Put love on hold,
Young Hollywood is on the other line
Her nose runs ruby red, deaths in a double bed
Singing songs that could only catch the ear of the desperate
Cut it loose
Watch you work the room
Cut it loose
Watch you work the room
Cut it loose
Watch you work the room
Cut it loose
I'm a stitch away from making it
And a scar away from falling apart, apart
The After Life of the Party by Fall Out Boy
A few more months passed uneventfully before something else interrupted the routine he'd settled comfortably into. Garrus stared at himself in the mirror within his wardrobe. He was in his best dress, the first time since the memorial. It was a new outfit this time, one gifted to him by Primarch Fausna. The Primarch had supplied it but shipped it to the Vakarian home on Palaven, so his father had forwarded it on to him.
It was many white, very different than his more traditional, darker shaded outfits. Subtle rust-colored flecks shimmered when the light hit him from different angles. The ruddy shade reminded him of an old pistol, and also of his mother, who had a slight, similar tint to her complexion. As Solana grew she gained the same attribute, but they both still looked mostly like their father, all steel gray. Black hems contrasted the white along all the edges.
Shepard would've liked it, the same as she liked any formalwear on him.
Feeling about ready, he put his visor on, picked up his omnitool, and left his apartment. He didn't have far to go, but transportation was arranged for him. The plaza had only a small area designated for skycars, reserved for dignitaries, security personnel, or tour shuttles. Garrus didn't have to search long before he found a male quarian next to a shiny black skycar, holding a sign that read "Vakarian".
Most quarians were still wearing their envirosuits, though improving every day, but this one was dressed formally in something that looked like a cross between a human tuxedo and turian clothes. He seemed middle-aged, and Garrus wondered if he were getting special treatments from the Council to further his immune system. Having a classy quarian driver for dignitaries was a win-win; it would improve the condescending attitude many Citadel citizens had towards quarians, and it showed the growing quality of life they were enjoying due to their recovering health and the Council's efforts. It was a smart move.
Garrus had heard that most quarians on Rannoch were living without envirosuits, but many still used them off-world. Surprisingly enough, some quarians claimed to prefer them and hold to old traditions, but most were eagerly awaiting being free from the contraptions, which was estimated to be easily possible within the next decade.
Their faces were becoming more and more familiar to the rest of the galaxy. They were not too different than human or asari, but were slightly more flat, with narrower eyes. Their skin looked rougher than humans, closer to the texture of leather or turian clothing fabric. Many of them also had different markings along their faces and necks that, unlike turians, were part of their skin tone.
Garrus nodded when he got close to the quarian and grunted, "That's me."
"Sir," the driver greeted him pleasantly, tucking the sign under his arm and opening the door for him. Garrus settled in and soon they were on their way. To help pass the time and get him in the right headspace, he opened up the invitation he'd received just a few days ago.
Greetings Normandy Elect!
Councilor Lyric would like to invite you to a gala at the Palatial Penthouse. The attire will be formal, the conversation casual. There will be a dinner buffet for all as well as an open bar. No agenda is planned. You may bring a plus one and transportation will be provided if you choose to grace the evening with your presence. Councilor Lyric is especially eager to see you.
Will you be attending?
Not long after he'd received the message, the core Normandy Elect began chatting to determine who was going and the bigger question, what the real purpose of it was. Wrex let them stew for a while before revealing that he would be attending, accompanied by the potential first krogan Councilor.
That was when it made sense; this was a meet and greet to put the krogan diplomat in the mix with the highest Citadel officials (plus some war heroes for good measure) and see what happened. Everybody agreed to make an appearance and use it as an excuse to visit. They hadn't all been in the same place since the memorial, and didn't know when the next opportunity would be.
The Palatial Penthouse required an additional security check of the skycar. The quarian flashed a card at the turian at the post, who waved him on. After pulling over, the quarian jumped out and Garrus decided to play the formal part enough to wait for him to open his door. Garrus stepped out and saw several others headed into the building, a couple of which he recognized.
"Thank you, sir," he said to the quarian with a nod, then squared his shoulders and made his way towards the open doors.
There was already a decent sized group within; Garrus quickly spotted the Councilors Camilio, Jonarth, and Tevos. On the opposite side of the room he caught sight of Councilor Lyric, Liara, Wrex, and another krogan he didn't recognize. Liara smiled and gestured for him to join them. Garrus acknowledged her with a nod then headed over, but was interjected by Primarch Fausna quickly swooping in to shake his hand.
