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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.”

 

 

Chapter Text

“I've done all I can for him,” Dr. Chakwas said.

“I know.” Jayne scrubbed at her hands, swearing she could still feel the blood. It was so much worse than when she'd cradled Nihlus as he died. Her armor was still covered in blue, and even though she'd washed her hands repeatedly, she could still sense it, slightly caustic and smelling so strongly of copper she didn't think anything could erase it.

“I'm going to keep him sedated for at least twenty four hours, Commander. He needs all the rest he can get, and he was already suffering a dangerous amount of exhaustion, dehydration and chemical burnout. You don't have to stay.”

“I know that too.”

“Commander,” Chakwas laid a hand on Jayne's shoulder, squeezing gently. “He is going to live. But it will be a long road.”

Jayne looked up at her, seeing the sympathy and compassion in her eyes. Chakwas had no more love of Cerberus than she did, but just like Joker, when the black ops organization had come calling with her name on their lips, she'd jumped at the chance to both be in space again and to be with Shepard.

“I got you that ice brandy, Karin,” she whispered.

“You didn't,” Chakwas said, aghast. “I can't imagine how much it cost you.”

“You just saved the man I...” She stopped and cleared her throat. “It was worth every cred.”

“We'll open it once he wakes, and you'll drink with me.” It wasn't a request.

“Deal.”

Chakwas gave her shoulder a final squeeze. “Get some rest yourself, Commander. You need it too. I'm not altogether happy with how some of your enhancements are integrating.”

“Later.”

Chakwas sighed and shook her head. “I'll be back in an hour or two. If you're still here, I'll sedate you too.”

Jayne cracked a smile. “Only if you can catch me.”

“I promise you, Commander, I can catch you,” she drawled, then left the medbay.

Jayne threaded her fingers through Garrus's limp talons, seeing nicks and cuts that she hadn't noticed before. She made herself look at the bandaging around his jaw and crest, holding his face together so the tissue could knit itself whole. He'd lost the top layer of his mouthplate, and the whole right mandible had to be reattached and rebuilt with prosthetic muscle and synthetic bone to keep it functional. Chakwas had done as best she could with the ear canal – normally hidden behind a plated membrane where mandible met skull, currently exposed from the injury – but he would need an implant to hear with it once the rest of his face could stand any more trauma. He was lucky he hadn't lost his eye into the bargain.

And all that was not counting the number of bullets Chakwas had pulled from his chest plates and abdomen. Thankfully, few had penetrated into his gut, and none had been life threatening on their own, but taken altogether, it was a miracle Garrus was alive. Jayne knew full well that if he had taken that rocket directly to his face, as opposed to it impacting the floor near his head as it had, he would be dead.

His heart beat steadily, if slowly, and a bright yellow bag of fluids dripped into his veins. A similar one colored more blue hung from another IV. Electrolytes and fluids and antibiotics suitable for his species. Enough sedation to kill an elephant – which was just about enough to keep an adult, male turian asleep. She'd spent too much time in medbays not to know what everything was for. She'd never known such fear before, however. Chakwas's promise that he would live hadn't assuaged that fear. Nothing would, until he woke and told her himself that he was going to make it. She began to understand the expression that had been in his eyes when she sauntered into his sniper's nest, to all appearances perfectly fine after two years of presumed death. Grief, anger and the alleviation of both all at once.

“Oh Garrus,” she murmured, laying her head down on the bed near their joined hands. “I just got you back. Don't you leave me now.”

***

2183

“You've done the Council a great service,” Councilor Tevos said, her gaze sweeping over the devastation of the Citadel. The tower itself was still in shambles and unusable, so this ceremony was taking place in the Presidium Gardens, open to what public had returned after Sovereign's attack. Jayne held back a smirk with great effort, and merely accepted the thanks.

“Humanity has earned its place among the Council,” Councilor Valern said and she turned to him, raising an eyebrow. “We will obviously leave it to your people to decide who among you is best qualified to serve, but I'm sure a recommendation from the first human Spectre would go a long way.”

They all looked at her expectantly and she turned to look between Udina and Uncle David. This was her chance for payback against the Ambassador for all his sniveling and conniving that nearly cost them everything. It was still hard to believe it had only been a few short weeks since she'd stolen the Normandy and gone through the Mu Relay. Saving the Citadel had made Udina backtrack on much of what he'd said, and of course, there had been no legal repercussions for Anderson for decking him – C-Sec had enough on their hands without dealing with spurious human assaults. They'd remanded the case to Admiral Hackett's jurisdiction. Hackett had laughed, from what she heard, and dropped the charge as a minor misunderstanding.

Now she was tired and just wanted to see if her apartment still had walls. She didn't really want to make any more decisions on behalf of her race.

“This was only the first battle,” she said. “The Reapers are still out there. I think humanity – and the Council – would be best served with a military mind at present. I'm sure you think I am biased since he raised me after Mindoir, but frankly, Captain Anderson believed in me when Ambassador Udina only hindered me. To my mind, there is no better choice than Anderson for the coming war. But I will leave the actual choosing to the rest of mankind, if you don't mind. I think I've earned myself a respite from making galaxy shattering decisions.”

“As you wish, Shepard,” Councilor Sparatus said. Of the three of them, he probably understood best what she was feeling. After all, all turians served in the military for a portion of their lives.

“Where will you go now?” Tevos asked.

“I'm going home. Whatever is left of it.” She turned her back on them and walked away, never even giving Udina the satisfaction of responding to her thrown gauntlet. But she could hear the bickering start before she even reached the nearest walkway over the lakes.

***

2183

“Hey,” Garrus said, standing in the open door of her apartment, civvies hanging loose on his frame, a brown bottle in his talons. Somewhere he'd found beer.

“Hey,” she said back, wiping the sweat from her forehead. Their building had escaped the worst of the fighting, but it was still dirty and disheveled. She'd spent over an hour putting it to rights. Her duffel hadn't even been unpacked yet, still slung haphazardly across the kitchen bar.

“Want some company?”

“Always if it's you.” He offered her the bottle as she approached him and she took it gratefully. It was icy cold and she sighed happily, even if it was dextro. Didn't matter, she didn't have allergies. He watched her drink, his eyes transfixed on her tongue as she licked her lips. “What kind of company keeping did you have in mind?”

He made sure she had put the beer down before he swept her into his arms and threw her over his shoulder, kicking her door shut with a solidly planted foot.

“Ack! Garrus!”

Laughing, he carried her down the short hallway to the bedroom and tossed her on the bed, scattering the array of pillows and raising a puff of dust. She barely shimmied out of her pants before he was on her, licking up the sweat along the column of her throat, humming her favorite purr.

They tugged at each other's remaining clothes until they were naked, remembering how they'd done this the night before reaching Ilos, when they'd been so afraid it would be the last time. She wrapped herself around him and he plunged into her, sealing them together with matching groans.

