Chapter 1: A Nervous Prologue
In which our heroes meet.
Slowly, the skycar descended into the clearing. The garage was to my right, gunmetal grey and large enough to fit four VTOL capable craft, but right now, only one occupied a space. I angled into a free slot and disengaged the ignition, trying desperately not to panic.
"It's okay," I told myself. "It's not like you haven't done this before. T'soni was intimidating too, and it turned out she was very approachable."
My whitening knuckles stared back at me from the controls.
"Calm. Down." I took a deep breath, held it, released. Then I got out of the car.
The garage was nice. Old, and clearly underused, but nice. Clean floors, plenty of room to disembark, retractable shutters to protect from the elements. It took a pretty penny to have this constructed way out here. But of course it would have been done. It's not every day that one of the saviors of the galaxy decides to settle down on your planet. That's kind of a big deal.
I went down the stairs from the second level to the first, then walked out one of the open bay doors.
It was a beautiful place he'd picked - green, tropical flora all around the clearing, swaying palm trees, some birds trilling in the distance. The island hadn't looked big from the air, but on the ground, it seemed like it stretched out for a few square miles all around me. The path leading from the clearing to his home was still well kept, if not well worn. It would only be a couple minutes walk, and I'd be face to face with one of the Normandy crew. One of Shepard's people. One of the most respected sentients alive.
No pressure. Inhale, exhale. Come on, Alisa, get it together. One foot in front of the other.
I walked down the path, taking my sweet time, telling myself I was enjoying the scenery and not so nervous I might explode. When I came around a bend and saw the small, well-kept home (post-modernist architectural style, large ground floor, smaller second floor, all right angles and clean lines, white with tan trim) I was suddenly struck by the simple knowledge that for all their fame and glory, these were still just people. Just like anyone else, they had simple needs. He could have been living in a palace anywhere in the galaxy, and he was here, on a tiny island with a single skycar and a little house on the beach.
Just like normal people. I took another deep breath, feeling the beginnings of confidence for the first time since I began my descent.
And then the gunshot made me dive for cover. It echoed across the island as I tried to swallow my heart back down into my chest. Then there was another. And another. A slow, steady rhythm of high-caliber weapons fire.
After it became apparent that whoever had a gun was not shooting at me, I climbed to my feet, dusted off my clothes as best I could (should have worn something nicer), and went to investigate. The gunfire was coming from the other side of the house, I just needed to skirt around the edge, get to the beach and-
He was standing on the sand, a big rifle of some kind in his hands, kicking some small square machine in a practiced way. It fired... something out over the sea, and with only a moment to catch it before it hit the water, boom. Direct hit, followed by flanging laughter.
I just watched him for a minute. He was taunting the machine, or at least I think he was - he was certainly talking to someone whenever he hit his target. He was tall, but not as tall as the vids made him look. He was wearing what looked like long bermuda shorts and nothing else, revealing his armored cowl and shifting plates along his arms and torso, and his three-fingered hands ran up and down the rifle to reload it's heat sink with an almost comical ease. His face was rough and craggy, even for a turian's, not that I had seen many. But something about it was unique, beyond the blue tattoos and fading scars that had become so famous. Maybe it was the eyes.
Despite the almost comical wardrobe, seeing him in person was like what you imagined seeing a demigod was like. You felt smaller just by his being there.
Slowly, I padded down the beach towards him. I started to make out words and phrases.
"Thirty eight! Ha! Even you would be impressed. Don't lie, we both know it's true." Kick, aim, fire, hit. "Thirty nine! A few more and I break my old record! How's it looking from up there, hm? Suitably impressive I hope?"
He hasn't noticed me. He brought his left foot up and down onto the lever of the machine.
"Excuse me, sir!"
Launch, aim, fire-
A miss. It hit the water with a distant sploosh, barely audible over the lightly crashing waves.
He lowered his gun and leaned back, running a hand over his face and cursing tightly into it. He turned back towards the house, lightly kicking over the target launcher in frustration. What looked like empty wine bottles tumbled out of it's hopper.
"You have terrible timing, woman," he grumbled, pacing away towards a beach chair I only just noticed. "You couldn't have waited for another minute or so?"
"I'm very sorry, Primarch, sir," I said, rushing over my words, "but I really needed to talk to you and I did sit there for a while just watching but that felt really creepy and I didn't want you to freak out when you saw me out of the corner of your eye or something-"
"I saw you half an hour ago," he droned, "when you came in for your landing."
"One of the many benefits of living on your own tiny island," he said, taking a seat in his chair, bony spurs sticking up and out from his calves, "is that you see any visitor coming from miles away."
God, Alisa, you dumbass.
He just sat there, staring at me. For a moment I'm almost overcome with the urge to laugh - one of the galaxy's most famous heroes is a sixty-some year old turian in bermuda shorts sitting in an adirondack chair with a rifle cradled in his arms - but I quickly quash that urge before I make a complete ass of myself. I briefly consider making something up, but I look at those eyes and think better of it, so I come clean.
"Primarch Vakarian... uh, sir. I'm here to ask you about Commander Shepard."
Chapter 2: An Introduction is Necessary
In which our heroes discover each other's intentions.
He kept staring at me. Slowly, he started to... smile, I think? Something in his expression changed.
"Oh you are, are you?" He asked. "Well then, can I ask who sent you here?"
"Well, uh," I stumbled, "no one really sent me, per se, I don't work for anyone-"
"It was Liara, wasn't it."
I blinked. "Oh. Oh! Yes, I did go to Ms. T'soni first but she said I should talk to you." He slowly began to nod. "She said you should be the first person I spoke with. You see, I'm writing a book, about Shepard I mean, and-"
He laughed quietly, looking away from me. "Well well. Going to have send her something awful for this one."
"S-sir, I don't really follow-"
"Of course you don't," he leaned back in his chair, sticking his legs out. "Private joke. Why don't you just go home."
It wasn't a suggestion. He was dismissing me. I stood stock still for a handful of seconds, just wringing my hands. This had gone exactly as I'd feared, but I hadn't died of embarrassment yet, so might as well plow through.
He looked at me again. I clenched my jaw involuntarily. "Go home," he said. I shook my head. He just sighed. "You got played, kid. Accept it."
"I don't know what you mean, sir." I said, forcing the words out.
"If I tell you what I mean, will you leave?" I didn't move. He pulled himself out of his chair and wandered back over to the target shooter.
"Here's how it works," he explained, pulling it upright and replacing the bottles in the hopper. "People all over the galaxy want a piece of Shepard's crew, have since the war ended. They want to know the behind-the-scenes, the insider stories, the dirty little secrets."
One of the bottles still had some purplish liquid inside. He leaned back and tossed it to me, I promptly fumbled it into the sand, and he shook his head while I picked it up.
"Liara is the easiest one to track down and get a hold of, so when one of the fans or reporters or other undesirables shows up at her door, she likes to send them my way. They come all the way out here, I tell them to get lost, then I send her a piece of awful elcor or hanar pop-art, which she decorates her office with." He shrugged lightly. "It's our way."
He stood back up and gave me a look. "So really, if there's anyone you should be mad at for wasting your time, it's her. So," he waved his hands off towards the garage, "go be mad at her. Go on."
I looked down at the bottle in my hands, taking in what he said. Something didn't make sense to me. Well, most of it didn't, but something in particular...
"She didn't have any art in her office," I said, furrowing my brow. When I looked back up at him, his face plate things were twitching. Mandibles? Or is that only bugs that have those?
"That blue azured bitch," he spat. I jumped a little when he cursed. He set his hands on his hip spurs and shook his head. "She redecorates before I visit!" For a second, I thought I heard him laugh.
He stood there for another moment, then started pacing back up towards the house. "That tears it. No more kid gloves. She's getting something big for this. Let's see her try to hide a six foot tall half-ton elcor sculpture when I'm not around."
"Sir?" I asked, trying to keep up with his long strides. "Can't I just have a little of your time? I came all this way and-"
He spun around and I suddenly realized exactly how tall he was. "You're not the first one to come around looking for stories, kid, and you won't be the last. But if you think you're getting one word out of me or anyone who served on her ship, you've got another thing coming."
"But I don't-"
"I don't care what your reasons are," he said, his hand slicing towards the ground, "the subject is closed, and it always will be."
"Ah ah!" He raised one of his three fingered hands at me, then wagged one of them. "The Hierarchy is a meritocracy. The only Primarch is the current Primarch. We don't let our titles linger like you humans do." He shooed me away with the same hand. "There, you learned something. Now go away."
He turned and started walking. I had to think of something, I couldn't let this go, I couldn't-
"My mother knew Shepard!"
He stopped, looked up at the sky briefly, half turned back. Maybe that had done it.
"You think I haven't heard that one before?"
I gaped. "It's true!"
"Kid, if I had a credit for every time one of you people tried to pull that on me, I wouldn't need the royalties from the vids." His expression seemed to shift again, and I couldn't tell if it was disgust or pity or something else. "Hackett's niece, Anderson's godchild, Emily Wong's only stepdaughter, even Shepard's illicit in-vitro test tube baby. They all came to me, and they all left empty handed. Just like you."
He shook his head, not really looking at me anymore. "I'm so tired of dealing with you people."
He turned away again, walking back up the side of the house, and I knew if I didn't say anything, this would be it.
"Parasini," I said. He stopped again, but didn't turn. "Alisa Parasini. Gianna Parasini was my mother."
Chapter 3: A Decision is Made
In which our heroes have their say.
He slowly turned towards me for a third time and gave me an odd, lingering look.
"That is a new one." He said slowly. He grunted curiously and walked back up the side of the house. I followed close behind.
"Sir, you can see my ID, you can look me up on the extranet! I went to school in Spain, I graduated near the top of my class in human lit, I did post-grad work on Thessia and Dekuuna! I had the worst yearbook picture in my class! Please!"
By the time I had finished, we were back at the front of the house. He pointed down the path. "Go home."
"No!" I shouted. I realized I just shouted at a turian Primarch. My eyes widened and his face plates twitched.
"Even if you are who you say you are," he said doubtfully, "what difference does it make?"
I struggled to maintain my composure as his blue eyes drilled into me. "My mother respected Shepard. Liked her, even. They were friends-"
"And?" He said, raising his voice. He was trying to break me, get me to run away. And I wanted to. But I couldn't. Not for this.
"I wouldn't disrespect her or my mother," I said, screwing up my face into something approaching stern. "Not for anything."
He laughed derisively. "Right. That's why you're putting together some piece of tell-all garbage on 'the real Commander Shepard.'"
I sputtered. "That's not-"
"Didn't she do enough for you people?" He was practically shouting now. "Do you need to drag her name through the mud-"
"The galaxy doesn't know a thing about her!" I was shouting now too. When did we start shouting? "Don't they deserve to-"
"Deserve?" He stalked towards me and I backed away, startled. "Let me tell you what the galaxy deserves, Ms. Parasini!"
I managed to hold my ground and he got within inches of me. His voice was flanging, breaking, cracking, and I couldn't tell if it was because he was upset or if it was some turian intimidation thing. "They deserve far less than her! They always did! She gave everything for you, and you still want more! Well she isn't here, and as far I'm concerned, you can take what you deserve and leave."
He turned away and stalked back towards his house. I stood rooted to the spot, unable to move, until he was almost at his door. Then I ran to catch him.
"Mr. Vakarian, wait! Mr. Vakarian!" The door slammed shut in my face. I knocked hard. "Please, sir! I'm sorry!"
The door suddenly opened. For one brief instant I thought he might apologize.
Instead, he reached out and grabbed the bottle I still held in my hands, then slammed the door shut again.
I stood out there for minutes that felt like hours. I had failed. I had set a task for myself, a goal, a mission, and I had failed before I'd even started. As it sunk in, I slumped against the outer wall of Primarch Vakarian's cozy beach house. I felt awful. I should have just given up and gone home, like he'd said. I should have gone back to Thessia, started looking for work as a copy editor somewhere. I couldn't be an unemployed post-grad forever.
But something in me couldn't leave. Not like this.
"Mr. Vakarian," I shouted into the door. "I don't know if you can hear me, but..." I sighed. "You were right. I did have an ulterior motive for coming here, for doing any of this."
"My mother is dead. She's been dead since I was five years old. Her work kept her travelling, so I never really knew her even when she was alive, but... it still hurt to think about her."
I plopped down onto the ground beside the door. I didn't even know if he was listening, but I had to tell him. I had to tell someone.
"When I got older, I wondered about my mother. I wondered what kind of person she was. I looked through everything my family still had to get a picture of her - a big picture, as a person, I mean. And then on one of her old omni tools I found some correspondance... I almost couldn't believe it when I found the letters. I mean, my mom knew Shepard. She knew the person who saved the galaxy. There weren't a lot of them, they didn't really keep in touch, but they were friendly and casual, and it was weird seeing these little trivial things associated with... well, with a legend."
I brought my knees up to my chest and hugged them. It wasn't cold, but I felt cold. "I'm twenty three, sir. I was born after the war ended. I saw the footage and went to the V-Day parades, I know what the history books say. But I wasn't there. I didn't see it. I'm part of the first generation that never knew a time before Shepard, and I realized that I knew almost nothing about her. I saw the pictures and the vids - I know what she looked like. I heard the speeches in class, same as everyone else, and when I started to look into it I could see the results of some of her missions, the ones that were declassified anyway. But when I saw those letters to my mother... I kind of realized for the first time that she was a human being, you know? That she wasn't just a name and a face and an ideal."
"Maybe you're right, maybe the galaxy doesn't deserve to know, but I'm not trying to disrespect her, sir. I'm just..." I'm just trying not to cry, is what I'm doing. "I guess I'm just trying to know her, so in some... weird way, I know my mother a little better."
I rubbed my eyes and sniffed a little. Putting it out there, verbalizing it, made it seem stupid. What was I doing with my life? I shouldn't be here. These people saved the galaxy, and here I am, stupid little Parasini, bothering them for reasons they couldn't possibly care about.
I got up and tried to apologize, but it came out in a choked mumble. I had to leave. These people deserved some peace.
I was almost out of eyeshot of the house when I heard the door open. "Parasini!"
I looked back. He was framed in the doorway, all angular and jagged and alien, except for those shorts. He stared at me, hesitated, then jerked his head and turned back around.
He left the door open.
Chapter 4: Prelude
In which our story doesn't quite begin.
The house was a lot bigger on the inside than it looked. A small open foyer leading into a large living room, big plate glass doors that opened onto a small deck with a few more adirondack chairs, kitchen off to one side with a small island, all very open and inviting. The door on my left was partially open, and as I glanced in (no intruding, not polite) I thought I saw what looked like a study or office of some kind. I imagined there were stairs there as well, leading to the upper level. Probably a bedroom.
But all of that was just a building. What was inside made it a home. Everywhere I looked I thought I saw something significant - on a dining table near the kitchen sat numerous rifle pieces, on a nearby shelf there sat real hardback books, in the foyer on an end table sat an ornamental pot with sculpted metal flowers, above it a framed ad for Blasto 2: The Jellyfish Stings alongside one for an old human vid I didn't recognize.
One wall drew my attention immediately. On it were dozens of images of various sizes, some of the Primarch alone, some of the Normandy crew, some of them together. Some seemed formal, some not. And in the center of this arrangement, a decorative metal plaque upon which sat an old, beat up rifle. The Primarch - Mr. Vakarian - stood underneath it now, mixing a drink at a small but well stocked bar.
Eventually, he finished and wandered over to the dining table. He shoved aside most of the rifle parts and set the drink down. He gestured at it. "Sit."
I did. He wandered back towards the half-open door, went inside, and closed it. I was alone.
I wondered what exactly he was going to tell me, or if he was going to tell me anything. Maybe he just felt sorry for me. Maybe he was just letting me have a drink before sending me on my way. I ran through every doubt and every scenario that ended in my walking down the path to my car and I nearly drove myself crazy.
God damn it Alisa, calm down. You've already made a perfect fool of yourself.
A couple deep breaths and I was still nervous, but I could at least take a sip of my drink. I coughed and sputtered, of course - it was like drinking an electric current. I wondered if he'd done that on purpose, or if that was just what he thought all humans liked. Or maybe he was testing me. Or you're just paranoid.
Setting the drink and that notion aside, I looked over at the kitchen. Small but efficient. Dishes sat in the sink unwashed, but otherwise it was too clean to be well-used. I wondered how many nights he just chewed on uncooked dextro nutri-bars.
Eventually, my eyes were drawn back to the wall. And in the time it took him to return, I noticed two things: there weren't many images of turians apart from him. And there wasn't a single picture of Shepard anywhere.
Before I could think too hard about why that was, he barged through the door. He had changed into something a bit more turian, as far as I could gather - sleeveless vest covering his chest and collar, pants that properly covered the spurs on his calves, both a deep blue with shades of black and gray. He somehow looked more alien wearing clothes tailored to his species.
He walked right up to me and thrust his hand out. "Omni tool."
I blinked. "Uh. What am I supposed to record with?"
He held up his other hand. It was holding something I hadn't noticed. He lightly tossed them on the table - a pad of paper, and a pen.
"You can't be serious."
He still had his hand out.
Hell, Alisa, what are you complaining about? Weren't you just worried he wouldn't give you this chance?
I nodded, pulled up my sleeve, and removed the bracelet containing the minifacturing fabricator, placing it in his hand. He quickly equipped it, turned it on, and went about shutting down any sensor packages, comms, and extranet connections.
"If I didn't know any better, sir," I said, straining a smile, "I'd say you didn't trust me."
"I don't," he said, his voice clipped. "But don't take it personally. I'm not taking any chances that whatever is said here piped to some server somewhere, or broadcast live for the extranet."
After all he'd said, I couldn't really blame him. Once he was satisfied, he took off the bracelet and threw it over on the kitchen island. He moved to sit down, hesitated, then went and picked up the bracelet and took it into his study. He emerged in short order, with a brief shrug.
"No chances," I said with a nervous laugh.