"Garrus Vakarian! I'm so glad to see you, and looking so sophisticated," he exclaimed, grasping Garrus's shoulder. The Primarch was one of the most animated turians he had ever met.
"I wouldn't if not for you, sir," he replied with a grateful nod, returning the tight grasp of hands. "I think my father was jealous before he sent it off to me." The Primarch laughed heartily.
"Well, tell him to expect his own shortly," he said proudly.
"That's very generous, Primarch. Thank you," Garrus chuckled. Fausna was probably also one of the few turian dignitaries who proudly boasted his love for aesthetics.
"Did you bring company tonight, Vakarian?" he asked, glancing around.
"No, sir. Just meeting some of the old crew here to reminisce as soldiers do," he explained.
"Ah, yes. A fine time indeed. Well, do let me know when you're returning to Palaven. I'd like to arrange a proper hero's welcome for you," Fausna said with a grin. Garrus managed to smile, but was tensing at the thought. By now, however, he'd learned better than to try and refuse or talk people out of it. Things went smoother if he accepted it.
"I'll inform you of my itinerary when it is in place, sir."
"Wonderful! I'll let you get to your crew then," the Primarch said, stepping back. The two said farewell and Garrus once again moved towards Liara, Wrex, and Councilor Lyric. He was stopped twice more on his way by other officials he rescued during O.L.F., and one other he'd never met before but politely conversed with anyway.
"You're very popular," Liara commented as he finally made it close by. She stepped forward and embraced him, and Garrus realized how long it had been since he'd received physical affection. It made him crave his sister's hugs, but only briefly.
"Occupational hazard," he grunted with a shrug. "It's good to see you."
"Same to you," she replied warmly.
"Garrus, I'm so glad you're here," Councilor Lyric said, walking over to him and grasping his hands tightly. Garrus had forgotten how he towered over her as he looked at her smiling up at him. She was wearing a simple, Alliance blue evening gown.
"Thanks for giving the team an excuse to get together," he replied, dipping his head deeply. "It's been a long time since we've partied."
"I expect to see some of that going on," she said with a smirk. "I'll let you get to it, but would it be okay if I track you down later for a deeper conversation?"
"Of course, Councilor," he said, his mandibles twitching slightly in curiosity.
"Wonderful!" Lyric beamed up at him as she patted his hands, then let them go and turned. "Come, Brant. Let's go see if Admiral Hackett has gotten here yet." She stepped away, followed by a salarian wearing a visor that Garrus hadn't noticed was hovering nearby.
Next to move in was Wrex, bringing a hand down on Garrus's shoulder and giving him a little shake.
"Welcome to the party, Garrus," he said heartily. "You look smaller, and... conspicuous. Didn't think bright colors were your thing."
"You look older," Garrus retorted good-naturedly. "And it was a gift. You've got my back enough to make up for being a walking target, right?"
"If I have to," he replied, and they both chuckled.
"Besides, you're one to talk. I didn't even know it was possible to get you in something that wasn't armor," Garrus said, waving his hands towards Wrex. The outfit was similar to what he had seen on shamans during the Normandy's visits to Tuchanka, but definitely fancied up.
"Bakara has a lot of influence on Tuchanka... and I mean a lot," Wrex grumbled. Changing the subject, he gestured towards the krogan with him. "Allow me to introduce you to Drau Prash."
The female krogan stepped forward, also dressed in elaborate shaman clothing. She dipped her head and Garrus extended a hand which she accepted.
"I'm Garrus Vakarian, Wrex's favorite turian," he said smoothly. Prash laughed and Wrex opened his mouth to counter, but then shrugged. Liara snickered too.
"I'll allow it," Wrex said with a nod.
"I suppose it would be overdone to say I've heard a lot about you, considering the entire universe has," Prash said with a smile.
"Not at all," Garrus assured her. "I'd love to hear what Wrex has to say about me. Has he told you about when he almost killed Commander Shepard on Virmire? He never noticed, but I had my scope on him the whole time."
"I have not heard about that," Prash replied neutrally, unsure exactly how to interpret the information.
"Not that kind of party, Vakarian," Wrex growled quietly.
"Ah, well... next time then," Garrus said with a grin.
