At first everything is fuzzy and muted but, eventually, Shepard's surroundings sharpen and she realises she's in a bar. The lights are dim and the fuzziness has faded into a smoky haze even though she can smell no smoke. She can't help but grin to herself. Vakarian was right.
And he's here. He shouldn't be, he doesn't deserve this just yet, but he's here. Hunched at the bar, staring at nothing. Turian and human heavens are the same after all.
Shepard takes the stool next to his and he doesn't see her. He's still got his armour on and he can't see her over the ring around his neck.
"You said you were buying, this time."
Garrus startles out of whatever thought he was having and he grins at her. "I told you I would get some new scars." He signals and the bartender places a drink in front of Shepard, identical to the one in front of Garrus.
"I can see that. It was pretty rough down there, I'm surprised you only got those."
"Up there must have been rougher."
Shepard avoids his eyes and downs the drink. As soon as the liquid touches her throat she feels like her oesophagus is on fire. She coughs, slamming the glass onto the bar.
"What is this, Vakarian?"
Garrus laughs. "Turian brandy. You couldn't drink it before so I thought I'd let you try it now."
Shepard laughs. Her mouth is still on fire but it's nice to know she can't die a second time. Well, a third time.
"That's the first time I've heard you laugh since ... That is the first time."
Shepard stares at her reflection in the mirror behind the bar. She's frowning and the realisation that that is her default expression makes her frown even more. It's been a long time since she had reason to be happy, properly happy.
"Which is surprising, considering you had me around the past few years."
Shepard cracks a grin, she can't help it. "Joker could have filled your spot, easy."
"He doesn't have my dashing good looks."
As soon as he says the words, he shifts in his seat and won't look at her. Shepard pretends not to notice and stares at Garrus's armour. It's brand new, not a chip on it. Her own, she notices, still retains a lot of its wear but it doesn't look the way it did at the end.
"I wonder how he's doing."
"I checked in on him. He's with EDI. Because of you." He smiles. "You did good, Shepard."
"We did. Is James here?"
Garrus shakes his head. Jimmy Vega has officially retired from his pole dancing career and is now an N7 officer. He's still going through the process, but it'll all be official soon."
"Good. I worried. He was on the ground in London with us, and I thought ..." She wishes she hadn't finished her drink so quickly.
"His face was the last thing I saw in my life."
Shepard's always found it hard to tell what emotions a turian is going through, their facial structure is so different, but she can tell now. She makes a motion to comfort him, but is that what he wants?
"He was hit by the beam, only just. I pushed him out of the way but the man's built like a tank. The Reaper took his legs."
"I could have done better."
Now Shepard puts a hand on his arm. It's covered in armour but she knows that doesn't matter. "You saved him."
"I guess I did."
Garrus finishes his drink. "Do you want something different?"
Shepard shakes her head. "I can handle anything you throw at me, Vakarian."
He signals to the barkeep.
"Were you the one who got Tali drunk after Miranda died?"
Garrus sighs. "She had too much. I sent her off to bed after you talked to her, tucked her in."
"Is that when you two ..."
"What? I, er, no. I mean she ... she tried but-" He clears his throat. If there's a turian equivalent of blushing, it's whatever Garrus is doing now. "We talked about it the next morning."
"You'll have to tell me the story, sometime."
"I think we've got a lot of stories to tell each other, Shepard."
Liara is very much the same as she was when Shepard first found her. She prefers her own company, and the company of the long-dead. Studying the protheans now seems pointless, to her. Shepard watches her and all the passion has gone out of the asari. She's helping rebuild her planet but her heart isn't in it.
Tali has kept in contact with her. They're both trying to build homes so they talk about that. They never speak of the Normandy or the crew or Garrus or Shepard. Liara keeps a picture of Shepard on her desk but turns it so it's not facing her. Half the time, it's face down.
"I don't know what I'm doing with my life, Tali."
Liara says this a lot, but now Tali doesn't speak of rebuilding like she usually does. "What about the project you were working on before we ... Before?"
"What about it?"
"You could show it to everyone. Show what we did. Show what Shepard did. The galaxy needs the truth."
"So you've seen what they've been saying about her."
"People will do anything for headlines."
Liara sighs. She does a lot of that, nowadays. She picks up the picture of Shepard and sets it right. "But what would I do with it?"
"Send it everywhere. I can help."
Garrus walks up to the booth where Shepard is sitting. Shepard stops watching Liara and remembers where she is. The bar, her meal sitting in front of her.
He nods to her plate. "It'll go cold."
He places his elbows on the table. "This is the afterlife. And not that club I saw you dance in. The food here doesn't get cold unless you want it to."
Shepard turns her attention back to Liara.
"I couldn't save her home."
Garrus exhales loudly. "That's not your fault. You're just one woman, and a scrawny human at that." When Shepard doesn't smile at this, he continues. "The Reapers destroyed her home, not you."
"I should have done something. I should have stopped Kai Leng."
"You did, Shepard. Your omni-blade. It wasn't a pretty sight."
"You think I was wrong?"
