A/N: The idea for this story came up during a chat with my friend tristinai about the fact that I had one renegon Shepard in ME2 who didn't romance anybody because I was hoping that she could start a romance with Garrus or Thane or someone new in ME3. Of course, when ME3 came out, it turned out that that was not a possibility, so I never imported that Shepard into Mass Effect 3. Since I couldn't get what I wanted in the game, I now decided to write it myself, though not for the events of ME3 but for what happens after the destruction of the Reapers.
So, this is for Kathryn Shepard and all the other Shepards out there who had hoped to start a romance with Garrus in ME3 but never got that chance.
A side note about her rank: as far as I know, Shepard never got officially reinstated, not even in ME3 (yes, Anderson told her to consider herself reinstated, but I don't think that was official). Since her rank was still Commander during ME3 and since the destruction of the Reapers she's been in the hospital, I figure her rank hasn't changed.
I want to thank tristinai for her advice and encouragement, sailorthessia and rookie009 for their advice about the medical stuff, BardofHeartDive for chatting with me about a certain issue and giving advice about it, and suilven for beta reading.
"Here's what I want you to do."
Garrus stops talking, the last word of his abandoned sentence (something about the next stage in the reconstruction of some important building—or was it one of the relays? Shepard doesn't remember, and at the moment, she can't be bothered to care) hovering aimlessly in the sudden silence until it dissipates into the background noise of a nurse's hurried steps rushing past Shepard's hospital door, and he waits, patient as always, for Shepard to take a breath and go on.
She lolls her head to the side, unseeing eyes searching for the image of a familiar shape her damaged optical nerves refuse to supply to her brain, and sets her mouth in a stubborn, rigid line.
"Find a rope," she says. "Steal one if you have to—I don't give a damn. Sneak it into my room, and hide it under the bed. Make sure the nurses can't find it. Rent a skycar, park it under my window, and wait. Once the night shift takes over and the place quiets down, I'll tie the rope to my bed frame, climb out through the window, and rappel down to the car. Then we'll get the hell away from here."
There's a soft clank as Garrus lowers the datapad with the status reports about the rebuilding efforts and the metal shell makes contact with his thigh.
"Yes, well…" He hums, as though he'd actually considered his old friend's crazy little project, but when he starts to talk, his voice as smooth as honey, Shepard can almost see the twinkle in his eyes and the fluttering of his mandibles as he tears her plan apart. "That might even work if you could, you know, walk without help and see where you were going. Or if there weren't a bunch of metal bars over the window."
Shepard frowns. Fine. Okay. So, there are a few obstacles. Still, she has a few more tricks up her sleeve, so she waves a hand, brushing away the disappointing remains of Proposal Number One to make room for her next Great Idea.
"Whatever." She huffs out a breath, short and impatient. "Then pretend you're one of the staff, get a wheelchair, and wheel me the fuck out of here. If you have the right attitude, nobody will stop you." She thinks for a moment and raises a finger, punctuating the importance of her next point. "We'll still need that skycar, though."
"Riiight. I can already see the manhunt and the headlines on the news: Ex-Reaper Expert of the Turian Hierarchy Kidnaps Humanity's Greatest Treasure."
"So, I haven't survived three suicide missions just to get hunted down and shot by Miranda once she finds out. Or, spirits forbid, chewed out by Doctor Chakwas."
"Grunt would do it."
"Sure he would. But Grunt is not here."
Shepard scowls, her lips curving down in dejected misery, and she turns her head back to its original position on the soft pillows piled high on her bed.
Yeah. They're all gone. Grunt, Tali, Liara, James, the entire crew of the Normandy—all gone and scattered across the planet and in space, working, fighting, rebuilding, living. The only people still stuck in this goddamn place are her and Garrus—and Garrus, she suspects, is only staying because of some stubborn turian honor thing that she never asked for and never wanted. Duty towards a former CO; gratitude for her assistance with Saleon and Saren and Sidonis; and, perhaps, for saving his life on Omega (as if he hadn't saved her life a thousand times). It doesn't really matter; the end result is the same: he stayed and he's here, and she won't ask why, because if she asks and he replies, she might have to send him away.
The chair creaks under Garrus's weight as he gets up, and she can hear the heavy thuds of his boots on the tile floor as he walks over to her bed. He lays a hand on hers, his three fingers squeezing gently. It spreads warmth through her skin, and she swallows, and hopes her eyes aren't going to tear up, because dammit, she's shown enough weakness for one day already.
