Chapter 24 – Garrus

I've been sitting at the edge of a bed in the med bay for I-don't-even-know-how-many hours. Shepard lies in the bed in front of me, somewhere between asleep and unconscious. I haven't moved much since I first sat down here, after Chakwas finished tending to her. Three bruised ribs, minor fractures in her skull and right leg and arm, stab wound in her left side just shy of any vital organs. Worst of all, she took a hit to the spine, though it's thankfully not severed. Once Chakwas gave me the all-clear, I took my place beside her and just watched her sleep. I've watched the subtle rise and fall of her breathing, slower than normal beneath the bandages, only moving to occasionally run a finger through her hair or place my hand over hers.

Spirits, even like this she's beautiful.

I think back to how this happened. How I found a break in the fight and turned to find Kendrys pinning down Shepard. How she detonated her last explosive arrow before I could make a move, dropping them both into the lowest tunnels. How that left me desperate, fighting harder than usual just to get down to her. I didn't get a chance until the fight was finally over and by then hers was done, too. But we won. The tunnel the broken-down wall led to really did give us a path back to the surface, so our only issue was helping our injured commander through it and making sure she didn't fall asleep on the way there and risk slipping into a coma. So she leaned on each of us (switching partners constantly to stay the least bit mobile) instead of letting someone carry her and told us what happened. About how I was Kendrys' real target because I was the one who killed Orion ("Really?" Ashley had remarked, "We'd always assumed it was Shepard, since, you know, he had an arrow in his lung and all."), about how she'd finally taken Kendrys out for good, even about the hits she took to get there. It wasn't any easier to hear about it than it was to see the aftermath, but at least it kept her conscious until we got her to the med bay. And even then, I couldn't bring myself to leave her side.

Come on, Shepard, you have to pull through this. …I don't know if I could survive losing you this time.

I breathe deep, turning my eyes from her face. They only fall to her midsection again, her hands resting over it as it rhythmically rises and falls. I'm not even thinking when I move, but my hand finds its way over to her, pressing itself to her sternum to feel the steady thumping of her heart. This is the calmest I've felt it beating in a long time. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think I've never felt it pounding this light and slow. That could be attributed to the well-deserved sleep that last fight left her in, but there's more to it. I know her. I know she hasn't really felt at peace once in her whole life. Even when she was dead. She deserves so much more than that.

I'm right here with you. And I'm never leaving your side again.

Suddenly, she starts to shift positions, almost as if she heard me. Her eyes slowly come open. At first, they seem glassy and distant. Then the bright green spheres find their way up to me and they light up entirely, joined by a soft smile that makes me seem to come alive after hours of silence. "Hey."

I smile back. "Hey."

She sighs, letting her eyes close again as she leans into the pillow. "How long was I out?"

"About five minutes longer than I've been sitting here."

She opens one eye to give me a look. "And how long have you been sitting here?"

"Not a clue. I was too distracted to keep count."

"Four hours, 15 minutes, and 26.3 seconds," EDI chimes in.

I just barely keep myself from glaring at the ceiling again. "Yes. Thank you, EDI."

Shepard groans, turning onto her side to face me completely. "Just four? I think I need another twelve."

"No arguments," I tell her, "You've been through a lot."

"Since the day I was born."

I give her a look of sympathy before reaching over to take her hand. She gladly returns the hold, not moving otherwise. "Go ahead and get some rest. And if you need anything, just ask me."

I almost think I see that mischievous spark in her eyes again. I can almost hear her saying something like "Anything, huh?" and my own thoughts ringing with What'd I just get myself into? Instead, she clutches my hand tighter, smiling gleefully. "Alright. …come here."

I gladly kneel down beside her, reflecting the joyful smile until the very second she takes hold of me and pulls me up against her. Even though she's too weak to take this very far, she doesn't ease her grip on me at any point, as if she's worried I'm even capable of letting go of her when we're pressed together like this. The hand not tight in hers reaches up to her hair, careful to stay away from where she took those hits to the skull, and gently presses to bring her closer. She doesn't fight me off, so I stay like that, falling into the feeling of her hair between my fingers, of her hand clutching mine lovingly, of how she kisses me as long as she's able to and even when she pulls back stays as close as she can get.

