Title: Burning Buds

Disclaimer: All characters belong to Bioware.

Beta Reader: Marie-Fanwriter

A/N: May add a few more chapters later. But for right now it's a oneshot. Also, I apparently love Victus and every damn thing I write turns into a romance.

Hope is a flower set on fire. Too bright and hot to ever touch. Too intense to leave anything but dust. Creating nothing but maniacs craving the heat. Who will ignite the world to its beat.


On the dark side of the moon the flames from Palaven are bright as hell fire; burning splotches of light that dance across Menae's rocky surface, hitting both armor and blood and making them glimmer, even in the darkest pockets of night. The red glow of beams and eerie eyes streak across the sky as sure and strong as comets, but not as distant. The hateful bellow they have all come to dread rumbles to their bones as it grows louder with each passing moment.

The black shelled body looms near the camp; its sun red eye rips the ground as it scans. It searches in the flickering blackness of night and firelight, not finding its prey but still tearing apart anything in its path, as the need to quell its strength is not there. Destruction is all it seeks. Death is all it needs.

Still it draws closer. This near to the behemoth legs the waves of broken slaves thin. No need for them to be crushed by their master, after all. This is marked by the decrease in noise from the constant weapons fire. By the hush whispers of the soldiers, fearful if they talk too loud they will draw the eye onto themselves. Soon there is no gunfire left, no mummer of words, no cries of pain; just the twisted steel shriek of the hybrid beast looming above them.

It does not shine the beam on them, just looks for a moment, judging them and failing them to the same test it once failed itself. Envy. Is it possible for the death-dealer to feel envy?

Sovereign had shown contempt.

Harbinger irritation. Maybe even a bit of sick glee.

So why not envy? These beings claim half their lives to organic traits, and emotions are a key function, even in baser creatures. So why would it bypass them? The creature above them shows the last traces of its old life in its hesitation. In the display that goes against its basic order to kill, kill, kill. In its bright eye that sees its demise and makes no move to stop it; only leans down with a bass rumble.

An ant to a god. It has no reason to fear, but should have struck nonetheless. Should have focused the magnifying glass on the cluster and brunt them as they ran.

Gloating. The turians know when a predator is playing with its prey, they did it often enough themselves. There is the grudging respect for the sheer brutality and overwhelming force. If they die let it be by something unstoppable. Let them die because that is the only path set before them.

But then they kill the metal god and it only fuels bitter hope.

A human, of all things, is their salvation; a force that hits the small moon in equal measure to the Reapers.

Lure it in and hit it hard. The small team knows how the beings work, knows it would have the urge to watch them squirm before finishing them off. Heavy weapons first, a distraction, a pinch to the Reapers skin, and then comes a blast from above. A blue and white streak and a discharge with equivalent power that rocks the dark ship more than they could ever hope to from the ground.

The ship flies hard and low, skill the only thing keeping it intact, and jets at the weakened head of the ship. Metal crashes through metal and, for once, the Reapers were not the apex machines. With a groan of fire and metal the Reaper falls in a burning heap. From the gaping hole something large withers and cries out. A shape, reminiscent of a hand, reaches out, to twisted and used to ever show what its people once were, and falls back into the fire.

The shock waves hit the encampment hard. Forcing all to fall to the ground or risk burning shrapnel to any unguarded skin.

In the distance two more Reapers bellowed out. Not at the loss of one of their own, but at the audacity of one of them being taken down by mere creatures of flesh. They take to the skies after the small ship, engaging in a hopeless chase.

In the afterglow of her victory, nothing can catch the Normandy.

The silence that settles over the army is foreign, after weeks of nothing but noise. They regroup. Find the wounded, the dead, and care for each the way they could not with the hordes of enemies on them. They make the needed calls and make the necessary plans.

Even the new Primarch of Palaven is finally located and retrieved. With the Normandy shaking the Reapers off its tail, and the ground team stuck on the small moon for at least a few hours, it feels like a moot point.

