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Truths and Half-Truths

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Red.

He remembered red.

Red wrath, red blood - his and Anderson’s and the Illusive Man’s - and red light. Red pulsing in his veins and soaking his clothes and half-blinding him as he raised his gun. The world was swallowed in a crimson wave.

Red surrounded him now, pain and the taste of blood in the back of his throat. His body was heavy, and he hurt - the ache of deep wounds, and the too-familiar pain of burns - and for a moment he thought he was laid out on a lab table again, or perhaps everything had been a dream and he was still on Akuze…

The red light around him grew brighter until he realized that his eyes were closed, and the bloody haze surrounding him was light seen through his closed eyelids.

Garv opened his eyes. His vision blurred and swam, and he recognized the familiar numbing fog of pain medication. But the reason why he blinked and stared was because he didn’t quite believe what he was seeing.

He was in the Normandy’s med bay. He could only see a small patch of ceiling directly over his bed, but he would know his ship anywhere. Confusion and relief flooded through him in equal measure, but then he heard the soft shuffle of a page turning, and he looked toward the sound.

Hannah Shepard was sitting in a chair beside his bed, reading a book just as he remembered seeing her do countless times before. The sight of his mother made his chest ache with relief. It didn’t matter that he didn’t know what had happened or how she’d come to be there…all he knew was that she was there, and he swallowed through a dry, gritty throat and tried to speak.

“Mom.” The word came out choked and broken, but Hannah heard him. Her tired face brightened in a smile as she lifted her head.

“Garviel.” She set aside her book and took hold of his hand. “It’s about time you decided to join us.”

He gripped her hand more tightly. It hurt to breathe deeply, but he made the effort as he tried to speak. “‘S’ the Normandy?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

Hannah scooted her chair closer, reaching out with her other hand to brush his hair back from his forehead. “Jack’s varren found you, if you can believe it,” she said, giving him a watery smile. “We really had no idea where to search for you, but we had to start somewhere. We looked for places on the Citadel that still had functioning environmental controls and took teams in. Jack takes Urz and Eezo everywhere with her. They caught your scent.”

Garv’s face scrunched in a weary grimace. “Always wanted to eat me.”

She laughed softly. “I suppose we should be grateful they find you so appetizing.” Her fingers threaded gently through his hair. “Akil saw them nosing around and followed them.”

That caught Garv’s attention. The last time he’d seen his brother, he was barely on his feet, covered in blood with a battered Garrus and Liara keeping him upright. Still disoriented upon waking and distracted by seeing Hannah, he hadn’t remembered right away. Now, though, hearing his brother’s name brought a rush of mingled worry and hope. “Akil? He’s okay?”

Hannah smiled. “Yes. He’s fine. See for yourself.”

Garv turned his head, following the direction of her nod. Akil was on the neighboring bed, sound asleep. The bed had been wheeled over beside his until the mattresses were touching. It was testament to how wrung out Akil was that the quiet conversation between Hannah and Garv hadn’t awakened him.

He turned back to Hannah. “What happened?”

“You did it, Garv. I don’t know what you did, or how, but you did it. The Reapers are gone.”

“Gone?”  

“They’re dead,” Hannah clarified. Her voice had a hard edge, but her cool touch on his forehead remained light and gentle.

Dead. Garv knew he should feel relieved - and he did - but the relief was nearly overwhelmed by an aching, hollow sadness. It had worked. But that meant…he closed his eyes, unable to suppress a shudder as he imagined hundreds of thousands of geth platforms lying in dead heaps, thought how deathly silent the Normandy would be without EDI’s ever-present voice.

“Garv?” Hannah’s hand stilled against the side of his face as she noticed his distress. Even with his eyes still closed, he could tell that she had leaned closer. “Sweetheart, are you all right? Should I call Dr. Chakwas?”

“No,” he said thickly. “I’m…I’m okay.”

“Perhaps you should notify Dr. Chakwas regardless, Admiral Shepard,” a familiar voice put in. “I am sure she would want to know the commander is awake.”

Garv sucked in a startled breath, sharp and cold enough to make his chest ache, and he opened his eyes. “EDI?”

“Yes, Shepard?”

“Are you okay? Where are you?”

EDI paused for a fraction of a second at his unexpected question - hardly enough to notice, but close to an eternity for her. “Yes, Shepard, I am fine. My body is groundside, helping to clear rubble. Do you require its presence?”

