Taking a Stand

Chapter 7 of The Suicide Mission

Things became chaotic the way they sometimes do in combat and Garrus was grateful for having such worthy people under his command because, by the Spirits, any other squad would have fallen apart in the confusion. The enemies were everywhere. Shepard and her men were shooting a curtain of fire over his team, bullets wheezing and grenades booming and biotics flaring. He glanced left and right one more time to make sure everybody was accounted for before stepping backwards and taking a stand by her side again.

“Keep them busy!”

“Get that door closed!”

“Fall back! Fall back!”

“Shepard! They’re coming!”

A familiar situation, the door too slow to close, the enemies too many to suppress, the two of them holding the middle of the line with dying shields desperately sparkling, and a barrel of an alien weapon aligned all too well with the direction he was looking at. No way I’ll live to tell about this one, he thought as it fired.

But he never took that shot.

Shepard did.

She leaped in front of him, faster than the bullet, Spirits bless her cybernetic body and her crazy, crazy mind. Garrus howled, dropping down on his knees to break her fall. The round went through her weakened shields like a glowing needle through butter and the shiny ceramics of her black armor looked bad, really bad, for the front plate had already been damaged earlier and now the cracks led down to a sizeable hole on her chest.

“No no no,” he heard himself pleading. “No no no.”

His whole world collapsed into that one point, that black hole in her center. On the periphery of his awareness, the doors finally closed and everybody gathered around them in a sudden, sepulchral silence. He yanked his helmet off, the other hand already pressing the wound. Human blood was dense and dark and he couldn’t see how bad it was in the poor illumination, he couldn’t see!

“Get away!” he growled at them, and they jumped off like vultures. The air was cleaner here than in had been in the previous chambers but when he sniffed, he was quite sure that the faint scent of alien blood in the air wasn’t hers. A lonely beam of hope lit up and broke through the panic. “Shepard?”

“Unwarranted panic reaction,” Mordin said from somewhere behind him after a huff that sounded almost offended. “Estimated extent of damage: concussion and bruising.”

Sighs of relief rose from all sides and the circle of onlookers dispersed, leaving them alone. Shepard stirred in his arms and when Garrus looked back at her, her helm was gone too and her pale face was a study of confusion, eyelids flapping furiously, ginger lashes matted with tears. He had to smile at that. His human had hair growing in damndest places. But now she focused on him, making his heart skip a beat as a sudden, cold realization gripped him from within: he wouldn’t survive losing her again. Not a good time for dramatic declarations, but he needed to say something, anything!

“Not a word,” she wheezed as if she’d read his mind, then grimaced and pressed a hand to her chest. “Fuck, hurts like a bitch!”

Garrus nodded, then changed his mind and shook his head. He couldn’t believe she’d taken a bullet for him. It was wrong, it was wrong on so many levels, it was what he’d feared from the moment he saw her trembling, naked on that bed, it was the weakness, now embodied for all to see, shaped as a hole in the middle of her chest, made real by the fact that she was ready to fucking die for him and that, that wasn’t acceptable. He wouldn’t have it, not now, not ever again, and he had to tell her that, whether she wanted to hear it or not.

“Shepard -”

“Shut it and help me up.”

His mouth clicked closed at the dry sound of the words and he paused. Not a good time for an argument either. At last he huffed out his dissent and gave her a hand.

She turned around to survey the situation, absently holding on to his arm. There were casualties this time: Jacob had taken a shot through the weak spot in the armor on the side, and Mordin was giving him a dose of medigel large enough to incapacitate him. Thane and Grunt had minor injuries and both Jack and Samara looked about ready to fall down from sheer exhaustion. Miranda was helping Tali seal a rip in her suit, and Zaeed was trying to get his damaged pistol back online.

Garrus turned up the tactical map on his omnitool. This was it: the central flyway in the heart of the station. They were standing on something like a dock, with a couple of detachable suspension platforms hovering on the edge of a misty abyss. But the most important item on the scan was definitely the growing number of red dots, amassing behind the door that he and his team had come through.

