Chapter 1, published 4.13.12, last updated 8.12.13. Details appended to chapter text.
"How are your thermal clips?"
He ejected a sink, watched it roll against the trash beneath his perch. Tried to keep his subtones casual when he answered, but his mouth was too dry and his larynx too tense.
"You know how it is. Could always use a couple more."
Bullets slammed against the wall where he'd taken cover, grinding down its strength chip by chip. Rounds fired too high gouged chunks from the ceiling, and rained plaster on the bodies of twelve men and women at his back.
He didn't look. To look was to remember, and to remember was to invite a mistake.
Garrus opened his Mantis and shunted sinks mechanically into the breech.
Rearm. Review, he said silently to the mercs. Just stop jumping that barricade for a half-minute. A half-minute—that was all. Time to patch new wounds, flex stiffening fingers, drink his dwindling supply of water. Thoughts of escape, or survival, had vanished hours ago. Only one goal remained: to take as many of the bastards as he could when he went.
He dragged his rifle back into position. Dad was talking over the comm, a shield against the admission of weakness, a reminder of what he had done and must still do. Discipline, duty. Success at all costs.
The turian way.
Garrus closed his eyes as muscles burned, protesting the resumption of a position he'd held for hours. He always thought he'd think back to life before C-Sec. Solana, Mom, Dad. Before everything had gone to hell. But even now, Dad on the line and Palaven's dialect in his ear, all he remembered was Shepard. The quiet days between missions, tinkering with the Mako on the SR1. The MSV Fedele, Saleon down the barrel of a gun and Shepard, talking him down. Ilos.
She'd been like Dad, in a way. Principled. Unflinching. Rejecting the possibility of a no-win scenario. He pulled the trigger and felt a bullet graze his arm, tearing flesh.
"And so he dies anyway. What was the point of that?"
"You can't predict how people react, Garrus. But you can control how you respond."
He knew he was here because of her. He'd left C-Sec to join her crew. Returned because she pushed him to, hitting home when his father never had. He'd watched when the flag was draped over her empty coffin. Watched when the Council turned tail, dismissed the Reaper menace. He'd watched 'til the one disillusioned day he could watch no more, and then he'd watched himself quit, turning his back on the ones who'd turned their backs on her.
"No matter how bad things are falling apart around you, as long as you have at least one bullet left, you can still get the job done. Understand?"
"Yeah. I do." He shifted his shoulders back to readiness and rested a talon on the trigger.
Three mercs had jumped the barricade. Freelancers, armor secondhand. Untrained. Green.
Dad's voice was a constant in his ear, bracing by the fact of its presence.
"How many targets are there on the field?"
"Not many. Not yet."
To obey was instinct. He reached into a pocket for another brace of sinks.
He froze. Breathed, and checked another pocket.
His fingers returned to the grip automatically. Grimed with dirt. Tacky with blood.
A single thought pierced the glacial stillness in his mind.
End of the line.
He knew without counting that there were seven clips in the chamber.
Seven clips—seven shots.
Seven kills, then he could rest.
It was more difficult than it should've been, to say it. He flexed his mandibles and spoke, cutting across.
"Can't. This is it."
He looked down the scope. People were scurrying around the laser dot, magnifications in miniature.
"Thanks, Dad. ...For everything."
He fired through the sudden silence over the comm.
"Listen, son." His subtones were steady, pitched midrange with iron control—the same they'd been every day of Garrus's life. "You finish up what you have to do there, and then you come on home to Palaven. We have a lot to sort out."
A final lesson, necessary and perfect. Garrus nodded once, tersely, against his scope.
"I have to go now. Don't worry about me—I'll make it home when I can. The." His throat was tight. "The odds just got a lot better."
Six clips. Last wave. He realized with a part of his mind that Dad was still on the line. Waiting with him.
They dropped onto the bridge singly and in pairs. Moving towards the wrong cover, looking in the wrong directions, stepping in the wrong places. Amateurs, leaderless. He exhaled, killed the closest, kept the rest huddled in cover.
