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Love in the Time of Reapers

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“They found Shepard,” says Miranda. “She's alive.”

Garrus has never been a fan of Lawson, not even after she turned her back on Cerberus, but right now he could kiss her. If she weren't in a different star system, her voice tinny through the patched-together comms.

“My ship's been hit, but we're not far from where they've taken her,” Miranda continues. “I'm on my way.”

Who better than the woman who spearheaded Project Lazarus to oversee Shepard's second resurrection?

“Send me the navpoint. As soon as the Normandy is space-worthy again, we'll be there.”

“Understood.”

Tali breaks down crying when she hears the news, the filters in her suit whirring as they try to cope with the extra moisture. Liara's cry of 'By the Goddess!' isn't nearly as annoying as it usually is. Kaidan slumps against the nearest bulkhead like a mech with its power gone. Vega punches the air, hugs Cortez with a cry of 'Yeah, Lola!', and immediately goes outside to haul in more of the mineral ore they're using for repairs.

“I heard,” says Joker without turning around, before Garrus has even set claw fully in the cockpit. “Get the Normandy back in one piece and I'll get you there.”

EDI had been prudent enough to make a full backup not long before the final battle, but they haven't been able to access it. For all intents and purposes, she's dead now, the Normandy 'just' a ship.

Garrus retreats to the outside and gets to retrieving iridium ore with Vega, Daniels, Connelly and several crewmembers more. The work is hard, but there's jokes now and relieved laughter and plans to go out drinking when they get back to civilization.

Shepard's alive. That's all that matters.

 

--- ***---***---

The Horsehead Nebula was never fully harvested by Reapers, and it's close to the Sol system, making it obviously the best choice for taking Shepard to a proper medical facility. The Normandy limps there, half-fuelled by the hope of its crew.

The inner circle, as Traynor solemnly calls it, the ones who'd been at the party in the Citadel and returned to the Normandy after, troop together to the hospital, all but ignoring the attempts at congratulations by a station official. There'll be time for congratulations later, once Shepard is on her feet.

Doctor Chakwas gets to the door first, Garrus on her heels. Miranda is standing there, with a salarian doctor to her right.

“Where is she?” asks Garrus. He'd half been hoping that Shepard would be there to greet them, but no, of course not. Humans are soft and squishy and need long recovery times. He can be patient.

Miranda doesn't answer immediately.

“Commander Shepard is in our best intensive care unit,” answers the salarian doctor instead.

“Status?” asks Doctor Chakwas, and Garrus recognises that tone of voice from that time after Omega when he had faded in and out during surgery.

“Burns to 75 percent of her body. Damage to both lungs, liver, left kidney, and small and large intestines. Left tibia broken in three places. Left ulna broken in two. Possible exposure to oxygen-deficient atmosphere.”

“She was at the centre of the Crucible beam,” Miranda adds. “It killed all the cybernetics inside her.”

“Shit,” Alenko murmurs at the back of the group.

“Evidence of brain damage?” Chakwas presses on, bless her.

“No evidence yet,” the salarian doctor answers. “Heavily sedated. But 93.6% probability considering the extent of the cybernetic implants. L7s very closely entwined to non-redundant brain processes. Plus lack of oxygen, of course.”

“It took the crew of the Defiant a day to find her in the wreckage,” Miranda explains. “The environmental controls in what was left of that part of the Citadel were shot to hell.”

“But... she's going to be alright, no?” asks Vega, crossing his arms. “You brought her back from the dead once already. Can't be worse than getting spaced.”

“Very different situation,” huffs the salarian doctor, but Miranda smiles.

“We'll be doing all we can, trust me.”

--- ***---***---

 

For all he'd told Shepard that he always expected the worst, Garrus is caught by surprise by the diagnosis.

He remembers Alenko shaking his head at Anderson after the fight with Sovereign, then Shepard proving him wrong by emerging from the rubble under her own power. He remembers the scars on her face when she'd found him on Omega, the only traces of all that had happened to her after getting spaced (and he'd been to her funeral then!).

She'd joked about those, about 'matching scars' and how they made both of them 'more dashing'.

Liara immediately goes into Shadow Broker mode, conferring with Miranda on what resources they need and how to get them in the shattered galaxy they've found themselves in. Chakwas is sharing information with the salarian doctor, medical terms flowing back and forth.

“Sorry,” says the human nurse with the biggest quad, or the one who drew the short straw. “Only one visitor at a time allowed in our ICU. Perhaps you'd like to move to the waiting room?”

All of them are dirty, battle-scarred, exhausted, and most of them are armed. Garrus looks at their group and doesn't blame the nurse.

“Alright, back to the Normandy with all of you,” he says, over the noise of protesting. “You all need rest and the old girl needs repairs if you want to be presentable when Shepard wakes up. I'll let you know the moment there's any change.”

More protesting, but they all are exhausted.

“Just make sure they all get back to the ship and get some sleep,” Garrus tells Alenko, who stares at him for a minute and then nods.

Human and turian chains of command are not so easily comparable. Under the Hierarchy, Garrus is reasonably sure he outranks any Alliance Major, although then there's Alenko's Spectre status to take into account. But with Shepard gone, someone has to make decisions, and for all his promotions Alenko is not that good at it.

They can have that argument later. The Normandy crew marches out, and Garrus is gently but implacably escorted out to the waiting room.

“Can I at least see her?” he asks the human nurse.

“Best not, right now,” she tells him gently, putting a cup of dextro tea in his hand. “We're keeping her in a sterile environment while her burns heal.”

--- ***---***---

 

“Patching you through to Admiral Hackett,” Joker's flat voice says, and the old man's face resolves on the small screen of the waiting room's comm terminal.

“Admiral.”

“I can't believe she pulled through.” The admiral sounds as exhausted and shocky as Garrus feels. “Her medical files are enough to give anyone nightmares, but damn it if she's isn't holding on.”

“Yes,” says Garrus.

“You trust Miss Lawson to be in charge of her treatment?”

“Yes,” Garrus repeats, more firmly this time. “She and Doctor Chakwas know Shepard's condition better than anyone.”

“Alright, then. Feel free to request any Alliance resources you need.”

'From what little we have,' Hackett doesn't say, but Garrus hears it regardless.

“Thank you, Admiral.”

“Commander Shepard left a message for me in case she was... incapacitated,” the admiral continues. “In it, she requests that you be put in charge of the Normandy and her crew.”

Garrus feels like he just took a concussive shot to the head. At the same time, it's an explanation that feels like medigel on the niggling injury that it had done to his pride the fact that Shepard hadn't chosen him for the final run to the Beam, leaving him behind in the ship instead; if he was her chosen replacement, it made all the tactical sense in the galaxy to keep him safe.

“Slightly irregular, but then again, what has she done that isn't? And since apparently you've been acting as her XO all this time...” Hackett continues. “I've signed my approval.”

“But, shouldn't Major Alenko...?” Garrus starts to protest, though he doesn't know exactly why.

“Yes. Then again, he technically shouldn't have been serving under a lower-ranked officer in the first place.” The admiral manages a small smile. “Take it as a temporary measure while Commander Shepard gets back on her feet.”

“Yes, sir,” Garrus replies, almost automatically.

“Keep me informed. Hackett out.”

--- ***---***---

 

Sir,
I am writing this message to be sent to you in case I am incapacitated or KIA. I would like to propose Garrus Vakarian to take charge of the Normandy and the rest of mission in my absence. He is an excellent leader and I have no doubt he will see the war against the Reapers through to the end, and that the crew will follow him anywhere. I know I would. There is honestly no one else in the galaxy I'd rather see take my place.
Commander A. Shepard

Garrus feels his mandibles trembling as he finishes re-reading the message Hackett had forwarded to him. Damn that woman! How could she spring something like that on him?

The message is marked as having been written almost two months before. Before their date on the roof of the Presidium. Before their night together in her apartment in the Citadel. Before Garrus had been sure where he stood with Shepard as a lover, but well after it had been established that there was no in the universe he trusted more than her.

“... the crew will follow him anywhere. I know I would.”

“Here,” says the human nurse, putting another cup of dextro tea on the table besides him. “Looks like you need it. Miss Lawson managed to get in contact with the galaxy's foremost implant specialist and she's in a conference with Doctors Falin and Chakwas.”

“Thank you.”

Warm beverages are a human mode of consolation. Garrus must look at least half as chagrined as he feels for the nurse to have noticed.

Movement at the door to the ICU catches his eye, and he sees Miranda striding out of there. Her hair is dull and limp, and there's a burnmark in her suit. Garrus hasn't even asked how she got alive out of the Battle of Earth, and he promises himself he will, in just a moment.

“Well?” he asks instead, and Miranda chuckles tiredly as she drops into the seat besides him.

“She's... stable. With her burns and major injuries healing, we can focus on the cybernetics damage.”

“How bad is it going to be?” asks Garrus, talons flexing around the cup of tea.

“I don't know,” Miranda sighs. “Last time, the brain was intact. And she didn't have anything other than the L5 implant. We're only just now piecing together what the Crucible did, let alone how direct contact with it could have interacted with the amount of cybernetics she had... has.”

Garrus doesn't mention the faux-pas. Shepard is alive. She is alive.

“How are you?” he asks, because Miranda may not be a part of the Normandy crew any longer, but Shepard always treated her as such, and Shepard had trusted him to step in her place.

“Alive,” Miranda says, and laughs. “Surprisingly enough.”

“You look exhausted,” Garrus tells her. “Go get some rest. Liara can deal with resources and Doctor Chakwas won't move from Shepard's bedside.”

“Who died and made you captain?” Miranda asks with a chuckle, then winces. “Sorry, I...”

“Like I said, you're exhausted,” Garrus says. “And Shepard isn't dead. Get some sleep, this project is going to need you at your best.”

Miranda gives him a long look, then stands up.

“I guess you're right. Contact me if anything changes. And trust me that I'm going to throw these same words back at you soon.”

Yes, Garrus is exhausted. He's aching, hungry, sleep-deprived, and there's a shriek of grief lodged in his chest that will turn loose if he lets it. But Shepard left him in charge, so he fires up his omnitool and starts making arrangements for materials and engineers to be delivered to the Normandy.

When Shepard wakes up, everything is going to be just like she wanted it to.

 

--- ***---***---

It's been two days since they arrived at the Fortuna system. Garrus has slept once, strong-armed by Miranda and Chakwas into an uncomfortable cot in a corner of the waiting room. Engineers are working on the Normandy.

Shepard hasn't woken up.

“I guess you can see her now, for a minute,” the human nurse tells him. “Doctor Falin is in surgery.”

Garrus' first thought on entering the room is that they've made a mistake, and he starts to back out of the room only to stumble on the nurse still standing there.

The arm poking out from the pile of bandages and wires on the bed has plates, almost like his own. But the pattern is familiar, and he soon realises it's the design of Shepard's armour, seared into her skin by the Reaper beam.

“You shouldn't try to touch her yet,” the nurse warns him in a low voice. “Her burns have healed and there's no longer risk of infection, but the new skin is... delicate, still.”

Garrus doesn't need to turn around to know she's looking at his gloved talons. He'd tell her that he learnt how to clutch at Shepard without hurting her, but right now he doesn't trust himself with the fragile creature on the bed.

He stands there, by the doorway, unable to come any closer, until the nurse's omnitool chimes to say the salarian doctor is out of surgery and she hurries Garrus back to the waiting room.

 

--- ***---***---

Tali is distraught.

“I can't leave Shepard!”

“Tali, you're an admiral” Garrus reminds her. “The Fleet needs you. Rannoch needs you. The few geth that are left need you.”

All geth in the Sol system had been disabled and wiped instantly when the Crucible fired, as well as all those in systems with mass relays. All that is left are a few servers that had been scattered in remote planets. They have more rebuilding to do than anyone else except for the batarians, and it's generally understood that the quarians will help with that.

“If you have found a ship that will take you to the Fleet, you should take it. I will let you know if there's any change.”

“Seriously, Tali,” Liara intervened. “This could... it could take months.”

“But Shepard will wake up and I won't be here! She'll think I don't care!”

“Come on, we all know she'd never think that. And Shepard of all people would understand that you have responsibilities elsewhere.”

“Think about it! Don't you want to have good news when Shepard wakes up?” Liara adds.

Tali wrings her hands in anguish.

“You'll tell me the moment she wakes up,” she says at last, her shoulders slumping in defeat. “And you'll tell her that you chased me out of here.”

“I'll tell her that you're out there, doing what she would if she were better,” Garrus assures her. “Promise.”

 

--- ***---***---

The human nurse is called Maria Llun and was born on a colony harvested by Reapers in the early days of the war. She's incredibly patient and warm, and goes out of her way to keep dextro tea and rations around for Garrus. She pities him, but Garrus is so wrung out he can't find it in himself to resent it.

He's made the acquaintance of other relatives of patients who've also made a home of the waiting room. This hospital, untouched by the war, is filled to bursting with those wounded whose families or militaries could afford to have them moved off-system for treatment. There's asari, turians, salarians, a handful of krogan, an elcor, and a family of drell that spend hours praying.

Every day some of them leave, either with a patient recovered enough to be released to their care or with a funerary procession, and every day more come to take their place.

Garrus has been here for almost three weeks. Shepard is alive. Shepard hasn't woken up.

The Normandy's repairs are almost done, at least those that can be made at that station, with the resources they have there. Soon she'll be back in flying shape at least.

