You taught me the courage of stars before you left
How light carries on endlessly, even after death
With shortness of breath, you explained the infinite
How rare and beautiful it is to even exist
Saturn by Sleeping At Last
The Normandy Elect, as they were now titled, had filed into the Normandy with the appropriate air of a funeral procession. Many of them were in official uniforms or best dress; the Alliance members were in their dress blues, and Joker looked the most uncomfortable about it.
Even EDI was wearing Alliance dress blues. When met with confused or surprised expressions, she stated simply, "Technically they reinstated me during the Normandy retrofits. I'm recognized as an Alliance official now."
"And I'm pretty sure we can request anything from Hackett right now and get it," Joker said with a grin.
Tali wore regal quarian garb (still in an envirosuit but with less dependency each day), Liara was in a beautiful lavender gown, and even Wrex was dressed up in something of the ancient krogan style that Bakara had sent him from Tuchanka. Wrex wasn't one to spend time mourning fallen comrades, but putting himself at the forefront of the ceremony was beneficial to the krogan's public image. Garrus was in formal turian clothes, feeling that made more sense than any kind of uniform. The fabric was mostly black with highlights of blue that matched his face plates, and gold stitching. He'd gotten it just for fun before the Reapers arrived; Shepard had helped him pick it out.
The memorial began while the Normandy was still at the military docks, far removed from much of anything else. They watched it together in the comm room, formal and defeated, like statues.
Councilor Tevos opened the ceremony as the highest Citadel executive who survived the Cynosure. She addressed all those in the galaxy tuned in to the moment and said there was not adequate words to capture all she wished to at this event, and she was right; the emotions were all across the board from loss to pride. But this wasn't a time for lengthy briefings. It was time to "acknowledge the past and embrace the future". She didn't say much before giving the cue for the Normandy to bring itself in.
Since so much of the Citadel was having to be rebuilt, they'd decided to center most of the bureaucratic buildings as close to the Crucible as possible. There was ongoing deliberations about what to do with the device itself, but no resources to devote towards it yet.
The Normandy glided over the landscape, varying degrees of restructuring laid out like a randomized map, until you got to the areas being turned into the embassy and the New Presidium. A massive courtyard was laid out right in the middle of the most established buildings; Hackett had related it to Central Park in New York City but "with less green, more Normandy and bureaucracy".
A great amount of progress had been made, with more than a handful of structures several stories tall, but there was undoubtedly going to be more built around it. In the future, this area would require a certain level of clearance to get within a mile of it, but for this event no one had been turned away.
The stage and podium was as grand as it could be, given most of the resources were being prioritized elsewhere. The new Councilors, Hackett, the Primarch, the Dalatrass, and several other dignitaries from various races were present. The krogans couldn't spare more than Wrex politically, with times on Tuchanka as turbulent as ever in the surge of rebirth, however, Grunt was also riding in on the Normandy, also wearing a gift from Bakara. The quarians sent two other Admirals and there was even a single batarian present on the stand whom Councilor Tevos had recognized as someone with a prominent role in the Hegemony.
Regal music played as the Normandy settled in to its resting place, and those aboard did their best to feel as triumphant as it sounded, with varying degrees of success. It was a long walk to the stage and Garrus's legs felt like lead, despite the cacophonous cheers coming from ahead. It seemed exceptionally bright and uncomfortably cold at the same time.
"Buck up, soldier," Wrex grunted, giving the turian's back a hefty slap. "They're going to celebrate us the way they wish they could celebrate Shepard."
"We're not Shepard," Garrus mumbled.
"Everybody knows that," he scoffed. "But we got her where she needed to be. And she got us here to receive this for her. The people need this even if you don't."
The words hit him like a punch to his gut and he drew in a sharp breath. He almost wished Wrex had just hit him instead. He didn't want to be there, putting on a front for a galaxy that felt so foreign now, but he knew his friend was right; this was just part of the uncomfortable duty.
They trudged up the stairs, standing at attention in a line while the auxiliary crew members filled out either side of the stage. Garrus looked out over the crowd, clapping, cheering, tears being shed, all ages, every race represented.
