Copper and Cobalt

Garrus' POV

I wince at the sound of rubble crunching under my boot. I've been trying to step over the wreckage for two reasons: anything beyond a certain density could fracture my armor or even the bone beneath it if I'm not careful…and anything below that density will break, producing for a split second the absolute terror of thinking I just heard a skeleton breaking. I try to push the thought back, focus on traversing the wreckage around me—I am the first one to come back here, after all. But I can't help how it rings at the back of my mind. And if I do find bone, the odds aren't very good for who it would belong to. Everyone on the Citadel was evacuated when the Reapers came to steal it away to Earth…but there was at least one person here when the Citadel became the Catalyst and the Crucible's blast tore through it.

The fears won't go away. So I try to instead center my attention on the reason for them. I still remember the day we met with perfect clarity. I may not have the memory of a drell, but a moment like that I can relate to their reminiscences. I was so full of anger and frustration, bordering on hopelessness. Then I turned and saw her for the first time. Commander Shepard. I'd heard of her, of course, but seeing her was entirely different. Standing there with full military composure only a lifetime under Alliance scrutiny could bring about, ready for anything and more than willing to face it all. The look she gave showing that she'd heard my preceding conversation and related to my efforts—she was the one fighting hardest to show Saren was behind what happened on Eden Prime. After hearing about what she lived through on Torfan, I already respected her. But in that moment, I almost thought there might be more to it than I realized.

Humans themselves had interested me for some time. But she was interesting in her own way. Starting with her eyes. I was told later that the glimmering silver color of her irises is rare among humans, and it was most definitely intriguing. As bright as any star I'd ever seen but still soft enough to seem cloudy. Just as intriguing as her light black hair, shining with the colors of twilight under the lights of the Council chambers. She usually tied it back for missions, but immediately shook it loose the second she stepped back onto the ship (which was a sight to see in itself). Her skin was a soft almost white color and, for someone who'd seen so much battle in it, remarkably devoid of scars. And then there were the fingerless black gloves she always wore, which, from what I heard, hadn't come off in 15 years (which, as you can imagine, led to a few rumors among the Alliance ranks). Just looking at her, light and playful beneath the armor, you'd never guess she was capable of biotic attacks as hard as a krogan charge or shooting the head off a geth at 50 meters or snapping a mercenary's leg in half with no more effort than it takes to open a door. But I've seen her do all that and more.

When I shared my grievances with her and wished her luck getting the Council to listen to her, she agreed with everything but that last part, to which she promptly scoffed, shook her head, and said something under her breath about what she'd do if they didn't listen. My translator didn't catch all of it, but I could swear she said "…don't and I'll kick 'em where they do their thinking and sitting." It took a lot of restraint not to laugh at the comment as I headed out. Even still, I ended up smirking the entire way back to C-Sec. After I heard what happened at the hearing afterwards, I took matters into my own hands. I suppose it's a good thing I did since it led her right to me at the med clinic a few hours later. Her timely intervention let me take out the leader of the thugs threatening the doctor, leaving her a window in which to strategically eliminate all the others with biotic force and military precision. Once it was clear, I made sure to thank her for giving me the opening. She simply smirked, looking at the body I dropped for a moment before outright saying "Nice shot."

Taking me back on the Normandy might not have been an easy decision for her, but she didn't show it if my presence bothered her or she thought we couldn't trust each other. She even went so far as to tell any Normandy crewmen throwing not-as-discreet-as-they-were-hoping glares my way the second I stepped onboard that she could vouch for me and that I was as much a part of the crew now as they were. I might've taken it as personal had she not included Wrex and Tali just as much. After three days, I decided I was glad I'd come along. But there were plenty of times I found myself thinking What have I gotten myself into? I started questioning why I'd asked to join the first human Spectre's team and I kept coming to the same conclusions: a need for justice and a want of adventure. Saren Arterius had betrayed everything and everyone he ever stood for. He was a murderer and a psychopath and he had to be stopped. I was going to do whatever it took to do that. But, of course, I couldn't do that from C-Sec, so the only way I could get involved with said mission was to board a human ship. Looking back, the call might've been more impulsive than anything. But I finally got myself to stop caring.

