One Last Goodbye: Even When I'm Broken

Part 1 – Sara Shepard

I can't see anything. At this point, I can't tell if that's actually because the room is too dark or because the pain is so deep it's blinding me. I wouldn't be surprised either way. I'm still trying to fight, but I can barely move anything. They made sure I was as tied down as possible before they started carving through my bones. This is the third day they've been doing it. If the torture was their only purpose, that would imply they were simply attempting to draw out my suffering as long as possible, but there's more to it than that. No, they don't care how much pain I'm in as long as their needs are met. They only do this a little bit at a time so that I don't die from shock and blood loss.

I keep pulling at my restraints with all the strength I have left. I don't care if I can't see where I'm going or how many people try to stop me, I just need to get out. I won't be a prisoner like this and I won't give in to the pain. They said this was supposed to make me stronger, but I doubt they could care any less about me. If they had any concern for my wellbeing at all, they would've at least put me under first instead of just cutting in without a second thought. At least the scars are fading fast. I don't wanna be reminded of this. I just want it to end.

It's not like it's the first time they played with my insides. It seems like less than a week ago they were fiddling with every cell in my body. I was in agony from the moment I first came back to this body—Came back from where, anyway?—and at least what they did with my blood vessels made it easier. But every time I felt my heart beating, it felt wrong. Part of me hopes that, somehow, whatever they're doing with the marrow of every bone in my body will bring me around again. All of me, on the other hand, just hopes it'll be over soon. I don't know how much more I can take.

Every thought I have is cut away from me entirely when I feel the unyielding, crushing strain of something tearing through my right arm. I choke back the urge to cry out from the feeling of a thousand molecules under my flesh tightening. I've handled worse without breaking. I won't break now. I still pull as hard as I can on my left arm, try to free it so I can stop the pain myself, but it's held too tightly and my struggling is enough to threaten letting the restraints break open the skin at my wrist. Obviously, they aren't going to risk me "attempting self-mutilation again" since it could cost them their "investment," so I almost instantly feel my restraints tighten further until I can't move my left arm at all, can barely feel my hand. No getting loose. I'll just have to suffer through it. If I can survive that long.

I try to focus on something besides the crippling pain tearing through me. The only thing I can focus on is the anger. They could've made sure I wasn't aware of the pain, but they chose not to. "'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.' She needs to feel it. If nothing else, she needs to know what we're capable of. She needs to know her place." Maybe getting free isn't my only interest. Maybe I really wanna tear them to pieces, too.

It takes what seems like hours but can't be more than a minute or two before they stop. I take this chance to calm down. I focus on my breathing, try to steady my violent heartbeat. The pain is subsiding. I can take it. I can!

Suddenly, something flashes through my vision, something dark and frightening, something that makes every nerve in my body cry out in agony until the scream I've been doing such a good job of holding back tears through my throat—

I wake up practically gasping for breath. As soon as my heart's calmed down, I sit up, smooth my hair away from my eyes, and start looking around. I'm in my bed in the captain's cabin of the Normandy, softly illuminated by the dim lights of the aquarium and various electronic equipment. It's a familiar scene, one I've come to call home. I give a quick look up at the viewing glass over my head, through which I see countless glistening stars and streaks of blue from FTL travel.

Then I look at the other side of the bed. The sight brings me to smile again and sends a warm feeling through my heart. Because he's right here beside me. Garrus Vakarian, the love of my life. The man who stood at my side knowing full well we could be walking to our deaths, brought me to fall in love for what must have been the first time in my life, gave me hope again when I started to lose my own, fought as hard as he possibly could solely to ensure my safety, grieved himself halfway to death when he thought he'd lost me forever, saved my life just because I saw his eyes and heard his voice again for the first time in way too long…and woke me up after nearly a year of almost falling away into nightmares.

Like I once told him, I only truly came back alive because he found me. He didn't know it at the time, but he freed me from spending the rest of my days lost in every way imaginable. When I activated the Crucible, my mind was forcibly ripped from my body and cast into the Reapers. At almost the exact same time I sent them into permanent exile, it was torn away from the Reapers and thrown back into a body I once called my own. The transition was more than I could take. The torture I endured in the months after that would have made sure I was something worse than dead if not for that one thought peeking through. I'd hear his name so briefly that I'd forget it as soon as I remembered, but it was enough to give me hope again. That hope was enough to make sure I still fought. Then he came back to me. And suddenly I was alive again.

But it's still not been all that easy. Every night, these dreams attack me. If I didn't wake up every time to find him beside me, it might be enough to break me down. But he's always right here. Right where I need him. I don't know if it's because he knows I need it or because he needs me here as much as I need him or both. I just know that we're more in love than ever and he's not letting go of me. And, really, that's all I need to know.

As I smile, I reach around to place my hand against his face, careful not to wake him up. He's been resting peacefully for once in his life and I don't wanna ruin that. Well, actually, he's been having some dreams almost as bad as mine, but he's still doing a lot better than I am. So I make sure I stay as quiet as I can when I get out of the bed and head over to the bathroom. Then I wait until the door's closed behind me before I turn on the lights.

I pace the room a few times, trying to walk off the memories I've been forced to relive. Those days are long behind me. I've accepted them as such—the past is dead as far as I'm concerned. But when I think about it, not just about what they put me through but about why they did it… Some days I almost think I can hear the Shadows conspiring about it. "Good news! We didn't just find blood samples around the conduit, we found remains in the Catalyst chamber. We don't have to make a clone, we really can restore her! We just have to kill a few dozen people, steal a bunch of technology from what's left of Cerberus, throw our most powerful asari at that Husk we captured and expose her to a consciousness so deep-seated that it tore all other organic minds that connected to it apart except for Shepard herself, and then spend months working to piece her body back together by hand the moment we get her kicking again!" As if I wasn't already sick enough about it.

I sigh as I lean against the sink and look in the mirror. I should be used to what I see. Light red hair, bright green eyes, a few scars here and there from all this body's been through. But it still feels unfamiliar to me. How long was I not in it? Time didn't seem to exist in those days. I could easily figure it out if I knew how long I was with the Shadows, but I had no concept of time through all I endured with them. Or is that it? Does this body seem different because of their "modifications"? Am I really so disconnected because of all those days I spent as a prisoner in my own flesh and bones? Surely, that's not it considering what's truly bothering me—

Suddenly, it happens again. That blue flash in my eyes. The one that comes with a flash of Reaper code in my brain. Every time it hits me, it's like it's trying to remind me You're not human anymore. In my waking hours, it's not so hard to take if only because I can immediately retreat to something else. But when I'm so exhausted I want to drop into the bed and forget everything else, it hits me hard enough to feel like a nightmare. The emotional fury is enough to make me fear things beyond terrible—I didn't stop the Reapers after all, this is just some dream meant to taunt me from dark space, I really am a clone infused with Shepard's mind and I'm living a lie—and brings such a reaction screaming through my synapses that I punch the mirror with all the strength I have and shatter it.

