Solana can’t remember the last time that her and Garrus were really close.
Maybe it was as children, playing Turians and Krogans . Like most of the younger kids in the neighbourhood, relegated to playing the lesser species, he hated being a krogan. He hated that they weren’t allowed to use any of the low-energy toy rifles and were only allowed to throw their bodies around at the older siblings, and it drove him crazy that the kids playing krogans weren’t even allowed to leave their zone until someone playing the salarians gave them the signal, but he participated, running and ducking, laughing until dusk when Solana and he would walk home.
Then came the day when he was old enough to be one of the turians (he was eight, now, a year younger than Solana had been when she’d been allowed to the older kids’ team). He lasted a single game and then refused to come out again.
“What’s your problem ?” Solana had rolled her eyes, leaning on the doorframe to his room. He’d been hunched over his desk, busy tinkering with his computer -- he’d broken it again, trying to install another stupid upgrade on his own -- and didn’t look up.
“It’s a dumb game,” he replied matter-of-the-factly. “I read an article on the extranet about the Rebellions. Did you know that we sterilized the krogans?” He had turned around, fiddling with the settings on his multi-end screwdriver. He cycled through the different sizes of heads, examining them closely. “I looked it up. Sterilizing is like ... killing babies before there are even babies to kill.”
“Then how is it killing at all?” Solana had shot back, annoyed. She would be late if they didn’t leave soon.
“You wouldn’t get it,” he replied dismissively, distracted with the correct screwdriver head, and he turned around. With a huff, Solana had left. It didn’t have to be a big deal; she could have left it at that. But she was in a bad mood after having been the only one to help set the table, again , and she let it slip over dinner when their mother asked what they’d done all day.
“Garrus doesn’t like playing with us anymore,” Solana snarled, stabbing at her dinner. “He’s too soft, mum, he feels sorry for the krogans. He thinks we killed their babies.”
She had expected their mother to snap at Garrus, or to gasp. Instead, dead silence fell over the table and even Solana had stopped eating, unsure of what door she’d opened.
“That’s a terrible thing to say, Garrus,” their mother finally said quietly. “Who told you that? What would make you think that?”
“No one told me,” Garrus mumbled, staring into his lap, his crest flattening in shame. “I read about it.”
“Well, that’s not true,” their mother assured, trying to look stern and reassuring at the same time. Even Solana thought she mostly looked flustered. “The krogans ... they were on a rampage. If it hadn’t been for our people, the whole galaxy would be at their feet.” Garrus didn’t reply, fidgeting. “Garrus?” their mother prompted.
“Yeah,” he replied. Then -- and Solana thought it was so stupid that she wanted to punch him for setting himself up to get in so much trouble -- he burst out, “But that didn’t mean we had to put the genophase --”
“Geno phage ,” Solana corrected automatically.
“Yeah, the genophage on them. We ... didn’t have to punish them forever,” Garrus mumbled again, speaking lamely into his lap.
“No, that’s not ...” their mother rubbed her head. “I can’t recall the details, but maybe ...” the tone in their mother’s subharmonics lingered, tentative and unsure in the air. “Maybe your father could explain it better. I’ll see if he’s free tonight for a video-call.”
Garrus had looked so stricken and horrified when he looked up sharply at Solana. She’d thought he’d be angry at her, or he’d dump the blame on her, but instead he looked completely helpless.
Say something , Solana remembers thinking in that moment. Tell mother it was just a joke. Tell her you’ll explain it to him. She’s still not sure why, but she painfully remembers that she kept her mouth shut.
Garrus had looked so betrayed before dropping his eyes. “Finish your dinner,” their mother had instructed. They’d done so in silence.
After, Garrus had gone into the study to have a private video call with their father on the Citadel. Solana still doesn’t know what they’d talked about or what he’d said, but she didn’t hear Garrus close the door to his room until much later; she’d heard him keen for hours after that alone in his room, miserable and whipped. The next morning, he wouldn’t speak to Solana or their mother at all.
He did, however, come out to play turians and krogans again. But from then on, he was so listless and disinterested that Solana thought it’d be better if he just didn’t come at all.
It’s when Garrus is eleven that things really fall apart.