It was fast and frantic, a grappling release of all the tension they'd carried since battling the geth and Saren. Garrus pulled her up into his arms, sitting back on his haunches to rock her back and forth, blazing a trail of sensation inside her from the new angle. He held tight to her backside, keeping her balanced. She cupped his face, meeting his mouth with hers, their tongues flicking and tasting. Jayne came hard, clenched on him, biting down on the meat of his tongue so he grunted and squeezed her tight enough to bruise. He pushed her backwards then. She lay arched over his knees, his spurs within reach of her fingertips. He liked having her that way, where he could see where they were joined, could watch himself move in and out of her as she held onto his spurs like a lifeline.

“Garrus...”

“I never thought I'd have you again,” he murmured, his hands moving over her body, cupping and molding and tracing. “I was so afraid...”

“We made it,” she said. “We lived.”

“We did.” He thrust into her with sudden urgency and she unfolded her legs from his and let him pound at her, filling her until it almost hurt, hitting spots inside her that demanded more and more. She gave a cry and jubilantly went over the edge of another orgasm, feeling him follow, pulsing together in harmony.

He rolled them over afterwards, so she was sprawled across his body. He pushed her hair behind her ears. It had grown out in the months they'd been on the Normandy and was curling into a disarray that would have infuriated her old N training Commander.

“Let's never leave again,” Garrus said. “Let's just stay here forever.”

“You know we can't.”

“Yes we can.”

She laughed. “Oh, Garrus...”

***

Dr. Chakwas found her there, asleep against the edge of the medbay bed, her hand tangled with his. She draped a blanket over Jayne's shoulders. She knew the Commander would wake stiff and sore, but wouldn't breathe a word of complaint. She made a mental note to get out an analgesic pack for when she woke and went back to her duty station to write up her report of Garrus's various surgeries and projected recovery.

And while she was at it, she would take a look at the file the Illusive Man had finally sent her on the Lazarus Project, now that Jayne was alive and well and no longer classified – well, at least to her. She wanted to know how much she could hasten the healing of all those scars. Not to mention, how she was going to deal with all those artificial parts the first time Jayne got injured doing her job, as she inevitably would.

“EDI, dim the lights, if you please, except over my station,” she said aloud, but softly enough not to wake the Commander. If she'd done her math right – and she was confident that she had – Garrus wouldn't wake if a bomb went off.

“As you wish, Doctor,” the AI said, equally as quiet.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Let me put it to you this way, Commander,” Dr. Chakwas said, clearly exasperated that she couldn't get Jayne to leave her sleeping patient long enough to eat, much less go about her other duties. “If you bring back Professor Solus, he and I can start working on an implant for Vakarian's hearing loss.”

“That's blackmail,” Jayne said, eyes narrowed.

Chakwas smiled. “Ahh, but is it effective blackmail?”

Jayne laughed. “All right, fine. I'll go get you a salarian professor. I hope he's worth it.”

“From what I've heard about him, he is. You ought to like him, Commander. He's former STG, you know.”

“Yes, I know.” She gave a final look over to Garrus, who was still sleeping heavily sedated by the ruthless doctor, and sighed. “If he wakes, you call me.”

“I'll take that under advisement, Commander.”

***

“Hmm, don't recognize you from the area. Too well armed to be refugees. No mercenary uniform. Quarantine still in effect. Here for something else. Vorcha? Crew to clean them out? Unlikely. Vorcha a symptom, not a cause. The plague? Investigating possible use as bio-weapon? No, too many weapons. Not enough data equipment. Soldiers, not scientists. Hired gun, maybe? Looking for someone? Yes! But who? Someone important. Valuable. Someone with secrets. Someone like me...”

“Relax. I'm Commander Shepard and I am here to find you. I need your help.” She'd been remarkably entertained by the fast paced mouth on the salarian, even when he'd passed his omni-tool over her. She had no doubt a mind like his had taken note of all her modifications but bypassed them in exchange for finishing his quicksilver thoughts.

“No, too busy. Clinic understaffed. Plague spreading too fast. Who sent you?”

She gritted her teeth. “Cerberus. You've heard of them, I presume?”

His tone was dry as he answered, “Crossed paths on occasion. Thought they only worked with humans. Why request salarian aid?”

“I...” Where to start? “I have an injured...turian on my ship.”

“Hesitation. Turian is important to you. Why? What injuries? How severe?”

“We would also like your input in finding the Collectors,” she went on, ignoring his questions for the moment while Miranda and Jacob were there.

For the first time since they'd walked into the clinic, he was silent for the space of a few breaths. He gave her an assessing look, and an almost imperceptible glance between her two very human, very Cerberus companions. Oh yes, he was a sharp tack.

“Collectors,” he said finally. “Interesting. Plague hitting these slums is engineered. Collectors one of the few groups with technology to design it. Our goals may be similar.” He turned away to open a locked storage case. “But, must stop plague first. Already have a cure. Need to distribute it at environmental control center. Vorcha guarding it.” His tone dropped perceptibly. “Need to kill them.”

“I'll deal with the vorcha,” she sighed. She shook her head, wondering why the universe felt the need to constantly barrage her with endless tasks. Just once she'd love to have someone say they were going to come along, no questions asked.

You did, once.

Or twice, now that I think about it. Where is Wrex anyway?

***

A manufactured plague that affected every race but humans, really? There was a cosmic joke being told, but she wasn't in on the punchline. Unless the punchline was the total annihilation of all living things, because the vorcha confirmed the suspicion that the Collectors were behind the plague, just as they were behind the attacks on human settlements.

She managed to find Mordin's lost assistant, haplessly trying to bargain with batarians. Jayne could have told him it was pointless. But then again, she never denied that she was biased when it came to batarians.

She fought her way through the vorcha to the environmental control center, turning the air back on and feeding Mordin's cure into the system. After that it was easy. Mordin turned over his clinic to his assistant and packed up his things. Time to get moving again.

***

“Welcome to the Normandy, Professor,” Jacob said as the pair entered the briefing and conference room on the command level. “It's an honor to have you on board.”

“Yes. Very exciting. Cerberus working with aliens. Unexpected. The Illusive Man must be branching out. Not so human-centric, perhaps?”

“Don't kid yourself,” Jayne said before Miranda could start any of her usual propaganda. “Humans still come first with the Illusive Man. But this mission is too big for Cerberus to handle alone. Besides...” she caught Miranda's knowing glare from the corner of her eye, “I need your expertise on that other matter.”

“The Collectors are abducting human colonists out on the fringes of Terminus Space,” Jacob put in before they could get sidetracked.

“Hmm, not simple abductions. Wouldn't need me for that.”