"No, I think you did what you had to do." His voice is impatient, now. Even though they usually saw things the same way, whenever they didn't see eye-to-eye they had trouble communicating. "You did all you could. And you could not have saved Thessia."
Shepard stares moodily at her meal, rolling a couple of peas around her plate with a fork.
"You miss her."
"The last time I saw her, she gave me ..." Her eyes are welling up and her chest tightens. She swallows and continues on. Her voice is wobbly but Garrus doesn't mention it. "She gave me a gift. She said it was something to share with a bondmate, or a way to say ... The last night on the Normandy, we talked about the stars. There are so many, we could get lost in them. And I wanted-"
Shepard grits her teeth together.
"She showed me us. Just us, standing amongst the stars. That was her goodbye."
"That's ... beautiful. Liara was always so gentle. Not like us. She always knew how to comfort people. And we couldn't even do that for her when it mattered the most. Except you, Shepard. After Thessia."
Once she knows she won't break down right there at the table, she asks, "How did you say goodbye to Tali?"
He laughs. "We compared gun sizes. Decided we would have a competition." He looks down at his hands, places flat on the table. "I think she won."
"I miss them. Both of them."
"So do I. But ..." Here, he pauses and looks up. "I also miss, I miss us."
Shepard looks at him for a moment. "Me, too."
A voice makes Garrus turn around. A turian, older than him, has just walked in. He has blue markings on his face and walks with a slight limp.
Garrus turns back around to face Shepard. "Promise me we'll talk about this," he says as he gets out of the booth and stands up.
Shepard nods. "Yes."
"So, do you want to meet my dad?"
"They named the baby Jane."
Garrus smiles. "Jacob will be a good father."
Silence. They're at the bar again. They're rarely anywhere else. Sometimes people come up to them, sometimes, but they're mostly left alone. Jack's been by and they see Anderson a lot. Even Kaiden. He held no grudges and it was like they had only seen each other yesterday.
Time works differently here. Shepard can never really tell how long it's been, except when it comes to Garrus. When he's not there, time is cruelly present.
Turian brandy has become her favoured drink. The maddening thing about this place is that whilst she doesn't get physically hurt anymore, she also can't get drunk. At least the brandy burns like it would in life.
"Do you ever wonder what it would be like? Having a normal life? Children, no Reapers, no suicide missions, no saving the galaxy?"
"I don't know much else, Garrus."
"It's nice to wonder, sometimes." He watches her and his eyes scour her face, looking for something to work off. She doesn't know what he's looking for.
She's never seen him without the eyepiece, she realises. Except for that night.
"I think we worked, Shepard. You and me. You know we did."
"We did, Garrus." She wishes she had another drink. "Too much."
His eyes watch her, bright blue that matches his armour. His mandibles won't keep still, like he's chewing on words. She watches him, giving him nothing with her blank expression. He wants her to explain, she realises.
"Those last days ... I just ... I love Liara, I always have. But," she pauses. Emotions are not her strong suit. He could read her mind on the battlefield; she barely had to think an order before he followed it, why couldn't it be the same here? "But I love you, too. Liara's too good for someone like me. She's a good person, she's young, she's got so much ahead of her."
"You're not old, Shepard."
"She hasn't seen too much. But I wanted to be selfish and love her in my last days. Pretend that maybe I was a good person. And I loved her with everything I had, I didn't fake that."
Shepard runs a hand through her short hair.
"Liara didn't belong on the Normandy; she's too good for war. But you and me, we're both soldiers. We kill people without a second thought."
"Liara has killed." Garrus leans on the bar as he talks. "Her biotics were impressive."
"Only because I asked her to."
"You've seen my worst and I've seen yours. We're equals, Garrus. I saw a lot of myself in you and-"
Shepard traces a finger around the rim of her glass. The bartender is busy serving other people. She doesn't want to do this, anymore. The afterlife was supposed to be fun. A reward.
The bartender is taking too long and Garrus is too close. She gets off her stool and walks off.
"You know, I didn't think Tali liked me at all until the last mission. Guess the end of the world shows you who your real friends are."
"She always liked you. Just not your sense of humour. Most people would agree with her, I think."
"What about you?"
Shepard grins at him and raises her glass to him. "You'll never know."
"You know, Shepard, I think this is the happiest I've seen you. Who would have thought dying would be the only thing that made you smile."
"You made me smile when we were alive. One of the only people who could."
"You're a good friend, Shepard."
"I'm not. I didn't try hard enough."
"You did, you-"
"No." Shepard brings the glass down back onto the countertop where it makes a dull thudding sound. "You didn't need a friend in those days and neither did I. I needed you but I was too scared."
"Liara needed you and you needed her."
"But what about you?"
"Liara is young, barely an adult by asari standards. I'm old, Shepard. I've got my scars, and not just the ones on my face."
A silence moves between them. Shepard can't think what to say and she feels like everything she is a sham because she can take away a person's life like that but now, sitting next to one of her closest friends, she cannot think of the right words and she feels like a child. She needs guidance when there's not a gun in her hand, when things aren't about war.
