It's not your eyes
It's not what you say
It's not your laughter
That gives you away
You're just lonely
You've been lonely too long
All your acting, your thin disguise
All your perfectly delivered lines
They don't fool me
You've been lonely too long
Dust to Dust by The Civil Wars
Garrus woke late the next morning, feeling incredibly unsettled. Had he been dreaming? He couldn't remember. Something just felt... off, and it was more than the hangover.
The bed creaked as he rolled out and stumbled into the kitchen, stiff and slow. He rummaged through the cupboard to find a metabolizing supplement to help with the hangover, took it, then made his way to the shower.
After a good soak and getting dressed he felt less groggy, but still discontent. He poured himself a cold glass of one of his favorite turian drinks suited for the morning and wandered over to the window. He raised it to his mouth as he pulled back the curtain and that was where he froze, body stiff, eyes narrowed.
Squads of C-Sec were gathered in a few different groups. Some were in the middle of briefings with a superior and others were just standing together as if waiting for a signal. This was more than he'd ever seen in the plaza before; even the memorial had less law enforcement presence (although part of that may have been due to depleted numbers).
Tomorrow was the first day of the Cyno-versary events; maybe this was preparation for that? It didn't sit right with him. Garrus left the window and went to his omnitool. He had a message from Cameter Erastis, the head of C-Sec.
*This alert is being sent to all those who work or reside within the Normandy Plaza and has been approved by the Citadel Council.*
Good morning! The one year anniversary of the Cynosure is nearly upon us. I'm sure you've received many updates and advertisements regarding the festivities that will occur here and throughout the Citadel. You should have also received a briefing regarding an increased presence of members of the press, detailing that very few reporters will receive clearance for within the Normandy Plaza itself.
C-Sec has been preparing for the increased traffic and activity for months, so you can expect my team, your team, our team, to be at their very best.
The following message has been prepared in conjunction with the Council:
We would like those who frequent the Normandy Plaza to be aware that this morning, a group known as Cynosure Reform Advocates quickly assembled outside the security checkpoint of the plaza. They have been passionate in the sharing of their views. Some of those views may be unfavorable towards the Citadel Council, those researching synthesis and Cynosure, the Normandy Elect, and Commander Shepard.
We have no reason to believe this group is dangerous and they are allowed to share their ideals as they do so peacefully. If their ideals are upsetting to you, we encourage you to do your part to keep the standard of peace we uphold.
C-Sec will be closely monitoring the situation and ensuring that the Cynosure Reform Advocates, as well as any other citizens, stay within the bounds that keep us safe.
Thank you, and enjoy the wonderful celebration!
Head of Citadel Security
Garrus cursed out loud, slammed his drink down onto his nightstand, grabbed his pistol and visor, and left his apartment. He already had a whole chain of messages from other members of the Normandy Elect, but only glanced at them as he made his way out of the building.
Vega didn't seem to be aware yet. Kaidan said he'd been quietly watching the events unfold from a distance. So far, nothing other than passionate speeches. Joker wasn't on the Citadel but seemed outraged by the propaganda. Liara was only mildly troubled, feeling certain this group would eventually fade itself out of existence. All Wrex had to say was "This is why I leave the politics to someone else," and Tali agreed.
C-Sec officers glanced at Garrus as he walked by with mixed reactions. Some seemed glad he was there, others appeared apprehensive. No one stopped or spoke to him. He wondered if Hackett still had concerns about him being too emotionally volatile and had passed them on. But what was he going to do, confine him to the plaza for the week?
Garrus confidently crossed the square and made it to the trams that would take him out of the secured area. He surveyed the scene as he disembarked. There was a heavier C-Sec presence near the trams, but Garrus could see that most of the action was happening in the streets.
The areas closest to the security checkpoints were amenities for those stationed in the plaza; gyms, restaurants, convenience stores, and everything you could possibly need was immediately close by before giving way to more residential areas. As Garrus walked toward the streets he could see various groups gathered with one person standing on a bench and addressing the crowd. Each one had at least one C-Sec officer nearby and many were patrolling.
The first group Garrus came upon was led by a batarian. There was a sign that read "Cynosure Reform Advocates - Undo what was done too soon!"
"The krogan advanced too quickly and began nuclear wars within themselves, nearly destroying all that they were. The synthesis will lead us to self-destruction, guaranteed!" he was shouting. Some nodded their heads thoughtfully, but most appeared conflicted. Garrus kept walking and found an asari.
"The humans have too short of lifespans to make a decision as drastic as synthesis. We have no idea what kind of effects this will have in centuries to come," she said.