He just pulled out another chair, one with his back to the deck, and sat, leaning his elbows on the bare wood. He fiddled with his talons, I fiddled with my hair. All this time spent getting him to sit down and talk and now I wasn't even sure what questions I should ask. This had been all about the journey so far. I was like the dog who finally caught the car, I didn't know what to do with myself.
He looked up and stared at me. Rather, stared at my head. "Your hair."
I quickly stopped playing with the lock in my fingers.
"I mean, your mother's hair. It's... it was like yours. Shorter, though." He looked away, back towards the kitchen.
Believe it or not, that actually helped. It was good to know that I wasn't the only awkward person in the room. And better to know that he remembered my mother.
"Thanks," I said. He shrugged again.
"So..." He coughed and cleared his throat. "Maybe I should start-"
"Oh!" I quickly picked up the pen and paper and drew a squiggly line to make sure it had ink, then I sat poised over the first line. "Okay, ready."
He gave me another odd look that I couldn't begin to decipher. "I was going to say 'maybe I should start at the beginning,' but perhaps I should tell you something else first." He reached over and plucked the pen out of my hand. "Off the record."
I shifted in my chair, trying to more comfortable as he spoke. "I told you before that everyone who came here asking about Shepard went away empty handed. That wasn't true." His mouth parts twitched. "There was one person who I spoke with."
Garrus ran his hands over the datapads, selecting one from the group and rushing through the various menus looking for the information he needed. He really needed to start marking them so he could tell them all apart - this was the third time he'd gone through this particular datapad, and every time that happened he felt compelled to look through the entire thing just in case he missed something. He never did.
He sighed and lifted his head to look out the window over his desk. It was a nice day. He could be doing this on the deck. Hell, he could be doing this on the beach. But here he was, inside with no distractions, going over mission reports and population growth charts and galactic star maps. Old habits died hard, even for a Primarch on leave.
Primarch. It still didn't feel right. Probably never would. Not ten years out from V-Day and he had been named Primarch. Victus had been the first to congratulate him. He had always felt a bit out of his depth, and now as a general in peacetime, even moreso. But Garrus? Garrus was a rebel, had been even as a child. He was the worst turian he knew, but no one else seemed to care. He had helped save the galaxy. He was part of the Normandy. He had known Shepard. Of course they would look to him for leadership.
And despite all his better judgment, he had accepted. Because he knew that it's what she would she would want him to do. Oh, she'd listen and acknowledge all his concerns, and say that it was his choice and he should do what he felt was best and leave it at that, but when he pressed her for a real opinion (and of course he would), she'd just smile that smile that made his pulse race a little bit faster and say to grab the spiky beast by the fringe and see where it takes you.
And he would ask with a smile if she was speaking from experience.
And she would smirk and reply, look where it got me.
All of a sudden Garrus really needed a drink.
He wandered out to the bar when he heard a knock at the door. Grateful for any conceivable distraction, he'd opened it without asking who it was. When he saw, it took a moment for recognition to creep in, and then he'd just stared, mandibles flaring.
"Hello, sir," he said, holding a hat in his hands and looking pathetic.
His mandibles twitched and he crossed his arms, staring up at the ceiling. "I'd never really met the man, outside of an... incident in a bar on Illium, but Shepard had a few run ins with him. As irritating as she found their interactions, his heart was always in the right place. Hell, she'd told me he tried to take a bullet for her once. I remember thinking, if that wasn't enough to earn my gratitude, what was?"
He flashed some of his pointed teeth. A smile? A grin? A smirk? I don't know. "He said he came on business, talked about establishing another war orphanage on Palaven, asking about construction of any new mass relays and where he could be helpful, but really all he wanted was to talk about Shepard some." He chuckled dryly. "Considering where my mind was at the time, part of me wanted to throw him out. Another part of me wanted to get blackout drunk and spend all night telling war stories. In the end, I compromised - an hour or two of conversation, a couple anecdotes, and the admission that yes, Shepard hadthought he was all right in the end."
Garrus walked him to the door. He still couldn't really believe Verner had shown up here, but he had been as courteous as he could. To his credit, Verner actually excused himself, saying that his wife was waiting and he needed to get back to the hotel. He'd asked about her, and Conrad had said that Jenna was six months pregnant and would it be weird if they named the baby Shepard?
Garrus started to shake his head, but after a moment's consideration, he said, "I suppose it's going to be a very popular name for a couple generations."
"Really?" He seemed to consider this. "Maybe the middle name. Don't want her to not feel special."
"Conrad..." Garrus didn't really know what to say. "You know this was a one time thing, right?"
He nodded. "Oh, sure. I was just glad you didn't slam the door. Her friends and family aren't exactly kind to fans who come looking for stories."
"Well," Garrus said, crossing his arms, "you did... are still doing a lot of good in her name. I don't think... well. She probably wouldn't have thrown you out, if she were here."
Conrad smiled and Garrus thought he saw the beginnings of tears. "You really think so? Gosh... that means a lot."
He stuck out a hand and Garrus shook it. He put on his hat, said goodbye, and turned down the path. Garrus leaned against the doorway, watching him leave.
"Conrad!" He turned. Garrus just raised his arm and waved. Conrad smiled and did the same, then kept walking.
He stood in the doorway long after he had lost sight of him in the trees, thinking about Shepard. It didn't hurt quite as much as it did before.
Chapter 5: The Beginning
In which terms are discussed, and a long journey begins.
The old Primarch lightly tapped the pen against the table, staring off into space. His mandibles moved left and right, just a little. I couldn't tell what he was thinking. Really should have done some research on turians before you came here, Alisa.
He held out the pen and when I reached for it he pulled it away. "One last thing before we start," he said. "I speak, you write. That's the beginning and end of this. You can ask questions, but if I don't answer them, you don't write. No implication, no insinuation, no editorializing."
He flexed his mandibles and I caught a glimpse of rows of pointed teeth. "Are we clear?"
I swallowed and nodded. "Crystal, sir."
He locked eyes with me for a beat, then held out the pen again. I took it, shifting in my seat and pulling the chair closer to the table. I set down my wrist and looked at him. He crossed his arms and stared at the table.
"I suppose I'll start with when we met."
"I know Saren's hiding something, give me more time! Stall them!"
"Stall the Council? Don't be ridiculous. Your investigation is over, Garrus."
Pallin turned to walk away and Garrus ground his teeth. Every instinct he had told him Saren was a traitor. Worked himself ragged, ran on almost no sleep, and for what? To get shut down by his boss because he hadn't found anything concrete in a matter of days.
Sometimes he hated C-Sec. Hated the bureaucracy, hated the deadlines, hated the limitations. Hated his boss, hated the corrupt officers who gave it a bad name. Hated wasting his time on something that was never going to stick anyway.
To hell with it, he thought. He might not care, but I do. There's one lead I've got left.
He turned back towards the elevator and found a group of humans heading his way. Was that - yeah, had to be.
"First thing I thought when I saw her," he said, his voice humming quietly, "was how small she looked. Not in terms of height, I only had a few inches on her, but in terms of everything else. She looked... thin. Waifish, even, in comparison to a turian. I wondered how someone who looked so frail could be an effective commander."
He flared his mandibles - that must be a grin. "Got my answer later that day."
He had to time this right. Any slip up, any mistake, and his last lead - and a good doctor - ended up dead on the floor. He checked and rechecked the sight on the gun, silently regretting that C-Sec doesn't get access to military hardware, and shifted behind his cover. If he had some kind of distraction -
She burst through the door, flanked by two other humans. The leader of Fist's thugs grabbed Michel, wrapping one arm around her neck, gun and eyes pointed in the wrong direction. Shepard drew her weapon, calm as can be having just walked into a hostage situation. She didn't even blink.
"Let her go," she ordered, as her team began to flank around her, crouched, moving to the cover in front. Well trained, quick on their feet. An excellent distraction.
He slid out, stood, aimed, and fired in one smooth motion. The leader fell, Michel dove for cover, and Shepard and her team dropped the other two with a quick and brutal burst of fire. Textbook.
After the brief, one-sided firefight was over, Garrus went to help up Michel, and Shepard followed.
"Good timing, Shepard. Gave me the chance I needed."
She gave him an odd, appraising look and for a moment he thought she might give him hell for putting the hostage at risk, but instead she took a pointed look at the body of their leader.
"Took him down clean," she said with a sort of sideways nod. "Good shot."
He shot her a turian grin. "Sometimes you get lucky."
"And that," he said, pointing a finger to the ceiling, "is when I decided that this was a CO I could enjoy serving under."
I polished off my first page and lifted it, moving onto the next one. I hadn't wrote this much since my omni tool bugged out during a lecture on Shakespeare on Dekuuna, and then not nearly as fast.
"She just recruited you, on the spot?"
"More like I begged to come with," he chuckled. It made a pleasant rumbling noise in his chest. "She amassed quite a collection of unlikely allies that day. Wasn't long before we ran into Wrex, he had business with Fist as well."
"The krogan High Chief?"
"He was just another bounty hunter then, as resigned to his fate as every other krogan." Something shifted on his face and his tone grew wistful. "He and I didn't really get along, for a good while. I had no experience with krogan, thought they were all brutish idiots without a care for themselves or others. And him? He looked at me like I was the one who personally sterilized him."
"But you became friends?" I smiled. "How did that work out?"
"We'll get to that, you're getting ahead of me." He took a deep breath and stretched his arms above his head. "Where was I?"
Fist cowered on the ground, Shepard standing over him with a gun to his head. Had to admit, it had been easier getting in that he'd thought it would be, but Shepard knew what she was doing when it came to a good old fashioned firefight, and Wrex had practically taken on half the gang himself.
He was spilling his guts about where the quarian was, the one who had the dirt on Saren. Said he'd set her up, Saren's men were on their way. Shepard stuck the gun against his temple and he told them where the ambush was going down. She lowered the gun, took a couple steps back, and before she could say another word, Wrex blew Fist's head off.
Instinctively, I raised my gun. Shepard didn't bother, just gave him a look that demanded an explanation.
"Shadow Broker paid me to kill him," he said with a shrug. "I don't leave jobs half-done."
He laughed, long and hard, and I stopped writing and looked up. He pinched the middle of his face with his talons until he calmed down.
"Shepard gives him this look she must have learned from her drill sergeant," he said, stifling another laugh, "and gets within inches of him, looks him dead in the eyes - and remember that Wrex is still holding his shotgun - and she dresses him down! Says that she's in command here, so next time he'll wait for the order before firing his fucking weapon! Then she just stalks off, shouting something about how there's not much time and we have to find that quarian, and Wrex turns and gives me this look, like he can't believe what just happened."
He grins at me again, the widest I've seen. "Wrex executes a crime lord in cold blood right in front of her, and she gets pissed that he did it without asking." He pointed another finger at the ceiling. "And that is when Wrex decided that she was someone worth following."
Chapter 6: The Crew is Assembled
In which something is made of nothing, and many disparate people find themselves with common purpose.
"The quarian you were looking for, was that...?"
"Yeah," he said, standing up to go refresh his drink. "Tali'Zorah nar Rayya, later vas Normandy, currently..." He glanced up at the ceiling, then shrugged his wide shoulders. "Can't remember what she's going by these days. Have to ask next time we talk."
"You and her talk often?"
He froze. I heard glass clink against glass, then he turned his pointy head and shot me a look. I raised my hands, pen down and palms out. "What? What did I say?"
The look lingered a little too long, then he snorted and turned his attentions back to the bar. I was a more than a bit perplexed. Things seemed to be going well, I thought I was starting to establish a rhythm with him, and then he just clams up. Clearly I wasn't out of the woods yet - I still needed to figure out what was too personal and what wasn't. What was so bad about that question anyway?
I couldn't help but notice that this was the first time he had shut me down about a subject other than Shepard. I stared at his back, watching him mix his dextro-friendly drink, and wondered.
No insinuation, huh. Okay, Primarch, but if that counts as insinuation, this isn't going to be easy for either of us.
He finally trundled back from the bar, took his seat, leaned back, and placed his feet on the table. He sipped his drink, quietly smacked his non-existant lips, and then set it down before lacing his fingers together against his stomach.
He was punishing me. Maybe I deserved it, maybe I didn't. It hardly mattered - I needed him far more than he needed me, so I just waited as patiently as I could, pen in hand and paper ready, until he'd decided that I'd waited long enough.
A couple minutes passed before he continued.
Garrus took point alongside Shepard, Wrex bringing up the rear, as they charged their way through yet another dark back alley on the Citadel. The kind that existed all over the wards, where the tourists never venture and the residents double lock their doors. Winding their way through the maze of side streets far off the public thoroughfare had proven difficult to do without attracting local attention, but most of them saw the krogan and started heading in the other way. With any luck, they might actually get to the quarian before the trap was sprung.
Shepard was moving, had been moving since the encounter with Fist, with a kind of vicious purpose. Garrus hadn't said anything - it wasn't the time for conversation - but it seemed to him that perhaps Shepard was getting very tired of being given the run-around - by the Council, by Fist, by the galaxy at large. Now there was just one last loose end to gather, and she would be able to get down to the business of finding Saren.
A voice stopped her dead in her tracks. She raised a hand, signalled. While Garrus moved across to a nearby cargo crate that had been repurposed as a dumpster, Wrex followed up close on her six.
"Where's the Shadow Broker? Where's Fist?" Accented voice, modulated. Had to be quarian. Garrus chanced a look.
A turian with white clan markings against his dark skin ran a hand down her helmet, then her arm. A real charmer. "They'll be here," he said. "Where's the evidence?"
She slapped his hand away. "No way. Deal's off."
Garrus looked to Shepard, saw her signal 'break cover in five,' looked back. Saw the moment where the quarian knew it was a trap - the turian wasn't subtle in his signal, and two armored salarians stepped out from the shadows. The quarian ripped something off her belt, threw it behind her and ran.
Two seconds later, all hell broke loose.
"Tali was always smart," he said, nodding to himself. He laughed a little, looking at me over his drink which I just noticed he had added a tiny umbrella to. "Make sure you write that down. That I always thought she was smart."
I did. I also bit my tongue, which I felt was sensible.
"After every one of Fist's thugs was dead, which was as one-sided a fight as it always was, we introduced ourselves and dragged Tali back to the human embassy. It was the safest place we could think of on short notice." He shrugged, shoulders rolling against his collar. "Udina took some time to be indignant about our methods, Tali gave us the intel we needed to implicate Saren, and she and Shepard went off to talk to the Council with Anderson and the ambassador."
"And you and Wrex?" I asked, pen skittering over the page.
"I went straight to the C-Sec checkpoint before the Normandy's docking bay. I planned to catch her when she left. I wasn't about to be left behind." He took a swig of his drink. "Of course Wrex ended up in the same spot. Neither of us said anything, but we both had our reasons for wanting a piece of Saren's hide. And we both knew that Shepard would be the one to lead us to him."
"Shepard." He nodded as she and the quarian - Tali, he remembered - walked up to the elevator. He'd been pacing a hole in the floor around it for the last half hour. "How'd it go with the Council?"
She sighed. "Good news and bad news, Vakarian."
"Bad news first." Garrus had always been a realist.
"They didn't believe one word about the Reapers."
He shrugged. "Saw that coming. I won't question what you saw in that beacon, Shepard, but if they wouldn't accept circumstantial evidence, they sure as hell wouldn't accept a vision. What's the good news?"
"Got the go-ahead to start tracking Saren. Officially sanctioned investigation." She gave him a knowing smirk. "I'm guessing you want in."
He set his jaw. "Commander, if you'd have me, there's nothing I'd rather do."
"Fighting a rogue Spectre with countless lives at stake and no regulations to get in the way?" He grinned, mandibles flaring. "I'd say that beats C-Sec."
She grinned back, then stared over his shoulder. "Hang on," she said, sliding past him. Garrus watched her walk up to Wrex, arms crossed as he leaned against the wall. They talked, quietly. Wrex shook his head. Shepard nodded. She stuck out a hand, he stared at it a moment, looked back up at Shepard, then finally uncrossed his arms to shake it. She turned and marched back to the elevator, clapping Garrus on the shoulder as she passed.
"Come on, Vakarian, let's go find us a Spectre."
As they crowded into the elevator, he realized they made quite a motley crew - a human, a turian, a quarian, and a krogan. He doubted you could find a more disparate group of sentients anywhere in the galaxy, and yet here they were, united in purpose and working together.
Shepard seemed to notice as well - as the elevator rose to the docking bays, she glanced around at the lot of them and then slowly shook her head.
"Joker's gonna love this."
Chapter 7: What Makes a Normandy
In which a promise is made.
"I remember stepping aboard that ship for the first time," he said, scratching his faded scars, "and wondering how I got there. What strange set of circumstances had landed me on board a state-of-the-art Systems Alliance warship?"
He hummed and his voice seemed to modulate up and down. A thoughtful noise, maybe? "But it wasn't Alliance anymore. Not really. She'd always answer to Anderson and Hackett, but to everyone on board, it was Shepard's ship, and they were Shepard's people. Always would be."
I finished another page and paused, sitting up and arching my back. It actually hurt. I had been hunched over the damn table too long, I needed to stand and stretch my legs. I tried to make conversation while I did; the more he talked, the more comfortable he seemed to get. I was afraid prolonged silence would have the opposite effect.
"You know there's a new one," I said, voice straining as I raised my arms above my head.
"Yes, yes." His voice took on a dismissive air, subtonals grumbling. "The SR-3, isn't it?"
"It's the largest frigate ever built." I rolled my shoulders around in their sockets.
"As though that's important," he scoffed.
"They say it has an optical stealth system, too." I paced around the table, kicked at the floor, loosening my joints.
"I'm sure with all those windows and observatories that come standard on warships, they find that very useful."
"Come on, sir," I chided gently, bending down to touch my toes. "They had to retire the SR-2 someday."
He looked at me and shook his head. "They can call it whatever they want, that ship is no Normandy."
"Because she's not there?"
