One Last Goodbye: Until the End

Yeah...so remember how I said I'd definitely get this up before the end of March? Well, that was before I realized just how much I had to write and then had a few stints of writer's block, a brief stomach flu, several school projects, a couple family situations, and some technical difficulties. Hopefully, the sheer length of this makes up for that. ...speaking of which, I apologize for the length. I never actually intended it to be this long, but the story just took over. I hope you still enjoy it and thank you for reading. :)

Part 1 – Sara Shepard

"You really should be resting," he'd said. I knew it was true (my injuries confirmed it), but how was I supposed to get any kind of sleep when all I wanted was to fall into him again? Not that my current condition allowed that, but I still wanted it. The way he touched me as he gently pushed my hair back from my eyes, leaving my gaze locked on his, just made that desire even stronger. I was lying there in a medical bed, my mind ringing with how he called me "kalwen"—the deepest connection a turian could make, the way he explained it. But even more than I wanted to get back on my feet, I wanted to stay here with him like this for as long as time allowed.

The look in his eyes changed when he saw me give off a small smirk at the use of the turian word (Never knew that turians had such strong terms of affection, but I guess that's universal.), but I couldn't tell why or how until he started talking again: "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."

Between my injuries and the large doses of medication I'd been given while I was semi-unconscious, my mind was moving pretty slowly. For a few seconds, I was simply enjoying the sound of his voice. Then the words themselves reached me and the meaning started to come through. So it took me a moment to realize that there was more to those words than just the obvious confession of love I'd grown used to since my return. Just to be sure, I forced myself upright enough to better meet his gaze when I asked for confirmation: "…are you asking me to marry you?"

He actually seemed stunned for a second or two, like he hadn't realized himself that it was what he was asking until I said so. But then he considered it and gradually started to brighten as he knew for certain. "…yeah. I guess I am."

I found myself smiling. I might not have known it all along, but I had been dreaming of this moment for a while. Of course, like I said, my mind was kind of hazy and in no position to be giving a life-changing answer, so… "No."

He was more in shock at that moment than I've ever seen him. "'No'?!"

"Ask me again when I'm not hopped up on medi-gel and painkillers," I sighed as I lay back down.

That made him understand. In response, he let off a small laugh. "Alright. I can wait."

I smiled again as I turned back onto my side. "Good." For a moment, I kept my eyes on him. I took in every aspect of the one man I loved most in the entire galaxy. Then I let my eyes drift shut and kept the image in my mind. I felt his touch on my face again, once more sliding my hair away from it, and I smiled. But then I felt him pull away and heard him get up to leave. I quickly reached out, grabbing him by the arm as tightly as I dared to. "I didn't say you could leave, Vakarian."

It took him a few seconds, but he complied, instantly crawling into the bed I was essentially trapped in. Once he was beside me, I wrapped my arms around him, leaning into him as he returned the embrace. "Anything to help you sleep better."

In response to that, I let out a light smile and led him to bring me closer to him. "The nightmares are gone. I just need you here."

That statement seemed to make everything right with the world again for him, if the way he held me even tighter (though, thankfully, not too tightly) was anything to go by. I responded in kind, though not as vigorously as I would've liked to.

For a moment, I lost myself in him again. The way we were holding each other close was enough to make me forget everything else, especially with my mind already clouded by painkillers. But as he filled my senses, a thought struck me from amidst the fog. "It's funny," I told him, "Before we went back to Earth, the day the war ended…you said 'it's time we brought you home.'" I repositioned, nestling myself against him as I gave off a soft smile he couldn't see. "…I was on the Normandy…I was with you…I already was home." I felt his reaction without seeing it in his eyes like I usually did. I felt the way he took comfort in the thought, as if it was exactly what he thought about me all along, too. It was enough to draw me back so I could kiss his scars again before really lying down here, still huddled against him. "I love you, Garrus," I whispered to him as I laid there, the deepest, most undeniable truth I knew.

He stayed in the silence for a moment, his hand pressed to my back where he could feel my heartbeat. Then his hand moved around to my face and he pulled me just enough out of my current position to kiss me. I reveled in it for as long as I could—which was both just a little too long for my lungs to take and way too short for my heart to get by on—before he let me back into my place against him and whispered into my ear in response: "I love you, Sara."

Without thinking, I took his hand in mine and placed both in what little space remained between our parallel heartbeats, the perfect place for each of us to feel the other's. Once I was convinced I was as close to him as I could take, I closed my eyes and lost myself in the rhythm of his heart. Sleep took hold of me within seconds.

I woke up slowly, like usual. I found him still next to me, in almost the exact same position I left him in when I fell asleep. Just the sight of him there was enough to make me smile again. "Still here?"

He smiled back, gently squeezing the hand still entwined in his. "Wouldn't dream of letting you wake up alone."

I took a moment to openly display my utter joy before bringing myself to get up.

"Are you back yet?"

As much as I wanted to keep hold of his hand for as long as possible, I let go—keeping my own in the same position for hours was not good on it and I had to stretch it out. Once I was satisfied with the results and had confirmed that my mind was clearing, evidence the meds were wearing off, I sighed and nodded. "Yeah."

He simply kept his eyes on me in silence. After a moment, I realized why: he didn't need to say anything. I knew what he was trying to ask.

Now that I was thinking clearly, I knew so absolutely what to tell him that I smiled brighter than I had since the day he found me on Omega. "…yes. The answer is yes."

I never get tired of looking back on that moment. It was one of the greatest of my life. Almost all of which were with him. Even now, as I look out at the sky outside my window, the stars I love are overshadowed by the memories. But, tonight, it's not just because of the memories themselves.

…five years. It's been five years since we had people hunting us down. It was five years ago today that the memory I'm clinging to took place. One week later, I was back on my feet. Garrus and I spent the next few days with me showing him around Earth like we talked about the day before the final battle with the Shadows. After some time on the Normandy, we went back to Palaven to tell his family in person about our newfound plans. …I won't go into detail about the mixed reaction the news received. Less than a year later, we were married on the Citadel. We spent the next two years either on the Normandy or in our apartment on the Silversun Strip. Then the time came to finally cash in on the plans we made the first time we went to London, the day the Reaper War ended.

And that's where I am now: the room we share in our house on a garden world that has yet to be truly settled—out of the way, a wonderful view of the stars, and, just like we planned, warm and tropical.

The thought brings a smile to me. That we're finally living the life we dreamed of…it's more than I could've asked for. Only now do I realize I was never truly happy until he came into my life. And that happiness reached its pinnacle the day I left the last of my life without him behind me—the day we had the first ever human-turian wedding. Over the next few months, all our old friends had to get used to calling me by my first name like he does, seeing as how my days as Commander Shepard were now over with. But, as much as we stay in contact, they adjusted better than I thought they would. In fact, that's what I'm doing now: going through my omni-tool, checking on each of them.

Liara is still active as the Shadow Broker, operating from a new base on Thessia. Ironically, one of her best agents is now the ex-Shadow Jethran Tallus, who just two years ago (after three years of constant surveillance with no sign of approaching trouble in the form of newly-recruited assassins) earned enough of her trust to receive the title. Her work is actually doing some good out there. Guess I couldn't think of a better Broker if I tried.

Tali remains the faithful admiral, watching over Rannoch to ensure her people and the geth are still getting along and that no other trouble comes their way. So far, nothing bad has happened on that front; the geth help the quarians restore their home-world with every passing day and Tali claims they're even developing some organic traits alongside typical curiosity from spending time with the quarians, especially the younger ones—win-win, you could say. Things are going so well in her new home that she spent our last video call without her mask on. She really is beautiful.

Ashley and James are both on active duty with the Alliance, likely to stay that way for even longer than I did. They seem to keep close together more than necessary (which, though neither will admit it, is probably because they both miss the days they both spent with the team), but that's abated every time Ashley has to work as Spectre and James has to work as an N7. They're both good at what they do. And both thankfully clear of having to carry both titles at once.

Wrex has yet to let anything disrupt his place as head of the krogan alongside Eve—sorry, Bakara. Last I heard, the population on Tuchanka was increasing rapidly. Since none of them have shown any intent to carry out a new Rebellion, the Council might actually cave soon to give them the colony world they've been begging for since the Reaper War ended. I also heard that Wrex is doing a pretty good job leading them all. His skills as a father…yeah, I'm not touching that one.

Miranda stays close to Oriana, making sure she gets to live her life safe and happy. No Cerberus remains have come out in the last four years, leading her to believe we're finally clear on that front, and her efforts quickly shifted to monitoring for any silent Shadow cells; she found one two years ago and took it out without any difficulty, but the fact that she hasn't found any others insinuates they're out of the picture for good, as well. Leaving her free to focus on her sister and helping the Alliance.

Jacob has been focused on his wife and child since before I came back. He really is a better father than his own was. Bryn is still working as an Alliance scientist, her team consisting of all the ex-Cerberus researchers she defected with during the war, and he still works at her side, guarding their lab. As far as I can tell, they've been living the life they always wanted, too. Good.

Jack has kept up her work tutoring the Alliance's biotic trainees, especially since Grissom Academy got back up and running about three months after London. She can complain all she wants about how everyone sees her as "dependable" now and even keep up the putdowns at her kids' expense, but it's obvious how much she cares about them and enjoys the life she's made. Seems to me she's finally found her place in the galaxy.

Grunt has been running Aralakh Company, if I understand correctly. As the best warrior in Clan Urdnot, a title he's earned more than once, he's the best leader the commando group has had in a long time. The fact that he's tank-bred seems to be almost forgotten. He's gotten the respect he deserves, at least. And he's found where he belongs.

Samara stays ever the watchful Justicar. Though she has made a point in recent years of saying she might not have much time left, any threat of imminent mortality certainly hasn't slowed her down. She's going as strong as ever, still fighting the good fight, righting wrongs all over asari space. She also seems to be keeping up a good relationship with Falere. I'm happy for that.

EDI and Joker are still going strong, unsurprisingly. They have to stay close to the Normandy, for obvious reasons, so they've made it their job to ensure no harm comes to the ship I call home in my absence. The job isn't relatively hard, considering the Alliance isn't reassigning it any time soon (either out of respect for me or because Joker told Admiral Hackett I'm alive and he resolved to leave it for me), but it's still nice to know that the best pilot in the galaxy and his AI girlfriend—two of the best friends I could ask for—are looking out for what I once held most dear.

I close down my omni-tool. They're all still doing fine for now. I just needed to know that. If there's anyone in the galaxy I could trust to survive whatever comes their way, it'd be the 12 of them, so I can count on none of them dying any time soon. But I still miss them. Maybe they know that and it's why they typically come over on some important day so we can be together like old times. Sometimes, EDI and Joker even go so far as to highjack the Normandy for a few hours so we can have "one last ride." It never does feel like the last one. I always know we'll be going back to that ship again eventually.

I look out the window again, like I always looked out the viewing glass over my bed in the captain's cabin of the Normandy. It's different watching the stars from here. Not just because they're standing still instead of flying past at light speeds, but because…well, they seem farther away. I'm so used to being able to just bring us close to each of them, and now all I can do is watch them. But I don't feel trapped. I actually feel free. Because this is what it's like for people who aren't constantly fighting for their lives. This is what it's like to—

Those thoughts are cut off. For a split second, I see flashes of Reaper code replace my view of the world around me. I jump slightly from the jolt it brings, but I don't shock back and clutch my head in a brief onslaught of pain. The attacks—sorry, the signals from the Reapers—are finally dying down. If Liara and EDI's original predictions were accurate (which they probably are, considering it's Liara and EDI I'm talking about), this time next year, I might not even notice them happening anymore. External observations from Garrus confirm the flash in my eyes isn't going away, but it is fading in intensity. I'd be lying if I said some part of me didn't wish it would all disappear, that this last link to the Reapers would be severed once and for all, but I stopped caring a long time ago. I can't change what happened (and I probably wouldn't even if I could) and the reminder of it all I've been left carrying is a small price to pay for what it's brought me.

