A/N: Sorry about being so late with this. I didn't have much chance to write during the holidays, and when I could actually sit down to write, the words refused to come. But in the end the short epilogue I had planned turned into a full-blown chapter, and I hope that you will all enjoy the ending to this story.
As always, thank you to all of you who have read, reviewed, favorited and followed Serendipity to the end. And Happy New Year to you all. :)
Special thanks to Tuffet37, divadevi8808, Shootingstar7123, Hringur, Defiant Anjeru, Mei-chiri, DandereGoneFishing, RichGuy, Suilven, Ex Mentis, Rapndash, Detective-Mason, MelShep, KrystylSky, Spacerist and Them Memories for the reviews on the last chapter! It always makes me happy to know that you enjoyed my work. :)
Great big thanks to Tuffet37 for being my sounding board/advisor and to KabiViolet for beta reading.
BioWare owns Mass Effect and its characters.
The dream of settling down with Garrus somewhere warm and tropical had never seemed more out of reach than the day Shepard awoke in the hospital, wrapped in bandages from head to toe and surrounded by a plethora of medical equipment, and found out that he, along with the Normandy and her crew, had been gone and missing for three months—ever since the Reapers had been destroyed.
She took the news without a word, the hard set of her jaws and the drooping line of her mouth the only visible sign of anguish on the small part of her face not covered by gauze and tape, and fell into a depressed silence that nobody, not even Miranda, who'd come to offer her expertise in rebuilding her body, could breach.
The analgesics steadily dripping into her vein eased some of the intense pain that every movement, every twitch of muscle brought in agonizing waves, but there was no medication for the kind of throbbing ache that gripped her heart at the thought that she might never see Garrus again.
Not like she hadn't been prepared for such an outcome when she'd made her run to the beam. After all, the odds that their goodbye on the ramp of the Normandy's cargo hold was going to be their last were more than high. She'd just never really expected that it would be her who would be left behind.
Miranda's account of their victory and the rebuilding efforts gave her some measure of satisfaction, but all she could manage in reply was a nod of her head before she turned back to staring at the wall in silence.
She wasn't a particularly difficult patient, but she certainly didn't make it easy for the hospital staff. She took a bite of her food if they nagged her long enough, and she never complained about the excruciating pain when they moved her limbs and changed her bandages. Most of the time, however, she withdrew into her shell and ignored those around her, preferring the solitude of her own thoughts and memories over the reality of this new life—a life she wasn't supposed to have. Not without Garrus.
Her mother, paler and thinner than she'd ever seen her, came for a visit as often as she could, and Admiral Hackett dropped by a couple of times to check on her progress and give her an update on the state of the repairs being done to Earth, the fleets, the lifeless remains of the geth, and the relays.
The one visitor, however, that finally shook her out of her gloomy mood, was Wrex.
He wasn't even supposed to be there; visitation rights were strictly limited to family members and a few select high-ranking officials, but he pushed past the wall of nurses attempting to thwart his invasion of the ward and ignored their loud protests as he charged into Shepard's room and lumbered up to her bed.
"Sheparrrd," he rumbled warmly, trying to focus his gaze on her sunken eyes and disregard the fragile, broken state of her body. He didn't like seeing her like this; he felt like he was trespassing on a private moment and witnessing something he wasn't supposed to. It was, without a doubt, difficult to reconcile the mighty warrior of the battlefield with the small human woman looking up at him with an unbearable sadness in her eyes.
"How are you doing?"
"Been better." She gave him a weak smile and gestured at the chair by her bed. "Want to sit down?"
Wrex cocked a distrustful eye at the flimsy piece of furniture and shook his head. "I think I'll stand. This won't take long anyway. Just wanted to let you know that we've heard from that boyfriend of yours."
Shepard's eyes opened wide and her heart thudded loudly in her chest. "What?"
