Chapter 8, published 12.17.12, last updated 7.31.16. Details appended to chapter text.
Omega's air was hot, close, and dusty. Half the lights had shorted out in the docking bay, and those remaining flickered as their power ran low. Gritty, grimy, all too familiar. Out of habit, Garrus checked the corners as they left the airlock.
"Place's a shithole," Shepard muttered.
"You've said that before," he commented, starting down the hall.
"Yeah, well, it deserves another mention." The commander fell in step beside him. Even helmeted and armored, he could hear the tension in her terseness, and read the watchfulness in her body language.
"Expecting trouble?" he asked casually as they passed a batarian prophet.
"This was probably the worst idea ever," she said shortly. "Only been a couple weeks since we shot the place up. Omega's too hot for us to be walkin' around like this."
"Look." He stopped and faced her. "Even if there's trouble, Aria won't want you killed on her station."
Shepard snorted. "I'm pretty sure Aria doesn't give a shit."
He shook his head. "Trust me. You've proven yourself an asset, and she won't lose an asset if she can help it."
They started walking again. "So I'm good 'til something else slips the net. 'Cause that's never happened before."
"Moreau was right," Garrus observed, turning down a side passage. "You really are a downer."
"You ever hear 'a pessimist is what an optimist calls a realist'?"
"Chief Williams. I think she was advising you not to let aliens have run of the ship."
Shepard grunted. "No, she was only worried about you and Wrex. Guess Tali and Liara were too ingenuous to pose a security risk."
"You're probably right. The two of them didn't exactly sell criminal mastermind."
"And you did?"
"Shepard," he drawled, "Do you know how much your people talked? I knew everything happening on that ship. I could've blackmailed each individual crew member and lived off the proceeds for the rest of my life."
"Uh-huh. So the visor—"
"That's right. I have vid-proof that you drink double strength coffee and stick decals in your gun locker. How much do you think that's worth to the Shadow Broker?"
Shepard snorted. "Yeah, criminal mastermind, seein' it now. You learn anything I actually give a damn about?"
"There was mention of kissing turians at some point. I'm still waiting for that one to bear fruit."
"Help if you had lips."
"I don't need lips to rock your world, Commander."
"So you keep sayin', but I've never seen a turian female, Vakarian. I'm pretty sure you fuckers have no sex drive and reproduce by mitosis."
"One day I'm taking you to Palaven. When I'm surrounded by adoring turian women on all sides, you'll see what you let get away."
"Wonder where Williams is now," Shepard said, slowing to look at a kiosk. "You ever hear from her?"
"No." He stopped, waiting. "I haven't been in touch with any of the old team since...uh."
"Since I died and you went AWOL," she supplied.
"Something like that, yeah."
She turned away from the stall and caught up to him. "So where we going?"
"For the couplings, this hole in the wall. Literally. Storeowner's a nice kid. Quarian. For the upgrades...I've got a contact in one of the residential districts who was holding some things for Archangel. Unless she's moved everything, she'll be looking to unload."
Shepard glanced at him. "This contact of yours gonna recognize you?"
He shrugged. "I doubt it. One of my team always handled the transactions with her."
"What if she does?" Helmet air filters always made Shepard's voice sound more turian, somehow. Right now, her subtone was flanging suspicion.
"And if she does—"
He patted her arm. "Then you get to say 'I told you so.'"
[Fifty-seven minutes and four seconds later]
Shepard threw herself back into cover, ejecting her clip. "I told you so," she hissed under the hail of gunfire.
Garrus glanced over. She'd removed her helmet for the tactical advantage of peripheral vision and targeting visor. Sweat-soaked, scowling, and in full combat mode, with no trace of the frustration she'd let slip in the Battery.
"If you're going to be mad, you should stop enjoying yourself so much," he retorted.
Her scars flashed orange under the light when she grinned. "Last time I'm ever letting you drive."
