Disclaimer: BioWare owns Mass Effect or Garrus Vakarian. Kaliya Shepard, however, is my PC.
A/N: This fic was published without a beta, since it's just a series of very short vignettes spanning Garrus Vakarian and Kaliya Shepard's relationship up until the end of ME2. If anyone has suggestions/corrections, please feel free to offer constructive criticism!
His first, foolish thought upon seeing Commander Kaliya Shepard was that she looked taller in the vids. A lot taller, and a little bit older. Then his brain caught up to his eyes and registered the N7 armor, the guns, the stance. She carried herself without the obvious, almost swaggering presence of most human soldiers. Instead, there was a calm confidence to her, an utter lack of fear.
She was courteous to him, the consummate professional. Garrus made his introductions quickly, sizing her up as he did so, taking note of the slender build, dark hair, pale skin, and brilliant blue eyes--blue eyes sizing him up point for point in return. Still, he found it hard to reconcile the stoic, rifle-toting Commander Shepard from the vids with this pale young woman. Could this really be the Shepard?
But he didn't have long to dwell on it. One apologetic nod later, and she was gone.
For now, at least. Garrus put her from his mind as he left to follow up on his last lead. It was a small Citadel--chances were he'd bump into her again.
Garrus burst from behind the wall and shot the lead merc right between the eyes. He could hear Shepard's team drawing their weapons and braced himself for a bloody firefight.
But it never came. He watched in astonishment as Shepard stepped out in front of her squad, then threw a glowing mass effect field that sent all four men flying into the air like so many rag dolls, hitting the ceiling and walls with nasty cracks. Their bodies orbited around the singularity for a few more seconds like grotesque planets before dropping with oddly muffled thuds. Shepard turned to look at him, cool and calm as though she'd done nothing more exciting than water a plant.
"Perfect timing, Shepard. Gave me a clear shot at that bastard." He kept his voice even, suppressing the awe (and flicker of fear) that threatened to creep into his words.
The young commander's blue gaze never flickered, and he felt distinctly like he was being X-rayed. "You took him down clean," she replied with professional admiration, ignoring her lieutenant's disapproving air.
"Sometimes you get lucky."
He witnessed history that day. The first human Spectre. It wasn't that she didn't deserve it, but something seemed...different about her as she was inducted, her eyes unfocused, her face far away. Like she was looking into her past, back along the path that had led her to being among the best in the galaxy...and found herself wanting.
But then the brief ceremony was over, and the moment passed, thought he knew he hadn't imagined it. He watched her closely, curious. She had herself under such careful control, control that had barely slipped for a moment when the Council inducted her.
"Congratulations, Commander Shepard," he said politely as they made their way back to the Normandy.
She smiled a little, the first time he'd seen her do so. "That was the easy part," she said. "But thank you, Officer Vakarian."
He coughed a little at being addressed so formally. "Technically, I'm not with C-Sec any more if I'm running around with a Spectre. So please--just Garrus."
He wasn't made to feel unwelcome by the Alliance soldiers. Far from it, in fact--Shepard had made it very clear to her entire crew, alien or human, that he, Wrex, and Tali were to be treated with the utmost respect. Everyone answered to her, regardless of race or prior affiliations, and she ran her ship tight and smooth.
It didn't change the fact that Normandy was an Alliance vessel, with mostly human crew. But slowly, imperceptibly, it began to change how he saw her and the others. She had the most infuriating habit of forcing people who wouldn't otherwise cross paths to work together. Himself and Wrex. Tali and Williams.
And little by little, it was starting to work. Williams no longer looked like she'd swallowed broken glass whenever she was stuck working with him on the Mako. Liara had stopped hiding behind the nearest crew member when Wrex turned up. Everyone, even Pressley, was impressed with Tali.
And as for himself, he had stopped seeing Commander Shepard as a human, as Alliance. She was just...Shepard in his eyes.
Sometimes, he just wanted to hit her.
So that wasn't quite it. He just found it maddening that she never seemed to snap, never once despite everything that's happened. In the face of extremists and idiot reporters, the Council and the Alliance, even the lowliest scum of the galaxy like Saleon, she never broke her rules.
Not even when she saw the scientist held responsible for her suffering on Akuze, though she came within a knife's edge. For a second, Garrus had an inkling of what it might be like to be on the receiving end of her rage. She was paper-white, shaking from head to toe with fury, finger on the trigger of her gun. And then she just closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths before arresting him and staring down Toombs. Her voice was still trembling with anger as she radioed Joker, large blue eyes glassy with furious tears.
That was the first time it really hit him that she was just like everyone else, with her own fears and ghosts and passions--and he found himself at a complete loss for words.
Frightened. Alone. Vulnerable.