In all of it, Commander Shepard stood by me. I wasn't just any soldier, I was part of her team. Eventually, we started to have each other's backs on every mission we went through together. But as we went on more and more of those missions, something changed. I started looking at her differently and I couldn't explain why or what it meant. I convinced myself it was because she was so different from what I expected a human to be like. I mean, I can't say I can think of many turians who would let Saren get away with what he'd done rather than take any chance to stop him. But I also can't think of many people of any species who would sneak up behind a krogan, jump onto its hump, and then ram a shotgun into its neck to take it down. Of course, the one time she did that, she got swarmed by three more, but she followed with a powerful biotic attack that threw them all back and gave me and Wrex a chance to finish them off. Impressive. …absolutely insane, but…

That's when I trip on something, the resulting collision with what's left of the floor throwing my mind back from three years ago to the present. Here I was begging to come back to the Citadel before the restoration could start, to dig through what remains searching for…for I don't even know what. Just some sign of her, some sign of what happened here and where she is now. Somewhere deep down, I'm still holding out hopes that she survived this, even though I know the odds are low. That even if a body remains, it's not likely to have stayed alive through all this. But no. She's been through too much to go down now, certainly not like this. I just need to find her. So I push myself back to my feet and start searching again. Though, against my better judgment, my thoughts still drift back to those days.

Those days when I was convinced I was going a little crazy. What I was feeling for the commander was not just respect. I didn't know what it was. But I determined that it was best not to cultivate it. So I purposely spent more and more time repairing the Mako. I had resolved that, since our lives depended on it holding up to geth fire, we needed it to be operating at peak capacity at all times (and, of course, there was always room for improvement). Really, I just knew that it was easy for me to get lost in weapon system updates. If all else fails, distract yourself. Naturally, that distance didn't hold for long. Every few days, Shepard would call me into the squad on a mission or come down to talk to me off-duty. After some time, she even started to seem genuinely interested in me. As in…as a friend. The thought struck me as odd at the time. I'd never considered we'd ever be friends. Now…well, no matter what I was burying inside me, I couldn't deny I was happy to stand beside her through anything.

After Virmire, I saw a new side to her. She was actually hiding at the time, curled up behind the sleeping pods while no one was nearby. Trying not to let anyone see her reaction to losing a squad-mate. And a friend. I might not even have noticed she was missing if I hadn't been standing in the mess at just the right time for my slightly sharpened senses to find her. When I went back there to check on her, she quickly pulled it together, pretending nothing was wrong. But I'd already seen what she looked like with her walls down. For all that fierce exterior, as much as the galaxy saw her as a fiery renegade, I knew better now. I knew there was a tender heart buried beneath it all. And, without even thinking about it, I sat down beside her in what little space remained. She offered a brief smile before returning to her previous position as if I wasn't even there. That was the moment I knew for certain that our days as soldier and commander were over. We were friends. And that was the end of it.

On Ilos, I started to see how far we'd come since we started this. The two of us acted as a perfect team, combined biotic and tech attacks acting in concert with unwavering gunfire. Those geth never stood a chance. Despite losing the Council, we saved the Citadel that day. She nearly died in the fight and I couldn't hide how the thought of losing her forever hurt me or the utter joy I felt at her triumphant reentry. I didn't even bother trying to hide how saddened I was at the thought of leaving the Normandy the day I went back to the Citadel. …but, most of all, I lost it at the news of her death. The day they announced Shepard was KIA and denounced the Reapers entirely, I gave up. On everything. That drove me straight to Omega. That drove me to be Archangel.

Which drove her to me two years later. I was grieving my ten fallen teammates and under assault by every mercenary on Omega at the time, so I almost convinced myself I was already at death's door and hallucinating. Which was one of three reasons I shot at her when she was halfway across the bridge. Seeing her react to it was proof this was real, that she was alive again. Seeing her suddenly charge at the freelancers and take them all down inside of five seconds made it undeniable. She was back. And she'd found me again. I didn't even care when her initial friendly greeting was followed by a harsh punch in the arm for the earlier concussive round I sent at her shoulder; I was so happy to have her alive and with me again that I would've taken a real bullet as recompense. Fighting alongside her again gave me my hope back, made this onslaught seem natural, more like target practice than a fight for my life. We fell back into our old rhythms in no time. The mercs never stood a chance.

Not until the gunship got me, that is. I've mostly suppressed what happened after that missile found me, but I plainly remember the smile she gave me when she saw me again, a radiant gleam in her silver eyes when she saw me alive. She sympathized with my newfound scars, even went so far as to joke about them adding to my "inborn turian 'charm'" (the air-quotes she used around that last word made her sarcasm clear enough…). She sympathized even more with the story of Sidonis' betrayal. So much that, when I finally found him, she gladly brought us back to the Citadel to track him down and put a bullet in his head. Then, when we got back to the ship, one of the first things she did was find me in the battery to check on me. She was actually concerned. It was pretty obvious why. After all that had happened lately, Tali and I had become the closest friends she had in the entire galaxy and exclusive members of the continuously shrinking circle of people she knew she could trust. I suddenly meant a lot more to her than I had for the entirety of our mission against Saren.

