How he survives almost two months without having an emotional breakdown, Garrus doesn’t know. He just knows that he can’t stay here, stranded on a jungle planet in the middle of nowhere, with failed engines and a giant hole in the port side of the Normandy. He just knows that he doesn’t know what happened to her, where she is, if she’s still alive. If Earth still exists or has been blown to dust in deep space.
He knows that he has to get out of here.
It’s a miracle nobody died during the crash. Joker broke his arms and legs and at least three ribs but Dr. Chakwas says she can fix him; the pilot just laments that his ship has almost been destroyed. Those who can, almost immediately start with the repairs, live on the few resources they have here – EDI is worth a mint, filters air and water for everyone, scans flora and fauna on their level of edibility. Liara desperately tries to get radio contact but all their comm-devices are dead; Garrus has turned his own device off because he can’t deal with the noise.
57 days later, the Normandy is patched as best as possible and they can finally lave this planet. He doesn’t say it out loud but he’s sick and tired of heat and humidity and bloodsucking insects and venomous plants, longs for the pleasant warmth of the Palaven sun. More so, he longs for her but he keeps that to himself, too; on the outside, he’s concentrated, calm and confident while he takes over command along with Kaidan whose rank is highest on board. EDI navigates the Normandy on her own because Joker is still restricted to leave the med station where he constantly complains about being treated like a helpless baby – that he almost broke his neck during the crash doesn’t seem to matter much to him.
The journey back to Earth takes much too long for his taste but it seems that most mass relays are destroyed and rendered useless. Just barely, they finally find a relay that’s still intact in the Horse Head Nebula and brings them back into the Sol system. As they enter the Earth’s orbit, they receive the first message in months.
“Here is ground control of the planet Earth. State your name and intention!” Although most of the crew is packed in the cockpit by now, it’s EDI who answers,
“This is the SSV Normandy SR-2, requesting immediate authorization to land. We have Marines and several wounded on board.” For a moment, there is only silence on the other end of the comm-link, then the man on ground control stutters,
“N-Norman…? Normandy, is that really you?”
“Get Admiral Hackett,” Kaidan yells into the comm-device. “This is Major Kaidan Alenko on board of the Normandy. I repeat, we request immediate authorization to land to treat our wounded.” It’s silent, deafeningly so, while the whole crew waits for something to happen. Then, so sudden that Tali yelps in surprise and clutches James’s arm, Hackett’s voice resonates through the cockpit, crackling from the comm-device before his face appears on their monitor.
“Major Alenko!,” he says and looks relieved yet at least 30 years older than when they last saw him. “It’s really you… How did you…?”
“I’ll tell you once we’re back on solid ground, Admiral,” Kaidan answers tiredly. EDI interjects,
“Admiral Hackett, please give immediate permission to land. The Normandy doesn’t have enough fuel left for an orbital flight.” Hackett doesn’t waist a second and yells,
“Then land, for Heaven’s sake! We’re in London, the landing strips aren’t in the best conditions but should hold.”
“Landing sequence initiated!” EDIs quiet announcement is almost drowned out by the crew’s loud cheer; Garrus doesn’t cheer, stays silent. He doesn’t feel like cheering, not until he’s seen her.
After the Normandy has successfully landed, they are greeted by Admiral Hackett himself who shakes everyone’s hands and calls them heroes. Garrus doesn’t feel like a hero. He feels lost and out of place on Earth and this city called London that’s still a picture of misery and destruction although it’s already being rebuilt.
It’s James Vega who asks the question that preys on all of their minds.
“Where’s Commander Shepard?”
They don’t really need an answer, the sad faces of the present Marines and the shadow that darkens Hackett’s expression say enough. Still, the Admiral brings himself to say,
“I’m afraid we… we couldn’t find her. Shepard has been classified as KIA two weeks ago.”
The words resonate in his mind but Garrus doesn’t understand them. He has heard what has been said but the meaning doesn’t reach him. While Tali collapses, crying violently, and is soon joined by Liara, James curses and rams his fist into the Normandy’s demolished outer casing. Cortez is hugging Traynor who clings to him desperately, Chakwas, Adams, Donnelly and Daniels stand by them, unbelieving, devastated. EDI uses soft power to keep Joker from jumping out of his wheel chair so that he doesn’t get even more hurt.
“No,” Kaidan says, sounding hollow. “That can’t be.” Hackett shakes his head.
