Chapter 16: Alive

Garrus switched his visor off and leaned over a small pool of clear water to look at his reflection. He knew what to expect, but his eyes would still startle him, even after nearly a month has passed.

He wasn't the only one. The entire Normandy's crew was avoiding mirrors and other reflective surfaces, and no one felt comfortable talking about the moment when it happened. He was almost glad he was unconscious then.

Well, he was more than unconscious, and he knew it. Liara told him what happened. She and Dr. Chakwas did their best to keep him alive, but apparently he... gave up. He flatlined, and remained that way for longer than he should to be able to stand here. Then, a wave of blinding green light washed over them (he vaguely remembered a green flash and a blue dress but couldn't make sense of the memory). Liara said she blacked out for a moment, but since she averted her eyes when she said that, he had his suspicions she wasn't telling him everything. In any event, when she and Chakwas recovered from whatever happened, he was showing signs of life again.

It was a miracle. He recovered in several days, while normally it would take him months, if he survived. Dr. Chakwas showed him melted scraps that were once his armor. By all means, he shouldn't be standing here.

His eyes turned green and he had glowing circuits running on his body and clothes. The same happened to the entire crew, and they all reported improvements in their physical condition. Joker was walking steadier with every passing day. Tali could remove her helmet for brief periods of time. They all felt… better, stronger. Dr. Chakwas complained, trying to cope with the change with humor, that she'll be out of job soon if this continues.

EDI changed too. Her face and voice showed genuine emotions now and, by her own words, she could feel the emotions, not just emulate them. The organic crew members didn't change just physically, either, him included. The change brought a new way of understanding things, a new way of thinking, and in a way, it was the hardest thing to deal with.

What has happened? What did she do?

He asked himself those questions many times a day ever since he woke up. No one had any solid answers, although both EDI and Chakwas did their best to figure it out. All they were able to tell for certain is that everyone's DNA changed in a strange way. It had… almost synthetic properties. And what happened to EDI was even more baffling. How could a synthetic feel things?

His way of dealing with the change was to take charge of the Normandy. The ship took some minor damage in the fight with the Reapers, and the wave of energy from the Crucible made a mess of their systems. They landed for repairs on an uninhabited garden world in the random system Joker jumped to when Hackett gave the order to clear the Sol system. Until he woke up and took charge of things, they weren't making much progress.

The weird thing was, no one questioned his leadership. No human made a protest about a turian being in command. No one suggested Chakwas or Adams take charge, although they were long-time Alliance officers, and Normandy was still an Alliance ship. They truly accepted him as their leader, and it didn't even seem to come from his close relation to the commander, either. He was the best, so he led them.

That was the strangest thing of all: the change of thinking. Garrus tried not to dwell on it, so he buried himself in work, living on hope for a chance to make her proud. In about three weeks most of the repairs were done. They still had no communications and no way to leave the system (the energy messed up the relays, too), so they were in the dark on what happened on Earth, or anywhere else.

This morning the answers came, and not in a way any of them imagined.

A Reaper appeared in the sky and hovered just above the Normandy. To their surprise it had a green eye, not a red one. Then it (he?) spoke to them. Garrus almost didn't feel ashamed that he nearly pissed his pants when he heard the booming voice in his head. Green eye or not, those things wanted them dead until a little while ago, and hearing voices in your head when a Reaper was around was a verybad thing to happen.

The Reaper explained what happened. The organic and synthetic life forms were merged, creating a new DNA, a new life form. Also they gained understanding of each other, a real hope for peace in the galaxy. It was like they skipped several million years of evolution in a single moment. Commander Shepard sacrificed herself to make it possible, letting her being be consumed by pure energy and spread around everywhere. That was the wave they experienced.

As the Reaper spoke Garrus heard the words of hope and peace, but at the same time his world came crashing down. Then,he nearly pissed his pants again because this time the friendly Reaper obviously spoke directly to him.

"Garrus Vakarian,"it said, and Garrus was sure it was only him who was hearing this, "we were able to experience the commander's final thoughts as she entered the beam of energy. She was thinking about you and she was… sorry. Sorry that she will not be able to come back as promised. "At this point Garrus could almost swear he heard regret in the Reaper's voice.

