Chapter 22: Resolution
They spent the better part of that day wrapped up in each other on the couch, though this time any passionate kisses were spent on their attempts to console each other. Echo was through crying, yet she still had to fight the tears that came to her throughout the whole embrace. Garrus was still making some effort to comfort her even as he continued to apologize and regret. Echo was the one who finally made it clear that the worst was behind them, regrets were meaningless, and even though he had nothing to apologize for, she forgave him for it all. So Garrus was the one who stopped fretting long enough to kiss her properly.
For a moment, she simply reveled in the feeling of his affections, letting her own concerns take over. "I wanted to tell you so badly. Knowing what we went through the first time, how you were there for me…it was only fair. But I wanted to understand and…I don't know. I guess after everything you did to stay away, hearing I remembered again might have been—"
She sighed, realizing there was no better way to put it, and nodded.
He answered this by drawing her to meet his eyes again, so she could see the relief and sincerity behind them. "Echo, nothing could have been worse than what happened in that hospital. And nothing could've made me happier than what we have now."
She smiled brightly at the second part of this statement, but the first broke something inside her. Suddenly, that day she had so desperately attempted to banish from her mind came rushing back just as her lost memories had, even more painful now that she knew what had truly happened. Before, it was unsettling. Now, it was painful. Looking in his eyes this way threatened to bring back the tears she had thought she was finally rid of. "…I saw you."
He nodded. "The squad helped get you off the station and to a med center. I was there the whole time, waiting to see you, but—"
"No, I saw you."
Now he saw the problem. "No, wait, Echo, that's not—"
Too late. The memory struck her like no bullet ever had, aching not just because of the space he left behind but because of what happened before he did. "You were right there with me and I saw you and it wasn't enough. Some part of me was screaming for you, but I couldn't hear it. I didn't know…I should've—"
"Echo, listen to me," he quickly took her hands in his, "It's not your fault. We're together now."
"I know. It's not…" She took a breath to calm herself and find the words she needed to say. "It's not that I hurt you. It's that I lost you. Even before you walked out, I lost you. And it doesn't matter if that's what really drove you away, all that matters is that you were gone. I finally had someone who mattered to me, who cared about me, and who wouldn't let me down. …and I still lost you."
Slowly, he saw her true meaning. As she had told him when she was hesitating to confess her feelings on those cliffs, everything she cared about in life was all too easily taken away from her. And when she found someone who wouldn't leave her, life found a new way to come between them.
She scoffed to herself at what she suddenly realized. "It's stupidly ironic. The night it all came back to me? I woke up that morning utterly terrified that the memory damage would loop back on itself somehow and there'd come a day I wouldn't recognize you. Now it turns out it was because that already happened. I couldn't even have you without everything falling apart."
"And we're going to put it back together again. Understand?" When she didn't answer, he turned to remove his gloves and reached up to place his hands on her face. Where anyone else would be threatened by his bared talons, she was soothed, sighing calmly as she leaned into his grasp. "Shepard and Vakarian. Nothing we can't do together. Remember?"
Remember. The one word that had most pained her the past three years was now a flood of every emotion but. Thoughts of what they'd had together coupled with what they had now and the feeling of his talons so tenderly pressed against her… She smiled. "I remember everything." She had longed to say that for so long. But now it really meant something. Something vivid and intense. Pressing her hands against his, she leaned into him, taking pride and comfort in equal measure from the protective, desirous trills of his sub-vocals humming so close to her ear. Garrus Vakarian. Her Garrus. The love of her life. She really didn't have anything to fear now. Not with him beside her. "Guess Liara was right, then. We—" She froze as she suddenly remembered one other thing. "Liara. Tali! The team—we have to tell the crew!"
Garrus flinched as he caught on. "Oh! OH! You're right! Uh…" He drew back to start considering how to approach this. "What do we do, e-mail them?"
"No! No, just…" She took a second to think it over. "…just get on the group chat and set up a time for a video call."
He nodded, turning to his omni-tool to do so. "Right. Right. I can do that."
