A/N: This is pretty much my post-EC headcanon. Things don't really fit together but hey, that's alright. There's also... a lot of fluff, so uh, consider yourselves warned lol.
Rated for sexytimes... kinda.
His fingers traced the outline of the letters slowly, gently. These same fingers had traced the soft curves of her body just hours ago, and now they would mark what would be her only grave.
He breathed in once, twice. Behind him the others were waiting, yet he couldn't make himself move; he couldn't come to terms with the fact that Shepard, his Shepard, could be gone. His mandibles fluttered unconsciously against his face, and he found himself paralyzed, studying each letter as if it held the answer to the single question he had.
He had never been one to linger on things, to drown himself in the past to relive moments that were long gone, but this time he had no choice. Memories wrapped him in their embrace like her arms would in the mornings, flooding him with the last traces he held of her. The gentle lilt of her laugh, the amused quirk of an eyebrow, the intensity of her eyes; they all clung to him so tightly that he could think of nothing else, as his conscience whispered to him, pleading him to stop.
Silence blanketed the room, and he was acutely aware of the downturned gazes resting on his back, but right now that didn't matter. He traced each letter once more, then looked up at the place where it supposedly belonged. Unconsciously, his mandibles flared, and before he could even think, he looked up at the wall and shook his head. Somewhere behind him came the sound of a sharply-inhaled breath. No, he realized, it wasn't time to mark her grave just yet.
Someone said his name, but he barely registered the sound, before turning away.
"Not yet," he murmured, "she's hard to kill."
She was drowning. Her eyes were raised to the heavens, but all she could see was imposing darkness, swallowing her whole and refusing to let go. Every single inch of her was frozen numb until she couldn't feel anymore, couldn't breathe anymore. Her hands and neck went limp as she tried to move but she was suspended in freefall, motionless and completely lost. Eyelids fluttered and drifted, closing one last time. It was time to let go.
She knew that voice. She tried to pull in a breath, but nothing would move. Something trembled within her, as if she was straining towards something, pulling herself towards an end that she couldn't see.
"Come on, Skipper, get up."
"You can do this, Shepard, move."
Something within her seized painfully, tugging at every nerve and enveloping it in ice, but Ash's voice was an insistent whisper in her ear, and she couldn't hold on. The rope was slipping from between her fingers, leaving splinters in its wake. It was finished, she was finished.
"Don't you dare give up on me yet, Commander, and that's an order."
Pain spiked against her chest, leaving trails of pinpricks behind like shattered glass against her skin. She tried to reach, to pull herself toward the Ash's voice, but she was frozen in place. She couldn't do it, she realized, there was nothing else. She was ready to give up, ready to fall into the clutches of dark eternity once more, and this time, she wasn't coming back.
A pang shuddered through her heart. Thane, oh Thane. To hear his voice again... to know that he was still with her. It made her want to weep, but she was utterly paralyzed, unable to do anything as the viscous water around her squeezed her chest to the point of collapse.
"You war is over, but you are not. Wake up."
But I am, she wanted to say, I am over. Their voices formed a chorus despite her silent protests, wrapping her in the sound and urging her forward through the dark sea she was drowning in. She'd assumed her senses were dead until heat crept along her skin, seeping into her slowly and feebly. It grated against her nerves as it spread into her muscles bones, leaving a sharp tingling in its wake.
"It is not your time."
She didn't refuse this time, didn't even think of it. Together they pushed her up toward the surface, molding their warm, invisible forms around her body and warming her numb skin. Her eyelashes quivered against her cheeks, just as her chest compressed when she tried to breathe. Another voice joined the gentle song, his essence joining theirs.
"Shepard. Almost there. Don't give up."
Her heart cried out, and if she could have sobbed, she would.
"Keep going. Must go back. Not your time."
Something snapped within her, releasing embers within her body, which ignited into flames. This time, she pushed with them, her neck craned backward to find the place where the darkness ended. She couldn't see it yet, but she could feel it, just as she could feel them around her. The whispers of the dead cradled and engulfed her as she reached further, every muscle screaming against her bones and skin. The water slid over her body almost painfully, but she pushed it back, pushed everything back and set her sights on the end. She didn't know if someone could cheat death twice, but she sure as hell was going to try.
