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Out of the blue, into the black

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“You got the shot?” Shepard asks him, and he hears it only in his earpiece even though she’s not more than ten feet off, taking cover—just barely—behind a stack of crates. Ever since they set foot in this damned lab Cerberus has got running, he’s hardly heard a thing except the ringing in head. It’s been a nonstop cacophony of guns firing, the grating gear grinding of turrets spinning around as they try to lock onto a target, and that hollow tin sound of smoke canisters and grenades as they tumble across the floor. Her voice, ever steady like a beacon to orient himself to, refocuses him, just as it always has.

All he knows is those spirits damned reaper artifacts they came for better be worth it.

“If they both weren’t shooting at me every time I so much as think about moving, I would,” Garrus answers back.

“Overload on your two,” Shepard orders and he obeys, blindly firing in what he hopes is the right direction. Shepard leans out of cover and unleashes a quick series of three shots from where she’s crouched. The familiar thump of a body hitting the floor follows.

“Engineer’s down, at least. Javik,” Shepard calls. Garrus hears the prothean up the half flight of stairs to his left where he’s been keeping back any other incoming Cerberus soldiers. “You able to hold down this hallway if Garrus and I push for the last sample?”

“Go,” Javik answers. “I did not need you here to begin with.”

Javik… well, he’s a good third to his and Shepard’s usual duo, and one wicked biotic, if Garrus had to find something to compliment, but hell, his comm banter needs work. Shepard’s trading out a thermal clip where she is, the open doorway to their drop off and extraction point at her back, and Garrus catches the smile she’s trying to hold in. She winks when their eyes meet, and he knows she’s thinking the exact same thing.

“Those turrets have got a crush on you, Vakarian,” she tells him and in his periphery he catches her hand as she’s tugging a grenade off her belt. “I’ll scatter the troops and give those shits someone else to look at for awhile. Please don’t miss.”

He wants to object just as he always does when her plan amounts to little more than putting herself up as bait, but Shepard’s already tossing that grenade up and over and he barely has the time to brace the stock of his rifle up against his shoulder. She makes the move, darting down the stairs towards cover while the turrets shift synchronously, already firing as they track her direction. Garrus takes aim, fires the first shot, and takes down one set of shields. His shoulder’s still vibrating with the recoil as he reloads faster than his mind can even process it, a long honed movement of muscle, and taps the same turret with a well placed shot, causing it to explode.

The second whips back around at him and Garrus ducks back down to cover, his shields flickering but intact as a round bounces off his arm.

“Again,” Shepard says, and it’s a kind of satisfying feeling—despite the chaos, the danger, the total fucking warfare surrounding them—that she’s so sure of him she doesn’t even hesitate. He’s got her back. He’s always had it.

She makes a play for a similar maneuver the second time, lobbing that grenade back at the soldiers beating their retreat while simultaneously drawing the fire of the turret. Garrus follows with a repeat shot as well, one for the shields, the second for the kill—

There’s a round fired at him from back where Shepard had been originally, more troops dropping in off a shuttle where Cortez had once been parked with the kodiak, and it’s timed just so, causing his own shot to miss its mark. Javik pops in for the save with a lift grenade to buy them some time, and he hears, rather than sees, Shepard’s shields go as she takes the turret’s strength at full force.

“Fine,” she reassures him, “I’m fine. Only my shields.”

He leaves his cover however ill-advised and neatly shoots that final round he should’ve landed seconds ago. Shepard waves from her spot then makes the human gesture of her fist with thumb raised, and finally Garrus takes a breath. He’ll kiss her and whisper his apologies later tonight, he decides then and there, when the two of them are alone. Then while she sleeps, he’ll sit and run diagnostics on her shields until he’s satisfied, maybe even replace her whole module just to be sure.

“Stay down until they recharge,” he orders her, the kind of shit that he couldn’t get away with until now.

“Staying—“

Metal rattles, thumps. Garrus doesn’t see the grenade, only watches as Shepard does, eyes widening as she draws her arms up to cover her exposed face and tries to turn away as the grenade bounces off the wall opposite where she sits in cover and explodes in close proximity.

He abandons his sniper in favor of the assault rifle, and pumps successive concussive blasts on the pair of soldiers left, then scrambles practically on hands and knees in Shepard’s direction. She’s coughing when he gets there, body crumbled on its left side on the floor.

“Shepard—Spirits—Jane—“ His fingers grope over the plates of her armor frantically, feeling for wetness, feeling for… holes. Her chest plate is blown mostly to shit on her right, the shoulder too. There’s blood, but not much, mostly scratches along her neck and jaw from bits of small shrapnel, but nothing he sees as deep.

“I—“ Shepard coughs again, groaning, and Garrus helps her into a seated position, her back against the console that acted as her cover. He shines the light from his omni-tool into her eyes, watching for the equal constricting of her pupils when he does so. She pushes at his arm, squinting. “Jesus, I’m fine. Get that out of my face.”

