Shepard walked out of the elevator, holding her hand over her throat. She came around the corner, headed for the medical bay, when she saw Chakwas sitting at the table in the mess. The doctor was drinking a tea and looking at a data pad. Shepard strode right up to her, causing the silver-haired woman to look up in surprise.
“Chakwas,” Shepard said, letting her hand drop, “do you have any…?”
“What happened to you?” Garrus exclaimed. He stood from his seat at the next table over, his eyes widening as he pointed at Shepard’s neck.
“How bad is it?” Shepard asked, looking down. She couldn’t see what he was pointing to, but she could sure as hell feel it.
“You’re black and blue,” Chakwas gasped, standing at once. “What…?”
“Krogan,” Shepard told her.
“You woke it up ?” Garrus frowned, stalking over to her. “What, Jack wasn’t enough, and now we need a tank-bred krogan running around, too?”
“It’s okay,” Shepard said, tipping her chin up as Chakwas readied her omnitool with medigel and began to apply it to Shepard’s neck and jaw. “He rammed me into the wall and we had a little chat. He’s agreed to join us.”
“Just like that?” Garrus asked, her voice sounding slightly tremulous in spite of the calm way he folded his arms across his chest. “A krogan slammed you into a wall hard enough to bruise your throat and you ‘had a little chat’ about it?”
“After Wrex, this guy was nothing,” Shepard replied with a one-shouldered shrug. “He’s just a baby.”
“And that ‘baby’ did that to you,” Garrus snapped, pointing.
“I stuck my pistol stuck into his his ribs,” Shepard told him.
Garrus raised his plated chin a little, considering that. “So you weren’t completely reckless.”
“No,” she answered cheekily, “I leave that for my turian friend, the ex-cop-turned-vigilante.”
Garrus appeared almost to smile.
“It was a gamble, I know,” she said, turning her head to the side so that Chakwas could see a little more clearly. “It paid off. I shot him.”
“You what …?”
“And I think Grunt likes me now.”
“Grunt?” Garrus blinked. “You shot him and then you *named * him?”
“He named himself,” Shepard replied. “It fits, I think.”
“And you took this risk…why?”
“Fish not enough responsibility for you, commander?” Chakwas asked, quietly, her lips twitching into a smile.
“Very funny,” Shepard said. “Look, Joker said the same. But after flying around for a week with that krogan down there in a tank, I realized I’d rather have him out where we can talk to him than down there where he can become a problem. Besides,” she added. “The Illusive Man thought it was risky. He just wants the krogan’s body.”
He had, too. The krogan, it seemed, was up to its bright blue eyeballs in Collector tech and possibly DNA, too. The Illusive Man wanted the alien’s body spared, and to that end, preferred it in stasis. Shepard, however, hated cages of any kind. She only felt badly that she’d spent so long deciding what to do about the krogan.
“Thank goodness for that bone weave,” Chakwas told her, finishing her treatment. “He might have done more than bruise you.”
“I’m not delicate to begin with,” Shepard replied, “but yeah.”
“It still was stupid, Shepard,” Garrus frowned. “You should have brought me with you.”
“I came by,” Shepard told him. Chakwas stepped back, now done with the medigel. “You said you were in the middle of some calibrations.”
Garrus stopped short at that. “I didn’t…I mean… Why didn’t you say something about what you were going to do?”
She shrugged. “You’ve been distracted,” she replied. “I didn’t want to bother you.”
“If you’ll excuse me, commander,” Chakwas said, politely stepping out of the conversation. Garrus barely seemed to notice the woman walk away. Instead, he muttered something that Shepard didn’t quite hear.
“What was that?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
Garrus considered her for a moment, then said, “I don’t remember you being this careless before, Shepard.”
“Before?” she asked. “What, you mean before I died?”
“Yes,” he said, his eyes narrowing.
“Garrus,” Shepard said, “I took risks all the time back then.”
