Grunt hasn't seen Shepard so angry in a very long time.
She is staring at the human who is hooked up to the machines, to the geth. Both her and the captive human have water leaking out of their eyes and running down their faces. She turns to the man's brother and asks him questions.
"He's your brother," she says after every excuse the human doctor gives. Each time she says it, she gets quieter and quieter, but Grunt hears the cold rage in her voice and knows she will likely kill this doctor when she has what information she needs. He is right, she raises her shotgun, but her turian places a light hand on her shoulder. She shakes him off, but does not shoot the sniveling human doctor.
She just cracks him in the face with the butt of her gun. He cries out in pain and collapses. She laughs, but there is no joy in it and it snap freezes the air around her. She kicks him square in the ribs when he tries to crawl away and spits on him.
"What a fuckin' piece'a shit, Garrus."
The turian put his hand back on her shoulder, and she lets him. She just stares at the captive human as he recites numbers over and over in an endless loop.
She wails, long and low and broken, full of pain and grief.
Grunt understands about brothers now.
He cannot sleep.
Well, that is not entirely true.
He sleeps, in fits and starts, but he thinks his mind might be breaking while he does it. Shadowy things far too old to have names, they laugh as they hunt, but not prey.
They hunt him.
He is tethered with wires and numbers, and when he pulls and thrashes, they cut into his hide. There is no Shepard, no turian, and he is alone with the laughter and shadows.
Grunt has destroyed monsters on the battlefield, tearing them apart with both his shotgun and his bare hands, but now he is weaponless and they are formless, and if the thief has taught him anything, it is that you cannot kill what you cannot see. But monsters in his mind, it is something he cannot understand, and it terrifies him.
He fights to wake and when he finally does, he finds he has torn up the blankets and popped the fluffy pillows until their stuffing floats on the air like ash.
Grunt does not know what to do. So he does what he always does when he needs answers.
He finds Shepard.
Grunt has come to firmly believe that Shepard knows everything. Perhaps the other crew knows things that she does not, but she knows everything worth knowing.
The light on the cabin door is green. It is always green. She says an open door is important, but she also says he should knock first. So he raps his knuckles against the doorframe and she answers almost immediately. Grunt wonders if she ever sleeps. He thinks not.
"What's a matter, darlin?" she asks softly, and her voice says she really wants to know. Her eyes are red and she looks tired. The turian is either still here, or has just left - Grunt can smell his dry grass-leather scent. Grunt hopes he is still here. The turian, while quieter, seems to know almost as much as Shepard.
"I don't… I...the sleeping. It's hard."
She smiles, and it is soft. "I see."
She sticks her bare feet into furry blue shoes, and Grunt can only stare at them. What seems like a hundred toes, those Grunt has seen before when she spars barefoot with the turian in the shuttlebay. The blue paw-shoes, not so much.
"You like? G got them for me." She wiggles her feet and Grunt sees they have plastic claws on the toes and as she walks through the door, they click on the decking. Grunt follows her, and the ship is asleep, except 'G', the turian. He is sitting in the mess, drinking something in a blue-dextro mug, and he wordlessly hands a red-levo one to Shepard. She takes it and gives the turian a look and a strange nod of her head, one of those silent signals that has no meaning to anyone except the two of them, and he shrugs and follows, tucking pots and mugs under his arms.
Shepard laughs at the state of Grunt's room, and says something about pillow fights. The turian starts cleaning up and tells Grunt to help. As they sweep up the wreckage, Shepard reappears with a bundle of bed-things so tall she cannot see over it. Setting them down, she fluffs and punches and rearranges until the turian laughs and tells her to stop.
"Well, try it out!" she demands, so Grunt does. It is just as soft as the last one, and still smells like her. It is perfect, but he shakes his head. Sleep would not come if he 'paid it to'.
Shepard plops down beside him, back against the wall while the turian sighs and does the same, handing Grunt a red mug of human tea. Like all human inventions, it is ridiculously small, but hot in his hand and the steam that curls up smells of spice and misty, quiet places.
"So, you were dreaming?" she asks, sipping on her tea and grimacing when it is too hot.
"You know, dreaming. Like a vid playing while you sleep."
Grunt nods, but then shakes his head. "Not a vid. Real...things. Hunting. In the dark."
"Nightmare," she says sagely. "Scary dream."
"I was not scared," Grunt scoffs.
"Of course not, darlin'," Shepard says, but when she looks at him, he knows she knows. "Now drink your tea and I'll tell you a story my dad used to tell me when I was little."
The turian goes stock still, listening so hard Grunt thinks he can hear the gears of his cybernetic ear-hole working. That is not anything new, though. When Shepard tells a story, everyone listens. Her voice gets low and quiet, not like others who get louder just to be heard. The quieter her voice gets, the more you can hear in it.
And then she tells stories of a great one-eyed god-warrior of her father's people, who rode a beast with eight legs across the sky. His woman co-ruler was just as fierce, she and her women carrying away deserving dead warriors to fight again in the afterlife. There are wars and magic and weapons, and some words are not Shepard's normal long, slow ones. These words are round stones with sharp edges for teeth.
