The Comm Room

Chapter 3 of The Suicide Mission

“Slap him.”

Shepard? The world whirled around him in all the colors of the rainbow, and maybe two or three more.

“Hehe, gladly,” said the last voice Garrus wanted to hear. He wanted to move out of the way, signal them that he was awake, that he was totally ok, he just couldn’t see a damn thing through the lights and colors and couldn’t move a muscle. But other than that…

“A-a-a! Grunt? Don’t overdo it.”

“Hehe.”

No no no! Don’t slap me! I’m fine! Garrus invested all his willpower into opening his eyes and there, results! Some of the fog cleared, and he saw the most unwelcoming silhouette of a huge krogan head hovering above him.

“He’s awake,” Grunt muttered, not even trying to hide the disappointment.

“Good. Help him to the comm room.”

“Why me?”

“Because everybody else is busy being useful.”

Why thank you, Shepard. Thank you very much. He tried to say so out loud, but his tongue was numb and limp.

“You’re fine,” Grunt said, thinking it a question. “She panicked when she saw you lying like some dead thing, hehe, and pumped you full of medigel. Come on.”

She. Kasumi? Miranda? Could have also been Samara, he supposed, but then, Samara wouldn’t have panicked. And what the hell did it matter anyway? His vision was swimming, and as Grunt picked him up like a blow-up toy, everything turned the wrong way.

Could have been Shepard.

That sobered him up a bit, although it was nonsense, of course. The sensation in his arms and legs was returning in wave after wave of pins and needles. “What’s going on?” he managed to say.

“Crash-landed. We’re gonna kick some Collector ass! Aargh!”

Garrus regretted asking and tried to push himself away, stand on his own. Didn’t quite work out, but Grunt didn’t let him fall.

“Eager to fight? Just like me! See, we’re not all that different.”

“Right.”

By the time they reached the elevator, he felt reasonably confident in his ability to walk. The dizziness was a bit slower to retreat. They stopped by the bathroom, and after splashing his face and neck with the lukewarm water humans took for cold, Garrus finally began feeling half-way normal. If worse came to worst, he’d take a shot of stims. Not that he was looking forward to it; he’d barely gotten rid of the addiction he’d acquired on Omega. But this occasion was certainly deserving.

He glanced at the mirror and saw that there was something wrong with his reflection. Something was… slightly off. He scrutinized his face the way he used to do while interrogating suspects during his C-Sec investigations, and sure enough, the signs were there. His right eye, twitching again. Mandibles flicking on their own. He was lying to himself.

Must have been Shepard. Otherwise Grunt would have used a name.

Shepard panicked.

Shit.


There was enough excitement in the comm room to ignite a thermonuclear reaction. On the way down, Garrus had barely managed to extract the most important information from Grunt, who was unwilling to talk about anything other than the prospect of the battle ahead. There had been no fatalities. But the Normandy was in a bad shape. Nobody in the gathering seemed particularly concerned about that, though; they were all too busy talking at the same time, pointing fingers at the large scan of the Collector base projected above the meeting table, trying to outshout one another. Shepard was silent, leaning against the table on her arms, staring down. She glanced up when the door swished open and closed, but didn’t look at him.

Sometimes Garrus considered his sharp hearing a blessing, other times, a curse. He tried to focus on individual voices. Zaeed was the loudest, trying to persuade EDI to repeat some calculation related to the amount of ordnance needed to blast through… Tali was arguing that some tunnel was too narrow, and Miranda was saying, well, I could get through it, but we need a tech specialist in there and not… a stupid soldier like me, that’s what you’re saying, Jakob interjected, making Jack roll her eyes and lift her hands up in exasperation; fucking lunatics, every last one of you, she said, turning her back on the party, but Garrus saw her rub her palms and blow a soft breath over the blue sparks that had emerged. Can’t we speak each in turn, Samara wanted to know, and Thane leaned towards her to say: humans – with that perfect mix of ridicule and disinterest that made it impossible for Garrus to hate him even though he sometimes wanted to. I could go into the shaft, Kasumi offered, but her voice was too quiet to compete with the rest. Wasting time, Shepard, said Mordin, waving his head at the chaos. Let’s just go in and kick some ass, Grunt was urging. Come on Sheprad, just point me in the right direction, hehe. The robot… Legion… was standing in the corner and shone its headlight straight ahead. Which was just as well.

