Actions

Work Header

Something Between Us

Chapter Text

            At first it’s…

            Mutual respect? Something like that, anyway.

            It certainly doesn’t start with him staring just a bit too long at the curve of her cheekbones, or marveling at the way the light fractures across the red strands of her hair. He doesn’t have to fight the urge to draw her close, feel the hard lines of her muscled waist beneath his hands… Not yet. That first time he sees her, he’s… overwhelmed, to be sure, but not like that.

            He doesn’t look at her and know that she’s so much more than the perfect spectre persona. Better. He’s not hyper aware of the tiny twitches in her expression that communicate what she doesn’t say. He doesn’t feel like some part of him has become unanchored every time she walks away.

Not. Yet.


            It’s definitely respect. Deference. A little awe, even. Maybe just a hint of jealousy. Here he is, a Turian of some note still barely able to keep his own cases at C-Sec…. and then there’s her; Jane goddamn Shepard. Even if she’s only Alliance Navy, she’s survived enough insane missions that most Turian soldiers know her name. When her ship docks, the title “Commander” floats on the air and hits the ears of just about every major player on the Citadel. C-Sec stirs in annoyance, the higher ups not looking forward to a high profile Human soldier being on station. He can’t decide whether they’re more worried about keeping security around her tight for her sake or for the sake of the station itself.


            He starts to understand why they’re so worried. She… has a presence around her. She commands attention. Any ward she steps in, any office, she can get just anyone to talk to her. Maybe that’s something that grabs him first—that…. Ability to just make people sit down, shut up and listen. Some kind of deeply buried turian instinct might make that seem attractive, he supposes.

            “Nice shot out there today Officer Vakarian,” She says somewhat absently as they walk aboard the Normandy together for the first time. He nods back, mandibles fluttering in a way that any turian might call “smug.” They’re flanked by Alenko and Williams, the krogan mercenary bringing up the rear. He feels more than a little anxious with so many unknowns around him, but this is the die he’s cast. He settles for keeping his guard up and his guns securely strapped.

            “All due respect commander, I’m not sure I agree,” Alenko inserts, “It doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that there was a civilian in the line of fire.” He has to turn his head slightly to look from one human to another, trying to gauge whether this might count as insubordination. Alenko meets his questing eyes without hesitation. “Didn’t you yourself refer to it as ‘getting lucky’?” He winces, not sure what to expect. If the commander values her subordinate’s advice will she—

            “Ah, leave it, Kaiden,” he can’t do much more than blink in confusion as the airlock pressurizes around their group. “Officer Vakarian knows the rules. Don’t take the shot, risk losing the information, and then a lot more people might die. Take the shot, risk the single civilian. You make a decision about which risk you prefer and you follow through.” Alenko made a noise that suggested he disagreed, but provided no further comment. He thought that might be the end of it, with this sensible interpretation, until she added. “Of course, if he’d killed Dr. Michelle, I’d have his ass in the brig faster than you can say reckless endangerment, but I’d like to think the officer has a good understanding of his own limits.” She gives him a nod, and walks off as soon as the door to the bridge slides open and pays no mind to him gaping in her wake.

            “Uh, Of course. Right,” he stutters. Somehow proud of himself and terrified of his future here all at once.
            He’s pretty sure the damn krogan is laughing at him


 

          They argue occasionally, but for the most part he finds a kindred spirit in her. A comrade. Maybe even a friend. He tells her about his greatest failure; letting that demented doctor get away. She ribs him for it a little, but then she offers to make it right.

            He thinks it’s an empty platitude at first. He has a high opinion of her, but surely they’re never going to be in a position where it’s convenient. Surely she’d never derail a mission like this even for a few moments just to help him stop Saleon’s bloody trail of organ profiteering. In the scheme of things, in the face of what Saren could do, it’s such a small thing. But…

            She hunts that bastard down and lets him take the shot.

            He feels…. Vindicated. Right. Like he’s done something the way he should for once, but at the same time…

            It should feel satisfying, avenging all those poor people. The man left a trail of victims behind himself and he needed to be stopped but… should it feel this good? He was going against every regulation and every rule he’d ever been forced to learn. His father would be mortified. This was a shortcut if there ever was one, but he didn’t feel guilty at all. Was that in and of itself something to feel guilty about?

            “Garrus, are you all right?” Shepard asks him as they climb out of the shuttle, tugging at his elbow to keep him behind. She lets Wrex step ahead, out into the hangar bay.

            Did I really want that man dead for the sake of the galaxy? He wonders to himself as the battle-high fades. He looks at her straight back and the stern cut of her jaw and can’t bring himself to ask.

            “It’s… it’s nothing,” he says. A tiny muscle in her jaw ticks. She lets go of his elbow and crosses her arms over her chest.
            “Really?” she asks. He doesn’t know why he’s second guessing himself now. This was what he wanted. This was what he’d specifically asked her for. He’d needed this, but.

            He’d needed this. It wasn’t for the galaxy. It wasn’t for justice it was… for himself. His mouth cannot form the words. Shephard just waits patiently, arms still crossed. She stays for an answer that won’t come for far longer than he would have expected. He feels himself sweating under her gaze until her stance finally shifts, her head tilting.

            “Garrus,” She says again. He wonders if he is imagining the kindness in her gaze. “Sometimes you can do the right thing for the wrong reasons. That doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do.”

            “Yes,” he agrees too quickly, drinking in her words like water. Those eyes stare right through him. He doesn’t understand how she does this, but he guesses it’s that keen intuition that keeps her alive.

            Or maybe he really is just that transparent.

            “That doctor was a threat. He’d already hurt so many people. Maybe there could have been some benefit to keeping him alive, if he didn’t have some way to get out of the trial or escape early, but could you really afford to take that chance?” He lets her talk him down, lets her drown out the voice of his father echoing disappointed in his head.

            “No, you’re right. I didn’t like those odds, and that’s why I—well… That’s mostly why I wanted him dead.” Shepard’s arms finally unfold, only for one hand to clasp his shoulder. She braces him, posing more as comrade than superior, though someone like her can never quite lose the aura of command.

            “Choose the risks you’re comfortable with and follow through. That’s the best you’ve got.” He nods weakly at her again, watches her as she gives him one last solid pat and turns away. He has to resist the urge to salute her back as she turns the corner to the lift. How can one person be so….?

            In his head, she takes a few more steps up the pedestal he’s building for her.

 


 

            Much later, she gets a note from C-Sec notifying her of their “concern” in light of her recent “disregard for potential information.” Turns out someone had had their eye on the so-called “Dr. Heart” ever since Garrus had originally started insisting on the man’s real identity. The note itself is horridly formal. Shepard lets him see it with a pleased expression and a raised brow. Garrus tries (and fails) not to roll his eyes. Two guesses who sent it and the first one doesn’t count.

            “I don’t think spectres usually get called out for vigilantism. Especially when investigations after the fact reveal that the criminal was in fact a criminal.” She muses. The note is as strongly worded as it can be, but she doesn’t answer to them and they know it. Doubtless, his father wrote a formal complaint to the council about it, but there’s no way they’d take any action. This sort of thing was what spectres where known for, after all.

            “Well, I don’t imagine most spectres bring disgraced C-Sec officers onto their crews, thus drawing the annoyance of said department.”

            “Hmm,” She assents. Her mouth still quirked in a sardonic smile. She was generally stern of expression, but allowed herself to smirk often. Garrus wonders whether he’s ever seen her genuinely laugh. “‘As the advocate and pursuant of the law as it pertains to Citadel citizens and the criminals emergent from the area therein, C-Sec has determined that it may be necessary to appraise you of the following. First, that the proper execution of law in Citadel Space necessitates certain procedures, including but not limited to such processes as warrant registration, and the arrest and trial of accused criminals. ’ Goddamn, this is hilarious. Someone over there has a thesaurus, a chip on their shoulder, and a fucking sense of humor.”

            “If it’s who I think it is, you would be right on all accounts. Though, I don’t think he’s needed the thesaurus in quite some time.” She seems to note the odd tone in his voice.

            “It’s pretty damn funny. I didn’t think that stuffy C-sec head was the type of guy to waste time on a joke.”

            “Oh, he’s not,” her smirk fades a little, green eyes narrowing. Sometimes he thinks she reminds him a little too much of one of Earth’s big cats; the kind he’s only ever seen on educational vids and niche earthling shows. He sighs deeply and tries to escape that all-too intense gaze. “I think I may previously have mentioned another certain rule-abiding C-sec official who dislikes all things spectre.”

            “Are you kidding me? You made it sound like your father retired!” The Commander looks legitimately angry and suddenly he’s nervous and not sure why.

