“I am going to kill your father.”
Garrus keened softly into his bag as mama glared angrily through the sea of people who were definitively not papa. Mama said papa would come pick them up, of course he would, but he wasn't here, and Garrus wondered if it was because he had been in trouble so often lately.
Mama had said of course not, and that papa loved Garrus very much, but that was half an hour ago and mama's mood had only darkened since then.
Garrus wasn't as sure as mama was. Even though she promised – double talon promised – that she and Sol and Garrus would go to the Citadel and Garrus would see papa, Garrus wasn't sure papa would be happy to see them. He and mama had gotten into so many fights recently, and papa hadn't come home for his quincia even though a quincia was a big event and even though Roblis' and Alyseris' papas had been at theirs.
And no one else's papa seemed to be gone all the time like his was. Roblis' papa never had to go to the Citadel. Alyseris' papa had a job on Taetrus, but he came home every six months and he never, ever missed Alyseris' birthday, especially an important one like a quincia. Why didn't his papa ever come home?
All he could think of was that papa didn't like him, or didn't like how much he got in trouble since that was all papa ever talked about on the comms. Garrus had been trying hard to be a good little soldier, but it was hard. So hard. Every time he got angry, Garrus had to close his eyes and try harder than he'd ever tried before. He'd even swallowed his remark about how Sol spilled all her juice because she was a big dumb baby who couldn't do anything yet on the morning they'd left, and he didn't fight Pollux when his cousin pulled his mandible on the ride to the station. Maybe when papa heard abut how good he had been, he would want to spend time with him again.
But it didn't look like it.
He'd tried so hard, had been so good and papa wasn't there, wasn't there at all and Garrus wanted to do nothing more than curl up in a small ball and keen sadly.
It was really noisy on the Citadel and it hurt his head a bit; especially the slow, repeated ringing noise from mama's omni as she tried again and again to call papa; it was almost as loud as Sol and made his ears hurt, even more than the noise of all the groups of people walking by them (and they all moved fast, and Garrus wondered if there were bad people, bad people who moved fast because they knew that Tiberius Vakarian would catch them).
If he was here. Which he wasn't.
Solana screeched like she knew papa didn't want them, and Garrus wished he wasn't five, because five was too old to do the same
He watched the crowds as he halfheartedly slurped at his eis, but the bright green treat mama had bought him didn't make him feel any better.
“Maybe he's at the other terminal,” mama muttered, after strapping Sol into her cunae; usually when Sol was being a big baby her little baby wrap would shut her up, but not today. “He better be. Hold my hand, Garrus.”
Garrus took her hand and bit back a remark about how boys who were almost six didn't need to hold their mother's hand. He could tell from the look in mama's eyes that pointing this out would only make her feel worse.
But mama would feel much better when she found papa waiting for them on the other terminal. He knew mama was worried, and papa was probably worried too, and then he wouldn't have to hold mama's hand anymore because his papa would laugh and say, “hello, little soldier” and he would have to let go of mama's hand to salute because you needed both hands to do it properly. Papa always liked it when he did things properly.
Garrus peered hard through the crowds as they walked toward the other terminal from Palaven. There were lots of people in blue uniforms like papa had in all the pictures, but none of them were papa; none of these turians had papa's pale blue marks. Garrus felt his heart falling, falling clear down to his toes, and it hurt, it hurt so much.
Sol screamed and wretched herself from her cunae and mama said a word, a bad word, as she dropped Garrus hand to hold Sol's little body upright.
“Is Sol okay, mama?” He curled his hand around his mother's spur as she rocked Sol, sub-vocals pulsing in a wordless lullaby. Sol didn't like the lullaby; instead she just twisted and howled in mama's arms. Mama's sub-vocals dipped lower, into an angry vibration, and Garrus whimpered.
“Mama?” His heart moved upwards, and Garrus felt it slam right into his throat, and he tried to swallow it, but it wouldn't go down. He hadn't ever seen mama like this.
“I think she might be a little sick.” Mama curled her hand over Sol's belly and Sol sobbed, tiny arms flailing.
“Does that mean we have to go home?” Garrus asked, mandibles dipping low. Sure, the shuttle ride had been cool, but there had been so many things in the Citadel he'd wanted to see.
“No.” Mama patted his fringe. “It means we're going to find your father.”
- - -
Mama had taken off fast, saying she was going to hire a skycar, and that if Garrus was a big boy and finished his ice treat before that, he could ride up front in the passenger's seat all by himself. Garrus worked hard on following her, holding tight to her hand with one hand and his eis with the other, but mama was walking fast, and she wasn't paying any attention to any of the cool stuff in the space port, not even the awesome store selling all kinds of toy ships.
He stared at the turian cruiser caught in the glass just the next shop over as mama talked with a salarian clerk. From here he couldn't tell what model it was; a newer model though, one with the thrusters re-positioned on the edge of the guns. The Pale Spectre had one of those. He wondered if the Pale Spectre came on on the Citadel; he didn't want to miss next week's episode, not after they'd just beaten the Batarian Basher!
“I'd like to rent for at least a week. Would that be possible?” mama asked, and he felt little flying bugs in his belly at that; if they stayed on the Citadel that long, he had to see papa at least once!
The clerk looked at mama up and down, and didn't answer right away. “Ma'am, I'll need to see some proof of your credit history for that.”
“What?” Mama jostled Sol visibly in her arms. “You need to see my credit history? Why?”
“Just fill out this form, ma'am.” The clerk handed mama a holopad, and Garrus sighed; a holopad meant mama would take forever.
He'd tell papa about the space ship toy store, too, and maybe papa would take him. He wished he could tell what model it was. He knew papa would want to know; papa would talk ships with him sometimes.
“Mama?” he asked, tugging on her tunic. “Can we go to the toy store?”
“In a minute, Garrus,” mama said, typing quickly on the holopad.
“Okay,” he muttered, and waited. Sol stared down at him with her big eyes, finally quiet, and Garrus put his hand up to her. She grabbed his finger as he rubbed her mandibles, bringing it closer to her mouth, and he giggled because Sol was licking him and it felt funny. But then Sol opened her mouth fully and bit down, hard, and Garrus pulled back his fingers with a sharp cry.
“Watch your fingers, Garrus,” mama said, not looking into his direction, and he growled, swallowing his annoyance; it wasn't fair that he got in trouble when he was the one trying to help Sol. “You know your sister is teething. Are you okay?”
