Chapter 89: Awake and Alive

Once you have tasted death
You see life differently
Once you have faced the end
You find a new beginning

October 10, 2186…

The second Garrus had messaged everyone in the waiting room that Terra was awake, they'd all come running to check on her. The room was already full by the time it occurred to anyone that they shouldn't be crowding her. It was only once they were all there that she brought herself to try sitting up and realized that her senses were clearing a lot slower than normal. EDI had taken all of two seconds to run a medical scan and, ignoring Joker's ever-so-helpful input on the matter, inform them that some of her cybernetics had stopped functioning. Specifically the ones in her ocular and auditory nerves. The feeling in her extremities and control of her limbs coming back slowly could be attributed to muscle atrophy from a week of barely moving, but EDI promptly informed the nearest available doctor that the affected implants would need to be rebooted.

The reboot had seemed like the same shock of pain as the defibrillation, though she was hesitant to confess out loud (except maybe later to Garrus or Violet) what she had seen when her heart stopped. Once that wore off, she was informed that it would take the better part of a day for the implants to fully come back online and reintegrate with her nervous system. In the meantime, Terra was endeavoring to endure the period in which her nerves were slowly repairing themselves. Needless to say, she could see why Cerberus had decided to expedite this particular process with the implants in the first place.

As before, Garrus remained the only one unwilling to leave her side for one second. He would never admit it with the entirety of their squad in the room, but he had never been more terrified in his life than when her heart stopped after he turned his back on her. He wasn't leaving the room now. She didn't seem to mind, didn't even seem to notice how he was holding onto her hand the whole time. When Terra finally said she needed some time to herself, not a word was said when Garrus didn't even move, even as all the others gave her their own offers of support and walked out. Terra simply laid back in the bed, resting her body to aid the healing process as much as she could without falling back asleep, and absentmindedly stroked her finger over the talon tightly clutching her hand.

For a little while, Garrus simply sat there, silently admiring her and relishing the feeling of her affectionate caress. It'd been too long without that. He'd missed this. Seeing she was still recovering, though, some part of him was still worried for her. "How are your eyes?" he finally asked.

Terra shrugged. "In and out. And when they're in, they're blurry."

"But you can hear me alright?"

"Still a little ringing, but yeah."

He simply stayed close, the hand not tightly around hers reaching over to stroke her hair again. He couldn't do much to help her, but he could be patient as long as he knew she was safe, especially with her scent slowly permeating the room.

Terra smiled. "Thank you."

Garrus cocked his head at her. "For what?"

"Everything. But especially for staying with me now."

He decided not to question why she would ever think he wouldn't, seeing through her words to all the layers upon layers of meaning between and beneath them. "You know I'd do anything for you, Terra."

She smirked. "My pack. Is it here?"

"Yeah. I haven't let go of it." He took it in his hands and held it up.

"Take out my sketchbook."

He gave her a curious look even as he complied. "Why? You can't see anything yet."

"I know." She reached out to lay her hand on the talons that clutched her precious book. "You're going to help me."

She couldn't have stunned him more if she'd asked him to throw the book out the window. "I…what?"

"I'm serious. I taught you how to do this. You know me. We can do it. I don't need to look, I just need you to guide my hand."

"Terra, that's…this is—"

"Do you trust me or not?"

That had never felt like a weighted question when it came to her, yet it struck him as such now. Her art was a part of her he never dared to touch. Emulate, maybe, but never interfere with. This went beyond trusting. She was asking him to be her guiding light, be a part of her very soul. …which…in a way, was…kind of what it meant to be bonded. Finally, he smirked and nodded. "Yeah. I trust you more than anyone."

She smiled. "Then find the next blank page."

So Garrus followed along. He found the page she needed and laid the book on her lap so she could take it in hand. He opened her pencil case (and left it open to play the song Violet had recorded into it) and gave her the one she needed. Then he sat down beside her, wrapped his hand around hers, and started to lead her through it.

As soon as the pencil touched the paper, it began to feel natural. Her movements were a bit uncertain at first, but he was able to steady her hand. She moved with purpose even though she couldn't see it, even closing her eyes when her blurred vision started to fade back in and misdirect her. When she finished one stroke, she would tell him as simply as she could where she needed to start again and he would slide her hand into position. His hesitation faded as they continued. It was coming so easily to them, as if their hands were one. They both felt it, this unity, this togetherness. Even after all they had been through, it was safe to say they had never felt it before.

