Chapter 1: Escape Plans
"Here's what I want you to do."
Garrus stops talking, the last word of his abandoned sentence (something about the next stage in the reconstruction of some important building—or was it one of the relays? Shepard doesn't remember, and at the moment, she can't be bothered to care) hovering aimlessly in the sudden silence until it dissipates into the background noise of a nurse's hurried steps rushing past Shepard's hospital door, and he waits, patient as always, for Shepard to take a breath and go on.
She lolls her head to the side, unseeing eyes searching for the image of a familiar shape her damaged optical nerves refuse to supply to her brain, and sets her mouth in a stubborn, rigid line.
"Find a rope," she says. "Steal one if you have to—I don't give a damn. Sneak it into my room, and hide it under the bed. Make sure the nurses can't find it. Rent a skycar, park it under my window, and wait. Once the night shift takes over and the place quiets down, I'll tie the rope to my bed frame, climb out through the window, and rappel down to the car. Then we'll get the hell away from here."
There's a soft clank as Garrus lowers the datapad with the status reports about the rebuilding efforts and the metal shell makes contact with his thigh.
"Yes, well…" He hums, as though he'd actually considered his old friend's crazy little project, but when he starts to talk, his voice as smooth as honey, Shepard can almost see the twinkle in his eyes and the fluttering of his mandibles as he tears her plan apart. "That might even work if you could, you know, walk without help and see where you were going. Or if there weren't a bunch of metal bars over the window."
Shepard frowns. Fine. Okay. So, there are a few obstacles. Still, she has a few more tricks up her sleeve, so she waves a hand, brushing away the disappointing remains of Proposal Number One to make room for her next Great Idea.
"Whatever." She huffs out a breath, short and impatient. "Then pretend you're one of the staff, get a wheelchair, and wheel me the fuck out of here. If you have the right attitude, nobody will stop you." She thinks for a moment and raises a finger, punctuating the importance of her next point. "We'll still need that skycar, though."
"Riiight. I can already see the manhunt and the headlines on the news: Ex-Reaper Expert of the Turian Hierarchy Kidnaps Humanity's Greatest Treasure."
"So, I haven't survived three suicide missions just to get hunted down and shot by Miranda once she finds out. Or, spirits forbid, chewed out by Doctor Chakwas."
"Grunt would do it."
"Sure he would. But Grunt is not here."
Shepard scowls, her lips curving down in dejected misery, and she turns her head back to its original position on the soft pillows piled high on her bed.
Yeah. They're all gone. Grunt, Tali, Liara, James, the entire crew of the Normandy—all gone and scattered across the planet and in space, working, fighting, rebuilding, living. The only people still stuck in this goddamn place are her and Garrus—and Garrus, she suspects, is only staying because of some stubborn turian honor thing that she never asked for and never wanted. Duty towards a former CO; gratitude for her assistance with Saleon and Saren and Sidonis; and, perhaps, for saving his life on Omega (as if he hadn't saved her life a thousand times). It doesn't really matter; the end result is the same: he stayed and he's here, and she won't ask why, because if she asks and he replies, she might have to send him away.
The chair creaks under Garrus's weight as he gets up, and she can hear the heavy thuds of his boots on the tile floor as he walks over to her bed. He lays a hand on hers, his three fingers squeezing gently. It spreads warmth through her skin, and she swallows, and hopes her eyes aren't going to tear up, because dammit, she's shown enough weakness for one day already.
"Shepard," he says in that soft, rumbling voice that somehow, through some dual-toned magic, has always managed to calm her down and put things in perspective. "I know it's tough. Believe me, I know how it is to be confined to your bed while your mates are out there doing what you love. But you won't stay in here forever. You've already made so much progress from the wreck you were when they pulled you from the rubble on the Citadel. With the spinal implant and the physical therapy you've already started, you'll be able to walk again soon. Once they've fixed your eyes, you'll have your vision back, too. So let's wait for that before we start planning your escape."
For a heartbeat or two, everything is silent again as she chews over his words and thinks about all the surgeries and treatments and pain she's gone through just to heal the most serious of her injuries. True, she's in a way better shape than she was eight months ago, and she's thankful for her life—which she'd never thought she was going to have, not after what that AI brat had told her about the risks of destroying the Reapers—, but she's tired, so damn tired, of lying in bed and doing nothing.
She sighs, turns her hand over, and weaves her five fingers in between Garrus's three. "Yeah. I just… hate it in here. Hate depending on strangers. After Mindoir, I promised myself that I'd never be this vulnerable again. And I detest lying in bed with nothing to do but wait for the days to go by." She sighs again, the corner of her lips quirking up in a joyless half smile. "During the war, I would have given anything to have more than two hours of uninterrupted sleep at a time. But, by now, I think I've had enough downtime for the rest of my life."
"We'll see what you say about that once you're back on your feet and the Alliance sends you on one insufferable mission after another."
Her smile turns wistful, not sure if that's going to happen at all, but before she can reply, the door swishes open, letting the soft chatter from the nurse's station down the hall spill in for the couple of seconds it takes someone to walk in.
Shepard recognizes the footsteps, one foot hitting the floor a bit heavier than the other, followed by a small shuffle, as Doctor Shanda, her attending physician, approaches her bed.
With a gentle cough, Garrus lets go of Shepard's hand and he withdraws, letting the doctor take his place.
"How are we doing today?" Doctor Shanda asks as she starts up a scan with her omni-tool.
"Fine." Shepard listens to the soft hum as the instrument hovers above her, and thinks she can actually feel a wave of warm energy sweep the entire length of her body. It's fascinating, really, how many little clues you learn to pick up when you lose one of your senses. "I'll do better once I get out of here."
The scan stops, and the doctor leans her hip against the bed, making the mattress dip down a bit where she makes contact with it. "Well, now that we're done with all the major surgeries and your recovery is going so nicely, we can soon schedule the last operation to repair your vision. After that, we can transfer you to a rehabilitation center where you can—"
"No." Shepard almost growls the words, and it brings a satisfied warmth to her chest to feel the mattress jiggle under her as Dr. Shanda jolts back from the harshness in her voice. She may still be somewhat broken and her body may be weak and useless right now, but at least she hasn't lost her ability to intimidate. Good to know. "No more hospitals. No more nurses and hospital rooms and hospital food. I want to go home to my own place, sleep in my own bed, and eat my own goddamn food that I choose."
There's a strangled sound coming from a few feet away, and she's pretty sure it's Garrus trying to mask his chortle with a forced cough. Dr. Shanda, however, sounds much less amused when she replies.
"I know it's been a long road, Commander, and I understand your frustration. But even if this last surgery goes well and you can be discharged and switched to an outpatient basis, you'll still need regular checkups and physical therapy, and you'll need someone to take care of you while you recover. If not a nurse from here, then family, perhaps?"
Shepard's lower lip disappears between her teeth as she bites into it with a frown, and she wonders if her doctor is that ignorant or if this was an intentional dig at the fact that she has no-one; not even one family member left in this entire galaxy. She's about to say something not entirely kind, but stops when Garrus speaks up.
"Would a friend work?"
"Well… yes. I suppose. The important thing is for the commander to have someone living with her who can assist with her recovery and with everyday activities as well."
"I'll do it."
"Garrus," Shepard says, her voice a breathless gasp as she attempts to sit up, the nerves in her back screaming in agony from the sudden movement. It hurts, it really hurts, but right now, she couldn't care less. She reaches for Garrus, and he understands: he steps closer and grabs her outstretched hand. "You've always been my favorite, you know."
He laughs, and she can't help but grin as he reminds her of that time when, despite all the money Cerberus had spent on rebuilding every last cell in her body, the Illusive Man could not be bothered to properly fund their operation and she had to find some creative ways to afford all the upgrades they needed.
"Well..." he says. "I'd be more touched if I hadn't witnessed you giving the exact same endorsement to five different shops on the Citadel."
"Commander, are you sure?" Doctor Shanda says, interrupting their little moment. If her intonation is anything to go by, this must be the craziest thing she's ever heard. "Your caretaker will need to prepare meals for you, help you with dressing, bathing, using the toilet… No offense to Mr. Vakarian, but maybe someone closer to home might be more suitable—"
Shepard turns her head to where she figures Doctor Shanda is standing, and gives her a sightless glare. "I don't want someone closer to home. I want Garrus. There's no-one I trust more. Besides, he's patched me up enough times on our missions; he'll do just fine."
"Caring for someone, especially someone from a different species, after surgery is not the same as simply applying medi-gel on the battlefield," the doctor snaps.
Shepard crosses her arms across her chest and, for a long moment, says nothing. This would be much easier if she could actually stare her opponent down, but it is what it is. Besides, she still has her voice. "He can do it," she grinds out through clenched teeth. Her tone is harsh, dangerous, and when Dr. Shanda sighs, Shepard knows she's won.
"All right. But I won't sign off on your discharge until Mr. Vakarian has taken our caretaker class and demonstrated that he can do the job."
"No problem," Garrus says.
"Fine, then. I'll have the nurse discuss the details with you."
Shepard waits until the doctor walks out, and blows out a breath, sinking into her pillows again, when they are finally alone. "Thanks, Garrus. Appreciate it."
"Sure." He takes a couple of steps towards his chair, then stops. "Do you actually have a home to go to? You know Anderson's apartment got destroyed, right? I'd take you to my place, but it's just a tent in the turian camp. Maybe we could rent—"
"It's gonna be fine," Shepard says, raising a hand to interrupt him. "I'll ask Hackett to find me something."
"Oh. In that case, tell him to get you something nice. It's the least he can do after everything you've done for him and the Alliance."
"You have a point there."
"Damn right." The chair groans in protest as he sits down. "So, where was I?"
Shepard closes her eyes and listens as he resumes reading from his datapad, and manages to pay attention for a full two minutes before she falls asleep.
A week later, she has two new chips in the backs of her eyes and a set of new photoreceptors in her retinas, grown through months of careful lab work from her own stem cells. The surgeon tells her that the procedure has gone well but, for the moment, it's all just words and promises to her. Her eyes are bandaged and protected with a shield to prevent infection, but even without all that cover, she's not supposed to be able to see much for another two or three weeks. Apparently, that's how long it will take for her nerves to make the necessary connections and for the implants to start to work. If they work, she tells herself; given her rotten luck in life, the fact that she's survived this long is a minor miracle, and she's not about to set herself up for a brutal disappointment if things don't go quite as well this time. Expecting the worst but hoping for the best has served her pretty well so far.
But none of it really matters; whether or not she'll ever see again makes no difference in her determination to get out of the hospital. So, when Admiral Hackett calls in reply to her request for temporary lodgings for the duration of her recovery and gives her the address of a small house on the outskirts of town the Alliance has refurbished for her needs, no force in the universe can hold her back. She wants to go. Now.
After a long lecture about her medications, home care, and the importance of keeping up with her appointments for her checkups and physical therapy, Dr. Shanda finally signs the papers and discharges her from her long captivity.
It's a good day, and Shepard is the happiest she's been in quite a while. She can't stop smiling as she waits for Garrus to pack up her things Liara, in her infinite wisdom, had extracted from her cabin before the Normandy left Earth and has now sent along, together with a few new clothes and necessities, for this new stage in Shepard's life.
"Ready?" Garrus asks when he's done.
"I've been ready for weeks," Shepard replies.
Garrus chuckles and the wheelchair starts rolling through the corridors, through the soft beeps of medical instruments and the smell of bleach and anti-septic solutions and the day nurses' hushed voices, as they make their way to the back exit where he parked the skycar he requisitioned from the Alliance.
It's a handicap accessible van, the kind that opens on the side and lets you park your wheelchair in the front. Garrus secures her chair on the passenger side, and as Shepard waits while he loads their supplies in the back, she reaches out and runs her fingers along the dashboard in front of her. She thinks of the Mako and the SR1, of driving on hostile planets and fighting geth and mercs and thresher maws, and something twists in her stomach that she decides to quench with a joke.
"Maybe when I can see again, I'll give this baby a spin," she says. "Or if you gave me directions, I could do it now."
Predictably, Garrus lets out a groan. "Yeah. Sure. Kill the one person who's willing to take care of you. And yourself, just when you're finally free." He climbs into the driver's seat, shuts the door, and starts up the engine. "I'm actually surprised we survived all those missions where you got to drive. I still have nightmares about the time you got us stuck in a crevice on Noveria."
"It wasn't that bad."
"Shepard, we were upside down."
"But we got out of it."
"I still don't know how."
Shepard laughs. She leans back when they take off, and enjoys the sun warming up her face through the window as they make their way to their new home.
Chapter 2: Home Care
Thank you so much for all the wonderful comments! They are inspiring and I really appreciate them. I hope you'll all like this chapter, too. :)
Big thanks to the wonderful Suilven for beta reading.
The house is a small cottage in an old neighborhood. It's been left mostly untouched by the war—a side benefit of the area's status as a sleepy little suburb with no tactical importance to the Reapers. Nearly all previous occupants are gone, however: evacuated, chased out, then killed by weapons fire, starvation, disease, or any one of the innumerable ways people tend to perish when the world around them starts to burn.
Only a precious few survivors have returned; the rest of the houses are homes to military and government officials now. It's a safe location, well guarded by checkpoints at each entry point—a perfect shelter for someone who, despite all the lives she's saved in the galaxy, could still draw an inordinate amount of negative attention from the media, stalkers, and old enemies that might yet lurk in the shadows.
Shepard tries not to think too much about the previous owner of her new digs as Garrus wheels her to the front door. She wishes she could see the house, though. Something about it must be impressive, for Garrus comes to a sudden halt before they reach the threshold and makes an appreciative sound in his throat.
"What?" she asks. "Is it made of gold or something?"
"No, it's just… I've never seen so many flowers in one place. Well, not on Earth, anyway. Reminds me of my mom's garden, actually."
Shepard takes a whiff of air, inhaling the scent that she hasn't paid much attention to until now. She's not an expert, but she thinks she can pick out some roses and maybe some… lilacs? Botany is not really among her main interests, but she does like nice things, and she can't help but feel a little sad for not being able to see the profusion of blooms.
"We going in anytime soon?" she asks, tamping down on her small burst of self-pity.
He sounds subdued, maybe a little sad. She knows how it is to lose a parent, hell, your entire family, and she wonders if she should say something about his mom, but then they are inside and he's pushing her chair from room to room, describing the layout so she could familiarize herself with this new environment, so she keeps quiet. She's never been good with platitudes anyway.
It smells like old wood and fresh paint in here, and when they get to the kitchen in the back, her nose catches the scent of something wonderful.
She takes a deep inhale, and swallows the saliva pooling in her mouth. "Is that… cinnamon buns?"
Garrus takes a few steps, perhaps to a kitchen counter or a table, and hesitates for a moment before he replies.
"I… guess? It's from Kasumi. She left a note. It says, 'I hope these are as good as the ones at Charlie's on the Citadel. Get better soon.'"
Shepard's lips pull into a grin, both at the memory of their little shopping trip that somehow turned from purchasing weapon upgrades into hitting every bakery they could find, and her good luck of having friends who know the kinds of housewarming presents she really appreciates. How Kasumi managed to sneak this thing in here is irrelevant. What matters is that Shepard hasn't had one of these in a long, long time. She stretches out her hand in a silent request, and Garrus pushes something warm and sticky into it.
Manners be damned, she shoves the bun into her mouth and wolfs it down. It's soft and sweet and so, so good.
"Hungry?" Garrus laughs, and hands her a rag before she can lick her fingers to clean them off.
"Mmm. And thirsty now."
Garrus fumbles around the kitchen as he looks for a glass, and fills the one he finds with water. He trades the rag for the cup, and she drinks, taking long, greedy gulps, and lets out a satisfied sigh when she's done.
Afterwards, they continue the tour, and Shepard tries to assemble a mental image of the place. There's a living room with an actual, honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned wood burning fireplace in the front. It opens into a small library, its shelves lined with books, both printed and digital, and, according to Garrus, some strange looking memorabilia that the previous owners must have collected through years of travels across the galaxy. The back is taken up by the kitchen, two bedrooms, a bath, and a tiny dining room that leads out onto a patio and an overgrown garden beyond.
After a small argument, Shepard gives in, and takes the bigger bedroom. Garrus parks her by the window so she can bask in the sun while he gets the bags, and she waits, and listens, and when he dumps her clothes on the bed, she insists on putting them away herself.
Garrus leaves her to it, and she rolls up to the bed, separates the underwear from the tops and pants by feel, then piles them into the drawers of the dresser that someone had previously emptied for her use.
"Hey, Garrus?" she yells as she moves out of the bedroom. "Where are my guns? You packed them, right?"
"Yeah," Garrus says, padding out of whatever room he's been in. "I put them in the library for now. Why? You already want to shoot someone?"
"Ha. Very funny. No, I just want them in my room. I'll feel better having them with me at night."
For a moment, Garrus doesn't say anything, and Shepard wonders if he's remembering those nightmares she told him about—the ones that haunted her during the war and for quite a while after she woke up from her coma. Or perhaps he's simply hesitating, mulling over the implications of a blind person having access to a loaded weapon. The truth is, she can't blame him if that's how he feels. And yet, she hopes he trusts her enough to comply with her request.
"Okay," he finally says, his voice warm, sympathetic. "I'll move them there."
Shepard's fingers release the wheelchair's armrests she's been gripping a little too tight. "Thanks, Garrus."
"Sure. Just… try to remember before you pull the trigger that you have a roommate now."
She grins, and cocks her head as though she had to think about it. "I'll do my best."
"Somehow, I don't find that comforting enough."
Her grin widens, and, as Garrus moves off to fetch her bag, she rolls back into the kitchen to grab another cinnamon bun.
"Save those things until after lunch!" Garrus yells after her. "We'll eat soon."
"You gonna be this bossy the whole time?" Shepard retorts. She tries to remember the layout of the kitchen, but she still bumps into something on her way to the plate. "Maybe I should have asked Liara instead."
"Too late. You're stuck with me now," Garrus's voice rumbles as he walks up behind her, pushing her wheelchair to another spot, away from the goodies she's after.
Shepard pretends to scowl, but in reality, their back-and-forth gives her life. It's just like old times; it's what's kept her sane during these last few years of near-constant misery. She might not say it out loud, but the truth is, there's no-one else she'd rather be stuck with.
Lunch is a freeze-dried meal Garrus heats up in the microwave. It's from a stash he picked up at Alliance HQ the same time he got the van. The taste is familiar, comforting, one Shepard has had a thousand times through the years in countless cafeterias and mess halls. Nutritionally well balanced but without much flavor, this fare isn't really any better than the hospital food was, but for now, it will do. Perhaps they can go shopping for something else one of these days. Maybe even try their hands at cooking. Not like Shepard has any experience in that department, and she has no idea if Garrus does either, but they can both follow directions, so how hard could it be? Piece of cake. Probably.
Her lunch finished, Shepard devours two more cinnamon buns, and later, she spends the afternoon driving her wheelchair around the house until a map of every nook and cranny, every piece of furniture, as well as the path around them, is burnt into her mind.
"If you've had enough," Garrus says when she finally stops, "we could start your exercises."
This is not a favorite part of her day, but it's something that has to be done if she ever wants to walk without a brace. After all these months of bed rest, her muscles need to get stronger, her joint movements need to get smoother, the nerves in her back need to stop spasming after every sudden movement. So, she doesn't complain. She'll do the stretching and the exercises and she'll go to the rehab center for her therapy, and she will walk again.
"I'm going to pick you up and lay you down on your bed for this," Garrus says. "Is that all right?"
If he helped her up and supported her weight, she could take a few steps to her room on her own two feet, but considering what's about to come, she's not willing to spend the energy.
His arms, strong and steady and solid, wrap around her as he lifts her up, and she holds on to him, fingers digging into the fabric of his shirt as he carries her to her bed. He's gentle and careful as he lays her down, and she inhales, waiting for the slow torture to begin.
He slides one hand under a knee and closes the other around her ankle, and he pushes her leg towards her chest, cautious and deliberate, until it can't go any further. Shepard grits her teeth and does her best not to curse as he holds the position for a few seconds. It's a relief when he eases her leg down, but then, the maneuver starts again, and again and again, until he switches to her other leg and begins the whole process on that side.
Shepard tries assisting, tries moving on her own as well. It takes a little more effort than she'd like but, with her spinal implant and weeks of physical therapy she's already gone through, she's making progress. Still, she wishes this whole recovery thing went faster and didn't leave her so exhausted. By the time they're done, all she can do is lie limp on her back and breathe, sucking big, deep gulps of air into her lungs.
"Are you all right?" Garrus asks.
"Yeah. Just…let me rest a little bit."
He sits on her bed patiently, waiting for her breathing to calm down. When it does, and she's almost drifting off to sleep, he touches her shoulder with his gloved hand.
"Ready for some nerve stimulation?" he asks.
Shepard sighs. "Do I have a choice?"
"Fine. Just… try not to push my spine through my belly button like Dr. Whitmer does."
"I have no idea what that means, but I'll do my best."
"Well, that's reassuring."
He helps her roll onto her stomach, and she squeezes her eyes shut as she waits for his fingers to dig into her back. She's more than aware of his strength: she's seen him lug heavy rifles, move huge chunks of rubble, and punch charging Marauders in the face. And yet, when he touches her, it's soft, and it's gentle. His hands slide along her spine, up and down and around, in straight lines and in ever widening circles.
Gradually, he increases the pressure, but it's never to the point of real, debilitating pain. It feels good; so good, in fact, that she's almost disappointed when he stops.
"All right," he says, and before she can tell him to keep going, he's already moving off the bed. "We're done."
"I think I'll just go to sleep now," she mutters into the mattress. She's boneless and she can't move and the muscles in her back are gloriously relaxed.
"You can," Garrus says. "After your dinner and bath."
Shepard turns her head. "I'd say you're being bossy again, but that actually sounds nice."
He chuckles, and then she feels his arms around her body again as he lifts her up off the bed and deposits her in her wheelchair. "All right. Let's go eat, then."
After dinner, Garrus sits Shepard on her bed and removes her shoes and socks. On her insistence that she can do the rest herself, he leaves her to it and withdraws to the bathroom to start the water.
With tight-jawed determination, Shepard gets to work. Stripping out of her shirt and bra is relatively easy; pulling off her pants and underwear takes a bit more effort. By the time Garrus comes back into her room, she's exhausted but happily naked, and it takes her a few moments to pick up on the source of Garrus's discomfort when he walks in with a report about the water temperature but stops talking in mid-sentence.
He coughs, and if the sounds her ears pick up mean what she thinks they mean, he turns around to avoid looking at her as he starts to talk again. "Uh, sorry. I didn't realize you, ah, removed everything already. I mean, of course you did, you had to, I just… Uh, I'll go get a towel. Or a sheet. Something. So you can, you know… cover yourself."
"Why? Can't stand looking at the ugly alien?" Her tone is playful— at least she hopes that's all he hears in her voice—, but her heart quenches a little bit at the thought that he might find her body, very likely covered in angry scars, repulsive. Perhaps it was too selfish of her to expect him to do this. Maybe she should have—
"What? No!" There's some movement again at the door, but she has no idea if he has turned around again to face her or not. "I just wanted to give you some privacy in case you felt uncomfortable. I've always heard that humans were pretty reserved that way."