“You're right,” Jayne said. “The colonies are in reasonably good shape, save that every man, woman and child is missing. No bodies, no property damage. But we were able to collect samples from the last one. We'd like you to analyze them and figure out how they're doing this.”

“Of course, analyze the samples. I'll need a lab.”

Jayne smiled. She was going to like this salarian indeed. “We already have one waiting for you.”

“There is a fully equipped lab on the combat deck, Professor Solus,” EDI said presently, making Mordin jump and look around for her voice. “If you find anything lacking, please place a requisition order.”

“Who's that? Pilot? No, synthesized voice. Simulated emotional inflections. Could it be...no. Maybe.” He stopped and looked at Jayne. “Is that an AI?”

“This ship is equipped with one, yes.”

“An AI on board. Non-human crew members. Cerberus more desperate than I thought.”

She watched, suppressing a laugh, as both Jacob and Miranda stiffened with irritation at the critical appraisal. “That will be all,” she said, waving them out. Mordin waited with more patience than she'd seen yet from him as they left the room. “Yes, they're pretty desperate. You've scanned me, you know what's in me.”

“Too rude. Wasn't going to ask.”

“Dr. Chakwas can fill you in. She's our ship's doctor,” she said before he could ask. “About that non-human crew. The turian who needs your attention is Archangel.”

“Garrus Vakarian. C-Sec detective, short term crew member of the Normandy SR-1. Rumored liaison with the acting Commander.” He gave her a look and it was like he'd put together a complex 3D puzzle in his head right before her eyes. He nodded briefly before continuing his recitation. “Disappeared nearly two years ago and resurfaced on Omega as Archangel. Yes,” he waved a hand at her. “I know him. Who do you think treats all the criminals and all the vigilantes here? What happened?”

“He was injured on the attack on his base. Gunship rocket. Took out a mandible, parts of his facial plates and an eardrum.” She found herself answering him in the same staccato cadence and smiled with him when he noticed. “It's the ear that needs your input. Dr. Chakwas was able to correct the majority of his injuries, but she's never had to build a hearing implant for a turian before.”

“Neither have I, for that matter. Still...challenging. Yes. Will make it a priority, Commander Shepard. Can run simultaneous with sample analysis.” He paused before leaving the conference room. “Assume that is what you wish?”

“Yes,” she said, her voice suddenly small. “Yes it is.”

“Rumors true?”

“Yes, Professor. The rumors were true.”

He looked as if he was considering something. “Forgive impertinence if unwarranted, but I hope you have had proper dextro amino allergy testing and are aware of chafing prevention and remedies?”

She fought hard not to laugh again. Truly, in just a few hours his presence had lightened her mood immeasurably. “I have no dextro allergies, and yes, we work around the chafing issue. Well, we did in the past. Doesn't matter now...” Not with artificial legs, she finished to herself. Mordin nodded, seeming to understand what she was saying and what she wasn't.

“Very good, Commander. Highly stressful life you lead. Sex good for relieving it. Turians known for...stamina. Prefer cell reproduction myself. Simpler. Much less alcohol and mood music required.”

She hummed a noise, at a loss for words. It was that or stammer and blush like a schoolgirl. She'd never had any issues with being frank about enjoying sex, but there was something uncanny in the eyes of this old salarian that made her feel 18 again. She had no doubt that a lesser individual would feel like he was leading them on for his own personal amusement.

“Perhaps I should meet with ship's doctor first, assess her patient. Reacquaint myself with Archangel as well. Will inform you of any relevant data, Commander. Please, just Mordin.”

And on that note, he left the room, leaving her standing there utterly bemused. His forthright manner and eagerness to get the job done boded well for their working relationship. She still missed Wrex, but caught herself thinking that perhaps a former STG professor could help fill the spot nicely.

 

 

Chapter Text

2183

Jayne watched Garrus packing up his tools. She was sitting on the near wheel well of the new Mako, swinging her feet like a child. The vehicle they'd taken through the Conduit had been completely destroyed during the fighting, and the Alliance had had to requisition a new one for the ship. It was modified with a gyroscopic roll cage, so no one could really complain about her driving anymore. But that only meant it didn't feel the same as they hunted down the remaining geth troops that hadn't died with Sovereign.

Just as the Normandy wouldn't feel the same without Garrus.

“Do you really have to go back?”

“Executor Pallin has been patient, Jayne. But he needs me, now more than ever. The Citadel is a wreck and he's up to his mandibles in backlogged files.”

“I suppose that's true. I've gotten so used to thinking of you as part of my crew. And now Tali is leaving too.”

“She can't stay on her Pilgrimage forever, you know.” He aimed a look at her through his visor and she grinned.

“Yeah, I know. And those geth data are a highly suitable gift for the Migrant Fleet. I just hope they use it wisely.”

“Me too. Hey, at least you won't have to bug the req officer for dextro supplies anymore.” She made a face at him and he laughed. He finished stuffing his carry-all and zipped it shut. “All right, that's all of that.”

“What's left in the cabin?”

“Odds and ends. Some datapads, I think. A tunic I think I might just forget to take back with me.” He gave her another look and she smiled. Garrus took the idea of the boyfriend sweater to a whole new level. He stood in front of her at the wheel well, his face below hers for a change. “Hey, you'll have shore leave soon, and we'll hit the Wards up right.”

“Or not,” she whispered, sliding into his willing embrace to press her forehead to his. “I'll miss you, babe. I've gotten used to waking up next to a turian.”

“You'll have the mountain of pillows to yourself, though. Ought to make up for it.”

“Never in a million years...” She kissed him, and felt his arms go tight around her as he returned it. He'd gotten so very good at kissing her.

“Knock it off, you two,” Wrex shouted across the bay, but there was too much laughter in it for them to even stop. Instead, Garrus turned her sideways and gave her a dip, allowing the krogan a good view as he deepened the kiss. “Disgusting,” Wrex muttered.

“You're just jealous,” Ashley said, a surprising amount of warmth in her voice. Her xenophobia had lessened considerably since fighting alongside the alien crew throughout their pursuit of Saren. Jayne had always been hopeful that working with non-humans would broaden Ash's horizons a bit. It was a big galaxy after all, and they were just one species in it.

“That mean you wanna show'em how it's done, Williams?” Wrex grinned, his shark's teeth gleaming in the bay lights.

“I wouldn't go that far,” the Gunnery Chief retorted. Their banter was enough to break Garrus and Jayne apart, laughing.

“All right, gang. Everyone up to the mess so we can have a proper send off for our resident turian.”

***

She and Jacob were discussing their next move – whether to head to the Citadel as requested or to remain on Omega a bit longer, see if the other asset on the Illusive Man's list was still there – when the door to the conference room cycled opened.

“Garrus!” Jayne exclaimed, surprised Chakwas had let him leave the medbay after the aural implant surgery. She felt like every time she'd seen him in the last few days, he'd either been too knocked out or in too much pain to even know she was there. She knew turian stamina was a remarkable thing, but this was stretching it to its limits.

