Prologue

"Add your energy to the Crucible's. Everything you are will be absorbed, and then sent out… The chain reaction will combine all synthetic and organic life into a new framework. A new... cycle will end. Synthesis is the final evolution of life, but we need each other to make it happen."

The silence was strange. All was quiet in the void as the lights danced before her. A mixture of radiant bursts and slow drifting shadows. Too many bright blossoms of light appeared over Earth as the forces she had gathered dwindled in number...and far, far too few Reapers burned, were torn apart, or drifted with the debris of the battle. The wavering lights and shadows were cut by a bright streak as a ship shot across the sky. There was a flash of light from the looming dark of a Reaper to its rear, and an answering halo of fire, countless lives snuffed out without so much as a whisper.

She felt small. She didn't usually think about this kind of shit. Focusing on her position, her terrain, her enemy, had always been preferable. Things were more manageable one shot at a time. But now…

Another small explosion lit the sky. Had that been the Normandy? Or had her ship and all its crew already burned away from this world without her noticing. You would feel that, right? Somehow something in her ravaged organic body would have sensed when that happened, right? Maybe if she were Assari…but she was sure, a human, if that's what she still was at this point, would continue on in blissful ignorance until the crushing truth found them.

Synthesis. It was why she was alive. Why she hadn't died in the loss of the first Normandy. Well, she hadn't died permanently. You would think that dying, and coming back would change things for you - but it hadn't really. Maybe that shock in Garrus' face - the pain, the rage, the relief and scrambled composure that had swept across his scaled countenance had changed things. Made her risk her best friend and strongest teammate to see if there was something more. But the problem with dying and coming back was that it had just happened to her. It hadn't been a choice and in the quiet of the night, in the lulls between the thrums of the Normandy's engines, in her, until recently, too empty and too quiet cabin or a long walk down a hall, the whispering questions had followed her. What would she have chosen given the chance?

Would it have been better for him to lose a comrade? A loss he'd borne before. A pain she'd helped him shoulder. Maybe one he wondered about, or thought about, if she flattered herself. But just another soldier. Another friend. It sure as fuck would have made this easier for her. She wouldn't have this ache, hear his order ringing in her ears, see the pain and rage that had burned in his eyes as the shuttle doors closed. She'd have none of that because she wouldn't be here. She'd already be in the quiet and cold or the bar, I guess. But with no one to wait for. Dying hadn't changed her. But choosing, choosing him had.

"You have a difficult decision," the Child's wavering voice brought her back. Her head felt heavy. Her hand, where it pressed against the new opening in her torso was dripping wet. Not a good sign. Sticky hands. That's what you wanted when you were bleeding out. Nice sticky hands that would be a bitch to clean later as clots formed and kept your insides on your insides. Not a slick red glove.

"But it's not mine," she groaned.

"I do not understand."

"Synthesis might be the final evolution. But it's not my choice to make."

"You are here, You communed with the beacon, with Sovereign. You are the one who will choose. Organics in the past were not ready. You have accelerated your own natural evolution."

She laughed darkly, and regretted it instantly as her abdomen flared with pain, and the trickle thickened. "A lab full of scientists accelerated my evolution. I just happened to be there."

"It is immaterial. Your body has accepted the synthetics and grown with them. And as a, what you call "biotic," you were already born bearing the positive genetic markers of organics paralleling synthetic evolution."

"I don't have enough blood to puzzle out what the fuck you mean," Shepard growled.

"Biotics are the beginning of organic networks. Energy that connects you to the outside world beyond the range of your physical boundaries. Capable of affecting the exterior, and accessing information. The more advanced species of each cycle have born signs of it. Evidence of the eventual evolution to synthesis."

"If there are signs of it then why not leave us the fuck alone and let us get to the final point?" She couldn't tell if her head was pounding from rage at the Child or lack of blood. Not that it mattered. It just hurt.

"That is not a viable solution. Synthetic evolution is too rapid. Exponential technological advancements leave no time for the gradual process of organic evolution. In this cycle the geth have already advanced and decimated organics."

"But I brokered a peace with the Geth."

"It will not hold. Synthetics must evolve necessary understanding of organic cognitive and emotional processes."

"But some of them have. Legion fought alongside us. And then he gave up his individual existence to give the Geth free will and consciousness. They have been fighting with us against you. Against your Reapers. Even they didn't want to be controlled. The Reapers probably don't want to either!"

"Recent progress of some synthetics in this cycle is remarkable. However, it does not matter. The progress was too late."

"Or you and this bullshit was too early! You don't know everything - you have admitted it. You didn't know the Crucible had stuck around. You didn't know Legion would exist."

"A single anomaly within synthetics."

"But he's not an anomaly." Shepard groaned, sinking to one knee. She supposed it was stupid to plead like this, eye to eye, with the Child. It had doubtless picked an arbitrary form designed to communicate with a female human, its awareness certainly wasn't limited to its field of vision. But kneeling meant not pumping blood so hard and far and quickly out of her body, so she supposed it was worth it. "An AI, EDI, is learning too. Developing feelings. Dating my fucking pilot. She's said that she would risk non functionality for a human. If that's not cognitive - emotional - whatever, then I don't know what is. It's probably happening elsewhere! So stop this and let us finish it."

"Organic development will still be too slow. Infighting among organics retards your evolutionary growth. What you call the genophage is clear evidence of this. Krogan reproduction and therefore evolution all but halted by other organics."

"But we fixed that too! And Salarians accelerated their evolution first! It's life. It's history, it's messy and imperfect but it happens and changes. My species and Turians fought each other for years but in only my lifetime." she was breathing heavily now. She closed her eyes cursing the feelings suddenly sweeping through her. Cutting through the battle haze she'd been able to slink into, through her anger at the Child. She was tired - tired and small. "In my short, insignificant lifetime we have had peace." She glared at the Child. She was embarrassed! It was ridiculous. She was as good as dead and yet felt silly saying the words to a damn ancient genocidal asshole artificial intelligence. " One of them loves me. So you're going to stop the Reapers. You are going to stop all this and leave us alone or I'm going to find the processing equivalent of your face and shoot you in it."

"We have told you that destruction is an option and will wipe out all synthetics and complex robotics" the Child replied.

Great. She didn't even get the satisfaction of having a threat taken seriously before she died. If the galaxy could see the great "Shepard" now. Not even able to scare a child. "Then stop them like I told you to."