Oh. That. That issue has never even occurred to her. Relieved, she smiles and waves a hand, letting out a dismissive pfft.
"No worries, Garrus. I lost any sense of modesty when I enrolled in the Alliance and started boot camp. Besides, I doubt seeing a naked human would do anything for you." She pauses, her lips curling into a teasing smirk. "But if it does, then—enjoy."
Garrus laughs. "That's all right. As much as I admire you as a soldier and a leader, humans are not my cup of tea. No offense."
"None taken." She sits up, ready to get in the wheelchair, when she remembers something. "Actually, maybe you should get a towel. I'd rather not put my naked butt on the leather seat."
Sitting in a tubful of warm water feels amazing. It seems luxurious, almost decadent, to soak her muscles for so long, even if it's for medicinal purposes. Most of her life, even on Mindoir, but especially in the military, water usage was limited; it was only in Anderson's apartment that Shepard had a real chance to take more than a short shower. And yet, she didn't even try the whirlpool tub in the master bathroom. Now, she wonders why. She should have enjoyed the opportunity while she could have.
Well, at least she has this now. It's not as large and bubbly as that other one, but she never even thought that she'd have a life after their final assault, let alone a cute little cottage with a tub, so as far as she's concerned, this is all a win. Big time.
Shepard leans back and inhales the soap-scented, humid air, and does her best not to get her bandages and visor wet as she runs her sudsy fingers along her arms. The new skin that replaced the burnt patches is still a little sensitive, and, despite the soap-induced temporary slickness, she can map out a maze of scars over a significant part of her body.
She's never been one to spend too much time worrying about her appearance. After her resurrection and during their hunt for the Collectors, she had better things to do than fret over the red lines glowing brightly in the cracks of her skin. Now, with no galaxy to save, and the possibility of a normal future finally within her grasp, she can't help but wonder how bad she really looks.
So, when Garrus comes back in to help her out of the tub, the first thing she says to him is, "Am I hideous?"
His steps falter, and she can just imagine the stunned expression on his face when he says, "Why would you be hideous?"
Shepard waves a hand at herself. "I can't imagine these scars are very attractive."
Garrus sighs. "Shepard. After that rocket nearly took off my head and you saw my face, did you think I looked hideous?"
"Well, neither do you. You look badass. Impressive. Not quite on my level, of course, but you're close."
Shepard smiles, and tips her head in a nod. She's still not sure about this, but for now, she'll let it go.
"Ready to get out?" Garrus asks.
She agrees, and a moment later, she's rising out of the water as he lifts her up and sets her on the bathmat in front of the tub to dry her off. She leans on to him, wrapping her arms around his neck while he runs the towel over her body. Garrus does his best to support her weight as he works, but her legs don't take too long to begin to tremble from the effort of keeping herself upright.
And yet, that's not what strikes her. What piques her interest and makes her frown with concentration is that her skin doesn't slide against fabric; her fingers don't brush against cloth. The surface she's making contact with feels solid and warm and textured, with areas of tougher patches here and there, and after a second or two of utter confusion, Shepard realizes that Garrus is not wearing a top. It's his bare torso she's touching.
"Question," she says. "Are you naked? Planning on jumping in the water after me?"
"No. I just removed my shirt so it won't get wet."
Her attention turns back to the texture under her fingertips. She's trying not to be too obvious about extending her explorations a little more, but she finds the combination of hardened plateaus and supple valleys covering his body absolutely fascinating. She's not sure what she expected (well, nothing, actually, since she hasn't really thought about this issue before), but his skin feels much softer and more flexible than every piece of tactical literature she's ever read about turians seemed to indicate. It feels… nice. Pleasant to the touch. Who knew.
Her investigation comes to a halt when he finishes toweling her off and sits her down on her wheelchair.
"I bet you're glad to be sitting again," he says.
"Yeah. Finally," she lies, and hopes he can't see the blush she can definitely feel heating up her cheeks.
Chapter 3: Progress
Thank you for the comments and the support, and big thanks to Suilven for beta reading.
The first night is a little rough. Sleeping in a strange place always makes Shepard a bit nervous, even if it's a safe location and she logically knows there's no danger lurking around the corner.
The quiet doesn't help either. Here, out in the suburbs, there's no engine noise or hushed conversations or beeping medical instruments to lull her to sleep. It's just her and her aching back and her thoughts about whether or not she'll ever fly and command a ship again or if she'll be relegated to desk duty—or worse, early retirement—for the rest of her life.
It takes her a while to finally nod off, and when she wakes up in the morning, she's tired and cranky and would like nothing more than to stay in bed.
Garrus, however, has other ideas.
"Shepard," he calls from beyond the door, his voice disgustingly cheerful. "Are you awake?"
Shepard groans. "Unfortunately."
"It's a nice day outside," he goes on. "I thought we could have breakfast in the garden. You could probably use some fresh air."
For a moment, she considers sending him away but, as much as her body abhors the idea of getting out of bed, she has to admit that he does have a point. It would be nice not to be confined within four walls for a change.
A short time later, as she sips her coffee and stuffs a forkful of scrambled eggs in her mouth, she can't imagine how she could even think of not doing this before. The sun is warm, the birds seem to be in the middle of some truly melodic recital, and the flowers that must surround the little patio smell absolutely wonderful.
"Reminds me of the family meals we sometimes took in the garden back on Palaven," Garrus says. "Before we moved to the Citadel."
Shepard nods, and tries to imagine the Vakarian family sitting among some strange, alien flowers and eating some strange, alien meal.
"Were you a cute kid?" she asks, and takes another bite of her eggs.
"Turians are not cute, Shepard. They are formidable."
"Even the babies?"
"Especially the babies."
Shepard grins, lets the silence stretch between them for a few long moments as she eats, then she gives a short shrug. "I bet you were cute."
Garrus laughs. "Maybe. I know I was a handful, though."
"Shocking, isn't it?" He laughs again, and for a moment, the only thing she hears from his direction is the sound of him slurping some drink before he asks, "How about you? Did you do this with your family?"
The fork in Shepard's hand stills as faded images of long-ago dinners around the kitchen table flash up in her mind.
"Shit, Shepard, I'm sorry," Garrus says. "I shouldn't have— I didn't mean to—"
Shepard waves a hand. "It's all right, Garrus. Sometimes, it's nice to remember the old days. Keeps their memory alive, you know?" She puts down her fork and leans back, her lips pulling into a sad little smile. "No, we usually ate inside. I think we might have gone on a few picnics when I was small, but mostly, we had our meals in the kitchen. We had a big table with a few chairs and a bench in there. My brother and I loved to sit on the bench and bug the hell out of each other."
"Yeah, I bet you were a thorn in your sister's side."
Shepard snorts, and picks up her fork again. "Speaking of, have you heard from your family?"
"A few days ago. They're fine. Solana's training to be a medic, and dad is working with the temporary government in Cipritine. Apparently, there's an organization now that's agitating against activating the relay. They argue it's safer not to have any connections to the outside world. Which, of course, is understandable, given what happened with the Reapers, but it's also utterly insane. But yeah, he's doing some investigations into the more aggressive fringe groups that could turn violent."
"How close are they to switching on the relay?"
"Not sure. A few months, maybe."
And there's that nagging question again poking the back of Shepard's mind about the reason for and the length of time Garrus is doing this whole nursing thing. She doesn't want to say it, because she'd hate to see him go, but she'd be an awful, selfish friend if she didn't, and frankly, he deserves better than that, so she takes a deep breath and goes ahead.
"Whenever it's ready and you're ready, it's okay if you go home, Garrus. I'll understand. And I'll be fine. I appreciate everything you've done for me, but I don't want to hold you back."
"You can't get rid of me that easily," he says. She can hear his smile in his voice, and she smiles back, relieved. "I'll stay as long as you need me. And I'll be the judge of how long that will be. I know you; you'd say you're fine even while you're bleeding out."
The good thing about having a bandage over your eyes is that no-one can see if they tear up, and hers are getting mighty misty right now. She's not really convinced she deserves a friend like him, but she's sure as hell grateful she has him by her side. Like always, always, through thick and thin, through fire and hell, in bloody war and in quiet peace.
She reaches out in search of his hand, and in silent understanding, his fingers wrap around her own.
"Thanks, Garrus," she croaks out.
"Sure thing. I know you'd do the same for me."
Shepard nods. She would. She absolutely would. In a heartbeat.
She spends the rest of the morning taking apart her guns, cleaning them, then putting them back together again. It's a skill she practiced hundreds of times, a lifetime ago, and it feels good to do it now. Of course, back then, wearing a blindfold to simulate total darkness was a mere exercise with temporary limitations. Now, it's all a part of her life. And who knows how long? If the surgery didn't work, this might be her new reality.
It's an unpleasant thought, so she pushes it out of her mind as she works. She can't do anything about it anyway other than wait and see what happens when the bandages come off.
Her legs, however, are a different matter. Now, that's something she can actually do something about. So, when it's time for the stretching and muscle-strengthening routine, she grits her teeth and tries to do as much on her own as she can. A light sheen of sweat covers her forehead as she wills her body to move, and in the end, it's Garrus who has to tell her to stop, to take it easy.
She grumbles, but she complies, and she's rewarded with another session of blissful back massage.
"You're getting really good at this," she mutters as Garrus digs a pain-numbing path in her skin. "If you ever decide to leave the military life, you could make a fortune as a masseuse."
Garrus chuckles as he probes a particularly stubborn bundle of nerves along her spine. "I'll keep that in mind. Never hurts to have some options open."
"Read me a story," Shepard tells Garrus that night. She's clean and warm from her bath, her belly's full, but she's not as tired as she was the day before, and it's too early to go to sleep anyway.
"You want to hear some news reports?"
"No. Something fun. And interesting. How about all those books in the library?"
"Oh. They're all, uh, human literature. I have no idea which one would be good."
Shepard shrugs. "Just pick one at random."
Garrus's steps recede as he trudges into the library. A short while later, he returns and, judging by the creaking sound of leather coming from the direction of the couch, he sits down.
"So…" he starts, "this one is called Traveler of the Stars."
He begins reading, and Shepard listens as his voice, soft and two-toned and velvety, fills the room. It's like being wrapped in a cozy cocoon while the outside world falls away and images of the heroine and the places and people she comes across on her journey fill Shepard's mind. The book sounds almost autobiographical; it's about a young woman, inquisitive and adventurous, who sets out on the trip of a lifetime across the galaxy as soon as the First Contact War is over and humanity is accepted into the global community.
It's fascinating to hear about those first encounters with the Citadel and the various races inhabiting its wards, even if the text is sometimes a little confusing when a few of the words get twisted around as they go through two translator processes: one from English to Garrus's native tongue, and then, back to English again.
"So… you people thought we looked like scary monsters?" Garrus asks when, after having heard so much about them, Amelie bumps into a real, live turian.
"We still do," Shepard jokes, and smiles when she gets an amused snort from Garrus. "What did your people think of us?"
"We thought you looked weird with your smooth skin and strange fringe."
Shepard nods. Yeah. That must have looked strange, indeed. As far as she knows, the only sentient species in the galaxy with hair are humans. Unless quarians have hair, too? Why doesn't anybody know what they really look like? It's only been a few hundred years since their exile, after all.
"Shall I keep reading?" Garrus asks.
Shepard yawns. "Nah, I'm good for bed now. Let's continue tomorrow. Thanks, Garrus."
Shepard sleeps much better that night, and the next morning, she wakes up in a good mood, ready to take on the day.
It's going to be her first visit to the Rehab Center as an outpatient, and as she digs through her drawers, trying to choose what to wear, something occurs to her: Some of these clothes are new, purchased and sent over by Liara to extend Shepard's pitifully small civilian wardrobe. Ergo, Shepard can figure out their shape and material by touch, but she has no idea what color they are.
Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a problem; style is not something she's cared much about for most of her life. Not that she really had to: Until now, almost all her clothes have been military issue, practical garb, and whether her armor was tinted red or green or purple didn't matter much on the battlefield. On the other hand, even if she has no interest in becoming a fashion icon, she doesn't want to look like a clown either, so she chooses the only option available to her now: she calls on Garrus for help.
"Hey, Garrus," she yells for him from the doorway to her room. "Got a minute?"
He pads over, and when she thinks he's close, she holds up the items she's picked from her drawers. "What color are these?"
"Gray and white."
"Okay. I should have known that Liara was going to pick something safe and boring. Although," she adds, grinning, "I guess I should be grateful that it wasn't you who did the shopping."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I've seen you in your civvies, Garrus. Those colors…" She pretends to shiver. "Let's just say it was not a pretty sight."
Garrus huffs. "I'll let you know that that was the height of turian fashion."
"Well, excuse me then."
They share a laugh, then he helps her get dressed, and after breakfast, he drives her over to the Rehab Center.
It's going to be a long day of assisted walking with an exoskeleton, nerve stimulation, and hydrotherapy, so she tells Garrus to go ahead and leave. He stays for a while anyway to cheer her on, but he does have a few things he needs to do in the turian camp, so, eventually, he slips out.
By the time her session is over and Garrus picks her up, Shepard is an exhausted mess. Still, she counts it as a victory that she was able to do most of the exercises. Compared to how she started a few months ago, when she could barely move, she's a virtual ballerina now. Well, not really, but she likes to think that all the work she's putting in will pay off in the end. It has to.
"How did it go?" Garrus asks as he starts up the engine.
"Great. I think I'll start running soon."
Garrus chuckles, and she smiles, and withdraws into a comfortable silence as they make their way home.
Settling into a routine with Garrus is easy. He helps her with the tasks she's unable to accomplish by herself, but lets her do the things she wants to undertake on her own. Three times a week, she goes to rehab while he deals with Hierarchy business, and the rest of the days, they do the exercises and back massage at home.
Every once in a while, he changes her bandages in a darkened room, working as quickly as he can to make sure she doesn't have the chance to strain her eyes as she stares into the darkness, trying to will herself to see. Which, she doesn't. It's unsurprising, given what the surgeon has told her, but disappointing nonetheless.
Two weeks after her surgery, the bandages are permanently removed.
At first, the results are not very encouraging. Doctor Karol shines a light in Shepard's pupils, but she can't perceive any of it—at all. It takes a few adjustments to her implants and another test with the light before finally, there's progress: Shepard thinks she can actually see… something. It's fuzzy and barely recognizable, but at least it's some kind of a shape in front of her face. Beyond that, everything is just a blur, but still, it's better than nothing, which is how it's been since she awoke from her coma, so she decides to hold on to that.
"It might take another week before your vision fully returns," Dr. Karol says, laying a hand on Shepard's shoulder. "In the meantime, call me if you have any problems."
Shepard nods. She tries not to get carried away with too much hope, tries to tell herself to wait and see, that her eyesight might never be the same as it was before, but she still can't stop smiling as Garrus wheels her out of the hospital.
"I think this calls for a celebration," he says.
Shepard perks up. "I could use a drink."
"No alcohol while you're still on your medications." She huffs, annoyed, and Garrus chuckles. "I had something else in mind."
He loads her into the van and won't say anything more, no matter the nagging, until they stop somewhere not too far down the road. Shepard might still not be able to see much, but her nose is working better than ever, and it takes her just one whiff of the air to figure out where they are. It's a bakery, and the best kind: the kind that serves freshly made bread and pastries all day.
"Since you liked those, uh, buns, so much, I thought you might enjoy having them again," Garrus says as he pushes her wheelchair through the door.
"Garrus," she says as she takes a deep breath, inhaling the sweet scent of cinnamon and lemon and nutmeg and who knows how many more wonderful ingredients wafting through the place.
"I love you."
Garrus laughs. "I wish I'd known before that the path to your heart was through your stomach. Maybe I could have gotten a few more nice mods for my rifles out of you then."
"Maybe." Shepard grins happily, and this time, she chooses a lemon cake for her reward.
Chapter 4: Movie Nights
Thank you for the comments and the support, and big thanks to my wonderful beta, Suilven, for her help.
Every day, Shepard's eyesight gets a little better. She can differentiate between light and dark shapes, and slowly, muted hues begin to bleed into the gray image her brain receives from her implants. It's not until the fifth day after her appointment with Dr. Karol, though, that her vision fully clears up.
It happens in the morning, when she first wakes up, and for minutes after, she can do nothing but slide her gaze around the room, taking in everything she's missed until now.
The house seems older than she imagined. The walls are covered in rose-patterned paper, and all the furniture is made of actual, real, white-painted wood. It looks quaint and romantic, something she's only seen in travel brochures until now, urging the wealthy to take a trip back in time to a bed and breakfast on Good Old Earth.
And the colors! After all the time she's spent in total darkness, the colors seem amazing. Everything is fresher, livelier, more vivid than before, and she wonders if she's just forgotten how beautiful the world can be or if it's the implants and the new cells in her eyes that she can thank for it all.
Eating breakfast in the garden, surrounded by an orgy of hues, is an entirely new experience. It's calming, and beautiful, and stunning, but the thing her gaze keeps returning to is the incredibly gorgeous shade of Garrus's irises. She's always been a sucker for blue eyes, and she's always appreciated the ones belonging to a certain Garrus Vakarian, but somehow, they seem… prettier than before. They look more intense, more piercing, now.
"Is something wrong?" Garrus finally asks when, for probably the tenth time, she's staring at him again.
Shepard shakes her head, hiding her embarrassment at being caught behind a smirk. "Vakarian, have your eyes always been this blue?" she asks, and hopes her jest doesn't sound too fake.
For a moment, he appears to be taken aback, but he finds his voice soon enough. "No, Shepard," he says, "I've borrowed them just for the occasion."
Feeling a blush coming on, she chuckles, and forces herself to look away. "Well. Good job."
Reading books from the library has become a nightly entertainment, but this evening, now that Shepard's vision is back, they decide to turn on the old projector in the living room and raid the house's collection of holo films. There are quite a few, including several Blasto installments, romantic comedies, and adventure flicks. They pick one about an Alliance mission on a rogue colony that has gone horribly wrong, resulting in a series of desperate rescue efforts to save the last remaining soldiers holding out in a hidden camp, and they settle down, Garrus on the couch and Shepard in her wheelchair, each holding a snack and a drink in their hands.
The film was obviously not written by someone with any real experience with the military, but it's entertaining enough, despite Garrus's ribbing about all the mistakes the Alliance soldiers have made that got them into their shitty situation to begin with. Shepard tries to argue, point out the thinking behind their decisions, but in the end, she has to concede that yes, things could have been handled a bit better.
"A turian war movie would've been more realistic," Garrus says smugly as the credits come on and he turns off the machine.
Shepard's eyes roll up at the ceiling. "Sure."
"I'll get one tomorrow from the camp and you'll see."
Garrus makes a frustrated sound in his throat and he stomps into the kitchen to wash their glasses, and Shepard shakes her head and rolls her eyes again. Knowing turians, Garrus's movie is all about duty and rules and regulations, and it's going to be an absolute bore.
Despite Shepard's low expectations, the turian film turns out to be quite enjoyable. Yes, there's a little too much emphasis on protocol and expectations of personal responsibility towards the Hierarchy, but there are also some useful insights into the tactics turians use to achieve the best possible outcome from every encounter, and the narrative explores some promising relationships among the crew that Shepard becomes deeply invested in.
One of the scenes reminds her of the story Garrus told her once during their hunt for the Collectors. In the vid, tensions are running high before an important mission, and Salina, one of Shepard's favorites, gets into a vicious hand-to-hand sparring session with the ship's intelligence officer, an insufferable, pompous asshole called Gladius, whom she's been butting heads with for weeks. The combat is impressive, but Shepard can't help being disappointed at what she suspects is coming, and she's readying a frustrated groan when the fight ends in a tie. Her disapproving scowl turns into an astonished gape when Salina, instead of inviting Gladius to her cabin for a different kind of stress relief as per Garrus's little story about his own conquest, makes a gesture at Jorran, a quiet, dependable soldier that Salina has barely spoken to until now, and the two of them disappear into her quarters while Gladius goes off on his merry way.
"Umm... what just happened?" Shepard asks, brows crinkled in confusion as she turns her head to look at Garrus.
"What do you think?" He smirks, his mandibles flapping in a way that would probably be eyebrow waggling if he were a human. "Remember that scout I told you about?"
"Well, yeah. That's exactly why I don't get it. I thought Salina would take that asshole Gladius into her bed."
"Why? She hates him."
"But…" Shepard shakes her head, and blows out a frustrated huff of air. Turians. More complicated than you'd think. "But how about you and that scout? You didn't hate her? And why would Salina pick Jorran? They haven't had any connection this whole time."
Now, it's Garrus's turn to stare at her. "Seriously? You didn't pick up on any of the signals between them?"
Shepard frowns, and Garrus sighs. With a 'this is going to take long' expression, he picks up the remote and pauses the film, then turns his body on the couch so he can more comfortably face his clueless friend.
"First of all," he says, "no, I did not hate Aidene. We disagreed about a lot of things, but I actually quite liked her. And she liked me. How did I know? Because of those same signals you missed between Jorran and Salina. I don't know how it is with humans, but we don't need verbal communication to show affection and interest."
Shepard scratches the back of her neck. She feels like an idiot, but she can't help it. She has to find out. "What kind of non-verbal communication are we talking about?"
"Certain sounds, hums, thrums, mandible positions, a tilt of the head, a flash of the eyes, hand gestures—you know, signals."
"Huh." She chews on her lips, wondering why her N7 training never explained any of this to her. "I had no idea. I mean, sure, I knew there were some sound registers we humans can't hear, but… this seems to go deeper than that."
Garrus's mandibles spread out in what Shepard thinks is a grin, but now, who knows if that's what it really is? "No wonder you never reacted to Lorik Qui'in's advances."
Shepard's jaw drops. "Say what, now? Lorik Qui'in was hitting on me?"
Well, now Garrus laughs, so she knows he finds this whole thing hilarious.
"Yeah. He gave you quite a performance."
She frowns, and thinks back to all the turians she's encountered in the last few years. "Anybody else? Any other turian propositioning me?"
"A few. Like…" He thinks for a while, then holds up a finger. "Remember Captain Gavorn on Omega? Or the bartender in Dark Star Lounge on the Citadel? General Oraka?"
"Damn. I had no idea." She chews on her lower lip, pondering, remembering. After all the working hours they spent together, she's not sure she really wants to hear the reply if it's affirmative, but she asks anyway. "How about Primarch Victus?"
"No, he was too busy with the war to think of anything else. And then, he was grieving for his son. Councilor Sparatus, on the other hand… Well, not initially, but later, yeah."
"Sparatus? Finger Quotes Sparatus?" It's hard to wrap her head around the possibility that the councilor would want to do anything other than strangle her, given all the fights and disagreements they had—at least until the Reapers actually showed up and they developed a much better working relationship—but… at the same time, the mere thought of a powerful, impressive man like him pounding her into the mattress sends an unexpected rush of thrill down Shepard's spine and brings on a throbbing pressure between her thighs.