"I don't know what you did to destroy the damn Reapers, but whatever that energy wave was, it also fried the communication relays. We've been trying to establish a link to Tuchanka, but all we've been getting has been some static. Those useless engineers must have done something right last night, though, because we caught a partial message from Vakarian."
She had to swallow hard before she could say something, but even then all she could manage was a hoarse, "Yeah?"
"Yeah. Sounded like the Normandy had been damaged and they've been making repairs."
"And? Are they okay?"
"Don't know. Lost the signal after that."
He watched as her brows pulled into a frown and her eyes darted around the room. She was undoubtedly putting the snippets of information together in her mind, weighing the facts, considering the possibilities, and plotting a course of action. This was the Shepard he'd wanted to see: strong, decisive, cunning, a force of nature wrapped up in a small human shell.
He crossed his arms in front of his broad chest and peered down at her with a grin. "So... want me to bust you out of this place now?"
She looked up at him and let out a small laugh. "I don't think I'm quite ready yet to leave the hospital. But it's good to know that he—they—are out there. Gives me a reason to get back on my feet. You know, so I can go and find them."
"All right. Hurry up and get better then, Shepard."
He turned around to leave, but before he could take a step, she grasped his hand to squeeze it as tightly as her weakened muscles allowed. "Thank you. I'm glad you told me. And Wrex," she added when he nodded and was about to walk away, "say hi to Grunt for me."
He gave her another nod and she watched him leave, and for the first time since she'd come out of her coma and opened her eyes all those weeks ago, she needed no nagging to eat her dinner that night.
She even surprised her nurse with a smile.
If she'd been passive and indifferent about her own recovery before, she was downright impatient and overzealous about it now. Her caregivers would have welcomed the change in her attitude had she not swung so wildly over to the other side this time: she used every waking minute, every moment of the day to relentlessly push the doctors and nurses, and especially herself, to accelerate her healing.
Things weren't that easy, however, as Miranda liked to point out. She still needed to go through a series of medical procedures to replace the cybernetics in her body that had been fried by the energy wave, and without those Cerberus-installed upgrades that had been damaged when she'd destroyed the Reapers, her healing process took much longer than she would have liked.
She'd just been through another round of surgeries and was recovering in her room when Miranda received news that the Normandy had finally limped back to London and landed on a ruined airfield outside of town. She sent a message to Garrus, letting him know where to find them, and less than half an hour later he was there, rushing through the crowded corridors of the hospital, until he came to an abrupt halt by Shepard's bed.
Her cheeks were gaunt and her hair was barely an inch long after it had been shaved off for brain surgery, but as far as he was concerned, she was still the most beautiful sight he'd ever seen. Her eyes were closed; Miranda had warned him that she would still be asleep and suggested that he come by later, but he gave her advice no heed. He sat down on the chair by the bed, took Shepard's hand in his, and held it gently as he waited for her to awaken.
When the anesthetics finally wore off and she slowly came to, she found him dozing on the chair by her bed, his head hanging down and his mandibles fluttering softly in his sleep. It took her a few confused seconds and a concentrated effort of focusing her blurry vision on his figure to finally accept the fact that he was really there; he was not a dream or a figment of her imagination, and this time he wasn't going to disappear and leave her alone and lonely in this world.
Her lips were dry and her chest felt heavy with emotion, but she managed to choke out his name.
His head snapped up and his mandibles spread wide into a smile. "Hey," he purred. "How do you feel?"
"Much better—now that you're here." She cleared her throat and blinked away the tears that were clouding her vision once again. "I was afraid I'd lost you forever."
"Yeah. I had the same concern about you." His expression darkened at the memories of those desperate days when everybody on board had been trying to convince him that she was gone. He'd refused to believe them; refused to put her name up on the wall of the dead.
He lifted his hand now to gingerly run the back of a curved finger along her cheek and down her jaw. "I don't ever want to be without you again."
She flashed him a happy smile and he moved closer to press a careful kiss onto her lips, then he leaned back in the chair and told her everything that had happened since they'd last seen each other.
