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Kaidan was back on the Normandy, and Garrus hadn’t gotten a full night’s sleep in almost a week. On one hand, the man was an old friend. On the other, Kaidan had been something much more to her.

Garrus had meant to sit down with Shepherd, to explain how he felt, but with everything going on, he hadn’t found the occasion. How do you demand the time of a woman tasked with saving the galaxy?

He had been on his way back to the battery when he saw her go into the biotic’s room. He should have kept walking. It was none of his business. But something kept him rooted to the spot, studying the memorial wall and waiting.

Five, then ten, then twenty minutes passed before he heard the low hiss of the door and saw Shepherd emerge, lost in thought.

“Nice having Kaidan back. Always good to have another friendly gun.” Garrus regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth. They were clumsy and obvious.

She stopped short of the elevator doors, crossing her arms and leaning against the wall to face him.

“It is nice.” She said simply, tilting her head and studying him with her usual unreadable expression. Even after all these years he could never quite tell what she was thinking.

After a moment of silence, she straightened up, turning her attention to the memorial. “Old friends are becoming a luxury these days. Not sure where I’d be without the ones we’ve got left.”

“Still killing reapers, I’m sure. Just not with quite as much style.” He smirked.

She laughed, looking down at the ground before looking back up at him. A small smile played at the corners of her lips, filling him with warmth quickly followed by a lingering ache. Her smiles were becoming more and more of a luxury these days as well.

He hesitated. He knew what he wanted to say next but wasn’t sure how to say it.

“Shepard,” he paused a moment as she turned to face him, still wearing her inscrutable mask, “can we t—,”

Before he could finish the question, Joker’s voice crackled over the ship’s intercom, “Commander, urgent transmitting coming in. I think you’ll wanna see it.”

“On my way.” She started towards the elevator before stopping a moment to glance back over her shoulder at Garrus, but he waved her off.

There were more important things at stake right now.

He could talk to her later.

As they rode a shuttle to the next mission, those words echoed in his mind. He could talk to her later. He couldn’t shake the other times he had settled for such a weak platitude.

The first was over three years ago. Saren was dead, the Citadel was saved, and Shepard was a hero. They were all heroes.

Seeing her rise triumphant from the rubble almost knocked him off his feet. The brief space between thinking the worst and seeing her dirty, determined face seemed to last an eternity, but there she was. Her eyes caught his, and a wide, sly smile spread across her face. He knew then his life would never be the same.

He didn’t mind when her lips met Kaidan’s. If you had told him that sight might one day incite jealousy he would have laughed. He just wanted her to be okay. He wanted to watch her change the galaxy.

He wanted to learn, to train, to be better. He was going to ask her if he could stay; ask to join her team. As soon as she got back from her last mission, he told himself. Just clearing out a few extra Geth, nothing special. He’d ask her then. They had plenty of time.

He could talk to her later.

The next time was two years later, on Omega. Two years without Shepard. Two years in a world where she was dead, where he was ready to die himself.

He hadn’t believed she was gone at first. When the news broke about the Normandy, he assumed she had made it out. Somehow he still didn’t believe it when he saw Joker, angry and broken in the hospital. In fact, he hadn’t even believed it standing at her memorial, full of so much pomp and ceremony he could practically feel her rolling her eyes.

Maybe it was when he saw Kaidan that he finally began to understand. Despondent and lost, the man was a shell of the powerful biotic Garrus had once known. That’s when he left denial behind for anger.

He was angry at the Alliance for sending Shepard on such a ridiculous mission, angry at Kaidan for not being there to save her, and at himself for the same. He was angry that the galaxy seemed to continue on as if nothing had happened when everything had changed. She was gone, and life would never be the same.

He had taken everything she had taught him and used it the best he could cleaning up Omega. Now he was boxed in and ready to make his last stand. Privately he liked to think he would have made her proud. But now it was over. He was ready to meet his fate.

“Archangle?” That voice. He’d know that voice anywhere. He thought he had seen her in his scope, but assumed he was hallucinating. Figures she’d be the angle of death coming to claim him.

But there she was, bloody but alive. He sat down, hoping it came off as smooth and not a necessary gesture to keep him from collapsing in shock.

“Shepard. And here I thought you were dead.” He said as coolly as he could muster, still unsure if he could trust his eyes.

“Garrus!” she lowered her gun, stepping towards him, “what are you doing here?”

Taking out the trash. Avenging my squad. Trying to make you proud. Trying to forget about you.

These were some of the things he thought about saying, but instead settled on a slightly less revealing truth.

He wondered if he was imagining the relief in her voice and eyes. Maybe he really had been shot and was just bleeding out.

He could talk to her later.

Working for Cerberus hadn’t been exactly what he’d expected, but he was along for the ride if Shepard was there. He had experienced life without her, and decided it wasn’t for him.

When they finally ran into Kaidan again, he figured their old teammate would feel the same euphoria at her return. The same blissful respite from the past two years. He easily stifled a small spark of what he would later recognize as jealousy when they held each other. It was much harder to mute the burning anger ignited by Kaidan’s rejection and Shepard’s hurt. It was one of the few times he had seen her careful façade crack under pressure.

He had seen a similar look in her eyes not long before Horizon. Late at night, while the rest of the crew slept, he had walked in on her intently studying her reflection. She had turned and greeted him so calmly he almost thought he had imagined it. But he knew what he saw. The distant look that asked the same question others might wonder but would never voice:

Are you real? Are you really Commander Shepard?

He wanted to grab her, to reassure her right then and there, that she was real. She was the same woman he admired, the same woman he would follow into hell. He wanted to tell her over and over until she believed it too…but he hadn’t.