            “Oh, he did. Mostly. He’s always been the type to take his work home. It’s like a hobby to him. I’ve been trying to get him to pick up gardening instead, but so far… no dice.” His attempt at humor doesn’t seem to have the desired effect. Her lips are flat, eyes tight. He’s starting to learn that’s what happens when she’s annoyed.

            “So the man used his personal influence, went through some kind of unofficial channel to spy on your cases specifically, and wasted both of our time to send this to me under a position he didn’t have as, what, some kind of passive aggressive way to tell you he’s pissed?” Garrus shrugs. He’s not sure where this is going.

            “Sounds like the sort of thing he’d do.”

            “No offense, Garrus, but your father sounds like an overbearing, hypocritical ass.” She is angry, he realizes. But she’s angry on his behalf.  He’s so shocked, he can’t help the sharp peal of laughter from escaping.

            “None taken,” he stutters when he finally remembers how to speak. She deletes the letter from her device with a stiff, jerking motion. He’s almost surprised when she doesn’t break the delicate technology, she presses so hard.

            He’s not…. Everyone has always told him how wonderful his father is. What a good man, and how lucky he is. No one’s ever…

            He realizes then. All his life, he’s been living in someone’s shadow—behind someone’s broad shoulders. He’s labored constantly to measure up to someone else, and fallen short every time. No one has ever let him forget. Always, it was his father he felt like he was constantly running behind, unable to escape. But now… He thinks it might just have become someone else.

He thinks he doesn’t really mind.

 


 

          They do it. They actually goddamn do it.

            The case is over. Saren is gone, the Citadel is… well, maybe not saved, but at least rebuilding.

            It all feels like some kind of crazy, drunken dream. Of course, the high volumes of alcohol may have had something to do with that. He doesn’t feel too drunk, but he’s passed the pleasantly buzzed stage a few mouthfuls ago. Beside him, Tali has tipped so far into completely smashed that she’s nearly asleep, face down on the bar. He figures he’ll stay just sober enough to keep an eye on her.

            “Vakarian! Just the man I wanted to see!” the Commander slides easily into the seat on his left, and clasps a hand to his shoulder. She’s far too coordinated for a woman who’d just been performing biotic-assisted keg-stands on the other side of the bar. There’s a bruise on her cheek from where Liara had misaimed ever so slightly and smashed her face against the tap. She wears it easily, just part of her makeup.

            “That’s Garrus to you, Commander,” He murmurs languidly, trying not to notice the way his words slur together. Her grin in return is brilliant.

            “Either way, Garrus Vakarian, there’s something I needed to talk to you about, long as you think you’ll remember it in the morning.” He doesn’t mind that she doesn’t offer her own first name in return. She’s the Commander, and that’s a huge part of her. Friend or no, she will always be that.

            “I figure I’m good enough for that,” he laughs, “fire away!” Shepard gives his shoulder a playful smack, and he has to brace himself against the bar from falling too far forward. Maybe she’s a little more affected than she looks. Regardless, she laughs at his struggle and her fist falls gently against the bar. The space where her hand used to be feels cooler for her absence. (He’s not sober enough to think that one through. Not yet.)

            “What are you planning to do after all this?” She asks, signaling the bartender for another drink. He watches the confident way she tips her head back, makes eye contact, nods ever so slightly. Somehow that tells the bar tender exactly what to do. Even with people she’s never met, there’s just this aura of command about her. He doesn’t know how she does it.

            “Honestly? I was thinking I might go back and see if I can get into the spectre track training, no matter what my father says this time.” He muses, and grips his own drink a little tighter. “But you knew that, didn’t you? I think I mentioned—”

            “You did; I just wanted to be sure.” Her lips are quirked in an almost-smile. “Turns out, the conclusion of this mission gave me a bit of sway with the Council.” He doesn’t remark on the way she winces as she says it. He knows many Alliance soldiers died so the damned council could live. He doesn’t know if he’d have made the same call, himself but— “They asked if I had any requests and I said… Well, I’m recommending you for the program, if you still want it.”  

            He’s speechless for a moment, blinking wide-eyed at the proclamation. She doesn’t seem to notice. Her drink has shown up on the bar and she takes it and raises it to her mouth in one smooth motion, knocking it back with a single, obscene, gulping, draw.
            “Damn, Commander!” Williams shouts from a few seats nearby. Her call unconsciously echoes his thoughts.

            He can’t help but think how different it all is; on some level he’s been comparing her to his father all this time. He couldn’t help it; she’s just so high above him. She’s so important and impressive and good at almost everything she sets her mind to. She’s everything he wants to be, but unlike his father, she doesn’t belittle. She doesn’t try to fight him for his dreams. She… supports him. She’s trying to help him get what he’s wanted since he was just a child. Better still, Shepard doesn’t seem to expect anything in return. She doesn’t even seem to realize what she’s giving him.

            Thank you, he wants to cry out. He doesn’t know just what he’s done for the Spirits to deign he deserves this—to have someone like her on his side.

            “You’re damn right, I still want it.” He says instead. Her grin is positively wild as she steps away. He can’t keep himself from staring after her.

Chapter Text

 


            So that’s how it starts; with her becoming the support the holds him up and some kind of untouchable ideal to reach for all in one. She gets him the training he wants, and before he knows what’s happened he’s been transferred formally off the Normandy and into the program. The reassignment is something of a joke, since he was never really on the Normandy in any official capacity save Shepard’s say-so, but he supposes it’s the Hierarchy’s way of attempting to assert their control.

            He doesn’t regret the chance she’s given him, but he does miss the ship and its crew. He didn’t realize how much of a home they’d become, chasing madly through the galaxy. He thanks the Spirits daily for faster-than-light communication lines. He can keep in touch with Liara and Tali, maybe even Wrex. He never really clicked with Williams, but every once in a while he finds himself sending them all a message or two; news about the Citadel while they’re out on tour or returning home.

            However much he corresponds with the others, he must speak to Shepard at least three times as much. She plays it up like he’s an investment she has to keep up on, having recommended him and all, but he thinks she might actually see him as something like a friend. She teases him mostly, occasionally gives him encouragement or listens to him complain about an aspect of training, For the most part, they stay a bit distant. They don’t delve too deeply into their pasts or their families, but there’s still some kind of connection there. He doesn’t know what it is, but he clings to it. He sends her daily updates, wakes in the small hours before all the other trainees just to sneak her a message before they’re out drilling again.

            Garrus,

            Wanted to let you know; stopping by the Citadel next week. Would they let you out long enough for a couple drinks at the bar? I think Wrex misses you.

            His mandibles twitch wryly as he glances through the glowing lines of her text in the early morning dark. It’s a simple comfort. The program he’s in allows all its trainees keep their effects; being a spectre is all about using one’s own resources and solitary action, after all.

            Commander,

            I could probably twist a few arms and manage an evening’s leave. I would hate to disappoint Wrex; I hear Krogan tears are nearly as terrifying as Krogan poetry.

            He sets his datapad down long enough to rise from his bunk and find his uniform. Might as well get out and start the day. His screen flashes not a few moments later and he realizes she must also be awake again. Dimly, he begins to wonder whether she ever sleeps. The thought occurs to him, and retreats. He doesn’t yet really think to worry about her like that.

            Saw your records on the shooting range last week; long as you keep shattering all expectations about the limits of Turian sniping capabilities, don’t think you’ll have to twist too hard.

            I’m willing to concede you might have me beat. Hell, with that last run, I’m conscripting you for the Normandy as soon as you get confirmed.

            Garrus rolls his eyes fondly and finishes snapping all of his gear into place before he bothers to reply.

            Hmm… I don’t know. What if I want my own Normandy? Maybe I’ll conscript you instead.

            She takes a few moments to answer this time, and he begins to wonder whether he’s offended her or she’s just finally fallen asleep.

            And give the Alliance the biggest aneurism of the century? I can see it now: “Al-Jilani reporting; Honorless Turian Spy Steals First Human Spectre and Crew for Palaven Fleet.” Conspiracy theories would abound. The council would have a fight on their hands. Udina would lose his shit.

            You are absolutely right; let’s do that instead.

            He can’t help the laugh that bubbles from him as he reads. He didn’t know how he ever thought her uncompromisingly stern. She may not laugh much without alcohol to ease the process, but she’s got a sense of humor a mile wide beneath the harsh veneer.