"Nearly every species took part in constructing the Crucible, like geth and rachni and even asari," a human in the crowd pointed out.
"But humans determined how it was used," she rebutted.
The next station had a turian, discussing the idea of scientific advancements to reach immortality, or even bring people back from the dead, and the dangers of such a thing. It was actually similar to the conversation Garrus had with Joker, Vega, and EDI many months ago. Garrus listened to that one but didn't hear any compelling solutions, just complaints and fear.
As he wandered on he heard the last group before spotting who was at the front. It was the biggest and loudest and even had a couple reporters on the scene, and of course, extra C-Sec personnel. He carefully made his way a little closer to the front, approaching from the side, and quickly discovered why.
"...the Council and the Alliance must be accountable for the synthesis. This was an enormous infringement of our rights! Shepard, conspiring with the Crucible team, made a science experiment out of us all!"
The crowd booed and scoffed at his rhetoric. The human male was positioned in front of a vid theater, standing on a set of stairs halfway up while the rest of the crowd remained lower than him. He had the similar Cynosure Reform Advocate poster as well as a poster of Shepard, the one they'd used at the memorial, except it was upside down and had a red X over the entirety of it. Whatever valid points or interest being generated by other Cynosure Reform Advocates elsewhere was certainly getting discredited here by such a disrespectful display.
Had Shepard still been alive, and perhaps standing next to him, Garrus might have only grumbled a smart comment and let it go after a moment of indignation. Now, it set his blood ablaze. He growled before he could stop himself, earning a couple glances from those in the crowd closest to him. He fought it back down as his mandibles flared and they backed up to give him some space. Perhaps they recognized him, perhaps they didn't; he didn't know, he didn't care.
"She was given far too much importance and authority. Shepard should never have been the last person there at the helm of the Crucible!" the man shouted fiercely.
"That's Commander Shepard to you," Garrus barked, loud enough for the crowd around him to quiet and separate. He found himself unintentionally on the front lines. His mandibles fluttered as he looked at the people around him; some of them looked excited as if anticipating a showdown, and everyone was eager for it to start. In a stroke of unfortunate timing, a reporter's camera team also moved to the front just in time to catch the encounter.
"Garrus Vakarian," the man greeted him carefully, walking down a couple steps towards the turian with a subtle smirk. "Did you call her Commander in your quiet moments alone?"
Garrus growled again. "How dare you--"
"Oh-- oh! We have met before," the human laughed. Garrus's mandibles twitched and for a moment he balked, then it hit him. He had shaven his beard, but Garrus remembered those blue eyes. This was Hyatt, from the wastelands. Garrus also realized Hyatt had said Shepard was alone at the Crucible... was he really getting the same intel as the Cynosure study team? Did he see the recording?
"It's been a while, Undertaker," Hyatt taunted. Murmurs of confusion erupted through the throng and Garrus said nothing, just stared daggers at Hyatt.
"Undertaker was a human," an asari stated from the audience.
"All but one," a female turian near the front retorted. As more confused remarks of multiple Undertakers sounded behind him, Garrus looked in the direction of who had spoken and his mandibles fluttered again in surprise. It was Ponia, the turian he'd rescued from the crumbling building. The two humans and asari he'd also encountered were at her side. Ponia and the human she was closest to looked apprehensive, and could barely meet his gaze.
"What's your goal?" Garrus demanded, looking back at Hyatt. "What do you hope to accomplish by tearing down Shepard a year after her death?"
"Synthesis needs to be reversed," Hyatt hissed, his eyes narrowing. "Shepard had no idea what she was doing! She still doesn't."
"Stop talking about her," Garrus snarled.
"What, getting jealous that I haven't given up on her?" Hyatt asked, stepping closer again. "That I still think she's here when you've broken your famed loyalty already? I wonder how she feels about that."
"You don't know anything," he growled, getting within feet of Hyatt now, his posture the pure image of turian intimidation. The worst part was that Garrus wanted to believe him, which was infuriating on several different levels. The C-Sec officers on scene, a turian and a human, stepped closer, looking unsure, but attempted to create a barrier between them.
"Oh, let him come," Hyatt laughed, opening his arms wide. "Undertaker and Normandy Elect? He's probably got more clearance than a Spectre. He's out of C-Sec's jurisdiction." Hyatt turned to the crowd as the C-Sec officers looked at each other. They knew as well as everyone that C-Sec couldn't interfere with Spectres. "Just like Shepard, he's got too much power! The Normandy Elect assisted Shepard with manipulating our entire existence and what does the Council do? Make them untouchable."