“I can't leave her,” Garrus tells Admiral Hackett.

“I understand,” the man says. “Shepard wanted you to take the Normandy and finish the mission, but well, she did that. Now we just need the ship to mop up some Cerberus strongholds, go on milk runs, take materials to rebuild colonies... Alenko can deal with that.”

“Understood, admiral.”

Garrus has spent maybe a total of ten hours on board during the three weeks in which he's been in charge of the legendary Normandy. Shepard would be ashamed of him, but well, Shepard isn't in a condition to make smart comments, is she?

 

--- ***---***---

“Kaidan? Kaidan Alenko is going to be my new commander? Oh hell no!”

This has been the liveliest Joker's voice has sounded since Garrus forced him to disengage from the Crucible.

“Complain to Hackett if you don't like it,” he advises, looking at figures on the return of refugees to Palaven on his omnitool.

“Yeah, that'll go over well. 'Hey, admiral, I know you have nothing better to do than hear me whine about how the Alliance's golden boy not just held my commander at gunpoint once but also broke her heart'. Hey, maybe I can 'accidentally' flush him out of an airlock.”

“No killing your superior officers, Moreau.”

“Not even space him a little?”

“Shepard won't like it when she hears about it.”

“*If* she hears about it,” Joker corrects him, a sudden injection of bitterness in his voice. “Don't forget I've been with her since the beginning, Garrus. You don't have to sugarcoat things to me.”

“When she wakes up,” Garrus repeats firmly. “She will.”

A breath, then two.

“Yeah, alright,” says Joker, not entirely convinced. “I still don't like Kaidan.”

“Noted. Liara will stay on the ship too, you can count on her to rein him in if he gets too annoying.”

“And Vega will help me throw him out of an airlock.”

“What did I say about killing superior officers?”

“Aw, Garrus, is that stick up your ass growing branches again? You used to be so much more fun.”

“I doubt it.” Garrus takes a deep breath and looks up, unseeing, into the crowded waiting room. “How's EDI?”

Silence on the other end of the line.

“Nothing,” says Joker at last. “Tali left the, er, 'mobile platform' all fixed up, and Liara and Kaidan have tried installing the backup a million times, but... nothing.”

“Right.” Garrus thinks that 'nothing' is a pretty good way to describe what's going on with Shepard too. “Only one thing for us to do.”

“What, wait? Hope?” Joker's laugh is ugly. “Pray?”

“Make a bet,” Garrus says, and this time Joker's laughter is more genuine.

“What?!”

“You heard me, Moreau. If your girl wakes up first, you'll owe me a bottle of turian brandy... the good stuff, please. If my girl wakes up first, I'll find you a crate of Denorian beer.”

“Really?! That's morbid, even for you.” Joker sounds equal parts scandalised and amused.

“What are you, scared?”

“Fuck you, Garrus, you're on.”

“Thought so. Give my regards to Major Alenko.”

Joker makes a gagging sound.

“I want to know the second something's up with Shepard, you hear me? I'll bring the Normandy up to her window so she can see how we fixed her up.”

“I'm not sure the hospital will approve, but yeah, I will.”

 

--- ***---***---

Between Liara and Miranda they manage to bring to hospital one of the finest surgery robots in the galaxy, and the implant specialist sets about removing the burnt-out cybernetics from her half-destroyed lab in Thessia.

They won't be able to replace them all, but Miranda has insisted in putting in a new biotic implant, some newfangled thing Liara unearthed from a Cerberus lab, and though the salarian doctor protested ('More chance of brain damage! Up to 97.2 percent!'), Doctor Chakwas agreed that letting a biotic as powerful as Shepard wake up without a channelling implant would be unwise, not just for her but for everyone around her.

So now Garrus paces in a corner of the waiting room. The surgery has been going on for three hours. Doctor Chakwas estimated it could last all day and well into the night cycle.

Garrus shivers just to imagine it: the robot controlled by an asari light-years away cutting into already-scarred skin, digging microscopic metal filaments out of muscles, untangling them from nerve endings, unspooling them from around the tender human brain matter.

Shepard is alive. Shepard has been through worse. Shepard will survive this.

 

--- ***---***---

Shepard does survive the surgery, to the salarian doctor's reluctant surprise. She's still sedated into a coma while the new incisions heal and the implant settles in, but there are already mentions of weaning her off the sedatives.

Garrus sits in the waiting room and does what he can to help with the reconstruction efforts in Palaven. He answers messages from Primarch Victus, sends encouragement to Tali, checks on Joker every so often to make sure Alenko is still alive and the Normandy is still in one piece, dodges questions from Diane Allers, reads and re-reads the short notes his sister takes the time to send him every day.

Things have settled into some sort of abhorrent normality. It's normal to sleep a couple of fitful hours in a tiny rented room ten minutes away from the hospital, to take a dextro bar and a cup of tea from Maria when he arrives in the waiting room, to sit at his usual place (back to a wall, good lines of sight to all entrances) and make small conversation with the asari whose turian wife is having both legs amputated if they can stop the radiation sickness from killing her first. It's normal to be allowed to stare at the lump of bandages and scars in the bed for five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the afternoon. It's normal to feel a hard shriek of grief in his chest at all times, weighing him down.

Garrus hates it, and he hates that it's much better than the alternative.

 

--- ***---***---

He's enjoying/suffering his five afternoon minutes staring at Shepard’s bed when he hears hurried steps and a nurse's indignant squawk. Garrus doesn't take his sniper rifle to the hospital, obviously, but he has a pistol trained on the door before it opens.

“What were you planning to do with that sh- crap, tickle me with it?”

“Jack,” he acknowledges, lowering his weapon. “I didn't know you were coming. It's alright, Nurse Hunner, she's a friend of the commander's. We'll be out of here in three minutes, I promise.”

“We will?” asks Jack, stalking towards the bed. “Is Shepard going to kick us out or what?”

Garrus doesn't answer, just waits until Jack gets close enough to get a good look at the figure on the bed.

“The fuck.”

It is ugly, Garrus knows. The scars where armour was welded to the skin by the Reaper shot, bones protruding from all the weight lost during the coma, healing incisions from the surgeries, the almost unnaturally stillness, bruises in various stages of fading, wires and small hoses attached everywhere. It amuses some dark part of him that Jack, for all her violence and her past, looks more taken aback at the sight than any of the motherly-looking nurses.

“That's Shepard?” asks Jack, and her voice has taken a high pitch that Garrus recognises as fear.

“She's alive,” he says, clinging to that thought.

“You sure?” Jack pokes Shepard's arm, then winces and steps back even though there's no movement.

“Jack...”

“This is not...” Jack paces to the window, then back towards the bed. “They said she'd been injured, but that was weeks ago. Thought she'd be on her feet and kicking ass by now.”

They both look at the bed. Shepard looks no more capable of kicking ass than she does of sprouting wings and flying out of the room.

“Fuck.” Jack runs a hand through her hair. “Fuck. When is she waking up?”

“The doctors don't know.”

“She is waking up.”

Garrus doesn't answer. Jack isn't one for platitudes, and he can't make empty promises, not any more.

“Fuck.”

Jack stalks out as quickly as she came in.

“See, Nurse Hunner?” Garrus tells her with grim amusement. “Under three minutes.”

 

--- ***---***---

He's getting ready to leave for the night, weariness dragging him down more than the planet's gravity, when Garrus hears a shout and the sound of feet running from inside the ICU. It's not unusual, unfortunately, and Garrus tries to stomp on the flare of hope and fear that lances painfully through his chest. Maybe it's the asari matriarch's wife, or the elcor warrior. Maybe it's the salarian agent who arrived only that morning with a piece of shrapnel lodged through the brain.

He approaches the doors that look into the ICU and peeks in like the trained sniper he is.

The running doctors and hurrying nurses are originating from the door to Shepard's room.

“Spirits,” Garrus whispers, and grips the doors although he knows they won't open for him.

Spirits, please don't let her be dying twenty meters away from him when all he can do is pray.

For need to do something, he hits Miranda on his omnitool and seven minutes later she's at his side, hair tousled from sleep. They still can't do anything but watch, but it's somehow easier with company.

It's ten more minutes until Maria takes pity on their faces pressed against the glass and comes to talk to them.

“No, you can't come in,” is the first thing she says, and Garrus has had a Reaper shoot straight at him but he still feels the urge to shrink back from the human nurse. “She woke up for a moment, she's burning through her sedatives faster than Doctor Chakwas' data had led us to plan for.”

“Is she alright?”

Maria hesitates a moment.

“She was... disoriented,” she says gently. “Doctor Falin is running some tests on her while the new dose of sedatives gets to work.”

97.2 percent is the kind of odds Shepard is accustomed to turning on their head, but this might be pushing even her legendary luck.

“There was no biotic backlash, though?” asks Miranda.

“The room is still standing, so no,” the nurse replies. “Now go and sit down, I'll have the doctor get back to you as soon as he's done with the tests.”

Miranda and Garrus both take a seat with an unimpeded view of the entrance to the ICU.

“She was pretty disoriented when she woke up in that Cerberus base too, you know?” she says.

“Yes, I read the reports,” Garrus answers, not enough space in his mind for the usual fury he feels towards Cerberus.

“Brain damage might not... it might not be extensive,” Miranda adds after a minute. Her hands are clenched, white-knuckled, on her lap.

Or it might be devastating, enough that the only solution is a mercy kill couched in medical terms. Garrus has been doing research on his omnitool, and the contrast between this and the last time Shepard had made him go looking into the extranet for questions concerning human bodies is enough to make even the most weathered turian howl.

 

--- ***---***---

The twenty-three minutes of waiting until Doctor Falin comes out of the ICU feel objectively longer than the five weeks Garrus has already spent in that waiting room. He keeps still, slows his breathing to the rhythm he adopts when taking a specially challenging shot, tries to ignore Miranda's fidgeting and unsteady breathing besides him.

He's on his feet before the doors have finished opening for the doctor.

“Still alive,” the salarian says, forestalling the most important question. “Highly resistant to sedatives, probably as a result of previous trauma. Experimental biotic implant working for now.”

Miranda and Garrus let out twin breaths.

“Not time for many tests before we had to sedate her again, but already can tell there was damage to the part of human brain responsible for speech. Not complete, though.”

This jumping from the high of hope to devastating lows of reality is worse than any ride on the old Mako, and Garrus has to raise a hand to his face to try and muffle the rumble of grief that rises unbidden from his twin larinxes. He barely feels Miranda's hand on his shoulder, Maria's soothing voice, the salarian doctor's uninterrupted explanations.

Shepard is alive.

 

--- ***---***---

It takes two days for the doses of sedatives to get low enough that Shepard is awake for more than seconds at a time. They still won't let Garrus or Miranda see her, insisting that it would agitate her too much.

“She asks after geth,” Maria told them in a confidential whisper as she handed Garrus the fifth cup of dextro tea of the day. “Every time. We still haven't had the heart to tell her about them all powering off like they say on the news.”

“Geth,” says Miranda in a low, contemplative voice after the nurse has moved away. “When was the last time she fought against them? Before we went to the Collector base. Could it be she's forgotten everything since then? Amnesia is a common side effect of brain damage...”

Before the Collector base. Before the first night they'd spent together. Garrus tries to imagine Shepard looking at him and not remembering that night, not remembering their meeting at Menae, not remembering their dates and their conversations and...

But no. Garrus can't afford to think like that. If Shepard has forgotten him, he can always remind her. His poor romantic skills served him well once, they can do it again. And even if they never get back to what they were, as long as she's alive...

Shepard is alive. More than can be said for the turian who left behind a devastated asari widow not five days before. Shepard is alive. It has to be enough.

 

--- ***---***---

The congratulatory messages arrive from all over the galaxy, and each feels like a taunt thrown in Fate's face. So much can still go wrong that the fact that Shepard can breathe on her own and keep her eyes open for seconds at a stretch feels more of a threat than a relief.

“I've convinced the doctor to let you sit with her for a while,” Maria tells him. “She's been waking up a little at all hours, so you might get to catch her awake, maybe even speak to her! Just remember to be soothing, she's still very agitated.”

Garrus doesn't know how to do soothing. He honestly doesn't think turians are designed for it, but for Shepard, he'll try.

They have her wearing bandages all over her arms, to hide the scars, and they've propped her up on a mountain of pillows. The respirator, with its irritating hissing, has been shut off, but there's still a large array of machinery beeping and whirring around Shepard.

Shepard, who is alive. Shepard, who looks tiny and breakable in that bed, with the shadow of old bruises all over what little of her scarred skin can be seen. Shepard, whose eyes are sunken in their sockets, closed, with the eyelashes clumped with tears.

Garrus takes a seat by the bed. He'd like to take Shepard's hand in his, but there's at least three wires clipped to her fingertips running to three different machines, and he doesn't want to disturb any of it. His mind is spinning in a hundred different directions at once, wondering what would happen if she had an attack of... something right now, what she'll say when she awakes, what he can say in response, how she got that ugly cut in her neck...

An hour passes. Maria and another nurse poke their heads in every five minutes or so, just to make sure Shepard is still breathing.

Garrus wonders if he should talk to Shepard, even though she's obviously unconscious. People do that in vids, artfully tearful asari clinging to the hands of their infirm lovers and spouting romantic confessions, not that he watches much of that if he can help it. What can Garrus talk about? Even unconscious, Shepard won't want to hear about the million and one ugly difficulties of having a galaxy torn to shreds. Or about Garrus' helpless rage and grief and despair. Or...

