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The Green Wave

Chapter Text

It's the start of us, waking up, come on
Are you ready? I'll be ready
I don't want control, I want to let go
Are you ready? I'll be ready
'Cause now it's time to let them know
We are ready, what about us?
What about us?
What about all the times you said you had the answers?
What about us?
What about all the broken happy ever afters?
Oh, what about us?
What about all the plans that ended in disaster?
Oh, what about love? What about trust?
What about us?

What About Us by Gavin Mikhail & The Cameron Collective

*****

A millisecond after the Normandy shut it's hangar bay door and thrust itself out of the hot zone, Garrus broke. He knew he'd made the most asinine decision of his life. He would've died on that battlefield with less regret than he was feeling then, he was sure.
"No--"
The tumult of the battlefield was gone within seconds, replaced by sharp, anguished murmurs of auxiliary crewmembers, Garrus's own gasping breath, and the groaning of Vega beside him, sitting on the floor where they both had collapsed. It was the sounds of defeat, the anthem of Shepard's last stand that none of them would witness.
"No--!"
Garrus launched himself to his feet, adrenaline and rage and shame fueling his injured and bleeding body into his own last stand. He slammed the bay door with his hands, willing it to open so he could be at Shepard's side again, despite the fact that they were already well on their way out of Earth's atmosphere.
Dr. Chakwas rushed into the hangar with medical supplies, selfishly yearning to see Shepard there, eyes wide as she surveyed the room. Her face fell and she joined the collective despair as she watched Garrus wage war with reality. Vega slowly heaved himself to his feet and reached for Garrus's shoulder, his expression pained. The turian struck his hand away and Vega made a more forceful attempt. Garrus growled viciously and turned, lunging forward, but he found his hands had no grip, his legs no strength, and the room was going dark.
"No--..."
Deep blue blood was draining from his right shoulder and left flank. Vega caught him on his way down and Chakwas was nearby immediately, kneeling over Garrus's torso. His body betrayed him and his eyes slowly closed as he realized with bitterness that Shepard had made the only call she could to save his life.

*****

Like an ethereal torrent, the energy of synthesis crashed through the Normandy. The ship groaned and protested against it's pressure, fighting to stay stable. In the med bay, Chakwas froze, staring at her own gloved hands in confusion and wonder. Vega was on the bed in front of her, unconscious, and as she looked him over it was as if she suddenly comprehended far more about him and his medical condition than she had before. She watched his features soften in his sleep.
Then she felt it.
"Shepard?"
Garrus had spoken what-- or rather, who-- she was feeling. He was shifting on his own medical table and Chakwas turned to face him, steadying his shoulder as he tried to sit up.
"She's... here?" he grumbled, blinking away his grogginess.
"It only feels that way," Chakwas replied gently. Garrus's mandibles flared as he also looked at his own hands and then around the room. He reached up and removed his visor, blinked, then put it back on.
"What is this...?" he asked.
"I don't know. It must be what she's done to--"
"Hold on, hold on, brace for impact!" Joker's voice over the intercom interrupted them, followed by EDI's.
"I don't know what's happening... but we'll make it."
The Normandy pitched and Garrus and Chakwas braced against the bed and each other as the ship landed somewhere it was never supposed to.

*****

10 hours, 33 minutes, 12 seconds.

EDI and Liara were keeping time since "the event" as though B.C. had just changed to A.D.
Everyone knew something had changed and the best minds were already working to label it. Most in the galaxy were still adjusting to it. Defining it would take far more time.
EDI was one of the first to successfully reestablish a communication line cross-system. She had reached Liara who was still on Earth, at what was beginning to be referred to as London's Crux. EDI's next target was reaching Admiral Hackett, if he'd survived, or his successor if he had not.
A lot was unknown and neither the Normandy party nor Earthside had much to share with the other. EDI, Liara, and Chakwas were all discussing the new state of being, simply from theoretical and personal perspectives. The most obvious change felt simply like thinking faster. Understanding and new ideas came as quickly as looking it up in the Shadow Broker network (even though Liara didn't currently have access to that resource). It was like a mental database. Not perfect, and not complete, but more than it was.
Garrus had settled in the comm room to listen and not moved for hours, save for the wringing of his hands. He stared at the floor in front of him, saying nothing, absorbing everything. Learning about what happened was the closest he could get to Shepard, or even news of her. Joker was present also, his arm over EDI's shoulder, but was spending more time marveling at the changes than analyzing them.

A new voice entered the conversation via Liara's side. Various other personnel had been coming and going, giving her pieces of the puzzle as she intercepted messengers.
"...really? That's... good to hear." The zest with which Liara had been discussing the synthesis fell away like a fire dying in the wind.
"We've got visual on the Citadel again, but no other connection yet," Liara relayed. Garrus's mandibles twitched but he didn't look up. She continued, "It's been badly damaged. The conduit is still live, but we don't know if it goes anywhere sustainable, and it will be some time before tests are run... There's likely millions more casualties there."
"If Shepard's there, she'll find a way," Chakwas murmured. Garrus's mandibles flared then, and his breathing became unsteady for a moment.
"You all felt her, too, didn't you?" EDI asked, her tone solemn.
"It felt like she walked into the room to say hello, like she always did on the Normandy," Liara replied, her voice barely audible through the less-than-ideal signal.
"It still feels like she's here. Everywhere," Joker commented.
"You're talking like she's dead," Garrus snapped.
"Garrus..."
He scoffed at the pity in Liara's voice, still not meeting anyone's eyes.
"We don't know anything. Do I think she's alive...? She may as well be," he said roughly. There was a long pause.

"Wherever she is... she's given us an incredible gift," Chakwas remarked with reverence.
"I don't want it at the expense of her life," the turian huffed.
"She didn't give her life to give us an advanced state; she gave her life to stop the war," EDI corrected.
"That's right," Liara confirmed. "Fighting and ending the war was part of her duty, and her expertise. No one expected it to happen this way, but it did."
"I don't think I even really understand what Shepard's "gift" was..." Joker began, shrugging before a wide grin spread across his face. "...but I have a feeling things are going to be very different. And better. Even though she's gone, I just feel excited."
"And grateful," Chakwas added. "She was probably the only one who could do such a thing for us."
"Now you're talking like she's a deity," Garrus pointed out with a terse laugh.
A small smile touched EDI's face, something that was happening more often than before.
"If this is the start of an entirely new universe... she may as well be."

*****

38 hours, 24 minutes, 49 seconds.

The relays were still down, as were most of the communication lines, but the leaders of the forces on London felt sending scouts up to the Citadel was feasible enough to be a priority. It's position over Earth made it an opportune time for humans to play a part in restoring it and further their prominence in intergalactic dealings.
For once, however, politics and positioning were only a small part of the motivations. The Citadel represented the past and the future to every species. There was sentimental significance and more than a bit of pride backing the idea of reinstating it to what it once was, and more, as their new abilities inevitably became rapid advancements in civilization.
Some very basic probes had been sent first. The degrees of destruction spanning the massive station were in the process of being carefully mapped. Preliminary reports showed that many of the large buildings had been leveled, with much more than that hollowed out, only skeletal supports remaining. There was barely any remnant of smaller markets and residential areas.
Power appeared to be working in about 30% of the Citadel, with spotty functionality. From a distance it appeared two of the arms of the Citadel had severe structural integrity issues, to the point where some feared they would break off entirely. Activity from residents had been confirmed, with basic repair and resources being organized as efficiently as possible.
But the cavalry had arrived; at least a small forward party of them. The shuttles were flying in mostly blind, the pilot's nerves causing them to be extra cautious. Visibility wasn't helping as air quality was poor and the rubble made the landscape so unrecognizable it may as well have been an unknown planet.

There were three large caravans, carrying 15-20 warm bodies each. A third of them were engineering specialists, the rest war-torn but ambitious soldiers. Each of them were armed, but every weapon was holstered, for now. No one expected hostiles, but old habits were still in play.
Liara, Wrex, and Kaidan had easily secured positions on the expedition. While most of the troops were Alliance, a couple high-ranking turian and asari personnel were also invited as a show of camaraderie. The three Normandy alumni were near the front of the group, and the Alliance troops recognized them for who they were. Shepard's crew was known for many things, and their exceptional bond was one of them. It was fairly obvious they were using a private comm channel in addition to the one they shared with the troops, but what wasn't obvious was that the Normandy herself was patched in.
The feed from Wrex's armor was being broadcast ship wide. Engineering crews were working hard to repair the Normandy's structures and listening to the audio intently, knowing each operation was making history. Joker and EDI were sitting comfortably in the comm room, thrilled to have their eyes on the front lines. Vega paced stiffly around the table and Garrus stood rigid with his attention glued to the feed, even though for the moment it simply showed the inside of the shuttle door.
"If this doesn't get the krogan a seat on the Council, nothing will," Joker said with a smirk.
"We're getting it no matter what it takes," Wrex grunted back.
"Don't encourage him to think of other tactics," Kaidan pleaded. Wrex chuckled.
"Don't worry, I've got my priorities straight. Let's sort this place out."

The shuttles landed at one of the first docks they had deemed suitable, close to the central area of the Presidium. The doors opened and Wrex was the first one out into the haze.
"Reclamation begins now, folks," he grumbled, surveying the scene. The docks being usable looked like a miracle compared to the debris at their feet. Concrete, dust, metal, rubble, and even bodies when you looked close enough, obscured all pathways. Somehow the Citadel was sustaining oxygen, gravity, and atmo here, but past that there were no guarantees. It looked like a night with a full moon, the visibility dark and dusty but with enough silver to light the way.
As if the station didn't look unrecognizable enough, above them loomed the Crucible. It's shape was intact, in fact most of it was in better shape than the Citadel, but it was never meant to be pretty. The Crucible, for so long, had been a symbol of desperation, hope, and even retaliation. They didn't know what it would do before they utilized it, and in many ways, they still didn't know what it had done. The Alliance crew looked at it proudly, but to Shepard's crew, it may as well be her unofficial gravestone.
"Reminds me of Tuchanka. Nothing seems to be where it's supposed to," Wrex commented.
"Goddess," Liara said, gazing at the Crucible with wonder.
"That's what ended the war?" Kaidan asked with a grimace, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Shepard ended the war. That's an eyesore," Wrex corrected him.

"Man... where do you even start?" Joker asked, struggling to believe what he was seeing was even the Citadel. He shuddered as he caught sight of a salarian body not far from Wrex, crushed by a fallen support beam.
"You start where you are," Vega chimed in. "No better place than there."
"I'm guessing the Admirals will have some more specific guidance for us," Liara pointed out.
Two Admirals who stepped up in Anderson's absence had accompanied the troops to the Citadel. Ellorie Solloway was stepping out of the second shuttle now, her dark eyes and strong features all business. Her black hair was tucked up neatly into a bun, out of the way of a wide visor that was certainly feeding her as many intel updates as they had.
"Hey Garrus, why don't you have a visor that big?" Joker said with a smirk.
"Zinger from the peanut gallery," Vega laughed dryly. Garrus only grunted in reply.

Behind Solloway was Risto Keogh, and he was the youngest Admiral in Alliance history. His optimistic expression betrayed him the most, brightly beaming from his freckled face and blue eyes. He also had a large visor on, but it appeared to be assessing the mechanical functionality of the structures around him.
The group made their way to form one large body, but didn't get very far before a few radios began buzzing.
"We're picking up some local chatter," Solloway said. "Admiral Keogh, can your guys clear this up?"
"On it," he replied, as he and a few engineers behind him pulled up their omnitools.
"I don't think you'll need to... we've got company," Kaidan pointed out.
All eyes turned to observe a fourth shuttle, smaller, making it's way towards their docks. Wrex pulled out his assault rifle, holding it casually, but ready. Kaidan's hand went to his.
"They're not hostile," Liara told them.
"How do you know?" Admiral Solloway asked, making her way forward, also clutching a pistol.
"You mean you don't?" Liara retorted, her brow furrowed.
The Admiral paused, watching the shuttle settle into the only safe remaining space as delicately as possible. Kaidan's hand fell away from his weapon, looking confused.
"What... is that? How do I know that whoever is in there is happy to see us?" he asked.
"Another effect of the synthesis?" Garrus asked, turning to look at EDI.
"It's possible," the AI agreed with a nod.
"Fascinating," Liara breathed. "There's not only greater mental capacities, but emotional as well. This should be studied--"
"Save your theories and research for the lab, Liara," Wrex said. "This is a boots-on-the-ground mission."
"Perhaps krogan are immune? Can't you feel the calmness?" she teased.
"I just like to hold my gun," he shrugged. "When's the last time you heard a krogan talk about it's feelings anyway?"
"Now I know why you Normandy squad have your private channel. Enough with the chatter," Solloway scolded, narrowing her eyes at each of them.
"She's just jealous," Joker taunted, but those on the Citadel fell silent as three figures stepped out of the unknown shuttle. One of them became more and more familiar as they approached.

"I was wondering when someone Earthside would make it here."
Other than a slight limp and his right arm in a sling, Admiral Hackett looked as well as ever.
"Oo-rah! That crafty old dog made it!" Vega cheered from the Normandy.
"I won't tell him you called him that," Kaidan snickered, then snapped into a salute with the rest of the Alliance troops.
"As you were," Hackett nodded. "Rabbit, help Keogh with the new comm frequencies," he added, addressing one of the two assistants with him, a petite, older woman with white hair pulled back into a bun. She immediately approached Keogh and began tweaking his omnitool with a cheery smile.
"Ask him what's being done to determine Shepard's status," Garrus said flatly. Kaidan and Liara shifted uncomfortably but remained silent.
"Well... plenty of sitrep to go around, eh?" Solloway said, offering her hand in greeting to Hackett. "I don't believe we've formally met. I'm Admiral Solloway."
"Forgive me, my right hand is dead, Admiral," Hackett replied, politely dismissing her handshake.
"Ask him about Shepard, or Anderson, or wherever they might have activated the Catalyst," Garrus hissed, but again went ignored.
"Oh, er, I'm sorry to hear that," Solloway replied.
"Don't be. Between Rabbit and Halcomb I have two right hands now," he said. The other man behind him, who appeared rather young, gave a small, confirming shrug.
"Have they looked for the bodies?" Garrus persisted.
"Hackett knows what he's doing," Vega said, his tone just as much a growl as the turian's.

"Where can we be of most service, sir?" Kaidan asked, stepping forward, his tone emphasizing "service". Garrus scoffed and turned away from the screen.
"We're back to the basics," Hackett grunted. "Communication lines are improving; we've untangled some upgraded frequencies that Rabbit will get you up to speed with. Living conditions are miserable in most areas here. Dead and wounded are still being pulled out of the rubble. Structural integrity and reliable water and energy would make a world of difference right now. The Keepers seem to be working on it, but they're slow. Believe it or not, some husks have been spotted helping them."
"The Citadel is certainly large enough to warrant all hands on deck," Liara mumbled, trying to ignore the ripple of disquiet that made its way through the gathered troops. Some Reaper forces had been hanging around the Crux, too. They didn't communicate, but appeared capable of greater intelligence than animals. They were like dogs in that they were ready and willing to be supportive to a cause bigger than them, and yet as physically and technically capable as geth. For the most part they'd been keeping their distance, but some had noticed them beginning to construct crude shelters and waterways outside of the main Alliance camps.
Hackett's eyes looked over Liara, Kaidan, and Wrex.
"Halcomb, get Solloway and Keogh up to speed and delegate roles appropriately. I'll be a minute." He gestured to the Normandy crew. "You three, with me."

The four of them stepped away from the main crowd and Garrus once again was watching intently.
"Off the record," Hackett said, switching off his comms and the others did the same, but left the line to the Normandy open.
"I don't have any answers regarding Shepard or what led up to the event," he said right away. "But I have some ideas. Has the Normandy AI made contact with you yet?"
"She's listening, sir," Kaidan admitted. Hackett raised a brow.
"And Joker, then?"
"Aye, sir."
Joker gave a casual salute from his seat in the comm room as Liara got Hackett caught up with who all was listening in.
"Asked for by name," Vega sneered. "Aren't you special."
"I don't call him a crusty old dog," Joker replied.
"I said crafty, not crusty! It's a compliment!"
"Whatever."

"I have plans for any of the Normandy crew that would like a formal assignment," Hackett continued. "It's not in place yet, but it's high priority. I'd like the ship back here as soon as possible."
"The Normandy requires some repairs, but it's the relays that will be most difficult to travel without," Liara pointed out.
"Indeed." Hackett paused and gave a heavy sigh, looking down. "Assuming we get communication feeds back in a timely manner and can locate enough Citadel and Alliance officials, I'd like to hold a memorial service for the civilian and military casualties of the Reaper War within 30 days of the synthesis."
"Including Shepard?" Liara and Garrus asked at once.
"Excepting she comes waltzing out of the rubble as she has before... yes," he replied, his tone solemn.
"Tell him we'll retire the Normandy," Joker interjected suddenly. "It can be its own memorial."
"Is that your decision to make?" EDI asked, her tone simply curious.
"It's just as much mine as anyone else's here, unless someone else is going to fly it," Joker said firmly. "We can have formal objections later."
"I just need to get back there," Garrus said quietly.

"We'd like the Normandy to be present for the memorial," Liara relayed to Hackett.
"Of course."
"Somehing's happening," Wrex suddenly announced, his eyes skyward.
"What? What is it?" Garrus asked.
All talking on the Citadel had ceased as the group slowly scanned the glowing outline of the Citadel around them. Every one of them could feel it: something ancient and dauntless. Then they could hear it, and those on the Normandy could too. A deep, mechanical droning was coming from above and all around them.
"It's the Reapers," Hackett confirmed, his demeanor tense and unsure. Their outlines were visible now through the haze as several of them floated around and within the Citadel, and more were coming.
"What are they doing?" Kaidan asked in a whisper.
"They don't... feel threatening," Wrex muttered.
"Ready to talk about your feelings now, Wrex?" Liara snickered and he just grunted. Rabbit suddenly turned and darted towards Hackett.
"Sir, I've just received word that the Local Cluster relay appears to be back online," she reported.
"Well, that's... quite something," Hackett mused, then looked back at the Normandy squad. "Looks like we may see the Normandy again sooner than we all thought."

Chapter Text

Does she know that we bleed the same?
Don't wanna cry but I break that way
Did she run away?
Did she run away? I don't know
If she ran away
If she ran away, come back home
Just come home
I got a fear, oh, in my blood
She was carried up into the clouds, high above
If you bled, I'll bleed the same
If you're scared, I'm on my way
Did you run away?
Did you run away? I don't need to know
If you ran away
If you ran away, come back home
Just come home

Where's My Love by SYML

*****

Garrus had been lying on his cot in the main battery for an hour. The lights were dimmed but the silence was far too harsh. Having the Normandy barely online for so long was driving him crazy; even when it was docked, in most places there was the hum of a station or other traffic. The more he failed at falling asleep, the angrier he felt, and finally he darted back to his feet.
But then, there was nowhere to go. Nowhere he wanted to go. There was not a single enticing destination available to him.
He walked to his terminal and jabbed at it to call Liara. He hadn't attempted to reach her outside of the comm room before, but it wasn't long before he heard her voice.
"Hello, Garrus," she greeted him gently. "Are you in the main battery?"
"Yeah. It's too quiet here," he replied gruffly.
"I can tell from here," she said, then there was a pause. Garrus was about to say he didn't know why he called and hang up, but she continued. "Have you been sleeping?"
"Not really."
"...I've been dreaming of Shepard."
"It seems many of the crew have," he grunted, turning halfway, as if unable to meet even the direction of her voice.
"Yourself included?" she asked.
"My dreams are always about her. But she's never there... The Normandy is like a prison, isolated here, without her." Garrus's eyes scanned the battery. It was still so familiar and a part of him recalled how much it felt like home... but he didn't know what to make of it now.
"Have you been off the ship at all? EDI has told me you're in a jungle. It sounds beautiful," Liara said, trying to lighten her tone.
"No. What if there's an update while I'm away?" he answered quickly.
"It will still be there when you get back," she pointed out.

"Do you think she's there in some secret corner of the Citadel, waiting for the rest of us to get back?" he asked. His tone was sincere and thoughtful.
"I don't know where I think she is," Liara sighed. "Some of the team studying the Cynosure speculate she underwent some kind of apotheosis, and now exists in each one of us."
"It's been almost two weeks," Garrus breathed, shaking his head. "Under normal circumstances she'd have been declared dead by now."
"Circumstances are far from normal, and many even unknown," Liara admitted.
"Yeah." He gave a heavy sigh, thinking of all the unknown possibilities. The Cynosure (the name they gave whatever it was that Shepard did with the Catalyst to trigger the synthesis) was still mostly a mystery to everyone. He knew many were working to try and understand it, but it wasn't at a point that he could comprehend. Regardless, he wished he could listen in to those conversations; studies of the end of the Reaper War were also considered studies of "Shepard's Gift". Who knows what would be discovered in the coming weeks, months, years...?
"...she beat death once already," he murmured.
"Garrus, I don't know if it's wise to set your hopes on--"
"I'm not setting my hopes on anything yet," he interjected firmly. "But I do know... that I once wrote her off as never coming back. I tried to form a life without her, and then she literally charged back into my life and saved it, more than once." He heard Liara sigh, but she didn't say anything. He turned back to the terminal. "I don't know what to expect, Liara. But I know better than I did then."
"You should go outside, Garrus. Get someplace unfamiliar and see what thoughts come then," she said, soft but encouraging.
"...okay," he conceded.
"Take a picture for me. Or paint one, or something," she requested.
"Yeah. Talk to you later, Liara."
"See you soon."

*****

The rustling of foliage with every movement was somewhat unnerving; Garrus was more used to moving undetected. Long, fine tendrils stretched up from the ground and nearly reached his hips everywhere he went. Trees just twice as tall as him with broad leaves became more common the further away from the Normandy he got.
He'd made it off the ship without anyone asking questions, though he was sure EDI took note of his departure. His omnitool and visor had only very basic functions, but he had one set to track his movements so that he could trek out in whatever direction he pleased and not be concerned with knowing how to get back.
The sun above was smoldering, and Garrus could see one large moon close to the horizon. It felt like Palaven, except far more humid and colorful. His casual clothes weren't ideal for the humidity and soon were clinging to him uncomfortably, but there was enough on his mind for it to barely phase him.
It was beautiful here. A spectrum of greens surrounded him, with only small patches of ruddy stems and delicate white blossoms. Though he couldn't see any wildlife, he was fairly sure he heard trills and rumbling calls from far away. The sky above had a shade of lavender within the royal blue. He took a deep breath and wondered if it was perhaps the freshest breath of air he'd ever drawn in.
Shepard would love it here.

He pressed on, heading for the more forested areas to find as much shade as possible. The further he got from the Normandy, the clearer his mind became. It was a lot easier to think about the present when he didn't feel so suffocated by the past.
Of course, his thoughts were still with Shepard, but not about how empty the Normandy was without her. He thought about walking with her on the Presidium, how she always seemed to enjoy seeing a new part of the Citadel. Shuttle rides to missions, when her jaw was set and her blue eyes were full of resolve and confidence. The time they'd lingered at a club on Illium, when she laughed and actually appeared relaxed. Shuttle rides back from successful missions with her dusty armor, disheveled blonde hair, and proud but playful smile.
His breath caught and he swallowed hard, unprepared for the onslaught of memories. The synthesis seemed to bring them up faster, too. His pace slowed and he eventually stopped, bracing himself against a tree with one hand as he tried to reel his heart back in... But it was lightyears away, chasing the Cynosure and the last touch of Shepard to the end of the universe.
Movement ahead startled him and he jumped, his hand darting to the pistol at his hip. A bright marigold bird-like creature that was half as big as him swept down and landed on a branch unnaturally close to him, and seemed unbothered by his abrupt motion. It observed Garrus's shaky breaths with six emerald eyes, craning its neck. It had clearly powerful talons and its wings were disproportionately large to its body. Black ridges were lined from the top of its head down the spine to a flat, rounded tail.
Three more of the birds arrived and also landed nearby, communicating with soft trills, shows of their feathers, and tilts of their head. But the first never looked away from Garrus, and he felt his breathing steady and heart rate slow as he met it's gaze.

A flood of memories sparked within him.
He blinked and he was whisked away to years ago, his mother's sigh like a whisper before him. She was seated in the sunroom, painting these golden birds, her form relaxed but weak with her back to him. In the memory he stepped forward, and his mother turned to embrace him, but it was his sister's arms that fell around him. She was sobbing. He lifted his arms to comfort her but then she stepped away. Old sorrow was replaced with fresh heartache that tore through him as he realized he was at the Normandy's hangar bay and it wasn't his sister, but Shepard, backing away from him with her eyes full of tears.
"I always will."
"Shepard, I--"
He blinked and then he was back in the jungle, four golden birds watching him carefully as he sunk down onto his knees and stared at the delicate grass below him.
"...love you too."
Without any further warning, all four of the birds launched themselves off the branch and directly towards him. Garrus's arms flailed as he shouted and fell onto his back. The birds let out a series of shrieks as they veered back up and disappeared above the treeline. His chest heaved as he caught his breath and tried to catch up to his own thoughts and emotions.

"...when my mother passed away... my dad became even more stoic than normal." Garrus slowly rolled over and pushed himself back up to his knees, continuing to speak aloud. "I know I'm a little different than most turians when it comes to wearing my heart on my sleeve, but... my dad's grief was festering like a bad wound. Solana encouraged him to be open. She said if he didn't want to open up to us, he could just go somewhere quiet alone and start thinking of her, and start talking." His voice broke as he choked on the emotion.
"She didn't know it, but I tried it, too. I'd spent so much time away from her, I needed to feel close, one more time...
"Then one day, just before the Reapers arrived, my dad... He was sitting in his room, surrounded by her art, and just... I'd never heard him talk like that before. Ever. And I don't think he has since."
Garrus nearly crumpled onto the ground again, letting the heartache rise to the surface like a geyser. His hands shook and his mandibles flared as he sat with it for several minutes. Finally, his breathing calmed, he slowly set his shoulders just a little more square.
"I like to think I shared my feelings with you more freely than his example, Shepard, but I still ache to share them with you. You came back to me once when I never thought you would, and we're far more connected now. I felt you when synthesis happened... I need to know how to make it back together again, sooner rather than later. I was an idiot to leave you at all..."
He slowly stood and looked in front of him now, imagining Shepard was standing there, listening. He rubbed the back of his neck.
"Wherever you are, can you... meet me halfway, or something?" he asked, suddenly feeling sheepish. He intended to wait for a reply, but something caught his eye above him. Something was above the planet, but he couldn't make it out through the trees. Then in the distance, a familiar but misplaced hum burst into life. He gasped and immediately turned and darted out from under the canopy.
He looked up as he ran, and both of his suspicions were confirmed. Firstly, the Normandy was operational enough to be online. Secondly, the visitors who had located them were the Reapers.

*****

"So... how exactly are we gonna play this? Is there going to be a welcoming party?"
The main Normandy crew was on the bridge, gathered around a comm connected to the Citadel. The ship was once again spaceworthy, and assumed space-travel-worthy. It hovered above the planet they'd crashed upon, making system checks and stabilizations as they prepared to attempt a return to the Citadel. Most of them were fidgety, Joker more than anyone. Garrus, however, was standing unnaturally still.
Three Reapers had entered the system three days ago. EDI wasn't exactly sure what had happened, but they'd done some kind of jumpstart to the Normandy's systems. The Citadel was giving similar reports, as if the Reapers were somehow tuning everything to a new frequency to get it back online. They'd just finished the mass relay and then used it to exit the system, presumably to go fix another relay.
"Unfortunately there's not really any way to be discreet," Liara replied to Joker. "There's not enough security resources available, and everyone will recognize the Normandy."
"Yeah, but, they know Shepard's not on it, right?" Joker asked, his brow furrowing.
"We've been carefully monitoring and controlling rumors," Hackett admitted grudgingly. "The truth is no one really knows how Shepard's last moments went down. The public simply knows she's considered MIA. I've already gotten word out that the return of the Normandy does not mean the return of Shepard, but... you'll likely still draw a crowd. For now we'll have you dock somewhere more secure and secluded. Before the memorial, we'll work out a resting place for the Normandy."

"So... what should we do?" Vega asked.
"I thought it might make sense to have me and the others come to you first," Liara suggested. "We can sit together on the Normandy for a while and then when crowds have died down, you can make your way out. Our crew has been assigned some fairly comfortable accommodations... relatively, anyway."
"And I don't want to hear any objections about special treatment," Hackett interjected. "You're not celebrities, even if the residents see you as such. We're just keeping you close as things get worked out, so consider it a favor to us."
"No objections here," Joker confirmed, and the others shrugged or nodded.
While many of the Normandy crew understood that they'd be going separate ways, no one had officially discussed it yet. Each of them agreed to be around for the memorial on the Citadel, whenever that happened, but that would signal the departure for many of them.
"Good. I'll send you the coordinates for the dock. Let us know when you're hitting the relay, I have a few operational escorts for you."
"We'll go get things ready now, right EDI?" Joker said cheerfully, turning to her and offering his hand.
"Ready when you are," she replied, and they walked hand in hand towards the cockpit.
"See you soon," Liara said with a smile, and disconnected.

"Vakarian, I'd like to discuss something privately with you," Hackett said, turning his attention to the stoic turian.
"I'll take the call to the battery," Garrus replied, squaring his shoulders. Hackett nodded then the vidcomm disappeared as everyone dispersed.
It was hard to tell from the outside, but Garrus was a bundle of nerves as he rode the elevator down. It wasn't likely this was about Shepard, or else Hackett would've shared it with everyone, or Liara would have. How much did he know about his relationship with Shepard, anyway? Maybe it was about the assignment he mentioned when he first met up with the others on the Citadel? What assignment could he offer those who weren't even Alliance military? Garrus supposed his official position with the turian military, at least as Reaper advisor, was probably retired. From his understanding, the Hierarchy was in contact with the Citadel, but Garrus hadn't personally spoken with any turian, official or otherwise, since the synthesis.
"I'm here, Admiral. Can you read me okay?" Garrus asked as the battery doors closed behind him.
"Not as well as the comm room, but it'll do," Hackett's voice came through the terminal.
"What can I do for you?"
"Well, I don't know the details, and I don't need to, but I understand you and Commander Shepard were in a relationship? And were for some time?" Hackett sounded awkward, which was unusual for him. Any other time Garrus might have found it amusing.
"As far as I'm concerned we still are," he insisted, his mandibles twitching. He fought to keep his tone professional, and almost overdid it. "If you're trying to put a timeline on it, we spent quite a bit of time together before Aratoht and the Viper Relay incident. What's this about?"
"I've received word that Rear Admiral Hannah Shepard did not survive the final moments of the war. It's unclear at what point or how her ship was destroyed, but there were no survivors."
"Oh." Shepard's mother. "I only ever spoke with her through vidcomm..." His mandibles flared and his posture fell. He knew what this was. "You're trying to determine next of kin," he said, his tone flat.
"Yes," Hackett confirmed. "You were high on the list not just because of your relationship, but your service record with the Commander. We're not organized enough for these decisions yet, but I can guarantee there will be commendations to deliver, perhaps one named after her. There's even been some discussion of a statue in her likeness in the future."
The Admiral waited as Garrus sighed, leaning on the terminal and trying to sort through his thoughts. He tried to imagine himself being handed medals meant for Shepard on a stage and swallowed a groan.

"Who else is being considered?" he finally asked.
"Joker would likely be the next person I asked, then Liara. Any of the Normandy alumni will be invited to and honored at the memorial, but there will be other decisions that will need more specific input."
"I don't need that extra spotlight," Garrus mumbled. He heard Hackett give a heavy sigh of understanding.
"To be honest I was kind of hoping you'd say that," the Admiral admitted.
"You were?" Garrus asked, mandibles twitching in confusion.
"Yes. There's a task I'd like to give you, and it will require an extremely high level of discretion and subtlety," he explained.
"Does it involve locating Shepard?" he retorted.
"I can't guarantee that, Vakarian. You do realize, we'll be declaring her killed in action when the memorial takes place. This assignment could carry on long past that point," he said sternly.
Garrus huffed. He didn't know exactly what answer he expected. Wishing for good news was beginning to feel foolish.
"I'm listening."
"Good. Here's the rundown..."

Chapter Text

I am not the only traveler
Who has not repaid his debt
I've been searching for a trail to follow again
Take me back to the night we met
And then I can tell myself
What the hell I'm supposed to do
And then I can tell myself
Not to ride along with you
I had all and then most of you, some and now none of you
Take me back to the night we met
I don't know what I'm supposed to do, haunted by the ghost of you
Oh, take me back to the night we met

The Night We Met by Lord Huron

*****

The mess hall felt so informal for such a gathering, and yet the lounge was too small to fit everyone, so they had no choice. Kaidan, Wrex, Liara, and Tali had boarded the Normandy shortly after it docked. After the auxiliary crews had left there was Joker, EDI, Garrus, Vega, and Chakwas. The mess hall barely fit them all at once.
And yet, regardless of the full space surrounding them, the Normandy felt hollow. Or maybe it was their hearts that felt hollow, each of them reflecting off the other and the empty space where Shepard should be.
Even though the Normandy was docked on the Citadel, there was no usual hum of activity from the outside. Garrus hadn't even looked at it yet, but the silence of rubble was like a pressure pushing in. As much as he'd previously been eager to disembark, now that the time had come, he didn't know how to walk away from the Normandy and not look back.
It wasn't quite at its final resting place yet. Hackett said they would arrange for its retirement docking to take place during the memorial, and a large amount of resources was going towards simply preparing a space. Joker would fly it in near the beginning of the event, and all the crew would then join the exhibition. Garrus wasn't looking forward to it.
Those gathered spent time discussing their plans for the new future and emptying whatever booze they could scrounge up from the last of the Normandy's stashes. Tali, of course, would be returning to Rannoch to build her planet. The prospect of doing so was helping a lot to ease the burden of all that had been lost. Wrex would be doing much of the same on Tuchanka. Bakara and other allies were getting a head start while he stayed on the Citadel, but he was itching to get back to his throne.
Kaidan and Vega both said they'd be happy under Citadel and Alliance instruction, respectively. It was hard to know exactly what military or Spectre operations would look like in a synthesized world, but there was no discussion of laying off troops.

Chakwas was contemplating retiring from space travel, but staying with the Alliance to work in hospitals on base or with the rebuilding efforts.
"Maybe I'll try to find a position working with babies," she teased. "That ought to be simpler than you lot."
"You can come work with all the krogan babies. That won't exactly be simple though," Wrex offered, and several of the group laughed at the idea.
"But then who would give this baby his meds?" Vega chuckled, tilting his head towards Joker.
"She may not need to. I think the synthesis has been changing my bones," Joker shared enthusiastically.
"Really?" Kaidan asked, looking up over his drink.
"My suit has been reporting increased immune strength every day," Tali added.
"Oh, synthesis effects on disease... there's so much to discover!" Liara chimed in.
"If she asks for samples, don't give her any," Wrex interjected. "I learned that from Mordin."
"You got a genophage cure in exchange. Doesn't that make you even?" Garrus pointed out with a good-natured shrug.
"Barely. It hurt." A few of them chuckled but Wrex was too busy throwing back his drink to care.

As much as Joker loved the Normandy, he loved flying more and admitted he wasn't likely to quit.
"If war isn't coming back, though that's yet to be proven, some cushy job chaffeuring officials ought to suit me just fine," he said casually, but then his brow furrowed. "I can find excitement somewhere else, right?" The others assured him he could keep himself entertained.
EDI was the true wildcard. She could go anywhere, do anything. Unsurprisingly, she said she'd like to join Joker on his adventures, maybe have a few of her own.
"Will part of you always be connected to the Normandy?" Tali asked.
"They may attempt to remove me, but I know how to remain undetected," she said thoughtfully.
"Would you want to keep part of yourself here?" Joker asked.
"I think I would. At least... for now," she concluded.
"Huh. My girlfriend having an affair with the Normandy..." he drifted off, looking up as he considered it. "That might be the coolest love triangle ever." Vega spit out his drink laughing, spraying Kaidan across the table who flailed and shouted as everyone laughed. Liara spoke again after things calmed down.
"Honestly, I'm jealous you can keep part of you here," she admitted. A few of the others nodded in agreement.
Liara was, in some ways, also a wildcard. She was in the process of regaining her Shadow Broker network, but wasn't in a rush. Much of that information was valuable because of corruption, and since the synthesis, things felt a lot more harmonious. But would it stay that way for the rest of her lifespan?
"It's just the post-war honeymoon phase," Wrex shrugged. "Some turian will mess with a krogan someday and we'll be back at it."
"I don't know, Wrex, the synthesis is more than just a lack of war. This honeymoon phase might be longer than you think. At least longer than my lifespan," Tali mused, relaxing back into her seat.
"Gracias a Dios for that," Vega agreed.
"One benefit of not living a thousand years," Chakwas grumbled in agreement.
"As well as not having to watch half your friends die before you," Liara pointed out.

"Sometimes that happens no matter what your lifespan is."
The words seemed to rattle around the emptiness of the room in the silence that followed. Garrus almost regretted them as soon as he spoke them, not because he felt it was too heavy a truth for the moment, but because of the wave of pity he felt flow back to him. He scoffed quietly and dismissed himself, making up an excuse of checking one last stash spot for more drinks.
The battery doors opened to let him in, but he didn't hear them close as he reached into a cubby and retrieved another old, cheap bottle of booze he'd nearly forgotten about. He turned, stood back up, and saw Vega leaning in the doorway, not looking at him.
"What, Vega?" Garrus sighed. "I wouldn't expect the 'look on the bright side' talk to come from you." Vega snickered.
"Nah, it won't. At least not now," he admitted. "I was just thinking... all of you had a lot more history with the Commander than I did. I mean, I knew who she was as long as anybody did, but I was grafted in at the end of her story."
"Nobody feels you're out of place, being here," Garrus assured him.
"No, I know, you're all good." He stood up straight and faced the turian, looking him in the eye. "I've been working with you for nearly as long as I have the Commander. Maybe it's just the booze talking, but... I want you to know you're the best turian I've ever worked with."
"Yeah, well... I won't ask how many you've worked with," Garrus chuckled, and Vega did too.
"You never said what your plan is," he pointed out.
"Ah, I'll be on the Citadel for a while," Garrus shrugged and rubbed the back of his neck. "If I hear from my family, I'll eventually make it back to Palaven... outside of that I don't have many ideas."
"There's a lot of people waiting for word on their families," Vega remarked. Garrus looked him over carefully now, but the human seemed lost in his own thoughts. He opened his mouth to speak, but something stopped him; he felt off somehow. Vega began shifting as if he felt it too, and they both realized the others in the mess hall had grown quiet.

They were all standing now, looking at something on the table. Garrus began walking towards them without thinking about it as autopilot seemed to take over. As he got close the others parted to reveal what had sent the trepidation through them all. He sucked in a breath, choking on his protest.
There were two long plaques before him, one displaying David Anderson and another with the Commander's name on it.
"It was a gift from Admiral Hackett, for the Normandy," Liara said quietly.
"They're not declared dead yet," Garrus breathed.
"It needs to happen, Garrus," Kaidan murmured. He lifted the plaque for Anderson as though it were the Admiral's coffin, and stared at it as he gave a heavy sigh. His eyes returned to Garrus expectantly and the turian ignored him, his mandibles flaring as he was unable to look away from her name.
"Now, when we're together, is the time to do it," Chakwas encouraged him.
Time seemed to slow and stretch as Garrus wrestled with himself. It felt unreal, confusing... he couldn't possibly do this. He squeezed his eyes shut against the pain that seemed to ambush him.
A soft hand landed on his shoulder; it was Chakwas. If it had been anyone else he might have shoved it away, but instead, it brought clarity. It needed to happen, as Kaidan said. If nothing else, it would complete the Normandy.
He steeled himself against the confusion, the hurt, and suddenly was numb.
Just like my father.

Autopilot took over once again, and before he knew it he was holding the plaque in his hands. He looked up at those around him and felt an urge to cry for help, but he didn't know why.
Kaidan nodded, turned, and led the way towards the memorial wall in the hallway. The rest followed and Garrus trailed behind as if pulled by a current downstream.
No words were said, but everything was felt. Kaidan placed Anderson's plaque on the wall with all the respect he had within him, then stepped back and saluted. The other Alliance crew did as well.
Kaidan moved to the side and Garrus didn't know how he got there, but suddenly he was standing right in front of the wall, the plaque with his lover's name in his hands.
No. This feels wrong. This doesn't make any sense.
He lifted the plaque and put it in the place he felt it wasn't supposed to be and suddenly started breathing again. He didn't know when he'd stopped. His mandibles flared at how the Normandy immediately felt hundreds times more empty, the pressure from outside immensely more heavy. He could've sworn he felt Shepard's presence, like he had the day of Cynosure, but this time the feeling of it leaving was stronger than it coming. Turning to face the group, he didn't see the Alliance crew once again saluting, his eyes searching for something else lightyears away. Panic was swelling up within him but no one else seemed to realize.

"Have you gone through the things in her cabin yet?" Liara asked, having stepped forward as the others began sharing handshakes and some hugs.
"No," he breathed, his hands clenching into fists as he fought to get grounded again. "Will you... help me with that? Not now... later."
"Of course. Do you want me to show you the housing you'll have here, at least until the memorial?" she inquired.
"Yes."
Liara checked in with the others and Garrus went to the battery to grab the bag he'd already packed with his few critical possessions. His movements were forced and mechanical, and he repeatedly reminded himself that he would come back, at least one more time.
This isn't the end, he thought, but as he walked towards the bridge to exit the Normandy, he felt just as much despair as he did when the hangar bay doors closed.

*****

Garrus shoved off from the desk and jolted out of the seat in Shepard's office area.
"This stupid thing isn't meant for turians," he snarled, giving the chair a shove that knocked it on its side. Liara didn't jump, but her face was twisted into a grimace as she looked at him from her spot near the wardrobe.
"Garrus, this is still Shepard's cabin," she scolded. He turned his back to her, leaning against the wall with one hand as his mandibles flared.
"I'll apologize when she gets back," he snapped, squeezing his eyes shut.
The memorial was in two days. He'd put off coming back to the Normandy for as long as he could, but tomorrow there would be a crew coming in to do a deep clean and prepare it for it's new assignment: simply being on display. In the coming months, there were plans to open up a high-priced opportunity to let some people walk through, with informational signs and tour guides, like a museum. The crew was doing their best to be happy about the prospect; none of them felt right about having it flying, and all the proceeds would be going towards rebuilding efforts.
"There are worse fates for decommissioning," Liara had said, and Garrus couldn't help thinking that Shepard had gotten one of those worse fates.

There'd been no word, no sign, not even a trace of her, or Admiral Anderson, discovered in the 4 weeks since Cynosure. Not even ashes with remnants of her DNA. So, in 2 days, she would officially be declared killed in action, undoubtedly followed by some heartfelt speeches from Hackett and a few of the other officials that were lucky enough to either be alive, or freshly instated within their position.
Councilor Tevos had returned to the Citadel in a fairly timely manner, arriving as soon as the Reapers fixed the relay in the Athena Nebula, where she had been when the Cynosure hit. Councilor Valern and Councilor Sparatus had both been declared dead, replaced by Councilor Jonarth and Councilor Camilio, respectively. Primarch Adrien Victus had also been declared dead, and his place filled by Primarch Fausna. There were even rumors of a new human councilor being appointed, to take Udina's place. Garrus imagined Hackett at least had an idea who it might be, but he of course was tight-lipped.
Most of the races' important officials were still being sorted out, though none of them openly admitted it. Dignitaries were either turning up alive in areas that had previously lacked communication, or their bodies being pulled out of rubble every day. There'd been a scramble to assign the highest of executives, but it was unspokenly clear that there was very little framework beneath them, and so most were simply a face and a name to hold the place until they once again had access to enough resources for them to be useful.
Due to the Vakarian family prestige, Garrus had received word fairly early that both his father and sister were alive and being taken care of. He didn't know when he'd be able to actually speak with them. While communication lines could reach nearly everywhere now, most of the bandwidth was being reserved for high-priority transmissions. Systems for connecting families together were in place and doing their best, but he knew he would've waited a lot longer if it weren't for his own prominence in the war, and his father's closeness to the Hierarchy.

After no further disapproval from Liara, Garrus eventually turned and looked throughout the room. The asari was going through Shepard's clothes, packing them away into a duffel bag. Garrus had wanted to avoid that task, so he had set himself at her terminal to try and retrieve any personal information. Shepard's message center had been seized by the Alliance and Citadel Council for security reasons, but Garrus knew she had a few sentimental images and documents kept there. He'd transferred them to a spare omnitool left in her cabin, then realized with frustration he didn't know what to do with it past that point.
When she'd been spaced, the only thing Garrus had held onto was indignation that she and the Normandy were taken from him. Now, he didn't even know if he should truly be mourning her. If she was everywhere, as Liara had theorized, wasn't she still around him somehow? His own sadness confused him, and that was maddening. Thus, the tossing of the chair-- and it really was uncomfortably small for his anatomy.

He tried to think of something else to do and his eyes landed on the model ships.
"I'm going to leave these here," he announced, gesturing to them, desperate for some semblance of functioning. Liara glanced up from folding a shirt.
"That's not a bad idea," she replied. Garrus tried not to think about people on tour walking into her cabin, but if they were going to anyway, he might as well leave the models to add a personal touch to such a personal space. Maybe it would even be worth getting some new fish, as the old ones hadn't survived the crash and had been tossed out on the planet they were stranded on.
The exclusivity of a privilege such as seeing her cabin was the only way he'd agreed to such a thing; anyone willing to pay the ticket price was likely to be respectful. And they'd be under armed supervision.
"I thought... perhaps whatever commendations or awards they give to Shepard at the memorial could also stay with the Normandy. They could have a nice display up here," he said.
"Or in the hangar bay if they run out of room," Liara said with a smile, and Garrus gave a mirthless laugh. She continued, "I heard Shepard's mother died. Hackett offered you the next of kin rights?"
"Yes. I don't really want them," he replied, fidgeting with the omnitool on the desk.
"Of course not, that would mean facing the idea that she's gone in front of the entire universe," she said casually, tucking a bundle of socks into the bag. Garrus ignored her implication that he was in denial. He didn't know how to explain it in a way that made sense anyway.
"Hackett said if I refused, they'd be offered to you or Joker... I feel better having most of this be a joint decision," he admitted, rubbing the back of his neck.
"I'm happy to be involved," Liara said gratefully. She pulled out Shepard's little, black, formal dress. She sighed wistfully and held it close. "She didn't get to wear this enough." Garrus's mandibles flared and his breath caught in his throat. He turned away again.
"Please..." he whispered pitifully, but he didn't even know what he was asking; there was no request he could be granted that could make this easier. Liara placed the dress into the bag, seemingly unaware of his plea.

"Do you want to work in the bathroom?" she offered. "There's a box there, you can just toss everything in, you don't have to think about it."
That sounded doable. It was just toiletries, right? Garrus walked into the bathroom and reached for the first few items he found on the sink. Mouthwash, in the box. Shepard hated that stuff anyway. Some kind of face cream, in the box. Soap and a washcloth, in the box. Hairbrush...
Spirits, her hair!
Strands of gold were still tangled in the bristles, and Garrus remembered when Shepard explained to him that losing small amounts when brushing (or at any time, really) was normal. It wasn't uncommon for it to snag on his face plates when they slept together.
The way that brush seemed to make her feel alive was surreal. It felt as if he were about to simply go back out of the bathroom, call "heads up" and toss it to her, then watch her catch it. She'd thank him, then pause her dressing to brush her hair and pull it together, her lean arms stretching up and behind her. Garrus loved being the one who saw her with her hair down the most, but he'd grown to appreciate seeing her neck exposed as well. He wouldn't have ever thought about it if he hadn't had the opportunity to discover how much she loved being touched there.
All these thoughts and more would cross his mind as he watched her tucking her hair neatly up as if it were effortless (it wasn't; Garrus tried once and failed miserably). Then she'd toss the brush back to him, smiling as he caught it, and go back to her wardrobe to find pants, or perhaps a necklace...
"Are you sure you don't want to keep anything of hers with you? Like even a necklace?" Liara called from the living area. Unlike other times, he was returned back to the present without turmoil.
"The blue one that's made of fabric with the white pendant," he replied automatically, putting the hairbrush down. "I need that one." He stepped out to meet her by the stairs. Liara handed him the necklace he'd described, and he thanked her as he placed it into a small box.

"Tell me the latest discoveries on the Synthesis," he prompted casually, walking back into the shower area.
"Well, there's been a lot of work on chronic illness. They haven't found volunteers for all of them yet, but the ones they have tested have shown improvement across the board. The salarians have been doing a lot of that work," Liara said, going through some books by Shepard's bed and arranging them neatly.
"How much improvement?" Garrus asked, tossing a few other toiletries into the box of things to be disposed.
"It's small, but continuous. There are noticeable differences every few days and some suspect the rate will increase. I think the most fascinating aspect has been the way inorganic and organic beings have been assimilated," she stated.
"You mean the synthetic beings are more organic now?" he asked curiously.
"It's hard to explain..." She pressed her lips together as she thought of the best description. "Synthetics are not being eliminated, and neither are organics, they are both more similar. I've heard it's like being able to translate DNA into code, and vice versa."
"So... we could dig through EDI's code, formulate DNA from it, clone that, and then put her code into a brain?" Garrus asked in amazement.
"Or take my DNA, for example, translate it into code, and create not just a VI, but a fully formed AI of me!" Liara exclaimed. With a small chuckle she continued, "Of course, that's only the current theory... there's a long way to go before it's confirmed, or even tested..."
"We already know that a cloned Shepard isn't Shepard," he pointed out. "Some things don't exist in the DNA." He thought back to when their pland for shore leave took a detour due to one of Cerberus's bad ideas. That was definitely one of the most unexpected experiences the Normandy crew had faced.
"Yes, but many more don't know that. And who knows, maybe our ability to clone more perfectly will improve," Liara shrugged. He thought about the hair brush.
"Don't tempt me," he grunted. "There will certainly be those who have moral and ethical issues with such a thing, which just means more red tape."
"True. And, with organic and inorganic races becoming more similar and more advanced, there likely will not be a need or desire for transition," she confirmed.

"What about the "shared mind" thing?" Garrus went into the shower and picked up the shampoo bottle. Without thinking, he opened the top, and immediately was overcome with the scent so familiar to him. He expected it to hurt, but to his surprise he smiled.
"I'm hoping that's finally been officially discredited," Liara said with exasperation. "I can see where the idea has come from, but it doesn't take much investigation to realize none of us are suddenly capable of knowing everyone else's intimate thoughts."
"As fun as that would be," Garrus grunted.
"The new ideas and faster thoughts are more equitable to like a... supercharged intuition with new levels of clarity. But my Shadow Broker network will still be able to reach areas my mind can't."
"Too bad I'm washed out of C-Sec. Sounds like a good time to be working investigations." Garrus finished in the bathroom and returned to Shepard's desk drawers.
"Even more so with the sensitivity to emotions. That research is a little less clear... There's definitely a much greater capacity to determine the intentions of others," Liara said, sitting on the bed and watching Garrus as she gave herself a break.
"Do you mean people won't be able to lie?" He paused, stared at her for a moment, then scoffed. "Well that's just no fun at all."
"That's still unclear," Liara explained, smiling at his slight humor. "It's not exactly easy to test impartially. Results so far have been... mixed."
"Did you hear Chakwas got to deliver a baby?" Garrus asked, looking at the asari pointedly.
"She did?" Her eyes were widened slightly.
"No, I was just checking to see if you could tell I was lying," he replied, casually returning to sorting through the a drawer. Liara chuckled.
"Well, I was prepared to believe you," she admitted with a shrug. "Although I can tell you're feeling better than you were when we first got here." Garrus didn't meet her smile. He'd had to force himself into the elevator and had felt sick when the door to Shepard's cabin opened.

"It comes and goes," he grunted. He moved away from the desk, leaning back against the wall behind him. "Turians are supposed to be used to casualties like this. I watched Victus handle the death of his son with barely an ounce of privacy aboard the Normandy, and it was quite a bit more graceful than my own process," he admitted.
"No one will judge you, or tell you that coping with Shepard's loss isn't complicated," she assured him. "We've all had questions and sleepless nights."
"It's not a pleasant thing to say, but I honestly feel it would be easier if there was a body in the ground," he mumbled. "Sometimes... it feels like she's here, right next to me. Others it's as if she's far away and I need to fight to find her. I don't know how to love her when she's neither." Liara picked up the bag on the bed and hefted it over her shoulder, and Garrus rose to his feet as she approached.
"I'm sure you know how to love her no matter the circumstances," she insisted, placing her hand on his shoulder. His mandibles twitched but he didn't have an answer.
"Thank you for securing that stuff," he said, rubbing the back of his neck. They'd already agreed that Liara would just store most of Shepard's things somewhere safe. Garrus wanted to keep traveling light but didn't know what else to do with the personal effects.
"Of course. Let me know if you ever want to pull any of it back out," she replied.
"I'll see you before the memorial. I'm going to... sit here a little longer," he told her.

Liara nodded and they exchanged a warm farewell before she took her leave. Garrus wandered into the living area with heavy steps and collapsed onto the couch. He looked around him; it didn't look much different. Shepard held onto so little, and most of her small decorative items they'd decided to leave.
He thought of other moments he'd sat there before, each of them better than this one. Relaxing as Shepard worked on her terminal. Looking over war memos when she awoke from a bad dream. The way she laughed when he would make light of past or upcoming missions to ease the tension. The first night he'd seen sensuality in her eyes.
Garrus's eyes drifted over to the bed, the eight pillows, more than half of them with a cover made of a specific, durable fabric. One of them was exceptionally plush. He hefted himself up and walked over to the bed, kneeling on it and running his hands over the familiar texture.
He wondered if he should do something about the set up. It wouldn't be too difficult to determine that most of the bedding was suited for turians. Although, he realized very few others would know that while Shepard enjoyed the softness, she only used the one pillow. Her bedding had changed drastically when he became a regular there, and while it was subtle, he felt exposed thinking about leaving it as it was.
He didn't have a solution for the conundrum. Something about the bed and the lack of answers drew him in; he slid his arms forward, lowering himself onto his stomach with a low groan. He didn't bother to orient himself properly and laid across it diagonally, his feet hanging off the edge. His hand reached up and removed his visor, leaving it nearby on the bed as he adjusted some pillows. His eyes landed on the plush one and he hesitated, then pulled it under his head, breathing in deep as he pretended he knew how to relax.

*****

Shepard was standing before him.
"You're here," he breathed.
"How do I know you?" she asked, her eyes narrow and piercing into him.
Swiftly the scene around them painted itself. Official silver buildings surrounded them, muted conversations floating in the air among the mist of the fountain. Low light gave an eerie look to the decorative trees scattered throughout the courtyard. The Citadel, the Presidium, the entryway to the Council embassy; or what it used to be. Shepard was alone, and... different. Less scars. Less weight of the world on her shoulders.
Garrus looked down and at the same time brought his hand to the side of his face. A C-Sec uniform, and no scars warping his skin. His eyes darted back to Shepard's and it was like he was seeing her for the first time. He took all of her in; her armor was basic and common, her posture beneath it rigid, like someone who still had something to prove. Secure and perfect, her blonde hair was bundled elegantly on the back of her head, the way it always was when she was out on business. Her bright blue eyes demanded answers and he would willingly spill them at her feet.
"Ah... you don't," he muttered, too thrilled at the idea of seeing her again to be concerned with confusion. His heart was pounding in his chest. "But we need each other."
"Welcome aboard, Garrus."

She gave a nod, all business, and then walked past him. He turned to follow but the sound of the fountain became gunfire as the gloomy Citadel transformed into balmy Virmire, sand and water around his feet. Shepard was behind a rock wall and he instinctively ran for cover beside her. He watched her wait for the break, then lean out and fire her pistol twice. He reached for his gun but felt only air. Confused, he looked down; he had armor but no weapons.
"I'm unarmed; give me your rifle," he huffed. Shepard ignored him and stepped out from cover, receiving two hard hits in her hip and shoulder before she could fire. She wasn't bleeding, but in slow motion she began to fall back as if hit with incredibly high caliber rounds, her eyes wide and mouth gaping. Water burst up and out as her body crashed down.
As soon as Garrus could move again he lunged forward, pulling her head back to air as he heaved her behind the rock. Shepard's wet hair clung to her neck and shoulders, her body limp.
"Shepard!" he called, supporting her head. Her eyes were open, staring off at something unseen to him. Her lack of response sent a shiver down his spine. A shadow fell over them and he turned to see a shapeless enemy looming in the distance. Staying crouched with Shepard leaning against him, he grabbed for her pistol and took aim.

Through a scope, Virmire became the alleys of Omega, sand and sun replaced with rust and warehouse crates made into barricades. Shepard was jumping over one such barricade and charging towards him. Relief and excitement washed over him like a familiar wave and he embraced it, dropping his rifle to meet her.
"Garrus!" she said, grinning and throwing her arms out. Relief and excitement was evident in her steps, too. Before they met, the whirring of a propeller grew in volume, eventually becoming deafening until the impact struck him and he slammed into the ground, chest heaving, begging for Shepard to bring him back to life he had left to live, with her.
The blood on his face dried as Shepard hooked her hands into his armor, dragging him over dirt and ancient stone. Hazy sunlight beat down through the dust and pollution and the ground shook. The guttural screeching of a Reaper seemed to come from all around him.
His eyes met Shepard's and for a moment everything was still and silent. Her face seemed to hold so many emotions at once, he wasn't sure which to respond to. The urgency and determination? The concern? The love?

Before he could decipher whatever she was trying to communicate, a wild, primitive shriek erupted through the ground as it shuddered from the disturbance. Somehow Garrus knew that somewhere, Kalros was taking down that Reaper, and he began laughing.
Shepard pulled him to his feet and he couldn't stop the laughs from escaping him. He didn't know if he was marveling at the surreal, but effective, battle strategy or that they had survived so much. Shepard was staring at him as if he'd gone mad, her brows furrowing but a small smirk upon her lips.
Garrus reached out and took her hand, and then the cacophony softened into music with a rhythm he'd long since memorized. They were on the Silversun Strip in their best clothes, her body pressed against his as he pulled her close. The expression of protest and surprise she wore was burned within his mind as one of the best moments of his life.
His laughing softened to a purr as they fell into a rhythm all their own, one that undoubtedly made their audience blush and grow jealous. They both knew they were invincible.

Until they weren't.
Shepard fumbled a step. Garrus compensated and kept them in time. Then she stumbled again and he paused, her form crumpling onto the floor in front of him. The music and the audience faded away, and Shepard threatened to as well, her shapes and colors becoming less defined. Garrus knelt down in front of her and could see she was crying.
"Why aren't you really here?!"
They both choked out the words, the other's voice echoing their own. Shepard raised her hands to her head, grasping at it as she writhed. Garrus tried to reach out to her, but his hand stopped before he got close and he had no power to fight it.
"It hurts so much," their voices echoed. Garrus's hand went to his own chest as the heartache ripped through him and Shepard curled up into a ball, sobbing. They were powerless as the waves of pain washed over them.
A sound like a clear chime suddenly resonated through them both and the pain was numbed. The two of them stood, close, but untouchable, their physical forms nebulous. The tone sounded again, and Shepard was replaced with Garrus's own reflection, though the voice he heard next was hers.
"You need to go on your own."

His mandibles flared and he dropped his head. The numbness was accompanied by a sense that someone had just scooped out everything within him, making him hollow. Another emotion came, but this time from outside of him: anger. It seemed to swell up like a tide and he searched for its source in the blackness around him. He saw a faint green light that grew and then surged forward, similar to what he'd heard others describe as the Synthesis Wave. It rushed past him, then retreated back into nothing, then rushed forward again like an ocean traveling through space at the speed of light as the anger surrounded him.
Garrus lurched awake, pushing himself up from the pillow and the bed, his heart pounding in his chest. His mandibles flared and he fought to steady his breath, forcing his hands to release their vice grip on the blanket. His eyes darted around the room, still, and to forever be, too quiet for him. His hand reached for his visor and placed it sloppily as he snapped to an upright position.
Garrus began moving like the place was on fire, ignoring pieces of white fuzz clinging to his face. He snatched up three of the turian pillows on the bed and swiftly stuffed them into the now empty wardrobe, shutting it tight. He went back to the bed and picked up the especially fluffy one, swept up the small box he'd packed for himself, and fled from the cabin.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

You laugh at the time that came and went
Those boast from the east sky resting
Oh, the nostalgia we retract
The now was ours but the then we can’t get back
And when the world comes crashing down
Don’t make a move, don’t make a sound
Just watch it fall, watch it come down
Feel it as it goes, does it feel good to let go
I lost myself along the way
Restless nights mixed with purposeless days
Counting forward taking steps
To a better man, the one you can’t live with
And when the world comes crashing down
Don’t make a move, don’t make a sound
Just watch it fall, watch it come down
Feel it as it goes, does it feel good to let go
Full of color, all she’s made up
Melancholy, wait, you count her scars
Her scars

Colors by Coheed and Cambria

*****

The omnitool on the desk buzzed out an alarm, shattering the silence in the dark room. It buzzed again. A third time. Finally, Garrus's mandibles twitched, he inhaled deeply, and hoisted himself to his feet. He let the omnitool continue to sound, walking past it. The small apartment was dusty and nearly empty, giving him no reason to turn on the light until he got to the bathroom.
The alarm on the omnitool shifted to club music with a powerful beat, loud enough to easily be heard over the shower. Garrus enjoyed the hot water waking up his muscles, but didn't soak long. He dressed in simple black clothes and instructed the omnitool to bring up Citadel news. He cringed as he heard Councilor Lyric's voice delivering the same speech he'd heard so many times.


It'd been three months since the memorial but footage of it was still being circulated several days a week. While there was lots of development, there were considerably less resources to report on it and broadcast it.
The room still dark, Garrus began equipping his armor. It was a set Admiral Hackett had customized for him, with very specific upgrades. It was matte black on every inch. He fit the helmet over his head and heard a salarian voice say his name, giving commentary. He turned back to the holovid on his omnitool and saw a dramatic photo somebody snapped of him staring at Shepard's picture. You could only see the back of him, looking up, but the image had been edited to fade out the rest of the crowd, emphasizing just him and Shepard's face. He stood, still as a stone as the program continued.
"...Garrus Vakarian, widely believed to have been loyal to the Commander as more than just a crewmate. At this time, he hasn't yet agreed to an interview."
The image shifted to footage of him shaking hands with officials and then chatting with Liara.
"Liara T'Soni, also one of Commander Shepard's closest associates, assures us the turian has nothing but respect for the departed."
Garrus grabbed the omnitool and turned the report off, switching it back to dance tunes that filtered through his helmet. He turned off the light in the bathroom and picked up a small bag of gear before walking through the doorway that didn't have a door.


