Critical Mission Awkward

BY : escapeasy
Category: +M through R > Mass Effect
Dragon prints: 546
Disclaimer: I do not own anything pertaining/related to Mass Effect and I’m not making any profit from this work.

[Original post date: May 2014]

**Spoilers for the end of ME3, Extended Cut and with a hint at the Leviathan dlc.

Originally intended to be a crack fic, but, uh...


Critical Mission Awkward

His injuries don't hurt.

His eyes don't see.

His ears don't hear.

("…You know I love you. Always.")

His body is little more than a puppet held up by strings on the shoulders of his fellow fighter leading them to the med-bay. Flares of omni-tools underneath the medical murmurs of Doctor Chawkwas and her aides are a distant sound that comes and goes quickly, existing in a different realm. His mind is retracing every step, watching the red bursts again and again with attentive dissection, noting each place his steps should've taken him, but didn't. And that's why—

("…Don't argue with me Garrus…")

Garrus clenches his jaw, a growl curling through his teeth as the Normandy jostles away from the Earth battlefield and into the one of the stars.

Every wrong step led him here.

Left her.

Alone.

Sears of vibrant crimson, reminiscent of human blood, carving the ground with ease at everyone that raced like insignificant insects—

No. What did James call it? Shooting fish in a barrel?

Ironic.

That's exactly what Harbinger was doing.

What kind of cosmic joke is that?

If Garrus had only taken the right steps—

"—make it to the beam?!"

"Negative. Our entire force was decimated…"

His blood freezes at the words that puncture his self-depreciation and suddenly all those wrong steps trample him. The despondent chatter over his comm trips him and he's left limbless on the ground. Shepard's back is all his sees as that vivid laser slashes in a straight line, heat blistering his skin until it—

"…You alright, Garrus?"

His mandibles twitch, a nervous flinch at the close sound of an old friend's voice cutting at the mistakes roping him like tape.

Red tape.

The restrictions he fled.

Red laser.

All the wrong steps—

"…I've been better." Garrus isn't quite sure how he manages to speak – something cooling in his head like after a popped thermal clip. A mechanical override to keep his head from imploding—

But what's the point if—?

Kaidan nods, somber and weighted. "…I know it isn't easy. Leaving her like that…" A lifetime is buried over his voice but it's somewhat welcomed as it siphons Garrus' thoughts into a distraction – because no matter what the right steps were, he can't retake them.

"You're telling me!"

"Is that—? Are you making a joke?"

"What—? Oh." Garrus clears his throat at the strange stare Kaidan is giving him, remembering that Kaidan was there when Shepard was lost in the first Normandy's destruction, and at that time he and her were… more than close—Realizing his accidental implication, he tries to straighten his spine as if that will improve the image of himself in his comrade's eyes. "No. Sorry, Kaidan. I just misspoke."

Kaidan just sort of nods at first, and then a husky laugh is sneaking out of his throat. "As smooth as ever, Garrus."

"You know us turians. We're a charming bunch."

Charming enough to woo the Normandy's Commander, at least—

As Garrus and Kaidan stare at each other for a moment, he wonders if they both just had that same thought.

Hopefully not.

Garrus hopes even more that Kaidan can't see the crisp slideshow of Shepard that shudders across his eyes: the sound of her strong voice magnified by the steel around the battery rather than muffled by its hum. The way she wore the Cerberus sigil and the way it easily slid from her body. The smile at the thought of a human-turian baby—

"We've got word that someone made it to the citadel." Admiral Hacket's voice scrawls into Garrus' head. "We've got to give them time to open the arms…"

"At least we know she made it." Kaidan says with absolute faith before Garrus can regain himself from the whiplash of Shepard swiping away his troubles—like she had with a palm that was softer than he thought it would be.

It's Shepard.

She made it.

There's no doubt in either of their minds that Shepard is the one who reached the Citadel.

It's not exactly consolation, all things considered, but it's a breath of life when he thought he had none.

The wrongs steps… still matter.

He's a turian.

He should be fighting.

He should be with her.

("…There's no Shepard without Vakarian…")

"Why is this happening?" Garrus accidentally voices aloud, frustration a shrill scrape in his voice.

"Yeah… I don't know, Garrus." Kaidan is quiet. Jaw visibly clenching. "Could never answer that myself."

"It's not like if we lose her this time she'll be brought back. Not by Cerberus." When Garrus notices the pale pang on Kaidan's face, he realizes his mouth fumbled something it shouldn't have. Again. "K-Kaidan, I'm sorry. That was—"

"It's fine…" Kaidan's voice recedes into his throat, his copper gaze anywhere but on the steel of Garrus'. Seems he tried his best to brush that one off, and it only makes Garrus feel even worse for being so tactless at a time when he really needs to be. Kaidan has always been sensitive, but even so…

The tension that lingers after Kaidan's voice is an awkward twist around them, seizing Garrus' stomach and replacing it with a hollow pit. He studies the soldier across from him; the way he grasps the bed as the Normandy sways through their silence that's festering underneath the sound of battle. Cautions from Joker and responsive dialogue from EDI as explosions thunder dully against their walls while they sit and wait.

And Garrus thinks of Shepard.

The fierce woman that captured two hearts but kept only one.

"…I guess we never really… you know, talked." Garrus has never been a nervous talker, but he's finally connected an unhappy link between him and his human friend – and he now knows exactly what Kaidan went through when the first Normandy died and took Shepard with it.