After four hours went by (it was a wonder they weren't interrupted), the image was nearing completion. By now, Garrus could see what she was making, something that made him smile delightedly. He saw it so well that he didn't even notice that her directions were growing simpler and eventually silent. She noticed, though, smiling at the thought that they truly were joined in this deeper than they were for anything else. She had never even dreamed of sharing this with anyone, but with him… She wanted this for the rest of her life.

"We work well together," Garrus observed.

Terra smiled, stopping to lay her head on his shoulder. "We do. I'd say it's our finest work." As she said this, she set the pencil down, turning her hand into his and sliding the fingers on her free hand across the curves of the sketch.

When she did that, Garrus put the pieces together. "You can see just fine, can't you?"

She smirked and shrugged. "A little bit."

"Right. And exactly how long have we been doing this despite that fact?"

"About 20 minutes."

He shook his head. "You're lucky I stopped minding so quickly."

"Well, it was going so well, I didn't want to interrupt. You familiar with the concept of synergy?"

He couldn't help a smirk as he held her close. "I am now."

She was tempted to simply stay this way, to just rest in his arms and relish the peace they had finally found and dream of what was ahead of them. But now that she was seeing clearly for the first time since the Crucible, she seized the opportunity to turn and admire the love of her life. The face she planned to wake up to every morning from here on out. There wasn't a thing she would change. Then she turned to set everything aside so they could properly enjoy their newfound time alone together.

Before Terra could close the sketchbook, Garrus smiled at the picture they'd made. He'd realized halfway through what she was doing, but he was able to truly appreciate it now. It was a portrait of the two of them…on their wedding day. "Looking forward to the future, I see."

Terra smiled back. "It's with you. And I'd say we've earned it."

"Yeah. Think we can handle it?"

She answered that by reaching around to kiss him. "…challenge accepted."

October 11, 2186…

Terra and Garrus spent the night resting and recuperating. Terra woke up refreshed, if not quite back on her feet yet, and Garrus managed to shake off the weight of worrying over her for so long. Naturally, their alone time was up and everyone else wanted to check in on their recovering commander. Terra didn't mind. It was nice to have a family behind her now that it was all over.

Violet exemplified this. She even went so far as to climb onto the bed with her sister because leaning over it didn't feel like a proper enough hug. "No more of this, alright?"

Terra smirked. "That's kind of the plan. And thanks for playing for me."

Violet smiled back. "Glad I could help."

Terra turned back to the others. "I didn't get a chance to ask about the Normandy."

"A bit scratched up," Joker admitted, "but good to go." He smirked. "Missing her commander."

"Then I guess it's a good thing I'm coming back."

"We'll be right behind you, Lola," James nodded, "All the way."

"Definitely," Ashley concurred.

Terra sat back and took it in as Liara and Solana agreed to stay with her (Garrus and Violet's agreement unspoken but clear), as all the others offered their fondest wishes and offers to come if they were ever needed again (and a few snarky remarks about being invited to the wedding). It was hard to believe that the madness of the past three years was over and that she had come out the other side with so many people she could count on. Add on her reunion with her sister and her future with her mate…and it was perfect.

"Uh, Terra?" Tali spoke up, "The geth are on the COMMs. They're asking for you."

Terra didn't give herself a chance to think what this could mean and turn them down. "Put them on speaker, then."

"Commander Shepard," a geth voice came over the COMM, "we are completing our initial scans of the Reaper remains now."

"Please tell me it's good news," Terra sighed, "I don't fancy turning the Crucible on again. …or expect it to even work twice in the first place."

"The news is…neutral."

That was a new one. Terra gave an uncertain look to the COMM. "I'm listening."

"The Reaper corpses are not dead in the same capacity as the one you disabled on Rannoch. They are silent, hollow. They have not been destroyed, they have simply been deactivated."

"Wait, you're not saying they can turn on again, are you?!" Solana immediately demanded.

"No. Whatever network or central intelligence they had has been completely removed. Even if they were given a substitute and reactivated, they would not be the same. In addition, we have been able to successfully begin salvage on several of the superstructures. We can confirm that even the facet of indoctrination that would be left in a normal Reaper corpse is fully nonfunctioning."