"I was kind of expecting a bigger turnout for an event like this," Tali commented from his side.
It was indeed small. Tens of thousands of people, but small. Garrus didn't know if that was due to high level of fatalities and casualties or lack of ability to be present, but he didn't imagine many who could make it would choose not to. The front several rows were other important executives, but beyond that many of the people looked like average civilians, roaring their approval and pride at what this crew had done. There were even a handful of geth visible.
In a way he couldn't explain, Garrus swore he could see Shepard's energy within each of them, and it sent a shiver down his spine. Half of his difficulty wasn't just saying goodbye, but trying to say goodbye when it felt so wrong.
As the crowd quieted, Councilor Tevos began recognizing them by name, and it brought Garrus back to the present moment. When she finished, she stepped aside and Hackett brought himself forward, Rabbit and Halcomb nearby. As usual, his earnest demeanor immediately captured everyone's attention.
"This crew has a bond no other crew has, and no other crew will. They also have a past filled with more than their fair share of history making moments. The SSV Normandy SR-2 carried them through those journeys well, just as the SSV Normandy SR-1 did. The Normandy SR-1, as many of you know, has it's own memorial on Alchera, where it's remains landed after being destroyed by the Collectors.
The SSV Normandy SR-2, though it's service was brief, will remain an Alliance vessel, but be removed from active service. It will remain here, honoring itself, this crew, and it's Commander."
Murmurs of excitement, approval, and speculation rippled through the crowd and Hackett let them pass. Garrus's eyes were on the floor in front of him and he fought to keep his mandibles still. He could imagine his father's own stillness, solid as a rock, at funerals for fallen comrades.
"Today, Commander Shepard and Admiral Anderson are officially being declared as killed in action."
Wrex cleared his throat and nudged Garrus as subtly as possible, and Garrus raised his head like a reflex. His mandibles fluttered twice before he squared his shoulders and inhaled deeply, standing as a soldier should. But this was not just a ceremony for a fallen comrade. It was the memorial for the person he still felt most deeply connected to, that he respected the most, who still had his whole heart.
"Commander Shepard's time as the first human Spectre brought great pride to our race. Before that, she brought us great pride in her Alliance career..."
As Hackett began highlighting the significant moments that made Shepard's contributions indispensable, Garrus focused on his breathing; slow and deep. Thinking of her military career made it easier to detach his emotions.
He thought of his father at his mother's funeral. He'd been stoic then, too, unraveling at later times. Garrus didn't know if his father was watching from Palaven, but he imagined he was, hypersensitive to Garrus's weakness.
Hackett was talking about Anderson now. Everyone knew that Shepard had something to do with the Cynosure, but less was said about Anderson. It hadn't been publicly announced that his body was also not recovered, and Hackett wasn't about to announce it now.
"There's too much we don't understand about things so powerful they changed the way the galaxy works. It's not worth sharing our speculations or how little answers we have at this point," Hackett had said over a call with Garrus a few days prior.
"...above all else, Commander Shepard, Admiral Anderson, and this crew facilitated the Cynosure, and the end of the war. It is my honor to know them, and to have fought alongside them. They are truly Elect, as was Anderson, and most of all, as was Commander Shepard. Shepard's Gift gave us not just continued life to transcend above the harvesting sequence, but new abilities we are still discovering on a daily basis. If such special souls must spend what was left of their lives to play such a vital role in securing our future, and making it something beyond what we could have dreamed, then I revere my opportunity to have been part of it."
There was a moment of silence as Hackett bowed his head. Many in the audience did the same, or closed their eyes, or looked up. Garrus couldn't seem to look away, something about the crowd keeping his eyes fixed forward. Finally, he heard Hackett draw in a deep breath before continuing.
"Today, it is with great esteem that I award this crew, those present and those absent, with the Cynosure Banner." Murmurs started up again but this time, Hackett didn't wait. "This is a new Systems Alliance commendation specifically for this event. It recognizes acts and efforts so grand, so stalwart, so indomitable, that they altered the course of history in ways previously unimaginable. I invite those in the audience to stand and applaud as I bestow them."
