“Garrus!” Shepard cried, throwing her arms wide.
Her voice rang slightly in the open space that was Archangel’s base. Well, that was something else, she thought. They’d come here looking for some sniper on Omega and had instead found one of Shepard’s dearest friends. She doubted the Illusive Man would like this turn of events, and that just made her all the more pleased. She walked up to the turian, then stopped short of hugging him. She noticed that he was breathing heavily and seemed to be favoring his right side.
“You okay?” she asked him, her joy suddenly fading into concern. “I’ve got medigel,” she added.
“I’m fine,” he coughed.
Shepard’s eyes narrowed at him. “You’re not fine,” she said. “And how the hell did you manage to piss of every major merc group in the Terminus Systems?”
“It wasn’t easy,” Garrus chuckled. “I really had to work at it.”
Shepard smiled at the joke, but she also felt even more worried at his words. Garrus was kidding around, but he also sounded delirious. She began to wonder how long he’d been up here, if he’d eaten or slept recently. She took a look around. That bridge was a good choke point, but if they sent enough mercs at once, they might slip into this base. There was plenty of cover here and the backstairs had been crawling with krogran when she’d shown up. She’d gotten here in time just to shoot down a Blood Pack merc right at Garrus’ back. She wasn’t sure if he’d even seen that.
“What’s the status?” she asked, instantly falling into take-charge mode. This I can handle , she thought. Cerberus’s watching her? The Illusive Man’s lies? Those things creeped her out, worried her, made her edgy. But this, a desperate rescue operation of an old friend she knew and trusted?
Bring it on.
Garrus explained the dire situation, how he planned to get out of it, then added with a sharp-toothed grin, “Just like old times, huh?”
“Or something,” she said, smiling a little. “Alright. You ready to get rescued, turian?”
Garrus settled down into his makeshift bunker. “Rescued,” he muttered. “That’s embarrassing.”
“You’ll get over it,” she said cheekily. “Oh, and this is Kasumi and Miranda.” As Garrus nodded at them both, she told the two women, “This is Garrus Vakarian, the turian who shot Saren in the head. Keep him alive for me, will you?”
“I was doing alright without you, Shepard,” Garrus told her.
“Yeah, you nailed me good back there,” she admitted.
“Concussive rounds only,” he said. “I couldn’t let the mercs get suspicious.”
“Uh huh,” Shepard said doubtfully. “Well hey, I was distracted. I thought it might be you up there and was stopping to try and see.”
“You recognized me?” he asked.
“I thought I recognized the rifle,” she told him. Garrus nodded, then turned away suddenly. “Here they come,” he said, motioning to the bridge. He held up his rifle and looked down the scope. “Scouts.”
He handed Shepard the rifle. She took it with some surprise. Garrus never ever had handed over his rifle. He must really be delirious, she thought. She pushed that thought aside as she saw mechs starting across the bridge. She sniped one, then smiled. “One less.” She handed the rifle back.
“Indeed,” Garrus said approvingly. “I’ll stay here with the rifle and you - you do what you do best.” He grinned. “Just like old times.”
“You said it,” she replied, carefully gathering her biotic power until she had conjured a roiling ball of energy in her palm. Garrus looked at her and nodded.
Then, together, the two friends turned their attention to the waves of mechs pouring over the bridge below.
“Garrus!” Shepard cried, rolling the turian onto his back. Blue blood pooled around her knees, making them stick to the metal floor. That would be about the fourth time she called his name in less than an hour, she thought absently to herself, though this time might be the last that he heard her. The idiot had rushed headlong into a rocket. It looked like he’d tried to put himself between the gunship and her. Idiot .
She had screamed his name, pushed down a rising sense of panic to focus on taking out that ship. They’d battled all morning, Shepard with biotics, Garrus with his rifle. Miranda and Kasumi had done an admirable job of helping, Shepard had to admit. Miranda had even helped keep Garrus alive for a while there when Shepard had to take out the mercs who had gotten into the lower tunnels. But if she lost Garrus now to his own careless delirium…
“Hold on,” she told him. Miranda was already calling for Jacob to bring the Kodiak in for a pick up and to bring a stretcher and several strong crewmates to carry Garrus out of here. Kasumi was standing by looking a little out of place. Shepard pulled out her omni tool and did what she could for her friend, but her first aid had been Alliance training. She knew next to nothing about turian medicine, except that it was probably quite different from humans.
“Don’t die on me, Garrus,” Shepard kept telling him, though he didn’t seem to hear. “You are not allowed to leave me. Got that? It’s an order.”
She knew it wouldn’t do any good. Staying or going depended entirely on him and factors out of her control, but she kept saying the words anyhow. When his eyes rolled back into his head and closed, she had to fight to keep calm.
Garrus had been the other half of her strike team when facing down Saren. He had heard Sovereign’s message on Virmire, been at her back when she chose to save Kaidan, had heard Vigil’s message about the Reapers on Ilos, had fired round after round into Saren’s possessed body to defeat him. He had been there when she survived the wreckage of the Citadel. He had been at her back every damn day after – him and Kaidan both. And through it all, he’d become her friend. She’d thought of him and Kaidan as her team: the two best soldiers in her little Spectre army, as it were. She couldn’t stand the thought of loosing him now.