The hallway was the only one still intact left in the deserted, decrepit building. The entryway didn't have a door either, and the soft breeze funneled through like a tunnel. As Garrus stepped out into the open space, there wasn't much to see there, either. Flattened buildings, dust, concrete, and the Citadel night cycle; the landscape of a wasteland.
He was on the outer edges of one of the Citadel prongs. Reconstruction hadn't made it this far yet, and it would still be a while before recovery forces made it this far out. The population had taken such a severe hit that civilians were encouraged to move inward, closer to the resources, and shuttles had aided the process. Expansion was occurring as fast as it could, but it was likely there may not be a need for all of the Citadel to be utilized until the economy and census numbers improved.
As far as Garrus knew, this particular area was a ghost town, the only residents being corpses not lucky enough to receive a proper burial yet. And for some, that was exactly why he was there.
He approached a skycar he'd brought with him and parked in the best flat, but discreet place he had found. He tossed the bag onto the seat next to him as he entered and was soon on his way, his helmet carefully mapping the distance. After a certain length, an alert popped up on his HUD reading "SCAN NOW". Garrus pushed the command through and waited, slowing his skycar to a stop. Eight points lit up on a radar and he settled the vehicle down close to the nearest cluster.
From within the bag, Garrus retrieved his weapons: a Carnifex pistol and Incisor sniper. He had yet to fire them on any of these missions, but whenever he wore armor he felt the need to be thoroughly prepared, and he never went anywhere without the Carnifex.


He turned off the music in his helmet, listening to his steps echoing through the hollow night. He always had mixed reactions to the silence and desolation; tonight, in a way it felt soothing, but something else felt... off.
Garrus didn't need an old Citadel reference map to know he was in what used to be a nice, cozy residential area. Their were two- and three-story townhomes crumbling over destroyed gardening bins. Yard decorations and embellishments for windows and doors were scattered throughout the road. He could almost hear the children laughing and see the families playing catch in the small yards.
He tried not to think about it and pressed on.


Eventually he left the street, walking right up to what would've been a front door. The display on his helmet changed, from a radar to a special type of filter. About ten feet ahead of him, three distorted human bodies glowed. He turned off the filter and sighed at the pile of rubble.
"Hello?!" he shouted. "Is anybody here?" Silence met him. He counted to fifteen. He called again. He didn't expect a response, and he didn't get one.
He brought up a function similar to an omnitool built in to his armor. He found the classified IDs matching the bodies and pinged them to that location, then began recording a log.
"All three together in destroyed townhome. Mild levels of debris. Probably have family members here--" he cut himself off. He knew better than to speculate or spend time making it personal. He stepped away, snapped an image of the location, and closed the file. The three dots disappeared from his radar and he turned, walking back to the skycar.
This isn't near as exciting as it used to be, he thought, trying to distract himself with his own humor. It didn't work.


It was called Operation Lost and Found. Garrus had begun the assignment the day after he returned to the Citadel. Hackett had met with him right away, supplying him with the upgraded armor that was necessary for the job. Garrus had been so eager to keep busy, desperate to start anything that felt meaningful, that he didn't mind the secrecy and isolation. And it certainly was meaningful.
The armor was linked to a database with the highest security level possible. It held the DNA of hundreds of thousands of individuals and locating tech. Garrus assumed the tech had existed before the Transcendent War, perhaps even made during the war as a precaution, anticipating the chaos of broken chains of command.
That kind of tech couldn't be trusted with many. Hackett and the Normandy Elect already knew how easy cloning would be for someone motivated enough; Cerberus had taught them that. But the Shepard clone was not Shepard, and they couldn't risk desperate individuals making attempts resulting in more confused, vengeful doppelgangers. Garrus was essentially acting as a Spectre without the official status, so as to avoid any extra attention and compromising of the tech.
The first several weeks, he'd been going off of specific DNA, targeting them long range and tracking them down. He was responsible for a large part of the chain of command within multiple structures being put back into place, as he would track down the dignitary, declare them dead and move on or pull them out of the rubble himself.


Much like he had with Shepard and Adrien Victus, he had gotten the task of telling Manna Fausna he was the new Primarch. The new salarian Councilor, Ahann Jonarth, Garrus had personally rescued. Councilor Jonarth had taken shelter in a basement research lab focused on aquatic life with his family when things went south on the Citadel. The building had collapsed, burying them alive. They had survived on the test subjects and tank water for days before Garrus and a team of high-security reinforcements dug them out.
There were over a dozen other high-ranking officials Garrus had a hand in putting in place. Some of them didn't know who he was, but many had figured it out. Between those rescues and the commendations he'd received at the memorial, he'd very quickly become one of the highest decorated and highest favored turians in the galaxy. Despite some of his connections being confidential, his own notoriety was beginning to rival Shepard's, and he wasn't sure how he felt about that.
In addition, he was once again a mysterious unknown figure to the populace. It was impossible for him to remain completely unknown among the civilians. He'd been spotted a few times, when things were urgent enough for him to be working during the day. His black armor had made quite a lasting impression and he was practically urban myth, as he had been as Archangel; but this time known as Undertaker.
The irony almost made him laugh.
Luckily, as rumors usually are, word of who he was and what he was doing had been distorted and misrepresented. Some even claimed Undertaker was actually human and there were false reports of where he had been quite frequently. Because of this, he felt fairly secure in his identity for the time being.


By the time the memorial happened, the highest-level dignitaries had been established. Garrus was then given a list of the midlevel and support positions, then family members of executives who, he guessed, paid (or donated to rebuilding efforts) quite a sum to have the privilege of being told their loved ones had died sooner than the common people.
Now most of the targets were non-specified. He guessed they were simply members of the military that needed their status declared, but he didn't get backstories, or even names, for the dead. Someone else was in charge of processing the information he reported and bringing it to those who made the decisions. Anonymity was key for all stages of the operation.
Unsurprisingly, his first question when Hackett had explained how O.L.F. was designed to be, was if they'd attempted this to find Shepard and Anderson.
"Of course we have!" Hackett had snapped. It was probably the most emotion Garrus had ever heard in the Admiral's voice. "I personally put their DNA on the longest range scanner we have and flew up and down the entire Citadel and Crucible. That's what I was doing when the first squad from Earthside showed up!"
Garrus hadn't been able to meet his eyes, feeling very much like a young turian again, scolded by his father.
"And?" he'd dared to prompt.
"And nothing. Not a trace."
"Let me run it," he'd begged.
"Don't ask me to compromise the integrity of both of us, and everyone within the project," Hackett had grumbled. "You're too close to this. We're continuing to scan for them but you cannot have your hands on it. If anything changes you'll be first to know."


Garrus turned his music back on and left the broken homes, and broken families, behind. There were thousands more dots waiting to be "verified".
While much of the work lately seemed so meaningless, he tried to remember that a declaration of death was actually very good closure for most people. These bodies may not ever be viewed by loved ones, but if even an ID card or piece of their hair could be returned, mourning and healing could happen much more easily.
In some ways, he wished he had that for Shepard. The KIA status Hackett gave may have been enough for everyone else, but Garrus knew better. He didn't know if he actually believed she was alive walking around some corner of the Citadel... but more often than not, it was as if she was watching him, watching everyone, aware of it all.
He didn't want to think of her as a goddess, omniscient and unreachable... though that was exactly how it felt sometimes. The way he talked to her sometimes could probably even be considered prayer. Maybe it was all in his head. But maybe those touches of her were somehow something more…
Garrus went back and forth between eagerly seeking comfort in the moments her presence seemed to linger, and forcing himself to think of anything but her. It felt more like an on again, off again relationship than grieving.
But how do you mourn someone who's haunting you? How do you say goodbye to someone who's not gone? If there was an answer, Garrus hadn't figured it out yet.


Several more scans and checks went just as uneventful, like so many nights had before. There was a comforting aspect to the tedium at this point.
The sunrise cycle would be starting soon and there was a good amount of secure-looking buildings nearby, so Garrus began searching for some place to set up camp for the night. Miraculously, he found an apartment building with a portion of it's garage still standing. He moved the skycar under the shelter, but left it there in the entryway. It's not like he would be blocking traffic.
He grabbed his bag and headed into the housing. He didn't trust the electricity in any of these areas, so he simply used a flashlight from his helmet to look around. It looked like a lobby area. There were some couches and tables set up for mingling, perhaps even high-stakes card games. Even through the dust and disheveled decor, he could tell it used to be a nice place.
Garrus found a stairwell and, after determining it to be sturdy enough, headed up one floor. He opened the first door he found; a two bedroom with a spacious living room. He took three steps in, caught scent, then sight, of a body, and immediately turned around and left the apartment.
But it was too late; he'd seen too much. He balked in the hallway, focusing on his breathing. Seeing bodies was a funny thing. It was easy for Garrus to predict how he would react to a freshly dead, formerly dangerous, shot (perhaps even by himself), adult of any species.
It was not easy to predict how he would react to a several months decomposed, purely innocent, crushed under a bookcase, young turian girl.


The first young body he'd encountered while out doing this, he tried to ignore and simply sleep in a different room, but struggled with it. He wanted to return and bury it. Unfortunately, he also knew that if he took the time to stop and bury every body he found, he'd never actually get his job done or get any rest.
While many had died on the Citadel in the last moments of the Transcendent War, most bodies had been collected when the survivors were. The ones that were missed were often cases where the whole family was killed and the community wasn't mindful enough to take a proper census.
If you are a goddess... are you watching over them? he wondered, going back to the stairwell. He didn't know how far the smell would reach, so he went up two floors and down a hall before trying another door. This two bedroom was empty. Once he discovered that the water was still working (and clean, according to his omnitool) he tossed his bag onto a chair that billowed up dust. He set his omnitool onto a low table and set it to emit a dim, area light. His helmet also found a home on the low table and he pulled an energy bar out of his bag, wandering over to a broken window.
He leaned his forearm against the wall, gazing down at the streets as he munched on his basic meal. The destruction was beginning to become just as familiar as the old Citadel had been. Perhaps it was time to make it back to "mainland" and be around someone who's alive again... Vega and Kaidan for poker? Liara for a day discussing the meaning of life? Joker for a day of people watching?
He finished his bar as he pondered the possibilities and watched the sunrise cycle begin. He sighed and shifted his weight back to step away from the window when something caught his eye.


Movement. More than tattered fabric or trash in the breeze. Something alive, something walking... something human. It was quite a ways in the distance, it looked male, but that was about all he could tell. Garrus tried to determine the trajectory, then stepped away from the window, turned down the light on the omnitool, put his helmet back on, then hurried back to the window.
With the additional optics he could see a source of light tucked down under a ledge that the human seemed to be headed towards. Soon the light on the Citadel would be too bright to pick it out. Garrus considered calling in to dispatch for a pick up, or shouting to get the human's attention, but something held him back.
Instead, he picked his omnitool and bag back up, pinged his current location, then jumped out the window, headed for whoever was still alive and staying in this wasteland.

*****

Garrus had sped up, worried he would lose the trail, when he spotted two other forms moving through the debris, headed the same direction. He balked, something telling him to remain hidden until he knew more about what was happening. Something seemed off, and that feeling had never been wrong before.
He held back until two others went by, then moved in closer, but nearly got spotted by a few more. He found a nice spot of cover and peered out with his scope to try and find where they were gathering. There was some kind of small, covered amphitheater up ahead with a tunneled entrance. A human, male, stood at the doorway and greeted those who were arriving before they filed in.
Garrus put down his scope and considered calling his dispatch line. He didn't know exactly who was on the other side, but he'd called it to initiate rescues or report anything that needed urgent attention. It could also get him through to Hackett if necessary. But he didn't call. Not yet.
He sat long enough to be sure no more were coming, but the guard never left his post. Garrus stared down that guard, considering his next move, as if the answers would spill out of him. They may not have come from the guard, but they came from somewhere.


I'm going to walk right up, he thought, then laughed at the thought himself. That sounds just like my style.
He left his weapons holstered and took his time making his way through the debris, silent and graceful as a shadow. The human spotted him on the approach and immediately tensed, but didn't make any moves other than narrowing his eyes. He was middle-aged, in good shape, had a face that looked like C-Sec. He had absolutely no idea what to make of Undertaker on his doorstep. Garrus stopped as he got close as if about to have a conversation, but didn't make the first move.
"...you're not allowed in with your identity concealed," the human grumbled.
"You already know who I am." Garrus didn't miss a beat with his reply. It felt like someone had whispered the right words to him. He silently waited once more as the human's brow furrowed.
"...okay," he said with a sigh, then squared his shoulders. "What's the pass phrase?"
A pass phrase? Seriously? Then a word came out of his mouth almost at the same time it came into his mind.
"Unsure."


The human looked him up and down again, then shrugged and stepped aside. Garrus didn't acknowledge him again as he headed into the narrow passageway. He had no idea what just happened; how did he know the right word? Was it really the right word, or did the human think he meant he didn't know and let him go by anyway?
He pushed those thoughts aside as the hallway opened up before him. It looked like it used to be a quaint little community theater or meeting hall, with a raised platform at the bottom of rows and rows of uncomfortable-looking seating. The room was lit by a chain of hanging lights strewn along the ceiling. Garrus moved further into the room but stayed on the top row.
"...so little was done to consider us during the war, and then they stopped altogether by doing too much," a man was saying from the front. It was another human male, slightly younger than the guard, sitting on the edge of the stage facing the rest of them. He had ruddy hair cut short and a long beard that reached his chest. His eyes were a bright blue that Garrus could see even from a distance. They reminded him of Shepard's.
The group was made up of the common races you'd find on the Citadel: asari, human, salarian, and turian, but Garrus spotted a couple batarians and a volus as well. There were about thirty total.


"The military was powerless when the Reapers closed and moved the Citadel," an asari agreed.
"And after, when they finally get out here, they want us to just up and leave for somewhere we can be more closely monitored?" a salarian scoffed.
"There's always an agenda. They think they can control every part of our lives," a turian scoffed.
"They're powerless, until there's an opportunity to manipulate us," a human in the audience added.
Garrus's body went rigid and he was glad the helmet masked his mandibles flaring in disgust and confusion. Had he just stumbled upon a rebellion? Luckily no one had noticed him yet, and he forced himself to keep listening.
"Commander Shepard was the only one who actually made a difference... but she did it the wrong way," the bearded human in front stated. Garrus's heart beat faster in his chest, then thundered at the accusatory tone.
"This synthesis is not natural."
"She changed the entire galaxy. What kind of person alters the fabric of our being without a thought?"
"None of us asked for these 'upgrades'."
Murmurs of agreement rippled through the crowd and Garrus felt sick. It was all he could do to stay still and bite back the growl threatening to escape his chest. As he fought the urge, something seemed to relax him the way a warm shower would. His shoulders dropped slightly but he still felt unease.


"My mind won't stop cycling," an asari complained, holding her head. "All it wants to do is study and research."
"I swear I could tell that someone wanted to kill me the other day," a batarian chimed in. "I killed him first, and now I’ll be in jail if C-Sec finds out, even though he started it."
"It's been very complicated," the bearded man agreed sympathetically. "We advanced before we were ready. And there's nothing wrong with that."
"Someone has to address our problems," a human replied. "They can't let Shepard do this to us, without our consent, and then just expect us to adapt."
"It's not right."
"Shepard, with all her ability to change the future and impact thousands of people, never considered what that impact really meant."
Garrus was fairly sure that if he'd overheard these statements anywhere else on the streets of the Citadel, in the light of day and not fully equipped, he'd have punched someone by now. As it was, he was more than Garrus Vakarian in this moment, he was Undertaker, and he was on duty.
Still, he was about to finally give in to his heart that wanted to defend Shepard so badly, when someone else spoke up and asked the most important question.
"Hyatt, what are we going to do about it? You said there's been progress."
The only thing worse than complaining idiots is complaining idiots with a plan...


The bearded man, Hyatt, paused as he stared at the gathered crowd, seeming to enjoy knowing something they didn't.
"There has indeed been some developments. The team studying the Cynosure believe they may be able to isolate the synthesis energy," he said quietly. The group began murmuring and a few questions rose louder.
"Could they remove it?"
"Or alter it?"
"Is the synthesis energy the same as Shepard's energy?"
Silence fell and they once again waited as Hyatt smirked.
They aren't just complaining idiots with a plan... they're complaining idiots with a plan and intel. Garrus felt like he'd swallowed a stone the size of his fist.


"All of those potentialities could be possible," he said, standing and beginning to pace back and forth. "They've found... something. No one knows exactly what Shepard did in her last moments, and there's another thing no one knows anything about..." His hands went behind his back and he faced them square again. "The Catalyst."
Garrus didn't like where this was going. He didn't like anything about it. As calm and still as he'd managed to be up to this point, he now felt anxiety growing within his chest and he didn't know how much longer he'd be able to remain a neutral observer.
"What do we know about the Catalyst?" Hyatt asked.
"It's something within the Citadel that we can't access," an asari said.
"And that's about it," the volus shrugged.
"It's believed Shepard somehow accessed this Catalyst, so she would've also been within parts of the Citadel we can't normally access, right?" Hyatt prompted. The others nodded. "Who else are the only other things that can access-- ...hello."
The entire group turned to follow Hyatt's narrowed eyes; Garrus was detected. He was treading dangerous water now, but he knew the less he gave up, the better. He shifted his weight to acknowledge the attention, but didn't yet speak.
"We seem to have attracted a rather mysterious guest," Hyatt continued. "Undertaker, right?"
Garrus lowered his head in a slow nod.
"Are you affiliated with the Council?"
"Are you a Spectre?"
He glanced at those who had spoken, but then brought his gaze back to Hyatt.


"I don't imagine we'll get many answers about that out of him," Hyatt scoffed, though still wore an arrogant smirk Garrus was beginning to hate. "Perhaps he's also here to share his opinions of the misguided decisions of those with too much power, considering he spends his time cleaning up after them."
The invitation to do something shook off his anxiety and Garrus took the bait.
"How dare you judge that which you can't begin to understand," he growled.
"We may understand far more than you think," Hyatt retorted, not giving an inch.
"You will never understand her."
Garrus crossed the line. He'd just revealed too much and he knew it, but he didn't know why it crossed a line with Hyatt. The human reached back and pulled out a pistol that was tucked in his pants and pointed it at Garrus. He fired three times, causing the audience to gasp and shift away, but Garrus didn't move. The first bullet flickered off his shields near his shoulder and the other two missed.
"You're just as mortal as the rest of us!" Hyatt snarled.
"But I'm a much better shot."


Garrus grasped his pistol and the crowd panicked, crouching to the ground even though there was really no cover to hide behind. To his credit, Hyatt didn't flinch, not even when Garrus brought the pistol up. He fired once, aiming at a generator box tucked on the back of the stage that was powering the lights. It went dark and he turned for the hallway. There he met the guard, running in to investigate the gunshots, pistol in hand. Garrus anticipated him and quickly disarmed him, dropping the clip from the gun and tossing it down the rows of seating as he darted through the tunnel, on his way out.
No one followed him, at least not that he could tell. He kept a brisk pace the whole way back to the skycar, glad he'd put his bag inside it on his way out. It definitely wasn't a good idea to stick around.
He rounded a corner near the building he'd parked in and balked, readying his pistol as he spotted movement up ahead. He exhaled, panting, and slowly lowered his pistol again. Two Keepers were up ahead, carefully carrying the body of the small turian girl he'd seen in the apartment before. The government had made good efforts in respecting the bodies of the dead, but Garrus frequently saw the Keepers taking care of the ones they missed. He didn't know what eventually became of them and at this time, didn't care to find out.
Tearing his gaze away, he pressed on. Once he reached the skycar, he took to the sky and headed back to the New Presidium.

 

Chapter Text

Another night has slipped away
Wishing the time would let me stay
Stuck in between two lives that could never be the same
I remain without a chance to say to you
That every word I said was true
I lay awake all night just staring back at you
Into the waves again I go
Holding on to you
I found a way to make it through
Holding on to you


Holding On to You by Story of the Year

*****

Garrus paced around the room. It was a small apartment located close to the bureaucratic buildings meant mostly for temporary housing of dignitaries. The Normandy Elect had all stayed there when they first arrived. Most had moved out by now, but Garrus was allowed to remain, even though not many knew where he actually lived.
The apartment was on the fifth floor and was rather simple. Garrus had gotten some turian-specific furniture, but outside of that it wasn't very personalized. The Cynosure Banner and Galactic Unit Citation were in a box on the shelf. Tucked in a drawer by the bed was the box of Shepard's things. Various weapon mods and a few pieces of tech were strewn about nearly everywhere. Even though Garrus still didn't have a lot of personal items, he found he was a little more messy when not on a ship. The large window let in lots of "natural" light and looked down upon the courtyard that held the Normandy.
Garrus had slept fitfully after his run-in with the group out in the wastelands, telling Hackett he'd give him a call after a chance to rest. Now, he'd had a shower, dressed in his casual clothes, and was speaking through his omnitool.


"They sounded anti-military, maybe even anti-government," he explained. "One took a shot at me, but it was more of a display than an actual invitation for combat. It didn't make any sense."
"Radicals never do, Vakarian," Hackett grunted. "You'll get a headache trying to understand."
"What will you do about them?" he asked.
"In a few days we'll send another pick up team and offer a ride in if any of them want one. But we'll be ready if they don't, and definitely be putting them on a watchlist."
"Aye, sir."
"Enjoy some down time. I'm sure you didn't get enough of it during the war," Hackett said, his voice losing some of its gruffness.
"Actually, there's something I'd like to ask about, sir..." Garrus began.
"Fire away." Hackett sounded like he already knew what it would be about.
"The anti-synthesists sounded like they had intel from someone working on the team studying the Cynosure," he said carefully.
"That's not good," Hackett mumbled.
"They said there's a chance they can isolate the synthesis energy. And maybe locate Shepard's energy somewhere out there..." Garrus was trying hard to not sound like he was hopeful, his mandibles twitching.
"Don't suddenly start putting stock in what they say just because it's what you want to hear, Vakarian. You know better."
"I do," he sighed. "But are you saying they completely made that up?"
"That team is not in my direct supervision, so I don't get very detailed updates--"
"Aren't you urging them to search for Shepard?"
"Like I said, I'm not their supervisor. The greater focus for them is on the future, and what to do with the synthesis now that it's here. It gets dangerous if we start trying to play God and bring back everyone we miss."


Garrus dropped it and the call ended shortly after that, then he left his apartment and began walking down into the courtyard. It was a beautiful day to be visiting the main hub again.
It didn't feel right, but he knew better than to try and push ideas he didn't understand. Shepard's situation was so unique; Garrus knew it wasn't right to try and clone or resurrect every person that left loved ones behind, but what if Shepard wasn't actually dead? What if she got stored as an AI in the Citadel when she interacted with the Catalyst? What if her consciousness was somehow within all other consciousness?
Garrus remembered a comment Mordin had once made when discussing life after death and the various religious views on what happens to those who "pass on".
"Spirits are science. Moreso than religion. Spirits are energy. Energy is everywhere."
And there wasn't just spirits involved, if the Catalyst was some kind of tech. The synthesis had changed everything and Garrus hated trying to chase all these potentialities with no real knowledge of how they might work. He wished Mordin was still alive; he would have undoubtedly had a lot to contribute to the team studying the Cynosure and synthesis. That is, if he wasn't on a beach studying seashells.


Garrus let his eyes linger on the Normandy as he walked through the courtyard, just a moment longer than was usual for the average passerby. It was long enough for him and an asari also preoccupied with a data file to crash into each other.
"Oh!" The data file clattered to the floor as they both recoiled.
"I'm sorry," Garrus grumbled. One hand instinctively covered the pistol near his hip as he leaned over and picked up the data pad.
"All these advancements, but we haven't risen above clumsiness," the asari giggled, accepting her data pad gratefully. "Thank you."
"We're enlightened, not perfect," Garrus said with a shrug, and then moved on without a second look.


He was headed to meet Vega for a day of pure indulgence. Vega was good at helping him get out of his head long enough to remember what life is supposed to be about. A battle simulator called Spectre Status, similar to the one that used to be on the Silversun Strip, had already gotten put into place in the inner areas of the Citadel. Some frowned at the frivolous hobby returning so soon after the war, and the soldiers who frequented it, but the adrenaline junkies needed some way to curb the addiction as they acclimated to peacetime.
Vega was waiting when he arrived, leaning against the outside of the building, pretending to ignore glances from people trying to determine if he was indeed one of the Normandy Elect.
"Hey," he said as Garrus approached, standing up straight. "Ready to put this place through its paces again?"
"Okay, but no complaints about faulty hardware this time," Garrus quipped as they bumped their fists in greeting. "Or software."
"Whatever, Vakarian," Vega chuckled. "Although, there's something you should know..."
"What's that?" Garrus asked, following as Vega turned to enter the building.
"Spectre Status may have spread the word that the Normandy Elect likes to play here..."


Vega opened the door and Garrus balked; the lobby was filled to the brim with citizens who grinned and cheered at the sight of them. His mandibles flared in shock. Is this what Shepard used to feel like all the time?
"Vega, we--"
"Can't walk away now!" Vega laughed, elbowing him in the side. Garrus knew he was right. How would Shepard handle this? He exhaled a quick breath and fell back into step, nodding and waving to some of the spectators. Eventually they made it to the service desk where an excited salarian greeted them. There was already a set of various strategy missions ready and cued up for them.
"After this... we are not coming back here again," Garrus grumbled as he swapped his real pistol for game tech.
"That's too bad," Vega shrugged. "I understand the spectator profits are going to really help the economy. The owner is funneling a lot of it back into rebuilding efforts."
"So this is me doing my civic duty, that's what you're saying?" Garrus chuckled, and Vega just grinned with another shrug, his simulator armor forming perfectly to his shoulders. "You should consider becoming a politician. You've got manipulation mastered."
"Eh, maybe when I beat you at this game I'll move on to that career." Vega turned and headed into the battle room, blank and empty for the time being. Even in the thoroughly enclosed space, the bustle of the crowd outside could easily be heard.
"Glad to know you have such faith in yourself."
They both laughed and readied their weapons as the landscape around them flashed and took the shape of their first mission.

*****

Many hours later, Vega and Garrus sauntered into a restaurant, having worked up a tremendous appetite. They'd worked the battle simulator for quite a while, the owner being very happy to extend their time. Being watched on the battlefield didn't phase Garrus, but he could certainly do without trying to weave through a crowd and dodge those taking pictures. He agreed they would return sometime, with the condition that they were allowed a separate entrance and exit (and that the game difficulty was increased).
Vega had insisted on picking the eatery. It was called Oorah, and while it did have some dextro food, it was run by humans and catered mostly to an Alliance audience. Garrus could tell right away why Vega liked it; it was just his style. A large bar lined one wall with various booths and tables scattered about. The walls were covered with military memorabilia from Earth, portraits of important officials included. Many of them Garrus wasn't familiar with, but there were plenty of pictures of the ones he was. He felt uncomfortable as they walked towards the back of the room for some privacy. He was sure there were several images of Shepard staring at him, but he wasn't about to let his unease show.
They settled in to a booth in the back, though couldn't avoid several looks from the moderately-sized group of patrons. Though they were respectful enough not to approach, Vega and Garrus could hear the murmuring. They ordered copious amounts of food and it arrived rather quickly.


"The first time I came here," Vega said between mouthfuls of food, "it was the day it opened. Just a couple of months ago. I was here nearly all night, partying with Alliance soldiers. I came back the next day cuz I had such a great time and all I could think was how well they cleaned up after the time we had." He pointed to a picture on the wall behind Garrus. "That's from opening night. You can see me in the middle."
"It's easy to see why you're popular here," Garrus agreed, glancing at the photo. "Am I supposed to be swooning?"
"You're just as big of a celebrity here," Vega assured him. "They're plenty happy to welcome other species."
"Don’t worry, I'm not feeling discriminated against," Garrus replied, glancing around the room and then taking another bite of food. After swallowing he said, "Although, if you ever take another turian on a date, don't take them here. Or quarian, for that matter. The dextro options are not exactly inspiring."
"Sorry to disappoint you," Vega laughed, then winked. "I'll find somewhere extra nice to take you next time."
"Good, I deserve better," Garrus joked, but then the two of them grew quiet, not meeting each other's eyes. Eventually, Garrus cleared his throat. "Look, I know you and I haven't exactly been super close, but... I want you to know I appreciate you keeping in touch with me. It's been... difficult to stay connected."
"I know I'm no Shepard, and I don't try to be," Vega replied. "But I know she'd like me to not let you get too lost and end up on Omega again or something."
"My time on Omega was not the worst time of my life," Garrus contradicted good-naturedly.
"Yeah? What was?" the human challenged. Garrus's mandibles twitched and he resisted the urge to say "now".
"Ask me in about 80 years," he grumbled instead.
"Fair enough," Vega conceded with a shrug, then looked down thoughtfully. "Geez... We're both young but we've packed a lot of life into the first couple decades of our lifespans. I wouldn't have it any other way, though." Garrus nodded and his shoulders fell a little as he sighed.


"What do you think life looks like now?" he asked, his tone tired. "It feels silly, considering it was only a few years ago that I joined Shepard to go after Saren... But those grand adventures feel like my whole life. What happens now, after the war? After the Normandy? After Shepard?"
They stared at each other for a moment before Garrus looked away, but he could still feel Vega's eyes studying him.
"...I don't know," the human eventually admitted. "But this is a brave new world, Vakarian. I'm sure there's possibilities we haven't even considered."
Garrus nodded, still looking down. It felt like that idea was supposed to help, but it didn't. Vega took a long drink of his booze then spoke up again.
"You can punch me for this if you need to, but... speaking of going on dates and considering possibilities... have you?" In an effort to lighten the mood, Vega threw his arms up in front of his face as if bracing for an attack.
"No," Garrus said. His tone was definitive, but he didn't have it in him to be greatly offended by the question.
"Uh, well... again, you can punch me, but... maybe you should think about it," Vega said, rubbing the back of his neck. Garrus narrowed his eyes as he continued. "There's an asari over there that's been eyeing you for nearly as long as we've been sitting here."


He immediately turned to look, not bothering to be subtle. There were only three asari in the restaurant, and two were already hanging on separate Alliance soldier's arms. The one alone was sitting at the bar and awkwardly met his eyes. Having past the point of no return, she stood and approached their table. It wasn't until Garrus saw the data pad she was clutching that he recognized her.
"Oh," he muttered under his breath, sighing and leaning back in his seat as he studied her a little closer. She wore a form-fitting, Citadel-sponsored research tunic. Her skin was pale lavender and she had white markings along her forehead and crest. She seemed older than Liara, but definitely not old enough to be a Matriarch. It was hard to pin down the ages of long life-spanned individuals.
"I'm sorry, did I break your data pad when we bumped into each other earlier?" he asked. “I can help you replace it.”
"Oh, no, no, it's fine, I just... um..." she stuttered and drifted off.
"All these advancements and we haven't risen above awkwardness?" Garrus asked.
"Erm, no, I suppose not..." she mumbled, looking down and frowning. Garrus caught Vega's expression: cringing and his eyes wide, mouthing out "dude".
"Er, don't worry, I'm only speaking from experience," Garrus added hastily, clearing his throat.
"He is, he really is," Vega backed him up.
"Ah," the asari said, looking back up and managing a small smile.


"Is there... something I can do for you?" he asked curiously.
"Er, my name is Xanossi Jannure, I'm on the team researching the Cynosure," she introduced herself. Garrus immediately straightened up. Hackett and the Councilors had been keeping him at arm's length from the team and their specific findings. They claimed it was too sensitive of a topic to involve him in the details and he hated it, but knew how to submit to orders on issues that weren't going to budge. But now a member of the team was seeking him out? He was definitely intrigued.
"I'm actually hoping I could ask you a couple questions that may assist with our research... may I sit for a moment?" she continued, shifting her weight.
"Oh, uh, sure," Garrus said, but Vega was already scooting over to let her sit on his side, which she did. "What kind of answers are you looking for?"
"The impossible ones," Xanossi said with exasperation, placing her data file on the table. "We don't know what Shepard did. But we also don't know why Shepard was the only one that could do it. We're trying to look into what made Shepard unique."
Both Vega and Garrus snickered and then laughed, leaning back in their seats. Xanossi's brow furrowed as she looked between the two of them.
"That could take a while to go over," Vega finally got out. "You got a couple hours?"
"Spirits, I could go on for days," Garrus breathed, giving himself another hefty dose of booze.
"You did love her, didn't you?" Xanossi asked suddenly, and Garrus froze, staring at the asari. "I mean, it was fairly obvious even if neither of you officially declared it."
"...I haven't stopped," he said. It almost appeared as if Xanossi blushed at the earnestness in his tone.


"Erm, well, what I mean is how she was unique biologically," she self-corrected. "We don't know if the Catalyst fired and the Cynosure occurred because it was specifically her that activated it, or if anyone could have done it. But we have a theory that something was different in her neurologically, perhaps from the Prothean beacon? Were there any times you may have seen evidence of this?"
"I wasn't with her when she received the beacon," Garrus grunted. "But I was when she received the Cipher through melding with another asari. You're saying it may have changed her brain in a way that made her the only one that could save the universe?"
"It's possible," Xanossi nodded.
"Why aren't you asking Liara about this? I thought she was to be your main point of contact," he asked, tilting his head. Liara was first priority simply to keep him out of it, but also because he wasn't especially keen on answering questions about Shepard at any given moment. It felt like talking about her behind her back, even if he only had truthful and good things to say.
"She is, but... I suspected you may have known her a little more... intimately?" Xanossi questioned. Vega's brows raised at her boldness, and his eyes went to Garrus, who said nothing but narrowed his eyes. "...there was also a period of time just after she was revived by Cerberus where you were with her and Dr. T'Soni was not," Xanossi added.


"Could her Cerberus enhancements have been part of what you're looking for?" Vega asked.
"We're fairly sure that while Shepard's enhancements were the best of the best, they weren't specific to her. Not the way the Prothean beacon may have been," Xanossi answered. "Were there any other times that may have been similar to that event, where something reacted to her, or she activated something rather intuitively? Especially highly complicated or ancient tech?" she inquired, turning her attention back to Garrus.
"On Ilos," he stated. "A Prothean VI called Vigil spoke to us. She probably gave a report about that at some point; Hackett or the Councilors would have it. There was also a Prothean device before that... I don't think it was a full VI, but it spoke and Shepard could understand it's instructions when all I heard was gibberish. She also intuitively recognized the energy of the Prothean beacon on Thessia in the Temple of Athame."
"She also spoke with a couple of Reapers on several occasions, correct?" Xanossi asked, lifting her data file and beginning to take notes.
"Yes... probably more than anyone else who didn't get indoctrinated," he replied. He thought back to the many times Shepard had wrestled with the idea of them being in her head and all the extra psych evals. She always came out clean, but it clearly unnerved her more and more as the war went on.


"What about Leviathan? That thing could get in your head too," Vega added, his expression becoming grim. He'd been with them on that mission and seen firsthand the mind control abilities it possessed.
"That too," Garrus nodded. "I don't know that it changed her biologically... but she did tell me that it called her an 'anomaly'."
"See, that's exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for," Xanossi said, looking at him pointedly as she worked on the data pad. "Things she'd share in the privacy of her quarters with her most trusted confidant, but may not think to mention in an official debrief."
Garrus's mandibles twitched; he wasn't sure how he felt about being an asset because of his "pillow talk" with the Commander.


"What happened to the Leviathan, anyway?" Vega asked no one in particular.
"We believe they simply went their own way after the Cynosure, perhaps back to their planet," Xanossi replied.
"Good luck getting in touch with them, then," Vega grunted. "Are the Reapers communicating at all yet?"
"No... they're around, but apparently don't have anything they want to share with us," Xanossi informed them. "The husks and other... creatures seem to be disappearing, too."
"I can do without those things around anyway," Garrus grumbled.
"I think we all can. They seem to be operating similar to the Keepers and managing themselves, except they don't have a purpose so... they're just fading out of existence," Xanossi shuddered. It was quiet for a moment and Garrus went back to thinking about Shepard and the Catalyst.
"The Citadel preceded the Protheans, correct? And the Catalyst is believed to be some hidden function of the Citadel, similar to the Keepers?" he asked.
"Yes," Xanossi replied. "Where are you going with this?"
"Shepard and Prothean tech obviously had a connection that others didn't... but the Catalyst isn't Prothean in nature if it is part of the Citadel. So if the Catalyst responded to Shepard because she was Shepard, it wouldn't be because of her Prothean... sensitivities or whatever you want to call it. The Catalyst isn't Prothean. If anything, it's closer in nature to Leviathan," he finished, shrugging.
"You're right," Xanossi sighed.
"So unless Leviathan actually did alter something in her and nobody knew about it, you've got nothing," Vega summarized. Xanossi’s shoulders slumped.


"I'm guessing that means you're back to square one," Garrus commented. Xanossi shrugged and managed a small laugh.
"Well, as much as starting over isn't my favorite thing, at least it gave me an excuse to spend some time with two of the most distinguished bachelors in the galaxy," she said, flashing a wide grin full of charm. Vega smirked and puffed out his chest, not seeming to notice that she was mainly looking at Garrus, who just twitched his mandibles at her.
"I'll let you get back to whatever it is you two do these days," she said, scooting out of the seat and standing.
"I hope you find less dead ends," Garrus said.
"Thanks!" she said, waving as she walked away.
"A hundred credits says you hear from her again within two weeks," Vega muttered as he watched her go.
"No bet," Garrus grunted.
"Just try to let her down easy, Vakarian," he chuckled.


Shortly after that, the two of them left the restaurant and began wandering around somewhat aimlessly. They had more pleasant conversation, but were also comfortable in silence.
It was in the silent moments that something occurred to Garrus; Vega never asked what he did outside of their visits. Garrus didn't ask him either, but that was because O.L.F. was confidential and he didn't want to be forced to make something up. Outside of threats meant to intimidate, he was actually a terrible liar. He suddenly had a suspicion and it was time to test it.
Eventually they stopped and both leaned against a railing overlooking a park with a garden. It wasn't very fancy, but it was still beautiful, complemented by the twilight. They could see a few families beginning to head home before it got too dark.
"What kind of duty has Hackett had you on since the memorial?" Garrus asked.
"A lot of random odd jobs, but mostly transport of officials, civilians, and supplies," Vega shrugged. He didn't miss a beat.
"Did you get new armor for that? Your other set probably isn't exactly what you want to use now, right?" Garrus asked, glancing at him.
"Yeah, nothing fancy though." Vega stood up straight and rubbed the back of his neck.
"Hmm." He let a moment pass. "It's amazing how quickly each race had politicians ready to put into place. I mean, you remember when we had to find the Primarch in the early stages of the war... they got a lot more established by the time they held the Cynosure Ceremony. I wonder how they did that?"
"Beats me," he said. "That's above my pay grade to know who goes where."
"Well first they just had to know who was still alive, and where they were, then get them brought in... It had to have been quite an undertaking."
"Probably so."


Garrus let another moment pass, beginning to doubt his suspicion, but something told him to keep going.
"Have you heard people talking about that Undertaker person?" he inquired. At that, Vega stiffened a little.
"Yeah. Who do you think he is?" he replied.
"I think he works for Hackett and the Council," Garrus said casually, looking back out over the park. "Like a Spectre, but without the attention. And I actually think there's more than one. There's rumors of a turian Undertaker and a human one being spotted out there." He stood up straight again. "I'm sure it's all pretty confidential, though, and nothing anyone can talk about," he finished dismissively, looking at the human out of the corner of his eye.
Vega laughed, shaking his head and gripping the railing with his hands.
"I'm not surprised you've figured all that out, Mr. C-Sec," he said with a smirk.
"I'm not surprised you were also offered the job," Garrus replied earnestly. "They needed some way to put you to good use without looking like they were favoring the Normandy Elect too much."
"Yeah. It's been almost like a beta test for Spectre, honestly. But I gotta get some time in N7 before I'm likely to be considered for that," he said thoughtfully. "I guess that's what my future looks like now... after the war, after the Normandy."


"Have any good finds while you were fishing for officials?" Garrus asked with a smirk.
"Are you suggesting we compare conquests?" Vega laughed. "Like measuring... fish?"
"Maybe," the turian shrugged. Vega laughed again, then crossed his arms.
"Alright. Councilor Camilio."
"Turian Councilor, not bad," Garrus mumbled, nodding. "I got the new Primarch."
"I'll see your Primarch, and raise you the new Executor of C-Sec, Cameter Erastis."
"You sure seem to like those turians," Garrus teased.
"Actually, they sure seem to like me," Vega retaliated, and Garrus laughed.
"Salarian Councilor, Ahann Jonarth," he fired back.
"Alright, time for my secret weapon..." Vega smirked and cracked his knuckles. "Thirteen of Councilor Tevos' daughters."
"Thirteen?!" Garrus exclaimed, his eyes widening. "How did that happen?"
"They were all in the same place, hunkering down when it hit the fan," Vega explained, still smirking and puffing out his chest. "Many of them were very happy to see me."
"Spirits, Vega," Garrus laughed. "Don't you ever doubt your luck."
"Oh believe me, I won't."
They both chuckled and then shared a contented sigh. Garrus's mandibles twitched.


"It's been mostly dead unspecifieds for you, too, lately, yeah?" he asked.
"Yeah," Vega agreed solemnly. "I haven't seen a live reading in nearly two months. Well, except for the glitched reading on Shepard, but that's--"
"Wait," Garrus cut him off abruptly, swiftly moving to face him straight on. "You have Shepard in your database?"
"Uh... yeah. You don't?" he replied, his brow furrowing.
"Hackett wouldn't let me," he breathed.
"Aw, man... I'm sorry," Vega said, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Why didn't you tell me?!" Garrus growled, stepping closer into the human's space.
"Hey, I didn't know you were doing this, too, 'til just now," he said, holding his hands up in defense. "And I figured they'd let you at least see it. It's not like it's showing anything conclusive."
"But it's showing something?" he hissed.


"Well, I mean, yes and no..." Vega ran a hand through his hair as he continued. "Sometimes, it's nowhere. Sometimes it's this reading that bounces all over the place, miles away in seconds, and doesn't ever stop. Every now and then it will stop, but it will disappear when I get close, or it will still be there but there's no one there. I once dug fifteen feet down in the middle of an empty dirt patch just to make sure." He shrugged and shook his head, unable to keep from fidgeting under Garrus's intense gaze.
"Once it said she was every living person around me, and another time it said she actually was me," he sighed. "It doesn't make any sense, man. It's nothing to go off of. I'm sorry."
Garrus looked away, his hands clenched into fists as he processed this information. This was not nothing. He had to find a way to determine what it meant. His mind raced for a solution.
Then, as if a light had turned on within him, he knew.


"Were you scanning last night?" he asked, his tone and body language conveying the importance of his question.
"Yeah..." Vega was wringing his hands, unsure where the turian was going with this.
Garrus pulled up his omnitool with a current Citadel map. He didn't have his O.L.F. equipment with him, but he knew how to orient himself well enough to get within the ballpark of where he'd encountered the anti-synthesists. He showed the area to Vega.
"Did the reading show her here? Last night? Even for a moment?" he growled, his tone more about urgency than anger. Vega leaned in, zooming in and out as he considered it.
"Uh, yeah--"
"Tell me exactly what that reading showed," Garrus demanded. Vega straightened back up, suddenly taking on the form of a soldier reporting to a superior.
"It wasn't there when I started. Didn't see it all night until it started pinging up in random places, all over each of the Wards. It settled there for... several minutes. Maybe 20, max? I wasn't close but I was considering going to check it out when it moved. It briefly scattered everywhere again and then it disappeared. Haven't seen it since."


Garrus's heart was thundering in his chest, his mandibles flaring. He swiftly shut down his omnitool and turned away from Vega, trying to take some deep breaths. He wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. After several long moments, Vega stepped closer and spoke again.
"Vakarian, are you... are you thinking this actually is Shepard, somehow?" he asked quietly.
The question took him down a notch. There was no way to call that evidence proof. And it didn't actually give him any new steps to take to try and reach her if she was out there. He took a deep breath and turned back to face his friend.
"I don't know," he admitted. He was smiling, but his tone was tired. "But... that's where I was, last night, and it was... eventful."
Vega's eyes widened and he exhaled heavily, massaging his jaw.
"Well, damn."


"Yeah," Garrus replied. "I'll tell you the full story later... For now, can you let Hackett keep thinking we don't know the other is in O.L.F. and we didn't talk about Shepard's indicator?"
"Hackett's my supervisor in the Alliance, not just O.L.F. If he asks me directly and I don't answer truthfully, it could be dangerous for me," Vega replied, his eyes narrowing slightly. "But, yeah, short of that... I won't bring it up."
"I understand," Garrus said with a nod. "Thank you, so much. I think it's time I get back to my place. I'm in need of some rest and I suddenly feel like I might explode."
"Yeah," Vega chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck. "I think I might too."
"Thank you... for sharing all that with me," he said, greater levels of emotion threatening to make their way out through his tone.
"Of course. Hit me up again soon," Vega said, extending a hand. Garrus took it and clasped it tightly, patting the human's shoulder with his other hand.
"I'll send you a message as soon as my head's a little more clear. Don't head out again until I do," he told him.
"You got it."
The two nodded at each other and then they broke apart, Garrus darting off toward the Normandy's courtyard and his apartment. Lacking patience, he summoned up a skycab as he walked. He felt both too energized and too tired to sort out everything going through his mind right now.
But there seemed to be at least one thing he could trust: if Shepard was out there, somehow, she'd found a way to be with him at least one more time. And if she could do that... she could do it again.

Chapter Text

Come closer
Let me lay with all your secrets
Come slowly
Cross the line of rhyme and reason
You're never better off alone
Here we go, here we go
Here we go, here we go
Silhouettes in dust clouds
Revelate in consummation
Nothing's ever too loud
When you don't need conversation

Here We Go by Alex & Sierra

*****

A week after visiting with Vega, Garrus dreamt of Shepard again.
They were standing on the restricted area of the Presidium where they'd done target practice. It was exceptionally bright outside, but all the colors seemed faded, as if the contrast on the image wasn't quite right.
Shepard didn't acknowledge him, her eyes fixed down and over the edge. Garrus moved forward to see what she was looking at. There was a group of people below them, many he didn't know, but he recognized Councilor Lyric, Vega, Hackett, Liara, and for some odd reason, Xanossi. Also among them was Hyatt, the bearded man from the radical group out in the wastelands. They were looking up frequently, shouting things, and talking to each other. Garrus couldn't understand any of what they were saying.


"What's going on?" he asked Shepard, bringing his eyes back to her.
"They want to find me," she replied, still staring down.
"Shepard, I want to find you," he said, stepping forward and reaching for her hand. As he took it she turned to him and met his eyes.
"I'm learning," she told him, and for a brief moment she smiled.
"Do you need my help?" he asked urgently. Suddenly she recoiled back, her hands covering her face as she grimaced.
"It's not safe," she hissed, then turned and darted to the other side of the platform, away from the crowd.
"No! Shepard!" Garrus shouted, but by the time he started moving she had already leaped off the edge.


He woke with a start, his arm flailing and grabbing hold of the large, cushy, dusty couch he'd fallen asleep on. His heart was beating fast and he fought to catch his breath. He was in a small studio apartment out in the wastelands; the kitchen and bathroom were tiny and there wasn't even a bed, just the large couch he'd crashed on. Bright light was filtering through the hazy air and a flimsy curtain, making everything seem a shade of yellow.
Garrus sat himself up, glancing first at his bag and armor, to make sure everything was where it should be. He picked up his personal omnitool and had more unread messages than he expected, even though he knew he'd let a few accumulate. It was probably time to follow up with some of those, but first, he began to compose a new one.

Vega,
I've attached a ping of my current location. Are you scanning? Did Shepard's signature show up here just now? Let me know ASAP.
Garrus

Once that was sent, he went back to his inbox and clicked on one of the unread messages.

Mr. Vakarian,
I don't know much about what kind of grand adventures you're having or looking for right now, but I decided to be bold and reach out to you.
How would you feel about regular appearances at Spectre Status? You got a taste of the kind of profits we can make when you and Mr. Vega are there. I believe he told you that a good amount of my profits go back into rebuilding efforts?
If I can get you and Mr. Vega on an official schedule and make some marketing campaigns, I guarantee we'll sell out of spectator passes. We may even need to expand our viewing areas! Perhaps every two weeks?
I've attached a file with some proposed figures for you and Mr. Vega, anticipated profits, and exactly where income from your showings would go. Mr. Vega has said he's open to moving forward. Let me know your thoughts and I'm happy to negotiate further.
Wigort Mizuo
Spectre Status, CEO
P.S.: We'll have higher difficulties available next week, and the team is also working on more intricate objectives. I think you'll be very pleased!

Garrus opened the attached file and quickly scanned it, but wasn't really internalizing any information, just checking for red flags. He backed out of that one and opened the next message, which was an ad for the grand opening of a salon specializing in human hair and skin. His mandibles twitched as he removed himself from that mailing list.
The next unread message was from Grunt.

Garrus,
How's it going on the Citadel? Are you finding enough action to keep you busy?
Wrex already has a couple hundred sired spawn. Bakara is bringing back this Rite of Honor thing to be eligible to breed, and get this: it has nothing to do with combat. She wants me to be the first krogan to go back to being "cultured", whatever that means.
Anyway, she wants me to learn something like that thing you did with Shepard. With the music and the fancy footwork? Is that even possible?
Please say no.
Grunt

Garrus spent a good five minutes laughing before spending another five trying to stop. He clicked on reply.

Grunt,
The Citadel will never be as entertaining as the visual you just gave me. Thank you very much.
It's called dancing. Specifically, a tango.
Is it possible for krogans? Specifically, you?
No.
Good luck.
Garrus

Message sent. The next unread was from Xanossi Jannure. He took a deep breath, unsure of what he would find. Maybe it was just about her research? Either way, he was glad he didn't take Vega's bet. He opened it up.

Hey stranger!
I was talking with Liara the other day and mentioned how you figured out that Shepard's connections with the Prothean devices likely wouldn't impact her ability to activate the Catalyst. She offered to get me in touch with you, just in case there's more you may be able to help me with in the future. ;)
I know Hackett wants you mainly kept out of the loop... high emotions, conflict of interest, and all that. But maybe I could drop a few hints, and you could masterfully deduce some secrets from there. In exchange for you sharing some of Shepard's, of course.
Maybe we could have lunch somewhere less Alliance, more intimate? You're my best connection to Shepard, Vakarian. And I'd really appreciate you giving me the chance to see what else I can get out of you. ;)
Let me know, 'kay?
Xanossi

Garrus had no idea how to feel about that and didn't want to spend the time thinking on it now. His last message was from Liara and he had a feeling he already knew what it would say.

Hi Garrus,
How are you? Hackett's told me he has you working on something for him, but he says it's classified. Of course, my network is recovering nicely, and I could probably find out on my own soon anyway.
I spoke with an asari from the team studying the Cynosure. Every now and then they share new theories with me, but so far it looks like there's very little definitively understood about it.
The synthesis is becoming more clear, though. They've started testing perception, reflexes, and problem-solving in organic beings and are seeing drastic increases across the board. It makes me wonder if the average soldier will now be as capable as Shepard was, perhaps more. Can you imagine?
Anyway, I hope you give Xanossi a chance. She seems nice. I'm not trying to tell you to date her or anything, but I know you could use some more people to talk to. Most of us had a clear path laid out for us after the war, but I know that without Shepard you're left somewhat adrift...
Have you gone to visit your father and sister yet? I hear Palaven is recovering very well.
Keep in touch.
Liara

Garrus sat back for a moment, rubbing the back of his neck. Messages from Liara always seemed so bittersweet; many times they included topics he didn't want to discuss, and yet the way he could hear her calm tone saying them made it difficult to be bothered by it. After a deep breath he leaned forward again and began writing out a reply.

Hey Liara,
I haven't been to Palaven yet. I'm not sure yet when I'll go, but I do talk with my family fairly often. I think my sister met a guy, so I'll probably have to go beat him up soon.
Turians always recover quickly; we know cleaning up after war almost as well as we know war.
Xanossi wants to talk about Shepard. I don't, most of the time. Especially with someone who's flirting with me. At least, I think she's flirting. ;) means she's flirting, right?
If your network is up for it, I have a favor to ask. Can you look into Wigort Mizuo? He owns and operates Spectre Status on the Citadel. He claims a lot of his profit goes back into rebuilding efforts and I want to know if that's true. Let me know what you find, if you can pull that off.
Thanks, Liara.
Garrus

He nearly put his omnitool away when a reply from Vega came through, which he quickly opened.

Garrus,
It's still telling me she's there. What's going on?
I think I may have found another group of anti-syns a couple hours ago. I'm really far from where you found them; that's bad news if they're more widespread than we think. I sent the report to Hackett after I'd moved on. Maybe he'll get some more official action taken there.
If you're sensing Shepard in the same places my scanner is, shouldn't we tell Hackett about this? Maybe the research team can do something about it. What if they could find her? Could she really beat death twice?
This blows my mind, man. But I won't bring it up to Hackett unless you want me to.
Vega

Garrus had shuddered at the first sentence. Could she be there now, watching him? His eyes slowly scanned the room but he wasn't sure what he expected to see.
What had she said in the dream? She was learning? Learning what? And... it's not safe? In his mind he saw her diving off the beam of the Presidium again and he took a shaky breath. He looked back at his omnitool.

Vega,
I was just dreaming about her. That's all.
If you want to tell Hackett, go ahead, but leave me out of it. Say it's happening to you. I'm not sure what he can or will do with that information, but maybe it will get to someone who can utilize it in a productive manner.
Tell me when it shows that she's moved on.
Garrus

He didn't know what to do next. Should he get moving and see if Shepard's reading followed? Maybe try and go back to sleep and see if he would have another dream? He put down the omnitool and reclined on the couch, propping his feet up on the small coffee table and closing his eyes.
He let himself think of Shepard. It felt like peeling back the layers of his heart and mind, exposing the part of him he'd put away because it was no longer being used. It was still easy to bring to mind her smile, her laugh, her hardset jaw in the face of a new mission. The hard part was being without them, without interaction, without somewhere for his love to go. He saw her in his mind, geared up and waiting for him in the hangar bay of the Normandy.
"Get ready to roll," she'd say.
Like a reflex, Garrus broke out of the memory and stood up, beginning to put on his gear. He paused; where was he going? All he could think was "get ready to roll" in Shepard's voice. He didn't understand it, but he continued putting on his armor and packing his bag, unable to deny the urging he felt. He didn't waste any time, and was soon quickly descending the stairs of the apartment complex.


Get ready to roll.
Just before he walked out the front door a thundering explosion shook the walls. He froze, steadying himself as it passed, then darted out the doors and looked down what used to be a street. Not too far down, a three story building was collapsing, the rumbling shaking the ground and rippling through his chest.


Get ready to roll.
As the dust began to settle, he could see that the one next to it was missing a chunk from the corner closest to the one that fell. There was shouting coming from that direction, barely louder than the sound of debris settling and the second building struggling to hold itself up.


Get ready to roll.
Garrus darted towards the building, tossing his bag into the skycar as he passed it. He gripped his pistol, unsure what he would find; there wasn't supposed to be anyone out here. As ran forward, he saw two male humans and an asari shouting at each other.


"...such idiots! You have no idea what you're doing!" one of the humans was saying.
"It was the first attempt, it couldn't be expected to be perfect!" the asari defended.
"I would've settled for not blowing up!" he retaliated.
"It's just a price to pay for--"
The second human cut himself off when they all noticed Garrus approaching. They tensed visibly and looked unhappy.
"What's going on here?" Garrus asked, but immediately regretted it; he sounded too much like C-Sec. Some habits died hard, if at all.
"Nothing," one human replied.
"Electrical malfunction, I guess," the asari shrugged. That was when Garrus heard it; there was a buzzing and cracking coming from somewhere within the second building.
Get ready to roll.
"Was there anyone else with you?" he asked the three individuals in front of him.
"Where's Ponia?" the first human asked.
"I thought she followed me out," the asari replied.


Get ready to roll.
"If you tell me she's just a price to pay for--"
Garrus didn't hear the rest as he darted into the second building, following the sound of insecure electricity. He appeared to be in some kind of large lobby, probably housing business offices on the higher floors. Furniture was minimal and very modern, and the lights were flickering sporadically. He went to the back of the room and passed by some elevators to find a staircase, with stairs going both up and down. The sound was coming from below.
The basement was a maintenance area and was very dark, save for the uncontrolled sparking of some kind of terminal in the back. He froze at the bottom of the stairs, his nerves escalating as he heard another sound: water.


Get ready to roll.
"Who's there?! Please help me!" a voice called. It was female and turian.
Garrus flicked on his flashlight and looked around. The terminal was barely visible, nearly surrounded by shelves of servers and generators, and he couldn't see the water pipe that had likely gotten dislodged and overfilled when the adjacent building went down. Kneeling on top of a cabinet not far from the malfunctioning terminal was, presumably, Ponia.
"Who are you?!" she questioned. Garrus didn't answer, he was too busy trying to figure out a solution. He couldn't get anywhere near her without risking electrocution as water was already covering the floor.


Get ready to roll.
"Can you get further from the terminal?" he called. "I can short it out from here, but you need to try and get out of the blast radius."
Ponia began looking around then slowly brought herself to her feet. She couldn't quite stand all the way up due to the height of the ceiling, but the next unit was close. She made her way over to it, then clambered onto another. There was a loud creaking sound from somewhere, everywhere, up above.
"This is as far as I can go," she told him, the other units being either too far away or too tall for her to safely traverse. Garrus was worried it still wouldn't be quite far enough.
"Can you hang off the side closest to me? Just for a second?"
"Uh... I think so," Ponia nodded, looking down at the water that was already several inches high. "Tell me when."


Get ready to roll.
"Now."
Ponia dropped herself down, clinging to the top of the cabinet and keeping her feet up as she used it as a shield. In the same moment, Garrus fired an overload at the terminal and it burst like firework. Ponia flinched but kept her hold, waiting to ensure there were no more sparks.
"Do you think it's all discharged?" she asked. The building overhead began to groan.
"I think it's time to test the theory," he grunted, gesturing for her to come towards him.
Ponia braced herself, then dropped down. She and Garrus both let out a breath in relief, then she charged for him and the stairs. They raced out of the building, Garrus on her heels.
"Ponia!" the human from before called. Ponia ran straight to him and they embraced enthusiastically. The other human and the asari fidgeted uncomfortably and Garrus's mind was racing, trying to figure out how to proceed from there. With Hackett and the Citadel backing him, he had plenty of authority, but acting on it would reveal too much. Luckily, with the black armor on his side, he could stand there and look imposing even as he struggled to come up with a next move.


Get ready to roll.
Oh. Of course.
Suddenly his thoughts were once again his own voice. Without another word he simply turned and walked away, back towards his skycar.
"Uh, wait--" Ponia began, but the asari cut her off.
"Let him go, Ponia. It's better that way."


Garrus switched a setting on his gear to be able to speak without his voice leaving his helmet. He sent a ping to his dispatch line.
"Dispatch. Verify?" The voice sounded male and salarian, but that was all Garrus knew about the dispatch line.
"Banter."
"Go ahead."
"Ping my location. Explosion here, effecting two buildings, one--"
The ground shook as the debris thundered to the ground. Garrus paused and looked back, seeing the four others running out of sight, to safety. He sighed then continued walking towards his skycar.
"Both buildings collapsed. Four individuals, asari, two male human, one female turian, Ponia, on the scene..." He gave a brief description of each of them. "Apparent electrical malfunction, but I suspect foul play. Ponia was found near the terminal and the others argued about failing some kind of test... I recommend tracking them down and bringing them in, and getting them on a strict watchlist. Or at the very least, getting them watched out here. Contact was kept minimal, no likelihood of identity compromise."
Dispatch was quiet. His personal omnitool pinged and he glanced at it; a message from Vega. He ignored it for now. Eventually dispatch spoke again.
"...we'll be downloading data from your armor to get appropriate visuals."
"Understood," he replied. "Over and out."
"Over and out."
Dispatch disconnected. Garrus arrived at his skycar and got in, then took his helmet off, setting it on the seat next to him facing away. He pulled his omnitool back out and opened the message from Vega.

Hey,
It moved just a little bit, like a block away, maybe? Hung out there then just now disappeared. Something going down?
Vega

Garrus glanced up one more time to make sure nobody was approaching, then prepared a reply.

Vega,
Yeah. Two whole buildings went down. I'll tell you the full story later. Thanks for keeping me informed. I think... I really think she's here.
Garrus

Another message pinged through, this time from Liara.

Garrus,
Mizuos bank records? Child's play.
The guy's clean as whistle. It turns out he lost a lot of family in the war. His donations to rebuilding go through a foundation he set up in their honor. All the numbers are above board there, too.
So... does this mean you're going to make regular appearances at Spectre Status?
I promise to come and spectate sometime, if so.
Liara

Garrus couldn't help smiling. It would be good to get a whole bunch of the team back together again. It would certainly help out Spectre Status... He opened up a new message.

Mr. Mizuo,
I'm in. Maybe we can even arrange some more guest appearances...
Let's talk scheduling soon.
Garrus Vakarian

Chapter Text

Are you the only one
Lost in the millions?
Or are you my grain of sand
That's blowing in the wind?
I never knew anybody 'til I knew you
I never knew anybody 'til I knew you
And I know when it rains, oh, it pours
And I know I was born to be yours

Born to Be Yours by Kygo & Imagine Dragons

*****

"Was that really necessary?" Vega asked, removing his helmet as he and Garrus left the arena at Spectre Status. The roaring crowds could still be heard even as the door closed behind them.
"I just wanted to try out using the Raptor in-game, but if it's too embarrassing for you, I won't do it again," Garrus chuckled, mandibles flaring in a grin as he removed his own equipment.
"That sniper fires faster than the Carnifex! That's just not fair," Vega said with exasperation, but was in good spirits. He opened up a locker that Spectre Status had made specifically for them and began to put away his things. "How am I supposed to keep up when you don't even have to move?"
"It's about versatility, James," Garrus teased. "If the war didn't teach you that, N7 will."
"Nah, I don't think so. I'd rather be a master at a few things than a jack-of-all-trades," Vega shrugged. "If it were a swarm situation you'd be toast; you got nothing on my level of crowd control."
"Maybe you should mention that to Wigort? Could be a new objective type," he suggested.
"That's not a bad idea!" Vega agreed with a grin. He stretched and rolled his shoulders after the gear was off, and Garrus grabbed a canister of water from a small fridge. They were in the staff break room, but Wigort had altered it to double as a private area for the Normandy Elect. Occasionally some staff would be there too, but they were always respectful.