            “Vakarian, it’s four AM.”  A sudden voice throws him from his thoughts, and the sub-vocals he hadn’t even realized he was emitting cut abruptly short. He turns slowly to meet the annoyed gaze of a bunkmate, eyes squinting against the dull light of his datapad’s screen. “Talk to your girlfriend later,”

            He rolls his eyes and taps the power on his datapad. Let them think what they want. It isn’t like that with her. It’s not worth it to correct them, but in all honesty, he’s never even thought of it that way. Shepard is immovable and incredible: a force of nature. That he’s in this program at all is testament to that. Maybe they have some kind of connection, but it’s… well it’s certainly nothing so sappy and ridiculous as romance. (yet.)

 


 

          He doesn’t know how it happens. Or well… maybe he does: slowly, quietly. Somewhere between their constant sarcastic messages and occasional drinks at the bar. At some point that bond built on respect and humor shifts to something deeper. Something low and tight under his skin that lies dormant. He might never have realized except… except when it’s torn out of him.

            It starts innocently enough. He’s only a few weeks from graduating the program. They’ve been keeping a running tally of furthest headshot. Garrus is leading and he’s waiting for her to sneak into the program records as usual to find out. It’s odd when she doesn’t say anything that morning. But she’s gone silent on missions often enough; at first he doesn’t think much of it. 

            By the time the Alliance message reaches him a week later, he’s thought on it. He’s thought too much. It’s the stuff of his worst nightmares. He hadn’t realized just how much of himself he’d devoted to her until he sees the emotionless words notifying him of the destruction of the Normandy. Attached is a clipped condolence from the brass that looks as if it has been pasted in.

            At first he can’t shake the feeling that he’s still dreaming. He’s just stressed and worried and she hasn’t said anything in a while. But he’ll wake up and she’ll have just arrived at the Citadel for a drink. Surely—surely—

            He doesn’t fool himself for long. His grief is crushing. He can’t stand to finish reading the announcement of her… Spirits, her death, and yet he can’t stand to erase it. He keeps it pulled up in a subroutine on his damned visor until the day it finally crashes and forces a reboot. Light seems too bright, the world seems too loud, and everything is just so much to bear. He can’t—
            Torn, Incomplete. Gutted is probably the right word to use. It hurts: this hole she leaves behind. It’s aching, and raw. He doesn’t think it could ever heal completely, but he does manage to keep something of himself going. She’d become his idol, but more than that, his friend. A real one. She was everything he wanted to be, the perfect spectre but she’d still been easy enough to…

            She’d done everything right, but as the days passed it became more and more clear that none of it had changed anything. The world kept working as it had before, with no indication that she’d…

            He spends the requisite few days…. weeks, if he’s honest…. Wallowing in her memory. He leaves the program, because what difference could he make if she couldn’t? He thins down, sleeps less but lays in bed longer. Even over vid, his father starts to get worried and demands he transfer back to C-Sec. Garrus obeys mechanically, he forgets how to argue. He becomes less, but throws more of himself into his work. Month after month drags monotonously on. He longs to escape reality, but he’s afraid of forgetting her. He stays away from drink only because he knows that if he starts…. Well, the bar echoes with her memory. They liked to drink together, but he didn’t think she’d sent him to the spectre program because she wanted him to become a maudlin drunk.

            The thought sticks. What she wanted for him…. What would she have wanted….?

            He weighs his options… he thinks down all the paths his life might go, and he takes the risk he’s most comfortable with. As he packs his things, he tells himself he’s going out to make a difference instead of another dead soldier.

            (In the end, he makes ten.)

 


 

          His father catches up with him a few weeks after his first major takedown.

            It should shake his pride that the man can find him so easily, but he supposes he didn’t really try to hide his trail when he left. Garrus half-falls into the chair by his coms, and eyes the flashing ID with exhaustion. He takes an extra second or two to unlatch his rifle, and to place his handgun within easy reach before he hits ‘accept’.

            “Father,” he acknowledges with a sense of detached inevitability. Some part of him has been waiting for this call, but he just doesn’t have the energy anymore to dread it.

            “Garrus.” There’s a note of relief in his father’s sub-vocals, but it’s quickly overtaken by annoyance. “What in all the names of all the spirits do you think you’re doing?” He takes the words in, processes them for a moment. He hears the anger, the disappointment. Usually that tone would have him tripping over himself to explain, to just make his Father see that he’s not wrong. He could do that. He could make all the arguments in the world. But for the first time in his life, thousands of miles away from that man’s cold disapproval, he doesn’t feel like he has any need to defend himself.

            “Nice to hear from you too,” he says instead, and lays his rifle across his lap. If he’s going to sit down and listen to the lecture that’s coming, he may as well do something productive. He starts the process of dismantling his favorite weapon.

            “You’ve left your desk, all your cases, your family, completely without warning! Never in my life have I seen such a blatant show of reckless irresponsibility—”

            “Mm-hm” Garrus nods along as his hands work.

            “—or a more flagrant disregard for your station and your fellows. Do you know how much work I had to do to convince them not to charge you with dereliction of duty?” Garrus does pause a moment at that. He’d figured the charge would go through with no argument. He hadn’t cared, but…

            “Not really, no.” 

            “You’ve disrespected me, your office, and the Vakarian name.” Ah, that was why. The famous detective couldn’t stand to have a criminal related to him in any way. Garrus picks up the rifle barrel and resumes his work. “You threw away a promising career you’ve worked your whole life for to hide on some god forsaken terminus station without warning and without reason.”

            He shrugs, forgetting he’s not on a holovid.  Honestly, the man probably has a point. He just can’t bring himself to care.

            “Glad to hear you’ve been busy.” He says once the silence has drawn on just a bit too long, reaching for the grease rag in easy reach atop his console. Father’s sub-vocals flare in an unusual display of unrestrained emotion as he slides from annoyance into apoplectic rage.

            “How dare you sit there and laugh this off? There could be blood on your hands for your idiocy. Because you left your cases without a word to anyone, two of your suspects got out of the station before they could be served. Were you aware? Do you think that’s funny? Two men who’ve likely killed innocent Citadel citizens, and very well might move on to kill others, made it out home free because you—”

            “Tartus and Garvino? The two runners in charge of tracking drugs in from the Terminus systems for Blood Pack?” He runs the rag viciously across his rifle stock. Satisfaction is one of the few things he still remembers how to feel through the haze of exhaustion. “I did know they’d left the Citadel, yes. Though I have a feeling they won’t be killing anyone else. Incidentally, Chellick might not have to worry about the next scheduled drug shipment.” That shuts Father up for a few moments. Garrus rolls his eyes and keeps cleaning in peace. He’s so tired. He’s been on stake out for the last couple of days, scoping out drop points and gathering intel before he makes his next move. If he plays his cards right. he thinks he can manage to put enough pressure on Blue Suns to disrupt their arms deals this month.

            “I can’t believe—” the man starts, stutters. “Such an idiotic—” he tries again.

            “Take a deep breath first,” Garrus advises, and if he feels way too much satisfaction in the anger he can hear on the airwaves, well, who’s going to know.

            “You’ve lost your damned mind. You’ve stepped on every value of the Hierarchy, spat at justice, at law itself!” Garrus lets him ramble for as long as he likes, slowly continuing the ritual of cleaning his rifle piece by piece. But when Garrus doesn’t react, Father sees fit to add, “I knew running with that spectre woman was going to ruin you.”

            For a moment, he loses the placid cool that’s keeping him together.

            “You will leave her out of this,” he grits, jaw clenched, chest aching. He lets his tone go dark, lets himself sound like the killer he’s become. He very deliberately does not acknowledge the slowly building keen of loss threading its way through his harmonics. “It’s not about her.” At least, it’s not just about her. “It’s this whole damned rotten system. It’s the red tape keeping us away from the real crime. It’s taking in the poor criminals and letting the ones who can pay go. It’s Citadel sitting on their thumbs and scrambling to stop drug shipments after they’ve already arrived, instead of doing the sensible thing and rooting out the supplier. I didn’t join on to pursue some ideal of justice, I joined to save lives. I can actually do that from here.”

            He realizes he’s fallen into the trap; he’s explaining himself again, as if he owes the old man that. Garrus rests his face in one hand, doesn’t notice the streak of grease he leaves behind on his brow. 

            “What you speak of is lawlessness; vigilantism! You used to know that, before—” He wonders why his Father has paused, before he realizes he’s started broadcasting a subharmonic threat. He’ hasn’t had such a poor grasp of his own sub-vocals in a long time. He writes it off as part of the exhaustion.

            “Garrus, you will cease this childish temper-tantrum and come home this instant.” Setting the grease rag down, he picks the pieces of his rifle back up and starts snapping it back together. He has lived in fear of his father’s disapproval his whole life. As a young man, he’d sabotaged his own dreams as a spectre and consigned himself to a life as a minor C-Sec officer in his father’s shadow, just to keep the possibility that maybe, somehow, he could make the man proud. But now?

