"Your time is at an end. You must decide."
Shepard regarded the decisions before her. There was the option for synthesizing organic and synthetic life, creating a new evolutionary path for every being in the galaxy. But that would be making a decision that would impact the future of every race and that seemed . . . wrong, somehow. Maybe it would be best for everyone, but to alter everything on such a visceral level was bound to change those she loved into something unrecognizable over time, and she couldn't bring herself to do that.
She could control the Reapers, send them all back to where they came from without any more death, but she would have to become a synthetic being. Lose all emotion, all her friends, the qualities that made her human. So that was out.
So she was going to go out guns blazing, just like she'd always known she would.
Shepard drew her pistol and fired at the huge cylindrical structure, blowing chunks of metal in every direction.
This bullet's for Anderson.
Another piece flew off, and the interior was on fire.
This one's for my crew.
Picking up speed, she emptied her clip, trying to shield her face from the blast of shrapnel.
And this one . . . this one's for Garrus, you fuckers.
As the fire consumed her, she embraced the pain knowing that the war was over. The Reapers were destroyed. They had won.
I'll be waiting at the bar for you, baby.
I love you so much.
And then there was no more pain.
Gray fog. Muffled voices. Leaden limbs dragging through the murk.
Where am I?
Walls, curved in a wide arch to the ceiling. A hallway, and there, across the room . . .
The crew, her crew, was gathered at the memorial wall. Liara was there, tears drying on her face. Tali's head hung in sorrow, and Joker wore a look of absolute misery. In front of them all was—
She tried to reach out to him but her arms were so heavy. His armor was dull and lifeless in the gray mist that now made up the world, encroached on her periphery and threatened to engulf everything. She fought past the weight and touched his hand, the one holding the plaque bearing her name. One more name to add to the wall, and he was frozen with abject despair etched into every line of his face, the face she had come to love and find more beautiful than anything else.
Garrus, please look at me.
-He can't hear you, you know.-
Another voice, muted by the thick dull air.
Who are you? Why can't I see you?
-You could see me, if you wanted to.-
What's happening to me?
A pause. –You've died, Shepard.-
Garrus' hands clenched on the plaque and his mandibles hung lifeless. He went forward with slow, tortured steps and pressed the plaque to the wall, running his fingers across her name, over and over.
Garrus, I'm here! I'm right here, I won't leave you!
-You're not helping him, you know.-
A blurred figure off to her left, its colors brighter than anything else here. She could just make out the distinctly human shape floating toward her. The air was so heavy, her shoulders ached, her hair clung limply to her face, and she was so tired. So tired, but she couldn't leave him. Not like this.
What can I do?
-You have to let him go, Shepard.-
No. No, I won't. He's my mate and I promised—
-I understand, Shepard, I do, but you're only hurting him by staying.-
She wanted to protest, but . . . maybe after she'd slept for a while. She hadn't slept in so long . . .
When she woke up—only that was wrong, more like she became aware—later, she found herself on a turian ship, in the crew quarters. It was empty now, except for Garrus sitting on a cot with his elbows on his knees, staring at the floor. She went to her knees in front of him and bent forward to touch her forehead to his. He jerked suddenly, his mandibles flaring. His eyes were wide, searching, and he inhaled deeply. There must have been enough of her left that he could pick up her scent in the air. Suddenly consumed with desperate hope, she grabbed his face in her hands and tried to look into his eyes.
Garrus, baby, I'm here, I'm right here.
He just stared right through her, but there was something in his visor . . . he was picking up a signal, incredibly faint. A shimmery outline of something.
Yes, that's me! I'm here! I still exist!
"Shepard . . ." he whispered, his voice cracking. In a blur of movement he ripped his visor off and hurled it across the room where it dropped to the floor, the traitorous device that tried to convince him that the love of his life wasn't gone. He let out a high, keening wail, the sound of a man who had broken completely. His shattered heart took up residence in his voice, flanging discordant and wrecked with anguish. He dug the heels of his hands into his face and howled, the grief tearing out of him. It ripped through her in a wave of agony, and she knew then what she had to do. She was keeping him from moving on by staying here, and she couldn't be an anchor for him anymore.
She had to let go.
I'm so sorry, baby. I'll save you a seat at the bar.
So with one last kiss to his scarred face and a whispered I love you, Commander Shepard let herself die.
She floated in the nothing for an eternity. There was no time in this place. It was so tempting to just float there; no responsibilities, no orders, no more battles to fight against synthetic monsters created to destroy everything she loved.