“Yeah,” Shepard said in answer to his unvoiced thoughts. She turned to the platforms. “That looks defensible.”

“Against that?” He gestured at the omni. “I don’t think -”

“I’ll only take two with me. Legion and Miranda, she still looks fresh. The rest of you will hold them back.”

A sudden wave of panic quite alike to what he’d felt when he thought she was dead washed over him and he swallowed hard. “I’m coming with you, Shepard.”

“No. I need to know my rear is clear, all right? You’re staying here.”

That was the Commander talking. Not just talking, giving an order. Shepard, his Shepard, had a voice of her own, a voice that tasted like warmed sweet-berry liquor on an early winter evening, while the Commander spoke in tones of absolute confidence and stone-hard authority that he had never, ever, even considered challenging. The very idea made his plates stiffen with rebellious excitement.

He straightened up and tossed his head back in defiance. “No.”

In the time it took him to formulate his thoughts into one of the shortest words in the languages of all space-faring species except the volus, Shepard had already moved on past the conversation and was applying a quick patch to the hole in her armor. A hack even by her low standards, but now she froze in mid motion and gave him a look tailored to turn his blood to vinegar.

“What did you say?”

“I’m coming with you, Shepard,” he repeated, then shrugged. “I told you I’m no good at taking bad orders.”

She blinked at him, apparently surprised to find that the voice was no longer working, that the look was no longer working. Really, Shepard? You didn’t see that coming? Now that’s just insulting. It could have been no more than a roll in the hay, no more than blowing off steam before a risky mission – but it wasn’t, and they both knew it. They were both there. Things had changed, and sure, there was hardly any time to adapt to the new situation, but humans were supposed to be good at adapting, right? The thing he liked the most about Shepard was how she never danced around issues the way so many people did, which never failed to infuriate him, and if she started now, it would be a disappointment comfortably comparable to the possibility that he’d taken a lethal dose after all.

“You think it’s a bad call?” she said. “You really think so, with your head?”

You think with your head and then tell me.”

Her eyes darted to the others, who now appeared to be more or less ready, with Jacob clinging between Mordin and Legion, Thane sporting an eye-patch and Grunt wearing a fat roll of bandage on his forearm instead of the ruined gauntlet. Jack was still sitting on the floor, refusing to move, and Samara was wolfing down one energy bar after another like there was no tomorrow. And perhaps there wasn’t. Sure, Miranda looked less worn out than the others, but there was a hint of exhaustion in her slightly slanted stance, and the way she switched her weight from one foot to another.

Garrus wasn’t feeling tired; he felt great. The symptoms of the radiation poisoning would only start after several more hours, and by that time, it would all be over this way or another. He was the best of them, the strongest, the quickest, second only to Shepard; though it had been an awfully long time since that hierarchy was established and perhaps it needed a reevaluation in the light of recent events. He was her mate and he was not only eager and willing, but obliged to stand by her in the end.

“Come on, Shepard,” he coaxed, allowing the feverish emotions to spill into his voice. “Let’s go out in style. You and I. How about it?”

She sighed, shook her head, then scratched it, making a mess of her hair. When she looked at him again, the Commander was gone. “You lost the Widow,” Shepard said, his Shepard. “Damn it, Garrus. That was a good rifle.”

He didn’t know what to say and just flicked his mandibles in an apologetic smile. After a pause full of breathing, like a clock, ticking, she took off her Volkov, extended the barrel, checked the ammo, and reassembled it before sticking it out in his direction. “Here. But I’ll want it back, so.”

Which was her way of admitting defeat, and something inside him gave a satisfying pop, like a misaligned joint falling back into place and he didn’t even attempt to hide the deep exhale of relief, nor the wide smile of gratitude.

He took the rifle, weighed it in his hand. A fine weapon, but after the Widow, it looked and felt like a toothpick. “You think we could wait for another minute? I’d like to make some cali-“

An elbow in his midsection told him exactly what Shepard thought about his humor and the rest of the group looked on quizzically as their playful laughter echoed through the enemy base.

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