A/N: Since we don't know the name of Garrus' mother, I was originally going to use the term "matriarch" to refer to her here, but I figured that could risk confusion with the asari equivalent. So I decided to go with "matrona," which is Latin for wife, mother, or lady.
This fic now has twice as many chapters as I originally intended, and I think this'll be the last one—unless, of course, someone else has a request (no Jack or Grunt, please; they're my least favorite squadmates, so my grasp on their voices would be tenuous at best) or unless I get hit with a bolt of inspiration. Many thanks once again to everyone who read/reviewed/faved along the way!
Matrona, Vakarian Family
This isn't the way I envisioned it.
It's something every mother pictures at one point or another, I imagine: the day her child, grown into a fine young adult, brings home a prospective mate to introduce to the family. I always refrained from creating a mental image of the woman my son would choose, never pictured the length of her fringe or the style of her clan markings. But I had always taken it for granted that she would at least have a fringe and clan markings.
My son is nervous; that much I expected, at least. He's doing his best to hide it, but a mother always knows. His companion, however, is harder to read. My experience with humans is…not as extensive as it could have been.
"Mother," Garrus begins, then stops, as though he can't think of anything more to say. He pulls at his collar, a restless habit I tried to discourage when he was a child.
"It'll be fine, Garrus," the human assures him, bringing a hand briefly to his arm. "It's just a little target practice." Her tone becomes lighthearted. Teasing. "What, you think I've lost my ability to shoot since the last mission?"
He turns toward her, lowering his voice to a murmur, though not quiet enough to escape my hearing. "It's not the target practice I'm worried about."
"It'll be fine," she repeats, her voice still soft, but more firm this time. "Go on. I'll be back soon."
I study my son's face as he hesitates. He holds the human's gaze for a brief moment, and then something shifts in his eyes as he makes his decision.
"Yeah," he says, and takes one step backward. "All right."
Some of the tension leaves his mandibles, and his head drops a little. I don't know if the human is fully aware of the signals he's giving, but I can read his body language as clearly as though it were written on a datapad. I'm not sure about this, but I trust you. I'll follow your lead.
She touches his arm again before turning to face me. A loose piece of the odd, fluid "hair" so distinctive to her species falls into her eyes, and she pushes it aside in an automatic motion.
"Are you ready to begin?" I inquire.
All five fingers on her right hand come to rest on the weapon by her side—one of several she carries—and she dips her head. "I am now."
"Excellent. This way."
The walk to the shooting range is short and wordless. The silence, while not strained, is not comfortable either. I allow my mandibles one twitch as I shoulder my own rifle, my fingers suddenly eager to wrap around the trigger's familiar curve. Life, as always, seems clearer when viewed through the scope. It's part of the reason I suggested a trip to the shooting range as the backdrop for, as the human put it, our "woman to woman get-to-know-you session."
The range is spacious and wide-open, allowing the targets—simulated or live, according to each shooter's preferences—enough freedom of movement to provide a satisfying challenge. I stride to my usual mark and begin preparing my rifle, pointedly not watching the human as she falls in at the spot adjacent to mine.
It's strange to be sharing this space with this fragile-skinned alien. Normally it would be my mate shooting alongside me, but he is currently dealing with business off-world—a fact I know was not lost on my son when he chose this day to bring his commander-companion for a visit. Garrus and his father have begun mending their strained relationship, but the pace is a slow one. My mate, though aware of our son's…proclivities…is not yet ready to face them in the soft, fuzz-covered flesh.
My rifle extends to its full length with its familiar click, and I draw and hold a deep breath as I take a preliminary look through the scope, fighting to keep my confusion and frustration under control. You raised a strong and intelligent son, I tell myself, talons automatically moving to adjust the rifle's sighting mechanism. You know he would not choose an unworthy mate, no matter the species.
It helps just to think the simple, firm words, and I am calmer when I release my breath. Bewildered though I may be, I am not so unfair as to judge an individual by her species alone, particularly when we've exchanged several sentences at best.
I lower the rifle and turn to face the alien—no, Shepard, I correct myself. She's watching me with an inscrutable expression, but the corners of her seemingly swollen, protruding mouth turn up when I catch her gaze. I know enough about humans to be aware that the gesture is one of friendliness, or neutrality at least.
"Everything properly calibrated?" she asks, indicating my gun.
"Yes," I reply, my eyes dropping to the rifle grasped in her abundance of fingers—an M-97 Viper. A solid weapon, I have to admit in spite of myself. "And yours?"
At her affirmation, I activate my omni-tool and toggle the range's starting sequence, bringing up the program that begins with VI-controlled target simulations before moving to live game.
The first hologram shimmers into being at the far left of the range, and I waste no time in drawing a bead on it, talon tightening around the trigger. One squeeze, and the target disappears in a brief burst of artificial light. Beside me, Shepard makes a noise of concentration deep in her throat as she follows my lead, her Viper booming under her fingers as it finds its mark.
By unspoken agreement we continue alternating shots for several minutes, neither of us missing, nor speaking until finally Shepard tilts her head back and sends me a glance.
"I can see where Garrus got his sniping skills from," she comments, her rifle hissing its readiness as she inserts a fresh heat sink.
"More from constant repetition than from any input on my part," I reply, "but thank you. His performance under your command has been satisfactory, I take it?"
She coughs, an odd strangled sound, but recovers quickly as I give her a sharp look.
"Sorry," she says. "Just inhaled some dust. Yes, Garrus is a solid soldier. Absolute crack shot with that rifle of his. He's saved my ass on more than one occasion, I can tell you that."
"Hmm," I murmur, lining up another shot on a rapidly darting hologram. "And was it his prowess on the battlefield that made you begin to consider him as a potential mate?"
