When Words Are Not Enough

What Hurts the Most

Commander Shepard sighed with relief as she stepped out of the Mako and into the Normandy cargo bay, Ashley and Wrex climbing out behind her. Tossing her helmet aside, she leaned back on one of the supports and took a moment to catch her breath, not even bothering to remove any other piece of her armor even as Ashley stripped down to her uniform to return to her post.

"That rough, huh?" Garrus commented as he stepped over to look at the M35.

"There was a thresher maw," Shepard groaned, not moving otherwise.

"Of course, there was. You didn't get acid in the fuel tank, did you? Because you know that could make it explode."

"If it were going to, it would have by now." She then leaned around to smirk at him. "Besides, I trust you. You can fix it."

Garrus just shook his head, though he couldn't hide his own smirk in response. "Yeah, I certainly can."

Shepard sighed, rolling her eyes. "Your skill is matched only by your modesty."

"I get the sense you're being ironic," Garrus commented even as he started fiddling with the wires.

"No, sarcastic. There's a difference."

Garrus just focused on the machine in front of him, finally snapping shut the panel over the wires and turning to inspect the exterior.

Shepard then brought herself to shift around the post and step over to him, glancing over the Mako for herself as she did. "You know, if you need a hand, I'd be happy to help. It's the least I could do, considering I'm technically the one that trashed it in the first place."

"Appreciate the offer, Commander, but I think I can handle it." He turned to face her, resting his hand on the back wheel. "Besides, if it was that rough, you should really be resting."

"Please," Shepard scoffed as she stepped over, "I've gone through worse than that. Four times in succession once, actually." She moved to lean casually against the Mako as she talked to him, resting her hand on the wheel as well. Then instantly taking notice of the fact that she'd laid it down directly on top of his. "Oh!" She quickly pulled back, watching him do the same simultaneously. "Sorry."

He took a step back, feeling the discomfort rising between them. Though he still glanced at his hand where she'd touched it, remembering how hers felt. "…it's fine."

She almost started to move closer to him, but she planted her feet, no longer sure how to handle this encounter. She looked to him for some signal of how to proceed. When he looked back at her, though, she found their gazes locked together. For a moment of utter silence, she was trapped under a predatory stare, her thoughts falling under the scrutiny of piercing dark blue eyes. Once that moment was over, though, she quickly separated herself from it. "Uh…maybe you were right. I should go lie down." Tucking her hair behind her ear anxiously, she stepped past him towards the elevator.

Garrus simply stood there, not moving. "Right."

"Oh!" Shepard called back even as she summoned the elevator, "But I did mean what I said. If you need me, all you have to do is call."

Garrus nodded before turning back to the Mako. But even as he set to work, he looked at his hand, still feeling her touch against it. Snap out of it, Vakarian. It was just an accident, it doesn't mean anything. …right?

Once Shepard was in the elevator and the door was closed, she leaned back against the wall and breathed deep. I'm just tired. There's a lot going on right now. That's it. …right?

Two weeks later…

Shepard was sitting alone in the mess hall, looking sadly down at a bowlful of fruit. She'd been sitting here for an hour and hadn't eaten a single one. It was kind of hard to think about food after what had happened less than a day ago on Virmire.

The sound of approaching footsteps brought her out of her thoughts, though she didn't bother turning to see who they belonged to. "Shepard. Are you OK?"

Grieving though she was, she couldn't deny that some part of her felt happier just for hearing that voice. "I'm fine, Garrus. Just…you know."

He nodded. "Yeah. I know." He sighed. "If you need some time alone, I can—"

"No!" she found herself answering before she knew she was talking at all. She instantly shrunk back, shocked at her own response. "…no. I could…actually kind of use a friend right now."

Garrus looked at her for a second. For all the time they'd spent together since this mission started, she still had trouble reading his expression now. Until he sat down across from her, clearly prepared to stay there for the rest of the day if she needed him. "We're friends then, huh?"

She smiled. "Yeah. At least, I'd like to think so."

