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There Is No Shepard Without Vakarian

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Pat. Pat. Pat. Pat. Pat. Thump. Thump. Thump

"Having a bad day, Shepard?" Garrus watches her execute a cartwheel through the cargo bay followed by a backwards somersault.

Her lip curls as she snarls, "Cerberus hijacked my ship. I had to kiss the Illusive Man's ass. Then I had to cancel on Admiral Zorah, which has gotten us disinvited from visiting the quarians. Tali's mad at me for making her look bad. And we're going the wrong direction by 180 degrees, directly into a trap. So it's been lovely, thank you for asking. How about you?"

"Everything was good until someone cut the power and I had to run to the gunnery in case we were under attack." He looks around at the vehicles. The place feels empty without Cortez and Vega. "I figured I'd find you here when the power came back and you didn't."

"Good guess. Someone on the crew is a traitor. They were able to take control of the ship away from me."

"Cerberus is filled with bastards that need their heads separated from their necks," Garrus agrees. "I could look into things for you ..."

"It would only be someone else next time." Shepard looks around the room and then makes an uncharacteristic sniffling sound. "Goddamnit! My own crew is more loyal to the Illusive Man than to me." She buries her head against him. "Oh, Garrus, I don't know what to do."

He pulls his mandibles tight. "It's okay. I'm here." He's only seen her this upset when Mordin died.

Shepard uncurls enough to whisper in his ear, "Good. Now act like we're going to have sex and kill the bugs because you're the big strong turian who is going to make sure we're safe before you let yourself get distracted."

Garrus chokes down a laugh of relief as he pats her head. "That's my girl. It will be okay. I'll take care of everything." A few taps on his omni-tool and there's a chain of sizzling noises.

"Thanks, dear. I needed that." Shepard bounces up on her toes. "Want to help me practice?"

"I'm not really in the mood for sparring." A slight deflection: He's not really in the mood to follow her over a cliff into the dark spaces of his head again so soon. "But I'll wear the punch mitts for you."

"Actually, I had something else in mind." She walks over to a crate and digs around inside, eventually handing him a box of thick, stubby bolts. "It's easier if I have someone else to throw for me. Toss a single bolt into the air over the open floor. I'm going to catch it."

Garrus looks into the box with a frown. "Alright." He picks out a bolt and tosses it into the air. When it hits the ground, it's covered in droplets of water.

"Damn. Again." Shepard has a look of concentration.

"Now that he can't hear us, what are you going to do about the Illusive Man?"

"Nothing." She says without concern.

Garrus rumbles in discontent.

Shepard raises an eyebrow. "You sound disappointed."

"If Cerberus weren't here, maybe the whole run across no man's land could be avoided. Maybe the Citadel being captured could be avoided. We'd have the Catalyst and we'd be ready." And she'd live.

"Cerberus was a three-headed dog in human mythology. A gatekeeper for the true lord of hell. Maybe the name is bravado. Or maybe there's two other people and one of them would step up if we took the Illusive Man down. Or maybe the Illusive Man is the dog in front of someone bigger. Ignoring the possible symbolic implications and looking at things from a purely practical point of view, Cerberus is divided into cells that don't talk to and don't know about each other. Even if there's no one else, to take it down, I need to find a majority of the pieces. I don't have the time to do that. I have to run a suicide mission and then I have to deal with opponents the size of buildings." Shepard nods at him. "If I had more time, I'd mop them up, but I don't. Throw."

This bolt is covered in white flecks when it hits the ground. "I hate how the bastard gets away with everything."

Shepard shrugs. "I'm holding the trump card. If I wanted to, I could have released EDI and let her deal with the system issues."

Garrus tightens his mandibles. "Why didn't you?"

"Because my pride isn't more important than winning the war. It may not be tactically necessary for Joker and EDI to fall in love, but I do need Joker to accept her. The best case scenario is always going to be the one where he chooses to free her. If they aren't working together as a team, we don't make it off of Earth when the Reapers invade."

"You could not go to Earth after-"

"NO. I need to go. That all needs to happen or the Reapers will come early. There's ... there's no avoiding it. And then I need to turn myself in." She closes her eyes and exhales slowly. "Throw the bolt."