“Cortez—we need evac now,” Garrus says into his comm, ignoring her.

“Had to abandon the pad—got some troops on me. Three—no, four—taking fire.” Cortez’ link cuts out, only static on the other end.

Shepard’s eyes are shut as she winces, arm across her chest guarding the side that took the brunt of the blast. Whatever’s happening out there, he doesn’t care. “Shepard’s hurt—mission’s over—“

“Garrus.” She halfheartedly tugs at his omni-tool wearing arm to interrupt, but he shrugs her off.

“We’re abandoning the last sample, get your ass back here now.”

Belay that, Cortez. We’re fine, make your landing when it’s clear,” Shepard cuts in, gritting her teeth. The tone she uses on him is not one he’s used to, a reminder of the woman he first met, and not the one he’s gotten to know. “Garrus,” she says, like he’s some cannon fodder green boy and not, well, him. “Fall in line.”

It’s sobering. She’s always afforded her crew some leeway, and probably him more than the others, though whether it was what she gave or what he took, he doesn’t know anymore.

“Yes, Commander,” is all he says, then hits the button on her omni-tool for automatic medi-gel dispersion and picks his gun back up. “Let’s finish then.”

It’s petty, he knows, and when they’re back on board the Normandy he’ll stay up half the night dwelling on this moment, but now, right now, he’s only angry. She’s risking herself, more than she always does, and for what? Is this really the key to pushing the reapers back?

“Hold the hallway, Javik,” she orders again. The medi-gel seems to have renewed her. “It’s our ticket out of here.”

A few new soldiers have filtered in from the direction of the console he knows has been their target, but it’s just the basic ground troops without shielding and he and Shepard make quick work of them. She even mail slots a guardian with just her pistol. That’s his girl. Maybe she really is alright.

Shepard looks a mess, though. Her visor’s cracked, the power flickering on and off depending on her movements, and blood matted into her hair just above her ear. There’s no faint hum of her shields and he knows they’re totally fried now, likely from the grenade damaging the module as they began to recirculate just as the worst of the blast hit her, and even her armor looks like one shot is all it’s going to take to take her down. He’s here, though, he tells himself, he’s got her. He has to.

They make it to the computer, and while it’s a better place to defend than that hallway they’d gotten holed down in, there’s still a little too much open space to make him comfortable. Shepard stands at the terminal, hotlinking EDI into the Cerberus system so she can ferret out the data on the sample they’re looking for. It’s working, but it’s gonna take a minute. In the meantime, he spends his time watching the stairs, picking off soldiers as they crest over the top and into view.

He hears the dispersal of a second dose of medi-gel, and risks a glance back to Shepard. “Another?” Garrus asks, concerned. Let her be made at him, he doesn’t care.

She’s leaning on the console with a little too much of her weight, shoulders hunched, her breathing uneven and heavy. Her head shakes. “I think I’ll actually need Chakwas when we get back,” she admits, then palms her right side while holding her omni-tool steady, not willing to lose the connection.

A centurion tosses a smoke grenade but it’s too slow, Garrus has already unleashed an overload and fires in the direction he spotted the soldier before he lost him from view.

“Got ‘em,” Garrus says, a bit too jovially.

Beside him, Shepard slumps to her knees, only releasing her left hand when EDI confirms the sample data has been acquired. She tugs off her visor and casts it aside, and begins pulling at her chest plate until it gives way where it’s cracked and crumbling, like the removal is the answer for some relief.

“Come on,” he tries to help her up, “we’ve got to go.”

Her head tips up to him and she’s pale all of a sudden, though she tries to take his arm and steady herself to her feet. She doesn’t get far, however, the strength gone from her legs, her head bobbing.

“Javik,” he calls, “fall back. I need you here.” Shepard doesn’t even try to intervene this time.

The prothean barely spares him the time to answer. “My orders—“

Damn your orders,” Garrus bites, "Get over here. EDI, I need Chakwas on the line. Shepard’s armor’s done for, but run a scan if you can.”

Javik finds them quick enough, and takes up Garrus’ former position watching the corridors. He glances back to the two of them as Garrus helps her lay down.

“Can’t—catch—breath,” Shepard barely makes out.

This is all his fucking fault. She’d trusted him to have her back, to protect her. If he hadn’t missed—if her shields hadn’t been down when that grenade had rolled in—if he hadn’t distracted her—if he’d just paid attention—

Garrus reaches for the knife on his thigh and makes a cut at the throat of her base layer. It’s a tough material, a weave of carbon fiber and some other things he doesn’t know, usually able to withstand a slashing and some projectiles, but he nicks it just right and once the material’s integrity is compromised, he takes the two halves in his hands and tears further, splitting it down her chest. Then he takes the knife again, careful this time to not prick flesh, and cuts through the fabric of her bra down the center, leaving her completely exposed. There’s fresh bruising already blooming over the right side, and like this, with nothing on her, he can see just how hard of a time she’s having taking in air.