“It’s been almost three months, Major. Even for someone like Shepard… It’s impossible to have survived for so long.” He points to a giant pile of rubble that towers in the northern part of the city, almost like a small mountain. “Her last known whereabouts were somewhere up there. We’ve scanned the entire place for life signs, several times. I’m sorry.” Kaidan swears, ugly and so very unlike him, then turns on his heel and marches back into the Normandy as if the ship could somehow help him.
Garrus stares at his teammates and the grieving crew and realizes that he feels nothing; no grief, no anger. Only emptiness. Abysmal emptiness, even worse than three years ago when the news of the SR-1’s destruction has reached him, even worse that when he had believed her to be dead.
Hackett accommodates them to makeshift shelters, cold and uncomfortable and full of grieving humans that Garrus doesn’t want to and cannot look at. That night, he doesn’t sleep and somewhere close, he can still hear Tali crying and knows that the rest of the crew doesn’t get a wink of sleep either but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t want to talk to or comfort them. He can’t bear their grief because inside him, there is nothing left but a yawning void. A giant wound that seems to be inflamed so horribly that he can’t breathe properly.
He witnesses his first sunrise on Earth and realizes that he has never seen something as bleak in his entire life. But in that moment in which the small, weak sun leaves the horizon, he comes to a decision. Mechanically, he rises from his makeshift bed and leaves the shelter, only followed by quiet snoring and the morning’s silence.
On the first day, he just earns pitiful looks. He’s not the only one carrying off debris with empty eyes, trying to find some kind of proof. The whole city is full of people like him but he doesn’t notice them. From sunrise till sundown, he carries off rocks and rubble and when he returns to the shelters, he falls face-down on the mattress; he’s asleep a few seconds later.
On the second day, Liara joins him on the debris hill and forces him to eat something. He eats the Dextro sandwich without tasting it while he continues hauling, carrying, digging, working like an animal. He doesn’t notice the Asari talking quietly to EDI. Then, EDIs voice penetrates the void in his mind,
“According to my calculations, the probability of Shepard’s survival is less than -4%, Garrus. Don’t do this to yourself.” He ignores the AI and digs on; his gloves are already full of holes and he just throws them away.
On the fifth day, Kaidan appears in his peripheral view and says in a funereal voice,
“Vakarian… She’s dead.” Garrus ignores him. His mouth is dry, he doesn’t remember the last time he ate or drank something. Kaidan stays where he is, not moving, just staring at him but Garrus doesn’t care. He doesn’t notice Tali and Liara joining Kaidan, doesn’t notice James standing slightly away from everyone and watching them with his arms crossed over his chest.
On the ninth day, Garrus suddenly hears a quiet grunt next to him and glances to his right; Joker is kneeling there beside him, bandaged almost from head to toe, with gritted teeth. He grabs a rock with both hands and almost turns blue from the effort of lifting it. Garrus can already hear the snapping of breaking bones and touches the pilot’s shoulder.
“Don’t,” he rasps, his tongue dry and dead after so many days of disuse. “You’ll hurt yourself.”
“Already did,” Joker retorts. “Doesn’t make a difference anymore.” Garrus just nods, has neither the power nor the will to make Moreau go away. It’s Chakwas and Traynor who do that, just lifting the pilot off the ground as if he weighed nothing, and carry him away. Secretly, Garrus is glad that they do because he doesn’t want Joker to get hurt any more. He forgets about his surroundings again soon after the incident.
On the tenth day, he senses the presence of somebody familiar and quickly raises his eyes; it’s Tali who watches him. He can’t see her face behind the mask but assumes she is either frowning at him or pitying him; he doesn’t want either of that.
“Garrus…,” she begins hesitantly but he shakes his head.
“Don’t want to hear it,” he interrupts her harshly, looking at his hands again. His fingers are grazed and bloody by now but he can’t feel the pain; only weariness and emptiness.
“That’s not why I’m here,” Tali says quietly and kneels down beside him. “I want to help.” He doesn’t stop in his work, just nods. Soon, her little hands join his and even if the work doesn’t get any easier, it at least gets more efficient. Tali is also the one who makes sure that he eats something; silently, she shares her Dextro rations with him which he accepts equally silent. Garrus doesn’t know when the last time he’s had a clear thought was, he feels as if he’s wrapped in wool or something. At least Tali does him the favor of not talking; as much as he likes her somewhere inside his numbed emotional life, he doesn’t want to hear anything.
