Mass Effect 3 – Same
By Ysionris Gavotte
The doors of the Normandy's elevator opened, and Lieutenant Commander Ashley Williams – Spectre Ashley Williams – found herself within three meters of the last person she wanted to see.
The sound of the elevator doors opening were enough to bring Garrus Vakarian out of what looked like a contemplative stare at the Normandy's memorial wall, and his gaze steeled themselves on the Spectre stepping out instead. It had been only a few minutes ago since she requested permission from Shepard to come back onboard the ship, so no one else should have even realized that Ashley was back – except maybe Joker and EDI, who kept tabs on the entire ship – yet Garrus looked like the last person surprised. He merely looked at Ashley calmly, sizing her up, the first time they've met since Horizon that didn't involve pointing guns at each other.
Somehow, that impression was difficult to shake from her mind. She wondered what Garrus was thinking, if similar thoughts were crossing his mind.
There was a moment of silence between them, an awkward, anxious, tense vacuum, but it didn't last too long to be unusual, not when Garrus eventually gave Ashley a nod, not quite turning his body to face her, but swiveling his head and giving a glance aside. "Ashley," he greeted expressionlessly, tonelessly.
"Garrus," Ashley replied, reciprocating the gesture in both tone and face.
A turian eye glanced at all the gear she was packing. "Moving back onto the Normandy?"
Looking for any excuse to break anything resembling eye contact with the turian, Ashley took a glance at the bag slinging off her shoulder that included personal weapons, belongings, and necessities before fixing a steely gaze upon Garrus once more. "Looks like." Then, equally hard, "That a problem?"
Garrus shifted his weight onto a single foot, crossing his arms as he leaned back a bit, regarding Ashley in that steel-faced manner. She hated that about turians. Asari and salarians had similar facial expressions to humans when attempting to convey emotions. Krogans were more difficult to read, but careful observation and plenty of time around Wrex gave her some experience. Tali kind of cheated by wearing a helmet like all quarians, but she wore her emotions on her sleeve and never lied about them, so Ashley was more than willing to give her a pass. Turians, though, had faces that moved like sliding metallic plates; so many parts of it were solid, stoic, and Ashley often found it difficult to figure out what constituted as a frown, or if turians could even curl their lips – or what passed for their lips – to smile. Or if Garrus gave the kind of at-the-edges smirks that could be hidden behind his mandibles.
"No," he said presently, the pause between question and answer at a specific length that hinted at something, but was too short to call out for satisfaction. His voice gave the usual kind of lilt, indicating at slow amusement; Garrus always did that, and Ashley couldn't help but wonder if that was a deliberate thing to mask the instances when he was truly being sardonic. "The commander says you're on board, so that means you're on board."
Ashley never pegged Garrus as the type to lie. Then, again, she had never pegged him to be the type who worked with Cerberus. Two, three years did funny things to a lot of people. It wasn't anything she wanted to confront the turian about, though, not when things were supposed to be patched up, not when she was supposed to be part of the team again. Still, she knew it was naïve to think that this erased everything in the past, that people just forgot about what happened over the past two or three years.
Some things just aren't the same anymore.
Feeling that it was improper to just walk away but not wanting to engage in some kind of passive-aggressive staring contest with Garrus, Ashley turned instead to the memorial wall of the Normandy. "The list's gotten longer," she softly observed.
Garrus didn't immediately turn away from Ashley even after the human did, but he allowed a somber moment to pass after Ashley's comment before merely nodding, turning to the list of white names on black plaques – "the memories are all that remain", someone once said to him, "names and memories that fade away with time" – and regarding it with solemn melancholy. "We lost some friends along the way. Good people."
As if people with Shepard could be any other way. "Yeah," Ashley sighed absentmindedly.
The two additions to the wall were ones that Ashley barely recognized beyond name, but they both held significant meaning. Mordin Solus had accompanied Shepard and Garrus as the shore party on Horizon a year ago, the first and only time she had ever met the doctor. He had never spoken with Ashley, but that he had been there – that he, a salarian, had been with Shepard despite Cerberus, when she, a human, rejected it all – was something of an instant trigger of respect for the newly-instated Spectre, even more so than the news that he had cured the genophage, thereby committing the krogan to the war effort. The same was doubly so for Thane Krios, the drell who had practically singlehandedly saved the salarian councilor at the cost of his life…a contrast to Ashley herself, who had been moments away from handing three quarters of the Council into the hands of Cerberus.
If things had turned out differently on the Citadel…well, she didn't really want to think too much about more names being added to the memorial wall.
It didn't take too long for Ashley to realize that Garrus had, once more, turned from the memorial wall to studying Ashley in that impassive, unreadable manner. And like hell she was just going to let that go on unnoticed. "Something you want to say?" she said, her voice reflecting a bit more harshness than she had intended.