"Fuck." She shakes her head. "If I had known… All those missed opportunities…"
Garrus's jaw drops, eyes suddenly big as he gapes at her, and it takes him a moment to say something. "Uh, what?"
"It would've been nice to have some stress release once in a while, is all I'm saying."
He studies her, as if it was the first time he really saw her, and tilts his head as he asks, "You would, ah, sleep with a turian?"
"Why not? I've never really thought about it before, but if Mordin can try human, I can try turian. So, yeah."
"Wait. Back up. What was that about Mordin trying human?"
She laughs, and blinks away a tiny tear forming in her eyes as she remembers the old salarian.
"I used to bug the hell out of him, back when we were with Cerberus. Not that I meant to, but you were always busy with your damned calibrations, and I liked talking to him. He made me laugh, and we had some very enlightening conversations. One day, when I went to chat with him, he told me that he appreciated my interest in him, but he had to turn me down. 'Very little sex drive,'" she adds, trying to sound like Mordin. "He thought I'd been coming on to him. Apparently, I'd been fluttering my lower eyelids a little too much." She laughs again, and shakes her head as she goes on. "But anyway, he said that if he wanted to try human, he would pick me."
Garrus snorts and spreads his mandibles in a smile. "Good old Mordin. Always so tactful." He picks up the remote again, and aims it at the projector. "So, ready to go on with the film?"
They turn back to the screen, and watch the rest of the movie without any more interruptions from her.
The story has a bittersweet ending. The turians win (naturally), but at a price. Jorran sacrifices his life to accomplish the final mission and save his team, and Salina is left alone, pregnant with their child. She leaves the military to give birth, names the baby after her dead lover, and vows to raise him to be the best damn soldier in the entire Hierarchy—a son Jorran would be proud of. The end.
"So, what did you think?" Garrus asks as he turns off the projector.
"It was good. Too bad about Jorran, though."
"He did what was expected of him."
His tone is matter of fact, with a small undercurrent of bitterness. Shepard thinks about the stories he's told her about his father, his sister, his upbringing and his self-perceived failings at being a good turian, and she wonders if him being here, with her, instead of busying himself with Hierarchy business and trying to rise through the ranks is just another aspect of his rebellion against those stiff ropes he's been so desperate to break free of.
Or maybe it's her who's holding him back. According to that Shadow Broker dossier she, of course, just had to stick her nose into, he'll never live up to his true potential as long as he's in her shadow. At the time, she thought it was bullshit; despite what happened to his team on Omega, he'd been doing just fine until Sidonis betrayed him. Yet, here he is, still by her side, instead of living his own life with his own kind.
Maybe it is selfish of her to accept this; maybe she should tell him to go, join his people, get married, have kids, have a normal life. If that's what he wants.
Is that what he wants?
"What's on your mind?" Garrus asks, his voice warm, concerned.
She turns her head to look at him, and smiles. "Just thinking." She's quiet for a moment, wondering if she should really get into this, and then, because she can almost never keep her mouth shut, she does. "Do you want to get married? Have kids, a house, family, the whole nine yards?"
He seems to mull over her question for a short while, as though he'd never considered this issue before. "Yeah," he finally says, "I do. It would be nice. Eventually. If I find the right person. How about you?"
Lips pursed, she tilts her head as she thinks about it, her reply coming just as slow as Garrus's did.
"For a long time, I never really thought I'd live to be old enough to even entertain the possibility of having a family. After I joined the military, my sole purpose was to kill every evil motherfucker in the galaxy. I figured that kind of life wasn't going to keep me breathing for too long, but I wanted to do it anyway. Then, of course, came the Reapers, which cut my life expectancy significantly shorter." She waves a hand, the corner of her mouth quirking up in a sarcastic smirk. "If not for Miranda, I'd actually be dead now. Twice over. But anyway," she goes on with a shrug, "even if I happen to be alive, who would want a cripple like me with all these scars all over her body?"
Garrus shakes his head. "You're Commander Shepard. Savior of the Galaxy. Anybody should be proud to call you their mate. Besides, you're not a cripple. In a couple of months, you'll be walking again. And as for the scars, who cares?"
"You'd be surprised how many humans do."
"Well, they're all idiots."
She snorts out a chuckle, grateful for his unbridled support. "Yeah, well, maybe I'll have to expand my horizons. Didn't you say that krogan love scars?"
Garrus nods. "They do. And if you're lucky, that breeding request on Tuchanka is still valid."
Shepard bursts out laughing, her glee pulling Garrus along with her, and they spend the rest of the evening talking about those days on Tuchanka and Omega and Illium and countless other planets, and the friends they've lost along the way.
Chapter 5: Nightmares, and a Pact
Thank you so much for all the lovely comments and the support, and big thanks to the wonderful Suilven for beta reading.
Happy New Year, everyone! Let's hope this year will be better than the last one. :)
It takes a few more weeks of daily exercises before Shepard's muscles are strong enough to support her weight without the exoskeleton she's been wearing in her physical therapy sessions. She still needs a cane to walk, and she can't take more than a dozen steps without losing steam and getting too tired to go on, but at least she's not confined to the wheelchair anymore. At least, not all the time: the chair is still necessary when they take longer trips to the shooting range or to the market to replenish their food supplies.
The market is a conglomeration of small shops in the center of town that sprung up as soon as commercial routes had been re-established and supplies began to flow. The shops are mostly human, but a few enterprising merchants of other species have started up businesses as well. The selection of goods is not quite what it used to be, but the basic necessities are there, and that is more than anybody could have thought would be possible again after the war.
It was Shepard's idea to check out the place after she'd found a cookbook in the library and decided to try her hand at preparing something that was at least marginally better than the military grub she'd been eating for so long. Garrus was less enthusiastic about it, but he went along with her plan, as always. Once he found a turian shop with actual turian ingredients, though, he was sold. That evening, dinner was a somewhat burnt levo meal and a not-spicy-enough dextro dish, but neither of them had ever backed down from a challenge, so they took on the task of learning how to make food that actually tasted good with the same determination they'd always tackled any mission. In a week or so, they were making some pretty decent meals, and cooking dinner together has become a new favorite nightly activity by now.
The biggest issue has been staying under the radar while picking out the ingredients at the market. With her civilian clothes and a cap pulled low over her eyes, Shepard is not too recognizable in the crowd, but Garrus's blue eyes and facial markings aren't exactly common among turians, so convincing the occasional admirer that he's not the famous Vakarian is a little trickier. Still, his insistence eventually does the trick, and most of the time, they manage to do their shopping in peace.
Until they meet someone whose interest lies not in Garrus's hero status but in him being a member of his species.
At first, they think the middle aged, disheveled woman cutting through the crowd and pushing people out of her way to get close to them is another fan or, worst case scenario, a shell-shocked survivor about to spew some xenophobic hate. It's only when she drops down onto her knees in front of Garrus and grabs his hand, eyes brimming with tears as she begs him to tell her what happened to her son, that they realize this encounter is not something they can so easily brush off.
"His name is Roger McCullough," she says as Garrus takes her by the shoulders and lifts her up, gingerly settling her down on her shaky legs. "His unit was paired with a turian division in London during the war. The Twenty-third, I think. Please, I just want to know what happened to him. Nobody's telling me anything. Maybe you've met him?"
"I'm sorry," Garrus says, his voice warm, compassionate. "I don't know. I wasn't with that group."
As though pulled by an unbearable weight, the woman's arms drop limp, dejected, by her side, her shoulders sagging in defeat as her gaze sinks down to the ground at her feet.
"I wish I could help," Garrus says with one last sympathetic squeeze of her shoulders, but she says nothing. She stands rooted to the spot, the only movement on her devastated, once-beautiful face the tears rolling down her cheeks.
It's a scene Shepard and Garrus are both intimately familiar with; they've seen that look countless times before.
War is always, always terrible. But this one—there'd been nothing like this, ever, in any race's history until the Reapers came along. So many lives lost; so many unrecoverable bodies; so many people turned into something else, something horrible, their minds gone while their bodies unwillingly obeyed the cruel orders of their soulless overlords.
"I'm sorry," Shepard whispers as they leave the woman behind, not in the mood to do their usual, careless shopping anymore.
"That division was wiped out," Garrus says when they settle back in the van. "Overrun by the damn Reapers."
Shepard nods. It's what she expected; but still, that doesn't mean it hurts any less. Her optical nerves can supply more than adequate input to her brain now, but she sees nothing of the passing scenery as she stares out the window when they take off.
She doesn't want to talk, and neither does Garrus; the only sound that fills the van the entire twenty minute trip back to the cottage is the hum of the engine as they make their way home in silence.
That night, the nightmares start again.
She dreams of the Citadel's AI urging her to make a choice as the Reapers' death-beams cut through the vacuum of space outside. She hesitates, and the ships of the Fleet explode one by one, taking the Coalition's entire fighting force with them. Shepard holds her head in her hands and screams, her cries turning into sobs when the scene abruptly changes and now she's on the ground in London, surrounded by tanks and craters and gunfire, and yet, her eyes see nothing but her crew, her friends, and Garrus, oh god, Garrus, lying bloodied and lifeless at her feet.
She wakes up shaking, her pillow wet from her tears, to Garrus's warm hand on her shoulder and his sweet, rumbling voice in her ear.
"Shepard. Are you all right?"
She wants to sob out a relieved 'yes, I am now,' but that would mean she'd have to talk, which is quite impossible at the moment. Instead, she stays on her side with her back turned to him, and stuffs a fist in her mouth, biting down hard enough on her skin to distract herself from her tears and her emotional pain with a real, physical one.
Garrus strokes her back as he waits.
"I… dreamt you were dead," she finally manages to get out.
He's silent for a moment, and then, she feels the mattress dip down behind her as he slips under the covers and weaves an arm around her body, resting his large hand on her stomach.
"I'm fine. I'm here."
Shepard squeezes her eyes shut, and sighs. Her heart still aches, but her breathing is slowly evening out.
"Did I do enough?" she asks. "Was I wrong surrendering myself and sitting on my hands for six months while the Alliance brass tried to come up with a plan of what to do with me, and the Reapers prepared for their attack?"
Garrus's arm tightens around her as he pulls her closer to his chest, his breath hot on the back of her neck. "Shepard. No-one did more than you. If not for you, everybody, everything, would be gone, and we would not be having this conversation right now."
"Yeah, but…" She turns around to face him, and lays a hand on his cowl. He's not wearing a shirt, and although she's used to the feel of his skin by now, it still strikes her how warm he is. It feels nice. Comforting. "If I hadn't let them lock me up, if I had kept on going, maybe I could have done more," she says, frowning. "Saved more lives." Her lips curl up in a smile, eyes crinkling sadly as she thinks back to those times. "Jack told me to steal the Normandy and go pirate with her. Maybe I should have listened."
Garrus snorts. "Oh, yeah, that would've helped."
"I don't mean the going pirate part," she says, annoyed. "I mean, if I hadn't turned the ship and myself in, maybe I could have organized some kind of resistance. Convinced more people of the threat, built a coalition of my own, made preparations. I don't know."
"And what makes you think people would have listened?" He sighs, moves a hand up her shoulders to the back of her head, and rakes his fingers through her hair. "You know damn well how that would've gone. Besides, as much as I hated the Alliance for locking you up for something that had to be done, they were right in that they couldn't afford a war with the batarians. Not when the Reapers were just around the corner. And I don't think you would have accepted if they had offered the Hegemony a sacrificial lamb in your place. Would you have?"
Shepard bites into her lower lip, her eyes fixed on Garrus as she thinks. Her logical side tells her that that's exactly what should have been done to free her from scrutiny and let her work on preparing for the coming war. Realistically, though, she can't imagine standing by and letting someone else take the fall for her, no matter the cause.
"No, I wouldn't have," she finally says.
He hums in agreement, his blue eyes shining warmly in the little light that filters in through the window. "There are always victims in a war. It's inevitable. But what matters is that you've given us all a chance to keep on living. Have a better future, maybe, if this newfangled cooperation between all the different species in the galaxy holds."
Shepard scoffs. "Yeah, well, we'll see about that."
Garrus makes a noncommittal noise in his throat, but his gaze is already drifting off, settling on her hair as his fingers glide through the soft strands. She watches him, the sneer on her face morphing into a smile as he conducts his experiments about the texture and viscosity of her locks with his usual focused determination.
"Garrus?" she says, trying to bring his attention back to her.
"What are you doing?"
"With my hair."
"Oh." He drops his hand to her shoulder, eyes flicking back to her face in embarrassment. "Sorry. I just… like the way it feels."
"Not that freakishly weird after all, huh?"
She grins, and he returns her glee with a toothy smile of his own. "I didn't say that. It is weird. But I still like it."
Shepard boops his nose, and ghosts a finger down his cheeks and on to his mandibles. "And I like your facial markings. Tattoos. Whatever."
"Well, I'm glad that's settled, then."
They laugh, then stop talking as they hold each other, breathing in the air between them.
"Feel better now?" Garrus says after a while, when Shepard's eyelids begin to drift downward. "Want to go back to sleep?"
"Yeah." She yawns. "Thanks, Garrus. I'm glad you're here. With me."
"Anytime. Call me if you need me."
Faintly, she feels the mattress shift as he climbs out from under the covers, and by the time he leaves her room, she's already asleep.
For days, the nightmares keep coming back. It's a slightly different scenario each time, but they all end the same way, with the destruction of the galaxy and Shepard's friends dead. It's always Garrus's bloodied body that gets to her the most; it's what wakes her up every night, sobbing.
Without fail, Garrus is there in a moment. He slides into bed with her, telling her that everything's all right. Sometimes, they talk; other times, they just hold each other.
Then finally, one night, there are no bad dreams, and yet, Shepard still wakes up at the same hour. This time, though, it's not to the horrors of her mind; it's to the cold emptiness of being alone in her bed.
It's crazy. She should be relieved her pillow isn't tear-stained for once; she should be glad her chest doesn't feel like it's about to split open and let her wild, racing heart spill out. But none of that seems to matter right now; all she can think of is how much she wants, needs, to be cocooned in Garrus's arms.
She doesn't want to be selfish. She's kept him up enough these last few days. Even if what he told her is true and turians don't need nearly as much sleep as humans do, it can't be fun being woken up and forced to play therapist every night. Besides, she's been doing just fine sleeping alone most of her life. Not like she can't get back to that now.
So, she flops around, tries to get comfortable, tries to go back to sleep on her own. Alone.
It doesn't work.
She settles on her back, stares up at the dark ceiling above her, wipes her forehead with the back of her hand. It's impossible to stop thinking about him. She wonders how he's doing. Is he asleep? Or does he miss her like she's missing him?
Stupid question. Of course he's asleep. Why wouldn't he be? He's probably exhausted from everything he's been having to do for her.
But… if he's asleep… maybe she could sneak into his room, slip into his bed, and stay there for a little while. Just enough to soak up his warm presence; just enough to relax her mind.
The idea is insane, absurd, and probably quite improper, but she's never been one to be deterred by little things like that. Once she determines a course of action that she thinks will bring the best possible outcome, she goes for it, and that's exactly what she's going to do now.
The only issue is how to get to her destination with as little noise as possible and without her legs giving out.
Good thing her cane is right by her bed, so she doesn't have to fumble for it in the dark. Still, the first step is always the worst, and she has to bite the inside of her cheeks to keep herself from groaning as she climbs out of bed and puts her weight on her feet, holding on to the cane and the wall for extra support.
She sets out to Garrus's room as quietly as she can. The fact that the layout of the house was permanently burnt into her brain during her weeks of blindness comes in quite handy now, and she manages to avoid bumping into the door frames or the furniture as she shuffles along.
It takes her a while, but she makes it without any unfortunate incident, and she stops by the side of his bed, her heart hammering so hard in her chest she's afraid that's what's going to give her away. But Garrus doesn't move; he's lying on his side, turned away from her, and Shepard takes a few deep breaths as she tries to decide what to do.
It's not like her to hesitate, but she does. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all. Maybe she should turn around and go back to her own bed.
The thought, however, is too unpalatable; besides, once she starts something, she's usually hell-bent on finishing it, if only to see what the outcome would be. So, she decides to stay and stick to her plan.
With utmost care, she walks to the side of the bed where she can slip in behind Garrus's back, leans her cane against the wall, and slides under the covers. It's not easy holding back a sigh as she settles in, but she manages, and is about to congratulate herself on a job well done when he turns around and lays a hand on her shoulder.
"Are you all right? Did you have a bad dream?"
She could lie and tell him she did and that's exactly why she's here, but she respects him too much to play games. She's always been honest with him, and, as far as she knows, he's done the same for her. Still, she can't help the nervous gulp when she replies.
"No. I just… wanted to be with you. I missed you." She gives him an apologetic smile. "I hope it's okay. Sorry if I woke you up."
For a heartbeat, he's silent, and Shepard's face heats up. Perhaps this really was a mistake. A huge, stupid mistake. But then, he lifts his hand to stroke her hair, and his touch is so gentle her heart is about to burst in her chest.
"Actually, I was already awake. And it's no problem. I know it's hard to resist my natural charm." His mandibles spread out as he grins, his sharp teeth glinting in the low light. It should be scary, and maybe once it was, but now, the sight is reassuring. "Besides, I could hear you from a mile away."
Shepard laughs, and smacks him lightly on the arm with the back of her hand. "Then why did you pretend to be asleep?"
"I wanted to see what you were up to."
She shakes her head in mock aggravation, but she can't hide her relieved smile. Her hand slides up to cup his face, her thumb stroking over his cheek as she looks into his beautiful, blue eyes.
A thought strikes her; it's a realization that, as sudden as it is, is something her heart has known for a long, long time: besides her family, there's no-one in this entire universe she's ever cared for more than she cares for him.
"I don't know what I'd do without you," she says, her voice tender, sincere. And then, before she can stop them, words she has never considered before pour out of her mouth. "Hey, remember that comedy we watched the other day? About the two friends who made a pact to get married to each other if they didn't find a partner in ten years? Wanna do the same?"
He stares at her, and her smile melts away. She wishes she could interpret his expression, wonders what unspoken words she's missing right now, and she swallows, her mind frantically searching for some excuse to undo the damage she might have caused.
"Relax, I'm only kidding," she says, forcing a laugh. "But, just imagine the headlines! Or your father when he found out. If you want to give him an aneurysm, that would be the way to do it. But… anyway… I should go."
She makes a move to leave, but he grabs her shoulder and pulls her back. Even through her shirt, his hand is warm on her skin, his strong fingers tender as he keeps her in place.
"Shepard. I think that's an excellent idea."
"Yeah?" Her heart thuds in her chest, and she reaches behind her head to scratch her neck. "Oh. Okay."
"Half the galaxy already thinks we're a couple anyway. We might as well give it a go sometime." There's a teasing twinkle in his eyes, but it softens and his mandibles clamp to his face as his expression turns somber. "There's no-one I respect more than you. So, yeah. Definitely."
For once, Shepard doesn't know what to say. Now that he's agreed to her impulsive suggestion, a thousand thoughts flash up in her mind, but all she can do is lock eyes with Garrus as she tries to imagine living out the rest of her life with him.
Sharing everything, her ups and downs, her failures and desires, her bed, her body, with her best friend—her turian best friend—is a thought that's as exciting as it is scary.
"It wouldn't be easy," she finally says. Maybe she's looking for a way out—whether for herself or for Garrus, she's not sure—but it would be foolish to jump into something like this without acknowledging the difficulties such a union would entail.
Garrus scoffs, dismissing her concerns with a click of his mandibles. "Nothing ever is. Doesn't mean it's not worth trying. And we've done pretty well together so far, don't you think?"
"Yeah. As friends. But this… this would be different." She takes a deep breath and throws out the one fact that she feels is the biggest possible obstacle to this crazy plan. "For starters, I'm not a turian."
"I've noticed. I've seen you naked, you know."
Shepard laughs. "Oh, so that's what finally gave me away?" Garrus grins, and she points a finger at his chest. "Which, by the way, is not fair. I've only seen your top half without any clothes."
Garrus's mandibles flare out and his eyes twinkle as he lowers his voice to a seductive rumble. "Just say the word, and we can do something about that."
She's pretty sure that was a joke, but the thought still sends a shiver down her spine. If she had any doubts whether she could desire him, it's certainly gone now. Still, there are a few more points to work out if they are really going to do this, so she ignores the slight pressure beginning to build up between her thighs.
"We could never eat the same food," she says.
"That just means that if we ever got stuck on a planet during a mission, at least one of us would survive. Which is good, because then the kids will only lose one parent."
Shepard's jaw goes slack, her eyes wide beneath her raised brows. "Kids? You're already planning kids? You know I can never get pregnant from you, right?"
Garrus shrugs. It's a gesture she thinks he's picked up from her, and she wonders how many turian mannerisms she has learnt from him. "There are lots of orphans who need a home," he says. "We can always adopt."
"And your family would be okay with that? I have nobody to disown me for not continuing the bloodline, but what about your father? I can't imagine he'd be happy about it."
"Shepard, if I still let my father dictate what I do, I never would have joined you on the Normandy back when you were hunting for Saren. So now you would be short on one devilishly handsome and stylish turian."
Shepard snorts out a chuckle. "Wouldn't that be a shame." She exhales a long breath, her brows knitting together as she ponders all these possible issues one last time, then she tosses them away one by one. "All right. So in ten years, if neither of us is taken, we'll get together. Get married. Bonded. Whatever. Deal?"
She nods, her eyelids drooping down as she yawns. "Can I stay for a while? I don't feel like going back to my bed yet."
Garrus reaches out and tugs her to him, cradling her body in his solid arms. It feels like home; like pulling into port after a long journey.
After that, they don't talk anymore, and their breaths slow down as they drift off. The quiet of the room only breaks once when Garrus murmurs something that, even in her half-asleep state, puts a smile on Shepard's face.
"Our kids are going to be great."
Chapter 6: Only You
Many, many thanks for all the lovely comments on the last chapter, and to my wonderful beta,
Suilven, for the edits. :)
Warning: this chapter has some adult content.
Funny how your perception of someone changes when you no longer consider them as merely a friend. Once ideas of love and attraction and sex enter the equation, all the little details you took for granted before, the shape of their body, the sound of their voice, the heat in their eyes, everything about them becomes fodder for your imagination that blossoms into intimate dreams at night.
It's a good thing Shepard never considered something like this new, marital kind of partnership with Garrus during the war. As it is now, she can't stop thinking about those nighttime dreams and how it might really feel like to have him inside her, can't stop her eyes from roaming over his impressive, graceful form, can't stop her skin from prickling with a shudder when he touches her. Had it been like this while they were hunting for Saren and the Collectors and the Reapers and trying to save the galaxy from near certain annihilation, she has no idea how she could have gotten anything done with him around.
She wonders if his feelings towards her have changed as well, but then she spots him watching her when he thinks she's not looking, his gaze fixed on her hips as she walks, the thick hide on his neck turning a darker shade when he realizes he's been caught. She smiles, and makes a timid attempt at flirting. He flirts back, and she wonders no more.
