by AngelDormante

He taps a talon on the cool, stainless steel countertop. "Awful empty here," he says, almost conversationally.

Shepard lets out a short bark of a laugh, swiveling in her bar stool. Her finger traces the rim of her bone-dry glass. "Service is crap, too."

Garrus leans over the counter to peer at the empty space on the other side, but finds nothing. It's blinding white, everything, like they climbed Palaven's Entarus Mountains during the cold season and set up a mini-bar in the thick of the damn fog. Of course, the last time he saw the Entaruses, they were smoldering piles of ash. A pain shoots through his chest that he ignores.

"Something's wrong about this, Shepard."

"Agreed." She straightens up, tipping the glass over with a flick of her finger. "So much for storming heaven."

He looks over at her, dressed in a full set of combat gear, and then down at his own silvery-blue armor. "We're dressed the part," he notes, though there's a scratching at the back of his mind that makes it seem more like an observation.

"Hmm," Shepard says. Her eyes drift to the unmanned shelves, and then to the clock hovering above them. It's a simple hologram with the image ':13' shining in bright neon blue. "That timers's been counting down from thirty."

"So I noticed."

"Garrus," she says suddenly, and then stops herself, hesitating. He looks at the side of her head until her eyes tear away from the clock, something familiar and hard and a little bit desperate flashing behind them. "Could we have done anything differently? Would it all have changed?"

"Hmm." He's echoing her from earlier, but there's no bite behind it. His mandibles work as he considers, then shakes his head. "What's done is done, Shepard. Don't beat yourself up by dwelling on it now."

A slightly cross edge finds its way into her smirk. He wonders where it came from. "Humor me."

"Then I suppose," he relents, crossing his arms over the counter, "that anything could have gone differently. You've made a lot of tough calls, Shepard. Not much room for second chances in this line of work."

She doesn't respond. They sit in silence for a few minutes, watching the clock tick down. There's something surreal in all of it that Garrus just can't pin.

"Time's up," Shepard eventually says.

"Yeah," Garrus agrees.

Their hands fold together over the counter top, and the fog creeps in.

Garrus snapped awake, fire burning through the side of his face. His hand flew to his mandible, finding it caught on the edge of a computer console, and he let out a sharp hiss as he untangled himself from the device.

A deep laugh sounded from the other side of the room. Garrus looked over to see Wrex propped up against the Normandy's lockers, chuckling. "Always thought those things looked damned inconvenient," he rumbled.

"You okay, Vakarian?" Ashley chimed in, looking up from where she was cleaning her rifle. She didn't usually make it a point to speak with Garrus, but something that sounded close to concern was set in her voice. "Never thought I'd see a turian of all things falling asleep at his post."

"I—" Garrus was at a loss. He'd fallen asleep? When did that happen? How did that happen? "I don't—"

A bleat of static sounded from the ship's comms. "Kaidan, Garrus, report to the Command Deck. Shepard wants you two for the shore party on Virmire." There was a short pause, followed by Joker's trademark scoff. "Oh, and might want to get your barf bags ready; you're going down in the Mako."

Garrus pulled away from the console and headed over to his locker, Wrex politely moving out of the way for him. Ashley came up on his side. "You sure you're up for this? Skipper's not going to want you fighting tired."

"I'm fine," he said, a little more sharply than he might have meant to. Ashley raised her hands in that defensive motion humans liked to use in conversations, eyes rolling, and moved back to tend to her rifle.

Wrex hovered, crossing his arms. He looked more amused than anything. "You were slumped over that thing for half an hour, turian."

"And you just left me there?" Garrus spat.

The krogan shrugged. "I was trying to tell if you were dead."

Garrus snorted and snapped his sniper rifle into its place on his back, shuffling towards the elevator. Humiliating. He spent half an hour—

Cerberus, Reapers, and now the Devil, huh? Even better than old times

Garrus froze, a feeling of dread rushing over him like ice water poured down his back. He snatched at the fleeting thought, but it was gone as quickly as it came, like a dream that happened too long ago and had already faded. All he felt was a crawling beneath his hide and a sickening sense of wrongness.