"We are not equipped with that function. The Crucible additions allow for another to control and bypass our programming. We have no alternative pathways on our own. Once commenced, the Reaping will continue until all advanced species are harvested to make way for the evolution of the primitive. You may create the control pathway as I have said. I have learned from our dialogue. But I have already stated your choices. You must choose now."

"No!" she panted, "I - I can't accept that, there has to be another way."

"We have stated the three paths open. A choice must be made."

"Damn your choices!" she yelled, and then began coughing.

"I advise you to choose before your organic limitations prevent you from being able to."

"Why me?!"

"You are a template of biotic and synthetic evolution. And you chose to engage with us repeatedly. Your template is necessary. The complete breakdown and dispersal of your DNA is necessary to direct the energy of the beam. Synthesis will reawaken the organic memory of those harvested. It will fuse with the synthetic and give new life to those harvested. This is why the harvest has been essential. So that the progress of each cycle was not lost."

"NO! They just died in fear and pain and watched their world be destroyed! And no one even remembered it!"

"Their suffering is immaterial when they are preserved. This is why synthesis is optimal." "I can't make that choice for everyone. What if they don't want to?"

"It is inevitable. And reaping is the only other option."

"That is what the Salarians and the turians thought about the krogan. And they were wrong! For something that is meant to be more intelligent and has had eternity to learn you must be pretty stupid to be stuck in the same mistake made in this cycle!"

"The solution is known but the link cannot be established without new a Conduit. One that is both synthetic and organic. This will be the pathway. Now or in another cycle. Perhaps you are not sufficiently evolved to-"

"Perhaps your head is too far-" but her weakening tirade was cut off by a sound. The first sound other than her and the conduit's voice in quite some time. She struggled to look over her shoulder in time to take in something that took the little breath in her lungs away.

The Normandy landed on the floor of the Crucible and before the door was fully open a

figure in blue armor was lumbering towards her. She didn't know it was possible for a heart to soar and plummet at the same time. But her's did. Others streamed out of the hangar of the Normandy behind the blue-clad warrior. They fell into familiar formations, weapons out.

Upon seeing them the Child's brow furrowed. "Distractions are not permissible. A pathway must be selected. They will be removed," and it winked out of existence. Shephard felt a rumble in the Citadel beneath her and a chilling, and all too familiar shrieking cry filled the air. The Normandy's crew had begun firing. Light from their blasters and the wavering brilliance of Javik and Liara's biotics mirrored that of the larger battle still unfolding behind them. She should be worried, she thought. But all she could summon at this point was irritation. She was so tired. And what was a wave of Husks in the face of the horrible choices laid before her? She could stop it all. Wasn't that what she had wanted? The answer to the fears, the nightmares, that chased her gasping from sleep for weeks? That conjured images in her mind of blue armor with far too large a hole...or a Marauder with blue clan tattoos and scars.

"Shepard!" His roar of her name was the most beautiful thing she had ever heard, and filled her with dread. He skidded to a halt in front of her, dropping to his knees. She could tell by the way he moved, and the dark soak of the bandages visible though his wrecked armor that the collapse was not entirely voluntary. She had been right. He'd been hit. Badly. The minute he arrived at her side she reached out instinctively to apply pressure and check her soldier for other wounds. His hands caught hers, and she could tell by his scanning eyes that he was doing the same. They widened at the sight of the wound in her side. He moved her hands back against her side with heartbreaking delicacy and folded his own over them.

"The hell are you doing here?" she gasped as he applied pressure to their stacked hands. A finger gently running over the top of hers.

His breathing was labored, and not from his run to her side. "I might have taken some heat, but you didn't honestly think I would let you take all the glory?" he rasped with a smirk. His eyes searched her again, "Glad to see you've only got two more holes than I do. I can catch up." he added the wicked gleam in his eyes almost, but not quite hiding the fear she could see there as well.

She laughed or coughed, she wasn't quite pressure of his hands increased and she saw the muscles around his mandibles tighten. "Can you blame a girl for trying? You said scars were hot."

He glared at her. But his lip twitched. "Yeah, but I like the contrast of the scars against the rest of you. So can you just try to stay in one piece? Please?" and then earnestly, and without any humor whispered gently, "please…."

"Why are you here?" she repeated, "especially if you're-"

"We could see that the Crucible was charged but nothing was happening. We waited a while but finally we figured we'd better come see if you need someone who was a better shot to come finish things off for you."

She squinted at him, "I won Vakarian." she weazed, "when are you gonna get over it."

She was sweating a little now despite the perfectly temperate air. More great news. He lifted a hand to wipe some of the sweat and matted hair from her forehead and rumbled, "Never."

The clanging of metal on the Citadel floor announced EDI's arrival.

"Shephard," EDI said, squatting before her in a surprisingly human fashion and glancing sideways at her, rifle up and trained on something in the distance. "It is good to see you. Although our chances of survival have dropped by 200 percent by coming here."

"And you didn't stop him from dragging you into increasingly certain doom?" She asked incredulously, spitting the end of her sentence with as much venom (which was pathetically little) at the turian beside her. He merely snorted.

"No," said EDI, " I do not fully comprehend. I have run many analyses'. It is difficult to describe but when referencing my library of human idioms the one with the most appropriate meaning seems to be that... "It didn't feel right."

"EDI, I'm really touched that you care about me, but I'm gonna kill you if you get everyone, especially this idiot," Garrus growled, "killed because of it." Shepard paused and took a labored breath. "You're really feeling things aren't you. Like we do?"

They were interrupted as a group of Husks came barreling towards them, having broken through the shabby perimeter that the others were maintaining. EDI managed to get one down, but Garrus grumbled to her, "Hold tight."

He removed one of his hands from her abdomen, pulled his sniper rifle off his back and holding it in one hand, but clearly straining, managed to fire two shots, exclaiming under his breath in pain as the recoil between shots moved though his injured body. He smirked at her.

"Show off."

Liara managed to reach them, throwing a biotic shield up around them as she arrived. "I have some medigel!" Garrus reluctantly pulled his remaining hand aside after she gave him a reassuring nod and she applied the solution to Shepard's wound. Shepard could tell by the stillness in Liara's face that she was still concerned.

Garrus could sense it too. He dropped the nearest line of approaching Husks with shots that somehow were particularly vicious. He stared down the barrel of his gun with a manic intensity for a moment. His body going rigid, as if he was frozen in desperation, trying to lock sights on an enemy he couldn't see. His head bowed momentarily, the spines of his crest actually dropping slightly, something Shepard had never seen. He turned to her with eyes that stared into her soul. They were filled with pain and calm. "What do you need to do?"