This is new territory; they are treading uncharted waters here—waters neither of them has much experience navigating. Until now, their talks have mainly involved mission details, the war, Garrus's family, Shepard's recovery, and little things about the lives they lived before that memorable day when they first met on the Citadel all those years ago. Now, their usual shop talk and good-natured banter about big guns and calibrations and heat sinks no longer mean what they used to mean; their words suddenly turn into delightful, sometimes hilariously awkward, innuendo. It's fun and exciting and they both love it, yet neither of them makes a move.
But then, one day, Garrus does.
It happens in the garden, late one evening, when the air cools down and the stars come out. They are both nursing a mug of hot drink in their hands as they sit on the patio side by side, eyes turned upward toward the sky. It's dark and it's littered with blinking lights and cosmic dust, a rare sight before the war in this area with all the light pollution, but with so much of the infrastructure gone, a common, beautiful occurrence now.
"I want to get back into space," Shepard says, her sigh a wistful plea to her body to hurry up already with the healing it still needs to do.
Garrus reaches over, and pats her arm with a free hand. "You will. You're walking on your own now. Granted, with a cane, but still. It won't be long before you can throw that away, too."
Shepard nods, but can't take her eyes off the sight up above. "Hackett says the Normandy will be mine if I'm fit for duty and re-enlist by the time they come back from their mission. The Council has been making inquiries about my recovery, too—I'm pretty sure they have a huge backlog of cases they need taken care of and not enough Spectres left to push them on to."
"No plans to retire to a tropical beach, then?"
"Not while there are still evil monsters out there that need a shot in the face."
Garrus is silent, and she turns her head to look at him. He's staring at the mug in his hand, and her heart quenches at the thought that they might not be on the same page about this. She can't blame him if he wants to stop fighting; he's done more than enough for the galaxy already, and deserves a normal life for a change. Still, the thought that she might have to go on without him is a realization that hurts more than any physical wound could.
"What about you?" she asks. She dreads his answer, but it's better to tear off the bandage and deal with the pain now than to drag it out.
He finally looks away from his mug, settling his eyes, so honest, so fierce, on her. "Wherever you go, I go."
Shepard's lower lip trembles, and she bites into it, willing herself not to cry. "I don't deserve you," she manages to croak out, unable to say anything more.
Garrus reaches over again, and takes her hand in his. "Yes, you do."
She smiles, inhales a long, deep breath, and clears her throat. "Well. I think… I'm heading to bed."
He lets go of her hand so she can grab her cane. It's an old-fashioned walking stick with four little prongs on one end, quite stable most of the time—if she remembers to take a moment and steady herself before she takes the first step.
But, tonight, she doesn't. Her legs wobble when she sets out on her trek to her room, and as her instincts tell her to put her hands out to soften her inevitable crash to the ground, her mug and cane fall away, landing with a loud crack on the brick pavement under her feet.
Garrus is there before her body could follow. He holds her tight, strong arms weaving around her waist as he keeps her upright.
Shepard's heart pounds, the burst of adrenaline from her careless mistake still coursing through her veins as she clings to Garrus, clutching his shirt. "Shit. Sorry."
He doesn't reply, but she can feel the air change. It's somehow… charged, like a snap of a finger could set off a spark. Slowly, she looks up, and finds his face mere inches away, his eyes boring into hers with a burning intensity that takes her breath away.
She doesn't want to move. She wants to stay like this forever, so she holds on, her gaze locked onto his. But soon, his mandibles twitch, and she thinks she can feel his arms tremble as after a long moment, he cautiously, hesitantly, lowers his head.
And then, he kisses her.
It's not the head bump she's seen in the turian vids they've watched together; no, it's the human, mouths-pressed-together kiss he's trying to imitate, and the fact alone that he's doing this in the way that would be most familiar, most meaningful to her, is enough to make her knees go weak.
She wants to do the same for him.
Sliding a hand up the back of his neck as she returns the kiss, she gently strokes the sensitive plating under his fringe like she's seen in turian romance scenes, and can't hold back a happy sigh when he pulls her closer, his subharmonics thrumming with pleasure at her touch. Their lips part, and as he rests his forehead against hers, he rakes his fingers through her hair, keeping her head in place.
"I don't want to wait ten years," he says. "I already know who I want. It's you. Only you."
Were it not for Garrus still supporting her weight, Shepard would surely lose her footing now. She swallows, ignoring the lump in her throat, and her tongue darts out to wet her lips before she speaks.
"I don't want anybody else either," she says. Her eyes are closed, but she can feel his body relax at her words, and she smiles, pulls back a bit, and looks up at him, her lips curling into a smirk. "So… if you're willing to try human, I'm more than happy to try turian."
It's not nearly as romantic as what Garrus has said, but he doesn't seem to mind. He laughs, and then, suddenly, her feet lift off the ground as he picks her up and murmurs into her neck, "Yes, please."
It sends a shiver down her spine and a jolt of fire to her groin, and she holds on, breathing him in, as he slips his hands under her thighs to get a better grip, and carries her into the house and to her room.
Making love to Garrus isn't quite as simple as her dreams seemed to suggest, Shepard finds when he climbs over her in her bed and settles down between her legs. It's not that he doesn't feel good, because he does, but the plating on his body is far from gentle on her skin. Still, it's a minor issue that can be solved with a layer of the sheet tucked in between them in the most vulnerable places, and once that's done, all she can feel anymore is the warmth of his touch, the gentle stroking of his tongue on her neck and breasts, and the steady, rocking motion of his hips as he sinks inside her and begins to move. It's a sensation that no dream, no matter how pleasant, could ever compete with.
With every push, he buries himself deeper, and she's not ashamed to let him know with a gasping moan how wonderful it feels when he hits that special spot or when the ridge at his base rubs against her—yes, right there.
He's equally vocal as he rumbles and purrs his pleasure when she drags her fingers down his back, tracing the edges of his plates and dipping between them to scrape her nails against the patches of supple, leathery skin.
It's amazing how well they fit together, despite the anatomical differences. Sure, there's that risk of chafing if they are not careful, and she has to position herself a little differently than she would have to with a lover of her own species, but it works.
They take it slow, learning, testing, picking up on each other's cues like they always do. He finds her trigger points, the spots behind her ear and in the crook of her neck, and he nips at them to coax desperate little whimpers out of her throat, and she strokes his fringe all the way to the tip, setting off a deep thrum in his chest that vibrates through her own body where they join.
She wants to make him happy; she wants to make him feel as good as she is feeling. Chasing her own satisfaction is only a secondary objective, and if his pleased hums at her every moan is anything to go by, his goal is the same.
Things get more urgent when her hands drift down to his waist to caress the unplated skin there. Garrus groans her name as his hips surge forward, and she draws in a sharp breath, her back arching off the bed as he picks up the pace. It doesn't take long before she comes undone, her head thrown back with a cry, and Garrus is right behind her, his movements erratic, his steady rhythm lost now. A few more thrusts, and he stops with a keening grunt, his eyes squeezed shut and his body still but for his arms as they quiver with the effort to hold himself up above her.
Shepard's heart still pounds in the confines of her chest and her breaths are still coming in shallow pants, but she reaches up and gently flattens a palm against the side of Garrus's face. "You okay?"
He looks down at her, his mandibles flaring into a smile. "Better than okay. I'm great."
"Oh, yes, you are." She grins, and he laughs, and he bends down to brush his forehead against hers.
"And you are amazing. Absolutely amazing."
Dealing with compliments is not one of Shepard's strengths. Not because she doesn't like them; she just doesn't know how to respond. So, she doesn't. Instead, she slides her hand to the back of Garrus's neck and tugs him down for a kiss, slipping her tongue into his mouth.
This is the first time she's done this, and it seems to take him by surprise. He almost pulls back, but soon, he relaxes and, hesitantly, he touches his tongue to hers. It's not the same without lips, but it's close enough, and she sighs, and gets lost in the moment until it's time to separate and come up for air.
"Well…" he says. "That was… interesting."
Shepard huffs out an uncertain chuckle. "Good interesting, I hope?"
"Yes. Definitely. I liked it."
His eyes smile, his tone as warm as a cozy blanket, and as he pulls out and settles down beside her, bringing her with him and tugging her close, she tucks herself into his side, and wonders how she ever got this lucky to have him in her life.
"Good," she says, glancing up at him with a smile of her own. "Prepare yourself for more of that from now on."
"Looking forward to it."
They should really clean up, but Shepard allows herself a few relaxed moments before they climb out of bed and make their way to the bathroom. "I'm glad you took on this… nursing job," she says, her head on Garrus's shoulder and her fingers tracing a gentle, invisible pattern on his carapace.
She can feel his mandibles flutter as he tilts his head to press it against hers. "Me, too. Best decision of my life."
The next few weeks go by in a blur. Their daytime schedule is the same as before: physical therapy for Shepard, some Hierarchy business for Garrus, and in their free time, grocery shopping, cooking, watching vids. The difference is in the way they look at each other, the way they touch, the way they cuddle on the couch.
And, of course, how they spend their nights.
At night, they make love—in Shepard's bed, in Garrus's bed, in the bath, on every available surface in the house. She shows him all the ways human lips can make him feel good, and he reciprocates by doing the same for her with his talented, blue tongue.
It's been a long, long time since Shepard has been this happy. Certainly not since losing her family, her friends, her home, and finding herself all alone.
She thinks that maybe the lousy part of her life is finally over; maybe now she can let go of the past and start building her future. The only thing she's missing is being back in space, on the Normandy, but with the way her recovery is going, with her muscles getting stronger and her cane spending more and more time abandoned in a corner, it shouldn't be too long before she can cross that goal off her list as well.
Then, one day, Garrus receives a message from home.
He tells her in the van as they pull away from the parking lot of the Rehab Center, and she immediately knows that this is not going to be good news. She braces herself, her lips set in a thin line and her eyes sharp on his face as he begins to talk.
"The engineers have managed to fire up the mass relay," he says. This should be a joyful occasion, but he's not smiling. He glances at her from the corner of his eye, his hand scrubbing along his crest in a gesture that she's come to recognize as agitation. "But it was almost a disaster. Remember those isolationists I told you about?"
She nods. "Yeah. You said some people on Palaven wanted to keep the relays offline. Did they do something?"
"They sure did. Tried to scatter a few dozen proximity mines around the relay so they would detonate if a ship got close. If not for my father's investigation into their group and a tip he got about the plot, they would have succeeded, too."
"Huh. Congrats to your dad, then. You must take after him with your stubborn efficiency." She grins at him, but he doesn't respond, and her smile fades away, replaced with a cold dread beginning to coil in her stomach.
"Yeah, well," he says, his gaze fixed ahead, mandibles pulled tightly into his face, "he couldn't catch all of them. And the ones that remain at large are after him now."
"They threatened him?"
"They sent him a nice little package. A box of kercha fruit. Apparently, they found out that Solana's offworld on a medical ship for the rest of her training, and they made it look like it was from her. If her pet varren hadn't gotten into it, my father would be dead by now." He finally turns to her, and gives her the same look she last saw in his eyes when he told her about Sidonis and what he wanted to do to him. "Dad asked me to come home. Help with the investigation and find these bastards. I said yes."
Shepard has been with Garrus long enough to know what that means. He'll find them, all right, and once he does, he'll rip those miserable sons-of-bitches to pieces. She can't blame him; she would do the same thing in his place.
"I'll come with you," she says, already planning the necessary steps for their trip. "We'll need some good armor and weapons and—"
Shepard raises a brow. "Excuse me?"
"You're not coming with me." She tries to protest, but he holds up a hand, and she closes her mouth, waiting for him to explain himself. "You haven't totally recovered. Yes, you rarely have to use the cane anymore, but you're not back to your fighting shape yet. And I'm not going to risk you getting killed. Not now. Not after everything. I'll find these assholes and deal with them, then I'll come back and we'll fly off into the sunset on the Normandy once you're well enough to take command."
"I'm not a fucking invalid, Garrus," she snaps, her fists curling into tight, angry balls. "Maybe I'm not my old self yet, but I can still shoot. I can still infiltrate. That's what I was trained for. Infiltrating. I can use my brains and I can do stealth—"
"And if you have to run away from a blast? And I'm not there because I'm too far back to pick you up and carry you?" She scowls, eyebrows pulled together and forehead crinkling in annoyance. He sighs and waves a hand. "I can't lose you. There's no Cerberus to rebuild you anymore. Please don't fight me on this."
Shepard looks away, silent. Maybe he's right, but it's for reasons he's not saying: that she could be a burden; that she could endanger him; or worse, get him killed.
She hates it. And right now, she hates her own body for letting her down. She hates herself for not healing faster.
"Look, Shepard," Garrus says. He sounds dejected, somber. "I need to do this. I can't just sit by while they make another attempt on my family's life. I know you want to come, but I'd like for you to stay and get all the way better. Can you do that for me? Please?"
Shepard exhales a long breath, and takes a moment to quietly curse herself before she answers.
"Fine. I'll stay."
Garrus leaves two days later.
He boards one of the turian frigates departing Earth for Palaven, joining Primarch Victus and the remainder of the troops on their journey home. Even with the relays activated, the trip will still take weeks, and once he gets there, there's no telling how long it will be before he accomplishes his mission. It feels like it's going to be forever before they'll see each other again.
Shepard misses him the moment he disappears in the airlock, and she goes home in a foul mood. The house is empty without him, the night cold without his touch.
She eats an early dinner and tries to watch a vid, but it's not the same without Garrus. Her mind refuses to concentrate on the plot, electing instead to drift millions of miles away, searching through space for that turian ship, as though she could peer through the hull and find her lover stalking the deck, cleaning his weapons, or eating in the mess if she looked hard enough.
Eventually, she gives up and heads to bed. The pillows still smell like him, and she moves to his side of the mattress, surrounding herself with his scent. It's a poor substitute, but if she closes her eyes, she can pretend he's still there.
It almost works; she almost falls asleep, until her omni-tool chimes with a message. She opens up the program, and her heart skips a beat when she checks the sender. It's Garrus.
I miss you. My new roommate is a grumpy old bastard and not nearly as pretty as you.
Shepard laughs, her chest already lighter just by reading his words. A quick glance at the time stamp tells her that he sent this a few hours ago, not long after he boarded the frigate, but with the distance between them and the diminished number of comm buoys available for non-emergency transmissions along the way, it's a miracle the message got here this fast at all.
She replies, smiling, aware that she won't hear back from him until the morning at the very earliest.
Miss you, too. Have you started calibrating the guns yet?
He's still far away, and her bed is still lonely without him, but as she shuts off her omni-tool and settles back down onto the pillows, she thinks that maybe it's going to be all right. She'll finish healing, he'll do what he has to, and they'll be together again.
Chapter 7: News
Thank you for the comments and the support, and big, big thanks to my wonderful beta, Suilven, for the edits.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Despite her hopeful thoughts about the length of time it might take to meet up with Garrus again, Shepard doesn't sleep well. Her dreams aren't quite on the level of those awful nightmares of before, but they come pretty close. Walking on a beach, she sees Garrus in the distance and she tries to run towards him, but her feet sink into the sand and she can't get out of the hole she's slowly disappearing into, no matter how hard she tries. Soon, she loses sight of him and she's all alone, surrounded by nothing but the tiny grains that cover her legs, her hips, her chest, rising higher and higher, compressing her airways, stealing her breath.
She wakes up gasping, clutching at her throat.
"I had a bad dream," she says, wiping her forehead with the back of a hand.
For a moment, she thinks Garrus is going to reach out and pull her back to him, but the room is silent, and there's no gentle tug on her elbow. She sighs, remembering that she's on her own, and lies back down with a frown.
The rest of the night isn't much better, but she manages to get in a few hours of sleep before her omni-tool wakes her again. Blindly, she slaps at her wrist to open the messaging program, and she grins, sitting up, when her eyes focus on the new text from Garrus.
No calibrations just yet. The engineers refuse to even let me get close to the main battery. But I'll wear them down eventually.
I'd much rather calibrate your guns, though.
Shepard's lips quirk up into a smirk. Yeah, she'd much rather he was here doing that, too. She's about to type up a reply when her omni-tool pings and a new message comes in.
Wait. That went somewhere horrible.
I meant I'd much rather calibrate the guns on your ship. On the Normandy. You know what I mean.
She laughs, and cracks her fingers before she begins to write.
But you know what, I'd much rather you were here, calibrating my guns, too. Or if I were there, calibrating yours.
She taps the Send button, and almost closes the program when she remembers that he's on a military vessel and all inbound and outbound communications could be monitored. She groans out a curse, and fires off another note. Knowing him, he's probably circumvented any surveillance there might be in place, but it never hurts to check.
Shit. Nobody's reading these messages besides you, right?
She sends the second message and checks the clock. It's almost time to get up, and she's too awake now to go back to sleep anyway, so she turns off the display on her omni-tool and climbs out of bed, ready to start her day.
The first of many without Garrus.
There are a few good things about being alone. For starters, there's no backseat driver to criticize your driving. Also, you have sole control of the vid projector, and you can watch whatever the hell you want without snarky comments about plot holes and impossible feats.
And… No, that's about it. The rest is just lonely misery as far as Shepard is concerned.
But, she has a plan. She's pushing herself harder than ever to regain her old form, and she's making good progress. Impressive, even, according to her doctors and the physical therapists. If everything goes well, she'll be given a clean bill of health and declared fit for duty soon. Which should be about the same time the Normandy is scheduled to return from her deep space mission of cleaning up the last pockets of indoctrinated resistance cells in the Terminus, and as Admiral Hackett has promised, Shepard's old ship could be hers to command again.
Once that's done, they could swing by Palaven. See if Garrus could use some help. It might not be an entirely proper use of an Alliance vessel, but she's in the Council's service as well, and sabotaging a mass relay certainly qualifies as a crime worthy of a Spectre's attention.
Whatever. She'll justify it somehow.
Whether her scheme is realistic or not, it keeps her going. That, and the messages she exchanges with Garrus. He writes often, telling her as much as he can about his days on the frigate (yes, he made sure there were no unwanted witnesses to their conversations, and no, he didn't have to shoot anybody for that), then about Palaven, his father, his sister, and a little bit about the case. Her letters are not nearly as interesting; they are mainly about her recovery, the changing season in the garden, and the latest news from Earth.
And then, one day, just when she passes all the tests and receives that coveted paper from her doctors that lets her return to active duty, the messages stop.
At first, she tells herself that he's just busy. Maybe he's trailing his suspects and he's off the grid. Or maybe there's some hiccup with the transmissions. Comm buoys can develop serious mechanical issues sometimes, and especially now when resources are so limited, it can take a while before they get fixed. But the days go by with no replies to any of her messages, not even a "congratulations" on her success, and she starts to worry. She sends a message to Primarch Victus, and asks him if he knows anything.
His response comes a few hours later, and it's not what she wanted to hear.
Garrus has been hurt.
She stares at the glowing words on the holographic screen, her throat dry and her blood pounding in her ears. It's bad. It's really, really bad.
"I'm afraid his injuries are quite extensive. I've been told that he was on a recon mission when he was ambushed. He took out a good number of the attackers, but got caught in an explosion and suffered severe internal damage from the falling debris. He's in a medically induced coma in one of the best hospitals in Cipritine. The doctors are doing everything they can, but his prognosis is uncertain at this point.
I'm sorry I don't have better news, Commander."
It takes Shepard a long moment before she can make herself move and shut off her omni-tool, but that's the most she can manage as she sits motionless on the couch, her mind a whirling inferno of thoughts and emotions as she glares at the wall across the room. Blame, regret, rage, desperation—her brain goes through them all, one by one, until they are crowded out by the one thing that has always helped her get through the shitty parts of life: determination. Stubborn, pigheaded, dogged determination.
Garrus is going to get the best damned care in this fucked-up universe. She's going to make sure of that.
She sits up, sets her jaw in a rigid line, and fires up her omni-tool again.
Time to make some calls.
"You sure this is what you want to do, Commander?" Hackett shakes his head, the scar on his face creasing into a deep wrinkle as he frowns. "I can't hold open the position forever. The Normandy needs a permanent CO. I can't jerk Williams around, giving her the command and then taking it away again. They are only ten days away from Earth. If you leave now, you're giving up your ship forever. You do understand that, don't you?"
Shepard nods. "Yes, sir. But I have to go. I can't sit on my hands and wait ten days. Besides, I don't know how long I'll be gone." She swallows, and chases away the image of Garrus, broken and hurt and surrounded by medical equipment in his hospital bed. "I can't re-enlist at this time," she says, back straight, gaze fixed ahead. "I can't expect the Normandy to sit idle while I'm on Palaven. Nor can I undertake missions under the present circumstances."
Hackett sighs, and removes his hat with one hand to rake his fingers through his hair with the other. "All right. It's your choice. I don't like it, but I understand. When do you leave?"
"Tomorrow morning. I called in some favors and got a ride on a salarian supply ship."
"Well. Good luck, then. To you and Vakarian." He extends his right hand and she shakes it, then she gives him a nod before she turns on her heels and walks out.
She spends the rest of the day making purchases for the trip, packing, and exchanging messages with Liara. As always, the asari is a treasure trove of information, flooding Shepard's inbox with all the important things to know about Palaven, maps to the space port and the hospital Garrus is in, and possible ways of getting from Sur'Kesh to the turian system. Shepard chooses to rent a small ship for that final leg of her journey, and Liara offers to arrange for the transaction, which Shepard gladly accepts.
The last night in the house is bittersweet. There are so many memories here that make her smile: the library and the books Garrus read to her before she got her vision back, the kitchen where they cooked their meals together, the couch they cuddled on while watching vids, the beds they made love in. This place has become home—something she never really expected to have again—and leaving it all behind will be difficult. Yet, she can't wait to get out of here and see Garrus again. See how he's doing, fight for him, make him all better.
She takes her last bath, eats her last dinner, and goes to bed in this house for the last time. His pillows don't smell like him anymore, but she hugs them anyway. She has an early morning wake-up the next morning, and she hopes she can turn off her mind long enough to go to sleep.
After a while, she succeeds, and doesn't wake up until her alarm goes off.
Traveling on a salarian ship is quite an experience.
With salarians' high metabolism and diminished need for sleep, it's like a beehive of activity at all hours of the day: there's always someone around, talking (and boy, do they like talking!), working, fiddling with the controls of their high-tech devices, eating frequent, small meals in the mess. Most of the time, Shepard enjoys the snarky banter that flows freely among the crew and enthusiastically participates in it herself, but sometimes, she just wants to switch everything off and sit in silence, alone.
She finds her refuge in the cargo bay. There's an empty pocket in one of the corners where a few large supply containers used to be until they were delivered to the remaining salarian forces on Earth, and she sets up a cot, some workout equipment, and a small shooting range there. When she gets tired of the constant chatting and buzzing around on the upper decks, she comes down here to take a nap, punch the bag she's hung from the hook of a mobile crane, and shoot some empty cans with the weapons she's brought with her.
