Timeline/summary: Garrus and Shep reconnect after he almost dies on Omega. Because it always seemed weird to me that he was on his feet so quickly after the gunship blew half his face apart, and my Shep would not have left him alone in the med-bay. (This is not the update I mentioned in the previous chapter, I'm still working on that one).
Without a single thought, two hands collide and the world finally makes sense again.
― Kayla Dawn
Fire and blood and the desperate scream of a human woman.
This dream again.
It is every nightmare Garrus has suffered since Shepard died, and the fading beat of his heart thundering in his ears doesn't do much to reassure him.
We are dead, and this is the afterlife.
The pressure of her hand squeezing his shoulder, the scent of her, gunpowder and metallic human blood and antiseptic and machinery—her face has changed, scars shining through her skin and he has no doubt at all that he is dead and so is she and they'd reunited here to call down vengeance from beyond the grave. It was part of the human mythos regarding angels, after all, that they could resurrect the dead and cast miracles.
The lights are all too bright, the crack of gunfire rings too sharp and fades too slowly away. Garrus' mind is operating beyond overload, looking up at the breaking point without realizing he's already shattered. It isn't until he's truly dying that everything clicks into place and reality solidifies around him in blindingly painful truth.
Archangels aren't immortal after all.
Lying in a pool of his own blood and choking out his last breaths while her voice is screaming at him from a lifetime away. Hold on, Garrus. Hold on! Don't you dare die on me now! He can taste her panic but the world is fading away like a dream and the softness of the dark is calling him and—
And everything is, once again, too late.
He didn't even realize he was awake at first. The numbed weight of his body sunk into the bed, gravity tugging irresistibly at each bone. Machines beeped softly in the darkness.
His mind climbed slowly out of the fog of drug-induced sleep and tried to make sense of his memories. It was like walking into an unfamiliar room in a stranger's house and realizing it was furnished with his own things. Each piece intimately vital and yet utterly unconnected.
And then he turned his head and she was there, beside him, slumped and asleep in a chair at his bedside. One small human hand curled tightly around his on top of the rumpled sheets, too-many fingers wrapped around his own. The talon of his thumb a stark black curve over the pulse in her wrist.
The whispered thought was a stone dropped into a deep well, stirring ripples of memories. Bright blood and the smell of human sweat and the sharp crack of gunfire.
Sitting at his bedside, wearing the wrong uniform and the wrong scars and she even smelled wrong, somehow, the sharp scent of metal underlying the familiarity of human skin and sweat and whatever soap she used on her hair and the ever-present traces of gunpowder and the scorched smoky smell of the inferno ballistics she loved.
Bright blue eyes fluttered open under the scrutiny of his gaze, sleepy and unfocused, sharpening with the realization that he was awake. Her mouth stretched in a smile and her fingers squeezed his and his heart lurched sideways like he'd stepped off a cliff into freefall.
"Hey," she said, voice pitched low and still rough with sleep. "You're alive."
Words like stars spinning in the darkness.
Garrus pressed his thumb against the steady beat of her pulse. "So are you." It hurt to talk and it hurt to breathe and it even hurt to blink, raw skin tight over aching muscles.
Shepard snorted, a soft exhalation of sound. "Yeah," she said. "I guess that's what this is." He couldn't be sure if the wry edge to her voice was amusement or bitterness, and wondered if she even knew herself. She splayed her free hand, soft orange light shining in lines beneath her skin, and he finally realized what was off about her scent.
Her expression was half-smile, half-grimace. Furrowed brows and full lips faintly illuminated by the glow beneath her flesh. "Shepard 2.0, back from the grave and better than ever."
"So...you really died." It slipped out before he had time to consider it.
Shepard's eyes met his unflinchingly in the dark. "I really did."
He moved his thumb over her wrist and held her hand. "But you came back."
Something happened with her face that he didn't quite understand. She swallowed then looked away and cleared her throat. "Yeah," she said, her voice soft and rough in the darkness. "I came back."
Somehow, it was all that mattered. Scars and blood and lost friends, all of it fresh and raw and at this moment all of it distant and fading into the soft sound of her breath and the way her hand curved in his.
"You saved me," he said. He didn't know how to tell her that he wasn't talking about the gunship.
