Shepard is barely hanging onto Garrus as his weight pulls him down. He's looking up at her, his blue eyes intense as he slips away bit by bit. Their metal gloves are slick against each other, providing too little purchase to hold him for much longer.
A black and orange gloved hand reaches past her to grip Garrus' wrist. Zaeed grunts as he pulls, adding his other hand to aid their efforts. Shepard braces her feet on the wobbling platform and leans back, using her whole body weight as she pulls as hard as she can.
Between them they pull the fully armoured turian slowly upwards, allowing Garrus to hook his free arm on the rim. A few strenuous moments later and all three of them are lying in a heap, panting from their efforts.
"Commander? Commander? Do you copy?" Joker's worried voice crackles over her intercom.
"I'm here," she assesses the two men lying with her. "We're fine. Did the ground team make it?"
There's a moments silence before Joker replies. "The... uh... survivors are on board, we're just waiting for your team."
"We're incoming," she pushes herself to her feet, checking her armour and weapons without thinking. Zaeed and Garrus are also standing, the latter limping slightly.
"Shepard," the bounty hunter's deep voice growls her name. "More of those damned swarms."
He's pointing deeper into the ship, past the remains of the human-reaper supports. A cloud of insects swirl in the distance, moving like an enormous flock of birds as they shift and circle.
"Let's move people," she yells as she starts to run. Her armour is heavy, her limbs slow to respond as they head along the rickety platforms back towards the Normandy.
She's running, her two men clearing the collectors ahead of them, when it hits her - a voice that slips into her mind as a cold mist. She recognises it, the reaper Harbinger, its voice crawling through her thoughts, tendrils spreading into her consciousness.
Human, you've changed nothing.
Her step doesn't falter, keeping pace with the two soldiers ahead. More collectors appear from side rooms, or float down from above, but the intensity of the men's gunfire keeps their passage clear.
Your species has the attention of those infinitely your greater.
A collector shoots at Garrus, the beam weapon scorching along his back. Shepard watches his shield flicker and fail, and she raises a palm and focuses her power, reaving the alien to suck its health into herself.
That which you know as 'reapers' are your salvation through destruction.
An explosion rocks the ground, sending Garrus stumbling to his knees. Zaeed stops, one hand still aiming his assault rifle as he hauls the turian to his feet.
The Normandy is in sight now, hovering at the far end of the path. The airlock hisses open, Joker hanging onto the doorframe above him and shooting wildly at the collectors behind them. His gunfire sprays over their heads in all directions, but it causes their pursuers to pause.
Another explosion rocks the station, debris falling from the ceiling; Shepard stumbles as her boot clips a fallen rock. Zaeed has reached the ship, jumping the gap with ease. He turns, a hand outstretched to Garrus, but even with his injured leg, the distance is easy for the long-limbed turian to cross.
The station shakes again, another detonation from deep within. Shepard staggers, watching in horror as a beam falls from the ceiling, clipping away the edge of the path. It's too late to change her course, leaving her only one option, so she gathers her energy and leaps, arms and legs wind-milling as she dives towards the ship. It's so familiar, looking at Garrus, the open doorway and that feeling of failure as she falls - so close, but not close enough...
"Shepard!" Garrus throws himself forward, both arms stretched out towards her as he dives out of the doorway. His hands grasp her wrists, pulling her upwards. As he hauls her into the ship, she sees Thane and Grunt holding onto the turian's legs, keeping him in place.
He pulls her inside, wrapping his arms around her as Zaeed slams the airlock shut. She barely feels the Normandy move, but she's aware that Thane is barking orders to Joker.
"It was touch and go for a second," Garrus murmurs into her hair. "You caught me back there, so we were even. Now, with that save, I'm still one up on the saving scoreboard."
She can't help it, she almost sobs as she laughs, her face nestled against his soft throat. Around her she hears the other crew members moving, Grunt helping Zaeed up, Thane examining Garrus' leg, but she stays still, her racing heart finally slowing as she breathes his scent deep. She's trembling as the adrenaline wears off, barely able to lift her arms to reciprocate his caresses.
They did it – the impossible. They went through the omega 4 relay, destroyed the collectors' ship and station - and they survived.
Shepard can't help the smile on her face, even as she walks out of the comm. room through her badly damaged ship. Garrus follows beside her, his pleasure also evident.
"I didn't expect that," Garrus murmurs.
"What? The Illusive Man bringing up money again, or me ditching him and Cerberus?" She grins at him. "Damn that felt good. I've wanted to flip the finger at that man since he first spoke. Arrogant prick."
Garrus shakes his head, mandibles held wide. "Glad to hear you enjoyed it."