“Yes,” he said, because big boys did not cry.
He rubbed his fingers and stared up at Sol, who flared her mandibles. He pulled his own inwards and turned away.
Garrus looked around the skycar store while mama filled in the forms, but it was soooooo boring. He'd thought it would at least have flashy pictures of skycars, or at least some pictures of skycars, but instead it was just full of pictures of stupid asari and salarians and little signs that advertised something that he couldn't read, but was quite sure was equally boring.
“Are you almost done, mama?” he asked.
“In a minute,” mama said. “Be patient, okay?”
“That's what you said before,” Garrus said with a soft sigh. He pressed his head up against the glass to stare at the model ship shop next door, but no matter how close he pressed his face, he just couldn't get close enough to see it.
“Young sir, please stop that.” The salarian at the counter sounded peeved, and Garrus ducked his head back in surprise.
“It's his first trip,” mama said, and the salarian looked balefully at him and nodded.
Garrus walked back and forth, over and over. He counted as high as he could go but even after he'd counted all the way to 100 mama still wasn't ready.
“Excuse me, ma'am, it says here you're a homemaker?”
“Yes, I'm working on my degree in archeological studies while my husband—”
“I'm sorry, ma'am, but I'm going to have to call your bank on Palaven.” The salarian looked at mama like she smelled funny, and Garrus felt something burning in his belly, but he ignored it, because he knew mama wouldn't like it if he asked why.
“Excuse me?” Mama's voice was cold steel, and Garrus turned back to see her mouth plates close in a pursed line.
“Point of policy, ma'am.” The salarian looked mama up and down, and Garrus saw mama's talons prick the palm of her hands but she said nothing.
“It's Palaven Central, Cipritine Branch #2030342. Though they're closed at this hour, so perhaps you can use my Citadel account instead.”
“I...was not aware you had a Citadel account, ma'am.” He blinked. “Very curious for someone with a local bank account to be renting a skycar.”
Mama jotting down a bunch of numbers on her holo and he saw the orange glow that meant she was transferring data. “I trust this will be sufficient?”
“I'm...I must confirm with my supervisor, ma'am.” Garrus sighed as the salarian opened his omni, furiously typing. Garrus never understood why adults would rather chat about boring stuff instead of using the holos as intended, to play the amazing space adventures of the Pale Spectre or to use the databook that showed actual video of a ship going through a relay.
The turian cruiser gleamed in the window and he let his sub-vocals dip into frustration. It wasn't fair! Mama and the Salarian were taking forever and all he wanted to do was look at the cool toys and find papa; maybe papa was even in the store, maybe he had been late because he wanted to pick out the perfect present for Garrus, and if papa had picked the new cruiser model than he must really love Garrus after all.
He paused and squinted in the shop, trying to look for the familiar figure of a tall turian with long, light bluer stripes. There was definitely an adult in the shop, but it was too hard to tell from the window in the skycar shop who it was.
But, if it was papa, well...it would be alright to go over there, even without mama, right? Mama couldn't be mad if he went without her if papa was there. And if it wasn't papa, then he would have helped mama by confirming one more place that papa wasn't.
His mind made up, Garrus slipped out the door to the shop; he moved quickly, quietly, but mama never looked up from her paperwork
The shop was dark and disappointing; the cruiser was over 5,000 credits and the turian in the ship, with his dark face and pale white marks, definitely wasn’t papa. The asari shop-clerk noticed him right away, though, and leaned down.
“Hello, little man. I'm Nausicaa.” She flicked her head toward the larger turian. “Is this your son?”
“No.” The turian looked at her and ran a hand down his marks, thick Taetrean whites. “My son is on an outpost on Myra, with his mother.”
“My apologies, ma'am,” the turian said, picking up his purchase. “I shall see if I can find anyone looking for him outside.”
“No, uhm,” Garrus said, shifting his feet from side to side. He had the feeling that he was in trouble, even if Nausicaa seemed very nice.
The turian either didn't hear him or ignored him, ducking outside the shop.
“You don't want us to look? Do you know where your parents are, my cute little bird?” A pale blue arm suddenly lifted him onto her counter, and he found himself face to face with her funny bumps. Mama had said asari all had these funny bumps, and quarian and human ladies too, but mama and Solana didn't. They moved a little bit as Nausicaa turned away from him, helping to ring up the turian customer.
“'Car shop,” he muttered. He wondered what the funny lumps felt like. How did asari ever walk around with something jutting out of them? Were they like a cowl, useful as armor? They looked squishy.
“I don't think that your mother would appreciate you running away on your own.” Nausicaa frowned and looked at him. Garrus looked down into the case below him, at the tiny ships that were so close and yet so far away.
“Don't you think we should get back to her?” He nodded sullenly and she picked him up, and Garrus' mandibles dipped low, hitting her shoulder in dismay. Nausicaa must have thought he was a big baby, because only big babies needed to be carried.
He closed his eyes as she walked them both back the small distance between the shops. He wasn't sure where to put his arms – Nausicaa didn't have a cowl like mama did, so he just put his hands on the stickity-out bits of her chest, but they felt weird and soft and not at all like a sure place to hold, so instead he put his arms around her neck.
“Your bumps are strange,” he said. Nausicaa threw back her head and laughed, but he didn't know what was funny, and before he could ask, he felt mama's subvocals prickling through the air. Sol was quiet, and Garrus wondered if she was as afraid as he was.
“Garrus Vakarian!” mama said, and he hid his head further in Nausicaa' weird shoulder because mama's voice was full of worry and his gut was twisted into many knots.
“Ma'am.” Nausicaa nodded and slowly put him down, and even though only babies were supposed to be carried, Garrus wished more than anything that he could still hide behind Nausicaa's funny bumps. “Did you lose this boy?”
“Garrus!” Mama said, bending down carefully so she didn't upset Sol in her baby harness. “Garrus, we were looking for you! What happened?”
“Someone got distracted by some ships.” Nausicaa grinned, and Garrus tucked his head down in his cowl.
Mama ran her hand down his fringe. “Garrus, what were you thinking?”
“I thought I saw dad, and...” He didn't get to finish his sentence, as mama sighed, patting his head.
“It would be your father, I see.” Mama gently stroked his cheek. “Well, Garrus, I think you owe that lady a thank you.”
“Thank you,” he mumbled.