Solana sits in the living room, tense, watching her father pace. The fact that their father is home is rare enough that Solana doesn’t understand why Garrus wouldn’t take it more seriously. It’s not that their father is mean , per sae. He’s just ... sharp tongued, and a little careless. Sometimes Solana thinks that if her father dies and becomes a spirit, he’ll come back as a broadsword.
It doesn’t bother Solana; her friends tell her she’s got a bit of a temper herself, like daughter like father, but Garrus can’t seem to take it like she can. It drives her crazy; he’s the son , and he’s the one who mopes in his room after a verbal lashing from their father. Doesn’t Garrus understand how embarrassing his behaviour is, for all of them?
“When does he usually get home when this happens?” her father asks Solana sharply. She looks up from her homework.
“Usually in another twenty minutes or so --”
“Is it twenty minutes or not, Solana?”
“Yes, he’s usually home in the next twenty minutes,” she immediately mimics his crisp tone. He eyes her approvingly and she feels a small swell of pride.
“How many times does he do this?”
“Last month, it was once a week. This month, it’s sometimes as often as twice a week.”
“Does your mother know about this?” he asks. Solana shakes her head. Usually, after school, their mother is locked in her room, and Solana knows that disturbing her when she’s alone is a bad idea. Her mother isn’t always ... herself, when she answers the knocks on her bedroom door.
Her father nods again, understanding, silently agreeing with Solana’s judgement. He resumes pacing. The clock’s digits shift: another minute down. Solana tries to shuffle her homework around as quietly as possible as she pretends to work, too distracted by her father’s bad mood to really focus.
Finally, eighteen minutes later, Garrus stumbles in through the door.
“Where have you been?!” her father immediately barks. Solana sees Garrus stiffen; he hadn’t realized, or hadn’t remembered, that they’re father was coming home today. He says nothing. “Your sergeant called to tell us you missed shooting practice.” Her father looks at Solana before resuming his glower at Garrus. “This is a regular occurrence, I’m told.”
Garrus scowls and turns to move to the kitchen; Solana feels her own shoulders tense up. What a stupid, disrespectful thing to do: doesn’t he get it? He’s just pissing their father off even more. Solana can’t see Garrus in the kitchen but she hears him rustling around the cupboards. “I was just with a friend,” Garrus sullenly replies. “We were working on something.” Solana thinks she can smell something sickly sweet but isn’t sure; it’s covered with a strong cologne that is very unlike Garrus.
Her father stalks into the kitchen, out of Solana’s view. She keeps her eyes on her homework but is listening fervently to the conversation. “Do not lie to me, Garrus.”
“I’m not --”
“I can smell it on you! Or are you too stoned to remember that your father is a CSEC officer?”
Solana can’t fight her curiosity anymore. She stands up and moves to the kitchen; her father has Garrus in a tight grip, holding both his arms pinned to his body. She imagined he’d been shaking Garrus into a confession just before she entered.
“I’m not stoned! It’s nothing --” Garrus starts to protest, squirming in their father’s grip.
“You were smoking?!” Solana exclaims, angry and betrayed. Smoking under her watch? All this time? Furious, she accuses: “You were smoking bats?”
Her father looks up sharply at Solana, then back at Garrus. “Batarian weed, Garrus? You understand that the money they make off that is used to a power a slave-based economy? Is that what you support?”
“I didn’t buy it!” Garrus exclaims, realizing too late he just confessed to smoking. Stumbling over his words, he says, “I just ... I ...”
“Who gave it to you then?”
“It doesn’t matter! It’s not even illegal! What do you care?”
Her father slams Garrus hard against the counter and Solana backs up on instinct. She just wants this to be over, so she quickly cuts in, “It was Otho, wasn’t it?” Garrus glares at her, blue eyes -- their mother’s eyes, Solana thinks -- absolutely ablaze.
“No!” he shouts back.
“Who’s Otho?” her father demands, pushing Garrus into the counter again and Solana feels her heart clench up when Garrus winces. Why won’t he just confess and get it over with?
“No one!” Garrus insists.
“He’s a new kid!” Solana exclaims. “He’s a transfer from the colonies, he’s a new friend of Garrus’ --”
“Shut up , Sol! You’re just a prejudiced asshole!”