"She would have also wanted you to know that it was your support giving her the strength to carry on whenever hope seemed lost."The Reaper continued."Thanks to you she was able to fulfill what she strived for all her life: peace and unity. She wanted everyone - you - to experience it. She also knew you were critically injured, and hoped your improved life form will make you survive."

Garrus was just left speechless. For a moment he was afraid he was losing it. She did it for him?

"We are very sorry for your loss." He heard the Reaper say, and it didn't really help him with his fear of losing it.

He swallowed hard, feeling a dull pain in his chest, still at a loss for words. The Reaper then informed everyone that the mass relay in this system was fixed enough to make a jump to Sol and asked them if they needed help with ship repairs. When they said they didn't, it told them they would be most welcome back on Earth, where a great rebuilding is taking place. Then it departed, leaving them all speechless and confused.

Garrus didn't order their departure right away, although the ship was ready for it. They all needed some time to process what they just heard, most of all him. So he told everyone he needed some time alone and went into the nearby forest, where he was now staring at his reflection in the water.

The pain in the chest didn't show any signs of going away soon. He tried to focus on what the Reaper said, still not being fully able to wrap his brain around it. Slowly, though, he began to truly understand.

The new perspective he experienced was… overwhelming. He could feelthe pain and frustration of many krogan couples over the centuries as they mourned their stillborn children. How could he ever think anyone deserved that, no matter what they did? He felt truly ashamed. He could also feel many of the similar conflicts in the countless cycles before them through their newfound connection to the Reapers. The same pains, the same sorrows, countless deaths, countless losses repeating themselves over and over again for millions of years. They were finally free of that curse. A bright future was in front of them. He could smell it, taste it, feel it.

He lowered his head, feeling a shudder down his spine.

Is that how you've seen the galaxy, Teresa? Even when everyone doubted you? Even I thought you were too idealistic, when this was the way things should be.

The guilt was like a dagger in his chest. He disturbed his reflection in the water, not bearing to look at his green eyes and circuits anymore. Feeling a sudden surge of anger, he thought how he would trade away all that peace, unity and prosperity to spend another night with Teresa like the one before London.

You said: "There's no Shepard without Vakarian", but what about Vakarian without Shepard? Did you really think I can do this on my own?

Garrus was ashamed of his thoughts again. He was her support, her reason to carry on when all seemed lost. She saved his life with her sacrifice, and yes, she expected him to carry on when she's gone. After all, didn't she say-

Someone gently tapped him on the shoulder at that moment, and a familiar voice said: "It's time."

Of course. Before they take off there was one thing left to do. The hardest thing ever.

He turned, looked at Liara, and saw the same grief and confusion he experienced in her now green eyes. He simply nodded. She didn't deserve any of his internal anger.

Liara took him under her arm and led him back to the Normandy. As they walked in silence, he tried to figure out what to do after they were done here. Of course, he would return to Earth and give the Normandy back to the Alliance first. Then… he didn't know. He was hoping for a happy reunion, but that was out of the question now. He would probably return to Palaven to try and find his family and pick up the pieces of his shattered world. The ever-present realist inside him told him that even with the change there were still the Alliance and the Hierarchy and before a true unity was achieved there was a bumpy road ahead.

Arriving back at the ship, they stopped at the crew deck where everyone was gathered. The small cluster of the commander's closest friends stood next to the memorial wall, the rest of the crew filled the hallways and the mess hall. For some of them this was the second time they've been going through this, him included, and the pain at the thought if it increased to the point of nearly breaking him.

Someone - EDI, he realized - handed him a long rectangular plate. It said: Commander Teresa Shepardand he held it in his claws for the longest time, reading the familiar name over and over again. It was written in human script, of course, but he's seen it enough times to recognize it.

Finally, he stepped forward. Rising the plate next to the one with Admiral Anderson's name on it, he gently pressed it against the memorial wall. It was adhesive and attached to the wall immediately, yet he couldn't part with it. He kept running his talons across the plate, feeling the slight indentations where her name was engraved, dangerously close to start whimpering and squealing, or crying to use the human word.

He took a deep breath, composing himself. He would not break down in front of everyone. Stepping back, he clenched his fists, unable to take his eyes off the plate.

Someone gently touched his arm. The touch was metallic, but warm and strangely alive. The look in EDI's eyes, when he turned to meet her gaze, was full of sadness. She pulled him close and said: "I am really sorry, Garrus." Her voice was truly compassionate.