Then Grunt remembers how ridiculous humans are and that they have more than one language. Soon, she slips into full sentences of those strange words, and his translator has no idea what to make of it, and finally goes silent. Grunt thinks the turian has simply turned his off.
They both listen, and she keeps speaking words of wind and snow, of fog and fire - words with no meaning to him, but he finds they do not need any. They have a cadence like music and Grunt decides Shepard must be a descendant of some immortal creature from the stories, wild and unknowable.
She had even died once.
People say she was just hiding for those two years, but Grunt knows different. Grunt knows no one else who has died and still lived. Maybe she is a goddess like in the stories. A valkryrie, the fiercest of females, ones that only take the worthiest warriors to the Void.
The turian looks like he thinks so too. He stares at her face, as if he has never seen her before.
Before Grunt slips under the waves of foreign words and back into sleep and dreams of one-eyed warrior-kings and eight-legged horses and glorious battles of thunder-hammers and witch-smoke, he decides he will follow his Battlemaster to the ends of the universe.
Shepard groans from the heap she has melted to on the ground. She is covered in vomit and more than a little blood where she hit the back of her head. Grunt is not surprised she is alive. Yes, she was poisoned, but a little poison would not kill Shepard.
She is too strong for that.
She groans again and blinks against the bright Omega lights. "Get up, Shepard. You're not dead." She sighs, thick and raspy, but moves to stand. Grunt gently grabs her hand and pulls her to her feet. She sways and her eyeballs jerk and roll in their sockets, but she stays upright.
"Yesh. No. Not dead. Not yet. Maybe laters. Head hurts so bad."
Grunt rolls his eyes (he picked that up from the painted female) and carefully lifts her up and settles her gently over his shoulder. He heads for the Normandy where he knows Dr. Chakwas will be waiting.
"Yer so nice. So big. Big big big. Big big darlin' krogan baby."
She mumbles and shouts nonsense the whole way and Grunt just grins.
"Krooogan baby! Big big big, as big as the moon! I love you like a great big loon!"
Many things have happened.
The Collectors have been destroyed. Shepard, Grunt, and the turian blew up the human reaper in a display of spectacular firepower that made his blood sing just to think of it. Every one of his krantt fought bravely, even the glass-bone pilot, and like true krogan, they all survived. But Shepard is gone. They locked her up because she blew up a relay and killed a bunch of batarians. A colony being destroyed versus a whole galaxy? In his opinion, it was obviously a small price to pay and definitely the right decision. He remembers they day they took her away.
It is one of the worst days he has ever had.
Stupid, cowardly humans! Did they not know his Battlemaster at all? How could they not recognize her strength, her greatness? She did not destroy a whole colony for giggles, she did it because it was the only choice. His Battlemaster always made the right call. He is furious. He growls at the humans leading her away. He will kill them all and take Shepard and her turian back to the Normandy so they could fight more enemies. She only gives him a quelling look and a smile.
Then Grunt understands his Battlemaster's true worth. She has bravery and integrity 'in spades.' She will not run away. She will face the consequences of her actions with honor and the strength of her convictions.
He has learned much from Shepard and her krantt.
The drell taught him the value of silence. The asari taught him a little self control. The thief taught him to be cunning. The salarian taught him that intelligence is power. The geth taught him that curiosity is the only way to learn. The quarian taught him the meaning of bravery.
The old man and painted female taught him to swear better.
He has gone back to Tuchanka. He fights and scraps and has fantastically violent brawls, but he remembers what Shepard said, about his people becoming more. So he does what he can. He learns about his homeland and commits it all to memory.
Wrex appoints him head of Aralakh Company. It is a great honor, to lead the company named after the wastes where the first warrior died a glorious death in battle. It is an honor that Wrex assures him is merited.
He does not want a new krantt. He wants his Battlemaster and her turian. He knows that is not possible, so he will carry on like true krogan. He cannot call his team krantt, only Shepard and her turian can ever be that. His team is loud and brash and impatient, like most young krogan. When they find that his Battlemaster is a human, a female human, they laugh. He just smiles, knocks their heads together, and tells them all about her.
"I miss her," Grunt says, and he is not ashamed to say so.
"I know," Naxa says simply, and she tries her best to make him forget.
Then one day, she is back.
She finds him on Utukku. His team has been investigating a possible rachni invasion, and just thinking of fighting his people's oldest enemies sets fire to his blood. He picks her up and hugs her hard. His team scoffs, but when they see her, they are in awe of this human. Her smile for him, while happy and genuine, is fleeting. She looks so angry, and her turian does too.
She tells how she fought the Reapers on Earth, land of the dinosaurs. He growls because he was not there, and he imagines how she kicked and clawed and scratched and bit.
It certainly shows.
She used to try to solve problems by talking, and when that failed, she employed her fists, but now she just shoots first. She even smells different; the lemon part of her scent has faded. Now she smells of gunmetal, ozone, and rage. She is thinner than he remembers, limbs of whipcord with knobs of bone jutting out, sharp and angular.