My senses are so caught up in her that I don't hear the door opening, so I don't know there's anyone there until an uncomfortable "Ahem!" sounds from the front of the med bay. I hesitantly pull back from the embrace with Shepard, though she doesn't let me go far even when she turns over just enough to see who's there.

Liara is standing by the door. "I'm sorry, but I found something I thought you should hear."

Shepard still doesn't let go of me or even respond other than offering a simple nod as if to say "Go ahead."

Liara steps over. When she notices that Shepard isn't about to let me change positions or do so herself, she sits down on the bed beside us, where I'd been before Shepard woke up. Then she turns on her omni-tool and sifts through the data to what she came to inform us of: "I was going through the data we took from Kendrys' network. I found the Shadows' registry and went through it, like you suggested, and found that only a handful of operatives remain. One of them is the final of Orion's lieutenants, a salarian named Jethran Tallus. I thought the name sounded familiar, so I cross-referenced with my own database. He's one of the Shadow Broker operatives, likely the mole who collected the intel on the Normandy and all of us for Orion. It seems that he was hesitant to comply with the Orpheus Protocol and quit the Shadows' employ entirely when Kendrys took over—he was apparently the deciding vote when they elected to excommunicate her and was quite adamant about the decision. When I confronted him about this, he confirmed it was all true and that he was never involved with the Falcon. He's willing to keep his allegiance with me instead. Well, with the Shadow Broker, at least."

Shepard seems pleasantly surprised by this news. "Maybe it's the meds talking, but I'd say that's a fair deal."

"Allow me to be your voice of reason when I say it sounds like one to me," I agree. It certainly sounds suspicious, especially that he would openly confess it all to Liara, but crazier things have happened. And if anyone can handle what one salarian can deal, Liara can. Now that she knows who to watch, it wouldn't be that difficult. Besides, we don't actually need to trust him. We just need to trust the Broker.

Liara gives a nod of agreement. "I'll keep him in my network then. And discreetly have one of my other informants keep an eye on him. The Shadows should never be a problem again." With that, she gets up and prepares to leave the room. "Feel better, Shepard."

Shepard smirks back, laying her head on my shoulder as her arms stay wrapped around me. "Believe me, I will."

Liara simply grants her a smile of approval and steps out.

As she leaves, what she said really sinks in. Killian Orion is dead. Kendrys Falcon is dead. Irana Zeranos is dead. The asari lieutenant (Shame we never learned her name, I almost consider sarcastically) is dead. Jethran Tallus has gone turncoat for Liara. What's left of the Shadows is as scattered as the remains of Cerberus. Shepard's finally finished our dealings with the Reapers.

With a sigh, Shepard sees what I do: "…it's over."

I can't deny I'm relieved to know that. But with Shepard not her usual playful self, I step back into the role of my typical snarky self instead: "Don't worry," I smirk, "I'm sure you'll get us into some kind of trouble sooner or later."

She laughs briefly. "Well, after everything we've survived, I'm not letting us die of boredom now."

I laugh back, taking in the sight of her smile until she lays her head against mine. I close my eyes to take in the sensation for as long as I possibly can. Everything feels right when she touches me. Having her here means more to me than anything. Of course, when she turns to lay her head on my shoulder, I get the feeling she's about to fall asleep again, and it's probably not a good idea for her to be in this position for that long. So I carefully lead her to pull back. "You really should be resting." She seems a little upset at the reminder but consents to lie back down. As long as I keep hold of her hand and don't take my eyes off hers.

Shepard then looks out the viewing glass, across the mess hall to the XO office to which Liara has already retreated. "…we're that couple now, aren't we?"

I look at her curiously. "What do you mean?"

"The kind that's so happy together they make everyone else around them completely uncomfortable."

At that, I start laughing. "I'm actually OK with that."

