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KALROS

Chapter Text

SUBJECT: I want to talk about this.


 

From: KV

 

Well. We both know what I thought about Tuchanka a month ago. My opinion may have changed since then. Reminds me of when we went to visit your old N7 friend Vega in New Mexico, except, well, worse.

Aunt Sol always tells me you’ll talk about her when you’re ready, but the spirit of this place makes me feel like she’s close. That, and the giant ass mural in Uncle Urdnot’s throne room. I don’t know if you’ve seen it? Uncle Urdnot’s in it, raising the maw hammers, and you’re in it, holding off the reaper ground forces with Vega.

And my favourite part: she’s there, releasing the hammers and summoning Kalros (you have some serious explaining to do), Urdnot Bakara called her the ‘Mother of All Thresher Maws’. Kalros rises out of the ground and swallows this Reaper whole. It’s only a destroyer class, but it’s the most badass thing I’ve ever seen. Urdnot Mordin and I are going to scan the whole thing so I can digitally copy it onto the walls at home. Aunt Sol will probably make a fuss about it so I’ll keep it in my room.

I headbutt Urdnot Mordin when he challenged me, just like you told me to. That made Uncle Urdnot laugh so hard I thought his head plate was going to crack in half and fall off. Except when he was done he told me I was just like her. I tried asking him about her later, and he told me he wanted to avoid a ‘diplomatic incident’ with my father. Seriously. A krogan, worried about a diplomatic incident. Aren’t you supposed to be old friends? Isn’t that why I’m here?

I don’t need to remind you that I ship out for mandatory service in a year. I just want to know who I am.

Think about it, Dad.

Love,

Kali


 

 

Wearily, he dropped his datapad back on his desk. Leave it to Wrex to stir up the past, he thought darkly. He reached for the bottom drawer in his desk, unlocking it with his omni-tool, and pulled out an old holo. He carelessly swept half the paperwork off his desk and placed it carefully, wincing as he turned it on, hopeful that the quality hadn’t decayed since the last time he’d looked at it, some five or six years ago.

The holo beamed into focus slowly, and he breathed a silent sigh of relief. Arm in arm, they waved at the blurred faces in the crowds; and then the moment that always took his breath away, her slender neck turned upwards to look at him, and the most radiant, loving smile crossed her features.

He hadn’t noticed, not then, he’d been too caught up in the showmanship, the theatrics of the night. Pandering and waving at the masses, posing for pictures. He’d felt like the most important person in the galaxy, although technically she was on his arm.

It wasn’t until later, after the war was over, when he’d returned to Palaven with his infant daughter to try and find some sense in any of it. Diana Allers had salvaged it from the raw footage and forwarded it to his family, with condolences. He’d been such a mess. After everything they’d been through, the way it ended had completely blindsided him. He hated being blind; he couldn’t stand it. His talons made an involuntary fist, and he concentrated on relaxing them. Solana wouldn’t be happy if he smashed another desk.

He supposed she was bored. For the last fourteen years she’d stood in as a surrogate mother to her niece; something he probably hadn’t been as grateful for as he should have. Solana and Kalros’ mother had a tense relationship when she was alive, though they had both buried the hatchet when the girl was born. Family was important to Sol, and Kalros was more important than anything – to both of them.

He paced the length of his office, pausing at the window, admiring the sunlight glittering off the silver spires in the distance.

“It’s quiet when she’s not around.”

He jumped, he hadn’t heard his father come in.

“She still sends at least ten messages a day,” he replied drily.

“Only ten?” Castis looked surprised. “I got twenty-three updates this morning, and a vid call. What have you done wrong now?”

Garrus glared at his father, mandible twitching. Everything he’d done, for the galaxy, for Palaven, and here he was with a nearly grown daughter of his own and his father still –

Castis laughed. “If looks could kill, son, you just put at least twenty rounds between my eyes. I was only joking.”

“Nice to see you’re developing a sense of humour in your dotage.”

“Kalros isn’t around to prickle your crest, someone should.” They stood shoulder-to-shoulder, watching the sun set out the window. “You need to tell her about Shepard.”

He set his mandible and folded his arms across his chest. “Where would I even start? Hello Kalros. Your mother is a legend, you’re not really turian, I have lied to you your entire life, and you can’t tell anyone the truth because you will be killed if anyone finds out. Shepard’s last words were, literally, keep her safe.”

“Kalros is turian.” Castis insisted. “You only have to look at her to know that. Kalros will figure the rest out on her own. She has five-taloned hands, and four-toed feet, sure, but so far we have managed to convince people it’s a rare genetic anomaly. Her eyes, though…” he trailed off, thoughtfully. “If we don’t tell her, someone else will.”

Garrus looked back at the holo on his desk. Even across the room, they were as clear and sharp as the day he’d met her. “Could be a coincidence.”

His father shook his head. “Don’t be a fool, Garrus.” He pulled a folded paper photograph out of his chest pocket and passed it to his son. He unfolded it gingerly, memories making his head spin. They were looking up at the camera, Shepard’s face flushed pink with excitement. Her lips curved upwards in a small smile, her red hair flowing like water around her face from the static build-up of her implants. Kalros looked impossibly tiny, nestled against her chest, blinking sleepily up at her mother. There was no structural resemblance, the salarians had made sure of that. But the two pairs of eyes were the same. An autosomal dominant trait, they’d called it, occurring in slightly less than one percent of the galaxy’s population. The iris was split evenly down the middle of both eyes, the right half as bright and clear and blue as the skies over earth, and the left half as green as the oceans of Palaven.

Castis carefully folded the photograph back up and tucked it back into his pocket. There was another one in there, Garrus knew, of Solana and his mother. He wondered if there was one of him, too.

“Well?” he asked expectantly.

Begrudgingly, Garrus released his breath in one long exhale. “You’re right, of course. I just need some time.”

Later, when his father had gone, he sat back down in his desk, watching the holo replay itself over and over. The existence of the holo itself was evidence of one of their crazier adventures; only one dossier from that mission was left and it was buried so deeply in the Alliance’s top secret archives on a planet that didn’t technically exist not even the Illusive Man would have been able to dig it up, if he were alive and fancied some late-night reading.

The green light on his datapad flashed; another email from Kali. He felt a warm flicker of happiness, despite himself. He loved his daughter. He wished Shepard were here, to tell him what to say, what to do. Of course, if she were here, then all this secrecy would be a moot point. He reached over to his miniature quantum entanglement communicator and began to dial. 

 

Chapter Text

“This isn’t right, Ambassador. We don’t even have a body to bury -”

Garrus folded his arms across his chest, catching Liara’s eye and sharing a sympathetic glance. Lieutenant Alenko had been arguing with Udina for nearly half an hour.

With a long exhale, Joker finally snapped. “Kaidan, now isn’t the time.”

Alenko’s mouth snapped closed and he turned his furious gaze on his comrade. “And when would be a good time for you, Flight Lieutenant Moreau?” he drew out his words quietly, loading every syllable with venom.

The pilot hid his face in his hands, shoulders shaking. “I’m sorry.”

“This should be your funeral.”

Garrus blinked, Liara gasped and Tali cried out in protest at the lieutenant's bluntness. The asari opened her mouth to say something, but was interrupted by the sudden appearance of the councillor.

Anderson looked drawn, even gaunt, as he mounted the steps to the podium and addressed them. He paused, peering down at the coffin beside him. It was polished to a mirror shine, and closed. Empty.