They fight the rachni, and even Grunt can tell something is wrong with them. The Tank whispers how they should be, but they look wrong, they smell wrong, like rotten flesh and sparking electronics. They want killing. So he and his team do. Shepard, her turian, and the blue eyeball, who has gained a sleek, new, deadly body, kill them too. They are separated, but he can hear their victories over the comm.
Near the end of the tunnels, Shepard decides to save the queen.
Grunt does not understand. She is his Battlemaster, the one who has no match, the one he would die for. Why would she sentence his team to death for an insect?
Then he hears her in his head, the rachni queen. She speaks, and it is beautiful. She says her children are foul and cannot be saved; that death for them would be a kindness. She could be mighty, with her brood, like the old times before the Reapers. He hears the desolation and desperation in her musical voice, even though she uses dying creatures to speak, to be heard. Even as she is lost and hopeless, the last of a dying race, still she fights.
She reminds him of krogan.
He understands now why Shepard does what she does. He hears it in her voice, the impotent rage that she cannot save everyone, and he says "Goddamnit, Shepard," but he understands.
This is why she is so thin and hard and angry.
He tells her he will cover their escape.
She looks at him, and for the first time since he has known her, she actually looks lost. She weaves from one foot to the other, as if the decision she has to make is tearing her apart. He growls at her to go. She does, but not until she grabs both his shoulders hard and looks him in the eye. There is pain and anger and something else Grunt does not recognize written on her face. That ridiculous moisture is leaking out of her eyes again, and this time, Grunt knows what it is. He had to search the extranet for it, but they are tears. According to her expression, these are tears of sadness, and he knows they are for him. She hugs him hard, tiny arms having no hope of even being nearly long enough to encircle his hump but trying their damnedest, and she whispers, "good luck." He shakes his head and grins. He doesn't need luck, he has ammo, and he tells her so.
She laughs and smiles for him through her tears, and he feels about ten feet tall.
He plows his way through the rachni, their foul green blood slicking his boots and armor.
He has a wet chunk of insect carapace stuck between his shoulder plate and its stink irritates his nose. One by one, his men fall, but they sell their lives for a dear price. Grunt knows it is inevitable, that they will all die, but he does not mind. This is what warriors are made for; their entire purpose is to fight and die and take as many enemies with them to the Void as possible. He bellows and crushes bug after bug under his feet, smashing his fists in what he can only assume are their faces. His Claymore blats until it goes hot in his hand and dry fires. He uses it as a club for one hand while he beats a rachni with its own leg with the other. He makes headway to a cliff face, but they are too many. They pile on and he is covered in them. He roars in laughter that they have to 'dog pile' to take him down. He had never understood that saying of Shepard's, but then again, that happened with most of the strange things she said.
He has a few fleeting thoughts as the rachni try to tear his armor off and put acid in the joints.
He is glad he has the lone surviving T-Rex toy stuffed in his armor pocket. Its arms remind him of Shepard's short stubby ones. He told her that and she had laughed until she held her ribs and started to wheeze.
Naxa is going to gut him, and she would be right.
He wishes he could die in the sunlight, instead of the dark.
Time slows, and he thinks of his krantt.
'The outcome of this action has a high probability of rendering an organic platform non-operational,' says the geth.
'Goddamn it,' says the old man.
'Keelah se'lai' says the quarian.
'Serenity in death is the pinnacle of achievement,' says the asari.
'What the shit,' says the glass-bone pilot.
'Well, isn't that just the turd in the punchbowl,' says Shepard, and the turian nods his head in agreement.
The thief laughs, the salarian smiles, and drell just sighs.
'Fuck it,' says the painted female.
Grunt agrees with her assessment. He grabs as many foul creatures as he can as they screech in what he can only imagine is fear as flings himself off the cliff.
When he dies, he will make sure it is glorious.
There are broken ribs, of course, of that he is sure. They have probably punctured a lung, maybe a heart. He feels them grind like glass as he breathes, but he is only slightly concerned. The Tank says he has others, but right now, it is screaming at him to get up, to fight. He does, but grudgingly. It would be nice to just lay here for a while.
He stumbles out into the light, covered in green gore. He sees her outline and she is running to him, her red armor blurry. How he ever imagined she would leave him alone on this planet does not bear thinking about. He is utterly ridiculous for even allowing the thought to cross his mind. yes, he might have died, but even she wouldn't leave his body behind. He knows she would have given him the rites, would be sure to send him off to the Void properly.
But as the blood rushes hot through his veins, the breath sawing harsh in his lungs, he knows he is alive, fiercely and utterly alive. And so is she, her and her turian. Grunt makes it to her with the last bits of strength he has left and he falls, but she catches him, stronger than she looks. The turian is on his other side, mandibles fluttering like they are trying to fly off his face. Shepard has those silly tears again, but not sad this time.
No, her pale, dirty face is glowing and her eyes are bright as she tries to show him each of her tiny white teeth all at once.
He is suddenly hungrier than he has been in a long time.