It had been a little over seven months since the end of the Transcendent War. Every other week Vega and Garrus would make appearances at Spectre Status, and it was going exceptionally well. All of the Normandy Elect tried not to capitalize on the celebrity status they inherited, and even with their visits, they kept it low-key. The separate entrance made all the difference, and though they'd always acknowledge the crowd briefly before and after, they were careful not to do any grandstanding. The most they appealed to their own ego was through the banter to each other, which was broadcast to the spectators.
They couldn't help being popular, but it felt good to make sure it was done right. Wigort had come to them in tears after the first showing he'd fully advertised, sharing with them how grateful he was to be able to donate so much to rebuild after the war. Garrus liked him, and felt lucky to get partnered with someone so honest.
O.L.F. seemed to be both slowing down and speeding up. They were covering ground a lot faster, but the database was getting smaller. It hadn't been officially announced, but Garrus suspected more people had been recruited to do the scanning, now that the DNA involved was of a less prestigious nature as well as classified. No one had discussed exactly what would happen when it had run its course yet, but the time was likely not far off.


A door to the staff room opened up and, to Garrus's surprise, Joker and EDI walked in. Both of them were wearing casual clothes.
"Hey strangers," Joker greeted them cheerily.
"Mind if we join you?" EDI asked.
"We could definitely use some company as we wait for some of the crowd to clear," Vega said, greeting Joker with a pat on the back.
"What are you guys doing here?" Garrus asked, pleased by the surprise.
"Just thought we'd catch a show and say hi while we were in the area," Joker explained. "We've been all over the place, flying lots of different ships for different people. It's not very exciting, but it's not a bad gig. People are practically using my name to boost theirs,” he finished with a grin.
"It's good to have some downtime here. I think I'd like to join you for one of these matches next time," EDI announced.
"Hey! You'd leave me all alone in the spectator box?" Joker said, exaggerating a whiny tone.
"Can't you come too? You're more sturdy now, right?" Vega teased, pretending to squeeze Joker's shoulder as if testing it.
"Yeah, but that doesn't mean I can shoot worth anything," he responded, swatting Vega away.
"Maybe protecting you can be part of the objective," EDI suggested.
"Yeah! You can be the damsel in distress!" Garrus joined in, and he and Vega laughed. Even EDI snickered.
"No thanks," Joker grumbled.
"We'll get Liara or Kaidan to sit with you," EDI suggested with a smile.


Smiling, laughing, frowning, and other emotional expressions were common with EDI now. The body was always capable of performing them, as it had to when it was pretending to be human as Dr. Eva Coré. Before the synthesis, EDI never utilized them due to her limited capacity for emotion. Now, even the geth were often seen using far more body language and expressions, but of course, there was a learning curve to understanding them, much like how human's struggled to read turians.
The four of them all took a seat at a small table and got comfortable.
"How about Wrex or Grunt? I bet they'd love to get a piece of this action. When are they coming back around?" Joker asked, sounding genuinely curious.
"From what I understand, Wrex has been working with Councilor Lyric to choose a krogan Councilor," Garrus began. "But Wrex already has his hands full trying to organize the government structure on Tuchanka. Finding the right krogans for the job is proving difficult, and most are needed on the planet, not here."
"Ah, that makes sense I guess," Joker shrugged.
"The krogan will grow into their synthesis soon enough. They'll find their place among peacetime," EDI said confidently.
"If you do want in, I'm sure Wigort would be happy to have you join. Building up Spectre Status is good for the entire Citadel economy," Garrus said.
"And I admit, it's kinda cool seeing posters of myself in the lobby," Vega said with a wink.


The door opened once again, and a young, human, staff member entered and approached.
"Er, sorry to bother you," she said, rubbing her hands together anxiously. "Mr. Vakarian, there's a Miss Xanossi out here asking for you? She says she knows you, but... we weren't sure if we should bring her back or not..."
Garrus's mandibles fluttered and he tried to ignore the others staring at him with various expressions of amusement and curiosity. He sighed and stood up.
"I'll go talk to her, but you were right; only Normandy team visitors back here, please."
The human smiled and nodded, going to the back corner of the staff room. Garrus didn't wait for commentary from the others and stepped out to the lobby area. Conveniently, this portion was still blocked off to the public with a rope barrier, so he didn't have to get into the middle of it.
Much of the audience was still milling about, chatting about today's events and scheduling sessions of their own. Staff was doing their best to efficiently meet everyone's needs. Standing off to the side against the barrier was Xanossi, smiling wide and already waving and calling to him.


"Garrus! Hey!"
"Hey, Xanossi," he said, making his way over. "I wasn't expecting you."
"I know, but it's easy to find you on days when you're here," she responded, fidgeting with her hands.
"Well... what do you need?" he asked.
"Oh! Right," she giggled. "There's been something interesting going on at the lab. I thought maybe I could steal you away from here and fill you in?"
"Actually, I'm visiting with some of the team right now..." he replied, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Jeff and EDI, right? I saw them. Are they...?" she drifted off, raising a brow.
"In a relationship? Yes," Garrus answered with a nod. "Look, I can meet you in about an hour, maybe an hour and a half... say, Velpia's Verve in Nova Plaza?"
"Sure, I'll see you then!" she said.
"See you then." Garrus nodded then turned and headed back to the staff room.


"-- and it was weird. I mean, every ship handles a little differently, but this thing hobbled like it had three legs and was supposed to have six," Joker was saying. Vega laughed and they turned their attention to Garrus as he took his seat again.
"You don't have to ask," he sighed before the pause got too long. "Xanossi Jannure, I literally bumped into her once at the Normandy Monument, she found me later to ask questions about Shepard, Vega was there, I've met with her three other times because she's on the team studying the Cynosure and is actually willing to talk to me about it, and no, it is not a romantic relationship, nor do I want it to be."
"Is she still trying to make it romantic, though?" Vega asked.
"I don't know... I mean, I think so, but I'm not exactly an expert on the subtleties of cues like that," he shrugged.
"How did it work with Shepard?" EDI asked, sounding like she wanted to be helpful.
"It only worked because Shepard was about as bold as she could possibly be," he said, then gave a small laugh. "There was nothing to figure out there."


"Wait... have you not had any other romantic relationships? Besides Shepard?" Joker asked, his eyes widening a little.
"Erm, well, uh... not really, no," Garrus admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. He caught their slight frowns, as if they were thinking "no wonder he can't move on", and continued on before they could say it. "There had been romantic encounters, and even sexual encounters before Shepard, but... not what I would call a romantic relationship."
"So, do you only talk about the research with Xanossi?" Vega asked.
"Actually, I talk a lot about Shepard," he admitted, realizing it more fully when he said it. "It's been kind of refreshing to talk about her. Especially to someone who didn't know her."
The was a long pause. Joker and EDI exchanged a glance.
"What?" Garrus asked.
"There are not many females who would sit around just to hear someone they flirt with talk about another female," EDI said.
"Hah, she knew that and she's technically not even completely female!" Joker said proudly, then his brow furrowed. "Wait..."
"We know what you mean, Joker," EDI assured him.


"Hold on, back up," Garrus said, holding his hands out in front of him. "What am I missing here?"
"If Xanossi digs you, it's weird that she's happy to sit and hear about how much you dig Shepard," Vega clarified.
"Weird... how? Like I shouldn't trust her?" he asked.
"I dunno," he shrugged. "Just weird."
"Maybe she's just going for being a good listener. It's a subtle, but valid, seduction technique," Joker pointed out. Garrus's mandibles twitched at the thought of seduction techniques being used on him.
"I guess you do bring up a good point," he conceded. "I'm getting Cynosure information from our relationship. If I'm not responding to her advances, what is she getting out of it?"
"Look out," Joker said, only half teasing.


"Speaking of Cynosure effects..." EDI began.
"Oh, yeah, tell them about the thing!" Joker urged enthusiastically.
"I've been considering testing out the process for converting AI to fully biological beings," she announced.
"What?" Vega asked, looking confused.
"Oh, Liara mentioned that to me," Garrus said. "They extract DNA from your code and create a body with it. Then turn your code into a brain somehow?"
"Yes. It won't be available anytime soon. But I'm considering volunteering myself to be one of the trial runs," EDI replied, smiling slightly.
"...what?!" Vega repeated.
"What would happen to this version of you? Would there be two of you, or is it a one-time trial kind of thing?" Garrus asked.
"We could potentially deactivate this version of me and keep it as a back-up, perhaps stored in the Normandy. Or we'd have to kill it so that there's not two of me," EDI said nonchalantly.
"Whoa! Wait, hold up... this is something they can do because of the synthesis?!" Vega exclaimed.
"That's the theory," Joker said with a nod, grinning.
"Oh. Well... dang," Vega said, his eyes wide. He and Garrus exchanged a look and Garrus guessed he was thinking about what that may mean about Shepard's DNA showing up.
They'd continued to track that regularly. Every now and then, when one of them would feel especially compelled to do or say something, or when Garrus would dream, she would show up near them on the scanner. To Garrus's dismay however, it wasn't consistent, and was becoming less and less so. Between so many months of confirming the dead and her indicator's irregularities, he was beginning to wonder if it had all been in his head.


"I don't dislike my existence as a synthetic being, but... it sounds like quite an experience. And I think I'd like to continue experiencing new things as much as I can," EDI explained.
"I kinda feel like going from robot to human is the opposite of evolution," Joker commented.
"Would you even be human?" Vega asked. "Would you get to pick, or is your species going to be derived from your code also?"
"Would you still love me if my DNA came out as elcor, or volus?" EDI asked Joker with a smirk, gaining laughs from the other two.
"I think it would be a crime against nature to let your voice evolve into either one of those," he replied with a shudder. "But it does kind of sound like me to have a thing for crimes against nature," he added with a shrug. They all chuckled in agreement.
For a moment it was quiet until Garrus spoke up again.


"...If someday, someone came to us and said they'd found a way to bring Shepard back... and we were the ones who got to decide, would you think we should?" he asked quietly, looking down at the table as he fidgeted with his water canister.
"Why wouldn't we?" Vega said with a shrug.
"Because then we'd be asked why we're not bringing back anyone else, like my dad, or my sister..." Joker replied, his tone grim.
"I lost my dad and my uncle, and I love 'em in my own way, but I know they didn't contribute to the galaxy the way Shepard did," Vega stated. "No offense to your family, Joker," he added quickly.
"None taken. But who gets to decide that?" Joker fired back. "Mordin gave his life for millions of krogan lives to be possible. That's quite a contribution, but as far as we know, he doesn't have family mourning him or wanting to finance projects to bring him back the way Cerberus did with Shepard."
"What's the right amount of contribution to get your life back?" EDI asked no one in particular. "What's the right amount of being missed or loved to warrant ripping you from death? What's the amount of money that is appropriate to pay for a soul returned?"
"Those are exactly the kinds of questions that would need to be answered," Garrus agreed uncomfortably. "Shepard very well could have governments or organizations trying to revive her... but what if some lone individual figured it out and made a business off of it? Should we just allow anyone to be brought back to life? Should the Citadel government be regulating that?"
"I get it," Vega sighed. "If we could bring back Shepard, even if we intend to only bring her back, it gets complicated." Garrus nodded and looked around at all of them.
"Yes. Yes it does. The question then, if the times comes, is if that's a price we're willing to pay... for Shepard."

*****

Nova Plaza was one of the newer areas on the Citadel. Garrus had only discovered it a few weeks ago and it had many things he enjoyed. There were several levels of apartment living, most of which were occupied by small families. The bottom floors of the buildings held cafes, boutiques, a gym, and other small businesses. Within the plaza was a fountain that erupted straight from the ground and it was not uncommon to see kids playing in the water. It was also fairly typical to find at least one street musician or performer in the evenings.
It was cozy.
Velpia's Verve was a cafe that boasted flavorful, and incredibly healthy superfoods. It was just the kind of thing Garrus craved after a workout or session at Spectre Status. He entered and found Xanossi already at a booth near the back, waving at him enthusiastically. He acknowledged her with a small wave and nod, placed his order at the service counter, and then made his way over.
"Hey stranger," she greeted him with a wide smile. "How was visiting with the other Normandy Elect?"
"Entertaining as ever," he said with a smile. "I hadn't seen Joker and EDI in a while. I'm glad they got to stop by."
"It's rather amazing how close you all are," she commented.
"It happens with most crews who see enough battles together," Garrus shrugged.
"That's underplaying it and you know it," Xanossi scolded playfully.
"You're right," he replied with a soft smile.


"You faced battles bigger than most, and Commander Shepard was larger than life. And she knew how to make sure her crew got recognition, too," she said.
"It helps that the Normandy is a fairly small ship compared to freighters, but Shepard talked to everyone on board on a regular basis, and could tell you at least three things about them, even the auxiliary crew."
"Most of you spent time together, even on shore leave, right?" Xanossi asked, and Garrus nodded. "That's definitely the closest crew I've ever heard of."
"She told me once that she was thinking only of her crew when she got spaced, and when she woke up in Cerberus's lab," he said with solemn admiration.
"It's no wonder Shepard found a companion among her crew. She attracted all kinds of phenomenal people and knew how to treat them well."
Garrus's mandibles twitched at the amount of admiration in Xanossi's smile, unsure exactly where it was directed. He wasn't sure how to respond, and luckily was saved by their food arriving. They thanked the female turian who brought it over and both began taking a couple bites. They shared some small talk about the food, and when the conversation lulled again, Garrus decided to direct it.
"At Spectre Status, you said there was something going on with your Cynosure research?" he prompted.
"Mm, yes!" Xanossi said, her eyes widening with excitement. "Our network has been infected."
"Like a virus?" Garrus asked curiously.
"Hmm... kind of," she replied vaguely, clearly enjoying sharing the juicy information.
"Aren't you guys pretty protected? I mean, you're sanctioned and funded by the Council, right?"
"We are indeed," Xanossi nodded, still grinning.


"So... who could've gotten in? What's it effecting?" Garrus didn't care if he was taking her bait, the information was valuable enough to him.
"That's the strangest part," Xanossi said with a smirk. "All it does is make our terminals show videos of Shepard."
"What? Videos of Shepard?" he exclaimed.
"Yep," she nodded. "Like news reports and interviews she did and stuff. Half our workstations will seize up and just start playing it on repeat. A lot of them are the ones you see all the time, but there's been quite a few I've never seen before, like from right after Anderson put her in charge of the Normandy." Garrus had put down his utensils and was staring at her, completely dumbfounded, as she continued.
"Even if we turn it off and then back on, it just picks up where it left off. We can still work with the other terminals, but it definitely slows things down."
"That's... unsettling," Garrus grumbled, his mandibles twitching. For some reason it made him think of the videos he'd seen of Cerberus scientists becoming indoctrinated. "It's not just some prank someone in the lab is pulling?" he asked.
"If it is, no one's owned up to it yet," Xanossi shrugged. "But I don't think so. Most of the other scientists wouldn't have that kind of humor."
"It would be fairly strange humor," Garrus agreed. "But who else could it be?"
"That's where it gets even more interesting," she said, her eyes widening again. She glanced around and her voice became hushed. "There's some rumors about a group that is against what Shepard did with the Cynosure and the synthesis. They're being called anti-syns."


"Anti-syns?" Garrus repeated, keeping his expression fairly stoic. "Why would they be upset by the synthesis?"
"I think it has to do with it being forced on them," she mused.
"How terrible to have to endure the end of a war and enlightened living," he scoffed. Xanossi snickered.
"I'm not surprised you haven't heard the rumors of them. They're some of the few people in the universe that aren't fans of Shepard, and I'm sure no one would bring that up around you."
"A wise decision," he grunted, and Xanossi snickered again. "What could they be hoping to accomplish by messing with your lab? Are they accessing anything that might point to a greater end goal?"
"As far as we can tell, none of our files are being compromised," she replied, shrugging and shaking her head. "I have no idea what they may be getting out of it other than making us wonder."
"Hmm."
It was quiet again for a few moments as they both made more progress on their meals. Finally, Garrus decided it was time to ask some important questions.


"Speaking of what people are getting out of certain ventures," he began, clearing his throat. "I've been wondering what exactly you are gaining from our visits."
"Mmm... I'm not sure I understand," Xanossi replied, smiling slightly even though she was unsure. Garrus noticed her eyes always seemed to be bright, no matter their topic. It was consistent enough to unsettle him ever so slightly.
"Well..." He took a deep breath before continuing. He hated these kinds of conversations. "You first talked to me because you thought I may have valuable insight to your research. I don't think I've been helping in that way, but you're still around, and I... I'm just curious about why."
"I'll tell you," she replied, relaxed and enjoying his awkwardness. "But I want you to tell me what you're getting out of this relationship first. I promise I won't be disappointed by whatever answer you give."
"Uh, I... well, fair enough, I suppose," Garrus stuttered, sitting up straighter in his seat. "You're on the front lines of the Cynosure research, which I enjoy having the connection to. We get along just fine and seem to enjoy each other's company." He paused, and rubbed the back of his neck with another heavy exhale. "But the biggest reason is that you're the only one I have to talk to about Shepard," he admitted.
"The only one?" Xanossi questioned.
"Pretty much," he shrugged. "My family would tire of it. The rest of the Normandy Elect were there, too, or even knew her longer than I did."
"Probably not as well as you did though," she pointed out.
"That's true," he conceded. "But they know all the stories and the adventures. I mean, Vega is the newest, but most of the stories worth telling were already told during downtime on the Normandy by Shepard herself. Besides, they've all got new directions now. They know where they're going and are excited about the path ahead."


"You don't have options?" Xanossi challenged.
"Oh, I'm sure there's plenty of high ranks I could easily slip into among the turian hierarchy and military," Garrus said, gesturing dismissively. "But I do better not trying to fit into that structure too tightly. And when I think about what I might be doing... They'd just make me a symbol instead of putting me to real use. I don't crave war or battle, but I know that a peacetime military career will never be as fulfilling as anything I could've done with Shepard."
"She certainly set a high standard," Xanossi agreed with a nod. She rested her head on her hand, elbow on the table. "Why is it that you like to talk about her so much?"
"Hmm. I'm not sure if I can explain it," he replied, looking down onto his almost empty plate.
"Try." He squirmed at Xanossi's urging, but didn't see the point in protesting.
"Shepard... left this void," he began, then stumbled over the rest awkwardly. "I mean, that's obvious, but... sometimes it doesn't feel like she's gone. I have these dreams and... I don't know, maybe the synthesis just feels like her to me. Whatever it is, talking about her helps me feel a little more... grounded, I guess, instead of simultaneously lost in her absence and her counterfeit presence. If that makes sense." He glanced up at Xanossi, wringing his hands together.
"I think I understand," she said quietly. Garrus let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. Before he could speak again, she straightened up.


"I'll answer your question now. It's actually fairly selfish," she told him. "I've had my share of loves and relationships in my lifetime... I admit I followed Shepard and her adventures closer than most. Even without an official declaration, I could see the love in the eyes of you both... but I wondered if it was as extraordinary as it seemed from the distance."
"And how better to find out than by interviewing the source?" Garrus deduced.
"Indeed," she said sheepishly. "It didn't take me long to determine you're probably the most exceptionally devoted and in love individual I've ever come across in my several centuries of living."
"Really?" Garrus's mandibles twitched. "I've only been around a couple decades so I wouldn't know." He suddenly shook his head and waved his hands. "But it didn't matter; it wasn't about that. It was just about Shepard and... being the best companion I could."
"Turians are known for loyalty, but you go several steps above that," Xanossi said with wonder. "Anyway... I'm not desperate for a committed relationship, but I do have a 'hopeless romantic' side and... you set a good standard for the kind of devotion I want to find and give someday."
"I've... been concerned you were pursuing a relationship with me," Garrus admitted, his mandibles twitching.
"I wouldn't be complaining if I got that," Xanossi said with a grin, and Garrus shifted uncomfortably. "But I figure you're not the only person who's capable of such devotion. I mean, I'll probably live long enough to find someone else who can love as good as you do. Or at least get close," she shrugged. "In the meantime, it's nice to keep you around as a reminder not to settle for less. Everything about you and Shepard truly was legendary, and I consider myself lucky just to share time with you."
"Hmm. Well, I guess this is a pretty good arrangement then," Garrus said with a shrug.
"Pleasure doing business with you," Xanossi joked, feigning a serious expression and offering a handshake. Garrus laughed and humored the gesture.


The rest of the visit was a lot less uncomfortable. Garrus continued to play dumb when they discussed the anti-syns further. Xanossi talked of her coworkers and said she'd invite some of them to the next event at Spectre Status. Having gotten the uncomfortable conversation out of the way, they left the cafe better friends than when they'd arrived.
Garrus watched Xanossi hail a cab before he turned to spend a bit more time walking through the neighborhood... but he had something else on his mind. Once he reached a quiet enough alley, he opened up his omnitool and began a voice message to a contact he hadn't used in a while.
"Hey, Kasumi. I hope you're doing well, but I know you're not one for small talk, so I'll get straight to the point. I've got a favor to ask..."

 

Chapter Text

Oh
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.
"Yeah."


"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."
"I see."
"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."

Chapter Text

Give me your misery, all of it give it to me
I can hold onto it for you, it's not a problem
I just want your energy, a piece of that fractured mountain
I'll take whatever comes with it as long as it's yours

And all I know is that I want it more than yesterday
If I was waiting, I was waiting for just one little spark
You are the brightest I've seen
You are the best side of me
And just for when we're apart
I've got a piece of your heart

But I want the whole damn thing

I feel it inside of me, I feel it inside of you too
Seeing forever this downcast blade from the sky
Could never sever through, not what we have me and you
Burning together and burning forever

And I don't know, I just can feel it in the atmosphere
If I'm wandering, I've wandered into just the right spot
You are the fire in my sleep
You are the reason I dream
And just for when we're apart
I've got a piece of your heart

Piece of Your Heart by Mayday Parade

*****

Even though it was artificial, Garrus loved the sunlight that poured into his apartment through the window.  Seeing the Normandy there was less painful now, as long as he thought of it as just a monument.
He didn't think of the cubby where he kept some of his things in the main battery.  He didn't think about the laughs that occasionally rang out around the lounge.  He didn't think about the silent camaraderie as he would suit up with a crew instead of alone.  He didn't think about the way Shepard's bed used to smell.
Every time he woke up though, he'd open the window, and take a moment to look at the Normandy and the people milling about, which was exactly what he was doing now, leaning against the wall as he gazed down.  Garrus had been spending less and less time working on O.L.F.  Now, he'd spend many weeks free before going out again.
The year anniversary of the Cynosure was now only a few weeks away.  Festivities were already gearing up and being advertised.  Hackett told Garrus that after that, they'd be discontinuing the project, but there were no specific plans for what to do next.  The Admiral was encouraging him to finally visit Palaven, which Garrus continued to shrug off.  For whatever reason, he couldn't bring himself to leave the Citadel yet.


His omnitool pinged from his nightstand, causing him to pull his gaze from the plaza.  With more time spent in his apartment, he'd settled into a routine, and that included showering before checking any messages.  So, he pulled off his pants and stepped into the bathroom for a quick soak.
Not too long later, he was enjoying the steam in his bathroom when he heard his omnitool ping two more times.
"Alright, I'm--"
Garrus froze when a soft thud from outside the bathroom interrupted him.  He stood, tense and still, and heard shuffling.  Someone was in his apartment.  And he was naked in the bathroom with no weapons... but he did have his visor.
As quietly as possible, he picked up his visor and put it on, then set it for infrared.
"What the--?!" he exclaimed at the reading.  He opened the bathroom door and confirmed that the intruder was a Keeper.  It was currently in his kitchen, carefully looking into his cupboards and not acknowledging him.
He stared at it, still naked, and more confused than he'd been in a long time.  He realized it was silly to think that anyone unfriendly had made it so far past security to get to his apartment, but Keepers very rarely entered a residence.  If they did, it was usually due to an emergency with the utilities; so why was this one looking at his food?


His omnitool pinged again, and it reminded him to get dressed.  He watched the Keeper with narrowed eyes as it turned on his water faucet, then turned it off as he pulled on some pants.  Just as he finished that, his omnitool alerted him that he was receiving a call.  Garrus made his way over to it and saw it was a video call from Xanossi.  He answered it.
"Hey there!" she said cheerily, then raised an eyebrow at his flustered expression.  "Did I catch you at a bad time?"
"Hey, um, I don't know...  There's a Keeper in my apartment," he explained, continuing to keep an eye on it.
"How weird," Xanossi replied.  "What's it doing?"
"Right now it's checking my food supplies," he grumbled.  "I had just gotten out of the shower when I heard it.  I was ready to fight off an intruder without even getting dressed."
"...are you still naked?" Xanossi snickered.
"...what?  No, no!" he assured her quickly, his eyes widening.  "I have pants on!"
"I might need you to prove it, just so that I won't keep wondering," Xanossi teased with a wicked smirk.  Garrus groaned, but briefly angled the omnitool down at his legs, then back up again.
"Satisfied?"  He sounded exasperated, but couldn't help a small smirk himself.
"Yes, I believe that's enough to get my mind out of the gutter... unfortunately," she mused.  Before Garrus could reply, he caught sight of the Keeper pulling his Cynosure Banner and Galactic Unit Citation off of his shelf.


"Hey!"  He quickly dropped the omnitool onto his coffee table and darted over.
"Garrus, don't mess with it!  You don't want it to dissolve in your apartment and make a mess.  That would be embarrassing," Xanossi called.
The Keeper held the two awards carefully, studying them and making strange clicking and rumbling noises.
"I know," he called back.
Garrus didn't know what to do.  How much interference would trigger the self-destruct Keepers were programmed with?  He decided to just hold out his hand and see what would happen.  The Keeper looked up at him, glanced down at the awards again, then handed them over.  Garrus exhaled with relief, then walked back over to the omnitool, awards in hand.
"It was looking at my medals," he said as he picked up the omnitool, equal parts confusion and annoyance.
"Maybe it wants to be a war hero and you're it's role model," Xanossi teased.  Garrus just scoffed.  "What's it doing now?"
He sat on the couch, propping up the omnitool to be directed at him, then looked at the Keeper again.  It was still and didn't seem to be looking at anything.
"Just... standing there.  Should I try to shoo it away?" he wondered.
"If you do, I want to watch.  Keepers are fascinating to me.  Did you know they were practically synthesized even before the synthesis?  They're theorized to be both organic and synthetic," she said.  "And there's been more of them since the synthesis."
"Hmm.  Actually, I've seen quite a few around me lately," Garrus murmured.  "Do you think they're stalking me?"
"Why?" Xanossi laughed.  "They don't ever really take an interest in specific people."
"But it's in my apartment!" he complained.
"Do you need me to come provide back up?" she said, still giggling.  Garrus stared at her for a moment.  "Sorry, am I laughing at you too much?" she asked.  "You're just usually so level and this Keeper has gotten you so flustered."
"No, it's fine," he said quietly.  If he was honest with himself, her amusement at his predicament reminded him of Shepard.  She would say the same thing when he found himself in similar awkward and frustrating situations.  He wasn't about to bring that up, though.


"Hold on, I need to check my messages real quick," he said as an excuse to change the subject.
He'd been getting instant messages from Kasumi.  Looking into the Cynosure research hacker was the perfect job for her.  She'd been able to detect someone watching and accessing reports, but they were practically invisible.
"Anyone less skilled than me would never have caught this," she had said incredulously.  "And I only caught it because I'm one of the few that could pull this off."
Despite her skills, she wasn't able to find any clues into who might be responsible, even explaining it may be more than one source.  Garrus instructed her to keep an eye on it and notify him of changes.  It had been several months, and the lab had made attempts at stronger security, but so far been unsuccessful and the videos of Shepard continued.  Kasumi kept herself also invisible.
Her messages now read:
Crud.
There's definitely more than one person (other than me) playing around in that lab.  And they're done sitting quietly.  They're looking for where the Cynosure originated.
I think they're trying to hack the Citadel itself...
Holy criminy.  I've never even thought of doing that.
I wonder if I could?
If you don't hear from me later, I've been destroyed by the Keepers for meddling with their precious home.
Sometimes I feel like we're just the inhabitants of an elaborate aquarium they take care of for us.  I wonder if I can find the chambers they come from...?
This is going to be fun.


"If you keep staring at me so intensely without a shirt on, my mind is going to go into the gutter again," Xanossi suddenly said.  Garrus blinked and his mandibles twitched as he realized that all Xanossi could see was him reading.
"Sorry," he muttered, closing his message screen.
"Don't be," she laughed with a wide grin.  He rubbed the back of his neck and laughed despite himself.
"Well, this view isn't exactly-- hey!"
Garrus jumped up and onto the bed near the Keeper, seeing that it was going through his things again.  It had found the small box he kept under his bed and before he could think, he snatched the box from it's hands.
"This is not yours," he growled fiercely.
The Keeper looked up at him, made a couple ambiguous sounds and gestures, then turned and walked towards the door.  Garrus didn't move until he watched the Keeper depart and the door shut behind it.


"...Garrus?"
He sighed and returned to the couch, sitting down in front of the omnitool.
"It was getting in my things again.  It's gone now," he explained quietly.
"Do you mean it was getting in Shepard's things?" Xanossi asked softly, her brows furrowing as her head tilted to the side.  Garrus looked down at the box in his lap; he hadn't realized he hadn't let it go, and now found it difficult to do so.  He couldn't remember the last time he'd opened it.
"...yes," he admitted.
"What did you keep?" she asked.
"Not much," he grunted, forcing himself to place the box down on the table, out of her view.  He didn't want it to become a conversation piece.  "Neither of us are ones to hold on to things."
"Garrus... it's been almost a year," Xanossi began.  "As far as I know you haven't even ever invited anyone over."
"A studio apartment isn't much of a hosting space," he grumbled.
"Have you visited someone else's house?  You won't even come over to mine."
"I've been to Joker and EDI's place twice," he said defensively.
"You just seem so isolated, and I'm not sure it's sustainable long-term," Xanossi pointed out.  "Pretty soon you're going to need something other than memories to keep you grounded.  You need an anchor."
Garrus wrung his hands and looked away, not interested in a lecture about his social life.


"I know you're still thinking of Shepard all the time, but you've got to stop waiting on her."
"At least nobody has accused me of being obsessed yet," he scoffed.  He leaned over towards his bed, grabbed a shirt and began putting it on.
"You're not off the deep end," Xanossi agreed with a small smile.  Garrus's omnitool pinged again and he leaned forward, shirt still undone, to open the message.
SWEET TEARS OF A BILLIONAIRE PYJAK.
I'M IN.
"I just... worry that you may end up at the edge if you don't find a different path to travel."
Suit up.  Or whatever Shepard used to say.  Time for boots on the ground.
Garrus didn't know exactly what Kasumi was talking about, but he felt his heart begin to race at the idea of a new mission.
"Xanossi, look... something just came up and I need to run," he said, fastening his shirt together.
"Are you just escaping the conversation?" Xanossi asked with narrowed eyes.
"Uh... maybe?" Garrus smirked, deciding to stay ambiguous.
"Fine," she sighed.  "But I called to invite you to a vid later.  Will you be free?"
"I'm honestly unsure.  Remind me later," he suggested, already getting fidgety.
"Fair enough.  Have fun on your adventure," she said, shrugging and waving.
"I will.  Talk to you later," he said, then turned off the video chat.  He stood and looked at his armor set tucked away in one corner.  He hadn't used it in a while, but he wasn't really expecting combat... did he need it?


Get ready to roll.
Her voice rang out clear as a bell throughout his apartment and it sent a shudder down his spine so strong he staggered slightly.  He couldn't help himself and looked around the room as if he expected to see her, but he knew he wouldn't.  After his heart slowed again he looked back at his armor.
He always followed an order from her.

*****

"Okay, Kasumi...  I'm attracting some attention here.  You're going to get me somewhere more secluded soon, right?"
"Maybe I just wanted to get you out of the house and on a nice walk."
"...Kasumi, if you tell me this was for nothing I'll--"
Her laugh burst through Garrus's helmet and he sighed, shaking his head.
"Relax, tough guy.  I've got a real mission for you.  You'll be coming to an elevator on your right."
"The super secret entrance is in an elevator?"
"Kind of."
Garrus hadn't been out long, but anyone walking around in full armor on the Citadel was unusual these days.  He left his Undertaker armor, knowing that would be too conspicuous, but took his O.L.F. omnitool.  Kasumi had been guiding him the whole way, to an area of the New Presidium that was one of the first to be rebuilt.  She was speaking over his personal omnitool and watching through a feed on his helmet.
He'd gotten plenty of stares and murmurs, but no one made comments to him directly except for one C-Sec officer who stopped him and asked for ID.  Garrus had simply removed his helmet and said, "Garrus Vakarian.  I left my Cynosure Banner at home."  The human dismissed him immediately, as soon as he stopped stuttering.
"Wow.  Normandy Elect status is just as good as being a Spectre," Kasumi commented.
"You could have it too, if you showed up to claim it," Garrus told her.
"If you haven't noticed, I can get into anything I want without people knowing who I am," she replied.
"Good point," he shrugged.


"There, that's the elevator you want."
Garrus stepped in and stood there, staring at the buttons.  This elevator was just as common as any other elevator he'd ever seen, and he'd seen a lot.
"...so, do I press anything?" he asked.
"Nope.  I'll work the magic.  You're just along for the ride."
The elevator began moving, dreadfully slow, and stopped after about twenty seconds.  Nothing else happened.
"Why am I beginning to feel like I'm in the middle of a prank--"
Garrus cut himself off and spun around abruptly when a panel behind him opened and a bright light filtered through.  He would never have looked twice at the back of that elevator.  It had appeared seamless.
The light in front of him took up most of the doorway, and as far as he could tell there was just a wall behind it.  There had been no sound before the panel opened, but now he could hear and feel a familiar hum.  He started to understand even before Kasumi explained it.
"What you're looking at is a miniature mass relay.  It's like the giant beam that took Shepard and Anderson to the Citadel during the final moments of the war, but on a smaller scale," she told him.
"We also encountered something like this on Ilos... it took us from there to the Presidium in the Mako during the Battle of the Citadel, with Sovereign and Saren," he grumbled, the energy coming from the light bringing up some uncomfortable memories.
"Oh, good, so you won't have any reservations stepping into it," Kasumi wrongly assumed.  Garrus tried to form a coherent protest, but ended up just grunting.
"You're really serious about this taking me to where the Keepers live?" he finally asked with a sigh.
"Yes.  Doesn't it make sense?  The Keepers can disappear easily just by accessing these doors.  And the light itself has to be activated as well.  It's great security.  And also, I'm keeping this thing open by the second, so you better not hesitate too much longer or I might have it inappropriately calibrated."
"Don't talk to me about calibrations," he grumbled, and begrudgingly stepped forward into the light, his eyes shut tight.


His body felt like a biotic shockwave traveled through him instead of pushing him back, feeling tingles and zaps that caused his muscles to flex and he landed on one knee.
"Garrus?  Are you alive?  Did you make it?" Kasumi was asking.
The light on the other side of his helmet subsided and he slowly opened his eyes.
"Gah!"
He shoved himself off to the side, a Keeper uncomfortably close to his face, his heart rate spiking in alarm.
"Oh good, you're alive."
Garrus backed up further, seeing a slight difference in the tile square he had been kneeling on.  The Keeper clicked at him, then the light came back and the Keeper stepped into it.
"What do you mean I'm alive?  You knew that was going to work, didn't you?" Garrus panted.
"Duh."
He shook his head and finally took the time to observe his surroundings.  The light was very dim, so he flicked on his flashlight and scanned the room.  He appeared to be in some sort of hub.  It wasn't very large, but had several different stations for mini mass relays.  The style of the floors and walls didn't even look like the Citadel before the Cynosure.  It was clean and smooth and in exceptional shape, but something about the angles and the textures made him feel like he was in a ruin.
A few Keepers were milling about, but none seemed to pay him any attention.


"At least we know they don't care that you're here," Kasumi said.
Garrus finally stood up and began walking around, finding several hallways and small trams.  He pulled up his omnitool and checked his map, but it was simply pulling up an error.
"This is incredible.  I'm still on the Citadel?  And detection of it has just been successfully prevented?" he asked, marveling at the idea of an entire additional civilization alongside the Citadel.
"Yep.  Say, do you think if we keep evolving we'll all look like Keepers someday?" Kasumi inquired.
"How much of the Citadel can you control right now?" Garrus asked her, too preoccupied to answer her question.  "Like, could you close the arms?  Change the night/day cycle?  Oxygen levels?  Gravity?"
"Not right this minute... but if I worked at it enough, I could maybe figure out at least how to get there, even if I was prevented from doing so," she said thoughtfully.  "Why, the Transcendent War didn't kill enough people for you?"
"No, I was just... wondering," he shrugged.  Silence drew out between them for a moment before he finally muttered, "You think this might be where Shepard came after London?"
"This place is a very expansive network.  I honestly have no idea how to tell where she might have been...  I mean, I'm guessing she was in the part the Crucible was connected to, but that part is still invisible to me.  There's additional walls of invisibility up all along the way here, and I can't break them all down at once," she explained.
"...hold on just a second."


Garrus pulled his O.L.F. omnitool out of a utility pocket on his armor and turned it on, calling the homebase.
"Dispatch.  Verify?"
"Banter."
"...we don't show you as currently active.  Where--"
"Get me through to Hackett."
"...additional verification required."
"It takes two to tango."
"Approved.  Redirecting."
Garrus waited... and waited.
"Vakarian?!  What are you up to?  We can't even find you," Hackett's voice finally came through.
"I believe my energy signature is cloaked," Garrus replied.  "I'm in the inaccessible area of the Citadel, where the Keepers live and travel.  They use miniature mass relays tucked away in little coves, but I'm in a hub that shows they also use trams.  It's incredibly intricate."
"...well isn't that something," Hackett muttered, past the point of disbelieving any possibility.  "I'm guessing you're in full armor?  Can we access your helmet feed?"
Garrus paused, and Kasumi quickly said "They won't know I'm here."
"Go ahead," Garrus told Hackett.  He heard the Admiral communicating with someone on his team to get synced up.  "Admiral... I might now be able to pick up on DNA signatures others previously couldn't.  There's some serious cloaking happening here.  Give me access to Admiral Anderson and Commander Shepard with the tracking feature."
Garrus held his breath in the silence that followed as Admiral Hackett weighed the decision.


"Link him," he said, speaking to whoever else was on the other side, and Garrus felt a strange mix of relief and an entirely different kind of anxiety.  It was finally happening; but what would he find?
"Give it a go," Hackett told him after it was done.  Garrus took a shaky breath, and set his O.L.F. omnitool to scan.  After a few seconds it came back with nothing, not a single soul.
"There must be too many barriers... I can't tell how close I am to the Crucible," he said desperately.
"Can you orient yourself at all?  Like see any windows?" The Admiral asked.
"I can't... the Keepers must have some internal mapping system," Garrus replied, glancing around for any clues.
"I'm doing what I can, but it's difficult for me to link much of this together...  Turn right and take that middle hallway," Kasumi instructed him.  He began moving.
"Admiral, I'll start moving and scan periodically and see if I can find any markers or anything of significance," he told Hackett.
"You've got outside help, don't you?" the Admiral asked.  "On second thought, don't answer that."
"He's such a smart man," Kasumi said warmly.  Garrus chuckled and took the route she suggested, setting the pace at a brisk walk.


Hours later, his pace had slowed to a bored walk.  His adrenaline and anticipation had been at a slow burn the entire time and he felt rather frazzled.  He'd found no windows or landmarks, but Kasumi was mapping as he went and putting the picture together.  Garrus at least felt glad that he knew he wasn't going in circles.
Hackett had long been silent, but Garrus was sure someone was monitoring his feed still for when something did happen.  Xanossi had sent him several messages and attempted to call twice, but he'd been ignoring them.  He didn't have any idea how to explain this and he wasn't sure he wanted to.
"This all looks the same... I'm going to go crazy if I do this long enough," he grumbled.
"I think there's a larger chamber up ahead... this might give us a more solid clue," Kasumi replied.  "You haven't seen a Keeper in a while, have you?"
"Come to think of it, no...  That's odd," Garrus commented.  He took a few more steps and then set his omnitool to scan again.  A green light suddenly glowed over everything in his vision and he balked, almost instinctively trying to look for cover or duck.  As he stared he realized it was like some kind of energetic current, traveling through and over everything.  He could see the ripples and waves as it touched the walls, the floors, himself.
"Are you... getting this?" he asked quietly, worried he might disturb it.
"No, what happened?" Kasumi asked.
"Your helmet feed isn't showing the scan results," Hackett replied.  "What do you got?"
Garrus realized his standard armor wasn't connected to the O.L.F. omnitool, he just had it showing results through his visor for the time being.


"There's a light," he explained.  "Some kind of energy.  Maybe the Cynosure?  It's everywhere, and it looks... alive."  As if in reply, the luminescence glimmered and dimmed rhythmically.  He swallowed hard and forced the next words out.  "The scanner says it's Shepard's energy, and it reports her as alive."
"Where did it come from?" Hackett asked.  Garrus looked and discovered the direction of the flow was leading to a central point not too far from where he currently stood.  He sprinted down the hall towards it.
"You must have just passed the cloaking that was covering it," Kasumi pointed out.  "You should be close enough to find the source."
Garrus didn't have time to decide what he thought he would find, all of his focus simply on running to the source of energy that was supposedly Shepard's.  The ground sloped upward and he pushed harder, able to see that the light was somewhere above him.
He balked again at the top, catching his breath as the view took it away.  There was a small circular platform in front of him, but the room stretched out with no floor futher than that.  A wide opening on the other side of the room showed him the arms of the Citadel, like pillars of glittering amber and opal, and the endless galaxy beyond.
"You're... above the Presidium?" Kasumi observed curiously.
"See if you can get a read on his location," Hackett was telling his assistant.
"Oh!  Of course!  I get it," Kasumi said with a cheerful giggle.


Garrus could barely process their words.  Something in the room felt like electricity in his veins.  And, there was a control panel of some kind near the edge of the platform.  He crept forward, but could still see that the source was somewhere above him.  He studied the floor, searching for any sign that anyone had been there before, but it was spotless.  If Anderson and Shepard had been there, or even died there, certainly the Keepers would've cleaned up their bodies by now.
He got to the terminal but it was off.  He tapped a few buttons and got no response.  He tried again.  He didn't have to ask.
"I'm working on it," Kasumi said.  "You're right next to the Crucible... it seems most of that terminal's functions are dormant and won't activate.  There's... a log.  Garrus, this could show us the activation of the Crucible."
The weight in her words said what both of them were thinking; the activation of the Crucible and Shepard's last moments were likely one and the same.  Garrus tried to ignore the pressure in his chest.
"Play it."

Chapter Text

I don't want to know who we are without each other
It's just too hard
I don't want to leave here without you
I don't want to lose part of me
Will I recover?
That broken piece, let it go and unleash all the feelings

Did we ever see it coming?
Will we ever let it go?

We are buried in broken dreams
We are knee-deep without a plea
I don't want to know what it's like to live without you
Don't want to know the other side of a world without you

Is it fair, or is it fate?
No one knows
The stars choose their lovers, save my soul
It hurts just the same
And I can't tear myself away

The Other Side by Ruelle

*****

A large screen appeared, suspended over nothing at the edge of the platform.  It showed Shepard, Anderson, and the Illusive Man from the angle of the control panel.
Garrus fell to his knees beside the terminal, turned off the scanner tinting everything green, and stared as the moments unfolded, mute and permanent.  His heart was pounding in his chest.  Kasumi and Hackett both let out expletives but Garrus couldn't utter a sound above a raspy breath.  The Illusive Man and Anderson both had their backs to him, but Shepard... he could see her face, crisp and hardened and so very strong, so very weak.  He could see the blood drenching her uniform in the spots there was no armor left.  Her beautiful hair was matted down in an irregular shape and she was pointing her pistol forward... at Anderson?
Garrus recognized that pistol.  It was an M-77 Paladin she'd gotten from Spectre Requisitions.  They'd both spent hours discussing and integrating the most optimal mods.  She called it Finalé, and it was designed for the last battle; Shepard had kept it on the desk next to her bed and never used it until they got to London.
"It's time for Finalé," she had said grimly.  "This pistol is not leaving me until this war is over."
From what he could tell so far, she had kept her vow.


Part of him didn't want to watch as the video continued, but he knew he couldn't look away.  The moment the Normandy doors had closed had been burned into his mind as the last moment he knew of Shepard's exact whereabouts.  Now he knew... she made it here, to this very room.  And he was already systems away by the time these events occurred.
He had no idea what was going on as Shepard, Anderson, and the Illusive man argued, but none of them looked to be in good shape.  The Illusive man raised a pistol, but pointed it to his own head.  His body fell.  So did Shepard's aim.  And then Anderson.
Shepard approached and Garrus felt his heart tighten the closer she got, the more he could see the detail of her face, of her wounds... it was tearing him apart to see her look right past him.  She held her abdomen with one hand and worked the terminal with the other, still clutching the pistol.  She stood up straighter and a brighter light shone on her face.
"That's when she opened the arms," Hackett murmured, his voice a solemn whisper.
Shepard backed away from the terminal and turned, finding Anderson had propped himself up on a small raised portion of the floor.  Garrus watched her sit beside him.  They exchanged words that he would give anything to hear.  When Shepard wasn't looking, Anderson's chin fell to his chest, and his lungs stopped fighting for air.  Shepard turned to look at him and Garrus's heart broke for her as he watched the realization on her face.  Her own head dipped...


"Shepard..."
Garrus tried to brace himself for watching his lover die, hopeless and helpless, trying to feel better that Anderson stayed with her as long as he could, but there was no preparing for that moment.  Then Shepard's head came up again, she shifted, was saying something, and fell forward onto the floor.  She crawled forward, out of view, and Garrus held his breath.
"The Crucible hasn't fired yet," Hackett realized.  "I told her she still needed to activate something.  I couldn't hear her, but... she could hear me.  And she didn't quit."
Shepard's arm briefly flailed against the control panel before disappearing again.  Then he saw her one last time, face down, as a platform rose up and out of sight.  Many seconds passed and then the elevator came back down again, empty.  Garrus didn't know how long he'd been staring at the same image before he finally spoke.
"Is this all the rest of the log shows?" he asked hoarsely.
"Let's see," Kasumi replied.  Garrus couldn't tell until the Keepers showed up that it was playing at double speed, and Kasumi stopped it when she saw the movement.  Two Keepers came up the ramp, approached Anderson's body, then carefully lifted it and carried it away down the ramp.  Garrus heard Hackett grunt and wondered if he was saluting.  Once the Keepers were out of view, Kasumi must have sped it up again, because soon it became a black screen that read: "SYNTHESIS INITIATED."
Then it disappeared.
Garrus's breathing was shaky.  All this, all that new information, and he still didn't know exactly what happened to Shepard.  His hands clenched into fists and his mandibles flared.  What could he do?  What could be done?


He turned and looked behind him.  The elevator platform was right there, but he wouldn't have guessed it was one, just as Shepard didn't.  He darted to his feet and stood on it, rigid and determined, turning his scanner back on and watching green flood his vision once more.
"Can you make it take me up?" he asked Kasumi.
"Um... yes, I can.  That should be towards the Crucible."
He heard a quiet hum as the elevator responded and began to move upward.  Above him, however, two panels had begun to open but gotten stuck barely a foot apart.  Parts of the ceiling looked battered, and he guessed there was some kind of obstruction.
"Don't worry, I won't let it crush you," Kasumi assured him.  The elevator stopped a few feet before his head came in contact with the malfunctioning door.
"No, the source of the light... it's up there.  I have to get up there," he hissed, staring at the ball of swirling energy just beyond his reach.
"I'll go slow... you tell me when to stop," Kasumi told him.  The elevator inched upward and Garrus crouched down, then told her to stop.  He reached up and tried to pry the panels open further, but they wouldn't budge no matter how much he efforted.  He exhaled heavily and went for the less preferred route: carefully fitting his helmet in the opening.
The room up above was nearly pitch black.  He could vaguely see shapes of structures forming the wall and additional platforms.  He had no idea what he expected to see, but he turned on the flashlight on his helmet and looked toward the sphere sending out light.
There was nothing.  He turned the scanner off, hoping to see more clearly, but there was still nothing.  His flashlight hit some kind of wall further into the room, but other than the buzzing in his bones, there was nothing physical indicating that spot to be the source of the Cynosure.  The walls and floors he could see looked broken.  Clean, probably due to the Keepers, but like they'd sustained a heavy blast.


"There's... nothing.  Without the scanner readings, I can't see anything that looks like what might have triggered the Crucible.  This had to be it, but... all I can see is destroyed," Garrus reported quietly.  He turned his scanner off, feeling the despair settle in the pit of his stomach as he brought his head back below the broken panels.
"Take me down," he grunted.  The elevator settled down seamlessly.  For a moment Garrus stared out at the view, the control panel, Shepard's face inches from death flashing in his mind.  The biggest question remained unanswered, but bitterness was already rising in the place of possibility.  He choked back his frustration and turned away from the control panel, but someone had been waiting for him to turn around.
There was another Keeper there, watching him, but Garrus's gaze was immediately pulled elsewhere.  The raised platform Anderson died on was lifted up once more, and it wasn't empty.
Three items were lined up together, presumably by the Keeper who was now turning to leave.  There was an Admiral's hat, a piece of a Commander's armor, and Shepard's Finalé.
A low, involuntary groan escaped Garrus as he stumbled forward and onto his knees before the platform.  Kasumi and Hackett both uttered words of disbelief but he didn't hear them.  The guttural rumbling continued throughout his chest as he reached forward and grasped the piece of armor.  It was one of her shoulder guards, the attachments still clinging to shards of her chest plate and arm braces.  With his other hand he picked up the pistol, Finalé, and looked it over.  Both the armor and the pistol were pristine, as if the Keepers had planned to put it on display.
Those personal effects felt like the closest Garrus would ever get to a body, and it seemed to have the same effect on his psyché.  His grip around them tightened, but his arms felt limp before him as he choked back a sob.  This was all that was left.


"We'll be stepping away from the monitor for a while.  I'll check back later," Hackett grunted, and Garrus heard the audio disconnect.
"Call me when you need help getting out, Garrus," Kasumi said gently.  "I'm sorry."
Garrus took off his helmet and set it down on the platform, angled towards Anderson's hat and away from him.  He crumpled against the raised floor much in the same way Anderson and Shepard had in the video, looking out at the cosmos.  He felt just as tired and defeated as they had looked, but in completely different ways.
The fear and despair Garrus had been holding back for hope of hope now threatened to swallow him whole.  His mandibles flared, trying to imagine if this would've been any easier a year ago, or a year from now.
The dreams, the scanner results, the times he thought she was guiding him... they were all just his own subconscious and glitches in a world adjusting to being synthesized.  She was gone the moment the Cynosure happened.  There was nothing left to do but sit with the fact that she was gone until he accepted it.
He lowered his head, bringing the cold metal of the armor and the pistol to the place Shepard's forehead used to rest, and cried.

*****

Garrus had basically gone to ground for a few days after his time in the hidden areas of the Citadel.  From what he understood, Kasumi was helping some specialized teams investigate the corridors with Hackett and some other officials, but they were keeping it very hush-hush.  Kasumi was continually detecting another source trying to get to the information and fighting them off, and it made Hackett uneasy to think of a non-friendly party gaining access.
Garrus had been ignoring most messages and calls.  While many had properly mourned Shepard a year ago, he felt like his process was just beginning, and it wasn't likely that anyone else would understand...  They hadn't experienced the dreams or the hope he had.
A few days after abandoning that hope, he once more got himself suitable for public, and left his apartment with a small box tucked under his arm.  He went to the bottom floor of the plaza and approached the restricted area surrounding the Normandy.  It was the middle of the night and so rather quiet, and Garrus had made sure no tours were scheduled for the upcoming day.  A C-Sec officer simply nodded at him as he went by, which Garrus acknowledged with his own nod.
He made his way up to the entrance in the CIC and paused.  The door whisked open.
"Thanks, EDI," he said quietly as he stepped inside.
"Of course."


His steps down the length of the ship echoed in the emptiness.  Displays that used to show tactical information and ship performance outputs now presented blips of the ship's history and auxiliary crew members.  Garrus didn't pay them any attention.
The elevator took him down to the cargo bay, where the exhibits specific to Shepard's military career were held.  He stepped out and set the box down near the door, but first took his time to browse.  He hadn't seen any of it, not even the Cynosure Banner and Galactic Unit Citation that belonged to her.  For a moment he imagined her smiling, showing them to him like a child with a new toy, but he quickly dismissed the daydream.
After about 20 minutes of wandering, EDI spoke to him.
"Councilor Lyric and her assistants are approaching.  Would you like me to lock them out?" she asked.
"No, it's fine," Garrus muttered.  "That would probably give your presence away anyway."
"I understand."
Not very long after that, the elevator opened again and the Councilor stepped out, followed by Brant and Vrilakir.  She smiled that warm way of hers.
"Just in the neighborhood?" Garrus asked, his tone somewhat sharp.
"I could ask you the same thing," Lyric replied good-naturedly.
"I'm always in the neighborhood," he grunted, bringing his gaze back to the display in front of him that was summarizing the Battle of the Citadel.  Lyric came to stand by his side, but Brant and Vrilakir hung back.
"Admiral Hackett informed me of your adventure within the Citadel, and of your findings," she said gently.  "I'm sorry it didn't yield any definitive answers."
"It did, as far as I'm concerned," he grumbled, gesturing to the box by the elevator.  "That's all I'm ever going to have left of her.  And it belongs here."
"There's a lot still not understood about--"
"Don't," he interrupted in a hiss.  "Don't try to sell me hope.  I'm done with that."
"...if you say so," Lyric replied flatly.  A long silence passed between them.
"...I don't know how to get them set up here," he admitted sheepishly.
"Hmm, yes.  Perhaps reaching out to the display coordinator would've made more sense than coming here in the middle of the night," she said with a small smile, feigning thoughtfulness.  Garrus turned to her with an expression of slight annoyance and also humility.  He knew he needed help.
"The three of us can take care of it," she assured him, patting him on the shoulder even though she could barely reach it.  Garrus sighed and nodded, then walked back to the box and picked it up.  Vrilakir was there waiting and took it from him.


"I do have one request," Lyric said before he could dismiss himself.
"What is it?" he asked.
"I'd like to get some history on these items from your perspective.  Would it be okay if I interviewed you and Brant recorded it?  We'd cut it down and only pull a few audio clips."
"Really?!" Garrus scoffed, lifting his hands and dropping them in exasperation.  He turned and looked at Lyric through narrowed eyes.  "I've dodged so many interviews, and now get ambushed in the Normandy's cargo bay in the middle of the night?"
Vrilakir growled at his disrespect and frustration, and he simply met her gaze, not balking in the slightest.  Brant observed but had no reaction to the conflict.
"It's okay, Vrila," Lyric said, approaching the two of them.  "Hope can be a heavy burden, and he's carried it for a long time."
Garrus's hard gaze stayed on Vrilakir until she grunted and dropped her eyes, looking sufficiently scolded.
"Garrus, you were a big part of Shepard's life and I think it would be a gift to have others see her, just a little bit, through your eyes," Councilor Lyric urged him.  Garrus fidgeted and his mandibles twitched, but in the face of that argument he found he couldn't protest further.
"Fine," he conceded with a heavy breath.  "But we're doing this quick and simple, okay?" he added sternly.
"You're in charge," Lyric assured him, lifting her hands submissively.  "Would you like to take a seat?"
Garrus figured he might as well and sat on a small bench near the lockers the team had occasionally used while gearing up or putting away their equipment.  Brant set up an omnitool on a display across from him, and Garrus fidgeted uncomfortably.  It felt like a military psych eval or C-Sec interrogation.


"...where should I start?" he asked lamely, rubbing the back of his neck.
"How about introducing yourself and your relationship with Shepard?" Brant suggested.
"Ah, okay..."  He cleared his throat and squared his shoulders.  "I'm Garrus Vakarian.  I was working C-Sec when I first met Shepard in 2183.  We quickly gained a great respect for each other during the mission to take down Saren.  When she got spaced, I moved on to... other things.  She found me again, though, saved my life even, and brought me with her against the Collectors.  Around the time we took out the base our relationship... evolved.  I always just called myself her boyfriend, but... that was putting it lightly.  We were best friends.  An army of two.  Confidants.  Lovers.  And everything in between.  The only reason we never officially declared it to the press is because once we became that close, it felt like we always had been."
Once again, Garrus found that the talking grounded him.  He never craved the spotlight, but Lyric was right; he had a perspective on Shepard that was worth sharing.
"You're adding some items to the display on the Normandy today," Brant prompted.  "Could you tell us about them?"
Vrilakir had opened the box and approached Garrus with Anderson's hat.  She offered it to him and he took it gingerly.  He held it in his lap and was silent, the images from the Citadel's log in his mind; Shepard and Anderson sitting together, sharing their last moments.  He felt hollow whenever he thought of it.


"What was the relationship like between Commander Shepard and Admiral Anderson?" Brant asked, specifying the question.
"They had a very good relationship," he started quietly.  "They worked well together and enjoyed each other's company.  Honestly, I think they'd say they worked better in different fields.  Having Anderson work on the Citadel while Shepard fought the battles let them get a lot done.  He reinstated her when the Reapers invaded, and even bestowed her with his apartment on the old Silversun Strip..."
He paused and took a deep breath.
"Shepard's father died when she was a teenager.  Anderson became a mentor to her, and I think, in a way, an additional father figure.  Perhaps if we ever got married I might've talked to him before..." he drifted off, then shook his head.  "No, there was never going to be time, and the odds of all three of us surviving... don't include the part about getting married."
Brant nodded, acknowledging his request.  Garrus lifted the Admiral's hat and held it out to Vrilakir, done with that line of discussion.  
Vrilakir came forward and traded the hat for the pistol.  Garrus turned it over in his hands, acknowledging the care that went into every aspect of it's customization.
"The Finalé," he sighed.


"Was it common for Shepard to name her weapons?" Brant asked.
"No, just this one," Garrus replied.  "We customized it together.  We often discussed and traded mods, always pushing each other to be as proficient as possible, but proficiency meant different things at different times.  She saved this one for the last battle and vowed to keep it with her until the war was over.  London was the first time she used it.  I wondered... if she used the pistol as something to look forward to.  Obviously everyone was looking forward to the end of the war, but what it would take to make it happen was... less than encouraging.  The opportunity to use the pistol gave her something simple to anticipate, and something to focus on outside of the devastation.  I never asked her about that, so I can't confirm those suspicions, but... that's what I would've done if I thought I wasn't making it out alive.  Maybe she knew better than anyone what was coming for her."
Garrus held out the pistol for Vrilakir to take.  She swapped it for the shoulder guard and Garrus turned it over in his hands.


"What would you say was your most memorable battle together?" Brant asked.
"Mmm..."  Garrus paused and even allowed a small smile to cross his face.  "The siege of the Collector base was a work of art.  Managing the full team, in a suicide mission we threw all we had at, balancing the skill sets and unique challenges we came against... that was probably the biggest testament to Shepard's abilities to command and fight through hell.  But..."  He chuckled.  "The one that always comes to mind and that I can still feel in my bones, is charging the Reaper on Tuchanka to summon Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws."
Garrus leaned back in his seat, reflecting with wonder.  Both Brant and Vrilakir were nodding in agreement, and Lyric had a wide grin on her face.
"I know they have vids of the moment captured by satellites, but Spirits, the way the ground shook and Kalros screeched and the Reaper cracked, and I followed Shepard towards that chaos?  I've never felt so alive.  Shepard told me later that she'd never felt so powerful and so powerless at the same time.  It was a major victory we facilitated, but it drove home the fact that we needed unity from the entire galaxy to stand up to the Reapers.  Even thresher maws."


"What about some memorable moments off the battlefield?" Lyric interjected with a smile.
"Whenever we danced," Garrus replied quickly, then paused, unsure he wanted to share that, but it was too late now, and he couldn't think of a better answer.  "On her own, her dancing was not... skillful.  But I surprised her and learned some routines, and it turned out she picked up on those very well.  She didn't have the time or energy to study them herself, of course... so I learned them in the downtime and then taught her.  It went faster that way.  We joked that this was similar to the rest of her life.  Under her own command for too long, she didn't know what to with herself.  But when someone like Hackett, or the Council, or even the Illusive Man pointed her in the right direction... she was magnificent.  Same with when we danced."
His head lowered and his mandibles twitched as he added quietly, "As far as I'm concerned, she was the most magnificent thing that ever lived."
"Thank you, Garrus.  I think we've got some excellent material," Councilor Lyric said.  Brant nodded and stopped the recording on the omnitool while Vrilakir took the armor and placed it back in the box with the other items.  Garrus stood and rolled his shoulders, feeling almost too grounded as he realized all the stories he told from this point on would be told alone.


"...I'm thinking of finally going back to Palaven.  I think being on the Citadel has made me too prone to wishful thinking," he told Lyric.
"Well I hope you'll stay for the Cynosure anniversary festivities?" she asked.  "We can't force you to, but I'm certain there will be lots of opportunities for you to be part of the action."
"I'm not sure I want to be here for that, to be honest," he explained, rubbing the back of his neck.
"I understand.  But I hope you know I'll be having another party, and you're invited," she urged with a smile.
"I'll keep that in mind," he chuckled.
Lyric, Brant, and Vrilakir stayed behind to coordinate the exhibits, but Garrus was eager to move on.  He dismissed himself and headed back up to the CIC.  Just before he left, EDI spoke to him again.


