AN: The final chapter! Thanks for reading and don't forget to write a review :) I will be posting a oneshot about the destruction of the Normandy, plus a direct sequel to this, titled "Fractured." So, enjoy this last chapter and stay tuned for more!
Thane was surprised, pleasantly so, when he heard Shepard come through the door to the life support systems, where he spent most of his time. He stood to greet her, and discovered another pleasant surprise. She was wearing a navy blue tank top, and black running shorts that showed off her long, toned legs. Her black hair was pulled up into a ponytail, like it usually was.
"Is there anything you need?" he asked her. She hovered near the doorway. When her gaze met his, Thane saw that there was fire in her eyes.
"Yeah," she said. "Fight me."
He blinked at her. "That is a strange request."
She took a step closer and crossed her arms over her chest. Her lips were curved upwards, but there was still that dangerous look in her eye that put Thane on his toes. "C'mon, you don't think it would be fun?"
"Fun for you, perhaps, siha. Even a pyjak knows not to tread on the nest of the thresher maw," he replied. Thane had fought many battles with Shepard, and had found that standing at her side was preferable to standing against her. He'd never been on the receiving end of her attacks. He would've liked to keep it that way.
However, four words changed his mind. "Winner gets bragging rights."
A slow smile spread across his face. "Better to have tried and failed than never tried at all, is it not?"
"Couldn't have said it better myself."
The duel took place in the cargo hold, where there was the most room and least chance of destroying something vital. The two biotics cut loose, not holding back a single drop of energy. Thane couldn't remember the last time he'd fought so hard, been so involved in combat. Every move he made, Shepard was one step ahead of him, dodging his attacks and retaliating ferociously. Dark energy swirling, she knocked him back with wide, powerful blows. Surrounded in a glowing blue aura, she truly did look like one of the siha, warrior angels descended from the heavens to protect and destroy.
And she was kicking his ass.
When Miranda read the message from Staff Commander Kaidan Alenko, she had half a mind to delete it from Shepard's inbox, so she'd never have to read it. Of course, she would find out. Eventually. When that happened, no doubt she'd be furious. And a furious Commander Shepard was really not someone she'd like to encounter in a dark alley. Or any kind of alley.
So, though she desperately wanted to get rid of any trace of that Alenko character, she refrained from doing so.
Miranda left her desk to pace in front of her window. Should she contact the Illusive Man about Kaidan's message? Shepard had been more than clear on several occasions that Cerberus wasn't to interfere with her family, friends, or personal life, but this could affect the mission. At that moment, she was in the cargo hold taking it out on poor Thane. From what Miranda could tell from the vids, he was putting up one hell of a fight. Still, soon it would end, and Shepard would have no one to vent her anger at.
She could always try throwing Jack into the hold with her.
But even that would only prolong her aggression. Angry Shepard left the rest of them in a not happy place. She had to deal with this, ASAP.
Miranda wondered for a moment if she should go talk to Shepard herself. Tell her, woman to woman, that Kaidan was an ass, and that she shouldn't even bother replying to his message. But then Shepard would just accuse her of snooping, adding yet another thing to her list of things to be pissed about. But who else could she get to intervene?
There was a knock at her door. "Come in."
It was Kasumi. "Have I caught you at a bad time?"
Miranda hadn't realized that she'd been pressing her fingers into her temples, trying to massage away the headache that was growing there. It wasn't working. Her arms dropped to her sides. "No. Do you want to talk?"
Kasumi shrugged, clearing a space to sit on Miranda's crowded desk. Miranda scowled. She would have to check the room after the thief left to make sure she hadn't stolen anything valuable. "I'm just a little concerned about the crew. And what will happen to us once Shepard tears a hole in the hull."
Miranda sighed, moving away from the window and facing the thief. "Thane's down there with her. A little biotic sparring won't damage the ship, Kasumi."
"They're not fighting anymore. She's in my room, drinking like its her twenty-first birthday party. And from the stories I've heard? When you put Shepard and alcohol together... things will explode." Miranda had been through Shepard's file enough times to know that this wasn't a complete exaggeration. "And she's still all hung up on Kaidan..." Kasumi shuddered. "What a mess. Not something I'd like to get in the middle of."
"Maybe Chambers could talk her out of it," Miranda suggested, bouncing ideas off her fellow jumpsuit wearer. After all, it was part of Kelly's job to make sure that the crew was psychologically sound. Much as she resisted, that included Shepard.
"Hmmm," Kasumi said, drumming her gloved fingers over her chin. "Maybe not."
Miranda stifled a frown. "What about Gabby, down in engineering? They're friends, aren't they?"