Then I hear the door open behind me. "Stargazing again?"

I smile at the sound of that voice. It's brought me him. "Reminds me of the old days."

He steps up behind me, gently pulling my hair over my shoulder so he can place his hand on it as he moves closer to me. "Didn't we come out here to put the old days behind us?"

I tilt my head to the side so I can place my hand over his. "Just because you keep moving forward doesn't mean you should stop looking back."

"Fair enough." As I turn to look back at him, starry blue eyes look back at me, still bright and piercing as ever. His scars have faded slightly over the years, but it's pretty clear they might never be gone completely. Not that I'm complaining.

Whether I smile at the thought or just at the sight of him, I couldn't tell. Either way, I reach over to kiss his scars, placing my free hand against them as I pull away. "Don't worry. I've never been happier than these last few years with you."

He smirks. "Glad to know my romantic skills have improved."

"Immensely." I take a moment to enjoy the sound of his laugh in response. Then I lay my head against his, letting the hand not resting on my shoulder wrap around my waist and pull me closer to him. I lean into him, closing my eyes to take it in.

"Long day?" he asks, sighing softly as if it has been for him.

"Not really. I just never get tired of this."

"Well, I think we could do it better on the bed."

"No arguments." So I pull away from him, still holding his hand, and step across the room to it. Once we've laid down, he wraps his arms around me completely, holding me close to him as I lean into him again. "Oh, yeah, this is much better."

He simply smiles, laying his head against mine again.

As I stay close to him, I reach one hand up and press it against his chest, feeling his heart beating with mine. For a moment, I take in the sensation of the pulsating rhythm. Then I let my hand slide up to his scars and gently trace them. I don't even look when I do. Even when he moves back just enough to meet my eyes, I never once let my gaze drift from his. Not until I press myself against him completely. My hand only now stops its motions, bringing him deeper into the kiss instead. But when I do pull away, I don't stop to catch my breath. I turn to kissing his scars instead. Not the gentle, affectionate kind I usually do, either, but with the same fiery passion I employed in the previous embrace.

Garrus almost turns with the pressure to put me on top of him before he brings himself to push me off. "Sara…" He looks at me lovingly, carefully brushing my fallen red hair away from my face. "…pace yourself, alright?"

I just look at him, somewhere between longing and contentment. "I can't help it." I lay myself down beside him again and whisper into his ear "My heart is yours as yours is mine"—the turian words he taught me that we gave to each other at our wedding. I use the next few seconds to enjoy his delighted reaction before returning to my own language. "I always loved you and I always will. Nothing can change that now. …but everything's so…perfect…there are some days I can't help worrying that this is a dream…and, one day, I'll have to wake up."

He looks at me as if he feels the same way. Then he holds me close again, kisses me just long enough to bring my smile back, and tells me just what I need to hear: "If you do wake up…I'll still be right next to you."

I cling to the words, letting my smile brighten before falling into him again. It's true. He's always been here for me when I needed him, and even when something pulled us apart, we always found each other again. What we have is unbreakable. I have no reason in the galaxy to worry. Not anymore.

Not for the last five years.

For a while, we lay here together, wrapped up in each other, our hearts beating together again. Then, at some point, he falls asleep. Even as I softly brush my fingers against his scars again, though, I simply look up at the ceiling. Well, sort of ceiling. I've always been most comfortable sleeping under the stars, so Garrus replaced the ceiling of this room with a viewing glass about a week after we moved in. I smile at the sight of the distant lights overhead, once again remembering a time when we flew past them.

Garrus was still sitting beside me in the med bay when the door opened. I didn't bother bringing myself to turn away from the turian (both because I didn't want to and because my injuries made it a little more difficult) so I simply inclined my head to look over my shoulder at it.

"Well," Wrex said as he walked in, the rest of the squad just behind, "we need to be heading out soon. Thought we'd drop in to tell you 'so long.'"

I groaned. "And here I was hoping we might actually get some time for ourselves."

"It's not as if we will never see each other again," Liara pointed out.

Well, of course not, I found myself thinking fondly, You'll all be coming to the wedding. The thought made me realize that we needed to tell them there was actually going to be a wedding. So I turned to look at Garrus. "We should probably tell them now, shouldn't we?"

"Can't think of any reason not to," he shrugged.

Tali looked at us curiously, a gesture several of the others reflected. "Tell us what?"

I looked at Garrus for a moment, but he simply gestured for me to go ahead. So, clinging to his hand, I brought myself to sit up again and faced the 11 closest friends we had. "…we're getting married."

Needless to say, the announcement got some mixed reactions. Liara and Tali were both pretty much overjoyed, Samara and EDI seemed unsurprised but pleased, and Wrex and Grunt and Jack were all…well, I couldn't tell what they were thinking, but I'd say it was along the lines of "Oh, great, as if it wasn't bad enough already."

"Shepard, that's wonderful!" Liara said as she hugged me.

"No, it's not," James remarked, "We have to stop calling her 'Shepard' now."

"We can still call her 'Commander,'" Ashley pointed out, "I'm sure we'll adjust."

"In all my years," Samara spoke as she stepped over, "I have never known two people to be closer. Or to endure more together. This was meant to be."

"Wow," I commented to Garrus, "we've got the encouragement of the oldest one here. That's gotta be a good sign."

"It's not like there's gonna be any talking you out of it," Jack shook her head at us, "Toss you two onto opposite sides of the galaxy and you'd be tumbling over each other again inside of five hours."

"…yeah, that's an image I didn't need in my head," Jacob sighed.

"And one more reason to regret ever letting Irana onto the ship," I groaned.

"Please, someone was gonna start this sooner or later," Garrus added.

"Well, I guess Joker and EDI were already headed there."

"Jeff has made several comments about the nature of your relationship," EDI stated, "I believe the most recent was 'How do they—?'"

"EDI!" I quickly cut her off, "…shut up."

A few minutes later, Miranda, Jacob, Jack, Grunt, Wrex, and Samara had already said their goodbyes and headed out, promising at my insistence to stay in touch when they got the chance. Tali, however, decided to wait for a quarian transport to pick her up and take her to Rannoch instead of going through a spaceport. Much as she tried to deny it, her reasoning was obvious: she wanted to spend a few more hours on her home-ship. No matter how much of a home she made for herself on Rannoch, she would always be Tali'Zorah vas Normandy.

When those few hours were up, Tali came back to the med bay. "The quarian transport is almost here. I should be getting ready to leave."

I gave her a smile as she stepped over. "We're gonna miss you, Tali."

"I know. I'll miss you, too. Don't worry, I'll stay in contact. Hopefully, this time, without any messages about people trying to kill us."

"Yeah. I'm gonna be holding you to that."

Garrus smirked. Then he stepped over to Tali. Before he could say or do anything, though, she hugged him. He took a second before smiling and hugging her back. "Be careful out there, alright?"

"Me?" she countered as she stepped back, "I should be saying that to you. You're the one got hit in the face by a gunship."

"And you're the one who got pinned in a data room by a geth colossus."

"…I see your point." She then looked my way. "Would it bother you if I had a moment alone with your girlfriend? Oh, sorry. Fiancé."

He simply looked between us both for a second. "No. I'll just give you two a minute." With that, he left the med bay for the first time since I was brought into it.

Tali then turned to me, casually stepping over. "Are you alright?"

"Better than I was when I got into this bed…" I answered dryly. Most of my injuries I could just shrug off with enough time, but that hit to the spine wouldn't rest and the painkillers were already starting to wear off again. The fact that I was sitting right now instead of lying down wasn't exactly helping, but I could wait to get back on my back after Tali had left and Garrus had returned. …OK, that could be misinterpreted, so I'm glad I didn't say that out loud.

Tali sighed and sat down next to me. "Well. You sure know how to show us a good time. If with a painful aftermath."

"That's pretty much typical for a shore leave with us, isn't it?"

She scoffed. "At least there weren't any clones and pirates this time."

I smirked, leaning back against the wall. "So why'd you want to talk to me alone?"

She glanced back at the door, as if to make sure Garrus wasn't spying on us. "Listen, Shepard. I care about you both. I want what's best for you. You're sure this is it?"

I thought of it. Of giving my entire life to Garrus. I couldn't imagine doing anything less with him and I couldn't bear the thought of a life without him. No, this was the only option now. The only one I would ever want to face, anyway. So I smiled and nodded. "Yes. I know it is."

Tali smiled. I think. "Good. That's what I thought. Just making sure." She then placed her hand on my shoulder, gently as if she was afraid it'd hurt me (can't blame her for thinking it). "But, She—" She cut herself off. "…Sara…" I was surprisingly happy to hear her accented voice giving out my first name. If anyone besides Garrus got to do it, I was glad it was her. "…take care of him. Alright?"

That was the plan. I smiled again, showing her as much. "I will."

This time, I was certain she was smiling back. Especially when she hugged me. "I'll see you later…Captain."

I hugged her back gladly. "See you later…Tali'Zorah vas Normandy."

With that, she stepped out.

Five seconds after she'd left, Garrus came back. "What was that about?"

"Just playing the concerned best friend. I've got a few of them."

He smirked before stepping back over to take my side on the bed again. "Then it's my turn to play the concerned boyfriend. Are you feeling any better?"

"With you here? Always." Unfortunately, shortly after I'd said so, a surge of pain flashed through my spine, drawing out a sharp gasp. I quickly caught my breath, though not before he'd put his arm around me as if he was preparing to make sure my heart wasn't stopping. "…thankfully, medical science has advanced far enough that I don't have to worry about pulling a Barbara Gordon."

He sighed and turned on his omni-tool, typing what I'd said into it. Apparently, at some time just before Omega-4, he'd gotten tired of me using references he didn't understand and telling him "I'll explain later" and had started keeping a list, which he then made sure to regularly go over with me during the war and ever since my return.

"Right. Sorry. Well, I don't exactly have much else to do in here, so if you wanna clear that out, just say the word."

"Not right now. The meds are wearing off, aren't they?"

"Believe me, the last thing I need is to get pumped full of more. Just give me a distraction."

He looked at me in reluctance for a second. "Alright." So he let me lean against him and pulled up the list. "So…"

"A redhead who took a bullet to the spine and ended up in a wheelchair. Next."

We stayed in that position as we kept it up. After a few minutes, another flash of pain, seemingly through my whole body this time, forced me to lie down, but he simply laid down beside me and listened to my request to keep going anyway.

It wasn't long before Dr. Chakwas came in to check on me. Seemed like the first thing she did was confirm that the next dose of the painkillers actually did have to be administered. Needless to say, I put up a fight. Though my argument was far undermined when the last flare of pain came over me, almost appearing to be the strongest yet.

Garrus, naturally, instantly took hold of my arm. If I didn't know any better, I'd say he was ready to hold me down and force me to take it himself. "I'm not gonna sit back and watch this. Do us both a favor and get it over with." He wasn't relenting. That much was obvious. There was more than one night during the war—during the days before Omega-4, too—when EDI had to call him in to convince me to get some sleep because I was running myself ragged and wouldn't listen to anyone else. I was seeing the same methods at work now. Added to by the fact that he'd be at my side the whole time for this one. And for the rest of my life.

So I sighed and told the doctor to go ahead. The meds drew out the drowsiness almost instantly this time, forcing me to fall back on the bed completely. But I still brought myself to move entirely to one side of it, leaving room for Garrus to join me. He gladly complied, wrapping his arms around me and letting me nestle against him. I didn't fall asleep that time; as sleep took its hold, I fell into him.

As the stars gleam overhead, I find I'm in the same position now that he was in then, with my partner wrapped around me fast asleep. Knowing this, I look at him, letting my fingers brush softly against his scars. The scars that show him as the greatest soldier I've ever known, one who fought to bring justice no matter the consequences and nearly paid for it with his life. There are similar ones in his left side and right shoulder—wounds he took at the Shadows' hands to save me. That's my Archangel. Content with the knowledge that he loves me as much as I love him, I close my eyes and lay my head back on the pillow. And as sleep comes over me tonight, Garrus Vakarian fills my thoughts.