"Sir Vakarian. Commander Shepard." Their group is not surprised at the order at which they are addressed and the exclusion of the two other members. Shepard feels Vakarian move from flanking her to equal standing at her side. She is jarred at how normal it feels even after their six month separation. The general does look at all of them with them same amount of awe. "I can't believe it worked." His eyes turn to scan the distance, where the flames of the Reapers' corpse burn. "We took one down."

"The first of many," Vakarian assured with such strength that even the Commander and Doctor believe, even though they know better.

"You really are something else, Garrus." Primarch Victus mused with a grin, and Shepard could see a small friendship trying to bud between the two men as Garrus grins back. This only adds to her need to protect the Primarch; Garrus does not need to lose any more friends.

"I did have some help." He shares his good natured grin with Shepard and she finds one to match.

"Glad to be of service, Sir." She is tempted to mock salute him, sure that it will draw a laugh from him, but find her limbs ach too much to do unnecessary movements. She does concede to a pop of her shoulders and back and, only after his eyes narrow, does she realize he can read her too well. So can T'Soni.

"Shepard." The breeze like voice carries farther in its softness than one would think. The camp is still quiet; the few who are not working are joined in a group around the four of them. Mainly higher officers who have already issued orders to their subordinates and now wait for their own. Shepard will not be surprised if it is Garrus they are waiting on. "We have earned a moment of rest," Liara says with a delicate hand on her shoulder, "and you are in need of it."

Vega takes the chance to join the conversation. "Yeah, you've been on overdrive since we left Earth. If we're stuck here for a while you might as well catch a few z's."

Shepard cannot help but give them a withering glare. "Should I curl up by the burning Reaper and roast marshmallows too?"

Vega snorts, "Like you wouldn't just to spite them. We can hold things down for a few hours. We're not that useless without you, you know."

"I don't doubt that," Shepard's voice had now turned dismissive. "But I can do more good awake." Vega accepts defeat with only a shrug; he will only press things so far. Liara, on the other hand, looks ready to say more but instead turns to look to Shepard's side. The pleading look on the asari's face would have been lost to anyone who did not know the doctor well. Shepard near curses as she realizes who Liara is looking at, and knows she does not have the energy to win a fight with him.

"You're dead on your feet." Garrus states with a neutral tone. His eyes are filled with worry and face drawn up in annoyance, and she knows she is the source of both.

Her jaw clenches and body tenses as she admits defeat, knowing he is as stubborn of an ass as she and will hold out longer in his more energized state. Sometimes turian stamina was the bane of her existence. "Fine," She tries not to growl it out, but knows any turian here could read her voice cues with ease. She tries to hold an air of dignity to herself, even though she was just told she needs to take a nap.

There are a few around her in similar tired states. They agree they should all rest as well and set up a watch rotation, with a few hours rest for each. She knows they will benefit greatly from the short period. Anything less than four for her and she will only wake with a dull headache and stiff joints.

Not much different from now.

Garrus is by her side, talons loosely at her elbow. Shepard smiles in spite of her mood. An inner part of her coos at his careful touch, amazed that one man can care for her so much. Amazed that she feels the same.

He is keeping his hands in companionable places but they do not leave her for long at any point.

Shepard trusts her team to handle well enough on their own so she does not issue them any particular order, just a "Keep sharp," and a nod. Garrus, on the other hand, does bark out a few orders. His team makes appearance; fierce looking men and women who all watch Garrus with the same awe filled gaze he use to follow Shepard with long ago. Secure the perimeter and then a rest/watch post for each.

Garrus and Victus are the highest ranking, Shepard notes. The new Primarch gives out strained orders as well, the guilt from his impending departure heavy on his shoulders.

Shepard gives in to the tug at her arm. "Come on." He keeps a respectful distance, not sure his attention is wanted. Shepard closes the space unconsciously; her eyes weary as she scans the compound with vigilance.

