Garrus covers her in a blanket as she dozes in the shuttle on the return from Noveria to the Normandy.
Shepard is worn and aching, and so she thinks nothing of it – waves it off as another turian quirk or a nicety. She does manage to give him a small smile. He seems embarrassed that she caught him, a blue flush creeping up his throat, so she stays quiet and does not mention it again. She does curl up tighter, appreciating the gesture.
He does the same thing after their fight on the Citadel with Saren, once the questions and the stitching, ‘Stop it, Karen, I’m fine!’, and the debriefings are all over. Her pride doesn’t allow her to ask for help, but Garrus and Kaidan read her pain in the tightness of her jaw and the poorly disguised limp. They let her grumble as they help her hobble her way back to the Normandy and to her bed – her cheap Citadel apartment is too much a mess now to be a proper place for recovery.
She falls asleep almost instantly, but not before she feels the rustle of blankets being pulled over her body and the soft brush of extra pillows placed on either side of her, the feather-light sensation of one careful talon stroking through her red hair.
Not long after, much to her disbelief, she dies.
It’s all fire and the emptiness of space, vision full of black spots and the floating carcass of the SR-1. She hates it, hates that she dies without a sound, hates the fear that causes her heart to pound and her body to thrash, not able to die in peace or even go down fighting.
As Shepard’s eyes close, she thinks that, at least, she’ll be able to relax now, though there is no rasp of cloth or gentle touch to see her into this darkness.
And then, she lives.
She’s not sure if she’s annoyed about it or not. She’d fought her own death, and then gave in, only to be dragged choking back to life. Somehow, she is expected to shake off the darkness, the missing two years sticking to her like tar, hot and burning and sticky on her new skin. No, instead of getting a moment to breathe again, it’s, ‘I know you’re hurt, but grab this, shoot this, save them, listen to us, do, do, do!’
She is a survivor, however, so she does what is needed, despite her urge to spit in the Illusive Man’s face. Her new-old body burns with a quiet fury, a remembrance, but mankind is in danger like always and she’s the one with the right bullet.
She goes to retrieve Archangel first, desperate for some familiarity, for some news of Palaven, because no one is where they should be and Garrus is missing, not one scrap of information on his location available to her.
And then, abruptly, he is not missing. He’s there before her, head cocked with a crooked, toothy little smile that is somehow damaged. The damage only gets worse from there, blue gore on her hands and the sputtering, rasping rattle of someone who’s suffocating in a pool of their own blood.
She will fix it, because that is what she does when she is not the bullet or the gun.
“Some women find facial scars attractive,” he tells her afterwards. “Mind you, most of those women are krogan.”
For the first time, she looks at him, not as a soldier might, or a commanding officer, or even as a human at an alien species. She looks at him: Garrus. Something warm curls in her belly, then, though she ignores it.
Things go better after that, and for a time, it is familiar: ‘Find, run, shoot, kill, retrieve.’ They aren’t all there, her team, but there is Grunt, and she can almost, almost pretend it is Wrex at her side, familiar krogan bellows and Garrus’ snide comments rasping through her comm as he picks off targets. She even begins to enjoy her enhanced biotics, and takes great joy in charging around the battlefield like a shooting star, pausing only long enough to fire a round off with her shotgun before speeding to the next target.
She hits Horizon, and her world abruptly shifts, the tentative balance she’d regained shot from under her. Shepard thinks, insanely, that her fading scars are burning, a brand screaming ‘Cerberus!’, as she listens to Kaidan condemn her. Each word reopens another healing wound she’d worked so hard to stitch back together - but then, she’d never been good at sewing.
Shepard can’t go back to her room afterwards, back on the Normandy; it’s quiet in her room, ‘Space is quiet, too,’ and the oppressive emptiness of the star-filled black presses to the skylight like a weight: a beast seeking to devour. She wanders instead, checks with each crew mate and tries to listen, but something hollow is rattling in her chest. It’s not a surprise to her when she ends up in the main battery.
For a time, she just watches Garrus and his calm and easy movements, numbers flying past on his screen and visor.
“Can’t sleep, Shepard?”
Her head jerks up, unaware of when he started watching her. A lie is on the tip of her tongue, a reassurance, ‘I’m fine, I’m Shepard, the nightmares don’t bother me,’ but what comes out instead is, “The skylight bothers me. Who thought it would be a good idea to put a fucking skylight over the room of someone who’s been spaced?” She scratches her hands furiously through her short hair, beginning to pace in her irritation, just the thought of sleeping under a window sending chills down her spine.
Garrus must not like the thought either, because his mandibles pull tight. “Well, can’t have that,” he says, voice deceptively light.
Which is how she ends up settled into one of the corners of the battery, two crates of various mechanical components pressed against the wall to form a tiny cubby, pillows and blankets pushed inside the space with her.
“Is this a fort, Vakarian?”
“If you want it to be. I like ‘fortified position’ better.”