Love . . .
That reminded her of something. Something important . . . blue? Why was he blue? Why couldn't she remember—
(a deep rumbling laugh, bright eyes and blue tattoos, a voice saying "Shepard, I . . . love you, too")
Memories flooding back—his steady sure gait, his strong arms around her back, his mouth on her neck, a sniper scope guarding her back, her Garrus.
And she fought free of the nothing. For him.
"Scratch one!" he yells into the comm and she rolls her eyes. Half of her wishes he would come up with something else to say, and half of her loves hearing his voice too much to care. A merc in a Blue Suns uniform pops up from behind cover and she tosses him into the air with her biotics, letting Tali blast him with her shotgun.
"Cover me!" She breaks cover and slams into one of the mercs by the base's exit door, breaking his neck and killing him instantly. The head of the one next to him explodes in a red rain while she punches a serrated hole in a third.
"All clear!" Tali calls and trots up next to her.
"Great, let's get the hell out of here." Shepard palms the door open and the setting sun is blinding after the dim light of the merc base.
"Getting slow, Commander. I only counted eight for you."
"Eleven. And you should be watching the enemy, not me."
"But the view is so nice," he says, coming up behind her and giving her a playful nip on her neck. She sighs and leans into him.
"Ugh, you guys are going to send me into a sugar coma," says Tali, trying to sound annoyed but only making it to mild amusement as she saunters off to the shuttle.
"And I am not slow!" Shepard punches him in the arm and he grins at her.
"Care to prove it?" He secures his rifle to his back and digs his toes into the ground. Shepard does the same next to him.
"All right, Vakarian, you're on. On your mark . . . get set . . . GO!" They take off across the wide expanse of red dirt, feet pounding, running at full-tilt with the sheer joy of being alive. Garrus slows just enough to let her pass, his longer legs giving him an advantage over her, but it's moments like this that he lives for. Moments when she forgets for a fleeting moment that they're in constant mortal danger, that the future of the entire galaxy hinges on her every move. Her hair has come loose and she tears the band out of it, letting all those long red waves fly behind her. She turns to look at him, a wild grin on her face, and he falls in love with her all over again.
She hits the shuttle and gleefully shouts, "I win! Slow, my ass!" He reaches her a moment later and sweeps her into his arms, breathless and exhilarated. He kisses her and she holds his face in that way she likes, kissing him back. For just a moment, nothing else in the world exists except them and that is more than enough.
The first thing she was aware of was a cool breeze, and something tickling her neck. Soft ground beneath her, damp earthy smells all around. She opened her eyes and saw the sky, blue and bright and clear and stretching into forever. Sitting up, she found herself in a field of dusky purple flowers surrounded by a ring of tall birch trees, resplendent in their autumn colors. The ground was springy moss beneath her and the air was clean and crisp in her lungs. She stood up, noticing for the first time that she was wearing a short blue summer dress with bare feet. Though that was weird in and of itself (Commander Shepard did inot/i wear dresses), she couldn't find it in her to be concerned. There was an air of permeating peace in this place and she felt it work into her soul, cleansing away all the little aches and pains, the tension that had plagued her for so long.
She wandered into the woods in no particular direction, reaching out to touch the white bole of a tree here and there, her feet shushing though the thick carpet of grass and flowers. Just ahead, she saw a small log cabin with a chimney pluming smoke into the air. There was a tiny porch with two wicker chairs to one side of the door, which was open and inviting. She mounted the steps and entered, taking in the soft earth-toned furniture and antique globe lamps that hung from the ceiling. There was no kitchen or bathroom, which was strange at first until she realized that in her current state it would be useless. The bedroom was cozy, and there was a quilted coverlet on it that was exactly like the one she used to have as a child, all blue and green star patterns with a gray border.
There was a knock on the open doorway behind her and she spun around in surprise. But that was nothing compared to the shock she felt when she saw the figure standing there smiling at her.
"Kaidan!" she cried, rushing forward to hug him. He hugged her back, laughing.
"Good to see you, Shepard."
"Was that you? On the ship?" she asked, pulling back to see his face.
"Yes. I knew what happened on the Citadel, and I wanted to be there to . . . ease the transition."
"Why couldn't I see you then?"
"You weren't ready to," he said. "Your connection to your life was too strong, and you weren't ready to let go."
Going down that line of conversation meant bringing up painful memories, so she changed the subject. "What is this place?"