"And I think I did the same thing with Tali. Of course I loved her, but ..."
They're both wondering the same thing: are they bad people?
"She's got that view that she wanted. Tali'Zorah vas Rannoch. Did you ever see her without her helmet?"
Garrus shakes his head.
"I did, on Rannoch. She took it off and just breathed, let her sun warm her face. She was so beautiful, Garrus."
He closes his eyes and doesn't look at her but she can see he's happy. Not smiling exactly, there's just something about him.
"Liara has a bondmate," Shepard says as she sits down beside Garrus at the bar. If she wasn't dead she's sure she'd be an alcoholic by now. "About time."
"How do you feel?"
She can feel his eyes on her but she orders a drink. She is jealous, certainly. She has no right to be. But Liara deserves someone alive and whole and not in love with a ship and the blood of others. As she stares at the amber liquid, Shepard finally realises. "Happy."
Garrus pats her on the back once, twice. She's missed him, physical contact with a body so different from her own.
"It would be nice, just to let them know we're still ... still with them."
Garrus laughs, the sound deep in his throat. "Shepard, I think the afterlife has softened you up."
The ice cubes chink against the glass and she watches them float, swishing the glass around in her hand. "Maybe it has."
"Your default face is still a stern frown but we can iron that out."
"That's my default face just around you, Vakarian," Shepard says, but she laughs anyway. It feels good to laugh. She had forgotten, in the constant war. They have more drinks, more laughter, and although she knows she's not physically drunk she's somehow managed to convince her mind that she is.
"You know how you said you'd only seen me laugh once?"
Garrus sways a bit on his seat and her mood has infected his. His hand is on her back again, lower, this time. "Well, it may have been a slight exaggeration, but-"
"I've only seen you out of your armour once."
He stops swaying and removes his hand. Turning around so he's not facing her, he looks at his hand, criss-crossed on the bartop.
"Shepard, why do you keep bringing it up?"
"When you said ... When you came up to my cabin and you said you wanted something to go right ..." She bites her lip. "You were never a distraction."
"What does that even mean?" He slams a fist onto the bar. He turns to her and his mandibles are flaring, his eyes are smaller than usual. "You said you were scared, but what have you go to lose, now? Shepard, I-"
She kisses the side of his mouth that is scarred. "That was one of the best nights of my life. But I'm a coward, and I'm sorry."
Exiting as quickly as she can, she walks down the corridor that won't end unless she wants it to. She loses track of how far she walks, until she can't feel her feet any more. And that's what she hates about this place, her pain is not real. Her mind is making her think that she can't feel her feet but she can, her body is in perfect working order unless she doesn't want it to be, or if she can't control her subconscious desires.
It's not subconscious, though. She knows she doesn't deserve eternal happiness so she won't give it to herself.
Garrus finds her in her room, in what she assumes to be the middle of the night - it's getting increasingly harder and harder to track the passage of time - watching Liara. She has picked up her research on the protheans and doesn't get enough sleep. She keeps herself busy.
"Can't sleep?" he asks as he closes Shepard's door soundlessly. He doesn't take any steps towards her.
Shepard shakes her head. She's lying on her bed, fully clothes and above the sheets, staring at the ceiling as the images are projected there.
"Don't want to."
"I can't, either."
Shepard pats the space beside her. "Do you want to check on Tali?"
Garrus lies down beside her, the mattress compresses and Shepard slides the tiniest bit closer to him but neither of them say anything.
"How long have you been watching?"
"I don't know."
After checking in on Tali, Joker and EDI, Garrus's sister, James and anyone they can think of, Shepard switches back to Liara.
Garrus puts a hand on her arm. His skin is scaly, hard and warm. "Maybe you should take a break, Shepard."
She takes another look at Liara's eyes and stops watching. The room goes dark without a light source and the only sound is their breathing. She's never noticed just how much oxygen his lungs can take.
She turns so she's lying on her side, placing a hand in front of her on the mattress to keep her balance. The sheets are cold.
He turns his head to face her but doesn't say anything. He finds her hand in the darkness and eventually, they fall asleep and Shepard has no dreams, no asari children haunt her tonight.
"Who knew you actually had a heart?" Garrus says as he steps out of the cruiser.
Shepard opens her mouth to make some kind of witty response, but his words hurt, more than she cares to admit to herself, so she fiddles with a piece of armour on her forearm.
"I did," he says when he sees her expression. "I didn't want to admit it after, well, you know. But I knew."
"I'm pretty sure you took it from me," she blurts out before she realises what she's saying. Did she actually just say that? Is she a teenage girl with her first crush?
"Afterlife has definitely shown your non-robotic side."
He looks around for the first time and realises where she's driven them to. It's the top of the Presidium.
He intakes a sharp breath. "Shepard," he whispers.
"When you took me shooting, that was the first time since the reapers hit Earth that I could relax. So, I wanted to say thank you-"
"-and I wondered if we could pick up where I broke us off?"
"We could pick up from now, Shepard. Scars and all."
"You can use my first name, you know."