Author's Note: Since I started this story before "Lair of the Shadow Broker" was released, I'm not going to try to rework the whole story halfway through in order to suit the revelations in LOTSB, though when appropriate/able I borrow elements of the canon. I ask all my readers to simply consider this an alternate universe and enjoy it on those terms.

To those readers who play or read the Cerberus Daily News roleplaying boards, Machaera comes from the same homeworld as "Sicaria" and as a result the two characters have similar origins. Since they're both my characters, there's no plagiarism going on here and no need for hate mail (at least in that regard; if you're not enjoying my story, that's a different matter). I intend to keep the two worlds—my fiction and the roleplay—separate, though as a matter of interest, I think of Machaera and Sicaria as second-cousins.

Closer to Home

Chapter the Sixth: The Patriot Game

"Is that a threat?"

Shepard gazed into the amber eyes of Machaera Perihelion, turian and terrorist and bondmate of Garrus Vakarian's father, searching for answers. It wasn't every day that someone vowed to break her neck, even if it were in the name of such a worthy cause as defending Garrus' heart.

The female turian looked back just as coolly and replied, "It is a statement of fact, Commander Shepard."

Shepard glanced at Machaera, taking the turian's measure. She was lean, wiry, not all that bulky by turian standards, but she was still taller than a human, and turians were notoriously tough. Shepard still thought she'd have the edge in a fight—she'd headbutted krogan, after all. And yet Machaera, who had to know Shepard's reputation, did not seem fazed in the least. Shepard wondered if it were false bravado or if the turian woman in the colourful wrap was more dangerous than she appeared.

Machaera did not flinch from Shepard's examination. "Whether or not Iapprove of your relationship with Garrus is really not the question. It's gone beyond the point where you can take it back." The turian pressed her mandibles against her face. "You do understand that, don't you?"

"Garrus explained to me what a bonded pair is, yes."

Machaera nodded. "And…?"

Shepard put her hands on her hips—was every turian going to grill her this way? "And Garrus is my mate and I love him," she said, point-blank. "I would never want to take it back." Her eyes narrowed. "Not even if some people don't like it."

Machaera tipped back her head and laughed, loudly and heartily.

Shepard cocked her head, confused.

"Well played, Commander, well played." The turian's eyes sparkled. "Garrus' father is going to have a complete fit, you know." Her smile widened. "Take pictures."

The turian's mood changed so quickly that it left Shepard dazed in its wake. "So you don't mind?" Shepard asked warily.

Machaera's face grew serious as she sat on a corner of the bed. "The truth?" she asked.

Shepard nodded.

"I…I don't understand the appeal, in all honesty, but Garrus' choices are his own. I am more concerned that he does not end up like me, than who…or what…his mate is."

Shepard took a deep breath and sat down beside the turian woman. "I said I'd always be there when he needs me. I meant it. If he needs me all the time, I'm okay with that." She smiled softly. "I need him."

Machaera nodded, though she still seemed unconvinced. "I heard humans fell out of love."

"Some of them do," Shepard said quietly. "I never have." It was true. She bit her tongue before she could tell Machaera that everyone she cared about had always left her first.

For a while they sat side-by-side in silence, while Shepard wondered what was going through Machaera's mind. If Bastion Vakarian was going to be the problem she anticipated him to be, she could really use another turian on her side—someone who could take an interview from Al-Jiliani and say that a cross-species relationship was no big deal. On the other hand, she was more than a little concerned by the vague hints that Garrus had made about Machaera's criminal past. Shepard had problems enough with the Council without publically allying herself with a figure of questionable reputation.

"Machaera?" Shepard asked, marveling at how loud her voice sounded.

"Yes?"

"Can I ask you something personal?"

"You can try," the turian countered warily.

"Garrus told me you had some kind of history with the turian separatist movement."

"Yes," she answered, sounding even more defensive.

