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Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (1/?)

(Anonymous)
may be a space bff fic, or possibly FemShep/Garrus, we will see!

Fill for this prompt, which I read ages ago, and out of nowhere it has grabbed ahold of my brain and will not let go.
http://masseffectkink.livejournal.com/2320.html?thread=4294160#t4294160

NEW GAME

Horizon

"It's focusing on me," Shepard shouted, jamming a fresh heat sink into her SMG. "I'm going to run. Keeping shooting and stay out of its range."

"Understood," came Garrus's clipped reply. Massani drawled something rude-sounding but the crackle of the Praetorian's lasers sliced his words out of the air. Shepard hit the ground and rolled as her crate disintegrated.

The creature hummed above her head, legs twitching weightlessly, eyes flickering with electrical discharge. "Sniper rifles. Open fire," she yelled, and took off running.

Her boys, bless them, did their duty. She ducked behind a shipping container, panting, but the penetrating hum and the smell of burning grass caught up to her almost instantly. She swore and pushed off towards another container, the lasers hissing at her heels.

"Get out of there, Shepard," Garrus growled over the comm. "It's right on top of you."

"Trying," she snapped, scrambling for new cover.

Massani's low, unconcerned chuckle in her ear. "C'mon, Shepard. Can't you move those pretty legs any faster?"

She didn’t bother dignifying him with a response, instead popped her head out to survey the field. Garrus's scope glinted from behind a crate off to her right. The crack of a high-caliber rifle echoed over the field, and a chip of plating fell away from the creature's armored forehead. It didn't seem to even notice; it just kept floating towards her, its blue-white lasers slicing fruitlessly over the empty earth, burning a path for it to follow.

She ducked back, peeked around the other side. She spotted a sliver of Massani's yellow armor sticking out from behind a crate on the far side of the field. Fragile cover, but as long as the monster kept targeting her, maybe it wouldn't matter.

Garrus’s scope flashed again in her peripheral vision. He’d picked himself a well-shielded spot in the corner of the field, not far ahead from her. He was tucked on top of a raised platform, in a gap between stacked shipping containers. Hard for bullets or lasers to get into, but even harder for him to get out of. If she kept running and weaving she'd just bring the monster right on top of him, and he'd be fried to death inside his sniper's nest.

She should have kept a better eye on them. Massani could handle a little fire, but Garrus--

The monster's hum grew louder, vibrating inside her clenched teeth.

Fuck. Well, maybe she could handle a little fire, too.

If her Cerberus upgrades actually got them all out of this alive, she’d buy Lawson a very expensive drink. She holstered her gun, drew a deep breath, and took off running back the way she had came. Directly into the path of the Praetorian.

"Shepard!" Garrus yelped into her comm, at the same time Zaeed shouted "The hell are you thinking, you daft bitch?"

Lightning crackled around the creature's glowing eyes. She counted down the seconds as it swelled up-- was it inhaling? Its mouth opened, a searing white. It was full of glowing husk skulls. She shook her head at the oddity. Fucking Collectors. The twin lasers touched down, fizzed against her shields. It felt odd, a little ticklish, like pulling off a staticky sweater.

Her feet pounded against the earth. Her shields flickered and collapsed just as she ran underneath the monster's hovering body, ducking in between its segmented legs.

It couldn't shoot her through its own body, but it hummed and thrashed all around her. She didn't want to stick around to see whether those knife-edged limbs were just for show. Dimly, she heard Garrus's voice hissing something vile and untranslatable in her ear. Another rifle crack, then another. The Praetorian ignored them. The massive body slowly spun in place, sniffing her out. Static fizzed in the air.

There was a decent-sized container a bit ahead and to her left. She sprinted towards it without a second thought.

Mistake. The Praetorian fired at her immediately.

Re: Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (1.5/?)

(Anonymous)
The smell of burning plastic drifted up through her helmet. Her back felt hot. Really, really hot.

She'd miscalculated. The container was right there-- but the thing was too close for her to stop, it was right behind her, she could feel it humming in her bones, the crackle of lightning as it charged up for another burst.

"Shepard!" Garrus's anguished voice.

"Idiot," barked Massani.

Her back seared. Massani was right, she was a daft bitch and an idiot, and now she was going to die an idiot's death. She felt her flesh bursting and bubbling, splitting open like rotten fruit.

Her breath stuttered out as her lungs depressurized. Horizon's grassy fields and purple skies fragmented into sparkling blackness. It was pretty. Like stars falling. She tried to lift up her hand to touch one, but her arm-- her arm wouldn't--

Re: Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (2/?)

(Anonymous)
RESUME

If I have to tear you apart, Shepard, I will.

"Just. Fuck. Off.” She hurled a vicious, desperate Warp into the collector's fiery eyes. Its flesh shredded and flaked into ash. Garrus chuckled behind her.

She shot him an annoyed look, which he ignored. He crouched, sighted, then popped a drone's skull open in one smooth movement.

Nice, she thought. "Something funny, Vakarian?" was what came out of her mouth instead.

"You're in rare form today," he said as he reloaded. "Usually you have to shoot them up a bit first."

"Yeah, well, I'm up to here with this stupid colony," Shepard growled, tracing an imaginary line just below her eyebrows. "And the glowy fucker who loves the sound of his own voice."

"Hmm," Garrus said, and executed another drone. She frowned and turned away, unloading a clip into some upstart who'd been sneaking up to plasma rifle Massani.

She was tense. It was weird. Even when she was in the shit, she never felt-- whatever she was feeling right now. Not nervous, but--

Massani splattered the last one with a quick burst of assault fire, then stood and stretched out the kinks in his back.

The sudden silence and empty battlefield settled over her like a great itchy blanket. Her teammates scanned the perimeter through their scopes, looking for stragglers.

Shepard fidgeted with her armor, poked around listlessly for fresh heat sinks.

"Don't get cocky and wander off, Shepard," Massani drawled. "Bet there's more coming."

"I bet you’re right," muttered Shepard, eyes trained overhead, her teeth clenched, just waiting for the thing to drop in on them.

She was already on the move by the time the two men saw the Praetorian. "Scatter! Stay out of range!"

"Fucking christ," said Massani, running for cover.

I'm getting you this time, you four-eyed motherfucker, she thought, glaring up at the glowing monstrosity.

"What the hell is that thing?" she heard Garrus say, in tones of horrified wonder, and felt her stomach do a sharp twist.

Wait-- how did he not know?

If he didn't know-- how did she know?

"Let's kill it first, then we can form a committee to investigate," she heard herself retort.

Garrus clicked his jaw at her in what she had come to recognize as a Turian noise of exasperation. (He clicked his jaw at her a lot.)

Had she said that to him last time? She couldn't remember.

Wait-- wait. What the hell, "last time"? They'd never fought any Collectors before coming to Horizon. Something was messed up. Her brain was screwing with her.

Shepard shook her head violently. Fixing her screwed-up brain was a Lawson problem. Killing monsters, on the other hand, was a Shepard problem. She reached back for her scavenged Collector rifle.

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Re: Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (15.5714/?)

(Anonymous)
He took a long, thoughtful drag on his cigarette. "Miranda would be a regrettable loss. But I understand-- as does she-- that the mission has to come first."

He hadn't seen her body burnt and blistered. Her hair melted down to sludge. The breath bubbling out of her lungs. He had no fucking idea. "Horseshit."

The Illusive Man raised an eyebrow. "Calm down."

"No. If you truly cared about the success of this mission, you would have given me the tools and the intelligence I needed. You withheld them."

His projection frowned at her through the smoke. "Shepard, try to see the bigger picture. If you'd known it was a trap, you wouldn't have gone."

"You don't know me at all, do you?" Shepard leaned forward. "I would have gone. I would have gone with bigger guns and a bigger team, and we would have kicked ass instead of barely escaping with our lives."

His eyes narrowed. "You don't have to like my strategy for it to work. Now we know who the Collectors really are, we know how to get through the Omega Four relay to find them, and your crew suffered no losses acquiring the intel." He sat back in his chair. The cigarette flared between his lips. "Judge me if you must, Shepard, but judge me by my results."

"I'll start when you judge me by mine." Shepard folded her arms. "You brought me back to life to do a job that only I can do. It's about time you quit this chessmaster garbage and let me actually fucking do it."

"That's enough." The Illusive Man's voice hardened. "I have a team securing an IFF for the Normandy. EDI will fill you in on the details. In the meantime, I suggest you sit down and think about everything we've accomplished together."

He made a cutting gesture with his hand. The projection blinked out. The lights rose.