Kaidan's eyes flick back to him, cool and sharp like a blast of ice but not with a trace of aggression – perhaps too chillingly neutral.

"About Shepard."—that's not a question.

"Yeah…" And now Garrus is wondering if he should've even brought it up, but maybe spending so much time around humans has made him feel the need to… communicate more than he normally would. Things were settled between Shepard and Kaidan, but not between Kaidan and Garrus. It hasn't affected their camaraderie 'till now, but Kaidan is a friend, so it only seems like the respectable thing to do.

Or maybe Garrus is just trying to get a grip on his nerves.

Trying to distract himself… with something less unpleasant.

"Well…" Kaidan pauses, something distant and scathing creeping over his face. "There have been… more pressing matters."

Such as the Reaper-defying-galaxy-saving war rattling and screaming outside their ship.

"True enough." Crap. Maybe Garrus really shouldn't have brought this up. "Forget I mentioned it."

"No, it's—" Kaidan winces as the Normandy suddenly swings, swaying both of them in a way that angers their wounds until they're stable again. "For what it's worth I'm…" he hisses as he resettles himself. "It's good that someone could be there for her. That you could."

Garrus feels his mandibles twitch.

He doesn't know what he was expecting Kaidan to say, but it wasn't that – probably just as well since Garrus doesn't even know what he was going to say, either. Kaidan's words float helplessly in the air between them, hovering like the corpses of their enemies after a toss from the strong biotic. This is far worse than the limp body of a mercenary coasting over Garrus' head, however. With that came a sweetness of victory. This only hardens into a solid mass in his stomach.

The Reapers are the least intimidating force at the moment – as far as the med-bay, anyway.

"I think I only have myself to blame for… what happened. With her."

"Kaidan, I… It wasn't…We—"

"Look, I'm not—" Kaidan seems to take the moment to wriggle in uncomfortable tension and shakes his head, bitter and dejected thoughts tumbling out of his eyes. "It's water under the bridge."

"Another human saying?" Garrus attempts to tease, feeling everything within him, all his non-turian qualities, strain at the effort to remain calm and light in the face of chaos and darkness. "What do bridges have to do with anything?"

Kaidan half-smiles, weakly. "Meaning I'm not holding anything against you. So don't hurt yourself trying to console me. I'm fine." That small grin he flashes at Garrus is wry and rueful. Fragile. Perhaps trying to hide the fine lie on his lips or trying to convince himself it really is true. Either way, Garrus wishes it didn't match the expression Shepard wore after their first trip to Horizon… "And, anyway, I was trying to console you."

Garrus hums, more than eager to overturn the topic – wondering if his own awkwardness really bungled Kaidan's efforts or not. "I appreciate the thought, but maybe you shouldn't waste your strength on me, either."

Kaidan grunts a little, shifting in place against his wounds. "I hear that. But, there's not much else I can do at the moment."

"So we should sit here and pity each other?"

Kaidan shrugs slightly, playfully. "Just while the medi-gel finishes its magic."

"This is the worst part!" Garrus nearly snarls, damning everything in the galaxy that allowed this moment to become reality. "Being helpless."

"Yeah, it is…" Kaidan's voice drops like an asteroid, empathy heavy in his eyes and heated with frustration – neither of them ever wanted this day to come, and here they are wallowing in the nightmare they fought – alongside friends who didn't make it – to keep in dark space.

Garrus snorts. "Look at us; a couple of veteran soldiers and we're sulking like children excluded from playtime."

Kaidan laughs—and then promptly groans and grabs at his side. "…Going against Shepard would be more foolish than facing the Reapers alone. You and I both know we had to let her go."

Those words catch Garrus' eyes, feeling his perception narrow on the pained affirmation frozen in Kaidan's stare. He can't help but think that's a curious thing to say right now. He wonders if that's purposeful wording or if he's just looking too deeply between the lines or…

Maybe it's just a slip on Kaidan's part.

Because Shepard will return.

She's forged through too many impossibles to not make it out now.

"No argument there. But this is just—!"

"The arms are opening." Admiral Hacket crackles over the comm again, his rough, rustic voice a soft tonic pouring over Garrus' restless mind."Everyone, this is it…!"

"…Won't be long now." Kaidan says after a wordless beat between them with quiet anxiety.

Won't be long…?

It's been too long already.

Practically three years too long.

"I really hate just sitting on my ass while waiting for Shepard to save it."

"Hopefully it'll be the last time," Kaidan says with disquieted but derisive hopefulness – a rather sardonic note Garrus doesn't miss coming from his human friend who was always a little on the naive side.

He shares the sentiment, of course. Having the entire galaxy fall on Shepard's shoulders is an injustice when most of it ignored her until doomsday did more than just kick down their door, it obliterated it. And if there really is anything else out there like – or worse than – the Reapers, she shouldn't be expected to play savior all over again.

Just how much is she supposed to sacrifice…?

Garrus is looking at his hands, feeling the emptiness in his palms and a weight in his chest that he tries to ignore. An imaginary future, with the woman he loves, births and dies through a hot churning in his stomach, and with that rising bile is a sour surge on his tongue. He's reminded of all the mistakes he's made. All the regrets he gained. All the things in his life that went wrong.

And the one thing that went right.

"Yeah…" Garrus finally murmurs after wading through the changing tides of the past few years and he clenches his fists. He's never been an optimist, but—"Hopefully."



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