Garrus stepped closer to inspect the projection. The station was enormous. Their current location, marked in blue, was in the lower half of the cylindrical form; their objective, marked red, somewhere around the middle. It appeared impossibly distant; he checked the scale and shook his head. EDI had plotted two alternate routes and now he could see the doors that Zaeed wanted to blast out of the way, but apparently there wasn’t enough ordnance aboard the Normandy to do it. A narrow ventilation shaft was highlighted in a suspicious yellow; it led to a redundant internal control cluster. He glanced at Tali; sure she could fit in. But it wouldn’t be comfortable. He shook off a wave of chills; had he ever told Shepard that he was claustrophobic? The very thought of all those little pods the likes of which they’d seen on Horizon and on the Collector ship, shut tight, with people inside, possibly conscious people inside, made him claw into his palms. Thankfully, the shaft was definitely too small to accommodate him.

“Enough,” Shepard said at last. She didn’t need to raise her voice. Everybody stopped talking like one man, and Garrus smirked to himself: there it was, the familiar aura of control and confidence, emanating from her like a mass effect field, invisible and irresistible. There was no reason for concern after all; the moment of weakness was gone and forgotten.

Not forgotten.

“Tali, you’re up,” Shepard said and dipped her fingers into the haptic interface to enlarge the ventilation shaft.

“I won’t let you down, Commander,” Tali replied with a firm nod, though Garrus thought he could hear a tone of doubt through the filters of her mask. Good; blind confidence was almost as bad as no confidence.

“The rest of us will break into two teams and fight down each passage. That should draw the Collectors’ attention from what you’re doing.”

“I’ll lead the second fire team, Shepard,” said Miranda. “We’ll meet up with you on the other side of the doors.”

There was a moment of awkwardness as eyes darted from face to face around the table. Jack was the first to speak. “Not so fast, cheerleader. Nobody wants to take orders from you.”

“This isn’t a popularity contest,” Miranda said. “Lives are at stake. Shepard, we need someone who can command loyalty through experience.”

Garrus shook his head. Experience… perhaps. Loyalty? Hah! Even the humans among the specialists kept up a healthy dose of mistrust towards Cerberus people. And as for himself, he found he’d be hard pressed to take orders from anyone other than Shepard.

Stay still, Garrus.

Shouldn’t I…?

Don’t move. Oh God. You’re perfect that way.

His visor registered a 69% increase in his heart rate. Thank the Spirits for his hard carapace and ignorant aliens around him! The sudden surge of hormones and adrenaline that no stims could ever hope to match chased away the last aftereffects of medigel. Yes, sleeping with her now was a stupid, stupid, thing to do. But regardless of what his reason told him, he couldn’t find it in himself to regret it. Not a single delightful moment of it.

All that went through his head and body in an instant while Shepard squinted her eyes at Miranda, then at Jack. And then she finally looked at him, wrenching at his guts as sure as Joker’s evasive maneuvers. Her fluid features trembled, melting something inside him into a soft pulp.

Not gone either.

“Garrus will lead the second team,” she said, and nobody but him could catch the overtone of dread in her voice, but he recognized it, he’d heard it once before already (an hour ago, it was only an hour ago!) and no matter how slight and well masked it was, it grated across his heart, threatening to split it in two. The weakness hung in the air between them like a standing wave, throbbing in the rhythm of their moans.

Then suddenly he knew the weakness for what it was and for the first time in his life, he was neither frightened nor disgusted with it. In fact, he was proud of it. It took courage to be weak. It took courage to be honest. She’d never lacked this courage; but he only found it now. He tried to communicate that through his stare, that and more, all the things that had to remain unspoken for now, and perhaps forever, he tried to communicate it all through that one nod that he was allowed to make in front of all the impatient, unknowing eyes urging them on. Complete devotion, yes, and complete confidence.

Shepard smiled at him a little, then bit into her lower lip and nodded back.

The rest of the meeting passed as if through a fog. As the team started leaving for the airlock in pairs, he took the opportunity to walk with Shepard at the rear. She didn’t speak, and he didn’t want to be the first one to break the silence. They were almost there when he felt her hand through his right glove and he gripped it in a desperate substitute for an embrace. Don’t worry, Shepard, he thought. I’ll make sure we get to do many more stupid, stupid, things together.


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