Rage and heartbreak coursed through her all over again. She wanted to run, to rage, to shoot things and tear things apart with her biotics. Rip apart the world that was making him stare at her with that chilling calm. But she couldn't. It was all she could do to keep breathing. "I don't know." She admitted. "The blue kid thing...there's an intelligence….it gave me choices. They're all crap."

His brow furrowed. "What do you want to do?"

"I don't know - It said I have to-"

The shriek of a Husk rent the air, and then was cut off with a pointed shot from Garrus that happened so fast that Liara and EDI hadn't even had a chance to respond. "I don't give a shit what it said. It's a Reaper. I am General Garrus Vakarian and I sure as shit don't take orders from Reapers. I and my crew take orders from one person, and one person only. Commander Shepard. And she doesn't take orders from anyone. So, Commander." his face hardened, "What do you want to do?"

She stared at him, and in her mind saw everyone else, the teammates she had lost, who had sacrificed themselves to get them here. The Protheans she had glimpsed through the beacon. Javik who fought a hundred meters in front of them for a world that was not his own. Legion, who, with Garrus, had flanked her all through their fight in the geth base. Garrus nodded gently to her.

"EDI."

"Shepard?" EDI asked between shots.

"Organics and synthetics will synthesize eventually and then they can co-exist."

"That is likely, Shepard. Given time and the current trajectory of human use of synthetics and the progression and learning of Artificial Intelligences like the geth and myself."

"The Conduit says it has to happen now."

"And what do you say?" Garrus interrupted.

Shepard took a deep breath, "It can't. It shouldn't. It should happen naturally or be a choice. But the Crucible will disperse energy that will do something. It can't be turned off. And if it doesn't get dispersed soon, it's just gonna blow up. I want..." Garrus nodded again, "I want a way to focus it. To just synthesize the Reapers."

Liara turned to her "The Reapers?"
"They're synthetic but made of organics. I guess they have everyone, all the races that have been taken, in them somehow. And synthesis-"

"Synthesis can connect the synthetic processes of the Reapers with the consciousness of the organics they have been shaped from," interrupted EDI.

Liara's mouth dropped open in shock. "So all those - the knowledge of the lost civilizations - cycles and cycles of them - they could still exist-" she stopped, took a deep breath and then said, "It seems like a strong tactical option. Releasing them from destructive programming." Shepard's heart ached for her friend. Ached at the archaeologist's restraint and focus. Shephard mentally threw a fresh batch of choice insults at the Child, the Reapers, this whole damned universe for depriving Liara the chance to lose her shit at information that changed everything. Everything.

"But," Shephard groaned, "it needs a template of how to mix organics and synthetics. It needs a link from someone who is both."

"Like you."

"Yeah," Shephard rasped, "and… and it will take all of me."

Garrus' eyes flashed from the sight on his rifle to her eyes. She could see his breath quickening and him struggling to control it. Shrieks rose from more approaching Husks, and were then quickly silenced with shots from his rifle.

Pain and horror filled Liara's eyes. "All of you?" she said softly.

"I guess. But… that's… that's not the problem... it… the way it was built, the programming... It will just go everywhere. It won't be focused, it will make everyone everywhere synthesized. And I can't, it's not right." She sighed, and then something occurred to her. "EDI… you are understanding with your gut not just your computing power now, right?"

"I suppose you are correct. Shepard, as your body uses the synthetic implants to sustain you and grows in and around them, the freedom to explore organic behavior and cognition has likewise synced with my operating procedures. Like the synthetics and your body, my programming and organic cognition are existing and growing in a symbiotic relationship." she replied.

"So we are both synthesizing. Is...Is there some way we can direct this? Override the ...kid...the Conduit's programming? Share synthesis with the Reapers. Cause them to engage in the process?"

"Like Legion did," growled Garrus. Shepard sensed that he was refusing to look at her.

"Yes, but you would need some way of connecting your DNA, your energies and my programming with the Conduit."

"Biotics, Shepard." Liara interrupted as Garrus continued to drop Reapers with a furrowed brow.

"What?"

"You could use your biotics to connect with EDI and the Crucible. They can work like a network." She said softly. "As the Asari do."

Shepard turned to EDI, "Could that work?"

"Yes, Shepard," she paused. "However, there is no telling how much energy it would take. The Crucible will likely function as an energy sink. When such a large volume is being directed elsewhere and your limited range is connected… all may be drained in the process."

Somewhere, deep inside her, Shephard felt herself let go of a tiny thread of hope, that she hadn't even realized she had been clinging to. It hurt less than expected, somehow, hurt less than the weight of the other options and the shreds of her battered body. She began trying to push herself to her feet. She could see Garrus tense as he registered her strain but kept firing on the Reapers. Ever the unflinching soldier. "It's the only choice. I won't force people to be altered, not when I was forced."

"Garrus, EDI," Liara interrupted "keep us covered for a minute." The two opened a constant stream of fire as Liara dropped her shield. "Here," she said, placing two fingers against Shepard's forehead. Her eyes flashed open in surprise for a moment before swiftly closing them again. "Alright," she said pulling back and then called "EDI!" EDI halted her firing and stepped towards Liara, who placed her two blue fingers against the AI's forehead for a moment. "There! I have recorded and shared your neuro-synthetic pathways with EDI so she can create a language capable of connection."

EDI nodded. "Shepard I am ready."

"EDI? You're sure?" Shephard asked, then added softly, "It needs to be your choice too."

EDI's head tilted. "I must inform you that chances of survival are 100,000 billion to one. For both of us." She paused, "However, it is a path where there are the highest statistical survival rates for Jeff, and..." Shephard would swear to her dying day (which she supposed was today... in a few minutes) that something very alive gleamed in EDI's eyes. "And I would not see him reach non-functionality. I am willing."

"As am I." Shepard whispered.

Shepard could feel that the medigel had done quite a bit of work. Her hand had grown sticky. Thank the Goddess, she thought, smiling slightly at Liara. She still felt horrible. Chances were the medigel had sealed an infection in her body…death was probably still around the corner. A slow death. But a slow death at least gave her time. "Then let's end this. Garrus, we're going to need a path to that beam!"

He stared at her intently, then said softly "...anything." His gaze shifted back down the scope of his rifle and he took a few pained steps down the citadel's arm clearing the Husks in that direction. Shepard made to follow but Liara caught her hand.

"Shepard, are you sure? It...it will cost everything." she murmured.

Shepard chuckled; it still fucking hurt: "Doesn't it always? I already died trying to stop the Reapers. Dying to succeed should be a breeze."