"I don't really know much about it," Shepard admitted. "I know the turians were embroiled in a civil war long ago, between the outer colonies and the Hierarchy based on your homeworld of Palaven, and that the Hierarchy won. And I heard about Facinus dropping a starship on the city of Vallum on Taetrus, not so long ago. Other than that…" She shrugged helplessly. "They gave me the short notes on every alien species, but not any in-depth history."

Machaera smiled wryly. "Is a history lesson what you're looking for?"

"Huh. Not exactly." She took a deep breath, trying to articulate what, exactly, she was seeking. "I suppose I'm trying to think of a polite way to ask why Garrus was so worried about you being on the Citadel, and how, if you're really an outlaw, you ended up with Bastion Vakarian of all people."

"Ah." The female turian sat back on the bed, tucking her feet up under the colourful hem of her flowing wrap dress. "Let me tell you a story, then. First, though, I should ask, do you have that quaint alien idea of all turians as unquestioning drones, utterly servile to their superiors, all the way up to the feet of the Primarch on Palaven?"

Shepard snorted. "I've fought enough turian gangsters, criminals and thugs to know better. Your species has its outlaws just like any other."

Machaera smiled. "Just so."

"But you don't strike me as a thug."

"I like to think I'm not, Shepard. I am a loyal citizen of somewhere that is not Palaven."

Shepard settled herself as well. "So tell me how that happens."

The turian flared her mandibles, and Shepard realized just how a turian smile must look to people who'd never seen the aliens before—all those sharp teeth on display. Maybe it was the feral light in Machaera's eyes that made Shepard think she looked dangerous, when she had never found Garrus' smile disturbing in the slightest.

"Turians are community-minded people, Shepard. Palaven would have you believe that our deviant personalities become barefaced mercenaries in the Terminus, while the rest of our citizens become those servile drones from popular stereotypes. And perhaps, long ago, this might have been true: a single dominant civilization on Palaven, a handful of raiders in the wastelands. But all that changed when we began to colonize the stars.

"Some planets—those easily accessed by mass relay, or those with unique features that drew Palaven's particular interest—remained closely in touch with their homeworld. Others, especially the farming colonies on the fringes of turian space, were mostly ignored as long as they shipped their regular quota of produce to the homeworld in a timely manner. And, as generations went by, those who were born on the colonies found their allegiance shifting. Their communities were their colonies, the people they lived with and worked with, the land they tamed, the cultures they created.

The colonial governor—for many of the colonies did not rate a Primarch until they had a certain number of people and a certain gross annual product—was a big fish in a small pond, wielding great power on his homeworld while being mostly ignored on Palaven, where many of the governors spent most of their time greasing bureaucratic wheels in an attempt to get noticed and transferred to more lucrative posts. The colonies began appointing their own Executors in the governors' absences and the governors for the most part accepted these appointments, because they meant that a local would be in power and on planet keeping things running smoothly, giving the governors more time on the homeworld. Before long, though, the colonists began considering their Executor—who was usually also a tribal leader—as the "true head of state" and the governor as merely a figurehead. And, left to their own devices for so long, the Executors began taking more and more liberties with their position, acting as any head of state would do. For generations, Palaven did not care—until we took into our own hands the right to wage war.

At that point the colonies were, to my mind, fully independent nations, owing their allegiance to their Executor-Chieftains and their own people, having nothing in common with either the other colonies or with Palaven save that we were all the same species. And so, when diplomacy and treaty could not solve who had the rights to what moons or which spacelanes, or when one colony blockaded another colony's access to the mass relay, or when one colony began endangering its neighbours by offering itself as a haven for batarian raiders and other scum—we went to war."

Machaera's eyes narrowed. "Palaven would have you believe that we were nothing but savages slaughtering each other. I would remind you that nations from time out of mind—yours as well as ours—have used warfare to settle conflict. Palaven's grudge was that they felt they were the only ones with the right to declare war—that, after so many years of leaving us fend for ourselves. We were honestly shocked when the Unification Wars began. We thought we had been set loose on our own long ago, our Governor a mere formality, a relic of a bygone age."

