damalur: (me • calibrations?)
no, use my SPACE name! ([personal profile] damalur) wrote2014-08-27 06:27 pm

crucible: star by star

Title Crucible 09 - Star by Star
Characters: Shepard/Vakarian
Wordcount: 6k
Notes: End of the line.
Summary: Your message to [ SHEPARD, JANE K. ] dated [ 2187.08.28 ] has not been read.






Chapter 09
Star by Star




He'd been working for fourteen hours straight, and he still had three dozen things to finish before bed. Food shipments, peace treaties, the aid Palaven sent to the colonies, the aid the colonies sent to Palaven, top-clearance meetings on how to address the debris of the Reapers, top-clearance meetings on what to do about the opportunists who were trying to take advantage of the post-war political environment, and an appointment with his doctor that had already been rescheduled twice all demanded his attention. At least he had someone else to help with the paperwork.

"Primarch?"

"What now, Corporal?"

"Doctor Stoica wants to know if she can bring in someone to do your psych eval when you stop by to have your grafts checked. Also, you have a priority message from Doctor T'Soni asking if you have time to meet her two days from now for…" Corporal Axilla glanced down at his datapad. "...For a light brunch, Primarch."

"No and no," Garrus said. "Tell Stoica I'm waiving the eval."

"Yes, sir. And Doctor T'Soni?"

"I'm busy," Garrus said.

Axilla shifted in front of Garrus' desk. Although his official appointment as Primarch was a formality—he'd held the position less than four months and would soon hand it over—he still got some of the perks. Of course, with Cipritine more rubble than city, that meant a desk in the new orbital station that had until recently been a troop carrier, a personal assistant, and reasonably large discretionary funds.

He'd kept the funding for himself instead of donating it to reconstruction. Just one more reason he made a bad turian. And speaking of…

"Did you find those listings I asked for?"

"Sir," Axilla said, "there aren't a lot of ships with all the specifications you wanted, but I did find a light corvette that the owner is willing to sell. It's asari-made, some stealth capability, loaded with a navigational VI that allows for a one-man crew. However, there's a...catch."

"A catch?"

"The FTL drive is completely shot."

"Put it up on the screen," said Garrus. "I have a conference call with the colonial primarchies in a few minutes, I'll get back to you."

"Very good. Anything else, sir?"

"That's all for now," Garrus said, and Axilla fired off a sharp salute and left the room. The ship specs appeared on Garrus' display a few seconds later; he leaned back in his chair and considered them, thinking about...just thinking.

It was a small ship, suitable for a crew of one to five, but state of the art despite the size. Her silhouette reminded Garrus of a hunting bird with its wings swept forward; the weapons arrays curved out and down on either side of the main body. Like most ships of asari design, her surface was sleek and minimal, a dark gray only a few shades off from charcoal that probably vanished against the background of a starfield. She was atmo-capable, equipped to land on all but the most hostile surfaces, large fuel tank, plenty of room for the supplies needed to support a lengthy journey through unmapped space.

Garrus cut his offer low by fifteen percent. If the ship's owner was serious about selling, she'd take the damaged engines into consideration and reduce the price accordingly. If not, well...he could wait another month or two to find better.

His consultation with the other primarchs mostly concerned the issue of Reaper technology and how to dispose of it. When the Reapers had started firing on each other during that last, desperate push over Earth, they'd destroyed most of their own fleet and ground force. There had been collateral damage, though, too much of it, and now there were all kinds of dangerous leftovers from the war—Dragon's Teeth and other nanotech, indoctrination hotspots, and even a couple of dead capital ships. Pieces of Harbinger were drifting in the gravity well of Earth's moon. The Council was tied up with other concerns—namely, its own expansion and the push for a binding document that explicitly outlined the legal powers held by Council representatives—so each government was tasked with coming up with its own methods for handling dangerous wartime remnants.

Garrus had spent a lot of time liaising with the Alliance. He'd wanted the Salarian Union's input, too, but the Union was pulling in on itself, closing its borders, shutting down ambassadorial outposts. Other than the few unofficial contacts he had in the STG, he couldn't get a word out of them. The asari republics were willing to talk, but their reach was so far-flung that they had little attention to spare from reconstruction. Palaven and Earth had borne the weight of Reaper regard the longest, and maybe that had created a sympathy—whatever tensions had lingered after the Relay 314 Incident were wiped away by the war, and now it was the humans to whom Garrus found himself turning.

