboard the shuttle, but it would have meant Joker's death. Garrus felt incredibly guilty for thinking that he would have preferred it that way.

"You have to stop listening to that!" Liara finally yelled. "I can't take it, Garrus, I can't!"

"I'm sorry," he said softly. "If I play it over again, she's not dead…she's still speaking…she…"

Tali put her hand on his and gently shut the comm link off. "It won't bring her back," she said.

The next days passed in a blur. Arriving back on the Citadel, the galaxy seemed to have already received the news of Shepard's passing. People who had never met her, who only knew her as some symbol of heroism, cried on the streets. It felt like the entire Citadel was in mourning for this human, this incredible human, who had brought so many races together, united against a common enemy.

A memorial service was held on the Presidium, but Garrus couldn't bring himself to go. He didn't want to stay and listen to useless platitudes about what an excellent soldier Shepard had been, what kind of hero she was to the Citadel and the humans, meaningless praises from Udina, who had always disliked her. Instead, he stayed home and lay in bed, wishing he could die with her, all of the emotions he had quashed down bubbling to the surface. Had he…loved Shepard? Could a turian love a human? It didn't matter now anyway.

He wasn't sure how long he lay there in bed, wallowing in his own sadness, blinds closed, sheets drawn up around him, replaying that comm link broadcast over and over, wishing he hadn't gotten in the shuttle, wishing he had forced her to come with him, knowing it never would have happened. He missed messages and calls from Tali and Liara, a message from Wrex, from Karin, from Joker, from Chellick, from Pallin, from his father, from half of C-sec. He barely moved except to use the bathroom and get the occasional glass of water. He couldn't remember when he'd last eaten, and whenever he slept, he dreamed that Shepard was still alive, which made the pain all the worse when he woke again.

After several days, he was surprised when the door to his apartment, which he had locked, came open and his father burst into his room.

"Garrus, no one has been able to reach you in days." His father cried, storming over to the side of the bed.

Garrus buried his face in his pillow. "What does it matter?"

"You can't carry on like this, son. You weren't even at her memorial service."

"You were?" Garrus asked, genuinely surprised.

"Yes. I was. I don't like Spectres, and I don't love the idea of my only son wasting his time with a human, but what Shepard did for the Council and the Citadel was a commendable act worthy of military praise. I was also hoping to see you there. I knew you must have been taking it hard." He knelt down close to Garrus. "Would she want to see you like this? Wasting away in your bed?"

Garrus said nothing, reaching over to his bedside table and pressing a button to play the comm link broadcast.

"Garrus…I…I…" Shepard's voice sounded.

His father's face contorted in horror. "You heard her die?"


"You need to delete that, son. It's not going to make her come back and it's only going to make you sick with sadness. You need to get out of bed and take care of yourself. Did she die saving her crew so that you could die anyway?"

Garrus rarely discussed emotional matters with his father; turians in general didn't like to discuss those things, except perhaps with their bond mates; but he felt so hollow and empty that he had to say it out loud to someone.

"I've never hurt so much in my entire life," he told his father, subharmonics trembling. "I didn't know it was possible to feel this terrible. I feel like my heart's been ripped out of my chest. It hurts so badly…"

His father sighed. "I know it hurts, Garrus. It's not easy to lose someone you care about." His voice had a note of surprising compassion. "But it can't get better if you let yourself fall into a depression like this. I've got a job waiting for you at C-sec. Everyone there is worried about you too. It will get better, Garrus, I promise."

"I don't want it to get better. I want her to come back."

His father folded his arms. "Did you love the girl, Garrus?"

"I don't know," he said honestly.

"There's nothing you can do to bring her back, son. I acknowledge that I didn't know Shepard very well, but I seriously doubt she would have wanted to see you like this. Why don't you get up and clean yourself up and I'll make you something to eat?"

He knew his father was right. If Shepard could see him now…she would have asked him what was wrong, talked it out with him, made him feel better. She wouldn't have wanted to see him so sad. It was just hard to reconcile that she was gone. It might take months or years to ever get used to it. He felt like if he stood up and tried to get on with a normal life, he was admitting that it was real, and he didn't want to do that.

But Shepard would have wanted him to. And that's what got him out of that bed, forced him to eat the food his father made, and got him down to C-sec a week later. If he couldn't bring her back, he was damn sure going to work at making the galaxy a safer place in her wake.


Chapter Text

Two years after the destruction of the SSV Normandy.

"Wake up, commander."

Shepard woke with a start, feeling like she'd just been hit with a jolt of electricity. She had no clue where she was and no memory of how she'd gotten there. Alarms sounded all around her, the noise harsh and loud in her ears. Her whole body ached and as she ran her hands over her face she felt scars she didn't recognize. What had happened?

"Your scars haven't finished healing, but I need you to get out of that bed, commander." A woman's voice sounded from somewhere unseen. Was it a comm speaker?

Shepard struggled to push herself up, taking in her surroundings. She was lying on a bed in a sterile room that looked like some sort of laboratory. Her head was spinning. Where was her crew? How had she gotten here?

The memory hit her like a brick: shoving Joker into the evac shuttle, reaching for Garrus' hands, struggling to hold on, the blast burning her out into space, debris ripping through her suit…a struggle to breathe…had she…died? No. She was awake now. But what had happened?

"Shepard," the woman's voice sounded again. "This facility is under attack! You need to get up and get out of there. There's a gun and some armor in the storage locker behind you, that should help."

Shepard sensed the urgency in the woman's voice, whoever she was. She stumbled to her feet, finding it difficult to walk at first, and thrust open the storage locker. She pulled the armor on with thick, clumsy fingers, then grabbed the gun and tested her aim on the wall. She was a little shaky, but she could manage.

"I'm going to guide you through the facility, Shepard. Someone's hacked the security mechs to attack. Someone is trying to kill you. Just follow my lead," the mystery voice said.

Shepard didn't see a better alternative considering she had no clue where she was, no idea how she'd gotten there, and alarms were going off throughout the building. She hurried out of the room and into the next one, down a long corridor with sterile chrome walls, and into a large, open room.

A security mech fired on her when she entered. She ducked behind cover, her heart pounding. The first thought in her mind, under enemy fire, was: 'I wish Garrus were here'. She fired at the mech and took it down in two shots, sweeping up the thermal clip it dropped and moving forward at the mystery woman's behest.

She encountered more mechs as she went, warned ahead of time by the mysterious woman issuing orders over the speaker system. Finally, pressed up against a wall and firing on the mechs, Shepard shouted,

"Who are you and where am I?!"

There was a pause and then the woman spoke. "My name is Miranda Lawson. You're in danger. We can discuss more once we've secured an escape from the facility."

That left Shepard with more questions than it answered, but at least she had a name. She moved on, past a room where a man lay dead and bloodied on the other side of a sheet of bullet-proof glass, fires raging in the distance.

She ran forward, onward and onward, desperately needing to rest; her body felt tired, weak, unnatural. She had so many questions, but a need to survive overrode everything else.

Moving into a new room, she came under fire from three mechs across from her; a chasm several floors deep separated the two sides of the room.

"Shepard, over here!" a man yelled.

This time the voice was actually in the room. A handsome biotic, probably not much older than she was, sat crouched behind the glass barrier preventing access to the floors below, avoiding fire from the mechs. Shepard ran for cover next to him.

"Who are you?" She asked. "Where am I? How do you know my name?"

"Sorry, I know this is probably a little scary right now," the stranger said. "I'm Jacob Taylor. As you can see, things are pretty bad, so we don't have a lot of time to talk. We need to get you to the evac shuttle right away." He spoke slowly and calmly, clearly sensing Shepard's panic.

She rubbed her head and fired on one of the mechs before ducking back down into cover. "What is going on? The last thing I remember, I was floating away from my ship, which had been destroyed. My crew was on an evac shuttle…"

Jacob frowned. "Commander, there's no easy way to say this…" Shepard braced herself for the worst news, expecting him to say that the shuttle had been lost. The thought of Garrus, gone, was the first one in her mind. She really wished she had him here to cover her six. "You've been gone for two years." Jacob finished.

Shepard blinked at him. "What…? Gone? Two years?"

"Like I said, it's a lot to explain."

"It's not 2183?" She asked.

"It's 2185," he responded. "It's a lot to take in, I know. We'll explain everything once we get to the shuttle!" He sent a mech flying with a biotic throw and then helped her to her feet, pulling her along after him.

If her head had been spinning before, she was pretty certain it was going to fly off now. Two years in…what? A coma? What had happened? Did her crew know about this? Or did they think she was dead…?

"Jacob?" a voice sounded over his comm link. "Jacob, this is Wilson. Are you still alive?"

"I'm here, Wilson. With Shepard."

For some reason, the name seemed familiar to Shepard.

"Shepard's alive!? How the…never mind. It can wait. You need to get out of there, go through the service tunnels and meet me at the elevator. We have to get you and Shepard out of here."

Jacob nodded, "Come on, Shepard, this way."

She followed him down more corridors, her lungs aching from the exertion. They ran past more fires, shot down more hacked mechs, the entire time she'd been running and shooting she kept thinking that her body felt disconnected…like it was rebooting itself. Now she knew why. Two years. What had become of her crew?

They finally reached a room where a muscular bald man was waiting near an elevator door. He looked manic upon their approach.

"Good, you made it," he said, shifting impatiently on the spot. "I can't believe it…Shepard's alive." He eyed her unsurely.

"Shepard, this is Wilson. He's the chief medical officer responsible for your recovery," Jacob explained.

"Was I…what exactly happened to me?" she asked, not wanting to speak out loud what she thought had happened.

"You were dead, commander. Absolutely and fundamentally dead," Wilson said. "We found your body and rebuilt you piece by piece."

Shepard felt sick. Dead? For two years? How had they brought her back from the dead?

"Am I…am I some kind of clone?" A horrible feeling was welling in her chest. She felt like the real her. She remembered everything she should have remembered: her entire campaign against Saren, the battle on the Citadel, all of her crew and her friends…Garrus…

"No, commander. You're the same woman you were before you died. We used top of the line technology funded by Cerberus to rebuild you. It cost a lot of money and a lot of time, but clearly the experiment was a success."

"Cerberus?" Shepard had heard of the group, effectively a terrorist organization, funding anti-alien, pro-human colonies and laboratories. They were run by some sort of super-villain figure who called himself the Illusive Man. She'd certainly never heard anything good about them. Why had they brought her back to life? What interest did it serve? Her head was drowning in thoughts…and fatigue. She felt her face again, the scars marring the left side in particular; they hadn't finished her.

"I know Cerberus has a bad rap," Jacob said. "But we want to help you. We'll explain it on the shuttle, like I said. We don't have time to sit around chatting."

"We should go, the evac shuttle is just up the elevator," Wilson said.

"What about Miranda?" Jacob asked. "Have you heard from her?"

"Last time I saw her she was on the other side of the building. It's been overrun by mechs. Whoever hacked the system probably got to her." Wilson shrugged, seeming relatively casual about the possibility of Miranda's death.

Jacob shook his head. "I don't think a handful of mechs could take Miranda out. Let's get Shepard to the shuttle, but we're waiting for Miranda before we pull out."

Wilson smashed the button to the open the elevator, "Fine, but it's your funer-"

The door opened and a gun fired, the bullet slicing through Wilson's skull and lodging into the wall behind him. He slumped to the floor, dead, and a woman stepped out.

She was tall, with a skin-tight suit on that accentuated the curve of her breasts and her hips; a mane of luxurious brown hair and stunning blue eyes completed the look. She was the absolute epitome of modern human beauty. Shepard couldn't help but stare.

"What was that about, Miranda!?" Jacob stormed forward.

She glanced at Wilson's body. "He's the one who hacked the system. He didn't think Shepard would wake up in time. He was trying to sabotage the project, to get Shepard killed. Someone must have paid him handsomely to betray us."

"You're Miranda?" Shepard asked. "You're working with Cerberus?"

Miranda sighed. "Did you tell her, Jacob?"

"No, Wilson did. But I don't think lying to her is going to help our cause."

"We can answer all your questions on the shuttle, commander. Right now we need to get you out of here," Miranda ushered her into the elevator, Jacob close behind.

The elevator rose up and opened onto the shuttle port. There was only one evac shuttle remaining, so they climbed in and Miranda entered the coordinates for some unknown location, likely a Cerberus facility. The shuttle took off and Shepard leaned back, watching the wreckage of the laboratory disappear into space, her heart rate finally slowing.

"Before we answer your questions, commander, we have a few for you. It's just a quick check of your memory. The Illusive Man was very clear that we bring you back exactly as you were, no changes. So I need to make sure you still have all your old memories," Miranda said.

Shepard nodded. "Whatever, I'll answer your questions if you answer mine."

Miranda fired off a series of biographical questions, some things only Shepard would know, some that she would remember but someone like a clone, for instance, would never have known. Where was she born? Where did the blitz occur? What captain did she serve under before taking over the Normandy? What teammate was lost on Virmire? The last question stung. Ash's death still felt fresh, only a few month's old in her mind, though it had really been years now. She must have been her real self to feel the guilt and shame welling up in her as she answered that question.

"I think you've asked her enough." Jacob stepped in. "She's still adjusting to all of this. It's clearly her."

Miranda seemed satisfied. "So, what do you want to know?"

"Did the crew from the Normandy survive the attack that killed me?" It was the most pressing question on her mind.

"Not all of them. I understand there were ten occupants in the shuttle that was intercepted by an Alliance cruiser. Your pilot, Jeff Moreau, and the ship medic, Karin Chakwas: both survived, as well as your lieutenant, Kaidan Alenko. In addition, I understand that all of the non-human crew members made it out as well. A quarian, a turian, and an asari? You could have started a new Council on your crew, commander." Miranda smiled, but there was no warmth behind it.

Shepard slumped back against her seat, relieved. At least her friends had made it out, though many of the crew had lost their lives it seemed.

"Do you know what happened to any of them?" she asked.

"We did try to build dossiers on them," Miranda shrugged. "Dr. T'soni's been busy on Illium, but doing what, it's been very hard to find out. The quarian returned to the flotilla, but we have no other information on her either. Garrus Vakarian was working with C-sec for a while, but then he left the Citadel and fell of the grid. He hasn't been seen or heard from in over a year. Kaidan Alenko's still with the Alliance as far as we're aware."

The report made Shepard tense. Tali and Kaidan were safe at least, and they knew where Liara was. But what about Garrus? What had become of him in the two years that she was dead? How had he handled her death? She had so many questions burning inside her. All she wanted was to find Garrus. She'd never felt so confused or alone, waking up after two years dead, in Cerberus custody with no one she knew or trusted around her; it felt overwhelming. Garrus would have calmed her down, talked some sense into her, helped her figure it out.

"So the whole galaxy thinks I'm dead?" she asked.

"Yes, they held a memorial service for you on the Citadel a few days after the incident. It was a very difficult time for many people. When they find out you're still alive, I imagine it will inspire a lot of hope," Miranda answered.

"What are the logistics of…? Never mind. I can't think about any of it right now."

"We've taken care of most of it. All of the documentation is sorted."

Shepard leaned her head against the cool glass window. She was exhausted, though she'd only been awake for maybe an hour. Her body was still recovering from being rebuilt from the ground up, it seemed. She closed her eyes, afraid she might die again, but too tired to dwell on it long.

Jacob shook her awake a while later, though how long she'd been asleep, she couldn't say. He helped her from the shuttle and led her inside a new facility, as sterile as the last one, but considerably less on fire. It was a Cerberus space station of some sort.

She followed Jacob and Miranda into a large room that reminded her of the lobby at the Citadel embassies. Miranda took a seat at a desk containing an extranet terminal and went to work typing.

"Just follow the steps down that way." She pointed across the room. "The Illusive Man is waiting for you."

Shepard ventured forward unsurely, still feeling a bit drowsy from her nap, and unsteady on her newly rebuilt legs. She crossed the room and made her way down the steps into a dark room with a single circular pad in the center. When she stepped onto the pad, a hologram room generated around her, with a view of a seated man's silhouette outlined against the burning sun of whatever star system it belonged to.

"Commander Shepard," the man said, taking a long drag from a cigarette. "Good to see my investment paid off."

"I was under the impression we'd be meeting face to face," she told him.

"Too risky, you'll understand. How are you feeling?"

Shepard folded her arms across her chest. "I'd say I'm feeling more than a little confused. What interest does Cerberus have in bringing me back? Why spend the money? There are plenty of skilled soldiers in the world."

"Because, commander, few know what you and I know. That humanity will soon be facing the greatest threat of its brief existence." The Illusive Man's eyes flashed in the dark, some strange cybernetic quality shining behind them.

"The Reapers," Shepard said.

"Yes. I know the sort of reputation Cerberus has, but we have the same goal here, commander. While you were dead, human colonies have been going missing. Not just a few people, entire colonies: gone. We believe it's another agent of the Reapers, just like Saren and the geth."

"Still, why me? Plenty of soldiers fought in the Battle of the Citadel."

"Yes, but you're more than just a soldier," he explained, "you're a symbol, Shepard, a beacon of hope to humanity; someone who inspires others and brings them together. Someone who took down an agent of the Reapers…and a Reaper itself. Even they can appreciate the importance of that."

"So, what then? You bring me back to life and hold that over my head as a reason to help you with…whatever it is you want me to do?" Shepard asked, still skeptical and untrusting of the entire organization, and still disoriented and overwhelmed.

"I believe we're working toward the same cause, commander," the Illusive Man said, inhaling from his cigarette once more. "Cerberus is committed to the preservation and advancement of human society. If the Reapers are trying to end humanity, we're going to put up a fight. No one can force you to work for us, but I think you'll find that Cerberus can allot far more resources to stopping the Reapers than the Council is willing to commit."

Shepard couldn't argue with that, especially if the Council thought she was dead. They'd been reticent to offer support even after an actual Reaper attacked the station; after two years of relative peace, they'd be even less likely to help. Still, working for Cerberus didn't sit well with her. If she was going to go through with this, she would have to find a balance between following their orders, and carving her own path.

"So, then what's your plan?" She asked.

"I want you to investigate one of the missing colonies. That will allow us both to test each other. We can see what you're capable of, you can see what's happening to these people, bring back any clues, and see how you work with my operatives. If you think it's a cause worth joining, we can discuss it when you return."

Shepard nodded. "Fine. A trial run."

"Exactly. I look forward to your report, Shepard."

The hologram blinked out and she was back in the dark room. Still unsure of the entire thing, but recognizing her options were limited, she scaled the steps back into the main room where Jacob and Miranda were waiting.

"Ready when you are, commander," Jacob said.

Shepard would never be ready, but at that point, she would just have to go with it and see where things took her. It seemed that even dying wasn't a good enough excuse for a break from doing what she did best.

Chapter Text

Freedom's Progress was a small human colony on the edge of the Terminus systems, located on a cold and remote planet rarely visited by human kind. Shepard wasn't sure what the purpose of the colony had been, but knew that every last occupant of the place had gone missing all at once. She had to privately agree with the Illusive Man that the tactic seemed like something only the Reapers would be capable of.

Almost immediately after Shepard, Miranda, and Jacob disembarked from the shuttle on Freedom's Progress, they were greeted to gunfire from mechs assigned to protect the colony from alien intrusion. Most attacks on human colonies that far into the traverse were carried out by batarian slavers and pirates that frequented the stars of the Terminus systems. Colony mechs weren't supposed to shoot at human targets, but they had clearly malfunctioned.

They took them out with relative ease. Miranda and Jacob were both skilled biotics, and their aim with a gun wasn't bad either. Shepard wasn't sure if she trusted them, but they would at least keep her covered under gunfire. There was no suitable replacement for Garrus, though, or for the combined biotic powers Liara and Kaidan brought together on the field, and she couldn't help but think that Tali would have made even quicker work of the mechs with a simple hack into their systems. She wanted her old squad back.

The colony had an eerie, unsettling feeling to it as they wandered through, searching homes and buildings for any sign of life. There weren't any bodies, and in some homes food sat cold on the table, as though the occupants had just sat down to eat and then disappeared. The only sound as they moved around was the noise of crunching snow beneath their feet. The snow fell in soft, gentle flakes from above, but the cold only made Shepard more apprehensive.

They encountered more mechs as they progressed through the colony; some of them were heavy duty infantry mechs meant for battle, and those proved to be a little harder to take down than the simple LOKI models they'd encountered before. Getting her blood flowing with a battle against mechs helped Shepard get into the right mindset for battle. They may not have been intelligent, like geth, but the enemy felt similar enough that for a moment she could trick herself into thinking it was Liara and Kaidan flanking her with barriers and biotic throws, rather than these two strangers in Cerberus attire.

