Chapter 21: Reminders

Garrus spent a long time trying to figure out how to do this. He spent so long, in fact, that he lost a couple hours of sleep over it, which was doing nothing to ease his nerves. He woke up fully prepared to just come out with it, but he lost all will to try when she woke up with him with that smile that made her eyes glisten and a kiss that made his heart leap. If he loved her so much, why couldn't he just tell her something this important?!

While she got up to get ready for a new day as if nothing was going on, he sat there sulking and trying to come up with a plan. He considered calling Tali or Liara for backup but ultimately figured this should be up to him. He had decided to leave her to her own recovery and now he was deciding to tell her why.

Which was why it never even crossed his mind to call Jack or Ashley about this.

He spent the entire time it took him to get ready working up the nerve to just come out with it. He had no idea where to start, but he was determined. As he made his way down the hall to her, he decided it was best to start at the beginning and switched to thinking over how best to word it. Now that he had a plan, though, all he could think about was how she would react. All this time and he'd been keeping something this big from her…she wouldn't take it well. She'd been lied to enough in her life without someone she loved betraying her trust this way. He wouldn't be able to hold it against her if she never spoke to him again. No matter how much he might not want that, though, this had to be done. He didn't know human standards, but any turian would agree that the painful truth was better than a happy life full of secrets or lies. If he didn't say something now, he'd regret it forever.

After all, even if he had done it for her own good, he'd always regretted leaving. Time to remedy that.

Perhaps, in a way, this was the punishment for it.

As soon as he came out of the hall, Echo sent a smile in his direction. "So do you have something in mind today or are we not messing with a good thing?"

Where last night seeing her so blissfully happy had filled him with joy and contentment, seeing her that way now hollowed him out. Here he had gone through so much to give her this happiness and he was about to tear it apart. He tried to force a smile at first, just to keep her from worrying as long as possible, but the weight of his decision was so heavy that he found himself leaning against the wall.

Echo saw his discomfort, naturally. She quickly took his side. "Are you OK, love? You weren't sleeping so well last night."

He tensed when he heard that. He should've known she'd notice. Still, when he met her eyes, the storm inside him calmed. He smiled now, steadying enough to shift his hand from the wall to her arm. "It's better with you here."

She smiled back, leaning into him.

He took a moment to simply hold her close, committing the scent and feel to memory in case this truly was the last time he'd be able to. I can't lose her again…but I will not hurt her.

When she pulled away, Garrus sighed. Simultaneously regretful that he had made this decision and resentful that he hadn't made it sooner, he turned to the love of his life and began to act on it. "Echo…you know I love you, right?"

Echo nodded, smiling softly. "And I love you."

Those words eased some of his dread, but only some. Still, he was committed. No turning back now. He had to say it while he could. "Do you trust me, too?"

"Absolutely. Garrus, what's wrong?"

So many things were wrong. But telling her half of them meant telling her everything. It hurt to lead this way, but it had to be confessed: "I've been keeping something from you." He couldn't bear to meet her eyes and see her reaction to those words. He couldn't see her shocked or hurt because of what he'd done. He had to say this quickly. So he took a step aside and began to explain: "We…you…I—" He cut himself off, unable to drive himself to admit it.

Echo gave him a look. "Let me guess. You're gonna tell me that you knew me during the war. That you were on the ship with me. …that I was the friend you lost after Sovereign's attack and the one you lost on Earth."

Garrus turned to look at her in absolute shock.

She simply closed the distance he'd put between them, smiling almost tearfully as she set it all free. "You're gonna tell me that we were almost as in love then as we are now, that you were the only thing that kept me going when both our lives were falling apart because of the Reapers…that you've been staying away for the past three years." That part of the story in particular threatened to make her drop the smile entirely in favor of the tears, but she held on by taking hold of his hand again. "And then I'm gonna tell you…that I know."

He couldn't move. There were too many emotions warring within him for a true reaction to display itself. Disbelief finally won out. "…you remember?"

She smiled resignedly, nodding. "That night that we…were together, after the squad left…it all came back to me."

She really remembered. She remembers us! That lone thought was enough to make the joy within him flare like the sun, but it was quickly quenched as another thought broke through. Because she remembered. She had remembered ever since…ever since… "This is…why didn't you say anything?"

She scoffed, setting her hands on her hips to all but glare at him. "Why didn't you? I wanted to give you the chance to tell me everything for yourself."