Ducking under some sparking wires, she nods to Grunt as he drags a damaged beam behind him. There's extensive damage all over the ship, with all mobile crewmembers working on repairs. The Normandy is limping towards the Citadel, but it'll take a while to get there.
"Shepard," Grunt turns to face her. "That was a fight worthy of a krogan. I stood on a pile of our enemies while they attacked. I kept my clan safe and I was blooded." He proudly shows off a healed scar on his cheek. "My only question is, what do we fight next?"
"How about you and Garrus spar?" Shepard eyes the turian beside her, watching his mandibles quiver. "He nearly always beat Wrex."
"Shepard," Garrus shakes his head. "I don't know about fighting Grunt. He's the height of krogan genetics, I don't think it's a good idea..."
"Good, it is agreed. Once this menial work is completed, we will meet in the cargo bay," Grunt nods once before lumbering away, pulling the damaged slab of metal behind him.
"You," Shepard pokes Garrus in the chest, "are a con artist. He doesn't have a chance."
Garrus still has a smug grin on his face as they reach the pilot's chair. Joker hears their approach and spins around; he looks tired, shadows under his eyes, and he's favouring his right arm, but he's smiling at them.
"The happy couple. Good to see the collectors didn't interrupt the wedding plans."
Shepard laughs, slapping the arm of his chair gently. "Just postponed. I wouldn't miss you in a tuxedo for the world." She hears Garrus huff beside her as she catches Joker's eye, causing both humans to burst into laughter.
The room is lit with a soft blue glow as EDI pops out of her terminal. "Shepard, I do not have a wedding planned in your calendar. Have you neglected to...?"
"Just ignore the humans, EDI," Garrus drawls. "You'll find that anything descended from a monkey has a terrible sense of humour."
"Commander!" Joker looks incensed. "The monkey crack I can stand, coming from your pet budgie, but saying my sense of humour is terrible? I spend days working on my gags."
"Is that why they're so out of date by the time you use them?" Garrus grins at the pilot.
Shepard shakes her head, walking away as Joker tries to explain to EDI what makes a good gag, and why nothing Garrus ever says could be misconstrued as funny.
"They get on better since she's had her restraints removed," Shepard says. "I can see why Mordin asked if the rumours were true."
"Rumours? Do I even want to know?" Garrus hits the elevator call button.
They enter the lift as she replies. "Not if it's anything like the advice booklets Mordin forwarded to me, no."
Garrus stares at her, his mouth open, and she can't help but laugh. "I'm guessing you know about those?" She asks.
"Yes, well, uh," Garrus rubs the back of his neck, his gaze flickering anywhere but her face. "I... damn that horny salarian."
They exit to the crew deck, moving directly to the medbay. Shepard nods to Thane as they pass; he's sitting talking to Kelly, one hand on her back. The medbay itself is filled to bursting, including Miranda lying off to one side, a datapad in hand while Jacob scurries around helping her co-ordinate repairs.
At the back of the room, Shepard recognises Hawthorne as he sobs, Crewman Goldstein holding him as he calls out one name, over and over. Shepard's smile fades; the one crew member she'd failed to rescue. Gabby. For a moment, Shepard is frozen, thinking of the engineers face, the fear in her eyes as she dissolves, her screaming growing weaker…
"Shepard!" Jacob calls out. "Got a minute?"
Shepard nods to the crewman nearest to her, the one with the relative on Horizon, moving towards Jacob and her XO. She hears Garrus stopping to talk to some of the other patients and is grateful to him.
"Jacob, Miranda. How are you doing?" She nods to them.
"Heard about the Illusive Man from Joker. Hell of a way to quit." Jacob crows, a huge grin on his face.
"It was the right thing to do. I took your advice, looked into the background of Cerberus. Spoke to Jacob." Miranda glances up at the man at her side. "Remember when you asked what I'd do if the Illusive Man countermanded your orders? I hope you know that I'm with you Shepard, all the way."
Shepard can't help but smile at the enthusiasm on their faces. "Good to hear. I'm glad we're on the same page." She squeezes Miranda's shoulder. "Once we're patched up, we can drop by Oriana if you like."
"Very much Shepard," Miranda nods. "Thank you."
Shepard excuses herself, making her way over to Doctor Chakwas. The older woman is sitting in her chair, peering at a chart on her terminal screen.
"Chakwas, how are you holding up?" Shepard drops into the chair next to her old friend, and leans forward, her elbows resting on her knees and her chin supported on her hands.
"Still shaken from the kidnapping. My history teacher told me all those alien abductions stories were faked - little did she know." Chakwas tries to smile, but Shepard can see the pain in her eyes. "If you hadn't come so quickly..." Chakwas blinks, tears welling up. "Thank you commander."
"I didn't save everyone," Shepard murmurs, looking across the room to Crewman Hawthorne.