"What could have happened here?" Jacob asked as they passed through another home and out the other side. Dolls lay on the floor, and snow had been blown in through the open doorway.

"Hopefully we can find some clues," Shepard said. She didn't like it at all. Perhaps the Illusive Man had known how bad it would be here, to play to her sympathies. She hated to think it was working, but the thought came that if he was really looking to stop whatever was doing this, and if it really was the Reapers, it might be worth sticking around with his funding to put an end to it.

Wrex would have told her she was being too soft, if she'd voiced the thought.

They moved across a shared yard into another housing unit. The door was locked, but Shepard bypassed it with a newly received omni-tool. Before they'd left the Cerberus station, Miranda had outfitted her with new armor and weapons. They didn't fit quite like Alliance-issue armor, but they were sturdy enough and the shields were more than sufficient.

When the door slid open, they were greeted to a group of quarians, one of them pointing a gun at them.

"Stop right there, stop or I'll shoot!" the male quarian with the gun shouted.

Shepard put her hands up and her new squad-mates followed suit. One of the other quarians was on the ground looking at something, unperturbed, while the other hopped up.

"Prazza, I told you I would handle any intrusions."

Shepard's heart skipped a beat. The voice was familiar…but was it really her? Her suit had changed, a deeper purple, with new upgrades, but it must be. She wished it was easier to tell quarians apart.

The quarian in question looked up and a gasp escaped her mask. "Shepard…?"

"Tali?" Shepard felt flooded with relief. A friendly face, so to speak, in all this chaos and confusion went a long way in assuaging some of her discomfort.

Tali pushed the other quarian away and stepped forward unsurely. "Shepard, you…it can't be…" she stepped closer and closer. "You were dead…we saw you…we…we heard you die."

"Heard me?" Shepard's skin prickled with goosebumps. Had her comm link been on when the air left her suit? She couldn't remember.

"Garrus had you on the comm link," Tali confirmed. "How are you alive?" She eyed Jacob and Miranda unsurely, noting their Cerberus attire. "What are you doing with Cerberus?" There was an accusation in her tone.

"It's a long story, Tali. It's me, I swear. Remember that shooting contest we had with your drone? And I beat Garrus and I never let him live it down? Or…what about the time we took out a geth armature while you were perched on my shoulder in the mako?" She was trying to think of any instance that might assure Tali that it was really her.

Tali seemed to relax. "I don't know how it's true, but you're really here. How long have you been…alive? …and with Cerberus?"

Shepard laughed. "A few hours, maybe? To answer both questions."

"Have you contacted Garrus? No one's heard from him in ages. He really took your death hard, Shepard. Worse than any of us."

Shepard shook her head. "I don't know how to get in touch with him or where he is."

"You'll find him," Tali assured her. "What's with Cerberus, then?"

"They, um…" Shepard thought of a way to say it that didn't sound crazy, but there was none. It was crazy enough that she was standing in front of someone who had heard her die. "They rebuilt me. Brought me back. I'm investigating this colony with them, since we heard the humans disappeared. What are you doing here?"

"One of our own was here on his Pilgrimage. A man named Veetor. He came here to help the colony, get away from large crowds. He's a little…"

"Unstable," Prazza, the male quarian finished for her.

"We heard about the humans disappearing, but Veetor's suit was still giving readings, though we think it's been damaged. We came to find him, but when he saw us approaching, he ran to the other side of the colony and locked himself inside one of the buildings. We think he programmed the mechs to attack anything that moves," Tali explained.

"Maybe the quarian can tell us what happened here," Miranda suggested.

Shepard nodded. "Let us help you, Tali. We'll get you to Veetor. He can potentially tell us what happened to the people who lived here and you can get him home."

"We won't turn down the help." Tali sighed, "Damn, Shepard, it's so good to see you…alive and breathing…I just can't believe it. Two years…"

"I know. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around it."

"Are we moving or not?" Prazza demanded.

"Okay, we'll take out the drones, you make your way through the main yard past the side door here. There's a compound of buildings on the other side where Veetor is hiding," Tali told them.

Shepard beckoned for Miranda and Jacob to follow her. They moved out of the side door and into the expansive yard stretching between the two building compounds.

"Do you really think we should trust the quarians, Shepard?" Miranda asked.

"Tali is the quarian that was with me when I fought Saren. I'd trust her with my life. If you're not comfortable with that, feel free to go back to the shuttle. I'll do this on my own," Shepard replied gruffly.

"No need to get defensive, commander. I was only asking."

"Forgive me if I'm defensive around two strangers who pulled me back from the dead and immediately thrust me into battle," Shepard growled. "It might take me a little while to trust you."

"I rebuilt you from nothing, Shepard. If you should trust anyone, it should be me." Miranda's reply was terse.

"Enough!" Jacob spat. "Let's just focus on the mission."

Shepard could agree with that. They made their way across the yard, the quarians behind them taking out security drones that had been alerted to their presence, but halfway across the yard, a series of LOKI models and larger mechs came flooding from the buildings.

Shepard ducked behind some stairs to take cover and fired on them, too preoccupied to attempt hacking into any of them. Guns fired and missiles flew, smoke clouding the battlefield as they fought. The quarians stepped into the fray, some of them trying to hack the mechs, and others firing on them. Miranda, to Shepard's surprise, put a barrier around Tali while she worked, while Jacob covered both of them with gunfire against the mechs.

From her position, Shepard was at a good vantage point to shoot without being shot at. It provided some good practice for restoring her aim, her arms rusty from two years of disuse…or non-existence. She wasn't completely clear on the full story of how they'd rebuilt her, and she didn't particularly want to know the details.

When the mechs were down and the smoke had cleared, two of the quarians were dead, face down in pools of their own blood, and a few of the others were injured. Thanks to Miranda and Jacob, Tali was unscathed.

Shepard, Jacob, and Miranda helped the quarians carry their wounded into a nearby housing unit on the other side of the yard. Miranda offered Tali some medi-gel, but it would take more than a little assistance for Shepard to trust the woman.

"Go now, Shepard. Veetor should be in one of the buildings behind this one," Tali told her.

"Tali, I'm sorry about your other squad mates. They…" Shepard started.

"Prazza was an idiot. He stormed into the battle unprepared even though I told him to hang back. I'm not saying I wished him dead, but a fool gets what they deserve. Now go on. I'll tend to the wounded here." She urged Shepard onward.

They stepped out of the housing unit and searched the buildings in the rest of the compound until they found one with a locked door, noises issuing from inside. Shepard used her omni-tool to force the lock open and they stepped inside.

A grid of vid screens and terminal interfaces had been placed upon the wall, all the lights were shut off, and a single quarian sat in a seat in front of the vid screens, shaking and holding his arms.

"M-monsters coming back," The quarian quavered. "Have to hide. No monsters. No swarms. No-no-no monsters…no-no swarms…no-no-no-no…"

"Veetor…?" Shepard moved carefully forward.

"No. No Veetor here. Monsters can't find him. No monsters. No swarms…" the quarian shook his head, refusing to look at them.

"Veetor, it's okay. You're safe now. We're here to help you."

"He's useless," Miranda sighed.

Shepard's blood boiled, but it wasn't the time to snap at anyone. She put a hand gently on Veetor's shoulder and he jumped, whirling around and standing up. He relaxed a little when he saw them.

"You're…you're humans. But…the monsters didn't get you?"

"What happened here, Veetor?" Shepard asked gently. "Why was there no sign of a struggle? Why didn't the colonists fight back?"

"The monsters…the swarms…" Veetor shuddered. "They didn't see. The monsters came. They took everyone. They didn't see, but I see everything…" He wandered back to the terminal interface and hit a button. Security footage popped up on the vid screens above.

The footage was blurry and hard to make out, but there was something on the screen. Swarms of bug-like creatures flew buy, and some sort of vehicle…or pod…was being moved past a gate. A creature was walking alongside the pod, difficult to see on the poor-quality footage. It didn't look like anything Shepard had ever seen.

"Oh my God." Miranda moved closer to the screen. "I think that's a Collector."

"What's a Collector?" Shepard asked. She'd never heard the term applied to a lifeform before. "Some kind of alien?"

"They're a species that lives somewhere beyond the Omega 4 relay," Jacob explained. "Only a few people have ever seen them in person."

"Usually they work through intermediaries. Like slavers or mercs," Miranda added. "If they're involved with the Reapers somehow…it could explain how the colonists went missing."

"They have access to advanced technology. It's possible they have something that could incapacitate an entire colony at once," Jacob said.

"The seeker swarms…" Veetor sounded beside the terminal. "No one can hide. No one can hide. The seeker finds you…freezes you…then the monsters take you away. They took all the people, put them onto a ship…took them away. But they'll be back for me. No one escapes…"

Tali emerged in the doorway as Veetor finished. "Veetor, you're still alive!"

"He's in quite a state, Tali, he needs to be looked after," Shepard said.

"We should take him with us." Miranda stepped forward. "He has valuable data."

"Like hell you will," Tali growled. "He's coming home with us."

"Shepard, you can't just let them take him. We need that data," Miranda protested.

"You can take whatever data you want from Veetor's omni-tool, but Veetor comes with us," Tali said. "This isn't negotiable."

"I'm not forcing a traumatized quarian to come with us," Shepard told Miranda and Jacob. "We take the data and we leave."

"Thank you, Shepard." Tali was visibly relieved. "I'm glad someone has their head on in this operation."

"I could use a friend on this squad, Tali," Shepard offered. "Someone I can trust."

She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Shepard, but I have my own mission. It's too important to abandon, even for you. If I'm still alive when it's over…I'll consider it. Cerberus or not, I trust you. Whatever you're doing, I hope it works out. And I hope you find the others. They'll want to know you're alive before they have to hear it on the news."

Miranda pulled the data from Veetor's omni-tool onto hers while Jacob shut down the remaining mech systems through the terminal interface. Tali walked with them back to the shuttle.

"I'm so confused, Tali. I don't know if I'm doing the right thing," Shepard confided. "But it seems like…even though Cerberus is terrible, they want to stop whoever is doing this to the colonies. I think it has something to do with the Reapers. Shouldn't I work with them, use their resources, even if it means having to answer to Cerberus? Shouldn't that price be worth paying to take on the Reapers?"

Tali shrugged. "I can't answer that for you, Shepard. But I know that you're one of the smartest and bravest soldiers I've ever worked with. You gave me confidence in my own abilities, which was worth more than anything I brought back from my pilgrimage. I trust you and I know that whatever choice you make, it will be the right one."

They hugged, and Shepard felt unwelcome tears welling in her eyes. She didn't want to leave Tali behind on Freedom's Progress. She needed a friend, now more than ever.

"Good luck with your task, Tali," she said, wiping her eyes.

"Keelah se'lai, Shepard. I know we'll meet again."

Watching the quarian slowly fade from view as the shuttle pulled away from the colony was one of the hardest things Shepard had ever done. She decided, whatever the Illusive Man's plans, she would work with him, but she was going to have a say in the squad that took on the problem. She wasn't going to take orders, but she couldn't' squander the opportunity to have nearly unlimited funds with which to fight what was very likely the Reaper threat. She would do whatever she had to if it meant putting an end to them.

Back on the Ceberus station, the Illusive Man debriefed with Shepard in the darkened hologram projection room. Shepard agreed to work with him, because she knew what was at stake. He agreed that the Collectors were likely working in conjunction with the Reapers, so the goal was to find out what their purpose was, save the colonists that had been taken, and ultimately stop the Reapers. The Council would never afford Shepard this opportunity, so she had to seize it. Part of her did wonder if she was agreeing to work with Cerberus because she felt indebted to them for bringing her back to life, but it didn't matter what the motivation was. Their end goal was the same.

The Illusive Man had assured Shepard that she would be in charge of building the squad to take on this task. She'd asked yet again about her old squad mates, but he barely addressed the issue. Wrex was on Tuchanka, as he'd planned, and wouldn't be interested in fighting alongside Cerberus anyway. Kaidan would never turn away from the Alliance to fight with Cerberus. As for Garrus and Liara, it was still largely unknown where their exact location was. All he could say about Liara is that she was somewhere on Illium.

"I have a set of dossiers that have been prepared for you," The Illusive Man explained. "These are all skilled individuals with a unique set of abilities that they can bring to the team. They've been painstakingly compiled. Some of them have been informed of the potential contracts, others will require some convincing. I've heard how persuasive you can be, Shepard. You can take as many or as few of these people along with you as you please. I recommend collecting as much help as you can get. You, of all people, know what kind of enemy we're up against. Miranda will provide the dossiers. Remember, Shepard, I'm just giving the direction. What you do with it is up to you, but I trust you'll make the right decision."

"And the Council? Should I tell them I'm alive?" She asked.

"I'm still deciding on what to do about the news. For the time being you may want to avoid the Citadel. Oh, and one more thing, Shepard."

"What's that?" Shepard asked, annoyed with the man. She could read all the dossiers she wanted, skill couldn't replace battle-earned trust.

"I've found a pilot I think you might like."

The hologram communication cut out. Shepard turned around to retreat back up the stairs only to see Joker standing before her in full Cerberus attire. She couldn't formulate any words at the surprise she had when she saw him, so instead she instinctively wrapped her arms around him in a hug.

He smiled. "Glad to see you in one piece, Commander."

"I'm just glad to have a familiar face around here again. But what are you doing with Cerberus?"

"Follow me." He led her back up the stairs and around to a long corridor. "When you died…God it's crazy that you're alive again, by the way. But when you died, everything fell apart. Everything the battle with Sovereign stirred up, the Council just wanted it gone. The team split up, Liara and Garrus took it really hard. And the Alliance grounded me. They took away the only thing I cared about. Cerberus gave me a chance to be a pilot again, so I joined them."

"What do you think, though, Joker? Can we trust the Illusive Man?" Shepard asked, thankful beyond belief to have someone, anyone, she could trust with her.

"Trust him? Nah. I don't trust anyone who makes more than I do. But…I gotta figure, Cerberus aren't all bad. They brought you back, right? And they let me fly again. And of course…there's this."

He opened the door at the end of the corridor and led her into a large hangar. The lights shot on one by one to illuminate the massive ship occupying the space below. Shepard's heart felt like bursting at the sight of it. There she was, her Normandy, better looking and improved, certainly, but there all the same.

"Wait til you see the inside, commander. It's like my baby, but better! We'll have to give her a name, of course."

Shepard smiled. "I can think of a good one."

Chapter Text

The inside of the new Normandy was like no ship Shepard had ever been on in her life. Parts of it were familiar: the bridge and the command control center were largely the same, if not cleaned up, but so much had been restructured, the space repurposed to better suit the needs of what could turn out to be a very difficult mission. On the left-hand side of the ship, a space for a tech lab had been installed, and on the right side, a weapons maintenance and upgrading station. Connecting the two sections was a new comm room, with a conference table and a large hologram pad like the one in the Ceberus facility.

Joker spent an excessive amount of time waxing poetic about his new chair and the comfort it provided. Shepard was glad to see him happy, even if she was still apprehensive despite, or perhaps because of, all Cerberus was providing her.

A central elevator, which operated much more quickly than the old Normandy's elevator, led down to the floor below, where a new crew deck had been built. Miranda had a private cabin in the same location as Shepard's former cabin, a forward battery with new guns had been installed at the front end of the ship, and two observation decks and a life support room had been added in the back. The med bay was there, newly upgraded as well, but with the important addition of one more familiar face.

Karin Chakwas had been hired on by Cerberus as well, it seemed, drawn to the project for similar reasons to Joker's, and committed to stay now that Shepard was helming it. It made Shepard less apprehensive to know she had two people she could trust on board. It would make up for building a new squad without anyone she knew on it.

A new engineering deck with a new drive core had also been built one floor down, and a small shuttle bay below that housed a brand-new transport shuttle for missions. The crew was entirely made up of Cerberus employees, but many of them seemed like decent people. Shepard was having a hard time meshing her previous knowledge of Cerberus with what she was seeing here.

The most chipper and enthusiastic member of the crew was Shepard's new personally appointed yeoman, Kelly Chambers, who stood by in the new CIC ready to take orders and provide any information Shepard could need. She was a sweet young girl, not older than her early twenties, eager and enthusiastic about almost everything, it seemed. Talking to her gave Shepard whiplash, but she seemed nice, and that was important.

Perhaps the one feature Shepard disliked about the ship was the new interface that had been built into it. It was an AI, an actual honest-to-God AI, with a feminine voice, calling itself EDI, that helped man the battle controls and could provide information on the ground, but could not directly access the ship's controls. Joker referred to her as 'ship cancer', not fond of his new co-pilot. Several EDI terminals were located around the ship. Shepard was distrustful; the quarians had taught the galaxy that building and utilizing AIs was a slippery slope. And even with shackles, the AI was still a tool by which the Illusive Man could spy on her. EDI insisted she was not designed to spy, but the abundance of her access terminals on the ship suggested otherwise to Shepard.

The one place of solace she had on the ship was her new cabin. Where the observation deck had been, they had instead built an enormous cabin, complete with a wall-length fish tank, a massive and comfortable new bed, a recessed sofa, a minibar, a desk and private terminal, and a bathroom the size of her old cabin. There was no EDI terminal in the room, one place she could have complete privacy.

It was there that she read through the dossiers the Illusive Man had provided for her. He hadn't been lying when he said there were a lot of options, all with unique skill-sets. She wasn't sure how to decide where to go first. None of the dossiers had names attached, only code names. Some of them, Shepard thought, were ridiculously stupid. She hoped the Illusive Man had come up with the names and not the recruits themselves. For instance, what kind of sniper called himself 'Archangel'?

Still, a sniper was what Shepard wanted first and foremost. Someone to replace Garrus' much needed skill set. Someone to cover her six, though it wouldn't be the same.

The sniper, codenamed Archangel, was located on Omega, a horrible backwater space station in the Terminus system that was crawling with criminals. Shepard had only heard about the place second hand, but what she'd heard had been enough. As it happened, there were two other dossiers for potential squad members on Omega, so it seemed like the logical first step.

After reporting to Miranda and Joker that Omega would be their first stop, Shepard let herself get some much-deserved rest in her new, incredibly comfortable bed. She recognized that the luxuries she was being afforded on this new ship were part of the Illusive Man's bid to win her over, but she couldn't be bothered to worry herself with that for the moment. Why not take advantage of the comfort while it lasted? She would keep the upper hand on the Illusive Man, one way or another.

"This place is such a shit heap," Miranda said as they disembarked on Omega.

Shepard was inclined to agree. The first sight they were greeted to was a batarian, crawling along on all fours, vomiting onto the walkway. The smell of garbage and other filth was an immediate assault on the senses. As far as Shepard was concerned, the sooner they got off of the station, the better, but they had three potential pickups to make in the area.

She was still reconciling herself with the idea that she would have to build up a squad of strangers, some of whom had been paid off by Cerberus. It was going to be hard to inspire confidence in her team if she didn't trust half of them. She'd spent some of the nearly week-long trip to Omega trying to get to know Miranda and Jacob a little better, but Miranda was a closed book, uninterested in opening up. Jacob only made small talk. Neither situation eased her concerns.

Halfway up the walkway from the docks, a batarian stopped them, arms crossed, stern look on all four of his eyes.

"Aria T'Loak wants to see you, commander Shepard," he greeted them.

"You know who I am?" Shepard asked.

"We had you tagged the moment you entered the Terminus systems. Aria wants to know what a dead Spectre is doing on her station. I suggest you follow me to Afterlife and explain yourself."

Shepard sighed. It was going to be an interesting stay on the station, to say the least. She, Miranda, and Jacob, followed the batarian away from the docks and into the central part of the station.

The interior of Omega had its own internal skyline of sorts, buildings that looked like they'd been built pieces at a time, by different architects, ramshackle and close to falling over. The smell in the air was pervasive no matter where they went. At the heart of the main level where they stood was an enormous nightclub, surrounded by flashing lights and a line of people desperate to get in.

A vorcha tried to pilfer something from Shepard's pocket as they went and she grabbed his arm, twisting it so sharply it almost broke.

"You want to think again?" Shepard asked.

The vorcha howled. "Let go! No steal!"

She dropped his arm and continued following the batarian.

"Best not to make a scene in a place like this, Shepard," Miranda warned.

"It's not making scene to show everyone around here that they had better not fuck with me," Shepard replied harshly. She realized she'd been on edge since they'd brought her back, a normal side effect of being an effective prisoner of a completely mysterious and unknown enemy turned ally while trying to realize she'd been dead for two years, or so she guessed.