Garv swallowed hard, squeezing his eyes shut again as he felt the hot prickle of tears. “N-no, ‘s’fine,” he managed to say.

“Garviel, I’m going to call the doctor,” Hannah said quietly. “I believe you that you’re okay, but I think she should know.”  

Akil stirred, the cadence of voices finally reaching him even through the heavy veil of exhausted sleep. He half-lifted his head from the pillow, blinking tiredly. “Mum?”

Hannah smiled at him. “Your brother is awake.” She kept hold of Garv’s hand, but moved her hand away from his head as she reached for her comm. “Karin? Garviel’s regained consciousness. Yes - just give us a few minutes before you come, okay?” She began stroking his hair again. “Slow breaths, sweetheart.”

Akil raised himself up to lean on his elbow. “Garvi?” Garv opened his eyes. His brother smiled shakily down at him. “I thought we talked about you running off with those crazy ideas of yours.”

Garv swallowed hard and tried to smile back. “It worked, didn’t it?” Akil let out a choked little laugh at the familiar reply and leaned down to press his head against Garv’s shoulder.

“Admiral Shepard, Dr. Chakwas would like me to tell you that she is waiting outside the door whenever you are ready for her.”

Hannah glanced up in the direction of EDI’s terminal. “Thank you, EDI. She can come in.”

Akil shifted back onto his own mattress when the door opened, but he kept a watchful eye on Garv as Chakwas entered.

“Commander. I was hoping you’d wake up today.” Chakwas’ tone was as formal as ever, but relief softened her gaze as she looked at him. “It’s good to see you.”

“Hey, Doc.”

Chakwas activated her omni-tool to scan him thoroughly before switching it off again and carefully pulling aside the blanket and the loose cloth gown he was dressed in so she could examine him. “I’ve been impressed with how quickly you’ve healed,” she told him. “I expect you’ll be pretty tired for some days yet, but now that you’re awake, we should be able to remove the rest of the monitoring equipment. Does that sound good to you?”

“Definitely,” Garv said gratefully. Even though he’d only been conscious for a short while, the discomfort of the equipment attached to him was making itself known. “Thanks for putting me together again.”

“Be sure you thank Miranda, as well,” Chakwas said as she got started. “We were lucky that she was nearby after we found you.”

“Miranda’s okay?”

“Yes.” The doctor smiled down at him. “They’re all safe, Commander. All your squad members, and every member of the crew. The Normandy didn’t lose anyone.”

Unfathomable relief soaked into his bones, and his breaths came a little easier. “What happened?”

Even though his question was vague, Akil understood what he’d asked. He shrugged off his blanket and sat up. Garv frowned a little as he saw that Akil’s left arm was held against his side in a sling, but was reassured when he saw his brother moving with relative ease. Akil folded his legs beneath him on the mattress and stuffed his good hand into the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt. “When the catalyst fired, it released an energy pulse,” he said. “It was like watching a star going nova. All the ships had pulled back before it fired, but it was impossible to escape. Wherever the energy wave touched, the Reaper forces dropped dead. Before we realized what was happening, it was over.”

“All of them?” Garv asked. It didn’t seem possible. Chakwas finished removing the various leads and catheters, but he hardly noticed when she stepped away, attention remaining fixed on Akil’s explanation.

“From what we’ve heard, yes. All of them. The energy wave hit the Normandy pretty hard and Joker had to bring us down in a maneuver he’s been calling a ‘surprise and slightly bumpy landing’ - but aside from a few scratches on the hull, the ship is fine. We were back at Earth within twelve hours. The ship’s docked at a base that was thrown together a short distance outside of London.” He gave a little shrug. “Reports are still coming in. A lot of the mass relays were damaged, and comm buoys are down. But the geth have been able to form a network and have been relaying messages from other systems, so - ” He broke off, brows drawing together slightly as he saw the color leach from Garv’s already washed-out face. “What’s wrong?”

“N-nothing,” Garv stammered. “What did you say about the geth?”

“They’ve formed a network,” Akil repeated uncertainly, clearly not convinced but willing to answer his questions regardless. “They’re the only reason why we’ve got long-range communications right now.”