"I didn't say I wasn't, love," Shepard smiles, leaning into her pillow wearily.

I simply smile back, carefully brushing her light red hair away from her bright green eyes. "I can never be any less when I'm with you, kalwen." She smirks softly at the use of the word. Knowing what it means, she never gets tired of hearing it. But the sight of this reaction draws out something I've been holding back for far too long. I need to say this now. "I don't know what's going to happen now. But I know that I can't live without you anymore. I don't just love you. I need you. And I want to be with you every second from here on out. No matter what it takes."

For a moment, she simply gives me that same light smile she always gives when I tell her how much she means to me. Suddenly, though, her smile fades to sheer astonishment as she realizes what I really mean and brings herself slightly upright to better meet my gaze. "…are you asking me to marry you?"

Those words strike me. I knew what I had intended, but I'd never actually given the thought to words like that. But hearing it only makes me certain of it. "…yeah. I guess I am."

She smiles… "No."

…I have never been in shock until now. "'No'?!"

"Ask me again when I'm not hopped up on medi-gel and painkillers," she sighs, falling back against the bed.

Oh. Right. Forgot about that. I finally let myself give off a small laugh. "Alright. I can wait."

She smiles as she turns onto her side again. "Good." She keeps her eyes on mine for a moment longer before letting her eyes drift shut, breathing deep as she buries herself against the pillow.

I never once take my eyes off of her. My hand reaches up to her face, one talon softly pushing her hair away from her eyes. She smiles brightly again when she feels me touch her, and that makes me smile in return. But she needs to rest, so I start to my feet to head back to the battery and give her space to heal—

Before I can move, she grabs my arm as tight as she possibly can. "I didn't say you could leave, Vakarian."

It takes me about three seconds to realize why she needs me to stay. I finally crawl into the bed beside her and wrap my arms around her, letting her lean against me. "Anything to help you sleep better."

But she doesn't cling to me the way she did before. She simply leads me to hold her close. "…the nightmares are gone. I just need you here."

The nightmares are gone. The nightmares are gone. It really is finally over. My Sara is back. The thought fills me with so much absolute joy that I find myself holding her tight and just barely restrain myself from holding so tightly that I could aggravate her injuries. Still, she returns it just as jubilantly if a bit weaker.

This moment is perfect. All that exists is this embrace with her, each of us clinging to the other. Every breath I take brings her scent into my lungs. When she does move, it's to press her hand against my heart and feel the steady beat, a gesture I reciprocate without conscious thought.

"It's funny," Shepard whispers to me, her voice joining her heartbeat to fill the silence fallen over us, "Before we went back to Earth, the day the war ended…you said 'it's time we brought you home.'" She nestles herself against me so that I feel it when she smiles softly. "…I was on the Normandy…I was with you…I already was home."

I am, too. I belong here at her side. I always did. Every moment in my life led me straight to her and she always came back to me when something separated us. Don't humans have a saying about that?

She leans back enough to reach around and kiss my scars one more time before lying back down. Even when she does, she whispers to me again: "I love you, Garrus."

For a second, I let the moment fade slowly, every beat of her heart ringing with her voice saying the words I had hoped to hear before I ever knew what I really felt for her. When the moment is gone, I let my hand move from her heart to her face, gently bringing her to where I can kiss her again. "I love you, Sara."

She presses her hand against mine, taking hold of it so she can place both into the space between our hearts. Then she nestles against me again and her heartbeat gradually slows down. And just like always, mine follows her.

No call from EDI or jolt of the ship wakes us up this time. And when I wake up, Shepard is in the exact same position I left her in—nestled against me with one hand tightly clutching mine against her heart. She hasn't moved at all. That could be blamed on the meds, but I choose to take it as proof of her claim: the nightmares are finally gone. I find myself smiling at the realization as I dare to hold her the slightest bit closer. She's really come back to me. And I never have to worry about losing her again.

Then the med bay door opens. I glance up and find EDI there. There's not a doubt in my mind she was standing outside the door for some time waiting for one of us to wake up.