A gasp, a cough. Shepard all but convulses on the bed and before he can think about it Garrus is there, helping her sit up, holding her shaking shoulders in his hands.

“Breathe, Shepard,” he says in his best superior-officer voice. “Just breathe.”

Her eyes are watering when they turn to him, and Garrus feels suddenly very cold when it occurs to him she might not recognise him.

“G'rus?” she says then, voice hoarse and even so the best damn thing he's ever head. “T'geth. Did 'ey...?”

It hits him like a biotic shock, what she's asking. She's not reliving old battles or bringing a warning from the afterlife. She must have had some idea of what the Crucible would do once deployed, and now she's asking after its innocent victims.

“Some of them made it, a few servers full,” Garrus tells her. It doesn't occur to him for a moment to lie or try to sugarcoat things. “The quarians are helping them rebuild.”

Her head lolls back at this.

“Shepard!” he says sharply, and then Maria is shouldering him out of the way, and she and another nurse are pressing Shepard back into the pillows.

“It's fine, she's fine,” Maria tells him after a minute, patting his arm reassuringly. “She's out like a light again, but her readings didn't go too out of bounds. Maybe let her rest a little, get something to eat for yourself?”

Garrus is gently but firmly ushered out back into the waiting room, where Miranda pounces on him before he's finished giving a step.

“Well?”

“She woke up for a moment,” Garrus says, even amidst his shock delivering a report like he'd do to a general. “Recognised me. Asked after the geth. She wanted to know if they'd made it. She must have known some of what the Crucible would do when she fired it.”

“Oh, that's good.” Miranda closes her eyes and her whole posture seems to go liquid. Garrus hadn't noticed how tensely she'd been holding herself up before.

“Her speech was... slurred,” Garrus continued, replaying those moments in his mind to find out what details he'd missed the first time around.

“Can be the sedatives.”

“Coughing, difficulty breathing.”

“Definitely due to having spent so much time on a ventilator.”

“Lost weight,”

“Muscle mass loss due to all that time unconscious.”

“Heavy scarring.”

“Chakwas seems to think she can do something about that with the equipment Shepard brought on the Normandy while she was still with Cerberus.”

Garrus meets Miranda's eyes, and a grin seems to take over her whole face.

“Oh my god, she made it,” the woman says. “I should've known she would.”

 

--- ***---***---

Garrus spends the rest of that day making calls to all the people who'd asked to be kept informed, and writing a message to Rear Admiral Hannah Shepard. He tries to couch his words in the most prudent way possibly ('keep expectations low,' Miranda had told him before leaving to talk to the doctors), but some of the joy that is slowly permeating through his grief must show on his voice, even to species that are usually blind to turian body language and subharmonics, because what he gets in response is relieved laughter, happy tears, whispered prayers of thanks, and a reminder from Joker that he likes his beer dark like his future.

Shepard is alive. Shepard is awake. Shepard recognises him.

Garrus can feel envious looks from some of the other people who've spent time in this waiting room with him, but most of them come to smile at him and shake his hand, like they hope his luck (Shepard's luck, one of the strongest forces in the galaxy) is contagious.

 

--- ***---***---

With Palaven, C-Sec, Omega, and the Normandy on his resume, to say that Garrus has some experience with people of all races getting shot, hit, burnt, and hurt in all sorts of interesting new ways would be an understatement. Likewise, he also has a good idea about expected recovery times. But of course Shepard would be unique on this too, like in all things.

“Don't think you fully understand what she went through,” said Doctor Falin, typing at his omnitool fastidiously.

“I was there!”

“Not for most of it,” the salarian points out. “Astounding amounts of trauma. Humans hardy, but even so, full recovery very unlikely. And slow. Very slow.”

“But...”

“No hurrying. Difficult for patient already. Impatience will not help.”

“I know, I know.” Garrus sighs. “I just want to know how long...”

“Impossible to tell. Depends on many factors. Physical, mental, emotional. Support of partner also important for humans.”

The little salarian doctor couldn't be more pointed if he'd been holding an omni-blade to Garrus' neck.

“I know! I'm trying. It's just... I have a primarch, a matriarch, an admiral, a dalatrass, three councillors, and the whole crew of the best ship of the galaxy breathing down my neck. Can they visit? Does she want a medal, a promotion, a commendation? Can she give a speech? Can she give an interview? Does she want a political position?”

Finally Falin looks up from his omnitool.

“Yes. No, no, no. No. No. Absolutely not. Was there anything else?”

“You try telling them that,” Garrus chuckles.

“I will. My patient, my responsibility. Commander Shepard in no state to return to public life. Not for many months, if ever.”

Garrus feels cold again. He hasn't felt warm in who knows how long.

“But she is going to be alright,” he says, and even he can hear the pitiful question in his own voice.

“Breathing independently, able to feed herself, limited locomotion. Already doing better than expected.”

Shepard is alive, Garrus reminds himself. He feels like the worst turian in the galaxy when he finds the thought doesn't soothe him as much as it used to.

 

--- ***---***---

“Garrus.”

Shepard speaks slowly, with a small frown as she concentrates in making sure his name comes out clearly. She has been doing vocal therapy with an asari doctor, and if she concentrates the slurring is almost inaudible.

“Shepard,” he sighs, and takes a seat by her bedside, takes her hand in his.

Her hands shake minutely all the time now. They'd be no joy in beating her in a shooting contest in this state.

“Tali called,” she says after a moment. “Had a geth with. Very nice.”

Yeah, Tali had called Garrus right after, and even with the shitty connection he'd been able to hear her suit's filters working overtime to dry her tears away.

“That must have been nice. It's good geth don't seem to have any problem reusing empty platforms for systems that had been stored in servers before.”

Shepard smiles. In spite of the ugly scarring, her smile is almost the same as before and Garrus finds in it a joy that he'd never thought he'd find in something so simple. She'd been so worried about having wiped out the geth like she'd done the Reapers, it had taken almost a week of reassurances before she stopped asking about them every time she woke up.

“Hackett called,” she continues.

“Damn it.” Garrus' mandibles flare in annoyance. “I told the nurses...”

“Important for morale,” Shepard continues, and though her voice is still careful he can hear that she's echoing someone; Hackett, obviously. “Me. A ceremony.”

“You're in no state...”

“Said yes.”

“I'll call and say 'no', then. Doctor Falin will too. They have no right to, to, to emotionally blackmail you into this after all you've done for them! You're still recovering! Spirits, Shepard, you can't eat soup without taking a nap afterwards.”

“Said yes,” she repeats. “Going.”

 

--- ***---***---

“Grunt.”

The krogan looks ridiculously huge and unwieldy in the hospital room. And Shepard... Shepard looks tiny and breakable next to him, when before she'd seemed to tower over Grunt even though she was half his size.

Garrus looks away from the unsettling contrast and at Grunt's face. It's hard to read krogan's facial expressions when they're not murderously angry, but something happens in that craggy face when Shepard holds out a small, scarred, trembling human hand towards him.

“Not much of a battlemaster now, huh?” she says with what's probably her best attempt at a smile.

Grunt gives a step forwards, then raises a huge claw and slowly, with care that is almost painful to watch, fits it to Shepard's hand.

“Still my battlemaster,” Grunt says simply.

Shepard's hand grips the krogan's.

“Yeah?” she asks.

“Lots of babies in Tuchanka being called 'Shepard',” Grunt says with a chuckle. “Lots of swears in Tuchanka involve Shepard now. My battlemaster is the best battlemaster ever.”

Garrus would have never thought Grunt could be as gentle as he is when he puts Shepard's hand back on top of the covers.

“You want me to break you out of here, you say the word. Those windows break easy.”

Shepard breathes a laugh, her eyes shiny.

“Will do. Have a drink in my name.”

“One? There'll be no ryncol in this sad little planet when I'm done.”

 

--- ***---***---

 

“This is insane.”

Miranda hums her agreement, but she's also the one who's designed an exoskeleton that fits under Shepard's new Alliance blues and allows her to stand for long periods of time and maybe also walk a few steps, carefully.

Shepard doesn't answer. She's sitting in bed, humming. For some reason that has a lot to do with how strange human brains are, she finds singing a lot easier than talking, so she's been trying to memorise her short speech like a song. Traynor has been working on that speech from the Normandy as it speeds towards them, listening to some old recordings of Shepard and trying her best to get the tone right because the commander is in no shape to go making up inspiring rhetoric on the fly.

She's also in no shape to have a ceremony thrown in her honour, but that doesn't seem to stop her, or Hackett.

“It is important for morale. Rebuilding the galaxy is going to be long and difficult, and seeing their hero get the recognition she deserves is going to mean a lot to many, many people out there,” Miranda points out.

“I know,” Garrus says, subharmonics tight with frustration. “But she's just not ready.”

They both turn to look at Shepard. Her eyes have fallen shut and her head is lolling to one side. Having her awake for over half an hour is a rarity still.

“She wants to do this,” Miranda tells him. “It's important to her.”

“And she needs to be rigged with an exoskeleton and stims and a ghost-writer to do it! What happened to taking time to rebuild?”

Miranda crosses her arms.

“Garrus, I was there when you walked out of the infirmary the same day you had half your face blown off by a rocket. Shepard has been confined to a hospital bed for nearly five months. Do you blame her for wanting to do something?”

“Damn it. It's not the same. She needed me then.”

“And the galaxy needs her now. At least this time it's not about Reapers or Collectors or worse.”

 

--- ***---***---

Garrus had known that the Alliance wouldn't be the only one to want a piece of Shepard. Once word gets out that she's going to put in an appearance in a commemoration ceremony on Earth, Miranda gets to deal with invitations from the asari, salarians, volus, elcor, quarian, turian, and yes, krogan.

“Wrex...” Garrus starts; Miranda had left him to field this one.

“I know, kid,” the krogan says. “Bakara spoke to Shepard a week ago. But it would look bad if Shepard got to tour the whole galaxy and ignored the krogan, right? I promise it won't be anything too exhausting, she can just sit back and watch us all tell stories of wrestling with Reapers and pat all the babies.”

Garrus sighs. Politically, it would look awful if Shepard didn't go to Tuchanka, and he knows Wrex is a friend. And if Bakara has spoken to Shepard, she has likely noticed her condition and can plan accordingly.

“Alright, I'll see what I can do.”

“That's what I wanted to hear! I'll have my scouts be on the lookout for the Normandy after you're done with the softskins, then.”

The schedule as Miranda has arranged it would be gruelling even for a healthy human. How Shepard is going to get through it, Garrus has no idea. But maybe being back in the Normandy and out meeting people and seeing new sights (without anyone trying to shoot at her this time, hopefully) might be better for her than to be stuck in the hospital bed, wilting under Garrus' eyes while there's nothing he can do about it.

 

--- ***---***---

True to his word, Joker flies the Normandy so close by that the hospital's windows rattle. Garrus has helped Shepard sit near the window, and when the frigate passes by, she presses a scarred hand to the glass and grins.

“Hey beautiful,” he hears her murmur.

Garrus helps dress her in comfortable clothes and say goodbye to the nurses (Maria hugs him before they leave) and to Doctor Falin, who hums and haws disapprovingly all the while. Shepard is trying out the cybernetic exoskeleton, but Garrus still insists in all but carrying her until they are in view of the ship; then he steps back to hover at her elbow, suspecting that her pride wants Shepard to make her return to the Normandy under her own power, but still worried she'll fall at any moment.

The crew have all gathered as close to the airlock as possible, and a spontaneous cheer rises up when Shepard limps into view. She's grinning as hands grip hers, pat her shoulders, ruffle her hair; she hugs Traynor, who is crying, shakes hands with the engineers, smiles to a bowing Javik, leans into Liara, one arm around Tali's waist.

Garrus' subharmonics are pleased even as he worries that Shepard will be exhausted by all this.

After a few minutes, most of the crew return to their places, leaving Shepard and her 'inner circle' alone in the Starboard Observation Port. Garrus gently leads her to one of the chairs, settles her in even as she looks at the smiling faces around her with a beaming grin.

“Wait,” she says, a small frown on her brow. “Where's EDI?”

Well, shit.

Garrus doesn't look away from her face. He doesn't want to see the awkward disbelief and pain in the crew's faces. Shepard had asked after the geth repeatedly, and after the Normandy as a whole too, but she hadn't had the energy or mental powers to ask after each crewmember in particular, and Garrus... well, he'd forgotten to mention EDI, to be perfectly honest.

Instead of seeing the crew's chagrined expression, though, he's treated to the sight of Shepard's face going from a happy grin to devastating horror. It's not simply grief, not sadness at the thought of a comrade lost, but terror and guilt and a loathing so deep that Garrus immediately puts a hand on her shoulder like he would on a suspect about to draw a gun.

“Oh god,” says Shepard, her voice strangled, and a scarred hand rises to cover her mouth. “Oh no.”

“She left a backup,” Liara hurries to explain. “We haven't been able to install it correctly yet, but...”

Shepard's biotics flare into life, blindingly bright, and a low wail fills the room.

“Shepard!” Garrus snaps, and shakes the shoulder he's gripping with his talons.

There's panicked comments between the crew, barely audible over the rising, mournful keening.

