Survival Lasts Long Past the Last Bullet

By Velasa

Set right after the end of ME3- Shepard survives, but just because you're alive doesn't remotely mean everything is ok- healing is a complicated thing, and there's more than just the physical to come back from. Inspired by a prompt on the ME Kmeme on LJ, and currently in progress but I want to start sharing it here too. Focus on FemShep and her BFF Wrex, and FemShep/Garrus.

The first breath was fire and she was screaming.

Ashen sky an unnatural orange between shards of rubble and human corpses, and someone dead on top of her burned half to hell. That's what she was able to register before the world went black, and it was still what was there when she faded back in- she must have passed out. That was bad. Bad was different than dead though, and between the searing pain of her lungs with each desperate gulp and the cloying stench of death choking her were words- Come back alive. And the words were more important.

Shepard grabbed the pain in a chokehold and fought it down into a box in the back of her skull- training, fucking training, push it down and think. Inventory damn it! Get an inventory on yourself, something that sounded like her drill instructor screamed in the back of her head. The two voices were what she needed to slam the lid on her pain and start to asses her situation.

Burns, bad. Not as bad as the guy on top of her. Broken bones, one arm and both legs probably, definitely some of her ribs, her scalp was raw and she could taste her own blood even through the stink. She swallowed the bile in her throat, not about to have made it through the hell of Hammer to suffocate on her own vomit because she couldn't turn herself over.

Remembrance hit her like a tank, images without context where she could only piece a little together- Hammer, London burning, running for the beam, Garrus battered and reaching for her- come back alive had been Garrus. That triggered a sudden surge of very different pain but she grabbed it and shoved it away- no fucking time to think about that, FOCUS Shepard- something... something happened, something with the crucible- her eyes snapped up, searching desperately for hovering reapers- but she could barely see anything from her position. If she moved the body she might be able... But the moment she twisted her torso cued another rush of screaming, and the black wall of unconsciousness swallowed her again.

Everything from before was gone when she opened her eyes again.

Pristine white this time, the smell of death still there but fainter and covered up by chemicals. Images of another lab rushed into her memory with Miranda shouting at her as alarms blared- she could hear them even now as she bolted to her feet. Or tried to, and just tangled herself in a mess of wires and tubes that had been wound into her.

Panic was immediate- biting back a high pitched shriek that wanted to break from her she started tearing things out of her arms and chest, ripping the feeding tube out of her throat and breaking away from the rest as she dashed to find cover.

Her hands closed around a scalpel that had been left by her table, crouching between the bed and the wall. No way in hell she was letting those Cerberus bastards keep her again. They were going to have to fight for it.

They hadn't been 100% sure the N7 that has been dragged in two months ago was Shepard, so they'd kept it quiet, shut her off in a private room on the mostly empty top floor with minimal contact. She was the right approximate height and build but her dogtags had been melted into her armor with just the designation visible and her face was battered beyond recognition. The Geth Prime that had pulled her alive from the corpses had called her "Shepard-Commander" but you couldn't damnwell go off that to get the whole damn galaxy's hopes up and bring them screaming to your doorstep. They didn't need that kind of hassle. So the board had agreed, and she had slept peacefully in her medically induced coma.

Until she had apparently woken up and declared war on the whole goddamn building.

Three hours into the siege the staff knew little more than when it had started. The N7 patient Jacobson was increasingly believing was Shepard- who else could cause this much damage?- had taken control of the top two floors and killed four guards and two doctors between her biotics and weapons of opportunity ranging from a scalpel to a precisely hurled IV stand, the entire building was in lockdown and they were seriously considering sending in the military. The board was arguing against it- if she was Shepard and someone shot her they'd never hear the end of it, but they had patients and terrified staff trapped up there and the situation couldn't last much longer before it exploded. The police had already drawn a cordon around the building and there were gawkers and press lining up around the damn block trying to figure out what was going on.

Jacobson wanted the damn military in there- there were six people dead and several hundred hostages in the building, and despite the fact that she should have been under another month and was pumped full of drugs she was still running rampant over everything they sent at her. Jacobson was still shouting expletives at the phone when one of the nurse managers poked her head in the door to inform him of a visitor.

