You Have to Embrace it

Garrus Vakarian stands alone.

With the bright glow of the sun above him, and the vibrant green of the park around him, it would be so easy to forget. He lets his eyes fall closed and his mind travel back to a time before the Reapers. He sees himself at his desk at C-Sec, drifting through a mountain of reports and daydreaming of a vacation on Palaven. He falls back further, to his first days at military academy. He sees himself as a cocky green cadet running laps around the training grounds. He wonders how much he would trade to be young and free and foolish once more.

With a shake, he draws himself back to the present. There is no point dwelling on those days long past, remembering the time before they were all tainted. The best they can do now is learn to live with the scars.

It has been a year - one Earth year - since the end of the Reaper Invasion. And, despite the machines' best efforts, life goes on - for some, at least. As the cities are cleared of rubble and the Relays slowly pieced back together, new life begins to emerge from the ashes. Homes and neighbourhoods are rebuilt. Gardens are planted. Children are born.

In slow, shaking steps, the galaxy is healing.

As a tribute to those lost in the war, the fallen's names are engraved in stone and concrete and steel. Not sorted by rank or race or faction or order, the names of the dead, military and civilian, are preserved across the galaxy upon a thousand new monuments. They are carved into the walls of the new Asari Legislature on Thessia, spiral up the pillars of the rebuilt Temple Palaven, and adorn the archways of the Sur'kesh Memorial University. They even bless the new maternity wards in Tuchanka. And yes, of course, they are here, along the walls, the paths, the benches and the monuments of this tranquil memorial park on Earth.

The park is deserted save Garrus and the lingering ghosts of the dead. Officially, it does not open until tomorrow; the public is held respectfully away by decorated guards. And yet, regrettably, being Garrus Vakarian does have its grim perks these days. Tomorrow, it will be flooded with mourners - survivors - searching for the names of the ones they've loved and lost. There will be officials and speeches and all the pageantry that the Alliance demands for the dead. And Garrus wants none of it. Not now.

Now, he just wants her back.

He's not sure if it's coincidence that her name is here on Earth, but he's damn certain it isn't by chance that it is in the middle of a quiet green park, the Normandy Monument only a few hundred yards away.

He runs his hand over the engraving. It isn't fair. She was an amazing woman - a soldier, a hero even. And now, she is reduced to a name on a plaque, lost among a billion others.

She was the very Paragon of Patience. Garrus can almost smile as he thinks back to all of his crap that she put up with. His rashness and impatience should have earned him a swift kick in the ass too many times for him to count. Yet she had been kind and gentle when he needed it and fierce and protective when he could not.

He loved her. And he hadn't been there for her. Not really. Not when it counted. Not when she needed him. He'd left her to die alone in that damned station while he flew off in the Normandy, and ... No. He stops himself. This isn't doing anyone any good. She's gone and he needs to accept it.

Garrus draws another deep breath in; holding it, he contemplates in the stillness of the moment. It's just a name. Not a body. Not a soul. But he hopes that she will find comfort here.

Like all wounds, this too shall someday heal. It may scar and leave a marred patch upon him, but it will heal. The hurt will lessen. Soon, there will be days that he does not think of her at all. Life will eventually move on.

Yet, he cannot help but feel that some part of his soul will be forever missing.

"I love you," he whispers, running his fingers along her name one last time. "Goodbye, mom."

And he lets go.

"Hey, Big Guy," a soft voice calls to him.

Garrus forces a small smile as he turns to look back at his mate: the one, the only, Captain Jane Shepard.

She smiles wide and cheerful as she takes a few shaking steps toward him, her cane offering little support in the soft soil. In the year following the war, whole departments of Citadel Command have been created to estimate the cost of the Reaper Invasion. The physical cost to Shepard is obvious for all to see: one arm, two legs, and two fingers.

It could have been much worse.

Within a few hours of the rescue crews returning a battered and bloodied Shepard to Earth, Miranda had waltzed effortlessly into the supposedly secure Alliance hospital. The doctors had balked at the ex-Cerberus officer as she began barking orders like she owned the whole damn hospital. But Miranda did not waiver. She had rebuilt Shepard once. She could do it again.