“Yes but not…” Garrus nodded to the battery and Shepard followed him out of earshot of the crew who had begun to listen in eagerly around the mess table.
“These Cerberus…people,” Garrus said, nodding his head back at the men and women behind them, “They…” He broke off, not sure how to proceed.
“What is it, Garrus?” Shepard asked.
“I’ve got your six, Shepard,” he said quietly. “You know that.”
Shepard frowned at the seriousness of his voice. “I know, Garrus. That’s why I’ve brought you on every single mission so far.”
“Except to get Mordin.”
“Well, yes, turian-killing plagues aside…”
“Yes, but…” The turian scowled. Shepard wasn’t sure how exactly he did it given his bony face, but it was definitely a scowl.
“What is it, Garrus?”
“We don’t have enough allies for you to go adding more…unknowns to the mix.”
“We don’t really have any allies, Garrus,” Shepard said, frowning. “So far, the numbers are you, me, Tali, Joker, and Chakwas.”
“Though Joker and Chakwas can’t fight.”
“True,” she nodded. “Yeah, we are a little short on soldiers at the moment. But maybe…” She sighed. “I just keep hoping if I move forward, this will all work itself out. I guess there’s nothing else to do.”
Garrus looked at her for a long moment, the turned around with a sharp jerk and slammed his hands on the railing before him. “Damn it!” he snapped, mandibles flaring. “He shouldn’t have walked away like that.”
Shepard blinked at his outburst. “He? He who?”
Suddenly, Shepard understood who Garrus was talking about. She’d wondered when this would come up – if it came up at all. She swallowed before asking:
“Kaidan, right?” Her voice was little more than a whisper.
“We needed him,” Garrus snapped, turning to her. “I came with you. Tali came with you. Joker and Chakwas… But he…”
“He was an ass,” Shepard agreed. Garrus looked oddly pleased to hear her say that. She chuckled a little and then sighed. “But I wasn’t much better,” she admitted. “I said some really stupid things. And he was coming from a rough spot.” She thought back again to his email. “Truly, I don’t know what I would have done in his place.”
“You’re going to defend him?” Garrus glared at her.
“I see his point,” Shepard said wearily. “It pisses me off, but I see it.”
” I’m here with you,” Garrus said. “And he’s not. What does that tell you about who you can trust?”
“Garrus, I pulled your ass out of the line of fire,” Shepard said, growing suddenly angry.
“You pulled *his * ass out of the line of fire, too,” Garrus pointed out.
Shepard came up short at that. “Okay…” she said. “True, but you heard the rumors on Omega. You saw me coming all down that bridge and you had time to adjust to the fact I was back. We fought together - you know that helped convince you that it was me. But Kaidan had years of mourning followed by months of rumors that I was alive and with the enemy and then – suddenly – he finds the rumors are all true. It’s not the same.”
“It is exactly the same!”
“No, it’s not, Garrus.”
“You think I didn’t mourn you too, Shepard?” Garrus cried. “I did.”
Shepard blinked at the turian’s anger. Garrus scowled. “We all did,” he added. He quickly turned away.
“Garrus?” she murmured when he said nothing.
“You could hear a…a what do you say? A needle drop, in those escape pods,” he told her, still not looking at her. “When that ship exploded and Joker came over the comm to say you didn’t make it… It was like a star had died…” he trailed off.
Shepard swallowed at the idea of it: of everyone hurting, everyone aching – because of her.
“I’m…sorry,” she said at last. “I didn’t…”
“Of course you didn’t, damn it!” Garrus snapped, glaring at her over his shoulder. “You went to save Joker. That bastard was lucky he was in a separate pod. If he’d been anywhere near me…” He took a breath. “You died , Shepard. No one blamed you.”
“But you did, didn’t you?” she said, her voice full of wonder as realization sunk in. “In a way, you all did.”
Garrus looked at her for a moment, then shook his head and spun on his heel to pace away from her.