It is surprisingly cozy. The top of the crates only come to nose level as she sits, so she is free to poke her head out and watch him, “You can see I’m here this way”, and there is no galaxy in sight, no windows. She is not in a giant open space; she is somewhere small, safe.
She drops into sleep quickly, reassured by the hum of the consoles and the steady click, click of Garrus’ talons as he works.
She doesn’t sleep there often, only when the nightmares tear at her mind with jagged claws and refuse to let her go, when she wakes soaked in sweat with her body shivering, phantom coldness and the air too thin. She ends up spending hours staring at herself in the mirror, watches her scars disappear, trying to reassure herself that she is Jane Shepard.
When she finds Tali, another piece slots into place. She does not believe that Tali and Garrus would both get it wrong; that they would both follow her if she wasn’t… her.
Now Shepard begins to believe it, because it is her green eyes in the mirror, her hands that hold her Wraith. It is her name that her crew greets her with, her name that Garrus murmurs the night before the run through the Relay, ‘Shepard, Jane, please.’ The name he whispers again as he pulls the blankets over her as their bodies cool, placing a pillow at her front and curling into her from behind. It makes her smile.
And it is Jane Goddamn Shepard who leads her ragtag group through the Omega relay, who claws and fights her way through the Collectors with Garrus and Thane at her back, and blows that fucking base to hell.
Every night after that, she is cocooned by Garrus and pillows and blankets. He must have a thing about comfort, because by the time she is arrested, she’s fairly certain the pillows are breeding – there are certainly more than she started with.
She practically has to shove Garrus off the Normandy before her arrest, because, “You need to get your turian ass out there, Vakarian. I can’t prepare anyone from inside a cell, and neither can you.”
Still, she misses the little cocoons he’s so adept at creating.
The Reapers come. Earth burns. She fights with Kaidan, watches Eva break his body against the hull of the shuttle. She tries to blast that metal body of Eva’s to pieces because Kaidan is still a brother to her and Shepard is so tired of her friends being hurt: Ashley, Garrus, Kaidan, and if it’s overkill to stomp on the lifeless metal corpse of the Cerberus A.I, Vega doesn’t mention it.
As she leaves Kaidan in Huerta, she knows where she needs to be, feels it like a longing in her bones, a thread pulling her home.
When she sees Garrus on Palaven, she goes warm, memories of blankets and talons and comfort. She waits until they leave the Base to hunt down the primarch before pausing long enough to hook a hand around the front of his armor and tug his mouth down to hers. There is smoke and metal on her tongue when he opens to her, his startled breath quiet as he inhales. He shoots her a look, heated and amused, when she pulls away.
It is enough for now.
She passes by Vega and back into the lead, lets her hand reach up and snap his jaw closed as she does. “What, never seen a girl kiss someone, Vega?” Her grin is feral, more a baring of teeth than a smile. “Get moving.”
There is the primarch, and the krogan. There are politics that she hates and the small boy that she can never catch, but things aren’t so bad. She has Garrus and Liara, and Vega fits her team like a glove. Javik is a little more difficult, but all things considered, with Reapers destroying the galaxy, they are as good as they can get.
Sur’Kesh is followed by Tuchanka. Betrayal on the Citadel, and she is so fucking sick of this.
Garrus takes her to the Citadel, afterwards, up to a bridge overlooking the rest of the Presidium. They shoot bottles, and when he sidles closer to her, Shepard brushes a hand over his scars, and her confession comes warm and affectionate. “The only thing that made leaving Earth bearable was knowing you were out there, Garrus. That I would find you.”
And, well, she could hardly say ‘no’ to his proposal now that she’d admitted that. So she says yes, and laughs for the first time in what feels like a very long time when he bends her back, mouth hungry and relieved on hers.
She loves him.
The universe, however, is balanced. So it only makes sense that her moment of happiness somehow spirals into a standoff between the quarians and the geth and her having to spacewalk to a geth dreadnought.
And that is a mess, the fear choking her like a hand on her throat as she stands on that docking tube, her heart in her mouth and silent screams rattling in her brain, ‘I’m going to float away, I’m going to burn, I’m going to fall and I can’t breathe! I’m going to die again!’ before Garrus talks her back to sanity, urgent and reassuring.
His voice is in her ear every step, and she tries to pretend her hands aren’t still shaking inside her suit when she opens the hatch that lets Garrus and Tali inside the dreadnought. A little tap of his helmet to hers helps ground her again, and though she can’t hear it, she tells herself he’s breathing calm and steady inside, does her best to match the rhythm she can almost imagine of him breathing on her skin.
His voice gives nothing away. She thinks that is the end of it, he’s fine, she’s fine, everyone’s safe. She’ll have trouble sleeping, but that will be it.
Except that it isn’t fine.
That night, she wakes up in her bed to the sound of rustling. “Garrus?” she says quietly. It is too dark to see.
‘Not dark,’ she realizes. She’s just… covered in pillows and blankets, and while it’s not exactly the best way to wake up, she doesn’t feel threatened or in danger. There is, in fact, a reassuring weight to the closeness that reminds her of the little fort Garrus had made for her in the main battery all those months ago.