He chewed on that thought for a moment while I flexed my arms across my chest. "It wasn't just her presence. It was how she commanded. It was how she treated her crew." He huffed. "Whenever you pick up that damn pen again, I'll give you an example."
I rolled my head around as I sat back down, enjoying the simple pleasure of microscopic muscle tearing. "Sorry. Just needed a second."
He sighed. "It's fine," he said gently, his eyes avoiding mine. "Don't know why I'm rushing you."
I picked up the pen and settled in. "Go ahead, sir."
He met my eyes again and I put on my most reassuring smile. I didn't know if it helped, but he seemed to relax just a little. At least the tension was gone from his voice, from what I could tell.
"She gave a speech over the comm when she took command of the ship, just before we undocked. Something inspiring, reassuring the crew that she wouldn't let them down, that our mission was of galactic importance, that she knew they would succeed."
He crossed his arms across his barrel chest and looked down at what I had written. I looked up at him and he just shook his head.
"I don't remember a word of it. What I do remember," he said, leaning towards me and tapping his pointed finger against the table, "is that after we left the Citadel, when we were well underway, she went deck by deck, room by room, and spoke with each and every crewman aboard that ship."
I did my best not to lean away from him. "Everyone?"
"It wasn't a big ship," he said, leaning back and letting me relax again. "And she didn't give everyone equal time. But yes." He leaned back and put his hands behind his head. "Everyone."
"Commander," he said, turning towards her. "Hell of a ship you've got here."
"Turian design, human engineering." She crossed her arms, her tone lightly conversational. "Best of both worlds, or so they tell me. The hell are you doing down here? I thought you'd be settling into quarters."
"Just taking a look around, Commander." He shifted his weight, glanced around. "It's been a while since I've been aboard a military ship. I was curious to see what kind of hardware we have access to."
"That why you're pacing around the cargo bay like a chained varren?" She asked.
"Oh I'm done pacing," he replied with a grin. "I've found exactly where I want to be."
He reached over and patted the six-wheeled tank behind him. Shepard couldn't help but chuckle. "Taken a liking to the Mako, huh?"
Garrus half-turned, regarding the reinforced plated armor with affection. "Back during my time of service I used to spend a lot of time tinkering in the shuttle bays and armories of the ships I was aboard. It helped me focus, kept me from getting stir-crazy on the longer assignments. Got pretty good at optimizing drive cores and realigning ironsights." He turned back to face her. "Of course, none of them had anything quite like this, but with your permission Commander, I'd like to use a few off-duty hours to see if I can make a few... improvements."
He hadn't really expect her to say yes right away, but Shepard just nodded. "Long as you can guarantee it'll run when we need it to."
He grinned. "Of course, Commander. You won't regret it." He began to turn around, eager to begin as soon as he could, then froze. He hadn't been dismissed. "I'm sorry, you must have come down here for a reason, did you need me for something?"
"No," she said simply. "Just checking in, getting to know the crew."
"Figured you'd want to keep your distance. Or is that just a turian thing?"
"That's a popular philosophy of human command as well." She shrugged. "Not how I was raised."
"Ah," he said, forming an understanding. "Father?"
"Mm. Somehow I'm not surprised."
A small smirk. "People rarely are."
They heard the elevator open and both turned to look. Wrex stalked out, taking his own lay of the land, followed closely by Chief Williams, who gave the krogan a wide berth as she made her way to the lockers.
"I should go." Shepard nodded at him, then began to turn away. "Vakarian."
He saluted. "Commander."
She froze and startled a little laugh out of herself as she put a hand up, palm out. "Hey, none of that."
He blinked. He had been dismissed by a superior, it was a reflex. "Uh. Sorry, is that not protocol?"
Shepard gave him a bemused look. "Just told you, not the way I was raised. When there's mutual respect, there's no need for formality."
After a brief moment of uncertainty on his part, she broke into a crooked smile. "Is that understood, soldier?"
Garrus knew when to take a hint. "Yes ma'am," he shot back with another salute. She did the same, then turned and walked off towards the lieutenant, who was busy deconstructing a rifle on a nearby workbench.
He stared after her, processing what she said. Then he turned back to the tank, silently promising that he would make himself worthy of her respect.
Chapter 8: Friction
In which cultures are exchanged, differences are noted, and difficulties are surmounted, with a little help.
"The times aboard that ship were some of the best in my life," he said, voice thrumming pleasantly. "After C-Sec, it was refreshing to not feel like I was being held back. I felt like I was finally doing something worthwhile, something that had meaning. Most of the crew felt the same way. Our duties were simple, our mission was clear, and the stakes were always understood. We worked and fought and sweat and bled together."
His mandibles shifted up and down. I hadn't seen that before, and I wondered what that meant.
"It wasn't always easy. There were moments of..." He leaned his elbow on the dark wood and rested his chin in his hand. "...friction."
Garrus knew she was staring at him. Any time his back was turned he could feel her gaze boring into the back of his skull. When he turned, she turned away. When he went to get something from his locker, she deliberately avoided him.
The gunnery chief hadn't said one word to him since he set foot on the ship, and he wasn't about to press her. She stayed out of his way, and he stayed out of hers. As long as she wasn't actively hostile, he didn't much care. He had gotten less respect from humans as a C-Sec officer.
Yet it bothered him. Maybe it was Shepard - her attitude had disarmed him, left him expecting courtesy and respect throughout the ship. He had to remember that he was a stranger and an alien to these people, and turians and humans in particular had a troubled history.
And yet... he couldn't help but feel that this mission would be a long one, and if he didn't deal with this sooner or later, tensions could boil over at a very inopportune moment.
He wandered over to the spot Wrex had claimed - the weapons cache in the corner. Out of earshot of the chief, the quartermaster, and the handful of other crewmen in the cargo bay.
"Don't suppose the gunnery chief's been giving you the evil eye too," he said, trying to keep his tone conversational while he rooted around in the cache for a sniper rifle.
Wrex gave him a look that said 'why are you talking to me' before he replied. "Don't know, don't care."
He pulled out a Mantis and popped it open, weighing the stock against his arm and checking the sight. "Wrex, if I can tell she's staring at me, I know you can."
Wrex glared at him, then turned his head, angling his vision to take in the chief. She quickly glanced away and went back to patching her armor.
"She's given me a few ugly looks," he grumbled, "but she's been giving you a lot more." He turned his head and grinned. "Don't think she likes you, Vakarian."
Garrus collapsed the rifle and shouldered it. "We don't even know each other."
"Don't have to. Probably sees what I see."
He narrowed his eyes. "What?"
Wrex took a step forward, his massive bulk filling Garrus' vision. "A turian."
He shouldered past him and headed for the elevator. Garrus sighed and headed back towards the Mako, feeling eyes on him the whole way. Maybe recalibrating a few sniper scopes would help him relax.
"That was Ashley Williams, right?"
He nodded. "Couldn't blame her for how she felt about other species, turians in particular."
"She had her reasons?" I prompted.
"Not great ones, really," he said as he traced a finger along the edge of one of his face plates, stroking his chin. All of a sudden, he reminded me of my dad. "But I understood them."
"What were they?"
He shot me a look and I almost apologized for even asking, but his eyes shifted back to the table. "Not sure I want to talk about that."
"It's okay," I blurted out quickly, attempting damage control. "I mean, I shouldn't have asked."
The Primarch shook his head. "No, I understand. It's just..." His hand dropped from his chin to the table and he sighed softly. "That's not how people should remember her."
There was a moment of silence. Of course I was the one to break it.
"Did you... talk to Shepard about her?"
Now he just looked at me like I was an idiot. "Of course not. It wasn't necessary. She was never anything but professional when we were planetside." The old turian leaned back and laced his fingers together in his lap. "Of course, Shepard did end up talking with her quite a bit, just like the rest of her ground squad. And there were a couple of instances where she... attempted to improve relations between the crew."
The damn firing mechanism was acting up again. Garrus pulled himself down out of the turret and stalked out of the Mako. He needed to get it fixed before they made planetfall or they'd be limited to the secondary gun. Last time that happened, Shepard made constant note of it during the mission, and for some time afterward. He'd only just begun to live it down, if it happened again he'd never hear the end of it.
He chanced a glance over at Williams. Shepard was with her, arms crossed and leaning against the workbench alongside her. They were talking.
One on one, Garrus found it hard to notice or remember all the differences between humans beyond gender, but whenever he saw two of them standing next to each other he was struck by how they varied. Shepard's hair was a different color and shorter, but worn loose, kept behind her ears and out of her eyes. Williams' was darker, and longer, but tied tightly behind her head in some fashion. Human hair was always so alien to him. He never understood how they dealt with it.
But it didn't end there - Shepard's skin was lighter than Williams', a fact he'd never noticed before, and her manner was more casual. She seemed perfectly at ease, almost laconic, one leg up, foot pressed against the bench behind her. Williams carried herself a bit more stiffly, a bit straighter, but when she laughed, she seemed to ease up.
Garrus realized he was staring, had been for about twenty seconds, and quickly moved to the console alongside the Mako. C-Sec had changed him, that much was certain - it had made him more observant, but it also far too willing to examine, as though each person around him was a potential suspect. He had to get out of the habit while he was aboardship.
He fiddled with the console (the damned firing mechanism wouldn't even respond remotely) and then turned to pull a spanner out of the toolchest when he saw Shepard and Williams walking towards him.
"Garrus," Shepard said, a smile evident in her voice but not her face, "Chief Williams has something she wants to ask you."
"Oh." He twisted the spanner in his hands, kept his subtonals polite. "Alright. What can I do for you, Chief?"
She looked profoundly uncomfortable, hands behind her back and eyes everywhere but on him for once. "Commander-"
"Chief," Shepard said firmly.
Williams sighed and grumbled something under her breath, then looked him straight in the eye and asked, "Tattoos or paint?"
He blinked. "I don't follow."
She waved a hand around her face. "The markings. Are they tattoos or paint?"
His brow plates rose. "Depends," he said, gesturing vaguely with the spanner. "Most prefer tattoos, less maintenance. Others prefer paint."
"And yours?" Shepard prompted when Williams didn't ask immediately.
"Tattoos." He scratched at them idly. "Got them when I was a kid, just before I entered service."
Williams grinned nervously. "Did something like that myself. Less formal, though."
"Hm. Not that formal." He lowered his mandibles a bit, letting teeth show - a small smile. "Had to have a few drinks before I got mine."
She actually laughed a little. "Yeah, me too."
"And, uh, yours?" Now it was her turn to blink. He raised his hand and pointed at his eyes. "Your markings. Paint or tattoo?"
"Oh! Uh, paint." Her cheeks flushed a little, human blush response, meant nerves or embarrassment. It was gone in a moment, he almost didn't see it.
He scratched at the beginnings of his fringe. "Sorry, did I violate some cultural thing, or-"
"No no," she chuckled awkwardly. "Just... didn't expect the question."
Once it became clear neither of them was going to say anything more, Shepard put on a wide smile and turned to Ashley. "Well there you are, Chief. Was that so hard?"
Ashley cleared her throat and shifted uncomfortably. "No ma'am." When Shepard continued to stare at her, she hesitated, then stuck out her hand. "Thanks, Vakarian."
He was a bit shocked, but reached out and briefly clasped it with his own, three fingers wrapped around her hand, five around his. "No problem, Chief."
Williams glanced back at Shepard, who nodded, and she immediately turned away and walked back to her workbench. She turned to Garrus and gave him an apologetic shrug. "Sorry to bother you."
"No problem," he said, "but... what was that all about, Commander?"
She shrugged. "She was curious, asked me. I didn't know, I told her to ask you. So she did."
"Really." He said doubtfully.
"Well." She allowed a small smile to creep onto her face. "I might have prodded her a little."
"I would never have guessed," he deadpanned.
She shot him a mock-angry look, then turned to leave. "Get back to work, Vakarian."
"Yes ma'am," he replied. He was about to climb back inside the Mako when he glanced over at Williams, going through her usual routine of shipboard gun maintenance.
"Chief!" He called. She turned, startled. "You wanna give me a hand?"
Chapter 9: Bonding
In which things are uncomfortable, until they're not.
"Of course Williams wasn't the only one who could be difficult." He grinned again. I was glad that I was getting to recognize his facial expressions. "Wrex did his best to make everyone uncomfortable."
I moved onto a new page, and took a moment to shake out my wrist. I was probably going to have carpal tunnel before this was over. But it would be worth it. Hell, it was already worth it. I was talking to Primarch Vakarian. Garrus Vakarian, Shepard's right hand, the most celebrated soldier in turian history. He was talking about Urdnot Wrex, the krogan High Chieftain, arguably the most powerful sentient alive today. They had served with Commander Shepard, the Shepard, the woman who had saved every sapient life in the galaxy from extinction. And here I was, little old Alisa Parasini, hearing all about it.
I couldn't help myself - I started grinning like an idiot. The Primarch gave me an odd look.
"Sorry," I said, rolling the pen between my hands. "Moment of clarity. You're talking about Urdnot Wrex."
His expression shifted into one I didn't recognize, but his tone was bemused. "What, are you his biggest fan or something?"
"No, I - it's just -" Suddenly starstruck, I was losing my ability to articulate myself, so I started to gesticulate with my hands. "You're the turian Primarch-"
"Was," he corrected.
"-and he's the krogan High Chieftain-"
"Some would argue that's Urdnot Bakara," he said wryly.
"-and way back when, through sheer chance, you both ended up on the Normandy! With Shepard! It's just amazing!"
I was practically bouncing in my seat by this point. He just tilted his head and stared at me. Slowly, the burst of starstruck excitement wore off and the nerves and self-loathing returned. Way to act like a grown up, Alisa.
"Sorry," I apologized again, feeling my face turn a powerful shade of red. "I just, uh... um... sorry."
His face shifted into what I thought might be amusement, but he didn't laugh at me. "Honestly, I'm surprised you didn't go to Wrex first," he said, leaning one arm on the table. "He loves talking about himself."
"Sir, I can barely talk to you," I said, avoiding his eyes. "I'd run away before he even walked into the room."
I fiddled with the pen in my hands and fought with a part of me that wanted to excuse myself and just walk away right then and there. I let my eyes wander and found no relief; the weight of history was everywhere in that house. It pressed in from all sides and made it hard to breath or think. I stared down at the paper and took comfort in it's mundanity, but that barely helped - a living legend was still staring at me. In that moment the only thing I wanted was for the floor to open up and swallow me whole.
All of a sudden I felt a three fingered hand on the back of my shoulder. I jumped and he removed it, briefly, before gently replacing it. The look in his eyes was something I hadn't yet seen, and I had no reference for his expression.
"You're doing fine, kid," he said, voice flanging reassuringly. "Calm down."
I felt prickling behind my eyes and my heart thundering in my chest and realized I must have made a perfect spectacle of myself. I wrapped my arms around my chest and took a couple deep breaths. Oh god, what the hell are you doing, get it under control Alisa.
He glanced at my drink, untouched and long forgotten. He stood and picked up the glass, walking over to the sink, dumping out whatever he had given me, and filling it with cold water. When he came back and handed it to me I took it in both hands and drank deeply. It had been hours and I hadn't had a thing to eat or drink.
"Sorry," he said, taking his seat and pulling it a bit closer to mine before he sat down again. "Bad joke, giving you ryncol."
"That was ryncol?" I sputtered. He smiled apologetically. "No wonder it tasted like an electrical fire."
"Shepard always said it tasted like charged eezo, or diluted thresher maw acid," he said, swinging an arm over the back of the chair and crossing his legs. "Mind you, I wouldn't know. I never had the stomach for it. Or, you know, the biology. Although there was this one time, after I first joined C-Sec-"
He froze. "Well, uh," he mumbled as he sat up straight, planted both feet on the floor and put his hands together on the table. "That's... beyond the purview of this interview."
I laughed a little, glass of water still clutched in both hands. I leaned my elbows on the table next to him and brushed my hair back behind my ears. We just sat there for a minute. He glanced at me a couple times to make sure I wasn't about to have another nervous breakdown, and I did my best to relax and recover what was left of dignity. It was odd, but I felt like that was the one part of the whole day I'd remember for the rest of my life - just sitting next to Garrus Vakarian, drinking a glass of water, listening to the noise of the sea just outside the door.
He didn't pressure me, but I got the distinct feeling he wanted to continue. So I downed the last of my water and picked up my pen again. He gave me the same look he did earlier, what I now imagined might be worry or concern, and I nodded. His expression changed again, back to normal I thought, and he shifted back in his seat.
"Where were we?" He asked.
"Wrex," I replied.
"Ah, yes." He laced his fingers together. "Making everyone uncomfortable."
Garrus wandered into the mess with a couple of prepackaged dextro rations and a glass of water. After Shepard found him sleeping in the Mako one morning and given him some hell for it, he figured he should probably come up for air, so he'd decided to take some time to socialize with the crew during meals.
Unfortunately, it was almost deserted. Save for the krogan sitting in the chair nearest the center of the table, eating very slowly.
Garrus had heard some of the crewmen down in engineering talking about Wrex. Mostly about how he made them nervous, and how he glared when anyone got too close. The crew gave him a wide berth, and apparently that same wide berth extended to just beyond the edge of the mess hall table. No one had the courage to sit near him, and since Wrex was taking his sweet time, everyone else had to wait to eat, or just chew on energy bars.
He wondered if Wrex cared. Or, more likely, if he enjoyed the thought of them going hungry because they didn't even have the courage to sit near him.
Regardless, Garrus was hungry, and he wouldn't be intimidated by the simple presence of a krogan. But he still took a seat on the opposite side of the table, a couple chairs down, just to be safe. Wrex stared at him for a bit, Garrus stared back, and then they both turned back to their food.
He didn't hear her approach, but all of a sudden Shepard was there, pulling out a chair and setting down a tray directly across from Wrex and a couple seats down from Garrus. Wrex looked up, but didn't glare.
He took a bite of his food, a tuberous thing that might have been meat, which he held in his hand and dipped into a viscous brown sauce. He was leaning against the table, elbows up, perfectly at ease. Shepard, too, looked perfectly calm, but then, she almost always did.