He talked until her eyelids became heavy and she fell asleep. He messaged Miranda then, and, upon his insistence, they set up a cot for him in Shepard's room. Steve brought in a few of his personal items from the ship and Garrus settled in, blatantly ignoring the heated glares and pointed remarks from the hospital staff. He wasn't going anywhere, no matter how much the nurses complained about his overprotective interference, and in a few days he became as much a fixture by her side as the medical equipment that monitored her life signs and administered her medications.
His presence turned out to be a blessing in disguise. As annoying as his single-minded insistence on getting her the best care was, it did have the desired result: her condition improved noticeably with him by her side, and in a few weeks she was well enough to be released from the hospital.
Her muscles were weak from her prolonged bed rest and she still needed months of physical therapy before she could really walk again, but for the moment she couldn't be bothered to care. All she wanted was to get in that sky car Garrus had rented and move into the small apartment that the Alliance had provided for her and Garrus on the outskirts of town.
Her spirits were high as he pushed her wheelchair over the threshold of what was going to be their first true home together. She couldn't wait to finally spend some private time with him, far away from prying eyes and inquisitive ears. It felt as though it had been a lifetime ago when they'd last had that opportunity.
Her hopes for a quiet evening evaporated, however, when the intercom buzzed no more than five minutes after they'd arrived, and Sam walked in with a pot of stew.
"Heard you were released today, Commander," she chirped happily as she carried the dish into the kitchen. "I figured you could use some real food instead of that hospital mush they've been feeding you. It's my grandmother's recipe—well, mainly. I couldn't get all the ingredients, so I had to improvise, but I'm sure you'll like it. Umm, I hope."
Shepard bit back her disappointment at the interruption of a perfectly good evening and gave the specialist a grateful smile. "Thank you, Sam. That's very kind of you. It smells delicious."
Before she could even ask the young woman if she wanted a drink, the intercom buzzed again and James and Steve strolled in, each carrying some food that they insisted was going to help her get better. They were closely followed by Tali, Kaidan, and Liara; they all brought something to help with her recovery, and in no time at all the place was full of chatter and laughter and unintentionally annoying advice.
Shepard sat by the window, soaking up the precious little sun that managed to poke through the dust swirling in the outside air as the bulldozers did their duty of clearing the rubble off the street, and watched as Tali and Sam argued about the best settings for the apartment's still functioning electrical systems and Kaidan attempted to teach a baffled and confused Garrus about the fine art of preparing levo meals for his ailing mate.
"She'll need some good, homemade meals while she's recovering, so you'd better learn how to do this," he declared with all the seriousness of a grand chef. Liara hovered nearby, nodding her head earnestly, and Garrus did his best to follow along as Kaidan explained all about the intricacies of human cooking.
He was finally saved by the security system's announcement that a new guest had arrived. When he went to open the door, Joker hobbled in with a box in his hands.
"Where's your girlfriend?" he asked.
Garrus nudged his head in the direction of the window. Joker walked over with a serious expression on his face and dropped the box on Shepard's lap.
"Hey. Thought you might like to have this."
She opened the package and pulled out her model of the Normandy. Her fingers danced along its smooth lines and she looked up at her pilot with a smile. "Thanks. Can't wait to get back to her once I can walk again."
His lips quirked up into a half smirk as he considered her legs. "I can lend you my old crutches if you want. We could have a race and see which one of us can limp faster."
She laughed and motioned at the armchair by her side, and he sat down with a groan. She didn't miss the dark circles under his eyes and the slightly unkempt state of his beard. He probably didn't sleep much nowadays.
Her smile faded and she touched his arm gently. "I'm sorry about EDI."
He pulled his cap lower over his eyes and stared at the floor under his feet. "Yeah. It sucks."
They sat in contemplative silence for a few seconds before he turned his attention back to her. "Tali's been trying to fix her. Says it's just a matter of time."
His eyes glinted with excitement and she reciprocated with a hopeful smile of her own. "Oh yeah? That's good to hear."