He shook it off, fingers tightening over the pistol clipped at his hip. Enough. If he didn't focus on the mission—if something went wrong at Virmire, he couldn't even begin to imagine the consequences.

Garrus had seen signs of mourning in every species on the Citadel. If you could detach yourself from the tragedy, it made for a fascinating case study—salarians grew jittery and unfocused, always wringing their hands and shaking their shoulders, while turians' mandibles pulled up against their faces and locked than a quarian's exosuit. Elcor were tricky; you couldn't tell unless they spoke, though an elcor contact he'd once had at C-Sec swore up and down that among their own species, a distraught member could be smelled ten miles away.

Humans and asari, now they were interesting. The first time he'd seen it was when he was just a rookie with the unfortunate task of breaking a sad set of news to an asari about her bondmate. The newly widowed alien had propped herself up against the doorway, hand cupping over her mouth, and then suddenly water was oozing from her eyes. Crying, his superior had told him several hours later. The damn most obvious sign of distress he'd ever see, and in this job, get used to seeing it.

The odd thing about asari and humans, though, was that they didn't always cry. Regardless of how they decided to channel it, at least a turian's grief could always be recognized by the set of his mandibles; he's served with the former two species, and sometimes, the signs of distress were harder to spot if they cut out the waterworks.

"Chin up, eyes forward, and shelve it," a human co-worker named Bailey had once told him when inquired. "Criminals aren't gonna sit around and wait for you to wipe your tears so you can take a clear shot at them."

Made his job hell of a lot harder sometimes, but a secret part of him was grateful and maybe a little bit selfish. He never liked seeing the pain on peoples' faces.

(That why you cut corners with Butler's wife?)

Garrus snarled and pushed the thought away. They'd been biting at him like insects ever since Virmire—tiny needles that prodded and then disappeared, retreating and burying themselves in some distant part of his brain. Maybe he'd ask for some shore leave next time they were docked—but that was another matter for another time.

Shepard was standing on the bridge, arms crossed as the distance grew between them and the burning crater on Virmire, and Garrus didn't need years of C-Sec experience to know she had to be grieving.

"Commander," he tried lamely. He found himself lifting a hand to put on her shoulder, but quickly dropped it at his side again; he had no right to touch his CO without her permission. "Don't blame yourself."

"I don't." There were razors in her voice. "I blame Saren."

"We'll get him, Commander."

Her gaze turned to his, and for the first time in years, he found himself searching a human expression for anything other than that sickening flatness—flat mouth, flat eyebrows, and flat eyes. Then she surprised him by curling the corner of her lip up in a smile that wasn't at all sincere, even if the effort was. "I know we will, Garrus."

He nodded agreement, but her eyes stayed fixed on his, as though she was waiting for some further reaction. Contrite, his eyes hit the floor. "I'm sorry about Officer Williams, Commander. She was a good woman."

Shepard's eyes were sharp when he looked back up. "She was," the commander said softly. She turned on her heel and headed back towards the Command Deck, hand coming down on his shoulder briefly as she passed. "Get some sleep, Garrus."

He watched her draw away. Then he wandered into the cockpit, hand settling on the back of the pilot's chair. "Joker."

The "Yeah?" he received was flatter than he'd thought the human capable of, but he pushed on.

"Has Shepard ever...cried?"

Joker gave a weird-sounding snort. "Uh, the Commander? No. I mean, I think she might've gotten teary-eyed once when Anderson confiscated her driving privileges—" The usual edge behind his words was notably absent, and after a moment, he shifted uncomfortably. "Hey, look. I'm not the one to ask about this. Maybe try Ashley or Tali? They probably have a girls' club sent up and—"

Garrus lurched slightly. "Williams?"