It seemed to take forever to get Garrus back to the Normandy and in to the med bay. Doctor Chakwas shooed Shepard away, and then Shepard hardly knew what to do with herself. She went and hung around Joker for a while, but the helmsman had nothing helpful to say. Joker was embroiled in an argument with EDI about the drive core and didn’t seem to want to talk about Garrus at all. Shepard talked with Kelly briefly, but the yeoman’s rather sexual questions about Garrus just left Shepard feeling vaguely disturbed. It was like the times as a teen when Shepard had heard some girls checking out her younger brothers. She was glad her brothers were popular and all, but she really didn’t want to overhear anything about it. Besides, the idea of Kelly hitting on an alien – of any human and alien being together in that way… Shepard shook her head. Besides, it was completely inappropriate considering that Garrus might not make it…
Shepard wandered up to her quarters. That damn buzzing in her skull started up again the moment she walked through the door. She was going to have to figure out what it was up here that set her implants off like that. Maybe it was the lighting.
She fed her fish, finding that act rather soothing. There was something strangely comforting about keeping the little guys alive. She might be feeling lost and confused, unable to save her friends or those missing colonists or herself, even. But at least she could keep these lovely creatures safe. The blue and yellow fish glided happily through the giant tanks. Ignorance is bliss , Shepard thought, wryly.
She realized she was still in her armor and covered in blue blood. She took the armor off, cleaned it, then took a shower, and changed into her officer’s uniform. She took a look in the mirror and frowned. After some consideration, she put some make up on again. She’d taken the time to wear makeup to the Council meeting. It had not seemed to impress them, but at least she’d felt more like herself, walking into that encounter. She supposed it was a small thing, but considering how much her appearance looked altered with the hair gone, it felt like some small act of reclamation to paint her eyes. Plus the effect looked rather nice. She wasn’t trying to copy Miranda, she told herself, with this lace underwear and the eyeliner and all, but to simply feel a little bit more like woman rather than Frankenstein was a step in the right direction.
Shepard frowned as her thoughts returned to Garrus, still down there in the med bay. She hoped that he would come through. She was just about to call down to Doctor Chakwas and ask for an update when Jacob’s voice came over the comm, calling her down to the comm room. Shepard replied she’d be down at once and headed for the elevator.
When she walked into the room, however, Jacob looked up at her sadly.
“It’s Garrus, ma’am…” he began.
Shepard froze in the doorway, feeling like her heart had stopped. “Is he…?” she couldn’t even finish that sentence. She had lost him, she thought. And it was all her fault. If only she’d gone to Omega right away. If only she hadn’t wasted time with Anderson and the Council…
“We’ve done what we could for Garrus, but he took a bad hit,” Jacob was saying. “Chakwas tried to correct it with a surgical procedure and some cybernetics, but…”
“Wait,” Shepard said, striding into the room, “Corrected? You mean…”
Shepard froze, then turned with a grin on her face.
“Thank God,” she murmured, delighted to see Garrus standing behind her.
“Tough son of a bitch,” Jacob said, his voice approving. “Didn’t think he’d be up yet.”
Shepard just grinned, her heart finally settling back into its normal pace. He was alright. Garrus was alright. One of her team, one of *her * friends, was back with her and he was alright. Suddenly, the ship didn’t seem like such a cage anymore. She had Garrus back. She had Joker and Doctor Chakwas, too, come to that. Until that moment, she hadn’t realized how much she had been missing her old team. Certainly she had always given them credit for her success in the past, but until now, she hadn’t fully realized just how much she had come to rely on them – how much she had to fight for them to feel like she wanted to be fighting at all. This might turn out okay after all, she thought.
Garrus strode into the room, looking like he hadn’t just been saved a few hours ago. Shepard wondered at once what Doctor Chakwas had given Garrus to get him up and walking around like that – or how much he was just running on the turian equivalent of adrenaline.
“Nobody would give me a mirror,” he said, pointing at his jaw. “How bad is it?”
How bad? Shepard wondered. What…? Then she realized about half his face was gone. She hadn’t even noticed in her relief to see him alive. Well, hell, she thought, who was she to care about scars? Here she was looking like some genetic experiment gone awry. She almost said something comforting, then realized that probably wouldn’t go over very well with the turian. She shrugged and decided to make light of it.
“Hell, Garrus, you were always ugly,” she said. “Slap some face paint on there and no one would notice.”
Garrus shook his head and laughed. “Damn it, Shepard,” he said. “Don’t make me laugh. My face is barely holding together as it is.” He paused, then added thoughtfully, “Some women find scars attractive. Mind you, most of those women are krogan.”
Shepard shook her head and smiled. “Dismissed, Jacob,” she told the other man. “I want to talk to my friend in private.”
The Cerberus officer gave them a salute and left, his face impassive. Garrus looked to Shepard in curiosity.
“What was that all about?” he asked, his one working mandible drooping.
“We’re being monitored,” Shepard told him, nodding at the ceiling. “Watch what you say.”