“Do not talk to your sister like that!” her father thunders at Garrus.
“Fuck you !” Garrus roars back, surprisingly venomous in his high, childish voice.
There’s a hard smack and Garrus hits the ground, their father’s fist still clenched. Solana stumbles back, startled, talons covering her mouth. Garrus is on the ground, groaning, clutching his head.
“Dad?” she asks meekly, hating the sounds her brother is making. “Dad?” she repeats, even more timidly.
Her father is breathing hard, looking at his hand. “I ...” He looks at Garrus and then back at his fist. “Garrus ...” her father takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. Solana thinks about going to Garrus and helping him up, but she doesn’t want to risk another outburst, and feels paralyzed. After a long moment, her father opens his eyes. “Garrus, get up. We’re going. ” Garrus is still on the ground, having pulled himself into a sitting position. He looks so small, Solana thinks, curled up at their father’s feet.
He’s trembling. I’m trembling too , she realizes.
“Garrus! Up! I’m taking you to target practice!”
For a brief moment, Garrus’ eyes flicker to Solana. She looks away, the spell finally broken, and starts backtracking out of the kitchen. This isn’t happening, she thinks. They aren’t the kind of family that do this, these aren’t the kinds of parents she has, she keeps telling herself. It was just a mistake. A one time lapse in judgement.
She hears his surrender from the living room, pathetic and sorrowful: “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry dad, it won’t happen again ...”
“Get up , Garrus!”
For the rest of their father’s visit, no one in the family seems to be able to look each other in the eye.
She’s sixteen now and on her first holiday back after enlisting. All she wants: to lounge on the couch; watch garbage shows and rot her brain; and to eat real food, whatever and whenever she pleases.
But it’s only five days into her holidays when Solana hears giggling first, followed by a muffled, amused shriek. It can’t be her, again . Solana doubles back up to the living room before jumping to any conclusions.
“Mom!” she calls out sharply. “Mom! Mom !”
She finds her mother in the living room, glassy eyed, staring at a screen that hasn’t been turned on. “ Mom !” she almost yells.
Her mother turns around, blinking slowly. “Yes, Solana?” she asks blearily, exhaustion etched in her subharmonics.
“Garrus ... he’s got his friend over again ... you know, that exchange student? Did you know?” Solana demands more than asks, noticing the pile of dirty dishes in front of her mother. She moves to start collecting them, piling them in her arms.
“No, I don’t think his friend is over,” her mother’s mandibles curl inwards and she tilts her head in thought. “I’ve been watching the news, dear, I’m sorry. I mustn’t have noticed.”
Solana can’t bring herself to point out there’s nothing on on the vidscreen. She clucks her tongue instead, makes an angry growl in her lower tones, and turns around. After dumping the dishes in the sink, she notices that there’s a chunk of raw ... some kind of meat, it’s been sitting too long to tell anymore, on the counter. Solana sighs and dumps the now ruined meat in the trash, anger building.
She immediately drops in front of her datapad, ringing the line their father reserves for his family. Garrus, ever the whiny brat, is always complaining that their father is never around, but their father always returns their calls, even if it takes a while.
“What is it, Solana?” her father’s face appears on the screen, severe as ever.
“Dad! Garrus has that girl over again, the asari? You know, the one that he’s not supposed to -- he didn’t even notice mom left dinner on the counter to ruin, and he’s been home for hours and I just got home and I have so much homework, exams for military placements start in two weeks and I can’t --”
Her father holds up a hand. “Then you need to kick her out.”
Furious, Solana protests, “Dad! She’s not ...” Solana struggles to not sound stupid or sentimental. “It’s not her fault, Garrus should know better. I don’t want to be ...” Mean. Bossy. Uncool.
“Be what? Authoritative? Responsible? The older sister?” Each word from her father is more harsh and judgemental than the last. Solana feels her own temper rise in turn.
“It’s not fair! Why do I have to do this? Why can’t mom?” She knows immediately that she’s made a mistake; she shouldn’t have said that. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Her father’s face darkens. “I expect that kind of petulance from Garrus, Solana. But not you. You know damn well why it can’t be your mother.”
Scowling, Solana’s shoulders droop. “Fine,” she mutters. “Fine, I’ll get rid of her.”