He quickly started scrambling to remember what he was going to tell her, specifically why he hadn't told her before. "Well, what about the Crucible? You remember everything now?"

She stilled at the question, taking a deep breath before working up the heart to answer. "No, those memories are gone. I was hit pretty hard when Harbinger came down on us and everything after that got a bit crazy…well, nothing was ever very clear, but those memories were never really there, so I think they're gone for good."

The worst of his fears receded then. Whatever happened up there, she couldn't be haunted by it. He didn't have to watch her break. He still felt some sympathy for her that she would never be fully recovered, but this was probably the best outcome he could've asked for. If anyone was expecting answers for what happened on the Citadel that day, they'd never get any. But with EDI and the geth on the mend, it was for the best.

She noticed his relief, of course. "Is that it? You thought whatever I did was something I'd want to forget?"

He just nodded. "You'd been going through enough during the war. If what you did activating the Crucible really was what turned off the synthetics or if you tried and failed to save Anderson or…" He could spend the next hour listing all the horrible occurrences he'd thought of and prayed she hadn't had to live through. Each worse than the last and making him even more certain that she deserved better than to remember it, especially with all the nightmares she was still carrying from those days. "The doctor said being around us too long might make it all come rushing back. Clearly, he was right. I just…I couldn't put you through that."

Understanding drew such sympathy to her eyes that the tears threatened to return. She finally wrapped her arms around him, giving a grateful kiss to his scars. "I'm OK. It's over. …thank you."

He breathed a sigh of relief as he held her tight again. Then he breathed her in as her words began to sink in and he realized she was right. It's over. It's really, finally over.

But in the silence, she took the time to look back on what she did remember from those days and something else struck her. She finally drew back to look at him, seeing something in him he couldn't see that only confirmed her suspicions. "…why do I get the feeling that wasn't the only reason you gave me the runaround in that hospital and then walked out on me for so long?"

That he didn't have the heart to say. With a sigh, he sat down and looked at the floor.

She took that as a proper confirmation. There was more to it. She took a guess what the problem must be and turned to reassure him. "Look, I understand it must have been hard. I can't imagine what it must have been like when I looked at you and didn't recognize you. And I'm so sorry, but you had to know some part of me still knew. If you really didn't want—"

"It wasn't about what I wanted! It was about what was best for you!"

She froze, the shocked look on her face making him suddenly realize what he'd said.

He took a few breaths to pull himself together and explain. "…I kept thinking about what we talked about in London. At first, it was a reason to find you—so we could have that 'happy ending' we wanted so much. But the more I thought about it, the more what you said kept getting to me."

"What I said? I said I was game for it."

"No, you said 'biology won't cooperate.'"

As she caught on to his real meaning, she started searching for words to make up for it. "Garrus—"

"Don't bother. It was true. I can't give you anything. You deserved to at least have the chance to find someone who could give you everything, who wouldn't constantly remind you of war and loss, and if you knew we were already promised to each other, then you wouldn't move on."

"Yeah, because I couldn't! You honestly thought I could ever feel anything for anyone else after I was already in love with you?!"

"You'd forgotten about me! There was a possibility and I thought it was all I could give you! I had no right to take that choice away from you!"

"That's exactly what you did by leaving, you selfless bird-brain!" She accented that particular comment with a sharp smack to his arm that made him recoil. With the anger part of her reaction out of her system, she knelt down in front of him and took his hands in hers, giving him a look that she hoped would convey just how much she meant the words that followed. "Garrus, you were so much more to me than you realized. When you love someone that much, you don't just forget what it feels like. So yes, I knew I needed someone. But even if there was anyone else in all of existence I could ever fall half as hard for…you still had my heart. It wouldn't have been right to let someone else in. Not to me." She finally stood up enough to lean in, pressing her hands almost possessively against his mandibles. "And if you ever leave me again, even for another reason so stupidly noble, I will lock you in the basement."

"I don't have a basement."

"I will dig one and then tie you up in it."

He laughed briefly, but the guilt interrupted any actual mirth associated with it. She was right. She had needed him, no matter how much she would lose by being with him, and he had given up. What had seemed like the selfish choice had actually been the right answer all along and he couldn't see it. "I was only… I thought it was like that human saying: 'If you love something, set it free.'"

Echo just withdrew, shaking her head. "'And if it comes back…it was meant to be.'"