Wrex nodded at her plate. "What is that?"
She was trying to carefully tear open a small heated packet. "Pasta."
Wrex stared at it for a moment. "Is it alive?"
Shepard halted and gave him a look, like she wasn't sure if he was screwing with her or not. "Would that make you more or less interested?"
He just stared at her. Shepard reached down and picked up one of the yellow strings. "Here."
Wrex reached over and took the thin string, then placed it in his mouth, sucking it in. He chewed thoughtfully, then shook his head. "Tasteless."
"It is military," Shepard noted as she succeeded in opening the packet, pouring a steaming hot red sauce over the 'pasta.'
Wrex sniffed. "Blood?"
Shepard chuckled. "Tomato sauce," she said as she twirled the strings up in her fork, grimacing slightly before adding, "Allegedly." Wrex hummed conversationally as he took another bite of whatever he was eating.
"What have you got?" she asked, taking a bite of her food. Her eyebrows shot up as she quickly swallowed.
"Klixen meat," he said, holding up the chunk, then, "Varren blood," pointing at the brown sauce.
Shepard was more concerned with sucking down water - the sauce had been steaming hot. When she finished, she asked, "Any good?"
Wrex dipped the meat into the blood, then held it out. Shepard considered it briefly before Garrus heard her mumble "hell, why not." Then she took it and tore a chunk out of it with her teeth.
Or attempted to. It was extremely tough. Eventually, after considerable effort, she managed. Shepard handed it back to Wrex and wiped her mouth with a napkin as she continued to chew, slowly. Finally, after what must have been thirty seconds, she swallowed and smacked her lips.
"Awful," she said, shaking her head. "Like old shoe leather and burnt sausage."
Wrex started to laugh. "At least you can taste it."
Shepard grimaced and took another drink of water. Garrus watched this entire exchange without saying a word, partially because the turian military didn't have the C.O. taking meals with the crew and he didn't know how to react. But as he noticed Lt. Alenko come around the corner with a tray full of food, he realized what she had done.
Slowly, but steadily, more of the crew began to take seats in the mess. By the time Garrus had finished eating, it was a proper mess hall - crewmen talking, joking, and laughing, Shepard among them. Joker was regaling a group at the other end of the table with a story of his exploits back at flight school, Kaidan was talking to Shepard about some old war story, and Wrex was enjoying watching another crewman try to eat klixen meat - he wasn't handling it as well as Shepard had.
Tali had taken a seat across from Garrus and he realized she was talking to him.
"Huh? Sorry, I... what did you say?"
"I said I'm glad there's another dextro aboard," she repeated, pointing at her tray. "I might be reduced to eating nutrient paste, otherwise."
"Right." He picked up and chewed on the last of his Palaven breadfood, or what passed for it. "Well, at least you don't have to sterilize sealed rations."
Tali laughed mirthlessly. It sounded odd coming out of her helmet. "That's what you think."
Chapter 10: Joyride
In which one of our heroes finds love, and another is locked in a closet.
"I feel like I'm getting sidetracked," he said, stretching his arms and placing his hands behind his head and underneath his fringe. "We should probably have picked up Liara by now."
"How did Ms. T'Soni end up on the ship?" I asked. "The public record isn't exactly clear."
"I should expect not," he snorted.
"I don't understand."
"You will," he said, grinning wickedly. "It's up to me to set the record straight, after all." He dented his fingers and tapped them against each other in a sinister fashion.
"Liara was out on some remote planetoid digging up prothean ruins. Lots of volcanic activity, lots of lava, you know. A real vacation world. So the decision was made that Shepard, Wrex, and I should take the Mako down. It was our first real ground op together."
"You sure about those improvements you made, Vakarian?"
Garrus adjusted the sight on his rifle, rechecked that the cooling system was functioning, then slapped it onto his back. "I haven't done anything too drastic yet, Commander. Just realigned the targeting systems and tweaked the suspension."
"So, didn't adjust the handling or the thrusters or anything."
"Well, the suspension should give a little more, but no, it'll handle roughly the same."
"Okay. Good." She nodded, staring into the rear hatch of the tank. "Good."
He gave her a sidelong look. In profile, she was as calm and commanding as ever, but if he didn't know any better, he might have thought she was nervous. "Anything wrong, Commander?"
"No no," she replied a bit too quickly. "It's fine."
Shepard just stood there for a moment, immobile. Garrus glanced over at Wrex, who shrugged. Eventually she climbed in, a bit warily, and made her way to the front of the vehicle, levering herself into the driver's seat.
"Commander," Garrus reached up and leaned on the frame of the hatch as he ducked his head in, "you do know how to drive this thing, don't you?"
Shepard didn't look up from the controls - she was already beginning preparations for the airdrop. "Can't be that hard," she deadpanned. "I'm sure I'll figure it out."
Garrus stared at the back of her head. He began to laugh, voice flanging nervously. "That's, ah... that's a good one Commander."
She didn't laugh, and she didn't look back. "...Commander?"
"Just get in the damn tank, Vakarian."
Garrus didn't move. Wrex slowly sidled past him.
"All of a sudden," Wrex commented, levering himself into a rear passenger seat, "I'm glad I skipped breakfast."
He laughed, making a pleasantly thrumming noise. "Everyone on board just assumed she'd be the one driving. Never stopped to ask if she had actually driven any armored vehicles since basic."
"So," I ventured cautiously, "I'm guessing she figured it out?"
He turned his head and I knew that was a smirk on his face. "I don't think I'd go that far."
Garrus was profusely thanking every spirit that had ever inspired safety restraints, and simultaneously cursing the ones who inspired the Mako's design team.
The thing handled like a boat, skidded on every surface regardless of traction thanks to it's imbalanced mass effect fields, blew out most of it's thruster power to make the airdrop, and to top it all off, it's main gun couldn't point down. The sheer number of design issues fundamental in it's construction boggled his mind. That he hadn't noticed them before they hit active combat was an even greater source of consternation.
He was attempting to repair a coolant leak remotely via omnitool while Wrex manned the gun and Shepard attempted to pilot them safely to the dig site. He glanced over. Her jaw was clenched, her brow furrowed, steely determination ever present as she maneuvered the tank into position for Wrex to make his shot. Geth resistance had been higher than expected - after a minute or so of Shepard relearning which controls did what and how to move forward and back, they had been ambushed by flying sentry turrets and two armatures. Things had only gotten worse from there.
They'd nearly driven into the lava numerous times, Wrex could barely hit anything trying to compensate for Shepard's erratic driving and the visual distortion from the tremendous heat, and Garrus had been on repair duty ever since they took a direct hit from the second armature, but they were making progress. It was only a couple more clicks to the dig site and then they could get out of this six-wheeled deathtrap. How had he ever liked this thing? He couldn't remember.
Shepard gunned it, pushing eighty KPH as she made a mad dash between two groups of sentries, crushing a handful of geth mobile platforms as she did so. Wrex laid down suppressing fire with the secondary gun, having given up on precision with the main gun, and was having some success at shooting the sentries out of the air when a third armature made it's appearance directly ahead of them, across a small river of molten rock.
"I see it." The tank started to go faster.
"I see it!" Faster.
Garrus braced himself.
The armature fired a shot, the tank turned slightly and it glanced off the starboard armor plating. Before it could fire again, Shepard ignited the weakened thrusters, jumped the river, and crashed headlong into it. The impact rattled Garrus' teeth in his skull and nearly threw Wrex out of the gunner's seat. The spider-like armature twitched and writhed beneath them in a heap of twisted limbs.
Shepard reignited the thrusters, propelled the tank upwards, and came crashing down on it again. And again.
Once all movement had ceased, Garrus slumped in his chair. Shepard closed her eyes, took a deep breath and slowly blew it out. Then she turned to him, face as calm as it ever was, save for a light dancing in her eyes.
"That was fun."
Garrus heard Wrex start laughing behind him. Slowly, he and Shepard joined in.
He sighed, staring up the ceiling. "She really did love that stupid tank."
I waited a moment, but he was lost in a reverie. I cleared my throat. "Ms. T'Soni?"
He blinked, looked back at me, shook his head. "Yes yes, right, of course." He took a breath, opened his mouth, then just huffed and gave me a shrug. "Well, might as well skip to the good part."
"You did what?"
"I meant to trigger a barrier curtain, not a containment field! I didn't know that I wouldn't be able to deactivate it!" The asari protested.
"Typical," Wrex grumbled.
"How can we get you out?" Garrus asked while Shepard dug the palm of her hand into her forehead.
"I don't know," she replied, voice distorted by multiple layers of force fields. "There's no other tunnels that lead back here! You'll have to find a way past the barrier curtain, and then disable this field. And hurry - they've got a krogan with them!"
Garrus started to twist his head around, looking for something, anything that might help. They didn't have much time, the geth could be on them again at any moment. He felt Shepard lightly punch him in the shoulder. When he turned, found her pointing at something. "I've got an idea."
"So... she trapped herself?"
"And she couldn't get out? For days?"
He nodded again. "The great Liara T'Soni, prodigous biotic and brilliant archaeologist, hit the wrong button and locked herself in a closet." He grinned, big and wide, mandibles flaring outward. "Make sure you get all that down."
The asari plopped down on the floor after Shepard, through with fiddling with the console to find the right combination, simply shot it to pieces. The barrier curtain fell as well.
"Dr. Liara T'Soni, I presume," Shepard said, offering a hand up.
"Thank you," she said, taking it and standing. "How did you find a way past the barrier?"
"Giant mining laser."
"Oh." Liara blinked and dusted herself off. "I... suppose that would do it."
Liara was about what Garrus expected from an asari - blue skin, big expressive eyes, decidedly feminine features, and that strange crest that reminded him simultaneously of flowing human hair and the fringe of a turian. She had dark freckles on her cheeks, and the occasional streak of pale white accenting her eyes or crest. She was young for her people, only a hundred and six, but she was handling this attempted kidnapping surprisingly well.
"We need to move, Commander," Garrus said, keying his visor with a finger. "I've got faint heat signatures coming this way."
"What's the quickest way out of here?" Shepard asked, drawing her rifle with practiced ease.
"An elevator, through here," Liara said, leading the way. "At least, I think it's an elevator."
"Wonderful." Wrex loaded up his shotgun with a concussive round. "Some prothean expert you found, Shepard."
As they reached the elevator, there came a thunderous rumbling from deeper in the ruins.
"Oh no." Liara ran over to the console, fingers flying over holographic interface. "That mining laser must have destabilized the entire ruin. We need to get out of here!"
Shepard brought two fingers up to her ear and triggered the subcutaneous comm relay embedded just beneath the skin. "Joker, lock on my signal and get the Normandy down here, double time!"
"Aye aye, Commander," came the reply piping through their comms. "ETA, eight minutes!"
"Not a lot of margin for error," Garrus noted.
"No it's not," Shepard shot back. The large round platform rose fast, jostling everyone nearly off their feet. Once they reached the top, the shaking had become more severe, rubble started falling from the ceiling, and a krogan accompanied by several geth were waiting for them.
"Surrender," he said, "or don't. I'd like a little fun."
"There a reason you're in my way?" Shepard shouted, gun raised. Liara moved back, biotic blue flaring around her, as did Garrus, keeping his rifle trained on the krogan. Wrex moved alongside Shepard, shotgun held low and easy.
"Saren wants the doctor, and Saren gets what he wants."
"The goddamn ruin is coming down!" she yelled, stating the obvious.
The krogan just grinned. "Exhilarating, isn't it?"
"I've got this one, Shepard." Wrex twisted his head and worked a kink out of his neck.
"Do you?" Suddenly, the krogan had a gun in his hand, and the geth raised their rifles and fired.
It was a hellish couple of minutes, ground shaking, rock falling from the ceiling, lights flickering on and off, weapons fire everywhere in the relatively confined quarters of the platform. Shepard ran from cover to cover, drawing fire, while Liara yanked the geth into the air and Garrus shot them down one by one. She had impressive abilities for someone so young, creating multiple mass effect fields with a wave of her hand and pulling geth into the air with an ease that came only from natural talent.
Wrex had engaged the krogan, and managed to get close enough to disarm him. They wrestled briefly, evenly matched as Wrex bared his teeth and tried to get his shotgun clear to end the fight, but the other krogan managed to wrestle it free and throw it away. Then it came to blows, back and forth, vicious haymakers and headbutts.
Shepard leapt - actually leapt - onto the back of the krogan, climbing atop it's hump and unloading her rifle until the barrel glowed red. But the heavy shields and armor he had, plus the natural regenerative abilities of the krogan meant that even this wasn't enough to finish the fight, and he bucked, sending Shepard flying backward hard onto the stairs leading down to the elevator platform. Garrus couldn't line up a shot with Wrex so close, and while he tried to reposition himself, Liara did the same.
But by the time they had a clear shot, it was over - Wrex worked his hands underneath his opponent's arms, then, glowing a mighty blue, threw him fully twenty feet up into the air. Liara caught him, biotic combining with biotic, and the resulting explosion from competing mass effect fields all but vaporized the helpless krogan.
That had been a surprise. Wrex's biotics faded, and Shepard looked genuinely shocked for the first time Garrus had seen.
Wrex stomped up and helped Shepard to her feet. "What are you staring at? Place is still coming down."
"Wrex is a biotic?"
"It's not something he advertises," the Primarch replied, "but yeah. He is."
"I thought that took - I mean -"
"Self-control? Discipline?" He barked out a laugh. "Yeah, Wrex is a great big bundle of krogan contradictions."
I wanted to ask more, but I figured that would come later. "So you made it out okay?"
He waved a hand dismissively. "Oh yes, just in time, skin of our teeth, all the cliches you'd expect. Joker even brought the Normandy down so we didn't have to drive the damn Mako back to the LZ. All in all, a complete success."
He tilted his head and gave me a significant look. "And as for the Mako..."
Garrus and Shepard stood side by side, gazing at the pitted, burned, battered armor of the tank. Scorch marks ran up and down it's length, the places where the metal actually began to melt from the tremendous heat of leaping over volcanic lava floes were a stark reminder of how close they had come to a very unpleasant death.
Shepard's arms were crossed, her expression pensive. Eventually, she spoke.
"I think it could go faster."
He turned, ever so slowly, and gave her his best 'are-you-crazy' look. She either didn't notice, or didn't care. She was still staring at the tank, and he could still see that gleam in her eye.
"I think I can do that."
She didn't look at him, but she did smile, big and wide before she slapped him on the chest. "Don't stay up too late, Garrus," she said in a singsong tone of voice as she headed back to the elevator.
Garrus sighed and went to get his toolchest. First step was removing the speed governors...
Chapter 11: Shipmates
In which a crew begins to come together, and there is an unexpected departure.
"So where did you go next?" I asked, shaking out my wrist. The words were coming easier, for him and me.
"Where didn't we go," he said, batting the question back at me. "For all the importance of our mission, everyone wanted a bit of the Spectre's time - Anderson, Hackett, ambassadors and information brokers. At times it felt like we were the galaxy's gofer. And other times..."
He flexed one hand into a fist and curled the other around it. "Other times, we were just being used for someone's petty gain."
Shepard punched the table, hard.
She had stormed back onto the Normandy, Garrus and Kaidan in tow, said nothing to anyone and headed straight for the cargo bay. Ripped off her armor, threw it in her locker and ended up leaning against the workbench looking royally pissed.
Garrus and Kaidan had followed her down, ostensibly to pack up their own armor, in actuality to make sure she didn't lock and load and charge back onto the Citadel. They both felt the same way she did, Garrus knew, but they both agreed there wasn't anything they could do.
Shepard didn't like that. She took it hard.
It wasn't that she regretted what she had done - the woman was a slaver, and a mercenary, and the galaxy was a better place for not having her in it. It was that she - they - had been used, manipulated into action solely for Dantius' personal gain. Because they were stupid, because they were gullible, because they were trusting.
Because they were bloodthirsty.
It had been weeks since they had turned up anything on Saren, weeks of nothing but survey missions on uncharted worlds and the occasional pirate base or merc outpost. Even Cerberus had been quiet. Sure, that was military life - hurry up and wait - but they couldn't very well feel like they were making a difference by sitting around. So when this fell into their lap, they couldn't ignore it.
They. Garrus was trying to spread the blame around, but he knew the truth - this was Shepard's ship, it was Shepard's call, and so maybe it was right that Shepard felt the worst.
He left her there, in the cargo bay, leaning against Ash's workbench. She certainly wouldn't be getting anything done tonight. Neither would he, come to that. On a turian ship, he would have suggested a few rounds of sparring, but he didn't feel like he had the right. And she'd probably wipe the floor with the lot of them anyway. Didn't need to give her something else to feel bad about.
Kaidan lingered outside the elevator, staring at her. "You coming?" Garrus asked. "Might as well eat something."
He looked back and shook his head. "I'll grab some later."
Garrus nodded. The staff lieutenant knew her better than he did. He pressed the button for the crew deck and watched Kaidan walk back to her side as the doors closed.
"Kaidan and Shepard were close." Something in his expression didn't seem to match his tone. I couldn't tell what it was. "They got closer as the mission wore on. We all did, of course, but... well."
He stared down at his hands and I didn't have to be an expert on turian facial expressions to know he was uncomfortable about something. The nosy part of me wanted to press him, but the better part won out and changed the subject. If he wanted to talk about it, he'd talk about it later.
"Not to get away from Shepard," I said, hoping I didn't sound like I was trying too hard, "but was there anyone on the ship who wasn't close with the rest of the crew?"
He glanced at me, then his eyes darted away. He wasn't looking at his hands anymore, at least. "Pressly could be difficult. He was the XO. Had probably the most xenophobic views of the entire crew, Williams included."
"Did he come around?"
Slowly, he nodded. "Yeah. Yeah he did."
"-just wants to make her family's lot in life a little easier. I can understand that."
Garrus had been walking by the mess hall table when he heard Pressly's voice. It was unmistakable - he'd gotten into it a few times with him over proper protocol when he first came aboard and he didn't forget a voice that irritating.
