"Shake this off, Commander."
Shepard stepped into her cabin, silent aside from the occasional beep from her terminal. The door slide shut behind her with a soft click and she leaned back against the cold metal. She stood there, eyes shut, and breathed in deep.
Thessia was lost. Thousands of its civilians were dead, maybe even millions by now. Kai Leng had escaped and he'd taken the Prothean VI with him. She hadn't stopped him, just like she hadn't before on the Citadel. And because of that, everything they'd sacrificed to get to the temple had been wasted. All those lives lost were on her, just like Tha-
Shake this off.
She opened her eyes and exhaled. There was work to do. Traynor had found them a lead, a way to keep going. Something about a supposed 'Sanctuary' on Horizon and its possible ties to Cerberus – to Kai Leng. The Normandy was headed there now, and when they arrived Shepard would find the information she needed, one way or the other.
She walked over to her desk and sat in front of the beeping terminal. It would be hours before they reached the colony, and in the meantime there were other things that needed her attention. Reports to write up, updates on the crucible to read, messages to send. She opened up her private terminal and felt her stomach tighten slightly as she read the title that awaited her: Evacuating Thessia.
Shake this off.
She opened it.
"Hey, uh, Garrus?" Joker's voice buzzed through the intercom above him, causing Garrus to look up from his work. "We're pulling through the Shadow Sea relay now, ETA an hour and a half before reaching Horizon."
"Approximately one hour and nineteen minutes to be more precise." EDI's voice added.
"Yeah, pretty much what I said." Joker said.
The turian nodded, and then, since they couldn't see him, answered "Understood. Have you told Shepard?"
"Yeah, about that. I commed her cabin, but she didn't answer. Probably crashed out or something." Joker answered.
"After what we saw on Thessia, can't say I'd blame her. I'll head up and let her know we're getting close."
Shepard heard the knock on her door, loud and harsh as it broke through the silence that surrounded her. It was probably Traynor, wanting to show her a new decrypted message she'd intercepted. That or Allers, coming up to ask for a follow up interview on Thessia.
The knocking came again, slightly louder than before. The sound pounded in her head, the metallic noise bringing up flashes in her mind; sparks as bullets hit armor, an asari dropping, then another, a strangled cry cutting off as the gunship spirals down, desperate screams in her ear as the Reaper descends on the horizon, screams calling her name, calling-
She didn't turn to look at him, didn't turn away from the terminal. From her failures.
-an entire planet is dying because you lacked the strength-
His footsteps were soft as he walked up behind her and she drew in a shuddering breath that caught in the back of her throat. She had to shake this off, had to-
"Ah, Shepard, glad you're here-"
"Shepard?" Garrus turned her chair around to him, kneeling down to put his face level with hers. He felt his mandibles flare as he saw the streaks of water that covered her cheeks, with more falling silently from her eyes. Tears, he remembered they were called. It was something he'd seen other humans and asari do back during his days at C-Sec, when they'd been arrested or informed of a crime against someone they knew. Something they did when they were frightened or devastated.
Something he'd never seen Shepard do.
"Hey, hey, it's alright." He took one of her hands in his and carefully cupped her cheek with the other, mindful of his talons against her fragile skin. His eyes found hers and something twisted inside him instinctively at what he saw. He'd gotten better at understanding human expressions over the past few years – they weren't all that different from the asari, really, once you'd factored out the strange lines of hair they had over each eye – and even more so since his relationship with her had begun. Even still, Garrus felt at a loss here. He'd never seen a look like that before, but something in his gut told him it was bad. Really bad. "Talk to me." he begged, his sub harmonics radiating his concern even if she wouldn't understand them.
Shepard made a choking sound that sent his mandibles flaring and her chest shook with each breath. Were the tears somehow leaking into her lungs? Could humans drown from this? Nothing else about their anatomy made any sense, so was that possible? Maybe he should go down and get Chakwas, or tell EDI to–
"What are they doing, Garrus?" Her voice cracked over the words and her hands curled into fists.
"Who?" he asked, struggling to understand. The Reapers? Cerberus?
"Everyone." she whispered, shutting her eyes and sending more tears flooding down her face. "What are they doing, thinking I can save them?"
Ah. His mandibles flicked as the pieces came together for him. It was guilt. Guilt, at least, was something he of all things understood. Gently, he wiped the liquid out from under one of her eyes. "You couldn't have saved Thessia, Shepard. No one could have."
Her head shook slightly. "It was my job, Garrus. My job to make their deaths mean something, to get that VI and stop Leng." She finally opened her eyes and looked into his, whispering, "I failed them, all of them."
"Shepard, listen to me." He said, squeezing her hand softly so she'd look at him. "What happened down there wasn't your fault. You did everything you could, and that's a hell of a lot more than anyone else, believe me."
"But it wasn't good enough." Her mouth twisted over those last words, putting an emphasis on them that he didn't understand, and she shut her eyes again. Her brows pressed down, like they did when she took a hit on the field. His mandibles flared in response. "He was right there, and I just let him get away."
"So what?" he asked, using a talon to tuck a loose strand of her hair behind her ear. "Shepard, think about it. This isn't the first time the bad guy got away from us. Think back to Saren, on Virmire. Ran away like a coward when he realized he couldn't beat you. And you know what happened? We got him in the end. Just like with the Collectors on Horizon. They took off as soon as we started to fight back. And then we took the fight to them on a suicide mission no one thought was possible but you." He waited, watching her until she opened her eyes and met his gaze. "You did the impossible back then, Shepard, and you'll do it again. I know you will."
She took in a deep breath, one that was steadier than the others had been, and leaned her head into his hand. They were both quiet for time, then, and he watched as the tears slowed and her body stopped shaking. "Thank you, Garrus." she finally said, quietly. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
He leaned forward and pressed his forehead against hers. "Good thing you'll never have to find out then."