Appropriate. Shepard would have been happy about it, at any rate. The first human-turian marriage had taken place a couple of days ago; Garrus had read the announcement privately, when no one was present to see how thin his control was wearing.

He wasn't pining for her. He wasn't broken or out of his mind. There were no hallucinations.

Although—using his position to place priority communication status on what was, essentially, a personal purchase probably counted as an abuse of power. Garrus couldn't bring himself to care. One more month. He could hang on for one more month.

The lower right of his display flashed an alert, overlaying the bottom of the asari ship's specs. Incoming call, origin unknown. He hit the 'IGNORE' button on his omnitool and wasn't at all surprised when the call went live instead of shutting off.

"Liara."

"Hello, Garrus." She must have been close; the feed was crisp. "I hope I haven't interrupted anything important?"

"That hasn't stopped you before," he said.

"I suppose you won't be surprised when I tell you that I'm waiting outside. Your Corporal Axilla is remarkably determined to deter visitors. Would you please tell him to let me through?"

She was right—he wasn't surprised. Apparently it was too much to ask that the Primarch be kept current on what was happening on his own station; Liara had become something like a force unto herself, krogan stubbornness all rolled up in the terrifying patience that marked her as her mother's daughter. He sighed and keyed her past the outer office.

His side hurt, and his shoulder. He rubbed at the latter idly while he waited. The skin grafts were healing well, his system had accepted the biomechanical implants that now bolstered his damaged nervous system, but there was a residual ache in the sockets of his joints and in his deep muscle tissue that would take time to heal.

Liara swept in a couple of second later, wearing a floor-length gown in the asari style and a subcompact pistol clipped to the ornate belt that slanted across her hips. She had a sharp weal that swept from her cheek down the side of her face and vanished beneath her neckline; it was a remnant of the same barrage that had left him with a new set of cybernetics, but while Garrus' growing collection of scars made him a mean-looking son-of-a-bitch, Liara's only enhanced the brutal ethereality she was growing into.

"Garrus," she said. "Thank you for seeing me."

He didn't bother lying to her. "I don't want to talk about it, Liara."

"Did I say I was here to talk about you?" She settled into the chair opposite his desk and crossed her legs. "Palaven seems to be recovering well."

"Yes," he bit out, and then, because Liara was still his friend, added, "The intel you passed along about Facinus was useful. I...appreciate it."

"It was my pleasure. You'd be surprised how many criminal organizations are taking advantage of the pandemonium—" She caught herself. "No, I suppose you wouldn't be surprised. I am, at times."

"You're still working with Lawson?"

"Yes, Miranda's proven invaluable. She's mostly focused on repurposing the remaining Cerberus resources for the reconstruction effort, but she's a capable woman, and I can provide her with the funding and information she needs to get the job done. Actually, she reminds me a great deal of Shepard."

Garrus didn't give a millimeter. "Oh?"

"Of course, the two of you served together—you probably know Miranda better than I do. Still, I can see why Shepard won her loyalty." Liara's gaze meandered away from Garrus, over the stacks of datapads and the monitors set into the wall behind him, past the viewport to her right that currently looked down on Palaven's dark side, and then to the security camera in the upper corner of the room.

"I know what you're doing, Garrus," she said.

"What"—he was aware of his voice dropping to a warning rumble—"am I doing?"

"You've virtually handed your office over to a successor already," Liara said. "You're cleaning out your personal accounts. You've been looking at listings for ships—I saw your corporal going through the sales net on my way through your reception. You aren't answering your messages, you're spending an exorbitant amount of money on maps of unknown sectors, and…" She hesitated. "And you refused to attend Shepard's memorial service."

"Make your point."

"This is Omega all over again!" She sat forward. "Garrus, you can't do this to yourself. Running off to get yourself killed is not the way to honor Shepard—"

"She's not dead," he said. Calm, level, presenting himself as everything he was not.

"The Alliance lists her as killed in action. I am not going to argue about this with you again."

"The Citadel vanished," Garrus said.

"We recovered debris—"

"Not enough."

Liara blinked. "I would be very angry with you," she said finally, "if I didn't realize that this is even more painful for you than the rest of us. Garrus...you need to accept that she's gone. Shepard is a hero; whatever happened after she went through the Conduit, she saved all of us. Let her rest. Please."

"Let her—" His hands clenched, and he lunged up and out of his chair; Liara's eyes widened, although she didn't move as Garrus stalked over to the viewport.