He never would have associated those words with Kaliya Shepard when he first met her, but the sight of her slumped against the weapons lockers, head in her hands, shattered what remained of those illusions. She didn't run when he came to stand beside her, didn't pull away when he placed a hand on her shoulder despite her startled flinch.
He couldn't think of anything to say. Maybe one of the human crew could...but he was the only one here. "We'll find another way," he said fiercely. "You always do."
Kaliya looked up at him with the ghost of smile. "You have an awful lot of faith in me, Garrus," she said quietly.
"It's not faith, Shepard. Not when I see you do the impossible again and again. That's just..." He struggled to find the appropriate word for a moment. "That's trust."
A subtle blur of emotions danced across her face, too quickly for him to follow. But he understood the tentative touch of her hand on his, knew why she swallowed hard when he gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze.
Big goddamn heroes.
That was the phrase Wrex had used to describe them in the flurry of activity and attention after they repelled Sovereign's attack. Garrus wasn't entirely sure he deserved it, but he was absolutely positive Shepard did. He dropped by the medbay of the Normandy every day despite her insistence that he go about his own business as usual, just to check up on her.
Hard to believe that the pale, slender young woman walking out of the Council chambers with still the slightest limp was the savior of the galaxy. But he'd seen stranger things before. There was a quiet, subtle strength to her, an unrelenting determination to survive and thrive in the darkest of times. And he knew that without her, none of this would have been possible.
Within a week, her face was everywhere on the Citadel. There were medals and accolades, memorials and speeches. She clearly disliked all the attention, but Garrus couldn't deny that she looked every inch the heroine who'd saved them all. And she really was--in spite of her very mortal flaws, or perhaps because of them.
Garrus was surprised when she dropped by C-Sec the day he was closing up his old records, but certainly gratified. She was on her way to the Normandy for her first mission since Sovereign. "There's still a Reaper fleet out there," she said with a bite of irritation. "But they have me on cleanup with the geth."
"Baby steps, Shepard," he teased. "Don't want anything happening to the Hero of the Citadel."
She groaned and made a face at him. "I hate that title. Now everyone's kissing up because I've suddenly become all—I don't know--interesting or something."
"I don't know about that," he said without thinking. "I've always found you interesting."
Her eyes widened, and her mouth quirked into a smile, then a full-on laugh. Garrus blinked at her, confused, before the implications of what he'd said hit him. "That's not what I meant, Commander! Not that I wouldn't think that you're interesting--or that I don't--but I didn't mean to imply anything--"
A hand on his shoulder thankfully stopped his babbling. "Stop talking before you hurt yourself, Garrus," she said, still chuckling at him. He managed the turian equivalent of a sheepish grin and took the moment to memorize her laughter, her smile. She glanced up at the clock and sighed. "Listen, I'm running a little late. I'll talk to you about Spectre training when I get back."
"Of course, Commander." It was the last thing he ever said to her, and he didn't even look up to see her go.
Two years he'd lived with his grief, lived with the shadow of her death hanging over him. And now, it was time to join her. He knew she didn't believe in an afterlife and he wasn't sure he did either, but he would have liked one last chance to see her.
He didn't even have a picture of her. She only existed as a ghost in his memories, another specter haunting him, if he wanted to be poetic in his last hours. He could feel himself weakening as the seconds wore on, but he had to go down fighting. Shepard had done no less. He'd do her proud, one last time.
Bang. One more freelancer down. He let his exhausted mind drift, remembering that rare smile like a faded photograph. Bang. Black hair stark against pale skin. Bang. Brilliant blue eyes...
Blue eyes staring up at him through the scope of his rifle. Blue eyes the color of a burning eezo core. Disbelief, then delirium, then a kind of terrified elation flooded through him. It couldn't be anyone but her, the ghost that had haunted him for two years made flesh.
"Garrus! Goddamn you, Garrus Vakarian, don't die on me!"
It was her, her frantically grasping hands and the anguish in her unguarded voice, that he clung to in the medbay. He had to live. As long as she was alive. Hers was the voice that buoyed him, hers the face he sought out the moment Dr. Chakwas had turned her back on him.
The relief on her face upon seeing him was better than any anesthetic. "No one would give me a mirror," he grumbled. "How bad is it?"
She smiled broadly at him, the very same smile he'd memorized two years ago. "I wouldn't worry," she said. "Slap some face paint on there, and no one will even notice."
He started laughing, then winced as a jolt of pain ran along his mandible. So it wasn't exactly like old times, but he had her back from the beyond, and she'd saved him from certain death. At this point, he was willing to believe anything was possible.
At the time, Garrus had thought their squad going after Saren was rather ragtag. In hindsight, his old compatriots seemed like some of the sanest people in the galaxy compared to the...colorful personalities Shepard was collecting now.
Two die-hard Cerberus agents. A psychopathic biotic. A dying drell assassin. A krogan halfway between a child and a killing machine. And the list was growing with every mission they went on, every planet they visited. He couldn't help but worry for her...at first, anyway.