“Commander Shepard was -” he began, and paused. He touched his fingers to the bridge of his nose. “My apologies. Commander Shepard was an exemplary Alliance soldier, and a credit to humanity, but more than that, she was a friend. She was courageous, bold, and resolute; the possessor of indomitable spirit that I will do my utmost to uphold.

“Before Akuze, Shepard had a quiet air of confidence that you don’t often come across in young soldiers. She carried herself like a woman who knew her place in the galaxy, and was content with the offerings. She was intelligent, a remarkable shot, quick to smile, quicker to laugh, and demanded only the best from herself. Sometimes it seemed like there was nothing Shepard couldn’t do." he paused, eyes far away. "Life, though, has a way of testing us. For Shepard, that test was Akuze. The unimaginable loss she suffered there changed her, as it would have changed anyone. Against all odds, Shepard survived. That Shepard, the survivor, is the reason we are all standing here today. Because Commander Shepard wanted every one of us to survive, even at the cost of her own life. And we will repay that debt by continuing to survive.” Anderson looked back down at the empty coffin.

Cherry blossoms wafted down from the Citadel Tower trees, garnishing the attendees in shades of pink and snow. Alenko’s tears were streaming openly down his face and Garrus couldn’t stand to look at such an obvious display of feeling. He lined up behind Tali'Zorah, scanning the crowds for Wrex, but there was still no sign of the ten-foot krogan. Empty coffins and missing crew members. The lieutenant had a point, he supposed. None of it felt right.

“Detective Vakarian.” Councillor Anderson shook his hand as he approached the dais to pay his respects.

“Councillor. Your eulogy was… very thoughtful.” He told him politely.

Anderson nodded absently. “Allow me to be the first to congratulate you on your entry into the Spectre program. Shepard thought very highly of you.”

Garrus was surprised. “I hadn’t been told yet. Thank you, Councillor.”

He waved him away. “There’s no need for all that,” he grimaced. “Shepard’s letter of recommendation was… well, in light of recent events, I wasn’t taking no for an answer. She would have been glad to see you do well, I think.” Anderson pressed an envelope into his hands and turned to Adams behind him.

Stupidly, he gave the empty box a nod. There’s a little less good in the universe today, he told it silently. Keep an eye out for us, maybe?

Slowly, he made his way back through the council chambers, finding a quiet seat on a bench, not far from the first place he’d met Shepard.

He’d been arguing with Executor Pallin, when he noticed her watching. She’d been standing there for a while, half in the shadows, barely inside his peripheral vision. He’d never seen her before, but he surmised who she was from her report, and also because of her presence in the Citadel Tower. She was tall, for a human, barely lifting her chin to meet his eye. Hers chilled him to the bone. Each iris was divided perfectly in two, the right half blue, the left half green. Cool, calculating, sharp. Predatory. Garrus reminded himself that this human had the highest kill-count in the N7 rangers.

“Commander Shepard? Garrus Vakarian. I was the officer in charge of the C-sec investigation into Saren.”

Her voice was light, friendly almost, but her eyes narrowed and inspected him from head to toe. Threat assessment, he realised. “Who were you just talking to?”

“That was Executor Pallin, head of Citadel Security. My boss. He’ll be presenting my findings on Saren to the council.”

“Come across anything I should know about?” she cocked her head slowly to the side as she asked, a gesture he would come to realise meant she already knew the answer to her question.

Garrus’ talons made involuntary fists. “Saren’s a Spectre. Most of his activities are classified. I couldn’t find anything solid. But I know he’s up to something.” He glared at Pallin’s back. “Like you humans say. I feel it in my gut.”

“I think the council is ready for us, commander,” Alenko had chimed in. Shepard raised her brows in brief acknowledgement and walked away.

“Good luck, Shepard.” He’d called after her. “Maybe they’ll listen to you.”

Garrus laughed quietly to himself at the memory. Maybe they’ll listen to you. Yeah right. And pyjaks would grow wings and fly. He opened Anderson’s letter.

 


 

THIS LETTER CONTAINS CLASSIFIED ALLIANCE NAVY // CITADEL COUNCIL INFORMATION

RECCOMENDATION FOR SPECTRE CANDIDACY – GARRUS VAKARIAN

Councillor, I would like to draw your attention to the actions of Detective-Sergeant Garrus Vakarian during his assignment on the Alliance frigate SSV Normandy. Vakarian proved himself to be a faithful and loyal asset to my crew and it is with as much reluctance as pride that I commend him to Council Spectre training.

Without Vakarian, apprehension and subsequent execution of wanted criminal Dr. Saleon would have been impossible. His insights provided the information my squad needed to positively identify the suspect and his quick thinking further prevented Saleon’s escape. Vakarian’s mechanical expertise on the Alliance base of Altahe in the Styx Theta cluster enabled Alliance forces to hold back several waves of illegally cloned rachni until the team could be extracted, saving their lives. He also assisted in the recovery of two geth data caches from the Attican Beta and the Armstrong Cluster, which provided a decided edge over the geth in the later battle with Saren Arterius.

Whilst I see no further need to elaborate on Vakarian’s eligibility, I would like to add on a personal note that there is no life in this universe I wouldn’t hesitate to put in his capable hands – including my own. Garrus’ ability to make sound and logical judgements on short notice has saved countless lives, several times over.

If you wish to discuss this matter in person, I would be more than happy to oblige your request at any time.

COMMANDER J. SHEPARD

N7, ALLIANCE NAVY

COUNCIL SPECTRE


 

 

Flattered, and more than a little pleased, Garrus folded the communication carefully along the creases and tucked it into his sleeve. He hoped his father wouldn’t take it too hard.

Chapter Text

“I don’t understand.” Garrus cut the salarian off, and tried to keep the anger out of his voice. “When we submitted our samples two years ago we were told there was an eight-year waiting list, and that the expected outcome was unlikely.”

Mordin Sidrok blinked vacantly. “I can’t verify that, I wasn’t there.”

“And you expect me to believe that you simply bumped us up the list as a favour to your uncle,” his voice dripped with sarcasm. “I don’t buy that at all.” A quick glance in Shepard’s direction told him she had crossed her arms; her silence told him she agreed.

“Perhaps.” Sidrok shrugged in a gesture of nonchalance that was so like his uncle Garrus was thrown momentarily for a loop. “Perhaps STG’s own contingency plan in the event of Shepard's death. Not necessary now, reapers destroyed.”

“If the STG wanted to create a contingency plan, why not just clone me directly? Cerberus did. You’ve got the facility, and you’ve got my DNA. It would have been easier.” She was staring out of Sidrok’s office window into the laboratory beyond.

The geneticist shrugged again. “Plausible deniability. If caught, could say we were working on personal project.” He held up his datapad. “Paperwork all here, signed by Shepard and Vakarian. Legally approved.”

“The geneticist we saw then told us there was no chance of success. DNA based on dextro-amino acids could never be integrated with levo-amino DNA.” Garrus argued.

“Was a difficult project.” Sidrok turned away, clasping his hands behind his back. “Encountered resistance, set-back after set-back. Breakthrough occurred about a year ago. Should have thought of it sooner; unfortunately, not as smart as my uncle. Still, honoured to have been involved.” He turned his head to look at Shepard curiously. “Aware this outcome unanticipated. Hoping you will consider anyway.”