Apparently, I meant even more to her than I realized. Because she ended our conversation with a proposal to work off the growing tension of facing the suicide mission before us. "We could test your reach…and my flexibility." For a moment, I almost convinced myself that she was messing with me again—she loved to do that. But I saw the determination and, dare I say it, flirtation in her eyes. After all this time, I knew every look those crystalline eyes could give. It was only when I started thinking about how to respond that I realized what that meant. What I'd been feeling for her since halfway through the hunt for Saren was…attraction. And, obviously, she'd felt it for me, too, or she wouldn't be suggesting this. I knew then. There was a chance we could actually be together. Not just as more than squad-mates. As more than friends.

Those thoughts are thrown out of me as well when that moment takes hold. Thinking of what we had together and how it started is too distracting. So distracting I don't notice I've picked a bad foothold until I fall over again, this time hitting my head on the remains of a metal wall. I quickly pull myself together, make sure the stumble didn't hurt me somehow. That's easier said than done until my ears stop ringing and my vision stops spinning. Finally, I shake it off and look myself over. Only one injury—piece of the wall fractured the armor on my arm and dug in past the plates. Looks like any pain is from the impact or the following pressure. Not even bothering to patch up my arm (it's not cut that deep, I'll be fine), I look over the wreckage around me. This is only one part of the rubble and there's too much ground to cover in the six hours allotted to me before the Normandy calls me back. Unless her body really did stand up to the Crucible's blast, finding anything of hers could take days, assuming it's even in this section of the fragmented Citadel and not some adjacent breakage. But if I can't find her, I have to find something. Her tags, her gloves, anything.

her gloves… That thought awakes a memory I don't have the strength to push to the back of my mind. I force myself to stop moving for a moment and succumb to it entirely.

"Garrus," she said, slowly letting her voice take on a tone so enticing I couldn't deny it, "calm down, you're worrying too much. …and talking too much."

As she turned to deactivate the music system, I looked her over. …she was beautiful. I knew that without a doubt now. The way her misty black hair fell over her shoulders, the shine of her silver eyes, how her voice called to me—I was drawn to her in a way I could never hope to understand. She was brave, strong, and fierce just as much as she was kind, selfless, and willing to give anything for the sake of her crew, her people, the entire galaxy. She was a hero. She could have anyone she wanted. And she'd chosen me. It was unbelievable. But when she turned to look at me again, my thoughts drifted away entirely. I found myself trapped in her gaze. Someone once told me that every human has a different color pattern in their irises that is completely unique to them. As our eyes met, part of me was practically searching hers to see it, hidden in twists and turns of silver—a maze I could spend my whole life inside.

My worries were lost to me. I didn't care about anything but the fact that she was here with me. But when she moved closer, I couldn't keep it inside anymore and found myself confessing all: "I just…I've seen so many things go wrong, Shepard. My work at C-Sec, what happened with Sidonis…"

Her eyes changed, a glimmer of what could only be sympathy. I never knew she felt that deeply for me. Maybe she was a closer friend than I thought. Of course, for us to even be here considering this, the term "friend" was long gone.

"I just want something to go right. Just once. Just…"

I never finished. The moment she was close enough, she reached a hand up to me, softly pressing her fingers to my scars. Her touch filled my senses entirely, her eyes still locked with mine. I longed to give her everything I had, already felt my walls crumbling under her power. Her hold on me only grew stronger when she led me to press my hand against her waist, leaned into me, and reached over to press her lips against my scars, the hand that was resting on them sliding over to hold the bandages in place.

I fell into her completely, one hand pressed to her lower back to feel the curve of her spine and hold her closer to me as the other hand began to run its fingers through her hair. With every passing second, I lost all the will I had to resist her, to live one single second outside of her reach. As she took me over, my lungs jumping with every move she made, I turned enough to whisper into her ear. "…Shepard…"

She stopped everything there. I ached to bring her to keep going, to drown in her and let the rest of the galaxy cease to exist. But that was all forgotten when she instead jumped into my arms, throwing me back against the wall in the process, and kissed me for the first time. Before I knew it, I was doing the same to her, slowly letting the embrace gain in passion until it was so all-consuming that I didn't even notice when we fell onto her bed. Once we were there, I moved without conscious thought, my hand softly prying off her gloves.

Then we both realized what I'd just done. We pulled back just long enough to look at her hands, exposed for the first time since I met her. None of the rumors were true, of course. They were…normal.

She looked at her hand contemplatively as she lied down on the bed. "When I was 14, I was playing around in the engine room of the ship my family was stationed on at the time. I accidentally broke a coolant pipe and sent the resulting heat wave at my hands. The burns healed on my fingers, but the scarring was permanent on my hands themselves. My dad got me the gloves to cover them up. Eventually, I stopped caring, but…then he died."

