Garrus wasn't sure why the others didn't seem to notice. They acted as if nothing was different about the woman standing next to him when they knew her just as well as he did. They should see the changes he saw every time he looked at her. He hoped it was just that they didn't notice, even though his gut told him that wasn't it.
Trust your instinct, Shepard always told him and she hadn't steered him wrong yet. That left him with the uncomfortable realization that they just didn't want to see it. They didn't want to see her as anything other than their strong, immovable center; their unfailing leader.
They might not see it—or choose not to see it—but he did. He saw the wear and tear, the toll of war weighing heavily on her shoulders. This fight had been going on a lot longer for her than it had for the rest of the galaxy.
Those ridiculous human vids with the men in the funny looking hats riding the horses and shooting pistols that looked like they had been made during the stone age—the kind that had once made her whoop and holler along with the actors to the shock of her crew and amusement of her friends—were forgotten. Hours where she once would have slipped in a meal with her crew were traded for analyzing datapads and crunching numbers in the war room. Her preference for ration bars worked well for her. She was often there late into the Normandy's artificial night and the bars made for easy snacks. Sometimes he would tolerate the scans in order to check in on her, when the clock showed it was past midnight and the ship was quiet. She would glance at her omni-tool as soon as she saw him and smile sheepishly. Where does the time go, Garrus? She always asked.
He would shrug and make some non-committal excuse about how it had always been that way. He would take the datapad from her hand and guide her gently back towards the elevator. When he primed it to take her to her cabin she would smile up at him. Don't know what I'd do without you, Vakarian.
You'd probably get by, but not as stylishly, he'd say, earning a laugh that covered the smile that showed just how worn down she really was. When she smiled before, even during their days fighting Saren or pissing off the Illusive Man, she'd worn a smile that had always reached her eyes. Now it lacked that same enthusiasm.
Still she managed to make the rounds through her crew and check on each of them. Any word from your family? Anything you need? She always found time for her people. She was always there, door open, even if what they needed was just an ear. That's why she had stopped in at the forward battery now.
"Do you remember what you said on Menae?" she asked as she leaned on the railing in the forward battery. Her fingers trailed over the metal in front of her.
"I said a lot of things then," he replied, making an adjustment on his omni-tool and leaning in to catch a reading. He had an unsettling feeling he knew exactly what she was talking about.
"You asked how long it takes before the fights kicked out of you," she reminded him. "How much death can one person see before—"
"Before your handsome Turian friend picks you up from under the table, dusts you off and buys you a drink," Garrus interrupted. He bumped her shoulder, "We're not done yet, Shepard. Not by a long shot."
This time when she laughed the strain in her voice wasn't as noticeable. The corner of her eyes had crinkled just enough to tell him that was what she had needed to hear. It wouldn't make the reality of this war any better, but if it helped her through the next ten minutes he would take it.
She was always there for her crew and though she'd never ask, or even admit it, sometime she needed her crew to be there for her. To accept the fact that she wasn't infallible.
"Ah, Garrus, you've always had my back." She paused in the doorway, her hands locked behind her. "Let me know when you hear from your family."
"Shepard, I—" he started to protest, to tell her that the odds were they were all dead but the look on her face told him she knew them just as well as he did. It also told him to think of all the times they'd beaten those odds before. "—I will."
And that was the thing about Shepard, Garrus realized; she was always picking up her crew, picking them up even when she couldn't do the same for herself.
"On the other side of this, I'm buying the first round," he vowed, because it was one of the only things he could promise.
Well, that and always having her six, because she was right…
There was no Shepard without Vakarian, just like there would be no Vakarian without Shepard.