Their chorus was joined by so many others, each voice and name engraved into her memory as freshly as the day she lost them. She felt their smiles, their happiness, their every ounce of love as they lifted her faster and faster with each passing moment, so she closed her eyes and strained toward the sky like an angel coming home. Around her, the suffocating darkness faded into black, then one hundred shades of blue, until finally she was surrounded by pure white, the likes of which she had never seen before.
"You're almost home, Skipper."
She could hear Ash's chuckle in her ear, and she almost smiled herself. She glanced above and saw the break, where the sea ended and the surface rose, illuminated by something so bright she wanted to look away. Her eyes didn't waver though, staying fixed on her destination as every fibre of her being strained towards it. She was almost there, so close, just a little more...
She could feel scalding heat against her skin as she stopped inches away from the surface, as the warm forms around her faded away with their last goodbyes. She felt Ashley's lips pressing against her temple softly before she felt one last push. She broke the surface and breathed for the first time in what felt like eternity, letting the light consume her.
At that very moment, somewhere on the wreckage that was now the Citadel, Commander Shepard sucked in a shuddering breath.
They had been stranded for nine weeks, and not a minute passed where he didn't think of Shepard. They had all worked tirelessly day and night to get the Normandy repaired, and everyone had breathed a sigh of relief as the power flickered on and the thrusters came to life. He kept his vigil in the cockpit for four days straight while ignoring Joker's snarky and slightly exasperated comments, watching the light of distant stars flicker by. Every moment brought him closer to the truth, and though he was afraid of what it held, he wasn't willing to waste a single moment of it to distract himself. He wasn't one to hide from his fears.
On the fifth day, they saw Earth.
The Citadel still hung in its atmosphere as they approached London, the cockpit now flooded with various members of the squad as they caught their first glimpses of civilization again. Garrus watched as the star-like structure passed by them, it's gleaming white lines now marred by soot and ash. The sight made him swallow painfully; it had once been home, but more so, it may have been where Shepard took her last breath, and that wasn't something he wanted to think about. After so much time spent wishing, waiting, thinking, the thought of her being gone forever was too much to bear, even though his heart was insistent that she wasn't gone yet.
He was brought out of his reveries as he heard the crackle of a radio coming to life from his left, and his attention focused on Joker, along with the rest of the room.
"Sir, yes, this is the Normandy reporting in."
The other side was silent, though Garrus strained to hear the words.
"We were stranded with no means of communication. EDI, the AI..." Jeff's voice cracked, and instinctively Garrus reached out a hand to place it on the other man's shoulder, who looked up at him, eyes expressing his thanks for the consolations.
There was silence on the other end for a moment, until Joker spoke again. "She's what?" Garrus stiffened, and every pair of eyes in the room focused on the pilot. "We'll head right there, sir."
The radio buzzed dead, and Joker glanced up at him for a moment, the look of grief from a moment before replaced with joy, a smile spreading across his face. Garrus froze, his mandibles falling slack against his face.
Shepard was alive. She was actually alive.
She'd dreamed of him often over the past ten weeks, both when she was awake and when she was asleep. Others would drift through her thoughts during the periods between surgeries and implants, when she wasn't anesthetized and could still think for herself, but it was him she remembered most. She had replayed every moment they'd shared in her mind's eye, and sometimes would dare to dream of the future, something she never imagined she'd be doing one day. After four years spent sacrificing her reputation, her rank, and even her life to save the galaxy from the Reaper threat, there was never any time or hope for things like personal wishes. But now that she had time, she didn't have hope.
They hadn't told her, not explicitly, but she knew her crew was missing or dead. She could tell by the way the nurse gave her pitying looks, or how Miranda went silent far too often during her visits, and yet she hadn't worked up the courage to ask about it over the past few weeks. Put a gun in her hand and a uniform on her back and Shepard was the bravest person you would know, but strip her of that, coupled with an irrefutable fear of the truth, and she was nothing more than human. She couldn't quell the sheer amount of dread that had built up over the past few weeks, as she hoped desperately that they were still alive, that Garrus would find her soon.