Kaidan led her outside and they walked at a leisurely pace through the woods. "This is a construct of your own making. Your thoughts, your memories made this world. Call it heaven for lack of a better word, I guess."
Shepard hummed, looking around. Everything was so vibrant and clear. "Is it all like this? Do you live here, too?"
"No to both. I live in another place, but distance is . . . difficult to explain. Here, there are no restrictions to hinder your movement. Thought is everything—it creates the world around you, your physical appearance, and it can take you to other places. Some people like open space like this, some even live in cities. It's all a matter of preference."
"Can I ever . . . check in on the people I left behind?" She tried to keep the emotion out of her voice and failed miserably. Kaidan heard it and touched her shoulder, trying to give her comfort.
"You can't go back, Shepard. Give it time, though."
"You mean wait until he's dead."
She was silent for a long time. Then something caught her eye, a movement further on in the woods. As she walked, the trees thinned and then stopped altogether revealing a wide valley with a lake in the middle. Three deer were in the clearing, two does and a buck, and suddenly realization dawned on her.
"I know this place," she said to Kaidan, who stood behind her just inside the tree line. "There was a picture on the wall in this hotel room on the Citadel where—"
(the blue face paint tickles as he spreads it on her cheeks and across the bridge of her nose, and he leans back to examine his work. "You're so beautiful," he says and strokes her jaw, down her neck to rest on her collarbone. His eyes are intense as they gaze into hers. "Marry me, Jane Shepard." And of course she says yes.)
"—I stayed once." It's so familiar now. She'd spent hours staring at that painting, unable to sleep for the happiness that filled her, content just to listen to his breath and run her fingers up and down his arm. A wave of sadness washed over her and she dropped to her knees. Kaidan was there, his warm hand on her back. She had to bite back a sob. "I miss him so much, Kaidan."
"You'll see him again."
"It feels wrong to want him to hurry up and get here. I want him to live, to help rebuild Palaven and find his father and sister."
There was a deafening crack and she bolted to her feet, looking for the threat and feeling very naked without her armor all of a sudden. Then she saw a long gash had opened up in the hill on the far side of the valley, and the ground appeared to be . . . imelting/i was the only word she could think of to explain what was happening. The ground was liquefying and running into the lake below, green pools forming on the water. Like paint.
"What the hell is happening?"
Kaidan looked just as astonished as she was. "This isn't your doing. I think . . . I think that Garrus is influencing this place, somehow. But that shouldn't be possible."
"He's my mate, of course he can reach me here. We're bonded, body and soul." She ran to the edge where the hill began to slope down and called to the sky, "Garrus! I'm here!"
Three months. Three months of living in a haze, of drifting through the day. No one speaks to him anymore, his family has stopped sending messages. There is nothing left to say.
He doesn't know why he's come here. Why he's torturing himself like this. Everything about this place—the color of the walls, the shampoo on the sink, the shape of the windows—reminds him of her. Of that night he proposed, and she'd flung herself into his arms and they had made slow, sweet love like they were discovering each other all over again. He sits on the bed, the springs creaking beneath him, and it's then that he sees the small streak of blue paint on the headboard, hidden behind the mattress. All this time the cleaning crew had missed it and seeing it now breaks something in him. He scratches at it with his talon and it flakes off, little bits of blue sticking to his fingers. He collapses back on the mattress and curls up in a ball, letting the pain wash over him. There is a high-pitched wailing coming from somewhere, and he realizes it's his own voice, calling out her name over and over.
When he is numb and spent, he goes into the bathroom for some water just to have something to do with his hands, and sees the painting on the way back. The line of red and orange trees, the valley, all of it reminds him of her and the way she said she wanted to live in a place just like that when the war was over. They talked about building a house there, maybe raising children. And it's too much, the loss consumes him as he throws the glass of water at the painting, tearing it and making the paint run and pool in the bottom of the frame. It isn't worth it to go through the rest of his life feeling like this, this crushing emptiness in his soul where she used to be.
It's then that he decides enough is enough.
And he picks up his gun from the nightstand.
Kaidan left her for a while to attend to some business. Shepard was surprised to find that there was work to do in heaven, and that Kaidan had risen to the rank of manager of sorts. He was responsible for the people who eased the transition of the dead to this place. Having never been one to sit around and do nothing, she found the idea of having a job again very appealing. It would be a welcome distraction from the feeling of disquiet that had been creeping over her since the incident, the brown scar in the earth jarring the serenity of the landscape. The connection she had to Garrus was more tenuous than it had been when she was alive, but she could still feel him enough to know that something was wrong.