"Oh," remarked the turian, accompanied by a motion that resembled the raising of what could've passed for turian eyebrows. His voice was strangely casual, flippant, cool. "I was just thinking about Virmire, how the commander had her 'legendary' standoff with Wrex and how you were about to shoot him in the back if things were about to look bad."
The Spectre chortled mirthlessly. "Good thing all of you were up front and center."
Again, a silence that was long enough to carry implications but short enough not to call out for satisfaction. "I was talking about Udina," said the turian marksman neutrally.
Two could play this game. "Sure you were," Ashley nodded in mock innocence. "And Udina was going to shoot me the moment I looked at Shepard wrong. That about right?"
"Good thing Udina couldn't see your face when you decided to trust the Commander," Garrus gave a slightly lilting drawl, his standard tone of voice whenever he sounded like he was making a humorous assessment of the truth. It sounded like a laugh, but not quite; it was, to Ashley right at that moment, the most annoying sound she'd ever heard. "He might've drawn that gun earlier."
Ashley was less restrained with her bite or lack of mirth, and laughed cruelly. "That's cute, Garrus," she nodded, twisting her lips into a half-smile, half-grimace. "Pretending you don't feel pissed off at me since Horizon. Pretending you don't feel let down about me not joining the commander back then. Pretending you don't feel betrayed that I even questioned the commander." She eyed the holster in Garrus' armor, spied the pistol there, the same pistol that he had aimed at Ashley and Udina during their confrontation on the Citadel. "Pretending you weren't going to shoot me in front of the Council."
For someone that was being snapped it, Garrus was rather cool in the way he merely chuckled, remarking, "You have shown great instances of poor judgment over the last year." The hardening of his gaze, however, clearly told he had taken great notice of the human eyeing his sidearm.
"Good to know," said Ashley dryly, subtly referencing upon both counts. "So, were you going to shoot me?"
The marksman had the grace to keep his voice neutral, his face blank. "What do you mean?"
She knew that Garrus heard her right the first time, but Ashley decided to reiterate the point for emphasis anyways. "If the commander hadn't talked me down, would you have shot me?"
The reply sounded almost defensive, but also again delivered in that strangely casual, flippant manner. "Shepard had things under control. Having to butt in didn't cross my mind."
"Not even a little?"
Garrus' mandibles flared just a bit; Ashley had never decided if that was the turian equivalent of a grimace or a shrug. "I wasn't going to cross that bridge until we got there," admitted the turian…although he took another moment to reevaluate that answer, realized he was probably not being entirely truthful. Sarcastic, yes, but also deliberately misleading. And that Ashley hadn't taken advantage of the silence that accompanied his moment of contemplation – choosing instead to stare at him, unimpressed – caused his expression and tone to harden, allowed him to reply with brutal honesty, "Yeah, I probably would've."
There was an explosive exhale from Ashley as she crossed her arms, grimaced in a kind of way that almost looked like she was trying to exercise something out of her system. If anything, though, she didn't seem upset. Conflicted, maybe, and perhaps even somewhat defense, but largely intermixed with relief. "Good," she finally breathed after seemingly getting things under control inside.
The turian was kind enough not to look like he was raising an eyebrow quizzically. "That's it?"
"Yeah," Ashley agreed, trying to force as much finality into her voice as possible, discovered that she didn't actually need to force it, naturally as it came. "That's it. I was being stupid and prejudiced and confused on Horizon and on the Citadel. I was ready to shoot the commander even though I should've been trusting her." Again, she sighed explosively, looking awkwardly around, as if trying to find something else less embarrassing to focus on instead of Shepard's turian right-hand man in front of him. Then, again, there really wasn't a lot of other things she could focus on without saying her next line, so she mustered the effort to look Garrus in the eye, concluded, "So, yeah, if I hadn't come around, you should've shot me."
Garrus fidgeted a little; perhaps he was even shuffling awkwardly. Thankfully, that little movement got itself over with fairly quickly, and he replied amicably, with a softer, more confident voice, "Like I said, didn't get to that bridge."
Nodding, Ashley exhaled deeply for a third time, realizing that the day hosted a lot of firsts. The first time she pointed a gun at a superior officer and nearly killed her. The first time she nearly delivered the Council into the hands of homicidal terrorists. The first time she found herself trying to explain herself to a turian. "Sorry," the Spectre finally muttered, giving Garrus a respectful nod. "About a lot of things." A pause long enough to betray a hint of jealousy, perhaps, before she finished gratefully, "And thanks for sticking with the commander for so long."
"Well," chuckled Garrus dryly, "someone had to make sure she didn't get into the driver's seat of a Mako."
Ashley actually laughed at that. It wasn't even mirthless. "And Liara's no good for that?"
