Chapter 9 of The Suicide Mission
The elevator hasn’t been this slow before, has it? She waves a hand in front of the control panel to see if there’s a damage report pertaining to the elevator functions but when the status stream updates to more than ten pages of tiny, tiny letters, she just stares at it, helpless. The elevator is probably running just fine. She’s high on stims and time doesn’t flow the way it’s supposed to. That must be it. She nods, and the reflection in the big mirror moves in response.
She glances that way. What a filthy, filthy reflection. The armor is fucked up good. She’ll have to replace the entire chest piece and the left shoulder pad for sure – the rest may be salvageable, but god, she hasn’t been this filthy since…
No, it’s no good. There’s simply no fuel left in her to keep up a coherent train of thought. She looks into the eyes of the reflection. Cry, she commands. The eyes just stare back. Cry, you cold, filthy, bitch. Nothing happens, of course. She’s never been good at taking orders, even from herself.
After an eternity, the elevator reaches the loft. The change is disappointing. The elevator was at least going somewhere.
She stands a long time outside the sensor range of the door to her quarters, trying to remember the state of affairs they left there before the mission. She remembers dropping the sheet before the door to the bathroom, but has no recollection of seeing, or not seeing it there later. And what of that bottle he brought? They didn’t even open it. She has no idea where it went. An absent glance at her omnitool to determine the time and a failed calculation in her head later, she says, “EDI, how long since we went through the Relay?”
No response. The ship-wide audio system was probably one of the items on that ten page list. She taps into the comm and repeats the question.
“Seven hours, eighty three minutes, sixty five seconds,” EDI replies through her earpiece, and Shepard laughs. There’s a hysterical undercurrent to it, and that makes it even funnier. That’s perfectly fine, however. It would be very appropriate to break down now. She should do it. It’s been such a long time since she’d last tried it, and it would be so much more fun now, than after Virmire. Normandy One was a much smaller vessel, with those impossibly thin bulkheads. She’s all alone here and if she decides to break stuff, including but not limited to her own limbs, nobody is going to have the guts to come see what’s going on because the only person with the guts… the only person… the only…
She swallows hard and steps forward. The door lets her in and treats her to a sight so much more frightening than the Collector Base and the Human Reaper. The sight of what had happened before. Unchanged! Untouched! Her heart skips a beat. The sheet is folded over the back of the chair. He must have done it while she was in the shower. And there it is, the bottle: on her desk. She even got the glasses out, she remembers now, before they… before he…
She picks up the bottle, then hurriedly puts it down: her hands are too filthy. Suddenly she snaps out of it and starts taking her armor off. The left arm hurts like a bitch, and so does her chest, right between her breasts. She looks down, but the bruise is not as bad as she thought it would be. The arm looks like shit, though. There’s something disgusting about wounds coated with medigel: it sucks the life out of the skin. Leaves pallid, wrinkled tissue behind, like your toes when you soak in the bathtub for too long. It never fails to remind her of the husks and their translucent, liquefied flesh, and she wrinkles her nose at it.
Should she shower at once? She looks around and decides a pilgrimage is in order first, so she leans her back on the fish tank and closes her eyes, remembering his hard body pressing her. It happened only hours ago and the memory surges through her like a shot of stims, going down through the nerves all the way to her ovaries, making her face burn. She touches it with ice-cold fingers and, hey! Something wet. She smears the tears with her dirty fingers and the moisture makes them almost black. Look at that.
A half-assed smirk stays on her lips all the way to the bathroom. She washes her hands and face and then her eyes catch on something hanging next to her towel. It’s his shirt. How the hell did it get there? She turns to scrutinize it. Never did like all the cheery colors, but when she touches it, the texture takes her back and she feels his unbearable warmth under it and more tears ensue. It’s perverse and she knows it’s perverse, but she’s glad that she can still cry. She wasn’t sure. She was thinking that maybe Cerberus has gotten rid of all the unnecessary bits like, say, tear ducts. She used to have the same fears related to other nonessential parts of her body.
Unfounded. Entirely, entirely, unfounded.
Retracing her footsteps back to the tank, she sends her mind down the memory lane. The next stop was the couch. She pushed him and climbed on top of him and oh god, oh dear god, there is nothing she wants to do more than do that again. Feel his hot skin between her teeth; hear him gasp with surprise and alarm and desire.