Dismissed as if she were a child throwing a tantrum. Underestimated and undermined at every turn. It was the motherfucking council all over again.

Shepard took a deep breath and counted to ten before leaving. She greeted Kelly pleasantly. Thanked Joker and EDI for getting them out of the Korlus system in one piece. Downstairs, she found Kozlowski in the mess hall and thanked her too.

She wanted to throw things, break all her datapads in half, scream, beat something up.

EDI's invisible eyes watched her in silence. So instead she went up to her cabin and sat on the couch and stared out at nothing.

Shepard? Are you there? I can't-- I can't see.

Shepard-- DON'T. Shepard--

"Joker."

"Yes, Commander?"

"Set a course for the Citadel."

"Aye-aye."

Shepard shifted down in her seat, and watched the stars streak past.

---

She woke up four hours later, cold and stiff, and headed down to medbay.

Miranda lay nestled in a small mountain of pillows, her face mottled burgundy and plum. Her arm had been propped in a sling. She regarded Shepard with expression of sorely tested patience. "Commander."

"Hey." Shepard sat down on the unoccupied bed, her feet dangling over the side. Chakwas was gone. Presumably asleep in the crew quarters. "How're you feeling?"

"Better than I look." Her voice was hoarse. "I heal fast. The brain bruising was minimal, and the bone wraps will fuse by morning. I'll resume duty at 0800."

"Don't push it. Just rest and heal up properly. Take a day. Take two days."

"Don't be ridiculous." Miranda struggled to push herself up with her good arm. "We got the intel we needed. We have to find that IFF. Keep moving-- umph-- forward."

"Towards what? Another death trap set by our allies?" Shepard folded her arms. "I don't know how much pull you have with your boss, but--"

"Less than you do." Miranda's voice flattened. "It doesn't matter. Any way you look at it, the mission was a success. We fulfilled our objective. The Illusive Man bet on us and won."

"Hell of a gamble. Making it out of there alive was a one in twenty shot."

Miranda scoffed. "That's an absurd exaggeration."

EDI's globe materialized on top of Chakwas's desk. "That is not entirely accurate. I have run a number of simulations using data extracted from your team's camera footage, cross-referenced with with tactical analysis of previous missions and predictive personality models. Your projected odds of successful escape from the Collector ship were between eight and fourteen percent."

Re: Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (8/?)

(Anonymous)
Alert: a fair amount of D: in this chapter

SQUAD

Minagen X-3 was a lot less fun on the comedown. Shepard felt like someone had taken a branding iron to the back of her skull. Her sinuses were sandblasted raw.

But she wasn't the savior of the galaxy for nothing. She pushed the pain aside, shook out her arms. Counted off a beat. Then she leaned out and detonated her own Throw in a tricky one-two biotic punch.

A satisfying number of merc heads exploded in unison.

"Nice one," murmured Miranda.

Shepard grinned. Coming from her characteristically reserved squadmate, that was the equivalent of roughly one million high fives.

She still didn't know how the hell she'd pulled it off with Miranda, but felt good to have this small win under her belt. For all her lack of interpersonal graces, the woman was a ruthless and formidably effective officer. Shepard actually kind of liked her, in a weird way. She had a weakness for stick-up-the-ass types. They were so wonderfully easy to annoy.

The crack of a rifle interrupted her thoughts. Krios's bullet punctured the skull of an Eclipse engineer lurking behind a crate.

"All have gone to the sea," he whispered, and slipped the spent heat sink out into his waiting palm. The jade green of his fingers flashed against the black metal.

God, it was a pleasure to watch him work. Shepard tried not to leer.

She needed to sit back and cool her heels for a while anyway, keep the daredevil madness on a tighter leash. Partly out of respect for Miranda-- she'd tortured her enough today already-- but mostly out of guilty awareness that her dramatic speech from before had been about eighty-five percent bullshit.

Fulfilling the mission, protecting civilians, keeping her teammates alive and unharmed. Those were all absolutely paramount. She had been utterly sincere about that.

But when she'd stood in the center of the swirling red dust, breathing in deep, it hadn't been part of some genius plan to keep her squad out of the line of fire. She'd just wanted to have some fun, and didn't give a fuck if it killed her.

It would have had absolutely no effect on the mission, after all. She had a free pass to screw around. All it cost her was her life.

Avoidant behavior? Yes. There was a lot to avoid. Cerberus. The Collectors. The Reapers. The Alliance.

Furious and defiant Staff Commander Kaidan Alenko. Icy and distant information broker Liara T'soni.

And now, she remembered with a sickening lurch in her heart, she had one more to add to the list. Garrus Vakarian. The confrontation with Miranda had distracted her so much she'd almost forgotten how it started. Goddamnit.

How dare he go behind her back to Cerberus?

Concerned about your behavior. You're jeopardizing the mission. Yes, okay, fine. It wasn't unreasonable if he thought she might be dangerously crazy. She felt crazy, and she wasn't doing a great job at keeping a lid on it. But he should have talked to her. Not snuck around her back to pour poison in the ear of Operative fucking Lawson, Cerberus loyalist.

Accusations of instability were very, very serious. Shepard could have been relieved of command. Confined to quarters. Forcibly medicated.

How could he do this to her?

When she lay wide awake at night in her too-big bed staring out into the blackness of space, surrounded by spy cameras, dependent on the good graces of a Cerberus A.I. to keep her room supplied with oxygen, it was him she thought about to keep the demons at bay. Her best and last friend. His warm, steady presence down in the battery radiated safety through the entire ship. And now--

Now--

Enemies everywhere.

She took a deep, rattling breath. She had to stay alive this time. She couldn't risk doing it over again and losing this fragile truce with Miranda. It was barely more than a whisper. It was the only meaningful alliance she had left.

She had to stay alive to protect her mind. She had to be absolutely certain she would remember his betrayal, and repay it a thousandfold.

Re: Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (8.25/?)

(Anonymous)
---

Absorbed in increasingly gruesome thoughts, Shepard stepped through a side door and nearly tripped over a young, frightened-looking Asari in Eclipse armor.

"Fucking christ," Shepard swore, yanking at her gun.

"I'm not one of them!" the Asari yelped.

"Really?" Miranda trained her pistol on the Asari's forehead. "Your armor says otherwise."

"I haven't even fired my gun yet, I'm not like them, I--"

Shepard put her hand to her head. For fuck's sake. She didn't have any spare brainpower to care about this. "Get out. Now."

"What? I mean-- yes, ma'am. Thank you!" She scrambled past them and out the door.

"You showed her mercy," Krios murmured, surprised.

Miranda radiated distaste. "She's Eclipse. She didn't deserve it."

"It wasn't mercy. I don't have time to sit around and figure out who deserves what," Shepard said flatly. "If people shoot at me, they die. If they're not shooting at me, then they're not my problem. Move out."

They continued their slow, methodical sweep through the Eclipse hideout. Krios watched her, his black eyes unreadable.

Shepard frowned at him. "What?"

"You're asleep," he said.

"What?" she said again. Had her translator glitched?

"Asleep. Disconnected." He made an abstract gesture with his hands. "Drell philosophers believe that the mind and body are independent entities. The mind is the judge that weighs evidence, decides the moral course of action, determines the innocent and guilty. The body acts."

"Acts how? According to what?"

"Instinct. Impulse."

She raised an eyebrow. This had better not be his elaborately polite way of calling her an idiot.

"If the mind and body are connected, they work together, each informing the other. If not..." He brushed his fingers over the top of his rifle. "If the mind is asleep, the body wakes and does what it knows best. A body trained in combat follows its training."

"Why do you think I'm disconnected?"

"…I couldn't speculate as to what caused it," he said, looking at her carefully. "But I know the signs very well. My mind has been disconnected for a long time."

Miranda made a skeptical noise, but refrained from further comment.

Shepard called a halt to hack into a bank terminal. Time to relieve Eclipse of some of their unwanted credits. Krios stood guard at her back.

"In many ways, it is easier to sleep," he murmured over his shoulder. "Your body becomes a weapon. A loaded gun to be aimed and fired."

Her fingers flickered over the haptic keyboard, nailing segments of code into place. "...I think I like that philosophy."

"It is relevant to my calling," he said. "And perhaps to yours."

"Aim and fire, huh?" She frowned down at her hands. "It'd be nice if that was all I had to think about."

"Undoubtedly true."

The terminal beeped. Six thousand credits for thirty seconds of work. Not bad.

She closed out the account, wiped all traces of her presence. "Do you suppose that’s why the Justicars have their code," she wondered absently. "So they don't have to think?"

