"Now you wait just a goddam minute, you're French?"
Shepard was already leaning on the conference table, her arms braced on the display glass. After a long, silent moment, she pressed the heel of her hand against her forehead and pulled away. Her right hand went to her pistol even as the other dropped from her face.
"Zaeed," she said coldly and everyone around the table took a step back. "If the next words out of that grizzled talk-hole of yours aren't 'Yes, Commander' followed by a long bout of nothing, I'm going to do something I might regret. You get me?"
There was a tense moment as the Merc and the Commander stared at one another. After a very long time, Zaeed smirked, almost knowingly, and folded his arms across his chest. He offered her a short, almost patronizing nod, and parroted: 'Yes, Commander.' Shepard offered him a last, withering stare and let her hand drop from her pistol.
"Okay," Shepard prefaced and let out a short exhale. "There seems to be some confusion regarding our current vector."
"I don't see why we're taking this risk," Miranda chimed in, interrupted and was immediately silenced by Shepard's fist hitting the table.
"Enough," Shepard snapped. "I understand that there's some time sensitivity with our intel, that we may miss out on all that happy data about dark energy, but we're going to Earth."
Shepard stood back up, her lips in a tight line and her expression flat and nameless, one relegated strictly to command. She looked across the crew, all of them ready and eager, if restless, to continue their missions. The only one who seemed particularly happy about this announcement was Kasumi, and Shepard already knew why.
"As a Spectre, I am permitted to take this vessel into any space I so choose," Shepard informed them staunchly. "As Commanding Officer of this vessel, it is my prerogative to take it wherever I want it to go," she continued flatly. "And as a fellow crewmate it is my right to keep my business to myself."
Her hands met behind her back and locked to one another at the wrist. She was the picture of immovable command.
"This delay will not be significant, we will not miss our window for intel, and we will not be suddenly overcome by Cerberus operatives, hellbent on tanning my hide," Shepard added and her shoulders shifted, made her just a little more approachable, but no less solid. "This is a glorified pit stop, ladies and gentlemen, I suggest you make the most of it, because it is going to happen."
Silence reigned across deck and Grunt let out a snort of approval. Jack pushed away from the wall, the first one to speak, and let out a short snort.
"Earth, what a fucking shithole."
"Dismissed," Shepard answered her and looked at the crew. "We make Earthfall in four hours."
To their credit, most of them seemed equal parts displeased and confused, but none of them were overtly belligerent. She had yet to lead them astray, and while they all, obviously, expected that this trip was personal in nature, none of them had the audacity to say so. She could taste the curiosity, though. She'd have to keep an eye on her message security.
"What?" Shepard prompted. Garrus, predictably, had remained behind. The doors were closed and, aside from EDI, they were alone in the conference room.
"France?" Garrus asked in return and shifted, leaned with his hip propped just above the edge of the railing, so that he was half-sitting. He folded his arms and waited, patiently, for her to continue.
"Yes," Shepard answered unhelpfully and his brow shifted.
"I haven't been to Earth," he offered and Shepard let out a short, punctuating laugh. It was dry and without mirth.
"You and half the Humans on this crew," Shepard returned lightly and leaned on the table, herself. "It's not really a popular vacation spot."
"Your species is strange," Garrus proclaimed quietly and shook his head.
"Do elaborate," Shepard responded and waved her hand.
"You are all fiercely protective, almost romantically entangled in the name of your homeworld, but when presented with the possibility of return, the most common reactions range from disgust to anger."
"Yeah, we're all a little bipolar about it," Shepard admitted with a light shrug.
"See, like that," Garrus interrupted and pointed a taloned finger at her. "You were adamant about going, but you don't defend how much you dislike it. "
"Think of it like a cute pet," Shepard offered. "One that bites you and pisses on the carpet. It's still cute, but you kind of hate it."
"That is a wildly inappropriate metaphor," Garrus replied flatly and Shepard clapped him on the shoulder as she pushed away from the table.
"You're going to love Earth," she responded dryly and left the Turian alone in the conference room.