The audience obliged and Halcomb picked up a large box near the podium and followed Hackett to the end of the line. Each of the Normandy Elect were bursting with pride, Joker and Vega were even unable to keep the grins off their faces. Even with only one hand, Hackett somehow managed to personally attach each banner.
Garrus stood at attention as he waited for his turn, trying to focus on the applause to keep him grounded. When Hackett stood before him and Halcomb opened another box, he glanced down to get a closer look. The banner was laid horizontally, held together by a bar of golden tungsten at the top. The soft but sturdy fabric's design was subtle. It was black in color, but specks of white shimmered like the stars.
Hackett reverently lifted the banner and Garrus noticed something else glistening as it moved. A wave of green, just like the synthesis, passed over the banner with every slight adjustment. Garrus remembered the way he'd felt Shepard in that wave and drew in a sharp breath. He met Hackett's eyes but neither of them spoke, simply shared in the nobility of the moment.
Garrus looked out among the crowd again and Hackett moved on. He couldn't help but be especially aware of the ribbon on his chest. In a way, it amplified the feeling of having Shepard with him.
After he was done there, Hackett returned to the podium and the crowd took their seats again.
"On to the next order of business. With all the action in the war, the Council found itself without a human Councilor replacement. While I am not a Citadel official, the current executives have granted me the opportunity to introduce the new human Councilor to the galaxy today."
Garrus's head swung towards the podium, unable to help himself. He knew this decision likely wouldn't have a high level of impact on him, but he was curious nonetheless. Much of the crowd had a similar reaction, shifting in anticipation.
"There have been many deliberations, with individuals of all different species and various offices. Similarly to those meetings, this particular human has held many different positions and found friends among all those she worked with." Hackett paused, and Garrus wondered if he was also thinking, "like Shepard."
"At the start of her career, she spent time as a liaison for new or struggling colonies, connecting them to the resources they needed. Her most recent positions have included aiding Jien Garson and the Andromeda Initiative, as well as working with the Alliance First Fleet, and directly with me in the Fifth Fleet."
Garrus wasn't surprised by this. It was smart of Hackett to use his connections to benefit everyone.
"Her experience with that which is known will lend itself to all recovery efforts. Her ability to explore and work with unknowns will provide new synthesis abilities a place to grow and be fully utilized. The optimism and flexibility involved in preparing the Andromeda Initiative and also letting it go on without her, are exactly the qualities we need as we create in this new, synthesized, enlightened world. I present to you, Councilor Lyric."
Garrus looked into the first few rows of the audience, expecting the human to come from there. To his surprise, Hackett stepped aside and the aide whom he had previously called Rabbit stepped forward. He looked at her more intently, switching his attention to a large holovid suspended above the audience as she stepped forward, her expression no longer in his view. The audience was giving her a good amount of applause, but Garrus could tell she wasn't very well known among those present.
Councilor Lyric was wearing a wide smile, her eyes creasing at the edges as proof she wore the expression often. She was somewhat short, and had pure white hair curled into a bun behind her head.
"I'm sorry I'm not dressed more for the occasion, I just came here from my other job," she commented, referencing her Alliance uniform and nondescript navy trenchcoat. Her brown eyes shone as she listened to the chuckles from the crowd. Garrus guessed she was not as old as Chakwas, but definitely far closer to the doctor's age than his own. In fact, they could probably pass for sisters.
"I know, opening with a joke is rather cliche, but I promise there's very little about me that is unimaginative," she continued. "For the sake of introductions, my full name is Lyric Fella. As you all know, in most military occupations, you're addressed mainly by rank and then last name. 'Fella' is usually a nickname for males, but if we're being honest, no one would enjoy being called 'Lieutenant Fella'." More chuckles and nods in agreement. Even Hackett was smiling.
"One of my earliest mentors gave me a nickname, referencing my then-brown ball of hair on the back of my head. That nickname was Rabbit. As I grew older and my hair whitened, it became even more fitting." She raised a hand and patted at her bun.