Tali gave the COMM unit an astonished look. "You're serious?"

"Of course."

"Well, can you access one of their data cores?"

"We are already attempting to extract one and begin transcribing its databanks. If these attempts and all erasure of malicious code possibly contained within are successful, we will be able to transmit the data to every scientist and engineer in range of an operational COMM buoy. This information will allow us to fully restore any damaged relays back to a useful state as well as repair the Citadel and return it to its original orbital position."

This seemed unbelievable. Terra wasn't convinced there wouldn't be some downsides further down the line, but it seemed that her cheat at the Catalyst had paid off exactly how she'd wanted it to. Later on, she'd probably wonder about how it would've looked if she had just taken one of the options laid out for her instead of risking everything in a maneuver no one else would've cooked up, let alone attempted. But since, according to the Catalyst's own predictions, the options didn't include a future that led to everyone in this room surviving…right now, she really didn't care.

Liara beamed at Terra. "Whatever you did up there, Shepard…it might just be the best thing that's ever happened to the galaxy."

Terra hoped so. Time would tell. For now, she was content to know that the galaxy remained united in the wake of its common enemy's defeat, that all their sacrifices hadn't been in vain, that happy endings actually existed and she had found hers. If ever the day came that she regretted her choice at the Crucible, she wouldn't be alone to face the consequences. That was enough.

"So!" Kasumi spoke up, "What's everyone planning on doing now that the galaxy's no longer in imminent peril?"

After a couple seconds in which they could all revel in the fact that they'd done it, they'd saved the galaxy, the discussion of plans for the future was able to kick off in a way they hadn't dared to at the party. Samara was planning to spend time with Falere in between her justicar missions, Wrex was looking forward to seeing Bakara have his first child and overseeing Tuchanka's reconstruction and repopulation, Jack was already organizing her students in preparation for a return to Grissom Academy, Zaeed was even suggesting he might start planning for retirement. The only one absent from the conversation was Javik, something Terra quickly took notice of where none of the others did. She gave the Prothean a discreet but pointed look as if to remind him of her thoughts on the matter. He answered with a similarly discreet nod as if to confirm he was considering her words before taking any action. She elected to reserve judgment on any action he took for now. For the first time since he was born, it was his life to live. His choice.

Rather than dwelling on that matter, Terra quickly changed the subject. "Actually, before we move on from all the madness, there's one last matter we need to settle."

Miranda gave her a curious look. "What's that?"

"We need to trade kill counts!"

That drew some excitement and laughter.

"Hey, no fair!" Solana called, "I wasn't on the ground!"

"Yeah, and what about me?" Violet asked.

"Sol," Terra answered, "you were helping EDI with her combat data, which counts as assists for every kill during the missile launch part of the mission, and Vi, you were moral support for all eight of us."

Violet considered for a moment before shrugging. "I can accept that."

"Oh, I'm at the top for sure," Wrex smirked, "Even 50."

"Ha!" Grunt scoffed, "Try 52, old-timer."

"Well, this hardly seems fair," Kasumi shook her head, "I wasn't on the ground either."

"You fixed up the Crucible," Jacob pointed out, "That facilitates all of ours. Specifically my 45."

Terra simply sat back and enjoyed the debate. Quietly, she was also very impressed that everyone scored so high. It made sense given the sheer number of Husks sent after them in the final assault and her squad's individual skills. Still, it was nice to know that they could all hold their own so well even when they weren't all together.

"I kind of lost count when we were surrounded," Tali stated, "There was a lot happening at once and we were all working together."

"I was able to keep track of who all had kill shots," EDI arbitrated, "Javik had 57, Liara and I each had 56, James had 60—"

"Alright!" James smirked, "That's the highest yet! Take that!"

"—Ashley had 63—"

"…oh."

Ashley smirked at him. "Nice effort there, Vega."

"—Tali had 64," EDI continued, "Terra had 71, and Garrus had 72."

"Ha!" Garrus laughed, "Would you look at that! Looks like the student didn't become the master after all."

Terra gave him a look. "Not so fast, peacock. We have to adjust for inflation."