The batarian led them past the line of people outside of the club, Afterlife, and into the antechamber, a wall of virtual fire lining the way to the main door. The people already inside barely took notice of them. Even with their armor and weapons, they didn't look out of place in the nightclub. On Omega, few people walked around without some form of protection. In fact, half of the occupants inside the club appeared to be mercs.

Miranda and Jacob were stopped at the foot of a set of stairs leading to a balcony that overlooked the entire club.

"Only Shepard goes further. You wait for her down here," the batarian warned.

Miranda was clearly uneasy about this. Shepard was a personal investment in Miranda's eyes; it was clear she didn't want her to be put in danger without any backup, but Shepard wasn't concerned. She had dealt with thugs before, and that was what Omega specialized in.

Shepard had read up on Aria T'Loak, in the process of investigating Omega for their mission. She was an asari with a reputation for violence, an asari that ruled Omega with an iron fist. No one crossed her and got away with it. If she would be willing to talk, she could give useful intel on potentially all three of the targets from Shepard's dossiers.

Two batarians led Shepard up to the balcony, where Aria stood looking over the club, her silhouette outlined against the backdrop of neon lighting.

"Surrender your weapons, Spectre," one of the batarians said.

"I'll be keeping them, if it's all the same to you. If I wanted your boss dead, she'd already be dead."

"Such confidence," Aria spoke. "But you can never be too careful with a dead Spectre. It could be anyone wearing your face. Let her through."

The batarians moved aside reluctantly and Aria beckoned Shepard to have a seat across from her on the couch that stretched along the balcony. Shepard sat, tense, observing Aria and waiting for her to speak. She was a purple-skinned asari, with unusual facial tattoos above her eyes and down her chin. She looked Shepard up and down, but whatever she was thinking was well masked by her muted expression.

"What business do you have on my station?" she finally asked.

"I'm looking for someone that goes by the name Archangel," Shepard explained.

Aria laughed, "Get in line. Half of Omega wants that bastard dead. He's done something even I couldn't manage, he brought together the Blue Suns, the Blood Pack, and Eclipse. All united in their hatred for him."

Shepard had read about these groups as well, major merc groups in the Terminus systems.

"Do you know who he is? Or where I can find him?" She asked.

"What do you want with him?"

"I want to recruit him. The rest of the details are my business."

Aria smiled, but there was cruelness behind it. "I like you, Shepard. You're nothing at all like I would have imagined a good Alliance soldier to be."

Surrounded by unknown variables and unknown partners, Shepard didn't have the time or energy to be a "good Alliance soldier", especially in a cesspool like Omega. She would do what she had to, get what she needed. She couldn't be kind without some sort of trust behind her, and outside of the Normandy's pilot and medic, she had none.

"Dying has a way of changing people," Shepard replied coolly.

"Well, I'm happy just to let the merc groups and Archangel kill each other, but if you want him, you can take him. He's been smart enough to steer clear of me, but anyone else who makes their own rules, which is…everyone on Omega, tends to find themselves on the wrong end of his gun. The merc groups have him cornered down in some warehouse, but they're having trouble taking him out. They've been recruiting anyone with a gun to help them. They're basically using the hired help as cannon fodder, but I'd assume you're a bit more resilient than that. You came back from the dead, after all," Aria laughed.

"Do you know where they're recruiting?" Shepard asked.

If the merc groups had Archangel cornered, it might be too late to recruit him, and there weren't any other snipers on the list of dossiers she'd been given. Of course, if they failed to get to him in time, she might be able to convince Cerberus to let her search for Garrus instead.

"They're right downstairs. They rented out one of the rooms here to recruit. Go and talk to them, I'm sure they'd love to sign you up." Aria shrugged.

Shepard stood up. "Thanks for your help."

"How sweet," Aria said. "Still a bit of good girl in you yet, hm, Shepard? I could change that for you if you like."

Shepard shook her head. "You couldn't handle me."

She heard Aria laugh as she headed back down the stairs and reunited with Miranda and Jacob.

"So?" Jacob asked. "What's the plan?"

"Well, I don't think you're going to like it," She told them.

"We do what we have to do. The people on these dossiers are the best of the best. If you want a sniper, we need to go after Archangel," Miranda told her.

"We have to sign up with one of the local merc groups. They're planning an attack on the guy. That will get us an in, but they have to think we're on their side. Once we get in and get to Archangel, we can turn. They have him cornered, so we can help him get out and back to the docks," Shepard explained.

Miranda looked skeptical, but they headed into the room where the recruiter was located anyway. The recruiter was a batarian, wearing the white and blue armor of the Blue Suns group. When they approached him about joining the cause, he began to read of a spiel he had clearly read before: they would receive five hundred credits if they managed to take Archangel down, but if any of them died, the others couldn't claim the credits; they were signing on as freelancers, not as members of the merc groups; they waived all liability to the merc groups; they must provide their own weapons and armor.

When all of the contract stipulations were agreed to, the three of them were ushered out with a group of about twenty other 'freelancers' and crammed into a shuttle that would take them to Archangel's base of operations, where the merc groups had set up bases as well, throwing every hired gun they could find at the sniper.

Shepard was surprised to see them throwing so much firepower at one man, but if he had been holding off hordes of incoming mercs, for days it sounded like, he must have been one hell of a sniper, and that made him worth having on the team. Even if he wasn't Garrus.

Chapter Text

Garrus didn't imagine his life coming to an end this way, holed up in a room above a warehouse, taking out incoming mercs and dodging for cover every time his shields cut out. He'd been in the room for days, fending off members of every major merc group on Omega, and when they'd grown tired of expending their own resources, they'd sent hired hands after him instead.

He'd come to Omega with a naïve hope that he could make a difference somewhere where it might really matter; in the wake of Shepard's death, nothing had been fulfilling. At C-sec, he had crossed the line too many times. Any other officer would have been fired for some of the things he'd done, but he was let off with warnings, and saddled with red tape. So he'd left, searching for somewhere that he could improve, somewhere in need of law and order. Omega had been the perfect solution.

He'd fallen off the grid after that, not responding to contacts from anyone, shutting out his past life to usher in this new one. He couldn't have people on Omega knowing who he had been outside of the Terminus systems. The locals had taken to calling him Archangel, because of the good deeds he and his team had carried out. He didn't love the name, but he didn't hate it either.

But his team was gone now, the result of betrayal by one of his own, and he was trapped in the warehouse. His water stores had run out earlier that day and he hadn't eaten in days. He was dizzy, running on stims, and, though his aim was still nearly impeccable, he couldn't hold out much longer against the endless onslaught of hired guns. Sooner or later, the merc groups would get to him, and he would be dead.

The only solace in all of it was that, maybe, just maybe, if there really was a heaven, Shepard would be there waiting for him.

Though he wasn't convinced he deserved to be in heaven.

Resigning himself to his fate, he slumped against the wall he'd been using for cover and brought up his comm link. If he was going to die, there was at least one person who deserved to know about it.

The line rang a few times before the other end picked up.

"Garrus!?" His father's voice sounded on the other end. "Is that you? Are you alive?"

Garrus peered over the wall and shot down an incoming merc, then leaned back down against the cool surface, his head spinning.

"Garrus what's going on? Where are you?"

"Hey dad," Garrus said weakly. "I'm just at…target practice. It's really rough out here. I was wondering if you had any suggestions."

Gunshots fired at him from below and he turned around to shoot at more of the mercs, striking with deadly precision. They fell dead on the ground with the rest of them. No one had come to claim the bodies he'd killed, so the wake of his destruction was laid out before him, a sea of blood coating the bridge that separated him from the mercs.

His father's voice was strained on the other end. It was clear that Castis Vakarian was more than aware that, whatever his son was doing, it wasn't target practice. "Garrus…" his subharmonics trembled. "You just remember what I taught you. Do it right, or don't do it at all."

"I'm trying, dad," Garrus replied. "I'm sorry I couldn't be…a better son."

"Garrus, you are the joy of my life," Castis said. "Even if I don't always make it clear. Where have you been for the past year, son?"

"It doesn't matter. I won't be here soon. I just don't have any strength left. I wanted to be strong. I wanted…I wanted to be like Shepard." Even Shepard, he knew, had experienced moments of weakness, but she had always seemed to persevere. His heart had never fully mended from the loss, so he had tried to emulate her, to be an unwavering force for good. The problem was, he was able to cross lines Shepard never would have. And it had led him here.

"Shepard would be proud of you, son," his father said. "You can't give up."

"It's not a matter of will, dad," Garrus sighed. "It's just reality." He was so immensely tired. And he wasn't convinced that Shepard would have been proud of him. She wouldn't have wanted to see him like this.

"You'll get out of there. And when you're done with…target practice, you come back to Palaven. We have so much to discuss," his father told him.

Garrus leaned up and scoped out the incoming crowd, his father continuing to reassure him on the other end of the comm line, providing him with sniping tactics to avoid the reality of the conversation. A group of three human mercenaries entered the pathway that led up to the warehouse, guns at the ready, flanked by a set of vorcha and batarians.

Garrus lined up his shot, preparing to fire, but his finger stalled on the trigger. There, in his crosshairs, was a face he hadn't seen in two years. His heart pounded in his ears, a burst of adrenaline pumping through his body. It couldn't be…

He followed her with his scope. He didn't recognize the two that were with her, but he did realize none of them were firing at him. Was it really her? How could it be? Was he hallucinating now in his final hour? No…he would recognize that face anywhere…that bright red hair, those deep brown eyes. There were new scars along her face, but it was still her. He traced the familiar path of her body in his mind, the memories still fresh after so much time. It had to be her. He didn't know why, he didn't know how, but it was undeniably her.

"Dad," Garrus spoke into his comm link, ducking back down into cover. "I have to go. Something just turned up. I think my odds just got a little better."

He hung up before his father could say anything else and waited for the three humans to arrive. If he was wrong, if he was hallucinating, at least his death would be quick and painless.

He heard gunfire downstairs. They must have turned on the other mercs behind them. Should he go help them? No…he was weak and he needed to conserve his energy. Despite the extreme fatigue, though, the new burst of adrenaline this had inspired was doing a good job of keeping him alert.

Footsteps sounded on the stairwell that led up to his hiding spot. He had barricaded himself with crates and overturned shelves, on the off chance that someone did make it up to where he was. Realistically, they would only provide so much cover against a direct assault.

The three humans appeared, hands raised to signal they wouldn't harm him, and there she stood, at the center of the group, decked out in unfamiliar armor, but otherwise her, just as he had remembered, just as he had seen in his worst nightmares as he watched her floating away into space, as he heard her last desperate choking breaths over and over…

"Archangel?" she asked.

If her appearance had not been confirmation of who she was, her voice, so rich and familiar, was enough. There was one last test though. She didn't know who he was, he realized, his face hidden beneath his helmet. He removed it slowly and dropped it on the floor.

"Shepard," he said, his voice quavering.

Shepard nearly dropped her gun on the ground in surprise. "Garrus," the sound of his name on her lips was something he thought he'd never hear again. It took all the power he had not to sob at the sound of it. Two years. Two years struggling to come to terms with her death and now she was here in front of him by some miracle.

The final test was passed as a warm, earthy scent filled the space between them.

He struggled to his feet and crossed the room, bridging the gap between them, oblivious to her companions. He wasn't thinking about anything except the fact that she was alive. If this was just an illusion created by his dying brain, he didn't want to wake up, and he didn't fear death.

He yanked the gloves from his hands and brought them tentatively toward her. She didn't flinch or hesitate, throwing her arms around his neck and embracing him, with some difficulty thanks to his armor. He stroked her soft hair and breathed in the scent of her. It was her. It was her. It was her. He didn't care how. It didn't matter.

"Shepard…" His legs buckled and she caught him, lowering him gently onto one of the crates. She stroked his fringe affectionately and his subharmonics vibrated involuntarily. He had missed her so much more than he had ever allowed himself to realize. He thought he would never feel her touch again. It was like the spirits themselves had brought her back to him.

"Garrus, what are you doing here?" She asked, taking her free hand and brushing it against his mandible. Neither of them were aware of the profound confusion and discomfort playing across her companions' faces.

"Oh," Garrus shrugged. "Just honing my sniper skills."

"You look horrible," she said.

"I missed you too."

She frowned and pulled his chin up to face her. "The merc groups said you've been up here for days. When's the last time you ate? Or slept?"

"Can't remember," he leaned back against the wall. "Shepard. I saw you die. I heard you die. Are you…" he reached out and touched her face. She felt real enough. "How?"

"It's a long story," she said. "One that I'll tell you once we get you out of here. Why don't you tell me how you wound up here? Or how you managed to piss off every major merc group in the Terminus systems?"

Garrus laughed. "It wasn't easy. I really had to work at it."

"I take it you two know each other?" the woman that was with Shepard spoke.

"You could say that," Garrus replied, closing his eyes.

"This is Garrus Vakarian," Shepard told them.

"Look at that, Shepard. A lucky break. Our first recruit is one of your old squad after all," the woman said.

"It's going to be hard getting out of here now that we've gotten up," the other human, the man, said. "We've basically trapped ourselves up here."

Garrus sat up and opened his eyes. "That bridge saved my life. It's funneled all of the mercs into my line of sight for easy shooting. But it works both ways. We can't get out without a break in their defense. Come with me, Shepard."

He led her over to the wall where he'd been taking cover. The open window allowed him easy access to the incoming mercs. But there were none to speak of. This wasn't helping his concern that he was hallucinating.

"They've reinforced the other side, but no one's coming…" he told them. "What are they doing?"

As if in answer to his question, the building's alarms sounded, indicating that someone was breaking in down through the tunnel system beneath the warehouse. He should have known they would figure out there was an alternate route into the building eventually.

"What's that?" the man asked.

Garrus slumped down against the wall. "They're breaking in through the tunnels. Someone has to manually lock the doors down or they'll swarm us."

Wouldn't it be his luck if the mercs made it up and killed them all? Shepard brought back to life only to be gunned down by nameless nobodies. He didn't have the strength to make it down the stairs and fight off any incoming mercs on the way.

"We'll take care of it then," the woman said. "We have no other options. Shepard, come on, let's seal off the gates."

Garrus reached his arm out and clasped Shepard's wrist. "No," he begged, desperate. "No, Shepard. Please…don't leave me…"

Shepard looked back and forth between Garrus and her companions. It didn't take her more than a few seconds to respond. "Can you handle it without me? I don't want to leave him alone. He's weak."

The woman looked extremely unhappy with the situation, but it was clear, as always, that Shepard was in charge. The two strangers took off to deal with the situation downstairs, while Shepard sat down next to Garrus.

Going against all his better judgment, all of his training that had taught him not to distract himself on the battle field, he reached out to Shepard and brought his lips to hers. If these were his last moments, and she wasn't really there, he at least wanted to feel her lips against his one more time.

When their mouths broke away, she stroked his face. "Garrus, what happened to you?"

He leaned against her, resting his head on hers. "You died," he said simply.

She grabbed his hand and intertwined her fingers with his, stroking the top of his hand with her thumb. Slowly, quietly, she began to explain how she'd come back to him from the grave. How Cerberus had found her body and rebuilt her, against all odds. How from the moment she'd awoken, scared and confused inside the Cerberus facility, she'd been wondering where he was, what had become of him.

"Shepard," he said softly. "I can't believe you're here. You're back."

She stroked his face. "Look at you. I can't leave you alone for a second, can I? Clearly you don't know how to get along without my commanding influence."

He laughed. It was so…perfect…to have her there again. If he was going to die, he could at least die happy.

"I don't know if I can join up with you, Shepard," he told her. "Cerberus is bad news. It would really hurt the reputation I've built here to cozy up with the bad guys."

Shepard peered over the ledge to check for incoming mercs. "Garrus, I will drag your skinny little turian butt kicking and screaming on to my ship if I have to," she told him.

"Please, Shepard. Like I'm going to let you get out of my sight again?"

She nudged him with her shoulder and, at least for the moment, it was as though she'd never been gone. It must have been strange for her: what had been two years apart for him had only been a few weeks for her. It couldn't have been easy to reconcile that time difference.

"We've got mercs incoming," she said, raising her gun and firing off a few rounds.

Garrus stood up and fired off three shots, taking down a group of incoming vorcha. The pathway up to the building was empty again, for the moment.

The man and woman, who Shepard had explained were called Jacob and Miranda, emerged at the top of the stairs several minutes later. Garrus and Shepard moved across the room to meet them.

"We closed off the gates," Miranda said. "What's the status here?"

"We cleared the path, but I'm suspicious," Garrus told them. "Stay back here, behind the pillar. I'm just going to check and see what they're up to."

He moved forward cautiously. It all felt too easy. Of course, he was neglecting to fully remember the days he'd spent slowly picking them off, wasting away as he did so, but he thought for sure that the entry through the tunnels was some sort of distraction.

As he inched closer to the wall, he could see Shepard in his periphery, hugging the wall near the pillar, but still keeping an eye on him. For once, she was watching his six. Even a few inches from the wall, he could see that the bridge was empty. He was about to turn to Shepard to tell her as much when a gunship came flying into view, firing off a series of shots. Garrus scrambled behind one of the crates, the shots clipping his shields.

"You think you can fuck with the Blue Suns, Archangel?" A voice was projected from the gunship.

Garrus attempted to get a view of the thing, to fire off a shot at the pilot, but as soon as he peeked out from behind the crate, the ship launched a heavy-duty missile at him. While the missile itself narrowly missed him, it made impact with the ground directly in front of him, the blast knocking him backwards as a searing pain coursed across his face and down his body. He fell to the floor in a pool of his own blood, struggling to breathe, his vision fading.

Whatever happened next was a blur. Shepard screamed his name, there was gunfire, bombs going off. One of the humans lobbed a grenade and he was vaguely aware of an explosion behind him. Blood was gushing from the right side his face and his neck, his armor torn open from the explosion and bits of it embedded in him. His ribs ached and he figured he had broken at least two of them.

He had no clue how long the fighting went on, but eventually the sound of the violence died out and Shepard's face appeared above him. She moved him slowly onto his back, a gasp escaping her throat at the sight of his injuries.

"Garrus, you hold on," she begged. He could see the tears welling in her eyes. "You can't die on me now, okay?"

He reached a hand weakly up to touch her face. If this was how he was going to die, at least he had seen her, had touched her, one last time. He wasn't afraid of death any longer. He closed his eyes and let his body relax.

Chapter Text

The blinds to the med bay had been shut, the door locked, no access allowed except with Karin's explicit permission. Shepard had been kicked out after they'd carried Garrus in; she'd been hovering too much in her concern over the turian, and she was getting in the doctor's way.

So she sat in a chair outside the med bay door, her armor in a pile by her feet, her clothes and hands and hair stained with Garrus' blue blood, the smell of copper strong in her nose. She felt numb. It had been such a shock to discover that Archangel was in fact Garrus…and to think that if they had waited, if she hadn't prioritized acquiring a sniper in an effort to replace him, he might have died alone up in that warehouse.

Garrus had been through a lot in the last two years, that much was evident. He had looked so tired when they'd found him, so much of the light in his eyes gone, though she'd seen a spark of it when he looked at her. What had he done with himself? How had he gotten into such a situation?

The blast from the gunship had torn his right side to pieces. When they'd rolled him over after the gunship had been taken care of, they'd seen the gory extent of his injuries. Half of his face had been blown off, the muscle and bone exposed. His armor had been blown apart as well, leaving his neck and part of his chest in a similar state to his face. If he survived this, no matter what the doctor did for him, he would have scars for the rest of his life.

She sat there for hours, staring off into space, waiting for any word from the doctor. After a while, Joker came down to check on her.

"Hey, commander," he said, trying to catch a glimpse into the med bay between the blinds. "How are you holding up?"

Shepard rubbed her eyes. "I don't know. How do I look?"

"Like hell," He replied honestly. "He'll make it through. He's a tough bird."

"I hope so," she sighed. "I was so happy we'd found him and then…if he doesn't make it…" She didn't want to think about it. She needed Garrus more than anyone else on her former squad. He was her best friend, her confidant…her lover. He had to make it through so that she could make it through what she had to do.

"Maybe you should go get cleaned up," Joker suggested. "Garrus will still be here when you're done."

"No. I won't leave until I hear that he's okay."

"Well, can I get you anything at least? Some water? A snack?"

"I'm okay, Joker," she smiled weakly. "Thank you though."

He patted her shoulder and left her to attend to the ship. After a while, Shepard began nodding off, unable to keep her eyes open, the fatigue hitting her after all they had been through. She wasn't sure how long she slept, but eventually, a gentle shake awoke her.

