Part 2 – Garrus Vakarian

"We'll get through this," I'd told her, "We always do." Ever since I said so, we'd been standing like that, our arms wrapped around each other. I can't say how long we were in that position before we turned away from the monitor to holding each other close. I just know we hadn't moved since then.

"What did I ever do to deserve you?" she suddenly asked, her voice cutting through the silence.

I answered with a smirk. "You put everyone else before yourself. You fought to do the right thing even when it was the hard choice. You were strong and kind and brave…" I leaned back enough to look at her, taking in the sight of her bright green eyes and light red hair. …and beautiful… "…you were Commander Shepard."

She answered that with a smirk of her own. "That does say a lot, doesn't it?"

I simply kept my eyes locked on hers, one hand finding its way up to rest against her face. She leaned into it, closing her eyes almost peacefully as if she was ready to fall asleep there. "You mean a lot to me, Shepard."

"If I didn't, I'd question your commitment to our relationship," she commented offhandedly, not even moving.

"I mean it. You've done more for me than anyone else. You have no idea how much I need you."

She opened her eyes again, staring gently into mine before allowing a soft smile to come, her eyes gradually lighting up as she did. "I need you, too."

"No, you don't. Like I just said, you're Commander Shepard. You could very well have gotten this far without me."

"Not as stylishly, of course."

I let off a small laugh. I did say that, didn't I?

"And I couldn't have. You've saved me out there almost as much as I've saved you"—I scoffed at that—"and there were times the fact that I knew you were there was the only thing that made me keep fighting. Let's face it, you were my best friend long before you were the love of my life."

The casual use of the term drew me to look at her in amazement. She simply kept her gentle smile aimed at me, unfazed. She really meant it. And seeing her here with me, her emerald eyes alight with that adoring gleam…in that moment, I knew that she was mine.

Almost without thinking, I took hold of her completely and pulled her in to kiss her. She gladly reciprocated, pressing me tighter against her as she devoted her full attention to me. Slowly, the familiar, affectionate gesture began to gain in passion, sending us spiraling into each other. As I started to lose myself in her, I lost control over my actions. One hand had already slid into her hair, so my talons now tightened their hold on the soft red threads, pulling her back from the building pressure enough for me to turn my attention elsewhere, sending me into a series of kisses across the side of her face and down her neck. She took the chance to catch her breath before diving back in, giving the same wholehearted attention to my scars. Figures that even when she was doing the exact same thing to me that I was doing to her, she had the bigger effect. Although that could also be attributed to the way her hand was softly brushing against my skin, just barely making contact, light as a feather falling from the sky; the tingling sensation it drew it out was…enthralling. Almost as much as the commander herself.

I felt it when she started to bring her leg up and press it against me as if preparing to jump up into my arms (which, in our current position, would've sent us both tumbling to the floor). But she simply set it back down and slowly brought herself to pull away from me. "…Garrus…"

It took a second to get past the flash of longing, of desperation to claw my way past her defenses only to give in to her entirely, that hearing her voice saying my name brought surging through me. But once I did, I put together that she was telling me to back off for a second. I forced myself to stop what I was doing immediately. But I took as much time as I could to pull back from my current position to meet her eyes again.

The look in her eyes betrayed her own desire, but she still brought herself to say "no": "We're headed to Horizon tomorrow. I need to start making sure we're ready to move in when I set the course."

What? Oh. Right. There's a war on. "Right. Go on ahead, I'll just…get back to calibrating this thing."

She just barely kept herself from laughing. "…you know…even if the preparations take all day, we've still got a whole night between now and setting that course. …I'm sure I could use some company besides a hamster and some fish."

To that one, I just barely kept myself from laughing. "I think that's an assignment I wouldn't have any problem with taking."

So she took my hand and leaned in to whisper into my ear. "I love you, Garrus." She then pressed her other hand to my face long enough to kiss my scars one last time as she pulled away. Taking only a moment to meet my eyes, she stepped back and started to leave the battery.

I smiled. "What did I ever do to deserve you?"

She stopped walking before reaching the door and turned to look back at me. "You were the best friend I could've asked for. You stood by me at every turn. You were there for me when I needed you. You showed me the light again when things were looking dark. You were loyal and honest and caring…" She locked eyes with me one more time and smiled, bringing that spark in her own eyes that I loved so well. "…you were Garrus Vakarian." With that, she turned and left the battery.

I stayed there in the battery for the next several hours, going through the targeting systems without really paying attention and impatiently waiting for either Shepard to call me up or EDI to signal lights out—whichever came first. After a while, all the numbers started to look the same. I checked the nearest clock. 19:39, by Alliance military time. Still a couple hours before my option two. I turned my attention back to the console, sifting through the algorithms again. Nothing had changed and I wasn't thinking clearly enough to make any changes. Every few seconds, I glanced at my omni-tool as if it'd make a message from my girlfriend magically appear. No luck on either front. But at least the restlessness kept my mind off of the worries that'd been eating at me when Shepard first came by. When I reached the point where my mind was slowing down so much that I couldn't even stand to look at the numbers anymore and still no word came, I figured it must have been at least a whole hour I'd just killed. So I checked the time again.

19:48.

That does it! I growled and put the algorithms aside, stepping out of the battery. I didn't even know where I was planning on going until I was already on the elevator and hitting the button for deck 1. I didn't care if she was still busy or if she wasn't even on that deck when I got there, I just needed to either see her or be in the right place to meet her the second she was done. It wasn't like it'd be the first time I waited around in her cabin while she was off doing something else without me. But when I actually stepped into her cabin, I found out why she hadn't called me up yet.

At some point near the end of the preparations she was talking about, she'd collapsed on her bed, curled up on top of the covers with her left hand wrapped tightly around a datapad.

I found myself smirking at the sight before cautiously making my way to her, as if one wrong step would wake her up. When I finally came to her side, I carefully pried her fingers off the datapad to set it aside, not even caring when they instead began to clutch mine. For a moment, I looked down at her, letting one talon softly sift through her hair as I considered how to handle this situation. There was really only one acceptable way: leave her be. She needed the rest far more than I needed the distraction. So I started to quietly pull away.

Before I could, her hand tightened its hold on mine, holding me in place. She shifted just enough to look over at me. "Where are you going?"

I gave her hand a gentle squeeze before turning to her entirely. "Shepard, you're running yourself ragged. I can wait. Go ahead and get some sleep."

She simply turned over, bringing my hand closer to her. "I'm not gonna be able to sleep either way. Besides…" She smiled softly again, her fingers gently rubbing against the back of my hand. "…we made plans."

Obvious as it was that I couldn't dissuade her, what really convinced me was the first part of her argument. She was having trouble sleeping. Instinct told me she needed someone there with her, someone to lean on. That'd always been me. So I stepped around to the other side of the bed, Shepard only releasing my hand once she saw I was staying with her, and sat down beside her, letting her toss the covers over us both. When I realized that she wasn't going to change her position, I laid down beside her, wrapping my arms around her to keep her close.

She smiled, nestling against me in response. "You know that I really do love you, right?"

I smiled back, taking in the sensation of her hand sliding up my side to my face. "You've made it pretty clear."

She let her fingers glide softly over my marks before falling down to her side. "…do you love me?"

I actually froze. She'd never asked me something like that before. Mostly because I believed we had both assumed she didn't have to. I had no idea how to respond. "…Shepard…I…" But I never got the chance to respond at all. By the time I'd said that much, she'd already fallen back asleep, her lungs a gentle rhythm against my own. I sighed and stayed pressed to her, burying my face in her hair, resting my hand against her ribs as her heartbeat coursed through them, taking comfort in the way she nestled against me…

…yes…I do, I found myself thinking as I fell into her completely, I always loved you, Shepard. And I always will. Unlike her, I was miles away from sleep. So I spent the next two hours before I did follow her simply holding close to her and letting my thoughts ring with that same revelation: I'm in love with a human named Commander Sara Shepard.

I smile at the memory. It happened a little over six years ago. So much has changed in that time, but those thoughts haven't changed at all. When I thought she was dead, I was still in love with her. When I got her back, I went out of my way to show her as much. When the battle with the Shadows was finally over, I proved it absolutely. Not long after, we had devoted our entire lives to each other. Which is why I'm standing outside our house on an unsettled garden world, looking out at the horizon as two of the three moons cross the star-filled sky.

Not for the first time, I find myself thinking I'm glad I let Sara pick where to settle down. And not just because she's kept her knack for finding a great view.

As I lean back against the wall, I check the time. It's almost midnight. Usually, she's out here with me by now. She must be checking on our old team again. Taking only a second to wonder when she'll stop worrying about them (which, considering she thinks of them as family, might never happen), I go inside and head to see her myself. I move quietly as I head through the house to our room. When I open the door, I find her looking out the window with her back turned to me.

I smile as I start to step over to her. "Stargazing again?"

She looks away then. Even though she doesn't turn to face me, I can tell that she's smiling at me in return. "Reminds me of the old days."

I come up behind her then, softly pulling her hair away from her shoulder so I can rest my hand over it. "Didn't we come out here to put the old days behind us?" I ask as I move ever closer, delighting in the feeling of my fingers on her skin.

She tilts her head slightly as she reaches to place her hand over mine, almost as if she's inviting me to lean into her again. "Just because you keep moving forward doesn't mean you should stop looking back."

"Fair enough."

Once I've said so, she turns to look at me. Her eyes lock on mine, mesmerizing bright green deep enough to drown in. I've fallen into it so many times and still I always find myself compelled to be drawn back in. Before I met her, I'd never imagined myself associating the word "irresistible" with someone, but she has that effect on me, too strong to deny. Her eyes only shine brighter when she smiles at me. Then she leans to kiss my scars, softly laying her free hand against them as she slowly pulls away. When she does that, it makes me kind of glad that my scars are fading so slowly and, if her predictions turn out to be accurate, might never go away completely. "Don't worry," she says as she stays close, only making her hold on me stronger, "I've never been happier than these last few years with you."

I smirk at the statement. "Glad to know my romantic skills have improved."

"Immensely," she smirks back.

I laugh in response. After offering her brief joyful reaction to it, she lays her head against mine, so I bring the hand not resting on her shoulder around her waist and pull her closer to me. She simply leans against me, letting her eyes fall shut. "Long day?"

"Not really," she answers without even shifting positions, "I just never get tired of this."

As much as I'm enjoying this, I'm actually kind of tired myself and having her weight resting on me is bound to make me collapse. "Well, I think we could do it better on the bed."

"No arguments." She pulls away from me completely then, but she still keeps a hold on my hand, all but clinging to it as she crosses the room with me. She doesn't even let go when she crawls under the covers and leads me to lay down with her, not until I have my arms wrapped tight around her. She then reassumes her previous position, leaning into me completely as I hold her close. "Oh, yeah, this is much better."

I can't keep myself from smiling, even as I lay my head against hers again.

She doesn't move for a few seconds. Then her hand lays itself against my chest, feeling my steady heartbeat the way I always feel hers. There's a precious moment in which neither of us moves, then her hand blindly rises to my scars. I close off everything else when her fingers begin to gently trace my scars, the contact in itself enticingly intimate. Without even realizing it, I move back just enough to look into her eyes again, once again getting lost in the emerald spheres. The only thing that could possibly break this hold she has over me is the very thing that happens next: she stops her light touch only to pull me up against her.