Then they went to the bed. She barely finds the courage to go and sit on it. The sheets are a wonderful, wonderful mess. In a few places, torn. She can’t help but smile at that, the image of his hands, crumpling the thin fabric in total abandon, making her vision blur with tears. She kneels down, then lies, and buries her face in a pillow. It smells like him and that finally does it.
“No,” she whispers. “No no no.”
She hugs the pillow in a deadly embrace and relishes the pain it sends through her bruised chest. You can’t do that. Do you hear me? You can’t leave me. The tears are flowing freely now, soaking the sheets. You can’t. I won’t have it. Do you hear me? I forbid it. That’s a fucking order!
She strikes the bed with a fist. It’s not fair. It’s not fucking fair. The anger feels right, and the second she thinks it, it erupts from her like a fountain of blood. She strikes the bed over and over again and throws the pillows around, growling like a caged animal, with snot and tears trickling over her parched lips. But it’s all a bit too ridiculous so she lands a hit into the hard bulkhead with her bare fist and leaves a dent. She leaves a fucking dent in the bulkhead and it breaks something inside her so that finally she can weep and sob and howl, and she does, she doubles over and fucking howls.
Please, she prays. Please, please, whatever you are. Please, don’t let him die. I’ll do anything. You know I mean that, and you know I can. I’m Commander fucking Shepard and I swear I’ll do anything if you let him live. If you have to take someone, take me. Please, please, take me. I’m a piece of shit! I’m a fucking zombie! I’m dead already so take me! Take me right now, just please, please, save him?
He’s such a wonderful man, she explains to the higher force. Such a beautiful, beautiful man. And yet, life has been treating him like shit on every possible step of the way. And that’s the worst of it, for Shepard. The idea that he could die before he reached his full potential, before he’s been all that he wanted to be, seen all that he wanted to see. She can live with her own death, as idiotic as that sounds. She has seen it all, done it all. She doesn’t give a flying fuck about her own fulfillment. But Garrus? He’s never been happy.
And that sends her into a fit of desperate, hopeless spasms. She cries until she starts coughing and then she senses worse coming and scrambles for the toilet. Only acid comes out, sweet and yellow and burning. She hasn’t eaten for a whole day at least.
Vomiting calls her back to her senses, and after flushing, she throws away the sweaty underwear and steps into the shower.
She finds dr Chakwas in the med bay with Garrus.
“Talk to me, Doc,” she says, all her false confidence loaded into the words. “What’s it gonna be?”
“Commander,” dr Chakwas replies, looking up at her over a datapad. “Let’s talk outside?”
“No.” She draws near the bed, hesitates for a second, then places her palm on his forehead. It is cold and wet. She runs her hand down his scarred face, and she has to bite the insides of her cheeks to stop herself from crying again. “He’s a soldier. He can take it, whatever it is.” And so can I. I think.
“All right. We can treat the tissue degradation. But even if he lives – and the chances of that are very… slim, to say the least – he’s facing a lifetime of health problems. This kind of exposure… it can’t end well, Commander.”
Shepard comfortably absorbs what she wants to hear and deflects everything else. Fuck the health problems. She’s died and she’s still walking around – it can’t get worse than that, right? The main thing is, dr Chakwas didn’t say there was no hope. And that’s enough for Shepard. She’s already planning a vacation on Bahamas for the two of them, colorful drinks in tall glasses and suspicious glances they’d counteract with a pair of well balanced heavy pistols. “Can you wake him up?”
“Oh, Shepard,” dr Chakwas says and puts down her pad. She makes her way over to where Shepard is standing, squeaky shoes and all, and places a hand on Shepard’s shoulder. “He’s in a coma. There’s nothing we can do.”
“People wake up from coma all the time,” Shepard says, and it’s a threat rather than a question. People do wake up from coma all the time. Right? Right?
The vacation fantasy crashes down like broken glass and the sharp shards shoot right through Shepard’s heart. “What does that mean?” she says. She knows it’s not the doctor’s fault, the poor woman has been through enough herself, but she can’t help it. “What the fuck does that mean?”
Dr Chakwas’ face crumples as she shakes her head. “If he doesn’t wake up in a couple of hours…” She lets the words trail off.