"Do I look like I'm taking visitors right now?" He could feel a vein popping somewhere in his forehead. It took a moment to register that the woman looked... decidedly pale, and not because of him.

"Sir, I really think you should talk to him. He's... very insistent you do."

Something in her voice and the way her hands were shaking on the doorknob made him nod, and she opened the door the rest of the way and ducked out like her ass was on fire. The why of it all became pants-shittingly evident as nearly half a ton of krogan ducked through his door and crossed its arms at him.

This wasn't going as well as she'd hoped. The building was too high to jump from, her biotics were a frazzled mess and her coordination was awful- whatever they'd done to her had fucked her up bad. She needed to get out but the corridors of the building were a mess and difficult to navigate discreetly- Garrus had been right, fighting through hospitals was miserable. Damn it Shepard don't think about him, he's safe on the Normandy and you're in a damn Cerberus hospital lab. You have a mission right now, get out of here alive and find them.

All of the exits further down were being watched and barricaded. If she just had a gun, this would be so much easier, but the four with pistols that she had taken out had been dragged away by their allies and she was left with fluttery shockwaves, charges that left her with a migraine, her fists and whatever she could get her hands on with an edge. Her hands were aching for her vindicator but it was long gone, lost when she was hit by Harbinger. She had loved that fucking gun.

It was lucky she had been taken to a lackluster facility- Cerberus must have been crippled worse than she had thought when they took out their base and blew the Illusive Man to hell if a standoff was the best they could manage for her. Well she thought it had happened there anyway... the dull haze of narcotics was still clinging to her. He definitely got blown to hell, that's what mattered.

There was sound in the stairwell further down from her, Centurion or guardian by the weight of the footfalls. Blue danced over her fingertips as she readied something nasty for her new visitors behind the overturned desk. Come into my parlor, and so.

What rounded the last corner of the stairwell and strode into the room was armored, large and heavily armed, but not at all what she was expecting. She choked in surprise unable to- the blue light died from her skin and she just stared in naked shock until his patience ran out and he addressed the room- "If the void was worried about you before, it must be terrified now.", all vicious grin and gleaming red eyes. There was no questioning who it was no matter how crazy it felt to be seeing him now on this random hellhole.

"Wrex!" She stood awkwardly on her feet and stumbled over, heart fit to bursting with relief. "How the hell did you find me? How long have I been here, where is everyone?"

"You have a way of making yourself known Shepard." His heavy gravely voice was the most welcome thing she'd heard since she woke up, and she'd be damned if it didn't help her stand a little straighter. She was getting out of here, Wrex had never let her down. "As for the rest, you should probably ask them." he finished and inclined his head back to the stairwell.

"The crew's here?" A fire flared up in her chest and her eyes went to the stairs he had come through fully expecting Tali or Garrus to come charging up after them.

But there wasn't bright modulated laughter or the smooth flanging she wanted to hear so badly- just the faint clattering of a heavy pistol held in trembling gloves of a guard standing there inched up beyond his shield. Her aura flared to life with a shockwave but Wrex's burned a brighter blue and tosses it harmlessly aside, one inscrutable red eye settled on her.

"Shepard, these humans had you in a hospital and you woke up and did a damn good job of tearing the place to hell, that's all I know. Anything else you have to ask them. So you should probably stop shooting them."

Wary eyes stayed on the guard a few moments longer, but she brought her hands down. Something was wrong. She could feel it in the aching of her skull, but he was right, and it stabilized the unease crawling through her when he followed her down the steps to the offices below.

Everything in her that had been holding her up for the last few hours of frantic activity in an unhealed body crashed at that one word. She didn't look any different on the outside but that was the training- the adrenaline she has been living on was gone and it left her godawful tired. "Missing?" She managed to bite out, only a little of her voice wavering.