Communication with the outside world is slow and not very reliable, but she manages to exchange a few messages with Liara. The asari keeps her updated about Garrus's prognosis, which, at first, doesn't change, but one day, Liara finally has good news: Garrus's condition has been upgraded from critical to serious, though he's still in a coma for now.
It's lucky Shepard is in her little nook in the cargo bay when she reads the report, for she'd rather not have to explain to her new friends why she's laughing and crying at the same time.
Her favorite, the ship's engineer, who's thrown her out of the engine room countless times for touching the equipment there, still notices later that evening that she's in a much better mood than before. When he asks what happened, Shepard gives him a wide grin.
"Just glad we're almost at Sur'Kesh and I'll be soon rid of you boys."
Artus nods. "I know what you mean. The feeling's quite mutual."
She laughs, and he chuckles along with her, and when she reaches over to push a button on his console, he slaps her hand away, as always.
She's going to miss him.
A few days later, she says good-bye to the crew of the Solneus, picks up the ship Liara rented for her, and makes her way to Palaven.
Garrus once compared Palaven to Virmire, and as Shepard approaches the spaceport, she can see why. There's so much green everywhere, the plants stubbornly clinging to life and even thriving in some areas despite the ravages of the war. The buildings, on the other hand, have fared much worse. A lot of them are still in ruins, though the most important ones are being rebuilt, their walls strikingly clean amid the dusty rubble littering the well-laid-out streets.
Shepard is issued a landing spot away from the busiest part of the port, and after parking her ship and going through customs and the security check-in, she picks up a skycar at the transportation kiosk, punches in the coordinates Liara has given her, and takes off for the hospital Garrus is in.
It's an old, stately building in a relatively quiet part of town, overlooking a small lake that glitters like liquid silver in the harsh sunlight. The extensive gardens surrounding the hospital must have been magnificent in the past, but now, they are home to an assortment of burnt-out vessels, still-to-be-cleared-away debris from some kind of destroyed structure, and a number of prefab housing units that Shepard guesses were probably put up to accommodate the overflow of wounded during the war.
The parking lot for aerial vehicles is on the rooftop, and Shepard lands the skycar there. There's a small building towards the back, which looks like it could be the entry point into the hospital, but before she leaves the refuge of her car, she takes the time to check the environmental controls of her armor. A short walk might not cause too much damage, but she's not about to take any chances. Not when Garrus needs her at her best.
Everything seems to be working fine, so she grabs the bag she's stuffed with some extra clothes and ration packs from the back seat, steps out into the irradiated outside, and sets out for the small building.
As it turns out, that little structure is not just a simple entrance; it's a check-in point for visitors, with a receptionist behind a desk and an armored guard by the elevator doors.
If they are surprised to see a human in this place, they don't show it, though the guard keeps a careful eye on Shepard as she walks up to the desk.
"Can I help you?" the receptionist, a young woman with red facial markings, asks.
Shepard nods. "Yes. I'm looking for one of your patients. His name is Garrus Vakarian."
The woman—Melina, according to the name tag on her outfit—types something into her console, then looks up, her brow plates scrunched together in a frown.
"He's in a secure wing. Visitors are strictly restricted. Do you have a permit?"
Shepard sighs. Figures. Of course she needs a permit. Things have been going too smoothly; it was high time for some complications to arise.
Still, it's not this woman's fault (besides, if Garrus and his family have targets on their backs, it's a necessary precaution to screen people they might come in contact with), so she tries not to look too annoyed as she raises her left arm and initiates her omni-tool's interface, pulling up her ID on the holo screen. "Commander Shepard. Council Spectre. Is that good enough?"
Melina's eyes widen and, from the corner of her eye, Shepard can see the guard's posture change from cautiously vigilant to ramrod straight.
"Commander Shepard? The Commander Shepard?" Melina says.
"Herself." Shepard takes off her helmet for easier identification, and waves a hand between her face and the picture in her ID.
There are a lot of drawbacks to being one of the most recognizable humans in the entire galaxy, but sometimes, notoriety comes in handy. This is definitely one of those times, for Melina seems to find no reason to doubt the identity of the woman standing in front of her.
"Commander Shepard," she says, her voice laced with awe and admiration Shepard is not sure she really deserves. "It's an honor."
"Thank you. So, can I go in?"
"Yes. Yes. I just need to check with the director before I can issue a permit to you."
She taps a few buttons on her headset, and starts up a conversation Shepard can only hear one side of. It doesn't appear to be going too well, and Melina turns towards the wall as she whispers into her microphone.
Why people think she can't hear them if they are not facing her, Shepard will never understand, but she stays quiet, hoping that she won't have to bother Adrien Victus with this. Not that she wouldn't if she had to. If that's what it takes, she'll march into his office, wherever it is, and won't budge until she gets that damned permit and can finally get in here and see Garrus.
Thankfully, that won't be necessary. The person on the other end of the line seems to relent, and Melina swivels her chair back with a smile. She waves some kind of device at Shepard's wrist, and soon, there's a ping from Shepard's omni-tool to let her know that she has received a data file.
"Garrus Vakarian is on Level 25. Room 2518," Melina says. "You'll need to show the permit I've just sent you to Security to pass through the gate in that wing."
Shepard murmurs a good-bye and walks to the elevator. She doesn't look, but she knows there are two sets of eyes following her every move until the doors close and she starts her descent.
On Level 25, at the security checkpoint, all eyes are on her again as she presents the permit and they let her through. She can hear the guards whisper her name among themselves, which is embarrassing and gratifying at the same time, but mainly, she's just glad she's finally here.
Yet, she has to swallow past a lump in her throat as she stops in front of Garrus's room, not sure she's really prepared for what she's about to find, and her hand trembles when she lifts it to press the controls to the door.
At her touch, the panels slide open, and she freezes, her hand still hovering in mid-air as she finds herself face to face with a tall, blue-eyed turian with Garrus's facial markings.
For a split second, she thinks it's him. But this man has no scars on his cheek, and no smile on his face. In fact, he glowers at her with so much animosity she almost takes a step back.
Her mind flashes back to a holo pic Garrus once showed her of his family.
The turian standing in front of her and blocking her way into the room is Garrus's father. It's Castis Vakarian.
I know that Garrus's father looked different in Andromeda, but frankly, the lazy way they textured turian and asari facial markings really, really annoyed me and I reject those designs. So my headcanon is that Castis Vakarian has the same markings and same colored eyes as Garrus. ;)
Chapter 8: The Other Vakarian
Thank you to everyone who took the time to leave a comment on the last chapter - I really appreciate your support. :)
Big thanks to my wonderful beta, Suilven, for the edits.
Also, I don't think I mentioned it before, but I'm on Tumblr (mordinette.tumblr.com), so look me up there if you want to chat about this fic or any others or just Mass Effect in general. :)
Shepard is not the only one who can identify the person in front of her. The recognition is mutual.
"Commander Shepard," the older Vakarian says.
It's not a warm greeting; if anything, it's a cold warning of irritation, one that Garrus has told her about before and now she can experience firsthand for herself.
The next words coming out of Castis Vakarian's mouth only reinforce her perception that he's not at all happy to come face to face with his son's old commander in this place. "What are you doing here?"
Shepard raises her chin, her gaze unblinking, defiant. "I've come to see Garrus."
"Why? What do you want from him?"
His eyes, just as blue and piercing as his son's, bore into Shepard's skull with an intensity that leaves no doubt in her mind about his success as an interrogator of suspects, criminals, and—his own children.
"If you're here to convince him to go on one of your insane missions with you," he says, his voice dripping with frustrated sarcasm, "don't bother. He's not in any shape."
Shepard snorts. Well, this is rich. "My insane missions? As opposed to your kind where he gets ambushed, blown up, and nearly dies?"
He glares at her, and she sighs, shifting her weight onto one hip. If he were anybody else, she would simply shove him aside and march in. But he's not a merc or an enemy soldier or a pesky reporter—he's Garrus's father, as unfortunate as that is, so she pushes away her annoyance and makes an effort to sound reasonable.
"Look. I'm not here to take him with me," she says, and hopes he finds her tone as appeasing as she's trying to make it. "I'm here for him. To take care of him. To be there for him. Like he's been there for me."
It's a nice attempt, but it doesn't work.
"Yes," Castis grinds out through clenched, sharp teeth. "He's always been there for you, hasn't he? Following you around like a lost varren pup. Ignoring his duties. His family."
Shepard's eyes narrow as her lips press into a thin line, the skin on the back of her neck prickling with irritation. Fine. Off with the kid gloves, then.
"Saving the Council and the Citadel," she adds to the list of Garrus's deeds, her voice rising with anger she's not in the mood to suppress anymore. "Preventing the Reapers from making a new one with the liquefied remains of abducted human colonists. Warning the Hierarchy of the impending Reaper invasion and making preparations for their arrival. Working himself to the bone and giving his all to save the damned galaxy, once again, from the damned Reapers."
If Vakarian Sr. finds her tone inappropriate, she doesn't care. She won't stand here and let anybody, family or not, ignore and disparage everything Garrus has done.
Castis's mandibles flare out for a fraction of a second then snap back to his face, and he takes a moment to blow out a slow exhale before he replies, his tone as conciliatory now as Shepard's had been a minute ago. "Yes. I'm proud of my son for all of that. And I appreciate what you have done, Commander. But the war is over and he needs to start living his life. His own life. Among his own kind. So, please. Go home."
His words sting, bringing up old insecurities that she has agonized over so many times, but then she remembers how Garrus held her, how he told her that she was the only one he wanted. She won't give that up. Not now, not ever.
"I can't do that," she says. Her voice cracks, but she straightens her spine, stretching up to her full height. There's a new determination on her face as she stands tall, the strap of her bag digging into the palm of her hand when she tightens her grip around it.
This is obviously not what Castis wanted to hear. "Why?" he demands, his subharmonics nearly pleading in frustration as he runs a hand over his crest. "Why can't you just—"
"Because I love him, dammit!" Shepard snaps.
His eyes widen, and so do hers, her confession as shocking to her as it is to him. Regardless, there's no time to ponder the implications of her declaration, as someone calls out her name from inside the room.
Her stomach flutters as she recognizes Garrus's voice.
The older Vakarian's head whips around, his attention suddenly focused on the source of the sound behind him, and Shepard makes use of the opportunity to slip past him and dart to Garrus's side.
Her footsteps slow too soon, as though her sinking heart weighed them down, when her eyes settle on the body lying motionless in the hospital bed, and her smile, so hopeful a moment ago, drains from her face. He looks broken, vulnerable, frail, under all those bandages and hooked up to all those machines that regulate his breathing and monitor his life signs and provide medication and nutrients through a tube burrowing into his vein.
It kills her, it absolutely kills her, to see him like this.
But what really stabs her in the chest, what really makes her lips droop down in a crestfallen frown, is that Garrus's eyes are closed. Contrary to the promise of that sound, he is not awake.
"It's the first time he's said something," his father says.
Shepard swallows, and nods, and steps closer until her legs bump into the mattress. Carefully, she takes Garrus's hand and strokes it, his skin uncharacteristically cool under her touch. "Is he still in the medical coma he was put in?"
"Not exactly. They are slowly weaning him off the sedatives, but he hasn't woken up yet."
"I see. What… What are his chances of recovery?"
"Better than before. The doctors say the implants and the new tissue are doing their job. It's just a matter of time."
"Good. That's… good."
Her knees feel week, but she can't tear herself away from Garrus. She watches his chest rise and fall, her thumb gently caressing the scales on the back of his hand, once so alien and strange, but so beautiful to her now.
"Here." There's a creaking sound as Castis brings over a chair from the other side of the bed and sets it down behind her. "Sit."
"Thanks." She drops her bag at her feet and lowers herself onto the seat, reluctantly releasing Garrus's hand, and Castis sits down on his own chair across from her. They are quiet, not saying anything for a minute or so, until Shepard breaks the silence. "Are the bastards who did this still on the loose?"
"Some of them. It's just the leader and a small group of followers left. I suppose Garrus told you about their terrorist organization?"
Castis shakes his head. "Of course he did." He pauses, gathering his thoughts, then he reaches behind him and picks up a datapad from the top of a small cabinet along the wall. "Garrus managed to hack into their communication lines and discovered one of their meeting places in an old warehouse. He was scouting it out when they attacked him. That place is gone now, of course. There were a few other possibilities, but none of the searches have yielded any results so far."
He passes the datapad to her, and she takes it. The screen is filled with a map that looks like a forest on a mountain, with five spots circled and crossed out in red.
"Any other leads?" she asks as she hands the pad back to Castis.
"I'm working on it. I have my feelers out; they so much as sneeze, and I'll hear about it."
"Give them hell when you do."
Castis throws her a hard look, his mandibles squeezed tight to his face in disapproval. "They will be arrested, tried, and brought to justice. This is not Special Tactics and Reconnaissance where you're judge and executioner, all in one, without any oversight."
"Ah, yes." Shepard rolls her eyes. "The evil Spectres. Because no cop or politician or anyone in lawful power has ever abused their position." She thinks about Saren and Tela Vasir, but also about Nihlus Kryik and Jondum Bau, and sighs. "Look, I know there've been some rogue agents in the ranks, and the results of their actions could be... quite severe. But most Spectres want nothing more than to serve the people of the galaxy and they would—and some did—give their lives for that. And the best way to achieve that goal is by not getting bogged down with red tape and bureaucracy. Haven't you ever wished you didn't have to deal with that kind of bullshit in your job?"
Castis leans back in his chair, and folds his arms in front of his chest. The resemblance to Garrus is striking, and it breaks Shepard's heart a little when she remembers the times Garrus sat like this at their kitchen table back on Earth. Back in their home.
"I can see why Garrus likes working with you," Castis says. "You sound just like him."
He might have meant that as a small insult, but to Shepard, it isn't. Her mind flashes back to her conversations with Garrus, the way they always got along, the way he always, always, watched her six, how it felt to be enveloped in his arms. She smiles. "Well. We do make a good team."
"To answer your question," Castis goes on, ignoring her comment, "I have always believed in the importance of proper procedure." His tone is careful, measured, as though he was giving a speech to a class of first-year cadets in C-Sec Academy. "It's the only way to prevent contaminating a case and being forced to let a criminal go."
"How about being forced to let a criminal go because you don't have the papers to arrest them?"
"If you collected enough admissible evidence before you actually make your move, you will have the papers to arrest them." His mandibles twitch in the slightest of smiles. "I've had this argument a thousand times with Garrus, Commander. You're not going to win."
Maybe so, but Garrus is only half as stubborn as Shepard is, and she's not done yet.
"What if you know they are guilty but it's impossible to find enough evidence?" she presses on. "Or you just haven't received the warrant yet and they are about to flee? And if you let them go, you know they will end up killing more people?"
"How is that better than arresting them without due process but not being able to bring them to justice? The end result is the same—they get out and go on doing whatever they've been doing. In fact, it is worse, because you might have just ruined your case and you won't be able to charge them again for the same offense."
Shepard shrugs her shoulders. "There are more permanent solutions to the problem, you know."
Castis leans forward, his eyes flashing in disapproval yet again. "And there we go: the mentality of Council agents who face no consequences for making rash decisions and endangering the lives of—"
Whatever chastising comment the rest of that sentence was about to form into is swallowed by a chime on his omni-tool, and he stops cold, lifting his left arm to check the message that has just come in. His brows scrunch into a frown and he stands, nearly knocking his chair back in his haste. "I have to go."
"A lead?" Shepard asks, her eyes following his every move as he rushes towards the door.
"Maybe. We'll see."
Somewhere, in a small corner of her heart, Shepard wishes she could go with him. Or, better yet, she wishes she could go on her own, hunt down the monsters who did this to Garrus, and wipe them off the face of this planet. But that would mean leaving Garrus's side, and she's not ready to do that. Not while he's lying here alone, broken and vulnerable and unable to do anything for himself.
So, she stays, and when the door closes, her eyes drift over to Garrus's face. He looks so still, so peaceful in his sleep, and she wonders if he's aware of the goings-on around him; if he knows she's here.
She remembers the strange, dream-like state she was in when her own doctors kept her in a coma, recalling some of the voices she heard as she lay in her bed during those weeks. Whether turians' brains behave the same way, she has no idea, but perhaps it's worth a try.
"I'm here, Garrus," she says, pulling her chair closer to his bed so she can take his hand again. "I got all better, like you wanted me to. Now it's your turn. You need to heal and wake up soon, you hear me? We need to get out of here so we can go and take care of these bastards. Just like old times. Shepard and Vakarian, together. Kicking ass and taking names."
For a short, irrational moment she thinks that maybe he'll open his eyes and smile at her, but he doesn't. His eyes stay closed and his body is just as still as before, the only movement the rising and falling of his chest as his lungs take slow inhales of air and gently expel them again.
Shepard's lower lip trembles. She clears her throat and tries to think of something else to say, but she doesn't get the chance. There's a hiss from the door as it opens and a small group of hospital staff pile in, some with medical charts, others with fresh bandages.
"Commander Shepard," the one in the front says, his head inclined in greeting. "I was informed by the guards that you are here. My name is Kaeus Tollen. I'm one of the doctors taking care of Officer Vakarian. It's an honor to meet you."
Shepard nods. "Likewise."
"I'm just going to do a checkup. You may stay if you wish."
Shepard nods again, refraining from telling Kaeus Tollen that he'd need to bring in a dozen of those guards if he wanted to remove her from Garrus's bedside anyway. Instead, she stays quiet and watches intently as the doctor runs a few scans and enters his findings into a datapad while one nurse adjusts Garrus's medications and another changes the bandage on the lower part of his torso. There's a long wound there, winding down from the right side of his carapace to his stomach, the scar still quite fresh and raw, and Shepard has to bite the inside of her cheeks to keep a distressed sound that presses against her throat and tries to claw its way out from escaping.
The sight is a harsh reminder of how extensive Garrus's injuries really are, and she flicks her gaze away, pushing her emotions aside, and turns her attention to the goings on in the room instead.
Besides the doctor and the two nurses, there are three other people hovering around Garrus's bed. They don't seem to be doing much, other than standing around and throwing inquisitive glances at her, and Shepard wonders if the sole reason for their presence is to gawk at the famous human sitting here in their hospital. Ordinarily, she wouldn't care if that was the case, but right now, she just wants to be left alone. So, she ignores them, and hopes they'll keep their distance and won't try to start up a conversation with her. She's not in the mood for inane chit-chat with a bunch of strangers (not that she ever is), and the last thing she wants is to lose her temper and go off on the very people Garrus needs for his recovery.
Whether it's out of respect for the Savior of the Galaxy or in apprehension of the ill-tempered look in her eyes, they keep quiet, and in a few minutes, they are all gone, the only words spoken a polite farewell by the doctor as he finishes his scans and heads for the door.
Shepard blows out a sigh, her shoulders relaxing out of their rigid position as she slumps back in the chair. Her gaze flicks to Garrus, then slides around the room, taking in the environment she's going to occupy for who knows how long.
Private rooms in medical facilities tend to be similar everywhere, and this place is no exception. Besides the patient's bed, it contains two chairs for visitors, a low cabinet and a taller locker for supplies and personal storage, a small table and an armchair by the window, and a holo projector mounted on the wall. There's a door in one corner that might lead to an attached bath, something Shepard could really use right now.
She gets up to investigate, and is relieved to find that she was right. The bathroom is tiny, but it has a sink, a simple shower, and a universal toilet, the kind Shepard has seen plenty of in the various establishments on the Citadel.
Yes, this will do nicely.
Time to change from her armor into the civilian clothes she stuffed into her bag, then, and make herself as comfortable as she possibly can.
Chapter 9: Books and Blankets
Thank you all for the kudos and the comments, and big thanks to my wonderful beta, Suilven, for the edits.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Garrus's hospital room is several degrees warmer than what Shepard is used to, and even in a pair of thin pants and a short sleeve shirt, she still feels kind of hot and sweaty.
Still, the high temperature is a small price to pay for the comfort of wearing soft fabric instead of all that hard ceramic plating, so she sticks to her new wardrobe and drops the pieces of her armor in a neat pile on the top of the table by the window.
"You guys do like to be warm, don't you?" She groans as she sits down on the chair by Garrus's bedside, reaching into her bag to pull out an energy bar and a bottle of water. "I've no idea how you could function on the Normandy without complaining more about the cold than you did."
She takes a bite, chews the peanut butter flavored mush as she thinks back to those days, and gulps down a good portion of her drink. "Is this why you were always in your armor? You didn't even change into your civvies for the party in Anderson's apartment. You could have said something, you know. I would've adjusted the thermostat for you. Bet you were glad we didn't have air conditioning in the cottage at least, huh?"
Her gaze flicks over to Garrus's face, but there's no reply, because, really, why would there be? Still, she clings to the hope that he might be able to hear her, or at least perceive her presence, so she goes on.
"Remember when you told me you wanted to retire somewhere warm and tropical after the war? Not sure if I'm ready for retirement yet, but maybe, once you're healed up and we've dealt with the assholes who did this to you, we could go somewhere like that for a vacation. I hear there are some nice islands on Earth that were not fucked up by the Reapers. Pristine beaches, palm trees, beautiful sunsets—if that's not an incentive to get better, I don't know what is."
Lying on a beach and doing nothing on a tropical island is not really her idea of fun, but if that's what Garrus wants, then that's what they'll do. If not on Earth, then somewhere else, as long as she doesn't have to wear an environmental suit to be outside. She brings up other possible locations all over the galaxy, which eventually gets her reminiscing about the planets and space stations and abandoned ships they've been on together, and she talks and talks and talks until her yawns begin to drown out her words and her eyelids refuse to stay open anymore.
When she wakes up, it's to the sound of the door sliding open and a voice, rough and demanding, calling out with an annoyed rumble as someone strides into the room.
"Who are you?"
Shepard's hand flies to her hip in search of her gun, which, of course, isn't there, and it takes her brain a few seconds to emerge from the fog of sleep. Right. She's in a hospital, not on the battlefield. Her muscles relax once again, and she looks up at the figure looming above her, her eyes zooming in on the nametag on the night nurse's outfit.
"Thalia. Hi. I'm Commander Shepard. Alliance Navy, Council Spectre."
Unlike everybody else Shepard has met in this place, Thalia does not seem to be impressed. Mandibles pressed tightly to her face, she harrumphs as she sinks back on one hip, arms folded in front of her chest. "Visiting hours are over."
Shepard crosses her arms and legs in a mirror of the turian's posture, and she leans back in her chair in a blatant demonstration of the ease with which she intends to defy the unspoken order to leave. "I'm not a visitor," she says. "I'm here to take care of my friend."
Thalia flicks an impatient a hand. "There are doctors and qualified staff in this hospital to do that. No need for your assistance. In fact, you'd just get in the way, and I'm not going to allow you to jeopardize my patient's recovery with your interference."
"Your dedication is admirable," Shepard says, and she means it. She would want nothing less for Garrus. "In fact, I'm glad to know he's in such good hands. But. My presence here is authorized by your director, and even if it weren't, I could still claim Spectre Authority to guard an important witness in a criminal investigation."