"I don't even know if I know what a rabbit is, but she's adorable," Tali whispered to Liara, and Garrus heard a concurring reply before the asari described the creature.
"...and it is usually portrayed as having a fluffy tail."
"It makes a good snack," Wrex grumbled over Garrus to the others.
"Please don't eat the woman, Wrex," Liara teased.
"Yeah, don't be rude," Tali joined in playfully, and Wrex laughed, but tried to remain quiet.
"Councilor Lyric, using my first name, suits me just fine. Though I will have you know I prefer Rabbit to Fella."
Garrus was beginning to understand the choice for this woman more and more. He had no doubt she had some bite of her own; she had to if she worked with Hackett and other high-ranking Fleet officials. It was just as Councilor Tevos had said, now was the time to embrace the future, and this future likely promised several decades, perhaps centuries, of peacetime and rebuilding and unity. He didn't know if Hackett was considered for the position of Councilor, but Hackett was clearly a war-time leader. His skills were more suited for conflict and battle strategy, and while it certainly wasn't a beauty contest, his scars would only bring to mind thoughts of the past. Councilor Lyric could easily be the most ideal peace-time leader, and if she needed it, Hackett was backing her up.
He could see the brilliance of it.
"I'm sure you'll hear much about me in the coming days, so I don't intend to give you my life story now, as this event is about much more than me," Councilor Lyric continued, glancing back at the Normandy Elect with a wink. "...but there is one question I always get asked, that I will answer for all of you today. That question is, if I worked so hard to prepare the Andromeda Initiative for success, why didn't I join them on the expedition?" She paused, fully aware of the attention settling solely on her, and squared her shoulders to bear it proudly.
"There were, of course, many factors, but I can pinpoint the exact moment to you that my decision to stay was cemented. I heard murmurs from those outside and within the Initiative, that it was being perceived as a tactic to escape the Reapers. I feel that motivation is valid, and I certainly would not consider a single soul that departed for Andromeda cowardly, by any means.
"There were simply two dreams to choose from. The one I built here, or starting over and creating a new one. Both would require fighting for them in different ways, and are beautiful, noble pursuits. In the end I found I felt more compelled to remain and fight for the dream I already had, than to pay the cost of giving it up for a new one. I'm grateful those on their way to Andromeda made their choice, and I'm grateful that I made mine, to be here today as we create this new dream together."
Applause swelled up from the crowd and those on the stand behind Councilor Lyric joined in as well. It was clear she was confident in her ability to win over the populace, but she wasn't done yet.
"Now, that's enough about me. There are two other important pieces of business that get to be addressed today. While I am lucky enough to be the one presenting them, these decisions have been made together, with the other Councilors, as well as representatives from other species, planets, and organizations." The Councilor was all business now, and her ability to shift in and out of roles reminded Garrus of Shepard. Her expression became more neutral, like Hackett's, but her eyes betrayed her cheerfulness.
"You may have noticed, today no one has referred to the war that ended in Cynosure as the Reaper War. This is because we have chosen to call it something entirely new."
There was, understandably, a ripple of unease and she acknowledged it with a pause and a nod.
"There is much still unknown about the nature of the Reapers. However, we do know they have been aiding in the repair of the Citadel and the mass relays. It is likely due to their efforts that the Citadel still has all it's arms, and it is certainly due to their efforts that the Normandy Elect were able to make it back to us so soon. We are discontinuing the term 'Reaper War' for the same reason the First Contact War is not called the 'Turian-Human War'."
"Are we going to rename the Rachni War too?" Wrex grunted with skepticism.
"Or the Geth War?" Tali muttered.
"The geth call it the Morning War," Garrus pointed out. Liara nodded.
"With as much as the rachni and the geth contributed to the galactic efforts of this war, maybe we should rename those conflicts," she said with a shrug. Wrex seemed unconvinced, his eyes narrow as the Councilor continued.