“What kind of set-backs?” she wanted to know. Not for the first time, Garrus wished he could read her mind. Her face could be so expressive sometimes, he could watch her thoughts come and go like clouds drifting lazily across the sky. Now, it was cold and blank, her war-face, the brain behind it strategizing in secret.

“Initial expectation, dominant genes to come from Shepard; gaps in strands to be filled by turian DNA,” Sidrok explained. “Then, breakthrough. Human DNA easier to rewrite than turian. Greater diversity. Used Vakarian genes as baseline, with filler DNA from Shepard. Advantageous results.” He brought his computer screen up on the wall behind his desk, scans of muscular and skeletal structure side-by-side. “Specimen 32-Y first success. 49-B first to reach appropriate gestation.”

Garrus’ mandible twitched. The skeleton and musculature looked remarkably turian, albeit with a few distinctions. The hands had five digits, the feet four, and the waist and torso were noticeably thicker. He felt dizzy, the salarians had actually done it. Until now, he’d sat in a stupor of disbelief, refusing to allow himself to even hope Mordin Solus’ nephew was telling the truth, but here was the actual proof. Shepard appeared at his shoulder, brows raised in surprise, taking short, shallow breaths. Instinctively, he reached for her, offering comfort, relaxing as he stroked her waist softly.

She studied the medical data for a long time. “Can we see it?” she asked finally, voice faint. Mordin Sidrok nodded. “Of course.”

 

~

 

They followed the salarian through the labs, and he rattled off various experiments as they passed, but Garrus was barely listening. It isn’t supposed to be like this, he argued with himself. It doesn’t matter. Take what you can get. Shepard’s hand tightened around his talons. She looked distressed, distracted. Eyeing off the lab equipment with some emotion akin to despair. He was about to ask Sidrok if they could be left alone together for a moment when they stopped in front of a large window.

“Decontamination through there,” he pointed to the far side of the room. “Sterile environment necessary. Specimen visible here, though.”

Sterile, indeed. The laboratory was blindingly white, the only colour coming from the various faces of the salarians working inside, the vitals flashing on the central monitor, and, of course –

Shepard exhaled forcefully, pressing both palms up against the glass. Garrus swallowed, feeling a lump starting to form in his throat. Scales in peachy shades of Palaven sunsets glittered in the harsh light, slightly distorted by the refraction through the amniotic fluids and the clear walls of the artificial womb. It was curled around itself, upside-down, tiny mandibles firmly closed and the serene expression of the blissfully unaware smoothed across its brow.

“49-B,” Sidrok announced proudly. “Surpassed all expectations.”

“Mordin,” Shepard croaked. “That’s not a specimen. That’s not even a foetus. How many more days’ gestation does it need?”

“Approximately four,” he had the grace to sound sheepish. “Decisions need to be made urgently.”

“Decisions?” her voice cut like ice. “Decisions?” Shepard loomed at the scientist, who took three wary steps back, putting his hands up defensively. Garrus grabbed her by the shoulders.

“Give us a minute?” he glared at the salarian, who backed out of the room in a hurry. Shepard marched back over to the window, dragging him behind her. Garrus sank his head into the space between her shoulder and her neck, letting her hair waft over his face. “Talk to me, Juliet.”

“I -” she clenched her fists. “That’s a baby, Garrus. Made from our DNA.” He let out a breath he hadn’t realised he was holding, relief flooding him.

“A turian-human baby.” He kept his vocals light, unable to conceal all of his awe. “Well, we know what they look like now, we can stop worrying.”

“I never really thought -”

“I know.” He pressed his mouth to her forehead, pulling her tightly against him. “Neither did I.” They held each other, watching as a five-taloned hand flexed and clenched into a tiny fist. “He’s perfect.”

Sidrok cleared his throat behind them. “She.”

Garrus blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

She.” He repeated. “Not he. Girl.”

 

~

 

They were offered a skyrise apartment not far from the STG laboratories, with a lush view overlooking one of Sur’Kesh’s main waterways, enveloped on three sides by rainforest. Left alone for the afternoon, they made love slowly with the balcony doors thrown open, the humidity making Shepard sweat and the sun warming the scales on Garrus’ back. She got up for water, and he sank back into the pillows, smiling to himself as he watched her go through all the kitchen cupboards looking for a glass.

“Ideas for a name?” she queried, climbing back in beside him. He ran his talons through her hair, parting the strands, enjoying the pleasant tingle of static electricity from her biotic implant.

“I don’t even know where to start,” he admitted. Briefly, he thought of his mother, guiltily dismissing the idea. His father might actually disown him, though the thought of it didn’t feel him with as much despair as it should.

Juliet’s eyes were far away. “Remember what we did on Tuchanka, in 2186?”

Garrus narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “Summoned a giant thresher maw to take down a reaper and cure the krogan genophage?”

“Not just any thresher maw.”

“It was the first time I started believing we even had a chance to win the war,” he admitted, considering it. “A half-turian, half-human, with a krogan name.” he shook his head. “Throw some asari and salarian in there?”

“I’m not naming my daughter after a krogan,” she scoffed. “I’m naming her after the biggest, baddest reaper-killer in the galaxy.”

Garrus grinned in spite of himself. “That was a good fight.”

“CIC of the Normandy-good?”

“No, not that good. Pretty close, though.” Lazily, he traced the curves of her body with his talons. “Shepard or Vakarian?”

“It would probably suck to have to live up to Shepard.” she replied loftily.

He growled jokingly, snapping his teeth gently against her shoulder. “Kalros Vakarian, then,”

Juliet smiled down at him so beautifully his heart skipped a beat. “I love her, Garrus. This morning I didn’t even know she existed.”

“She’s ours,” he told her affably. “The salarians might have made her, but they made her from our DNA. I don’t know how, and I’m still not clear on the why – but right now, I don’t actually care. Everything I want is on this planet.” He looked thoughtfully out the balcony doors at the setting sun. “At least it isn't Tuchanka.”

Chapter Text

Garrus watched Shepard walk away from the main battery and disappear into the corridor beyond, slightly dazed and very confused. Did that just happen? He replayed it all over in his mind’s eye, the white flash of her teeth as she gave him a rare smile, the spike in adrenaline and blood pressure he caught on his visor as the words rushed out of her mouth. What if we skip right to the tiebreaker? And then the part that nearly made his own heart stop. We could test your reach… and my flexibility. His datapad flashed orange, and he looked down at his attack vectors, trying to remember if he’d calculated for the gravitational drift of a collector ship.

Was it the scars? He couldn’t say for sure if they had anything to do with it. He recalled an earlier memory, lying in medical after he’d been airlifted off Omega. Shepard’s teeth flashing in Miranda’s face. He lives or you can fuck off my ship. Doctor Chakwas pulling her away, Miranda’s biting response. And then darkness again. She had always been like that though. Loyal. He tried to imagine what she looked like underneath all that armour, but his mind went suspiciously back to laser beam trajectory angles. He turned back to the battery, drumming his gloved talons gently on the steel alloy.

“Tuchanka; landing in thirty minutes,” Joker informed the crew over the intercom. “Commander Shepard on the bridge.”

Shepard’s reply was crisp and immediate. “Grunt and Vakarian to the shuttle bay for debriefing in fifteen. Shepard out.”

 

~

 

Tuchanka was hot, and stank like a bloated klixen corpse in the height of the hot season on Palaven. Garrus eyed Grunt furtively through his visor, the krogan was sweating uncomfortably beneath his plates and pacing aggressively.