            “You’d be happy to know, I’ve already made it home. Got my work clothes off, feet kicked up. Think I might order takeout.”

            “No child of mine will be some vagrant vigilante washout.” The old man clarifies. The words hang in the air like an ultimatum. Garrus knows he’s supposed to care. He waits for the hurt. At very least, he thinks he should be angry, but he feels…. Empty. Already dead.

            “In that case, it’s been nice talking to you officer Vakarian. Give your wife and daughter my regards.” He picks up the handgun and shoots the com system before his father can respond. He feels nothing.

            Garrus finishes reassembling his rifle, throws his meagre belongings back into their sack, and leaves. If he’s so easy to find, he hasn’t been careful enough. Vigilante washouts don’t need coms really, and there’s plenty of abandoned shanties around Omega for him to squat in.

 


 

   

            The Archangel team is an accident, but not an unhappy one. Even when he tries to dissuade them, they worm their way into his confidence. They join up one by one by two until they’re all 12 together, until they know each other inside and out, until they have all the maneuvers memorized and are the most terrifying thing on the station save Aria fucking T’loak.

            He starts to feel… not settled. Not exactly. But something like it. He starts to feel like this is good. This is… it’s something right. It’s something he can do. It’s a difference he can make, all the regulations and red tape finally left behind.  

            They blast through the doors of the warehouse with flair. He’s got Butler covering him, Sidonis on his left as they mow down as many shocked gang members as they can before they wise up and get to cover. Thralog Mirki'it, the Death Dealer himself, blinks stupidly down at them from a catwalk before bolting for the elevators.

            “He’s making a run for it!” Sidonis shouts helpfully. Garrus ignores him to give chase, holstering his gun and pulling himself up warehouse shelves like they’re meant to be ladders. Blaster fire echoes around him, ricocheting off the tall vats of red sand. He trusts the rest of his team to have hacked the elevator system by now, but he’s not putting it past Mirki'it to have some other way to give them the slip.

            “Garrus!” Butler shouts, sounding worried. It’s only after he finishes pulling himself onto the catwalk that he realizes he’s been hit. Grazed, really… probably. It doesn’t hurt but there’s a good deal of blood. He doesn’t have the time to pay it any mind. He likes to think he looks intimidating as he ignores the wound to pull his rifle off his shoulders, blood dripping around him. B team manages to hack systems just as he lines up the sight. He wonders which of his team got put on hacking duty this time. Probably Erash. He hears the lights go down with an audible, booming tone.

            “Shit. Shit!” Mirki'it is trying and failing to panic quietly, his hands slamming uselessly against the lift doors. Most of the blaster fire cuts out with the lights, the mercs unable to see in the dark. His team doesn’t need to stop shooting. They’ve got night vision scopes. He’s made sure of that.

            “Hello Thralog,” he purrs, lets the man listen to the echo of his footfalls on the catwalk. “Boys, when you’re done cleaning up the trash down there, let me know.” He doesn’t bother to use the com, just lets his voice carry down to them. Mirki’it whimpers and looks like he’s thinking of bolting past him in the dark. Garrus keeps his sights trained on the batarian’s head just in case.

            The rest of the mercs go down quiet like. He wonders whether any of them just surrendered. It’d be nice to leave some terrified witnesses behind to tell stories. Might stop the next asshole from getting ideas.

            “All Clear!” Butler announces over the coms. At B team’s station, Erash gets the message loud and clear; the emergency lights flicker on without fanfare. They cast the whole room in an eerie red light.

            “No! Please!” Mirki’it whimpers as his eyes adjust to the low light, scrabbling away from Garrus and the barrel of his AR. “I’ll get you anything. Anything you want! I—I can pay you! Just don’t shoot me!”

            “Oh, Thralog,” he tilts his head, clicking his mandibles. “I’m not going to shoot you.”

            “N-no?” The coward stutters, plastered flat against the unmoving elevator door. Garrus lets his aim waver just long enough to get a hand on the bastard’s shirt collar.

            “No,” He keeps his voice low, rumbling. Ordinary grunts and idiot young bloods who don’t know any better, he’s happy to put quickly out of their misery. But people like this? Bottom feeders, who take advantage of the poor and the sick, who take young people in with their lies and ruin countless, countless lives? He likes them to really fear before they die. “Thralog, as a well-known red sand dealer you’re probably pretty careful to cultivate your network of buyers. I’m sure if, say, one day you learned a few crate loads of sand got cut with a cheaper, toxic, more addictive material and a few hundred people died, you’d be pretty upset.” Mirki’it doesn’t seem to know where he’s going with this. Garrus picks the man up by his collar drops him back onto his feet and turns him around. “Walk,” he commands as he presses his rifle into the man’s back.

            “Son-of-a-bitch,” the Death Dealer grumbles, but teeters unsteadily forward all the same. He pauses once he realizes where Garrus is leading him, but the gun digging into his shoulder blade is incentive enough. They trudge awkwardly toward the gap in the catwalk railing. It’s built to accommodate a flue, for easily filling of the sand vats. For now, the folded metal channel is safely latched up into the warehouse wall above.

            “You want to inspect the product, right? Make sure nothing like that happens again. B-team, would you kindly bring that flue down?” They don’t use names over coms. He’s careful with his team. More careful with them than he is with himself.

            He pauses to watch the machinery unfold, and that’s his mistake. Seems Mirki’it still has some kind of preservation instinct or spine left in him. He fishes a handgun out from his waistline while Garrus is distracted and manages a wild shot that narrowly misses his head. Lucky for Garrus, his team has his back. Sidonis is a crack shot. The firearm goes flying down into the vat as Mirki’it nurses his grazed hand.

            “Shit, shit!” He hears the criminal chanting again. Garrus stares him down and smiles.

            “You need help up there boss?” Butler has to use the com this time; the sound of the flue locking into place echoes loudly.

            “Not at the moment. Mr. Mirki’it and I are talking business. We’d like to inspect the product.” The Death Dealer is whimpering, but he can scarcely hear it. There’s sand now, tumbling in a rush down towards the warehouse floor. This isn’t going to be the cleanest or smartest kill. Coming this close to the sand probably isn’t a great idea, but he trusts his helmet to keep the dust out.

            Garrus pulls his prey close, holsters his rifle one handed so he can use both arms. Mirki’it’s not a weak man, but Garrus is stronger. He holds Mirki’it’s arms tight behind his back, bears down on him with his whole body. “Go ahead! Take a good look!” He calls, forcing Mirki’it’s face into the stream of sand. He’s not quite prepared for how much force he’d have to push against; the sand is moving faster and more powerfully than he would have thought. It drowns the Death Dealer’s screams, filling his mouth and nose. Pity really.

            Garrus waits until his enemy is too weak to fight his grip. He takes his free hand, and pries each of Mirki’it’s four eyes open. When the dealer has gone completely limp, Garrus, panting, lets the body go. It’s pulled instantly down into the vat. Sand buries the corpse. He laughs, long and loud. 

            See… this whole Archangel thing… He knows it’s not alright. Not really. There’s parts of himself he’s turned off to do this, to make this work. He’s dripping in outlaw blood, letting himself indulge those twisted, vicious yearnings to make the world right. He can feel himself slipping with every major sting, but it doesn’t seem to matter. It’s about making the galaxy better—about calculating the risks you want to take—removing those who would do the most harm. But it’s not just that. Taking them out. Killing them the way he does it’s… that’s for himself.

            Sometimes you do the right thing for the wrong reasons. Shepard. It’s just a memory at first, but soon enough he hears her, an echo. His blood falls steadily from the hole in his arm, puddling with scattered sand, but this is more important. Garrus nearly slips on it as he stumbles away from the ledge. He falls toward the sound of her voice. That doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do. The words come easily. The walls fall away.

            “The right thing to do...” He parrots unsteadily, watching the red light of the warehouse give way to the cool blue of the Normandy cargo hold. Shepard forms out of the air, perfect and whole, kitted up in N7 armor. Hard lines, hard expression, but there’s kindness hidden in her gaze. He wonders what she sees when she looks at him.  

            “You sure about that?” he asks her. She doesn’t respond.

             “Boss,” It takes a while to realize that someone more alive is talking to him… When he turns his head to look, it feels like the air has turned to sap. Thick. Resistant. “think you might have got some sand in that wound…” the words fade in and out. The Normandy and Shepard and the Mako all flicker around him like dying flames. He doesn’t want her to go, but there’s something nagging him. Was there something he was supposed to do?

            There are careful hands pulling him, pushing him towards… he isn’t sure. He lets them. Without remembering why, he knows can trust them.