Machaera stopped to draw breath and Shepard thought over what the turian had said. She used the word "we" as though she were including herself in this story of colonials who had fought hundreds of years ago; it said a lot about Machaera's outlook on life.

"I will skip over the history that you can download from any library site. Palaven crushed each colony in turn and tightened the reins of power, and we, Palaven's offspring grown to adulthood, were now forced back into the role of children, sitting at our parents' feet." She snorted. "Some of us were unbroken even in defeat. Rather than swear allegiance to Palaven, we left our homeworlds, choosing to begin again on new colonies beyond the reaches of turian space where we hoped that we could be left in peace to live our lives as we would. Some of us went to what is now Invictus, others to Lyonnesse, while my people arrived on a world we called Solregit.

"We were, of course, not so lucky as to be left alone. We spent generations cutting farms out of the wilderness, building roads, constructing a few towns. Then Palaven, ever expanding its reach, decided to help itself to this unclaimed planet. They drove out everyone who was not a turian and appointed a colonial governor. They even tried to name the place, but fortunately our original name stuck.

"It was a small world in a small system, lying close to the system's sun. The equator, in fact, is nothing but scorched desert. The south is home to jungle and the planetary capital; the north, my people's refuge, is hardwood forest and plain. And beneath…" The turian's jaw clicked shut. "Beneath all of it is a series of rich element zero deposits—a geographical feature of which my ancestors were unaware when they settled Solregit, and a feature that cursed us to repeat history all over again."

Shepard waited while Machaera paused to collect her thoughts. She thought of the history she'd been taught in school about the place where she'd been born, the United North American States. Before the unification of the states, they'd been three different countries, only one of which had been willingly granted independence by its founding empire. The other two had needed to resort to war to earn their freedom, and those wars were still celebrated every year. If that was the tradition from which she'd descended, could she really blame the turian for doing the same thing? On the other hand, Shepard had felt little in the sense of national attachment. Perhaps she could plead the historical Canadian example, and advise Machaera and her people to wait patiently for the Hierarchy to choose to let them go. Would the Hierarchy let them go? And if it did, by choice or necessity, would that be the best thing for the galaxy as a whole? What would be worse in the face of the Reapers—a Hierarchy military weakened by the loss of several colonies, or a Hierarchy military fractured by internal strife?

Machera did not wait for Shepard to formulate an answer to that question before she continued her story. "The leaders of the town held a meeting and finally decided that, eezo or no eezo, they valued the rich land of their ancestral farms, and the lifestyle that came from farming them, more than the eezo. They told the offworlders to go dig in the unsettled forests, but declined their offer." Machaera folded her arms. "Only it turned out they weren't merely offering.

"The Hierarchy has a law allowing the government to repossess property if they feel the greater good of the empire is at stake. When the Solregit homesteaders refused to accept the offer, the constabulary arrived to remove us by force. They came for my people with nightsticks and stun wands; we met them with scythes and rifles, and the Sundowner Rebellions began."

Shepard frowned. "A handful of farmers against the might of the Turian Hierarchy?"

Machaera took the skepticism in stride. "Oh, they took us off our land, of course—after calling in the military for support. But that was hardly the end of it. The mine's creation was plagued with acts of sabotage. The mining company was forced to bring in offworlders to work in it; none of us would take the jobs. And then the sabotage spread—to garrisons, armouries, government buildings, and the homes of anyone cooperating with the offworlders. The harder the government dealt with us, the more the other locals realized that the Unification Wars were on our doorstep once again, and the wider the revolution spread." Her eyes gleamed with a fanatic devotion.

"What was the point of all that?"

"Have you followed the course of the conflict on Garvug?" Machaera asked.

Shepard nodded. "Yes. Some corporations hoped to mine a planet populated by krogan and vorcha. When the natives objected, an armed insurrection broke out between the mining concerns' mercenaries and the locals."