Her fingers tightened around his and then there was a soft, hesitant weight settling onto the bed beside him. Her hip bumped against his and, startled, he looked up again and met her eyes in the dark. Shepard stared up at him, and then lifted one hand to trace careful fingers over his face.
"Does it hurt?" she asked, and he smiled and then winced and she laughed. "Sorry. Right. Stupid question." Her hand fell away.
Garrus lifted his own hand, clumsy and thick, and brushed the back of one finger over the orange glow beneath the high curve of her cheekbone. She drew in a breath.
"Do yours?" he asked, and dropped his hand when she shook her head.
"Not anymore," she said, her voice going over the words like water over rocks, the shapes and textures of hurts lurking beneath the surface. And she looked down at her upturned palms like they belonged to someone else, the lights tracing beneath her skin like veins of lava through rock.
The image bloomed in his mind before he could banish it: Shepard, alone in the dark of the void while their ship exploded all around her. The sound of her own breath must have been so loud, the fire so bright, and then—
His breath hissed out through his teeth. "I should have been there," he said, sharp and sudden and tense. His hands closed around hers, hiding the glow of the implants. "I should have been with you. I should never have let you send me away."
Her face shifted. Softened. "Garrus, your Spectre training—"
The harsh laugh barked out of him. "Was a joke. I washed out. I couldn't—" You died and everything fell apart. He bit off the words. "Shepard—" The greatest regret of my whole wasted life is letting you die. He blew out his breath and closed his eyes. "I'm sorry," he breathed. "I should have been there."
She made some sound, some strangled little mammalian noise and when he opened his eyes and looked at her he couldn't tell if she was laughing or crying. "Why?" she asked, her voice strained and tight. "So you could have died right alongside me—"
He pressed his fingers over her mouth and cut her off. "Stop. Shepard, just—stop. It doesn't matter. There's nothing you can say to—change it. I should have been there. And I wasn't. I don't care if you think it wouldn't have changed a damn thing. I should have been there."
Her eyes were bright in the darkness and her skin was very warm and in the cold, quiet med bay he could feel the warmth of her body and realized he was leaning over her and that his hands were trembling and the feelings he had buried with her memory were burning through his veins.
"And damn you if you think you can drop me off on the Citadel just because of this stupid injury, or if you try to leave me behind on even a single recon mission on whatever impossible, stupid quest we're on now—"
Her smile was a white flash of teeth in the darkness. "We, Garrus? You don't even know who I'm working for, or why."
"It doesn't matter. I don't care."
The machines beeped and hissed in the sudden silence and she stared at him with something impossibly human on her face.
Two years ago, naive and young and stupid, he never would have dared push her this way. But he wasn't young anymore. And he no longer believed in heroes. She wasn't a paragon of truth and justice, she was just Shepard, a human woman with scars and flaws and enough stubborn strength to defy even death. He didn't want to follow blindly in her footsteps. He wanted to walk at her side. A partner. An equal.
He turned her hand over in his. Pale human skin almost white in the darkness, broken lines in her skin where the machinery glowed.
Don't make me leave you again. I think I need this.
It was not a comfortable thought.
She smiled up at him, a slow twist of her mouth. "What happened to your unquestioning turian obedience?"
"It got shot off in the same war where I lost my sarcasm."
"And your sense of when to it really necessary to stop that rocket with your face?"
"Well, I didn't see you volunteering."
"Because I have something called common sense."
Garrus blinked. "Remind me of that," he said, staring down at her, "the next time you decide to play captain goes down with the ship."
Her fingers were so small, curled around his, and there was something odd about her smile, something soft and not at all familiar. "Well," she said, quietly, "that's why I have you. To follow me to hell and back."
"Is that where we're going this time? Do I get hazard pay?"
She arched her brows. "Dunno. I'll ask the boss."
"Aren't you the boss?"
Shepard hesitated, biting her lip. "No. Well. Kind of, I guess. We're, ah, well." She met his eyes. "Cerberus brought me back from the dead. Because there are whole colonies vanishing and the Illusive Man thinks it's connected to the Reapers."
Garrus blinked, then clicked his teeth together, considering her. "The same Cerberus that almost killed you on Akuze?"