She went back to the cabin and lay down in the bed. Almost immediately, the light started to fade from the sky, probably in reaction to her decision to sleep. This place really was ruled by the mind. As the darkness surrounded her, she tried to ignore the uneasiness that pushed at the edges of her consciousness. Finally, she fell into a thin sleep.
"Shepard." A voice. Kaidan's. "Shepard, wake up." He sounded strange, and she opened her eyes to find him standing in the doorway, his eyes sad and full of regret. Right then she knows something is wrong and the dread crashed into her.
He came to sit on the edge of the bed and took her hand in his. "Shepard, you're going to go through something very hard right now, but I'm here with you. You're not alone." He paused, looking into her eyes and she felt her heart drop right through the floor. "Shepard, Garrus is dead. He killed himself."
Her throat locked up and she tried to swallow past the blockage. "Oh, god. Oh god oh god oh god." The tears started falling and she made no move to stop them. iThere is no Vakarian without Shepard/i "Is that something that happens a lot with soul mates? One's not much without the other?" A glimmer of hope shot through her then. "But—but, that's a good thing, right? He's okay now, his pain is over."
"He wouldn't cling to life the way I did."
"No, you don't understand—"
"When can I see him?"
"Never." She stopped then and saw the grief on his face, really saw it. "You'll never see him."
"What?" No, no this couldn't be right.
"He committed suicide, Shepard. Suicides go somewhere else."
"What are you saying? Why is he being punished like this, hasn't he suffered enough?" she asked, her voice rising in volume. "Garrus Vakarian does not belong in hell, Kaidan! Where's the fucking mercy in that?"
"It's not about mercy or judgment, that's not the way it works. Everyone has a sense of the natural progression of their life, it's instinctual. Garrus violated that, but he won't accept it. He can't fix what he's done, and he will spend eternity making himself pay for it."
"You're still saying he's in hell." She stood then, pacing the floor, trying to make sense of this.
"Hell isn't what you think, all fire and brimstone. The real hell is your life gone wrong." Kaidan caught her shoulders and held her there, her eyes blazing at him. "You made your own paradise, and he's made his own punishment. I'm so sorry, Shepard, but there's nothing more I can do." She shook his hands off and drew herself up to her full height and Kaidan backed away, his eyes wide. In that moment she was Commander Shepard, savior of the Citadel, scourge of the Reapers, and every inch a ruthless warrior goddess.
"I'm his soul mate. I can find him."
"It's never been done before, no one has ever seen a suicide brought back." His words belied his thoughts, though. Kaidan had seen her in action, both at her side and as an observer here, and he knew that she, of all people, had made a career out of doing the impossible.
"Then stick around, Lieutenant, because you ain't seen nothing yet."
Kaidan's lips quirked up in a smile. "We'll need to find you a tracker."
He covered her eyes with his hands and she felt a tug in the vicinity of her bellybutton. When she could see again, she found herself in the middle of a desert on the outskirts of a small town of low, sand-colored buildings. They moved through the streets full of all sorts of people, mostly humans and drell. There were a few turians, too, moving purposefully on some errand or other, remarkable in that they regarded her with warmth rather than the trademark sternness that turians usually exhibited. The pacific nature of heaven seemed to be affecting everyone but Shepard.
Kaidan led her down an alleyway and to a door set deep in the wall, and rapped twice. A few moments later, it opened and a very familiar face appeared in the doorway.
"Siha?" His huge liquid eyes were just as she remembered them, but he was dressed much differently in a loose-fitting cloth shirt and pants. He smiled, a genuine smile that she had never seen on his face before, and he put his hands on her shoulders. Shepard wrapped her arms around him and, after the initial shock wore off, he did the same.
"It's so good to see you again, Thane."
"Likewise, Siha." He led them inside, and Shepard was surprised to see another drell at a table in the corner. The red fringe that framed her face swooped down to her neck in a gracefull curve. Her eyes were a deep reddish-orange, like the sunset. "Let me introduce you to Irikah, my wife."
"Irikah, it's good to meet you." She really was beautiful. Shepard could see how Thane had fallen in love with her; she had an indomitable spirit that shone out of her.