"Hmm," he said, and he sounded so much like Garrus for an instant that she stiffened with rage.

Keep it together. She had to stay alive so she would remember what he'd done. So she could come back and find him and then rip him apart for leaving her.

Later, they found the voicelog. The little Asari gloated about popping the Volus open like a grape.

Miranda arched an I-told-you-so eyebrow. Shepard ignored her, and transferred a copy of the recording to her omnitool. The Asari hadn't shot at her. She had more important things to do.

She had to stay alive.

So then, of course, they walked right into a gunship.

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Re: Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (11/?)

(Anonymous)
dear fantastic Anons whom I love: thank you very, very much for reading! Here is another chapter. I hope that it is not overstuffed, and that you like it.

PAUSE

She slept like the living dead.

"Shepard," EDI's cool, synthetic voice murmured. "Shepard. Wake up."

"Wha--" She almost slapped herself in the face as she tried to simultaneously grab her sidearm and hurl herself out of bed. "Jesus. What is it?"

"There is a situation that requires your attention."

Shepard stilled. Cerberus betrayal. Collector attack. Alliance subpoena. Garrus. "...Specify."

Joker's voice crackled over the ship's intercom. "A sexy situation. Or terrifying, depending on your perspective. Jack and Miranda are having a little chat in the XO's office. You may want to get down there before they kill each other."

Shepard let out her breath. "Wonderful," she mumbled, and began yanking on her clothes.

"The perks of command," Joker said cheerfully. "...Hey, question. Could biotic powers actually do serious damage to the ship? 'Cause I like my Normandy the way she is. You know. Intact."

She wiggled her feet into her boots, ran a hand ineffectually through her wild hair. "I recommend you review some of the old footage from Solcrum and Virmire. Namely, the parts where Liara and I used our mind powers to crush a Geth Colossus into a tiny pile of scrap."

"Yikes. Um, Commander, in that case, can you hurry?"

"Yeah, yikes," she affirmed. "I'm hurrying. Consider this the next time you feel like sassing your undead commanding officer about her mental health: you'd be a lot easier to crush than a Colossus."

"You're in a delightful mood this morning," he muttered. "Don't gotta take it out on me."

"Perks of command." She punched the call button for the elevator.

---

"I expect better from both of you," Shepard said wearily, rubbing at her eyes. "Jack, is there anything Miranda could say that would actually make you feel any better about what they did to you? You were spoiling for a fight and you know it. If you need to beat something up, come to me. I'll point you in the right direction."

She turned to face the Cerberus officer. "And Miranda, what were you thinking, baiting her like that? You're the damn XO on this ship. So keep a cool head, and act like it."

Both women folded their arms, shifted their gaze away. Jack looked sullen. Miranda looked like an icicle.

"Listen. I don't expect you to shake hands and make friends. I do expect you to stay sharp, stay focused, and kick fucking ass. You're here because you're the best, and that's what it's going to take to win."

Shepard stood directly in front of them, her back straight, her legs locked, her expression fierce. Perfect drill sergeant.

"If you don't think you can go out there and stand side by side and kill the shit out of the Collectors, you need to get your heads on straight right fucking now, because those colonists are out there suffering while you waste everyone's time with this. We are a team. We have each others' backs. Put this aside. Are we clear?"

"Yes, Commander," said Miranda.

Shepard nodded at her. "Good."

Silence. She raised an eyebrow at Jack.

"...Crystal," muttered Jack.

"Then it's settled. This doesn't happen again. Miranda," she said with an acknowledging nod, and gestured Jack out the doors ahead of her.

In the hallway, the little biotic fidgeted, jammed her hands into her pockets. "Hey, uh."

"Yeah?" Shepard said warily. Were they going to have a problem?

"I never talked to you after the whole deal with Teltin." Jack glanced up at her. "So... thanks."

Shepard fought to keep the astonishment off her face. "You're welcome, Jack. Did it help?"

Jack pursed her lips. "You know, I thought after what I heard about Aeia and Illium that I'd get to see you pull some badass shit down there." She cocked her head to the side. "But all I got was a girl scout speech."

Shepard gave her a flat look. "It takes more than a few Krogan to get me excited. Next time, tell your friends to bring a gunship."

Jack snorted. "Yeah right." She rubbed a hand over her head, glanced away. "But... yeah, it helped. Girl scout speech and all. See you around, Shepard."

Re: Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (11.0625/?)

(Anonymous)
She slouched off to the elevator. Shepard watched her go, bemused.

The mess was deserted. Everyone on morning shift had long since cleared out, and Gardner was presumably off cleaning a toilet or fixing a busted pipe somewhere. She banged around in the cabinets, searching for caffeine. Found a box of expensive-looking tea, undoubtedly from a crew member's own personal supply. Sure. Why not.

"Joker," she called out at the ceiling. "How long until we reach the Citadel?"

"Three hours and change, Commander. Plenty of time to solve everyone else's problems."

Maybe. If she was really efficient about it. She made a second cup of tea, and went to go talk to Krios.

---

By the time they docked, the caffeine had worn off, but she was feeling pretty good about herself and her ragtag bunch of rebels, thugs and misfits.

Rebel and misfit number one met her in front of the airlock. "You dressed up," Garrus said, dry as dust.

"So did you," she replied. They were both wearing full armor, guns strapped to their backs. Of course.

They fell into step with each other as they pushed through the crowded docking bay. It was easy, instinctive, just like it had always been. He shortened his long, rangy stride for her benefit, and she sped hers up to meet him. He stuck to her left, knowing she tended to fire right. She walked slightly ahead, he slightly behind, so she could head off enemies at the front and buy him time to get into position.

It was so easy it swung all the way back around into really fucking uncomfortable. Being here, on the Citadel, with him, was turning her head inside out.

Everything had warped beyond recognition.

Everything was exactly the same.

"Shepard," he murmured, as they stood in line for security clearance. "What are we doing?"

"Hitting Rodam and everywhere else that's halfway decent for mods, armor and guns," she said. "Speak up if you see anything you like."

His jaw clicked. "I mean what are we doing."

She closed her eyes. Not yet. "...Not here. Let's just-- pretend to be normal, for a little bit."

He didn't respond for a long moment. The line shuffled forward.

Finally she braved a glance up at him. His brow was furrowed, his good mandible flexing angrily in and out as he stared ahead.

What the hell was he pissed off about now? Goddamnit. "Okay, this was a bad idea," she said, rubbing her forehead. "Forget it. You can do what you want. I'll go."

"Where, exactly?" Garrus made a sharp gesture at the line stretching ahead of them. "Unless you were planning on pulling the Spectre card, and leaving me here to rot."

"I wouldn't leave you. But if you hate being around me so much, I'm not going to make you stay." She glared up at him. "And I'm not pulling out the card. You know I feel like an asshole when I do that. I'm hanging on to the title by a thread as it is."

"Of course," he said blandly. "Wouldn't want to make you uncomfortable, Spectre."

She looked away, fuming, and didn't say anything. There was absolutely nothing she could say, not with EDI in her ear. Unless she used her fists to say it.

He stood bristling and silent at her side.

A pair of Salarians waiting behind them in line eyed him, then her, and slowly edged backwards.

He let out a long breath, and unfolded his arms. Tipped his head down to look at her. "...Shepard, I--"

"--Shepard?"

She turned to look. "Bailey," she said with relief.

The C-Sec captain was holding a bottle of Tupari, and something in a paper wrapper that looked vaguely like a hot dog. He nodded a greeting at Garrus. "Lucky I spotted you two. Always busy as hell this time of day."

"Haron! We're coming through," he barked up at the main gate. "We've got a goddamn Spectre paying us a visit."

---

They talked shop with Bailey for a few surprisingly pleasant minutes. Then they were spat out into the wards and she had to figure out all over again what to do with her hands, where to look.

Fuck all of this. Fuck the two years. She wished she could put a bullet through her skull and rewind back to fucking Horizon. That would be good enough. If only she'd been better at covering her ass in the beginning, everything now would be--

Well. Not okay. But at least tolerable.

Re: Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (1/?)

(Anonymous)
A!A where are you? D: We miss you. I hope life is treating you okay.

A!A here

(Anonymous)
Dear delightful anons, I am very much alive, and very sorry for the delay! I am working hard on the next bit, it is just going super slow for some reason (the reason might be that I am skipping ahead a lot to write exciting future bits as they occur to me).

I apologize for the wait and I appreciate your patience! I hope that when the next installment arrives that it is satisfying. Rest assured that I love you and I will never leave you.

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Re: Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (1/?)

(Anonymous)
Hungry for mooore a!a!!!