“Damn it, Shepard,” he growled. “If you’d only taken care of yourself! You were always putting yourself in danger for everyone…”
“I did, Garrus,” she said, her voice growing warm with conviction. “I still am. That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve always done.”
“And that…” Garrus pointed at her neck. “Is that supposed to prove something?”
“I don’t have to prove anything, Garrus. I just need to keep moving. I need to stop the Collectors, to stop the Reapers…”
“To save every damn person in the galaxy…”
“You’re one to talk,” Shepard said, eyes narrowing. “Your work on Omega – hell, you jumped out in front of a gun ship…”
“I’m expendable, Shepard,” Garrus said, stepping in close to loom over her. “You’re not.”
“No one is expendable,” Shepard told him, poking her finger against the armor on his chest. “Not you, not anyone.”
“That’s a naive view, Shepard,” he said, looking down at her.
“Yeah,” she said, craning her neck to look up at him, “Well, an idealist once told me that when you do things the easy way, mistakes happen. And in his experience, when you let things slide, they pick up speed. I believed him then and I still believe him now.”
Garrus stiffened and stepped away from her pointed finger. “You’re talking about Kaidan,” he said, quietly.
Shepard folded her arms across her chest. “He was right, Garrus. If I have to put myself in a dangerous place to be the barrier between innocents and gunfire, I’ll do it. I’m not going to let some war hero status stop me from doing what’s right. If I do that, I don’t deserve the title.”
“You know what, Shepard?” Garrus practically shouted, “Kaidan didn’t say a *word * after you died. Not one damn word!” Shepard stared in surprise at the turian’s outburst. Garrus glared at her, then sucked in a breath, fixing his steely-blue eyes on her face.
“I’ve never seen anyone so cold,” he went on. “It was like… It was like he’d turned into a machine. He got everyone taken care of, got us all back to the Citadel. Then he went right back to work for the Alliance, like it had never happened - like you never existed.”
“That was probably his way of coping,” Shepard murmured, stunned.
“Did you know,” Garrus added disgustedly, “that he didn’t even show up for your damn funeral.”
“There was a funeral?” Shepard suddenly felt like her throat was seizing up.
“You’re a war hero!” Garrus said. “Of course there was a funeral.”
“Of course,” she murmured. Of course, there would have been, but…
“We had a service in the Presidium,” Garrus went on, “The Kyoto plaza in the hotel district…”
*Oh, my God. * Shepard felt tears forming behind that lump in her throat and willed them away.
“Not the one next to the Japanese garden?” she asked, softly.
“You know it?”
“Yeah,” Shepard said, taking a shaky breath. “I know it. They had my service in the garden ?”
“In the plaza. And Alenko didn’t even show up. I heard he was supposed to come, but he didn’t. The whole damn Citadel showed up, except for him.”
She thought of the time they had been there together: of their starlit walk and what they had shared among those quiet trees. What that must have done to Kaidan, to have such a reminder close by while they buried her… or, more likely, while politicians said speeches over an empty coffin… The very though brought tears to her eyes.
Damn. And she’d promised herself no more crying.
“Shepard,” Garrus was saying. “Did you hear me? He didn’t even show up.”
“I heard you, Garrus.” Shepard sighed, blinking away the tears. “And I’m sorry. Really, I am. And I’m sorry for what you went through. If I could take it back, I would. I’d go back two years and I would be more prepared or… I didn’t mean to make you go through all that – any of you.”
Garrus just stared at her.
“But since I can’t do that,” she went on, “I’ll do what I can now and hope for the best. Hopefully, with a little luck and a baby krogan ally, we can stop these Collectors and move on.” She gave him a rather shaky smile.
“Damn it!” Garrus said, turning to pound his fist on the console. Shepard jumped.
“Watch it, turian,” she snapped, her voice taking on an icy edge. “That’s our new gun system there.”
“I didn’t…” Garrus broke off and his mandibles flared. “You do realize that you’re apologizing to me for getting killed,” he said at last.