He could talk to her later.

Once he thought the initial sting of Kaidan’s refusal might have faded, Garrus made up his mind. He was going to talk to her. They had been through so much together; she had been through so much. He wasn’t even sure what he was feeling, but he just needed to tell her something. To tell her how much she meant to him, how important she was to everyone on this ship, to everyone in the universe, whether they knew it or not. But before he could work up the courage, she had come to him.

The conversation flowed as easily as it always had. Dipping from gossip, to stress, to life aboard Turian warships, they could talk for hours and he’d only want for more.

Then it happened. Had she just suggested… No. Surly not?

They always bantered, maybe even flirted, but this felt different. She had a knack for keeping people guessing, keeping him guessing. He never quite knew what was real and what was a game.

He should have asked, but part of him reveled in the ambiguity. This way he could at least pretend she had meant it. Better to enjoy this feeling while it lasted.

He could talk to her later.

The night before the Collector base had been everything. A culmination of several years of feelings, several years of fighting and dying and struggling, finally leading to this sweet release. Finally leading to them together. But it seemed to end as quickly as it began.

The real world was out there, and it wasn’t going to wait. The Collector base was destroyed, along with a Batarian home world, and they were forced apart again.

And Garrus still didn’t have answers.

Casual relationships were normal for Turians, but as usual, humans were frustratingly diverse in their preferences. But what more could he do? Send her a message? The thought of the Alliance reading through a rambling letter was almost worse than not talking to her at all. Almost.

He had a letter ready when the reapers finally hit.

He could talk to her later.

“You alright, Garrus?” Shepard’s voice brought him back to the present.

“Yeah—,” he shook his head, “Yeah, I’m fine. Just—,”

The shuttle suddenly jerked to the right, sending everyone scrambling for purchase.

“Cortez, what the hell was that?” Shepard moved towards the cockpit.

“Sorry Commander. Area’s hot. Gonna have to drop you here.”

“Do it.” She said, removing her gun from her holster and turning back to the team, “Alright, you heard him. Everybody get ready.”

The ground was chaotic. Kaidan covered Liara while she struggled to crack through Cerberus’ encrypted defenses. Garrus watched Shepard from his sniper perch, picking off any enemies she missed with her shotgun and biotic blasts.

“Damnit, Liara! What’s the hold-up?” Shepard shouted, her voice heavy with fatigue as she sent a shockwave into a group of troopers.

“Almost there, just a minute longer!”

“What’s the matter, Shepard? Out of practice?” Garrus joked as he took out another sniper.

She laughed, sliding behind a stack of crates, “You wanna get down here and actually fight, Vakarian, or are you too busy nesting?” She stood back up, firing a few shots with her pistol.

He laughed, about to retort when he heard a guttural cry of pain as a bullet pierced her side.

“Commander!” Garrus quickly scoped the offending target before running to her location.

“What’s going on?” Kaidan asked.

“Shepard’s hit.” Garrus answered, as he finally reached the commander, pulling her back to cover while she fumbled with a medigel pack, “Forget the data, we need to get out of here,” he said, taking the pack from her shaking hands.

“Belay that.” Shepard gritted through her teeth, “Get the data. I’ll be fine.”

“Comman—,” Kaiden started to argue, but was cut off.

“That's an order, Major.”

Garrus worked quickly, pulling aside her armor to apply the medigel. Luckily the bullet had passed clean through, but the veins around the wound had begun to turn a sickly grey. Poison? Damnit.

“If you wanted to get me naked again, all you had to do was ask.” Shepard joked, grinning painfully with bloodstained teeth.

“Oh, you know me, I like a challenge.” He said with forced nonchalance, continuing to examine the worsening wound.

“Garrus, I’m fine.” She sat up with effort, wincing, “Fuck—,” she clutched at her side, “feels like I’ve been hit by a battering ram.”

“Shepard,” he tried to coax her back down, but she resisted, coughing up more blood.

Touching her hand to her lips, she examined the red on her fingertips, “Well that’s not great.”

“We gotta move,” Garrus kept pressure on the wound trying not to sound worried, “Where you at, Liara?”

“Done. Heading your way. ETA three minutes.”

Garrus’ mind raced as he watched Shepard’s increasingly labored breathing. Not here, not like this. After everything they’d been through. She started to close her eyes and he shook her awake with more force than he intended.

“Jane.” That caught her attention, and she looked back up at him expectantly.

In that moment he hated himself for every moment he had held back. He couldn’t talk to her later. He needed to talk to her now.

“Jane, I need to tell you—,”

“So serious,” she joked, but stopped as he reached a talon to brush her hair back from her face.

“Jane,” he started again, “Even though you are a terrible shot and a messy fighter—,”

“Fuck you, Vakarian.”

“I love you.”

The moment those words left his mouth he knew it had been exactly what he had wanted to say for longer than he could remember. He couldn’t believe how long it had taken him to say it, and now he wondered if he could ever stop.

“I love you.” He repeated himself, not because he had to, but because he wanted to.

“Garrus—,” she started, but he interrupted her.

“You don’t need to say it back. I just—,”

“Garrus, I—,”

“All I know is that I’ve lived a life without you, and I never want to do it again.”

“Garrus!” This time she shouted to get his attention, pulling the handgun from his waist and shooting behind him. He turned around just in time to see another Cerberus trooper fall to the ground.

Then her hands were pulling his face to hers, and her lips were on him before he could think or say more.

She pulled away, “I love you too.” She laughed weakly, seeming almost on the verge of tears, “but can we talk about this later?”

“No, we can’t.” he pulled her mouth back to him.