"Commander." Karin was in front of her. "You can come in and see him now."

"How long was it?" Shepard asked, rubbing the sleep from her eyes and following the doctor into the med bay.

"It's been about ten hours since you brought him in. Thankfully, Cerberus has outfitted us with top of the line medical supplies. We were able to apply fast-acting tissue-regeneration gel and some cybernetics to most of his wounds, but the scars will remain, unfortunately," the doctor explained.

"But he'll be okay?"

"Yes, I expect him to make a full recovery."

Shepard hugged her before she could even think about what she was doing. "Thank you, Karin."

"Come on and have a look." She patted Shepard's back and led her over to the bed where Garrus lay.

He was naked, a blanket draped over his mid-section more out of human politeness than any real need for it; his lower plates covered up all of his parts. His eyes were closed, his head tilted onto its left side, exposing the mangled skin on his face. Shepard traced her hand gently over the skin. It was already healed, thanks in large part to the advanced medicine Karin had mentioned. Tendrils of skin and muscle fused together in pink and blue-tinged scars across his mandible and down his neck to his shoulder and the very top of his chest.

"Garrus…" she sighed.

"Hey may come to," Karin said. "But he's been given a lot of medication, so he may be a little bit…out of it."

Shepard stroked his fringe gently. He looked so peaceful with his eyes closed. She was eternally grateful he had survived the blast. It felt selfish to think it, but she couldn't have imagined life without him, though he had survived two long years without her.

His eyes fluttered open and he looked up at her. "Shepard? Is this heaven?" he croaked.

"No, Garrus, you're in the med bay. You're alive. And so am I." She kissed his forehead.

He leaned up suddenly, grabbed her arms, pulled her against him, and dragged his tongue across her neck. "Shepard," he moaned.

She backed up, alarmed. "Garrus! Karin is here with us."

"I told you he might be a little out of it," the doctor laughed.

Garrus fell back on the bed and closed his eyes.

"Is he all right?" Shepard asked.

"He's fine. Why don't you go and clean yourself up and rest, commander? I can come and get you if he wakes up again. I promise he'll be all right."

Shepard nodded. She was tired. And eager to clean the blood off of her. Now that she had been assured that Garrus was okay, she could tend to herself. She hugged the doctor one more time, then exited the med bay. Almost as soon as she was out on the crew deck again, she heard a voice calling for her.

"Commander, could we talk for a minute?" Miranda stood by the doorway into her cabin.

Shepard sighed. She didn't want to talk to anyone just then. She wanted to clean herself off and sleep for ten straight days. Some things on the Normandy never changed, she supposed; there would always be someone who needed her attention.

She crossed the room and followed Miranda into the cabin. The front part of the cabin had been made into an office, with a set of chairs by the window and a desk on the opposite wall. Behind it lay Miranda's bed and personal effects.

Miranda sat down behind the desk.

"How is the turian?" She asked.

"He'll be okay," Shepard told her.

"Shepard, I'd like you to be completely honest with me. Your relationship with Vakarian. It's clearly not platonic."

Shepard took a moment to process what she was saying. She was too exhausted to lie, and there didn't seem to be a point. Most of the old crew wasn't here anymore. They weren't with the Alliance anymore either. Who cared who knew? It seemed so insignificant now.

"No, it's not," she agreed. "Before I died, Garrus and I…were intimate," she shrugged. "Why does it matter?"

Miranda did a poor job of concealing her disgust at the thought, her face contorted in a way that almost made her unattractive. Almost.

"I want to be sure that you aren't distracted from the mission, Shepard. There's a lot at stake. I don't need you getting sloppy because emotions are involved."

Shepard clenched her fists. "First of all, emotions are what separate us from the Reapers. Second of all, I don't let my personal life interfere with my job, but Garrus is my best friend and I'll be damned if I'm going to sit around pretending I don't care whether he lives or dies. When we're out on the battlefield, our relationship doesn't matter. So until it becomes a problem that affects my ability to fire a gun, you can keep your nose out of it."

"As long as we understand each other," Miranda said.

"Are we done here?"

"Yes, commander."

Shepard stormed off, taking the elevator up to her cabin and running the shower as hot as it would go. She pulled her clothes off, tossing them in a pile on the floor and climbing into the enormous shower, jets streaming water from all sides. She stood for a while, letting the scalding water drip down her body, taking rivulets of blue blood along with it. When she started to scrub it away, the floor became saturated with it, spinning slowly down the drain. It took her ages to clean all the blood from her body, and her hair was another problem entirely. It took several applications of shampoo, and several times poking her head out to look in the mirror, before she had rid herself entirely of Garrus' blood.

Exhausted, clean, and warm, she fell onto her bed in nothing but a tank top and her underwear and passed out almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.

Garrus was still asleep when Shepard awoke some time later. She realized she would have to get on with other tasks while he slept, or they might stall in space outside of Omega for another week. She directed Joker to return to the station. It would be better to check out the other two potential recruits without Garrus; EDI had reported that the scientific expert, a salarian by the name of Solus, was currently operating a clinic in a quarantined area with a plague that seemed to affect non-humans only. It wouldn't be a mission she could bring Garrus along for, so she may as well take care of it before he was awake.

Miranda seemed pleased when Shepard told her they would move forward with recruiting. The truth was, there was some selfishness in Shepard's decision. The salarian they were after was a doctor and an explosions expert. She couldn't really think of someone more suited to tend to the special needs of a turian who had just had half his face blasted off. Not that she didn't trust Karin, because she did, but extra hands could never hurt.

She stayed with Garrus in the med bay until the ship could return to Omega. They had spent nearly a day taxiing an hour outside of the city on the off chance that the merc groups had followed them out. When Shepard gave the word to return, EDI reported that the local merc groups widely believed Archangel to be dead, and shouldn't be a problem for the docked ship while they were away.

Unfortunately, it seemed someone was after them, because as soon as they docked, Shepard received a call from Joker over the ship's intercom.

"Uh, commander? You should probably get up here."

"What is it, Joker?"

"There's someone banging on the door to the airlock and firing off a gun…"

She was already geared up and ready to go, realizing how close they were to the station, so she hurried up from the med bay to the bridge.

She could hear the commotion before she could see it, just as Joker had described. Someone outside was swearing and shooting a gun and pounding on the door.

"I know you're in there, Shepard!" A gruff, unfamiliar voice sounded.

Shepard drew her gun and pointed it at the door.

"Open the airlock, Joker."

"Commander, I don't know if that's a great idea…" the pilot shrunk back.

"Open it!"

He obeyed, pressing a button that allowed the airlock to swing open. The man on the other side fell forward into the ship. He had been preparing to slam his fist down on the door again, not anticipating that the door might actually open. Shepard kept her gun trained on him.

"Commander Shepard," he greeted her, pushing himself to his feet.

He was older, probably in his late fifties, made older by the rough life he had led, evident in the lines on his face; a large, crescent shaped scar wrapped itself from his right eyebrow down to the bottom of his nose; his right eye had been replaced with something cybernetic that gave it a glazed over appearance.

"Do I…know you?" Shepard asked, gun still trained on the man.

"Zaeed Massani," he offered his hand. She didn't take it. She remembered the man's dossier: a veteran mercenary, moving from station to station and planet to planet collecting bounties, the exact kind of scum she might expect to find on Omega. He had been the one she'd been most concerned about taking on. The Illusive Man had already paid his bounty, but hired help could turn quickly in the thick of things.

"You mind telling me what you're doing battering my ship, Massani?" she asked.

"I got my payment. Just finished my last bounty and heard you'd landed."

"I decide who comes on this ship. Or did the Illusive Man not tell you to wait for me to come to you?"

By that point, Miranda and Jacob had arrived on the bridge to see what the commotion was about.

"Who's this?" Miranda asked.

"The merc from one of the dossiers," Shepard answered.

"Well what do you have your gun trained on him for, Shepard? Let him in."

"Yeah, Shepard," Zaeed grinned. Some of his teeth were missing. "Let me in. You know, you're a prettier sight than you look on the news. Nicer still for coming back from the dead."

Shepard holstered her gun and slammed her fist into Zaeed's stomach, knocking him to the ground. She put her boot on his chest.

"Really, commander, the dramatics," Miranda muttered.

"You come on my ship, you answer to me, understood?" she asked the merc.

"I've got no qualms with you," Zaeed spat. "I get half my pay now and half when the mission's finished. That incentive enough for you, darling?"

Shepard put more pressure in her step. "Did I stutter?"

Zaeed coughed. "Understood. But I en't calling you commander." Shepard stepped off of him and he climbed back up to his feet, unfazed. "Good. Now where's my bunk?"

Kelly had joined the group. She rushed over to the mercenary's side, hoping to be helpful. Shepard didn't imagine Kelly was the type of person Zaeed liked dealing with.

"You'll find ample space below deck, Mr. Massani…"

"Mr. Massani," he scoffed. "Don't call me that. I'll find a place myself if it's just the same," he looked around the ship and whistled. "Beats the hell out of the last vessel I was on. You don't mind if I help myself to the bar, do you, Shepard? Off duty and all."

Shepard stared at him as he disappeared into the elevator.

"The Illusive Man ensures me that he can be trusted," Miranda said. She didn't sound very sure of herself as she said it. "He's a well-known merc. Ruthless, but with years of expertise to bring to the team."

"If he causes any problems, he's gone. I don't care how much the Illusive Man paid for him," Shepard growled. "I don't like people like that on my ship." Wrex had been enough of a loose cannon and he seemed tame compared to Zaeed. She was fairly convinced the merc could have taken on a krogan hand to hand if he had to.

"You're not…uh…you're not gonna leave us here with him are you?" Joker asked.

"Do not worry, Mr. Moreau. I will protect you." EDI said. Shepard thought she sensed sarcasm in the machine's voice, but thought that was impossible.

Joker frowned at the AI and looked back at Shepard. "Seriously, commander."

"You'll be fine, Joker. He's just going to get drunk and pass out somewhere. There are other crew members who know how to handle a gun. We need to go find this professor in the quarantine zone. Then we never have to come back to this trash heap of a station."

"Counting down the seconds, commander!" Joker yelled after them as Shepard, Miranda, and Jacob left the ship.

Shepard thought she had almost gotten the smell of Omega off of her and now they were back. It was convenient to have three pick-ups on the same station, even more convenient that one of them had been Garrus: the galaxy was smaller than it seemed. All the same, she would be happy if she never had to set foot on the station again. It was the very opposite of the Citadel in every respect. She'd always known places like Omega existed, but she'd been lucky enough to never be exposed to them.

They wound their way through the station, directed at some points by EDI, who was accessing maps remotely to guide them to where they needed to be. Miranda praised the AI as the best thing Cerberus had done, "Besides bringing you back, Shepard."

Shepard wasn't convinced. She still didn't trust it. She'd spent too much time fighting geth to welcome a new AI in with open arms.

The quarantine zone was near a village of tenement slums on the east side of the station, but access to the area was closed off, guarded by a turian with a large gun and bright red clan markings.

"We need to get through to see Dr. Solus," Shepard told the turian.

"Good for you," the turian shrugged. "It's a quarantine zone. No one's allowed in or out."

"I understand the plague doesn't affect humans. So you've got no reason to keep me out, do you?" Shepard crossed her arms.

"First of all, lady, the Blue Suns are running amok down there. They're not too happy since Mordin Solus moved in. Bad for the business of looting and killing if there's a doctor going around patching people up and formulating a cure. And the vorcha aren't affected either, so they've been running rampant. Just because the plague can't affect you don't mean you wouldn't be walking into a death trap," the turian shrugged.

"I think it's pretty evident I can take care of myself. You heard of Archangel? I'm the one who took him out," she lied.

The turian rolled his eyes. "Sure you did. Everyone knows the Blue Suns took care of him. Nice try though."

"We might have to find a different way in, Shepard," Miranda suggested.

She wasn't going to give up. "What have you got to lose letting us in? You're just standing here and you're going to keep standing here. Worst case scenario we die down there. Doesn't affect you," She told him.

The turian seemed to ponder it for a minute. "Fine, I'll tell the guards inside to stand down, but it's your funeral, lady. Good joke about Archangel too," he laughed. "If you really did take him down, you wouldn't be stupid enough to go running back into Blue Suns territory."

He opened the door into the quarantine zone and let them in, still laughing as he closed it behind them.

"Smooth talking, Shepard," Jacob complimented her.

"I've been told I'm persuasive," she shrugged.

"Sometimes it's faster to be persuasive with a gun," Miranda suggested.

"There's no reason to threaten people without cause. The turian was doing his job."

The entrance into the quarantine zone led down into more slums. The buildings inside were just like the rest of the trash heap that was Omega, poorly constructed and added on to time and time again, ascending up into the smoggy sky past their view. The sounds of sickness could be heard all around as they made their way through the streets. Bodies lay dead and rotting in front of homes, windows had been busted open and businesses looted, those who still lived shuffled past, coughing up blood as they went.

"This is horrible," Jacob said. "What could have done this?"

"It's got to be some sort of biological weapon if it's affecting so many species at once," Miranda shook her head.

So far, the woman had shown few signs of emotion, but Shepard thought she saw a hint of sadness and pity in her eyes now. It was hard to see the death all around them and not feel sorry for these people. Most of them were poor, unable to leave the lives they led here, and now they were trapped inside, left to die, no one besides the professor working on a cure.

The guards down in the quarantine zone were more turians, masks on in a vain effort to protect themselves from the plague. They let them pass, watching them go with envy. Shepard wondered if the other species thought humans had created the plague. She wasn't sure if humans might have, come to think of it. It was suspicious that only humans were immune.

All they encountered at every turn was more death. She despised the scum that had used the plague as an opportunity to loot the entire sector, stealing from the dead, or those that had evacuated in time. Some joy it would be to survive the plague and return home to find all your most priceless possessions had been taken; as if blowing off half of Garrus' face hadn't made her hate the Blue Suns enough.

As if her thoughts had been projecting out into the open, when they turned down a road, drawing closer to the clinic per EDI's instructions, they were met with gunfire and the sight of blue and white armor.

Shepard ducked behind a storefront counter and fired off a few shots at some approaching turians in Blue Suns armor, distracting them while Miranda and Jacob used their biotics to take on the batarians behind them. There weren't more than ten of the mercs total, but they were heavily armed and not afraid to waste thermal clips trying to take them down.

The turians dispensed with, Shepard went after the batarians with her squad mates. She had no qualms with killing the likes of the Blue Suns, and she was full of pent up anger after what had happened to Garrus. When her thermal clip was spent, she gave up replacing it and ran into the fray; the batarians clipped her shields as she went. Using her omni-blade, she stabbed the first batarian, taking advantage of a gap in his armor along his ribcage, then slit the second one's throat. They both fell to the ground, blood spraying from their bodies and spattering across her armor. Another batarian pointed his gun at her and fired at point blank range, utterly depleting her shields. She stabbed him between the eyes in retaliation.

By the time Miranda and Jacob reached her, she was covered in blood and panting for breath, the rage slowly draining from her body. Killing the mercs wouldn't undo what had happened to Garrus, but it still made her feel better, adrenaline coursing through her veins now.

"Damn, Shepard," Jacob said. "You went full berserker on them."

Shepard wiped some blood from her face. "I just acted on instinct."

"It was reckless," Miranda chided. She thrust a thermal clip at Shepard. "Next time, use your gun."

"I thought I was the one calling the shots."

"And I thought we agreed you wouldn't let your emotions affect your performance in battle."

Shepard had no good response to this, so she plowed ahead, following EDI's directions until they reached the clinic. It was heavily barricaded and three humans stood guard outside of it, guns raised.

"What do you want?" one of them demanded.

Shepard held her hands up. "We're here to see Dr. Solus."

"He's a busy man."

"We're here to help," Shepard insisted.

The guards looked at each other and lowered their guns. "You can go in. But no funny business. We have mechs to deal with anyone stupid enough to use their guns inside."


The three of them entered the clinic in a hurry; they didn't want to give the guards an excuse to change their mind.

Inside, it was surprisingly clean and sterile, with a well-ventilated air system that helped wash away some of the rank smell that seemed to linger around the rest of the city. Sick patients of almost every race sat around the lobby, waiting for a chance to see the doctor; coughs and sneezes issued from every direction.

One of the medical attendants directed them back to a room where they could find the salarian, thanking them for whatever help they could provide.

The professor in question was hunched over a table examining some tools. His skin was orange, but white with age around his mouth and horns, his right horn had been shortened significantly through some past injury, scars marring the top of it.

"Mordin Solus?" Shepard asked.

The doctor looked up at them. "Hm. Don't recognize you. Too well-armed for refugees. No mercenary uniforms. Quarantine still in effect. Here for something else. Vorcha? Crew to clean them out? Unlikely. Vorcha a symptom, not a cause. The plague? Investigating possible use as bio-weapon? No. Too many guns, not enough data equipment. No. Could be…"

"Professor," Shepard interrupted. He had been speaking so rapidly she could barely take in what he was saying before he jumped to the next thought. Her interruption seemed to jar him from his train of thought. "I'm here for you," she told him.

"No. Too busy. Plague clinic necessary. Can't leave," he shook his head.

"My name is Commander Shepard." She spoke very slowly, perhaps to compensate for his rapid-fire speech. "I have a very important mission I'm on and I need your expertise."

"Mission? What mission. Shepard? Hm. Name's familiar. Thought you were dead. Armor not Alliance make. Who are you working with? Hiding something? No. But…"

"I'm with Cerberus," she decided the salarian was far too smart to try and trick him with lies.

"Cerberus. Hm. Interesting. Usually work with humans. Why enlist salarian aid?" Mordin asked.

Listening to him talk was exhausting. Miranda tapped her foot impatiently behind Shepard, growing more agitated the faster Mordin spoke.

"Have you heard of the Collectors?" Shepard asked. "Whole colonies of humans have been disappearing and we think they're behind it. We're trying to stop them, but it's going to take a lot more than just me to bring them down."

"Collectors?" Mordin tapped his chin. "Interesting. Plague is engineered. Collectors one of few groups with sufficient technology to design it. Hm. Our goals may be similar." He seemed amenable to coming along, but Shepard's hopes of a quick exit were soon dashed. "Must stop plague first. Have a cure. Need to distribute it at environmental control center. Problem though. Vorcha guarding it," he paused for the longest amount of time she'd heard so far. "Need to kill vorcha."

"I'll help you distribute it," Shepard promised without hesitation. As much as she wanted to get off Omega, and as much as she would have liked to sweep the professor out of there as quickly as possible, the idea of leaving so many to die with no hope for a cure was more than she could bear.

"Excellent. Here, take the cure," he handed her a small vial. "Environmental control center a few blocks north of here. Vorcha heavily armed. Take out Vorcha, distribute cure through ventilation systems. Terminal on site. Will be on comm link to give direction."

Shepard placed the vial safely within a zippered pouch beneath her armor.

"We've got no time to waste, then. Let's go," she beckoned Miranda and Jacob to follow her.

"You didn't even take a pause to consider helping him," Miranda said, incredulous. "Half of the people dying down here are criminals."

"I'm not God, Miranda. I don't get to judge who lives and dies when I don't even know them. If someone deserves it, I mean really deserves it, then I kill them without dwelling on it. But as soon as you relegate an entire sector of people to die because of what you think they might be, you lose a little bit of your soul. I've seen the kind of people who would kill so indiscriminately," she thought of Saren, kneeling in front of them in the Concil chambers, the horrible sound of his sobs echoing around them. "I never want to be that person."

"He's not going to leave without curing the plague anyway," Jacob pointed out. "We might as well do some good while we're here."

Miranda didn't respond. Apart from EDI's directions issuing over the comm link, their trip to the environmental control center was spent in complete silence, guns at the ready for any incoming vorcha.

Shepard, like plenty of other people, wasn't fond of the vorcha. They were a primitive race, barely able to use developed speech, with a great fondness for battle. They would fight over anything and everything and attacked ships that passed through their territory indiscriminately. In Council space, vorcha were few and far between, mostly restricted to the Terminus systems, where they seemed to thrive. She had encountered them on only a few occasions, but it had been enough. She tried to be sympathetic to differences between races, but the vorcha had no sympathy: only a lust for blood.

The environmental control center was a massive room with high, arching ceilings, that housed the ventilation system for Omega's lower slums. It was a smart idea on Mordin's part: distribute the cure through the air, just as the plague had been introduced, that way no one could avoid inhaling it. It was a fast solution to a huge problem.