"Just so. And eventually the companies, after losing too much of their shareholders' money prosecuting the war, folded and left the planet to its own people."

Shepard did not like the way the number of lives lost seemed to fail to factor into either Machaera's war or the Garvug conflict. She understood that there were some situations where she had no choice but to kill, or to ask her people to risk their own lives alongside her, but she would never, ever consider those situations to be the easiest route, nor would she take them solely for expediency's sake.

"This is what we hoped to accomplish. If we could make it cost too much—in money and time and supplies and lives—for the Hierarchy to hold Solregit, perhaps they would abandon it to us and leave." Her eyes narrowed. "Unfortunately, the Hierarchy is not a business, and they have values beyond their bottom line. They felt that to give in to us was to set a poor example for all the other colonies with dreams of independence. So they fought us on principle, and price be damned."

Machaera sucked in a ragged breath. "Nobody can sustain centuries of total warfare. And the Turian Hierarchy was not prepared to wipe us all out, either. The planet still needed occupying, to keep other species from claiming it, and the Hierarchy does not want to give fuel to other separatist groups by making martyrs of the Sundowners. So the war went in cycles, sometimes hot, sometimes cold, but always there, smouldering, waiting…. We burn, an eternal flame, until our land and our people are free. No matter how long it takes. No matter the cost." Machaera's eyes were fierce with pride.

Shepard found herself beginning to understand the root of the turian's vehemence. Truthfully, Shepard rather envied her; she could not imagine what it would be like to have a home that meant that much to her, something that she would fight for to the bitter end if…

Yes. Of course she did.

With no personal attachment to anywhere on Earth or in space, Shepard had given her allegiance to the universe as a whole. She fought for everyone, not just people from Earth, not just human beings, but everyone.

She watched Machaera uneasily. On one hand, she envied the turian for her deep sense of belonging, and wondered what it might be like to have that sort of security, to know without doubt who you were and where you belonged. On the other hand, the advent of the Reapers left little room for regional squabbles, and Shepard feared that Machaera might gladly sacrifice Palaven—and who knew who else—if she thought it might serve her own ends.

"That's an interesting story," Shepard said carefully, "but it doesn't explain anything about you. I mean, I was raised by a Lutheran minister, and I still believe, more or less, in a higher power, but I wouldn't exactly call myself a practicing Christian." She was certainly nowhere near as religious as Ashley, who'd prayed faithfully each night, or Thane, who considered meditation a part of his everyday life. "I'm curious what made you, Machaera Perihelion, consider this revolution so important."

Something unreadable flickered across Machaera's eyes, a snake in deep grass, a tentacle in a foggy pond; something swift and elusive and deadly, to be sure, but something that would rather remain hidden.

"Do you really want to know?" she asked, her voice low and harsh.

Shepard nodded. "I'm trying to get to know Garrus' family. Seems that you're the most open-minded, so I figured I'd start with you."

The turian startled, taken aback, and then she smiled, and the smile was real. Shepard had suspected that was the key to win her over; to accord her the role she so desperately wanted.

"All right," Machaera said quietly. "All right, Shepard, I'll tell you this story, on the condition that you do not repeat it. This is not the stuff of hearthside tales to fire the imaginations of the next generation of Sundowners." She drew a ragged breath. "My father was a soldier for the revolution. There was a brushfire conflict raging in and around a seaside town called Maris, which was many days' drive away from my father's farm. He thought that the distance would help to cover his tracks, as he claimed to spend his time working the land while his wife kept the house and children. In fact, the farm was run by my mother and me while he was at war. I am not sure how they identified him—whether it was DNA or a holo image or a spy or how—but when I was seven years old, the Hierarchy noted my father as a person of interest and came for him.

On that night, my mother was away in town, having taken our xemna to market. A small mercy. My father and I were sitting in front of the hearth when the door to our house burst open and in came the local constabulary and a pack of armed guards. My dad tried to fight them off, and I know he did his best, but they overpowered him, and unfortunately he did not have time to turn his gun on himself."