Garv’s breaths came quick and shallow. He hadn’t destroyed the geth. He felt the sting of tears once again, but this time he couldn’t keep them back - between fatigue, pain, overwhelming relief, and the not-inconsiderable levels of narcotics he knew were working their way out of his system, his control was utterly shot. He shut his eyes tightly, swallowing against the knot in his throat in an effort to remain silent.

“Garvi…” Akil’s worried murmur was followed by Hannah quietly calling Chakwas’ name to get her attention. Garv heard the doctor’s brisk step as she returned to check on him. He wanted to tell her no, he was okay, but he couldn’t speak. The soft hum of an omni-tool punctuated the silence.

“No changes,” Chakwas said after a moment. “He’s stable. He’s just exhausted.” Her tone softened. “You need to rest, Commander.”

“He’s more than earned it,” Hannah said. She reached out and gently brushed the damp trails from his face. “It’s all right if you want to sleep, son.”

“Pardon me, Admiral Shepard,” EDI broke in, “I took the liberty of informing the crew that the commander was awake. Most of them are still occupied with the search and rescue efforts and cannot be spared but Jack was nearby. She is on her way. Should I ask her to wait?”

“No, she can come,” Garv said hoarsely, before Hannah could answer EDI. He gave Hannah a grateful look and tried to smile.

“Good,” EDI said. “I do not think I could have prevented her from coming, and she is already entering the airlock.”

“Patience has never been one of her virtues,” Akil said.

“We can’t all be the model soldier like you,” Garv said. Chakwas touched a control on the side of the bed to elevate his head and shoulders a bit so he wasn’t completely flat on his back, a consideration he was glad of, since he hadn’t yet managed to lift his head, and sitting up was completely out of the question.

Akil rolled his eyes but didn’t have a chance to reply; there was a clattering and a thud from the common area, and Garv caught a brief glimpse of a fanged, slavering face pressed up against the window. “EDI,” he groaned, “you didn’t tell me she had the varren with her.”

“They travel with her,” EDI replied, cool and practical. “I thought their presence would be implied.”

Before he could answer, the door hissed open and Jack stalked in, bringing the scent of cold wind and ash with her as she stopped at the foot of his bed. Eezo and Urz followed at her heels, their clawed feet scrabbling at the smooth decking. “‘Bout time you woke up, Shepard,” she said, crossing her arms.

“Well, you know. I have to make an entrance,” he replied, giving her a lopsided smile. Urz stopped next to Hannah, eyes half-closed in delight as she scratched his head. Eezo maneuvered closer to the head of the bed and panted up at him. “Didn’t know you were bringing friends.” He eyed Eezo warily as the varren craned its neck to put its chin on the edge of his mattress, bringing its amber eyes and dagger-like fangs uncomfortably close.

“Don’t be a wuss,” Jack huffed. “She likes you.”

Garv’s eyes darted to Jack and back to Eezo. “She?”

“Yeah. Turns out Eezo’s female,” Jack said with a shrug. “Who knew?”

“Apparently not you. Remind me to have a little talk with you later about the difference between boys and girls.”

“Bite me, Shepard. You couldn’t tell either. Anyway, the least you could do is thank them. They’re the only reason that Shep Junior over here was able to find you so fast.”

“You want me to thank the varren?” Garv asked flatly, not acknowledging Akil’s token grumbling, “I’m older.

“Do what you want. I’m not gonna judge your manners, but your mom is sitting right there.”

Garv glanced over at Hannah. Akil clearly had inherited his poker face from her, but Garv could see the telltale gleam in her green eyes that told him she was amused at his consternation. He looked down at Eezo. She was drooling on his blanket. “Thank you for finding me,” he said stiffly. He lifted a hesitant hand and patted Eezo on her smooth-scaled head.

“Aw, did that hurt?” Jack drawled.

Garv glared at her. “A little, yeah.”

She backhanded the air. “You’ve had worse.”

“I hadn’t noticed.”

Jack rolled her eyes, but the edge faded slightly from her voice as she asked, “You in one piece?”

“I think so.” Jack’s “about time” when she’d entered had made Garv realize he didn’t know how much time had passed since the battle for Earth, and he turned his attention to Chakwas. “How long was I out?”

The doctor clasped her hands behind her back. “Seventeen days,” she replied.

“Oh…” He settled more heavily against the bed. “I guess that explains why I don’t feel worse.” He hurt, but now that he had a moment to take stock of himself, he was beginning to realize that it was the pain of old injuries, not fresh ones, and even though there were bandages beneath his gown, he recognized the familiar itch of healing, scabbed-over burns.