“No problem, little man.” She ruffled his fringe, and Garrus wanted the Citadel street to open up and swallow him whole because Nausicaa and mama both thought he was a baby and he wasn't, he wasn't at all; he was a brave little soldier, he had to be. “You and your family are welcome to come back to the shop, but make sure you come with a parent next time, okay?”
“Excuse me, ma'am,” the turian from the shop said, and mama sighed as he came closer. “I think you better call C-SEC before you hand those children over.”
“What? Why?” Nausicaa asked.
“I see you are not an expert on my people,” the turian said, and gently placed a hand on Garrus' back. Garrus squirmed, uncomfortable.
“You see, this landica is a bareface – and this cub has his marks drawn on, as you can see.”
“My children were born on Palaven,” mama said, “Cipritine.”
“Ah, but, miss, if they are your children, why is it this youngster has the Cipritine's marks and a homeworld accent when his mother is clearly from the outer colonies?” The turian sniffed. “Or perhaps… shipborn.”
“Where I was born is no business of yours.”
Nausicaa looked uncertain. “Garrus, is this your mom?”
“Yes.” Garrus blinked. He and mama looked almost exactly the same and he couldn't understand how the other turian wouldn't see that. Why would they suspect mama wasn’t his mama? It made no sense.
“Sounds like proof enough to me,” Nausicaa said gently lowering him to the ground.
“I'm merely suggesting we involve C-SEC as a security measure, ma'am. You understand, don’t you, ma'am? If these are your children, a simple DNA test done at the station should confirm it.”
“But this is my mama,” Garrus said, mandibles flapping in distress. “And we're already going to C-SEC.”
“Now young one, it's very easy to get confused...”
“You're frightening my son.” Mama shoved past the turian from the shop and grabbed Garrus, who immediately latched onto her cowl. He didn't want to have to go get a test.
“Now, we are going to go to C-SEC, and if you have any problems with that, I advise you to write my husband, Detective Vakarian.”
The turian backed away, muttering. “Apologies, ma'am, but with barefaces, well, one doesn't...”
“Right.” Mama reached out and grabbed his hand, gently moving him forward.
“Uhm, have a nice day, Garrus and family!” Nausicaa called as mama walked off, and Garrus felt more confused than ever.
Mama moved toward the skycars.
“What were you thinking, Garrus?” Mama sounded tired, and his guts twisted into funny balls, because he knew that he'd made mama sad again.
“I thought... I thought I saw papa,” he mumbled. Mama went still and the little balls of fear ping ponged all over his belly, and he felt them in his eyes and his hands and even in his feet. But then mama moved forward, and guided him toward a bright orange skycar that reminded him of the sky back on Palaven.
She opened the door and he watched with a sinking stomach as she put Solana in the first of two baby seats. Solana stirred and gave off a sharp cry as mama put her in the seat and mama said another bad word, the one that they never even said on the holo-shows, and rubbed her tummy. “Quiet, tiny star.”
Sol looked at mama with big wet eyes and mama kissed her head. “Brave girl.”
Mama then grabbed his hand and took him to the other side of the sky-car and lifted him into the second seat. Knowing it would do little good, he sat down without resistance and let mama buckle him in.
“I... I'm sorry, mama,” he whispered. “I just...”
“I know, little narkin.” Mama sighed and leaned in. “Although I do not know why you would think you saw your papa in a toy store, of all things.”
“I thought maybe... maybe he was late because he was getting us presents, mama.” His mandibles pulled forward. “I thought maybe if papa loved us, he'd want to get us surprises and he couldn't decide and...”
“Enough, Garrus.” Mama leaned down, butted her head against his own and he pulled his hands tight to her mandibles as she purred a sub-vocal melody.
“Are you... are you mad at me, mama?”
“No, Garrus,” she said, putting her hands on his mandibles in return. “I’m just disappointed that you ran off on me. You know your father's stories about the Citadel, Garrus. I don't ever want to think about you becoming one.”
“I'm sorry, mama.”
“I know, little star.” She got up and walked around to the front of the sky car, but glanced back at him before starting it. “Now sing for your sister, okay?”
“Okay.” He looked over at Sol and warbled a soft sub-tonal melody. It was the first one he had learned, one mama had taught him for the day the baby came home and Garrus sang for her as loud as he could. Sol didn't cry, not even when sirens wailed outside, just stared at him with big, wet eyes.
- - -
Mama held his hand as they went down the long, slow elevator. Garrus knew that the elevators were old, really old, and the creaking noises sounded like they had been around just as long as the Citadel had.
He was a little disappointed that they had the elevator to themselves, but he watched with delight as he saw all kinds of different C-SEC officers as they sank down the building: officers talking to other officers, officers heading toward a room full of guns; officers getting kafa from a machine. Near the ground floor he even saw an officer leading an asari in handcuffs! He looked hard to see if any of them were papa – maybe papa hadn't come because he had to help another C-SEC officer, but none of them had papa's blue lines.
The elevator made a soft little chime and the doors opened, and mama pulled him behind her as she strode through a big, fancy floor. There were a lot less people than on the ground floor. There were many little offices for detectives, with a big metal desk in front of all the offices. It had the C-SEC logo on it, which Garrus decided was super cool.
He wondered which one was papa’s. He bet papa had a really big office, because papa was an important C-SEC detective and everyone knew big cases needed big offices.
Mama steered them away from the offices, toward a waiting area. A salarian glared at them from over at what smelled like a kaffa machine.
“Excuse me, sir, is Detective Vakarian in?”
The salarian made a few clacks on his omni-board, and nodded. “Yes. May I tell him who wishes to see him?”
Mama's hand tightened on Garrus own, and Garrus looked up to see her mandibles pulled tight to her jaw. “His wife.”
“Oh, I— oh, uhm...”
“Do you mind watching my children for a minute while I talk to my husband?” Mama gave the Salarian her sharpest smile, a wide spread of her mandibles. “Family emergency.”
“Uhm, sure? Ma'am. I erm, think that would be alright.” Garrus hid behind his mother, his mandibles pulled tight to his jaw. Mama lifted him up into one of the seats and Garrus grumbled, warbling discomfort leaking through his sub-vocals.
“Stay here, Garrus.”
“Mama, I want to see papa.” It didn't seem fair that mama would leave him behind when he was this close to papa, and besides, he didn't like the way that the Salarian was looking at him.
“I know, son.” Mama reached up and touched his chin. “You'll see papa in a couple minutes, okay? Mama just wants to make sure he's in his office and to talk to him about grown up stuff first.”