"Doctor T'Soni," remarked the marksman in that faux-official voice, coming across as comically overdramatic, "has gotten very good at putting forth persuasive arguments." And then his tone fell a bit flat. "But, then again, she's quite vulnerable to kissing. Neither turians nor krogan, as Wrex observered, do that very well, so that mercifully leaves me as the only sane man."
Again, Ashley laughed. Garrus' joking manner was familiar territory. It felt good. Disagreements, frustrations, mistrust, and regret felt like they all washed away in that one moment. "So we're good?"
"We're good," nodded the turian, his voice audibly relaxing. "Don't worry about it, nothing a few snipes and cheap shots can't solve." In more ways than one, it seemed, but that was better left unspoken.
"And a whole bunch of Reapers," added Ashley.
"Indeed." Then, slyly, a slow and soft drawl: "I'm just glad that's one less gun pointed at the commander, and one more gun pointed Cerberus and the Reapers."
Despite the dig, Ashley found herself surprisingly unoffended. "Got that right," she reaffirmed. "Speaking of guns, I should probably get things squared away. Does Steve still stand ever vigilant at the armory?"
"Cortez?" chuckled Garrus. "The man can get pretty possessive about all the tech on this ship, so it looks like you won't get to go back to cleaning guns in the hangar. I've had to bring my own rifle up to the main battery to do anything with it. Don't get me wrong, Cortez knows his firearms and armor, and maintains them just as well as his shuttle. But my girl needs a special kind of love."
"I'd know," Ashley agreed in almost a resigned manner. "James has to throw all his weapons into his little corner of the hangar as well. And you said you're in the main battery?"
Garrus cocked a thumb – or what probably was the turian equivalent of a thumb – over his shoulder. "Just down the hall beyond the elevator, yeah."
"Not rooming or bunking?"
"Nah, soft humans need soft beds," the marksman clucked, which the Spectre recognized as merely good-natured banter instead of any racial or species posturing on the turian's part. Or simply emotional subterfuge; Garrus seemed increasingly tired since the days when he first joined the Normandy. "I could never get used to them. Besides, you never know when the guns need calibrating."
At least Ashley knew where to look for him, then. "Well, I'll be taking one of the observation decks, then. Hurry up and finish calibrating the guns, and then we can catch up."
If turians had an equivalent for smiling, Garrus would've broke into a wide grin; the feeling was not unlike someone discovering one particular friend had yet to hear of a long-running joke that was beginning to get stale amongst older company, and that hijinks were to be had. Still, he managed to cover that rather well, stated instead, "And practice some sniper shots down by the hangar. The commander and I have a good game going, but it's getting stale with just the two of us, and no one else a wants a real challenge between easy suicide missions." The turian didn't do anything that would've resembled a human smile in any way, but Ashley could recognize friendly soldierly wagers anytime. "The three of us were the only people who could shoot worth a damn back on the original Normandy, so I hope you've kept your aim sharp."
"Sounds like fun," grinned Ashley. "Maybe just before we embark on another mission involving rachni, like back on Noveria?"
"Sorry," chuckled Garrus, and Ashley couldn't help but feel that, if the turian was any younger, he'd be sticking his tongue out at her. "Already did that without you."
"Before we take on another Cerberus squad?"
"Sounds like every other mission. Would be fun, but I think we'd end up shooting a hole in the Normandy, and Joker won't like that. Before we deal with the geth, then?"
"I could work with that," Garrus agreed, continued eagerly, "Sounds soon too." Then it was right back to teasing: "Are you sure you don't need extra time to practice? Hospitals can be horrible places to lose your aim."
Ashley only punched him hard in the arm, which was – in her opinion – a totally reasonable reaction. "You watch your own ass, Garrus," she snorted, grinning as she shifted the weight of her bag across her shoulder, deciding that their talk was over, and she'd better get settled in in time for the next mission. "I'm going to square my stuff away."
"Right," agreed Garrus, remaining where he stood at the memorial hall even as the Spectre made her way to the starboard observation deck. "I'll catch you later."
"Later," Ashley agreed, secretly feeling not just relieved, but almost a bit elated. There were so many ways this could've gone wrong. With Shepard, with Garrus; the latter had been with Shepard longer than just about anyone, and that loyalty granted him all the respect he would even need from Ashley. She had dreaded having to deal with the turian, having to defend herself, justify herself amongst angry crewmembers of why she wasn't there a year ago when the commander had been proven right again and again…but, then again, this was the Normandy. The ship had always seemed to be about second chances. Chances to redeem the Williams family name. Chances to bring the fight to the Reapers. And now, as it seemed – even as the doors of the starboard observation deck slid open to her, her new home for as long as it took – chances to be part of the crew again.
"Oh, and Ash." The Spectre turned back, and – in one instant – became sure she knew what a turian grin looked like. "It's good to have you back. It'll be just like old times."
Some things, Ashley realized with a smile of her own, will always remain the same.
"Good to be back."