"There was a guided missile launcher," Garrus returned, risking a glance over the wreck of their cab. Bullets sparked off the hood and he hunkered down. "How was I supposed to avoid it?"
The commander loaded a brace of clips into her Mattock, hands steady. "Evasive fucking maneuvers. Heard of 'em?"
"You can't outmaneuver a missile at close range!"
"Yeah, you can't. Rocket to the face, rocket to the cab. You have a magnet in your ass or something?"
"It's called a magnetic ass, Shepard. Be precise." He checked the scanner. "Hostile target at eleven. Cover me."
"Got your back." Shepard rose out of cover, keeping the others pinned down as he sighted. "Shields eighty. Forty. Tw—"
He pulled the trigger.
They yanked themselves back into cover as his mark flickered out on the scanner. "I always liked that you don't waste bullets during suppressing fire," he said conversationally.
"N7s don't waste ammo." She rolled her shoulder in its socket, glanced over the cab, and ducked as a bullet ricocheted off the edge. "Rule Number Two."
"What's Rule Number One?"
Shepard snorted. "N7s don't make mistakes."
"I'm pretty sure that's been disproven about a thousand times." He shook the clip from his rifle.
"No shit. I let you drag me down here, remember?"
He opened his omnitool. "It was a good idea at the time."
"What is it now?"
"Probably the worst idea ever," he admitted, pulling up a map of the area.
"Well, at least we got some shield schematics out of it." She peered around the cab again and muttered something unparsible in English. "We gotta move—they're gonna make a push. Options?"
He studied the map. "Sewers that way. Carport in the opposite direction. Take your pick."
She raised her eyebrows at him. "What about their car?"
"Mercs had to get here somehow." Shepard jerked a thumb over her shoulder. "It's parked back there behind 'em. I heard it land."
"So did I, but it's still behind—forget it. You're not seriously suggesting a frontal assault."
She shrugged. "We gotta break cover. Might as well go forward."
"Shepard, it's too—"
He felt the impact before he heard it, a missile as it arced around the cab and clipped the hood.
Shields down, debris, Shepard yelling incomprehensibly over the comm.
Shots fired through the roaring silence in his ears.
A gauntleted hand smacked the side of his helmet.
"...karian! I n..." He looked towards the sound of her voice, concussed, attention contracting to a fine point. The words dimmed then sharpened into harsh lines. Shepard had her Widow out, teeth bared. "...t motherfucking heavy! Go shellshocked on me and I'm leavin' your ass for the mercs, read?"
The obscenity penetrated the fog in his brain. Shepard: adding incentive by the swear since 2183. Or. No, before that. Had he seriously been hit by another missile?
His faceplate cycled back and Shepard's face filled his field of view. "God damn it, you turian son of a bitch, I didn't survive a Reaper to get killed by a squad of wet-behind-the-ears mercs, DO YOU READ?"
His head was spinning and his shoulder hurt like hell, but he had audio and—he flexed his fingers—full motor control. Combat fatigue and a flesh wound. That was all. Clamping down on the dizziness, he rolled onto his stomach with a grunt and assembled his bipod. "Read, Shepard."
"You good?" she demanded. "'Cause in about ten seconds—"
"I'm fine." He squeezed his eyes shut then opened them, steadying his breaths. "Orders."
"Two ML-77s on your ten by the planter. Batarian's mine." Shepard glanced at him, readying her rifle. "One shot. They get another missile off, we're done."
"Break cover in three," he said tightly, closing his faceplate.
"Kills confirmed. I'm empty," he told her as they shifted back into cover. "Any spare clips?"
The commander slid her pistol across the floor. "Reload from that and poach sinks from your assault. I'm goin' in."
He opened the pistol's chamber, ignoring the throbbing in his shoulder. "You try to break their line, Shepard, you have to cross fifty yards of ground with no cover."