I step out as the elevator opens and find a beautiful chamber on the other side. The walkway I step across is lined by trees with pink leaves, something I definitely never saw on Earth. When Ashley and Kaidan are both admiring the view, I take the chance to reach out and silently pull out one of the leaves, looking it over in amazement. I don't have time to truly examine it, though, before Ashley and Kaidan turn back to me, forcing me to hide it in my pack to pull out later. I then get back to business and start towards the small stairway leading up to the next level of the chamber, where the walkways circle around the fountain. As I start up the stairs, I take a second to glance forward and see several more ahead, causing me to inwardly ponder whether this is supposed to be symbolic ("The Council is above us all."). I stop moving entirely, though, when I hear someone talking.

"Saren's hiding something! Give me more time! Stall them!"

Curious as can be, I turn to see where the voice is coming from, finding two turians directly ahead of us.

"Stall the Council?" the second scoffs, "Don't be ridiculous! Your investigation is over, Garrus."

As the turian walks away, leaving the first behind, I step closer. If this turian has his suspicions about Saren, he might just be someone I'd want to know.

The turian in question turns around then. He stops moving when he sees me here. I take the opportunity to look him over. I bypass the features I recognize as typically turian and focus on those unique to him—the silvery coloring to his plates, the blue markings across them, but his icy blue eyes, bright like stars, most of all. I'm about ready to put together a word that fits him when he addresses me directly: "Commander Shepard? Garrus Vakarian. I was the officer in charge of the C-Sec investigation into Saren."

"Come across anything I should know about?" I ask him.

"Saren's a Spectre," he answers, plainly upset, "Most of his activities are classified. I couldn't find anything solid. But I know he's up to something. Like you humans say, I feel it in my gut."

Before I can continue the conversation, Kaidan steps in. "I think the Council's ready for us, Commander."

"Good luck, Shepard," Garrus comments as we move past him, "Maybe they'll listen to you."

Except they don't. Three minutes later, we come out of the hearing in the same position we entered it. No action taken. Mission failure. If we don't find some way to show the Council what Saren's been up to, he'll get away and cause who-knows-how-much damage. When Kaidan suggests we make contact with Garrus and help him finish the investigation that was cut short, I agree wholeheartedly. So the next hour is spent tracking him down. When we finally reach the end of the trail, we step into the med clinic to find a group of thugs threatening the doctor. I'm almost ready to make a move when someone suddenly jumps out and fires their gun. The bullet flies right behind the doctor's head and into the skull of the thug holding her. As the fight breaks out, I chance a look at who took the shot.

Garrus Vakarian stands there with a gun in his hand, pulling the doctor back behind cover to give me, Kaidan, and Ashley room for the firefight. Once it's clear, he makes sure to check on her before asking what happened. The story makes it clear what we have to do next: storm Chora's Den and find the quarian carrying the data to implicate Saren.

"This is your show, Shepard," Garrus says once we have our plan in place, "But I want to bring down Saren just as much as you do. I'm coming with you."

His insistence certainly strikes me. I haven't known many turians in my time. The first time I ever heard about them, I was barely four years old, scrounging to survive and hearing that the first contact we ever made with an alien race resulted in them attacking us. Hearing the word "turian" after that always brought a brief flash of suspicion. I'd gotten over it by the time I was active duty for the Alliance and have now come to see all alien races as equals in some capacity. But for this man I just met to beg me to come take down one of the greatest Spectres in the galaxy, who just so happens to be a member of his own race, well… "You're a turian," I finally point out, "Why do you wanna bring him down?"

"I couldn't find the proof I needed in my investigation," he answers fervently, "but I knew what was really going on. Saren is a traitor to the Council and a disgrace to my people!"

Well. Can't argue with that. He's clearly not backing down and I've seen what he can do. Skilled and determined, instincts good enough to figure out Saren even without witnessing Eden Prime firsthand…yeah. We could definitely use his help. Finally, I smile and agree: "Welcome aboard, Garrus."

I don't regret the decision. As the mission continues over the following weeks, I take any chance I can to get to know my crew and Garrus is no exception. Over time, I grow to enjoy my conversations with him, leaning against the Mako as he stands practically at attention. It takes a while before he starts to seem more at ease around me. In fact, he doesn't at all until after we apprehend Dr. Saleon. Once that mission is over, he seems less tense and cynical, willing to actually unwind at all. That's when we start to really get to know each other.

It's only after Virmire, though, that I begin to consider us friends.

I sit on the bed in my cabin, twisting the leaf I took from the Council chambers between my fingers. I look at the cherry blossom-colored leaf, beginning to wither by now, and think back to when I took it. When Kaidan and Ashley were enjoying the view. I sigh sadly as I lower the leaf, just barely keeping myself from letting it fall to the floor.

Kaidan was my friend. He'd made it pretty clear that he might have taken an interest in being more than that, but I pushed him away the second he started getting too close. Akuze had made sure I knew what was at stake if we made even one mistake and getting that close with a squad-mate was the biggest emotional distraction I could find. No, I wasn't interested. Luckily, he understood. Just like he understood when I made the call to go back for Ash instead of him. Ashley was my friend, too, and I couldn't leave her behind, but leaving Kaidan… I'll never be able to put this one behind me. Not for good. I couldn't put Akuze behind me either.

Suddenly, someone knocks on my door. I don't even look away from the leaf between my fingers after telling them to come in. Not until they step up to me. "Are you alright, Shepard?"

I turn to see who it is and find Garrus standing there. I smirk. "You actually came to check on me?"

"You came straight here after the debriefing and haven't left since," he says, taking a seat across from me.

"…I needed some time alone."

"It's been three hours."

oh. I sigh, setting the leaf aside and willing myself to face him. "…I'm not someone you could say takes loss very well. Especially not when it's one of my own team."

He looks at me with sympathy, but his piercing gaze is strong as ever. "It wasn't your fault."

I don't look at him, though. I keep my eyes on the leaf I placed on my bed. "…I know…but I made the call, so…it kind of feels like it was."

He understands that. "…well…if you need to talk to someone, I'm here." With that, he starts to leave the room.

As he does, I suddenly realize something. "Wait." I turn to face him as he stops walking and turns back to me. "…what did you call me?"

He looks at me almost as if in confusion. "Shepard."

Yeah, that's what I thought. I find myself smiling at this. "You've always just called me 'Commander.'"

He catches on then. "Right. I…well, out of respect—"

"No, no, I understand that. Totally get it. It's just…" I take a second to consider how to say this, but I don't have to. "…I'm glad we're friends, Garrus."

He smiles in response. "Thanks, Shepard." Then he leaves the room.

He's a really good friend, too. The kind that would follow me after stealing the Normandy, dropping blind onto Ilos, and rushing through the Conduit under geth fire. Once Sovereign is defeated, we're prepared to face anything. But when the Council says there are no immediate threats to attend to and sends the Normandy off to eradicate the remaining geth resistance and investigate possible incursions in the Terminus Systems while they decide who's going to take humanity's Council seat, Garrus waits until we're at the entrance to the docking bay to tell me that he's staying.

"You can handle it without me from here," he says, "And it's time I went back to C-Sec. You were right, I can actually do some good there."

"Well, I'm glad to hear it," I say, "but…kind of sad to see you go."

"Wrex and Tali are staying back, too, remember?"

"Yeah, but…" I sigh. I can't explain why I'd be just a little bit more upset to lose Garrus than to lose the krogan and quarian I consider my friends as much as him. I just know that the Normandy will seem a little bit emptier without his constant presence in the cargo bay. "…just promise you'll stay in touch, alright? And be careful out there."

"Be careful? I just helped you fight off a Reaper attack on the Citadel. I'm pretty sure anything else is going to seem like nothing by comparison."

I let off a small laugh. "Point taken."

He gives me one last smile before he starts to go. "Well…see you around, Shepard."

To his credit, he does make an effort to stay in contact. I receive four calls from him over the next few weeks. It's nice to hear from him. But we don't actually get to see each other again. Not before the Normandy goes by Alchera…and is shot down. I do everything I can to evacuate the ship, but Joker I have to pull out myself. And as I get him to the last escape shuttle, the final assault strikes the ship. He makes it out. I don't. The ship—my ship—falling apart around me is the last thing I see before I run out of air.

I wake up two years later. Everything has changed since I've been MIA. Or KIA, depending on who you ask. Getting a new ship with Joker at the helm starts to bring me back around. But it's not until we track down a vigilante named Archangel that I start to feel like myself again. Fighting through the first wave of mercs to get to him is the easy part. Quickly, I lead Miranda and Jacob to the top floor and find him looking over the bridge through the scope of a sniper rifle.

I lower my gun and take a step closer to him. "Archangel?"

He signals briefly to wait a second. When I comply, he keeps his aim on the bridge. A few seconds later, the last merc peers around his cover and the next bullet from the vigilante's rifle flies right through his skull. The turian then steps aside and turns to face us, pulling off his helmet and placing it aside. As he sits down on the nearby crates, casually leaning over his rifle, I see who he truly is. "Shepard," his voice fills my hearing for the first time after two years of silence, "I thought you were dead."

I can't explain the sheer joy that overwhelms me in that moment. All I know is that one of the few people in this large, lonely galaxy I actually care about is alive and here. "Garrus! What are you doing here?"

"Just keeping my skills sharp," he comments, "Little target practice."

I smirk. Yup, that's Garrus. "You OK?"

"Been better, but it sure is good to see a friendly face."

Turns out Garrus is a real troublemaker without me around to keep him in check. In the aftermath of my death and the Council's attempts to cover up the Reapers' impending invasion, Garrus traded his place at C-Sec for a stint as a vigilante on the most lawless station in the galaxy, which is why three of the biggest mercenary groups in the galaxy are currently attempting to kill him. "Attempting" being the operative word. Fighting through this assault with him just feels right. He seems to be back to his old self with me at his side and his favorite rifle in his hands, too. The more mercs we take down, the more I let the hope through that this mission might end up just like old times after all.

Hope that's dashed entirely the minute the gunship comes back to the base. Seeing Garrus get hit causes a painful burst in my heart that I can't describe. All I know is that the closest friend I have in the entire galaxy right now is lying on the floor, unconscious and losing too much blood to survive for very long. And that batarian in the gunship cockpit is responsible. Leaving Miranda and Jacob to handle whatever mercs come while I'm distracted, I start unleashing everything I can on that gunship. Every second it's not firing at me while my shields are down, I plow through its defenses, hoping to either break open the cockpit and shoot the pilot or take out the engines entirely. Finally, when I'm about ready to rush over, jump out the window, and start tearing my way in, one final shot breaks through and hits the pilot. I then take great pleasure in watching the ship come crashing down outside.

With nothing to distract me anymore, I rush over to Garrus' side. His entire right side seems to have taken damage. The bleeding won't stop. He's not breathing. …that is, until, seconds before I can start panicking, he gasps, struggling to breathe as he clutches his gun. I quickly, carefully, turn him over and let Miranda and Jacob start tending to him, telling them to call Joker and tell the Normandy to get the med bay ready.

When they've done all they can to stabilize him and go to make the call, I look down at him. "Just hold on, Garrus. We're going to help you. …I won't let anything happen to you. …I can't lose you."

Getting him back to the Normandy without aggravating his injuries is difficult. But waiting around my cabin for hours while Dr. Chakwas and the Cerberus medics do their work is even harder. When Jacob calls me down to the COMM room and tells me the news, I feel a storm of emotions rising inside me.

But then the door opens and a familiar turian approaches it. "Shepard." Hearing his voice say my name brings the sun streaming through the clouds again. Even when I turn to him and see the damage caused by the hit he took. I have my friend back. Now I have a reason to fight again. And I don't have to go into the fight feeling alone.