Garrus lifts Shepard with one hand (so easy now that she's lost so much weight), ignoring the tingling of powerful biotics barely in control. He'd hope that Alenko had the foresight to get the crew out of the room, but he can hear shouted advice and reassurances, so he obviously hasn't. All of them trusting their commander won't hurt them, even under the circumstances.

“Hold her still, damn it!” he hears Chakwas say, and he holds the thrashing Shepard in a mockery of a hug as the doctor injects a sedative.

The biotics fade. Garrus is standing there, holding a limp Shepard in his arms, while their friends look on with horrified expressions.

“To the med bay,” the good doctor says. “Is this the first time she's tried to use her biotics with the new implant?”

“I don't think she was exactly trying,” mutters Vega, but he helps Garrus accommodate Shepard in his arms better.

 

--- ***---***---

“We might need to cancel the visits,” Garrus tells Liara as they watch Doctor Chakwas treat the bruises that his talons left on Shepard's shoulder.

“Are you mad? After the trouble of coordinating all the fleets and dignitaries and everything?” asks Miranda from the other side of the cot.

“You want to explain her having a breakdown like that in front of half the galaxy?!”

Miranda looks away.

“It might not happen again,” Liara intervenes in her soft voice. “The news about EDI took her by surprise, and...”

“And you think there won't be any more upsetting, surprising news waiting for her wherever we go?” Garrus interrupts her.

“It's up to her in the end,” says Miranda. “If she still wants to go, we can't very well lock her up and forbid her to do it.”

“All we can do is help,” agrees Liara, and shoots Garrus an apologetic look.

 

--- ***---***---

When Shepard wakes, the first thing she does is fix her eyes on the ceiling and call out for the AI.

“EDI?” her hoarse voice says.

“Shepard.” Doctor Chakwas approaches her with a certain understandable wariness.

“EDI, I am so sorry,” Shepard continues. “Didn't know. Didn't think. So sorry.”

“Shepard.” The doctor rests a hand on Shepard's scarred arm. “We'll get the backup working, I'm sure. How are you feeling?”

“Like I just killed a friend.”

“Commander, you didn't...”

“Not the first time, I guess.” Shepard tries to sit up, and Garrus steps forward to help her. “Feel fine. Headache. Dry mouth. Water?”

Liara appears with a glass of water while Chakwas runs her tests. Shepard is all but slumped against Garrus' chest.

“Need to talk to Joker,” she continues after draining half the glass.

“Shepard, I don't think...”

She ignores him and swings her legs over the edge of the cot. They've taken off her exoskeleton since it would be difficult for her to rest comfortably with it, and Garrus estimates she might make it to the door of the infirmary in the best of cases. He sees Shepard consider the same thing, shoulders hunched, then take a deep breath and turn her head towards him.

“Help me?”

He can see how much it costs her to ask, but even if it didn't... she's Shepard, his Shepard, and he couldn't refuse her a thing in his life.

They make it to the cockpit in silence, slowly. It would be more efficient for Garrus to carry her, of course, but he doesn't offer anything more than the support of his arm, so they limp to the elevator and through the CIC and down the long corridor to the cockpit, one shuffling step after another.

“Take a seat, commander,” Joker offers when they cross the doorway to his domain. “Maybe now you'll appreciate the leather chairs as much as I do. What a pair we make, huh?”

A forced smile and a bitten-off whimper as Garrus helps Shepard take a seat to Joker's left (not in the second pilot's seat, not after EDI had made it her own).

“Joker,” Shepard starts, still a bit breathless from the walk that two months before she would have covered in ten seconds. “I am so sorry.”

“Shepard,” he answers. “Are you kidding me? This isn't your fault.”

“Yes,” she interrupts him firmly. “Didn't know. Didn't think. Should have...”

“Should have *what*, Shepard?” Joker asks, turning his chair to finally face her. “Not taken the shot? Left the whole damn galaxy to the Reapers? I miss EDI, of course I do, but if it was between her and literally everyone else? Hell, she would have taken the shot herself.”

Shepard covers her face with her scarred hands and lets out a small sob. Fortunately, no biotic fireworks follow.

“Not her choice,” she says. “Mordin, Legion, even Thane... but not EDI. She didn't know.”

“Yeah, well, shit happens.” Joker wipes his eyes brusquely. “Like how I'm apparently going to have to fight you for the disabled seats in the Rapid Transport now.”

“Joker!” says Garrus, appalled, at the same time that Shepard lets out a watery laugh.

“Asshole,” mutters Shepard fondly, and reaches out a scarred, shaking hand to slap the pilot's arm.

Instead, Joker grabs her hand and makes a show of turning it over to examine it from all angles.

“Any of this going away?” he asks, like they're discussing docking manoeuvres.

“Probably not,” admits Shepard, and this is the first time Garrus has heard her acknowledge her new limitations. Back at the hospital, he and the nurses and Miranda had maintained forced cheer and optimism about the whole thing, allegedly for Shepard's benefit. Garrus wonders now if that had been a mistake.

 

--- ***---***---

 

James looks at Shepard's hands and lets out a long, low whistle. Garrus is bristling on behalf of her scars when the marine speaks.

“No sniper rifles for you for a while, Lola.”

Shepard follows his look, holds out her trembling hands, and lets out something that might be a laugh.

“Guess not.”

“A good shotgun won't mind, though,” Vega continues, like they are talking shop at the armoury before any other mission. “Or a submachine gun, those have shit accuracy anyway.”

“Yeah.”

“Pistol, for close...”

“No,” Shepard interrupts him, and her right hand closes into a fist. “No pistol.”

“You sure? Scars borrowed that sexy little thing you got after the trouble with your clone, you might...”

“No pistol,” Shepard repeats, and James holds up his hands in a gesture of surrender.

“Any reason for that?” asks Vega, because he wouldn't know tact if it shot him in the head.

Shepard forces herself to open her hand.

“Bastard made me shoot Anderson with one,” she grits out at last. "I'd rather not..."

“Shit,” says Vega. “OK, Lola. I'm going to respec a shotgun for you while you tour the rest of the ship, yeah?”

She looks at the bulky marine for a moment, and Garrus is almost sure she's trying to work out how to gently tell him that she's not going to be shooting people any more, but in the end she just smiles and holds out her scarred hand held in a loose fist. James bumps it with his own, ever so gently, and Shepard turns back to Garrus and motions him to help her move towards the elevator.

 

--- ***---***---

 

Shepard is little more than dead weight by the time they make it up into her cabin.

“Squeaky,” she says, turning her head towards her space hamster, and, “Fishies,” when they move past the fish tank.

She lets Garrus place her on the edge of the bed, and tries to move her limbs as he undresses her. Once, this process was a lot sexier, and Garrus tries not to feel bitter about that. They will rebuild their relationship just like the galaxy is rebuilding itself

Shepard is alive. If Shepard needs time, well, they have that now.

He pulls the covers over her and watches her yawn and blink sleepily.

“G'rus,” she says, and holds out a scarred, shaking hand to him.

He takes her hand in his talons and sits on the edge of the bed.

“You need to rest,” he tells her.

“Midday,” Shepard protests.

“You've had an exciting morning.”

The subharmonics in his voice are those of a parent trying to get an unruly child to rest, and Garrus feels a pang in his chest when he realises that his joke about turian-human babies will forever remain that, just a joke. He'd like to think he'd be a better parent than his father, at least.

It takes him a moment to notice that Shepard is tugging at his hand, so weak is her grip. There was a time when she could, and sometimes did, haul him bodily around, and now her whole hand is wrapped around one of his talons and he might as well not have felt it.

“Talk t'me,” she insists.

Garrus has spent the last few months dedicated to Shepard at all times, but for all that they've had remarkably little time to talk. It's all been medications, treatments, therapies, schedules, rest and more rest, with the occasional piece of galaxy news thrown in.

He piles a few of the pillows Shepard started keeping around her quarters for him against the headboard and sits on the bed next to her.

“What do you want me to talk about?” he asks, carefully dropping a hand to rest on her head; she has been letting her hair grow long while she's been in hospital and he likes playing with it.

“'nythin'.”

“Mmmm. Can I ask you something?”

“'nythin'.”

“Your mother...”

Shepard makes a sound that Garrus first takes for a cough and then realises is a chuckle.

“Didn't visit?” Shepard asks.

“No. I sent her a message and she wrote back, very appreciative of everything we were doing, but... Spirits, Shepard, even my father would have made the effort to visit me in hospital! Her ship was even in the same system for a while.”

Shepard flails until she can turn on her back, and most of the sleepiness seems to fade from her face.

“Mum didn't want a baby.” An odd movement that must be a shrug under the covers. “But dad did, so she had me and handed me over... then dad died, so grandma was to raise me, then she died and mum was stuck with me. I was never... what she wanted. Did biotic ballet, not biotiball.”

“... wait, you did biotic ballet?”

“'s why'm bad at dancing.”

Garrus blinks down at this uncharacteristically talkative Shepard. Did the last dose of sedatives have something odd in them?

“She's proud of me, in her way. We're just... not close. Embarrassing for her. She's expected to be all motherly and she can't. I don't hold it against her.”

Suddenly Garrus' own problems with his father seem much less important.

“Nap now?” asks Shepard through a yawn.

Garrus doesn't point out it was his idea first.

 

--- ***---***---

 

“Jacob!” says Shepard. And then, “Baby!”

“Hey Shepard!” says Taylor. “Meet my kid.”

Shepard holds out her arms from her chair and Taylor passes her the bundle of blankets and baby while Garrus watches closely in case she drops it. She's been working on her fine motor skills, but still gravity tends to get the better of her at times.

“Baby!” she says again, this time to the baby itself. “Not Shepard?” she asks Taylor, looking up with a frown.

“Nah, talked Brynn out of that one. Called her 'Ava' instead, y'know? Much prettier than 'Shepard'.”

Shepard grins brilliantly, then turns back to coo at the baby.

All things considered, Jacob is taking this new Shepard pretty well. When he looks at Garrus and holds out his hand for a greeting, he almost doesn't look pitying.

“Nice to see you again, Jacob,” Garrus says, shaking hands. “You and your wife are well, I hope?”

“Yeah, we are, thank you. But man, it feels good to be back on the Normandy, and with Shepard aboard, too!”

Shepard doesn't look up at this. All her attention is focused on the baby, which is making gurgling sounds and waving its tiny fists at her. She doesn't have the processing power to pay attention to two things at once, not any more.

Human babies are proportionally small, but disproportionately soft and squishy. Garrus is almost worried his very presence a foot away will hurt the tiny brown creature in Shepard's arms. Spirits, it's a wonder any of them grow up to adulthood!

--- ***---***---

 

Garrus feels bad for eavesdropping, but he reasons he'd feel worse if he'd left Shepard stumble through the Normandy late into the rest cycle alone. So he clings to the ladder in the vent that leads to the room that holds the AI core and keeps his breathing quiet.

Shepard has been there for ten minutes already when a whisper breaks the silence.

“Hey EDI.” A pause. “Don't know if you're here. If you can hear me. Joker said he swears you still listen sometimes. Maybe it's because he misses you so much. We all do. I'm sorry. So sorry. Didn't know, didn't think... wish I could've warned you.”

A shuddering breath that Garrus thinks hides a sob.

“Liara and Tali say everything is installed as well as it could be. That they don't understand why the personality core backup isn't working when everything else is. You know what I think? I think it's because you don't want to. You told me you finally felt alive and then I went and got you killed. And they brought you back and... it's scary, isn't it? I know. Maybe I wouldn't have woken up either if I'd been given the option. But then I wouldn't have met you. I wouldn't have found Garrus again. Joker could be dead.”

There's silence, so long that Garrus contemplates emerging from his hiding place to see if Shepard's fallen asleep.

“Please come back,” Shepard says, and then there's the hissing of the doors to the med bay opening and closing.

 

--- ***---***---

 

The so-called ‘victory’ tour is even more harrowing that Garrus expected. No amount of reports could have prepared him to see the desolation and destruction that the Reapers left behind. They hold ceremonies in the hollowed-out ruins of what used to be modern cities, mounds of rubble hastily pushed aside to make room for stands. The people they meet are hungry, with haunted eyes that have seen too much death. It’s obvious that every planet they visit is trying to put on its best face for them, and it’s also obvious that even that is not enough to hide the scars of war.

Other than that, it’s a pretty straightforward diplomatic mission. To fight boredom, Garrus has made all the ceremonies into a game to see where he can check more clichés: boring speech, inspiring speech, speech with worrying political connotations for the future, commendations bestowed upon Shepard, number of dignitaries that try to hit on her afterwards.

Shepard's speeches (written by committee by Traynor, Miranda and Liara) always follow the same pattern: thanks to the forces of whichever planet they are on (with a special mention of any groups they personally fought with and/or the members of said race who'd served on the Normandy), remembrance of the lost, reminder that they had achieved victory by working together as a galaxy, hope for the future.

All the stims and painkillers in the galaxy can't stop Shepard from all but collapsing when they go back to the Normandy, exhaustion bringing a fever to her cheeks, but she won't hear of cutting the tour short or skipping a few functions. And it's hard to argue with her when Garrus sees the faces of the people who meet her, the tears and the smiles and the pride. Even in her current state, Shepard is doing more for the galaxy than most people could ever hope for.