"Yep. I'll have her tell you all about it."
He got up and dragged Tali away from the drink she was sipping through a straw and pushed her down on the chair that he had just vacated. "Shepard wants you to explain to her everything you told me about how you plan on rebooting EDI and the geth. Don't leave anything out." He threw his commander a wink and a wicked grin, and he shuffled away, leaving Shepard alone with the young quarian.
Tali's eyes lit up with unbridled enthusiasm behind her mask. "Really? You want to hear everything?"
"Umm... sure." Shepard glared at Joker's retreating back, but it was too late. Tali leaned forward and began a long explanation about circuits and switches and code and memory banks. She talked about the differences between the original Reaper programming and all the changes and improvements the quarians and, to a lesser degree, Cerberus had done to all that tech, and went on and on about how, if only they could find that one switch that would allow them to return the geth and EDI to their earlier state without activating the Reaper code, they could all be brought back to life in an instant.
Shepard tried to keep up as long as she could, until her eyes glazed over and she couldn't take it anymore. "Great," she said, putting a hand on Tali's arm to stop her from filling her brain with any more information that she wasn't able to process anyway. "Keep me posted about your progress."
Tali gave her an enthusiastic nod. "I will. This is very important, you know. EDI and the geth would be a tremendous help in fixing the relays and all the tech that's been damaged in the war. A lot of our engineers are working on this problem besides helping all the other fleets wherever they can. It's nice to be appreciated now, " she added, her head tilted in contemplation. "Nobody calls us suit rats anymore."
"Well, I guess this war was good for one thing," Shepard agreed. "I never thought that I'd live to see all the races working together for a change. I hope it stays that way."
"Speaking of the different races working together, have you heard from Kal? The last information I had about him was that he'd been rescued from Palaven. Is he okay?"
"Yes." It was impossible to tell by looking at her mask, but Shepard was pretty sure that her friend was beaming now. "He was on that turian ship that had picked them up for a while, but now he's back with our people. He's recovered from his injuries. I saw him yesterday."
"I'm glad. Say hi to him for me, will you?"
"Of course. Well, I've enjoyed our talk, Shepard, but I think I'd better get back to the ship. Our chat has given me an idea that I want to try. I'll let you know if it comes to anything."
Tali got up with a wave of her hand and left, and Shepard looked around the room, searching for Garrus. He was talking with Steve, but as soon as her eyes found him, his attention was on her. He excused himself and came over, and put a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"How do you feel? Are you tired? You want me to send them home?"
She reached up and rubbed her thumb over his knuckles. "No. I'm okay. It's nice to see everybody in one place again."
The rest of their guests stayed for a little while longer, but soon they left one by one, and Shepard and Garrus were finally all alone.
She ate some of the stew Sam had brought and he fixed himself a meal from the ingredients he'd stocked in the fridge a few days ago, then he helped her with her bath before they went to bed.
He inhaled her scent as she pressed into his side, and murmured a "Good night."
She'd looked so worn out when her head had hit the pillow that he thought she would go to sleep instantly. Instead, her small hand found its way underneath his tunic and began teasing his waist.
"Make love to me, Garrus," she whispered.
"I... don't know if that's a good idea. Not that I don't want to," he added urgently, "but you're still recovering, and I don't want you to, uh, exert yourself."
"I won't. You'll do all the work." She raised her head to look up at him and opened her eyes wide, quite dramatically. "Please? I've been waiting for this for so long."
"Well," he laughed as he tussled her hair. It felt different than before, since it was still shorter than it used to be, but he liked it anyway. "If you insist."
He rolled her underneath him, taking care to keep his weight off of her, and did as she'd asked, making his movements as slow and tender as he could.
Later, as they lay in each other's arms, still shaky and out of breath, he decided that it was the perfect time to ask her the question that he'd been thinking about ever since that first night following their reunion on Menae.
"Jane, do you want to, uh, spend the rest of your life with me?"