“Krogan puberty,” he muttered again, in mock disgust. “Is it too late to get out of here, and head back to Omega? My offer is still on the table.”

The commander cracked the bones in her knuckles, then her neck, and her back. “Limber up, Garrus.” She retorted sharply, but her eyes looked amused.

“Let’s get started, Shepard. Hit the keystone.”

Shepard inserted a fresh heatsink into her shotgun, listening for the satisfying click and clank, before beating her fist once against the keystone. It flashed momentarily green, and the trio waited with baited breath.

“FIRST THE KROGAN CONQUERED TUCHANKA, AND MASTERED A NATURAL WORLD ONLY WE ARE FIT TO HOLD.”

The gates at the end of the arena ground open, the screech of metal dragging on metal threatening to make Garrus’ ears bleed. A vicious pack of wild varren spilled out.

“Here they come!” Grunt roared. “I’m ready!”

The varren were an easy fight. Shepard didn’t even break a sweat keeping them off, standing her ground as the pack charge and releasing a biotic shockwave. Garrus picked off the unfortunately airborne creatures one by one before rounding on the stragglers, most of which Grunt and Shepard had made short work of.

She approached the keystone again, and they waited.

“THEN, THE KROGAN WERE LIFTED TO THE STARS TO DESTROY THE FEARS OF A GALAXY, AN ENEMY ONLY WE COULD CHASE TO THEIR LAIR.”

Rachni?” she hissed, looking at him in alarm.

Garrus could only shrug. Much to his relief, a winged harvester descended upon the arena, releasing a herd of spitting, angry klixen. “That explains the smell,” he groaned aloud.

“Crawlers! Come to your death!” the hormonal krogan snarled viciously. Garrus caught Shepard rolling her eyes in Grunt’s direction and snickered.

They tag-teamed the klixen, Garrus keeping the barrel of his rifle just over her shoulder as she swept forwards, biotically lifting the individuals to give him clean and clear shots. “Can’t you use shockwave?” he shouted in her ear over the sound of Grunt’s enthusiastic assault rifle attack.

“They’re too heavy,” she shouted back.

“Too bad,” he countered. “I bet Jack could do it.”

With Herculean effort, Shepard executed a shockwave that sent four klixen flying over the wall of the arena. Garrus made short work of them anyway, just in case, watching them land heavily in the desert outside through his scope with sincere satisfaction.

Short of breath, she pounded on the keystone again, shooting him a glare of death that might have caused a lesser man to shrivel up.

“NOW, ALL KROGAN BEAR THE GENOPHAGE. OUR REWARD. OUR CURSE. IT IS A FIGHT WHERE THE ONLY GOAL IS SURVIVAL.”

The ground trembled beneath their feet, and their heads collectively turned to the rumble in the distance. “Feel that? Everything is… shaking.” Grunt was delighted. “I am ready!”

The tremors and the rumbling grew closer. The first feelers penetrated the air. With a great screech, the creature erupted from the sand outside the arena and unleashed a deafening, alien howl, its massive body blocking out the sun.

“SHEPARD!” she was frozen in place, eyes fixed on the thresher maw. Through his visor he watched her heartrate skyrocket. Akuze, he realised. The maw hurled a giant spitball of acid down at her and Garrus watched her just standing there. And then he leapt.

They tumbled into the protection of a crumbling turret, which a second spitball demolished with uncanny timing. Crying out in rage, the commander got back to her feet and began firing with abandon at the worm. Heart in his mouth, Garrus joined her and Grunt, firing repeatedly, excessively. Ducking and rolling out of the way of acid balls, avoiding the puddles of slime left behind.

The maw would retreat and tunnel through the ground around them, causing it to shake violently. “You don’t get to evade me, you big ugly pyjak!” Shepard shrieked at it. She was knocked off her feet as the maw broke through the surface again, screeching painfully.

Its body dangled over the arena wall, impressively mangled. Garrus wondered what the strange ringing noise in his auriculars was, until he realised it was Shepard. Laughing.

“Shepard?” he asked weakly.

She laughed uncontrollably, an uncomfortable, maniacal, menacing bark that he didn’t really understand. Even Grunt took a step backwards, eyeing the commander with alarm.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” she swore finally, wiping her eyes. “Where are we? What year is it?”

He shared a look with Grunt.

“Commander.” He gripped her by the shoulders. “Are you okay?” his eyes searched her blank face.

“No.” she answered. “I am not okay.” She wrenched herself from his grasp and marched off.

In the distance, a shuttle landed outside the arena gates. Garrus holstered his rifle and began to follow.

 

~

 

When they were back on board the Normandy, Garrus followed hot on her heels, until she pointedly closed the medbay doors in his face. He watched through the medbay window as she collapsed into an armchair, until Karin turned the two-way mirrors on. Dismally, he held a staring competition with his reflection until he lost.

“I heard you had a run-in with a thresher maw on Tuchanka,” Miranda announced her presence without a greeting.

Garrus glared at her. “You knew this would happen?”

She shrugged. “I know Shepard better than anyone. I built her, I put her back together. Even if there was a switch I could flick to make Shepard magically fearless, I wouldn’t do it. Akuze made Shepard who she is, Vakarian.”

“We’ve killed thresher maws before.”

“From a distance, in a tank, with a giant gun.” She argued softly. “Shepard hasn’t fought one up close like that since -”

The turian let his shoulders fall. “You don’t have to say it.”

Miranda sat down across from him. “It was a hell of a thing.”

“She froze. Completely locked up. Is that what it’s like? To come face to face with your own nightmares?”

“Only Shepard can answer that.” They were quiet for a while. “She’ll be better off now.”

“How can you say that?”

“Few people get a chance to go back and face their fears. Shepard lost her entire platoon on Akuze. You and Grunt got out alive. It’s not much, but it might be enough. To put some of her ghosts to rest.”

Chapter Text

"Wild guess says that’s Kalros.”

Shepard’s flashlight hit the ancient mural, and Vega let out a long, low whistle. “That’s what’s crawling around down here?”

 Garrus’ eyes, better adjusted to the dark than a human’s, focused instead on the commander. She swallowed, glaring up at the painting defiantly. Another tremor rumbled through the ground, and she trembled in response. He could hear the echo of her increasing heartbeat in the cold silence.

His gloved talons reached for her elbow and she sank against his chest briefly, resting her head on his carapace for the barest second before twisting on her heel and marching off into the dark. She was afraid, he knew. But he also knew that fear alone wasn’t enough to stop her.

A few chambers over, they came across a corpse.

“More rachni,” Garrus hissed, crest prickling with discomfort.

The blood drained from the lieutenant’s face. “You gotta be shitting me,” he swore.

“There are bound to be more than just the ones we killed,” Shepard pressed two fingers to her comm. “Wrex, we’ve got rachni here. Keep an eye out.”

“I know,” the krogan grunted back. “A few of them just attacked us. All that matters is getting to that Shroud. Find us, fast.”

Garrus and James followed Shepard upwards, into the light. Garrus heard Vega exhale in relief and smirked at him.

“Now this is new,” he announced, looking around and blinking the white spots away. “A part of Tuchanka that isn’t rubble.”

“Makes you wonder what the krogan could’ve been if they hadn’t nuked the place,” the lieutenant sounded approving.

“Wrex, we made it back outside.” Shepard ignored them both.