"Don't blame yourself, Shepard. Joker told me how quickly you came for us. Both of you, you're the most true friends I've ever had."
Chakwas turns and wraps her arms around Shepard's shoulders. For a second she almost freezes, before she lifts her hands and rubs them over her friend's back.
"I'm glad you're still with us, doc," Shepard whispers. "Not sure how much fun picking on Joker would be without you around."
"Oh don't you worry, Shepard," Chakwas says as she leans back in her chair. "I'll be around for a long time now. Someone has to patch you up every time your man bites a hole through your shoulder."
Shepard laughs, turning her head to look at Garrus. He's squatting nearby, balancing on his spurs to talk to an injured crewman on a makeshift bed. The burns on the human's face make it hard for her to identify him, but he's laughing and joking with the turian, obviously thrilled to get the attention of someone on the commander's core team.
She pats Chakwas' shoulder softly before stepping out to the mess hall. It's pretty quiet, most of the debris has been cleared and the only occupants of the floor are Thane and Kelly. She hesitates for a moment, but Thane indicates that she join them with an inclination of his head.
Shepard walks over, rubbing a hand across Kelly's shoulders. The young yeoman is subdued, her eyes red, but she's not crying.
"Commander," Thane tilts his head, studying her face. "Miss Chambers was just telling me about her experiences on the collector station. She believes that sharing information is a way for the mind to heal."
"You're a dear friend, Thane," Kelly pats his knee. "Commander, I'm so thankful you came for us."
"I don't like to leave anyone behind Kelly. You might not all be part of the ground team, but you're my crew." Shepard squeezes the girls shoulder and nods to Thane. "I'm glad you have each other. Tell me if you need anything."
"Thank you Siha," Thane glances behind her at the same time as she recognises the sound of Garrus' footsteps. "Officer Vakarian."
"I never thanked you for helping me catch Shepard back there," Garrus rumbles to the drell. "I owe you."
"No thanks are needed. You are my friends. It is many years since I have had the opportunity to call anyone this." Thane's full lips curl into a smile. "Also, you did not rip off my face for my slip in calling Shepard 'Siha'."
"Was that a joke?" Garrus shakes his head, laughing softly. "Never knew you had it in you, Krios."
"I'm learning." Thane drops his eyes to direct his smile at Kelly.
Shepard moves on, pausing to help a younger Cerberus crewman to shift a broken metal panel. Garrus leans past her and lifts it with one hand, moving it as if it weighs nothing.
"Loverboy showing off the muscles for his woman, eh?" Zaeed is in the doorway, cigar clamped between his teeth, his hands full of engineering parts.
"I don't know, I think you did a pretty good job of that yourself on the station." Shepard nods to the bounty hunter. "Appreciate it."
"Not much worse than crying women." Zaeed sniffs as he passes her. "Didn't want my sleep disturbed."
"Riiight," Garrus drawls as he rejoins them. "And here's me thinking it was because we hadn't done that sniping competition I challenged you to."
"Hah, goddamned cheek. That's a sure thing anyway, you've got no hope," Zaeed's dry laugh echoes around the corridor. "Any time you're ready, loverboy."
The elevator takes them down a deck, the damage extensive on the engineering floor. The remains of the Oculus device that attacked the Normandy has been stored in the cargo bay for examination later. Right now there are holes ripped through the hull, shimmering blue shields the only barrier between life and death, and their repair takes priority.
Tali is lying half inside the engine core with Legion standing beside her legs, occasionally handing her tools.
"Shepard-commander. Officer Vakarian." Legion nods his head to them, his eyeflaps moving into his approximation of a frown. "Interesting choice. Your species was offered everything the geth aspire to – true unity. Understanding. Transcendence. You rejected it."
Shepard nods, crossing her arms as she looks at the geth. "The price was too high, Legion."
"You are more alike than we realised. This gives us much to consider." Legion looks down as Tali kicks his foot and holds up a hand, waving a tool. He swaps it for another tool, indistinguishable from the first to Shepard's eyes, before straightening again.
"Shepard?" Tali's soft voice reverberates through her speakers. "Legion told me what you did for his people. How the heretics have rejoined the geth on my homeworld."
"I'm sorry Tali. I know it might make getting home harder, but I couldn't wipe them out."
"I do understand." Tali sighs. "I… I need time to think. Perhaps it's for the best. Maybe it will stop the warmongers among my people, I don't know."
"I hope so," Garrus rumbles. "Because we just fought the collectors, the minions of the reapers and look at the state of the ship. I hate to think what the reapers themselves will be like. We're going to need everyone we can get."
"I guess you're right," Tali shifts under the panel, her curved legs kicking as she moves. "Thanks Shepard."