For as long as I can, I devote all my attention to this kiss with her. When she pulls away and starts to take it deeper, I almost let her. But then I notice she's not letting herself come up for air. She always has had a bad habit of pushing her limits. Some part of me regretting it the second I do it, I push her off. "Sara…" The second I see her looking down at me with that overwhelming hunger, I almost give in despite my better judgment. Instead, I return her gaze, adoration swelling as I brush her light red hair away from her eyes so that my view of the gleaming green enraptured with my own dark blue is unobstructed. "…pace yourself, alright?"

She merely keeps her gaze locked with mine, the longing entangled with varying degrees of sheer satisfaction. "I can't help it." She lays back down beside me and moves into the perfect position to whisper into my ear: "My heart is yours as yours is mine." The same turian phrase I taught her for our wedding.

I always loved the way her voice danced agilely around my native tongue. About as much as I loved hearing it not filtered by a translator, purely in her own language. Four years of marriage has had its way of bringing us to weed out the translator entirely, but we're far from done with that kind of transition, so the effect of working around it has not yet lost its strength. It still fills me with elation I can't describe.

She plainly delights in my reaction. Then she falls back into our established means of communication: "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."

I wish I couldn't say I didn't sometimes have the same worries. But I do. So I let her know that. Then I take hold of her again and kiss her until the smile I fell in love with returns. "If you do wake up…I'll still be right here next to you." She smiles brighter at the assurance before nestling against me again. I cling to her, unwilling to let go for anything in the galaxy. Somehow, this draws me to fall asleep beside her, her heartbeat ringing with mine.

I wake up beside her. For some reason, she wakes up at almost the same time. I'm not complaining, though. Not when it means that the first thing I see when I open my eyes is hers looking back me with a light smile flowing into them. I smile, the back of my hand brushing against her face and down her hair. "Still sleeping alright?"

"What's not drug-induced, yeah," she sighs, "Tell me the painkillers won't be lasting long."

I just give her a look. I was the one who had to talk her into taking the last dose instead of suffering through her spinal injury. "Let's see. My options are to either watch you seize up in absolute pain every five minutes or have you unconscious for eight hours…"

"Shut up," she smirks, grabbing her pillow and whacking me with it. As I toss it back, trading smiles with her, she turns onto her back. "How long have I been in here anyway?"

"You were injured exactly 47 hours, 19 minutes, and 23 seconds ago," EDI reports, "Dr. Chakwas began tending the injuries almost a full hour later—"

"Thanks, EDI." She sighs and lets herself rest, not moving from her current position except to place her hand in mine. "Have I ever mentioned how much I hate hospitals?"

"Well, we've already established they're not fun to fight through," I comment.

She laughs briefly. "I'd still rather fight through one than be stuck in it."

"I'd say I can relate since I was just stuck in here a few days ago, but it was just overnight, so…"

"Lucky you."

But I only keep my attention locked on her. The most beautiful human I've ever known, the best soldier I've ever seen in action, the greatest friend anyone could have. And she's mine. "…yeah. Lucky me."

We spend a lot of time together in that med bay. Two days after my impromptu proposal, her injuries from the final battle with the Shadows have healed enough that Chakwas allows us to move her from the med bay to her cabin, though only once Sara has consented to remain in bed for the rest of the week. This also includes a caution against "strenuous activity."

"Just how strenuous?" Sara questions, failing discreetness as she casts a glance in my direction.

"I wouldn't recommend even attempting to stand up," Chakwas answers.

She doesn't even bother trying to be discreet about how disappointed that answer leaves her. But she doesn't seem to mind once I volunteer to take her back to deck 1 myself and stay with her every minute until she's back on her feet. To the exclusion of all else.

Once she's back in her own bed, she lets herself relax. "Much better," she sighs with relief.

"Remember," I tell her, taking her hand, "if you need anything, just ask me."

She smirks. "I wonder which of us gets the better end of this deal—me, since you have to do whatever I say, or you, since I'm trapped in this bed and thus completely at your mercy?"

"I think it's pretty much even," I smirk in return before leaning in to kiss her.

"Well, a good relationship is built on balance…" she comments before kissing me back.

I smile at the gesture, pressing my hand against her hair. As she leans back, letting me softly stroke the light red strands and responding to it as if it actually has a chance of soothing her back to sleep, I make a quick account of her injuries. For the most part, she is on the mend, but that hit to the spine she took is going to take a while to go back to normal, like Chakwas said. "Are you feeling alright?"

"Just as long as you're here," she says softly, not even letting her eyes open as she takes in the gentle motions of my hand through her hair.

"I appreciate the gesture, Sara, but I was referring to your physical state."

She sighs. "Aside from the fact that I haven't had a decent meal since we broke the atmosphere over London, yeah, I'm getting there."

The answer brings me to pull my hand away. "Do you need me to get you something to eat?"

She just groans. "I'd hate to ask you to leave when we just got in here."

"No, really, it's fine, I'll just be gone for a few minutes." Before she can argue anymore, I head back to the elevator.

Just my luck, though, Joker is in the mess hall when I get there. "Hey! So when were you gonna say something about the engagement? Or did you just expect EDI to tell me?"

I ignore him, fishing through the food stores.

He almost makes a comment again but notices that I'm picking up both levo and dextro supplies. "Oh. Right. Still busy. Just wondering, though, did she actually say she was hungry or did your Shepard sense start tingling?"

"It's only funny if I know what you're talking about," I remark before starting to gather up what I have out and take it back to deck 1.

"Fair enough. But I gotta ask, how do you two…you know—?"

"Joker," I say as I come up next to him and stop walking, "I have been waiting to say this since the day we met: …shut…up!" When he steps back, holding his hands out as if in surrender, I move past him to the elevator and head back up (making a mental note to add his comment to the list of human references I need to ask Sara about). I head into the cabin, assuming I'm prepared, but stop halfway to her.

Sara is turning an arrow in her hand. The first arrow she ever fired at me during her time with the Shadows. "Do you even know how many times I've looked at this thing?"

I sigh. She never has been able to live with the fact that she hurt me—almost killed me. I set down the supplies on the couch and start to step over to her. "…Sara—"

"Don't bother. I'm sick of letting it all get to me." She twists the arrow one last time before looking at me. "Orion is dead. Kendrys is dead. Even the nightmares are gone. It's over. We both need to see that." Before I can even attempt to understand what she means, she takes the arrow tight in both hands and snaps it in half. Lowering the severed ends of the shaft with a sigh, she leans back against the wall then turns to look at me. "Hand me that bucket, would you?"

I follow her gaze and see the container lying by the couch. I pick it up and bring it closer. Silently, though, I wonder why she even keeps a bucket in here.

Turns out, I don't have to ask. The second I'm close enough, she throws the broken arrow into the bucket, to which I quickly set it down. Once I do, she turns to look at a box lying on her bedside table and hits it sharply enough to toss it into the bucket as well. I glance down into the container and find that the box contains everything else we brought back from the Shadows' bases besides the data in EDI's memory banks. "I'm not carrying around something I'm trying to forget. …the Shadows have to be out of our lives for good." She then reaches over the side of the bed to where she usually keeps a sidearm for emergencies. …and, when she pulls back, she's holding up an incendiary arrow.

I instantly realize what she's about to do. "Whoa! How much medication are you on right now?!"

She just smirks with an almost psychotic glee before throwing the arrow down into the bucket with just enough force to set it off. "Absolutely none."

I consent then, stepping back as the confined fire starts. After a few seconds, I head into the bathroom. When I come back out, I bring a glass of water over the bucket and dump it out, putting out the fire.

She scoffs. "Killjoy."

"Psycho."

"Oh, you love me for it."

I simply smirk before setting the empty glass aside, kicking the bucket to the wall, and bringing the supplies I gathered over to the bed. She snatches the first sign of levo food that comes into her reach and starts biting into it as I sit down beside her, but she does make a point of pushing the covers aside enough to signal for me to get in with her. I smile as I do so. And even as she pulls out every piece of levo food I brought and pushes the rest my way, she lays her head on my shoulder and leans into me. In response, I wrap my arm around her waist to keep her close.

"It means a lot that you've stuck around me for so long," she says as she finishes the food and starts to relax, wrapping her arm around mine.

I smile, resting my head in her hair. "What can I say? Everyone else in the galaxy is boring by comparison."

She answers with a smirk and a playful nudge.

"Speaking of which," I comment, taking my arm out from around her waist to take hold of her hand instead, "no more fights in the tunnel systems, alright?"

She smirks again. "Deal. From now on, only the gardens, electronic shops, and warship CICs."

"Don't forget the antique stores."

"Only if they're classy."

"You know me so well."

She laughs. I revel in the sound, wishing it didn't have to end. I always loved hearing her laugh. Before we became a couple, I almost never got to hear it at all. I still remember the first time I heard it, five days after we met. Ash had made some comment and I heard the responding laugh from across the cargo bay. I knew that I thought it was nice to hear it, but only now do I realize how my heart jumped, as if I knew right then that I loved her and wanted to bring her that sort of joy every day for the rest of my life. Hearing it now…

I can't fight off the need to let these feelings take over again. I look down at the hand grasping mine. Softly, I begin to trace the lines with the tip of my talon. When this leads me to the scar hidden in her palm, she reaches over her other hand and runs her fingers over mine, feeling along every bone. I let her carry on for a moment before moving both of my hands to her. Wrapping my left arm around her shoulders, I reach my right over to run my hand down her arm. She leans into my hold on her, taking in the sensation of my gentle touch. Turning my eyes from it to her, I let her fill my senses again. Growing closer every second, I finally start to kiss her.

She wills herself not to turn into it, forcing me to keep the affectionate gesture confined to the side of her face instead of letting it deepen. "Garrus, you heard the doctor."

"She said 'no strenuous activity.'" My hand then falls away from her arm to her waist, carefully pressing against it to bring her closer as I move as close to her as I can get. "Let me know when it starts getting strenuous."

She lets a small smile through. As I keep going, she closes her eyes to take it in, gently laying her hand against my scars. After a few minutes, she turns to cut me off entirely, moving her hand to take hold of me. "…here." Then she lays her head back against the wall and carefully brings me up against her, leading us to truly kiss. The fact that she can barely move doesn't matter anymore; both of us have our entire hearts focused on this embrace. I lose myself in it. I know now what I became certain of the day I first told her I loved her: she's my everything.

When Dr. Chakwas finally gives her the all-clear a few days later, I stay at her side as she gets back on her feet again. As is to be expected, it takes her a minute to regain the ability to stay upright, so she has to lean on me for a moment. Of course, even when she has her balance back, she keeps a hold on my hand.

Once she's back to her old self again, she has us dock in an Alliance port on Earth's surface. We had made plans before that last fight to come see her home-world together before heading out again once it was all over. So she gives the crew a much-deserved shore leave and takes me out to the city called Los Angeles.

The first time we come to a street she knows, she looks across it almost fondly. "Huh. I was six when I first came here. Stayed for three years before going on the run again." She steps over to a wall, softly running her fingers across it. "Reapers sure tore it up, but it's been pretty well-repaired."

"Anything like you remember it?" I ask as I step up beside her.

"I guess. It's been a long time." Still, when she pulls her hand back from the wall, she turns to look for something in particular. She finds it. "…wow. That's it."

"What?"

"…that's the alley where I first learned to shoot a bow. Wasn't until I left this city that I touched a gun for the first time." She moves closer to the alley, looking it over. "This part I can remember. Doesn't look like it's changed much at all."

I look at the alley curiously. I might be able to picture her in here at six years old learning how to use her favored weapon…if I knew what she'd looked like at the time and could possibly envision her missing a shot (for all I know, she's always been a natural and hit the target with the first arrow she ever fired—can't say I'd be surprised…she always was the better shot). Of course, that thought makes me realize that her bow really is her favored weapon and reminds me of something she said back in London. "Hey, wait a minute. Didn't you say you were going to start carrying your bow around everywhere now?"