"But you never needed to do it the first time! You're a spectre. You don't have to play nice with the Alliance. They have to play nice with you. Or be in violation of Citadel laws and stand in defiance of the Council."

"The Council wouldn't back me, Garrus. They never have." She looks into his eyes. "And someone a long time ago was very concerned about me not abusing my authority."

Spirits, he was so naive then. "The Alliance could stand to see what a spectre can be if they're not as devoted and loyal as you. They use you like an errand girl; you've said it yourself. " And there's the possibility the Alliance is using her as a test animal. What if parts of the Alliance brokered a deal with the Reapers for ... well, he doesn't know what she's for other than turning the universe green. For something.

"But I am loyal." She smiles sadly. "Besides, I need to save Vega and Traynor and Anderson and everyone. If Anderson dies in the first bombardment because he's standing somewhere different on the day the Reapers come, there goes the Alliance defense. And I need the QEC upgrades. Each QEC pair is unique. I could lose everything else, but I need Hackett and Anderson's direct lines or our entire offensive falls apart due to lack of communication and coordination." The smile reaches her eyes. "And you need to go to Palaven. You were perfect last time, and they'll need you again. Now toss me the damn bolt."

"You're giving up?" Garrus sends the next bolt into the air. He was probably deluding himself earlier, thinking that deciding to save Tali's father meant Shepard might change her mind about the war. She's still a willing sacrifice to the war.

"I'm not giving up." She frowns as the bolt comes down without any visible changes. She takes another deep breath. "I switch tactics. I change objectives. I never, ever give up."

"Then what are we doing here, Shepard?"

"We're going to do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. Throw again."

"What's the Kessel Run?"

"We clearly need to watch more vids together." Shepard shakes her head. "It's a reference to a story where the hero beats the speed record for going from one end of space to the other. It's supposed to be impossible."

Garrus tosses another bolt into the air. This one comes down completely white. "You're going to have to explain more than that."

"Alright. I don't know when Rael'Zorah dies. You wouldn't happen to remember, would you?"

"Hmmm... It never really seemed important. The crew of the Alarei held out against the geth by locking themselves into different compartments and making them fight for the ship. It seems to have taken around five hours for the geth to overwhelm them, maybe eight hours to reach Admiral Zorah based on the recordings and the scorch marks."

"Alright. But what day did it happen?"

"I don't know. It wasn't mentioned in the case."

"And I don't know either. At this point, the only reason I know it didn't happen immediately after he sent me the e-mail is because Tali was able to speak with him. He was alive 90 minutes ago when she contacted him again to say we'd been delayed on company business. I know he'll be dead in 13 more days when they summon Tali to trial, but it takes the quarian admiralty a bit to determine that the Alarei was overcome and to decide to charge Tali. So let's say he has seven days left tops. It's a nice, cursed number. Normally, it would take 12 days to make the round trip from the Far Rim to Korlus to Susskind Station. I'm aiming to get it done in four. We could still be too late, but we'll never know until we try. We're already going full speed through the relays using my spectre authority to bypass the usual protocols and waiting in line. When we finish with the Collector ship, we'll go directly to the Migrant Fleet."

The next bolt is completely white when it hits the floor. "I thought you said the quarians don't want visitors."

"And I don't want a war. I'm going to try to save their damn lives whether they like it or not. It seems like the time to cash in some of my good little spectre behavior chips to crash the quarians' party." She looks over her downed target and nods. "Again."

"You're going to use Tali to get in. She'll hate you for it."

"But she'll love having a living father if we make it in time. And if we don't, she'll still see I was right and hopefully forgive me. In the meantime, we're going to have to hit the Collector ship fast and hard." She nods at him. "Give it to me again."

He tosses another bolt. "You know I've always got your six."

The bolt hits the ground encased in an ice cube. "I'm counting on it. You're staying here."

"Shepard?" he can't help the hint of betrayal in his voice. She's going to attempt some sort of impossible task and she's leaving him behind? "Who are you taking with you, then?"