“My point was you shouldn’t have to apologize – to me, or Kaidan – or anyone. You’d shouldn’t have to explain yourself.”
“But I do, Garrus,” she said, her face serious. “And Kaidan deserved that apology. I’m just sorry that I didn’t say it on Horizon when…when I had the chance.”
“He wasn’t the only one grieving, Shepard,” Garrus said, his voice sounding oddly throaty. “But he acted like he was the only one who lost you, like he was the only one who…”
Shepard looked up at Garrus, but the turian quickly turned away.
“Garrus?” she asked.
“Never mind,” he muttered.
“Garrus…” Shepard said slowly. She almost asked him if he had known, even back then, on the old Normany, about her and Kaidan. But somehow, the words got stuck in her throat. Clearly, he knew now, given what Kaidan had said on Horizon. And she found herself unwilling to ask about the past. At the time she had believed no one knew, except maybe Wrex. She hesitated to break that illusion.
Instead, she said, “I’m disappointed in him, Garrus, I am. But I still… Hell, I don’t know how to say this…”
“You still want him to come with us. And if he was willing, you’d put him on your team for every damn mission.”
“Yeah,” she said without hesitation. “I would.”
Garrus shook his head. “After everything he said?”
“Well, if he came back, it would mean he’d reconsidered all that, right? It would be an apology of sorts.”
Garrus made a sound that she assumed was the turian equivalent of a snort.
“Besides,” Shepard added, “It would be stupid to turn away a soldier like Kaidan. The man’s the best damn fighter I’ve ever known. Aside from me, of course,” she added, smiling a little, trying to joke. Garrus chuckled slightly and shook his head.
“That’s not why you’d take him with us,” Garrus said. His voice sounded oddly hollow.
“Not the only reason, no,” Shepard admitted.
She made a face. It was true. With Kaidan, her reasons were always mixed. Every decision she had made about him had been caught between love and duty. On Virmire, on every mission, she had always had to think of him as a soldier, even as she couldn’t just think of him as a soldier. She hated that, and yet, she simply didn’t know how to pull those two strands apart in her mind.
But she didn’t say all that. It was hard enough to admit it to herself, much less to Garrus, who clearly had developed some kind of contempt for Kaidan based on the man’s actions on Horizon. And Garrus, it seemed, was more deeply troubled by Horizon than she had known. Once again, Shepard realized that she had been neglecting her crew. And in the case of Garrus, she had been neglecting a friend. The thought shamed her.
“What’s the matter, Garrus?” she asked, trying to set her personal worries aside. “You seem…”
“It’s nothing,” Garrus said.
“Come on, Garrus,” Shepard pressed. “Is it because Kaidan thought you were with Cerberus, too? Did that bother you?”
Garrus shook his head. “No. That… He was an idiot, but…”
“Talk to me, Garrus,” Shepard asked, gently.
The turian fixed Shepard with a glare. He paused, then his mandibles flared. “Alright, damn it. You want to know?” He started pacing back and forth in the small space. Shepard suddenly found the effect was rather like being shut in the batteries with an angry tiger.
“Kaidan was always so damn…smug,” he spat out at last.
“Smug?” Shepard laughed in spite of Garrus’ apparent anger. “Kaidan?” Garrus frowned.
“Kaidan Alenko was smug?” Shepard repeated. “Are we talking about the same Kaidan here, Garrus?”
“You never saw it,” Garrus said, his voice intense. “Since you were what he was so smug about.”
Shepard blinked. Suddenly, a very strange thought crossed her mind. Was Garrus possibly implying…? No. It couldn’t be. The thought was so strange, she shoved it aside immediately. She tried on a different thought: one that wasn’t quite so awkward.
“I see,” she said, aiming for a nonchalant tone. “I’m guessing that Kaidan and I made things uncomfortable?”
Garrus stiffened at once.
“I mean, you knew, right?” Shepard went on. She supposed she’d have to talk about this after all. She took a breath and added, “About Kaidan and me…back then.”