"Concluded by the Cynosure, through the events of this war we, as a galaxy, rose above many things. We rose above our individual military strengths when Shepard unified us. We broke the cycle of the harvest, which had carried on for millennia before us. We gained the benefits of synthesis which will bring us to new levels of enlightenment." Councilor Lyric's tone lowered, taking on the proper level of authority and respect.
"This was, in many ways, the Transcendent War."
Wrex just shrugged, but Garrus watched as many within the audience appeared to accept the name with solemnity and pride. It was rather fitting, and Garrus was glad the reasoning involved recognition of Shepard. Councilor Lyric was given quite a task to handle this type of business immediately after her induction. As she continued, her voice grew in vigor and joy, rising to the occasion and sweeping up the audience with her.
"This is a time to celebrate. It is the time to march forward boldly and proudly, with the confidence of our past achievements and the energies of those no longer with us acting as our example. We, soldiers and civilians alike, are the heroes of the Transcendent War!"
Councilor Lyric's fist shot up into the air triumphantly and the crowd rose to their feet, clapping and cheering as well. Wrex and Grunt both raised their arms in the air and Vega and Kaidan gave each other a hearty fist bump. Garrus applauded along with them, wondering how Shepard would be celebrating if she were there.
"In addition to being officially recognized by the Systems Alliance, the Citadel Council would also like to grant a commendation to these specific heroes, the Normandy Elect," the Councilor began before it grew quiet again, riding the momentum. "For reasons already stated, it is with great pleasure that I invite the entire galaxy to join me, in celebrating the awarding of the Galactic Unit Citation to this exemplary group."
The multitude erupted again. Garrus's mandibles flared in surprise, he heard Tali's gasp even over the crowd, and Wrex couldn't hold back a massive grin. Down the line Chakwas looked about to pass out and Liara embraced her, providing support.
As a soldier of any kind, receiving the Galactic Unit Citation was the greatest accomplishment you could achieve. For anyone in official service, like the Alliance crew members, or hoping to attain any level of prestige, such as Wrex and Liara, it meant you'd done your part with the most honor possible. It was most often given posthumously, as it had been for most of the 24th Fighter Group, who defended the Destiny Ascension and the Councilors during their escape at the Battle of the Citadel.
For once in his life, Garrus found himself thinking how proud the turian Hierarchy, and his father, would be.
Councilor Lyric glanced back at their dumbfounded looks and grinned. Joker's mouth was still hanging open and Vega looked about to burst with pride.
"Go ahead and celebrate, soldiers," she encouraged them, stepping back from the podium to be among them.
Grunt let out a roar and nearly jumped on top of Wrex, who met him with a chest bump of his own. Vega threw an arm over Joker's shoulder and squeezed.
"Watch the bones, watch the bones," the pilot grunted and it sounded like EDI giggled. She didn't used to do that.
Garrus began to imagine Shepard there with them. She'd be in her Alliance blues, most definitely, as Spectres had no official uniform. Her blonde hair would be up as it always was for "business". Probably he or Liara would risk messing it up in their excitement. She'd celebrate with everyone differently, and probably be just as taken aback. She might even cry a little before squaring her shoulders and laughing and making a joke.
"Wow... I guess I can just retire now," Kaidan joked, laughing in amazement.
"So can I!" Chakwas exclaimed breathlessly, and everyone laughed.
"I know better than to expect papers on my desk in the morning from you lot," Hackett said as he joined the group, wearing a crooked smile. Halcomb also approached with an armful of small boxes, and Councilor Lyric took one within her hands and began to present them. As she neared Wrex, he began speaking first.
"Just so you know, the next--"
"--new Councilor will be krogan, I know," Councilor Lyric cut him off, smiling warmly. Wrex just blinked at her in surprise and Garrus chuckled; not many people could catch Wrex off guard like that. "Will you make sure to visit with me before you depart for Tuchanka? I'd like to get a game plan set in place."
"Will do!" Wrex replied with an enthusiastic nod.
"Don't leave this stage without getting that set up," she said, then moved on to Garrus.
"Admiral Hackett told me you'd like Shepard's commendations to stay with the Normandy," she commented, holding the box gingerly.