That doesn't exactly make things any better. One of the shards scratches against my right palm enough to break my flesh open. The sting makes me grab my wrist and fall back so that I'm sitting on the floor by the shower. But once I'm down, the sight of the dark red blood flowing down from the cut mesmerizes me. I remember the days before Garrus woke me up, when I didn't know who I was or why I had the thoughts of a machine coursing inside me, when I would take a knife to my arm and tear through my skin just to see the blood and remind myself that I was still human. It's enough to break me down, make me wonder over all of it again, but I can't take my eyes off the blood even when my vision starts to flood and my chest aches from the violent hammering of my heart against my lungs.

Then the door opens. It takes a moment, but I finally bring myself to look up. Once again, he's woken me up from those fears. One look in his eyes, one second in which I see such concern for me that I know without a doubt he loves me, and I have the strength again to tell myself It's over now. You're not a monster.

You're not.

Before I know it, he's kneeling down in front of me, taking my hand. "What happened?" The voice I fell in love with is filled with anxiety. Every time something happens to me, he gets that way. He's already lost me twice so I don't blame him. But knowing how much he fears for my sake—more than his own—hurts me more than the actual injury ever could.

I try to explain what happened but I can't do it. No matter how hard I try, I can never bring myself to lay it on the line for him, to tell him what's been tearing me apart inside since the moment I left Earth without him, to share my grievances and hope he can understand. I know he could, but I also know it kills him enough to see me this way as is without hearing the terrible, soul-shattering truth behind why. Besides, I don't have the words for it. All I can do is look down at the blood on my hand and hope that much can answer his question.

Even if it doesn't, he manages to accept it. Instead of searching for an answer I don't have the strength to give, he searches for the medical supplies I keep stashed in here and starts treating the wound. Never in my life have I allowed myself to feel fragile. On Earth, surviving on the streets meant never showing weakness. In the military, it's your job not to. But with Garrus…when it comes to him, I never have to hide that I'm broken. He's seen a side to me no one else in the galaxy has and he's done everything in his power to heal it. Whenever I've felt lost or hurt, he's made it better just by showing me he loves me. That's what I need now.

I don't watch my hand while he tends to it. I keep my eyes on him. As I do, I find my gaze locked on his scars again. I remember how he got them. The moment I saw that gunship hit him, the moment I saw him unconscious in a pool of his own cerulean blood…that was the moment I first knew I was in love with him. I may not have realized it yet, but I knew. What other explanation could there be for how I tore up the gunship in retaliation and almost broke down when I saw him in pain? Every time I think of that moment, the fear of losing him for good starts to come back again. But right now, it's drowned out by all the other fears boiling inside me. For once, I start to look at those scars I hold so close to my heart and see them in a whole new light. For once, I start comparing them to my own and wonder if either will ever heal.

Before I know it, I'm reaching my left hand over and tracing them with my fingertips like I did the night of Omega-4, when we were first really together. The sudden, light touch is enough to make him freeze for a moment. Then he finishes bandaging the wound and turns all his attention to me. The moment his eyes meet mine, I feel the same warmth coming to my heart that emerged the moment I saw him lying next to me only a few moments ago. Only he can bring that out in me. Because he's the only person I really love. He calls me his "kalwen." After he told me what that means, how deep a meaning it has, I started wondering if it applied just as much to what I feel for him. Maybe it does. After all, he did say it meant "someone you devote your love to" and I can't imagine doing any less than that with him or anything close to that with anyone else.

I get lost in his eyes for a minute before looking at his scars again. My hand is still against them and his is slowly reaching up to meet it. At any other time, it'd be enough to get my heart rate steadily climbing and drive me to give in to the need to get lost in him completely. But right now, I'm too taken with the horror of what I've endured and what it might have done to me. I need to know that I can still come back from it. "…are they still fading?"

He sighs softly as he gently wraps his fingers around mine. "Slowly. Yeah." I was half-expecting him to make some facetious comment about how he knows they drive me wild (and they do). But he must know how much I'm hurting right now because he's much more concerned with comforting me. And the answer he gives is certainly one I can handle.

Slowly. Just give it time.

Still, that leaves me to wonder about the here and now. And if what I fear is really true, I don't deserve this…don't deserve him. All this time he waited for me to come back to him and I came back broken. That's not fair to either of us. I force myself to look away, turn my gaze to the floor. If I look at him now, I'll get lost in that selfish desire to keep him all to myself for just a few moments and I'll never be willing to pull myself out of it. He deserves better than I can give. Not that he'll ever accept that.

"…hey…" His voice is soft, warm, calming, enough in itself to bring me to the point of surrendering to him entirely. Then he touches me again, his talons combing through my hair tenderly so that I just barely avoid audibly reacting. I still don't move, though. As tempting as it may be, I won't succumb to that and wind up hurting him. Maybe it's better for us both if I just stay away. But he won't let that happen. His grasp on me tightens just enough for him to force me to face him again and I don't have the will to fight him off. The look in his starry blue eyes is enough to make me forget why I was trying to fight him at all. I can practically see it in his gaze: I'm right here with you. You never have to be afraid of anything again. More than I've ever wanted anything, I want to believe it's true.

In that moment, the good judgment I'm so attached to disappears completely. Before I can sum up a reason to stop myself, I reach up with the hand he bandaged and pull him closer. This is the only thing that's made me forget about all we've suffered through. When we kiss, my heart is in it 100% and nothing else in the galaxy matters. From the way he returns it, I can tell he feels the same way. We've never had any reservations for this. Come to think of it, we've never had any reason to. When you're really in love, you couldn't care less about holding back. Not for any reason that I know.

I'm desperate to stay in this moment as long as we possibly can, but I'm sadly deprived of even that when my lungs start aching. I'm forced to pull away, but I stay close. I can't bear to be any farther away from him. Not anymore. I don't want him to let go of the hand he's been clutching either, but I pull it free now so I can wrap my arms around him. He does the same to me. It's…

perfect.

But the longer I stay that way, the more the doubts come creeping back in. Sometimes it's like I can hear whispers in my head. That alone is terrifying, the stuff of nightmares, enough to make me fear the worst. Now that I have something to lose, I start to wonder not just What if it's true?…but What would Garrus say? I still don't want to expose him to all of it. It'd destroy him. Just the way he reacted to my apparent death is proof of that. But I can't face this any longer. I have to know. "…Garrus?"

"Sara?" My heart leaps when he says it. He never called me by my first name until the day he freed me. Now he won't stop. …I love it.

Still, my mind is much more focused on the anxiety eating away at me. I have to deal with it now, before I lose my nerve again. "…would you still love me if I wasn't human anymore?"

He tenses up when I say it. Clearly, he wasn't expecting this. Every second he doesn't respond is one in which my emotional state gets worse, like he's not answering because he knows it'll kill me. That's all forgotten, though, the moment he pushes me off enough to take hold of me so that I can't look away from his eyes when he gives his answer: "I love you no matter what, Sara Shepard. Nothing will ever change that."

I can see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice, feel it in the way he's holding onto me—what he said is more true than he can convey. The moment I see that, all my fears are gone. They don't matter anymore, not if it doesn't matter to him. As I realize that, I find that I'm smiling again. Figures he'd be the only one who could get that from me. I don't have any desire to stop, not when our eyes are still locked together, and I don't think I have the power to anyway. So I give in to it, close my eyes, and lean into him again.