I looked at her in amazement. That was far from what I was expecting. But, at the same time, it explained a lot. I moved closer to her, softly taking her hands in mine.

She smirked at the gesture. "Cerberus recovered them when they were piecing me together. The Lazarus Project got rid of all the scars I had before the crash…but my dad is still gone and these were the last things he gave me."

Knowing this, I held out the gloves to her as if I was afraid of damaging them.

She simply smiled and tossed them onto her bedside table. Then she took hold of me entirely and wrapped herself around me, kissing me harder with every movement. Within a minute, I was back under her control, willing to give her anything she asked of me. But after five minutes of that, she pulled back and looked at me, her silver eyes gleaming at me again, and I lost control myself, turning to wrap myself around her instead. As her pulse started to rise, her biotics started to light up, adding to the intensity of the moment. Eventually, reality faded from my grasp completely and I lost myself in her. If her reaction was anything to go by, she could say the same for me.

Even when the two hours allotted to us started to draw to a close, I kept her close, holding her against me as she wrapped her arms around me. I could feel her heartbeat against mine, the only thing breaking the silence suddenly drifting between us. Everything about that moment was perfect. I would've given anything to stay there with her forever. Which was the main reason I was so devastated when EDI informed us it was almost time to engage the Omega-4 relay. But I was content to watch my Shepard (So she's mine now. Huh.) as she retrieved her gloves first then moved to put on her armor second. And even as I got back on my feet and moved to get ready for what was ahead of us, I clung to the sensation of having her pressed against me. If we died tonight…at least I'd have that to hold onto.

It hurts to come away from that night. But I don't have time to stand here and reminisce. I have to keep looking. I have to find her.

Because we didn't die that night. Because we came back to the Normandy and got out of the core alive—all of us did. Because she instantly pulled me back to her cabin and dragged me into doing the same exact thing we did a few hours before, this time in celebration. Because she was forced to turn herself over to the Alliance three weeks later to answer for working with Cerberus (and for blowing up a mass relay…). Because I spent six months without her only to get her back while my planet was under attack. Because I wasn't on the ship for a whole hour before she tracked me down in the battery, told me she was still thinking of me, and kissed my scars the same way she did that night before Omega-4. Because I spent every day until Tali came back on the ship wondering where we stood. Because I finally took her up to the top of the Presidium and asked her what we would do next…and she told me that she loved me.

I'll never be able to forget hearing her say those words. "I love you, Garrus Vakarian." If, after six hours, I don't find what I'm looking for, I'll never be able to forgive myself for not giving her the exact same words the moment she gave them to me. I was too stubborn to tell her, too stupid to even realize it. She didn't seem to care at the time. She made sure to put time aside specifically for me almost every day of the war. I eventually started to notice that she wasn't letting her hair down after a mission the second she stepped back onto the ship like she did before Sidonis; she was waiting to do it when she knew I was watching because she knew it drove me wild.

"You're just doing that to get to me, aren't you?" I eventually called her out about it.

She sighed. "You know me."

"I don't know if you can say that. You've never even told me what your first name is. …come to think of it, I'm not sure you've told anyone."

"For good reason. My mom's a little crazy."

"Oh, so that's where you get it from."

"Shut up!"

"Come on! Now I'm curious!"

"I'm not telling you!"

"And I'm not calibrating the targeting systems anymore until you do!"

"Even if our lives depend on it?"

"Not that much."

"For me?"

"Nope."

"I can order you if I have to!"

"Not budging."

"Gah, you're persistent!" She groaned, grabbing her hair as she turned to look at the wall instead of me.

I shook my head, leaning back against the console and waiting for her response—

"…Spirit."

I looked at her in confusion. "What?"

"That's my name. Maybe it doesn't strike a turian as odd, but…well…"

"No, I'd say that's a unique one."

She sighed. "I was just let down when I enlisted and found out how much trouble it'd be to legally change my name. It's slightly less painful to just keep it as is and never share it."

"Really? …because I kind of like it."

She smirked. "You would. Just please tell me you don't like it enough to start using it."

"Alright, alright, I'll just keep calling you 'Shepard.'"

"That's all I ask."

I shake it off again, force myself to look over the broken pieces of the Citadel surrounding me. Commander Spirit Shepard is in here somewhere. She has to be. And if she is, she's depending on me. It's certainly not the first time I've had to rush to her rescue. Even ignoring the missions we went on through the war and even the galactic search for Leviathan, I still had to fight my way to her on the Citadel when we were supposed to be on shore leave and she had a bunch of mercenaries gunning for her. I didn't mind it, not even when she went on the next stage of the mission—infiltrating the casino—without me.