He smiled back. "Then I guess I should stop calling you 'Commander' all the time, huh?"

"Officially? Rank's still in play. When it's just us and the ship? By all means and please."

He let off a small laugh. "Alright. I can work with that." Then he turned his full attention to her, remembering why she had been sitting here alone in the first place. "…do you…want to talk about…?"

She simply looked down at the table thoughtfully for a moment. "No. I need to put that behind me." She considered what else they could make a conversation out of, what could take her mind off of all that was weighing her down now. She only came up with one solution: "Maybe we should talk about…each other?"

Garrus looked at her curiously. "What?"

"Well, we're friends now and all, but I still feel like I barely know you."

"Really? 'Cause I'm the one that's been pouring out my life story every time you come down to the cargo bay—"

"Yeah, so I know what you've done. That's only about 30% of who you are."

He kept looking at her for a moment, unsure of what to say. "OK…uh…where do we start with this?"

"Ideally, start simple and work your way up from there. For example…" She thought over the topic, wondering where to start. "…my favorite color is green."

He kept his eyes on her, filing away the information even as he prepared to respond. "Well…mine is blue…you know, obviously."

Shepard smirked, committing this detail to memory. "Alright. I, uh…you start this time."

For the next hour, they sat there, exchanging thoughts and memories and interests and preferences. More than once, they both broke into laughter at an offhand comment or amusing recollection. When they finally walked away to return to their posts, they both stepped away wishing they could've stayed just a little while longer.

One week later…

Tali was going back to the Migrant Fleet to complete her Pilgrimage. Wrex was heading back to Tuchanka. And Garrus was returning to the Citadel. Shepard sent Wrex off with a friendly pat on the hump and hugged Tali. Then she turned to Garrus.

"Uh…" Garrus fumbled for the words, unsure how to handle this, "…it's been an honor serving with you, Shepard."

"Likewise, Garrus," Shepard nodded with a smile.

He smiled back. Then he, still unsure, held out his hand to her.

She took it. But instead of shaking it like he was sure she would do, she froze for a brief moment before pulling her hand back. And hugging him. "Stay in touch, alright?"

He stood there in confusion, finally convincing himself to move and return the embrace. "I will," he assured as he pressed his hands to her back, "…be careful out there."

She scoffed as she stepped back. "Remember who you're talking to, Vakarian."

"Right," he shook his head at her, "Sure you don't need me to stay? I know how much you love beating up the Mako."

"Shut up."

He snickered before stepping away. "I'll still be on the Citadel if you need me. You just have to call."

She nodded again. "I know. I'll see you then." So she turned and headed back to the galaxy map, preparing to take the Normandy off the Citadel and out to the Terminus Systems.

Meanwhile, Garrus walked away from the ship entirely. He sighed as he watched it leave his field of view, some part of him already missing it.

Four days later…

Shepard sat on her bed, looking at her omni-tool. It was currently displaying an image of her and Garrus. She had been missing him since he left the ship. Inexplicably, she had been missing him more than Tali or Wrex. The cargo bay seemed completely empty now, but it was his presence she found left the greatest hole. She missed hearing his voice, fighting with him at her side, sitting around explaining human concepts he didn't understand and listening to him explain turian ones, even just seeing him fiddling with the Mako.

Suddenly, a wave of realization rushed through her. The Mako. The memory of that day when their hands touched struck her in an all new light. How he was there for her after Virmire took on an all-new meaning. As her thoughts filled with Garrus Vakarian, she saw what she was truly feeling. Her breathing pattern cracked at the revelation, her eyes dampening as the truth took over: she had actually cared about him. And it was only now when he had left the ship that she knew.

She groaned, falling back against the bed. Maybe it's for the best. Why would a turian be interested in a human? Still, she couldn't purge it from her mind that there might've been a chance and she'd blown it. Unable to stop kicking herself about it, she searched for some other way to vent her frustrations. Her eyes finally fell to the omni-tool that had just clicked off. With a sigh, she turned it on and brought up her music library. She only had to scan for five seconds before she came to a decision. Perfect fit. Then she activated it.