A!A here (again)

(Anonymous)
Dear lovely, staggeringly wonderful anons: this awkward middle child of a chapter is finally coming into coherent shape. If you are still watching this space, please watch it a little bit harder this weekend! I think we should be in business by Sunday.

You are all delightful and make me overjoyed to be part of this fandom. I very much regret the delay. I hope that when the chapter arrives that you enjoy it!

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Re: Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (13/?)

(Anonymous)
Wonderful anons, I am so deeply fond of all of you that it is a little overwhelming. I am so sorry that it was such a long wait, but I hope that you enjoy this behemoth of a chapter. Thank you very, very much for reading!

CODEX

For a race of bloodthirsty savages, Krogan were surprisingly strict about proper protocol and ceremony.

Good thing she'd always been a quick study. Shepard rubbed her forehead, and glared at the retreating figure of Gatagog Uvenk. Asshole.

The shaman chuckled. "...Not bad, human. Bring that fire with you to the rite, and Grunt will do well."

The Tomkah truck rattled over a vast, crumbling stretch of highway. Ruins drifted past the grimy windows.

Grunt sat on the bench in a cloud of hostile silence, arms folded over his chest, glaring out at nothing and everything. The cabin jolted over each pothole and crack and chunk of debris, bouncing Shepard half out of her seat. A nasty bump cracked Garrus's fringe against the wall. He hissed a curse that made her translator fizz in protest.

Grunt and the shaman stayed solidly in place, unperturbed.

They streaked past ruined skyscrapers, collapsed overpasses, the twisted and charred remains of communications towers.

The truck shuddered to a stop, depositing them in a cavernous underground tunnel. The thick iron walls were pitted with centuries of rust, scored and scraped high along the sides from the passage of traffic. Rivets the size of her forearm anchored the seams. The dark reaches of the ceiling disappeared in the gloom overhead.

Shepard stared up at it, feeling unexpectedly puny. New Tuchanka was a ramshackle mishmash of flimsy prefabs, bombed-out craters and cannibalized machinery. This was Old Tuchanka. Enormous, spare, and built to last.

And now all of it stood empty. Starved and useless. An entire planetary network of highways, but Grunt and his little entourage were the only passengers.

Shepard's forehead wrinkled. She knew Mordin had been careful with his math, had run simulation after simulation, but...

This couldn't be sustainable. You only had to look around to see that Tuchanka was a dying place.

Maybe she'd need to revisit Maelon's data sooner than she'd thought.

The shaman led them to a crater blasted into the curving walls. "Climb."

They climbed.

She found herself aboveground, blinking against the harsh sun, in the middle of low, wide platform overlooking a blasted concrete arena. Two distant staircases led up to wide, dark tunnels at either side. The ruins of an amphitheatre, maybe. Or a coliseum.

The shaman stood at the lip of the crater, breathing deeply from the dusty, sun-baked air. "This was the last surface city destroyed in the rebellions." He looked up. "...The keystone lay at its heart."

Shepard followed his gaze. They stood underneath an enormous steel and concrete spire, supported by wide, curving beams, that pierced up through a set of concentric rings. A signalling tower.

"That's the keystone?" Garrus said.

"...What is it?" Grunt asked, sounding interested for the first time.

"Who knows?" said the shaman dryly. "It is for you to contemplate. Act. Adapt. And thrive."

He turned and thumped back down the tunnel.

"So polite," Garrus said. "So helpful. ...Now what?"

Shepard squinted up at the spire. "No idea. It's your call, Grunt."

"I'm going to look." Grunt stomped up to the base of the tower. A minute later, his voice crackled in over the comm. "Shepard. There's a... thing here. It's glowing green."

"Green means working tech," Garrus said, scratching at his bandage. "Could be a switch for a mechanism somewhere. Or a communication device. Or, knowing our luck, a bomb."

Shepard smirked. "Knowing our luck? It'll turn out to be a Prothean beacon, and scramble our brains like an egg." She clambered up on top of a rock and peered in Grunt's direction. "...Huh. From here, it just looks like a button."

Grunt frowned, and poked it.

Something shot up the tower, too fast to see. A Krogan voice bellowed over the loudspeaker, and a deafening pulse of energy shot out from the keystone, knocking Shepard off her rock.

"Regroup, Grunt," she called out, eyes wide. "Whatever that was-- pretty sure that was it."

Re: Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (13.75/?)

(Anonymous)
"Unit cohesion," she ground out. Her throat was on fire. "Bonding rituals. Impressionable youth. I've got to get out of here before I throw up."

She tottered down the hill to a narrow, rubble-strewn path curving behind Wrex's dais. Garrus followed, hands outstretched.

He helped her over a broken column lying in the way. "I'm young," he tried. "I'm impressionable."

"Yeah, right." She thumped him on the chest as she slid past. "Any chance I had with you is long gone. You've already seen me at my worst."

She swayed. He grabbed her arm. "Steady. --I don't know, Shepard, I'm pretty sure vomiting would be a new low."

They followed the path into a rusted-out tunnel, sloping gently upward. Hazy pools of sunlight filtered down from gashes in the ceiling. Dust glittered in the air.

"I want to die," she muttered, her hands over her face.

"If you do, I'm telling them to put 'Unit Cohesion' on the gravestone." Garrus tapped his visor. "I don't think you have to worry about it, though. Bio-signs look pretty normal. Seems like Cerberus knew what they were doing."

"Oh good," she mumbled. "Good for them."

He steered her around a fragmented chunk of piping before she could trip over it. "When have I seen you at your worst?"

"Ffff. Pick one. Horizon. Getting schooled by Kaidan and not even having a comeback. Crying and moaning to you about every little thing. About my special hell. About Tali and Liara not wanting to be friends anymore. About Aku-- all that stupid garbage."

A mandible flared out in surprise. "What-- all of that?"

"It's your fault," she slurred. "All of it. You're so easy to be around. To talk to."

He hummed, low and warm. "You're a mean drunk, Shepard."

"Ha." She bumped him with her elbow. Well, she tried, but her depth perception seemed to be off.

Thank god he hadn't been there on Illium. Talk about rock-fucking-bottom.

...Wait. She frowned. He was the reason she'd hit rock-fucking-bottom in the first place.

But no. That wasn't true. You can't control what other people do. You only control how you respond.

Even if he'd acted like a self-righteous, overprotective ass. Even if he'd opted to follow his own incomprehensible Turian logic and not common fucking sense. Even though he'd snuck off to tell Cerberus all about her frayed wires the instant she wasn't looking--

It was still her own goddamn fault for freaking out. She was the one who'd decided to keep secrets. Tell lies. She had to own that.

If only she wasn't so crap at it. It was a miracle Wrex hadn't shot her.

"If that's you at your worst, I think you're being overly dramatic," Garrus said, amusement threading through his voice. "You're allowed to complain. You're only human."

"N'm not," she said.

"Well, mostly. But either way, you can't blame me for you and Alenko. That's just unfair."

Shepard groaned, tipping her head back. "I've got th' worst goddamn ideas."

"What, trying to out-drink a Krogan?" Garrus looked down at her. "Or did you mean Alenko?"

She hated this. She was so tired.

"...Or did you mean talking to me?" he said quietly.

"All of it," she mumbled. "--Huh? No. Wait. Not that." She glanced up at him unsteadily. "...Well. Kinda. But it's not like-- I like talking with you, I just don't wanna get-- I rely on you-- I'm tryin' not to--"

"I see," he said.

"No, I mean-- I want to-- you... you're my-- I'm just--" Her hands scrunched into fists. "Fuck! I'm doing this over." She gestured violently. "Supernova."

"...Shepard," he said, putting a hand to his face. "I don't know if 'loaded gun' even begins to cover this situation."

"Sorry. Sorry. Nevermind. It's okay. I'm fine." She patted his arm. "Let's just get outside."

A dark rumble rose up from his chest. "Strangely, I don't feel all that reassured."

---

The sun hung low in the sky, blurred with reddish smog. Pale silhouettes of broken buildings shimmered in the heat. The wind swept little swirls of sand over the ground. Tugged gently at her hair. She breathed. Slowly, deeply. In, out.

"Feeling any better?"

"...Yeah," she said. Surprisingly. She closed her eyes and rolled her head from side to side, testing.

A!A here

(Anonymous)
Wonderful anons, I am still alive, and incredibly embarrassed at having left you alone for so long. I am so sorry! A lot of stuff has been happening IRL, but things are settling down now, and progress on the next two chapters is going well.

I'm not close enough to give a firm ETA yet, but I think it should be polished up and posted within the next two to three weeks.