She answers by giving me a look and pulling up the right side of her shirt enough to show that the retracted bow is clipped to her belt. If I know her, she also has a small supply of arrows in her boots.

"OK, that makes more sense."

She smirks before again hiding the seemingly unimposing weapon (I wouldn't be intimidated by it if I hadn't seen her use it). Then she looks around. "Funny. People didn't usually go through this part of town when I was in it and now it's practically abandoned."

"Probably for the best," I comment, "When you take us on shore leave, you tend to attract mercenaries, blow up fish tanks—"

Before I can finish, she grabs me and pushes me back against the alley wall, immediately pressing herself against me. Caught by surprise, it takes me a second before I give in, closing my eyes and wrapping myself around her. She lets me hold her here, bringing us in deeper and deeper. At times like this, I wonder how I ever survived without her.

As she pulls back, I keep close to her, smiling. "Two reasons to like this alleyway."

She snickers. Which is, in itself, alluring. Then she steps back, keeping a hold on my hand. "Come on. If we're gonna visit one of Earth's most famous cities, we might as well see the sights."

She's true to her word. I can't deny that what she shows me is spectacular. There are even select few times when we come to a place she visited as a child and, as if they're spying on us to make sure we don't get into any sort of trouble, a few times we run into our crewmates. Sara doesn't seem to mind, though. She focuses on navigating the city in the span of a single day. She does consistently go pretty far out of her way to find a place that has dextro food, but, to be fair, I had to do the same for her on Palaven. When the sun starts setting, though, she lights up with sheer excitement, grabs me by the arm, and practically drags me down a city block to a nearby park.

"Come on!" Sara says, pulling me past what I'd say is an abandoned playground.

"Sara, I have trouble keeping up with you when you're not jumping around like a…a…"

"Jackrabbit?"

"…yeah, whatever that is."

"Maybe I should start keeping a list of stuff to explain to you. And vids I need to get you to watch." With a shake of her head, she lets go of my arm and steps aside.

I start rubbing my arm where she grabbed it. "I think you're forgetting your own strength sometimes. Pull any harder and you'll take a bone with you."

She simply sits down in the grass and gestures for me to take her side.

I step over and sit down beside her. "So why'd you pull me all the way here?"

She moves closer to me, but she keeps her eyes fixed forward. "Didn't wanna miss the view."

Confused for a second, I follow her gaze.

well, I can understand her excitement. The sky changes color around Sol as it goes down. Looking directly at a sun would be hazardous to the eyes at any other time, but seeing it from between the trees laid out in front of us makes it a fairly amazing sight. Judging by the way Sara curls up against me, it's clear that humans consider it a rather romantic sight. The revelation leads me to smile, wrapping my arms around her and laying my head on hers as I watch the gold across the sky slowly dim.

Just before it starts to grow dark, she sighs and pulls away from me. "I'm sure building up a habit for exploring old clichés with you."

"You have a way of making them interesting," I comment.

She smirks at me, shaking her head again as she gets up and walks over to the trees. "I came to this park, too. When I was six. This one hasn't actually changed much." As she says so, she starts running her finger over the leaves.

"Can't say the same for you," I point out as I get to my feet.

"Well, yeah, but show me one person who doesn't change in nearly 30 years," she shrugs as she picks up a nearby fruit.

I step over and take it. "I mean it. You started out as an orphan fighting to survive—"

"And now I'm a soldier…fighting to survive." With that, she steps away and starts looking over the swing set.

"…fair enough." I turn to look at the fruit in my hand. It seems unremarkable, but… Smirking at my idea, I turn to face her. "Sara!" When she turns to look at me, I toss the fruit into the air.

The second she realizes what I'm doing, she rolls away from the swings, pulls out her bow, snaps it open, pries an arrow from her boot, aims it for a split second, and lets it go. The arrow flies through the air in an arc and stabs the fruit down the middle before embedding itself in a nearby tree.

I smile as I turn back to her. "Never get tired of that."

"Obviously," she remarks before retracting the bow and putting it away.

"You sure you don't wanna go a few rounds?" I pick up another one of the fruits from the grass by the tree it dropped from and start tossing and catching it. "Keep yourself in practice?"

She scoffs. "Please. In absolute silence, I could do that blindfolded."

"You need silence?"

"I listen for the target. If I hear anything else, it'll take the arrow instead."

I look at the fruit in my hand. "You can…hear this?"

She steps over to me. Once she's close enough, she wraps her fingers around mine. "Close your eyes," she whispers.

Her voice, her touch, her eyes take me over. Without even thinking, I do what she asks. For three seconds, silence takes hold around me. Then I hear air moving by my ear. Or rather, something moving through the air. I open my eyes to see what it is.

Sara is tossing the fruit now and the wind is twisting around it with every rise and fall. "Hear it?"

That's what she was talking about targeting? I look between her and the fruit in astonishment. "You can hear that well enough to fire on it?"

"Probably not farther than about five meters away. Even with my senses heightened, that's kind of a stretch. But, yeah, I could hear it. Or if one of these was falling off the branch, I could hear the stem snap and target that. It's really difficult, though, and…incredibly dangerous for any bystanders." Taking a bite out of the fruit in her hand, she steps away.

I smile as I watch her. "Has anyone ever told you you're kind of amazing?"

As an answer, she takes the fruit and throws it into the air. Then, in the space of two seconds, pulls out her bow, snaps it open again, grabs another arrow, aims, and fires. The arrow flies up to pierce the fruit then hits the ground eight meters ahead of her. She then proceeds to step over and retrieve it, tossing the fruit aside. "Yeah, I've heard."

I smile as I step up behind her and wrap my arms around her waist. "And you're all mine."

She smiles back as she turns to wrap her arms around me in return. "Ambitious, are we, Vakarian? As I recall, you're all mine."

I simply reach up to smooth back her hair, watching as her eyes light up in response. "I should think those two would be intertwined."

She then reaches up her hand to me, sliding the backs of her fingers gently across my scars. "Then can't we just belong to each other?"

I lean into her touch as she leans into mine. That should be proof we already do. Then the hand not running its fingers through her hair takes hold of hers and feels the ring in place on it. I smile again as I feel it there. "Seems that we will soon."

She holds up her hand so she can look at it. "Right. Still processing." She laughs for about half a second before stepping back to the swing set. "Can't believe we're actually doing this."

"Well, I can't say I blame you. It's fairly unbelievable. I'm still trying to get it through my head and I'm the one that asked you!"

"Guess we'll get used to it together…" Sara smirks as she sits down on the swing.

"…when we're husband and wife," I say as I take the one next to her.

She leans against the chain as she looks over at me. "…I can't wait to spend the rest of my life with you…" Once she's said so, she reaches over to take my hand. "…kalwen."

I look at her in shock. When she answers with something between a smirk and a genuine smile, I find myself laughing briefly in response. If ever I doubted that she loves me the same way I love her, I can't anymore. Holding her hand tight, I sit here with her as we lose track of time.

After a while, she gets off the swing and lies down in the grass to look up at the stars. I lie down beside her and listen as she points out constellations and tells their stories like that night shortly after I got her back. With each one, I draw closer to her, finally taking hold of her entirely. When she turns her attention from the stars to me, though, I'm forced to remind her that it's getting late and we need to head back to the Normandy. She consents and gets up to lead me back. Since "it's dark and I don't want you getting lost," she keeps hold of my hand the whole way there. But I can't help but notice that she still doesn't let go even when we reach the docks. Once we're back in her cabin ("You can says 'ours' now, Garrus. It's not like I'm letting you sleep anywhere else."), she starts to get comfortable. It's been a long day for us both, so I start to step aside and give her space to relax. I don't make it four steps before she grabs me and pulls me back, all but throwing me onto the bed beside her. But I also don't make any attempt to stop her when she wraps herself around me and picks up where we left off.

The next place we go is Palaven. We both think we should tell my family in person about our new plans. I can only hope it'll go as well as our last trip. Solana seemed to get along well with Sara, as was to be expected, and was pretty much unsurprised at the news of what our relationship truly was. Even my dad seemed to be OK with the idea of me dating a human Spectre once I made it clear how much she really meant to me. He'd seen me almost every day for 11 of the 13 months I spent grieving her. He knew I needed her. Of course, the idea that I'm actually planning to marry her might be a bit more difficult to process.

I step up to the door first. Right as I get ready to open it, though, I notice that Sara isn't standing beside me anymore. I quickly turn around and look for her. I find her standing a few meters away, looking out at the horizon. Something's wrong. I walk over to her. "Sara?"

She sighs. "…this feels…odd. I've never had a family and now…"

and now she's about to become part of mine. I guess I can see how that'd be a bit overwhelming. "Hey…" I take her hand in mine and bring her to face me. "…the crew's always been your family, remember? We're just making my part legally binding."

She laughs. "True." She places her other hand against mine, holding it to her heart. "I've finally found where I belong."

I smile, feeling her heartbeat against my hand. When my eyes meet hers as well, I move closer to her—

The sound of a door opening draws me to step back from her, letting go of her hand. I turn and see Solana standing by the door. "I thought I saw a human through the window and I took a wild guess who was there."

"Good instincts," Sara smirks before walking over to her, me right behind her.

"I wasn't expecting to see you two back so soon," Dad comments as we come in and let Solana close the door behind us. "Speaking of which, didn't you say something about an emergency a couple weeks ago?"

"Long story. Taken care of. …though that brings us to why we're here."

"Please tell me nothing bad happened," Solana sighs, "You didn't see what this one was like before he brought you back here."

Sara looks at me. "No, I pretty much did."

The look she gives me at least reinforces my determination. So before I can lose my nerve again, I come out with it: "That's why I asked her to marry me."

Solana is definitely pleased with the news. If I didn't know any better, I'd say she's on the verge of saying "Finally!" As it is, she smiles. "Wow. If you'd told me three years ago…"

"What, you wouldn't have been excited you were getting a human sister-in-law?" Sara smirks.

I shake my head at the exchange as the two keep at it. Then I see Dad nodding to the other side of the room. Reluctantly, I step over.

"You're sure about this?" Dad asks once we're both out of earshot.

Guess I should've seen this coming. In fact, I kind of did. "I've never been more sure of anything."

"I know you've been through a lot together, but this is a really big—"

"I already lost her twice," I cut in, just barely keeping myself from snapping. When he doesn't say anything, I turn to look back in the other room, where Solana and Sara are talking, I think it's safe to assume, about me. "…I love her. Nothing you can say is going to change my mind."

Dad glances over at Sara for a moment. I'm not sure what to expect now so I just wait for him to come out with it. Finally, he turns back to me… "…then I suppose I have no reason to try."

Before I know it, I'm looking at him in utter astonishment. If I'd broken this kind of news before my last day as Archangel, the effects would've been disastrous. Now he seems closer to approving than I've ever seen him. It's almost unbelievable. Finally, I find myself almost coming close to smirking. Once again, I've come to a situation I to some degree dreaded and found it playing out better than I ever would've expected. "I, uh…appreciate that."

He barely responds before Sara steps over. "Solana wants to talk to you."

"Of course," I sigh before stepping past her to my sister. When I'm there, though, I look back and see Sara talking to my dad for a moment before he steps away.

"I'd say you've made the right choice," Solana comments.

I smile. "I know I have."