She reached into the cab and pulled out her helmet, scorched but functional. "Look," she said, putting it on. "I don't wanna wade through other people's shit for an hour tryin' to get back to the surface. I also don't wanna go to the carport, 'cause there might be civilians around. So let's take theirs and get the hell out."
He checked the scanner on his visor. Twelve, maybe thirteen hostiles. Doable, if they got out before reinforcements arrived. "...Fine. But I'm not in any state to do the runner this time."
"I need you at range 'til I've softened 'em up. And you're not gettin' anywhere near a hostile 'til you've seen the doc." She unholstered the M-100 quickly and slapped it on the ground beside him. "I need this door, Vakarian."
He lifted it away from the cab's body and leaned back as a silicon-carbide blade assembled from Shepard's omnitool. "Give me the rundown."
"You're on midrange weapons. I close with the shotguns and draw fire. No ECM, understood? You fry my shields, I'm goin' back to Normandy in a bodybag."
"Use common sense," he drawled. "Got it."
"Sharp guy. Glad I poached you from C-Sec." She sliced through the hinges, metal glowing red-hot where it melted away from the blade. "Find officers and fight from cover. Mattock's for when you go mobile."
"What about the door?"
Her hands were busy, bending supports salvaged from the cab's carriage into bell curves. "Ballistics shield's gotta have handles. Status report?"
"Two scouts moving up. Rest are in cover. Conferring. Or radioing for reinforcements, in which case we're screwed."
"Your optimism's inspiring, Garrus." She set the first piece and soldered the ends to the door.
"Optimism is your job. Mine is realism." He doused the supports with his water bottle, sending up a plume of steam. "Though now that I think about it, we've been in worse situations. Slightly."
"There you go." She hefted the door onto her left arm with a grunt, taking up her rifle in the other hand. "Give 'em a grenade then switch to SR. Don't let 'em flank me."
He set his Widow in reach and picked up the M-100. "You know I won't."
Shepard nodded. "Move in eight."
Movement on his scanner overlay. "More hostiles advancing," he said, glancing around the cab. "Seven across now. Leaves five to seven still in cover." Shepard nodded, not looking at him. Her body was tensed to move.
Four. He cranked the launcher to ready position.
"...Firing left of center."
The grenade detonated on impact as the line crumbled around it. Shepard was gone, six yards forward and firing.
"Three casualties, tech retreating," she said curtly. "Targeting two o'clock."
He raised the Widow to his shoulder as her Mattock discharged. "Tech down."
"Shotgun down. Shields ninety. Concentrate fire left."
"Acknowledged. Targeting assault, nine thirty." His sights passed over a woman as she fired over the wall, then swung back as she handsigned to another merc. "Hang on, found the alpha. Human female, eleven."
"Take 'er out."
"Copy that." He scoped his original target, hitting him between the shoulderblades as he tried to vault into cover. "Scratch one—"
"Make it two. CO?"
He ejected his clip. "Sorry."
"Damn it. Advance party terminated, all hostiles in cover. Shields seventy. Garrus—"
"She's gonna sic 'em on me. Have to drop the door."
"Understood. Stay this side of the wall. Hold to the right."
Ten yards. The remaining mercs had bunkered down, waiting the signal to attack. Smarter than they looked. Shepard slowed, holstering her Mattock and drawing her shotgun. Garrus rested a talon on the trigger, watching the scanner.
"Movement right. Three, cancel, four hostiles converging on your position."
"Got it. Nine yards." A split-second pause. "Overload, disengage."
"Your call." He activated his omnitool. "ECM's hot." The commander shook out her shield arm; he took a breath—
They all broke cover at once. Three muzzles on the wall, four bodies charging, cab door clattering to the ground, shields flaring against the bullets. Garrus released the charge and fired before confirming the pulse landed. The alpha's head painted the concrete.
His spent clip hit the floor. Commander's shields one fifth capacity. Assault ejecting, scoped, dropped.
He ducked into cover, cranked the bolt, checked the scanner. Three standing.
"Shields down," Shepard snapped.