Garrus had to mentally kick himself. He hadn't heard that part.

"So when I came back after all this time and, without even knowing how it would go, wanted to try this with you, why were you still looking for a way out that wouldn't push me away?"

He flinched then. He should've known she would notice that, at least in retrospect. He stood up again, wringing his hands as he thought over how to describe his intentions. The second she saw this gesture, though, she grabbed him by the wrists just long enough to stop it. This did soothe his concerns slightly as he remembered the first time she'd done it, the night after Thessia. "You don't have to be nervous, Garrus. Not with me. There's nothing you could do that would make me give up on you." He held onto that promise now, just enough to ease the knots inside him. He sighed almost apologetically before finding what he needed to say. "Mostly, I was still afraid I'd bring back memories you'd rather not have. Otherwise…it felt like trying to have you back was selfish, like it was going against every other reason I left in the first place…like I was lying to you."

She stepped back with a receptive nod. Then she thought it over and stifled a small laugh. "Yeah, well, looking back, you did a fairly exceptional job of sidestepping that last one."

He nodded back appreciatively. "I owed you the truth. Even if I couldn't give you all of it." That much seemed unfair now. She deserved all of it, no matter how painful it might have been. But how could he tell her about all those nights she'd fallen apart in front of him because she knew the entire galaxy was counting on her? How could he tell her she'd had a family but lost at least four members of it? He had done the only thing he could to protect her. But he had hurt her just as much by leaving as he would have by staying. "I just thought…I don't know, I thought you'd be happier without having to carry so much and I would be the reminder that would ruin that. I still wanted this, but I was afraid…"

She understood, though. She always understood. She knew him well enough to know how far he was willing to go. He'd charged past a pair of angry Brutes for her, so it was no wonder he would deny himself of the only thing he truly wanted (and she took no small satisfaction in the knowledge that was her) if it meant taking care of her. She gave him a grateful smile before reaching to draw the glove off his hand and lay his palm gently over her sternum. As the soft pounding of her heartbeat calmed him, she ran her fingers across the arch of his talons, letting all of the pieces at long last fall into place. Well, every piece except one. "So what made you decide it was time to tell me?"

He shrunk back at the recollection of the events of the previous night. "Some crazy nightmares I don't want to describe. …and I found your notebook."

When she realized what he was talking about, she lowered her hands from his, letting him withdraw. She figured out fairly easily what he must have seen, but it gave her an idea what she needed to do about it. Finally, she gestured for him to wait a moment and went to retrieve the book in question. "Try starting from the back this time, big guy." She tossed it over to him.

He caught it. He still felt wrong just touching it—not just because of what he had read on that first page, but because this was a summation of her private thoughts and broken memories. Still, she was telling him to do so and he had never failed to follow an order from his beloved commander. So he turned to read it. When he opened it, he saw that same disconcerting prologue, so anxiously penned in the fear that the damage would increase. But when he turned to the end, the one section he hadn't touched the night before, he saw she had jumped back to the page before last a few nights ago (that night, actually) and left another anxious note there. And this one…

Jeff Moreau, Kaidan Alenko, Ashley Williams, Urdnot Wrex, Liara T'Soni, Miranda Lawson, Jacob Taylor, Mordin Solus, Jack, Samara, Thane Krios, Kasumi Goto, Zaeed Massani, Urdnot Grunt, Legion, EDI, James Vega, Tali'Zorah.

Don't lose them again.

He didn't bother attempting to guess the reasons behind how she had so anxiously scrawled all their names. But they were still the only real family she had ever known and it made sense she would worry about losing them even now. He had spent enough time as a detective to see the hope and care in each name even as the entire page was coated in worry. That went a little ways towards an explanation, but… He finally drew himself to turn to the final page, a mirror of the first page that affected him all too much.

He was always there. He was with you the whole time. He stood by you through all of it and he didn't let you down. If nothing else, remember that. You can lose your memories, but you can't lose how you feel. He loves you. You love him. He loves you. You love him.

I am in love with Garrus Vakarian, and I will not lose him again.