I spend the next few hours around the house, spending some time with my family. When I come out of the house, what I see draws me to pause. Sara stands off to the side a ways, her quiver strapped on as she draws her bow and fires arrow after arrow at a nearby tree. I take a moment to watch, not even bothering to wonder why she's doing it. I'm content to stick with observation. But when the last arrow she fires is aimed so perfectly that it actually splits the first one in half, I have to comment. "Wow. Remind me never to get on your bad side."

She just smirks as she pulls out another arrow. "You? I'm not convinced that's possible."

I smile as I come up to her. Then I place my right hand on her shoulder and my left hand on her arm, leaning in close enough to breathe in the scent of her hair. "I have my ways," I whisper into her ear.

She simply smiles back. "Garrus? …you're throwing me off again."

I step back, but not before running my hand through her hair to toss it over her shoulder and out of her way.

She turns back to her aim, draws the bow back, and fires. The arrow hits the target dead-on again, though this one manages to keep all the previous arrows intact. Seeing this, she retracts her bow and sets it and her quiver aside, stepping over to retrieve the shafts from the bark.

"Is there a reason you're out here abusing the local flora?" I ask as I examine her bow.

"Just trying to clear my head," she answers as she pries the arrows out, noticeably dropping the one she broke, "I've got a lot of things to put behind me." She then tosses a brief smile my way. "…about as much as I have to look forward to."

I smile back as I turn the bow in my hands. "So I suppose you really will be taking this with you everywhere from now on?"

"No reason not to. …speaking of which, you should probably warn your dad and Solana not to try touching it before they get electrocuted—I only programmed my biometrics and the squad's in when I had EDI put in the countermeasure."

"You actually trusted us to touch it? I'm shocked."

She smirks before placing her arrows back in the quiver and taking her bow back. "I was just going to do me and you, but I didn't wanna risk it if I dropped it and one of the others tried to toss it back to me."

Then my reaction becomes genuine. "…so you actually did trust me with it."

She just looks at me with a sincere fondness I doubt I can replicate. "I trusted you with my heart a long time ago. How could I not trust you with this now?"

Knowing this is true, that she trusts me that much, ensures what I should already know: how much she loves me. Which reminds me just how much I love her. I love her because she's brave, selfless, strong, brilliant, beautiful, and the best shot I've ever seen. Because she's Sara Shepard, hero of the galaxy, and she was someone I could trust to hold my heart. All of these thoughts ignite the fire inside me that only she can bring out. Plus, the fact that the protective suit she has to wear in Palaven's weak magnetic field is almost skin-tight doesn't exactly do anything to keep me from losing control. This is one of those times I need to show her how much I care about her. Or to take hold of her and never let go.

Sara finally tosses her quiver over her shoulder and starts to walk away.

Before she can, I grab her by the arm and pull her back, drawing her in to kiss her. She doesn't exactly fight me off. Not even when I wrap my arms around her and pull her so close to me that anyone weaker might suffocate. As she eventually pulls back, the feeling of the moment as it fades, of her heartbeat against my own, of her hand softly running down my scars takes me over. And makes me even more certain that I want to spend the rest of my life in moments like this one. "…marry me."

She looks at me for a moment before giving me a soft smile. "I thought you'd never ask."

We spend the rest of the day on Palaven before heading back to the Normandy. Every night for the next several months, we start making our plans. She tells me about how humans traditionally perform marriages and I tell her about how turians do it. Somehow, we manage to single out what to use from both. She even starts talking about it with Liara and Ash and even EDI and goes so far as to discuss it with Tali during her calls (Miranda, Samara, and Solana get involved, too, but to a lesser extent); when I question this, she makes some comment about how species doesn't have an effect on "the bride's closest female friends inevitably getting involved."

One night, I come into the captain's cabin and find her looking over a small collection of flowers. "…what are you doing?"

"I was never the kind of girl who spent all her time picturing her wedding," she says offhandedly as she fingers the petals on a small pink flower, "Never knew there were so many details to worry about. I'm actually supposed to carry a bunch of flowers during the ceremony and…now I'm wishing I'd been thinking about this beforehand."

I step over and take the flower from her. "…and I'm starting to see why you've been talking about this with Liara."

"I don't suppose there's any turian marital tradition that could negate this?"

"Doubtful."

She groans under her breath as I toss the flower aside. "Maybe I just need to start thinking about something else." She steps aside for a moment. She makes it halfway to the fish tank before freezing. "Wait a minute!" She whirls around to look at me. "We've been going over details for weeks and we still haven't said where we're doing this."

I think that over for a second. She's right, but… "…I kind of assumed we didn't need to."

She seems confused but catches on. "Citadel?"

"Citadel."

She smirks. "Well. I guess after that, we'll never have to worry about any bad memories coming back there."

It's true, we have been through a lot there. Which got to be a bit much for her the last time we were there (though, to be fair, we were under threat of assassins at the time…). But that was months ago and she's right: what happens next will finally put those days behind us.

If this actually works.

I wish I could say I haven't had a few doubts, but I've always had concerns about how the two of us could have a future together. Even denying the possibility of the galaxy eventually needing Commander Shepard back, how are we supposed to—

"Garrus?" Sara snaps me out of it, "Something wrong?"

I was really hoping she wouldn't ask that… "…it's just…" I find myself pouring my heart out to her beyond my control, "I don't know how we're going to make this work. The species barrier is always going to be there. Or suppose the next 'big bad' really does come after us and we're not ready." I step back to the wall, leaning against it. "And…what if we really can't get biology to cooperate? How—?"

She silences my mounting concerns when she reaches over to place her hand over mine. "Do you remember what I told you after Aephus?"

I look at her. I remember it, alright: I love you no matter what, Garrus Vakarian. And nothing will ever change that.

"Let me add to that. I love you because you're Garrus Vakarian. I don't care what species you are."

The way she says it, I can't deny how much she means it. That puts several of my worries out of my mind. I finally give her a light smile. "And I love you because you're Sara Shepard. Not because of what you've done."

She simply looks at me for a moment. "…you have no idea how much that means to me."

"Oh, I've got a fair idea."

She keeps her eyes on mine. Locked in her gaze, I see it as her eyes shine for me…and as that light fades. "…Garrus…"

I sigh. "…I know. I won't bring it up again."

"No, not that. You need to hear this." She moves closer to me, wrapping the arm not clutching mine tight around me. "I care about you too much to feel that way. I don't care what happens afterwards or if 'you can't give me what I deserve' or if science itself dictates we shouldn't be together. …I only want you. Nobody—and nothing—else. I couldn't survive a single day without you now." She buries herself against me, letting me hold her close. Then she shifts enough to whisper into my ear. She says "I love you, Garrus Vakarian." like always…but she says it in turian. No translator required.

So I run my hand through her hair, pushing it back behind her ear. And I whisper "I love you, Sara Shepard." to her in her own tongue.

Her breath catches and I feel her smile in response. Even though I can't see her in this position, I can practically envision the way her eyes light up with it. Just the thought of it makes my heart pound fiercely with joy. When my hand finds its way up to her shoulder, though, she pulls back. "Sorry. If we're gonna be doing…that, I should probably go give Liara these flowers back." She steps over to the bed and picks them up.

I sigh. "There's always something."

"We should've learned that by now." Then she comes to the last flower, a blue one, and stops moving, turning it between her fingers.

When she doesn't move for five seconds, I almost start worrying there's a Thorian-level reaction coming. "Sara?"

She simply looks at the flower for one more second before prying a white one out from the rest, holding the two separate. "I think I just solved my floral dilemma." She starts for the door.

I understand her reaction now, but something's still confusing about it: "Why the sudden decision?"

She looks at me from the door… "…it's the same color as your eyes." Then she leaves the room.

I watch her with a smile. Leave it to her to make the smallest details mean something. Shaking my head at the thought, I step over to pick up a datapad and find a way to pass the time until she comes back. I end up standing at the foot of the bed with my back to the door, glancing absently at locations on the Citadel as I consider what lies ahead for us.

Those thoughts (and any others I might have) fade away when I feel her behind me, sliding her hand up my arm to my face. As I turn to meet her eyes and let her toss the datapad aside, she brings herself against me with a smile. "Let's stop worrying about the future for a minute…and remind ourselves why we're making plans." Then she wraps her arms around me and kisses me. When I respond in kind, she practically jumps on top of me, throwing us both onto the bed.

Somehow, we wind up asleep in each other's arms an hour later. Yet something wakes me up when I realize she's not lying next to me anymore. The lights in the cabin are down, telling me it's the middle of the night. But Sara sits near the center of the bed, looking at something on her omni-tool. I bring myself to sit up beside her and look over her shoulder to see what it is: a picture of an animal with silver fur, golden eyes, and very sharp teeth.

Sara doesn't move, but she still notices I'm watching her. "It's a wolf. I always thought they were beautiful."

I look at the picture again. I can see why she'd think so, I guess.

She sighs, closing down her omni-tool entirely. "You remember what I said about them? Back during the war?"

Wolves…that's right, I definitely remember that. There are some animals, wolves especially, that find a mate and then, if that mate dies…never love again. "Yeah, I do."

"I don't know why, but I just—" Suddenly, she gasps, grabbing her head. The Reaper signal again.

I quickly place my hand on her shoulder and bring her to face me, ready to catch her should it prove to be too much. It hasn't since Aephus, but that doesn't stop me from worrying.

She simply looks at me for a moment, her eyes softly lit by the reflection from the fish tank in the absence of any other lights. After that moment is over, she places her hand over mine, pushing it away from her shoulder so she can lock her fingers around it. "What I said a few hours ago doesn't begin to cover it. The way I love you, it…" For the first time I can think of, I see her stumble to find the words. So she shakes it off, gives up on trying to explain, and just says it: "I don't just want to marry you. I want us to be mated for life."

To anyone else in the entire galaxy, that'd probably seem like a colossal proposal or at least like an even bigger commitment than the marriage itself. But what I tell her is the absolute truth: "In our case, I'm not convinced there's that big a distinction." I couldn't recover enough to consider moving on 13 months after losing her. If I were to spend the rest of my life without her once we'd already come to this point, the idea of letting someone else in where she once was would be beyond unthinkable.

She seems to think the same thing if the way she lets a small smile through is anything to go on. And, knowing her the way I do, I'd say it is. "Yeah, and I don't suppose there's any sort of ceremony or ritual that could bind us to each other that way."

"I guess we could always make something up," I comment.

She scoffs. "Like our own personal tradition? Can't say I would object." She then looks to the side and thinks that over… "…think about it…and we'll make the call after the wedding."

I nod. "OK."

So she sighs and crawls back into the bed, silently signaling me to follow. "It feels kind of weird, doesn't it? Knowing we're about to get married. Talking about our future together—actually being together without jumping across the galaxy finding new things to kill."

"The adventure has a way of coming to us," I comment as I wrap my arm around her waist, "But, yeah, I never would've pictured us here."

"I don't know, the more I think about this, the more I wonder if we should—"

"Shepard…" Saying it keeps her from letting any worries of her own come through. It also makes her stop moving. I take advantage of that and lean in to kiss her, lightly and briefly but enough to make both our hearts respond. As I pull back, I softly slide my hand down the side of her face, pushing her hair back. "Just go back to sleep."

She smiles one last time before laying her head down on my shoulder and complying.

I hold her close, pondering our exchange for a few moments before following her. It goes through my mind every day for weeks. For a few days, I mostly consider ways to go through with this "post-marital rite" she's proposing but can't think of anything. I almost wind up asking EDI for ideas or just plain searching on the extranet—both of which I decide against, for obvious reasons. Since Sara said to save it for the actual day and she clearly isn't talking about it to anyone (me least of all), I don't bring it up in conversation; as such, any time we talk about our plans is now populated with more of those details she's just started worrying about. Five days before our set date, though, I still have nothing and almost go to tell her as much. Two minutes before I go through with that plan, I have a new one and start working to implement it. We dock on the Citadel the next morning. The next three days are spent preparing for the ceremony itself.