Enormous, heartfelt thank yous to everyone reading and commenting. You are all absolutely wonderful and make me so happy to be part of this fandom. I am so sorry to have made you feel abandoned! I know in my head and heart how this sprawling mess of a story will end, and even if it is at a snail's pace, we will get to the finish line.

P.S. I LOVE YOU ALL, FOREVER.

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Re: Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (14/?)

(Anonymous)
Anons, it's been a long, strange two years. I don't know what to say except that I love you. A lot. I never stopped, even though the story did. This thing has metastasized from a gee-whiz what-if into a weird sprawling I-don't-know, and it has taken me a long time to figure out what I'm doing with it and with myself. I wish I could have done it earlier-- but I didn't. I am sorry. I hope very much that you like it anyway! Eternal love from me to you.

14. RELOAD

She woke up with a wretched taste in her mouth and the three bars of Garrus's shoulder guard indented in her cheek. His eyes were closed, his chin tucked down into his cowl. He breathed softly.

The sky was dark, swathed in gauzy grey layers of cloud and dust. Little blooms of orange light dotted the surface from underneath, fading out into the murky horizon. It was still and quiet.

The air had cooled, and the breeze carried the smells of gunpowder and wood smoke. A brushfire crept over the hills in the distance.

She extricated herself from Garrus's arm. He stirred and made a low, sleepy noise of protest. She held still until he relaxed again, then tiptoed a safe distance away, around piles of building materials, stacks of crates. She sat down cross-legged in the dirt behind a heap of corrugated steel and touched the comm button in her collar.

"Miranda," she whispered.

Silence.

"...Miranda. Miranda. Miranda. EDI."

"Yes, Shepard." EDI's voice hummed through the speaker, much too loud.

"Shh! Get me Miranda."

After a long moment, a tired-sounding voice came over the line. "Shepard, it's 0200 ship time. Something had better be bleeding or on fire. What is it?"

"Miranda, you're a really good XO," Shepard said. "Seriously. Really great."

"I know," Miranda said shortly. "Is that all? I'm going back to bed."

"I guess. No. I don't know." Shepard flopped down onto her back and looked up at the opaque, fathomless sky. "Can we talk for a bit?"

"I suppose." Rustling noises came over the line. A long pause. "Well? I'm listening."

"—Come work for me." The words spilled out of her mouth, surprising them both. "Uh. After all this Collector crap is over, I mean. I want you with me when I take the fight to the Reapers. God knows I could have used your help the first time around."

A sigh. "We can discuss that once we've completed the mission at hand, Shepard. We're still a long way from the Omega Four relay."

"I know."

"Do you? I can't help but notice that lately the mission log looks like a long list of personal favors." A pause. Miranda's voice quieted. "Not that I'm not grateful for what you did for me. Or Jacob. I just want to make sure you remember why we're here."

"Of course I remember!" Shepard sat up, fists clenched. "Every second of every day, I remember. Our people are still out there, enslaved, or dying, or worse. And we're the only hope they have, so we have to do this right. Our focus and teamwork has to be bulletproof." Her voice was rising. "If we cut any corners, the Collectors will kill us in a heartbeat. And then the Reapers will swarm in and fuck the whole galaxy right on top of our corpses."

A brief, appalled silence. "...You certainly have a way with words, Commander."

"Sorry. It's been a long day." Shepard let out her breath. Eased herself back down. "A really weird day. I'll tell you about it later."

"Of course you will. I debrief you after every mission."

There was a short pause. Miranda inhaled. "Well then, Shepard, if there's nothing else—"

"—How's Oriana?" Shepard said quickly.

Miranda sighed again.

"Really," Shepard said. "Is she doing okay? Settled in at the new digs?"

"She's doing fantastic," Miranda replied. "Barely even set foot in the house before she packed off to Nos Astra U."

"Does she like it?"

Re: Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (15/?)

(Anonymous)
Dear wonderful anons: Do you know that I love you? Because I do. A lot.
As suggested by multiple commenters, I'm working on an AO3/FFN edit. This story has changed a lot since the beginning! There are lots of little things I want to tweak to make it more cohesive. I will post the link here once it's up.
You are all fantastic and generous and endlessly patient and kind. You warm my heart.


15. CHANGE WEAPONS

Take two. Billions and billions of glassy, human-sized pods. Shepard didn't have to try very hard to be shocked all over again.

This time, when Harbinger showed up, she kept her mouth shut.

They sank into cover, guns and neurons at the ready. The Scions swept in from the edge of the echoing cavern. Shepard's eyes flicked to Miranda. Her dark, glossy hair. Her fragile skull.

She grabbed a fistful of clips out of her pack and shoved the remainder into Garrus's hands. "I'll hang back and deal with the Scions. Garrus, switch to assault and take front. You're on crowd control. Miranda, help him out."

Garrus nodded, his face unreadable through the visor, and turned away.

"Stay close. Stay in cover. Watch the shockwaves," she added.

Violet fire swirled through Miranda's fists. "Affirmative."

Shepard's radar pinged with proximity alerts. Gunfire rattled her eardrums. I am the Harbinger of your ascendance.

Not her problem. Shepard rose to one knee, exhaled, and readied her rifle. The first Scion lurched into scope.

CRACK. CRACK. CRACK. One in the throat. Two in the face.

Not as pretty as Garrus would have done it-- but not bad for a non-specialist. She braced herself behind the wall as the shockwaves thumped past, and patted her gun, smiling.

Two and a half heat sinks later, Shepard's smile vanished. The Scion finally dropped, oozing green and grey from dozens of bullet holes.

This was impossible. She and Garrus taken it down so easily before. Why was it this hard on her own?

"Reloading." Garrus fell back, came to crouch by her side. "How you holding up, Shepard?"

"I should be asking you that." She rummaged in the ammo pack. Stilled. "You're this low? Already?"

His voice was taut. "Those bugs soak up a lot of bullets before they drop."

Fuck. She put a hand to her forehead. She'd miscalculated, badly. They still had another wave left-- at least. Who knew when EDI would manage to get the door open.

"Vakarian." Miranda stood, sheathed in blue, sweat beading on her brow. Smoke drifted up from a pile of carbonized bodies behind her. "The leader's closing in. I need support."

Garrus pushed himself up and returned to her side. Bullets and beams ripped across the battlefield.

You are shortsighted, Shepard.

She bit back her retort and took aim at the remaining Scion. She breathed in, then out, and fired, and fired again, and again and again.

She popped the sinks out of her pistol and SMG, took one for herself, tossed the other to Garrus. Miranda's hands flared. Harbinger's barrier wrenched out of existence. Garrus lodged a cluster of rounds into its forehead.

Harbinger let her know how doomed and useless she was as it crumbled into dust.

Shepard glanced at her radar. A sea of red glared back. Fuck.

"Tapped," Garrus said. "Lawson, give me your sidearm."

Shepard dodged another shockwave. Rose, aimed, fired.

"Shepard, they're flanking." Miranda sounded a little frayed. "We could use your help over here."

Fuck. She fired again, tagging the Scion in the knee. While the creature lurched and swayed, she scrambled up to join them.

"All right, Miranda-- you set 'em up, I'll knock 'em down. Garrus, fall back and find yourself a spot. Finish off the Scion for me." She shoved her Viper into his hands.

"Affirmative." Garrus retreated from view.

Miranda rubbed her temples. "EDI? Any progress on the door?"

Buzzing. Static. "Please hold." Fuck!

A pulse of light from beyond the barrier. Assuming direct control.

FUCK.

Beetle-headed soldiers clustered beyond their wall. The air thickened with smoke.

A frustrated rumble over the comm link. The massing drones had blocked Garrus's view downfield. She signaled Miranda, then breathed in deep, her arms flaring, and together they blasted him a clear path to the Scion.

Re: Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (15.5714/?) (oops I posted this in the wrong thread at first)

(Anonymous)
He took a long, thoughtful drag on his cigarette. "Miranda would be a regrettable loss. But I understand-- as does she-- that the mission has to come first."

He hadn't seen her body burnt and blistered. Her hair melted down to sludge. The breath bubbling out of her lungs. He had no fucking idea. "Horseshit."

The Illusive Man raised an eyebrow. "Calm down."

"No. If you truly cared about the success of this mission, you would have given me the tools and the intelligence I needed. You withheld them."

His projection frowned at her through the smoke. "Shepard, try to see the bigger picture. If you'd known it was a trap, you wouldn't have gone."