Sometimes she had nightmares, the kind that seized her heart and made it hard to breathe. They weren't like the ones from before the defeat of the Reapers, these new ones were too close to comfort, her subconscious playing out a dozen deaths for each of her loved ones, and twice as many times for him. Each time was different, more horrific, and left her gasping for air as her vision filled with those beautiful blue eyes, smiling back at her as a painful reminder of what she'd lost.
Tonight was one of those nights. Her hands unconsciously tugged at her sheets, lip quivering as the familiar nightmare played out before her. Her breathing came in gasps, and she struggled for something to hold on to, something that she never found.
Her fingers wrapped around something hard this time, but she didn't wake.
She could feel his last touch linger on her palm, the warmth of his cheek seeping through the fabric of her glove. Her memory had faded so many of the moments between them that she cherished, but this one she preserved in the deepest annals of her mind, refusing to let even one detail go. Perhaps it had been the adrenaline pumping through her veins at that very moment, because she remembered everything about him with such vivid clarity that it left her breathless and heartbroken. She was unconscious, and yet she called out to him, pleading for him to come back; after all, there was no Shepard without Vakarian, and he'd been gone too long already.
Something pressed along her cheekbones and across her bottom lip, but she didn't wake.
Blue, she was drowning in Vakarian blue, the shades of which stretched from the pale colour of his eyes to the dramatic strokes across his faceplates. His eyes told her everything she needed to know, that he was sorry, that he loved her, that she had to come back alive to him. She had never imagined that it would be the other way around.
Her hair was smoothed away from her sweat-damped forehead, but she didn't wake.
And that was when it all went to hell. The colours started seeping away, the gray of his plates blending with black, and all that blue being wrenched out painfully. A mask of death fell over him as the life fell out of his eyes, and the comforting heat of his plates under her glove seeped away, leaving a chill in its wake. She gripped onto him tighter and panic washed through her, but he was being pulled away from her, but she couldn't hold on. Unconsciously, she drew in a shaky breath.
Soft plates pressed against her forehead, framed by the shivering touch of mandibles, but she didn't wake.
His face slipped out of her hands as he was pulled away from her, his hand dropping limply by his side as the blue reappeared, but in the wrong spot. It blossomed near his throat, the spread over his armour and drenching him, making a quiet sob leave her throat. He was bleeding, he was dying, and she couldn't save him; he was slipping out of her very fingers and she couldn't save him. Her mouth opened to call his name, but no words came out, only silence as she watched death spread through his body. Her breathing became erratic and shallow, her hands trembled and her eyelashes quivered. She didn't want to see him die, watch him crumple in front of her eyes. It was too much, too much, too much...
Soft hands cradled her face just as her eyes flew open, and all she could see was Vakarian blue.
Even in the darkness of her hospital room she could make out his eyes, pale blue and piercing, and it paralyzed her. For a long moment she wondered if she had even woken up, if this was just part of her horrible dream, but the pressure of his hands tightened just slightly against her skin; then she knew he was here and he was real. She realized then that her memories really hadn't been able to do justice when it came to the colour of his eyes, as they were so much more vivid and bright in reality than she remembered. She found herself unable to do anything as he held her gaze, her mind working frantically to double-check whether reality was playing a horrible joke on them. The answer came when she swallowed and he blinked.
"Shepard," he whispered.
She didn't know how he was here, when he'd gotten here, even why he was here, but none of it mattered the moment she heard her name. They met halfway, one reaching up and the other leaning down, as lips touched plates in a reunion that was too long in the making. The moment stretched on for what felt like eternity, neither willing to pull away from the other after the distance and time spent apart.
He was here, she realized, he was here, he was real, and he was hers. For the first time in months, she felt complete.
