Goodbye

A/N: I'm sure as soon as ME3 comes out, this will not make any sense in light of the new developments. Ah, well, thus the life of a fanwriter.

Unnecessary disclaimer: None of the characters, storylines, or dialogue appearing in the Mass Effect franchise belong to me.

Abstract: You only die twice. F!Shep/Garrus.

I adjusted my eyepiece and took aim with my rifle once again. This particular merc band was tougher than any we'd come across before. They were not only well-trained, but organized. Most mercs, in my experience, took the strategy of throwing people at it until they either ran out of people or won.

These guys were tougher, and more numerous. Nothing we hadn't seen before, but it was strangely refreshing to me to be able to fight a foe worth going up against—it had been so long.

I glanced aside to the Commander, and my mandibles flared unconsciously. Her light armor clung so tightly to a body shape that I had once found strange, but now found oddly attractive. The subtly curved waist, the rounded butt and lean thighs… the muscles that moved under a soft layer of skin… so different from any woman I had been with before. So… well, human.

When a shot grazed my shoulder I realized what I was doing and got back to work. I could fantasize about my Commander afterwards. Or maybe do more than fantasize if there was time.

Normandy was an empty place these days. Joker and EDI, of course, were constants, but the ship had only a skeleton crew, and most of Shepard's companions only stayed temporarily anymore. When the galaxy had been saved (again), everyone had places to go. When she asked me where I was going to go, I said, "Wherever you are."

And so with little money to spare, we furnished the Normandy with the crew we could, relying on EDI to pick up the slack, and went where we were needed. It was lonely at times, but there were some benefits to an empty ship. We'd had a go in the cargo bay, armory, and engine room already, with never an intrusion.

When a shot buzzed past my head, I nearly jumped. Focus, I told myself. One clean headshot after another when I got back on my game. This was why I enjoyed this job.

But they were changing tactics, pressing forward. There weren't many left, but we'd have to shoot fast or they'd be on top of us. When I heard a cry from Shepard's direction, I had no time to look over. My heart pounded, but this wouldn't be the first time she was injured. She'd likely patch herself up with medi-gel and then fix the real damage (if there was any) when we got back to the Normandy.

Headshot. Headshot. Headshot. Zaeed and I picked off any mercs that were left, and finally the last one fell.

I turned, smiling, and saw her.

Shepard was slumped against her cover, breathing shallowly. A dark stain spread across her armor.

Zaeed saw what I saw. "Bloody hell," he swore. He and I had both seen enough wounds to know a fatal one when we saw it.

"Get Joker and Normandy in here now," I ordered, then bent down to see her.

"We're going to get you out of here," I told her.

She shook her head slightly. "No you're not." She was matter of fact.

"Yes we are. We're going to get you back to the Normandy, and Chakwas is going to patch you all up."

She tried to shake her head again, but grimaced in pain.

I grabbed her hand. "No," she said, and I looked at her in confusion. "Gloves off," she clarified.

I tossed my gloves to the side, and slid hers off, gently gripping the fleshy hand with its excess of fingers. I marveled, as I often did at those tiny hands. They were so soft, seemed so fragile—so much of her did—and yet she was the one who had cheated death, who had saved the galaxy several times over.

I heard Zaeed swear loudly, then watched as he jogged over. "They're pinned down. They won't be here in time." For the first time since I'd met him, I saw Zaeed looking worried.

"I didn't want my last moments to be on an operating table anyways," Shepard said with effort.

Zaeed shook his head at the Commander, then walked away, giving us some privacy. It was the most sensitive he'd ever been during the years I'd known him.

I looked down at her—the woman I'd loved, this amazing woman who had already cheated death once, and I wondered if it were possible to do it again. But there was no Illusive Man this time, and no Shadw Broker either. Liara had lost contact—she was either dead or no longer a friend to us, and so the Shadow Broker's resources were out of reach. I stared down at Shepard's and my entwined fingers. It seemed impossible that she could die, but in reality I knew better. The two of us were seated in a pool of her bright red human blood.

I pulled her gently into my arms and tried to staunch the bleeding. "It's useless," she whispered. "I'm dying."

"Not if I have anything to do with it," I said firmly, hoping I sounded more convincing than I felt.

"You were never a very good liar, Vakarian." She looked at me with those eyes that held so much experience and strength. "I've done this before, remember?" She closed her eyes and made a face that was nearly a smirk. "Less messy last time."