 


 

            It doesn’t take long for that trust to bite him in the ass. Only about a month later; his arm is barely healed and he’s holding the hideout alone. The others are… his crew, is….

            He doesn’t want to think about it. So he doesn’t. There’s certainly enough to keep him occupied. His mind is racing, heart pounding in his chest fast enough that it’s starting to affect his aim.

            (There, three hostiles behind the crates, 60 meters at about 5 degrees downward. Eclipse. Too easy. Headshot the mech on the right, let the explosion take out the merc in the center. Reload, headshot remaining hostile. )

            How long has he been doing this? Has to have been days already. But the bodies downstairs haven’t started to stink yet, so maybe…

            Spirits, the bodies… is anyone going to be around to take care of the remains? Butler’s wife, will she—

            No. He can’t do this right now.

            (Movement down the catwalk, Blue Sun edging toward his position. Not a problem. 40 meters, adjustment of about 3 degrees downward, headsho--no, body shot. Damn. Reloading. Target still moving? Headshot.

            Quiet. )

            Once he realizes his vision is fading at the edges, Garrus remembers to breathe. He can do that, between shots. He should do that.

            Losing your edge there, Vakarian. Shepard is haunting him again. He chances a glance and sees her, head on her arms, leaning against the nearby railing. He knows this is nothing but his memory of her given form: his subconscious… it’s painful, and jarring, but he’s almost gotten used to it. She shows up often enough these days. In his dreams, in the spaces where his mind wanders, watching, judging… Even after the spice faded from his system, he’s been seeing her. In and out—he’s exhausted and flagging enough now that he doesn’t give her presence much thought.

            “You wanna show me how it’s done? Be my guest,” he grumbles, fully aware that he’s talking to no one but himself in an empty hideout. He doesn’t care. He’s been holed up here, running off nothing but adrenaline, stims, and the fuel of his twisted emotions. He’s fully aware he’s not making it out of this one. Things as they are, he’s not even sure he wants to. Maybe he’s finally slid all the way to crazy, but he just… doesn’t want to be alone.

            Maybe I will, he can hear teasing in her voice. Garrus smiles despite himself. First order of business next time we meet.

            “Second order,” he corrects as he pushes himself tiredly to a knee. He’s got to keep awake somehow. There are only so many stims left. “You owe me a drink.” She laughs, and it’s just like that night on the Citadel, with Saren dead and the galaxy saved.

            You sure you’re remembering that right? I could have sworn I was winning our wager.

            “I can’t help that you went and died on me before I could set the record straight.” Shepard, or his subconscious, or whatever this is; she doesn’t seem to know what to say to that. He strides over to an ammo stockpile and grabs as many rounds as he can, prepping a few stacks for the next wave of idiots. The silence is deafening. “Sorry. I know that wasn’t exactly your choice.”

            Is this your choice, Vakarian? He shrugs, loosens his helmet as much as he can dare. Spirits, why is it so damn hard to breathe in these things. This is the only choice, he thinks. It’s about what I expected, he starts to say.

            “No,” he murmurs instead, and for a moment he feels it. For a moment, he taps into the undertow of loss threatening to pull him under. His whole team, ten good men and women, gone. A traitor on the loose. He can’t. He can’t do this now. “I chose the risk, not the outcome. We all did.”

            Nice to hear you talking sense. She chimes, and seems content to watch him load the next round. His hands still aren’t quite as steady as they should be. Garrus tunes his thoughts out and forces himself to focus, starts cleaning and calibrating his gun as much as he dares while he’s got a few free moments. He’s so intent on carefully forcing his fingers to move where he wants them to, that he nearly forgets she’s there. The uncanny sensation of a hand on his neck, despite his still there helmet, nearly has him jumping out of his skin. Stay sharp, she admonishes, More hostiles on the way.

            He nods, gets his gun put to rights, and turns as much of himself off as he can afford.

            (Movement. 100 meters out; 4 degree downward adjustment. Figures unclear. More freelancers than usual. Three rookies rushing in without good cover. Leave those for last; easy enough to pick off when they’re closer. Take out the real threats. Heavy weapons user, crates, right side. 1 degree adjustment. Headshot. Reload.)

            He’s not sure what he’s doing any more. He’s not sure why he’s making this last stand except as some sort of final defiance. A final fuck you. Maybe he’s hoping he can cripple the gangs enough to matter long term. He hasn’t decided whether he wants to be that naïve.

            (Two more on the right, three in back. All freelancers. The partners start setting up a generator and shield on the bridge. Typical. Fire an overload, follow up with a round to the generator. Imagine the smell of burnt flesh as the engineers are electrocuted. Reload. Those rookies are finally getting too close. Headshot-reload-headshot-reload—wait.)

            He watches one of the trio slinking down the left side fire a clear shot at the back of the remaining rookie’s head. It’s a human woman, he notes. And as she gets closer… red hair, N7 armor, that face…

            …

            He takes a double take, eyes the hallucination of Jane Shepard beside him, then looks down the scope at the one charging through his chokepoint. Unable to breathe, he fumbles for a concussive round, loads it in, and fires. The shot hits her in the chest. Solid.

           

All the gods in all the worlds, that’s her

Chapter Text

 


 

 

 

            He thinks he might be dreaming.

            Well, it’s a hell of a wonderful nightmare if that’s true. He mourns his whole team with every breath, even as he’s bleeding out himself… but damn if it didn’t feel good to see Garm dead. Eclipse’s Omega-based eezo runs are finally out of the picture. Somehow, impossibly, Shepard’s here. Not the amalgamation of memory and expectation he’s used to, but some other, convincing interpretation of her. And maybe, if she’s still here, that means they took out the Blue Suns too?

            All of Archangel’s greatest friends and worst enemies dead at his feet, and the ghost of the woman who inspired him alive at his side? Yeah, gotta be a dream. He takes a moment to appreciate how fucked up his mind’s fantasies are.

            “Garrus!” He’s never heard her this frantic. Fear sounds so alien with her voice. In all of his exhaustion-addled visions, she never paused to worry over his injuries before. Then again, she’s never seemed quite so real to him before either; her armor is just different enough to be unfamiliar, not something he can see himself imagining. His blood paints her hands, all elements of a strangely detailed realism. He’s almost impressed with his own creativity. “We’re getting you out of here. So hold on.”

            There are cracks in the skin of her face. Seams. He’s never seen that before on a human. He wonders what it means. Scars seem like a stupid thing to fixate on, but he figures he’s allowed a few stupid things here and now.

            Of all the fucked up dreams to have before I die, he thinks, I’m glad it was this one. I’m glad it was you. He tries to tell her, but the words come out all wrong. He chokes on them, wet bubbles frothing from his mouth. Blue flecks Shepard’s face. She doesn’t shrink away.

            “Hold on,” she repeats. He knows a command when he hears one.

            He clings to her hand like he’s clung to her memory, until everything else fades to black.

 


 

            He’s still not convinced that this isn’t all a dream.

            He gasps, shakes himself awake. (?) He knows where he is; knows the clean, cold silver of this room as easily as he knows the woman typing into her computer at the desk by the door. Normandy. Chakwas. On a destroyed ship with a woman he knows moved back to the Citadel? All evidence pointing away from reality.

            But there’s a human he doesn’t recognize looking over Chakwas’s shoulder: tall, with a close fitting suit and dark hair. He doesn’t know what reason his mind would have to make up a completely unknown human. Furthermore, his entire right side hurts something awful, even through the thick haze of what must be painkillers. Don’t people say that you can’t really feel pain in dreams?

            On the other hand; he’s not dead. A point firmly in the “not real” column.

            “I can hear you moving around over there, Officer Vakarian. You’d best stay put.” Karin Chakwas’s no-nonsense voice cuts through his musings. Unsurprisingly, she hasn’t changed a bit. Neither has Garrus. He promptly ignores her advice, and tries to sit up.

            “Not ‘Officer’ any more, doctor,” he has trouble with the words. Man he messed up good this time. He doesn’t think his right mandible is moving quite right.

            “I suppose Archangel suits you better?” the mystery woman interjects. Garrus winces despite himself.

            “No,” he answers, too quickly, “just Garrus will do fine.” Sitting is difficult, but he can manage. He has to use his left arm for leverage, half-pulling and pushing himself upwards with a firm grip on the cot below. His right arm moves when and where he wants it to, but a combination of blinding pain and localized analgesic makes the sensation confusing. He lets the arm hang. Briefly, he thinks about getting his feet on the ground, but with the way the room is tilting ever so slightly already...