"They've talked. Twice."
Miranda threw her hands up, flustered. "Then, who?"
"Garrus," Kasumi said simply. Miranda didn't know why she hadn't just gone ahead and said it outright. "She's known him the longest. He's the best one to help her forget Alenko, hands down," Kasumi said brightly.
At first, Kasumi wasn't sold on the idea of letting Lawson in on the plan to set up Garrus and the commander. But it was true that Miranda had an iron will: when she wanted something done, it usually got done one way or another. As long as it didn't contradict Shepard's decisions. And in this case, Kasumi was pretty sure it didn't.
Not that she would ever ask. If Shepard ever found out that they were interfering with her love life... she probably wouldn't be too happy.
"Garrus?" Miranda repeated. She mulled it over for a moment. It made sense. She saw how he and the commander were around each other. She wasn't blind, after all. But Miranda hadn't expected Shepard to be interested in an alien in that way. Still, Garrus was willing to work with Cerberus, which was more than she could say for Alenko. So, human or not, he was okay in her books. And that stunt he pulled with the grenade launcher? She had to admit: that was freaking awesome. Shepard could do a lot worse.
"All right. Whatever your little scheme is, count me in." Miranda wouldn't mind a distraction from all the work they had.
Kasumi looked shocked, putting a hand up to her mouth in mock-offended gasp. "Why, Lawson, what makes you think I have a scheme?" She laughed. "We just need to give Garrus a nudge in the right direction. I have a feeling he'll take it from there himself."
"Good. And Kasumi?" Miranda stopped the girl on her way out. "I'll take that holo pad back."
Kasumi entered the main battery soundlessly, to where Garrus was sleeping. She leaned up against the railing, watching him for a moment. Wearing black pants and one of those turian turtle neck shirts instead of his usual bulky armor, he looked kind of sweet and vulnerable. So unlike the big, tough soldier he was around the crew. It wasn't too hard to see why Shepard was attracted to him.
"Gaaaarruuuus," she cooed softly. To her surprise, he sat up immediately, reaching for his assault rifle.
"Are we under attack?" He was putting on his boots.
"No, no. Everything's fine." He ceased his flurry of movement. "Well... not everything."
Garrus set his assault rifle next to his bed. Kasumi seemed nice enough, but unless there was some sort of emergency, he didn't really see the need to talk to her. "Errr... what seems to be the problem?"
Oh, no. He should've stayed with her in the comm room to make sure she was okay. What if she was reacting badly to the vids they'd showed her? But Garrus quickly dismissed that idea. Shepard had seen way too much to be shaken up over backstabbing mercenaries. "Is she sick?" The Somnex Four might have done damage much deeper than Dr. Chakwas or Mordin thought to look.
"No. She's... fighting with Thane."
Garrus's mandibles flared. Fighting how? Fists? Words? Maybe she'll throw him out the airlock. "Do I need to talk to him?" And by talking, he meant punching him in the face.
"I think it's Shepard you should talk to. She seemed sort of upset when she read a message from some guy. Aaah, what was his name?" Kasumi scratched her head. Garrus had a pretty good idea of who it was. "Brandon Gecko, maybe? Or was it Aiden?"
"Kaidan Alenko," Garrus said, kind of growly.
Kasumi snapped her fingers. "That was it! Kaidan. You know him?"
"Yeah. Long time ago."
"Hmm. Anyway, you know how she gets when she's angry. Kinda violent. Kinda scary. I thought maybe, since you know her the best, you'd be able to calm her down?"
Garrus stood up. "Sure."
"Great! At the moment, she's in my room. Surrounded by a lot of alcohol."
He didn't blame her for not wanting to go in there herself. Whenever Shepard was around heavy booze, things tended to explode. "I'll see what I can do."
"I owe ya!" Kasumi called as he went down the hall. When the door closed after him, she whispered, "Go get 'er, tiger."
Garrus ran into Thane on his way over to the observation deck. He was holding an ice pack to his head, after coming out of the med bay. Garrus gave him a questioning look.
"If you see Shepard, and she extends the invitation to duel..." Thane said, "decline."
Shepard was exactly where Kasumi said she would be. More than a few of the bottles closest to her were empty.
"I sincerely hope that's not ryncol you're drinking. You should really give your immune system a rest," Garrus said, indicating the drink in Shepard's hands.
She turned around and he felt like biting his tongue. She was wearing tight-fitting clothes, taking after the fashions of Miranda and Jacob. The skin of her arms and legs was shiny with a light coat of sweat. Somehow, she manages to make sweaty look good.
