She's drifting in an ocean of rock and dust, drowning in her own blood, her skin cold and clammy and slicked with sweat. Her breath rattles in her chest. The air is too warm, too thick. Goes down like chalk. Better than suffocating on nothing, she thinks. Better than suffocating in a vacuum.
The voice sends a pathetic thread of adrenaline through her system. She turns her head and sees Ashley, hair drawn up into a bun, her Phoenix armor clanking. She's using the rubble as a stool, propping her feet against a particularly gnarled slab of metal. "Ash," Shepard tries to croak out, but a mouthful of blood gets in her way.
Ashley smiles sadly. Like she heard.
"Advise against speaking, Shepard," another voice chimes in. Shepard cranes her neck and finds it doesn't move. She knows the voice, but she can't place it, her eyes suddenly swimming with multicolored dots.
The sudden contact of cool metal on her chin sends a fire through her mind, her one good eye stretching as wide as it can. She can see a skinny figure leaning over her, shadowed against the light, with one horn and a stump where the other should be. "Mordin," she whispers.
The salarian clucks. His fingers move her chin gently towards him, his big, round eyes soft. His crooked mouth is set into a line. "Can't help with medicine. Not anymore." She's imagining his armored finger ghosting across her cheek; she has to be. "Here for moral support, in any case. Keep you company. Waiting not my strong point, but will try."
"Wait?" Shepard manages the word on an exhale, considering it a victory. Mordin sends her a disapproving glare that makes her heart ache as much as the rest of her.
"Holding the line, ma'am," Ash says with a nod. She shares a sort of determined look with Mordin that Shepard just can't fully interpret, heaving herself up off the rubble. She turns and looks over the decimated land with her hand over her eyes like a visor.
Shepard tries to say that she doesn't understand, but Mordin's finger taps gently against her face, earning him her attention. "Patience, Shepard. Question answered in due time. Not all questions, however. Explaining possibility of current presence...problematic."
"Mordin," Ash admonishes from her perch.
The salarian blinks. "Ah. Yes. Meanwhile, stay awake. Can sing, if you like. Still have plenty of material from Gilbert and Sullivan days."
Shepard breathes something that's close enough to a laugh. There are worse hallucinations to go out on.
He's sung more songs than she thinks exist by the time the darkness sets in. The last Earth sunset she saw was from behind a glass window at the Defense Committee building, just a few short months ago. It's more beautiful now.
"M'din, stop." He does. "...watch."
His large eyes turn to the yellowing horizon, blinking slowly. She watches his lips pull into a smile. "Ah, good. Wondered how much longer it would take."
"He should be here any minute," Ash agrees, still looking out.
Shepard almost asks what they mean. Wheezes instead. The sound is thick and heavy in her chest, and she feels her consciousness slowly ebbing like a tide at the shore. She would have liked living near the beach, she suddenly decides, her head rolling to meet the crook of Mordin's arm.
"Shepard," Mordin says; urgently, but not panicked. Sharp. "Understand actions. Similar to mine-had to be us. Difference: not your time."
She very nearly tells him to shut up and meet her in the afterlife, but he's adjusting her again, moving her head to look back out at the sunset. This time her mind wanders to the gentleness of his touch; not at all cold and distant, not even through his armored fingers, not even through his death. Just warmth and softness and precision, as vibrant and filled with life as he had been from the moment she first blazed into his clinic on Omega.
Her chest heaves. She isn't sure whether from her body's need for oxygen or because she isn't ready to let go.
"There, Skipper," Ashley suddenly says without turning. Ash. Her whispers were loudest in those oily, dark dreams; you know it's the right choice. All military bravado, until you dug deeper and saw the hard corners around her eyes soften when she talked about her sisters or read from the little book she'd always kept in her locker. "Guess we'll see you later."
"Much later," Mordin quips. Ashley laughs. Shepard isn't making sense out of a lot of things anymore, but she knows she doesn't want them to go.
Ashley turns to look at her, almost sadly. Shepard is hit with the feeling that she'd grown wiser somewhere in those two years past her death, like maybe for once, she'd found what she'd been seeking out for so long. Maybe for once, you made the right choice is more than empty echoes in the dark corners of Shepard's mind.
Shouting pierces the dusk air, long and distant. Mordin smiles. Ash turns back out to face the sound.
"And like the west behind a sundown sea shone the past joys his memory retraced," Ash says. "And bright as the blue east he always faced..."
The shouting grows. Shepard closes her eyes. Mordin's touch brushes softly across her forehead, and abruptly-is gone.
"...beckoned the loves and joys that were to be."
When she opens her eyes, there's a silvery figure looming above her in Mordin's place. She wheezes.
The face crystallizes in her mind's eye, crisp and clear; she doesn't need to wait for the blurry image her eyes are seeing to sharpen. "Garrus," she chokes out.
His reply is swift-he jerks back and roars to someone behind him (the sound is too jarring to make out), and then he's leaning back down, pressing his forehead into hers, so gentle, like he's afraid she's going to shatter like glass at his touch.