(Rascal Flatts' "What Hurts the Most" plays)

She curled up on the bed and closed her eyes, letting the music fill her senses even as her thoughts were taken over again by a certain turian sharpshooter.

I can take the rain on the roof of this empty house
That don't bother me
I can take a few tears every now and then and just let 'em out
I'm not afraid to cry
Every once
In a while
Even though
Going on
With you gone
Still upsets me
There are days
Every now
And again
I pretend
I'm OK
But that's not what gets me
What hurts the most
Was being so close
And having so much to say
And watching you walk away
And never knowing
What could've been
And not seeing that loving you
Is what I was trying to do

Suddenly, the ship lurched, the sound of an explosion erupting from the upper deck. Shepard instantly jumped up from her bed, turning off her omni-tool entirely.

"We're under attack!" Joker's voice echoed over the PA in panic.

Shepard didn't bother listening to the rest. She just rushed to throw her armor on and defend her ship.

One week later…

Garrus sat in his apartment on the Citadel, too stunned to move. …Shepard is gone. It wasn't possible, it couldn't be. But it was true. The soldier that guided him, that he fought beside, the one human he respected and admired most in this entire galaxy…was dead. She survived the entire search for Saren and the chaos on Ilos and the Battle of the Citadel but a surprise attack cut her down and took her beloved Normandy with her. It wasn't right.

Garrus sighed, turning to look out the window at the Citadel. He remembered watching her admiring the view from the docking bay. He had commented that there were several other spots on the station with even better sights to see. She had told him he'd have to show them to her sometime. He never got the chance. And now he'd never see her again. To think that he'd never see the quick-witted, tender-hearted, free-spirited, beautiful, young human command—

Wait, did he just say "beautiful"?

Almost falling out of his seat at the realization, he confirmed that he did. Since when had he considered her attractive? True, he'd always found it entertaining to see her in a fight, but…well, that didn't mean…did it? …no. No. She was his commanding officer—she was a human! …still…he thought it over. But instead of finding his own emotions inside of the memories surrounding his mind, he could only find her. The sight of her smile and how her eyes lit up when she did, how she cocked her head when he said something she considered "curious," how she tucked her hair behind her ear whenever she was uncomfortable or anxious, the feelings brought on by her touch on his hand that day in the cargo bay, everything that happened between them after Virmire…

Spirits, he…he actually cared about her that way. How could he not have known?! …now it was too late.

He groaned, falling back in his seat. As if it wasn't bad enough losing her already. I guess it doesn't matter, though. It's not like she'd ever have been interested in a turian. Still, he couldn't deny the new layer of grief compounding—even overwhelming—his already considerable mourning. What was he supposed to do now? With a sigh, he finally resorted to turning on the music system and just sifting through it. When a human song from nearly 200 years ago came on, he let it play. And let his fallen commander take over his mind.

It's hard to deal with the pain of losing you everywhere I go
But I'm doing it
It's hard to force that smile when I see our old friends and I'm alone
Still harder
Getting up
Getting dressed
Living with
This regret
But I know
If I could do it over
I would trade
Give away
All the words
That I saved
In my heart
That I left unspoken
What hurts the most
Is being so close
And having so much to say
And watching you walk away
And never knowing
What could've been
And not seeing that loving you
Is what I was trying to do

Garrus simply lay there, one thought echoing constantly through him: I'm so sorry, Shepard. I never should've left.

Two years later…

Neither of them could believe it. They were both alive and together again. But that didn't mean the news was entirely happy. His newfound scars and the Cerberus logo on the side of the ship proved that. Once he was settled into the battery, she went down to see him without a second thought. For a moment, they simply got to enjoy the fact that Shepard and Vakarian were back. Then, after briefly talking over their current situation, they found themselves drifting into silence.

Shepard, of course, instantly attempted to rectify this. Silence gave her no distraction from the thoughts she was nursing moments before her death. Thoughts she knew he would never reciprocate. Why would he? "So what brought you to Omega?"