It was a very good view, transportant from the floor up to the seam of the ceiling. Palaven's night side showed bursts of light, some tightly clustered, some sprays scattered over the less populous or more decimated areas. The seas were marked by absolute darkness.

"You know," he said, "I thought you, out of everyone, would understand."

There was a soft rustle as Liara shifted behind him. "What I understand is that Shepard wouldn't want you tearing yourself apart chasing after ghosts. Garrus, it would break her heart."

There was no way he could explain it that would make Liara comprehend. Objectively, the evidence was scarce, but there was evidence: Hackett's last communication with Shepard; the Reapers firing on each other in that final unfathomable act; the disappearance of the Citadel; and the faint energy signature, obscured by garbage noise but present nonetheless, of something very large jumping to FTL.

And there was no body.

Liara sighed. "You'll do what you want regardless of what I say. But Garrus...for her sake, if not mine, don't kill yourself over this."

He examined his reflection in the glass—took in the dark suit, the hard stare; his visor was gone, lost in London—and then refocused, looking out past Palaven to the stars beyond.

"Before Rannoch," he said, "I told her there were only two ways for the war to end—with both of us standing, or with both of us in the ground."

Liara would try to be gentle with him, he knew. "I understand your devotion," she said, and her touch was as deft as he'd expected. "It's...beautiful, really. But in the end, we all make promises we can't keep."

"I don't," Garrus said. "Not to her."




-




Primarch Taryn Arcos was installed two weeks later. Garrus shook her hand, wished her success, and caught the next shuttle down to Palaven. He was once again a private citizen, free to look after only his own interests. Arcos would do a thorough job—she was far better suited to the position than he was, but she'd spent two weeks MIA and another six recovering in a hospital. She was a hardass who did what needed to be done, which he respected, and who was willing to cooperate with other races, which he respected even more.

He set up base at the family compound. It had survived the invasion more or less intact, thank the spirits. His dad and Solana were still off-planet, which meant he had the place to himself, although he didn't bother moving in beyond putting a couple of clean blankets on one of the beds and making sure the extranet hub was up and running. The kitchen had been looted, but that was no loss—he had enough MREs to last him.

The official offer from the Council arrived a few days later. He sent back his acceptance immediately.

In the mornings he went into the courtyard and sat on the steps that led from the wide inner ring of the porch to the grassy lawn. Wild plants had started to overtake what was once a carefully-tended garden, and weeds were springing up in the cracks through the cobblestone walk that bifurcated the courtyard proper. To the side, where the family crests sat, the jaina flowers were blooming again.

There was enough room for a dozen seal-stones, and in previous generations that many and more had occupied the lawn, but now there were only two. The Vakarian seal was set into a big, unpolished block of obsidian that had been in the same spot for...hell, probably millennia; the crest was recut and the obsidian restructured every couple of decades as needed. The Marinas seal was much newer, had only been present since a couple of years before Garrus' birth, and was carved into a block of striated sandstone.

He lugged the floor console out of his father's office and set it up on the porch, too, far enough under the cover of the overhang that the occasional rainstorm wouldn't hurt it, and he used that for his planning. His first priority was the ship; after the sales paperwork cleared, he hired a machinist to refit the engines. Even with the high-credit offer he'd make to push the work through as quickly as possible, it'd be another couple of weeks before the vessel would be spaceworthy. The machinist had agreed to deliver it, too, though, for another additional fee.

After the ship came supplies. He leased a docking bay, one of the few that was still intact in Cipritine, and had shipments delivered there. Medical supplies, including basics for humans and turians and some severe trauma stuff he'd routed through Karin Chakwas; provisions, dextro and levo, a good supply of coffee, and toiletries; clothes cut for a human female and a spare hardsuit; rifles, sidearms, the attendant gear to maintain them, and a few extra pieces, including a tactical shotgun and a couple of very new, very expensive weapons based on Reaper technology made up the bulk of his purchases.

There was the question of flying the ship. Garrus had been licensed to fly corvettes a long, long time ago, but managing her in combat was another matter entirely, and while he doubted he'd ever be able to match his sister's sheer artistry in the air, it couldn't hurt to know how to manage the craft in a shoot-out. He spent a lot of time in the simulator he downloaded. That was another couple of thousand creds, but he'd built up plenty of back-pay from Cerberus and from the Hierarchy.