“I have nothing from her suit,” Chakwas pipes in through his visor, “tell me what you see, Garrus.”

“She took a grenade blast with almost no shields,” he says quick, “two medi-gels with little relief. Bruising on the right side of her chest. Minor blast burns and shrapnel to her face and neck. Nothing penetrating that I can see.”

“Put your hands on either side of her chest, along the ribs. What do you feel?”

The breadth of his hands palm either side of her chest. Shepard tries to breathe deep, if the straining in her neck is any indication.

“Her right side,” he replies, “there’s almost no movement compared to the left. No expansion.”

“Heart rate?”

It takes only a second for his visor to scan and spit out the data. “Hundred and fifty six.” Even he knows that’s not normal. Garrus has had Shepard’s suit data queued into his omni-tool and visor since well before the Omega-4 relay to keep an extra eye on her. There’s been moments where her pulse has escalated depending on the circumstances of a particular firefight, but not sustained like this, and not splayed out on the floor and unmoving.

Shepard’s fist passes over her heart, fingers squeezed tight in a fist.

“Pain?” He asks and she nods. “You got that?” Garrus asks the open comm line as he takes Shepard’s hand in both of his, draws it to him and nuzzles her glove covered knuckles. His own heart pounds, ticking away almost just as fast as hers.

“Her lung’s collapsed,” Chakwas answers, and he doesn’t know how she keeps her voice so even and calm. “Probably pierced by a piece of a rib, causing the pressure to build up in her chest. Every breath she takes causes the pressure to rise, pressing on the other lung and her heart.”

The fact that the doctor seems so sure in her answer gives him a bit of calm. She’ll be fine. She’ll be okay. “So we get her back to the ship, and you’ll fix it.”

Cortez cuts Chakwas off. “I shook off the Cerberus ships, but the LZ’s a mess. If you can clear it out, I can come in for extraction.”

“We’ll head over,” Garrus says, though he isn’t even sure of what the plan is. They’ve been hit hard and overwhelmed with just the sheer number of soldiers on this station, even when it was the three of them. Now, with just two and having to protect Shepard?

“Vakarian, listen to me.” Chakwas speaks as he’s trying to maneuver Shepard into his arms. “Every second, the pressure in her chest increases. Eventually, her heart will stop. If she’s as bad as you say she is, she will not make it back to the Normandy alive.” He stills immediately, and Shepard raises her head just enough to look at him, unaware of the chatter on the line without her visor and earpiece she’d torn off. “If you can make it to the kodiak, there’s a needle decompression kit in the trauma bag. I’ll walk you through it. Now get her the hell off that station.”

Javik’s already looking at him when he turns to the prothean, confirming he heard the doctor’s words as well. He gives Garrus a nod of understanding, then immediately sets off back in the direction of that dreaded hallway and the landing pad beyond that in an attempt to clear the way.

“Garrus?” Shepard croaks, but he doesn’t respond, only gathers her in both of his arms with his gun slung around his back, and follows behind Javik. They pass the stain of blood and char on the floor where Shepard took her hit, and Garrus nearly stumbles at the sight. Shepard’s fingers dig into a soft joint in his armor, and he tells himself so long as he feels that, she’ll be okay. She’s fighting, even now.

He can see the kodiak barreling in their direction and reluctantly sets Shepard down just inside of cover so he can offer suppressing fire to Javik’s more tip of the spear fighting. They’re not safe here—she’s not safe here—back in this fucking hallway where they’re exposed on all sides. The fighting’s mostly isolated to the LZ now, a last attempt at Cerberus to hold them off, but he knows it’s only a matter of time before they wise up and go the long way around to flank them on the other side and Shepard will be left defenseless and open. It’ll take one shot, not even a particularly good one, what with her armor and suit torn open and skin bared, to take her away for good.

Cortez pulls the kodiak in hot, a tight maneuver that swings the ass end of the ship over part of the pad, thrusters burning at a few of the last hold outs and distracting the others so he and Javik can clean up.

“Come,” Javik commands.

Garrus pulls at the two remaining grenades on Shepard’s belt, then hurls them over to give them a fighting chance, hauling Shepard into his arms again and makes a mad dash for the open door of the shuttle. He all but stumbles, nearly falling inside, and they’re already off, hurtling away as the door shuts behind Javik.

Cortez yells as he flies. “Crew on deck!” He turns in his seat partially, still keeping an eye out as he rolls through an evasive maneuver or two, and shouts back into the cabin. “Red bag, far wall!”

She’s still breathing, but only just. Javik brings him the supplies.