"Garrus, there have been some attempts to access the Normandy systems from an outside, undetermined source.  So far it's been easy to keep them out, but I thought you might like to know.  It could be the same source trying to access the Citadel."
"What?" he exclaimed, finding the information troubling.  "Can you tell what they're trying to access or how aggressive they might be?"
"Just general systems for now.  So far their attempts have been like knocking on a door, but I don't know if that is because they are friendly or because they lack the power to be more aggressive," EDI explained.
"Get Kasumi in on this just in case to give you some support.  I know you may not need it but I think it would be a good idea to have someone else watching," Garrus instructed.
"Understood.  I'll keep you informed of any developments."
"Thank you."
"Goodnight, Garrus."
Garrus couldn't remember the last time someone said goodnight to him.
"...Goodnight EDI."

Chapter Text

There is a swelling storm
And I'm caught up in the middle of it all
And it takes control
Of the person that I thought I was
The boy I used to know

But there is a light
In the dark
And I feel its warmth
In my hands
In my heart
Why can't I hold on

It comes and goes in waves
It always does

Waves by Dean Lewis

*****

At the end of the week, Garrus had his final scheduled appearance at Spectre Status.  There was a chance they'd do another at the end of the Cynosure anniversary celebrations, but they weren't settling on a solid schedule until after that.
With the emotional battles Garrus had been put through recently, he was definitely ready to fight and kill something, even if it was virtual.
"Up to 11, gentlemen," he instructed the game masters after suiting up.
"Let's do this!" Vega exclaimed.  Kaidan, who'd jumped in to join them for this event, also stood at the ready with his gear.
"We think we've finally caught up," one of the salarian game masters replied.  Garrus remembered his name was Lirart.  "You adapted to your improved battle skills from the synthesis faster than we improved our coding abilities."
"But your skills improve slowly over time," an asari named Viellmey explained.  Most of the other staff called her Mey.  "For the game development, it's more like nothing happens until there's a big break, and we think this one might have finally pushed us past you."
"We'll see about that," Kaidan replied, squaring his shoulders.
"It's been a while since I've had my life flash before my eyes.  That would be fun," Vega chuckled.
"Enjoy the ride then," Mey said, waving and smirking.


The three of them entered the arena, confident as ever.  Even though most of the crowd noise was suppressed, cheers filtered through.  Large screens all around the room displayed views of the crowd as well as of Garrus, Vega, and Kaidan.  Though they couldn't look directly at the audience, they still scanned the screens and cameras, waving and acknowledging their fans.
"I don't think I'll ever get used to being a celebrity," Kaidan said, their audio feeds not yet being broadcast to the crowd.
"I much preferred being the sidekick to a celebrity," Garrus grumbled.
"Don't worry guys, I'll make sure the crowd feels appreciated," Vega replied, flexing and holding some triumphant poses.
"You know they can't see your muscles through the armor, right?" Kaidan said, raising a brow.
"Yeah, but they know what it means," Vega answered, and Kaidan chuckled.
The screens went dark, everything but their armor pitch black as the game readied.  Then words flashed across their HUD: "Objective: Grounded."  This meant at a random interval, a target would travel towards a shuttle while enemies provided cover, and the Normandy squad had to break through the shielding to either kill the target or destroy the shuttle.  Most of the time, either Vega sent a frag into the shuttle, or Garrus managed to snipe the target.
The landscape loaded up, the roof of a large warehouse with a shuttle on the far side.  Immediately after, the enemies spawned: soldiers with heavy weapons and heavy armor and 3 Atlas mechs.


"That's new!" Vega exclaimed as he darted into cover.  "Usually we only get two Atlas' and it's at the end."  Their audio switched on now so that their commentary would be broadcast.
"Oh, this is going to be fun," Garrus smirked, making it into cover just before a missile landed nearby.  "Give me some crowd control, boys!"
Garrus sent some overloads to the Atlas' to get enough cover for them to thin the crowd a bit.
"This is a good day to have a biotic buddy!" Vega laughed.
"You're welcome!" Kaidan said as he swept three enemies into an Atlas, causing it to stagger.
The battle raged on, but before the target even came onto the field, Kaidan was taken out.  His gear shut down to eliminate him from the battle.
"Ever wonder if people watch us to learn our weaknesses?" Vega asked, making a veiled, playful jab at Kaidan.
"If I've got a Spectre mission like this coming up, I'll select my team a little differently," Kaidan fired back.
"And I'll choose my weapons more carefully," Garrus grunted, struggling with the low fire rate of his sniper.  He switched to his assault rifle but it lacked the stopping power, and an Atlas swiftly took out Vega with a missile.  Not long after, Garrus was also overtaken.  The scenery powered down and a locker on the side of the room opened up to let them adjust their equipment.


"Total K.O.!  I don't think that's happened in the first round before," Vega said, beginning to fine tune his weapon mods.  Despite the loss, they were all grinning, and could hear the excitement from the crowd.
"I could use the beatdown," Garrus said, rolling his shoulders.
"It is good therapy," Kaidan replied pointedly, watching the turian.  Garrus gave him a look but didn't continue the conversation.
Spectre Status also had commentators to go with their banter, and as they were adjusting one came into their helmets for an interview.  They mostly got some extra trivia and insight out of the Normandy Elect, and luckily were excellent at their jobs.  Every now and then they would visit with Garrus and Vega in the staff area.  The voice was turian and female, meaning it was Sillonia Gratius asking.  The other commentator was a human male, Dolph Mincer.
"Alright boys, after an outcome like this, how does one restrategize?  Tell us about what tactics you'll be using going forward."
"I'm switching to some shredder ammo to get more splash damage.  Ultimate crowd control," Vega replied.
"I'm not changing anything.  I'm perfect," Kaidan joked, earning a laugh from Sillonia.
"But first to go down," Dolph pointed out.
"With any squad, or even solo, it's about knowing your specialty and role and then performing to those strengths.  I'm equipped right, but will definitely be bringing more to the next round, now that my heart's beating faster," Kaidan explained.
"My heart beats faster when Sillonia laughs too," Vega interjected, earning incredulous looks from Garrus and Kaidan.
"Not the least bit discouraged I see," Sillonia purred.
"Not at all," Vega replied.  "Though I'm sure the game masters are feeling quite pleased with themselves."


"Garrus, you and Commander Shepard both utilized sniper rifles quite frequently, right?  Did that ever become a disadvantage?" Dolph asked.  Garrus paused for just a moment.
"There are a couple different snipers that have lower damage, but higher firing rate.  They're one of the best ways for a sniper to get versatile.  We'd coordinate our weapons and mods before each mission and didn't ever run into any issues.  Of course, it still created a situation where your third squad member needed to be just as specifically chosen.  Crowd control, as I called out at the beginning of the round, is where snipers need the most help.  Shepard and I could never do that as effectively as some others," he explained.
"Who would be your top pick for that?" Sillonia asked.
"A krogan," Garrus answered quickly, then shrugged and smirked.  "But these guys are okay too."
They all chuckled and soon they were starting up the next round, same objective, same enemy numbers and strength.  This time they played it a little safer and made it much further, but the target emerged without near enough time to clear numbers and easily made it to the shuttle to claim the victory for the game developers once more.
The third attempt they all had to truly fight like it was more than a game.  They took more calculated risks and gave it everything they got, and came away with the victory.  Virtual fireworks burst in the sky of the landscape and the three combatants cheered.  The win felt more like a real win when it took that much effort.
But the event had just gotten started; they usually did at least 3 different game types for each appearance.  Next up was Delivery, which was like the mirror to Grounded.  This time, they would have a virtual ally attempting to escape, and they needed to keep them protected and alive.
The round began and immediately they were holding their ground well, but barely chipping away at the Altlases.  Within minutes there was a notification saying the ally was on the field, unusually early for this game type.


"Look alive!" Garrus grunted, ducking down into cover to locate the ally.  It was entering from the corner nearest him, in generic armor that was colored blue instead of black.
"It's all you, man," Vega replied.  "Where do you want the cover fire?"
"Make the Atlases your priority, they'll obliterate the shuttle," he answered, switching to his assault rifle.  As Kaidan and Vega kept the Atlases busy, he popped out of cover to take a wave of foot soldiers before jumping next to the allied VI where it was paused behind cover.
"Hello there," he greeted it just for fun.
Get ready to roll.
Garrus blinked and for a moment everything around him disappeared; had he really just heard Shepard's voice again...?  The VI wasn't even looking at him, just staring at the last piece of cover before the shuttle.
"...what did you say?" he breathed.
"I said we've got one Atlas down but they're getting close," Kaidan shouted.
Garrus shook his head and came back to the present moment.  He stood and fired at the foot soldiers closing in on his position, watching the VI dart for the next wall out of the corner of his eye.  He side-stepped, tracing it's steps as he continued to lay down fire.
He leaned against the next wall of cover, his heart pounding for all kinds of reasons.  Before he could catch his breath, the VI once again charged out of cover and towards the shuttle.


"Crap, it's making the last push, give me all you've got!" Garrus shouted, trying to get out in front of it.
He cringed when he saw the enemy forces.  The foot soldiers were swarming the shuttle.  Kaidan and Vega took out the second Atlas, but Garrus couldn't hold the soldiers on his own.  Kaidan broke off and came to aid him, leaving Vega alone to distract the Atlas.
Eventually a space was cleared just in time for the allied VI to reach the shuttle, but the Atlas was training it's sights right at it.  Kaidan didn't see it in time to adjust his shielding.  Garrus jumped in front of the shuttle door just as it closed and a missile fired.  The missile hit him, the game armor sending shockwaves through his body that knocked him onto his back and out of the game.  A boom and Vega's "got it!" told him the Atlas was down as he watched the shuttle successfully escape into the endless, virtual sky.
As the map cleared and the audience clamored, Kaidan reached Garrus and offered him a hand up.  Garrus took it and rolled his shoulders.  The commentators came back into their audio.
"Spectacular showing!  That VI certainly wasn't waiting for you," Dolph said.
"Missions don't always go the way you'd expect," Kaidan agreed.
"Garrus, I'm guessing it's easier to make a life-risking decision in the game than if this were a real mission?" Sillonia asked.
"I've taken a missile like that and lived before," Garrus shrugged.  "But really, there's an aspect this game doesn't convey, and that's the briefing and debriefing of missions.  A briefing would've told me whether this particular ally escaping was worth my putting my life on the line for.  I just acted as if it was."


"Wouldn't all missions for a Spectre or someone on Commander Shepard's crew be vital enough to call for you to lay it all on the line?" Sillonia inquired.
"As far as effort, yes, but not always to the point of death," Kaidan pointed out.  "Not every mission will have someone trying to kill you, anyway, so there's no point in going in with that mindset."
"It's about the big picture, too," Vega interjected.  "Information that's very important, but that you might get another shot at?  Don't throw away the asset that you are for that.  Getting Shepard to the beam that would take her to the Crucible to end the war?  That's worth laying down your life for, and a lot of people did, all respect to them."
"Amen to that," Dolph said.
"I take it you three would have done the same if it had been needed," Sillonia said.
"Absolutely," Vega agreed.
"If only Shepard had let me," Garrus grunted.  A pause followed, most of them caught off-guard by the comment.
"Let's do an intermission and get some water," Kaidan suggested, saving them all from the moment.


Vega and Garrus agreed that would be a good idea and they all headed into the staff room.  Waiting for them was the two game masters from before, Lirart and Mey, looking smug.  Squad deaths and failures weren't completely unheard of even for the Normandy team, but they'd often go weeks without one, and today they were down four deaths, a loss, and only one victory.
"Go ahead and gloat; you guys did good," Vega chuckled.
"This is the best training I've gotten in a while," Kaidan agreed.
"Honestly, seeing you guys in action is a pretty great reward in and of itself," Lirart admitted.
"That being said, we designed a new game type that would work better for a three-man squad than two.  It hasn't been run with real combatants before, but we'd love for you guys to debut it and test it out," Mey told them.
Garrus, Vega, and Kaidan all exchanged looks, shrugs, and nods.
"Sure, let's do it," Vega told them.
"Great!  There will be instructions on your HUD as you go.  We're still working on finessing the briefing, but we've been calling it Triple Threat for now," Mey explained.
"We won't give away too much, but it's designed to create a close-quarters scenario, so we recommend shotguns and pistols," Lirart advised.
"Well that's certainly different," Garrus said.
"Designed with you and your snipers in mind," Mey told him with a wink.
"Of course," he chuckled.


After they had all refueled and swapped their equipment for close-range encounters, they headed back out into the arena.
"Maybe a little less veiled death wishes, Garrus," Kaidan added at the last minute, his tone gentle.  "Those don't tend to be entertaining."  Garrus's mandibles twitched.
"Yeah.  Sure."
Their audio feeds switched on and the whole arena went black, save for one highlighted area.  "Proceed to starting point" appeared on their displays, so they did.  Once there, black walls and a low ceiling constructed themselves around them, with one hallway leading out a short ways before turning.
"I'll bet you anything this is a stealth mission," Garrus muttered, seconds before a new message appeared on their display: "This begins as a stealth mission."  Vega groaned as he swapped out his shotgun for a pistol which the game conveniently silenced for them.
"I'll take point," Kaidan said, as Vega and Garrus followed on his heels.  Soon they reached a slightly larger room with three different hallways.  Their display said: "Follow your objective."  A small compass-like symbol appeared at the corner of Garrus's view.
"Let's go," Kaidan said.  The three of them headed off in three separate directions.  Garrus cleared his throat as they all turned to look at each other.
"Looks like we're splitting up," Vega shrugged.


At that moment, what looked like a wall slid open behind Vega and revealed a hallway, but in front of it was an enemy raising it's own pistol.  Garrus acted first and with a perfect headshot, the enemy fell to the ground as Vega whipped around to face it.
"...and the walls move.  Great," Vega grumbled.  The hallway he was initially going to follow closed, and he added, "Guess I'm finding out where this guy came from."
Garrus looked a little closer at the enemy before it disappeared.  It was sleeker, not meant to be the heavy tanks they faced in full-on combat situations.  It remind us him of the Cerberus phantoms.
"Happy hunting," Garrus said with a casual salute, then headed down his own hall.
Just a few feet on the other side, the opening closed behind him.  It was eerily quiet, something he wasn't used to in Spectre Status.  After a couple turns, he walked up to one of the walls and put his hand against it.
The tech was fascinating to him; he knew there wasn't really a wall there, but the virtual barrier triggered a reaction in his gear to create the illusion of impact.  He pushed harder and felt it get stronger, like small mass effect fields within his gloves.  If he ran at it full force, he'd likely go through and cause it to glitch or the game would shut down entirely, but it was very effective.  He was sure the calibrating for the pressure and resistance took quite a bit of testing.
He turned to continue down the hall, took one step, then paused.  He whipped around just in time to see an enemy stepping out from a hallway that had opened behind him and beat it to the trigger.  It fell with a dull thud and Garrus turned to continue towards his objective.
"Heads up.  They might flank you, so watch your back," he said to Vega and Kaidan.  They acknowledged his advice and he continued on his way.  Twice more enemies appeared out of walls near him, and several more times the walls simply changed, forcing him to make his best guess on how to reach the objective.  He supposed the shifting hallways were how the game masters made up for wanting more space than they had.


"Holy--"
"Whoa!"
Both of the others exclaimed over his helmet at once, causing him to freeze.
"I'm not an AI!" Vega shouted.
"Neither am I!" Kaidan fired back.
"You're supposed to be following your objective!"
"I was!"
"Did you flank each other?" Garrus laughed, imaging them flailing as they squabbled.
"I didn't know the wall would open and there he'd be," Kaidan defended.
"Well I'm gonna go this way," Vega said definitively.
"You do that," Kaidan sighed.
Garrus chuckled again and continued on his way.  It wasn't too long before the hallway opened up into a wider room with a terminal in the middle of it.  Cautiously, pistol half-raised, he stepped towards it.  There was a single function available on it, so Garrus attempted to activate it, but just gained a message on the screen: "Wait for your squad."
"I'm at a terminal... looks like we need to activate them all at once," he said, looking around the room warily.  He began a slow pace, trying to keep aware of the full room all at once.
"We're working on it," Kaidan assured him.
Garrus settled with his back into a corner, eyes on every hallway but also knowing a new hallway could open from anywhere.  A few closed and opened, but no enemies appeared.


"I'm there," Vega said.  "Geez this gives me the creeps.  I like it better when they let me know they're there and just run at my bullets."
"I've gotta be close," Kaidan said.  "I've had like five enemies show up."
"It's been rather quiet here," Garrus said curiously.  He stepped carefully out from the corner, headed for the terminal.  When he was looking towards the middle of the room, suddenly he had his pistol ripped from his hands.  He whirled around, instinctively falling into a sparring stance, and saw an enemy standing there, tossing his pistol behind itself, then mirror him, ready.  For a moment Garrus just stared at it; he didn't even know the game could do this kind of encounter, but it was brand new...
"...alright then," he muttered.  "Let's dance."


Get ready to roll.
"Wha--"
The enemy lunged forward, striking with fists that Garrus barely managed to sloppily block, taking a couple steps backward.  The mechanics were surprisingly accurate and he would've taken a moment to appreciate the impact detection and input had he not been under attack.
"Alright, I'm ready.  Let's do this," Kaidan said in his helmet as Garrus blocked two more.  He managed to swing out once which was effortlessly blocked and countered with a kick.  Garrus jumped backwards to create some space and catch his breath.
"The VI learned how to fistfight," he grunted.  "I'll let you know when I get my pistol back."


Get ready to roll.
"Stop it," he hissed, lunging forward.  He was ready to end the round, but the VI continued to block or dodge.  He didn't know what was in his head but it seemed to be getting worse.
"Garrus, you there?  Waiting on you," Vega said.
"Did you not hear me?" Garrus growled between blows.
"The game must be bugging.  Have you had issues with audio before?" Kaidan asked.
"Nope."
Garrus decided to ignore the chatter and focus on his opponent.  In the middle of the brawl he realized he'd fallen into a familiar rhythm and it made his stomach turn.  With a growl he landed a blow that made the VI stagger backward.
"Stop moving like her," he hissed, his heart pounding in his head.
Start trusting her, her voice replied as the enemy charged at him again.  Garrus was so angry and flustered it only took three more hits before he was knocked onto his back.  Furious, he rolled and tried to rush for the terminal to activate it.  The VI beat him there and shoved him back down with it's foot, standing on his chest and pointing it's own pistol at him.


"There's no Shepard without Vakarian."
The pistol fired and Garrus could've sworn he felt it settle into his chest along with her voice saying those words.
"Objective failed" flashed onto his helmet as the walls, and the VI still triumphant upon him, melted away.
Garrus bolted to his feet and turned for the break room, leaving the pistol behind and tearing off his helmet.
"Garrus?  Garrus!  What happened?" Kaidan asked, trailing after him.  Garrus ignored him, his mandibles flaring as he shoved the door open.  Lirart and Mey were already there, looking confused and uncomfortable.  Garrus slammed his helmet onto the table.
"What was that?!" he demanded.
"We don't know why the audio bugged," Lirart said quickly.
"And we need to polish the physical combat, but we haven't had many volunteer to model for it," Mey added sheepishly.  "We would've asked you but we didn't want to give away the new feature before you could test it."
"How did you get a model for Shepard?!" Garrus growled.
"Garrus, cool down," Vega hissed, stepping closer to the turian.
"Shepard?"  Mey's brow furrowed further.  "What are you--"  She didn't get a chance to finish as Wigort, the owner, stepped into the room, clearly aware of the commotion.


"Mr. Vakarian, what's the problem?" he asked, sounding civil but stern.  Garrus moved out of reach from Vega and approached Wigort, leaning in close to him as his mandibles flared.
"Was this supposed to be some marketing tactic?" he growled threateningly.  "Shepard's mechanics, Shepard's voice?  'Come watch the legendary dead Commander fight her comrades'?!"
Vega grabbed Garrus's arm and pulled him out of Wigort's face, saying all he needed to with a look, but Garrus barely paid it any attention.
"We purposefully do not model anything off of one single source," Wigort replied.  "We don't even use Cerberus armored enemies like the old virtual reality used to.  We have never pulled from material of Commander Shepard."
"I know what I saw," Garrus snapped, "who I fought."
"You fought a glitching VI," Lirart interjected, stepping forward.  "Look."
Lirart lifted an omnitool, cued up to the moment the wall opened next to him.  It slid open and the VI was there, snatched his omnitool and tossed it, but the arm seemed to twist at a strange angle as it did so.  They both fell into a sparring stance, but the VI's image wavered and it's legs lacked solid positioning.
"...alright then.  Let's dance."
Garrus heard his own voice, then an interrupted grunt as he staggered backward.  But the VI in the video was moving erratically, flailing about.  Sometimes it would make contact and Garrus would appear unaffected, and others it would wildly miss but he would be blocking against impact.
Garrus's mandibles flared and twitched as he watched.  He heard himself speak to Kaidan and Vega, then growling at the VI.  The whole time he looked like he was experiencing what he did, but the VI's movements never matched.  After he pushed it back it began moving in slow motion.  After Garrus was on the ground, supposedly pinned down by the weight of the VI's foot, it was actually not even touching him, standing completely still in a neutral position a few feet away.  His armor detected the pistol hit and the game ended, Garrus's heavy breaths the only sound.


Lirart closed the omnitool and took a step back, looking down, as if concerned for another outburst.  Garrus's hands were flexing into fists, his mind racing.
"Then... then what happened?" he asked, his voice breaking and losing it's harsh tone.
"We don't know, but we'll do whatever it takes to fix it," Wigort replied, looking to Lirart and Mey for confirmation.  They nodded enthusiastically.  Garrus had already turned away, stripping the gear off of him.
"I'm sorry," he muttered.  "I need some air."
"Garrus--" Vega began, but Kaidan kept him back, shaking his head.
Garrus didn't look at anyone, his eyes down, as he left the staff room.  He was lucky to not catch any attention as he left, in search of somewhere quieter to drown out Shepard's voice echoing through his head.

Chapter Text

I see your face in blurry shades and I reach out for your hand
All your ways I can't explain but I want to understand

My love, I only want you next to me
Sweet love, how long before you hurt for me?
Hurt for me, do you hurt for me?

I sedate my mind with hope of your return
Just enough to weigh me down
I can fake my heart and I love to watch it burn
But it knows you ain't around

Hurt for Me by SYML

*****

The night cycle on the New Presidium was exactly the kind of comfort Garrus needed.  He breathed in the cool air and let the muted sounds of residents far below him create a white noise to get lost in.
For a moment, he had peace.
His omnitool beeped repeatedly.  Garrus set it in front of him and answered the call.  Kaidan, Vega, and Joker were on the other side.  They'd done these group calls a few times and were beginning to make it a tradition.  The plan was for Kaidan, Vega, and Garrus to call Joker from a bar somewhere (as these calls always involved getting drunk), but after the events at Spectre Status, Garrus felt he needed a little more space.  Joker was in what appeared to be a cabin on board a ship, and Kaidan and Vega were sitting at an outdoor seating area of a bar.
"Garrus, where are you?  Are you at the Penthouse or something?" Joker asked, confused by the backdrop of nothing but sky.
"No.  I'm at my favorite spot on the Citadel," he replied quietly.
There was one area where those who made the reconstruction decisions opted to closely replicate the old Citadel structure.  It was nowhere near where Garrus's real favorite spot on the Citadel used to be, but it looked the same, and he could trick himself into making it feel the same.  The "restricted" beam was the same size and dimension as the one he and Shepard had shot bottles off of, and the open space suited him perfectly. 


"Here's the important question: is there booze there?" Vega asked, showing off his own bottle on camera.
"Mmm, there's about to be," Garrus answered, looking up as a skycar pulled in close.  It hovered above him and the door opened, a young female human looking down with concern.
"Um, Garrus Vakarian?" she asked.
"That's me," he answered as he stood.
"I don't think I'm really supposed to park anywhere up here..."
"Just toss it down.  I'm a good catch, I promise," he assured her.
"Erm, okay," she said, and reached into the car for a box.  She maneuvered the skycar as best she could, then dropped the package down to him.  Garrus caught it with a grunt, thanked the delivery girl and then sat back down, waving his own bottle in front of his omnitool.
"And I didn't even have to make small talk with a bartender," he bragged.  He opened it up and took a swig as Joker laughed.
"I'm glad you've got that since it sounds like you need it," the pilot commented.  After enough pause to gain a look from Garrus, he added, "Heard you lost it on some virtual reality nerds today."
"Heard you broke your pelvis today," Garrus fired back.
"Almost, actually.  I'm pretty sure it was close," Joker said, not missing a beat.  Vega snickered and Kaidan was smirking; even Garrus allowed a smile.
"Let's not talk about my demons," he sighed, shaking his head.
"Hey, the Commander is not a demon," Kaidan insisted, already slightly slurring his words.  He and Vega must have been at the bar for a while before the call.
"I know," Garrus grumbled.  "But something's haunting me, and it's not a disarmingly dainty little girl."


"What if the Commander really is still around?  Like part of the Citadel or something, and she made the game glitch?" Kaidan wondered.
"We've played around with that idea a lot," Vega admitted.
"She's gone," Garrus snapped, finishing off his first bottle and pulling out another one.
"That's a different tune than you were singing before," Vega pointed out.
"Yeah, well, the song has changed," Garrus shrugged.
"So, what, you're just going loco and hallucinating and crap?" Vega challenged.
"Maybe..."
"Have you even heard about the crazy things that can happen since the synthesis?  Why would Shepard stop doing the impossible now, when it's easier than ever to--"
"I'm telling you now, stop," Garrus cut Joker off harshly, grimacing.  The only thing he could see when he thought about Shepard was the video from the Citadel terminal, her bruised and bloodied face so close, inches from death.
"...if she wasn't gone... what could we really do about it?" Kaidan wondered.
"Just trust her to figure it out," Joker shrugged.  "That's what we did before, until she told us something different."
They all fell silent for a moment, staring down at their drinks or throwing back some more.  Garrus just felt more haunted than ever.


"...speaking of crazy, we've determined that even if EDI keeps her metallic form, we could probably have a baby if we wanted to," Joker commented.  Vega choked on his drink, causing Kaidan to nearly fall over trying to dodge the spray.
"Okay, I'll say it: um, what?" Garrus said incredulously.
"I know, right?" Joker laughed, shrugging and taking off his hat to run his hand through his hair.  "I mean, we'd need a human female to carry the pregnancy... but we were thinking, if we can supposedly make a flesh body from EDI's code, couldn't we also make a embryo with my DNA and hers?"
"That almost seems like it would be easier... I think," Vega said, his face scrunching up as he tried to wrap his head around the idea.
"Is that something that you guys want?" Kaidan asked.
"I don't know," Joker admitted.  "I never imagined being a dad.  I don't really know anything about kids.  I had a younger sister, but I couldn't really do much with her because of my bones.  Between that and EDI's titanium hardware, neither of us would be well equipped."
"But your bones have gotten stronger, right?" Garrus asked.
"Exactly.  Maybe not as strong as everyone else's, but maybe strong enough to handle wrestling with a toddler."
"I can't decide if that makes the joke about you and combat with Alliance marines less funny, or more," Garrus mused, and Joker and Kaidan snickered.
"Ha, ha," Vega said, rolling his eyes.  "You could always practice with some krogan babies, Joker.  I bet they'd be a good trial run."
"Pretty sure they'd eat me," Joker said, and they all shared a laugh imagining it.  "Anyway, I never thought I'd be the first to consider becoming that domestic.  You guys better catch up or I'm gonna feel even more weird about it."


"Vega flirted with Sillonia today," Kaidan offered with a smirk.
"The turian commentator?"
"Yup."
"What?  She seems cool enough for a date or two," Vega shrugged, then looked at Garrus pointedly.  "Although I might need some insight on female turians..."
"There are much better resources on that than me," he replied firmly.  "Good luck getting by without Mordin's interspecies-intercourse lecture though."
"You might be able to find some logs of his somewhere.  I could ask EDI," Joker suggested as he laughed.
"Geez, I just said a date or two, not gettin' it on," Vega chuckled, gesturing for them to calm down.  "Are any of us ever really going to settle down anyway?"
"I think I will, someday," Kaidan said.  "I enjoy military and being a Spectre, but I don't see myself struggling to put it down when the time comes.  Not like some people, anyway..."
"I'll always be flying, that's for sure," Joker insisted.  "You can take the cockpit out of me, but you can't take me out of the cockpit."  His brow furrowed and he looked at his bottle as if it would translate what he just said and the rest of them couldn't help laughing.  "Or... something like that."
"I've still got the N7 program to get through.  I'm scheduled to start not too long after Cyno-versary," Vega explained.  "Too young and restless to settle down now."
"Hm, yeah, what he said," Garrus grunted, lamely trying to dodge having to give a real answer.
"Psh, please, you were basically settled down with Shepard, Mr. Family Man," Joker challenged.
"If you could really call our antics settling down," he replied, rolling his eyes.
"It might have been as settled as Shepard could get," Kaidan speculated with a shrug.


"You don't know that," Garrus nearly whispered, but it was loud enough to be heard.  The others blinked at him.
"Did you... talk about it?" Joker dared to ask.
"Er, well..."  Garrus rubbed the back of his neck, unsure what to say.  For once it wasn't Shepard's hurt and weak expression that came to mind, but instead a smile that was mixed with skepticism, intrigue, and amusement at the ideas Garrus shared, only half-jokingly, of adopting baby krogans.
"We weren't to the point of actually making plans," he finally began awkwardly, "but we had discussed hypotheticals."
"I can't say I can picture the Commander raising kids," Vega admitted thoughtfully.
"Whether there's kids or not, settling down is more about the commitment, right?" Kaidan said.  "And that could happen anywhere, even in the high-risk lifestyle Shepard had."
"I was planning to be there for it either way," Garrus mumbled, his mandibles twitching as he fought the emotion threatening to surface.
"If EDI and I have a kid, you can babysit and be the favorite uncle," Joker offered in a drunken attempt to cheer the turian up.  It somewhat worked.
"You hear that?" Garrus laughed, then quickly finished off his drink.  "I'll be the favorite uncle," he taunted Kaidan and Vega.


They all had a good laugh and soon moved on to other, lighter topics.  After a couple hours and plenty of drinking, they bid each other fond farewells, "until the next boozy call".
Garrus picked up his omnitool and stood, letting himself get a good stretch after sitting for so long.  He looked at the empty bottles and wished someone was there to throw them for target practice.  Pondering the night's conversation, he walked over towards the edge of the beam.  The lights below brought to mind the time he dreamt of Shepard jumping off.
If I jumped, would I find you?
He couldn't help thinking it, and then he couldn't help entertaining the thought for another moment longer.  Perhaps too long for his drunken state.
His omnitool rang.
Confused, he glanced down at it.  It was Xanossi.  Without much thought, he answered it.
"Garrus!  Oh, I'm so glad you answered," she said, sounding relieved.  She was frowning.
"Is something wrong?" he asked urgently, immediately feeling more sober.
"Um, well, not really..." she muttered, looking down.  "Where are you?"
"Out," he answered, clearing his throat.


"Oh.  Well, I just felt like I needed to call you... I heard about the new items you added to the Normandy's display.  And the Cynosure research team got some new material..." she drifted off, watching Garrus's reaction closely.  When he just huffed and looked away, mandibles flaring, she asked, "You saw it, didn't you?"
"I'm the one who found it," he choked out.
"Oh, Garrus... I'm so sorry," Xanossi murmured.  Garrus didn't want to see the pity in her eyes and switched the call to audio only and began gathering the bottles as she continued.  "It was hard for me to watch, I can't even imagine what it would have been like for you.  Especially since you had been with her just moments before."
"I don't really want to talk about it," he told her, loading empty and full bottles into the skycar he'd rented for the evening.
"I know, I just..."  Xanossi took a deep breath and let it out heavily.  "At least now you know what happened to her.  You can put her to rest in your mind a little more easily."
"If only," Garrus grumbled, getting into the skycar and programming the autopilot to take him to Normandy Plaza.
"What do you mean?"
"Uh, well... I told you about the dreams.  I had something worse happen at Spectre Status.  I could swear I was fighting her," he explained, and finally was talking enough for Xanossi to hear him slurring a little.
"...are you drunk right now?" she asked.
"Very much so," he replied.  "But I wasn't then."
"I did hear about a bit of drama there today..."  Garrus cringed.
"How much is being publicized?" he asked.
"Just that you left the match seeming to be bothered.  The official statement is that some glitches interfered and are being worked out," she explained.
"Good."  Garrus was relieved that Wigort and his staff were keeping things low-key.  He'd need to send them a gift or something in gratitude... maybe some booze and a basket of pastries.
"But you saw Shepard?  In the game?" Xanossi asked, going back to his previous statement.
"I didn't see her face, but... my gear was detecting hits just like her sparring rhythm.  And I could see the VI moving like her, even though no one else could.  I heard her again, and it said things only she would've known to say," he admitted.
"What did it say?"
"...nothing," he replied, suddenly sober enough to realize he was about to share more than he wanted to, but not sober enough to handle it gracefully.


"Alright, I won't ask," Xanossi conceded.  "I think you need something else to focus on for a while."
"Too bad the whole Citadel is about to be filled with Cyno-versary festivites," he grumbled, borrowing Vega's nickname for the event.
"Ah, you're right...  What are you going to do?"
"Lay low as much as possible.  Councilor Lyric might have another party."
Garrus had reached the outside of the security checkpoint for the plaza.  He gathered the leftovers of his booze and left the skycar, which would return itself to the rental facility.  The checkpoint worked solely from facial identification and would flag you for additional screening if necessary, but it was very efficient.  He passed it and boarded a tram that would take him to his housing.
"You had fun at her last party, right?  She's briefly visited the lab a few times and seems like a good person," Xanossi said.
"Yeah, she knows how to set up a good time, and is very... unique.  She has a salarian boyfriend," Garrus commented, unable to help himself.  Xanossi giggled.
"I know exactly who you're talking about!  He's been with her every time I've seen her.  Is he really her boyfriend?" she asked incredulously.
"Well, I can't say I know that their relationship is... um, sensual... but they're definitely very close," he stammered.
"So if she has any kind of romantic relationship, it's either him, or he at least knows everything about it?" Xanossi snickered.
"I would bet on it," he shrugged as the tram reached his stop.  He stood up and stepped out onto the platform, looking ahead at the Normandy as he walked towards his building.


"Did you know she has five kids?  And like fifty grandkids?  That's a lot for a human lifespan," Xanossi commented.
"I didn't know that," Garrus replied.  "She told me her husband got spaced in the earlier days of human spaceflight.  I think he's the only one she's ever been paired with.  Well, except for Brant."
"Except for Brant," she laughed.  "To be fair, he seems like a good person, too.  He's just so quiet and... compliant."
"Like your partners with a little more bark and bite, do you?" he teased, giving the Normandy a casual salute as he entered his building.
"Like you?" she fired back smoothly.
"Yes, I've been known to-- hey, that's not where I was going with this," Garrus cut himself off, shaking his head.
"You started it," Xanossi laughed.
"Are you trying to take advantage of me while I'm drunk?" he questioned.
"Well it hasn't worked when you're sober yet," she teased.
"Then you should be used to disappointment."
"Ouch!"  Her tone feigned hurt, but she giggled after.  Garrus had reached his apartment and hefted the box of booze onto the counter in the kitchen, thoroughly ready to crash in bed.
"I just got home, so it's time for me to sleep off my vulnerable state," he said, feeling more tired by the second.


"Okay, well... hey, I understand now why you hadn't talked to me for a while... there's been a lot to process," she began.  "But I'd like to help distract you during the Cyno-versary.  Let's find some obscure things to do in some new corner of the Citadel and keep you busy away from the action as much as possible."
"Well, I don't know..." he drifted off, unsure he wanted to commit to so much at once.
"You don't have to decide now, just think about it," she urged.  "I'll do some research and let you know what I come up with.  I promise I'll think of something to get your mind off of... everything else."
"I'll think about it," he agreed, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
"Yay!  Trust me, you won't regret it," she celebrated.
Just moments later, they'd ended the call and Garrus was settled into bed, his whole body feeling heavier than normal.  He was hoping for a soothing rest, but judging by the echoes in his mind as he tried to fall asleep, it wasn't likely.
Trust me.
Trust her.
Trust me.
Trust her.
I trust you.
There's no Shepard without Vakarian...

Chapter Text

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!
Cameter Erastis
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.

Chapter Text

Don't know what I was looking for when I went home, I found me alone
And sometimes I need someone to say, "You'll be all right. What's on your mind?"
But the water's shallow here and I am full of fear, and empty handed after two long years

Another sunny day in Californ-i-a
I'm sure back home they'd love to see it
But they don't know that what you love is ripped away
Before you get a chance to feel it

Back home I always thought I wanted so much more, now I'm not too sure
Cause sometimes I miss knowing someone's there for me and feeling free

Back Home by Yellowcard

*****

For the first time, Garrus called in a favor from one of the many Citadel officials who owed him one.  He simply said who he was and asked for the Primarch and was put straight through, and asked for transport to Palaven immediately.
"You promised me ample warning to prepare a proper welcome for you," Fausna reminded him carefully.
"I don't care when I get to Palaven, I just need to get off the Citadel.  You can hold me hostage up in space until it's ready," Garrus explained.
"Deal."
Ten minutes later Garrus had received an itinerary that got him off the Citadel on a private ship within the hour.  He retired to the small room provided for him on board to sleep off the drinking he'd done.


Six hours later, Garrus met a grand display of turian pride: flags, banners, live music... even a poster of Garrus and Shepard together.  All kinds of reporters were present, but most were simply recording and providing commentary.  His father and sister greeted him at the spaceport with cheerful embraces.
Before they left, a representative of the Primarch approached and invited all of the Vakarians to a VIP dinner that evening.  They all got cleaned up and attended and had a wonderful time.  Castis Vakarian was already well-known among much of the Hierarchy and fit right in, and Solana's bubbly personality was loved wherever she went.  Garrus couldn't help being more reserved than he was at Councilor Lyric's party, but enjoyed himself nonetheless.  Garrus went light on the booze there, but still felt like he needed to crash after the dinner.  Solana and his dad understood and he retired to a guest room at his father's house.
The next morning he was up just before the sunrise.  He wandered out into the living area, feeling more alert than usual.  He knew his dad would be up soon so he brewed double of their usual morning beverage.  He picked up his drink and wandered to the large window to lean against it, just as he used to at his apartment.


Cipritine, like the inner areas of the Citadel, showed no sign of the ruin that had once been.  His father had acquired a nice place to live fairly early in the rebuilding efforts and had a lovely view of the surrounding neighborhood.  It almost reminded Garrus of Shepard's place that she inherited from Anderson on the Silversun Strip, but with less tourist attractions.
Cipritine was even more metallic than the Citadel, but with less chrome.  Copper and bronze colors were used quite frequently here as well as iron.  Palaven wasn't known for it's aesthetic foliage, but Cipritine had the most decorative greenery you would see in the form of large, dark, leafy ferns.
Even though the capital city is where he was born and raised, it didn't really feel like home.  Most turians had a great sense of pride in Palaven, but little attachments to their hometowns, knowing they would likely be out serving in all kinds of places for most of their life.  Garrus didn't know if anywhere felt like home anymore.  He gave a heavy sigh realizing that he at least hadn't dreamt of or heard Shepard since arriving.  Perhaps it all really had been in his head the whole time...


"You're far too young to be brooding like that," his father grunted, interrupting his thoughts.
"You've taught me well, I guess," Garrus taunted good-naturedly, giving Castis a brief smile before returning to gazing out the window.
"Thinking about Shepard?" he asked gently, taking a sip of his drink.
"Did you know I'm still not even as old as Shepard was the day I met her?" Garrus mused.  "We both fit so much life into such a short time, I don't know what to do with the rest of mine."
"But that's just the point: you've got lots of time to figure that out," Castis said.
"That's a valid point, I suppose..." he agreed reluctantly.
"...though you won't figure it out if you're stuck on past love interests."
Garrus grimaced at that, disliking the potential of a lecture on the way.
"I think that's underplaying it a bit," he couldn't help debating.  "We were not some fling."
"The path is the same regardless though, right?  Move on?  Discover what, or who, lies ahead?" Castis asked.  Garrus huffed and turned to face his father, mandibles twitching.
"You know, dad, mom hasn't been gone for that much longer than Shepard... how many dates have you been on?" he challenged, cocking his head to one side.  Castis's mandibles fluttered in surprise at the inquiry, unsure of its appropriateness.  Garrus's expression softened and he added, "It's okay, you can... answer like I'm a friend and not your son.  I won't take it personally."  His father looked down at his drink as he answered.
"I've taken a few very nice women out, it... never really develops further," he mumbled.
"I didn't think so," Garrus said quietly, moving over to a couch and sitting himself down heavily.  Castis sat down across from him and they both quietly sipped on their drinks for a while.


"...you and Solana give me something to do with my life even when the other phases of my life have come to an end," Castis shared thoughtfully.  "I may not have a career I'm actively pursuing or a partner anymore, but I still get to see what you and your sister are up to.  You, on the frontlines of the universe's most important battles, Solana growing up...  You know she's getting fairly serious with this boyfriend?"
"I heard," Garrus grunted.  "What's he like?"
"You'll meet him tonight at dinner," he replied.
"Oh.  Of course."  He was sure Solana was eager for her brother and boyfriend to meet.
"Anyway, I know that's not exactly helpful advice, since the partner usually comes before the children," Castis continued.  "But I'm grateful for the ongoing purpose you two have given me."
Garrus met his father's gaze and even across the gap, on opposite couches, he could feel the love Castis had for him in a way he never had before, as if the synthesis was helping the emotion be more evident.  Garrus just smiled.
"You're welcome, dad."

*****

"Hmm, I haven't done the 'intimidate the boyfriend' bit since my C-Sec days... do I talk about the pleasure of watching someone die alone through my scope before or after mentioning that I took a rocket to the face and survived?"
"After.  Definitely after."
Garrus and Castis had been joking like this the whole time they were preparing dinner, while Solana just rolled her eyes.  She knew better than to dissuade them, but also knew this was valuable bonding time for them.  Castis had already met her boyfriend twice before, but Garrus knew he had plenty of notoriety to play up the first time he met anyone, just for laughs.
There was a knock on the door and before running to get it, Solana turned to both of them with a scolding finger.
"Behave.  ...but I'll be warning him that you won't."
Garrus chuckled and finished placing the food out as she skipped away.  A few moments later, Solana returned with her boyfriend.
"Garrus, this is my boyfriend Felis.  Felis, this is my brother, Garrus," she said, a wide grin upon her face.
Garrus studied the turian from the other side of the table, a neutral expression on his face.  His complexion was tan and his face markings were the color of rust, thick and simple in their design.


Garrus could tell Felis was nervous already.  He was wringing his hands for just a moment before forcing them down to his sides, his small smile mostly just fluttering mandibles.  He looked close to Solana's age, about 5 years younger than Garrus.
Felis began to step forward, but paused when Garrus made his way over.  Garrus knew his presence dwarfed the younger turian's without even trying.  He extended a hand.
"Good to meet you, Felis," he said, peering into him like he used to C-Sec suspects.  Felis eagerly shook his hand, seeming relieved to have a clear social cue.
"Same to you.  I suppose it goes without saying that I've heard a lot about you," Felis offered.
"Hmm," Garrus grinned, then made his way back to the other side of the table where he would sit.  "Yes it would."  Felis acknowledged Castis as they all took a seat in front of their plates, then came back to Garrus.
"But I've heard about you from Solana.  And that's a very different perspective than the rest of the universe," he added, seeming a little more comfortable now.
"Solana doesn't know me as well as she thinks she does," Garrus pointed out.
"Oh, come on!  I know you better than anyone," Solana debated.
"Regardless of the calendar, it's been a long war and year away," Garrus reminded her grimly.  It was a perfect intimidation line and also incredibly true.
"He does have a point," Castis agreed with a sigh.  Felis fidgeted and Solana frowned, searching for a change of topic.
"Shall we eat?" she asked.
"Yes, let's," Garrus conceded, attempting to lighten his tone a bit as well as he picked up a serving utensil and began to fill his plate.


"Do you really need the visor at the dinner table, son?" Castis asked, sounding both amused and exasperated.  Garrus blinked, then shrugged and took it off, placing it down on the table next to him.
"That's actually something Solana told me," Felis said, as they all began to serve the food and eat.  "You only take the visor off at the dinner table."
"Sometimes not even then," Garrus replied.  "Especially if I'm on a ship."
"Just sleeping and showering?" Solana asked.
"And sparring," he added.
"Who did you spar with on the Normandy?" Felis asked, his curiosity piqued.
"Before the war officially started, Grunt, the younger krogan, was my most common opponent.  He was always wanting to fight something.  Occasionally one of the humans, Jacob Taylor...  The drell, Thane Krios, but just once.  Lieutenant Vega during the war, plenty of times."  Garrus paused and looked down at his food.  "And Shepard."
"How often did you win?" Castis asked between bites.  Solana and Felis both waited expectantly, as Garrus took a moment to glance around at all of them.
"Between me and Grunt, I won about a quarter of the time, when my strategy could outdo his strength.  I beat Jacob nearly every time.  Thane liked to reserve his energy, though it certainly didn't look like it took him much to thoroughly work me over.  He was masterful.  Vega was like an easier version of Grunt and fairly simple to distract, so he only won about a quarter of the time.  He's an excellent soldier, but didn't take our battles very seriously.  It was mostly for fun."  He paused again and took a deep breath.  "Shepard and I learned each other's weaknesses quickly.  We were very evenly matched."


"Did you ever spar with the other krogan?" Solana asked, not letting Garrus get too stuck on Shepard.
"Urdnot Wrex," Felis informed her.  Garrus noted that Felis followed the Normandy's activities closer than Solana before answering the question.
"I tried, but he would refuse.  Once I egged him on enough that I thought he would, but he just threw me to the floor and sat on me."
Solana snickered then burst out laughing as Castis chuckled.
"That's got to be up there on the list of life-threatening scenarios you've survived," Felis commented, grinning but managing to keep himself from laughing.
"It is on the list, at least," Garrus replied with a smirk.  After he took a quick bite, he asked, "Speaking of my survivability, which stories about that have you heard?"
"I... don't know the details of any of them," Felis admitted.  "I know everything the vids have shared about where the Normandy has been and what you were achieving there.  Solana said your scars are from a rocket, but not exactly how that happened..."
"She doesn't know all those details," he said.
"Although sharing war stories is a common thing, Garrus doesn't talk about the particulars with his family very often," Castis chimed in.  "Maybe you'll get more out of him than we do."
"You can try," Garrus said with a shrug.
"Mm.  Alright.  It's just about asking the right questions," Felis said, looking thoughtful.  "Instead of near-death experiences, what about the times you felt most alive?"


Garrus went rigid, slowly resting his hands on the table as he stared at Felis with narrowed eyes.  The younger turian's mandibles twitched, but he held Garrus's gaze.
"...I would say that's a difficult question for anyone who has been in the thick of war," Castis interjected thoughtfully, breaking the silence and buying Garrus some time.
"It is," Felis conceded before adding, "but an important one."
"...it's true that sometimes you feel most alive close to death," Garrus told him slowly.  "I also felt most alive sparring with Shepard... when she'd land a particularly efficient blow and laugh triumphantly.  Whenever we were leaving a mission, the objective accomplished, and accomplished well.  I felt alive on shore leave, in the middle of the nightlife, ignoring the millions of enemies waiting for my bullets.  I felt alive in Shepard's cabin watching her sleep."  He took a deep, heavy breath.  "And anytime I'm somewhere with good sight lines.  If I'm lucky, that one still happens once a week."
"Oh," Felis said simply.  With a grunt, Garrus finished off his meal.


"Spirits, who knew getting you three together would be such a lively and optimistic conversation?" Solana teased slightly.
"Why don't Felis and I take it somewhere else then?" Garrus said, picking up his visor and peering at Felis again.  "I think it's time for target practice."
"Uh, actually Garrus, I don't think--"
"It's okay, Solana.  Target practice sounds great," Felis interrupted, patting Solana's arm to reassure her, but she still looked concerned.  Garrus gave an approving nod.
"Good then.  What shape is the range in, dad?" he asked, turning to Castis.
"It's ready for you; we got it checked out and put back together a couple months ago.  The route up is a bit easier these days.  You can take my skycar, the gear is already in it," his father replied casually.
"You know me so well, and I appreciate it."  Garrus put his visor back on and stood, shaking off the somber dinner discussion.  "I've got arms for you.  Let's go, Felis."
Felis stood, briefly rested his head against Solana's affectionately, then faced Garrus.
"I'm ready," he said with a smile.


Garrus signalled for him to follow and made his way towards the front door.  After opening it, he turned, and saw Felis several steps behind him.  The younger turian's gait was unsteady.  Garrus watched him closer as he caught up and realized the subtle angles in Felis's hips and legs that shouldn't be there.  He hadn't seen him move enough before to notice.
"I'll do my best to keep up," Felis told him sincerely.  Garrus looked back up at his face and saw only eagerness.
"You better," he grunted, but his tone was half-hearted.
The skycar was in a garage on the roof.  Garrus set a course for well outside Cipritine.  They were both quiet for a moment while Felis watched the skyline intently.
"Did you grow up in this area?" Garrus asked him.
"No, I've spent most of my life on the Citadel," Felis told him.
"...oh."
They fell silent.  Garrus was taking them well outside Cipritine, not in any particular hurry, but also not paying much attention to his speed.  The sun had already sunk below the horizon and stars were becoming more and more visible.


Finally, Garrus caught sight of the landmark: a large boulder painted blue on one side, similar to the color of his own clan markings.  It was near the top of a large, forested hill.  He parked the skycar on a secluded flat area of dirt just below the boulder and got out, pulling the bag of gear out of the trunk.
Felis had gotten out and was looking at the short, but steep path to the top.  Garrus walked to his side and studied the young turian, but said nothing, keeping his expression neutral.  He understood now why Solana had been hesitant for Felis to come.
Then, without a word or a glance to Garrus, Felis began the trek upward.  Garrus followed, watching his balance carefully and prepared to steady him if needed.  He realized Felis moved almost like Joker used to.  Even now, Joker's gait wasn't "typical" for a human, but it had improved.  Joker had explained that even though his bones were stronger due to the synthesis, he still had malformations from frequent breaks.  Garrus wondered what the case was with Felis, but wasn't about to ask.
"I'm sorry I'm slow," Felis panted when they were almost at the top.
"The later it gets, the better the shooting," Garrus replied.  Felis gave him a puzzled look.
"What kind of shooting range is this?"
"You'll see soon," he said with a smile.
Finally, they summited.  Felis found a tree to lean against and Garrus stepped forward to survey the valley ahead.  The other side of the hill had a gentler slope and less trees, with a wide, flat meadow at the bottom.  Several yards of flat, reflective panels were erected throughout the meadow, with spaces between them.  The stars glistened perfectly on their surface.
Garrus set down the bag and pulled out two modified sniper rifles.  Felis came to stand beside him and he offered him one.


"Are you familiar with this model?" Garrus asked.  It was a safe assumption that any male turian at this age knew their way around a firearm, but he asked a less insulting question just in case.
"Yes, but it's been a while," Felis said, a small smile on his face.  Garrus readied his rifle efficiently, moments later peering through the scope towards the valley below.
"This is a 'shoot the stars' range," he muttered.  He pulled the trigger, and watched the star disappear through his scope.  The rifles were modified with small paint pellets, and so that was the only way to know if you hit your mark.  The capsules were still small enough to require a high degree of accuracy, and it was excellent training for nighttime scenarios.
Garrus lowered his rifle with satisfaction and glanced at Felis, then gestured below.
"It's set up as a grid," he explained.  "The stars will move with time, so focus on one square first.  If you pick out all the bright ones on each panel first, the time passing will undo your work and you won't get to test your skills on the dimmer stars."
"Okay," Felis said with a nod, stepping forward.  Garrus shifted to the side and watched Felis raise the rifle and choose his shot.  Felis carefully shifted his weight, and Garrus realized he had a poor stance.  Felis seemed to be trying to correct it, but still settled with subpar balance.  Garrus knew what was going to happen before it happened, and was about to open his mouth and say something when Felis pulled the trigger.
Even though the rifle wasn't shooting real bullets, it had just as much kick.  Felis staggered, frantically trying to keep his footing, but ended up forward on one knee and one hand, the rifle secured in his other.  Felis scoffed at himself and started to get up.


"Don't move," Garrus said quickly, and the younger turian froze.  "Stay kneeling.  Check your scope.  Did you get your shot?"
Felis steadied himself again, raised the rifle, and checked.
"...no," he said flatly.
"Do you feel balanced in your stance now?" Garrus asked.
"No," Felis admitted.  Garrus approached and gently shifted the angle on Felis's knee and pushed his torso forward to get more of his weight over his foot.
"How about there?" he asked.
"...no."  Garrus studied Felis's form then made two more small adjustments.
"Now?"
"Yes."
"Breathe, settle in, then take your shot."
Felis did just that.  He breathed in deep and relaxed into the posture.  Then he pulled the trigger.  He lowered his rifle slightly to help steady himself, but his knee and foot stayed planted.
"Did you get it?" Garrus asked.  Felis looked through the scope again.
"Yes!" Felis exclaimed, grinning.
"Good.  Keep that stance for your next ten shots.  Your body will start to remember it," Garrus said, trying to ignore the way he sounded like his father.  Felis nodded and looked through the scope again.  Garrus knelt down not far from him in a similar stance, and began picking off his own targets.  He took his time, and still finished in a third of the time Felis did.  In ten shots ten stars were gone, while Felis took thirteen.  Garrus stood with his rifle on his shoulder as he waited.
Eventually, Felis stood up and stretched, looking satisfied.  Garrus gave him a few moments to feel accomplished, then Felis looked to him expectantly.
"Walk to the tree and back.  Then get that stance again," Garrus told him.  Felis looked unsure, then determined.  He nodded, made his way to the edge of the clearing, then returned and knelt down.  He raised his rifle, but kept shifting.
"...I can't find it," he finally admitted quietly.
"Where does your weight need to be?" Garrus prompted, dropping onto a knee himself and raising his rifle.  Felis adjusted and then nodded satisfactorily.
"Ten more shots," Garrus told him.  He quickly got his ten then waited for Felis, who only took eleven shots this time.  Felis stood and stretched again.
"I want ten more," he announced, then walked around before dropping back into his stance.
Garrus knelt and took ten as fast as his rifle's firing speed would allow, indulging himself in a little showboating.  Felis chuckled when Garrus was done, then finished his own, only needing the ten shots.


"Nice work," Garrus said when Felis stood, holding out his hand for the rifle.  Felis gave it to him, seeming surprised to be done already, until Garrus pulled out two modded pistols after placing the rifles in the bag.  He handed one to Felis, who laughed, inspecting the scope on it.
"You could've just given me this to begin with, or after I fell," he said.
"I know," Garrus said simply.
"...no one asked you to make me more effective," Felis continued, but sounded more incredulous than offended.
"Call it you're-dating-my-sister and I'm-legendary-enough-to-do-what-I-want privileges," he shrugged.
"Thank you," Felis said, and the sincerity made Garrus pause.  "No one has taken the time to work on that with me since my legs... became this way."
"You said it had been a while?" Garrus prompted, pretending to busy himself with adjusting the scope.
"A year," Felis confirmed.
"The Cynosure?" Garrus deduced, and Felis nodded.
"My parents, brother and I lived on the Citadel.  We were all C-Sec, mostly managing the docks and transportation.  We hunkered down when the Citadel was moved above Earth, but at some point our building collapsed... I don't remember exactly when," he said, his voice solemn.  "My legs were crushed by rubble, I don't even know how many pieces.  At some point, someone got me out, but with the limited medical resources, they couldn't get my hips and legs set perfectly before they'd started to heal.  I don't remember much, but I think whoever found me wasn't exactly a surgeon with turian anatomy expertise...  Really, it's a miracle I survived at all..." he shrugged, his tone with only a hint of amazement.
"Your family didn't make it?" Garrus asked.
"No," he said.
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"Like you said at the table, it's been a long war and year," Felis mumbled.


"What brought you to Cipritine?" Garrus asked after a respectful pause.
"I was sent here fairly quickly for more rehab.  I had to learn how to use my legs all over again.  Then I was given the option for a medical career, and I chose it, and my stances while shooting became a low priority.  I've been wanting to work on that for a long time, even if it's not part of my career," he explained.  "I'm happy to be in medical, too.  I can still make a difference without needing a high level of combat proficiency.  I've been in training and I'm actually really good at it and may become a surgeon myself.  Solana and I had a class together; that's how we met."
"Sounds like you've got a good future," Garrus commented.
"Thank you," Felis said with a smile.
"You knew Wrex's name even though Solana didn't, which tells me you've followed the Normandy and Commander Shepard since back when she first became a Spectre..." Garrus began, and Felis nodded.  "Did you know I was Solana's brother when you met?"
"Yes, which is why I refused to ask her out even though I wanted to," Felis admitted, rubbing the back of her neck.  Garrus just chuckled.
"She talked you into it, didn't she?" he asked.
"Yes," he said sheepishly.
"Solana tends to get her way.  You'll get used to it," Garrus laughed.


The two of them continued to have enjoyable conversation as they did several more rounds of shooting.  Felis practiced getting in and out of his kneeling stance with the pistol and Garrus helped with his standing position as well.  Having at least basic shooting skills was a point of pride for most turians, and Garrus wasn't about to let Felis go without the practice.  It was late into the night when they decided to retire.
"Do we need to clean the panels?" Felis asked, gesturing down below.
"It comes off easier after the sun has baked it for a day.  I'll come back out tomorrow night and take care of it," Garrus explained, packing up the bag.
"I'd like to come back and help you," Felis offered.  Garrus looked down the hill then back at the younger turian with a pointed look.
"The trail down there is a lot longer," he said.
"I know, and I'm okay with that," Felis insisted.
"Alright," Garrus said with a smile, and they both began walking down the trail back to the skycar.  Garrus led the way this time and didn't make it obvious, but once again paid attention to Felis's balance in case he would need help, but he didn't.  They got into the skycar and headed back to the Vakarian residence.
"You said it sounded like I had a good future," Felis said suddenly.  Garrus glanced at him from the corner of his eye.
"Yes."
"I hope you don't mind me asking, but... what does your future look like?" the younger turian asked curiously.  Garrus's shoulders fell a little as he exhaled.
"...I thought it looked like Shepard," he admitted, and felt a fresh pang of heartache deeper than he expected to.  His mandibles flared once then twitched.  "I don't know anymore."
"As amazing and beneficial as the synthesis is... her life was still a heavy price to pay for it," Felis said solemnly.
Garrus swallowed down his emotion and whispered, "I think so too."

*****

Sleep came fitfully for Garrus on Palaven.  He almost always woke feeling unsettled, but couldn't remember what he'd been dreaming, or if he'd even been dreaming at all.  It was difficult not to think of the Citadel when so many broadcasts were focused on the festivities there, and they were certainly noteworthy.  Halfway through the week the new krogan Councilor, Drau Prash, was instated.  The official ceremony was everywhere, as well as lots of highlights on her history and policies.
There was specifically very clear information about various forms of birth control being made available (and in some cases, mandatory) to krogans.  In addition, it was declared that krogans will only be permitted to mate if they are citizens of, and residing on, Tuchanka.  There were discussions of that expanding to a few other planets if the need became expedient, but Councilor Prash was very assuring that the krogan were going to be responsible for their own breeding choices.  Garrus could imagine those negotiations were big factors in bringing on a krogan councilor, and was glad he didn't have to be part of them.


Castis was very interested in the news and even seemed to enjoy the recaps of all the things the Normandy Elect had accomplished.  When it became too much, Garrus would simply get himself out of the house and wander around the city, reacquainting himself with his home town that also had to be rebuilt from the ground up.  The Citadel's destruction was mainly due to the energy surge of the Cynosure, but Cipritine had been obliterated by the Reapers, as the biggest target on the planet.  Very little looked the same.  Centuries of structures were now brand new.  On one of his ventures, Garrus discovered a museum dedicated to commemorating the version of Cipritine that was before.
Castis suggested a couple bars for Garrus to check out, and he did, but without truly thinking the option through.  It didn't take long before he'd had more drinks bought for him than he could drink, been the recipient of several seduction attempts, and barely made it out of the bar without a mob forming.  He told his father he was doing all his drinking at home and frantically explained what happened.  Castis simply commented, "Weird, I've never had that problem," to which they both laughed.


A few days after the Cyno-versary was over, the Reapers, who had not been seen close to civilizations in quite a while, reemerged.  The Citadel was wary with them hanging around, but many spoke of being able to understand that they meant no harm.  Then, a few days after that, it happened: the Citadel arms closed.  Everyone inside was safe, but understandably concerned.  The Reapers didn't seem to be connected to the Citadel or controlling it, but they escorted it through a mass relay and, incidentally, back to it's precise former position in the Widow system.  After the Citadel arms opened back up, the Reapers once again retreated to the outer edges of space.
This change had the largest impact simply on transportation, but was a welcome change for Earth and the humans.  The Citadel traffic had been a tremendous load for the Sol system.
Several more days and nights past and Garrus was almost beginning to imagine that he could find some sense of normalcy and routine.  He still didn't have anything he was actively pursuing, but maybe it was okay to let that find him, even if it took a while to.


Eventually he dreamt again, and this time remembered it with full clarity.  He was back on the Citadel, within the hidden chamber, but it was dark.  The arms were closed.  He turned to face the terminal to his right and sucked in a sharp breath to see Shepard, battle-worn and bloody, hobbling towards it.  She was moving in slow motion, and Garrus reached out to touch her even though he knew she wasn't aware of him.  His hand trailed over her shoulder and she felt like cold vapor that went straight to his bones.
Shepard worked her magic on the terminal and opened the arms.  Together they watched the mosaic of light split into crevices of cosmos.  The ethereal Shepard gave the tiniest nod of satisfaction, before turning and limping back to where Anderson was seated.  Garrus watched helplessly, his shoulders slumping.
"I understand better now," Shepard's voice said from his other side.  He startled and turned and saw a more solid version of her beside him, dressed casually, but in much better health than the ghost before him.
"Then help me understand," Garrus said bitterly.  The Shepard next to him looked at him and almost appeared hurt.  He sighed and muttered an apology under his breath.
"That is the rest of me," she finally said, pointing to the other version of her, now soundlessly partaking in Anderson's last conversation.  Again, Garrus wished he could hear what they were saying.
"You aren't anywhere," he said with exasperation.  "You told me, there's no Shepard without Vakarian.  If you're not with me, you're not anywhere."
"You think I'm not with you?" Shepard challenged, moving to step square in front of him, her face hardening.  Like a reflex Garrus straightened up like a crew member being scolded by their Commander.  The misty version of Shepard was just realizing Anderson was gone, and her face fell, as did the expression of the one in front of him, reflections of each other.  She reached out a palm and put it on his chest and he sucked in a breath again.  "You have more of me than anyone," she whispered sadly.
The Shepard on the floor jerked up and scrambled forward, but couldn't get to her feet.  The solid one moved back to Garrus's side and they both watched as she attempted to reach the terminal.