Unfortunately, just as Mordin had promised, there were scores of vorcha patrolling the room, heavily armed, with poorly fitting armor to protect them. Vorcha weren't exactly skilled craftsmen, and few armories made protection fitted to their strange, short bodies.

There was no sneaking up on the masses surrounding the room. As soon as they entered, they were prime targets, the door opening into the center of the room. It was all they could do to duck behind cover, huddled together, and work their way from the inside out.

The vorcha wasted to no time in swarming, with shouts of "Kiiiill! Humans! You die!"

Shepard and Jacob shot at the incoming creatures, no room for error as they rushed them. Each shot had to be a kill shot, because one wrong move and they would be overcome. A group of vorcha were clustered above them on a balcony, raining bullets down. Miranda put up a barrier to keep their shields up, only dropping it when the vorcha above them had to reload, at which point she would throw a few of them from the balcony with her biotics.

This new squad might not have been as efficient as Shepard's old one, but under such a high stress situation, she found they worked pretty well together. She still would have appreciated Garrus' help in the moment, but she and Jacob were making pretty good work of the vorcha, who continued to throw themselves at them despite the bodies slowly piling up around them.

Eventually, they had cleared out enough of the foul things to stand and take more of them on directly. Miranda went to work clearing off the balcony while Shepard and Jacob took out some of the heftier vorcha, who were rushing at them with flamethrowers in hand; one of the flamethrowers clipped Shepard's shields before she managed to take down the vorcha that was holding it.

By some miracle, they managed to clear the room, leaving masses of dead vorcha in their wake, the floor, and their armor, covered in blood. Shepard hurried to the ventilation system and brought Mordin up on the comm link.

"Professor, we're at the vent shaft. What do we do now?"

"Place half of contents from vial in each shaft," Mordin's voice sounded quickly on the other end. "Go to terminal. See it?"

Shepard found the interface for the ventilation system a few feet away from the shafts. She handed the vial containing the cure to Miranda, who moved quickly to distribute the contents between the shafts.

"I'm at the terminal now," Shepard said.

"Start up vent program. Should be big green button. Hard to miss. Press button, fans will start."

"That simple?" Shepard asked.

"That simple." Mordin confirmed.

When Miranda had placed the cure, Shepard hit the green button on the terminal and the ventilation system sucked the powdery substance up into the shaft to be distributed across the sector.

"It's done," Shepard answered.

"Very good. Then I will join you. Could use a break. Sick people sometimes depressing. People will be happy to have cure. Meet back at med clinic. Will finish things up here," Mordin said.

"Well done, Shepard," Miranda said, surprising her with a pat on the shoulder.

"Thanks, but I would have died in here without your help." She cleared her throat. "I'm sorry if I've been…rude to you. You'll forgive me if I still don't quite trust the intentions of Cerberus. I want this squad to be effective, so let's try to start off on a new note."

"Forget about it, Shepard," Miranda shrugged. "We're here to help you. Period. I can't promise we'll be best friends, but I'll do my best to get along with the others. Even the aliens."

It was the best Shepard could hope for at the moment. They shook hands and Jacob smiled and, if only for a moment, she thought there might be something there worth trusting. She shook the thought from her head as they headed back toward the clinic. She was tired. And ready to get off of that damn space station.

Chapter Text

When Garrus awoke in the med bay, Shepard wasn't there, and for a brief moment, he thought it had all been a dream. But the med bay was distinctly not Omega, and by and large looked the same as the Normandy's had. He began to think he actually had died and this was some sort of strange purgatory, but then Karin walked in, beaming.

"Garrus, you're awake!"

He sat up and a sharp pain tore through his side. He winced and held his hand against his ribs. "Karin? What…? Where am I?"

"You're on the Normandy, Garrus. Or I should say, the Normandy SR-2. Shepard said she told you about Cerberus," the doctor looked concerned.

It all came flooding back to him then. Shepard's strange story about being rebuilt by Cerberus, almost too bizarre to believe, except for the fact that he had seen her die and no explanation for her return from the dead would have sounded normal. He remembered that she had mentioned the new Normandy, and that Joker and Karin had joined her crew. It was nice to see a familiar face after so long on Omega.

"I remember now," Garrus said. "What happened to me?" The right side of his face was sore, though it didn't feel as bad as he thought it should, remembering the explosion that had hit him. He touched the skin carefully and felt the ragged, sinewy scars on his mandible. He could only imagine how he looked.

"You were hurt pretty badly, Garrus. I'm glad you pulled through. You've been out for a while now," she glanced at her watch. "Almost twenty-four hours. Do you think you can stand?"

He moved slowly, his ribs aching with nearly every turn of his body. He slid himself off the medical bed and onto his feet, surprisingly stable considering everything he had been through. A towel slid off of his lap onto the floor and he realized he was naked.

"I've had some clothes brought on for you," Karin said, unflinching. Some humans would have been embarrassed by his nudity, even though there was nothing to show. The doctor handed him a pair of simple civilian clothes. "Shepard brought back some armor from Omega for you as well. I believe it's up in her cabin."

Garrus pulled the clothes on, surprised at how well they fit. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been out of his armor. It felt good.

"I thought I'd feel more light-headed," he told the doctor. "I haven't eaten in days."

"We gave you IV dextro-nutrients," she explained. "Shepard told me you were in quite a state when she found you. You're lucky she showed up when she did."

"Believe me, I know. Where is Shepard?"

"She just got back from a mission. We're just leaving Omega now. Why don't you take the elevator up to the top floor? I'm sure the commander will want to be the one to give you a tour of the new ship," Karin said.

Garrus held his hand out to shake the doctor's in thanks. Instead, she hugged him, which took him completely by surprise.

"It's good to have you back, Garrus."

"Thank you…Karin."

He stepped out of the med bay and took stock of his surroundings. From this vantage point, the crew deck was largely unchanged. The mess hall, with a long table for the crew, still sat at the central part of the room, and across the way was a closed door, though Shepard must not have been in her cabin if the doctor wanted him to head up to the observation deck. The only change he noticed so far was another door at the bow of the ship, leading to some unknown room. He made his way for the elevator and some of the crew that were seated at the table stared at him as he went. If the Alliance crew hadn't been fond of him as an alien, he could only imagine what Cerberus thought.

Changes to the ship were more evident near the elevator. In place of the stairwell, two long corridors stretching in either direction ended abruptly with doors labeled with either "Port-" or "Starboard Observation Deck". Other doors had labels for restrooms and the crew quarters.

Garrus stepped into the elevator, much shinier than the old one, with a more advanced terminal interface. He hit the button for the top floor and was shocked at how quickly and smoothly the elevator glided up to its destination.

The doors chirped and slid open and he was surprised to find no upper observation deck at all. Instead, there was a small walkway leading to a locked door. He wasn't worried about being reprimanded for hacking the lock, so he used his omni-tool to let himself in, stunned at the view inside.

The entire top level of the ship had been converted into a captain's cabin the likes of which he had never seen; it took him a moment just to take in all the luxury surrounding him. Thankfully, the view was still the same, a brilliant sea of stars moving past on the other side of the glass. They must have departed recently, the jump to FTL hadn't even been made.

Shepard was nowhere to be seen, though her clothes and bloodied armor lay in a heap by a desk that was separated from the rest of the room by a clear glass wall. He realized he could hear the shower running and peered into the bathroom across from the desk. The glass-enclosed shower was covered in steam, but he could see Shepard's outline behind it.

He wanted to join her, but he was too exhausted to stand much longer, so he moved slowly to the couch in front of the bed, recessed into the floor with a mini-bar next to it. This was certainly not an Alliance vessel.

The couch provided the exact comfort he needed. He sunk into the cushioned seat, draping his arms on top of the couch on either side of him. Closing his eyes, he waited for Shepard to finish her shower.

It only took a few minutes before he heard the water shut off, his eyes snapping back open. From his position, his view of Shepard was obscured by the placement of the terminal at her desk. He could only see the top of her head, back turned as she dried herself off and slipped something over her head.

She walked around the desk and descended into the main part of the room wearing nothing but a tank top and her underwear. When she saw Garrus sitting there, her face lit up.

"You're awake," there was almost a sigh of relief in the way she said it. "Why didn't Karin call me?"

"She knew you were busy," Garrus replied. "She sent me up here. Nice digs, Shepard. I could get used to you working for Cerberus."

She laughed and gathered up her bloodied clothes, throwing them down a mysterious chute on the wall. "I'm still not used to it."

"I haven't seen myself in a mirror yet," he told her. "Be honest with me. How do I look?"

Shepard crossed the room and stood in front of him. Seated on the low couch, his eyes were roughly level with her breasts. She stroked the scarred side of his face gently.

"Some women find scars attractive," she told him.

"Hm, yes," he lifted her shirt and kissed her stomach. "Most of those women are krogan."

She placed her hand on his head, running her fingers along his fringe. "Garrus, I was so worried about you."

Now that he was touching her, the allure was too strong. It had been so long since he'd touched her like that. He kissed her stomach again, running his tongue along the circle of her belly-button. She shivered and patted his head.

"You're too weak."

"No," he insisted. "I'm not. I promise." He moved his mouth up her stomach to her chest, pushing her shirt out of his way as he moved.

"Garrus," she sighed.

"Two years, Shepard…two long years…"

She laughed. "I don't believe for a minute that you were celibate that entire time."

There was no point in lying to her. They had never really committed to each other, and she had been dead. It wasn't that he thought she would be angry, it was that, for some reason, he felt guilty about it. Now that she was alive again, it felt almost like a betrayal. It was stupid of him to feel that way.

"No," he agreed, moving his mouth away from her skin and looking up at her. "There were others. It took me almost eight months to even try, but…"

She stroked the soft skin behind his fringe. "Garrus, I'd be concerned if you hadn't. I was dead. We never put a label on anything. You should have been with other women. It's healthy."

"I even slept with an asari," he told her.

"Really?" she looked genuinely intrigued. "How was it?"

"Different," he shrugged. He kissed her stomach again. "Not to sound like a cliché, but nothing really compared to you. Sex is different when you care about the person you're with."

"It is," she agreed, inhaling sharply as his mouth moved back up to her chest and his tongue moved across her nipple. He'd spent most of his time over the past two years focused on how much he missed her, her companionship and her guidance, but now he was acutely aware of how much he'd missed her body as well.

"Garrus, really." She put her hands on his shoulders. "You're still healing. You're too weak."

He pulled her onto his lap, but even that small effort made his ribs throb with pain. He let his head fall back onto the couch, defeated. The moment would have to wait until he was feeling better.

She shifted her legs to the side and remained on his lap, resting her head on his shoulder. He placed his head against hers and found he was content to stay that way, just feeling her body against his.

"We have a lot to talk about," she said. "How did you end up killing criminals on Omega? Why didn't you contact anyone? I ran into Tali during my first mission with Cerberus and she said everyone had been worried sick about you, not sure if you were even still alive."

"How is Tali?" Garrus asked, ignoring the rest of her questions.

"She's…I don't know if she's okay. She had some sort of business to attend to. Said it was important, but she would be in touch if she made it through alive. Hey!" she smacked his shoulder gently. "Don't ignore me!"

"Is that an order, commander?" his subharmonics purred.

She flicked him in the forehead with her finger. "Don't start that."

"All right, Shepard. I owe you an explanation, I know," he sighed. "Where do I start? When you died…I didn't take it well, to say the least. I spent a few days…maybe a few weeks, lying in bed wanting to die. I've never lost someone I cared about like that. It was so much more painful than I could have imagined. Then my dad came and kicked my ass in gear and got me back at C-sec for a while. I was being reckless, though. I kept breaking the rules to bring cases in. It had been nice with you, not having to answer to anything or anyone to get the job done, but you always act with such a strong moral compass. I didn't seem to have one."


"There's no need to tell me otherwise. I lost myself without you," he told her. "I spent my whole life never knowing you and only a few months aboard the Normandy and somehow I didn't know how to get by in any other setting. Eventually I went after a criminal my dad had let loose because of my sloppy work bringing him in the first time. I almost killed him. My dad found out and we had a huge fight and I decided I'd had enough of all the bureaucratic bullshit on the Citadel, so I left; tried to find somewhere where I could really make a difference, somewhere that seemed beyond help."

"Omega," Shepard said.

"Yes. I built up a team of other skilled soldiers, people who were interested in bringing change to that shitheap of a space station. It started with one other turian and we built it up until there were twelve of us. Spent most of the last year trying to clean the garbage out of Omega together. Earned a reputation around the station that got the merc groups on our tail. But the same man I'd started the group with…the turian…he betrayed us to the mercs. They took out the whole squad and I was all that was left. I managed to barricade myself in that warehouse, but as you saw, they had me cornered. If you hadn't shown up…" He shook his head. "I'm one lucky bastard."

Shepard kissed his mandible, unperturbed by the mangled skin. "I'm so sorry, Garrus."

"It's not your fault."

"If I hadn't died…"

"Shepard, don't," he begged. "There were so many nights where I dreamed about you. Saw you dying over and over. Every time, I tried to save you, but I couldn't. It's everything I could have hoped for to hold you again."

"So you'll stay?" she asked. "Help me figure out what the Reapers are up to?"

He kissed her forehead and ran his fingers through her hair. "I would follow you to the ends of the galaxy, Shepard."

 At some point, Garrus and Shepard had moved to her bed and fallen asleep there. She awoke much later in the middle of the night shift, the soft blue glow of the fish tank providing the only light in the room.

One advantage of having a window in her new cabin, and casting away any semblance of secrecy with Garrus, was that she didn't have to sneak away to the observation deck when she couldn't sleep. She lay in bed, Garrus' arm wrapped around her, listening to him breathe while she watched galaxy rush by outside. She had received approval from the Illusive Man to return to the Citadel and make her presence known, mostly because he was interested in the potential return of her Spectre status, which would grant additional benefits if Cerberus had access to them. She hadn't hesitated to give Joker the order to return. She wanted to see Anderson, and she was ready for the galaxy to know she wasn't dead.

Lying with Garrus in that moment, it was easy to selfishly wish someone else could take on her tasks, that she could abandon her responsibilities and run away with him to live happily on some remote tropical planet where no one could ever bother them again. But reality, and her better judgment, would never let such a thing happen. No one else would take the Reaper threat seriously, so she would have to take on the task herself. And dreaming of running off to spend her life with Garrus was a far leap considering the most serious conversation they'd had about their "friendship" was refusing to put a label on it.

Her comm link was buzzing, signaling a call. She rummaged around on the floor for it, assuming she'd tossed it off in her sleep. Garrus had removed his clothing, probably when they'd drowsily stumbled to the bed, and she found the comm link beneath the pile of his clothes at the foot of the bed. She pressed the button to answer it before she realized she was still wearing hers, and that this comm link belonged to Garrus. She had also neglected to realize she was accepting a vid call.

A hologram image of none other than Castis Vakarian was projected out of the comm link. The two of them stared at each other for what felt like an eternity, Castis opening and closing his mouth several times without making a sound.

Finally, after several minutes, he spoke.

"Commander Shepard?" there was a tangible note of disbelief in his voice.

Shepard was acutely aware of the turian officer's son lying naked in the background of the vid she must have been projecting to him. Garrus hadn't even stirred at the noise, only rolled onto his back when Shepard sat up, stretching out and snoring.

"Castis," Shepard said, too stunned and embarrassed to manage anything else.

Castis shook his head, clearly reeling from the shock of what he was seeing. "What…what's going on? You…you died. My son was a wreck. He played me the audio file from your comm link. You could hear the whole thing. How…how…how…" Shepard had never seen such a dignified turian so lost for words.

"It's um, a very long story." She rose to her feet and moved over to her desk to avoid waking Garrus.

"Lucky for you, commander, it's morning on Palaven and I'm a retired man. I have all the time in the world to listen."

Shepard wasn't fond of running around telling everyone she'd been rebuilt by Cerberus. The official line for the Council was that she'd been comatose when Cerberus found her. Some people could be uneasy at the concept of being 'rebuilt'. But Shepard felt, for whatever reason, that Garrus' father deserved the truth. So she explained it to him, watching the range of expressions unfolding on his face as she spoke.

"I had heard…rumors…" Castis said when she had finished her story. "I wrote them off as nonsense, vain hope amongst the people, wanting their hero to return. But it seems there was truth to the gossip. I see now why Garrus felt his odds had changed."

"What do you mean?" Shepard asked.

"I'm assuming, based on the fact that I saw him on the vid screen and can hear him snoring even now, that you managed to get my son out of whatever desperate situation he was in. He called me from wherever he was, said he was at target practice. He sounded so…defeated. I was sure he was going to die there. But then he said he thought his luck had changed and hung up. I've been trying to reach him for the past day," Castis explained.

Seeing and hearing the concern he had for Garrus' well-being, it was hard for Shepard to believe she'd ever been scared of him. He was only looking out for his son, something any protective father might have done.

"He was in really bad shape when we found him," she told Castis. "He's been on Omega for the last year…"

"Omega!?" He cried. "Spirits, what was he doing there?"

"Trying to fix it," Shepard sighed. "Taking down criminals. The merc groups had him cornered in a warehouse when we got to him. We got him out, but…he was hurt pretty badly. His face…"

"Go and wake him, Shepard. Please. I have to see him."

She didn't want to, but she couldn't say no. She crossed the room back to her bed and gently shook Garrus awake. He stirred and sat up, rubbing his eyes in confusion. "Whatsit?" he asked.

"Your dad is on the comm vid," she told him, handing him the link.

"Oh," he sighed. "I'm sorry, dad."

"Garrus…your face…" Castis' subharmonics quavered at the sight of his son's mangled face.

"I know," Garrus ran his hand over the skin. "It would have been a lot worse if Shepard hadn't been there."

"Well thank the spirits one of you has their head on straight!" His father bellowed. "What were you thinking? Omega!? Did you think you could single-handedly turn over a space station that's been a criminal haven since it was built? You could have died, Garrus. What if Shepard hadn't shown up? It's a good stroke of luck for you that she did…" The tirade went on and on.

Shepard knew that Castis' explosion of complaints was out of concern for his son, but she couldn't help but laugh. When she first met the man, she had never imagined he would be taking her side on any issue, praising her for stepping in where Garrus had failed.

"Dad…dad…I…dad…listen…okay, but…dad…" Garrus kept trying to interrupt. He shot an unhappy look in Shepard's direction.

"I'm happy you're alive," Castis finally said. "Wherever you are. At least Shepard will keep you out of trouble."

"Last time I traveled with Shepard, you told it me it was dangerous to work with a Spectre, and that I was going to get myself killed," Garrus pointed out.

"Well Shepard got you a Palladium Star. Then she died and you went to Omega of all places and almost got yourself killed. Which do you think I'd prefer for my son?" Castis asked.

"Look, dad. I'm alive. I'm okay. A little scuffed up, but fine. Can we leave it at that? It's night shift on the ship and I'm tired."

"Fine," Castis agreed. "But we need to discuss other matters, when you get a chance. No one's heard from you in over a year. We've been worried sick. Your mother and sister will be pleased to hear you're okay. You keep my son safe, commander."

"I'll do my best," Shepard told him.

"Goodbye, dad." Garrus hung up the comm link and tossed it back on the floor. He immediately turned on Shepard. "Why did you answer that?"

"I thought it was mine," she said, honestly. "I didn't realize I was still wearing it."

Garrus fell onto his back and sighed. "I was not ready for that."

"You should have called him when you woke up," Shepard said. "He was just worried about you."

"I was more concerned with you."

She lay down next to him, resting her head on his shoulder. "We're heading for the Citadel. I imagine there might be some people there who will be happy to know you're still alive."

"Sure, but you coming back from the dead will probably trump that."

"Your father said he'd heard rumors that I was alive again. Word travels fast from Omega, I guess. If I were to pinpoint anyone, I'd blame Aria."

"Good guess," Garrus yawned, his eyes fluttering shut.

A moment later, he was snoring, a sound she normally hated in a bed partner, but turians didn't snore like humans. His subharmonics vibrated in his chest with each breath, a strange mix between a purr and a buzz. It was an almost comforting sound.

She lay listening to the sound, soaking up the warmth of his body, until gradually, sleep found her too.

Chapter Text

Garrus' ribs were healing quickly. By the time he awoke the next morning, whatever medicine Karin had pumped into his system seemed to be doing its job. He was still a little sore, but he could move without excruciating pain, which was a huge improvement.

