She wakes up groggy. She's usually a light sleeper, so it's strange to feel her dreams clinging to her as she forces her eyes open. It must be a bone deep kind of tired she's feeling now if it's this hard to just get up.
Her yawn is broken by a rough jolt of the ship. Still drowsy, she stumbles slightly as she gets out of bed. What the fuck was- Another jolt nearly knocks her back on the bed.
Wide awake, she bolts across her cabin. Maybe she should have wondered how she got to her cabin in the first place, but the feeling of Normandy being her home was so deeply embedded in her that she didn't think twice. So what if she's here instead of on lock down on Earth?
"EDI, status report."
No response. To the CIC then.
Another jolt - this one obviously caused by weapon fire on her goddamn ship - has her falling into the crewman stationed outside her quarters. "What's going on?" she shouts as the man, probably ten years her junior, tries to help her regain balance. She gets a good look at him and realizes she knows him. Jimmy? John? James - yes, James. "Who's attacking us?"
"Probably everyone," he mutters. Shepard ignores him and starts moving towards the elevator. He side-steps in front of her, surprisingly graceful for someone twice her size. "I've got orders to keep you here."
"Whose orders?" This is ridiculous, this is her ship and she'll be damned if anyone's going to tell her-
"The Captain's, ma'am."
"Captain?" She grows pale. Captain? What Captain? The Normandy hasn't had a Captain since... well, this Normandy's never technically had one. Who the hell did Alliance give her ship to? Why wouldn't they tell her-
This time the jolt knocks them both from their feet. Taking advantage of the distraction, Shepard darts up and over her would be guard and into the elevator.
"Lola- Shepard- wait-" But the door's closed and she's gone.
The CIC is in bad shape. Crew are injured but everyone who's able is frantically working at their stations. She's been in enough space side fire fights to know this isn't good. They don't seem to notice her as she makes her way to the cockpit. As little sense as the last five minutes have made, the scene before her makes even less sense.
Joker at the helm was the only thing that seemed right. His hands flew across the controls with the skilled precision she had always marveled at, though it always worried her when his usual bravado was dialed down for the task before him. A mechanical... woman (she had no other way to describe it) was going through technical read outs of not only the Normandy but what looked like a hundred ships in the vicinity, monitoring their systems and helping coordinate attack patterns.
And behind them, leaning against Jeff's chair was none other than Garrus Vakarian. She hadn't seen him in... months, and here he was, barking commands at Joker like it was his ship, like he wasn't just used to giving orders but expecting them to be followed.
The battle around them didn't make much of any sense either. Ships of every kind she could imagine - Krogan, Turian, Human, Quarian, Batarian, a half dozen others she couldn't recognize - fighting what looked like a dozen, no at least two, maybe three dozen Reapers.
Being the soldier she was, she said the most poetic thing she could think of at a time like that.
That gets Garrus' attention, his head snaps to her. She has no way of understanding the look in his eyes, but it chills her to speculate.
"Get her out of here," he snarls, actually snarls, before turning away and back to the battle at hand. "Do not let the Crucible out of your sight, keep her steady and do not let a shot get through."
About a half dozen calls of "Yes, sir" follow from behind them.
The guards manage to get her about a few feet before she breaks through. With as much force as she can, she grabs Garrus' shoulder and spins him around, pulls him down a bit and makes him look her in the eye. "What the fuck are you doing with my ship?"
It galls her when he ignores her - just fucking ignores her - but before she can say anything an explosion rocks the Normandy off course. A nearby ship goes up in flames as a Reaper beam cuts straight through it. The light is blinding and they all shield their eyes but as it fades she feels the atmosphere change instantly. It reminds her of what how it feels when someone dies, but the weight of those seconds make her think that that number is now in the billions because of that one ship.
It's not until Joker mumbles, "Shit," in the most dejected, most despondent voice she's ever ever heard from him that it sinks in. This battle's lost. Hell, maybe they're all lost.
The comm chatters to life. "This is Hackett. All ships retreat to rendez-vous Delta One. Repeat, this is Admiral Hackett. All ships are to retreat immediately to rendez-vous Delta One."
"Do it," Garrus mutters.
"Jeff... just... just do it."
"But... but Earth-"
Garrus puts a talon gently on his shoulder. "I know." Shepard stares blankly at the two of them, arguably two of the most loyal crew members she's ever had, share something that she feels ill-equipped to understand.
"Yes sir." His voice is so mechanical, so lifeless, that Shepard can barely believe it's really Joker.
Shepard's still staring motionless as all the ships turn tail and make for the Mass Relay. A quarian battle cruiser gets knocked into a nearby Alliance frigate and still she just stares. It's not until Garrus' hand is guiding her to the elevator that she can blink and turn away from the utter devastation still being wrought outside this ship.
"I'll handle it from here," he mutters, a hand lazily dismissing the guards. Too somber for words, they barely register him guide her out of their grasp. "I envy you this, Shepard," his voice a deep rumble that seems full to overflowing with feeling. "You at least won't have to remember this in the morning."
She wakes up to the feel of falling. She bolts upright, the sound of a glass shattering somewhere to her right making her head pound more. The world around her isn't sitting still and her eyes just won't focus. Panic starts to set in but she counts to ten and reminds herself that this isn't Alchera and gradually everything settles into place.
Everything is the dusty gray of twilight, odd shapes moving across the wall opposite the window as a breeze passes. She doesn't recognize the room. Very bland, it could belong to any of the places she's stayed while under house arrest in Vancouver. But even if it's bland, it lacks the military sterility she's used to. And it shouldn't be this quiet on a military base. A slight frown crosses her face when she realizes the bed's too big for just one, the fading imprint of another occupant staring back at her across the shadows.
She tries to think - what's the last thing she remembers - and it's like daggers to her temples. Still, she presses on, grasping for even the thinnest trace of a memory -
It's loud. It sounds like screaming until she realizes it's the wind. The storm's coming in too fast. Running. Pushing so hard - why so hard? For her life? No, chasing someone...
The wind blows Vega off course. She sees what's going to happen seconds before it does. He takes out the woman but the shuttle's still coming towards them. Pushing Liara out of the way. Feeling the blow, no control as she's thrown back...
Something louder than the wind. This time it is screaming but she can't tell whose. Falling, the sense of falling and then a sickening smack - bright lights and a terrible pain before nothing...
And then the fall becomes real and she's on the ground, choking for air by the bed and still confused as hell. Was that a dream? She stretches slightly, tests for injuries and finds none. Not that she's comforted. She's served plenty of tours and had plenty of bad dreams, but that - whatever it was - felt as real and terrible as her nightmares of dying. So while her body might tell her it's not real, her gut clenches and she shakily gets to her feet.
Indecision only takes her for a moment. Muffled voices coming from outside her room move her into action. She might not know what the hell is going on or where the fuck she is, but she's still Jane Shepard goddamnit and there's one thing that hasn't changed since the Blitz. A slight smile twitches at the corner of her lips as she finds the loaded pistol under the mattress.
The familiar feel of metal in her hands calms her nerves even as her body tenses.
The door sticks a little but opens without a sound. It's old fashioned - door knob and everything - but she doesn't have time to worry about that now, simply files it away for later.
Cautiously she makes her way down the short hallway to the poorly lit room at the end. The flickering lights suggest candles, but she ignores that thought as ridiculous and instead concentrates on the voices. Even in the hallway, she can't make out any words. All she hears is the low rumble of a turian and a familiar accent poorly masking an annoyed tone. Two more steps and she's finally able to pick it up the conversation.
"-have to admit it. It's time."
A grunt. "Sure it is."
"They're getting closer."
"They're always getting closer. They're never not getting closer." He tried to sound relaxed. Shepard didn't need to see him to know he wasn't. "We've got another couple of weeks at least."
A shifting and a tapping. She imagines Miranda crossing her arms and glowering, an impatient heel beating out the time. "You've gotten too comfortable here. This place isn't safe anymore-"
"And where exactly is safe?"
A slight pause. "You need to find some place safer."
"Wherever the Alliance is is a bad idea. The Reapers'll hit the Alliance forces like a hammer whenever and wherever they find them."
This time Miranda seemed to measure out each word. "I'm not talking about the Alliance."
This time the silence dragged on. She wondered if she should interrupt, but before she could make up her mind, they continued. "I'll... think about it."
To her surprise, Miranda actually chuckled. "You're a stubborn bastard, you know that Vakarian?"
"So I've been told."
"Probably only gotten worse in your old age."
"I'm not old." Mock annoyance. Footsteps and a door opening.
"Take care of yourself. I don't know how much longer I can keep making these runs." Affection? Between Miranda and Garrus?
"You're the one trying to save the galaxy. You be careful out there."
It wasn't until a few minutes after the door closed that she finally chanced a look around the corner. His back was to her, shoulders slumped in a universal sign of exhaustion.
"How long were you planning on hiding back there?" Amusement and a hint of something sadder in his sub-vocals.
She jumps as he abruptly straightens up and makes his way back to the center of the room. He motions to a chair next to him. She sheepishly tries to hide the pistol as she steps into the room. "Garrus... Can you tell me what's going on?"
"Well," he says dryly as he plops down on the couch. "That depends on how much time you have."
He was sprawled out across the couch. He stretched out as much as possible, purposely leaving her no room to sit near him. It was rude of him and he knew it, but it was an old habit. In these first encounters he liked to keep his distance. He'd done this too many times with his heart on his sleeve and after the fifth or sixth time he'd learned.
There was a chair across from him and he hoped she decided to sit there. But, as usual, she had decided to pace.
This is a game he's played too many times. Hell, he's done it about a half dozen times in the last week alone. It's a tedious game at best.
First step's always the same. What's her mood? Is she calm, does she feel safe in this strange environment? Is she agitated, looking for answers? Is she just confused, like she got stuck in the reboot process?
Pacing means agitated. Gun in hand means insecure. Sneaking around means confused.
Next step is to use that to try and figure out who the woman in front of him is. Is she still on Earth? Have they parted ways before she heads for custody? Does she still think she's on the Normandy? Does she remember the accident? If he's lucky, he might get a little bit more than that...
Agitated, insecure and confused usually mean she remembers the accident.
The last step is to figure out how much he feels like telling her this time. He used to tell her it all. Step by step, everything that had happened since he'd met up with her again on Menae. As the losses kept piling up, that became an exercise painful to them both. If he had his way, he'd just tell her the five sentence summary. But this is Shepard. Even if she's a few years short of who she should be, she almost never lets it go.
Masochist that he is, he wouldn't have her any other way…
She's falling, it's like a landslide, she has no control. But then the landslide breaks and she lands on solid ground, face hitting the marble floor.
Marble? Alliance doesn't use marble anywhere in Vancouver-
Bewildered, she looks up to see Samara looking back at her. A younger asari - with an uncanny resemblance to the justicar, but other than that is completely unknown to Shepard - breaks loose from Samara's grasp. Runs past Shepard, who doesn't know to stop her. Her arm reaches out to, but without knowing why she lets her run past.
"FALERE!" The urgency in Samara's voice makes her wish she'd stopped the asari.
A deafening screech fills the hall and without knowing why, she cringes reflexively. She doesn't know how she knows it, but deep inside she knows that what follows will be terrible.
Garrus and Vega appear on top of the steps, ten paces behind Samara. She can't help but frown to see these three distinct lines of her life in front of her right now.
Vakarian hisses something that the translator doesn't pick up, then straightens up. It reminds her briefly of her father, the difference between when he was just her father and the second it took for him to become Captain Shepard. The comparison is even more striking as Garrus flies into action. "Vega," he nods his head in Samara's direction, "get her in the elevator."
The younger man hesitates for a second - only a second - then unceremoniously tosses the asari over his shoulder and disappears out of view. Garrus takes the steps two at a time, stopping a few feet in front of her. He looks over her, behind her to where they both hear arguing. His eyes turn to steel, an obvious distaste for the decision he's about to make leaking through his intense demeanor as he reaches down and roughly pulls Shepard to her feet.
Then she feels it, the adrenaline that's already been pumping through her system. The armor. The weapon in hand. Wounds so fresh they haven't had time to bruise yet. She might not know the specifics, but she knows she's got to book it now.
His hand is still around her arm, an iron clasp that slams her unceremoniously against the far end of the elevator just as the doors slam shut behind them. There's silence except for their heavy breathing. Shepard leans on the wall but is nearly knocked down as an explosion rocks them from below.
It's Vega who reaches out a hand to steady her, but she ignores it. Instead her eyes move to Garrus. She might not have a clue as to where she is, why she's here, or hell, how they all even got there in the first place, but she looks to the only one here she trusts to be her rock in this.
But it's the look in his eyes, the burning fire of an anger she thought died with Sidonis, that greets her. Not her friend, not her crewman. A man fuming with something that's almost akin to disappointment, to resentment. She doesn't know why she looks away first, but she does. Without knowing why, she feels a shame that she's both not used to and strangely not surprised to find there.
On the terrace above, when the fresh air greets them, Samara walks off. Garrus tries to follow, but she merely waves him off. "A moment to mourn what's lost to me, please."
Shepard's worried. Doesn't want to ask what the fuck kind of nightmare she's walked in on, but the silence makes her nervous. She's not really surprised it's James who speaks up first.
"It's not your fault, Lola." He must realize she doesn't understand him, because he turns to Garrus. "It's not her fault."
Garrus' back is to them. "No. No, of course not." James seems to relax slightly, but apparently Garrus isn't done. "It's our fault. My fault. We knew it was only a matter of time before this happened. Until she lost it on a mission."
Her face reddens at the implications. Is she losing her shit? Is this some fucked up PTSD that's fucking with her mind? Oh god, please no. "Garrus-" she manages before James snaps his head to her and shakes his head urgently.
Slowly, Garrus turns and looks at her. Well, looks everywhere but her eyes. "She's off ground missions."
Vega's warning be damned, she barely keeps her tone in check, "That's not your call to make, Vakarian."
He gives her a once over, like he's appraising her worth. She's been looked over like that by drill sergeants, captains, admirals, and enemies alike, but she never expected it from her crew. Not from him. She wishes he'd just punched her in the gut, knows it would have hurt a hell of a lot less.
"Actually, Lola," James steps forward, subtly trying to put himself between the two of them, "it is his call."
His hand was gently squeezing her leg. He was surprised how natural the gesture had come to him - turians preferred sub-vocals to comfort over physical touch - but it had just seemed... appropriate.
Shepard was leaning back against the sofa, palms of her hands pressing into her eyes as she grimaced. He had no idea what her internal monologue was right now, although it likely involved a lot of colorful words.
Finally she sits up and looks at him. His physical proximity doesn't seem to bother her, so he doesn't remove his hand, just waits.
He can see why the others didn't like doing this. Here was a woman who'd walked in and out of hell repeatedly over the course of her career long before anyone on this ship had even met. She could intimidate a Krogan, made friends with the Geth, was responsible for saving more lives than they could possibly count. Yet here she was, defeated by her own memory and bad luck.
"If she'd just been a foot to the right... If the wind hadn't suddenly picked up... If I'd gotten there a minute sooner..."
At least James wasn't beating himself up about it anymore. Like a good soldier, he'd taken it in stride and kept going for the good of the mission. But after a week, he'd blatantly refused to be the one to tell her anymore.
They'd all done it by now, but only Garrus seemed willing to continue being the bearer of bad news. It was never easy, even when there were times like today that she seemed to take it well. Better, at least. But it was just as hard on the crew. Just as hard on him. No one wants to tell their Commander, especially not her, that she's broken.
"How long?" Her voice doesn't waver but it has a raspy quality to it.
He takes a deep breath before plunging in. "Two months."
She takes it rather well. The dents in her display case are testament to the times she has not. "Mission status."
He wonders if she even knows what the mission is anymore. Does she know about Tuchanka? Palaven? Does she remember what happened to Grunt? Does she still feel the sting of everyone's increasing lack of confidence in her?
The answer is no. She doesn't know any of it because he hasn't told her any of it yet...
On Menae he'd picked up that something was wrong. She greeted him warmly, that same smile that had come to save him from Omega, but she was distracted. And she was wearing her helmet. She never wore that helmet if she could help it, not after...
Well, not after.
He'd wanted to ask about it, but the marine to her left had shaken his head. Fine, maybe later when they weren't dodging a constant onslaught of Reaper troops.
It wasn't until she was rushing ahead of them, off to find the Primarch-to-be, when the marine - James, he would later learn - got a second to whisper a warning to him. "Commander took a bad hit back on Mars."
The whispering worried him, but he matched the tone. "How bad?"
James shrugged. "Still don't really know. She won't see a doctor. It's all we could do to get her to wear that damn helmet."
He chuckles lightly. "Yeah, that sounds about right."
Another few paces. The sound of gunfire was getting louder. "You joining up with us?"
Shepard momentarily dips out of sight but they round a corner and she's back in view. A flick of his mandibles as he says, "I'd imagine so."
Truth be told, he's been waiting for her since they parted ways months ago. Waiting for her to tell him to suit up and ship out. Hell with it all, his whole life these past three years has been him waiting for her. The last six months had made it painfully clear where the only place he felt at home actually was.
"Then you gotta get her to see someone." The seriousness of what he's saying, what they're actually talking about, finally hits him.
"You think it's that bad?"
"I probably don't know the Commander as well as you do, but Joker says it's bad. When it gets so bad that Joker's the one pointing it out, it's bad."
In the months to come, he wished it could all go back to being as simple as on Menae. Even if it meant having to see his home burn again. With only a day, a few hours between her and the world as she knew it, it'd been easier for them to cover it up. Easier to catch her up to where she should be. Slowly but surely, the gap became too wide for her to bridge in the short time she had.
Soon they had no choice but to leave her behind.
She blinks her way back to consciousness. When her eyes finally focus, she's staring a Krogan straight in the eye.
"I'm sorry for your loss," Wrex mutters, turning his back to her.
Only then does she realize that they're in a shuttle. She must have zoned out or something-
"She's not dead, Wrex!" Liara scolds, but there's a weariness to her voice. The shuttle hits an air pocket and rocks slightly. Wrex is the only one not thrown off balance.
He snorts. "I've seen Krogan like that. Always stuck in the same battle. Can't move on even when it's been decades. The drive's always there but it can't be tapped." He turns back to look at her, eyes narrowed. "Trust me, she's just as good as dead."
What- he can't mean her!? She knows Wrex's humor is as dry as it gets, but this is just too far-
"Isn't it rude to speak ill of the dead in front of them?" Garrus appears from the cockpit. She's never seen the armor before. Somewhere in the back of her mind she takes the time to admit it looks good on him, gives him an authoritative look. Not that the Omega armor didn't give him sort of a bad-ass extraordinaire quality, but the bullet holes had left something to be desired.
Wrex's eyes narrow. He seems to side-step the issue of Shepard being "dead" for the moment, trying a different tact. "I've got reason to be concerned. These females are important to my people. If she can't help me, she'll just slow me down."
"Shepard's name still carries all the weight it ever did," Liara says. She smiles apologetically at Shepard, seemingly the only one aware of how rude the three of them are being.
"Her own people didn't believe her about the Reapers, so don't try and tell me her name alone is going to mean anything here."
"Be that as it may," she almost snaps, "the Salarians will listen to her in this matter."
"HEY!" Shepard finally interjects. "Could you guys stop talking like I'm not even here!?"
"May as well not be," mutters Wrex before lumbering over to a seat on the far wall.
"Nice to see you too, Wrex." She turns to Liara and Garrus, hoping they'll be more cooperative than the brooding krogan in the corner. "You've got sixty seconds to brief me on what the fuck is going on."
They exchange a look she doesn't understand. A battle of wills maybe, but something's being communicated between them. Eventually Garrus takes a step back and crosses his arms over his chest. Guess he won the coin toss, because Liara sighs and rubs her forehead in frustration.