Whatever Garrus had been expecting, whether it was squalor or beauty, he was surprised as he looked out the port view station. Behind him, several of the more curious crewmembers gathered to watch, all with expressions similar to his. A hand came down on his shoulder and Garrus started slightly before he recognized the casual, lax stance of Dr. Chakwas.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Chakwas offered casually and Garrus' mandibles clicked as he considered it.
"Maybe," Garrus answered noncommittally.
He'd been watching the window since they'd passed the Earth's closest neighbor. The blue planet was the same shade he remembered from afar, but it shifted colors as they got closer. Joker had broken atmosphere over somewhere called Asia and had received a merry comm from Kasumi on that very announcement.
The ground was varied in ways that Palaven wasn't. Trees changed size, shape, and density in flashes of varied greens and yellows, oranges, and shades of near black. The buildings eclipsed the mild conduits of...well Joker had called it countryside, in tall patches of haphazard color and mismatched architecture. Earth, apparently, was a place of staggering variety. It was no wonder Humans were as...intent on uniqueness as they were.
"How're we doing, Joker?" Shepard prompted from the end of the hallway. Though the crew parted to permit her forward, she made no move toward the pilot. Not once did her eyes stray to the view-ports, even as the green faded and the distant glimmer of the ocean crept over the edge of the horizon.
"ETA four minutes, Commander," Joker offered up. "But they're bound to smack us with a half an hour of bullshit just to crack the airlock."
"Spectre, Joker," Shepard answered flatly and there was a long pause.
"Shit, maybe visiting Earth isn't as much of a pain in the ass as I thought it would be," Joker announced with a smile. "We should do it more often."
"That's the spirit," Shepard congratulated in that same flat tone and turned on her heel. Once she'd left, Chakwas let out a short laugh and leaned forward against the bulkhead, tilting her head to get a better view.
"Are you excited, Officer Vakarian?" Chakwas prompted, an immutable, albeit gentle smile on her face. Her hand had remained on his shoulder, but the proximity of the remaining crew made it difficult for her to step away. He didn't comment.
"Earth seems...like something," Garrus answered diplomatically and the blonde woman cast a short, bemused glance at him.
"You know, they call Paris the City of Lovers," Chakwas informed him lightly and Garrus blinked at her. "It's very nearly legendary."
"City of...Lovers?" Garrus prompted back and cleared his throat with a quick, easy motion, before folding his arms behind his back. He shifted from one foot to the other, and it was Chakwas's turn to refrain from comment.
"It's also the City of Lights, and a handful of other monikers," Chakwas continued. "All very entertaining." She paused, though it was far too short to be accredited to honest consideration. "Say, Officer Vakarian," she continued, her tone suggesting that her request was clearly one she had thought out long before approaching him, "Would you mind helping me take care of a few errands while we're in town?"
Despite how positively contrived the request had been, it still caught him by surprise. Garrus stared at the Human and was silent briefly as he tried to comprehend why she was asking him. She had none of it, permitted him no quarter to consider his answer as she ribbed him lightly and added:
"Now there's no need to look so shocked," Chakwas interrupted his thoughts, "It's just a few simple things. You'll be back with plenty of time to enjoy our brief stop."
"Well," Garrus replied and shuffled. "I would be more than happy to help, if you need it, but wouldn't so--"
"Excellent, Officer Vakarian," Chakwas interrupted him. It was uncharacteristic in the extreme and he blinked. Her hand lifted and she patted him on the shoulder genially before stepping back. "I'll meet you at the airlock after we've touched down."
Garrus watched the blonde woman stroll off toward the Tech Lab and found himself utterly perplexed. He couldn't manage to ascertain just why, of all the people aboard the Normandy, Doctor Chakwas had considered and elected to enlist his aid. It was possible her favor involved sniping, but not very likely.
It wasn't until he saw the blonde chatting with Shepard, just inside the parted airlock, that he figured it out. Chakwas was casual, but the look on her face was one of consternation as she reprimanded the Commander in hushed tones. Shepard, inexplicably, was dressed in casual clothing of a nondescript variety. It was strange, almost surreal, the way the long skirt shuffled around her delicate, battle-worthless heeled shoes, and considering the way her black shirt clung to her, she was clearly without body armor.