I pretended to mind it, though. I was still leaning against the rail, looking across at the view through the wall-length windows, when I heard her walk up behind me. "So I see how it is, Shepard. Go out for a night on the town and leave the boyfriend behind in the closet." I sighed, shaking my head. "It's OK. I'm not one for mingling…unless the mingling involves sniper rifles."

She let off a small laugh. "Well, if ever it does, you know you're the first person I'd call."

"Glad to hear it." I stood up straight, stepping back from the rail for a moment to look at her. "Just as long as no one tried to kill you this—" I froze completely the moment I actually saw her.

She was wearing a vibrant black dress that perfectly hugged her body, the skirt reaching halfway down her thighs, the neckline exposing her collar, a belt the same color as her eyes wrapped in a bow around her waist, and jewels to match it all clinging to her wrist. To top it all off, her hair was tossed over her shoulders in such a way that it seemed to glow in even the artificial light of the apartment and her eyes seemed even brighter than before. She was beyond beautiful now. I can't think of any word in the turian language to describe it.

She simply looked at me, just innocent enough to lead me to believe she actually didn't realize what was giving me pause. "What?"

"On second thought, I am mad! You denied me the chance to see that all night?!"

She caught on then. Looking down at the dress for a second, she actually laughed. "If you like it so much, maybe I should keep it on hand." Then she thought that over. "Huh. Come to think of it, I probably should've brought you. Now I'm curious to see how you look in formal wear."

"You'd probably be disappointed. Turians, militaristic culture—humans have us beat in variety of formal wear."

"Well, if I'm indulging you, you might as well indulge me." To emphasize that, she pulled closer to deliver the rest in an enticing whisper: "You won't have to keep it on for long anyway."

I couldn't resist giving her a small laugh even as I wrapped my arms around her waist to keep her close. "That's a date I'd agree to."

Ironic choice of words, actually. We had our first official date the next day at the casino. She wasn't exactly happy when I impulsively dragged her over to dance, but neither of us wanted to take it back by the time that dance was over. Even during the party, she set aside a few moments specifically for me. And after it was all over, she dragged me into her room, sealed the door behind us, and made sure we spent the rest of the night together. When I woke up with her beside me, it felt like everything was right with the world. I didn't even mind going back to the ship, not when I knew we were going to win this war and Shepard and I would be together for it all.

And we were together. At Cerberus HQ when we took Cerberus out of the equation for good. On Earth when we finally started the fight to take back her home-world and end the Reapers' threat. When we said our goodbyes, I was holding out hope that it wouldn't really be the last time we kissed (though, as good as it was, it's the perfect memory to hold to). She promised me I would never be alone. But I couldn't hide the panic inside me as she ducked around Brutes and Banshees and straight under the Reaper's fire to take it out and let us through to the Citadel.

We would've all made it. But Harbinger made sure we wouldn't. I was injured in the final push to the beam, too much to keep going. Shepard instantly rushed to my side, pulled me out of the way, and called the Normandy to extract us. Then, as soon as I was onboard, let go of me. I fought to reach her despite it all, but she wouldn't let me. I wouldn't give, though. I wasn't about to leave her. Not now. Never again. She saw that. So instead of attempting futilely to order me back, she stepped up to me and pressed her hand to my scars, her eyes locked on mine, taking away what will I had left to fight her, and told me exactly what I needed to hear: "No matter what happens here…you know I love you…and I always will."

So I told her what I should've told her a long time ago: "Shepard…I…I love you, too."

Immediately after, she pulled away from me, ignored my attempts to bring her back to my side, and forced us to go. That was the last I saw of her. An hour later, the Crucible was activated, releasing a blast that destroyed all the Reapers…and most of the Citadel. Which was where she was when it turned on. When I woke up in the med bay after the Normandy crashed, while everyone was working to repair it and get us back to Earth, I heard the two words I've dreaded more in the past two years than I ever feared anything for the first 25 years of my life: "Shepard's gone." I've heard people talk about grief. How it "feels like all the nerves in your body have been cut." How it feels like your heart is broken and you'll never be the same again…possibly never love again. That you'll be in denial, depressed, angry, but eventually accept it. But that's not how it is for me. I fought as hard as I could just to get here to look for her, despite everyone telling me how low the odds of her survival were. This is Shepard we're talking about. She's survived too much to die like this now. She's alive. She's here. She needs me. I just need to find her.