“What am I looking for?”

“White box,” Chakwas is there again, never having left despite her silence. “There’s a large gauge needle in there. Open it.”

He finds it despite his shaking hands. The ship rolls to one side and Garrus nearly loses the needle as he braces himself and Shepard against the bench to prevent them from sliding about the main compartment.

“Find her clavicle.”

Her—what? There’s no direct translation for the word Chakwas is saying, no analogous structure on the turian body and therefore no match into his language. The word rings out, untranslated as sometimes happens, only now it isn’t just an odd human word for a sweet back on Earth or the name of a settlement, it’s a spirits damned body part on the woman he loves and he’s about to let her die because they’re a species apart.

“I—Cortez, you need to do this,” he says, fumbling.

“You’re not going to be able to keep Cerberus off our tail the whole way back,” he counters, and Garrus knows that, too.

Shepard looks up to him, her face wan and stricken. Is this what she looked like the last time she died? Is he going to watch it happen to her again? Some part of him he barely knows creeps to the forefront, full of cowardice. It tells him to look away so he doesn’t have the image of her final moments burned into his brain. He fights it, and doesn’t take her eyes off her.

Garrus tries to say the word as best he remembers it. “Cla—“ His tongue and vocal cords don’t form the sound.

Cortez slams a hand on the dashboard, switching the comm from private to speaker, and Chakwas’ voice floods the interior of the shuttle. “From the clavicle—“

Shepard manages a hand to her chest, her fingers finding the sharp cut of bone he knows intimately from the time spent in her bed. His tongue particularly likes that dip above it and for that reason alone he should’ve learned the damn word for it ages ago. “Here,” she gasps, wasting her precious breath. Garrus pulls off his gloves and tries to follow Chakwas’ instructions despite the pounding of his own pulse. He presses hard—too hard, he fears—against skin he’s only ever treated carefully and feels for the firmer ribs, noting the difference to where the flesh gives way and dips between them. He’s found the spot, he thinks.

“Shepard—“ His voice breaks, subvocals quaking.

She only gives him the smallest of nods. She shouldn’t trust him anymore, he thinks, but she does. Still, after everything.

“Insert the needle perpendicular to her chest wall.”

If she doesn’t make it out of this…

It takes more pressure than he thinks to puncture through her flesh and the heavy skin weaves she has, take even more to keep advancing the needle into her chest as he sees Shepard wince with the pain he knows he’s causing her.

“I’m not sure if I’m in the right spot—nothing’s happening.”

“Keep going,” Chakwas guides him on. "You'll know when you've made it."

He doesn’t want to, it doesn’t seem right that this needle is already so far into her and there’s been no relief—what if he’s wrong, what if he’s punctured something else—but it’s only the slightest push more when he hears the softest pressurized pop. “Got it—I’ve got it!”

It takes a couple seconds and he swears he can hear the quiet hiss of air out of her chest now that the shuttle’s gone mostly quiet as they break on through the atmosphere. What’s more is he can see the relief on Shepard’s face and in her body as the pressure inside of her eases.

“Guide the needle out but leave the catheter in place.” Chakwas gives him a moment. “How’s she looking?”

“Alright,” he answers, careful to not withdraw the whole thing together and ruin his hard work. In the end, she’s left with that bit of plastic sticking out of her chest, an awful thing to see, but it’s done the job. “She’s okay.”

The tension leaves her through every successful breath she takes, tears leaking out of the corner of her eyes.

“I have you,” he tells her, bending forward despite his bulk and the armor he wears, and grazes his forehead against her own.

“I know,” she answers quietly, her voice a little more her own and not that breathless wheeze from only moments before.

Her recovery is remarkable in the minutes that follow, and soon enough Shepard attempts to push herself from the floor upwards. Garrus tuts but is there to help her regardless, supporting her as he pulls her onto his lap. She’s content with his arm around her, bearing her weight but not holding her too tightly. He strokes her cheek, that extra soft flesh just below her eye.

“Don’t do that again,” he admonishes.

Shepard offers him a small smile. “Yes, sir.”

It must be an odd sight, her small body cradled in his much larger one across the shuttle floor, and Garrus, as if only just realizing her level of exposure, tries to pull at the shredded fabric of her bra and suit though it does little to conceal her breasts and bare skin while being careful of the catheter in her chest.

“We’re even now,” she says. “You had a missile. I got a grenade.”

His chest vibrates along with his subharmonics. “I wasn’t aware we were competing. Next time, warn me.”

She doesn’t answer, but her skin’s pink and she feels a living, heavy weight in his arms, so he doesn’t worry. “Thank you,” she says after a moment. Garrus just caresses her cheek and brushes his lip plates over the top of her head.

“I’ve got you. I’ve always got you.”