"And experimented on rachni and husks?"
"And killed that admiral and his squad?"
A beat of silence, and then he smiled at her.
"Okay," he said.
She looked like she didn't know whether to laugh or punch him. "That's it? Okay?"
They met each other's eyes in the darkness, and he didn't care that the smile hurt his face or that they were working for terrorists because when she tilted her head back and let go with that full-throated laugh something clicked into place inside of him, some missing piece slid home and everything made sense again. The years and regrets and string of failures didn't exactly melt away but he knew, in his heart that somehow it would all be okay.
Because they were together again.
"Shepard and Vakarian versus the whole damned universe," she said, mirroring his thoughts.
Garrus asked, slowly, as if the thought were just occurring to him, "You think that krogan, old what's-his-name, wants in on this?"
She laughed, struggling to breathe. "God, Garrus. Old what's-his-name?" And there was that strange little smile again. Shepard shifted on the bed, her hip pressing against his thigh. "The Illusive Man doesn't seem to think so. He said Wrex hasn't left Tuchanka since—" She blinked, and cleared her throat.
"Since you died," he finished for her, watching her eyes darken.
She drew in a breath. Her shoulders hitched, then relaxed. Her eyes dropped to their hands, still gripped.
"It wasn't two years for me," she said, so soft he almost missed it. And then she looked up and met his eyes again and something burned in those blue depths, something unnamable to anyone who had never passed beyond the threshold of life.
"No?" he asked, matching her soft tone.
"No. I—I died—" she spat the word "—and the next thing I can remember is that damn Cerberus surgical bed and the taste of my own blood and—and nothing in my body worked and everything hurt and Miranda was yelling at me over the comm."
"They really did—bring you back from the dead," he murmured, and she shivered.
"Yeah. Can't say I recommend it, as an experience." Her eyes fell on the glowing lines tracing the delicate bones in the back of her hand. "I'm...afraid to ask them, how much of me is still, you know..."
His heart twisted sharply in his chest.
I should have been there.
"Hey," he drawled into the silence, and she looked up at him, the lines of her face soft in the darkness and the warm scent of her emanating across the distance between them and something relaxed inside him and he lost the thread of what he'd been about to say.
"It's good to have you back."
She smiled, almost shyly. "Same to you," she said, and her smile slipped sideways. "You have no idea the crazies they've had me running around with. Not one damned decent shot."
"Oh, so now you only want me for my rifle, huh?" A warm memory spread through him. "Still complete shit with a real gun, Shepard?"
Her eyes glittered in the dark. "Are you insinuating something about my shotgun, Vakarian?"
"The krogan battering ram, you mean?" he said lightly, and her laugh was low and dangerous.
"All right. You've stepped in it now, turian. We've got a date in the cargo bay with a row of targets as soon as the doc lets you out of here."
"I'll bring the beer."
His yawn stretched his injured plates and he winced, gingerly poking at the bandage on his face. She swatted his hand away.
"Don't pick at it. Let it heal."
He yawned again, and when he opened his eyes she was standing at his bedside, smiling down at him.
"And get some rest."
He gave her his best military salute. "Yes, ma'am, Commander Shepard, ma'am."
She gathered the blankets she's discarded when he'd woken her up and pushed the chair back to the wall.
"I meant what I said," he told her, and she stopped and met his eyes, arching one brow. "About the missions," he clarified. "About not getting left behind."
Something shifted across her face, too fast for him to identify.
"Garrus," she said softly. "There's no one I'd rather have at my side. Besides being one of the best goddamn soldiers I've ever served with, you are hands down the best sniper and one hell of a tactician. And I trust you. I trust your judgment and your morality." And she grinned. "Just maybe not your sense of when to duck."
Even with the joke to lighten it, the sincerity in her voice had him blinking hard, shifting his eyes away from her. He was more tired than he'd admitted to himself.
She squeezed his hand, smiling at him. "Get some sleep, Garrus."
In the open door she hesitated.
"You know," she said, her eyes flicking up to his, and then away again. "I really missed you."
The door clicked shut behind her.
"Yeah," he said, softly into the dark. "Me, too."
Note: Critique very welcome!