He kept walking - he was on his way to the med-bay to pick up some extra medi-gel - but he slowed down to try and catch what he said next.
"Alright, who are you and what have you done with Pressly?" Another crewman. Maybe Peterson? He couldn't keep all the names straight.
"Look, I'm not saying I'd let her marry my son or anything," Pressly protested. "I'm just saying she's... got a better reason for being here than I thought, that's all."
"If you worked down in engineering, you would've liked her from the start," Possibly Peterson shot back. "She's already improved engine efficiency, and-"
Garrus ducked into the med-bay. So, he thought as he wandered over to the dispensery, Pressly was coming around on Tali. Maybe that meant that he would avoid another lecture on protocol next time he disassembled and cleaned his rifle on the mess hall table.
Well. Probably not. But it was still good to hear.
"Oh!" The Primarch slapped his hand to his forehead. I jumped a little - I couldn't help it, he still made me nervous.
"I haven't even mentioned Chakwas." He shook his head and leaned his elbow on the table. "She would be very upset."
"Chakwas was the ship's doctor, right? I heard about her after the war."
"Yeah, she served on the Normandy for a while after the end, then went off to do some 'frontier medicine' on the colonies, whatever that meant." He shook his head again, scoffing at himself. "I was crushed when I heard she died. I owed her my life, several times over. Everyone on the ground squad did."
I didn't speak. I let him take a moment of silence. After a handful of seconds, he sat back up again.
"She could drink like a fish," he said, and I couldn't help but laugh. He turned and smiled at me. "The only one allowed to while aboardship, you know. Everyone else had to wait until we were docked. Shepard even joined her, sometimes.
"Not that she drank on duty, of course." He settled back in his chair, hands back in his lap. "She was always a consummate professional. Even when she seemed like she wasn't, she was."
"I really can't believe you, sometimes, Jeff."
"Oh come on, mom," Joker mocked, "I'm a big boy, I can take of mys-OW, hey, watch it!"
Chakwas gave him one of the more intense looks Garrus had seen her give. "You have brittle bone disease, Jeff. I don't know how you can forget that long enough to give someone a 'high-five.'"
"It's spur of the moment! That's the whole point!" Joker raised his other hand, index finger pointing authoritatively. "And sometimes, it's the only proper response."
"Sorry," Garrus apologized again.
"God, it's not a big deal, Garrus," Joker shot back, "no matter what Karin says. You're new around here, and I've broken plenty of bones just from sneezing too hard. This is nothing. "
"Perhaps if you had to reset your own bones, you wouldn't think so." Chakwas frowned. "I have other things I could be doing, Jeff."
"Other than tending to your favorite patient?" Joker pouted. "That hurts, doc. No seriously that hurts owwwww-"
"Alright," she said, all business again, wrapped a stiff bandage around Joker's hand. "Now let this be a lesson to you. After all, a pilot with no hands isn't much of a pilot at all."
"I don't know," Joker mused, flexing his fingers, "Pretty sure I can fly this baby better than anyone else in the fleet with one hand tied behind my back."
"Yes, yes, keep stroking that ego," Chakwas shot back as she returned to her desk. "It's too bad, I don't have anything that can treat a swelled head." She shooed them both. "Now out, the both of you."
As Garrus exited the med-bay alongside Joker, he glanced back. "Chakwas seems to worry about you."
"Yeah," Joker replied, his usual sarcastic tone mixing with something else. "The doctor who worries herself sick." He stared back and adjusted his cap. "She's good people, Garrus. I give her a hard time, but..."
"Yeah," he said with a nod. "I get it."
Joker half-smiled and hobbled on ahead, heading back up to the cockpit. Garrus couldn't help but let his gaze linger on his newly bandaged hand.
"You know," I said as gently as I could, "that's the first time you've mentioned the pilot, too. Mr. Moreau?"
He blinked his big blue eyes at me, then sighed and leaned back in his chair. He seemed like he was about to continue when his omni-tool blinked. Quickly, he checked it, read something, then stood up.
"I'll be right back," he said, throwing open the door and jogging out into the growing dusk.
I was left alone. Again.
Where was he even going?
Chapter 12: Intermission
In which our story is put on hold for the most important of reasons.
He was gone. One second he was there, and the next, right out the door.
I just sat there for a bit, wondering what message he could possibly have received that would have sent him storming out of his home at dusk. Did something happen? Was it an emergency? What if someone he knew was sick or hurt? Or what if it was someone from the Turian Hierarchy? What if they needed his help? When would he be back? What was I supposed to do until then?
Slow down, Alisa. Breath. Think.
I breathed, and I thought. I was no expert on turian moods or expressions, but having been with him for the better part of a day I felt like I could tell when something was wrong. He didn't look particularly worried or upset when he left, and he didn't seem shocked when he read the message. He just looked... harried. He moved quickly and with purpose. So it probably wasn't an emergency, which meant he would be back.
But when? It had already been a couple minutes. And where was he even going? There wasn't anywhere to go on this island except...
I strained my ears, but couldn't hear anything that sounded like a skycar over the white noise of the waves crashing against the beach outside. The tide was up, and the sea was much closer to the deck.
I stood and stretched. Whereever he went, he'd be back. If he was so mistrustful of me to begin with, he wouldn't leave me alone in his home for long. Slowly, I smiled. Yeah, that made sense. Might as well have a look around.
I wandered over to the wall of pictures. The rifle on the decorative plaque in the center was very old, worn and well used. I didn't even see a slot for a thermal clip. This must have been something from his days aboard the SR-1. Maybe even before, from his turian military service. I wasn't exactly an expert on firearms, though. It could have been a pop-gun for all I knew.
The pictures surrounding it were more my speed - numerous photos with family and friends. I recognized a lot of faces - Urdnot Wrex standing beside him, arms crossed over his chest, the Primarch's hands behind his back, both of them standing in some great big hall of some kind, probably on Tuchanka. Another on the opposite side was less formal - Wrex was sitting on a rock, legs wide and elbows on his knees, laughing, while the Primarch was fending off an attack by a varren. A smiling, happy varren that was... licking him?
Another set of photos along the right side showed the Primarch with various humans - Admiral Hackett shaking his hand, a young Captain Alenko in a couple of photos, a muscled man she didn't immediately recognize who was grinning and pointing at the fading scars on his face, Jeff Moreau trying to put an SR-2 baseball cap on the Primarch's head, and what I realized must be Karin Chakwas leaning against the Primarch, a rather tipsy looking grin on both their faces.
There were others above and below the plaque containing the gun - one of him with a tattooed woman of questionable fashion sense sticking her tongue out at the camera, one of him engaging in mock combat with another much younger krogan, one of him with a rather pious looking young drell, another with a salarian in a white coat that looked like it was taken aboard a ship. I didn't recognize any of those people.
The left side of the plaque seemed sparser, somehow. There were pictures of him with other turians here - a smaller, more willowy turian with a short crest leaning on him with her elbow (a female?), another older turian with the same markings on his face in a rather stiff and formal pose (father, definitely), a larger turian with different markings (the last Primarch, Victus I think), and one of him sitting next to a bed in what is clearly a hospital. The turian in the bed is older, more frail, but with the same markings, and a short crest adorned with feathers. She was smiling, at least I thought she was, but it looked strained (his mother was sick?).
Just as I was wondering who took most of these photos, one caught my eye - Admiral Tali'Zorah and Primarch Vakarian, sitting close together on what looked like a park bench, her arm extending past the frame. She was holding the camera. I doubted she had taken every one of the photos on the wall, but it would explain how decidedly unguarded a lot of them were.
And there still wasn't a single picture of Shepard. It was baffling.
I looked around for a clock and couldn't find one. It had to have been nearly ten minutes since he left. Where could he be?
Suddenly I thought I heard something. I ran to the door, opened it, and found the source - a skycar was taking off on the other side of the island, slowly rising, then shooting off to the north, towards the mainland.
I couldn't believe it. Had he really just left me here? What did he expect me to do? Wait? Sleep? Would he even be back by morning?
I turned around and shut the door, running my hand through my hair. He wouldn't just leave without telling me why... would he? But what reason did he have to tell me where he was going? I had just intruded into his life today, he didn't owe me anything. But still, to just up and leave me here...
I found my gaze drifting towards the door to his study. It was closed, but not locked.
Well, if he left you here, he can't expect you to stay in this room forever. Just don't touch anything and it'll be fine.
I reached out, hesitated, then opened the door.
At first it seemed normal - large shelving units took up the walls on either side of the desk in front of me, filled with e-books, datapads, hard drives, computer cores, and other ephemera. A small metal toolchest sat by the foot of the chair, the kind used by professional mechanics who needed lots of delicate or specific tools. The desk was built into the wall, on either side were recessed drawers and cabinets, some with locks, some without. Above the desk was a single large window stretching it's entire length, and strewn across the desk itself were numerous datapads, some stacked ten high, with no discernible organization.
I walked in and turned around, and the mundanity disappeared. The wall to the living room was covered in guns, every conceivable shape and size represented. Some were missing from their racks, and lay on the ground against the wall. Others were long and large, and he had leaned them in the corner, like a particularly deadly broom. Now I understood the purpose of the toolchest - it no doubt contained all that he would need to clean and maintain this collection of death-dealing implements.
There was another door on the left, one that no doubt led to the second floor. Briefly, I considered opening it, but that was too far. Even if he did leave me here, he was still Garrus Vakarian. He deserved his privacy.
That's why I decided I wouldn't touch anything, either. That, and I didn't want to accidentally fire one of the weapons, or open up the wrong datapad and learn some key military secret about the Hierarchy. No, I was content to just have a sit in his little wheeled chair and spin around.
The weight of history was present in this room as much as the other. I wondered how many decisions of galactic importance he had made sitting in this chair, in this room, in this house. He'd only fully retired a year ago, and this place was older than that. Coordinating the reconstruction of Palaven, debating the location of the new Council Chambers, finalizing the Tuchanka Accords...
Another burst of enthusiasm hit me as I gazed around the room. "Wow," I said aloud, grinning like a fool. "I'm here."
That's when I heard the front door open behind me.
I spun around in the chair and practically lept out of it, nearly knocking it over, racing to the door. I found the Primarch giving me a very hard look, balancing something large and flat in his right hand.
"Oh my god Primarch I am so sorry I thought you left because I saw the skycar leave and I just thought I'd take a look around but not anywhere but here really I mean I didn't go upstairs or anything I just wanted to see the office and-"
I took a breath and it wasn't enough, so I took another. The Primarch's expression shifted again as he walked up to me. "Alright, alright, calm down," he said, resting another hand on my shoulder. "Just... get out of there."
He gently but firmly pushed me out of the room while I struggled not to hyperventilate. I managed to make it back to the table, and he set down what I now realized were two flat square boxes. "I'll get you some more water," he said with some resignation.
"Where were you, sir?" I asked, eager to know and just as eager to change the subject from my terrible mistake. "You got a message and just... stormed out."
"I knew this would take a while," he said, slowly walking back with my glass in his hand, "and I didn't have any levo food on hand, so I ordered something for dinner earlier."
"Food?" I blinked. He pointed at the box. I looked down. "Pizza!"
"The one on the bottom is dextro-amino," he said as I tore open the box and immediately went for a slice. I was beyond starving. "Don't eat that one unless you feel peckish for anaphylactic shock."
"Deshtwuo peetzha?" I asked around a mouthful of delicious pepperoni.
He shrugged. "A rough equivalent. I've gotten to know the guy who owns the place. They make 'em special for me. Takes a while for the delivery to get here, so I call way in advance." He set down the glass of water in front of me. I immediately reached out for it and gulped it down - I had already succeeded in burning the roof of my mouth with molten cheese, but it felt good.
"So since it's such a trip and I make them go so far out of their way for me," he continued, walking around the table back to his chair, "they shoot me a message when they're close and I go out and meet them at the garage. No need to make them walk all the way down the path."
I paused, already finishing my first slice. "So... that's why you left?"
He sat down, crossed his arms, and gave me a stern look. I lowered my crust and averted my eyes. "I'm sorry, sir."
The look lingered a full three heartbeats (I counted) and then he sighed and shook his head. "Forget it, kid. No harm done." He froze and his expression shifted. "Right?"
"No!" I waved my hands in front of me. "No no no, no harm done. Nothing touched. Just... sat in a chair, that's all. Well, I spun in it a few times, but-"
"Okay." He held up his own hand. "Then forget it. Let's eat."
So we did - mine was pepperoni and sausage, his was... red 'cheese,' with something green and crunchy and something else that was... blue? I couldn't even try to guess, but he seemed to enjoy it. Honestly, it wasn't the best pizza on Earth, but it was good, and I hadn't eaten all day. Neither had he, come to think of it.
"So, is it always the same delivery guy?" I asked, getting myself another slice.
"No," he replied, taking a bite out of crust. "They alternate. Sometimes I think they draw straws."
"It is a long flight," I said, nodding sagely.
He chuckled a little. "No no, whoever wins gets to make the delivery." When I looked confused, he waved his half-eaten crust at me playfully. "I tip very well."
That was that, it seemed. We made smalltalk while we ate, nothing substantial or insightful. He didn't bring up my intrusion into his office again. I didn't ask any questions. For the next half hour, the pen and paper lay forgotten by both of us, and we set to the task of eating an unhealthy amount of pizza.
Chapter 13: The Small Moments
In which the in-between is what's most important.
Eventually, the two pizzas lay decimated before us. Crusts scattered across the boxes, fallen soldiers in the Battle for Dinner. We sat victorious, rubbing our burgeoning stomachs and drinking deeply of our water and wine.
I got a little poetic on a full stomach.
Slowly, the Primarch turned to regard me, slumped in his chair, hands laced together against his stomach and legs stretched out. "Not to rush, but we've still got a lot to get through tonight."
"Of course," I replied easily. I was about as relaxed as I had been since I set foot on this island. Breaking bread with someone had a way of doing that, I supposed. I pushed away my pizza box, revealing the pen and pad of paper. I picked up the one and tapped it lightly against the other.
"Where were we?" he asked.
"I don't think it matters," I said.
He paused, then gave me a nod and a smile. "I guess you're right."
It was a clear night. The stars were out.
Somehow it was different looking at the stars from a planet instead of a ship. Perpetual night aboard the Normandy, no matter what shift it was, no matter what cycle it was. You looked out a window (and eventually you always looked out a window when you were aboard a ship for long enough) and all you saw was stars and occasionally the wake of the FTL drive.
On a planet like this one, a temperate, untainted garden world of rolling plains and few trees, the stars held a light that you couldn't really see from space. Just filtering through the atmosphere, he reminded himself clinically. Just light refraction. But he still stared up at them.
"It is different, isn't it," Shepard said, thoughts mirroring his own. He glanced over. She was laying on her back, arms crossed in front of her, one leg over another. Her head was closest to him and her red hair spilled across the ground.
"Told you," Ashley said from the other side of the campfire. "That's what happens when you live on ships your whole life. You never really see the stars."
The three of them had taken the Mako down to scout another uncharted world, surveying it for possible future colonization. It was a simple mission and a welcome reprieve - after Zhu's Hope and then dealing with that biotic hostage situation, they needed to take a moment to breath. And once they got down and started placing survey markers, Ash had started talking about camping with her sisters as a kid and it came out that Shepard was an army brat who lived on ships her whole life and Garrus had grown up in a city and all of a sudden they were gathering up flammable materials and setting them alight. It wasn't even that cold, Garrus thought, and the Mako was certainly warm enough, but Ashley had insisted that it was important to the experience.
Laying by the fire, hearing it crackle and roar in the occasional gust of wind, he realized she had a point. There was something primal about fire, something soothing and safe. Apparently human and turian culture were similar in that respect.
"It's not camping," Garrus said, breaking the sudden veil of silence that had settled over the group, "but back on Palaven, I once took a skycar up to the Relan Mountains, east of Cipritine. Stayed up there all night, just marvelling at the view."
"That before you shipped out?" Ashley asked, still staring at the stars.
"Did the same thing myself," she replied. "Went all the way up to Pico da Neblina. Highest mountain in Brazil. You could see forever up there. Tried to take it all in one last time, you know?"
Another silence began to settle over the makeshift camp. It didn't last.
"Were you alone?"
Garrus glanced over at Shepard. She was still looking up at the stars.
Shepard laughed. "I believe him, Williams, but I don't believe you."
"What does that mean?" Garrus shot back, mildly offended.
"Come on, Commander-"
"Don't start pulling rank on me now, Ash," Shepard said, settling her hands behind her head and raising her knee.
Garrus couldn't see Ashley through the campfire, but he expected she was giving her CO a dirty look.
"Alright, alright," she said, "Yeah, I was up there with someone."
"Of course you were."
"It's not a crime."
"I never said it was."
"I was shipping out the next day."
"I completely understand."
A third and final silence rang through the camp, but it wasn't the same as the others. Garrus knew exactly when this one would end. He waited for it.
"So what was his name?"
"God, I'm sorry I brought it up."
"Alright, alright," Shepard said, grinning from ear to ear. "Just giving you a hard time, Ash."
He could practically hear Ashley pouting. "Because you're jealous of our planetary upbringing."
"No," Garrus said, propping himself up on an elbow and smirking at Shepard. "She just doesn't like being excluded from a conversation."
Shepard shot a sidelong look at him. He flared his mandibles and grinned. She furrowed her brow, mock angry, then turned back to the stars. Garrus settled back onto the ground. He knew he was right.
A pause. "Sorry."
"Don't be." Shepard sighed. "I got to see them eventually."
They looked up at the stars until they fell asleep. For once, Garrus let Shepard take first watch. She took it like a punishment for giving them hell, but before he nodded off, he saw Shepard still staring up at the stars, smiling.
He paused, huffed a little laugh. "Would you believe that's what I remember when I think about her?"
I nodded slowly. "I'd believe it."
His eyes twinkled, and he seemed truly happy for the first time since I'd met him. He turned away from me. "You really don't mind? If I skip over some of the... bigger stories?"