 

What looks like half of the Normandy’s entire crew is waiting on the hangar deck when the shuttle pulls in. Chakwas is first to board as soon as the door opens, and she crouches down to where he sits on the floor with Shepard. The doctor spares only a moment to listen to her lungs, then offers Shepard a rarely seen smile.

“He did good,” Shepard states.

Chakwas pats his shoulder and returns to her full height. “He did. Now come on. We’ve got the stretcher waiting. You and I have a date with a chest tube to sort this out.”

Garrus begins to stand, a careful balancing act with her in his arms, but Shepard stops him.

“Let me walk out,” she tells him, rather than asks.

“You can’t be serious—“

But her face crumples just a little. “I—I need to walk out. So they all know I’m okay.”

He wants to counter her, wants to remind her she wasn’t not even a half hour earlier, that he’d looked into her eyes and thought it might have been for the last time. But… he also understands that she is the commander of this vessel, and wants to quell any fear has been stirring up since word of her injuries likely spread across the ship like wildfire.

Instead, he merely helps her up, and pulls one of those emergency foil blankets around her to provide her with privacy and dignity as she disembarks. Shepard holds the two ends of the material closed with one fist, then gives him a terse nod. She does, however, let him hover a hand at her back until she’s helped onto the stretcher and he finally finds the reassurance that she’s not going to fall. Shepard reaches out and grabs his hand for a second just before they whisk her away, squeezing it as she draws his bare flesh to her mouth in a kiss, for all to see.

That… He didn’t ever know if their relationship was something Shepard was going to acknowledge out in the open. The closest to them knew of it, of course. There was only so much hiding they could do from their friends, but to touch him like that in front of everyone? Garrus’ throat tightens as he watches her go. The elevator doors close and Garrus sags, catching himself on the hull of the shuttle.

“I did not know you and the Commander were… joined,” Javik speaks. “I smelled you on her,” he quickly amends, and offers his hand to help Garrus back up. “But I did not believe it was something more than the satisfying of biological urges.”

His hand still warms with the memory of her lips.

Javik makes to leave, but pauses only a few steps off. “Do not distract her from duty. The galaxy is more important than either of you and whatever you have between your legs.”

Garrus nearly snorts. “Thanks, I’ll do that.”

Liara lingers by the elevator doors; he only vaguely recalls having seen her blue skin in the crowd of onlookers. She approaches, waving off one of the privates that offers to help him with his gear.

“Are you okay?”

“Me?” Her question is almost unbelievable. Had she not just seen Shepard? Why would she be asking after him?

She must read the confusion on his features, and lightly touches the flecks of tacky human blood across the chest of his armor. Shepard’s. “We were all listening—Lieutenant Vega and I were preparing the other shuttle to drop in and assist when we finally heard you’d made it onboard the kodiak.”

They were too far off and wouldn’t have made it in time all the way from the Normandy, he knew. At least not to have helped Shepard. His step wobbles at that thought, and Liara takes him by the arm, guiding him back to a bench by the armory. He easily slumps down, seated.

“She’s—she’s fine.”

“Yes,” Liara answers, then sits beside him. “She is, in no small part thanks to you.”

His head shakes, voice unsteady. There’s even a tremor to his hand until he rests it on his knee quickly, hoping she doesn’t see. Garrus’ voice is quiet. “I almost lost her again. It was close. Too close.”

Liara’s side presses gently against his, a soft reminder of her presence and to tether him to the present. It’s not enough though, and soon he’s hunched forward, his subharmonics warbling erratically. He can see her again, clear as day, sprawled out on the shuttle floor, can feel her eyes on him and how she begs without saying a word. His hand covers his face, eyes squeezed shut, quiet keening breaking free despite his resolve.

“I can’t imagine what it must be like to almost lose someone you… you love,” Liara says with some hesitation. He knows Liara isn’t a foreigner to loss, she watched her mother die in front of her, in front of all of them. His head floods with the image of his own mother, sick and wasting down to almost nothing. He wasn’t there when she passed, he’d only read about it on a terminal message from the team treating her all those light years away. But this, with Shepard… it feels so very different. Love, Liara had said. He loves Shepard. He knows that. He’s known that for some time.

Liara spreads an arm across his back for a moment, then lets him go. “Let’s get you cleaned up. You know Shepard will be angry if you walk into the med bay like this.”

 

Garrus ends up in Shepard’s private shower instead of the communal washroom for the rest of the Normandy’s crew. There’s no use in trying to hide their relationship now, he figures, and what’s more is he just wants the time alone. His showers are usually quick even now, years after water rations while in the service, and yet he takes his time, letting the scalding water baptize him anew as if it was so simple to rinse away the day.