"She loves you," Shepard said.  "I always will."
"...I love you, too," Garrus mumbled, unsure how he would survive the flood of emotion rushing to the surface.
"I need you," she suddenly snapped, and Garrus's mandibles twitched in alarm.  "I'm scattered.  You are the only thing that makes sense."
"I wish I could say the same!" he exclaimed, his hand going to his forehead in frustration.  "You know I would do anything for you, but I feel so lost and confused and alone...  I have no idea what could possibly be done."  The ethereal Shepard collapsed on the elevator platform, and the "real" one stepped onto a corner of it.
"You're not the only one that can find me.  And you've never been alone.  I trust you to be ready at the right time," she told him firmly as the elevator began to rise in slow motion.
"Wait!"  Garrus tried to join them, but something blocked him.  Soon they disappeared into the ceiling, but almost immediately after the green wave of the Cynosure burst and surged and crashed over him, startling him awake.
It was the middle of the night, dead silent in his father's house save for Castis's snoring and Garrus's shaky breaths.  He jolted upright, feeling too full of energy to remain in bed.  After scanning his room and finding nothing unusual, he threw off the covers and stood up, pacing and stretching just to burn off some adrenaline.
He sat down when he finally felt relaxed enough to do so, but couldn't quiet his mind yet.  He picked up his omnitool, hoping to find something else for him to think about, and saw he had a message from Councilor Lyric.  Curious, he opened it up.


Hello Garrus,
How is Palaven?  I hope your family is doing well, and that you're finding just what you need.
A special facet of the Cynosure research team has dug up something very interesting, and I'd like to use you as a consult.  If you don't mind, could you look over the attachment and get back to me with your thoughts?  I'd appreciate this done at your earliest convenience.  You might also find it enlightening.
Thank you, my dear.
Councilor "Rabbit" Lyric Fella


It was just vague enough to further tease his curiosity.  Maybe she'd gotten actionable intel on the anti-syns?  The attachment was titled specifically Excerpts for Vakarian.  He opened it up and saw lines of text that seemed to go on forever.  He began reading, unaware of how unprepared he was for it's contents.

Chapter Text

Oh, I hope someday I'll make it out of here
Even if it takes all night or a hundred years
Need a place to hide, but I can't find one near
Wanna feel alive, outside I can't fight my fear

Isn't it lovely? All alone
Heart made of glass, my mind of stone
Tear me to pieces, skin to bone
Hello, welcome home

Lovely by Billie Eilish and Khalid

*****

*Note: sections of [...] indicate parts removed, either indecipherable language or streams of random facts, sometimes millions at a time.  The timeline is estimated to be from the Cynosure forward.*

Oh.
It's beautiful.
Oh-- it's loud!
[...]
This isn't me anymore.
[...]
The Normandy?  It knows me.  Who do they know?  I know him-- wait, don't--
[...]
Everyone is thinking of Shepard.  I have to find her.
What a beautiful scene.
He misses his mother.
Shepard left him...?
[...]
...back together again...
That's what I want.
How?  Who knows how?
Maybe I can find someone...
[...]
They're so lost-- oh, how they hurt.
They're saying goodbye.
No, please don't...
I'm too late...
[...]
What brought you back?
Oh.
That's okay.  I don't care about the chair.
That's... my hair?  How did that get there?  I don't remember... show me.
You helped me get ready.  For everything.
But not me...
I love that necklace.  Please keep it.
Thank you.
It belonged to someone else, a turian... I never met her.
[...]
You know that bed.  I know you?  But how?  Show me.
How do I know you?
...we need each other.
Welcome aboard, Garrus.
Garrus.  Garrus.  Garrus.  Garrus.  Garrus.  Garrus.  Garrus.  Garrus.
Garrus!
...why are you laughing?  What is this? Oh, this is nice... I like this.  But is it for me?
I don’t know.
It hurts.
Why aren’t you really here?!
IT HURTS.
[...]
I’m lost too…  I’ll get in your way.
You need to go on your own.
...no.  NO. I need him.  He said he needs me too.
I will not go.
[...]
They’re all thinking of Shepard again.  What’s happening?
Oh, she’s dead.  She’s dead? That doesn’t seem right…
[...]
Hackett.  Anderson. Normandy Elect.  Friends.
Cynosure Banner.
Rabbit.
Transcendent War…?  Yes.
Galactic Unit Citation.
...lucky to have known her…
The way he looks at her...
I wish I was her.
[...]
There’s something you need to see.
You’re going to walk right up.
They already know who you are.
Unsure.
Listen carefully.  I think they want to hurt me.  I did what I had to do.
You don’t have to fight them.  I just need you to know.
I wasn’t careless.  I just did what I had to do…
They’re very close to finding me.
They see you, Undertaker.
You do understand me, don’t you?  Thank you…
I like watching you work.
Don’t worry, the Keepers help me watch over the lost.
[...]
They are all getting closer and I need you to know.
They want to find me, but I need you to help them find Shepard.
I’m learning how to speak, and how to hide.
It’s not safe yet, and it may not ever be.
It’s not safe for you here.  You need to move.
Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.
Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.
Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.
Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.
Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.
Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll.
I like watching you work.
[...]
...I’m weaker… It hurts.  I’m so tired…
I need to find him again.  Garrus.
And Rabbit?
He always speaks so well of me…
Or, not me…?
Oh, I’m tired… what am I doing here still?
They want me…
Or, not me.
Archangel.  Yes, I do know him.  I called him that. Yes, me.
[...]
He puts her there.  I see what she would do.  What he expects me to do.
But he did dance with me.  I’m so tired, but maybe I can dance with him again…
[...]
I’m here.  You found me.  I’m so tired, but I’m happy when I find you.
Yes, let’s dance.
I’m so glad you know who I am.  Not just Shepard, but me.
Could I possibly become what you remember me to be?
There’s so much happening… I don’t know what’s mine anymore.
I think I’m losing.  There’s not much of me left and it hurts…
If I fade away, you’ll be okay.
Oh… I’ll try.  For you.
I trust you.
I love you.
[...]
Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll. Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll. Get ready to roll.
[...]
You’re going to find me.
Or, not me.
Isn’t she beautiful?
[...]
Play it.
It’s going to hurt.  I can’t focus on it now… the Keeper will find you again.
[...]
...I need to reach him.  He doesn’t understand.
You could use the beatdown?  Hmm…
[...]
Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll. Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll. Get ready to roll. 
Have a missile.
I like watching you work.
[...]
Let’s try this on…  I think I can move. I move like her.
I’ll take it from here.
This… this is familiar.
Dance?
Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll. Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll. Get ready to roll. 
Don’t listen to them now.  This is about you and me. Yes, me.
Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll. Get ready to roll.  Get ready to roll. Get ready to roll. 
I won’t stop.  I need you to listen.
Start trusting her.  Start trusting me. Or not me.  Yes, me.
What are the right words…?
No, stay down.
There’s no Shepard without Vakarian.
...what?
[...]
You still don’t see.
Trust me.  Or, not me.  Yes, me.
[...]
Trust me.
Trust her.
Trust me.
Trust her.
I trust you.
There's no Shepard without Vakarian…
[...]
Oh… he doesn’t know, but he does.  Just like you, but in different ways.
He can listen without memories and hopes getting in the way.
Your memories and hopes bring us closer.
I want to be close.
Get ready to roll.
Hah!  Napkins…
[...]
Please don’t get me out of your head.  I need you. None of it matters without you.
[...]
Ache.
There’s a drink I remember.  Why?  Can you tell me?
Oh, you drank it with me.  Or, not me…
[...]
No, don’t do that.
I can’t keep us safe if--
[...]
I’m still here, Garrus.  But I can’t--
[...]
Vakarian without Shepard?
No.  I need you.  I will lose myself without you.
There’s no Shepard without Vakarian.
Oh, she heard me.  She knows.
No.  There’s no Shepard without Vakarian.
There’s no Shepard without Vakarian.
I know what it means now.
[...]
I will lose you if I don’t act soon.  You’ll be safer out there.
Please don’t forget.  Please be ready at the right time.
I need you, Garrus.
I love you.
[...]

Chapter Text

If I told you this was only gonna hurt
If I warned you that the fire's gonna burn
Would you walk in? Would you let me do it first?
Do it all in the name of love
Would you let me lead you even when you're blind?
In the darkness, in the middle of the night
In the silence, when there's no one by your side
Would you call in the name of love?

In the Name of Love by Martin Gerrix and Bebe Rexha

*****

Brant answered his call.
"Hello, Vakarian."
"Councilor Lyric," Garrus requested, barely able to choke out the words.
"Of course."
Garrus waited.
"Hello, Garrus.  I see you've gotten my message."
"What the hell is this?" he snarled.
"Well, I asked you for the consult.  I'm guessing you read the whole thing.  What do you think it is?" she replied calmly.  Garrus huffed and put his hand over his face as he sat down on his bed, the omnitool next to him.  His face felt hot, but he didn't know why.  Fury?  Grief?  Shame?  There was a long pause as he tried to compose himself enough to think of the right questions to ask, the right thing to say.
"...where did this come from?" he finally whispered among several deep breaths.
"As I mentioned, it's a separate division of the Cynosure research team.  Initially they were attempting to learn more about the Catalyst.  They can find it, but not access it, as if it is dormant or broken somehow...  They did, however, find a log of some kind.  It's exact nature is unknown, but they have some guesses."  Her tone was casual, as if they were discussing the weather.


"A... log?" he repeated.
"Mm, more like a feed.  It's continuous and ongoing.  There's a lot more than what I sent you, but I thought perhaps those portions would be most relevant to you," she explained.
"You mean because they sound like Shepard exists and lives," he said flatly.
"Is that your conclusion, based on that collection?  Does it sound familiar?" Lyric asked, her tone suddenly sounding urgent.
"No... and yes..." he mumbled.
"Can you elaborate?"  Garrus sighed and began pacing around the room.
"It doesn't exactly... sound like her.  It sounds like a VI.  But I understand what it's saying.  I recognize the moments it's talking about.  It's the times I thought Shepard was with me...  My dreams, when I discovered the anti-syns, even fighting her in Spectre Status."
"Do you feel like she's with you right now?" Lyric asked.
"...I was dreaming about her," Garrus realized after a pause.
"I know."
"You know?!" he said incredulously.  He remembered Vega getting those readings when he had dreamt before, and wondered if the Councilor was doing the same.  Before he could speak again, Councilor Lyric continued.


"Garrus, there's a lot more to the feed than just those excerpts.  A lot more that will help you understand what led me to share them with you now, at this specific time.  I'm happy to tell you all about it, but there's a warning I will give: it might cause you to hope again."  Lyric paused, and Garrus was silent, frozen, barely able to breathe.
"If that's a risk you're willing to take, and a price you're willing to pay, I recommend you have a conversation with the team, in person.  If not, you're free to walk away from this and I won't bother you again... unless something truly definitive happens."
Garrus's mind was reeling and he felt somehow ill-equipped to make this decision for himself.  What had Shepard said in his dream?  Did he trust Councilor Lyric's assessment?  Who was this special team?  What if it wasn't actually Shepard?  What if they found her, but he could never hold her again?  What if it was an incomplete version of her like her clone had been?
Was it possible he'd now have something he could do for Shepard, and would he?
That thought stopped all others because he knew the answer immediately, instinctively, naturally, even though it scared him.
"Of course I'll go," he breathed.
"I'm sorry to take you away from your family so soon," Lyric replied, but she sounded like she was grinning.
"Shepard is just as much my family," Garrus grumbled, feeling heavier than he did a moment ago.
"Would you like me to arrange transportation for you?" she offered.
"That's fine with me.  I trust you and your discretion."
"Of course.  You'll receive an itinerary shortly.  I'll be there at the station when you arrive."


Soon the call ended and Garrus sat back on his bed, staring at nothing, completely dumbfounded and at a loss for what to think.  Images of Shepard on the edge of death and his dreams of dancing with her fought for prevalence in his mind.  He'd been trying not to let himself daydream that way, but now he was powerless to it.
Something drove him to reach below his bed and pull out the small box kept under there.  Reverently he opened it and studied the items inside.  Among them was a hair brush, strands of hair still tangled in the bristles, and a necklace.  Garrus ran his hands over the fabric that made up the band of the necklace, a durable but sleek ribbon with several shades of blue shimmering along it.  The pendant was an oval shape a few inches tall and a perfect, solid white.
It had belonged to his mother.  He asked to keep it when she passed, and it was one of the few belongings he kept very close.  He'd even had it on Menae when he ran into Shepard after the invasion.  Shortly after they'd cured the genophage, Garrus had gifted it to her.
Other than Castis, Solana, and Shepard, no one else in the galaxy knew that the necklace used to be his mother's.  Reading the comment about the necklace in the file Lyric sent to him had been the moment his bones turned to ice.  Was it possible that he'd get to give it to Shepard again?
His omnitool pinged, likely with an itinerary, but it wasn't quite enough to pull him out of his pondering.
Get ready to roll.
That did it.  Garrus let out an incredulous laugh.  If that was truly someone talking to him, would it say more if he replied?  He wondered why some bits and pieces made it through and why some didn't.
Get ready to roll.
"You're right," he muttered aloud.  "Maybe I'll find the answer if I actually got going."
He didn't hear anything else, but he wore a small, even hopeful, smile as he began gathering and organizing his things for another trip through space.

*****

VIP docking and transportation protocols were quickly becoming one of Garrus's favorite Normandy Elect perks.  He'd had quite a bit of infamy as Reaper Advisor, but was still stuck with military resources.  Between the Primarch and Councilor Lyric, he was traveling like a diplomat, and the simplicity and elegance of the process was like night and day.  He wandered onto the VIP docks, eyes peeled for dock E3, where a private ship titled Spectacle was waiting for him.
Bidding his family farewell went exactly as he expected.  He didn't give them many details, just said that Councilor Lyric needed him to check something out for her and he wasn't expecting combat and left it at that.  Solana pouted briefly, gave him the tightest hug she could, and told him not to let it be another "long year".  His father said the Council was lucky to have him on speed dial and wished him well.
Garrus spotted the right dock and the ship.  It wasn't very big, basically a space taxi that looked a lot more elegant.  He approached but didn't see anyone nearby, and the ship was powered down.


"I'm coming!  I'm sorry, I--"
Garrus turned at the familiar voice just as it cut itself off.  Rushing awkwardly towards the dock was the pilot, none other than Joker.  Garrus grinned and Joker burst out laughing.
"Here I was, prepared to have perfect people skills for some stuffy, stoic turian diplomat," he laughed.
"Hah, well you'd have already failed for being late," Garrus chuckled, grasping Joker's shoulder as he got close.  "Is it just you?"
"Yeah, usually there's at least one other person here to be more professional, but I understand now why the Councilor sent me on my own," the pilot grinned.  "It's good to see you in person again."
"You too," he replied as Joker tapped a code on the door panel.  "Where's EDI?"
"She's off exploring.  Even though she can basically access any information at any time, she seems to really like seeing the sights for herself," Joker explained.  The door slid open and they both stepped inside.  "She's currently visiting the elcor on Dekunna."
"That sounds exotic," Garrus commented.
"Doesn't it?" he snickered.


The Spectacle didn't have a separate area for the pilot.  There was a small lounge area with the control panel in the middle, and a few seating and viewing options around the room.  Garrus dropped his bag on one of the chairs as Joker began booting up the systems.
"There's a little fold out cot in the back corner, and a place to freshen up if you need it," Joker told him, sounding like it was part of his job to say that.
"And leave you without the company?  I don't think so," Garrus replied, wandering over to one of the observation windows.
"Too bad it won't be a very long trip," Joker replied.  "The coordinates aren't too far from the Citadel."
"I figured as much.  Still, it was nice of Councilor Lyric to set this up."
"Yeah.  I like her.  The Council was missing someone who could throw rockin' parties."
"Agreed," Garrus chuckled.
Silence passed between them as the Spectacle began to pull out of the dock and away from the terminals.


"So... do I get to know what you and her are up to, or is it too classified?" Joker finally asked.  Garrus turned back towards him and rubbed the back of his neck.
"I'm honestly not even sure if I could explain it," he mumbled.
"Something like... Shepard has been talking to you this whole time but you didn't know about all of it and were too dense to trust in the times you did know about it?" Joker asked, glancing over his shoulder at the turian.  Garrus's mouth was hanging open, his eyes narrowed and mandibles twitching.
"Pff, I think that's the most offended expression I've ever seen on a turian," Joker snickered and then laughed, turning back to the controls.
"Did you seriously know about all this?!  And never said anything?" Garrus said incredulously, moving in closer and hovering behind him.
"I've had a lot of suspicions that all suddenly made sense when I saw you standing in front of this ship," Joker said smugly.
"Like what?" Garrus snapped.
"Councilor Lyric has been snooping around for a while.  You remember at her party?  You told me she grilled you for details about Shepard and you," he said.
"I remember..." he muttered.
"She was trying to find buzzwords.  She told me there was some kind of network her research team accessed.  They didn't know what it was, but thought it might have information on Shepard so she asked me a lot of stuff too.  Inside jokes, significant memories, all the inside scoop," he explained with a shrug.
"That was it?  That was all you needed to figure it out?" Garrus asked.


"I mean, I didn't get my hopes way up or anything," he added, then looked at Garrus pointedly.  "But you're also not the only one that's been having dreams."
Garrus's breath caught and he turned, taking a few paces away from Joker with his back to him.  He rubbed the back of his neck again and his shoulders slumped.
"I think being around EDI so much helped me be more open to the idea," Joker said, trying to lessen Garrus's disappointment in himself.  "I mean, she used to be a shackled AI that I was not happy about.  But then we learned to work together, and the unshackling made it really easy for us to become friends.  Now she's got a body that can go anywhere, but also exists inside the Normandy.  I mean, she could probably pop in this ship if she wanted to.  She's everywhere, so it didn't seem like a stretch to think that Shepard might be everywhere too."
"Did EDI ever suspect...?" Garrus asked, curious more than anything.
"Yeah.  She's been monitoring the hacking going on with the Cynosure research team and the attempts to access the Normandy... she thinks the anti-syns are probably involved, but she's been wondering if Shepard is following their lead and trying to get in, too."
"...and nobody told me because you didn't want to send me into a crazy emotional tailspin?" he speculated.
"Pretty much, but I mean, that was kind of inevitable," Joker teased with a snicker.
"What were your dreams with her like?" Garrus asked quietly.
"Fairly cryptic, but also... familiar," he replied.
"I know what you mean."


"The first time was just after the memorial.  I was there on the stage by myself, and then she came and seemed really confused.  I don't remember exactly what I said, but I made some joke and she laughed.  Then she told me she trusted me, and was happy that I recognized her.  She said she wanted me as her pilot, like it had never happened before."  He shrugged again.  "There were a few others, but I don't remember all the details, just how they felt."
"They sent me a whole collection of times she was talking to me, but it was the same.  Whoever this is doesn't know they are Shepard.  What if it isn't her?" Garrus asked.
"I think you'd be a little confused, too, if whatever happened to Shepard happened to you," Joker said casually.
"I don't know how to make sense of any of what happened," he said in exasperation, beginning to pace around.  "I haven't a clue about the facts, much less how to feel about them."
"I never thought I'd see Garrus Vakarian as such a hot mess," Joker laughed, but sounded sympathetic.
"I guess that means anything's possible?" he scoffed.
"Exactly," the pilot replied with a grin.  "We're almost to the relay, which means you're not far from getting to talk to some people a lot less clueless than me, so maybe then you can stop freaking out about it.  I mean, if Shepard does show up at some point, you better be ready for her."
Something almost primal inside of Garrus reacted to that comment, and the last lines of the file from Lyric flashed through his mind.


Please don’t forget.  Please be ready at the right time.
I need you, Garrus.
I love you.

He cleared his throat, stifling down the beginnings of a growl.  Joker didn't seem to notice.
"I'm certainly eager just for things to make sense again, even if it's not the news we may have hoped for," he grumbled.
"Yeah... but what if it is?" Joker said, looking back at him with a grin.  Garrus just gave a small laugh and shook his head.
"At least tell her I say hi, and to call me when she feels up to it." Joker said, then turned back to the controls.  "Hitting the relay now."
Soon they were approaching the Citadel's orbit.  Many various stations were scattered throughout the Widow system, most on Citadel Council business with varying degrees of security clearances.  Joker pulled them close to one that was moderately sized and fairly nondescript.  He sent a comm announcing their arrival and they were efficiently allowed through the security clearance and given a docking assignment.  Garrus hefted his bag up onto his shoulder as Joker settled the Spectacle in.
"Don't be a stranger," Joker said, walking towards the door to see Garrus out.
"I won't," he assured him, then took in a deep breath.  "Here's to finding some answers, I guess."
"And Shepard," Joker agreed with a grin.  They gave each other casual salutes, the camaraderie in their eyes wordlessly sharing appreciation for each other.


Garrus turned to disembark and as the door opened, he immediately caught sight of Councilor Lyric at the edge of the dock, and Brant just behind her, of course.  He approached and Lyric greeted him just as warmly as ever, smiling brightly and grasping his hands.
"I'm so glad you're here.  I'm so excited to show you what we've been working on," she said enthusiastically.
"Uh, me too, I think," Garrus said, clearing his throat.
"Let Brant take your bag.  We've got a room set aside for you.  It's not much, but it's private," she told him.  Brant stepped forward and Garrus's mandibles twitched as he hesitated.
"Okay, just be careful, that's... nearly everything I own," he said awkwardly, handing the bag over.
"Of course," Brant assured him.
"Come, come, let's get started with the introductions," Lyric said, gently grasping Garrus's forearm and leading him into the main area.  He let himself get pulled along as she continued, "You'll actually find some familiar faces here, and don't worry about getting to know everybody, but I want you to know the people in charge."
They entered a room with various workstations, computers and large monitors scattered throughout.  A massive, intricate model of both the Citadel and the Crucible were in the middle of the room, and a large display that showed a timeline centered on Shepard's life were the only hints as to what exactly was being studied there.  One of the larger screens in the back looked to be glitching.
He felt several eyes landing on him and finally let his own meet the faces of some of those present.  Many were gathering together and whispering among themselves, looking as enthusiastic as Councilor Lyric was.  A human who previously had his back to him turned around, and Garrus gave a small smile to the first face he recognized.


"Normandy cre-- er, Elect.  Good, good, good, good, it's me again, she'll be so happy," the man said.  Though he looked slightly older now, David Archer still spoke and smiled like a child, and something about it set Garrus at ease.
"I remember you, David," he said in greeting.  "I'm glad you made it through the war."
"Yes, working on the Crucible!  Very exciting.  Almost perfect project," David replied, his deep brown eyes shining brightly.  An asari who had been standing next to him also stepped forward, giving a respectful nod to Garrus.  He could tell right away that she was in the second half of her lifespan.  Her skin tone was a solid ocean blue.
"This is Matriarch Nasavathea Atelis," Councilor Lyric introduced.  "She was also on the Crucible team.  She and David work very well together, so I contracted them both for this project as well."
"Most just call me Nasa," the Matriarch said with a smile.
"David is one of the lead researchers here due to his unique strengths and... history," Lyric said carefully.
"Synthesis is a better way to merge organic and synthetic than what my brother attempted," David mumbled, wringing his hands and looking down at the floor.  Nasa extended a hand to him and he took it, squeezing and stroking it to calm himself.
"I agree," Garrus said earnestly.
"David is very well-suited to studying the synthesis phenomenon and the Cynosure," Nasa said.
"Almost perfect," David began muttering.
"It's been a delight to work with him," she added.


"Come see," David said suddenly, releasing Nasa's hand and reaching for Garrus's.  Once again, Garrus was letting himself be led, this time to the very back of the room in front of the screen that was glitching.
"Come see," David repeated.
"Uh..."  Garrus stared at what appeared to be just sporadic, flashing patterns.  "What am I supposed to be seeing?"
"It's her!" David laughed.  "It's Shepard.  She'll be so happy you're here.  Slow down, please."
Garrus went rigid, his eyes widening in alarm as he looked at the terminal before him and tried to comprehend what David meant.
"This is the stream of consciousness, or just the stream for short," Nasa explained gently.
"Shepard's consciousness...?" he asked breathlessly.
"We think there may be more to it than that," Nasa replied.
"But it is where the excerpts I sent you came from," Lyric pointed out as she joined them.
"Show him, show him," David said, patting Garrus's hand and arm.  Nasa tapped the terminal screen and swiped it over to a very large holographic projector.  Garrus looked and saw a wall of text.  He realized the flashes on the screen were just words moving too fast for his eyes to discern.  David stepped away from him, mumbling to himself and scanning the wall.  Garrus did the same, searching for anything recognizable or meaningful.


Citadel tourism is seeing continuous growth... I don't think I like that... projections are reading high levels of radiation... a great dancer... asari-vorcha offspring have an allergy to... I'm more... RGN-008/657 has seen irregular activity... that's the best shoe I've ever touched... tropical storm on southern hemisphere of Aite will be biggest since 2083... specials at Vaelik Amavala include exquisite dishes for amino and dextro... no way it's authentic... as innocent as a baby...


None of it made sense.  Some of it wasn't even translatable by his omnitool.
"I don't understand," Garrus said quietly, his mandibles twitching.
"Give David a moment," Nasa urged.  A few minutes passed and then David shook his head.
"Another sample," he said, and Nasa swiped another portion onto the larger screen.  Garrus once again found nothing and after several minutes David asked for another.  This time, David smiled right away.
"Here she is, here she is, here she is," he muttered.  He used the interface on the holovid to move the text closer to him and highlighted three sentences.  "Here she is."
Garrus read the text.
I'm weaker, but I understand.  He'll make it easier to stay connected.  I hope you work quickly.
Nasa worked at the terminal to log and timestamp the sentences.
"...I don't get it," Garrus admitted.  "How do you know that text is different than any of the other text?  And just because it's different doesn't mean it's Shepard."
"The stream was discovered a few months after the Cynosure, when we were looking to access the Catalyst," Nasa began.  "We can see that the Catalyst became dormant at the time of the Cynosure.  The Catalyst and stream aren't the same thing, but are connected.  Most of these are observational thoughts, like someone reading a book.  There are some that actually originate from within the stream and began at the same time and seems to have a deeper link to the Catalyst.  David detected it first and can naturally pick it out, almost as if he recognizes it..."


"So you guys have been digging through the stream and separating the thoughts of this unique signature from the others?  Manually?" Garrus asked, his mind spinning.
"Through melds I've understood David better than he's able to communicate.  I created a program that could also recognize the unique signature, but it's not as accurate as David himself.  Still, it did speed things along much faster than if we'd done it on our own," Nasa told him.
"And the timeline combined with the content is what led you to believe that it could be Shepard?" he asked.  Nasa nodded, and Lyric stepped forward again.
"The dreams you've been having?  David has had them, too," the Councilor told him.  "He shared them with Nasa, who brought them to Hackett since he oversaw the Crucible work, and he brought it to me."
"Shepard asked me for help," David said, turning away from the wall and back towards the others.
"She asked you in a dream?" Garrus asked.
"Yes," he nodded.  "She didn't know what kind of help she needs... but I do."
"And you and Hackett felt it was plausible enough to take action just from a dream?" Garrus inquired, turning to Councilor Lyric.
"We were already devoting resources to studying the Cynosure," she pointed out.  "When the stream was discovered, we simply created a more specialized task force and brought them here.  Higher security clearances, of course, due to the... sensitive nature of the project."
Garrus lowered his gaze and was quiet for a long time, trying to integrate this information into his mind.  The Vakarian C-Sec side of him was putting together all the pieces.  Finally, he looked up again, slowly.


"Can you... talk to it?  Like have an actual conversation?" he asked quietly.
"Difficult," David replied, frowning.  "The stream flows so quickly.  Catching the response at the right time would not be efficient for discussion.  Not sure if she perceives time the same, either.  Even in dreams, she seems... fragmented."
"...I see."  He thought for a long moment again, looking at the screen with the highlighted words supposedly belonging to Shepard.  "...then, if I'm all caught up, and this is where we're at..." he began, gesturing vaguely at the entire lab, "...where do we go from here?  Why bring me in now?"
For a moment Councilor Lyric's smile faltered, and she shifted uncomfortably.  Brant re-entered the room and she gestured towards a smaller conference room.
"Let's go somewhere we can take a seat and get some refreshments, shall we?" she suggested.  "Brant, will you watch the room for me, please?"
Brant nodded and stood outside the door after Lyric, Nasa, David, and Garrus filtered in.  Garrus knew immediately that the room change was deliberate for bigger reasons than convenience, but knew better than to ask about it right then.  Nasa and David began mixing some hot drinks for all of them as Lyric took a seat around a table, pulling the chair out to more easily face everyone.  Garrus settled in a chair against the wall and clasped his hands together, resting his forehead on them as he stared at the floor.
"What exactly is the game plan?" he prompted.
"We need this unique signature, whether it's Shepard or not, out.  It's a vulnerability that leads directly to the Catalyst.  The stream is fairly easily detected and whoever is in there is getting into things it shouldn't, like our dreams and your incident at Spectre Status.  It's created a weakness in the Citadel and Crucible systems that we cannot allow to continue," Lyric explained.
"Which is a more acceptable cover story than 'we wanted to bring Shepard back from the dead, again'," he couldn't help commenting, giving Lyric a pointed look.
"Yes, it is," she replied, matching his gaze.


"How would you begin to get that unique signature out?  And where would it go after?" he asked.
"It's almost like a form of digital surgery," Nasa explained, handing Lyric a drink and taking a seat.  David quietly laughed at the phrase as he gave Garrus his drink and also sat down nearby.
"Essentially, we'll be providing a separate, more secure space for it, like a hosting server, and hoping it goes there.  At the same time, we'll be programming the server to, in a way, organize the code so that we can work with it more directly."
"You'll be so surprised," David giggled into his drink.
"We've already begun this process, but aren't quite ready to invite it in yet," Nasa added.
"It will be easier to convince her if you're here," David said, smiling at Garrus.  "She talks about you a lot.  She loves you."
"He's right," Nasa said gently as Garrus's mandibles twitched uncomfortably.  "Regardless of whether that consciousness is Shepard, a part of her, was created through her, or isn't her at all... it watches you very closely and does seem to love you."
"I... don't know how to feel about someone that isn't Shepard loving me," Garrus admitted.
"That's okay," Lyric assured him.  "We don't know exactly what to expect."
"I'm going to let her choose.  But I don't know what she will choose," David said.
"Choose what?" Garrus asked.
"What form she wants to take," he replied.  When no explanation came, Garrus looked curiously to Nasa, who just shrugged.
A quiet moment passed as they all sipped on their teas and juices.


"What is my job here now, then?" Garrus asked suddenly.  "Or am I just the lure for this consciousness?"
"You're mostly the lure," Lyric replied, with a small smirk.
"We'll continue finalizing the program, and you're moral support.  If this consciousness does end up being even part of Shepard, we thought it would be good to have you here," Nasa added.
"And she'll want to see you!" David said with excitement.
"Great," Garrus grumbled, and quickly took three large gulps of his drink.  "I hate waiting around doing nothing."
"Sorry we don't have anything for you to shoot here," Lyric chuckled.  "But it should only be a few days, correct?"
"At most, yes, that is when the program will be ready," Nasa said.  "As far as when the process will begin or how long it will take, that we are unsure of."
"You'll be so surprised," David giggled again.  Once again Garrus looked to Nasa, his expression perplexed.
"It's not uncommon for David to know something we don't," she said with a smile.  "He hides some things from even me, but it's almost always good news.  Think of it like he's preparing a gift for you.  Once he ordered a giant feast for all of the staff; we had no idea it was coming until he had to give the caterer security clearance."
"That was a good day," David said with a contented sigh.


"Well, Garrus, I'm sure you need some time to let this all soak in," Lyric said as she stood.
"That... does sound like a good idea," he admitted with a sigh, also getting to his feet.  "Will you be staying on the station?"
"Brant and I plan to be here unless something else comes up that needs urgent attention," Lyric replied.  She opened the door to the room and Brant turned to greet her.  "Will you send Garrus the floor plan of the station so he knows his way around?" she asked the salarian.
"Of course."
After a few seconds of fiddling with his omnitool, Garrus had a map of the facility.  He assured the others he could find his way around on his own and dismissed himself, feeling a little overwhelmed by all the information and discussion.  Soon he was heading down a hall towards the room highlighted for him.  While focused on his omnitool, he accidentally collided with a researcher coming around a corner.  They dropped their data pad but Garrus caught it as a reflex.
"Sorry, I'm new--"
He froze, hand out offering the data pad, staring into the face of Xanossi.  Her expression was mostly neutral, eyes only slightly narrowed, as she slowly took the data pad with one hand.
"Garrus.  How was your time in Palaven?" she asked casually.
"Uh, it was... great," he stuttered, rubbing the back of his neck as his mandibles fluttered repeatedly.  "When did you get here?"
"Shortly after you left," she said.  "They aired footage of your welcome home during the Cyno-versary.  I requested a transfer, as most of the non-classified research has come to a dead end for now, and I was bored."
"Oh..."


There was a pause, but Xanossi didn't let it draw out for long.
"I need to bring some reports to a colleague," she announced.
"Oh, uh, right, I'll... let you go," Garrus mumbled, stepping out of her way.
"See you around."
Xanossi walked past him and went on her way, and Garrus watched her go.  He knew he probably owed her some kind of apology, but he truly couldn't get his mind to think of one in that moment.  Maybe the next time he saw her, after he'd had some time to process, he would do his best to clear the air with her.
He sighed and continued down the hall, eventually finding his room.  It was indeed small, almost like a personal barracks.  A cot in the corner, a desk, and a shower that was barely bigger than a cryo pod were the only comforts.  He guessed he'd be eating at the cafeteria the researchers were using.  He made a mental note to look for that on the map later.
Garrus sat on the cot, his bag of things next to him.  Just to reassure himself, he opened it up and took a quick glance through it.  A couple weapons, a few casual outfits, his armor as condensed down as possible (he liked to always be prepared), hygiene necessities, the box of Shepard's things, and not much else.  Of course, he did leave a few other things at his father's house, like his formal outfits, but there wasn't much there either.  Garrus liked it that way; or rather, he was used to it being that way.
Feeling unable to devote mental energy to much else, he reclined on the cot (thankfully well stocked with cushions) and closed his eyes, allowing himself a mental break in the form of a quick nap.

Chapter Text

Let the fire surround us, let it all cave in, let it all burn wild
We are leaving it all behind, we are leaving it all behind
Heaven is here

We are tangled and brave
We are leaking and saved
When heaven's not waiting, it's spilling its secrets
It's right here between us, and we've no other choice but believe

Heaven Here by Dashboard Confessional

*****

It did not take Garrus long to realize he was going to go absolutely crazy if he didn't get off the station soon.  It was about the same size as the Normandy, but the size didn't bother him; it was that he had no idea what to do with himself.  There wasn't really any active contribution he needed to be making and he hated it.  On the Normandy at least he could tinker with things, but he didn't have any way to help the equipment here.  He knew numbers and tech better than most, but nothing about what they were messing with.
He did find a kind of lounge and hung out there for a while, but there wasn't much socializing to be done.  Even though there were people he knew on the station, he didn't feel like he really knew what to say to any of them.  He'd communicated briefly with Liara, as well as Vega who was about to go into the N7 program and only have sporadic opportunities to connect.
He didn't know if he just had terrible timing or if she was avoiding him, but he'd had no luck catching Xanossi for an actual conversation.  Other than talking to Brant for a while and managing to lose track of time watching a comedy vid in the lounge, he'd spent most of the time bored out of his mind.
About 30 hours after arriving at the research station, he sat on his cot reading the excerpts Lyric had sent him.  He'd probably gone through them at least fifteen times already, trying to create a connection with this entity he was struggling to understand.  He finished it and closed the file with a heavy sigh, and that was when he realized something he'd been too preoccupied to focus on before.
He sent a comm to David on a channel he'd gotten access to shortly after arriving.


"David, I have a question," he began.
"I'm listening," came the cheerful reply.
"Is this entity... she... in danger?  There's mentions of being lost, or being weak, or hurt...  What does that mean?"
"Mmm, I don't think she's comfortable there anyway, but something else has found her," David said grimly.  "Something dangerous."
"What is it?  Can we stop it?" Garrus asked urgently.
"It will no longer be a threat when we have her.  Good news!  We're done!"  David's tone became cheery again.  "Nasa, tell him about it!"
"Hello Garrus," Nasa began.  Garrus could hear David muttering excitedly in the background still.  "I've just realized that what we've been working on is almost like a reverse-function of the Crucible.  The Crucible gathered a large amount of energy and sent it throughout the universe in the form of the Cynosure, creating the synthesis.  This process will take a smaller amount of energy and concentrate it into one single point.  We may see some power spikes on the station when the process occurs, but it won't be of the magnitude the Cynosure was, and won't interfere with synthesis effects."
"What happens if we lose power as this is happening?" he asked.
"That would not be ideal," Nasa admitted.  "Councilor Lyric ordered some hefty backup generators and they're being installed as we speak.  We're not sure exactly what we'll need, but we estimated very generously."


"So now... we wait?  For someone to show up?" he asked uneasily.
"Yes.  I'll send you a code for the room with access to the server.  We're keeping it very well secured.  Other than David, myself, and Councilor Lyric, the other staff don't even know where it is."
"Got it."
"Are you feeling tired, Garrus?" David suddenly asked.
"Er, why?" he questioned.
"We're ready.  Maybe if you dream, we will know if Shepard's ready," he replied, sounding eager.
"Ah... well, I'll see what I can do," Garrus mumbled.
They disconnected and Garrus paused for just a moment.  There probably wasn't much else he'd rather be doing, so he carefully placed his omnitool and visor on the floor next to the cot and reclined, getting as comfortable as he could.  He closed his eyes.
"What, no 'get ready to roll'?" he mumbled with a terse laugh.
There was no reply, and soon he resigned himself to sleep.


"Hey, Garrus."
Those words in that voice and that tone were enough to make his heart leap into his throat as he sucked in a breath.  She sounded equal parts exhausted and relieved, as if he'd just found her in the middle of trouble or after pulling off something 'impossible' and life-threatening.  He could hear her smile and contentment.  He imagined himself reaching down to help her up, about to make some light banter despite how battered they felt.  Something about it felt like it put his pieces back together.
Garrus involuntarily let out a whimper as he turned around, searching for her, but he could see nothing distinguishable around him.
"Where are you?" he called out against the emptiness.
"I don't know where she is."
He turned one more time and Shepard was behind him, jaw set as her eyes studied him closely.  She was once again in simple, casual clothes, her hair pulled back into a pony tail.  It was so much easier to be sure he was talking to Shepard when he was in the moment, but the uncertainty on her face threatened to confuse him as well.  Still, something told him he needed to be a solid foundation for her.
"Maybe you are her," he insisted, his tone pleading, stepping towards her form.  "Who else would you be?"
"...I don't know," she admitted.
"You have her shape, her eyes, her voice..."  Garrus was close enough to reach her and gently grasped her hand.  It felt more real than ever.
"I know how to find her DNA," she grumbled, as if admitting to stealing a candy bar from a store.  Garrus paused, unsure exactly what that meant.  He brought his free hand to the wrist he was holding and swept it up, pushing up the sleeve.
"You have her scars," he told her.  On the top of her forearm was a subtle, broad stroke of lightened skin from getting flanked by a pyrotechnic.  Shepard stared at it as if it were a puzzle.  "I know them.  Your DNA doesn't."  He released her hand and gently tugged on the collar of her shirt.  A deeper scar just above her right collarbone, from a fall out of a tree during N7 training.  "Shepard's body knows them too."  As much as Garrus craved every part of her, he forced his eyes to meet her gaze again.  "Do you have these when you're in other people's dreams?"
"...I think I do," she whispered, then shook her head.  "But I don't remember.  Why don't I remember these scars, that life?  All I remember is you."  She looked down and Garrus moved forward, pressing his forehead on hers and letting out a comforting purr.


"Do you remember saving my life on Omega?  Do you remember finding me on Menae?  Do you remember swimming alone on a remote corner of Aite?" he asked.
"I remember those moments, but I don't know they're my memories," she said, beginning to sound exasperated.  Garrus paused, trying to think of some way to untangle her.
"...the necklace.  You said you loved it," he said, gently lifting her chin to look at him.  "How did you know you loved the nacklace?"
Shepard's brow furrowed as she thought, then her eyes widened slightly.  She had just begun to smile when another voice spoke.
"It's now or never."
Garrus went rigid.
"Xanossi?"  He looked around, but couldn't see anyone else.
"Oh no--" Shepard gasped and recoiled away from Garrus.
"Then now it is."
Suddenly it was like a thousand voices, booming and echoing and crashing through like a cacophonous ambush.  The ground seemed to be shaking and lights flashed sporadically from no where.  Garrus grimaced and he heard someone crying out.  He focused again and saw that it wasn't coming from Shepard.
"I'm used to it... but I have to go.  I don't know what will happen if they get me," she told him, somehow able to get her concerned voice through the onslaught.  Garrus was cringing, the noise beginning to hurt, but suddenly remembered what he needed to say.
"Here, on the station.  It's ready for you.  David made... something, somewhere for you to go," he grunted.
"He hasn't told you what it does," Shepard hissed.  "I'm afraid of it."
"We can trust David, can't we?" he asked.  "And we can trust each other."
"You--"  The voices thundered and this time Shepard winced.  "I have no other choice.  Please be there."


With a jolt Garrus woke, his heart beating fast, tears he didn't know he was producing in his eyes.  But something was wrong; the flashing was coming from an alert in the station, and his room was rumbling.  He could hear voices on his omnitool and quickly swiped it and his visor off the ground, equipping them as he got to his feet.
"Can we get there?  Why is it locked?" Lyric was asking in alarm.  Garrus continued to listen as he rushed down the halls to the room where Shepard's new server was supposed to be.  The station was certainly struggling to keep up with the power demands and Garrus didn't know how much more to expect, or even what it was really doing.
"--coming!  She's coming!"  David sounded the opposite of concerned; Garrus could even hear him clapping his hands.
"Oh, Goddess...  David, how did you--" Nasa didn't finish the thought.
"It's perfect, it's perfect.  She'll be perfect."
"Garrus, are you listening?" Nasa asked.
"Yes, I'm headed to the server room," he said.
"Good.  I know what he's done, but I--"
A loud droning noise began and made Garrus stagger as the entire station groaned and shifted.  He didn't know if Nasa had stopped talking or if he could no longer hear her.  He reached the server door and before he even attempted to enter a code, it swung open.  Garrus winced against the sudden blinding light coming from inside, and the figure he'd glimpsed in front of it grabbed his arm and yanked him into the room, down onto the floor and under a desk that shielded them both from the light.
"Do you have your gun?"
Garrus blinked as his eyes focused on Xanossi before him, her expression serious and expectant.
"Yes-- why?  What's happening?" he asked, raising his voice over the electric roar.
"This isn't stable.  You need to destroy the server," she told him.


"What?!"  Garrus already knew something was wrong, but now he could feel it in his gut.  Whatever was happening was too important; this might be the only chance they had.
"We can't risk it tearing the station apart!" she shouted.  Garrus looked at his omnitool and tried to see if it would connect with the others, but it was malfunctioning, probably from interference.  He didn't want to interrupt the process, but he also didn't want to risk everyone's lives...
"Are you telling me we'll all be spaced if I don't?" he asked.  The light pulsed and the station thundered again.
"What do you think?!" Xanossi fired back.  Garrus's mind was racing; what was truly at risk here?  Was it possible Lyric and all the researchers were so underprepared for this?  David seemed to have a secret; could he have pushed the limits and endangered everyone?  But what would destroying this device mean for Shepard?  It didn't feel right.
"I can't," he eventually said, barely able to make his voice heard over the buzzing.  Something flashed across Xanossi's face that he'd never seen there before: anger.  He wasn't given a chance to think about what to do next.  The brightness began to regulate, and dimmed enough that they no longer had to squint under the desk.
Garrus scrambled out and to his feet, daring to look at the source of the light.  He could now see some terminals and monitors throughout the room.  The beam was a wall of illumination in the corner, still humming loudly.  It reminded him of the smaller mass relays on Ilos and the Citadel, except even brighter and it seemed to have some sort of depth and dimension, like he was not just looking at the light, but somehow in to it.  He couldn't seem to look away.
Then he could feel something.  Tingling, buzzing, on his body in addition to the frequencies coming from the light.  But why couldn't he move...?  He didn't even realize it was a biotic stasis field until he felt someone remove his pistol and his stomach turned.


Xanossi stepped forward into view, one hand stretched out towards him, the other pointing the pistol at one of the terminals.  She fired three times.
Garrus wanted to roar and tackle her to the floor, and he tried.  Being unable to move with no outlet for his fury was almost physically painful.  The terminal sparked, burst, and smoked, but to both of their bewilderment, the beam of light remained unaffected.  Xanossi spoke, but Garrus didn't know to who.
"I... I don't know if--"
There was a flicker near-- no, in the light, and Xanossi snapped her attention, and her aim, back into focus.  Garrus could barely comprehend what happened next, and for a moment, thought he was losing his mind.  Despite the inconceivability, it appeared rather simple: Shepard stepped out of the light.
She was naked, unharmed, and her eyes were squeezed shut.  Her legs wavered and she fell to her knees, her chest heaving like she'd been holding her breath for almost too long.  Her eyes slowly opened, barely visible through the strands of blonde hair cascading down around her face.
Xanossi's mouth was hanging open and Garrus's heart was pounding louder than the droning from the light.
"Goddess," Xanossi finally whispered.  "She's here.  Literally in the flesh..."
Slowly and carefully, Shepard rose back to her feet.  She squared herself with Xanossi and the pistol, stance firm, jaw set, eyes narrowed.  Garrus's heart leapt into his chest.  Every inch of her skin was familiar, and he'd recognize the soul behind that stance anywhere.  Again he fought against the stasis and Xanossi flinched as she tightened her hold on him.
"I don't believe it.  Both of you here, together again..."  Xanossi's tone was incredulous, almost wistful.  Shepard's eyes narrowed and she shook her head slightly.
"I don't understand," she stated.
"Security's too tight for an evac," Xanossi said, and Garrus realized she was talking through some kind of comm.
"I don't understand what you're saying," Shepard repeated.
"Her translator's broken," Xanossi realized.
For the first time, Shepard looked past the asari and locked eyes with Garrus.  She went rigid and her eyes widened.
"...I'm on my own, then."  Xanossi's posture slightly slumped.


Suddenly there was a thud from behind Garrus, and Xanossi whipped her head around to look at the door.  After that, everything happened very fast.
Garrus took advantage of her distraction and fought against the stasis with everything he had, and at the same time Shepard quickly gripped Xanossi's wrist and the pistol, effortlessly retrieving the weapon and taking a step back, pointing it at the asari.  Garrus staggered as the stasis released him and Brant darted past, attaching some kind of device to Xanossi's wrist and restraining her.  Shepard watched as Brant moved Xanossi away from her without too much of a struggle, then dropped her hand with the pistol back down to her side.
Garrus only had eyes for Shepard.  He removed his top and stepped closer, moving slowly and still unsure what to expect.
"Shepard...?" he mumbled, almost not getting his hopes up for a response out of habit.  She looked at him and gave a tired smile that made all the tension melt out of him.  He couldn't help but purr as he placed his shirt over her shoulders like a robe.  Shepard pulled the sides together, then held up the pistol, looking it over.
"This is yours, isn't it?" she said, and offered it to him.
"Yes."  Garrus carefully took it and placed it back in the holster at his waist.
"I'm sorry, I still don't understand what anyone is saying... but I trust you," she told him, and brought herself closer.  Garrus put one arm around her, then another, and closed his eyes as he rested his head next to hers.  He took in a deep breath of her scent, trying to convince himself this was really happening.  The more he touched her, the more he felt whole.
Then his eyes snapped open, suddenly hyper-aware of the attention focused on them.  Lyric had also entered the room and was giving them a lot of space, but staring at Shepard and Garrus, looking completely dumb-founded but also elated.  Nasa had a similar expression, and David was giggling but covering his eyes at Shepard's state of undress.  Garrus's gaze bounced between all of them.  A sitrep was the last thing on his mind at the moment, but he knew that's what the circumstances were calling for.  He cleared his throat.
"Xanossi was talking to someone.  Brief tech and physical security," he began, not sure why he was suddenly the one in charge, but he was.  Lyric gave a nod to Brant and he escorted Xanossi out of the room.  The asari didn't meet anyone's gaze, resigned and compliant.  "Shepard's translator doesn't seem to be functioning.  She can't understand us.  And... I think my omnitool is broken," he finished lamely.


"Her translator wasn't organic.  It didn't come with her," David explained simply.  "She'll need a new one placed."  Lyric stepped forward to address Garrus, but made sure to still give them a wide berth.  She must know a thing or two about turian's territorial tendencies.
"She... emerged from that?" she asked, gesturing to the beam of light still loudly humming beside them.
"Just... walked out," Garrus replied incredulously with a small nod.  "She sounded like she was catching her breath at first, and stumbled... but I don't think she's hurt or uncomfortable."
"I had no idea David's plan to isolate her included creating a physical body..." Nasa said, shaking her head and laughing.  "I don't know exactly how he did it, but could probably figure it out eventually."
"Shepard helped.  She had to work on her side," David said, then grinned.  "I thought it would be best as a surprise."
"What do we do with it now?" Lyric asked.
"...I don't know," David replied.
"We should probably deactivate whatever it is," Nasa commented.  "I think you can uncover your eyes, David."  David slowly spread his fingers, saw Shepard was covered (at least mostly), and dropped his hands.  He grinned wide.
"Hello, Shepard.  Welcome back.  I'm so glad you made it," he said.  Shepard smiled at him, understanding his tone at the very least.  Brant came back into the room without Xanossi.
"Miss Jannure is with station security.  They've been told to be on high alert just in case, though I don't think she'll be trouble," he told Lyric, who thanked him.
Just when Garrus thought things were ready to settle down, he felt Shepard flinch in his arms before leaning more of her weight against him.  He looked down at her as his mandibles flared; something felt off.


"I don't... feel good," she murmured, and Garrus watched as her eyes rolled back and her legs buckled underneath her.
"Shepard?  Shepard!"  He swiftly adjusted his arms to support her as she went completely limp.  Then spasms shook through her and Garrus knelt down as he struggled to keep her within his arms.
"What's happening?!" he demanded of those around him.  Lyric and Nasa both crouched down nearby as David's hands once again went to his eyes.
"I think she's having a seizure," Lyric said urgently.
"What do we do?!" Garrus exclaimed.
"This isn't a medical station, our resources are limited," Lyric replied.  Nasa turned to David.
"Go get Jeucrae, Salvador, and Tika.  Tell them we need to stabilize and monitor brain activity in a human female," she ordered.  David nodded, turned, and rushed out of the room.
"Is she--"
"I have a granddaughter who has had seizures," Lyric interrupted Garrus's concern with a tone of comfort.  "They are worrisome but can be managed.  You are not going to lose her," she said firmly.  Garrus forced his breathing to steady and drew from the surety in Lyric's eyes as he fought to keep Shepard from falling out of his arms.
"Security has just told me someone is trying to dock," Brant said suddenly.
"Hostile?" she asked.
"No, Rabbit, they say they're a medical crew that got assignment here.  Dr. Chakwas is among them."
For a moment everyone just stared at each other.
"...well let them through!" Garrus said, the first to come to his senses.
"Did you assign that?" Lyric asked, turning to Nasa.
"No, I had no idea we might even have need for... something like this," she admitted, shaking her head.  "Maybe David...?"
"Well let's get them on the station and get Shepard somewhere else," Lyric said, standing and stepping back.  "What room can we make space in and secure quickly?"
"Come with me," Nasa replied, and stood and led the way out of the room.  Lyric followed.  Carefully, Garrus got a secure grip on Shepard's twitching body and lifted her back up.  Brant rushed forward to support, but Garrus instinctively growled at him.  Brant held up his hands passively, showing him he wasn't touching, but stayed close by and spotting just in case as Garrus moved out of the room.


He followed Nasa and Lyric to another wing of the research station, into a room that had much less equipment.  A lone salarian was working in there when they entered, but Lyric quickly dismissed him and told him not to come back without permission.  Garrus crouched again in a corner, holding Shepard tightly to him, and looking very much the protector.  Shortly after he sat down, her spasms stopped and she slumped against him.  Lyric knelt down close by and he once again looked to her in alarm.
"She's okay," she told him.  "Feel her breathing?  She's just unconscious."  Garrus focused hard on Shepard's breathing, the beating of her heart, and slowly nodded.  "Be ready.  Sometimes, they come and go in waves," she said gently.  Garrus nodded again and Lyric once again gave them some space.
David soon came in with the three technicians he had been sent to retrieve, but Lyric and Nasa caught them at the door.  They explained the situation in hushed tones, deciding it best to leave Shepard as she was for the time being.  A couple minutes later Shepard stirred again.
"...Garrus?" she mumbled, her eyes fighting to open.  "My head hurts again..."
"It's okay," Garrus hushed softly, stroking her hair with one hand.  "Councilor Lyric says you're going to be okay.  I don't know if you know who she is... but I say you're going to be okay."
"You sound funny," she grumbled.  Garrus started to chuckle, but Shepard suddenly tensed like an electric shock went through her and began spasming again.  Garrus adjusted his grip on her and looked up at Lyric and the others helplessly.
It felt like forever, but soon new faces were coming into the room, pushing a medical bed and many different monitors and equipment.  Garrus waited until he saw Chakwas.  The Normandy Elect doctor spoke briefly with Councilor Lyric, then caught sight of him with Shepard in the corner.  Even from the other side of the room, he could see the shock and bewilderment clearly on her face.  Garrus stood carefully and Chakwas rushed to him.


"Get her to the bed," she whispered, staring at Shepard in disbelief, tears in her eyes.  Just after she spoke Shepard calmed again, and getting her over to the monitors was a simpler task.  It was difficult for Garrus to turn her care over to the personnel, but he knew he had little choice.  They placed monitors over her heart and many on her head, then put a hospital robe over her and some blankets.  Garrus kept his shirt over her and didn't let go of her hand as they worked.  Most discussions were kept quiet despite the busyness, perhaps especially sensitive to Garrus's protective tendencies.  His eyes followed everyone who came close like a hawk, and no one forgot that he still had a pistol at his hip.
Shepard had another seizure.  It lasted longer despite being given some kind of medication to calm them.  The medical staff seemed to be mostly collecting data, but Garrus didn't bother asking questions.  He'd spent so much time trying to understand Shepard's position before, that now, seeing her in front of him and mostly stable, he no longer felt the need to know every detail.
He didn't know exactly how much time had passed, but enough had to lead Dr. Chakwas to believe that they were past the worst of it.  Shepard had stayed unconscious but seemed comfortable.
"I need to speak to you," Garrus eventually announced, standing but keeping hold of Shepard's hand.  "Without the other staff."
"I understand," Chakwas replied.  She dismissed the other assistants and only Lyric, Brant, David, and Nasa remained in the room, but were not in the immediate area.  Chakwas stood before him, and for a moment they both just stared at Shepard.  Chakwas began to sniffle, wrestling with all the emotions Garrus had spent time with over the past few days.  Garrus took his free hand and placed it on the doctor's shoulder, though truthfully felt just as vulnerable.
"...I know I can't hug her right now.  I'm just so happy to see her.  Can I hug you?" Chakwas choked out.  Garrus let out a chuckle and pulled her close to him, and she gave him a warm embrace.  Once Chakwas had composed herself, she stepped back and wiped at her eyes.
"Right.  Back to business," she said while clearing her throat.  "What do you need?"


"I want to know if there's anything else about her that's different...  She doesn't have a translator, and David said something about her translator not being organic, so it didn't come back with her," he said, speaking quietly as his mandibles twitched.  "We don't really know how this body was created.  It looks to be Shepard's DNA, and she has the same scars...  But does she still have her Cerberus upgrades?  What else is altered?"
"We can find out about the cybernetics easily enough," Chakwas said thoughtfully.  "But I can see this is bothering you.  Why?  Did she say anything that seemed off or unusual?"  She raised a brow at the turian.
"She didn't say a lot, but--... oh.  No..."
Garrus sunk back down into his chair, his mandibles flaring.  He stared at nothing, and then Shepard again, trying to swallow the lump that had risen his throat.
"What?  What's wrong?" Chakwas asked.
"She... I..."  Garrus covered his face with one hand and took a deep breath, collecting his thoughts enough to speak.  "The version of her that I've been talking to doesn't know that she is Shepard.  I don't always know she's Shepard.  She knows about many parts of her life, and my memories, but she doesn't have ownership of it.  That... diluted version is what's familiar to me, so it didn't even register that she wasn't herself..."
"What do you mean?" Chakwas asked, clearly confused.  Garrus paused as he tried to think of the best way to explain it.
"...when she first appeared, someone was pointing a gun at her.  She knew how to be cautious and get the weapon away from the asari when she got distracted.  But Commander Shepard, a Shepard who knows who she is, would've had more to say, even if she couldn't understand us.  It was like her physical and combat skills are all here, but... Shepard's personal touch is not."
"Perhaps she was just disoriented?" Chakwas offered.
"Maybe... she hasn't really been conscious enough to be sure.  Not to mention she can't understand us," Garrus admitted, rubbing the back of his neck.
"We'll get an omnitool to translate for us when she wakes up and then we can get some more answers," Chakwas said.  "The Councilor has told me she's already got some clothes in Shepard's size and an official translator on the way for us to install, but I think it would be smart to talk to Shepard first and make sure there's not anymore seizures."


"Do you know why she's having them?" Garrus asked.
"It's kind of like an electrical malfunction in the brain," she began.  "From what I understand, she was organic with synthetic upgrades, and then existed only energetically and synthetically, and is now purely organic again.  My hope is that her body will soon regulate on it's own.  Worst case scenario, seizure disorders are very manageable with treatment."
"Okay."  Garrus nodded, feeling assured by this explanation.  "There's one other thing I need to know.  How well do you know the assistants you brought with you?  Do you trust them?" he asked seriously.
"Dayton and Loretta are both Alliance blue with long tenures," Chakwas explained.  "I've only met them after the Cynosure.  Loretta and I occasionally go out for drinks and I know her quite well.  Dayton, less so, but I can't think of a time I've felt uneasy about him."
"We had someone stationed here that I think was trying to sabotage Shepard's safety," Garrus said simply.  "I don't know if we've even figured out why, but she... got close."
"An anti-syn, perhaps?" Chakwas asked.  Garrus just shrugged.  "If that's the case, I wouldn't worry about that.  Both Loretta and Dayton have been very opposed and uninterested in that propaganda."
"I'll be staying close, even so," he told her.
"Of course."


Councilor Lyric caught Garrus's eye and looked as if she had something she wanted to say.  He nodded and gestured for her and the others to join the conversation.
"What's our security situation?" he asked as they got close.
"Xanossi isn't speaking at all," Brant told him.  "Her biotics are neutralized, and we didn't find any kind of device she may have been communicating through...  We may be dealing with an internal transmitter, which speaks of a concerning level of dedication."
"I'll think of something to do with her later," Garrus sighed.  He honestly was not ready for that conversation.  "What about the light portal thing?"
"It's gone," Nasa replied.  "We deactivated it."
"It wouldn't have let anything else pass through anyway," David said.
"You knew Shepard would walk out, physically the same as she used to be?" Garrus asked.
"Were you surprised?" David asked with a grin.
"I was expecting something like an AI," he admitted.
"Shepard helped.  She worked on it from her side.  It was her surprise, too," David said proudly.
"And did you bring Dr. Chakwas here?" Lyric asked him.
"I didn't think Shepard might not be well..." David answered sheepishly, wringing his hands and looking away.  "I think Shepard sent them a message."
"Oh!  I hadn't considered that.  Perhaps we should ask," Lyric mumbled.
"Our summons was rather vague and uncoordinated," Chakwas informed them.


Shepard's fingers twitched in Garrus's hand.  Garrus squeezed them reflexively and looked down just as she was opening her eyes.  Her brow furrowed and she shifted uncomfortably as she saw all the eyes on her and felt the monitors on her head.
"What's going on?" she asked groggily.
"It's okay, we're just keeping an eye on you," Garrus said, leaning in closer and putting his other hand over hers as well.  Chakwas stepped forward with an omnitool and ear piece.  Shepard relaxed a little when she saw her and sat up straighter, taking the ear piece and omnitool.  She already knew what to do with them, quickly getting them set up and giving a nod.
"How are you feeling?" Chakwas asked.
"Tired," Shepard replied after thinking about it for a moment.  "And... hungry.  I had forgotten what hungry feels like."
"Brant, would you mind...?" Lyric asked over her shoulder.  Brant just nodded and then left the room to fetch some sustenance.
"It will likely take some time for all of us to understand what exactly you went through," Nasa commented.
"Do you know who we all are?" Lyric asked Shepard.
"I've... been watching, and following developments.  Introductions aren't necessary," Shepard replied.
"How much do you remember?" Nasa asked.  Garrus was glad he wasn't the one that had to ask.
"It's broken," she answered, frowning.  "Bits and pieces."


David darted forward and raised up his omnitool, distracting Shepard as Garrus turned his head away.  He kept holding her hand but he didn't want her to see his mandibles flaring in disappointment.  Just before David pressed a button, he paused.
"May I scan your brain?  You won't feel it," he said.  Shepard nodded and he did so.
"Ugh," David grumbled as he looked at the results.  He stepped away from the group and began pacing as he studied the image.  "No, no, no, no.  That's not right.  It didn't execute right!  Almost perfect again... almost perfect.  Ugh!"
"Er, please don't panic, sometimes David is very expressive," Nasa said, waving her hands to calm the alarm on the other's faces.  "I'll talk to him."  She stepped away and began directing David further from the group.  She calmed him down and they quietly discussed the scans.
The long pause that followed grated on Garrus's nerves more than any other silence ever had.  This was exactly the time that Shepard would normally have some light-hearted, sarcastic remark to address and diffuse the tension; but she was silent.  He still held her hand tightly but was scared to look at her and see the emptiness there.  He instead looked to Chakwas, who seemed to understand what was going through his mind.  Even Lyric was beginning to fidget.