An hour later, though, I go to check on him at his new post in the main battery and hear how he ended up in the position I found him in. When I hear what he went through, I know why he seems so different. Somewhere, deep under his tough turian soldier exterior…he's broken. I know from Akuze what it's like to lose your entire team. But he only suffered the same thing because someone he trusted betrayed him. He didn't deserve that. This wound is still fresh, too. He needs time. I just wish there was something I could do to help.

And, as it turns out, there is. Sometime after Horizon, he tracks down his traitor. Lantar Sidonis is hiding out on the Citadel thanks to a forger named Fade. All we have to do is track down the forger and we can…

"You humans have a saying," he tells me, his voice darkening with every word, "'An eye for an eye; a life for a life.' He owes me ten lives. And I plan to collect."

I take us to the Citadel immediately, but I know something is wrong. It's not until we actually get close to cornering Fade that I start to see what. He still seems like the Garrus I know (if a bit edgier) when we meet the volus contact, but the second he sees Harkin at the prefab foundry, he starts to turn into someone else entirely. When we come to a security checkpoint and take the chance to check our weapons and look over the next room, he tenses up completely. The way he talks about the next phase of the plan sounds even less like the Garrus I know than the restless turian I caught a glimpse of on Dr. Saleon's ship. It only gets worse when we actually have Harkin cornered. He's been through a lot and he needs someone to take it out on—that much is clear—so I let him have at it for a minute (secretly laughing inside at some of the exchange). But when Harkin gives us what we need and Garrus pulls his gun anyway…

I move on instinct, grabbing his wrist and yanking it back to send the bullet flying at the ceiling instead. I give him some comment about how Harkin can't hide from C-Sec now, but I make it clear in my eyes that I really think he's being reckless and brutal, more than I've ever seen him. He knows I'm right, I can tell. But the way he pushes me off, the look he gives me as he does it, how he threatens Harkin's life anyway on our way out—it all haunts me for the entire time we're in the skycar on the way to the meeting point. None of it is something I could expect from the Garrus I know. It's not like the soldier who stood at my side through every mission, giving me comfort and strength with the knowledge that someone I could trust absolutely had my back for every second of every single firefight. Not the turian I've considered the closest friend I have ever since Virmire, even counting Tali. Not the man who looked in my eyes as if he truly cared about me, who made every organ I had seem to flutter when his voice spoke my name, who I know that I could never face the Collectors—or even live—without. Not the Garrus Vakarian that I…I…

oh, no…

The skycar pulling to a stop snaps me out of it, but I can't deny it now. My great emotional revelation has struck me. I care about Garrus Vakarian. As more than a squad-mate or even a friend.

So when he starts to rave about the fact that we left Harkin alive, I know exactly why it kills me inside to see him snapping like this. I instantly try to talk him down but he dismisses every plea I give. He's in too deep now. All he cares about is justice. But it's not justice. It's revenge. I warn my squad against acting out of vengeance for good reason. I've seen what taking it can do to someone. The hunger for it eats away at you until, even after you finally get it, you're never the same again. It's like a drug, for which a single dose is deadly: the person you were before is gone forever. I can't let that happen to Garrus. I can't do this without him. Well, certainly not now. Nice work, Shepard. You just fell off that hill you took your whole life to climb. …no, it's too late to worry about that now. I just need to help him.

Garrus won't listen to me like this. I need to find some other way to bring him around. And there's only one. While he sets up his sniper rifle on a balcony overlooking the lounge entrance and prepares to fire, I move in to set up his shot. But when Sidonis gets into position, I'm blocking his place in Garrus' sights. So I warn him. Garrus loses it, of course, but I stand my ground, keep Sidonis from getting his skull vented. After a minute of keeping Sidonis talking, hearing why he did what he did and how it's affected him, I give Garrus the last argument I have: "Look at him, Garrus, he's not alive. There's nothing left to kill."

For an achingly slow few seconds, he keeps his gun trained my way. Then… "Just…go. Tell him to go."

He's certainly distraught when I come back to him. He seems a bit more like himself again once I ensure him that he did the right thing. But he needs some time alone. So I take us back to the ship and give him a few hours before I go down to the battery to check on him. When I do, he really does seem like my—the Garrus I know. (Hmm. Guess it really is too late.)

"I wanted to thank you again for your help with Sidonis," he tells me, "Whatever happens with the Collectors or the Reapers or whoever else comes after us, I know you'll get the job done."

"You really think we'll find something worse than Collectors or Reapers?"

"I like to expect the worst. There's a small chance I'll be pleasantly surprised."

I smile. Yup. He's back. "I couldn't do this without you, Garrus."

He smiles back at me. "Sure, you could. Not as stylishly, of course."

I just barely keep myself from laughing before stepping over to the crate pushed against the wall and sitting down on it. I listen intently as he answers any questions I might have about his past with the turian military. But I also watch him. Every move he makes seems to confirm what I already know. His story about sparring the female scout is filled to the brim with his trademark turian humor—something, as far as I know, only Garrus Vakarian uses.

No. No more holding back, Shepard. I know what I have to do now. It's pretty clear we both need a release. Besides, the mission I'm so worried about is going to be a suicide mission either way and I don't wanna die regretting something like this. I care about him. Too much to ignore it. So I do something I've never done before.

I get up and tell him "Sounds like you're carrying some tension. Maybe I can help you get rid of it."

He's definitely not expecting what I'm implying. "I, uh…didn't think you'd feel like sparring, Commander."

I smirk as I step over to lean against the console. "What if we skipped right to the tiebreaker? We could test your reach…and my flexibility."

He gets it now. And, apparently, I've never seen him really shocked before. "OH! I didn't, uh…" He looks at me hesitantly, stumbling to find the words. "Never knew you had a weakness for men with scars," he finally comments. When he then starts thinking it over and realizes his answer is actually "yes," I give him one last smile and leave him to his work.

After the next mission, I come back to see him again and the first thing he does is lock the battery door behind me so he can freely confess his concerns. "Are we crazy to even be thinking about this?" he asks half to me and half to himself as he paces the room, "I'm not sure…" He finally brings himself to a stop, sighing as he turns to look at me. "Look, Shepard, I know you can find something a little closer to home."

How can he even think that? I don't even take a second to think over my response before I step closer to him. "I don't want something 'closer to home.' I want you."

He's clearly not expecting that answer. He certainly seems eager to go through with this, but the way he's acting insinuates he's still not sure. Still, when I ask him, he makes it clear how he feels. "Shepard, you're about the only friend I've got left in this screwed-up galaxy. I'm not gonna pretend I've got a fetish for humans, but this isn't about that. This is about us. You don't ever have to worry about making me uncomfortable. Nervous, yes, but never uncomfortable." He's not just nervous, though. He's lonely and hurting. If he really thinks I'm the only friend he has…maybe he actually needs this more than I realized.

Over the next few weeks, I make it a regular thing to check in on him. Apparently, that gives away that there's something going on between us, because the crew we were attempting to leave out of it start acting like they know. Those suspicions are outright confirmed when Mordin gives me a talk about the medical implications of what we're planning. Since this clearly means I'm past the point of hiding it, I just give him the truth: "I care about Garrus. He means a lot to me. Nothing's going to scare me away." And from the look Garrus gives me next time I bring him on a mission, I can tell Mordin had the same talk with him…and told him what I said.

When the time finally comes to head for Omega-4, Garrus comes almost straight to my cabin. "Hey," he says when he sees me, after a second or two of uncertainty, "I brought wine. Best I could afford on a vigilante's salary." After he sees that my only response is a smile, he steps over to my music system and turns it on. I start to draw closer to him then, seeing more and more how nervous he is with every step. "If you were a turian, I'd be complimenting your waist or your fringe. So…your, uh…hair…looks…good…and your waist is…very supportive."

It takes a lot of restraint not to burst out laughing at that statement. As it is, I end up smirking at him.

He perceives that as a signal that he just said something wrong, apparently. "Hopefully, that's not offensive in human culture. Crap! I knew I should've watched the vids. Throw me a line here, Shepard!"

As much fun as it is watching him squirm, I have to put a stop to this now. "Whoa!" I hold my hands up, signaling him to quit talking. "Consider me seduced, smooth-talker!" I sigh, turning to shut off the music. "Calm down, Garrus. You're worrying too much. …and talking too much."

He sighs, visibly relaxing. "I just…I've seen so many things go wrong, Shepard. My work at C-Sec, what happened with Sidonis…"

My heart aches for him. It's true, he's been through too much. And I want to do everything in my power to amend that.

"I want something to go right," he says, his voice seeming weaker as I close the distance between us, "Just once. Just…"

Before he can say anything else, I press my hand against his scars. The contact sends a silence washing over us that consumes any doubts I have left. Even when my hand falls away, I move as close to him as I'm still capable, leaning into his grasp as his hand slowly moves up my arm to rest on my shoulder. I don't let him stop there, though. It's time to skip to the tiebreaker. I reach and move his hand myself, bringing it from my shoulder to my face. Then, holding it there, I fall into him and we kiss for the first time.

He takes a few seconds to start kissing me back. But the second he does, my heart starts pounding harder, overcome with the sensation. As my senses fill with him, how his fingers slide into my hair and take hold of it almost possessively, how his arms wrap around me to pull me closer, my mind fades into it, driving away all semblance of rational thought. For the next two hours, all that exists is this embrace with him, pure and passionate and…something I could spend every second of the rest of my life in.

When we come back from the mission, everything has changed. I prove that the second I cross the CIC to kiss him (triumphantly, in fact) in front of the entire crew. That night, I all but collapse in my bed to sleep off the mission behind us. I wake up with him beside me. Over the next week, we spend more time alone together in my cabin than we do actually on duty. Even when we go to help Liara with her Shadow Broker problem, we don't leave each other's sights. After it's over, though, Liara is the one who ends up alone with me in my cabin. I'll admit, it's a nice reprieve. I can talk to Liara about things I can't with the rest of my crew. Especially about my newfound relationship.

"So tell me what you want," she asks me, "What are you fighting for? A chance to give Garrus some peace?"

Hearing it, I think back to what I've seen from him since my return. The memories hurt me about as much as I know they do him. So I sigh and sit down on the bed, laying it all on the line: "He's been hurt, betrayed. He deserves something better." Although the thought of it makes me shake my head. "I never thought I'd find peace in the arms of a turian, but…"

"Why not?" Liara comments, "Humans seem to have no trouble finding asari attractive."

I instantly give her a look. "Everyone finds asari attractive."

Liara simply smirks before giving me a supportive smile, sympathy gleaming in her eyes. "I hope the two of you find some happiness, Shepard."

I'm already happy with him. Practically the second she leaves, I call him up to see him again. This time, he's not two feet past the door before I jump over to kiss him. For the first time, he doesn't hesitate to respond, wrapping himself around me as I do the same to him. When the embrace ends, we wind up lying down on my bed together, watching the stars over our heads. I really do wish we could spend the rest of our lives this way. But when he offers to do so, I know the Reapers aren't the only thing standing in the way of that. Reluctantly, I realize what I have to do and tell him as much: I need to turn myself in to the Alliance.

"…hey…" I tell him, "this isn't goodbye forever. We'll see each other again someday."

"We'd better," he responds as he meets my eyes, "…I love you, Shepard."

I smile in response. "I love you, too, Vakarian." Playful as this might be for both of us, we can't deny that it has some shred of honesty to it. We care about each other. That much is obvious when we kiss.

Dropping him off on Palaven isn't easy for me, but it'd be worse to keep him along for the ride where I'm going. I spend the next six months locked up in Alliance Headquarters in Vancouver. I send him messages all the time but nothing comes in answer, so I doubt they're even going through. It doesn't matter, though. I still have images of him and even of the two of us together on my omni-tool. I still look at them all the time. For six months, I can't stop thinking about him. That turns out to be a good thing, too. It's the only reason I can finally convince myself to leave when the Reapers come for Earth.