That thought restores my resolve. I quickly set to turning over any of the wreckage I can, searching for something that might've been buried by the blast. Every time I almost feel the panic rising that I'll never find her or, almost as bad, I'll find her dead, I feel the dread of what that means. If she's gone, I'll never fight beside her as we play to each other's strengths and ultimately end every fight by trading kill counts. If she's gone, I'll never hear her voice or feel her heartbeat or watch her let her hair down. If she's gone…I have to be the one to call Admiral Hannah Shepard and tell her what she'd never believe from anyone besides the one other person in the galaxy she knows Commander Spirit Shepard truly loved: that her daughter is dead. Again. But no. Instead of letting that fill my head, I bring back the memory of her. How she tensed with resentment every time people called her "the butcher of Torfan," how she held onto me those nights we were both worried we'd never see our families again, how her eyes lit up every time she whispered "I love you" in my ear. Someone like that is never suddenly just gone.

I sift through rubble, kicking aside what rocks won't break my foot with every step. It's just like when Sovereign crashed in the tower. She survived that. She'll survive this. She has to. My eyes adjusted to the darkness in here five minutes after I started looking. But the darkness seems to carry weight now. A crushing pressure I can't escape. The more I look and don't see anything remotely belonging to her, the more it starts to close in on me. I check the time again. I still have two hours. There has to be something here. Frantically, I start tossing aside metal scraps, pushing back broken wires, practically crawling on hands and knees to see under the rubble I can't move. Right when I'm about to start calling out for her or break down completely, though…

…then I catch a familiar scent in the air.

Before I started work at C-Sec, I'd never have recognized the smell of human blood. It's not exactly all that similar to what I associated with the scent of blood on Palaven. But nearly a decade of crime scenes made a lot of things that were once foreign to my senses seem natural. The galactic newcomers' blood being one of them. Over time, it seemed more and more recognizable. Metallic, strong. Like copper. It even smells red. I've heard humans talk about a creature called a shark, which roams the seas on Earth and gets stirred into a frenzy the moment it catches the scent of Earth-native blood. I guess I can understand that, even see myself how it would be intoxicating to predatory senses.

Still, working with Shepard in the hunt for Saren changed a lot about my perspective. The way I recognized the scent of human blood was one such affected perception. After a few missions, something seemed distinguishable about Shepard's blood in comparison to all the other humans'. It was barely noticeable, so scarcely significant that I might've convinced myself I was imagining it, but her blood seemed…different. When that scent reached me, it wasn't just the copper tone that made my neurons instantly click with the thought "human"; it was a sort of variant, almost as if the copper was flecked with spice, that formed a whole new connection that would click—no, scream "Shepard."

That's what I'm smelling now.

I search the area more fervently, attempting to locate the source of the scent. I'm just about to get back on my feet and start turning over the wreckage around me again when I feel something warm on my hand. I look down, almost fearing what I'll find, and see a dark red plasma on my glove. I quickly turn to where my hand was just resting and discover a trail of it leading through the rubble. That's when what reason I have left leaves me. "SHEPARD!" I jump to my feet and start following the trail. I keep my eyes on the floor to see where I'm heading, so focused that I run right into a wall with my injured arm. I groan as I pull back and start putting pressure on the wound before following the river of blood again.

Then I see her. After a surge of joy and relief at having found her, I jump over the last piece of wreckage between us and come to her side. For all the damage around her, she's at the center of a virtual halo where the floor is cracked but not damaged or even coated with what's left of the walls, as if every inanimate object in the room knew to respect and protect her…or was scared to come close to her for fear of retribution. Hmm. Smart debris. Most of her armor seems to have been destroyed at some point since the Normandy left her behind. She's injured in at least a dozen places, most prominently the wound in her side that seems to be the source of the blood loss that led me to her. But, almost amusingly, for all the damage she's taken, her gloves are untouched and her hair is still tied back, though without its usual military perfection.

I kneel down beside her, carefully brushing her hair away from her neck to check for a pulse. Taking exactly four seconds to rejoice at the results, I quickly turn on my COMM. "Normandy, it's Garrus."

"Did you find her?" Joker sighs, clearly not thinking the answer I'm about to give will come.

"Yes. …she's alive."

I can practically hear Joker jumping in his chair. "She is?!"

"She is! Tell Chakwas to get the med bay ready, I'm bringing her back." I then turn off my COMM and divert my attention entirely to Shepard. She's unconscious, barely holding on. But she's alive. And she's here. I quickly press my hand against her wound, preparing to use all the medi-gel I came with on her. Yet even as I do, I find my eyes locked on her, my free hand drifting up to brush her hair back from her face. It's as damaged as the rest of her is…and it's still the most beautiful sight I've ever seen. "…Shepard…Shepard, come on, you have to wake up for me…" She doesn't respond. With a sigh, I pull my hand away from her wound and rest it over her heart, feeling it pound softly—weakly—against her sternum. "…Shepard, please…I still need you…I love you."