They had tried to keep it quiet. The last thing they needed was Diana Allers or Khalisah al-Jilani or some other cheap tabloider haunting the hospital wards, scrabbling to get a quick vid of a mangled Commander Shepard.

But, as always, Shepard was too big to contain. Word of Jane's survival had leached out of the hospital and onto the comms within the week. The media arrived first, followed shortly by the dignitaries. And with the dignitaries, came resources.

They had been wrong. The galaxy didn't just want to see Commander Shepard. They wanted to see her live.

Governments, military branches, private corporations and even common citizens offered up what they could spare. More and more resources piled in - geth nanites, Quarian enviro scrubbers, Asari neuroimplants - enough parts to rebuild her twice over.

Jane Shepard was a symbol, a beacon of hope for all sentient races. If they could not band together to save her, they had no chance of recovery - no chance at peace and unity.

Garrus had watched as his mate became lost within a growing array of tubes, wires and other medical equipment. He had had no doubt that when she awoke she would be furious at the resources spent upon her recovery alone. Too damn bad, he had thought. Jane was going to live, whether she damn well liked it or not.

And then, one day, she awoke. Having performed a few too many miracles in her lifetime, Jane simply shrugged off her unlikely survival. And then, she cursed and complained, like it was any other day in the medbay.

She was battered but not broken. And each day, she grew stronger still.

Squinting in the high afternoon light, Garrus glances down to watch her feet as she tries a few more careful steps. She really shouldn't be taxing herself like this. Walking slow laps on the concrete floor of the compound was one thing, but trudging across soft, uneven ground was another. And yet, he knows there's no point arguing with her. The woman took down a Reaper on-foot; she isn't going to listen to his hen-pecking. Instead, he walks quickly over to meet her, takes her free arm and casually directs them back onto the paved walkway and on towards to the waiting skycar. He smirks as he pulls off the maneuver so smoothly she doesn't even notice. You can't always dam the river, but sometimes you can divert it.

The physical healing is slow but steady. With demand high and resources scarce, replacement limbs are slow to acquire in the post-war days. Jane has low-grade mechanical prosthetics for her arm and legs; they have no tactile response, but for now, they'll do. Her legs feel slow and clumsy to the ex-marine, but she can walk. Her prosthetic hand, can grasp and lift, but she won't be winning any penmanship contests any time soon.

She'd taken the loss of her limbs in stride, claiming she still has the three fingers she needed most: two for signals, one for triggers.

But, it's all temporary. Somewhere in the forgotten corners of the galaxy, an Alliance-commandeered Cerberus base is growing Jane an arm and a couple of replacement fingers. With Miranda's original specs, the parts should be ready for implantation within the next few months. For her legs, she's opted to go full cybernetic. They too are being built in some distant factory, and await installation in the new year.

When he jokes that for once he leads her in fingers, she manages to smile. Secretly, he sort of likes that they can lace their fingers together without feeling a few short.

"She was a hell of lady," says Shepard, knocking Garrus firmly back to the present. The warm summer air ripples through the short strands of her hair as she smiles sadly at him. The bright blue of her dress uniform against the verdant parklands seems suddenly overwhelming in its intensity. For so long, their days had been mired in dust and ash. Garrus wonders at the vibrancy they live in now.

He finds he can do nothing but nod. "That she was," he sighs. "That she was."

But his mother is gone now. They have no choice but to move on.

Together they pause as they pass through the shadow of the Normandy Monument. A great stone replica of the SR-2 points towards the stars, a tribute of victory and loss. At its base, the names of her fallen crew members gleam proudly in the afternoon sun. Ashley. Thane. Mordin. A dozen more. Garrus feels Shepard's breath quicken. There are memories here, both good and bad.

Shepard claims that she remembers nothing after entering the beam. Indeed, she has sworn it several hundred times to both the Council and the shambled remains of Alliance Command. Perhaps it's just as well. Garrus shudders as he remembers the warm drip of her blood onto his hands. For a moment, he smells the acrid sting of her burnt flesh. He shakes them away. He doesn't want those memories himself; there is no way he would wish that pain upon her.