There were no other team-mates, no ground crew with her, in similar garb. Whatever she meant to do, she meant to do it alone and, apparently, unarmed. If there had been any question about the personal nature of this landing before, it was thwarted now.
"Shepard," Garrus half-greeted, half-warned as he stepped up to the pair. Chakwas shot him a look that quickly transformed into a blithe smile. Shepard was not so subtle, and just glanced at him before moving to ready something on her omnitool.
"Garrus," Shepard offered in return and turned away from him, toward the open air. A breeze cut in from the space port and carried with it all the sights and smells of the planet. Garrus was distracted by the sheer alien quality of it just long enough that Shepard managed to make it out the door without another word. As she meandered out into the yellow, morning light, she looked strangely...conducive to her surroundings. It was a thought Garrus had never entertained, that perhaps Shepard would fit in somewhere, outside of the military. Seeing her as she slipped seamlessly into the crowd, however, convinced him of it.
"Where's she going?" Garrus asked Chakwas and the Doctor's light, cheerful smile faltered slightly. Garrus held her gaze and she let out a slow breath before shaking her head. The pretense of their meeting was shattered, and she had enough grace to, at least, look cowed.
"I couldn't tell you," Chakwas answered with more than a hint of resignation. "She's absolutely refused to tell anyone, to my knowledge."
"Is someone tailing her?" Garrus asked quietly, as though Shepard could still hear them.
The voice that had interrupted them was casual, cheerful, and belonged to Kasumi Goto. The thief was leaning against the bulkhead, a long chain with a transport id card dangling from her fingers. From what he could tell, the visible section of her face was smug and unquestionably happy. She practically skipped away from the bulkhead as they turned to spot her.
"The Commander made it very clear that she didn't want any interruptions," Kasumi explained as she came up alongside them. "She even, quite graciously, I might add, donated her services in acquiring much more interesting things for both myself and Mr. Krios to do, today."
"Thane too?" Garrus asked and his brow shifted in surprise.
"Oh yes," Kasumi assured him with a coy smile as she strolled toward the door. "I believe he left earlier. Took a transport to see some holy monument in the middle of the desert. Seemed very excited about it."
She dusted something imperceptible off of Garrus's armor and patted his damaged shoulder pad in a distinctly patronizing manner. "I, on the other hand, am going somewhere much more pleasant."
"Japan?" Chakwas supplied and Kasumi practically winked.
"I have a date with the interior of the Imperial Palace," Kasumi announced quietly. "And I'm bringing back souvenirs." With that, she swung the transport pass up and caught it in her hand. She drummed her fingers, one last time, across Garrus's armor and vanished out the door, into the mild Earth sunlight.
Garrus was all but scowling, mandibles tight to his face and jaw set snugly in place. Shepard had bought off both of the team-mates capable of tracking her without being noticed. That kind of forethought made Garrus nervous, tense. Then, she'd exacerbated the situation by wandering off, in casual street-clothes, unarmed.
"I don't like this," Garrus all but growled, the flange on his voice deeper than usual.
"Neither do I," Chakwas announced with a short, muted sigh. "But there's very little we can do about it, now," she added and stepped forward toward the door. "Come along, Officer Vakarian, we can find something to distract us from the situation, I'm sure."
Garrus hesitated, considered attempting to track Shepard on his own, but he understood the futility of it. She had a distinct head start, knew the terrain, didn't want to be followed, and didn't have to deal with being Turian on Earth.
Apparently, Garrus noted as he left the docking area with the doctor, the locals shared the brand of distaste that most Turian's had for Humanity. Several of them expressed this verbally, others just stared. It was, frankly, a little unnerving.
The strangest, though, were the handful of Humans who came up, throughout the day, and either apologized to him, usually followed up with a casual moniker implying familial relations ('Brother' seemed to be the most popular), or attempted to hug him and inform him that they forgave both he and his people. Honestly, he wasn't certain if he should be creeped out, mortified, or both.