 

--- ***---***---

Garrus had been dreading going back to Palaven, and even though the ceremony went smoothly (Primarch Victus had abided by all the requests Miranda put forth on Shepard’s behalf, and his speech had been as short as it had been flattering to Shepard), the second part of the visit is a lot more fraught.

They’ve been in the rebuilt home of the Vakarian family for ten minutes and already Garrus is nostalgically thinking of wrestling with a rachni.

“I do hope you haven’t asked my son to marry you,” Castis says after one of the many pauses in the conversation.

Garrus sputters. Solana squeaks out a 'Father!'. Shepard only blinks at him.

“I’ve already promised him I'd be a one-turian kind of woman,” she answers simply, glancing at Garrus to give him a small smile. “But I know formal commitment is a much more serious and complex matter in turian society, so no, I haven’t. I thought I'd wait for him to ask the actual question.”

Garrus sputters again and sees Shepard frown and wonder why that wasn't that the right answer.

“You're his superior officer,” Castis tells her with the turian equivalent to a frown. “A well-bred turian would not ask someone above them in the Hierarchy to marry them. It's uncouth.”

“Wait, am I higher in the Hierarchy than Garrus?” Shepard asks.

All three turians in the room pause a moment to make mental calculations, then nod in unison.

“Huh,” says Shepard, before turning to her boyfriend. “Garrus, darling, will you marry me?”

Garrus looks at her, at the white knuckles in the hands she holds in her lap, at the burn scars on her arms that hide the smaller scars where she's been injecting stims to keep up with his family, at her smile that grows tighter with every second that passes with him silent, at her eyes fixed on him. Somewhere in the background, he can hear his father coughing and even that sounds like outrage.

Shepard is alive. Shepard is asking him to marry her.

“Why the hell not?” he answers, his subharmonics all over the place.

Solana gasps her affront and his father stiffens in his chair upon hearing his flippant response, but Shepard laughs and holds out a shaking hand to meet his.

“At least this time my line was better,” she tells him, fingers wrapping around his talons with such nervous strength that this time he feels it.

“You proposed in front of my father, after he explicitly asked you to not do that,” Garrus reminds her. Castis is sitting very still and hasn't exploded yet.

“See? Proposing and breaking the news to your family at once. Like taking down two mechs with one shot.” Shepard ventures a glance in his father's direction and lets out a giggle. “I think Joker's just made like ten thousand credits off various bets.”

“Congratulations,” says Solana, and how bad is it that she's the most diplomatic member of the Vakarian family?

“Thank you.” Shepard smiles at her, not letting go of Garrus' hand. Castis' silence doesn't seem to bother her, and honestly Garrus is so happy right now that it doesn't bother him either. “Anything about turian marriage traditions I should know about? Primarch Victus did say something about us borrowing his house if we needed it.”

“And you didn't get the hint?” Garrus asks her.

“Like I said, I was waiting for you to ask. I didn't even know I had a place in the Hierarchy until now. You'd think my turian boyfriend might have mentioned it before now at some point.”

“Didn't you notice that even turian generals were saluting you at the ceremony?” asks Solana.

Shepard shrugs.

“According to this salarian historian who keeps messaging me, I am the most decorated member of a Council race on record. Lots of people salute me these days.”

She probably didn't actually notice, too busy trying to stay upright and not look like she was about to pass out from pain and exhaustion, Garrus guesses.

Solana opens her mouth to speak, and Garrus hurries to interrupt her.

“We don't have to have the ceremony on Palaven,” he says, because at this point it isn't as if he can disappoint his father any further, and the visit ‘home’ has been excruciating enough as it is.

“Not on Earth either,” Shepard agrees, and they might as well be discussing fuel depots. “Do you want to elope to Thessia?”

“Considering the amount of asari who proposition you on sight, not really.”

“The Normandy is too small, and we've made enough of a mess of the Citadel as it is, so that leaves... Tuchanka and Rannoch?”

“Not Tuchanka,” Garrus says. “We're not having roast pyjak for our wedding dinner.”

Shepard giggles again.

“Rannoch it is. Tali better hurry up building that house... and we can have a geth as a celebrant!”

That at last gets a noise out of Castis, namely a choked cough. Shepard doesn't even spare him a look.

The visit to Palaven is looking up.

 

--- ***---***---

 

“I can't believe we're done with this tour,” says Joker as he limps into the Observation Deck. “Why is shaking hands with politicians worse than shooting husks?”

Miranda, all but slumped over the bar, lets out a grunt of agreement.

“The worst was the dalatrass,” says Garrus, pouring Joker a drink. “I hope the old hag retires soon.”

“Hear, hear.” Joker takes his glass then turns to look to where Shepard is curled in a chair. “So, where next, commander? Just say the word and we can run with Jack's idea and become space pirates. You'd rock the hell out of an eyepatch.”

“Next?” asks Shepard, her voice a thin thread that still manages to catch everyone's attention. “I think I should go back to hospital.”

 

--- ***---***---

 

The first person Garrus sees when he enters the sunny lounge is a turian woman. At first he thinks she's wearing a straitjacket, but a closer look reveals that it's a contraption to hold a baby close to her chest. She looks at him with amber eyes surrounded by the dark purple Port Raem marks (a crater where there used to be a bustling city, the survivors a mere few hundreds) then gives him a brief nod and walks away.

An asari is sitting by a window, and she gives a quick glance to his back (not admiring, no, looking to see if he's carrying a gun, the C-Sec officer in Garrus recognises) before losing all interest in him when it becomes clear he's not. Garrus feels less resentful at being asked to leave his weapon in the reception now.

Shepard is sitting in a corner, curled up in a chair that looks too big for her. She's looking at Garrus as he approaches, and smiles and holds out a shaking hand for him when he's close enough.

“You're here,” she says as if it were a delightful surprise.

“First one waiting in line at the reception,” Garrus confirms, and he's about to take a seat when he sees Shepard trying to scoot over, so he changes trajectory so he can share the huge overstuffed chair with her. “How are you?”

“Food is good. Bed is too soft. Miss the noise of the engines. Therapist is nice.” Shepard is counting with her scarred fingers. “Made a friend in my turian roommate.”

Garrus looks up to where the turian woman with the baby is drifting through the lounge.

“Yeah,” Shepard says from where she's virtually climbed into his lap, like she used to do in her cabin in the Normandy. “Sad story. All of us, sad stories.”

Hard to disagree with her on that, even though the results for the rest of the galaxy have been so good. Instead, he runs his talons through her hair.

“Oh,” she continues. “Cleared for testing new implant.” A scarred hand taps her left ear, whose eardrum was completely blown out in the Crucible explosion. “Hearing implant. Should be able to tune for your subharmonics. Tyla is going to teach me.”

“Is that a good idea?”

“Hearing implants are easy. Good test to see if I can get any more.” Shepard turns her head to bury it in his neck. “I know I miss a lot not hearing all your voice.”

“It is a very nice voice,” Garrus agrees, and he's thankful Shepard can't yet hear his flustered subharmonics.

 

--- ***---***---

 

Shepard's therapist is not what Garrus expected.

“Gravely: she should have been in therapy long before.”

“Probably, yes,” Garrus agrees. “But the galaxy has the bad habit of needing saving, and...”

“Pointedly: even before that,” says the elcor. “Abandonment issues from childhood. Survivor's guilt from the attack on Eden Prime. With great regret: Commander Shepard is a great military leader, but it takes an immense toll on her mental health.”

Garrus had known, to an extent, how decisions tended to weigh on her. He knew of her nightmares, of her regrets, of the many times she spent hours or days weighing options while trying to save as many lives as possible. They'd had a screaming row (their first as a couple) over her decision to hand herself in to the Alliance to be judged over the disaster of the batarian mass relay. Her reaction to EDI's death was a good example of how hard and how personally she takes every loss.

But Shepard was military and in the middle of a war. She refused to talk about her nightmares, handed in the reports of all her decisions, and carried on because there was no other option.

Until now. Now they have options. Now they have time. Shepard is alive, and now she can allow herself to fall apart under the weight of years of expectations and hard choices, without fearing that the galaxy or her crew will fall apart with her.

Garrus looks up to the elcor therapist.

“What can I do to help?”

 

--- ***---***---

 

Some days Shepard is well. She's affectionate, talkative, engaged in whatever conversation Garrus brings up.

Some days Shepard isn't so well. She's quiet, sluggish, forgetful, and easily distracted even when Garrus tries his best to bring up subjects that interest her.

Some days Shepard isn't well at all. She's tense, curt, cutting, and she won't meet Garrus' eyes no matter what they talk about.

This is one of those days.

“Diana Allers called,” she says, eyes on a datapad. “Wants to do an interview. Emotional interest story.”

Garrus takes the datapad cautiously. There's a picture of Shepard and him, taken probably by a bystander during the ridiculous chase in the Citadel: she's in her skin-tight dress and heels, gun slung across her back, and Garrus is helping her into a shuttle. Over this image there's already a headline: 'Love In The Time of the Reapers – The Shepard-Vakarian story'.

“This is ridiculous.”

“Already said yes,” Shepard continues with a shrug. “You don't have to.”

“Why would you...?”

“Happy, hopeful story. Might help.” A pause, and this time it’s not because Shepard has run out of breath. “I'm not ashamed.”

“Spirits, Shepard, do you think I'm ashamed of you, of what we have? Of course not, it's just...” Garrus takes a calming breath, modulates his subharmonics. “You know I'm not one for public displays. And being plastered all over one of the biggest ANN programmes...”

“You're with me. Already been in all the tabloids.”

“Not willingly!”

“Chance to set the record straight and say things our way. I trust Allers. Great job during the war.”

Shepard is not going to budge, Garrus knows this, but the thought of parading this wonderful part of his life in front of the whole galaxy... Garrus would rather take another rocket to the face.

They are interrupted by hurried steps approaching. He looks up, expecting a nurse, and is surprised to see the turian woman with the baby all but running towards them.

“I need a minute,” she tells Shepard, her subharmonics so distressed that Garrus is not surprised the kid in the harness is kicking its legs and crying. “Spirits, please, I can't...”

“Alright, turn around, quickly,” says Shepard with the same tone of voice she used in the past when disarming bombs. Her hands shake, but she can still bypass a lock in a matter of seconds, and soon the turian woman is shucking off the harness, baby and all. “Go, go.”

Garrus is still trying to understand the situation as the turian woman runs away while Shepard begins to put on the harness.

“Hey there, little buddy,” Shepard says, running a scarred hand over the still-soft fringe of the baby. “Guess you're stuck with me again. Don't cry, baby, don't cry, don't cry...”

The sight of Shepard with a turian baby is so much worse than that of her with Jacob's kid, and Garrus feels like he's been hit with a singularity.

“What...?” he begins to ask, past argument all but forgotten.

“Tyla was sent away from Palaven because she was pregnant. They all died back there. She's alone now, and she hates... well, maybe not. But resents the baby for that.” Shepard runs a finger down the baby's mandibles, and its cries quiet down. “Not supposed to, but she needs time away from him. I help. She reminds me of my mum.”

Spirits, that is a grim thing to say.

“What's his name?” Garrus asks, because if Shepard is going to pretend this whole thing is normal the least he can do is cooperate instead of just sitting there with his mandibles drooping.

Shepard is silent for a long moment.

“Tyla hasn't named him.”

“What? But he must be several months old at this point!”

“Yeah.” Shepard holds the baby closer; the kid has settled down against her, apparently preferring softness and a not-flanging voice to the obvious distress of its own mother.

Garrus thinks back on the words of the elcor therapist about Shepard's probably-unhealthy hero complex and her pathological inability to let someone else's problems go unaddressed while stubbornly ignoring her own. Suddenly, the image of her with the small turian in her arms doesn't seem so sweet.

“Are you sure,” he asks, cautiously, “that you should be doing this?”

“I'm only holding a baby, Garrus,” she says, and even with his limited understanding of human body language he can tell Shepard is being wilfully obtuse. “Surely I can do this much still.”

--- ***---***---

 

The meeting with Allers has been… a lot less worse than Garrus expected. The woman is still as brash and inquisitive as she had been during the war, but something in her has softened, and she treats Shepard with the kind of exquisite care that Garrus has come to expect from almost everyone. Her questions are pointed but not unkind, and soon Garrus realises that yes, she is just trying to write a post-war interspecies romance for people all over the galaxy to feel better about themselves.

“Alright, but what I'm sure many people are asking themselves is... a human and a turian. Considering our species recent history, aren't there any problems between you two, or your families?”

“I don't remember my father because he and his brother were killed at Shanxi,” Shepard says, and Garrus must have read this when he first researched the crew of the Normandy SR-1, but he had forgotten it. “So yeah, if my grandmother were still alive she'd be none too pleased with my choice of boyfriend. But honestly? I don't care.”

Diana laughs dutifully.

“My best friends are a quarian and an asari. I am battlemaster to a krogan and an honorary sister to another. I was the first organic to negotiate with the geth since their war with the quarians, and I have the honour of calling the last living prothean a friend and a comrade in arms. So if the one person in this galaxy I trust, respect and love more than any other is a turian... so what?”

“That's quite the declaration, Commander.”

“I'm practising for my wedding vows,” Shepard says with a grin, and Diana coos.

Garrus feels warm down to his bones.

 

--- ***---***---

 

Garrus hasn't been a C-Sec officer for years, but he still recognises the knot of people near the door of the hospital at once, and he breaks into a run only to stop in front of the security officer keeping the crowd away.