            “Try it, and you’ll be flat on the ground before the room stops spinning.” Chakwas catches on as quickly as always. He doesn’t even think she needed to look his way to know his intention. It’s all so surreal; he tries to laugh and immediately regrets it. Spirits, that hurts! Ugh, is the right side of his face even still there? He moves without thinking to rub away the resonating pain in his jaw, only to pause as he touches thick, padded gauze. Hmm. Something medigel can’t fix…? He traces out the edge of the bandage, briefly distracted. Pressure makes the wound hurt even worse, but he’s curious now. There are rough, tender scabs trailing out form the bandage across his pained mandible.   

            “I would recommend against pushing your implants to perform so soon after their grafting. It might be best not to speak while your system adjusts.” Mystery lady turns to face him as she talks, and he finally gets a closer look at her suit. There’s a distinctive yellow symbol over her breast.

            Cerberus…?

            He looks between her shirt, Chakwas’s unconcerned demeanor, and the med bay itself, still unmistakably the same one he remembers from his service on the Normandy. Then he finally notices Chakwas’s own suit, which sports the same familiar symbol.

            “So, does anyone want to explain what the hell is going on?”

            “In that shootout against the gangs of Omega, you suffered traumatic injury to significant portions of your face, neck, and skull. Doctor Chakwas and I were able to stabilize you through the application of experimental implants, repairing the sustained explosive damage. While you should recover full use and functionality of the damaged areas in time, the sheer extent of the wounds you incurred necessitate—”  

            “I appreciate the recap, but that’s not exactly what I meant.” Chakwas looks like she wants to laugh, but she’s trying not to upset him. Cerberus just looks annoyed.

            “It’s alright, Lawson, I’ll take over from here.” The unknown woman, Lawson, he assumes, wanders back to their computer station with a frown. Chakwas slides into her place with a cool ease. “Garrus, I’ve got you on enough painkillers and sedatives to put a lesser man out for a few days. You should be sleeping, not looking for a debrief,” She knocks his hand away from his bandages, checks a nearby monitor. “You’ve still got enough of those bloody stims running in your system to keep you awake, I suppose.” The doctor eyes the numbers with a venomous gaze.

            “Chakwas—” he tries again.

            “Vakarian,” she snaps back, “I’m glad to see you conscious and functional, but don’t you think it can wait?”

            “No,” he tells her plain. And she listens.

            That was always something that made him like Chakwas. She was a doctor. She fretted and fussed at you for over-stimming and neglecting yourself with the best of them. But she was also military, and she understood.

            She tells him that she and a few others were picked up by a faction of Cerberus looking to take out the Reaper threat. She tells him they rebuilt the Normandy—that they’re continuing the work they should have been doing all along, returning to the project that the Council and the Alliance scrapped. She tells him about Joker, about their plans to protect Terminus colonies, about the available advancements in resources and technology.

            That’s all fine, he supposes, but there’s something that’s still bugging him, still picking at the edges of his thoughts. There’s something she hasn’t said.

            Garrus nods, and immediately wishes he hadn’t. He focuses on making the world settle until he can push himself off the gurney.

            “I didn’t tell you all that so you could start storming through the Normandy,” Chakwas chides. She steadies his shoulder when he falters. He waves a hand dismissively her way, but can’t quite manage to escape her grip.

            “Cut me some slack, doc. I want to see this for myself.” He has to think very hard about balance and the feeling of his body standing upright. The room is swinging, but if he focuses on the sensation of his body locked in position he can almost stay standing. Chakwas looks like she isn’t sure whether or not to up his dosage. Lawson huffs, clearly annoyed.

            “If you’re intent to strain your implants so soon, I suppose we can’t stop you. Shepard was insistent that we treat you with the best we had, but if you’d rather throw away her investment—”

            Oh. That’s what he hadn’t been thinking about. Sad eyes, red hair glinting in the dim light of Omega, her strong grip on his hand. Somewhere, outside of his thoughts he hears Chakwas sigh and smack at the back of Lawson’s head. It’s all distant.

            “Shepard…?” He repeats the name. It leaves a strange taste in his mouth- like dust, like blood. In the dream, she’d shown up amidst the haze of gunfire and drugged adrenaline. Her name had come naturally to him then. But now he was awake. He hasn’t dared say it aloud in waking hours since…  But if somehow…. If in some way her survival was more than just a hallucination, he…

            He knows he saw her in what he’d been thinking of as the wildest dream. He knows she was there, holding his hand. He’d thought he was dead, or dying, tripping without sand again. But to hear her name aloud—He looks to the doctor with the kind of expression he’s not going to admit to later. He’s pretty much given up on maintaining any kind of control over his sub-harmonics. They sound off with all that gauze in the way, but any Turian in the damn ship would still easily pick up on the raw confusion-terror-joy spilling off of him now. He doesn’t give two shits. The humans don’t have a translator capable of translating sub-harmonics yet anyway, and even if they did—“Shepard?”

            Rolling her eyes, Chakwas sighs and starts removing monitoring equipment from his person.

            “She’s likely in the com room on the CIC deck.” The doctor divulges, and lets him stumble to the doorway impassively. He moves almost without thinking. He only knows he’s got to see her—got to know if this is all real or if—is he still just living out some kind of death induced fantasy? He can’t—

            It’s hard to describe the way it feels to be careening, wide-eyed, just this side of unhinged through the halls of the Normandy. He doesn’t know what he’s doing or why. He doesn’t know why he feels so desperate. Honestly, if he could think about it objectively, Shepard’s death should probably not have mattered to him as much as it did. If it were just that he’d lost a good friend, he’d mourn, but he’d move on. He’d spent his time serving as a soldier for the Hierarchy just like every other Turian. He remembered what it was like to see squadmates die. It hurt, but he could handle it. He had to.

            She’d been different though. Probably because she was more than just a friend to him. She was a support to lean on. She was something to live up to. She was… honestly, he didn’t have the words to describe her.

            Her death had meant a lot to him. Her death shaped him—formed him into a bitter creature, angry at the world that killed her. Worse, the world that ignored her legacy. But if she were somehow alive?

            What does he do with that? Is this a second chance? A trick?

            “Are you, uh, alright, Archangel?” A private near the crew quarters calls out as he manages to walk jerkily toward the elevator. (Another human he’s never seen before. He hardly recognizes he’s being addressed, let alone that it’s a name he’s interested in discarding. Mostly he just feels slightly hysterical and thinks he might be slipping by the minute. A Cerberus agent is asking whether he’s okay and looking like he’s considering bolting for Chakwas. Looking concerned. It’s kind of hard to forget that the last time he saw a uniform like that he was firing a couple rounds into the man’s head.

            “Oh me? I’m fine.” It’s almost hilarious how easy it is to drawl, seemingly unaffected if it weren’t for the way he had to lean against the elevator walls. “Been better, had worse,” he announces cheerily while the doors close, like he’s rehearsing lines from a play. The crewmember doesn’t seem assured.

            “Edi—” He hears them say, but the doors seal before they can finish the thought.

            “Greetings Archangel,” a strangely shaped holo of a VI projects itself into the elevator as the box begins to rise. “Your vitals are not entirely consistent with standard medical release. I assume you are aware that most persons of your size and make would not be conscious given the level of medication—”

            “No worries,” he cuts in before he can get another earful. “Chakwas knows where I am. It’s not exactly like I can wander off.” He swears the VI is… considering. VI’s aren’t supposed to consider.

            “I suppose you are not incorrect,” Is that… Some VI’s are programmed to use the word “I,” but for some reason when this one says it, it sounds… did those crazy bastards actually put an AI on the Normandy?

            Well fuck it, he’s in a ghost ship full of enemies who suddenly don’t want to shoot him. The strange looking holo in the elevator can be an AI if it wants.

            Without further comment from the peanut gallery, the doors open on the CIC. It looks almost exactly like he remembers. It’s like the past got a paint job and some better tech. 

            “Hey! If it isn’t my favorite C-Sec officer up and—Oh wow. Jesus Christ, Garrus, you look like shit.” Joker’s voice on the intercom. He feels like he’s walking through cotton. This is so fucking surreal. Chakwas had mentioned Joker was along for the ride too, but he hadn’t really thought about what it might be like to hear the ship comedian’s voice again.

            “Turns out taking a ballistic to the face isn’t very healthy.” Also turns out that even with the painkillers, talking is a bitch. But he’s still not convinced this isn’t all a figment of his imagination. At least the pain is grounding.

            “Taking a—man, I knew it was bad when they rushed you into the med bay, but the Commander didn’t say it was that bad. You sure you should be out of bed?” Garrus rolls his eyes as best as he’s able and focuses on making himself presentable. He brushes at the charred remains of his breastplate, smooths down the bandage on his face. Briefly, he runs his fingers over the still too-tender scabs peeking out from beneath gauze. Well. No helping that.

