The cab sank onto the landing pad.
"Shepard." He powered down the engine. "We're here."
She stirred. "All right." Her seatbelt retracted as she put on her helmet. "Time is it?"
"Seventeen twenty two hours. Normandy cycle."
"The hell you do, stop for coffee and donuts?"
"Lap dance, actually. And there was traffic leaving Kenzo District." He scanned their perimeter. "How's the leg?"
"The one full've bone splinters and shotgun pellets?" Her voice was sardonic.
"Yeah. We need to get you to Chakwas." He opened the passenger door and hoisted her by the forearm. "Come on."
A mixed group of humans and batarians was leaving Afterlife. Haze blanketed the plaza, a dusty miasma that blurred detail and made the bad visibility worse. He squinted through the bloodshot nimbus of the florescents.
Armed. And armored.
He thumped her shoulder and pointed.
Shepard nodded. She stepped down, and hissed when her knee took the weight. "Damn it.Fucking endorphins've worn off."
"It figures." He dragged his eyes from the mercs. The commander was bracing herself on the hood. "Do I radio the Normandy? I don't have anything to splint you with."
"Depends." She reached down to grip her thigh. "Concerned about those mercs?"
Garrus examined them over her head. They were loitering outside the club, apparently at their ease. "They're Suns," he said, slowly. "I can see their armor. Off-duty, so they might not know about Kenzo yet. It's a big company. Disorganized. And we didn't leave anyone alive back there."
"...But?" she prodded when he didn't continue.
He grunted. "But this is Omega. People see easy pickings, they're going to take them."
"Noted." She fell silent. Nodded. "Don't raise 'em—it'll just draw attention." She looked over at the docking bay door. "I'll make it if we take it slow."
"Across the lot, through that door, and down the hall. Pretty far for someone without a kneecap," he warned.
"Dose of stims'll get me moving. Gimme a sec." Orange washed her faceplate as she keyed her omnitool. Swore, helmet slamming against the cab.
"I thought those things contained analgesics," he drawled. "As in painkillers."
"Tell ya what. Lemme inject you locally with twenty-five mil of this shit, see how you feel right after. Just—all right." Her eyes closed behind her faceplate, and her breathing slowed. "All right."
Garrus crossed his arms. "'All right' as in it's working, or 'all right' as in you've gotten tired of waiting for it to work?"
She snorted, unmoving. "Callin' my bluff?"
"Your heartrate's about fifteen percent above resting."
"Maybe I'm just hot. I mean, look at this place." Her wave took in the carport. "Music, mood lighting, a little danger. Buy me a beer and I'm good to go, Vakarian."
He eyed her. "I doubt it. And you're dodging the question."
She grunted. "'All right' as in we wait for 'em to kick in properly, Suns'll catch us with our flies down."
"Nothin'." She flicked her wrist, and the holo faded. "Let's move."
"Have to get off that cab first," Garrus pointed out. "I'm not pushing it down the hall for you to lean on."
"There's a friend." She straightened. Dents like fingerprints creased the cab's hood. "C'mon."
He stuck close as she limped across the lot, staying between her and the mercs.
"So," she said after few seconds, vocals tight. "Just like old times?"
"Not exactly," he answered, straining to hear the Suns' conversation over the PA. "Back then, you were always the one hauling our crippled asses out. Not the other way around. And..."
"...orcha. A blight on the station, or a boon for Omega's depressed labor market? A new study on vorcha's adaptive capabilities—"
"—District. Her last transmission said she was taking a team to investigate a tip about Archangel."
"You're shitting me. I thought we killed that son of a bitch."
His helm-to-helm transmitter clicked. "Look tense, Vakarian. Hear anything worth tellin' me about?"
"Well, we need to pick up the pace," he muttered.
"Hang on." He turned his head, trying to hear.
"...in! Aria's expecting m—"
"—issing. Could be a couple of lowlifes, or the suspects could have taken it. Boss just sent the tracking number."
"Crap. Bastards know someone took out a unit and stole their vehicle." He seized her elbow. "They're about to check the GPS."
"You didn't disable it?"
"Shepard, I'm not an amateur. Tracker's disabled, but that unit has a line of sight to the vehicle. I can't change the custom paint job."
"Damn it, Vakarian," she gritted as he hustled her towards the hallway. "Every time I'm on shore leave inside ten miles of you, shit goes to hell."
"I said sewers or carport," he retorted, looking over his shoulder. Suns were moving towards the lot. "Law of infantry training and a grenade launcher was your damn idea."
"I'm sayin'—it can't be coincidence," she panted as they cleared the corner. "I go to the clinic to follow up a lead, find you escalatin' a blackmail attempt into a hostage situation. I go to Omega to recruit a tactical specialist, find you playing Custer's Last Stand with every merc on the station. I go goddamn housecalling, get my ass shot, 'cause some reason, your friends don't actually like you."
"I'm not the only common denominator in this equation, Shepard," he retorted, switching his visor to IR. "For all I know, it could be you inflicting the bad luck on me." He checked the lot for heat sigs. "Looks like they found the car. Think they'll take it and go, like nice criminals?"
She laughed breathlessly. "Doubt it. Nothing's been easy so far."
"Well, let's hope they don't think to check the docking bay," he muttered. "Car still warm, wounded soldiers with military-grade equipment around the corner. Even the Blue Suns can put those pieces together."
They were a quarter-way down the hall when his radio crackled. "Ground team, this is Miranda."
"Needs to wait," he said curtly. "The commander—"
"Go ahead," Shepard cut in, booted foot landing on his toe.
If Lawson heard him, she didn't show it. "Shepard. I have a status report on the surveillance bugs. We should talk before you debrief the crew."