"It's not just you this time. Shepard… your-" her eyes dropped to where Shephard still applied pressure to her wound… and her belly.

Shepherd's heart stopped, "What?"

Liara's expression was pained. "I am as surprised as you are. Genetically it seems impossible which is no doubt why you neglected to take preventative- but if the synthesis of your synthetic implants and organic body are as advanced as the intelligence seems to think... they… they may have been able to compensate for the differences in the turian and human genome... "

A blast of blue light appeared and Liara and EDI were thrown back from Shepard. The blaze of light slowly resolved into the shape of the Child.

"The time for these distractions is ended. You must make your choice," it ordered.

Her heart was pounding. Her head spun. She could feel her biotics faintly crackling. She must be really, really, mad if that was happening. She wasn't like Jack who sparked blue light and made things float if the mess hall was out of chocolate pudding. She had to be pretty close to the edge for that part of her to wake up on it's own. But what she'd just learned in the face of everything else… So many sleepless nights, so many losses to build the Crucible, to get it here. Crawling away from the Admiral, from Anderson's cold form… so many hopes and prayers for a weapon that turned out to be a trap. She could feel blood running from her nose now. Fine, it was all fine. What had Anderson taught her? What had she learned time and time again? It didn't matter if you were unarmed. When you needed a weapon, the answer was simple, you became one. She chuckled darkly to herself. Apparently, she had.

"I won't let everyone die. Synthetics or organics." Shepard growled at the Child.

"Then you must surrender to synthesis," it ordered.

"I already told you," she said, taking a step forwards, "I won't force that on everyone. I'll make it happen on my own terms. So they - so they have time!" she snarled back.

"Time will only allow for chaos and all organic life to be eradicated. Your selection is unacceptable. You will be terminated and the cycle will continue." The ground shook beneath Shepard's feet and the arms of the Citadel began closing and the Child vanished. She heard a shriek and a fresh wave of Husks appeared, swarming towards them.

EDI had managed to return to Shepard's side. "Come on EDI," Shepard called over the roar of battle.

The two began racing (or racing as much as Shepard was capable of) through the space Garrus had cleared, closing in behind him. They drew level with him when suddenly-

"Shepard!" he yelled and grabbed her by the arm.

"Garrus - I have to-"

He yanked her towards him, cutting off her speech as a blast of energy blazed past her. Banshees had somehow joined the Husks on the citadel. He drew her down to the ground as another blast flew over their heads.

"I know!" he snarled, eyes locked on her. "I know you have to."

Something moved behind him. Without thinking Shepard grabbed the spare pistol at his side and opened fire, taking down a Husk that had slipped through the line held by the rest in the distance.

Garrus glanced over his shoulder, looking pissed. "Damn," he growled.

"I've got your back." Shepard said softly.

"Never doubted it." He said, eyes bright.

"...never?" She asked, voice shaking.

"Never. I know you have to do thisI- I hate it, but I do." his hand squeezed hers. "So you better believe I'm going to ensure you make it there alive."

"I'm -" she began, "Garrus, I-" but the words. They weren't there. She could have taken down a hundred Reapers right now or a mec - but the words, they just wouldn't come.

"It's ok," he murmured. In the roar of the firefight around them his voice was somehow the only thing that mattered. His eyes searched hers'. "I love you too. You will never be alone Moria. Never. Now go!" he roared. In one swift motion he pushed her forward and stood tall. She saw him raise his gun just as he passed from her line of sight and she began moving forward with EDI once again.

Garrus glared down the barrel of his gun at the approaching Husks and Banshees. His muscles were loose, his spine tall. He felt effortlessly calm as he watched Shepard run in his rifle sights. There was rightness in it, watching that red hair of hers stream behind her as she ran. He nestled the Husks approaching her in the crosshairs of his sight, and with the finger that had brushed the matted hair from her face, brushed those in her path out of existence.

Shepard could hear the blast of Garrus' rifle and between each shot she heard him roar:

"GET"

BOOM

"THE HELL"

BOOM

"OUT"

BOOM

"OF MY"

BOOM

"WIFE'S"

BOOM

"WAY!"

Shepard didn't have time to wonder at-

"Shepard! Now!" Cried EDI.

They had reached the beam. EDI grabbed hold of Shepard's left hand, Shepard threw out her right, and launched a blast of her biotic energy at the central beam of light. There was a flash as it made contact and

Bright. Blaze. A crackle. Light was everywhere. Streaming through her, racing through every cell. Light in a roaring wind, blasting through until no obstacle to it's path remained. She was… she felt free. Felt like she did standing on the deck of the Normandy, a horizon full of stars sprawled out before her. Free. She could hear the crew, feel them, feel the Normandy, the supernova of it's engines and the smaller ever-moving sparks of the crew that called it home; feel EDI both here in the Normandy and elsewhere... Somewhere in the howling… there was a faint… something… something soft… that growled in her ear… when she'd had an ear, a body… but the roaring was even stronger now and the wind was everywhere. And now… there was no point where she ended and it began… it was becoming hard to remember when she had been… when she….. The blaze... a familiar thrumming? She forgot what remembering was as the last of her burned away and became the blaze.

Light had been streaming from EDI. From her eyes, and mouth. Beacons of their own. Moria's eyes had blazed too. Their usual green, like the dancing borealis over Palaven's cold mountains, burned away behind an inhuman blaze. Just as the twisted form of Sarin's had.

There had been a flash. From them, and that central beam that had swept through the stars. It had felt like the wind from an explosion, it hit you like something solid, had ripped gouges through the structure of the Citadel, but had been devoid of temperature. The Husks it passed through had dropped. Some were now stirring slightly.

He supposed if he were a more noble turian he would check on those nearest him, but he was anchored in stillness, anchored by the stillness in the two forms at the foot of the Crucible.

Shepard, for all her hardness, her scars, her bravado, she fell asleep when she had finally drank too much. Going soft despite her warriors form in a way she never was, even in normal sleep. She'd better not be asleep at the bar when he got there. He wanted to see the look in her eyes when he finally arrived.

The ground was trembling. He should probably care. Somewhere, someone was screaming his name. A crack was appearing on the arm of the citadel between him and where she lay. His heart leapt into his throat. A hell of a feat when you're as long necked as a turian. He should run to- the crack widened as panels of the floor fell away. He should run. He should go get them - no, their bodies…..or get out of there himself. But everything was quiet, still. And so why move when that arm was so still? When those eyes were empty, so empty...like the universe had become.