"All due respect, sir," I said, leaning back in my chair, "it's not my story to tell."
He looked at me again and this time something in his eyes bothered me. I wondered if I had said something wrong, but he looked away again before I could really consider it.
"Well..." He shrugged. "Then all you need to know is after weeks of waiting, we got a distress signal from a human colony on Feros, called Zhu's Hope. More geth attacking a human colony, and another lead on Saren. Shepard did all she could to protect the colonists, but."
He swallowed. "She had to put one down. Some corporate lapdog for ExoGeni, who'd been doing experiments on the colonists with some ancient alien creature called a thorian. She didn't lose any sleep over him, but she did over what they'd done."
"You ever wonder what we're fighting for, Vakarian?"
Garrus jumped a little. He hadn't see her sitting at the mess hall table. He had been up late resealing the Mako's inner hull after their jaunt on Feros and was headed to one of the communal sleeping pods when she had spoken.
"No," he said slowly, feeling out the conversation. "Not particularly. You?"
Shepard was sitting there, elbows up and hands resting upon each other. She looked calm enough, but Garrus saw that soldier's look in her eye that she got sighting down her rifle in a firefight.
"We're doing our damnedest to save the galaxy," she said, her voice clipped and cutting, "and while we're risking everything, they're out there torturing people. For money."
"They?" Garrus asked, walking over to the chair across from her.
Shepard flicked a hand into the air and let it fall back to the table, shaking her head. "They. Them. ExoGeni. Cerberus. The Alliance. Anyone. Someone somewhere, right now, is figuring out how best to fuck someone over so he can get just a little bit further ahead than he was before."
"They're not the majority, Shepard."
"Are you sure?" She looked up at him sitting across from her, hard eyes framed by red hair. She quickly dropped her gaze back to her hands. "Sometimes I wonder."
Garrus sighed. "Sometimes... it can be hard to see past them to the rest of the galaxy."
They sat there together for what seemed like a while until Shepard looked up at him again.
He looked confused. "All of what?"
"All you're going to say." She leaned back in her chair, regarding him cooly. "I'm your commanding officer, the woman who recruited you for this insane mission, and I'm expressing doubt that we should continue. Is that all you have to say to me?"
Garrus flexed one mandible and gave her a knowing look. "Shepard, if I had any doubts about your resolve, I wouldn't be sitting her talking to you."
"Of course." He shrugged. "We've all had thoughts like that. I was full of them in C-Sec. But I still went to work every day. I still did my job. I still gave everything I had every moment of every day to try and do what little good I could. And if I could do that-"
"-then I can too," she finished with a sigh.
"No," he said. "You can do better."
She looked up at him and met his eyes, eyebrows raised. He leaned forward and continued, "I haven't served with you for very long, Shepard, so forgive me if I'm stepping out of line, but quite frankly I don't think there's anything you couldn't do, let alone wouldn't do, to complete this mission. You don't need me to reassure you and set you back on course, just like you don't need me to breath for you. Who you are won't let you doubt what's right, not for one second. And more than anything, that's why I'm here."
Shepard kept staring at him. Garrus felt suddenly very self-conscious and tore himself away from her eyes. He shouldn't feel that way - he'd only spoken the truth - but he wished he hadn't gushed quite so much. It wasn't professional.
All of a sudden he felt her hand on his and he turned back, startled. He was wearing thick gloves, but her five fingers on top of his three still felt thoroughly alien. She patted the back of his hand a couple times, then pulled away. "Thanks, Garrus. Think I needed that."
He shook his head. "No you didn't." He pushed himself out of his chair. "But you're welcome."
Shepard grinned weakly at him, and he left her there to stew in the mess hall. Garrus felt like he'd helped, hoped he had, but as he lay there waiting for sleep to claim him, he suddenly wasn't sure.
Chapter 14: Getting Closer
In which our heroes grow closer in spite of themselves.
"It wasn't the right thing to say." He grumbled and crossed his arms, mandibles twitching arhythmically. "She didn't need someone to gush over her, tell her she was so wonderful and perfect and she could never fail. I was so caught up in admiring her that I..."
He stopped and ran one hand over his fringe. He shook his head and sighed. "It was the wrong thing to say."
"She seemed to appreciate it," I commented gently.
He scoffed and crossed his arms again, staring intently at the table. He didn't say anything.
"Well then..." I figured I'd ask. "What was the right thing to say?"
He inhaled, opened his mouth, halted, closed it, and released the breath. He did this a couple more times, until finally he said, "I don't know, something dry and witty and charming. Something that would make her laugh. Something that let her feel-"
The Primarch huffed a sigh that might have been a laugh. "Human."
He shook his head slowly. "I was too young. And I didn't know Shepard yet. Not really."
"Forgive me for saying so, sir," I said, already regretting the phrasing, "but it sounds like you two were already close."
He smiled mirthlessly and shook his head. "Not yet."
The words hung in the air. I didn't know what to say. Well, that was a lie. I knew exactly what I wanted to say, I just didn't want to say it. We'd finally built a rapport and I didn't want to jeopardize it anymore than I already had. But what was I building it for if not to ask him questions like this? I had to start sometime. If what I was doing was going to mean anything at all, I had to.
Even as I asked I was very afraid I'd crossed a line. But his expression softened, his blue eyes grew wistful, and his mandibles puffed out briefly.
"I'm not entirely sure," he said solemnly. "But I can guess."
"Oh thank you, thank you for saving me from those... things. Now - wait, are yo-"
Saleon's head slammed against the cabin wall, Garrus' forearm across his neck, gun at his temple. He'd chased this son of a bitch for years on the Citadel, seen the monstrous things he'd done. And now thanks to Shepard, he finally had him right where he wanted him.
They'd had to fight their way through the doctor's latest experiments to get here, while Saleon had sealed himself in his quarters. Broken, hollow men and women, mutated and deformed, their minds long gone. Garrus wasn't happy.
"Your days of butchery are over, doctor," he spat. "I'd harvest your organs, but we just don't have the time."
Saleon was groping feebly at his arm, choking out words. "Crazy... he's... crazy. Don't... let him do this to me..."
"No more tricks, Saleon, no more words." Garrus felt every ounce of the pistol's weight in his hands. He saw every fleck of fear in Saleon's big almond eyes. He wanted to remember this for a long time. "Unlike your victims, you'll go quick."
Suddenly he felt a weight on his shoulder. Reluctant to turn away, he shifted his eyes. Shepard had stepped alongside him, rifle in one hand, the other on him.
"We take him in."
He couldn't believe she was even suggesting it. "No. We can't risk it. He escapes, he'll go right back to work. I can't live with that. I can end this right here, right now. Forever."
"He dies and we never know how he did what he did."
Garrus' eyes shifted back to the salarian. "Doesn't matter."
Shepard's grip tightened on his shoulder. He could feel it through his armor.
"He dies, and his victims go unidentified."
Saleon choked and gasped. His gun was heavy in his hand, yearning.
"Death is easy, Garrus. Don't let him off easy."
She released her hand from his shoulder. He glanced her way. Shepard was backing off. Garrus turned his attention back to Saleon and the gun against his temple. She was letting him make the call. And he wanted to. He very much wanted to.
He released his grip and the salarian fell to the floor, gasping for air. Garrus holstered his pistol before he could think better of it.
"You're a very lucky salarian, doctor." He took a couple steps back, flexed his claws into fists over and over again. "The commander just saved your life."
Saleon rubbed his thin throat, slowly standing and stepping forward. His voice was raspy, but his sarcasm was evident. "Oh, thank you so very much-" and he snapped his hand under his desk as he stood and suddenly he had a heavy pistol pointed at Garrus' face, and even as he went for the gun he had just holstered against his left hip he knew he wouldn't be fast enough and his shields weren't strong enough to stop a bullet at this range so this was it, this was the last thing he'd ever see-
Saleon's head exploded, brain matter scattering off to Garrus' left, onto his desk. His body crumpled like a puppet with it's strings cut at Garrus' feet. He turned and saw Shepard, rifle pointed, barrel smoking. She straightened and relaxed, lowering the gun, but her features were locked in a scowl.
For a minute, they were silent. Garrus stared at the blood pooling around the corpse and became conscious that what he'd thought was the hum of the ship's engines beneath the deck plates was the blood rushing through his ears.
"And he's dead anyway," he said, his voice tight. "What was the point of any of that?"
He heard Shepard walk up next to him, but he didn't look at her. When he finally did, her expression had softened to a frown. She stared down at the body, then back up at Garrus.
"You're the better man."
"Because I didn't kill him?" he shot back, but she was already shaking her head.
"Because when you had your chance, you thought about someone other than yourself."
Shepard looked back at the body. "Circumstances are always changing. All you can do is choose how you react. That's what matters." She grimaced. "Least that's how I see it."
Garrus didn't look back. He regarded Shepard's profile, as closely as he had Saleon's blood soaked corpse, until she realized he was staring and met his eyes with a look that said 'do we have a problem?'
"Don't think I ever met anyone like you, commander," he said in a bemused sort of way.
She visibly relaxed, almost but not quite quirking up one end of her mouth. Of course they didn't have a problem. Shepard and Vakarian? They never had a problem.
"We done here?"
Garrus turned back to the body, the blood starting to seep it's way towards his boots. He nodded and started to turn around, head back towards where they had docked with Saleon's ship.
"Yeah. I guess we are."
"That's when I realized she was more than just an exceptional commander." He rested his mouth against his hands, muffling his dual-toned voice. "No other CO I'd ever served under would have done anything more than give me an order and expect me to follow it. She'd let me make the call. Even when it turned bad, she didn't blame me. It simply was what it was. Circumstances changed, and... we reacted."
He sighed, a low purr escaping from his chest. "If she'd ordered me to back off, I would have done it. She knew that. But things wouldn't have been the same between us. And she knew that, too."
I let him sit for a minute, collect himself. Reliving that particular moment had taken some effort. I wondered... it was hard to say, and maybe I was reading too much into it, but something about the words he used and the way he spoke made me think that it wasn't really that story that upset him. Maybe it reminded him of something else, something more painful.
Once I thought that he'd had his moment and any more silence would hurt more than it would help, I prompted: "After that, you two were closer?"
He considered that for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah. We were. What happened after Virmire, though, is what cemented our friendship."
Before I could ask, he put up a hand. "That comes later. No skipping ahead." He smiled at me fully. It had been a while since it had reached his eyes. "Don't worry, you'll like this next part. It involves your mother."
Chapter 15: Once a Cop
In which someone is needed, and someone else is nervous.
I knew this was coming. I had known since we had begun that we would eventually get here. Hell, it was the reason I had decided to do this to begin with. Why would it bother me? It shouldn't. But my heart still lept into my throat, even as my stomach plunged down through the floor. I felt my shoulders and back tense up and I flexed my hands to keep them from trembling. My face flushed and I could already tell I would be beading sweat in moments.
I was a mess. It was impossible for him not to notice.
"Fine." I interrupted the Primarch. You interrupted the Primarch. "Sorry, I'm... I'm okay."
I could see his expression change, but I couldn't tell what it was anymore. I wasn't exactly in an analytical state of mind. His tone was sympathetic, that much I could tell, as he laced his fingers together in his lap. "Take your time."
I did. It only took me a minute. After a few deep breaths, I clenched my jaw, wrapped my hand around the pen, steadied myself, and looked him right in the eye.
With my mind in a better place, I could tell he was smiling. "Your mother was... less flappable than you."
I laughed and it came out sounding like a sob. "Yeah?"
He reached out and lightly nudged me in the shoulder. "Yeah."
Originally Garrus wasn't going to come on the Noveria ground op - Shepard had wanted Liara with her, for obvious reasons, and Kaidan for biotic and tech backup.
Garrus didn't mind, in as much as he normally worried when he was left behind. It was a control thing, or so he thought - he didn't like being out of the loop. He wanted to be on the frontlines and constantly aware of new developments, instead of feeling useless when he was on the ship, puttering around and performing what had become thoroughly ritualized tasks.
But that wasn't all, and he was just beginning to realize it. He was anxious because he wasn't covering her six. He was nervous because something might happen to her and he wouldn't be there to pull her ass out of the fire. It certainly wasn't that he doubted her ability, or the abilities of the rest of the crew. Far from it. It was just... Shepard was his commander. He felt he should be there.
Hell. Maybe he just needed to shoot something.
Regardless, he had helped Ash clean all the ship's guns (and Garrus thought he was a bundle of nerves when not on assignment) and was elbow deep in the Mako's innards when the elevator door opened.
He slammed in his forehead into the underbelly of the tank and cursed quietly in every language he could as he slid out.
"Commander, what is it?" He looked up at her from the ground. "Don't tell me we're done here already."
"Not by a long shot," she said, offering a hand up which he took. "Circumstances have changed."
"They have a tendency to," he said, dusting himself off.
"I need a cop."
Garrus brow plates raised slightly. It was about as surprised as he could look. "Good or bad?"
She gave him a half-smile. "That's up to you."
He grinned. "Well then let's get moving."
As he followed her to the elevator he looked back and saw Ash give him a shocked and mildly jealous look. He did his best to look equally surprised and not at all smug when he shrugged at her.
"I must say," he said, stroking his chin, "it felt nice to be needed."
I smiled, a bit strained, but honest. "It's easy to forget you were C-Sec once."
The Primarch titled his head at me and chuckled. "Once a cop, always a cop. Never really goes away."
There was a brief pause that was still too long for me.
"So this is the part with my mother?" I asked, mouth suddenly dry.
His mandibles twitched as I drank some of my water. "It'll be a bit. Noveria was... complicated."
By the time they got into Port Hanshan proper, Garrus had already discovered why she needed a cop. The place reminded him starkly of the Citadel - pristine on the outside with a very seedy underbelly. They hadn't been there more than ten minutes before a hanar merchant offered them payment for smuggling goods, and the local security forces (who Shepard had apparently had a run in with before she even set foot in the station) began not-so-subtly tailing them. If it weren't for the snow falling outside the windows, he'd have felt right at home.
Shepard had already spoken with the Administrator, a salarian named Anoleis who she described as 'a real piece of work.' She had also met with his assistant, a Ms. Parasini, who seemed to be more than what she appeared. After being stonewalled by Anoleis, Parasini had given her a quick message to talk to a Lorik Qui'in down in the hotel lounge, and that was where Garrus came in.
The first step was losing their tail. Easy enough - Garrus and Shepard went one way, Liara and Kaidan went the other. They milled about, visiting the merchants, watching the vidlinks, checking limited access extranet terminals, listening to sales pitches about omni-tool upgrades. Shepard's tail was more dogged than the others, but Liara was visibly anxious, and as a result ended up attracting most of the attention. Kaidan did his best to look suspicious as well, which wasn't much at all, but it helped.
"Is this really necessary?" Shepard grumbled as they made their way slowly around the port.
"You wanted my expertise, as I recall," Garrus mumbled, low tonals muffling his voice as they walked.
"Yeah, yeah." Shepard brushed some hair out of her eyes. "Are they gone yet?"
Garrus checked his visor - he had it displaying an image from the rear-facing hidden camera. "Yeah, think we lost 'em in that last crowd. We should move fast."
"Good." She twisted her neck and Garrus heard an audible pop. "Let's get to work."
The lounge in the lone hotel at Port Hanshan was just as clean and just as dirty as the rest of it - a krogan on the upper level was shouting into his communicator, an asari was quite obviously trying to spy on a table eight meters away, and Lorik Qui'in sat lounging, one arm thrown over the back of his chair, near the large bay windows to Noveria's ice cold surface.
He had darker skin for a turian, going well with his cyan colony markings. He subtly sized them up as they approached. Garrus could tell whatever he was up to, this man was no fool.
"Afternoon," he greeted, flanging voice taking a jovial tone. "Sit down, have a drink. What can I do for you?"
"You Lorik Qui'in?" Shepard asked, taking the seat across from him. He nodded. "Heard you could help me out."
"Really?" He sipped his drink. Shepard grimaced - Garrus knew she hated this process, dancing around a subject. If there was anything Shepard was, it was direct. Garrus sat down in the seat next to her, nudging her ever so slightly with his boot. The grimace disappeared.
"You are the Spectre that just arrived, are you not?" He smiled politely. "What could an old turian like me possibly help you with?"
"Trying to find a way into the garage." She crossed her arms, leaned back a little, glanced away. "I have places to go."
"And you need a pass." His tone shifted. The pleasantries were over, it seemed. "How fortuitous."
Turned out Qui'in was the manager of the local Synthetic Insights office. Anoleis was having him investigated for corruption, but Qui'in implied it was far less noble.
"The administrator is an interesting man," he said, swirling the liquid in his glass. "He has become quite wealthy since he took direct control of rents."
"Quite a coincidence," Garrus said, entering into the conversation for the first time. Qui'in turned and stared, as if seeing him for the first time.
"Indeed." Qui'in downed the rest of his drink then set it upside down on the table. "I came into possession of evidence of his transactions. His hired goons are ransacking my office as we speak to find it. I suspect your goal lies outside the port. Anoleis would be... disinclined to let you wander."
"He's made that very clear." Shepard flexed her hands against her arms.
"Recover that evidence from my office, and you'll have your access to the garage."
"You have a plan?" Garrus asked.
"I do," he said smoothly. A real operator, this one. "But there is one other... what is that charming human expression? 'Fly in the... lotion?'"
"Ointment." Shepard smiled without humor. "And there usually is."
"The thugs searching my office? Members of the local security forces. Ms. Matsuo, head of security? She is unaware of their outside employment, so violence may be necessary."
Shepard glanced at Garrus, not long, just enough to gauge his reaction. Garrus nodded almost imperceptibly.
"We're good at that," Shepard said, pushing herself up out of her seat. "If we're lucky, maybe they'll see reason."
As they walked away from the old turian, still sitting at the table trying to look as though he didn't have a care in the world, Shepard jerked her head back at him.
"You trust him?"