"You don't know me at all, do you?" Shepard leaned forward. "I would have gone. I would have gone with bigger guns and a bigger team, and we would have kicked ass instead of barely escaping with our lives."

His eyes narrowed. "You don't have to like my strategy for it to work. Now we know who the Collectors really are, we know how to get through the Omega Four relay to find them, and your crew suffered no losses acquiring the intel." He sat back in his chair. The cigarette flared between his lips. "Judge me if you must, Shepard, but judge me by my results."

"I'll start when you judge me by mine." Shepard folded her arms. "You brought me back to life to do a job that only I can do. It's about time you quit this chessmaster garbage and let me actually fucking do it."

"That's enough." The Illusive Man's voice hardened. "I have a team securing an IFF for the Normandy. EDI will fill you in on the details. In the meantime, I suggest you sit down and think about everything we've accomplished together."

He made a cutting gesture with his hand. The projection blinked out. The lights rose.

Dismissed as if she were a child throwing a tantrum. Underestimated and undermined at every turn. It was the motherfucking council all over again.

Shepard took a deep breath and counted to ten before leaving. She greeted Kelly pleasantly. Thanked Joker and EDI for getting them out of the Korlus system in one piece. Downstairs, she found Kozlowski in the mess hall and thanked her too.

She wanted to throw things, break all her datapads in half, scream, beat something up.

EDI's invisible eyes watched her in silence. So instead she went up to her cabin and sat on the couch and stared out at nothing.

Shepard? Are you there? I can't-- I can't see.

Shepard-- DON'T. Shepard--

"Joker."

"Yes, Commander?"

"Set a course for the Citadel."

"Aye-aye."

Shepard shifted down in her seat, and watched the stars streak past.

---

She woke up four hours later, cold and stiff, and headed down to medbay.

Miranda lay nestled in a small mountain of pillows, her face mottled burgundy and plum. Her arm had been propped in a sling. She regarded Shepard with expression of sorely tested patience. "Commander."

"Hey." Shepard sat down on the unoccupied bed, her feet dangling over the side. Chakwas was gone. Presumably asleep in the crew quarters. "How're you feeling?"

"Better than I look." Her voice was hoarse. "I heal fast. The brain bruising was minimal, and the bone wraps will fuse by morning. I'll resume duty at 0800."

"Don't push it. Just rest and heal up properly. Take a day. Take two days."

"Don't be ridiculous." Miranda struggled to push herself up with her good arm. "We got the intel we needed. We have to find that IFF. Keep moving-- umph-- forward."

"Towards what? Another death trap set by our allies?" Shepard folded her arms. "I don't know how much pull you have with your boss, but--"

"Less than you do." Miranda's voice flattened. "It doesn't matter. Any way you look at it, the mission was a success. We fulfilled our objective. The Illusive Man bet on us and won."

"Hell of a gamble. Making it out of there alive was a one in twenty shot."

Miranda scoffed. "That's an absurd exaggeration."

EDI's globe materialized on top of Chakwas's desk. "That is not entirely accurate. I have run a number of simulations using data extracted from your team's camera footage, cross-referenced with with tactical analysis of previous missions and predictive personality models. Your projected odds of successful escape from the Collector ship were between eight and fourteen percent."

A!A here

(Anonymous)
reposting this in the main thread since I think it got lost up above!

Wonderful anons: I don't know how I can possibly thank you enough for all the love I've been shown here. It blindsides me every time.

To the late-reader anon who commented in chapter 15-- thank you so much for reading, and thank you so much for enjoying it, and thank you so much for your amazing comment. I can't possibly say what it meant to me to read it after so long on hiatus. I received it at the worst/best possible time, when I really needed to believe in something good and worthwhile about myself. I cried a lot! Thank you.

So, update: it sounds kind of ridiculous after taking half a year to write the previous chapter, but after posting it, I reread it and immediately wished I'd spent more time on it. I got in my own way, and now what I want to do next doesn't feel organic anymore. Wah!

Over the last year or so I have been working on cleaning up and editing the story for posting on AO3 and maybe FFN. I also took the opportunity to rewrite substantial chunks of chapter 15.

Inspired by late-reader anon, I got a leg on it, and posted the first chapter on AO3 today. Chapter 16 will still be posted here first, for the most funny and cute and generous and loving and mind-blowingly amazing people in the entire goddamn world. But when the time comes I'll include a link to the revised version of chapter 15.

Here's the AO3 link to the first (revised) chapter: http://archiveofourown.org/works/6733471/chapters/15390079

I love you all so, so much, wonderful anons. Thank you for everything. Thank you for being here. Thank you for being you.

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Re: Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (16/?) - Foreword

(Anonymous)
Treasured, wonderful anons. I have missed you. Here is, at last, an update.

In the revised versions of this fill posted to AO3 and FFN, I've broken some things up and stitched some other things together. The chapter that corresponds to this on AO3/FFN is now 13, and not 16. Sorry in advance for any confusion.

I've made a bunch of changes to previous chapters, especially the ones dealing with the Collector ship mission and its aftermath. I very much recommend that you go back and reread the edited version of the story: Archive Of Our Own (http://archiveofourown.org/works/6733471/chapters/15390079) | Fanfiction.net (https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11930017/1/New-Game)

But if you wanna skip all that and just get right to the fresh stuff, I don't blame you. Here is a quick catch-up!

Previously, on New Game:

After a bonding moment with Garrus on Tuchanka, Shepard makes a silent promise to use her superpowers to protect her people and save the galaxy. She'll die and reset as many times as it takes to make things as perfect they can possibly be.

Then they get sent to the Collector Ship, and Shepard watches Miranda and Garrus get hurt and die in front of her, over and over again. Each time, she commits suicide by Collector to reset.

But she starts to wonder: when she dies, does everything blink out of existence? Or is it just her that blinks out of existence, leaving Garrus and Miranda behind with Shepard's empty corpse? When she dies, is she just condemning them to a desperate and futile fight for survival without her?

They finally escape the Collector Ship, but Miranda sustains a nasty injury on the way out. Shepard agonizes about it, but decides not to reset.

She is badly shaken by the experience and pissed off at both the Illusive Man and herself for what happened. Miranda and Garrus are a little shaken too, but for different reasons: they only remember the version of events where Shepard ripped through the Collector ship like a perfect, unstoppable hurricane.

Shepard and Miranda butt heads over mission strategy and have a heart-to-heart in medbay. Chakwas notices something weird going on with Shepard's biometrics and is suspicious. Later, Garrus comes up to Shepard's cabin to visit, and they drink wine and talk religion and cuddle up on her couch.

Shepard's not going anywhere near the Collectors again until her team is as ready as she can possibly make them. The Normandy docks at the Citadel to get some upgrades.

Re: Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (16/?) - Part 1

(Anonymous)
16. CODEX

Clanging, stomping, drilling. Grinding discs screamed against the layers of metal and ceramic overhead. Electrical arcs crackled outside the windows.

Joker glowered at her, hands over his ears.

"Okay," Shepard yelled at him, waving her arms. "I get it. You're on shore leave. Everyone's on shore leave. Get outta here."

"Thank god," he mouthed back, and staggered out of the cockpit.

"EDI, deliver the good news. Retrofits should be complete tomorrow morning, so I want everyone back here by... let's say 0900 tomorrow."

"Acknowledged." Little blue avatars popped up on every console stretching back to the elevator. The whoops of the crewmen were only barely audible over the din.

Shepard turned on her heel. First things first. She had a promise to keep.

The noise wasn't quite so bad on the second level. Medbay stood dark and empty. She knocked on the office doors across the galley. "Miranda, you in? It's me."

The mechanism chimed and slid open. Miranda's face was still a little discolored, but otherwise... "Wow. You weren't kidding about healing fast."

"Well, I can't smile yet. It hurts too much." Miranda tapped a datapad briskly on her desk. "But somehow I suspect the crew won't notice the difference."

Miranda Lawson, telling a joke at her own expense. Shepard felt her eyebrows lift almost to the ceiling.

"Did you need something, Shepard?"

"Oh, right. I was gonna go out for drinks with Garrus again. If you're feeling up to it, do you want to come hang out with us? Unwind a bit? Shore leave includes you, too."

Miranda's face froze. "Oh. Well. Thank you, but I think I'll abstain this time. I have some reports to file."

"I... okay." Shepard frowned at her, feeling oddly stung. "If you're sure."

"I do appreciate the offer. Will you be going off-radar again?"

"Yeah, if that's all right. I'll send a message before we do."

"That will be acceptable," Miranda said, and turned to face her terminal.

"All right. Uh. See you later." Shepard backed out of the room.

What the hell was that?