Now he understood. Well, mostly. Though just from that mostly, he was too stunned to move. She wasn't blaming him for what happened. She still loved him. If what she'd written was true all along, then she had the whole time and hadn't realized it at first. Maybe that was part of why she recognized him at the transit station after all. And he had still tried to keep his distance, so afraid of hurting her. But she was raised on hurt. What she needed was love. He loves you. You love him. She knew, even before he had the chance to explain, that nothing had changed, that everything he'd done had been for her, to protect her, even if she didn't understand why quite yet. She was always intuitive that way. It was part of why they had worked together so well in the old days. And now…now… But why the message?

Echo finally came to remove the book from his hands and set it carefully aside. "I was worried it might be temporary. That I'd wake up the next morning and it'd all be gone again. Or it might get worse after all. I had to be sure I could still know even if I didn't remember…"

Still intuitive. Answering the question he didn't even ask out loud. However, that answer drew all his guilt back in full force. She wouldn't have had a reason to fear a repeated loss or worse if he had been there to guide her through the recovery. If nothing else, she wouldn't have been alone through it all. She'd spent more than enough of her life alone. "Echo…I'm so sorry, I never should have left—"

"No," Echo shook her head, no longer able to fight the tears that plagued her now, "I'm sorry. I treasured every second with you like we were the only thing worth holding onto in that war and then as soon as it was over…" She did try to fight the tears just so she could say this properly, but they refused to withdraw. "I was willing to die to save you, to save our family and our worlds, and instead of following the one order you ever gave me, I…"

"Echo, no," Garrus quickly took her face in his hands, drawing her to meet his eyes and reaching a lone talon to wipe her tears away, "You had no way of knowing what was going to happen. I would've done the same thing."

"It doesn't matter! You gave me so much, you all did, and I just forgot about you—!"

"Yeah, and then I left you without even trying to help you remember!" That accomplished his goal of silencing her sorrow but, at the same time, managed to bring back his. "There wasn't a day that went by I didn't wish I had stayed with you. But every time I started wishing I could go back, I realized I'd do the same thing. Because if never seeing you again was the cost to give you so much as a chance at a real future or just one hour of peace after the life you've had, I would have paid it. I would do anything." Echo almost let her tears keep falling now, since it was clear to both of them it would be from seeing him, her one source of strength at the end, losing his own. "But three years…so long…it was so hard without you. I was so alone and I missed you so badly. When I heard you were coming, I had to see you again. I never imagined it would go this far. I never meant to…"

She had spent far too long in loneliness and dread. She refused to let him dwell there. She quickly drew him to meet her eyes, to ignore the shine of tears inside them and see the faith and thankfulness within. "No, it's OK. You did the right thing. Every time I needed you, you did the right thing."

Hearing her say that did brighten his spirit briefly, hearing what he meant to her and how much she appreciated all he'd tried to do. But he knew that all he'd really done was try. He could think of how he'd been there for her in the dark times and how he'd stood by her and shown his love, but none of it could make up for how being there hadn't been enough to heal her broken pieces or how he had left when she needed him most because he couldn't see what to do unless she was there to show him. She'd always been there for him and that had been enough, but what he'd done for her could never repay. He could live with not having done enough to satisfy her, if only because he could redeem that by doing more, but to think that he had failed her or let her down…that thought broke the one part of him that had stayed whole these long, hard three years. "That's not true, I should've—"

"Garrus…" Echo stopped him, taking his hand in hers and pressing her other against his scars, "…I told you I would always love you. That's still true. Even if I didn't remember you, I still loved you. All this time, there's been something missing from my life. That something was you. I can't live without you. And I understand what you were trying to do, but I've had my time away from it all…and I'm willing to take the good with the bad if it means you'll never leave me again."

Words weren't enough to fix this. But hearing her say that, with the way she looked at him now, could not be denied. She didn't care what he had or hadn't done. She still needed him. And she was willing to do whatever it took to prove that and get back what they lost. Just like he was. Because he needed her more than he needed oxygen or water and losing her now would destroy him. Well, she was reciprocating that sentiment. She couldn't lose him either. They couldn't be separated. They couldn't. He finally let himself breathe, shaking his head. "No. Never again." And he drew her into his arms. Wishing there would never come a moment he would have to let go.

She smiled, her eyes glistening with the few tears remaining to her, the ones she wouldn't let fall, and let him hold her close.

"I love you, Echo Shepard."

To hear his voice say those words was all she'd ever wanted. This was the ending she had fought so long and hard for. So she had nothing to fear as she set aside her fighting spirit and gave everything within her to the man who held her heart. "I love you, Garrus Vakarian."