Shepard's POV

…I'm dying. I'm utterly convinced of that. Guess I'll have to hunt down that rotten AI in the afterlife and make it pay for all that "You're partly synthetic, you'll die, too" nonsense, since clearly I didn't die in the blast and have now been left here for at least a full day, slowly losing all the blood I have left as my cybernetics burn out. But I suppose it doesn't matter. I was already dying, this is actually making it faster. No one's going to track me down for years in this chaos, so I've pretty much resigned myself to my fate. Ever since the moment I accepted my imminent demise, I've started to fall into the life I'm leaving behind.

I remember my father. One of my first memories was one night I had a nightmare and wound up curling up in bed with him to sleep. Some nights, I can still remember feeling his arm around me and hearing the ship's drive core hum outside the bunk I called home. He was always there when I needed someone. Mom sometimes made teasing comments about me being a "daddy's girl" but part of me didn't even mind. The day I had that accident on the engineering deck of the ship we were stationed on at the time, my eyes watering beyond my control from the pain as the medic attempted to patch up my hands, Dad was the first one there, the one who took my mind off it. Then he was the one who gave me my gloves to hide the scars that were left behind.

Funny thing is, even when he was giving them to me, he was telling me that I shouldn't let it bother me, that the scars were like my biotics and were supposed to show the galaxy my strength. Even worse is the fact that I actually did take the words to heart. I was halfway through taking them off when Mom and I got the message that his mission had gone wrong and he wouldn't be coming home. Suddenly, the gloves were my most prized possession, the last thing my dad ever gave me, and taking them off became the most abhorrent thought I could smother. Even after my enlistment, my mother and I made sure we at least contacted each other on the anniversary of his death or his birthday, to honor his memory in some way. The Alliance actually had a nice enough funeral since he was such a good soldier and all. But I always thought it wasn't enough.

I remember Torfan. I was so overwhelmed with my desire to prove myself and live up to the family legacy, my hunger to make the batarians pay for all they'd done to my people, my need to get the job done, that I put strategy and logic and tactics ahead of my own unit's lives. I've gone over the entire mission in my mind…well, pretty much every day since, wondering if there was anything I could've done differently. I always come up empty. But the results of the mission itself aren't always what get to me. People called me "the butcher of Torfan" for what happened there. As if I didn't care at all that most of my men died to accomplish the mission. As if no other CO in the Alliance would've made the calls I made. As if I had any other options. Someone once even asked me if I had taken into account that those soldiers had families they were leaving behind. It took all the nerve I had not to throw that particular person out the nearest window. Even still, I had to dig my nails into my palms so deep they bled just to keep myself from snapping as violently as a vorcha that I hadn't blindly, stupidly disregarded their places in the Alliance's memorials. That I knew them before they died that day. That no one could say anything to me I hadn't already told myself.

Mason. Barker. Fields. Harris. Livingston. Zhang. Kingsley. I always knew those names would haunt me until the day I died. Guess I was right.

Most of all, I remember the Normandy. I remember the first time I saw the ship. I remember the moment Udina first told me it was mine. For all the times I dreamed of being captain of my own ship someday when I was a nine-year-old military brat, seeing the dream come true was fantastic in more than a few ways. The daily adrenaline rush accompanying it was just a side benefit. Not to mention the crew I came to call friends, people I knew I could count on, who were willing to follow me through anything. Including stealing the Normandy to assault a rogue Spectre with an army of geth and a Reaper behind him. Those were some of the best days of my life.

Which basically sums up the most major reasons why I was so devastated by the Normandy SR-1's destruction. Even before it consequently caused my two-year-long death. Yes, I did get a new Normandy out of the following arrangement, but I guess you could say the SR-1 still had a special place in my heart. Still, my consistent underlying distrust of Cerberus all but forced me to depend on my squad. Despite all the fear that rang through the ship unspoken in anticipation of the mission that was to come, no one had any reservations when the time finally came to hit the Collectors where they lived and end them. And impending "suicide" has a way of bringing teams closer together. That mission also brought me some of my greatest memories.

But then the war came. There's nothing in the galaxy that can compare to seeing your home-world go up in flames. I did whatever I could to help everyone the Reapers were threatening. But as you might expect, it didn't always work out that way. Death follows me like a mouse follows a piece of cheese. It followed me right to Mordin, Thane, and Legion. I couldn't have saved them, I know that. But at least I was able to make the Reapers pay for it. When we finally managed to arm the Crucible, it was up to me what the Reapers' fate would be. I killed them all. And the explosion found its way to me first.

My last thought before the world gave out around me was of one person. Of a voice that set my heart on fire. Of piercing blue eyes that took over my every defense. Of a pain-wrought strength that held me close enough to feel a heartbeat for which my own jumped at the sensation.

…of Garrus Vakarian.