For all the trouble the next two days give me, none of it hurts like seeing the Reapers hit Palaven. Liara can see that part of the reason is that I'm seeing what's happening on Earth, but what she doesn't say out loud around James is that someone I care about (not to mention the people he cares about) is down there in that chaos. And these monsters are tearing his world apart. The longer we fight through Menae, the more I feel myself starting to panic that this plan will never work and we'll never be able to stop this war.

That panic fades entirely when I hear his voice.

"Garrus!" I say, not bothering to hide my absolute relief, "You're alive!" I hold my hand out to him.

He takes it, placing his other hand over it after he does. Just the gesture brings my hope back. "I'm hard to kill," he smirks as he pulls away, "You should know that."

I feel like myself again now that he's fighting beside me. Suddenly, taking on these Reaper forces isn't therapy so much as practice. I'm not angry that we're losing Earth; I'm working up to taking it back. With him at my side, I know I can. Shepard and Vakarian are back together. How can we lose?

After we're back on the ship with Victus and I tend to EDI's situation, I head straight to the battery. For all that's been happening with him, he seems just like his old self again now that he's back where he belongs. "Garrus," I smile as I move closer to him, "Didn't waste any time getting to work, I see."

He steps back from the battery just enough to face me. "After what I've been through lately, calibrating a giant gun is a vacation. Gives me something to focus on."

"We're gonna need you for more than your aim."

"Oh, I'm ready for it. But I'm pretty sure we'll still need giant guns. And lots of them."

I smirk. "Can't argue with that."

He then pulls back from his work completely so that he can devote his attention to me. "Yeah. So…is this the part where we…shake hands? Wasn't sure about the protocol on reunions…or if you even still felt the same way about me." He seems…worried. Like I might say "no." Still, he brings himself to meet me with his typical snark: "The scars are starting to fade. I remember they drove you wild."

This time, I don't bother trying to hold back my laughter. I'm glad I don't, actually, because he obviously enjoys it.

"But I can go out and get all new ones if it'll help," he smirks as he moves closer to me.

I smile, stepping into what little space remains between us. "I haven't forgotten our time together."

"Well…I've been doing some more research on human customs—"

I have the urge to sigh and roll my eyes at him, but I skip right to what I most want to do: I take hold of him and pull him into a position at which I can kiss his scars. When I lean back to meet his eyes, I smile again. "That's the protocol on reunions."

He smiles back, still sort of confused about how to handle this. "The vids mentioned it might go something like that. I mean…I had hoped…I didn't know…"

I turn my gaze to his hands, taking hold of them, and confess my true feelings entirely: "I can't promise how things will work out. Not with this war. But I missed you, Garrus. I thought about you a lot."

"Glad to know my romantic…skills made an impression."

We need each other more in the coming days than either of us would've been willing to admit a year ago. He needs someone to support him in this fight, to show him that he can actually help his people, and I need someone to lean on, someone to remind me why the galaxy is depending on me more than anyone else. Before I know it, he becomes my anchor, keeping me from burning myself out or losing faith. He gives me every reason to hold on, not just because the galaxy needs me…but because he needs me. I don't say it out loud, but inside I know that I need him more. It's not until after the Cerberus attack on the Citadel that I confess why.

He invited me to take some time off from the madness so I meet him outside C-Sec. This consequently leads to him flying me up to the top of the Presidium. I speak my mind when I say the view is incredible. In return, he speaks his and tells me why he wanted to bring me here.

"It seemed like you needed time to…figure us out," he says, "Are you ready to be a 'one-turian' kind of woman?"

There's only one answer I can give. So I smile as I lock eyes with him and tell him: "The only thing that made leaving Earth bearable was knowing you were out there somewhere."

That's exactly what he needs to hear. "I felt the same way," he says, making it obvious how much he means it, "The worst part about the galaxy going to hell would've been never getting to see you again."

I move closer to him, pouring my heart out to him. "Well, here I am…exactly where I want to be." I wrap my arms around him and confess what I now know to be beyond a doubt the absolute truth: "I love you, Garrus Vakarian."

The emotion behind my words must be overwhelming for him, because he has no idea how to respond. "…wow. The vids Joker gave me…well, they never got this far. There was the part about sleeping together, but this…I don't exactly know what to do."

I've stopped trying to keep myself from laughing when he gets nervous. He knows how much I love it. So I wait until I'm done laughing before I smile brightly to him and tell him what to do. "You grab the girl…and kiss her like you mean it."

Before I realize it, he's taken hold of me and sent me falling into his arms, his eyes locked on mine and gleaming as he smiles. "That I can do." And kisses me.

I lose myself in him, all but give into him entirely. By the time I'm forced to pull away to breathe, I'm overcome with ecstasy, my heart pounding with joy. "And rather well." So I pull him back into it and don't let go.

His suggestion to have a shooting contest before we head back is certainly tempting. I let my competitive side take over for the first few rounds and he plainly follows. But when it comes down to it, I can't bring myself to even try to win. He deserves a victory of his own. Plus, when I do miss on purpose, the way he starts bursting with triumph to the point of outright shouting "I'm Garrus Vakarian and THIS IS NOW MY FAVORITE SPOT ON THE CITADEL!" is kind of attractive.

"It's windy up here!" I snap defensively. Though, inside, I'm just delighting in his reaction.

He smirks, wrapping his arm around me. "There, there, it's OK. I know there are other things you're good at."

We reenter the Normandy as boyfriend and girlfriend. From that point onward, I take him on pretty much every other mission we get. What few I don't take him on, I come back to find him waiting for me in my cabin. 90% of my trips to the CIC end with him tracking me down and pulling me aside for just one moment in which we can keep each other all to ourselves. Half the nights I get any sleep, he's right there beside me. Every time the war gets to be too much for one of us, the other is right there for them. There are even times I call him up to my cabin or sneak into the battery specifically so I can take a moment just to be with him. He certainly doesn't seem to mind it.

I make it a habit of telling him constantly how much I love him. Though it's pretty obvious I don't actually have to—as many times as I've said it, he must know. He's the exact opposite. Ever the stubborn turian, he doesn't say it. But he shows it in pretty much everything he does—the worry he shows when I face down the Reaper on Rannoch and even after it's dead, the way he clings to me after Thessia, the speed with which he rushes to my rescue on the Citadel, the dance he ropes me into at the casino, with every move he makes the night of the party…

and for the last 24 hours we have together. As soon as I give the order for us to launch the assault on Cerberus headquarters, he finds me in my cabin. I jump at the chance to spend the next few hours with him, wrapping myself around him and ultimately falling asleep there. Even when the dream of the dead forest wakes me up, it doesn't get to me, because he's right there with me. Just like during the actual assault on Cerberus HQ when EDI shows me the console with the Lazarus Project data and I almost let it get to me, but he steps in and shows me I have no reason to. He knows me better than anyone.

After that mission is over, all that's left is Earth. The place this all started. The place it's going to end. Seeing it like this, though, knowing what the Reapers have done to it…well, Garrus understands how hard it is for me. The fight is almost as hard. But saying my final farewells to each of my squad-mates, knowing that this might be my last chance, is even harder. The hardest of all is, naturally, Garrus. I don't wanna say goodbye. The message I made for him before we hit the relay should be enough. But I need to give him more than some message to hold onto if something does happen to me. So when he gives me his order to come back alive because he can't live without me, I take hold of him and kiss him like it's the last time we ever will. Which, for all we know, it might be.

"Goodbye, Garrus," I pour my heart out to him one last time, "And if I'm up there in that bar and you're not…I'll be looking down. You'll never be alone."

He's right next to me the entire time we fight through to the beam. Every time I'm close to taking that final shot, he rushes to my defense. When EDI gives the signal that the Reaper is in range for the final strike from the Thanix cannon, I almost hear Garrus calling out for me as I rush blindly past the oncoming Brutes and Banshees to reach the controls and hit them. The rush itself leaves me out of breath, and I practically have to lean on him to stay upright as I pant under the pressure of waning adrenaline. The look he gives me says two things at once: "Never scare me like that again." and "I knew you could do it."

But the panic I just came out of it is nothing compared to what happens next. For a minute, I believe we can make it to the beam even under Harbinger's fire. Then Garrus is hit and I lose the will to try. Without thinking, I run back to him and pull him out of the Reaper's line of fire, calling back the Normandy to pull him out. To say he's hesitant to leave me behind would be a colossal understatement. I know I would be fighting to stay at his side if I were in his place, but I can't stand the thought of coming out of this without him. Even if it kills me, I'm getting him out of this. And there's only one way I can convince him to now.

I lock my eyes on his, unwilling to look away for anything as I move closer to him. "No matter what happens here…" I place my hand against his scars, not bothering to hide every single emotion pouring out of me. "…you know I love you. And I always will."

He's paralyzed. We both are. Under any other circumstances, we'd both be fighting to stay in this position for as long as we possibly can, but that's not an option now. "Shepard…I…" Then he says the very words I always hoped I'd hear his voice give to me: "…I love you, too."

I force myself to pull away and send them off. Ten seconds later, Harbinger's beam hits me, too. I don't know how I manage to survive it, injured as I may be, but I focus on staying the course, struggle my way to the beam. I make it through long enough to turn on the Crucible. But the only way to save all life in the galaxy is to give up my life. So I do it. And Garrus is the last thing on my mind before the darkness consumes it.

I live in that darkness for months. I finally feel myself coming out of it…only to get pulled deeper. Suddenly, I don't know who I am. All I know is the darkness. And pain. My blood screams at me with every passing day, eventually calling for death to free me. Not my own but the deaths of 12 other people. Yet even as I face them, every cell in my body fights against the rest of me. Only one thing can make it stop. So it does stop…when someone brings me back into the light. The only person I've ever truly loved. Garrus Vakarian.

He saves my life in more ways than one that day. One of those ways nearly gets him killed. That destroys me. To get my life back now only to have him taken out of it…I could never survive that. But he's alive. So I am, too. When Chakwas finishes tending to him and tells me he'll be fine, I ask her if I can wait with him. She leaves the room after saying "yes," so I take the bed beside him and lay there, waiting for him to wake up. Finally, he wakes up. And I can't stop myself from pouring my heart out to him. Even when the darkness had taken me, I still loved him, just didn't know it. He needs to see that. And he does. So he takes me into his arms and we fall asleep here together. When I wake up, though, I realize how much everything has changed for us. The realization leaves me standing at the memorial wall, looking at the two names at the center—Adm. David Anderson and Commander Shepard. I was dead. …again. And this time, something inside me has changed.

The first night I spend back in my old cabin, I fall asleep under the stars I know so well, the darkness surrounding me softly illuminated by the fish tank. It's calming enough to draw me to sleep. …but the dreams that follow are anything but. I see darkness shifting. I feel an unequaled pressure preventing me from fighting it. I hear the voices of a human couple. I feel it as every cell in my body fights me, as if I don't belong inside it. I hear it when the human woman, who the man calls Kendrys, steps up to me and tells me "Fair warning. This is really gonna hurt. …lucky me." I feel it when she starts to pry my cells apart. I fight against the feeling, keep myself from crying out as if pain itself could break me. …but when I feel her start to stop, every sense I have falls into the darkness completely, every nerve in my body screaming from a shock I've never felt before.

Feeling it again wakes me up. I don't know how I keep from screaming, but I don't keep myself from jumping. So hard that the whole bed shakes in response, practically throwing me to the floor. I catch myself, but the pressure in my respiratory tract tells me I'm gonna be having trouble breathing for a few minutes. As if I've screamed my throat raw without making a sound.

"Shepard," EDI cuts in, "are you alright?"

I grab my hair and take a few seconds to steady my breathing, force myself to give an answer: "I'll be fine, I just…" …no. No, I can't sleep like this. I need… "…call Garrus. Hurry."

He gets here so fast, I could swear he was waiting right outside my door when EDI called him. "What's wrong?"