“Your body has had time to heal,” Chakwas told him, “but…it has been a very long seventeen days.”

Akil recognized the look on his face. “If you apologize for being unconscious so long, I am going to smother you with your pillow.”

“Please don’t, Akil. I’ve worked too hard on him to have you undo all my efforts,” Chakwas said dryly. “And they’ll all be for naught if I allow him to wear himself out before he’s had a chance to try and recover. It’s time the commander got some sleep.”

“I’ve been - ”

“Seventeen days in a coma is not sleep,” Chakwas said sharply.

Garv sobered, hearing the strain of every one of those uncertain days in her voice. “Okay.” He had the grace to look a little sheepish. “I am kinda tired.” Chakwas let out a noncommittal “hmph” at his understatement, but he could see that she wasn’t actually annoyed with him.

“I can take a hint,” Jack said. “Later, Shepard.” She rested her hand on his blanket-covered foot in a fleeting touch, then snapped her fingers at Urz and Eezo and turned to go.

Chakwas walked with her to the door. “Remind Garrus to check in with me when he’s off duty,” she told her. “And for future reference - I let the varren in this time, but next time I’d appreciate it if they waited outside…”

Garv smirked at Jack’s bored-sounding “Yeah, whatever”, then turned his head to look at Hannah. “Are you okay?” he asked quietly. “I didn’t ask you.”

Hannah smiled softly, looking between him and Akil. “I am now.”

“Right, Commander,” Chakwas said, returning and focusing her attention on him once again. “I meant what I said. Your crew will undoubtedly be coming by to see you, but until they do, I want you to get some rest.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He gave her a plaintive look. “But can I at least have some pants first?”

Chakwas couldn’t conceal her little amused smile, but at least she agreed, moving to close the blinds on the windows. Hannah made a quick trip up to his cabin to bring down a short-sleeved shirt and sweatpants, then stood beside the bed to help him sit up and support him as he began to dress. Akil moved to help, but a stern look and pointed finger from the doctor halted him in his tracks. “Don’t even think about it, young man. I don’t care how strong you think you are; broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder need more time to heal before they can take that kind of strain.”

“Just how heavy do you think I am?” Garv grumbled. In spite of his verbal sparring with the doctor, his brow creased in a frown as he looked over at his brother. Akil gave him a dismissive shrug - with only one shoulder, Garv noticed - and a subtle smile that meant Don’t worry, I’m okay. Garv couldn’t keep the dubious expression off his face, remembering how his brother and the rest of his squad had looked in those last moments, but Akil rolled his eyes and his smile turned into a smirk, and Garv could practically hear him saying Pants, Garvi.

Even with Hannah’s help, pulling on the loose clothing was almost more than he could manage. It only took a few minutes, but left him pale and shaky, and only her arm braced behind his shoulders kept him from collapsing back against the bed as he lay back down.

“Sorry,” he said as she tugged her arm free from where it had been pinned between his back and the mattress.

“Sweetheart, I know you’re tough, but even a supersoldier like you is going to be weak after what you’ve been through.” The affection in her tone softened her teasing.

“I’d be stronger if I had some tacos,” he said with a little smile, leaning into her hand as she ruffled his hair again.

“From what Dr. Chakwas has been saying, you’ll be lucky if you’re back on solid food in a week,” Akil told him.

Despite his deadpan expression, Garv could tell his brother was messing with him. “So just put the tacos in a blender and gimme a straw,” he said, grinning at the disgusted look an Akil’s face. “What? It’s all gonna get mixed up together when I eat it anyway, so what difference - ?”

“I will pay you not to finish that sentence.”

“Aw, come on, Aki, you know I’m kidding.”

“With you and food, I can never be sure.”

“All right, gentlemen, that’s quite enough,” Chakwas broke in. She lowered Garv’s bed until it was flat again. “Commander, please try to rest. As for you, Akil, we should run through therapy for your shoulder.”

Garv settled back against his pillow, watching as Chakwas removed Akil’s sling and began guiding his left arm through a series of controlled movements. Garv had felt alert during his conversation with Jack and the others, but now that he was still, he felt weariness weighing him down.

Hannah saw him starting to fade and leaned forward to kiss his temple. “Go to sleep, Garv.” With a sigh, he closed his eyes and obeyed.