"No, it's not. It's ryncol." The smell was overpowering.
"It's ryncol." She smiled at him. "Go on, Garrus. Pick your poison. We're off duty, and you sure as hell earned it." She wasn't in that scary, violent mood Kasumi claimed she was in. But the alcohol probably had something to do with that. No doubt that beating up Thane helped as well.
He poured himself some dark ale out of a bottle that was labelled "DEXTRO" in big, blocky letters. It wasn't completely full. Garrus realized with a smirk that the only other dextro being onboard the Normandy was Tali. He sat down at the bar, next to Shepard. He was hesitant to bring up Kaidan because she seemed to be in such good spirits, but he knew he'd have to get to it eventually. Might as well tackle the eight-hundred pound elcor in the room while I'm still sober.
"How are things with you and Alenko?" Garrus thought he remembered reading somewhere that biotics were more powerful under the influence of alcohol. He thought she looked a little bluer than usual, though that might just have been the the radiological effects of the ryncol, or the reflection of the starlight from the window on her glistening skin.
"Things? What things? There's no... things. Nothings," Shepard said. Yep. Definitely drunk. Though not as drunk as most people would be after downing a shot of ryncol. Actually, most people would be passed out on the floor or vomiting up their liquified intestines, but not Shepard. She held her liquor the best of anyone he knew. A brand new liver probably came in handy, too.
"Let's skip to the part where you tell me what's going on and I give you some mind-blowingly great advice, okay?"
Shepard set her luminescent green glass on the counter and strode over to the window, leaning her forehead against the glass as she turned to look at him. He remained seated on the bar stool.
"Alright, Garrus." Her speech was a little slurred. It wasn't too noticeable, though. "Kaidan messaged me. Says he's on Illium... and he wants to... talk."
Garrus gulped down his drink. Tell him you won't see him. He couldn't bring himself to say it. It was obvious by her reaction that she still had feelings for Alenko. Ignoring them wouldn't make them go away, Garrus knew that much. She needed to deal with them, and move on. But he wasn't sure that seeing him again was the best way to achieve that. To him, it sounded like Kaidan was looking for more than the reconciliation of their more-than-friendship.
"Do you want to see him?"
The question was simple enough, but Shepard had a hard time answering it. "Shit," she said. "I dunno. I mean, I thought we agreed to go our separate ways, and..." she went back to the counter and took a sip of ryncol. "And whatever. I was dealing with that, but this?" She sighed loudly, pacing back and forth in front the window restlessly. "What does he wanna talk about?" Suddenly, she raised her voice angrily. "What can he possibly say? He left me!" She smashed her glass into the window. The latter survived the impact, but the cup shattered into a thousand pieces.
"Hey." Garrus was on his feet, his arms around Shepard. She curved into him, her head fitting just under his chin. Her hair was soft and damp. She was shaking slightly. "You don't have to see him if you don't want to, but... I think you should just hear him out. There's no need to make promises, or apologies. You don't owe him anything. But maybe he thinks he owes you." Soothed by the deep tenor of his voice and his rhythmic breathing, Shepard became still.
In a way, Garrus felt sorry for Kaidan. He was forced to choose between his duty to the Alliance and the woman he loved. Garrus realized that if he were in Kaidan's position, as a good turian, he'd be expected to remain loyal to the military. But Garrus hadn't. He'd chosen Shepard over C-Sec, and he'd make the same choice again in a heartbeat. He belonged at her side, and saying otherwise would only be lying to himself. For Kaidan, the lines weren't as clear. The Alliance needed him, though he may have wanted to be with Shepard. His head and his heart were telling him two different things, and in the end, he picked logic over emotion. Who was Garrus to judge his decision? Maybe Kaidan had done what was right for him.
All Garrus knew that life without Shepard was hardly worth living. She was the only reason he needed.
She exhaled sharply. "I'll tell him that... that I'll see him."
"Okay." He ran his hand up her back, feeling the ridges in her spine. "Only if you want to. No pressure." She gave a soft, short laugh.
"Honestly, Garrus, I'm, ummm, not sure what I'd do without you," Shepard said. It didn't come out quite as she meant it, though. She tried again. "I'm glad that you're here. I really need you for this."
They were quiet for a while. Garrus stroked her hair, gently tugging at the ends. He rested his chin on top of her head and stared out the window, at the looming black infinity. It made him feel small and insignificant, but he knew where he was meant to be. In that moment, he knew: he belonged with Shepard. Wherever she led, he would follow. Even if she took him to the very edge of the void. Especially if she did. Because when she needed him most, he would make sure that he was there for her, no matter what the cost.