Shepard showed him around the newly renovated Normandy, introducing him to the new Cerberus crew. Everything about the ship was state-of-the-art. He hadn't imagined the old Normandy had much to improve upon, besides the interminably slow elevators, but seeing this new model made it evident what the old one had lacked. He was particularly interested in the new forward battery; the guns and turrets that had been installed were good, but he could make them better, improve their accuracy. It would give him something to do between missions.

The crew seemed nice enough, and far friendlier than he'd expected Cerberus employees to be. The man who had been with Shepard on her mission, Jacob, was amiable, but somewhat guarded around him; the woman, Miranda, had said little upon proper introduction, welcoming him to the ship with all the warmth of a Noverian tundra.

He was also able to meet the two other recruits that had been picked up on Omega. The salarian doctor had taken over space in the new tech labs. He talked a mile a minute, making it hard to keep up with what he was saying, but he was friendly, and Garrus had heard good things about him during his time on Omega. The other recruit was a grizzled old merc bounty hunter, infamous in the Terminus systems. Shepard had never heard of him before she received his dossier, but Garrus was very familiar with his work, and apprehensive of his presence on the ship. He had holed himself up in the starboard cargo hold down on the engineering deck; an array of weapons spread out on a bench seemed to be his sole possessions.

Up in the CIC, Garrus met Shepard's new yeoman, a glorified personal assistant, who chatted animatedly with him about any topic he would bring up, asking how he was and if he was in any pain, doe-eyed and sickly sweet in her responses.

"I think Kelly might have a crush on you," Shepard said as she walked him up to the bridge to reunite with Joker.

"What? A human? Working for Cerberus?"

Shepard shrugged. "She seemed really interested in how you were doing."

"Don't be ridiculous, Shepard. You only like me because you got to know me first. What would a human see in a turian?"

"Are you kidding me? That cute little butt of yours?" She raised an eyebrow.

He laughed as she nudged him with her shoulder.

"Garrus!" Joker's chair spun around as they approached the bridge. He held his hand out. Garrus shook it, surprised at the strength in the pilot's grip. "Good to see, you, you spiky-headed devil."

"Good to see you too, Joker. I understand they're trying to replace you with a shackled AI."

Joker's face soured as the AI spoke up from a nearby terminal, manifesting itself in the form of a spherical grid. "I am not here to replace Mr. Moreau," it said, its voice feminine. "I am simply here to provide guidance and assistance for the crew."

"We're not talking about EDI," Joker said. "I'm still trying to get used to her."

"I understand," Garrus crossed his arms. "I'm disappointed, Joker. I thought for sure you'd make a joke about how my new scars were an improvement to my face."

"Scars?" Joker cocked his head. "Buddy, you're so ugly, I hadn't even noticed."

Garrus laughed. "There it is."

"It's good to have you back on the Normandy, man. The commander was a wreck without you."

"No I wasn't," Shepard protested.

"Uh-huh. She put on a brave face, but behind the scenes, it was chaos!" Joker held his hands out to simulate an explosion. "Now we've got the real brains behind the operation, we can actually get somewhere."

"I'll be sure to keep her in check," Garrus said.

"Come on," Shepard grabbed his arm. "You and Joker can catch up more when I'm not around."

"Aw, that's no fun, commander," Joker laughed, spinning his chair back around to face the ship's controls.

"I did miss him," Garrus told Shepard as they made their way back toward the elevator. "Though I have to say, I don't miss the old ship, or it's elevator. Makes it hard to stay suspicious of Cerberus when they've given you such nice accommodations."

"I know," she crossed her arms. "It's sitting in the back of my head every time I lay down in that bed. It's so comfortable compared to the old one."

"I have to agree," Garrus nodded. He'd spent enough time on that bed in his last month on the Normandy to remember how uncomfortable it was. And how loud it could be.

They stepped into the elevator and Shepard hit the button for the top floor. "The only problem I have with the new ship is there's no easy way to bypass the elevator. I'd take the stairs just for the exercise, but the emergency stairwells are locked unless the ship's emergency alert system is engaged."

"What if it's not a hull breach or a fire?" Garrus asked.

"EDI can override the system to open the doors," Shepard shrugged.

"I'm not sure about that AI…Cerberus is really playing with fire there."

"I agree. Joker's not too fond of her either. But she can be helpful. She provides intel for us on the ground that's been pretty valuable so far. But AIs can turn so quickly. Just look at the geth," she said.

"My thoughts exactly."

"Joker doesn't have a good ETA for the trip to the Citadel," she told him as they stepped out of the elevator and into her room. "There's no direct relay jump, so we have to make multiple, but this ship's faster than the old one. Could be anywhere from a week to a few weeks, which I don't think is the most helpful information. EDI offered to run calculations to figure it out but Joker said flying was an art, not a science."

"That does sound like Joker." Garrus watched her as she walked over to the fish tank and pressed some buttons to dispense food.

He stood behind her and rested his head on top of hers, his mandibles brushing against her hair, wrapping his arms around her and inhaling deeply.

"Spirits, but I missed you, Shepard."

He saw her looking at him in the reflection against the fish tank. "I can't even imagine what it must have been like, Garrus. When we got you back to the ship it was so touch and go…I kept thinking about what I would do if I lost you and I felt selfish for thinking it because you had spent the last two years without me. When I first woke up I felt so…I don't know…like something vital was missing. I realize now that it was you."

He kissed her neck softly, as softly as his rigid lips would allow, flicking his tongue against the skin as he kissed her. She shivered and her skin prickled, rising up in the curious way it sometimes did when he kissed her in a certain spot.

Not all of his dreams while she had been gone had been nightmares; on occasion, he dreamed of the weekend they'd spent together in his apartment. In his best dreams, they were reunited and he could touch her and taste her again.

But now he wasn't dreaming, and he wasn't hurting like he'd been before, and there would be time enough to talk later. He pulled at the edge of her shirt, bringing it down past her shoulder and kissing the exposed skin.

She turned around slowly to face him. "Garrus, are you sure you…?"

"I'm fine," he insisted, returning his lips to her neck.

"Don't get me wrong," she said, gently rubbing the soft skin beneath his fringe. "I want this…I want you…but I don't want you to hurt yourself."

He pressed his lips against hers, feeling the pressure of her tongue against his as she opened her mouth to his. Already, he was past the point of no return, his lower plates shifting to accommodate him. It had been so long since he'd felt like this.

His experiences with other women had been unsatisfying, to say the least. For a while, he couldn't bring himself to think about having sex with someone else, so distraught over his loss. Eventually, he did try, but it felt like admitting she was gone to be with anyone else. Like it or not, time really did heal all wounds, even if not fully, and eventually his own base desires won out over his grief and guilt. But each time had been the same, a brief burst of pleasure, and then a lingering disappointment. He hadn't realized how much more satisfying it was to be with someone that he cared about, both parties fully invested in maximizing each other's pleasure.

As they kissed, Shepard's hands, with those multitudes of tiny fingers, tugged at his shirt fastenings. She struggled with them for a moment, and when they were undone, she shoved the shirt from his shoulders and he let it fall to the floor. He pulled her own shirt over her head, though it took a moment because both of them were reluctant to stop kissing one another long enough to take it off. As soon as it was off, their lips were back together.

Her bra was a constant annoyance and had been every time they'd been together. His fingers weren't dexterous enough to undo the absurdly tiny hooks.

"I hate this thing," he complained as he tried to unhook it, mandibles twitching as he got more agitated.

"Don't rip it," she growled.

"I know, it's expensive." For a moment, it was like they'd never been apart.

He finally gave up on the blasted thing and she unhooked it for him, tossing it to the floor. Their hands and lips were against each other again immediately. By that point, he was ready to rip her pants in half if it meant getting them off her more quickly. She had already unfastened his, letting them fall to the floor, exposing him completely.

One of her hands moved between his legs while he worked at removing her pants; he pressed his face into her neck, subharmonics vibrating involuntarily.

"Shepard…" he gasped.

"Hurry up." Her tone was urgent.

He pulled her pants off in a hurry, hooking his talon on her underwear and taking them off with the pants. She kicked the clothes off to the side. He was so eager in his lust that they didn't even make it to the bed, just a few feet away. He picked her up by the bottom and pressed her against the fish tank; she hooked her legs around his hips, wrapped her arms around his neck and let out a soft moan as he slid inside of her.

The pain in his side from his injury protested violently at the effort, but he ignored it, focused solely on how good it felt to be inside of her again. Her ineffective nails clawed at his back as she moaned his name.

"Shepard…" He kissed her collarbone.

She dug her nails into his shoulder and moaned quietly, lifting her head and exposing her neck; he nipped at the soft skin with his lips.

Eventually, the pain became too much to ignore, searing down his side as he held her against the fish tank. He carried her over to the bed and climbed on top of her, resuming their activity, her legs still wrapped around his hips. Lying down eased some of the pain, though his side still throbbed.

He watched her as they moved, her face growing red, sweat beading across her body, eyes closed and mouth half open in a look of pure ecstasy. She gripped the pillow with one hand and his neck with the other as her toes curled against his legs and she arched her back.

"Garrus…" she moaned. "Garrus…"

Her fingers dug into the tender skin on the side of his neck, so hard she nearly drew blood. Another moan escaped her throat and pushed him over the edge. He gasped against her neck, a series of sharp, short breaths, his subharmonics oscillating uncontrollably. Then he fell still, rolled onto his back, chest heaving as he tried to catch his breath.

Shepard clutched her pillow tightly, toes still curled, body still tense, her own chest rising and falling heavily with each breath. All at once, her body went limp as she let out a long sigh. She clutched her hair and wiped some sweat from her face.

Garrus was still recovering, his right side punishing him for his overexertion. It had been worth it. He would have done it twenty more times if he could have. He had been a bit overzealous perhaps, as evidenced by the fresh friction burns his rough skin left behind on Shepard's thighs and stomach. For the past two years, such a moment together had only been possible in his dreams.

"Holy shit," Shepard exhaled loudly, dropping her hand away from her face. "Good to know this new body still works like the old one."

The overwhelming desire Garrus felt to touch her and taste her had not been quenched. He leaned over her and kissed her shoulder, her neck, her cheek, his tongue moving against her as his manic kisses dotted her skin. Two years was a lot of lost time to make up for.

"Oh, Garrus…" She stroked his back. "Did you miss me?"

"You have no idea, Shepard." He dragged his tongue across her collarbone. He was almost ashamed of his inability to let go of her.

She kissed him gently. "Calm down. I'm not going anywhere."

She knew him too well; there was a piece of him crazed by the worry that he would close his eyes and she would be gone again, that it was all just a dream. Placated somewhat by her promise, he rested his head next to hers on the pillow, both of them facing each other.

His fingers traced shapes against her skin, inching up to her breasts. He still didn't understand the sexual appeal of the fleshy appendages, but he did like the way they felt, so soft and pliable. And he liked the way her nipples pricked up reflexively when he touched them.

She grabbed his hand and moved it to the small of her back. "Not right now," she said.

He was content to hold her like that, and for a while they just stared at each other, neither of them saying a word. Eventually, she brought her hand to his face, tracing her fingers over his mangled skin.

"Does it look awful?" he asked.

"No," she kissed his nose. "You could never look awful."

Perhaps it was naïve, but he thought that there had never been a human who had said such a thing to a turian in the entire history of their species' interaction. He wouldn't bring himself to say what he was feeling. An unexpected and unwelcome noise erupted from his chest.

Shepard shifted in alarm. "Garrus, what…?"

He tried to choke it back, but something in the sheer honesty of her statement had opened a door he'd been struggling to keep shut for two years. His subharmonics trembled as an awful keening sound climbed up his chest and out of his throat.

Shepard frowned. "Are you…crying?" she asked.

"I'm sorry," he managed to say. "Shepard, I…" It was so difficult to speak when he cried. He hated it.

She wrapped her arms around him and pulled his head against her shoulder, stroking his back. He clutched at her desperately, feeling as helpless as a child. He kept trying to apologize, but she shushed him and continued to rub his back.

"You don't have to apologize, Garrus," she said. "You've been through a lot."

"I missed you so much," he said through his sobs. He'd never been as raw and open with anyone as he was with her.

"I'm here now. It's okay. I won't leave you again."

He wasn't sure how long they lay like that while he struggled to control the sound escaping his throat. Eventually, though, the crying stopped and his eyes fluttered shut as the pain and fatigue from his exertions caught up with him. He fell asleep with his head resting heavy against her chest, listening to her heartbeat, a gentle reminder that she was really, truly alive.

When Shepard realized that Garrus had fallen asleep, she lay with him for a while before slipping away to get dressed and let him rest. She sat at her private terminal and opened up her messages to begin typing a letter to Liara, but was stalled when she noticed a message addressed from "Admiral David Anderson, Alliance Navy". She waited a moment and then opened it.

'Shepard. Been hearing rumors that you've been…rebuilt? I was passing it off as a lot of Citadel gossip nonsense, but then I saw that your extranet address was active again. I almost alerted C-sec, figured someone was stealing your identity. I don't know what stopped me from telling them. I guess a part of me hopes the rumors are true. If they are, if you get this message, please come and see me on the Citadel. There's so much to discuss. Your friend, Anderson.'

Shepard reread the letter a few times. It seemed the captain had been promoted to admiral. She was glad: he deserved it. Listening to Garrus cry had been hard enough on her without immediately reading Anderson's e-mail tinged with the sadness of loss and his bleak hope hinging on rumors.

She was glad they were heading for the Citadel, but she still wanted to reach out to Liara before the news broke to the whole world that commander Shepard, 'hero of the Citadel', was alive after two years presumed dead. She would have preferred to call the asari, but Cerberus had outfitted her with a new comm link that lacked many of the address connections her old one had.

But maybe Garrus' comm link…

She tiptoed over to him and pulled the link gently from his wrist. He didn't stir. He was still recovering from having half of his face blown off after all; cutting edge technology and all, it was still a serious injury to recover from.

She took the comm link over to her desk and searched through his contacts until she found what she was looking for. She hit the video call on Liara's contact info and waited while the comm link buzzed to let her know it was dialing.

The other end rang and rang…and rang, so long that Shepard was about to hang up, but then Liara's face appeared suddenly above the comm link.

"Garrus, where the hell have you…Shepard," the asari's breath caught in her throat at the sight of her dead friend on the other end of the line.

"Hey, Liara," Shepard said sheepishly.

"By the Goddess, Shepard, I…" Her eyes welled with tears. "I had heard rumors, but…" she let out a tiny sob and choked it back. "I'm sorry. I have…I could not let myself hope that the rumors were true."

"I'm alive again," Shepard told her. "You don't have to apologize for having emotions. I know that you all saw it happen…heard me die."

"How did you...come back?" Liara asked, wiping her eyes.

"It's kind of a long story. I heard you're on Illium. What are you doing there?"

"It's kind of a long story," Liara laughed. "Where are you calling me from? And why are you on Garrus' comm link. Did you find him? I haven't heard from him in over a year. I finally gave up trying to contact him."

"I found him on Omega," Shepard explained. "Trying to make the galaxy a better place, bitching about bureaucrats. You know Garrus," she laughed. "He's okay. He's with me now. He's just resting now, though. He got hurt pretty badly on Omega, but my new comm link didn't have your info so I stole his. We're headed for the Citadel, so I wanted to call you and let you know I was alive again, before the reporters let the rest of the galaxy know."

"Thank you, Shepard. That means a great deal to me. You don't know how much we've all missed you. Garrus, perhaps, the most," Liara told her.

"Oh, Garrus made it pretty clear I'm not allowed to leave his sight again."

There was a voice calling for Liara on the other end. She sighed and rubbed her head. "I'm so sorry, Shepard. I'm…I'm very busy these days. I would rather I never had to end this call…there's so much for us to talk about, but I have to go."

"I understand," she assured her. "There'll be time to talk later."

"Come and see me on Illium. Please. As soon as you get the chance," Liara begged.

"I'll try," Shepard promised.

"Goodbye, Shepard. I hope we'll talk again soon."

The line disconnected and Shepard sat for a moment in silence. She felt she owed it to Wrex and Kaidan to try and reach out to them as well. The Illusive Man would have probably preferred that she didn't call half the galaxy, would have worried that she was divulging too much, but she didn't care. In the end, it didn't matter anyway. Neither the krogan nor the lieutenant could be reached.

She set the comm link down on her desk and left the room to explore the ship while Garrus slept. On the old Normandy, she had always made the rounds getting to know her crew and see if there was anything she could do to help things run more smoothly. Those rounds had been one of the ways she'd gotten to know Garrus better.

She hadn't spent much time acquainting herself with the new crew at all, so she decided to head down and get to know some of them. Part of her had been putting it off because she knew they were all Cerberus people, but the fact was, if she was using their money and flying their ship, she was a Cerberus person too.

When Shepard arrived down at the command control center, her yeoman, Kelly, was typing away at her terminal next to the central galaxy map. She smiled when she noticed Shepard exiting the elevator.

"How are you doing, commander?"

"I'm all right," Shepard said. "Nervous about getting to the Citadel. How about you, Chambers?"

"I'm just happy to be aboard, ma'am. How is your friend Garrus doing? His injuries looked pretty bad." Shepard noticed how the girl's eyes got bigger when she mentioned Garrus. She'd never met a human who was interested in turians, excluding herself, but she was only really interested in the one.

"Garrus is tough," Shepard told her, leaning against the railing surrounding the galaxy map. "He'll be fine."

Kelly sighed, they dewy look of naïve fondness in her eyes. "There's just something about him," she said. "I just want to hold him close and whisper 'it'll be all right'."

Considering Shepard had come from doing just that, she laughed without meaning to. "I know what you mean," she told Kelly. "Stop me if it's not my business, but it seems like you've got kind of a thing for aliens, Chambers."

Kelly shrugged, still doe-eyed as she discussed it. "I don't have an alien fetish or anything. I just believe that we're all distinct individuals. To me, interspecies relationships make sense. You put a bunch of people together on different planets, why should it matter if they're both the same species if they're still two consenting adults?"

Shepard didn't disagree, but it was an odd thing to hear from a Cerberus employee. "I guess I just pegged Cerberus employees as pro-human."

"I can care about the fate of humanity and still be friends with aliens, commander," Kelly said, a hint of defensiveness in her generally placid and friendly tone.

"Don't worry, Chambers, you don't have to defend yourself. Half my squad against Saren were aliens. Hell, my best friend is a turian. Not many humans can say that!" Shepard laughed.

Kelly smiled warmly, "I'm glad we understand each other, commander." She seemed to remember herself. "Oh! Is there anything I can help you with while you're here?"

"Seen much of Zaeed up here?" she asked.

Kelly's face contorted. "No. I can't say I'm upset by his absence either. He's a bit scary."

Shepard laughed. "Yeah he's a little rough around the edges. Everyone settling in okay? Anything major happening on the ship that I should know about?"

The yeoman shook her head. "Nothing to report, commander."

"All right, well you take care, Chambers. Let me know if there's anything you need to make life easier, all right? You want a chair? You're always standing around up here."

Kelly laughed. "I'm okay commander, thank you."

Shepard left her and stopped to talk to some of the crew on the path leading up to the bridge. Most of them were engineers and flight assistants; they seemed surprised that the commander would deign to talk to them, and uneasy about it at first, but when it became clear that there was no ulterior motive, they warmed up a bit.

"Commander, you distracting my slaves back there?" Joker called.

Shepard rolled her eyes and made her way up to the bridge, taking a seat in the empty chair next to Joker's and propping her feet up on the display. Joker let out an inhuman noise.

"Hey! Commander! Were you raised in a barn? Come on, get your feet off of my baby." Shepard pulled her feet down quickly and Joker leaned over, brushing his hand along the surface of the display. "I'm sorry, baby, the commander doesn't appreciate you."

"The ship is non-sentient and unable to understand your condolences, Mr. Moreau," EDI spoke up.

"Thank you, EDI," he replied bitterly.

"I see you two are getting along swimmingly," Shepard noted, crossing her arms.

"It's a work in progress," Joker sighed. "How's Garrus? I wasn't going to say anything, 'cause I love giving the spiky bastard a hard time, but he looked pretty rough."

"Honestly, I'm less worried about him physically than emotionally," Shepard told him. "He's had a rough two years. I wish I could have been there for him." She stared out the window to the right of her seat.

"He took it really hard when you died," Joker told her. "We were all pretty worried about him. And then when he dropped off the grid…well we thought he'd gone to join you. I know you two are close. I'm sure now that you're back, he'll be okay."

"I hope so."

"Where is he anyway? Does he get a real bunk now or are we sticking him back in the shuttle bay?" Joker laughed. "Might be the only place he can sleep."

"Garrus is staying in my cabin," Shepard said nonchalantly. She turned to face Joker, waiting to gauge his response.