"Shepard," he says in that soft, rumbling voice that somehow, through some dual-toned magic, has always managed to calm her down and put things in perspective. "I know it's tough. Believe me, I know how it is to be confined to your bed while your mates are out there doing what you love. But you won't stay in here forever. You've already made so much progress from the wreck you were when they pulled you from the rubble on the Citadel. With the spinal implant and the physical therapy you've already started, you'll be able to walk again soon. Once they've fixed your eyes, you'll have your vision back, too. So let's wait for that before we start planning your escape."
For a heartbeat or two, everything is silent again as she chews over his words and thinks about all the surgeries and treatments and pain she's gone through just to heal the most serious of her injuries. True, she's in a way better shape than she was eight months ago, and she's thankful for her life—which she'd never thought she was going to have, not after what that AI brat had told her about the risks of destroying the Reapers—, but she's tired, so damn tired, of lying in bed and doing nothing.
She sighs, turns her hand over, and weaves her five fingers in between Garrus's three. "Yeah. I just… hate it in here. Hate depending on strangers. After Mindoir, I promised myself that I'd never be this vulnerable again. And I detest lying in bed with nothing to do but wait for the days to go by." She sighs again, the corner of her lips quirking up in a joyless half smile. "During the war, I would have given anything to have more than two hours of uninterrupted sleep at a time. But, by now, I think I've had enough downtime for the rest of my life."
"We'll see what you say about that once you're back on your feet and the Alliance sends you on one insufferable mission after another."
Her smile turns wistful, not sure if that's going to happen at all, but before she can reply, the door swishes open, letting the soft chatter from the nurse's station down the hall spill in for the couple of seconds it takes someone to walk in.
Shepard recognizes the footsteps, one foot hitting the floor a bit heavier than the other, followed by a small shuffle, as Doctor Shanda, her attending physician, approaches her bed.
With a gentle cough, Garrus lets go of Shepard's hand and he withdraws, letting the doctor take his place.
"How are we doing today?" Doctor Shanda asks as she starts up a scan with her omni-tool.
"Fine." Shepard listens to the soft hum as the instrument hovers above her, and thinks she can actually feel a wave of warm energy sweep the entire length of her body. It's fascinating, really, how many little clues you learn to pick up when you lose one of your senses. "I'll do better once I get out of here."
The scan stops, and the doctor leans her hip against the bed, making the mattress dip down a bit where she makes contact with it. "Well, now that we're done with all the major surgeries and your recovery is going so nicely, we can soon schedule the last operation to repair your vision. After that, we can transfer you to a rehabilitation center where you can—"
"No." Shepard almost growls the words, and it brings a satisfied warmth to her chest to feel the mattress jiggle under her as Dr. Shanda jolts back from the harshness in her voice. She may still be somewhat broken and her body may be weak and useless right now, but at least she hasn't lost her ability to intimidate. Good to know. "No more hospitals. No more nurses and hospital rooms and hospital food. I want to go home to my own place, sleep in my own bed, and eat my own goddamn food that I choose."
There's a strangled sound coming from a few feet away, and she's pretty sure it's Garrus trying to mask his chortle with a forced cough. Dr. Shanda, however, sounds much less amused when she replies.
"I know it's been a long road, Commander, and I understand your frustration. But even if this last surgery goes well and you can be discharged and switched to an outpatient basis, you'll still need regular checkups and physical therapy, and you'll need someone to take care of you while you recover. If not a nurse from here, then family, perhaps?"
Shepard's lower lip disappears between her teeth as she bites into it with a frown, and she wonders if her doctor is that ignorant or if this was an intentional dig at the fact that she has no-one; not even one family member left in this entire galaxy. She's about to say something not entirely kind, but stops when Garrus speaks up.
"Would a friend work?"
"Well… yes. I suppose. The important thing is for the commander to have someone living with her who can assist with her recovery and with everyday activities as well."
"I'll do it."
"Garrus," Shepard says, her voice a breathless gasp as she attempts to sit up, the nerves in her back screaming in agony from the sudden movement. It hurts, it really hurts, but right now, she couldn't care less. She reaches for Garrus, and he understands: he steps closer and grabs her outstretched hand. "You've always been my favorite, you know."
He laughs, and she can't help but grin as he reminds her of that time when, despite all the money Cerberus had spent on rebuilding every last cell in her body, the Illusive Man could not be bothered to properly fund their operation and she had to find some creative ways to afford all the upgrades they needed.
"Well..." he says. "I'd be more touched if I hadn't witnessed you giving the exact same endorsement to five different shops on the Citadel."