On the twelfth day, Kaidan returns. Tali hasn’t left Garrus’s side and helps him tirelessly; he’s secretly glad that she has to wear her suit and the mask. He doesn’t want to see the weariness on her face that probably reflects his own. Through the fog in his mind, he still realizes that he’ll be stretched to his limits soon – not that he cares much. Only one thing matters to him: He has to find her. Everything else doesn’t matter anymore.
“Garrus, stop this nonsense,” Kaidan’s voice booms from behind him. They have agreed to be on a first-name basis sometime ago; almost two years of serving side by side on the same ship, it had seemed logical. Now Garrus almost wishes they could return to the more distanced last-name terms which are a lot easier to ignore.
“No,” he simply says without looking up. Tali does, though, and murmurs,
“Please, Kaidan… It’s important. He has to…”
“What?” Kaidan interrupts harshly. “He has to work himself to death?” He snorts. “She’s… She was a soldier, like us, she knew the risks. We all did. Grief has never brought a dead man back to life.”
“I have to find her,” Garrus finally says. “I have to find her and… see with my own eyes.” He can’t see Kaidan’s face but he’s almost sure that it distorts into a pained grimace. It’s quiet for a while, then the Spectre slowly says,
“I… I see.” He leaves but Liara appears in his place, kneels down next to Tali, and starts digging without comment.
On the thirteenth day – of course the thirteenth, when else? – the deep and raspy voice of a woman breaks the silence around them.
“Damn idiots, at this rate you’ll never get anywhere!” Garrus doesn’t jump like Tali and Liara but he still has enough presence of mind left to understand that Jack has arrived. He also has enough presence of mind left to back away from the digging site when a familiar blue glow surrounds rocks, rubble and other debris in front of him. But as opposed to Liara and Tali who watch the giant pile of rubble shift and move, Garrus turns around for the first time in almost two weeks and notices the people behind him.
There’s Jack, her eyes blazing blue, her arms held above her head while the biotic energy simmers through her body, a curse on her lips as even more debris comes into view. There are Samantha Traynor, Joker and EDI who appear to have built up a mobile data center and seem to be engrossed in calculations and news feeds. There are Kaidan and James who help Chakwas and Cortez treat wounded people and carry away the dead that are constantly found underneath the rubble hill. In the distance, he can see something blue and red speeding towards the hill and he simply knows it’s Samara who’s also come to help. She’s followed by a group of big and bulky people he can recognize even at this distance, even without his visor – Krogans, lead by Wrex and Grunt.
Garrus blinks and suddenly finds that he feels a bit warmer, a little less cold, a little less empty.
Shortly before sundown – days on Earth are so damned short, he always has the feeling that he hasn’t got enough time – Jack suddenly flinches. The debris she’s been holding in the air with her biotics gives a jolt, too, and Grunt has to dodge a falling rock that almost hits him.
“What happened?” Chakwas asks immediately, sounding alarmed, and Jack frowns, her eyes still blazing blue, the sizzle of her biotic powers still active. Only after she’s moved the rubble out of the way, she swings around to Samara and yells,
“Do you feel that?!” The justicar opens her mouth, maybe to ask something, but freezes and stares at the ground beneath her feet. For a moment, her eyes light up in a bright blue, a wave of biotic energy surges over everyone present, sweeping Tali and Traynor off their feet. Garrus himself barely keeps his balance, suddenly feeling a lot weaker; maybe the weariness finally catches up with him.
“That’s impossible,” Samara whispers then, blinking. The blue light in her eyes disappears. Garrus turns to the Asari, staring at her until she raises her head and shakes it unbelievingly.
“What is it?” he asks in a voice he doesn’t recognize himself. He doesn’t get an answer though, Samara and Jack only exchange looks. Nobody says anything. Garrus is surprised at the anger that suddenly begins to bubble up inside of him, for the first time in a very long time.
“What,” he repeats more urgently, louder, “is it?” Jack hesitates, biting her lower lip, for the first time since he’s known her. It’s Samara who cautiously says,
“It’s… Shepard’s biotic signature. It very weak and flickers but… it’s there.”
“Where?” Samara doesn’t answer but simply points about five feet to his left. Garrus turns on his heel and marches where she’s pointing at, begins digging with his hands covered in scratches, his muscles aching and his bones tired. He can’t form a coherent thought, even less so than before, the faint flicker of hope like venom inside him, more painful than everything else. When nobody moves, he turns to his companions – friends – and snaps,
The people who normally don’t accept orders from anyone but Shepard herself, immediately get to work. Grunt and Wrex carry what Liara and Tali can’t lift, Kaidan and James join forces to roll a giant boulder out of the way while Jack and Samara clear the rubble layer after layer. Chakwas, Cortez and Traynor carry off the smaller debris and EDI proceeds to scan the whole place again while Joker sits in his wheel chair and swears because he can’t help at all.