"'Kay." Shepard drew a breath. "En route, but, uh. Took some fire. Nothin' serious. Meet you in your office."
"Hope you're ready for a long wait," he quipped, and checked the lot again. "...Oh, crap. Th—" His foot caught on the broken floor. Shepard yelped, stumbling with him.
"Watch it, Garrus! I go down, I'm not getting back up."
"Shepard, I thought it wasn't serious! What happened out there?" Miranda sounded alarmed.
"Fine, Lawson. J—"
"No, not fine, they're headed this way now," he interrupted urgently. "Come on!"
"Not helping," she snapped. "I'm workin' with half a leg here."
He bent, yanking her arm around his neck. "Commander, if I die on Omega after surviving a gunship plus the plague because you can't walk without a cane—"
"Laugh it up," she growled. "Enjoy your next run-in with Omega's finest, 'cause I'm not gonna be there to haul your ass out."
"I gotta go, Lawson. Situation's under control. Out."
"Postponing the debrief I approve. But I think we differ on what constitutes 'under control,'" he drawled.
"Tell ya what, turian. You focus on the pros for a change, and I'll buy the next round."
"Thought you put in the order already."
"Not too late to cancel if you don't shut the hell up."
Two steps. Back was starting to ache from the added weight. Shoulder was killing him.
"…Remind me what those pros are, at least."
"We're not dead yet, you're the big damn hero, and you've got my arm around you. Everything you always fucking wanted."
"Not exactly the scenario I envisioned," he grunted, resettling her arm. "What was the point of those damned painkillers if they weren't going to kill the pain?"
"I dunno, Vakarian," she snapped. "I didn't ask to get rebuilt with a krogan's metabolism."
Three steps. Audible voices. Suns were closing. Shepard was mobile but four yards was eight steps for a healthy human female and given the bullet's point of entry and blood loss and—
Yeah. No way around it.
"Fuck your metabolism, Shepard," Garrus said. Crouching, he slung the commander headfirst over his shoulder and hauled ass into Normandy's airlock.
He staggered inside, punched the door control. Didn't set her down so much as let go. Heard the hatch close through roaring ears and braced himself on his knees.
Tearing pain, greying vision, dizziness, nausea.
Could be worse.
"STAND BY, SHORE PARTY. DECONTAMINATION IN PR..."
Screech of ceramic on metal. Shepard was dragging herself up against the wall. "You okay?"
His head spun. Giving up, he collapsed beside her. "That was my bad shoulder," he said, closing his eyes behind his faceplate. "Also, you're a lot heavier than you look."
She snorted. "Keep complimenting me, Garrus, you're gonna make me blush."
"Good. Could use more pigment up there."
"Not my fault you used all the makeup."
"They're tattoos, Shepard. They're a mode of cultural expression."
"Get that from an info pamphlet?"
"No, my dad." He probed his shoulder with his talons, not opening his eyes. "Parting gift, along with the stick up my ass."
Shepard coughed a laugh. "TMI, Vakarian."
"Too much information."
"Too m…damn it. Not that kind of stick, commander."
Missile had ablated the pauldron, burned through his suit and plates. The open wound felt slick, raw, and runny, nerves exposed and throbbing from the weight he'd just dragged over it.
"How's that burn?"
"Uh. Second-degree, maybe."
"Gonna check it." A hand pressed the edge of the wound. "Feel that?"
"Yeah. Do it again, Shepard. Just to make sure."
The pressure withdrew. "Dumbass," her voice said in his ear. "Shoulda sealed this two hours ago."
"Yeah. After seeing the good it did you, I'm keeping all the gel for myself next time."
"Prob'ly a good call." He heard her shift away. "Maybe upgrade our suits with MFCs that carry a decent number've emergency doses and don't fry when they're hit. Y'know, while we're at it."
"I notice you didn't say 'let's avoid life-threatening situations' or 'let's stop coming to Omega,'" he commented.
"What can I say. I'm a realist."
"And here I thought you were the optimist. You know. We can do anything, if we only work together. Friendship. Magic."
"That another My Little Pony reference?"
She snorted, then groaned. "I'd say 'fuck you, dumbass,' but gettin' shot kinda kills my mood."
"Obviously. So, who's Custer?"
"Union Army Captain. American Civil War. Got routed with his whole unit tryin' to resettle natives."
"Sounds like an asshole."
"Thanks. I'll keep this in mind next time you need a character reference."
The decon fog misted over them.
"Any bets the Doc's gonna shoot me out the airlock?" Shepard murmured after a moment.
"Chakwas wants to put you out the airlock, she'll have to line up behind Lawson."
"Point." The shifting of ablative plates on plates. "Still, Lawson's got the Illusive Man holding her leash. What's gonna stop Karen?"
"Couple shots of brandy, maybe."
"One day we're gonna drink, you smug son of a bitch. And if you can't hold your booze, I'm givin' you shit 'til the end of fucking time."
"Given the fact that Cerberus will just pump the toxins out of you and leave me to die, I think I'll pass."
"Hey. Just 'cause I'm Cerberus's billion dollar mutant baby doesn't mean I get any special treatment."
"Fifty credits says you'll get medicated before I do if this damned airlock ever opens."
"Fine. I was just wonderin' how I'd handle the co-pay on my volunteer's stipend."
Pressure seals hissed.
"LOGGED: THE COMMANDING OFFICER IS ABOARD. XO LAWSON STANDS RELIEVED."
Rapid footfalls, slowing.
"Shepard, are you all right?" Miranda's clipped tone was a hair less collected than usual. "You weren't responding to my hail and—oh my god. What the hell happened?"