There’s a crust of dried human blood under and around his talons that he sets to cleaning, and when he palms the bar of soap tucked away on the shelf, the memory of Shepard’s skin under his fingers pulses back to him. He’s no stranger to her flesh; he’s lain with her more times in the last few weeks than he probably has with all his other partners combined through his lifetime. There are speckles of brown on her skin he’s familiar with that he’s sure Shepard hasn’t seen herself, and more ways even still he knows to touch her that elicit the softest whispers of pleasure from somewhere deep inside her. Today, though… her body had felt a stranger to him when he had to render aid, like he had never once touched her at all. It’s a reminder, one he’s been desperately trying to ignore since he spied her through his scope on Omega: she is a fragile thing.

It’s terrifying work to love something like that. Someone.

Garrus isn’t outside of the med bay for more than a minute before Chakwas appears, though she does not admit him inside.

“She’s still sleeping,” she tells him, “but she’s doing remarkably well. You’ll be the first one to see her when she’s awake.”

He wants to fight her on it when he looks beyond to one of the medical stations and sees the curtains drawn. There’s only the faint shadow of a body in repose and he knows it to be Shepard. Chakwas grasps his forearm delicately and pats his upper arm with her other hand. “Please, eat something. Take a break before you end up as my patient, too.”

His eyes stay locked on the spot where he knows Shepard to lay until the doors close. Garrus follows her advice and heads to the kitchen, only bothering to pull out a protein drink from the dextro shelf. The taste is off putting on a good day, but he commits to it, chugging down half the container when his omni-tool pings. It’s Joker. Garrus connects the comm link through his visor.

“So I’m not really sure what the next move is…” the pilot begins, “Shepard didn’t exactly leave an itinerary for us.”

“Ask Vega, he’s the next ranking Alliance officer.”

“That’s the thing. EDI and I voted, and since I pilot the ship and she is the ship, we decided Shepard would want you as her XO, given the situation. Where to?”

It’s not something he’s truly considered since rejoining Shepard after Menae. Frankly, it hadn’t mattered. Shepard was in charge, she always would be in charge, to hell with all else. Kaidan had been here before he’d gotten hurt, or so he’d heard at least, and the man would’ve easily fallen into that position. Alenko isn’t here, however, he’s still recuperating back at Huerta, and with Shepard incapacitated, the ship needs someone to make the call. Garrus ventures a look back at the window of the med bay, but the windows are clouded, the privacy protocol enacted now that a patient is within its walls.

“Talis Fia, out in Urla Rast,” he decides. The knowledge he draws from isn’t something Shepard had talked of during any intel briefing, but a comment made as she worked late into the night cycle in her quarters when he would have preferred she join him in bed. “Shepard mentioned there was something there we needed to pick up while we were out here. The Citadel after that, but take it slow. She needs as much time as we can give her.”

“Understood.”

The drink left behind, Garrus rides the elevator up to the CIC. Traynor nervously shifts her weight as he passes, but finally calls his attention before he gets out of ear shot.

“Vakarian—Sir—“ she blunders. Garrus hasn’t often spoken to her; she’s Shepard’s contact, not his. “Admiral Hackett’s waiting for a debrief from Shepard. I was going to ask the Lieutenant, but he wasn’t part of the ground team and… should I tell him Shepard’s been injured?”

This, now this is certainly not his place. He has no part in the Alliance and hasn’t even met the man, aside from when the Admiral had come sweeping through the SR-2 after Shepard’s fateful mission in Bahak. He’d hated Hackett then for putting her at risk, though not as much as he had when he’d learned that the Admiral had called for her to surrender herself as payment for the call she’d had to make on her lonesome. She should never have been put in that position to begin with.

“I’ll take it,” he acquiesces in the end. Shepard wouldn’t want the information to wait, especially not after she nearly died for it.

Garrus answers the call in vid comm, and even the blue hued hologram of Admiral Hackett looks stricken at the sight of him. A turian is most definitely not who the admiral is expecting.

“Shepard’s fine,” he leads with, his voice stiff, formal. “She’s in medical getting looked over, and asked me to speak to you so you didn’t have to wait any longer.” It would do no good to worry the Admiral with the truth of it, and he knows Shepard well enough to know that she likewise wouldn’t share the extent of her injuries. “We acquired the data on both of the reaper samples, our comm specialist should be forwarding it to you momentarily.”

“That’s… good to hear. We’ll have our best engineers on it. Good work, and give Shepard my regards. And Vakarian—we’re glad to have you with us.”

The call is mercifully short. Garrus checks his omni-tool for a message from his father or sister, and now, Chakwas. Nothing. When will he ever hear of something good? He supposes he used all of his good luck the minute Shepard had touched down on Menae.

Afterwards, he finds himself back down in the shuttle bay and at the kodiak in particular where he stares through the open door looking inside. Someone has already tended to the disarray they left behind: the floor has been cleaned of blood, the faint scent of bleach lingering in the air not yet dissipated; the trauma kit repacked and returned to the shelf; and the splintered pieces of Shepard’s crumbling armor have been swept and disposed of.