"And you, Shepard." She smiled and stood. "Please excuse me Shepard, Kaidan," she said with a little incline of her head. "I will leave you to your business." And with that, she glided away into the depths of the house.
"I'm glad you found her again, Thane," Shepard said, and she was, but her own need to get her mate back was tainting her emotions. They sat at the table, Thane across from her and she was reminded of her visits with him in life support on the Normandy.
"Yes. Being with her again after so long has been good for my soul. But I suspect you are not here for a social visit, are you?"
"No." She took a deep breath. "I need you to help me find Garrus."
"Ah, I see." He steepled his fingers and touched them to his chin. "I have gone on such expeditions before, but never to such depths. The place where he is, well . . . it is very dark, indeed."
"Then you know that I can't leave him there."
Thane took in the steely resolve on her face and nodded. "I will come, Shepard, and I will attempt to protect you, but you must understand something. Your tie to Garrus runs deep, and it will lead us to him, but these are dark places we go to and they will not be easy to navigate. You must be vigilant at all times, not against the physical dangers you are no doubt used to, but against the darkness of the soul."
"I'm ready." She was practically bouncing in her seat with the need to be off. She wasn't going to leave Garrus to suffer for any longer than she absolutely had to.
"Allow me a moment to take my leave of Iriakh, and then we can be off."
"Goddamnit, Vakarian, stay with me!" Shepard and Thane run for the med bay with a nearly unconscious Garrus between them. Doctor Chakwas is there, clearing the way and helping them get him onto the stretcher. Shepard and the doctor shuck his armor and peel him out of his undersuit in record time, the fabric soaked in blood. There is a hole in his chest plate, but Shepard doesn't know enough about turian anatomy to be sure what the bullet has hit. Mordin scoots her out of the way and goes to work on Garrus, attaching IVs and readying his instruments. Thane takes her by the shoulders and leads her out into the mess. She is handed a cup of coffee at some point, but she doesn't drink it. It has gone cold by the time Chakwas emerges, blue blood spattered on her clothes, and tells her she can see him.
His chest is covered in bandages and the astringent smell of medigel is all over him. His eyes are closed, his face relaxed in sleep. Shepard drags a chair over and sits next to him, taking his hand in hers. She is surprised at her own concern and wonders when he graduated from friend to something more in her eyes. She hasn't acted on those feelings yet, the timing never quite right, but she's seriously considering it now. When he took that hit to his chest, the bullet punching through his armor, she felt her heart stop and her focus narrow down to a laser point and all she could think about was getting to him in time.
He groans and stirs, his hand tightening around her fingers. She is there immediately, watching him closely. His eyes flutter open and they're glassy with the pain killers Chakwas and Mordin have loaded him up with. "Shepard."
"I'm here." And he does something then that makes her stomach turn backflips; he reaches up and touches her face. She sighs and turns into his hand, laying hers over it and pressing it into her skin. She knows he's probably too drugged to remember this later, but she doesn't care. Right now, this is the only thing that matters, and she knows she knows that this path she's on is dangerous in a different way than she's used to. This path can break her heart.
"You okay?" he asks, his voice slightly slurred.
"Now I am. I . . ." she clears her throat and hopes he doesn't hear the thickness in her voice. "I thought I'd lost you back there, Garrus."
"Takes more than one bullet to bring me down, Shepard." He closes his eyes again and she starts to take her hand back so he can get some sleep, but he grips it tighter. "No, stay with me. Please."
She strokes his face, yet to be scarred by the gunship on Omega, and squeezes his hand. Their hands are so different that it should be awkward, but right now it feels as natural as breathing.
"I'm not leaving you. Get some sleep."
When he wakes up hours later, he sees her with her head on her arm, her hair draped over the bed and his blanket, her fingers still twined with his. Later, he lets her think he doesn't remember, unsure what to do with these new feelings he has for her, but the memory of her skin beneath his fingers keeps him warm through many a cold night long afterward.
There are no gates to hell, no pit of fire. Hell comes gradually; a leeching of color from the world, a growing doubt, a need to turn back to the light. Shepard had gone into battle talking about going into hell itself, not knowing at the time how apt a description that was. She felt the same now as she did when they stormed the Collector base—staring into the face of death and seeing it stare back. Only now, the death that she faced was the death of the spirit, the will to go on. It only served to drive her forward, a constant reminder that Garrus was out there somewhere, drowning in this.