            The doors open before he’s completely ready and he’s drawn forward on automatic, pulled by her gravity.

            “Shepard,” He calls as he enters. He meant to say more, but… he sees her, and his breath catches in his chest. There she is. Physical and whole and strangely scarred—new armor, hard eyes. She doesn’t look like any hallucination he’s had yet, except that last one, holding him as he bled out on the floor. He tries to trust it. He wants so badly to believe in it. Just being able to see her, solid and really here is something like a miracle. Watching the lines of her face soften as she looks back at him… he doesn’t know what to classify that as.

            He still doesn’t think this could possibly be real. But if he is dreaming…. Spirits, he damn well better never wake up again.

 


 

            His starry-eyed phase only lasts so long before he realizes something's out of place. 

            It can’t be like it was. Not quite. Not exactly. But it’s something. And it’s good.

            That respect is still there. Mutual drive. Competition, but in a good way. They push each other to be better. Hell, his subconscious had conjured up her ghost to represent some kind of moral center when he’d lost everything else. He figured that indicated something about how he felt.

            But trust…? Trust isn’t quite so simple.

            It’s not like he doesn’t trust her with his life. They’re a machine on the field. She’s got his back and he’s got hers and together they’re nigh unstoppable. It’s not like he doesn’t trust her to do the right thing. Cerberus aside, someone has to take on the Reapers. Someone has to worry about the Geth, and if the Alliance and the Hierarchy are sitting on their asses, then why the hell not take the resources literally dropped in her lap and go take out the enemy? It’s not like he doesn’t trust her to go the extra mile for his sake. There’s one less sick salarian in the world to prove it. He hasn’t forgotten that.

            But he also hasn’t forgotten… He also hasn’t forgotten the twisting, sinking feeling in his chest as he read an impersonal condolence letter. He hasn’t forgotten that sick, childish sense of betrayal, the sensation of being left behind, abandoned. It’s stupid, and he knows it’s stupid, but it’s impossible not to resent her, just that one, tiny bit. It’s impossible not to doubt now, not to wonder… she died once, didn’t she? She’s not completely untouchable. She’s not invincible. How much would it take to kill her again? How much would it ruin him to watch this time?

            So maybe there’s trust. But there’s also that niggling seed of doubt that wavers between worry and paranoia in turns. He grapples with it, tries to stifle it, sees it reflected back in Williams’s face on Horizon. She’s not as careful with her resentment. She isn’t so over-awed by Shepard’s return to life that she can bury the hurt.

            Shepard’s not the type of person to wear her heart on her sleeve, but he knows Williams’s comments don’t sit right. He may not be in the best frame of mind between the haze of guilt and the all-consuming itch for revenge, but even he notices when Shepard stays silent the whole shuttle ride back to the ship. So, after they make it back to the cargo bay, he gives her an hour or two to gather her thoughts and goes looking.

            He finds her fairly easily. First place he looks; sitting, reading a datapad, elbows on the bar. There’s a tall glass of something bright purple in one hand. She’s sipping it slowly.

            “Not that I’m complaining, but do human vessels generally have an open bar?” he drawls as he sidles up to a free bar stool. Shepard shoots him a raised brow, but doesn’t break her posture.

            “All of them,” she lies candidly. Do humans have some kind of sub-harmonic too? She’s not smiling, but he feels like he can hear the laugher in her voice. “Makes it easier for competitive squad mates to pay back the drinks they owe.”

            “Ah, and I’m sure all those well-stocked alliance ships also carry Dextro, just in case competitive squad mates happen to be non-human?” Finally, the hint of a smile. He only means it as a joke, but he’s genuinely shocked when she reaches around the counter and pulls out a Palaven imported dextro-liqueur.

            “Of course not. Perish the thought of an alien serving in a Human fleet! Dextro-booze is a perk of ex-spectre requisitioned privateer ships only, I’m afraid.”

            “Ex?” he echoes, watching the way she moves as she grabs a nearby tumbler and some ice. He won’t realize until much later how he’s begun studying her form in every detail. A recording for his memory, just in case she leaves him again.

            Her face shifts, fine muscles at her jaw pulling into that familiar smirk. It’s the same expression from what seems like a lifetime ago, but he’s still getting used to the lines of scarring that now mar her skin.

            “Ex,” She confirms, and pours with a steady hand. “Made a quick trip to the Citadel while you were convalescing. Told the Council to shove it.” He can’t help but laugh at the mental image. Shepard in full armor, giving the galaxy’s highest authority the dressing down of their lives… it’s a wonder they didn’t… wait. Actually,

            “I’m glad you got to tell them off, but why didn’t they arrest you for vigilantism? Without spectre status, and considering your current ties to a known terrorist organization…” The tilt of Shepard’s mouth shifts to something tired and sardonic. It’s the same look she wore after Williams had her say; angry. Done with it. 

            He takes his glass when it’s offered and isn’t distracted by the warmth of her hand in passing (mostly).

            “I have a few ideas,” she remarks dryly, glancing pointedly at one of EDI’s holo-projection units across the room. “Hands in the right pockets, whispers in the right ear. Maybe the Council just wants to avoid a diplomatic incident with humans on Citadel. Hell, maybe on some level they recognize the Reaper danger, but they have no info. Let us die first on Cerberus’s payroll and they can still act later with better info. Who the fuck knows.” Shepherd sighs and takes a long drought of her own glass.

            Garrus feels a pang of worry, looking at her like that. Exhausted, angry, her scars cracking across her skin. But he’s not… worried for her the way he should be. It’s still something of an academic concern. She looks tired, so he knows the burden must be heavy. She just fought with an old friend, so he knows she must be at least a little unhappy. He knows she could use a drink and someone to talk to. These pieces fit together like the parameters of an equation. Sensibly. Distantly.

            It’s that last bit of hero-worship still blinding him to the fact that he hasn’t seen her eat today. He doesn’t realize yet that there’s a deep shadow beneath her eyes, that she hasn’t been sleeping for a while now. He doesn’t notice that she still hasn’t really said anything about the experience of dying and coming back, hasn’t talked about the loss of her crew or the old ship or dealt with anything in any way other than a few sarcastic quips and drinks at the bar… He’s too tied up in his own problems to think deeper on hers.

            “I don’t like any of this, Garrus,” She murmurs, voice held low. She’s still looking at EDI’s unit, and Garrus wonders not for the first time how closely Cerberus is watching. “Williams might have been off-base, but she was right about a few things. The council, the Illusive Man… none of this sits right. You’re the only one here I can trust.”

            Trust. There’s that word again. He doesn’t know how to say it back yet, but he’s simultaneously flattered. He hasn’t stopped to think yet that maybe she actually relies on him too.

            “I’ve got your six, Commander,” he tells her as soon as he remembers how to speak.    

            Shepard grants him a nod and a familiar clap on the shoulder, just a touch too strong. It’s… good. They haven’t gotten the chance to sit together like this again since the days of shore leave and spectre training.

            Uncertain, he tries to busy himself with his drink. It’s not bad for a generic imported liquor, but it’s not interesting enough to keep his thoughts occupied. He’s hyper aware of Shepard by the time she leans toward the bar and rests her head against her hand. They drink amicably in the silence. Garrus doesn’t feel the need to break it. He sips, and tries not to think too hard about trust and all the ways he’s lost it.

            Shepard’s glass hits the bar with a final sounding, clack, ice rattling in the empty glass.

            “Round two?” He drawls, standing to pour her a second helping without waiting for an answer. He doesn’t know exactly what she was drinking when he came in, but he remembers her old favorite at the bar well enough. There’s no Turian equivalent and he never can recall the name, but he can recognize the shape and color of a distinctive bottle.

            “God-damn,” she swears beneath her breath as he rounds the bar. He glances up at the sound, only to find her gaze locked on the mess of scars and gauze that currently make up the right side of his face.

            “Am I putting you off your appetite?” He tries to joke, distracting himself with the search for her odd glass bottle. He can’t care less whether she approves of his looks, or so he reminds himself.

            “What? No. It’s just… It just hit me. I came real close to losing you out there. I’ve been trying not to think about it, but the scars make it hard to forget.” He finds the bottle easily enough. It glitters amber in the dim light. For some reason, the act of picking it up and pouring has become difficult. Should he feel this angry and resentful right now?

            “Hmm. Can’t imagine the feeling.” Isn’t it amazing how sarcasm can condense years of living nightmares to a few easy words? He can watch understanding blossom in her expression if he wants. He doesn’t. The damn liquor looks pretty as it flows over fresh ice.

            “Fucking hell. I’m not any good at this.” She laughs, but doesn’t sound happy. “I’m sorry.” For which part? he wonders. For dying on him? For leaving him behind? For speaking without thinking?