“Thank you, Solana,” her father says stiffly. “You do this, and I’ll have some words with Garrus tonight. Okay?”
“Yeah,” she sighs. “Yeah, okay.”
“ Yes , Solana. Didn’t you learn anything on your first tour? It’s yes , not yeah .”
Her father nods his approval and hangs up.
Dreading the conversation, Solana drags herself to Garrus' room and pulls herself together. She has to be the tough one, the enforcer, she thinks, trying to channel her father’s stature. She throws open the door, ordering loudly: “You’ll need to leave, Valeena! I --” she stops mid-sentence when she takes in the scene.
Garrus and Valeena are tangled up on his bed, their homework long forgotten on his desk. They’re still clothed, mostly, thank the Spirits , but Valeena’s got her top off and is straddling Garrus. Solana averts her eyes, her awkwardness overpowering any intimidating aura she might have possessed.
The asari girl flushes darkly and squeals, ducking behind Garrus to cover herself.
“Sol!” Garrus exclaims, his subharmonics deeply embarrassed. He scrambles to get off the bed, righting himself. “You could have knocked!”
His anger stings something in Solana and she’s able to seethe, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t expect to find my little brother fucking some asari slut in his parent’s house! What is wrong with you?” Solana catches the dark tinge of embarrassment on Valeena’s face and feels a twinge of guilt for her words. It wasn’t the asari’s fault that Garrus insisted on flaunting the rules, Solana thinks. Typical, selfish Garrus.
“Don’t call her that!”
“You’re fourteen !”
“So? You don’t have to be so judgemental!”
“Valeena, get out!” Solana focuses her anger on the asari again. Her father gave her one job; lecturing Garrus is not her problem. Valeena, her top hurriedly put back on, jumps off the bed and practically flies past Solana. Solana watches her run down the hallway and hears the front door slam shut behind her.
“I can’t believe you just kicked her out,” Garrus spits. “We were working on an app for her omnitool! She’s probably never coming around again.”
“Her omnitool ?” Solana chides in disbelief. “Did this app involve embracing eternity ?”
“We got sidetracked, she’s ... she’s nice, okay? I like her!” Garrus’ vocals betray his embarrassment again and Solana can’t bring herself to care. This isn’t her job; she’s got homework to do, she’s got to get dinner going, and she just wants this conversation to be over before their mother -- shit .
Their mother appears at Garrus’ door, frowning and confused. “Who was the girl that just ran out of here?”
Solana wants to scream. Instead, she takes a deep breath, and says, “That girl was a hundred year old asari trying to molest your son , mom.” A bitter taste is building in Solana’s mouth at her mother’s presence. Their mother had only come because she’d noticed the yelling. Of course .
“Garrus,” their mother begins in a tone promising a long lecture. Solana feels a tiny bit relieved; at least she can let her mother handle this conversation.
“Mom,” Garrus pleads. “I .... I know you said I shouldn’t have her alone in my room, but, we were working on a project, and we needed my computer, and we got carried away --”
“Carried away, is right,” Solana snaps. “Carried right off to his bed.”
“You have to be careful of asari,” her mother starts in a warning tone. “She’s eighty-six years older than you, and all she has to do is want to have a child, and it’ll happen, whether you agree or not.”
“That’s so old fashioned, the asari don’t just run around having babies everywhere, Spirits mom ...”
“That’s not what I meant,” her mother sighs. She walks into Garrus’ room and sits on his bed. Solana scowls, wishing her father were here: he’d give Garrus the tongue-lashing he deserves, she thinks, annoyed. Garrus collapses onto his desk chair, staring at his feet. Her mother casts Solana a glance and says, “Solana, dear, leave us, will you? Garrus and I need to talk.”
“ Alone , Solana. Please?” her mother pleads politely. Solana marches from his room, annoyed. Sure, she thinks. She does all the heavy lifting, has to do the worst of it, and their mom gets to sweep in and play nice. Solana doesn’t want to be the bad guy, but Garrus is just ... ugh . Why can’t he just act like everyone else? Why can’t he just obey ?