Though they were lacking the Commander's strong hand in the face of these...Chakwas had called them shenanigans, the Doctor was doing a passable job of cowing most humans that interrupted their day.
Somewhere around noon, Garrus was beginning to understand the extreme reactions to Earth that most Humans expressed. In general, the planet was beautiful, mild, welcoming, and rich in variety, life, and vibrance. At the same time, however, it was crowded, clustered, scarred and pocked by millenia of development, polluted, and generally unpleasant to simply exist on. He'd considered, briefly, that perhaps it was just this city, but the overwhelming sameness of all Human reactions made him suspect otherwise.
Eventually, Chakwas had exhausted all of the optional errands she'd sought to run and they were both left wanting for something to occupy their time. The Normandy was mostly empty, save for the few who had no urge to wander around Paris, namely Grunt. Going back would result in a day Grunt and waiting around for Shepard. Instead, upon Garrus's mild suggestion, they saw the sights of Paris.
While the Turian was less than impressed by the art museum they attended, and the Eiffel Tower, he found the Notre Dame to be rather enthralling...though the stares he earned entering and meandering about the premises made him firmly reconsider ever entering it or its like again. Chakwas enjoyed the general architecture of the Old Boulevards, but outright refused to travel the catacombs with him when he suggested it.
As the evening rolled in, so did a thick cloud-cover off the ocean. The temperature dropped and, while his suit provided ample coverage from the chill, it was uncomfortable. The Doctor assured him that she'd grown up in nearly the same weather patterns and wasn't bothered by them at all. The atmosphere around the city, however, shifted just as sharply and Garrus was quite certain he'd had enough.
"Perhaps we should retire for the night," Garrus suggested as they passed another gaggle of Humans, all gathered in pairs, wandering the park. He wasn't certain if it were the sheer population density or if there were a celebration, but the crowds seemed no thinner, now that they'd been subdivided by romantic intention.
"Perhaps you're right," Chakwas agreed and feigned a yawn. The woman was anything but tired, but it was an admirable excuse to return to the ship and saved Garrus a good deal of awkwardness. They returned to the ship in silence, Garrus carrying the few supply bags that the Doctor had acquired. She took them from him as they entered the airlock and inclined her head. "Thank you for accompanying me today, Officer Vakarian."
"It was surprisingly pleasant, actually," Garrus returned and Chakwas laughed.
"Considering it was a ruse to waste your time, I should say so. Nevertheless, thank you," Chakwas added and moved toward the Tech Labs. Garrus watched her and caught a snatch of conversation as the Doctor entered. Mordin sounded excited, had they bought something for him? Garrus couldn't remember.
The airlock door was propped open, with only EDI as watchdog. Garrus leaned against the threshold of the inner doors. He watched as the sky darkened, formally, into night and kept a close eye on the muddied, alien stars that hovered above. He'd been on enough planets that it wasn't shocking to see a different set, but it seemed more important to note them here. Cool air poured in and he waited and watched the stars.
Kasumi returned first, a crate filled with stolen cultural treasures on a dolly behind her. Zaeed and Jack were next, slung arm in arm, half draped across one another, singing raucous Human drinking songs and stinking of wine and whiskey. The engineers returned shortly, saluted him in an awkward fashion and darted past. Tali was snapping holos with her omnitool, even on approach, and hardly noticed Garrus until she nearly walked into him. Thane may have returned already, Garrus hadn't checked and hadn't waited around for the Drell to show up. When Shepard finally came back into sight, that had been the end of his impromptu watch.
It was hard to tell in the darkness, (Human emotions were anything but subtle, yet their markers were easily obscured by light and shade.) but Shepard seemed...off somehow. She wasn't limping, her clothing was unmarred, but there was something strange in the silhouette she cut and it rankled him as she came up the ramp.
"Garrus," she offered evenly as she stopped at the outer threshold. Her face was flat, un-telling, but that same something was off about it. Her expression seemed...damn, it was hard to assign a word to Human faces. Hollowed out?