“What happened here?” he barks, and his 'superior officer' voice must still work because the human straightens up at once.

Now that he's closer, Garrus doesn't need an answer, though. He can see the sluggish pool of blue blood on the pavement and the purple markings on a face wearing a surprisingly peaceful expression considering the twenty-storey fall.

“One of the patients from the clinic, sir,” the security officer answers. “Forensics is about to get here.”

“Cover the body in the meantime,” Garrus growls before sprinting to the elevators.

He expects... he doesn't know what he expects. Or, if he must be honest with himself, he does: he expects to see what he's seen so many times before, to find Shepard in charge of the situation, giving orders to people like Traynor moving virtual frigates on a board. But the group of people near the broken window has no Shepard, only doctors, nurses, a security officer, and a repair droid taking measures for a new pane of glass.

A closer look at the lounge reveals a lump in one of the chairs, a long-haired human curled up in misery. When Garrus approaches, he sees the straps of a harness on her shoulders and lets out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding.

“Hey,” he says, his voice as low and his subharmonics as smooth as he can make them.

Shepard looks up, her face tear-streaked and blotchy where she's been pressing it against the baby's fringe.

Words are so useless in these situations. Garrus scoops up woman and baby and sets them on his lap, rumbling loud enough that even Shepard can hear it from where she has her face hidden in his cowl.

An hour later, Shepard's sobs have subsided into sniffling and the baby is fast asleep.

“I hope she's at peace now,” Shepard says in a hoarse murmur. “But a selfish part of me is wondering, is it me? Do I just bring death with me? Can't I go anywhere without stuff like this happening?”

“Don't be ridiculous,” Garrus tells her, arms tightening around her waist for good measure. “Every single organic being in the galaxy owes its continued life to you. You were given a suicide mission and came back with your team and crew intact. It's not you, Shepard, it's war. People die.”

“They keep telling me the war is over.”

“Lots of injured still, both mentally and physically.” Garrus runs a hand through Shepard's tangled hair, down her scarred cheeks.

“She gave me the baby and I thought... well, I thought she just needed a moment.”

“It's not your fault.”

“I could have...”

“Shepard,” Garrus interrupts her firmly. “It's not your fault. I know sometimes the galaxy conspires to make you think you can fix everyone's problems, but you can't.”

 

--- ***---***---

 

Garrus (with help from exhaustion) has almost managed to calm Shepard down when a nurse approaches them with a nervous smile.

“Let me have him, Commander,” she says, holding out her hands. “You've done more than enough.”

Shepard tenses in Garrus' arms and a biotic shiver flashes through her body, but then she takes a deep breath and slowly disentangles herself from his arms and starts to take off the harness. The baby wakes up and starts crying weakly.

“Will you...?”

“We have an incubator for him and a nurse will keep an eye on him all night, I promise,” the nurse tells her.

The baby kicks its little talons and wails with both his larynxes once he's been placed in blue arms.

Garrus gives it five minutes. He underestimates Shepard, who resists a whole seven minutes before standing up.

The baby is crying disconsolately in his cradle.

“Listen,” Shepard tells the nurse, shaking hands already bypassing the incubator's lock. “He's not used to being alone. He can't stay like this. I'll take him.”

“But, Commander Shepard...”

“He'll just cry all night. Bad for him, bad for me. Better this way.”

Garrus helps Shepard with the harness' clasps as she starts to edge out of the room.

“Commander Shepard!” calls out the nurse as they leave for the lounge.

It isn't long until the elcor therapist is making his slow, ponderous way to where Shepard has curled protectively around the baby.

“He's used to being held. Doctor T'Saal made sure he was held at all times. Can't leave him alone now,” she says quickly, before the doctor can even speak.

“Gravely: Not your responsibility.”

“I know! But I can help! I'll just hold him. And feed him. Can't leave him alone!”

Silence from the elcor doctor. Garrus feels he should intervene, but he doesn't know what to say.

“Please,” Shepard adds after a moment. “It helps me.”

“Shrewdly: Are you doing this for yourself?”

“For... for both of us?” Shepard tries.

“With satisfaction: You feel strong enough to take care of an infant.”

“Just for now! Just so he isn't left alone.” Shepard looks down, into the baby's sleepy amber eyes. “Just for now, yes?”

The doctor finally agrees to give Shepard permission to take care of the baby while more permanent arrangements are made, and she relaxes abruptly against Garrus.

“Imagine there'll be lots of people wanting to adopt back in Palaven,” she says after her therapist has left.

Garrus has one arm around her waist, the other one helping her support the baby's weight. He thinks of Palaven as he saw it last, the dust from the flattened buildings still clogging the air, thinks of the delicate dance of resource allocation they are doing to keep the survivors from starving, thinks of empty streets. Most of the ships that managed to leave the planet had only children in them, many of whom returned to find parents or their whole families missing. They are being cared for, of course, but there won't be queues at the orphanages soon.

The baby lifts a hand and wraps his little talons around a lock of Shepard's hair. Garrus' chest feels tight, but he cannot, will not put more responsibilities on Shepard's shoulders. Not any more. Not when she's like this.

--- ***---***---

 

If he had any self-preservation, Garrus wouldn't have followed Shepard into battles against Reapers, suicide missions and dance-floors. If he had any self-preservation, Garrus wouldn't be sitting in this hospital lounge, next to the recently-repaired window, watching his lover feed a turian baby a bottle of dextro formula.

“Who has the sharpest mandibles?” he hears her ask in that peculiar high-pitched tone humans use with babies and animals. “Yes you do! Yes you do!”

“Excuse me?” asks an asari. “Commander Shepard? By the goddess, it really is you!”

Shepard looks up, tilts her head inquiringly, smiles.

“Yes?”

“Sorry, um... that wasn't very professional of me. My name is Dara Haner, I'm from Family Services.”

“Oh,” says Shepard, and Garrus would bet his favourite scope that she isn't conscious of how she's moved to put herself between the newcomer and the baby.

“Sorry, um... I was called by the clinic. About the baby. I've tried finding surviving relatives of Miss Uriker, but...”

“No family left. No friends. Nothing.”

“Yes, exactly. In that case, our next step is to find the little one an adoptive family, and arrange for fostering in the meantime.”

Shepard hasn't taken her eyes off the asari nor made any move to let go of the baby.

“He can't be alone. He cries.”

“I understand. Um...” The asari looks at Garrus and gives him a hopeful smile. “I watched the programme about you on the ANN. So very sweet! Aren't you interested in adopting?”

Shepard is scoffing before Garrus has had time to open his mouth.

“Sure, leave a traumatised baby with the disabled patient in a mental clinic,” she says, and gives a dark look to the poor social worker.

“Oh, um, sorry... it’s just, I spoke to the doctors, since you sort of took over as the baby's caretakers, and they said that you were excellent with him, and that your, um, condition in no way affected the baby or your capacity to take care of him,” the asari says. “I understand if you're not ready for adoption, though! I just thought you might consider it.”

And Garrus can't stand it any more, not the way his heart is pulsing and not the way Shepard's hands are white-knuckled around the bottle of formula.

“What does fostering entail?” he asks, trying to sound calm.

“Oh!” the asari jumps to bring up a document on her omni-tool. “It is a temporary guardianship to provide the baby a settled environment while he is adopted. We usually have a long list of foster families ready to take in children of any age, but considering the war... well, we are accepting applications. Um, I'd be happy to help you with the paperwork if you...”

“Can you give us a moment?” Garrus asks the poor asari.

“Of course, of course, I'll be... um, having a cup of tea. Over there. Just wave me over when you're ready!”

The social worker scampers away and Garrus turns to Shepard.

“Listen...” he begins, with not much idea of what he's going to say beyond that.

He can't stomach the thought of the little amber-eyed turian getting lost in the ruins of a broken galaxy's foster system, and he can't bear the thought of Shepard's eyes once the little one is taken from her. But Shepard is right, she is in a mental hospital working on the many scars (physical and not) that war left on her, and Garrus can’t put another responsibility on shoulders that sometimes buckle under the weight of getting up in the morning.

“I'm being awful, aren't I?” Shepard interrupts him, her voice wavering. “Being selfish. Can't give him what he needs, but don't want to let him go...”

“Shepard, sweetie...” Garrus leans forwards to unclasp her hand off the bottle and take it in his own. “I don't want you to do anything you don't want to do, you understand? You've done enough. But if you want this, if you want this little one, then let me tell you that I think you'll be an even better mother than you've been a commander, and you were always my favourite commander.”

She laughs at this, a watery laugh that prompts her to wipe her eyes.

“Couldn't do this alone,” she ventures at last, looking at him.

“You've already asked me to marry you, remember? You can't get rid of me now.”

“But, do you want this? Do you want him, and me, and everything so complicated already, and...?”

Garrus could scream. Or laugh, or cry, or dance around the lounge with the cleaning droid beeping nearby.

“Do you have to ask, Shepard? I want you in every way possible, and seeing you with this little one the last few weeks has been killing me. I didn't know I had a paternal plate on my skin until now, but why the hell not? Let's give it a try. Can't be more difficult than saving the galaxy.”

“Don't think you can put down a tantrum with a headshot.” Shepard looks down to the baby, who's fallen asleep with his face pressed against her sternum and his talons tangled in her hair. “This is terrifying.”

It is. Garrus feels his blood pumping, his mandibles flexing, his talons itching in their gloves. He’s been calmer when about to take on a Reaper.

“Worse than your driving? Hardly.”

“Oh god.” Shepard closes her eyes and grips Garrus' hand. “We're going to do it, aren't we? I can't walk from one end of the room to the other without crying, and you're busy helping the primarch put a planet back together, but we're going to adopt a baby on top of everything.”

 

--- ***---***---

 

The asari social worker couldn't be happier to help them circumvent all the bureaucratic bullshit about waiting times and home inspections and background checks. 'You're Commander Shepard and Advisor Vakarian!' she says every time something comes up. 'This doesn't apply to you! Allow me!', and yet another obstacle is smoothed before Shepard has had time to get worked up about it.

The nurses at the clinic and Shepard's therapist are also terribly supportive, cooing and running errands and keeping a confidentiality that, after working with Cerberus and the Shadow Broker, Garrus hadn't believed still existed in the galaxy.

It's easier than Garrus had hoped, and even more terrifying.

“Alright, everything is pretty much done, I just need your signatures and... oh, um, I'd forgotten.” Dara looks up with the smile Garrus has become familiar with in the last few days. “I don't have the little one's name in any of the papers...”

“His mum didn't name him,” Shepard answers.

“Oh, that's terrible... but you can choose a name now yourselves! Do you need time to think about it? I have a list of names around here somewhere...”

While the social worker brings up the list on her omni-tool, Shepard looks up to him, and Garrus already knows what she's going to say before she opens her mouth.

“Wrex and Bakara beat us to 'Mordin' already...” she begins.

“'Thane' it is, then.”

“Yeah?”

“Nice, strong name. Thane Shepard-Vakarian. Has a nice ring to it.”

Shepard bursts into tears, but when Garrus leans down to hold her, she just clings to him and whispers 'I love you' over and over again.

--- ***---***---

 

“So...” Shepard is looking at a document on her omnitool with a small frown. “I never thought I'd be alive to worry about this, but here we are. Being a civilian comes with its own sort of complications.”

There has been no changing Shepard's mind about requesting a discharge from the Alliance, although she's been offered every conceivable post, up to and including that of Ambassador to the Citadel and Councillor.

“Worry about what?” asks Garrus from where he's pacing with Thane in his arms.

“Money,” answers Shepard simply.

Garrus takes a seat by her (Thane immediately reaches for a strand of her hair) and looks at the figures she's brought up in her omnitool.

“I'll have a disability pension from the Alliance,” she explains, pointing to a figure with a scarred, trembling finger. “I have some back pay, and... honestly, I never touched my wages much, other than to buy the odd fish and model ship, so I have some savings. I made some small investments under the Shadow Broker's advice, so once the dust settles we'll see what comes out of that. And there's the insurance for Anderson's place in the Citadel, although I doubt that'll come up quickly, if at all. Insurance companies are going bankrupt all over the galaxy.” Shepard pauses for breath, then turns to Garrus. “What about you?”

Honestly, Garrus hadn't thought about that, at all. He'd been in the military first, then lived on C-Sec's meagre wages before leaving it to follow Shepard all over the galaxy. A vigilante's salary had been whatever he had been able to scrounge from warehouse raids, and even when he'd been a high-placed advisor to the Primarch, he'd hardly been paid anything, considering they were at war. His family has some holdings, of course, or had when Palaven wasn't a ruin, but the thought of asking his father for money stings.

“Right,” says Shepard, taking his silence for what it is; Garrus wonders if he should feel ashamed by his inadequacy to provide for his soon-to-be wife and child. “Then, there's this.”

Garrus' mandibles twitch at the figure that's being shown on Shepard's omintool.

“Where did you get so much money?”

“Reparations from Shanxi,” Shepard says with a rueful smile. “I lost my father and uncle, remember? Grandma hated aliens, but she was no fool. She put the money in a high-yield trust in the Volus First Bank and left it there until my majority. And by then I was in the Academy and didn't need anything. It's been there for almost thirty years, and that's the one bank in the whole galaxy that's in position to pay out.”

Shepard closes the omintool and rests her head on the recliner. She's tired again, Garrus can tell.