“Tough son of a bitch,” Jacob muttered under his breath. “Didn't think he'd be up yet.”

“Nobody would give me a mirror,” Garrus said jauntily. “How bad is it?”

“Oh, babe...” She shook her head. He would never be done surprising her; she knew he had to still be in considerable pain. “Ya know, you slap some face paint on it, no one will even notice.”

He laughed for a moment before cringing. “Ugh, don't make me laugh, dammit, my face is barely holding together as it is.” He sauntered further into the room, until there was barely any space between them. Whatever angry fire had been burning in him before her arrival on Omega seemed to have dissipated. At least enough that no one who didn't know him well could see it. His walk was so very nearly like the one she remembered, slightly cocky, slightly deferential, all turian. “Some women find facial scars attractive,” he rumbled, letting his subvocals color his words. “Mind you, most of those women are krogan.”

Jacob saluted her – strange that he still felt the need – and left the room abruptly. She shook her head again. She couldn't quite get a bead on that one. She focused back on Garrus and now that they were alone, she let down her guard.

“Jesus, Garrus. Your face is a mess. How are you feeling?”

“I'll live. Besides, you're one to talk.” He traced her scars again, lightly, so lightly she barely felt his talons. “You want to tell me about it now?”

“There's not much to tell,” she whispered. “I was spaced when the Normandy blew up, and I died.”

“Obviously there's more to it than that.”

She nodded. “My body...well, what was left of it anyway, landed on the planet. Between burning up on entry and then a massive case of hardsuit failure in the cold, both arms and legs were beyond saving. And every major organ system either ruptured or was frozen too. At some point, Cerberus got a hold of my....” She shuddered delicately. “Jacob said it wasn't pretty.”

“Cerberus,” he growled. “I'm worried about that, Jayne. I've heard bad things. Worse than anything we found trailing them for Kahoku.”

“I'm sure. I mean, I'm walking proof of the tech they have.” She made a face. “I'm glad you're here. If I'm walking into hell, I want someone I can trust at my side.”

“You realize that plan has me walking into hell too.”

“Just like old times.”

“Uh huh. I'm fit for duty whenever you need me. I'll settle in and see what I can do about the forward battery. You know me and tinkering.”

“I do.” He took her hands in his, examining them, trying to see how well the prosthetics mimicked flesh. Even she had to admit it was damned good. She wouldn't know if she couldn't feel the edges of the incisions, like itches she could never reach. “You know, you promised to tell me how you got yourself in a position to have half your face blown off.”

He pressed his forehead to hers, lingering until they both relaxed. Then took a step back, a single talon rubbing against the side of his visor. “I did, didn't I? Feels...feels too soon, if you don't mind. I need some distance from it.”

“I don't mind, Garrus. Just...you know where to find me, when you're ready? For anything.”

“Planning to have Cerberus throw us both out an airlock for fraternizing?” He made a tutting sound she didn't know turians could make. “I know where to find you, Jayne. But I think we need to be careful.”

“Not too careful, I hope. This isn't the Alliance.”

He flared his good mandible at her. “No, not too careful. Just...careful. I'm not aiming to have to sleep with my rifle under my pillow in case some of these Cerberus fools take it into their heads that I'd be better off dead.”

“There's an easy cure for that, you know.”

“I think that would be unwise for the moment.” He smiled to take the sting from his words. “No, it's not the Alliance. But you're in a tough position here, Jayne, don't think I don't know it. Me moving into your cabin would not sit well with some of these people, and you need their loyalty. At least for now.”

“I understand. Once we get more crew on board that are mine, it will be safer. Well, for my peace of mind anyway.” She placed a chaste kiss against the good side of his mouthplate. “And besides, I know where to find you too.”

He nodded, gave her another half smile and left her in the conference room.

***

She dreamed that night, alone in her cabin. The blue glow from the empty fish tanks suffused the large room with light that was just enough to blank out the glass portal above her head. She woke gasping for air, feeling like she was drowning in oil, slick, viscous and inescapable. She knew she knew that feeling, but couldn't precisely remember why.

You are a worthy foe for the Reapers,” the voice had said in her dream. She recognized it, the voice in the void. She remembered so little from her time being dead. She didn't know what was her imagination and what was real.

She got out of the bed and stumbled in the semi-dark to her desk, plunking down in the chair and staring blankly at her personal console. She had never been an overly religious person, even in her youth before the Mindoir raid. She had never thought about life after death, or what it meant for her immortal soul or whatever to be resurrected. She had no doubt that she had truly died over Alchera. She didn't really want to know what Cerberus had done to bring her back from that. The physical evidence was bad enough.

She couldn't say she wasn't happy to be alive – there was work to be done, after all – but she didn't know if that was same thing as being grateful for it. They'd violated and manipulated her remains to bring her back. She would have probably preferred to be a clone with a programmed memory, if it came down to it. She might not have felt so conflicted. So...artificial.

“Go back to sleep, Jayney,” she muttered to herself, pushing herself out of the chair and going back to bed. She resolutely didn't look at the wide window above her head – at least they were still docked and the open sky was blocked by Omega's asteroid interior – and closed her eyes.

 

 

Chapter Text

It was snowing on Alchera, light fluffy stuff that hung in the thin air more than fell. The atmosphere was so minimal that she barely heard her feet crunching in the snow, but she could feel it through the soles of her weighted boots. There was no sign of where she'd landed in a heap of meat, as Jacob so adroitly put it, but that wasn't surprising after two years. The wreckage was enough to make her pause, horrified. She didn't need to see her semi final resting place on top of it. Still, it made her more fully understand how her body had survived the fall, since there wasn't much friction made possible by her entry. Her limb loss was due more to the cold than any damage done from careening through the atmosphere in the scant gravity.

A gleam caught her eye and she crunched over to it, pulling another set of dog tags free from the ground. She'd stopped reading the names. Jacob had told her that most of the crew had made it off. He didn't tell her that 'most' was an exaggeration. Already she'd found fourteen dog tags from unlucky service members who'd gone down with the ship. Her HUD told her there were more.

The hull was in pieces, scattered across a glacial field for hundreds of meters. Parts she recognized – CIC, sleeping pods, elevator shaft, her cabin. Parts were so torn and twisted, and now covered with ice rime and snow, that they were meaningless hunks of metal and ceramic and scorched fabric. She found the galaxy map, its circuits frayed like old cloth. She found the decontamination airlock and the forward hatch. And there was a bit of the railing where she'd once watched Garrus leaning as she conducted a sweep of suitable planets with the rachni queen.

She found Pressly's datapad, still loaded up with logs from his personal journal. She read the entries, biting back tears at the thought of how she'd vilified him for being xenophobic, when it was obvious from these entries that he'd changed over the long course of their pursuit of Saren.