"You want to touch me?" Garrus snapped, stepping past the C-Sec officers who didn't try to stop him. "Go ahead. See what happens."
"You could murder me right here, in front of everyone, and get away with it. How sad that this is how you spend your life," Hyatt said disdainfully.
"Oh, it wouldn't be like this," Garrus replied, his voice lowering dangerously. "Don't you know I'm a sniper? You wouldn't even know I was there."
"Yet here you are," he retorted, smacking the back of his hand against Garrus's chest roughly. Garrus didn't make it an inch forward before a larger, heavier hand landed on his chest and held him back. He looked down; it was krogan. He looked up and saw not just any krogan, but Vrilakir, Councilor Lyric's assistant. Her expression was understanding, but her stance was firm.
"Let's go, Vakarian. The Councilor would like to speak with you," she said, nodding her head towards the side of the crowd. Garrus glanced over and saw Councilor Lyric at the edge, her expression unreadable, with Brant hovering just behind her. "He's not worth your time," Vrilakir urged.
With a heavy breath, Garrus stepped back, and Vrilakir let her hand fall. Hyatt stared at him indignantly, but Garrus slowly turned away.
"Not worth your time?!" Hyatt roared at his back, then turned toward the crowd again. "See?! This is how those in power always see those who aren't! Less than them, easily manipulated and controlled... They don't care! Garrus Vakarian doesn't care!"
Get ready to roll.
"Shepard doesn't care!"
Garrus immediately steadied his stance like a reflex. He felt Hyatt grip the back of his cowl and pull him backwards. Ready just in time, Garrus crouched and pivoted to keep his balance, bringing his fist up and around as he did. It connected hard with the side of Hyatt's face and the human fell over to his hands and knees. The crowd gasped and then erupted into cheering and applause.
"Think of that the next time you speak of Commander Shepard," Garrus growled. He turned back around, grateful Vrilakir didn't do him the injustice of further restraint. She even looked a little pleased. He didn't hear anything out of Hyatt as he walked away.
Councilor Lyric's expression, however, was now clearly a frown. In a strange turn of events, Brant was grinning, which was the most expression Garrus had seen on the salarian yet. The four of them moved away from the group and into a secluded alley.
"Vrilakir, I asked you to prevent a confrontation," Lyric sighed, pressing a hand to her own forehead.
"It was already a confrontation, and it seemed like he deserved it," Vrilakir shrugged. Lyric groaned.
"I do feel pretty good now," Garrus said, attempting to sound fulfilled. Lyric saw right through it.
"Don't fake it, Garrus," she told him, frowning again. Garrus looked away and rubbed the back of his neck.
"Don't kick me when I'm down," he grumbled, almost pleading.
"All week, every piece of press about the celebration will now have footage of you punching a civilian," Lyric scolded. Brant barely managed to put on a serious expression.
"Don't worry, I don't think the recordings caught you talking about sniping him," Vrilakir offered, but it didn't help matters.
"It's not like I was planning on this happening," Garrus defended, but could still barely meet her gaze. His mandibles were continuously twitching.
"You were just out getting groceries?" Lyric challenged, raising a brow.
"Oh, Spirits, I forgot to get napkins," Garrus grumbled, barely able to manage a sarcastic tone. Brant snickered and Vrilakir barked a laugh. Garrus looked up just in time to see Lyric break, her stern demeanor giving way to laughter. By then it was too contagious for any of them to resist and they all ended up in full hilarity, Brant barely able to keep Lyric from falling completely over. Garrus almost thought he heard Shepard laughing along with them, but convinced himself it was his imagination.
After several minutes and deep breaths, they managed to compose themselves. They all were silent for a moment as Garrus returned first to the seriousness of their conversation.
"...I'll leave for Palaven," he announced flatly. "It will keep me from any more unnecessary publicity. The Council can make it clear they don't endorse punching civilians."
"...Garrus, you don't--"
"I have to get off the Citadel," he interjected, then was wringing his hands and rambling. "I can hear her, Councilor, I see her in places where she's not. Now that I know she's gone, I... I need to get somewhere else and see if I can get her out of my head."
Silence passed between them, and Councilor Lyric's expression once again became unreadable. After a long pause she conceded.
"I won't stop you. Please keep me informed of your travels."
"Yeah, I will," he sighed heavily, then his tone became earnest. "Thanks for... everything. I consider you a friend."
"You're welcome, Garrus," Lyric said softly, her usual warm smile on her face. "I'm glad we're friends."