“Do you have to leave, mama?” he whispered.
“Oh, Garrus,” mama said, and glided her mandibles down his forehead to his forehead. “Mama is just going to talk to papa and bring him out to see you, okay? It'll just be a minute. I promise.”
Garrus nodded, carefully folding his arms over his legs.
Mama smiled before turning back toward the salarian. She gently rocked Sol in her babyseat as she put her on the countertop; Sol's eyes stayed shut, and she sighed contentedly.
“She's not feeling too well, so try not to wake her up,” mama said, and the salarian looked down, his expression somewhat... panicked.
“Oh. Oh, uhm, oh. Will be...very careful. Careful, yes.”
The salarian looked at him, and Garrus pulled himself into a ball and closed his eyes. He could stay still, and if he did, maybe papa would think he was a good soldier like the Pale Spectre, even if he'd gone to check the ships.
He looked around. The waiting area kind of reminded him of Dr. Erulus' office, except there were no toys, and not even any boring baby books.
The comm on the desk rang, and Garrus heard Sol scream the second the salarian picked it up.
“H-H-ello?” Sol yowled loud enough he could barely hear the salarian, and evidently the person who had called couldn't, either. “So sorry, cannot hear you. Please repeat?” Garrus winced as Sol screamed louder and covered his ears, but then he remembered that he might not hear mama and papa if they called for him.
“Tiberius!” He heard mama say as the door swung shut, but he missed any response from his father, which was drowned out by Sol and the salarian.
“S-s-s-s-orry but cannot do that. Against law to 'shoot the whelp to shut it up', s-s-s-sir,” the Salarian said, rolling his eyes as he rocked Sol's baby boat back and forth. “ Y-Yes, sir, know full well C-SEC is not babysitting service...”
The receptionist glanced coolly towards papa's door and went back to playing with Sol, who continued to cry. Garrus decided that he did not like this, not one bit.
“Mama?” he shouted. “Papa?”
“No, sir, so sorry sir, but Detective Vakarian is n-n-not available at the moment. N--n-o, sir, no “spectre” override exists.”
“Mama?” Garrus shouted.
Sol screamed, but otherwise there was no reply.
Garrus had a funny feeling in his belly, the kind he got when he felt his teacher stare at him when he forgot the year of the invasion of Cipritrine or the way mama looked at him when he said he wanted to go live with papa.
“C-ca-n transfer you to Vakarian, but s-s-s-ir but he won't pick-- oh, okay, okay.” The salarian pressed a button, but Garrus didn't hear anything, and the twisty feeling in his stomach plunged down into his toes.
He knew mama had said not to move, but that was before mama had shouted and there had been no answer and someone on the phone had been threatening papa and maybe they were in danger and papa had always said that timing was important.
Garrus snuck away from the chair and the salarian didn't stop him, still arguing with whoever was on the phone.
He was only going to see if mama and papa were alright, and then he was going to go right back to wait if everything was OK, and if it wasn't, well, he'd track down a policeman and papa and mama would think he was a hero!
“S-s-sir, afraid you, er, must—must make such a request in person...” the salarian droned on as he hastily rocked Solana, who ignored him.
Garrus quietly snuck up to the door mama had gone in, just like the Pale Spectre did when he was busting pirates in their hideouts. It was mostly closed, but just like the Pale Spectre's enemies, the door had been left just a bit ajar, where he could listen to the conversation.
Papa and mama were standing together, papa leaning against his desk, arms folded; mama was glaring at the floor, her hands balled into fists.
“We can't keep doing this, Tiberius,” mama was saying. “I'm tired of being the only one with the kids all the time.”
“You have your duties, Sapientia, as I have mine.” Papa sighed and reached an arm out, touching mama's arm, and mama jerked back.
“Your duty today was to pick up your family! Not arrest some fucking criminal. You were supposed to take today off.”
“What am I supposed to do when some human shoots a man in front of me, dulcissima? Call backup that won't be there for hours?”
“Call your family and inform them that you might be late!” Mama stomped her foot. “Don't just go radio silent and then expect us not to be worried! You had a duty to let us know what was going on, and you left us in the dark!”
“I didn't want to worry you, and it did not seem appropriate for the children.”
“Yeah, well, instead your son followed your ghost through the Citadel today. Everywhere we went, Tiberius, he wanted to know if you were there, if you were coming. He even ran off into a toy store because he thought maybe you might be late because you were buying him toys because if you were buying toys then maybe you loved him. That's what he told me, Tiberius.”
Papa left his desk, walking toward his window. “He is just a boy. Boys can be foolish.”
“It's not just that, Tiberius.” Mama sighed. “He's getting older, and he notices you're not around like his friends’ fathers are. He's worried that you won't come home. ”
Garrus' mandibles fluttered against his jaw, and he clamped them to his chin. Mama and papa were fighting and Garrus hated when mama and papa fought.
“Don't be ridiculous. I've taken more time off than I should, really; once every six months is more than a lot of officers get. Be honest now: is this Garrus you're concerned for, or you, Sapientia?”
“Both!” Mama slammed her fist down on papa's desk and Garrus winced. Mama was really mad. “How long were we going to do this, Tiberius? A year after Garrus was born? Maybe two?”
“You know I can't just walk away from my position. You know with Solana that we cannot afford for both of us to be out of a job.”
“Don't you dare blame your daughter for your position at C-SEC. Don't you fucking dare.”
Garrus gasped, but neither mama nor papa looked toward him, their gazes locked together. Neither was saying anything and Garrus felt so bad in his stomach that he wondered if maybe he had gotten sick as well.
“I'm not saying I regret having her,” papa said softly.
“No, that's not the fucking point, Tiberius!” Mama walked toward him, then back toward the desk. “You have two children, and you've spend more time with your job than you have with either of them. I'm tired of being a single mother, Tiberius!”
“You are not a—”
“Of course,” mama growled. “Yes, I am married to their father, who conveniently is never around. Trust me, I don't get to forget my choice of husband when security guards pull us over because they think this bareface landica might have stolen a marked child.”
“Or perhaps you'd understand how isolated I feel when Garrus' teacher sends home a pamphlet about special help for single-parent households?”
“Or perhaps, perhaps, you could understand how embarrassing it is when your mother asks me if you're having an affair because she hasn't seen you in so long?”
Papa said nothing, but walked toward mama and put his hand on hers.