Wrex’s reply was doubtful. “Well if you can see sunlight, that’s progress.”

“I never knew the krogan had this in them,” Garrus could still hardly believe it. The temples were overgrown with lush green plants. Life. “Maybe Eve has a point. Curing the genophage might work out after all.”

“And if she’s wrong?” Vega countered.

“You’re looking at hope,” Eve interrupted them. “All that’s left of it on Tuchanka. This was once a world full of beauty. Given a chance, it can be again.”

“Shepard, that Reaper is still up to no good at the Shroud. Find a way out of there and we’ll pick you up.” Wrex’s voice was anxious.

The commander paused to look out across the old stone temples. Garrus watched her brow smooth over peacefully, and her mouth turn up just slightly at the corners. “We’re on it,” she told him finally, and they pressed onward.

Reaper troops began dropping out of the sky ahead, and Shepard dove for cover, gesturing behind her for them to do the same. They fought their way across the temple courtyard, Garrus hanging back and picking off marauders with gleeful determination. He almost dropped his rifle when Shepard charged, a blue streak across the bleak stone, shoving James aside and detonating her biotic nova; dropping a particularly tenacious brute. “That’s one less to worry about,” he muttered to himself.

They found themselves on an old bridge, overlooking the desert for as far as the eye could see. “Shepard, we’re coming under the bridge. Get down here and we can get to the Shroud.” Wrex’s convoy was charging towards them when suddenly the tomkas swerved violently. “Wait! Kalros!”

“Another quake!” Vega shouted.

The spinal ridges of a colossal thresher maw rose up out of Tuchanka and headed straight for them. Garrus saw the red outline of Shepard’s armour in the shadow of the beast before dust and sand swirled up into his eyes and the vibrating ground tossed him off his feet, hard.

“That had to be Kalros!” he yelled back. Where’s Shepard? His neck swivelled. He’d lost sight of her.

“Kalros' territorial instinct confirmed!” Mordin squeaked over the comm.

“She’s not gonna get us!” Wrex growled.

The dust cleared in time for Garrus and James to watch Shepard leap over the new chasm in the bridge and race ahead.

“Go on ahead, Shepard. We’ll try to shake this thing and find you!” Wrex was starting to sound desperate.

“Thresher maw getting closer,” Mordin warned.

The krogan roared back, frustrated. “Tell me something I don’t know!”

"Metal in truck an excellent iron supplement for maw's diet?"

Wrex howled furiously and Garrus wondered if the salarian was about to supplement his diet. 

“Now I’m kinda glad we’re not in the truck,” Vega panted as they ran after the commander.

Garrus snorted. “And the thing is, I bet Wrex is enjoying this,” he told the kid. “Now where do you suppose we are?”

Vega touched the closest statue. “Looks like a memorial.” He shrugged. Garrus caught movement in his peripherals just as James popped his heatsink. “The party’s not over yet!”

The turian ducked behind the nearest stone, and looked down his scope. Damn Shepard, he thought. Why couldn’t she be wrong about the Reapers? Was just once too much to ask for?

 

~

 

Shepard stumbled down the temple steps, landing on her knees in the dust. Garrus shook his head. She was going to get sand in everything, lying there like that.

“Shepard, get over here,” Wrex ordered. “Wreav, keep an eye out for that maw! I don’t want it sneaking up on us.”

“Make it quick, Wrex.” Wreav snarled back. “We’re exposed!”

Garrus accepted Wrex’s arm up into the tomka gratefully. “Move it!” Shepard growled at Vega. The ground was trembling again, and Garrus could see the outline of the maw’s back, curling up above the sand dunes in the distance.

Wrex was gleeful. “It’s Kalros!” he announced unnecessarily, red eyes shining. “Move, Shepard!”

Garrus locked his elbow under her shoulder and hauled her in, ignoring the pink flush of her cheeks as she fell roughly against him with the tomka’s rapid acceleration. “We’re in,” she grunted. “Go!”

“What about Wreav?” Eve asked, voice gentle.

Wrex glanced at the rubble outside, Kalros disappearing into the dust clouds. “No way he survived that. And he was a pain in the ass anyway.” He scratched his headplate mildly, chuckling to himself. “Now let’s finish this. There’s a Reaper waiting for us.”

The tomka hurtled across the wasteland, leaving the temples and catacombs far behind them in a blazing trail of orange-yellow dust. Shepard was counting the grenades left on her belt, chewing the side of her mouth. James looked a little bit dazed, staring at the floor with his mouth half open.

Finally, they came to a halt, and stepped out of the truck.

Vega looked up at the Reaper, almost as tall as the massive Shroud behind it, stinking up the atmosphere with toxic gas, daunted. “I hope somebody has a Plan B,”

Garrus agreed. “I know we’ve beaten the odds before...” he looked over at Shepard. “But getting to that tower… I don’t know.”

“We’re curing the genophage no matter what it takes. Everything my people will ever be depends on it.”

Shepard clapped Wrex on the shoulder. “Then I hope this idea you were talking about is a good one,” she offered him half a grin.

Wrex gestured to Eve. “It was hers, actually.”

Eve nodded at the commander, and her anxious smirk turned into a wry smile. Back on the Normandy, Garrus had made an offhand comment about what Eve had been through, and how he hoped they could measure up. He’d meant all of them, himself mostly, but Shepard had left the main battery, discontent. The krogan female had more in common with Shepard than he’d thought, really, and he kicked himself. There was an understanding between them he hadn’t noticed before. They were both remarkable, strong women; with terrible histories, and huge burdens placed upon them by their people.

“Kalros.” Eve announced. “We summon her to the Reaper.”

The smile was wiped off Shepard’s face, and she turned her back to them all, folding her arms. “Would that even work?” she asked, voice thick.

“Already discussed strategy. Just need to distract Reaper, draw it from tower while cure synthesised, released.” Mordin explained.

“What makes you so sure she’ll come?” The commander wanted to know.

Eve took over again. “Legends say, she is the mother from which all other thresher maws spawn. This is as much her home, as ours.”

“If Tuchanka has a temper, Kalros is it. Nobody’s ever faced her and survived.”

Shepard took a deep breath. “We flew through the Omega 4 relay and survived.” She turned back to face Wrex, face tight. “We can do this.”

Garrus’ mandible twitched.

“That’s the spirit, Shepard!” Wrex crowed.

Bi-coloured eyes focused ahead, on the Shroud, and she waved a gauntlet in the direction of the Reaper. “How would we summon her?”

“The tower was built in an arena devoted to Kalros’ glory. The salarians thought she would scare away intruders.” Eve explained.

Mordin nodded, pleased. “Appears to have worked.”

“There are two maw hammers there. The largest in existence. If you can activate them, Kalros will come. That should distract the Reaper.”

“Meanwhile, laboratory nearby. Will finish synthesising cure.” Mordin nodded again. Shepard clasped her hands on his shoulders, taking another deep breath.

“Let’s make sure we all get out of here alive. We’re going to have one hell of a story to tell.” She cracked her knuckles against her palm, shaking her legs out.

“Wait!” Wrex interrupted. He stepped in front of Shepard. “I want you to know that no matter what happens, you have been a champion to the krogan people. A friend of clan Urdnot. And a sister to me. To every krogan born after this day, the name Shepard will mean hero.” The clasped forearms, a human gesture of fraternity. Garrus idly wondered if they’d headbutt affectionately, but no such luck. “Now, let’s show them why!”