Garrus looked at her in confusion. "What does that mean?"

"It means mine is closer to 50,000."

"Oh, come on! You don't get to count every Reaper in the galaxy as your kill!"

"Why not?! I'm the one who flipped the switch!"

It took all of two seconds for that statement to devolve the entire conversation into a heated argument. Though this argument, unlike most, didn't involve any actual anger or insult. It was friendly, an outlet through which to expose and eliminate all the negative energy remaining from the last few months. When Garrus realized this, he looked at Terra as if to ask if that had been her intention. She smirked and winked at him, all the answer he needed. The rest of the day passed in much the same way, good-natured "disagreements" and playful banter being passed back and forth. The norm of the Normandy crew.

After it calmed down and they started to clear out to give Terra room to finish her recovery in quiet, Violet took her sister's side. "I think Mom and Dad would like your new family."

Terra smiled. "Our new family…and I'm sure they do."

Violet smiled back. "Yeah." Then she sighed. "I never really thought about it until we were all talking, but…I have a future now. For the first time in 16 years. I'm not even sure what I want to do anymore."

Terra took her hand. "You can do whatever you want. You can play again. You can go out and show this whole galaxy who you are and what you can do. Or if you just want to stay on the Normandy with us, that's fine. You're practically part of the crew now."

Violet thought it over. "It might take some time to figure it out…but you're right. And I'm ready now." She turned to look her sister in the eye with pure gratitude, clutching her hand tighter. "You really are a hero, Terra. That future I just got back? You gave it to me. And you showed me how to be myself again, how to put it all behind me." She laughed. "I actually wish I was more like you."

Terra laughed with her. "That's definitely a new one."

Violet took a moment to just enjoy laughing with her sister again. Then she looked over at the corner Garrus had settled into and smirked. "I'll let you get some rest. Call me if you need a lullaby or anything."

After Violet had left the room, Garrus took Terra's side instead. "So what do you want to do with your future?"

Terra beamed. "Besides be with you? I'll stay a Spectre as long as I'm needed, but I'd like to eventually stop fighting and just have what I had on Mindoir—painting, poetry, and peace."

He nodded. "Fair enough."

"Why? You got something in mind?"

He smirked. "Just you."

"Really? No regrets, no plans, not even any unfulfilled dreams?"

"…you've got a habit of bringing me to them."

She rolled her eyes. "Fair enough." With a deep sigh, she laid back. "How about tonight? Any plans there?"

"You know I'm not leaving this room as long as you're in it. I wanna see you back in action as soon as you can."

She smirked. "Then I guess you're gonna have to sleep with me so I'll feel safe."

He didn't meet her prodding with a retort or question how he was supposed to fit on the hospital bed with her. He just crawled in and let her curl up against him. He didn't fall asleep until she did, whether because he couldn't relax until he knew she could or because the soft pounding of her heartbeat against his chest was what finally calmed him. Limited space aside, he slept better than he had in a long time. They both did. It meant the world to know that this was what awaited them for every night to come.

October 12, 2186…

They somehow made it through the night on the single-person-fitting cot without either of them falling off or even leaving each other's embrace. Garrus, after a small interval of admiring his mate again, promptly got up to give her space to stretch out and finish resting. They spent the morning simply enjoying each other's company in a way they hadn't done since they first left Palaven (though their relationship had changed quite a lot since then, so this was technically new territory for them), interspersed with visits from the rest of Terra's family (adopted, blood, and otherwise). As the morning began to fade to afternoon, the doctor finally came by to give her one last check and confirm she was near fully recovered.

Terra responded by deciding to test this out, having Garrus help her out of the bed so she could stand up on her own for the first time in nearly two weeks. Her footing was a bit unsteady at first, nearly bringing her to drop onto the bed again, but she wasn't easily deterred and, leaning as little as possible on her mate, brought herself back up. In no time at all, she felt good as new.

Well, until the doctor started talking. "You seem to be recovered, commander," the doctor said, mistakenly putting the emphasis on "seem" rather than "recovered" and earning a halfhearted glare from his patient, "We would still like to keep you a little longer for observation and physical therapy—"

"Screw that," Terra snapped, "There's a doctor on the Normandy perfectly capable of doing all that herself. I'm out of here." She didn't even give the doctor a chance to debate the matter before turning to gather her things and ask Violet over the COMM to bring her a fresh set of clothes.

