If there was one way to keep in shape, it was spending time with Vega down on the lowest deck. Sure, sometimes it reeked of sweat and beer, but he was one of the few people on this ship to give her a physical challenge.

"Quick question for you, Lola," the marine began, grabbing a used towel to wipe his face. Their little sparring session was a little warm up to get the blood pumping and muscles ready. "About Garrus."

Shepard rolled her eyes, tucking sweat-drenched hair behind her ears and ultimately feeling frustrated about it. Her hair wasn't boy-short, but it wasn't long enough to pull back into a ponytail either. Her fingers brushed through it, ridding it of tangles. "If this is another question about his reproductive equipment, or how we fuck, you can keep it shut, soldier."

Vega laughed heartily and tossed her a towel. "Calm down. If I wanted to know, I can probably ask Joker to search the extranet for me."

Shepard wasn't exactly sure what kind of information existed on turian-human copulation. She also didn't feel like finding out. Liara being the Shadow Broker and all, Shepard was honestly a little hesitant when it came to searching things on the extranet. Because Liara would know. And even though it wasn't Liara's nature to publicly embarrass someone – unless they pissed her off and they deserved it – she also didn't want to be paranoid about her secret judgment.

She wiped her face dry and dabbed the dampness off her chest. Both mirrored each other in the way they did their extra stretches to prepare for the rest of their work out.

"All right, then. Go ahead."

"So it's like…serious, right?"

Shepard raised her eyebrow. "Uh-huh."

"And you always take him on every mission we have."

"Most of the time I take you too," she said. "I've always had a krogan on my crew. And you're a tank. You're the closest thing I have to one right now."

"Awww, you're makin' me blush, Commander." Vega offered her a shit-eating grin. She sighed. "But don't get me wrong. I feel honored that you bring me along. And Scars – he's a helluva soldier. Best sniper I've ever met. Scariest too, when shit gets rough. He's a smart choice."

"What are you getting at here, Vega?" Shepard made sure her hands were dry before she hoisted herself up on the bar and began pulling her weight for pull-ups. She had to keep at it if she wanted to make sure Vega never beat her record – which proved to be one pull-up than his.

"You love him, right?"

She blinked. That statement made her pause and she hung from the bars, eyes slightly widened. Okay. That was outright bold. And it's not like what he said wasn't true – but no one had ever blurted out her feelings and laid it there on the table, exposed to be picked apart.

"Aren't you ever afraid something's going to happen to him on a mission, one of these days?"

"Uhh…" Shepard's brows furrowed, thinking his question over and coming up with ways to respond to him coherently without making herself seem like some emotionally awkward person. Adjusting her grip, she pulled herself up again, chin touching the bar.

Yes. It's something that crossed her mind multiple times. Probability-wise, Garrus was safer staying on the Normandy and doing his favorite hobby – calibrations on the warship's weapons. Not always, as what happened with the Collector's had proven, but he wouldn't be in direct line of fire. The chances of her losing him would be significantly lower.

But if she left him behind for his safety, then that was a direct insult to him. Garrus was a more than capable soldier. He's fought with her since the beginning – working with him at this rate was purely intuitive. Vega had even observed it himself how they didn't even need words to communicate in battle sometimes; they predicted each other's moves, recognized familiar gestures, and fought in some strange harmony that Vega sometimes felt like a third wheel.

She sighed again. This time instead of dangling in the air she hoisted her weight up, arms resting on the bar and chin pressed against them in thought.

How to word this?

"Having someone fight next to you in war, that you can trust with all your heart is…important," she began, biting her lip. Vega remained on the ground, arms folded, leaning against one of the metal cargo boxes. "And it's motivation. Seeing him there all the time. Knowing what I can lose if I fuck up. Knowing what I can have when we win this damn thing. Honestly, Vega. I'm tired. Fucking tired."

From Saren to Sovereign, having to sacrifice Ashley, then dying, losing two years of her life, then being reconstructed biologically and synthetically. The Collector's, the bullshit known as politics the Citadel Council liked to bother her with. The doubt from them, the frustration on her behalf when no one listened to her. And then they realized she was right and dumped the fate of the entire galaxy and every species inhabiting it on her soldiers.