"Your cabin?" He shook his head. "Why would he…oh. Oh." He looked sideways at Shepard with a sly grin. "Commander. Didn't know you had a thing for turians."

"I don't," Shepard said, unable to keep from grinning herself. "Just this particular one. Don't go gossiping about it. It's not exactly a secret, but I don't think the entire crew needs to be told either."

"Hey, who am I going to tell? You and Karin are the only people I trust on this ship."

"Karin already knows," Shepard shrugged.

"There you go."

"I'm afraid I don't understand the conversation," EDI piped in. "Is there some secondary meaning to the phrase 'staying in my cabin'?"

Joker snorted. "Well now there is. How long has Garrus been 'staying in your cabin', commander? I bet it's warm and cozy."

Shepard stood up and smacked the pilot on the side of the head. "Watch yourself, Joker."

"Ahh! I've got brittle bones!" Joker grabbed his head dramatically.

"I still do not understand," EDI said.

"Don't worry about it, EDI," Shepard told her.

"EDI, search the extranet for turian/human vids," Joker yelled.

"Don't do that, EDI," Shepard corrected.

"There are 3,576 results for turian/human vids," EDI said. "Shall I bring one up on the vid screen in the comm room?"

"No!" Shepard barked, and then, "Three-thousand vids?"

"You want me to send them to you, commander? For tips?"

"That's the last time I tell you anything, Joker," Shepard complained. "I'm going to talk to the rest of the crew. Stop corrupting our AI."

"Mr. Moreau, some of these vids are…unsettling," EDI said.

"Yeah, I'll bet." Shepard heard him say as she walked away from the bridge.

She knew that Joker, living up to his name, was just being facetious for the hell of it, so she didn't concern herself too much over his reaction. She wasn't going to go on the intercom and tell the whole ship she was sleeping with Garrus, but if Miranda knew, then Joker deserved to know.

She made her way back through the command control center to the tech labs to find Jacob and Mordin chatting with one another. Mordin was seated at a terminal typing away busily while he spoke; Jacob sat backwards on a chair, leaning against the back of it and sliding it back and forth across the steel floor of the lab.

"Hey, Shepard. How's your turian friend?" Jacob asked.

"Fine," Shepard said, tiring of the question already. "He's just resting."

"Interesting relationship," Mordin said. "Few humans and turians friends. Bond seems strong. Unusual."

"Garrus helped me take down Saren and the geth. He's saved my ass more times than I can count. If anyone deserves my trust, it's him," Shepard told him.

"No problem with relationship," Mordin shrugged. "Just noting peculiarity. Humans and turians have longstanding animosity. Friendship is good. Trust you not to judge other species by stereotypes, commander."

It was hard not to judge Mordin by salarian stereotypes when he was surrounded by experiment materials, wearing a lab coat, typing away at a computer, but she wasn't going to mention that.

"Dr. Solus was just showing me an experiment he was running on some of the samples you brought back from Freedom's Progress," Jacob explained. "Trying to pull any evidence off of the items, like collector DNA or something."

"A bit more complicated than that," Mordin said. "But essentially correct for human with only basic knowledge of science. Results were unhelpful, though. May look for additional supplies on the Citadel. What is funding situation, commander?"

Jacob answered before Shepard could. "If you need supplies, you get them. We'll make sure of it."

"Sure," Shepard added. "But you're settling in well otherwise?"

Mordin looked up. "Accommodations acceptable. Bed a bit stiff, but location excellent. Need to have access to experiments at all hours. Food leaves much to be desired, but salarian tastes different than humans'. Crew seem friendly, respectable, not overtly xenophobic. Much better than anticipated for Cerberus vessel."

"Well…uh…good. I guess," Shepard said unsurely. She was still adjusting to the salarian's rapid-fire method of speaking.

"I asked the doc if he had any way of slowing down his translator," Jacob laughed. "He didn't understand the necessity."

"I guess we'll just have keep up with him," Shepard replied, smiling.

"I guess so. Hey, I think Miranda wanted to talk to you," he said casually; the smile slid off Shepard's face.

"Is she down in her office?"

"As usual," Jacob replied. "You should tell your turian friend to come by when he's up and around. I wanted to talk to him about some mods for the guns in the armory. He seems like he knows his way around a gun, so I thought he'd be a good person to ask."

"Be careful," Shepard warned. "You get Garrus talking about a rifle and he might not ever shut up."

"I'll keep that in mind."

Shepard said goodbye to the two men and begrudgingly headed down to the crew deck to talk to Miranda. She was unused to having people on her ship that she actively disliked, though she was really making an effort to not hate Miranda; the woman was so cold, replying in short bursts, hardly ever leaving her cabin when she was on board the ship. Shepard liked a crew that was friendly and social. Maybe she'd just gotten too used to playing drinking games in the cargo bay with her old crew.

Passing some of the crew at the mess table, Shepard made her way over to Miranda's office, the same room that had been her own cabin on the first Normandy. She knocked on the door and it flew open without an answer, revealing Miranda sitting at her desk.

"Shepard," Miranda greeted her. "You can sit if you like."

Shepard hesitated a moment before sitting in one of the chairs in front of the desk. Miranda finished typing something and looked up.

"How are you finding the ship?" she asked.

She resisted the urge to reply as coldly as Miranda tended to. "It's great," she said honestly. "I didn't think that the Normandy could be improved upon but Cerberus has proven me wrong."

"Good. Your accommodations are suitable?"

"More than." Shepard nodded. "I'm very comfortable in my cabin. Why are you asking me all this?"

Miranda smiled, but it only made Shepard more uneasy.

"I'm sorry, Shepard. I know I…" She looked away, out the window, as she spoke. "I'm aware that I'm not the easiest person to talk to. And that most of the crew doesn't care for me. I have no apologies to make. I think you and I may be especially at odds and I'm trying to work on that. It's just that my approach to leading a team is very different than yours. I believe it's important to maintain a distance from the team as the leader. Can anyone really respect you if you're their friend first and commander second?"

She didn't say it condescendingly. Rather, there seemed to be a genuine curiosity in her tone. Shepard wasn't surprised that Miranda felt that way about leadership, just from having known her the short amount of time she did. She wondered what had led her to that belief.

Even in the Alliance, where there were strict rules against fraternizing, friendships were forged. Shepard may not have had many close friends until she became commander and got to really know her crew, but she had still valued her relationship with other crew members, and had learned working under Anderson that a team that cared about one another was more likely to fight harder on the field to ensure everyone survived. Miranda had obviously never experienced a similar environment.

"I think the two concepts aren't related," Shepard told her. "I respected my old crew immensely, and they're also some of the closest friends I've ever had. When you form a bond with your team, you work more cohesively…begin to understand each other without the need for words. It's hard to explain it, it's more something you just have to experience."

"It's obvious that your former crew trusts and respects you immensely, Shepard," Miranda said. The conversation was perhaps the longest, and most pleasant, Shepard had had with her. "When we hired on Karin Chakwas, she had nothing but excellent things to say about you. And the pilot, Jeff Moreau, when he finally finished talking about his own abilities, he said that you were the only captain he ever wanted to fly under again. Even with the turian…I'm sorry, even with Garrus it was evident how much he respects you just in watching him watch you while you speak."

"What are you getting at, Miranda?" Shepard asked.

"I suppose I just envy you. I don't know how to be the kind of leader you are."

"Well, you could start by leaving your den here once in a while. When we get to the Citadel, go out with some of the crew and have drinks. That's how I first got to know my squad on the Normandy. It was very effective," Shepard laughed. "Or, if you don't want to wait, we can open up the bar in the Port Observatory before we get there. Loosen up a little."

"I don't know how you can be so cavalier in the face of such an important mission, with so much to do," Miranda admitted. "Aren't you worried about it?"

"Of course I am. But what can I do about it that I'm not already doing? I have the dossiers, we're heading to the Citadel to try to get more support, and if that doesn't work, we'll move on to the next recruit. Stressing about it doesn't make time go faster, and locking myself in my cabin and isolating myself from my crew doesn't help anything. Look, I know we didn't get off to a great start, but hell, Miranda, you rebuilt me from nothing. If you can do that, you can have some drinks with the crew and not worry about the mission for a little while."

Miranda smiled, and for once it seemed genuine. "Thank you, Shepard. I'll consider it. I hope that maybe we can…well it would be nice if we could get along."

"I agree," Shepard told her, standing up. "So if you have a problem with something I'm doing, tell me and we can work it out. I don't like passive aggressiveness on my ship. I hope you feel the same."

"Certainly. I'll talk to you later, Shepard."

Shepard left her in her cabin and returned to the elevator. She was pleasantly surprised at how the conversation had gone, and hoped it was the first in a series of positive chats with Miranda. She wasn't convinced they'd ever be friends, but getting along would certainly make battles a little bit easier, if nothing else.

She decided to bypass visiting engineering. She had spoken with the two lead engineers, Adams and Donnelly, at some length before they'd picked up Garrus, and she was still anxious about Zaeed's presence, so for the moment, she would leave him to stew in the little den he'd built for himself in the cargo hold.

When the elevator arrived back up at the top of the ship, she heard noises issuing from her cabin before she even opened the door. She stood for a minute listening, trying to decide what the sound was. It only took a second of quiet eavesdropping to recognize the characteristic noise of feigned passion that could only be attributed to pornography.

She stepped into the cabin and found Garrus sitting at her desk, staring at the terminal, which was playing a vid of a male turian and a female human bending in ways she didn't think were possible. Garrus didn't even flinch or try to turn it off at her arrival. Without even looking at her, he said:

"Shepard, do you know why Joker sent me four gigabytes of turian/human porn vids?"

She stood behind him and rested her head on his shoulder, staring at the vid with the same combined look of fascination and horror that Garrus was wearing.

"I may have mentioned that you were staying in my cabin. And he may have had EDI perform an extranet search for the topic," she explained.

"Do you think this is what we look like when we're doing it?" Garrus asked, his voice laced with concern.

"Well, my breasts don't defy the laws of physics quite like that…"

"Is it normal for human women to make that sound?"

"No, she's faking it for the vid," Shepard explained.

"But you don't sound like that when you…" He started.

"Nobody sounds like that in real life. Oh god, what is he doing to her?"

"Spirits, I'm glad you sound upset by that. I was worried it was something you'd want me to do."

"If you ever do that to me, I'll snap your dick in half," she warned him.

"Understandable. You don't need to worry about that."

"Change it to a different one. I don't like this," Shepard demanded.

He flipped over to the next video, apparently one of many.

"I kind of feel like I should have searched for some of this myself," he said.

Neither of them could take their eyes off of the terminal. Shepard moved slowly in front of him and sat on his lap, draping her legs over the side of the chair and resting her head against his shoulder as she watched. He held her legs and side absently, not removing his gaze.

"I'm glad you didn't," she told him. "This is a grossly inaccurate depiction of what human women are interested in doing. We figured it out the old-fashioned way."

"Oh no, she's putting her mouth on…" Garrus winced. He was still not comfortable with the entire concept of fellatio, it seemed. Before Shepard had…died, he had not wanted to discuss the option, citing that he couldn't get the image of teeth being so close to it out of his mind.

"Okay, but her teeth aren't sharp like a turian's," Shepard said.

For a moment, she managed to take her eyes away from the screen to watch the expressions playing across his face. His mandibles twitched as he watched the vid, brow ridge shifting up and down unsurely.

"See, he likes it," she told him.

"Her teeth are right there! She could just…bite it or…" he shuddered. "I still can't believe this is something other species do."

She patted his chest. "You let me know when you change your mind."

They flipped through more of the vids together. It felt less like watching something fun and sexy and more like watching a nature documentary. Shepard had thought Garrus seemed…well endowed, he was nearly seven feet tall and very proportionate everywhere, but the turians in the vids were an entirely different beast. It made her insides ache just to think about it.

"They've had surgery or something, right?" she asked. "That's not…that's not normal, is it?"

"No," Garrus replied sharply.

"Oh no, that poor girl. There's two of them," Shepard covered her eyes. She could still hear the vid, however, and the turians were making some pretty horrendous and bestial noises.

"Nope. Nope. No, no, no," Garrus said, clicking away from the video quickly. "They started using their teeth."

"Well, this one seems okay," she said as another vid started up. "Look, he's being very gentle with her."

They watched the new vid with interest. Occasionally, Shepard would feel Garrus' subharmonics rumbling in his chest. For a while, they were quiet, intrigued by this new vid in a way they hadn't been by the others.

"Oh," Shepard said softly. "Can you do that?"

"Yes." His hand squeezed her leg. "Can you do that?"

She laughed. "It's been a while, but I probably still could."

A few more minutes passed in silence, though she could feel her heartbeat accelerating, and hear Garrus' breath becoming heavier.

"Maybe we should save this one," she suggested.

"Yeah, I mean, it couldn't hurt to just have it as reference, right?"

"Right. We might not ever watch it again, I mean probably we won't, but we should just keep it anyway." She nodded.

"You, uh…wanna…?"

She jumped to her feet and grabbed his hand. "Yes."

Chapter Text

Watching the Citadel come into view as the Normandy slowly approached the docks in Zakera ward filled Garrus with a strange mix of excitement and anxiety. He hadn't been back in over a year, but the station had been his home for many years before he'd joined Shepard on the Normandy, and there were a lot of memories he'd left behind with it.

"Looks like most of the damage from Sovereign's attack has been cleaned up," Shepard noted.

She was pulling on her armor as she stared out the window in her cabin. Garrus had already put on the new armor she'd purchased for him; it fit well, and was far nicer than anything he'd ever owned before. Shepard had thought nothing of the gesture, it was clear: he needed new armor and she wasn't letting him get blown up again. It had meant more to him.

"The keepers are fast workers," Garrus said. "And people on the Citadel are always eager to get back into a routine and pretend they're safe from any war or danger."

Shepard turned around to face him, running her hand along the edge of his armor. "It fits nicely," she said. "Is it comfortable?"

"As comfortable as armor can be," he laughed.

"You're sure you're up to this?" She had been exceedingly concerned about him the closer they got to the Citadel. It was probably the hundredth time she'd asked him the question.

They hadn't discussed the crying episode he'd had. He didn't want to talk about it, and she mentioned it only once, again only to ask if he was okay. When he'd deflected her questions, she'd dropped it. Eventually he would tell her everything he was feeling, but he wasn't ready yet, and it was enough just to be with her again.

"I'm fine, Shepard. I promise," he placed his hand under her chin and lifted her head up. "Besides, if I stay behind, who's going to watch your six?"

She smiled and pecked the scarred side of his mandible. There was something distinctly different about their relationship now that she was back, something he didn't know how to put into words, but whatever it was, he liked it. He had spent two years of his life feeling like a piece of him had been torn out and now he felt like he had it back.

When the ship docked, Joker called over the intercom and they headed down to meet some of the other crew by the airlock. Zaeed was the first at the door when they arrived, arms folded over his chest, tapping his foot impatiently.

"Haven't been to this blasted place in an eon," he said. "Wonder what kind of crap my former associates are getting themselves into. Should be fun," he flashed a grin.

"I imagine I met some of your 'associates' during my days in C-sec," Garrus replied.

"I'll bet you have, birdy. I'm sure they loved you."

"Commander. Good to see you here. Have a few questions." Mordin approached from behind them, interrupting what Garrus felt would have been a good retort to Zaeed's statement. He'd spent enough of his life being called various bird-related names to have thought of a few come-backs.

"Mordin," Shepard nodded in greeting. "What can I do for you?"

"Have packed a gun if necessary," Mordin told her, patting his side. "Think it shouldn't be, wards dangerous, certainly. Still, no Omega. Will I be needing more ample armor?"

"Zakera ward is much safer than Omega," Garrus told him. "You should be fine."

Jacob and Miranda arrived last. Shepard had already addressed the crew, letting them know they would be docked for at least three days. When they departed the ship, Zaeed took off quickly, as did Jacob and Mordin; they were going to replenish Mordin's supplies. It seemed Miranda was interested in sticking with Garrus and Shepard, however. Garrus had noticed that she seemed to have a special interest in keeping Shepard within her sights. He supposed if he had spent two years and billions of credits rebuilding someone, he'd also be a little bit antsy about their actions. As it was, he wanted to keep Shepard close for his own reasons. He didn't particularly appreciate the other human's presence.

Passing through the dock security gates, the alarms went off as they were being scanned. A turian C-sec officer standing at a terminal by the door punched something into the terminal.

"We're going to need you to step aside into our offices," he addressed both Shepard and Garrus. "Systems are reporting one of you as dead and one of you as 'presumed dead'."

"Dammit," Miranda cursed. "Cerberus was supposed to have taken care of this. Can't do anything right unless you do it yourself."

Shepard shrugged. "I didn't think it would be as easy as passing through security unchecked. I have been dead for two years, after all."

They followed the turian officer through a set of doors and into the main lobby of the Zakera ward's C-Sec headquarters. Garrus hadn't spent much time on that particular ward, but he was familiar with some of the officers. They were led over to a desk, behind which sat a human captain by the name of Bailey. He was familiar with the name, though he had never met the man personally. Several humans had been promoted to captains after the losses that occurred during the Battle of the Citadel.

Garrus and Shepard sat down in the two chairs in front of Bailey's desk while Miranda paced impatiently behind them.

"Commander Shepard, hm?" Bailey asked, reading from his terminal. "You're supposed to be dead."

"Well, you can't trust everything you hear," Shepard replied coolly.

"Your profiles match the system," Bailey shrugged. "You can never be too sure with people. All sorts of crazy science and technology out there now, anybody could be wearing your face. But you can't fake a profile. I'll get this cleared up for you, but the Council is probably going to want to know one of their Spectres is still alive. Especially considering it's the Spectre that saved their asses during the battle."

"I plan on paying them a visit," Shepard told him.

"What about the turian then? You look familiar," Bailey squinted at Garrus. "You're not Castis' son, are you?"

Everyone in C-sec seemed to know his father.

"Yes, though I understand he's retired now," Garrus said.

"Yeah. Tough old bastard, isn't he? He left about a year ago. Moved back to Palaven. Suppose you already know that. Anyway, it looks like the system had you logged as presumed dead. Lost contacts and such. I'll fix it right up."

"Thanks for your help," Shepard said. "I haven't been back to the Citadel in a while, seems like security's gotten tighter."

"Had to implement some checkpoints," Bailey explained while he typed on his terminal. "After the geth attack, the Council wanted people to feel safer. That mostly entailed checkpoints. It's really just a big pain in the ass. Wastes C-sec resources and doesn't stop much of anything. You'd think we'd know how to spot a geth with our own two eyes instead of using this expensive scanning system."

"You would think," Garrus agreed. The Council was eager to appear productive without actually doing anything of meaning to stop the real threat.

"Well, you two are all set," Bailey told them. He shook their hands. "Thanks for your service here on the Citadel. It's good to have you both back. You need anything from C-sec, commander, you just let me know."

"Thanks, captain," Shepard said. When they had left the building and entered the ward, she turned to Garrus and Miranda. "We should head up to the Presidium first. I want to speak to Anderson."

"Good plan. We should get up there before half the Citadel finds out you're alive again," Garrus suggested. If he knew C-sec, it wouldn't stay with the officers for long. One of them would talk to a civilian, maybe a friend or a lover, and then it would spread like wildfire. Shepard, in her constant reluctance to accept praise, sometimes failed to realize what a hero she was to the people. Her death had been galaxy-wide news, hundreds of thousands had turned up to her memorial service, billions more had watched it on the news. She was one of the most famous women in the galaxy and she wasn't even fully aware of it.

The fastest way out of the ward from their location was a rapid transit shuttle, so they piled in and waited as the shuttle made its way toward the Presidium.

"Have you been to the Citadel much, Miranda?" Garrus asked, trying to be nice to the human, though he didn't particularly care for her.

"A few times," Miranda replied. "It's been cleaned up since the last time I was here. I understand you lived here for several years working under C-sec."

"Cerberus have a file on me?" Garrus asked.

"I have files on everyone."

"But you didn't know I was Archangel."

"No. I was too busy rebuilding your girlfriend," she said sharply.

Garrus and Shepard both shifted in noticeable discomfort at her use of the word for the relationship they had refused to label. It was one of many conversations they still hadn't had since her return.

"So, uh, what should we do once I've met with the Council?" Shepard changed the subject. "I thought I'd give the crew a few days of shore leave. And God knows we never took enough of it when we were chasing Saren. Plus I haven't been back here in two years, so I'm guessing a lot has changed."

"I still don't see how you can think of diversions at a time like this," Miranda said.