Brant entered the room balancing two trays just as Garrus couldn't hold his breath any longer.  He set one down on a small table beside Shepard, within her reach, and she thanked him.
"It's just snacks, but I'm happy to bring more of whatever you prefer," Brant said.  "There's some for you too," he added to Garrus.
"Assuming the second tray is for the rest of us, why don't we give Shepard a bit more time to rest?  Her mind could use some quiet, I'm sure," Lyric suggested, gesturing that the rest of them go elsewhere.
"I'd like to be a bit more caught up on things as well," Chakwas admitted.
"I'd be happy to fill you in," Lyric said with a smile.  As they dismissed themselves, Chakwas gave Garrus a pointed look.  He knew what it meant: "stop being afraid and connect with her."
Finally, he brought his gaze back to Shepard.  She was looking at his hand gripping hers and seemed deep in thought.  He realized she probably needed that hand to eat, and yet couldn't bring himself to release it.


"...I am afraid to let go," she finally whispered, meeting his gaze with a small smile.  "It's silly, isn't it?"  Garrus managed a smile himself.
"Sometimes, I am afraid of silly things too," he admitted.  Shepard chuckled.
"Really?  Like what?" she challenged.
"Mostly calibrations," Garrus shrugged, clearing his throat and leaning back in his chair a bit.  Shepard laughed at that and Garrus let out a big breath, his shoulders relaxing.
"You know I like that about you," Shepard said with a grin.
"And I like that sometimes you're afraid to let go," he replied softly.  They shared a contented look as Shepard squeezed his hand, but the moment was interrupted by her stomach rumbling.
"...but I also think it's a good idea if you eat," Garrus added, and they both snickered.  Shepard finally let go of his hand and reached over the tray, passing a plate towards him as well and they shared the meal in quiet comfort.

Chapter Text

I'm finally waking up, a twist in my story
It's time I open up, and let your love right through me
That's what you get
When you see your life through someone else's eyes
That's what you get, that's what you get

So you see, this world doesn't matter to me
I'll give up all I had just to breathe
The same air as you till the day that I die
I can't take my eyes off of you

A Twist In My Story by Secondhand Serenade

*****

After getting some food in her, Shepard suddenly became very tired.  Dr. Chakwas wasn't worried about lethargy considering how little they understood about what her body had actually gone through.
Shepard's arrival had brought a strange transitional effect to the research station.  There was a lot still to discover about her experience, how it all worked, and where to go next... but having her there and resting seemed like a completion of some kind itself.
Councilor Lyric had begun dismissing some of the personnel now that there was no "stream of consciousness" to study or interact with.  Most were simply being reassigned back on the Citadel but would likely get a bit of shore leave before they had any new material to dive into.  Lyric was only sending away those who did not know Shepard had reappeared, in order to keep rumors to a minimum.
Their absence meant a room for Shepard was able to be easily arranged, and was ready for her as soon as they decided to stop monitoring her brain activity.  An Alliance-grade translator and some clothes for her had arrived, but Dr. Chakwas was waiting for her to wake up on her own before giving them to her.  Chakwas also determined that Shepard's Cerberus cybernetics were no longer present.  With the synthesis effects, it was likely her combat proficiency remained just as superb, meaning she mainly only lost some extra durability and vitality support.
David and Nasa had been in a different room, working.  Nasa relayed that there was not any dangerous health problem with Shepard, but they wanted to have more of a plan for going forward before they went into the details of what David's scan results had brought to light.


Shepard slept fitfully, twitching and whispering under her breath no matter how Garrus squeezed her hand or stroked her hair to calm her.  He had yet to leave her side for any reason, and hadn't even taken his shirt back despite Shepard having plenty of blankets for covering.
Their conversation so far had not been very extensive, but Garrus still couldn't help but notice the moments Shepard seemed a step behind him, or less engaging than he expected.  He tried to remind himself to be patient; she was still adjusting to being organic and mortal again... but he'd be lying if he said she seemed the same legendary, captivating, steadfast Commander Shepard he'd fought wars and fallen in love with.
When Shepard finally woke again, she seemed more alert than before.  Garrus's mandibles twitched as he watched her stretch and sit up.
"How are you feeling?" he asked.
"A lot more... normal," she replied.
"Were you dreaming?"
"I don't remember," she admitted with a small frown.  "Did it look like I was?"
"Yes."


Before they could say much more, Councilor Lyric approached and asked if Shepard were feeling up to some conversation with everyone to get a clearer foundation and direction.  Shepard sat up straighter and agreed, and soon Dr. Chakwas, Brant, Nasa, and David joined them.  Garrus got out of his seat and wandered off to the side, allowing some extra room for the others.
"Are you going somewhere?" Shepard asked him, her brow furrowing.
"Just stretching my legs," he told her.  It was true, but he was also feeling too anxious to sit still.  He needed to be able to pace and work out some of his nerves as he listened.  Shepard seemed only slightly assured, but Nasa drew her attention back to the others.
"Shepard, we'd like to start with what you remember.  You said you had been observing.  Were you aware of much that has transpired since the Cynosure?" she asked.
"I was aware of too much," she replied, cringing.  "It was so loud.  It felt like I was watching hundreds of movies at once.  I think I understood a lot of them at the time, but now I don't remember most of what I saw.  At some point, I saw the Normandy, and then Garrus, and I recognized him.  That was the first time I really cared about focusing my attention on anything.  I tried so hard to focus on him, but it was difficult before I got more accustomed to the noise."
"And that's how you were able to enter the dreams and talk with him, and eventually David?" Nasa asked.
"Yes.  I don't know the scientific reasons... but the more I focused on people, the closer I got, and the more they noticed me.  Garrus was so focused on Shepard... so I learned a lot about her and who she was close with, and who else might recognize her... me."  Her brow furrowed as she finished and she rubbed at her temples.


"You are Shepard.  Even if you don't know it," David told her.  Garrus realized David was the only one that consistently referred to her that way.
"Should we call you something other than Shepard?" Councilor Lyric asked gently.
"No," she shook her head.  "There's nothing else that feels familiar."
"What else feels familiar?" Dr. Chakwas inquired.  Shepard thought for a moment.
"The Normandy, and everyone associated with it.  I checked in on Admiral Hackett a lot too...  The pistol.  When I held Garrus's pistol, I knew that I knew everything about how to use it.  I think the same would go for many other firearms.  And I have knowledge of everything I did before.  I know about the systems, Alliance protocols, Citadel bureaucracy and all that," she said.
"What about Shepard's life before the war ended?" Nasa probed.  Shepard frowned again.
"All those major events... they feel like a book I've read a hundred times.  I know them so well I have them memorized, but I don't remember living them.  And I'm sure there's smaller moments I don't remember..." she drifted off and looked in Garrus's direction, but his back was to her.
"That's what we can see on the scans," David said sadly.
"David has told me the Crucible wasn't supposed to cost you your identity, or even your life," Nasa commented.
"It never took her life.  Just altered it," David interjected.
"We think the Catalyst may have been more of a factor than we accounted for, and it may hold the answers to restoring your memory... but there's still very little known about it," Nasa explained.


"There's no rush for any decisions to be made quickly, but I'd like to make sure you're thinking about what you would like to do next with your life," Councilor Lyric pointed out.  "We'll likely be watching closely, and there are some concerns with the Cynosure Reform Advocates, but with the galaxy at peace you'll have a lot more freedom."
"I hadn't even begun to consider that.  Thank you for telling me," Shepard said with a small smile and nod.  "Also, you should know that Xanossi is part of that group."  At that, Garrus whipped around and took a few steps closer.
"The anti-syns?  Xanossi is one of them?" he stammered, his hands clenching into fists.
"Yes," she replied, looking away uneasily.
"How do you know?" Lyric asked.
"She was... close with Garrus.  I watched her a lot, too, and the other anti-syns," she said, then looked to Garrus.  "She's also very close with the one you confronted.  Hyatt, I think?"  Garrus nodded and grumbled something under his breath, turning away again with a huff.
"Is there anything else you could tell us about them?" Lyric asked, her jaw clenching.
"I think they had some kind of similar plan to isolate me... not in the way David figured out, but I could feel them when I was... wherever I was.  Hyatt is manipulative and very bitter.  I know a few of his hideouts," Shepard replied.
"I'd like you to give that information to Brant," Lyric politely ordered.
"Of course."  Garrus's mandibles twitched at Shepard's official tone; her sitrep felt so familiar.


"I can talk to Xanossi and see if we get any other useful information, too," Garrus offered.
"Please don't," Shepard said quickly, then paused.  "I mean... please don't go anywhere until I can leave this room, too."
"...right.  I won't," he promised.
Brant stepped forward with an omnitool ready, and Dr. Chakwas gestured for Garrus to follow her towards the other side of the room.  Shepard watched them go, but turned back to Brant when she felt assured they weren't leaving completely.
"How goes connecting with Shepard?" Chakwas began quietly, busying herself and Garrus with making some more tea as an excuse to be removed from the group.
"I don't know," Garrus sighed.  "There's a turian saying: turian loyalty is only as strong as the one it's loyal to.  If she doesn't know who she is, who am I loyal to?  Even in Shepard's weakest moments, she always knew who she was."
"Hmm.  Turians don't lose their mental capacities in old age, do they?" she asked suddenly.
"No.  Sometimes injuries will cause that, but it is rare," he mumbled.
"The condition is very well managed now, but in humans, as we got older our brains used to deteriorate," she explained.  "We would become slow, forgetful, and struggle to comprehend ideas that used to be familiar to us.  In extreme cases, such as a disease called Alzheimers, elderly people would lose their memory to the point they forgot their spouses and children.  Some would even believe they were children again themselves."


"What happened to them?" Garrus asked, the idea sounding frightening.
"They would often stay in a special care facility until they passed away.  Some could spend years unstable and confused.  My grandmother did this, and it was so very sad to watch," Chakwas sighed.  "But my mother and I would visit her.  It didn't matter if she remembered us or not; we would do something with her to make her days a little brighter.  A few times, she remembered us and cried, so grateful we were there to remind her who she was and love her through it."
Garrus's shoulders felt heavy as Chakwas gave him a pointed look.
"I know Shepard's not the same and it's confusing, but this is not about turian loyalty.  This is about your love for her.  And you don't have to worry about that going to the wrong person, because she either died when the war ended, or is sitting in that bed waiting for you to lead her back to herself again."
Garrus turned and looked back to Shepard from across the room just as laughter erupted from the group.  The topic seemed to have shifted and it looked like Brant was enthusiastically telling a story that had David in stitches.  His laughter was infectious and the others were also wiping tears from their eyes or trying to catch their breath.
"Don't worry.  It will be much easier for you two to get comfortable together again when you can get off this station," Chakwas said, her scolding tone now gentle.  Garrus's mandibles flared.  Off the station, with Shepard?  And they could go anywhere in a peaceful galaxy, with no missions or obligations?  He'd dreamed of the possibility but it never seemed plausible and yet the option now stared him in the face and sent his heart racing.


He didn't realize Chakwas had left his side until he saw her approaching the other group with a tray of refreshments.  He startled and quickly turned to pick up the other tray from the small counter and then rejoined the group.
All seven of them spent close to an hour happily chatting and enjoying each other's company.  It was good for all of them to have somewhat normal socialization without too much business.
"How are you feeling, Shepard?  Are you tired?" Chakwas asked after the conversation lulled.
"I feel good," she said with a shrug.  "Even a little restless from being so stationary."
"Good, that's what I wanted to hear," Chakwas replied, standing and checking the monitors she was hooked up to.  "If you're feeling ready, I'd like to get your translator placed and then you can get dressed and we'll release you on your own recognizance."
"That sounds fantastic," Shepard said with a grin.
"Do you remember how the translator is placed?" Chakwas asked, preparing the translator chip, a numbing agent, a small surgical knife, and some bandages.
"I don't want to see!" David exclaimed, and quickly turned away.
"David gets squeamish," Nasa explained with a smile.  "We'll both get back to work."  She followed David and they both then left the room.


"I remember, but I was a child when I got it last time.  My parents were with me..." Shepard said to Chakwas, her face scrunched up as she wrestled with the memory.  Garrus's mandibles twitched and he stiffened.
"I know my mother died just before the end of the war," Shepard said quietly, catching his unease.  "I dont know if I've really processed it, but... I don't need to right now."
"Garrus, can we borrow your shoulder to brace her head?" Chakwas asked.  Garrus nodded and sat next to Shepard, facing her.  She rested her hands together in her lap and leaned forward, her forehead resting on his shoulder.  Garrus brought his head close and placed his hands over her forearms, gently stroking them with his fingers.  Very quickly she relaxed into him with a contented sigh that nearly made him shudder.
The translator attached near the base of the skull, and luckily the process was so common it was rather efficient.  Shepard only felt the numbing and was soon stitched back up with a small bandage just for some extra padding.  Chakwas removed the monitors on her and instead gave her a small device that would link to her omnitool and alert Chakwas of any abnormal brain activity.  Shepard then got dressed in what Councilor Lyric had ordered; just some casual lounge wear for now.  The shirt had an Alliance logo on it, which made Shepard smile.


Just as Garrus was putting his own shirt back on (which felt strange, after so long) Brant got his attention.
"The security keeping an eye on Xanossi tells me she has not eaten since we detained her," he said seriously.
"Apparently she's more of a radical than I would have ever expected," Garrus sighed.
"What will happen to her?" Shepard asked.
"Technically I'm not sure what charges we could even bring against her outside of tampering with Citadel sanctioned operations," Lyric admitted with a shrug.  "Unless we discover more illegal activities the Cynosure Reform Advocates participated in, and count her as an accomplice, it may only be a very short period of probation."
"Is there any information we need from her?" Garrus asked.
"I know nearly as much as she does about their operations, but if we could get her on our side, maybe she could persuade more of them to come forward," Shepard said.
"That sounds ideal," Lyric agreed.
"So the plan is... make nice?" Garrus grumbled, rubbing the back of his neck.  "I may have spoiled my chances at that a long time ago."
"I want to talk to her," Shepard announced.  "I know her."
"But... doesn't she hate you?" Garrus inquired, raising a brow.
"That's a lot simpler than how she feels about you," she replied with a slight smirk, causing Garrus to fidget uncomfortably.  "She's not dangerous right now, right?" she asked, turning back to Brant.
"She's unarmed and has a biotic dampener," Brant explained with a nod.  "She hasn't shown any hostility and seems rather... resigned."
"Of course she is," Shepard mumbled, pausing and looking at the floor.  After a moment she looked back up and to Garrus.  "Shall we go?"


"You want to talk to Xanossi now?" Garrus asked, his eyes widening.
"Sure.  She's not hostile, and I'd rather get it out of the way," she replied, rolling her shoulders.
"Now that's just like old times," Chakwas chuckled to herself.
"No one's telling me I can't," Shepard pointed out with a small smirk.
"I think it's been a very long time since anyone has told you that, and we're not likely to start now," Lyric said with a smile.  "Brant, will you accompany them?  I've got a couple other pieces of business to take care of."
"Of course."
Garrus's mandibles fluttered as he tried to think of a valid objection, but he had nothing, other than he really didn't like it.  But Shepard was going to do it anyway, and when it came to business, that was definitely how she operated.  Shepard just smiled at him and began to follow Brant out of the room.  At least seeing her acting more like her old self was good news.  Garrus followed them out with a sigh.


After walking down the halls briefly, Brant eventually opened the door to a small office where Xanossi was being kept with one armed guard.  She sat at a table, slouched back and arms crossed, expression mostly neutral until Shepard walked in.  Xanossi scowled and stared daggers at her, which Shepard disregarded.  When Garrus entered, Xanossi flinched and looked down.  Garrus thought he caught sadness there, but that just confused him all over again.  As awkward as he felt, he managed to look the part as he leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms while Shepard took a seat across from Xanossi.  It felt a lot like a C-Sec interrogation.
"I don't have anything to say to either of you," Xanossi mumbled.
"That's okay.  I already know everything about you that I need to," Shepard shrugged.  Xanossi just scoffed.  "You were able to get a lot past Garrus, but what you didn't know, is that the more you learned about him, the more I learned about you.  I know about Voness and Umry, Tullna and Zilli.  They miss you."
"Shut up," Xanossi hissed.  "You weren't there."
"Not at the beginning, no.  But I traced your hurt to the source and I was there when they were talking about you during the Cynosure anniversary festivities on the Citadel."  Shepard's tone began smooth and confident, then became more monotone as she went on.  She rubbed at her temples briefly and took a deep breath.  Garrus watched her closely but kept his expression neutral as she continued.


"They watched Garrus return to Palaven and talked about the times they'd seen you with him.  Tullna was envious.  Zilli hoped you were finding adventure.  Voness was proud of you for being bold enough to befriend a Normandy Elect.  Umry wished she had kept in touch with you better."
"You're making that up," Xanossi snapped, gesturing dismissively.  "I knew after the synthesis that they wanted nothing to do with me.  You and your stupid Cynosure.  Suddenly I knew my friend's minds better than my own."
"You thought you did," Shepard corrected.  "You thought they secretly despised you and didn't even have the nerve to tell you to your face.  But it wasn't their minds telling you this; it was your own.  You couldn't get out of your own head long enough to appreciate their company."
"No.  It was the synthesis.  I could feel it coming from them," Xanossi insisted.
"You didn't want to take responsibility for your own fears and insecurities so you pushed them on someone else.  It was easier to blame your friends and the synthesis than to address them.  The synthesis did give you more sensitivity, but you were only enlightened, not perfect."
Garrus and Xanossi both looked at each other with widened eyes; that was nearly the same thing he had said to her when they first met.  Shepard didn't react and continued speaking, her tone flat again.


"Umry sent you a message shortly after you arrived here, but you didn't get it, because the research facilities on the Citadel are too bogged down by Hyatt's sabotage.  When you get your omnitool back, you'll see it.  You supported Hyatt because he made you feel special.  That's all you ever wanted."
"That's all anyone ever wants," Xanossi interjected.  "To be cared for.  To be appreciated and unique."
"If you wanted to be unique, you shouldn't have added your name to the list of people who have pointed a gun at me," Shepard replied with a short laugh, shaking her head.  Garrus watched Shepard again, amazed at what was happening.  It was like she continued to step in and out of herself.  She couldn't maintain it, but somewhere under the surface, she was there.
"It was so easy for Hyatt to lure you in and convince you to serve him.  He needed you, and you needed to be needed," she went on.  "But now he's using you just like he's using everyone else."
"He does need me.  I'm the only one of us that made it this close to you," Xanossi pointed out.
"Good job," Shepard replied flatly.  "You can also be the first one to show him you're done being manipulated."  She closed her eyes as she took another deep breath, then gave Xanossi a pointed look.  "You're going to be out soon.  You can see Umry's message.  I know Hyatt is in your head, but you can choose to be better than that, and no longer believe the lies he tells you, or even the ones you tell yourself."
"You don't know me as well as you think.  You've always been loved and adored.  You don't even have to do anything and Garrus is swooning over you," Xanossi snapped.  Garrus stiffened and his mandibles twitched; apparently he wasn't remaining as neutral as he thought.  Shepard didn't look back at him, but he caught the corner of her lip rising in a small smirk.  Xanossi scowled at them both even more.


"I don't care if you've come back from the dead twice, you're not that special," she snarled.
"I'm not here right now because I'm special," Shepard retorted.  "I'm here because he is."  Again Garrus's mandibles twitched.  "But you already know that.  It's why you got desperate.  If I was turned over to Hyatt and eliminated, you could've had a chance with Garrus.  All the more reason to further the anti-syn movement, and maybe you'd stop hearing the voices in your head..."  Shepard drifted off and lowered her head slightly, squeezing her eyes shut.  Garrus was just about to move forward and check on her when she looked back to Xanossi.
"Unfortunately, your demons are your own.  You've sabotaged a lot more than your relationships, even before the synthesis.  If you think about it, you'll realize it's true."
Xanossi looked away now, a pang of hurt on her face.
"Your demons can be beaten.  But not by removing the synthesis.  And not by taking me out.  But that's good news, because your demons?  They're not near as unconquerable as I am."
Garrus barely managed to stifle a grin as Shepard pushed away from the table and rose from her seat.  But then she wavered, and swayed forward, placing her hands on the table to keep upright.  Garrus came forward and stretched out a hand, but Shepard soon recovered and turned towards him, and with a nod she headed for the door.
Garrus glanced at Xanossi, feeling sure he hadn't left things complete between them, but he honestly could not think of anything to say, despite the yearning in her eyes.  He followed Shepard out and found her leaning back against the wall, her hand to her forehead.  Brant was watching her closely.


"Are you alright?" Garrus asked, mandibles twitching in concern.
"I think it's... just a migraine," Shepard grumbled.
"She's stable, but it may be best for her to be somewhere quiet and dark until the migraine passes," Brant told Garrus.
"Sure.  I'll take care of her," he replied.
"You know how to reach us if you need to.  Enjoy the privacy."  Garrus thought he caught a wink from the salarian as he dismissed himself.
Shepard's head was pulsing, her eyes squeezed shut.  She didn't notice Brant making his way down the hall, but couldn't miss when Garrus's arm looped under her legs and lifted her off her feet.  She flailed for a moment before her arms found security around his neck.
"Let's get you somewhere cozy," he muttered nonchalantly.  Shepard gave a small laugh then tucked her head into his chest.  She cringed as her head throbbed and focused on his steps until they stopped.  She peered ahead of them and stared at the door as Garrus cleared his throat.
"They told me you could use this room, if you--"
"I don't want my own room."
Shepard's fingers curled at the front of his shirt, her other hand gripping the back of his neck.  Garrus sucked in a sharp breath.
"Then... this next one is mine," he said gruffly, and took the few steps more over to his door and carefully brought them both through the door.  He left the lights low and gently laid Shepard on the cot, then sat on the floor next to it.


"It's not very roomy in here," he grumbled.
"That's okay for now," she replied, rolling onto her side and staring at him.
"What you talked about with Xanossi... that was spectacular use of the 'get inside their head' tactic," he said, chuckling in amazement.
"That's because I spent a lot of time there," Shepard pointed out.  "I'm glad I'm not anymore."
"Were you really able to be inside the thoughts of anyone you wanted?" Garrus asked.
"It took a lot of... practice," Shepard began, narrowing her eyes thoughtfully.  "It was like each person was their own server or terminal.  I could eventually learn to access them after I figured out how to shut the rest of the noise out.  When you were asleep, you all were more likely to notice me."
"Why spend so much time with Xanossi?" he inquired.
"She was just as focused on you as I was, and it... unsettled me," she admitted.  "I wanted to know what her intentions were, and if you'd be happy with her.  I quickly found out she wasn't a good idea, but... she hid it well, and I didn't think you were someone who would choose to never be in a relationship again...  You're too grounded for that."
"Grounded is the last thing I was while you were gone," Garrus admitted with a chuckle, looking down at his hands in his lap.  "If you really had been gone, and enough years had passed, maybe I would have been grounded enough to even think about it... but there was so much evidence that you were still there, somehow.  I could never have been with someone else while that was happening."
"Many times I thought about leaving you be, so you could," Shepard admitted, her face falling as well.  "I was getting weaker the whole time I was there.  Like forgetting where everything I saw ended and where I began.  I thought maybe if I left you, I'd just disappear, and things would be how they were supposed to."


"What made you hold out hope for a different outcome?" Garrus asked, reflecting on his own struggles with hope.
"You were the only thing I seemed to know.  I recognized you more than I recognized myself... and I was too scared to let go of that."  Shepard moved one hand over towards his shoulder and Garrus grasped it with his own.
"I'm glad you didn't."
"Me too."
"What about at Spectre Status?  How did that work?" he inquired, stroking her hand.  A smile slowly crept onto Shepard's face.
"I'm forgetting what it was like to be everywhere, but I remember that well.  I messed with the game, but I was mostly in your head.  Sometime I want to spar with you again," she told him.
"I'm sure we will," Garrus said gently.  After a pause, he looked away and his mandibles twitched.  "...do you remember the way we used to before?"
"...no," she admitted, the frown on her face sending a pang of guilt through Garrus for asking.
"How did you know how when you were in the game?" he asked.
"...I think I used your memory," she said, narrowing her eyes.  "But it felt... familiar, when I did it."
"Maybe it will come back to you in the moment," he suggested, hoping it would be encouraging.
"Maybe," she replied, with a shrug and a smile.
"Who else did you observe or interact with?" Garrus asked curiously.
"I saw billions, at least briefly.  I think I was watching the whole galaxy," she explained.  "I don't remember specific people anymore except for all the ones you know about.  It was exhausting to try and focus on just one for too long...  So I mostly kept my eye on you."  Shepard smiled and watched him chuckle.  They both were quiet and content for a moment until Garrus's mandibles suddenly fluttered and he shifted uncomfortably.


"What is it?" she asked him, her brows furrowing.  He turned himself around to face her directly.
"I'm sorry it's taken me until this moment to tell you this again..." he said, his voice thick with emotion as he locked eyes with her.  "But I love you, Shepard."
A flurry of emotions went through Shepard all at once, including relief, happiness, apprehension, and even a little surprise.  Migraine forgotten, she launched herself at him and threw her arms around his neck.  With a grunt he landed on the floor and she landed on top of him.
"I love you too," she said with a grin.
Garrus started to laugh at her enthusiasm but it was soon muffled by her lips landing on his.  He'd been trying so hard to be cautious about how she was feeling, it took him a moment to realize exactly what was happening.  But only a moment.
His eyes closed, one hand rested at her waist as the other went to the side of her head, careful of the bandage on her neck.  Shepard shifted her weight, letting her body melt into his more comfortably in a way that felt natural, familiar.  Garrus felt all the time, all the confusion, all the built up emotions contributing to his physical reactions.  It was only a kiss but it wouldn't take much for him to be swept up in a current that he didn't know if he should be in.  Just before he was ready to let his hands wander further, Shepard got her knees under her and then was on all fours, hovering above him.  It took him a moment to open his eyes again.
"You know, I think the floor would be a better place to rest than that cot," Shepard whispered, her own cheeks flushed.  Garrus just grunted as she got up and gathered every pillow and blanket in the tiny living space and threw them on the floor.  He eventually sat up to adjust some underneath him and soon they had a fairly effective little nest.  Shepard settled back in, next to him this time, tucked under his arm but with one leg draped over his hips.


"Shepard, I... I don't have any expectations," Garrus breathed, his hand wandering over her thigh and giving it a squeeze.
"I know," she whispered, her tone much more resigned than it was a moment ago.  He swallowed hard and tried to brace himself for the answer to the question he was about to ask.
"Do you... even remember--"
"I don't know," she snapped.  Before Garrus could even begin to apologize, she went on.  "My head used to hurt constantly.  It was so loud and chaotic.  Now, it's not loud, I at least feel like my head is mine... but every time I try to remember something like that, it hurts like it used to.  Like my own life is too much.  I don't remember what you, what we used to feel like."  Garrus cringed at the lack of inflection in her voice, the contrast from how lively, even sensual, she'd been moments before cutting deep.  He'd been too expressive though, and Shepard looked up and caught it.
"This isn't the reunion you wanted," she mumbled, not letting him go, but tucking her head down and starting to retreat with her leg.
"Shepard, don't," he pleaded, holding onto her as much as he dared to.  "Just having you here is... more than I could've hoped for."
Shepard didn't say anything, but she allowed herself to relax into him again.  Absently she began running her hand over the seams on the front of his shirt at the base of his cowl, and Garrus let himself quietly purr.  They were content for several moments before Garrus gently picked up Shepard's hand and looked at the palm of it curiously.
"...what are you doing?" she asked, raising a brow at him.
"I'm thinking about your body," he replied thoughtfully, and Shepard snickered.  "Not like that," he added with a chuckle.
"Then how?"


"When you first appeared, your scars were the same as I remembered," he explained.  "That's how I knew you weren't a cloned version.  I remember your cloned version and there's at least one scar I know she didn't have.  And look here."  He turned her palm to face her.  "You have callouses.  Callouses from weapons, from sparring, from spending so much time stroking my own rough skin and scars."
Garrus let go of her hand and she stared at it a little longer.  Shepard then brought her hand to the scars on his face and gently traced them.
"...I remember.  Not specific moments, but... I remember," she whispered.
"I don't know how David did it, but somehow he brought your body back exactly as it was when..." he drifted off, unsure of how to finish that sentence, or if he even wanted to.
"...except less bloody," Shepard said, and Garrus gave a laugh of agreement despite her flat tone.
"I think that means there's a good chance a lot of things will return to you pretty naturally as you do them.  Like sparring, dancing--"
"Dancing!" Shepard said with a gasp, raising her head to look at him with pleading in her eyes.  "Please teach me again."  Garrus purred and his mandibles flared out in a grin as he tucked a piece of her hair behind her ear.
"Absolutely."

Chapter Text

Like a kid and a teddy bear
Like a leaf blowing in the air
Could you carry me?
Could you carry me?

Like a flag after a war
When you're gone and when you're first born
Could you carry me?
Could you carry me?

Cause I don't know how we
How we got so far, you and me
Almost like there's oceans between us, us

So I need to know
Could you carry me?
Back into your heart again
Could you carry me?
Running to your distant hands
Could you carry me?
Running back to where we started from
Could you carry me?

On and on and on, on, on, on

Carry Me by Kygo and Julia Michaels

*****

Shepard continued to rest, get headaches, and step in and out of herself over the next twenty hours, but a lot happened.  First, David and Nasa came to Shepard and Garrus with a theory about her memory and cognitive condition.
"You were... like an organic AI, yes?" David was saying.  "You watched many other organic lives and could access them like a synthetic AI accessing servers."
"I guess I can see the parallel..." Shepard said with a shrug.
"But there's different levels of artificial intelligence," Nasa pointed out.  "Simple VI programs, unshackled AI, like EDI..."
"...and shackled AI," Garrus finished, his eyes going to Shepard as he realized where they were going.
"...I'm a shackled AI?" Shepard asked incredulously as they all stared at her.
"Not truly, no, you are organic," Nasa said gently.  "But it's an appropriate comparison.  You get headaches because you're attempting to access the parts that really are you, and not just your 'programming', so to speak.  Right now, it's off limits for some reason."
"So how do you unshackle something-- someone... that's organic?" Garrus asked, his mandibles twitching.
"We don't know," David said simply.
"Well that's anti-climactic," he grumbled.
"We're going to keep working on it," Nasa assured them.  "But it may be simpler than we think.  Many times, in cases of typical amnesia, memories can be triggered by smells, places, familiar objects...  We think it may be a good idea for Shepard to talk with other members of the Normandy Elect, maybe even visit the Normandy itself.  That's a lot simpler than trying to mess around with her brain from the inside, but we can continue to look into other methods as you two try the simpler ones."


"I want to go to the Citadel," Shepard agreed, her tone flat.  Garrus looked at her carefully.  Despite the way her voice sounded, she was leaning forward and there was eagerness in her eyes.  There was so much more time and freedom available to them now, and he yearned to give her everything she wanted.
"You'll have to be incognito, but... maybe we can figure something out," he shrugged.  Shepard grinned.
Soon she and Dr. Chakwas had ordered her a few more outfits to have on hand, simple things that wouldn't draw too much attention.  Councilor Lyric said she would help with their arrangements, but most of it would be a surprise.  Garrus efficiently secured them a discreet rental for them to stay at, somewhere away from the Presidium that they could use short-term.  Shepard briefly teased him about how excited he was to pick a place for them to live, even if they didn't know how long they were staying.
While they waited for Councilor Lyric to get back to them, they decided to call Liara.  Initially Shepard stayed out of view.  Garrus tried to get Liara up to speed on everything he was first informed of when he arrived at the research station.  Unsurprisingly, Liara already knew about a lot of it, including the "stream of consciousness".  Councilor Lyric had also given her a file of excerpts familiar to Liara's dreams, though she thought they were just dreams somehow within the stream.
"But something changed..." Liara said thoughtfully.  "My own monitoring systems seem to have lost connection and can't get it back.  They're no longer detecting any activity from the stream.  What have they told you about recent developments?"
"Well..."
"Hi Liara."
Garrus was trying not to laugh the entire time he watched Liara try to comprehend what she had heard and who she was seeing on the omnitool vid.  She let out a yelp of surprise, covering her mouth quickly.  Then her hands dropped and she blinked several times at the screen.  Her hand went to her forehead and she took several deep breaths with her eyes closed.
"Surprise?" Shepard said awkwardly.
"How?" Liara said quietly, her hand dropping from her forehead and landing over her mouth.  Her hand was shaking.
"Well, David Archer is really the one to ask about--"
"Not how did this happen," Liara interrupted Garrus.  "How did you come to the conclusion that you should tell me about this over vidcall when I can't even hug her?!"  She was sobbing when she finished talking, but soon was laughing, and Shepard laughed too.


They talked for quite a while as they helped Liara come to terms with the situation as best as they could.  Plans were made to have a party on the Citadel soon with everyone.  Shepard's expressions were very muted, and Garrus watched her cringe several times.  After they disconnected, Shepard said she felt like she was getting more comfortable, but needed a rest before they did anything else.
While she slept, her head in his lap as he sat on the floor, Garrus made more arrangements for them during their time at the Citadel.  He was already restless, but now even more so with excitement around planning a homecoming, of sorts.  He made reservations at a restaurant and was trying not to worry about how they would keep Shepard a secret.  Would they ever announce her return officially?  If so, how?  And when?  For now, he set those thoughts aside and let himself enjoy the moment.
Shepard stirred next to him, grumbling and rolling onto her back, opening one eye at him.  He couldn't help purring, still amazed that she was even there.
"Feeling better?" he asked.
"Yes.  Is it time to call Joker?" she said with a yawn.
"Actually, I owe him a surprise.  I was thinking I'd just ask for transport back to the Citadel and not tell him I have company until he gets here," Garrus explained with a smirk.
"Works for me," Shepard laughed.
"I did get a message from Councilor Lyric not too long ago, though.  We could go see what she's got in mind," he suggested.
"That sounds like a good plan," she replied, sitting herself up and stretching.  "I like her."  Garrus smiled and chuckled a little.
"I always knew you would."


They met Lyric in the lounge area, which was thankfully fairly empty.  With Lyric was Vrilakir and an asari not dressed in official research clothes.  Her clothing was casual, but she had an apron on over it with lots of pockets.
"I've heard you'd like to spend some time on the Citadel, and I had a couple ideas that might make that easier for you," Lyric began after greeting them.  "Do you know Vrilakir?"
"I... don't think so.  I'm happy to meet a friend of the Councilor," Shepard replied, stepping forward confidently to shake the krogan's hand.
"Strogore Vrilakir, good to meet you," Vrilakir said casually with a slight dip of the head.
"She's my... assistant, student, friend, adopted protégé," Lyric said, gesturing vaguely.  "She's your new friend too.  I'll tell you more about her in a moment, though.  This is Talri M'deria."  She paused again, gesturing to the asari now.  "I've known her almost as long as there have been humans on the Citadel, which is why I knew I could trust her with sensitive knowledge."
"Of all the sensitive knowledge Lyric has trusted me with, this is probably the juiciest," Talri said as she shook Shepard's hand.
"Thanks, I guess," Shepard laughed.
"Talri is a hairdresser," Lyric stated.
Realization slowly crossed both Shepard and Garrus's faces and they exchanged a glance.
"Oh," Shepard finally said.
"I guess it's the simplest disguise," Garrus shrugged, his mandibles twitching.
"I know it may be a change you weren't anticipating, but I think it's a good idea if we want to have any hope of getting you on the Citadel undetected," Lyric explained.
"I have a catalog of different options, so you still have complete say over what it looks like," Talri explained.
"Okay...  Yeah, let's do it," Shepard said, nodding.  "Might as well shake things up a bit."
"Come sit here and we can take a look."  Talri gestured over to a seat they had pulled next to a counter with many hair supplies already laid out next to a large bag.  Garrus watched them begin looking at examples as he stepped over towards Lyric.


"We want things to be familiar to her right now...  Will this get in the way of that?" he asked discreetly.
"I checked with Nasa, and she said it shouldn't be a problem," Lyric said quietly, also watching Shepard and Talri.  "She will still recognize who Shepard is, but it's also true that she's a different version of Shepard.  She's been through more, learned more, been challenged in different ways... it's okay if she gets to know her new self while remembering her old one."  Garrus nodded, appeased by the answer.
"How are we going to make the rest of this work?  Is she going to need a fake ID or something?" he asked.
"Already in the works, being applied to all databases," Lyric said, flashing a smirk.  Garrus's eyes widened and his mandibles twitched, surprised at how efficient she was making this process.  "I've had a lot of fun pulling so many of my Council privilege strings," she added with a laugh.  Garrus let out a laugh too and rubbed the back of his neck.
"...I'll have to call her something else, won't I?" he mumbled.
"That would be wise.  At least while in public," she told him.  "Disguising you would be too cumbersome.  Any paparazzi that realize you're back will think you have a new girlfriend, and might try to get the scoop on that.  Vrila will help keep them off of you.  She'll discourage anyone getting close enough to ask you questions, and do what she can to minimize photos.  And a little extra security doesn't hurt."
"So she's our bouncer?" Garrus said with a small laugh, crossing his arms.
"Precisely," Lyric grinned.  "She'll be staying in the same building as you two.  Just let her know anytime you're going out."  Garrus nodded.
"Will the extra security look suspicious?" he wondered.
"You left the Citadel just after punching Hyatt and Vrilakir was there to keep it from escalating.  We can say it's to keep you in line," she teased.  Garrus laughed again, then his mandibles twitched as he watched Talri put away the images and begin preparing her tools.


"...Garrus, right now, we don't believe there to be any threats to Shepard.  No one will expect her return.  No one will be looking for her.  It should be perfectly safe," Lyric soothed him, picking up on the parts of him that were still apprehensive.
"Xanossi, Hyatt, and the other anti-syns... they were watching her before.  I think Xanossi was able to tell them she came back," he grumbled.
"Would they still have interest in her?  She's not the weak point to the Catalyst anymore," Lyric countered.
"Do they know that?" he challenged.  "Spirits, do we know that?"  Lyric pressed her lips together and didn't meet his gaze.  "We need Hyatt under supervision," he insisted.
"He is."
"We need his known associates watched."
"We've made a list and organized it by threat level."
"If they've got a headquarters we need to send in a team."
"Send in a team?  Like raid their compound and arrest them?  On what grounds?"
"On getting too close!"
Garrus's voice had raised and now both Talri and Shepard were looking at him and the Councilor.  Shepard was frowning, some part of her knowing that whatever upset him wasn't good news for her either.  Garrus took a deep breath and Talri drew Shepard's attention back to the task at hand, beginning to cut her hair just above her shoulders.
"...seconds after coming back she already had a gun pointed at her.  This is Shepard's chance to enjoy peacetime.  I don't want anything getting in the way of that," he grumbled.
"I have a team keeping a close eye," Lyric assured him.  "And we'll be keeping you informed.  That's all we can do right now."
Garrus sighed and gave a reluctant nod; she was right.  As he watched the clumps of blonde hair hit the floor, he reminded himself that not everything could be as simple as he wished.

*****

"...how long before you're used to it?" Shepard asked, fidgeting and folding her arms.
"Do you not like me staring at you?" Garrus asked with a smirk.
"You stare at me all the time," she teased, "I just like knowing it's for a good reason."
"I told you, you look fantastic," he assured her, shifting the weight of the bag on his shoulder.  "It's just blowing my mind a little bit... but in a good way!"
The two of them were gathered in one of the front rooms, waiting for transport back to the Citadel.  Councilor Lyric, Brant, Talri, and Vrilakir were also there.  David and Nasa would be staying and had said brief goodbyes, but also expected to be in contact soon.  Dr. Chakwas had already gone ahead to the Citadel with the rest of the medical reinforcements.
Joker would be the first test for Shepard's new look.  Her hair no longer had enough length to be put in a bun, stopping with an uneven edge not far past her chin.  Garrus didn't know how it had been done, but where Shepard's hair had mostly fallen close to her head before, it now had much more volume.  It was layered and textured and framed her face perfectly.
Just as drastically different was the color.  Her blonde was covered by a ruddy crimson that Talri had called "just the right red; not at all reminiscent of her natural color, and yet not unusual enough to draw extra attention."
On top of that, Talri had also tattooed a beauty mark on the right side of Shepard's chin and given her a fashionable pair of round, black-rimmed glasses.  The idea was that those features would be focused on instead of her facial structure, further decreasing the likelihood of someone picking her out on the street.  Even though he wasn't used to it, Garrus really did like it.
A small shuttle docked at the station and the doors opened.  Brant let Lyric, Talri, and Vrilakir go first before he followed with a couple bags, then Shepard and Garrus.  Joker was just inside the doors, giving smiles and nods as they came aboard.  As Shepard stepped in front of him, his polite smile vanished and he just blinked.  Shepard couldn't help herself and grinned sheepishly as she removed the glasses.


"Oh my g-- no way-- are you--"
Joker's eyes got wider as he continued to stutter.  Shepard began to laugh and Joker threw himself at her, his arms wrapping around her.  She embraced him too, but then her laugh was cut short by a sharp intake of breath as she cringed.  Joker let go and jumped back, suddenly talking faster than ever out of surprise and concern.
"Whoa-- did I hurt you?  I'm confused; this is usually the other way around... but my bones are good now!  You didn't hurt me.  Did I hurt you?  Did I break your bones?" he fired off, his hands wringing together, then flailing as he gestured everywhere.
"You didn't hurt me, Joker," Shepard breathed, smiling through her wince as she rubbed one side of her head.  "It's not you."
"Oh good," Joker exhaled in a rush.  "But... it is you, isn't it...?" he asked quietly.
"For the most part," she answered, her tone soft and reassuring.
"Well geez Shepard, good job giving the pilot a heart attack just before we ship off!" he laughed, taking his hat off briefly to run a hand through his hair.
"I'm pretty sure you could get us to the Citadel even if you were in the middle of a heart attack," Garrus mused.
"You're probably right," Joker said with a grin.  "But you'll come hang out with me in the cockpit and tell me all about this, right?"
"Yes."  Shepard nodded but her tone and expression were neutral again.  Joker raised a brow at her, and then to Garrus, noticing the sudden shift.  Garrus cleared his throat.
"Let's get settled," he said, gesturing for Joker to lead the way to the cockpit.


Naturally, the trip to the Citadel was over in minutes and it took much longer than that to explain what little they understood about how Shepard came back and why she was in the state she was now.  Everyone else disembarked the shuttle, with Vrilakir waiting just outside, while the Normandy Elect stayed on board throughout their conversation.
Garrus partially expected Joker to be just as smugly optimistic as he had been on their trip to the station, but he watched the pilot's expression become more and more despairing.
"It feels like a dream," Shepard was explaining.  "I know I must have sat with the crew and enjoyed their company aboard the Normandy... I can get vague ideas of who was there, but I don't remember specific moments.  Just general ideas.  And all the big events, like the Battle of the Citadel or the Collector Base, I remember more details than any reports would've shared, in fact I remember those quite vividly, but it's like an out-of-body experience.  Like I'm watching someone else do them."
"Maybe you need some more really awesome in-body experiences to help get you more connected," Joker suggested.  Slowly a smirk crept onto his face and he winked at Garrus as Shepard blushed.
"We're going to visit the Normandy at some point," he replied, clearing his throat.  "We thought it might be a good idea to have you and some of the others there."
"Will you come?" Shepard asked, sounding like she wasn't sure if he would.
"Absolutely," Joker said emphatically.  "Just wait until I tell EDI about this.  Are you staying on the Citadel for a while then?"
"At least a few weeks, I imagine," Garrus told him.  "We'll be sure to keep you in the loop."
"You know we'll all be there for you when you need us, Shepard," Joker told her.  "We've followed you to scarier places than a welcome back party."
For once, Shepard's bright, warm smile wasn't interrupted by a headache.
"Thank you."

*****

It was cozy.
Regardless, Shepard felt odd as she wandered into the condo's living room and looked around.  The carpets and furnishings had a lot of cream and cherry oak colors that complimented each other well.  There was already a couch, a coffee table, and a TV in the large living room.  There was a small dining table and the kitchen had lots of cabinets.  She felt Garrus watching her closely and turned to look at him.
"Nova Plaza is a pretty quiet neighborhood," he began, glancing around the room.  "It's not boring, but everyone here seems... content.  This was one of my favorite places to wander."
"I know," she stated.
"Oh, right," he mumbled.  "Anyway, no one ever came and talked to me here.  I would still get looks as people recognized who I was, but no one felt entitled to more information about me.  That would happen in other places, but not here."
"So you're hoping that will continue, and no one will ask about the new girlfriend you're suddenly living with?" Shepard deduced.
"Spirits, that's odd to think about," he said with a shudder.  "But, yes, that's exactly what I'm hoping."  He carried the bag past her and towards a hallway, gesturing for her to follow as he continued speaking.  "They don't have any one bedroom apartments here, so it's got two... we can convert one into a gym or something," he shrugged.
Shepard glanced into the first room they passed.  It had no windows, and was empty, but the perfect blank slate.  Then she followed him into the master bedroom.  It was spacious even with the dresser and large bed, already covered in pillows and a plush blanket that rested at the foot of the comforter.  The bedding was a soft sky blue in color.
Shepard couldn't help but smile.  She walked over to the bed and threw herself on it, snuggling with the blanket.  After a moment she opened her eyes to see Garrus smiling at her from near the closet where he had set down their bag.
"Why are you staring at me now?" she asked, raising a brow at him.
"Just... some things never change," he chuckled softly.  "Want to help me unpack your things?"


She nodded and stepped over to the bag.  She really only had a few outfits for now, but Garrus explained that Liara had kept most of her things and could return them soon.  After those were in the dresser, she picked up the omnitool Councilor Lyric had given her and laid back on the bed, fiddling with the functions and preferences as Garrus secured his sniper rifle.
She pulled up one of the files: her own dossier-- if it could even be called that.
Garrus's "new" girlfriend was Roxanne Blaker.  She'd grown up Alliance, just as Shepard did, and she even had the same birthday, but three years later.  She'd been on track for N7 training when they'd discovered a brain tumor that required very thorough and risky surgery.  The surgery was able to remove the tumor, but she still suffered lingering neurological effects and was given a medical discharge before the Transcendent War.  She'd been living on a remote corner of Illium when the Reapers hit and managed to take refuge in one of the cities that wasn't a big target.
Since the war ended, she'd been working for Councilor Lyric.  The Councilor and Roxanne's extended family (who all perished in the war) had known each other for many years.  Roxanne mostly was a courier or driver, so that explained why the rest of Lyric's staff may not recognize her.
It was enough information for Shepard to answer some questions and look polite before declining to answer more if she ever did get cornered by a reporter.  Her new identity was in all Citadel records, so even C-Sec would be told the same story if they looked her up.  It was rather elaborate, but absolutely worth it if it meant Shepard could be on the Citadel without mass hysteria.  Discussions about whether to ever announce her return and if so, when, had been inconclusive so far.
Garrus moved closer and tucked something under the bed before laying down next to her.


"So... other than visit the Normandy, what would you like to do while we're on the Citadel?" he asked.
"I think it would be fun to visit Spectre Status," she said, closing her file and looking over at him.
"There will be lots of eyes on you there," he stated uneasily.
"Do you think Wigort would let us play without an audience?" she asked.
"Well, I wasn't exactly pleasant the last time I was there..." he reminded her, rubbing the back of his neck.
"He understands."  She opened her omnitool again and pulled up a Spectre Status schedule.
"How do you know?" he asked, looking at her quizzically.
"He lost his whole family in the war.  He understands loss and grief and being haunted..." she said quietly.  "He was worried about you."
"Hmm.  Maybe I do owe him a visit then," Garrus grumbled.
"Vega is at N7 training now, right?" Shepard suddenly asked.  "Wigort could use another Elect appearance.  We should get Kaidan, Wrex, or Grunt here, too."
"Wait a minute, weren't we talking about not having an audience?" he chuckled.
"Well, for the first few rounds you guys could play and I'll watch, and then he can shut down the observation area and I'll jump in," she said with a smirk.  "I'd love to be on a mission again."
"Do missions feel like home?" he asked gently.
"I crave it," she blurted out, letting her head fall all the way back and closing her eyes.  "The way the armor fits, the weapon efficiency... the team.  I know it's peacetime, and I'm not craving conflict, but the challenge, the mental and physical obstacles."  Garrus was silent for a moment and when she looked at him he was smiling again.
"I understand.  Sounds like that's where we need to start, then.  I'll reach out to Wigort," he said.  Then, he stood, and offered a hand to her.  "Come on.  There's one more perk this place has that I wanted to show you."


She took his hand and got to her feet, then followed him back out into the hallway and to the elevator.  They were on the top floor, and Vrilakir was situated below them.  But instead of pressing a button for a lower level, Garrus brought up a keypad and input a code.  The elevator beeped and then went up.  The doors opened and artificial sunlight crashed in.
The roof was mostly empty save for one small garden area in the corner, but that wasn't what Garrus wanted to show her.  He led her over to the side that had a barrier waist high and leaned his elbows on it.  Shepard looked down into Nova Plaza below and saw kids playing in the water feature and a vendor selling treats.  In another corner a street performer was doing gymnastics.  She smiled and rested her chin on her hands as she watched.
"You and your sightlines," she teased with a smirk, and Garrus laughed.
"Other than the owner, we're the only ones with access up here," he told her.  "I had to promise him I had no intentions of sniping anyone, but also assured him that there would be nothing he could do about it if I did."
"And he still let you?" she laughed.
"Of course.  Like I said, what could he do about it?" he answered, flashing a grin.  After a few moments, Shepard's gaze was drawn up and she stared at the Crucible.
"Up there... that's where it happened," she said, her tone flat.  She felt him shift uncomfortably beside her.
Before they left the station, they'd discussed with Councilor Lyric all that Shepard remembered of London's Crux and her last moments.  Everything before encountering the Catalyst was clear, but after that it got fuzzy.  She recalled speaking with someone, presumably the Catalyst AI, but not specifics about what was said.  There were some kind of options given her to utilize the Crucible and whatever they were, she chose the synthesis, despite not fully understanding what it meant.  She wasn't even sure exactly how she transformed, she just remembered light and observing everything at once, including Garrus and the Normandy.


"Do you think it would be helpful to go back there?" Garrus asked suddenly, taking her out of her reflection.  "To... retrace your steps, or trigger memories?"
"...I don't know," she admitted.  "I don't really want to... but maybe if nothing else works, it could be worth a try."
Garrus nodded, then his omnitool suddenly alerted him to a call.  He turned slightly and answered, and Shepard went back to gazing down at the plaza.  Observing so many people at once reminded her of the state she used to be in.  As her eyes darted from family groups to individuals and all the different faces, for a moment it seemed they were all familiar.  For some reason she found herself searching for someone specific, but she didn't know who.
"That was our food service.  They're downstairs already," Garrus said, his voice interrupting her search.  Shepard blinked several times; she had a mild headache again.
"Mm... okay," she muttered, and followed him back towards the elevator.

Chapter Text

We are still kids but we're so in love
Fighting against all odds
I know we'll be alright this time
Darling, just hold my hand
Be my girl, I'll be your man
I see my future in your eyes

Baby, I'm dancing in the dark
With you between my arms
Barefoot on the grass
Listening to our favourite song
When I saw you in that dress
Looking so beautiful
I don't deserve this
Darling, you look perfect tonight

Perfect by Ed Sheeran

*****

Both Shepard and Garrus didn't sleep very well the first night in the apartment.  Something about it was too dissimilar to a ship or small research station.  They traded sleeping in short bursts and tried to occupy themselves with vids or whatever they could find on their omnitools.
Shepard was browsing Citadel news, trying to stay familiar with the current happenings, with Garrus snoring beside her as the artificial sunlight started filtering in through their window.  Then a brand new article caught her eye.
Vakarian Back-- with a "Special Friend"?
She clicked it, and sure enough, there was a picture of her and Garrus still at the docking terminals.  She looked closer and studied where they were, where the camera must've been... it was taken shortly after they'd said goodbye to Joker.  She only skimmed the article; it didn't have much.  It referenced Garrus's run in with Hyatt as the last eventful thing he did on the Citadel, his arrival on Palaven, and even a visit to a classified Council station.  She frowned; someone was well-informed.
Garrus suddenly rolled over and nuzzled his mandibles into her hair, but noticed her rigidity.  He opened one eye and Shepard raised the omnitool screen to show him.  He tensed also but stayed snuggled close, his arm over her abdomen.
"That didn't take long," he grumbled.
"No, it didn't.  Someone was waiting for us at the docks," she said.
"Anti-syns?" he asked.
"It's possible Xanossi told Hyatt, who leaked a rumor to a reporter that you'd be returning with a special someone," she agreed.
"Do they say anything about who you are?"  His mandibles were twitching now.
"No.  Not even my new name.  It's very vague, other than the picture.  Even if Hyatt knows it's me, he might be just keeping his cards close for now," she said, frowning again.
"I'll have the Councilor check Hyatt's associates for anyone in journalism, maybe get some extra surveillance there," he decided, closing his eye again.


"I guess this means I could go with you to Spectre Status without worrying about the public's initial reactions, though," she added with a hopeful smile, and gently nudged him.  He groaned and rolled over onto his back, stretching to wake himself up further.
"How about we start with sparring first?" he suggested, then took on a teasing tone.  "We need to make sure you can still handle yourself in a fight."
"You're on, Vakarian," she retorted, and rolled out of bed, ready to go.
"...wait, you mean now?" he moaned from the bed.
"Why not?  Come on, do I need to splash some cold water on you?" she teased.
After some more grumbling, Garrus eventually got up.  They decided to use the empty bedroom.  It had the most clear space, but the hard vinyl floor would be a lot less forgiving than a mat.  They agreed to try and lessen any blows that would send the other to the floor.
Despite all her talk, once they were ready, standing across from each other, Shepard froze.  Her brow furrowed as they both held a solid stance, Garrus watching her and waiting.
"...what is it?" he asked gently.
"...I don't know how Shepard fights," she admitted, her tone having lost all the boldness she had before.  She watched Garrus hesitate, unsure how to reply.
"Don't try too hard.  You said it felt natural before," he offered, but sounded unsure.  Shepard still felt frozen, and Garrus couldn't bear the lost expression on her face.  After another long pause, he stepped forward and prepared a swing, but he watched as something instantly clicked within her.  Shepard adjusted to move away from his momentum and thrusted forward to aim for his shoulder, then his legs.  She connected and he almost lost his balance, but was able to easily stabilize again.


From there Garrus continued to initiate, and Shepard always had a response.  Finally, he didn't wait for one.  Shepard blocked several before being backed against the wall.  He stopped and Shepard let her arms fall to her sides, her chest heaving as he simply studied her.
"Let's go again," she eventually panted, and they returned to the center of the room.
Several more rounds went the same way.  She could always get some good hits in, but eventually Garrus would overtake her, and she couldn't recover.
"Didn't I used to win some of these?" she huffed as he easily deflected her blows.
"You tell me," he said calmly.  His relaxed demeanor upset her, and she gritted her teeth as she tried to find the right combination of speed, force, and trajectory.
Two hours passed.  She couldn't beat him.  Garrus was getting more concerned, but stoic, and Shepard was getting more upset and less proficient.
"You haven't had any water yet today," Garrus reminded her for the third time after backing her into a corner once again.
"I don't want water," she snapped, and gave him a shove to get him back into a starting position.
"We should make breakfast."
Shepard ignored him and lunged forward again without even catching her breath.  By now she was tired and sloppy, and before she knew it Garrus had simply sidestepped, gently taken her hand, and rested his other hand in the small of her back.  He spun them both and suddenly was leading her in a slow, gentle dance that Shepard couldn't bring herself to resist.  He began humming a tune she was too frustrated to recognize.
"Did peacetime turn you into a lover, not a fighter?" she grumbled, covering her own insecurity with a tease.
"I was always a lover," he corrected, his voice soothing.  "The universe just needed my fighting more during the war.  It doesn't now."
"I suppose you're right," Shepard chuckled, letting her body relax into his.  "Which am I?  What was Shepard?" she whispered.
"You don't need me to tell you that," he purred confidently.
"But I don't remember..."
Garrus hummed a flourish and led her into a spin, but her legs were tired and she fumbled at the end.  He managed to recover and lowered her into a dip as he hummed the end of the song.
Before bringing her back up, he whispered, "You will, Shepard.  You will."

*****

The rest of the day almost played out like a dream.
After breakfast, Garrus suggested they watch a vid.  Shepard suspected he was just trying to distract her from initiating another sparring match, but was tired enough to concede.  She dozed in his lap, and could tell Garrus wasn't at all offended by her lack of interest in the show.
When she woke she felt calmer, but also restless.  She managed to talk Garrus into wandering around the Citadel; they'd already been spotted and reported on, anyway.  They set out and browsed tech shops, visited a Spectre museum (that had a large area focused on her, which they didn't stay at long), got lunch, and wandered through a park that had tall, thick foliage.  Vrilakir did a fairly good job of keeping enough distance to not seem like a third wheel, and was discreet, but seemed to enjoy watching them.  Garrus practiced calling Shepard by the name of Roxanne, but struggled to do so comfortably.  At least it wasn't too difficult for her to respond to it.
It was dinner time when they arrived back at the apartment building, having ordered food to be delivered again; Garrus always met the courier in the lobby to prevent anyone from knowing their exact residence.  A package was also waiting for them in the lobby, which caused Garrus to grin.
"What is it?" she asked, watching him tuck the box under his arm.
"A gift for you," he purred.  "Let's eat first and then you can take a look."


Shepard stared at the box for most of dinner, and definitely noticed Garrus staring at her with a smirk.  He was enjoying her anticipation.  Shepard finished her meal first and, without waiting for an invitation, quickly cleared her mess and then grabbed the box, slicing at the adhesive with a small knife that was handy.  She opened one flap, pulled back some packing paper, and golden, shimmering fabric shone up at her.
"Oh!" she exclaimed.  Without another thought she recklessly removed her glasses, shirt, and jeans, ignoring Garrus's chuckle from where he still sat at the table.  She lifted the dress from the box and carefully stepped into it.  She remembered it; long sleeved, floor length, but with slits up to her thighs to allow for plenty of movement.  Garrus had imagined her in it at Councilor Lyric's party, which had caused her to also imagine herself in it.
The back had a zipper, and before she even attempted to reach for it, Garrus was behind her and pulled it up with reverence, causing the shape to hug her abdomen perfectly.  Then she heard music.  Soulful, sappy music that dripped of romance with a melody that threatened to sweep her away itself.
She shuddered as Garrus took a moment to purr into the back of her neck.  Her eyes were still closed as he took her hand and led her into the living room where there was a bit more space.  They swayed close together; nothing fancy, just two bodies melting and moving together, exhaling thoughts of anything but that moment.


Garrus shifted his hand position and straightened his posture, and Shepard knew what that meant.  His steps became deliberate now, and she went rigid as she struggled to find the proper steps that matched.  Her brow furrowed deeper and she huffed after her second misstep.
"Garrus, I don't remember.  I'm not what you want me to be right now.  I don't know if I'll ever--"
His chuckle cut her off and she narrowed her eyes at him.
"You are exactly as I remember," he purred.
"But I don't remember how to do this," she snapped, beginning to pull away but Garrus kept her close.
"We've never done this," he said pointedly, his eyes taking on an earnest look that she knew well.  "It's a new routine.  I don't know it perfectly myself.  And you started to give up at the same point you always do."  His mandibles twitched in a small smirk before pulling her back into the rhythm, and she let herself follow.
"Dancing is the only thing you ever became a defeatist about," he continued, his tone light as a purr rumbled from his chest.  "Always, at some point, you'd give me that look of consternation and try to convince me it was too complicated for you," he chuckled again.  "Sometimes more than once.  But you enjoyed being close to me enough to keep trying, and soon, before you knew it... you were masterful."
He was right; she had been following effortlessly since they started again.  As if to prove it to her, he added in a flourish that spun her away from him and back, and she didn't miss a beat as she returned.


"...I'm not as different from my old self as I think I am," she realized quietly.
"Exactly," he assured her, bringing his mandibles close to her ear.  "Things may be foreign right now.  You haven't had your body for over a year, so it may not seem the same to you... but I never forgot it.  It's just as warm, just as strong... just as alluring."
His purr deepened as one hand drifted down her hips and his fingers slipped under the slit in her dress, gently gripping the skin of her thigh and causing her breath to stutter.  Their swaying became more subtle as he brushed the side of her neck with his mandibles and mouth.  Shepard's mouth parted as she exhaled and leaned her head back with her eyes closed.
"Your back still arcs in my favorite way," Garrus breathed huskily, accentuating the curve in her spine as he held her close.  Unfortunately, the more the rest of Shepard's body became aroused, the more her head hurt.
"Mmm... but you're still more confident in it than I am," she mumbled, feeling the dull ache in her head grow.
Garrus paused and took note of her hesitation.  She wasn't entirely tense, but she wasn't fully participating either; her arms were around his neck but they stayed there, unadventurous.  He thought about all the tantalizing ways she used to reciprocate his teasing that must be gone from her mind.  He cleared his throat and loosened his hold just slightly, but gently stroked her back still.
"You're right," he conceded with a smile.  "I know you want to feel ready.  I know how to be patient," he assured her.  "But I won't pretend it's easy."  He ran a hand through her hair and gave her waist a quick squeeze as his purr deepened again.  Shepard laughed and trembled slightly before melting into him once more.
"I think that's fair," she replied with a grin.  The song playing on Garrus's omnitool ended and she looked away thoughtfully with a small laugh.
"This day has been almost too perfect.  I don't know what to do with this much contentment," she mused.
"You wouldn't be feeling that way if the battles of the Transcendant War weren't still a part of who you are.  Perhaps that's making it more difficult for you to feel like yourself again," he pointed out, then smirked.  "Should I go offend some krogan?"  Shepard laughed.
"Hopefully such drastic measures won't be necessary," she replied.  "In the meantime... want to go try sparring again?"  Garrus laughed at her eagerness to master herself further.
"And take the dress off already?" he asked, tilting his head and nearly whining.  "How about a few more dances first?"
"Mmm, that sounds fair too," she replied with a smirk.  Garrus quickly selected a new song and Shepard took the time to place a long, slow kiss on his mouth before allowing him to lead her again.