"Yes Commander. When that beam went off all of the ships fled the system- we've found wreckage of some of them, and those that hadn't gotten very far were able to limp back, but the reapers left everyone's communications in shambles and the mass relays were crippled. The Normandy's disappeared like a lot of others, but if anyone had heard from that ship it would have been on the news. You've been such an inspiration since..." the older woman behind the desk waved her hand out in an attempt to incorporate... well, everything at once. "There won't be any charges pressed for the... incident earlier, you've been through enough already and we'd all be dead if you hadn't. Somehow you did it, we're all... a little in awe of you"

Shepard sat heavily in her chair- the nurses had insisted on it, fussing over her like she hadn't just proven she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself with the siege she'd had them under for the last few hours. Of course the sudden dragging dizziness she was feeling begged to differ. She forced her mind back on track, though it was wavering wildly behind the stoicism of her voice. "But Anderson's dead."

"Yes. It looks like there was some kind of explosion... you were burned, yes, but the Admiral took the worst of it. You really can't remember anything that happened up there?"

The taste of bile was heavy in her throat. The body, it had been Anderson. He'd practically been her father since she joined the Alliance to get off the streets. And he'd died to protect her. She pressed a hand heavily against her face, taking a few moments to breathe and try to settle around her new reality- her crew missing, Anderson dead. But the Reapers were all dead and Wrex was standing like a bodyguard at her side, and she took some solace in that. It was enough to stuff everything down again and look up with enough composure to answer the nurse manager.

"All I remember is hitting the beam and waking up in the rubble."

The other woman looked vaguely disappointed but didn't push any further. Civilians Shepard thought, always wanting the details like it's a game. The woman was talking again- something about getting the Commander a transfer to 'a more appropriate facility' but Shepard was only listening to the heavy chuckle up over her left shoulder, reading her friend easily even without her glance up- More like they wanted her as far away as they could get her. She couldn't help a tiny smile at that.

A military escort came to pick her up in the guise of a swat team shortly after- apparently her identity was going to be protected a little longer. Shepard didn't mind, she wasn't exactly ready to face the galaxy right now. With Anderson hovering at the back of her mind and the Normandy at the front, there wasn't a lot of room inbetween for anything else. The shuttle landed amidst a number of others that sent soldiers into the building to disguise its purpose and the crew had it kited out overwhelmingly with more medical equipment than she had ever seen in a single car. So they didn't think any better of her health than the civilians did.

When the nurses tried to insist on wheeling her onto the shuttle she'd steadfastly refused, much preferring going in on her own power. Her legs were shaky and a soldier with an awestruck expression hovered at her side like she was going to pass out at any second, but it was still better than being tied to a bed again. Just the thought of waking up trapped was enough to make her skin crawl in waves.

Three medics onboard were descending to fuss over her when she heard heavy footfalls on metal and snapped her head back up- Wrex had boarded and plunked himself a few seats down in the row of seats against the wall. Her attendants looked annoyed, but she ignored them and peered over, quirking an eyebrow at him.

"What're you doing here big guy?"

"Coming along for the ride, what does it look like?"

"I'd have figured you were going home now. Hell knows how long this is going to take Wrex, apparently I'm still pretty fucked up. You've got a clan and a people to take care of, and a shitload of krogan babies to get started on."

The big krogan gave a dismissive snort to the idea, arms crossing over his chest. "You're clan Shepard. As for the rest, Bakara has that well in hand. There's nothing more intimidating than a pregnant krogan female." A grinned warmed his face "Twins. Still wants to name one Mordin. Might name the other after you. Owe you a lot Shepard, but even if I didn't I'd still be coming."

The chill that had been living in her chest was eased by warm relief- as much as she wanted him to get home, she needed someone here too, and if it couldn't... it was good to have her best friend sticking by her. Shepard let her eyes half closed as the engine engaged for a smooth takeoff, the thrumming sound easing her nerves. Quiet wasn't something she had ever liked, living on busy bases and ships while being shot at through her career had gotten her used to having some kind of ambient noise. It was good to have it again, made it easier to breathe even with IVs being stuck under her skin.

"Thanks" she murmured through the calm fog descending over her mind.

"Not a problem Shepard." came the rumbling reply to her right, as the meds kicked in and she drifted into peaceful unconsciousness.