Garrus considered what he'd heard and seen. "He's a sly one. Been doing this for so long it's like second nature. But he's getting old, and it shows. For all his nonchalance, he's worried. We're the only card he's got left to play."
"You comfortable killing cops?"
"They're not cops." Garrus corrected sternly, "They're private security. And if they're dirty, they're not even that." He looked over at her as they entered the elevator to the office levels of Port Hanshan. "I don't think they'll see reason, Shepard."
Shepard smiled wryly. "When have we ever been lucky, Garrus?"
Chapter 16: Mom
In which emotions run high, and bonds begin to form.
The elevator doors opened, revealing two guards conversing in the middle of the corridor. We didn't take two steps out before they noticed us.
"Freeze! Hanshan Security. This office is sealed." The turian behind her drew a rifle and got a bead on Garrus, ignoring the commander. A poor strategy at the best of times.
Shepard stalked up to the guard who had spoken with all the force and confidence she could muster. Garrus only caught the look in her eyes for a second before she got ahead of him, but it was enough to know the guards wouldn't be a problem for long. She got within arm's reach of them without a hint of fear, Garrus close behind.
"Why?" was all Shepard said. The guard almost took a step back.
"Anoleis' orders," she replied, doing an admirable job of keeping the fear out of her voice. "Qui'in is under investigation."
"You're taking money from Anoleis." It wasn't a question. The guard opened her mouth to say something, but Shepard cut her off. "Look at me."
They did. The turian guard slowly changed his target. Shepard didn't even spare him a glance.
"Think hard," she said, her voice edged with menace. "Is it enough?"
The guard's eyes were as wide as dinner plates under her helmet. She exchanged a glance with her turian partner. They locked eyes, and he slowly lowered his weapon.
"Not nearly," she said, quickly making her way around Shepard and Garrus. The other guard shook his head as he passed. Shepard didn't look back after them, just walked up to the door to the office and entered the passcode Qui'in had given them.
"Guess I was wrong," Garrus mumbled. "They did see reason."
A tight smile flickered across Shepard's face, and then it was gone. "There will be more inside. That won't work twice."
"What's that human phrase?" he said, drawing his rifle. "Fortune favors the bold?"
Shepard smiled again, more honest. "What is it with turians and human expressions?"
He shrugged, which is hard to do when shouldering an assault rifle. "Your people have a way with words."
"Least you got it right."
"I've always had a good memory."
The smiles disappeared and Shepard's hand hovered over the key to open the door.
"Liara and Kaidan?" she asked.
Garrus shook his head. "They're probably monitoring our comm channels. We call them, we bring the whole damn port down on us. Don't worry, Shepard. We've got this."
Her jaw tightened. She nodded. "Storm in five."
Five seconds later, they were in.
"Fighting with Shepard..." The Primarch didn't quite smile, but his eyes twinkled. "There was nothing else like it. It was pure military, orders barked over comms, all tactics and hand signals and two o'clock and ten o'clock. She'd give an order and not look back, trusting you to follow it. And you'd follow it because you trusted that she knew exactly what she was doing."
His head tilted a bit to the side. He had a faraway look in his eye.
"There were times when we didn't speak a word throughout the fight, just relied on signals and instinct and experience as a team. There were other times when we couldn't shut up, talking about anything and everything in between orders and bursts of gunfire." He reached out, took his drink, and downed the entire thing.
"There were times like our initial sweep of the Synthetic Insights office. Quick, clean, and smooth." He titled his head back toward me. "And then there were all the other times."
Garrus came out of the office, omni-tool full of all the data he could glean from Lorik Qui'in's personal terminal, and froze.
There were four armed men facing down Shepard. Actually three - one was a woman, and she hadn't drawn yet. Neither had Shepard.
"I don't think you're supposed to be in here, Shepard," the leader spat, a blonde woman who was giving Shepard a dark look with narrowed eyes.
Shepard's back was to Garrus. He couldn't see her face, but her tone spoke volumes. "You gonna make me leave?"
"Leave?" The woman with the blonde hair smiled humorlessly. "You really think I'm gonna let you walk out?"
Shepard said nothing. Garrus made his way very slowly to the side - he'd have a better vantage point here, across the small second floor bridge to Lorik's personal office. Ducking down behind the balcony, he drew his sniper rifle.
He heard a small laugh. "Oh no. Anoleis would throw you off-world for what you did here. I won't. You know what we did to cop killers on my world?"
Garrus suppressed the urge to laugh. Cop killers. As though she was a cop. As though any of them were.
"Guess I'll never know, since I'm not killing any cops today."
He grinned, then rose, aimed, and fired. Shepard couldn't have sent a clearer signal to engage if she'd had brightly colored flags in each hand.
The thug to the right went down, shields broken and helmet pierced with a single shot. Shepard dove for cover to her left, kicked over a table, shuffled behind it. Garrus ducked and waited for his rifle's cooling system to work and not for the first time wished he could speed the process. He heard the loud booming of Shepard's rifle, short staccato bursts of fire. When the meter on the stock was in the green, he shifted to his right, rose, scanned for a target, and fired again.
The second shot dropped someone's shields, but nothing else. He ducked.
"Vakarian," Shepard's voice broke into his comm. "How many shots can you get off with that thing before it overheats?"
"Two, but then I'm out for about ten seconds."
A brief pause. He checked his rifle. The meter was green. "Two shots," her voice tight and quiet. "Then short 'em, switch up and suppress."
"On my signal." He heard her rise, armor and boots clanking against the floor. "Now!"
He rose, aimed, found a target crouched behind cover, fired. He dropped, the inside of his head painting the wall behind him. He scanned around for a fraction of a second, found another target who was taking aim at him. He fired, dropping his shields, while Shepard leapt over his cover and slammed the butt of her rifle in his face. His helmet cracked like an egg between her gun and the wall, and he crumpled. Garrus quickly noticed that there were more than just four hostiles - three more were running up the stairs. He threw out his hand, fingers flickering over his omni-tool's holographic keys, and their shields dropped almost instantly as their weapons overloaded and shorted in their hands.
Shepard blasted away with her rifle, more to keep them at bay rather than do any real damage, while Garrus moved up, switching to his pistol and firing as fast as he could without overheating. She took cover behind a nearby planter, and Garrus took up a position behind her, in her previous spot.
"There's no way out, Shepard!" The blonde woman's voice. "We've got you surrounded and outnumbered!"
Shepard looked at Garrus, jerked her head towards the balcony where he came. Jump? Garrus signalled thumbs down, then across his neck. Too high. She grimaced. No way down but through those stairs, and there were more of them than they had counted on. Things were starting to look bad. If they rushed, and even one of them was a competent biotic, they were probably dead.
"Come on out and I'll make it quick!"
"You first!" Shepard shouted, blindfiring a burst over the planter.
Suddenly, a small singularity appeared above the stairs. The chairs, tables, and the men and women using them as cover began floating, sucked into it's shifting, warping field. Another burst of biotic energy snaked through the air, connected with the singularity, and exploded, sending bits and pieces of human and furniture flying everywhere.
After the dust had settled, Liara and Kaidan marched up the stairs. "Clear," Kaidan called out, holstering his pistol. Shepard and Garrus stood, and Liara marched up to Shepard looking positively livid.
"I cannot believe you left us down there!" she said, her normally quiet, whispery voice raised almost to anger. Shepard looked more than a bit startled at this sudden display of emotion from Liara.
"They were monitoring comms," Garrus interjected. "We couldn't risk it."
"So instead you come up here and nearly get yourselves killed in a firefight while we wait downstairs?" Liara waved wildly at the bodies - what remained of them, anyway. "What if something happened to you? How would we even know? What about the mission-"
"Liara!" Shepard grabbed her by the shoulders, pinning her arms to her sides. "We're fine."
Liara's lower lip trembled. Her wide eyes slowly slid closed as she bowed her head. "I'm... I'm sorry-"
"It's okay." Shepard said quietly. "I understand. We got what we needed. We'll stick together from now on."
Liara just nodded. Shepard lowered one hand and gently guided Liara with the other as they made their way down the stairs of the Synthetic Insights office. Garrus nodded at Kaidan as they followed. "How'd you find us?"
"Had Joker scan for you. Took a while, Port Hanshan's got a lot of sensor shielding." Kaidan frowned at Liara's back. His next words were quiet. "She's... impatient. She wants to find her mother."
"You think she's hoping she'll listen to her?"
Kaidan thought for a moment, then shook his head. "She just wants this over with."
Garrus nodded. "Then let's get it over with."
The Primarch paused, his eyes resting on me.
"I'm..." His expression shifted and something in his eyes looked... sheepish? "I don't know how much detail you want. About your mother, I mean."
He was concerned for my feelings. Garrus Vakarian was concerned about me. I smiled and blushed and tried to ignore the feeling that I was on an emotional roller coaster.
"Sir..." I took a breath. "Whatever you feel is necessary, sir."
He didn't look away, but he did look somewhere over my shoulder for a moment. He rested his hands on his knees and his mandibles twitched. He turned away and faced forward. He bowed his head for a moment, blinked a couple times, then brought it back up and shifted in his seat as he leaned his elbows on the table again.
"Okay," he said. "Let's see what I can remember."
The four of them exited the elevator, and Anoleis' assistant was waiting for them. She turned and addressed the commander as she stepped out.
"Commander, there were reports of noise up in the Synthetic Insights office." Her eyes danced briefly over the rest of them, then back to Shepard. "Would you know anything about that?"
Shepard just sighed and rubbed her forehead. "Look, I'm real tired of this shit. Just speak plainly."
Parasini didn't miss a beat. "Fine. But not here, Spectre. Meet me down at the bar for a drink." She turned away. "I'll be waiting."
Parasini was true to her word - she was waiting for them when they made it down to the bar not ten minutes later. Kaidan and Liara reluctantly took position up by the bar itself - Liara took the opportunity to order a shot to calm her nerves - and Shepard and Garrus made their way to a small table in the back which Parasini had chosen.
She was a tall woman, Garrus thought. Taller than the commander, but smaller. More lithe. Her dress was a shade of purplish pink that went with her lipstick. Her hair was tied back in what Williams described as a 'bun,' but in a different style than the chief. Her skin was also a swarthy color, and there was something in her eyes that reminded him, of all people, of Executor Pallin.
It didn't take long to figure out why.
"Allow me to reintroduce myself," she said, rising to greet the commander. "Gianna Parasini, Noveria Internal Affairs."
Aha. "I had an inkling," Garrus said with a nod.
Shepard half-smiled and nodded her head in his direction. "C-Sec."
"Ah." Parasini smiled thinly. "Helps to have some insight into a place like this, doesn't it?"
"It's a lot like home, Ms. Parasini." Garrus said. "A little faster and looser with the law, if that's possible."
"That's what happens when corporations own a planet, Mr...?"
"Vakarian." He offered a hand. "Garrus Vakarian."
She shook it. Garrus noted that she had a strong grip, and also that her sleeve bulged just a little bit. Parasini saw where his eyes wandered, and patted her right forearm where Garrus was now convinced she had either a large knife or a small holdout pistol. "Can't be too careful."
"So what's an internal affairs agent doing here?" Shepard asked. "Aside from the obvious."
"The executive board of Noveria knows about Anoleis. I've been undercover for six months waiting for this chance." She sat back down and crossed her legs. "They want him gone, and I want you to convince Qui'in to testify, so we can guarantee he's put away."
"Figured they'd be proud," Shepard drawled sarcastically. "Isn't self interest the rule on Noveria?"
"No," Parasini said, crossing her arms. "The rule is, 'don't rock the boat.' Anoleis is costing the board credits, customers, and good will. That he's also an unrepentant scumbag who thinks he's untouchable is beside the point."
"You don't sound very happy about that," Garrus said dryly.
Parasini turned to him and shrugged. "It's the way the galaxy works. You want to catch white collar criminals? Gotta work for even whiter collars."
"I need garage authorization for this." Shepard leaned on the table, hands clasped. "I'm real tired of the run around, Parasini."
"You help me with my investigation, I'll give you the garage and everything in it. Favor for a favor." She sighed and ran fingers along the left side of her head. Garrus got the feeling she wasn't used to wearing her hair that way. "Look, Shepard, I don't like this any more than you do. But this is my chance to put this son of a bitch away, and I have to take it."
Shepard closed her eyes and frowned. She grumbled something under her breath that Garrus couldn't hear, then nodded. "Fine. Just... make sure it sticks."
"You give me Qui'in, that's a guarantee." Parasini extended a hand. Shepard glared at it, then shook it.
"You owe me a stiff drink, Parasini."
"I owe you more than that, Shepard." She smiled, and Garrus could tell she was nine different kinds of relieved. "But I'll start with a drink."
Shepard stood and Garrus followed. They had to go have a talk with Lorik Qui'in, still at that same table, nursing a drink and desperately trying to look carefree.
"Your mother was a good woman." He flapped his mandibles and nodded to himself. "A good woman in a shit job, a shit place, and a shitty situation, trying to do the best that she could. I respected that."
He glanced over at me and did a mild double take. "Parasini?"
I was resting my forehead on one hand, staring down at the paper, scratching at it slowly and rhythmically with the pen. I turned and looked at him through the curtain of my hair and I hoped he couldn't see the tears.
"I ran out of ink."
His eyes were big and blue and full of sympathy, and I couldn't look at them for very long. I flinched and turned away. For the first time in a long time, I thought about mom, and I wept. Little sobs racked my chest and I raised my other hand, dropping the pen and covering my mouth. I sniffed and shook and gasped for breath that wouldn't come, and I felt his three fingered hand resting on my shoulder.
He didn't say anything. He just let me cry, and for that I was grateful. I needed to get this done, get it out of my system, so I could finish what we'd started. This whole thing had become as much about my difficulties as it had been about his, and I wouldn't stand for that. He had been through more than I could even comprehend, and here I was crying about my mommy.
I couldn't even muster up the energy for proper self-loathing. All I could do was cry.
When I was finished, years worth of built up tears finally spent, I took a deep breath and spoke quietly. "I'm so sorry, sir," I croaked, my voice distant. "This shouldn't be about me. It shouldn't."
He was silent. I uncovered my eyes and wiped them on my sleeve. Then...
My eyes widened and I turned toward him. His mandibles were tight against his jaw, his eyes solemn.
"What?" I said stupidly.
He flared his mandibles out briefly, breathing out a laugh as he looked down at the floor and then back up at me. "It's Garrus," he said, flanging voice quiet and smooth.
I almost wanted to start crying again, but for his sake, I held it in check. I felt my mouth crinkle up into a tight smile, and I choked out a little laugh of my own. "I... don't know if I can do that, sir."
He shifted in his seat and graced me with a crooked turian smile, and I could see a hint of that old easy charm that people had talked about in the lean of his shoulders and the tilt of his head. "Try."
I laughed again, a little desperately, muscles around my stomach clenching. "Only if you call me Alisa," I said for lack of anything else.
He extended his other hand. Weakly, I raised my own and shook it gently. I looked up into his eyes through my blinked back tears and he was still smiling.
Chapter 17: Personal Affairs
In which favors are performed, debts are owed, and a little bit of fun is had.
After I had regained some semblence of calm, he popped into his study and brought out another pen for me.
"We good?" he asked as he sat down, subtonals reverberating pleasantly. I nodded, and he pat my shoulder, dull talons lightly scraping along my upper arm.
"Okay," he said quietly. He nodded at the paper and turned away. I picked up my pen again. "Let's finish this."
It hadn't taken a lot to get Qui'in to roll over - Garrus had needled him about his duty, civic responsibility and the greater good, weak points for any blue-blooded turian. Shepard had implied that the Port would view him as a hero for removing Anoleis, and when that didn't work, implied that she would be very irritated if he didn't.
They were heading down with Parasini now. Shepard wanted to get this over with as soon as possible and get on with the mission, though Garrus also suspected she wanted to see Anoleis' face when he was arrested. Parasini said something about wishing she could change into something more combat appropriate ("I hate skirts.") and then marched straight into Anoleis' office and dragged him out in cuffs. The former administrator was far beyond furious.
"Shepard! I demand you arrest this bitch immediately!"
Shepard smiled devilishly. Parasini read him his rights, then shoved him out the door. Matsuo, head of Port security, was waiting to collect him outside with her more trustworthy men.
As the salarian was being dragged away, mouthing off about how they would never work in this sector again, Parasini sighed and turned to Shepard, who narrowed her eyes. "You don't seem happy."
"I'm ecstatic," Parasini deadpanned. "But right now it feels like the end of a very, very long day. I still owe you that drink."
"I'll collect another time," she replied curtly. "Garage access."
"Of course." Parasini had barely authorized their passage using her omni-tool before Shepard was moving. "See you around the galaxy, Shepard."
She waved over her shoulder, not turning back. They'd wasted too much time already, Garrus knew, but he lingered a moment.
"Parasini," he said, trying to keep his subharmonics polite, even if she couldn't hear them. "You want some advice?"
She looked at him oddly, but shrugged. "Why not? Shoot."
"You're good police. But this-" He gestured to the port at large. "-is not a place for that. I'd find somewhere else before it turns you."
"Speaking from experience?" she asked, quirking a brow.
"Back on the Citadel, no one worked the beat on Zakera Ward for long without having to compromise." He waved his hand vaguely around his waist, unsure and a little awkward. "I could be wrong, but... you don't seem the type that would."
She chewed on that thought for a moment. "Probably not." Parasini stuck out her hand. Garrus shook it. "Thanks, Vakarian. Take it under advisement."
"Any time." He turned away without another word and followed Shepard, who had met Liara and Kaidan halfway and was almost out of sight.
"And that was Noveria."
I looked up from my paper and blinked. "But... the Matriarch-"
"I wasn't there for that." The Primarch - just Garrus now, Alisa - reached up and scratched at his colony markings along the side of his face. "We got to the garage and found our Mako already parked - the cargo crews had apparently gotten the order and delivered it there before we had even convinced Qui'in - and Shepard wanted me to stay behind."
"Thinking we'll need some biotics on this one, Garrus."