The night before, I step into the cabin on deck 1 and give her the report: "OK, everyone's here and there hasn't been any sort of crisis yet, so I think we're set—"

"Good." She then steps over and shoves a pack into my arms, pushing me almost back to the door. "I'll let EDI take over from here, you need to get to deck 3 in the next five minutes if you're gonna sleep tonight."

Confused, I look down at the pack. It's full of all the things I've moved into the cabin practically since we started dating. "You're kicking me out?!"

"Just for the night. Human culture dictates it's bad luck for the groom to see the bride on the wedding day before the actual ceremony."

"Since when are you superstitious?"

"Normally, I'm not. But since this is the only time in my entire life I'm gonna have one of these—and we're gonna be spending the next week alone together anyway—indulge me." She then proceeds to push me back into the hall and close the door.

I stand there staring at the door for ten seconds before sighing and turning to go through the elevator. Strangely, what's coming tomorrow isn't what makes it hard to fall asleep an hour later; it's the suddenly unfamiliar surroundings of my old bunk and the fact that no one is occupying a space beside me. Which is also why I wake up almost panicking. I made it a habit after Omega to reach for her when I wake up and this time there's no one there. For the few seconds it takes me to remember why I'm not on deck 1, that's enough to make fears I haven't felt in months—fears that all this has been a dream and what happened on Omega didn't happen the way I remember or worse—come crashing in on me. The second I remember why I'm in my old bunk again, though, those fears are the last thing on my mind.

I go through the next few hours in anticipation. With every minute, the realization grows stronger: Sara and I are going to be married by the time the day is over. I'm about to give my entire life to my kalwen. It's kind of hard to believe. I don't see any of the girls in all this time, not even Solana, so I figure they must be with Sara. When everyone starts gathering (since the locations that actually hold meaning to us largely consist of restricted areas we snuck into, we had to arrange this at a hall on Zakera Ward that's usually used for weddings—oddly normal for us but Sara didn't seem to mind), Ash even pulls me aside long enough to comment on this: "You're a lucky guy, Vakarian. Don't screw it up."

I'm not gonna screw this up, I say to myself as the ceremony starts, I just have to…

That's when Sara walks in.

…have to…whoa…

She's more beautiful in this moment than I've ever seen her before (which makes me suddenly glad that she enforced that human tradition—it makes this moment that much better). Her light red hair falls over her shoulders in soft waves. A silver necklace hangs over her collar with emeralds and diamonds that only make her bright green eyes seem brighter. The pure white dress she's wearing fits her perfectly. And, like she mentioned, she's carrying several of the blue and white flowers she picked from Liara's collection. I'm so caught up in the sight that I don't realize I'm even reacting to it until she smiles at the sight of me, causing her eyes to truly light up, and I find myself smiling back. When she comes up beside me, her hand finds its way to mine practically on its own. I return the grasp, not caring if anyone notices.

All the plans we've made over the past few months come to life now. It starts the way most turian weddings do—basically an entreaty for the spirits to watch over us and such. Part of me wonders if Sara would've consented to this part had the human equivalent been possible for us. Her religious standings would've required her eldest living relative to be involved and she has no family. Not legally, anyway. Though I did notice that she made some comment about Anderson before she essentially said "Let's just do it your way."

The ceremony itself pretty much jumps back and forth between turian and human traditions. Appropriate, if a little confusing to some. It's a good thing we've been making these plans for so long because it goes better than I expected it would. As the life-changing moment draws closer, I find myself turning my attention to her again. Seeing her now makes everything we've been through together worth it. Seeing her like this is a moment I could stay in forever.

Then she turns to me and I see the same emotions alight in her eyes. She might never have been one to dream of this day, but no one can deny how happy she is it's come. Finally, she raises her hold on my hand, turning her own to the position at which I can feel her pulse through my fingers. As if that weren't enough to make me come alive with joy, she follows the gesture with the turian "vow" (that's what humans call their version of this part of the ceremony so that's what she took to calling it) she all but made me teach her: "To the end of my days, I will care for, guard, and love you, Garrus Vakarian. My heart is yours as yours is mine."

Hearing her say it in perfect turian without the aid of a translator makes every organ I have respond ecstatically. Yet still I bring myself to give the same promise to her: "To the end of my days, I will care for, guard, and love you, Sara Shepard. My heart is yours as yours is mine." As she pulls her hand away, I keep my eyes on hers long enough to repeat a very specific part of that "vow" with much greater emphasis: I love you, Sara Shepard.

She smiles softly, the resounding look in her eyes simply saying I know.

I should hope she does. …that's the last time I (or anyone, really) will ever call her "Shepard."

Less than a minute later, we finally come to the moment I've been waiting for. My favorite suggestion from her traditions was this, the ending: the "vows" we just made are accepted…and we kiss for the first time as husband and wife.

In five minutes, Tali is hugging Sara delightedly. "I'm so happy for you!"

"Come on, Sparks," James nudges her, "I think we've all had enough of the emotional stuff for one day."

"I'll say," Wrex comments, "Krogan don't go to this much trouble."

"Not from what you've told me," Sara smirks, "Speaking of which, how many kids do you and Bakara have now?"

Wrex just sneers at the wall. Sara has to be the only person I know that can "push his buttons" and get away with it.

"We are all happy for you both," Liara steps up, "We just…show it in different ways."

"No kidding," I remark.

"Hey," Jack smirks, "I'm just glad I'm not gonna be on the ship when you two get back on. I see more than enough PDA as is."

I respond to that by looking curiously to Sara.

Sara sighs. "'Public displays of affection.'"

"Oh. Well, I guess I'd be lying if I said we didn't do that on a regular basis."

"I'd like to think we have a reasonable excuse. Especially now."

"Learn from your history," Samara states plainly, "Cherish your time together as much as you can before fate is allowed a chance to separate you once again."

"Believe me, we will," Sara says as she takes my hand.

"Well then," Ashley smirks, "guess you should be off acting on that, huh?"

"And miss Joker and EDI's inevitable commentary on the new turian-human marital status? Perish the thought."

So the next hour is spent with our crewmates, mostly with the expected humorous remarks about how Sara and I have, according to Joker, "become each other's 'ball and chain'" (that particular comment being met by a light punch from Ashley and a slightly less gentle kick to the foot from Sara herself). When the time comes for us to go our separate ways again, Jacob makes the unfortunate observation that this may be the last time we're all in the same place for a while, which brings Sara to ensure that all of them will be staying in contact before sadly going into somewhat-more-extensive goodbyes.

"Take care of each other, alright?" Miranda says.

"That was in the vows," Sara comments. Then she smiles and hugs Miranda. "We will."

We both make similar exchanges with Jacob, Jack, Samara, Wrex, and Grunt as they head out. Joker, EDI, Ash, James, and Liara simply head back to the Normandy with the rest of the crew. Tali, however, hesitates to leave, only consenting to go when Sara reminds her that Rannoch needs her more than we do and hugs her like any good best friend would. Or a sister, I find myself thinking with a smile, one I keep up as Tali hugs me before going on her way. Once everyone has cleared out, Sara takes me by the hand again and we leave.

I step up to the door to our apartment on the Silversun strip first, opening the door. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I'm actually kind of glad that's over—"

Before I can say anything else or even turn to face her, she jumps into my arms. I might've been able to catch her if I'd seen it coming, but instead we both hit the floor just inside the apartment, letting the door close inches from our feet. She laughs at this for a moment. "Don't worry. I feel the same way." Then she shifts position just enough to wrap herself around me as she kisses me again and I respond in kind. After some immeasurable amount of time, she brings herself to move back. "Well. We've got the whole next week alone together in here. What's the plan?"

"Oh, I had a few ideas," I smirk as I sit up beside her.

She simply smiles. Then she thinks of something. "Before we do anything, though…" She brings herself to her feet, leading me to follow her example. "…we still have one last business to take care of."

Right. "So…how do you want to handle this?"

She considers this for a moment. "We should both have something by now, right? You go first."

I nod. "OK. I'll just…"

"If you need a minute to get ready or something, that's fine. Gives me a chance to get out of this dress."

"Really?" I groan, over-exaggerating my already significant disappointment.

She smirks. "If it bothers you that much, I'll keep it on hand."

I consider that for a moment, taking in the sight of her one last time. "…no, it's fine. I'd rather look back on it like this."

She understands that. "Alright. Give me a few minutes, it's tighter than it looks."

"I find that hard to believe."

"Shut up!" she calls back as she heads upstairs.

I just shake my head after her with a smirk and go to prepare myself. When I come into the bedroom, she's on the bed in more casual clothes, waiting for me.

"So what do you got?" she asks as she leans back on the mattress.

I sit down beside her and hold out a small box.

She gives me a curious look before opening it. Then she seems frozen in sheer amazement for a moment before she pulls out the contents: two bands made from cloths of Earth and Palaven.

"You mentioned how humans wear matching rings when they're married, so I went with it. I actually had EDI look into it briefly just to give me a better idea of what to do and she mentioned that some cultures use bands or ribbons to signify a deeper connection—"

"…these are wolves." She's looking over the impressions in the bands, the contrasting colors forming intricate shapes of two certain Earth-native animals. "And the birds?"

"Mourning doves," I answer, "Part of what I researched with EDI, seeing what all creatures 'mate for life.'"

She smiles before sliding one band onto her wrist and handing me the other one. "So these can signify that we're bound to each other…"

"…and if something ever happens to one of us, we have something to hold onto to remind us we're still together…to the end of our days."

She smiles, leaning over to kiss my scars. "I'd say you're getting better at the romantic gestures." She looks down at the band around her wrist as I pull the other onto my own. "Great. Yours is all symbolic and poetic and mine's…" She trails off, tucking her hair behind her ear as if she's uncomfortable with her own decision.

"What?" I finally ask her.

She brings herself to meet my eyes. She simply looks at me for a moment, slowly sending us both into that overwhelming need for each other. Finally, she smiles and moves closer to me. "Mine's more physical." Then she wraps her arms around me and kisses me.

I fall into her, let my feelings for her once again take over my actions. For the first time since Omega-4, we commit ourselves to this completely, give in to each other with no reservations—not because we know our lives are close to ending but to join our lives together.

As if in response to that thought, I'm pulled back from her by a pressure on my wrist and I find when I look down at it that she's actually tying it to her own. "Uh, Sara?"

She simply smirks. "The older human marital rites sometimes involved the bride and groom having their wrists tied together for the duration of the ceremony. I thought something similar might have a stronger effect if we…"

"…consummated it instead?" I realize.

Her smirk gradually fades into a genuine smile. "Yes."

I smile back. "No objections here." Then I fall back into it, holding her close to me as she tightens the bindings on our hands to where our pulses pound against each other stronger with every second. We finally fall back onto the bed entirely, completely lost in each other. It's a bit harder to move with our hands locked together this way, but neither of us care. We merely turn our hands to intertwine them…and keep our focus elsewhere.

The next week has to be the best of my whole life. We spend every second together. I don't even care when she winds up roping me into watching a bunch of those old human vids with her. For that matter, it's kind of hard to have a problem with it when complying results in her curling up against me, laying her head on my shoulder, and wrapping her arms around me as I hold her close. When the week is almost over, she shares my disappointment. Then she locates her bow and my sniper rifle and suggests we finish our alone time doing what we do best together. The result is three consecutive matches in the combat simulator (Sara's use of archery instead of typical gunplay raises some suspicions, but no one seems willing to act on them once they see her in action in the first round).