He once asked me why I loved him. How a turian like him got a girl like me. Really, I should have been asking how I got him.

Growing up on Earth an orphan, my only real goal was survival. I joined up with the Alliance because I thought I could do some good with my life. Then Akuze happened. I was forced to stand back and watch as my entire unit was eaten by thresher maws. To this day, I wonder how I got out of that alive. Everyone who's brought it up has taken note of my uncanny survival skills or my remarkable will to live or something else along those lines. It's what got me into the running for the Spectres. But for weeks after that mission, I thought I'd never fight again. I thought it was my fault I lost everyone back there, that maybe there was something I could've done to save them. There wasn't. But that never got through.

Then he came into my life. In those days, it seemed my only purpose in life was the mission. The day of Eden Prime, that purpose turned almost exclusively to stopping Saren. I guess I should be glad it did. Otherwise, I'd never have met Garrus. I may never know what prompted me to accept his offer and bring him along for the ride, but it was the best decision I ever made. In no time, he proved he was an invaluable addition to the team. When I started talking to him off-mission, I started to see him as a real friend. Maybe there was more to it, but I didn't care in those days. I was too focused on what we had to do. No distractions. Distractions meant you weren't operating at peak capacity and any less could lead to disaster. I wasn't going to be the "sole survivor" this time.

After the Normandy went down, when I was brought back from the dead the first time, everything had changed. I woke up after two years to a galaxy I barely recognized and everyone I knew was out of reach. Then he came back into my life. That was what really brought me back. Suddenly, I had a true reason to fight again. Of course, it took Sidonis to make me see why. Part of me wanted to slip back into "full commander mode" and focus on nothing but preparing for the mission. If it was justified for Saren, it was more than justified for Omega-4. One wrong move in the Collector base and we'd all have ended up dead for sure. Or worse. But the more I thought about it that way, the more I realized that my so-called strategy wouldn't work. I was plenty distracted either way. And if I was going to die again, I wasn't going to die regretting that. I wasn't expecting things to play out the way they did. But nothing's ever made me happy like he has. I came to him because I needed someone to hold onto and somehow he decided I was worthy of his heart. I'll never understand why he thought I deserved that or how he came to love me. But I can't live without him. All I can hope is that I'll never have to.

Every thought in my mind is pushed away entirely when I feel him touch me again and every cell in my body starts to come alive with ecstasy. I bring myself to open my eyes again and I see a look of sheer sympathy inside his. For a moment, I wonder why he'd think I still need comforting after what he said to me just a moment ago. I get my answer when I realize that closing my eyes to take in our embrace pushed loose tears. Now I wonder where these tears came from. I thought they were all chased away at his assurance of his unconditional love for me.

…oh. These are…tears of joy. …wow…that's never happened to me before. Just the thought of it is enough to make me release a small laugh. He doesn't seem to understand why until I wipe the tears away and meet his eyes again, showing him in one look that he's just broken every wall I have. I told him once that giving your heart to someone is the most dangerous thing you can do because it gives them total power over you. Only now do I realize that sometimes that's exactly what you want, exactly what you need. So maybe it is the most dangerous thing you can do. But it's also the most freeing. The most trusting. And it's the only way to find the greatest thing that'll ever happen to you. I know he's the best thing that ever happened to me.

His hand is still pressed against my face. I lean into it, gently pressing my own hand to it to ensure he doesn't pull away. Never once do I let myself take my eyes off his. The gesture must mean as much to him as it does to me because he actually smiles. I'll probably never forget the first time I saw him do that. I wasn't nearly as familiar with turian expressions back then as I am now and it took me a moment to figure out what he was doing. Actually, I wound up asking him and the question in itself made him laugh. Even back then, the sound of his laughter was enough to make me smile no matter what was going on around me. As time went by, those feelings became stronger and stronger until the sight of his smile was enough to bring back that maddening desire to lock the world away and spend one more moment with him like the night of Omega-4—nothing but us and nothing holding us back. The best memories I have are of us doing exactly that.

He told me the day after our reunion that it was like he was getting a second chance with me, that this was his opportunity to fix some mistakes he made before Earth. I was honestly shocked by that. I couldn't possibly imagine why he could ever think anything was somehow wrong about the days we spent together during the war. I even asked him what he thought he had to make up for. The first thing he said was that he never told the love of his life how much he cared about her enough times before that final run. I may not have said it out loud, but I wanted to pull him closer and tell him that I couldn't care less, that if I had to choose between hearing him say "I love you" 1000 times and having just one more minute with him before running to the conduit, I would gladly have traded the words away. I didn't need to hear it, I knew he loved me. I knew it the moment we kissed at the top of the Presidium, when we danced at the casino, just from the look in his eyes as he begged me to come back alive from that last fight in London. Even if he knows how I feel, it hasn't stopped him from telling me how he feels at every available opportunity. I'm certainly not complaining. But I would much rather simply spend the rest of my days in his arms.

I don't know how long we stay this way before he decides to stand up again. I still don't let him move his hand until he turns it enough to take hold of mine. When he does, he pulls me up to my feet. Of course, I wasn't expecting him to do that and I end up stumbling forward and almost falling against him. He moves out of reflex, wrapping his arm around me to catch me before I ever fall. Before either of us knows it, we're locked together. Neither of us is willing to move from this. Our hands are still interlocked and we're holding each other close with our free hands. This is exactly what we both dreamed of when we were apart and we're not about to break it now.

Eventually, though, the exhaustion this whole experience has thrown out of my mind comes crawling back and I wind up nuzzling against him like I'm about to collapse here. He notices. He always knows. So he opens the door and starts leading me back to the bed, letting me turn off the bathroom light with the hand not still tight in his grasp. I follow his lead through the room, which now seems a lot darker than it was when I first woke up, until we actually reach the bed. Then I tug on his hand myself and bring him to face me again. I can barely see what I'm doing but I don't care, I don't need to. I know this one by heart. I reach up with my free hand and pull him over to kiss his scars. My personal way of saying "I love you. No exceptions."

Then I pull free from his grasp and climb onto the bed. But instead of ducking my feet under the covers, I pull my knees to my chest. When he looks my way, I nod to the other side of the bed. He knows what I'm asking. He knows as well as I do that I can't sleep without him. I tried the first couple nights after I was welcomed back to my ship. Either I couldn't rest enough to actually fall asleep or I woke up every 20 minutes from the worst nightmares of my life. After about an hour, I ended up calling him to my cabin and all but commanding him to stay the night with me. He didn't exactly put up a fight. I did the same thing the next night; that time, he went immediately from the door to the bed without question. The next night, I didn't even have to call him up before he came in to stay with me. We'd been doing that every night since. He's pretty much the only thing helping me keep my sanity at night and get anything close to rest. Sort of like the teddy bear I had when I was really little. Or that one vague memory of my mother singing me to sleep. Except, now, the nightmares are almost killing me. So, now, I need something stronger. Now…I need my Garrus.

He doesn't say a word before coming around to sit down next to me. Once he's there, he reaches over to take my hand again. It's enough to make me feel like everything's right with the galaxy for once. Like this is all I'll ever need.