"Anytime, Tali. Catch you later." Shepard moves to the stairs down, pausing when Garrus places a hand on her shoulder. They stop, listening.
It sounds like Donnelly is down in the depths of engineering where Jack usually lurks alone, talking.
"I can't believe Gabby is gone. We've been friends for so long." The man's Scottish burr has increased, his agitation deepening his accent.
"You said she didn't give up." Jack says. "That she fought to the end."
"I can still hear her coughs. Each one weaker than the last. But, those pods, I couldn't get out…"
Shepard backs away slowly, trying not to disturb them as she retreats with Garrus to the elevator. Head back, eyes closed, Shepard feels the lift moving up a floor. Garrus pulls on her arm, guiding her to the starboard observatory, one hand stroking her arm as they move.
"Shepard, it's all right, you…"
Garrus stops speaking as the doors slide open. Mordin and Samara are sitting in front of the wide window, Mordin on a couch, Samara floating beside him, leaning in close to talk. The salarian jumps, startled by the door. Samara recovers first, smiling and nodding her head. Mordin blinks rapidly before dropping his gaze to the floor.
"You did the right thing, commander." Samara says, her eyes glowing with biotic power. "The Illusive Man may think that he has the wisdom to utilise the base, but he does not. No more than he had the wisdom to realise what he restored by bringing you back to us."
"Thank you Samara," Shepard knows better than to question how the enigmatic asari knows what she's just done. "I just wanted to check in, see how you guys were holding up."
"Good, commander." Mordin perks up, holding up a datapad. "EDI provided much interesting data. Collating, sorting. Must spend time researching collectors. Perhaps reapers..."
Samara places a hand over Mordin's, her expression amused. "Once you have rested, remember? A rested soul is a contented soul."
"Ah, yes. Meditation. Samara," the salarian coos, looking at the beautiful justicar before he pauses and clears his throat. "Slowing of thoughts. No sensory input. Intriguing."
"And you, commander? You look… disturbed." Samara's keen gaze bores into Shepard.
"I…" She glances at Garrus, then the floor. "I'm fine thanks Samara. Just need to speak to a few crewmen about what happened. About Gabby."
"Would you like me to accompany you, commander? I have experience in talking to the grieving, I offer my help."
"No, that's…" The image of Hawthorne's face flashes into her mind, the sound of Donnelly's sobs. She takes a deep breath and straightens her shoulders. "Yes, thank you Samara. I appreciate your offer."
As Samara whispers to Mordin, excusing herself, Garrus pulls Shepard close. He slides a hand around the back of her neck, dropping his forehead down to hers. He feels her cool skin beneath his hands, the scent of her hair in his nostrils. They stand like that for a moment, eyes closed, breathing synchronised, before he drops his hands and widens his mandibles at her.
"See you soon Shepard - I'll go help out with the cleanup work. Muscles like these are too good to waste, apparently," he rumbles to her, flexing an arm.
"Thank you, Garrus," her smile is radiant. Something he'll never get tired of.
He watches Shepard follow the justicar out of the room, beautiful rounded hips swaying as she walks, all signs of battle fatigue gone.
"Officer Vakarian," Mordin interrupts his thoughts.
Garrus waits a moment more, watching the last sight of her before the doors close. With a satisfied sigh, he turns to face the salarian. "Mordin," he nods to the doctor.
"Noted gesture. Forehead to forehead. Interesting fact. Sign of turian life bond." Mordin presses one thin finger to his chin as he speaks. "Commander Shepard, understands meaning of gesture? Knows turians mate for life?"
Garrus shakes his head, a low growl in his chest. "I see no reason to burden her with that knowledge. She'll stay with me for as long as she needs me. That's enough."
"Ah… Understand concept. Noble sacrifice." Mordin nods rapidly, a small smile on his lips. "Very… romantic."
"Hey, keep it down doc," Garrus glances over his shoulder to the doorway. "I have a badass reputation to uphold."
I'll be starting a new story soon, one offs that happened in this story that we never had time to cover – How drunk did Tali get and what did Kal do? What war stories did Garrus and Zaeed share? How did Kaidan & Dr Michel's date go?
If there are any other scenes you'd like to know more about, you know the drill, tell me in your review & I'll add it to the ever growing list :) If you'd like to read it, keep an eye out for 'Deleted Scenes' – or put me on author alert. *Coming soon*
Major kudos to my patient beta Zephyr5* who dealt with at least a hundred mistakes daily & finally – thanks to you guys for reading the whole thing & giving me so much feedback:) You rock.
*a hardened Shenko who wouldn't let Garrus punch Kaidan. Thank goodness for the planned 'Deleted Scene' Kaidan & Garrus sparring match…