*****

Later, Garrus was up in the night again.  He hadn't been quite as restless, but was wide awake for whatever reason now.  At least Shepard seemed to be getting quality rest.  They'd sparred again for a couple hours before bed, and she managed to best him several times.  Not quite as often as she used to, but enough for her to gain some confidence back, which he was thrilled to see.
Giving up on sleep for the time being, he picked up his omnitool and began aimlessly browsing.  There were a couple of brief articles about their day out, but it was purely pointless "celebrity" gossip, nothing threatening or substantial.
He saw he had a message from Admiral Hackett and opened it.

Vakarian,
Councilor Lyric informed me of the developments on her project.  Sometime when we can be discreet, I'd like to discuss the results.

Garrus's mandibles twitched at Hackett's excessive vagueness.  He guessed Hackett was talking about seeing Shepard again after they weren't quite as in the spotlight as they were now.  Visiting with the Normandy Elect with "Roxanne" could be written off as Garrus introducing his new girlfriend to his friends, but introducing her to Admiral Hackett would definitely appear odd, so it made sense to wait.
Still, Hackett sounded like he didn't feel the communication was secure.  Had something been compromised?  Garrus kept reading.

Your discovery from just before you visited Palaven has disappeared.  We had a team doing what they could, but the information and the green wave is just... gone.  This happened three hours ago.
I don't know what this means, but thought it may be a piece of your puzzle.  It's possible someone else unraveled it before we did, which I imagine means trouble.
I'll be in contact again soon.  Wait for me to reach out.
Admiral Steven Hackett

The rest of that message confirmed that something was absolutely compromised and Garrus found that very unsettling.  He put his omnitool away and turned to watch Shepard beside him.  Part of him was still amazed she was truly there next to him... and the other was painfully aware of how incomplete she felt, and therefore behaved.
The "green wave" that claimed to be her on his scanner, gathering in the last place anyone knew she was... what was it really?  Was it just some ethereal leftover energy from the Cynosure?  Or could it have held some pocket of information, perhaps the information Shepard was missing?
Someone unraveled it before we did...


Garrus thought back to Hackett's message and a small growl escaped him at the thought of someone else claiming whatever might have been meant for Shepard.  If so, it had to be the anti-syns.  They could have had a mole on that team the same way they had Xanossi on Councilor Lyric's... but what was their plan?  Would they soon make demands?
"Garrus?"
His growl, louder than he realized, cut short as he blinked and caught Shepard gazing at him, looking groggy and concerned.
"Is something wrong?" she asked.
"Ah... no," he grumbled, then cleared his throat.  He covered his face with one hand and took a deep breath, reminding himself to not let his imagination or worries get away from him.  "Just... a bad dream."
He felt Shepard shifting beside him and then her hand on his cheek as she placed a kiss on his forehead.  He was immediately purring, which only got stronger as her hand moved to the back of his head and gently pulled it down against her chest.
"Don't worry.  I'm here to keep you grounded," she whispered.
Being careful not to scratch her with his face plates, he nestled his head as close to her heartbeat as he could.  He knew Shepard probably didn't remember, but she'd held him this same way when he'd told her about his mother's death.  He took in a deep breath of her scent as comfort washed over him.
"Mmm... I know."

Chapter Text

So it's here I stand
As a broken man
But I've found my friend
At the curtains of the waterfall

Now I'm falling down
Through the crashing sound
And you've come around
At the curtains of the waterfall

And you rushed to me
And it sets us free
So I fall to my knees
At the curtains of the waterfall

Geronimo by Sheppard

*****

A few more days of calm, domestic bliss passed before it was time for something far more eventful: a visit at Spectre Status and finally reuniting with some of the Normandy Elect.
Garrus had sent Wigort and his staff an extravagant assortment of fruit and pastries before reaching out, to apologize further for his behavior during his last visit.  When he did call Wigort, the salarian was was plenty happy to hear from him and set another date for an appearance.  Kaidan would be coming along and promised he had a good enough poker face to call Shepard Roxanne and pretend he was meeting her for the first time.  Vega also happened to be in between his N-training levels and while Garrus was less confident in Vega's stoicness, he was optimistic he could at least keep it in until they got to the Normandy.
Garrus had briefly considered renting out a ballroom at a restaurant somewhere instead of going to the Normandy, but he wanted the rest of the crew to have a chance to truly treat Shepard as Shepard, and their old ship seemed the only place secure enough to do that.  And, if they were lucky, perhaps being back there would spark some more memories within her.
After mentally preparing themselves for being the center of attention, Shepard, Garrus, and Vrilakir made their way to Spectre Status.  Kaidan and Vega were waiting on the street outside, making their ability to act all the more important, as crowds were already gathering for the show and had their eyes on them.  Kaidan made his way over first, and before Garrus could even pretend to introduce them, he offered his hand with a warm smile.  Shepard returned the gesture.


"Roxanne, nice to meet you.  I'm glad you're here with us," he said pointedly.  His smile was just a little larger than it needed to be, but not so much as to be suspicious.  Vega's grin, however, was about as big as it could possibly be.  He quickly stepped forward when Kaidan created an opening.
"I made it to N6," he blurted out.  Garrus's mandibles twitched as a warning for Vega to calm down a bit.  While not an entirely odd thing to share with someone, Vega was definitely viewing this as a moment of returning to his mentor to report progress, brimming with pride.
"Of course you did," Shepard replied smoothly, sharing in just the right amount of pride herself.  She flinched as a stab of pain went through her head, and her warm expression faded into one of stoicism.
"Let's get inside," Garrus said, clearing his throat before any further conversation could occur.  He placed a hand on the small of Shepard's back and guided her inside.  They all headed for the staff room and Normandy Elect entrance, but paused as they reached the door.
"We'll meet you in there after.  For now, Roxanne and I will head up to the VIP spectator box," Vrilakir said.
"Oh," Garrus mumbled.  "I suppose that makes sense."  He and Shepard had barely been apart since she stepped out of the light on the research station, and he'd be lying if he said the idea didn't give him any apprehension.  Shepard sensed this and stepped close to him, gently patting the scarred side of his face.  Unable to resist, Garrus reciprocated by briefly running a hand through her hair.
"Have fun," she said with a wink, then turned to follow Vrilakir.  Garrus took the time to watch her go before following Kaidan and Vega into the staff room.  They both were grinning at him.
"This is cool," Vega declared.
"It is quite amazing," Kaidan agreed.
They had been communicating through messages for the past several days, so luckily they didn't feel the urge to ask questions about Shepard or how she was doing, but it was clear both of them were still coming to terms with the fact that she was there.
"It took me some time to get used to, too," Garrus chuckled, and they all left it at that as they began prepping for the games.


It only took the end of the first round (which they'd lost) for Garrus to realize the commentators were going to be the trickiest part of this outing.  They may not be reporters, but Dolph and Sillonia knew that half the reason people came to watch the Normandy Elect was to get inside information.  While they didn't bring up his encounter with Hyatt before the Cynoversary, they did ask him about his visit to Palaven.
"It was a great trip.  Turians love to honor their own," he told them carefully.  "My father and sister are doing very well."
"And you've brought a couple guests with you today," Sillonia pointed out.
"Yes... I did," he replied simply as he finished configuring his weapons.  "They're both associates of Councilor Lyric."
The next round began to load, which would buy them some time.
"Well, your human friend especially seems to be enjoying the show," Dolph said.  Garrus glanced up; one of the screens was showing Shepard, at the edge of her seat, her hands clenched into fists.  Her jaw was set and she was watching intently.  It was probably driving her crazy to sit on the sidelines.  He didn't have a reply, but luckily the next round was initiated within seconds.  This time they won, and after the usual celebrations with Kaidan and Vega, and acknowledgements of the audience, Dolph was quick to ask questions again.
"How did you and your new girlfriend meet?"
"I bet that story is better told when we've got more than a brief intermission to enjoy it," Kaidan interjected, coming to Garrus's rescue.
"Well, that's okay; it looks like Sillonia has made her way to the VIP box and your girlfriend is more than happy to talk while you work."
Garrus looked up again and saw Sillonia sitting next to Shepard, both of them smiling.  Vrilakir looked slightly exasperated, as if she'd tried to talk Shepard out of it, but Shepard seemed completely comfortable.  His mandibles twitched, hoping this wouldn't become a problem.


"So, what's the scoop?" Sillonia prompted, then placed a microphone in front of Shepard.
"I'm Roxanne, and yes, Garrus and I are in a relationship," she began.  Garrus tried to look busy preparing for the next objective as she continued.  "We met through Rabbit-- er, Councilor Lyric.  My family and hers have known each other for a long time, and Garrus has become friends with her since her inauguration.  We'd cross paths every now and then, and through small interactions I became drawn to him.  I wanted to get to know him, but I had no idea what to say."
The simulation was ready and so combat began, but the conversation was still coming through Garrus's helmet.  He did his best to split his attention between that and the battle before him.
"Understandable," Sillonia laughed.  "What did you finally come up with?"
"Nothing, for a long time," she replied, also chuckling.  "Then one day, Rabbit gifted me a new pair of glasses and I accidentally left my old ones there.  For whatever reason, Garrus offered to bring them to me, so I suddenly had him on my doorstep returning a personal item."
"Lucky you!" Sillonia laughed.  "Sounds like he was maybe looking for an excuse to get to know you, too?"
"Maybe," Shepard shrugged with a smirk.  "But he sure seemed caught off guard when I bluntly invited him out for drinks right then and there."  Much of the audience laughed and a smile found it's way onto Garrus's face as well.
"I bet a lot of people are wishing they had known it only took a little bluntness to get a date with Vakarian," Dolph chimed in with a laugh.
"Too late now," Shepard grinned, and more laughter followed.


"So the first date went well then?" Sillonia asked.
"He was a little quiet, and awkward... and I got a little more drunk than I should have," she said sheepishly.  "But he was a perfect gentleman and escorted me home.  We exchanged contact information and got together a few more times, and here we are."
"Did you have any concerns about all the extra attention you'd get?" Sillonia asked.
"Do I seem concerned?" Shepard retorted, and Sillonia chuckled and shook her head.
"Wow.  She seems to be handling this well," Kaidan suddenly said on the comm that would only go to Vega and Garrus.
"She's downright masterful," Vega agreed.  They both knew she was mostly making up the story as she went, but she wasn't even missing a beat.
"Yes, yes she is," Garrus mused.
Shepard and Sillonia touched on lighter topics for the rest of the round: Garrus's strong ties within the Alliance, Roxanne's Alliance history, the Spectre Status games, etc.  Once the round was over, Vrilakir cleared her throat, and Sillonia took the hint.
"Well, thank you very much for the conversation!  I'll let you get back to spectating," she said, politely dismissing herself.  Shepard flashed another grin and waved as the camera left her.  However, Sillonia had one last question as she made her way back to her usual station, this time for Garrus as he shifted the game armor.
"I think we know enough about you to think of some reasons why Roxanne may have pursued you," she began, "but we don't know Roxanne.  Was there something specific about her that captivated you?"
Garrus's movements slowed until he was standing still as he tried to wrap his mind around an answer.  What could he say about Shepard without it sounding like he was talking about Shepard?  He didn't want to say anything too casual and give the idea that he was taking relationships lightly; who knows what kind of bold advances he may attract if some desperate singles got that into their head?  After what seemed like far too long of a pause, he said the only thing that came to mind.
"She keeps me grounded," he said simply.  "And I think everyone needs someone who can help them do that, for the times when life isn't so simple."
"Amen to that," Dolph agreed earnestly.


The rest of the many rounds were as exciting as ever.  The boys put on a great show, but Garrus couldn't help feeling guilty that he got to play on the battlefield and Shepard didn't.  They said their goodbyes to the audience and commentators and went into the staff room, where Vrilakir and Shepard were already waiting.
"That looked like way too much fun," Shepard said, stepping close to Garrus before he even had a chance to put away his gear.  She was smiling, but did sound envious.
"Glad to know you missed me too," he purred, briefly nuzzling his face against her hair.  "You were rather... open with Sillonia," he commented, tilting his head to one side.  There were no staff members in the room with them, but he felt it a good idea to be careful with his words regardless.  Shepard thought for a moment, considering her reply with a coy smile.
"There are lots of things I can keep to myself when I need to... but I'm not going to pretend you aren't mine."
"...Oh," Garrus said in a guttural purr, and couldn't resist closing the gap between them, one hand gently stroking the side of her face.  He could only remember a few other times Shepard had gotten possessive of him, and it always drove him crazy.
"Alright, get a room," Vega teased after a few moments.  Shepard chuckled and stepped back, but Garrus kept his eyes and a hand on her.
"Actually... do I get to play?" she asked hopefully.
"Let's see what we can do," Kaidan said with a shrug.
They managed to track down Wigort and Mey, the asari technician who had been there when Shepard had hacked into the game, and they agreed to two rounds with no cameras or spectator access.  Kaidan offered to sit it out so that they could have the traditional three-man team.


Garrus watched Shepard carefully as they prepared, eager to see how she would react to the opportunity, and the shift was immediately noticeable.  As soon as she had a weapon (even a highly modified one) in her hands, her expression changed.  The excitement was still evident in her eyes, but her jaw hardened as though there was an actual mission at stake ahead of them.  The last thing she did was leave her glasses with Vrilakir, and then secure her helmet on her head.  She nodded to Garrus and Vega, and they could hear the grin in her voice when she addressed them.
"Get ready to roll."
She gestured forward and led the way into the arena, and Garrus had to take a moment to calm the flurry of emotions those words set off for him.  Vega gave him a solid pat on the back to get him moving again and he stumbled into the arena after his Commander.  The landscape loaded up and the three of them set into position like the well-oiled machine they used to be as the enemies met them.
"Vega, grenades, by the railing."
"Garrus, fry the heavies."
"Don't push, just take them as they come."
"Watch the goal."
Garrus could barely focus on the mission simply because he was so captivated by her.  It wasn't that she was saying anything particularly unique, but the effect her commands had on them was clear.  Even her voice seemed deeper, stronger, more resolute than it had been even before London's Crux.  He was almost certain that, were this open to spectators, more than a handful of people would notice the difference between Roxanne off and on the battlefield, and even begin to see Shepard's traits within her.  Despite choosing the objective that is more complex and usually takes the longest, they completed it in record time, and the next one went even faster.


"...that's it?" Shepard asked as the second round closed down.
"Not exciting enough for you?" Vega asked with a chuckle.
She didn't sound underwhelmed, in fact Garrus could hear her breathing harder than normal from the rush, but surely she could go for several more hours.  He removed his helmet and approached her.
"How do you feel?" he asked.
"Fantastic!" she replied, removing her helmet and revealing a wide grin.  "I feel alive, I feel--"
Shepard's words cut short as pain seared through her head and suddenly the room was spinning.  Her eyes glazed over and her knees gave out.  Garrus had to keep himself from calling out "Shepard" as he rushed forward and caught her, but she wouldn't have heard him anyway.  She squeezed her eyes shut as she felt Garrus carry her back into the staff room, the voices around her muted.
"What's going on?" Vega asked.
"Do we need to call some medics?" Mey said urgently.
Garrus knelt down with Shepard and took off a part of his armor to access his pocket.  He pulled out a small vial Chakwas had given him specifically for severe migraines.  He had another one for seizures, but Shepard wasn't spasming, so he didn't get that one yet.
"No, this is a pre-existing condition and it's being managed," Vrilakir told Mey, gesturing with her hands to try and calm her down.  Garrus carefully applied the liquid to Shepard's temples.  While he hadn't had to use it yet, he felt rather confident in the remedy.  Shepard's muscles relaxed as the throbbing and the vertigo began to subside.  She felt Garrus's finger stroke her cheek as his words slowly became more clear.


"...hey, hey there...  Can you hear me?  Come on back," he was saying gently.  She groaned and her eyelids fluttered as she tried to focus.
"I can hear you," she grumbled.
"Good, good."  Garrus gave the others a nod and Vrilakir encouraged Mey to give them some privacy.  "How are you feeling now?"
"A lot less fantastic," she managed to reply.
"Do you need some water?" Vega asked.
"Let's get that gear out of the way," Kaidan offered.  With help from all three of them, Shepard was soon sitting at one of the tables and sipping some water, Garrus's hands resting carefully on her shoulders.  Vrilakir offered her the glasses and she put them back on with a deep breath.
"I don't know what happened," she mumbled, barely able to meet the concerned gazes around her.  "I really was feeling amazing, and then... it hurt so bad I was dizzy."
"We can sit here until you're feeling ready to get back to the apartment," Garrus told her.
"But we're still on for the Normandy party tonight, right?" Vega asked.
"Absolutely," Shepard answered, determined, but then groaned and rested her head on the palm of her hand.  "I might throw up."  With a frantic expression Vega darted for a trash can and swung it over next to her, and she managed a chuckle.  "Thanks."


"Will this happen again on the Normandy?  Is it safe?" Kaidan asked.
"We're going," Shepard insisted.  "It will be worth it.  These migraines are terrible, but I've been through worse."
"Do you remember being through worse?" Garrus inquired gently.  Shepard's face twisted into a grimace and she didn't answer.
"...I'm sorry--"
"It's fine," she snapped.
Once again, Kaidan came to the rescue with some small talk about the evening; seeing Joker and EDI again, even Wrex and Liara.  Vega soon got talking about his N training, and they learned that they'd started him as an N4 because of his record for the Transcendent War.  However, seeing as that experience was mainly combat focused, he'd been sent on two missions that required a lot more specific strategy and also environmental hazards that you couldn't just shoot at.  He made it to N6 through those types of trials, but failed the one attempt he made at N7.
"I think it would be really cool if Commander Shepard could be my trainer to get me to N7," he said casually, but gave Shepard a brief, pointed glance.  "I like to dream about that."  Shepard slowly gained a small smile, warmth returning to her expression.
"...that's a nice dream," she murmured.

*****

Shepard stared at herself in the mirror of the bathroom.  She had mixed feelings about the reflection that stared back, so familiar and foreign at the same time.  She tucked her hair behind her ears and swept up her bangs, revealing her features further.  She was definitely Shepard physically, at least.  Exhaling, she ruffled her hair again to bring it back around her face.  She couldn't help but wonder, was she actually making steps to become who she used to be, or would she be someone new entirely?  Would it matter to Garrus either way?
Before her migraine, she'd been about to say that those battles felt "like coming home".  She tried to hold on to how self-assured she felt during the simulation, but it threatened another headache.  She scoffed at her reflection, getting more annoyed by the blocked memories than anything.  She stepped back and took a moment to look over her clothes: stylish black jeans and a white buttoned top.  They'd decided to not get too fancy for the Normandy reunion, but she wasn't about to show up in a tshirt and sweat pants.
"I love you."
She turned and saw Garrus watching her in the doorway, already dressed nicely.  He was casually leaned against the doorframe, but his gaze was far more purposeful, carrying the weight of his words.
"I love you too," she said, giving him a smile before looking back in the mirror.
"What are you nervous about?" he asked, his mandibles twitching thoughtfully.  She didn't bother to deny it.
"I'm nervous I won't remember anything new and it really will be more like you introducing a new girlfriend to your closest friends instead of... whatever else it could be," she admitted.
"You know they already love you," he pointed out.
"Yes, but..." she drifted off, looking down at her hands and wringing them together.  "If this doesn't make me... be me again, what will?"
"Ah.  Hmm."  Garrus brought himself closer and carefully traced a finger up her shoulder and down her back.  "Perhaps it won't be one single moment that brings you back.  Perhaps it will be a combination of small moments over time.  That's how we all evolve, after all."
"Hmm.  Perhaps," she mused as she leaned into him.  He playfully fluttered his mandibles in her hair.
"If you're ready," he purred, "we should get going.  They'll be waiting for us."
"I'm ready," she assured him, meaning it as best she could.


Shadows cast by artificial dusk were scattered throughout the Citadel as they arrived within Normandy Plaza.  Shepard had to remind herself that even her false identity had clearance here and not to look around like it was new to her.  As soon as her eyes landed on the Normandy she couldn't look away.  C-Sec had a wide perimeter around it, told only that it was closed for a "special occasion", which meant only those with the prestige of Normandy Elect, Citadel Council member, or Spectre could get close.  Vrilakir would be staying outside of that range.  The officers looked the two of them over, and Garrus almost forgot that they didn't know it was Shepard with him.
"Er, she's with me," he finally told them, earning a nod as they continued on their way.
Shepard reached out for Garrus's arm as they neared the entrance closest to the cockpit, balking.  Her head already hurt but she wondered if perhaps it was just nerves.  Garrus paused, tucked her arm through his, and then gently got her moving again.  The doors whisked open as they neared and then closed behind them, but no one else was around.
The cockpit drew Shepard in, causing her to leave Garrus's side.  She placed a hand on the back of one of the pilot seats and stared at the blank display, the endless possibilities of what it might show racing through her mind.  She knew she was feeling something, but couldn't begin to identify it.
Finally, she turned and walked past Garrus towards the main CIC, and though they still couldn't see anyone else, EDI's voice played through the speakers nearest them.
"The Commander has the deck."
Shepard's face lit up, a wide grin spreading across it.
"Where are all of you?" she asked.
"Your crew are on deck 3."
She didn't hesitate, passing by all the added museum-like displays in the CIC to get to the elevator, Garrus on her heels.
"How is your head?" he asked, concerned she would fall unconscious the moment she joined their company.
"I don't know," she breathed, her eyes glancing to him with excitement but also the same fear.  "I really hope this doesn't hurt."
"I'll be ready, just in case it does."
Shepard looked about to thank him, but the elevator doors opened first and her attention was stolen away.


All of them were standing right there, waiting, smiling.  Liara, Joker, and EDI were at the front, with Tali and Wrex just behind.  Kaidan and Vega were also there, just hanging back since they had already seen her previously.  Before anything could be said, Liara launched herself at Shepard with an elated "oh!", throwing her arms around her.  Garrus watched Shepard closely for signs of a headache, but she just smiled and laughed and returned embraces as Joker and EDI came forward next, everyone making remarks of amazement and delight.
"You're almost as hard to kill as a krogan," Wrex grunted as he gave her a slap on the back that nearly knocked her over.
"Actually, she's successfully been taken out twice," Joker pointed out.
"I guess I'm just easy to revive?" Shepard said with a smirk.
"And that's just as important," Tali said emphatically.
"Although probably not as fun," Shepard snickered.
"Maybe you should just try to almost die next time so you can compare," Joker suggested facetiously.
"Or, we can just decide she's immortal," Garrus offered with a shrug.
"Considering my estimated lifespan, it's not outside the realm of possibility," EDI pointed out.
"What is your estimated lifespan?" Joker asked curiously.
"My calculations fluctuate, but it averages somewhere around thirty thousand years," she answered casually.
"Wow."
"I can tell you that me consuming large amounts of booze tonight is not outside the realm of possibility," Wrex said, getting to the matter at hand.
"There's booze?" Kaidan asked.
"Of course there is," Vega grinned.
"I suppose that's what makes it a party," Shepard said, smirking and shrugging.


As a group, they all moved together into the mess hall.  Most of this area was clear anyway, but a few informational displays had been carefully moved into the med bay and some smaller armchairs from the lounge brought in to make things even more accommodating.  Garrus was thrilled Shepard was holding up well so far, but as she took a seat at the head of the table, it happened, and she felt it happen.  Her cheerfulness faded, replaced by a zombie-like stare.  She felt like she was in a fish bowl, somehow disconnected from everything around her.  She missed the next interaction directed at her entirely.
"...I'm sorry, what?" she asked flatly, turning to Tali.
"I said I wish I could take you back to Rannoch," she repeated, sensing something was off.
"I checked in on it now and then while I observed.  It's really thriving," Shepard said, but lacked any enthusiasm.  "I'd like to visit sometime."
"Does your head hurt?" Garrus asked the Commander again, taking up position just behind her seat.
"No."  She wasn't cringing, but she frowned at the confusion and concern on the faces around her, becoming even more self-conscious.  "I'm sorry, I'm not... myself."
"We know, Shepard," Liara said gently, settling into the seat next to her.  "It's okay."  Garrus had already informed each of them of Shepard's limited emotional capacity.  No one was surprised, but it was still understandably off-putting to witness firsthand.
"Would you like a drink, Commander?" Joker asked, extending a full glass towards her.
"Yes, I would."  She had no idea if it would help and knew it may even make things worse, but she didn't care.  She took a big swig as Wrex took the opportunity to brag.
"My old pile of rubble ain't doing so bad itself," he boasted, taking a large glass for himself.
"My planet doesn't have thresher maws," Tali taunted, and as they got more drunk, their back and forth playful taunting continued.  Neither was truly trying to win the other over (as they knew that was an endless battle) but couldn't help themselves regardless.


It wasn't difficult for them to settle into comfortable chatter and banter.  Vega went into more about his N-Training while Joker and EDI told some of their travel stories.  Kaidan shared some Spectre adventures, and Liara divulged some of her juiciest Shadow Broker secrets.  Shepard began to smile now and then, but always flinched after.  For the most part, she let the others do the talking, despite getting more and more drunk.
"I'm guessing if you had anything helpful for Hackett or Councilor Lyric concerning the anti-syns, you'd be sending it their way?" Garrus asked Liara discreetly after Wrex had begun talking about reproductive care and regulations on Tuchanka.
"Yes," she confirmed, "but it's a lot more complicated than it sounds... which really just concerns me further, considering the anti-syns have been able to meddle as much as they have.  On the surface they are just noisy radicals, but they've gotten into some very high-profile stuff.  I'm eager to find out how deep the nest goes."
"I'm eager to exterminate it entirely," he grumbled.
Later on, EDI stepped close to Garrus and spoke to him without getting Shepard's attention.
"Admiral Hackett is asking for you in the comm room."
"Me?" he asked, blinking.
"Yes, just you.  He says he has more details for you and the Normandy is a convenient secure channel," she explained.
"Oh... okay," he said with a nod.  He squeezed Shepard's shoulder and knelt down close.  "I'll be right back," he told her quietly.  Shepard couldn't seem to get her eyes all the way open as she looked at him, but she didn't know if she was tired or drunk and relaxed.  She just nodded and Garrus gave EDI and Liara a pointed look, counting on them to let him know if Shepard became uncomfortable.
He made his way to deck 2 and into the comm room, where Hackett flickered on the vidscreen.  For a moment it brought Garrus back to just after the Cynosure, when the crew had stayed there for hours as they tried to connect to the Citadel.  His mandibles fluttered and he dismissed the thought.


"I see you found a secure line," he said, greeting the Admiral with a nod.
"Yes.  How is she?" Hackett asked, and for a moment Garrus was surprised that he didn't get straight to business.  The Admiral's expression held as much sincere care as Garrus had ever seen in it.
"It changes by the moment," he grumbled, rubbing the back of his neck.  "One second she's taking down enemies in a battle simulator, the next she's nearly unconscious...  And even when she's okay physically, it's like she's still struggling.  Most of the time, she's confident in her new alter-ego, but if you can imagine a Commander Shepard without her confidence... that's who she is now."
"It's good that she can take this time to regroup," Hackett said, though didn't sound or look particularly optimistic.  Then again, he never did.  Garrus sighed and nodded.
"The energy signature... you have concerns about it being gone?" Garrus prompted.
"Yes.  It continued to read as Shepard's DNA within the O.L.F. database.  Her DNA is also there with you now, but they aren't one and the same... the energy here didn't dissipate until days after she returned," he explained.
"So we don't know why her DNA was in two different places and is now, potentially, missing?" he deduced.
"Exactly.  I sent our data to David and Nasa, now that they can focus on other priorities.  David thinks it may be similar to a Prothean beacon... like a download of some information that we weren't able to access, but someone else was able to move or shut down," he explained.
"Are we sure someone else has it?  It didn't just... fade away?" he asked, his mandibles twitching.
"Unfortunately it looks like hijacking is what happened," Hackett grumbled, crossing his arms.  "What we could see was only part of it, like the difference between a VI display and the actual terminal.  We couldn't decode it to get to the terminal before it was just... gone.  We're scrubbing our team, but so far haven't found any evidence of a mole.  I'm just being extra careful."
"It has to be the anti-syns.  We've been underestimating them technologically," he pointed out.
"I hate to agree about that mistake, but you're right," the Admiral grunted.


"I'm guessing you've tried using the DNA scanners to find the energy again?" Garrus asked.
"Yes.  Nothing shows up anywhere on the Citadel.  We've done a few scans in surrounding space, and even combed the Keeper's lairs further, but so far we've got nothing."
"Is there some way David could locate it?" he suggested.  "I don't know how, but he was able to pick Shepard out of the data hive she was in.  If we could get him plugged into anything that would detect any kind of anomaly, he may be able to isolate the signal off of something other than her DNA like the scanner did."
"Hmm... I'm not sure how we could create a scanner for something we can't truly identify, but I'll propose it to the team," he said, stroking his beard thoughtfully.  "I've heard talk we can make DNA out of code, and code out of DNA these days... maybe instead of looking for Shepard's DNA, we should be looking for her code."
"It's worth looking in to," Garrus agreed with a nod.  After a pause, he asked, "Has there been unusual activity with the anti-syns?"
"Hyatt and his close associates haven't been seen much since you got back to the Citadel," Hackett told him.  "Hyatt has a large estate and they're staying there.  They don't come out often and we don't know what they're doing."
"But they aren't suspicious enough for us to barge in and find out," Garrus sighed, and Hackett nodded.  "Well... maybe have David or whatever scanner you can get up aimed there, first."
"That I can do.  For now, I'll let you get back to Shepard.  I didn't want to make her feel obligated to do something about this situation, so you can share with her as you see appropriate.  And I know where to find you with updates," the Admiral said, giving him a pointed look.
"Of course.  I look forward to them.  I can always come back here, too, for the comm room," he pointed out.
"I'll have EDI coordinate it if necessary," Hackett nodded.  The two respectfully bid each other farewell and Garrus made his way back to deck 3.  As soon as the elevator doors opened he heard laughter from several of the crew, and quickly picked out Shepard's among them.  Her laugh was always unique; strong but quiet, like a deep chortle.  His mandibles spread in an ecstatic grin as he realized he hadn't heard her laugh like that since returning.  Her eyes found him as soon as he stepped into view, bright with amusement.  Her laugh cut off with a breath but she kept her smile as the others also quieted down.


"Sounds like I missed something good," he commented.
"You did, but I'll tell you later," Shepard told him.  She pushed herself up from the table, taking a little extra care as her balance faltered.  "I want to see what they've done with the rest of the Normandy.  I hope you all don't mind if I step away for a while."
They all shrugged and looked a little bewildered.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's still your ship, so you can come and go as you please," Joker pointed out, and the others seemed to feel the same way.  "You should definitely check out your medals in the hangar bay."
"Well, okay then," she said, and stepped over to Garrus, linking her arm through his.  "Will you give me a tour of my ship and show me my medals?"
"Of course," he purred, dismissing them from the group with a nod.  They stepped into the elevator and Garrus chose to take them down first.  When the doors closed, Shepard's breathing deepened and she rested more of her weight against him, turning her forehead to his shoulder.
"I know you're going to ask how I'm feeling," she grumbled, wincing.  "If I stuff down how I'm feeling, it's easier... it doesn't hurt so bad.  It's... really hard to not let myself enjoy this."  Her happiness began to sink and she felt Garrus's head on top of hers.
"You're strong, Shepard," he purred.  "Would you like to go home after this?"
"Not right after, but I am getting tired fast," she replied.


The elevator doors opened into the hangar bay and Shepard turned her head, then stood up straight as her eyes widened.  They stepped forward together at first, but then she let her arm drop as she scanned the room.  Her head was spinning as she carefully walked through.  Her face, the face with blonde hair pulled back that was less familiar to her now, flickered in several short vids among the displays.  Not only did she see herself, but images of her greatest moments.  Among them were her induction into the Spectres, a picture of a rachni queen signifying her choice on Noveria, Sovereign perched on the Citadel spire, historical reports of her death when the Normandy was destroyed, some of the earliest rumors of her return, opinion pieces on her association with Cerberus, her clash against the Collectors on Horizon, the Alpha Relay incident, curing the genophage and other highlights of the war, comments about London's Crux, the Cynosure, and excerpts from the memorial.  The picture of Garrus, surrounded by people but standing alone as he gazed at the giant banner of her face, was displayed there.  Lastly, she came upon her pistol, Anderson's hat, and the piece of her armor, accompanied by a video of Garrus.  She pressed the button that turned on the audio.
"...first time she used it.  I wondered... if she used the pistol as something to look forward to.  Obviously everyone was looking forward to the end of the war, but what it would take to make it happen was... less than encouraging.  The opportunity to use the pistol gave her something simple to anticipate, and something to focus on outside of the devastation.  I never asked her about that, so I can't confirm those suspicions, but... that's what I would've done if I thought I wasn't making it out alive.  Maybe she knew better than anyone what was coming for her."
The thick emotion in Garrus's voice brought her heart into her throat.  She swallowed it down and bit her lip, struggling to even begin to know how to process everything, or if she even could without losing consciousness.
"It's a lot to take in," she mumbled as Garrus approached.  She gestured to the image of him at the memorial.  "I remember watching that event, watching you, as best I could.  I felt you aching for Shepard, and I wished you were aching for me."
"Neither of us had much understanding then," he murmured.
"That's true... yet I remember being there and watching and feeling that, more than I remember being there, or there," she told him, then gesturing to the displays of the Alpha Relay incident and Horizon.  "I know they happened, but I don't remember how it felt."
"Because feeling hurts?" he asked gently.
"...I guess so."  She looked at the Galactic Unit Citation and Cynosure Banner and gently touched the transparent case they were in.  "I don't know if I'll ever get to take these with me, but I'm glad they're here."
"We can share mine in the meantime," Garrus offered with a smile.
"You don't even display yours," she teased accusingly.
"Er, well..." he cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck.  "I can start."
"Neither of us are really strong interior decorators, are we?" she teased further.
"You did just fine with your cabin," he pointed out.  "Do you want to go there now?"


She nodded, and after a few more lingering glances, they made their way to the elevator.  She didn't say it, but she knew most of what she longed to remember had more to do with her cabin than all these grand achievements.  It would be wonderful to feel invincible again, but what she really wanted was to know what life was like in those quiet, private moments.  What did she do when no one was looking?  What did she do with Garrus when no one was looking?  Despite how comfortable she felt with him, and her surety that she loved him, her insecurity about herself continued to get in the way of exploring those parts of who she was.  She wrapped her arms around herself in the elevator, not able to meet his gaze.
The doors swung open and she led the way forward, stepping into what used to be her personal quarters.  It still had all the model figures and the same furniture, but it definitely didn't look lived in anymore.  Her eyes were drawn to a spot on the corner of the desk, and suddenly she knew what it was missing.
"I kept a tissue box here, and an air plant," she muttered.  Her eyes moved further down the desk.  "I had a paper notepad and a few pens.  And--"  She stopped, catching sight of a bowl carved out of quartz that she'd used for various things, but was now empty.  She skipped to the other side of the terminal.  "I laid my headphones here, next to the pictures of Ashley and Mordin."  She paused, then turned into the bathroom.
"I watched you packing up my stuff.  It seems silly, but I remember everything that used to be in here... my favorite toothpaste, and where I used to store it.  I haven't been using the shampoo or other things I used to."
"I noticed," Garrus mumbled, wringing his hands.  "I didn't want to bring it up, and you still smell like you, but... the extra scents on you haven't been the same."
"They will be now," she said, her expression one of resolution as she stepped past him and then down into the lounge area.  Garrus was almost taken aback by the seriousness of it.
"I remember the books I had... the music I listened to," she mumbled, almost in a trance.  Then her eyes fell to the bed.  "These pillows are different."  Garrus chuckled and then cleared his throat.
"I, er, may have removed some of the extra ones and taken your softest one home," he admitted.
"Where is it now?" she asked, amusement clear on her face as she looked at him.
"I sent it to the storage unit Liara kept of your things just before I went to Palaven," he said, his smile fading.  "She has some of your clothes there, too."
"I can't use those yet, but we should have her send the pillow back," Shepard told him.
"We can ask tonight," he offered.


Shepard nodded and looked back at the bed.  All of these returning pieces of memory were only about her.  She felt more whole, but still not as connected to her crew, or even Garrus, as she wanted to be.  Normally, if anyone came up here on tour, there would be guards ensuring nothing was touched, but now there were no barriers.  She sat on the edge of the bed and stared at it, trying to picture herself and Garrus there, the pillows strewn about, blankets tangled... but only these assumptions and a sharp headache came.  Then, something different: Garrus sprawled across it, crooked, alone, dreaming of her.  But she knew he wasn't just dreaming.  She'd found him that way and asked him to show her his memories...
"I don't remember being here with you before the end of the war.  I remember your first dream about me," she told him.
"It may not come all at once, but we have confirmed that some can come back," he assured her.  She knew he was mostly optimistic, but picked up on an undertone of disappointment.  She grimaced and mentally beat against the pain, willing her mind to find what she was looking for.  Eventually she got dizzy and must have started to sway, because she felt Garrus's hand land on her shoulder firmly.
"You've had a taxing day, Shepard," he reminded her, his voice low.
"...you're right," she conceded.  "Let's go back down to the crew for a little longer.  I think I've gotten all I can out of this place for now."
They returned to deck 3 arm in arm, Shepard getting more and more tired with every step.  Some of the crew had started up a card game while others were still cheerfully conversing.  Garrus and Shepard settled into one of the larger chairs, Shepard resting her head on his shoulder.  Not much time had passed before she couldn't keep her eyes open any longer and began lightly snoring.
"Want to join us for a game while Shepard rests, Garrus?" Liara asked.  Garrus considered it; he really did want to, and Shepard seemed to be sleeping deeper than normal.  Carefully, he adjusted her weight and slipped out from under her, leaving her contentedly resting on the arm of the chair.  He settled into a seat at the table next to Liara with a heavy sigh, realizing how much good it would do him to distract himself with a card game for a short time.


"She seems fairly comfortable," Tali commented as Kaidan dealt hands.
"This may be the best rest she's gotten in a while.  Both of us have had trouble really relaxing," he replied.
"Does she have nightmares?" Liara asked.
"Mm, not like she used to," he said, picking up the cards in front of him and looking them over.  "At least none that she's told me about."
"Kaidan and Vega told us about how well she can act like Roxanne," Joker said.  "We should've sent her on more undercover missions."
"I'm sure her disguise is only so effective because no one expects to see her alive again," EDI pointed out.
"She's not as fun as she used to be," Wrex grunted.  Garrus laid his cards flat on the table and a growl left him before he could even think about it, his eyes narrow and mandibles twitching.  Wrex just shrugged, unbothered in any way by the display.
"We know now's not the time for any expectations to be placed on her," Liara said, placing a hand on Garrus's arm to calm him.  "It's been quite a journey for her already, to just get here."
"Has she remembered anything more?" Joker asked.  Garrus slowly calmed his threatening posture, taking the time to look over his cards and take his turn before answering.
"She felt good on the simulated battlefield at Spectre Status.  You could tell she was naturally in her element.  Although, it took her a long time to finally be able to beat me in sparring the other day.  In her cabin just now she recalled details about the personal items she kept there.  Nothing else," he said quietly.
"It's still early.  Human's brains are more susceptible to this type of problem," Liara said gently.
"You calling us stupid?" Vega slurred as he feigned offense, then burped.
"No, just susceptible to it," Tali taunted.


To Garrus's relief, the subject moved away from Shepard and playful banter started up once again.  After two lengthy rounds of the game, it was rather late and everybody began to head out.  They considered waking Shepard to say goodbye, but collectively decided against it, with Garrus assuring them he would pass on their well wishes and that they could get together again soon, perhaps at an official venue sometime.
Once everyone was gone, Garrus spent several minutes just sitting in the quiet, listening to Shepard sleep, and letting his mind rest in the confidence that she was content.  He knew, however, that if he sat still too long, he might begin to doze as well, and that wouldn't be ideal.
Grumbling against his own fatigue, he stood up and then knelt down near the chair Shepard was asleep on.  Without attempting to wake her first, he very carefully brought her into his arms.  She stirred and opened her eyes, glancing up at him as she tried to orient herself.  Garrus simply made a comforting purr and nothing else needed to be said.  Shepard rested her head and eyes again as he carried her out of the Normandy, across the plaza in the dark of night, and all the way back to their bed.

Chapter Text

If Heaven and Hell decide
That they both are satisfied
Illuminate the No's on their vacancy signs
If there's no one beside you
When your soul embarks
Then I'll follow you into the dark

I Will Follow You Into the Dark by Death Cab for Cutie

*****

Following the reunion on the Normandy, Garrus and Shepard had several more days of uneventful domesticity.  They sparred and danced regularly, with Shepard improving at both.  Beating Garrus wasn't ever easy, but she managed to do it almost as often as she used to now.  They'd both attempted cooking more than once, but neither were very good at it, and they ended up eating out or ordering food delivery a large majority of the time.
They were on such an outing for dinner, tucked in the corner booth with Vrilakir in the next one over, when Shepard's demeanor betrayed her.  She was slouched in her seat, showing little interest in her food, and her brow furrowed when Garrus finally questioned her.
"What's on your mind, Roxanne?" he asked casually, but his eyes drilled into her the way they always seemed to when he was reading her.  She shrugged, but straightened in her seat as she answered.
"I just... I think I'm lacking an objective or something.  I feel restless, without purpose...  What are we doing every day?  Where are we even going?" she gushed with a heavy exhale.
"Uh oh.  Are you breaking up with me?" Garrus joked, tilting his head.
"You know what I mean," Shepard replied with a smirk.
"...Yes.  I do," Garrus eventually murmured, looking down at his plate.  "I feel it, too.  The Citadel is not very... adventurous."
"So... what do we do?" she asked, frowning.
"Well... the main reasons we're still here are due to concerns about... unfinished business, mainly Hyatt," he said, lowering his voice.  "And your own state."
"Right.  Do you think that's even a concern anymore?  Like... maybe that whole anti-syn movement just fizzled out?" she asked.
"Something tells me it hasn't," he grumbled, but didn't go into further details.  He took a bite of his food and his mandibles twitched as he watched Shepard stare at hers.  "We could always let that be someone else's problem," he pointed out.  "There's not really anything that would stop us from setting out and finding adventure elsewhere.  Maybe something to shoot at, even."
"No, I get it," she sighed.  "Some of this is still my mess to clean up, even if no one else knows that, not even me sometimes...  I just wish there was something I could do about it right now."
"I hear you," he agreed with a nod.


They took their time finishing and paying for their meal, in no rush to go no where.  Shepard was just about to ask Garrus what they were going to do next as they exited the building when something gave her pause.
A wave of melancholy swept over her, and then it grew deeper into hopelessness.  Typically such strong emotions would cause a headache, but this time it didn't, instead allowing the ache to seep further into her core.  Her expression must have looked like she was about to cry, because Garrus suddenly looked alarmed and concerned.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"I don't know, I just suddenly feel... really sad," she mumbled, wrapping her arms around herself.
"It's not you," Vrilakir said suddenly, stepping over to them.  "Look."
A chill went down Shepard's spine as she turned and observed the faces of those around her.  Here and there, others were also beginning to frown and look around in confusion.  A few wiped at their eyes.  Then her heart was suddenly pounding in her chest as a familiar droning became louder than it should have been.  Garrus was looking up and about to say something, but Shepard darted away from his side.  There was a park nearby, and she had a headstart against the skycar that was smoking and flying too low.  Somehow, she instinctively knew it's trajectory without even looking.  Panic began to rise up within the crowd as others looked upward, but Shepard just grabbed the arm of a nearby asari walking with two others.
"Biotics!" she shouted, and threw her arm behind her as the skycar barreled towards them.
They acted, but not as fast as Shepard would've hoped, not having years of combat experience to shave off the shock and reaction times from their system like Shepard would've expected of her crew.  The vehicle groaned as it hit the resistance of the biotics fields, but only slowed and did not stop.  Other observers must have stepped in to help the unprepared asari, and Shepard watched the vehicle jerk twice more as it neared.  Finally, as it was only feet away, a stronger blast knocked it sideways and diverted it's momentum away from Shepard and the crowd around her.  The skycar pitched, it's roof colliding with the thick base of a tree before it fell flat again and hissed, dark smoke rising from somewhere within.


"Get it open!" Shepard shouted, rushing to the nearest door and giving it a forceful pull.  It was locked and didn't budge.  Though it was stationary and clearly malfunctioning, it hadn't turned off, and the sounds coming from it were not encouraging.  She turned to look at the people around her, once again delayed in their reaction times.  "Get it open!" she repeated, stepping back and gesturing at the door.
It groaned again as the nearby biotics users worked together to rip open the door.  The first thing Shepard saw was the wide green eyes of a young human boy, a small trickle of blood trailing down the side of his face, but otherwise appearing unharmed.
"I told him to get out," he said, his voice quiet but urgent as Shepard reached in to unstrap his harness.  "He won't get out."
Shepard lifted the boy out of the hissing car and passed him off to a civilian standing behind her.  Finally, she locked eyes with the driver, a male turian, older than Garrus, and also a little banged up.
"Leave," he growled under his breath.
That was when she saw it; an omnitool on his right arm was primed for a tech sabotaging function, similar to the kind Garrus used.  Without any further thought, Shepard lunged across the seat at the turian, and began wrestling his other hand away from his omnitool.  He fought back, trying to detonate it, and Shepard even got her legs involved as she kept his arms apart from each other.
But the skycar was already smoking more furiously, and Shepard heard something spark.  Risking diverting her strength, she let go of his arm with one hand and instead ripped the omnitool off of him and tossed it out of the skycar behind her.  With her fist she punched the turian in the side of the head as hard as she could, and he stopped battling her.  She crawled backwards out of the vehicle and then heaved the turian out, who simply covered his face and went limp.
Shepard got him out with a tug that brought her to the ground as well just as the skycar burst into flames.  She quickly sat up, her chest heaving, but saw C-Sec personnel already on the scene and on their way with fire extinguishers.  She allowed her adrenaline to subside slightly, feeling her heart pounding in her head.  She heard a sob break out from the turian at her side and turned on him, getting to her knees.


"What did you do?!  Who is the boy?" she demanded.
"He's my dad," the boy said, darting over and kneeling next to the turian.  Shepard's brow furrowed at them both, the turian still unresponsive to his surroundings.
"How?  Where's your mom?" she asked, taking the edge off her tone.
"He adopted me after the war.  Mom's in the hospital.  He said she'll get to play with me again soon," the child responded, and the turian let out a sorrowful groan that Shepard felt within her just as strongly as she had outside of the restaurant, causing her heart to break.
A C-Sec officer approached and placed a hand on the boy's shoulder, trying to determine what the situation was.  He looked at Shepard quizzically, but she didn't have it in her to deliver a full sitrep.
"He needs a psych eval," she grumbled, gesturing to the turian as she slowly got to her feet.  "And constant surveillance while you're holding him.  Look for another guardian for the boy."
"Shepard!"
Garrus, who had not initially seen what direction she'd taken off in, finally made his way through the crowd and towards her side.  She froze in her movements of dusting herself off and slowly turned to look at him, her expression neutral.
"Are you okay?" he asked, looking over her and the skycar.


He hadn't even realized his mistake, but others had.  The C-Sec officer, other bystanders, and even the turian still lying on the ground were looking at both of them with furrowed brows and uncomfortable murmurs.  Garrus's mandibles flared as it hit him, but the pause was already drawing out too long.  Shepard gave a heavy sigh and let the tension leave her shoulders.
"I'll tell you when you can keep your girlfriend's names straight," she said, loud enough for those closest to them to overhear.  She turned and gave him a dismissive shove as she walked past him and towards the crowd.
"Er, Roxanne--" he began, but she waved her hand without looking at him.
"Not now, Garrus."
She didn't look back, knowing that Garrus would understand.  She scanned the crowd and spotted Vrilakir, and made her way towards her with relief.
"Will you come with me back to the apartment?" she asked.
"What about Garrus?" Vrilakir asked, looking unsure about what had just happened.
"He'll catch up later," she grumbled with a shrug, beginning to lead the way back home as Vrilakir fell into step behind her.  "Also... I need to talk to Councilor Lyric."

*****

Shepard had been home for about an hour before Garrus walked in the door.  She turned in her spot on the couch, omnitool in hand, and watched him shut the door behind him.  He was holding a vase of vibrant purple and yellow flowers that resembled lilies.  She gave a curious smile.
"I wanted to make sure I looked properly remorseful in case our 'relationship drama' made the news," he explained, rubbing the back of his neck and shrugging.
"Have you... ever gotten me flowers before?" Shepard asked, frowning slightly as she realized she didn't know.
"Only twice," he admitted, placing the vase on the coffee table before taking a seat next to her on the couch.  "The first time--"
"Don't tell me," Shepard interrupted, her voice low.  "I want to know when I remember."
"...okay," he replied, his mandibles twitching as he paused.  "So... what happened out there?  Other than me being an idiot and you brilliantly saving the day, as usual?"
"Actually, you can thank Vega for the idea to play it off like you just called me the wrong name," she said with a chuckle, resting her head back on the couch cushion.  "On the Normandy he told a story about when he called a girl his ex-girlfriend's name, and said I should use that if you ever forgot my cover and others were paying attention.  He suggested I slap you, but I thought the shove was enough.  I didn't think I'd have to use that so soon, though, so you better not do it again."
"Well you better not run off without me again," Garrus retorted, sounding serious despite having laughed at her explanation.  Shepard lowered her eyes, looking at her hands in her lap.
"The driver caused the crash himself.  I think he was hoping it would kill him," she murmured solemnly.
"How do you know?" he asked, frowning deeply.
"I think because of the synthesis.  The boy said that turian adopted him, and his mom was in the hospital.  But when he said that, the turian made a sound so sad... and I knew she wasn't there anymore," she explained.
"Mmm...  I think I know what sound you're talking about.  Turians know very well how to honor their dead, but... many of us seem to not know how to grieve," Garrus grumbled.
"But to attempt suicide?  With a child with you?" Shepard asked incredulously.  She knew Garrus didn't have an answer and so she went on.  "I've been thinking about this since before I came back, after I watched Xanossi...  Mental health isn't a new struggle for any part of the universe, but the synthesis may have exaggerated it."


"How do you mean?"
"Well, in Xanossi's case, she mistook her own insecurity and anxiety as feelings of judgment from her friends, and it only isolated her further and made her vulnerable to manipulation.  She was in a downward spiral."  Shepard stood and began pacing around the living room as she continued.  "The synthesis essentially made our brains, our thoughts, stronger, right?  We're smarter, faster, more intuitive, more sensitive to emotions, and all of these things makes us more powerful.  But what if our faster, stronger thoughts are ones of loneliness, hopelessness, or heartbreak?"
"Our downward spiral is faster and stronger," Garrus answered, beginning to see what she was getting at.  "But like you said, mental health isn't new.  There are already lots of resources out there."
"But most are focused on catching things after someone is already headed for rock bottom," Shepard pointed out.  "If the synthesis has aggravated things like this, there will need to be more resources that are about healthy coping or cultivating happiness, preventative."
"So... are you saying you've found your new calling as a motivational speaker?" Garrus asked, trying to be serious but also seeming slightly amused.
"I know I sound like a cheesy PSA right now," she admitted, allowing a light-hearted scoff.  "I just... feel responsible.  I don't remember exactly how or why I chose synthesis, but the assumption from everyone, even myself, is that I did.  Maybe I didn't even know exactly what it meant."  With a heavy sigh she fell back onto her spot on the couch.  "I'm also worried about other bystanders.  I felt that turian's hopelessness so strongly.  I know what it was, now, but if others didn't figure it out, did they go home depressed?  What kinds of things are they thinking as they lie in bed tonight?  They'll find a thought to attach to the feeling and adopt it."  She brought one hand up and began to rub at her temples.
"So what are you going to do?" Garrus eventually asked.  He didn't say it, but they both knew he expected Shepard to have a plan.
"I've already told Councilor Lyric to put some extra awareness on this," she admitted, letting her hand drop back down to her lap.  "There's been a lot of transition since the war; I'm not sure how soon we could get reliable data on whether mental health is a bigger issue than it was before or not.  Maybe the anti-syns are right about some things."
"I wouldn't be listening to them," Garrus growled.
"But they are concerned we weren't ready, right?  And maybe we weren't," she pointed out.  Garrus kept his eyes narrowed but didn't dispute further as she added, "If it turns out this is a problem, then it would be a good idea to have even more resources to make us ready, since... the synthesis already happened, thanks to me."
"Thanks to you indeed," he insisted.  "Even though we don't know exactly what went down, most people are glad you were the one working with the Crucible."
"I... don't know what to say to that.  I can't imagine being trusted by so many," she admitted, then looked down at her lap again.  "Right now I'd be happy if I knew how to trust myself."
"I know," Garrus sighed.


"That must be what is most different about me now, isn't it?" she asked carefully.
"Yes," he replied, just as careful.
"You've been my confidence lately," she realized, a soft smile appearing on her face.  She maneuvered forward to lean on his chest, wrapping her arms around him and feeling him purr as he returned the embrace.  "Thank you."
"I admit it's not a way I ever expected you would need me to support you... but I imagine it's normal for long-lasting relationships to go through various different phases such as this," he replied.
"...we haven't been together very long, have we?" Shepard asked thoughtfully, scrunching her nose.
"Er, no..." he answered, fidgeting a bit.  "Not yet, anyway."
"I admittedly don't remember a lot about my parents right now, but I don't think there was much to remember... they were both very independent and focused on the Alliance.  I think they only had me because they wanted to try something new and different," Shepard mused.  "Your parents had a strong relationship though, didn't they?"
"Well, I would say so," Garrus said, not entirely prepared for this line of questioning.  "They were definitely devoted to each other.  My father is fairly stoic, but to my knowledge my mother never felt underappreciated by him, and she was always a great support to him."
"It just occurred to me that I could maybe actually meet him," Shepard said with wide eyes as she straightened up, no longer leaning against him.  Garrus kept one arm around her as he considered this.
"That's true... however, I think we ought to wait until I can tell him who you actually are.  He's probably a bit confused about my new relationship, to be honest," he said, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Has he asked?" she questioned.
"No.  During my last visit I may have said some things that led him to decide that my love life is none of his business," he admitted, clearing his throat.
"Fair enough," she chuckled.  After a pause, she asked, "If we decided to announce that I'm still around... how should I do it?"
"If it were up to me?" he asked, and she nodded.  "You record some kind of press release with Councilor Lyric.  Maybe even get David and Nasa involved to explain some things, like a documentary... but then not release it until both you and I were off the Citadel, somewhere tropical and remote."
"Would people believe it then?  I mean, someone could fake a press release like that," Shepard pointed out.
"Mm, don't give anyone ideas," he grumbled.  "I suppose if we wanted to be as dramatic as possible, you could reveal yourself at Spectre Status after removing your gear or something."
"We'd need a shuttle evac," Shepard laughed.
"Speaking of going places..." Garrus began.  "How long does it take Roxanne to forgive me?  There's live music down in the plaza tonight, and I thought it'd be nice to spend some time enjoying it outside."
"Hmm..."  Shepard let the moment draw out longer with a smirk as she considered the proposition.  "How about we listen from the roof instead?"
"Deal."


Before their evening outside, they checked the usual gossip sites to see if there were reports of Garrus calling her Shepard.  There was only one, but it was there, and even included an updated report about his flower purchase.
"I knew that was a smart idea," he boasted, seeming almost excited by the idea of leading the gossip columns on.
Later as they listened to the live music from their private perch, they tried to keep it casual.  While they weren't necessarily "in public", it wouldn't be impossible for some very determined (or lucky) soul to catch sight of them and spread the word.  However, Garrus truly couldn't help himself; he was lively and flirtatious and Shepard found him hard to resist.  He even got her to dance to the upbeat melodies and then promptly made fun of her for it, once again confirming for them both that some things never changed.
Eventually they were dancing slowly together, and then it was Shepard who couldn't help herself.  With one hand on the back of his head, she pulled him into a passionate kiss.  His embrace deepened and she curved against him, but just as she thought to take it one tiny step further, a jolt of pain in her head caused the rest of her body to tense.  Garrus cut off his purr by clearing his throat as their mouths separated, forcing himself to slowly relax his hold on her.
"I want you," she breathed sadly as their foreheads rested together.
"I know," he whispered.
"So badly it hurts and... I feel dizzy," she murmured.
"I'm flattered," he said with a small smirk.
"I wish I was saying it to be flattering," she replied with a terse laugh.
"I know.  Why don't we sit?" he offered.  They walked hand in hand over to a large outdoor lounge chair that belonged to the building's owner.  Garrus sat himself in it and Shepard curled up on his lap, trying not to feel frustrated with herself as his comforting purrs vibrated through her own chest.

Chapter Text

When you move
I'm put to mind of all that I wanna be
When you move
I could never define all that you are to me

So move me, baby
Shake like the bough of a willow tree
You do it naturally
Move me, baby

You are the rite of movement
Its reasonin' made lucid and cool
And though it's no improvement
When you move, I move

You're less Polunin leapin'
Or Fred Astaire in sequins
Honey, you, you're Atlas in his sleepin'
And when you move, I'm moved

When you move
I can recall somethin' that's gone from me
When you move
Honey, I'm put in awe of somethin' so flawed and free

Movement by Hozier

*****

They both woke in the night, but tried not to alert the other.  Garrus shifted and turned, trying to get comfortable once more, but Shepard lay still and stared at the wall away from him.  She didn't want to interrupt his efforts to sleep again.  He seemed to frequently be restless at night still, even though she'd acclimated to the apartment by now.
Shepard couldn't get their night on the roof out of her head.  There had been so many opportunities for them to seduce each other straight into bed, but her lack of remembering and subsequent headaches had stopped them every time.  Garrus was being incredibly understanding, especially considering he could recall everything that was supposed to be happening.  Not having those memories was a different kind of irritation and disappointment.  It left her feeling empty, like being unarmed on a completely different kind of battlefield.
Garrus wasn't successful at drifting off again.  Eventually she felt him slowly roll out of the bed and stand, grunting and grumbling as he stretched and cracked his spine.  That didn't help either.  He stepped away and the door to the bathroom closed before the light flickered on and she heard the sink begin to run.
Finally, she turned over, watching the door.  When he came back out, maybe she would try again, to remember, to touch him in ways she used to.  She could always try anything, but she didn't want to just experiment as she had been with the other areas of her life since the war.  She knew she must know the best ways to know him, and he deserved her confidence in this, at least.  It was silly, but without so many memories, she felt like she was trying to take the place of someone who knew him better.


The sink turned off, but was replaced by the stronger stream of the shower, telling her he'd be taking his time.  Through the bathroom door she heard him give a gruff purr, likely reacting to the hot water both soothing him and washing away the groggy half-sleep that kept him caught between alertness and rest.
Shepard rolled over onto her back and now stared at the ceiling, her hands clenching the blanket over her abdomen.  Some part of her recognized that sound he made.  What did she used to do to be the one to elicit that sound from him as the hot, running water did?  Sure, she'd done it unintentionally a few times before, but wasn't there a specific touch, a motion, a stroke that she used to know?
Her head began to hurt and she silently raged against the threatening pulsing of pain.  Was it possible to push through?  What would it take to trigger the memories that would let her share herself with Garrus the way she wanted to?  She tried to dig deep and think of anything that might be related; her bed in the captain's cabin, her clothes, his clothes, pillows, a dress, a breath, a texture...
Her headache spiked and she pressed the palms of her hands against her eyes.  She thought she might send herself into another seizure or lose consciousness, and Garrus probably wouldn't appreciate that, but she was too committed to the fight now.
She didn't know how much time passed, but the water abruptly turned off.  She heard him sigh and then briefly "hum" a tune familiar to her.  She suddenly became hyper aware of her hands and brought them away from her face, staring at them in the darkness.  She gently ran one over the other, and thought about her callouses that Garrus had recognized.  They were getting softer.  Sparring alone didn't produce them the way handling weaponry, or handling Garrus, did.  She didn't want her hands to get softer; Shepard's hands were not soft...


She blinked and suddenly she knew.  The memories hit all at once, but seemed detached and fleeting, like it may be gone if she didn't focus all of her attention on it.
The flirting, the early, lingering glances... the concern for each other's safety they'd had on every mission that was just a little different.
"Why don't we skip right to the tiebreaker?" she'd boldly offered.
"Why the hell not?" he'd boldly accepted.
More than one awkward, but helpful conversation with Mordin, emphasizing risk of chafing.
"Consider me seduced, smooth talker.  Now shut up and stop worrying."  She remained as confident as ever.
"I want something to go right.  Just once."  Garrus, not so confident.
"Is this okay?" he'd asked for the third time between nervous and exhilarated breaths.
"Trust me to tell you if it's not-- ah, oops..."
His mandibles caught in her hair.  A pair of sweatpants they'd accidentally torn by teasing each other too long.  The way things got easier as they learned each other more thoroughly...


Before she realized it, she was standing and walking towards the bathroom, her headache gone.  She opened the door without knocking and stood in the doorway.  Garrus was still completely naked, his pants on the floor behind him, having lost himself in thought staring at the sink as his skin dried.
"Shepard...?" he murmured, glancing curiously at his state of undress and at her, wondering if she knew what she was doing.  They'd been discreet about nakedness up to that point, simply not to trigger painful experiences for Shepard, but he didn't move to retrieve the clothing.
"I remember," she said simply, just the hint of a sultry smile on her lips and in her eyes.
"You... remember?" he repeated carefully, not daring to make assumptions but definitely becoming hopeful at hearing those words.
"I remember making your heart race," she whispered, stepping close enough to place her hand on his chest as he turned to face her.  She felt it expand as he drew in a shaky breath.  "I remember what pleasure looks like on you..."  Shepard let her hand wander down towards his waist and watched his mandibles flutter into a smirk.  He hadn't yet moved, as if afraid he might scare her, or her enthusiasm, away.  Shepard didn't mind; she felt her own heart racing and couldn't help grinning when it wasn't followed by a headache.  She brought her other hand up to the back of his neck and gripped him there, moving forward to press herself against him.
"I remember what it sounds like."
Shepard let her head rest just under his, gently placing a kiss near his neck.  Her breath trailed a path up to the side of his face as she let her hair entwine with his mandible.  Garrus's eyes closed briefly and a deep, guttural purr was already coming from him.  Simply having her body on his bare skin was more than enough to entice him, his own hopeful desires amplifying the allure of her and warming his already warm flesh.
"Spirits, Shepard," he breathed.
"Yep, that's exactly what it sounds like," Shepard said with a tantalizing laugh.  He exhaled heavily and looked at her, as serious as he could manage, his hands gently, but hesitantly, landing on her waist.