They end up in the sleeping barracks. Its emptiness is telling and Shepard feels the importance of her timing and efforts even more. They enter and Shepard heads towards the back, stopping short of the last bed, unwilling to corner herself but needing defensible space between her and the door. Shepard sits heavy on the long bed. It is similar to human beds, only it has strange groves and dips meant for spurs, cowls and fringes. Garrus sits on the one next to her, the last in the row and the one she avoided. His lean body is curved towards hers and their knees are interlaced in the small space.

Theirs eyes meet.

"Shepard." His voice is dark with his flanging. She does not understand the message in his voice but feels a pull she cannot ignore. Her hands reach for his and his do the same.

There is so much to say after so long apart. Shepard manages first, knowing she could only rest easily one way. "Stay with me," She asks with a small tug on her lips. Garrus releases one hand in favor of cupping her shoulder.

"Of course." He pulls away and begins to unclip his armor. Shepard has a feeling he does not fully understand in what context she is asking, or is at least avoiding it.

They shed their armor, both still in relatively clean states. Snipers can avoid having to much blood on them at the end of the day. Of course, sweat and grim are still layered on. Garrus stands in his sleek black under-suit and leaves her side. He goes through a narrow door and comes out with a strange shaped bowl, the sides buckling for three fingers to grip with ease. It is filled with warm water and he hands it to her. For a moment she is unsure if she is meant to drink from the bowl or wash herself with it. Garrus laughs at her as she hesitates. He dips a blunt talon into the bowl and runs his wet finger along her jaw.

She flushes.

Shepard splashes her face and rubs her cheeks in an effort to hide it. He takes the bowl as she wipes at her face with the sleeve of her dark gray bodysuit. He settles back down, his own face now clean, and watches her for a moment.

Seeing that he means for them sleep apart Shepard slides back, her legs slightly parting as she does so. His eyes flicker down before he quickly looks away. The slit in her bodysuit has parted open enough to reveal her small patch of curls and flesh.

Garrus is not sure why he feels a wave of embarrassment at spying her womanhood; he has seen it –touched it– before. But their time apart may have dulled her interest in him and he does not want to over step, or assume, anything. He settles into the bed, too wired for sleep, but Shepard will not sleep well in a hostile environment without a trusted companion nearby. He shifts himself into the groves of the bed, savoring the comfortable fit knowing that he will be back on the Normandy soon and on a too short human cot.

Shepard is still sitting on her bed, her eyes on him. He is worried his accidental glace was misunderstood. Then she is on her feet with speed that he did not think she could muster at this point.

She climbs over him and forces herself into the gap at the other side. She stretches her body alongside his and lays her head on his arm; her eyes daring him to kick her out of his bed. His heart is pounding at her boldness. Her body is soft and pleasantly pressed against him and his hands itch with the memory of it yielding under him.

Garrus shifts his arm better under her head and around her shoulders; she drapes her arm along his chest in response. Her leg hooks around one of his. He relaxes as his muscles unknot and his senses take her in. She smells of guns and sweat and so intoxicatingly her. There is also a light trace of a jumbled mix of scents; water, grass, steel, dirt, concrete, humans. She still smells of Earth.

He finds himself drifting off. Only aware of the small human wrapped around his side and how he would love to see his fellow brothers and sisters faces when they come in to find them tangled together.

He is almost gone when he feels it; heat on his thigh and a soft grind.

His eyes snap open.

Shepard sighs into his chest as she buries her face and runs a lazy hand across his chest. Her hips are rocking gently against him as she drifts off. She hums with her eyes closes and sighs again as she presses her core to his warm thigh. Finally pleased with her position she keeps her leg tight around his and herself pressed to him. The darkness behind her eyes increases and she knows soon she will be fast asleep.

"Garrus," she mumbles.

There is a sudden hammering in her ear as Garrus' heart kick-starts. His arm is tight around her and she can hear him trying to calm his breathing, even as his thigh presses hard against her. A low hum vibrates through her as her hip naturally rock in response. Her eyes part and she can see her hand resting on his broad chest, the ridges from his cowl tapering down and she follows the trail with her fingers. Her hand slips under the cover and skirts over his twitching stomach muscles. His heart rate is only increasing.