They broke apart, but their attention didn't waver from the other. He flared his mandibles in a small smile, and she lost herself in the pure adoration in those blue eyes, so full of life and so unlike the dream which had haunted her just moments before. He leaned forward and pressed his forehead against hers, happiness never leaving his face.
"I missed you," he murmured, so softly she wouldn't have caught it if he wasn't this close. The words made some kind of foreign emotion bubble up within her, making her chest swell and her heart clench, until she could feel moisture in her eyes, leaking out the corners and painting wet trails down the side of her face.
She was crying. For the first time in years, Commander Shepard was crying.
Sometimes, things seemed to be so much harder in hindsight. Defeating Saren, eradicating the Collectors, and exterminating the Reapers were all challenges in themselves, but if you asked Garrus about the toughest thing he had ever lived through, he would tell you it was those nine weeks of separation, where he didn't know if Shepard was alive or dead, though it came in a close tie with the two years he spent grieving over her death. It was funny how three months could feel like three years, leaving you with the feeling that whole chunks of your life were missing as your mind desperately tried to erase all memory of it.
Now, though, he had everything to remember. Four months after finding Shepard again and seven months since the defeat of the Reapers, he was finally taking her home. A temporary home, yes, but it was a place they could call their own until she was well enough to take command of the Normandy again. Shepard was insistent that she was fine, but he could tell by the shaking in her knees and the slight grimaces of pain that she wasn't quite ready, and the doctors' reports agreed with him.
He'd picked her up before they walked in, drawing a sound of surprise from her as he carried her into the bedroom and laid her out gently on the bed. She teased him about becoming a romantic, he quieted her with a finger against her mouth. She smiled against it and pulled him forward by the collar, pressing a chaste kiss against his mouthplates before he took the opportunity to deepen it. They finally had time alone, away from the rest of the world and without responsibilities hanging over their heads, and for the first time in their relationship, they could enjoy the time they had together without having to worry if there would be a tomorrow.
Her hand cupped the side of his face, which reminded him painfully of the moment he thought he'd lost her forever. Her eyes told him that she was remembering the same thing, so he flared his mandibles into a smile to comfort her. She mirrored the action with her lips, then pressed them against the side of his face.
"I want to feel you again," she murmured into his skin, punctuating her words with a gentle touch of her tongue. He pulled away slightly, observing her carefully.
"You're still injured, Shepard, I can't -"
"Please." The way she looked up at him with so much intensity made his arguments die in his throat. "I need to feel you again. It's been so long."
Like so many before him had found out, it was hard to resist Shepard when she was being persuasive. Garrus nodded hesitantly, then place one leg on either side of her hips, his thumb stroking over her lip repeatedly. He undressed her slowly, caressing each inch of skin as it was exposed, leaving gentle licks and kisses wherever he could. The little sounds that left her mouth were more beautiful than anything he'd ever heard, each moan and sigh making his mandibles twitch in pleasure. Each touch claimed her as his own, and in turn gave her his heart to hold. Once he finished he took in her bared form beneath him, of a woman who was both muscle and intelligence, who managed to do the impossible every day, who he couldn't imagine his life without.
He let her undress him upon the insistence of her fingers, holding her eyes with his own as practiced hands undid the clasps and buttons. Her face softened as she ran her fingertips over the ridges and lines of his chestplates, exploring his body like she had never seen him before, with such tenderness he was sharply reminded of that night before the suicide mission over a year ago. Their dance was slow this time, not fired by the heat of urgent passion, but instead the slow ache of devotion to make up for too much time lost between them.
He moved her down until her head rested on the pillows, smoothing her hair away and losing himself in her gaze again, watching that little smile spread across her face again. He took a moment to memorize her, before joining their bodies together in one fluid motion. A shuddering breath left her lungs as his own mandibles quivered and he pressed his forehead against hers, emotion threatening to overwhelm both of them. It had been so long since he last felt her body tightening around him and moving underneath his; his forlorn fantasies from months long past couldn't begin to compare with reality.
"It's been too long," she whispered against his mouth.