Garrus gave a respectful nod then took his leave, but heard Lyric speaking as he went.
"Brant, make sure no one filmed us laughing, and if they did, pay them."
Hours later, Garrus still couldn't fight off his discontent. He was too restless to go home after the incident with Hyatt so he'd gone out shopping, finding gifts to bring home to his father and sister. Even after that he still felt like a tangle of conflict and he didn't even know where half of it was coming from. Seeing no alternative option, he shipped his purchases to his apartment and carefully chose a bar to wander into.
It was called simply: Ache. It had just the right level of obscurity and discretion without too many red flags of sketchy business (though there wasn't much that would concern him at this point). The lights were low, the music deep and pulsing, and the patrons... hopefully too occupied with their own "aches" to give him much thought, as he was them. He settled into a seat at the corner of the bar and signaled for the bartender, an asari.
"Give me a steady stream of poladis, as cold as you can make it," he requested, passing over his credit chit. "You know who to charge. Also, you'll be tipped very well for your discretion." He gave her a pointed look.
"Absolutely, generic turian," she told him, swiping up the chit. "But if you really want to be incognito, you'll put that away." She pointed to his visor. Garrus blinked as she walked away. He was so used to the thing he'd never considered removing it to be less detectable while out and about. Shepard had used her hair similarly; if it was in a bun, she was making her presence known, but if it was down, she'd almost always blend in. Of course, his visor had a lot more functionality than her hair.
Garrus took off the visor and stared at it in his hand for a moment. It felt awkward, but maybe it would be worth it. With a shrug, he tucked it into a pocket.
"Much better," the asari said, returning with his chit and a near-frozen poladis. He hadn't had a poladis in ages. It was the color of turian blood and often served at military retirement parties. He thanked the asari and started a steady rhythm of sinking deeper and deeper into the drink.
There'd been quite a few messages from the Normandy team throughout the day. Wrex had shared four different reports of the confrontation and was thoroughly celebrating. Many expressed approval, if not amazement. Liara had kept it simple with: "Wow. Just wow." Outside of Councilor Lyric, no one had attempted to scold him. Eventually Xanossi had sent him messages too, but he didn't look at them.
He didn't have it in him to make much of a reply. All he'd managed was a couple of nonchalant remarks. Liara and Vega had both sent him an individual message checking in, but he truly didn't know what to say.
Much later in the night, the asari bartender came to him with a different drink, setting it down without a word. Garrus narrowed his eyes at it, unsure what it was. He picked it up, looked at it, smelled it, tasted, then recognized it. It was the drink he'd first brought to Shepard's cabin before the suicide mission.
"Excuse me," he said, clearing his throat. He already felt groggy. The asari came back over. "Why did you bring this to me?"
"You ordered it," she said flatly.
"...I did?" he mumbled. "Oh. Thank you."
The asari left. He still didn't remember ordering it but it wasn't worth the trouble to figure it out.
Just before he finished it, he heard his name, and thought he was imagining it, until Xanossi sat down next to him.
"Garrus! Hey, are you okay?" she asked, placing her hand on his shoulder and studying him with worried eyes.
"How did you know where I was?!" he asked, shaking his head. "Or do you always come here?"
"It's not important--"
"It is too important, she's not getting a tip if she ratted me out," Garrus slurred seriously, gesturing towards the bartender on the other side of the bar. "She's not your sister or something, is she?"
"It wasn't the bartender," Xanossi assured him, a smile creeping onto her face. "One of my coworkers spotted you. They're gone now, though."
"Mmm," he grumbled, and looked back at his drink. "That doesn't exactly explain why you're here..."
"I heard about what happened today, with the anti-syns," she said gently. "You've certainly had a lot of... intense moments lately."
"Is that what's wrong with me?" Garrus scoffed, signaling the bartender for another drink before finishing off the one he had.
"I'm worried about you," Xanossi admitted. "Well, not exactly worried, but... I do care about you, and I wish things weren't so complicated for you right now."
"Hah," he said, shaking his head again, "life never really was simple, but Spirits, it sure seems like it was now."
The bartender set down a drink but as Garrus went to pick it up, Xanossi took his hand. She placed her other hand on the side of his face and gently turned it towards her. The amount of compassion in her eyes softened the tension in his shoulders and he found himself leaning in to her touch.
"It can be that simple again."
The earnestness in her voice made him want to believe her.
"How?" he said weakly.
Xanossi seemed thoughtful for a moment, but kept her eyes on his. Then, she smiled, and the hand on his face dropped to his other hand. She stood and gently tugged so he was facing away from the bar.
