A/N: I bawled like a child with this scene in the game, but it never seemed to have the kind of power it really should have had.

For Grunt, the little kid looking for Mom's approval one last time before the dark.

"Oh, for fuck's sake!" Garrus voice is coming unmeshed, vocals quavering with exhaustion.

The sound of chittering, screeching death echoes throughout the cavern, barely heard above the roar of weapons fire. The floor, loose packed dirt and rock, is tacky and vile with spilled, acidic pools of gore, through which slimy, vaguely arthropodic things slither and leap with disturbing accuracy.

"Shepard!" The flanged voice of Garrus, rising in tone as the last of his heatsinks beeps apologetically as it is overloaded. The deafening , comforting roar of the Revenant LMG in his taloned hands falls silent, the relative quiet the sound of doom.

Shepard pushes sweaty, dirt-streaked black hair out of her face, feeling blood seeping from the puncture in her back. She unclips her last grenade and throws it down the long , twisting natural hallway, the flash and cleansing heat of chemical fires casting bright, sterile light along the path they have come. The shattered, bulbous forms of the tortured rachni corrupted by the Reapers line the way, the curved arch of metallic implants blackened and smoking.

Four running figures round a corner, coming to an exhausted halt. Shepard is heaving, her lungs burning with the foul gasses of the underground complex. Garrus slumps against a wall, blue fluid trickling from his shattered shoulder and burns marring his armor, his scarred features tired, the bright blue of his eyes dimmed in pain. His sniper rifle is gone, the weapon in his hand empty, and every step is a little slower, a little harder to take, the acid having burned a long blackened trench across his left knee joint.

The bear-like form of Vega is crouched, his curved, heavy armor dented and torn. It's smooth blue surface is spattered with acid burns and nicks, splashed with gore. He cradles his right arm to his chest, acid burns having eaten through to his flesh, his Hispanic features tight with pain as he uses the last of the medigel on the wreckage that is his gun hand. His only remaining weapon, an Eviscerator shotgun, sits useless on his back, it's status indicator flashing an icon for him to replace a thermal clip long overloaded.

Only Grunt stands strong, his once gleaming silver armor dented and defiled by the goop dripping from his massive form. He is power made flesh, arms bulging with veined , scaled muscle, mouth parted in a panting, feral grin. His bright blue eyes close briefly as he fills his lungs with air and slides his last thermal clip home in the weapon he was given so long ago by the little human woman in front of him.

He can hear her labored breathing, smell the scent of her life blood dripping on the floor, almost taste the last dregs of adrenaline burning through her overworked body. Even the mighty Shepard has a limit, and over 500 of the corrupted children of the Rachni queen have already fallen this day. Grunt feels the fire within him blaze, the dim images of Okeer's tank implants nothing to the sheer fury radiating through his blood. The stench of the rachni combined with the sour-metal-dead-flesh smell of Reaper tech drives him mad, but his mind is steel, and he reigns it in.

He can hear them coming. Dozens. Maybe hundreds. He glances down the far path...a straight shot out to the cliffs. He can almost taste the fresh air as it trickles in, perhaps no more than a thousand strides away. So close.

And all the time, in the line of fire of the corrupted things approaching. They would all be cut down in moments. He lowers his massive head, his silvery crest gleaming faintly, as he watches his battlemaster's chest heave in desperation. For the first time in his life, he can smell fear on Garrus. Not fear for himself, he somehow knows, fear for Shepard. Fear of watching her die, of having to know Liara will wait forever for the only thing keeping her sane to return. For the galaxy to die quietly, with a whimper, it's fierce beating heart torn out by beasts...

Okeer's voice sounds in his head. His last word. "...perfect".

Grunt closes his eyes, remembering. The feel of the tank opening, the glass mother dying around him, the fluids sluicing from his body. The dark blue eyes of Shepard, fearlessly meeting his own, owning him, demanding his fealty, his loyalty, his respect.

The smell of her as she throws her tiny body in the way of a Praetorian to save him. The taste of her skin as he wrenches her out of the line of fire of Blue Suns thugs. The little happy feeling in his chest whenever she came down to speak to him, of nothing important, just to be there, to encourage. The way she never doubted him, never demanded anything from him but his fire, his rage, and his loyalty.

The sheer joy in her eyes the day he kills the Thresher Maw and screams "I am krogan!" The pride in her stance as she puffed up to Wrex and said, "Wrex, this is Urdnot Grunt, my son. I am his battlemaster."

The sheer unrelenting fury in her eyes as she refused to let him fall at the end of all things, as the human-reaper-mockery died and he slid towards the abyss. The ultimate effort it took to hold his massive, one-ton form with her tiny , torn body , nothing but her will to keep him from death giving her the strength. The sheer burning rage as she looked at him and pulled him up, impossibly strong, impossibly fast.