"Never let me go again," I beg him, my voice weak as I make the same plea I give every night.

He answers by giving my hand a light squeeze, leaning closer to me. "Wouldn't dream of it."

That's all I needed to hear. I find my smile coming back again as I place my free hand against his and start running my fingers along it. I wouldn't move from this if he didn't eventually retrieve the covers for me. When he does, I lie down and rest my head on my pillow, letting him take care of the rest. Once he's lying down beside me, I wrap my arms around him and pull myself closer to him, feeling my body relax as I take comfort in the feeling of the love of my life holding me safely in his arms. After a moment of this, I feel his talons in my hair again and can't keep myself from shivering or my heart from skipping. I wish I could stay like this forever. But instead, I really do fall asleep.

I lose myself in memories again. But these are easier to face. Not the day the Shadows first threw me back into my body, when their top asari connected to their captive Husk long enough to see whose mind was controlling it, when she tapped into it and sent it to my organic form only to be driven mad by the process and die three days later. Not all the days I spent strapped down to that operating table while they "tended" to my body. No, this starts in the days when they were first attempting to convert me, when they locked me in a dark room with their last samples of Reaper technology, technology they had tampered with, unknowingly sending whispers of my own voice to my mind—the only mind any indoctrination could access anymore—and calling me back from the darkness if only for a few moments.

It didn't take long for the Shadows to recognize their error. A group of them finally pulled me out and dragged me straight to the armory to talk to him. Killian Orion, the mastermind of it all, the one who commissioned my return to turn me into a weapon. They locked the guns away the moment I entered the room. But I was more interested in something off to the side. Curiously, I walked over and picked up the bow and arrows set down there. Noticing that no one seemed to be paying attention at the moment, I drew the bow and sent an arrow flying at a target across the room. I hit the target, though not the actual bullseye. The Shadows quickly realized what I was doing and prepared to stop me but Orion called them off. I ignored the scene and tried again with another arrow. This one struck the target dead center.

After a few days, I overhear Orion discussing something called the Orpheus Protocol. Three weeks later, he comes to me, gives the bow entirely to my care and tells me what I have to do. I have 12 targets approaching Korlus. I have to find them and take them out, preferably using the specialized arrows he gives me that have been treated with species-specific poison. My gut tells me not to trust anyone involved in this. But until I know what's going on, no point in fighting it. Might as well go along. Maybe this will all be over when I do.

The moment they hear that the targets have reached the Shadows' base there, they send me in. It's not exactly hard to find them. All I have to do is follow the carnage. If nothing else, I can see why they'd be targeted—these guys are good. About five minutes after I head in, I've located them. They're headed through the door to the central chamber. I survey the situation as quickly as I can without being spotted. Two asari, a turian, a quarian, two krogan, five humans, and one synthetic. All heavily armed. No way am I taking them head-on here. But…the central chamber has an observation deck in the form of a balcony over the main doors. They'd never see me coming. So I move for the access ladder and get onto the balcony. Once I reach it, I see the synthetic beginning to hack into the main console.

"You can't take them all at once from that range," Orion's voice comes over my COMM, observing from the Shadows' headquarters, "And do not let them get their hands on that data!"

I start looking for a target. I don't have much time, from the look of it. But my eyes were made for targeting. In a matter of seconds, I catch sight of the central control unit for the console they're hacking into. I quickly fire off an arrow. I hit the target perfectly, though no luck provides an explosion hard enough to take out any of the people standing near it. On the contrary, it simply serves as a warning that leads one of the asari to throw out a barrier around them. Only way through that is to take it down as fast as possible, before they can form a plan of counterattack. Five arrows later, I break through. But I still don't get the chance to finish this before the turian pulls his gun and opens fire.

I duck away from the balcony and head back through the main hall. I can hear them following, so I fire back at them a few times. None of the arrows seem to hit the target and most of them are answered with gunshots. I start strategizing as I head for the nearest exit—I can't take them in a straight-up fight if they don't let up and give me room to maneuver, but there's no way they're fast enough to follow me out. Some of the Shadows are already headed over with an extraction shuttle, all I have to do is get to it. As I head out the main door, I see an opportunity to both slow them down enough for me to get away and possibly inflict some damage. There's a platform of shipping crates directly over the door, held in place by one "sturdy" lever. One arrow and it shifts just enough to send the entire platform toppling over on their heads.

I ignore the sound of their evasion and head straight for the approaching shuttle. As I make my way to it, I give one last look back at them. They all hit the deck when the platform came down, but the turian managed to get back up again. As I look back at him, he's already aiming a sniper rifle at me. One step away from the shuttle meant to get me out and I'm still not going to make it. But then he sees me looking at him and he freezes. Even from the distance of the entire landing, I can see his dark eyes widening in what seems to be shock. I don't bother wondering why. I just take the chance to get out.

Even as the Shadows fly me out to the ship that will take us back to the main base, I actually do begin to wonder. He had me in his sights. Why didn't he take the shot? …why did he let me go? I think back to the look in his eyes. As if he'd seen a ghost. As if he knew me before. But I've never seen him before in my life. …have I? …I…I don't remember anything before…before the Shadows came to me. It…it's not…it's all dark, unclear, barely existent, like—

Suddenly, something flashes across my vision. Not the shadowy, mechanical imagery that's been pounding through my pain receptors for months. No, this is different. I forget what I saw just as soon as I see it, but I…feel it there. It's enough to make me question everything. Starting with reconsidering, pondering in a whole new light, the query that's been haunting me since the moment the Shadows brought my senses to return: …who am I?

When Orion hears what happened, he's not happy. He seems to understand that I didn't have much of a chance, but he's not exactly an understanding person. The next day, it gets worse. One of the Shadows' techs has reported a signal from what seems to be their own data. Apparently, all Shadow encryptions are equipped with a homing signal embedded in the code, nearly impossible to perceive and even harder to disable—if the data is decrypted, it "calls home." From the readings the Shadows are receiving now, some of the data my targets intercepted on Korlus was actually retrieved successfully by their synthetic before I disabled the systems and they've managed to decrypt it. Orion is furious for about five seconds, about ready to kill someone, until he sees what data was decrypted. The data only indicates that the Shadows have a secret base on Ilium, and it was previously tampered with in case of exactly this situation. Part of me is interested, almost pleased, to hear that Orion now has a brilliant plan of how to proceed. Most of the rest of me is just plain unnerved at the look in his eyes as he says so.

We have some forward notice, so Orion sends me and a contingent of the Shadows to the Ilium base immediately. The false data designated the target location at the top floor of the tower, where one of the Shadows' contacts is. I enter that room through the vents and Orion instantly gives the order to kill the contact, saying the sacrifice is "regrettable but necessary." At this point, I couldn't care less and don't bother questioning before firing off the arrow. Once he's down, I head over to his console and plant the "Trojan horse data" Orion sent me in with. Only then do I head back into the shadows of the rafters overhead.