"Well, lucky for you I plan on sticking around for a while."
"Glad to hear it, Vakarian."
They gravitated back towards the booze after a minute or so.
"So," Garrus began, downing another ale. "What'd Thane do to piss you off?"
Shepard rolled her eyes, eyelashes fluttering. She was smirking. "He didn't piss me off. I was looking for a sparring partner."
"I'm offended you didn't come to me first," he replied.
She swished around the bottle of ryncol, then took a swig straight from it. Gross, Garrus thought. Then he remembered that the only one besides her that would drink that stuff was Grunt, and he probably wasn't worried about Shepard's mouth germs. "Well, you were asleep."
"I'm awake now."
Shepard set down the bottle, glancing at Garrus out of the corner of her eye. He was serious. "Really? You wanna go?"
"Hell yeah." If Thane had tried, so would he.
"Great. Let's take this outside," Shepard said, chugging another mouthful of ryncol before slamming the bottle down and hopping off her bar stool a little unsteadily.
Garrus did the same, polishing off the last bit of ale in his glass before getting to his feet, the room tilting to the side as he did so. He silently cursed Joker for not being able to keep the ship steady. Shepard held onto his arm for balance, apparently feeling the same way.
Once in the cargo hold, Garrus asked her, "So, how do you want to do this?"
Shepard strode out to the center of the open space, then spun on her heel. She was wearing a dangerous grin. "Like this."
That was all the warning he got before she turned biotic blue and charged him. Garrus barely dodged her, diving out of the way with a millimeter to spare.
Shepard managed to avoid colliding with the wall full force, cutting the burst of energy short and throwing her hands up to cushion her impact. Garrus didn't give her time to recover, attacking from behind before she could turn around. He put her in a headlock, pressing his elbow into her chest and neck instead of moving to cut off her air flow.
Her hands moved up to his arm as she tried to break the hold. But, as strong as she was, she couldn't do it. Garrus was simply stronger. Still, there were ways to get around that. She drove her heel onto his foot and threw her weight backwards. Unprepared for her attack, Garrus hit the ground, taking her with him. The sound of their impact resonated throughout the entire cargo hold. She rolled on top of his arm, escaping the headlock, but Garrus wasn't ready to give up the advantage yet. His arm shot across her shoulder, pinning her there for a moment. Shepard was impressed by his reach, but it wouldn't be enough to keep her down.
Garrus was only on top for a second. Her knees clamped down on the outside of his hips, flipping him onto the bottom and securing the top for herself. She pushed his upper arms into the ground. He was completely pinned.
Shepard was about to declare victory when Garrus broke the hold. His hands free, he grabbed her by the shoulders and forced her onto her back, using her own trick against her. He pressed one arm across her chest to lock both of her shoulders down, and used the other to hold her left hand. She squirmed, even though it was obvious to both of them that Garrus had won.
"You beat me," she said in disbelief. She smelled like sweat and clean laundry and shampoo. And ryncol. It was intoxicating.
He didn't release her. "Yeah," he said. "No hard feelings, right?" To prove his sincerity, he leaned down and pressed his mouth onto hers.
Shepard got over her initial surprise without much delay, quickly sinking into the delicious sensation of the kiss. The feel of his mouth was strange and exciting. While his upper lip was stiff and unyielding to her own, the bottom was softly textured, like suede. He moved his arm from her chest to the back of her neck, allowing her to breathe more easily. His heart jolted when her leg wrapped behind his back, partly because he thought she was going to try and flip him over again, but mostly because she pulled him closer, so that he was his hip bones were touching hers. Fingers still wound together, he shifted his weight onto his elbow so he didn't crush Shepard.
Then, it hit him: I'm making out with my commander on the floor of the cargo hold. They broke apart and looked at each other, her eyes the color of the sky before a dark storm, his the color of one afterwards. "Come upstairs with me," she whispered. She'd read his mind, as no one but her could.
He drank in the sight of her, beautiful and willing and for the moment, wholly and completely his. He nuzzled her cheek, the tips of his mandibles brushing against her face as he sighed, light and gentle like butterfly wings. "Okay," he said into her skin.
He pushed himself off the ground, holding her hand as he did so to help her up. All it took was one look in her eyes to undo him, driving him nearly mad with the desire to tackle her to the ground and resume that perfect, slightly salty, kiss. But he satisfied himself with holding her hand and planting a kiss on the top of her head.
Because in that one look, he'd said all he needed to. Shepard had a partner that would stand at her side, even if it meant toeing the edge of the void. Even if it meant dying. One look, and she knew that Garrus Vakarian would never leave her.