The krogan hauled the commander aside and drew his assault rifle on the rachni that had snuck up behind them. “Go! I’ve got this!” he demanded, charging for the enemy. “I AM URDNOT WREX, AND THIS IS MY PLANET!

“See you on the other side,” Shepard told Eve and Mordin urgently.

“Stay alive, Shepard,” Mordin called over his shoulder. “Will have cure ready.”

“Let’s get in there,” she ordered. Garrus’ legs followed hers, totally of their own volition.

I guess we’re really doing this, he announced to himself. He vaulted over a crumbling stone wall and followed the sound of Shepard’s gunfire.

“Shepard! I took care of those rachni!” Wrex was triumphant. “But someone has to raise those maw hammers before you can use them!”

“Fuck,” she swore. “We’re kind of busy, Wrex.”

“Lucky for you, I’m here. I’ll handle it,” he replied woundedly.

“Why is it always fucking thresher maws,” she muttered under her breath, so quietly Garrus almost didn’t hear. He was about to reply when she detonated a shockwave, throwing several husks violently off his nine.

“Shepard, some luck!” Mordin chirped over the comm. “Original strain in storage. Preparing the cure now.”

“Make it quick, Mordin. They’re all over us out here.”

“On your six, ma’am!” Vega announced. “HOLY SHIT! OFF TO THE LEFT!” The Reaper fired a white-hot laser in their direction with barely a moment’s warning, and Garrus watched in horror as the parapet they were crossing shook and fell forward into the arena.

Shepard was laughing hysterically, sucking in short, shallow breaths. “Everyone all right?” she called.

“Fine here,” Garrus told her, picking himself up off the ground and trying not to throw up. “Mostly.”

“I just got shot by a Reaper!” Vega looked as green as Garrus felt.

“Consider that practice,” Shepard called back helpfully.

“Okay, Shepard. I raised the hammers. You have to activate both of them. My advice is: avoid the giant laser!” the krogan cackled.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” Garrus resisted the urge to mute his comm. They raced forwards into the arena, dodging massive chucks of flying debris with fingers and talons crossed.

 “Just. Keep. Moving!” James grunted, flattening himself on the stone and narrowly avoiding a serious head injury.

“Stick to cover!” Shepard yelled over her shoulder.

“I’m not sure cover is going to work,” Garrus yelled back.

“Are we really doing this?” James asked him, incredulous.

“Don’t stop!” Shepard growled back at them.

Familiar shadows swooped over Garrus’ head.

“Commander, this is Artimec Wing,” a cool, metallic voice announced over the comm. “We’ll try to give that Reaper something else to shoot at.”

Garrus whooped. “I knew they wouldn’t give up!” he watched the turian fighters open fire on the Reaper.

“Now that’s some God damned balls.” Vega approved.

Four brutes launched out of the sky and began to advance on their position.

Vega tossed four grenades in quick succession, and fires lit up the arena, warming Garrus’ face.

“On our left, one of the hammers!” James noted.

Garrus’ eyes searched for the other. “Second one’s on the right,” he declared.

“Getting to them’s gonna be the trick!” He was firing from the hip at the nearest brute, making Garrus want to clock him over the head.

“Fuck this!” Shepard swore, holstering her shotgun. Alarmed, Garrus lunged in her direction.

“What are you doing?” he demanded, providing cover fire.

She took a deep breath. “Vega! Vakarian! Stay here, stay down, and for God’s sake, whatever you do, do not stop firing!

“Yes, ma’am!” the lieutenant barked.

“Shepard, what are you -”

She exploded out from behind him, sprinting through the carnage ahead. Blue sparks lit up the clouds of dust as she cleared herself a path.

The ground trembled, and a deep, resounding, bell-like tone echoed across the wasteland that made Garrus’ teeth feel itchy.

“Mordin!” Shepard’s voice crackled over the comm. “We hit the first hammer. How’s it coming?”

“Almost have cure! Eve’s vital signs dropping! Trying to compensate!”

“Second hammer’s on the other side!” Garrus reminded her frantically.

“Shepard! Get that second hammer going!” Wrex’s voice joined the comm chatter.

“There’s a Reaper in my way, Wrex!” she shrieked furiously back at him.

“I know! You get all the fun,” he groused back.

In the dust, Garrus could barely make out Shepard’s silhouette, streaking back across the arena towards the second hammer. The brutes kept coming, and he kept firing.

The second hammer dropped, and her face appeared in his suddenly. His visor told him she was mostly running on adrenaline at this point. “Go!” she told them. “Get back to the truck. I’ll take care of the cure!”

Before he could protest, she was gone.

The ground trembled ominously. He shared an uneasy look with Vega. The Reaper began to move as the tremors increased in ferocity, adding to the shaking. Kalros erupted from the desert, her massive head momentarily blocking out the sun. The Reaper fired a beam and she disappeared back beneath the surface. A second of silence descended upon the wasteland, and then Kalros rose again. Her huge body dwarfed the massive Reaper, constricting around the metal in a deadly embrace. The Reaper threw the maw off, and she released a deafening screech and disappeared again, only to launch herself again from the depths of Tuchanka and crush its spiny hull in her humungous jaws.

Shoulder to shoulder, Garrus and James watched the behemoth curl violently around the Reaper and drag it beneath the ground, shrieking defiantly the whole way down.

Vega, not religious by nature, crossed himself suddenly, and Garrus prayed silently to the spirits.

 

~

 

They waited in the tomka, all eyes on the Shroud.

The toxic gas spewing from the top graduated into a fine, silvery mist, and the Shroud imploded on itself. Eve inhaled, pained.

The lieutenant moved toward the driver’s seat. “Is that it? Is that what we’re waiting for?” he looked at Wrex, demanding answers

“I don’t know.” The krogan’s reply was uncertain.

“Stop!” Garrus barked at Wrex. “It’s Shepard.” He was sure of it. It was her armour, red and black. She was on her knees in the rubble, looking back towards where the Shroud used to be. Wet, silver flakes glittered in the sunlight, caked over the ground. He reached her first, touched a hand to her shoulder gently. Tears streaked freely down her face, and his chest felt tight. He’d never seen Shepard cry before, and he wasn’t sure he had the right. It would be like saying her name aloud, or asking about the Skyllian Blitz, or Akuze, or Torfan.

She looked up at him, eyes full of grief. Why is she alone? He scanned their surroundings. There was no sign of Mordin Solus.

Gently, he pulled her back to the tomka. He couldn’t wait to get the hell off Tuchanka.

 

~

 

“A long time ago, my father betrayed me in this place. His own son. He tried to kill me.” Wrex’s voice was bleak. “So I had to kill him.” He pointed. “Right over there. That’s what the genophage reduced us to. Animals. But you changed that today, Shepard.”

“Now, we’ll fight for our children. Not against them.” Eve offered solidarity, standing by Wrex’s side. “It’s just a pity Mordin had to die.”

Shepard shook her head slowly. “He wouldn’t have had it any other way.” She replied simply. “I’m sure, wherever he is… he’s putting in a good word for us.”

We’ll need it soon enough. Garrus didn’t voice his thoughts aloud.

“We’ll name one of the kids after him. Maybe a girl,” Wrex snorted.

Eve rolled her eyes at him, and turned back to Shepard. “But you, commander… We can thank you in person.”

“Tell the turians I’ll be deploying troops to Palaven immediately.” Wrex announced.