He could hear a name, a name that was supposed to be his, and through the growing roar of the crumbling citadel, pounding feet. He would go then. She would kill him if he let anyone end up dead. He'd stay for one last, useless, empty breath and then- Light flashed in EDI's eyes and her head slowly rotated.

It was like coming up from beneath the waves into a storm. The roar of the disintegrating station rolled in his ears, or maybe it was the roaring in his blood. The sky was blinding in the light of that green wave as it raced away from them and as the structure around them turned to metal and fire. He was moving. Faster than he could ever remember, his injuries forgotten. The chasm that had opened between him and where they lay, between that stillness he had left behind and the movement, the impossible - that lay before him, was nothing. He landed next to EDI.

"EDI!" he yelled, examining her robotic form. There were scorch marks, some melted wires, showing signs of burnout and overheating. But - one eye moved, circling aimlessly, then flashed to him, away, to him - the lense focused.

"Garr...s Vk…..in." came warbling from an exposed speaker on her clavicle. EDI, she had somehow...if she had…"

"Joker!" Garrus barked into his com - hoping desperately that he'd be heard through the din of the crumbling structure around them. "Joker, do you read me!? I have EDI. She's here! She's still here. I don't know how but I think they're here."

He heard static and then,"EDI! Garrus, I'm inbound, vertical evac incoming. Maintain your position. We don't have much time."

"Copy!" Garrus barked. Smoke was beginning to fill the air. Something to his left exploded and he shielded his face and com with an arm.

"Garrus-" he heard through the com, "Shepard - is she-" he lost the rest in some static.

"I - I don't know." Garrus said, his voice cracking.

"Moria!" he yelled. Crawling towards her. Dread filled him. She was still. So still. He checked for a pulse, snarling at his trembling fingers. There was none. "NO! Moria!" he shook her shoulders. Nothing.

Damn humans. Damn soft, endoskeleton, unsheathed, vulnerable - he ripped away the remnants of her armor's chest plate and placed a hand on her sternum; furious he had never studied human biology from any other perspective than a killer. Compressions… that worked on most sapiens. In terror, he laced his fingers and began.

"Moria!" He yelled, "I don't give a krogan's ass where you are or what is out there, you come back now. Moria…." He dropped an ear to her lips but felt nothing. Her scent filled his nostrils. Unmistakable despite the blood and smoke. That heady lilac and citrus, with a bite like gunpowder. He hadn't had a chance to tease her about it yet. He growled and went back to compressions, pressing harder. "You've shown off enough. Now. Get. Back. Here! Moria!"

He heard and felt something crack, and whipped his hands away in panic. "No! No, no, no, no! Moria, please!" he begged. His heart was going to burst- that crack, that sickening crack, he'd - he threw back his head and roared.

He lowered his head. A tear ran down his scales. His eyes burned and the smoke was choking, impairing his vision. He rubbed at his eyes, squinting at her through the haze. He was really looking at her now, well, looking at her for more than blood and vital signs. There were… He rubbed at his eyes again. No it wasn't the smoke, or his eyes... Lines. He'd thought the soot was simply maring her face at first, but now he could make out a matrix, a latticework of infinitely thin lines scrolled across her face, neck, that hatefully still chest. Burns? Of some kind? From the light? Refracted off her armor maybe... His gaze drifted to the chestplate. Maybe there was a loose circuit in the wiring that had caused the strange burns? Her armor was in shreds, charred, shattered, the circuitry of her omni-tool unrecognizable-

His omni-tool. How much time had passed? How long… he wanted to throw himself into the abyss. If he hadn't stood there. If he had run to her instantly… Hands still shaking he adjusted the settings of his omni-tool to administer an adrenal boost, and held it over the section of her chest he would have trained in his sights for an instant kill. "Please," he whispered to everything and nothing. He hit the activation key.

All was still.

"GARRUS" Joker's yell split the silence in his head. There was fire all round him. He could feel the structure beneath him beginning to tilt. He squinted upwards, the Normandy maintaining position over his head, an evac cable being lowered to him. He grabbed the cable, wrapped and clamped it around EDI's form and signaled for them to raise her up. After ensuring she wouldn't slip, he returned to Shepard. The ground beneath him shifted and then stabilized. He could see the biotics of their team standing in the hangar doorway, trying to stabilize the few panels he and Shepherd occupied as EDI was untied from the rigging. The cable began its descent once again. Garrus scooped Shepard up in his arms. He pressed his face into her hair and whispered,"I said I would never leave you." He squinted up towards the Normandy, reaching for the cable a few inches from his finger.

The world exploded around them. The air was gone. There was only fire. Broken shards of the Citadel arm were cast out by the wave of the blaze. And the red hot twisted metal and concrete was on them, things happening so fast that there was no time - no time to pointlessly wrap himself around her before the rubble-

The Normandy swung back over the shard of the Citadel arm remaining after the explosion. Joker could make out frustratingly little through the smoke and fire, and couldn't risk descending further as explosions still punctuated the sky. His instruments were infuriatingly useless. Anything beyond the manual controls had been going haywire since that green blaze hit them. He'd barely kept control. His heart raced in his chest and he cursed, feeling useless. He couldn't go down there, he couldn't see anything, couldn't do anything for EDI. He glanced over his shoulder. Traynor, Tali and a team of techs were grouped around the space where they had propped her limp form. Tali was tapping in a frenzy at a screen with wires connected to EDI and the Normandy, yelling to those around her over the new roaring static that had filled the ship since the blast hit and the instruments had been lost. Then as suddenly as that roar had begun, it vanished. The crew on the bridge gazed around in confusion. Joker checked the rest of his instruments and cried out in anger finding them still useless.

And then there was Garrus. That tore him apart the most. Shepherd had held up her end of the deal. Somehow - EDI was here. But Joker had brought Garrus back. Had listened when Garrus had dragged himself across the bridge, shoving crew out of the way, armor discarded to reveal the scaled hide of his too heavily bandaged torso. Joker had balked when the turian had roared at him, in a way that made something deep and primal in him want to run, run far, far away. Trembling, he had stared into those eyes empty of all but rage as Garrus ordered him to fly to the Citadel, and obeyed. And he hadn't gotten back in time, hadn't given the turian enough time to get EDI and himself clear before the Citadel arm exploded. And now he couldn't even find the bodies. He uselessly scanned the remaining shreds of the arm and then threw his hands in front of his eyes as another explosion of green light lit the sky. Joker squinted through the blaze, and suddenly felt the Normandy leap into a dive.