“With that, we can settle in a nice dextro colony,” she says, eyes falling closed. “Somewhere warm.”

“Dextro?” asks Garrus. “Are you sure?”

“Outnumbered two-to-one.” Shepard's voice is starting to slur when she gestures to Garrus and Thane. “You'll find somewhere nice.”

Thane is also starting to nod off, so Garrus settles him in Shepard's arms, covers them both with a blanket, and opens his omnitool to start researching undamaged dextro colonies.

--- ***---***---

 

When Tali calls Shepard to tell them that her house is finished ('keelah, it's not much but it has a gorgeous view!'), the arrangements for the wedding can begin.

“Should we really be planning to use the Alliance's flagship for a chartered wedding guest trip?” Shepard asks with a little frown.

“Hackett offered. He's probably just thankful you haven't decided to go for a life of piracy, he knows the crew would follow you into it the moment you crooked your finger,” offers Garrus.

“Can't do much piracy with a baby hanging off you,” Shepard says lightly.

Neither of them mention the thousand other reasons that the dream of travelling the galaxy kicking ass will never be anything more than a dream.

“He is probably going to learn to walk soon,” says Garrus instead.

“Oh god. Can we ask Joker to baby-proof the Normandy?”

“He'll probably get on with it the moment he knows we have a baby.”

They haven't told anyone yet, not even their closest friends. Garrus thinks that Shepard feels about their adoption of Thane like he feels about their 'interspecies liaison', like it’s something too precious and fragile and wondrous to go flaunting it everywhere.

Thane is sitting on his knee. He's more comfortable with Shepard, clinging to her even without the harness, but turians grow quickly and he's getting too big and lanky for her to carry comfortably all the time, so Garrus has started stepping in and Thane has started to accept him, gripping his hand with his little talons and always keeping one eye on Shepard. They both do.

“Do turian babies really learn to walk so quickly? I need a sort of 'What to expect of your scaly offspring' guide, Garrus, or I'm going to mess this up.”

“It's fine, Shepard. I've seen human babies. Turians are much tougher, you won't hurt him. If anything, you're too soft on him”

“Too soft, huh?”

She meets his eyes and, for a moment, the old spark that led them to that first night of interspecies awkwardness is back. Then Thane tries to wriggle out of Garrus' grasp and the moment breaks.

But it's alright. Shepard is alive. Shepard is well. And they have time.

 

--- ***---***---

Shepard's second (third? Fifth? Garrus has honestly lost count) return to the Normandy leads to a moment of astonished silence, then clapping, cooing, and laughter.

“Scars, buddy, I didn't know you had it in you!” Vega tells him with a raucous laugh and a hard slap on the back. “C'mon, Lola, let me see the mini Shepard.”

“Aw, she's beautiful!” coos Liara. “He? Beautiful anyway.”

“Oh god, don't give it to me, I'll drop it, I swear,” babbles Traynor, backing away. “Oh, and congratulations and everything.”

“You're bringing a baby onto my ship?” asks Joker, like in the past he's asked 'a geth?', 'a krogan?', 'an assassin?', 'a Prothean?', and so many other things. “Really? Crap, I'm going to start baby-proofing everything.”

Garrus leads Shepard through the congratulating crowd and into a seat in the tactical room.

“Uff!” she says, trying to pry Thane from where he's hid his face in the curve of her neck. “Thane, this is your crazy family. People, this is Thane Shepard-Vakarian, stop shrieking, you're scaring him.”

She finally manages to pry him off, gives a quick look at the crew surrounding them, then hands him over to Vega, of all people.

“N7 Vega, you've been designated for baby-sitting duties. Don't teach my kid any swear words.”

“Really?” To his credit, Vega picks up the baby with ease. “Hey, loco, I'm Uncle Jimmy. You like guns like your parents?”

Seeing the way Vega is cradling Thane's little head in his huge, scarred hand, Garrus can't fault Shepard's choice of babysitter.

“Wow,” says Kaidan, who either hasn't said anything before or, if he has, didn't say it loudly enough for it to be heard about the other voices. “Congratulations. When did you find time to adopt?”

“All I've got is time now,” answers Shepard.

“I'm glad.” Now Kaidan sounds more genuine. “You're looking well.”

Garrus takes a moment to look at Shepard, not in a hospital, finally not on a ceremony, clinic, or distracted by a baby, but just Shepard, sitting on what will always be her ship, smiling slightly and rubbing at her shoulder.

She is looking well. Perhaps not compared to the old Shepard, the Shepard of before London and the Crucible, but certainly compared to the lump of charred flesh and scars Garrus had watched over, to the exhausted, pained human who'd travelled the galaxy accepting commendations she didn't think she deserved, to the miserable soul curled up in a chair, regretting her continued existence.

This Shepard may be thin and have terrible scars, she may tire easily and lose her temper at the strangest things, she may never again be able to headbutt a krogan or run at a group of enemies with her assault rifle singing, but she's still capable of smiling, holding a baby, and keeping a room full of some of the galaxy's greatest people in thrall with the force of her personality.

“Now, that's the look of a turian in love,” Liara's voice says next to him, and Garrus startles out of his contemplation. “Congratulations.”

 

--- ***---***---

“Shepard, I'm glad you're here,” says Tali. “I have an asari crime mistress flirting with a turian primarch, a salarian scanning everything, and I swear Grunt is worse than Wrex's kid, and…”

Shepard waves Thane at Tali in what has been proved as a terrifyingly effective distraction tactic; while the quarian is busy with the armful of baby, Shepard starts to limp towards the house. Garrus is glad that his kid has taken very well to be held and cooed at by a variety of very strange individuals.

Garrus has somehow forgotten, in the last few quiet months they've spent at the mental health clinic and busy with Thay, how Shepard's force of personality works. The moment she steps into one of the tents that have been erected around Tali's new house, she is immediately surrounded.

“Primarch Victus, I'm happy you could join us. Aria, it's good to see you! How is Omega? And Brak, you as well. You must be Mordin's nephew, thank you for coming. Bakara, how are you? Oh, look at this little beauty! Matriarch Aethyta, I see you've been making friends! Major Kirrahe, how have you been? Solana, I'm glad you're here.”

Over the knot of people around Shepard, Garrus sees his father, who is regarding the scene with tense mandibles.

Just then, Tali and the Normandy crew make their entrance.

“He is wonderful,” Tali tells Garrus, handing Thay back. “But I really have to go and check on the levo food catering. I'll be right back!”

Garrus turns back to the inside of the tent, and crap, now his father's eyes are fixed on him. On him and on the little turian in his arms.

“Everyone!” says Shepard, and though she can't raise her voice much, the tent still quiets expectantly. “It's wonderful to see you all again. Garrus and I are honoured that you have made the effort to come and see us get married.” She has limped to be by his side, and now she puts a scarred hand on his arm and tilts her head to let Thay grab at her hair. “This is Thane Shepard-Vakarian, and he and I both need some rest, but we'll see you all later for dinner.”

Well, that solves the problem of telling his father about the adoption, thinks Garrus as a round of applause and congratulations echoes around them.

“Get us out of here?” Shepard requests, looking up at him, fine lines of pain already forming on her forehead and around her eyes.

 

--- ***---***---

Garrus ends up carrying Shepard and Thay to their quarters, child clinging to mother who clings to him in turn. When she grumbles a little at this, Garrus clicks his mandibles chidingly.

“You need to save your energy for dinner,” he reminds her, and she subsides in his arms with a sigh.

The geth unit who showed them the way hesitates at the doorway, then expresses its desire to shake Shepard Commander’s hand, if it’s possible? She agrees, of course, and stands on her own two feet for that, then takes the chance to ask if Unit LET would be willing to babysit Thay while they are at dinner. It immediately announces that it will download all the information available on turian infants and departs.

“If you’d told me, even a year ago, that I’d be having a geth babysit my child on the eve of my wedding…” Garrus says, and Shepard snorts in amusement and drops on the bed.

“Never a boring moment,” she muses, and she is still wearing her boots and semi-formal clothes, but her eyes are dropping closed.

“Shepard,” Garrus tells her, and starts to undo her boots.

Her hands are at the row of buttons at her neckline when the door chime beeps. She groans and falls back on the bed, and Garrus drops her boot and stands up to open the door.

Solana and Castis Vakarian stand there. Shepard groans again at the sight, then sits up in bed, barefoot and with her long hair mussed.

“Garrus,” says Solana, and hugs him briefly before looking inside the room. “Shepard. This is a surprise.”

“Surprise,” sing-songs Shepard mockingly from the bed, taking Thay’s hand and waving it a little.

She gets sarcastic when she’s in pain, Garrus knows, and refrains the urge to snap at her that she’s only making things more difficult.

“Come in, Solana. Father.”

Castis Vakarian still doesn’t say anything as he walks into the room and looks down at little turian sitting on the bed, then at the human preventing him for rolling off the bed.

“When did this happen?” asks Solana. “Why didn’t you tell us anything?”

Garrus looks at Shepard, who shrugs.

“It’s been a couple of months,” he replies. “We wanted… some time to adjust, before we made the announcement.”

“Even to your own family?” Solana asks, and glares at him, but then she turns and bends at the waist to say ‘hello’ to Thay, and Garrus relaxes a little. “He’s so handsome!” his sister says, as she picks up her nephew and runs her talons down his crest.

“Like his father,” says Shepard, and grins at the glowering Castis like Garrus has seen her grin at a group of mercs before she took them down.

“Father, do you want to hold him?” asks Solana, but Castis doesn’t answer or take his glare off Shepard. “Father! That’s enough. This might not be the most traditional way of meeting your grandson, but surely you can spare a moment from intimidating Shepard to look at him.”

There’s a moment’s silence, and then Shepard lets out a low, wheezing sound that it takes a moment for the turians in the room to parse as a laugh.

“Intimidate me?” she asks. “Look, I took a decision that wiped out an entire system. I’ve died. I've had a Reaper shoot at me personally. I woke the Mother of All Thresher Maws and used her like an attack dog. I went to the depths of an unexplored ocean, discovered the remnants of a race so ancient we have no records of them, and shouted at them until they joined the war. Castis Vakarian, no offence, couldn't intimidate me if he was waving a shotgun under my nose and shouting about turian racial purity.”

That little speech must have cost her most of the energy she had been saving for the dinner, but she caps it off by standing by herself and looking at Garrus’ father right in the eye.

“If you don’t want to be here, just leave. Your displeasure doesn’t matter to me in the slightest.”

Garrus opens his mouth to intervene (he’s not sure on behalf of whom, but he doesn’t want to become widowed and orphaned in one fell swoop), but Solana shoots him a sharp look over Thay’s head, so he keeps quiet.

“I don’t care about who you are or what you’ve done. I don’t like you,” Castis tells Shepard, and she has the nerve to smile. “And I don’t like what you’re making my son do.” He pauses a moment, mandibles flexing. “But my family is the most important thing to me, and this now includes my grandson.”

Garrus lets out a breath as Castis turns his back on Shepard and moves to take Thay from Solana’s arms. Shepard rolls her eyes, but says nothing else as she sits back on the bed.

By the time Garrus has made sure his father is not going to drop Thay on his head, Shepard has fallen asleep, half-dressed and with one boot and the exoskeleton still on.

“How is she?” Solana asks him in a low voice.

“Alive,” answers Garrus, and for the first time in Spirits know how long, this word doesn't taste bitter.

“Oh Garrus,” his sister says, and rests her claws on his shoulder. “You both are.”

 

--- ***---***---

Dinner that night is a raucous affair.

Garrus realises, while sitting at the head table and watching Grunt trying to hit a levitating Liara with a roasted pyjak bone, that for most of them this is the first time to really sit back and relax and celebrate after the events of the Crucible. In this tent, in a planet that once was thought lost, most of the people responsible for keeping the galaxy inhabitable (and piecing it together afterwards) are being given the chance to be unreservedly happy about something. No doubts, no regrets, not what-ifs, no pressing responsibilities, just friends and food and drink and plenty of excuses to toast the happy couple.

And they are happy. Garrus has an arm around Shepard, who is also watching and laughing, hopped up on stims and painkillers, but at ease, and even Joker is smiling where he is needling at Alenko with Vega’s help.

“Shooting contest!” a voice joyfully calls out, and there’s a general movement to clear chairs and tables out of the way, and Tali asking people to please don’t break anything before the ceremony.

“Vega has improved a lot,” Garrus observes after a moment, as glass goes flying into the desert sands.

“N7 training suited him,” Shepard agrees, then yawns. “Still a shotgun boy, though.”

“Everyone knows that sniper rifle boys are superior,” Garrus says, only for the joy of feeling Shepard hide a giggle in the curve of his carapace.

“Shepard, Scars!” someone calls out, and both look up to see Vega doing a victory dance. Immediately, Garrus shakes his head; he has no desire to let go of Shepard to show off. “How ‘bout you, Lola? Wanna school us?”

She laughs and raises both hands, scarred and visibly trembling.

“Too late for that, Vega!”

She doesn’t sound bitter in spite of having to admit her inability in front of all their guests, and Garrus counts it as a victory even as he makes a note to talk to Vega later.

“What, just because you’re disabled you think you can pass?” Joker asks in a loud voice, and there’s murmurs from the crowd. “C’mon, commander, you made me go to gun practice, remember? Come down here and do something.”

Garrus feels himself bristling in Shepard’s behalf, but she’s still relaxed under his arm when she raises her voice to answer Joker.