Councilor Camilio, joined by the head of C-Sec, Cameter Erastis, came forward and struck up a conversation with Wrex and Prash, diverting their attention. Garrus and Liara gave them some space. A human waiter presented them a tray of liquor and they both gratefully accepted, choosing carefully from the various options.
"You're in fine form tonight," she commented, her eyes bright with amusement over the top of her glass.
"I forget how social I can be," he admitted. "And yet, when I'm too social, it seems to be mistaken for flirtatious. I figure Prash won't jump to that conclusion though."
"If anything, I think you were flirting with Wrex," Liara replied casually. Garrus choked on his drink, coughing as a few drops dribbled down his mandibles. Liara laughed and found him a napkin for his face.
Once he had gotten started, Garrus couldn't help himself. He shmoozed and charmed as if he were the one being considered for Councilor. He and Joker even pulled off some subtle pranks, like telling Kaidan his pants were ripped when they were not. Tali arrived not wearing an envirosuit, saying she wanted to feel as free as possible and it was worth the risk, but she was fairly confident in her immune system regardless.
Tali brought one of the quarian Admirals, purely for diplomatic reasons. Liara's plus one was Feron, and Garrus couldn't determine the exact relationship there, but they appeared to be close. Joker and EDI didn't need their plus one to bring each other. Kaidan and Vega, like Garrus, were both still content bachelors.
Many diplomats came and talked with each of them as well, regardless of whether they knew each other. Councilor Lyric had done a great job at not structuring the evening and letting it flow as it may.
Garrus eventually realized there were a handful of individuals wearing visors and not speaking with others as commonly. It didn't take him long to figure out that they were subtle paparazzi. He was sure they had strict instructions not to ask questions or interrupt in any way, but the connections being made here were far too valuable not to document. It was another smart move.
It was several hours later when Councilor Lyric found Garrus again, approaching with a glass in hand for each of them and the salarian, Brant, still following close by. She gestured for Garrus to follow her, which he did, and they sat down in some tall chairs off to the side of the room where it was a little quieter. Brant stood nearby, but gave them a respectable distance. Lyric offered Garrus one of the glasses in her hand.
"I've probably already had plenty of drinks tonight," he admitted, taking the glass and pausing to look into it.
"Not one from me," the Councilor encouraged him.
"There's not some special ingredient in this, is there?" he asked, feigning suspicion.
"My dear, it is all special ingredients," she said with a grin. For a moment Garrus just stared at her as he realized she was far more cunning than she looked. "But, you can trust me," she added casually, taking a sip from her own glass. Garrus laughed, thoroughly enjoying his interactions with Lyric more and more.
"Okay, but after this one, I'm done for the night," he said, and threw back a swig.
"Have you enjoyed the evening?" Lyric asked him.
"Much more than anticipated," he nodded. "I haven't had a chance to socialize like this in a long time."
"Hackett's told me about the work you've been doing for him," she commented. "And also that you've been mostly keeping to yourself since the Cynosure." Garrus gave her a curious look, then brought his eyes back down to his drink.
"Is it because of lingering feelings about Shepard?"
"Do you always get so personal so quickly?" he asked, narrowing his eyes slightly.
"Yes, thank you for noticing," the Councilor replied with a bright smile. "Do you see the female krogan over there, talking to Tali?"
"I didn't realize there was more than one here," Garrus replied, looking out towards the crowd. Eventually he spotted Tali and the krogan. She looked very young, and was dressed less formally than Wrex and Prash. Still nice, but much more subtle. She and Tali seemed to be deep in an engaging discussion. He nodded to let Councilor Lyric know he saw her.
"That is Strogore Vrilakir. I met her a few months ago when I traveled to Tuchanka," she began. "She made her way through my political meetings and confronted me, wanting an explanation for why she was not considered for passage to Andromeda. I wasn't in charge of those decisions, and so I didn't have an answer for her. She was clearly upset, so I paused my schedule and sit with her and ask some questions."
"And she told you her life story?" Garrus chuckled, realizing just how influential Councilor Lyric was.
"Yes. She's fed up with most of krogan culture. Even with the genophage cured, she's not sure they've earned it. She has no interest in breeding and sees her people, and much of the universe, as a lost cause. She felt Andromeda was her only chance," she replied, pausing to take a sip of her drink. "I invited her to come be my assistant and student. I told her to give me a year and see how much could change in that time. If she still had no hope for this galaxy then, I'd set a second Andromeda Initiative into place for her myself."