"Shepard," Garrus returned quietly and she stepped past him, reentered the Normandy.
"Hey Garrus." Her step paused behind him and he turned as she addressed him. She hadn't faced him, but her head was canted back toward her shoulder. "Is Chakwas awake?"
"Not sure," he answered. "Saw her go in to talk with Mordin around sunset. Haven't heard out of either of them since then."
"Probably not, then," Shepard dismissed casually and let out a slow breath as she looked forward again. She drew a breath, started to form words, and then paused halfway into the initial syllable. She dismissed the thought and a long moment passed between them. "I'm --I think I'll hit the sack."
"Do you..." Garrus began as she abruptly shifted forward, started to walk with a stock-still-strangeness to her steps. "Want company?"
The question was bold, blunt, and without reserve. He felt overexposed having asked it, and each passing second made him all the more uncomfortable. Her hands flexed by her sides, and she smoothed them out over her strange civilian clothing. She hesitated, something he'd very rarely seen her do, before nodding sharply. He took the assent for what it was and silently followed her to the elevator and up to her quarters.
For the second time in a day, his expectations, no matter what they might have been, were shockingly insufficient.
He watched from the threshold as Shepard entered the room. He saw her remove something from her ears, some adornments he'd never seen and hadn't noticed. She crossed the room as she pulled them off, tossed them into the nightstand, and followed it by removing a chain from around her neck. It clattered into the drawer and she turned away toward the wall.
"Are you going to come in?" Shepard prompted, after a beat, and Garrus stepped forward. The door sealed behind him and Shepard paced forward, listlessly, before turning and pacing back. As she made to turn again, she let out a short sound of frustration and clawed at the bottom of her shirt before unceremoniously pulling it up and over her head. It was discarded on the floor, just behind her, and she scrubbed her hands through her hair as she was freed of it.
He almost wanted to joke, just to lighten the strange mood, but he could hardly think of anything to say. Suggesting that she was preforming a strip tease would likely get him shot, but she'd never just undressed like that in front of him. She started to pace again and he moved inward, leaned as casually as he could manage against the large tanks that formed the port wall.
"Long day?" he asked slowly and Shepard ran her hands through her hair again. She pressed her forearms against her face, hard and tight, for just a moment before dropping her arms to her sides, altogether. She huffed and looked over at him, her brows knit and her lips formed into an unappreciative line.
"Shit," she answered in a loud exhale and dropped back onto her bed. It gave soundlessly and she bounced just a bit before coming to an absolute halt.
"What happened?" Garrus continued and watched her. It was a step away from the unspoken 'What were you doing?', and they both knew it. However, she had invited him up and...well, he couldn't be much more than a fancy breathing statue if she didn't shed a little light on the situation.
Shepard closed her eyes and took a long, deep breath. The muscles in her jaw flexed and gradually, a handful of muscles in her face twitched. Each one was a piece, a syllable of emotion, but he wasn't sure how they all assembled into a whole. When she finally spoke, her voice had a low waiver that set him on edge.
"We made Earthfall because I needed to go to a funeral," Shepard stated, all at once, and was silent again. Garrus froze as he regarded her.
Shepard wasn't heartless, but she had a very distinctive relationship with death, both in theory and in practice. She'd taken a good number of lives and had watched, with stony resolve, as a good number were taken from her, from the pool of people she knew and cared after. He'd seen her lose one of her close crew on Virmire, watched as she reacted with stoicism and resolve, but it hadn't unsettled her, not like this.
Really, the followup question was both inevitable and obvious.
"Who was it?"
Garrus moved forward, toward the edge of the bed. Shepard didn't stir, but there was a ragged edge to her breathing. He thought he recognized the look of her face, now. It was drawn out, tired and contorted from--was it possible she'd been weeping?
"When I was a kid...I," Shepard started, her sentences punctuated in jumps and pauses of air. "I didn't have parents or relatives...but, over the years, there was this lady who...looked after me."