Garrus digs his right hand into the mattress underneath him; the thick fabric does not tear under his grip, only strains. Shepard's eyes are hooded from her fatigue and he fights the urge to pin her beneath him. Her hand reaches his groin and ghost over him as she lightly feels for the opening in his suit that is similar to hers. Nimble fingers parts open the gap and one traces the groves of his pelvic plates. The gentle pressure fills him with a heady rush and he tries to convince himself that the pressure is all he needs. But her finger are still coaxing him, his plate are becoming slick and when she forces her finger between his closed plates he hisses at the flash of white behind his eyes.

His plates slide open and she takes him in her hand as he is freed. He groans into her hair as he gives into the feel of her strange hand on him. Her fingers curl around, engulfing him in her softness. Each slow pump is a tease that make him grow harder and harder. Each flick across his tip and squeeze of his shaft flares the white behind his eyes.

Here in the corner of the barracks, not far from a dead Reaper, and surround by men and women who will be joining them any minute, Garrus is sure she could work him to completion and happily fall asleep.

Her touches are rougher now and he bucks into her hand without meaning too, his moan harsh.

It is the pleased sound she makes that is her undoing, he reasons. Knowing that she is getting off from merely his response, from touching him and no attention to herself, it shatters his self-control.

Shepard is jolted from her pleasant haze as she forced on her back. Her eyes blink at the blue-eyed man above her who is pinning her arms above her head with one hand and is gripping the back of her neck with his other. He has flipped her perfectly and is now settled between her open legs, his member angry and hot against her now exposed core.

His eyes are ablaze and she is unable to look away even as he leans down to press his mouth hard to hers. He is demanding with his tongue, rough and wet against her softer one. Below he presses blindly against her, becoming slick with her wetness and she rolls her hips with a breathy moan that he swallows. He releases her neck in favor of her hips, angling and lifting her so their bodies can meet. His body is bent over her, surrounding her completely and blocking everything else from her view. His talons still bind her wrist as he licks alongside her jaw, in the same place he touched earlier.

Shepard lets out a curse with her moan as her body arches into him, his chest ridges burying between her breasts. His plating is hard under his suit and she presses her chest to him; nipples rubbing through the barriers, sending small sparks through her. With their suits on there is no chaffing or scraping to worry about.

Garrus is panting in her ear and she knows his limit has been reached. The scent of his breath is pleasing as it washes over her face in searing hot gust.

"Shepard," His dueled voice rocks through her and she feels him guiding himself to her opening. "Charlotte," he gasps as he shoots into her. She bites her lips to stifle her cry at the sweet way her walls stretch to fit him. He growls at her, of all things. A primal sound made from his flanging that is like granite in her ear. Pressing his head to hers, he holds her stare. "Don't. Let them hear." He pulls out and thunders back to her with a hard thrust. "Scream my name and let them all know you're mine."

Her mind is filled with heat and want and oh, yes there but his demanding tone is rare and powerful, and she wants more. Her legs wrap around him, weighing him down as she arches up to him. She licks his mouth and grins as she says, "Only if you scream mine back."

He releases her arms to better support their weight. She tries to rock her hips to his, but his grip at her waist stops her. Garrus gives a dark chuckle. "You're going to have to work for that, Commander."

"Really now?" She pulls a mandible in her mouth and sucks. He groans and shamelessly thrusts into her. "That doesn't seem too hard." Her fingers thread under his fringe and dig into his soft skin, her blunt nails making him hiss. "Now that part about me being yours?" Her livid greens dance as she stares into his. "You better prove it, Vakarian."

That is her last coherent sentence.

Both hands are on her hips now. He is leaning down on his knees and he hammers into her. Pounding her into the too firm mattress that is nothing against his strength.

Their first time was nothing like this. It was slow and careful, with the importance of the act overweighting the act itself.

But now it is glorious.

