As she drew in closer to him, he felt his heart beat faster and stronger than it ever had in his entire life, beating with such an intensity that he swore she could have felt it through his armor if she had placed her hand on his chest at that moment. This couldn’t be goodbye; he wouldn’t let it be goodbye.
They had promised to go through this together, injury or no, and he would keep to that promise whether she would allow him to or not. The searing pain in his side reminded him that he was in no condition to fight, let alone stand, and he was only capable of doing that because Tali was helping him stay upright. Still, he argued against her order for him to leave, one final act of defiance that he didn’t regret nor would he ever forget. She instructed him not to argue, and despite him reminding her that they were in this together, she didn’t stand down and allow him to accompany her. She started to walk towards him, eyes fixed on his as she approached, and she began speaking.
"No matter what happens here, you know I love you. I always will," she said as she reached up and pressed her palm to the side of his face. Every conversation they’ve ever had, every mission, every jump through a mass relay, every accidental touch, every kiss, every minute of the years they’d spent together came down to this final conversation. He didn’t want to let her walk away without saying anything, but the words had been so hard for him to get out that he almost felt like he was choking on them. Saying goodbye was acknowledging that this was it, that there was no return, no do-over, and no future to look forward to for them. All he wanted was to spend the rest of his life with her and for her to want to do the same with him, but now they were here and there would be nothing left after this. He’d even asked her about the possibility of children back when they were preparing to head down here, and she seemed like she might actually be interested in that, at least somewhat. To think of a life without her in it pained him more than he would ever let it show.
"Shepard, I…" Even in their final moments together he couldn’t say her first name out of respect, though he’d said it numerous times in various ways when they were alone together. Garrus loved the way her name felt as it rolled off of his tongue, and he knew she loved hearing it, but the last thing he wanted to do right now was be disrespectful to her. If this was to be her final memory of him, he wanted her to remember him as the respectful turian that he always was, just like he had been since the beginning. He did reach up and wrap his fingers around her wrist, needing to reciprocate her touch in some way. She smoothed her thumb over the dark blue marking beneath his eye, a small smile spreading across her face as she looked into the eyes of the man she loved, the man she was about to leave behind so she could do what was needed to save him and the rest of the galaxy. Victory at any cost; that was the phrase that they both lived by and simultaneously hated at the same time. It meant that you had to be willing to make sacrifices, even if those sacrifices were ones you didn’t want to make. You would make them because you had to, not because you wanted to. Both of them knew it might come to this but had secretly hoped that it wouldn’t.
"Love you too," Garrus said finally. What he wanted to do was beg her to stay, to wrap his arms around her and bring her in close until their mouths met in the closest thing they could do to a kiss. He didn’t do either of those things, not because he didn’t want to, but because he respected her and respected her decisions, even if he didn’t always agree with them. What he did do was hold onto her wrist as tightly as his fading strength would allow him to, knowing that once she was out of his grasp she’d be gone forever. She stepped backwards until her hand slid out of his hold, though her smile never faded. It’s like she knew something he didn’t know, something she’d wanted to share but hadn’t had the time to, and he wished he knew what it was. Tell me how to live without you, he thought.
After a few seconds her smile faded to be replaced by the stern commander mask she wore often and she ordered everyone to go. Garrus clung to Tali as they went up into the ship, his eyes still locked onto Shepard as she turned and ran towards what would be her final destination, and in all likelihood her final resting place. He didn’t want to think of it that way, but what else was he supposed to think? There wouldn’t be a happily ever after fairytale ending for Garrus and Shepard like he had wanted, like he had dreamed of and hoped for, and that was hard to swallow. If this really was the end—and he assumed it was—at least he told her that he loved her before she slipped away. That was better than nothing.