"We're about to arrive on Sur'kesh. We're going to help Wrex recover some krogan females who have been cured of the Genophage."
That probably wasn't the answer she'd been expecting.
So we're apparently ignoring me being "good as dead." Fine. "Cured how?"
"Maelon's data and I wouldn't be surprised if Dr. Solus is somehow involved."
"I'd be disappointed if he weren't," mutters Garrus. "We could always use a little more crazy around here."
Liara gives him a frustrated look. "Garrus, please. You're not helping."
"I'm very helpful."
"Guys, NOT the time. Okay, I get it. Sur'kesh, genophage cure, Maelon. Anything else?"
Garrus watches Liara carefully as she straightens her clothes and looks pointedly at the ground. "No, I think that's all of the relevant information."
She gives them a moment but the silence continues. "So we're just not going to talk about how you guys broke me out of Alliance custody?"
Liara turns a pale blue while Garrus chuckles, a low chuckle deep in his throat completely devoid of humor. "I can't do this right now. Tell her whatever you want. I'll be in the cockpit."
"Garrus-" Liara tries to follow, but the door is abruptly closed.
"Let him go." They both turn to Wrex, the forgotten krogan watching with a detached air.
Her frustration seems to bubble over. "Let him go? Let him go?" Liara's eyes grow dangerous, a reminder that she is indeed Benezia's daughter. "As if I have any control over this situation." She turns to Shepard, her eyes still tight and withdrawn. "I'll explain more when we get back to the ship. I promise. For now let's just focus on getting the females out of here as safely as possible."
There's a lot - a lot - they're not telling her. She knows it instantly but with things as tense as they are, she decides not to push it. There's a mission in front of her and that's all a good soldier really needs. They'll give her answers on the ship, fine, she can trust them to do that.
"On the ship?" Wrex asks curiously, eyeing her like some specimen in a lab. "It'll last that long?"
"Possibly," comes a disinterested reply. Liara's already moved on to something on the view screen. "Depends how long we take."
Shepard flexes her arms and shifts weight uneasily. A shuttle has never felt so suffocating as this one right now. That Alliance dorm room they first stuck her in, windowless and tucked away in some corner of one of the larger complexes, seems rather inviting at the moment.
Given the choices of company at the moment, she decides to go with krogan style brute honesty. She takes a seat next to Wrex, a respectable distance away. In a low voice, one that she's sure Liara can hear but that she'll at least have to strain to do so, she asks, "You want to tell me what the fuck is going on?"
Wrex just shrugs. "No point."
Her limbs are heavy, don't want to move, but that nagging feel of the morning shift approaching forces her to get up. It's a slow process, slower than usual, but she manages to sit up. The clock reads 0607 and boy does she wish she could squeeze in another hour or two, but she doesn't want to get soft.
But then there's a movement behind her on the bed, the tired grunt of someone rolling over and an exaggerated yawn. She freezes. In bed, check. Someone else here, check. Clothes on? She chances a look down and...
She takes a deep breath, steeling herself for whoever it is she happened to bring back with her last night.
"Garrus!" She reaches to pull the sheets around her, only to realize he's in an equal state of undress. She blushes an undoubtedly deep scarlet and turns away, trying to find something interesting on the wall to focus her attention on.
He stretches lazily, a few of his joints popping. She sneaks a quick peak (curiosity sometimes gets the best of even people like Jane Shepard) before turning back to the wall. "Garrus... were we... uh, were we drunk or something last night?" Her head's pounding, she can't remember the previous night, it seems a reasonable conclusion.
She can feel him staring at her. She's too mortified to be caught in bed with a subordinate - a turian subordinate at that - to dare look at him. After what seems like an eternity he shrugs slightly. "Sure, let's go with that."
As carefully as she can, she edges herself off the bed. While turians were apparently shameless, if she was perfectly sober, she didn't really have an excuse to be caught nude.
"You don't want to go another round or two before-"
The icy glare she gives him manages to shut him up. She had assumed he was kidding, but there's an obvious disappointment and... something she can't quite pin down that almost makes her feel guilty. Then she remembers she's hobbling around in a sheet and decides she prefers indignation at the moment. "Get dressed, Vakarian. I want you out by the time I'm done my shower."
She stops at the bathroom door. One night stand or not, they're still friends. She could be a little nicer. "Look, Garrus... let's just pretend this never happened."
He's already in his civvies, probably would've left if she hadn't decided to offer an olive branch. He takes a step over, tenderly strokes the underside of her jaw before leaning down to give her a quick nuzzle at her left temple. "I always do," he mumbles.
He's gone before she can ask what the hell that's supposed to mean.
He keeps going. Over time, he's found it's better to keep busy when they do this dance. Avoiding eye contact whenever possible. So he continues dismantling his rifle with a practiced disinterest in the conversation.
"You want a list?"
"I need to know who we've lost."
Shepard doesn't know what to make of what's happened at the monastery. Hell, he's not sure what to think of it, but at least he'll have all the time he needs to digest it. And then many many hours to wish he didn't have to.
He can't look at her right now anyway. She'd lost it at the end - so damned close to the end - and he'd had to make the call. Falere or Shepard. When he'd thought about it, the choice had been clear. It'd taken him no time at all to figure out what he wanted, to make the "tough call." Really what he was upset about is that he'd had to make it. That Falere's death rested solely on his shoulders. It was a burden he hadn't wanted.
No, that was letting himself off too easily. It had always been easier to let Shepard make the tough calls. But if he was really honest, maybe he was hoping it'd be the same now. That they could pass off all the hard decisions to Shepard. Better yet, she wouldn't even have to remember making the calls. She'd sleep at night just as well as ever. It wouldn't eat at her little by little.
Now he was starting to make the calls, make the compromises and play this deadly game of chess with the galaxy. He hated that he was in this position and deep down hated that he was terrified of messing up as badly as on Omega.
"You can't keep her off ground missions."
"We need her name, her rep to get things moving. Keep this war going."
"James. I know."
"Just sayin, is all." James was obviously relieved this hadn't turned into an argument. Things among the crew had been tense enough as it was. Another fight about Shepard was the last thing they needed. Despite how it might look, he wasn't trying to see how low morale could go.
"We'll keep a tighter watch maybe." Fucking up here was bad enough. Last thing we need is for the Council to figure out she's this far gone.
"She's still good in a fire fight. Just put her somewhere she just has to point and shoot. She's good at that."
Garrus sighs. "We might have to extend the ground team, make it so there's three of us watching her-"
A shot rings out. Garrus and Vega stare at each other for a moment before sprinting towards her. They get there just before Shepard does but there's nothing to be done. Garrus moves to divert Shepard. Even if she'll forget, she doesn't need to see her friend like-
"Oh god," she whispers. He's never seen her look that pale. It's the shock of it, the total lack of context for understanding Samara's decision, that makes Shepard look like she wants to vomit. In that instant, all his resentment's gone. He pulls her close and whispers the only lie he's comfortable with anymore. "It's alright. Everything's going to be okay..."
"No. You don't."
It was the first time he'd ever edited the truth for her. Spirits help him, he knew it wouldn't be the last.
They tell her everything they could as the car rocks along the uneven terrain of Tuchanka. She nods, letting it sink in. Given that she's still alive, she figures things could be going worse. They're still making progress, apparently, so that's something. A deal between the krogans and turians... well shit, if this memory thing is as bad as they say, she'll never believe them after today.
Eve asks her if she's alright, if something's wrong. She opens her mouth to answer that she's fine - except for being totally unable to remember the last few weeks of her life, absolutely fine - but she stops mid-syllable. No, something's not fine. Something tickling the back of her head, some idea, some... just something that needs to be said. Confusion must be written all over her, because the female krogan taps her lightly on the shoulder, soothing words lost on her as she struggles to remember whatever it is that's right there in her mind.
There's something, a message she wants to convey, but it keeps slipping through her hands like water. Shepard's lost to the outside world as she strains to find that message, that thing that's so damn important to tell that she-
The vehicles stop abruptly and the plan immediately changes course.
It's when they're moving through the tunnels of a long dead city that she starts to feel it all slipping away. Garrus and Liara don't seem to notice, they just keep pushing on. There's a light ahead of them...
While still in the darkness, Shepard grips on to that single, fading memory in a vice. She holds it close, doesn't dare try to look at it. Like a butterfly caught in your hands, flying away the moment you open them, she knows she can't peek until she needs to. All she can do is hope it'll be there when she needs it...
The things they have to fight terrify her. She must have seen them before, fought them just days ago, but the Brutes startle her. Liara must see her starting to fade - is it always so soon? - and starts coaching her on how to fight these things as Garrus... Fuck, she doesn't even remember what they're supposed to be doing here anymore, but Garrus is taking care of it.
Almost instantaneously she's at the shroud with Mordin. Just the two of them. She really, genuinely, does not remember how she got here, and that terrifies her even more.
"Mordin," she says shakily. Please help me-
"Has to be done, Shepard. Has to be me." He doesn't realize she's half gone - more than half gone. She's sweating from the effort it takes to remember what little she has left. God, she feels alone.
Finally, he looks at her, seems to notice. His frown seems to mirror a hundred others she can no longer remember. She hates to think they all pity her...
"Sorry unable to help. Injury too severe, no time with genophage work." He sighs deeply, each word ringing with regret, "Would have liked to help an old friend."
And then it hits her. The memory held tightly to her chest. The important one, the message. Oh fuck, what is the message!? "Mordin..." He turns at the sound of urgency in her voice, must finally notice something's wrong. Her mouth moves but the words don't come out. What are the words? "Mordin... STG... Dalatrass... sabotage..." It's like a knife to her temples with each word she pulls out. She can't find any more than that, there's nothing left. And like a flood, the amnesia's pouring over her. Soon she'll be drowning in it.
It didn't make sense to her, whatever the message was, but Mordin's eyes light up with understanding. "Of course. Thank you, Shepard. Best of luck. Try to stay alive."
She watches him leave. All she knows is that it's Mordin and he's gone. It makes her wonder what's going on. As the structure in front of her erupts in light and collapses at her feet, she assumes this is just a very strange dream.
"Goodbye," she whispers.
The tears are still wet on her cheeks when she begins to wonder where she is.
She didn't take it well this time. He'd actually taken the time to go through it all - or at least, most of it - but it hadn't sat well with her. Weakness was something she had always forgiven in others but couldn't tolerate in herself. Getting over the nightmares of Alchera was significantly easier than dealing with an injury you didn't even know you had half the time. It was the first fight Shepard had ever faced that she just couldn't win.
Silently, she'd slipped away. Said she needed time to herself, time to adjust. Never mind that it was time wasted - she would just have to do it all over again in a few hours.
He finds her in the port side observation deck, not surprisingly alone. Her eyes are glued to the quietly passing stars.
"Garrus, what's happening to me?" Her voice is almost hollow but she's at least keeping the tears at bay. "Every time I wake up, the galaxy is a little worse off than I left it. Everything's going to shit too fast for me to do anything about it." She finally turns to him, the eternal frown she seems to wear at times like this etched across her otherwise passive face. "But it's been months, hasn't it? Months of me stuck in this two hour loop before it all just falls out again and I'm just trying to catch up to where I was a few minutes ago." She's whispering now, "Soon it'll be years and I'll be even more hopelessly lost than I am now."
"Shepard-" He closes the gap between them in seconds and his arms wrap around her protectively. He feels her body give in to his, relax as he holds her as tightly as he dares.
"You're always here though, aren't you?" she asks after a while.
"I'll always be here." There was no point in making promises to someone who couldn't hold you to them, but he knew he meant it. As long as he could be there for her, he would, whatever came.
Eventually she pulls back. But not away. Her eyes are bright with unshed tears. "You've always been there." There's a change, a strange sort of recognition that hasn't crossed Shepard's face since the accident. He's even more startled when she puts her arm around his neck and pulls him down, her lips meeting his plates.
His stomach simultaneously drops and rises as he realizes she's kissing him. He's not sure what to do – this isn't like any of the other times and oh spirits he's starting to panic and -
She breaks the kiss, moves just far enough away so that she look into his eyes. All he sees is trust and how much she cares about him. The part of his brain that's worried simply turns off. They care about each other and right now they could both use the comfort.
And he'd be lying if he said he didn't want this…
Afterwards he holds her, waits for her to lose consciousness so he can gently bring her back to her quarters. He can't help but wonder if this would have been the natural progression of things between them. If protégé and mentor could become equals, could become friends and then best friends, then who's to say they couldn't become lovers too?
Shepard yawns slightly, presses more into him. "I could get used to this."
That's when reality decides to hit him. One perfect night with her that will taunt him for the rest of his life, and for her it won't even last the day.
"Maybe I'll remember this when I wake up," she whispers, eyes fluttering closed. "If I could keep any memory for tomorrow, it'd be this one."
He doesn't trust his voice so instead he nuzzles the back of her neck, burying himself in her scent.
"Garrus." Her voice is heavy with sleep. At least he hopes it's sleep. It takes on that same quality to it when she's starting to fade away. "I think…" her words are slightly slurred. Not sleep then. "I think… I lo-"
The transition from now to then is too much for her, sleep taking a hold of her before she can finish.
He spends the next few weeks wishing he hadn't heard that.
The whole mission she's felt strong. They keep telling her she's doing well. She feels it, believes it. She's going to see the whole thing through, at least do part of the job she's unknowingly handed off to her crew.
She's going to save the Geth.
It's not until Legion starts uploading the code that she feels like something's wrong. The ground under her feet seems unstable, it feels like she could fall through at any moment.
The Quarians won't stand down. Oh god, they won't stand down and now Tali's begging her to do something.
Shepard realizes she doesn't remember how they got here. Not quite sure where it is. All she knows is what Legion's doing is important but what Tali wants is important too. Oh shit oh shit oh shit do NOT let this go to hell.
She reaches for her comm. Minutes left, she must at least have minutes. The code's at 20%. She can - she has to - last long enough to get this done. "All ships, this is Commander Shepard. Stand down!"
"This is Admiral Tali'Zorah, Shepard speaks with my authority."
"You need to stop this now. The Geth are about to return to-" Frozen mid-sentence, she stands there. The thought's gone from her head. She tries to speak, to carry on the momentum of what she was just saying, but there's just nothing left.
"Shepard!" Tali moans, pleads. She's desperate... Why is Tali so desperate? "Shepard, please, don't do this now. My people-"
Tali's arms are grasping the front of her armor, shaking her urgently. "Do something! Tell them, Shepard, tell them!"
She wishes she could. Wishes she knew what was going on, what she needed to do.
"Continue the attack."
"Don't be an idiot," Garrus snaps. Shepard hadn't noticed him, but he steps forward and puts up a hand to Tali before she can protest. "Think about what you're doing. Once this code goes through, the Geth will be as smart as they were under the Reapers. They'll wipe. You. Out."
"Who is this-"
"Captain Garrus Vakarian of the Normandy, and the only one here willing to speak any sense."
"Captain?" Shepard demands incredulously. She's heard Garrus bullshit his way around before, but the quarians aren't going to buy that one, even if he does sound like he believes it.
There's a pause over the comm. "And what exactly is it you have to say, Captain?"
"Just that you're letting your pride get in the way, Admiral."
"Garrus-" Tali hisses. She finally lets go of her armor and Shepard wonders vaguely if she's going to start shaking Garrus now.
But he ignores her and keeps going. "Your entire history is you trying to kill the geth. You forced them to rebel two hundred years ago and you forced them to ally with the Reapers."
"Wait, they what-"
He ignores them both. "The geth have never wanted to fight you. If you could actually get your heads out of your asses for a minute, you'd see that and this war would be over." He cuts off his comm and moves behind Shepard, whispers in her ear, "Tell them exactly what I tell you to say."
Shepard opens the frequency and does her best to match the tone Garrus sets as he whispers into her ear. "You have a choice. Please. Keelah se'lai."
There's an intense moment as the comm remains quiet. Garrus and Tali aren't even breathing, just waiting for the news.
"All units... hold fire."
Tali nearly collapses in relief, shaking as she clasps her hands together. Garrus looks equally relieved, if not somewhat annoyed. "One less thing to worry about," he mutters before turning to Legion.
Legion. Shepard finally realizes, really realizes, that he's there. It makes her miss what he's saying, she just stares at him as she tries to backtrack, tries to find her way here and now.
But then he says something that gets her attention.
"I must go to them. I'm sorry, it's the only way."
She backs away, startled. Did he just… There's ice in her stomach as her mind scrambles to understand what he's saying, what he means. Her gut tells her not to look, not to let this be anywhere in her mind. That it's bad enough that she already had to see... Oh god, what did she see?
There's a lump in her throat as she turns away, a vice on her chest as she hears him hit the ground.
She hears Tali's mournful "Oh Legion..." but blocks out the rest. There's too much missing for her to be able to handle losing someone right now.
Shepard walks to the cliff edge, looks across the beautiful terrain of a planet she couldn't for the life of her even name. The heavy footsteps she hears belong to Garrus, she knows that, so it's no surprise when she hears him say, "Well... That could have gone a lot worse."
They stand next to each other for a moment in silence. Silence for a fallen friend, silence for lack of anything to say, silence for the peace it almost brings to Shepard's fractured mind.
"There's something wrong with me, isn't there?"
He puts an arm around her shoulder. She instinctively leans into his touch without knowing why. "Yeah, I think there might be."
Shepard's head is pounding. There's a sharp pain masking a dull ache at the top of her head. She instinctively reaches for it, only to find it already bandaged. She tries to remember the last day, but nothing comes up but memories of staring bored out of a window at the Vancouver skyline. Definitely no reason to explain an injury, but short term memory loss after a bad enough hit isn't unexpected. Hell, she's had it before. Maybe she got a concussion or something.
Preoccupied with her own thoughts, it takes her a moment to realize she's not alone. Actually, quite to the contrary. The medbay - and she is somewhat surprised to note that she's on the Normandy - is filled with familiar faces.
"How bad is it, doc?" James Vega. She had expected him to get assigned to her if the Alliance ever needed her to ship out.
But instead of some nameless Alliance medic or doctor, just another name and face for her to have to remember, it's Chakwas. She's starring at what appear to be cranial scans. Shepard frowns and rubs her head gently. It's a moment before the doctor answers. "Exceedingly."
"Can you fix it?" Liara. Strange, she would have expected her to keep up the Shadow Broker role instead of re-joining her crew.
Chakwas sighs, putting down the scans. A silent shake of her head. "Maybe if I'd been there right when it happened, I could've lessened the damage. But you said there were hours between the accident and any medical treatment?"
James nodded. "That's right. We only had a field medic on board. She'd woken up by the time we got to the Citadel, refused to see anyone."
Liara is gripping the side of a table tightly. "I knew we should have insisted-"
"I don't know if it would've done any good. The trauma was incredibly severe. It was probably already too late." She had an almost detached look about her, completely a medical professional instead of an old friend. That worried Shepard more than anything else that had been said thus far.
There's movement in the corner as Garrus steps forward and speaks up for the first time. "So there's nothing you can do?"
Garrus. Now there's a face she's glad to see. The scars are looking better and he finally changed into a decent set of armor. It'll be good to have him on her six again. There's no one she trusts more to watch her back. She just wished he didn't look so damn grim right now.
The doctor seems to consider a moment before answering, going through a mental inventory of possible solutions. "The only man I'd trust to be able to do any more is Mordin Solus."
"Do we know where Mordin is?" Garrus asks Liara, deferring to her intel.
"Disappeared. He's been off the grid since he left the Normandy a few months back. Even I haven't been able to track him."
"Of course, because nothing can be easy now can it?"
Shepard pushes off the examination table. The sound of her feet hitting the cold metal floor gets everyone's attention. "Am I fit for duty?"