"Hey!" a familiar voice calls as we step out from the last match, a split second before she can take my hand. James stands off to the side. "You broke my high score again!"

Sara breaks into laughter. "Face it, Lieutenant. You've met your match."

"Well, yeah, I knew that much after Ilium—"

"Thin ice, Vega…!"

He backs off there. "Alright, Lola, I get it. Are we heading out or what?"

Sara sighs, shaking her head. "Fine." Then she puts her bow away and follows him out.

I take her side, taking her hand once I'm close enough. "You know, you are still in charge. We can do this again whenever you want."

She simply smiles. "Yeah, I know."

For the next several months, we stay on the Normandy together, occasionally taking some time off at the apartment. No major galactic crisis comes, so it seems our intervention might not be necessary anytime soon. Seeing this, she has no regrets when the first anniversary of our wedding comes and she spontaneously gives the whole crew another week of shore leave. We haven't exactly been deprived of each other's company for the past year, but having the next week completely alone again is…well, perfect.

Near the end of the week, Sara and I are walking through the lower area of Kithoi Ward, what's basically considered the slums.

"Losing your touch for finding a good view, are you?" I remark.

Sara scoffs. "Let's just say all this jumping around the galaxy with nothing to do has left me antsy. And this part of town reminds me of the old days."

At that last part, I find myself aching to bring her in again. Over the past four months, she's told me quite a bit about her life before her enlistment. From what I understand, she's barely mentioned any of it to anyone else since her 18th birthday, not even to Anderson. And from what I've heard so far, I can understand why. But I can also sort of understand why she'd be the least bit nostalgic here like she was back in Los Angeles. Those thoughts running through me, I start to move closer to her—

The sound of a crash makes us both stop moving.

"What was that?" I instantly ask.

Sara looks down an alley to the source of the noise, but neither of us can see it from here. "Go check it out, I'm gonna sneak around."

Before she's even on her way to intercept, I head through, straight to the disturbance. Just like moving through the slums at all reminds her of her life on Earth, investigating this way reminds me of my days in C-Sec. So much so that I'm prepared to reach for a sidearm until I remember we left our guns at the apartment. Knowing this, I move carefully until I get close.

Right when I reach the end of the alley, something runs past it, followed by three people. I step out behind them seconds before they come to a stop. The first something only stops when the others catch it. Once they aren't moving, I can tell that the three people are some of the lowlifes that have gotten good at evading C-Sec. And the smaller creature they're chasing is a young human boy. It only takes a few seconds to hear the problem—the kid stole something from them and they were less than happy about it. Thief or no thief, that's still a kid over there. I don't need Sara steering my moral compass to tell me the appropriate response. First, though, I take a quick second to look for her. I see her on top of a nearby building. When she catches sight of me, she signals me to move first.

So I let my Archangel instincts come through long enough to jump in. "Hey!" At the very least, I catch their attention.

"Back off!" one of the thugs (I'm guessing black market dealers) snaps, "We've got business with this little—"

That's when Sara drops in. Literally. She outright jumped off the roof she was on, using one of the thugs as a landing pad. The impact knocks him out entirely, leaving her to jump the next one from behind. She kicks his legs out from under him and throws him to the ground. When the last one attempts to jump her in return, she ducks under his blow and, on the way back up, knees him in the gut, grabs his arms and neck, and slams his head into the nearest wall.

I look at all the bodies she just dropped—none of them dead, but close enough. "Well, what did you need me for?"

"You distracted them and got them into position," she points out. Then she turns to the little boy left standing there, shrinking back from her in something akin to fear. "Hey…" She kneels down beside him. "…you're OK. It's over. What happened? Why were they after you?"

The boy simply looks at one of the thugs in question.

Sara turns to inspect him…and pulls out a small red fruit. "All this over an apple?!" She groans, running a hand through her hair. "Alright. The trick isn't to not get caught. It's to make sure someone else gets caught. You don't wait until they're not looking and take your chances, you time it so that they think the next person walking by snatched it, then take it while their attention's occupied."

The boy slowly opens up to her. "…that works?"

"Are you kidding? I invented that trick." Then she hands him the apple. "And in the future, kid? Never steal something from someone you can't outrun."

I smirk at the exchange. Orphan to orphan. But when Sara steps back from the boy to let him look over the apple, I take her side. "Sara…" I pull her off to the side a short ways, close enough to keep an eye on him while still out of his earshot. "…you and I both know he won't last on his own out here that long."

"Well, maybe there's some shelter or something nearby we could—" she starts.

"How old would you say he is?"

She looks him over. "Four, or at least a couple months from it."

I sigh. "Because that means he's already a duct rat."

Sara stops then. As much as she despises the term, she was a street rat on Earth. She knows what it means. "…we can't let that happen."

"Then what do you suggest we do?"

She doesn't respond. She keeps her eyes on the boy, silently considering what to do. When I turn my attention entirely to her, though…I see that her right hand is coming to rest on her abdomen. Where we would've been having a child of our own by now if we'd been able to get biology to cooperate like we planned.

That makes me see what she's truly thinking. "Sara…"

She turns her gaze to me, letting me see the rage of emotions in her eyes. "…what else can we do?"

I turn to look at the three-year-old one more time. In my experience, he'll last maybe three or four more years before something happens. That's if he gets lucky. If he doesn't, he'll run into an accident in the ducts within the next two weeks. He needs refuge from a life like this. And Sara and I both know no shelter or orphanage on the Citadel will be able to give him what he really needs: someone who's genuinely looking out for him.

He needs a family.

I look at Sara again. The look in her eyes tells me that she actually wants this. That makes me realize…some part of me does, too. So I don't give myself a chance to start thinking it over and talk myself out of it before I tell her "Alright."

She responds with a soft smile before turning to look at the boy. "So…how do we do this?"

"For starters, we need to make sure he's OK with it, too."

She nods and steps over to him. When she's close enough, she gets on her knees beside him again. "Hey, kid." Once he's facing her again, she smiles gently, carefully reaching out to touch him. "What's your name?"

He looks at her for a moment, as if pondering whether or not to give an answer, before he decides to say it: "…Hunter."

Suffice to say, we don't come back to the apartment alone. Neither, for that matter, do we go back onto the Normandy alone the next day. The crew seem to be at varying levels of shock and confusion when Sara and I are the last ones back on board and a three-year-old tags along. Joker manages to make a few snide comments before Sara explains the situation. EDI, naturally, has little trouble with the adjustment, but virtually everyone else thinks this'll take some getting used to. Oddly enough, Hunter takes to the subdeck in engineering where Jack used to be. Guess what little time he's spent on his own has gotten him used to tight, dark spaces. Having him onboard starts to seem normal after a while and the crew even seem to get used to him. By the time he turns four, he really is part of the family. Still, it's only when, two days after his fourth birthday, I wake up to find him curled up between me and Sara that it really hits me.

we…actually have a son.

Smiling at the thought as I get out of the bed, I keep my eyes on Sara and Hunter still asleep together before stepping aside. When I come back into the room, they're both awake.

"…I know from experience," Sara is saying when I come into earshot, attempting reassurance, "It's gonna get better."

Hunter barely moves. He seems scared. …and, of course, he is. Because the only reason he would've gotten up in the middle of the night and come up three decks to crawl into bed with us both would be that he had a nightmare. "What if it happens again while you're not here?"

Sara takes a moment to consider this. Then she seems to brighten with an idea. She brings herself to her feet, tossing the covers aside, and steps over to the wall. "I'm about to show you something I have only ever shown to one other person in the entire galaxy." She then proceeds to pry open a loose panel in the floor and pull out what lies inside: the "teddy bear" she always carried around until she was eight years old. The one person she showed it to was me, of course, back when she was having the nightmares, making some joke about how it was her only true friend until she joined the Normandy. Joking or not, what she tells Hunter now is the truth. "When I was your age, this helped me when I was scared. Take it."

Hunter carefully takes the toy animal and looks it over. "Thank you."

I smile at this, too. Yeah. Sara is definitely his mother.

Taking him in starts to seem more and more like one of the best decisions we've ever made together—aside from our decision to get married, it's probably the best. But a few months before he turns five, Sara starts to seem a bit more concerned. I finally pull her aside at one point to ask what's bothering her and she winds up falling into what she'd probably call, were she currently her typical snarky self, "a maternal panic."

"We've had to keep him off deck 5 since we first brought him onto the ship," she says, "And out of the battery, which is unfortunate as is since that's where you spend a lot of your time. Daniels and Donnelly have started making jokes about having to babysit him when he comes up into their space, which is on the same deck he's been essentially living in—"

"Sara, what are you getting at?" I finally cut in, seeing where this is going.

She takes a second to level her breathing before forcing herself to say it out loud: "Maybe a warship isn't the best place to be keeping a five-year-old."

"By that logic, it's an even worse place to keep a four-year-old, but we got through that just fine."

"That—" Sara sighs, grabbing her hair. "I know. It's not just that." She looks over to the mess hall, where Hunter is sitting right now. "What if we go out on a mission someday and something happens to us? Where does that leave him?"

As much as I don't want to think about it, I basically have an answer just by seeing Dr. Chakwas talking to him. "He's still got the whole crew looking out for him. He might not need us—"

"No! I mean, yes, he'd still have someone to watch him and all, but he'd be an orphan twice. Believe me when I say once is more than enough."

That's when I understand what she's really trying to say. "…Sara?"

She hesitates to say it. But one more look at Hunter cements what she already knows: "Maybe it's time we cash in on those retirement plans."

I sigh, leaning back against the wall. I knew this day would come eventually. Since I got her back, I was definitely looking forward to it. But now, I can't deny that I wish there was some other way. We'd be leaving the Normandy behind if we made this call now. Calling this our home this whole time, though… I shake it off. We have Hunter to think about now. That's altered every variable. "Where would we even go?"

"I believe Liara may be able to help with that," EDI suddenly cuts in.

Sara and I exchange looks for a second before heading to the XO office.

"Yes," Liara says when Sara explains the situation, "I was planning to tell you this for your second anniversary, actually, but if you need to know now…"

"What is it?" Sara asks, leaning against her console.

Liara moves around her and calls up a specific file in her database. As a result, every monitor on her wall shows a different planet.

"…wow."

Liara smirks. "These are all out-of-the-way planets and moons with habitable atmospheres, selected to your specifications."

"Someplace warm and tropical?" I find myself smirking with her.

"That was my understanding of your plan, yes. Say the word and I can put the wheels in motion. Ashley, EDI, and I have protocols in place to ensure the Normandy is taken care of in your absence, though it seems unlikely the Alliance will reassign it anytime soon, if only in honor of its original CO."

Sara looks over the monitors in what I can only describe as awe. "You mean you could just set us up on any of these?"

"Yes. Several of these haven't even been colonized yet, but my agents could set up supply lines."

"You thought of everything, huh?"

"That is my job."

Sara simply gives her a brief smile before looking over our options.

"Of course," Liara continues, "if you would simply wish to devote your time to Earth or Palaven or even entirely to the Citadel, I can also make arrangements to ensure you—" She then notices something. "…Sara?"

I look over at Sara myself, finding that she's stopped moving. I step over curiously.

Sara takes a few seconds before reaching her hand out to one of the monitors. "Where's this one?"

I turn to see what she found. A garden world about the size of Mars. Just by looking at it, I can see why it caught her eye. There's plenty of green and the water seems to glisten. Kind of like her eyes.