"And how is it going?" Garrus asked.
"Very well, I think. You'll have to ask Vrilakir herself later," she answered. After a pause, she smiled softly. "I also want you to know that I lost my husband a few decades ago. It was before the First Contact War and spaceflight was not as precise as it is now. Something went wrong with the ship he was on and I never got to bury him..." Garrus watched as her eyes briefly took on a faraway look, before she blinked and focused on him again.
"So you can tell me about Shepard. There’s a good chance I will understand what you have to share."
Something about the look in her eyes and the tone of her voice made his shoulders slump as if they'd just been relieved of a heavy load, and suddenly he was telling her everything. He told her about the dreams, the way Shepard sometimes seemed to whisper to him, he even admitted that Vega had matched Shepard's signature to be near him at times (if she snitched and Hackett disapproved, oh well). Councilor Lyric almost seemed to get excited at that.
"At times it feels as if... she still exists somewhere?" she asked to clarify.
"I don't know," Garrus sighed.
"Hmm. I know how not having a body to bury can create a lack of closure," Lyric commented.
"That certainly doesn't help," he agreed. "But it seems somehow more than just that. Like synthesis created this great network and she's still in it, even if her body is nowhere to be found." He shook his head and looked down at his hands in his lap. "It sounds silly, like a ghost story. But Shepard isn't some fragile, ethereal spirit. She's a warrior, she's solid... and she's come back from death already before. I just don't know how to make sense of it."
"And we don't know that she truly died," Lyric pointed out. Garrus looked up and blinked at her.
"...are... you saying you think she might still exist somewhere too?" he asked quietly, desperately.
"I know better than to pretend I have answers for you, Garrus," she said gently. "But synthesis brought with it so many new perspectives. Code from DNA, and vice versa? Enhanced thought patterns and connection? Not to mention how much we still don't know about the Crucible and Catalyst. If there's an AI program behind the synthesis, could it have downloaded her into it's network? She did that with the geth once, correct?"
"Yes, but... she still had a body that was alive," he replied flatly. His mandibles were fluttering as he tried to comprehend what she was saying. Could it be possible that someone else was willing to work with these theories?
Councilor Lyric leaned forward and grasped one of his hands tightly.
"I don't have answers, Garrus," she said. The pressure on his hand and her steady tone grounded him again. "I wish I did. But I don't."
"I... yeah, I know," he mumbled.
The discussion continued, with the Councilor prompting him to share more details of his experiences post-synthesis. Afterward, Lyric brought the conversation to when Shepard was alive. She asked questions about the Commander no one had ever asked Garrus before. Trivial things like what her favorite color was, as well as very personal things like their favorite date spot, or the best gift he ever gave her. He did his best, but more than once realized he didn't know all of the details of her life or every one of her preferences.
Over an hour later the conversation lulled, and Brant approached the two of them.
"Rabbit, if I may," he interjected.
"Yes, of course Brant. What is it?" The Councilor sat up a bit straighter as Brant knelt down and leaned close to whisper something in her ear.
"Oh! Brilliant, my dear, thank you." She patted Brant's hand on her shoulder as he nodded, then stood and stepped back again.
"So some people do still call you Rabbit?" Garrus said with a small smile.
"Hackett will, in more private settings," Lyric admitted. "I'll always be Grandma Rabbit to my grandchildren. Brant is very helpful with my duties, but we've been best friends for quite some time, before Shepard became a Spectre. He is my confidant."
"Was there a nickname Shepard had for you?" she asked, and he shifted in his seat.
"Nothing quite so personal," he grunted. "She'd use Archangel every now and then, but mostly when she was teasing."
"Did you always call her Shepard?"
"For the most part, just out of habit. It was Commander if I was being formal, though."
From there the questions continued again, but this time Garrus realized they had taken a turn. Instead of being about Shepard, they were now about him. Councilor Lyric even asked his favorite color. He had no idea what she was hoping to gather from this information. Maybe it was the liquor, his desperation for social interaction, or the incredible ability Councilor Lyric had to make him feel safe, but he couldn't bring himself to care too much about her motives.
By the time they became quiet again, the evening was winding down. About half of the crowd had left, but some of the others were just hitting their second wind. Garrus looked at the time.