They all turn to Chakwas, who is staring right at her. She must see the hard look in Shepard's eye of a woman not about to be told No. But it's the others she turns to as she says, "As far as I can tell, the only thing wrong with her is her memory. She seems to remember everything before the accident, so I expect she's perfectly capable to be on ground missions." She pauses before adding, "I would not recommend she lead them, though."
Chakwas takes her leave, heading to the Mess. Probably just trying to escape the oppressing atmosphere of the medbay.
Never one to let an awkward silence drag on, James is the first to speak. "Not to ask the obvious question, but what the hell do we do now?"
"If I'm not fit to command," offers Shepard, knowing her duty to her crew and the mission (even if for a moment the specific mission is unknown to her), "then one of you will have to take over."
Garrus shakes his head. "We'll do what we've been doing and keep it a group effort."
"Should we... tell the Council?" Liara seems nervous, her loyalty probably split evenly between a woman she's served with and a way of life she doesn't want to betray.
Again, Garrus shakes his head. "They're finally starting to listen, it would just make things worse with them. We tell Hackett, we owe him that, but other than that we keep this to ourselves." He meets her eyes for a moment but can't hold her gaze.
"So... what's the game plan for this meeting?"
"James, you keep an eye on Shepard until the meeting. Try to dispel any rumors among the crew if you can. Liara, use all your resources to track down Mordin if you can. I'll try to get as much information as I can about this damn war council. We'll brief Shepard right before it happens, get her to work her magic and keep this war effort a live."
"What about me? What can I do?"
Garrus sighs, at a loss. It's James who offers, "Try to stay out of trouble, I guess."
Her feet, as they often do, carry her to the cockpit. During off hours, she spends the time meandering through the ship speaking with the crew. And when that's done, she either ends her run in the Battery or up front with Joker. Today, it seems, the pilot wins out over the gunnery chief.
"Hey Shepard," Joker says as she plops down in the co-pilot seat. She finds it strange that he's up here by himself, but then again, who would be up here with him?
"Report?" It's a routine by now. She stops by, asks for a report, he gives her a snarky answer laced with just the right amount of professionalism, then once the necessities are taken care of they can talk about whatever the hell they want.
"Ship's still in the air so, you know, there's that."
"Is that all it takes?"
"These days can't hope for much more."
Joker's not usually the morbid one so she's a little taken aback by how bitter he sounds. "You alright?"
"I'm fine Commander."
It doesn't take a genius to know that "fine" rarely means "fine."
He sighs pushing away from his terminal a little. He doesn't face her, no, instead his eyes wander across the stars. "It's just... What do you do when the one person you looked up to like a hero, the one person you thought was indestructible, that really could do anything... Well, what do you do when you realize that person's just as human as the rest of us schmucks?" He buries his face in his hands. It's hard to hear him but he keeps going. "How are you supposed to keep going, if the best of us wasn't good enough? How do the rest of us stand a chance?"
Her heart skips a beat. She's split in two - half of her having no clue what he's talking about but really wanting to know, the other half secretly dreading, knowing who he's talking about. Knowing the smell of failure that's been hanging in the air all day. The first half shuts the second up, not willing to face the monsters behind that door.
"Jeff, c'mon," she tries to sound upbeat as she punches his shoulder lightly. "We've been through some tough shit before and we've always pulled through. We'll do it again."
He looks tired, more tired than she's ever seen him, tired and suddenly very ragged. He's looking at her like he desperately wants to believe her. But then the light fades from his eyes - apparently he just can't.
"Can I tell you something?" His voice is a little lighter though still a little too serious. "I mean, I know I'm basically just talking to a wall right now... no offense... but I've wanted to get this off my chest for a while now and-"
"Just spit it out."
He finally looks her in the eyes. "I'm sorry. Like, really sorry. About the SR-1 and Alchera and all that. Things might be... might be a lot different right now if I hadn't been an ass and stayed on the ship-"
"Let me finish. Please. I always knew it was my fault. That you'd... died. It was kinda hard to deal with at the time since a lot of people seemed to agree, even if Alenko was the only one who ever got drunk enough to say it."
"I had no idea-"
Again, he cuts her off. "When I found out you were back, it was like... like this weight was lifted off of me." He puts up his hands quickly, "It's not like I didn't still feel terrible about it, but it was easier to get over since, like you said, it had turned out alright in the end. But now, with all... this," he waves vaguely at her head, "I gotta wonder if things would've been a lot better off if you'd been around those two years." He draws in a long breath and lets it out slowly, eyes wandering down to hands clasped awkwardly on his lap.
"Hey, look at me." She has to wait a minute before he actually does. "You've gotta believe we're gonna get through this. If we start to lose sight of what we're fighting for, we've already lost."
He flinches slightly. He turns back to the controls, clearly wanting this to be over. "Thanks for trying, Shepard... but I'm pretty sure you're the one whose lost sight of it."
Because he turned away he misses the signs. Doesn't see her eyes lose focus or the blank expression cross her face. That her hands twitch slightly and she slumps a little deeper into the chair. And then she's blinking and looking around, confusion replacing her earlier unease.
"Lost sight of what? I'm sorry, I must have zoned out for a minute... What were we talking about?"
She's been doing really well so far. It'd already been several hours before they hit the Citadel and she was still going. Obviously he'd been worried when the shit hit the fan with Cerberus and that bastard Kai-Leng, but something about seeing Thane struck down in front of her had sparked a grim determination to make it through this. And hell if he wasn't pleased to see she was still going strong.
Then there was the elevator and he expected the movement had triggered the switch. The blank, almost nauseated look gave her away as gone as they stumbled forward.
Shepard's pace slows and he decides to pull ahead. She automatically moves to match him, and he doesn't doubt she'll shoot any Cerberus troops she sees, but a confrontation with Kaidan, Udina and the Council is something he's dreading. Between him, Shepard and James, he feels he has the best chance of defusing the situation.
Guns fly up instantly on both sides as soon as they close the doors. He can feel Shepard hesitating, gun slowly lowering.
"Shepard, what's going on?"
He instantly regrets that they've kept this so close. Need to know basis meant Alenko, stuck in a hospital room on the Citadel, didn't need to. And now he's looking to Shepard for answers when she's the last person here capable of providing them. James seems to catch this as well, slowly moving around to get a better shot at the Spectre.
"Shepard, what's going on?"
"I..." Her gun lowers more.
"She's with Cerberus! Stop her!"
"I'm not with Cerberus," she instantly snaps, gun flying up again and eyes narrowing at Udina.
"C'mon Shepard... gun raised on a Councilor... it looks bad."
No shit it looks bad. Shepard motions for them to lower their weapons, but Kaidan's is still up. Shepard - the real Shepard - could have diffused this situation in seconds. This Shepard could just as easily forget this situation in seconds.
Fucking hell, he wished they'd brought Liara along. He was never a good diplomat.
Neither he nor Vega lower their guns. "Lower your weapons." Commander voice. But by now they're gotten used to ignoring it.
"No offense, Commander, but that's not going to happen," says James. "Cerberus is right on our tail. You open that door, the Council's as good as dead."
"Even her own squad won't listen to her! As a Councilor, I demand you do something to stop this nonsense!" But no matter how bad it looks, Kaidan still hesitates. He wants desperately to believe in Shepard, to hope...
It's a testament to how in sync the two men have become that all it takes is Garrus' shout of "James!" for things to set into motion.
Garrus steps forward, two shots firing into Kaidan's right shoulder. Armor piercing rounds. He drops to the ground, gun falling uselessly, his shout of pained surprise echoing briefly. He keeps rounding towards Udina but he can hear the sound of a second weapon falling and knows James has gotten hold of Shepard.
Keep her out of trouble, he prays silently. The other Councilors step back.
Udina runs for a terminal, fingers flying over the keys as he tries to unlock the door-
A bullet between the eyes drops him like a fly.
Garrus has two seconds to relax before the door's opening. James has it covered, but it's only Bailey and his men. Thank the Spirits.
He lets Bailey handle the Council and moves immediately to Kaidan and for once hands off Shepard to someone else's responsibility. Right now, his priority is Alenko. He takes a knee before the injured Spectre and administers medigel. "Sorry about that," he mutters. It's a lame apology to say the least.
"What the hell happened out there?"
"No," Kaidan cuts off, gingerly moving his shoulder. Undoubtedly he'll have to see a real doctor to get it checked and properly bandaged, but he seems able to move it without too much pain. "I mean, what the hell happened to Shepard?"
They turn to watch her, being debriefed by a patient Vega and a more skeptical Bailey. She quietly, intently listens but her eyes are distant. She might be fazing out already.
Garrus sighs, turning back to his former comrade. "That's... a long story."
"It must be something bad if it's got you disobeying orders."
He doesn't say anything to that. It's true. Instead he rises and helps Alenko do the same, though he makes sure to pull him up by the uninjured arm.
"You need another soldier out there watching your back?"
"Always. Why, you know any good enough to cut it?"
"Glad to see you're still a smart ass."
"Get that shoulder checked and pack up. We're leaving once things settle down here."
Again, Kaidan looks behind him to Shepard. "Don't you think I should... talk to Shepard first?"
"No." He wonders what Alenko sees when he looks him over, but apparently he sees someone whose orders he's going to have to get used to taking because he drops it then and there. "We'll debrief you on that... situation when we're on board."
The day started just as shitty as all the others. It wasn't until midday that he realized it wasn't just your average, soul-crippling kind of day. It was a lot worse.
The ground crew was a bit more roughed up than usual. Helping some Alliance team re-take their base had led to some new bruises. Garrus had taken a Brute's charge straight to the back to get Shepard back into cover when she... reset, and he was certainly feeling it today. No amount of medigel, he was sure, was ever going to let him sit fully straight again.
But again, this was just as bad as every other day.
Just before noon he finally had enough time to head to the mess for some much needed (and much hated) meal. Nothing to sour one's mood like highly condensed nutrient paste. This wasn't the regular crap the Alliance or Cerberus had scraped up for him. Oh no, this was Hierarchy grade crap. Which was even more of a fuck you since they knew just how bad it tasted.
The mess was nearly empty - quite frankly, that was a relief - except for a lone figure out near the corner by the medbay.
His heart did a flip and he silently cursed. He'd been avoiding her since... Well, it didn't really matter did it? It only mattered to him because he was the one who remembered, he was the one who had to deal with her not remembering. He was the one avoiding her so he wouldn't see the blank look in her eyes...
But Shepard by herself generally wasn't a good idea. Liara was supposed to be with her - or was it James today? Joker? Traynor? - though she'd apparently slipped away, knowingly or unknowingly.
Man up, Vakarian.
Was it a bad sign that it was her voice instead of his?
"Shepard," he nodded and took a seat next to her. Her smile made his stomach flutter. Had that always been how she smiled at him?
They talked for a moment, general chitchat about what she'd been up to while stuck on Earth (though there was no mention of how she had either gotten off Earth or how he had gotten to Earth). No more than two, maybe three minutes.
"You'd think the asshole would've..." Pupils dilate, breathing slows, brow knits in surprise. "Garrus... when did you get here?"
He's used to it by now, weeks of dealing with this very problem allow him to subtly re-direct her back to their conversation without her seeming to notice. It's a few minutes later, no more than five, when it happens again.
"I really didn't think... he'd..." Pupils dilate, breathing slows, confusion etched in her eyes. "Garrus... what were we talking about?"
Again, Garrus finds himself easing her back into their previous conversation, to topics that aren't dangerous and that won't give him a chance to worry. Twice in a row... it was just bad luck, right?
"Hardest fucking push in the Blitz...zz..." Pupils dilate, breathing slows, almost blank look on her face. "Did I fall asleep?"
He sets a timer this time, trying to tell himself he's over-reacting. Four and a half minutes later, he's holding his breath as she keeps going.
Every now and then, there's a moment when time stands still.
Her left eye twitches but she hasn't stopped going yet. "Tried the pilot classes, didn't really take..." Pupils dilate, breathing becomes uneven. When they focus again, she stares right at him. There's a look of knowing, just plain knowing that startles him.
"Garrus... I..." A single drop of blood flows from her left nostril, a thin trail of red on her otherwise pale skin. Slowly, her hand comes up and wipes at it. Confusion etched on every line on her face as she looks from the blood on her fingers to him. Confusion quickly melting into fear before she collapses to the ground in a heap, chair and untouched dinner tray crashing to the ground behind her.
He's there in a second. She's in his arms, eyes rolling back and convulsing, just won't stop convulsing. Garrus doesn't hear his own panicked cries for help, for a doctor, for anyone just do something! All he can do is hold her close but oh Spirits it's corpalis syndrome all over again-
It terrifies him that she won't make it through this. That her condition has irrevocably become much, much worse. All he can do is calmly sit there while Chakwas does her scans and pray this is just a fluke. That she won't forever be lost between this minute and the next. That she'll be able to find her way back to him...
"Garrus." Chakwas' voice is so gentle, so soothing. Does that mean it's bad news or good news or that she just sees how wound up he is.
She nods towards her desk and he reluctantly follows, but not before gingerly letting go of Shepard's hand and laying it across her chest. They'd had to administer a sedative. At least now she had the semblance of peace as her breathing remained rhythmic.
His mouth is dry. He can't, just can't bring himself to speak.
Chakwas, ever the understanding doctor, doesn't force him to. "I've looked over the scans. Apparently she suffered a minor injury while in the field yesterday. There was some minor swelling in the frontal lobe that was exacerbating her condition. I've already taken measures to reduce the pressure. I suspect-"
"Will she recover?"
"Well that's a slippery slope, now isn't it. Once the swelling goes down, she'll be back to what passes for normal around here. The memory lapses will continue, but they should go back down to the established frequency. Hours, not minutes."
There's a moment as he lets it sink in, wonders if it's relief he should be feeling or despair that she still won't be here again. "Relax, Garrus." A hand on his shoulder that he barely notices. "This is good news." A pause. "Well, as good of news as I can possibly give."
The door closes as the doctor takes her leave. He walks like a ghost back to her bedside, cradling her hand in his talons once more. Without anything else to do, he did the only sensible thing at a time like this.
"Has she gotten worse?"
Straight and to the point. He could respect that.
"I see." The blue form of Admiral Hackett flickered slightly. "And Dr. Chakwas is certain her condition won't improve?"
He shakes his head grimly. If there were any chance, he was certain he'd be the fool clinging to it. But no, he'd had to let it go by now. "With Mordin Solus dead, she doesn't think there's anything we can do for her." He pauses for a minute, not sure if he should say more. No. The Admiral has enough to deal with. Best not to add his own nightmares on top of his other burdens.
"You're still taking her on missions?"
"Under heavy supervision, yes." He thinks of the fatherly way both Anderson and Hackett have looked to her in the past, and hastily adds, "She's almost like herself in a fight. The only problem is when she- well, quite frankly sir, the only problem is when she has to open her mouth."
"That's not good news."
"I guess it was too much to hope for better. Your team is still managing to make headway though."
My team? When the hell did he inherit this doomed mission?
"Some. Shepard still has connections, even if she doesn't know how to use them. We've been calling in old favors, doing our best to get support for the Crucible."
"You've done as well as any of us could dare ask."
Garrus doesn't say anything. Where all he sees is failure, the Admiral seems to see something more. He doesn't want to be the one to disillusion him.
"You've worked with Shepard for a while now." It didn't seem a question, so again Garrus says nothing. "You know her old crew, they know you. Even the new crew must be used to you by now."
"Will they take orders from you?"
At first he thinks it's a joke. When Hackett's look hardens, he blinks quickly and his mandibles press tightly to his face as he says, "Yes, I think they will."
"Good. It would be somewhat awkward if you'd said no."
"I'm making you acting Captain of the Normandy for the foreseeable future. Given how unforeseeable the future is, you might be the last Captain of that ship. The crew answers to you now. Officially."
"Sir, I don't-"
"I've already cleared it with the Hierarchy. It's done, Vakarian. Now get out there and do us proud."
What do you say to a man like that who puts so much trust in you?
"So does fucking the Commander senseless always fuck her senseless?"
Garrus coughs slightly on his protein drink. Liara, despite trying to give Joker a scolding look, can barely hide a smile.
"What?" he finally manages once he's sure he won't choke to death.
"I think by now we've all experienced that awkward moment when we hear things you probably didn't want us to coming from the Main Battery."
"Didn't know we were putting on a show," he replies coolly, feeling some mix of embarrassment and amusement. "Otherwise I'd have been sure to have been twice as loud."
"Garrus! That's so crude!"
"Yeah, geez, Garrus. Way to not be considerate in the work place. Now I feel all sexually harassed."
"Weren't you the one who brought it up?"
"Hey hey hey there's no need to start playing the blame game. And even if we do, you'd lose because you're the being all naughty with the Commander at your work station. C'mon dude, that's like, seriously unclean."
"So you're just jealous you and EDI don't get it on in the cockpit."
EDI happened to approach the table, happily chirping, "Jeff and I have actually engaged in-"
"Sshhhhh! EDI... That's not... Let's not..." Failing to find a way to adequately explain to her the social lines that he'd prefer her not to cross, he instead turns back to them and nonchalantly says, "She doesn't know what she's talking about."
Both Garrus and Liara are chuckling behind their cups, trying for once to hide their mirth instead of their desperation. Times like this are few and far between. When the crew can relax and pretend the galaxy is still whole. Times when Shepard's condition doesn't have to factor in. Where the laughs aren't forced.
It gives Garrus enough to hope that maybe this little family of theirs might make it through.
Their shoulders slam harder than necessary against a corner as they dodge an errant blast. Garrus and Liara's forms provide an extra layer of cover as they try to pin down the Marauders with oppressing fire. Damn, do they always treat her like a child now? She doesn't give a shit if her memory problems are as bad as they claimed when they landed at this shitty outpost.
Ducking out from behind them, she uses whatever momentum she can to rush closer into the line of fire. She can barely make out Garrus' annoyed snarl as she rounds a corner and takes down two husks. Her shot's lined up on the third - the last enemy in sight - when its head explodes and a disgruntled turian sniper appears to her left.
"Don't do that."
She pops out her spent heat sink. She's not sure what her look conveys, a half smile and a slight glare, mischievousness or annoyance, but she knows what she feels. Bloody sick and tired of them treating her like an invalid. "You gonna stop me big guy?"
"I might if you don't-"
"Shepard," Liara interrupts, a hand placed warningly on Garrus' chestplate, "It's irresponsible to leave cover like that, regardless of the circumstances." Guess they can still count on Liara to be the adult around here.
She's about to concede defeat when her body tenses up. Garrus and Liara, blurred figures on the edge of her vision, rush forward with a look of grim acceptance, with a familiarity and understanding that's been drilled into them that would annoy her if she weren't struggling to breathe.
An electrical shock fills the air around her. A stifled gasp escapes her lips as a current races along the traces of exposed skin at the nap of her neck. Shepard staggers slightly - feels like someone just walked into her, through her maybe - hand to her temple as she leans slightly to the side where hands are already out to steady her.
"Shepard!" The worry in his voice doesn't surprise her. It seems he's always worried about her nowadays.
"I'm... I'm fine," she manages, but she's panting. What the fuck was that? She looks around, unsure of her surroundings for the first time since they landed. She knows but doesn't know where she is.
"By the goddess, you look pale. Are you sure you aren't-"
"I'm fine." A little firmer this time.
They don't seem to believe her. Garrus' arm is still on her shoulder, ready to prop her up if need be, and Liara has that look that's all too familiar to her. Finally, Garrus decides there's no use in standing out in the open. "Let's go start up that reactor and get out of here."
Both nod their assent when a blood-curdling screech fills the air.
"I fucking hate Banshees," Shepard hisses before ducking back into cover and trying to assess the situation.