Flesh and flesh wrapped tight, straining to be free; to feel her skin rubbed raw against him and her fingers pulling at his plates. Emotions wild and demanding; his anger at her departure months ago, her frustration locked up alone with no way to speak to him, his fear hearing Earth was hit first, her dread seeing Palaven burn, the relief at the sight of the other.

The joy of this embrace.

The love he feels and she is slowly finding.

She is clawing at him, no need to hold back as she finds his name is leaving her lips in a rapid chant, growing louder with each full strike of his hips to hers.

Her voice drives Garrus mad. Soft and strong. The same voice that the galaxy has learned to fear, to respect, is crying out for him. "Harderpleaseharder, no, AH! Thereyesyesyes-Garrus!GarrusGarrusGarrus…." It is all a long babbling string and he remember each word, each sound that is so foreign and new and Charlotte.

That is the name jumping from his mouth. His own words are muted to his ears but he can feel his mouth move and her respond heatedly to her name. He knows he is saying other things, because he is thinking them and his mouth no longer has a filter. Things created in the heat of this encounter –Louder Charlotte, don't you dare hold back– things he has been waiting to say –I missed you. I missed you. I missed you– and things he would never voice– Don't leave me. I break when you leave me– but how much she catches is lost to him.

She is tight and hot around him and it only doubles as she cries out at her release, her voice singing in is ear. He bites down on her shoulder to muffle his roar as he comes with a hard thrust. The dark suit stops his teeth from breaking her skin but he knows a bruise is added to her collection.

They cling to each other as they rock out the last waves of their after bliss.

Green and blue meeting and never parting.

It does not take much to rouse Garrus from his slumber. The familiar voices of his strike team and Adrien's amused laugh have his eyes wide open.

Shepard is limp at his side; one gray covered arm draped across his chest, her legs tangled around his and with the sheet, her face hidden in the crock of his arm and body. They had cleaned up before Shepard had fallen asleep, the smell of sex faint to a human nose but still strong to a turians'. Even now, hours later, he smells himself heavy on her and her on him. There is no doubt as to what they have done

They will replace the sheets before they leave with a fresh set, for the next turian who hopefully will have the chance to rest here.

Sex is common enough that smell of it, mostly in odd hidden places during moments of calm, is ignored. As long as they are not seen and it does not affect the mission, then it is fair game.

But the smell of Shepard is sweet and strange in the air. Her soft breaths and sighs music to their rocky rumble and Garrus knows she is impossible to ignore.

When the first batch of soldiers had filed in he was met with the curious faces of his comrades. Turian/human couples are still rare, as Garrus has never met one himself, so their lingering stares are expected.

Garrus reads each emotion that flickers through them; curiosity, amusement, confusion, apathy, and the ones he know by name show a bit of happiness for him.

There is no disgust or horror. And after everything Commander Shepard has done for his fellow turians today – given them hope and another day to fight – there will never be. Not from these men and women.

They had fallen asleep without words and soon, with Shepard sleeping soundly next to him, so did Garrus. While he did not sleep too deeply, too concerned for Shepard's safety to become completely unaware, he did let his mind relax. No tactics or planning. No worry or dread. Just him and the woman he loved safe in each other arms.

When the second batch had filed in they behaved the same. In the distance Garrus could hear the blast of gunfire and he knew time was short.

Now, with Adrien sitting on the bed next to him talking to Honoria and Gemelle, his best two recon scouts, the gunfire is almost at the walls of the encampment. Shepard's ears will pick it up soon and wake her. That is, if Adrien and his team does not do it themselves.

"You know," Garrus says as he cracks open an eye, "It's a myth humans can't hear our subharmonics. Can't understand them, but can still hear them." With both eyes open he gives them a half grin. "Points for thoughtfulness, though."

"Garrus," Adrien tills his head towards him and continues, "I was just about to wake you. Just received word from the Normandy; they will be here in the hour." The words are laced with a bitterness the Primarch is trying hard to hide.