"Er...yeah? You know, since Shepard just pulled her ass out of fire instead of Kaidan's? She's probably way more in tune with this 'guilt' thing than I am right now." Joker paused, craning his neck to look at Garrus oddly. "I mean, I know you guys are all about 'honoring duty', but wouldn't you kinda-sorta feel like shit if you survived a fight your teammate didn't?"

No—that wasn't right. He'd just finished talking with Shepard about...

(So I'm the only one in this thing that bothers to remember dead teammates. Good to know.)

"Yeah," Garrus muttered, a little more quickly than he'd realized. He yanked away from the chair and stalked back over the bridge, head spinning. "Of course I would."

The centerpiece of galactic civilization was crumbling to pieces around them, a godly force from the reaches of dark space was tearing through their fleets like tissue paper, and Shepard was hesitating on the decision to save the most important figureheads of their society.

"Are you sure about this, Shepard?" Tali's voice was cautionary, if a little unsure. "Human casualties will be very high if you send the fleet in now."

Tali possibly couldn't understand. Her society valued its own members above anything else—there weren't a lot of them left, so maybe they were justified in that, but being picky and playing favorites now wasn't going to do them any damn favors with that thing breathing down their necks.

"This is bigger than humanity," he snapped. "Sovereign's a threat to every organic species in the galaxy!"

The quarian sent him a look that was withering even through her glass visor. "True," she said, voice level. That's why you can't waste reinforcements trying to save the Council. You must hold them back until the Citadel arms open up and the human fleet can go after Sovereign."

He hadn't expected her to be so capable of cold calculus, but it didn't change the fact that she was wrong—even in her short time on the Citadel, she had to have seen how vital the Council was to their functioning as a complete society. He opened his mouth to argue when their comms buzzed and Joker's impatient voice filtered through.

"What's the order, Commander? Come in now to save the Ascension or hold back?"

Shepard drew a short breath, her back straightening and hands folding behind her back. The motion almost seemed familiar. "Wait until those arms open, Joker. We need all our ships focusing on Sovereign, even if it means sacrificing the Council."

Garrus felt the bottom of his stomach drop out. He glared at the back of Shepard's head, mandibles drawing tight against his face. "I hope you know what you're doing, human. Don't let the Council die in vain."

Shepard went rigid. Slowly, her hands unlinked, posture falling, and she turned to meet Garrus' gaze. He held it. Tali glanced between them worriedly, the glowing orbs that served as her eyes stretched wide.

Then Shepard looked away. She leaned over the platform and signaled to Saren's corpse below, lying atop a pile of shattered glass. "Make sure he's dead."

He drew his pistol and moved, trying to ignore the tiny voice that jabbed into his brain like talons.

(Spirits. You bare-faced scum.)

The last time he felt the needles was day he said goodbye to Commander Shepard.

They met at the docking bay, just as the artificial lighting of the Citadel's day cycle began its glow. He came wearing his C-Sec armor—the traditional kind, though she'd kindly sent his mods back with him—and an expression of firm professionalism to send a respected ally off.

To his surprise, she was dressed in her officer's uniform, with a smile that was a little tired around the edges. Even still, her eyes rang proud and authoritative as he approached, and he found his own posture relaxing when she turned them on his face.

"They're sending me to fight geth," she said by way of greeting.

Garrus' chin lifted. "Even though they're nowhere near the real threat. I can't believe these politicians are so blind."

"I can." Shepard's smile was sad, and it made Garrus somewhat uncomfortable. He shook his head.

"I'll do what I can here, Shepard. Plant a few ideas in some of the other officers' heads. My superiors won't like it, but if there's one thing I'm good at, it's being a bad turian."

She laughed. It was clipped and a little unbalanced, but he'd never heard it before. Then her features grew quiet; she closed her eyes and opened them, and when he looked there, the fire was gone and replaced with something—heavy, burnt, like charred ashes spread over a battlefield.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, his voice wailed a miserable note. Garrus blinked and found his mandibles drawn painfully tight against his face.