Garrus looked at her for a second. He knew he couldn't give her the real answer: …you. He couldn't tell her just how hard her death had hit him because he couldn't tell her why. I just got her back. I'm not risking what we already have. …not when I know she wouldn't feel the same way. "I got tired of all the politicking on the Citadel," he gave his breaking point. Not his true reasoning.

Shepard listened patiently as he explained everything that had happened to him since her death. When she heard he was missing, she'd been so worried she'd never hear his voice again. Hearing it now restored some of the hope she'd lost. But hearing the story he told made her heart ache for him. He'd lost faith. He'd been betrayed. He was in true pain. It left her longing to console him—to just hold him close until their worries faded away, until everything ceased to exist. No Cerberus, no Collectors, no Reapers. Just the two of them. Clearly, that's not an option…

Garrus found himself confessing things to her that he hadn't told anyone else. It was only natural. He trusted her more than anyone else. But when he told her about his plans for Sidonis, he saw the apprehension rising in her eyes. That much got to him. If he couldn't be with her, he wanted her to be happy without him, but he still wanted to be her friend. The last thing he could take now would be to mess that up. …she's the only friend I've got left. He finally shook it off. If he kept this up now, he was likely to say something wrong. "Thanks for coming, Shepard. I've got some things to take care of." So he stepped past her and set back to work.

Shepard simply looked after him sadly before heading for the elevator. When she stepped in, she hit the button for deck 1. And while the doors were closed and no one could see her, she let the few tears she had the heart to shed but not the strength to fight off fall free.

What hurts the most
Was being so close
And having so much to say
And watching you walk away
And never knowing
What could've been
And not seeing that loving you
Is what I was trying to do

Two months later…

Shepard only now felt like herself, the woman that died two years ago, only now that she was fighting off geth with Garrus and Tali at her side. Just like old times. Not to say this wasn't a bit more difficult. She couldn't see two feet in front of her until the bullets started flying. Thankfully, there didn't seem to be too many of them here, and the fact that killing one somewhat weakened the others did traditionally help.

Shepard ducked under the oncoming fire, waiting for a chance to shoot back. When she had one, she took it, not taking her finger off the trigger until the clip overheated and then signaling to Garrus and Tali to make a move of their own. Garrus quickly overloaded all the shields in his range, leaving half of them open for Tali to hack. As Shepard switched clips, she watched the geth tear each other apart in amusement. Once Tali's work wore off, the geth were down to five. Garrus quickly sniped down the two farthest from them, leaving the closest one for Tali to take out with her shotgun and the last two for Shepard. Now that it was clear, Shepard holstered her gun and rushed over to shut off the machine causing the abnormal weather conditions. "OK, I disabled the—"

"SHEPARD!" Garrus suddenly called out.

Shepard didn't have a chance to move before something hit her in the head, throwing her to the ground. She quickly turned over to face the threat. Though she didn't have time to pull her gun back out or even roll out of the way of the gunshot that was undoubtedly about to come, she had plenty of time to mentally beat herself senseless. Normally, she was better than anyone at spotting the shimmer in the air left by a geth hunter cloak. Now she was on the receiving end of its shotgun, at too close a range for her shields to save her.

Then suddenly, someone rushed in and tackled it. Only once that someone managed to turn its shotgun on it and fire did she see who it was. Garrus took a second to catch his breath, tossing aside the shotgun in question as Tali rushed over to make sure the hunter was actually dead. He'd rushed in on instinct without a thought for what might happen. All he'd known was that Shepard was in immediate danger, the sniper rifle he had out was all but useless at such short range, and he didn't have time to switch guns. So he'd jumped at the geth assassin like a crazy person and just barely gotten lucky enough to kick it in the right place to force it to release its hold on the weapon in its hand. He was lucky to be alive.

"Are you OK?" Shepard instantly asked.

"I'm fine—" he started, grabbing his own gun back. He cut himself off with a brief cry of pain, dropping to the ground.