There was the question of where to go, and how to go there. He talked to scientists and speculators over the internet, asked questions, got back answers he didn't understand, and had to ask more questions. His list of leads was long and frustratingly broad; he started by calculating possible trajectories for the Citadel, realized he didn't have a hell of an idea how the Citadel worked, and went back with more questions. Did it have engines? Was it a mass relay, or something else? Could mass relays propel themselves through the relay lanes?

He tried to work the problem in reverse, too. What had Shepard encountered up there? Had she spoken to Harbinger? A prothean VI? How had she turned the Reapers against each other? He was convinced the last was Shepard's work; when the Crucible had sent out its pulse not of destructive energy but of data, that message had jumped through relays and comm hubs and QECs, even, presumably, from Reaper to Reaper. That pulse had made them stop firing at the rest of the galaxy and start firing at whatever displayed their own signature: state ships, capital ships, husks, even the indoctrinated. There was a lot of collateral damage, a lot of confusion, but within hours there hadn't been an operational Reaper alive anywhere.

Where had the Reapers come from? Where did they go?

He read through Shepard's mail, through her reports, through whatever classified scraps the Alliance would throw him. It helped that Shepard had named him her legal heir, which meant he received all her personal access codes; between that, his new position under the Council, and the goodwill he'd built up with Hackett, he could get his hands on just about any piece of information out there. Sooner or later.

Reading through her private messages was hell, though.

He chuckled at some of the exchanges. She and Joker sent each other quick, acerbic notes or complaints; a couple of times they'd tried to troll each other into opening some porn site in a public place. Her replies to the Council had wavered between terse and angrily polite; with Lawson she'd been all business, with Tali all friendliness. With Liara she was more languid, more open and thoughtful, and they'd talked about everything from their childhoods to the nature of the war they were fighting.

And in her archive he found the letters he'd written her; her replies had shown him all those facets and more. Some of their responses to each other had been short notes, just quick plans to meet ("Docking 0230 Citadel time" from her tours in the SR-1, "I'll find you when I'm ready" from a much later layover for supplies and fuel on Ilium), while some were long, serious letters, usually the kind of thing one of them sent while drunk, or exhausted, or when the other was out in the field. Plenty—even the early exchanges, especially the early exchanges—were flirtatious or downright graphic. He wondered how he'd missed that.

He was deep into a message string they'd started on music and their shared taste in terrible synth-pop hits when someone settled down on the steps beside him. Garrus kept reading.

When he was finished, he closed his omnitool and leaned forward. "Vel," he said.

"Specialist Vakarian," said Vel Phaeton. "How's it going?"

"Coming to visit me? I'm flattered."

"I like to keep up with loose cannons and former Primarchs, you know me. Hear you're working for the Council now. Is that a demotion? I couldn't decide."

"To hear them talk, 'Spectre' definitely outranks 'Interim Primarch,'" Garrus agreed.

"How's your sister?"

"Fine," Garrus said. "She's off-planet flying supply shuttles. I'm surprised you haven't heard from her."

"She…" Vel hesitated. "...Probably wouldn't think of it," he finished. Garrus decided he didn't want to know what that pause meant. "Achenar's been loaned out to a squad of asari commandos," Vel continued. "Finally putting those biotics of his to good use. I also ran into Cass on Oma Ker—she's working with a bomb disposal unit."

"Bet she loves that."

"She is more into making explosions than preventing them," Vel said, and fell silent. The quiet was easy but expectant, threaded through with the certainty that this visit wasn't just one old friend dropping in on another. It was probably closer to that than Vel would have liked to admit, though—he gathered information habitually, but even Garrus had to admit that his own behavior over the past few months had been pretty damn unusual, certainly unusual enough to warrant concern from an outside perspective.

"Listen," he said. "I need you to do me a favor."

Vel hummed. "Vakarian, about that—I like you a lot, but you know you aren't my type—"

"From the scuttlebutt, that's because my sister is more your type," Garrus said mildly.

"Yeah, well." Vel looked away. "She doesn't know that."

"So, about that favor…"

"Let's hear it."

"I'm getting ready to ship out for a while," Garrus said. "Don't know how long I'll be gone. If you could keep an eye on my family—"

"Done," Vel said.

"Sol's got things pretty well in hand, and Dad's still in decent shape, but I don't know what he'll be like once Mom…" He shook his head. "It's only a matter of time."

"I'm sorry to hear that. It's not an easy way to lose a parent."