Garrus is giving her a look from behind the neighboring access panel. "What?" she mouths to him as she prepares a grenade. His eyes focus back on the newly brewing battle, though he seems to ease up on crowding her space. It isn't until they've reached the reactor panel, when she's already queuing it up to start, when she finally notices that look hasn't left his face.
"What?" Her shoulders slump in exasperation. What the hell now on top of everything else?
"How'd you know about the Banshee?"
She doesn't bother to look at him, fingers still flying over the controls. "I fucking heard it, how else?"
"It's just... We haven't seen any Banshees since the monastery on Lesuss. Over a week ago."
"You got a point somewhere in there, Vakarian?"
It's a moment before he answers. "No, I guess not." When she turns to finally chew him out, the unbridled hope in his eyes stops her.
Her head tilts somewhat to the side as she tries to think about what this means. If her memory problems are as severe as they told her, how could she know about something that happened a week ago? How did she know?
The mental effort slowly leads to her mind calming completely. The questions she was so desperately trying to answer slip away, as does the urgency behind them. Something else seems to slip away as well.
Garrus sighs. He has a defeated look when her eyes refocus on him. "Garrus... I... what are we doing here?"
Both he and Liara give vague answers as they turn to leave the facility. Her gut tells her something important just happened...
Alenko had joined the crew less than a week ago and already he looked as haggard as the rest of them. Their missions had a way of draining the life out of a person, and their Commander's continued memory problems were just as taxing on the spirit.
And it had been bothering Garrus to have him around.
Kaidan was, as he had always been, a good soldier and skilled biotic. He'd obviously only become better in the years since they had first worked together on the SR1. In the field he was good at both offering advice and following orders when given. No, there was really no reason for Garrus to not like him.
Maybe it was easy to figure out why he felt tense whenever the Major was around. If he got right down to it, cut through the crap and went straight to what was at the root of it, he was jealous.
Once upon a time, the Commander had loved him. To a woman stuck in the past, that takes precedence over what's considered by most to be the here and now.
Plain and simple, he envied that. The two had something established, even in her mind. How could he compete when whatever she felt for him had apparently been something she was only unconsciously aware of before the accident. Something that didn't always manifest when her brain reset.
He'd deny it, but that's what had been bothering Garrus lately. His feelings, of all things. It felt really juvenile in comparison to the burden of command that had been unceremoniously handed off to him without him even seeking it. It's what had led him to sulk in one of the observation decks, a strong but flavorless drink resting firmly in his grip. Correction - an empty glass.
The door opens behind him. He sees a figure enter but the reflection is distorted and he doesn't really care. He's in no mood for Tali or Liara mothering him, he's too tired to pretend for Shepard, and he damn well doesn't want to deal with being Captain of this damn boat. In fact, he's about to order whoever it is to piss off when the aforementioned Kaidan Alenko nearly collapses on the nearest seat.
Still tempted to demand some privacy for his brooding, he decides against it. Kaidan's slumped over, face buried in his hands and he looks, quite frankly, like he's about to break. Something he's beginning to know more and more about.
"How do you handle it?"
Maybe it's the alcohol clogging his mind, but Garrus genuinely doesn't know what he means. "Handle what?"
"I don't know... Our mission, the war, commanding this ship, any of it, really." He finally looks up. "This whole... Shepard mess."
Garrus motions with his empty glass to the empty bottle at his feet.
"Good idea." He grabs himself his own preferred brand of poison - some Earth beer he knows Joker's equally fond of - and brings another turian ale for him. They clink glasses before wordlessly taking a long, healthy gulp of the most valuable commodity in the galaxy right now. Liquid hope.
"She just... keeps rehashing the same arguments we've been having since Horizon. She'll grudgingly let it go, but the next day it just starts back up again. I can't... It's exhausting. I don't know how you do it."
"Well," he clears his throat. "She wasn't mad at me when the accident happened, so that helps."
"No," Kaidan agrees, "I guess she wasn't."
Silence reigns for a moment as they nurse their drinks and foul moods.
"I," he clears his throat before starting again, "If you don't mind, I... I think I'm going to put in for a transfer."
"Cutting and running?" It's unprofessional to say it but damn it, he's three drinks past caring and one drink away from not knowing any better.
"It's... Well, maybe," he says honestly, shrugging in that human gesture he's come to know so well.
"If I said I'm not okay with it, would that stop you?" Garrus, swaying slightly in his seat, knows he damn well wouldn't stop him but wants to know anyway.
Again, Kaidan shrugs. "Maybe, but probably not." He looks at the ground. What does that mean for humans again? Embarrassment? Shame? "I think it's probably better for Shepard if I leave."
Garrus doesn't know what to say to that so he just waits.
"Shepard and I... we've got history. Maybe we got some things we still need to hash out. Hell, I've already hashed them out with her a few times this week. But at the end of the day..." A pause long enough for another swig of his beer. "At the end of the day... We just need to move on. And even if she's stuck and whatever's wrong with her won't let her move on... I can take that step and do it for her."
Their eyes finally meet. There's a pain in Alenko's that speaks to how hard this is. How much he wants to stay and keep up this fight, but he let it get too personal and he just can't. Not for himself, not even for Shepard.
For a second, Garrus imagines he's looking at himself in a year or two, when Shepard's condition has worn him down to breaking as well.
But only for a second.
His pace is brisk as he walks into the conference room. A lone figure, perfectly augmented frame facing away from him, watching the stars shoot past.
"It's about damn time," he says. The annoyance is mostly feigned though. Instead it's the sound of relief that fills the room.
Her hips sway ever so slightly as she turns to meet his gaze. Garrus was surprised to find himself noting that she was indeed an attractive woman. Though he supposed he was a little more... attune to concepts of human beauty. He refocused to the somewhat miffed expression on her face.
"If I had known what was happening, I'd have been here sooner. I'd left messages that were for Shepard only. Now I guess I at least know why she was ignoring them."
"Don't take it personally."
"I never do."
He gives her a once open, nodding appreciatively at Miss Lawson. "No, I suppose you don't."
"You going to brief me or not, Captain?" Perhaps if this had been a year ago, he'd have interpreted the tone as challenging or insubordinate. But he catches the amused glimmer in her eye. Huh. Maybe learning to tell the difference was what made Shepard start trusting Miranda.
Usually when he has to do this, he gives the brief summary. The highlights reel of the hell they've had to go through. But this is Miranda, after all, and she wouldn't want to be spared the grim truth. So he tells her all of it. Not just how bad Shepard is, but how much they're falling apart without her.
She takes a moment to process it. Unlike the others, though, she addresses it like a problem to be solved instead of a missing limb you need to learn to deal without. Others might have found this callous of her, but he knows her well enough by now. She's not feeling the loss of Shepard any less than the rest of them. She's just more willing - and possibly, hopefully more able to do something about it.
"Let me see."
Garrus knew she'd ask so he'd been prepared. He quickly hands over the datapad, the one with all the charts and scans and reports about Shepard's condition. Miranda's brow knits into a determined line as she reads.
"Does it bother you you're Captain but don't get the Captain's quarters?" she asks absent mindedly as she continues to go through the copious amount of data.
He gives the turian equivalent of a snort. He's hardly one to care about such perks. Never mind that he spends about a third of his nights there anyway...
His mind wanders down that path for a second too long. He blinks and sees her staring at him, an eyebrow raised.
A second later she's laughing. Not the deep, almost throaty laughs that he associates with Shepard or Joker, but it's the fullest laugh he's ever heard from her. His mandibles twitch in confusion. "Well well well, Vakarian," she finally manages. "I didn't think you had it in you."
He takes a moment to thank the Spirits he can't blush and instead focuses on not fidgeting. As evenly as he can, he answers, "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Nonsense." She's back to reading the data, though there's the smallest of smirks on the corner of her lips. "Really, I'm not that surprised. If anything, it should've happened sooner."
"What? Are we talking about the same thing-"
Her shoulder slump slightly in exasperation. "Garrus, really?" His blank stare meets her knowing stare. "That woman's been half in love with you since Omega. Granted, she's been somewhat... occupied with other things and might not have actually known-"
He stops her right there. This goes too close to things he tries not to think about. Shepard and him and love and would be's and could be's and it kills him too much every time. "Then how do you know?"
Miranda's eyes grow distant. It's something he's learned that humans do when they're remembering something, looking through a window to the past. From the look on her face, it's a window Miranda almost wishes she could shut. "I was there. I heard her scream when the rocket hit you. And I damn near got a black eye trying to get her out of the medbay so the doctor could work." Her eyes are refocused, tracing the curved lines of his right mandible. He flexes it, not able to remain still under her gaze. "So believe me when I tell you, Garrus, that Shepard has always cared deeply for you."
He seems to be getting used to uncomfortable silences as they stare at the implications of what was just said. Slowly, Miranda gets back to the datapad. "These are all doctors' reports. Mordin's are, as always, damn near incomprehensible. Honestly, that man had the most severe case of ADHD that I have ever seen." She tosses the pad onto the conference table. "I suspect you've been with her the most. Anything else I should know?"
"I... uh.." He shouldn't have hestitated. This is Miranda, after all.
"Vakarian." Her look mirrors one he's seen on Shepard a dozen times. Don't make me say it again.
He takes a deep breath. Holds it for a moment before letting it out slowly.
And he risks telling her about the time, the one precious time, Shepard actually seemed to remember something.
"Garrus..." There was a warning edge to her voice. "Don't read too much into this-"
"She remembered something. That's progress. Maybe there's still a chance, maybe-"
"Or it might have just been muscle memory kicking in-"
"Please," she interrupts, both hands flying up to halt his progress, a desperation in the gesture that he's not used to seeing in Miranda. "Garrus," she reiterates, "try not to get your hopes up."
She sighs, already seeming as exhausted as the rest of the crew. It must be a new record - less than three hours after boarding. She crosses her arms in front of her, appraising him. "The best I can do is look into it-" There's a pleased twitch of his mandibles that seems to annoy her. "BUT... you know I can't make any promises. If this is something where both Dr. Chakwas and Mordin weren't able to meet with success-"
"Ms. Lawson, I thought you were the type of girl who liked a challenge."
Her lips purse and her hips softly jut out. "Flattery won't help."
"You brought her back from the dead, Miranda. Do it for us again."
Her expression gives nothing away. "Miracles seldom happen twice... But I'll try."
Shepard might not be the most astute person in the world, but she'd gotten by as a soldier by following her instincts. And her instincts said that right now, something wasn't right.
The whispers of the crew, hushed instantly when she got closer, and the wary looks everyone was giving her, as though she were made of porcelain, were more than enough to clue her in. But even alone, she could feel this inner disquiet that told her, again, that something just wasn't right.
Without really knowing why, she went to the Main Battery. Okay, maybe she knew why. If something was wrong, she went to Garrus.
The feeling of wrongness grew as the doors whooshed open and she noticed her favorite turian was not at his post.
"Garrus?" She hesitates a little before stepping inside. Is he out? Is he asleep? Maybe this is a bad time-
"Shepard." His voice is raspy and low. It resonates more than usual and it gives her a chill to think why. He lumbers into few, more arm on the console to keep his balance, the other clutching a bottle. "Come to join the dead?"
The strangeness of this encounter grips her heart like a vice. Half of her says to run. Pretend she didn't walk into whatever the fuck this is and just get out of here. Because if something has happened that's so bad it's gotten Garrus Vakarian drinking himself stupid, it's worse than Omega and Sidonis and the Collector Base and all that other shit rolled into one because she's never seen him touch a bottle once through all that.
The only reason she's rooted to the spot right now is because it's him. It is Garrus Vakarian and if it's this bad he needs someone there.
Her mouth is dry but she tries to swallow anyway. She licks her lips, sure that whatever she could think to say would taste as bitter as it would sound. And then she braces herself for whatever the answer could be as she asks, careful to get each syllable out, "What's happened?"
He eyes her carefully, apparently deciding if he really cares to answer that. After a moment, he all but whispers, "I got some news today."
Her heart skips a beat. In the back of her mind, she remembers a file she wishes she hadn't read. Something the Shadow Broker had known about him and that she wishes she didn't. Because now she's dreading what the next few words but god, she owes it to him to ask, doesn't she? "Your family…?"
Maybe he's too drunk to care how she knows or maybe he just thinks she's a good guesser. Either way, there's a tight nod and a long drag from the bottle before he lets it slip from his hand, empty.
"Turns out Dad and Solana didn't make it to the safe zone."
It's not what she expected, she's not even quite sure what "safe zone" he's referring to, but the message is clear enough.
She can barely mask the pain on her face, the remembered grief of her own father's death, as she says the empty words, "I'm so sorry Garrus." Emtpy because she knows there are no words for a loss like this.
It becomes awkward rather quickly. She wants to offer what comfort she can, but the forlorn look on his face makes her think he'd rather be alone. Should he be alone right now-?
Before she can make up her mind, he's in her space. He's crowding her but she doesn't back away, much to her own surprise. When did she start letting Garrus get this close to her?
"Shepard," he whispers. His voice is close to breaking. Oh god, don't let this break him. She still needs him.
She shivers slightly as a talon traces its way down her cheek before resting under her chin, tilting her head ever so slightly so she meets his eyes. "I… I really need you right now." The subvocals aren't ones she knows, aren't like anything she's heard before.
Her mouth mimes words but nothing comes out.
"Please," he whispers before his mouth is crashing against hers. He pulls her in until she's flush against him. She's as shocked by him as she is to find she's reciprocating.
His cot isn't as comfortable as she'd like, but then he nibbles at her ear and she doesn't care about the damn lumps anymore.
He's slow and methodical, just like when he cleans his rifle, and she suspects it's because he doesn't want to give himself a chance to think about anything else. That right now all he can fit into his head is her and that's a blessing.
Her world explodes around her, white fire burning her nerve endings as she cries out. Garrus follows her, moaning a strangled "Jane" before collapsing around her.
She shudders at that. A quick fuck between friends is one thing, but the way he said her name was just so... intimate.
What… what just happened?
They fit so well together, better than a human and a turian should and… and that, quite honestly, scared her.
Her breathing hitches slightly as she tries not to think about this. She cannot handle this, whatever it is.
She's flying up, grabbing her clothes and throwing them on as quickly as possible.
A slight flinch but otherwise she ignores him. Has to get away, has to escape.
But she lets the door close behind her and prays he doesn't hate her for being too broken to fix him.
She snaps awake, right out of his arms, panting and shivering. Garrus has a hard time focusing, but when they do he sees the wild quality in her eyes. She's having a hard time breathing, leaving him to think it must be another Alchera nightmare, but there's something off about it. No, by now she should be trying to slow her breathing, telling herself she's alive, there's air, it's okay.
Her dream still clinging to her conscious mind, she doesn't seem to wonder at his presence in her bed. That's what worries him more.
"Shepard..." he starts hesitantly. He slowly, gently lays a talon her her shoulder.
The pressure finally makes her notice him. When she looks him in the eyes, he sees the crazed look. "Protheans... I saw... Reapers everywhere... So many, oh god, so many of them..."
His talons press tightly against his cheeks. Javik, he curses to himself before bringing her in for a hug.
These nightmares started shortly after they met the Prothean. She'd talked about how real the memories she'd received from him were. How terrifying. And after she'd described them, she asked if it was that bad on Earth. They'd been kind enough to lie then.
Somehow, even with the brain damage, she'd somehow kept on to those memories. Not her actual meeting with Javik. No, she forgets him every time. If they're lucky, she doesn't mistake him for a Collector and doesn't try to shoot him on sight. And of course, they're not lucky.
Apparently Prothean technology drilled to just the right depths. Unfortunately, Javik was just a soldier. Born long after the height of his people, he had an elementary understanding of their beacons at best. So while he had unconsciously imparted some of his memories unto Shepard, he had no way of controlling or continuing the effect.
It was just another dead end, apparently.
"It was just a dream Shepard."
No it wasn't.
"No it wasn't," she whispers.
"Just a bad dream, let it go."
Sometimes it might be better to forget.
Liquid fire slips into her veins and her breathing instantly changes.
"One... Two... Three... Fffour... F... Fi..." Her tongue is like molasses in her mouth.
The first thing she notices is that she's panting, the second is that the air is cold and smells faintly chemical.
Why was she counting?
"Shepard, you still with us?"
Her eyes focus and meet the dark brown of Miranda's. She frowns slightly but isn't sure why.
"That'll be a no, then," Miranda says somewhat irritably before backing up and making a note on a datapad. "Less than five seconds... 2 mg dosage... Confusion but no irritability..." She lowers the pad and stares at Shepard like an interesting lab specimen she just quite hasn't figured out yet. "That'll make five known causes."
"What are they?" Shepard's head snaps a little too sharply to find the new voice. Tali.
"So far? Bright lights. Sudden movements, particularly when she's not moving under her own power or if they involve a spinning motion. Sleep, since I've been told she's always reset when she wakes up. Blows to the head. And now we've got adrenaline."
"Blows to the head?" The startled voice belongs to Garrus, who's standing back from the rest of them, scowling. Or she thinks it's scowling. "You tested that?"
"I'm not inducing more brain trauma just to figure out the extent of the existing damage, but yes, I feel comfortable with making the assessment that it would reset her."
Her heart's still racing and she feels wired. Everything seems louder than it should be and at the same time muffled. Adrenaline. Okay. But she's had adrenaline rushes before and they're not like this. Her head shouldn't be so foggy...
Tali's hesitant voice. "What are you going to test next?"
"I'd actually like to see if medigel has any impact. If the chemical reaction causes the same problem as adrenaline, that's important to know if you all insist on taking her out in the field." She thinks for a moment. "If it's possible, I'd like to test Reaper chatter. You've been so tight-lipped I doubt the Reapers even know about her condition, but they still might be able to unwittingly influence it."
"Why are you even bothering with this?" Annoyed turian. Though the degree of hostility seems out of character for him. "This isn't a cure-"
"I need to see how long she can go without it happening, so I first need to be able to prevent it from happening from outside sources. If we know the causes, we can reduce her exposure to them."
"This isn't helping-"
Miranda's heel taps once in warning. "I never thought you to be so near sighted or impatient. You are a sniper, after all."
She sees him bristle slightly at that but otherwise ignores the comment. "The memory shard-"
"I'm analyzing it."
Not really in tune with the conversation, Shepard can feel her knuckles becoming stiff. She looks down and notices how hard she's gripping the examination table. With a considerable amount of concentration, she forces each finger to let go one by one.
"That was present tense, was it not, Vakarian? I will update you if I find anything of note. But I have to warn you... There are only two people in this galaxy, both of whom are on this ship, who know a damn about Prothean technology. And they're both soldiers who can, to varying extents, use it but not alter or control it. So you will have to forgive me if I'm working a little bit slower than your unreasonable time line would like to dictate."
"Liara's not a soldier. She's still an expert on the Protheans." The words echo in her head and it isn't until they're staring at her that she realizes she actually said them out loud.
Their discomfort is damn near palpable as they sidestep her comment and pretend it never happened.
A sigh. She looks up because he's no longer angry, just weary. "How long?"
"Honestly? It could take me years to get anything relevant-"
"If ever, yes, years."
"That's not good enough."
"It never is. But that doesn't change the facts here." Apologetic at best. If Shepard didn't know better, she'd say Miranda looked just as disappointed. "I'm going to get back to work on this. Keep an eye on her, would you? That was a high dosage."
Tali's rubbing soothing circles on her back - when did Tali's hand get there? - as Miranda walks out of the medbay.
"I don't understand-" she starts, words finally coming to her.
"I know." Voice just as comforting as the contact. "Don't worry, Shepard. If there's anyone who could fix this, it's Miranda."
She wants to ask Fix what? but Garrus is faster. "That's what we said about Mordin."
"Keelah, Garrus, you have to let that go."