For a moment, Thalia says nothing as she fixes Shepard with a sharp, thoughtful gaze. When she begins to talk, her voice is still stern, authoritative, but her posture loosens up as she uncrosses her arms and makes a sweeping gesture at the armchair in the corner.
"Well," she says, "if you insist on sleeping here, at least take that armchair. If you push that button on the side, the leg rest slides out so you can put your feet up. I don't have time to deal with your crooked back if you spend all night in that chair and your spine locks up."
Shepard's lips curl up in a smile. That armchair does sound much more comfortable than the hard plastic she's been sitting on. "Thanks," she says as she rises to her feet, stretching her spine with a crack.
The nurse shoots a pointed glare at her back, but says nothing. Her attention shifts to Garrus as she marches up to his bed, checks the monitors, and injects some medication into his IV bag.
By the time she's done, Shepard is already curled up in the armchair, her eyes closed and her breathing slow and steady as she drifts off.
It's a couple of hours later when Shepard wakes up to the sensation of her skin on fire and her entire body drenched in sweat.
Her first thought is that she's sick, brought down by some kind of damn fever the pills she took for her trip were unable to prevent. She curses her luck, worries whether she's putting Garrus at a risk if she stays, but as the haze clears from her mind, she slowly comes to a realization that's as comforting as it is annoying.
The real source of her discomfort is not any kind of sudden illness: there's a thick, heavy blanket draped over her that she knows she did not put on herself.
A quick check of the time on her omni-tool confirms that it's the middle of the night. The room is dark and quiet, the only sound the soft hum of the machines and Garrus's breathing coming from his bed, and unless Garrus has miraculously awoken to cover her up while she slept then went back to his coma, the only culprit who could have laid the blanket on her has to be the night nurse.
Thalia. Shepard sighs, and kicks the blanket off.
The temperature is still quite warm in the room, but without that thick cover, it feels refreshingly cool—at least for the moment. Yet, regardless of the temporary relief, the sensation of her wet clothes sticking to her skin is not a pleasant one, and, for a short time, Shepard considers changing into a dry set. Unfortunately, though, that would mean having to get up, which is something she has no energy to do right now. So, she doesn't. She simply peels off her shirt and footwear and pants and discards them on the floor, leaving her underwear on, and she stays in the armchair, arms and legs stretched out to expose as much of her heated pores to the air as she can.
It takes her a while to doze off again, but eventually, she does.
This time, it's a restless sleep. Her brain is half alert, her senses attentive to any small disturbance in the room, and when, a few hours later, the door hisses open and the lights come on, she's instantly awake. With her back turned towards the door, she waits and listens to the footsteps as they make their way inside, her body ready to pounce and stop Thalia on the spot should she try that maneuver with the blanket again and—
Shepard's eyes widen. It's not the nurse. It's Castis Vakarian.
"Did you… sleep here?"
There's no admonishment in his voice—he sounds more surprised than anything—but, somehow, Shepard still feels like a child who's been caught doing something wrong.
Slowly, she turns around and sits up, sliding her feet into her boots on the floor. "Yeah," she says, her lips pulling into an awkward smile. "I guess I did."
Castis says nothing. His gaze has already left her face to observe the blanket and her clothing discarded by her makeshift bed, then her armor pieces resting in a pile on the table, and she stifles a groan, not sure what she should be more embarrassed about: her state of undress in front of Garrus's father or the mess she's created in the room.
She goes with both, and she bends down to pick up the blanket to wrap it around herself, then gathers up her clothes.
"I'm, uh," she says as she pulls out her toiletries, a clean set of underwear, and some clothes from her bag, then backs away from Castis towards the bathroom, "I'm gonna go change."
"Yes. Please, do that."
It's a merciful relief when the door closes in front of her face, and Shepard lays her forehead against the cool metal, letting out a long exhale.
The more she thinks about it as she washes her face and brushes her teeth, the more convinced she is that she's done nothing wrong. There's nothing to be ashamed of.
Yes, she stayed the whole night, and she took advantage of the armchair to grab a little rest, but if the room weren't so hot, and especially if the nurse hadn't made things even worse, she wouldn't have had to strip down to her underwear. And even if the only things covering her naked body were a pair of gray panties and a sports bra, so what? Castis Vakarian used to be a cop on the Citadel; he must have seen worse things than a human female's exposed skin. Maybe he's seen worse scars than hers as well.
By the time she exits the bathroom, clean and newly dressed, every sign of her previous discomfort is gone, and she strides over to her bag with her old, familiar air of unyielding self-confidence. She bends down to stuff the dirty clothes in, ignoring Castis Vakarian's presence but, at the same time, ready for some kind of reprimand or snide remark. Yet, he says nothing, and she turns her head just enough to be able to throw a sideways glance his way from the corner of her eye.
What she sees makes her stop, her hand frozen deep inside her bag, the task she's set out all but forgotten as she stares at the scene a few feet from her.
Castis Vakarian is standing by Garrus's bedside, his hand on his son's forehead, his fingers caressing Garrus's plates with a tenderness that she's is almost embarrassed to witness.
She wonders if she should withdraw, disappear into the bathroom to give him some privacy, but his gaze slides over to her before she could move.
"Has there been any change?" he asks. "Has he said anything more?"
She straightens her back, abandoning her bag on the floor. "No. Not yet."
Castis nods and turns his attention back to his son, and Shepard takes a few, slow steps to join him by Garrus's bed.
"He shouldn't have gone alone," he says. "He should have waited for backup. But he insisted that the warehouse was empty. That he could get in, hack into their computer, and get out without anybody seeing him." His hands settle on the guard rail, the metal creaking under the pressure as his fingers tighten around it. "I wish I'd stopped him."
Shepard snorts. "Have you met Garrus? What makes you think he would've listened? I don't know if you've noticed, but he can be pretty stubborn."
Castis lets go of the rail and turns his head to look at her, his eyes softening for a moment as he lets out a small laugh. "Oh, yes. I have noticed." His expression turns somber almost immediately, and he gives her a thoughtful look, as if trying to make up his mind whether or not to say something. "That call from yesterday," he eventually goes on, "was about a robbery at a local supply chain's storage room. Whoever it was, they took a large amount of non-perishable food and medications, then erased all surveillance footage."
"Do you think it was our perps?" Shepard asks, grateful for the trust Castis seems to put in her by sharing this information.
"Maybe. It sure looked like someone was trying to stock up on provisions for a group of people without the risk of being seen and tracked. If that's the case, they must still be in the area and running low on supplies. Of course, it could also be some thieves trying to sell the loot for a profit, but I doubt it. Either way, we'll be monitoring all activities on the black markets, and if none of the items show up there, that could be an indication that the culprits were, indeed, the remaining terrorists. How to find them, though, is another question. We're still working on that."
Shepard nods. "Thank you for telling me."
"I thought you'd want to know." Castis's gaze flicks down to Garrus, then slides back to Shepard again. "Well. I need to go. Are you going to stay?"
Shepard is no expert when it comes to reading turians' facial expressions, but she thinks Castis Vakarian actually looks pleased.
"I'll see you later, then," he says, and walks out of the room without waiting for a reply.
Shepard's eyes are already on Garrus, and she sits down on the chair by his bed, taking his hand into hers. His skin feels warmer than the day before, and she dares to hope that it's a good sign. Maybe he's getting better.
"Well," she says as her thumb slides over the scales on the top of his hand, "it's just you and me, now. So, what shall we talk about?"
There are quite a few things Shepard is good at. Granted, most of them involve shooting enemies and intimidating opponents she can't simply dispatch of with a gun, but still, these are all skills that have served her quite well so far. What she's not so good at, on the other hand, is talking endlessly to a silent audience, even if the person she's attempting to chat up is someone she has more in common with than anybody else in this entire universe.
Yet, she gives it her best shot. She talks to Garrus for hours, only stopping for a snack or a drink or when some medical staff come in to check on their patient. But, by the afternoon, she runs out of things to say. She's gone through her memories of Mindoir, boot camp, the missions she's been on with and without Garrus, her incarceration after Aratoht, and now her mind is tired and blank, and all she wants is for Garrus to be well and for them to be back together in that little cottage on Earth.
Her chest tightens as she thinks about those months they spent together in that house. Despite the physical and emotional issues, that was the happiest time of her life.
Her mind drifts back to the days when Garrus took care of her while she couldn't see, his voice, warm and patient, rumbling in the darkness as he read those books they'd found in the library—
The books. Now, that's an idea.
She fires up her omni-tool and scrolls through all the reading materials she downloaded for her trip, and… yes, there it is. Traveler of the Stars. The first book Garrus read to her: the semi-autobiographical tome about Amelie Winthrup's journey across the galaxy.
"So, this might be familiar," she says, and she starts reading, her words a distant echo of the passages Garrus recited to her all those months ago.
Shepard has been reading for an hour when Castis Vakarian walks in. He hesitates for a moment, but at Shepard's nod, he pulls up the other chair on the opposite side of Garrus's bed and sits down, his gaze settled on Shepard as he listens to the story.
She's at the scene where Amelie crashes into the C-Sec officer on the Citadel, and she can't help but wonder what the older Vakarian thinks as this woman, this human woman, stares up into the face of the first turian she's ever met up close. Shepard's eyes dart over to Castis, only to find him watching her, his head tilted and his mandibles pulled tight to his face as he absorbs every word that comes out of her mouth.
"I remember someone like that," he says when his gaze meets hers. "Back when I was a young detective on the station. Not many humans on the Citadel at that time. This one, this woman, she walked around with her holo recorder, taking a picture of everything. Which wouldn't have been a problem if she had actually watched where she was going. She only realized I was there when she bumped into me and fell on her behind."
Shepard's lips quirk up in a smile. "I wonder if it's the same person this book's about. What a coincidence that would be."
Castis opens his hands in a shrug. "Who knows. She clambered up and ran away. Maybe she thought I was a monster, too, like the woman in the book."
Shepard's smile turns into a grin. It might not be the best idea to tease him about this, but she can't resist. "Can you blame her? You guys can be pretty scary, you know."
"Can we, now?" His expression is deadpan, but his eyes twinkle with mirth, and he waves a hand at the bed between them. "Even Garrus?"
Shepard's gaze settles on Garrus, the smile gone from her face as she watches his chest move with every slow, slow, breath he takes. "No. Not Garrus."
Castis is silent for a long moment, and Shepard raises her arm again, her attention back on the text, but before she could go on with the story, Castis says something that makes her breath stuck in her throat and her cheeks heat up.
"Does he know how you feel about him?"
Slowly, she looks up, and forces her eyes to stay on his. "Well, we have a certain… understanding. An, uh, agreement." She hopes it's enough, but Castis, like all good cops, knows there's more, of course he does, and he waits, unmoving, his attention keenly focused on her face. "He knows I have great affection for him," she adds. Before she could stop herself, her right hand finds its way to the back of her neck to rub at her skin, if only to drop down onto her lap a moment later. "But… I've never told him just how much. To be honest, I hadn't been aware of it myself either. Until now."
Castis nods. His gaze is warmer, less penetrating now. "He feels deeply about you as well."
Shepard's heart thuds in her chest, and her lips stretch into an involuntary smile as her eyes dart to Garrus, then back to Castis again. "Yeah? Did he say that?"
"Not in so many words. But I know my son well enough to read him even when he tries to hide his emotions from me. And every time he talked about you, I knew you were more than just a commander to him. I just wasn't aware it was mutual. I thought it was only some silly infatuation on his part."
"He… talked about me?"
She wants details. All the details. 'What did he say? How did he say it?' But, she's Commander Freakin' Shepard, not a lovestruck teenager, and this is Garrus's father, not a friend to whisper and gossip with, so she bites back the barrage of questions bubbling up in her throat and waits for Castis to explain.
Castis lets out a huff of air. "Spirits, yes. Things you said and did, decisions you made and choices you would pick—there was always some reason for him to bring you up. No offense, Commander, but it was getting a little annoying."
His mandibles flare out in a smile and he chuckles, and Shepard smiles back. She wishes he said more, but this will have to do for now.
"So," she says, lifting her left arm again and sliding her gaze back to the text on the screen of her omni-tool. "Shall we continue?"
"By all means. I'm looking forward to hearing what this person thought of the volus on the station. Especially the conniving little bastard who had a multi-species restaurant in Zakera Ward."
"Ah." Shepard grins, remembering the part where Amelie tripped over a volus waiter in an eatery and made him drop a bowl of hot soup into another patron's lap. "You're gonna love this."
Recently, there was a discussion on Tumblr about past tense vs. present tense in fics, and a few people said that they won't read stories if they were written in present tense (especially if they are long), because they find them exhausting. If that's the case for any of you, I'm sorry, but if, in spite of this, you're still here, reading and enjoying this story: thank you. You rock. <3
Also, if you were as annoyed as I was about the turians' and salarians' posture and animation in Andromeda, here's a little comic I made about that. ;)
Chapter 10: An Invitation
Thank you all for the lovely comments on the last chapter - I really appreciate them! I'm sorry this update took a little long to get here, but I hope you'll enjoy it. :)
Big thanks to Suilven for beta reading.
Despite all her complaining about Shepard's continued presence in Garrus's hospital room, Thalia turns out to be kind of a mother hen.
It takes more than a few minutes of arguing and a heated discussion for Shepard to convince her that humans don't need nearly as much heat as turians do, ergo, she absolutely does not want that damned blanket on her; that she's fine sleeping in the armchair, even if it was not designed for such long-term use; that she doesn't need to "go out and breathe some fresh air once in a while"; that, as tempting as the asari menu in the cafeteria sounds, she's used to living on energy bars alone.
Eventually, Thalia gives up and leaves, muttering about stubborn humans under her breath, and Shepard settles in for her second night.
It's strange, lying in the armchair by herself while Garrus is just a few feet away. She can't help but wish that she could curl up by his side, breathe him in, bury her face in the nook between his cowl and neck. But he's surrounded by too many cables and there's not enough space for two people in his bed, and the last thing she wants is to press against his wound and cause him pain.
So, she stays where she is, and sleeps.
She wakes up once, several hours later, when Thalia comes in to check on Garrus. Shepard keeps her eyes closed but her ears open as she waits, unmoving, ready to put a stop to any sneak blanket attack, but it never comes. Apparently, Thalia is keeping her promise to leave her alone. There's only a soft clank as the nurse puts something down on the table by the armchair, but after that, the turian leaves, and the room falls silent again.
Shepard takes a slow inhale, relaxing her muscles once more. With the threat of heat stroke gone, it should be easy to go back to sleep now, and she almost does—until her nose catches a whiff of something. Something… intriguing.
Whether human or asari, baked goods smell equally delicious, as far as Shepard is concerned, and she sits up, her arm already raised and her omni-tool turned on to full brightness so she can take a peek at the thing Thalia left behind.
It's a plate of Thessian sweet bread filled with stewed fruit—the kind Shepard and Liara gorged themselves on during a shore leave once when they visited a popular pastry shop on the Citadel.
Shepard's stomach growls. Well. Maybe a few bites of something other than those energy bars wouldn't hurt.
The table is close enough to reach without getting up, but she's pretty sure Thalia would kill her if she scattered crumbs all over the place, so she rises to her feet to take the one step separating her from the unexpected treasure. She lifts the entire plate, inhaling the scent with eyes fluttering closed in bliss, before plucking off one of the pieces and stuffing it into her mouth.
She eats, humming contentedly as the familiar flavor spreads on her tongue, until the plate is clear and every last morsel is gone.
Her midnight snack finished, Shepard pats her stomach and puts the empty plate back on the table with a satisfied sigh. Perhaps Thalia was right. Maybe she could take a break and visit that cafeteria sometimes.
For the next few days, time seems to stand still as Shepard sits on the chair by Garrus's bedside, talking when she thinks of something to say, reading from her omni-tool when she doesn't. Every so often, a doctor or a nurse comes in to check on their patient, and Shepard watches, filing away every little technique and clue about the care Garrus needs.
Castis visits whenever he can, and they chat, discussing Garrus's condition (He looks better today, don't you think?) and the state of the investigation. There are some leads, but nothing is certain, and invariably, Castis leaves after a while to follow up on a message or to track down a new piece of information.
It's a routine that works well. Shepard has food, a place to sleep, a bathroom to wash herself in. What she doesn't have, though, is an unlimited supply of fresh clothes and underwear.
"I need to go back to my ship for a little bit," she tells Castis when, eventually, she runs out of clean things to put on. "Do some laundry, get some new clothes. Will you be here while I'm gone?"
Castis nods. "Your ship's in the port?"
"Yeah. It'll probably take me a couple of hours to get back."
With her bag already packed, she just needs her environment suit before she leaves, and she walks over to the locker to get her armor she's stored in an empty compartment.
She only gets as far as attaching one set of greaves when Castis clears his throat and says something that makes her almost drop the other piece.
"Commander. Our house is not far from here. You could, ah, take Garrus's room. Part of the building is still damaged, but we have a laundry machine, and you might sleep better in a real bed than in this chair. You could be here during the day, but stay in our house at night. If you wish."
Shepard turns around, her eyes, uncertain, questioning, slowly settling on Castis's face as she takes a moment to think. Not having to travel between her ship and the hospital whenever she needs something would unquestionably be more convenient, and her back would probably thank her for finally being able to stretch out in an actual bed. But staying away for hours every day? She's not sure about that.
"What if Garrus wakes up at night? I'd like to be here when he does," she says, her teeth chewing on her lower lip as her mind battles her heart.
Castis opens his arms in a shrug. "I have an agreement with the staff. They will let me know immediately when that happens. We could be here a few minutes after that call."
"Well…" Shepard heaves out a sigh, and she nods. "All right. Thank you. I still need a few things from my ship, but maybe we can meet here in the evening?"
She turns back to the locker to snap the rest of her armor in place, but stops and throws a grin over her shoulder at Castis when a sudden thought takes hold of her brain.
"I'm looking forward to seeing Garrus's room," she says.
And maybe collect some ammunition for a good teasing when he finally wakes up.
The Vakarian house is, indeed, quite close to the hospital. It takes but a few minutes with their skycars, Shepard following Castis over a residential neighborhood to the top of a small hill, and they are there, making their landing on a concrete-topped parking lot by an imposing homestead that has seen better days. The front, although marred by scorch marks and bullet holes, is standing tall, its door, ornate and old, still doing its job of keeping the residents well protected from the outside, but the stone fencing around the property has lost its top half in a few places, the rubble at the base a telltale reminder of the war that touched every corner of this city, be they strategically important or not.
Things look better inside—at least, as far as the main areas of the house are concerned. There's a reception hall just off the entryway, with a study and what looks like a formal dining room on the two sides, and a courtyard beyond, with the kitchen and the bedrooms in the back.
"This way," Castis says as they enter the yard, its shallow pool in the center dried up and filled with leaves from the lumbering bushes that have overtaken the rest of the garden. There's a pile of crates on the left, blocking a hole in wall that seems to lead to a destroyed wing, its original purpose buried under a mountain of debris and a mass of twisted metal. The right side of the house has fared much better. The three doors lining the covered portico appear to be intact, and Castis stops by the first one, opening it with the touch of a button. "Why don't you put your things in there, then I'll show you the kitchen and the laundry machine."
Shepard doesn't need to ask if this is Garrus's room; she recognizes his old Viper lying on a desk under the window, the mods he was so excited to find on the Citadel during one of their shopping trips still attached to its frame. She wonders what happened to the Black Widow she gave him. Was it with him when the walls came down on his head?
The thought gives her a chill, and she pushes the image aside, forcing a smile on her face as she drops her bags on the floor. "Is this the house where Garrus grew up?" she asks with forced mirth, turning back to Castis and following him through the door then down the portico to the back.
"Not exactly. This was my parents' home. My mother used to be the chief of pediatric surgery at the hospital, and she and my father bought this house so she could be there as quickly as she could if there was an emergency. But Garrus and Solana did visit them quite often." His mandibles twitch and he clears his throat, his hand pausing for a moment on a metal panel on the wall before he taps the switch to open the door. "Our own house was… destroyed. Nothing but rubble and ash left in its place."
Shepard frowns, her gaze flicking down to her feet before sliding back to Castis again. Damn.
"I'm sorry," she says, and curls her fingers into a fist to keep herself from reaching out and touching his arm.
He nods, but doesn't reply. He walks into the kitchen with a stiff back, and Shepard steps after him, trying to remember every detail as he explains the controls to the refrigerator, the food warmer, and the dishwashing unit. There are a few other appliances here and there that he doesn't bother mentioning, as well as a sink and a row of cabinets along a wall and a large table with six chairs in the middle, but they pay no attention to any those right now; the next thing on their tour is the door leading to the lower level which houses the laundry room.
It's bigger than Shepard expected; instead of the space-saving all-in-one combo she's used to having on ships and even in their little cottage on Earth, this one has a separate machine for washing and drying clothes, a long counter for folding laundry, a few storage closets, and a good-sized tub for rinsing some items by hand.
"I trust this will work for you?" Castis asks, his eyes settled on Shepard's face as she stands in the middle of the room, her gaze sliding around and taking in every minute feature in this place. "Any questions?"
"Yeah." She points to a door in the corner. "Where does that go?"
"To a small herb garden cut into the hillside. My mother was a staunch believer in the curative powers of plants."
"Well. How about some dinner?"
"Sounds good. I am kind of hungry."
"So am I." Castis turns around, beckoning at the stairs. "Let's go back up, then."
It's the first time in days since Shepard has had a real, warm, human meal. It's nice, even if it's just a ration pack she heated up for herself, and she chews slowly, savoring every bite of her meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
Castis's dinner is equally bland. Whether out of solidarity or out of a dislike for cooking more elaborate food, his meal is, just like Shepard's, something frozen that took only a few minutes for him to heat up. It reminds her of one of the dishes Garrus sometimes popped in the microwave back home when… when…
Eh, better not think about that.
"So," she says instead, trying to distract herself, "any news about the investigation?"
"Well…" Castis opens his mouth, but his words are cut off by a ping of his omni-tool, and he looks down at his left arm, his brow plates pulling low over his eyes as he taps at the controls to read the message he's received. When he glances up again, his eyes are dark, his mandibles tight against his face. "I have to go. One of my contacts has seen something that could be a lead."
Shepard pushes back her chair. "I'd like to go with you. If that's all right."
"I'm sorry, Commander." Castis rises to his feet, gathering up the remains of his meal to dump them into an appliance she figures must be the trash compactor. "My contact doesn't trust outsiders, and he's nervous enough already about whatever he's seen. I don't want to spook him even more. I'll tell you everything once I get back. I promise."
Shepard's lips pull into an unhappy grimace, but she nods and forces herself to stay. "All right. Good luck."
Castis inclines his head in farewell, and Shepard is left alone in the kitchen, staring at the last bites of her meatloaf that don't look that appetizing anymore.
Sitting on her hands while others are out there on a mission has never been on Shepard's list of favorite activities. It's been hard enough staying put in the hospital every time Castis left to run his investigations; here, without Garrus anchoring her to the spot, the itch to do something, anything, instead of waiting aimlessly for the older Vakarian's return, is stronger than ever.