She slunk into the battery, brow furrowed.

"What's wrong," Garrus said, without turning around.

"How—?"

"Your walk changed." He glanced over his shoulder. "And you're being quiet."

"Oh. I dunno. It's not really a big deal, just... I invited Miranda to come along with us, and she—"

"You what?" He pivoted and stared at her.

"I told her I would, remember?"

"Well— sure. But I thought you were just inviting her out with you, not with us."

"Oh." Shepard shrugged. "I didn't really make the distinction. Is it a problem?"

Garrus's expression was indecipherable. "I guess not."

"She turned me down, so it doesn't matter anyway. She just seemed so— I don't know." Shepard sighed. "I'd thought that we were actually kind of starting to be friends."

He tilted his head to one side. "...You're really bothered about this."

She shrugged again, and laughed a little. "Yeah. I am. Uncool of me, isn't it?"

"Extremely." Garrus contemplated her for another moment, then stepped in close and draped an arm over her shoulders. "C'mon. I'll take you somewhere nice."

Shepard lit up. "Really? Where?"

"Surprise." The battery doors slid shut behind them.

She cackled, delighted. "Look at you, all suave and mysterious. What's happening? What is this?"

"Surprise," he said again, escorting her through the empty mess hall.

"It better be good."

"Don't worry." He flicked a mandible at her. Punched the elevator button. "It's good."

---

Her excitement was somewhat squashed by the time they confronted the queue for security. She'd spotted Joker far up the line, leaning against a tolerant-looking Hadley, but then they cleared the gate and vanished.

"No Bailey to save us this time," Garrus said, looking around.

"We're going to go see him anyway. I could just— do the thing. Assert myself."

"Nah. You hate doing that. And we're not in a rush."

Eventually, they made it through. Bailey looked up from his terminal in surprise. "You could have called me."

Shepard waved the suggestion away. "I don't want to abuse my privileges. Especially not when I'm about to ask you for a favor."

His expression went impressively flat. "What is it this time."

"A clean omni-tool. And clothes."

Re: Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (16/?) - Part 9

(Anonymous)
She grumbled, and rested her drink on his knee. "Showoff."

His jaw clicked. "You told me to make friends with her."

"Yeah, I know." She sighed. "Thanks."

"Turned out to be more pleasant than I was expecting," he said. "She's good conversation. Surprisingly well-versed in turian history. She's read all the classics of the Unification Wars. Even the revisionist account that came out from Apparitus last year." He paused. "Actually, maybe it's not all that surprising."

"Know thy enemy," she quoted, and reached back to clink her glass against his.

"I'll drink to that." He took a long sip.

"I went to talk with her in medbay, after she got out of surgery. I was still pissed off and shaken up after— everything. Maybe I should have waited. Maybe it didn't go as well as I thought it did." Shepard swirled her drink in her hand. "But it felt like there was something, there, at least for a little bit."

"Well... Lawson's got a lot going on for her, too. You did openly accuse her boss of attempted homicide."

"True." Shepard tipped her head back and gave Garrus a wry smile. "I also told her that I hate him and everything he stands for. And that I'd kill him if I ever got the chance."

Garrus outright laughed. "I'd forgotten about that. One of your finer moments."

"You heard about that too?"

"Yeah. We were talking about you after—" He gestured. "Illium."

"Oh." Shepard felt her face stiffen.

They'd worked it out. She understood the position he had been in. She even understood his logic, sort of. If she seriously thought Garrus was going to kill himself, she'd team up with anyone short of the Reapers to stop him.

It still didn't feel good.

"Lawson's in a tough spot, you know," he said. "You're a hard person to resist."

"Yeah." Shepard's brow wrinkled. "That's what she told me."

She sighed again, long and deep, then put her glass down and pushed herself away from the couch. She fell back flat onto the floor, arms stretched wide. Dust clouds bloomed around her like explosions in miniature.

"Bailey's not going to appreciate the cleaning bill," Garrus said, looking down at her.

"The Illusive Man is going to kill us," she said.

Garrus slid down off the couch and stretched out on the floor beside her, propping himself up on one arm. "Well, yes. But that's not news."

"After that stunt he pulled, I don't trust him to wait long enough for us to finish the mission anymore. He's a treacherous shit. We have to be ready to make a clean break before we head to the relay. The squad, the crew, Miranda, EDI— I've got to get everyone behind us, one hundred percent, if we're going to survive." Shepard stared up at the murky ceiling. "How the fuck do I do that?"

"Just be yourself," Garrus said, in a tone that clearly indicated she was an idiot.

"Garrus, I'm serious."

"So am I. You're already most of the way there. Do you realize how much everyone looks up to you? Do you realize how far out of your way you go for absolutely everyone who asks?"

She tipped her head back to frown at him. "You never ask me for anything."

"Everyone takes," he said. "I figured I should be the one to give."

Shepard stared up at him for a long moment, her mouth parted.

Garrus met her eyes. His sharp edges were blurred and softened in the darkness.

"You know, sometimes I can't believe my luck," she whispered. "I found you twice."

He reached a hand out to her. She thought he was going to pat her on the head again, but instead his fingers, feather-light, brushed against her cheek.

She watched, spellbound, as he traced a slow, careful path down the spiderweb of surgical scars that mapped her face.

His voice was very low, and very soft. "I know the feeling."

Her breath stopped. She had to swallow against the ache in her throat.

She sat up. Peeled off her glove, and reached out, slowly, tentatively, holding his gaze with hers.

She touched her bare fingertips to his scarred cheek.

"...Does it hurt?"

"Not anymore," he murmured. His eyes were locked on hers.

She stroked her fingers along the underside of his silvery brow. Traced slowly, gently, down the contour of his bandage, testing the torn edges of his plates, the glassy, ropelike scar tissue.

Re: Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (17/?) - Part 1

(Anonymous)
Dearest anons: This chapter corresponds to chapter 14 on AO3 and FFN. All my love to you.

17. [LIE]

The room was quiet and still. A light breeze tugged at her hair. Her exposed shoulders prickled with goosebumps.

Garrus dropped his gaze to his straining erection. Laughed, once, dryly. "So this is what it takes to get the whole truth out of you."

She stared at him. "...What?"

He shot her a flat look. "Shepard, I was a cop. I know how to tell when someone's holding out on me."

She turned her face away. Looked instead at the upholstery pattern on the ancient sofa behind them. The golden-orange shafts of light retreating into the murky distance. The blooms of dust still swirling lazily in the air.

Her gaze fell on their abandoned glasses. She leaned over and retrieved her drink. Pushed his over to him, cutting a trail through the dust.

"How long have you known," she said.

He lifted his glass. "Realized as soon as the alcohol burned off, after we left Mierin's apartment. You said some things that didn't add up."

She snapped her head back up. "And you've just— what? Been biding your time ever since?"

He nodded.

"...Pallin was an idiot to let me take you out of C-Sec," she said.

He shifted and leaned back against the couch. Watched her with a pale stare. Waiting.

She looked up at the ceiling. Collected herself. Took a deep breath.

Her body still ached with slow-dying arousal.

"You know the YMIR on Aeia," she began.

He nodded slowly.

"We'd split up. You hung back to cover while Jacob and I swept up the sides." She closed her eyes. "We were too spread out. He got surprised by a group of hunters, then went down in the crossfire before I could help. Then the YMIR was right on top of us." She rapped her knuckles against her breastbone. "Took a rocket at point-blank. I bled out in the grass in front of you."

Garrus was staring at her. "That's... not how I remember it."

She smiled faintly. "That's because we did a lot better the second time around."

"What?" His good mandible fell slack. "Shepard, what the hell—" He shook his head. Pressed one hand to his face. "No. I'll wait. Keep going."

Shepard took a sip of her drink. Rolled the glass between her palms. "Horizon."

"The Praetorian," he said.

"Yeah." She looked down at her hands. "Got myself lasered the first time. That was just stupid."

He sat perfectly still. His eyes were fixed on her.

"The next time I got cocky. Went in too close. Ended up pulverized by that biotic knockback thing." She blew air out through her teeth, remembering. "That really hurt."

A thin, unpleasant noise came from somewhere inside his throat. "I think I'm starting to see the pattern."

She smiled again, a little strained. "Yeah."

"Illium," he said.

"Twice. A sniper in the Dantius towers. Then a gunship." She rubbed the back of her head. "...The dust may have been a contributing factor."

"The Collector vessel."

"Three times."

He tipped his head back against the couch and closed his eyes.

She waited.

"Is that all," he said, finally.