“Sounded like a shit show out there, Scars,” Vega says, shoulder to shoulder with him. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help.”

Me too, he wants to say. Maybe if there had been a human out there today they might have recognized some sign—some hint—her body was giving before she’d been half hypoxic and fading fast. Maybe Vega would have fixed her right up without a second guess. Garrus settles for silence.

“She’s a strong girl, your Lola.” He’s heard that nickname tossed around from time to time between James and Shepard, and though he still has no idea what kind of tone it carries, he’s focused more on the preceding word. Your. James heads back to his workbench behind him, and Garrus only stays until he swears he can hear an echo of the wheezing, gasping breaths she’d fought for hours earlier.

“She’ll need replacements for what she lost,” Garrus says when he stops by Cortez’ station on his way out. “If you can put in the requisition. I’ll pick them up whenever we make it to the Citadel next.”

There’s a heavy lidded, tired look to the man’s eyes. Steve nods. “Of course.” Garrus hasn’t moved more than a single step when Steve starts again. “I—I’m sorry I couldn’t hold the drop point. I keep thinking that maybe if I’d been able… if we could’ve gotten her off a little sooner—“

It’s rich, he knows, to reassure Steve that nothing could have been done when he simultaneously feels crushed by his own guilt. Still, he tries. “It wouldn’t have mattered. She wanted to go back for that last artifact. Whether you were there waiting or not, the damage was done. And she’s—“ the words catch in his throat. “She’s fine. We can’t dwell on the what ifs.”

There’s a wrinkle of flesh between Steve’s eyebrows and wordlessly he turns to his work. Garrus rides the elevator up to the next level on his own, and there Adams makes a request to keep an eye out for a GX-12 thermal pipe for an upgrade he’s planning. Garrus promises to make note of it for Shepard. Donnelly and Daniels catch him up to speed on the core’s latest maintenance cycle, though their words are hurried, hoping in the end to inquire about their commander instead.

“She’s alright,” he promises them, though in truth he has no idea himself.

“Commander will appreciate you making the rounds for her,” Daniels says.

He’s doing that, isn’t he? Garrus has seen her, both on this incarnation of the ship and the SR-1, moving deck by deck, checking in with her crew to keep abreast of all that occurred under her watch. In her absence, he’s fallen into her place, only where she’d usually come to end her journey in the main battery, Garrus completes his back at the door to the med bay. He’s dragging a chair over when Chakwas opens the door and waves him in.

“I can’t let you sit out there looking so miserable. It’s bad for morale.” She leads him towards the last bed and pulls the curtain back for him to slip inside.

The lights over the bed are dimmed and Shepard’s eyes are still shut when he enters. There’s a stool at the bedside that he takes up perch on and then he reaches—gently, carefully—for her hand. Her skin there is unmarred and surprisingly soft, at least against his own more leathered flesh. Part of him, irrational and terrified, hasn’t been able to believe the promise of her good health without her in his direct sights, but here she lies asleep, her chest rising and falling evenly in the way he knows intimately from the nights spent beside her.

There’s something like a single hiccup that comes to his chest all at once, a gasping choking sound he makes that contracts every muscle in his body. His plates pull against his skull, and around his eyes the skin tightens and moisture washes over his eyes even if he doesn’t cry the way the other aliens do. It grips him somewhere inside in a place he’s only felt twice before: once, a few months earlier, when he’d heard of his mother’s passing, and the other, years ago, when he’d been walking back to his apartment on the Citadel as the nearest citadel news link repeated news of the Normandy’s destruction and Shepard along with it.

He curls forward until his forehead presses against the top of both of their hands, and though he knows Chakwas to be nearby, he cannot help himself, he cannot stop. There’s a strangled keening sound that worms its way out of him, his chest shuddering with both the vibration of his sub vocals and his deep seated grief.

Is there another word for it? Is it still grief if you never lost anything at all, but only feared you might?

Garrus mouths at the back of her hand in an imitation of a kiss he only knows how to perform against her own lips, and then crosses both his arms over the edge of the vacant space beside her on the bed, and rests his head on his arms. He doesn’t intend to sleep, not with the clenching in his carapace still just as tight as it’s ever been, but he’s so close to her he can hear her steady breathing, can feel her warmth, and when he shuts his eyes he doesn't have the energy to resist.

It’s Shepard herself that wakes him later when she stirs. Her eyelids are weighted as if she’s still halfway in slumber, though her smile suggests otherwise. Garrus sits up, swiping at his eyes like she would be able to read his earlier sorrow across his features in the way he does with her dried tears.

“I dreamt about you,” she whispers. Her voice is soft, perhaps a little slurred together, reminiscent of her after a few too many drinks. The pain medication is still swimming through her veins.