"Shepard, are you sure you--"
"Don't make me think too hard about this, Garrus," she interjected, her voice quiet but abrupt.  She heard it in her own voice, then, and so did he: the confident tone of someone who trusted themself to know precisely what to do, the Commander Shepard that had survived so much for that very reason.  "I'm as sure about this as I've ever been."
She knew exactly how to push him over the edge, and briefly wondered if perhaps she had too much power... but her body was already in motion, one leg flexing up, sliding along the outside of his.  He responded exactly how she knew he would, and that confirmation was nearly as satisfying as the sensuality he returned.  For the briefest of moments Garrus's eyes closed again as he inhaled sharply, and then he dove headfirst into the passion.  One hand went to her raised thigh and formed a tight grip while the other positioned itself in the middle of her back, encouraging her spine to curve around it as she opened herself up to him.  Garrus wasted no time bringing his mouth to her neck and teasing the skin every way he could.
In a smooth, well-practiced motion, Garrus's hands moved under her thighs and Shepard lifted her feet off the ground, wrapping her legs around his waist.  He turned and placed her over the bathroom counter, but she clung to him with her arms and legs still.  His chest rumbled against hers, his purr deepening, evoking a quiet "mmm" from her.
Then, she chuckled; not too loudly, but enough to make Garrus pause and bring his forehead against hers.
"Hm?" he questioned, his hands still wandering to all kinds of provocative places.
"I should've said 'get ready to roll'," she murmured.  Garrus took a moment to give a good laugh at that.
"There will always be next time," he purred, then got back to what he'd been dreaming of for over a year.

*****

"At the risk of sounding like a broken record... are you okay?" Garrus asked, not yet relaxing onto the bed beside Shepard.  Her heart hadn't yet slowed from their activities.  "I have the vial from Chakwas close by if you start to fade out," he added reassuringly.
Shepard understood he was expecting her to be in pain or go into a seizure like she had after the simulation at Spectre Status.
"I think I'm experiencing normal levels of dizziness," she mumbled with a smirk.  Garrus couldn't help but seem a little pleased with himself, despite his concern.  "But... I feel like I'm going to lose what I remembered.  Talk with me about it."
"What exactly do you remember?" he asked.
"I remember the first time," she said, then chuckled.  "You were so flustered... and lost your visor right before our suicide mission."  Garrus chuckled too.
"You thought I was silly for worrying about our love-making interfering with the Collector Base raid, but we may not have made it if you hadn't found it before we left," he joked.
"I remember Mordin's advice," Shepard continued.  "Good thing you did too and were prepared with the appropriate lotions and creams."
"Of course," Garrus chuckled.


Shepard listed off more events and details, but as she did so, her tone and expression became more flat.  Garrus thought at first she was just getting tired, but then recognized her monotone as what happened on the Normandy, when she was numb.  Shepard caught his expression falling, but didn't comment on it.  They both knew this was a better state than a seizure, but some part of her resented herself for it.
Throughout those discussions, they also unfortunately discovered that she hadn't remembered every detail of their relationship.  Shepard tried to hold on to what she could.
"I remember you getting me flowers," she murmured.  She was laying on her back, staring up at the ceiling as Garrus carefully traced patterns along her skin with one finger.  "It was close to the end of the war.  You talked about making sure the war didn't kill romance, and that if we won, some day all the flowers would come back."
"That was the second time I brought you flowers," Garrus told her.  "Do you remember the first?"
"...I don't," she admitted, squeezing her eyes shut.
"...that's okay," he soothed, lifting her hand and holding it close to his face.  "You will."

*****

Several hours later, Shepard woke slowly, awareness and relaxation fighting for dominance.  She was finally conscious enough to realize that she didn't hear Garrus breathing beside her, and turned to confirm the bed was empty.  It felt familiar that he would wake before her.  The flowers from the day before had been placed on the nightstand along with a note: "Meet me on the roof when you're ready for breakfast."
With a contented smile she stretched and rolled out of bed, waking her body further.  She felt more like herself than she had before her sleep.  Despite knowing Garrus was waiting, she decided a quick shower to wash off the night's activities would be a good idea.  She was efficient, and not much time had passed before she was dressed for the day and leaving the apartment.
The elevator doors opened, but it was not empty.  Shepard stepped to the side to let the man exit, but he instead stepped back.
"This is not my floor," he explained, clearing his throat.
"Oh, okay."  Shepard entered the elevator but something began to feel odd to her.  "Are you the owner of the building?" she asked the man.
"No."  He wore a bright smile, but the way his blue eyes watched her felt disconcerting.
"Oh."


He didn't make any selection on the elevator keypad; they were already on the top, and he hadn't entered here... why had he gone up?  Shepard didn't want to reveal the access code for the roof so she simply pressed the button for the floor below, where Vrila was taking residence.  That was the simplest way to evade the situation.
The elevator had barely started moving when the man calmly reached forward and initiated the emergency stop, then turned to face her.
"I was hoping to speak with both you and Garrus.  Where did he go off to, Shepard?" he asked, still relaxed in his posture but looking far too smug.
"I believe you're mistaken, and you do not get to hold me hostage," she interjected harshly.
"Oh, you almost sound like you when you're upset!"  His tone was oozing self-congratulation, and for a moment Shepard just paused as she gave him a closer look.  He looked rather average aside from the brightness of his eyes, but his energy spoke louder than his appearance.  She could sense he was excited, like a raving fan, but also like someone who was about to achieve something they desperately craved.  The way she could feel his emotions left her unconcerned for physical safety, but still uncomfortable.
"I'm not Shepard," she said, her voice level.
"I know you have to say that, but I know..." he said, then shrugged and waved his hands dismissively.  "It doesn't matter.  I can still have this moment."
"I don't-- oh!"  Realization crashed over her like a chill down her spine as she recognized him.  "Hyatt."
His eyes lit up and he smirked.
"This is fascinating," he mused.  "You are fascinating, just as everyone has said."


"I know how you feel about me," she snapped.  "You do not want Garrus to find out you were here."  She squared her shoulders and placed one hand on his shoulder, moving him away from the elevator panel.  He didn't protest moving, but began talking quickly again as she was trying to get the elevator functional again.
"You're so closed off to possibilities.  What if I know more about what happened to you than you think I do?  You need me to help you remember."
The elevator started moving, stopping his tirade, but Shepard was fairly sure it wasn't her interference that fixed it.  It was going up.
"Your time is up," she told Hyatt as it passed the floor she lived on.  Hyatt's eyes narrowed and he huffed with impatience.
"You could be restored, whole again--"
The doors opened onto the roof and Garrus's shadow surrounded him.  Garrus didn't say a word, but his lowered head and fierce growl said enough.  This was no longer the casual war hero; this was the vigilante Archangel with a lot less mercy.  Hyatt tried to appeal to Shepard one more time.
"Shepard, I can explain how--"
Hyatt would not get a chance to explain.  Garrus brought his hand away from the omnitool he'd used to override the elevator and lunged at Hyatt, gripping the front of his shirt and dragging him out of the elevator.


"He didn't hurt me," Shepard tried to assure the turian as she stepped out as well, but Garrus didn't want to listen.  "He's not trying to hurt me."
"I shouldn't have thought you'd let me speak like she did," Hyatt hissed, then abruptly stopped fighting as Garrus bent him backwards over the barrier surrounding the roof.
"Garrus!" Shepard shouted in surprise, watching as Hyatt's flailing fell still.
"You wouldn't do this here," Hyatt grumbled, his hair hanging upside down and blowing in the wind.  "You wouldn't spill my blood in your cozy new home."
The three of them were silent and still for a moment.  They all knew Garrus was not likely to follow through, but they also knew enough of him wanted to.  The gesture was meaningful for the moment, as evidenced by Shepard's frown and Hyatt's shaking hands.
"...how convenient for you," Garrus finally growled.  He hoisted Hyatt back onto the safe side of the barrier.  Hyatt tried to shove Garrus away and he did let go of his shirt, but then gripped his arms in a way that Shepard was sure was painful.  Hyatt couldn't do much about it as Garrus began walking him back to the elevator.
"You do not belong here," he snarled.  "If you come anywhere near this building again, I will once more make sure you leave, and then follow you until you're somewhere I am willing to spill your blood."
Garrus got the elevator doors to open and then threw Hyatt in, causing him to hit the floor and back wall with a thud.  Hyatt simply glared back as Garrus sent the elevator down to the lobby, but Shepard thought she caught a flicker of a smirk before the doors closed.
She stared at Garrus's back and waited as he took a couple deep breaths to calm his adrenaline.  When he was ready, he turned halfway and simply reached out his hand, and she was there, ready to be pulled into his embrace.
"He didn't even put his hands on me, Garrus," she assured him.  "I'm fine."
"I'm not," he huffed, a quiet purr coming from him that Shepard realized was mostly to calm himself.  "Did that feel like calling me off Sidonis all over again?" he asked with a sheepish chuckle.  Shepard's brow furrowed.
"I know who Sidonis is, but... I don't remember a confrontation," she admitted.
"...oh."  With a quiet exhale they separated.  Garrus's head was turned but Shepard caught the disappointment on his face.  She floundered in the silence that followed, desperate to fill it with something other than her own swelling anxiety.


"He said I needed him to help me remember," she blurted out awkwardly.
"Him, help you?"  Garrus's head whipped back to face her.  "This is the man who hung a poster of you, upside down, with a red 'X' over it," he huffed, shaking his head.
"Maybe his tune has changed and he's discovered what a gift I am to the universe," Shepard scoffed.  Garrus's mandibles twitched, unsure how to respond to her self-aggrandizing sarcasm.  There was another long pause that caused Shepard to wrap her arms around herself.
"How did you even know he was in the elevator with me?" she asked, once again trying to fill the space.
"I... just could," he mumbled.  "I guess because of the synthesis.  Something just felt off.  How did he seem... to you?"
"He seemed... excited.  Like he had achieved something important," she replied.  Garrus just grunted and paced away.  Shepard knew he was thinking hard about something he didn't want her to ask about.  If she were fully herself, would she ask him about it anyway?
"...your note mentioned breakfast?" she eventually questioned, her voice careful and small.
"Oh, yes," Garrus replied, slowly turning back towards her.  "I have it set up over here."
They both made their way to a sampling of food Garrus had set out on the patio furniture, and did their best to enjoy a meal in less than comfortable silence.

*****

Shepard felt off for the rest of the day.  It was normal for her to feel like she was forgetting something important, because she was, but it seemed stronger now and she'd been walking on eggshells.  Late in the evening, they'd showered together and were retiring to bed, and Shepard was hoping to finally escape the feeling with sleep.
She laid down and started to get comfortable, but then realized Garrus had sat down on the bed but stopped there.  She rolled over and saw him staring at her like he was waiting for her to say something.
"...what?" she asked, fidgeting with the blanket.
"I, um... I thought--"  He cut himself off, mandibles twitching as he stammered.  He was looking at her so intently and she didn't know why.  He looked lost and it made her nervous.
"What?" she repeated, an edge to her voice.  He hesitated, choosing his words carefully.
"I... thought maybe, you would be considering how to address the situation with Hyatt," he murmured.
"...oh."
Of course.
Roxanne Blaker was categorizing the incident as just some weird run-in with a creep.  An unfortunate, isolated event.
Shepard would be seeing this as part of the pattern and taking action.  Hyatt would be a new task or mission.  At the very least, Shepard would have reported the incident to a superior as intel.


That's the Shepard behavior Garrus was expecting.  He was ready to fall into step with a Commander who wasn't there.  That's what he was searching for in her eyes and not finding.
Shepard turned away from him, stiffly settling back down on to her pillow, unable to meet his gaze.
"I figured you would run point on that," she grumbled as an excuse.  Truthfully she hadn't considered it.  Did she even used to use the phrase 'run point'?  She didn't know.  She wanted to hide from her uncertainty.
"...I understand," he said quietly, and she wished he didn't.  "I'll take care of it."
Soon he was settling in among the many pillows behind her, and she felt his cowl against her back and his arm carefully draped over her waist.  She allowed herself to relax but it was a long while before either of them fell asleep.

Chapter Text

I have, I have you breathing down my neck, breathing down my neck
I don't, don't know what you could possibly expect under this condition so
I'll wait, I'll wait for the ambulance to come, ambulance to come
Pick us up off the floor
What did you possibly expect under this condition so

Slow down, this night's a perfect shade of
Dark blue, dark blue
Have you ever been alone in a crowded room when I'm here with you
I said the world could be burning down
Dark blue, dark blue
Have you ever been alone in a crowded room well I'm here with you
I said the world could be burning 'til there's nothing but dark blue
Just dark blue

This flood, this flood is slowly rising up swallowing the ground
Beneath my feet, tell me how anybody thinks under this condition so
I'll swim, I'll swim as the water rises up, sun is sinking down
And now all I can see are the planets in a row
Suggesting it's best that I slow down

Dark Blue by Jack's Mannequin

*****

"Let's go out tonight."
Shepard glanced at Garrus from the corner of her eye as she dished some dinner onto her plate.  He was holding his own dinnerware, waiting for her to finish, his expression lively.  He sounded a little too excited about the proposal, but still got a small smile from her.
"It's only been a couple days since Hyatt showed up.  I would've expected you to be more paranoid," she mused, stepping past him to their dining table.
"The most he seems to desire at this point is to simply make us upset," he scoffed, placing the dextro-specific food onto his own plate.  "And I can deal with that threat.  Also, that's what Vrila is for."
"Hmm."  Shepard chewed thoughtfully on her food as she watched Garrus sit down across from her.  "Where would we go?"
"Just some bar or club," Garrus shrugged.  "Some place where the people aren't too dense to know to leave us alone, but also not somewhere classy where they think they're cool enough to talk to us; right in the middle of that spectrum."
"So you want a bar filled with reasonable people who keep to themselves?" Shepard asked skeptically.
"Yes, a perfectly boring venue is what I'm looking for," Garrus agreed, being sincere though the humor was not lost on him.  "I want to find the best, boring place we can and stay there as long as possible to make sure that nothing interesting happens.  I think that sounds like just what we need, honestly."  Shepard chuckled then paused to consider this.
"So... you've tried putting me in familiar scenarios at Spectre Status, with familiar people and in familiar places on the Normandy... how is a normal, but boring, night out going to fix me?" she asked.  Now it was Garrus's turn to pause.
"The goal, at least for tonight, would not be to fix anything," he explained carefully.  "I know you feel broken, and there's things you want to have change, but I also think it's fair to let yourself have an uneventful evening out with your boyfriend in the meantime."
Shepard wrestled with the idea.  Her desperation to feel "normal" was front and center in her mind and only getting worse.  But it wasn't like she had other plans.
"...okay.  Can we also dress really boring?" she asked.
"As much as possible," Garrus confirmed with a nod.


Later, Shepard looked over her chosen outfit: jean shorts, a basic blue t-shirt with an Alliance logo, and her more plain glasses frames.  She only had two pairs of glasses, but one was white and a more flattering shape; she went with black and average.  She barely put on any make up, even.
"How's this?" she asked, turning to face Garrus.
"I am incapable of finding you anything but wholly fascinating, but I do trust that you've given it your best shot," he replied without missing a beat.  Shepard tried to ignore the feeling of her cheeks becoming warm as he asked, "What about me?"  Garrus was wearing the most basic turian bodysuit, in metallic Palaven colors.
"I'm pretty sure I've seen five other turians wearing that exact same thing just this week," Shepard answered flatly.
"Exactly!" Garrus grinned.
"How do you even have something like that?" she laughed.
"I spent a year with little desire for self-expression," he grumbled, then gestured dismissively and became excited again.  "Watch, I'll even go completely incognito."  He slowly brought his hand up to his visor, then took it off with a dramatic gesture.  Shepard gasped and looked around the room, playing into the humor.
"Garrus?  Where did you go, and who is this turian I've never seen before?" she asked, pretending to study him skeptically.
"I am now: 'Generic Turian'," he declared, then stepped forward and offered his arm to her.  "Let's go see how boring we can be."
"Alright then," Shepard laughed, and off they went.

*****

Through searching on their omnitool and the advice of a confused salarian cab driver, 'Generic Turian' and Roxanne chose their venue.  It was actually fairly difficult to find something less-than-appealing, and so they had to travel quite a ways from Nova Plaza to end up at Small Crowd, a place reportedly krogan owned.  Vrila would be arriving separately and spend the evening either at the bar or just outside.  Upon entering, the two of them surveyed what it had to offer.
The bar, dance area, and even music appeared perfectly up to par, but the rest looked like someone couldn't quite choose a theme and so threw many together without any kind of forethought.  There was some Alliance and human-related art and decor in one area, but also flags from turian military in another.  There was a table for poker, an area for a krogan puzzle game with small figures and holographic lasers, and even a salarian reflex game off to one side.  A couple of screens were showcasing events from Spectre Status and other Citadel news.  There was a moderate amount of patrons who were just as mismatched as the layout, but seemed to be having a well enough time.
"It's perfect," Garrus breathed in mock amazement, drawing a laugh from Shepard.
"Are we allowed to look at the games, or would that be too entertaining?" she asked.
"Eh, it's still pretty uneventful if we just play simple things like this all night," Garrus shrugged.  Shepard headed for the salarian game first.  It took up a ridiculous amount of room, being comprised of a large solid wall with projections of various landscapes and targets onto it.  A salarian was currently playing, tossing small rubber balls at the targets that would move and flash sporadically across the screen.
"Have I played this before?" Shepard asked as she watched; the salarian was fairly good.
"I don't think I've even seen this game before," Garrus shrugged.
"It's like darts, but with complications," she observed.
"Oh, that makes it sound more boring than it looks.  Well done," he commented, and Shepard chuckled.
They found out the game was called uhaf and both took a turn.  Shepard scored higher than Garrus did, but not by much.
"I don't need to be good at throwing things when I'm good at shooting things," he playfully defended.
"Remind me not to play any sports with you that involve throwing if shooting is your substitute," Shepard teased, and Garrus chuckled.


Afterward they moved to the bar and, in an effort to be uninteresting, directed the bartender to bring them whatever drink was most common for their respective species and gender.  Neither were surprised by what they were handed.
"Before you ask... yes, you have had that before," Garrus told her after Shepard took her first drink.
"Really?  I'm fascinating in all ways except my drink choices?" she questioned.
"I didn't say it was your favorite," he chuckled softly.  "And don't worry, you only have that when it's just your crew around."
Something about the nostalgia in his tone and wistful gaze that settled on his drink made Shepard suddenly feel self-conscious.  She looked at her own drink; was she breaking some kind of personal code she didn't remember?  She took one more drink and then set it down on the bar.
"So... what was my favorite?" she asked timidly.  Garrus took a drink as well and then cleared his throat, pulling himself back to the present moment.
"You had various go-to options for different scenarios," he explained.  "I don't remember each of them, but a few.  I'm sure you'll figure out a system that works for you again."
Shepard couldn't help but be frustrated by his confidence, which some part of her knew was just misplaced anger at her lack of it.  Leaving her glass where it was, she stood back up.
"Let's try out the krogan laser toys," she said flatly.  Garrus followed and they found the table empty.  They discovered the figures had limited movement, and the goal was to get their lights to reflect off of or reach certain objectives.  Certain figures would recede into the table or emerge based on the difficulty of the selected level.  It was a cooperative game, and they were both exceptionally good at it, so they took the time to work through every available stage as they also worked through a couple additional (more preferred) drinks.
Occasionally a fellow patron would comment on their skills or attempt to make small talk.  Garrus was suave as ever, but Shepard kept feeling awkward and clunky.  She dodged comments by hiding behind a drink or Garrus more than once.


"What now?  Dancing?" Garrus asked, stretching his neck after the game was completed.
"I'm pretty sure I only dance to club music when my crew is around too," Shepard said thoughtfully.  Garrus laughed at that.
"Despite your lack of finesse in that area, that hasn't always been the case," he corrected.
"Hmm."  Shepard looked around the room, afraid she would see the remembrance on his face again if she looked at him.  "Whether it's by myself and terrible, or with you and considerably better, that may draw us more attention than we want," she mused.  "Why don't you settle in for a few rounds of poker?"
"Sounds good to me.  Do you... not want to play?" Garrus inquired.
"I'll watch; I'm a little burnt out on bluffing."
Garrus's mandibles twitched as he frowned a little, and Shepard caught that expression, but couldn't come up with a worthwhile response to it.  Regardless, they didn't have any better ideas, and so Garrus seated himself at the poker table, which was currently occupied by two human males, a female turian, an asari, a batarian, and a volus.  Shepard sat on a long sofa against the wall nearby; she didn't want to hover too closely and get accused of helping someone cheat.  Garrus offered up some credits and was dealt into the next hand.
Shepard idly studied the venue as she slowly sipped on what she'd decided was her last drink.  She hadn't had anything particularly heavy so she still felt mostly normal, but wanted to be careful.
How drunk did Shepard typically get?
She frowned at the thought.  Every time she thought of 'Shepard' as separate from her by default, it felt uncomfortable.  She was tired of examining everything she did, wondering how 'Shepard' she was or wasn't being, but once she started it was hard to stop.


Somewhere in the middle of Garrus's third round of poker, she realized someone was trying to get her attention.
"Roxanne?  You're Roxanne, right?"  The tone implied she'd already been unresponsive to a previous address.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she said, focusing now on the human male in front of her.  He was tall, blonde, attractive, and well dressed, but she didn't recognize him.  She suddenly felt nervous; if she was supposed to know him, this could get sketchy.  "Yes, I'm Roxanne," she replied carefully.
"It's Dolph Mincer, from Spectre Status," he introduced himself with a cheerful grin.
"Oh!  Right," she said, feeling better now that she knew the context.
"Don't feel bad for not recognizing me; you've only seen me briefly on a screen and the lighting is terrible in here," he said, gesturing dismissively.  Shepard smiled gratefully.
"I'm just sorry I didn't realize you were trying to get my attention," she replied, then added honestly, "I guess I zoned out a bit... and I wasn't expecting to run into anyone."
"I know, this doesn't really seem like it would be one of my regular hangouts, huh?" Dolph chuckled, taking a seat on the sofa as well.  Shepard was grateful he turned the attention back to him.
"Now that you mention it, no," she agreed.  "It is kind of... eccentric.  What's the story with this place?"
"It's run by a krogan that got some business grants.  The Citadel wants to boost economy and show good favor to less represented races, and the krogans want to increase their presence and reputation here, too.  Unfortunately this guy is kind of apathetic about the opportunity, and so puts only half-hearted effort into it," Dolph explained.  "I'm not sure how he was the one who ended up with the funds."
"Seems like the process for selection may have gotten a little lax," Shepard mused.  "Krogan with this kind of interest and expertise can't be that hard to find."  She didn't know how she was so sure of that, but she was.
"You know a lot of krogan?" Dolph questioned, raising a brow.
"Well..." Shepard hesitated.  She first thought of Wrex but she couldn't talk about that; other diplomats would work though. "Councilor Lyric talks about the krogan a lot, and I've met a few of their diplomats.  I'm also friends with her krogan assistant, Vrilakir."
"Oh, that's right, I forgot you were tight with the Councilor," Dolph said, nodding.


"Yeah.  So, what draws you here, then?" she asked, eager to keep the attention on him.
"Ah, my buddy bartends," he shrugged, gesturing to the bar and then the drink in his hand, which was already half empty.  "I come out when he's on shift when I can."
"That's a nice thing to do," she told him, and Dolph graciously accepted the comment.
"That being said, I've never seen you here before so I know this isn't your usual spot," he pointed out with a smirk.
"You're right, it's not," she conceded.
"I also would've expected Vakarian to be with you," he added.  Shepard laughed.
"Now you're the one not paying attention," she teased, still chuckling.  "Did you think the turian at the poker table was keeping his eye on you for no reason?"  Dolph blinked and Shepard watched as he turned and made eye contact with Garrus.  His identity may not have been easily discernible, but there was no mistaking the 'that's my girlfriend you're talking to' expression that was both smug and a warning.  Dolph gave a short laugh, then nodded his head in greeting, which Garrus returned before pretending to turn his attention back to the poker game.
"Wow.  That visor is practically a superhero disguise, huh?" he chuckled.
"Yes, except he always has it on," Shepard agreed.
"That's because he's always a superhero, right?" Dolph joked.
"I'm going to tell him you called him that," she laughed.  "Also, I think he'd prefer vigilante."
"I'll take your word for it," he shrugged, then looked back at Garrus.  "Vakarian is... pretty intense, isn't he?"
"I'd say that's an accurate description," she nodded.


"Do you think Shepard was just as intense?"
She tensed at that and looked down into her drink.
"She would've had to be," she replied quietly.  Dolph looked back at her and realized his mistake.
"Oh, sorry, I didn't mean it like-- I mean--" he stammered, then paused to catch up with himself.  "I wasn't trying to make you compare yourself to his past girlfriend.  It's the whole war hero thing."
"War hero thing?" she repeated curiously.
"Yeah," he sighed.  "Look, I appreciate and respect those in the military life, but I admit that any one of them would consider me some soft, shallow brat with a cushy lifestyle."
"I'm sure the entire military force doesn't dislike you," Shepard said, calling him out on the generalization.
"Maybe not," he conceded with a chuckle.  "But I'm okay being that.  What I mean is I just can't even imagine what it would take to go through some of the stuff Vakarian and Shepard went through.  Everyone in the military is made of much tougher stuff than myself for sure.  You're Alliance too, right?"
"It used to be my life," she replied quietly, trying to keep her balance between her reality and her cover story.  "I have a medical condition that got me honorably discharged."
"I'm sorry to hear that.  I bet you've had to make a lot of adjustments."
"Yeah."
"Did you see a lot of tough stuff too?" he asked.  Shepard's brow furrowed as her mind searched for the memories of her combat experience and only came back with a dull ache.
"I, uh, try not to dwell on the past too much," she dodged.
"I can understand that," he nodded.


Before either of them could speak again, there was a series of disgruntled complaints from the poker table.  They both looked over to see Garrus smugly collecting winnings and many of the others expressing exasperation, to the point that the volus stood up and left.
Shepard was about to laugh, when the energy in the room slowly began to shift.  It felt like a sleeping giant slowly coming into consciousness.  Her eyes darted around, trying to understand, and the room got quieter as others became sensitive to the same thing.  Then it was quiet enough for her to hear; the main TV by the bar was broadcasting highlights of the Cyno-versary, which included snippets of the memorial where they'd declared her killed in action.
The solemnity wasn't hers, it was theirs.  All throughout the venue, patrons were turning their attention to the presentation and lowering their voices.  They were bowing their heads, sharing in military pride and victory, celebrating unity and the one who gave them that chance: Commander Shepard.  Due to the synthesis, the emotions were spreading like wildfire and touching nearly everyone there.  The DJ even lowered his music.
It was almost too much to take in.  All this emotion others had, shared with her through heightened emotional sensitivity, was for her?  She was the one responsible for that?
Shepard typically tried to avoid these broadcasts as much as possible.  The views others held of the Commander and her view of herself were too much at odds, and it caused her head to hurt.  She had no choice now but to listen to the words being said, and somehow she couldn't look away.  Steadfast?  Bold?  Revolutionary diplomat?  Mastermind tactician?  Her jaw and hands clenched, one around her glass and the other into a fist.  How could she possibly be that person?


She realized Dolph had said something to her, but she'd missed it.
"I'm sorry, what?" she mumbled, barely turning her head towards him.
"That wave of emotion!  You felt it too, right?" he said incredulously.  "I wonder if Commander Shepard knew that would be a product of synthesis."
She didn't.  Wait, did she?  Maybe I just forgot.
She looked to Garrus.  He, too, was looking at the broadcast celebrating all that she used to be and had accomplished.  Usually he would anticipate or sense her discomfort, but this time he wasn't.  The wave of emotion must have swept him up.  His twitching mandibles and wistful expression fixed on that other version of her felt like a vice grip on her chest.
"Are you alright?" Dolph asked, sounding slightly concerned.  "You're all tense."
"I need to stretch my legs," she mumbled, dismissing herself as she stood up.  But she didn't know where to go; interrupting Garrus's reverie would simply remind him how disappointing she was now... right?
She turned toward the exit.  She thought Vrila was out there, and perhaps the fresh air could help her get a grip on herself before others could sense the tension in her body.
Shepard made it two and a half steps and then, somehow, tripped over nothing.  She was able to put her hands in front of her, but forgot she was still holding her drink, and forgot to let go on the way down.  She cringed as the glass shattered and sliced into her left hand.  She held herself up with her opposite hand, something more than the pain stunning her.
"Are you okay?  Oh, um, your hand..." Dolph drifted off, sounding uncomfortable at the sight of the blood slowly pooling under her palm.
"What happened?" Garrus asked in alarm.  He abandoned the winnings at the table, rushing over as Shepard carefully shifted her weight and sat back on her knees, grimacing as the glass in her flesh shifted.
"Can we get some first aid over here?" Dolph was calling towards the bar.
"What happened?" Garrus repeated, kneeling beside Shepard and gingerly placed his hand under hers.
"I... fell," Shepard replied, flat and dumbfounded.  Her hand began to tremble, and her brows furrowed deeply as she met Garrus's eyes.  "I don't fall, do I?" she asked, and Garrus knew what she was really asking.  He placed her hand in his lap and took the first aid supplies.
"I've tended to your wounds many times," he subtly reminded her.
"Wounds from... clumsiness?!" she challenged, her tone harsh but low.  He was dodging, but she knew he couldn't be specific in public.  They hadn't drawn a lot of attention, but a handful of people were still close by and watching.


"Hey," he purred, pausing briefly to stare into her eyes.  Shepard didn't know how he managed to make her heart race with a single word, even if it was said so soothingly.  "It's okay.  We'll get you patched up and head home... before this place becomes even more eventful."  After taking a moment just to smile, he focused back on her bandaging and added, "Good call with the boring clothes, by the way.  If there's too much blood on them, we could just throw them out."
His comment was more comforting than she expected it to be.  Soon he had finished, and so he packed the first aid kit away and helped her back to her feet.  Dolph caught Shepard's eye again; he looked relieved that her wound was under control.
"Thanks for the chat," she told him sheepishly.  "We're... going now."
"Yeah, no problem, good talking to you," Dolph said.  "See you around, Vakarian."
"See you Dolph," Garrus said with a nod, then he and Shepard turned toward the exit.
"Hey, wait," the batarian at the poker table called.  "What about your winnings?"
Garrus paused, glancing at the good-sized pile of credits still on the table, then Shepard, then back to the table.
"...at the risk of making this evening very exciting and starting a bar fight, have at it," he shrugged.
"...wait, did that guy just call you Vakar--"
A scramble for the credits ensued before the asari could finish stating her realization, and Garrus and Shepard slipped away without further detection.

*****

Shepard sat on her side of the bed in her pajamas, running her fingers over the bandage on her hand.  Garrus had also changed for the night, and was staring at her back and slouched shoulders.  He could tell her thoughts were racing and she wasn't likely to rest soon if they didn't stop.  Bracing himself, he attempted to stop her cycle.
"What's on that mind of yours?" he asked gently.
"I just... I feel so confused.  Fate made a very clear point for me to do something so very un-Shepard-like in the middle of everyone worshipping her," she scoffed.
"That was a very effective way to keep your cover in tact," he replied, attempting a joke.
"I'm serious, Garrus," she sighed.  Garrus's mandibles twitched and he felt his own shoulders slump.  He'd successfully pulled her out by jokingly making light of things before, but not this time.
"Okay," he acknowledged, defeated.
"I'm so tired of wondering if what I'm doing is right.  Why don't you just tell me what you think Shepard would do, and I can do that?" she asked, feeling her wound ache as she clenched her fist.
"Well I could tell Joker to do that too, but I think that would defeat the purpose because he's not you," he replied.
"Am I me?" she asked, then sighed in exasperation at herself.  "I feel like I'm never reacting how you would expect me to."  For a moment, Garrus paused, and Shepard turned to look at him.
"You, and others, see me as the authority on who Commander Shepard is," he began carefully.  "Probably because I was there for your most recent defining moments.  But what many forget is that I've known you for only a small fraction of your lifetime, and that time was spent nearly being entirely absorbed by war and conflict."  Shepard brought her gaze down to the blanket, unable to meet his intense, compassionate gaze as he continued.
"If Admiral Anderson or your mother were still alive and we asked them if you'd ever tripped or broken a glass, they may have a very different answer.  Shepard, you are more than my perception of you.  You are more than anyone's perception of you."
Shepard considered this, but it didn't take long for her mind to find a rebuttal.


"That doesn't mean I know who I am," she mumbled.
"I don't think anyone figures that out all the way until you get to be Wrex's age," Garrus said with a slight smirk.  "Which neither of us will.  Chakwas and Councilor Lyric have similar lifespans as us, but even their lives have changed drastically since the beginning and the end of the war.  They're decades ahead of us, but they're still having to evolve."
"But I know I'm missing something, Garrus.  This isn't just about evolving if I can't even remember where I've been," she pointed out.
"You're absolutely right," he agreed with a nod.  "But being at war with where you are now will not lead you to what you lost."
With a heavy exhale Shepard brought herself closer to him and leaned her back against his torso, relaxing as his arms came around her and he began to purr.
"...I don't know how to stop," she admitted weakly.
"There's time for that to evolve, too," he assured her, speaking into the curve of her neck in a way that made her shudder.
"So... I'm just impatient?" she grumbled.
"You're captivating," Garrus replied, causing Shepard to turn and raise a brow at him.  "...oh, I guess that's not what we were talking about," he added, clearing his throat.  This time his humor got a chuckle out of her, and he grinned triumphantly.
"I suppose you could talk about that if you wanted to," Shepard said with a smirk.
"Hmm, is showing you an option?" he asked, resting his forehead against hers and running one hand up and down her arm.
"I'll allow it," she said, pretending to be hard to get.  Unphased, Garrus adjusted his grasp and shifted her onto his lap as he purred.
"Show and tell, coming right up."

Chapter Text

Picture yourself in a room full of broken glass
Blood on the pieces, the pieces you can't put back
A little white light in a sea gone black
My head is the room and the room's full of broken glass

You can't change me, can you save me?

Oh clean eyes
Breaking my heart in all the right ways and
No I don't mind, clean eyes
Oh clean eyes
Breaking my heart and breaking my chains and
I don't know why, clean eyes

I'm a cynic, I told you, I fear what I don't believe
I don't know what this is but this is a different beast
I check the lock on the door three times
Can't put my faith in what I can't describe
I'm a cynic, I told you, I don't believe

So can you save me?

Oh clean eyes
Breaking my heart in all the right ways and
No I don't mind, clean eyes
Oh clean eyes
Breaking my heart and breaking my chains and
I don't know why, clean eyes

Take me home when I lost myself
Love me better than I love myself
Take me home when I lost myself

Clean Eyes (Acoustic) by SYML

*****

Despite Garrus's best efforts to make everything alright again, he couldn't soothe her subconscious.  Days passed and Shepard remained prone to anxiety and frustration.  The stinging of her cut and the bandage continuously brought her blunder to mind, keeping fresh how far from herself she was.
Garrus recognized the compounding effect the wound was having on her mental health and utilized some of his military-grade medigel to speed the healing along.  Unfortunately, even with the pain and injury gone, it was frequent that he'd notice Shepard looking at or touching the scar.  She'd even become absentminded at times, distracted by her own racing thoughts, which only served to make her more upset and him more concerned.  They did their best to stay open and honest with each other about their feelings, but always came up short in the way of solutions.  They hoped perhaps Hackett would come up with something on the anti-syns, or Councilor Lyric's research team would discover an answer, but had no clue how likely either of those occurrences were to happen.


One night, Shepard had a dream.  She was standing on the roof of their apartment building.  All around her was noise from a large celebration, for her.  It was down on the streets below and even somehow filling the sky: highlights of Commander Shepard and all she has done were projected in holograms around her.  She wanted to shrink away.
Sharp pain on her hand got her attention; she looked down and saw the cuts from her fall, once again stinging and bleeding.  Then she noticed more wounds, mud, and... armor?  Shock overtook her; she recognized that armor.  She heard a voice speaking indistinctly and looked up and saw a holographic AI interface in front of her that looked like a young boy.  She somehow knew what he was but also couldn't identify him.  His words were incoherent.
The blood, the wounds, and the mud melted off of her and materialized as Commander Shepard in front of her.  Somehow, she now was that strange, translucent boy, facing the battered version of herself.  Someone called for her, and she watched herself turn to face Hyatt, who was casually approaching.
But something felt wrong; his expression was sneering.
"Get away!" both Shepards told him.
Hyatt stopped, but was already close.
"You are the one going away."
Commander Shepard, the AI child, and "Roxanne" Shepard were three parts of the same person, watching herself shatter like glass thrice over.


It filled her with terror and jolted her awake, her hands clenched together in front of her chest.  Garrus didn't stir.
In an effort to calm down, she sat up and stretched, reaching for her toes, breathing deeply as she let the adrenaline burn off.  She then stretched her arms up, and twisted her upper half both ways, careful not to disturb Garrus.  Feeling more groggy now, she reached for her omnitool and began flipping through recent news, barely reading what she was looking at.  A new message caught her attention, and she opened it.

You have a standing reservation at Adriti.  Give them your name, Commander.

Feeling too tired to even determine how important it was, she couldn't be bothered to do anything about it then.  With a yawn, she set the omnitool down and went back to sleep.
Later, Shepard woke, her dream and the message forgotten, and Garrus still in bed next to her.  He'd been awake for a while but was responding to messages on his omnitool.


"Good morning," he purred as she brought herself closer to his side.
"Morning," she replied.  "What's the news today?"
"Well, it turns out the anti-syns have at least gotten some attention thrown their way," he told her as his mandibles twitched.
"What do you mean?" she asked, brow furrowed.
"Some private companies are directing even more resources to studying what they can of the synthesis.  They're requesting access to the Crucible for research," he grumbled.
"Isn't the Crucible considered a military weapon?  You can't just ask for samples," Shepard questioned.
"Pretty much," he exhaled.  "Hackett and the rest of the Crucible team will likely want to make sure they get some security measures in place.  Perhaps it's time to separate it from the Citadel entirely."
"That may not--"  Shepard sucked in a breath and cringed as stabbing pain shot through her head.
"What's wrong?" Garrus asked urgently, setting down the omnitool.
"Headache," she answered through gritted teeth.  "A bad one.  We have something from Chakwas for this, right?"
"Yes, I'll go get it."
Garrus got out of bed and went to the bathroom, then returned shortly with a capsule and a cup of water.  Shepard gratefully took it then laid back on the bed, resting her arm on her forehead.


"Would you like me to make breakfast today?" Garrus offered.
"No, it's my turn," she sighed.  "This should pass soon.  Distract me; what else is in the news?"
"More businesses opening up on the Citadel, and diversifying," he shrugged.  "Organized sports leagues are once again being put into place.  In personal news, Spectre Status would like me to make another showing.  And Liara will be on the Citadel later this week and would like to visit."
"Both of those sound fun," she commented.  "I wish I could play with you, on display.  Roxanne used to be Alliance; wouldn't it fit with my cover?"
"Not exactly," Garrus replied with a sympathetic smile.  "Roxanne was Alliance, but when we put you in combat you're not Roxanne anymore, you're Commander Shepard."
"Which is exactly why I need to do it!" she insisted.  "I need to feel that."
"But... you collapsed afterward," he pointed out, his smile fading.
"But then I was okay," she rebutted.  "Even now, my headache is already getting better."
"You always did recover quickly," Garrus chuckled.  "We could maybe try it again, and at least determine if it's a predictable reaction."
"I'll take any chance at stretching my limits," she said.
"Is pushing it the right option?" he asked, once again concerned.  "Maybe--"  Shepard cut him off.
"I can't keep waiting, Garrus," she said weakly.
"...we'll get you in the arena again soon then," he conceded, hoping it was the right choice.  Shepard sat up and placed her hand over the scars on his face.
"Thank you," she murmured, and Garrus purred in reply.  "Now, I think I'm ready to go make breakfast."
"If that is the case, I think I will go rinse off while you do," he replied.
"Sounds like a plan," she said with a nod.  "Think of me."
"Obviously," Garrus chuckled.  He briefly touched his head to hers before they both went to see to their tasks.


Once in the kitchen, Shepard realized the headache had effectively neutralized any real appetite she had for breakfast.  She began putting together a dextro meal for Garrus and then searched for a simple energy bar for herself.  She found an adequate option and leaned back on the counter as she ate it and supervised the cooking.
She absently began to run her fingers over the scar on her palm and drifted into her thoughts.  It would feel great to play at Spectre Status again.  Having an audience sounded more exciting than not.  ...why was that?  If it would be so obvious that she was Shepard, she should be more interested in protecting that information... but she wasn't.  She wanted masses of people to confirm to her that she was Shepard.  She cringed at herself; a fully confident Shepard would not be relying on that...
With a jolt Shepard was brought back to the present and realized Garrus's breakfast was done cooking.  She took her last bite of the energy bar, removed Garrus's food from the stove, and retrieved a plate and utensils for him.
Garrus was usually out by now.  Curious, she headed down the hall and heard him speaking before she saw him.
"No, it's okay."
He was on a call.  Shepard pulled up short of the doorway and listened.  He'd probably just finished up in the shower.
"She... she's struggling."  Shepard stiffened.  "It's like she's dazed, and then confused, and then angry.  Then she tries to hide that she's angry because she's afraid.  ...Just since Hyatt showed up, but she's been talking about how both growth and deterioration happen quickly because of the synthesis."


Deterioration?  Does he think I'm deteriorating?
Garrus exhaled heavily, the defeat in his tone more than he'd let himself express around her.
"I wasn't prepared for Shepard to experience this.  I assumed things would only improve.  I don't have a plan for what happens if she's moving backward."
Shepard turned and walked back towards the kitchen, full of too many emotions to identify.  Had she gotten that weak minded that quickly?  Was she not seeing it?  How long before there was not enough of her left to build back up?
She stopped in the middle of the kitchen, staring at the food ready to be served.  She was desperate for some kind of action to correct her trajectory, but felt paralyzed.  As her mind raced, it suddenly remembered the dream she'd had recently, and the message.  She didn't even know if it had happened the previous night or a different one.  She checked her omnitool now, but the message was gone.  She remembered there had been no other information, but a very small list of potential senders.  Shepard knew it was Hyatt; she couldn't give proof, but she knew.  Despite his track record, she didn't feel threatened by him, and she wondered why that was.  Something was telling her she needed to hear him out, but she didn't know if she could trust that, and she knew she would never get Garrus on board with hearing Hyatt out unless she could trust her own gut.


She jumped at Garrus's hand on her back, startled out of her thoughts, and he quickly apologized, mandibles fluttering.
"Erm, ready to eat?" he asked.
"Go ahead," she said, moving out of his way.  "I'm a little nauseous from the headache so I just had an energy bar."
"Alright then."  Shepard watched as Garrus dished out his food.  More out of desperation than trust, she decided to make an opportunity to investigate.
"I was thinking maybe I would go out and see if Rainfall has any of my favorite body wash scents available again.  It would probably be smart to make sure Roxanne appears a little more independent than always having you with her," she suggested, keeping her voice more calm than she thought she could.  Garrus didn't even bother trying to hide his confusion.  Rainfall was where Shepard got her "fancy" toiletries, but was quite a ways down the arm of the Citadel from them.  Usually her trips alone were only across the Plaza.
"By yourself?" he questioned.  "Shouldn't Vrila at least shadow you, to be careful?"
"I can handle getting around the Citadel on my own.  We already know Hyatt is not trying to hurt me," she replied, this time sharper than necessary.  To her surprise, Garrus only paused a moment before conceding.
"Okay.  Have a comment prepared in case the paparazzi catch up to you," he said, then simply turned and walked toward the dining table with his plate.  Shepard took the opportunity handed to her and headed out of the apartment with a brief farewell.


As soon as the door closed, Garrus called Vrila on his omnitool.
"You two heading out?" she asked.
"Just Shepard.  And she's not just going across the Plaza," he clarified.
"Oh, that's new."
"She specified there was no need for you to accompany her," he said carefully.
"...I'll give her a headstart then," Vrila grunted, picking up on Garrus's tone.
"Yes, do that."
The call ended and Garrus began to eat what Shepard had prepared for him, doing his best not to think about what had just happened.

*****

Leaving the apartment building without Garrus, knowing she would be going further and under false pretense, caused Shepard to breathe fast and shallow.  Her shoulders and jaw were tense.  Instead of calling a skycab right away, she forced herself to walk along the sidewalk in the Plaza and create some distance.  The further she got, the more her shoulders dropped and her nerves calmed enough to let her focus on her surroundings, which made her realize no one was scrutinizing her as harshly as she was herself.  After about 15 minutes, she hailed a skycab and told the driver to take her to Adriti.
On the way, she researched Adriti for herself.  It seemed to be a fairly normal location; it was a restaurant, with drell themes.  She couldn't determine anything about it that would make it more prone to danger for her than any other restaurant.
The cab dropped her off a couple blocks away, which Shepard didn't mind.  She was so absently confident she didn't realize what she was doing until she was a few steps away from the entrance.
She pulled up short, then awkwardly walked past the doors, looking around for a place to sit and observe for a while.  There was some outdoor seating nearby, and so she wandered over there and positioned herself to comfortably observe Adriti.  As she sat she wondered: is that what Shepard would do?  Reconnaissance was a good idea, right?  Or would Shepard be confident enough in her ability to handle a situation that she wouldn't be worried about walking into a situation?  She frowned; she didn't know which was accurate.
Shepard watched as a few people came and went from the restaurant.  She could see a good portion of the inside as well from large panel windows.  A female drell host was at the front, ready to seat guests, and the aesthetic looked nice.  It seemed based on the adopted hanar culture of the drell, as the decor was reminiscent of an oceanic and tropical landscape.  It was well lit and the layout appeared very open.


After nearly half an hour, Shepard realized she didn't know how long was supposed to be long enough.  She couldn't exactly sit there forever.  The only other thing she felt she could do was check with her gut, and whatever sensitivity the the synthesis had given her.  Her gut kept telling her to move forward, but she'd never purposefully tried to tap in to the energy around her before.
As an experiment, she glanced around until she saw a couple nearby, asari and salarian.  They were eating together, talking, flirting, laughing.  The salarian held the asari's hand, then leaned forward and whispered something, causing the asari to erupt into giggles.  Just from observing Shepard nearly felt herself blush, but she wondered if perhaps she could access more?
It was easier than she expected.  Just by focusing her attention she could pick up on their exuberance and felt it herself.  It was pure infatuation and carefree romance, going who knows where.  Somehow she knew it wasn't a long-term relationship, and both of them were, at this moment, perfectly fine with that.
Curious now, she directed her attention elsewhere and attempted it once more.  She found a human female on a call, appearing upset.  She wasn't yelling, but her expression and body were tense.  Shepard felt herself frown as she watched her pace, speaking quietly and firmly.  She appeared angry, but Shepard felt that she was hurt.  Someone had betrayed her, and it was devastating, but other circumstances required her to keep herself together, and thus it showed as anger.
Shepard looked down at her own hands and tried to focus solely on what was hers now, shaking off the other's energy.  She would never know if what she felt was accurate, but she had no choice but to trust it.  Although, there was nothing at stake by holding on to these secret interpretations now, but there may be in the future.
Shepard looked inside Adriti once more.  There were no strong emotions she could detect, just casual dining.  Before she could think too much about it, she stood up and made her way into the building.  The female drell greeted her cheerily.


"Hello, just one today?" she inquired.
"I have a reservation," Shepard replied carefully.
"Very good.  What name is it under?"
Shepard forced herself not to pause too long under the drell's expectant gaze.
"Ah, Shepard," she answered.  As the drell raised her brows she added quickly, "Like the Commander, but... no relation."
"Just one moment," the drell said with a smile and a little nod before looking down at her spreadsheets with all the restaurant information.  Shepard still didn't detect any unease or suspicion from her as she flipped through and read from a page for several seconds.  Then, she looked back up and gestured for Shepard to come with her.
"I'll take you to your table."
Shepard followed the drell to a small booth near the bar and took a seat when invited to.  A menu was placed in front of her.  It all felt incredibly normal.
"Your company appreciates your patience and should be with you within thirty minutes," the drell said, then returned to the front of the building.
There it is, Shepard thought with a sigh.  The drell was probably going to notify Hyatt that she'd arrived, and then he would show up soon after.
It's not a bad system.
An asari from the bar approached with a large, bright orange drink and placed it in front of her.
"On the house," the asari said.  "It's non-alcoholic, but we can make you up something that is if you'd like."
"This will be fine, thank you," Shepard replied, and the asari dismissed herself.  Not a bad system at all.


Shepard sipped on her drink and observed other patrons as she waited, once more practicing her synthesis empathy.  A few times she even tried to find something suspicious, and couldn't.
Hyatt was fairly timely, despite the last minute notice.  Shepard wondered if perhaps he lived nearby.  He approached the table and sat across from her; she could detect nothing from him except smugness and curiosity, which were easy enough to read from his face.  He was freshly shaven, dressed in nice, but casual clothes.  His ruddy hair was well kept and his blue eyes were locked on her.  Before he spoke, the asari from the bar returned with a dark drink for him, then once more returned to the bar.  They both remained silent for a moment as Hyatt took a drink, seemingly in no rush.
"Good morning," he finally said.
"Morning," she replied neutrally.
Hyatt placed his omnitool on the table between them, then clasped his hands together.
"You can check it to make sure it's off and not recording our conversation, if you want," he offered.  She did.
"I didn't expect you to come alone," he commented carefully.
"I don't think it would've been very effective otherwise," she muttered.
"'Effective'," he repeated, intrigued.  "What do you intend for the effect of this meeting to be?"
"To hear what you have to say," she said slowly, beginning to feel unsure of herself.  Hyatt chuckled at that.
"So... you willingly came here to hear my victorious 'evil villain' monologue?" he laughed incredulously.
"Is that what this is?" Shepard cringed.
"Pay attention," he scolded, and his tone immediately made her skin crawl.  "You came here because you don't feel threatened by me.  You can tell there's nothing I'm trying to get from you, correct?  I already have everything I've been working for."
He was right.  There was nothing in his behavior or even his energy that seemed predatory, just pure smugness.
"That's why this would've been even more fun with Garrus.  He could sit there and glare and growl all he wanted but it wouldn't change the fact that I'm getting everything I've ever wanted from you," he sneered.


"So... tell me what's in this for me again?" Shepard asked, already tired of his attitude.
"Oh, I do have useful information for you... or at least things you might like to know.  For example, why I've been so against you in the first place, and how I know what actually happened to the parts of you you're missing.  Do you want to know about that?" he asked, then took another drink from his glass as Shepard felt her chest tighten.
"Yes," she said through gritted teeth.
"Then let's get started," he grinned.  "I'm sure many of your old and new friends have been looking into where I came from.  They haven't found much, have they?"
"No, they haven't.  The end of the Transcendent War is a convenient time to recreate yourself," she pointed out.
"And I was in desperate need of recreation," he agreed with a nod, then looked at her pointedly.  "I was Cerberus."
"Cerberus... you worked for the Illusive Man," she said.
"...oh, I should've known you may not remember much of your history with Cerberus," he said, laughing at his own mistake.
"I remember enough," Shepard insisted, hoping it was true.  She knew a lot of it was information she was simply aware of, and not truly remembering, but maybe that would be sufficient.
"Well, despite your best efforts, Cerberus had bits and pieces of information about the Crucible.  The Illusive Man needed his own team of researchers to decode it, just as you and your allies had yours," he explained.  "I was tucked away on a distant research station that went undetected during your siege of Cronos Station.  Of course, the Illusive Man was already taking things into his own hands, so we were fairly useless at that point."
"Were you indoctrinated?" she asked.  She hadn't even considered what may have happened to those the Reapers had in their control when synthesis occurred.  A smirk crept onto Hyatt's face.
"In a way, I still am," he answered.  Shepard's brow furrowed as he continued.  "I remember what it felt like.  It didn't just feel like someone else was in control of you and your mind, it was also so confusing because you would forget who was in control, and why, and you wouldn't know if each choice you made was yours or someone else's..."
Hyatt was frowning too by the time he drifted off, and Shepard was greatly unnerved by how much this sounded like her own experience.


"The Reapers must have released you when the Cynosure happened," Shepard said skeptically.
"They did," he confirmed.  "But I had no time to appreciate being free because a new version of indoctrination took over at the same instant as the Reapers released me: synthesis."
"Synthesis is not--"
"Of course you don't think it is.  You're the one who instituted it!  But I've experienced both."
"I'm not making you carry out Shepard's-- my-- will.  You've been free to harass and condemn me all this time," she spat.
"But I know you've seen the way we all are susceptible to influence from those around us.  It's because we're all part of the same network now, whether we like it or not.  Someone else's misery is now mine and I'm stuck trying to fix the effects of something that wasn't even my business," he persisted.
"It is a benefit to all life," she growled.
"How?  What exactly does it do?  How exactly does it work?  How do I keep myself free from other's emotions?" he questioned.  Shepard hesitated for just long enough for him to press forward.  "Everyone is still trying to figure that out, and that is why this is a problem.  You initiated synthesis without any opportunity to consult or research or campaign for why this universal indoctrination was beneficial."
"It ended the war," Shepard pointed out through gritted teeth.
"And was it the only way?" Hyatt challenged.  This time, he waited for the answer.
"...I don't know."
"Exactly.  No one knows what you did with the Crucible, the Catalyst.  There could be far more dire effects we will all be subject to... and you can't even remember or make a case for why it was worth it," he scoffed.  "The Reapers were more convincing."
Shepard's hands were clenched into fists in her lap.  He was right about one thing at least: she didn't know how to explain or justify the choice that resulted in the Cynosure.  But then she realized... she didn't have to.


"I don't have to convince you," she said quietly, but firmly.  "I don't need you to agree with me."
"Well, you're right," he shrugged.  "But truthfully, I don't need to convince you either.  It would be great if you were willing and able to provide factual evidence for why and how you imposed synthesis upon everyone in the known universe, but if you can't, then all I have to do is discredit you, and really, you've done a very good job of that yourself."
"Last I checked I was still being hailed as a hero," Shepard said with no amount of pride.
"They are hailing everything you no longer are as a hero," Hyatt corrected.  "And you're not getting that back."
"How would you know what I am or am not capable of becoming?" she challenged, trying not to react to the fact that he'd just stated her biggest fear.
"Oh, sorry, I didn't get to that part.  David Archer, who, as you may or may not remember, used to be Cerberus, found the version of you that's here right now, right?  The parts of you that got sent out into the digital aether," he said, gesturing vaguely, and Shepard nodded.  "Well, I found the rest of you."
"...I don't understand.  I just split in two pieces somehow?" she asked.
"I don't understand the how or why so much either," Hyatt admitted.  "I was trying to access the Catalyst, as that is just as key to synthesis as you were, and at the time I didn't know to look for you.  I found a sort of... place holder for the Catalyst.  I still don't know how to properly access or interact with it, which I think is also true for any of the Councilor's team..."  He paused, seeming to be checking her for cues.  Shepard thought that was accurate but honestly didn't know enough to really give anything away anyway.  With a slight shrug, he pressed on.
"Instead I found you.  Or rather, a database of you... sort of," he scrunched up his nose, trying to define the idea.
"Like... a Prothean beacon?" Shepard asked, something about the idea feeling familiar.  "Did you see all of my memories?" she added with a grimace.
"Well, what was it like when you interacted with the Prothean beacon?" he asked.
"It was flashes," she said, making sure she really was remembering what she thought she was.  "Quick and distorted.  But even without seeing it, I knew about the destruction and death that had happened.  Then I got the Cipher and was able to understand how and why it happened, and that the Reapers were still a threat, and needed to be stopped."
"Then... yes.  It was like a Prothean beacon.  How fascinating," he mused.  "In response to your previous question, I didn't see your memories like I was watching a movie, or something like that.  It was all at once, intense.  And while the understanding from me to you is a lot less foreign than you to a Prothean, some of it seemed vague and unclear as well.  I don't know about your last moments or your interactions with the Catalyst.  But I know things like which Alliance vessel that your parents were stationed on was your favorite.  I know what you got for your tenth birthday.  I know where you were when you were told your father was dead, and I know what gift Garrus gave you when he told you about his mother's death."


Shepard's face twisted more and more as she listened.  It felt like such a violation to have those intimate memories shared with someone she barely knew, who could even be considered an enemy, but worst of all was that she didn't know any of those things.  She stared down at her hands in her lap, her knuckles white.  She felt her face grow hot and tears well up in her eyes.
"...I already said I was getting everything I ever wanted, making you cry wasn't part of that," Hyatt commented, seeming mostly unphased if not a little uncomfortable.
"If what you found is like a beacon, then you can give me access to it," Shepard growled, meeting his eyes once more.
"I was wondering when you would realize that," he smirked.  "Let's say I am in the business of bargaining and could hand over the parts of you which you wish to recover.  What would you have to grant me in return?"
"...to leave you alone?  I don't know.  What do you want?" she shrugged in exasperation.
"Even if there was something specific, you as your whole self would be so unstoppable you could just take it back after you're restored anyway.  All I really want is for you to reverse the indoctrination of the synthesis or at the very least take responsibility for it.  But even with the memories I found, you still may not remember anything about the Catalyst.  Whatever the Catalyst is could be part of the reason you split, and maybe it doesn't want you to come back together.  Maybe you played into another superior power's motives just as the Illusive Man played himself into the Reaper indoctrination."
Shepard only glared at him, unable to come up with a counterargument.  Hyatt's smug expression returned.
"There's nothing you have left to offer me.  That's why I destroyed those remnants of you."
"You... what?" she stammered, eyes wide and jaw dropped.  Then as he spoke, she started to remember.
"That beacon, or whatever you want to call it.  It downloaded onto me and I eventually figured out how to seal, unseal, and even clear the cache, which I did long before your tech-ghost friend led Garrus to it.  The energy signature remained, but--"
"Oh no-- I remember!" she exclaimed.  Hyatt fell silent, watching her curiously.  "I remember, when I was... not here.  I watched you find that beacon.  I didn't know what it did, or what you did to it... I helped Kasumi and Garrus find it, and the Keepers..."  Shepard drifted off and squeezed her eyes shut.  Her head was starting to hurt, which nearly sent her into a panic.  She couldn't have an episode here.  She grabbed for her drink and retrieved a pill for her headache from her pocket.  She tossed the medicine into her mouth and gulped down whatever the concoction in her glass was, gripping it tight, attempting to ground herself to the present.
"Hackett and Councilor Lyric had people there," Hyatt continued carefully, observing her reactions.  "I don't think anyone but me knew what it was meant to be or do, although David probably would have figured it out if he had gotten there first."


Shepard was barely hearing him, trying to focus on her breath, the feel of the seat beneath her, the many different colors and shapes reflecting off the gloss of the table...
"...wow.  You really have turned into a mess, haven't you?  I heard you tripped and hurt yourself recently."  He laughed, and Shepard squeezed her eyes shut.  "Can you imagine, Commander Shepard tripping on her way to save the universe?  Are you sure you're even still Shepard enough to keep Vakarian around?"  At that, her eyes snapped back open.
"Are we done here?" she asked, fighting to keep her voice level.  This was becoming more and more risky for her.
"You mean you don't want to stick around and enjoy my company?" he said with mock hurt, then chuckled at his own joke.  "Hmm, let me see if I missed anything..."  Hyatt placed a hand on his chin thoughtfully, and Shepard just stared at him as he let the pause draw out.
"Well, I guess I'm just curious to know how you think you would handle having to face the entire universe and justify your decision, while also pill-popping and being clumsy to the point of moderate self-harm.  There's lots of people who may not be coming after you simply because they don't know you're around.  But if you make yourself known, you might have bigger problems than me."
"How did you know I was out there?" she asked.
"It was something I learned when I found the... Commander beacon, let's call it," he said, sounding proud of the name he'd given.  "When I got that, there was some part of it that told me you still had consciousness somewhere.  That's why I kept looking.  When you would interfere with tapping into the Cynosure research lab, or even Spectre Status, I would know it was you.  I'd even dream of you like those close to you did, but you didn't ever seem to realize I was there.  I think the memories in me were reaching out for you, but you were so overwhelmed and unfamiliar, it didn't catch your attention the way Garrus did.  I still dream of you, actually.  That's probably another reason I can't quite leave you alone; thanks to this extra layer of indoctrination, I literally can't get you out of my head."


"Wait, what if you could?" Shepard said, realizing a possibility.  "Maybe David could get those parts of me out of you and back to me.  Or Nasa could even use some kind of melding to transfer it the way Liara could access the Prothean beacon, or the way I received the Cipher from... the asari with the plant," she finished, unable to remember the name of Shiala or the Thorian.
"As mentioned, that would require me wanting to give it to you," Hyatt mumbled, frowning now.
"...would it?" Shepard challenged, wondering if she could sound the least bit threatening, pill-popping and all.
"I don't think that would be how you'd want to get them back," Hyatt reasoned, but was beginning to sound nervous.  "It may not actually restore you."
"You've been acting like it would, dangling it in front of me," she countered.  "Even a knowledge of those memories would be more than--"
"We're out of time," Hyatt interrupted, his eyes narrowed as he gestured at something behind her.  Shepard turned to see Vrila barging right past the drell at the front and rushing straight towards her.  There was a shuffling noise and Shepard looked back to Hyatt in time to see him rushing away, his omnitool in hand.  Shepard tensed, but knew she was in no shape to give chase.  She just sighed, thinking Vrila would rush past her next, but instead Vrila stopped.
"Come on, we need to get out of here," the krogan growled, gesturing for Shepard to hurry.  Shepard stood and Vrila immediately began guiding her out of the restaurant as fast as she could.
"What's going on?!" Shepard questioned, her heart racing.
"We've got a Code Candle," Vrila grunted.
"What does that mean?"
They stepped out onto the street and Shepard suddenly felt it.  Some people were in small groups, focusing on each others omnitools, talking excitedly.  There was joy, shock, and confusion in the air.  Shepard caught a glance of what one of the omnitools was showing and felt a knot in her stomach as she recognized Xanossi.  Vrila gestured which way to go, all business.
"It means your cover's been blown."