"Yes," Garrus choked out, not ready for the reality check. He glanced away for a moment; wasn't she there?
Councilor Lyric opened the box. The Galactic Unit Citation was a brilliant, pearlescent oval shape. It was mostly flat, but had the shape of the galaxy overlaid with an etching of the Citadel on one side. The Councilor positioned it on his chest, right next to the Cynosure Banner.
"I'm lucky to have the honor of bestowing these today. You're luckier to have known her," she said, her eyes shining earnestly.
"Yes, Councilor," he muttered, dipping his head in respect and agreement.
She moved on. Garrus sucked in a breath, suddenly feeling hollow again, the commendations on his chest feeling heavier than he knew how to bear.
After Councilor Lyric returned the podium, there wasn't much else for her to say as all business had already been handled. She shared once more some inspiring words, ending the ceremony with more celebration. Garrus, and he guessed the entire Normandy Elect crew, was glad she did; it would've been far more emotionally draining to have it be pure somberness. The crew and Citadel officials all milled about together for a brief time, chatting and sharing grateful respects. Several came up to Garrus and shook his hand.
Finally, after bracing himself, he turned and let his eyes land on what they'd been avoiding for the entire ceremony. Behind the stand, out of his view even from the holovid, were two large posters of Admiral Anderson and Commander Shepard. He tried to give Anderson the respectable attention he deserved, but he couldn't help himself. His eyes were drawn straight to Shepard's and it felt like surge of biotics had hammered into him.
He recognized the picture. He had been standing right next to her when it was taken, not that you could tell. It was from after she'd parted ways with Cerberus, and you could tell by the lack of tension in her shoulders that it was before the Alpha relay incident.
They were technically on shore leave, visiting a beach resort, but she'd gone out in her Alliance uniform with her hair up and gotten recognized. A reporter snagged her for an interview and she was in a good enough mood to entertain it. She didn't say it, but Garrus thought she liked being seen having fun every now and then.
"There's been a lot of rumors since you were resurrected. What have you really been up to?" the reporter had asked, a nice young salarian.
"Do you ask many Spectres that question? Because if you did, you'd know I can't answer it," she replied with a smirk, tilting her head. She was definitely having fun.
"Anything you can tell me?" he said, to his credit, not the least bit exasperated. It was clear he was just thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with her.
"Well, what I want to tell you is that yes, I've been doing some 'odd jobs' I guess you could say..." Shepard feigned a snobbish tone and glanced over to Garrus, who smiled and rolled his eyes at her. "The galaxy needs my help, and the help of my crew in many different ways these days."
"How is your relationship with the Citadel Council? The Systems Alliance? How do they feel about these 'odd jobs'?"
"Well, the Council seems just as supportive as they've always been," she shrugged, still smiling. "I'll always remain loyal to the Council and my Alliance foundation. They've both treated me well and I'm happy to serve."
"And your crew just comes along with you, regardless of who you're answering to? How is that relationship?" The salarian tilted his head in the direction of the various crewmembers nearby, but settled pointedly on Garrus. She and Garrus exchanged a look. He just grinned and shrugged, and Shepard wore a contented smile when she turned back to the salarian.
"My relationship with my crew is the best part of my life," she said earnestly. "They come along with me because they know, ultimately, I'm answering to myself. And they trust that, and appreciate that. After all, there's no Shepard without her crew."
Garrus was staring at that warm, passionate smile once again, and it consumed him just as it had on that beach. The longer he looked, the more he became certain something else was on this picture. It was incredibly faint, but he thought perhaps it had the same shimmer of green the Cynosure Banner did.
With a heavy sigh he realized he didn't know how to stop being consumed by her, even if he had so little of her at the time.
You told me once that there's no Shepard without Vakarian. If you're out there somewhere, and you're still answering to yourself, you'll find a way to come back to me again. Just let me help you if you need it.
He finally tore his eyes away, and began stepping towards Liara, Chakwas, and Councilor Lyric, confident that they'd be able to help redirect his thoughts.
After all, it was back to work tomorrow.