She squeezed my hand. "This time is better though." Her eyes opened again, and she looked at me with a seriousness I rarely saw from her. "Because you're here."

She grimaced in pain from the continual effort of speaking. "Don't try to talk," I said, attempting to sound soothing. "You need to reserve your strength."

"No, I—" she wheezed, "I have to talk," she replied, sounding urgent.

Her eyes were wide as she spoke, faster and more forcefully than before. "Tell Joker that the Alliance needs him. He was their best pilot and they need him back." When she stopped to catch her breath, I glanced downward. The cloth I was holding to her wound was saturated, rivulets of blood running down my fingers.

"And tell Chakwas," she continued, unaware, "I'm sorry."

"I'll tell them. I promise." My voice was shaking audibly now. I couldn't pretend anymore that this wasn't goodbye.

"And the others…" her voice drifted off. "Tell them to keep fighting."

"What about me?" I asked softly, wondering what she would have saved to tell me, what her last instructions or secret would be.

She tried to smile, but it was clear she was feeling weak. Her response was one simple sentence. "You carry on."

I didn't know what to make of it. "Carry on with what?" I tried to keep the panic from rising in my voice. "You'll be gone. There will be nothing to carry on without you…"

She gripped my hand tighter. "You carry on our work. Be the leader you were always meant to be."

She fell back on me harder than before, her strength nearly exhausted. Her skin was pale and clammy, her eyes beginning to cloud over.

"I'm so tired," she whispered, my heart breaking at her fragile voice. I cradled her tighter to me. She had always been the strong one, but now I had to be strong for her.

"You have to keep fighting," I said, my voice strained and cracking. "You can't leave me, Shepard." But in spite of me, her unfocused eyes slid shut and her grip on my hand weakened. She was going to fall asleep, and the it would be over.

"Shepard, no, please don't go." My begging was pointless, and I knew it. But I had lived without her once, and I felt as if it would kill me to do so again.

"I love you," I said suddenly, for the first and last time. I'll never know if she heard.

I held her until the Normandy arrived, far too late. Silence greeted me as I carried her onto the ship, her blood staining my armor.

On the long ride to the citadel, the humans shed a flood of tears.

Human funerals had always seemed a strange ritual to me. Most of Turian society found their solace in doing their duty. Grief was considered a luxury and a waste of time.

I had never been a very good Turian.

The funeral was one of the largest gathering of people I had ever seen. Nearly every race was represented, but it was the mass of human mourners that I found truly astounding. Instead of making me feel hopeful, however, it made me bitter. When Shepard had been alive, she gave everything for these people again and again, but was shown no gratitude. And now, only when she was dead, did they show their support.

It went by in a blur and I was glad when it was over. The description given of Shepard was a one-dimensional caricature. The real woman was so complicated, so deep and secretive, that between all of us, everyone who had ever been on her crew, we were unlikely to ever work her out.

When the crowds had cleared out, only we were left, as if by unspoken agreement. I saw Tali'Zorah saying her goodbyes to her fellow admirals, Kaidan Alenko looking around awkwardly, as if he wasn't sure he should be here, and Kelly and Kasumi crying. We were all gathered as if for some purpose, but now that we were here, no one knew what to say, or if anything should be said. It was Wrex who finally broke the silence.

"To Shepard," he said. "May we never forget."

There were nods and murmurs, and as I looked around, I realized that this was the last time I would see many of them.

But as soon as the realization hit, the group began to disperse. I approached Joker. "Did you talk to Anderson?"

He nodded. "The Alliance has a place for me." He paused a moment, his eyes getting a strange shine to them. "But I can't bring the Normandy." He looked embarrassed and swiped at his eyes with the back of an arm. "You know that EDI is illegal."

As soon as he spoke, an idea was forming in my mind, bubbling forth with sudden intensity. It seemed insane and idiotic, but what else was there now?

"I could use a ship," I said.

"You can pilot this thing, can't you?" I asked EDI.

"Of course, Officer Vakarian." She paused, her voice changing to a lower tone. "I will, however, miss Mr. Moreau's talents."

I sighed. "Won't we all."

I walked the short trip to the elevator, heading up to the captain's quarters. Grief struck me again when I entered, like a physical punch. She was written on every surface of the room.

I leaned on the wall, consumed by my grief. How could I have thought I would continue without her?

But when the bout of grief subsided, I realized this was the only thing I could do. I would carry on in her name. I would lead.

And I wouldn't forget.