"Good," Garrus says as he slowly sits up. Untangling himself from both Shepard's iron grip and the cursed covers turns into quite a chore. He manages to get halfway up, his back awkwardly curved against the wall behind him. But Shepard is still sleep, arms around his waist, so he does not mind the pressure on his back. His talons brush through her short hair and she makes a pleased noise in her sleep that he cannot help but smile at.

"Always wondered why you kept them blunt," Honoria says as she gestures to his hand. "Guessing you tore her up bad?"

"No." Skin weave was part of Shepard resurrection package. On her own she had it upgrade to the point lesser knives are now like paper on her skin. Theoretically, his talons, if honed right, could be sharp enough to pierce her skin. The most damaged he had done on their first night was create long red welts along her smooth skin and a few light punctures from his teeth.

The reason he keeps them blunt is the simple fact it is easier. Easier to clean and maintain his guns without the risk of scratching their perfect surfaces. Easier to handle Shepard's thinner clothing without shredding them and having her go out of her way to buy new ones.

But, if he is being honest, the feel of his fingers running through her soft hair is something he enjoys and that is a place her weave is the thinnest. So really he does it as more as a preemptive act than anything else.

"But, still wouldn't want to risk it," He admits with a glance at Shepard's dark curls. They are longer now. Before he could barely manage to lace one curl around his finger and now he can bury his whole hand. Soon her hair will be long enough for him to grip in his hand easily. An image of his hand pulling her hair, forcing her head back, exposing her delicate neck to him, causes him to shiver. He holds it back as he looks up at Honoria, who is leaning on the wall at the foot of his bed with her arms folded.

Next to her are two neat piles, both made of Shepard's and his armor. The green eyed turian must have stacked it in his sleep. She is the oldest in his task force, older than Garrus himself by two decades. And motherly to the point he hates sending her off on assignment, to worry until he reminds himself she is the top of her class and Primach Fedorian picked her for that very reason.

Gemelle is standing at the base of Adrien's bed, arms clasped behind her and her back straight. Her face is pinched and Garrus knows that mean her next words are not good. Bearer of bad news and hating every second of it. "Sir," Her soft red eyes meet his as she goes on, "The ground Reaper troops have regrouped. They are less than twenty clicks away, but are not advancing as fast as before."

"They're being cautious," The new Primarch says as he leans back on the wall behind him, one leg bent on the bed and his hands laced over his stomach. "Seeing if we have anymore tricks."

"Would be a hell of a lot easier is they were mindless fodder." Garrus gives an un-amused chuckle. "Never thought I'd miss just LOKI mechs shooting at me."

A vibration on his side draws his attention. Looking down he is met with bright green eyes; to alert to have just woken up. "You want mindless? Try vorcha. Bastards literary run in my scope." Shepard's voice is strong, lacking the grogginess of sleep.

The Primarch and his team are surprised that she is awake as well.

"Ah, but the flamethrowers they're so found of are kind of a deal breaker for me."

"Ha!" Shepard laughs in a short bark as she removes herself from his side and sits up. He slides over enough for her to sit next to him. "Like you ever got burnt." He knows what she is thinking about.

"Maybe if you didn't run off like you're cloak was fireproof at the time, then you wouldn't have lost your eyebrows…."

She shudders at the memory. "No one took me seriously for weeks." Shepard takes the moment to lace her hands behind her back and arches her spine backwards, popping and cracking her joints and stretching her muscles.

Garrus grins at the disturbed looks on Honoria and Gemelle faces. Adrien cringes as he says, "I forgot how… limber humans are."

It is now Garrus' turn to cringe as the Shepard he knows will never let an awful pun or awkward joke go unspoken. And, true to her nature, Shepard pops up and smirks out, "Limber indeed. Flexible too." He relaxes, as that is only meant for him. Sometimes he regretted that story, but it had given Shepard an opening to show her intentions, so he can live with a bit of teasing from her.

She settles next to him and he notices she is careful how she sits; otherwise Honoria would be getting an impromptu lesson in human reproductive organs. The smirk on her face is replaced by a tight line as she looks at Gemelle, who shifts uneasily under the human Commander's stare. Only Shepard can still be so intimidating sitting on a bed with her turian lover, half dressed with the smell of sex still on her. Amazing is not enough to describe her.