Careful not to do anything that could disturb Shepard (which, unfortunately, includes moving too much), I signal for her to come closer. "What is it, EDI? Something you couldn't say over the COMM?"

"The PA system merely transmits audio messages," EDI answers, following my lead and keeping her voice down, "I had to transmit physical property." Then she holds out the property in question.

I quickly—and carefully—pull out the hand not tight in Shepard's grasp and take it from her. "Thank you."

She simply offers a small smile and a brief nod of acknowledgement before stepping back out of the room.

Once she's left, I look down at it. The star I got Shepard that day during the war, the one she gave back to me as a promise that we would both live through this, the one I had EDI seal to a band of Earth metal knowing what I would do with it the second Shepard—

Then I hear her. —woke up. I look back and find her slowly opening her eyes and, at the sight of me, smiling. "Still here?"

I smile back as I give her hand a light squeeze. "Wouldn't dream of letting you wake up alone."

She smiles brighter for a second before forcing herself to sit up. Though she still doesn't let go of my hand.

"Are you back yet?"

She forces herself to let go then, stretching her hand out as she tests her injuries to see how they're healing. Once she's confirmed that the healing process is on track and the meds have worn off, she sighs and nods. "Yeah."

I simply keep my eyes on her in anticipation. I don't need to say it. She knows what I'm asking.

When she sees the look I'm giving her, she confirms my suspicions. Her smile is so bright I feel my heart light up. "…yes. The answer is yes."

I don't have the words to describe the absolute joy that ignites inside me at those words. Apparently, the smile I give her reflects that, because I see her smile even stronger in response. I'm dying to grab her and bring her in to kiss her, but instead I open my hand, giving her the ring made of Palaven rock and Earth metal.

She laughs gleefully as she takes it. "You've been planning this, haven't you?"

"Yes, I wanted you to wind up in the med bay half-conscious so I could ask you to marry me while you were, and I quote, 'hopped up on medi-gel and painkillers.'"

"You know what I mean," she gives me a look even as she slides the ring onto her right hand.

I simply take hold of that hand, the familiar—natural, by now—feeling altered by the presence of the metal ring. "A few days, yeah. Like I said, I'm not planning to ever leave your side again. So I just figured 'why not?'"

She lets a small smile come back through, her eyes glistening as she does. "No reason I can think of." She then glances down at the ring for a second. "Though I'm having trouble picturing the wedding."

…oh. "Yeah…didn't exactly think about that."

She smirks as she puts her hand down. "Well, we've got all the time in the world to worry about that now. …besides, worst case scenario, we can always elope."

"And I'm having trouble picturing that."

"Fair enough."

For a moment, I look her over, as if I'm not planning to see her every single day for the rest of my life. But now that the rest of our lives is starting, I can't hide that some worries are creeping in. If only because I'm pretty certain no other turians and humans have ever crossed this line before. "Look, Sara," I find myself saying, "I'd understand if you think that…you know, maybe we weren't meant to…"

Once again, she ceases my worries by pressing her hand to my scars. Her eyes lock onto mine, green gently brightening as a soft smile takes hold. Her left hand unmoving, her right reaches down to my left and brings it into her reach. Her eyes turn from mine then. When I turn to follow her gaze, I see why: she's turning off my translator. For the first two seconds after it's disabled, she simply meets my eyes again, no need for words at all. Then she presses herself against me and whispers into my ear. In all she says, all I understand is the sound of her voice, but something to the musical flow of unfamiliar words makes my breath catch. I wrap one arm around her to hold her here, as close to me as she can get, and close my eyes until she stops talking.

As she pulls back to meet my eyes again, she takes a moment to smile before turning my translator back on for me.

I watch her do it. Her foreign message still rings through my mind, though the words themselves fade from my memory the more I find myself incapable of translating them myself. As much as I'd like to just keep to the memory of her voice in her own language, pure and unfiltered, I can't contain my curiosity: "What did you say?"

She answers by pressing herself against me again, this time to kiss me. I return it purely out of reflex, holding her in place as I do so. After about five seconds, she pulls back enough to simply lean against me instead. "I said 'I love you with all that my heart can give. I'll never let anything separate us ever again.'"