Well. Perhaps she could at least explore the premises. Unpack her things, look at Garrus's room in more detail.
It's not quite the same as taking part in a mission with all the excitement and adrenaline that comes with being out in the field, but the thought of accomplishing something still makes her feel a little better. Besides, even if this wasn't the home Garrus grew up in, it would still be interesting to see where he's spent these last couple of months while they were apart.
Shepard nods, satisfied to have a plan for the next half hour or so. She gets up from the table with a new determination and tosses the leftovers of her dinner into the same appliance Castis did. All right. So, Garrus's room, first.
Standing in the environment Garrus has occupied since he came back to Palaven is a bittersweet experience.
There are reminders of him everywhere: an orange and green shirt draped over a chair by the desk, a bottle of gun oil and a cleaning rag sitting right next to his Viper, an assortment of toiletries lined up in a tidy row on a shelf in the attached bath.
Shepard walks around, taking in every detail with a quiet smile, her fingers running a gentle path over everything she passes by. She remembers the day he wore this shirt, remembers handing him a rag just like this as they sat side by side, cleaning their weapons in the mess hall on the SR2. She thinks about the times she rubbed that lotion into his hide.
The bed is neatly made, the cover, a purple, thick fabric with a yellow hem, pulled tightly over the mattress and the pillows. It's framed by a nightstand on both sides, the one on the right sporting a tall, narrow lamp, the other holding a holo picture frame on its top.
Curious, Shepard trudges over to take a look, and turns the holo projector on. The first picture is that of Garrus's mother; Shepard recognizes the facial markings and bright green eyes from a picture Garrus had shared with her before, and she lets out a sigh, her heart quenching a little at the thought of Garrus sitting in this room, on this bed, staring at the image of a parent he'll never have the chance to be with again.
She shakes her head to chase the image away, and presses the button to check out the rest of the pictures. They are, every one of them, of her; some she knew about, some she had no idea Garrus had taken when she wasn't looking. There's one of her in the kitchen, stirring a pot of spaghetti sauce and laughing at something he said; there's one where she's in the garden, offering a freshly picked flower to him; another one after a particularly difficult physical therapy session, her posture slumped over in the chair but her smile genuine as she gives him a thumbs up. Then there's the unexpected image of her sleeping, her expression calm and peaceful as she lies in bed with him, and a night shot where she's looking out through the window, her attention focused on the stars up above.
Shepard exhales, blowing out a deep breath, and turns the projector off. Better unpack her bags and go on that tour of the house before Castis gets back.
She looks around. Where to store her stuff is a question she hasn't figured out yet. There's no armoire or chest of drawers in the room, but there's a double door along one wall that could hide a closet she might be able to use.
A quick check confirms her hunch. The doors open to a collection of well organized drawers and hooks and hangers, some of them taken up by more of Garrus's belongings, but still, there's plenty of space left for her. She brings over her bags and starts pulling out her clothes, hanging some and finding empty drawers for others.
One of the drawers, though vacant at first look, turns out to be anything but. There are two tiny figures shoved in the back, their small metal parts jabbing Shepard in the finger when she attempts to stuff some underwear in. She withdraws her hand to suck at her aching, bruised skin, then peeks inside, pulling out the toys that little Garrus must have left behind.
It's Blasto, the original one from years ago, and his arch nemesis, the evil Xurk of some indefinable alien race from Planet Sortis—she remembers seeing advertisements for the holo series back when she was a kid and laughing about the goofy script with her brother. It figures that it was something Garrus grew up with. The surfaces are well-worn, like they've been handled hundreds of times before, and she can almost see a child-sized Garrus lining these toys up, acting out scenarios of lethal battles where the good guy always wins.
Shepard's lips curl up into a grin. She takes the figures, gets up from her crouched position, and puts them on the nightstand by the holo frame.
All right. Ammunition acquired; mission Find Something to Embarrass Garrus With accomplished.
It takes a mere ten minutes for Shepard to put her things away.
Her clothes, armor, and weapons stored, there's nothing else to do but start stage two of her expedition, and she exits Garrus's room out into the cool night air of the garden.
With the sun down, she has no need for her environment suit, and she breathes in the alien smells as she walks around, examining the brightly colored pavement of the pathways around the courtyard, the overgrown plants that must have looked gorgeous when there was still someone here to take care of them, the large bowl that might have been a bird bath in the far corner. The other two rooms along the portico belong to Castis and Solana, so she leaves those alone, but there's still the herb garden Castis mentioned that she hasn't seen.
She heads down to the laundry room, finds the door leading outside, and steps through it. It's a terrace, cut into the hillside just like Castis said. It must have looked quite charming in its heyday; there's a patio table and chairs in the middle, surrounded by flower beds on three sides, illuminated by twinkling lights hung like colorful garlands around the perimeter.
The plants, unfortunately, are mostly dead now, dried out and suffocated by a mess of weedy, gangling vines. Not much more to see here, and Shepard turns around, ready to go back to the house and sit down for a while.
She's almost at the door when she hears something that makes her stop.
It's the engine of a shuttlecraft, rattling and wheezing with the effort of a machine barely maintained, and she steps out again to look up at the night sky. She only has enough time to catch a glimpse of the shuttle, but it still sends a chill down her spine. The vehicle is unmarked, the original designation scratched off. It reminds her of some low-level merc groups' stolen aircrafts, and if she's right, and she hopes she's not, it has just landed on that parking spot in front of the house.
Maybe it's nothing; maybe they're here for some innocent reason. Still, she hasn't made it this far by being complacent and ignoring that familiar, heavy feeling that has, once again, settled in the pit of her stomach, and she has no intention of biting the dust now.
So. Time to go back inside and get those weapons she's just stored under the bed, and figure out who exactly these unexpected visitors are.
Chapter 11: A New Team
I'm sorry this chapter took so long to get here. It was not an easy one to write, which was made even harder by the demise of my computer's hard drive (typing on my laptop is a pain in the butt, tbh). Also, this turned out to be one of my longest chapters, but I really wanted to include all this because... well, you'll see. ;)
Thank you all for the comments and kudos, and big thanks to Suilven for beta reading!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
As pleasant as walking around without a layer of metal and ceramic plating between her skin and the night air has been, at the moment, Shepard can't help but wish she still had her armor on. Unfortunately, it's too late for that now. Whoever it is that has just landed in front of the house, it probably won't be long before they scale the fence or hack into the entry door, and she has no intention of getting trapped in Garrus's room as she suits up while they make their way inside.
It's not the first time that she's been forced to go into combat unprotected (to this day, Garrus hasn't stopped teasing her about the fish tank in a certain restaurant), but the unpredictability of the outcome of such an encounter still raises the hair on the back of her neck, and she spares a moment to take a deep breath to calm her nerves as she reaches under the bed and pulls out her old Locust. She slams in a heat sink and grabs a few more, stuffing her pockets with ammunition, then grabs her pistol with the silencer mod as well. Sadly, sniping in close quarters is not an option, so she leaves her beloved Black Widow behind.
With her pistol tucked into the waistband of her pants and the Locust in her hand, she slips out the door. For a second or two, everything's quiet; the portico is as inviting as before, the pavement bathed in soothing light, the shapes of the bushes in the courtyard softly outlined by Menae up in the sky. But then, there's a rustling noise on the left, and the top of the first head, covered in a helmet but clearly turian in shape, pops up over a ruined section of the fence, and Shepard has just enough time to dive behind one of the columns before the man pulls himself up and drops down on this side of the wall.
Shepard flicks her eyes around, searching for the best spot to take up position in. She finds it in the shadows, by the pile of crates covering the hole that would lead to the ruined wing of the Vakarian home. She switches her tactical cloak on (thank goodness for omni-tools, at least), and darts across the yard, counting down the seconds she has before her disguise would fizzle out.
In ten seconds, she's at her destination, with four more to spare—enough time to settle down behind a large box and peer out. By now, the first man is at the foot of the fence, the scope of his rifle scanning his surroundings as he waits for the rest of his team to make it over the wall.
Shepard pulls back when his weapon turns her way, and she waits for her cloak to charge again. By the time it's back on and she dares to take another peek, the entire group has arrived. There are six figures huddling together, the first one giving out instructions silently, by hand gestures alone. It doesn't look like they are mercenaries; their armor is military, albeit old and beaten, the kind turian troops used during the war. Nevertheless, they are obviously not here for tea and cookies; they soon fan out, creeping along with hunched backs over their rifles and eyes glued to their scopes as they sweep the area, starting with the front part of the house. Those rooms are empty, of course, and before long, they are back, turning their attention to the first door—the one leading to Garrus's bedroom.
They take up position on either side, tap the panel open, and toss in a smoke grenade. The tactic is one Shepard is intimately familiar with; she's used it countless times herself, in military training and on live missions, and she watches with perverse fascination as the turians surge into the room, their weapons drawn, searching for their target to take out.
Well. Another case of certain death avoided—at least for now; the night is not over, and these invaders are still here, moving on to Castis's room, and Solana's, then, still empty-handed, to the kitchen in the back.
Of the six, five disappear behind the door and one stays as a lookout, taking cover behind a column. It's a smart move; were this Shepard's operation, she'd order one of her people to do the same. In this case, however, it's all useless; the guard is already a mark, even if he has no idea that he's in the sights of Shepard's gun. The only reason he's not dead yet, as tempting as it is to shoot him, is the fact that, given her own lack of armor and team at the moment, leaving his body behind and letting his friends find out prematurely that they are not alone after all would not really be the best tactic to follow.
So, Shepard waits, and lets the guard live—for a while.
It doesn't take long before the door slides open and his team spills back out.
"She's not here," their leader says, not bothering to stay silent anymore.
The guard lowers his weapon. "But her skycar's out there. Where the hell is she, then?"
Shepard's eyes narrow. These bastards are here for her.
"Maybe she went with Vakarian," one of the turians suggests, waving a hand in a frustrated shrug.
The leader tilts his head, resting the butt of his rifle on his hip with a self-assured cockiness that sets Shepard's teeth on edge. "He was told to go alone," he says. "But, if she did accompany him, the other team will take care of her as well. Regardless, unless we receive a report saying otherwise, we'll assume she didn't, in which case, she'll have to come back here sooner or later. Let's give her a warm welcome when she does."
The group laughs, and after the team leader sends one his men away with the shuttle, the rest scatter and spread out.
Shepard's jaw clenches as she watches them, her hand tightening around her gun so hard her fingers are turning white. Dammit. She should have gone with Castis after all. She should have insisted. She could have followed him, at least. Instead, she let him walk into a trap, and who knows what his situation is right now.
But, that ship has sailed; she has her own problems (five of them, to be precise) to deal with at the moment, so she tamps down on the panic rising in the pit of her stomach, pushing away images of Garrus's father lying cold and lifeless on the ground, and brings her head from what ifs and if onlys back to the present.
Four of the turians have taken up position around the yard, settling down behind columns and in the overgrown bushes, each finding their own spot a good distance from the others to cover as much territory with their weapons as they can. That's not a bad development, as far as Shepard is concerned: They've just handed her the opportunity to creep up on individual targets and deal with them one by one. The only possible issue is the one asshole who has apparently decided to use her pile of crates as a vantage point and, at the moment, is heading in her direction.
Though… as dark as it is in this corner, and as nicely out of view as it is of his comrades, this might actually work out in her favor after all.
She readies her pistol and pulls back, disappearing further into the shadows, and waits.
It's almost insulting how easy it is to take the turian out. Confident in his invulnerability and lulled into a false sense of security by a seemingly empty house and courtyard, he steps into Shepard's invisible web without a thorough check of the nook, and turns his back to the darkness behind him as he gets ready to pull himself up on top of a crate to gain higher ground.
He doesn't get far. Shepard is there before he can lift even one foot, aiming at the back of his neck right at the most vulnerable connection between his helmet and his armor. The silencer does its job; the shot connects with a quiet puff, and the man collapses without as much as a gasp, the only sound a soft thump as Shepard catches his body and, with the utmost care to avoid alerting his teammates, lowers it to the ground.
One down, four to go.
The plan is simple: approach each man, quiet as a mouse, and take them out from behind, prioritizing the ones whose soon-to-be corpses are least likely to be noticed by the others. Which means… starting with the one leaning against a column in front of the kitchen door.
Shepard activates her cloak and sets out. Resisting the temptation to rush is not easy, but she manages to keep her footsteps as light as she possibly can as she closes in and lines up her shot. The man goes down without a sound, just like the other one did, and she hides him behind the column, waiting for her cloak to recharge before she moves on to her next victim.
This one is lying under a bush, his gun aimed at the entrance, as oblivious to the human creeping up on him as the others were. He goes down without a fight as well, and Shepard starts to believe that this is all going to be a piece of cake when the leader swings his weapon in her direction, catching a glimpse of her crouching form before she can turn her cloak back on.
She barely has enough time to dive behind the large bird bath and take cover before the bullets start to fly. Soon, it's two on one, the other turian joining in on the assault as well, chips of the stone whizzing by Shepard's head as she waits for a lull in the incessant shelling of her position and move to another spot.
It comes when their guns click empty and they stop firing to grab a fresh heatsink.
"Is she dead?" one of them asks.
"Go check," the leader says, his voice much more tense now than before. "I'll cover you."
Shepard is already on her way to one of the columns, her cloak turned back on, her pistol tucked away and her SMG in her hand. She switches to cryo ammo as soon as she's safely out of sight, and leans out just enough to send a stream of supercooled particles into the torso of the turian standing right where she's been just a moment ago. His body turns light blue, his limbs frozen as they were—a sight as familiar as the rising sun from countless battles before, and she can't help a grin of satisfaction as she follows up with a wave of incinerating fire. The resulting explosion sends her heart soaring, but her joy is short lived as a shotgun blast blows a sizable chunk out of her cover, dispatching a storm of fragments, sharp and hard, around her that ricochet off the wall in the back, raining chips of stone down her unarmored body.
She hisses out a groan as more than a few cut through the thin fabric of her clothing and get lodged in her skin, but she's more annoyed at her own recklessness than the pain. Yes, it hurts, and there's no medi-gel to stop the bleeding, but her priority at the moment is dealing with this last son of a bitch—this son of a bitch who won't stop firing. Again.
She waits for a lull in the assault, and when it comes, she turns invisible once more, and moves over to another column even as she taps a few buttons on her omni-tool to jam the turian's gun.
And…there. The hail of bullets stops, the cacophony of the weapons fire replaced with a string of curses about spirits and ancestors that makes Shepard cackle with glee. For a moment, she actually considers capturing the leader alive. Castis Vakarian (god, she hopes he's okay) would surely prefer at least one of these people to be left standing. It wouldn't hurt to interrogate this bastard anyway.
But then, there's a click as the man pulls out another weapon and resumes his assault, and Shepard loses the last bit of her patience with this entire situation.
Fine. No mercy.
If she had her armor on, she'd simply jump out of cover, let her shields absorb the barrage, and mow him down. But, since that is not an option, she waits for her break to come. It happens when he stops, possibly to slam in a new round of ammo yet again, and she wastes not one second taking her turn.
This time, she doesn't stop when her opponent freezes in place; she keeps firing until he shatters into a thousand tiny pieces, and even for a few more rounds after that.
Her heart still feels like it's going to hammer itself out of her chest when she finally stops and lowers her gun. The garden is quiet, the moonlight oblivious to the results of the battle as it illuminates the dead bodies and the remains of the two turians unlucky enough to experience the patented Shepard Cold Treatment.
All right, then. Next thing to do: treat her wounds, put on her armor, and go in search of Castis Vakarian.
She manages to take two steps before the door to the front part of the house opens, and she growls out a curse, jumping back into cover, her Locust raised in her hand once again. Perhaps it's the pilot of the shuttle—maybe he's returned for his comrades. Or maybe it's the other team coming to take care of her, which means—
"Commander Shepard?" a voice calls out, and she blows out the breath that has been stuck in her throat, lowering her weapon with a relieved sigh.
She's never been so glad to see Castis Vakarian.
His armor has a few new scratches and scorch marks, and there's a smear of blue blood decorating the left side of his face, but he's standing tall as always, with all his limbs still attached.
His gaze slides down her body, examining her wounds. "Are you all right?" he asks.
Shepard looks down at herself. Her shirt and pants are dirty and torn and soaked with blood in more than a few places, and there are pieces of stone sticking out here and there where the flying debris from the column embedded itself in her skin. Nice pair they make; Vakarian with his blue blood, Shepard with her red.
"I'm fine," she says. "You?"
"Mmm." Castis nods absentmindedly, his attention on the dead bodies and the signs of battle now.
"Uh…" Shepard scratches the back of her neck. "Sorry about the mess."
He returns his gaze to her. "Well. I never liked that bowl anyway. And I'm sure those columns deserved what they got." She laughs, and he flicks out a mandible in a smile before he turns somber again. "I suppose they are all dead? None left to question?"
"I was a little too busy trying to stay alive. Didn't have the chance to take prisoners."
He hums, and examines her wounds again. "And you did this all without any armor? Impressive."
Shepard tries not to show it, but her chest swells with pride at his praise. Apparently, Castis Vakarian is one of the few people whose opinion she actually gives a shit about.
"Come on," he says, nudging his head at the kitchen door. "Let's go patch you up."
Shepard nods and follows him, more than happy to pull the pieces of stone out of her skin and slap some medi-gel on her wounds at last.
Talking about the events as they both experienced them helps distract her from the pain, and Shepard listens intently to the older Vakarian as he cleans her cuts and applies medication to her skin. His tale begins with his arrival at the rendezvous point and finding no-one at the place—until a group of enemy combatants showed up and surrounded the hut he was supposed to meet his contact in.
"I knew it," Shepard says when he gets to the part where he recognized one of his assailants, a member of the isolationist group he's been tracking for months.
He goes on, describing the battle in loose details. He tells her how, despite the unevenness of the fight, he managed to repel the ambush and dispatch all but one of his attackers, and how, himself wounded and bleeding, he followed the only person left alive and fleeing the scene.
"Unfortunately, he disappeared at one point," he says, his voice rumbling with barely suppressed frustration. "Just vanished in the forest. However, I recorded the coordinates of where I saw him last, so that's a good start, at least."
"I, uh, get why they attacked you," Shepard says, trying not to groan when he presses a bandage on her arm a little too hard. "They've been trying to get rid of you for some time. But why did they target me? Not that I don't enjoy a good fight, but it just doesn't make sense to go after a Spectre without a cause."
"I went back to the hut to examine the bodies," Castis says, turning his attention to a gash on her bicep. "I was able to check their omni-tools and found a few messages. It seems that they thought you were here to assist with the investigation. They've been keeping track of you, and tonight, when you accompanied me home, they took it as a sign that we were planning to make our move soon. They figured their best bet was to split us up and take each of us out separately before we found them."
"Huh." Shepard chews on her lips, her eyes narrowed in a frown. "I think we should make our move," she says. "They know you survived, and they'll soon figure out that I did, too. They must be hiding somewhere close to where that guy disappeared, but they won't stay there for long. They're probably packing up right as we speak. We need to catch them before they change their location."
Castis looks up from her wound, and considers her for a moment before he replies. "I agree. However, I'd like to remind you, Commander, that this is not your operation. If we do this together, I expect you to follow my lead."
Shepard raises a brow, but she gives him a nod, as hesitant as it is. Holding back and submitting to someone's leadership who is not her actual superior is not something she's usually comfortable with, but for Garrus's father, she'll give it a try. Besides, it is Castis Vakarian's case, and the fact that he's willing to involve her in the mission despite his dislike for Spectres and their powers is a minor miracle, so his offer is not something she's about to turn down out of some stubborn sense of pride.
"All right," she says, and she rolls her sleeves back down, swallowing a hiss as the fabric brushes against her raw skin. "Let me take a look at that scrape on your face. Then I'll grab my guns and armor and we can go."
They park Castis's skycar in a small clearing on a hillside covered with rocks and boulders and a dense forest, and make the rest of the trip on foot. It's dark, the extensive canopy blocking out most of the moon's light and wrapping everything in deep shadow, but with the coordinates Castis managed to record, they have no trouble making it to the point where he saw his man last.
"This is where he disappeared into thin air," he says, frowning at the bushes around them. "I could clearly see him step around this boulder, but by the time I got here, he was gone. I examined everything. Yet, I found no sign of him anywhere."
"Hmm." Shepard peers at the map still lit up on the screen of his omni-tool, and pokes her finger through it, circling an icon she's not familiar with. "What's this here?"
"An ancient mine. It hasn't been used in centuries. It became too unstable and dangerous, so the entrance was collapsed a long time ago to prevent people from wandering in. I looked around to see if maybe it's been reopened, but haven't found any evidence of that. It's hard to even see where the entrance used to be. It's been all taken over by the vegetation."
"Still. Might be worth a second look."
Shepard pulls her Black Widow from its harness and backs up a bit to give her thermal scope a little more room to work with, and lifts her rifle to her eye. The trees, the rocks, the bushes all have the same cool hue, but not far from where Castis is standing, there's a faint sign of something warmer seeping out from the cracks of the large boulder the wounded man disappeared behind.
She collapses her rifle once again and walks back to the rock, reaching out a hand to touch its surface. Her fingers trace the edges of a faint pattern, rectangular in shape, and when she exerts a little more pressure in the middle, the rectangle pops up and slides over, revealing a control panel below.
The interface is asking for an ID, which, of course, she doesn't have, but that's a small obstacle that can be easily overcome. She pulls up a hacking program on her omni-tool, taps a few buttons, waves her arm, and… there.
The entry box, red until now, turns green, and there's a sound, rumbling and low, behind them as the ground moves out of the way.
Shepard turns around. There's a gaping hole just a couple of feet from where they are standing, with some stairs—actual stairs—leading down into a shaft cut into the hillside, and she steps closer, turning on the light on her SMG as she peers down into the darkness.
"Commander, wait," Castis says, his fingers dancing over the haptic keys of his omi-tool as he types something into his messaging program.
Shepard throws him a look over her shoulder, and her eyebrows just about disappear into her hairline as she stares at Mr. Due Process. He'd better not be doing what she thinks he's doing.
"Tell me you're not applying for a search warrant right now," she groans through clenched teeth.
"This is public property," he says, not even looking up at her as he finishes his message. "I don't need a warrant."
"Then what was that about?"
He switches off his omni-tool, and turns his gaze to her. "I sent in an update about our location and requested backup."
His tone is calm, matter-of-fact, and it royally pisses Shepard off.
"Seriously?" she says, turning all the way around to face him. "We're going to wait for backup? What happened to our agreement that we need to take care of these bastards before they disappear? They might already know we're here. And if they have more than this one access point, which I'm sure they do, especially since they need to hide their shuttle somewhere, they could be long gone by the time backup gets here."
"I didn't say we were going to wait," Castis Vakarian replies, as composed as ever. "I said I requested backup. That doesn't mean we can't start our exploration now." He lifts his rifle to his eye, points it at the stairs at their feet, and starts his descent. "Follow me."
Shepard blows out a deep, deep sigh, and she rubs the back of her neck, annoyed both at the vagueness of Vakarian's initial statement and at herself for her outburst. "You could have said that from the beginning," she murmurs under her breath as she turns back towards the stairs and stalks after him, eyes narrowed over the scope of her gun.