--------------------------—-

Hunger woke him several hours later. Akil was still sitting beside him, but Hannah was gone.  He regarded the protein drink that Chakwas gave him with a deep lack of enthusiasm but didn’t comment - not that he had time. He’d been sleeping for most of the day, and his crew had returned for the night; most were milling about, hoping to see him. With Earth in general and London in particular still in ruins, the ships of the various fleets were still housing and feeding their crews. It was a temporary solution, but workable for the moment.

The doctor was firm in limiting visitors to Garv’s squad, but it was still a relatively large number of people when all was said and done. Garv was particularly glad to see Garrus and Liara on their feet, almost completely recovered from the injuries they’d sustained from Harbinger’s attack.

“So what was up there, Loco? How’d you do it?” James asked.

Garv gave him a crooked little smile and a shrug. “Aw, you know. The usual. Like Garrus says, there’s usually a button to push.”

James snorted. “Must’ve been a hell of a big button.”

Garv just shrugged again, then turned his attention to Tali to ask about the quarian fleet - and made his way through each member of his squad, checking in with them. Chakwas sat quietly at her desk, attention focused on her computer screen, but when everyone had finished giving their account, she pushed back her chair and wove her way through the group to stand beside Garv’s bed.

“Now that you’ve gotten a detailed status report, I am going to have to ask everyone to clear the room,” she told him. She turned to address the crew. “I have work to do, and whether he believes it or not, the commander needs rest.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not gonna fight you, Doc,” Garv said with a wan smile. In spite of how happy he’d been to see his friends, his head was beginning to ache from the effort of focusing on everyone at once and he found himself wishing for the former quiet of the empty med bay.  

Garv’s squad members took a few moments to say goodbye, then filed out and left him in the company of Chakwas and his brother. Akil picked up the book his mother had left behind and started to read aloud. He spoke quietly, almost as if he were talking to himself, but Garv could hear him. He closed his eyes, losing track of the words and just letting the calming rhythm of his brother’s voice wash over him.

He hadn’t realized he’d dozed off until the sound of the door hissing open dragged him back to awareness, and he opened his eyes to see Hannah returning. Her steps were weary, but she smiled as she entered and crossed over to stand beside Akil’s bed.

“How’d everything go?” Akil asked, bending down a little so she could kiss his cheek.

“About as well as can be expected,” she replied, leaning in to inspect his sling.

“Where’d you go?” Garv asked.

“I took a shuttle up for my shift on the Orizaba.” She gave the sling’s straps a little tug. “I’ve told Admiral Hackett that I’m on leave to be with my sons, but given the state of the fleet, leave isn’t really possible. So I’ve worked out a compromise with Alliance command.” She smirked. “There really is a first time for everything.” Satisfied with her adjustments to Akil’s sling, she gave his arm a gentle pat and moved around to take Garv's hand. “How are you feeling?”

“Better,” he said truthfully. “Although I’m getting kinda tired of being in bed.”

“After less than twelve hours awake? Well, I suppose that’s a good sign, even if it’ll be a test of your patience.” She gave him a sympathetic smile. “Though from what I understand, there will be plenty to occupy your attention. I know Hackett wants to talk with you tomorrow.”

“I’m surprised he didn’t come by today. My being in the med bay hasn’t stopped him from barging in before,” Garv said with a wry smile.

Hannah smiled. “Karin put her foot down. She forbade anyone besides your squad coming by to see you today. There’s a lot to do, but with the war over, I suppose everyone is feeling a little lenient. And if anyone deserves a bit of a reprieve, it’s you.” She patted his hand. “At any rate, I just came by to check on the two of you and say good night.”

“Good night?” Garv’s brow furrowed. “What time is it?”

“It’s past 2300 hours,” Akil told him. “You’ve spent most of your first day awake sleeping.”

“You’re not heading back to the Orizaba, are you?” Garv asked. “Seems like a lot of trouble for you to come by just to say good night.”

“No, I’ve been staying on the Normandy. In your cabin, actually. I tried to decline, but your crew insisted. And someone has to keep an eye on Jaghatai.”

Garv let out a huff of relieved laughter at the mention of his hamster. “Little guy made it?”