Wow. She really is a romantic. No wonder she's so into the mythical stuff. Of course, when the thought strikes me, I shake my head. "As much as I love it when you do stuff like that, you've gotta stop—you know I can't top it."

She laughs. "Alright, how's this? As soon as I'm medically able to again, I'm going to kiss you unconscious."

I laugh back. "Much better."

Her laughter increases, light and mirthful. That I can fully commit to memory. After a second, though, she sighs. "You know, we're gonna have to tell the crew about this."

"Not to mention my dad and Solana." After what we've been through, my dad was a bit more forthcoming with the idea of me hanging around a human Spectre. I still expected a stronger reaction to the news that I was dating her, but that went surprisingly well, too. I sincerely doubt the fact that I'm planning to marry her is going to go over as well.

Shepard seems to follow my thoughts, because she takes a while to respond. "…OK, you win that one."

I just give her a brief glance of amusement before taking her hands in mine. "Don't worry. Nothing's changing my mind."

She answers that by sliding her hands away from mine to wrap them around me. "I wasn't going to. Nothing's changing mine either."

I lose the will to move again, blue eyes locked with green. We're really doing this. I wrap my arms around her the way she has hers around me, carefully avoiding the bandages and instead focusing on the feeling of her heartbeat again. The thought of spending a single day without that feeling coursing through my hands is beyond unacceptable. "…never let me go again?" I ask her as I lean my head against hers.

She grants me one last smile before laying her head down on my shoulder. "Never."

I lose myself in the embrace again. For the life of me, I couldn't tell anyone how long we're like this before Chakwas comes in to check on the injured Commander. When she's done tending to her and confirms that she will be back to normal within the next week, she also informs us that the squad is preparing to go their separate ways again. Guess I can't blame them. They have lives outside of fighting assassins with us and, unlike last time, Shepard's current state of health isn't anything for them to stay back for and no injuries of their own are severe enough to warrant ongoing observation. Since Sara's spinal injury won't let her even stand up, though, they all have to come to the med bay to say their goodbyes before heading out and promising to stay in contact.

Only downside to that is that we end up telling them about our newly-made plans in the med bay while Sara is, like I mentioned, too injured to stand, but considering I actually made the proposal under the same circumstances, I guess there's no point in complaining.

About three hours after that, Wrex and Grunt have headed out for the first passage to Tuchanka, Jacob is headed back to his family, Miranda is headed back to Oriana, Jack is headed back to her biotic students, and Samara is…actually, she neglected to mention where she was going, though I'm fairly certain we'll be seeing her again before long. EDI, Joker, Liara, James, and Ash simply head back to their stations on the ship itself. Tali, however, calls Rannoch for a direct transport instead of simply leaving the ship with the others to find passage at the nearest spaceport; she gives some transparent excuse about security and infection possibilities, but I think we all know she just wants to stay on her home-ship for a few hours longer.

I stay at Shepard's side all day. She certainly doesn't seem to mind. When she finally forces herself to endure the next dose of the painkillers (about the time her attempts to argue with Chakwas not to keep up the meds is met with a surge of pain through her spine, bringing me to glare her into going along with it) and falls back on the bed, she moves to one side of it without question. I respond in kind, lying down beside her and wrapping my arms around her one more time. She nestles herself against me again and silently drifts into sleep.

And I stay with her through the night.

THE END…?

Shoot. I was really hoping this one wouldn't end up being longer than the first story, but, obviously, that didn't happen. :/ Oh, well. It still turned out OK.

So, just like last time, I will be doing a two-part epilogue for this and I will be posting it separately. Unlike last time, I don't have it mostly finished at the time I'm putting up this chapter, so I don't know when I'll have it done and ready to go online. I will DEFINITELY try to get it up within the next few weeks, but it probably won't be next Saturday like it was for the first one. But it's coming, and I hope you enjoy it. I also hope you enjoyed this one. Please review and thanks for reading!