            He hates this. He hates that he’s angry. He knows she didn’t mean to trivialize. She couldn’t possibly understand how it felt for two years to think… And she’s here now, isn’t she? She’s alive, so why can’t he move past this?

            It’s hard to forgive her, but he wants to try. He sets her glass back down in front of her face just a touch too hard, mandibles fluttering in a laugh when some of the liquid flecks up across her nose.

            “Tell you what. You play bartender from here out, and I’ll drink till I don’t remember any of the stupid things you say,” she pauses, as if to consider, licks a droplet of amber from her upper lip, and looks abruptly startled. Shepard glances down at the glass, then back to the bottle as he slides it back into place.

            “You remembered my favorite drink? Garrus Vakarian, what the fuck did I do to deserve a fiend like you?” Garrus laughs, but between breaths he wonders why she doesn’t think he’s the undeserving one.

 


 

            It’s a wild ride, this hunt they’re on. Enemies everywhere, a dubious patron, a misfit crew… sometimes he feels like he’s trapped in some kind of holovid. The Collectors certainly operate like something out of a horror story.  Their oddly organic weaponry and hive-minded attack patterns set him distinctly on edge—not to mention those paralyzing drones. Honestly, if it weren’t for Mordin Solus they’d have died or worse long before now. He tries not to linger on the thought.  

            She needs him to focus. They’re effectively operating out of enemy territory, surrounded on all sides, no help from anyone but themselves. He’s coming to understand that. So he’s got to focus… trouble is, he can’t. The longer they take to hunt the Collectors, the more keenly he feels the loss of his team. He has Shepard back, suddenly, impossibly, but that’s not enough. Maybe he’s selfish. Maybe he’s forgotten how to be content. His mind drifts more and more frequently, back to Omega, until he’s hyper-aware of the hand-scratched names on the ridge of his visor. Ten good men and women dead. Ten friends, and one traitor. The fact that that bastard still lives eats away at him, a constant itch at the back of his mind.

            Damn it all, they were his team. Vengeance is his duty. His right. He knows that in the grand scheme, all his righteous anger measures up to little more than personal diversion. He can feel guilty over it all he likes, but guilt won’t change reality. Every second that man draws breath is one his team will never see. He can’t forget it. It burns in his blood, wakes him up at night. Shepard needs him to focus; the only way he can do that is to resolve this first. So he’ll resolve it.

            He finds the lead he needs before they make any real breakthrough in the twisted mess between the Collectors and Reapers. Blood racing, his first instinct is to slip off the first time the Normandy docks anywhere and go kill the traitor. He’s got to do this. He’s reaching for his contacts and plotting ways to disappear in his head when he thinks of her, red hair glinting in the soft blue tones of the ship’s bar. You’re the only one here I can trust, she’d said, and damn it, he couldn’t leave it like this. Not after he’d promised. Even if he did think, vindictively, that she might deserve it.

            Vividly, he remembers the bloodied corpse of Dr. Saleon, and a warm hand at his shoulder.

            He doesn’t need to leave.

            Maybe that first time, he wasn’t sure. Back then, with the galaxy’s destruction so eminent, he’d thought asking for a personal manhunt a meaningless gesture, but now… she’ll help. He can believe in that at the very least.

            A few days later they’re speeding through the wards toward a lounge. His blood is singing in his ears. Ten of his crew dead at the hands of the eleventh and that bastard had the gall to run. Not for long.

            “You’re really sure about this?” Shephard asks for the fifth time since he shot Harkin in the knee. He tries to quell his resentment, but his talons nearly cut into the driving console all the same.

            “More than anything,” he grits. “When we get there, I’ll drop you off and circle away to a vantage point. I’ll need you to distract him long enough to line up the shot.” He realizes he’s turned on his “Archangel voice” half-way through his instructions, but he’s too caught up to correct himself. She left, and he learned how to order people around. She’ll have to deal with it at some point. He already did.

            “…Understood.” She assents. Thane Krios’s echoing affirmation from the back seat almost surprises him. It probably says something about his state of mind that he forgot the assassin had even agreed to come along. Then again, the drell keeps his opinions to himself for the vast majority of the trip; a silent ghost.

            “Garrus, do you really—” He’s far too wound up. He snaps.

            “Yes! I am sure.” He brings the transport down. “I don’t understand you. He killed ten good men. He needs to pay. My men…. They deserved better. I thought you would agree.” There’s adrenaline flooding his veins and anger buzzing in his head. She’d gotten him Saleon and acted like she’d understood. What if all of it had been a lie? What if—

            “Don’t misunderstand me. That fucker deserves worse than death. Maybe I didn’t know your team, but I know you. He almost got you killed, Garrus. I want to make him bleed for it.” She snaps him out of his racing thoughts. She speaks with her teeth bared, red light flashing as her implants struggle to keep up with the stress. “But I also realize he’s not an immediate threat. He’s a spineless coward. He’s not like the doctor. He won’t kill again and again. On the other hand, sniping a man in the middle of the Citadel might put us on the fast track back to Bailey with our hands cuffed.”

            The frisson of pleasure that runs through him when she talks about him like that—angry, protective, commanding—it’s almost enough to interrupt the heady drone of rage. Almost. There she goes again, calculating risks and weighing them against the lives of others. He wants to resent her for it as much as he agrees with her.

            “No one’s going to arrest you for anything if they haven’t already.” He grits. “I’ll testify you had nothing to do with it, or that I tricked you. Shepard, I won’t get caught in the first place, just… please. No one knows what he did. No one can bring him to justice but me. I need this.”

            She looks at him. Really looks at him. She makes him feel self-conscious, uncomfortable. She looks at his face as if she could simply read all the words unsaid. He wonders what she finds there. Nothing good, he'll wager. He's sure he disappoints her. He's used to disappointing people. 

            She's going to deny me this, he thinks, anger burning in his throat. She'll say no, and I'll listen because —

            “Let me do it then.”

            Oh. Well. He certainly hadn’t expected her to say that.

            “What? I don’t—”

            “You’re right. The council should have arrested me. They officially rescinded my Spectre status, but so far they haven’t actually followed through on it. If we get caught, I’ll probably walk. You want him to pay, I want him to pay, everybody wins. Thane’s just as good at being a distraction as I am.”

            “Probably better,” Krios adds, voice tinged with just enough placid amusement to unnerve him.

            “I—” he starts, stops, takes an extra few moments to himself. Shepard’s gaze is unflinching green, strange in the shadows of the citadel. Staring her down, he starts to feel the exhaustion, the confusion behind his tightly-wound façade. For just a second, he forgets that she’s alive. He thinks, for one, unmoored minute that he’s back in Omega, falling apart in slow motion with only her ghost for company.  

            This is his kill. If anyone else had asked, he’d have shot them down flat. But Shepard had been his guiding light ever since he’d met her. He’d imagined his conscience in her form, for fuck’s sake. He can trust her. Even beyond death, he can trust her. He doesn’t know how he ever questioned it. How could he have forgotten?

            She’s always been the one to support him when no one else would.

            “Let me line up the shot,” He assents. “You can pull the trigger.” Shepard’s expression lights up with a smile too vicious to call it “happy.” He’s gotten far better at reading human facial expressions over the last few years, but he doesn’t think he’s ever seen a look quite like that. It feels too familiar to be human—blood-thirsty, confident, just a little unbalanced. He’s only ever caught glimpses of it in the mirror.

            Kitted up in full armor, her red hair refracting the dim light of her over-worked implants, she wears it far better than he ever could.

            Beautiful, he thinks, unbidden.

            He doesn’t have much time to be surprised by the revelation. Krios starts moving into place with no further command from either of them. Shepard motions for him to trade seats, and takes the wheel with little fanfare. Garrus clenches his jaw and sets his head straight. It isn’t hard. The ten names carved into his visor are never far from his thoughts.

            It’s only in the moment of victory, Shepard draped awkwardly over him to reach the trigger as he takes aim, her hot breath on his neck, that he starts to realize he’s got a problem.

            Krios is a consummate professional, and the shot is a ridiculously easy one. Sidonis goes down so quickly, he’s almost disappointed. He should feel… relieved. He supposes he does, but he also feels burned down. Empty. Justice is served, but his team will never come back. He’d just killed the last member himself.

            Well. He’d aimed the kill-shot, anyway.

            Shepard stays pressed against him long after the shot rings out. Her hands brace his forearms. If she notices the way he trembles, ever-so-slightly, she doesn’t mention it.

            All in all, it’s a spectacularly disastrous moment to realize he’s in love with her, but then he never had done anything by halves.