“I'm so tired, Tiberius,” she said, and turned toward the door.
Garrus didn't want to go, but mama was heading toward his hiding spot, and he knew he would be discovered if he stayed long.
Garrus sprinted away, just as he heard the Salarian crying: “Oh! Oh n-n-n-o, oh no.”
The Salarian had noticed his absence, and he had seconds to sneak back into the room.
“Oh n-n-n-o. Must find child. Vakarian will not be pleased.”
Garrus broke into a run, sneaking in behind the Salarian and hiding behind the big desk for a second to catch his breath.
“Worse than kaffa cup incident. Cousin Erku will never let this go.”
“I'm here!” he said, and the Salarian opened his mouth and he knew that he was going to call Garrus on his absence but then papa's door opened. The salarian's mouth pulled shut as he turned to the door and mama came out, papa trailing at her heels.
“Vakarian, s-s-s-sir!” the Salarian barked, and Garrus instantly snapped to attention, saluting just like papa had taught him.
“At ease, Officer,” papa said, then looked down toward him. “And you too, my little soldier.”
Garrus beamed at that. At least papa sounded happy to see him.
Mama ignored papa and knelt down and stroked his fringe. “Garrus, mama is going to take Sol to a doctor, okay?”
“Okay, mama.” He pulled his mandibles back toward his chin with a resounding clack; he hadn't wanted to go to the doctor's office. “Am I going to have to see the doctor, too?”
“No, Garrus,” mama chuckled. “I thought maybe you might like to spend some time with papa while Sol and I are at the doctor's.”
Papa's mandibles flared out and he opened his mouth, but Garrus quickly cut him off before he could say anything.
“Wait, I can help papa catch criminals?” Garrus' mandibles clattered against his chin. Maybe if he stayed with papa, they could catch all the bad guys, and then papa would never need to leave Palaven again!
“Garrus...” papa trailed off, looking at mama, but neither said anything, and Garrus’ stomach felt weird again because he thought papa was going to say he had to go with mama anyway. “Why don't you go sit in my office, Garrus? I need to discuss something with your mother.”
“Okay, papa!” Garrus said and ran back toward the office, but then mama shouted not to run, and so he walked the last few steps, but it was hard.
He opened the door and slipped inside, looking around the office now that he had time to study it. It was full of cool papa things: papa's war medals and other shiny trinkets that he didn't recognize. It was large, and the chair at papa's desk – padded for a turian – looked amazing.
Garrus hesitantly reached up and pulled himself into the chair. Papa had said that he could sit so it wasn't wrong to sit in papa's chair, right?
As he jumped into it the chair moved, and Garrus laughed. He put his hands on the table and pushed it back, until he was able to twirl, and every time he hit the table he went faster and faster. He wondered if this would be what it would feel like when he took piloting courses during basic.
He heard the door open and papa laughed, a deep belly laugh. “There goes my little pilot,” he said, and Garrus wondered if pilots were as cool as a policeman or a spectre.
Papa picked him up and even though Garrus was still a little mad about not getting picked up at the station, he supposed that he shouldn't complain, because if he complained maybe papa wouldn't let him come here again and papa's office was really cool. And if papa had had to catch a criminal well that didn't mean he didn't love Garrus too, right?
“Garrus, why don't you sit with papa while he does his work? Perhaps you could draw me a picture?”
Garrus's mandibles dipped down in dismay. He doubted that making pictures would stop criminals, but maybe if he watched papa work, he might be able to help.
“Can I hang it up in your office, papa?”
“Sure,” papa said, and then papa swung him around into his lap as he sat down.
Papa handed him a couple of markers and a piece of paper and booted up a video to watch. Garrus tried to pay attention, but the vids were boring – lots of guys talking about sand. Who cared about sand? Sand was stupid. Palaven had lots of sand. He concentrated on drawing a picture as he thought about the video; he would do a family portrait, he thought, and then papa could have a picture of the entire family for his office because he didn't have one and Garrus knew if Papa was anything like him, then he'd want a picture of Garrus and mama and even Sol so he could remember them when he missed them. Garrus had lots of pictures he'd drawn of papa at home, and sometimes they made him feel a little bit better.
“Hey papa?” he asked.
“If they wanted sand so badly, why don't they go to Moria Lake?” Moria Lake was full of it; everyone knew that. Garrus went there with mommy, sometimes. He wasn't allowed to lately, though, not after he'd buried Sol half-way into the sand. Mommy had been mad, but it wasn't fair! Sol was just a stupid baby and it wasn't like he'd hurt her. He'd just wanted to see if she'd turn the same color as the sand like the petrucks did!
He'd thought as soon as he'd said Moria Lake that maybe papa would be mad that he said it – he remembered papa on the vid-com, his mandibles pulled tight to his jaw as he said you need to be nice to your sister – but papa just laughed, and bent down to touch foreheads with Garrus. Garrus almost floated up to the Citadel then.
“I'm afraid you'll find it's a different type of sand, little one. One Moria Lake will never supply, I hope.” Papa hesitated a minute, then stroked Garrus' fringe, and even if Garrus knew he was too old to have his head petted, he was glad papa liked his idea. “But thank you for the help.”
“You're welcome,” Garrus said; he carefully sketched papa's C-SEC armor, and made sure to add the little sign that papa had on his armor. He loved papa, and he wished he could stay on the Citadel forever.
He paused, putting down his pen. Maybe that was the solution. Maybe papa had to work so hard because there was no one helping them.
“Papa?” Garrus asked.
“Yes?” Papa looked down at him and paused the video. “What is it?”
“Can I stay on the Citadel with you?” he asked. Papa’s brow-plates raised.
“We could be good guys together, papa! I'll help you take down the bad guys, and we'll go pow pow, and then when they're all gone, we'll be able to go back to Cipritine and stay forever with mama and Sol and no one will ever have to leave, never ever! And you can tuck me and Sol into bed every night and we wake up we can have new adventures every day, papa!”
Papa said nothing, the only sign that he had heard Garrus being his brow-plates, which were still raised as he sat there, blinking. Garrus beamed. He knew papa was giving his plan a lot of thought, because papa's mandibles twitched the way they did whenever Garrus got a really good idea about what things to put in breakfast sandwiches or whenever Garrus asked if he could shoot papa's gun yet.
Finally, papa got up and put him down in the chair, looking at him, and Garrus' stomach plunged straight back to his feet again because papa hadn't said anything at all to his idea and it was a really good one.