But Miranda and the Illusive Man had been right about her, no matter how often she'd found herself at odds with Cerberus in the past. There was something about her that compelled people to trust and follow her. He knew a lot of her initial rapport with people had to do with her ability to pretend, but there was much more to it than that.
Even after all she'd been through, despite every temptation, she held to her moral code, a moral code measured in results, one that saved so many more lives than it took. She was truly incorruptible, and that was why they followed her through hell.
A very small, very dark part of him had wanted to hit her when she insisted on arresting Saleon. That same splinter of shadowy hate wanted to shoot her as she stood between him and his revenge. But he didn't, and when she finally stepped aside, he didn't have it in him to pull the trigger.
He had a jumble of words for her, but they all evaporated when he saw the look in her eyes. No reproach or pity...just understanding. The kind of understanding born only of bitter personal experience. The only words he could manage were, "It's so much easier to see things in black and white. Grey...I don't know what to do with grey." He chuckled bitterly and added, "You seem to handle it so easily, Shepard."
She gave him a sad smile. "Everyone deals with it differently. My way won't necessarily work for you."
"Doesn't mean I couldn't use some help. As you've seen firsthand...twice."
She took both of his gauntleted hands in hers and gave them a small squeeze. "That's what I'm here for. And don't be too hard on yourself." He followed her back to the shuttle in silence. He needed to think, but once again, she had pointed him down a different path for good or ill. And he knew he'd done the same for her.
They hadn't really been equals when they first worked together to bring down Saren. She wasn't exactly his mentor, but she'd definitely been a step or two above him. And his mentality had been one of learning from her.
Now, he fought beside her, step for step, shot for shot. When she stumbled, his was the first hand to lend aid. When he called for backup, she was there in the blink of an eye. They fell into a natural rhythm, one so easy and smooth that he didn't really think anything of it when Yeoman Chambers pointed out that he accompanied her on every mission. "Joined at the hip," she'd called them, before laughing and refusing to go into further detail.
What a strange human idiom. He remembered acutely what it was like not having her around, but now that she was back, and he was entirely focused on the mission, it felt both more and less like the old days. More because they were both so much more at ease, despite being aboard a Cerberus vessel.
Less because there was something very different, something deeper he was almost too frightened to examine.
The subtle, brushing touch of her forehead on his...his eyes shut momentarily, and he drew a deep, shuddering breath. He reached up to touch her face, and felt her intercept his hand to remove his gloves. She lowered her mouth to his palm, placing a hesitant kiss in the center of his hand. He could feel her lips trembling a little.
She was just as nervous, just as frightened and unsure as he was.
He wasn't really sure whether that made it better or worse. At least they were on the same page. He ran his bare hands through her hair, curiosity briefly overpowering his nerves. He didn't know what he'd expected, but the stuff was unlike anything he'd ever felt. Thick and heavy, but also soft and flowing like fabric, like water. He rubbed it against his cheek, fascinated, and heard a nervous chuckle from her.
There was a moment's pause with his hands on the belt of her long white bathrobe. He held her eyes, asking if she really was crazy enough to want this. The tremulous, fearful hope in her voice was unlike anything he'd ever heard as she looked up at him and whispered his name.
For a moment, it looked like she might not make it. Garrus's heart seized as her hands barely caught the bottom of the door. He rushed over and hauled her in, the two of them collapsing back onto the ground.
"Didn't think I was going to leave you hanging, did you?" he quipped.
She groaned. "Garrus, that was an awful pun." As the airlock door slid shut, she turned to look up at Joker. Garrus knew she didn't want to ask, but she had to. "How many, Joker?"
Her pilot gave her a bizarre look. "What are you talking about, Commander? Everyone made it back on board."
She gaped up at him for what seemed like an eternity. "Everyone?" she whispered. Joker grinned and nodded before heading back up to the cockpit." Everyone made it," she said, sounding stunned. "Looks like some of my luck rubbed off on you."
Garrus pressed his cheek against hers. "I wouldn't call it just luck, Commander."
She lay curled up against him, one arm carelessly thrown across his chest. He looked down at her peaceful, sleeping face, idly twisting strands of her hair in his fingers.
He could see the faintest outlines of scars from Cerberus's Lazarus project. The premature lines that worried her thin, pale hands. The rapidly fading marks along her back from their first nights together. The terrible marks on her body from her childhood on Earth conspicuous only by their absence.
Tonight, she slept without dreams, a rare luxury for her. The myriad masks she wore, roles she played, burdens she carried...they all fell away to this. A beautiful woman, flesh and blood, young and ancient, strong and fragile, breathing softly in his arms.
Tonight, even if only for a few fleeting hours, she was just Kaliya. It was the only thing he could give her, and it was enough.