No alarms go off, but the targets do eventually reach the spacious office. It takes all of five seconds for the turian to figure out their objective is already dead. I have to move now. So I pull out a grenade I was supplied on the way here, activate it, and let it roll over to them. The unfortunate beeping sound accompanying it tips them off in time for them to jump out of the way of the actual explosion, but the force still throws them off. While they're down, I drop to the floor and aim as many arrows as I can aim at once, firing right at them. They manage to dodge them all and one of the human women gets up and takes hold of me biotically, throwing me to the floor. When I get up, I realize I dropped my bow during the attack, so I simply turn to face my targets. This time, they all see me and they all freeze. Once again, I keep myself from questioning it in favor of ducking to grab my bow back. By the time I have an arrow ready to fire, though, all 12 of them are aiming their own weapons at me. I start searching for another target, something that doesn't lead everyone in the room to start shooting past every defense I have. I find it when I see a structural weakness in the ceiling just over their heads. After a brief moment of confusion when I let off the arrow entirely away from all of them, the turian figures out what I did and signals for them to evade. As soon as they do and then recover, chaos ensues.

This time, I actually have a chance. My opening sneak attacks this time were much more effective and they almost seem off their game. No one is injured, but the incident with the collapsing ceiling managed to slow them down, giving me a serious advantage even against all 12 at once. Speed and agility play to my favor, and actually making use of the specialized arrows I have hidden in my quiver, like the explosive-charged ones, quickly proves to be a useful tactic. In a few minutes, my targets start showing me what they're capable of and the entire room seems to be in the middle of a tropical storm composed of bullets, biotics, and tech attacks. I use every advantage I can find, letting my archer's eye find and exploit windows they clearly missed. One by one, they start going down, incapacitated long enough for me to finish the fight and start getting clear shots at them so I can end this. But as I hear what they say…

they've started calling me "the clone." What? Do they actually think I'm…? Clone of who? Why? …or is that why I don't remember anything before the Shadows got my heart beating? Is it because they made me? …maybe…ugh! Forget it! What they say doesn't matter! Just finish them off while you still can! So I devote all my attention to the last target standing. The turian. He dodges my arrows for a second, giving me a chance to rush at him and start a full-contact fight. After a few moves, we throw each other back, forcing me to abandon the attempt at disabling him and retreat to plan A. The entire time we've been fighting, the few Shadows still moving through the building have been sending the turian poison into the ventilation systems—it was pretty clear that he was leading the squad back on Korlus, so he's target priority #1. All I have to do is keep him busy for one minute longer and it'll take effect. So I aim my bow at him right as he aims his gun at me.

We stare each other down, each ready to fire. I just have to keep it up until I have the chance to take him down for good…but something…something's not… As I look in his eyes, I find images creeping distantly into the back of my mind. Images of…of me and a turian. Images I don't recognize, that never happened but…but did. I push them from my thoughts, though. I have enough to deal with as is. I focus on the turian in front of me, the one my bow is aimed at. The poison must be getting to him now. His aim is wavering. He tries to steady it and doesn't take his eyes off me, but he eventually has no choice but to look away. The second he does, I have my shot.

I take it.

The arrow is tossed aside before it hits its target, who crumbles to the floor in weakness—the poison is definitely setting in. Some of the others, the ones I thought I took down, are back up and ready to try the fight again. I roll out of the way of the first attack and start countering every strike. They should still be worn out from the first round, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem to take them down again, but I have problems now anyway. First of all, I'm starting to run out of arrows and I might not be able to take them all down by hand. And secondly, the images I saw during my standoff with the turian are coming again, different now but just as powerful. Every second I spend in this fight brings them pounding on my mind. Pretty soon, it'll slow me down or even start to hurt. Somehow, my targets are bringing them out, so I have to get away. The solution is fairly simple when I see through the window a skycar soaring by. I jump out and land on it. Then I'm free and clear.

If Orion was mad after Korlus, he's too furious for words this time. In his eyes, I actually had a chance and I blew it. He still restrains himself, though, because we did manage to get the poison active on the turian again. Orion has officially written him off as either dead or out of commission and no longer a problem. And he makes a point out of the fact that I'm the one who made it possible, ensured our target's descent into the void. The part of me that's been hanging onto the life the Shadows have shown me is certainly showing some joy at the apparent triumph. But I can't deny the way my heart is aching, as if showing infinite grief for something I don't remember doing, or the way the images that have been breaking through my awareness are dimming, becoming less clear and more painful.

After a few days, our targets spring the trap we set with the data I planted on the console on Ilium. They're headed to the Citadel, where I will sneak attack them yet again, this time with a full unit of Shadows right behind me. We head to our destination and wait for the 11 left standing to arrive. But as we wait, I find the images slowly returning. Something about this place seems…seems…what's the word I'm looking for? Just ignore it. Focus on the targets. The sooner you finish the fight, the sooner you can get out.

Orion's strategy on this trap is beyond brilliant. Our targets are clearly trying to track us down, so the data set up for their retrieval on Ilium will lead them to two other phony locations, both already equipped with cannon-fodder contingents of Shadows, and then directly to this place, where they will be both already worn out and unsuspecting of the sudden appearance of a larger squadron of assassins led by me. Not to mention a jamming signal specifically designed to disable their synthetic companion will be following them the whole time, apparently interfering with their COMMs as well so that they can't be located or call for backup. With those odds? They'll be easily defeated. And rather than try the tactic I mistakenly employed on Ilium by trying to incapacitate them long enough to get a clear shot with the poisons, anyone taken down in the fight will be apprehended before they can get a chance to recover. Then past faults will be rectified and all of them can be handled at once.

It doesn't take as long as we thought it would for them to show up. Things go as planned for about four minutes. Then a concussive arrow I fired at the quarian sends her flying through the window. She'll definitely survive the fall itself, but she'll likely be injured if nothing breaks that fall. Knowing the way our targets seem attached to each other, she'll still come back to the fight and probably be the last one down before we make our big escape. So I turn my attention to one of the asari and start fighting her off. The fight goes reasonably well for about two minutes before something cuts in.

A gunshot goes off, flying through one of the windows and hitting the wall behind me. From what I can see, it was aimed at me and missed by no more than five inches. The only person I know of not fighting inside is the quarian, but she was using short-range weapons that could never be anywhere close to that accurate. I derail that train of thought, though, when I notice that the asari is just as confused as I am, giving me the chance to knock her out. The others instantly start to turn their attention to me, but that gives the other Shadows a chance to enact our plan. In a few moments, all our targets are down.

Then, right as we start to move out, I find that the turian is back. For a split second, I'm sharing the fury I know Orion is going to show at the fact that the poison didn't finish him. But something about him starts to eat away at my resolve. I don't understand it, this urge to give in, so I focus on stopping it. Best way I know of to do that is to kill him while I can. So I move in, prepared to deliver the final blow, but he dodges it. As he does, the other Shadows clear out to take our captures away. It's just me and him. Good. I put my bow away and jump in completely. As we start fighting each other off, I…I think something about his movements seems familiar. Not just from fighting with him on Ilium, but…but what?! What is it?! I shake it off. This isn't the time for this! I finally manage to pin him down but he throws me back. I'm down for a moment, probably just long enough for him to get a clear shot at me. I quickly set off another grenade. Just like on Ilium, he moves out of the way of the actual explosion only for the force of it to throw him back. This time, he falls out a nearby window. I pull myself up and head over to it, finding him on the ground outside. He's not injured, but the poison is starting to kick in again. I've finally got my shot. I just have to…

to…

Then it happens. I see him through the window, lying there weakly, and everything becomes clear. The images that have so distantly been trying to break through finally succeed and I recognize them all. Only a few come back, but they're the strongest of all of them. And they're exactly the ones to show me why I know this turian so well.