I look at him for a second before turning to look at the empty side of the bed. The shock of the attack waking me up threw the covers, but it's still intact. "…I can't sleep," I finally tell him, making sure my voice confers there's more to it than I want to talk about.

He gets the message. Sadly, he steps over and takes my side. "Nightmares?"

I've gotten nightmares before. He knows that. But this is different. So much worse. So instead of answering, I hug my knees to my chest and look down at my feet.

That's all the answer he needs. He sighs and sits down with me, softly running his hand through my hair. "I know…I get them, too."

That draws me to look at him in shock. "I thought you said they were a waste of good sleep."

He smirks at the comment. But it fades away as he remembers the truth: "Aside from the fact that it's kind of hard to think that straight when there's poison in your blood…I almost lost you."

I keep my eyes on his. Those bright blue eyes that I fell in love with…that I didn't even recognize three days ago. The thought makes my vision cloud. As if I'm about to cry again. "…I did lose you."

He understands. He always does. So he does exactly what we both need him to and takes me into his arms, stroking my hair gently as I lean into him.

"Stay with me. Please."

He pulls back to meet my eyes again then lays his head on mine with a smile. "Nothing could keep me away."

I fall asleep again to the feeling of him holding me here. The nightmares still come, but his presence keeps them from hurting me again. The darkness doesn't take hold this time. My light pulls me back before it can.

He sees it when I wake up. "Sleep any better this time?"

I nod silently. This is going to take time.

He must notice that. He presses his hand to my face, carefully turning it to meet his again. "I'll always be here for you."

That assurance is what I need to hear. I smile for him, lightly placing my hand against his scars. "I know you will."

He keeps his eyes locked on mine, as lost in them as I am in his. "…I love you, Sara."

"…I love you, too, Garrus."

Just like that, my cabin becomes ours. I never sleep alone again. Not that I'd want to. No, with him here beside me…everything is perfect. Even the night that the fears of what's happened to me almost take over, he gets me through it. I may be broken, but he makes me whole again. Two months pass by this way, the attacks slowly fading in intensity. But the nightmares don't change as much. Sometimes I wonder if they'll ever change at all. Yet our waking hours are as if everything we wanted during the war has come to pass. When Tali calls us to the Citadel with a warning that brings an attack, though, things finally start to change for us. It's only after a mission to Aephus that I understand everything. The darkness can't touch me here. Never again. I faced it. I conquered it. Garrus is here to make sure it never comes for me again. After the final battle on Earth, when the shadows that tormented me for so long are finally extinguished, it becomes certain: we are going to spend the rest of our lives together. Free.

"…never let me go again?" he smirks.

I smile, laying my head down on his shoulder. "Never."

I've told him as much. That he's the first person I ever loved, that I can't live without him, that he means more to me than I can ever say. We're inseparable already. There is no Shepard without Vakarian. And, as he made quite clear, no Vakarian without Shepard. Now…there will never have to be again. As long as we love each other, nothing can break us apart.

The sound of someone knocking on the door snaps me out of my five-years-old thoughts.

I groan as I get up. "What now?"

Garrus sighs as he turns over and pushes the covers aside. "Well, count up how many people live here and I think you can take a guess."

Right. Knowing that, I actually can tell who must be on the other side of the door before I ever open it. And, as it turns out, I'm correct. When the door opens, a certain human boy with dark brown hair and bright brown eyes stands there.

I smirk, getting down to his level. "What is it, Hunter?"

"Kyla's calling you," Hunter says.

I look at him in confusion. "Calling for me?" I quickly get to my feet and move into the room at the end of the hall.

In the bed sits a small turian girl with blue eyes even brighter than Garrus'. She sees me and smiles. "Mama!"

I stop moving. …she really just called me… I find myself smiling in sheer amazement and disbelief. When Kyla holds her hands out to me, I force myself to move again solely to take her into my arms, smiling even brighter when she responds by essentially hugging me.

"Well, this is a historic event," Garrus smirks from the door.

"Our adoptive daughter claiming me as her mother?" I ask for clarification.

"No, Sara Vakarian rendered speechless."

"Shut up."

Before Garrus can do anything but smirk in response, his omni-tool starts beeping. He turns to check it. "Solana's calling."

I turn to face him, Kyla following my gaze. "Take it."

He nods, taking my side and answering the call.

"Figured I'd catch you both," Solana comments, "How are things going in paradise?"

"As you might expect by using the comparison," I point out, "fantastic."

"Hi, Aunt Sol!" Hunter jumps in between me and Garrus.

She smirks. "Hey, kid. Still taking care of your new sister?"

"Yeah," Hunter answers. As if it's his job and she shouldn't be questioning whether he would live up to it or not.

I smirk at the exchange, deep down wishing I had ever had a sibling while also deeply grateful I never did. Pushing the thought aside, though, I turn back to Solana. "So why'd you call?"

"Just wanted to make sure you weren't getting into trouble out there," Solana smirks back, "I know you have a way of attracting danger as much as strays."

I groan. "Like brother, like sister."

"How can you say that?" Garrus asks.

"You're both endearingly insufferable."

Garrus sighs and gives me a playful shove.

"Yeah, see? Like that."

"Wow," Solana comments, showing obvious turian sarcasm, "I'd never know you two were married."

Garrus just shakes his head. "Why'd you really call?"

Solana takes a moment to respond… "…I'm getting married."

I instantly beam with joy. "Solana, that's wonderful!" Kyla apparently picks up on my delighted reaction, because she starts clapping, which makes me start laughing.

"Wow," Garrus smirks, "If you'd told me eight years ago…"

"Yeah, yeah, watch it," she counters.

"I'm just messing with you. I'm happy for you, Sol."

She smiles. "Thanks. …I hope we're as happy as you are."

I look at Kyla, Hunter, and Garrus in turn. "…I don't see how that's possible, but…I hope you are, too."

She nods. "Alright. I'll call you again later."

"Talk to you then," Garrus nods before she hangs up. When he turns off his omni-tool, he considers the news. "…I actually don't believe this."

"Well, you and me is kind of hard to believe and look how that's turned out," I smirk.

Garrus smirks back, looking at Hunter. "Yeah. Turned out pretty well." As he says so, he messes Hunter's hair.

Hunter quickly pushes his hand away. "Stop that!"

I sigh. "Don't make me separate you two again."

"You're the one who talked me into taking him home," Garrus remarks.

"I'm standing right here!" Hunter says.

Garrus laughs. "Come on. Let's get you something to eat."

I smile as I watch Hunter leave the room. The six-year-old (well, to be fair, he'll be seven in a couple months) was a war orphan, born on one of the colonies the Reapers hit. Somehow, his parents had managed to get him to the Citadel before they died and the people overseeing the refugee camps had ensured he was taken care of. But with no one willing to really take him in, he was facing a future as a duct rat by the time Garrus and I found him three years ago. You could say I saw a bit of myself in him; that combined with Garrus' C-Sec horror stories was enough encouragement to take him in ourselves. As you can see, it's worked out fairly well.

Then I turn my attention to Kyla. Before she was even two years old, both her parents, soldiers for the hierarchy, were killed in action. Garrus' place in the hierarchy got him the news faster than most, so he was in the perfect position to talk me into taking her in like we took in Hunter. Let's just say I was apprehensive at first—I'd never really handled a baby before and I'm far from the nurturing type. But we never had gotten biology to cooperate (though not for lack of trying…) and this was likely the closest second we were going to find. I don't know what possessed me to agree to it, but I haven't regretted it so far.

So I sigh and turn my full attention to her. "Well. It's just you and me now. What do we do?"

Kyla gives the two-year-old-turian equivalent of a smirk and grabs my nose.

I push her hand off, smirking back as she laughs. "You're all endearingly insufferable, aren't you?" I shake my head at her. "Alright. …I'm hungry, too." So I follow Garrus and Hunter out.

Ten minutes later, Hunter and Kyla are both going off to play as I sit in the kitchen with Garrus.

I sigh as I poke through a bowl of fruit. "When's the next supply run supposed to come in?"

"About two hours," Garrus answers.

"Oh. Good timing." Liara has a knack for that. Since she found this planet for us and helped us to get settled in under the radar, she's been keeping us supplied. Some might think constantly sending things to a technically uncharted planet would probably raise some suspicion, but, thankfully, not even her agents question the Shadow Broker's motives. Shaking my head at the thought, I set the bowl aside, biting into a strawberry as I turn back to Garrus. When I look at him, I find that he's watching the hall Hunter and Kyla just went down, barely moving at all. "…Garrus?"

He smirks. "I wonder if Solana is gonna have kids."

I think about that and find myself smiling with him. "I wouldn't be surprised. She seems like she'd make a good mother."

"Can you really judge that until it happens? I mean, I never would've pictured myself as the father type…"

"Really? 'Cause I think you handle it pretty well."

He turns to face me. "With you helping, I guess."

I simply look down at the strawberry remains in my hand before stepping aside to toss it. "Yeah, well, I'd be lying if I said I could handle this without you."

"Hey," he says as he comes over to me, "It's like you said. There's nothing we can't do together."

"Now let's not get ahead of ourselves. …we've still got teenage years ahead of us."

"Oh, great, now I'm gonna have nightmares again."

I smirk, giving him a playful shove.

"Ha! Now who's being insufferable?"

"Endearingly—don't forget that part."

He answers with another smirk. Then, slowly, the playfulness in his eyes fades to that same admiration I've grown so used to. As he keeps his gaze locked with mine, his hand reaches up to my hair, his talons pushing my hair back from my face as his fingers tenderly brush against my skin. The sensation ignites me, sends a shiver through my lungs that brings me to grab the wall behind me to keep from falling against it. His hand doesn't move, even as his other slides around my waist and the distance between us slowly disappears. Focus fading, I gradually pull my hand back from the wall to press it to his scars as the world is lost to this embrace with him—

Then Kyla gives off that distressed sound she gives whenever she's been left alone and awake.

I shock back from Garrus with a groan. "What'd I tell you?"

Then, as if on a timer, Hunter calls "Uh…help?!"

Garrus sighs. "Figures. You wanna take Hunter or Kyla?"

"Scylla or Charibdis…" I mutter.

He just looks at me and turns on his omni-tool, typing that in.

I look at this in amazement. "Really? In seven years, I've never given you the Odyssey?"

"Your people have a lot of this stuff, Sara," he comments before stepping off to check on Kyla.

I wait for him to walk off before rolling my eyes and heading to Hunter's room.

Hunter is standing by his bed. "…I can't reach it."

I follow his gaze to see the bookshelf on his wall. Usually, he can get to them himself, but the book in question was thrown on top of the others and is unfortunately larger than most of them. I scoff to myself at one thing, though: "Well, at least this situation is easily resolved." I easily take the book down and set it on his bed. "There."

"Thanks." With that, he sits down and starts flipping through it.

I start to turn to leave but stop myself when I look at the book. "Wait…" I sit down next to him and watch as he goes through the pages. Some of them are filled with pictures I can tell are meant to be of us and our former crewmates. Most of the rest are filled with notes on the galaxy and, if I'm reading it right, the Normandy and all we've been through aboard it. "You've been doing this since we started telling you the story, haven't you?" The story of our lives, fighting for life everywhere.

He nods. "It's so cool, what happened with you." Well, that's not the word I would've used at the time… "I wanted to write it down."

"If you're worried anyone's ever gonna forget what happened, Aunt Liara's already got it covered."

"No. I just thought I could tell it myself someday."

I smirk at the thought. "Maybe." Then I actually look at what he's writing. "Hey, wait a minute! I never said I wrestled a varren!"

"You didn't? Aw…"

Garrus then steps up to the door with a sigh, Kyla in his arms. "Well. She's upset."

I step over to see what's wrong. "Did something happen when you checked on her?"

"Actually, I think she's still upset she was in her room alone for five seconds. This girl can hold a grudge."

I scoff. "She just needs some attention. Uh…" Something he said earlier comes back to me then: "You said the next supply run was on the way. Maybe she'd want to go with you to get it."

