One

Garrus Vakarian blinked into his scope, trying to keep his eyes open. Fighting the fatigue was almost worse than fighting the mercs, because at least the latter eventually stopped coming over that damned bridge... well, at least there seemed to be less of them, for a little while. The break in their siege made Garrus nervous. He could only guess at what they were up to when they weren't throwing themselves at his defenses. Bastards are actually teaming up against me. Maybe they've grown brains after all.

Speculating at the plans of his enemies only distracted Garrus for so long. He began to lose his focus once again as his vision became a blur of the soft blue light from his visor and the gray shadows of the bridge. Where did everything go so wrong? His whole team was dead, and Sidonis, the backstabbing, self-serving snake was long gone. Garrus shuddered inwardly, the feelings of despair taking on physical form, more painful than the deep ache that had penetrated through him over the last few hours. How long had he been crouched on the balcony, sniping for all he was worth? Had the hours stretched into days yet?

He set his rifle next to him. The mercs were taking a rest (some for eternity), so Garrus would too. He rolled his shoulders, trying to get rid of the stiffness that hadn't left him for two years. As they often did, his thoughts shifted from his current predicament to Shepard. Memories of the Normandy in flames came back to him, the images as sharp as ever. The alarms going off, the panic... Alenko shouting at him to get everyone on to the shuttles. I should've gone after her. He began arguing with himself, cycling through the same dialogue in his head, just like he did every time. He stopped after a few minutes, though, too exhausted to continue beating himself up. Besides, what would Shepard say if she could see him wallowing? The best thing he could do was keep focused so he could live to fight, or wallow, another day. A little reluctantly, he grabbed his sniper rifle and put his eye to the scope, ready for more target practice.

He didn't have to wait long for more mercs to appear. A group of hapless freelancers came over the barrier at the far end of the bridge, their motley armor setting them apart from the real killers. He almost felt bad for them as he pulled the trigger, easily taking out the closest one. The round pierced his shoulder, red spray marring his otherwise pristine chest plate. Probably never been used before. They were just confused kids, their youth corrupted by the ugly urban hellhole that was Omega. But... a gun for hire was still a merc, and if they were trying to kill him, he'd try to kill them right back. The only difference was that he actually knew how to use a gun.

Obviously inexperienced, the other freelancers jumped in surprise at the resounding boom of Garrus's Widow rifle. He barely had to shift his aim to hit two more with headshots. Perfect. He started to target the stragglers when he realized they were fighting amongst themselves. Fools. They probably think they'll get a bigger cut if less of them survive. Maybe they'd save him some ammo. Thermal clips didn't just fall out of the sky.

Still, he watched the skirmish with curiousity, guessing at who would be the victor (little did they know their prize would be a heat sink in the skull). He had his money on an aggressive biotic human female. She'd obviously had extensive training, probably years of experience in heavy combat. Blue corona flaring, she flung the others into the ground, sometimes taking the time to hit them again to make sure they were unconscious. Strange that she's wasting the biotic energy to keep them alive, when she could just spare the bullet to take them down for good. He watched her progress, taking note of her two companions: another biotic human, this one male, and a salarian with a cool, calculating air. They made quick work of the mercs on the bridge. They approached the entrance of the base, previously unbreached. Nice of them to save me a few rounds, but they're getting too close. He centered the crosshairs on the big stripe on top of her helmet, laid a talon on the trigger...

He couldn't pull it. He couldn't place exactly why, but he got the feeling that the human wasn't trying to kill him. Maybe I shouldn't trust my instincts. I trusted Sidonis, and look at where that got me. But Garrus's logical side lost the argument. He'd let the strange, merciful mercs live, just until he found out what they were doing. Or until he decided they really were there for the bounty on his head. Whichever came first. Still, he wasn't going to let them waltz in the base. Didn't want the other mercs getting suspicious. He switched to concussive rounds and took the shot at the girl.

Damn. At the last second, she moved forward and slightly to the left. Instead of hitting her shoulder, the shot connected with the side of her helmet. She fell back, dead, colliding loudly with the ground. There was no way she wasn't concussed straight into the after life. Now I'll never discover her intentions. Wait... is she moving? Indeed she was. By some miracle, the impact hadn't shattered her skull, though the same couldn't be said of her helmet. Slowly, she got to her feet and pulled the useless hunk off from the back.

Garrus Vakarian would recognize her face anywhere. It was that of Dahlia Shepard.

He barely kept himself from shouting her name. He tucked his rifle close to his chest and slid to the ground, hiding in cover. It can't be her. My mind's playing tricks on me. Stop that, you unreliable thing. And yet it had to be. He spent the last two years staring at Shepard's face in recruitment ads, at memorials on the Citadel, posted all over the Extranet. Not to mention that treasured holo of the two of them by the Mako, smiling, albeit a little stiffly. He knew what she looked like, and, dammit, that was her he'd just shot. Carefully, he leaned over the edge of the balcony to double check.

She was gone, along with the salarian and the man. His mandibles flared as he scanned the bridge for any hint of their whereabouts. The only sign of their prescence was the unconscious freelancers. So they've made it into the base. If it was really Shepard, he was saved. If it wasn't, he was as good as dead.

"Archangel?" a voice came from behind him. He didn't even have to turn around to know it was her. I'm not crazy, he thought gleefully. He dealt with the final merc on the bridge before turning around.