She watched as he sent out the request and waited for a response, both tense and excited at the prospect of seeing her crew again in light of who they truly were to her. Then she simply watched him. Even with all her memories intact, she couldn't describe what it was about this one specific turian that she found physically attractive, but she did. She suspected now that if she did someday relapse (and since it was a matter of brain damage, this could be entirely possible…), she would still love him. Without needing to read that note she left for herself, she would know how she felt. But still… "And Garrus?" Once he was facing her again, she drew closer, taking his hand. "No matter what happens…don't let me go."
He understood. He always understood her. It was part of why they had become so inseparable even before they fell so hard for each other. But this was one thing she didn't have to ask. He wasn't the type to make the same mistake twice. "No." So he laid his head on hers and gave her the same words of comfort she had once given him: "…you'll never be alone."
The memory of that day in London was heart-wrenching, but using it this way made her brighten with hope. And made her cling to her love even more. "…never."
They stayed that way until the chat reached a solution. The time that worked best for everyone involved wasn't for another two days. Echo resolved to spend those two days establishing a new "normal" for her and Garrus since she had less than no intentions to stop living with him. The only problem with that plan was how Garrus seemed less inclined to while away the hours with amorous embraces and wistful stories and such than he was to silently beat himself up for all that had happened. He apparently spent some time researching human customs for "making amends," because there were three separate offers of levo chocolate treats and an actual stuffed bear (and since it wasn't a supply drop day, she had no idea where he could've found those things on Palaven and wasn't sure she wanted to know) before she finally put her foot down that she already forgave him and made it clear he hadn't done anything wrong to begin with so enough already! She followed that up by all but pinning him to the couch and kissing him until he stopped resisting her and returned it, which she took as agreement to let the matter be. Or, failing that, evidence that she had found a tactic to patch the cracks in his emotional armor until she found a proper treatment.
When the day finally came that the squad was due to call, Echo spent the morning applying her favored technique to keep her beloved turian from worrying and to soothe her own nerves, delighting in every hum of pleasure to escape the voice that make her heart flutter with enticement. She peppered him with whispered declarations of how much she adored him, even though she was certain he had to know by now, and shivered with elation every time he did the same for her. He still seemed more withdrawn than his typical self, but he was smiling and openly displaying his affection for her in a way that made it impossible for her to worry. She was hesitant to stop, but when his omni-tool first started beeping that the calls were beginning to come in, she stepped back and let him answer.
"Still going at it, huh?" Joker remarked as soon as he saw the two of them so close together, "This is what I get for leaving you two alone."
"I think we can keep it PG long enough for a video call, Moreau," Echo snarked.
Almost immediately, a request arrived from Samara to join the call. "Echo, Garrus. It's good to see you both again. Is there a reason we all needed to call at the same time?"
"Well—" Garrus started. Before he could cobble together a suitable answer, Wrex, Tali, and Liara were all attempting to connect. "…this is gonna take a while."
Echo then thought of something. "Just keep conferencing in them in and invite me once they're all connected—I've got an idea." She didn't give him a chance to question this before she ran off down the hall. She came back about two minutes later just as Jack and Zaeed were calling. "That everyone?"
"Looks like," Garrus answered, sending the signal to her.
Once everyone was patched in, Echo transferred the call from her omni-tool to the projector, displaying all 14 lines in a grid on the wall.
"Wow," Garrus commented as he hung up his end, "that's way better."
"Yeah, I'm good," Echo agreed smugly.
Liara seemed to realize what Echo had done. "Ah, yes. I've had to split this signal across all the monitors in my 'lair'—as Jeff so quaintly puts it. Simplifies things, doesn't it?"
"Wait, you're splitting the signal?" Jack cut in, "Why can't we do that?! I'm stuck with my private terminal at the academy and I feel like running a call this big is gonna make the screen explode any second!"
"It don't think it works like that," Wrex commented, "Which is too bad." Then he turned his attention to Echo and Garrus. "Speaking of which, why are we all talking on here?"
"If you're about to say there's another war breaking out and you need help, I'm hanging up right now," Tali commented.
Echo smirked. "No, but I'm sure you'd be able to handle it…Admiral vas Normandy."