"Unfortunately?" Shepard asked, wondering what kind of man Machaera's father had been to make her feel that way. Abusive? Neglectful?

"They wanted to make him talk," Machaera said grimly, and for a second her eyes shimmered with what might have been unshed tears. When she spoke next, though, her words were clipped, the detail sparse, as though to add any more would be more than she could bear.

"We were tied to our chairs, facing each other across our kitchen table. Our legs were lashed to the chair legs, our shoulders to the chair backs, our hands restrained by ropes wrapped underneath the table. We were bleeding and bruised. My father had shot three of the soldiers, one fatally. He was dead on the floor. An ambulance was carrying away the two he'd injured. Only one of them survived." The turian folded and refolded her hands in her lap.

"They wanted my father to tell them who was involved in his separatist cell. My father refused. The head constable pulled out a combat knife."

Machaera's gaze was unfocused, and suddenly Shepard was reminded of Thane Krios, and the way he looked when he was absorbed by one of his perfect memories. Turians didn't have that gift—or that curse—but Machaera could have fooled her.

"There were four bloody talons on the floor before he talked."

Shepard swallowed hard. To have a seven-year-old child sit there, watching as her father was tortured—no wonder Machaera was angry at the Turian Hierarchy. Shepard remembered the overwhelming mixture of grief and rage and disorientation that had crashed over her after the thresher maw attack on Akuze. She'd felt it again when Toombs had insisted that the encounter was deliberately engineered by Cerberus, and though she'd never been able to prove the truth of his statement, she'd had enough proof that Cerberus was bad news. She'd never felt more validated than when she told the Illusive Man to stuff it and blew up that damned Collector base.

"What happened then?" Shealmost feared to hear the answer.

"They left us there. Rubbing it in to my father how impotent he was. My mother came home the next day and found us, a pool of blood between us on the table. My father…" Machaera swallowed. "My father was executed as a traitor three days later."

"By the Hierarchy?"

Machaera snorted. "They'd already broken him. No. By the other Sundowners."

Shepard's jaw dropped—she hadn't been expecting that at all. "They blamed him for talking? That's ridiculous. Everyone has a breaking point under torture."

Machaera shook her head. "Not blame. Do you know what a blood oath is, Shepard?"

Shepard simply sat there, confused and horrified, wondering if she would ever comprehend Machaera.

"Any fool can make a promise, Shepard. Any idiot can spew meaningless words. A blood oath is a vow made with your life as the guarantee." Her talon traced a line over her heart. "All the Sundowners swear to hold their loyalty to their clan on the day they join the revolution. Giving those names was a violation of the oath. Justice demanded his life in forfeit."

Her eyes gleamed. "Truth be told, he asked for the execution—to deceive the Hierarchy into thinking there was dissention in our ranks, a possibility which an honourable suicide would preclude. It worked." She folded her arms as if in judgment. "It was the most we could salvage from the situation."

Shepard found herself searching frantically for something to say. This was one of those situations where words such as "I'm sorry" were so useless as to be insulting. Her father's death by disease was so different from an execution by one's own kinfolk that Shepard could not begin to understand how it would feel or what it would have done to seven-year-old Machaera. Shepard wondered if Machaera had questioned the reason for her father's death, as she would have done (as she had done, though it was much harder to demand answers of a disease), or if the turian had been such a fanatical convert to the cause that she had managed somehow to overlook who had pulled the trigger in the end.

"Thank you," Shepard managed at last. "For your honesty. That couldn't have been easy to talk about."

Machaera regarded her and then nodded her head in what appeared to be an expression of respect. "It is not."

Shepard let out a breath. "Would it be any easier for me to ask you how you ended up with Bastion Vakarian of all people?"