"No." Garrus looked out over the flowers to the sandstone block with the Marinas crest. "I shouldn't leave them, but I'm going anyway. What kind of a son does that make me?"

Vel didn't answer.

"Anyway," Garrus said. "Thanks. I appreciate it."

"Not a problem."

"Mmm. Now aren't you supposed to trick me into telling you what I'm doing?"

Vel chuckled. "Garrus, a varren could probably figure out what you're doing. You're going after your Commander Shepard."

"Not going to tell me I'm crazy?"

"You know that you'll probably be bringing back a coffin, and maybe an empty one at that. You don't need me to explain that to you." Vel threw a glance back at the console's display. "Some pretty impressive maps there. You got a starting point?"

"Yeah, actually," Garrus said. "There's an asteroid called Mahavid…"




-




His mother returned to Palaven. Sol took a break from work to accompany her from salarian space to her new home in Galata's extended care center. The family compound was about half an hour from Galata, itself part of the sprawling megalopolis that had developed around Palaven's capital; the Vakarians were an old enough family that their land sat outside the city itself, almost in the foothills of a mountain range.

Garrus hadn't seen Livia Vakarian in years. He avoided her even when Sol was getting her settled. There wasn't much of their mother left; her lucid periods were few and very, very far between, and even Helos Medical Group had no longer been able to do anything for her. Make her comfortable, they'd said, like that was any help.

And then, finally, he did go to see her.

He had to build himself up to it; taking on Harbinger was one thing, but looking into the eyes of a mother who no longer knew his name tested his courage to its limit. How Sol did it—hell, how his father managed—Garrus didn't know. His dad would be moving into an apartment near the facility in another few weeks, after he finished whatever the hell he was doing out in the Terminus regions.

The old euphemism was 'dying up top.' It was the worst fate Garrus could imagine, except maybe indoctrination.

After the first visit, he went back often, sitting beside her for hours every day. Sometimes he read to her, from his work or from her long-ago papers; the mathematics were far over his head, but he struggled through until he hit the parts that addressed purely linguistic concerns, which were equally dense but usually easier to pronounce. Sometimes they sat in silence together, looking out the window. Sometimes he shepherded her to meals or to the gardens outside, which were beautiful but sterile in a way their family courtyard wasn't. His parents had tended that courtyard together once, before any of them had heard of Corpalis Syndrome, before the arguments in the early stages of his mother's illness, before the Reapers had come.

She mistook him for his grandfather, her father, often. Not once did she call him by his own name.

After a few days, he stopped believing she would have a lucid period before his time ran out. A few more, and he no longer hoped she would be lucid ever again. In desperation he finally started talking about the war, pouring out every last bit of shame and grief and guilt and horror he'd carried with him since Menae or Omega or before; and then talking about the war became talking about Shepard.

He'd gotten used to his mother's vacant smiles and the distant, glassy stares. That made it easier. It wasn't really a confession, not when she didn't understand, but he wanted her to know everything anyway—all that he'd seen, all that he'd done or failed to do, everyone that he'd loved.

"She's a hell of a soldier," he started out. "Hell of a woman. You would like her, Mom, even though I'm not sure I would survive the two of you meeting. Uh, not to imply that you scare me." He huffed, rueful. "Well, maybe a little."

"She's human," he added, "did I mention that? I don't know how much news you've...seen, but she's with the Systems Alliance. First human Spectre. And she was damn proud of it, too—she should be, it's an honor. Tactically gifted, on the field or in diplomacy, and a great shot. Better than me, maybe, but don't tell her I said that."

His mother trilled in the back of her throat and reached for the glass of water beside her chair. Her hands trembled, and she knocked the water over. Garrus caught it before it spilled and helped her bring it to her mouth.

"There," he said. "Let me know if you want more. Where was I? Right, we kind of...fell into a relationship. Took me off guard, although in retrospect…" He hummed. "Maybe it shouldn't have. She's an easy woman to be friendly with, but a hard woman to know. Her parents died when she wasn't much more than a kid. She's handled it about as well as anyone could, but between you and me, I think it made her a little skittish to trust anyway. I'm not sure why she decided to trust me, although damn, I'm glad she did."

What else could he say? "We understand each other. It isn't some romance drama crap—don't give me that look, I know you think all I do is watch telenovelas. I don't know what it is. Shared purpose, maybe. Things are easy with her when they shouldn't be."