She looked exactly the same. Blue eyes, scanning and assessing. Bruise already starting to show against her pale face. Dark hair, slightly longer than she'd usually kept it. Shoulders set, back straight. He'd never really been able to picture her exactly right in his mind, and now there she was. Not dead. He removed his helmet, so they could get a better look at each other.

"Garrus?" she said incredulously. She took a step closer, probably making sure that it was him and not some other devastatingly handsome turian.

He nodded and gave a slight bow. "At your service."

"I can't – I'm so..." she stopped and started. It was amusing to see her speechless. She cleared her throat. "It's good to see you again, Vakarian."

Hmmm. Why is she being so casual? After thinking she was dead for two years, Garrus thought some kind of explanation would be nice.

"Quite an understatement." He wanted to demand what happened; ask if she was really dead and why she was faking, or, if not, how the hell she managed to come back to life. But that was not the kind of conversation they could have in a base about to be overrun by mercenaries. First things first: they had to get out alive. " So, I'm going to make a wild assumption and say you came all this way to save my sorry ass?"

"You got it." Shepard nodded, indicating the space behind Garrus's shoulder. "How'd you get yourself into this mess, anyway?"

"Look, we both have a lot of questions," he glanced at the salarian and the male human, who was wearing a suit with an emblem Garrus recognized as Cerberus, "But I highly recommend that we get out of here before half of Omega tries to knock down the front door."

Shepard nodded, always ready for action. "You have an exit route?"

"More or less. The four of us should be able to make it back across the bridge. Storming the merc bases would be disastrous, but – lucky for us – there are maintenance tunnels beneath the buildings. They've served as good escape routes before." He transferred blueprints to her omni-tool, just in case.

Garrus grabbed his rifle and his helmet while Shepard gave directions to her squad... which he was now a part of. It would be good to take orders from her again. Just like old times. Well, except for the gruff Cerberus man and frail-looking salarian that were tagging along. But if they were with Shepard, he supposed he could trust them. For now, anyway.

"Garrus," Shepard said to him, as they were about to leave. She put his hand on his shoulder, gripping it tightly. "I really am glad to see you."

"Me, too." He took a breath to say something else, then stopped. A small red dot appeared at the center of her forehead, like some kind of laser. Precision sniper. He didn't bother warning her; just pushed her chest as hard as he could. She flew into the couch behind her, falling onto the cushioned side and causing it to tip over backwards. The shot rang out and Garrus dove. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the salarian and the human spring into action, taking cover behind furniture and drawing their weapons.

"ARCHANGEL!" Garrus poked his head out of cover to find out who wanted to see him so badly. A gunship roared to life, bullets spraying his feeble protection. Thought I took care of that thing. He flattened himself onto the ground. In a few seconds, the overturned table he was hiding behind would be shredded into wood chips, and a few seconds after that, so would he. Time to make a break for it.

He took his cue from the sound of Shepard launching a powerful biotic warp at the gunship. Her attack wouldn't do much damage to the armor, but it might distract the gunship for a precious second. Rifle slung over his shoulder, Garrus sprinted from his position, exposing himself to the gun fire. One one thousand, two one thousand. Almost there...

Suddenly, everything became illuminated in a brilliant, blinding light, and Garrus felt his world tip over, smashing into the ground. Then, the pain. It was like someone set liquid nitro on fire and poured it down the back of his armor. He heard Shepard yell his name.

His mouth was wet, and the rest of him felt sticky and warm. Her face appeared at the top of the overturned sofa. Apparently it served as better cover than the table. But he could still hear the gunship outside the window. If she left her cover, she'd end up in the exact same position as him.

"Stay there! I'm fine," he tried to tell her. It came out as a low gurgle. Probably not helping my case. But he couldn't let Shepard die for him, not when she had reappeared. Then, it dawned on him that he didn't want to die either. A few minutes ago, he'd felt hopeless, that he should just give up... yet that was before Shepard showed up. Now that she was here, that there was the slimmest chance of escape, he couldn't let himself just bleed out on the floor.

Rolling onto his stomach, Garrus pulled himself along the ground. Blood gushed out of his mouth, and probably a few other places, but he didn't stop. He was only a few feet away.

"Cover me!" Shepard ordered to her two companions. They did as they were told, firing at the gunship to get its attention. With some of the heat off her back, she crouched at the side of the sofa and slid it across the floor, putting it between Garrus and the open window. Glass crunched under her boots as she moved, the floor slippery with blue blood. Once they were both somewhat shielded from the hail of bullets, Shepard looked at the open wound, then for something to staunch its flow. She could tear apart the cushioning of the sofa, and with a heavy application of medi-gel, she might get Garrus on his feet.

But none of that was going to happen with that damn gunship breathing down her neck. Hefting the grenade launcher off her back, she glanced down at Garrus. His eyes were open, watching her.

"Just hold on," she said. She swung it over the back of the sofa, took aim, and...

Boom. Boom. Boom. Three consecutive shots, a short pause, then one last BOOM. That was the gunship spiraling out of control, crashing into the side of the building. Target eliminated.

"Watch the entrances," Shepard said, on the off chance that there were any stragglers left in the building. Without wasting time, she gave Garrus a double dose of medi-gel. Still not satisfied, she pulled a knife from her boot and got to work slicing the covers of the sofa into thick strips, tying them off around his shoulder.

"Must really... want me out of here... alive," Garrus managed to splutter out, noting the efficiency and care with which she worked. Gently, like a sheep herder reclaiming a lost lamb, Shepard lifted Garrus onto her shoulders, nodding at her team mates to move out.

"You have no idea."