Bought himself a little more time.
Three hung back. Weapons well-used, handled with ease. Ex-military or professionals. Meant intent, not uncertainty. Meant organization, and threat.
Garrus turned his sights on them.
Humans. Two females, one male, shielded and unhelmeted. One female looking left. Her mouth moved, and the others nodded.
Vertical angle, 62.2 degrees. Ambient air density, .068 grams per liter. Spin drift, 43 millimeters.
Garrus placed the crosshairs left of her temple.
She drew her gun, signaling her team. Alliance hand-and-arm signs. Shepard would've been disgusted.
He exhaled. The world narrowed to the stillness of her body, the symmetry of the crosshairs, the steadiness of his talon on the trigger.
Then she looked up, and their eyes met through the scope.
Garrus's rifle jerked and slipped off the ledge. His shoulders slammed against the wall, yanking him into cover.
"You've stopped shooting. What's wrong?"
The commander glanced over the platform's edge. Saren sprawled on the grass, blood pooling under the hole in his head. No life signs.
He was breathing too hard, too fast. "I thought I just saw—"
Her face was hidden by her helmet, and her voice expressionless when she turned away.
"Make sure he's dead."
Dad's voice cut through reeling shock. "Garrus. You need to focus."
It couldn't. He'd seen her because he'd been thinking of her. That was all. He shut his eyes, steadied his pounding heart, and looked down his sights.
There, advancing down the bridge. Squad at her flank. But the freelancers were leaving cover, confirmed hostiles and closer.
He swapped in a concussive round and fixed crosshairs on her shoulder. Set instinct against the logic that told him it couldn't be her, and need for certainty against the training that told him not to waste sinks.
Time was up anyway. One clip less wouldn't change that.
He squeezed the trigger. She staggered and glanced up at his perch, face unobstructed in his sights.
She looked down the bridge again and picked up her pace. "Shields're down," he heard her report. "Let's move." Low, competent, confident.
...I'll be damned.
Garrus took cover and ejected his sink, relief mingled with uneasiness. The how of her presence was a question for later. The why was problematic. The Shepard he knew would never take a job like this. Even as a Spectre she'd toed the line, requiring her crew to do the same. But two years was a long time.
His omnitool flashed, alerting him to the remaining freelancers as they closed on his base.
Shit shit shit. Focus. Garrus raised himself into position, training sights swiftly on the nearest target. Shepard wasn't the fucking problem.
Let it be you.
As you were.
His talon slid over the trigger—and his mark crumpled.
"They're with Archangel!" someone screamed.
His scope snapped to Shepard. Tearing left, shields flaring under the mercs' barrage. She drop-skidded into cover and reappeared to lay down suppressing fire.
"Watch your ten, Massani! ML's got a bead on ya. Lawson, mercs go near that gas tank, you stop 'em going anywhere else!"
An explosion tore through his base, mingled with the screams of the freelancers.
He grinned. "Dad. I'm going to go. I'll see you soon."
The sincerity carried this time. There was a shift in his father's subtones to match when he answered.
"Then get it done, son."
The line went dead.
Backup teams were mounting the barricade. Garrus reached for his assault rifle, reserved as a last defense.
Wouldn't be needing that anymore.
He opened it, transferring clips clumsily to the Mantis. Shepard would deal with the intruders. He'd hold the rear.
Methodically he shot, ejected, and fired, eyes on his targets but half his attention on the battle he could hear advancing through his base and up the steps. He knew Shepard wouldn't let the mercs roll him up from behind. Knew that, as surely as he knew Palaven was hot as hell. Still, when the doors finally gave it took all his will not to glance rearward and verify that the intruders were friendlies. He focused on his mark as the man scrambled into cover.
The merc was about to move. He could feel it in the lull, hear it in the restless scrape of the man's armor and the compulsive taps of his finger against the trigger. Garrus raised a finger without looking from his scope.
Silence, a few seconds stretched into days as the merc's head moved inch by inch into view.