And then there was a spark behind Shepard's eyes and the fire raged to life again, so brilliant and alive, and he felt all over again like a tiny, mewling thing watching a woman move planets. "Try not to choke on all the red tape, Garrus. I'll keep in touch."

She extended her hand. He took it, their fingers folding together perfectly on the first try, and he tried to speak around the deep, dizzying ache in his chest. "Understood. I'll always be here if you need me, Shepard."

When her grip loosened, he found that he was still holding on. Her eyes lifted, warmth spilling from her hand to his even through the gloves, and she gripped again. "I know you will."

Executor Pallin called him into his office one day. Anderson was there, his face set in stone, and something twisted hard in Garrus' chest when Pallin motioned for him to take a seat.

"Officer Vakarian," the man started, then stopped. His composure dropped, thumb and index finger pressing into his eyes. The Councilor was gone, and the human grief on his face could only have been plainer if the man were crying. "You're aware the Normandy dropped out of contact several days ago..."

That night, drunk on sorrow and the screaming swelled up in his throat, Garrus shut himself in his tiny apartment and tried to distance himself from whatever it was that took her away. When everything seemed perfect and still and calm, when even his own breaths were there while Shepard was not, he realized that everything was still perfect, and dug his talons into his palms.

He choked out a garbled curse at the galaxy, but it continued to move around him, uncaring of the woman it stole away. It wouldn't care then, or the next day, or fifty years from now. It would just keep moving and killing and not caring, as ruthless and brutal as the Reapers, and would never care.

There was nothing he could do to escape it. Digging the heels of his palms into his eyes, Garrus felt something naïve and young break inside him, and the rift it caused threatened to suck him inside, collapse him on himself. Desperately, his mind pulled back hard to get him away from it, to retreat to some corner and wait until everything made sense again.

Until something pushed him back, firm and reprimanding. He tried again and the push turned into a shove, grounding him back in reality where he didn't want to be, like a criminal pinned to the ground as he struggled and fought.

He gave up. Mandibles locked tight against his face, Garrus mourned.

He woke up the next morning; everything was still there except Shepard.

He picked up his rifle and tendered his resignation from C-Sec the very same day.

The voice never spoke to him again. It never even occurred to him that it was gone until the day when he was crouched in one of Omega's pisshole buildings with the bodies of nine dead teammates rotting downstairs and three merc groups ready to twist his head right off his shoulders, and figured that he had gone just crazy enough that he could really use someone to talk to.

But when he reached far to the back where it always sat, the space was empty.

He didn't have time to feel lonely, or even decide if he should mourn its loss. A new transport shuttle loaded with freelancers was due soon.

He grew to love her, and the way the first time they really tried, her mouth was hot on his plates and she knew just where the tender skin connecting his mandibles to his face was, and there was such a painful longing in every touch she gave that he just wanted to make sure she never wanted for anything again.

They promised to meet at the bar.

Stretched out on a ratty medical cot, Garrus felt Tali's hand curled over his own, gripping like a steel vice. She was screaming at him for failing to eat, and for hiding his gaunt figure beneath civvies (armor had become far too heavy a week ago), and for slipping all those extra nutripaste tubes into her tent without her notice, and dammit, don't leave her too—

He could tell the precise moment when he began shutting down: it was when he stared up at the jungle canopy and thought about the bar, about how he'd meet Shepard there and they'd talk about all sorts of things, like if they'd find Kaidan there and how she'd saved the Council and—

Oh, he thought, but even the sudden rush of realization didn't leave him with much more than a dull anger and hurt that was too much for his blurring mind to keep up with. That isn't fair, Shepard.

Tali's mouthpiece flashed rapidly as she spoke to him; he squeezed her hand, a pathetic little twitch, to tell her goodbye.

He'd be seeing her again.