“You deserved better from me,” she murmured to the datapad, placing it back in the snow carefully. There was no need to take it with her, most of the data on it were corrupted and lost. She would let it serve as a marker for her former XO, and she saluted it before she walked away.

Joker's pilot seat was intact, although the cockpit that had once surrounded it was not. Emotion overcame her again, thinking of all the times she went up there to cajole him to come down to the galley with everyone else for an evening off as they traveled in FTL between systems. And of that final time, wading through fire and having to break his arm to get him to an escape pod.

A dull gleam caught her eye in the snow, not a dog tag. She clambered up the slippery hill to dig it out. It wasn't until the helmet was in her hands that she recognized it as her own. Her gorge rose in her throat. She hadn't wanted to find this spot, but here it was, unremarkable now except that her helmet was here. Nothing else remained, not even her own dog tags.

“Someone took it off me,” she mused aloud. She stowed the helmet in her pack and got back to her feet, continuing her search.

She found the Mako, caught on a bank of rocks, the front tires frozen solid to the ground. She leaned against the side panel and broke down. Her eyes stung like fury since she couldn't wipe them, and the glass of her helmet fogged up from her chuffing sobs, but she didn't care. No matter how much they'd all hated the six wheeled vehicle, she had good memories of it that were indelibly marked in her mind.

“Good hunting?” she asked Wrex.

“In a manner of speaking. How's the kid?”

Garrus harrumphed, “I'm fine,” still sizzling with afterglow from their solution to keep him warm.

With a final pat against the hollow shell, she walked away from the Mako and looked over the rest of the wreckage. Six more times she stopped and dug up dog tags. Her HUD told her that was all of them and she tucked them into her suit for safekeeping. She wasn't an Alliance Marine anymore, but she would return them to their families. Everyone deserved closure. Even her.

There was nothing else to see, nothing else to remember. She turned in a circle, seeing the dark contrast of what remained of the Normandy's lettering standing out against the snowy landscape. That was where she'd put the monument Admiral Hackett had managed to send to her out on Omega. There in sight of the name of her beloved ship. The SR-2 was a fine vessel, and she liked some of the new amenities on board, but it wasn't the same. The SR-1 had been her home.

Once the monument was in place to her satisfaction, she went back to the shuttle and left the planet where she'd died.

***

“Jayne,” Garrus said in greeting as soon as she stepped into the forward battery where he'd set himself up. “You shouldn't have gone down there alone.”

“It's uninhabited,” she replied, tired and still cold, although she thought that was mostly her mind playing tricks on her. She hadn't been able to face looking up at the window in her cabin as they headed back to Omega, the feeling and memory of being spaced was still too near. So she'd left and come down here in the wee hours of the night cycle.

“That's not what I meant.” He stopped his incessant fiddling with the new Thanix guns and leaned on his console, crossing his arms and staring at her. He wasn't angry, she could see that, but he wasn't happy either. “I would have gone with you.”

“I needed to do it alone, Garrus. I don't think...I don't think I could have handled it with someone else to see.”

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah...I'm okay,” she sighed, sinking down to sit on a crate. “It was very peaceful there, all things considered. The sky was amazing. Too cold for you, though.”

He watched her, but she wasn't doing anything interesting to her mind and she looked away, unable to stand the scrutiny. She wondered what he saw when he looked at her now. She was more nanobots and metal than flesh, her body full of circuitry and servos. Nearly every remaining bone had been reinforced and supported by a framework of alloys. Nearly every organ had been replaced or rebuilt. She was crisscrossed with scars that still glowed from the components within. Twin lines on her shoulders, one on her right hip and one on her left thigh delineated where her tissue ended and her prosthetics began. Chakwas told her they should eventually blend in seamlessly, but for now she couldn't bear to look at herself in a mirror. She didn't know how anyone else could look at her either.

Garrus crossed the distance between, coming to stand directly in front of her. She leaned back to look at him, his face marred and mangled just as surely as she was. “Am I real, Garrus?”

He took her hands in his, crouching down so they were level with each other. He turned her hands over, stroking her palms with his thumb talons. She could feel it, sensory perception as clear and precise as if her hands were genuine, but she couldn't escape that they weren't. If she cut them they would bleed, but the blood wasn't organic. If she burned them they would blister, but the nanobots in her body would repair them faster than any Medi-gel. She felt like a stranger in her own body and she hated it. Tears welled in her eyes.

“Turians believe the body is a shell, nothing more than a sort of vehicle for the spirit.” He shook his head slowly. “It doesn't matter what it looks like, or what it's capable of. It's the spirit that matters.” He lifted his gaze from her hands and wiped her eyes. “The body doesn't matter, Jayne. You are still you, inside this shell. Your spirit remains true. You're real.”

She began to cry in earnest then, tears flowing down her cheeks, her long stifled sobs erupting from her chest until her throat was raw. Garrus scooped her into his arms, cradling her against his keel. He crooned under his breath, not quite a lullaby, but a soothing subvocal purr she'd never heard him make before. And she clung to him, desperate to feel something other than pain.

Eventually she calmed. She felt purged of something nameless that had nevertheless been eating at her. Garrus stood up with her in his arms and moved them to his cot along the wall, laying her down and curling up around her in the cramped space.

“There is an old Earth story,” she said presently, her voice harsh and rough after crying so hard, “of a wooden puppet that becomes a real boy. There's magic and wishes involved, of course, and hardships and trials to prove he's worthy. I never much liked the story as a kid. It smacked too much of hubris.” He chuckled behind her, listening to every word. “Now...now I can't help but feel like I'm the puppet boy.”

“How does it end?”

“Oh, all those fairy tales have happy endings. The boy goes off with his father and they all lived happily ever after.” She fell silent, twining her fingers in his. “I don't know if we'll get that chance.”

“We might.”

She smiled and listened to the sounds of the ship as it traveled, soft clanks from engineering, the near silent rush of air through the ventilation system, the bulkheads groaning to themselves as they moved through the FTL corridor. It was the kind of sound she'd missed when she lived on the Citadel. And her old cabin on the SR-1 had been too far from the engines to carry much of it. She nestled into Garrus's arms and felt her eyes grow heavy. She placed her free hand against the wall of the hull, feeling the mild vibration of the ship around her.

She understood now what Tali had meant, so long ago. There was something comforting about being cocooned in the ship, hurtling like a rock through space. Something safe, even though she was fully aware that it wasn't. She knew her urgency to upgrade everything she could on the SR-2 was against the persistent fear in the back of her mind of reliving the destruction of the SR-1.

“Thank you.”