He's brooding. She can tell he's in a bad mood. Tali must know too - who wouldn't know just from looking at him - because she asks, offers, "Want me to stay with her while you-"
"No. I'll stay." A dismissal.
As Tali heads to the door, she stops by Garrus. Puts a friendly hand on his armored shoulder and pats lightly. Despite the gesture, her voice is serious and heavy. "Be careful, Garrus. It's dangerous to fall in love with someone who can't love you back."
He snorts. A human reaction that sounds a little too high pitched coming from him. "What, you speaking from experience?"
Tali's eyes, impossible to read through the mask, give nothing away. It's the sad note in her voice that really makes him wonder when she says, "Yes."
Late in the night shift on a day where they're still reeling from the newest loses they've been forced to endure, it finally happens. To Garrus' chagrin, Shepard drifts away while he's on his knees in front of her. She relaxes completely before becoming incredibly tense. She nearly jolts off the bed, eyes wild as she re-orients herself to the world around her.
"Shh, Shepard, it's alright," he coos, gently rubbing her inner thighs.
She stares down at him, dumbfounded. "Garrus...?"
"It's alright Shepard, you're just dreaming."
Her muscles relax slightly but the wariness doesn't seem gone. "Dreaming?" she asks in disbelief.
This time he licks her gently. She shudders beneath his touch. "You're telling me you never had a dream like this?" He slowly makes his way up her body, tongue caressing her lovingly, adoringly. He pushes her gently to the bed as he stops to nip her shoulder. "You've never dreamed of me like this?"
Even in the half light of the fish tank, he sees the telltale signs of her blush as she tries to avoid his eyes.
Caught you, he thinks wickedly.
"Garrus," she warns, pleads. She's trembling and he can't blame her for being nervous. It's always new for her, always bridging on overwhelming.
"It's okay," he whispers in her ear, a talon gently stroking the back of her neck. "Let me take care of you."
For once, she listens to him without complaint.
A fellow soldier, someone she'd done N7 training with back in the day, had described the feeling of a Biotic Charge to her. The slight pressure building at your temples, the tingling of biotic tingling through your limbs, and the sudden rush as if experience an FTL Jump the way a ship does. Being one moment here, and then the next here being somewhere else entirely.
How his first Charge had been unnerving enough that he'd had to drink the feeling away that night.
Shepard finds herself experiencing that jump again and again. She finds herself flashing through time, around a large hall whose details are becoming more and more faded in her mind. She's looking up at a massive statue. No, now it's carvings. No, wait, now it's a bust.
She's drowning, fucking drowning in her inability to concentrate, to hold on to a single goddamn minute before she's in some other goddamn minute. Even with Garrus and Liara there, she feels alone. They're talking, both of them are talking, but she just can't anchor herself to anything. Don't they notice that she's gone?
And then she's being shot at - fucking shot at - and she just doesn't know which way is up.
The rifle's in her hands, already she's lowering it. What could she even point it at? She doesn't know what the target is -
That's when the first bullets hit her. Hard, straight in the chest and she staggers slightly but more are coming and eating through her already low shields.
Her focus comes back slowly. A little more as each bullet hits her, knocking her farther back when all she can do is stare wide-eyed. Garrus snarling desperately for her to get down, but either her hearing's going or her translator's mucking it up because she barely understands him.
Gunship. That's what's hitting her, shooting her relentlessly. Her limbs move like jelly but she starts to feel them cooperate...
And then that terrible sound of her shields finally giving out and the all too familiar feel of a bullet going straight through her leg. She drops where she is - even as the feeling's coming back the only thing she finds now is pain - but the bullets have stopped.
Liara. Liara's in front of her, biotics casting a pale shell between them and the ship.
He appears from out of nowhere, scoops her into his arms and is yelling at Liara to give it up, they have to get into real cover now.
An explosion and she's flown forward through time again. Smoke and dust and she's alone but god there's a lot of blood on her. Leg wound, yes, still bleeding, but no, not all of this can be hers...
"I don't see why the Illusive Man troubles himself so much when it comes to your interference." The voice is cold and condescending. She turns to look the man in the eyes only to find narrow slits. The man is soulless, she knows it instantly. "You're clearly not worth the trouble."
Deep in her blood - her blood goddamnit - she knows she hates that man. That she'd like nothing more than to riddle his body with holes and skewer him alive. A rage she can't explain takes hold of her and she charges him on her bloody leg.
What kind of asshole brings a sword to a gunfight, she wonders as she dodges his blade. She has no idea where her own gun is, lost in whatever happened between this jump and the other, but it doesn't matter because she can still throw a mean punch.
She leans her weight behind it - has to, really, because of her leg - is about to connect...
On the follow through there's no one there, the ghost of that damn man gone and instead a huge chasm.
Her heart has stopped in her chest, she sweats it has to, and there's no conscious thoughts as she scrambles to grab a hold of anything, anything to stop her descent into blackness. The metaphorical implications aren't lost on her, but unlike with her memory, this is real, this is tangible and when she flails out in desperation there's actually something there to catch hold of.
Somehow she manages not to disappear through time again as she climbs back to the light. Her leg is burning in fiery numbness but it still does what she asks of it. It's starting to give out though, when she's closer to the top. Five more feet, that's all she needs...
A familiar gloved talon appears and as soon as she's close enough, she grabs on as tightly as she dares. She scrambles over the edge as he pulls her the last bit, both panting but up again almost instantly.
"Can you walk?"
She tries her weight on the left leg. "I can limp."
He hesitates a second before offering a shoulder and sharing the burden of her weight. She barely has time to settle herself before he's got them hobbling towards the exit.
The building's collapsing around them. She's barely better than a cripple at this point and won't be able to run if they need to. Garrus is beaten up just as badly, it looks like, because he flinches every time his right foot hits the ground and she can smell the almost sweet scent of turian blood. As always, he's a stubborn bastard and keeps plowing towards the entrance.
A piece of falling rubble forces them apart. They throw themselves in opposite directions. As the block hits with a boom that shakes the floor slightly, she hits the ground hard on her injured leg. Of course.
She hisses in pain and pushes desperately for the medigel release, apparently long empty. The building's falling with renewed vigor, every few yards a new ceiling beam splintering into dozens of smaller pieces.
It doesn't bother her too much to think this is the end. Never did before. It's almost a relief, a strange sort of relief forged in an adrenaline run and a growing combat weariness, and she can't help the grimace, the goddamn pout when she feels Vakarian trying to pull her back to her feet.
"Get out of here, Garrus. That's an order."
In her somewhat distinguished career, she's seen a lot of shit and she's ready to stop seeing it. To call it a day and hand off this whole galaxy saving business to whoever's next in line.
"With all due respect, you were relieved of command."
She's unceremoniously pulled to her feet, so hard he almost dislocates her shoulder, but they're up and limping furiously around the remains of this goddamned temple she doesn't even remember.
Maybe thirty, maybe twenty feet to go is when the blue in the corner of her vision catches her eyes. Such a familiar shade...
"Liara," she moans. Oh god, not Liara. Shepard tries to go in that direction, needs to be sure, can't just leave her. Even if she looks so lifeless... Still, what if...?
But Garrus is pulling her away. She resists but his grip only tightens. "No time." He sounds severe and cold, but there's a bitterness and heartbroken quality underneath that she couldn't just be imagining.
When they're out in the open she breaks free and he finally lets her. A wail builds in her throat as she collapses in a puddle on the ground, somehow unable to weep despite the pain festering in her leg and growing in her chest. But she finds it meets aches already there, as though this is not the first comrade she's lost and mourned but god she can't even remember who is gone, who has bled out in front of her.
Her fingers dig into the ground, wanting to crawl beneath it until she finds everyone and everything she's lost in this fucking war. She just wants to crawl into her early grave and bury herself in oblivion-
A coldness fills her as she realizes that that is something she can do.
She slams her head against the pavement. A small splatter of blood reflects her effort. Although ringing, her head is mostly still clear and goddamnit she's still here. No no no please no. She slams her head again, praying that the next Shepard, the one who gets to forget Liara's body twisted at that god awful angle-
"Shepard!" For a moment it's her voice before her muddled head puts it together and it's Garrus. His arms are firmly around hers, he's trying to pull her into a hug. No, a hug is for comfort. He means to restrain her.
"No!" she shrieks, fists coming up to pound her head. "Forget!" she sobs between blows. "Forget!" She can't move anymore, he's got her too tight and now tears are actually flowing.
"She died for you," he hisses. "Don't make her death worthless."
There's no way to know how long he holds her there, surrounded by a planet dying. She lets him, doesn't want to but lets him anyway, until she's not drowning anymore.
No. Now she's just slipping away with the tide...
The painful, mind-splitting pain of the accident still clear as yesterday is fresh in her mind as she listens to Garrus tell her. Tell her the five years she's missing, the terrible years she's almost glad she won't remember tomorrow. She rubs her head just to be sure, right where she remembers the burst of pain before light and black swallow her, but there's no sign of a wound there. No damage she can feel or phantom pain from an old injury still healing.
Whatever was there lingers only in her memories of a memory.
She stares down at the cup of tea he's made her. It's got a somewhat bitter flavor and flat smell, but the warmth fills her and that's something right now.
Strange, she can't remember ever liking tea.
Garrus shifts slightly in his seat, possibly trying to get her attention. "It's usually around now that you start to wonder if this is some elaborate deception. If this is Cerberus or indoctrination or something more sinister."
She can't deny she was thinking it so she doesn't bother. "Is it?"
He gives the turian equivalent of a grin, though she can tell even in the dim light that he's not entirely amused. "You were dating a young man, another spacer on your father's ship that you'd known most of your life. He was a few years older. Three? I always forget how many. Proposed to you at 17. Enlisted at 18. Broke your heart at 19. Said he didn't want to make you 'another Alliance widow.' Unfortunately, after what happened to him in the Blitz, it seems that's exactly what he would have made you."
She blushes furiously. Indignation, embarrassment, pain. The barely repressed memory of how even as she felt the full force of the Blitz, wondering if he was okay... "How do you know that story?" Hell, she hadn't even told her parents she was engaged, never told a damn soul about it.
"Our relationship has... evolved over time."
She thinks back to the bed. The only bed, as far as she can tell, in a house made for two. "Evolved how?"
Her mouth is dry and she may or may not be holding her breath as she waits for his answer. He's holding back now, a little less comfortable and a little more reserved than he'd been a moment ago. A slight twitch of his mandibles but he opens his mouth to answer, probably already knows how best to break it to her.
But they never were great at getting the timing right, were they?
The door slams open and Shepard instinctively reaches for her pistol. The woman's halfway across the room by the time she has the weapon trained at her, trigger finger itching.
"Doesn't anyone pick up the damn comm anymore," she snaps, nearly out of breath. She's at a comm unit in the kitchen, queuing up a video of the strangest looking ground troops Shepard's ever seen.
"Reapers." Garrus is on his feet, a talon already firmly locked around her forearm. Damn he's fast. "How far?"
"Less than two klicks from here. They must have been following me, knew eventually I'd lead them straight to you."
"Armor-" he's dragging her towards a side room.
"No time. We make it to my shuttle, you can suit up there."
He hesitates for a moment. Obviously not an ideal combat situation to say the least, but it's too late for that now. His shoulders release some of their tension as he acknowledges his lack of options. "You got turian armor on there?"
"Of course. There's always a moody turian trying to bum rides off me."
A sniper rifle has appeared from nowhere - does he honestly just keep them in the kitchen? - and he's tossing her an assault rifle. "That was one time. Will you let it go?"
An arched eyebrow is all the reply he receives as they rush out the front door, weapons ready.
They follow Miranda's lead across the uneven terrain. Garrus had said they'd been holed up here for a few months now, and she's starting to believe him. Her feet nimbly move across the rocks and crags, finding footholds she couldn't possibly see in the dim light. Muscle memory that she wishes the rest of her knew too.
"How much farther?" She's surprised that he sounds a little out of breath. With no armor to slow him down, it doesn't seem right for him to be so tired, but it's most likely been years since he's seen real combat. Years wasted babysitting her when he should be out there making a difference somewhere.
Miranda doesn't get a chance to answer.
Shots start firing and Shepard thanks the landscape for at least providing adequate coverage as she jumps behind the nearest rock, Garrus and Miranda doing the same. It's a weird sort of deja vu, the three of them at working together. A comfortable rhythm starts to build, yet she notices almost instantly that the tactics have changed. Somewhere along the way, Miranda become more aggressive. And the ex-Cerberus operative no longer looks to her. No, it's Garrus barking orders, orders that she follows with the practiced ease that suggests they've worked together like this before.
It seems they've carved a convenient partnership while she's been-
"AGH!" she shouts as something makes contact with her left shoulder. Distracted. Of course.
No shields, no medigel, just a burning that's going to leave a mark and lose her a fair amount of blood.
Soldier through and through, Shepard presses into the smooth, cold rock, using it to apply pressure to the wound, and keeps shooting. At least it's the left shoulder. She leans against it, using it to steady her rifle and hoping her aim isn't too off.
"So glad you decided to visit, Miranda." His voice has lost some of the dry wit she would have expected, though even under the annoyed bitterness he still manages to sound slightly amused. There's a pang in her chest as she realizes both that she misses the old Garrus and that she's caused him to change like this.
"I thought you could use a little adventure in your life, Garrus." Much more playful than she remembers Miranda being. Doesn't make sense, given the extent of the war raging around them, but Miranda always was... adaptable. "Don't tell me you've grown soft."
He grunts in reply. They all three of them know he has.
Her shoulder's going numb and she's out another heatsink. She pops in her second to last, pins and needles trickling down her arm, and wonders how the hell she woke up into this nightmare and if she's going to get back out of it again. "You didn't happen to have a backup plan when you came to get us, did you?"
"Funny you should ask." Miranda's reaching into a bag, her view's not good enough to see what gets pulled out, but the next thing she hears is clear enough. "Duck and cover!"
A grenade sails over their heads and Garrus' bulk immediately moves to shield her.
Seconds after they hear it detonate, they're up and booking it. Her ears are ringing, she can't hear what Miranda's shouting, but she goes in the general direction she's pointing. Garrus is right beside her, one talon on her back, guiding her forward. Maybe worried she'll slip away into an older self, that she'll disappear on him in the middle of this shitstorm and even now she can feel the guilt building-
His talon abruptly disappears. When she notices, maybe a few strides later, she turns back to look for him.
Maybe she did slip away for a second, because she has no fucking clue how she's ended up next to him, rolling him over and shaking him with an urgency she hasn't felt since the Collector base. She knows she's shouting, telling him to get up, but oh god there's so much liquid blue flowing her hands are drenched in it...
His talon, the one that was leading her to safety, is brushing away a tear when the light leaves his eyes. It falls, he sinks deeply into the dust, and the galaxy knows Garrus Vakarian has passed on.
She keeps shaking him and shaking him, begging and pleading.
Firm hands pulling her to her feet, pulling her away from him. "Shepard, we have to go-"
"I... I can't just leave-"
More urgently. "Shepard-"
Miranda finally forces her to her feet, shaking her roughly back and forth. "Shepard!" There's a desperation in her voice, a panicked look about her like she's holding back her own nightmares right now. "We. Have. To go."
Finally, she nods and follows.
They can't afford to look back.
How they make it to the shuttle, she can't quite piece together.. But she remembers diving into the opening as Miranda slams into the door controls, yelling orders to whatever poor fool she's gotten as a pilot.
There's the distinct ding of bullets hitting the hull, but they appear to make it into the air and into orbit in one piece. She looks up to see a firefight above an unfamiliar world, but she notices they're in the relative safety of a dozen other ships. But even that melts into the background until all she can feel is a tightening in her chest that makes it so she can't breathe.
Shepard finds herself crying in Miranda's arms and doesn't know why. All she knows is she has a reason to feel utterly heartbroken.
When she wakes up at night, her arm instinctively reaches out for... well, she doesn't quite know and she never finds it anyway. She's always alone and it always surprises her. But, Shepard wonders, why would it? What does she expect to find?
The room comes back into focus, though she's unsure why it was out of focus in the first place. Her hearing seems to come back at around the same time.
"-which has put a severe strain on our relationship with the..." Miranda happens to catch a glimpse of her as she paces and stops in her tracks. There's a look of annoyance, subtle before it disappears. She rubs her forehead in frustration, takes a deep breath, and starts again. "As I was saying, it became apparent that the Illusive Man had been indoctrinated, whether or not he himself was aware of that fact. With the Normandy's support and the Alliance's backing, I took over Cerberus. I've been using their resources to help combat the Reapers ever since." Her smile is a little rueful. "As much good as it's done."
There's much more to this story, that much is apparent, but Miranda apparently only wants to give the abridged version. Which is fine. She can barely find the energy to care.
"You're working with the Alliance then?"
Miranda seems apologetic as she says, "Not anymore."
There's a silence as that sinks in, Miranda undoubtedly waiting for the questions to start. There's a lot in what she's just heard that seems very big and important, but again she can't muster up the energy or interest to pursue them. Though there is one errant thought that keeps nagging at her. One thing that she feels needs to be addressed. "There's something wrong with me."
Miranda doesn't say anything for a moment, merely considering her. Her look suggests that there are several things wrong.
Finally, Miranda states simply, "You suffered a head injury some time ago. It impaired your ability to form new memories."
Is that why she feels like this? Like her life's been taken from her? "Can you fix it?"
"You put me back together from a burnt up corpse, can't you fix this?" A fire, the first sign of anger or really any emotion, grows inside her.
Miranda seems to notice, but decides not to comment on it. "That was with infinite resources, the absolute best medical talent, and without the pressure of a war waging across the galaxy."
Shepard's face twists slightly as if struck. So she'll be like this forever. May have been like this for months, years already...
"Shepard." In an oddly friendly gesture, one she's not used to from Miranda of all people, a hand appears over hers. "I have been working on it. It'll still take time, assuming we have any left."
She's still blinking uncertainly at Miranda's hand when it disappears, forcing her to meet her eyes again. "I was planning to bring you here soon, anyway. The Reapers may have had other plans concerning the timing, but at least I got to you before they did. I'm close to needing to... test some of my theories on you." Her eyes go distant and she goes on, more to herself than to Shepard. "I think I'm pretty damn close to... something. Maybe a few more weeks, especially with you here. I didn't tell Garrus because I didn't want to get his hopes up. Again." She shrugs, a sad look breaking through before she carefully suppresses it. "Guess that doesn't matter anymore."
Fiddling with the new wiring, Miranda's hands are busy at work when she hears the door open and an even step enters. Shepard, she assumes, since very few others come in unannounced. She keeps working, liking the distraction a good problem gives her in the face of mind numbing, soul crippling despair that fills every room nowadays.
Hell, fills every damn nook and crevice in them.
Neither woman speaks, but she can hear Shepard's breathing and occasional sigh. It may appear that she's deliberately avoiding her former CO, but in reality it's far from it. Shepard's the type who doesn't like people prying, she prefers to talk about whatever she needs to when she needs to. So she continues to work, letting her mind concentrate at the task at hand (no time to linger on past losses and mistakes, no room to daydream and hope for the future), and waits for Shepard to speak.
Minutes pass and she thinks maybe all that was sought was company, but eventually Shepard takes a deep breath and says, somewhat meekly, "Miranda?
She connects another set of wires before answering. "Yes, Shepard?"
"Do you know why I feel so... empty?"
Her fingers falter for a fraction of a second, but she continues working. "Well, you have no memories of the past five years. I suspect that would make anyone feel... empty."
She can feel Shepard's eyes boring into her back. It's a discussion she'd been hoping to avoid, thought it would be easy to do so considering the memory issues. Part of her - more than part of her - hopes Shepard will let it go.
But letting things go isn't exactly Shepard's style.
"You're sidestepping the issue," she finally says, reading something from Miranda's silence. "This isn't an identity crisis type of empty. This is..." she tried to find the right words to explain it. "This is how I felt after my dad died."