She had discarded the blue sun dress for a more practical shirt and jeans with heavy boots. She had considered trying to conjure up some armor, but she wasn't in danger of being shot. Not this time. Kaidan had opted to stay behind after Thane mentioned that having him there would muddy the signal they were following. Thane for his part didn't talk very much, and for that Shepard was grateful. He seemed to know what she needed; after all, she remembered, he had lost his own mate before.
They came to the crest of a hill that overlooked a huge encampment of dirty ramshackle sheds too small to be called houses. The corrugated metal walls were pocked with rust and they leaned drunkenly against each other as far as the eye could see. The ground was barren, a strange non-color, and the sky was bleak and gray. As she and Thane passed into the makeshift city, the denizens immediately took notice. They stared as they passed, batarians next to vorcha next to humans and turians, all of them wearing the same expression of suspicion, if not outright hostility.
Thane walked right next to her, a hand on her elbow to move her along faster. He leaned over to murmur in her ear, "These ones are condemned for their greed. They took what was not theirs, be it material possessions or lives, and are damned to live like this for their crimes." Shepard noticed that the path behind them was blocked, and the way ahead was growing narrower as more people crowded around them. A vorcha snarled at them and a batarian behind them reached out to grab her.
"Run, Siha!" He kept a tight hold of her arm and steered her over to a box, which they used to vault onto the roofs. They bounded across the dilapidated buildings, jumping over outstretched arms and narrowly avoiding rocks flying at them. They were almost there when Shepard saw a glint of blue from the corner of her eye, the glow of a visor bright against the dull landscape, and her heart soared.
"Garrus!" She started to jump down to get to him, but Thane grabbed her arm again and dragged her away.
"It is not him, Siha. This is not a place for one such as him." He slid behind her and in three quick moves brought down a krogan that had tried to grab at her, and then they were running again. They leaped off the edge of the last building and hit the ground at a sprint, easily outdistancing the throng as they lost interest in them.
They slowed again once they were a good distance away. "That was awful. Why do they do that to themselves?"
"The mind designs one's afterlife to reflect what they truly believe they deserve. Those who live their lives at the expense of others believe that they deserve to have none of it, so here they live with nothing but what they can make of the scraps of their pasts."
"What sort of place is Garrus in, then?"
"I am not sure. We shall see soon enough. The signal is already stronger. Can you feel it?" Shepard concentrated for a moment and thought she could feel . . . something. She wasn't sure what it was, but the memory of his face was stronger, and she could recall the heat of his body lying next to her.
"I think so."
"Then we are getting closer. Keep concentrating on that connection, Siha."
She recognized the next place well before they got there, and she had to fight against the fear that threatened to steal away her tenuous hold on her lover. The ground they walked on abruptly ended, plunging into inky blackness and beyond that was a vast expanse of space. The asteroid was enormous from this vantage point, the blinking lines of lights outlining the landing field. It floated like a forgotten behemoth in the void, accusing her with its presence.
"Thane?" Her voice shook and she hated herself for it. This was not the time to be a fucking girl.
"I am here, Siha." He took her hand and stepped off the edge of the world, floating in space. She followed, her mind screaming at her to go back, and concentrated hard on Garrus as they drifted past the asteroid.
He enters her quarters with stiff shoulders, hating himself for what he's about to do. She is there sitting cross-legged on the bed, and she looks so small. There's a model ship in her hand, the Destiny Ascension, and she turns it lazily in her fingers, not really seeing it, her eyes staring across the blankets and into the mass relay she destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of batarians, dead, and for what, she wonders. To by some time? What a waste.
He sits on the edge of the mattress, not looking at her. Finally screwing up his nerve, he whispers, "I'm leaving."
She says nothing.
"I don't know what else to do. My being around you isn't helping, and it's killing me. It's been two weeks now, and every time I try to talk to you, you won't speak to me. You'll talk to everyone else but me."
"And Jack." He looks back at her then, but she's still staring at the model ship. It's the most she's said in so long. "I haven't talked to Jack, either."
"I stand corrected." He watches her, sees her hair that has fallen in her face and aches to reach out to her, but she's withdrawn so far into herself that he doesn't know how to bring her back out again. "Hackett called me when he couldn't reach you. He said there's a committee meeting on the Citadel that's going to explain to the Council that what you did was the only way to delay the Reapers long enough for us to prepare, and he asked me if you would be there. I told him that he was the reason you went to Aratoht in the first place and that you couldn't make it, because you felt that defending yourself in front of the Council would show the batarians that you didn't care about what they'd lost. He started to argue, and I called him a soulless son-of-a-bitch and I think I broke my comm link in the battery hanging up on him."