"Hmm," Castis says when they make it to the bottom of the stairs and enter a short corridor that ends in a heavy door. There's a faded insignia painted in yellow on the rust-pocked metal surface that's been crossed out, with a new sign in blue added above it. He frowns, and lays a finger on the yellow mark, tracing its design. "This was the symbol of one of the most powerful crime syndicates on the planet about, ah, sixty years ago. They were eventually all round up and killed or imprisoned, and their organization was entirely eradicated. It looks like this used to be one of their facilities. Now this one, this other symbol… It belongs to Palaven First, the group we're tracking. Apparently, they have found this old structure and took it over. No wonder we couldn't find them. They've been under our feet this whole time."
"Good to know we're on the right track, then." Shepard nudges her head at the door. This is all very interesting, but they'd better get moving. "So. Shall we?"
"Yes. Of course. Just remember, Commander, that I'd prefer prisoners, not dead bodies."
If it were up to her, they'd wipe every single one of these bastards off the face of this planet, especially after what they've done to Garrus, but she's promised him her cooperation, so she gives him a nod.
They step through the door, the older Vakarian first, and Shepard following behind. The lights come on wherever they go, and turn off automatically behind them. It's not an ideal situation when you're trying to catch your target by surprise, but there's nothing they can do about it, so they press on.
The facility seems to have been converted from a still usable section of the old mine into a shelter and a warehouse, with a main corridor leading further and further down into the belly of the earth and a few chambers of varying size branching off on either side. They clear every single room they come upon, yet they find nothing, and the veins in Shepard's temple start to throb with a headache brought on by a deep dread that she was actually right, and the terrorists are gone.
It's a relief when they finally open the door on a group of four turians loading boxes of supplies onto a dolly. The turians reach for their weapons, but it's too late: the flashbang grenade Castis has lobbed in has already landed at their feet, and the room explodes in a white-hot flash of blinding, disorienting smoke.
The next moment, Shepard is in the room, kicking the guns out of their opponents' hands and training her own pistol on them as Castis pulls out four sets of restraints and gets to work. By the time the three men and one woman come to, they are all disarmed and handcuffed to the heavy-duty storage shelves lining the walls.
Before they leave, Shepard shorts out their captives' omni-tools and communication devices and Vakarian gathers up the discarded weapons, then he dumps them in an empty room while Shepard sets up a nice little encryption code in the control panel of both doors.
The locks turn red, she nods at Castis, and they set out again.
They find a few more groups further in. Some, they manage to capture alive; others, they are forced to dispose of with deadly force. It's not the same without her old team and especially without Garrus, but they make it work, and after a few minutes of fighting side by side, they develop a smooth routine that works quite well.
The biggest challenge comes in front of the last room, in the deepest part of the facility. The entrance is fanatically guarded by the remnants of the organization, a team of eight men and women willing to give their lives to defend whatever—or whoever—is beyond that door.
Shepard and Castis employ every single tool in their arsenal to try to save as many of them as they can, but with the heavy gunfire they are under, that's not an easy task. Still, by the time the smoke clears and backup shows up, they have five prisoners under their control, alive although wounded, and they can finally step through that door into a chamber as stylishly furnished as any high official's office Shepard has ever seen.
This room, this last room, has only one occupant.
He's a tall, silver-plated turian, with maroon colony markings running down his brows and chin and a gun in his hand that he points at the entrance to his domain.
His eyes jump from Vakarian to Shepard, then slide to the backup team standing behind them.
"Talim Odren," Castis says, his own rifle aimed at the head of Palaven First's leader. "You are under arrest."
"Am I?" Odren smiles. Slowly, he turns his gun around and presses the barrel to his own temple. "An icon cannot be arrested. It can only be put out; a burning flame extinguished, to be mourned and followed by the thousands, millions, who will come after him and continue the fight."
Shepard snorts, her eyes rolling up at the ceiling. "No-one's continuing your idiotic fight. Your followers are all gone. Dead. Because of you."
It's only half true, of course, but he doesn't need to know that. Still, if she hoped for some kind of remorseful reaction from him, it never comes. In fact, Odren's smile doesn't fade. If anything, it gets brighter than before. "Martyrs of the cause," he says, as smug as before. "As I will be, too."
If not for her promise to Castis Vakarian, Shepard would gladly help him pull that trigger. Given their agreement, however, she takes a moment to assess the situation and come up with a plan instead.
Shooting the gun out of Odren's hand would probably work, but that would be a pretty risky move. Sabotaging his weapon would be another possibility, though accessing her omni-tool while standing right in front of her target is not exactly an ideal setup. Yet, with some preparation, it could work.
So. Option Number Two it is.
She lowers her pistol, cocking her hip as she takes up a relaxed posture. "I say, we let him do it. No-one's gonna miss him anyway. He'll go down in history as a coward who didn't have the spine to face the consequences of his actions."
"Drop the weapon," Castis growls, ignoring her comment. His voice is the harshest she has ever heard, and she can't help but wonder if his tone is directed at her or the man standing in front of him.
The smile is gone from Talim Odren's face, replaced by a glare he first shoots at Shepard, then at Castis Vakarian. "I won't be lectured by an outsider," he hisses, mandibles tight and rigid against his face. "I admit that trying to shut down the relay before was a bit premature," he adds, addressing Vakarian, and Vakarian alone. "But now that our troops are home, we need to destroy this gateway to our world and prevent enemy armies and unwanted influences or people like… her from coming through."
Shepard shrugs and raises her left arm, casually turning on her omni-tool and pretending to fire up her messaging program. "Whatever. Let me know when you're done talking. Then pull that trigger already so we can drag your pitiful corpse out of here."
There's a long moment of cold silence as the men stare at her, but Odren resumes his rant soon enough, focusing his attention on Castis, and Shepard gets to work. It only takes her a few seconds to hack into Odren's gun, and the weapon gives out a high-pitched hum as it overheats, glowing red and hot in the turian's hand.
"Time's up," she says a split second before he drops the gun with a hiss and she lunges forward, landing a precise hit on the side of his head and striking the sensitive skin that surrounds his ear canal.
He collapses with a moan, holding the impact site with a trembling hand. Castis is on top of him before he hits the floor, yanking his arms back and holding him down with his body weight alone. He waves over one of his people to lend him a handcuff, himself having run out of restraints already, and as Odren is led away, the older Vakarian rises to his feet and plants himself in front of Shepard.
She thinks he's going to reprimand her, but he simply lays a hand on her shoulder, flicking out his mandibles in a smile.
"I thought you wanted him to shoot himself," he says.
"Well." She shrugs, but smiles back. "I promised you prisoners, remember? Besides, making him into a martyr would have been a bad choice."
"Nice work, Commander."
Shepard would never admit it, but she positively beams. "Thank you, sir."
"Castis. Call me Castis."
Shepard's smile turns into a full-fledged grin. "Uh… Castis." She extends her hand and holds it out to him, and when he grabs it, she gives his hand a firm shake. "Kathryn Shepard. You can call me Kate, if you like."
With his investigation done, Castis spends almost as much time in the hospital as Shepard. Sometimes, they eat in Garrus's room, munching on their ration bars as they talk. More often, they take turns paying a visit to the cafeteria and bringing back some snacks and drinks for each other.
The doctors continue to monitor Garrus's condition as they decrease the sedatives they pump into his veins. Once in a while, Garrus moves a finger or flutters his eyelids, but still, he doesn't wake up—until six days later, when Castis is downstairs in the eatery and Shepard sits by Garrus's side, reading to him from her omni-tool.
It's a turian book, one Castis has brought in. According to him, it was one of Garrus's favorites when he was a child. It's a strange thing, reading a fantasy tale from another world, but perhaps hearing something so familiar will help pull Garrus out of his sleep.
She's at the part where the hero of the story lands a final blow to a huge beast terrorizing a village when she hears his voice, weak and rough after so many weeks, and she almost drops the datapad as her head snaps to Garrus's face and her eyes meet his gaze.
"Hi," he says.
It's the most beautiful thing she's heard in months.
She fights back a tear, and smiles at him through blurry eyes. "Hi."
Garrus reaches for her, and she grabs his hand, giving it a gentle squeeze as she brings it to her lips to press a soft kiss to his scales.
"I am. No force in this entire universe could keep me away."
I want to thank everyone who's still reading this story - I hope that now that Garrus is awake, it's been worth the wait to get here! :)
Also, technically, there's no silencer mod in Mass Effect, but I think there should be, especially for Infiltrators. :D
Thank you to Elainablue for pointing out that there was a heavy pistol with a silencer in the Citadel DLC: The M-11 Suppressor. :)
Chapter 12: Reunion
Thank you so much, everyone, for all the kudos and the comments on the last chapter. They made me happy. :) I'm so glad you liked it, and I hope you'll enjoy this chapter as well. I'm sorry it's a little late. I've been having a lot of computer issues, so all of this was written on my old and slow laptop. I think there will be one more chapter after this, but I'm not sure how long it will take for me to write that one because of said computer issues. Hopefully it won't be too long, though! :)
Big thanks to Suilven for beta reading.
It's been two months, three weeks, and five days since Shepard stood at the bottom of the ramp leading up to the ship that would take Garrus away from Earth, and watched him disappear behind the airlock doors. Yet, it is only now, when he lifts a shaky hand to stroke the curve of her cheekbone with the back of a finger, that it hits her, it really hits her, how desperately starved she's been for his touch.
His caress leaves a tingle in its path that spreads down to her chest, and she closes her eyes with a sigh, turning her face into his hand as she seeks more of that familiar warmth on her skin.
"Are you all right?" he asks. His voice is weak, coarse, from lack of use and the lingering effects of the sedatives, but it still has that soothing timbre she's come to love so much, and the vibration of his dual tones still feels like a fuzzy blanket wrapped around her shoulders on a cold winter night. "You didn't escape your doctors before you were all healed up just to come here, did you?"
Shepard laughs, her eyes sparkling with affection as she opens them again to look at him. It's so him, so Garrus, to worry about her health while he is lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to an IV and surrounded by a host of machines.
"I'm fine," she says, and she takes his hand, weaving her five fingers in among his three. "Which is more than I can say about you. Weren't you the one who was supposed to be able to run away from an explosion?"
He lets out an embarrassed cough and glances away for a second, but his mandibles flick out in a smile when he returns his gaze to her. "Yeah, well. I didn't say I could run fast enough." His expression turns somber as his eyes drift away from her face once more and slide around the room, taking his environment in. "How long was I out? Everything is fuzzy from the moment they wheeled me into the operating room and prepped me for surgery."
"I'm not certain. Several weeks, for sure."
"Weeks… Did you say weeks?"
"Yeah. Your dad can tell you all the details." Speaking of whom… Shepard frowns, remembering her agreement with Castis. Shit. "I'd better let him know you're awake."
The truth is, she doesn't really want to. A selfish part of her brain tells her to wait, to squeeze in just a few more minutes of having Garrus all to herself before she makes the call, but after all the kindness Castis Vakarian has shown her, that would be an asshole thing to do, and she's not an asshole—well, not always, and certainly not with people she respects. So, she lets go of Garrus's hand and turns her wrist to start up her omni-tool, hoping that, at least, it will be a while before Castis can get back to this room.
Sometimes, she gets lucky. Sometimes, she does not. This is definitely one of the not-so-lucky times, for, before she can even initiate the messaging program, the door slides open and Castis walks in.
"I got you coffee and something called a… muffin?" he says, eyes focused on the writing on the tissue paper the small bundle he's holding is wrapped in.
Shepard's eyes snap to the treasure in his hand. Ooh. A muffin. It's been a while since she's had one of those. But also, dammit.
She rises from her chair to take the goodies he's brought her from the cafeteria (and feels like an asshole after all for even thinking of not telling him the good news right away).
"I was just about to call you. Look who's awake," she says, and just manages to catch her snacks from Castis's hands when he finally looks up and nearly drops the cup and the muffin on the floor.
"Garrus." His son's name is a gasped whisper, stunned and delighted, on his tongue, and he hurries to the bed, ignoring the hot liquid sloshing onto his hand as he leaves the food and drink in Shepard's care.
Garrus lets out a startled huff of air, his eyes snapping to Shepard in utter shock as his father bends down and wraps an arm around his shoulders, pressing their foreheads together, and she grins back at him, throwing him a wink before she turns away and settles down in the armchair with her meal. She doesn't want to intrude. She'll let them have their moment for now; there'll be time for her to talk with Garrus later.
There'll be all the time in the world now.
The father and son reunion gets interrupted anyway when, in a few minutes, first a nurse, then a doctor rushes in, alerted by the change in Garrus's vitals on the nurse station's monitors.
After a physical exam and a few questions to gauge Garrus's brain functions and his mental cognition, the doctor declares his recovery a success. Well, mostly.
"I want to keep you under observation for another week to make sure there are no remaining issues," Dr. Tollen says, scrolling through the scans on his datapad. "After that, if everything looks good, you'll be discharged. Your wound is healing nicely, and you can finish recuperating at home. Just keep in mind that you'll still need to take some medications and apply an ointment to your scar, and it will be some time before you fully regain your strength. Physical therapy and gentle exercise will help." He glances at Castis, then at Shepard, then he turns his gaze back to Garrus. "Luckily, you have friends and family who can provide assistance."
Shepard nods. "Absolutely. It's why I'm here."
"You must be thirsty. I'll bring you some water," the nurse says, turning off one of the machines by Garrus's bed.
Garrus's eyes light up. "And something to eat, too. I'm starving."
"That's a good sign." Dr. Tollen's mandibles flicker as he lets out a pleased chuckle. "Just some mashed fruit today, but from tomorrow, you can start having regular meals."
He makes a gesture to the nurse, and she taps a few buttons on her omni-tool before they both leave.
Garrus closes his eyes, leans his head back into his pillow, and sighs.
"Mashed fruit. Great."
Despite Garrus's assertions that he's fine, that he's much better, and maybe he could bargain down that extra week in the hospital to a few days, he's obviously not nearly ready to go home.
It's not just that his muscles are weakened after so many weeks of lying in bed; right now, the bigger issue is his general grogginess and slight confusion when he wakes from dozing off, which he does again and again—all side effects of the medications and the sedatives that still need to clear from his system.
Still, when he's awake, and after those initial moments of confusion, he's alert and lucid, and wants to know everything that has happened while he was out. So, in between his naps, his father relays the messages his sister has sent these last few weeks and tells him about his investigations; Shepard talks about her trip to Palaven; and the two of them fill him in on the underground base they found in the woods.
Garrus nods at the news of Talim Odren's arrest, but Shepard can see the disappointment in his eyes. Whether it's at the fact that Palaven First's leader is still alive, or that he wasn't there to participate in the mission and kick his teeth in during his capture, she's not sure, but she has an inkling that it's the former. Or maybe it's both. Either way, she understands. She'd feel the same way if she were in his shoes.
By the time evening rolls around, they've told him everything he's missed, and he looks like he's ready to go to sleep again.
"Well," Castis says when his son's eyes seem to refuse to stay open any longer, "I think it's time for us to leave and let you sleep. We'll see you tomorrow."
He gets up from his chair and flicks his gaze to Shepard, nudging his head at the door, but Shepard doesn't budge from her seat.
"Actually," she says, crossing her legs, "I'd like to stay."
The plates over Castis's eyes rise a fraction of an inch as he gives her a curious look, but after a moment, he inclines his head in acknowledgement. "All right. Do you need anything from home? I could bring it in tomorrow morning."
"Thanks, but I think I'll swing by sometime during the day to grab a few things myself. Appreciate the offer, though."
Castis nods and heads for the door, but before he steps through, he turns around. "Good night, Garrus. Good night, Kathryn."
Shepard smiles. "Night, Castis."
The door closes behind him with a hiss, and after that, the room falls silent.
Shepard glances at Garrus, expecting to find him asleep. Instead, his eyes are wide open, his mouth slightly agape as he stares at her.
"What?" she asks, her brows sliding up on her forehead.
"Have I woken up in a parallel universe?" he says, sounding genuinely befuddled. "Castis? Kathryn? Where the hell did that come from?"
Shepard laughs, and pulls her chair closer. "Our relationship has… evolved while you were sleeping. Your father even invited me to stay at your house. In your room, in fact." Her lips quirk up, eyes crinkling with glee as she gives him a sly grin. "I've actually been sleeping in your bed for a while now. It's not the same without you, but hopefully we can remedy that in a week."
Garrus growls, and reaches for her hand. His grip is without its usual power, but his gaze is as intense as ever.
"That does it. I want to go home now."
"You again," Thalia says later that night when she finds Shepard sprawled out in the armchair, taking the chance to sleep in her old spot while Garrus is doing the same in his bed.
Shepard rubs her eyes, and yawns. "Yep. Me again. Garrus woke up, did you hear? Which means that you're gonna have to put up with me until he's released and he can come home."
"Fantastic." Thalia groans in mock annoyance as she putters around in the room, checking the monitors and adjusting the blanket covering Garrus's body, but by now, Shepard knows better than to take the turian's grumbling seriously.
"Admit it, you missed me," she says, cackling at the dismissive snort Thalia huffs out through her nose.
"Whatever. You know the routine. Just stay out of my way." Thalia finishes her tasks, but before she leaves, she throws a look at Shepard over her shoulder. "Have you eaten?"
Shepard has to think for a moment. Yeah, she did, though that was hours ago.
"I had a muffin from the cafeteria."
"A muffin." Thalia shakes her head. "What did I tell you? You can't live on stuff like that. I'll get you some soup."
Before Shepard could protest (not that she would really want to; she's kind of hungry now, to be honest), the nurse slips out the door.
"Shepard? Kate?" Garrus calls out, voice wobbly, uncertain.
"I'm here." Shepard drags herself out of the armchair and pads over to his bed. "Sorry if we woke you up."
"Yeah. The night nurse came in. She and I had a little chat."
"Oh. All right." He closes his eyes for a moment, then opens them again. "I thought I was back in that deep sleep. You know, like before. I heard voices then, too. You, my father, some people I didn't recognize. But mainly you."
"You heard me? I've wondered if you did."
"Yeah. I couldn't understand everything, but… yeah. I heard you talk. There are only bits and pieces I remember, though. It was more like a feeling of you being there. Always by my side." He raises a hand, and she takes it, holds it close to her heart. "Thank you for that."
"You don't have to thank me." She smiles, and bends down to press a kiss to his knuckles. "You would have done the same for me. In fact, you've done more."
"Hmm." He looks thoughtful, like he's pondering something, as he rests his eyes on her face. "I think… It seems like you said something important once. Something very important. When you were talking to my father. What was it?"
Shepard's brows furrow as she tries to recall everything she's said since she came here. She blabbed on and on about so many things; it's hard to know—
She swallows, her cheeks heating up as the confession she blurted out to Castis on the day of her arrival flashes up in her mind. Could that be what Garrus is talking about? She meant every word, even if it was a revelation as unexpected as a snowstorm in the summer heat on Mindoir. Yet, sentiments like those are not something she finds easy to share. She's certainly never said anything like that to anybody else before, and the thought of saying it now, even to Garrus, makes her stomach clench and her throat go dry.
She sighs. Commander Freaking Shepard. Afraid to say those three little words to the only person in this universe who matters; the only person she's ever actually had these feelings for.
It's stupid, and it's ridiculous, but she can't bring herself to do it. Not here, not now.
"I, uh, I don't know," she lies. Well, practically, it's not a lie. Whatever it is he heard, it could have been anything, really. "I talked about a lot of stuff while you were out. About our missions, about the places we have yet to visit… I read you some books, too." He looks unconvinced, so she lifts her shoulders in a shrug and adds, "Maybe you'll, ah, remember later."
He closes his eyes and drifts off after that, and Shepard is left standing by his bed, looking down at him sleep, wondering what his reaction is going to be when, one day, she does tell him.
Now that he knows that Garrus will be all right, Castis spends more time at work and less time at the hospital. He still comes to visit every day to check on him and to give Shepard the chance to take a break and buy some food in the cafeteria, and he tries to stay for at least a chat before he leaves, but most of the day, Shepard and Garrus are alone in his room.
She helps him eat, holding the cup and the fork, and lifting his food and drink to his mouth when his arm gets too tired, gives him support when, slowly, carefully, he gets out of bed to go to the bathroom, and moves his legs and arms for him as he lies in bed, just like he did for her all those months ago, to encourage his muscles to start building up again.
At night, Shepard sleeps in the armchair. During the day, she sits by Garrus's bed or walks around in his room. They talk (when he's awake), and she reads to him, and sometimes, they just share the space without saying anything at all.
It's on the fourth day of Garrus being awake, during one of those times when Castis is sitting right there with Shepard, that Garrus remembers the Normandy.
"How's the crew?" he asks. "Still running that mission with Williams?"
For a moment, Shepard is quiet. It's been a while since she's thought of her crew, her ship. The reminder of what could have been cuts like a knife; and yet, if she had the opportunity to make that choice again, she would. Every time.
"She's the permanent CO now," she says, forcing a smile. "I'm sure she and the crew are doing a fine job, wherever they are."
Now it's Garrus's turn to be speechless. He stares at her, his mandibles twitching in agitation. "You lost the Normandy?"
"I didn't lose it. Hackett offered the command. I declined."
"Because that would have meant having to wait for their return. And then being sent on one stupid mission after another. You know how Hackett is."
One corner of Shepard's lips turns up in a lopsided grin. She hopes it's convincing enough and Garrus can't see the sadness behind her eyes.
But, of course, he does.
"I'm sorry," he says, his voice so soft she can barely hear him. "I know how much you loved your ship. How much you wanted to fly her again. You didn't have to give that up for me."
In her peripheral vision, Shepard can see Castis's head turn towards her, but she can't spare the time to pay attention to him now.
"Garrus," she says, laying her hand on his forearm. "You're more important to me than anything else, anybody else, in this entire universe. The Normandy is just a ship. You are… my best friend." My everything. "You'll always come first. No regrets."
Garrus looks at her, just looks at her, with that same expression he gave her in London before she ran to the beam. "I… don't know what to say."
"You don't have to say anything. The only thing you have to do is get better."
"Yeah... And when I do, we'll find you another ship. An even better one. You'll see."
Shepard smiles. "Okay."
It's only later, once Garrus is asleep, that Castis makes a comment. It's on his way to the door, before he leaves for the night.
"I'm glad Garrus has someone like you in his life," he says. His expression is solemn, but his voice is warm, soothing.
Shepard's lips curl up. Who would have thought, when she first came here, that one day Castis Vakarian would say things like that to her?
"I'd be lying if I said I've always dreamed of having a human for my son's mate. Still… I don't think he could ever find anybody better than you, turian or not."
"I, uh…" She blinks, glances down at her feet, then back up again. What can one say to that?
Castis, however, doesn't seem to need a reply.
"You should tell him how you feel," he says, then he walks out, not looking back.
He's already gone, the door panels closed tight behind him, by the time Shepard finds her voice.
"Yeah. I will. Someday."