"Commander, are you sure?" Doctor Shanda says, interrupting their little moment. If her intonation is anything to go by, this must be the craziest thing she's ever heard. "Your caretaker will need to prepare meals for you, help you with dressing, bathing, using the toilet… No offense to Mr. Vakarian, but maybe someone closer to home might be more suitable—"
Shepard turns her head to where she figures Doctor Shanda is standing, and gives her a sightless glare. "I don't want someone closer to home. I want Garrus. There's no-one I trust more. Besides, he's patched me up enough times on our missions; he'll do just fine."
"Caring for someone, especially someone from a different species, after surgery is not the same as simply applying medi-gel on the battlefield," the doctor snaps.
Shepard crosses her arms across her chest and, for a long moment, says nothing. This would be much easier if she could actually stare her opponent down, but it is what it is. Besides, she still has her voice. "He can do it," she grinds out through clenched teeth. Her tone is harsh, dangerous, and when Dr. Shanda sighs, Shepard knows she's won.
"All right. But I won't sign off on your discharge until Mr. Vakarian has taken our caretaker class and demonstrated that he can do the job."
"No problem," Garrus says.
"Fine, then. I'll have the nurse discuss the details with you."
Shepard waits until the doctor walks out, and blows out a breath, sinking into her pillows again, when they are finally alone. "Thanks, Garrus. Appreciate it."
"Sure." He takes a couple of steps towards his chair, then stops. "Do you actually have a home to go to? You know Anderson's apartment got destroyed, right? I'd take you to my place, but it's just a tent in the turian camp. Maybe we could rent—"
"It's gonna be fine," Shepard says, raising a hand to interrupt him. "I'll ask Hackett to find me something."
"Oh. In that case, tell him to get you something nice. It's the least he can do after everything you've done for him and the Alliance."
"You have a point there."
"Damn right." The chair groans in protest as he sits down. "So, where was I?"
Shepard closes her eyes and listens as he resumes reading from his datapad, and manages to pay attention for a full two minutes before she falls asleep.
A week later, she has two new chips in the backs of her eyes and a set of new photoreceptors in her retinas, grown through months of careful lab work from her own stem cells. The surgeon tells her that the procedure has gone well but, for the moment, it's all just words and promises to her. Her eyes are bandaged and protected with a shield to prevent infection, but even without all that cover, she's not supposed to be able to see much for another two or three weeks. Apparently, that's how long it will take for her nerves to make the necessary connections and for the implants to start to work. If they work, she tells herself; given her rotten luck in life, the fact that she's survived this long is a minor miracle, and she's not about to set herself up for a brutal disappointment if things don't go quite as well this time. Expecting the worst but hoping for the best has served her pretty well so far.
But none of it really matters; whether or not she'll ever see again makes no difference in her determination to get out of the hospital. So, when Admiral Hackett calls in reply to her request for temporary lodgings for the duration of her recovery and gives her the address of a small house on the outskirts of town the Alliance has refurbished for her needs, no force in the universe can hold her back. She wants to go. Now.
After a long lecture about her medications, home care, and the importance of keeping up with her appointments for her checkups and physical therapy, Dr. Shanda finally signs the papers and discharges her from her long captivity.
It's a good day, and Shepard is the happiest she's been in quite a while. She can't stop smiling as she waits for Garrus to pack up her things Liara, in her infinite wisdom, had extracted from her cabin before the Normandy left Earth and has now sent along, together with a few new clothes and necessities, for this new stage in Shepard's life.
"Ready?" Garrus asks when he's done.
"I've been ready for weeks," Shepard replies.
Garrus chuckles and the wheelchair starts rolling through the corridors, through the soft beeps of medical instruments and the smell of bleach and anti-septic solutions and the day nurses' hushed voices, as they make their way to the back exit where he parked the skycar he requisitioned from the Alliance.
It's a handicap accessible van, the kind that opens on the side and lets you park your wheelchair in the front. Garrus secures her chair on the passenger side, and as Shepard waits while he loads their supplies in the back, she reaches out and runs her fingers along the dashboard in front of her. She thinks of the Mako and the SR1, of driving on hostile planets and fighting geth and mercs and thresher maws, and something twists in her stomach that she decides to quench with a joke.
"Maybe when I can see again, I'll give this baby a spin," she says. "Or if you gave me directions, I could do it now."
Predictably, Garrus lets out a groan. "Yeah. Sure. Kill the one person who's willing to take care of you. And yourself, just when you're finally free." He climbs into the driver's seat, shuts the door, and starts up the engine. "I'm actually surprised we survived all those missions where you got to drive. I still have nightmares about the time you got us stuck in a crevice on Noveria."
"It wasn't that bad."
"Shepard, we were upside down."
"But we got out of it."
"I still don't know how."
Shepard laughs. She leans back when they take off, and enjoys the sun warming up her face through the window as they make their way to their new home.