She lets out a choked laugh, her hand going to her face, and Garrus sees then the red around her eyes and the dampness on her shirt where her tears have fallen.
"Shepard, I know you're taking this hard. No one should have ever been asked to do what you did. I'm trying to be strong for you, to be here for you, and you keep pushing me away, and I think it's because you can't bring yourself to let go of that guilt. You won't allow yourself to be happy with me because you think you don't deserve it. I just . . ." his voice catches and he has to breathe deep before he can continue. "I just hope you can find some peace without me around to remind you of what happened. I'm sorry, Shepard. I love you." He leans over to kiss her hair one last time, and her hand shoots out and grabs the lip of his armor. She meets his eyes then, and the look in her eyes is of one utterly broken. All that hard-won control is gone now and she isn't Commander Shepard now; she is just Jane, and she still needs him. Her lip quivers and the tears flow faster, then her whole face crumples and she bursts into tears.
Garrus pulls her against him, and she starts fumbling with the latches on his armor, desperate to get as close to him as possible, dropping the chest and back sections to the floor. She wraps her arms around him and sobs into his neck, her breath hot and ragged. Garrus lets out a shuddering breath he hadn't known he'd been holding and holds her tight while she cries out little pieces of herself.
"Garrus, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. Please d-don't leave." He drags her up into his lap and palms the back of her head, burying his face in her hair. He has been waiting so long for this.
"It's okay, it's okay," he says, his sub-vocals low and soothing against her body. "You don't have to do this alone, Shepard. I've always got your six, remember?" She nods, her face chafing against his rough under suit.
Finally the sobs quiet, her breath still coming in little hiccups but she's calmed down. She backs up just enough to rest her forehead on his and she closes her eyes, relishing the contact. It's been too long. "I'm so messed up, Garrus."
"Yeah, you are," he says, and that earns him another laugh. "But I wouldn't have you any other way."
On the other side of the asteroid, floating immobile and battered, was the Normandy. Garrus was in there, she could feel him. She started toward the ship, but Thane held her back.
"Siha, listen to me. Before you go in there, you must understand something. Garrus has made this hell for himself, and you've got no defenses against the barriers he's put up around himself. There is a serious risk of losing yourself in there."
"How would I lose myself?" She cannot take her eyes of her old ship hanging there, derelict.
"Once his reality becomes yours, there is no coming back. You have maybe fifteen minutes before his defenses will start to chip away at you, and then you must get out. I will wait here for you."
Shepard nodded, then put her hand on her friend's shoulder. "Thank you, Thane, for taking me this far, but you can go now. I'm not leaving without him."
"I thought you might say that," he said, sighing resignedly. "It was good to see you again, Shepard. Good luck."
"You too, Thane."
The airlock was already open, the door wrenched back on abused hinges and she entered the Normandy. It was even worse on the inside, the walls dark and stained, panels missing from the floor and ceiling of the CIC exposing cables and insulation. Joker's old baseball hat sat on the darkened console and Shepard ran her hands over it, remembering her favorite pilot. She made her way back to the elevator, the darkness forbidding and almost tangible. The door clanged shut and she wondered if he'd be in the battery, but she was pretty sure she knew where he was. She could still feel him, but the connection was weakening.
She walked down the hall to the open door of her quarters and glanced around. Her fish tank was empty, the glass smudged with grime. The bathroom tiles had black mold growing on them and most of them were either missing or broken. The window that used to be full of stars held only the blackness of the void.
Garrus was sitting on the couch. He looked up as she approached, the blue glow of his visor gone dark. His armor was dull and colorless, his clan markings faded. Shepard's heart clenched painfully to see him like this, but she went to sit next to him.
"Who are you?" he asked, his voice toneless, the usually rich flanging notes flat in this ruin.
"I'm . . . a new member of the crew."
"There isn't any crew. Not anymore." He stared at the table. He wasn't trying to kick her out at least.
"They're . . . all gone now. I don't know where they are."
"You're Garrus Vakarian, right? The gunnery officer?"
"How did you know that?" He was looking at her now, but he wasn't seeing her. Not yet.
"Joker told me." That got a flicker of recognition out of him. "He told me a lot about you."
"Yeah? What else did he say?"
"He said that you calibrate the Thanix cannon way too much, that your taste in music sucks," his mandibles twitched at that in a close approximation of a smile, "and that you'd lost your commander."