Garrus’ mandible hung open. She pulled it off.

“And when you’re ready to kick the Reapers off Earth, you let me know. The krogan are back in business.” Wrex grinned, thumping his fists against the nearest stones.

Eve and Shepard embraced fondly. “Goodbye, Commander.”

“What will you do now?” she wanted to know.

“Spread the hope you’ve given us. Even now, there are clans gathering in the Kelphic Valley. I’ll go speak to them, and make sure this gift isn’t squandered. Thank you for all that you’ve done.” They leaned their heads in together, speaking privately. Vega radioed for Cortez to bring the shuttle down.

On board, the commander kept to herself, avoiding his eyes and staring blankly at the floor. She rubbed her left shoulder, stretching it and rolling the joint carefully, making him concerned that she’d injured it until he reminded himself that she had other scars.

He peeled her flight suit away, exposing her white skin to the faint blue haze of the aquarium lights, tracing the thin blue veins down her neck. Her blue and green eyes looked up at from beneath her lashes shyly as his talons grazed the mess of scar tissue from her shoulder down into the small of her back. He let his eyes ask the questions, watching her swallow.

“Thresher maw acid.” She told him faintly. “On… on Akuze.”

He wrapped his talons around her wrist and pulled her hand back up to the scars on his face. “It’s ok,” he told her gently. “We all have them.”

The shuttle docking on the Normandy jolted him out of his memory and back into the present. Shepard was already in the elevator, doors sliding shut behind her.

“Well, Scars,” Vega clapped him on the back. “You are even better in action than Lola said you were.”

“She told you about me?” he asked skeptically.

Vega shrugged. “Not in so many words.”

Garrus exhaled through his teeth, a gesture he knew humans often found menacing. The lieutenant remained annoyingly unruffled. “What words did she use then?”

He folded his arms across his chest. Garrus eyed his impressive muscular structure, reminding himself that Shepard had easily hip-checked and floored the kid in seven and a half minutes, winning him two thousand credits and a bottle of turian horosk. “What’s your deal with the commander, anyway?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

Garrus felt a mandible twitch coming on. “Excuse me?”

Vega reached for his Black Widow. “I know that you have all eleven of the names of your Omega squad scratched on to your visor, there, Scars, except the one you burned out, and Lola told me it was none of my business.” He hefted the rifle, running his fingers along the stock, wiping away the grime. “But this?” he showed Garrus the name scribed there as though it might come as a surprise. “No one calls the commander that. Until I saw this, I didn’t even know what her first initial stood for.”

Garrus closed his talons over the gun and pulled it out of Vega’s grasp. “We’re in the middle of a war, lieutenant.” He told the kid coolly. “Maybe focus on that.”

He headed for the elevator. He needed a cold shower. “She said you’re the only one in the universe she can really depend on.” Vega quipped to his back. “The only one who has never let her down.”

Garrus paused. “Never.” He agreed, without turning around. James nodded, watching the elevator doors close between them. Scowling, he wondered what the lieutenant’s deal was. Calling her Lola. He snorted. He traced the name scrawled onto the Widow. She had given it to him after he’d killed – no, after Shepard had let him kill Sidonis. A fresh start, she’d called it. He dumped his gear in the battery and headed for the locker room.

Trying to sleep on Menae was useless, but he tried anyway. As the gunfire rained down outside the compound walls, and the sky above him seemed endless and uncaring, he thought about her. Underneath him, on top of him, wrapped around him, the tendrils of her hair curling in and around his carapace, as soft as silk between his talons. Was she alive? Still in prison? The last he’d heard before he’d left Palaven was that she’d been cleared of all charges but was placed under house arrest while the Alliance tried to placate the batarians.

He felt guilty. There was no reason for him to think of Shepard while Palaven burned. But it was the silence, the not-knowing that made it worse. If he knew she was alive he could go on. He’d keep fighting until he saw her again. Even once. Maybe if he’d been with her, if he hadn’t gone home for his mother’s funeral – no. No, that wasn’t an option. Shepard had stood by his side that day; watched him leave from the cargo hold while the Normandy refuelled. He could have asked her to stay. Things might have been different.

He sighed, he wasn’t going to fall asleep like this. He picked up his rifle and headed for maintenance. He’d cracked his scope, he needed to fix it. He didn’t need to think while he worked, his hands knew all the parts and their places just by feeling for them. Someone had left an omniblade on the bench. He eyed it, thoughtfully. It cut through the thick varnish on the stock easily, but scraped against the metal underneath. Before he knew what he was doing, he’d carved a ‘J’ and a ‘U’ and an ‘L’. The rest followed naturally and he wiped away the black dust, satisfied. Later, he could make a sodium chloride rub, and give it a once over with the oxy-acetylene to make it red. In the meantime, it was enough to make him feel close to her spirit, wherever she was.

“Garrus, Primarch Victus is in the War Room with the Commander. He’s asking for you,” Joker relayed over the comm.

Garrus dressed himself, visor first, boots last. “On my way.”

Chapter Text

When Garrus stepped off the shuttle and onto Tuchanka soil, the first thing he saw was The Shroud Memorial in the distance, towering over even the tallest of the temples. He smiled despite himself, old memories rushing up to him like old forgotten friends. He had been convinced, the day she cured the genophage, that Shepard could do anything. He was proud of the krogan-turian alliance, proud of the way he had upheld it all these years. He was no politician; he’d never understood diplomacy like Shepard. The krogan cause had been important to her, almost as important as winning the war. Wrex had never been less than an equal in Shepard’s eyes, and by the time they were done they were as close as brother and sister. If Garrus closed his eyes, he could still see them standing together, forearms grasped, comrades in arms.

And then the unpleasant stench of klixen wafted up his nose.

“Garrus Vakarian.” The gravelly voice was familiar; an old friend.

The turian turned on the ball of his foot. “Grunt,” he greeted slowly, accepting the krogan’s handshake.

Grunt eyed him wickedly, eyes gleaming mischievously. “Well, well, well. You’re getting old, Vakarian.”

Garrus laughed, clapping him on the shoulder plates. “And you’re getting fat. Settled life doesn’t suit you, kid.”

His krogan companion snorted. “The young need wise teachers. I could still hold my own against a rachni horde, if I had to,” he bared his teeth in a terrifying grin. “But children are stubborn and rash. They survive their trials and they start thinking they could take on the whole galaxy.” He shook his head.

“Reminds me of a young krogan I once knew,” Garrus replied loftily. “Tank-bred, though. Maybe they’re different.”

Grunt laughed again. “You got it, Vakarian.”

They strolled through the antechamber to the throne room, footsteps echoing off the stone floor. Two young females dipped their heads respectfully and pulled open the massive guilt doors.

“Krogan architecture has come a long way in fifteen years,” Garrus commented.

“That’s mostly thanks to Bakara. She’s always going on about simple tastes and grand designs. For the first time in thousands of years there are krogan artists, musicians, philosophers. The blood rage doesn’t come naturally to us all.”

They paused before Wrex’s enormous throne, the same scrap metal heap of garbage he’d sat upon in the days when Tuchanka was little more than a toxic desert wasteland.

Kalros hadn’t been lying about the mural. “Spirits,” he whispered, reverent.