He opens his eyes. He looks at Shepard, trembling slightly. His voice is rough, hard. "Shuttle's down that path." His body twists, gesturing. "I'll hold them off."

Shepard pushes herself off the wall, her weapon hand dropping, eyes widening. She opens her mouth to speak, and he shakes his head. "Get out of here, Shepard!" His eyes do not leave hers.

She glances at Garrus, exhausted, at Vega, barely able to stand, back to him. She shakes.

In all of the months they had fought, in all of the times they had bled together, with all of the horror they had seen, Grunt had never seen Shepard cry. It was an impossibility. She shook with suppressed emotion, something tearing her apart behind those storm-blue eyes, and Grunt knew.


Tears spill over her cheeks as she places her hand on his shoulder. Her mouth trembles, unable to say anything. Her heartbeat had accelerated to a staccato, high speed rumble. She exhaled, and then only nodded. She steps past him, helping Vega to his feet, motioning Garrus with her free hand.

And then she was gone. Grunt feels his spine stiffen. His hearts sing. Every fiber of his body seems to grow hard, to prepare. Okeer's voice thunders in his skull. Every warrior dies, and how one dies is utterly meaningless. It is the when and the why that separates fool from hero, that defines a failure to the race from one who strides across legend and eternity to sit at the foot of the gods of myth and song.

His hands tighten around the barrel of the Claymore his mother had made him. His feet set into the dirt of the ground, his bulk blocking the way that his mother had gone. Okeer was his sire, his brilliance raising him above the blood of thousands more worthy, more heroic. But it was his mother who had shaped him, who had honed his fire, who had fought with every inch of her might to make him the person he wanted to be.

All life needed her. He only needed to know she was safe. That annoying human Zaeed had died for her on the collector base. It should have been Grunt then. But it wasn't his turn , then.

"My turn...heh, heh, heh."

The rachni screamed, and Grunt charged.

She kneeled in the dirt , sobbing.

Garrus didn't have the first clue what to do. He had seen Shepard icy, hateful and cold. He had seen her happy, discovering life , love, and the ability to leave the past behind. He had seen her enraptured in Liara's arms, destroyed in space, and reborn yet again. He had fought at her side all these years, and in all that time he had seen her cry once.

She was .. destroyed. Her thin form shook, and she threw her head back, her eyes blazing hot, her voice ringing with pain.

"GRUNT!" Her fist smashed against the ground, heedless of the damage as she shattered her finger, anything to make the hot empty hole in her chest just stop.

Garrus gently wrapped his arms around her, feeling her shudder as he pulled her close. "He would not have wanted to live if you had died, Sara. You know that."

She hit him, feebly, pounding the curve of his chest armor. Her voice was broken, warbling almost as bad as Tali. "He called me mother." Garrus closed his eyes. He knew Shepard's past, the damage done to her, the risk to Liara of having children and the ugly cold knowledge that Shepard was sterile. No other word could have made her happier any other day. And no other word could have done as much damage on this day.

Her fist pounded his armor again, and he just held her, helplessly. "It's okay, Sheep. He's with Kaiden now, and Zaeed, and everyone else who has fought the Reapers with everything they have. He would want you to be proud of him, not crying your eyes out. He would want you to remember him as he lived, and inspire others with his strength."

She shivered, head dropping to his chest. "It just.. hurts..."

A gravelly whisper floated across the wind. "Not...as much...as spines through the gut...mother."

Shepard literally tore herself out of Garrus's grasp to whirl around, mouth falling open. "Grunt!"

He was covered in unspeakable filth, spattered head to toe. Huge, bleeding garish wounds obliterated one eye, had ripped open an arm. An entire rachni leg was literally shoved through his stomach, acid burns having reduced whole swathes of his armor to charred ruin. His right hand was half split open.

But his good eye was bright blue, and fierce. She caught him as his legs gave out, Garrus rushing to the other side. Vega ducked out of the shuttle, jaw dropping. "Madre santa … how the shit...?" Shaking his head, he slapped his comm link. "Normandy, this is ground team. Prep for emergency medical. Grunt is seriously wounded."

Shepard barely heard any of it, helping Grunt stagger to the shuttle. "you're alive..."

Grunt's voice was slurred, but he gave an almost confused smile. "best fight...of my life...saw Zaaed down there...cursing me...telling me get my ass back up to my mom."

Garrus shook his head, heaving as he maneuvered the bulk of the krogan warrior into the shuttle bay, trying to keep his grip amid the muck. "He's delusional..." He heard a screech behind him, a single ravager staggering from the cave mouth to shriek at them. "Oh, fuck you!" He lifted the Avenger mounted on the inside of the shuttle and sprayed the thing down with rounds, watching it collapse into a pile of softly smoking goop.

Shepard just knelt next to him, her hand on his shoulder in the same place it was before. "You did good, son. Just rest."

Grunt nodded, eye closing. "..hungry...got anything...to eat?"