"It's in the Petra Nebula," Liara answers, "The system was only just discovered two or three years ago by an Alliance surveillance probe. The Alliance has made some initial landings, but it's far from being made into a colony. It hasn't even gone past its classification to an actual name yet. The system hasn't even been named yet."

Sara keeps her eyes on the display. I know that look.

So I smile and step back. "All yours."

She looks back at me for a second before truly considering. I've essentially just told her to decide where we're going to spend the rest of our lives together, but, well… Finally, she turns to Liara. "I take it that if I were to choose this one, we'd actually have someplace to live there?"

Liara gives her a look. "Please. I wouldn't taunt you with the suggestion if it wasn't a true option. I could have you set up within a month. Three weeks if you wanted to make any adjustments of your own."

Sara looks at the monitor for a moment longer…and smiles. "Do it."

So the next few weeks are spent preparing. When our second anniversary does come, it's met with the news from Liara that we can leave whenever we're ready. We're there by the end of the day, but Sara, quite clearly, shares my hesitance to leave the ship. In fact, from the way she winds up running her hand along the galaxy map, I'd say she wants to leave even less than I do.

Still, she gives Ashley a friendly smile and says it: "Take care of her."

Ashley smiles back. "We will."

So the two of them hug and Sara prepares to leave the Normandy behind. It seems like every member of the crew is determined to take at least a full minute with each of the three of us before we can leave the ship at all, but it's probably for the best. The delay means that the first thing we see when we step onto the planet itself is the sunset.

Sara, naturally, is the first one into the house Liara had set up for us. "Wow. Liara's people sure know what they're doing."

I smile as I take her side, looking over the place for myself. It is pretty nice.

Sara turns to inspecting the rooms within two minutes. She almost instantly signals to Hunter which one is his, to which he almost instantly moves to settle into it. Smirking at the sight, Sara then turns to what can only be the "master bedroom," as she calls it. "Wow," she observes, "So this is for you and me."

"You don't exactly sound thrilled," I comment.

She sighs. "…guess I just miss the Normandy already."

I can certainly understand that. So I step over to her, placing a hand on her shoulder. "It's still your ship. And who knows? …maybe we'll go back someday."

She smiles at the thought. "Yeah. Maybe." Then she sits down on the bed already in place at the center of the room and looks around. "…huh."

"What?"

"Nothing, it's just…I've just gotten used to sleeping under the stars."

I look up at the ceiling over the bed. Solid. It's not likely for us to see any stars through it anytime soon. Still…that gives me an idea. That night, when Sara is testing out the shower, I call Liara. After the initial banter about the fact that I'm calling almost immediately after leaving the ship, I briefly thank her for all the trouble she went to for us and tell her that there is one small change I'd like to make during the first supply run. For the first three nights, Sara gets used to turning her focus to me. When she's out playing with Hunter during the first supply run, though, I make that change I was talking about. Once she comes back, I pull her into our room and throw her onto the bed. She takes one look up, sees the multi-colored atmosphere through the skylight over her head, and beams with joy. I've barely started to ask her what she thinks before she grabs me by the arm and yanks me onto the bed beside her, wrapping her arms around me to kiss me. That night, as she lies on the bed beside me, she looks up at the stars until she falls asleep. And I keep my eyes on her until I follow her.

The next year is filled with moments like that. When we first discover the nightly appearance of a spectra in the sky, which leads her to christen the planet Aurora. The night Hunter has trouble falling asleep and Sara lays him down on our bed, forming constellations with him before she even realizes it. The day Hunter asks Sara to show her how the bow she keeps by her bed works and she winds up giving in to my prodding to demonstrate her best trick shots. It's better than I would've imagined it. Our third anniversary, when it finally comes, promises to solidify that. Until, two hours before midnight, I receive a call from the hierarchy that Primarch Victus needs me on Palaven for the next few days. In all this, I'd almost forgotten I was still technically his advisor (for that matter, Sara is still technically a Spectre, though she's not been classified as active duty for the Council since her return anymore than she has been for the Alliance). Sara says she can handle things without me, but I'm still hesitant to leave.

Four days later, it starts to seem like the trip to Palaven might've been some kind of "twist of fate," as Sara sometimes calls it. Five seconds before Victus can tell me my services are no longer required, he receives word that two of his operatives were killed on a mission…and they left behind an 18-month-old daughter with no one left to take her. Hearing the news is enough to get me thinking again. I tell Victus to give me a minute and step out into the next room. Once I'm there, I call Sara.

"Garrus," Sara smiles as soon as the call goes through, "Please don't tell me you're calling to say there's some kind of delay or attack or something."

"Uh…yes and no," I answer. Then I explain to her what I just heard and what it means.

Sara instantly catches on. "Garrus…are you saying what I think you're saying?"

"If you think I'm saying we should take her in like we took in Hunter, then yes."

She sighs, placing her head in her hand. "Garrus, I…I don't know about this."

"It's no different than what we did for Hunter—"

"Yes, it is! Hunter had perfect timing, running into us right before he turned four. You're talking about taking in a baby."

"We've faced down Reapers. I think we can handle a one-year-old."

"You have heard the human term 'terrible twos,' right?"

"Sara, I think we both know you're not worried about having a toddler around."

She hesitates. But she knows I'm right. "…I'm not sure I can do this. There's too much that could go wrong."

I wish she were right here so I could wrap my arms around her as I say it, but I have to settle for offering a look of assurance. "Sara, if you can handle me, you can do this."

She smirks, though she doesn't respond otherwise.

"…biology's not gonna cooperate. After six years, we should know that, as much as we don't want to admit it. This might be the closest thing we can find. I've seen you with Hunter, you'll do just as well with this girl. We can do this together."

She takes a moment to consider… "…we can do anything together." She looks at me, a familiar determination in her eyes. The same look she had that day in the slums on Kithoi Ward. "Bring her home."

That's it then. After our conversation is over, I take the necessary measures. The process adds an extra day to my trip, but that at least gives me a chance to see Dad and Solana briefly before I head back. And when I do head back, I don't do so alone. Once I've gotten back to Aurora (we've got no other name for it and Sara seems pretty intent on keeping that one, so we've all taken to calling it that), Sara and Hunter almost immediately start asking what happened. In answer, I smile and hold out the turian girl for them to see.

Hunter takes it surprisingly well. "What's her name?"

I look at her as Sara takes her. Unlike with Hunter, I've claimed her as my daughter in a matter of hours. From the look Sara's giving her, I'd say she's claimed her in a matter of seconds. I smile at the thought before I answer Hunter's question: "Her name is Kyla."

Sara must've informed Liara of our new addition before I even got on my way home, because the next supply run from her agents includes everything a turian toddler would need. By the end of the week, Kyla has been moved into the room next to Hunter, who seems pretty fascinated with her. It seems like a perfect fit.

Until, of course, she wakes up crying at 4:00 a.m.

Sara groans as she gets up. "Welcome to parenthood."

"I really hope this isn't gonna happen every night," I sigh as I start to get up with her.

"Be thankful she's not a newborn," Sara comments as she steps out the door and heads to Kyla's room, "It'd be not only every night, but every other hour."

I come out of the room right as Hunter comes out of his. "Is Kyla OK?" Hunter asks, despite plainly still being half-asleep.

"I think so," Sara answers as she takes Kyla into her arms, "Maybe she just had a bad dream."

Hunter looks at her in consideration for a second. Then he heads back into his room. Before I can even question what he's up to, he comes back out with Sara's old bear. And hands it to Kyla.

Sara looks at this with a smile. "Good thought."

Hunter smiles back, watching as Kyla curiously inspects the toy animal. Even when she starts to fall asleep again and Sara lays her back down, he keeps his eyes on her for a moment before heading back to his own room. Guess he's falling into the role of big brother after all.

Time goes by and this starts to seem natural. The life Sara told me she dreamed of for us is essentially coming true, even if not the way we planned it. I get used to it even. Sara seems to as well, just like she "gets used to" the attacks that she once suffered through, which, at this rate, will be unnoticeable to her after only another year or two. We could actually spend the rest of our lives like this, with no threat of anything getting in the way. If Sara has any regrets, they seem to be taken care of by the fact that our old crewmates drop in for Hunter's sixth birthday. On the Normandy.

"Did you steal it again?" Sara nudges Joker as they come out.

"Alliance still hasn't designated it as being under anyone's command but yours," Joker answers, "So technically, if it's stolen, it's because we took it back to Earth without you in the first place."

"You are always welcome to return to command," EDI points out.

"That might be a bit more difficult given present circumstances," Sara counters with a nod in Kyla's general direction.

Apparently, Liara didn't inform all of them about the turian girl's adoption, because most of them seem pretty surprised to find her here. Tali is the first one to ask to see her, followed by Liara herself, and Jack and Wrex spend the next ten minutes making jokes about our current situation, James and Ashley following suit even if to a lesser extent, as Miranda, Jacob, Samara, and EDI all offer encouragement and support. Grunt, on the other hand, is busy trying to keep Hunter entertained (the result of which mostly serves to amuse Sara and Joker more than anything else). About an hour later, Hunter brings out Sara's bow and tries to talk her into another demonstration of her skill with it. She starts trying to talk him out of it, briefly, but everyone else is almost instantly on his side. So Sara sighs, retrieves her quiver, and goes outside to the makeshift targets she set up months ago for these "practice sessions." When her initial shots lead to prodding from several of the others, she takes it as a challenge and winds up showing off some trick shots I didn't even know she could do. After she goes so far as to finally show us that her claims about being able to aim blindfolded are accurate, James comes in to say that Ash's constant jabs at her calling her a "showoff" were true and starts trying to demonstrate he can do just as well with his gun. When Jack sees Hunter's amused reaction to the standoff, she smirks and cuts in herself by briefly demonstrating her biotics on James, causing Sara to jump back and burst out laughing before several of the others jump in and start an all-out civil war.

Even during the party on the Citadel all those years back, we didn't get to cut loose and enjoy our time together like this (mostly because of the pressures of a war going on around us, I suppose). It…it just feels right.

Eventually, some of the others say it's almost time for them to head out. At that, Joker and EDI suggest we take the Normandy for one last ride. Sara's delighted reaction is immediate, making it clear that the answer is "yes" and not up for debate. Not that anyone, least of all Hunter, is ready to argue. The resulting ride is only about two hours long, but it's enough. Sara gets to have a brief reunion with the rest of the crew and even introduce some of them to Kyla as well as show the turian toddler the ship we once called home. Hunter certainly seems glad to be back on the ship after all this time (even if the crew still have to work to keep him out of the areas where the weapons are…), but Sara seems like she's come home. Like she always says, "home is where the heart is." It's kind of hard seeing us all go our separate ways again after that. And seeing the Normandy fly away again once we're back on Aurora. But Joker's parting comment that "this is obviously not the last time we're actually gonna do this" holds any regrets at bay.

"Why can't we do that all the time?" Hunter asks that night as Kyla is falling asleep.

"Well," Sara sighs, sitting down on his bed with him as she tries to explain, "they all have important things they need to be doing. They're…watching over the galaxy for us."

Hunter looks at her curiously. "Why can't you?"

That's a bit harder to answer. "…because we're taking care of you and Kyla and…"

"…and…" I take Hunter's other side, "…we've already done what we can for the galaxy."

That certainly piques Hunter's interest. Apparently, we haven't told him as much of the story as we thought. "Really? What happened?"

Sara looks at me, considering how to handle this.

I simply smile and nod, telling her to go ahead.

She thinks that over for a moment before nodding in agreement and turning to Hunter with a smile. "It's a…really long story."

"We don't have to do the whole thing tonight," I point out.