She shifts a little, feeling like a gopher as her head slides free, some of the pillows stacked carefully around her, on her, rolling away. He’s wrapped her in blankets before, created small spaces for her to sleep in, but there is something frantic about this, about him, when he steps into her view, another pillow in his hands.
“I didn’t mean to wake you,” he says, kneading the pillow carefully in his hands. His subvocals are tense and rattling.
“It’s… fine. What are you doing?” she asks, trying to catch his eye.
“I’m just- I need to…” He picks up the pillows that rolled away, movements sharply controlled, trying to voice some unspoken urge, before turning to look at her again, mandibles a little slack in helplessness. He is… worried, she realizes. “Please, Shepard.” Holding the pillows in one arm, he snakes a hand up to brush along her face. “Just let me do this?”
In response, she lets her head drop, settling. Gradually, her vision is obscured as he arranges the pillows until she is covered again. She is startled when his hand brushes hers, before she realizes he’d arranged the pillows in such a fashion as to leave a space open for him to reach in.
The bed dips a little on one side, his head resting against the mattress. A soft, worried trill reaches her ears, steady and quiet. “I just want you to be safe,” he whispers.
She squeezes his hand.
After Rannoch, she adds Legion to the list of people she has lost or seen hurt, slots the geth’s name in after Thane’s.
Thessia falls and she can’t control it. She is tearing at the seams, trying to stitch them back together but they’re tearing faster than her bloodied fingers can sew.
Horizon fills her with rage. She still hates this place, down to her bones. She is burning. Garrus comes to her in her cabin after, and it is a different kind of fire he starts, one that drags her mind to where it should be, smothers the pain with his body before he wraps them up in blankets together.
She blows through Cronos Station like an avenging demon, no angel to be seen – her hair red like flame, her gun as her sword. She leaves nothing standing.
She might lose him, might never see that warm and tropical place Garrus promises her, or just how good a set of parents they might make. “Afraid Daddy’s rifle collection might scare Junior?” he teases, but she allows herself the fantasy. She kisses him one last time.
When she screams for the Normandy to pick him up, she does not think she’s ever felt more desperate.
Tears streak through the dirt as she strides back up the ramp to him where he leans on Kaidan, and Shepard cradles his face in her hand, puts everything she feels into her promise, her goodbye, “I will always love you.” She leaves what’s left of herself, broken and shattered, there with him. Lets his words follow her into the beam, into the Citadel. She holds them in her mind as she staggers, fires – the last thing in her mind before the explosion strips all thought away.
“Shepard… I love you too.”
And then, she lives.
Garrus will tease her for years to come.
“The mighty Savior of the Galaxy, and what are her first words her rugged and dashing boyfriend hears when she wakes up? ‘A-fucking-gain!’”.
“That’s not what I said. I don’t sound like that.”
“Love of my life, you and I both know that’s exactly what you said. Besides, which one of us was hopped up on painkillers? I’m pretty sure you don’t remember those first three days after you woke up, or that I had to stop you from climbing out your window naked.”
Despite what he says, she will always remember that first moment waking up - will always remember him, his blue eyes dull and feverish, a hand that tightens on hers, his broken laugh and a whisper of, “Shepard.” She tries to tug him towards her and into the bed with her, wanting his weight there behind her, around her, despite the pain. He brushes his forehead against hers instead.
“You’re too… you’re too hurt. I’m not sure I can-“ he says.
“Consider it an order, Vakarian.”
Once he is wrapped carefully around her, cautious of her bandages and the maze of wires keeping her alive, she sighs.
“I thought you were dead.” His voice is soft behind her head, breath harsh against her scalp. And his voice is so…
He presses a gentle kiss to her skin, and she realizes she is crying. There is a low keening sound behind her and for a time, the sound of their pain and exhaustion and relief is the only sound in the room.
She stands in the bedroom of their new apartment. As the temporary Councilor for humanity – at least until she heals and can be on the move once more – she’d been given choice of what little undamaged real-estate there is left on Earth. She gets the feeling she would have been given that choice even without her Council status.
She’d picked something quiet and close to a transport station. It’s a necessity, with her constant need to oversee the reconstruction of parts of the Citadel and short trips to the Normandy.
“What do you think?” she says, as arms curl around her waist gently and she feels Garrus nuzzle into her hair where it’s slowly growing back – shaggy and short, red fluff. She feels his mandibles twitch.
The room’s tones are muted, the furniture neutral woods. Here and there are touches of color: his blue, her red, metals and souvenirs. There’s a balcony door that lets in light, a soft breeze stirring the curtains. And the bed…
The bed is large, built in such a way that it sinks into the floor. It is filled with an abundance of blankets and pillows. Despite the curious looks from the designer, she’d had a light, pale canopy installed that could be released from the ceiling to drape around the bed on all sides. A perfect nest, if she says so herself.
“I like it.” He purrs. “What did Liara say we needed? The Shepard-Vakarian love nest?”
She rests her head on the front of his cowl. “Something like that."