"Jack and Mordin." She studies the ice cube. "I think I've got it. Toss me another one."

He half-heartedly lobs another bolt into the air. "You should still take someone with range." As much as it galls him, he'll encourage her to take Zaeed or Thane for her own safety if she's leaving him behind.

"Not planning on needing it. I want small, mobile, and explosive."

The bit of forged metal never reaches the ground. Instead, it's suspended in an icy stalagmite.

Shepard jumps in celebration. "Hooyah! This can work!"

"That's ... new."

"It is and it's awesome! I managed to stop Tela Vasir in her tracks. Let's see how Harbinger likes it!" She gives Garrus an evil smile. "Now for your part. You said that people are hackable in the future?"

"Yes" he says uncomfortably.

"If I'm picking up new biotics because I can build off of my old memories, then you must have other tricks up your sleeve as well. For instance, you must have worked out hacking techniques to protect yourself and the crew, right? Otherwise you wouldn't be here."

"It's not that easy. As a tech expert, I have to rebuild my tech every time I come back."

"Oh." Shepard's good mood evaporates. "I shouldn't have assumed..."

"I've gotten very good at putting everything together quickly." Garrus smirks. "Gave me something to do when I was pretending to run calibrations that I'd already tested and perfected." He preens for her, arching his neck proudly and showing his profile to best advantage.

"Really? The calibrations were a lie?" Annoyance was not the response he was hoping for.

"It wasn't a lie. Math doesn't change. By the third time around, I was remembering generally what worked and what didn't, and by now I just know the numbers," he says, embarrassed. "So when I finished calibrating the cannons, I calibrated the guns and my omni-tool, got very good at helping the engineering staff, came up with different mods, basically tried to fill the time until Omega-4."

Her expression softens as she cups his mandible. "I'm sorry. I just ... we could have spent so much more time together."

"I guess we could have. But I wanted more time together like this." He kisses her brow. "And I didn't know how else to make that happen."

"I definitely like this version better. It's ... less lonely than the first time." She smiles at him. "If you're up for a new challenge that might involve new numbers, I want you to coordinate with EDI to keep the doors open and the platforms filled with indoctrinated Protheans locked in the sky. Harbinger will never know what hit him."

#

"Clamps." Garrus holds out his hand. He's sitting on the crates in the gunnery, building a multimodal signal amplifier out of scavenged scraps from the Normandy's repair kits and whatever odds and ends he and Tali could find

The quarian sighs from near his knee. "I'm using them to hold the antenna in place until Liara finishes the wiring. Don't you have another pair?"

"Already using it to hold the casing together while the heat seal glue dries."

"How much longer, Liara?"

"I'm not certain. Another 30 minutes?" Liara pokes her head out of console with cords and wires dangling off of it. "I'm working as quickly as I can."

Garrus looks over his blueprints again, trying to match bits of junk to memories of a sleek, commercially manufactured product. At the moment, he feels like he's on one of those building competition shows and his team has 17 hours left to complete his design before the judging when the Collectors might kill his mate if he gets it wrong. So, no pressure. "Take your time. We only have one chance at this."

Tali shakes her head. "You'd think someone with five fingers could do it faster."

"I'm not used to working with turian blueprints," Liara says stiffly. "I trained to repair prothean technology."

"A wire is a wire," says Tali under her breath.

Garrus puts a hand on her shoulder. "Let it go. Liara is doing a fine job." She's not as skilled as he and Tali, but she can follow the basics well enough, keeping bundles of wires sorted and cells correctly linked.

"Oh, sure, let it go," says Tali bitterly, tightening a bolt. "Don't be angry when we change plans at the last minute and I have to cobble something together out of pocket lint."

Garrus sighs. "How long are you going to be mad at Shepard?

"I'm not mad at Shepard."

"You're stripping the threads off that bolt."

She stops jerking the wrench long enough to examine the parts. "I'm still not mad at Shepard."

"Of course not. Clearly you got a pot of decaf kava this morning and that's why you're making a mess of basic mechanical tasks."