He set a slow pace, not looking away from her as they intertwined their bodies, her hands running along the inside of his cowl and his free one tangling into her hair, both of them moving as the same entity, consumed within each other and forgetting that the rest of the world existed. She was delicate yet unyielding under his touch, as the tips of his talons traced the lines of her body that he loved most. Little breaths left her lungs with each caress, making a smile tug at the hinges of his mandibles. Her fingers found the sensitive spots on his fringe that had remained untouched for so long, pressing into them gently and coaxing a moan out of him. A pleased smile at his reaction graced her face, as she traced swirling, languid patterns onto the back of his cowl. Her legs gripped his hips to urge him on, making him kiss her again and again between every stroke.
It was when she balanced on the edge of her precipice, eyes half-lidded and lips parted, that she said it again; the words he rarely heard but it made his heart race every time she did.
"I love you," she said softly, the words dancing across his plates.
"I love you too," he whispered before he kissed her again, her moans vibrating against his mouth as she came to her long, slow finish, her body twisting and shivering underneath him. She looked so beautiful, an expression of pure pleasure blossoming through her, every fibre of her being coming undone underneath his touch. He followed behind her with a drawn-out groan, burying his face in her hair and inhaling the tang of citrus that lingered on her. He wrapped his arms around her shoulder and pulled her impossibly close, as if he could merge their bodies into one if he held her tight enough. She sighed against his shoulder and pressed a kiss against it, neither moving for a long while as they held on to each other for dear life and simply listened to the sound of the other's breathing.
He came back to his senses when he felt her tracing lazy circles on his back, and realized he was crushing her with his weight. He tightened his grip on her shoulders and turned onto his back, bringing her with him. She nestled her head into his chest, pressing a kiss against the edge of his cowl before making herself comfortable and closing her eyes, her body drawing heat from his own. He stroked her back as her breathing slowed, lulling her to sleep but didn't follow himself, not quite yet; instead he watched the rise and fall of her chest, traced the lines of new scars on her body, followed the curve of her hip with his hand, simply admired her as she slept. He'd follow her soon, but for now, he was content like this.
"You've gone soft on me, Vakarian."
Garrus grinned, finding her hand with his own. "Well, I remember you mentioning that I never take you anywhere nice..."
She shook her head slightly, whether in awe or disappointment, he didn't know, but he had a strong suspicion which one. "Next thing you know, you'll be buying me flowers and chocolate."
"Mmmm, I'm not that mentally unstable yet," he said, then pulled her along through the waist-high grass. A glance at her told him everything he needed to know, that she was absolutely captivated by the scene before her, just as he'd hoped.
The horizon stretched before them, framed by the glassy aquamarine of the ocean beneath and the fiery crimson of the setting sun. He had landed the skycar a ways back from the edge of the cliff that they stood on, which was at least one hundred feet above the water. The sky around them was tinted with hues of purple, red, yellow, and everything in between, painting a scene that left them both breathless. The air was laced with the scent of sea salt and grass, and when he breathed in he could taste it on his tongue. He sent a silent thank you to Kaidan for pointing out this place, especially since what he had in mind would need to inspire this kind of mood.
Her hand drifted away from his own as she paced toward the edge, letting him follow behind. He watched her approach it, bewilderment written all over her body as the sun's colours swathed her in countless shades of red and yellow, and his mandibles twitched unconsciously at the sight. The landscape was beautiful, no doubt, but he found his attention riveted on her instead.
She stopped near the brink as he caught up with her, then took her hand in his again and squeezed her fingers lightly. They were both silent for a long while, caught up in the moment as the sun set on the horizon, the sound of crashing waves below enveloping them. She leaned into him and held on to his arm, as he pressed his mouth against the crown of her head in response.
After a long moment, she finally spoke. "Just because I like this place doesn't excuse you for being such a sap," she said teasingly. He laughed in reply, then pulled his arm out of her grasp to wrap around her shoulders and bring her closer.
"At least I can still impress you."
She laughed. "Always, Garrus."