"No." She pulled her knees up to her chest. "I think I'm at twelve or thirteen now. Not quite sure. The little ones sort of blur into each other."

He took a long, slow sip of his drink, and said nothing.

"Actually," she murmured, "Now that I think about it, there've been more. Back on Freedom's Progress, I was still fresh off the operating table. Stumbling around, kind of out of it. I told myself at the time it was just memory issues— deja vu. But now—"

Garrus's hand had frozen around his glass in mid-air. "Shepard."

"I die, Garrus," she said. "That's what I do. I die. Again and again. One minute it's all blood and bullets and screaming, and the next... it's like none of it ever happened. Like rewinding a vid. Or—"

"Resetting a game." His expression was fixed. Unreadable.

She rested her chin on her knees. "Yeah."

"And the rest of us?"

His voice fraying through the comm line. His hands fused tight to her melting armor.

"I'm not sure," she said.

Miranda's ruined eyes, shriveled and blackened from the heat. Beads of plasma glistening between the cracks in her blistered skin.

"I think you die too. But no one else ever seems to notice. To remember."

Re: Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (18/?) - Part 1

(Anonymous)
15. SURVEY

Decon took forever. Shepard thumped her forehead gently against the doors. The Normandy still rattled and pounded under the contractors' efforts.

She shucked her armor. Stowed the the precious purloined liquor bottle in her bottom desk drawer. Paced the room. She needed to do something. Keep moving. Get some distance. Get some perspective.

"EDI, where's Samara? Is she on board?"

"Justicar Samara is in Starboard Observation. The noise does not appear to bother her."

"Thanks."

A slight pause. "You are welcome, Shepard."

Samara sat in full lotus, eyes aglow, hands cradling a sphere of energy that trembled in its containment. Her finely chiseled face was still and serene.

"Shepard," she said, without turning around. Surprise tinged her cultured voice. "I had thought you were on leave."

"I was." Shepard leaned against the side of the couch. "Hi. How are you doing?"

"I am glad you came." The sphere between Samara's palms feathered down her arms and vanished. She stood up. "I told you about the dangerous person I was hunting. The one who eluded me, back on Ilium."

Shepard nodded. Samara looked at her for a moment, then stepped over to the window.

Skyscrapers glittered against the false evening sky of the Citadel. Ships hummed in and out among the docking bays, green and orange guidance beacons blinking along their paths.

Samara glanced back over one armored shoulder. "I have found her."

"Great." Shepard straightened up. "Let's go get her."

A slight pause. "...I must confess, I did not expect you to agree so readily."

"Is there some reason I shouldn't?"

"Perhaps." Samara's pale eyes were unreadable. "Her name is Morinth. She is my daughter. And I am going to kill her."

"I see," Shepard said.

Samara stood still, waiting.

"Well." Shepard folded her arms. "Does she deserve it?"

Samara gestured sharply. "She is a monstrous predator, completely without morals. She slaughters innocents and leaves only devastation behind her."

Shepard pursed her lips. If asked, a fair number of people might say the exact same thing about her. Maybe Morinth just had a case of bad PR.

Hell with it. She wasn't here to weigh anyone else's soul, not when her own needed so much work. If this was what it took to get Samara on board, then fine.

Time to take a page out of Thane's book, and be a loaded gun.

"Of course I'll help, Samara. Tell me what I need to know."

---

It was a rough story. Samara's entire life had been upended. Her lover, her family, her world stripped away from underneath her. And she blamed herself for her daughter's genetic sociopathy.

Four hundred years spent friendless and alone, outlasting everyone she'd ever loved, chasing after an impossible enemy. And yet— somehow— she was still sane.

Shepard hadn't even managed two months yet.

"How do you do it," she murmured, without thinking.

Samara looked over at her. The light from the beacons glinted off her jewelled crest.

Shepard hadn't meant to say anything, but suddenly, she really needed to know. "Samara, what you've been through— How do you cope? Where do you find the strength to keep moving forward?"

Samara turned her face away again. "I am nearly a thousand years old, and still, I do not know."

A long silence stretched between them. They watched an overburdened cargo ship struggle into a nearby berth. Dockhands from three different species swarmed the gangplank.

"Nothing in this universe is permanent," Samara murmured, gazing out at the minor chaos unfolding on the docks. "Without accepting that, attachment only brings suffering. A maiden must resolve to cherish her joys while they last, to accept her sorrows with open arms, and let them both go in peace."

An asari forewoman shouted and gesticulated at a pair of testy-looking crew. The turian freight captain stood by, impatience written all over her body language. The ship lurched as another pair of asari, wreathed in biotics, yanked a massive container out of the hold.

"Sounds like good advice." Shepard stepped closer. "Does it work?"

"No," Samara said.

Shepard turned to look at her.

Re: Fill: FemShep & Garrus "New Game" (19/?) - Part 1

(Anonymous)
Happy N7 day, everyone :)
16. INTIMIDATE

The upgrades had gone smoothly. The crew was solidifying beneath her. Miranda and Garrus's away missions had passed successfully and more or less without incident, and they were nearly maxed out on platinum again.

Shepard felt... okay. Not great, but okay.

She was moving forward. She'd get it done.

Inhuman wailing echoed along the cavern walls. A husk floated in front of her scope. CRACK. Its forehead burst open with a spray of black mist. "Another."

"This is boring," Jack muttered. But she repeated the mnemonic, and tossed another one up.

"You've improved remarkably, Siha." Thane's low, rasping voice came from behind her. "Remember to wait for the right shot, rather than the first shot."

CRACK. The husk spun wildly, bleeding from its missing ear. Shepard gave him a look over her shoulder. "You distracted me. That one's on you."

He made an amused noise. "My apologies."

She adjusted her aim. Breathed out. Waited. CRACK. A crater bloomed in its skull.

Thane nodded his approval. "You've been trained well, and you have a fine eye. All that's left to learn is patience."

"In that case, I'm probably a lost cause." She smiled back at him. "Thanks for all the advice, Thane. I really appreciate it."

"If I might make one last suggestion," he began, lips quirked. "Meditation could be very benefi—"

Shepard stood up and clipped her Viper to her back. "Okay, Jack, your turn!"

"—Another time, then," Thane said, unfazed.

"Ugh. Finally." Jack straightened up, flared, and punched a blue-white shockwave into the mass of bodies pinned behind the piled-up mining equipment.

The husks slammed hard against the walls, then each other, bounced off the heavy mining lasers, smashed into the walls again. Skulls cracked. Bones snapped. Murky blood misted the air.

Damn. Shepard stopped mid-stride to watch. "Impressive," murmured Thane.

Jack mopped up the survivors with a few careless shotgun blasts. "Shepard, when's it gonna get interesting? I thought this place was supposed to be crawling with them."

"Yeah, yeah." Shepard crouched to hack through the lock to the next tunnel. "Ever heard that saying, 'Careful what you wish for?'"

The massive steel doors screeched open. Fifty pairs of glowing eyes turned around to stare at them.

"Now that is what I'm talking about," said Jack.

With any other team, it might have been cause for panic. But two talented biotics— well, one talented, and one godlike— made the cleanup mission feel more like a demented playground game. Shepard and Thane kept the perimeter clear, while Jack tossed husks into the air by the dozens with loose, easy swings of her arms. The creatures flailed and wobbled overhead, hissing, impotent.

Shepard tipped her head back to watch, smiling.

Jack tapped a blackened foot with her shotgun as it floated by and set the husk spinning crazily in midair. "Give me ten minutes and one of your energy bars, and I can turn this place into installation art."

"Not sure we're supposed to be having this much fun down here," Shepard said, but handed her the bar anyway. "Feels a little sacrilegious."

"Hey, we're doing them a favor." Jack shoved the bar into her mouth in two bites. "Nobody wants to live like this."

"Let's finish the job, then." Shepard pitched a throw that ping-ponged a handful of them between the tunnel walls. Brittle limbs snapped off in pieces. The glowing eyes went dim. Jack cracked her neck, flexed her hands, and ripped into the floating mass with another shockwave.

"Kalahira guide them," Thane murmured, fists aglow, picking off the husks who'd managed to escape Jack's blast radius. "If indeed there is anything left to guide."

They pressed on. Then got ambushed by a pack that had been wired up with incendiaries. Those were a lot less fun. Then Shepard discovered the foreman's logs.

Smithson's crew dug out some kind of glowing machine today. I don't get paid enough to expose myself to weird alien artifacts. Gonna try and pawn it off to ECRS, since apparently they're into this sort of thing, and get it out of here quick. Gotta admit, though— the humming sound is kinda nice.

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