Her eyebrows crinkled in concentration as she tried to decipher his words in her foggy brain. She finally rose up on one elbow to look into his face. "Are you asking me to marry you?"
He swallowed hard and tried to calm his heart. Maybe he wasn't doing this right. Or maybe she didn't want to go that far. Either way, there was no backing out of it now. "Yes, I believe that's what you humans call it. I, ah, would like you to become my official mate. Bond mate. Wife. You know..."
His stomach stopped doing its flip-flops when her face split into a huge grin and she bent down to kiss him on the lips. "Yes. The answer is yes. To all of the above."
He let out a relieved laugh and gently stroked her arm and back when she laid her head back down on his shoulder. They held each other, their limbs intertwined in a loving mess, and talked about their future until they both fell asleep, exhausted, but happier than they'd ever been.
Tali's idea turned out to be a stroke of genius. It did need some tweaking, but after two weeks of experiments and the cooperation of a dozen scientists and engineers, they eventually made a breakthrough: EDI and the geth finally came back online.
Of course, there were a few naysayers who predicted catastrophic consequences of letting the synthetics loose on the galaxy, but their warnings were soon forgotten as the geth began to work on the relays, which everybody agreed was a high priority. They achieved greater success in one week than all the races had in 8 months.
Joker, naturally, could not have been more pleased to have EDI back. Things were starting to look up, and it wasn't more than a month later that the relays became functional at last.
The fleets were more than ready to return to their home worlds, and once they verified that there was a working structure on the other end and a place to go back to, several ships began the process of pulling out of the Sol system.
Shepard's legs were almost fully healed by now. They were certainly strong enough to carry her down the aisle, so one year after the Reaper war had ended, the Normandy picked up its old crew one last time before they'd scatter all over the galaxy, and ferried them to a secret location somewhere in the South Pacific for a very special occasion.
She looked beautiful in her white dress, holding a bouquet of red roses, as she walked between the chairs filled with their friends and family. Garrus couldn't stop grinning as he stood under the clear, blue sky, and watched proudly as she approached then stopped by his side.
The official in front of them who was conducting the wedding—an unusual mixture of human and turian customs—went on and on about the joining of their lives in a sacred bond, but all they really paid attention to was each other's smiles.
There was a hugely successful party afterwards, with food and drinks and dancing. As much as she enjoyed the event, Shepard couldn't help but feel a small twinge of pain in between the laughs at the thought that they might not have an opportunity like this ever again. Unless, of course, one of their friends got married and invited them all: Tali and Kal were certainly headed that way, and it seemed like Kaidan and Liara had developed a close attraction during the time they'd spent together on the Normandy as well.
Wrex and Eve would soon become the proud parents of their first clutch of babies, Grunt was very popular with the females, and even Jack seemed to have warmed up to the goofy charms of Jimmy Vega.
It was funny how life found a way to happiness despite the horrors of the war. Among all the suffering, all the heartache, it was remarkable how they'd all found the one person in this universe that made them whole, and in spite of everything that had happened, she wouldn't have traded that for anything. Not a thing at all.
Years later, when she and Garrus would sit around their living room with the kids, cuddling up on the couch or on the floor in front of the fireplace, and the children would ask them to recount, once again, the story of how they'd met, they would always start their tale the same way:
"It was serendipity."
~ The End ~
A/N 2: When I started to work on this story, back in 2012, I never imagined that it would take me more than a year and 29 chapters to finish this. Thank you so much to all of you who have stuck with me through the infrequent updates and supported and encouraged me with your reviews and PMs.
Also, thank you to all the wonderful people who have helped me with the chapters: The Red Celt, Laura Kaye, Tuffet37 and KabiViolet. I've learnt a lot from both my beta readers and my reviewers, and I'm very grateful for that.
As for the geth and EDI, since BioWare has stated that the relays and all that tech can be repaired, I think the same should be true for our favorite synthetics.
A/N 3: For a glimpse at Garrus and Shepard's new life, check out my new story titled "Anything for You." :)