Tali laughed. "Yes, well, Chatika and I have had enough excitement for…for one…" Then she realized what Echo had just said.
Tali hadn't mentioned she was an admiral. And she definitely had never said what was the ship name she was still going by even while all the other would-be Pilgrims among the quarians were now adopting "vas Rannoch" as their title. There were only two ways Echo would know about Tali's title: if Garrus had come clean…or…
As they all slowly realized what was happening, Echo smiled. She remembered all of them like family. She felt like she was home.
Tali stared at her, unable to believe it, bursting with hope and elation at the thought of it. "…Shepard?"
Echo laughed, nodding. "Yeah. It's me. I'm back."
All 14 lines erupted with shock and astonishment and excitement and concern and a dozen other reactions that were impossible to discern past the noise of the rest. Echo stepped back, deciding it was probably wise to let them air out the initial reactions before she bothered to respond.
"How?!" Miranda asked once it quieted down, "We were under the impression the damage had settled into permanence."
"It might have, but…well, let's just say it's a bit hard to forget this crew forever."
"I…" Ashley said, "…I don't believe this. I—" She quickly started thinking up a way to prove this properly. "What'd I say to you the last time you saw me in the hospital?"
Echo thought that over for a second. "Before or after you quoted Henley at me?"
Proof. Ashley all but laughed as she realized this was real. They had their commander back.
"HA!" Grunt said, "I knew nothing could defeat you, Shepard!"
"Well, it was a long, hard fight," Echo shrugged with a smirk, "but I missed my tank baby."
Grunt responded with his signature laugh.
Echo almost responded in kind. "Especially that part."
There was about five minutes of verification and questioning before they had all confirmed what she told Garrus—she was fully recovered but everything after Harbinger's strike in London was lost for good. Jack did snap at Garrus about how they'd stayed back for three years for seemingly no reason, only for Echo to gleefully comment that she hadn't realized Jack cared so much, making the psychotic biotic withdraw to mutter something about some things she hadn't missed. They all were a bit distraught at the way things had gone, but they were happy enough with the way things had now turned out that they were willing to put those feelings aside long enough to appreciate Echo's recovery. They were family, after all.
"Uh…" Joker spoke up, "…speaking of happy reunions…" Ignoring the questioning glances that comment received, he reached over to pick up a small device and activate it. When he set it down beside him, it lit up with a holographic projection like a VI. Except…this one…looked familiar…
Echo froze at the sound of that voice. "…EDI?"
The eruption of shocked and delighted reactions that came forth now was a sharp contest to the one in response to Echo's news. Like Echo's recovery, this was good news they had all but lost hope for until recently. It clearly wasn't the same as it was before, but it was enough.
"Still working on the new body, but yeah, she's back up and running," Joker explained, "And she's following your lead, Commander. Selective amnesia and all."
"The last time I was able to back up my databanks to a reliable place," EDI explained, "was the night after Sanctuary. Jeff has had to explain to me the events that have taken place since."
Echo smiled. "I think we can help with that."
None of them had really had a chance to reminisce properly since the war ended. Though EDI didn't have a body with which to properly convey how she felt to see them all again (then again, she didn't have memories of not seeing them, but still), it was as if their group was the most whole it had been since the party on the Citadel. They spent almost 20 minutes talking and laughing and simply being a family before Kasumi finally said she needed to head out and the others realized they were needed elsewhere. One by one, they promised to contact the group more later and began to hang up.
But as they all started to disconnect, Echo quickly turned to one line in particular. "Uh, Joker, EDI, do you mind if I talk to you two a bit more? …alone?"
The two exchanged looks (or as close to that as they could get, what with EDI's current disembodied form) before agreeing, leaving their line open as the rest of the team said their farewells.
Once Joker and EDI were the only ones still on the call, though, Garrus turned to go.
Echo quickly moved to stop him. "I didn't mean you, too, Garrus. You can still—"
"No, you go ahead," Garrus shook his head, "There's, uh…something I have to take care of." Before she could argue again, he ducked out of the house.
Echo sighed almost as if in defeat before giving her focus solely to the call.