Papa finally opened his mouth, and Garrus knew he was going to say it was ok, that Garrus was going to live with him on the Citadel and everything would be fine, but then a loud beeping noise came out of papa's terminal, and papa turned away from him.
“Vakarian.” Papa stood ramrod straight and leaned forward, and Garrus' mandibles dipped into a frown because suddenly papa didn't seem interested in him anymore.
“Sir, we need you down here. The prisoner you brought in this morning is getting riled up, keeps saying something about 'the Harbinger is approaching'” and insisting we let him out.”
“I'll be right there,” papa said, and Garrus felt his mandibles droop even further.
“Garrus, I need to check with the officer. Stay in the chair, be good, and I will get you a treat.”
He put Garrus down and left of the room, fast, before Garrus could even say it was okay.
This time Garrus didn't dare move; he'd already gotten in trouble once and it was almost twice and he wasn't going to try to make it three times. Besides, papa said he would get him a treat and treats were good.
Instead, he clasped his hands and prayed to the spirits that papa would miss him so much that he'd gone off to tell the C-SEC boss that he was leaving forever, and then he'd grab Garrus and they'd run home with mama and Sol. And when they got home, he'd play all the games Garrus wanted to play and promise that he'd never, ever leave Garrus again. And then, when Garrus was tired, papa would tuck him into bed and promise he'd be there in the morning and then he would be.
His prayer completed, Garrus worked on finishing the picture for papa. He drew mama, and tried to make her super pretty and smiling so papa would remember how nice and happy she was. And he drew Sol, and Sol was smiling too, and then he worked on drawing himself, but he wasn't sure how he should make himself look.
As he was debating smiley face or frowney face, the door opened and Garrus turned toward it, hoping that the spirits had answered his prayers, but it wasn't papa who had entered.
Another turian stormed into the door, but he wasn't dressed like a police officer. His outfit – black, long – was definitely military (he knew, because the Pale Spectre always wore outfits like that when he went to the Citadel), but it wasn't until he turned and Garrus saw his gun and he knew, exactly, why the man was here.
It was a spectre. Had papa sent in a specter for him? He nearly squealed with excitement; papa was the best! Meeting a spectre was way better than anything Alyseris’ and Roblis' fathers did. They never got to meet a spectre.
The spectre didn't say anything – of course he didn't, he was a spectre. He had a gun with three stars on it, and that was a top of the line spectre gun. Garrus knew; he'd memorized all the pictures in the book on spectres mama had picked up for him.
(Papa had seen it and frowned, but Garrus knew it was only because papa was frustrated that they wouldn't leave him any bad guys.)
And it was a turian spectre, just like him! Except that this spectre was Menae-pale and thin, with biotic energy that pulsed through the room and made Garrus' mouth taste funny. He looked a lot like the Pale Spectre, and Garrus wondered if maybe he was.
“Hi,” Garrus said, and the spectre whirled around toward him, his hand going toward his pistol until he saw it was Garrus.
“Who are you?” he said. He sounded confused, but maybe papa had wanted it to be a surprise for him, too.
“I'm Garrus!” Garrus spread his mandibles wide, wide enough so that the Pale Spectre could see his teeth. “Who are you?”
“That's... not your concern,” the spectre said, and Garrus thought then that it must be the Pale Spectre because only the Pale Spectre would have a secret identity. “Where is Detective Vakarian?”
“Oh,” Garurs said, then paused. He knew it was bad to tell strangers that his parents weren't around, but on the other hand, if this was the Pale Spectre he was a spectre and therefore a policeman and mama always said you should be honest with policemen.
“He should be back in a second.” Garrus looked at the spectre's weaponry, hanging from his belt.
The pale spectre snorted and sat down in the chair on the other side of Papa V's chair. “Is C-SEC run by children these days? I had thought it was just incompetents.”
Garrus wasn't sure what incompetents were, but he hoped it meant that papa and he could be together.
“I dunno,” he said.
The Pale Spectre shook his head. “Tell me, child, is there a reason C-Sec seems to have decided to become a playground today?” The Pale Spectre said. He sounded disappointed, but Garrus bet it was because he wasn't out busting bad guys with his awesome spectre gun. Garrus wondered if it fired nets, just like on the show.
“I dunno….” Garrus looked at the Pale Spectre's belt. “Can I see your gun?”
The spectre looked at him with his browplates raised. “That is...an unusual request.”
“Please?” He leaned forward. “I've never seen a spectre's gun before.”
The Pale Spectre sat down and pulled his pistol off. “How do you know this is a spectre's gun, child?”
“'Cuz it's got three stars.” Garrus pointed to the spectre stamp with three stars inside of a wide V on the grip. “One for Palaven, one for Thessia, one for Sur'Kesh. Just like the Pale Spectre’s!”
“While that is correct, you are far too old to believe in that awful gibberish,” the Pale Spectre sighed, but Garrus didn't understand.
“The Pale Spectre helps people and protects people,” he said, frowning. “That's not gibberish.” After all, even if he wasn't the Pale Spectre this man was obviously a fan, judging by the outfit.
“I'm surprised your parents let you watch such rubbish.”
“Well, papa doesn't like it, but mama does, mama and I watch every episode together.” Garrus puffed out his chest with pride.
“Then your mother has poor taste as well.”
“She says the Pale Spectre is a very good role model, because he helps people and he's a bareface.” Garrus waved the picture he'd drawn toward the man, who watched it with a vague sort of disinterest. “My mama's a bareface too, and she says that—”
The Spectre held his hand up. “Alright, cub. Enough of your yammering.”
Garrus stopped and sat down, unsure of what to do. The man unbuckled something from his belt, and Garrus blinked when the Pale Spectre threw his holstered gun onto the table. “This is an HMWP. Still a prototype.”
“Oh wow.” It looked exactly like the Pale Spectre's gun. “Can I hold it?”
The spectre smiled, but there was something about it that made him a bit afraid, something that reminded him a bit too much of the narkins mama always threatened would eat him if stayed in the water after dark. “You're far too young to be able to replace something this expensive, child. And it's far too dangerous a weapon for someone untrained to handle it.”
“Oh.” He wasn't sure what that meant, but he knew that the Pale Spectre did not want to show him. He leaned forward, looking carefully at the gun. “What's the bump on the top?”
“A scope.” The spectre picked it up and put it under his eye like he was going to use the gun. Garrus leaned forward, desperate for a better look.