“Anytime, darling. Go to sleep now.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Zaeed Massani was everything she expected from a middle aged merc. Grizzled, scarred and with a black sense of humor. He had nearly as many replacement parts as she did, although considerably more tattoos. He made himself at home on the Engineering level and was frank and observant to a degree she heartily appreciated. He had no love for Cerberus either. She knew it probably wouldn't matter in the long run, but having someone else who was as wary of their 'employer' as she was made her breathe easier.

“How did it feel being dead?” he asked her bluntly, as she visited him after delivering the parts Gabby and Kenneth needed.

“I dunno,” she replied with a shrug. “I wasn't there for most of it.”

That got a chuckle as he watched her look over the possessions he'd flung hither and yon all over the spot he'd claimed. There was a broken rifle – dearly missed, if his story was anything to go by – the helmet of a dead krogan battlemaster, and a model ship she only knew from her history classes.

“So...you and Archangel...”

“What about me and Archangel?” She leaned against the wall opposite him and crossed her arms in a likewise fashion. She was curious to hear what a fellow Cerberus hater had to say about her relationship with a turian. Or for that matter, what anyone had told him about it.

“I hear things,” he said, confirming it was a topic of conversation. “Rumor is you go way back, pre-geth.” An interesting way to put it in a timeline, she mused.

“That's true. I met Garrus when I was just a lowly Alliance Marine, and he was a C-Sec officer.”

“Got a thing for paint, have ya?”

“Only his.”

He cracked half a grin and nodded as if that made perfect sense. And it probably did, for someone who'd been around as long as he had. One found comfort in the strangest places, she knew that. Evidently he did too. “I hear you weren't ever just a 'lowly Marine', Commander.”

She shrugged. Her past history – or notoriety – on Mindoir and Akuze didn't seem to count for much now. Not after Sovereign. “I like being alive.”

“Don't we all. So, where we off to then?”

“The Citadel. And after that, we'll take care of that loose end for you.”

“'Preciate it.” He pushed away from his lazy slouch and looked her in the eye. “If you don't mind me sayin' so, you're gonna need a bigger crew at your back than these Cerberus idiots. Hope you have some people in mind.”

“I do. Just need to build up some resources of my own before we collect them.”

“That's wise. Your Illusive Man must be mighty keen on forgiveness, given how many of his operatives I've killed. I never ask where the money comes from, mind, but I like knowin' it isn't all from one source, if you know what I mean.”

“Just so,” she said crisply. “Once I have what I need, I'll find a way to get rid of any...entanglements.”

“The Illusive Man may be paying the bills, but I'm glad you're the one calling the shots, Commander Shepard.” She smiled and left him to his own devices, satisfied to know they were on the same page.

***

The skycar dropped them off at C-Sec's new headquarters in Zakera Ward. Garrus stepped out and shared a glance with her that was pained. There were many memories for them here, some good, some bad. And some never to be relived, since now their old apartments were gone. Bulldozed to make room for some new Presidium office building.

“Never thought I'd be back here,” he murmured for her ears alone. Zaeed stood back, either watching them interact or keeping an eye out since some of the looks they'd gotten seemed...less than friendly. “Same old C-Sec, corrupt and useless.”

“Hey, we don't know that. Things have probably changed a lot.”

He gave her a speaking look. “I'm sure they have, just not in the direction you're hoping for. Humans are only grudgingly accepted on the Council, even after you managed to save it. Security had already gotten tight around here before I left. Can't imagine what it's like now.”

“Guess we should find out.”

The Ward doors cycled open for them, but the security checkpoint did not. A familiar yellow marked face looked out at her from behind a console and she smiled.

“Commander Shepard, forgive me. But the computer seems to think you're...uh...dead.”

“Theis Irtaka. Good to see you made it safely through the attack.” She offered her arm in a turian style greeting and smiled ruefully. “And I was listed as Missing in Action, Presumed Dead.”

“Ahh, well...” He fiddled with the controls. “Go see Bailey, he'll clear it up, I'm sure.”

His subvocals warned her and she stopped before going into the HQ. “Everything all right, Theis?”

“Sure, Commander. Everything's fine.” His eyes roved over the lounging officers and security details. She nodded, catching his drift. They were mostly human, and didn't appear to like her talking with a turian as if they were old friends. Didn't matter that they were, more or less.

“Spirits, humans are awful sometimes,” she muttered, just loud enough for him to hear, deliberately phrasing it in a way she knew his translator would understand. His mandibles flared wide, a broad smile that most humans probably didn't know how to read. But she did.

“Good to have you back, Shepard,” he said in parting.

“Good to be back.” She leaned in to whisper to him. “And you're still a peach.”

He waved her off with a good-natured grin and a flush rising up the back of his neck. Beside her, Garrus chuckled. “You're a shameless flirt, Jayne.”

“But I'm cute,” she simpered, making him laugh harder. Zaeed watched silently, his face unreadable at this display of cross species familiarity.

It wasn't good to see how Bailey was willing to fraudulently put her back in the system as alive, even if it saved a ton of red tape, or how casually his officers were talking about beating a suspect. Where was Executor Pallin? Where was the order that had once existed in this place? But she didn't say anything, just got her clearance and left. She had other problems to deal with than bureaucratic nonsense. And it wasn't like C-Sec had ever been a bastion of justice and respect. Even Garrus had admitted to forcefully questioning suspects at one time or another.

Then she reached an Avina and realized just how much the truth had been suppressed about Sovereign's attack. The bureaucratic nonsense just kept piling itself higher and higher, it seemed.

“The Council lied,” Zaeed said. “Makes sense, really. They'd have a panic on their hands if the truth was known to the public.”

“Doesn't make it right,” she said as they made their way to another skycar to take them to Anderson. “How can they deny it? They had the remains.”

“A fair amount disappeared before it could be cataloged,” Garrus said. “The rest was filed away and hidden. To my knowledge, no public statement was ever made other than 'rogue Spectre, allied with geth, attacked the Citadel, stopped by first human Spectre'. At least they got your name right in the vids.”

“What bullshit,” she spat.

“At least you know what you're walking into now.” He eyed her through his visor as the skycar took them away from Zakera to the Presidium.

***

The human Embassy looked the same. The view of the Presidium Gardens was the same. And Uncle David looked the same, although tired and worn out. They hugged tight, years of worry sliding away from him as he got a good look at her. Of course, she knew it was replaced with new worry as he saw her scars.

“Don't think about it,” she said.

“Commander, it's good to see you are alive and well,” Councilor Tevos said through her holographic image. Jayne hadn't even realized they were there, she had been so intent on Anderson.

“Thank you, Councilor.”

“The company you're keeping is...troubling, however,” Councilor Valern said. Jayne tilted her head in agreement.

“Beggars can't be choosers,” she said. “I am well aware that the Council cannot offer me any aid in stopping these attacks on human colonies.”

“I should say not,” Councilor Sparatus snapped. “Your race knew the risks of settling the Attican Traverse.”