"Well, that was part of it." She takes down another target as she speaks. If nothing else, she's proved she's a good shot. "I enlisted in my people's military on the very day I reached the minimum age, so I've been surrounded by soldiers a good chunk of my life. It would be hard for me not to notice military skill in a partner."
"And what else?" I ask. "I haven't interacted with many humans, Shepard, but I know that you are a successful and powerful individual. I have no doubts that you could have your pick of mates from among your own species." I stare down the scope and pull the trigger, perhaps with a bit more force than is needed. "Why my son?"
She doesn't answer immediately, and when I look over at her she has lowered her rifle and is watching me. I can't read her face, but from the tension in her body, I have a feeling she didn't expect me to raise this subject so quickly.
Well. I've never seen the point in sneaking up on a topic. Better to confront things directly than to engage in needless delays.
"I trust him," she finally replies, her voice soft. "I trust him to watch my back when we're in battle, and to support me when we're not. We don't always see eye to eye on everything, but I know that we'll always respect each other even when we don't agree. We've both seen each other at our worst, but we still accept each other. That's a powerful thing."
She pauses, and then bares her teeth in the expression indicating happiness or amusement. "I'm also a sucker for blue eyes," she says, laughing. "They're pretty rare among my species."
For a moment I stiffen, indignation rising in my throat as my mind flies back to my primary suspicion—that she's using my son to satisfy some kind of twisted xenophiliac craving, that she wants something "exotic" or "different" or "exciting" that she can't find among the males of her own species.
But she's laughing, and I force myself to stop and listen to the sound, pushing past the strange hollow effect that comes from her lack of flanging. As best I can tell, her laughter isn't lascivious or mocking, just a simple expression of amusement.
I blink, my mandibles relaxing and then tightening again in embarrassment. Of course. She was just making a joke.
"I see," I reply, suddenly unable to think of any other response. In an instant all the frustration rushes back, and I take it out on the shooting range, hitting three targets in quick succession.
I don't want to look at the human, but I can sense both her stillness and her gaze. Another moment passes before she speaks.
"I said something wrong, didn't I?"
Shame tugs at my mandibles, and I face her.
"The fault is mine, human…Shepard. I…apologize. I have very little experience interacting with your species, and it's sometimes difficult for me to gauge your meanings and intentions."
I speak the words like the matter of fact that they are, hoping that she won't brush them off as an excuse.
At first, she makes no reply aside from a slight humming sound, but then she asks, "Did you fight in the First Contact War?"
"The Relay 314 Incident?" I very nearly say, but I bite back the urge to correct her. "No," I reply instead. "I wanted to. I would have. But the universe had other ideas."
On the range, the remaining holographic targets flutter and disappear, followed by a brief whirring sound before the automated system releases the first wave of live game—small, rodent-like creatures largely considered vermin here on Palaven. Shepard stares one down and takes her shot before turning back to me. Her expression is…thoughtful, I believe.
"Other ideas, like what?" she asks.
My response is a dry laugh. "Like Garrus."
I line up another shot as I collect my thoughts, hardly hearing the creature's squeak as it dies. The Relay 314 Incident isn't a topic I often discuss with anyone, let alone a member of the species that caused the incident in the first place.
"Before the conflict with your people," I finally continue, "I was serving a tour of duty on the Melior, whose captain was a very close friend. You might say she was my mentor. As it turned out, the Melior was one of the ships that fought in the Relay 314 Incident, but I wasn't on it at the time. I had been given leave to care for my newborn."
Shepard makes the humming sound again. "That sounds like it was frustrating."
"It was, particularly because I was young and hotheaded." I glance sidelong at her. "Which may sound like someone else you know."
"I confess I spent a fair amount of time stewing in irrational resentment," I go on. "Resentment toward your species, for choosing the worst possible time to active Relay 314. Resentment at my mate, for being away for months at a time on the Citadel, starting his C-Sec career and leaving me to look after our son by myself. In my darkest moments I even felt resentment toward Garrus for being born."
Another shot from my rifle cracks the air, but this time I miss, the animal scuttling away at the last second. I give an irritated but absent growl, my mind still lingering several decades past.
"But resentment aside," I conclude, "the enforced leave saved my life. The Melior was destroyed during the Relay 314 Incident, along with my mentor and colleagues."
Shepard's eyes dim even as they grow bigger. "I'm sorry."
I flare my mandibles, perplexed. "I have never understood the human tendency to apologize for things that are not your fault."
She laughs at that, lips skimming back from her teeth again. "Well, in this case, it's less of an apology and more an expression of sympathy."
"I see." I pick up a fresh heat sink, rolling it in my talons before loading it into the rifle. "Your sympathy is appreciated, but unnecessary. It was a battle. Soldiers die. Turians are aware of this fact from the day we're old enough to hold a weapon." I hesitate a moment before adding, "I'm sure it's something you have first-hand knowledge of as well."
"It is," she confirms, her voice quiet, the loss of a comrade playing itself out in her eyes.
We fall silent, then, each of us mired in her own thoughts, nothing else audible but the rhythmic firing of our rifles. Eventually the conversation starts up again, focusing on topics less weighty, and it is pleasant enough.
The range powers down when we've exhausted our allotted targets, and we stow our weapons and walk back home, where Garrus has busied himself tinkering on my vehicle parked outside the house. Shepard's step quickens almost imperceptibly when she sees him, while I slow to a halt, watching from a distance as she goes to my son.
And Garrus, whose idea of casual touch growing up usually consisted of a punch or a headbutt, brings his hand to the back of her neck, talons threading through that strange, flimsy hair.
Something bittersweet twinges in my chest. Shepard is a worthy individual. Likable, intelligent, a fierce warrior whose military life has given her a stronger grasp on our culture than most of her kind can ever hope for. And she loves my son, as he does her.
It just isn't the way I envisioned.