Before he knew what he was doing, he hugged her, laid his head on her shoulder and… began to whimper and squeal. If someone told him a month ago he'd cry in EDI's arms he wouldn't have even laughed, just thought that person was crazy.

He didn't know for how long he remained like that, but it did help him reduce the piercing pain in his chest back to the dull ache. He straightened, and felt someone shove a glass full of a dextro stiff drink in his claw. Without thinking, he downed it and the pain numbed even a little more. It felt like he could almost function normal again.

He ordered Joker to take them to Earth, and then retired to their-her-his (spirits, this is complicated) cabin, not really feeling in the mood for company. Once there, he stood in the doorway for a long time, afraid to cross the threshold. When he finally dared to move, his glance caught the picture of them he made still being on the wall. He quickly turned his head away from it and sat on the bed with his back turned on it, staring at the fish tank. The hypnotic movement of the fish and other sea creatures inside made him lose the track of time.

He was snapped out of it when he heard the door hiss open. EDI was standing in the doorway, regarding him with a worried gaze.

"I was worried." She said, crossing the room to stand in front of him. "Are you alright?"

"No." Garrus said simply, feeling there's no point to hide the truth. "I feel… alone. I don't know if I can do this."

"You are not alone." EDI replied, her eyes looking straight into his, her voice confident. "You have many friends on this ship, including me, who understand and share your grief."

Garrus sighed. His voice was squealy again when he spoke: "But I want Teresa…" He realized that was irrational and selfish but he couldn't help himself.

"I have been thinking," EDI began, and Garrus suppressed the urge to scoff, as he usually did when EDI declared she thought of something, "about what we have found out today. The Reaper said her being was added to the energy that changed us all. So there is a piece of her in all of us, including you."

"Not good enough." He whined, and nope, he wasn't making any sense, but somehow voicing his emotions seemed to help. The pain in his chest subsided a little bit more. "I want her all for myself."

EDI smiled at this, but the smile was sad. "You never had her all for yourself. She was a living legend and many people claimed they knew her. But for most of them she was just Commander Shepard, the Shepard, the hero. You knew her as Teresa, with all her flaws and weaknesses, and you loved her for it." Garrus had to agree it was true, so he nodded.

EDI continued: "It is exactly the same now. Many people will be proud they have a piece of the Shepard within them, but you will have a piece of Teresa, the love of your life."

In his mind, Garrus heard the echo of what she said to him back in London: "I'll be looking down. You'll never be alone." She was right, like she usually was. It was like she predicted this to happen. Or at least considered it as a very serious possibility.

He nodded again, speaking with a shaky voice: "Thank you, EDI. I think… I think this will help."

She gripped his shoulder for a moment with a reassuring smile on her face that reminded him of Teresa: "I am glad. She was my friend too, although only now do I understand the true meaning of that word. I know she would have not wanted you to succumb to grief."

"No, she wouldn't." Garrus agreed.

EDI then left. He was alone again, but this time the emptiness of the cabin was a little easier to bear. Gathering courage, he stood up and approached the drawing on the wall.

There will be many pictures and vids around, he knew that. He could imagine the "Legend of the Shepard" was already being formed while the Normandy was cut off from Earth. They will all be stylized, having only a passing resemblance to the real person behind the legend. This, however, this was what she meant for him. It didn't matter that her eyes looked a bit weird, and that her nose was completely off. This was Teresa, the true Shepard, his Shepard.

He took the picture off the wall, carefully folded it and put it in his pocket. She'll always be with him. As he did so, he felt the invisible wound in his heart slowly beginning to close. It was still a long way to go, but it has begun to heal.

He was alive and he'll never be alone.

-END-

If you're reading this, it means you reached the end of my story. Thanks for sticking out for so long. This was my first fan fic and I had lots of fun while writing it, I can only hope you had as much fun while reading it. Of course, your thoughts/opinions/reviews/comments are most welcome.

I always thought it was stupid how Joker still limps even after advancing to a new evolutionary form (although Synthesis was my favorite ending, even before the EC) so I took the liberty and added some healing properties to Green Space Magic. I hope you don't mind, after all, we'd be losing Garrus if I didn't do it ;)

Will I write more stories? Sure if I get inspired. Right now I'm not, so you might have to wait. Hah.

Thanks for reading, Inkess out!