A comfortable peace fell over them again, as the last rays of the sun disappeared into the ocean, colouring the sky varying shades of pale blues and faint purples. She pulled out of his grasp and picked up two rocks nearby, tossing one to him and shooting him a grin before throwing it out to sea. He stepped up to the challenge and did the same, and though they couldn't see where the rocks landed exactly, they made a point of arguing lightheartedly over who could throw farther. They made it into a little game to pass the time, until it was too dark to see the water below them, let alone the rocks they had been throwing into the ocean. They both collapsed in the grass as the stars began to come out, peeking through the translucent clouds floating overhead.
For a while they counted stars, trying to find planets and systems they had visited even though neither of them knew the first thing about astronomy without a VI to help. They talked of a past long gone and a future soon approaching, until Garrus finally worked up the nerve to ask what he'd brought her here for. She was curled up against him to draw heat from his body again, which gave him plenty of room to reach over stroke down her spine with one taloned finger. He chuckled when she shivered and pulled in closer to him, her hair tickling the side of his face.
"So," he started, before she interrupted him with a kiss against his mandible.
"There was something I wanted to ask, while we were here..."
She stilled for a moment, then propped herself up on one elbow to look at him. "Oh?"
"Well..." he said as he picked up her hand with his free one, brushing her palm against his mouth. "I was just wondering..." his voice caught in his throat as an odd kind of anxiety gripped him. He had spent weeks preparing for this moment, but now that he found himself going through with it, fear reared its ugly head and made him falter. She was watching him patiently, but all he could do was swallow nervously and twitch his mandibles.
"Garrus?" she prompted.
"I, uh. Well. I just..." he trailed off, then sighed as he squeezed her hand tightly. To his surprise, she grinned.
"Spit it out."
"I'm no good at this Shepard," he groaned. She pressed a kiss against his mouth.
"Please?" He observed her for a moment, taking in the soft smile on her face and the warmth in her eyes, and he knew he had to do this, no matter how nervous or awkward he felt.
"I wanted to ask if you would -" he searched for the words, but the speech he had planned had long vanished from his memory and he couldn't think of anything even remotely romantic or sweet, "be mine," he finished lamely. She gave him a confused look.
"I thought we'd already worked out that I'm a one turian kind of woman," she said, a hint of amusement in her tone. He sighed again, then paused for a long moment as gathered his nerves and the remaining pieces of his confidence, then sat up and looked up at the stars, giving her time to follow.
"Shepard," he began softly, "I lost you for two years once. I grieved like everyone else, but it wasn't as personal back then. But when I thought I'd lost you a year ago..." he glanced at her, recognizing the worried look in her eyes. "What I'm trying to say is that I don't want to lose you again. I want to be beside you through everything, like it's been from the very beginning. I..." he paused to draw strength from within himself. "I want to make this, us, permanent, official, whatever you want to call it. I know how humans do it is different than turians, but we can work through that, like we always do." He chanced a glance at her, her face an expression of complete neutrality, except for the fact that she was blinking more often than usual. The lack of emotion scared him and frazzled his nerves even further, but he had to keep going. "I love you Shepard, and damn if that's not the most honest thing I've ever said." He looked away from her, over at the sea below them, then spoke again in a quiet voice, "I know you've never really been the type to settle down, but -"
Her palm pressed against the unscarred side of his face to turn him back towards her, and he didn't even have time to register the look on her face before she crushed her lips to his mouthplates, kissing him with a fierceness he'd never seen from her before. He was startled at first, but as her tongue slipped into his mouth, he let his eyes close and sunk into her kiss. She framed his face with her hands and deepened it further, just as his arms came up to wrap around her waist and twist her so she was straddling him, bringing her even closer. The moment stretched on for a long time, both of them lost in each other and letting the rest of the world slip away, as the fear that had built up within him blossomed into euphoria.
When she finally pulled away they were both breathless and panting, unable to look away from the other as infectious happiness bubbled up between them. She laughed, actually laughed, then pressed another kiss to his mouth.
"You're an idiot," she murmured.
"Yes, Garrus, I will."
And that was all he needed to know.