“They’re monitoring you?” Garrus blinked. “You’re working with them and they’re *monitoring * you?”
“Yeah,” she said, frowning. Garrus returned her frown.
“Frankly, this worries me,” he said. “Cerberus, Shepard? You remember those sick experiments they were doing?”
“Oh, I remember,” Shepard said. “How many did we shut down?”
“Half a dozen at least,” Garrus replied.
“Yeah,” she shook her head. “The Illusive Man and I have had words about it.”
“Words?” Garrus asked, his disgust evident.
“It’s a long story,” Shepard sighed. She gave him the short version of her return, her visit to Freedom’s Progress, and what happened after. “That’s why I’m glad you’re here, Garrus,” she finished. “If I’m walking into hell, I want someone I trust at my side.”
“You realize this plan has me walking into hell, too,” he observed wryly. “Hmm. Just like old times.”
“Hey,” Shepard shrugged. “What can I say? I know how to show my crew a good time.”
Garrus’s face fell suddenly and he looked away. Shepard blinked at the sudden change in him.
“Hey,” she said. “That was a joke.”
“Yeah,” he muttered.
When he didn’t say anything more, Shepard felt a little uncomfortable. What had she said to bother him? she wondered.
“Garrus?” she asked. “Is something wrong?”
“No,” Garrus said, sounding strangely nervous. “I just wondered…” He paused, looking her over. “What happened to your hair?”
“Huh?” Shepard blinked, then ran her hand over the back of her head. The light fuzz tickled her now. She wished once more that it would grow out more quickly. She felt a little self-conscious of it all over again. “Well,” she said, letting her hand drop. “Cerberus’ rebuilding of me apparently didn’t include hair plugs. They gave me implant upgrades and muscle and bone weave, but no hair.”
Garrus looked at her hard, his light blue eyes seeming to bore into her.
“It looks that bad?” she asked, making a face.
“It looks…different,” he said, at last. “Human hair is one of those things…” He stopped.
“What?” she pressed.
“I don’t get it,” he finished, still looking at her. “It’s just dead protein strands, right?”
“Leave it to an alien to put human vanity into perspective,” Shepard laughed.
“Did I say something wrong?” he frowned.
“Not at all,” she said, smiling. “I just…” She shrugged. “I don’t like the cut, honestly. It’s evidence I’ve been tampered with.” Garrus frowned even more. “But it’s okay,” she added. “It will grow back. Hair always does, as my mother reminded me when I tried to cut it myself once. It’ll just take a while. In the meantime, I guess this is one way to keep it out of my way.”
Garrus nodded, and Shepard got the distinct impression that he didn’t know what to say. She suddenly found that she felt the same way. She shrugged and went for a light tone of voice as she asked:
“So, for coming face to face with someone you thought was dead, Garrus, you didn’t seem all that surprised to see me. Though,” she added, cocking her head, “Tali wasn’t either, come to think of it. Or Anderson.”
“You brought Tali with you?” Garrus asked, brightening.
“Sadly not,” she replied. “She didn’t come with me after Freedom’s Progress, but hopefully we cant meet up with her later. Though frankly, I was worried about that mission of hers. It’s not like her to be cryptic.”
“No,” Garrus agreed. “She was more likely to talk your ear off about the salvage she picked up.”
“Yeah,” Shepard said, smiling sadly as yet another wave of nostalgia washed over her. “So,” she said, shaking off her sense of sadness, “Had you heard rumors that I was alive or something?”
“I think everyone heard rumors,” Garrus replied. “Most of them were just that – rumors, but the ones on Omega were…more, I guess. I heard that your corpse passed through threre – just before it got shipped out to Cerberus so that you could be brought back. I didn’t believe it at the time, but…” He broke off and shrugged.
“Huh,” Shepard said, filing that bit of information away so she could ask Miranda about it later. “Well,” she said, “I’m glad it worked out like this. I doubt the Illusive Man would have sent me out to recruit you if he knew who you were. I’ve gotten the distinct impression he wants to keep me divided from my former team – Joker and Chakwas aside.”
“Joker’s here, too?” Garrus stiffened, his mandible flared.
“Yeah,” Shepard said, then she realized the reason for his reaction. “Don’t talk to him about the accident,” she said sharply. “I spoke with him about it and we’re resolved. Got it?”
Garrus’s jaw tightened, but he nodded.
“What about Alenko?” he asked after a pause.
Shepard stopped at that. It was strange somehow, to hear someone else ask about Kaidan – someone other than her.
“I don’t know,” she said, slowly. “I keep asking, but no one knows. Even Anderson is keeping me in the dark. I guess they figured I’d recruit him for Cerberus right out from under the Alliance.”
Garrus said nothing. Shepard wasn’t quite sure how the turian managed it, but his face suddenly seemed shuttered.
“Well,” he said, turning to leave. “I’m fit for duty whenever you need me, Shepard. I’ll settle in and see what I can do at the forward batteries.”
“Okay,” she said, nodding to him as he turned to go. “I’ll come check in with you later. And Garrus…”
The turian stopped in the doorway and looked back at her.
“It’s good to have you back,” she said.