"It might be a bit harder to bring everything back and watch her at the same time…" he points out, "…but I guess I can handle it." He then looks at her. "Right?"

She answers by looking at him and promptly turning away.

I blink. "Wow. She can hold a grudge."

"Like I said…" Garrus shakes his head before walking off.

I smirk after him before turning back to Hunter. "Did you need anything else?"

Hunter simply looks down at one page in the book.

Curiously, I move over there and look. The book is open to a picture of me holding my bow. "Wow. That's actually pretty good."

"I guess." He sighs, closing the book. "…Mom?"

I'm still far from used to hearing him call me that, so I take a few seconds too long to respond. "…yeah?"

He looks at me with pleading in his eyes. "…could you teach me how to use a bow?"

I freeze at those words. I try to say something but can't find the words. "Uh…I'm sorry, what?"

"I wanna be able to shoot like you can."

"Oh, that's asking a lot…" I sigh. I run a hand through my hair for a second, thinking this over. There's really no reason I can't teach him. It's not like I'd be handing him a gun or anything, and I could blunt some arrows for him so that he couldn't hurt anything bigger than a spider. Finally, I just consent to telling him the best truth I can compile: "I don't know if I can, Hunter. The only bow we have is mine and it was custom-made for me—it's too big for you."

He seems visibly disappointed. "Oh."

I give him a look. "Hey…" I take his hand. "…nothing's gonna try attacking you. And even if it did, your dad and I would take care of it inside of five seconds."

He laughs. "I know. I just thought it'd be cool to know how."

I answer that by pressing my hand to his hair. "You're cool already."

"Shut up."

I laugh, messing up his hair as I pull back. Before he can respond to this, though, my own omni-tool starts beeping. I check to see who it is. "It's Liara." I look at Hunter. "Think you can handle yourself for a few minutes, kid?"

He turns back to his book and nods. "Yeah."

I start into the next room. "Call me if you need me!" I call back as I leave earshot. Once I'm settled on the couch, I answer the call. "Hey, Liara."

She smiles. "Hello, Sara. I trust things are going well out there?"

"Perfect. What about you? Are you doing OK?"

"I can handle myself, Sara. I'm fine."

"Yeah, I know you can, but judging by our history…"

"Fair enough."

I smirk before lying back on the couch. "So why'd you call?"

"Two reasons. First, I heard about Solana's recent engagement and wanted to tell you to pass on my congratulations."

"Why not call her yourself?"

"We're not that well acquainted.

"…right…so my conferring a message from you in response to something she only told us an hour ago won't be weird…"

Liara just shakes her head at me. "Of course. Second, I wanted to warn you that the supply run is going to be about an hour late today."

I groan. "Great. Garrus just took Kyla out a couple minutes ago to get it."

"Oh. I suppose I should let you call him back."

"No, it's fine. He'll call me or you if there's a problem with it." Then I consider what happened since he left. I quickly sneak a glance back at Hunter's room to make sure he hasn't left it and still can't hear me. "Uh…while we're talking, though…do you think you could sneak something extra into the supply run next month?"

Liara looks at me curiously. "Depends on what you're asking for."

"It's, uh…Hunter just asked me to teach him how to use a bow, so I was wondering if you could make one in his size before his birthday."

Liara's look then turns to amazement. "Wow." Then she starts to smirk. "What's that human saying? 'Train them up in the way they should go'? Or would 'like mother, like son' be more accurate?"

"Shut up."

She just laughs. "I'll look into it."

I smile. "Thanks."

"We'll always be friends, Sara. I'll do what I can for you."

"You've sure put up with a lot. Although, I guess that just tells you who your real friends are."

Liara smiles. "Yes. I suppose it does." She then turns aside, obviously diverting her attention to her network. "I should probably return to work now."

"Be careful, alright?"

"When have you known me not to be?"

"You didn't test the shunting program!"

She winces. "Right. Sorry. …it still worked."

I sigh, shaking my head. "As much as I miss jumping across the galaxy with you all, there are times I'm glad our days of getting shot at are more or less over."

She smirks again. "We miss those days as much as you do, Sara, believe me."

I smirk back. "Fine. Go have fun with the galaxy's secrets. I'll see you next time everyone comes back here."

"Alright. I'll see you then. …I hope you are always happy there together."

At that, my smirk fades to a genuine smile. "We will be. Thank you."

Liara simply nods and disconnects.

I turn off my omni-tool and breathe deep, lying down on the couch completely. Through my entire life, it's been very rare for me to find a moment to myself—

Beep, beep!

Yep, saw that coming. Keeping my resounding groan under my breath, I answer my COMM.

"…so…"

"Liara just called. You'll have to wait an hour."

Garrus sighs. "Fine. We can wait."

"Just be careful, alright?"

"Remember who you're talking to, Sara."

"Oh, I remember. Need I remind you how you got those scars?"

He noticeably hesitates to respond. "…I'll talk to you later." Then he hangs up.

I scoff before turning off my COMM and reverting to my relaxed state. …then, about eight minutes later, I start getting restless and get back on my feet.

Ironically, it's about the same time that Hunter comes out of his room. "What's going on?"

"Supplies are delayed. Just you and me for the next hour."

He considers that for a moment before breaking into a smile.

I take a second to look at him. "What?"

He sits down next to me. "Can I hear another story?"

"You want me to keep talking about how we saved the galaxy when he's not even here?"

"No! An Earth story."

Oh. Right. My specialty. I smile and lean back onto the couch. "Alright." He gladly leans back with me, not even caring when I wrap an arm around him. I consider for a moment which story to give. There's so many, after all. I finally decide which one he'd like the most and skip past the PG-13 introduction straight to the story: "Once there was a boy named Arthur Pendragon…"

He listens intently to the whole story, occasionally giving off an amazed reaction. He certainly seems to enjoy it. And, perfect timing, 20 seconds after I finish telling him every part of the story I think is appropriate for a six-year-old to hear, Garrus comes back with Kyla.

Garrus sighs as he closes the door and Kyla comes over to me. "Got it here. I was right, though, it was more difficult with her."

I shake my head at him as I pick up Kyla. "Probably did her some good."

"Yeah, but it wore me out."

"You poor thing."

He just gives me a look before stepping aside. "Just for that, I'll let you keep her."

It takes a second to realize what he's talking about. Kyla's tired again, and when a two-year-old (turian or otherwise) gets tired, you can expect some wild behavior. Thankfully, the term "terrible twos" isn't as applicable to her as it would be to most human children, but getting her to stop squirming for three seconds at this point would be like trying to talk a thresher maw out of eating you. "Great," I finally sigh, "Guess we better put her down."

"Good luck," Garrus scoffs as he starts putting the supplies away, "I had to chase her down twice out there—it's why I was ten minutes late."

"Don't worry. I've got it." I reposition my hold on her, slowly moving to her room as I do. "… may it be an evening star…shines down upon you…may it be when darkness falls…your heart will be true…you walk a lonely road…oh, how far you are from home…" Well, it has the desired effect. Kyla starts to calm down, listening as I softly hum the Elven words littered through the chorus. "…believe and you will find your way…" She curls up against me, drawing me to smile as I step into her room. "…a promise lives within you now …" She smiles even as I lay her down in her bed.

Garrus then approaches the door behind me. "…wow. We should've gotten one of her years ago."

I toss him a brief smirk over my shoulder before turning to Kyla again. "… may it be the shadow's call…will fly away…may it be you journey on…to light the day…when the night is all but gone…you may rise to find the sun…" As Kyla slowly drifts asleep, Garrus steps silently over to sit down beside me, looking between the two of us with equal levels of adoration. "…believe and you will find your way…" That's when he reaches over to take my hand and Kyla's breathing steadies. "…a promise lives within you now…a promise lives within you…now …" With Kyla asleep and the song over, nothing can distract me from Garrus' hold on me. I turn to face him, lighting up the moment our eyes meet.

He smiles, running his free hand through my hair again. "I always loved your voice, but…"

"Yeah, I know." I still remember the first time we heard that song together, the day after my return to the Normandy when I talked the squad into watching Lord of the Rings with me; Joker saw fit to point out that all three movies were the same length and suggested we hurry up to start the second one so we could actually get through all three in one day, to which I promptly smacked him in the arm telling him "Don't skip the credits!" (Which amused everyone else there and drew a nudge from Ash about me secretly being a nerd, bringing me to let Joker go ahead and move forward after the song was over instead of sitting through another 15 minutes of names of people that died 150 years ago anyway…) Just as well, I also remember the first time that Garrus heard me sing.

The day after I made everyone sit through the trilogy with me, I did the same with the Hobbit movies. After it was over, I came into my cabin humming some of the music and even singing the song of the Misty Mountains under my breath.

"So you lied to me! To all of us!"

I jumped and turned to find Garrus glaring me down. "What? What are you talking about?"

"Back during the party on the Citadel when Joker was making 'suggestions' about what to do and brought up seeing if any of us could actually sing besides Tali. You said you couldn't!"

Realizing what he was saying, I smirked, letting off a small laugh. "No, no, no. I said I don't sing. I never said I couldn't."

He smirked back, stepping closer. "Why don't you?"

"Well, it's not exactly a skill I've cultivated with the life I've had. And even outside of combat and all…I guess I just never had a reason to."

He then caught on. "…but now you do?"

I gave him a look. "The Reapers are gone, we're both still alive and together, no one's got me running for my life at the moment, and now, to top it all off, I just managed to get all the best friends I have in the entire galaxy to watch every decent movie ever made in Middle-Earth with me, so yeah, I've got plenty of reasons."

He laughed. "Can't argue with that."

I simply turned to lean against the wall, looking up at the stars above us. When he took my side, carefully wrapping his arms around me, I leaned against him instead. "… with a sigh…you turn away…with a deepening heart…no more words to say…you will find…that the world has changed…forever…and the trees are now turning from green to gold…and the sun is now fading…I wish I could hold you closer …"

Garrus looked at me, slowly drawing me closer to him. "Don't tell the others but I actually kind of enjoyed those vids."

I smirked at him. "Really? For real or just because I spent the whole time curled up against you?"

"Yeah, that may have been a contributing factor."

I laughed. "We can always do it again."

He looked at me for a moment in consideration…then he took hold of me completely and all but threw me onto the bed, wrapping himself around me. "I look forward to it."

I smiled to reciprocate the thought. Then I pulled him down to kiss me.

Now here we are five years later. Still holding onto each other.

I smile again as I tell him the greatest truth my heart knows: "I love you, Garrus."

He smiles back, kissing me briefly before responding: "I love you, Sara."

The rest of the day goes by like normal. Which is the closest to "normal" my life has come since the day I was born. Even the select few times I wanted a "normal life," I never dreamed I would love it so much. But I do. …yeah…everything we've been through has been worth it if it leads to this.

I put Kyla to bed tonight much the same way I made her sleep this afternoon. She gladly complies once she has the bear Hunter once gave her tight in her arms. I smile at the sight before moving to Hunter's room.

"Come on!" Hunter grabs me by the arm the second I step through his door, pulling me over to sit down on the bed with him and Garrus. "It's time to get back to the story!"

I smirk, shaking my head at him as I pull my hair over my shoulder. "I know our lives have been exciting and all, but…"

"Nah, I could've told you the day we brought him home that this was eventually gonna happen," Garrus smirks back.

I sigh, giving him a brief look before turning my attention to Hunter. "Where were we?"

"You'd just come back from the dead," Hunter answers like it's the coolest thing in the world. Which, I guess, from his perspective, it pretty much is.

"Right! Right. OK… Did we tell you about Freedom's Progress yet?" Hunters nods. "Alright, then that brings us to…" I look at Garrus, smiling at what I say next: "…Omega. Cerberus had just given me the SR-2 and we had to put a team together to fight the Collectors. There were two people on Omega that belonged on that team. A salarian scientist named Mordin Solus…and a turian vigilante they called Archangel."