He got as far as touching the very edge of it when the door opened, but he paid no attention to that. Who cared about a door when the Pale Spectre let him see his gun? He didn't even look toward papa until papa picked him up, throwing him under his arm.
“What the hell are you doing?” papa sounded angry and Garrus warbled in confusion. It wasn't like the Pale Spectre would hurt him: he wasn't one of the bad guys. “Pointing a gun at my son?”
“Ah, Detective Vakarian. I've been waiting for you. I understand you arrested a criminal I have been following for a very, very long time. I need you to release Equbia Maudus,” the Pale Spectre said, putting his gun back on his belt and folding his arms.
“You want me to do you a favor after you pulled a gun on my son?”
“I'm a spectre. Understand that this request is merely a formality. As far as your son goes, perhaps you should be careful about leaving him alone with strangers if you are so afraid of him learning anything.”
“Go to hell.” Papa snarled. “And take Maudus with you. Just don't ever, ever point a gun at my son again.”
“...Understood.” The Pale Spectre left without a backwards glance, and papa held him just a bit tighter until the door shut.
When the Pale Spectre was gone, papa put Garrus back down on his lap and looked down at him sternly like Garrus had done something wrong.
“What were you thinking, boy?”
“I wanted to talk to the Pale Spectre, papa.” Garrus' mandibles quivered. “He asked me where you were, and I—”
“You should have said nothing, Garrus,” Papa frowned. “Don't you realize what he is?”
“A spectre?” Garrus frowned. “If he's a spectre, he's a good guy, right?”
Papa's mandibles dipped low, flapping softly against his jaw. “I wish that were true, little one.”
“But spectres protect people, papa.” Garrus shook his head. “That's what they do. They protect everybody.”
“It's what they're supposed to do, but, Garrus...” Papa sighed, and stroked Garrus' head, and sounded sad. “They have far more power than they should, and sometimes, power corrupts them.”
Garrus nodded, but didn't really understand what papa meant. How could power corrupt? If Garrus had powers, he would only use them for good things, like stopping bad guys and helping little old ladies cross the street and making sure Palaven was never, ever invaded, ever.
“That man could have shot you, Garrus. Could have shot you and you would have died and I could have done nothing to stop it. Do you understand how scary that is, my son? How much power he would have to make you disappear?”
Garrus frowned. The Pale Spectre would never make anyone disappear, he knew that like he knew papa would catch all the criminals on the Citadel. And he'd shown Garrus his gun, just like he'd asked, and he didn't understand why papa was saying such scary things.
“He's a turian, papa.” Garrus mandibles clattered against his jaw as he reached for a marker. “Turians are always supposed to do their duty, right?”
“Yes, little one.” Papa patted his shoulder. “But often spectres – even turian spectres – chase their own vendettas. It's easy to lose track of justice when you're above the law.”
Garrus nodded, though he didn't really understand. Laws were what was right and criminals were wrong. And the Pale Spectre always fought for the ‘right’ things so Garrus didn't understand why papa would ever feel he might do something bad.
Papa patted his head after he didn't ask any questions and went back to his video about sand. Garrus continued his picture, finishing mama, Sapi, and himself, and then frowned. He bet papa wouldn't find this picture interesting enough to hang with his other ones: papa's office was full of pictures of his old fire team, his old police brigade. None of them were of his family which must mean papa didn't feel family pictures were too interesting.
Garrus would make his picture so interesting papa would have no choice but to put it up, he vowed. Picking up one of papa's black markers, Garrus started drawing in the Pale Spectre. Papa didn't like spectres much but maybe if he helped show that the Spectre and his cool gun could fix things, then papa might change his mind, at least about this one.
“How is your picture coming, Garrus?” papa asked, eyes still focused on his vid screen.
“Almost done.” He made sure to add the three stars to the spectres gun – it was important! – and then he went about filling in the bad guys. He wasn't sure what, exactly, would be best to put down for the enemies – humans were scary, so he went for that, putting angled ships filled with strange peachy and brown bodies with big brows and heavy guns.
A few more dashes of color and the background was filled in and Garrus was done.
“I'm done, papa!”
“What did you draw, little sun?” papa said, laughing, but he stopped when he saw the picture. “Garrus, what is this?”
“That's you.” He pointed to papa, and beamed. “And that's your gun, the TR-242X.” He'd read that in an article mama printed off about C-SEC, how all officers had that gun. He looked at papa, who nodded, and he beamed. He'd made papa proud!
“And that's mama, and she's holding Sol.” He waved his hands toward the picture, where both were grinning.
“And me.” Garrus pointed to himself, his own grin plastered across his mandibles, as he stood between papa and the Pale Spectre.
“And who is this?” papa asked, pointing at the Pale Spectre. “It looks like Arterius.”
“That's the Pale Spectre.” Garrus grinned, “And he's come to help you save us from the bad humans! Just like on the holo-show!”
“Garrus...” Papa's mandibles clacked. “We just talked about this. Spectres are not your friends.”
Garrus frowned. He'd worked hard on the picture. “But papa, the Pale Spectre...”
“Doesn't exist. And if he did, Arterius would be far from it.” Papa tapped the paper, where the Pale Spectre – or Arterius, as papa kept calling him, maybe that was his real name – was pointing his gun. “Look at his face, Garrus. Do you know what's missing?”
Garrus frowned. Arterius was missing his marks, but Garrus didn't know what that had to do with anything.
“He's barefaced, papa?”
“Yes. Garrus, while it is often used as a means to hurt people just because they lack the markings, there are some turians who embody everything the term 'bareface' means – and spectres like Arterius are one of them. They skip their responsibilities, never stay in the same place long enough to earn their marks in any way. Spectres like that embody everything wrong in our justice system, Garrus. Do you understand?”
“But mama—” Garrus’ gut churned. Papa kept saying spectres weren't to be trusted, but Garrus knew mama wouldn't approve of the Pale Spectre if he wasn't someone who was a good guy.
Papa looked down at him, face stern. “Your mother is one of the few good ones, Garrus. But for most turians, barefaces rarely mean anything good. I don't want you to trust one of them unless you know they're like your mother. Is that understood?”
“...Yes, papa.” Papa nodded and went back to looking through documents on his omni, and Garrus stared at his picture.
“...Do you like my picture, papa?”
“What? Hmm, oh, it's fine,” papa said, his eyes never leaving the screen of his omni-tool.