Garrus leans in and strokes the hair away from her forehead, pushing the shorter pieces back into place as he’s watched her do a thousand times before. As he works, he asks: “What did you dream of, darling?” The words leave him before he can reconsider.

What they’ve had since reuniting… it is entirely different than what they had before she left for Earth and her confinement. It is sweeter, calmer, something far more intimate in every sense of the word. Desperate, too. He clings to her every time, like if he just holds tight enough, if he just keeps her close… She knows what she means to him, he’s sure of that. And yet, they don’t speak of it—of them—aloud.

Her eyes crease at the corners, nose wrinkling. “Darling? I’m not sure the translator’s getting that word right.”

“What did it say?”

“It said darling,” she repeats, then shakes her head, frustrated. “It’s an affectionate term for someone you care for.”

Garrus sits up a little straighter, but doesn’t go far. “Oh, that’s definitely not what I meant.” His mandibles flare once, twice, rhythmically, aware of her teasing.

“It’s too late, you can’t have it back.” Shepard’s eyes shut briefly, though this time not from fatigue, just for effect. “I’ve never been someone’s darling,” she muses.

It’s a comfort to be on the receiving end of such a thing. He’ll let her tease him for the rest of his life if that’s what she wants. In fact, he hopes she does.

“What did you dream of?” He prompts her.

Shepard sets both of her hands to the cushioned pad beneath her to push her body up against the slight incline of the bed itself, but winces at the pain. Garrus stands quickly and slides an arm around her, under her arm on the side opposite her injury, and pulls her up with ease. She pats his forearm in thanks.

“Of you,” she says, letting the blanket slip lower, the paper thin fabric of her gown hinting at the bandages beneath, “growing up on Palaven as a boy, while I was on Mindoir.”

She’s never been there, but maybe when this is over, if there’s anything of it left… There’s still been no word from his father and sister. Guilt gnaws in his belly like a hungry varren.

“Do you ever think about it?” Despite her previous show of effort, her head weighs heavy on her pillow.

“Think about being a child?”

Her head shakes shallowly then starts, her words slow and measured. “I meant… in all the billions of years the Milky Way has existed, you and I are lucky enough to be born at what is, in the grand scheme of things, the same time. We grow up on opposite sides of the galaxy, and then, separate and independent, unaware that the other exists, we travel across millions of stars for the unlikely chance that our paths converge at just the right moment.” She pauses. “A breeze may have blown in a different direction on either of our planets and we might not have ever met.”

What led her to the Alliance and to the Citadel is a far sadder story than his, he knows. If slavers hadn’t come to Mindoir, she likely would have stayed toiling away on her human colony world. For him, ending up at C-sec seemed almost his destiny due to his father, but her words ring true. A different deployment might have led to death, injury, or maybe a commendation that encouraged reenlistment. A promotion at C-sec might not have led to Saren drawing his attention and ire. A bit of morning tram traffic might have meant he never made it to the council’s chambers and said the words Commander Shepard. It’s a hard thought to imagine not having her in his life. He hardly remembers what it was to exist before she entwined their two lives together. Two halves of a whole.

“I didn’t just find you that once, either,” Shepard continues, her eyes never leaving his. “I found you on Omega just in time, without even knowing what I was looking for. And then I found you against all odds, on a moon while our worlds were burning.”

There are tears pooling at the corners of her eyes though they don’t spill. He wants to reach out and touch them, feel each salty drop between his finger tips. When he was that boy, would he ever have dreamed that his future would include a longing to comfort the quiet tears of his human partner? That he would know the feel of her hair sliding between his fingers? That there would be nothing sweeter than the sound of her sigh when she gives herself over to sleep beside him?

“The universe keeps pulling us together, it seems,” he answers.

Shepard nods along with his words. “Don’t you think that counts for something? That there’s still hope if you’re here with me, by my side?”

Those childhood stories of fate or higher powers with a guiding hand had never interested him. He much preferred the more turian tales of heroics and perseverance where luck was meaningless if you only tried hard enough. Shepard was a bit of both, wasn’t she? A bit of wrong place wrong time had brought her into this fight against the reapers, but she’d never let up, not even when the rest of the galaxy had told her to abandon the cause. She let her body be torn to pieces for it time and time again, the universe taking its payment in blood, and still that same universe had seemed to task him with bearing it alongside her. It didn’t seem that there would ever be a time or place that she wouldn’t find him, no matter how far, no matter how unlikely.

“I’m with you,” he tells her, the words just as fervent as the ones he’d promised her back in the shuttle, “I’m always going to be with you.”

A lone tear breaks free and Garrus gets his wish. His thumb smooths it away, leaving a streak of trailing moisture across her cheek. Shepard folds her hand over his, holding it to her cheek. He leans in to find her lips already parted, waiting.

The universe has it right. Kissing her is like coming home.