Chapter 2: Diagnosis

The Normandy's med bay would normally have been fully prepared to treat its disabled commander, but Dr. Chakwas was concerned she needed more care than they could give. There was little debate before they had Joker take them away from the Citadel to London. One of the hospitals was nearly restored by now and was in the process of tending to those who were still wounded. When the squad rushed in with Commander Echo Shepard herself, though, every medical personnel in the building seemed to drop everything and come to help. The squad was naturally determined to stay close and keep an eye on her but were eventually shooed out to the nearest waiting room so that there would be space for the doctors in the OR. Several of them were prepared to put up a fight about the issue before Dr. Chakwas herself stepped in and told them to go along with it, assuring them that she would keep an eye out for them as she headed in to help with whatever was needed to get the commander back on her feet.

So it was that Garrus, Tali, Liara, Ashley, and James essentially cordoned off a waiting room specifically for the commander's former squad-mates. After a few tense hours, Dr. Chakwas came back to inform them of the initial reports—15 broken bones, cybernetics burned out, slight malnutrition (the hard-suit apparatus had been running on fumes when they'd found her), and severe blood loss. It was worrying, to say the least, but Chakwas said it could all be fixed.

"Oh, yeah?" Garrus asked, "And how long will that take?"

Dr. Chakwas hesitated. "We are running low on supplies, but we should hold out long enough to fix the worst of it. It'll just take a bit longer than usual. A week, conservative guess."

Garrus sighed in exasperation, shaking his head. "You do realize she hates hospitals…"

Still, they waited in near silence for news. News was few and far between, though, and they discovered that this part was even harder than the searching. Most of them started to bounce between the waiting room and the Normandy, but Garrus stayed there, consistently complaining that he should be in the room with her in case she woke up, to which Liara or Tali (whichever was present at the time) would remind him that the commander was in and out of surgery and under constant anesthesia until further notice so it wouldn't matter. After two days of this, the five of them at least got some company when the rest of Shepard's former squad-mates—everyone from Wrex to Kasumi—received word of their commander's whereabouts and came to join the vigil. Three days after this, Dr. Chakwas came out to inform them that any surgical corrections that could be made had been; she stepped down with the news that the rest was up to recovery and that all they could do was hope for the best.

They spent the next few days "catching up" in the absence of news. The conversations were interspersed with messages from their families, from their crewmates, from admirals, from Primarch Victus, even from the Council themselves, all asking after the commander's wellbeing. They had developed a general response of "She's still in recovery, she's not even awake yet, we'll let you know if anything changes." With every passing day of no word, though, things got more and more tense.

"This is Shepard we're talking about!" Jack finally declared, "She should be up and complaining about being in a hospital by now!"

"Much as I agree," Garrus sighed, "it's not up to her this time."

"Well, then, can't these so-called 'doctors' hurry up?! I've got kids and a varren to worry about."

Wisely, no one said anything to that.

Two weeks had gone by since Shepard's rescue, everyone but Garrus constantly in and out of the waiting room, before they heard anything. When a nurse came by and informed them that the commander had begun to respond and would soon be waking up, Garrus immediately sent a message to his former squad-mates to inform them of this new development so that they would all come back. They arrived expectant and hopeful, convinced that the next thing they heard would be good news and would come soon.

"Any word?" Samara asked as they gathered.

"They just said she's waking up," Garrus answered, "They're checking her over one last time before clearing her for visitors, but it sounds like she's recovering."

"HA!" Grunt said delightedly, "That's our Shepard! Biggest explosion in the galaxy goes off in her face and she walks it off!"

"Well, sleeps it off, but close enough," Ashley smirked with him.

Garrus couldn't help but smile as well. They were right, after all, that it was only a matter of time. In a few moments, he was convinced, she might even just walk out, shooing away doctors to insist on celebrating their recent victory and sharing jokes about how she'd rather set off another galaxy-shaking explosion than spend five more minutes in a hospital. It would hardly be the first time she'd stormed out of a med bay, still limping from a half-healed broken bone and yet threatening to shoot the next person that "offered" her any drugs besides nice, simple medi-gel. After the Leviathan incident, she'd been so restless that he'd had to go in and hold her down until she surrendered to the fact that while nearly drowning was something she could just shrug off, any head trauma she may have suffered during or after the reason for that drowning ("We're not talking about this mind control, Matrix-wannabe crap again, alright?") was not. He hadn't complained, even though she had only relented on the condition that he stay in there with her. She had that effect on him. It was a stark contrast to how she usually was—always patient with the rest of them, always so friendly, always putting them first.