Sara agrees with that. "Alright." So she turns her attention entirely to Hunter and starts into it: "You know I was an orphan like you, right? Well, when I turned 18, I joined the Alliance military…" The next ten minutes are spent explaining how we both wound up investigating what happened on Eden Prime (she noticeably skims over most of what happened on Akuze, but it's pretty obvious why so I leave it alone for now). Right when she's about to tell him about the Normandy, he falls asleep. She smiles at this before carefully laying him down in the bed and leaving the room.

I follow her, closing the door. Three hours later, I'm sitting outside with her, watching the "aurora" light the sky. Ever since we came here, this has been a personal tradition, to watch midnight go by from here. This time, moments before midnight, she curls up against me. Ten seconds after midnight goes by, her breathing starts to slow down and I realize why: it's been a long day and she's already starting to fall asleep. So I quickly get up, helping her to her feet, and bring us inside.

Sara sighs as she falls back on the bed, looking up at the aurora and the stars around it through the skylight, the three moons currently out of view. "…this has been the best year of my life."

I smile as I take her side and lie down with her. "Mine, too."

She lays her hand on mine, keeping her eyes on me. Then suddenly a soft blue flash strikes through her eyes and she flinches back, tensing considerably for a split second.

I quickly reach for her. "Are you OK?"

She catches her breath and nods. "Yeah. I'm fine."

I still move the hand she took hold of and wrap it around her. But, this time, it's not because of the attack.

She smiles, keeping her eyes locked on mine. "Stay with me?"

I reach my free hand up to smooth her hair back from her face. "Always."

She leans into me, slowly reaching to wrap her arms around me as well. "Never let me go?"

I smile… "Never." …and kiss her.

We fall into each other again. This is right where we belong. Together.

Suddenly, a knock on the door sounds, waking me up.

Sara groans and gets up to answer it. "What now?"

I sigh and get up after her. "Well, count up how many people live here and I think you can take a guess."

Sure enough. When the door opens, Hunter is standing there.

Sara smiles as she gets to eye-level with him. "What is it, Hunter?"

"Kyla's calling you," he answers.

Sara is as confused by that answer as I am. "Calling for me?" She quickly heads into Kyla's room.

When I get there, Kyla is already smiling at Sara— "Mama!"

Sara stops moving from shock, only snapping out of it when Kyla holds her arms out to her.

"Well, this is a historic event," I smirk.

"Our adoptive daughter claiming me as her mother?" Sara inquires.

"No, Sara Vakarian rendered speechless."

"Shut up."

That night…

I sit outside the house, looking up at the stars as I think over the day. Besides Kyla's acceptance of us as her parents, there was Solana's following call with the announcement of her engagement, the brief moment of romantic action Sara and I managed to find before Hunter and Kyla cut us off, hearing her sing for Kyla… What is it Joker says when he calls us? "Just another day in paradise?" …yeah, I guess it is.

I look out at the horizon. I can just barely see clouds stirring what must be several miles away. I smile at the thought of the first time we saw those here. The first time after our arrival that it rained on "Aurora."

Hunter was already asleep. Sara and I were sitting outside, just talking.

Sara glanced around at the area surrounding us. "Liara made sure all the environmental data on this place was up to date, right?"

"As much as she could get it," I answered, "Though I think she may have hidden some extra scanners around here somewhere."

"Well, I wouldn't be surprised."

I looked at her. "Why are you asking? Worried there's something toxic around here?"

She visibly tensed there.

That alone made me worry. "…Sara?"

She hesitated. "…no, I'm not worried about me." She took a moment. I let her, knowing better than to try prying at something she probably didn't wanna talk about. But she still came out with it: "…one of the first things the Shadows did after I was intact was to hyper-modify my immune system. Got it working as high as it could go so I didn't get sick or anything when I was supposed to be out killing stuff. I mean, I'd already built up a tolerance to most diseases a human could contract, but dying twice has a way of setting you back, so…" She lost her words at that point.

In my head, I started trying to put together a reason for why this particular topic would bother her. I could see the advantages—never getting sick, possibly never getting poisoned—and the consequences—heightened allergic reactions (should she ever get any), increased difficulty if ever medical treatment required a blood transfusion. But the Shadows had done worse to her with hardly any sort of effect on her psychologically—

"…I…" She sighed, running her hands through her hair briefly. "That's one change I can almost appreciate, but…I can't help but wonder sometimes if…maybe…biology hasn't cooperated…not because we actually are incompatible but…because I…I can't…" That's when her voice failed her entirely, forcing her to choke back the urge to let her eyes water for practically the first time since we took in Hunter.

That was enough to make me realize what the problem was. I'd actually heard of a few cases of hyperactive immune systems causing infertility, but to think she'd consider herself one…

"Hey…" I placed my hands on either side of her face, turning her to face me. Slowly, I brought her closer…

and two seconds before I reached her, it started raining.

I sighed, pulling back from her. "Well, that was unfortunate timing."

She simply laughed. "No, 'unfortunate' requires a lot worse than this." She turned onto her feet and stepped farther out into the clearing as the light shower started to turn into a full rainfall.

As I got to my feet after her, I took a moment to watch her. The rain slowly turned her hair from its typical light red to the wholly red color it took when it was wet. The tears plaguing the edges of her eyes were washed away entirely, leaving the green at their centers to light up again. And, of course, her clothes gradually grew damper, clinging to her body tight enough to expose the shape of every curve—

I snapped myself out of it. But there was no denying how beautiful I knew she was and the effect that tended to have on me. So I moved over to her as she spun through the falling water, stopping once she was facing me. Once I was close enough, I took hold of her again, pushing her hair back from her face. "…you're perfect. Scars and all. I wouldn't change a thing."

She smirked. "Funny…" She then reached up to softly press her hands to my scars. "…I've been meaning to tell you the same thing." After taking in my delighted reaction, she took hold of me the same way I was holding her and drew me in to kiss her.

When she pulled back, I moved without thinking, pressing one hand to her back and using the other to all but grab her hair. Then I pushed her over so that she fell back into my arms the same way she did at the top of the Presidium. And just like that day, I kissed her. With all my heart could give.

She smiled as we parted. "Yup. Still true." She glanced at the rain. "Better with a turian."

I laughed while I helped her back to her feet. Then kept a hold on her hand while we went back into the house and she laid her head on my shoulder. Once we were almost to our room, though, she stopped moving. I stopped with her and turned to see what the problem was.

She was looking at Hunter's room.

I sighed. "Are you OK?"

She simply kept her eyes on the door for another moment before smiling and turning to me, the gleam in her emerald eyes returned. "Yeah. I'm OK."

I watch the clouds as that memory fills my mind. They're far enough away that, if they even come in this direction, any rain that falls won't until long after we're asleep. Every time it's rained here, I've been reminded of that night. The last time I ever saw her let what happened to us before we were married get to her. Having Hunter and Kyla around, not to mention that we're still together with nothing threatening us…that all has a way of making any bad memories seem light-years away.

"Enjoying the view?"

I smile at the sound of her voice, watching as she sits down beside me. "Glad I let you pick where to settle down."

She smirks. Then she reaches over and takes hold of my hand. "I'm just glad we got to at all." She turns to look at me. When her eyes meet mine, her smirk fades to a smile. "I've never been happier than I am with you."

I lose myself in her again. The light in her eyes, the feeling of her hair between my fingers, the way she clings to my hand…I couldn't imagine life without this. "The feeling's mutual."

Softly, her hand reaches my scars. I lean into it, silently telling her not to pull away. If the way she tightens her hold on my hand is anything to go by, I'd say she gets the message. "…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." Her hand falls from my face then, coming to rest against my heartbeat instead. Just feeling her touch me makes my pulse rise, heightening the sensation she receives. "Then I remembered this, remembered Omega-4, and I couldn't bear the thought of living without you." I clutch her hand tighter at those words. I get it. I felt it for her every day during those six months we spent apart. "When the Shadows had me, I…I knew there was something missing, but I couldn't…" She sighs, her hand dropping from its position against me. "All this time, I thought I gave you my heart." Then her hand comes up to mine, prying it loose from her hair and pressing it to her chest to feel the rhythmic thump of her heartbeat. "You are my heart."

I focus on our hands, clutching each other as tight as we can take. The feeling of her pulse echoing through my own is mesmerizing, like usual, enough to make me realize what I should've already known: "…and you're mine." I hold onto her hands, losing the will to face her as the truth comes free beyond my control. "Every time I lost you, it destroyed me. I just…" …I just wanted to follow you. Whether from loyalty and respect or from outright love, I wanted to stay with her through everything, no matter if it meant facing judgment from the Alliance or standing at the edge of my own imminent demise. As far as I was concerned, nothing was going to keep me from her. I still feel that way. But to think I couldn't—

"Ow!" The involuntary gasp snaps me out of it.

I pull back without thinking, letting go of her hands entirely. Only once I've let go do I realize how tight I was clutching them, how my hold grew stronger with every thought of a life without her in it. Tight enough that, if I'd kept going for three more seconds, my talons might've broken through her flesh. "Sorry."

She just shakes it off. Also like usual. "It's fine."

Deep down, something inside me is screaming No, it isn't, I almost hurt you! That thought is what brings me to reach over and slide my fingers over her hands, feeling along the bones and tendons to make sure I didn't actually cause any significant damage.

She quickly pulls her hands back from me and uses them to force me to face her. She gives me a look that tells me all I need to know: It's OK. You could never hurt me. Then, with a playful smirk, she leans in and kisses me on the nose.

I can't hold back a small laugh as I push her hands away. That's my Sara.

With a sigh, she falls back against the ground. I follow her lead and lay down beside her. But as she watches the sky, I watch her. Her left hand rests over her abdomen as her right lays on the ground between us. Her light red hair is spread out beneath her as the aurora above us reflects in her eyes, lighting an entire spectrum through an already beautiful kaleidoscope of green. Caught up in the sight, I reach up to her, brushing my fingers across the side of her face. She takes in the sensation for a moment before taking hold of my hand again.

She then comes closer to me, laying her head against my shoulder. "Part of me misses the days when we were together just because we needed to be."

I answer with a smile, wrapping my arm around her. "We still are. Just for better reasons." The look in her eyes tells me she knows that. But just looking at her now brings back the urge to show why. So I hold her hand against my heart and reach over to kiss her where I touched her only a few seconds ago. She responds by reaching over to kiss my scars like she did last night. Suddenly, we're lost in each other completely, love controlling our every motion, knowing nothing could break us apart.

That is, until thunder strikes, closer to us than the clouds on the horizon had appeared when we started.

I sigh. "We should probably go inside." I get back to my feet, helping her after me. After sneaking through the house to our room, though, I find myself pushed onto the bed with a strength that could only come from my kalwen.

She takes hold of me as we lie here together. "…I love you."

I answer with a smile, softly nuzzling her as I tell her "I love you, too." Then I fall into her entirely as we kiss.

The day I met her, I fell in love with a human named Sara Shepard. It took me far too long to realize that and even longer to act on it. But I always somehow knew that she was the best thing that ever happened to me. And through all that we've been through together, through geth attacks and suicide missions and extinction-level war and assaults by assassins, through every battle both physical and emotional, through every day we've been apart and every second we've been together, through it all one thing has stayed true: our love is unbreakable. Just as she loves me, I will always love her. Until the end.


And that is the end. Thank you so much for sticking with me this long and I sincerely hope you enjoyed this whole series. I will probably always look back on this one with fondness so I really do hope that you all appreciate it. Be sure to look out for more from me, because there certainly will be more coming. See you then. ;)