- - -
Garrus worked hard on a second picture, one just for mama of the Pale Spectre and him and mama, because he knew papa had to be wrong, he had to be. Even if papa was a policeman, there were something things that he just didn't get right.
He was just putting the finishing touches on it when he heard the door open – a small swipe of blue paint across both mama and the Pale Spectre's cheeks. If being barefaced was a bad thing, then surely giving some of his markings to mama and the Pale Spectre was justice. While papa was focused on his work, Garrus picked up the blue marker, debating how to carry it with him – he would give it back later, but he had a Very Important Idea and surely papa wouldn't mind him using it when it would help mama?
“Hello, little sun,” mama said, and Garrus looked up and grinned, mandibles spreading wide. “Mama!”
Garrus quickly rolled up the blue marker into his picture. He tried to get down, but it was too far.
Papa, fortunately, understood and shifted him to the ground and he ran towards her.
“Mama!” He grinnned. “I made you a present!”
“Oh, I can't wait to see it.” Mama grinned.
“Is Sol okay, mama?”
“She is fine,” mama said, as papa stood up and walked over to them. “Her aural canals were filled with liquid from the pressurization of the shuttle, but she should be fine now.”
Mama knelt down with Sol so Garrus could see her, and Sol chittered at him. He cautiously put one talon up to her keel, taking care not to put it anywhere near his mouth, and Sol's tiny hand caught his own. Garrus grinned.
“I'm glad you, ah, got that seen too, Sapientia.” Papa placed his hands on Garrus' back. “I trust you shall be taking this one back as well?”
Mama looked up at papa with an angry glance for just a second, but before Garrus could ask what he had done wrong, mama looked at him and smiled, her mandibles dipping so low they nearly grazed his mouth. “Of course.”
She looked up at papa. “I trust you'll be meeting us for dinner?”
“Of course,” papa said. “You know the passcode for the apartment, yes?”
“Yes. We'll call the office if we have any difficulties,” mama said.
Papa turned and went back to his desk, immediately going back to his paperwork.
“Bye, papa,” Garrus said. He wanted to ask for a hug, but big boys didn't do that, so he didn't.
His father nodded, but then mama said “Tiberius,” and papa looked up, surprised.
“Ah, bye little one. I'll see you in a couple hours.”
Garrus waved as they left, and papa gave him a quick salute before going back to his paperwork.
- - -
Garrus kept his paper tightly folded as mama navigated the Citadel to Tayseri, and even all the way up the stairs as mama opened the door to the apartment. It was nice, a lot like the Citadel, and there were even a few pictures of him and Sol and mama here. Mama was the only bareface in any of the pictures, but Garrus knew once he had a chance, he would change all that.
He waited patiently until mama had put Sol down before he revealed his master plan.
“Mama! Mama, do you want your present?”
Mama grinned and sat next to him on the couch. “Of course, Garrus”
He grinned and unfurled his artwork. The blue marker went clattering to the floor but Garrus paid it no mind, because he wanted to see mama's face.
Mama leaned over, studying it intently. “Oooh, Garrus, what have you drawn me?”
She pointed toward the small figure near the bottom of the page. “Is this you, little sun?”
“Yes, mama!” He grinned.
“But who are the other two, Garrus?” Mama frowned. “Is this aunt Bellona?”
“No, mama! This one is you, and that's the Pale Spectre.”
“Oh, but Garrus...You've put paint on our faces.” Mama laughed, but it was a high-pitched kind of laugh, the kind that hurt his ears a bit. “That's not quite right.”
“Yes it is!” Garrus carefully pulled out the blue pen. “I was talking with papa and papa said bad guys don't stay in one place long enough to get marks and that's why they're called barefaces and that mama shouldn't be a bareface because mama isn't a bad guy.”
“So I brought this pen home from papa's office mama, and I can put marks on you, like mine! Then everyone will know you're my mama and no one will treat you bad, ever again!” He wished he could give marks to the Pale Specre, too; maybe someday they'd meet again and he would.
“I've been practicing putting on the marks, mama!” Garrus grinned. “I know I could draw them straight for you, mama, and papa will be so surprised!”
“Garrus...” Mama swept him into a tight hug.
“Please let me draw them on you, mama.” He muttered into her cowl. “I don't want other people to think of you as a bad guy.”
“Oh, my little sun.” Mama hugged him tightly. “If only such things were possible.”
“Of course they are, mama!” He grinned, and uncapped the marker. “Please let me, please?”
“I'm sorry, Garrus.” Mama gently picked up the cap and put it back on his marker. “But only the government can give marks, and mama has a few more years to wait.”
“Why can't I give them, mama?” Garrus frowned. It didn't seem right that good people like his mama had to wait while bad guys were commiting bad acts. He bet if they wanted to draw marks they would just do it. Why didn't the law protect people like mama?
“I wish I knew, Garrus.” Mama smiled and ran a hand down his fringe. “But thank you, it was a very lovely gift. And I am sure the Pale Spectre would have appreciated it, too.”
“Yeah, I wish I had a chance to show him it before he left today.”
“I saw him, mama!” Garrus warbled excitedly. “He came into papa's office and he asked to see papa and I said he's not here and he sat with me and talked to me!”
“Wait – you were alone?”
“Yeah, papa left for a minutes because another policeman wanted to talk to him about work and then the Pale Specter came in, mama.”
“I...don't think it was actually the Pale Spectre, Garrus.” Mama smiled. “Did he give you his name?”
“No, he was a secret agent on business but papa called him Arterius.”
“Oh, I see.” Mama said, voice calm. “And did he treat you... okay?”
“Yeah, mama! It was really fun!” Garrus grinned. “I wish you were there to meet him, mama!”
“Me too,” mama frowned. “But I don't like you being alone like that. I'm going to talk to your father about it.”
“Oh.” Garrus said, and frowned. He was old enough, he knew he was.
“Now,” mama ruffled his fringe. “Let's start making dinner so papa can come home to a nice warm, supper, alright?”
Garrus nodded, and carefully put the marker and paper down on the desk.
He helped mama chop vegetables, and then he watched her cook them, and then he helped her eat them.
And several hours later, he helped mama put papa's dinner in a little plastic container.
Mama put him to bed on the couch. “Goodnight, little star. Sleep well.”
Garrus dreamed of barefaces, of spectres, and of mama, and how one day he'd make the universe right for all of them.