As furious and left out as she feels, over dinner, she starts to feel a little lighter. Garrus is at least speaking to her, her mother is actually holding a conversation with them, and Solana even finds herself laughing at one of Garrus’ stupid jokes. All the same, Solana feels strangely nostalgic about the present moment, like she knows even while it’s happening that this might be the last time she’ll get to enjoy their family dinner.
They’re visiting their father on the Citadel while their mother sees a specialist at Huerta Memorial; they’re not children anymore, and no one tries to hide it anymore from them (from Garrus , anyways, Solana thinks. No one ever tried to hide their mother’s condition from her ).
Garrus is sixteen now; he’s the one on his first holiday since starting his service. Solana is immensely relieved to see that the turian military has lived up to its reputation, even for her wild-spirited brother. He’s a little stiffer, a little quicker to follow orders, and had learned to keep most of his sarcastic comments to himself.
Solana, on the whole, is ecstatic about the change. Maybe it means that they’ll finally be able to have a real conversation, and maybe they can even talk about what they’re going to do about mom. Her father’s been trying to convince Solana to take up a medical career.
She tells Garrus this as they stroll through shops in the Upper Ward. “Dad was like, ‘If you can calculate those flight trajectories so damn fast, think about what you could do with survival analysis algorithms ...’, and I was like, ‘Dad, the only life-saving I’ll be doing is every time I dock my ship perfectly!’ Can you believe him?” She laughs, waiting for Garrus to laugh too. It’s been a long time since they’ve been able to really laugh together, and of all things, surely their father’s expectations is something they can bond over.
“I can,” he says quietly, stopping to examine a enhanced scope for his sniper rifle.
“Custom upgrades aren’t allowed till your third year of service, Garrus,” she reminds him automatically. His eyes flicker with something -- annoyance? Anger? But he puts the scope back down and keeps walking. “Wait! Garrus, I didn’t mean -- you can still get it, I just ...”
“It’s fine,” he cuts her off, sounding remarkably like their father in his crisp tone. “You’re right. It’d be a waste to get it now.”
Being right used to feel a lot better.
“Do you mind explaining this to me?!” Solana exclaims at Garrus over their video call.
“What?” he replies gruffly.
“We get a call from your CO, telling us that you’re ... you ...” She can’t even bring herself to say it. She steels her nerves. “You tortured a prisoner on your ship, Garrus? That’s not us ! That’s not you !”
His eyes flash with anger but he only sounds sullen when he replies, “I didn’t torture him. I just ... encouraged him to talk.”
“With your fists?!”
“It was a hands-on approach,” he remarks dryly, his anger starting to bubble into his subharmonics. “It wasn’t a big deal; he was a batarian scum bag, a pirate trading slaves right under the Citadel’s nose, on Bekenstein.”
“That human dump for their rich criminals?”
Garrus’ eyes tighten. “Yeah.”
“I thought humans were opposed to slavery.”
“They’re opposed to obvious slavery. As long as their aren’t any chains around their ankles or collars on their neck, they don’t give a damn about where their prostitutes come from. Ignorant assholes.”
“Garrus, that’s not fair,” she finds herself arguing. He gives her a curious glare and Solana feels a stirring of discontent. She never would have imagined that she’d be the one defending an alien race, calling Garrus out on his preconceived notions. It feels unsettling.
“Garrus, are you okay?”
“I’m fine. We just ...” He sighs, rubbing his head. “We raided a batarian ship a few nights ago. We lost a lot of good people. Spirits, the way they were storing their cargo on board was ... sick, really sick, Sol. I thought I would throw up just from the smell of their cages; they’d been held there for weeks . I might have ... lost my cool, later, with one of the pirate prisoners.”
“That’s no excuse,” she reprimands.
“You sound like dad,” he sneers.
“Yeah, well, he’s not happy either,” she shoots back.
“Big surprise,” Garrus mutters, but he sounds different. Meeker, like the little brother she remembers. “What’d he say?”
“He says if you’re just going to do whatever you want, you might as well be an” -- her subharmonics lower, mimicking her father’s gravelly voice -- “‘arrogant, renegade Spectre’.” She sees Garrus look away and tries to feel some compassion for him. She smiles weakly and adds half-heartedly, “You know dad, always a stickler for the rules.”