"Times like this are the most important times for diversions," Shepard said, a bit of an edge to her voice. "Sure, I can't spend all my time ignoring my responsibilities. But sometimes the only way to handle the burden of everything is to let loose. If you don't, you end up being so overwhelmed when the time for action comes, that you might end up sabotaging yourself."

"I suppose I'll defer to you, Shepard. You obviously have experience with the matter," Miranda shrugged.

"You spend a little time with Shepard and you learn to loosen up pretty quickly," Garrus piped in.

"I'll message Joker and the others to meet us somewhere tonight," Shepard suggested. "Where do you think, Garrus?"

"Not Purgatory," he said. "The place is always so crowded."

"How about Flux?"

"Isn't there anywhere quiet we could go?" Garrus groaned. He'd spent the past year on Omega; he'd had his fill of noisy, pheromone-filled clubs.

"How about McAlistair's Pub in the 2nd district? Is that place still open?" Shepard asked.

"It was last time I was here."

Shepard typed into her omni-tool. "Good. I've invited Joker, Jacob, Mordin, Kelly, and…Zaeed."

"Shoot me," Garrus heard Miranda mutter.

He appreciated Shepard's insistence on getting to know her crew, though he did feel like some of her current effort was in a vain attempt to replace the close and natural bond she'd had with the old one, but he privately agreed with Miranda; he was imagining a very uncomfortable evening ahead.

At least there was always the possibility that he'd be having sex at the end of it.


The rapid transit shuttle let them off directly outside the Citadel embassy offices on the Presidium. The offices were at least one part of the Presidium that hadn't drastically changed in Shepard's absence: the lobby was as crowded as ever, the same turian receptionist sat dealing with angry visitors, the doors were still guarded by C-sec officers. The only difference now was that Udina's office belonged to Anderson. It seemed Shepard hadn't saved him from a life amongst politicians after all.

As Shepard pushed past the crowds of people toward the hall leading to the office, she was stopped by one of the turian C-sec officers.

"Get in line and take a ticket. No meeting with a representative until your turn has been called," the turian grumbled.

Around her, people were beginning to whisper and point, all of them wondering the same thing. Had the hero of the Citadel really returned?

"I'm not taking a ticket," Shepard said. "Go and tell admiral Anderson that Commander Rembley Shepard is here to see him."

The turian laughed. "You do look like her. But I wasn't born yesterday. Commander Shepard's been dead for 2 years."

Garrus tapped his foot impatiently next to her, folding his arms over his chest. "Just go and tell him," he said.

The C-sec officer jabbed Garrus in the chest. "I'm not your errand boy. You want to see the admiral, you get in line and take a ticket."

For a moment, Shepard thought there was going to be a confrontation. Garrus' eyes flashed and his mandibles flared. She felt like there was no telling what he might do, he seemed so changed after everything that had happened on Omega. She was relieved when he stepped back and crossed his arms, still glaring at the C-sec officer.

It turned out they didn't have to take a ticket to resolve the situation. As Shepard was resigning herself to waiting in the massive crowd, all of whom had overheard her saying who she was, Anderson appeared at the entrance to the hallway.

"Shepard!" He pushed past the C-sec officer, who looked affronted at the assault, and flung his arms around Shepard in a very informal and decidedly non-Alliance manner. When he pulled away from her, he was beaming, tears forming in the corners of his eyes. "I didn't want to give myself too much hope, but then I got a call from Captain Bailey down in C-sec saying your profiles had matched…two years, Shepard. We have a lot to discuss."

"We do," Shepard agreed.

Anderson noticed Garrus standing next to her and slapped his hand against Garrus' armor. "Vakarian! Good to see you're still alive too."

Garrus looked alarmed at the admiral's informal behavior. He nodded politely. "Nice to see you, admiral."

"Uh, this is Miranda Lawson," Shepard said, remembering her manners. "She's…"

Anderson's expression clouded as he looked at Miranda. "I know who she is. Come with me, Shepard."

They followed him down the hall to Udina's old office and took a seat in front of his desk while he ushered his assistants out to give them privacy. When he sat down before them, his eyebrows were furrowed.

"There were some rumors I'd heard that I hoped weren't true, Shepard. You're with Cerberus now?"

"Well…it's a little complicated…" Shepard began.

"But it's true?"

"Yes," she nodded. "They're the ones who brought me back."

"So it's a matter of debt repayment, then?" Anderson suggested.

"In a manner of speaking…they…"

"The Council was sweeping things under the rug!" Garrus interjected, smacking his fist on the armrest of his chair. "You and I both know what they were doing. They never had any intention of going after the Reapers. They just wanted to forget the whole thing as fast as they could. What else should Shepard do? She died running a meaningless errand for the Alliance and the Council. Maybe if they'd funded her and used their resources for any intel, she never would have died in the first place. Why shouldn't she accept Cerberus' help if it means…"

"Garrus," Shepard said, placing her hand gently on his arm.

He settled back into his seat, still looking furious.

"I understand, Garrus, I do," Anderson said. "It's just unfortunate that Cerberus is the one behind all this. Their reputation doesn't exactly inspire the greatest confidence."

"I might have been inclined to agree before," Shepard told him. "But whole colonies are disappearing in the Terminus system and what is the Alliance doing about it? Cerberus sent me to one of those colonies and we have every reason to believe the Reapers are using the collectors to…harvest these people. For God knows what."

"The collectors?" Anderson sighed. "You're sure?"

"Not one hundred percent, but pretty damn positive," Shepard nodded.

Miranda had been silent up until then, but she finally spoke up. "Shepard's right, Admiral. You have every reason not to trust Cerberus, we're well aware of our reputation. But this is more than just petty fights for power between races. Human colonies are disappearing. And if the Reapers are able to make it out of dark space, we all stand to suffer from it. Shouldn't that be enough for you to trust us? A temporary alliance is all Shepard's asking for. If the Council wants to bury their heads in the sand, and if the Alliance doesn't want to risk direct action against an unknown like the Collectors, then take advantage of what Cerberus is offering. We're funding Shepard. All you have to do is convince them to reinstate her Spectre status. She can do their work for them and they can pretend it's not happening."

Anderson scratched his chin. "I don't like it, but I see your point. The Council would love the idea…provided Shepard doesn't go around telling the whole Citadel about the Reapers. You'd still have to keep quiet about it. It's ideal for them, though. They don't have to waste the resources, but if you manage to take care of the problem, they can still claim credit because it was one of their Spectres."

"Good to see they haven't changed," Shepard rolled her eyes. "I think the Council owes me after I saved their lives."

"You realize I can't reinstate your Alliance ranking," Anderson said. "You'd have to renounce ties to Cerberus. And we'd have a lot of paperwork to fill out before you could even come back."

Shepard felt a little pang of sadness when he told her that. Her entire career, over a decade of her life, had been dedicated to the Alliance. It was half of her identity. She knew that if she renounced Cerberus and returned to the Alliance, it would mean being grounded while an investigation took place, and in the meantime, no one would be doing anything about the Collectors or the Reapers. She couldn't sacrifice the resources Cerberus was providing. Still, she promised herself that she'd go back as soon as Cerberus stopped being helpful. She didn't trust them enough to believe they'd be on her side forever.

"I understand, admiral," She replied quietly.

"You will have a place waiting for you if things change," Anderson told her. "But I understand, Shepard. Someone's got to take this thing on. I can't blame the Council or the Alliance for ignoring it. It's real nightmare stuff, the Reapers. Sometimes I wish I could ignore it. I've been trying for the last two years to get anyone to take it seriously. But when you died, they all just wanted it gone. It's easier to pretend it couldn't happen to us." He shook his head and sighed. "Let's talk to the Council. Even if they still want to ignore the matter, they owe you a conversation, and you'd be a valuable asset as a Spectre. As I said, providing you don't…"

"Yeah, I get it," Shepard interrupted. "Keep my mouth shut about the Reapers."

"I'd ask that your companions wait here."

Garrus bristled, but he was a turian and Shepard knew he understood the rules surrounding hierarchies and restricted access to information. Besides, whatever happened, Shepard would tell him about it later. Miranda only shrugged, looking bored and agitated.

Anderson led her to the other side of the room, through a side door, where a holo-projector allowed direct conversations with the Council. He dialed them in and waited for the answer.

After a moment, the Council appeared before them: turian, asari, salarian…and Shepard's least favorite sour-faced human. The look on Udina's face when he saw her was worth having to talk to him, though.

"Shepard! What kind of trickery is this? Anderson, explain yourself!" He yelled.

The other councilors were a bit more subdued in their response. Councilor Sparatus spoke first.

"Commander Shepard, we had heard rumors that you were still alive."

"Or alive…again…" Valern added with some suspicion.

"You can check my scanner profiles," Shepard said calmly. "It's really me." She felt like launching into a diatribe about their careless decision to ignore reality in favor of living a lie, putting the lives of the entire galaxy at risk in the process, but she put on her 'soldier face' instead, holding her hands behind her back and standing with her shoulders squared.

"Commander Shepard is interested in having her Spectre status reinstated," Anderson explained. "Considering that it was never technically revoked after her death, just suspended, I think the request is reasonable."

"Absolutely not!" Udina spat. "If the rumors are true, which they must be since you're standing here before us, then it's also true that you're working with Cerberus. We can't place limitless power in the hands of a terrorist!"

"Councilor Udina, please," Tevos said. "This warrants a civil discussion. Commander Shepard, do you care to defend yourself against these claims?"

"It's true that I'm working with Cerberus," she said. "With. Not for. They're willing to provide the funding I need to take on the Reapers. A situation I see you have all failed to address. It seems having a human on the Council still provides few resources for humanity. Or is there a better reason why you haven't addressed the several human colonies that have just disappeared overnight?"

"Ah, yes. 'The Reapers'." Sparatus flexed his fingers, his voice laced with disbelief. "We have already dismissed that claim. As to the colonies you speak of, they're in the Terminus systems, commander. You're well aware that's outside of Council jurisdiction. We don't wish to start a war with the Terminus systems over a few human colonies."

It was like the hunt for Saren all over again. For a moment; just a brief, horrible, evil moment; Shepard almost wished she hadn't bothered saving the damn Council.

"Then maybe we can both benefit from this situation," She told them. "I know you know the truth about the Reapers. You saw Sovereign attack the Citadel. You're only alive to discuss this with me because I sent Alliance fleets in to save you." It couldn't hurt to hold that one over their heads as she pleaded for Spectre status. "You can tell the people of the Citadel whatever you want, but the Reapers are coming and something has to be done to stop them. I can keep quiet about the Reapers, use Cerberus' funding to take on the problem, and you can wash your hands of the whole ordeal. Stick your heads in the sand, fine. Just renew my Spectre status so I can use it to help myself and my crew on this mission."

Councilor Tevos whispered something to Sparatus while Udina stood there, sour as ever, lips pursed and eyebrows furrowed.

"I still say we shouldn't allow this. Affiliation with Cerberus, raving about 'sentient machines' like a lunatic, we can't trust…"

"We will vote," the asari councilor said, interrupting him again. "Please type your vote into the terminal. In the event of a tie, we will defer to maintaining suspended Spectre status."

The four councilors tapped on unseen terminals, not projected onto the holo-screen. Udina was fuming as he typed. After a moment, Sparatus spoke up.

"Three to one in favor of renewing the commander's status," he said. "The Citadel Council hereby renews your Spectre Status and all rights therein, commander. We trust you to maintain the utmost discretion as you handle your affairs."

Shepard was unsurprised. Udina could blind himself to the reality of the Reapers, he had never really believed it before. The others knew, even if they refused to acknowledge or admit it, they knew what was coming. It was in their best interest to allow Shepard to retain her status, just as Anderson had said.

"Thank you, councilors. I hope the future might make you reconsider your stance on the subject we discussed, but in the meantime, I'll be handling it."

Udina opened his mouth to say something, but the projection cut out. Anderson grinned. "Oops, accidentally disconnected," he shrugged.

"Thank you for your help, admiral," Shepard said, offering her hand.

He hugged her again in another break of protocol. "I trust you, Shepard. If you think Cerberus can help you, I have to believe you're making the right choice. It's the only hope I've got. You keep in touch with me, you hear? Two years is a long time, Shepard. A damn long time."

"I will, I promise. One more thing before I go, though," She hesitated.

"What's that?"

"Kaidan Alenko. Miranda said he's still with the Alliance. I haven't been able to reach him. I wanted to tell him I was alive before the news broke to the whole galaxy. Do you know where he is?"

Anderson frowned. "Unfortunately, he's on a classified mission. I can't disclose any information to non-Alliance personnel."

It hurt to hear him refer to her as non-Alliance, but she understood. "Of course. If you're able to contact him, please tell him I'm okay. I know he'd never leave the Alliance to help people from Cerberus, but…he was the first close friend I had in the Alliance. I miss him. You don't have to tell him that last bit."

"I'll try to get a message out to him," Anderson promised.

"I'll be in touch. Thank you again…David."

Chapter Text

Garrus was intensely curious about what had happened during Shepard's meeting with the Council, but all she would say in front of Miranda was that her Spectre Status had been reinstated. Miranda seemed genuinely pleased by the news, which was an emotion Garrus hadn't yet seen her express. It suited her much better than a frown.

After the meeting with Anderson, they had headed to the pub in the 2nd district of the Presidium and were waiting for the rest of the invited crew members to arrive. The pub was crowded in the evenings, but not as loud and rowdy as a dance club could be. He'd never been there with Shepard, but it had been a popular happy hour spot for C-sec officers. In fact, most of the crowd were C-sec officers, a few of whom he recognized.

Most of the pub's customers were sitting around at tables or in booths chatting and drinking. There was a dance floor a few feet from the booth where Garrus, Shepard, and Miranda sat waiting, but this early in the evening, it wasn't really populated.

Garrus tapped his fingers on the table while they all sipped their drinks in an awkward silence. It felt like hours before Jacob and Mordin finally arrived, and hours more before they finally decided on drinks, though it had only been a few minutes.

"Indecisive," Mordin said as he took a seat next to Jacob across the table from Garrus and Shepard. He was holding a beer in one hand and a water in the other. "Alcoholic beverages fun in moderation, had to choose something light. Important to remain hydrated while attempting inebriation. Dehydration major cause of hangovers."

"For some reason, I can't picture you drunk, doc," Jacob laughed.

Garrus was warming up to Jacob perhaps more than any of the other crew members. He had spent a few hours down in the weapons maintenance room talking shop with the soldier while he repaired the damage to his sniper rifle. He liked Jacob because he took his work very seriously, but he wasn't an idealist. He'd left the Alliance for their failure to act on what he felt were very serious issues. It reminded him of his reasons for leaving C-sec.

"Should be interesting evening," Mordin smiled in response to Jacob's comment, taking a long drink from his beer.

Joker arrived next, sidling in next to Garrus on their end of the booth. Miranda got up to use the restroom upon his arrival, and as she went, he let out a long sigh, watching her walk away.

"I know she's like an ice queen and all," Joker said. "But damn."

Jacob rolled his eyes. "Yeah, looks aren't everything."

"Is she attractive by human standards?" Garrus asked. He still had a hard time understanding what was considered attractive to humans. He had been told directly by Shepard that the same traits he found appealing on her: her muscular physique, the soft hair on her body, her tall and intimidating frame, were considered unattractive by most human men.

Joker laughed loudly at Garrus' question. "Garrus, buddy. That woman is the single most beautiful thing I've ever laid eyes on. After the Normandy, of course."

"She is physically fit," Garrus admitted. "But her body seems thin and supple."

"And?" Joker asked.

"Not appealing traits to turians," Mordin explained. "Heterosexual turian males prefer strength, muscle tone, supportive waists, rounded fringes. Correct?"

"Hm, I know someone with strength and muscle tone," Joker eyed Shepard sideways.

"That's correct," Garrus told Mordin, ignoring Joker.

"Several turian females fit description," Mordin said, scanning the room. "Sexual intercourse normal way to release tension, renew focus on mission. Watering holes common ground for sexual interaction between consenting adults. No other turians aboard Normandy. Just a suggestion."

Jacob snorted into his drink. "You make it sound pretty clinical, doc."

"Salarians have...different views toward sexual intercourse. Primarily necessary for reproduction of the species. Humans, asari, turians, even krogan…view intercourse primarily for pleasure. Differing attitudes," Mordin shrugged.

Garrus didn't know much about salarian culture, he realized, though he knew they had odd mating rituals. Shepard's hand squeezed his thigh beneath the table and he decided he preferred viewing 'intercourse' primarily for pleasure.

"Hey speaking of," Joker interjected. "You and Miranda ever…?" He raised his eyebrows at Jacob.

"Excuse me?" Jacob folded his arms over his chest. "I don't think we're discussing that."

"That's a definite yes. Lucky bastard," Joker grumbled.

Miranda returned from the bathroom at the same time that Kelly arrived. Garrus was beginning to think Shepard wasn't off base in her claim that the human had an interest in him. She always found something to talk to him about when he passed her at her station in the command control center, and she was always staring at him with eyes the size of saucers when they talked. Perhaps most importantly, he'd noticed a distinct flowery scent whenever he was around her. Pupil dilation and pheromones were surefire signs of sexual attraction in both humans and turians.

"Hey guys, thanks for inviting me!" Kelly said cheerfully, taking a seat next to Joker.

"We need more drinks," Shepard said. "Miranda, Kelly, do you want to come with me to get some?"

Miranda had hardly touched her own drink and hadn't said much even before she'd left for the bathroom. She sighed, looking annoyed with the entire affair, but still followed Shepard over to the bar. Kelly joined them eagerly and with a grin.

"Is this, uh…standard on the Normandy?" Jacob asked. "Going out and fraternizing with the crew I mean."

"Surely Shepard's made it clear she believes in getting to know her crew," Garrus said.

"Yeah, but drinks with my commanding officer…never experienced that before."

"Nothing breaks down barriers between crew members like alcohol," he shrugged. "Don't be surprised if this isn't the last time she tries to get drunk with you."

"Hey, I'm not complaining. Makes the commander more human, you know? Pardon the phrase. I just mean, she's like this…this damn war hero. The whole galaxy knows who she is. Look, she's got three guys at the bar trying to buy her drinks."

Garrus followed his gaze to the bar where there were indeed two human men and a turian attempting to buy her drinks. One of the human men was touching her arm in a flirtatious manner. He felt an annoying prick of jealousy.

"All I'm saying is, it's nice to sit here and have some drinks with her and realize she's just a normal person…who happens to have come back from the dead, and also happens to be one of the best naval officers that ever lived," Jacob shrugged.

"Shepard's logic sound," Mordin nodded. "Scientific fact that alcohol lowers inhibitions. Lowered inhibitions increase bonding and comradery. Improves trust."

"To increasing bonding and comradery and improving trust!" Joker raised his glass.

The rest of them raised theirs in return and took a drink.

"So, uh…sorry if this is rude," Jacob addressed Garrus. "But I have to ask and I don't want to in front of the commander in case she gets mad."

"Ask what?" Garrus feigned innocence. He was aware that Joker and Miranda had been told about the nature of his relationship with Shepard more or less directly. The rest of the crew could only speculate.

"You and Shepard…you're uh…well I mean when we found you on Omega. I've just never seen a turian and a human that close with each other. It seems like you guys, uh…"

"Seems like they're fucking?" Joker asked, belching after he took a swallow of his beer.

Garrus' mandibles flared involuntarily with embarrassment. Jacob sighed.

"Well, yeah."

Garrus cleared his throat, glancing over to the bar to see what was taking Shepard so long. A group of men and women of several species had formed around her and Miranda and Kelly, asking for autographs or pictures, a few of them more preoccupied with Miranda than the famous commander Shepard.

"Er…our relationship is…um…complicated," he replied.

"Interesting," Mordin leaned forward. "Human-turian relations strained from beginning, romantic involvement unheard of. Dextro-levo intercourse carries risks. Important to use protection. Allergic reaction could occur. Ingestion of fluid not recommended."

"I'm pretty sure Shepard's not allergic to me," Garrus told him. "I, er, think I would know by now."

"Very interesting. Would like to study this. Most species very private about sexual intercourse. Don't suppose you would be willing to allow observation for scientific…"

"No!" Garrus said firmly.

"I've got some vids you might like, doc," Joker said.

"Pornography inaccurate portrayal of actual sexual interaction," Mordin waved his hand dismissively. "Consider filming for future research," he added, addressing Garrus specifically.

"Sorry I brought it up, man." Jacob looked genuinely apologetic. "I was just curious. I've never heard of that kind of thing between a h