…Garrus Vakarian…

I remember now. I know why these thoughts have seemed so familiar. Not every image is truly recognizable, but a few come back to me with enough force to awaken the thoughts I left behind with them. Thoughts like No one knows me like he does, I wish I could spend forever with him, and How could I live without him?

One is stronger than the others, distinct enough for me to identify it as a true memory. A memory of sitting beside him in a cleared-out station after taking a bullet in the leg. I remember his hands against me as he tried to staunch the bleeding—our medical supplies had run out, but I don't remember why, and someone else was supposed to be with us, but they must have gone to get help. I remember taking sharp, tight breaths as the pain settled in. I remember him bringing me to look at his eyes, a feeling so strong I forgot about the pain entirely. I remember him trying to keep my mind off the wound until it could be sealed, asking me to "Tell me another one of those stories you love so much." I remember thinking it over and deciding against it, telling him "Why don't you give me one, Vakarian?" I remember losing myself in his voice. …yeah…I remember that.

Most of the other images come through in a jumbled haze, but they're still strong enough for me to see what they are. Vaguely, I see the look in his eyes tell me "I can't live without you either," feel his touch sending surges of pure emotion through me, hear his voice say "I love you" as he reached for me…and I let go.

As I see the truth, my breathing quickens with the shock. What have I done?! I left him. I've been fighting and hurting him. And, worst of all, I used the fight on Ilium as a distraction to let a deadly neurotoxin settle into his veins. I've wounded him in every way possible and, as a result, his life expectancy has been reduced to days—if not hours! I can't let him die! There has to be something I can do!

"What are you waiting for?!" Orion's voice suddenly breaks through my COMM, "Finish him!"

If I don't follow through, Orion will call the other Shadows back. I have to act now. I have to make the Shadows think he's dead and keep him from getting himself killed by trying to follow them alone. If I can disable him long enough for the Shadows to get away and the quarian to find him, we'll both stay safe long enough for either of us to have a chance. On instinct, I reach for my quiver and I find my answer.

He finally has the strength to turn up and look at me right as I nock the arrow and prepare to fire. He can't see it from there that he's woken me up. He doesn't even know who I am now. I can't exactly say I blame him, especially considering I barely know who I am anymore. So I can't blame him for closing his eyes so he doesn't have to watch as someone who looks exactly like the woman he loved prepares to deliver the final blow.

But I don't. I shift my aim just to the left of him before loosing the arrow. It hits the ground at his side. When he notices, he looks at me in shock and confusion. I return his look with sorrow and hope my eyes are still carefully blank. Then I head off after the Shadows and pretend not to break inside when I hear the gas arrow go off.

When we get to Omega, our captives are instantly thrown into closed-off cells in the tunnel networks. Apparently, Orion's been planning this for longer than I thought. I must be the best actress in the galaxy in my efforts to pretend what happened with Garrus never did, because Orion is practically overjoyed believing that our turian target is most definitely gone for good and we're moments away from ending all the others. It takes a lot of effort to hide how I feel absolute hatred growing inside me. Even to the moment Orion leads me into a control room.

"This console controls the security for the whole tunnel system…" Orion tells me, "…and the kill switch we planted in those cells. Hit the button and it's all over."

I know now what he's trying to do. His brilliant plan requires me to pull the trigger. What kind of trigger it is doesn't matter as long as they die screaming. This particular trigger will probably strike them all at once with poison gas and strengthen the jamming signal to the point of program termination. But the memories—That's what they are. Memories.—are coming at me freely now. I don't remember clearly, but I know that each of the people held hostage here are my friends from my old life. I can't let them die. I have to find a way to free them. But I can't do that without giving myself away in the presence of several dozen assassins. If I don't strike now, they're all done for; if I do, then I am. I start to reach for the console, pretend I'm ready to hit it, and prepare to—

Suddenly, every system lights up with the same message. "SECURITY BREECH DETECTED!"

Hoping I'm doing a remarkably good job of hiding it, I beam with delight when I realize who must have set off the alarms and how. Garrus!

Orion instantly starts dispatching Shadows to the tunnels. I follow from the sidelines as the assassins make their way to the fight and eventually move to retrieve the captives that haven't been saved yet. They only succeed in pulling out one of the asari and one of the female humans before the newly-freed squad can get to them, but half of said squad is in hot pursuit. It doesn't take long for the fight to reach an industrial district. That's when the squad converges on the assassins, this time headed by Orion himself, and break into an all-out fight.

As I sneak into the shadows of my chosen vantage point, I watch the fight. I take my time getting my bow ready and watch the people I once knew take on overwhelming numbers of highly-skilled assassins. They're amazing. I almost recognize their brilliant methods and they work together as well as if they'd been doing this their whole lives (which, in the case of the tank-bred krogan, I guess would be true). While I actually bring myself to nock an explosive arrow, I look over at Garrus. I recognize the move he just made most of all. Muscle memory tells me to couple his shot with one of my own. I just barely keep myself from giving us away by doing so, and the pain buried in his eyes as he remembers I'm not going to is almost too much for me to take. But as he takes that chance to observe the Shadows' movements and picks up on their attack plan, I take aim. I keep the arrow pointed at him but I wait until he looks my way to set it loose. When he actually sees me and jumps out of the way, only then do I let it fly. It hits the ground just in front of where he was standing. But it'd take an archer beyond even my skill to see that I was aiming there the whole time.

While everyone takes a second to realize what happened, I jump in. One of the krogan, the battle-master, almost instantly attacks. My shields take the bullets that draw closest and I manage to dodge most of the others. In between, I start firing arrows at him. It's mostly the bladed arrows, the kind of hits a krogan of his caliber could easily just shake off like a bee sting. He's not as agile as I am so he can't just dodge them, but he's strong enough that it doesn't matter. But when one hit draws a bit too close for him, he outright storms at me. Seeing as I'm right by a wall, the impact could break bones, so I instantly roll out of the way as fast as humanly possible. But I drop my bow in the process. If anyone tries to take a shot at me now, I might not be able to get out of it without giving myself away. Of course, I forget that completely when I turn enough to see Garrus slowing down. The poison is setting back in again, so strong that he doesn't even notice the Shadow coming at him until he's already pinned down. I can't help him, but I see the quarian moving to right as my krogan opponent starts at me with his shotgun.

"ENOUGH!" Orion sends out a powerful shockwave, throwing everyone in the room to the floor. The Shadows, of course, are the ones who recover first, instantly recovering their weapons and each pinning down one of my old friends. I quickly follow through and grab my bow back, moving to my target as someone else covers the krogan.

I pull out a concussive arrow as I step closer. I'm the one getting ready to shoot at Garrus. Figures. But if I can set off the arrow just right, it'll have the same effect as the gas arrow—he'll be unconscious and the Shadows will think he's dead. On the other hand, if I mess up, I'll give myself away for sure and wind up hurting him. I have to hope I'm not forced to take my chances.