The female turian leaned back and gave Shepard a wistful smile. "Of course. That is an old, old story we have all heard before. I was young and thought myself very clever. I joined the Hierarchy military in order to learn advanced soldiering from the very people I hoped to use those skills against. Let them spend the time and money sharing their knowledge with me; I was, by all rights, a citizen and the Sundowners had many false identities sowing confusion. It was difficult for the Hierarchy to weed out who was a loyalist and who a separatist; and I am told I am a fine liar for a turian."

Shepard frowned, remembering what she had been told about turians—that the species tended to lie by omission, but if questioned directly, would usually confess. She remembered how Garrus was evasive when there was something he didn't want to talk about. No matter how she sympathized with parts of the woman's story, Shepard reminded herself to be warned: Machaera could not be counted on to behave as the "typical turian" might.

"So, there I was, a young, single turian woman surrounded by fine-looking turian men, and while I had resigned myself early on to the notion that I might have to kill, maim, or otherwise harm some of those striking young men—and would have done so gladly if it had meant independence for my people—I had made no vow against enjoying their company while it lasted. Foolish me, I thought I could simply avoid getting attached, and for the first few years it worked. The military life is not conductive to long-term relationships, and most of my fellow soldiers were also seeking short-term entertainment, feeling that there would be plenty of time after their service was complete to establish families.

"And then, Bastion.

"We were involved in the assault on Shanxi. My unit was decimated, my commanders killed. They put my squad under Bastion Vakarian's command." Machaera shrugged helplessly. "Who can explain why the heart does what it does? He was bold and self-assured and handsome; he earned my respect, and he challenged me to prove myself. When I did, he was pleased, and I was glad to have his praise. Furthermore, the war was brutal, we had no idea what the humans were capable of, and it is customary for our people to seek comfort from one another. As we both were a match for each other on the battlefield, we wondered if we would match one another as well in a more intimate setting." From the way she lowered her eyes, Shepard guessed that they had, indeed, been a match.

"I knew from the beginning that it made no sense. I intended to return to Solregit and fight for independence as my family had for generations, with my father's blood to spur me on. Bastion was a decorated officer destined for a sterling C-Sec career; I firmly believe that he could have been a general had he stayed in the military. There was no future in it. And yet as time went on, as we stayed in contact and as we spent less of our leaves with our families, and more of our leaves with one another, I found myself beginning to hope that Bastion felt the same as I: that perhaps what we had together was something worth the sacrifice of both our destinies."

Machaera bowed her head. "I am ashamed to say that, Shepard. I can only imagine what my father would have thought of me."

Shepard hesitated. She didn't know Machaera's father at all, but she chanced a comment anyway. "I would like to think your father would have wanted to you find a path that made you happy."

The turian looked up and offered Shepard a soft smile.

"That is a nice thought." She swallowed and stared at the wall. "I had made my decision: to defy the Sundowners, even though the breaking of my blood oath would mean my own death should they find me. Unfortunately, Bastion's decision was the opposite of mine. On our last leave together, he told me…" Her voice broke at last. "He told me," she continued, struggling to keep her words steady, "that he was not willing to sacrifice his parents' goodwill or his opportunity to join C-Sec for me."

Shepard reached over and took the turian's hand. "What did you do?"

Machaera's mandibles pressed against her face. "I told him that he should weigh the arguments and then do what needed to be done, and I would do likewise. I suspect he was waiting for a scene—whether he was anticipating a fight or a flood of tears I do not know, but I gave him neither. I wished him the best, opened my omni-tool, and submitted a request for discharge, pleading the agricultural exemption, that I needed to leave the military to return to my family farm." Her talons clenched. "My discharge which was granted shortly thereafter. I boarded a transport. Flew back to Solregit. Planted a fifty-pound bomb in the basement of the local garrison and became a hero of the revolution."

She flexed her gloved fingers again. "If I was not, in my heart, my father's daughter then I swore to be so from that day onward." Her mandibles gaped and the grin she gave Shepard reminded the human of a skeleton's. "I threw myself into the war against the Hierarchy as though I were doing battle with my heartbreak itself."