"At ease," Shepard returns the grin seeing her discomfort and Gemelle shoulders drop a bit. "If you can survive under Garrus' command then you've already done the impossible, and earned my respect in the process." Gemelle is torn between laughing and keeping her composure. Both Adrien and Honoria give soft chuckles.

Pain-in-the-ass is actually quite a through description.

"You make loving you hard, Shepard," He fakes a weary sigh.

"Like anything less would keep you interested." Bumping her arm to his she gets back on track. "My team?" She addresses the red eyed women.

Gemelle response instantly, "They are at the front lines. The asari, Dr. T'Soni, has proved invaluable at thinning the enemy's numbers with her biotics. The human, Vega, is working with her."

"Good. The Normandy?"

"Will be here in the hour."

Shepard looks at Adrien. "Primarch, will you be ready to leave once the Normandy arrives?"

"No," He looks over the room before saying, "But I will leave none-the-less."

It is Commander Shepard who responses. "I understand how you feel, Sir. And I mean it when I said you will do your new title well. I've learned the best leaders for times like these, times of wars, are soldiers. Because we know each number isn't a statistic, but a name, a face, of someone just like us." Shepard's hand finds Garrus' and she gently grips it. "I'm not going to lie and say you will feel better once you leave and you're doing what needs to be done. Even now I wish I was back on Earth… but that is not were I'm needed."

Garrus looks over Honoria and Gemelle, both watching with understanding and he feels his stomach turn as it hits him; he will be leaving them behind. This is what he trained them for, to fight in his place. And with Shepard's grip now unknowing painful he knows he will be following her. Here she is talking of duty and hard choices and he knows he will throw both of those away to follow her. For now he is just lucky enough she needs someone of his skill with her. Not that Liara and the new lieutenant Vega are not formidable, but they have not fought by Shepard's side every step of the way. Cannot watch her six and read her body language like it is second nature. Does not have Shepard's blind faith; is the only person she trusts to lead in her place.

"Will you need an armed guard?" Shepard is back on track once more.

Adrien shakes his head. "Vakarian will do. I do not wish to remove any more troops than needed," Adrien flares his mandibles in a forced grin as he tries to lighten his mood, "And from what I hear you always end up dragging him along."

"Couldn't do it without him."

Commander Shepard stood at the doors to the kodiak, Cortez at the helm and, from the glances he is giving her and the turian out his window, she knows Vega has been running his mouth. Why did she end up with men who gossiped worse than school girls around her?

Kaidan was always skillful at acquiring info with the other party being none the wiser. Joker is a drama queen with ears of the ship. Jacob had a little minx of a thief doing his dirty work for him. Keeping a secret from Thane was a fruitless notion.

Garrus was the worst, only because she was the one at fault with him. All it takes is a fold is his arms, a tilt of his head, and the smooth call of her name in his dueled voice and she is spilling her guts. Things she has locked up inside of her pour out like she talks about them every day.

It is hard for her to remember a time when she just saw him as another turian, another crew member; someone who, while skilled, was just a hot-headed kid who had daddy issues. If she could go back and tell herself that one day she would call a turian - someone member to the race that was the reason she grew up orphaned and on the streets- the person she trusts most in the galaxy, the person she thought of in her moments of solitude… the one she was falling so deep for she often worries more than she should when she takes him with her…

Garrus is saying goodbye to both his task force and soldiers. They are leaving the troop better off than they found them, but it is only a matter of time before they become over run. And without Garrus' tactical genius, Victus' unorthodox strategies, or Shepard's sheer blind luck, things are bleaker then she likes. But they do not let it show.

Some laugh and joke, others just give calm goodbyes.

They all know they will never see Garrus or the Primarch in person again. The most they will get are orders over comms and vids before things become too dire for someone light-years away to fix with words and not action.

Palaven is the same fat burning planet hanging over head as from when she arrived. So wounded and bloated with flames that she is waiting for it to cry out. To fall from the sky as it life gives out and smashes them in a heap of fire and metal and flesh.