Yeah, she'd be fine. She was a fighter. And even if she wasn't, the galaxy was already down a few too many good people to lose someone like that so easily. She'd been through enough trying to protect them all.

He did still wish he'd been allowed to be there when she woke up, to be the first one she saw. Still, this was enough for him. He closed his eyes and saw what he knew was coming, the moment that she came down the hall and caught sight of him, when she would run past everyone like there was no one else there and kiss him like she had before that final run. Nice as their hopefully-not-a-farewell had been, he longed for the embrace that would prove it hadn't been the last time. He wanted to rectify the fact that they had almost lost so much, tell her he loved her without a Reaper on top of them, never let her go again, at least see those silver blue eyes looking at him with a happiness he couldn't help but share in.

It would certainly make all this helpless, frightened waiting worth it.

"I won't lie," Tali sighed, "I have been worried."

"Yeah, we all have," Kasumi nodded.

"Don't let her hear you say that," Jacob smirked, "She'll never let you live it down."

"I don't know," Zaeed shrugged, "She might take it as a compliment. She's unpredictable like that."

Garrus stifled a laugh. "Yeah. She really is."

"I take it you're the crew of the Normandy?" All eyes turned to see that the doctor was at the door.

Liara quickly took the front. "Is she alright?"

"She's healed from the physical damage almost completely over the last two weeks. She should make a full recovery."

Liara sighed with relief as the others did. "Thank the Goddess."

While the squad was relishing the good news at long last, however, the doctor turned to look at his datapad as if hoping the data it contained would change if he didn't meet any of their eyes.

Miranda was the one who noticed the doctor's discomfort. "…is something wrong?"

He hesitated to answer but, seeing that Miranda's question had returned everyone's attention to him, saw no point in putting it off. "Like I said, the physical damage will be repaired. But…" He sighed, finding no other way to say it: "…somewhere in the explosion, her hippocampus was damaged as well."

Miranda's reaction was immediate and unsettling. The other humans in the group seemed suddenly ill-at-ease, but the aliens were uncertain.

"Uh…what does that mean?" Tali finally asked.

Miranda seemed too stunned to answer but drew herself to clarify before the doctor could: "It's the area of the human brain that regulates long-term memory."

That's when all of them started to panic.

"She regained consciousness almost an hour ago," the doctor quickly explained, "We've checked the damage. Everything up to the Normandy's first takeoff is completely intact. For the most part, she seems to recall the events after that up until the last run to the beam, then her memory completely dissolves. Since she's been unconscious for anything that would encompass short-term memory, that's the best she has…but…"

Wrex finally cut loose: "But what?!"

The doctor visibly recoiled. Wrex was intimidating when he wasn't testy. That was a line he didn't want to cross. "The events that have taken place are still there—Sovereign, the Collectors, even most of the war—but when we started testing names, she started shutting down. Obviously, she knew David Anderson, but when we gave the name Jeff Moreau, she said it sounded familiar but she couldn't place it. When we said 'Kaidan Alenko'…she said she'd never heard that name before. We tried James Vega, Ashley Williams, even the Illusive Man, but the results were the same. It's safe to say anyone she met from Eden Prime onward is…gone."

The squad then saw the true extent of the problem. She had met all of them after Eden Prime.

Tali dropped into her seat. "…she doesn't remember any of us?"

The doctor sighed. "No, I don't believe she does."

Those words hit them all like a punch in the gut. Their unbreakable commander, the one who had stood with them through the worst of it, the one who had turned (by force where necessary) a group of aliens and renegades into a family that the Reapers couldn't separate, the one who had led them through countless firefights and bested death itself…and now wouldn't know any of the crewmen she'd brought together. As much as some of them might try to hide it, Shepard had meant a lot to them all, and the fact that they were present to be there when she woke up showed it. There was so much they needed to say, so much they had promised for the "after it's over," and now it didn't even matter. She was alive, yes. But she was still gone.

"Every case of amnesia is different," the doctor continued, "so we're not sure how to attempt fixing it. The memories are still in her mind somewhere, but she can't access them. An asari medic suggested 'melding therapy,' but I think the best treatment would be reminders—the more time she spends with all of you, the more likely she is to remember you. We're still running a few more checks before she's cleared, so we'll let you know as soon as anything changes."