He snorted. "She likes all kinds of weird food, too. And she's into hand-to-hand. Boxing. She's an in-fighter, quick on her feet. I wish we'd gotten a chance to spar once or twice."

He said, "I learned how to dance for her."

He didn't tell his mother how hard, how ferociously Shepard loved. It wasn't the kind of thing he usually said.

He did say, "She's gone now." It ached to bring up. "Or at least that's what everyone believes. I'm...not so sure. Jane's record with death is more than a little irregular."

"You in formal dance instruction?" his mother said. "Now that's the one part of the whole story I have trouble believing."

Garrus froze.

"You've always had good instincts," Livia continued. "If you think she's out there, then go find her."

He exhaled, a little shakily. "Mom."

"Hello, Garrus." She looked carefully around the room and then out the window. "We're on Palaven?"

"Yeah. Galata, near home. Are you—how—"

"I'm…" She shook her head. "No. How's your father? Your sister?"

"Dad's good, he'll be here in a few days. Sol's off flying. She stops by when she has time."

"Mmm," his mother said. She tilted her head, studying his face, and then leaned forward to look more closely; the blanket he'd draped over her lap slid to the floor. "What's this?" She drew a near-finger over her face.

Ah. She'd noticed, although anyone who knew him well would be able to pick out the differences in the blue markings. Vakarian was still there in the pattern and the color, but now as the stain swept past his eyes, it broke on either side to leave three bare crosshatches. Vakarian, but also widower.

He was surprised she'd commented on that instead of the scarring.

"Your father," she said, when he failed to explain, "is fond of reminding everyone in a twenty-meter radius that the Vakarian motto is, 'We repay in kind.' That's well and good, but right now I think you need the Marinas words more. Do you remember what my family says?"

Garrus lifted his head.

"'We weather every storm,'" his mother said. "Remember that, and you'll persevere."

"Mom, what if I can't—" he started to say, but her gaze was wandering away already, over the room, out the window.

When she finished the circuit and her eyes fell on him again, she said, "Dad?"

"It's Garrus. I'm your son."

"Dad?"

"No," Garrus said. "Would you like to go to the garden?"

She hummed some song he didn't know and looked out the window again. When he took her by the arm and guided her outside, she went willingly, but she didn't recognize Garrus or Palaven or the jaina blossoms growing in the shade of the fountain.

Before he left, Garrus cut open a daquali fruit and arranged the slices on a plastic tray by her bedside. Then he gently touched his face to hers. And then he went. They would both have to weather their storms alone.




-




Liara figured out when he was leaving, although he hadn't taken any particular pains to hide his departure. He spent the morning loading the last of his supplies; the ship had been delivered to his docking bay on Palaven as scheduled, and the work on the engines had been done well. In the bay's lighting, the ship looked gunmetal gray, sleek and dangerous. Shepard would have liked her.

He stowed his last crate of foodstuffs in the hold and then went to check his fuel levels one last time, but when he reached the bridge, someone else was already there.

"EDI?"

"Hello, Garrus," EDI said. She was standing between the two crash seats with the fingers of her mobile platform resting on the flight controls. They were racing under her touch.

"Not to be rude, but, ah...where did you come from?"

"I came with the ship," she said, perfectly blank, but then her lips curved. "I am kidding. Jeff and I arrived a few minutes ago to see you off. The rest of me is still in orbit," she added. "Captain Williams is currently on leave to attend to the birth of her first niece, but she sends her best wishes."

Garrus blinked. "Damn."

"Yes," EDI agreed. "It can be troublesome to have friends." The rest of the cockpit lit up above and around them.

"What are you doing?"

EDI's smiled widened. "I am giving you a gift. This is a good ship; please make sure you take care of her."

"I'll do what I can," he promised. There was a clamor from outside; Garrus tipped his head, but he couldn't quite resolve the noise into words.

"Perhaps I should mention that Jeff and I are not the only ones here," EDI said.

Garrus went down the ladder like a shot and stuck his head out the cargo hatch. Joker was there, and James, and Tali with a quarian honor guard, and Liara…

"Hey, Garrus," James said, giving a little wave.

Garrus let go of the side of the hatch, went down the ramp, and cleared his throat. "Jimmy," he said. He offered his hand, fingers up, and James gripped it.

"You kill any bad guys lately?"

"Not in a few days," Garrus said. "Thought I'd leave you a few targets for practice. I know how much you need it."

