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Racing Down the Barrel

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Omega was dirty, smelly and loud. The perfect counterpoint to the empty silence in her head. Who'd have thought she'd miss the voice in the void? At least it had been honest, even if she didn't know if it was real or imagined.

Jayne Shepard wandered the alleys and wings of the asteroid station, careful to keep her expression neutral and her gun handy. The mood of the place suited her just fine after all she'd been through in the last few weeks since she woke and found herself in the clutches of Cerberus.

She outpaced Miranda and Jacob, peevishly wanting to lose them in the crowds, or maybe just get herself into a position to quietly off them both. She was in the right place for that too.

Stop thinking about it, Jayney. You have 'assets' to find. You need them still.

Fuck the Illusive Man, she argued back to herself. Fuck anyone who works for him. Fuck all of this.

Human colony worlds, Jayney. Think about the big picture. He's the only one doing anything about it.

She kicked a wall, a resounding thud that didn't do anything to her mood other than bruise her toes and make her more angry.

“Are you all right, Shepard?” Miranda asked, her perfectly modulated voice clearing the fog in her brain, leaving only impotent rage behind. Why did it have to be Cerberus?

“Fine,” she spat. “Where are we going again?”

“Afterlife.” Miranda's tone was careful, as if she knew just how much Jayne hated her – or at least hated the organization she worked for.

“Right.” She stalked off again, leaving her unwanted companions to either catch up or not. She caught a reflection of herself in a darkened flat screen and cringed once again, just as she had the first time she'd looked at herself in a mirror. Scars crisscrossed her face, glowing a dull orange from the implants and cybernetics holding her skull together. She knew where each and every other mark of her reconstruction was too, could feel them every time she moved. Her hair was still the same blonde as before, once again regulation short, and her eyes were still the vibrant violet they'd always been, but she didn't look like herself. Didn't feel like herself.

How does one come back from death?

With an attitude. And a powerful gun.

***

“So you want him dead too?” Aria T'Loak asked, lounging against the red leather of the curved sofa. Jayne sat well away from her, keeping an eye on the asari's bodyguards, fully aware the self styled leader of Omega didn't need them.

“Why is everyone after him?”

“He thinks he's fighting for the side of good. There is no good side to Omega. Everything he does pisses someone off.”

“He sounds delightful,” she said with a certain level of sour sarcasm. Great, just what she needed, an optimistic vigilante.

Aria laughed. “I think I like you, Shepard.”

“Feeling's mutual.”

“If you want him, go ahead and get him. I won't interfere. If nothing else, it will winnow the schools of little fish who think they can overthrow me.”

Jayne stood and gave a nod to the asari, who smiled back. Pleasantries exchanged, information gathered and permission granted, she wanted nothing more than to get out of the club. She needed to keep moving, and the idea of fighting her way through a horde of mercs appealed to her current temper.

“Shall we go?” she asked in a too sweet voice. She led Miranda and Jacob back out into the streets, intent on making her first stop at the Blue Suns outpost to sign on as an independent merc. That was her only ticket in to finding this particular asset before the merc groups killed him.

***

“Archangel?” she called to the heavily shadowed figure still sniping over the edge of a low wall. It had been hard to pinpoint him as they crossed the bridge. And with all the chaos around, it wasn't like she had a chance to stop to find him and figure him out. She did now as he approached, twisting the helmet off his head. She caught sight of three digits and a narrow waist, pointed toes and leg spurs. The constant backdrop of anger that had been her guiding emotion since waking ticked down, leaving her agile brain to think clearly for once.

Turian.

I know that swagger, she thought as he dropped the helmet and stepped into the light to sit on a pile of boxes, the rifle slung across his legs.

“Shepard,” he said, the subvocals hitting her harder than a sledgehammer to the gut. “I thought you were dead.”

Shock dropped her mouth open, but a spike of joy turned it to a wide smile. “Garrus Vakarian! What the hell are you doing here?” She spread her arms, rushing to him but stopping short when he didn't rise to embrace her. His gaze pinned her in place, not quite accusatory, but hardly as welcoming as she'd hoped. Softly, she said, “I was dead. Two years I was dead.”

His blue eyes roved over her, his visor probably detailing everything more succinctly than she could say aloud. Cybernetics, prosthetics, implants, grafts, wetware... He nodded, noting the Cerberus logo on her armor. She looked him over herself, seeing the spent stims around him that told her more about his physical state than she cared to contemplate. He was exhausted, nearly depleted. She'd seen the covered bodies that must have been his team. No wonder he was immune to shock at this point. It was amazing he was still conscious. This was no optimistic vigilante, this was one very determined former C-Sec officer turned vigilante.

“How'd you piss off every major merc organization in the Terminus Systems?” she inquired crisply, trying to inject more Commander than lover into her voice.

“What this? This is just target practice,” he said offhandedly. Something resembling a smile passed through his mandibles before his expression turned bitter. “Hey, it wasn't easy. I really had to work at it.”