"Something to say, Shepard?" Joker asked.
"You seem distressed," EDI added.
Echo simply looked at the device currently housing the recovered code of the AI. Yet another thing the Reapers had taken from them. But she was smart enough to put the pieces together. She knew there was more to it. One reason Garrus had thought it best to keep those memories gone. "I just…I'm so sorry. To both of you. I'm still not clear on what all happened up there, but…whatever I did—"
"Shepard," EDI quickly interrupted, "I am again fully functioning. I believe the human term in this instance is 'no harm, no foul.'"
"Oh, there was plenty of harm."
"Echo. You did what we all agreed was necessary. We know you. Even if you had been fully aware of the consequences, there must have been no better options. The geth and I are restored now, and the Reapers remain permanently deactivated. No harm, no foul."
Echo smiled, though she was still clearly guilt-ridden over it all.
"Hey," Joker stepped back in, "she's right. It was either this or we all died. And I'm sure you would've known that Tali and the other quarians would be able to fix it all in time. And they did! So the human term in this instance would be 'all's well that ends well.'"
Echo smiled honestly now. Count on Joker for that.
"It is true," EDI continued, "Moreover, since Jeff and I are now considered war heroes for having served on the Normandy, we are being allowed to design my new body ourselves."
Echo scoffed. "Oh, that's gonna end well."
"Hey!" Joker retorted, "I can restrain myself! And she knows me well enough to bite back if I can't."
Echo smirked, turning her attention to EDI. "Be sure to call me for reinforcements if he gets too big a handful."
"I will keep this offer in mind, Shepard," EDI answered, her voice indicating she would be smirking as well if she currently had a body with which to do so.
Echo nodded. "What are friends for?"
"Uh," Joker quickly jumped back in, "about that. Look…don't be too hard on Garrus. He was just trying to do what he thought was best for you."
"Don't worry about it, Joker, we've already been through it." Judging by how she'd reacted to what she did remember, it was clear he had done the right thing. And it was hard to be upset with him once she remembered what they'd been through, once she had proof of how he felt about her, once she saw he wouldn't do anything that might risk losing her unless he thought it was the only way. Plus, it was hard to be upset with him specifically when the rest of the crew had just gone along with it. "I get it. And I appreciate what you all were trying to do. Besides, from what I pegged, you've already been hard enough on him for the both of us."
Joker shied back at that comment. "…yeah, well…I was a bit upset at the time." He said this with a tentative glance at the device currently housing EDI's repaired code.
Echo caught on well enough. "Yeah, I get that. …you two take care of each other, alright? If I'm gonna have a happy ending, you two more than deserve the same."
Joker smiled. "Thanks, Commander. You, too."
"We will remain in contact, Shepard," EDI added.
"Looking forward to it," Echo nodded, "…take care." With that, she hung up. She still regretted what happened, but it was nice to know they had recovered and didn't hold it against her. It was her crew that was why she fought so hard to win that war, and it was only worth it if her crew was happy in the end. Clearly, they were now.
Simply the thought of the turian made her heart sing with delight. She was sitting in the living room filled to the brim with happy memories when he returned to the house. She didn't even have the chance to question where he'd gone before he held out a flower. The same Palaven bloom he'd given the night of their "first date."
Echo scoffed even as she took the flower. "I think I've got enough of these—"
"This one is real," Garrus told her, "I made sure of it."
At this news, she handled the flower more carefully, looking it over. The fabrications were remarkably identical. But this one was special. She smiled as she breathed in the familiar scent. Then she realized why he must have gotten it for her. "…this is another apology gift, isn't it?" He noticeably neglected to answer. She sighed, giving him a decisive look. "Garrus, I already forgave you—"
"Don't," he shook his head, not willing to meet her eyes, "I don't deserve it. I took so much away from you—"
"You had no way of knowing what memories would come back or even if I could recover. You did what you thought was right to protect someone you love. I can't be certain I wouldn't have done the same for you."