"Shepard," he says again, his voice quivering and breathless, and Shepard feels like she's watching a dream from far away, some private reward from the afterlife, because it can't be real. "Shepard."
The first thing he does when she wakes up is hold her. Miranda and Chakwas are there, and the moment her eyes flicker open and focus on him, he looks to them, they nod, and that's all he needs to be sitting on the edge of her bed, pulling her into his arms. He's mindful of the tubes snaking into her wrist, but she's there and she's Shepard and she's alive, with him, it's over. She gives a hoarse laugh and, lacking the energy to do anything else, presses her cheek against his mandibles drawn tightly against his face.
The second thing he does is contact the crew. Tali receives the call and quickly patches Liara into the conversation. All Garrus needs to do is say, "Shepard," the high pitch of his flanging doing the rest of the work for him. Tali chokes something out that's muffled by her rebreather while Liara simply mutters "Goddess". They ask to speak to her nearly in unison, at which point he has to admit to them that he'd been kicked out so the doctors could run tests on her. Tali calls them bosh'tets. The giddiness in her voice kills the effect.
He does third and fifth and tenth things, but everything is whirling by so fast, an endless stream of fighting off inquiries about Shepard's location and running his encrypted messages about her past Tali to be reinforced and about a hundred other things. So whenever he finds himself sitting at a conscious Shepard's bedside, he makes the most of it.
Today, he's tentative; he brings up their tropical home and carefully watches for her reaction. Her tired eyes lighting up, she announces her intent to adopt a varren. When he fakes astonishment, she gives a rich laugh and states, "If I can handle having a sharp-toothed, spiny alien as a boyfriend, you can handle having one a pet."
Garrus is immediately amazed at the domesticity of the conversation. He pretends to be offended, and she simply laughs again, pressing a kiss against his mandible. He touches her forehead to hers.
Maybe he'll soon gather the courage to talk about all those war orphans needing a home.
When she doesn't respond, he pauses checking the settings on his visor to look up at her. She bites her lip, hands twisting in her blankets. "How did you find me?"
He blinks at her. For a moment she's afraid she's made him relive a desperate, painful day, but he looks thoughtful as he approaches to sit on the bedside.
"Damnedest thing. When we touched back down on London, none of us had an idea of where to look. I'm not sure many of us believed we'd find you at all, but even those who didn't weren't about to give you up without a fight."
She swallowed, her throat feeling tight.
"We spent a full day searching the wreckage around the beam. There were a lot of bodies, but...none of them yours. Your old squad showed up, too-Samara, Kasumi, Jacob. Even Grunt and Massani pitched in. " He suddenly snorted, his mandibles flaring in amusement. "Some Alliance soldier butted in and told us that even if you survived the blast, you would've died from your injuries by the time we found you. Jack threw him into a Mako."
Grinning, Shepard shook her head. "I'm touched. But I assume you didn't find me."
"No, we didn't," Garrus agreed. His expression grew puzzled as he looked off into the distance. "At least not until the sun started to set - that's when we all got a ping on our omni-tools. Every single crewman on the search party. It was a set of coordinates. Geth signature."
Shepard's mouth ran dry. "But the geth..."
"I know," he quickly said, his hand resting on hers. "The quarians are still seeing about getting them up and running again. But that's not the strangest part. Just after that, I got another message."
Her eyebrows raise. "You, or everyone?"
"Just me. No encryption."
"What did it say?"
His eyes suddenly mist over. Shepard opens her mouth to ask what's wrong, but the noise dies in her throat as he raises his hand and brushes his knuckles against her temple. A deep rumble vibrates in his chest as his gaze catches hers, burning straight on through her to grip at something deep inside, and now she's painfully, achingly aware that she never wants him to let go. His eyes finally close as his forehead leans against hers.
"'Where the lover never leaves'."
He's staring at a world of white around him, the empty shotglass balanced between his fingers. The cool marble counter reminds him of his favorite bar back in London. How long ago was his last visit? Hell, he doubted it was even still standing after the Reapers landed.
He'd have liked to take Shepard there.
"Admiral," calls a voice from behind. He turns to see Ashley Williams enter with a salute and chuckles.
"At ease, soldier. Rank doesn't mean much anymore."
She gives a tight smile that hints at the fact that she won't let go so easily, but her expression soon relaxes. "Mission accomplished, sir."
"Indeed," the salarian adds, striding up. He sniffs loudly. "Shepard located by Normandy crew, received sufficient medical care. Will be fine. Ready to go."
He glances at the other two, the geth and the drell, standing in perfect silence.
The drell's eyes close for the briefest moment. "She has won Kalahira's favor," he says simply.
The geth tilts its head flaps, shining its optical light on him. "Shepard-Commander has a 94.31495 percent chance of full recovery. I no longer believe that waiting in the event that she will join us is a viable course of action ."
Anderson sets the shotglass down on the counter and stands with a grin. He wouldn't have expected anything less. "Let's move out."
They fall in line behind him, disappearing into the mist, and the empty bar is left behind.
poem snippet - An Ode to Natural Beauty by Alan Seeger