“How did you end up like this?”

“I let my emotions get in the way of my better judgment. I'll tell you what, you get me out of this, I'll tell you the whole damned story.” It appeared she wasn't the only dealing with a surfeit of anger. She carefully made a mental note of it. Garrus had changed.

Well, so have I, she thought.

“Right. Let's see what they're up to,” he said. He stood and looked through the scope of his rifle to see if anyone else was making a foray. She stood next to him as he looked before he offered it to her. She sighted and took a swift shot that nevertheless blew off the head of a mech, tallying up one less invader.

“Eclipse. They're almost clever, sending in the mechs first to test your defenses.”

“It's good to see you, Jayne,” he said, his voice low enough that it didn't carry. She could hear the thread of humor in it now, frayed and tired, but there. “I admit, when you first stepped onto the bridge, I thought you might be a spirit.”

She smiled. “There are times when I feel like one. You shot me, you know.”

“Just concussive rounds,” he said with a shrug. “Didn't want the mercs getting suspicious. Besides, you were taking too long to get moving.”

“Did you know it was me?”

“I didn't want to believe it. Once I did...” He stroked the back of a single talon down her cheek, tracing the still glowing scars. She leaned into his touch. “Do they hurt?”

“Some,” she understated.

“I'm sorry.”

“Not your fault.”

“You're quite a patchwork now.”

“Yeah, I know.” She didn't like to think about how all her limbs were now artificial, how many organs had been replaced or rebuilt, how much of her blood was actually nanobot processors to keep it all running smoothly. How much of her wasn't her. Sure, she was far more indestructible than she'd ever been, but what had been the cost to her soul?

“Still...it is good to see you.” He looked like he wanted to put his arm around her, to pull her close the way he would not have hesitated to do two years ago. But he wasn't sure of himself, or of the propriety of it. And between them their collective fury simmered like a palpable, living thing. So she leaned on him herself, pressing her forehead against his keel the way she used to, willing herself to let her anger go and just enjoy having him be near her. Hesitantly his free arm rose up to circle her waist. After a moment, his chin rested on top of her head.

“I'm here now, and we're gonna kick some ass. Together.”

“Just like old times.” His touch was firmer, and she finally grew solid again. Rooted like a tree, real and actually alive rather than just resurrected. Seeing Tali on Freedom's Progress hadn't affected her like this, but then again, she hadn't been nearly as close to the quarian as she was to him. She heaved a deep breath that was nearly a sob and knew that he heard it from the way his talons flexed on her back. The anger lost its grasp.

“So...Archangel?”

He snorted. “Just a little name the locals gave me, for all my...good deeds.”

“Right.”

His mandibles flared against her hair. “I'm still just Garrus to you.”

“Just my Garrus?” she asked pointedly, tipping her face up to his. He looked solemn, his eyes following the scars and lines of her face. But he nodded his agreement and she felt another piece of herself fit into place. “Good,” she whispered. “I need you.”

“Jayne...”

The rumble of the next wave of attackers cut him off and he took the rifle back from her. There would be plenty of time after to figure out where they were. For now they had to survive this.

***

She didn't like leaving him. Didn't like leaving Jacob with him after his less than supportive comments. But she had a job to do, clearing out the lower level while Garrus kept up the distraction over the bridge. She was fresher than he was for certain, and she made sure not a single merc got past her and Miranda. They worked their way steadily through the ranks of them, fighting back up to the sniper's nest when Garrus sent her a frantic call that they were coming through the door. She shot down the vorcha backup of the Blood Pack and waded into the fray again.

“So that's how it is?” Garm snarled and she grinned at him before ducking behind a column for cover. “Rip'em to shreds!”

The old merc leader didn't go down without a fight, but she knew krogan mercs well enough to know how to kill them. She hadn't counted on the Blue Suns gunship being repaired so quickly though, and barely got to her feet after taking Garm down when she heard it open fire above. Garrus cried out and she wanted to run. Miranda held her back.

“Dammit, Miranda...”

“We can't just walk into that much open live fire, Shepard. Use your head.” A rocket blast rattled the whole building a second later, and she shook off Miranda's clawing arm, racing up the stairs.

Garrus lay in a pool of spreading blue blood, his face turned too far to the floor for her see how badly he was hurt. Or whether or not he was even breathing. The ship was still firing, peppering the furniture and crates he'd stacked for cover into splinters. “Take that thing down,” she ordered the other two, ducking down to reload.

It was taking too long, and she felt her biotics ramping up as her panic increased. She sent out a blast of Throw, tipping the ship off balance and ramming it into the side of the next building. Jacob and Miranda continually hammered at its armor, ripping through the underbelly of the ship until it exploded. Then she rushed to Garrus.

He was conscious, his eyes wild with pain. He was choking on his blood and she hauled him more upright, heedless of the horrific wound on his face and neck. He needed to get air. “We're getting you out here, babe. Just hold on. Please...”

“He looks bad,” Jacob said. “Joker better hurry.”