At some point, dr Chakwas must have gone out, because when Shepard looks around, there’s nobody in the med bay except Garrus and her. The lights are low, and the hum of the medical equipment is the only thing she can hear – other than her breathing, and if she focuses enough, his breathing. Her hand has been resting on his collar the whole time, and now she moves it to caress him. She should talk to him. Did dr Chakwas instruct her to, or is she making it up? No matter. She should. She can feel it in her guts. And still, the words remain clogged in her throat. Why is it so difficult? Talking to him has never been difficult. But for some reason, she needs to draw on her deepest sources in order to make her lips move.
“Garrus?” she whispers. It is strange, it is too strange, hearing her own voice in what she already perceives as an empty room, and she hates herself for it. She seeks out unplated skin on his neck, to feel his warmth, to feel his heartbeat. He’s still here, she convinces herself. He’s still here and maybe you can keep him from going away, so don’t you dare be a fucking coward now, Shepard.
She runs her hand down his chest, then both hands; she pulls the cover off so that she can feel his body under her hands and the tears spill down her cheeks anew. It hasn’t been a whole day since they slept together, since she found completion, perfection, pressed under that chest and she wants to feel that way again, oh god, oh dear god, she’s never wanted anything so much. Still she can’t say it out loud. Why can’t she say it out loud? And of course the main question is: what if he dies, and never hears her say it out loud?
“Please don’t die,” she manages in the end. “Garrus. My beautiful turian. Please don’t die.”
Her voice betrays her on the last words and she chokes. She bends over and lays her head on his chest. The alien, compound meter of his heartbeat is unbelievably comforting. As long as there is life, there is hope. She nods to herself and repeats it, the one maxim she’s been living with her entire life. As long as there is life, there is hope.
“You can’t die,” she says now, with more confidence. “You can’t leave me to fight all this shit by myself. I need you.”
It’s selfish, it’s egoistic, but it’s the naked truth and she knows that Garrus prefers the truth over the pretense of a higher purpose. It is why she loves him: no pretense. It’s all out there, with him, and this courage, this fantastic audacity, to put it all out there and say, this is who I am and you can all go fuck yourselves if you don’t like it – that is why she loves him. She sighs and traces his arm all the way down to the limp hand. Warm and dry, and the memory of the touch of it on her skin brings about a surge of emotion.
“Do you hear me, Vakarian? I need you to recover, because I can’t make it on my own.”
“Sure you can.”
Shepard jumps away and slams into the empty bed behind her. “Garrus?”
“Not as stylishly, of course,” he adds, in a quiet, weak voice, but it’s real, she knows it’s real because his mandibles flare out in that perfect asshole grin of his.
The world explodes in white light and the next thing she knows, she’s all over him. She touches everything, kisses everything, and doesn’t give a fuck about her tears dripping over everything. When she finally stills, looking in those startlingly blue eyes, he lifts a hand to touch her cheek and smear the tears with a silent question.
“It’s nothing,” she says through her full nose, trying to smile, but her lips are trembling. “I’m just so glad to see you!”
She turns away. He’s already seen tears several times too many, but she can’t let him see her weep. Some limits are not to be crossed, even in a situation like this. She laughs and cries at the same time, and it takes her a minute to come down and look at him again, only to find him propped on his elbows and eyeing the IV needle taped to his right forearm.
“Oh no, you’re not going to walk around sick like the last time,” she warns, but her hand is on his face already, stroking, touching, suddenly she can’t have enough of him. “You’re going to spend a good week in bed. That’s an order.”
Garrus lifts an eyebrow at her. “This bed…?”
In the way of an answer, she lands a soft kiss on his scarred cheek, then another on his mandible, and finally a longer one on his mouth. He gives in and lets her push him back on the pillow.
“Oh, Garrus, you gave me such a fright,” she confesses after a while. “Never do that again.”
“Never is a strong word, Shepard.”
“There are no words too strong for you and me.”
He peers into her eyes, all serious. There’s something about his gaze, when he’s all serious: it becomes heavy, like an actual weight bearing down her shoulders. Shepard stands still and takes it.
“Together?” Garrus asks, and if she thought his stare could not get heavier, she finds she was mistaken.
Shepard clears her throat and stands tall, as if to salute. Finding the courage to put it all out there turns out to be easier than she expected, and she replies, “Forever.”
They regard each other in solemn silence for a long time before Garrus nods, then relaxes back into the pillows. He looks around and huffs through his nose. “Can I at least have my omni?”