She held up her hand. “I'm not arguing. But...as I said, beggars can't be choosers. Cerberus is the only one doing anything about it.”

“We still cannot condone any association with such a...shall we say, controversial group.” Tevos looked stern, although her body language gave her away. The Council was nervous now that she was back from the dead. She was a famous woman in her own right, even before taking into account that she was the first human Spectre. She could make a lot of noise if she chose to. They all knew it.

“I'm not asking you to,” she replied. “I know you don't believe me about the Reapers, that you would prefer to think that Saren acted alone in his alliance to the geth, and I even understand why. A mass panic is never good for business.” She waited as they shifted on their feet, visible in the holographic display. It was a tacit acknowledgment that they knew she was on to them. “Be that as it may, I'm not going to stop fighting against them.”

“Are you still carrying on with this delusion, Shepard?” Sparatus asked snidely. She raised a brow at him and stared him down, willing him to feel her abrupt anger through the hologram.

“My 'delusion', as you call it, still managed to save this station. Not to mention your own lives.”

“The Commander is correct,” Tevos interjected before Sparatus could speak. “And for that we owe you many thanks. It is with this idea that we are willing to reinstate your Spectre status...although we cannot extend you aid or resources. You must understand, you are the only one who spoke with the VI on Ilos. You are the only one who claims to have knowledge of these Reapers now that Saren is gone.”

“Didn't anyone else go out to Ilos?” she asked, surprised. She looked over to Uncle David, who shook his head.

“The VI was no longer functioning when our teams arrived,” Valern said. “All we have is your word. You must admit, it is flimsy evidence.”

“What about Sovereign's remains?”

“There is no indication that any of the tech within the ship was not of purely geth origin,” Sparatus said. It was hard to read his body language through the hologram, but Jayne thought perhaps he was trying too hard to convince himself of that statement. Oh, the Council knew, all right, they just didn't want to give credence to it. Ostriches in the sand, she thought derisively.

“So...you're putting me out to pasture instead?” she said, restraining a sneer with effort. She wondered if the idiom would translate to any of them. Valern didn't react, and Sparatus was too belligerent to show any sign he understood it, but Tevos had the grace to look abashed.

“It isn't that, Commander. We just...we cannot be seen to forgive your involvement with a known terrorist agency. Nor can we wholeheartedly agree to your claims without proof.”

Jayne frowned and was about to speak when Udina came in, already frothing at the mouth at her presence. The Councilors signed off, unwilling perhaps to get into a squabble among the humans. She couldn't really say she blamed them; she would have happily avoided seeing Udina too. It was frustrating to her that he'd been selected as human Councilor, but then again, money always did do the talking in human politics.

“What are you doing here, Shepard?” he demanded.

“Relax, Udina, I'm just leaving. The Council reinstated my Spectre status, at least on paper. And I wanted to catch up with Anderson.”

He fumed. “The rest of the Council has no right to make decisions without my input.”

“I suggest you take it up with them.” She turned her back on him and hugged Uncle David again. “I'll try to keep in touch. Don't worry so much about me. I'll be fine, I have Garrus on my six.”

“Good, keep him there. I still believe you, Jayney,” he said softly. “As nightmarish as it all is. You'll always make me proud, little girl.”

She kissed his cheek and stalked past Udina, who was still standing where he'd stopped, sputtering and complaining. She didn't even pay attention to it as she left the Embassy.

“That went well,” Garrus said dryly. Zaeed gave an undignified snort.

“It doesn't pay to burn bridges, no matter how weak they are.” Part of her wanted to linger, to see what other changes there were to see on the station she'd once called home, but the greater part of her just wanted to keep moving. “C'mon, we've got places to be.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Another dream.

Another gasping breath that woke her in the blue dimness of her cabin. At least she had fish now, lazily swimming around in the huge tanks.

The stars shifted slowly in the skylight, streaks of the protective barrier of the SR-2 between her and them as they traveled through space. She shivered, remembering all too clearly what it was like being in them and among them, cold, airless and terrified. Her heart raced, lodged in her throat like a stone.

You are separated from your body, Shepard,” the voice said in her memory, distant and emotionless. “Should you regain that connection, you will leave this place.”

She shuddered, the dream of the voice and the barren black void dissipating as she woke fully. Her bed was empty save for her, and she didn't like that any better than having bloodcurdling memories of her time while dead.

She checked the chronometer of her omni-tool and saw that it was halfway through the night cycle of the ship. She wondered if Garrus was still up. So far he hadn't taken up her invitations to sleep here. She knew why, but she didn't really care if the Cerberus crew had anything to say about it. He claimed nothing had changed between them, but held himself at a distance she didn't appreciate. She feared there was more to it than a level of distrust in himself after what happened to his team. She understood being skittish and guarded, but simultaneously felt it was unfair that he felt that way with her.

“Ugh, this is ridiculous, Jayney. Go down there and kiss your turian senseless if that's what you want,” she said aloud, breaking the hissing silence of the darkness. She threw back the covers and stalked over to her compact dresser to put something on that was suitable for wandering the ship at night. Something less Commander than her usual onboard uniform, but more than a battered old tee shirt and shorts. She'd asked Hackett to send her an N7 hoodie when he'd shipped her the Alchera monument, and for a moment let her gratitude that he'd complied wash through her as she rubbed the logo with her thumb. It was more than wanting something other than Cerberus all around her; she'd earned that rank with her own sweat and blood. She'd be damned if she'd let death and resurrection take it from her.

She hit the button to feed the fish and left the Loft. The elevator was silent and swift as it descended. The night crew was quiet and focused on their tasks, barely looking up to acknowledge her as she swept through. She stopped at the galley and snagged a couple snacks – both chiralities, in the hopes that Garrus was awake – before she went down to the forward battery.

“You up?” she asked softly as the sliding door of the battery closed her in with the banks of consoles and hefty weapons systems she had installed. Garrus was laying down on his cot, but it was obvious he was awake. He sat up immediately and looked at her, both eyes clear and stark on his face. She looked for it, and found his visor on the floor near his feet. “I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen you without that,” she said conversationally as he reached for it. “Awake, anyways.”

“I was just settling down,” he replied, fixing it to his head and adjusting it around his bandages. She felt oddly awkward, as if she'd caught him doing something compromising or embarrassing. “Did you need something?”

“Company, mostly.” She handed him the dextro protein bar and leaned on her hip against a stack of crates. She rolled her levo snack in her hands, feeling the crinkle of the wrapping and the hardness of the bar inside it.

“What's on your mind, Jayne?”

“Are we all right?” she answered after a moment. She wasn't looking at him, but knew he stood when his shadow fell across her. He took the food from her hands and placed it on the crates, then tilted her chin up to meet his gaze.

“We're fine,” he said.

“Then why...?”

“You need time, Jayne. Two years is a long time to be apart. And we've both been through hell. I want you to be sure this is still...”