The sun goes down, quietly and unnoticed, so that it is the Earth’s twilight that witnesses the most impossible discovery in the history of the galaxy. Through boulders and rubble shines a faint blue light that even Garrus can identify as a biotic barrier, and as he heaves off another boulder with James’s help, he’s the first to see her.
Covered in giant bruises that make one side of her face look almost black in the barrier’s blue light, coated in long-dried blood and dirt that makes her black hair look sticky, he almost doesn’t recognize her but he knows it’s her. Something escapes his throat that’s either a nasty cough or a relieved sigh that almost turns into a sob, before the others realize that they did it and Jack throws away the last layer of debris with a cry that ranges somewhere between relief and anger.
They all gather around the barrier under which, covered in blood and dirt, lies their commander, superior, friend, lover. She’s not wearing armor, her body so much smaller and appearing to be broken in several places; her black clothes are torn and feature burn marks – under the fabric, they can see a burn so severe that it paints her skin black. She’s pinched and pale, milky-white in the blue light and Garrus stares down at her, a single coherent thought in his mind: Don’t be dead.
He suddenly understands that he can’t take her death a second time. The first time, he has almost gone mad with grief, throwing himself into fighting crimes on Omega and almost kicking the bucket while at it; but that was before he admitted to himself that she’s more to him than just a friend. Now that he knows that she loves – has loved? – him, too, he knows he can’t bear her being dead.
While everyone just stands there, frozen in place, Joker arrives with EDIs help and asks, his voice trembling,
Garrus doesn’t want to hear the answer and at the same time, he wants nothing more. The hole in his chest isn’t just inflamed; it’s ablaze.
“She’s alive,” Samara says, “just barely so – otherwise, her barrier wouldn’t hold.” The relief that floods Garrus now is so strong that he almost faints as a weight falls off his mind. She’s alive. She’s alive.
“But how…?” Liara whispers, sounding as if she’s about to cry – Tali has long since passed this point, she’s openly crying in Kaidan’s arms.
“I have heard of it before,” Samara says slowly, crouching down next to the barrier. “Her subconscious mind has activated her biotics through her state of unconsciousness. She’s in a biotic coma, but… but that kind of thing only happens when the individual has a strong desire to live.” She gulps. “Shepard wants to live. That’s why she’s in that state.”
“I have never encountered something like this before,” Chakwas admits. “Can she… can she wake up?” Samara meets the eyes of the human doctor and replies,
“If she’s ready to do so… maybe.”
Garrus doesn’t leave her side. The news that Commander Shepard has been found alive spreads like a wildfire and people come in Hundreds to the hospital that has been recently re-opened. But except for the doctors, those who found her and Admiral Hackett, no one is permitted to enter her room or eventhe ward she’s lying in. They can’t treat her; the barrier blocks out not only debris and boulders but also needles and Omnitools and people in general.
The rest of the crew visits in shifts, always on a rotating basis, never all of them together. Sometimes, it’s only one of them, sometimes they come in small groups but Garrus remains seated next to her bed and watches her until his eyes fall shut and then continues to watch her after he opens them again. Somehow, waiting is even worse than searching because now, he can feel his aching body, feels how the labor has worn him out until scarcely anything was left. The still-rational part of his fogged mind knows that he wouldn’t have been able to go on like that for much longer. And now he’s sitting here and watches Shepard’s lifeless form and her blood-encrusted face and can only stand on the sidelines, waiting for her to wake up. Turians are trained for war, for work – not for waiting. But he’s never been a good Turian, anyway.
So he waits.
When she opens her eyes and her barrier disappears with a last flicker, his eyelids have just fallen shut. But the sudden disappearance of the previously ever-constant blue light immediately makes him wide-awake and he opens his eyes, doesn’t dare to blink because he fears he’s only dreaming, because he’s afraid that after even one blink of the eye, nothing will have changed, that she’s still unconscious and he’s alone with her in the dark of the night. His eyes are much better in the darkness than a human’s are and so, he can see her, just barely conscious, worn out, battered and bruised, confused and maybe even afraid but alive. Without realizing it, he reaches for her hand and she slightly turns her head in his direction, smiling the faintest smile.
And as her fingers weakly curl around his own, he knows that he’s witnessing this woman perform another miracle in a long list of them. She will live.