Far below the Normandy in the clouds of billowing smoke and scattered embers red hair shifted in the growing wind. A body lay sprawled in the rubble, a network of silvery lines running over the skin just visible as they reflected the light from the explosions punctuating the steady glow of the growing fires. As the Normandy passed above, a fraction lower this time, the light changed. Faint green glowed from the latticework for a moment, and then died. The Reapers had drifted away and the ships scattered in the sky were either making halting journeys to Earth, to larger vessels, or slowly gliding through debris, searching for life in the void. The only battle that remained was that which fire and gravity raged on the crumbling Citadel. Red hair lay across Shepherd's bloody lips. Then moved. And not from the wind.

Moria could smell smoke. Hear the sound of crashing and explosions. The ground beneath her face shook occasionally and her mouth tasted of ash and blood. If this was the bar on the other side she either had one hell of a hangover or it was a really shitty bar. She opened her eye, squinting in the light of the fire around her. Smoke clogged the air. In the distance she could see Earth slowly nearing them as the remnants of the Citadel lost their orbit.

She hoped it had worked. Although there was no way to tell now. She just hoped it worked, for his sake. All their sakes. She laughed to herself and then immediately regretted it. If she squinted right, the iron and wires sticking up from the rubble in front of her nearly looked like Garrus's crest. That was comforting. And at least she was seeing Earth again. I guess I'll be buried on Earth...under the citadel rubble. But still. A cough racked her chest. She saw specks of blood on the ground in front of her mouth, clearly from that cough. Well that checked out and was pretty much what she expected. She tried to take a slow breath as she gazed at the blue green of Earth.

Anderson would have liked this view too. She was pretty sure she could make out England's southern coast. Maybe that is where they would fall and he'd be able to go home once again. She searched for other landmarks. Might as well bide the time till her breaths stopped. She cursed the Crucible mentally. It couldn't even kill her right. She didn't think it would be too long now. There was a new pain in her side, and a wet rasp to her breaths that was unmistakably the sound of a punctured lung. She searched for France over the pile of rubble with the points of iron and wire in front of her. She thought he would like France, for some reason. Some of the metal buried in the concrete was even blue-

"Garrus!" Shepard gasped. Heart pounding. She dug her fingernails into the ground and dragged herself forward, crying out at the pain as she did. It was him. Here. Somehow. Some fucking how. No! It couldn't be. Desperately she slowly pulled herself over and up along the rubble, barely noticing as her fingernails split with the effort. She finally reached him. His chest and legs were pinned beneath a fallen wall of the citadel. His visor shattered. She couldn't help thinking that would piss him off. She held her hand to his mouth. She could feel breath; barely, but it was there.

"Garrus! She cried, pounding on his armor. Spitting blood as she yelled his name. She heard him groan and began sobbing. It was the best noise she had ever heard. His eyes opened and she stared into their crisp blue.

"Moria," he rasped, eyes widening. He reached out a hand for her, the strain of the motion evident on his face. She caught his hand. "I - I thought you'd… how?"

"I don't know." she breathed. "I - don't understand." She stared at their clasped hands noticing the silvery matrix under the coating of soot and blood. But that didn't seem to matter right now. "What are you doing here?" she weased.

"Saving you." he groaned "saving EDI."

"Saving everyone was my job."

"Well keep working on it," he said with a faint smile.

"Vakarian, if I had the strength to punch you right now..." her voice shook. "Why did you come? Why didn't you stay on the Normandy?."

He gave her a wry smile "Do you think Archangel would let you die before proving that he's a better shot? Do you think Archangel would let you die without a rematch. No way am I living the rest of my life without taking you down. Your head's big enough already."

She squinted at the smoke, at the rubble on his chest, "Can you ….can you push it off?" she asked.

There was a moment of silence and his face tensed. Then relaxed and he let out a rattling sigh," ….no...no I think this is the end of the road for me." He gave her an infuriating smirk. "But at least I got the last save."

"No…" Shepard groaned and pulled with futility against the concrete.

"Hey, hey," he breathed. "Moria….stop. It's not. You can't shift it."

"Fuck you I can't." she snapped.

"Moria, I have to.. I need you to take this." He held his hand to his mouth, pulled off his glove, and then pulled a scraped up circle of metal off his smallest digit.

"I don't want your mom's cheap turian trinkets...I want you" she snarled.

Garrus laughed, it quickly turned into an alarmingly wet cough. When it subsided his lips were bloody. He reached out and gently traced a finger across her bottom lip. And then looked at the blood there too. "Well look at that? We match. Told you I'd catch up." She glared at him. "And you do want my Mother's "trinkets" - she has the most amazing armory on Palaven. It'd make you wet."

"Garrus,"

"Shhh...no, this is just yours. Recognize it?"

She let out a wet and exasperated sigh and squinted at the circle of metal. One edge had a clean finished end, the other was rather jagged. A minute code was stamped on the metal. She stared at him. "A shell?"

"Yeah. Your shell. From the shot that you beat me with. For now. You're gonna wear it."

"Oh I am, am I?" she said, eyes watering.

"Yeah, but don't get too excited. It's just to remind you that I get a rematch when you get to the bar. And to tell the world you didn't win, yet."

She narrowed her eyes at him and he grinned like an idiot. "Oh. To tell them you get a rematch? Not something else you might have yelled at the world earlier?"

"Oh...well…Um...in my defense, I thought you were dying. And...what do you humans say? The best laid plans…But yes Shepard. I would have. If I could."

"Ok. You're done talking like this. We have a beach to get to." she glared at the rubble before her, willing herself to see some way to get it off him. She gritted her teeth and reached for her biotics pushing against the concrete and searching for all her might to find...something anything. The concrete pressing into him was wet...

"Moria, please," he reached a hand out to her face. She held it there and pressed it against her cheek. A tear ran down her cheek and he brushed it away with his thumb. He coughed again. His breath was ragged.

"Garrus," she whispered, pleading. His eyelids were fluttering now.

"It's ok Moria." he said between coughs. "I'll...I'll get the first round." His eyes drifted closed.

"Garrus!" She hissed. She tried to shake him, and failing at that touched his face. He didn't respond, "GARRUS!" She yelled. She strained against the jagged concrete, coughing at the smoke that was continuously thickening in the air. It was getting warmer too, and Earth was nearer. She was beginning to see the lights of major cities emerging through the clouds. "GARRUS!" she screamed.