His eyes glistened then with such sadness that Shepard almost broke down right then. "She wasn't just my commander. She was my mate. I was going to marry her."
"What happened to her?" God, this was so hard. She could feel the oppressive atmosphere closing in on her, and the connection weakened a little more. There wasn't much time.
"She, uh . . . she died on the Citadel. She sacrificed herself to kill the Reapers." He looked around the room, searching for something. "I hate this ship. The eezo core is dead and there's no power anywhere. There's no food, and the cargo bay is all wrong." Something flickered in his eyes, a split second of agonized awareness, and Shepard seized on it.
"We could always transfer somewhere else." She knelt on the floor next to him, her hip brushing against his leg. He looked down at her bitterly.
"And go where, exactly? There's nothing out there anymore. Not now." He gazed up at the darkened observation window and said, "The stars have all gone."
"Where do you think they went, Garrus?" she asked, putting a tentative hand on his.
"I think . . ." He looked at her, and that flicker of recognition passed over him again.
"You said the commander was your mate?" He nodded. "I had a mate, too, once. He, um . . ." She couldn't bear this much longer, it was going to break her. "He killed himself not too long ago."
"Me, too." She took a deep breath and said, "The last time I saw him, he was hurt. He'd been hit by an explosion and it messed up his leg pretty bad. I got him loaded into our ship and just before I left him, he told me—he told me he loved me."
"I'm sure he's glad he got to say it one last time." He was staring intently at her now and Shepard allowed herself to hope even as she started to lose her hold on reality.
"You know what I wish I had said?" She moved so she was right in front of him and took his face in her hands. "I wish I had told him that I absolutely adored him. That I was fighting for him, that it was always for him even at the beginning. He used to tease me all the time about my bad driving, and the fact that I can't dance for shit, and I loved him so much for it. For reminding me to be normal when everyone else expected me to be so much more. I wish I had told him that I loved his laugh, and his awkwardness, and the way I always wanted to touch him." She leaned in and bumped his forehead with hers, and he gasped. She met his eyes, and the flicker was there again, longer this time. One of his hands came up and hesitated above her own, not quite touching.
"I wish I had been able to come back to him," she continued. She was getting colder now. "I wish to all the gods that ever were that I could have been there for him when he needed me in that hotel room, but I'm here now, Garrus Vakarian, I am here with you now, and I am not leaving this place without you."
At the last word, he closed the distance and touched the hand that was cupped to his face and he isaw/i her, really saw her. "Shepard?" She made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a sob as he ran his hands through her hair and his wide eyes darted over her face. "Oh, Jane, oh Spirits, you're really here." He crushed her to him and she breathed in that smell of cinnamon and gun oil and warm leather that was so uniquely Garrus.
Just then, the ship started to shake. Loose panels fell off the ceiling to crash down around them, and it sounded like the Normandy was trying to rip itself apart. They clung to each other as the world dissolved around them until there was nothing but light.
A cool breeze stirred her hair and it tickled her cheek as she slowly woke up. She was in the cabin again, back in her own little corner or heaven. There was something heavy lying across her stomach and she turned her head to see Garrus in the bed next to her, his eyes bright blue and clear as they watched her. She threw herself on him and he hugged her close, the both of them laughing with pure joy. She wound up on top of him, gazing down at him as he stroked her arms, drinking in his face, which had been made whole again. Although she'd been in heaven before, this was the first time she'd allowed herself to believe that it could really be as good as the old stories said.
"Hey, you," he said, tucking her hair behind her ear.
"Hey yourself. I thought I'd lost you, Garrus."
He kissed her, slow and lingering. "I thought I'd lost myself. But I should know by now that a little thing like hell couldn't stand between us."
"Kaidan tried to tell me no one had ever brought anyone back before."
Garrus snorted. "He really should know better by now."
"Mmm hmm. Come on, you've got to see this place." She pulled him out of bed then and they stood on the porch, looking out at the world she had created. A place they'd dreamed of one night in a small hotel room on the Citadel, she with the blue paint of her lover's markings decorating her face.
"I think this is the first time we've been together without some battle or other looming on the horizon," said Garrus. He stood behind her and drew her against him with his arms around her stomach and she leaned into his warmth.
"Yeah, just think—you've got me all to yourself for the rest of eternity."
He nuzzled her neck, his mandibles fluttering against her skin. "I can't wait to get started."