Miranda finally turns to look at her. It's not the time. She's not the right person for this.
Who is the right person for this conversation, though?
Liara handles this sort of thing rather well. Garrus has been doing quite splendidly.
Liara handled. Garrus had been doing.
God was she getting tired of the past tense.
"It's war, Shepard. We've all lost people."
Her voice held a ring of sadness that she couldn't quite cover. She hoped Shepard would disregard it and not hear the truth behind it, the pain not yet gone. Does it ever go?
"Who did you lose?"
Another explosion deep in the complex. Guess she did have some indoctrinated forces after all.
"Save it, save it, scrap it, save it..." Her assistant obediently does as instructed. They continue to mine the data they had - invaluable intel not only on Reaper movement but on the location of several allied bases. It worries her that if there were indeed multiple indoctrinated members of her staff, the Reapers might already be privy to this information, but damn it all to hell she was going to cover her tracks anyway.
"Alright, that's most of it. Scrap the rest and let's move. We should make it to the hangar in less than three minutes and be in orbit in under ten."
They turn for the door. Miranda starts slightly when she notices Oriana in the doorway. "Ori, good, saves me having to find you. We need to go."
"There's no where to go."
It feels like ice is dripping down along her spine. Very firmly, though with growing dread in the pit of her stomach, she says evenly, "There are plenty of places to go, Ori. And we need to get to one of them as soon as possible."
"Miranda..." Voice too empty, face too impassive. Beckoning to her in a way that left a chill.
She shares a look with her assistant, both clearly thinking the same thing. "Ori, step out of the way."
"I can't let you do that."
"Oriana, get out of the damn doorway. We are leaving."
"We can't leave yet! They're so close!"
"Yes," she says carefully, hand inching down to her pistol. "That would be the reason why we're getting the hell out of here."
"But we need to stay!" Her voice rises to a fevered pitch, an excitement growing like a fire in her eyes. "We're here to be liberated by Admiral Anderson's forces-"
"Anderson was confirmed indoctrinated months ago. He's been attacking any and all Alliance ships he can find." Her fingers glide slowly across the handle of her gun. "Why would he be doing that if he's merely liberating them?"
"To purge them of nonbelievers!"
She edges closer, keeping her assistant behind her. "Thousands of people are dead because of him. Because they trusted him."
The excitement suddenly drains from Oriana and instead a steely, dark tone creeps in. "I hope you'll learn from their example." Her warning is made more ominous as another explosion shakes the room slightly.
"I will say this one more time, Oriana. Get. Out. Of the. Way."
"No." A pistol appears from no where, the shot firing before Miranda can even react. She freezes, waiting to see where she's been hit, but it's the young man behind her that she hears fall to the ground. She spares a glance, only long enough to see the blood trickling down his forehead, before she turns back to the woman with a gun trained on her. Miranda's not sure of the look that crosses her own face at the moment, some mix between anger and anguish, but she knows it's one that would make many second guess just who they're fucking with.
Oriana is apparently undaunted and doesn't so much as flinch. Instead a smile that was all too much like the Illusive's Mans crosses her face. A manic look in her eyes that isn't altogether human. "You wouldn't hurt your own sister, would you?"
To the untrained eye, it might look like she didn't hesitate. It might look like the gun was drawn and the trigger pulled before Oriana had even finished her taunt. The passive look on Miranda's face might not speak to the anguish of what she was doing, of the cost she'd later have to pay when left alone in the relative quiet of her escape craft. Not that any of that matters.
The bullet flies, the younger woman drops, and the lone survivor of this confrontation grabs the data files, careful to step over the bodies of her fallen comrades. "You're not my sister."
"I've lost a lot of people, Shepard. This is war. But it was all a price I'm willing to pay if it means still being around to resist and move forward."
Shepard walks listlessly through the door. She hasn't been sleeping well, or at least she thinks she hasn't, based on the eternal ache of her bones and the rings under her eyes, and she's not really interested. It annoys her to be depressed about something she can't even remember, annoyed that her body can remember what her mind simply can't.
She's greeted by a curt nod from Miranda, who is busy looking over a datapad while hovering over a control panel, fingers occasionally making adjustments as she scrolls through her data.
It's a moment or two before Miranda puts the datapad down and motions Shepard forward. Her feet obey and take a seat at the small (and surprisingly cluttered) table along the wall.
"I think it's time."
She waits for Miranda to elaborate, but when she doesn't, she's forced to ask, "Time for what?"
"I think it's time to start fixing things. To start fixing you, to be more accurate."
Hope springs up in her chest but she quashes it. No point. "Yeah?" She tries to sound disinterested. Apparently she still knows how to bluff, because Miranda nearly scowls at her.
"Yes. This war went to shit the moment you were injured. We need you back out there doing your 'I'm the paragon of humanity' thing."
Shepard gives her a look. When the hell did she learn sarcasm?
"And… will I be able to remember what's already happened?" Even as she asks, Shepard has no idea what she wants the answer to be. Yes she wants to be fixed. No she doesn't want to know what ghosts haunt her. Whose ghosts haunt her.
"No," she answers carefully, lips puckered slightly around the "o" sound. "Those memories are lost, there's no way to restore them. This would rather… allow you to create new ones."
She nods slightly. Maybe that would be best. It'd be easier to deal with the blood that's no doubt on her hands if she could find out about it second hand. "Alright," she agrees (as though she has a choice). "How exactly does it work?"
"Well…" she pauses, hesitating.
"That bad, huh?"
"No, it's nothing like that. It's just, well, honestly Shepard, should I even bother to explain it? It's rather trying to talk technical with you when you're at your best, and it's been ye… it's been some time since you were at your best."
Meaning I'll just forget it in a few minutes and you don't want to waste your time. It stung even though she begrudgingly saw Miranda's point.
Miranda seems to recognize her annoyance, the almost pouting quality to her seething, and sighs. "I've been working with Jav- with a Prothean memory shard as well as some… experimental technologies from across the galaxy. The factions I obtained the technology from were rather… colorful. These include radical branches of the STG, old asari experiments on the Rachni and, of course, Cerberus projects."
"So there's blood on your hands for even continuing their work?"
She shrugs. "Again, this is war. I collect assets that may be helpful in us winning said war. I don't have the luxury of moral scruples at the moment."
There's a moment as she thinks about it. She remembers telling Mordin to save Maleon's data. Remembers hoping that some good would come of the terrible things he'd done, things he could no longer change. That using it to make the galaxy better wouldn't justify the sacrifice those woman made, but it would honor them.
"Okay," she says slowly, tapping her fingers on the table to distract herself from the butterflies in her stomach. "Go on."
That earns her a slightly relieved half-smile, though Shepard expects her participation in whatever Miranda has planned isn't open to debate. "That apparatus over there is what I've been working on."
Shepard turns to give a quick glance to the machine taking up more than half of the room. It has a platform next to the control panel Miranda was working on earlier. Above the rather unimpressive platform hang what look to be, and she seriously hopes she's wrong about this, high power lasers.
So… either Miranda is going to using some sort of laser to repair the broken parts of her brain… or she's going to use some sort of laser to completely fry it. Lovely.
"And what exactly will that thing do to me?"
"Those lasers focus energy from highly refined sources of element zero, calibra-" she stops dead mid-word before quickly continuing, her words jumbling together slightly in some reason unknown to Shepard. "Adjusted to mimic, at least partially, the way the Prothean beacon and memory shard work. Your prior involvement with the beacon on Eden Prime will actually be highly beneficial since it will act as a tether-" She stops when she sees the blank look on Shepard's face. "I'm going to shoot you with lasers. Happy?"
"Why are we blasting me with energy? Is that seriously the best solution you could come up with after… however long it's been?"
"Because," she pauses, waiting for her to calm down. "Because with you, Shepard, I think the way forward may be backward."
"I… have no idea what that means."
"Excuse me for being cryptic, but I'm working with highly experimental and, in some cases, extremely old technology. I can predict how I believe it will work, but until I actually start testing it and gathering data, I won't know the specifics."
"So… you're telling me that you could actually make things worse?"
As politely as she cans, she replies simply, "Shepard, I don't think you can get much worse at this point."
"When do you want to get started?" There's a bemused look on Miranda's but she says nothing. "What, now!?"
"No time like the present?." There's something in way she says it, like it's a clever jest.
What the hell is she getting herself into?
She's herded onto the platform and Miranda immediately starts flicking switches. The sound of machinery coming to life more than makes her a little uneasy. "So," she asks with her eyes glued to the lasers dancing above her, waiting to fire, "How long until we know if this works?"
Miranda is biting her lip, more than half her concentration on her omnitool and the machine readout. "I have no idea, really," she offers. Her attention turns briefly to Shepard, omnitool raised in her direction.
Shepard assumes she's doing a final scan until she feels a slight buzzing at the nape of her neck, a tingling that's electric and makes her itch. "What the fuck is that?" She's rubbing the spot, which feels warm under her fingers, and can't shake her growing concern. Funny, she never pegged Miranda as the mad scientist type.
"I've had to activate your biotic amps. They'll help re-direct and harness the eezo. Like a lightning rod of sorts, if the comparison helps at all."
"I don't have biotic amps."
Miranda, for possibly the first time in their entire acquaintance, blushes.
"… I have biotic amps?"
"The Illusive Man was rather insistent that I do nothing to change your personality. He did not, however, mention anything about improving your combat capabilities."
"… I've been a biotic this whole time and you never told me."
Miranda shrugged. "We put in the amps, but the whole process didn't quite take. If I hadn't woken you up early, I would have tried to iron out the kinks." She shrugs again. "Oh well."
Oh fucking well? Miranda better hope like hell this is something she doesn't remember when her brain is fully functioning.
She stares back at Miranda, wondering in how many possible ways this could go wrong, worrying about the consequences if it doesn't, and all she can think is no, god no, I'm not ready. But she wasn't exactly ready for any of the other shit her life threw at her and she still managed to make it this far.
So always, instead of backing down, she sighs in exasperation and says, "Sure, why the fuck not."
"That's the Commander Shepard we all know and love." Again, she wonders when the hell Miranda grew a sense of humor. "Powering up." She hesitates a moment, wavering between god knows what, before entering a series of numbers. "We'll try a low setting first. I don't know if we'll actually see any results, but I don't want to push our luck too soon."
Shepard fidgets slightly as she feels the heat building above her. It goes against her instincts to stay in the line of fire.
Suddenly they go off, engulfing her in blue energy that blurs the rest of the lab. She feels warm, but other than that it's as though nothing's happened. Warm but confining, it feels more like a singularity field than an attempt to fix brain damage. Her vision goes red for a second, maybe two or three. Not enough time for panic to start to set in, but enough to wonder if she's gone blind.
The lab abruptly returns in front of her, just as she left it, but without the dull hum of the lasers. She looks around, trying to figure out if she feels any different. No, of course she doesn't, she admits to herself with a slight sigh.
When her eyes find Miranda, the other woman is just staring at her expectantly, waiting.
"Sorry, but I don't think it worked."
Miranda starts slightly, looking genuinely confused.
"Maybe it just needs some more tweaking, but I don't think-"
"Shepard... I haven't turned it on yet."
Her voice deadpans. "You're just fucking with me, aren't you?"
Her brow is knit in concentration, lips mouthing words silently as she stares at Shepard then opens up her omnitool again.
"You going to tell me what's going on?"
She starts to step off of the platform, but Miranda immediately points back to the center, "If you'll humor me a moment and stay where you are, Shepard."
"Miranda, I don't think it's going to work," but she obediently stays put. She recognizes the manic way she's working at the controls, the way Mordin would get when absorbed in a problem, and there really is no point in trying to fight it.
The machine instantly fires up again, but this time there's no hesitation on Miranda's part. "I need you to repeat some numbers back to me, alright Shepard?"
It's not a request for the numbers, rather a complete misunderstanding of what the hell is going on, but Miranda seems to deliberately ignore that. "349.23, 714.09, and 16 mega joules. Repeat them please."
"349.23, 714.09 and 16 mega joules."
The lasers fire, she's in restricting embrace of blue energy. She can barely hear Miranda, who shouts, "Good. Make sure you tell them to me."
She wants to yell at Miranda to fucking explain what's going on, to demand that this stop, but red fills away her vision again.
This time when her vision clears, she nearly tumbles over. She's not surprised to find herself back in the lab, but her near fall was because she had apparently come to mid-stride. And no longer on the platform. Instead she's making a fool of herself as she walks in the door, Miranda giving her a look, momentarily distracted from her datapad.
What the fuck…
She manages to recover her stride, stopping with only a little unease in the center of the room. Shepard is more than aware of her memory problem. Miranda explained it to her this morning with the same care you explain to a cancer patient they've got six months to live. So perhaps that's why she discards the somewhat odd occurrence. Assumes her mind slipped somehow and decides to do her best to play it off.
"Shepard?" Miranda's giving her a look. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah. Peachy fucking keen right here. What's up?"
"I think it's time."
She frowns slightly. "For…?"
"I think it's time to start fixing things. To start fixing you, to be more accurate."
Shepard's head bobs to the side slightly. Déjà vu? No, no, it's the memory thing. Miranda probably has to explain everything each time she sees her. It's just a fluke that she remembers the last time. "Yeah?"
"Yes. This war went to shit the moment you were injured. We need you back out there doing your 'I'm the paragon of humanity' thing."
Shepard coughs slightly. It seems weird that, even if Miranda has to explain this a dozen times a week, that she'd do it the exact same way every time. With the sense of déjà vu crawling down her back, almost making her shiver, she decides to save them both some time and just jump to it. "What makes you think it'll work this time?"
Her momentary surprise fades into a nonplussed curiosity that only Miranda can really pull off. "What do you mean?"
"I don't know how many times you plan on shooting me full of lasers before you give up. I'm pretty sure my brain is closer to being fried than fixed at this point, but if you-"
"Shepard," she interrupts, eyes bright and intense. She seems at a loss for words before she carefully decides on them, one by one. "What is the last thing you remember before you walked into the lab?"
A buzzing at the back of my neck, the inability to see, and the worry that you were slowly lobotomizing me.
Her mouth opens to say just that, but instead the other thing she remembers comes out instead, "349.23, 714.09 and 16 mega joules."
There's a silence for a moment as Miranda seems to digest that, a silence that's eventually broken by the last thing she would have ever expected the ex-Cerberus officer to say.
Shepard half wished she hadn't said a damn thing.
Aside from being prodded and scanned every which way to satisfy Miranda's curiosity, she was subjected to the procedure over and over again. Biotic amps she hadn't even known about would flare to life, the lasers would warm up, and her vision would fade to red before she suddenly came to somewhere/somewhen else and nearly collapse.
Shepard just nodded, following the light with her eyes as Miranda watched her pupils dilate. She'd nearly fallen down a set of stairs this time.
"How many jumps will that make it for you?"
She quickly went through them, most of them made memorable by the things she had nearly run into or the looks of shock on Miranda's face when she appeared with a new set of numbers. "About eleven, I guess."
She turned off the flashlight, staring intently at her. "Do you remember all of them?"
A quick shrug. "I guess."
Miranda didn't say any more, but started the next test. Two jumps later and Shepard finally caught up to what she must have been thinking.
Since the first one, at least the way she was seeing it, it had been about three days.
Three solid days of memories.
Don't let me hope for nothing, she pleaded.
They quickly found a problem with their experiments.
Miranda decided to push the power a little more, just a little more than before.
Shepard had ended up walking off the shuttle when she first arrived at the underground complex. Which meant the machine was over a week from being even ready to use, as Miranda had so elegantly explained as she cursed herself for being so careless and had ordered double shifts from all involved.
When they're finally ready to start up again – a whole week that Shepard can now recall with some clarity – she hisses as her biotic implants are reactivated.
"I'm going to send you farther back."
"Then I get to wait another few weeks til you catch up to me?" It's petty of her to sound annoyed – this really is helping, at least it's kept her memory focused – but she doesn't like being out of commission, sitting around when there's a galaxy to save.
"I've changed how the beams will hit your brain. You should, thanks to your biotic amps, have your consciousness anchored to this moment. I suspect you won't be able to stay there for more than a few minutes before being pulled back to this time."
"What the hell good is that? How am I going to change anything big if I'm stuck coming back here?"
"I need to find a way to stabilize your brain waves once you re-enter. But until then, we need to keep pushing to see how far back you can go. Obviously, the farther the better. We need options."
As usual, she defers to Miranda's expertise.
The first thing she notices after the world re-focuses is a sharp pain in her left shoulder. Bullet wound, she's sure of it. She keeps going in the direction she's pointed, hissing in pain despite herself.
"Of course," she mutters, pants really, as she moves along the uneven terrain. "Of fucking course. First fucking jump out of the lab, and it just has to be combat."
Her stride falters for a moment, near heart attack at the closeness of his voice. She only has to turn a few inches to see him, blue face paint always giving him away.
For some reason she doesn't quite understand, her first instinct is to smile at him. There's nothing but confusion, maybe a little worry, in his eyes. It just makes her want to laugh, to let him in on the joke she's not even sure she gets.
She's about to speak, no idea what she's going to say, just a need to say something forcing her hand when shots ring out and he falls instantly.
Heart in her throat, she doubles back to him without thinking. Pressure on his wounds but there's too many and they've gone straight through.
"Garrus," she pleads again and again. Oh god, he's dying in her arms, bleeding out all over her. The smell of Omega haunts her as whispers, "Come back."
Why does this feel familiar? Oh god oh god oh god don't let this have actually happened-
Then she finds herself back in the lab, back under the florescent lights and Miranda's watchful gaze. It takes maybe half a second for her to collapse to her knees. She heaves violently, the rancid smell of vomit filling the air but masking the fading memory of blood.
She's shaking, damnit she's shaking, as Miranda gently guides her to a chair.
"Why," she coughs, chokes on the memory burned into her mind and the words bursting to the surface, "Why did you have to send me there?"
Miranda swears up and down she won't ever send her there again. She can guarantee it, she'll always send her before. Childishly, Shepard refuses for days to even discuss going back again. Sure, she can promise Garrus won't die in her arms again. But she's here with Miranda, alone among their crew. Where's Liara? Joker? Tali? Any of them?
Can Miranda promise she won't send her to their deaths as well?
That memory of that slight gurgling sound, of him trying to speak, is the sharpest memory she has.
She almost wishes she could still forget.
Eventually she comes around. It takes a great deal of coaxing on Miranda's side, but she does give in and step back onto that damn platform. Well, it wasn't so much coaxing as being told point blank that she's a soldier for Christ's sake, that she needs to deal with it and move on or she may as well count everyone else in the galaxy as good as dead or indoctrinated because she won't bloody step up.
Miranda was always great with pep talks.
But Shepard doesn't like not knowing what she's up against. She's walking blindly into a past that's harsher than any future she could have imagined.
While Miranda fiddles with her damn machine, Shepard starts training.
The physical aspects don't bother her. A gun's a gun. She's obviously a little out of shape, but it all comes back easily enough. Once a soldier, always a soldier.
It's the names and dates and intel that slow her down. Her mind once worked well enough that she could keep up with this sort of thing. Now anything a few hours ago is somewhat hazy, memories that blur around the edges and fade into the background. It takes hours and hours, most of it slipping away despite her effort, but still Miranda praises her progress.
"I can't even tell the difference between a Banshee and a Brute," she mutters, flinging the datapad across the table and crossing her arms in stubborn defiance. And given the vids she's watched, maybe that's something she doesn't want to know.
"Honestly Shepard, you're being too hard on yourself." The old datapad is replaced with a new one, this one covered with battle summaries and new weapon specs. "I've told you some of this information myself and seen you forget it literally moments later. This is more than we could have hoped for when I started."