"Spirits! I didn't even realize this much time had passed," he exclaimed.
"I'm sorry to have kept you away from your friends," Councilor Lyric offered.
"Ah, it's no problem," he replied, gesturing dismissively. "I'll bet they're already organizing an after party." Councilor Lyric chuckled and they both stood, Garrus giving his back a stretch.
"If I may ask one more question?" she said.
"Sure," he shrugged.
"If Shepard were here... how would she have spent the evening?"
Garrus paused and scanned the room, looking over the various activities and conversations occurring. If he tried, he could see her; he could see the golden dress (one he'd seen post-synthesis and wished he could gift to her), the diplomatic smile she'd wear as she shook hands, the joyful expression as she'd laugh at something Joker said, the hugs she'd exchange with Liara and Tali and Chakwas, the bright pink beverage she'd drink at the bar, her arm hooked into his for most of the evening, and of course, the way they'd dance and attract the gaze of so many onlookers without even being aware.
"She'd do what she always did," he said quietly, still imagining the scene play out before him, and unsure how much to share with Lyric. "She'd connect with the right people. She'd make sure her team knew they were important to her. She'd drink and laugh and dance. But, only with me, because when she dances alone it's terrible."
Councilor Lyric let out a loud, undignified snicker.
"I think I have heard something about that before, but thank you for the reminder," she chuckled, and Garrus laughed too.
"Well, thank you so very much for spending the time with me. It's been a lovely evening and I hope you'll come when I do another," she said. Brant stepped in and offered her his arm, which she took.
"Absolutely, Councilor. Thank you very much," Garrus replied, and stayed where he was as he watched Lyric and Brant step away. He continued to gaze across the penthouse, placing Shepard into the scene and almost letting himself believe it.
"Garrus! Come see how many truffles Vega can fit into his mouth!"
Joker's voice broke his daydream, and he snickered. The party was definitely about to get a lot less classy.
"Oh, of course I gotta see this," he called in reply, and headed over to join his friends.
Several hours later, after Garrus finally made it back to his apartment and fell asleep, the daydreams turned into sleeping dreams. He was back at the Palatial Penthouse, the crowd all around, but their shapes were blurred and faces indistinguishable.
One person was clear, looking a little lost and unsure: Shepard.
She was in the golden dress he'd seen through the window at a store, long-sleeved but fitting her form close. It nearly touched the floor but had slits up the sides that would be perfect for the tango.
Garrus weaved through the fuzzy forms and made his way to her, extending his hand to her for a dance. When she saw him, she smiled, and her shoulders relaxed as if relieved. She took his hand and the group around them gave way as they began to dance, slow and steady.
"I'm so glad you know who I am," she said to him.
"I wish I knew you more," he replied with a comforting purr, and Shepard leaned into his chest.
"Could I possibly become what you remember me to be?" she murmured.
"Don't you remember?" Garrus asked curiously.
"There's so much happening... I don't know what's mine anymore," she said, shaking her head. She disconnected, stepping back and frowning, but Garrus clung to her hands. When she next spoke, her voice was wavering. "I think I'm losing."
"Shepard, don't you dare," he hissed urgently, moving himself closer to her. Suddenly he realized that while he was grasping her hands, he couldn't actually feel her skin or flesh against his; he could only feel the tension that buzzed through her body, the pull as she leaned away. Something occurred to him and it felt like getting punched in the gut. Was he keeping her stuck, unhappy, and lost? He swallowed hard and his arms began to ache. He didn't want to be responsible for keeping her in limbo if she didn't want to be there.
"You'll be okay," she whispered, a sad smile on her face. Images of his life after the Cynosure flashed before him. Receiving awards at the memorial, pulling dignitaries out of rubble as they thanked him, competing with Vega at Spectre Status, enjoying himself at the Palatial Penthouse, even laughing with Xanossi...
He shook his head and blinked, focusing again on Shepard's face before him.
"I... can manage, yes..." he breathed. Very carefully, worried she might disappear at the wrong move, he brought himself closer and placed his forehead against hers, once again not feeling skin but sensing the hum of her energy.
"But I would rather face the galaxy's hardest battles with you than float through life alone."
The tension eased, the buzzing quieted. He barely heard her words, echoing through his consciousness as he stirred awake and stayed with him until he fell asleep again.
"I trust you."