Garrus sighed, turning to the doctor. "Do yourself a favor. Just go along with her. She's gonna have her way no matter what you do." Once the doctor had conceded and walked out clearly muttering under his breath about how the great Commander Shepard was too stubborn and foolhardy for her own good, Garrus turned all his attention to his mate. It really was a great relief to see her back to her old self. He couldn't help but smile and take her side, wrapping his arms around her before she could push him away. "I don't suppose you'll be needing any help getting changed?"

Terra rolled her eyes at him. "Don't push it, love."

Violet had apparently foreseen this development, judging by how quickly she arrived with a set of civvies from Terra's closet on the Normandy. Terra immediately presented just how back to normal she was by changing in ten seconds flat, strapping her pack back on, and storming out of the hospital room as if she never wanted to see it again. Waving aside any further interaction with the medical personnel on duty, she hurried to the waiting room where her family was waiting and started celebrating her recovery, which entailed enthusiastic hugs from more than half of them (specifically Tali, Solana, Liara, Wrex, and Grunt) and a quick evacuation from the building to a setting more suited to occasion, which, given how virtually the entire city was still demolished from the Reaper occupation and the Citadel was a bit trashed, could only be the Normandy. Terra's arrival was greeted with no small amount of joy from the entirety of the crew, all of whom were quick to assure her that the repairs to the ship were complete and it was ready for her command when she was ready to fly. …that is, when the repairs to the mass relays were also complete and there was somewhere to go.

"How long are those relay repairs going to take, anyway?" Terra asked, hopping up to sit on the railing around the galaxy map.

"The fleets started repairs almost immediately after the Crucible damaged them," Liara explained, "and the geth deciphering the Reapers' data on them was extremely helpful. It'll still be a little while before the entire network is back in working order, but with all the communication channels also being restored, we should at least be able to start sending the fleets back home within the month."

Terra sighed. "More than long enough to get all our wounded treated. Good to hear. What about the Citadel? Think they'll get it patched up? I'd hate to have burned down that apartment only a few days after I got."

"It'll be fine," Garrus waved her off, "Came back from Sovereign, after all. Just needs a few hands helping out the keepers and a little push back to Widow. Should even reestablish its own orbit."

"Besides, I think we have a more pressing issue to discuss," Violet pointed out.

Terra gave her a confused look. "What do you mean?"

"Ahem!" Violet reached over to grab her sister's hand and hold it up, pointedly displaying the engagement ring.

Terra laughed. "Vi, the war's been over for all of five minutes. I think we can stand to have a little celebration before we start plans that will likely take months anyway."

"I will accept that stipulation as long as I'm maid of honor."

"Seriously, you're blackmailing me already?"

"I shouldn't have to. I'm your sister. It's tradition."

"I am electing to stay out of this until such time as it directly involves me," Solana sighed, leaning back against the wall.

"Let's just take the night to enjoy the fact that we saved the galaxy and lived to tell about it," Kasumi smirked.

Terra smiled, pushing everyone to go along with that plan. She had a feeling that the issue of her imminent wedding would come up again the very next day and that, even after they had all gone their separate ways, she'd be in constant communication with Tali and possibly Kasumi about it. But again, that was in the future. Right now was about celebrating that they had one.

Terra had had fun at the party in her apartment. But this was somehow better. They were all still together, and the separation awaiting them was more distant and because they were all going home rather than off to the final battle. True, home was a bit far away even then since they all had a lot of reconstruction ahead to get things back the way they were (or perhaps better now that they had the Reaper data on the past cycles to give them a little guidance), but it was there to go back to. That deserved a little celebration.

When they finally called it a night, Terra headed up to deck 1 to relish the fact that she was back in her own bed. And that her mate was back in it with her.

"So what do we do now that you're a free woman?" Garrus smirked as he took her side.

Terra smiled, wrapping her hand around his. "I believe we already made our plans." Thoughts of the bonding they'd undergone and the wedding to come promised to give her more pleasant dreams than she'd had in years as she settled down to sleep in his arms again. "I love you, Garrus Vakarian."

He held her close, reveling in those words. "I love you, Terra Shepard."