“Believe it or not, yes. I wasn’t sure at first - his cage had been jarred loose at some point during the battle and he’d gotten out. I had a hell of a time tracking him down, but I eventually found him and fixed his cage.” She smiled and shrugged. “Looks like the only casualty on the ship was your aquarium VI. It’s completely fried. So I’ve been feeding your fish, too.”

She’d meant it as a joke, but hearing her call the VI a casualty sent a chill down Garv’s spine, because he was pretty sure it was an accurate statement. He was relieved that the geth and EDI had been spared, but he didn’t know if it had been a fluke or not…and it didn’t change what he’d been ready to do when he’d made his decision. He didn’t want to worry her, though, so he kept his tone light as he grumbled, “I never wanted those fish anyway. Someone put them in my cabin as ‘my own private sushi supply’ and EDI won’t tell me who did it.”

Hannah chuckled. “I’m sensing there’s a story there, but you’ll have to fill me in later.” She kissed his forehead, then helped Akil get settled on his back before dimming the lights on her way to the door. “Call me if you need me.”

“Goodnight, Mum,” Akil replied. He looked over to the nearest wall terminal as his mother left. “EDI, could you please lock the door?”

“Of course, Akil. My terminal in the medical bay will be on standby mode.”

Garv smiled wearily. “Thanks, EDI.”

“You are welcome, Shepard. I hope you are able to sleep well. Logging you out.” There was a brief electronic chirp from her access point, then silence as the AI sealed the room. The door lock turned from green to red, and a soft amber light from the console indicated that EDI had turned off her monitoring devices.

As soon as they were left alone, Garv turned to lean against his brother. It hurt, shifting from his back to his side, but Akil lifted his arm to make room for him, and after a moment Garv had settled himself more or less comfortably with his head resting on Akil’s good shoulder.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” Akil asked in a low voice.

Garv wasn’t sure if Akil meant if he was all right positioned the way he was, or just all right in general - so he settled for answering the first option, because he could tell the truth and give his brother the answer he was wanting to hear. “Yeah.” Then, not having forgotten Akil’s injuries: “You okay?”

“I’m fine.” Akil was silent for a moment or two, then said quietly, “We couldn’t see what happened to you after Harbinger fired.” He spoke evenly, but Garv could hear the remembered anguish of uncertainty in his voice. “But Hackett came over the comm and said that someone had made it to the Citadel. He didn’t say who it was, but I knew…” He trailed off, but curled his arm up to rest his hand on the back of Garv’s head.

Another day, Garv might have tried to smile and say, You knew you’d find me in the middle of the chaos?…but he couldn’t laugh about it. Not now. He was just grateful that Akil was there, and that he had not been left alone with his thoughts. “Have they found Anderson?” he asked at last.

Akil stilled, and Garv heard the subtle intake of breath that told him he’d caught his brother off guard. “How did you know he was missing?”

It was Garv’s turn to be confused, and he pulled back a bit so he could see Akil’s face. “What?”

Akil gave him an apologetic look. “We didn’t want to tell you yet. Not until we had something definite to tell you, or at least not so soon after you’d woken up. Anderson’s been listed as missing in action. No one has seen him since the final push to the beam.”

“No…Anderson - he was there. On the Citadel with me. He came through, too. But he’s…he’s dead.”

“We didn’t know,” Akil told him, voice heavy with regret. “Hackett knew you’d made it, but…”

“You couldn’t’ve known,” Garv replied, leaning forward to hide his face against his brother’s shoulder again. “I don’t know how Hackett even knew I made it. There was a lot of interference. I could barely hear Anderson, and then…”  

Akil heard his voice catch. “You don’t have to talk about it,” he said softly.

“No, it’s okay,” Garv forced out. As much as he wanted to forget the surreal nightmare that the Citadel had been, he knew he wouldn’t be allowed to do so. He would have to relive it tomorrow when Hackett came to talk to him, and during every interrogation and every debriefing that the Alliance and their allies would put him through. He would have to relate every desperate, pain-fogged moment in professional, detached words. He was a soldier, and a good one; he’d be able to do it. He’d done it after surviving Akuze, after dying in the destruction of the SR-1, after destroying the collector base, and after Aratoht. But every time, before the brass had heard his account, his brother had heard it first - before his disjointed, raw words were organized into an official, emotionless report.