“I think the whole damn crew knew about you two, Shepard,” Garrus said, looking down at his feet. Shepard swallowed.
“Right,” she said, chagrined. “Well, we were…” She grimaced. “The two of us were trying to be professional, truly, we were. And…I’m sorry. It must have been hard – on you especially.”
Garrus’ gaze flew to hers, his eyes startled. “Why me, especially?”
“Well,” she went on with a shrug. “You were on our team the most. That must have been…uncomfortable…to pretend you didn’t know when you did. It must have made things awkward, having to tiptoe around all that.”
“Pretend you didn’t know,” Shepard clarified. “That’s…embarrasing when the soldiers you’re with aren’t acting like soldiers.”
“Yeah,” Garrus nodded, looking somehow relieved, as if he was glad she’d found the words for him. “That’s what it was exactly. On turian ships, we don’t have the same rules about…” He flinched and broke off. “But still, sometimes I… we … the crew…didn’t know what to say around you two.”
“Okay,” Shepard nodded grimly. “I suspected…” She sighed. “I’m sorry for that. That was wrong of me. Kaidan warned me…” She shook her head and raised her eyes to meet his. “I really didn’t want that to happen. And I bet talking about it now isn’t helping much.”
“Not really,” Garrus said tightly.
“Okay,” Shepard nodded. “From now on, no more talking about that.”
Garrus looked like he was going to say something else, but then he just nodded.
“Alright then,” Shepard said, firmly. “My apologies for that. And for what it’s worth, Garrus, I’m also sorry that…I died.”
“You don’t need to…” Garrus glared at her.
“Last time, I swear,” she interrupted, holding her hands up. Garrus just shook his head and turned away.
“Garrus,” Shepard added, softly. “Is this really…about your team?”
“My team,” he looked at her, bewildered. “What do you mean?”
“I just…” Shepard paused, then decided to spell out her theory all the same. “Sidonis betrayed you. In a way, Kaidan…” she stopped, not wanting to make that comparison exactly, nor bring Kaidan up again.
“It wasn’t the same,” Garrus said, angrily.
“Of course not,” Shepard agreed. “For one thing, Kaidan didn’t get us all killed.”
“Though he certainly didn’t help us out, either,” Garrus grumbled.
“True,” Shepard nodded. “I was just thinking that… well, Kaidan behaved in a way you disapprove of. And you’re already feeling like there are very few people you can trust. And then, to have him walk away…” She pursed her lips. “It’s hard not to have your old friends at your back. Or side,” she corrected herself. “At your side.”
Garrus shrugged his massive shoulders. “I liked Kaidan… Alenko,” he said. “I did. I just envied…” He stopped suddenly, frowned, then went on.
“He shouldn’t have done that, Shepard. It wasn’t quite a betrayal, but it wasn’t right, either. And if he does come back, don’t go easy on him. He ought to suffer a little for what he said to you.”
“You’re bloodthirsty, you know that Garrus?” Shepard laughed. Then she frowned as Garrus turned away, angrily.
“Hey,” she said, “I didn’t mean it like…”
“Is there anything else you need from me?” Garrus said sharply.
“Not…no.” She paused, then added, “Garrus, even if it’s just the two of us, I’m still your team. I’m here if you need me. You always said that to me. And I want you to know, it’s true of me, too – for you.”
Garrus’ gaze swung to her and he gave her a long, searching look. Shepard began to feel strangely uncomfortable again.
“Garrus?” she asked, looking at him with confusion in her eyes.
The turian shook his head, recovering quickly.
“Thanks, Shepard,” he said. “I…appreciate that. I just…” He stiffened. “I should probably get back to work.”
“Okay,” Shepard said, walking slowly towards the door. “Just…” she paused and looked over her shoulder. “Just take care, Garrus. And call me if you need anything at all.”
“Right,” Garrus said, not looking at her. After the doors closed, he let his shoulders droop.
“Right,” he murmured.