There is no small number of questions to be answered about Jane. Her missing hours may be a mere curiosity at this point, but there are some matters that demand explanations much louder than others. Sometimes, Jane knows things she should not: the location of all the release ports in the Presidium, the flux-field output of the Artemis Tau mass relay, the number of cross-point couplings in Sovereign's central reactor ... A seemingly random collection of facts and figures now tumble from Jane's lips. They leak what might be useful through the Shadow Broker's network. The rest remains Jane's secret.

It is ... troubling to Garrus. Does he think her indoctrinated? No. Absolutely not. The honesty and clarity in her eyes give him no reason to doubt. But it just creates more and more questions to linger unanswered.

And, well, parts of Jane are different now. Sure, 99% of the time, she's the same old Jane - maybe with a few more scars, but the same at the core. But once in a while, in the quiet, darker hours, Garrus can see the changes. There are nights he finds her staring hard into her tiny bathroom mirror. He knows what she is thinking. He knows that she too has questions.

"You're you," he whispers each time he draws her back to bed. "You'll always be you."

Her changes are just something that they will both have to embrace.

And they will. Together.

As they reach the open iron gates at the park's entrance, Jane pauses for a moment. Some might think it from fatigue; it's a long walk for one so injured. Yet Garrus knows it's something more - that even if it was, Shepard would never admit to the physical strain. No. It's the pull of it all - they glance over their shoulders at the Normandy Monument one last time and then back out through the open gates - from this life into the next. Garrus grips tighter at her hand and together they walk on.

Before the Charge of London, he had idly wondered if they might become irrelevant in a post-war galaxy. If, by some miracle, they survived, would there be no place for the great Commander Shepard and her loyal crew? It seems like a ridiculous thought now. Even as they brush the dust off from themselve, dozens of governments, agencies, and corporations scramble to entice Shepard into their fold. She is more in-demand than ever.

Jane has been promised an Admirality will follow shortly after her return to active duty with the Alliance. Or, she could remain in the Spectres. Or both. There is also talk of Ambassadorships or even a whisper or two of Council.

Garrus has been offered similar positions in the Spectres, C-Sec, and the Turian Military. He grimaces for a moment as he recalls just how high up the Hierarchy he is these days.

Yes, their future is bright, albeit uncertain. The galaxy has not forgotten them.

They continue on their journey to the awaiting skycar, walking side-by-side in contented, comfortable, silence. When they reach it, Garrus opens the side door for Jane and then offers her his hand as she slides into the waiting seat.

She laughs, making a half-joke about him being a `gentleman vigilante'. The clear ring of her laughter makes Garrus' chest go tight for a moment. He can't help but wonder if Shepard has infected him with some of those human heartstrings.

As Garrus settles into the car next to Jane, he smiles when he feels her hand grasp at this own. He has plans for tonight - big plans. In his pocket, an old bent washer and a dried-up jar of blue paint seem to jingle impatiently at him. He knows he promised her fancier replacements, but he's failed to find a pair of tokens more fitting than the battered pair he first offered. To be honest, he's a bit embarrassed by the sentimentality of it all.

Sure, Turians may only give paint once, but Garrus can't help but feel that this is worthy of an exception. He gives a little smirk as he imagines that they jingle again. After all, Garrus never was a very good Turian.

The roof of the skycar closes securely around them, and the engines hum low as they spring to life.

He squeezes her hand tighter in his own. "So Captain," he drawls. "Where do we go from here?"

She smiles back at him, now and forever the Spirit of Hope.

"Wherever the hell we want."

AN: And I think we'll call that an ending, at least for now. I had originally planned at least two more chapters in the post war era, but I can't help but feel that simple domestic conflicts would seem trivial after surviving a war.

As I said, I don't like sad endings, so you will all just have to suffer through Shepard's highly improbable survival. Think of it as the Control Ending, where she let go before it consumed her. At this point I just wanted some closure. It's a cheap cop out, I know; if you prefer to wallow in sadness, just pretend it ended a chapter earlier.

Thanks for reading!