I'm sure that would be great comfort to Garrus and everyone else that's died because of me.
Instead, she tries not to grimace and tries to cram as much of the information before her into her head.
Eventually she can't put it off any longer, and there's a blindingly red light and the feel of gravity leaving her limbs before everything's restored, sharper than even a few seconds ago. Somehow the past seems more real.
Her body's running, pounding rock. She inhales as deeply as she can - it's nice to breathe in something besides recirculated air - and keeps going with renewed vigor. She always liked running.
Another hundred feet or so she starts to wonder where she is. The terrain looks vaguely familiar, much like where...
Her breath hitches slightly and her paces slows as she almost trips. But at least she's alone. Miranda was true to her word, it seems. It's not that moment.
The air has a hint of bite to it, as though between seasons and the cold is starting to pick up again. Again, she breathes deep and enjoys the feel of her muscles at work. This is a feeling she knew, one she's comfortable with, and in a small way that gives her satisfaction and the will to (purposely) forget, just for a moment.
She thinks she hears a voice on the wind, echoing off the rocks. There's so little time when she gets sent back that she wants to enjoy this feeling of being free, of being alive, before she gets sucked back into the world where she's a guinea pig. So she keeps going, not really sure where to, but following the direction she'd started out in.
Maybe another half mile goes by when she hears it again, louder this time but still indistinct. It doesn't have that terrible ear-grating quality of a Reaper call, so she slows down. Over her heavy breathing and the sound of boots hitting the ground she can barely hear, but now, very clearly, she hears a desperate call. "Shepard!"
Goosebumps line her flesh and her heart flutters. Oh god, is all she can think.
She doubles her pace and keeps running, praying she can out run the sound of his voice.
She feels groggy, sleep weighing down her limbs.
No, wait, those are limbs weighing down her limbs.
Panic wells up inside of her.
Silently, she slips out from under the sleeping turian and makes her way to the room at the end of the hall. She hears him stir slightly as she closes the door behind her. It muffles the sound but she's pretty sure she hears him get up as the lock falls into place.
Light footsteps – he was always so damn quiet when he walked, even in full armor – that stop on the other side of the door. Despite her instinct to stay away, she finds herself leaning against the door, aching to be closer to him.
"Shepard?" he asks hesitantly. A light knock follows. "Are you alright?"
She nods fiercely and hopes she won't cry.
"Shepard?" His voice is tighter, something akin to worry growing.
Stupidly, she remembers he can't see her and manages to croak a weak, "I'm fine." She clears her throat before saying a little more firmly, "I'm fine. Everything's fine."
He must know something's wrong. Of course he does, he's not deaf and even with the door between them her distress isn't hard to pick out. "Shepard… Jane… Tell me what's wrong."
"He's always there when I jump." She hadn't wanted to bring it up. Shepard was a big girl, a grown ass woman who could handle her shit. Usually. But it was killing her a little more to see him, alive and whole for a few brief moments before being ripped back to a time when he's not just dead and cold but abandoned on some fucking planet she's never heard of.
"Yes, I would imagine so." Miranda's voice holds the slightest bit of curiosity, the question implicit.
Feelings she can't quite understand well up in her throat, fighting to be the ones she voices. All she manages is a weak, "Isn't there something you can do about that?"
"Garrus has been with you since this whole thing started. It would be difficult to find times when he's not nearby… And that's not even taking into account the seemingly random nature of your trips. I'm sorry, Shepard, but there's very little I can do."
The pity in Miranda's eyes make her turn away. "Why can't I tell him? Warn him at least-"
"Besides the fact that he won't believe you and he'll think you're crazy? I can't risk him running off with you before I get there. It might take me months to track you two down, assuming I could at all. Never mind the hundreds of other things that could go wrong between you leaving that planet and ending up here. I needed to get you here, which I did. The rest is a secondary concern."
"Garrus' life is a fucking secondary concern-?"
"Yes," she says bluntly, patiently. "We can fix this, all of it. Including him. But you need to be here." She puts a hand on Shepard's shoulder, waits for their eyes to meet. "Please, Shepard. Promise me."
No answer for a moment as he considers. "Can you open the door please?"
The temptation to do just that makes her back away from the door. The room is only ten feet wide, but she makes use of every inch as she retreats to the farthest corner. She's not quiet either, hoping he'll take the hint and leave.
There's a long pause before he does just that, leaving her bitter at what her promise has earned her so far.
Her joints are sore, though they have no goddamned reason to be. The bullets she took seconds ago were actually years ago, even if the sting of concussive rounds making it through her armor is still very much real to her mind.
"I can't always move," she mutters, repeatedly opening and closing her hands as she wills the feeling to return to her fingers.
"What do you mean?"
Shepard shrugs, moving on to her toes. Every few hours she gets blasted full of more eezo. Every time it takes longer for her body to stop tingling. "I don't know. Like I'm there but I'm not. Like the old Jane I'm trying to replace is still in there or something."
Miranda nods, running a scan. "It might be because I'm sending you so far back. I'll up the power output, see if that helps."
"How far back am I now?"
She seems to consider for a moment before giving the slightest of shrugs. "We can't really be sure. But... if you're seeing active combat, I'd say at least three years."
A slow nod as she tries to calculate. "More than halfway, right?"
Shepard nods again absentmindedly. Good. Very good. To Shepard's mind it's been nearly two months. They've picked up speed recently, pushing farther and farther into the past and, truth be told, into her body's limits.
But she was never one to admit to having any limits.
"Shepard..." It still surprises her when Miranda's voice takes on that gentle tone. "I know you want this to be done – and you'd do well to remember you're not the only one who misses them – but I don't think it's good to push yourself so much. It's not good for you-"
The woman stare each other down. As usual, Shepard wins.
Shepard hates these trips, that much is clear. They're at best bittersweet, bringing back old crew that Miranda knows she's too afraid to ask about in the present, and damn painful at worst.
But they're no better on her end, no less agonizing to experience as she watches Shepard's face contort through all manner of pain, eyes buzzing rapidly back and forth, vitals spiking and dropping with no apparent cause. She chews her lip nervously, waiting for the telltale signs that the Commander is occupying the same time and space that she is… or when her body and mind finally give out and it's just Miranda Lawson alone in her lab.
The current jump finally ends, mere seconds after it started, as Shepard collapses in a boneless heap, shaking and sweating. Miranda grabs a towel and goes to help her up.
"What did you see?" She dabs at the trail of blood dripping from Shepard's nose. This experiment would be meaningless if they fried her brain…
Her lips twitch slightly, no sound coming out. She frowns in concentration before trying again. "I... Reapers. I saw… I saw Reapers. Garrus and Liara... There was..." Her hands move vaguely in front of her. "Some sort of reactor." She shakes her head, grasping at straws. "And Banshees."
Miranda's hand freezes slightly, something long forgotten being triggered. "... Banshees?"
"One or two of them maybe, I don't remember. Garrus asked how I knew..." There's a pause, a memory being triggered. "Garrus..." she repeats wistfully.
Miranda tries to redirect her. While an increased memory capacity was still a good sign right about now, the last thing she needs is for Shepard to start moping after her dead lover. Again. "Anything else?"
She shakes her head. "I don't even know if it was real."
Sadly, she had no way of proving if what Shepard was experiencing was real or just an amalgamation of memories from the past few weeks. Was she actually sending Shepard back through time or merely changing the form of her dementia?
Banshees, though... Why did that sound familiar?
"Cyone..." she whispers. Could it be...?
Her eyes focus on Shepard, not sure what this means. "Cyone... I remember, when I first rejoined the Normandy. Garrus was certain, so bloody certain that you were getting better. Said you had remembered what Banshees were." What does this mean?
"And..." It's a moment before she turns her attention back to Shepard. "I think it means it worked." Relief floods through her. It's actually working… They might actually pull this off…
"Worked?" The anger in Shepard's voice brings her back. "You said I'd be able to interact, to change things. Watching old memories doesn't seem like-"
"You did interact. Somehow. You might not have been fully aware."
Her look is skeptical. It should be.
"It's progress, Shepard. For the first time in a long time, it's actual progress."
"How much more progress until I'm far enough back that I can actually... Do something when I'm there?"
The slightest of smiles is all she allows herself. "Soon."
This underground facility Miranda found for herself is well insulated. She hears reports all the times of storms raging a few miles above on the surface, but no sign of it reaches them below. The only thing she can really complain of how damn dark and depressing it is down here.
God, what she wouldn't give for window.
The walls must have started a polished white, but keeping the place clean hasn't exactly been a priority, and the lack of care shows. Shepard had spent many sleepless nights tracing the cracks creeping along her broken ceiling, no longer a sharp white but a dull grey.
Even the stains in this section, the long corridor that passes from the make-shift crew quarters to the labs and command center, are becoming old friends. She gently pats the one that reminds her vaguely of a charging krogan as she turns a corner.
There's a buzzing that surrounds her, nervous energy and a tingling like needles that reminds her of when she was a teenager and didn't quite fit in her own damn skin. And below that, an unfamiliar clenching in her gut, a dam inside of her waiting to burst.
Too much element zero, she suspects, and it puts her on edge to know it.
The feeling has been getting worse over the past few sessions. She hasn't brought it up, wouldn't dare voice it for fear of Miranda stopping altogether. There has to be an end to this nightmare, and this queasy feeling is a small price to pay.
She nods a greeting to a passing crewman. There are about thirty, as best she can tell. It's hard to be certain, the names and faces still blur around the edges as she tries to put them together.
She's halfway through her guessing game, trying to figure out if she knows this lone crew member, when a blow throws her tumbling to the ground. Her head hits something as she goes down, the faint smell of her own blood filling her nose.
For a terrible second, she feels the throbbing and worries that her newly gained memories will slip right back out again. But the dizziness from the blow fades and her mind feels as though it's still in one piece.
The fear for her own memory quickly dissolves as a much greater fear replaces it.
She sprints down the hall, nearly kicking down the door to the command center. "Miranda! What's-"
The nervous energy and chatter stop her dead in her tracks. The crew is busy shouting orders and Miranda's in the thick of it. When their eyes finally meet, even Miranda can't hide the fear in hers.
So this is it, then.
Neither bothers stating the obvious. Miranda shouts her final orders before ushering Shepard back out and towards the lab.
"They must have picked up our power output. In the early stages, it might have been easy to overlook, but we've been using more and more… We couldn't hide forever." She looks almost apologetic as she says, "I should have been more careful."
She can't blame Miranda. They were both too eager, too careless as they pushed farther and farther. "How much time?"
"Damned if I know. They'll be inside soon. This isn't a big compound, either, so I wager they find us within a few minutes of getting in."
Her teeth grind in frustration. To come so far and fall short at the end…
"Miranda, what if-" She pulls the younger woman out of the way of falling debris. "What if it doesn't get any better?"
She just looks at Shepard, shaking her head. "Look around you, Shepard. It can't get any worse."
Some of the lights in the lab blink on and off as they try desperately to maintain power. Shepard steps onto the platform, Miranda takes her place at the control panel.
"What should I change?"
Her fingers are flying. "Something, everything. Just DO something that gives us another chance at this war, another chance to show the Reapers we won't just roll over and die for them."
"How far back-"
Alarmed, she doesn't quite want to ask, but the words find their way out, "How much power are you putting in?"
"All of it," Miranda says simply.
"Why would you-"
"No time to go through and reset it to early coordinates. No time to send you back a few weeks to warn us. Damn it all, I don't even know how far back they first picked us up…"
There's gunfire outside now, the smell of smoke and cries of pain and terror mixing in the hall. Every second Miranda's team can give her they're buying with their own blood.
The desperation leaves her voice, the steady voice of the ex-Cerberus operative she met so many years ago coming through, "I'm sorry, Shepard, but no matter what happens… this is a one way trip."
She swallows. She's never allowed herself to be nervous and she isn't about to start now. Instead, she nods, shakes her body loose like she would before a fight. "Alright, fire it up-"
The door bursts open, the fight raging outside finally spilling into the lab. Miranda and Shepard's hands both fly to their sidearms, but Miranda's the only one of them armed. She takes out the Marauders, a headshot for each of them.
Silence fills the lab, though she can still hear the distant sounds of bullets and biotics. It's not until she hears coughing that she remembers she's not alone.
Miranda's coughing up blood, nearly drowning in it, and in that moment Shepard knows she's the last of her crew, of the family she built. That no matter where she goes in this universe, she'll find no more of the Normandy's children. That when Miranda draws her last breath, she will truly be alone.
Horror keeps her glued to the spot, horror and her subconscious remembering she needs to be on that platform more than Miranda needs her.
She slumps against the console. A growing stain of red spreads like a flower in bloom across her chest. Her fingers, slick with her own blood, find their way to the activate button before she collapses completely, energy spent.
The machine comes to life. Even from here, Shepard can see the energy levels climbing to their previous highs and then continuing on to dangerous levels. The console blinks an overload warning – several in fact – and she finally understands what Miranda meant by one way trip.
When the beam fires, it takes her a moment to realize the cry of pain was hers. It burns like nothing she's ever felt. She just prays it's a cleansing fire and not a funeral pyre.
Over the pounding of her temples, she somehow hears as Miranda whispers, "Do what you have to." For once in what seems like a very long time, Shepard actually feels like someone believes in her.
Another tedious request gets his approval and he finds himself wishing for the good old days when his only responsibility was shooting his rifle. Spirits, did he miss shooting things.
All the bureaucratic nonsense he thought he had abandoned with his C-Sec career was actually something he found himself starting to miss. Compared to running a ship, during wartime no less, C-Sec seemed like an exercise in anarchy.
The CIC is buzzing with activity. Deciphering this message, relaying that one. Orders from the Alliance, requests from the Asari, always somebody needing something. An ensign tries to give him a datapad, but he waves her away. He's had enough for one day cycle. Garrus is relatively confident the galaxy will fall to pieces with or without him seeing the new duty rosters.
It's engineering he heads to. He might be exhausted, but the bowels of the ship offer a certain peace.
Plus he's left Shepard with Tali.
Their voices echo over to him as soon as he's in engineering. At first the words take no shape, just the familiar sounds and cadence that was so unique to each of them, but the conversation takes shape as he rounds the corner into Tali's little nook.
"You plan on building a home on Rannoch when all this is said and done?"
"Yes," Tali says firmly, hopefully. Naively, but he would never tell her that. Some dreams are too beautiful to crush.
Shepard catches his eye and smiles at him, Tali's hope echoed in her eyes. She's about to say something, probably something as simple as "Hello" when her pupils dilate. There's a look of pain on her face, or at least it seems that way to him before he sharply turns away. He hates seeing this moment, the moment when she forgets or resets or whatever it is that happens to her.
He's about to hazard a look back, a forced smile twitching at the corner of his mandibles, when she staggers heavily forward and collapses against the nearest console. She's nearly doubled over in pain, knuckles white as she clutches the machinery.
Tali finds her voice first. "Shepard, are you okay?"
Her eyes don't quite focus as she looks at the quarian. There's a manic look to her, frightening really. It makes Tali take a step back and keeps him frozen to the spot. This is new.
"I..." Beads of sweat are starting to form on her forehead. With great effort she manages to force out the name, "Miranda."
"Uh... She's probably in the lab... We could go check-"
He and Tali share a look. She follows Tali's gaze and only then does she seem to realize he's there.
"Garrus!" He didn't know she could move so fast, but she's clinging to him the way a drowning man clings to every choked gasp of air. He'd never seen her like this. Not with him, not with anyone. "Garrus! We can change it now! We have to!" She shakes him now. "I won't see them kill you again!"
He still hasn't said a thing - what do you say in a time like this - but Tali steps forward. "It'll be alright, Shepard," she coos, gently trying to guide her off of his armor. "Whatever's bothering you, soon it won't even be a memory-"
She pulls hard out of Tali's grasp, nearly throwing them all off balance. "You don't understand - I'm the last Shepard. I have to do this... I can't to go back, the lab... I'm pretty sure Miranda blew it up..."
It means nothing, just nonsense, and it worries him. She's gotten like this before, this urgency to do things that she already did, but none of what she's saying is even remotely familiar.
She pulls away from him, clutching her head in what looks like an effort to physically hold it together. She grunts in pain, falling to her knees. "The base... Too much energy... they found us... Stop them..."
Words fail her, her look grows distant. They both see clearly as the light leaves her eyes. She collapses in a heap, boneless, in front of them. The silence is deafening, but the truth still rings out between them.
Commander Shepard is dead.
Her body is always thrumming with electricity. She can feel the energy Miranda pumped into her following in her wake. Maybe that's what kills all the Shepards she leaves behind.
The first stop had been rough. She can still vividly see the look of horror in Tali and Garrus' eyes. It'd been like a dream, even as it happened. Her own thoughts disorganized, her body not quite moving in its normal rhythm. Fear and desperation had robbed her of her senses.
She keeps falling backwards, like a stone skipping across water, but she senses with each jump that the way behind her was blocked. Every time she lands somewhere new, another door to the future-that-was closed forever.
Shepard had, after two other similar encounters with members of the crew, learned control. She knew to stay very still as her vision came back, as the energy still buzzing along her skin settled in her gut. Then she'd try to warn them.
Not that they listened. Not that she had the time to explain. Not that she had the credibility, given her condition, to make them heed her.
She sighed, the chair under her swiveling slightly. The scene before her came into focus slowly, but that gave her time to collect herself. Collect the pieces of Jane Shepard that weren't completely broken or lost yet.
Her ears were still ringing, but the blueprints on the conference table seemed familiar. The shape, the scale of it...
"I... I remember that ship."
Everyone freezes and all eyes are on her. You could hear a pin drop, she's sure of it. She leans over to better examine the blueprints, pulling the nearest one to her. "The Crucible," she whispers, repeating the memory of a memory. Yes. This might be a good place to warn them. Fix this much at least, even if she herself is doomed.
Joker's the first to say anything. "You remember it?" His voice is full of barely stifled hope.
Hope. It makes her feel guilty that she hasn't been able to follow through yet. She wants to - needs to - turn all their hope into something real.
She nods, the memory clearer the longer she looks at the picture. "I saw it blow up." She says it with such certainty as she puts the blueprints back on the conference table. "Looked like it was near Jupiter."
There's an unease in the room as she looks around. Now no one will meet her eyes.
The tingling in her limbs is back, the world's closing in and she knows she's wasted her chance here.
"Don't worry," she tells them calmly. "I'll try to stop that."
Adrenaline. The smell of guns. And the sound of a firefight, but one beyond the ship she's in.
"I still don't know if it was a good idea to bring you-"
"Both you and Shepard would be dead if I hadn't come. Without my knowledge of Cerberus protocols-"
"I know," he sighs. "But you know how she is when she sees you. She took a shot at you on Utukku because she thought you were that Eva woman."
She ignores them. Looks at this place and sits in the chair she's seen a dozen times, but never up close. Never the real thing.
There's a sort of triumph in knowing she's sitting in the Illusive Man's base. The details of this assault might escape her, but she can sense a victory and she allows herself a moment to enjoy it.
The tickle of a distant memory, of a scar she'd found but didn't remember earning, makes the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. She feels him behind her before she ever hears him. The rest is just instinct.
"This is for Thane and Liara you son of a bitch!" Her omni-blade is deep in his torso, she thinks she can fell the last beats of his heart reverberate through it. It's a satisfying thought. She pulls him close and whispers, "God help you if I fix all this, because there will be no end to how much I make you suffer for what you did to them."
Garrus and EDI are by her side then, guns ready but the threat is dead at her feet.
They hesitate. "Thane and Liara..." She knows what he's really asking.
"Thane on the Citadel. Liara on Thessia. I know." She doesn't know how she knows. If she read it in a report somewhere, if someone had said it in front of her, or if it's her - just her - who knows. She turns to him, enjoying the bewildered look, and flashes a smile (one that she hopes shows only her bravado and none of her doubts). "I'll fix it."