“Right,” Garrus says bitterly. “Right, because he’s never manhandled anyone before.”
An awkward silence pitches over them that Solana can’t bring herself to break. Finally, Garrus sighs impatiently and says, “Look, I have to go. Take care of yourself, Sol. Say hi to mom for me.” He hangs up without waiting for a goodbye.
Solana blinks, startled. Not that their conversation had been particularly sentimental, but she’s fucking trying , and he just slams the door in her face. Say hi to mom yourself, asshole.
“He said he’s thinking of Spectre training,” her father grinds out. The vid-call quality is grainy; she’s far flung in the Terminus system and her father’s back on Palavan, having answered an emergency call about their mother from the long term care facility.
“It’s probably just a phase, dad,” she tries to console, picking at her MRE for dinner.
“No, he was serious , Solana. Can you talk to him?”
She isn’t sure if she wants to laugh or punch the screen. Of course her dad is passing this off to her, without any regard for the fact that Garrus wouldn’t give two shits about her opinion. “That’s not going to work,” she manages to answer respectfully. Hesitantly, thinking how angry Garrus will be with her if he ever finds out this was her idea, she says, “Get mom to talk to him. He’ll listen to her.”
“Your mother --”
“Dad, please. Listen to me. As much as mom loves him, she doesn’t want him running off on dangerous, black ops jobs as a Spectre either. And with her health ... you know ... if he’s far away and out of contact all the time ... I mean, if you put it to her like that, and she explains it to him, maybe he’ll listen to reason.”
Her father pauses, considering. There’s crackling static while he thinks. “That’s a good call, Solana. Thank you.”
Solana swallows, her guilt stronger than her pride. It’s not her fault Garrus always has his head in the clouds, she tries to console herself. Someone has to bring him back to reality.
“You’ll be good at CSEC,” she tries to cheer him up. “You’ll make detective in no time, busting big time criminals, taking down the bad guys ...”
Garrus doesn’t say anything for a while, stirring his coffee. She’d come for his induction ceremony on the Citadel. “Yeah,” he agrees unenthusiastically. “Yeah, it’ll be fine.”
“It will be!” Knowing it’s a low blow, knowing it’s completely unfair before she even says it, she blurts out: “You’ll get to see mom more, you know? And with yours and dad’s CSEC benefits combined, she’ll be well taken care of: it’s for the best, you know? Everyone wins.”
He nods. “Right. Everyone.” Solana doesn’t think either of them really believes it, but as long as no one says as much, maybe someday they will.
“Garrus quit his job?” her mother asks in surprise. Solana sighs wearily. They’ve had this conversation at least five times over the course of the week. She’s got medical exams to study for and doesn’t have time to be explaining the same events over and over again.
“Yes, mother,” she confirms, swiping through the textbook on her datapad.
“ Why ?”
“He ... met some human, you know, the one that blew up the batarian base a few years ago? The Butcher of Torfan?” Solana waits, knowing what her mother will say next.
“That’s an awful name,” her mother remarks. “It sounds like she --”
“-- devoured them,” her mother and Solana say in unison. Her mother blinks, confused. Solana tries to smile reassuringly, keeping her temper in check.
“She was made a Spectre,” Solana rattles off, again, listing events. “First human Spectre. Garrus ... I don’t know what happened, she must have made a very convincing case. Last I heard from him, he was investigating that other Spectre, Saren, and the next minute, Garrus has been whisked away by some human on a cock and bull story about the Protheans, or something.”
“Does your father know?”
Solana almost laughs, bitter and hard. Instead, she gives a tight smile and says, “Yes, he knows.”
“Why didn’t he stop him?” her mother’s growing helplessness makes Solana clench her fists, every time.
“Garrus didn’t exactly inform us of his decision, mom. We didn’t have a chance to stop him.”
Her mother frowns, and now the worst part is coming. Solana hates, hates this part. The part where her mother’s face falls, a low, painful keen trembles at the bottom of her vocal register, and she asks, “Why? That’s not like him. Why wouldn’t Garrus say goodbye?”
Solana shrugs: she never has an answer, every time her mother asks. The only thing she can think to spit back, full of contempt, is that this is exactly like him, and there never was a goodbye to say, because Garrus was gone long before he left.