No. This was not it. This would not happen. It would not end this way. She had not become an Alliance commander, had not become a Spectre, died, come back, found this cocky turian, found a living Prothean and survived whatever the synthesis was just to lose Garrus to space debris. She threw her body against the rubble again. "Stay with me, Garrus. Vakarian! That is an order." She couldn't see through the smoke and tears now, "Garrus Vakarian, this is your Commanding officer. I am ordering you to wake up." She could feel the remnants of the Citadel accelerating. She grabbed his com. "Normandy! Joker! Anyone on this line. This is Commander Shepard. I have a man down. I - I - " she coughed again and groaned in pain. "I am on the Citadel. I repeat. I am on the Citadel and I have a man down." A sob racked her body "I need medical evac! I - someone please come get him!"

There was crackling from the com.

"Someone help him!" she yelled.

He was still, and pale. Fuck, she'd never seen a pale turian. "No!" She screamed. She grabbed the slab of concrete with her broken hands, pulled with all her might, plunged into the void where her biotics had been, threw back her head and screamed. An electric green glow began to creep down the silver lines on her body. It started, just below her eyes, the initial gleam could have been mistaken for tears but it slowly crept down her cheeks and over her jawline, down her limbs. It spread, gradually revealing a branching network that encompassed her whole being. Filling the air with a new wavering light like a borealis. It spread down her arms to the ravaged fingers clutching at the concrete. Her scream became broken, tearing her throat, and then there was a blinding flash from those lines of light. It's gleam cutting through the dark of the void like a new sun. The slab in her hands shifted and a roar of engines filled the air.

Beep.

He waited.

Beep.

Good.

Beep.

It was difficult. Waiting for each beep. He remembered one night... Marveling at the quickness of their heartbeats. His ear pressed against her naked chest. As her warm, blissfully soft fingers traced his scales and the spines of his crest. He had been taught that their hearts beat so much faster when learning the best ways to kill them and every other species in the galaxy.

It was so different though. Waiting for each heartbeat. Hoping for the next. He wouldn't have expected their quickness to be so distressing. But somehow, because they were so short, that terrifying moment, that silence before the next one came. When all his calibrations told him it should have arrived by now. That if it hadn't it must mean-

Beep.

Oh, ok. With a heartbeat that fast, and five times faster in the heat of battle….it was even more impressive she was such a good shot. That she kept such poise. He was sure he would be shaking like a leaf. Not that he would ever admit that to her.

Beep.

This time, his heart skipped a beat. He had forgotten to wait for that one.

Beep.

Ok, maybe he would tell her about her impressive compensation if-

NO. There were no if's. When. When she woke up.

Beep.

Waiting was exhausting. He brushed a stray hair from her forehead. He was always doing that. Her fringe...it was so delicate, the little wisps, the way they danced in the wind, and stuck to her face in blood and sweat. Her hair so much longer than when they had taken down the humanoid Reaper. Always tossed in a bun. So she had a clear line of sight, so that it didn't provide much of a hand hold in hand-to-hand combat. So that she always had control. Except for these little wisps. He couldn't help but smile. He should buy her a barrette. He would tell her that too.

He leaned forward and took her hand in one of his. Then lay his head on his arm. Watching her.

Beep

Good.

The Synthesis had worked. It hadn't killed her. Not… not fully anyway. Her organic body had died. His gut clenched in terror all over again at the thought. The memory of that crack - her still chest. So different from the one that now gently rose and fell under his watchful eye. That blast. The energy had wiped out all life in her, and EDI's robotic form. But EDI didn't just exist in that form. Her robotic body had been fried by the blast of energy, but her programming, her servers, they weren't just there. They were on the Normandy.

And so her consciousness endured, and through their biotic link - so had Shephard's. And somehow, in the wake of all the changes wreaked on the fragile form in front of him, Shephard's consciousness was able to return. He still didn't fully understand. Engines, catalytic processes, energy transfers, complex physics, bullet and fist trajectories; of all these he was an expert, but this bio-synthetic network stuff…even Tali couldn't help.

The news had not been all good. Her synthetics had changed fast apparently, as that light raged. Biotic energy furthering connections where wires could not reach, the inorganic materials learning to spread like cells yet burning out in the intensity of the energies coursing through her. Not to mention the critical levels of organic damage she had already received. She was filled with structures none of those caring for her had ever seen and no one truly understood. It was impossible to tell where synthetic ended and organic began. And those silvery lines spidered through her whole being. Even Javik said he had never seen or heard of their like.

And then there was the enormous wave of biotic energy she'd used to free him. To save him. Tali and Liara had said it was like shooting a bullet from a gun whose barrel was already splintering. The energy had dispersed everywhere, and hadn't left much in its wake.

When Javik and Liara had reached them on the Citadel, after that blast, after the descent EDI and Shephard's linked minds had caused, the slab trapping him had been obliterated, as had much of his remaining armor.

Beep.

And now he waited. EDI'd said she could feel Shephard. But that she was only a whisper in the Normandy's computers now, most of her consciousness must have returned to her body. But no one could tell him if her body was whole enough to hold it.

Beep.

Still good. He would just close his eyes while he waited for the next one.

The bed shifted. Garrus' eyes flashed open. He couldn't draw breath. Every muscle in his body was tense. Terrible sniper form. The bed had shifted. Hadn't it? If he had imagined it he was going to leap out the window of this Salarian hospital. Her forehead creased and she shifted. He hadn't dreamed it. He slowly raised himself. His hand gently squeezing hers.

"Moria," he breathed. He could see her eyes shifting beneath her lids. He couldn't breathe, he was shaking. "I'm here. Moria, it's ok, I'm here….Come back Shephard….please. Your insubordinate boyfriend is begging you."

Finally they opened, and focused on him. Their bright green was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.

With a ragged breath she wheezed, "Garrus."

His mouth was dry. He couldn't - what do you say… he didn't know what he was supposed to do, to say in the face of….. and then it tumbled out before he could control it, "You smell like lilacs and citrus, it's so girly, but also kind of like gunpowder, take a shower already, you're even more of an impressive shot because your human heartbeat is so fast, also I'm gonna buy you a barrette."

Shepard squinted at him. Half in irritation half in confusion. Her eyes roved over him. Taking in his new scars, the bandages peeking out from under his jacket. His mandibles hurt from how hard he was smiling. Ever the watchful Commander. Assessing everyone's fitness. Her eyes fell on their clasped hands and his arm on the bed. She closed her eyes, her face clenching in pain. "Garrus…"

"What is it?"

"You're on my medigel feed."