James laughed. "Thanks, bud," he said, and stepped aside.

Tali was there next; she waved her guard back—no way that admiralty was a formality now—took one look at him, and punched him in the shoulder.

"Crap!"

"That's for being a bosh'tet," she said, and then she threw her arms around him. Garrus had to work to free himself enough to return her hug; he squeezed her around the shoulders and pretended not to notice the sniffling coming from beneath her mask.

Joker made the mistake of giving her a pat on the back, and Tali transferred her hug from Garrus to Joker without any warning. "Whoa," Joker said. "Uh, maybe not so hard? I kind of need those ribs."

"It's too sad," Tali muttered. "And you don't need your ribs that badly."

"I'm not gonna argue with you when you have a death grip on my torso," said Joker. "So, Garrus. When you find Shepard, make sure to tell her that her favorite person is waiting for her back on the Normandy."

"Give it up," Garrus said. "She never liked you better."

"Yeah, well...I've known her longer?" Joker said. "And maybe watch out for yourself, too. The Thanix cannon doesn't fire right anymore, and EDI keeps bitching about it. I was hoping you'd take a look at it someday." He guided Tali away, his steps stiff but steady; this was one of his better days.

Then Liara stepped forward.

"Garrus," she said.

"Liara."

"You know that I'm not here to dissuade you, don't you?"

He rocked back on his feet. "I figured you, out of everyone, would understand."

"Perhaps I do," she said. Her face softened. "Take care of yourself, won't you? And if you need anything at all, contact me. I find that I have very deep pockets and a weakness for lost causes."

"Thank you," Garrus said. It seemed inadequate.

She smiled at him. "What a beautiful ship," she said, threading her arm through his. He led her back a few steps and off to the side, which gave them a better angle to view his new acquisition. Tali came up on his other flank, her elbow knocking against him.

"I don't know," Joker said. "I mean, it's okay, sure, I guess those are some pretty fancy engines, but she's kind of…small."

"She's compact," Tali said.

"Tiny," said Joker. "And please, you think a ship can be state-of-the-art without some serious stealth capability? No way. I bet the seats aren't even real leather."

"What's her name?" asked Vega.

Garrus coughed a couple of times. "The, uh. Idenna."

Tali got it first. "...Idenna. Idenna. Are you serious, Garrus?"

"Isn't that the name of the ship from 'Fleet and Flotilla?'" Liara said.

"Actually," said Tali, "it's the 'Solar Wind.'"

"Come on!" Garrus said. He couldn't believe this. "Solar Wind is only in the musical. All that matters is the original, not some hack remake that ruins the entire second half of the story—"

"I like the musical!" Tali said.

"Wait," said Joker. "Garrus likes musicals? Does Shepard know that?"

"I think the point is that he kinda doesn't like musicals," James interrupted. "Hey, man, been meaning to ask—can turians sing?"

"No," said Garrus.

"Well, I think it's a...nice...homage," said Liara.

"Your tone conveys doubt," EDI said. "May I suggest an alternative? 'EDI' is an excellent name for a ship."

"Uh, hon, we've talked about this. You can't name every ship after yourself," said Joker.

"How else am I to feed my megalomania?" EDI wondered.

"That's what new recruits are for. Seriously, you guys should watch her screw with the ensigns, it brings tears to my eyes."

"I still like the musical," said Tali—




-




And then the only thing left was finding her.

He looked for a long time, even with Spectre access to speed his way. They relays were damaged and security was high; a fast ship could still only go so fast, and the empty places he was going warranted caution. The Idenna was quick and quiet, though, her navigation VI very good. Garrus could be patient.

He spent his time combing through extranet downloads and maps. When he was tired of those, he dry-fired his pistol and lifted weights and read the ink-and-paper stellar fantasy novels he'd scavenged from Shepard's locker. He wrote her letters, too, so she would have something to read when she came back, and he listened to the news as often as the ship could pick it up. The reports came in slowly, at first still with that undertone of grief and bewilderment, then with the scant slender threads of hope beneath the dry facts. Soon they came out of their shock enough to talk of the invasion.

They all called it something different: the Second Eden Prime War, the War of the Reapers, the Galactic Harvest. The historians had their own term, the press and politicians another. There was a name the rest used, though, the people who had lived through the Reapers and who had fought them. It spread from Earth to Palaven, from ship to ship and world to world. Already they were calling it Shepard's War.

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