“Still bitter about those lessons, huh?” Shepard laughs again. “Give me time and I might pick up a weapon again. But not tonight.”

“OK, but you don’t need a gun to impress these yokels,” says Miranda, and besides her Liara nods brightly, eyes wide. “How about your biotics?”

“Huh,” Shepard says consideringly, and looks at her hands.

Garrus knows that other than making sure her implants are secure, Shepard has no more used her biotics than she has picked up a weapon since that unfortunate meltdown when she found out about EDI’s death. He shifts uneasily when Shepard straightens under his arm.

“Alright, clear the way,” she calls out. “And no laughing at me if it fizzles out!”

The bottles they have been using as targets are on a balustrade on the other end of the tent. Alenko, who seems a great deal more sober than most others, makes sure that the guests and furniture are safely out of the possible path between Shepard and the targets.

“Sweetie,” Garrus starts, trying to hide his apprehension under light-hearted teasing, “are you sure…?”

There’s a bright flash of light, and someone in the crowd of assembled guests screams. Garrus blinks urgently to assess the damage.

“Shepard!” Tali says reproachfully. “Look what you’ve done to my balcony!”

On the other side of the tent, where there used to be a balustrade and a few bottles, now there’s only a massive smoking crater.

“Oops,” whispers Shepard, and bursts out laughing.

 

--- ***---***---

Shepard is still giggling two hours later, when Garrus carries her back to their quarters. The party is still going on in the tent, and though Garrus is happy to let everyone else arrive hungover to the ceremony in the morning, he wants Shepard to get some rest.

“Where’s Thay?” she asks. “Let me see him?”

Thay is asleep in a small room next to theirs, under the watchful eye of Unit LET, which assures them that it will keep guard until the morning and that the little turian only woke once and didn’t seem the slightest bit disturbed at having a geth watching over him.

“Resilient little thing, he is,” Garrus murmurs as he opens the door to their room. “Much like his mother.”

Shepard giggles again when Garrus deposits her on the bed, but then her face gets serious, and even a little sad.

“Party’s still going on,” she says.

“Yes, but you need rest.” Garrus sits by her side. “Or… do you want to go back?”

“… no,” Shepard replies. “I’m already over my stim dose.” She tilts her head to look up at him. “Do you want to go back?”

There’s friends there that Garrus hasn’t seen in months, fine liquor and excellent dextro food, laughter and music.

“No,” Garrus says into the darkened room. “I’m fine here.”

“Are you really?” Shepard reaches for him and wraps a hand around his claws. “Garrus, are you really fine with this? With me, like this?”

“Shepard, what’s brought this on, sweetie?” Garrus reaches for her and drags her close. “Of course I’m fine with this, with you, in whatever way you are. We’re getting married tomorrow, remember?”

“I know, I just… don’t want you to feel trapped. It’s a long fall from being Archangel to having to help me get dressed every day.”

Garrus splutters, which is not the eloquent response he’d hoped for, but he feels it conveys his indignation well enough.

“I am where I want to be,” he says. “I am… do you think I’d rather be a solitary vigilante in Omega’s underbelly, or a bitter, overworked advisor in Palaven than to be here with you?”

Shepard doesn’t answer, which is an answer in itself.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Garrus tells Shepard firmly. “Being a dashing vigilante and saving the galaxy was fun for a while, but even Archangel had to retire at one point. Why, what did you think you’d end up doing when this was all over?”

There’s a thoughtful pause, then he feels Shepard’s shoulders move.

“I never thought I’d make it out alive,” she says in a low voice.

Garrus hadn’t thought she would either, but he doesn’t think that sharing that will improve the mood in the room.

“Well, you did, and now you can do anything you want, and so can I. And what I want is to be here, with you. Besides, if I wanted to leave you, I have had months to do so. It’s not like you can chase after me.”

The impact of Shepard’s fist against his arm is merely a rustle, but her chuckle lifts a great weight from Garrus’ shoulders.

“You’re terrible,” she says, and looks up at him with a smile. “I love you.”

“And I you, sweetie. Don’t ever think otherwise.”

Shepard fits her face in the crook of Garrus’ cowl and sighs.

“I just… I miss who I used to be. I miss… walking. Talking without concentrating on not sounding drunk. Not having to think before giving a step or picking up a glass. You knew me as someone else, it’s not fair to you.”

“Fair? Damn it, Shepard! I lost you twice. By all measures you should be dead and more than dead. I went to your funeral and mourned you and beat myself up for not having died with you. And then you came back and saved my sorry carcass and made me yours and saved the whole galaxy… and I lost you again. And I spent months with people telling me you might never speak or walk again, that you’d never be the same.” Garrus bites back the little titbit that one (possibly well-intentioned) salarian had told him it might have been better if she’d died. “And you’re here. Sure, these days it would be even easier to beat you on a shooting contest, but…”

Shepard punches his arm again. Garrus gathers her close, close enough that a part of him wonders whether he’s bruising her.

“I know what it’s like to be without you, Shepard. Let’s not do that again.”

 

--- ***---***---

 

They’ve had an altercation with his father, a party, an emotionally exhausting conversation, and they’re getting married in the morning. Garrus feels they should be more tired than they are, but he’s fine, and Shepard has been overly liberal with the stims all evening.

She makes a quiet sound of triumph when she manages to shrug off her shirt by herself, and plops down on the bed with a sigh. Even in the low lighting of the room, the scarring on her arms and chest is still obvious. Garrus tries to remember how she was before (hard muscles under skin so soft he was afraid to touch her), but the memory is fragile and fades under the reality of now.

“Just when I thought I wasn’t much to look at these days…” Shepard drawls, startling him out of his contemplation.

“You’re always the brightest thing in a room,” Garrus says without thinking, which honestly works for him more often than not.

If Shepard were a turian, her mandibles would be twitching. As it is, her face does that human scrunchy thing where it looks like she’s trying to frown and smile at the same time. Garrus counts it as a win.

“Cm’ere.” Shepard is not focusing on keeping her voice clear, but her hands are firm on Garrus’ arms, and he follows their pull downwards. “You ridic’lous…”

She is shaking, but her lips are firm when they press against the scar in the side of his face; all his nerve-endings there were fried beyond recovery in Omega, but Garrus still feels the kiss like the stab of an omni-blade. The rumble that starts deep in his chest would be less embarrassing if he didn’t know that with her new implants Shepard can hear it. But she doesn’t startle, or laugh, or pull away; instead, she pulls Garrus closer, until he’s pressed against her warm, scarred skin.

“Let’s take advantage of our geth babysitter and all these stims, hm?”

 

--- ***---***---

When Garrus wakes up in the morning, everything is quiet, except for the chirrup of some species of insect outside and the quiet rattle of Shepard’s damaged lungs. It doesn’t last.

The combined forces of Tali, Liara, Jack, Miranda and Solana (‘traitor’ Garrus sub-vocalises at his sister, and she laughs) would be inspiring under any other circumstances, but as they descend on their room to lead Shepard away to get her ready for the ceremony, Garrus rather resents them.

“Scars!” a jovial voice says from the doorway after the women have left.

“Fuck off,” Garrus replies without turning around.

“Trust me, I’d gladly would, my head is killing me,” Joker rasps. “But your sister is a little terrifying.”

“I should have never introduced her to Tali,” Garrus laments, as the rest of the male members of the Normandy’s inner circle file in. “What are you supposed to do, anyway? As you can see, I can get dressed on my own.”

“Miranda suggested we made sure you didn’t run off,” Kaidan says dryly. “I tried telling her you weren’t likely to, but she said it was traditional.”

“Human wedding traditions are odd,” Javik says as Garrus moves to pick Thay from Vega’s arms. “In my cycle, we just signed a contract.”

“That is starting to sound more and more reasonable the longer you lot are here,” Garrus agrees, as his kid reaches for his visor. “Is everything alright out there? You didn’t demolish anything after we left last night?”

“Only the wall that your bride made explode like that,” Wrex offers with a snap of his claws.

“Oh, and we got word that Admiral Hackett and Rear Admiral Shepard are about to arrive,” Kaidan offers.

“I should probably be there to welcome them,” Garrus says, a little uncertainly. Even in all the unconventional history of his very unconventional relationship, going out to meet his future mother-in-law alone in the morning of his wedding feels a little odd. “You lot might as well make yourselves useful and come with me.”

The shuttle lands a little distance away from the tent where the ceremony is to take place. Garrus stands there, in his formal suit, with Thay in his arms, and wonder if he still has time to make a run for it.

Admiral Hackett is still the same grizzled old man Garrus remembers. Rear Admiral Hannah Shepard is a slight woman with grey hair and piercing eyes that are the only thing about her that reminds Garrus of her daughter.

“Garrus Vakarian,” Hackett says warmly, and holds out his hand for Garrus to shake. “Hannah, this is your son-in-law.”

“How do you do,” Hannah Shepard says, holding out her hand as well.

Garrus takes exquisite care when shaking it, as if he were shaking a live bomb.

“Rear admiral,” is all he can say before everyone’s attention turns away from him.

Shepard is limping up to them, followed by Tali and Bakara. She’s wearing a clean-cut black suit, with nothing military to its design, and though it’s not the sort of revealing, overwrought gown that holovids show in romantic weddings, Garrus feels his breath catch at her sight of her in it all the same.

“Miranda said this was bad luck!” Tali whispers as they approach.

“Hannah,” says Shepard in a loud, cheerful voice. Garrus wonders how many stims she’s on. “Admiral Hackett. Glad you could make it.”

Shepard holds out her hand for her mother to shake, and Hannah Shepard does, giving her daughter a measured look. Garrus exchanges a look with Kaidan and confirms that yes, this is awkward.

“You’re looking well, Ava,” the rear admiral says. “Much better than rumour has it.”

“That’s not hard, though, is it,” Shepard says. “Look! You have a grandson!”

Hannah Shepard’s gaze turns to the little turian in Garrus’ arms.

“You don’t tell me you’re back from the dead, you let me know you’re getting married a week before the ceremony, and this is how you introduce your child to me?!”

“If I didn’t do stuff like this, what would you have to complain about?” Shepard asks cheerfully.

Even Hackett is looking a little uncomfortable by this point. Rear Admiral Shepard sighs and shakes her head.

“I’m very proud of you,” she says, and though it sounds a little official (Garrus has heard warmer sentiments come from foreign dignitaries), Shepard smiles at this. “I’m sure your father and your grandmother would too.”

“Right,” Shepard replies. “Admiral Hackett…”

“You’re not military anymore,” the admiral reminds her. “I’m sure you can call me ‘Steven’ now.”

“Steven.” Shepard’s smile is bright. “I was wondering if you’d like to escort me to the wedding too. Garrus has his father and sister, and I don’t want to be outnumbered.”

It’s amazing how Shepard can, with only a few words, reduce the man who steered the Alliance through the galaxy’s most harrowing time to tears.

“I’d be honoured,” Hackett chokes out after a cough.

“Perhaps you’d like to go inside and have a refreshment while we’re waiting for the ceremony to start,” Kaidan suggests, and look, Garrus finally has something to thank the man for. “Sir, ma’am.”

“Good idea, Alenko,” Admiral Hackett agrees.

“Oh hello, Kaidan,” Hannah Shepard says.

“Oh it’s ‘Kaidan’ now, is it?” asks Shepard.

Garrus looks at Thay as if wanting to ask him what he feels about his mother antagonising both his living grandparents within a mere day cycle.

“I met with Rear Admiral Shepard a couple of months ago for a mission,” Kaidan says, looking pained.

“Well, Shepard, you still need to finished getting dressed, let’s go!” Bakara intervenes, to many grateful looks. “And Garrus, you too!”

Yes, Garrus will happily get changed three more times to escape the awkward situation. He lets Alenko guide the two new arrivals to the tent, and turns to go back inside Tali’s house, hoping that this awkward encounter is the worst that will happen that day.

 

--- ***---***---

In between the many options offered to them (the ten-hour meditation that Asari like, the not-so-faux wrestling krogans prefer, the odd mixture of forgotten religion and myth the humans are partial to, or the decidedly unromantic statements of intent that turians exchange), they decided on having Samara officiate the simplest, most bare-bones ceremony she can manage. It’s not quite the mere signing of a contract, but there are no long speeches or even the vows Shepard mentioned once.

Garrus is fine with this. No carefully-written vows or ceremonies would ever be able to equal what they’ve already gone through. What kind of speech could equal the feeling of seeing Shepard return from the dead to save him in Omega, of having her frantic hands on his face when he thought he would die? What vows could mean more to them than the many awkward lines they’ve given each other over the years, than the looks exchanged in battle fields, in the Normandy’s Main Battery room, or over Thay’s head?

Garrus looks at the excited, moved faces of their friends and family (Tali, Solana, Miranda, Vega and Grunt are all crying with various degrees of discretion) and realises that none of this really matters. They could have eloped to be married by a Salarian official in a refuelling station, or never married at all, and it would not have mattered. He turns to look at Shepard again, and finds her looking at him with a slight smile, like she knows what he’s thinking and she agrees.

Shepard is alive, they both are, and as long as that’s true, Garrus doesn’t care about much else.

Samara is still talking, but Garrus can’t be bothered to listen. He leans forwards and, without any prompting, Shepard follows suit. Their foreheads bump together and, for a moment, everything is right in the galaxy.