"Garrus!" Shepard rushed over before Tali, who was less than five feet from him, even noticed something was wrong. She quickly searched to see what the problem was. She found a rather large gunshot wound in his abdomen, likely gained in the scuffle with the hunter right before he managed to disarm it. Knowing that the shuttle was likely already on its way to pull them out, she quickly turned on her COMM. "Joker, tell Chakwas to get the med bay ready. Garrus got hit."

"Come on, Shepard," he groaned even as he forced himself the least bit upright, "I've taken worse than this."

"You think I don't know that? You could've gotten killed back there!"

"That has been known to happen in this line of work."

When he started trying to move again, Shepard stopped him. "…and you saved my life."

Garrus simply looked at her. Just from seeing her softly smiling at him now, he knew he wouldn't have minded if he had died to save her. "…yeah…I guess I did."

With Tali there, Shepard turned her attention to tending the wound until the shuttle got there. Once they were back on the ship, they sent him straight to the med bay. Immediately after, Shepard headed up to her cabin to get out of her armor and waited for news. An hour later, after a sufficient use of dextro medi-gel and the application of another bandage, Garrus was free to get back to work. He headed straight for the battery without a second thought. Five minutes after he was back at the console, the door opened.

Garrus turned to see who was there. "Shepard. Did you need—?"

Shepard cut him off by letting her emotions take over her actions for the first time in years. She jumped at him and kissed him.

Garrus froze in shock and confusion, leaning back against the console to keep himself standing straight.

Just as he was about to start responding, though, she stop moving and slowly began to pull back. "…I'm sorry, that was…" She sighed, releasing her hold on him and starting to step out. "…maybe I should—"

Garrus quickly grabbed her by the arm, keeping her from leaving. When she met his eyes, he took a moment to gaze at hers. The second he saw the longing buried behind them, he gave into what he'd been hiding for two years and let his own come free. Letting go of her wrist, he instead wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her up against him, sliding his other hand into her hair and kissing her back. Slowly, she started to return it, wrapping her arms around him and falling into the embrace. In that moment, the galaxy faded away. And they both knew what they'd felt and concealed had been real.

(Not seeing that loving you)
That's what I was trying to do

One month later…

Shepard smiled as she curled up against Garrus in her bed, letting him hold her close. What was waiting for them in only an hour didn't seem to matter now. All that mattered was that they were together.

"I'll give you this, Shepard," Garrus smirked, "You are flexible."

Shepard smirked back, delivering a playful nudge. "Yeah, yeah, keep talking, Vakarian."

He smiled as he shifted positions enough to meet her eyes. As they lit up at the sight of his, he carefully sifted his talons through her hair and brought her in to kiss her again.

She smiled brightly as she pulled away. "I meant it, you know." She turned to kiss his scars, only willing to stop when his voice filled her senses.

Knowing this, he took a moment to savor the feeling of her affections before bringing himself to ask: "…why'd you ask me?"

Shepard froze, stunned. Slowly, she pulled back from him to meet his eyes again. "What?"

"Why did ask me to do this with you? You could've had anyone you wanted—"

"I didn't want anyone else!" Shepard instantly winced at the severity of her exclamation even as Garrus looked at her in shock. With a sigh, she stopped to explain. "I've cared about you…more than I can say…since about halfway through the search for Saren. And I was too stupid to see it until you left. Which was about 15 minutes before I died. I wasn't about to make the same mistake again."

Garrus stared at her in amazement. "Shepard…" He took her hand, using his free one to push her hair back from her face. "…I felt the same way this whole time."

Now she looked at him in shock. "You did?"

"Yes. I was convinced you'd never be interested in a turian, so…" He sighed. "If I'd known, I might've done something, at least told you, but…I didn't know how." He shook his head. "And you thought you were stupid. Why'd we wait so long?"

She scoffed, letting a small smile come through. "I don't know, but…I guess it doesn't matter now. We happened." So she wrapped her arms around him and leaned in closer. "And this…" And she kissed him again. "…is totally worth the wait."

He smiled back, holding her close as they fell into each other again.

Never to let go.