Garrus holstered the Widow, grabbing his assault rifle. "Coming."
Forty-five yards, thirty, concussive round in the chamber, twenty, line of sight flashing Shepard merc Shepard too fast to aim.
"Taking heavy fi—" The words tore off in a spray of blood.
He dropped to one knee. "Get out of there, Shepard!"
No response—a merc staggered sideways and collapsed—her body rolled away from the press. "Clea—"
The round landed just shy, blowing them off their feet. One, two shots. The last of the Suns flickered out on the scanner.
"...Clear," he echoed.
Shepard pushed to one knee, growling with the effort. "You play video games?"
He knelt beside her, pulling out a medpack and the rag he used to clean his rifle. "No."
"Well, I'm pretty tired of takin' all the agro."
"I have no idea what you're talking about." He shook out the cloth. "You want me to fix that, Shepard, I'm going to need a look."
Her hand was clamped over her left knee; she lifted her palm away carefully and swore as blood spilled between her fingers. "Fucking shit. All right, make it quick."
He cleared away the worst of the blood, exposing the broken skin beneath. "Well, they didn't hit a major artery."
"Might've shattered the patella, though, which is—"
"Worse, yeah. Got it."
He tore open the packet. "You're telling me Cerberus doesn't have trauma modules installed to our hardsuits?"
"It look like I had a fuckin' trauma module back there? 'Best technology money could buy,' my ass," Shepard gritted as he smeared medigel on the wound.
He stood, checking the scanner. "Well, something for you and the Illusive Man to talk about."
"Chock full've helpful commentary," Shepard muttered. "Look, Vakarian, I'm gonna need a boost."
He pulled her to her feet, grinning. "Cranky after taking fire. Just like old times."
"Something happen when I died?" she demanded, following him to the cab. "'Cause I don't remember you being an insubordinate fuck on the SR1."
He climbed into the driver's seat. "I always thought these things about you, Commander. So did the rest of us. We just didn't let you know."
"Great." She strapped herself in. "I take that crew into hell, and now you tell me it was for the pay."
"That's not true. The medical benefits were pretty good too."
They sped towards the nearest airway.
"I thought you were never letting me drive again," Garrus commented, merging into the traffic.
"Yeah. That was before I took a bullet riding shotgun with Omega's most wanted." The commander took off her helmet, grimacing. "This does permanent damage, you owe me a kneecap."
"I have an exoskeleton, Shepard. Also, it seems to me I owe you a hell of a lot since joining this crew."
"Yep." She counted off on her fingers. "Rifle, racktime, body part, your sorry fuckin' life—"
"Seeing as I've just saved your sorry fucking life, I think that one should be struck from the ledger."
"...All right." She crossed her arms and settled back, closing her eyes. "I'll see if it can be done."
He chuckled and checked his rear view. "I appreciate it."
12.17 Changed a couple hostile identifiers. || 12.23 tweaked diction and punctuation during combat sequences for voice. Rewrote a couple of Garrus and Shepard's lines. || 1.02 Tightened up prose syntax for style. Minor syntax and diction edits for voice. || 1.04 Dropped a g in one of Shepard's lines. Retouched one of Garrus's lines for voice. || 1.23 Added em-dashes to battle scenes. Couple of diction changes for Shepard and Garrus's voices. Tightened up syntax in a few places. || 2.02 Swapped out a verb in opening scene. || 5.07 Swapped out a word in the missile scene for voice. || 5.09 Cut an adjective. Swapped out a verb in one of Garrus's lines for voice. || 6.3 Cut unnecessary adverbial phrases. Cut articles in Shepard's lines for voice. || 6.4 Cut unnecessary prepositional phrases, adverbs, and adjectives. Fixed two typographical errors (shame). || 12.23 Tweaked diction throughout for voice. || 12.30 Pared down sentences in Garrus's sniping sequence.|| 7.31.16 Replaced allusion to G's dubious CQC abilities.