Tali nearly throws the useless bit of metal across the room before remembering her training to save everything and putting it in a belt pouch. "It's just ... everything is so easy for her! She's gone for two years and she shows back up with the most advanced ship I've ever seen and a trained crew! You hide yourself away for two years and she finds you like it's nothing!" Tali waves her arms and ends with her hand on his knee. "She expects it to be that easy for everyone!" She deepens her voice and tries to smooth it out despite the interference of the suit. "'Tali, set up a meeting with your father, the high admiral of the quarian fleet.' 'Tali, I've changed my mind. Cerberus is more important than quarians. Cancel the meeting.' It's not that simple for everyone."

"It's not easy for her either." Garrus shifts uncomfortably at the inappropriate weight, and gently pushes her hand away with the box casing, double-checking the attachments. One of the major problems with quarians, and why they so often end up in C-Sec cells for a night, is that they have no sense of personal space.

"She shows up on Haestrom after my research team and the security forces were decimated, and takes down a new, self-repairing, impossible-to-penetrate geth colossus. On foot."

"It's not that easy," Garrus repeats, shaking his head. That monstrosity was annoying. His sniper rifle was effective, but not fast enough to counteract its repair cycle. They had to dodge bullets and lasers and geth troopers to get near enough to it to do consistent damage.

"Oh? She made it explode with her mind. I can't do that!" Indeed, Shepard had, after he and Liara had softened it up with bullets and overloads and warps.

"Biotics look impressive, but they take work."

"And what do you know about biotics, anyway?" Tali asks in annoyance.

Thoughts of Shepard touching him, riding him, sharing small bits of dark power with him, flash through Garrus's mind. He tactfully closes his mouth and looks away.

In the silence, there's a clank as Liara undoes the clamp and sits up. "He may not know a lot, but I do. My mother used to be one of the most powerful biotics alive." Liara wipes off her hands. "And he's right, it's not that easy. She trained for hours a day. I train for a few hours every day. Jack may act like a lunatic, but she works at her powers every day because it's not like other things where if you don't work out every day your muscles atrophy. If you don't work at biotics every day for a little bit of time, you don't become less powerful, you become less adept at wielding the power." Liara floats the clamp to Garrus, landing it safely in his hand. "Whatever it is that Shepard has learned to do, she worked for it."

"Yes," says Garrus, relieved at not having to delve into his private memories. "It's not easy for Shepard. Look at what we're doing right now, building enhancements for the Normandy. When we're finished and Shepard uses them, it will impress the hell out of people like Jack and Grunt and maybe even Mordin that she outwitted the Collectors or the Reapers or whoever attacks. But we'll know she couldn't have done it without us." He waves a hand at piles of scrap. "She'll make it seem effortless, but it actually takes a lot of work."

"Alright, she works for it. But people aren't that easy. I was finally earning my father's respect. And now that's all been spaced because I asked for a favor for her and then she backed out on it. And she acts like it's nothing."

Liara laughs. "That's just the way she is, Tali. She showed up on Illium and I thought I'd impress her by knowing what she needed and having it all at my fingertips, but she didn't need me at all."

Garrus looks over at her. "Liara?"

"It's alright. It was good for me. It made me realize that I was looking at her for the wrong things. She asks for what she needs and she'll help you with any problem you have, but she's not impressed by how difficult things are for other people. She may not even realize they're difficult. I was trying to change myself for her and she didn't even notice." Liara's deft fingers thread more cells together.

"Oh, Liara," says Tali sympathetically.

"That's not true," says Garrus. "She knows some tasks are difficult. She just expects you to say something if it's going to be a problem, and if you don't say something, then she's delegated the matter to you to handle as you see fit." He gestures at their crowded workspace. "She asked me to do this. I could have told her no."

With a wry twist to her voice, Tali observes, "I don't think you know how to say no to Shepard."

"Oh, I can say no," Garrus smirks. "Saying yes is just more interesting." He takes a bolt off of the console and hands it to Tali. "Better?"

"Not really, but I guess there's nothing I can do about it now. When this is over and I go home to my father, maybe he'll be in a better mood. And until then..." there's a wistful tone to her voice, "saying yes was more interesting."