"Understood, Commander." He was a bit frustrated all the same. He covered it with humor. "Kaidan knows his way around tech, he can keep that damn thing running while you do whatever it is you do behind the wheel."
The corner of her mouth ticked upward. "What can I say? We have a connection. I move, it moves."
"If you moved like you drove, I'd be calling Chakwas and staging an intervention."
She didn't laugh, It wasn't the time. But he saw it in her eyes, and that was enough for him. She turned and wagged a finger. "You haven't seen me dance."
Shepard headed into the Mako, sidled past Liara who was already seated in the gunner's position. Not her usual spot, but clearly where she needed to be right now. Kaidan ran his omni-tool over the outer armor, making his final system checks. Garrus caught his eye and nodded. If there was anyone he trusted besides himself to have the commander's back, it was Alenko. Kaidan nodded back, clapped him on the shoulder as he passed, boarded and closed the rear hatch. Garrus felt the surge of bitter cold air behind him as the garage opened, heard the Mako rev and speed out of the garage towards the Peak 15 research station, and figured he'd grab a drink at the bar before he headed back to the ship.
Maybe he'd get one for Ash, too. They'd both need it.
"The debriefing after the ground team returned was... awkward." He rubbed the spur on his elbow. "Turns out there were rachni involved. That'll come up again later. And Liara's mother had indeed been there. Died in a firefight with the ground team. Only on the brink of death did we learn she'd been under some kind of control. Said it was the ship, Sovereign, affecting her mind. We didn't know what to make of that. Not yet."
He shifted in his seat and brought his foot up on his other knee. He had strange, digitigrade feet. Not for the first time or the last, I had almost forgotten just how alien he was.
His voice took on a strangely melodic quality as he spoke. "Shepard and Liara... they were close after that. It had taken her a long time to get that way, you know. Not just because of her mother working with Saren. Shepard... she resented Liara's necessity aboard the ship. Her ship. She didn't choose her like she had the others, she hadn't proven herself or her committment. And she really didn't like that Liara had to dive into her mind."
That caught me be surprise. "Huh? Like... what, a mind meld?"
The Primarch - Garrus, Alisa, come on - smiled a little and shook his head. "Something like that, I guess. I don't know much about asari telepathy or empathy or... whatever it was. She went inside her mind and helped her interpret the visions from the beacon somehow. Usually during debriefings, trying to figure out what Saren could be after."
"And Shepard didn't like that?" I asked, genuinely curious.
"Absolutely not." His mandibles fluttered - that was a new one. "She didn't like the idea of anyone getting inside her head with her, but she knew it was necessary. That was the big obstacle between their friendship for a long time. After Noveria..."
He rolled his shoulders, not quite a shrug. "Shepard's parents were military. Her father was a marine and her mother was an officer, XO of the Kilimanjaro at the time. She was raised in the navy, lived on ships her whole life. She knew all the risks and had grown up with them from childhood."
Garrus - that's better - fiddled with his fingers, pads running along blunted talons. He spoke plainly and simply. "Her father died. And she still worried about her mother. Not often, but she did. She had an idea of what Liara was feeling. She'd felt that level of loss herself, but she'd also been prepped since birth to be ready for it. So Shepard tried her best to console her. Felt it was the least she could do."
After a long moment of silence, I gathered up the courage to ask, "How did her father die?"
Garrus didn't blink. He stopped fiddling with his fingers and his eyes drifted across the room. "It never came up. And I never asked."
I felt my jaw tighten. If I hadn't already had my cry for the year, I might be tempted to now. As it is, I just swallowed and waited for him to continue.
"Despite everything," he said, pushing through the thickness in his own throat, "we still didn't have any real idea of where Saren was or what his plans were. We were left to our own devices once again, and Shepard decided to use the time to help her crew deal with personal affairs. First, she helped Tali get some geth data she could take back to the Flotilla and complete her pilgrimage..."
Tali practically sprinted into engineering when she left the Mako, so Garrus assumed that the mission was a success. He had been waiting for them, torch and spanner in hand to repair what would obviously be tremendous damage to the tank. He hadn't forgotten what happened last time they had tangled with geth in the Mako. Or the time before that.
Shepard levered herself out of Mako, almost gingerly. Garrus was all ready to say something particularly cutting about her piloting skills when he noticed she was limping.
"What happened?" he asked, throat suddenly a bit too dry.
"Bad fall," Shepard said, voice clipped. "I can make it to the medbay."
"You sure?" He quickly stepping aside to give her room. Her eyes were a bit glazed (medigel dulling the pain, he thought), and her skin was paler than it had been. She slipped just a bit, and Kaidan was at her side in an instant.
"I've got you," he said. Shepard threw him a look and almost sneered something dismissive, but she looked down at her foot and reconsidered. She threw her arm around Kaidan's neck and he supported her as they walked to the elevator.
Garrus was left alone, spanner and plasma torch in hand, with an empty, scorched, beat up tank. He tried valiantly to stay on task, but after about twenty minutes, he pulled himself out from under it and decided to hell with it, he'd fix the damn thing later and went to check on Shepard. Tali was already there, apologizing profusely and Kaidan had lingered, not yet out of his armor. Chakwas was rushing about as professionally as ever, working on the commander's ankle, which was revealed to be quite clearly broken.
"Shepard, I'm sorry-"
"Shut up, Tali," she interrupted, one hand out and cutting the air in front of her. "It was nothing."
"But nothing." She crossed her arms, eyes a bit unfocused, probably more from the painkillers she'd have received upon entering the medbay than the lingering effects of the medigel. "You'd rather we hadn't gone at all? Just because I sprained my ankle?"
"This is hardly a sprain, commander," Chakwas interjected clinically.
"Whatever," she said, throwing up a hand dismissively. "It's nothing. I'll be fine. I'm fine right now. Be happy, already."
Tali's face was impossible to read, but Garrus heard her sigh, pitching through her helmet and coming out modulated. "Thank you, Shepard. For everything."
Shepard just crossed her arms again and shrugged. "You're crew," she said, and that was that.
Garrus cleared his throat and stepped fully into the medbay. "So, let me guess," he said, stepping back into the familiar rhythm of their back and forth now that he knew she was okay. "You smash too hard on the accelerator?"
Shepard looked up, seeing him for the first time, and gave him an easy smile. "Showing off my dance moves."
He crossed his arms and shifted his weight onto one hip. "Now this I have to hear."
Shepard's grin quickly became a grimace, and she looked down at Chakwas applying the weave. "Stupid. Got flanked too far from cover, geth trooper right behind me. I spun and ducked and fired, something I've done a million times before. Except this time I just... kept going."
"Took out the geth, though," Kaidan piped up, leaning against the foot of the bed opposite hers. "At least there's that."
Tali chuckled inside her helmet. "That was some very... colorful language afterward, commander. My translator didn't pick up all of it."
"Just as well," Kaidan said. "I'm a marine, and even I was blushing."
Shepard did her best to suppress a smile and closed her eyes. "Don't you people have duties to attend to?"
"The Mako's not going anywhere, commander," Garrus said pointedly. "You've seen to that."
Shepard threw her hands out to her sides and her voice was full of suppressed laughter. "I'm not that bad a driver!"
Everyone in the room promptly looked at their hands, their feet, or their armor. Garrus coughed.
"Alright, that's it, everyone get out. You're bothering the doctor."
"Oh it's perfectly alright if you want to have visitors, commander-"
"A couple days later, she helped Wrex recover some old clan armor of his. Never figured him for sentimental, but, well." Garrus sniffed, mouth parts twitching in an odd way. "Not sure how I got roped into that one. Probably wanted to bridge the gap between the turian and the krogan. Team unity and all that." He shook his head. "All I really remember, though, is the ride there."
"Shepard, what is this noise?"
Garrus had to shout to make himself heard over the din of the warbling, electric sounds coming out of the system Shepard had installed herself, in secret, without his knowledge. How she had managed that was itself a mystery, since Garrus was around the Mako nearly his entire shift. Presumably she had skipped a meal or stayed up late the night before, because when they had boarded the tank before the drop, Garrus had instantly noticed the ugly piece of work she had performed underneath the console in the cockpit. He'd almost said something, but decided he'd wait until after the mission to insult his commanding officer's engineering skills.
And then she had turned it on, just before flooring the accelerator on the now much faster Mako. They were pushing 180 KPH, at least, and even small rocks and terrain differences made the tank's wheels leave the ground, resulting in brief, terrifying moments of weightlessness. His stomach was doing very poorly.
Shepard, however, looked liked she was having the time of her life.
"It's called music, Garrus!" she shouted, teeth bared and eyes aflame.
"You call this music?" he shouted back, just before they hit another pothole. If he hadn't had the foresight to strap tightly into his safety restraints, his head would have flown up to meet the roof of the tank, and he'd probably be out cold.
Shepard didn't respond, just kept flooring it. The so-called music had lyrics, but Garrus could be damned if he could hear them. He glanced back at Wrex, in the gunner's seat. He was grinning almost as wide as Shepard.
He almost hoped there would be a thresher maw somewhere in this desert. Shepard would have to slow down to engage it. Wouldn't she?
Garrus felt his talons grip the handrail just above his head. The tank shook again as it caught air and landed. For once, he had the thought that maybe he should have elected to stay aboard the Normandy.
"Do you remember the song?"
He turned and looked at me, startled. I gave him an anxious look and shrugged. "I'm curious what her taste in music was like."
He shook his head and scratched at his fringe, running his fingers along the side of it. "I don't know human music, I certainly don't remember-" He perked up. "I do remember her saying just one word when I asked, later. What was it? 'Creedence?'" He shrugged. "Something like that."
I wrote it down. The odds were against it, but maybe I could track it down later. He'd probably get a kick out of hearing it again.
When I looked back, he looked drawn. Stricken. I imagined this was the end of the fun part.
Garrus Vakarian sighed, a long and low rumbling in his chest.
"And then we got the call." His eyes hardened. "Virmire."
Chapter 18: Face Off
In which a confrontation is had, and a life hangs in the balance.
I saw his mandibles tighten against his face and heard him swallow.
"I'm going to need another drink."
He pushed himself up from his chair and strode over to the bar, shifting his weight constantly as he mixed a drink and I checked to make sure my new pen still had enough ink. This was where things would begin to get hard for him. Everything up until now was pleasant enough, or at least not tragic. This would be the turn. I had to keep him talking, and try to keep my own mouth shut as much as possible.
Keep your feet firmly out of your mouth, Alisa. Everything's riding on the next few minutes.
He turned and came back with two drinks. One blue, one a cloudy orange. He set the orange one down by my hand. When I looked a bit reluctant, he smiled ever so slightly.
"No ryncol. Promise."
Garrus plopped back down in his chair, suddenly looking bone weary. He took a long swig of his drink, shook his head hard as he swallowed, and practically slammed the glass onto the table. He rasped out a gravelly snarl, subtonals pitching up and then down. "Nice," he said, settling back in his chair.
I decided to try mine later.
"The time before Virmire was some of the worst aboard that ship."
Garrus had never liked the briefing room. The whole thing felt pointless. The chairs were uncomfortable, the seating arrangement was poor. There wasn't even a table. How did you have a briefing room without a table?
He took his usual seat on the right. Tali sat next to him, as did Wrex. On the opposite side, Liara and Kaidan took their seats, with Ashley in the middle. Shepard didn't sit. She paced in the center of the circular chamber, arms crossed.
"This is it," she said quietly, before her voice quickly fell into the usual calm, authoritative tone. "We know where he is."
Liara gasped softly. Tali fidgeted in her seat. Wrex growled, barely audible. Kaidan and Ashley straightened. Garrus felt his hands flex involuntarily.
They all knew who she was talking about.
"Council just sent word," she continued, pacing slowly. "Salarian Special Tasks Group sent a signal. Garbled and distorted. They could only make out four words - 'Saren found, request assistance.' That's us."
"Where?" Wrex growled. Shepard turned to face him, the first time she'd met anyone's eyes since they had entered the briefing room to find her pacing back and forth.
"Some out of the way garden world called Virmire. Odds are he's got a real heavy operation there."
"'Odds are?'" Ashley spoke up. "We flying blind on this one, skipper?"
Shepard turned towards the chief and nodded. "All we've got is the location. Once we get in orbit, we'll have an idea of what we're up against, and we'll have a better one once we rendezvous with the STG. But I've got a feeling it's big."
"How big?" Kaidan ventured. Shepard grimaced.
"Big enough for an entire salarian STG unit to call for backup." She shook her head. "Those boys don't scare easy."
"You kidding?" Wrex snorted. "Nutless pyjaks probably saw a geth and started weeping."
Shepard turned back and there was a hard look in her eye. "How many salarians did it take to deliver the genophage, Wrex? A few dozen, maybe more? Alone on Tuchanka?"
They locked eyes, and for a moment Garrus thought Shepard might have crossed a line, but Wrex just crossed his arms and nodded slowly. Once again, Wrex had surprised him.
Shepard turned away and resumed her pacing. "I don't like it. I don't like going into a situation without knowing exactly what we're getting ourselves into, but we don't have a choice. This is the best lead we've ever had, and we have to act now. And make no mistake, once we drop into that system we are moving as fast as we can, regardless of our stealth drive. We're not letting him slip away."
She leaned against one of the holo-terminals on the right side of the briefing room. "Joker's already laid in a course. We'll be there in six hours. Make whatever preparations you feel necessary. Dismissed."
Slowly, they all stood to leave. Ashley first, then Wrex and Garrus. Tali followed after him. Before he left, Garrus glanced back and saw Shepard still leaning against the terminal, and Kaidan still seated, elbows on his knees and fingers laced together in front of his mouth.
"For the next six hours, everyone on that ship was doing something. Whether it was cleaning guns, maintaining the Mako, checking and rechecking omni-tool hardlinks, triple checking their armor's seals, or tinkering with anything and everything in engineering."
He took another drink, smaller this time. His mandibles fluttered and he rasped out a breath as he set down the glass.
"Everyone thought that this was it." Garrus looked down at his hand and stared at it, flexing his fingers. "It had that air about it. An air of finality."
He set his forearm down on the table and stared off into space.
"We thought we were prepared." He shook his head very slowly. "We weren't."
"A cure?" Shepard tried to keep the shock from her voice, but Garrus heard it anyway. "You're certain?"
"As certain as we can be," the STG captain, Kirrahe, replied. "We don't know if it's been weaponized yet, or even completed. But if he's not there yet, he's close."
"This explains all those krogan mercs signing up with Saren." Kaidan rested his hands on his hips. "This is bad."
"I don't think so."
Wrex stomped up to the group. Shepard screwed her eyes shut, wincing, then opened them again. "Wrex-"
"An uncontrolled krogan population cannot be allowed," Kirrahe interrupted. "We can't make the same mistake twice."
Wrex turned to him, took two large steps forward, and sounded about as passionate as Garrus had ever heard him when he shouted, "We are not a mistake!" Then he turned, slowly, letting his fierce gaze linger on Kirrahe, before stalking off to the other end of the makeshift camp.
"Is he going to be a problem?" Kirrahe asked, glancing back at Shepard. "We've got enough angry krogan to deal with."
Shepard stared at Wrex's receding back. There was something in her expression that Garrus couldn't place. "I'll talk to him."
Kirrahe nodded and headed back for the command tent. Tali and Liara were already inside. Kaidan, Ashley, Shepard and Garrus stood around in a loose group. Garrus glanced off shore. The Normandy hovered, trapped by the remaining anti-air towers.
"Commander," Garrus said, breaking the silence, "this is bad, isn't it."
"Very," she said curtly.
"I've got your back, commander," Ashley said. "He tries anything-"
"No." Shepard still stared off at Wrex. He had found a spot on the opposite end of the camp, and had drawn his shotgun. He fired off two rounds into the sea, one handed. The shots echoed throughout the canyon where the STG had set up a perimeter.
Shepard frowned. There was a light in her green eyes that glinted fiercely. "Not unless I give the order."
She stalked off towards Wrex. Garrus looked to Kaidan.
"You really think she can talk him down?"
The human stared after her. Garrus felt the faint pins and needles sensation of Kaidan's biotic field tensing and untensing.
"If anyone can..." The lieutenant let the thought hang unfinished in the air.
Garrus glanced at Ashley, who had repositioned herself closer to the surf - to get a better shot, Garrus noted. She didn't have her rifle in her hands, but he knew she was faster than him at the draw. Still, he checked the shoulder joint of his armor, rolling it around. He wanted to be ready if things went sour.
They were all transfixed as Shepard eventually came up alongside the tall krogan. Wrex lowered his gun, turned towards her. He said something, she said something back. It was drowned out by the waves and the distant, barely audible hum of the Normandy's engines. Wrex advanced on Shepard and got within inches, pointing his fingers at Shepard or at himself, Garrus couldn't tell. Ash tensed and Garrus saw her arm jerk, bent at the elbow, halfway to her shoulder. Wrex backed off, Ashley slowly lowered her arm, and then, suddenly, the krogan drew his shotgun. Shepard responded by drawing her pistol. Ashley had her rifle out and sighted before Garrus even had his fingers on the stock. Kaidan stepped forward and grabbed Ashley's shoulder.
"Steady, chief," he said calmly. "Let it play out."
Ash didn't move. Garrus had his hand on the butt of his rifle, waiting. Shepard slowly lowered her weapon. Wrex didn't. Shepard was saying something.
"Ell tee..." Ashley murmured.
After what seemed like an eternity, Wrex spoke again. After he was finished, he paused, then holstered his gun.
Ash lowered her rifle. Kaidan took a deep breath. Garrus' mandibles fluttered.
Shepard had talked down a krogan battlemaster.
She turned and walked back towards the command tent. They hadn't even begun the assault, and already one crisis had been averted. Now all that was left was to sneak into a heavily fortified enemy position, kill one of the best special ops agents in the entire galaxy, and then blow it all to hell.
It seemed easy in comparison to what he'd just seen.
Garrus shook his head and reached for his drink.