He leapt to his feet, still holding her hands. Sure enough, there was the thin plastic tube feeding her medigel, in the crumpled blankets where he had fallen asleep.

"Fuck, I'm so sorry." He shifted the tube, it refilled with gel and Shephard let out a sigh. He sat back down, squeezing her hand. Unable to let go.

Her eyes searched his face, and fell up on his visor. "You got a new…"

"Visor? Yes, the other one was broken." She nodded. "Frustrating. But there are much more important things."

Shepard snorted softly "I knew you'd be mad."

"I'm not mad."

"There were photos on it." His eyes widened. She gave him a pained smirk. "Special… photos."

He was breathless. "Well now I'm mad." Her eyes shone. She shifted and began trying to sit up in the bed and almost instantly cried out in pain.

"Easy, easy.." Garrus murmured reaching out to steady her. She fought back against him for a moment and then laid back, breathing heavily. "You have to wait and heal," he pleaded. She threw a scowl his way. He snorted. "You might be able to take a hit Shephard, but you're garbage at recovering from them."

She grimaced in pain, "It feels like I-"

"Broke a rib?"

She nodded, "I remember… breathing trouble, blood… but not…"

"Um…"

She looked at him.

He shrugged. "Sorry, I might have broken one of your ribs."

She coughed. "Goddamnit, Vakarian. How the hell-"

"Well if you'd had a pulse when I got to you, I wouldn't have had to…." he tried to keep the bravado. Tried to act like it was after any other mission and they were comparing scrapes in their armor and particularly spectacular shots, but he could feel himself unraveling inside. His breath caught, his voice began to shake, "I couldn't get it back. The compressions weren't - I didn't know how hard to-"

She stopped him with a gentle hand on his cheek, wiping away a tear he hadn't realized he'd shed.

"It's ok," she wheezed, her eyes full of tenderness, and added with a slight smile, "Just stick to shooting people next time." Her smile faded, "Garrus." she croaked. "I...I'm sorry."

He leaned forward. Bringing his face inches from hers. "There will never be a reason that you can say those words to anyone in this galaxy. Never again." he growled softly.

"No, listen," she murmured, squeezing his hand, "Liara, just before I… when she helped EDI connect…." his brow furrowed, "Garrus, we… I." She looked scared and tears welled in her eyes. "A turian and human…it wasn't as… biology didn't have an issue… I was…"

It took an eternity for the words to sink in. He couldn't help himself, his hand slid across the blankets to her abdomen. He'd held his hands there on the Citadel. Just trying to stem the bleeding, oblivious to the not just one but two lives at risk from that bleed.

"It didn't make it?" He cringed at the stupidity of the question. Liara, the Salarians, Dr. Chackwas. They had been so somber. No one had said… he supposed it hadn't been their place. He thought of himself as relatively imaginative, but he could not even conceive what it would have been like to hear this from someone else. And she had been in and out of surgery. The physical damage, the infections sealed in after the medigel was applied, the broken rib and punctured lung from the compressions he had done, the synthetic implants that had to be replaced...

"Liara said it would take everything." Shepard whispered. A tear ran down her cheek.

The doorway to their room, her room really, except he'd never left it so it might as well be theirs, slid open and of all people Liara burst inside. When she saw Shephard tears filled her eyes.

"Your-" she gasped." "You're, I had scanners monitoring and their readings went off the chart - I thought - you were -" she took a deep breath. "But you're actually awake."

"Sorry," Shephard croaked, "You know I've never been a morning person."

"Ha." mocked Liara, tears shining on her face. Her countenance quieted, "I should let you two... I'm sure there are things you need to say-" She made to leave but Shephard stopped her.

"No, I - I just told him, Liara." Liara's gave Garrus a pained look. "And he told me I smell and he's getting me a barette." Her lip twitched. "But- Liara you said…" Shepherd seemed to struggle to find the next words. "...I don't understand why I'm here," she wheezed. "Why didn't I die?"

Liara crossed to her and said softly, "We don't really know for sure." She took a seat on the other side of the bed. "Your and EDI's minds were connected, and so, we think you….uploaded yourself to the Normandy for a time."

Shephard's brow furrowed as if remembering something. "But the template… you, you said it would take everything..."

"I - I have a theory there." Liara said. Her eyes were shining with fresh tears. She took a ragged breath and her eyes darted to Garrus. He stiffened.

"I think the synthesis… the energy cost would have been fatal…. and your...your physical form would have been consumed… if… if there hadn't been more energy… more than one life and set of DNA connected... " Shephard frowned. Liara seemed to steel herself. "The fetus." she said softly. "It… it would have been a mix of organics and synthetics, just like you, but even more concentrated. And with… another life growing inside you, and your connection to the Normandy through EDI… it fueled the synthesis and you..."

"So it's gone?" Shephard asked in a small voice. Garrus had never heard that from her. It shook him to his very core.

Liara's lips trembled. A tear slid down her cheek and she merely squeezed Shepard's bandaged hand and nodded. She gazed for a moment, first at Shepherd and then at Garrus, before taking a deep breath and adding, "I felt it, for a few moments." She smiled softly at them both, "It was a remarkable creature."

Something ached in Garrus in a way he'd never felt before. Shephard's gaze had become distant.

They were all still for a moment and then Liara whispered, "I'm down the hall if you need anything." She gently brushed a tear from Shephard's face and squeezed Garrus' shoulder as she left.

There was silence in the room. It was strange… so strange to fiercely miss and grieve something he hadn't known. Something that had only crossed his mind in the few quiet moments in their mad dash across the galaxy.

"I'm sorry," she breathed.

"I'm sorry," he murmured as he squeezed her hand, forcing back some tears. "But you and I are here" he growled firmly. "We are both here. So it will be ok." He gazed deep into her eyes. "There's no Shepard without Vakarian," he murmured. After a moment he pulled a bottle from the pocket of his jacket. And placed it on the bed. "And I brought the bar to us. Just don't tell Chakwas."

She grinned at him through her tears, took a ragged breath, and said "Oh, I won't." Her hand shifted in his. She slipped it from his grasp and examined the bandages.

"You shredded your hands," he said softly. "Getting me out. All the rubble, and some of the metal was hot. There were some bad burns." She held her hand up. Her thumb was separate, but her first two and last two fingers were bandaged and splinted together, to speed the healing the Salarians had said.

"Look," She weazed holding her hand up to him, "we match."

He lifted his hand from the place where a miracle had been, spread his digits and pressed them against this new miracle. After a moment he entwined his fingers in hers and held on tight.