Before I can ever get the chance to test my theory, Orion makes his move. "We've come too far." As he says it, he storms over to the quarian, the only one not held down by a Shadow since she was hit hardest by the blast from being closest to him when he set it off. "You're not standing in our way now." He draws a knife. I instantly recognize it as the one treated with quarian poison.

As I look at her, in mortal danger unless someone makes a move immediately, I find my memories of her break through completely as well. Memories of shotguns and combat drones, of geth and drive cores, of her being one of my best friends in the entire galaxy. Finally, her name comes to me as Garrus' did. Tali'Zorah vas Normandy.

I can't let her die. I have to save her no matter what it takes.

So I turn my aim from Garrus to Orion and don't hesitate to let the arrow fly free. The arrow detonates once it's close enough to him, throwing him back into a wall. As I rush at him, the fight breaks out again. Clearly, everyone present was shocked by my "sudden defection" and chaos ensued. I use that chaos to get a shot at taking down Orion for good. If I can do that, it's all over. It takes a minute, but I manage to get the upper hand. He's on the ground, disabled, likely for a few moments. Plenty of time to end this.

But as I turn to retrieve a bladed arrow from my quiver, my eyes catch on someone else. Garrus is staring at me in shock. When my eyes meet his, I find more of my memories of him coming free. I remember what we had together and why he means so much to me. Slowly, I descend entirely into visions of "When this is over, I'll be waiting for you," of "I don't know what I'd do without you," of This is what real love feels like. It's enough to paralyze me for a moment, make me forget everything around me as I lose myself in his eyes for the first time in much too long.

That moment is suddenly broken completely when a mechanical signal flashes through my mind, striking me hard enough to be painful. I clutch my head, clenching my eyes shut as I turn away. The only thing that shocks me out of it is when someone comes up behind me and grabs hold of me. I feel a pressure in my veins, then everything fades to black.

When I wake up, I'm back in the same dark room where the Shadows pieced me together. At first, I overhear their conversations, stuff about "tightening the leash" and…oh…! Now I understand what they're doing. They want to drive the memories away. They want me to forget everything about my old life. They want me to be what I was, just not who I was. They want to turn me into their perfect little soldier, an agent of insurgency. They made a good choice for a candidate. But I won't let it happen.

They know I'm fighting it now. So, at Orion's command, they don't hold back when the torture starts this time. But it takes a lot more than that to break me. I cling to the names slowly returning to my mind. I have to fight this, to hang on to the life I thought I'd left behind. If not for myself, then for them.

Garrus Vakarian…Tali'Zorah…Liara T'Soni…Ashley Williams…

I've always had a high tolerance for pain. It always came in handy in my old life. It comes in handy even more now. But the pain accumulates. Eventually, that tolerance I'm so fond of is hardly noticeable anymore.

Miranda Lawson…Jacob Taylor…Mordin Solus…

They are still taking care not to injure me past a few bleeding wounds that promptly seal. No question why—they want me back in action the moment this is over. Of course, they also want me to be an unquestioning slave of their grand scheme. Nothing in the galaxy will make me consent to that.

Kaidan Alenko…Thane Krios…Urdnot Wrex…

Orion finally starts to contribute. That's when I start to reach my limits. I'm saved from that when the techs find him and inform him that the systems have been hacked. I don't have time to realize what that means, though, before he leaves the room and all I've been enduring for hours now starts back up again.

James Vega…Jeff Moreau…Legion, Grunt, Samara, Jack, EDI…

Garrus Vakarian…Garrus Vakarian…

Sara Shepard.

Commander Sara Shepard. That's my name. That's who I am. The moment I remember that, everything else comes back to me. I was born on Earth on April 11, 2154. I lost my parents when I was young and lived on the streets for 15 years before enlisting with the Systems Alliance military. I was the sole survivor of the mission to Akuze. I'm the first human Spectre. I saved the Citadel from Sovereign, Saren, and the geth heretics. I saved humanity from the Collectors. I stopped the Reapers with the Crucible…at the cost of my own life.

When I remember taking control of the Reapers, the same mechanical flash that caused me pain earlier strikes again. It doesn't have as strong a physical effect on me this time, but the emotional reaction is more than I can bear when I realize what I'm seeing. Reaper code. Like they're still inside me…or I'm still a part of them.

After that revelation strikes me, I take the return of the pain as a mercy. It doesn't stop until the Shadows in the room make some comment about the door being remotely unlocked. I ignore their attempts at discovering the cause, focus on calming myself down. When I hear the door open, I brace myself for the inevitable.

It doesn't come. Instead, someone rushes to my side and undoes my restraints. "Don't worry, we're going to get you out of here." I know that voice. It's the voice I fell in love with.

It's him. He's here. He came back for me. I instantly sum up all the strength I have to call for him and open my eyes to face him.

"We just have to—"

"…Garrus?"

He freezes. They all do. Of course, they do. They thought I was a clone, they had scientific proof of it and everything. I would've thought the same if I hadn't seen what the Shadows were doing. But clones don't naturally have access to their antecedent's memories and the Shadows would never have given me a mental imprint with the memories attached if they were just going to go to all this trouble to suppress them. I'm real. They have to know that now.

I have to know it myself. I have to know this is all real and not some carefully crafted illusion to drive me past my breaking point. I need to know he's really here with me. So I use the rest of my strength to reach up with the hand he just released and I press it against his scars. I know that feeling too well to think this couldn't possibly be true. The moment I see that… "…Garrus…" …my heart leaps in my chest as I meet his eyes.

"…Sara?"

Any memory lingering of the pain fades away entirely the moment he says that. I instantly feel my strength returning. Our reunion is short-lived, though, because the Shadows locate us in no time and start pouring in to end this fight while they can. Next thing I know, I'm fighting at his side again. That's enough to bring me joy in itself. I wouldn't want anyone else at my six. Every wave of assassins we fight off, every line of banter we share—it makes me feel alive again. …it makes me feel like I'm home.

But when Orion joins the fight again, everything goes south. One by one, my old squad-mates are thrown to the dogs. There's no doubt in my mind they can handle it, but that significantly reduces our chances against Orion himself. Eventually, Garrus is the only one fighting him. When Orion starts to seize this chance to finish him off, I lose my sense and outright charge at him. The resulting fight between me and him leads Garrus to jump in. Next thing I know, a concussive shot goes off at our feet, throwing me back…and throwing Garrus and Orion through a window to the mine shaft. As soon as I'm back on my feet, I fight my way out of the chamber and to the elevators, heading down to the caverns where they will both undoubtedly end up. By the time I get there, Orion has Garrus pinned down. I manage to bring him off, but he still goes out of his way to injure the disarmed turian. Once they're separated, I duck into the fight again. The fight isn't easy. It only ends when I'm thrown aside and Orion has a hold on Garrus, enforced by a crushing grip on his broken hand. The biotic assassin has his gun armed. If I move now, no arrows at the ready, Garrus will get shot. I can't do anything to save him besides give in. So that's what I do. Anything is better than losing him.