Strangely, she realizes she believes it. Maybe not here, not now, but she'll make it right.
She hopes the Garrus she leaves behind in that moment isn't haunted by her, the confident Commander Shepard back for a moment before dying at his feet.
She had ducked out of the last meeting. The argument barely disguised as a discussion had gotten heated, and in the middle of it all he simply hadn't noticed her leave. They must be great fools if they'd let Commander Jane Shepard slip from their minds as easily as she'd slipped out of the room. People who let that happen tended to end up with a bullet through their heads.
Garrus follows her as soon as he can get away. He misses the days when his opinion was sought but not needed. Though it does give him a new found appreciation for the type of woman Shepard was, to be able to put up with it.
Is, he corrects himself quickly. She's not dead yet.
Though holding out hope would probably kill him as surely as the war would, if not as loudly or quickly.
The door opens, disrupting the quiet of her quarters, and he enters unannounced. Something he's gotten used to in the past few months of cohabitation. If it could even be called that. He dismisses the thought before it can foul his mood.
There she is, on the couch and feverishly tapping away at a datapad. She barely glances up at him, but when she does the dull glow of the fish tank reflects eerily from her eyes.
He takes a moment to memorize how perfect she looks with a strand of hair escaping across her forehead, the slight frown as she tries to concentrate. It's such deja vu, taking him back to the SR1 and later the Collectors, a sense so strong that he's reluctant to speak and break the spell. Because as soon as she says something, it'll be that much harder to pretend.
Turns out she's not as interested in maintaining the charade. "I've got something for you."
His footsteps are heavy as he makes his way over to her. "Oh yeah?" What laughably old report is she going to give him? Is this one of the times where he tries to explain what's happening to her or when he just plays along?
When he sits, she nearly shoves the pad into his hands. Her hands cover his as she forces him to take it. "Do not lose this. It's everything I can remember. Earth, the Crucible, the war afterwards... all of it."
His heart is pumping ice. He doesn't know what this is, doesn't understand, but the chill in his blood grows as he reads through just the first page of what she's written. The dates and locations are vague, as are the casualty listings, but it appears to be a list of battles. Some are battles that have already happened, but most of them appear to be months, some of them even years from now.
He has no words, his mind a complete blank, as he goes through battle after battle. Skims through lists of high-ranking military officers with tags of INDOCTRINATED, CAPTURED or KILLED next to them with a location and date. Goes through worryingly detailed reports of flaws in the Crucible's construction.
"Shepard..." If this is someone's sick idea of a joke... "What is this," he hisses. His right talons twitch with the desire to ring in the neck of whoever got Shepard so turned around that she'd think any of this was true-
"It's the best I can do here," she interrupts his murderous thoughts. There's a sincere note to her voice that almost calms him. "I... I can't find a way to tether myself here, or anywhere, really. I don't think Miranda really accounted for this..." She makes a face he can't recognize, some twisted grimace at a bad memory or hard truth, before it returns to its former calm. "But when I'm gone from this timeline, you can at least do something. Maybe actually get the Crucible to Earth. Maybe make sure Anderson's name stays off that list."
"How... where did you get this?" It's with no small effort that he keeps his voice level. He doesn't want her to get upset, to suspect his mistrust in what she's saying.
But now she's taking the datapad away from him, putting it on the coffee table. Her hands cup his cheeks as she looks into his eyes. He's not sure what she sees in them- has never been sure what she's seen in them- but just hopes she can't hear that his heart has doubled its pace.
"Garrus." She waits until she's sure she has his attention. Spirits, he can feel her looking right into him. "I don't know how often I've gotten the chance to tell you this, or even if I have, but you deserve to hear it." This time his heart altogether stops. She's whispering, but it may as well be a shout for how it rings through him. "I love you, Garrus Vakarian. There is no one I would trust more to run this ship for me." She kisses him, slow and deliberate, on his still scarred mandible. "I wish I'd figured that out before all of this happened."
He doesn't trust himself to speak. His arms move around her automatically as she comes in to kiss him again and again, hold him, whisper comforting words to him that will no doubt be meaningless in the morning.
She goes limp and her hands grow cold in his.
"That's not possible."
"Humor me for a minute," she says over another sip of brandy. Not her favorite drink, but she can't be picky.
Alenko leans back in his chair, eyes looking anywhere but at hers, nervously playing with his own drink as he tries to figure out just how serious she is right now. "Okay." He shifts his drink again but finally looks up. "I'd say you'd need to find a way to stop it before it actually kills you."
"It does kill me-"
"You you, not the... other yous?" He waves his hand vaguely, dismissing the parts of her she's had to leave behind. She doesn't like that. It might seem impossible to him, but she mourns those lost parts of herself, feeling the loss almost as if they were missing limbs. "This is going to kill you eventually."
She has nothing to say to that. She's already considered that possibility. Eventuality. What happens to her when the energy propelling her back finally dries up?
"Is that why you teared up when you saw Legion earlier?" The question, though almost mocking in tone, is real enough. Maybe he senses her dour mood because he forces his tone to stay light. "Thought you were about to run over and give him a bear hug."
She shrugs, trying to brush off the feelings associated with the Geth. Unfortunately, she has bigger problems. "He died in front of me. It's... it's just good to see him again."
His eyes narrow. "It, Shepard. I know you trust it, but don't forget that it's just a machine-"
"He," she says firmly, the echoes of his last words etched deep into her mind. Now at least. There's still the sting of knowing that at one point, she'd completely forgotten. Might forget again, for all she knows.
Kaidan considers for a moment, not unlike someone wondering how best to respond to a crazy person, before nodding. "Alright. He."
The silence grows and Shepard can only look at her hands. She waits for him to just dismiss her entirely, assume this is some new manifestation of her memory going to shit. This has happened enough times for her to know the drill. And like with the others, she'll try not to hold it against him.
But what he does finally ask does manage to surprise her. "Why are you telling me this?"
A frown is the best she can do in answer. He sighs, looked almost embarrassed, as he explains, "I mean… why are you telling me instead of Garrus?"
She blinks once, twice then shrugs. "I don't know. Because you're here, I guess." She knows that's less than a satisfactory answer to give a former lover, so she quickly adds, "I have told him. Before. For all the good it does. It's just... I don't know. Maybe I feel like it's too much to put on him and then disappear. Maybe I want a different perspective. Maybe it's because you are here and I honestly haven't seen you in years and maybe I missed you as much as I missed Legion." And Liara. And Joker. And Thane. And and and... Her shoulders slump slightly, the only weakness she allows herself to show before she straightens up again.
She's not sure what he thinks of that. His hand is on his chin, rubbing the day old stubble with the slightest tint of grey. "I'm not exactly a scientist, Shepard-"
"I've talked to scientists. They've got nothing." And are usually more reluctant to believe me…
"Only so much advice I can give you…"
"But?" she prompts.
"But…" he hesitates a moment before diving in, "Maybe you should stop coming to us." It's like a slap to the face, but he knows it and keeps going. "Shepard, think about it. We don't know what you've been through, we can't help. You need to do something. You need to get yourself out of this before… Well, before you get to the end of this little trip of yours."
To say she's disappointed would be an understatement. Kaidan's not a scientist, and she certainly isn't either. Give her a target and a gun. But there's always that hope that one of them will have the answer.
There's a tightening at the back of her neck, a migraine-like pain building behind her eyes, and she knows it's done. Flip a coin, hope she comes out alive on the next side of this jump. "Any other words of wisdom before I disappear?"
Her vision is blurry, but she remembers the almost smug look on his face as he asks, "What were you saying about biotic amps?"
The instant she appears, she knows he's alive. She's not sure how she knows - the slightly less sombre atmosphere on the ship or some distant memory tickling the back of her mind - but she's in the med lab as soon as the elevator allows it.
"I need you to re-activate my biotic amps."
Mordin blinks at her for a moment before he seems to understand what she's talking about. "Wouldn't recommend. Dangerous process, even if in peak condition. With given circumstances..." He pauses to glance over her, coughs slightly, then repeats, "Wouldn't recommend."
Somehow she's not terribly surprised that he seems to already know that Cerberus tried to make her a biotic. Nor is she terribly surprised he hasn't previously brought it up. She can be annoyed about that later.
Instead she leans over and starts up his omnitool. His medical scanner is activated before he can react, but when he does, he doesn't pull away. Apparently there's still enough trust between them. Or he sees her as a belligerent patient who needs to be humored. She pretends it's the former.
"Shepard?" he asks in confusion as she takes a half-step back.
"You said it was dangerous with the given circumstances. Go ahead and scan me. Tell me if there's any physical reason why you can't do this."
He continues to watch her but he does eventually start the scan. She tries to stay calm as she waits, but there's no calm to be found. She needs these amps on, if only to try something different. Chakwas will refuse, she senses that given the motherly nature of the doctor towards her and her ever more recent head trama. Miranda's no where to be found.
Mordin doesn't say a word, which is how she knows his scan turned up something unusual. Two, three times he runs it before his head tilts to the side. "Interesting," is all the response she gets.
He keeps muttering, faster than she can catch. "Well?" she finally prompts.
Mordin's eyes meet hers, seeming to remember that she's there, really there. "How-"
She raises a hand to stop him. Once he gets started, she suspects it will be difficult to stop the questions. "No how's or why's or when's. I wouldn't know how to explain it anyway. Can you do what I'm asking?"
"Yes," he says with a shrug. "Of course."
His hands fly across his omnitool and she instantly feels the amps come to life inside of her. The hair on her arms stands on end as a blue glow, barely visible, dances along her skin. It feels like it did the first time, back in a lab that may not even exist yet where the galaxy's state of affairs was much more dire but her own at least were more certain.
Imperceptibly, she feels the energy that has been her constant companion the last few trips, diminish for the first time.
"Something wrong?" As always, it's not concern that darts through Mordin's eyes but curiosity.
Less energy, fewer trips? At an end soon? Will she stabilize here? She's buzzing with a hundred different questions, drunk on biotic energy and the possibility of this ending.
"No," she says. For a second she thinks she spots concern in his expression, but as always it changes too fast for her to be sure. "Show me how you did that."
He hesitates. "No need to know - will remain active. Will not have to repeat process."
She leans in slightly and says very clearly, "Show me."
She slowly tries to channel the biotic energy, the mass amount of eezo pumped into her in a now impossible future. Even if only in the very most basic of ways, she finds some measure of success. Her skin glowing a soft blue that may very well just be the reflected light from the fish tank, Shepard wonders if this can even help.
Eventually, she finds that if she gives a slight push with the energy, pulls from what's already around her, she can force the jumps. Of course, that means starting up the amps again as soon as she lands, but it's something. The harder she pushes, the farther back she goes. A nudge sends her a few hours, a gentle push days. And she finds she's scared to know how far she'll go if she shoves.
The energy trickles out of her more and more. She doesn't know how she knows that, not sure if this extra sense is something she can trust, but she seems to remember it being much more suffocating when this started. She remembers dying in the engine room, suffocating, choking on it. Now it's manageable - she can actually hear herself think - but that just means it's fading.
One of these jumps will be her last, one way or the other.
When she lands this time, she actually stumbles to the ground. She's nauseous and there's a pounding in her head. Correction, her head feels like it's been ripped apart, like there's still a gaping hole in it from some terrible blow. It's there, only faintly numbed by anesthetic and the sour taste of chemicals in her mouth. A familiar ache whose ghost has greeted her each morning as she wakes.
But good god, it had never felt so fresh, so raw as it does now.
It's hard to hear over the pain and the sound of explosions, but there are hands pulling her up, steadying her on her feet. She looks at them, sees the worry before she recognizes their faces.
She blinks as the pieces try to fall into place. Her body and mind just won't line up.
The sky is burning above them, pulls her attention away and she gasps at the sight of a whole world burning. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Vega and Garrus share a look, one that's all too familiar yet still manages to sting. Her heart sinks a little as she pulls at the thread of a memory dancing in front of her. "Palaven," she whispers, in a trance. "That's Palaven, isn't it?"
Did Earth get this bad after she left? Is it this bad now?
I have to fix this.
Garrus has turned away. She can't blame him. He knows no worse pain yet than seeing his home world die.
She won't let him know worse pain.
A determination seizes her. It's hard to think through the agony, through the meds holding her together, through the eezo leaking off of her. It's always too late or too soon or not enough time. How is there never enough time? This isn't the right place, the right time.
But the right one is just around the corner.
Shepard's got her omni-tool up, biotics flaring to life once more, even as she's telling the Illusive Man to shove it. This is a song and dance she knows.
It doesn't hit her, really hit her, until she's chasing after the doctor. Mid-stride, her legs set at a grueling pace and the air tight in her lungs, she realizes that she knows this place, this moment. It's not like the rest. This place is in her memory. This place has been in her dreams and haunted her even as she tried to put the ashes of the last few years back together.
This is Mars. This is where she arguably died, her life a terrible sort of purgatory since that fall.
Though apparently death doesn't really stick to Jane Shepard.
She bounds around a corner and up a ladder, back in the present. There was a damp spot the last time, almost made her fall. She avoids it without even thinking about it, just keeps pushing after the fleeing woman.
Machine, part of her knows, but in this memory it's easier to forget that everything after this moment hasn't happened. As though it's some strange hallucination, some nightmare she can feel herself finally starting to get over. Later it will probably keep her up at night wondering if it even happened.
Assuming she can fix things here.
A feeling stronger than déjà vu shadows her as she once again goes through the motions. She's a little twitchy, not quite able to keep still as she waits for the moment to act.
The world slows to a grinding halt as she sees the shuttle fly in.
Oh god, she manages to think. Not again. Panic sets in, the same as the first time. The woman who could stare down a Reaper now frozen as she faces her future again. A crippling future she'll barely live through as a galaxy dies around her, begging her to just get out of the way right now!
Nothing but open air behind her, a drop and a blow and oh so much pain, nothing but the charging shuttle waiting to make it all happen again.
She barely hears Liara screaming at her.
Her whole body tingles with the desire to do something. Heat rushes through her, a jolt coming to her stomach. She reaches deep inside, pulls from the energy Miranda gave her and throws it at the shuttle. There's no real conscious thought, no direction, just the desire to shield herself.
Instead the world goes a blurry blue and white. She curses, afraid she pushed too hard and sent herself backward again. The only thought as the world shifts around her is that she missed her chance, the obvious one that would have fixed it all...
The blur dissolves and she's still on her feet, though barely. She's retching, stomach more aware of what's going on than she is. A crash behind her, metal on metal, but she's not sure if the shockwave or her own disorientation that finally knocks her feet out from under her.
She pounds her fists angrily into the ground before slowly rising to her feet. So goddamned close... The blast makes her think this might be Earth. The thought of seeing Anderson again, even if it's at the price of watching her world go to hell, is somewhat comforting.
"Shepard- I need your help-"
Her blood freezes when she recognizes Liara's voice. Liara wasn't on Earth... How far back did she go?
Jumping to her feet tells her she's still a little disoriented, but she ignores it and turns back to the crash and Liara and hopefully something that will tell her when and where she is. She's in her own memories now, before the accident, so she should be able to figure out-
A gasp and a second to realize it's her own.
The oncoming storm looms over the Martian landscape. Liara's biotics are a torch around her as she tries to keep the shuttle level long enough for James to escape. It's teetering over the ledge - what should have been her ledge, her accident, but now it might be James' injury or Liara's death - and that finally makes her break into a run. Together the two marines wedge the door open long enough for him to jump out. Liara almost immediately collapses, the shuttle instantly lost to the chasm below.
Shepard is peeking over, wondering how she even survived the first time, when she hears Liara weakly say, "Cortez is on his way in with another. We should be able to make it out before the storm hits... barely." When their eyes meet, Shepard has no idea what look Liara's giving her. She just looks very tired, confused and... skeptical.
Did it happen?
"You alright, Doc?" Liara nods slightly, eyes not leaving Shepard's, and she's forced to look away first. Shepard knows what questions she'll have to face but has never known the answers.
Was it real?
James is looking Kaidan over, knocked out cold, and she's left to investigate the cold remains of Dr. Eva. He must have hit her - lucky for them - as he came in for his impromptu landing because there's no spark of anything resembling life, whether it be mechanical or biological. At least it's mostly in one piece, though.
Good, maybe there will still be something left for EDI.
"Hey, Lola?" She winces slightly but turns anyway. "Did I see that right or did you biotic jump back there?"
Is it over?
She instinctively goes to rub away at the remaining bile. "Yeah," voice hoarse, she pauses long enough to clear her throat. "Yeah, I think I did."
All three of them know she's no biotic. Which is perhaps why he hesitates slightly before adding, "I didn't know you could do that."
Can I fix it?
The shuttle's there, Cortez opening the hatch, and she's saved from having to say more than the truth.
"Neither did I."
It was smooth sailing after that. At least considering the storm she'd just weathered for god knows how many years. They had their questions, she gave her answers. True, they might not have been the real ones or very satisfactory ones, but they were comfortable lies that would have to do.
In the end, Shepard told them she had no idea about the biotic amps Cerberus had implanted in her during her resurrection. Coming up with adequate venom and disgust was hardly challenging, and feigning ignorance to how they got activated didn't take much. Just another example of the miracles following Commander Shepard.
If they only knew how true that was.
They were all burnt out. Wouldn't work ever again, the doctors had said with a sympathetic pat on her shoulder. Probably the most devastating news they could give a biotic. She just blinked at them, not bothering to correct them.
Being back on the Normandy was good for her. Having things the way they should be helped calm the strange feelings building inside of her chest. Part of her mourned people who were still alive, another part demanded the Reapers pay for their blood, and yet another warned not to let it come to their deaths in the first place. She'd spend hours starring at herself in the mirror, trying to figure out which part of her most needed to be heeded. Which part of her was the most real...
Several times she tried jotting down what she remembered, all the lists and dates and names Miranda had urged her to keep track of. Things to prevent or at least make better. But each time frustration would build and she'd hurl the damn datapad across her cabin. Goddamnit, she'd known so much more just one jump ago. As always, the ghosts that haunted her were just that - intangible, unclear, and ultimately something she couldn't prove existed.
Stopping the accident had cut her off almost completely from that world. Every time she tried to pin down a memory from that future that was, they slipped away. Everything was on the tip of her tongue but she could never get it farther than that. They were just whispers in her subconscious, ideas manifesting in her dreams and rarely in her waking thoughts.
Sometimes she wondered if that was even a bad thing.
The rest of the time she just hoped she'd know what to do when the time came.
"You settling in alright in the battery?"
"Aside from everything being in the most annoying possible spot, all the algorithms I meticulously perfected being completely re-written, and hitting my head on these damn beams the Alliance put in... Sure, I'm settling in just fine."
Her face is starting to get sore from smiling ear to ear. Try as she might, there's just no getting around how happy she is to see him alive. This, this feeling that centers around Garrus Vakarian is the most concrete thing she has left.
"You... you alright Shepard?" he asks, an embarrassed flick of his mandibles as she continues to grin like an idiot at him.
She blushes slightly, finally forcing herself to look away. She manages to keep her eyes from wandering back to him for a full three seconds. "Never better."
They go back to the conversation they probably never got to have - or had so many times it made him sick - small talk that seems ridiculous all things considered. But the easy friendship they'd always had makes it easier to forget the things going on outside this room. And as she looks into his grey blue eyes, she knows just how damn good she's gotten at forgetting.
As she leaves, there's almost a girlish spring in her step. There was a shift in their relationship, maybe something small or a lot of small things slowly building up, and she'd missed it the last time. But it was still with her, and she got the feeling he was starting to feel that shift. She smiles at the irony of it. Now she's the one who gets to wait patiently while he figures it all out.
It's alright. He's earned her patience.