He's still on my mind now. Every moment we spent together has crossed my senses since the explosion. From the moment we first met to the moment I first knew how much I cared about him to the night of Omega-4. I remember with perfect clarity every second he touched me. He saw me in a way no one else in the entire galaxy ever would or even could. And through it all, he loved me. He made sure I knew that before I left him behind. It was the last words he ever said to me. The moment he said it has been the strongest of them all. I can't escape it. And I'd never want to.

I'm still too weak to move. My original attempt to crawl away from the wreckage amounted to nothing (and even if I could move, where am I supposed to go?). With the knowledge that I was trapped here alone, I resolved to simply lie here, hoping the lack of movement would at least make it easier. I've been slipping in and out of consciousness ever since, my imminent demise finding its way to me insufferably slowly. The pain in my abdomen seems to have lessened. I thought my cells gave up trying to repair the damage hours ago. At least it won't be so unbearable before it finally releases me. So, knowing the end is near, I let my thoughts fill with Garrus one more time, allow the memories to overtake me, and fall into them completely for as much time as it takes to fade away…

…but then something else reaches my senses, something far stronger.

Before Eden Prime, I'd never have been able to distinguish between the bloods of different species by anything but color. At least, not when it came to turians. Ask me to describe batarian blood and, from the Blitz alone, I could give a full-sensory, all-too-poetic depiction. But for turians, all I could say was "It's blue." I'd seen so few turians in battle before that I could never isolate even what shade of blue. The day I saw Nihlus lying dead in a pool of his own blood, though, the image resonated in my mind strong enough that I could always pinpoint the exact details from any selection. Glassy, stiff vapors. Like cobalt.

Once Garrus joined the hunt for Saren, once I got used to having him at my side on missions while I covered the medi-gel supply, the sensory reaction instilled by the blood of a turian became truly familiar for me. Still, it wasn't until the day I recruited Archangel that I realized how distinct that familiarity was. The mercs we'd been shooting down for hours had their fair share of turians and that scent was hanging in the air. But when Garrus was shot down by the gunship, I noticed that his blood was divergent from all of them. Not just the light metal laced in the oxygen around us, but something far more virulent. I could always tell from the scent of cobalt that there was an injured turian nearby. So I could always tell from the scent of cobalt and saltwater that there was an injured Garrus nearby.

Like now.

I weakly raise my hand up to follow the scent. It finally makes contact with something warm and…rather like liquid cobalt. I force myself to open my eyes. I find them meeting with a familiar intense, piercing blue gaze. I force my other hand to reach up to him as well. When it finds his scars, I know without a doubt this is real. "…Garrus…" I try to say his name, but my throat is raw from dehydration and everything my blood has been through.

He looks down at me, simultaneously overjoyed I'm still alive and assuring me that I'll get through this. With him here at all, I can believe it. "It's me, Shepard. It's over."

It's over. It's finally over and I'm still alive…and he's here with me. For about three seconds, I let myself be overjoyed at the thought as well. Then I remember how he found me. Briefly, I look at the cut on his arm, but he simply holds his hand over mine, silently telling me not to worry. That he's fine now that we're together again. Deep down, I think I am, too. I smile at the thought, fighting within myself to find the strength to move closer to him. "…you found me…"

He smiles softly. "I'll always find you." He finally lifts me carefully into his lap and leans over to kiss me. I gladly respond in kind, only pulling away against my will when my lungs start to ache. He understands, still hanging onto me. "…I love you, Shepard."

I smile as much as I can, clinging to him with all the strength left in my body. "I love you, Garrus." No sooner have I said it than weakness overtakes me, bringing me to lean into him with an overwhelming urge to fall back under.

"Hey," he quickly calls my attention back to him, "stay with me."

I force myself to meet his eyes. That's enough to call me back. I nod briefly. "Always."

He smiles again before turning to look at my injuries. Most of it he can't do much for, but he does start putting pressure on the wound in my side, ignoring the resulting flow of bright red blood that comes before the medi-gel he apparently put on before I woke up can start working to fix the damage. "The Normandy is waiting nearby. You're gonna make it."

The Normandy. They made it. The Reapers are gone, my ship is intact, the love of my life is here with me, and to top it all off, I'm still alive. It really is over. And knowing that…I don't think I've ever been happier than I am right now.

Garrus gently takes me into his arms, holding me against him as he gets up to carry me out. I gladly fall into him, safe in his grasp. The one place in the entire galaxy where nothing matters but the fact that one person loves me with all he has. Just like I love him. He seems to read my mind if the way he pulls me tighter to him is anything to go by. The last thing I see before I close my eyes is the blue of his eyes looking down at me as he smiles for me one last time. "Come on, love. …let's go home."