Shepard was only allowed to leave the medbay after Chakwas had a look at her, but she was more than willing to take a knee for once.

"Hegemony used L2 implants?" Kaidan asked sleepily from the bed as Chakwas injected something into the IV in his arm.

"The Hegemony never stopped using them," Vorek said with a scoff, holding a thick wet cloth to his nose. "Everyone with the potential gets the implant. A few side effects didn't concern them."

"Your dossier didn't mention that," Shepard noted.

Vorek turned to face her and she smiled to defuse whatever unpleasant thoughts he might have had. "Your people never asked, and... well, you learn not to volunteer too much information on Khar'shan."

"Uh, Doc?" Sawyer chirped from in the corner as one of the medtechs tended to a bite on his leg. "This... whatever they had, isn't contagious is it?"

Chakwas caught Vorek's gaze and rolled her eyes. He chuckled. It was the first time Shepard had ever heard him do anything of the sort. "You won't turn into one of them, if that's what you're asking, Sergeant."

"Oh good," Sawyer said, slumping back into his bed. "Think you can call me Will now."

"Think you can call anyone whatever you want," one of Vega's marines said, clapping Vorek on the shoulder. Shepard realized with some surprise that it was Edwards. "That was a hell of a thing you did."

"Damn right," said another, off by Kaidan's bed.

Vorek looked thoroughly flustered by all this attention, and Shepard couldn't help but grin.

"Looks like you're the hero of the hour, Vorek," she said. "They'll be wanting to buy you drinks as soon as you're out of here."

"Well he won't be out of here tonight," Chakwas said with finality as she began to apply the skinweave for Sawyer's leg. "A strain like that, I want to keep him for observation."

"I don't mind," Vorek said, checking the cloth under his nose to see if he'd staunched the flow. "You have a keen mind, doctor. And an amicable bedside manner."

Chakwas scoffed and smiled. "Flattery will get you nowhere, Korbin."

Shepard pushed off her bed and stage-whispered to Vorek, "Serrice Ice brandy in her desk," before she left.

Sawyer was in the middle of asking Vorek if his first name was really 'Korbin' when the medbay doors shut behind her. The crew deck was as noisy as the medbay. Vega had already been discharged, and was sitting on the mess hall table. He was in the middle of telling a smattering of the crew, including Cortez, Sorono, and Din, what had happened down on the planet.

"-and we just keep heading down, like we're going straight into the bottom of the mountain," he said. "Then we get to this cavern, the biggest one I've ever seen."

"How big?" Sorono asked. "Like, shuttle big, or frigate big?"

"Like small cruiser big," Vega said, stretching out his arms. "And this giant heart was hanging above us."

"Heart?" Din asked.

"Yeah, a giant beating heart. Creepiest thing you've ever seen in your life. Like, da miedo, you know?"

Din blinked slowly.

"I don't think he knows," Sorono said dryly, taking another drag.

"Look, the point is it was creepy. And we couldn't even look at it, and somehow that made it worse. And then those things started to show up, crawling everywhere-"

Shepard turned and headed for the elevator. She knew Vega wouldn't tell this one but once or twice. War stories were one thing, horror stories quite another.

For once, she was glad the elevator took its time. She had another few moments to come down from the adrenaline high and try to relax. Her first stop should be the comm room to contact Hackett, but there was one person she had to speak with first.

The elevator halted and the doors opened. Garrus was on the bridge, leaning on the railing and looking down at the galaxy map. Shepard stepped up alongside him.

"I gave you an order."

"And you really thought I'd follow it," he said mildly, staring at the false stars. "Thought you knew me, Shepard."

There was a brief silence. He stiffened slightly, his fingers digging into the metal railing.

"I would have done the same if it were anyone else down there. You know that." His mandible twitched. "Just... did what I thought you would."

She looked at him fully. In profile, by the light of the map, he looked stony and cold.

"I know," she said quietly. "And you did."

Garrus turned and met her eyes. He looked as tired as she felt. She rested her hand on his and squeezed gently.

"Just once," she said with a sigh, "I'd like to go on a tour that doesn't end in a waking nightmare."

"We'll get there, Shepard," he said, pushing away from the railing. "Not today, and probably not tomorrow. But we'll get there."

She regarded him skeptically.

"Come on, after all we've done?" Garrus bumped her shoulder with his. "I think we can manage that much."

"We might run into more of those things," she said.

"Or we might never see another again." He shrugged. "Galaxy's a big place, after all."

She huffed. "Since when are you an optimist?"

Something changed in his eyes, bright and blue and honest. "Since you needed me to be."

Shepard felt the last remaining knot in her stomach pull apart, and smiled.

She'd picked a great XO.