Since we have to take a few minutes to explain the situation on Omega and what exactly a "vigilante" is, it takes almost 45 minutes to explain everything that happened on Omega. By the time we're about ready to start talking about the next stop on the mission, Hunter has already started falling asleep. Exchanging brief smirks with Garrus again for a moment, I turn to lay down the ex-duct rat and step out.

Garrus sighs once we're out of earshot of both kids. "So…we're finally alone."

I smile. "There's one last thing I've gotta take care of. Give me a minute and I'm all yours."

His answer is to move in closer to me, taking hold of me and kissing me by my ear. Then just before pulling back, he whispers into it: "I look forward to it." And as he walks away, his fingers brush against my ear enough to make me flinch from suppressed laughter. The smile he gives me as he moves out of the hall certainly doesn't help matters.

He knows just how to get to me. …and I don't even care.

As he heads out, I go into our room and call up my omni-tool. With a sigh, I sit down on the bed and start sifting through the pictures I have stored in my personal data files. The first one on there is of the Normandy SR-1. I stop moving for a moment. The first time I saw that ship, I was taken with it, as if it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. When Anderson first told me it was mine, I had to mentally kick myself to keep from displaying an unprofessionally enthusiastic response. When the Collectors tore that ship apart, I felt something inside me break long before my oxygen tank did.

I shake those thoughts away. I didn't come in here and pull up old pictures to reminisce over my death. Though it does bring me to remember Alchera. Someday, I ought to go back there with Garrus. It's hardly a tourist attraction, but it was our home once. …once. I sigh, forcing myself to go back to the pictures. The next one is of me, Ash, and Kaidan. Then of the whole squad after Feros. Then the time Joker sneak-attacked me to get in one. The team after the assault on the Collector base, Garrus and me at the top of the Presidium, the party on the Citadel (naturally). All the photographic evidence of what we all went through together. Proof of where we were…and where it led us.

"Ash, is this really necessary?" I sighed as I held my hair out of the way.

"You said you wanted to do this 'normally,'" Ashley responded, not bothering to hide the fact that it was really a snide comment, "You need a 'something borrowed.'" She then finished fixing the clasp on the necklace and stepped back. "OK. Much better. Now…" And so she pushed my hands down and started messing with my hair.

"Ash!" I physically pushed her back. "It's fine!" I straightened it out myself, letting it fall free over my shoulders.

"Shepard," EDI spoke up as I checked my reflection, "is there a reason tradition is held at such high value for events like these? Statistically speaking, the odds of what you do during the ceremony having an effect on the marriage's success are low."

"Well, people didn't always use that kind of logic," I answered as I finished checking my hair and started looking over my dress, "What was once considered necessary to promote a healthy relationship eventually set the standard for the culture itself. And just because it's not what you'd expect doesn't mean it's not true."

"That much I can understand."

"Besides," Ash smirked, "what some people see as 'urban legends' and such actually are rooted in fact. Like, for example, what humans sometimes say about redheads…" She made that comment with a sideways glance at me.

I answered with a less than subtle glare. "Watch it, LC."

EDI simply looked distantly through her visor, the way she always did when doing a data analysis. "Actually, many of the statements Lieutenant-Commander Williams are referring to do seem to apply to you, Commander."

"Great," I groaned, "Now I'm never gonna hear the end of this."

Liara finally stepped in. "Leave Sara alone. She has enough on her mind as is."

I smiled. "It's 'Sara' already, huh?"

Liara smiled back. "We've been friends for four years. I'd say it was overdue before a marriage was in question."

Tali then came into the room. "Sorry I'm late. There was a—" She stopped talking when she looked at me. "Oh…Sara…"

I looked down at my dress for a second before turning to her. "Not what you were expecting?"

"Far from it." She sighed. "I'm actually jealous. The suit makes 'dressing up' a bit of a dilemma." She then stepped over to me, looking me over more carefully. "But you are beautiful." At a new thought, she started laughing. "Oh, I can't wait to see Garrus' face when he sees this."

I found myself laughing with her. "Someone please take pictures."

"But seriously, Commander," Ashley said, leaning on my shoulder as she looked at me through the mirror, "Vakarian's a lucky one."

I considered that. As much as he'd told me of how much he needed me and cared about me, I knew he thought he was even when I wasn't living up to the phrase "beautiful as a bride." But after all we'd been through together, as many times as he acted as my strength, as much as I loved him, I knew this was true: "I am, too."

Liara placed her hand on my arm. "You deserve this. You belong together."

I smiled. "You're the best friends a soldier on her third life could ask for."

Tali laughed again. "You've been a good friend to all of us as well."

"Commander?" EDI spoke up, "The ceremony will be starting soon."

I sighed. "OK. Liara can take it from here, the rest of you should go get ready."

Ash, EDI, and Tali promptly nodded and headed out.

Liara then turned to me. "Are you ready?"

I simply looked at my reflection again. "…I can't believe this is actually happening."

"It is. Everything we've been through has led to this moment. You're ready." She then proceeded to hand over a bunch of blue and white flowers tied together by a blue ribbon. I smiled as I took them. "Now go live your life with the man you love. And don't ever look back."

I ran those words through my head for a moment… "…never again."

Yeah. "I'll never look back again." Now here I am looking at photos of those days and getting all nostalgic. I sigh as I turn off my omni-tool, the image of me on my wedding day fading with the display. I shouldn't be beating myself up about it. I'm not really looking back like we were worried about. We all knew I was eventually (some even bet immediately) going to get homesick in my own special way for the Normandy. Garrus knows it, understands, and even, if I know him (and I know I do), feels the same way. But that doesn't mean we're not happy with the life we have now. Quite the opposite, actually.

That thought reminds me of our exchange in the hall. Smiling at the thought and pushing away the lingering memories I called forth, I track him down. When I find that he's outside, I follow him out.

Funny. Ever since my enlistment, I've gotten used to the kind of automatic and code-locked doors the Alliance sees all the time, but on Earth, I always had to prop open doors I left through to keep them from locking behind me. Now these are the only doors in the entire quadrant, so we never bothered installing locks at all.

To think there was a time when I slept with a weapon in my hand, the nearest window jammed open for a quick escape, and every door around me barred shut. There were even times I spent whole years in underground complexes and abandoned buildings with dozens of other people and still didn't feel safe or even like I wasn't still totally on my own. Now I'm content to think nothing in the galaxy can threaten me. And even if it can, I've got a modified bow and arrow and an overprotective turian husband with a sniper rifle, so bring it on.

Garrus is sitting outside, looking out at the sky.

I smile just at the sight. Then I realize what time it is. It's almost midnight. Last night was one of the few times I haven't sat there with him at midnight. We started doing it shortly after we took in Hunter, trying to get some alone time when he was asleep. After it became a regular thing to take Hunter out here after dark and search for constellations, we used that as an excuse to make our midnight meetings a personal tradition. Now it's a bit of both.

I move over to take his side. "Enjoying the view?"

He smiles as I sit down beside him. "Glad I let you pick where to settle down."

I smirk at the comment before reaching over to take his hand. "I'm just glad we got to at all." I turn my gaze to him, smiling at the sight of his eyes. "I've never been happier than I am with you."

He keeps his eyes on mine, reaching over the hand not locked in mine to stroke my hair. "The feeling's mutual."

Reveling in his gentle touch, I bring my hand up to rest on his scars. As he leans into it, still not taking his eyes off mine, I hold his hand even tighter. "…there was one day, a few weeks before Earth fell, where I wondered what our lives would've been like if we'd never met." Slowly, my hand falls from his face to his chest, feeling the pound of his heart, just slightly quickened by my touch. "Then I remembered this, remembered Omega-4, and I couldn't bear the thought of living without you." His eyes soften, his grasp on my hand tightening as much as mine is on his. "When the Shadows had me, I…I knew there was something missing, but I couldn't…" I sigh, letting my hand fall away from him entirely. "All this time, I thought I gave you my heart." Then my hand finds its way to his, pulling it from my hair to rest over my own heartbeat. "You are my heart."

He simply looks at our intertwined hands, lost in the rhythm of my pulse. "…and you're mine." He clings to my hands, not even looking at me as he lets it out: "Every time I lost you, it destroyed me. I just…" He can't bring himself to say the rest. And if the way his hold on my hands tightens again is anything to go by, he has good reason.

Of course, when that hold tightens so much that an aching rises in my hands, I wind up cutting him off with a sharp "Ow!" I can't hold back in time.

He quickly snaps out of it and lets go. "Sorry."

I stretch my hands out a few times to shake off the pressure. "It's fine."

He still watches me carefully, finally reaching over to run his fingers gently across my hands as if to make sure he didn't damage them.

Pressing my hands to his face and turning his gaze back to me, I give him a look of reassurance. Then, when he barely responds, smirk and kiss his nose.

He laughs briefly before pushing my hands away. Guess I know how to get to him, too.

Giving him one last smile, I breathe deep and fall back against the ground, barely paying attention to how he lies down beside me in response. I keep my eyes focused on the sky. Stars gleam in the distance as twin moons hang off to the side, the third peering over the horizon. But all of those lights are far outshined by the spectra at the edge of the atmosphere. The magnetosphere on this particular planet is just powerful enough to catch all the solar radiation necessary to produce this flood of colorful light every night, as we discovered within the first three days of living here.

"This planet's not been named yet, right?" I asked Garrus.

"Right," he confirmed.

"I submit Aurora. Obviously quite appropriate."

"Obviously?"

I put the pieces together. Palaven's magnetic field was weaker, which was why all its life had adapted to higher levels of radiation, so they probably never saw anything like the "Northern Lights" of Earth. Knowing this, I gave Garrus a brief explanation of the aurora borealis and its relation to what we were seeing here.

"Wow," he smirked, "Guess it's true what they say: the most dangerous things in the galaxy are just as often the most beautiful."

"You're talking about me again, aren't you?" I scoffed.

"Please, Sara, not everything's about you."

I answered with a playful shove. Then joined him when he started laughing.

We actually did put forward "Aurora" as the name for the planet. My suggestion hasn't gone through yet, but I did notice that, a month after directing it to Liara, her system started showing our position as Aurora in the Corona system (though this was marked to point out that the names were not officially declared by any galactic surveys).

Those thoughts dissipate entirely when I feel Garrus' hand against my face. I take a moment to savor the sensation, then I wrap my hand around his. With a sigh, I lay my head on his shoulder. "Part of me misses the days when we were together just because we needed to be."

He smiles, wrapping his arm around me. "We still are. Just for better reasons."

I can't deny that's true. I also can't deny the feeling that rises inside me when he holds my hand to his heart and reaches over to kiss me where his own hand was resting just a moment ago. So when he attempts to keep going, I move to respond in kind and kiss his scars again. Before we know it, we're wrapped up in each other completely. Even during the days just after our reunion, we had some slight reservations for these embraces. We skipped over them the night of Omega-4 because we knew it might be our last chance. The night we were married, we tore them down entirely, never to be repaired. Which leaves us no reason to hold back as this stargazing turns into the same passionate fire we had that night.

Though we're still brought back to awareness when the sound of thunder reaches us.

Garrus sighs. "We should probably go inside."

I let him help me to my feet and lead us back to our room. We stay quiet until our bedroom door is closed, to avoid waking Hunter or Kyla. But once that's no longer a concern, I take him by the arm and all but throw him onto the bed so I can wrap myself around him and pick up where we left off. "…I love you."

He smiles, nuzzling against me as he replies: "I love you, too." Then he kisses me and the world around us fades away.

This is it. This is what my life has always been leading to. Every bullet I dodged, every explosion I outran, even every friend I lost—it's all brought us here. I should've known the second I first saw him that Garrus Vakarian was the one I was meant to be with. Forever. But I know now. And nothing could keep me away. I have felt love and fallen into it and I will never face a life without it. I could never live without him. No. I'm never letting go. I'll hold on until the end.