"Oh," Garrus interrupted as the rate of her breathing picked up. It didn't take any great leaps to surmise what this trip had been about. Shepard's family, incidental or not, had just passed on. It was no surprise she'd been so adamant about secrecy.
"She treated me like her kid. Old lady, even back then," Shepard continued, despite the out Garrus had provided her with. "She was...shit, I don't know. I wouldn't have even known, but she gave me my favorite earrings."
"I mean...her earrings, they were always my favorite, when I was a kid. I...I liked how they, I just...I liked them," Shepard's voice caught and she gritted her teeth hard as she squeezed her eyes closed. At this distance he could clearly see the holes in her ears, very newly made, the tissue around them was still slightly swollen. "They were a gift from her husband...I never met him, he was a Marine. Always said I was like him."
Garrus was silent for so long that Shepard actually opened her eyes to reassure herself of his presence. When they made eye contact, though, her emotional resolve crumbled and she let out a vicious series of vulgarities as she started to cry. Her fists balled and she turned on her side, tried to force the physical expression away, with little success. The bed dipped as Garrus took a seat next to her. She didn't turn over, or roll to face him, and he did her the courtesy of not seeing.
It was the most personal information she'd ever shared with him. They'd had passing conversations about jobs, and academies, and life, but never sensitive topics. Neither had ever supplied anything like this, and neither had asked. Now, though, with it hanging in the air, it felt like dead weight. The only thing he could think to do, that might help, might provide some resolution, was reciprocity.
"My mother..." Garrus prefaced quietly. "She's...she's been terminal for almost a year now."
Shepard was silent as he spoke and Garrus rested his hands on the bed.
"My sister thinks I'm a failure, because I don't visit her. She...has trouble remembering my face. Doesn't seem to know me and asks for me by name, even when I'm there." He fidgeted. "My father doesn't say anything, won't talk about it or tell her who I am...I just can't handle it, so I don't go back."
He let out a short breath.
"I know I'll regret it later, but...sometimes...there's nothing we can do about the distance," Garrus finished and rolled his shoulders, a Human motion he'd internalized over the long years. He was staring at the floor when Shepard turned over and rested her head against his thigh.
"This is the same father that hates Spectres?" Shepard prompted against the thigh plate of his armor.
"The one and only," Garrus answered dryly, his vision still set on the floor. Shepard set her hand on his but made no move to entwine their fingers.
"Your family is pretty fucked," Shepard answered with a hitch in her throat. "Still, I don't think I'd mind joining it."
That managed to bring a smile to his face, even if it was mild. He moved his hand and set it on Shepard's back, he could feel the slow, weary pull of her lungs through her ribs.
"You say that like we're not already there," Garrus commented and Shepard let out a dry, half hoarse laugh. "We've been good as family ever since you asked me to walk into Hell with you."
"Yeah, I guess you're right," Shepard answered him and stroked her thumb across his armor idly. He couldn't feel it, but the sight of it was equal in meaning.
"You should sleep," Garrus reminded her.
"What, did Chakwas tire you out?" Shepard teased and looked up at him. She made no move to sit.
"Are you kidding? Do you know how many bags I had to drag across this city and back?" Garrus exaggerated dryly. "She's more unreasonable than you are." It was a lie, but it drew an amused expression out of Shepard, so it was worth it. "I'll be sore for days."
"Poor baby," Shepard replied lightly and shifted her hand to push him back onto the bed. His armor was cumbersome, but she didn't seem bothered by it. "The mean Human made you carry things all day?"
"I'm not even sure I can make it back to my quarters," Garrus sniped back and Shepard's expression shifted--it was equal parts amusement and that semi-softness she'd started to develop when they were alone.
"Well, don't steal the blankets and you can stay," Shepard warned him and moved up the bed so that she was laying next to him. She pulled his arm beneath her, and he obliged by wrapping it over her waist. She leaned her head against his, pressed their foreheads together, and let her neck relax against the pillows.
"I would have come with you, you know," Garrus offered after a moment of silence. She was half asleep when she answered, but there was sincerity there.
"I know, Garrus, I know."