None of them acted like they even heard him, so Liara took over again. "We…we'll keep that in mind. Thank you."

He simply nodded and left the room.

Silence fell at his exit. There was nothing any of them could say. There was a certain kind of irony in this, some of the galaxy's mightiest warriors apparently brought down by losing a friend to something other than death. It was to them as if the room was colder, as if the lights were dimmer, as if breaking the silence would make it all real when this must clearly be a nightmare because Shepard would never break this way. She wouldn't, either—she'd been fighting for them for too long to lose them this way now. Well, no, she wasn't losing them, was she? They were losing her. Not that it made much difference which way around it was when the result was the same. All that searching to avoid the chance of living in a galaxy without Shepard and now it didn't matter. Then again, they'd succeeded in saving her. They were the only ones this was hurting. Everyone else would just be relieved she was recovered and disappointed they'd never learn what happened at the Crucible; her family, on the other hand…well, it was harder to claim they were a family when the person that made them one wouldn't even recognize any of them.

"Well…" Liara finally spoke up, "…we'll just have to try what he suggested and hope—"

Crash!

Liara jumped, whirling around to see what had caused the sound.

Garrus stood over an upturned chair. He had apparently tossed it so hard it broke in two. He didn't seem to have calmed afterward, either. His fists were clenched so tight that his talons would have carved right into his palms had he not been wearing gloves. His breathing was shallow and tense. The look in his eyes was a fiery, "if looks could kill" glare to rival what he once would have given Sidonis. His muscles tight, his heart pounding in his ears, his voice aching to scream—it was a wonder that Tali rushing over did anything to ease his rage. Though that could be because he wasn't really angry underneath it all.

He was too empty to be.

She doesn't remember me. She doesn't remember us. The thought was enough to hollow him out in a way he wouldn't have believed possible even when he was mourning her. True, it was perhaps because he had known deep down that she was still alive. Even now, he was telling himself that this might not be true either, that they hadn't tested his name yet, that this was a temporary side effect and she would still wake up and come rushing back the second she saw him. But there wasn't much chance of that, was there?

Some part of him wanted to be angry, if only so he could feel something about how she had just forgotten him completely. But it was Shepard, and Shepard wasn't someone you could just be angry at. He couldn't be sad about it because the others were there (and it hardly seemed fair to mourn something like this when so much worse had been lost lately). He couldn't even just be happy that she was OK because this meant she wasn't his anymore. No, he was just empty, as if he had set aside some part of himself specifically for her and it had been snatched away.

He finally resorted to sitting down in the chair next to the one he had thrown, Tali taking the one beside it so she could stay close, and staring at the floor in silence.

"Liara's right," Tali said, apparently the only one willing to intrude on whatever was running through his head, "We just have to take it slow, hope it won't take that long for her to remember. I mean, like we said, it's Shepard, so it shouldn't be that hard for her."

Garrus told himself Tali was right. It's Shepard. Death didn't stop her and this won't either. But as many times as he told himself, it did nothing to ease the pressure building inside him at the thought that the love of his life, at this very moment, didn't even know who he was. Recently, he had taken to distracting himself with memories of their time together, from the moment they met to the moment she ran for that beam without him; but doing that now wasn't going to help when every memory he clung to brought with it the sting of realizing that, even though she was alive, she couldn't do the same. Deep down, he couldn't help but dread the idea that she would never be able to again, that what they'd had was gone forever and she would never look at him the same way again. The only one who had ever been able to soothe such intense fears within him was now the reason it was happening and he couldn't even talk to her about it because of stupid protocols and protocols he despised had been the reason he first joined her and she had believed in him when no one else did and they had been truly in love and how was he supposed to come back from this if she couldn't?!

When he noticed the others were starting to ignore him in favor of strategizing how to proceed from here, he took the opportunity to tell Tali he needed some space and leave the hospital for the first time in two weeks. He didn't stop moving until he was outside, didn't spare a glance for a single passerby. Even when he was outside, he seemed to suddenly realize just how ruthlessly crowded the area was, given how it was the only hospital in the area that was fully functional just yet and, even a month after the final battle, they had plenty of war-wounded to worry about. The turian finally made his way to the back of the building and located a spot that was more quiet and isolated.

He wanted to start by hitting something but found that he'd spent all of that energy on the chair in the waiting room. So instead, he slumped against the wall and let the emptiness overcome him.

"You'll never be alone," she told him.

But he felt awfully alone right now.