Garrus lowered his rifle as the gunshot's echo faded and checked his mark for vitals.
He unfolded from his defensive position, using his gun to lever himself upright. Tried not to limp when he crossed the room, and settled onto a pile of munitions before he could really embarrass himself by falling over.
Or, possibly, by grabbing her to confirm her reality and getting shot for the presumption.
Garrus removed his helmet.
"Shepard," he said, as casually as he could. "I thought you were dead."
Rewrote reminiscing, introspection, and observation scenes. Shortened up sentences in most sectors. Cut superfluous and/or self-indulgent clauses. Tweaked diction to fit Garrus's voice and state of mind. Dropped articles like hotcakes. || 12.21 Tightened up syntax for voice. || 12.24 Added a line for pacing. Rewrote Shepard's combat lines and sequence. Tweaked diction for style and cut words in final scene. || 12.25 Rewrote chapter for Homeworlds 3 canon (thanks for the tip, N0odles). Tweaked retained lines to establish Shepard's voice (thanks, MostlyAnon). || 12.26 Cut clauses for narrative flow. Split sentences and tweaked diction for voice. Rewrote end of the call and most lines involving the ID check. || 12.27 Use of "fingers" and "talons" is now motivated. || 1.23 Reworked introspection lines for voice. Tightened up syntax. Fixed a couple of prose lines for narrative flow. || 2.02 Swapped out a verb in prose. Rearranged lines prior to Shepard opening fire for pacing. Cut clauses and rewrote lines after call and in final scene. Restored a word-final 'g' in Shepard's dialogue. || 2.05 Split a sentence for voice. Changed an introspection line. Changed line breaks for pacing in the recognition scene. || 3.05 Added a preposition in final scene for syntactical parallelism. || 3.22 Cut a superfluous sentence. Swapped out a verb for sound. || 3.30 Minor diction edits. Rewrote one of Garrus's early introspection scenes. Em-dashes, ellipses, and semi-colons seeded for pacing. Tightened up syntax in the countdown prior to recognition scene. || 4.08 Cut a couple of sentences and rewrote others for style, pacing, and voice. || 4.11 Cut superfluous lines. Rewrote some introspection lines for voice. Removed line breaks for pacing. || 5.27 Cut conjunctions and split sentences. Replaced impersonal references to Garrus's parents with focalized "Mom" and "Dad." || 5.29 Rewrote several introspection lines. Swapped out "sniper rifle" for Mantis for voice. || 6.23 Cut a clause in first scene for style. Cut prepositional phrases. Added an introspection line. Rewrote a line for voice. || 6.26 Cut a possessive adjective for style. Tweaked diction in description lines. Reworked a line for style. Italicized countdown. || 6.28 Cut possessive adjectives. Cut a prepositional phrase for pacing. Cut a conjunction. Cut a direct object. Added introspection lines for pacing and drama. Italicized a thought. Split sentences for pacing. Cut a line. Added line breaks for pacing. || 7.3 Added details before recognition scene for voice, pacing, and military flavor. || 7.5 Cut articles and adjectives. Split a sentence for pacing. Cut unnecessary prepositional phrases. Added ellipsis for pacing. || 7.10 Cut a clause. Cut introspection and narration lines for pacing. Added line breaks for pacing. Split sentences and reworked others. Tweaked diction. || 7.17 Changed a verb's tense for narrative flow. Cut conjunctions. Added line breaks for pacing. Tightened up diction in flashback scene. || 8.1 Tweaked diction for voice and military flavor. Fixed a verb tense. Cut unnecessary clauses. Reworked "end of the line" scene. Added line breaks for pacing. Replaced periods with commas for pacing. Cut prepositions. || 8.2 Cut adverbs. || 8.9 Reworked introspection lines for voice. Added new introspection lines for pacing. || 8.11 Tightened up syntax. Added a line for pacing. Swapped out verbs for voice and pacing. Reworked Shepard's combat lines. || 8.12 Reworked introspection lines.