That particular comment pushed aside his guilt with confusion long enough for him to think it over. If their roles had been reversed, if he had lost the memories of Omega and the obligations to his love to carry her through the dark times, and she had thought being around him would make it all come painfully rushing back, would she have walked away? Sacrificed the only person she'd ever truly loved if she thought there was even the slightest chance he could find some peace without her? He knew that chance wasn't true, that all his best memories were with her even if the worst ones followed suit, and she had lost more than enough in her life without losing what they had. But she was a hero. She would've done it for him.
Echo seemed to follow his thoughts. She saw the moment he realized she was right. The moment he resolved that the past was in the past and that his place now was to be there for her. She was about to offer an assuring smile and take his hand. But then she noticed she could feel cool metal between her fingers. She looked down at the flower in her hand, inspecting it closer.
There was a gold ring resting over the leaves of the stem, a star-shaped sapphire embedded in it.
Echo pried the ring from the flower in shock. "Garrus, did you—"
He shied away at first, but he knew what this meant. He was committed now. Time to admit it. "I wanted to ask you during the war. I was going to the night before we hit Cerberus, but…it just didn't seem like the right time."
She was genuinely shocked for the first time in…well, ever. Then his meaning sunk in. "Wait, you…you've been holding onto this for three years?"
He didn't want to dive into how he knew he'd never love anyone else like he'd love her, how this was the one thing he had as evidence of what they'd had and how they had hope of becoming more when the war was over, how much he'd regretted not asking while he had the chance even if it didn't matter afterwards. Instead, his answer came in the simple form of a sheepish nod.
If there remained some small part of her that resented his actions for those three years, it was quelled now. Here was the proof that he was only ever thinking of her. He was seriously asking her to marry him. She had never dreamed anyone would care about her enough to ask this, let alone that she would want to be tied to someone this way. And he had gone to all the trouble of getting familiar with human tradition for the proposal in the middle of a war because he had that much faith in their victory and their love. And now… "This is…"
He didn't need to hear the words she couldn't find. Still, his worries were so great he had almost hesitated and missed his chance yet again. Even with his resolution to redeem his mistakes from their original romance, this was a point of no return. "I just…couldn't imagine a life without you. Trying to live without you later was the most painful thing I've ever gone through—and you know I've gone through a lot. But I also knew it was a lot to ask of you. After all, from what I read, you have to accept, and I know—"
Nothing could compare to the shock and jubilation that coursed through him at those words. "…you do?"
She smiled almost tearfully as she nodded with absolute certainty. He was right that this was a lot to ask of her. But that she had never known anything in her life as surely as she knew that she never wanted to spend another day without him. "I do." So she held out the flower and the ring.
Catching her meaning, he smiled and slid the flower into position over her left ear, where she had been placing the fabricated one all those times before she recovered. Then he slid the ring into position on her left hand. As he did so, his eyes found hers. There was so much he wanted to say and do in this moment, but there was something about seeing her this way that froze him in place.
So she closed the distance for him, kissing him in a way that couldn't be denied. She was still his, after all, just as he was always hers. She was still the Echo that he met at the transit station, the one that kissed him on the cliffs and in a field of simulated fireflies. But she was also the Shepard that fell for him despite annihilation surrounding them, even though that Shepard truly did die at the Catalyst. She was an in-between.
She was herself.
With this revelation, he kept her as close as he could. He had changed, too, but how he felt about her never could. He needed her in a way no one could ever understand. Even as she pulled away from the initial kiss, he held her close, kissing her face as she was so fond of doing to his scars, his heart following the beat of hers as he had once followed her in battle.
Echo smiled as she clung to him, reveling in his every touch. "What you asked me that night? My favorite memory?" As he drew back to watch her, awaiting the answer, she nuzzled softly against him, her silver blue eyes alight with belonging. "Every single second I've spent with you."
They stayed in each other's arms for so long that time could not measure it, as they had resolved to stay for the rest of their lives. Whatever happened now, they would face it together. Time and memory had not separated them, at least not forever, and nothing that followed would be able to change what they knew. They were meant to be together. They had the kind of love that nothing could come between.
The kind of love that echoed through eternity.
Yay, it's done! I hope you all enjoyed it. Thank you for reading!