To think that the war has just started and yet both Earth and Palaven are on their last legs.

Menae is a better sight. The only thing burning is a smoldering Reaper carcass and that is how it should be. How it will be, as long as Shepard has her say.

Liara and Vega are both by her side as Garrus and the Primarch, her current hope for Earth, join them. The Primarch boards without a word but Garrus turns for one last look behind him. Then he is in front of her and her hand shoots out to help him on board, a needless action on both parts but he takes her hand without pause. Stepping on board, he stands in front of her as their hands clasp each other forearms.

"Glad to have you back on board, Vakarian."

"Glad to be back, Commander."

Can't do this without you. She smiles.

Garrus' flares one mandible with a small tilt of his head. Yes, you can. Just not a stylishly, remember?

Her smile reaches her green eyes as she steps aside, letting him walk past to seat himself.

No, not without you. He sits next to Liara and says something that breaks her hard Shadow Broker mask and makes the young doctor blush and James laugh. Not without my friends, my comrades, my family.

The hateful red glow of Palaven fills the small ship as they take off and Shepard looks out at the large Planet. Bright as hell fire, with black devil bugs dotting the blossoming flames and casting long winged shadows.

Victus is doing the same as her, his eyes filled with Palaven's dyeing light as he watches his home for maybe the last time. And she sees hope flicker there.

The Primarch cuts a wicked pose with his back straight and hands folded between his open legs. His body dark with soft light of the shuttle and the glaring red of his home casting across his face; eyes far and deep and his shoulders heavier, but not weaker, with all of Palaven.

And this man sees hope where all Shepard sees is the same fire from her nightmares. The same fire she already died once trying to prevent, and is sure she will not cheat death twice for.

Shepard looks back at Palaven and tries to see what he does; what she claims to feel when asked.

Beauty maybe, for she is beautiful even in her death. The streaks of bright metal and cannon fire ribbons around the glowing planet as the turians fight for their home. The hard lights of the stars blanket the blackness of the sky, as a reminder there are trillions more out there, that they are not alone in this battle.

But all Shepard sees is the ocean of fire where Garrus grew up; a place he may never see again. A place that his father most likely is, alongside a sister Shepard only knows about from stolen information, and with a mother who may or may not be alive- already killed from a sickness he has never spoken of.

Shepard finds the Primarch is now watching her and she wonders what he sees looking at her. Standing with her back bent down to look out the small window. One arm stretched above to hold on to a bit of metal and the other balled at her side; her face hard and her mouth a tight scowl.

She holds his even gaze.

Both warriors forced to be leaders.

But he is older, grudgingly respected despite the dislike at his actions, while she is young -so very young- praised by her people and the galaxy, and he knows the weight of his title better than her. He is the Primarch of Palaven and she is a Lieutenant Commander, Spectre, and now an ambassador with the power to create any treaties she wishes.

She is weary.

This is a fight she has been fighting on and off for years, while he has just started.

This is a fight she wasted countless hours trying to convince the galaxy was real. That she was not crying wolf and they had only so much time left. That over a quarter of a million lives were lost to give them six months. Six months where she sat on her thumb while the brass tried to figure out if she was trustworthy; if she was telling the truth.

Now, instead of yelling out a galactic wide 'I told you so,' she is running around trying to save them all. And she knows them all well enough that no one is going to be sensible enough to agree to help stop the very real apocalypse, without some sort of incentive. Like the promise of death is not enough.

Grateful. She is grateful for Victus, because his request is sensible and he is not expecting her to pull the solution out of her ass. He knows what he asks for is a tall order, but there is no other choice.

Looking back at Palaven she watches as the Normandy's hanger door closes, blocking out the red light. Blocking out Palaven the same way as Earth.

Like Earth.

Shepard pulls on the small traces of hope that flutters at the strong, solid voice that surrounds her. A voice that has survived the same odds she has and then some.

And like Earth, Palaven will be saved.