"How did you find out that Bastion was married?"

"I still had his comm address. We…sent messages, for a time."

Shepard understood how that felt. She hadn't truly been in love before Garrus, but she had been fond of some of her ex-boyfriends, and when she'd been lonely, there had been a comfort in speaking with people she'd cared for once, people who still possessed at least some concern for her, or people she could pretend were her kin. She had no need for them now, she realized, not now when she had someone who would always be by her side.

Yet something felt not quite right with Machaera's story. What had Garrus said? That Machaera only spoke to his mother. Something else had to have happened, some further falling out, but Shepard was hesitant to call Machaera on it when the turian had already revealed so much.

The rebel's eyes glittered. "The worst of it…the worst of it, Shepard, is that I believed, and still do, that Bastion Vakarian loves me." She held Shepard's gaze, unflinching. "You may call me deluded, or you may believe that I am imagining the outcome that's easier for me to bear, but I honestly think that it hurt him to walk away. He held to his principles, when I would have sacrificed mine for him."

Shepard took a moment to think about that. She thought about Sidonis, how adamant she had been that shooting Sidonis was the wrong thing to do, and how Garrus, despite his passionate insistence to the contrary, had bent to her will. She feared she was perhaps more like Bastion Vakarian than she wanted to admit.

Still, self knowledge was never a bad thing. Now that she was aware of turian bonding and its consequences, she could be vigilant for situations where she might be taking advantage of Garrus' devotion. She could certainly never imagine him disagreeing about the most important thing of all: the threat of the Reapers. On that matter they were in perfect agreement.

###

Garrus' mother was waiting for him when he stepped out of Bastion's office and shut the door behind him.

He could hear his siblings' voices though the doors of the suite's sleeping quarters. The condo was so small now, with ten people in it. It had seemed so large only a few years ago, with just him and his father and the gulf of silence between them.

Garrus studied his mother. She looked thinner than he remembered, and frailer; her features seemed drawn, and her scales were dull. He had hoped he'd been imagining it over dinner. He hadn't been.

"Is everything okay?" he asked softly.

"I'm not feeling well," she murmured. "Don't worry, I have an appointment with the doctor in three weeks."

"That's a long time."

"The doctors on Palaven will be able to offer better care," she replied. "They're turian specialists, after all; the clinic doctors here know a little about all species and not a lot about any one in particular."

Garrus loved his mother, but her turian-centrism bothered him sometimes. She would never have advocated hostility to other species, but she nevertheless thought of the turian way as the right way and every other species' beliefs as vaguely suspect.

How the hell was he going to tell her about him and Shepard?

"Besides," she chided, "I should be asking that question of you."

Garrus hung his head. "He's never going to be happy with me. No matter what I do."

"Garrus," his mother said gently. "I am fond of your father, but…you and he are very different people. There comes a point where you must be what you are."

His mandibles gaped, "What if that…I mean, what if that affects you? Or my siblings?"

She repeated his name, just as she had when he was very small. "Garrus. Everything any of us does affects those around us. But just as it is possible for some to go through their lives caring nothing for the repercussions of their actions on others, so is it possible to err in the opposite direction, and spend so much time living for others' expectations that you find yourself hollow inside."

His mother held out her arms, and the Archangel of Omega came into them and put his arms around his mother's carapace, burying his face in her shoulder.

"I love you," she murmured. "I have been blessed to have you these many years."

As he withdrew, her eyes captured his. "You may not be aware that your father sometimes questions the course of his life, though he never speaks of it."

The news hit him like a thunderclap. His father? In doubt?

"He will pressure you to make the same choices, in order to validate his own. And you, Garrus, can look at him and see the ends to which those choices lead. Then you will know what decision to make." She rested her hand on his arm. "Whether or not I can be with you, Garrus, whatever the future may reveal, you will know that I will always love you as a mother."

It was, he realized, her permission.

He cleared his throat.

"You need to know before I tell him," he said quietly. "I have a bondmate."