It stretched from wall to wall, floor to ceiling, thirty feet high and at least eighty feet long. Tuchanka’s history written in violent lashings of colour. And at its centre, the Shroud and the Reaper. He saw a crude figure of Wrex, raising the hammers. Someone he was sure was James Vega, on the ground wrestling a brute. He saw himself, standing on a parapet, looking down his scope, taking aim at the monsters in the swirling dust. And Shepard, his Shepard, a red flame inside a glowing blue light, striking the hammers before Kalros – the mother of all thresher maws.

Solana could eat her fringe, he decided. He was putting this up in his office.

“The Temper of Tuchanka,” someone interrupted from behind.

Garrus smiled. “Wrex.” He greeted pleasantly.

The hulking warlord nodded, shaking his entire arm. “Vakarian.”

Flanking him devotedly was his favourite son, and beyond him, a scowling turian.

“Oh, it’s you.” Kalros folded her arms across her chest, bi-coloured eyes full of accusations.

Garrus felt his throat grow tight. Spirits, where has the time gone? Where was his little bird, the tiny girl that used to curl up against his cheek, tucked inside his carapace? He remembered her cleaning his rifle, all the parts laid carefully out in front her as he taught her where each piece went and what it did, assembling it together. It had been longer than she was tall, and now she stood almost as tall as he was, glaring at him, eye to eye.

“Kalros.” Wrex growled.

Her mandible flared sulkily, but she embraced him all the same. Stiffly, at first, and then tightly. Garrus closed his eyes. “I’ve missed you, Kali. Palaven’s too quiet without you around.”

Her voice trembled quietly. “I missed you, too, Dad.” They pulled away, neither comfortable with such a public reunion.

“What the hell happened to you?” Grunt scrutinised Urdnot Mordin, who was limping slightly.

“Nothing.” The krogan teenager snapped.

Wrex guffawed. “I paired him with Shepard in training this morning.”

Garrus’ head snapped back and forth between each of the krogan. “What?”

Grunt grinned. “Shepard is my son.”

“You should see him, Garrus.” Wrex told him sincerely, admiration shining in his ghastly red eyes. “Twice the size of the other kids his age. Hasn’t even been trialled yet, but he'll be Urdnot; mark my words. If Kali hadn’t been there to pull him off Mordin, we’d be standing in the hospital right now, growing my boy a new leg.” He laughed, wiping at his eyes.

Mordin’s plates vibrated with anger. “It’s not funny,” he hissed.

Wrex stabbed him in the chest with a talon. “You’re right,” he told Mordin dispassionately. “You’re the heir of Tuchanka and you let the son of a tank-bred get the better of you. It’s pathetic.”

The younger Urdnot bristled furiously, clawed hand flexing on his shotgun reflexively.

Wrex opened his arms wide. “Try it, I dare you.”

The boy looked from Wrex, to Grunt, to Garrus, and back at his father, before growling and storming back off the way he came. Garrus shared a look with Kali, whose resigned shrug told him this was a regular occurrence.

“Teenagers,” Wrex grimaced.

“Tell me about it,” Garrus sighed.

“I don’t have to. Your kid knows how to fight.” He told his old friend approvingly. “She killed a thresher maw.”

Fury struck him. “What?” he hissed, looming up at Wrex.

The krogan stepped forward, blowing rank air in Garrus’ face. “You and Shepard have been honorary Urdnot since Grunt named you his krantt. Kalros is old enough to stand trial. She asked, I approved.”

“And started a fight with half a dozen of the other clan leaders.” Grunt shook his head. “Just like old times.”

“I sent my daughter here on a cultural exchange. As a gesture of turian good will for the krogan. To show my support for your request for a council seat. And in return,” he drew breath. “You pit my daughter up against a thresher maw?

Wrex growled, low in his throat.

“Dad!” Kalros gripped the back of his carapace with her talons. “I asked for it.”

“You!” Garrus reeled. “Get out of my sight. Right now.”

“Dad -”

“I said, now, Kalros.”

“Nice going, Uncle Urdnot,” she muttered under her breath.

Garrus waited until the golden doors were closed firmly behind her and Grunt, and did something he thought he would never do. Growling furiously, he cracked the bones in his neck and smashed his forehead up against Wrex’s.

The krogan stumbled backwards in surprise. Garrus lunged, talons grasping at Wrex’s leathery neck. He set his omnitool to overload the shields in the krogan’s armour and took a delicate sidestep back to avoid the electric aftershock. In his peripherals, he could see the silvery-blue shimmer of a biotic field, too late as he was tossed ungraciously across the room. He felt his back slam against the wall behind the throne and braced himself, landing on his feet. Wrex charged at him, unbridled joy dashed across his ugly head and Garrus rolled out underneath him, swinging off the krogan’s shoulder and mounting his back. He dug his talons between Wrex’s headplates and listened to his furious howl with intense pleasure.

Wrex’s biotic barrier paralysed him suddenly, and he fell off, grunting as the old wound in his hip flared painfully, his armour smoking. Wrex’s massive foot stepped down on his chest, forcing all the air from his lungs. He reached for his sidearm, firing three quick rounds into Wrex’s stomach.

His armour stopped the bullets from doing any real harm, but the force of the shots hurled him back off Garrus. He got to his feet slowly, gasping for air, listening carefully to the sound of Wrex charging up behind him. He waited until he got close enough and twisted, shoving his omniblade up against his chin.

Wrex gulped, a single drop of viscous yellow blood trickling down Garrus’ wrist. Or maybe it was conductive fluid, he wasn’t sure.

“Garrus,” Wrex was serious now. “I swear to you, on my honour as leader of Clan Urdnot, that I would not ever let a single scale on Kalros’ body come to harm. She’s Shepard’s daughter. Shepard’s legacy.”

The turian hissed, long and slow. “Never forget that.” He retracted the blade.

“You’re the one who’s forgotten, Vakarian,” Wrex accused. “Kalros doesn’t believe her mother was a turian. If she ever believed it. She knows you’re lying to her.”

“And what right do you have, to talk about her mother that way?”

Wrex held up his hands. “I haven’t. But she’s spent a lot time in the women’s temples with Bakara. They talk up there, that’s what they do.” He groused. “And I let them, because I don’t have time to listen to their crap. But whenever she comes back, she always has… questions. About Shepard. About you.”

Garrus squinted up at the mural. “And what have you told her?”

“Nothing!” Wrex snapped. “I tell her she should talk to you. But she’s persistent. And stubborn. She gets what she wants, eventually.” He chuckled. “Just like Shepard.”

They waked out on to the balcony, overlooking the Hollows. Garrus gazed down at all the greenery that had sprung up since he was last here. “She would have loved to see Tuchanka like this, Wrex.”

He nodded. “I know.”

Movement caught his eye. Kalros was sitting in the shade of a thick, thorny vine, furiously shredding the red-violet flowers into ribbons with her talons.

“I need to talk to her.”

“Don’t let me stand in your way,” Wrex grunted. “I’ve got plenty of work to do. You really think Bakara stands a chance at getting a seat on the Council?”

Garrus was surprised at the krogan’s hesitance. “You don’t?”

“The old blood rage and the hatred still run deep in the Council races, Vakarian. Especially between us and the salarians, and the turians. I could’ve killed you just now,” Wrex reminded him.

“As if you ever stood a chance against me,” Garrus sniffed. They laughed, embracing like brothers. “A krogan on the Council.” He shook his head slowly, marveling at how far they’d come. “We’ve done crazier things.”

“Yeah.” Wrex’s eyes closed, remembering. “You can say that again.”