Clearly, he thinks the same about me. Because it's only a moment later that he pulls out an arrow I fired off earlier and drives it into Orion's chest…taking a bullet in the process.

I watch in shock as Orion falls back and drops dead. It's over. But the cost was too high. I try to tell myself otherwise—it missed him, it didn't get past the armor, he's not bleeding to death, HE'S NOT!—only for him to prove otherwise when a stream of blue blood flows out of a wound in his left side and onto his broken hand. If my knowledge of turian physiology is right (As well it should be.)…it's fatal.

"GARRUS!" I rush over to him as he falls. I can still feel a pulse, but he's not responding and his breathing is weak. He said I had a nasty habit of dying and coming back to him on Omega. He has a worse one. Both times have been almost immediately followed by him being fatally injured and me begging him to stay with me. "No, Garrus, you can't! I just got you back, I can't lose you now!"

I put as much pressure on the wound as I can, try to stop the bleeding before it's irreversible. I try to ignore the sensation of cobalt-colored blood on my hand or the fading beats through his veins, try to instead think of some way to help. I don't have any medical supplies and I don't know where the Normandy is so I can't take him to the med bay…for once in my life, I'm helpless.

Then a silence falls over the caverns. I quickly realize it's the sound of the fight in the central chamber drawing to a close. There's no doubt in my mind who won. They can help. They have to.

I don't have a COMM connecting to them anymore, but Garrus does. I quickly tap into the frequency. "Tali! Liara! Please tell me you can hear me!"

"We read you, Shepard," Tali's voice answers, "Are you alright?"

I ignore the question entirely. I'm not the one who matters right now. "Forget that! You have to get down to the mining caverns!"

"The caverns? Shepard, what's—"

"GET DOWN HERE! NOW!" Before any response to my desperate cry can come, I turn off the COMM signal and return to my attempts to keep the love of my life alive. "Please don't leave me…you brought me back to life and I can't live without you."

I only distantly recognize how the elevators open to let the others in. I only distantly hear Liara come rushing over. "Goddess…" She reaches in, pressing her hand over mine to help stop the bleeding. "It's going to be alright, Garrus, just hold on."

I barely notice when James finally reaches us with the medi-gel supply. "Come on, Vakarian, don't do this to us…"

I never once take my eyes off of him. My right hand pressed to the cavern floor, still covered by the blood released before the wound was sealed, my left hand is against the scars formed last time we were reunited this way. I don't even register when Liara and James finally walk back over to the others, giving the report and calling to the Normandy to get the med bay ready to treat a critically-injured turian. I just sadly move closer to him, wrapping my right arm around him and fighting back tears. "…please…Garrus…come back to me…"

It's nearly a minute after my voice reaches him again that he starts to respond. He's actually waking up. For a moment, I can't believe it. Then his eyes open and find their way to mine. "…Shepard?"

Just hearing his voice again is enough to jumpstart the heart I didn't realize had fallen to a painfully slow rate. I can feel my joy returning for the first time in all too long. "Garrus…"

As the hand I have pressed against him begins to stroke his scars, he reaches up his uninjured hand to stroke my hair. "…Sara…"

he never called me that before today. I never thought I'd be so happy to hear someone use my first name. But when he does it? Hearing him use it brings an exhilarating delight to my heart that I've never felt before, strong enough to bring back the tears I've been fighting away. "It's me. …don't leave me again."

The moment I voice my plea, he uses all the strength he has left to pull me closer and kiss me again. I really have been dead until now. First he woke me up, now he's made me feel alive again. "Never."

No. I'm not leaving either. Never again.

"Sara…"

I wake up suddenly from the gentle prodding of his voice. I still have my arms around him, I'm still leaning into him. Slowly, I bring myself to open my eyes and look at him.

As soon as our eyes meet, he smiles again, a sight that lights up my world. "Hi."

I smile back, waking up happy for once in my life. "Hey." I lean in to kiss him, savoring every second while I can. We pull each other closer, so caught up in this passion that I doubt either of us notices how we end up going from lying there together to sitting beside each other again. I can't say I care. As long as we're together…nothing else matters.

But something feels wrong, like he's holding back. I pull away and meet his eyes, silently asking what could be bothering him. As soon as he sees the question in my eyes, he looks away out of…guilt? …oh. He's hiding something. He's never kept any secrets from me before and this one is killing him. That must mean he's worried about how I'll react. After what's been going on with me lately, I can't say I blame him. He's just trying to protect me, like always. I can understand. If he doesn't wanna tell me, then it doesn't matter. He has to know that.

I place my hand on his arm but I can't get him to look at me again. Then my gaze catches on his hand. His left hand. The one that was broken in my defense. I think back to that day, when he lost it at the thought of how I suffered and got himself injured in his attempt at retaliation, when I saw him hurting at my expense and gave myself up to protect him…when he surrendered himself to death to save me and just barely survived. The memory almost leads me to tears again. As carefully as if he's still broken, I reach to take hold of him with the hand he bandaged and run my finger against the newly-realigned bones. He looks at this unreceptively and still doesn't meet my eyes.

I smirk to myself as I find he's just given me the perfect opportunity to make use of a trick I discovered some time ago. I place my free hand against his scars again and stroke them with my thumb. Then, while his guard is lowered, I press my other fingers to the flesh just under his fringe and start rubbing it. For about half a second, he starts to react gleefully. Then he realizes what I'm doing and pushes my hand off. He gives me a look and I almost believe he's going to try telling me off. Then he smirks mischievously back at me. I barely have time to figure out what he's planning before he's already put his hand against my neck and around my ear and started tickling me. I shove his hand away the moment I get a chance, but I've already started laughing by then.

…huh. This might just be the first time I've really laughed since…well, before London. Figures he'd be the one to get it from me. Guess love really does give someone total power over you. …never thought I'd be so OK with that.

He smiles brightly at me as I recover from his impromptu assault. Then he notices that the way I frantically flinched away from him tossed my hair over my left eye and he reaches over to brush it back. No shiver sweeps through me this time. I'm too lost in his eyes, piercing blue shining with unspoken declarations of love. Seeing that, I almost want to outright tell him never to say it out loud again so that I can simply let it fill my thoughts every time I meet his gaze. Nothing would make me happier. "What were you dreaming about?"

I smile again as I know my answer. "…how you woke me up." How you saved my life.

We both know the moment I say it just how much we need each other, how deep these feelings go. In a moment, we've both let down our walls completely. As we move closer to each other, I reach over to softly scratch between his plates again, drawing a faint growl of pleasure like the purring of a cat. In return he starts to play with my ear again, not enough to send me into spasms but enough that I'm powerless to stop smiling. This…this is a moment I wish I could live in forever.

I've always known I could count on him. But he's done so much more for me than anyone should be capable of, more than he could ever know. I'm actually starting to feel like myself again. Like I can do more than put the past behind me, like I can outright forget the past year ever happened. Of course, it probably wouldn't matter either way. My life may have once been dependent on those struggles, but now it's the farthest thing from my mind. Nothing matters but this, the love I've found with a turian named Garrus Vakarian. Thanks to him, my life has changed. I can finally live the rest of my days happy and free. Because he loves me. Even when I'm broken.