"For a start... dance with me," she told him. It wasn't a question. The music was slow and even without hearing the words it seemed to speak of longing. Even though Garrus already knew in his mind exactly how to move to this song, he balked firmly. His eyes widened as he leaned away, but Xanossi didn't let go of his hands.
"No, I can't-- I'm afraid I--" he stammered.
"Afraid? Of what?" Xanossi paused to ask. Garrus's mandibles twitched as he worked up the courage to admit it.
"I'm afraid I'll dance with you and think of Shepard. And I don't think that's fair to you."
Xanossi let out a deep chuckle, as if she knew something he didn't, and then leaned in close.
"Garrus," she whispered, causing his breath to catch, then spoke with complete sincerity and self-assuredness. "I don't care."
He was caught too off-guard to resist her next motion as she swept both of them out into a space where others were dancing. He opened his mouth to protest once more, but couldn't find it in him to do so.
Xanossi's body pressed close against his and the softness of her movement was contagious. Garrus melted into the acceptance, the safety, the comforting physical touch he'd been so starved of. Within two beats his hand settled in on Xanossi's waist and her hand fell on his shoulder as he took the lead. His eyes closed, finding a sense of mental stillness and peace he hadn't felt in the waking world for a year.
Even though it had been so long, Garrus realized he remembered what dancing with Shepard felt like enough to feel the difference in Xanossi. Shepard had been taller, but not by much, and her hands were bigger.
But it wasn't just the shapes that were different, the movement was as well. Shepard flexed and arched like supple wood; toned and taut even when relaxed, with complete mastery over her muscles. Xanossi was all water and wind, soft and lilting, but only because some deep undercurrent was dormant.
"Garrus," Xanossi whispered. He opened his eyes to look at her but she kept her head resting gently against his shoulder. The room around him slowly melted away and became a sunny beach. He could smell the ocean but still hear the music from Ache.
"The Citadel is not the place for you now. Let me help you focus on something else," she continued. "Something new."
The bright blue of the water turned green and a valley filled with wildflowers stretched out before him. Craggy mountains reached up on either side to breathtaking heights. The tall grass tickled his legs.
"We could go anywhere. Where would you go to relax?"
The greens deepened and closed in around them, creating a dense tropical forest. The only break was a small pond and waterfall that gently cascaded down. They were close enough that he could feel water droplets on his face. He unconsciously let out a small rumble from his chest.
"Mmm, good choice," Xanossi said with a contented sigh.
A few moments passed, still dancing to the bar music. From Garrus's peripherals he caught sight of something bright. He turned his head just slightly and saw a gold bird, with emerald eyes and a rough black crest, perched in a tree. He stared at it and it stared at him. He remembered that bird somehow... it reminded him of something.
Before he could chase down the thought, the bird disappeared. It must have flown away. Garrus closed his eyes again, feeling so relaxed he could almost fall asleep.
"Let's go together, right now. I'll help you find you again. There is a version of Garrus Vakarian that exists without Shepard and it's time to find him."
Vakarian without Shepard?
The thought sent him into a tailspin. He opened his eyes and the jungle around them dissipated. All of a sudden he felt empty and lost. He blinked and tried to reorient himself within the bar.
"Garrus, are you--"
There's no Shepard without Vakarian.
His dancing stopped. All the conflict and tangled emotion resurfaced. How could he even begin to reconcile all of it?
He was so caught up in confusion he almost didn't notice Xanossi lift her head and look at him. Her brows were deeply furrowed and she seemed just as troubled. He realized he hadn't responded to what she had started to say. Did she ever finish?
"I'm sorry... what?" he asked quietly.
"...nothing," Xanossi said, but her tone was much less confident. "Just that we should get away for the week, together."
There's no Shepard without Vakarian.
Xanossi brought herself closer again and Garrus could feel her calming energy radiating out and beginning to seep into him. But something was wrong.
There's no Shepard without Vakarian.
"Garrus--" she started to plead, but before she could say anymore, Garrus took both her hands in his and took a slow step back. He met her gaze, a deep frown on her face. She looked like she wanted to say something, but didn't know what.
"I'm sorry, Xanossi. I can't," he said calmly but firmly. He looked down and gave her hands a light squeeze. "At least right now... there is no Vakarian without Shepard."
He released her hands and turned away, stopped by the bar to generously tip the bartender as promised, and then left the building. He didn't know if Xanossi watched him go, or how upset she might have been, but she didn't try to stop him.