She didn't really know what she intended until she'd wrapped her arm around his neck cowl and drew his mouth to hers. She didn't know if he'd respond or push her away. But he crushed her to him, holding her tight enough that she couldn't breathe. Far from sparking any memory of airlessness in her, she reveled in it. His talons were bare, and she could feel them gripping the material of her hoodie, could feel the points of them through it.

Her stomach had felt tightly coiled, like there was stone inside her shifting with every movement, heavy and sickening. As he returned her kiss it softened, dissolved into her until she felt warmth and anticipation reside there instead. It wasn't the butterflies of initial attraction, but the solid presence of familiarity. She drew back from the kiss and let their foreheads touch, mindful that his mouthplate was still healing.

“I need you, Garrus. I want you, always, always...”

His mandibles flared and his arms tightened around her again, until she was pressed flush against him from shoulder to hip. She felt her spine relax, molding itself to the shape of him. “Not a moment goes by that I don't want you, Jayne,” he whispered. “Not a single moment.”

“Turian men don't do the choosing,” she recited from memory, recalling their first night together, so long ago. It put things into place, remembering that facet of turian culture. She tipped her head back to look him in the eye. “But you're supposed to do the chasing,” she teased with a sly grin.

He grinned back and looked around the battery. “Not much room in here to chase you, Jayne.”

“I suppose we could always race around Engineering,” she said.

“I would remind the Commander that the Engineering level is occupied,” EDI broke in, startling them both and making them jump apart. The AI's voice held no sign of chastisement or mockery, but Shepard still glared at the ceiling.

“EDI, while I thank you for the reminder, I would also like to point out that your opinion was not asked for.”

“Apologies, Commander. I am merely suggesting that if you and Officer Vakarian wish to engage in pursuit behavior, the hangar is empty except for the Kodiak shuttle and some equipment packaging.”

“Thank you, EDI. That will be all,” she managed without laughing.

“Logging you out, Shepard.”

Jayne and Garrus exchanged amused glances and then she took off for the elevator, hearing him follow. He caught up with her, of course, backing her into the lift with his bulk, and barely giving her time to press the button for the hangar level before he crowded her into a corner, his mandibles flared and teeth gleaming. She knew of many people who found turians terrifying, but she never had been one of them. She didn't need to sanitize his descent from a predator species for her own peace of mind. Humans were predators too.

Garrus licked a path along her throat as the elevator dropped them down, intent on having his own way now that he'd been given her enthusiastic permission, but she ducked out from under his arm as the elevator dinged and opened up to the spacious hangar. She laughed at his stunned expression as she raced away on sure feet, her artificial legs finally good for something.

Ducking and weaving through the hangar, she could hear him behind her, his talons clicking on the metallic floor. She led him a merry chase, easily outpacing him for once in her life. She knew turians were a hunting race, famous for swiftness and stamina. There was something thrilling in the pit of her stomach from staying ahead of him. Twice she narrowly escaped his grasp, hearing his subvocals rumble in mock frustration. She laughed, carefree and aloud, hearing it echo in the space.

She leapt across a barrier of empty crates, vaulting onto her feet and taking off once more, hearing him not two steps behind her, easily clearing the barrier himself. The wall was coming up, and she'd have to choose between circling back and evading his arms or kicking off it and sailing over his head. She didn't quite trust her new limbs to carry her with grace, and had nearly decided on her turn angle when his hands landed on her N7 jacket, holding her tight and bringing her to an abrupt halt, his momentum carrying them crashing into the wall. He leaned against her, pinning her wrists with his hands, and she could feel the press of his plates against her backside.

“Enough chasing,” he murmured in her ear, the dual tones making her flush with anticipation. “Now you're caught.”

“And what are you going to do with your prey now that you've caught her?” she asked, breathless from the running and the excitement of having him hold her in place.

“What every predator does. I'm going to eat her,” he answered, his words laced with so much subvocal innuendo that she shuddered the length of her spine and felt the heat blossom between her legs like a spark set to tinder.

He dropped his hands to her hips, sliding around to her front to tug her sweats down, his thumbs catching the band of her underwear too. He pulled her hips backwards, away from the wall so she was bent over, and dropped to his knees behind her. The first touch of his tongue on the back of her thigh made her gasp, and the sound she made as he worked his way to her center was nearly inhuman. She'd forgotten what it was like between them. His tongue pulsed against her before he slid it inside her and she spasmed, the pleasure a sharp spike that nearly cost her the strength to stand.

“Garrus...” she moaned.

He chuckled, his hands holding her up now. She wanted to buck backwards against his face, but the reminder that he had healing injuries stopped her. She wasn't going to kill this mood if it killed her. The onslaught of sensation burned through her, making her shamelessly wet and pliant for his tongue and fingers. She'd forgotten too how nimble his widely spaced digits could be as he spread her open with his secondaries while both primary talons swept around and across her exposed clit. With a cry she came on his tongue, and he lapped at her, drawing it out to an intense finish, leaving her on shaky legs.

He stood behind her, as she heaved for air bent against the wall. She heard catches and zippers and waited, knowing he would take her mercilessly now. The pointed head of his cock pressed against her backside before he slid himself lower, fitting himself between her legs to rub against her. He was as ready as she was, but determined to torture her. She did buck and writhe now, his steady hands holding her in position as he lined himself up.

He didn't plunge into her hard, but let himself slide until she was seated fully on his erection. For the space of a few breaths he stayed still, letting her adjust and fit herself to him. It had been so long, but her body remembered how to bend and shift to accommodate his length. With tiny pumping movements he hit the place that always made her see stars and she gasped and cried out, urgently wanting more.

“Spirits, Jayne, I've missed you,” he grunted, sliding his hands around her thighs to support her and lift her completely off the floor. Braced against the wall, full of him, she couldn't reply with words, but she could still clench on him, making him growl like the deadly predator he was. He held her in place and stroked her with long, easy pulls until she was sobbing from it, the concentrated pleasure mounting so high she could barely breathe.

She didn't know how long they stayed that way, couldn't measure time or even think. Suddenly he dropped her down, his knees folding into hers so that they ended up on the floor. She dropped her shoulders, raised her ass and let him ride her hard, the way they both liked it. She imploded around him, squeezing and releasing until he groaned, thrusting so deep it was nearly painful. She felt the burn of his climax inside her, each spasm pumping her full of him. She tipped over the over-sensitized edge and came again with him, going completely blank and boneless as she did.

“That a good enough chase for you?” he panted into her ear.

“Mm hmm,” she replied, her face turned to the cool metal plating of the floor.

***

In the morning, she found a hastily written and rude castigation on her personal terminal from Miranda, and sat in her chair and laughed so hard it woke Garrus. She gave him a fond look and let him go back to sleep. He'd earned it, after all.