So Garv told Akil about the Citadel. He told him about stumbling through the piles of rotting dead, about the keepers skittering about in the shadows. He told him about finding the Illusive Man, about the terrifying compulsion that had halted his steps; how he’d fought so hard to break the crushing hold, but how he’d failed in the end, unable to keep his finger from tightening around the trigger…

Akil listened as Garv’s words and tears soaked into his sweatshirt. His face was hard and grim, but the hand holding his brother’s head against his shoulder remained gentle. “It wasn’t you.”

“I know. But…”

“But it doesn’t help much, I know.” Akil was silent for a moment, then took a careful breath and said, very quietly and very seriously, “Garviel…I want you to do something for me when you report to Hackett.” Garv lifted his head to look at him. “Don’t tell the debriefing team that you were holding the gun.”

Garv frowned. “What…why are you ask-?”

Akil’s voice remained low and steady, but he effortlessly spoke over Garv’s questioning. “You don’t blame the weapon, you blame the wielder. It doesn’t matter that the gun was in your hand. With the Illusive Man controlling you, you were just the weapon. Tell them that the Illusive Man shot Anderson. It’s the truth.”

Despite the comforting warmth leaning against his brother, Garv felt suddenly, terribly cold. “He was controlling me,” he echoed numbly. “Akil, what if Miranda was wrong? What if they did put a control chip in my head somehow? Dr. Chakwas couldn’t find one, but - ”

“No. They didn’t. Think, Garvi. You told me that the Illusive Man was manipulating both you and Anderson. I don’t know how he could have done it, but I do know that Cerberus never got their hands on Anderson. Whatever happened up there, it had nothing to do with a control chip. Or your cybernetics,” he added.

Garv’s racing pulse slowed as Akil’s words sank in. “You’re right,” he said after a moment.

“Of course I am,” Akil said, a smile in his voice. “You know I’m never wrong.” Shepard snorted softly, the closest he could come to a laugh. “You are not in danger of anyone trying to control you, Garvi.” Akil paused, then gave him one of his rare little smiles. “And even if you were…who’s left to try now, anyway? We’ve won. The Illusive Man’s dead, the Reapers are dead. You’re safe.”

You’re safe. Garv let out a long, shaky breath, and nodded, tucking his head against Akil’s shoulder once again. “Okay,” he said, choosing to accept his brother’s words.

“So will you tell them what I told you to say?” Akil asked, gentle but insistent. “We know Hackett’s in your corner, but the others have turned on you before, even when you were right.”

Garv didn’t answer right away, but the memory of six months of house arrest - and, going back further, months spent wasting time hunting geth on the fringes of the galaxy after Sovereign’s attack on the Citadel - rose up in his mind. Akil was right about that, too. And if he was honest with himself, he didn’t want anyone else to know. His reputation had taken more than a few hits over the years, but it hadn’t mattered because he’d known he’d done the right thing, even if no one else believed him. But the thought of being known as the man who killed David Anderson was unbearable. You did good, son. “Okay,” he said again. “I’ll tell them.”

Akil relaxed and let out a short, relieved sigh. “Thank you.”

“So after…after the arms opened,” Garv went on, “This…this AI started talking to me.” And he told Akil about the catalyst, about the tricolored light, about the countless millennia of slaughter the creature had justified in the name of order. And then he did something he had never done before. He lied to his brother. It was a lie of omission, not a falsehood, but a lie all the same. He told Akil about the choice he’d been forced to make, but he did not tell him that he had chosen to destroy the Reapers believing that it might also destroy the geth - and EDI - at the same time. “The whole console exploded,” he said at last. “That’s the last thing I remember before waking up here.”

Aside from a small shudder as Garv had described the AI’s “ideal solution” of synthesis, Akil did not otherwise react. “That’s not an easy choice to make,” he said after a moment. “I don’t know what I would have done in your place. But as it is now, I can’t help but think that you did the right thing. Because you came back.”

“Well, you told me I had to,” Garv said. “And as you’re so fond of telling me, you’re always right.”

Akil let out a short huff of laughter and held him a little tighter. “Nice to know you actually listen to me,” he said hoarsely.

“Just this once.” Garv curled more closely against his brother. The what-ifs of his choice still haunted him, and a hard knot of guilt rested in the pit of his stomach - but for now, exhaustion weighed heavily on him, and Akil’s reassuring, protective presence allowed him to forget, at least for a little while.

He closed his eyes and slept, and for the first time in months, he did not dream.