"But having him with me is the best reminder I have. I don't have a family to go back to. Parents were red sand junkies back on Earth, probably died way before this. Never bothered to look for them after joining the military. Everyone's got a reason to fight this damn war, whether it's for peace or revenge or someone to go back to. My reason's him."

Shepard didn't mean to sound so emotional and vent so much feeling to him. But it was a personal question that could only be responded honestly by a personal answer. There was also the option of telling him to fuck off, and while Shepard wasn't past that answer, she liked her crew members enough to be honest with them.

When it was appropriate, anyway.

Vega was filled with a strange sense of admiration and responded with a nod of his head.

When she returned to her pulls ups, he asked another question. "Have you told him this?"

Damnit. Another question that made her pause and dangle there. Her lips quirked into a deep frown. "No."

"You should," he suggested and walked past her. "I don't have to tell you about war. You know it's a damn ugly thing. But always make sure he knows before anything happens."

I should have told him. Strange thing to think about in the peak of battle as she called the Normandy for an evacuation. She'd brought Garrus along for this final mission, and it was this final mission that she had almost lost him.

She was going to make sure he came out of this. Alive.

Vega and her exchanged glances and for once, they didn't need words to communicate either. He knew what she was thinking; he knew all the things she wanted to say. He knew exactly where this was going, what this meant, and he knew he was going to be the one that would get Garrus on that ship and keep him from following her straight into that beam.

"Take him!" Shepard shouted as an order, eyes set into a hard glare and all Vega could do was nod and comply. Garrus was heavy with all that ridiculously large armor but Vega was prepared for the weight.

It was Garrus that wasn't prepared for what was about to happen.

"And you've got to be kidding me," the turian said, voice filled with disbelief and desperation. Vega felt the weak force trying to break away but Vega expected it and stood his ground.

And he watched them. Watched them say they loved each other. Watched their final moments.

It was goodbye. That's what they were saying.

Neither of them admitted their throats choked with some sort of feeling when she turned and ran back to the Citadel beam. Vega was the first to snap out of it and turn him away before any bullets grazed either of them further. Liara and Tali'Zorah greeted them.

He saw the emotion well up in the asari's eyes but she kept herself controlled, swallowing that uncomfortable knot.

A quarian's mask kept any expressions from being seen, but he saw the way Tali's hands quivered as she helped Garrus sit down.

"Is she serious—"

"We're not leaving her here, are—"

"We've got to go!" Vega barked. "Commander's orders! Now!"

And orders…were orders.

Tali tried to treat Garrus' wounds, but all he did was let out a rumble of a growl when his gashes were touched and he jerked away. Vega saw the way his eyes glared up at him in resentment, and he knew it wasn't personal. He was hurt, and not just physically.

He was hurt because he couldn't go with her. He was hurt because he knew, as a soldier, all he would do was slow her down. As a soldier, it wouldn't have made sense for Garrus to have come with her. It wouldn't have made sense to persuade her to get on the damn ship. There wasn't going to be another chance after this.

This was it.

"She's going to win this," Vega told him. "And she's going to win this goddamn war. For you."


That's what he was.

He was the reason she summoned every reserve of strength she still had. He was the reason why she moved, eyes focused for one final time, her finger resting on the trigger.

He was the reason why she was on her feet.

He was the reason why she walked towards her decision.

Since day one, this was the goal. Destroy the Reapers. By her side she always had the reason she fought; the person she wanted to make sure lived on after this. The person she refused to let die.

Maybe she never told him she needed him by her side in every battle.

Maybe she never told him he was the reason she fought so damn hard.

Maybe she never told him he was the one person she trusted with her entire heart.

But she told him she loved him, and maybe those three words were all she needed to say to explain every other thing she never got the chance to say.

And when the final bullet was fired, when she smelled the gas and the incoming fire of explosions, it was Garrus she saw last. Her final reminder, her reason, to win this final fight.

She couldn't have done this without him.